Chapter XXXVIII. The Muckle Hoose.




The next morning, Janet felt herself in duty bound to make inquiry concerning those interested in Miss Galbraith. She made, therefore, the best of her way with Gibbie to the Muckle Hoose, but, as the latter expected, found it a ruin in a wilderness. Acres of trees and shrubbery had disappeared, and a hollow waste of sand and gravel was in their place. What was left of the house stood on the edge of a red gravelly precipice of fifty feet in height, at whose foot lay the stones of the kitchen-wing, in which had been the room whence Gibbie carried Ginevra. The newer part of the house was gone from its very roots; the ancient portion, all innovation wiped from it, stood grim, desolated, marred, and defiant as of old. Not a sign of life was about the place; the very birds had fled. Angus had been there that same morning, and had locked or nailed up every possible entrance: the place looked like a ruin of centuries. With difficulty they got down into the gulf, with more difficulty crossed the burn, clambered up the rocky bank on the opposite side, and knocked at the door of the gamekeeper's cottage. But they saw only a little girl, who told them her father had gone to find the laird, that her mother was ill in bed, and Mistress Mac Farlane on her way to her own people.

It came out afterwards that when Angus and the housekeeper heard Gibbie's taps at the window, and, looking out, saw nobody there, but the burn within a few yards of the house, they took the warning for a supernatural interference to the preservation of their lives, and fled at once. Passing the foot of the stair, Mistress Mac Farlane shrieked to Ginevra to come, but ran on without waiting a reply. They told afterwards that she left the house with them, and that, suddenly missing her, they went back to look for her, but could find her nowhere, and were just able to make their second escape with their lives, hearing the house fall into the burn behind them. Mistress Mac Farlane had been severe as the law itself against lying among the maids, but now, when it came to her own defence where she knew her self wrong, she lied just like one of the wicked.

"My dear missie," said Janet, when they got home, "ye maun write to yer father, or he'll be oot o' 's wuts aboot ye."

Ginevra wrote therefore to the duke's, and to the laird's usual address in London as well; but he was on his way from the one place to the other when Angus overtook him, and received neither letter.

Now came to the girl a few such days of delight, of freedom, of life, as she had never even dreamed of. She roamed Glashgar with Gibbie, the gentlest, kindest, most interesting of companions. Wherever his sheep went, she went too, and to many places besides--some of them such strange, wild, terrible places, as would have terrified her without him. How he startled her once by darting off a rock like a seagull, straight, head-foremost, into the Death-pot! She screamed with horror, but he had done it only to amuse her; for, after what seemed to her a fearful time, he came smiling up out of the terrible darkness. What a brave, beautiful boy he was! He never hurt anything, and nothing ever seemed to hurt him. And what a number of things he knew! He showed her things on the mountain, things in the sky, things in the pools and streams wherever they went. He did better than tell her about them; he made her see them, and then the things themselves told her. She was not always certain she saw just what he wanted her to see, but she always saw something that made her glad with knowledge. He had a New Testament Janet had given him, which he carried in his pocket, and when she joined him, for he was always out with his sheep hours before she was up, she would generally find him seated on a stone, or lying in the heather, with the little book in his hand, looking solemn and sweet. But the moment he saw her, he would spring merrily up to welcome her. It were indeed an argument against religion as strong as sad, if one of the children the kingdom specially claims, could not be possessed by the life of the Son of God without losing his simplicity and joyousness. Those of my readers will be the least inclined to doubt the boy, who, by obedience, have come to know its reward. For obedience alone holds wide the door for the entrance of the spirit of wisdom. There was as little to wonder at in Gibbie as there was much to love and admire, for from the moment when, yet a mere child, he heard there was such a one claiming his obedience, he began to turn to him the hearing ear, the willing heart, the ready hand. The main thing which rendered this devotion more easy and natural to him than to others was, that, more than in most, the love of man had in him prepared the way of the Lord. He who so loved the sons of men was ready to love the Son of Man the moment he heard of him; love makes obedience a joy; and of him who obeys all heaven is the patrimony--he is fellow-heir with Christ.

On the fourth day, the rain, which had been coming and going, finally cleared off, the sun was again glorious, and the farmers began to hope a little for the drying and ripening of some portion of their crops. Then first Ginevra asked Gibbie to take her down to Glashruach; she wanted to see the ruin they had described to her. When she came near, and notions changed into visible facts, she neither wept nor wailed. She felt very miserable, it is true, but it was at finding that the evident impossibility of returning thither for a long time, woke in her pleasure and not pain. So utterly altered was the look of everything, that had she come upon it unexpectedly, she would not have recognized either place or house. They went up to a door. She seemed never to have seen it; but when they entered, she knew it as one from the hall into a passage, which, with what it led to, being gone, the inner had become an outer door. A quantity of sand was heaped up in the hall, and the wainscot was wet and swelled and bulging. They went into the dining-room. It was a miserable sight--the very picture of the soul of a drunkard. The thick carpet was sodden--spongy like a bed of moss after heavy rains; the leather chairs looked diseased; the colour was all gone from the table; the paper hung loose from the walls; and everything lay where the water, after floating it about, had let it drop as it ebbed.

She ascended the old stone stair which led to her father's rooms above, went into his study, in which not a hair was out of its place, and walked towards the window to look across to where once had been her own chamber. But as she approached it, there, behind the curtain, she saw her father, motionless, looking out. She turned pale, and stood. Even at such a time, had she known he was in the house, she would not have dared set her foot in that room. Gibbie, who had followed and entered behind her, preceived her hesitation, saw and recognized the back of the laird, knew that she was afraid of her father, and stood also waiting he know not what.

"Eh!" he said to himself, "hers is no like mine! Nae mony has had fathers sae guid's mine."

Becoming aware of a presence, the laird half turned, and seeing Gibbie, imagined he had entered in a prowling way, supposing the place deserted. With stately offence he asked him what he wanted there, and waved his dismissal. Then first he saw another, standing white-faced, with eyes fixed upon him. He turned pale also, and stood staring at her. The memory of that moment ever after disgraced him in his own eyes: for one instant of unreasoning weakness, he imagined he saw a ghost--believed what he said he knew to be impossible. It was but one moment but it might have been more, had not Ginevra walked slowly up to him, saying in a trembling voice, as if she expected the blame of all that had happened, "I couldn't help it, papa." He took her in his arms, and, for the first time since the discovery of her atrocious familiarity with Donal, kissed her. She clung to him, trembling now with pleasure as well as apprehension. But, alas! there was no impiety in the faithlessness that pronounced such a joy too good to endure, and the end came yet sooner than she feared. For, when the father rose erect from her embrace, and was again the laird, there, to his amazement, still stood the odd-looking, outlandish intruder, smiling with the most impertinent interest! Gibbie had forgotten himself altogether, beholding what he took for a thorough reconciliation.

"Go away, boy. You have nothing to do here," said the laird, anger almost overwhelming his precious dignity.

"Oh, papa!" cried Ginevra, clasping her hands, "that's Gibbie! He saved my life. I should have been drowned but for him."

The laird was both proud and stupid, therefore more than ordinarily slow to understand what he was unprepared to hear.

"I am much obliged to him," he said haughtily; "but there is no occasion for him to wait."

At this point his sluggish mind began to recall something:--why, this was the very boy he saw in the meadow with her that morning!--He turned fiercely upon him where he lingered, either hoping for a word of adieu from Ginevra, or unwilling to go while she was uncomfortable.

"Leave the house instantly," he said, "or I will knock you down."

"O papa!" moaned Ginevra wildly--it was the braver of her that she was trembling from head to foot--"don't speak so to Gibbie. He is a good boy. It was he that Angus whipped so cruelly--long ago: I have never been able to forget it."

Her father was confounded at her presumption: how dared she expostulate with him! She had grown a bold, bad girl! Good heavens! Evil communications!

"If he does not get out of this directly," he cried, "I will have him whipped again. Angus."

He shouted the name, and its echo came back in a wild tone, altogether strange to Ginevra. She seemed struggling in the meshes of an evil dream. Involuntarily she uttered a cry of terror and distress. Gibbie was at her side instantly, putting out his hand to comfort her. She was just laying hers on his arm, scarcely knowing what she did, when her father seized him, and dashed him to the other side of the room. He went staggering backwards, vainly trying to recover himself, and fell, his head striking against the wall. The same instant Angus entered, saw nothing of Gibbie where he lay, and approached his master. But when he caught sight of Ginevra, he gave a gasp of terror that ended in a broken yell, and stared as if he had come suddenly on the verge of the bottomless pit, while all round his head his hair stood out as if he had been electrified. Before he came to himself, Gibbie had recovered and risen. He saw now that he could be of no service to Ginevra, and that his presence only made things worse for her. But he saw also that she was unhappy about him, and that must not be. He broke into such a merry laugh--and it had need to be merry, for it had to do the work of many words of reassurance--that she could scarcely refrain from a half-hysterical response as he walked from the room. The moment he was out of the house, he began to sing; and for many minutes, as he walked up the gulf hollowed by the Glashburn, Ginevra could hear the strange, other-world voice, and knew it was meant to hold communion with her and comfort her.

"What do you know of that fellow, Angus!" asked his master.

"He's the verra deevil himsel', sir," muttered Angus, whom Gibbie's laughter had in a measure brought to his senses.

"You will see that he is sent off the property at once--and for good, Angus," said the laird. "His insolence is insufferable. The scoundrel!"

On the pretext of following Gibbie, Angus was only too glad to leave the room. Then Mr. Galbraith upon his daughter.

"So, Jenny!" he said, with, his loose lips pulled out straight, "that is the sort of companion you choose when left to yourself!--a low, beggarly, insolent scamp!--scarcely the equal of the brutes he has the charge of!"

"They're sheep, papa!" pleaded Ginevra, in a wail that rose almost to a scream.

"I do believe the girl is an idiot!" said her father, and turned from her contemptuously.

"I think I am, papa," she sobbed. "Don't mind me. Let me go away, and I will never trouble you any more." She would go to the mountain, she thought, and be a shepherdess with Gibbie.

Her father took her roughly by the arm, pushed her into a closet, locked the door, went and had his luncheon, and in the afternoon, having borrowed Snowball, took her just as she was, drove to meet the mail coach, and in the middle of the night was set down with her at the principal hotel in the city, whence the next morning he set out early to find a school where he might leave her and his responsibility with her.

When Gibbie knew himself beyond the hearing of Ginevra, his song died away, and he went home sad. The gentle girl had stepped at once from the day into the dark, and he was troubled for her. But he remembered that she had another father besides the laird, and comforted himself.

When he reached home, he found his mother in serious talk with a stranger. The tears were in her eyes, and had been running down her cheeks, but she was calm and dignified as usual.

"Here he comes!" she said as he entered. "The will o' the Lord be dene--noo an' for ever-mair! I'm at his biddin'.--An' sae's Gibbie."

It was Mr. Sclater. The witch had sailed her brander well.



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