night a strange scene was witnessed on the Beild moss. News that Mrs.
Dempster was lost there, in what condition was easily guessed, quickly
spread, and half the place turned out with lanterns, it being a very dark
night, clear and dry, but starless. The Warlock's Well, which Miss Dempster
had mentioned in her incoherent speech, was a great, deep pool made by a
peat cutting, now full of dark water, of depths unknown. It was a fearsome
place to drown in, and had been fenced in, though but frailly, after a
little Beild bairn had wandered there, and his body found floating face
upwards, his little hand still full of the wild flowers that had tempted him
to the brink. That picture was still fresh in the minds of those who carried
the lanterns, and there fell a deep silence on them as they cast their light
on the well. Mr. Bowman had entreated Miss Dempster to remain in the Manse,
promising that the search should be thoroughly organised; but she could not
rest, and she was among the first, her face white and drawn with misery, to
bend over the edge of the eerie Warlock's Well. But nothing was to be seen;
the waters lay dark and still, preserving their secret, if they had it,
well. They were not content with mere looking, but dragged the depths of the
pool with grappling irons—all to no purpose.
" She is
not there, Miss Dempster," said the minister, turning to her with relief in
his face. " Come back, dear lady ; I assure you everything has been done."
black depths of the Warlock's Well seemed to have a strange fascination for
Euphame Dempster, and she could scarcely take her eyes from it. They began
to spread themselves in little groups over the moss, for there were many
other pools and treacherous bits of bog, where a woman, not mistress of
herself, might come to sad grief.
as active as it was his nature to be, keeping at a distance, out of an odd
delicacy, from the minister and Miss Dempster, who remained together. And as
it happened, he was with the little party among whom were Laird Nicoll and
Sandy Morison, who
found what they had come to seek. They were far over, near the Corbie side
of the moss, though about a quarter of a mile from the Airn footpath, when
they saw a black object on
the ground, lying partially in
a shallow ditch, in which there were about ten inches of
she is," said Bruce, and there was a tremor in his voice, for even a strong
man may be moved at the sight of death in such a form.
the boys held aloft the big stabli lantern Binns had brought with him, and
he and Bruce, stooping down, turned the poor lady over, in the faint hope
that the spark of life might yet remain. But the body was quite lifeless,
and the manner of her death was not difficult to guess. She had missed her
footing, and fallen on her face. Being unable to rise, she had simply been
suffocated in a handful of water which would scarcely have drowned a mouse.
raither 'a' loupit in the Warlock's Well when a's dune," said Sandy Morison
gruffly. " Puir body, to be chockit in a saucerfu' o' water like that; it
micht be a wairnin' till's a'. Wha's to tell the Miss ? "
looked, as was somehow natural, to Bruce, who immediately took the lead.
carry her up the brae a bit, an' here's a clean handkerchief we can spread
over her face," he said very gently. " An', neebors, maybe we need not say
anything about how she was lying. It might be easier on Miss Dempster if she
thought she had died naturally, or at least only from exposure."
idea," said Binns approvingly. " It's a kindly lee. I'm ready."
arranged the poor old lady's soiled garments about her, put her bonnet
straight on her poor white head, and Bruce with his own hand spread the
clean linen on her face.
while the others bore their burden up the brae to the shelter of the dry
stone dyke skirting the Corbie, he strode back the way he had come. The
minister saw him some distance off, and gathering from his walk and
demeanour that he had something to tell, went a few steps to meet him.
found her near the Corbie," he said, with a nod. " No, not alive—quite
minister went back in silence to the stricken woman, and took her on his
have found her, my dear," he said, with a great tenderness, which made
Bruce's heart melt. " It is God's will, and she is better where she is."
Dempster gave a little gasp, and then, with one look at the minister's face,
straightened herself and said in a calm voice,—
" Take me
to her. I am glad she is found."
came to those who were keeping vigil by the prostrate silent form, Miss
Dempster bent down, and, lifting the white linen cloth, looked at her
mother's face, and though she trembled greatly, spoke calmly to the men,
who, listening to her and looking at her face, would have gone to the
world's end to serve her.
" My kind
neighbours, who have helped me in my extremity, will you help me to take her
" Ay wull
we," said Binns. " The puir leddy's but a licht wecht; a buirdly chiel micht
carry her hissel'. If you'll help,
can tak' her hame to Strathairn atween's."
And so it
was. The boy was sent back to acquaint the others with the result of the
search, and the little company, bearing their sad burden, moved forward to
the Airn path —poor Meldrum, who had come upon them, sobbing bitterly, for
he remembered his mistress in her day of beauty and pride, and the shame of
Strathairn was sore upon him. Miss Dempster herself wept none. She was very
calm, very collected, seeming to think of everything; and when at midnight
they bore the dead mistress of Strathairn to her own chamber, the first
thing she did was to give directions for refreshments to be given those who
" I shall
remain here to-night, Miss Dempster," said the minister, before she passed
up to do the last sad office in the upper room.
and ask Mr. Rymer to remain also. I particularly desire it."
came to pass that the minister and Bruce found themselves in the grey small
hours of that July morning sitting together where they had never expected so
to sit— in the library of Strathairn.
about two o'clock when she came down to them, looking like a ghost.
" All is
done, and you must need your rest," she said gently. " Your room is ready. I
thought you would wish to be together. We shall talk in the morning."
" I hope
you will take rest yourself," said
Bowman, and Bruce wondered whether he should go out of the room or not, but
finally remained, for which they were both grateful.
" Oh yes.
I may not sleep. The sun will be up soon, and it will cheer me," she said
with a faint smile, and bade them goodnight.
not to be expected that any slept much in the house of Strathairn that
night. Neither the minister nor Bruce closed an eye.
Dempster did not breakfast with them next morning, but saw them afterwards
as they walked together in the garden. It being Saturday, there was no hurry
for Bruce going back to the Beild. In the course of the day some callers
came to offer their condolences; and towards afternoon a cousin and his wife
arrived from their farm-place on the farther edge of Magus Muir. This man,
whom Mr. Bowman had seen before at Strathairn, did not favourably impress
him, and he liked not his manner towards Miss Dempster. She was coldly civil
to them, nothing more; and when they announced their intention of remaining
till Monday, the funeral day, she did not even say she would make them
welcome. When they arrived, Mr. Bowman and Bruce went away ; the cousin,
Gavin Dempster, showing them plainly he wondered at their presence and
considered it an intrusion. He was, however, fairly civil to them before
Miss Dempster, being secretly afraid of her. The wife was a vulgar person,
with a great idea of her own importance—a woman whom Euphame Dempster had
always regarded as insufferable. Miss Dempster accompanied the two friends
across the park to the wicket gate out of the Airn woods, and there bade
" I may
come to the kirk to-morrow," she said, a trifle sadly. " It may be I shall
be glad to escape the company of my kinsfolk, though it seems ungrateful of
me to say it, and in the Beild kirk I know I shall be among friends."
with a pathos both felt, so much that they could say nothing in reply. But a
hand-clasp and a long look can express much, and these were not lacking.
lady, poor lady," said Bruce, turning to look back at her tall figure as she
moved away through the trees with her head bent towards the ground. " She is
terrible forlorn, and I don't like those folk that have come from Magus
Muir—do you ? "
I don't, nor do I know what they want at Strathairn at such a time," said
the minister, quite hotly for him.
look as if they had some right to the place. Nothing could be put past Miss
Dempster—could it ? "
Strathairn can't, if you mean that. The entail cannot be broken ; it has
been tried before now. The money might, and the old woman was not herself;
but God forbid."
his serious doubts, on which however he did not insist, knowing that Monday
would settle everything. He felt sorry it was impossible for him to attend
the funeral, his school inspection being next day, and time too valuable to
spare. He sent his regrets by Mr. Bowman, who went over immediately after
his early dinner. There was a considerable gathering of folk —come to pay
their respect though to the living rather than the dead, Mrs. Dempster
having long alienated such from herself in her life-time. Miss Dempster's
face lightened somewhat of its gloom when she saw the minister, and his
heart leaped to see it, though it caused him much mournfulness also; for
what, even though love existed, could Miss Dempster of Strathairn ever be to
the poor minister of the Beild kirk—a man without purse or pedigree ? The
burying did not occupy long, the distance to the Airn kirk being but short,
and thereafter the will was to be read in the library.
Bowman was not present at this formality, having stopped to inquire for a
bedridden man, formerly a parishioner of his own, in the Airn village. About
an hour after, as he came towards the front gates of Strathairn, he beheld
the figure of Sir Ludovic Leslie of Wester Cairn driving his dog-cart
furiously up the avenue. His face, always ruddy and well-favoured, was now
angrily red, and when he saw the minister he pulled up his horse with a jerk
which made him rear on his hind legs.
up to that dishonoured house, Mr. Bowman, or you'll maybe be tempted, like
me, to put your fist in the face of as damned a scoundrel as ever walked the
you mean, Sir Ludo?" inquired the minister, using the name by which the
popular laird of Wester Cairn was known in the country-side.
that Gavin Dempster I'm meaning— devil take him !" cried Sir Ludo, shaking
his long whip, as if it itched to be about some one's ears. " The old lady's
left him every copper, every acre of land not in the entail, and poor
Euphame's gotten nothing but the bare standing walls of Strathairn. But I'll
fight him for it, if there's law in the land, for honour's sake. I'll wrest
it from him, if it should take a year's revenue from West Cairn to do it."
forbid that such injustice should have been done."
" It is
done, sir," said Sir Ludo grimly. " I'm not a swearing man, Mr. Bowman, but
there's times when it's the only language fit; so I just damned the villain
before them all, and came away."
Bowman's usually gentle eyes flashed fire, his great right hand
involuntarily clenched, and his mouth lost its expression of sweetness and
became wholly stern.
there's justice, as you say, Sir Ludo, it can yet be done," he said.
the rest of them coming. Are you going up ? Tell the poor girl Lady Leslie
will come over this evening. Oh, if I but had the blackguard in my grips,
and that vulgar hizzie of his, as common as thistle-down ! Good-day to you ;
preach a sermon on them, my man, and don't spare them."
still shaking his fist, rode on, and Mr. Bowman, wishing to avoid the
mourners coming up the avenue, struck off into the path among the trees, and
returned to the house by the back way.