came round the end of the house through the shrubbery he beheld Gavin
Dempster walking on the lawn with the lawyer, Mr. Patullo of the Kirklands,
and another man he did not know. He passed them by quite close, but they
took no notice of him, and he walked straight into the hall, meeting Mrs.
Gavin Dempster there, looking handsome enough in her rich mourning, and
wearing on her pert face a look of defiant assurance.
there is no servant to take my message, madam," said Mr. Bowman, as he laid
his hat on the table, " could I trouble you to tell Miss Dempster I would
speak with her for a few minutes ? "
business, may I inquire ? " she said arrogantly.
Dempster will not inquire what my business is, madam. I am an old friend of
the family; if you will but convey my request, I shall be much obliged."
" You can
sit down there then ; there are lawyers in the library, and the drawing-room
is not fit for visitors," she said as insolently as she dared; for there was
something in the minister's grave, stern face which awed her, lacking in all
proper respect though she was.
not take the seat so rudely offered, but was still standing when Miss
Dempster came downstairs, her long black gown trailing behind her, the
muslin band at her throat not whiter than her face.
you come up ? " she said, without smile or greeting of any kind. "I have a
little sitting-room upstairs where my kinsfolk have not yet intruded."
followed her without a word; and when they had both entered the sunny little
room which bore so many indications of the tastes and occupations of a true
gentlewoman, she shut the door, turned the key in the lock, then sat down
before the escritoire in the quaint corner window, and turned to him with a
faint, wavering, dreary smile.
are things harder to bear than death, Mr. Bowman, and those we love can
treat us cruelly. Has anybody told you about my mother's will ? "
Sir Ludovic," he answered, and could say no more, his throat being parched
and his tongue tied, though in his heart surged a sea of tumultuous thought.
nothing left to me but the standing stones of Strathairn, and such things as
are heirlooms and come under the entail. Everything that can be converted
into money she has left to my cousin, whom God forgive, for I cannot; and I
am a middle-aged woman, with nothing at my fingers whereby
earn an honest penny. Did you think God could be so hard upon a single
woman, who has wronged none, and has tried to do the duty as she saw it
lying to her hand ? You are a minister; perhaps you can make plain to me the
Lord's dealing with me, for I am all at sea, and have no faith in God or
quietly, but the white, beautiful hands, which for nearly forty years had
been so strong, as she said, to do the duty that lay nearest, and that had
known no ministry but that of patient love, seemed to have become frail and
weak, the bit of paper she had nervously grasped fluttering in them like a
leaf in the blast. It was more than man could stand; so, forgetful of all
save of his great love, Hugh Bowman got up to his feet, and, kneeling down
before her, put his two strong arms round her waist.
" I must
speak now, Euphame. I can no longer be silent. The love of my heart has
already been revealed to you. If there is even a faint response to it in
your heart, let it comfort you in this bitter hour. I am but a poor man, God
knows, nor have I hid it from you—unworthy of you in a thousand ways; but
what I offer is at least sincere. One of the barriers between us is swept
away, and though I may regret it for your sake, I cannot for my own, since
it has given me courage to speak."
looked nobler than at that moment, though upon his knees; and again the
light seemed to shine in a dark place for the woman who listened to him. But
she put up one of her trembling hands depreca-tingly, and with the other
covered her face.
" Oh, Mr.
Bowman, at this time! Is it not more of pity than anything else ? I am a
middle-aged woman, as I said, past my prime—penniless too, and I fear
" Hush 1"
he said sternly, even in his tenderness; " not that, and the only woman in
the world for me. I wonder at my own courage; I have so little to offer,
while you are above me in station as in worth. The plain home and honest
heart of a man whose endeavour, God helping him, will be to make you
happy—that is all."
" It is
enough," she answered him very low. " It is enough for me."
middle-aged pair, both or whom had known sorrow of the sharpest sort, opened
their hearts to the one romance of their lives, and, though late, found it
later Mr. Bowman left Strathairn, and, saying nothing even to Miss Dempster,
walked across the fields to Wester Cairn. He
saw the carriage leave the gates as he approached, and guessed that it was
Lady Leslie bound upon her errand of mercy. It was now five o'clock, and Sir
Ludovic was engaged with his steward in his business room on a rent question
when the minister's name was brought to him.
excuse me, Bailie," he said, jumping up at once, his mind more full of
Euphame Dempster's affairs than his own. " Come up after dinner; I'll be at
leisure then. I must see this gentleman at once."
well, Sir Ludo," said the man, and took himself off. Sir Ludovic had changed
his morning dress for his riding garb, in which he looked a handsomer man.
Mr. Bowman," he said, rubbing his hands together, " did you stick your fist
in Guy Dempster's face, or what ? "
" No, Sir
Ludovic; I was glad enough to be spared coming in contact with him," replied
the minister. " Can I speak to you on a private matter for a few minutes ? "
certainly; sit down," said the good-natured baronet affably, for he had a
sincere liking and respect for the manly minister of the Beild. " Didn't you
meet the carriage ? Lady Leslie has just gone over to Strath-airn, and
she'll fetch back the poor girl, if she'll come."
" Are you
Miss Dempster's guardian, Sir Ludovic ? "
" Why no,
not exactly, though my friend Dempster—as fine a fellow as ever breathed,
and but poorly mated with her that's away— asked me to keep an eye on the
place, and on his little girl. If I'd had a son of my own, Bowman, I'd have
married the two; but, you see, it never came to pass. No, I'm no legal
guardian of Miss Dempster's, though I have her interest at heart. But why do
you ask ? "
" I have
come to you, because I believe you to be the most disinterested friend she
has, to tell you that I have asked her in marriage, and she has accepted
" said Sir Ludo, jumping to his feet and growing rather red.
men regarded each other steadily for a few seconds, and there was just a
shade of suspicion in Sir .Ludo's face.
very sudden, and I don't understand it. Pardon me, Mr. Bowman, because I am
an old friend of the family; but I hope you did not take advantage of her
deep grief. Ah, ah—that is, excuse me, of course I ought not to have said
that, but it's so damned sudden I couldn't help it."
Dempster has been aware for some time of my affection for her, though I
never cared to dream of such a thing as marriage. But seeing her to-day, I
found it impossible to keep silence; and I defy you, Sir Ludovic, or any
other man, in like circumstances, to have held his tongue."
smiled drily, and took a turn across the room with his hands behind his
she—does she care about you then in that way ?" he asked flatly, and the
minister reddened like a school-girl.
" If she
did not, Sir Ludo, I should not be here to-day."
being the case then," said the baronet, drawing in a chair with a great deal
of noise, "we'd better sit down and talk it over, and take a sensible view
of the situation. Firstly, then, Mr. Bowman, you may take it that I have no
personal objection to you, for I have heard you are a scholar and I know you
are a gentleman. But you and Euphame can't live on that. What's your stipend
in the Beild ?"
hundred pounds and the Manse," said Mr. Bowman.
supposing that we lost the lawsuit, and that she had nothing but Strathairn,
it would bring a hundred a year let furnished, and there's the farm
Airncroach lets for another hundred—that's four. I daresay you could live,
but not on the fat of the land. Ye maun get another kirk, my man, and that
with speed; but I'm in hopes we'll gain the day. I'm for Edinburgh to-morrow
to the Haldanes, my men of business, and we'll see what they say."
" If Miss
Dempster is content with a plain way of living, which I think she would be,
it might be better to leave things as they are."
brought down his clenched fist on the table with a bang.
it? and let that ill loon and his hizzie of a wife spend Euphame's money ?
If you fancy that gate, Mr. Bowman, I warn you, you and I'll no 'gree, and
I'll feel it my duty to warn Euphame against you."
twinkle in his eye belied his words, and Mr. Bowman rose, feeling that he
had a staunch friend in the bluff, plain-spoken, but truly good-hearted
you stay and dine? Her ladyship will be back by-and-by, and if she brings
Miss Dempster with her so much the better. Did you hear whether Guy Dempster
would leave to-day ? "
were leaving, Sir Ludo, just as I did. No, thank you; I shall not stay
tonight. It is time I was back at my own Manse."
right. Well, well, what changes folk live to see, Mr. Bowman 1 Man, I would
like to see the villain ousted in open court. It's a clear case of undue
influence, but I can't for the life of me imagine how or when the thing was
have always come a lot about Strathairn, Sir Ludo; and Mrs. Dempster paid
them a long visit, don't you remember, in spring?"
do. It's a piece of black work, anyhow, and I for one will do my best to
He put on
his hat, and walked with the minister to show him a short cut across to the
moss, and his whole talk as they walked was of Guy Dempster's villainy and
his determination to baulk him yet.
evening was well spent when the minister entered his own garden gate. He
could not help looking at the house with different eyes, as the possible
home of the only woman he had ever loved. It was an unpretending house, but
it had the look of a home, and was not without its picturesque aspect,
embowered as it was among sheltering trees, and covered with roses which
bloomed all the summer through, defying even the north winds which at times
blew snelly across the moss. Easy, who came to inquire what he desired to
eat, fancied he looked tired and sad, but attributed it to the sombre duties
in which he had that day been engaged.
Broon was here, sir, an' I ken her errand, though she didna tell me. It's
till speir ye to the waddin'. I'm bid mysel'. It's an unco business, d'ye no
think ? "
" When is
it, Easy ? "
Thursday nicht at aicht o'clock in Leez-beth's—a fell grand ploy tae, frae
a' I can hear. Jess Lockhart says Weelum Birrel i' the Kirklands is gotten
the order for the bride cake—thirty shillin's, or maybe twa pound."
" Jess is
busy, as usual, I see. Well, while you are getting me a plate of porridge,
Easy, I'll slip over to the schoolhouse. You can come for me when you're
vera busy wi' the skeddles for the morn," said Easy suggestively, feeling
that she had had a long day alone, and yearning to unburden her soul
regarding Thursday's ceremonial. The minister did not take the hint,
however, but went across to the schoolhouse at once.
Bruce was very busy among
his school-registers, but jumped up, glad to see his friend, who seemed to
have been long absent. As he looked at him, he thought that there was
something different in his face, though he could not have put it into words.
late, Mr. Bowman ; have you just got back ? "
this moment. I have had an exciting and eventful day, Bruce."
you ?" inquired Bruce eagerly; " and what about the folk from Magus Muir ? "
were right about them, Bruce. Mrs. Dempster has willed everything she could
to them, except the stannin' stanes o' Strathairn."
her own daughter ? "
it's some hard, Bruce; but I can't altogether regret it, since it has given
me something I might not otherwise have had. Miss Dempster has promised to
be my wife, Bruce."
"I am not
surprised ; I saw how it was on Friday night," said Bruce, as he gripped him
by the hand. " I don't know her very well, but I know you, and she is a
lucky woman, as I've aye said any woman would be that got our minister."