Robert Falconer by George MacDonald
Part I.--His Boyhood
Chapter V. The Symposium.
Robert had scarcely turned out of the square on his way to find Shargar, when a horseman entered it. His horse and he were both apparently black on one side and gray on the other, from the snow-drift settling to windward. The animal looked tired, but the rider sat as easy as if he were riding to cover. The reins hung loose, and the horse went in a straight line for The Boar's Head, stopping under the archway only when his master drew bridle at the door of the inn.
At that moment Miss Letty was standing at the back of Miss Napier's chair, leaning her arms upon it as she talked to her. This was her way of resting as often as occasion arose for a chat with her elder sister. Miss Letty's hair was gathered in a great knot at the top of her head, and little ringlets hung like tendrils down the sides of her face, the benevolence of which was less immediately striking than that of her sister's, because of the constant play of humour upon it, especially about the mouth. If a spirit of satire could be supposed converted into something Christian by an infusion of the tenderest loving-kindness and humanity, remaining still recognizable notwithstanding that all its bitterness was gone, such was the expression of Miss Letty's mouth, It was always half puckered as if in resistance to a comic smile, which showed itself at the windows of the keen gray eyes, however the mouth might be able to keep it within doors. She was neatly dressed in black silk, with a lace collar. Her hands were small and white.
The moment the traveller stopped at the door, Miss Napier started.
'Letty,' she said, 'wha's that? I could amaist sweir to Black Geordie's fit.'
'A' four o' them, I think,' returned Miss Letty, as the horse, notwithstanding, or perhaps in consequence of his fatigue, began to paw and move about on the stones impatiently.
The rider had not yet spoken.
'He'll be efter some o' 's deevil-ma'-care sculduddery. But jist rin to the door, Letty, or Lizzy 'll be there afore ye, and maybe she wadna be ower ceevil. What can he be efter noo?'
'What wad the grew (grayhound) be efter but maukin (hare)?' returned Miss Letty.
'Hoot! nonsense! He kens naething aboot her. Gang to the door, lassie.'
Miss Letty obeyed.
'Wha's there?' she asked, somewhat sharply, as she opened it, 'that neither chaps (knocks) nor ca's?--Preserve 's a'! is't you, my lord?'
'Hoo ken ye me, Miss Letty withoot seein' my face?'
'A'body at The Boar's Heid kens Black Geordie as weel 's yer lordship's ain sel'. But whaur comes yer lordship frae in sic a nicht as this?'
'From Russia. Never dismounted between Moscow and Aberdeen. The ice is bearing to-night.'
And the baron laughed inside the upturned collar of his cloak, for he knew that strangely-exaggerated stories were current about his feats in the saddle.
'That's a lang ride, my lord, and a sliddery. And what's yer lordship's wull?'
'Muckle ye care aboot my lordship to stand jawin' there in a night like this! Is nobody going to take my horse?'
'I beg yer lordship's pardon. Caumill!--Yer lordship never said ye wanted yer lordship's horse ta'en. I thocht ye micht be gaein' on to The Bothie.--Tak' Black Geordie here, Caumill.--Come in to the parlour, my lord.'
'How d'ye do, Miss Naper?' said Lord Rothie, as he entered the room. 'Here's this jade of a sister of yours asking me why I don't go home to The Bothie, when I choose to stop and water here.'
'What'll ye tak', my lord?--Letty, fess the brandy.'
'Oh! damn your brandy! Bring me a gill of good Glendronach.'
'Rin, Letty. His lordship's cauld.--I canna rise to offer ye the airm-cheir, my lord.'
'I can get one for myself, thank heaven!'
'Lang may yer lordship return sic thanks.' 'For I'm only new begun, ye think, Miss Naper. Well, I don't often trouble heaven with my affairs. By Jove! I ought to be heard when I do.'
'Nae doobt ye will, my lord, whan ye seek onything that's fit to be gien ye.'
'True. Heaven's gifts are seldom much worth the asking.'
'Haud yer tongue, my lord, and dinna bring doon a judgment upo' my hoose, for it wad be missed oot o' Rothieden,'
'You're right there, Miss Naper. And here comes the whisky to stop my mouth.'
The Baron of Rothie sat for a few minutes with his feet on the fender before Miss Letty's blazing fire, without speaking, while he sipped the whisky neat from a wine-glass. He was a man about the middle height, rather full-figured, muscular and active, with a small head, and an eye whose brightness had not yet been dimmed by the sensuality which might be read in the condition rather than frame of his countenance. But while he spoke so pleasantly to the Miss Napiers, and his forehead spread broad and smooth over the twinkle of his hazel eye, there was a sharp curve on each side of his upper lip, half-way between the corner and the middle, which reminded one of the same curves in the lip of his ancestral boar's head, where it was lifted up by the protruding tusks. These curves disappeared, of course, when he smiled, and his smile, being a lord's, was generally pronounced irresistible. He was good-natured, and nowise inclined to stand upon his rank, so long as he had his own way.
'Any customers by the mail to-night, Miss Naper?' he asked, in a careless tone.
'Naebody partic'lar, my lord.'
'I thought ye never let anybody in that wasn't particularly particular. No foot-passengers--eh?'
'Hoot, my lord! that's twa year ago. Gin I had jaloosed him to be a fren' o' yer lordship's, forby bein' a lord himsel', ye ken as weel 's I du that I wadna hae sent him ower the gait to Luckie Happit's, whaur he wadna even be ower sure o' gettin' clean sheets. But gin lords an' lords' sons will walk afit like ither fowk, wha's to ken them frae ither fowk?'
'Well, Miss Naper, he was no lord at all. He was nothing but a factor-body doon frae Glenbucket.'
'There was sma' hairm dune than, my lord. I'm glaid to hear 't. But what'll yer lordship hae to yer supper?'
'I would like a dish o' your chits and nears (sweetbreads and kidneys).'
'Noo, think o' that!' returned the landlady, laughing. 'You great fowk wad hae the verra coorse o' natur' turned upside doon to shuit yersels. Wha ever heard o' caure (calves) at this time o' the year?'
'Well, anything you like. Who was it came by the mail, did you say?'
'I said naebody partic'lar, my lord.'
'Well, I'll just go and have a look at Black Geordie.'
'Verra weel, my lord.--Letty, rin an' luik efter him; and as sune 's he's roon' the neuk, tell Lizzie no to say a word aboot the leddy. As sure 's deith he's efter her. Whaur cud he hae heard tell o' her?'
Lord Rothie came, a moment after, sauntering into the bar-parlour, where Lizzie, the third Miss Napier, a red-haired, round-eyed, white-toothed woman of forty, was making entries in a book.
'She's a bonnie lassie that, that came in the coach to-night, they say, Miss Lizzie.'
'As ugly 's sin, my lord,' answered Lizzie.
'I hae seen some sin 'at was nane sae ugly, Miss Lizzie.'
'She wad hae clean scunnert (disgusted) ye, my lord. It's a mercy ye didna see her.'
'If she be as ugly as all that, I would just like to see her.'
Miss Lizzie saw she had gone too far.
'Ow, deed! gin yer lordship wants to see her, ye may see her at yer wull. I s' gang and tell her.'
And she rose as if to go.
'No, no. Nothing of the sort, Miss Lizzie. Only I heard that she was bonnie, and I wanted to see her. You know I like to look at a pretty girl.'
'That's ower weel kent, my lord.'
'Well, there's no harm in that, Miss Lizzie.'
'There's no harm in that, my lord, though yer lordship says 't.'
The facts were that his lordship had been to the county-town, some forty miles off, and Black Geordie had been sent to Hillknow to meet him; for in any weather that would let him sit, he preferred horseback to every other mode of travelling, though he seldom would be followed by a groom. He had posted to Hillknow, and had dined with a friend at the inn. The coach stopping to change horses, he had caught a glimpse of a pretty face, as he thought, from its window, and had hoped to overtake the coach before it reached Rothieden. But stopping to drink another bottle, he had failed; and it was on the merest chance of seeing that pretty face that he stopped at The Boar's Head. In all probability, had the Marquis seen the lady, he would not have thought her at all such a beauty as she appeared in the eyes of Dooble Sanny; nor, I venture to think, had he thought as the shoemaker did, would he yet have dared to address her in other than the words of such respect as he could still feel in the presence of that which was more noble than himself.
Whether or not on his visit to the stable he found anything amiss with Black Geordie, I cannot tell, but he now begged Miss Lizzie to have a bedroom prepared for him.
It happened to be the evening of Friday, one devoted by some of the townspeople to a symposium. To this, knowing that the talk will throw a glimmer on several matters, I will now introduce my reader, as a spectator through the reversed telescope of my history.
A few of the more influential of the inhabitants had grown, rather than formed themselves, into a kind of club, which met weekly at The Boar's Head. Although they had no exclusive right to the room in which they sat, they generally managed to retain exclusive possession of it; for if any supposed objectionable person entered, they always got rid of him, sometimes without his being aware of how they had contrived to make him so uncomfortable. They began to gather about seven o'clock, when it was expected that boiling water would be in readiness for the compound generally called toddy, sometimes punch. As soon as six were assembled, one was always voted into the chair.
On the present occasion, Mr. Innes, the school-master, was unanimously elected to that honour. He was a hard-featured, sententious, snuffy individual, of some learning, and great respectability.
I omit the political talk with which their intercommunications began; for however interesting at the time is the scaffolding by which existing institutions arise, the poles and beams when gathered again in the builder's yard are scarcely a subject for the artist.
The first to lead the way towards matters of nearer personality was William MacGregor, the linen manufacturer, a man who possessed a score of hand-looms or so--half of which, from the advance of cotton and the decline of linen-wear, now stood idle--but who had already a sufficient deposit in the hands of Mr. Thomson the banker--agent, that is, for the county-bank--to secure him against any necessity for taking to cotton shirts himself, which were an abomination and offence unpardonable in his eyes.
'Can ye tell me, Mr. Cocker,' he said, 'what mak's Sandy, Lord Rothie, or Wrathy, or what suld he be ca'd?--tak' to The Bothie at a time like this, whan there's neither huntin', nor fishin', nor shutin', nor onything o' the kin' aboot han' to be playacks till him, the bonnie bairn--'cep' it be otters an' sic like?'
William was a shrunken old man, with white whiskers and a black wig, a keen black eye, always in search of the ludicrous in other people, and a mouth ever on the move, as if masticating something comical.
'You know just as well as I do,' answered Mr. Cocker, the Marquis of Boarshead's factor for the surrounding estate. 'He never was in the way of giving a reason for anything, least of all for his own movements.'
'Somebody was sayin' to me,' resumed MacGregor, who, in all probability, invented the story at the moment, 'that the prince took him kissin' ane o' his servan' lasses, and kickit him oot o' Carlton Hoose into the street, and he canna win' ower the disgrace o' 't.'
''Deed for the kissin',' said Mr. Thomson, a portly, comfortable-looking man, 'that's neither here nor there, though it micht hae been a duchess or twa; but for the kickin', my word! but Lord Sandy was mair likly to kick oot the prince. Do ye min' hoo he did whan the Markis taxed him wi'--?'
'Haud a quaiet sough,' interposed Mr. Cruickshank, the solicitor; 'there's a drap i' the hoose.'
This was a phrase well understood by the company, indicating the presence of some one unknown, or unfit to be trusted.
As he spoke he looked towards the farther end of the room, which lay in obscurity; for it was a large room, lighted only by the four candles on the table at which the company sat.
'Whaur, Mr. Cruickshank?' asked the dominie in a whisper.
'There,' answered Sampson Peddie, the bookseller, who seized the opportunity of saying something, and pointed furtively where the solicitor had only looked.
A dim figure was descried at a table in the farthest corner of the room, and they proceeded to carry out the plan they generally adopted to get rid of a stranger.
'Ye made use o' a curious auld Scots phrase this moment, Mr. Curshank: can ye explain hoo it comes to beir the meanin' that it's weel kent to beir?' said the manufacturer.
'Not I, Mr. MacGregor,' answered the solicitor. 'I'm no philologist or antiquarian. Ask the chairman.'
'Gentlemen,' responded Mr. Innes, taking a huge pinch of snuff after the word, and then, passing the box to Mr. Cocker, a sip from his glass before he went on: 'the phrase, gentlemen, "a drap i' the hoose," no doobt refers to an undesirable presence, for ye're weel awaur that it's a most unpleasin' discovery, in winter especially, to find a drop o' water hangin' from yer ceiling; a something, in short, whaur it has no business to be, and is not accordingly looked for, or prepared against.'
'It seems to me, Mr. Innes,' said MacGregor, 'that ye hae hit the nail, but no upo' the heid. What mak' ye o' the phrase, no confined to the Scots tongue, I believe, o' an eaves-drapper? The whilk, no doobt, represents a body that hings aboot yer winnock, like a drap hangin' ower abune it frae the eaves--therefore called an eaves drapper. But the sort of whilk we noo speak, are a waur sort a'thegither; for they come to the inside o' yer hoose, o' yer verra chaumer, an' hing oot their lang lugs to hear what ye carena to be hard save by a dooce frien' or twa ower a het tum'ler.'
At the same moment the door opened, and a man entered, who was received with unusual welcome.
'Bless my sowl!' said the president, rising; 'it's Mr. Lammie!--Come awa', Mr. Lammie. Sit doon; sit doon. Whaur hae ye been this mony a day, like a pelican o' the wilderness?'
Mr. Lammie was a large, mild man, with florid cheeks, no whiskers, and a prominent black eye. He was characterized by a certain simple alacrity, a gentle, but outspeaking readiness, which made him a favourite.
'I dinna richtly mak' oot wha ye are,' he answered. 'Ye hae unco little licht here! Hoo are ye a', gentlemen? I s' discover ye by degrees, and pay my respecks accordin'.'
And he drew a chair to the table.
''Deed I wuss ye wad,' returned MacGregor, in a voice pretentiously hushed, but none the less audible. 'There's a drap in yon en' o' the hoose, Mr. Lammie.'
'Hoot! never min' the man,' said Lammie, looking round in the direction indicated. 'I s' warran' he cares as little aboot hiz as we care aboot him. There's nae treason noo a-days. I carena wha hears what I say.'
'For my pairt,' said Mr. Peddie, 'I canna help wonnerin' gin it cud be oor auld frien' Mr. Faukener.'
'Speyk o' the de'il--' said Mr. Lammie.
'Hoot! na,' returned Peddie, interrupting. 'He wasna a'thegither the de'il.'
'Haud the tongue o' ye,' retorted Lammie. 'Dinna ye ken a proverb whan ye hear 't? De'il hae ye! ye're as sharpset as a missionar'. I was only gaun to say that I'm doobtin' Andrew's deid.'
'Ay! ay!' commenced a chorus of questioning.
'What gars ye think that?'
'And sae he's deid!'
'He was a great favourite, Anerew!'
'Whaur dee'd he?'
'Aye some upsettin' though!'
'Ay. He was aye to be somebody wi' his tale.'
'A gude-hertit crater, but ye cudna lippen till him.'
'Speyk nae ill o' the deid. Maybe they'll hear ye, and turn roon' i' their coffins, and that'll whumle you i' your beds,' said MacGregor, with a twinkle in his eye.
'Ring the bell for anither tum'ler, Sampson,' said the chairman.
'What'll be dune wi' that factory place, noo? It'll be i' the market?'
'It's been i' the market for mony a year. But it's no his ava. It belangs to the auld leddy, his mither,' said the weaver.
'Why don't you buy it, Mr. MacGregor, and set up a cotton mill? There's not much doing with the linen now,' said Mr. Cocker.
'Me!' returned MacGregor, with indignation. 'The Lord forgie ye for mintin' (hinting) at sic a thing, Mr. Cocker! Me tak' to coaton! I wad as sune spin the hair frae Sawtan's hurdies. Short fushionless dirt, that canna grow straucht oot o' the halesome yird, like the bonnie lint-bells, but maun stick itsel' upo' a buss!--set it up! Coorse vulgar stuff, 'at naebody wad weir but loup-coonter lads that wad fain luik like gentlemen by means o' the collars and ruffles--an' a' comin' frae the auld loom! They may weel affoord se'enteen hunner linen to set it aff wi' 'at has naething but coaton inside the breeks o' them.'
'But Dr. Wagstaff says it's healthier,' interposed Peddie.
'I'll wag a staff till him. De'il a bit o' 't 's healthier! an' that he kens. It's nae sae healthy, an' sae it mak's him mair wark wi' 's poothers an' his drauchts, an' ither stinkin' stuff. Healthier! What neist?'
'Somebody tellt me,' said the bookseller, inwardly conscious of offence, ''at hoo Lord Sandy himsel' weirs cotton.'
'Ow 'deed, maybe. And he sets mony a worthy example furbye. Hoo mony, can ye tell me, Mr. Peddie, has he pulled doon frae honest, if no frae high estate, and sent oot to seek their livin' as he taucht them? Hoo mony--?'
'Hoot, hoot! Mr. MacGregor, his lordship hasn't a cotton shirt in his possession, I'll be bound,' said Mr. Cocker. 'And, besides, you have not to wash his dirty linen--or cotton either.'
'That's as muckle as to say, accordin' to Cocker, that I'm no to speik a word against him. But I'll say what I like. He's no my maister,' said MacGregor, who could drink very little without suffering in his temper and manners; and who, besides, had a certain shrewd suspicion as to the person who still sat in the dark end of the room, possibly because the entrance of Mr. Lammie had interrupted the exorcism.
The chairman interposed with soothing words; and the whole company, Cocker included, did its best to pacify the manufacturer; for they all knew what would be the penalty if they failed.
A good deal of talk followed, and a good deal of whisky was drunk. They were waited upon by Meg, who, without their being aware of it, cast a keen parting glance at them every time she left the room. At length the conversation had turned again to Andrew Falconer's death.
'Whaur said ye he dee'd, Mr. Lammie?'
'I never said he was deid. I said I was feared 'at he was deid.'
'An' what gars ye say that? It micht be o' consequence to hae 't correck,' said the solicitor.
'I had a letter frae my auld frien' and his, Dr. Anderson. Ye min' upo' him, Mr. Innes, dunna ye? He's heid o' the medical boord at Calcutta noo. He says naething but that he doobts he's gane. He gaed up the country, and he hasna hard o' him for sae lang. We hae keepit up a correspondence for mony a year noo, Dr. Anderson an' me. He was a relation o' Anerew's, ye ken--a second cousin, or something. He'll be hame or lang, I'm thinkin', wi' a fine pension.'
'He winna weir a cotton sark, I'll be boon',' said MacGregor.
'What's the auld leddy gaein' to du wi' that lang-leggit oye (grandson) o' hers, Anerew's son?' asked Sampson.
'Ow! he'll be gaein' to the college, I'm thinkin'. He's a fine lad, and a clever, they tell me,' said Mr. Thomson.
'Indeed, he's all that, and more too,' said the school-master.
'There's naething 'ull du but the college noo!' said MacGregor, whom nobody heeded, for fear of again rousing his anger.
'Hoo 'ill she manage that, honest woman? She maun hae but little to spare frae the cleedin' o' 'm.'
'She's a gude manager, Mistress Faukner. And, ye see, she has the bleachgreen yet.'
'She doesna weir cotton sarks,' growled MacGregor. 'Mony's the wob o' mine she's bleached and boucht tu!'
Nobody heeding him yet, he began to feel insulted, and broke in upon the conversation with intent.
'Ye haena telt 's yet, Cocker,' he said, 'what that maister o' yours is duin' here at this time o' the year. I wad ken that, gin ye please.'
'How should I know, Mr. MacGregor?' returned the factor, taking no notice of the offensive manner in which the question was put.
'He's no a hair better nor ane o' thae Algerine pirates 'at Lord Exmooth's het the hips o'--and that's my opingon.'
'He's nae amo' your feet, MacGregor,' said the banker. 'Ye micht jist lat him lie.'
'Gin I had him doon, faith gin I wadna lat him lie! I'll jist tell ye ae thing, gentlemen, that cam' to my knowledge no a hunner year ago. An' it's a' as true 's gospel, though I hae aye held my tongue aboot it till this verra nicht. Ay! ye'll a' hearken noo; but it's no lauchin', though there was sculduddery eneuch, nae doobt, afore it cam' that len'th. And mony a het drap did the puir lassie greet, I can tell ye. Faith! it was no lauchin' to her. She was a servan' o' oors, an' a ticht bonnie lass she was. They ca'd her the weyver's bonny Mary--that's the name she gaed by. Weel, ye see--'
MacGregor was interrupted by a sound from the further end of the room. The stranger, whom most of them had by this time forgotten, had risen, and was approaching the table where they sat.
'Guid guide us!' interrupted several under their breaths, as all rose, 'it's Lord Sandy himsel'!'
'I thank you, gentleman,' he said, with a mixture of irony and contempt, 'for the interest you take in my private history. I should have thought it had been as little to the taste as it is to the honour of some of you to listen to such a farrago of lies.'
'Lees! my lord,' said MacGregor, starting to his feet. Mr. Cocker looked dismayed, and Mr. Lammie sheepish--all of them dazed and dumbfoundered, except the old weaver, who, as his lordship turned to leave the room, added:
'Lang lugs (ears) suld be made o' leather, my lord, for fear they grow het wi' what they hear.'
Lord Rothie turned in a rage. He too had been drinking.
'Kick that toad into the street, or, by heaven! it's the last drop any of you drink in this house!' he cried.
'The taed may tell the poddock (frog) what the rottan (rat) did i' the taed's hole, my lord,' said MacGregor, whom independence, honesty, bile, and drink combined to render fearless.
Lord Sandy left the room without another word. His factor took his hat and followed him. The rest dropped into their seats in silence. Mr. Lammie was the first to speak.
'There's a pliskie!' he said.
'I cud jist say the word efter auld Simeon,' said MacGregor.
'I never thocht to be sae favoured! Eh! but I hae langed, and noo I hae spoken!' with which words he sat down, contented.
When Mr. Cocker overtook his master, as MacGregor had not unfitly styled him, he only got a damning for his pains, and went home considerably crestfallen.
Lord Rothie returned to the landlady in her parlour.
'What's the maitter wi' ye, my lord? What's vexed ye?' asked Miss Napier, with a twinkle in her eyes, for she thought, from the baron's mortification, he must have received some rebuff, and now that the bonnie leddy was safe at Captain Forsyth's, enjoyed the idea of it.
'Ye keep an ill-tongued hoose, Miss Naper,' answered his lordship.
Miss Napier guessed at the truth at once--that he had overheard some free remarks on his well-known licence of behaviour.
'Weel, my lord, I do my best. A body canna keep an inn and speir the carritchis (catechism) at the door o' 't. But I believe ye're i' the richt, my lord, for I heard an awfu' aff-gang o' sweirin' i' the yard, jist afore yer lordship cam' in. An' noo' 'at I think o' 't, it wasna that onlike yer lordship's ain word.'
Lord Sandy broke into a loud laugh. He could enjoy a joke against himself when it came from a woman, and was founded on such a trifle as a personal vice.
'I think I'll go to bed,' he said when his laugh was over. 'I believe it's the only safe place from your tongue, Miss Naper.'
'Letty,' cried Miss Napier, 'fess a can'le, and show his lordship to the reid room.'
Till Miss Letty appeared, the baron sat and stretched himself. He then rose and followed her into the archway, and up an outside stair to a door which opened immediately upon a handsome old-fashioned room, where a blazing fire lighted up the red hangings. Miss Letty set down the candle, and bidding his lordship good night, turned and left the room, shutting the door, and locking it behind her--a proceeding of which his lordship took no notice, for, however especially suitable it might be in his case, it was only, from whatever ancient source derived, the custom of the house in regard to this particular room and a corresponding chamber on the opposite side of the archway.
Meantime the consternation amongst the members of the club was not so great as not to be talked over, or to prevent the call for more whisky and hot water. All but MacGregor, however, regretted what had occurred. He was so elevated with his victory and a sense of courage and prowess, that he became more and more facetious and overbearing.
'It's all very well for you, Mr. MacGregor,' said the dominie, with dignity: 'you have nothing to lose.'
'Troth! he canna brak the bank--eh, Mr. Tamson?'
'He may give me a hint to make you withdraw your money, though, Mr. MacGregor.'
'De'il care gin I do!' returned the weaver. 'I can mak' better o' 't ony day.'
'But there's yer hoose an' kailyard,' suggested Peddie.
'They're ma ain!--a' ma ain! He canna lay 's finger on onything o' mine but my servan' lass,' cried the weaver, slapping his thigh-bone--for there was little else to slap.
Meg, at the moment, was taking her exit-glance. She went straight to Miss Napier.
'Willie MacGregor's had eneuch, mem, an' a drappy ower.'
'Sen' Caumill doon to Mrs. MacGregor to say wi' my compliments that she wad do weel to sen' for him,' was the response.
Meantime he grew more than troublesome. Ever on the outlook, when sober, after the foibles of others, he laid himself open to endless ridicule when in drink, which, to tell the truth, was a rare occurrence. He was in the midst of a prophetic denunciation of the vices of the nobility, and especially of Lord Rothie, when Meg, entering the room, went quietly behind his chair and whispered:
'Maister MacGregor, there's a lassie come for ye.'
'I'm nae in,' he answered, magnificently.
'But it's the mistress 'at's sent for ye. Somebody's wantin' ye.'
'Somebody maun want me, than.--As I was sayin', Mr. Cheerman and gentlemen--'
'Mistress MacGregor 'll be efter ye hersel', gin ye dinna gang,' said Meg.
'Let her come. Duv ye think I'm fleyt at her? De'il a step 'll I gang till I please. Tell her that, Meg.'
Meg left the room, with a broad grin on her good-humoured face.
'What's the bitch lauchin' at?' exclaimed MacGregor, starting to his feet.
The whole company rose likewise, using their endeavour to persuade him to go home.
'Duv ye think I'm drunk, sirs? I'll lat ye ken I'm no drunk. I hae a wull o' mine ain yet. Am I to gang hame wi' a lassie to haud me oot o' the gutters? Gin ye daur to alloo that I'm drunk, ye ken hoo ye'll fare, for de'il a fit 'll I gang oot o' this till I hae anither tum'ler.'
'I'm thinkin' there's mair o' 's jist want ane mair,' said Peddie.
A confirmatory murmur arose as each looked into the bottom of his tumbler, and the bell was instantly rung. But it only brought Meg back with the message that it was time for them all to go home. Every eye turned upon MacGregor reproachfully.
'Ye needna luik at me that gait, sirs. I'm no fou,' said he.
''Deed no. Naebody taks ye to be,' answered the chairman. 'Meggie, there's naebody's had ower muckle yet, and twa or three o' 's hasna had freely eneuch. Jist gang an' fess a mutchkin mair. An' there'll be a shillin' to yersel', lass.'
Meg retired, but straightway returned.
'Miss Naper says there's no a drap mair drink to be had i' this hoose the nicht.'
'Here, Meggie,' said the chairman, 'there's yer shillin'; and ye jist gang to Miss Lettie, and gie her my compliments, and say that Mr. Lammie's here, and we haena seen him for a lang time. And'--the rest was spoken in a whisper--'I'll sweir to ye, Meggie, the weyver body sanna hae ae drap o' 't.'
Meg withdrew once more, and returned.
'Miss Letty's compliments, sir, and Miss Naper has the keys, and she's gane till her bed, and we maunna disturb her. And it's time 'at a' honest fowk was in their beds tu. And gin Mr. Lammie wants a bed i' this hoose, he maun gang till 't. An' here's his can'le. Gude nicht to ye a', gentlemen.'
So saying, Meg set the lighted candle on the sideboard, and finally vanished. The good-tempered, who formed the greater part of the company, smiled to each other, and emptied the last drops of their toddy first into their glasses, and thence into their mouths. The ill-tempered, numbering but one more than MacGregor, growled and swore a little, the weaver declaring that he would not go home. But the rest walked out and left him, and at last, appalled by the silence, he rose with his wig awry, and trotted--he always trotted when he was tipsy--home to his wife.