Chapter LVIII. The Confession.
 

Although Gibbie had taken no notice of the laird's party, he had recognized each of the three as he came up the stair, and in Ginevra's face read an appeal for deliverance. It seemed to say, "You help everybody but me! Why do you not come and help me too? Am I to have no pity because I am neither hungry nor cold?" He did not, however, lie awake the most of the night, or indeed a single hour of it, thinking what he should do; long before the poor woman and her children were in bed, he had made up his mind.

As soon as he came home from college the next day and had hastily eaten his dinner, going upon his vague knowledge of law business lately acquired, he bought a stamped paper, wrote upon it, and put it in his pocket; then he took a card and wrote on it: Sir Gilbert Galbraith, Baronet, of Glashruach, and put that in his pocket also. Thus provided, and having said to Mistress Croale that he should not be home that night--for he expected to set off almost immediately in search of Donal, and had bespoken horses, he walked deliberately along Pearl-street out into the suburb, and turning to the right, rang the bell at the garden gate of the laird's cottage. When the girl came, he gave her his card, and followed her into the house. She carried it into the room where, dinner over, the laird and the preacher were sitting, with a bottle of the same port which had pleased the laird at the manse between them. Giving time, as he judged, and no more, to read the card, Gibbie entered the room: he would not risk a refusal to see him.

It was a small room with a round table. The laird sat sideways to the door; the preacher sat between the table and the fire.

"What the devil does this mean? A vengeance take him!" cried the laird.

His big tumbling eyes had required more time than Gibbie had allowed, so that, when with this exclamation he lifted them from the card, they fell upon the object of his imprecation standing in the middle of the room between him and the open door. The preacher, snug behind the table, scarcely endeavoured to conceal the smile with which he took no notice of Sir Gilbert. The laird rose in the perturbation of mingled anger and unpreparedness.

"Ah!" he said, but it was only a sound, not a word, "to what--may I ask--have I--I have not the honour of your acquaintance, Mr.--Mr.--" Here he looked again at the card he held, fumbled for and opened a double eyeglass, then with deliberation examined the name upon it, thus gaining time by rudeness, and gathering his force for more, while Gibbie remained as unembarrassed as if he had been standing to his tailor for his measure. "Mr.--ah, I see! Galbraith, you say.--To what, Mr., Mr."--another look at the card--"Galbraith, do I owe the honour of this unexpected--and--and--I must say--un--looked-for visit--and at such an unusual hour for making a business call--for business, I presume, it must be that brings you, seeing I have not the honour of the slightest acquaintance with you?"

He dropped his eyeglass with a clatter against his waistcoat, threw the card into his finger-glass, raised his pale eyes, and stared at Sir Gilbert with all the fixedness they were capable of. He had already drunk a good deal of wine, and it was plain he had, although he was far from being overcome by it. Gibbie answered by drawing from the breast-pocket of his coat the paper he had written, and presenting it like a petition. Mr. Galbraith sneered, and would not have touched it had not his eye caught the stamp, which from old habit at once drew his hand. From similar habit, or perhaps to get it nearer the light, he sat down. Gibbie stood, and Fergus stared at him with insolent composure. The laird read, but not aloud: I, Gilbert Galbraith, Baronet, hereby promise and undertake to transfer to Miss Galbraith, only daughter of Thomas Galbraith, Esq., on the day when she shall be married to Donal Grant, Master of Arts, the whole of the title deeds of the house and lands of Glashruach, to have and to hold as hers, with absolute power to dispose of the same as she may see fit. Gilbert Galbraith, Old House of Galbraith, Widdiehill, March, etc., etc.

The laird stretched his neck like a turkeycock, and gobbled inarticulately, threw the paper to Fergus, and turning on his chair, glowered at Gibbie. Then suddenly starting to his feet, he cried,

"What do you mean, you rascal, by daring to insult me in my own house? Damn your insolent foolery!"

"A trick! a most palpable trick! and an exceedingly silly one!" pronounced Fergus, who had now read the paper; "quite as foolish as unjustifiable! Everybody knows Glashruach is the property of Major Culsalmon!"--Here the laird sought the relief of another oath or two.--"I entreat you to moderate your anger, my dear sir," Fergus resumed. "The thing is hardly worth so much indignation. Some animal has been playing the poor fellow an ill-natured trick--putting him up to it for the sake of a vile practical joke. It is exceedingly provoking, but you must forgive him. He is hardly to blame, scarcely accountable, under the natural circumstances.--Get away with you," he added, addressing Gibbie across the table. "Make haste before worse comes of it. You have been made a fool of."

When Fergus began to speak, the laird turned, and while he spoke stared at him with lack-lustre yet gleaming eyes, until he addressed Gibbie, when he turned on him again as fiercely as before. Poor Gibbie stood shaking his head, smiling, and making eager signs with hands and arms; but in the laird's condition of both heart and brain he might well forget and fail to be reminded that Gibbie was dumb.

"Why don't you speak, you fool?" he cried. "Get out and don't stand making faces there. Be off with you, or I will knock you down with a decanter."

Gibbie pointed to the paper, which lay before Fergus, and placed a hand first on his lips, then on his heart.

"Damn your mummery!" said the laird, choking with rage. "Go away, or, by God! I will break your head."

Fergus at this rose and came round the table to get between them. But the laird caught up a pair of nutcrackers, and threw it at Gibbie. It struck him on the forehead, and the blood spirted from the wound. He staggered backwards. Fergus seized the laird's arm, and sought to pacify him.

Her father's loud tones had reached Ginevra in her room; she ran down, and that instant entered: Gibbie all but fell into her arms. The moment's support she gave him, and the look of loving terror she cast in his face, restored him; and he was again firm on his feet, pressing her handkerchief to his forehead, when Fergus, leaving the laird, advanced with the pacific intention of getting him safe from the house. Ginevra stepped between them. Her father's rage thereupon broke loose quite, and was madness. He seized hold of her with violence, and dragged her from the room. Fergus laid hands upon Gibbie more gently, and half would have forced, half persuaded him to go. A cry came from Ginevra: refusing to be sent to her room before Gibbie was in safety, her father struck her. Gibbie would have darted to her help. Fergus held him fast, but knew nothing of Gibbie's strength, and the next moment found himself on his back upon the table, amidst the crash of wineglasses and china. Having locked the door, Gibbie sprung to the laird, who was trying to drag his daughter, now hardly resisting, up the first steps of the stair, took him round the waist from behind, swept him to the other room, and there locked him up also. He then returned to Ginevra where she lay motionless on the stair, lifted her in his arms, and carried her out of the house, nor stopped until, having reached the farther end of the street, he turned the corner of it into another equally quiet.

The laird and Fergus, when they were released by the girl from their respective prisons and found that the enemy was gone, imagined that Ginevra had retired again to her room; and what they did after is not interesting.

Under a dull smoky oil-lamp Gibbie stopped. He knew by the tightening of her arms that Ginevra was coming to herself.

"Let me down," she said feebly.

He did so, but kept his arm round her. She gave a deep sigh, and gazed bewildered. When she saw him, she smiled.

"With you, Gibbie!" she murmured. "--But they will be after us!"

"They shall not touch you," signified Gibbie.

"What was it all about?" she asked.

Gibbie spelled on his fingers,

"Because I offered to give you Glashruach, if your father would let you marry Donal."

"Gibbie! how could you?" she cried almost in a scream, and pushing away his arm, turned from him and tried to run, but after two steps, tottered to the lamp-post, and leaned against it--with such a scared look!

"Then come with me and be my sister, Ginevra, and I will take care of you," spelled Gibbie. "I can do nothing to take care of you while I can't get near you."

"Oh, Gibbie! nobody does like that," returned Ginevra, "--else I should be so glad!"

"There is no other way then that I know. You won't marry anybody, you see."

"Won't I, Gibbie? What makes you think that?"

"Because of course you would never refuse Donal and marry anybody else; that is not possible."

"Oh! don't tease me, Gibbie."

"Ginevra, you don't mean you would?"

In the dull light, and with the imperfect means of Gibbie for the embodiment of his thoughts, Ginevra misunderstood him.

"Yea, Gibbie," she said, "I would. I thought it was understood between us, ever since that day you found me on Glashgar. In my thoughts I have been yours all the time."

She turned her face to the lamp-post. But Gibbie made her look.

"You do not mean," he spelled very hurriedly, "that you would marry me?--Me? I never dreamed of such a thing!"

"You didn't mean it then!" said Ginevra, with a cry--bitter but feeble with despair and ending in a stifled shriek. "What have I been saying then! I thought I belonged to you! I thought you meant to take me all the time!" She burst into an agony of sobbing. "Oh me! me! I have been alone all the time, and did not know it!"

She sank on the pavement at the foot of the lamp-post, weeping sorely, and shaken with her sobs. Gibbie was in sad perplexity. Heaven had opened before his gaze; its colours filled his eyes; its sounds filled his ears and heart and brain; but the portress was busy crying and would not open the door. Neither could he get at her to comfort her, for, her eyes being wanted to cry with, his poor signs were of no use. Dumbness is a drawback to the gift of consolation.

It was a calm night early in March, clear overhead, and the heaven full of stars. The first faint think-odour of spring was in the air. A crescent moon hung half-way between the zenith and the horizon, clear as silver in firelight, and peaceful in the consciousness that not much was required of her yet. Both bareheaded, the one stood under the lamp, the other had fallen in a heap at its foot; the one was in the seventh paradise, and knew it; the other was weeping her heart out, yet was in the same paradise, if she would but have opened her eyes. Gibbie held one of her hands and stroked it. Then he pulled off his coat and laid it softly upon her. She grew a little quieter.

"Take me home, Gibbie," she said, in a gentle voice. All was over; there was no use in crying or even in thinking any more.

Gibbie put his arms round her, and helped her to her feet. She looked at him, and saw a face glorious with bliss. Never, not even on Glashgar, in the skin-coat of the beast-boy, had she seen him so like an angel. And in his eyes was that which triumphed, not over dumbness, but over speech. It brought the rose-fire rushing into her wan cheeks; she hid her face on his bosom; and, under the dingy red flame of the lamp in the stony street, they held each other, as blessed as if they had been under an orange tree haunted with fire-flies. For they knew each the heart of the other, and God is infinite.

How long they stood thus, neither of them knew. The lady would not have spoken if she could, and the youth could not if he would. But the lady shivered, and because she shivered, she would have the youth take his coat. He mocked at cold; made her put her arms in the sleeves, and buttoned it round her: both laughed to see how wide it was. Then he took her by the hand, and led her away, obedient as when first he found her and her heart upon Glashgar. Like two children, holding each other fast, they hurried along, in dread of pursuit. He brought her to Daur-street, and gave her into Mrs. Sclater's arms. Ginevra told her everything except that her father had struck her, and Gibbie begged her to keep his wife for him till they could be married. Mrs. Sclater behaved like a mother to them, sent Gibbie away, and Ginevra to a hot bath and to bed.