IX. A Rainy Day
 

The next morning, as she was finishing the beds, Jean heard the pewit call and at once knew that the Clan was abroad. She ran to the door, and the three boys came in together,--Jock from the garden, where he had been pulling weeds in the potato-patch, and Sandy and Alan from the road. They were carrying a large basket, and Sandy was laden down with a coil of rope in addition.

"What have you got there?" demanded Jean.

"Stores for the Cave," said Alan, "and a rope to let down from the rock. Come on; let's go as soon as we can, for it looks like rain and we've got a lot to do to get the cave ready for wet weather."

"Where did you get 'em?" asked Jock, eyeing the basket with interest and wondering what was inside.

"Oh," said Alan, "I just asked Eppie. She lets me have anything I want. My mother told her to stuff me while I'm here, and if I take the food off to the woods with me she doesn't have to cook it at home, so she's suited, and I am, too."

Jean hastily gathered together a few cooking utensils, and a few minutes later the four set forth, carrying the provisions and wearing proudly in their bonnets the sprig of pine, the insignia of the Clan. The sky was downcast and the woods seemed dark and gloomy as they made their way toward the waterfall.

"What'll we do if it rains?" cried Sandy. "It's no such fine thing just sitting still in a cave."

"I've a plan in my head," said the Chief. "Wait and see."

As they reached the fall, Alan sent Sandy and Jock to gather wood, while Jean guarded the basket at the foot of the rock and he himself darted up the secret stairway with the rope. From the top he let down the rope and Jean fastened it through the handles of the basket. Alan then drew it up, emptied the contents, and sent back the basket for the wood which Sandy and Jock had by that time collected.

They all worked as swiftly as possible, for the woods were growing darker and darker every minute and they could now hear the roll of thunder above the noise of the waterfall. They had gathered and sent up six basketfuls, when the rain came splashing down in earnest, and the Clan scrambled up the secret stair and into the cave for shelter. Alan had piled the wood in the cave as fast as he had pulled it up, and there was now a fine pile of dry fuel.

"Sandy, you build the fire," commanded the Chief, seating himself on the wood-pile.

"The rain will put it out," said Sandy.

"Make it in the cave," said Alan.

"Then the smoke will put us out," cried Jean.

"Try it and see," said Alan. "We can't have lunch without a fire, for I've brought mealy puddings."

"Mealy puddings!" cried Sandy, licking his lips, and he went to work with a will. Fortunately the wind blew from the east, so they were not absolutely choked by the smoke, and soon the fire was burning briskly; making a spot of flaming color against the dark background of the cave. Jock ran to the fall and filled the pan with water, and soon the mealy puddings were bobbing merrily about in the boiling water, while the boys, snug and safe in the shelter of the cave, watched the boughs of the pine trees swaying in the wind and waited for Jean to tell them that dinner was ready. She could cook but one thing at a time over the fire, but it was not long before the feast was spread, and they fell to with appetites that caused the food to disappear like dew before the morning sun.

"Losh!" said Sandy, rolling over with his feet to the fire, when he could eat no more, "I thought you said you had a rainy day plan, Chief."

"So I have," said Alan, drawing a little book from his pocket. "I'm going to read to you."

Sandy glanced at the book. "Not poetry, Chief!" he said with alarm. "Surely you don't mean that!"

"It isn't just poetry," said Alan. "It's a story about Roderick Dhu and Clan Alpine, and hunting deer in these very mountains. You'll like it, I know."

Sandy groaned and laid his head on his arm. "Go ahead," he said with resignation. "You're the Chief and I can't help myself."

"I'll be washing up the dishes while you read," said Jean.

"Blaze away," said Jock, who loved books as much as he disliked work.

"It's 'The Lady of the Lake,'" Alan began.

"Oh!" snorted Sandy, to whom Walter Scott was scarcely more than a name, "I thought it was about fighting and robbers, and things like that, and here it's about a lady! and it's about love too, I doubt! I wonder at you, Alan McRae!"

Alan made no reply but began to read. When he reached a line about "Beauty's matchless eye," Sandy snored insultingly and was promptly kicked by Jock. But when Alan reached the lines

"The stag at eve had drunk his fill Where danced the moon on Monan's rill,"

Sandy sat up and began to think the despised poem might amount to something after all. Jean had finished the dishes by this time and sat cross-legged with her chin in her hand, staring into the fire, as Alan read how the splendid stag pursued by hunters,

"Like crested leader proud and high
Tossed his beamed frontlet to the sky;
A moment gazed adown the dale,
A moment snuffed the tainted gale,"

Then she cried out, "Michty me! It's just exactly like the stag we saw Angus Niel shoot by the tarn; isn't it, now, Alan?"

"And Benvoirlich is the very mountain we can see far away to the south from our house," interrupted Jock, when Alan reached that part of the poem.

"Did the hunters get the stag?" demanded Sandy, and "Go on with the tale," shouted all three. Alan read on and on by the flickering light of the fire, and so absorbed were they all in the story of the region they knew and loved so dearly that a shaft of sunlight from the west shot across the cave, lighting up the gloomy corners, before they realized that the day was far gone and the rain had stopped.

"It's time to go home," said Jean. "The sun is low in the west, and Father and Tam will be coming back wet and hungry from the hills, and no broth hot."

They packed the remainder of their supper carefully away in the basket and left it in the corner of the cave behind the woodpile, put out every spark of the fire, and picked their way carefully down the wet chasm to the ground.

"Hark," said Jock, as they started home. Faraway in the distance there was the frantic barking of a dog. They stopped and listened.

"It's Tam," said Jean, with conviction, "and he's after something. It's either the rabbit or else he's found a weasel hole," and instantly all the children were off at a bound, tearing through the woods in the direction of the sound. They had been, having such a good time they had not once thought of Angus Niel, but as they reached the edge of the forest, there he was, standing behind a tree with his gun pointing toward the little gray house! They stopped short in their wild race and instantly hid themselves among the trees. They could see Tam barking and pawing the ground with the greatest excitement in the open field which lay between the forest and the garden-patch.

"Tam's after the rabbit as sure as sure," Jock whispered to Alan, who had crept with him underneath a spreading pine. "That's the very place where he went after him before. If that old thief kills Tam, I'll--I'll--" Jock could think of no fit punishment for such a crime, and in his rage and excitement would have run right out into the open, after the dog if Alan had not held him by his jacket. "Let go--let go!" said Jock, struggling to get away. "I tell you, if he shoots that dog"

Just then a brown flash appeared from the garden wall, and Tam was after it at a bound, barking like mad. "It's the rabbit, and he's got him--he's got him!" murmured Jock, bouncing up and down with excitement with Alan still clinging to his coat. "Good old dog! good old Tam!" He was watching the dog so intently that he did not see Angus take careful aim, but the moment Tam reached the rabbit, seized it in his teeth, and shook it, a shot rang out; and the dog, with a howl of pain, dropped the rabbit and ran yelping toward the house on three legs, holding the fourth one in the air.

Angus immediately ran out from his hiding-place, leaped the brook, and, dashing up the slope toward the house, picked up the dead rabbit and ran with it back into the woods. The children watched him as he fled, and, the moment he was out of sight, they burst from the shelter of the woods and tore up the hillside to the little gray house.

They found Tam sitting on the door-step licking his paw and howling. He was instantly surrounded by four amateur doctors all anxious to relieve his pain. Jock ran for water to wash his leg, the flesh of which had been cruelly torn open by the bullet. Jean ransacked the kist for bandages, and Alan held up the injured paw and tried to see if any bones were broken, while Sandy helplessly stroked Tam's tail, murmuring, "Good dog! good old Tam!" as he did so. By dint of their combined efforts the wound was cleansed and carefully bound with a rag, and by the time the Shepherd got home, Tam was lying on the hearth beside the fire, with Alan on his knees before him feeding him broth from a pan.

The Shepherd listened with a darkening brow to the story of Tam's injury. He had heard an account of the stag the day before, so the new revelation of Angus's character did not surprise him, but when Alan rose from his knees and said, "To-morrow the Rob Roy Clan will begin to make Angus Niel wish he'd never been born," Robin Campbell's comment was, "Give him rope enough and he'll hang himself, laddie," and Alan, his black eyes flashing with understanding, answered, "We'll see to it that he gets the rope."