Scottish Sketches by Amelia E. Barr
James Blackie's Revenge.
James had gone into the house so happy and hopeful, he left it so anxious and angry--yes, angry. He knew well that he had no just cause for anger, but that knowledge only irritated him the more. Souls, as well as bodies, are subject to malignant diseases, and to-night envy and jealousy were causing James Blackie more acute suffering than any attack of fever or contagion. A feeling of dislike towards young Donald McFarlane had taken possession of his heart; he lay awake to make a mental picture of the youth, and then he hated the picture he had made.
Feverish and miserable, he went next morning to the bank in which he was employed, and endeavored amid the perplexities of compound interest to forget the anxieties he had invented for himself. But it was beyond his power, and he did not pray about them; for the burdens we bind on our own shoulders we rarely dare to go to God with, and James might have known from this circumstance alone that his trouble was no lawful one. He nursed it carefully all day and took it to bed with him again at night. The next day he had begun to understand how envy grew to hatred, and hatred to murder. Still he did not go to God for help, and still he kept ever before his eyes the image of the youth that he had determined was to be his enemy.
On Thursday night he could no longer bear his uncertainties. He dressed himself carefully and went to David Cameron's. David was in his shop tasting and buying teas, and apparently absorbed in business. He merely nodded to James, and bid him "walk through." He had no intention of being less kindly than usual, but James was in such a suspicious temper that he took his preoccupation for coolness, and so it was almost with a resentful feeling he opened the half-glass door dividing the shop from the parlor.
As his heart had foretold him, there sat the youth whom he had determined to hate, but his imagination had greatly deceived him with regard to his appearance. He had thought of Donald only as a "fair, false Highlander" in tartan, kilt, and philibeg. He found him a tall, dark youth, richly dressed in the prevailing Southern fashion, and retaining no badge of his country's costume but the little Glengary cap with its chieftain's token of an eagle's feather. His manners were not rude and haughty, as James had decided they would be; they were singularly frank and pleasant. Gracious and graceful, exceedingly handsome and light-hearted, he was likely to prove a far more dangerous rival than even James' jealous heart had anticipated.
He rose at Christine's introduction, and offered his hand with a pleasant smile to James. The latter received the courtesy with such marked aversion that Donald slightly raised his eyebrows ere he resumed his interrupted conversation with Christine. And now that James sat down with a determination to look for offences he found plenty. Christine was sewing, and Donald sat beside her winding and unwinding her threads, playing with her housewife, or teasingly hiding her scissors. Christine, half pleased and half annoyed, gradually fell into Donald's mood, and her still face dimpled into smiles. James very quickly decided that Donald presumed in a very offensive manner on his relationship to Christine.
A little after nine o'clock David, having closed his shop, joined them in the parlor. He immediately began to question James about the loss of the "Bonnie Bess," and from that subject they drifted easily into others of a local business interest. It was very natural that Donald, being a stranger both to the city and its business, should take no part in this discourse, and that he should, in consequence, devote himself to Christine. But James felt it an offence, and rose much earlier than was his wont to depart. David stayed him, almost authoritatively:
"Ye maun stop, baith o' ye lads, and join in my meat and worship. They are ill visitors that canna sit at ane board and kneel at ane altar."
For David had seen, through all their drifting talk of ships and cargoes, the tumult in James' heart, and he did not wish him to go away in an ungenerous and unjust temper. So both Donald and James partook of the homely supper of pease brose and butter, oatmeal cakes and fresh milk, and then read aloud with David and Christine the verses of the evening Psalm that came to each in turn. James was much softened by the exercise; so much so that when Donald asked permission to walk with him as far as their way lay together, he very pleasantly acceded to the request. And Donald was so bright and unpretentious it was almost impossible to resist the infectious good temper which seemed to be his characteristic.
Still James was very little happier or more restful. He lay awake again, but this night it was not to fret and fume, but to calmly think over his position and determine what was best and right to do. For James still thought of "right," and would have been shocked indeed if any angel of conscience had revealed to him the lowest depths of his desires and intentions. In the first place, he saw that David would tolerate no element of quarrelling and bitterness in his peaceful home, and that if he would continue to visit there he must preserve the semblance of friendship for Donald McFarlane. In the second, he saw that Donald had already made so good his lien upon his uncle's and cousin's affections that it would be very hard to make them believe wrong of the lad, even if he should do wrong, though of this James told himself there would soon be abundance.
"For the things David will think sinful beyond all measure," he argued, "will seem but Puritanical severity to him; forbye, he is rich, gay, handsome, and has little to do with his time, he'll get well on to Satan's ground before he knows it;" and then some whisper dim and low in his soul made him blush and pause and defer the following out of a course which was to begin in such a way.
So Donald and he fell into the habit of meeting at David's two or three nights every week, and an apparent friendship sprang up between them. It was only apparent, however. On Donald's side was that good-natured indifference that finds it easy enough to say smooth words, and is not ready to think evil or to take offence; on James' part a wary watchfulness, assuming the role of superior wisdom, half admiring and half condemning Donald's youthful spirits and ways.
David was quite deceived; he dropped at once the authoritative manner which had marked his displeasure when he perceived James' disposition to envy and anger; he fell again into his usual pleasant familiar talks with the young man, for David thought highly of James as of one likely to do his duty to God and himself.
In these conversations Donald soon began to take a little share, and when he chose to do so, evinced a thought and shrewdness which greatly pleased his uncle; more generally, however, he was at Christine's side, reading her some poem he had copied, or telling her about some grand party he had been at. Sometimes James could catch a few words of reproof addressed in a gentle voice to Donald by Christine; more often he heard only the murmur of an earnest conversation, or Christine's low laugh at some amusing incident.
The little room meanwhile had gradually become a far brighter place. Donald kept it sweet and bright with his daily offerings of fresh flowers; the pet canary he had given Christine twittered and sang to her all the day through. Over Christine herself had come the same bright change; her still, calm face often dimpled into smiles, her pale-gold hair was snooded with a pretty ribbon, and her dress a little richer. Yet, after all, the change was so slight that none but a lover would have noticed it. But there was not a smile or a shade of brighter color that James did not see; and he bore it with an equanimity which used often to astonish himself, though it would not have done so if he had dared just once to look down into his heart; he bore it because he knew that Donald was living two lives--one that Christine saw, and one that she could not even have imagined.
It was, alas, too true that this gay, good-natured young man, who had entered the fashionable world without one bad habit, was fast becoming proficient in all its follies and vices. That kind of negative goodness which belonged naturally to him, unfortified by strict habits and strong principles, had not been able to repel the seductions and temptations that assail young men, rich, handsome, and well-born. There was an evil triumph in James' heart one night when Donald said to him, as they walked home after an evening at David's,
"Mr. Blackie, I wish you could lend me L20. I am in a little trouble, and I cannot ask Uncle David for more, as I have already overdrawn my father's allowance."
James loaned it with an eager willingness, though he was usually very cautious and careful of every bawbee of his hard-earned money. He knew it was but the beginning of confidence, and so it proved; in a very little while Donald had fallen into the habit of going to James in every emergency, and of making him the confidant of all his youthful hopes and follies.
James even schooled himself to listen patiently to Donald's praises of his cousin Christine. "She is just the wife I shall need when I settle down in three or four years," Donald would say complacently, "and I think she loves me. Of course no man is worthy of such a woman, but when I have seen life a little I mean to try and be so."
"Umph!" answered James scornfully, "do you suppose, Mr. McFarlane, that ye'll be fit for a pure lassie like Christine Cameron when you have played the prodigal and consorted with foolish women, and wasted your substance in riotous living?"
And Donald said with an honest blush, "By the memory of my mother, no, I do not, James. And I am ashamed when I think of Christine's white soul and the stained love I have to offer it. But women forgive! Oh, what mothers and wives and sisters there are in this world!"
"Well, don't try Christine too far, Donald. She is of an old Covenanting stock; her conscience feels sin afar off. I do not believe she would marry a bad, worldly man, though it broke her heart to say 'No.' I have known her far longer than you have."
"Tut, man, I love her! I know her better in an hour than you could do in a lifetime;" and Donald looked rather contemptuously on the plain man who was watching him with eyes that might have warned any one more suspicious or less confident and self-satisfied.