Scottish Sketches by Amelia E. Barr
James Blackie's Revenge.
The summer brought some changes. Christine went to the seaside for a few weeks, and Donald went away in Lord Neville's yacht with a party of gay young men; James and David passed the evenings generally together. If it was wet, they remained in the shop or parlor; if fine, they rambled to the "Green," and sitting down by the riverside talked of business, of Christine, and of Donald. In one of these confidential rambles James first tried to arouse in David's mind a suspicion as to his nephew's real character. David himself introduced the subject by speaking of a letter he had received from Donald.
"He's wi' the great Earl o' Egremont at present," said David proudly, for he had all a Scotsman's respect for good birth; "and there is wi' them young Argyle, and Lord Lovat, and ithers o' the same quality. But our Donald can cock his bonnet wi' ony o' them; there is na better blood in Scotland than the McFarlanes'. It taks money though to foregather wi' nobeelity, and Donald is wanting some. So, James, I'll gie ye the siller to-night, and ye'll send it through your bank as early as may be in the morn."
"Donald wanting money is an old want, Mr. Cameron."
David glanced quickly at James, and answered almost haughtily, "It's a common want likewise, James Blackie. But if Donald McFarlane wants money, he's got kin that can accommodate him, James; wanters arena always that fortunate."
"He has got friends likewise, Mr. Cameron; and I am sure I was proud enough to do him a kindness, and he knows it well."
"And how much may Donald be owing you, I wonder?"
"Only a little matter of L20. You see he had got into--"
"Dinna fash yoursel' wi' explanations, James. Dootless Donald has his faults; but I may weel wink at his small faults, when I hae sae mony great faults o' my ain."
And David's personal accusation sounded so much like a reproof, that James did not feel it safe to pursue the subject.
That very night David wrote thus to his nephew:
"Donald, my dear lad, if thou owest James Blackie L20, pay it immediate. Lying is the second vice, owing money is the first. I enclose draft for L70 instead o' L50, as per request."
That L70 was a large sum in the eyes of the careful Glasgow trader; in the young Highlander's eyes it seemed but a small sum. He could not form any conception of the amount of love it represented, nor of the struggle it had cost David to "gie awa for nae consideration" the savings of many days, perhaps weeks, of toil and thought.
In September Christine came back, and towards the end of October, Donald. He was greatly improved externally by his trip and his associations--more manly and more handsome--while his manners had acquired a slight touch of hauteur that both amused and pleased his uncle. It had been decided that he should remain in Glasgow another winter, and then select his future profession. But at present Donald troubled himself little about the future. He had returned to Christine more in love with the peace and purity of her character than ever; and besides, his pecuniary embarrassments in Glasgow were such as to require his personal presence until they were arranged.
This arrangement greatly troubled him. He had only a certain allowance from his father--a loving but stern man--who having once decided what sum was sufficient for a young man in Donald's position, would not, under any ordinary circumstances, increase it. David Cameron had already advanced him L70. James Blackie was a resource he did not care again to apply to. In the meantime he was pressed by small debts on every hand, and was living among a class of young men whose habits led him into expenses far beyond his modest income. He began to be very anxious and miserable. In Christine's presence he was indeed still the same merry-hearted gentleman; but James saw him in other places, and he knew from long experience the look of care that drew Donald's handsome brows together.
One night, towards the close of this winter, James went to see an old man who was a broker or trader in bills and money, doing business in the Cowcaddens. James also did a little of the same business in a cautious way, and it was some mutual transaction in gold and silver that took him that dreary, soaking night into such a locality.
The two men talked for some time in a low and earnest voice, and then the old man, opening a greasy leather satchel, displayed a quantity of paper which he had bought. James looked it over with a keen and practised eye. Suddenly his attitude and expression changed; he read over and over one piece of paper, and every time he read it he looked at it more critically and with a greater satisfaction.
"Andrew Starkie," he said, "where did you buy this?"
"Weel, James, I bought it o' Laidlaw--Aleck Laidlaw. Ye wadna think a big tailoring place like that could hae the wind in their faces; but folks maun hae their bad weather days, ye ken; but it blew me gude, so I'll ne'er complain. Ye see it is for L89, due in twenty days now, and I only gied L79 for it--a good name too, nane better."
"David Cameron! But what would he be owing Laidlaw L89 for clothes for?"
"Tut, tut! The claithes were for his nephew. There was some trouble anent the bill, but the old man gied a note for the amount at last, at three months. It's due in twenty days now. As he banks wi' your firm, ye may collect it for me; it will be an easy-made penny or twa."
"I would like to buy this note. What will you sell it for?"
"I'm no minded to sell it. What for do ye want it?"
"Nothing particular. I'll give you L90 for it."
"If it's worth that to you, it is worth mair. I'm no minded to tak L90."
"I'll give you L95."
"I'm no minded to tak it. It's worth mair to you, I see that. What are you going to mak by it? I'll sell it for half o' what you are counting on." "Then you would not make a bawbee. I am going to ware L95 on--on a bit of revenge. Now will you go shares?"
"Not I. Revenge in cold blood is the deil's own act. I dinna wark wi' the deil, when it's a losing job to me."
"Will you take L95 then?"
"No. When lads want whistles they maun pay for them."
"I'll give no more. For why? Because in twenty days you will do my work for me; then it will cost me nothing, and it will cost you L89, that is all about it, Starkie."
Starkie lifted the note which James had flung carelessly down, and his skinny hands trembled as he fingered it. "This is David Cameron's note o' hand, and David Cameron is a gude name."
"Yes, very good. Only that is not David Cameron's writing, it is a--forgery. Light your pipe with it, Andrew Starkie."
"His nephew gave it himsel' to Aleck Laidlaw--"
"I know. And I hate his nephew. He has come between me and Christine Cameron. Do you see now?"
"Oh! oh! oh! I see, I see! Well, James, you can have it for L100--as a favor."
"I don't want it now. He could not have a harder man to deal with than you are. You suit me very well."
"James, such business wont suit me. I can't afford to be brought into notice. I would rather lose double the money than prosecute any gentleman in trouble."
The older man had reasoned right--James dared not risk the note out of sight, dared not trust to Starkie's prosecution. He longed to have the bit of paper in his own keeping, and after a wary battle of a full hour's length Andrew Starkie had his L89 back again, and James had the note in his pocket-book.
Through the fog, and through the wind, and through the rain he went, and he knew nothing, and he felt nothing but that little bit of paper against his breast. Oh, how greedily he remembered Donald's handsome looks and stately ways, and all the thousand little words and acts by which he imagined himself wronged and insulted. Now he had his enemy beneath his feet, and for several days this thought satisfied him, and he hid his secret morsel of vengeance and found it sweet--sharply, bitterly sweet--for even yet conscience pleaded hard with him.
As he sat counting his columns of figures, every gentle, forgiving word of Christ came into his heart. He knew well that Donald would receive his quarterly allowance before the bill was due, and that he must have relied on this to meet it. He also knew enough of Donald's affairs to guess something of the emergency that he must have been in ere he would have yielded to so dangerous an alternative. There were times when he determined to send for Donald, show him the frightful danger in which he stood, and then tear the note before his eyes, and leave its payment to his honor. He even realized the peace which would flow from such a deed. Nor were these feelings transitory, his better nature pleaded so hard with him that he walked his room hour after hour under their influence, and their power over him was such as delayed all action in the matter for nearly a week.