James Blackie's Revenge.
Chapter IV.
 

At length one morning David Cameron came into the bank, and having finished his business, walked up to James and said, "I feared ye were ill, James. Whatna for hae ye stayed awa sae lang? I wanted ye sairly last night to go o'er wi' me the points in this debate at our kirk. We are to hae anither session to-night; ye'll come the morn and talk it o'er wi' me?"

"I will, Mr. Cameron."

But James instantly determined to see Christine that night. Her father would be at the kirk session, and if Donald was there, he thought he knew how to whisper him away. He meant to have Christine all to himself for an hour or two, and if he saw any opportunity he would tell her all. When he got to David's the store was still open, but the clerk said, "David has just gone," and James, as was his wont, walked straight to the parlor.

Donald was there; he had guessed that, because a carriage was in waiting, and he knew it could belong to no other caller at David Cameron's. And never had Donald roused in him such an intense antagonism. He was going to some National Celebration, and he stood beside Christine in all the splendid picturesque pomp of the McFarlane tartans. He was holding Christine's hand, and she stood as a white lily in the glow and color of his dark beauty. Perhaps both of them felt James' entrance inopportune. At any rate they received him coldly, Donald drew Christine a little apart, said a few whispered words to her, and lifting his bonnet slightly to James, he went away.

In the few minutes of this unfortunate meeting the devil entered into James' heart. Even Christine was struck with the new look on his face. It was haughty, malicious, and triumphant, and he leaned against the high oaken chimney-piece in a defiant way that annoyed Christine, though she could not analyze it.

"Sit down, James," she said with a touch of authority--for his attitude had unconsciously put her on the defensive. "Donald has gone to the Caledonian club; there is to be a grand gathering of Highland gentlemen there to-night."

"Gentlemen!"

"Well, yes, gentlemen! And there will be none there more worthy the name than our Donald."

"The rest of them are much to be scorned at, then."

"James, James, that speech was little like you. Sit down and come to yourself; I am sure you are not so mean as to grudge Donald the rights of his good birth."

"Donald McFarlane shall have all the rights he has worked for; and when he gets his just payment he will be in Glasgow jail."

"James, you are ill. You have not been here for a week, and you look so unlike yourself. I know you must be ill. Will you let me send for our doctor?" And she approached him kindly, and looked with anxious scrutiny into his face.

He put her gently away, and said in a thick, rapid voice,

"Christine, I came to-night to tell you that Donald McFarlane is unworthy to come into your presence--he has forged your father's name."

"James, you are mad, or ill, what you say is just impossible!"

"I am neither mad nor ill. I will prove it, if you wish."

At these words every trace of sympathy or feeling vanished from her face; and she said in a low, hoarse whisper,

"You cannot prove it. I would not believe such a thing possible."

Then with a pitiless particularity he went over all the events relating to the note, and held it out for her to examine the signature.

"Is that David Cameron's writing?" he cried; "did you ever see such a weak imitation? The man is a fool as well as a villain."

Christine gazed blankly at the witness of her cousin's guilt, and James, carried away with the wicked impetuosity of his passionate accusations of Donald's life, did not see the fair face set in white despair and the eyes close wearily, as with a piteous cry she fell prostrate at his feet.

Ah, how short was his triumph! When he saw the ruin that his words had made he shrieked aloud in his terror and agony. Help was at hand, and doctors were quickly brought, but she had received a shock from which it seemed impossible to revive her. David was brought home, and knelt in speechless distress by the side of his insensible child, but no hope lightened the long, terrible night, and when the reaction came in the morning, it came in the form of fever and delirium.

Questioned closely by David, James admitted nothing but that while talking to him about Donald McFarlane she had fallen at his feet, and Donald could only say that he had that evening told her he was going to Edinburgh in two weeks, to study law with his cousin, and that he had asked her to be his wife.

This acknowledgement bound David and Donald in a closer communion of sorrow. James and his sufferings were scarcely noticed. Yet, probably of all that unhappy company, he suffered the most. He loved Christine with a far deeper affection than Donald had ever dreamed of. He would have given his life for hers, and yet he had, perhaps, been her murderer. How he hated Donald in those days! What love and remorse tortured him! And what availed it that he had bought the power to ruin the man he hated? He was afraid to use it. If Christine lived, and he did use it, she would never forgive him; if she died, he would be her murderer.

But the business of life cannot be delayed for its sorrows. David must wait in his shop, and James must be at the bank; and in two weeks Donald had to leave for Edinburgh, though Christine was lying in a silent, broken-hearted apathy, so close to the very shoal of Time that none dared say, "She will live another day."

How James despised Donald for leaving her at all; he desired nothing beyond the permission to sit by her side, and watch and aid the slow struggle of life back from the shores and shades of death.

It was almost the end of summer before she was able to resume her place in the household, but long before that she had asked to see James. The interview took place one Sabbath afternoon while David was at church. Christine had been lifted to a couch, but she was unable to move, and even speech was exhausting and difficult to her. James knelt down by her side, and, weeping bitterly, said,

"O Christine, forgive me!"

She smiled faintly.

"You--have--not--used--yonder--paper,--James?"

"Oh, no, no."

"It--would--kill--me. You--would--not--kill--me?"

"I would die to make you strong again."

"Don't--hurt--Donald. Forgive--for--Christ's--sake,--James!"

Poor James! It was hard for him to see that still Donald was her first thought, and, looking on the wreck of Christine's youth and beauty, it was still harder not to hate him worse than ever.

Nor did the temptation to do so grow less with time. He had to listen every evening to David's praises of his nephew: how "he had been entered wi' Advocate Scott, and was going to be a grand lawyer," or how he had been to some great man's house and won all hearts with his handsome face and witty tongue. Or, perhaps, he would be shown some rich token of his love that had come for Christine; or David would say, "There's the 'Edinbro' News,' James; it cam fra Donald this morn; tak it hame wi' you. You're welcome." And James feared not to take it, feared to show the slightest dislike to Donald, lest David's anger at it should provoke him to say what was in his heart, and Christine only be the sufferer.

One cold night in early winter, James, as was his wont now, went to spend the evening in talking with David and in watching Christine. That was really all it was; for, though she had resumed her house duties, she took little part in conversation. She had always been inclined to silence, but now a faint smile and a "Yes" or "No" were her usual response, even to her father's remarks. This night he found David out, and he hesitated whether to trouble Christine or not. He stood for a moment in the open door and looked at her. She was sitting by the table with a little Testament open in her hand; but she was rather musing on what she had been reading than continuing her occupation.

"Christine!"

"James!"

"May I come in?"

"Yes, surely."

"I hear your father has gone to a town-meeting."

"Yes."

"And he is to be made a bailie."

"Yes."

"I am very glad. It will greatly please him, and there is no citizen more worthy of the honor."

"I think so also."

"Shall I disturb you if I wait to see him?"

"No, James; sit down."

Then Christine laid aside her book and took her sewing, and James sat thinking how he could best introduce the subject ever near his heart. He felt that there was much to say in his own behalf, if he only knew how to begin. Christine opened the subject for him. She laid down her work and went and stood before the fire at his side. The faintest shadow of color was in her face, and her eyes were unspeakably sad and anxious. He could not bear their eager, searching gaze, and dropped his own.

"James, have you destroyed yonder paper?"

"Nay, Christine; I am too poor a man to throw away so much hard-won gold. I am keeping it until I can see Mr. McFarlane and quietly collect my own."

"You will never use it in any way against him?"

"Will you ever marry him? Tell me that."

"O sir!" she cried indignantly, "you want to make a bargain with my poor heart. Hear, then. If Donald wants me to marry him I'll never cast him off. Do you think God will cast him off for one fault? You dare not say it."

"I do not say but what God will pardon. But we are human beings; we are not near to God yet."

"But we ought to be trying to get near him; and oh, James, you never had so grand a chance. See the pitiful face of Christ looking down on you from the cross. If that face should turn away from you, James--if it should!"

"You ask a hard thing of me, Christine."

"Yes, I do."

"But if you will only try and love me--"

"Stop, James! I will make no bargain in a matter of right and wrong. If for Christ's sake, who has forgiven you so much, you can forgive Donald, for Christ's dear sake do it. If not, I will set no earthly love before it. Do your worst. God can find out a way. I'll trust him."

"Christine! dear Christine!"

"Hush! I am Donald's promised wife. May God speak to you for me. I am very sad and weary. Good-night."

James did not wait for David's return. He went back to his own lodging, and, taking the note out of his pocket-book, spread it before him. His first thought was that he had wared L89 on his enemy's fine clothes, and James loved gold and hated foppish, extravagant dress; his next that he had saved Andrew Starkie L89, and he knew the old usurer was quietly laughing at his folly. But worse than all was the alternative he saw as the result of his sinful purchase: if he used it to gratify his personal hatred, he deeply wounded, perhaps killed, his dearest love and his oldest friend. Hour after hour he sat with the note before him. His good angel stood at his side and wooed him to mercy. There was a fire burning in the grate, and twice he held the paper over it, and twice turned away from his better self.

The watchman was calling "half-past two o'clock," when, cold and weary with his mental struggle, he rose and went to his desk. There was a secret hiding-place behind a drawer there, in which he kept papers relating to his transactions with Andrew Starkie, and he put it among them. "I'll leave it to its chance," he muttered; "a fire might come and burn it up some day. If it is God's will to save Donald, he could so order it, and I am fully insured against pecuniary loss." He did not at that moment see how presumptuously he was throwing his own responsibility on God; he did not indeed want to see anything but some plausible way of avoiding a road too steep for a heart weighed down with earthly passion to dare.

Then weeks and months drifted away in the calm regular routine of David's life. But though there were no outward changes, there was a very important inward one. About sixteen months after Donald's departure he returned to visit Christine. James, at Christine's urgent request, absented himself during this visit; but when he next called at David's, he perceived at once that all was not as had been anticipated. David had little to say about him; Christine looked paler and sadder than ever. Neither quite understood why. There had been no visible break with Donald, but both father and daughter felt that he had drifted far away from them and their humble, pious life. Donald had lost the child's heart he had brought with him from the mountains; he was ambitious of honors, and eager after worldly pleasures and advantages. He had become more gravely handsome, and he talked more sensibly to David; but David liked him less.

After this visit there sprang up a new hope in James' heart, and he waited and watched, though often with very angry feelings; for he was sure that Donald was gradually deserting Christine.

She grew daily more sad and silent; it was evident she was suffering. The little Testament lay now always with her work, and he noticed that she frequently laid aside her sewing and read it earnestly, even while David and he were quietly talking at the fireside.

One Sabbath, two years after Donald's departure, James met David coming out of church alone. He could only say, "I hope Christine is well."

"Had she been well, she had been wi' me; thou kens that, James."

"I might have done so. Christine is never absent from God's house when it is open."

"It is a good plan, James; for when they who go regular to God's house are forced to stay away, God himself asks after them. I hae no doubt but what Christine has been visited."

They walked on in silence until David's house was in sight. "I'm no caring for any company earth can gie me the night, James; but the morn I hae something to tell you I canna speak anent to-day."