Scottish Sketches by Amelia E. Barr
James Blackie's Revenge.
He was more weary than he knew, and ere he was aware he fell asleep--a restless, wretched sleep, that made him glad when the half-oblivion was over. Christine, however, was apparently at rest, and he soon relapsed into the same dark, haunted state of unconsciousness. Suddenly he began to mutter and moan, and then to speak with a hoarse, whispered rapidity that had in it something frightful and unearthly. But Christine listened with wide-open eyes, and heard with sickening terror the whole wicked plot. It fell from his half-open lips over and over in every detail; and over and over he laughed low and terribly at the coming shame of the hated Donald.
She had not walked alone for weeks, nor indeed been out of her room for months, but she must go now; and she never doubted her strength. As if she had been a spirit, she slipped out of bed, walked rapidly and noiselessly into the long-unfamiliar parlor. A rushlight was burning, and the key of the old desk was always in it. Nothing valuable was kept there, and people unacquainted with the secret of the hidden drawer would have looked in vain for the entrance to it. Christine had known it for years, but her wifely honor had held it more sacred than locks or keys could have done. She was aware only that James kept some private matter of importance there, and she would as readily have robbed her husband's purse as have spied into things of which he did not speak to her.
Now, however, all mere thoughts of courtesy or honor must yield before the alternative in which James and Donald stood. She reached the desk, drew out the concealing drawer, pushed aside the slide, and touched the paper. There were other papers there, but something taught her at once the right one. To take it and close the desk was but the work of a moment, then back she flew as swiftly and noiselessly as a spirit with the condemning evidence tightly clasped in her hand.
James was still muttering and moaning in his troubled sleep, and with the consciousness of her success all her unnatural strength passed away. She could hardly secrete it in her bosom ere she fell into a semi-conscious lethargy, through which she heard with terror her husband's low, weird laughter and whispered curses.
At length the day for the dinner came. James had procured an invitation, and he made unusual personal preparations for it. He was conscious that he was going to do a very mean action, but he would look as well as possible in the act. He had even his apology for it ready; he would say that "as long as it was a private wrong he had borne the loss patiently for twenty years, but that the public welfare demanded honest men, men above reproach, and he could no longer feel it his duty," etc., etc.
After he was dressed he bid Christine "Good-by."
"He would only stay an hour," he said, "and he must needs go, as Donald was her kin."
Then he went to the desk, and with hands trembling in their eagerness sought the bill. It was not there. Impossible! He looked again--again more carefully--could not believe his eyes, and looked again and again. It was really gone. If the visible hand of God had struck him, he could not have felt it more consciously. He mechanically closed the desk and sat down like one stunned. Cain might have felt as James did when God asked him, "Where is thy brother?" He did not think of prayer. No "God be merciful to me a sinner" came as yet from his dry, white lips. The fountains of his heart seemed dry as dust. The anger of God weighed him down till
"He felt as one Who, waking after some strange, fevered dream, Sees a dim land and things unspeakable, And comes to know at last that it is hell."
Meantime Christine was lying with folded hands, praying for him. She knew what an agony he was going through, and ceaselessly with pure supplications she prayed for his forgiveness. About midnight one came and told him his wife wanted to see him. He rose with a wretched sigh, and looked at the clock. He had sat there six hours. He had thought over everything, over and over--the certainty that the paper was there, the fact that no other paper had been touched, and that no human being but Christine knew of the secret place. These things shocked him beyond expression. It was to his mind a visible assertion of the divine prerogative; he had really heard God say to him, "Vengeance is mine." The lesson that in these materialistic days we would reason away, James humbly accepted. His religious feelings were, after all, his deepest feelings, and in those six hours he had so palpably felt the frown of his angry Heavenly Father that he had quite forgotten his poor, puny wrath at Donald McFarlane.
As he slowly walked up stairs to Christine he determined to make to her a full confession of the deed he had meditated. But when he reached her bedside he saw that she was nearly dead. She smiled faintly and said,
"Send all away, James. I must speak alone with you, dear; we are going to part, my husband."
Then he knelt down by her side and held her cold hands, and the gracious tears welled up in his hot eyes, and he covered them with the blessed rain.
"O James, how you have suffered--since six o'clock."
"You know then, Christine! I would weep tears of blood over my sin. O dear, dear wife, take no shameful memory of me into eternity with you."
"See how I trust you, James. Here is poor, weak Donald's note. I know now you will never use it against him. What if your six hours were lengthened out through life--through eternity? I ask no promise from you now, dear."
"But I give it. Before God I give it, with all my heart. My sin has found me out this night. How has God borne with me all these years? Oh, how great is his mercy!"
Then Christine told him how he had revealed his wicked plot, and how wonderful strength had been given her to defeat it; and the two souls, amid their parting sighs and tears, knew each other as they had never done through all their years of life.
For a week James remained in his own room. Then Christine was laid beside her father, and the shop was reopened, and the household returned to its ways. But James was not seen in house or shop, and the neighbors said,
"Kirsty Cameron has had a wearisome sickness, and nae doobt her gudeman was needing a rest. Dootless he has gane to the Hielands a bit."
But it was not northward James Blackie went. It was south; south past the bonnie Cumberland Hills and the great manufacturing towns of Lancashire and the rich valleys of Yorkshire; southward until he stopped at last in London. Even then, though he was weary and sick and the night had fallen, he did not rest. He took a carriage and drove at once to a fashionable mansion in Baker street. The servant looked curiously at him and felt half inclined to be insolent to such a visitor.
"Take that card to your master at once," he said in a voice whose authority could not be disputed, and the man went.
His master was lying on a sofa in a luxuriously-furnished room, playing with a lovely girl about four years old, and listening meanwhile to an enthusiastic account of a cricket match that two boys of about twelve and fourteen years were giving him. He was a strikingly handsome man, in the prime of life, with a thoroughly happy expression. He took James' card in a careless fashion, listened to the end of his sons' story, and then looked at it. Instantly his manner changed; he stood up, and said promptly,
"Go away now, Miss Margaret, and you also, Angus and David; I have an old friend to see." Then to the servant, "Bring the gentleman here at once."
When he heard James' step he went to meet him with open hand; but James said,
"Not just yet, Mr. McFarlane; hear what I have to say. Then if you offer your hand I will take it."
"Christine is dead?"
They sat down opposite each other, and James did not spare himself. From his discovery of the note in old Starkie's possession until the death of Christine, he confessed everything. Donald sat with downcast eyes, quite silent. Once or twice his fierce Highland blood surged into his face, and his hand stole mechanically to the place where his dirk had once been, but the motion was as transitory as a thought. When James had finished he sat with compressed lips for a few moments, quite unable to control his speech; but at length he slowly said,
"I wish I had known all this before; it would have saved much sin and suffering. You said that my indifference at first angered you. I must correct this. I was not indifferent. No one can tell what suffering that one cowardly act cost me. But before the bill fell due I went frankly to Uncle David and confessed all my sin. What passed between us you may guess; but he forgave me freely and fully, as I trust God did also. Hence there was no cause for its memory to darken life."
"I always thought Christine had told her father," muttered James.
"Nay, but I told him myself. He said he would trace the note, and I have no doubt he knew it was in your keeping from the first."
Then James took it from his pocket-book.
"There it is, Mr. McFarlane. Christine gave it back to me the hour she died. I promised her to bring it to you and tell you all."
"Christine's soul was a white rose without a thorn. I count it an honor to have known and loved her. But the paper is yours, Mr. Blackie, unless I may pay for it."
"O man, man! what money could pay for it? I would not dare to sell it for the whole world! Take it, I pray you."
"I will not. Do as you wish with it, James, I can trust you."
Then James walked towards the table. There were wax lights burning on it, and he held it in the flame and watched it slowly consume away to ashes. The silence was so intense that they heard each other breathing, and the expression on James' face was so rapt and noble that even Donald's stately beauty was for the moment less attractive. Then he walked towards Donald and said,
"Now give me your hand, McFarlane, and I'll take it gladly."
And that was a handclasp that meant to both men what no words could have expressed.
"Farewell, McFarlane; our ways in this world lie far apart; but when we come to die it will comfort both of us to remember this meeting. God be with you!"
"And with you also, James. Farewell."
Then James went back to his store and his shadowed household life. And people said he looked happier than ever he had done, and pitied him for his sick wife, and supposed he felt it a happy release to be rid of her. So wrongly does the world, which knows nothing of our real life, judge us.
You may see his gravestone in Glasgow Necropolis to-day, and people will tell you that he was a great philanthropist, and gave away a noble fortune to the sick and the ignorant; and you will probably wonder to see only beneath his name the solemn text, "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord."