Scottish Sketches by Amelia E. Barr
Facing His Enemy.
David ought to have left then, but he did not; and when his uncle's health was given, and the glass of steaming whiskey stood before him, he raised it to his lips and drank. It was easy to drink the second glass and the third, and so on. The men fell into reminiscence and song, and no one knew how many glasses were mixed; and even when they stood at the door they turned back for "a thimbleful o' raw speerit to keep out the cold," for it had begun to snow, and there was a chill, wet, east wind.
Then they went; and when their forms were lost in the misty gloom, and even their voices had died away, David turned back to put out the lights, and lock the mill-door for the last time. Suddenly it struck him that he had not seen Robert Leslie for an hour at least, and while he was wondering about it in a vague, drunken way, Robert came out of an inner room, white with scornful anger, and in a most quarrelsome mood.
"You have made a nice fool of yoursel', David Callendar! Flinging awa so much gude gold for a speech and a glass o' whiskey! Ugh!"
"You may think so, Robert. The Leslies have always been 'rievers and thievers;' but the Callendars are of another stock."
"The Callendars are like ither folk--good and bad, and mostly bad. Money, not honor, rules the warld in these days; and when folk have turned spinners, what is the use o' talking about honor! Profit is a word more fitting."
"I count mysel' no less a Callendar than my great-grandfather, Evan Callendar, who led the last hopeless charge on Culloden. If I am a spinner, I'll never be the first to smirch the roll o' my house with debt and dishonesty, if I can help it."
"Fair nonsense! The height of nonsense! Your ancestors indeed! Mules make a great to-do about their ancestors having been horses!"
David retorted with hot sarcasm on the freebooting Leslies, and their kin the Armstrongs and Kennedys; and to Scotchmen this is the very sorest side of a quarrel. They can forgive a bitter word against themselves perhaps, but against their clan, or their dead, it is an unpardonable offence. And certainly Robert had an unfair advantage; he was in a cool, wicked temper of envy and covetousness. He could have struck himself for not having foreseen that old John Callendar would be sure to clear the name of dishonor, and thus let David and his L20,000 slip out of his control.
David had drunk enough to excite all the hereditary fight in his nature, and not enough to dull the anger and remorse he felt for having drunk anything at all. The dreary, damp atmosphere and the cold, sloppy turf of Glasgow Green might have brought them back to the ordinary cares and troubles of every-day life, but it did not. This grim oasis in the very centre of the hardest and bitterest existences was now deserted. The dull, heavy swash of the dirty Clyde and the distant hum of the sorrowful voices of humanity in the adjacent streets hardly touched the sharp, cutting accents of the two quarrelling men. No human ears heard them, and no human eyes saw the uplifted hands and the sway and fall of Robert Leslie upon the smutty and half melted snow, except David's.
Yes; David saw him fall, and heard with a strange terror the peculiar thud and the long moan that followed it. It sobered him at once and completely. The shock was frightful. He stood for a moment looking at the upturned face, and then with a fearful horror he stooped and touched it. There was no response to either entreaties or movement, and David was sure after five minutes' efforts there never would be. Then his children, his uncle, his own life, pressed upon him like a surging crowd. His rapid mind took in the situation at once. There was no proof. Nobody had seen them leave together. Robert had certainly left the company an hour before it scattered; none of them could know that he was waiting in that inner room. With a rapid step he took his way through Kent street into a region where he was quite unknown, and by a circuitous route reached the foot of Great George street.
He arrived at home about eight o'clock. John had had his dinner, and the younger children had gone to bed. Little John sat opposite him on the hearthrug, but the old man and the child were both lost in thought. David's face at once terrified his uncle.
"Johnnie," he said, with a weary pathos in his voice, "your father wants to see me alane. You had best say 'Gude-night,' my wee man."
The child kissed his uncle, and after a glance into his father's face went quietly out. His little heart had divined that he "must not disturb papa." David's eyes followed him with an almost overmastering grief and love, but when John said sternly, "Now, David Callendar, what is it this time?" he answered with a sullen despair,
"It is the last trouble I can bring you. I have killed Robert Leslie!"
The old man uttered a cry of horror, and stood looking at his nephew as if he doubted his sanity.
"I am not going to excuse mysel', sir. Robert said some aggravating things, and he struck me first; but that is neither here nor there. I struck him and he fell. I think he hit his head in falling; but it was dark and stormy, I could not see. I don't excuse mysel' at all. I am as wicked and lost as a man can be. Just help me awa, Uncle John, and I will trouble you no more for ever."
"Where hae you left Robert?"
"Where he fell, about 300 yards above Rutherglen Bridge."
"You are a maist unmerciful man! I ne'er liked Robert, but had he been my bitterest enemy I would hae got him help if there was a chance for life, and if not, I would hae sought a shelter for his corpse."
Then he walked to the parlor door, locked it, and put the key in his pocket.
"As for helping you awa, sir, I'll ne'er do it, ne'er; you hae sinned, and you'll pay the penalty, as a man should do."
"Uncle, have mercy on me."
"Justice has a voice as weel as mercy. O waly, waly!" cried the wretched old man, going back to the pathetic Gaelic of his childhood, "O waly, waly! to think o' the sin and the shame o' it. Plenty o' Callendars hae died before their time, but it has been wi' their faces to their foes and their claymores in their hands. O Davie, Davie! my lad, my lad! My Davie!"
His agony shook him as a great wind shakes the tree-tops, and David stood watching him in a misery still keener and more hopeless. For a few moments neither spoke. Then John rose wearily and said,
"I'll go with you, David, to the proper place. Justice must be done--yes, yes, it is just and right."
Then he lifted up his eyes, and clasping his hands, cried out,
"But, O my heavenly Father, be merciful, be merciful, for love is the fulfilling of the law. Come, David, we hae delayed o'er long."
"Where are you going, uncle?"
"You ken where weel enough."
"Dear uncle, be merciful. At least let us go see Dr. Morrison first. Whatever he says I will do."
"I'll do that; I'll be glad to do that; maybe he'll find me a road out o' this sair, sair strait. God help us all, for vain is the help o' man."