Scottish Sketches by Amelia E. Barr
Crawford's Sair Strait.
But during these very days, when the dominie and his parishioners were drawing a step closer to each other, the laird and his son were drifting farther apart. Crawford felt keenly that Colin took no interest in the great enterprises which filled his own life. The fact was, Colin inherited his mother's, and not his father's temperament. The late Lady Crawford had been the daughter of a Zetland Udaller, a pure Scandinavian, a descendant of the old Vikings, and she inherited from them a poetic imagination and a nature dreamy and inert, though capable of rousing itself into fits of courage that could dare the impossible. Colin would have led a forlorn hope or stormed a battery; but the bare ugliness and monotony of his life at the works fretted and worried him.
Tallisker had repeatedly urged a year's foreign travel. But the laird had been much averse to the plan. France, in his opinion, was a hotbed of infidelity; Italy, of popery; Germany, of socialistic and revolutionary doctrines. There was safety only in Scotland. Pondering these things, he resolved that marriage was the proper means to "settle" the lad. So he entered into communication with an old friend respecting his daughter and his daughter's portion; and one night he laid the result before Colin.
Colin was indignant. He wanted to marry no woman, and least of all women, Isabel McLeod.
"She'll hae L50,000!" said the laird sententiously.
"I would not sell myself for L50,000."
"You'd be a vera dear bargain at half the price to any woman, Colin. And you never saw Isabel. She was here when you were in Glasgow. She has the bonniest black e'en in Scotland, and hair like a raven's wing."
"When I marry, sir, I shall marry a woman like my mother: a woman with eyes as blue as heaven, and a face like a rose. I'll go, as you did, to Shetland for her."
"There isna a house there fit for you to take a wife from, Colin, save and except the Earl's ain; and his daughter, the Lady Selina, is near thirty years old."
"There are my second cousins, Helga and Saxa Vedder."
Then the laird was sure in his own heart that Tallisker's advice was best. France and Italy were less to be feared than pretty, portionless cousins. Colin had better travel a year, and he proposed it. It hurt him to see how eagerly his heir accepted the offer. However, if the thing was to be done, it was best done quickly. Letters of credit suitable to the young laird's fortune were prepared, and in less than a month he was ready to begin his travels. It had been agreed that he should remain away one year, and if it seemed desirable, that his stay might even be lengthened to two. But no one dreamed that advantage would be taken of this permission.
"He'll be hamesick ere a twelvemonth, laird," said the dominie; and the laird answered fretfully, "A twelvemonth is a big slice o' life to fling awa in far countries."
The night before Colin left he was walking with his sister on the moor. A sublime tranquillity was in the still September air. The evening crimson hung over the hills like a royal mantle. The old church stood framed in the deepest blue. At that distance the long waves broke without a sound, and the few sails on the horizon looked like white flowers at sea.
"How beautiful is this mansion of our father!" said Helen softly. "One blushes to be caught worrying in it, and yet, Colin, I fear to have you go away."
"Why, my dear?"
"I have a presentiment that we shall meet no more in this life. Nay, do not smile; this strange intelligence of sorrow, this sudden trembling in a soul at rest, is not all a delusion. We shall part to-morrow, Colin. Oh, darling brother, where shall we meet again?"
He looked into the fair, tender face and the eager, questioning eyes, and found himself unable to reply.
"Remember, Colin! I give you a rendezvous in heaven."
He clasped her hand tightly, and they walked on in a silence that Colin remembered often afterwards. Sometimes, in dreams, to the very end of his life, he took again with Helen that last evening walk, and his soul leaned and hearkened after hers. "I give you a rendezvous in heaven!"
In the morning they had a few more words alone. She was standing looking out thoughtfully into the garden. "Are you going to London?" she asked suddenly.
"You will call on Mr. Selwyn?"
"I think so."
"Tell him we remember him--and try to follow, though afar off, the example he sets us."
"Well, you know, Helen, I may not see him. We never were chums. I have often wondered why I asked him here. It was all done in a moment. I had thought of asking Walter Napier, and then I asked Selwyn. I have often thought it would have pleased me better if I had invited Walter."
"Sometimes it is permitted to us to do things for the pleasure of others, rather than our own. I have often thought that God--who foresaw the changes to take place here--sent Mr. Selwyn with a message to Dominie Tallisker. The dominie thinks so too. Then how glad you ought to be that you asked him. He came to prepare for those poor people who as yet were scattered over Ayrshire and Cumberland. And this thought comforts me for you, Colin. God knows just where you are going, dear, and the people you are going to meet, and all the events that will happen to you."
The events and situations of life resemble ocean waves--every one is alike and yet every one is different. It was just so at Crawford Keep after Colin left it. The usual duties of the day were almost as regular as the clock, but little things varied them. There were letters or no letters from Colin; there were little events at the works or in the village; the dominie called or he did not call. Occasionally there were visitors connected with the mines or furnaces, and sometimes there were social evening gatherings of the neighboring young people, or formal state dinners for the magistrates and proprietors who were on terms of intimacy with the laird.
For the first year of Colin's absence, if his letters were not quite satisfactory, they were condoned. It did not please his father that Colin seemed to have settled himself so completely in Rome, among "artists and that kind o' folk," and he was still more angry when Colin declared his intention of staying away another year. Poor father! How he had toiled and planned to aggrandize this only son, who seemed far more delighted with an old coin or an old picture than with the great works which bore his name. In all manner of ways he had made it clear to his family that in the dreamy, sensuous atmosphere of Italian life he remembered the gray earnestness of Scottish life with a kind of terror.
Tallisker said, "Give him his way a little longer, laird. To bring him hame now is no use. People canna thole blue skies for ever; he'll be wanting the moors and the misty corries and the gray clouds erelong." So Colin had another year granted him, and his father added thousand to thousand, and said to his heart wearily many and many a time, "It is all vexation of spirit."
At the end of the second year Crawford wrote a most important letter to his son. There was an opening for the family that might never come again. All arrangements had been made for Colin to enter the coming contest for a seat in Parliament. The Marquis of B---- had been spoken to, and Crawford and he had come to an understanding Crawford did not give the particulars of the "understanding," but he told Colin that his "political career was assured." He himself would take care of the works. Political life was open to his son, and if money and influence could put him in the House of Peers, money should not be spared.
The offer was so stupendous, the future it looked forward to so great, Crawford never doubted Colin's proud, acquiescence. That much he owed to a long line of glorious ancestors; it was one of the obligations of noble birth; he would not dare to, neglect it.
Impatiently he waited Colin's answer. Indeed, he felt sure Colin would answer such a call in person. He was disappointed when a letter came; he had not known, till then, how sure he had felt of seeing his son. And the letter was a simple blow to him. Very respectfully, but very firmly, the proposition was declined. Colin said he knew little of parties and cabals, and was certain, at least, that nothing could induce him to serve under the Marquis of B----. He could not see his obligations to the dead Crawfords as his father did. He considered his life his own. It had come to him with certain tastes, which he meant to improve and gratify, for only in that way was life of any value to him.
The laird laid the letter in Tallisker's hands without a word. He was almost broken-hearted. He had not yet got to that point where money-making for money's sake was enough. Family aggrandizement and political ambition are not the loftiest motives of a man's life, but still they lift money-making a little above the dirty drudgery of mere accumulation. Hitherto Crawford had worked for an object, and the object, at least in his own eyes, had dignified the labor.
In his secret heart he was angry at Colin's calm respectability. A spendthrift prodigal, wasting his substance in riotous living, would have been easier to manage than this young man of aesthetic tastes, whose greatest extravagance was a statuette or a picture. Tallisker, too, was more uneasy than he would confess. He had hoped that Colin would answer his father's summons, because he believed now that the life he was leading was unmanning him. The poetical element in his character was usurping an undue mastery. He wrote to Colin very sternly, and told him plainly that a poetic pantheism was not a whit less sinful than the most vulgar infidelity.
Still he advised the laird to be patient, and by no means to answer Colin's letter in a hurry. But only fixed more firmly the angry father's determination. Colin must come home and fulfil his wish, or he must time remain away until he returned as master. As his son, he would know him no more; as the heir of Crawford, he would receive at intervals such information as pertained to that position. For the old man was just in his anger; it never seemed possible to him to deprive Colin of the right of his heritage. To be the 13th Laird of Crawford was Colin's birthright; he fully recognized his title to the honor, and, as the future head of the house, rendered him a definite respect.
Of course a letter written in such a spirit did no good whatever. Nothing after it could have induced Colin to come home. He wrote and declined to receive even the allowance due to him as heir of Crawford. The letter was perfectly respectful, but cruelly cold and polite, and every word cut the old man like a sword.
For some weeks he really seemed to lose all interest in life. Then the result Tallisker feared was arrived at. He let ambition go, and settled down to the simple toil of accumulation.