Crawford's Sair Strait.
Chapter VIII.
 

Tallisker was a man as quick in action as in resolve; the next night he left for London, it was no light journey in those days for a man of his years, and who had never in all his life been farther away from Perthshire than Edinburgh. But he feared nothing. He was going into the wilderness after his own stray sheep, and he had a conviction that any path of duty is a safe path. He said little to any one. The people looked strangely on him. He almost fancied himself to be Christian going through Vanity Fair.

He went first to Colin's old address in Regent's Place. He did not expect to find him there, but it might lead him to the right place. Number 34 Regent's Place proved to be a very grand house. As he went up to the door, an open carriage, containing a lady and a child, left it. A man dressed in the Crawford tartan opened the door.

"Crawford?" inquired Tallisker, "is he at home?"

"Yes, he is at home;" and the servant ushered him into, a carefully-shaded room, where marble statues gleamed in dusk corners and great flowering plants made the air fresh and cool. It as the first time Tallisker had ever seen a calla lily and he looked with wonder and delight at the gleaming flowers. And somehow he thought of Helen. Colin sat in a great leathern chair reading. He did not lift his head until the door closed and he was sensible the servant had left some one behind. Then for a moment he could hardly realize who it was; but when he did, he came forward with a glad cry.

"Dominie! O Tallisker!"

"Just so, Colin, my dear lad. O Colin, you are the warst man I ever kenned. You had a good share o' original sin to start wi', but what wi' pride and self-will and ill-will, the old trouble is sairly increased."

Colin smiled gravely. "I think you misjudge me, dominie." Then refreshments were sent for, and the two men sat down for a long mutual confidence.

Colin's life had not been uneventful. He told it frankly, without reserve and without pride. When he quarrelled with his father about entering Parliament, he left Rome at once, and went to Canada. He had some idea of joining his lot with his own people there. But he found them in a state of suffering destitution. They had been unfortunate in their choice of location, and were enduring an existence barer than the one they had left, without any of its redeeming features. Colin gave them all he had, and left them with promises of future aid.

Then he went to New York. When he arrived, there was an intense excitement over the struggle then going on in the little republic of Texas. He found out something about the country; as for the struggle, it was the old struggle of freedom against papal and priestly dominion. That was a quarrel for which Scotchmen have always been ready to draw the sword. It was Scotland's old quarrel in the New World, and Colin went into it heart and soul. His reward had been an immense tract of the noble rolling Colorado prairie. Then he determined to bring the Crawfords down, and plant them in this garden of the Lord. It was for this end he had written to his father for L4,000. This sum had sufficed to transplant them to their new home, and give them a start. He had left them happy and contented, and felt now that in this matter he had absolved his conscience of all wrong.

"But you ought to hae told the laird. It was vera ill-considered. It was his affair more than yours. I like the thing you did, Colin, but I hate the way you did it. One shouldna be selfish even in a good wark."

"It was the laird's own fault; he would not let me explain."

"Colin, are you married?"

"Yes. I married a Boston lady. I have a son three years old. My wife was in Texas with me. She had a large fortune of her own."

"You are a maist respectable man, Colin, but I dinna like it at all. What are you doing wi' your time? This grand house costs something."

"I am an artist--a successful one, if that is not also against me."

"Your father would think sae. Oh, my dear lad, you hae gane far astray from the old Crawford ways."

"I cannot help that, dominie. I must live according to my light. I am sorry about father."

Then the dominie in the most forcible manner painted the old laird's hopes and cruel disappointments. There were tears in Colin's eyes as he reasoned with him. And at this point his own son came into the room. Perhaps for the first time Colin looked at the lad as the future heir of Crawford. A strange thrill of family and national pride stirred his heart. He threw the little fellow shoulder high, and in that moment regretted that he had flung away the child's chance of being Earl of Crawford. He understood then something of the anger and suffering his father had endured, and he put the boy down very solemnly. For if Colin was anything, he was just; if his father had been his bitterest enemy, he would, at this moment, have acknowledged his own aggravation.

Then Mrs. Crawford came in. She had heard all about the dominie, and she met him like a daughter. Colin had kept his word. This fair, sunny-haired, blue-eyed woman was the wife he had dreamed about; and Tallisker told him he had at any rate done right in that matter. "The bonnie little Republican," as he called her, queened it over the dominie from the first hour of their acquaintance.

He stayed a week in London, and during it visited Colin's studio. He went there at Colin's urgent request, but with evident reluctance. A studio to the simple dominie had almost the same worldly flavor as a theatre. He had many misgivings as they went down Pall Mall, but he was soon reassured. There was a singular air of repose and quiet in the large, cool room. And the first picture he cast his eyes upon reconciled him to Colin's most un-Crawford-like taste.

It was "The Farewell of the Emigrant Clan." The dominie's knees shook, and he turned pale with emotion. How had Colin reproduced that scene, and not only reproduced but idealized it! There were the gray sea and the gray sky, and the gray granite boulder rocks on which the chief stood, the waiting ships, and the loaded boats, and he himself in the prow of the foremost one. He almost felt the dear old hymn thrilling through the still room. In some way, too, Colin had grasped the grandest points of his father's character. In this picture the man's splendid physical beauty seemed in some mysterious way to give assurance of an equally splendid spiritual nature.

"If this is making pictures, Colin, I'll no say but what you could paint a sermon, my dear lad. I hae ne'er seen a picture before." Then he turned to another, and his swarthy face glowed with an intense emotion. There was a sudden sense of tightening in his throat, and he put his hand up and slowly raised his hat. It was Prince Charlie entering Edinburgh. The handsome, unfortunate youth rode bareheaded amid the Gordons and the Murrays and a hundred Highland noblemen. The women had their children shoulder high to see him, the citizens, bonnets up, were pressing up to his bridle-rein. It stirred Tallisker like a peal of trumpets. With the tears streaming down his glowing face, he cried out,

"How daur ye, sir! You are just the warst rebel between the seas! King George ought to hang you up at Carlisle-gate. And this is painting! This is artist's wark! And you choose your subjects wisely, Colin: it is a gift the angels might be proud o'." He lingered long in the room, and when he left it, "Prince Charlie" and the "Clan's Farewell" were his own. They were to go back with him to the manse at Crawford.