Crawford's Sair Strait.
Chapter IX.

It was, upon the whole, a wonderful week to Tallisker; he returned home with the determination that the laird must recall his banished. He had tried to induce Colin to condone all past grievances, but Colin had, perhaps wisely, said that he could not go back upon a momentary impulse. The laird must know all, and accept him just as he was. He had once been requested not to come home unless he came prepared to enter into political life. He had refused the alternative then, and he should refuse it again. The laird must understand these things, or the quarrel would probably be renewed, perhaps aggravated.

And Tallisker thought that, in this respect, Colin was right. He would at any rate hide nothing from the laird, he should know all; and really he thought he ought to be very grateful that the "all" was so much better than might have been.

The laird was not glad. A son brought down to eat the husk of evil ways, poor, sick, suppliant, would have found a far readier welcome. He would gladly have gone to meet Colin, even while he was yet a great way off, only he wanted Colin to be weary and footsore and utterly dependent on his love. He heard with a grim silence Tallisker's description of the house in Regent's Place, with its flowers and books, its statues, pictures, and conservatory. When Tallisker told him of the condition of the Crawfords in Canada, he was greatly moved. He was interested and pleased with the Texan struggle. He knew nothing of Texas, had never heard of the country, but Mexicans, Spaniards, and the Inquisition were one in his mind.

"That at least was Crawford-like," he said warmly, when told of Colin's part in the struggle.

But the subsequent settlement of the clan there hurt him terribly. "He should hae told me. He shouldna hae minded what I said in such a case. I had a right to know. Colin has used me vera hardly about this. Has he not, Tallisker?"

"Yes, laird, Colin was vera wrong there. He knows it now."

"What is he doing in such a grand house? How does he live?"

"He is an artist--a vera great one, I should say."

"He paints pictures for a living! He! A Crawford o' Traquare! I'll no believe it, Tallisker."

"There's naught to fret about, laird. You'll ken that some day. Then his wife had money."

"His wife! Sae he is married. That is o' a piece wi' the rest. Wha is she?"

"He married an American--a Boston lady."

Then the laird's passion was no longer controllable, and he said some things the dominie was very angry at.

"Laird," he answered, "Mrs. Colin Crawford is my friend. You'll no daur to speak any way but respectful o' her in my presence. She is as good as any Crawford that ever trod the heather. She came o' the English Hampdens. Whar will ye get better blood than that?"

"No Hampdens that ever lived--"

"Whist! Whist, laird! The Crawfords are like a' ither folk; they have twa legs and twa hands."

"He should hae married a Scots lass, though she had carried a milking-pail."

"Laird, let me tell you there will be nae special heaven for the Gael. They that want to go to heaven by themsel's arena likely to win there at a'. You may as well learn to live with ither folk here; you'll hae to do it to a' eternity."

"If I get to heaven, Dominie Tallisker, I'll hae special graces for the place. I'm no going to put mysel' in a blazing passion for you to-night. Yon London woman has bewitched you. She's wanting to come to the Keep, I'll warrant."

"If ye saw the hame she has you wouldna warrant your ain word a minute longer, laird. And I'm sure I dinna see what she would want to hae twa Crawfords to guide for. One is mair than enough whiles. It's a wonder to me how good women put up wi' us at all!"

"Humff!" said the laird scornfully. "Too many words on a spoiled subject."

"I must say one mair, though. There is a little lad, a bonnie, brave, bit fellow, your ain grandson, Crawford."

"An American Crawford!" And the laird laughed bitterly. "A foreigner! an alien! a Crawford born in England! Guid-night, Tallisker! We'll drop the subject, an it please you."

Tallisker let it drop. He had never expected the laird to give in at the first cry of "Surrender." But he reflected that the winter was coming, and that its long nights would give plenty of time for thought and plenty of opportunities for further advocacy. He wrote constantly to Colin and his wife, perhaps oftener to Mrs. Crawford than to the young laird, for she was a woman of great tact and many resources, and Tallisker believed in her.

Crawford had said a bitter word about her coming to the Keep, and Tallisker could not help thinking what a blessing she would be there; for one of Crawford's great troubles now was the wretchedness of his household arrangements. The dainty cleanliness and order which had ruled it during Helen's life were quite departed. The garden was neglected, and all was disorder and discomfort. Now it is really wonderful how much of the solid comfort of life depends upon a well-arranged home, and the home must depend upon some woman. Men may mar the happiness of a household, but they cannot make it. Women are the happiness makers. The laird never thought of it in this light, but he did know that he was very uncomfortable.

"I canna even get my porridge made right," he said fretfully to the dominie.

"You should hae a proper person o'er them ne'er-do-weel servants o' yours, laird. I ken one that will do you."

"Wha is she?"

"A Mrs. Hope."

"A widow?"

"No, not a widow, but she is not living with her husband."

"Then she'll ne'er win into my house, dominie."

"She has good and sufficient reasons. I uphold her. Do you think I would sanction aught wrong, laird?"

No more was said at that time, but a month afterwards Mrs. Hope had walked into the Keep and taken everything in her clever little hands. Drunken, thieving, idle servants had been replaced by men and women thoroughly capable and efficient. The laird's tastes were studied, his wants anticipated, his home became bright, restful, and quiet. The woman was young and wonderfully pretty, and Crawford soon began to watch her with a genuine interest.

"She'll be ane o' the Hopes o' Beaton," he thought; "she is vera like them."

At any rate he improved under her sway, for being thoroughly comfortable himself, he was inclined to have consideration for others.

One afternoon, as he came from the works, it began to snow. He turned aside to the manse to borrow a plaid of Tallisker. He very seldom went to the manse, but in the keen, driving snow the cheerful fire gleaming through the window looked very inviting. He thought he would go in and take a cup of tea with Tallisker.

"Come awa in, laird," cried old Janet, "come awa in. You are a sight good for sair e'en. The dominie will be back anon, and I'll gie ye a drap o' hot tay till he comes."

So the laird went in, and the first thing he saw was Colin's picture of "The Clan's Farewell." It moved him to his very heart. He divined at once whose work it was, and he felt that it was wonderful. It must be acknowledged, too, that he was greatly pleased with Colin's conception of himself.

"I'm no a bad-looking Crawford," he thought complacently; "the lad has had a vera clear notion o' what he was doing."

Personal flattery is very subtle and agreeable. Colin rose in his father's opinion that hour.

Then he turned to Prince Charlie. How strange is that vein of romantic loyalty marbling the granite of Scotch character! The common-place man of coal and iron became in the presence of his ideal prince a feudal chieftain again. His heart swelled to that pictured face as the great sea swells to the bending moon. He understood in that moment how his fathers felt it easy to pin on the white cockade and give up everything for an impossible loyalty.

The dominie found him in this mood. He turned back to every-day life with a sigh.

"Weel, dominie, you are a man o' taste. When did you begin buying pictures?"

"I hae no money for pictures, laird. The artist gave me them."

"You mean Colin Crawford gave you them."

"That is what I mean."

"Weel, I'm free to say Colin kens how to choose grand subjects. I didna think there was so much in a picture. I wouldna dare to keep that poor dear prince in my house. I shouldna be worth a bawbee at the works. It was a wonderfu' wise step, that forbidding o' pictures in the kirks. I can vera weel see how they would lead to a sinfu' idolatry."

"Yes, John Knox kent well the temper o' the metal he had to work. There's nae greater hero-worshippers than Scots folk. They are aye making idols for themsel's. Whiles it's Wallace, then it's Bruce or Prince Charlie; nay, there are decent, pious folk that gie Knox himsel' a honoring he wouldna thank them for. But, laird, there is a mair degraded idolatry still--that o' gold. We are just as ready as ever the Jews were to fall down before a calf, an' it only be a golden one."

"Let that subject alane, dominie. It will tak a jury o' rich men to judge rich men. A poor man isna competent. The rich hae straits the poor canna fathom."

And then he saw in light as clear as crystal a slip of paper hid away in a secret drawer.

Just at this moment a little lad bairn entered the room; a child with bright, daring eyes, and a comically haughty, confident manner. He attracted Crawford's attention at once.

"What's your name, my wee man?"

"Alexander is my name."

"That is my name."

"It is not," he answered positively; "don't say that any more."

"Will you hae a sixpence?"

"Yes, I will. Money is good. It buys sweeties."

"Whose boy is that, dominie?"

"Mrs. Hope's. I thought he would annoy you. He is a great pleasure to me."

"Let him come up to the Keep whiles. I'll no mind him."

When he rose to go he stood a moment before each picture, and then suddenly asked,

"Whar is young Crawford?"

"In Rome."

"A nice place for him to be! He'd be in Babylon, doubtless, if it was on the face o' the earth."

When he went home he shut himself in his room and almost stealthily took out that slip of paper. It had begun to look yellow and faded, and Crawford had a strange fancy that it had a sad, pitiful appearance. He held it in his hand a few moments and then put it back again. It would be the new year soon, and he would decide then. He had made similar promises often; they always gave him temporary comfort.

Then gradually another element of pleasure crept into his life--Mrs. Hope's child. The boy amused him; he never resented his pretty, authoritative ways; a queer kind of companionship sprang up between them. It was one of perfect equality every way; an old man easily becomes a little child. And those who only knew Crawford among coals and pig iron would have been amazed to see him keeping up a mock dispute with this baby.