The Strange Adventures of John Percival
by Mrs. Margaret Oliphant
John Percival was a nephew of a banker in Edinburgh, destined from his
childhood to the service of the bank—which was considered by all the
family the greatest good luck that could have happened to a boy. His
uncle, who like the boy was John Percival, and who was his godfather—or
namefather, as we say in Scotland—as well as his uncle and his patron,
and was connected with him by every possible tie, was a childless man:
childless, too, in the most secure way,—not an old bachelor who might
marry at any moment, but a staid married man with a wife younger than
himself, yet not so young as to be dangerous. He was, though the old man
did not say so, nor do anything to raise expectations, universally
considered as his uncle's heir; and did so consider himself calmly,
without impatience or preoccupation with the subject, and very far from
wishing to shorten his uncle's life by a single day. He was thought the
most fortunate boy in the family; but I don't think he considered
himself as such, and especially when he set out on a wintry day at noon
in the stage-coach for Duntrum, a large provincial town in the south of
Scotland. It may be divined that it was not to-day or yesterday,
according to the popular phrase, when this journey took place: for
nowadays one whisks off from Edinburgh to Duntrum in the morning, and
whisks back again at night, having several hours in which to do one's
business between, and no fatigue to speak of. It was very different in
those days, when from noon to nearly midnight the coach joggled over
the frost-bound country; and even in his corner in the interior, where
John was forced to place himself by the anxieties of his elders, who
kept up a pleasing fiction that he was delicate—it was very difficult
even under a pile of plaids and topcoats to keep warm. He was going to
serve for a year in the bank at Duntrum to give him a knowledge of
country business and the ways of rustic depositors and clients,—a
knowledge which John felt to be very unnecessary, seeing that his life
was to be spent, not in Duntrum, but in Edinburgh, and at the least in
the manager's office, not at the counter selling money as if it were tea
or sugar. He did not like this change of scene at all, perhaps because
the season was at its height in Edinburgh, and all the entertainments of
the year hurrying upon each other; but chiefly because it was the sordid
side of business, the lower part of the profession, as this foolish
young man thought, which he was being sent to study. He did not
appreciate the advantage of knowing everything connected with his trade,
which the elders know so much better than the young people. Indeed, to
tell the truth, he was not sure at all that he was fond of banking, or
thought it every way so superior an employment as many people thought.
His own opinion was that if he were left at peace to live upon his own
little bit of money, and pursue his own tastes, he would be a much
happier man. He had a notion, indeed, that he might possibly turn out a
great painter or a great writer if he were thus left to himself to
cultivate the best that was in him. It was a pity that he felt the
possibilities were equal in respect to these two pursuits. It might be
either which would bring him fame and fortune, but certainly one of
them. If he had been sure that it was either this or that, there would
have been more hope for John: but he was not sure,—he thought at one
time he could have been a painter, had he time and encouragement to try,
and then again another time that he could be a novelist or a poet.
Perhaps on the whole it was just as well for him, that, with such
excellent prospects, and the certainty of coming to a good end, if he
behaved himself, he should have been what he was—a banker's clerk.
But whatever it might end in eventually, it was very hard lines, he
thought, that he should have to leave Edinburgh in the middle of the
season when everything was in full swing. There was not much in those
days, at least not the tenth part so much as now, of football and golf.
These games were played, but they were not the essence of life. Strange
to say, young men found other things to talk about, other things to
occupy them which were not all deleterious. For one thing, they took a
great deal more interest in dances and all sorts of assemblies, in which
the boys met with the girls of their own class, than the ordinary run of
"manly young fellows" do now. I suspect they fell in love much more
freely than they do now. They wanted to meet, to talk to, to laugh with
these girls, as they like now to make themselves comfortable in a
smoking-room, or rave about breaking a record on the links. I do not say
which is best, not knowing; but at least one must confess that it is
quite different. It is possible that John had even more than one
incipient flirtation on his hands. He did not at all like to leave, for
a hum-drum provincial town near the Border, with all its local questions
and prejudices which he would not understand, the cheerful bustle of
Edinburgh, the gay assemblies and all the private entertainments that
abounded at this cheerful time of the year.
"Good-bye, my boy: we'll see you back whenever there's anything great
going on," said one of the friends who were seeing him off. There was a
little group of them round the coach door, bright-faced young men who
had made a dart from the offices of several Writers to the Signet, or
even from the Parliament House—to see the last of Percival, as they
"Perhaps," said John, with satirical bitterness, "if well-founded
information reaches the bank that the world is coming to an end."
"In that case you may stay where you are," said the other; "we'll have
enough to do thinking of ourselves. Hallo!" said this young man, feeling
himself vigorously pushed aside from the coach door. This was the
arrival of another passenger, by whom the group of young men were pushed
aside to right and left by that free use of elbows and personal momentum
which an energetic woman of the lower orders uses with so little
scruple. This was a strong and vigorous maid-servant of middle age and
weighty person, leading a veiled and muffled personage who followed her
closely, and who bore the aspect of an old lady afflicted with toothache
or "tic," or one of those affections of the face which were then treated
freely with enveloping wraps to keep out the cold, and external
applications, and a total indifference to personal appearance. Indeed in
this case, as the face was entirely invisible, a thick veil of Spanish
lace, in a large pattern of heavy and close design, covering the small
amount which was not entirely obliterated by plaster and poultice
applied to the right cheek, there was not perhaps any inducement even to
undying vanity to attempt modification or concealment. The identity of
the veiled person it was quite impossible to divine—her wrapped-up
head was like a melon, a "sport" with one great bulge on the right
side: a faint glimmer of an eye between the crevices of the lace
pattern, a little colour, was all that was apparent; feature and form
and expression were all lost in the portentous envelopments. She clung
close to her protector with old and tremulous steps, and occasionally a
faint waggle of the misshapen and enormous head.
"Can ye no' see it's an auld leddy with the rheumatics in her head—and
jist you get out of the way, my fine callants, that kenna what trouble
is. Gang round to the other side of the coach if you have any more
blethers to say. Steady, mem, steady! take your time, this is the town
corner, the furdest frae the winds: and I'll pull up the window-glass,
and ye'll not feel a breath. You'll jist be as safe as gin ye were in
your auld chair with the wings at hame."
During this speech, to which the young men listened awestruck, the old
lady was carefully and with much precaution hoisted into the coach, a
process which seemed more difficult than her short stature and
apparently insignificant figure seemed to justify, the stout
woman-servant growing redder and redder under the strain, although
assisted by a porter who pushed from behind. When the process was
accomplished the boys burst into a genial but suppressed laugh, with
significant looks at John, who for his part could not but regard with a
certain fascination the mass of nodding headgear which was to be his
companion in the long drive. He could not take his gaze from her. The
cold journey to Duntrum, leaving dinners and assemblies behind, was
reason enough for despondency: but to travel with Medusa herself in a
mail-coach! if by any chance the wrappings might come off, and her
unfortunate fellow-passenger be turned to stone.
"I give you joy, Jack," whispered one of the attendant youths; "here's a
bonny bride to bear you company."
"I'll tell May Laurie you were in capital fettle; a fair lady by your
side and plenty of time to make your court."
"Nothing of the sort, Jack, my lad; I'll let her know you were preserved
from every temptation," cried another—all this in not quite inaudible
whispers, at the other door.
John was glad when the coach finally started, leaving all these laughing
faces behind; for he had a tender heart, and was remorseful at the
thought of perhaps wounding an old and suffering person for whom he had
on the contrary the greatest compassion. True, it was dreadful to see
that misshapen head nodding from the opposite corner, and to know that
whatever happened he must be its companion for so many hours. A horrible
doubt seized him whether it would be possible for her to go so far
without occasion to change her poultice or undo her cerements. He
thought of the 'Veiled Prophet,' then just published, and wondered
whether he might not have some ghastly revelation to undergo like that
of the horrified hero. He thought in spite of himself of ill-smelling
ointments and other sickening appliances. Poor creature! it might be a
question with her of ease from distracting pain, or she might go on
suffering, unwilling to expose her inflamed cheek, or run the risk of
disgusting her companion. Poor old body! John tried to turn his back on
her, to keep his eyes diverted on the view from the opposite window: but
there was a fascination in the unknown which drew him back. He stole
glances at her against his will, as if she had been a young beauty. He
would have given much to see what was underneath the thick silken
flowers of the veil, even though he was sure it would be chiefly
poultices bound up with white-and-black handkerchiefs. These modes of
wrappings were visible sometimes on Edinburgh streets as they are on
those of Paris to-day. It would not be a pleasant sight: still it would
be better than the mystery in the corner which sat there, like an image
of stone, never showing any sign of life but by the occasional nodding
of the distorted head. Was it palsy too, poor soul? had she all the ills
that flesh is heir to? John was very sympathetic. The sight of that
wrapped-up mass of suffering in the corner affected him very much. He
would fain have done something to show his pity. He began to calculate
how he should manage to help her out when the coach came to its first
stopping-place to change horses and to afford the passengers an
opportunity for "a snack." Probably she would not be able to take a
snack or exert her suffering jaws. He thought perhaps he might got her
some broth, which would give her no trouble except the trouble of
undoing her veil. Broth was always to be had in a Scotch village about
dinner-time. It would warm and comfort her, and perhaps even she could
take it without undoing anything. He had a horrible desire to see the
coverings undone, and yet he had so kind a heart that he would have been
glad to think she could take a little broth without any trouble in that
way, poor old soul!
However, he did his best to read his book for an hour or two, turning
his mind from the lady in the corner. He would be out of temptation
those fellows said. Well, yes, he was out of temptation in one way: but
if his fellow-traveller had only been a moderately well-looking woman,
even though young and responsive, he did not know that he would have
been so much in temptation as with this mystery in the opposite corner,
though he felt sure it was a repulsive mystery, and probably would have
a sickening, and not an enticing, effect upon him. But he said to
himself he would just like to know what it was. Poor thing! perhaps it
was a dreadful embarrassment to her to find a man opposite to her, to be
hampered in any effort to relieve herself which she might have made if
alone. He could see that she pressed herself more and more into the
corner, and leaned the weight of her poor head on the cushions. By
degrees it occurred to him that he might make her more comfortable if
she would allow him to make a roll of one of his plaids and put it at
the place where no doubt her neck came, so that she could support her
head more comfortably. He pondered over this a long time, and
experimented on himself how he could do it, before, with much timidity
and as fine a blush as if he had been aiding a beautiful princess, he at
last ventured to speak.
"The cushions," he said, "are not very soft in these coaches."
The melon with the bulging side turned round to him with a swiftness he
could not have thought possible, but nothing was said.
"I've been thinking," said John, "I've seen it done in—in my own
family. You see, you roll up a thing like a small bolster, and then you
place it just where your neck comes——"
He exemplified what he meant by rolling up a large comforter knitted in
dazzling white wool, quite new and of his Aunt John's choicest
manufacture, made expressly for this journey. It was large and soft, and
John rolled it close till it became as round and smooth as a bolster,
according to his homely simile.
"If you will let me," he said, rising, "I think I could place this——"
There was an agitated movement inside the draperies, and a voice that
made John jump, between a squeak and a scream, came as it seemed out of
the top of the misshapen head, "No! no! I cannot be touched. No! no!"
It made John jump; but after all, what was a voice any more than the
other appearances, to daunt him when he had so honest an intention of
doing well? He came a step nearer. "I am sure you will find it more——"
"No; keep away! No; keep away!" the voice repeated with shrill decision,
not at all softened but made still more bewildering by a sudden tremor
at the end. He paused for a moment with his white roll in his hand, and
he distinctly saw the veiled figure shake with a strange sort of broken
vibration, as if in one access after another of palsy, was it? or, if
not, what else? He did not know what else it could be. He stood for a
moment wavering, and then he retired and threw down the comforter
impatiently upon the seat. "Well," he said, with a sigh also of
impatience, "if you won't have it I cannot help it: still I am sure I
could have made you more comfortable," he added, recovering his
good-humour. And he resumed his book: but his attention was sadly
distracted, for that spasmodic movement went on at intervals; and there
even broke forth certain stifled sounds—was it moaning, was it the
signal of some approaching calamity? He gazed earnestly over the top of
his book, with a most compassionate face, and held himself on the alert
to give any aid he could. But after a while his apprehensions were
quieted: there seemed no reason to suppose that anything was going to
happen, and these mysterious movements died away.
The lady, however, refused the broth which he procured for her when they
stopped, at the risk of having no time for his own "snack." She rejected
it with the same sharp squeaking voice as before, and with something of
the same strangely convulsive movements,—darting away from her corner,
when he suddenly opened the door at her side, with a swiftness which it
was impossible to suppose such a wrapped-up mummy could be capable of,
and an evident fright which piqued him a little. "No; keep away!" she
squeaked again. What a cankered, sour, shrill, old woman! What did she
suppose he wanted with her? It was not for her beaux yeux certainly.
But he had heard that some women always, however old and ugly they may
be, imagine a man wants to make love to them. He laughed at this to
himself as he went off to get his "snack," and as ten minutes with a
powerful young appetite can do a great deal, succeeded fully in
indemnifying himself. For the moment he was vexed with this second
repulse; but no such feeling had long the mastery in John's honest
bosom. There were some fine golden oranges on the table, and he put two
or three into his pocket before he went back to the coach. Perhaps she
might like one in the dark hours that were coming before they reached
Duntrum, when there would be no light to see by, whatever faces she
might make, if she put aside the veil. He put two of them gently on the
seat beside her when he returned to the coach: but the mummy only gave a
grotesque fling farther back into her corner, and took no notice. Yet
once again John made an attempt to be of service to her. It was when the
guard, as they passed through the small town of Dunscore, as the evening
fell, opened the door hurriedly and flung in a bundle of post-bags, two
or three attached to each other with a strap, their metal padlocks
shining in the glow of his lantern. "Last stage afore Duntrum," said
the guard. It was his habit to place the mails there at this point of
his journey, in order to give them up to the Duntrum authorities without
"That is scarcely very safe," said John, ingratiatingly to his silent
companion; "suppose you or I were less honest than we seem." He laughed,
but his laugh died out of itself in that shamefaced way in which a laugh
quenches itself when made at our own joke, and falling flat without
response. But presently, after a while, he suggested, which was very
true, that it was getting cold, and asked if she had enough wraps, or
would accept one of his. This seemed to overcome altogether the patience
of the veiled lady in the corner. She told him sharply to mind his own
business. "There's nothing wanted from you," she said. The voice was
odd, the shrill one alternating with a softer note as if two people were
speaking. It had almost become a point of honour with John to overcome
this persistent defiance. He approached with one of his plaids
outspread, and laid it gently about her knees. The answer was a
vivacious movement kicking it away.
"Will you not take a telling?" cried the shrill voice. "Away! and
snoozle yourself in your corner, and let me be quit of you!" The voice
was so fierce that John fell back in spite of himself, and, somewhat
mortified, took the unfriendly advice. He did withdraw into his corner,
wrapping himself round and round in his many wraps, until he was almost
as much muffled up as his companion. And the night was cold, and there
was only a very feeble lamp in the coach. He ended by "snoozling" as the
old lady advised, with his head buried in the high collar of his coat;
and as the windows were closed against the penetrating chill of the
night, and the atmosphere heavy, he fell fast asleep.
He woke with a start some time after, with the sensation of a gust of
wind blowing upon him from the coach door. Half bewildered as he came to
himself, he saw that the door was open, and caught, with astonished
eyes, a momentary glimpse of the face of a young woman, a sudden
apparition against the blackness of the night; and then the door was
closed sharply and with a clang. The coach was at the foot of a steep
ascent beginning to ascend slowly. John sat up suddenly, awake but still
bewildered, and rubbing his eyes. The opposite corner was vacant. His
plaid lay on the floor where the old lady had tossed it, but she herself
had disappeared. He jumped up still confused, and unable to believe his
eyes, and groped in the corner. But there was no one there: then he put
his head out of the window, and shouted loudly into the night.
The coach was crawling softly up the hill. In daylight half of the
passengers would have walked up the ascent which was within a short
distance of Duntrum, but they were all benumbed with the cold and the
darkness, which was so intense that John, when he looked out, could see
nothing but the white speck of the lamp travelling along a black line
which might be a hedge or a wall, and was only visible as the light
passed over it. It was like putting out his head into some awful abyss
of nothing, his eyes hurting him in this black gloom which abolished
them and their use. The big vehicle groaning under its burden crept on,
labouring like some huge animal, jingling, creaking, reluctant, going on
through the cold and the dark.
John shouted "Stop! stop!" with a stentorian voice. "A lady has fallen
out of the coach! A passenger has fallen out of the coach!" he shouted,
repeating it again and again; then opening the door, got out himself,
dropping upon the invisible road. But it was not till some minutes later
that the coach could be brought to a standstill, and he could get
possession of one of the lamps, tearing it out of its place.
"She must be lying in the road," he said; "she was an old woman unable
to walk." He held the lamp to the ground, as if at any moment he might
tread her under foot. By this time other dark figures were detaching
themselves from amidst their heaped-up wraps from the top of the coach
and jumping down, stamping their feet upon the iron and ice of the
"What is it? Who is it? An old body? Bless us all, an old body. She will
just get her death!" There was a chorus of voices and of warm breath
going up on the still air. The guard and John, each with a lamp, walked
down to the bottom of the hill, accompanied vaguely by several scarcely
"I fell asleep," he said, explaining himself to the night, scarcely
conscious of any auditor, "and then she was sitting there close up in
the corner, as she had been since we left Edinburgh, and would never
speak: but when I woke up, the door was wide open, swinging, and there
was nobody——" He added, after a moment, as if he had suddenly
discovered that face: "Some woman passing on the road shut to the door
with a bang—and that woke me." It seemed to him as he related this
that he was telling an incident in a dream; and yet he was sure it was
"A woman on the road—did you see a woman on the road? there's few
foot-passengers here at this hour of the night," said the guard.
"I saw her as clear as I see you." He held up his lamp instinctively to
the face of the other, which was bent like his own on the ground.
"One of you," cried the guard, "hurry up the hill and stop her if she's
gone that way. She canna have gone far on this steep road. Stop her and
see what she knows."
But no wayfarer was found on the ascending road, nor could all the light
of the lamps find any trace of any one who had fallen. The inhabitants
of the first wayside cottage at the foot of the hill were imperiously
knocked up by the guard and put upon the trace.
"We canna stop the coach whatever happens," he cried, "but we'll send
out a search party from Duntrum immediate. How long were you sleepin'?"
he added peremptorily to John, who looked at his watch in the light of
the lamp and answered—
"Perhaps an hour."
"An hour is a long time," said the guard, knitting his brows. "As far
back as the brig we would be then, and at a smart pace, for the horses,
poor things, scented their stables. Take your lantern, lad, if you have
one, and go as far as that.—Ou ay, ye'll be paid, you needna be feared
for that. Will ye come, sir, or bide? I daurna stop the coach."
John looked into the blankness of darkness before him and shivered, but
it was not this only that moved him. He felt certain that the
catastrophe, whatever it was, must have happened within a much shorter
time than an hour,—that it had just occurred, indeed, when he woke, and
when the sudden blast of the cold wind roused him with its searching
chill. He felt convinced that he and his companions had already come to
the farthest limits in which the accident, if it was an accident, could
have occurred. His head was confused with the effort to find an
explanation. What was it? After searching so far, he became convinced
that the clue was not to be found on the road. Where, then, was it to be
found? He made no answer either to this question in his own mind or to
the guard, but turned back, leaving the others with the sleepy and
startled cottagers, father and son, who had been roused from their beds,
for it was already late, and were reluctantly accepting the directions
of the guard, whose red coat made a spot like a fire in the darkness,
lighted up by the lantern which he had attached to his belt. John
turned back and began to reclimb the hill, throwing the flash of his
lamp on every roughness of the road, and making his way back to where
the coach smoked into the night, the breath of the passengers and the
emanations from the horses forming a mist of life which rose dim yet
consolatory across the light of the lamp in the midst of that chill of
winter and darkness. As he came up to it his foot caught upon something
almost under the hindmost wheel, and he gave a loud cry, which brought
every one on foot around him. He set down his lamp on the frozen ground,
and they all clustered over it in a circle. It was the heavy bundle of
the mail-bags strapped together, one end of the leather strap still
entangled with the step of the coach. The guard pulled them up with an
"Dod! she's trailed the mails with her," and then he too uttered a cry,
which was fierce with instant terror and dismay. "But where's the bag
The two lamps were immediately fixed upon this new problem, and their
light shone upon a circle of faces, the guard's blanched with sudden
alarm, all turned towards that dark mass gleaming with its metal clasps.
"It's come loose," said one voice; "it'll be on the road."
"Bah! a wheen letters," said another; "you'll no' stop us in the cold
"It's just a simple accident," said the third. But the guard held up to
the light the ends of a strap cut through, clean and clear, evidently by
some very sharp instrument.
"It's been nae woman, it's been some robber in disguise,—it's been a
got-up thing," he cried, throwing a glance of suspicion at John, who
stood aghast, holding the lamp unconsciously quite close to the bundle
of the mail-bags, and gazing at them as if there was something there
that could elucidate the mystery. He began to put one thing to another
confusedly in his mind.
"A got-up thing! Could it be a got-up thing? It was a woman certainly,"
he said to himself, but aloud,—"a woman certainly, and a small woman."
"Maybe a laddie in a woman's dress," said an officious bystander.
"Were there mony letters in't?" said another, with unseasonable
"And what," said another, authoritatively, "had the mail-bags to do in
the inside of the coach?"
This question made a silence in the group, which the guard broke
suddenly and loudly.
"Get back to your seats," he said; "and Jamie, push them to their
stiffest, those beasts of yours: this has to be seen into. It's robbery
on the Queen's highway," he said, with a vague threat which cowed them
John got to the lodging which had been prepared for him, with a much
perplexed and disturbed brain. It annoyed him beyond reason to think he
had perhaps taken a mischievous boy for a lady, and wasted his polite
attentions upon a young thief; yet perhaps, because he did not wish to
believe this, this became an idea quite impossible to him after a little
thought. He could not quite tell how he came to the conclusion, but he
felt perfectly confident that a woman it was, perhaps not an invalid, as
appeared—nay, certainly not an invalid: he remembered now the swift
movement of surprise she had made when he suddenly opened the door on
her side with the soup he had taken such trouble to get for her. She had
flung herself aside from the door, but it was a woman's movement, not
that of a boy. And then the woman's face at the opened door, looking in
one moment from outside, closing it with such a hasty bang. No doubt of
that being a woman's face, a young face, a pretty face, in a glow of
colour as he remembered it. Could that be the wrapped-up old rheumatic
person with the poultice on her cheek? His heart gave a jump partly of
self-derision, the dolt he had been! not to discover a bonnie lass even
underneath the mountain of veils and wraps. He could have sworn that not
the cleverest should have so taken him in. But why, after all, should
that be her? Most likely it was somebody passing, a country maid on
the road, good-natured, giving a push to the open door as she passed.
Would a fugitive have shut it with a clang like that? Not likely!
John was very ready for his supper and for his bed afterwards, being
young and healthy: but his sleep was very broken, and that woman's face
kept looking in upon him, from between the curtains and behind the door,
at every turn and toss. He began to see it, better than he had done in
the real moment of seeing it,—a pretty face, rather redder than was
consistent with his idea of beauty, with a curious flash in the eyes,
and anxious lines in the forehead. He saw it perfectly clear in those
visions of the night, the hair dark and ruffled, a hood half drawn over
the head, the lips apart. No doubt at all that it was a pretty face. And
he remembered she glanced at him with a sort of laugh about the corners
of her mouth, which changed to a look of fright as she saw him wake up.
He had not thought of it at first, but certainly that was her
expression, and the clang with which the door closed was probably due
to that surprise. Was this the old woman with the rheumatics in her
head? Could it be she who had squeaked and stormed at him, and ordered
him to "snoozle"? He kept going over and over it in his broken sleep,
seeing her more clearly every time he woke, reading more and more
meaning in the details of her face which came to him one by one. Were
the eyes blue or brown? Was the ruffled hair light or dark? He could not
make out those most essential details, yet he thought he should
recognise her wherever he saw her. The glimpse he had got of her in
reality seemed nothing to the light upon her which came from his dreams.
It was like seeing her again and again, and getting familiar with her
face. He thought that if he ever saw it again, it would haunt him all
his life. But he should see it again—of that he was determined. Then he
suddenly thought to himself with a gleam of surprised pleasure, what a
good thing it was, after all, that he had come to Duntrum! This seemed
all at once to him a good, a delightful, a most entertaining and
charming thing, but, I fear, he would have been quite at a loss, if he
had been asked for an explanation, to say why.
The incident, as was natural, made a great noise in the country, and
there was an examination held before the sheriff at which John was the
principal witness. He described the old body to the great amusement of
all present,—the lump on her cheek, and white edge of the plaster in
which it was tied up, just showing beyond the great black muffler in
which her face was enveloped, the Spanish veil, with large thick silken
flowers, between the interstices of which only the fact that there was a
face could be discovered, the shrill strange voice which he now felt to
be assumed. And, finally, the young face that had appeared at the
"You were awoke by it—by what?" said the questioner; "by the sharp
closing of the door?"
"Yes," said John.
"Then, if the noise only woke you, how could you see the face of the
person who made it?"
"No, it was not the noise," said John; "it was the blast of the cold air
coming in: and then the face appeared in the open, against the night,
looking up a little, catching the light of the lamp. For a moment it
moved with the coach, then the door was shut."
"Moved with the coach?" said the interrogator. "Do you mean she was
walking by the side?"
"I begin to think," said John, slowly, "that she must have been on the
step: then dropped out of sight, and shut the door."
"Are you sure, Mr Percival," said the sheriff, "that the pretty face at
the door was not a dream? We all know that pretty faces are part of
young men's dreams: and you are not sure at which moment you awoke."
"I did not say," said John, "that it was a pretty face."
"Ah!" said the sheriff.
"Still it is true—it was so: and young: but it was not a dream. I saw
the lady quite clearly."
"It was a lady, then? You thought at first it might be a country lass
"I am not sure that it was a lady," said John, "but I certainly think
so—I——" He paused, then, with a slight start of astonishment, seemed
to stop an exclamation that was on his lips.
"What is the matter?" cried his questioner. "You are not so sure as you
were that you saw any young woman at all?"
"I am perfectly sure—on my oath, and with complete recollection of what
happened, that I saw," cried John, "exactly what I have said,—a young
woman with a great deal of expression in her face, and a hood on her
head, looking in at me for a moment through the open door." He did not
look at the sheriff as he spoke, but strained his eyes, interrogating
the faces before him between the table at which he stood and the door.
His heart had not quieted yet from that start, though his mind had. He
had thought he saw her again, the same face, and had been startled, and
then had said to himself how unlikely it was, and looking again had
found there was no such thing before him, among the score or two of
people who had assembled in the room. There were very few women at all:
it must have been a temporary illusion, for certainly now there was no
one visible who resembled that face at all. But his heart continued to
beat, though he succeeded in quieting his mind and reason as I have
Many curious things happened in connection with this mystery. The
letters which had been posted in Dunscore on that night—as was proved
by the postmarks—almost without exception reached their destination
within a day or two, but with the Edinburgh postmark added to that of
Dunscore. There was an exception, and that was one letter addressed to
the Duntrum Bank, in which John by this time had taken his place, a
favoured supernumerary, with all the prestige of his Edinburgh
antecedents and connection, to learn the country work. It was curious
that the incident with which his name was already associated, and which
formed so remarkable a part of his scanty and young experience, should
thus be brought under his notice again. He heard nothing else spoken of
for the first month, at least, of his dwelling in Duntrum. The one lost
letter was from a small bank in the little town of Dunscore. It had
enclosed several bank bills to be collected and other papers of
commercial value, and was in fact, perhaps, the only important missive
in the stolen bag, judging from a commercial point of view. From the
discussions in the bank where he acquired the last information on the
subject, John learnt that various unfortunate persons had reason to
rejoice over the loss of this letter. Two or three poor men almost
bankrupt had their ruin staved off for a moment, and the dread period of
protested bills and mercantile dishonour deferred at least for a time:
and there were many whisperings and questions whether any of the persons
concerned could have been capable of so bold a stroke. But even the
inventive genius of a country town, always so bold in attributing guilt,
could not come to any agreement in respect to this. It could not even be
said that any one was suspected. The thing had been accomplished so
mysteriously in such a complete way, without leaving a trace, that the
local inquisition was completely baffled. John found with mingled
annoyance and relief that his own vision of the young woman at the coach
door was not relied upon. He had probably dreamt it, most people
thought. Like the sheriff, the community concluded that it was nothing
wonderful if a young man suddenly awakened should think he saw a girl's
face; probably he had been dreaming about some particular girl. And in
those days the hypothesis of a woman having done any deed of note was
rarely accepted and with difficulty. The natural rôle of the woman in
those days was to keep quiet and behind backs. She was not suspected of
taking any leading part. The wrapped-up invalid in the country, whom the
guard and several other persons besides John had seen, must have been a
man in this disguise everybody was certain. It was not a thing that
could have been done by a woman. No, no; no woman could have had the
nerve to do it, the people in Duntrum said.
All these things John Percival turned over in his mind, and examined as
much as he had the opportunity of doing. He listened to all the gossip
about all the persons concerned, and especially of those who might be
supposed to be advantaged by the loss of the mail-bag, with very keen
interest, and formed within himself one hypothesis after another,
several of which perished in the framing, so difficult was it to make
the circumstances fit in. And in the meantime he himself became a
personage of great importance, and much sought after in the gentlest
society of Duntrum, which was understood to be very exclusive and
difficult of access. John was the representative of Percival's Bank, one
of the oldest establishments in Edinburgh, which was very much in his
favour. And he was, besides, gifted with a story to tell, which was
almost a greater recommendation. Over and over again during that winter
he was required to give his famous description of his companion in the
coach, of his own attempted attentions, the soup he procured in vain,
the wraps that were kicked away. There was one circumstance which he
never mentioned, but which touched his heart with the strangest thrill
of kindness, which was that his tribute of the oranges had disappeared
along with the old lady. It was as if she had not liked to hurt his
feelings by rejecting his benevolences altogether. This curious
experience inspired John with a slight inclination towards the dramatic
which he had not been conscious of before, and almost made him believe
before the season was over that perhaps if he had been left to follow
his own devices, he might have been a great actor as well as a great
artist or poet. At last, however, he got over his inclination to start
at every girl's face he met and examine it critically on the score of a
fancied likeness to the young woman of his vision. He said that most
girls were like each other, as his final conclusion. They had all fine
complexions in Duntrum.
Nevertheless, there was one evening at one of the many little dances
that were given in that cheerful place, when John's composure was very
much put to the test. He was taken to this entertainment by his own
chief comrade and crony, young Maxwell, the son of the resident partner
in the Duntrum Bank, who was in something of John's own position, more
highly favoured than the other clerks and naturally one of the élite.
"Come, and I'll show you the flower of Wittisdale, the rose of Duntrum,"
said this young man. "She has been away in Edinburgh the whole winter;
but mind you, none of your cantrips here. I warn you off before you see
her. I'll have no interlopers cutting me out. Turn the heads of all the
others, if you like, with your acting and your stories, but this one is
"They are all just as like each other as apples in a basket," said the
Nevertheless, when he went lightly into the brightly lighted room
following his friend, John in a moment felt his heart leap into his
throat: for there, standing a little behind the mistress of the house,
with a curious little air of consciousness which seemed to him to prove
that she was on her guard and ready for the startled look which he gave
her, full in her face as if it had been a blow—to his extreme confusion
and surprise there stood suddenly before him the woman of the coach
door, the woman of his dreams.
When he reviewed afterwards, in quietness, the bewildering impressions
of that night, John said to himself that it was the attitude of Miss
Wamphrey which struck him before he had seen her face, and before he
knew who she was, and that she was the object of young Maxwell's
devotion. But probably this was only an idea developed afterwards, when
he had begun to think of her in the character of a mysterious creature
with a secret; for, indeed, to nobody else did she appear anything but a
pretty girl in her twenties, very nicely dressed, with a little air of
having descended from superior heights of fashion upon those circles of
Duntrum which felt themselves so exclusive. Marion had spent most of the
season in Edinburgh: she had even been in London: and various other
girls in the assembly had already noted several points in her attire as
things that were doubtless "to be worn," since she had just come from
these fountain-heads of fashion. But what John remarked, or thought he
remarked, was that she stood as one might to whom there might possibly
arise an occasion to fly, which was a quite absurd exaggeration of any
possibility, even if he were right in his surmises: also, which perhaps
was more likely in that hypothesis, that she looked as if she expected
something to happen, and glanced up behind the fan, of which she made
greater use than a rustic Scotch maiden was apt to do (which was one of
the things that struck the other girls as probably a new development of
fashion), or over the shoulder of the chaperon, whom she followed like
her shadow (which also was not a habit common among the young ladies of
Duntrum), with a certain keen look of alarm, of expectance in her eyes.
It happened that John saw her, after his eyes, as he thought, had been
attracted to her by this peculiarity of attitude and look at a moment
when she had dropped her fan to greet a friend, and before she perceived
himself in the little crowd.
"Hullo!" he said to himself in the sudden surprise of recognition, and
unaware he said it aloud.
"What's happened?" said Maxwell, by his side; "do you see anybody you
know? By the way," he added, "it is Marion Wamphrey; of course you must
have met her in Edinburgh. I wonder I never thought of that before."
"Which is Miss Wamphrey?" said John. He looked in the other direction
that he might not betray himself, and then looked again to see that the
girl had put up her fan, and that (as he thought) the something she was
expecting had happened. She had seen him. Her eyes had taken a roundness
which they had not before, the alarm of expectation had gone, and a sort
of panic had come in its place. He saw her (or thought he saw her)
obliterate herself behind the larger form of the lady with whom she was
for a moment—then look out again over her shoulder, as if standing on
tiptoe. Of course, she must have expected, John thought to himself, all
that was happening or was about to happen. She must have known she would
meet him. She must have been prepared to be recognised. She must be now
at the height of a great crisis of mind, wound up to face it out, hoping
that perhaps he might have been less quick of observation, less certain
of recollection than she was.
"That's her," said Maxwell, with a wave of his hand towards the group,
"playing keek-bo with somebody over Mrs Brydon's shoulder. Just like her
saucy ways! You'll find Marion no country cousin, I can tell you,
Percival. There's not one of your Edinburgh fine ladies more——Eh?
think you have seen her before? I'll be bound you have seen her before!
She's been spending the season, I tell you, in Edinburgh, and you that
have your entrées everywhere——"
"Not so much as that," said John, with modesty; "and you must remember I
have had all the fun cut off this year——"
"Never mind, I am sure you must have met her. Come along, and compare
your experiences. I think I'm a man of great magnanimity not to hold you
off; but it's better to run the risk of trusting you," he added with a
laugh, "than to give you the attraction of the forbidden."
Somehow, however, their progress was slow through the little
crowd—quite a little crowd, John felt, to one accustomed to the
Assembly Rooms of Edinburgh. But somehow, everybody seemed to get in the
way between himself and this lady. Had there not been a whisper sent out
through the friendly ranks: "Oh, keep him off me! that man with his
story about the stage-coach. I cannot abide these funny men with their
stories." Young Duntrum, which had admired John quite long enough, was
delighted to hear that so popular a girl as Marion Wamphrey did not want
to hear the story which all the others had held their breath at. It was
a victory, after all, for Duntrum over the invader in their midst. And
accordingly they circled round him, and called attention to a hundred
"Did you hear the meet was at the Four Elms to-morrow, Percival?" "Man,
do you know there's every prospect of a fine frost?" "Percival, my
sister has a word to say to you about the Philharmonic." "Percival, I'm
saying——" He had to stop again and again to respond to their appeals;
while, on the other hand, his companion Maxwell shuffled impatiently
about, waiting, and grumbled: "Come on, man, never mind,—be done with
your civilities. She will have given away every dance before we get near
her." Finally, John found himself standing face to face with this
strange heroine of his thoughts. He said to himself that, but for her
own looks, he might have been shaken in his conviction that it was she.
The face that he saw before him, with hair smooth as satin, and crowned
with flowers, as was then the fashion, in the midst of the ball was
difficult to associate with the ruffled aspect, the flush of excitement,
the strange light in the eyes of the woman at the coach door. But she
stood straight up to meet him, like one who is strongly set in her own
defence, as if she were standing at the bar: and there was in her eyes a
watchfulness, a preparedness, as of a man who keeps his arm ready to
return a blow. Perhaps all this was merely in John's eyes. Maxwell
seemed to see nothing unusual in the look or air of the girl whom he
admired. The gay group around fluttered and jested. Nobody within sight
or hearing had the slightest suspicion of anything in Marion Wamphrey
that was not always there. She did not hold out her hand to him,
welcoming the stranger as the other frank and kindly maidens would have
done; but that was because Miss Marion was always a little high and
mighty, and now and then put on airs, as one who had been out in the
world and knew the fashion.
"You mustn't think anything of that," Maxwell said afterwards; "it is
just her way. I like her to have a way of her own, not like all the
rest," said the young man in love. But John Percival was not satisfied
that it was her way. She seemed to look at him in the eyes as if trying
to cow him—as if on the faintest movement on his part she were ready to
strike. And this on his part excited him, and made him anxious to
"I think," he said, "that Miss Wamphrey and I have met before——"
"I told you so," said Maxwell,—"I told you both so. I was certain you
must have met before."
If this ass had not broken in with his assurances about a thing he
could know nothing whatever about, John felt sure she would have shown
more consciousness than she did. As it was, her colour, he was sure,
wavered a little; but she said, with a little burst of laughing
surprise: "Oh, how condescending of you to remember! I recollect well
seeing you, Mr Percival. But it was only seeing you, not meeting; for
you were at the grand end of the Assembly Rooms, among all the lady
patronesses, and I was only at the foot of the room, and knew nobody."
"There's one for you, Percival," said Maxwell, delightedly. Though John,
it was certain, had had a great succès in Duntrum, they were all
coming to think that it might do him good to be a little taken down.
"That is very hard upon me, especially as it was so much to my loss,"
said John; and then he thought he would carry the war into the enemy's
country. "But I confess," he added, "I remember nothing about the
Assembly Rooms. I think we have met in other circumstances."
She gave him a broad look from her fully opened eyes, with a faint
elevation of the eyebrows.
"There I confess you have the advantage of me," she said steadily,
holding him with that look, "as I, it appears, had of you on the former
occasion." Then, with the faintest turn of her head, too dignified to be
called a toss, she withdrew this embarrassing look from him, with a wave
towards Maxwell of the card attached to her fan. "If you want any dances
from me," she said, "it will be better not to lose any time."
"You cruel Marion," cried the young man, "it is all filled up, every
"You should not have been so late," she said, with a laugh; and they
stood for a moment with their heads together, in the easy intimacy of
having known each other all their lives. And then followed a little
ball-room battle, while John stood, somewhat grim, looking on.
"I that was going to ask how many you would give me!" from him, with
tender reproach; and "There will always be the extras, you know," from
"And it's easy to mistake about an extra—if you'll be good," said
Maxwell, in a lively whisper; and they laughed together over the card,
which he was manipulating. John was determined he would hold his ground.
She was a very pretty girl, and she was in a state of suppressed
excitement (or at least he thought so), which made her doubly
interesting. And it was he who was the cause of her excitement. Whatever
is the reason, it pleases a man, at least of John's age, to feel that he
is the cause of a woman's emotion. He was not daunted by the
persiflage but waited calmly till the end of the discussion; then he
"Is there no hope, Miss Wamphrey, for me?"
"Oh, Mr Percival," she said, turning round with an air of having
forgotten him, which would have done no discredit to a great lady at a
court ball: and then she shook her head. "I am afraid no more than there
would have been for me at the Assembly Rooms if I had aspired to dance
with one of the stewards," she said, laughing; "but you can look for
"Come, give him the last of the extras, Marion," said Maxwell, delighted
to exercise a little patronage.
"If you are not at home and fast asleep before that," said Marion,
raising her eyes quickly, with a dart, to John's face.
He felt it like a blow, but very carefully inscribed his name at the
very bottom of her list, and retired with a bow of much dignity—at
which, with secret wrath, he heard her laugh with Maxwell as he turned
away. It was to be war then? She meant to turn him into ridicule before
he could unmask her as the heroine of the strange adventure which
everybody knew. John was very moody all the evening, and did not half
fulfil the expectations of the merry country ladies, who thought it was
the business of their partners to be amusing as well as to dance well.
John fulfilled the latter requirement, but then they all danced well at
Duntrum. They did not know the waltz in those days. They danced pretty
figures of country-dances and reels, and other cheerful things. It had
never occurred to them that quadrilles were dull—they were the height
of the fashion, and the different figures respected as almost a
revelation. Nobody "sat out," and if perhaps the assembly was simple,
and some of the dances a little old-fashioned, it was very gay.
It need not be said that, in the state of mind in which he was, John
stayed till the last moment, and presented himself to Miss Wamphrey just
as she was following her chaperon to the door, holding together a dress
which had been slightly damaged in the rapidity of a last reel. There
was a glance of battle in his eyes as he came up to her, with a reminder
that this was his dance, which kindled an immediate response in hers.
"I cannot stay another moment, May," said the chaperon, crossly. Marion
shrugged her pretty shoulders, with a look which spoke volumes of
repugnance, and reluctance, and scorn, and made John furious.
"I cannot break my word to this gentleman, if he insists upon it," she
"Seeing I have held on all these hours, and not gone to sleep," said
John, with something savage in his tone, "only for this."
There was a last dreary quadrille being formed, and she gave her hand
and allowed herself to be led to it, to fill up a side place. They stood
side by side in silence for a moment, and then Marion said—
"It is very noble on your part, Mr Percival, to hold out so long. I am
so sorry to have been the means of breaking your night's rest."
"It is not the first time, Miss Wamphrey," he said.
"Not the first time! This is too much of a compliment. We are not
accustomed in the country to have such pretty things said to us."
"There was nothing so far from my intention as saying a pretty thing,"
"This is more and more tremendous, Mr Percival! It was an ugly thing,
then, you meant to say?"
"What I meant," said John, "was to let you know that I have not
forgotten our meeting, which has cost me many a thought."
"Dear me," said Marion, "is this all because I said I knew nobody at
that ball? Comfort yourself. I knew nobody grand like the lady
patronesses; but I had plenty of partners, and there is no need to be
remorseful, even if you have the most tender conscience, on account of
"You know very well it is not that I am thinking of," said John, in a
"Well, I should not have expected it to be. A young man like you, in the
best society, is not likely to trouble himself about a country girl he
"At all events, the other occasion was a very different matter," he
"What other occasion? One would think there was some great mystery
between us. If you will come down from these stilts, and tell me what
"That is just what I am most anxious to do—if I could for a moment
suppose you had forgotten it! It was rather a different thing from a
meeting at a ball."
"You had better wait a little," she said, sharply; "it is our turn for
And then they danced. I forget now what these figures were called. It
was the one in which the lady on one side is led off by the gentleman on
the other side, who advances to the abandoned partner with a lady in
each hand. John was the man who had to stand and look on. She had
recovered all her spirit, all her freshness, it appeared, and made of
this innocent performance a parade of gaiety and grace. She came up to
him and retired from him, holding the hand of the other with the most
coquettish defiance, and swept him such a curtsy as she might have made
to the king—deeper even, with mock deference and scorn, which was
considered very amusing by all the lookers-on. "You should have seen
Marion dancing L'Eté" (or whatever it was) "with the man from
Edinburgh," they all said afterwards. John had been "too much made of"
since his arrival and his adventure: it was delightful that he should
thus be made to feel "put back in his place" without any one being to
blame. And John, I will not deny, felt the sting: but he was stimulated
by it, not depressed. In the quiet of the interval that followed, while
the others were dancing, he made his attack on more decided lines.
"Where," he said—"I have always been very curious—did you hide all
those dreadful things you had on?—the hoods, and the handkerchiefs, and
A spark flashed up into her eyes—was it possible there was a laugh in
it that showed through both the affected wonder and the actual fear?
"What in the world do you mean?" she said; "the handkerchiefs and the
hoods and—have you gone mad, Mr Percival?"
"Not a bit," said John, "nor you either. We're two very sane people. How
you flashed it off in a moment might be just a woman's skill—but not to
drop it on the road, not to let it be found anywhere, that's what I have
always admired: it shows you have great force, and it really looked,
you'll forgive me for saying, as if you had done such a thing before."
She turned round, swerving a little from his side. "If you're exposed
it's your own fault," she cried, hurriedly, and in a very low tone. "I
am afraid to dance with you any more."
"Oh, you need not be afraid," said John. "I am not mad: and I will not
publish it, not at least at this moment; but stand still, or I'll not
answer for what I may do."
She stood still, a thrill running through her; but even at that moment
contrived to make her tremor invisible to the others, with glances
towards him and elevations of her eyebrows, and little movements of her
hands. She was no soft girl to be crushed by anything he would do, but a
resolute woman meaning to fight every step, and with all the odds in her
favour, well known and popular, whereas himself nobody knew.
"Perhaps this is not the best moment," said John, "but I thought I must
warn you. I was very much taken in, and you must have had your laugh at
me: but I was awake to all the circumstances in the end."
"It is a good thing," she said, suddenly forgetting herself, "that you
are awake sometimes; for a better sleeper"—then she stopped, and a deep
red flush covered her face—"dreamer of dreams," she added, quietly, "I
never heard of. Did you dream all this, Mr Percival, or is it a story
got up out of a book?"
And then they danced again, extraordinary interruption to such an
interview. John could not help, when he took her hand, giving it a
fierce grip of hostility, almost unawares. He was brought to his senses,
when it was with equal fierceness and almost equal strength returned.
She was not looking at him, but moving in the dance with a smile on her
face. Many a close clasp of love has been given in such circumstances,
but seldom one of actual defiance and ferocity. Her eyes, though they
were not on him, blazed, the colour forsook her face, and its very
paleness shone. She had perhaps never looked so beautiful in her life.
"Come away, Marion, come away," said Mrs Brydon; "I cannot wait a moment
"This is the last figure," said Marion, over her shoulder, and she
danced it to the end, but quickly disengaged herself before the
concluding galop, and, seizing her friend by the arm, hurried away. John
did not follow to get their cloaks and carriage, as he ought to have
done. There were plenty of attendants ready. He sat down, grim, in a
corner to think it over, and could not be persuaded to join the young
men's rear-supper, or any of the closing festivities of the night.
Thus John found himself involved in a duel to the death, as it seemed,
with an intelligence probably quicker than his own, and with many
advantages over him, as he speedily realised.
Next day he surprised a group of young men in his own very bank, the
centre of his life in Duntrum, where up to this present moment he had
been so easily the chief personage. He came in in the midst of a burst
of laughter, through which he heard the phrase, "She made fine sport of
him. He'll not craw so crouse again, I'm thinking." While the sound of
the laughter filled the room John came into sight, asking quietly, "Who
is it that will not craw so crouse?" and the group melted before him,
every man looking more conscious than the other.
"Oh, it was only a joke of some of the girls," said young Maxwell, very
John went grimly to his desk, and made no sign, but he knew very well
that he was the subject of the joke; and they knew very well that he
knew. He had not thought that his antagonist was of such force; but,
indeed, to conceive and carry out so unflinchingly such a bold plan
showed that she could be of no small force, and he reflected upon her
and on what might be in store for him very gravely as he sat at his desk
in the midst of an unusual silence in the office for the rest of the
morning, paying, if truth must be told, very little attention to the
country business which he had been sent to study, and which he had at
that moment unusual facilities for studying, as it was market-day.
There was another party that evening, to which he went quite prepared
for the fate which was about to overtake him, and which did overtake him
accordingly. None of the young ladies of Duntrum would dance with John.
Some of the girls looked mischievous, some regretful, but only one out
of the troop of pretty creatures with whom he had hitherto been so
popular, could find a single dance for him. That one was Marion
Wamphrey, who pointed with a sparkle in her eye to one line in her
programme which had been left free, and danced it majestically, treating
him with a lofty civility which did a little to crush his spirit, but
filled him more and more with the rage of battle. After that experience,
John faced the chances of Society in Duntrum no more. He withdrew before
the moment when, as in most of their little assemblies, dancing began;
for in those days in Scotland most entertainments ended in a dance, the
young people being quite unfastidious, and as willing to amuse
themselves on a carpet as on the most beautifully waxed floors. John
withdrew; and he was comforted to find that he was missed. There was no
longer any fun in refusing to dance with the best partner in the room
when he was not there to be vexed by the affront, and there was soon a
revolt against Marion, as would no doubt have happened in any case, and
those who had lent themselves to her revenge loudly complained that she
had driven their finest performer away. "He told us all the new figures,
and the French step that nobody here has learnt yet," moaned the
culprits of that night, "led away," they could not quite tell why, by
Marion, "and she gave him a dance herself!" they remembered. Did she
want to keep him to herself? Was that her treacherous reason? So that
before the winter was half over, John would have been received with open
arms had he gone back; but he did not go back. He felt himself master of
the situation, and determined to retain it, even at the cost of a little
self-denial, which it certainly involved, for he was a young man of his
period, not of this, and loved to find himself in the midst of pretty
faces, and to show the new French steps, and the new figures, and to
feel himself the king of the company as he had formerly done.
However, it was all the better for business that he should have had this
check in the middle of his career. For it set him on giving his
attention to the country business, and to the transactions of the bank
with the little banking establishments in the little towns around,
branches of the Duntrum Company or of others. Especially—and this the
reader will understand, without perhaps crediting John with very great
devotion to business, considered on its own merits—he was eager to
inquire into the business with Dunscore, which had such a curious
connection with the little drama to which he had been introduced in
spite of himself. And he accepted with great alacrity, about the new
year, a commission to go to that place on the affairs of the bank, and
to consult with the managers there concerning some changes which it was
thought expedient to make. Messrs Percival in Edinburgh were delighted
to think that their nephew had been chosen for this commission. It
showed, as they concluded, that the boy must be showing some real
business capacity, or he would not have been chosen for such an office,
and also a considerable interest on his part, or he would not have
devoted himself to it. So that it made a very good impression, much to
his favour, at home.
John appeared, too, at Dunscore to much advantage, with his look of
gravity and interest in the suggested changes, and secured the full
attention of the manager, who, knowing his connection with the
Percivals, felt great interest in him as a rising young man, devoted to
business, and anxious to extend his knowledge. He gave John a great deal
of information as to the working of the banking system in the country,
and all the difficulties which a manager had to encounter. When the
business was over, the conversation went off to lighter subjects: but,
indeed, it grew naturally out of it that he should inquire about the
lost letter which had been in the stolen mail-bag, and whether there had
been any light thrown upon that curious theft and its motives. The
manager was very ready to talk on this subject, which was the most
romantic incident that had been known in the country for ages past.
"Indeed," he said, "since the time when one of the Cochranes dressed
herself up like a highwayman, and waylaid the mails—which took place
not very far from the same spot——"
"What was that story?" said John.
"Did you never hear of it? It is just such another story. It was after
Argyle's rebellion in 1685, and the warrant for her father's execution
was supposed to be in the bag——"
"Her father?" said John.
"Oh, ay, it was a young lass. And did it never occur to you, Mr
Percival," said the manager, "that this might well be a woman's work?
You see Grizel Cochrane's story is well known, and women are grand
actors when they have a purpose to serve. They say you saw a woman shut
the coach door just after your queer passenger disappeared."
"It is quite true; but do you think a woman would have the nerve and the
"Oh, pooh! Nerve? they've nerve for anything when they've motive enough;
and courage? there's no a deevil for daring like a young lass—they're
worse than the lads; they never count the cost. I would just like to
know if that is not your own point of view."
"But the motive?" said John.
"Oh, deed, there was motive enough. That big letter, Mr John, conveyed
enough matter to distress, maybe to ruin, two or three families. There's
times when even delay will save a man's credit: but clean destruction of
bills and bonds—Lord, man, it's just salvation to some poor struggling
men. There was an honest farmer that had kept up a sore struggle, my own
very heart was wae for him when I put his bill in the packet. It would
have been a question of roup and banishment, and an honest fellow, as
honest as ever ploughed field. He came here like an honourable man, and
bound himself over again for the sum, with a little delay, which we were
glad to grant. Ay, and there was another, a gentleman's son, a wild
fellow. I'm misdoubting he put his father's name to a bit of paper the
worthy laird never saw, and a grand escape he has had. No, I don't think
the bank will have very much loss, excepting just that one case."
"And who was the man, may I ask?" said John.
"I ought not to tell after what I have just said, for it would be a
libel if ever it was repeated, and there's no evidence. Well, as you
are, so to speak, in the business, Mr John, and in a manner concerned
with the robbery, I may strain a point for you. It was just Will
Wamphrey, the son of auld Wamphrey, of Craigthorn. He's away abroad now,
and maybe he will never hear of it, unless, as I strongly suspect, that
it was one of his gilpies that robbed the mail."
"His gilpies!" said John. He felt a flush of anger at the name.
"Just that," said the manager, nodding his head. "Plenty of them took an
interest in him, if all tales are true. I have always thought it was
some bold hizzy that was o'er the Border after him, and away to some
seaport, while these police birkies were riding the country. Ye never
can get them to turn their horses' heads the right way till the guilty
person's well out of reach. Wull," he said, getting a little more
familiar in his accent as the story warmed him, "was a wild deevil, and
never out of mischief; but his father is a douce man, and we were all
very sorry for him. I'm mostly glad, though it will be a loss to the
bank, that yon bit of paper is out of the way. And they say that old
Wamphrey had sworn an oath that if he played another pliskie, he should
be cast off without a shilling, instead of being sent creditably to try
his luck again, which is what has been done."
"This, if it came true, would make it a complete romance of the road,"
"That is just what it is, a woman," said the other, "and the best thing
he could do would be to marry the lass, and take her with him out of the
gait of justice. For my Lords Justiciary would take little heed, I fear,
of the romantic circumstances if she were brought before them, which
would be sure to happen sooner or later if she were to bide in this
country. Somebody must have seen her—you did yourself, by the way, Mr
John, as I have heard."
"I saw a country woman close the door," he said. He was glad that he had
the time to prepare his answer, while the good man went on. "A person
passing, I have little doubt, who saw it swinging open. And it was a
momentary glimpse that I could not trust to. It would be a hard case if
suspicion was thrown upon a decent woman returning from her work in the
fields, and doing what she thought was a kind action as she passed."
"Bless me, that is true," said the bank manager, "but I understand you
were of the opinion that it might be the very miss herself."
"I never meant to convey that impression," said John, with an immovable
countenance. "It was a country lass; most likely a farm-servant going
back a little late from the fields."
"Oh-h," said the manager. He added, after a pause, "I have maybe been
rash in making up such a story. It might be no woman after all. But
there's no telling," he continued, with a laugh; "Will Wamphrey had
friends in all stations, though a country lass would scarcely have had
the cleverness to carry it through."
John could scarcely help applying uncivil words to this genial person as
he talked. A country lass! There were different kinds of country lasses:
and the way in which this mere bank manager permitted himself to talk of
one who was neither a gilpie nor a miss, nor, in short, anything that
came within the range of such a critic, gave him a sensation of anger.
Why should it give John, who was really the only witness against her, a
sensation of anger? He could not tell. Nothing could be more absurd, and
out of all agreement with the circumstances; yet he called Mr Scott
several unpleasant names within himself. What did he know about it? a
mere vulgar, little country-town man, a village magnate. That he should
take upon himself to judge, could think himself qualified! The man was
extremely charitable on the subject, and took what seemed to himself
much too lenient a view; but it did not, as appeared, satisfy John,
whose feelings were quite unexplainable even to himself. So far as he
was aware, he wanted to find out everything about the business, but he
did not choose that any one else should find out, or should prejudge or
venture to form theories about it even to himself. And as he went back
to Duntrum, John began to take himself to task, and to inquire into the
nature of his own thoughts. Did he really, after all, believe that
Marion Wamphrey was the heroine of his great adventure? Had he not
seized upon the idea "for fun," as they all said, to give himself a
reason for making a certain intimacy, a teasing acquaintance with the
prettiest girl in the room, pretending to have this tremendous matter
against her? He said to himself that this had really been all that was
in his mind, when her own consciousness, her readiness to defy him, her
anxious look, as of one who expected to be attacked, had turned his
wavering, half-real recognition into certainty. He would not have
permitted himself even to think of such a thing, to do more than to
perplex her with a jest, but for that foreknowledge on her part, so
clearly marking that she knew all, and more than all, he could say. This
had startled and shocked him into saying many things he had not
intended, and into persecuting her with hints and suggestions, as if he
were quite sure of what was merely a vague suspicion. He took himself to
task now as he went home. Had he really any ground for the attack he
had made upon this young lady? A momentary glimpse of a face in a dark
winter night, was that enough to build such an accusation upon? And he
had as good as accused her, if not of the theft, at least of having been
seen in circumstances of suspicion on the night when the theft was made.
He had begun lightly enough: he had been himself startled by her
response of eye and attitude: and now that he had hunted out this fresh
information, which threw so living a light upon it all, he found himself
forced to the conviction that it must be true. In the teeth of that
conviction, he asked himself indignantly how he had dared to believe
such a thing of an innocent girl, a girl whom he had met at a dance,
blooming, gay, and full of confidence in all about her. Was that the
person to accuse, even in your own mind, of robbing his Majesty's mails?
It was preposterous; it was as false as anything could be. It might have
been, as Scott said, a gilpie, one of the many loves of this Will
Wamphrey, bent on serving him, and not too particular about the method;
but Marion! with her white dress and her pearl necklace, and the flowers
in her hair. It was, of course, impossible; it was impossible! Having
said this to himself, he added, with a quick-drawn breath, that now the
chain of evidence was complete, that the only thing wanting had been a
motive, and now here was the motive abundantly supplied.
John jumped from his post-chaise at the foot of the hill where that
adventure had taken place. It was now the end of February, and this had
been a hazy, grey day, full of cold, yet at the same time of that
indescribable thrill which shows us that the sap is moving in the veins
of the old earth, and spring coming, though perhaps her footstep has but
touched the heights. He was so restless with the movement of the
thoughts that were rising in his own breast, that it gave him a little
relief to walk. It was almost dark, and nobody was about. He stood still
for a little, and looked over the hedge at the spot where the coach had
stopped. It was a high and stiff hedge, hawthorn, full of strong
prickles, and closely grown; there was a shallow ditch on the other
side, and beyond that a large field, a little undulating, with little
knowes and hollows. How did she get through the hedge, or over it? Where
did she disappear to? How was it that with all their lanterns and all
their eyes no one caught so much as a shadow of her? He examined the
place very closely, and found that a little below there was a gap
through which it was just possible an adroit person might squeeze. But
it was almost impossible, if that was the mode of her escape, to imagine
that so soon she could have got under cover. Not far from the hedge
there was a group of half-grown rowan trees, forming a thick clump at
the bottom, though very thin and wind-blown in the upper branches. They
had been quite invisible in the darkness of the night, and he did not
think there had been any proper search made at the moment of the wide
open stretch of the field where there was so little possibility of
He was full of the recollection of that night, and of interest in the
culprit whom all his investigations seemed to force him to identify
almost against his will; and his inclination to follow what must have
been her steps in her retreat was strong. The ground, he knew, had been
gone over again and again, but no trace had been found, and it was
highly unlikely now, when two months had passed, that he should find any
trace of her. But he squeezed himself through the gap, with the
unpleasant result of finding himself almost up to his knees in the muddy
ditch at the foot of the hedge. There had been a great deal of rain in
the past week, and not only was the ditch full, but the field was an
expanse of soft mud, a little bound together by the grass, but slippery
and soft, so that it was hard to get a footing as he scrambled out of
the ditch. This was not a pleasant beginning, but he was determined to
make his way to the little cluster of the rowans, and make sure for
himself whether there was any possible shelter for a fugitive there. A
more miserable spot there could not be. How a woman, encumbered by
petticoats and cloaks as his fellow-traveller had been, could have slid
and scrambled along, unheard, toward that little island in the muddy
field, if that indeed had been where she went—and it was the only
covert within sight—he could not divine. And very poor was the covert,
a bundle of saplings, not much more: slim stems of young trees growing
upon a small mound. But the farther side of this hillock, he found, fell
abruptly, a little precipice of five or six feet. He had nearly fallen
over it, which impressed it on his mind; and when he slid down on the
treacherous and muddy slope at one side, he found that the bank above
overhung a little, so as to make a shelter quite available, a sort of
shallow cave. Had she come here, in the deep darkness, that daring girl,
and listened to the ineffectual stir of her pursuers, the gleams of
their lanterns? He tried to realise the situation. It was now only
twilight, but it was difficult to distinguish anything across the damp
level of the field which spread dismal round him. What could it have
been in the mirk of the night, getting towards midnight, and black as
winter and desolation could make it! Had she couched here, cold,
encumbered with her disguise, never knowing when a light might flash
round the corner upon her? John shivered with sympathy, yet felt also
something of the whirl of excitement which must have been in all her
As he stood against the damp wall of mossy earth, held together by the
roots of the rowans, he suddenly saw a speck of white in a crevice among
the twisted roots. He pulled it out, or tried to do so, but it resisted
his efforts. Finally, digging with his stick, and pulling with his
hands, at risk of bringing the whole mound down upon him, he disinterred
from the network of rough and twisted stems a handkerchief, then
something black and large which he could not distinguish, and finally
the skin of an orange. John's heart, already panting with the toil, gave
a jump into his throat. The white handkerchief was folded into a sort of
bandage, and had evidently been tied round the head; the large, black
square was one of the huge neckcloths (so-called) of the period. These
formed, no doubt, the wonderful headgear which his fellow-traveller had
worn. But the orange skin overwhelmed John with an impulse to laugh and
to cry together. It was one of his oranges which he had brought in, in
kindness for the poor old lady. She had remembered them in danger and
horror, and eaten it while they were looking for her. That daring
creature defying heaven and earth, wet, cold, miserable, and—guilty.
She had eaten his orange to comfort her, the poor little demon of a
And was that Marion Wamphrey all white and dazzling, with the pearls on
her throat, and the roses in her hair?
When John returned to his rooms, carrying his strange spoils with him,
he found on his table an invitation. For the last week or two his
invitations had been few. This one had been delivered, his landlady told
him, by a man and horse from Wamphrey, which was some miles off to the
south of Duntrum. This was so startling in the midst of his present
thoughts, that his spoils fell from his hands in the excitement of the
moment. To Wamphrey! Mr Wamphrey was an invalid, the brother was absent.
There had been no festivities there since his arrival in Duntrum, and
that such an invitation should come now when he was about, he thought,
to disclose the family skeleton, and brand its most beloved member with
guilt, startled him as if there was something preternatural in it. He
threw himself down in his easy-chair and tried to think, but his head
went round and round.
The objects which he had carried in his hands fell on the table and
unrolled themselves as inanimate things sometimes do as if there was
life in them. They had been tightly done up, and fluttered out of the
roll as they fell: the white handkerchief, folded like a bandage, which
had been tied together at the ends, and retained even something of the
roundness of the head on which it had been bound, fell quite open,
revealing its use. The larger black one had also been tied, two of the
ends together. She had got rid of them on the first possible moment,
trusting no doubt to the thick Spanish lace of her veil, with its large
silken flowers, to disguise her sufficiently: but where did she go from
that little shelter in the field? how had she escaped eventually, in the
dark midnight, over the slippery, wet ground—so dark you could not see
your hand held up before you, so wet and soft, your foot sinking into
John sat by his fire, and asked himself why he had been so hot in this
discovery, and what he had wanted to do. Did he want to convict her, to
bring her to shame, a girl who had done him no harm, who (he said to
himself) had, after all, done nobody any harm,—except perhaps the bank,
which was impersonal and could not suffer much. It was true that it
would not do to establish a precedent, and rob his Majesty's mails, when
they happened to contain something disagreeable to you. But then, there
were very few people in the world who would have the nerve and the
strength to do that; and indeed, when you came to think, it was as much
the carelessness of the guard, putting such a temptation in the way, as
the boldness of the culprit, which was to blame. If he had not left them
within everybody's reach, she would not have attempted to get them. The
guilt was with the guard. Then, if he himself had kept awake and not
gone to sleep like a great baby, she would not have done it. Did he wish
he had not gone to sleep? Did he wish the guard had not been so
careless? Did he wish that the family should have been disgraced, and
the prodigal ruined? John caught himself up with a start. What did it
matter who was ruined? No one not with the purest motives, not with the
most tender meaning, had a right to take the law in his or her hands.
She had made herself amenable to the law—and not only so, but the
position was untenable from any point of fact: it was a crime, it struck
at the roots of every security. She was a thief! a thief! and of the
most dangerous kind.
Suppose it had come into her head that somebody's diamonds would make a
nice little portion for her brother, the prodigal whom his own family
was sending away to the ends of the earth? Would that native have saved
her from the law which has to deal with a criminal and not with the
crime, certainly not with the circumstances that account for the crime?
He replied to himself, indignantly, that there was no analogy in that
case to this. To steal diamonds is common theft; to steal a
mail-bag—well! That is a worse crime: and yet he could not endure to
have it said even by himself. If Grizel Cochrane, who stopped her
father's death-warrant so as to give him time to escape, was the heroine
of the district, how was Marion Wamphrey to be called a thief? He went
on reasoning with himself, wandering through the wilds of casuistry,
examining, accusing, vanquishing himself over and over, and then
Nevertheless, when he went to Wamphrey, ten days after, there were war
and battle in John's eyes. He was given, as it happened, a very cordial
welcome. Mr Wamphrey, the invalid, was down-stairs, seated in an
easy-chair in his library, where he could take a quiet share in the
amusement of the large party; and it turned out, as it so often turns
out, especially in Scotland, that he had known John's father in their
respective youths, which was a thing John himself had not done, having
been an orphan as long as he could remember. And the elder son had come
home from his travels, the object of which John was secretly aware of;
but chiefly there was Marion, in the delightful position of daughter of
the house, supreme everywhere—disposing of everybody, a princess at the
head of her dominions. She was quite gracious to John, treating him with
a sort of amused empressement, a smile of triumph on her face, as if
to show him how little she feared him. Her manner drove John back into a
conviction of the falsehood of all his sophistries, and that this bright
creature was nothing more nor less than the robber of his Majesty's
mails, and had to be brought to justice. He was not even moved as he had
been before by the thought of those little white shoes stumbling over
the muddy field. This had subdued him utterly when she was not there. He
could not even remember that orange skin which had appealed to him as
the subtlest argument. Her smile of triumph seemed to turn his head—but
the wrong way.
She had kept a dance conspicuously for him. She was evidently intent on
proving that she did not fear him. She herself proposed, after it was
over, to lead him to the farthest corner of the conservatory, to show
him a rare flower of which the gardener was proud: but it was there in
this position of favour that John was so hard-hearted as to fire his
"I have something of yours, Miss Wamphrey, which I must take the first
opportunity of returning to you," he said.
"Something of mine? How can that be, Mr Percival? I am sure I never gave
you anything of mine."
"Or rather there are two things: a white handkerchief marked with your
name, and a black handkerchief, both of which you wore round your head
on a certain occasion when we first met."
"Mr Percival," she said, with a change of colour, "do you think it is
good taste to assail me whenever you happen to be alone with me, with
this ridiculous delusion of yours?"
"They are still precisely as they were when you must have pulled them
off: you know where I found them—thrust in among the roots of the
rowan-trees in that little hollow under the brae. There was another
thing," said John, "the skin of an orange."
When he said there was another thing, her eyes blazed up in sudden
anxiety,—then they were dimmed with as sudden a shadow of relief. She
had feared something else: therefore there must be something else to
find there. And then her colour came back, and she laughed out, "The
skin of an orange!" Oh, she understood perfectly what he meant! That was
always what led him on. She understood every allusion. "That was a very
innocent thing," she said; "I would like to know how you associate me
"It gave me a kind of pleasure to see it," said John; "I thought to
myself I was some good to her after all."
She paused, too, for a moment, casting down her eyes, and then she said:
"I cannot really stand any longer listening to your nonsense about
pocket-handkerchiefs and orange-skins. I hope you yourself know what you
mean. I hope you have not—lost your head altogether. I don't want to be
rude and leave you—but this is more than I shall ever give you the
chance of saying to me again. Mr Percival, the next dance has begun."
"Is that all you have to say?" asked John.
"Every word—and too much!" she said.
I don't know what he had expected, or indeed what he meant at all by
assailing her so bluntly, but he certainly did not make anything by it:
she assumed her air of relieved triumph, but held him at arm's length
all the rest of the evening; and he did not dance at all, but stood in a
doorway and followed her with his eyes—always seeming to see that
triumphant head flower-crowned, issuing from the bandages, and the
white shoes stumbling over the muddy grass.
"What are you glowering at?" said Maxwell, taking him by the arm. "Mind,
I warned you—no interference with me."
"I interfere! You had better think twice before you take any step," John
Then it was Maxwell's turn to glower at him.
"I hope you are not taking leave of your senses," he said.
These two drove home together, very silent, Maxwell in great wrath at
such an extraordinary warning, John consumed with a desire to betray to
him the secret of Marion. He could scarcely open his lips for fear it
should burst forth. A dozen times at least he had framed the words. She
is not what you think. There is something I could tell. I could put her
in jail if I pleased. This last came most frequently of all. I could put
her—in jail. He said it actually under his breath. He repeated it over
a dozen times. He could not understand why his companion did not hear
him. He seemed to himself to have another motive in speaking from that
which anybody would imagine. It was not to expose Marion but to test
Maxwell. He thought if the fellow knew as much as he knew, he would give
her up at once: and with all his soul, he wanted to put this other man
to the test. I don't know how it was that the secret was kept, nor did
John know. He thought it was chiefly the noise of the post-chaise.
Next day John was very restless and excited, unable to keep quiet or to
go on with his work. He had taken his hat two or three times to go out,
but then reflected that to go during the day would be to call forth
suspicion, and perhaps give some other person of a detective cast of
mind a clue to the mystery. He was not at all himself of the detective
mind, and, indeed, the thing was not known, and certainly not prized in
those days. A thief-catcher it would have been called, and "Set a thief
to catch a thief" was a suggestion which everybody thought of in that
connection. But he went out in the afternoon, walking sedately over the
high-standing hill, and reaching the foot just as the evening began to
darken. He made his way again with the same shuffling and sliding over
the muddy field, and, reaching the little declivity behind the
rowan-trees, began his investigation. The roots were so tangled and
twisted, so loosely filled up with earth and stones, that but for the
clayey consistence of the soil, and the damp that penetrated through and
through, he would have feared to bring the entire mound about his ears.
It took him a long time, and the evening grew darker and darker, and he
had almost ceased to hope for any further revelation, when suddenly the
stick with which he was digging struck upon something which gave forth a
metallic sound. With a sort of fury he rushed at it again, and
struggling with a shower of falling stones, and the stem of one young
tree which fell upon his arm, jamming it against the side, he at last
managed to extract a large article, partly metallic, which was deeply
lodged among the roots of the trees. He could scarcely make out its
shape in the darkness, but, half by sight and half by feeling it with
his hands, made sure, with a sensation which brought the blood rushing
to his heart, that it was the mail-bag. He had scarcely quieted down
after this discovery, when, looking up from his extraordinary
treasure-trove, he was aware of another figure coming towards him, so
near already that he could make out it was a woman, and guess what woman
it was. He started back into the shadow of the outlying edge, where he
was absolutely invisible, and stood there, a spectator of the eagerness
with which she advanced to the spot which he had found such difficulty
in discovering, where these things had been hid. She had not even a
stick, but tore at the roots and earth with her hands, plunging her arm
in up to the elbow into the hole which John had made. It was now almost
entirely dark, and probably she thought this was the reason she found
nothing, for suddenly, before he knew what was being done, she had begun
to work with one of the elaborate methods of the time for striking a
light. John stood breathless, invisible, yet so near to her that he felt
her panting breath, while holding his own, quite unprepared for what was
to come next, not knowing what to do. He held the thing for which she
was searching, he held her secret, her freedom, almost her life, in his
hands. Her fingers trembled, it took her a long time to strike that
light—it seemed incredible to him that she was not aware at least that
there was some one by.
Then suddenly the little flame awoke, and to him for a moment the whole
strange little scene became visible. The light leaped up upon her face,
pale with anxiety and alarm, and upon the background of the rugged bank,
her gloves muddy and stained with the damp earth, a quiver in her
person—though even then she was not aware of him for a moment, being so
deeply absorbed in her search. Then she lit a piece of candle which she
had taken from her pocket and held it to the crevice; but John was no
longer able to restrain himself. He touched her sleeve softly with his
hand. With a great start and subdued cry, kept down at that dreadful
moment by a fear still greater than her fright, she let fall the light.
She had not divined who he was—or she was of sufficient power to
pretend so. She said hurriedly, "I was looking for something I had lost;
perhaps you'll help me—I'll—I'll pay you." Her voice went out as her
light had done, dropping in the dark, but leaving an impression of
trembling and quivering in the air. Her terror was very real: she
thought she had disturbed a tramp or beggar taking refuge in this
"This is it, no doubt," said John, putting the bag into her hand: this
time the cry of terror was not to be repressed—and yet there was a
relief in the sound. Of the two, her enemy, who was a gentleman, was
safer to meet in a lonely place in the dark than a tramp. "It is you!"
she cried—"you!" her teeth chattering with the fright and the cold.
"Who should it be," said John, "but I, Miss Wamphrey? I saw by your look
there was something more here, and I came to find it. Did you expect
She was not able to reply. He felt that she made a strong effort to
regain her composure, but could not, being beyond speech. The entire
darkness seemed to palpitate with her trembling. It seemed to him as if
he, too, quivered with it, standing by her side. He had put the bag into
her hands, but it fell out of them upon the damp ground at their feet.
He put out his hand, and gathered both of hers, which did not seem to
have any strength to resist, into his hold.
"Compose yourself," he said, "compose yourself! It was better that I
should find it than another. For God's sake, be calm! I will do you no
She had not the strength to draw her hands from his now: she was
thankful for the supporting of his grip. "I—I know what it means," she
said, gasping painfully; "I—know what it means. I am prepared—to pay
the penalty. I know that I am in your hands——"
"I think you will find them safe hands," said John. He drew her arm
through his. "Come," he said, "take courage. I don't think you have ever
"Mr Percival," she said, recovering her utterance a little, "why are you
my enemy? I am not your enemy—nor any one's. It did no one any
"Except the law and the bank——" he said.
"The bank—was it for the bank?" Her tone changed: her fears came back:
she drew herself away. "If that is so——"
"No," he said, "it was not for the bank. It was for you. I think two can
keep a secret better than one, Miss Marion. And you ate my orange, you
"It saved my life, I think," she said, with a sudden low burst of
hysterical laughter; and then recovering, she put her hands imploringly
upon his arm. "What are you going to do with me? Oh, have mercy upon me!
What are you going to do with me?" she said.
"If you will let me, I should like to marry you, Marion," he said.
A few days after, it happened that John was entertaining young Maxwell
and a few more in his rooms, as it appeared that he was returning sooner
than he had intended to Edinburgh. There was some talk among them of the
great adventure which had accompanied his arrival, and they fell into
discussion on the subject,—what the motives of the guilty person could
be, and whether it was really a woman, and what had become of her. "It
would be droll if you ever recognised that woman you saw, Percival,"
said one of the young men. John acknowledged that it would be droll,
though probably she had nothing to do with it: and he asked the advice
of his assembled friends as to what, in such a singular case, a man
should do, and various suggestions were made, which did not perhaps
throw much light on the subject. They were by no means at one as to
whether they would denounce her or not, always supposing it was a woman.
"Not if she is bonnie," one said, and on the whole this was the general
judgment. "If she turns out to be old and ugly, with her head bound up,
and all the rest of it, give her up—like a shot" (though, by the way,
they did not say like a shot—the slang of their day was different).
"But if she is bonnie, nothing of the kind." John went on to suggest
other difficulties. What if she should be met with in Society? What if
some fellow you knew was going to marry her? This made them all ponder.
"What should you do, Maxwell, if such a thing were told you of a woman
you were in love with?" "I can't contemplate the possibility," said
Maxwell, with a laugh. "By George! but it would be a ticklish position,
though," said one of the others. "Awfully hard upon Percival, still more
hard on the other fellow." "I would never mind if I were fond of her,"
said one. "I should mind awfully," said another. (Be it here observed
that the use of the word awful is not slang, but the Scottish
language.) "You might mind, or you might not mind," said Maxwell,
oracularly, "but none of us would make a woman who had done such a thing
our wife." He had not the least idea that he delivered his friend's
heart from a great weight when he said these words. "So then I am no
traitor even to him," John said to himself.
It was felt at Percival's bank in Edinburgh, that though to marry so
young might be foolish, there was not a word to be said against Miss
Wamphrey of Wamphrey, and that it was a piece of good fortune that the
young ass should have fallen on his feet, and made such a good
connection. Marion had the opportunity, of which she availed herself
quite pleasantly, of refusing Maxwell shortly after; and in spring her
marriage took place. There was some story of their having fallen in love
with each other over the eating of an orange, people said: and very soon
after his marriage, John Percival had the satisfaction of remitting a
sum of money from his brother-in-law, Will Wamphrey, in New Zealand, to
the bank manager at Dunscore.