A NOBLE LIFE
DINAH MARIA MULOCK CRAIK
Author of John Halifax, Gentleman, Christian's Mistake,
&c., &c., &c.
Harper & Brothers, Publishers
Dedicated, with the affection of eighteen years,
To Uncle George
Many years ago, how many need not be recorded, there lived in his
ancestral castle, in the far north of Scotland, the last Earl of
You will not find his name in "Lodge's Peerage," for, as I say, he was
the last earl, and with him the title became extinct. It had been borne
for centuries by many noble and gallant men, who had lived worthily or
died bravely. But I think among what we call "heroic" lives—lives
the story of which touches us with something higher than pity, and
deeper than love—there never was any of his race who left behind a
history more truly heroic than he.
Now that it is all over and done—now that the soul so mysteriously
given has gone back unto Him who gave it, and a little green turf in the
kirk-yard behind Cairnforth Manse covers the poor body in which it dwelt
for more than forty years, I feel it might do good to many, and would do
harm to none, if I related the story—a very simple one, and more
like a biography than a tale—of Charles Edward Stuart Montgomerie,
last Earl of Cairnforth.
He did not succeed to the title; he was born Earl of Cairnforth, his
father having been drowned in the loch a month before, the wretched
countess herself beholding the sight from her castle windows. She lived
but to know she had a son and heir—to whom she desired might be
given his father's name: then she died—more glad than sorry to
depart, for she had loved her husband all her life, and had only been
married to him a year. Perhaps, had she once seen her son, she might
have wished less to die than to live, if only for his sake; however, it
was not God's will that this should be. So, at two days old, the "poor
little earl"—as from his very birth people began compassionately to
call him—was left alone in the world, without a single near relative
or connection, his parents having both been only children, but with his
title, his estate, and twenty thousand a year.
Cairnforth Castle is one of the loveliest residences in all Scotland.
It is built on the extremity of a long tongue of land which stretches
out between two salt-water lochs—Loch Beg, the "little," and Loch
Mhor, the "big" lake. The latter is grand and gloomy, shut in by bleak
mountains, which sit all round it, their feet in the water, and their
heads in mist and cloud. But Loch Beg is quite different. It has
green, cultivated, sloping shores, fringed with trees to the water's
edge, and the least ray of sunshine seems always to set it dimpling with
wavy smiles. Now and then a sudden squall comes down from the chain of
mountains far away beyond the head of the loch, and then its waters
begin to darken—just like a sudden frown over a bright face; the
waves curl and rise, and lash themselves into foam, and any little
sailing boat, which has been happily and safely riding over them five
minutes before, is often struck and capsized immediately. Thus it
happened when the late earl was drowned.
The minister—the Rev. Alexander Cardross—had been sailing with
him; had only just landed, and was watching the boat crossing back
again, when the squall came down. Though this region is a populous
district now, with white villas dotted like daisies all along the green
shores, there was then not a house in the whole peninsula of Cairnforth
except the Castle, the Manse, and a few cottages, called the "clachan."
Before help was possible, the earl and his boatman, Neil Campbell, were
both drowned. The only person saved was little Malcolm Campbell—
Neil's brother—a boy about ten years old.
In most country parishes of Scotland or England there is an almost
superstitious feeling that "the minister," or "the clergyman," must be
the fittest person to break any terrible tidings. So it ought to be.
Who but the messenger of God should know best how to communicate His
awful will, as expressed in great visitations of Calamity? In this case
no one could have been more suited for his solemn office than Mr.
Cardross. He went up to the Castle door, as he had done to that of many
a cottage bearing the same solemn message of sudden death, to which
there could be but one answer—"Thy will be done."
But the particulars of that terrible interview, in which he had to tell
the countess what already her own eyes had witnessed—though they
refused to believe the truth—the minister never repeated to any
creature except his wife. And afterward, during the four weeks that
Lady Cairnforth survived her husband, he was the only person, beyond her
necessary attendants, who saw her until she died.
The day after her death he was suddenly summoned to the castle by Mr.
Menteith, an Edinburg writer to the signet, and confidential agent, or
factor, as the office called in Scotland, to the late earl.
"They'll be sending for you to baptize the child. It's early—but
the pair bit thing may be delicate, and they may want it done at once,
before Mr. Menteith returns to Edinburg."
"Maybe so, Helen; so do not expect me back till you see me."
Thus saying, the minister quitted his sunshiny manse garden, where he
was working peacefully among his raspberry-bushes, with his wife looking
on, and walked, in meditative mood, through the Cairnforth woods, now
blue with hyacinths in their bosky shadows, and in every nook and corner
starred with great clusters of yellow primroses, which in this part of
the country grow profusely, even down to within a few feet of high-water
mark, on the tidal shores of the lochs. Their large, round, smiling
faces, so irresistibly suggestive of baby smiles at sight of them, and
baby fingers clutching at them, touched the heart of the good minister,
who had left two small creatures of his own—a "bit girlie" of five,
and a two-year-old boy—playing on his grass-plot at home with some
toys of the countess's giving: she had always been exceedingly kind to
the Manse children.
He thought of her, lying dead; and then of her poor little motherless
and fatherless baby, whom, if she had any consciousness in her
death-hour, it must have been a sore pang to her to leave behind. And
the tears gathered again and again in the good man's eyes, shutting out
from his vision all the beauty of the spring.
He reached the grand Italian portico, built by some former earl with a
taste for that style, and yet harmonizing well with the smooth lawn,
bounded by a circle of magnificent trees, through which came glimpses of
the glittering loch. The great doors used almost always to stand open,
and the windows were rarely closed—the countess like sunshine and
fresh air, but now all was shut up and silent, and not a soul was to be
seen about the place.
Mr. Cardross sighed, and walked round to the other side of the castle,
where was my lady's flower-garden, or what was to be made into one.
Then he entered by French windows, from a terrace overlooking it, my
lord's library, also incomplete. For the earl, who was by no means a
bookish man, had only built that room since his marriage, to please his
wife, whom perhaps he loved all the better that she was so exceedingly
unlike himself. Now both were away—their short dream of married
life ended, their plans and hopes crumbled into dust. As yet, no
external changes had been made, the other solemn changes having come so
suddenly. Gardeners still worked in the parterres, and masons and
carpenters still, in a quiet and lazy manner, went on completing the
beautiful room; but there was no one to order them—no one watched
their work. Except for workmen, the place seemed so deserted that Mr.
Cardross wandered through the house for some time before he found a
single servant to direct him to the person of whom he was in search.
Mr. Menteith sat alone in a little room filled with guns and fishing
rods, and ornamented with stag's heads, stuffed birds, and hunting
relics of all sorts, which had been called, not too appropriately, the
earl's "study." He was a little, dried-up man, about fifty years old,
of sharp but not unkindly aspect. When the minister entered, he looked
up from the mass of papers which he seemed to have been trying to reduce
into some kind of order—apparently the late earl's private papers,
which had been untouched since his death, for there was a sad and
serious shadow over what otherwise have been rather a humorous face.
"Welcome, Mr. Cardross; I am indeed glad to see you. I took the liberty
of sending for you, since you are the only person with whom I can
consult—we can consult, I should say, for Dr. Hamilton wished it
likewise—on this—this most painful occasion."
"I shall be very glad to be of the slightest service," returned Mr.
Cardross. "I had the utmost respect for those that are away." He had
the habit, this tender-hearted, pious man, who, with all his learning,
kept a religious faith as simple as a child's, as speaking of the dead
as only "away."
The two gentlemen sat down together. They had often met before, for
whenever there were guests at Cairnforth Castle the earl always invited
the minister and his wife to dinner, but they had never fraternized
much. Now, a common sympathy, nay, more, a common grief—for
something beyond sympathy, keen personal regret, was evidently felt by
both for the departed earl and countess—made them suddenly familiar.
"Is the child doing well?" was Mr. Cardross's first and most natural
question; but it seemed to puzzle Mr. Menteith exceedingly.
"I suppose so—indeed, I can hardly say. This is a most difficult
and painful matter."
"It was born alive, and is a son and heir, as I heard?"
"That is fortunate."
"For some things; since, had it been a girl, the title would have
lapsed, and the long line of Earls of Cairnforth ended. At one time Dr.
Hamilton feared the child would be stillborn, and then, of course, the
earldom would have been extinct. The property must in that case have
passed to the earl's distant cousins, the Bruces, of whom you may have
heard, Mr. Cardross?"
"I have; and there are few things, I fancy, which Lord Cairnforth would
have regretted more than such heir-ship."
"You are right," said the keen W.S., evidently relieved. "It was my
instinctive conviction that you were in the late earl's confidence on
this point, which made me decide to send and consult with you. We must
take all precautions, you see. We are placed in a most painful and
responsible position—both Dr. Hamilton and myself."
It was now Mr. Cardross's turn to look perplexed. No doubt it was a
most sad fatality which had happened, but still things did not seem to
warrant the excessive anxiety testified by Mr. Menteith.
"I do not quite comprehend you. There might have been difficulties as
to the succession, but are they not all solved by the birth of a
healthy, living heir—whom we must cordially hope will long continue
"I hardly know if we ought to hope it," said the lawyer, very seriously.
"But we must 'keep a calm sough' on that matter for the present—so
far, at least, Dr. Hamilton and I have determined—in order to
prevent the Bruces from getting wind of it. Now, then, will you come
and see the earl?"
"The earl!" re-echoed Mr. Cardross, with a start; then recollected
himself, and sighed to think how one goes and another comes, and all the
world moves on as before—passing, generation after generation, into
the awful shadow which no eye except that of faith can penetrate. Life
is a little, little day—hardly longer, in the end, for the man in
his prime than for the infant of an hour's span.
And the minister, who was of meditative mood, thought to himself much as
a poet half a century later put into words—thoughts common to all
men, but which only such a man and such a poet could have crystallized
into four such perfect lines:
"Thou wilt not leave us in the dust:
Thou madest man, he knows not why;
He thinks he was not made to die,
And Thou hast made him—Thou are just."
Thus musing, Mr. Cardross followed up stairs toward the magnificent
nursery, which had been prepared months before, with a loving eagerness
of anticipation, and a merciful blindness to futurity, for the expected
heir of the Earls of Cairnforth. For, as before said, the only hope of
the lineal continuance of the race was in this one child. It lay in a
cradle resplendent with white satin hangings and lace curtains, and
beside it sat the nurse—a mere girl, but a widow already—Neil
Campbell's widow, whose first child had been born only two days after
her husband was drowned. Mr. Cardross knew that she had been suddenly
sent for out of the clachan, the countess having, with her dying breath,
desired that this young woman, whose circumstances were so like her own,
should be taken as wet-nurse to the new-born baby.
So, in her widow's weeds, grave and sad, but very sweet-looking—she
had been a servant at the Castle, and was a rather superior young woman
—Janet Campbell took her place beside her charge with an expression
in her face as if she felt it was a charge left her by her lost
mistress, which must be kept solemnly to the end of her days—as it
The minister shook hands with her silently—she had gone through sore
affliction—but the lawyer addressed her in his quick, sharp,
business tone, under which he often disguised more emotion than he liked
"You have not been dressing the child? Dr. Hamilton told you not to
"Na, na, sir, I didna try," answered Janet, sadly and gently.
"That is well. I'm a father of a family myself," added Mr. Menteith,
more gently: "I've six of them; but, thank the Lord, ne'er a one of them
like this. Take it on your lap, nurse, and let the minister look at it!
Ay, here comes Dr. Hamilton!"
Mr. Cardross knew Dr. Hamilton by repute—as who did not? Since at
that period it was the widest-known name in the whole medical profession
in Scotland. And the first sight of him confirmed the reputation, and
made even a stranger recognize that his fame was both natural and
justifiable. But the minister had scarcely time to cast a glance on the
acute, benevolent, wonderfully powerful and thoughtful head, when his
attention was attracted by the poor infant, whom Janet was carefully
unswathing from innumerable folds of cotton wool.
Mrs. Campbell was a widow of only a month, and her mistress, to whom she
had been much attached, lay dead in the next room, yet she had still a
few tears left, and they were dropping like rain over her mistress's
No wonder. It lay on her lap, the smallest, saddest specimen of
infantile deformity. It had a large head—larger than most infants
have—but its body was thin, elfish, and distorted, every joint and
limb being twisted in some way or other. You could not say that any
portion of the child was natural or perfect except the head and face.
Whether it had the power of motion or not seemed doubtful; at any rate,
it made no attempt to move, except feebly turning its head from side to
side. It lay, with its large eyes wide open, and at last opened its
poor little mouth also, and uttered a loud pathetic wail.
"It greets, doctor, ye hear," said the nurse, eagerly; "'deed, an' it
greets fine, whiles."
"A good sign," observed Dr. Hamilton. "Perhaps it may live after all,
though one scarcely knows whether to desire it."
"I'll gar it live, doctor," cried Janet, as she rocked and patted it,
and at last managed to lay it to her motherly breast; "I'll gar it live,
ye'll see! That is God willing."
"It could not live, it could never have lived at all, if He were not
willing," said the minister, reverently. And then, after a long pause,
during which he and the two other gentlemen stood watching, with sad
pitying looks, the unfortunate child, he added, so quietly and naturally
that, though they might have thought it odd, they could hardly have
thought it out of place or hypocritical, "Let us pray."
It was a habit, long familiar to this good Presbyterian minister, who
went in and out among his parishioners as their pastor and teacher,
consoler and guide. Many a time, in many a cottage, had he knelt down,
just as he did here, in the midst of deep affliction, and said a few
simple words, as from children to a father—the Father of all men.
And the beginning and end of his prayer was, now as always, the
expression and experience of his own entire faith—"Thy will be
"But what ought we to do?" said the Edinburg writer, when, having
quitted, not unmoved, the melancholy nursery, he led the way to the
scarcely less dreary dining-room, where the two handsome, bright-looking
portraits of the late earl and countess still smiled down from the wall
—giving Mr. Cardross a start, and making him recall, as if the
intervening six weeks had been all a dream, the last day he and Mr.
Menteith dined together at that hospitable table. They stole a look at
one another, but, with true Scotch reticence, neither exchanged a word.
Yet perhaps each respected the other the more, both for the feeling and
for its instant repression.
"Whatever we decide to do, ought to be decided now," said Dr. Hamilton,
"for I must be in Edinburg tomorrow. And, besides, it is a case in
which no medical skill is of much avail, if any; Nature must struggle
through—or yield, which I can not help thinking would be the best
ending. In Sparta, now, this poor child would have been exposed on
Mount—what was the place? to be saved by any opportune death from
the still greater misfortune of living."
"But that would have been murder—sheer murder," earnestly replied
the minister. "And we are not Spartans, but Christians, to whom the
body is not every thing, and who believe that God can work out His
wonderful will, if He chooses, through the meanest means—through the
saddest tragedies and direst misfortunes. In one sense, Dr. Hamilton,
there is no such thing as evil—that is, there is no actual evil in
the world except sin."
"There is plenty of that, alas!" said Mr. Menteith. "But as to the
child, I wished you to see it—both of you together—if only to
bear evidence as to its present condition. For the late earl, in his
will, executed, by a most providential chance, the last time I was here,
appointed me sole guardian and trustee to a possible widow or child. On
me, therefore, depends the charge of this poor infant—the sole bar
between those penniless, grasping, altogether discreditable Bruces, and
the large property of Cairnforth. You see my position, gentlemen?"
It was not an easy one, and no wonder the honest man looked much
"I need not say that I never sought it—never thought it possible it
would really fall to my lot; but it has fallen, and I must discharge it
to the best of my ability. You see what the earl is—born alive,
anyhow—though we can hardly wish him to survive."
The three gentlemen were silent. At length Mr. Cardross said,
"There is one worse doubt which has occurred to me. Do you think, Dr.
Hamilton, that the mind is as imperfect as the body? In short, is it
not likely that the poor child may turn out to be an idiot?"
"I do not know; and it will be almost impossible to judge for months
"But, idiot or not," cried Mr. Menteith—a regular old Tory, who
clung with true conservative veneration to the noble race which he, his
father, and grandfather had served faithfully for a century and more
—-"idiot or not, the boy is undoubtedly Earl of Cairnforth."
The gentlemen then sat down and thoroughly discussed the whole matter,
finally deciding that, until things appeared somewhat plainer, it was
advisable to keep the earl's condition as much as possible from the
world in general, and more especially from his own kindred. The Bruces,
who lived abroad, would, it was naturally to be concluded—or Mr.
Menteith, who had a lawyer's slender faith in human nature, believed so
—would pounce down, like eagles upon a wounded lamb, the instant they
heard what a slender thread of life hung between them and these great
Under such circumstances, for the infant to be left unprotected in the
solitudes of Loch Beg was very unadvisable; and, besides, it was the
guardian's duty to see that every aid which medical skill and surgical
science could procure was supplied to a child so afflicted, and upon
whose life so much depended. He therefore proposed and Dr. Hamilton
agreed, that immediately after the funeral the little earl should be
taken to Edinburg, and placed in the house of the latter, to remain
there a year or two, or so long as might be necessary.
Janet Campbell was called in, and expressed herself willing to take her
share—no small one—in the responsibility of this plan, if the
minister would see to her "ain bairn;" that was, if the minister really
thought the scheme a wise one.
"The minister's opinion seems to carry great weight here," said Dr.
And it was so; not merely because of his being a minister, but because,
with all his gentle, unassuming ways, he had an excellent judgment—
the clear, sound, unbiased judgment which no man can ever attain to
except a man who thinks little of himself; to whom his own honor and
glory come ever second, and his Master's glory and service first.
Therefore, both as a man and a minister, Mr. Cardross was equally and
wholly reliable: charitable, because he felt his own infirmities;
placing himself at no higher level than his neighbor, he was always
calmly and scrupulously just. Though a learned, he was not exactly a
clever man: probably his sermons, preached every Sunday for the last ten
years in Cairnforth Kirk, were neither better nor worse than the
generality of country sermons; but that matters little. He was a wise
man and a good man, and all his parishioners, scattered over a parish of
fourteen Scotch miles, deeply and dearly loved him.
"I think," said Mr. Cardross, "that this plan has many advantages, and
is, under the circumstances, the best that could have been devised.
True, I should like to have had the poor babe under my own eye and my
wife's, that we might try to requite in some degree the many kindnesses
we have received from his poor father and mother; but he will be better
off in Edinburg. Give him every possible chance of life and health, and
a sound mind, and then we must leave the rest to Him, who would not have
sent this poor little one into the world at all if He had not had some
purpose in so doing, though what that purpose is we can not see. I
suppose we shall see it, and many other dark things, some time."
The minister lifted his grave, gentle eyes, and sat looking out upon the
familiar view—the sunshiny loch, the green shore, and the far-away
circle of mountains—while the other two gentlemen discussed a few
other business matters. Then he invited them both to return with him
and dine at the Manse, where he and his wife were accustomed to offer to
all comers, high and low, rich and poor, "hospitality without grudging."
So the three walked through Cairnforth woods, now glowing with full
spring beauty, and wandered about the minister's garden till
dinner-time. It was a very simple meal—just the ordinary family
dinner, as it was spread day after day, all the year round: they could
afford hospitality, but show, with the minister's limited income was
impossible, and he was too honest to attempt it. Many a time the earl
himself had dined, merrily and heartily, at that simple table, with the
mistress—active, energetic, cheerful, and refined—sitting at the
head of it, and the children, a girl and boy, already admitted to take
their place there, quiet and well-behaved—brought up from the first
to be, like their parents, gentlemen and gentlewomen. The Manse table
was a perfect picture of family sunshine and family peace, and, as such,
the two Edinburg guests carried away the impression of it in their
memories for many a day.
In another week a second stately funeral passed out of the Castle doors,
and then they were closed to all comers. By Mr. Menteith's orders,
great part of the rooms were shut up, and only two apartments kept for
his own use when he came down to look after the estates. It was now
fully known that he was the young earl's sole guardian; but so great was
the feudal fidelity of the neighborhood, and so entire the respect with
which, during an administration of many years, the factor had imbued the
Cairnforth tenantry, that not a word was said in objection either to him
or to his doings. There was great regret that the poor little earl—
the representative of so long and honored a race—was taken away from
the admiration of the country-side before even a single soul in the
parish, except Mr. and Mrs. Cardross, had set eyes upon him; but still
the disappointed gossips submitted, considering that if the minister
were satisfied all must be right.
After the departure of Mr. Mentieth, Mrs. Campbell, and her charge, a
few rumors got abroad that the little earl was "no a'richt"—if an
earl could be "no a' richt"—which the simple folk about Loch Beg and
Loch Mhor, accustomed for generations to view the Earls of Cairnforth
much as the Thibetians view their Dali Lama, thought hardly possible.
But what was wrong with him nobody precisely knew. The minister did, it
was conjectured; but Mr. Cardross was scrupulously silent on the
subject; and, with all his gentleness, he was the sort of man to whom
nobody ever could address intrusive or impertinent questions.
So, after a while, when the Castle still remained shut up, curiosity
died out, or was only roused at intervals, especially at Mr. Menteith's
periodical visits. And to all questions, whether respectfully anxious
or merely inquisitive, he never gave but one answer—that the earl was
"doing pretty well," and would be back at Cairn forth "some o' these
However, that period was so long deferred that the neighbors at last
ceased to expect it, or to speculate concerning it. They went about
their own affairs, and soon the whole story about the sad death of the
late earl and countess, and the birth of the present nobleman, began to
be told simply as a story by the elder folk, and slipped out of the
younger ones' memories—as, if one only allows it time, every tale,
however sad, wicked, or strange, will very soon do. Had it not been for
the silent, shut-up castle, standing summer and winter on the loch-side,
with its flower-gardens blossoming for none to gather, and its woods—
the pride of the whole country—budding and withering, with scarcely
a foot to cross, or an eye to notice their wonderful beauty, people
would ere long have forgotten the very existence of the last Earl of
It was on a June day—ten years after that bright June day when the
minister of Cairnforth had walked with such a sad heart up to Cairnforth
Castle, and seen for the first time its unconscious heir—the poor
little orphan baby, who in such apparent mockery was called "the Earl."
The woods, the hills, the loch, looked exactly the same—nature never
changes. As Mr. Cardross walked up to the Castle once more—the
first time for many months—in accordance with a request of Mr.
Menteith's, who had written to say the earl was coming home, he could
hardly believe it was ten years since that sad week when the baby-heir
was born, and the countess's funeral had passed out from that now
Mr. Cardross's step was heavier and his face sadder now than then. He
who had so often sympathized with others' sorrows had had to suffer
patiently his own. From the Manse gate as from that of the Castle, the
mother and mistress had been carried, never to return. A new Helen—
only fifteen years old—was trying vainly to replace to father and
brothers her who was—as Mr. Cardross still touchingly put it—
"away." But, though his grief was more than a year old, the minister
mourned still. His was one of those quiet natures which make no show,
and trouble no one, yet in which sorrow goes deep down, and grows into
the heart, as it were, becoming a part of existence, until existence
itself shall cease.
It did not, however, hinder him from doing all his ordinary duties,
perhaps with even closer persistence, as he felt himself sinking into
that indifference to outside things which is the inevitable result of a
heavy loss upon any gentle nature. The fierce rebel against it; the
impetuous and impatient throw it off; but the feeble and tender souls
make no sign, only quietly pass into that state which the outer world
calls submission: and resignation, yet which is, in truth, mere
passiveness—the stolid calm of a creature that has suffered till it
can suffer no more.
The first thing which roused Mr. Cardross out of this condition, or at
least the uneasy recognition that it was fast approaching, and must be
struggled against, conscientiously, to the utmost of his power, was Mr.
Menteith's letter, and the request therein concerning Lord Cairnforth.
Without entering much into particulars—it was not the way of the
cautious lawyer—he had stated that, after ten years' residence in
Dr. Hamilton's house, and numerous consultations with every surgeon of
repute in Scotland, England—nay, Europe—it had been decided, and
especially at the earnest entreaty of the poor little earl himself, to
leave him to Nature; to take him back to his native air, and educate
him, so far as was possible, in Cairnforth Castle.
A suitable establishment had accordingly been provided—more
servants, and a lady housekeeper or governante, who took all external
charge of the child, while the personal care of him was left, as before,
to his nurse, Mrs. Campbell, now wholly devoted to him, for at seven
years old her own boy had died. He had another attendant, to whom, with
a curious persistency, he had strongly attached himself ever since his
babyhood—young Malcolm Campbell, Neil Campbell's brother, who was
saved by clinging to the keel of the boat when the late Lord Cairnforth
was drowned. Beyond these, whose fond fidelity knew no bounds, there
was hardly need of any other person to take charge of the little earl,
except a tutor, and that office Mr. Menteith entreated Mr. Cardross to
It was a doubtful point with the minister. He shrank from assuming any
new duty, his daily duties being now made only too heavy by the loss of
the wife who had shared and lightened them all. But he named the matter
to Helen, whom he had lately got into the habit of consulting—she
was such a wise little woman for her age—and Helen said anxiously,
"Papa, try." Besides, there were six boys to be brought up, and put
into the world somehow, and the Manse income was small, and the salary
offered by Mr. Manteith very considerable. So when, the second time,
Helen's great soft eyes implored silently, "Papa, please try," the
minister kissed her, went into his study and wrote to Edinburg his
acceptance of the office of tutor to Lord Cairnforth.
What sort of office it would turn out—what kind of instruction he
was expected to give, or how much the young earl was capable of
receiving, he had not the least idea; but he resolved that, in any case,
he would do his duty, and neither man nor minister could be expected to
In pursuance of this resolution, he roused himself that sunny June
morning, when he would far rather have sat over his study-fire and let
the world go on without him—as he felt it would, easily enough—
and walked down to the Castle, where, for the first time these ten
years, windows were opened and doors unbarred, and the sweet light and
warm air of day let in upon those long-shut rooms, which seemed, in
their dumb, inanimate way, glad to be happy again—glad to be made of
use once more. Even the portraits of the late earl and countess—he
in his Highland dress, and she in her white satin and pearls—both so
young and bright, as they looked on the day they were married, seemed to
gaze back at each other from either side the long dining-room, as if to
say, rejoicing, "Our son is coming home."
"Have you seen the earl?" said Mr. Cardross to one of the new servants
who attended him round the rooms, listening respectfully to all the
remarks and suggestions as to furniture and the like which Mr. Menteith
had requested him to make. The minister was always specially popular
with servants and inferiors of every sort, for he possessed, in a
remarkable degree, that best key to their hearts, the gentle dignity
which never needs to assert a superiority that is at once felt and
"The earl, sir? Na, na"—with a mysterious shake of the head—
"naebody sees the earl. Some say—but I hae nae cause to think it
mysel'—that he's no a' there."
The minister was sufficiently familiar with that queer, but very
expressive Scotch phrase, "not all there," to pursue no farther
inquiries. But he sighed, and wished he had delayed a little before
undertaking the tutorship. However, the matter was settled now, and Mr.
Cardross was not the man ever to draw back from an agreement or shrink
from a promise.
"Whatever the poor child is—even if an idiot," thought he, "I will
do my best for him, for his father's and mother's sake."
And he paused several minutes before those bright and smiling portraits,
pondering on the mysterious dealings of the great Ruler of the universe
—how some are taken and some are left: those removed who seem most
happy and most needed; those left behind whom it would have appeared, in
our dim and short-sighted judgment, a mercy, both to themselves and
others, quietly to have taken away.
But one thing the minister did in consequence of these somewhat sad and
painful musings. On his return to the clachan—where, of course, the
news of the earl's coming home had long spread, and thrown the whole
country-side into a state of the greatest excitement—he gave orders,
or at least, advice—which was equivalent to orders, since everybody
obeyed him—that there should be no special rejoicings on the earl's
coming home; no bonfire on the hill-side, or triumphal arches across the
road, and at the ferry where the young earl would probably land—
where, ten years before, the late Earl of Cairnforth had been not
landed, but carried, stone-cold, with his dripping, and his dead hands
still clutching the weeds of the loch. The minister vividly recalled
the sight, and shuddered at it still.
"No, no," said he, in talking the matter over with some of his people,
whom he went among like a father among his children, true pastor of a
most loving flock, "no; we'll wait and see what the earl would like
before we make any show. That we are glad to see him he knows well
enough, or will very soon find out. And if he should arrive on such a
night as this"—looking round on the magnificent June sunset,
coloring the mountains at the head of the loch—"he will hardly need
a brighter welcome to a bonnier home."
But the earl did not arrive on a gorgeous evening like this, such as
come sometimes to the shores of Loch Beg, and make it glow into a
perfect paradise: he arrived in "saft" weather—in fact, on a pouring
wet Saturday night, and all the clachan saw of him was the outside of
his carriage, driving, with closed blinds, down the hill-side. He had
taken a long round, and had not crossed the ferry; and he was carried as
fast as possible through the dripping wood, reaching, just as darkness
fell, the Castle door.
Mr. Cardross, perhaps, should have been there to welcome the child—
his conscience rather smote him that he was not—but it was the
minister's unbroken habit of years to spend Saturday evening alone in
his study. And it might be that, with a certain timidity, inherent in
his character, he shrank from this first meeting, and wished to put off
as long as possible what must inevitably be awkward, and might be very
painful. So, in darkness and rain, unwelcomed save by his own servants,
most of whom even had never yet seen him, the poor little earl came to
his ancestral door.
But on Sunday morning all things were changed, with one of those sudden
changes which make this part of the country so wonderfully beautiful,
and so fascinating through its endless variety.
A perfect June day, with the loch glittering in the sun, and the hills
beyond it softly outlined with the indistinctness that mountains usually
wear in summer, but with the soft summer coloring too, greenish-blue,
lilac, and silver-gray varying continually. In the woods behind, where
the leaves were already gloriously green, the wood-pigeons were cooing,
and the blackbirds and mavises singing, just as if it had not been
Sunday morning, or rather as if they knew it was Sunday, and were
straining their tiny throats to bless the Giver of sweet, peaceful,
cheerful Sabbath-days, and of all other good things, meant for man's
usage and delight.
At the portico of Cairnforth Castle, for the first time since the hearse
had stood there, stood a carriage—one of those large, roomy,
splendid family carriages which were in use many years ago. Looking at
it, no passerby could have the slightest doubt that it was my lord's
coach, and that my lord sat therein in solemn state, exacting and
receiving an amount of respect little short of veneration, such as, for
generations, the whole country-side had always paid to the Earls of
Cairnforth. This coach, though it was the identical family coach, had
been newly furnished; its crimson satin glowed, and its silver harness
and ornaments flashed in the sun; the coachman sat in his place, and two
footmen stood up in their place behind. It was altogether a very
splendid affair, as became the equipage of a young nobleman who was
known to possess twenty thousand a year, and who, from his castle tower
—it had a tower, though nobody ever climbed there—might, if he
chose, look around upon miles and miles of moorland, loch, hill-side,
and cultivated land, and say to himself—or be said to by his nurse,
as in the old song—
"These hills and these vales, from this tower that ye see,
They all shall belong, my young chieftain, to thee."
The horse pawed the ground for several minutes of delay, and then there
appeared Mr. Menteith, followed by Mrs. Campbell, who was quite a grand
lady now, in silks and satins, but with the same sweet, sad, gentle
face. The lawyer and she stood aside, and made way for a big, stalwart
young Highlander of about one-and-twenty or thereabouts, who carried in
his arms, very gently and carefully, wrapped in a plaid, even although
it was such a mild spring day, what looked like a baby, or a very young
"Stop a minute, Malcolm."
At the sound of that voice, which was not an infant's, though it was
thin, and sharp, and unnatural rather for a boy, the big Highlander
"Hold me up higher; I want to look at the loch."
"Yes, my lord."
This, then—this poor little deformed figure, with every limb
shrunken and useless, and every joint distorted, the head just able to
sustain itself and turn feebly from one side to the other, and the thin
white hands piteously twisted and helpless-looking—this, then, was
the Earl of Cairnforth.
"It's a bonnie loch, Malcolm."
"It looks awful' bonnie the day, my lord."
"And," almost in a whisper, "was it just there my father was drowned?"
"Yes, my lord."
No one spoke while the large, intelligent eyes, which seemed the
principal feature of the thin face, that rested against Malcolm's
shoulder, looked out intently upon the loch.
Mrs. Campbell pulled her veil down and wept a little. People said Neil
Campbell had not been the best of husbands to her, but he was her
husband; and she had never been back in Cairnforth till now, for her son
had lived, died, and been buried away in Edinburg.
At last Mr. Menteith suggested that the kirk bell was beginning to ring.
"Very well; put me into the carriage."
Malcolm placed him, helpless as an infant, in a corner of the
silken-padded coach, fitted with cushions especially suited for his
comfort. There he sat, in his black velvet coat and point-lace collar,
with silk stockings and dainty shoes upon the poor little feet that
never had walked, and never would walk, in this world. The one bit of
him that could be looked at without pain was his face, inherited from
his beautiful mother. It was wan, pale, and much older than his years,
but it was a sweet face—a lovely face; so patient, thoughtful—
nay, strange to say, content. You could not look at it without a
certain sense of peace, as if God, in taking away so much had given
something—which not many people have—something which was the
divine answer to the minister's prayer over the two-days-old child—
"Thy will be done."
"Are you comfortable, my lord?"
"Quite, thank you, Mr. Menteith. Stop—where are you going,
"Just to the kirk, and I'll be there as soon as your lordship."
"Very well," said the little earl, and watched with wistful eyes the
tall Highlander striding across brushwood and heather, leaping dikes and
clearing fences—the very embodiment of active vigorous youth.
Wistful I said the eyes were, and yet they were not sad. Whatever
thoughts lay hidden in that boy's mind—he was only ten years old,
remember—they were certainly not thoughts of melancholy or despair.
"God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb," and "the back is fitted to the
burden," are phrases so common that we almost smile to repeat them or
believe in them, and yet they are true. Any one whose enjoyments have
been narrowed down by long sickness may prove their truth by
recollecting how at last even the desire for impossible pleasures passes
away. And in this case the deprivation was not sudden; the child had
been born thus crippled, and had never been accustomed to any other sort
of existence than this. What thoughts, speculations, or regrets might
have passed through his mind, or whether he had as yet reflected upon
his own condition at all, those about him could not judge. He was
always a silent child, and latterly had grown more silent than ever. It
was this silence, causing a fear lest the too rapidly developing mind
might affect still more injuriously the imperfect and feeble body, which
induced his guardian, counseled by Dr. Hamilton, to try a total change
of life by sending him home to the shores of Loch Beg.
One thing certainly Mr. Cardross need not have dreaded—the child was
no idiot. An intelligence, precocious to an almost painful extent, was
visible in that poor little face, which seemed thirstingly to take in
every thing, and to let nothing escape its observation.
The carriage drove slowly through the woods and along the shore of the
loch, Mr. Menteith and Mrs. Campbell sitting opposite to the earl, not
noticing him much—even as a child he was sensitive of being watched
—but making occasional comments on the scenery and other things.
"There is the kirk tower; I mind it weel," said Mrs. Campbell, who still
kept some accent of the clachan, though, like many Highlanders, she had
it more in tone than in pronunciation, and often spoke almost pure
English, which, indeed, she had taken pains to acquire, lest she might
be transferred from her charge for fear of teaching him to speak as a
young nobleman ought not to speak. But at sight of her native place
some touch of the old tongue returned.
"That is the kirk, nurse, where my father and mother are buried?"
"Yes, my lord."
"Will there be many people there? You know I never went to church but
once before in all my life."
"Would ye like not to go now? If so, I'll turn back with ye this
minute, my lamb—my lord, I mean."
"No, thank you, nurse, I like to go. You know Mr Menteith promised me I
should go about every where as soon as I came to live at Cairnforth."
"Every where you like that is not too much trouble to your lordship,"
said Mr. Menteith, who was always tenaciously careful about the respect,
of word and act, that he paid, and insisted should be paid, to his poor
"Oh, it's no trouble to me; Malcolm takes care of that. And I like to
see the world. If you and Dr. Hamilton would have let me, I think I
would so have enjoyed going to school like other boys."
"Would you, my lord?" answered Mr. Menteith, compassionately; but Mrs.
Campbell, who never could bear that pitying look and tone directed
toward her nursling, said, a little sharply,
"It's better as it is—dinna ye ken? Far mair fitting for his
lordship's rank and position that he should get his learning all by
himsel' at his ain castle, and with his ain tutor, and that sic a
gentleman as Mr. Cardross—"
"What is Mr. Cardross like?"
"Ye'll hear him preach the day."
"Will he teach me all by myself, as nurse says? Has he any children—
any boys, like me?"
"He has boys," said Mr. Menteith, avoiding more explicit information;
for with a natural, if mistaken precaution, he had always kept his own
sturdy, stalwart boys quite out of the way of the poor little earl, and
had especially cautioned the minister to do the same.
"I do long to play with boys. May I?"
"If you wish it, my lord."
"And may I have a boat on that beautiful loch, and be rowed about just
where I please? Malcolm says it would not shake me nearly so much as
the carriage. May I go to the kirk every Sunday, and see every thing
and every body, and read as many books as ever I choose? Oh, How happy
I shall be!—as happy as a king!"
"God help thee, my lamb!" muttered Mrs. Campbell to herself, while even
Mr. Menteith turned his face sedulously toward the loch and took snuff
By this time, they had reached the church door, where the congregation
were already gathering and hanging about, as Scotch congregations do,
till service begins. But of this service and this Sunday, which was so
strangely momentous a day in more lives than one, the next chapter must
The carriage of the Earl of Cairnforth, with its familiar and yet long
unfamiliar liveries, produced a keen sensation among the simple folk who
formed the congregation of Cairnforth. But they had too much habitual
respect for the great house and great folk of the place, mingled with
their national shyness and independence, to stare very much. A few
moved aside to make way for the two grand Edinburg footmen who leaped
down from their perch in order to render customary assistance to the
occupants of the carriage.
Mrs. Campbell and Mr. Menteith descended first, and then the two footmen
looked puzzled as to what they should do next.
But Malcolm was before them—Malcolm, who never suffered mortal man
but himself to render the least assistance to his young master; who
watched and tended him; waited on and fed him in the day, and slept in
his room at night; who, in truth, had now, for a year past, slipped into
all the offices of a nurse as well as servant, and performed them with a
woman's tenderness, care, and skill. Lord Cairnforth's eyes brightened
when he saw him; and, carried in Malcolm's arms—a few stragglers of
the congregation standing aside to let them pass—the young earl was
brought to the door of the kirk where his family had worshiped for
Two elders stood there beside the plate—white-headed farmers, who
remembered both the late lord and the one before him.
"You's the earl," whispered they, and came forward respectfully; then,
startled by the unexpected and pitiful sight, they shrank back; but
either the boy did not notice this, or was so used to it that he showed
"My purse, Malcolm," the small, soft voice was heard to say.
"Ay, my lord. What will ye put into the plate?"
"A guinea, I think, today, because I am so very happy."
This answer, which the two elders overheard, was told by them next day
to every body, and remembered along the loch-side for years.
Cairnforth Kirk, like most other Scotch churches of ancient date, is
very plain within and without, and the congregation then consisted
almost entirely of hillside farmers, shepherds, and the like, who
arrived in families—dogs, and all, for the dogs always came to
church, and behaved there as decorously as their masters. Many the
people walked eight, ten, and even twelve miles, from the extreme
boundary of the parish, and waited about in the kirk or kirk-yard on
fine Sundays, and in the Manse kitchen on wet ones—which were much
the most frequent—during the two hours' interval between sermons.
In the whole congregation there was hardly a person above the laboring
class except in the minister's pew and that belonging to the Castle,
which had been newly lined and cushioned, and in a corner of which,
safely deposited by Malcolm, the little earl now sat—sat always,
even during the prayer, at which some of the congregation looked
reprovingly round, but only saw the little figure wrapped in a plaid,
and the sweet, wan, childish, and yet unchild-like face, with the curly
dark hair, and large dark eyes.
Whatever in the earl was "no a'richt," it certainly could not be his
mind, for a brighter, more intelligent countenance was never seen. It
quite startled the minister with the intentness of its gaze from the
moment he ascended the pulpit; and though he tried not to look that way,
and was very nervous, he could not get over the impression it made. It
was to him almost like a face from the grave—this strange, eerie
child's face, so strongly resembling that of the dead countess, who,
despite the difference in rank, had, during the brief year she lived and
reigned at Cairnforth, been almost like an equal friend and companion to
his own dead wife. Their two faces—Lady Cairnforth's as she looked
the last time he saw her in her coffin, and his wife's as she lay in
hers—mingled together, and affected him powerfully.
The good minister was not remarkable for the brilliance of his sermons,
which he wrote and "committed"—that is, learned by heart, to deliver
in pseudo-extempore fashion, as was the weary custom of most Scotch
ministers of his time. But this Sunday, all that he had committed
slipped clean out of his memory. He preached as he had never been known
to preach before, and never preached again—with originality, power,
eloquence; speaking from his deepest heart, as if the words thence
pouring out had been supernaturally put into it; which, with a
superstition that approached to sublimest faith, he afterward solemnly
believe they had been.
The text was that verse about "all things working together for good to
them that love God;" but, whatever the original discourse had been, it
wandered off into a subject which all who knew the minister recognized
as one perpetually close to his heart—submission to the will of God,
whatever that will might be, and however incomprehensible it seemed to
"Not, my friends," said he, after speaking for a long time on this head
—speaking rather than sermonizing, which, like many cultivated but
not very original minds, he was too prone to do—"not that I would
encourage or excuse that weak yielding to calamity which looks like
submission, but is, in fact, only cowardice; submitting to all things as
to a sort of fatality, without struggling against them, or trying to
distinguish how much of them is the will of God, and how much our own
weak will; daunted by the first shadow of misfortune, especially
misfortunes in our worldly affairs, wherein so much often happens for
which we have ourselves only to blame. Submission to man is one thing,
submission to God another. The latter is divine, the former is often
merely contemptible. But even to the Almighty Father we should yield
not a blind, crushed resignation, but an open-eyed obedience, like that
we would fain win from our own children, desiring to make of them
children, not slaves.
"My children—for I speak to the very youngest of you here, and do
try to understand me if you can, or as much as you can—it is right
—it is God's will—that you should resist, to the very last, any
trial which is not inevitable. There are in this world countless
sorrows, which, so far appears, we actually bring on ourselves and
others by our own folly, wickedness, or weakness—which is often as
fatal as wickedness; and then we blame providence for it, and sink into
total despair. But when, as sometimes happens, His heavy hand is laid
upon us in a visible, inevitable misfortune which we can not struggle
against, and from which no human aid can save us, then we ought to learn
His hardest lesson—to submit. To submit—yet still, while saying
'Thy will be done,' to strive, so far as we can, to do it. If He have
taken from us all but one talent, even that, my children, let us not
bury in a napkin. Let us rather put it out a usury, leaving to Him to
determine how much we shall receive again; for it is according to our
use of what we have, and not of what we have not, that He will call us
'good and faithful servants,' and at last, when the long struggle of
living shall be over, will bid us 'enter into the joy of our Lord.'"
When the minister sat down, he saw, as he had seen consciously or
unconsciously, all through the service, and above the entire
congregation, those two large intent eyes fixed upon him from the
Children of ten years old do not usually listen much to sermons, but the
little earl had heard very few, for it was difficult to take him to
church without so many people staring at him. Nevertheless, he listened
to this sermon, so plain and clear, suited to the capacity of ignorant
shepherds and little children, and seemed as if he understood it all.
If he did not then, he did afterward.
When service was over, he sat watching the congregation pass out,
especially noticing a family of boys who occupied the adjoining pew.
They had neither father nor mother with them, but an elder sister, as
she appeared to be—a tall girl of about fifteen. She marshaled them
out before her, not allowing them once to turn, as many of the other
people did, to look with curiosity at the poor little earl. But in
quitting the kirk she stopped at the vestry door, apparently to say a
word to the minister; after which Mr. Cardross came forward, his gown
over his arm, and spoke to Mr. Menteith—
"Where is Lord Cairnforth? I was so glad to see him here."
"Thank you, Mr. Cardross," replied a weak but cheerful voice from
Malcolm's shoulder, which so startled the good minister that he found
not another word for a whole minute. At last he said, hesitating,
"Helen has just been reminding me that the earl and countess used always
to come and rest at the Manse between sermons. Would Lord Cairnforth
like to do the same? It is a good way to the Castle—or perhaps he is
too fatigued for the afternoon service?"
"Oh no, I should like it very much. And, nurse, I do so want to see Mr.
Cardross's children; and Helen—who is Helen?"
"My daughter. Come here, Helen, and speak to the earl."
She came forward—the tall girl who had sat at the end of the pew, in
charge of the six boys—came forward in her serious, gentle, motherly
way—alas! She was the only mother at the Manse now—and put out
her hand, but instinctively drew it back again; for oh! what poor,
helpless, unnatural-looking fingers were feebly advanced an inch or so
to meet hers! They actually shocked her—gave her a sick sense of
physical repulsion; but she conquered it. Then, by a sudden impulse of
conscience, quite forgetting the rank of the earl, and only thinking of
the poor, crippled, orphaned baby—for he seemed no more than a baby
—Helen did what her warm, loving heart was in the habit of doing, as
silent consolation for every thing, to her own tribe of "motherless
bairns"—she stooped forward and kissed him.
The little earl was so astonished that he blushed up to the very brow.
But from that minute he loved Helen Cardross, and never ceased loving
her to the end of his days.
She led the way to the Manse, which was so close behind the kirk that
the back windows of it looked on the grave-yard. But in front there was
a beautiful lawn and garden—the prettiest Manse garden that ever was
seen. Helen stepped through it with her light, quick step, a child
clinging to each hand, often turning round to speak to Malcolm or to the
earl. He followed her with his eyes and thought she was like a picture
he had once seen of a guardian angel leading two children along, though
there was not a bit of the angel about Helen Cardross—externally at
least, she being one of those large, rosy, round-face, flaxen-haired
Scotch girls who are far from pretty even in youth, and in middle age
sometimes grow quite coarse and plain. She would not do so, and did
not; for any body so good, so sweet, so bright, must always carry about
with her, even to old age, something which, if not beauty's self, is
beauty's atmosphere, and which often creates, even around unlovely
people, a light and glory as perfect as the atmosphere round the sun.
She took her seat—her poor mother's that used to be—at the head
of the Manse table—which was a little quieter on Sundays than
week-days, and especially this Sunday, when the children were all awed
and shy before their new visitor. Helen had previously taken them all
aside, and explained to them that they were not to notice any thing in
the earl that was different from other people—that he was a poor
little crippled boy who had neither father, mother, brother, nor sister,
that they were to be very kind to him, but not to look at him much, and
to make no remarks upon him on any account whatever.
And so, even though he was placed on baby's high chair, and fed by
Malcolm almost as if he were a baby—he who, though no bigger than a
baby, was in reality a boy of ten years old, whom papa talked to, and
who talked with papa almost as cleverly as Helen herself—still the
Manse children were so well behaved that nothing occurred to make any
For the little earl, he seemed to enjoy himself amazingly. He sat in
his high chair, and looked round the well-filled table with mingled
curiosity and amusement; inquired the children's names, and was greatly
interested in the dog, the cat, a rabbit, and two kittens, which after
dinner they successively brought to amuse him. And then he invited them
all to the Castle next day, and promised to take them over his garden
"But how can you take us?" said the youngest, in spite of Helen's frown.
"We can run about, but you—"
"I can't run about, that is true; but I have a little carriage, and
Malcolm draws it, or Malcolm carries me, and then I can see such a deal.
I used to see nothing—only lie on a sofa all day, and have doctors
coming about me and hurting me," added the poor little earl, growing
confidential, as one by one the boys slipped away, leaving him alone
"Did they hurt you very much:" asked she.
"Oh, terribly; but I never told. You see, there was no use in telling;
it could not be helped, and it would only have made nurse cry—she
always cries over me. I think that is why I like Malcolm; he always
helps me, and he never cries. And I am getting a great boy now; I was
ten years old last week."
Ten years old, though he seemed scarcely more than five, except by the
old look of his face. But Helen took no notice, only saying "that she
hoped the doctors did not hurt him now."
"No, that is all over. Dr Hamilton says I am to be left to Nature,
whatever that is; I overheard him say it one day. And I begged of Mr.
Menteith not to shut me up any longer, or take me out only in my
carriage, but to let me go about as I like, Malcolm carrying me—
isn't he a big, strong fellow? You can't think how nice it is to be
carried about, and see every thing—oh, it makes me so happy!"
The tone in which he said "so happy" made the tears start to Helen's
eyes. She turned away to the window, where she saw her own big
brothers, homely-featured, and coarsely clad, but full of health, and
strength, and activity, and then looked at this poor boy, who had every
thing that fortune could give, and yet—nothing! She thought how
they grumbled and squabbled, those rough lads of hers; how she herself
often felt the burden of the large narrow household more than she could
bear, and lost heart and temper; then she thought of him—poor,
helpless soul!—you could hardly say body—who could neither move
hand nor foot—who was dependent as an infant on the kindness or
compassion of those about him. Yet he talked of being "so happy!" And
there entered into Helen Cardross's good heart toward the Earl of Cairn
forth a deep tenderness, which from that hour nothing ever altered or
It was not pity—something far deeper. Had he been fretful,
fractious, disagreeable, she would still have been very sorry for him
and very kind to him. But now, to see him as he was—cheerful,
patient; so ready with his interest in others, so utterly without
envying and complaining regarding himself—changed what would
otherwise have been mere compassion into actual reverence. As she sat
beside him in his little chair, not looking at him much, for she still
found it difficult to overcome the painful impression of the sight of
that crippled and deformed body, she felt a choking in her throat and a
dimness in her eyes—a longing to do any thing in the wide world that
would help or comfort the poor little earl.
"Do you learn any lessons?" asked she, thinking he seemed to enjoy
talking with her. "I thought at dinner today that you seemed to know a
great many things."
"Did I? That is very odd, for I fancied I knew nothing; and I want to
learn every thing—if Mr. Cardross will teach me. I should like to
sit and read all day long. I could do it by myself, now that I have
found out a way of holding the book and turning over the leaves without
nurse's helping me. Malcolm invented it—Malcolm is so clever and so
"Is Malcolm always with you?"
"Oh yes; how could I do without Malcolm? And you are quite sure your
father will teach me every thing I want to learn?" pursued the little
earl, very eagerly.
Helen was quite sure.
"And there is another thing. Mr. Menteith says I must try, if possible,
to learn to write—if only so as to be able to sign my name. In
eleven more years, when I am a man, he says I shall often be required to
sign my name. Do you think I could manage to learn?"
Helen looked at the poor, twisted, powerless fingers, and doubted it
very much. Still she said cheerfully, "It would anyhow be a good thing
"So it would—and I'll try. I'll begin tomorrow. Will you"—with
a pathetic entreaty in the soft eyes—"it might be too much trouble
for Mr. Cardross—but will you teach me?"
"Yes, my dear!" said Helen, warmly, "that I will."
"Thank you. And"—still hesitating—"please would you always call
me 'my dear' instead of 'my lord;' and might I call you Helen?"
So they "made a paction 'twixt them twa"—the poor little helpless,
crippled boy, and the bright, active, energetic girl—the earl's son
and minister's daughter—one of those pactions which grow out of an
inner similitude which counteracts all outward dissimilarity; and they
never broke it while they lived.
"Has my lamb enjoyed himself?" inquired Mrs. Campbell, anxiously and
affectionately, when she reappeared from the Manse kitchen. Then, with
a sudden resumption of dignity, "I beg your pardon, Miss Cardross, but
this is the first time his lordship has ever been out to dinner."
"Oh, nurse, how I wish I might go out to dinner every Sunday! I am sure
this has been the happiest day of all my life."
If the "happiest day in all his life" had been the first day the earl
spent at Cairnforth Manse, which very likely it was, he took the first
possible opportunity of renewing his happiness.
Early on Monday forenoon, while Helen's ever-active hands were still
busy clearing away the six empty porridge plates, and the one tea-cup
which had contained the beverage which the minister loved, but which was
too dear a luxury for any but the father of the family, Malcolm
Campbell's large shadow was seen darkening the window.
"There's the earl!" cried Helen, whose quick eye had already caught
sight of the white little face muffled up in Malcolm's plaid, and the
soft black curls resting on his shoulder, damp with rain, and blown
about by the wind, for it was what they called at Loch Beg a "coarse"
"My lord was awful' set upon coming," said Malcolm apologetically; "and
when my lord taks a thing into his heid, he'll aye do't, ye ken."
"We are very glad to see the earl," returned the minister, who
nevertheless looked a little perplexed; for, while finishing his
breakfast, he had been confiding to Helen how very nervous he felt about
this morning's duties at the Castle—how painful it would be to teach
a child so afflicted, and how he wished he had thought twice before he
undertook the charge. And Helen had been trying to encourage him by
telling him all that had passed between herself and the boy—how
intelligent he had seemed, and how eager to learn. Still, the very fact
that they had been discussing him made Mr. Cardross feel slightly
confused. Men shrink so much more than women from any physical
suffering or deformity; besides, except those few moments in the church,
this was really the first time he had beheld Lord Cairnforth; for on
Sundays it was the minister's habit to pass the whole time between
sermons in his study, and not join the family table until tea.
"We are very glad to see the earl at all times," repeated he, but
hesitatingly, as if not sure that he was quite speaking the truth.
"Yes, very glad," added Helen, hastily, fancying she could detect in the
prematurely acute and sensitive face a consciousness that he was not
altogether welcome. "My father was this minute preparing to start for
"My Lord didna like to trouble the minister to be walking out this
coarse day," said Malcolm, with true Highland ingenuity of politeness.
"His lordship thocht that instead o' Mr. Cardross coming to him, he
would just come to Mr. Cardross."
"No, Malcolm," interposed the little voice, "it was not exactly that. I
wished for my own sake to come to the Manse again, and to ask if I might
come every day and take my lessons here—it's so dreary in that big
library. I'll not be much trouble, indeed, sir," he added,
entreatingly; "Malcolm will carry me in and carry me out. I can sit on
almost any sort of chair now; and with this wee bit of stick in my hand
I can turn over the leaves of my books my very own self—I assure you
The minister walked to the window. He literally could not speak for a
minute, he felt so deeply moved, and in his secret heart so very much
ashamed of himself.
When he turned round Malcolm had placed the little figure in an
arm-chair by the fire, and was busy unswathing the voluminous folds of
the plaid in which it had been wrapped. Helen, after a glance or two,
pretended to be equally busy over her daily duty—the common duty of
Scotch housewives at that period—of washing up the delicate china
with her own neat hands, and putting it safe away in the parlor press;
for, as before said, Mr. Cardross's income was very small, and, like
that of most country ministers, very uncertain, his stipend altering
year by year, according to the price of corn. They kept one "lassie" to
help, but Helen herself had to do a great deal of the housework. She
went on doing it now, as probably she would in any case, being at once
too simple and too proud to be ashamed of it; still, she was glad to
seem busy, lest the earl might have fancied she was watching him.
Her feminine instinct had been right. Now for the first time taken out
of his shut-up nursery life, where he himself had been the principal
object—where he had no playfellows and no companions save those he
had been used to from infancy—removed from this, and brought into
ordinary family life, the poor child felt—he could not but feel—
the sad, sad difference between himself and all the rest of the world.
His color came and went—he looked anxiously, deprecatingly, at Mr.
"I hope, sir, you are not displeased with me for coming to-day. I shall
not be very much trouble to you—at least I will try to be as little
trouble as I can."
"My boy," said the minister, crossing over to him and laying his hand
upon his head, "You will not be the least trouble; and if you were ever
so much, I would undertake it for the sake of your father and mother,
and—" he added, more to himself than aloud—"for your own."
That was true. Nature, which is never without her compensations, had
put into this child of ten years old a strange charm, and inexpressible
loveableness which springs from lovingness, though every loving nature
is not fortunate enough to possess it. But the earl's did; and as he
looked up into the minister's face, with that touchingly grateful
expression he had, the good man felt his heart melt and brim over at his
"You don't dislike me, then, because—because I am not like other
Mr. Cardross smiled, though his eyes were still dim, and his voice not
clear; and with that smile vanished forever the slight repulsion he had
felt to the poor child. He took him permanently into his good heart,
and from his manner the earl at once knew that it was so.
He brightened up immediately.
"Now, Malcolm, carry me in; I'm quite ready," said he, in a tone which
indicated that quality, discernible even at so early an age—a "will
of his own." To see the way he ordered Malcolm about—the big fellow
obeying him, with something beyond even the large limits of that feudal
respect which his forbears had paid to the earl's forbears for many a
generation, was a sight at once touching and hopeful.
"There—put me into the child's chair I had at dinner yesterday. Now
fetch me a pillow—or rather roll up your plaid into one—don't
trouble Miss Cardross. That will make me quite comfortable. Pull out
my books from your pouch, Malcolm, and spread them out on the table, and
then go and have a crack with your old friends at the clachan; you can
come for me in two hours."
It was strange to see the little figure giving its orders, and settling
itself with the preciseness of an old man at the study-table; but still
this removed somewhat of the painful shyness and uncomfortableness from
every body, and especially from Mr. Cardross. He sat himself down in
his familiar arm-chair, and looked across the table at his poor little
pupil, who seemed at once so helpless and so strong.
Lessons begun. The child was exceedingly intelligent—precociously,
nay, preternaturally so, it appeared to Mr. Cardross, who, like many
another learned father, had been blessed with rather stupid boys, who
liked any thing better than study, and whom he had with great labor
dragged through a course of ordinary English, Latin, and even a fragment
of Greek. But this boy seemed all brains. His cheeks flushed, his eyes
glittered, he learned as if he actually enjoyed learning. True, as Mr.
Cardross soon discovered, his acquirements were not at all in the
regular routine of education; he was greatly at fault in many simple
things; but the amount of heterogeneous and out-of-the-way knowledge
which he had gathered up, from all available sources, was quite
marvelous. And, above all, to teach a boy unto whom learning seemed a
pleasure rather than a torment, a favor instead of a punishment, was
such an exceeding and novel delight to the good minister, that soon he
forgot the crippled figure—the helpless hands that sometimes with
fingers, sometimes even with teeth, painfully guided the ingeniously cut
forked stick, and the thin face that only too often turned white and
weary, but quickly looked up, as if struggling against weakness, and
concentrating all attention on the work that was to be done.
At twelve o'clock Helen came in with her father's lunch—a foaming
glass of new milk, warm from the cow. The little earl looked at it with
"Will I bring you one too?" said Helen.
"Oh—thank you; I am so thirsty. And, please, would you move me a
little—just a very little; I don't often sit so long in one
position. It won't trouble you very much, will it?"
"Not at all, if you will only show me how," stammered Helen, turning hot
and red. But, shaking off her hesitation, she lifted up the poor child
tenderly and carefully, shook his pillows and "sorted" him according to
her own untranslatable Scotch word, then went quickly out of the room to
compose herself, for she had done it all, trembling exceedingly the
while. And yet, somehow, a feeling of great tenderness—tenderer
than even she had felt successively toward her own baby brothers, had
grown up in her heart toward him, taking away every possible feeling of
repulsion on account of his deformity.
She brought back the glass of creamy milk and a bit of oatcake, and laid
them beside the earl. He regarded them wistfully.
"How nice the milk looks! I am so tired—and so thirsty. Please—
would you give me some? Just hold the glass, that's all, and I can
Helen held it to his lips—the first time she ever did so, but not
the last by many. Years and years from then, when she herself was quite
an old woman, she remembered, giving him that drink of milk, and how,
afterward, two large soft eyes were turned upon hers so lovingly, so
gratefully, as if the poor cripple had drank in something besides milk
—-the sweet draught of human affection, not dried up even to such
heavily afflicted ones as he.
"Are the lessons all done for to-day, papa?" said she, noticing that,
eager as it was, the little face looked very wan and wearied, but also
noticing with delight that her father's expression was brighter and more
interested than it had been this long time.
"Done, Helen? Well, if my pupil is tired, certainly."
"But I'm not tired, sir."
Helen shook her motherly head: "Quite enough for to-day. You may come
back again to-morrow."
He did come back. Day after day, in fair weather or foul, big Malcolm
was to be seen stepping with his free Highland step—Malcolm was a
lissome, handsome young fellow—across the Manse garden, carrying
that small frail burden, which all the inhabitants of the clachan had
ceased to stare at, and to which they all raised their bonnets or
touched their shaggy forelocks. "It's the wee earl, ye ken," and one
and all treated with the utmost respect the tiny figure wrapped in a
plaid, so that nothing was visible except a small child's face, which
always smiled at sight of other children.
It was surprising in how few days the clachan, and indeed the whole
neighborhood, grew accustomed to the appearance of the earl and his sad
story. Perhaps this was partly due to Helen and Mr. Cardross, who,
seeing no longer any occasion for mystery, indeed regretting a little
that any mystery had ever been made about the matter, took every
opportunity of telling every body who inquired the whole facts of the
These were few enough and simple enough, though very sad. The Earl—
the last Earl of Cairnforth—was a hopeless cripple for life. All
the consultations of all the doctors had resulted in that conclusion.
It was very unlikely he would ever be better than he was now physically,
but mentally he was certainly "a' richt"—or "a' there," as the
country-folk express it. There was, as Mr. Cardross carefully explained
to every body, not the slightest ground for supposing him deficient in
intellect; on the contrary, his intellect seemed almost painfully acute.
The quickness with which he learned his lessons surpassed that of any
boy of his age the minister had ever known; and he noticed every thing
around him so closely, and made such intelligent remarks, that to talk
with him was like talking with a grown man. Before the first week was
over Mr. Cardross began actually to enjoy the child's company, and to
look forward to lesson hours as the pleasantest hours of his day; for,
since the Castle was close, the minister's lot had been the almost
inevitable lot of a country clergyman, whose parish contains many
excellent people, who look up to him with the utmost reverence, and for
whom he entertains the sincere respect that worth must always feel
toward worth, but with whom he had very few intellectual sympathies. In
truth, since Mrs. Cardross died the minister had shut himself up almost
entirely, and had scarcely had a single interest out of his own study
until the earl came home to Cairnforth.
Now, after lessons, he would occasionally be persuaded to quit that
beloved study, and take a walk along the loch side, or across the moor,
to show his pupil the country of which he, poor little fellow! was owner
and lord. He did it at first out of pure kindness, to save the earl
from the well-meant intrusion of neighbors, but afterward from sheer
pleasure in seeing the boy so happy. To him, mounted in Malcolm's arms
and brought for the first time into contact with the outer world, every
thing was a novelty and delight. And his quick perception let nothing
escape him. He seemed to watch lovingly all nature, from the grand
lights and shadows which moved over the mountains, to the little
moorland flowers which he made Malcolm stop to gather. All living
things too, from the young rabbit that scudded across their path, to the
lark that rose singing up into the wide blue air—he saw and noticed
But he never once said, what Helen, who, as often as her house duties
allowed, delighted to accompany them on these expeditions, was always
expecting he would say, Why had God given these soulless creatures legs
to run and wings to fly, strength, health, and activity to enjoy
existence, and denied all these things to him? Denied them, not for a
week, a month, a year, but for his whole lifetime—a lifetime so
short at best;—"few of days, and full of trouble." Why could He not
have made it a little more happy?
Thousands have asked themselves, in some form or other, the same
unanswered, unanswerable question. Helen had done so already, young as
she was; when her mother died, and her father seemed slowly breaking
down, and the whole world appeared to her full of darkness and woe. How
then must it have appeared to this poor boy? But, strange to say, that
bitter doubt, which so often came into Helen's heart, never fell from
child's lips at all. Either he was still a mere child, accepting life
just as he saw it, and seeking no solution of its mysteries, or else,
though so young, he was still strong enough to keep his doubts to
himself, to bear his own burden, and trouble no one.
Or else—and when she watched his inexpressibly sweet face, which had
the look you sometimes see in blind faces, of absolutely untroubled
peace, Helen was forced to believe this—God, who had taken away from
him so much, had given him something still more—a spiritual insight
so deep and clear that he was happy in spite of his heavy misfortune.
She never looked at him but she thought involuntarily of the text, out
of the only book with which unlearned Helen was very familiar—that
"in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is
After a fortnight's stay at the Castle Mr. Menteith felt convinced that
his experiment had succeeded, and that, onerous as the duty of guardian
was, he might be satisfied to leave his ward under the charge of Mr.
"Only, it those Bruces should try to get at him, you must let me know at
once. Remember, I trust you."
"Certainly, you may. Has any thing been heard of them lately?"
"Nothing much, beyond the continual applications for advances of the
annual sum which the late earl gave them, and which I continue to pay,
just to keep them out of the way."
"They are still abroad?"
"I suppose so; but I hear very little about them. They were relations
on the countess's side, you know—it was she who brought the money.
Poor little fellow, what an accumulation it will be by the time he is of
age, and what small good it will do him!"
And the honest man sighed as he looked from Mr. Cardross's dining-room
window across the Manse garden, where, under a shady tree, was placed
the earl's little wheel-chair, which was an occasional substitute for
Malcolm's arms. In it he sat, with a book on his lap, and with the
aspect of entire content which was so very touching. Helen sat beside
him on the grass, sewing—she was always sewing; and, indeed, she had
need, if her needle were to keep pace with its requirements in the large
family of boys.
"That's a good girl of yours, and his lordship seems to have taken to
her amazingly. I am very glad, for he had no feminine company at all
except Mrs. Campbell, and, good as she is, she isn't quite the thing—
not exactly a lady, you see. Eh, Mr. Cardross—what a lady his
mother was! We'll never again see the like of the poor countess, nor,
in all human probability, will we ever again see another Countess of
"Yet," continued Mr. Menteith, after a long pause, "Dr. Hamilton thinks
he may live many years. Strange to say, his constitution is healthy and
sound, and his sweet, placid nature—his mother's own nature (isn't
he very like her sometimes?)—gives him so much advantage in
struggling through every ailment. If he can be made happy, as you and
Helen will, I doubt not, be able to make him, and kept strictly to a
wholesome, natural country life here, it is not impossible he may live
to enter upon his property. And then—for the future, God knows!"
"It is well for us," replied the minister, gravely, "That He does know
"I suppose it is."
And then for another hour the two good men—one living in the world
and the other out of it—both fathers of families, carrying their own
burden of cares, and having gone through their own personal sorrows each
in his day, talked over, the minutest degree, the present, and, so far
as they could divine it, the future of this poor boy, who, through so
strange a combination of circumstances, had been left entirely to their
"It is a most responsible charge, Mr. Cardross, and I feel almost
selfish in shifting it so much from my own shoulders upon yours."
"I am willing to undertake it. Perhaps it may do me good," returned the
minister, with a slight sigh.
"And you will give him the best education you can—your own, in
short, which is more than sufficient for Lord Cairnforth; certainly more
than the last earl had, or his father either."
"Possibly," said Mr. Cardross, who remembered both—stalwart, active,
courtly lords of the soil, great at field-sports and festivities, but
not over given to study. "No, the present earl does not take after his
progenitors in any way. You should just see him, Mr. Menteith, over his
Virgil; and I have promised to begin Homer with him tomorrow. It does
one's heart good to see a boy so fond of his books," added the minister,
warming up into an enthusiasm which delighted the other extremely.
"Yes, I think my plan was right," said he, rubbing his hands. "It will
work well on both sides. There could not be found any where a better
tutor than yourself for the earl. He never can go much into the world;
he may not even live to be of age; still, as long as he does live, his
life ought to be made as pleasant—I mean, as little painful to him
as possible. And he ought to be fitted, in case he should live, for as
many years as he can fulfill of the duties of his position; its
enjoyments, alas! he will never know."
"I am not so sure of that," replied Mr. Cardross. "He loves books; he
may turn out a thoroughly educated and accomplished student—perhaps
even a man of letters. To have a thirst for knowledge, and unlimited
means to gratify it, is not such a bad thing. Why," continued the
minister, glancing round on his own poorly-furnished shelves, where
every book was bought almost at the sacrifice of a meal, "he will be
rich enough to stock from end to end that wilderness of shelves in the
half-finished Castle library. How pleasant that must be!"
Mr. Menteith smiled as if he did not quite comprehend this sort of
felicity. "But, in any case, Lord Cairnforth seems to have, what will
be quite as useful to him as brains, a very kindly heart. He does not
shut himself up in a morbid way, but takes an interest in all about him.
Look at him, now, how heartily he is laughing at something your daughter
has said. Really, those two seem quite happy."
"Helen makes every body happy," fondly said Helen's father.
"I believe so. I shall be sending down one of my big lads to look after
her some day. I've eight of them, Mr. Cardross, all to be educated,
settled, and wived. It's a 'sair fecht,' I assure you."
"I know it; but still it has its compensations."
"Ay, they're all strong, likely, braw fellows, who can push their own
way in the world and fend for themselves. Not like—" he glanced over
to the group on the grass, and stopped. Yet at that moment a hearty
trill of thoroughly childish laughter seemed to rebuke the regrets of
"That child certainly has the sweetest nature—the most remarkable
faculty for enjoying other people's enjoyments, in which he himself can
"Yes, it was always so, from the time he was a mere infant. Dr.
Hamilton often noticed it, and said it was a good omen."
"I believe so," rejoined Mr. Cardross, earnestly. "I feel sure that if
Lord Cairnforth lives, he will neither have a useless nor an unhappy
"Let us hope not. And yet—poor little fellow!—to be the last
Earl of Cairnforth, and to be—such as he is!"
"He is what God made him, what God willed him to be," said the minister,
solemnly. "We know not why it should be so; we only know that it is,
and we can not alter it. We can not remove from him his heavy cross,
but I think we can help him to bear it."
"You are a good man, Mr. Cardross," replied the Edinburg writer,
huskily, as he rose from his seat, and declining another glass of the
claret, of which, under some shallow pretext, he had sent a supply into
the minister's empty cellar, he crossed the grass-plot, and spent the
rest of the evening beside his ward and Helen.
Days, months, and years slip smoothly by on the shores of Loch Beg.
Even now, though the cruelly advancing finger of Civilization has
touched it, dotted it with genteel villas on either side, plowed it with
smoky steam boats, and will shortly frighten the innocent fishes by
dropping a marine telegraph wire across the mouth of the loch, it is a
peaceful place still. But when the last Earl of Cairnforth was a child
it was all peace. In summertime a few stray tourists would wander past
it, wondering at its beauty; but in winter it had hardly any
communication with the outer world. The Manse, the Castle, and the
clachan, with a few outlying farm-houses, comprised the whole of the
Cairnforth; and the little peninsula, surrounded on three sides by
water, and on the fourth by hills, was sufficiently impregnable and
isolated to cause existence to flow on there very quietly, in what
townspeople call dullness, and country people repose.
For, whatever repose there may be in country life—real country—
there is certainly no monotony. The perpetual change of seasons,
varying the aspect of the outside world every month, every week—nay,
almost every day, is a continual interest to observant minds, and
especially so to intelligent children, who are as yet lying on the
breast of Mother Nature only, nor have begun to feel or understand the
darker and sadder interests of human passion and emotion.
The little Earl of Cairnforth was one of these; and many a time, through
all the summers of his life; he recalled tenderly that first summer at
Cairnforth, when, no longer pent up between walls and roofs, or dragged
about in carriages, he learned, by Molcolm's aid and under Helen's
teaching, to chronicle time in different ways; first by the hyacinths
and primroses vanishing, and giving place to the wild roses—those
exquisite deep-red roses which belong especially to this country-side;
then by the woods—his own woods—growing fragrant with
innumerable honeysuckles; and lastly by the heather on the moorland—
Scotland's own flower—which clothes entire hillsides as with a
garment of gorgeous purple, and fills the whole atmosphere with the
scent of a spice-garden; and when it faded into a soft brown, dying
delicately, beautiful to the last, there appeared the brambles, trailing
every where, with their pretty yellowing leaves and their delicious
berries. How blithe, even like a mere "callant," big Malcolm was, when,
leaving the earl on the sunny hill-side under Miss Cardross's charge, he
used to wander off, and come back with his hands all torn and scratched,
to feed his young master with blackberries!
"He is not unhappy—I am sure the child is not unhappy," Helen often
said to her father, when—as was his way—Mr. Cardross would get
fits of uncertainty and downheartedness, and think he was killing his
pupil with study, or wearying him, and risking his health by letting him
do as much as his energetic mind, always dominant over the frail body,
prompted him to do. "Only let him love his life, and put as much in it
as he can, be it long or short, and then it will never be a sad life or
a life thrown away."
"Helen, you're not clever, but you're a wise little woman, my dear," the
minister would say, patting the flaxen curls or the busy hands—large
and brown, yet with a certain grace about them, too—helpful hands,
made to hold children, or tend sick folk, or sustain the feeble steps of
old age. She was "no bonnie" Helen Cardross; it was just a round, rosy,
sonsie face, with no features in particular, but she was pleasant to
look upon, and inexpressibly pleasant to live with; for it was such a
wholesome nature, so entirely free from moods, or fancies, or crochets
of any kind—those sad vagaries of ill-health, ill-humor, and
ill-conditionedness of every sort, which are sometimes only a
misfortune, caused by an unhappy natural temperament, but oftener arise
from pure egotism, of which there was not an atom in Helen Cardross.
Her life was like the life of a flower—as natural, unconscious,
fresh, and sweet: she took in every influence about her, and gave out
freely all she had to give; desired no better things than she possessed,
and where she was planted there she grew.
It was not wonderful that the little earl loved her, and that under her
sunshiny soul his life too blossomed out as it might never otherwise
have done, but have drooped and faded, and gone back into the darkness,
imperfect and unfulfilled; for, though each human life is, in a sense,
complete to itself, and must work itself out independently, clinging to
no other, still there is a great and beautiful mystery in the way one
life seems to influence an other, sometimes for ill, but far, far
oftener for good.
Lord Cairnforth was not much with the Cardross boys. He liked them, and
evidently craved after their company, but they were very shy of him.
Sometimes they let Malcolm bring him into their boat, and condescended
to row him up and down the loch, a mode of locomotion in which he
greatly delighted, for, at best, the shaking of the great lumbering
coach was not easy to him, and he always begged to be carried in
Malcolm's arms till he found how pleasantly he could lie in the stern of
the Manse boat, and float about on the smooth water, watching the
mountains and the shores.
True, he could not stir an inch from where he was laid down, but he lay
there so contentedly, enjoying everything, and really looked, what he
often said he was, "as happy as a king."
And by degrees, with a little home persuasion from Helen, the boys got
reconciled to his company—found, indeed, that he was not such bad
company after all; for often, when they were tired of pulling, and let
the boat drift into some quiet little bay, or rock lazily in the middle
of the loch, the little earl would begin talking—telling stories,
which soon caught the attention of the minister's boys. These were
either fragments out of the books he had read, which seemed countless to
the young Cardrosses, or, what they liked still better, tales "out of
his own head;" and these tales were always the last that they would have
expected from one like him—wild exploits; wanderings over South
American prairies, or shipwrecks on desert islands; astonishing feats of
riding, or fighting, or traveling by land and sea—every thing, in
short, belonging to that sort of active, energetic, adventurous life, of
which the relator could never have had the least experience, and never
would have in this world. Perhaps for that very reason his fancy
delighted therein the more.
And his stories were enjoyed by others as much as by himself, which no
doubt added to the charm of them. When winter came, and all the boating
days were done, many a night, round the fire of the Manse parlor, or in
the "awful eerie" library at the Castle, the earl used to have a whole
circle of young people, and some elder ones too, gathered round his
wheel-chair, listening to his wonderful tales of adventure by flood and
"Why don't you write them out properly?" the boys would ask sometimes,
forgetting—what Helen would never have forgotten. But he only
looked down on his poor helpless fingers and smiled.
However, he had, with great difficulty and pains, managed to learn to
write—that is, to sign his name, or indite any short letter to Mr.
Menteith or others, which, as he grew older, sometimes became necessary.
But writing was always a great trouble to him; and, fortunately, people
were not expected to write much in those days. Had he been born a
little later in his century, the Earl of Cairnforth might have
brightened his sad life by putting his imagination forth in print, and
becoming a great literary character; as it was, he merely told his tales
for his own delight and that of those about him, which possibly was a
better thing than fame.
Then he made jokes, too. Sometimes, in his quiet, dry way, he said such
droll things that the Cardross boys fell into shouts of laughter. He
had the rare quality of seeing the comical side of things, without a
particle of ill-nature being mixed up with his fun. His wit danced
about as brilliantly and harmlessly as the Northern lights that flashed
and flamed of winter nights over the mountains at the head of the loch;
and the solid, somewhat heavy Manse boys, gradually growing up to men,
often wondered why it was that, miserable as the earl's life was, or
seemed to them, they always felt merrier instead of sadder when they
were in his company.
But sometimes when with Helen alone, and more especially as he grew to
be a youth in his teens, and yet no bigger, no stronger, and scarcely
less helpless than a child, the young earl would let fall a word or two
which showed that he was fully and painfully aware of his own condition,
and all that it entailed. It was evident that he had thought much and
deeply of the future which lay before him. If, as now appeared
probable, he should live to man's estate, his life must, at best, be one
long endurance, rendered all the sharper and harder to bear because
within that helpless body dwelt a soul, which was, more than that of
most men, alive to every thing beautiful, noble, active, and good.
However, though he occasionally betrayed these workings of his mind, it
was only to Helen, and not to her very much, for he was exceedingly
self-contained from his childhood. He seemed to feel by instinct that
to him had been allotted a special solitude of existence, into which,
try as tenderly as they would, none could ever fully penetrate, and with
which none could wholly sympathize. It was inevitable in the nature of
He apparently accepted the fact as such, and did not attempt to break
through it. He took the strongest interest in other people, and in
every thing around him, but he did not seem to expect to have the like
returned in any great degree. Perhaps it was one of those merciful
compensations that what he could not have he was made strong enough to
So things went on, without any other variety than an occasional visit
from Mr. Menteith or Dr. Hamilton, for seven years, during which the
minister's pupil had acquired every possible learning that his teacher
could give, and was fast becoming less a scholar than an equal companion
and friend—so familiar and dear, that Mr. Cardross, like all who
knew him, had long since almost forgotten that the earl was—what he
was. It seemed the most natural thing in the world that he should sit
there in his little chair, doing nothing; absolutely passive to all
physical things; but interested in every thing and every body, and,
whether at the Manse or the Castle, as completely one of the circle as
if he took the most active part therein. Consulted by one, appealed to
by another, joked by a third—he was ever ready with a joke—it
was only when strangers happened to see him, and were startled by the
sight, that his own immediate friends recognized how different he was
from other people.
It was one day when he was about nineteen that Helen, coming in to see
him with a message from her father, who wanted to speak to him about
some parish matters, found Lord Cairnforth deeply meditating over a
letter. He slipped it aside, however, and it was not until the whole
parish question had been discussed and settled, as somehow he and Helen
very often did settle the whole affairs of the parish between them, that
he brought it out again, fidgeting it out of his pocket with his poor
fingers, which seemed a little more helpless than usual.
"Helen, I wish you would read that, and tell me what you think about
It was a letter somewhat painful to read, with the earl sitting by and
watching her, but Helen had long learned never to shrink from these sort
of things. He felt them far less if every body else faced them as
boldly as he had himself always done.
The letter was from Dr. Hamilton, written after his return from a three
days' visit at Cairnforth Castle. It explained, after a long apologetic
preamble, the burden of which was that the earl was now old enough and
thoughtful enough to be the best person to speak to on such a difficult
subject, that there had been a certain skillful mechanician lately in
Edinburg who declared he would invent some support by which Lord
Cairnforth could be made, not indeed to walk—that was impossible—
but to be by many degrees more active than now. But it would be
necessary for him to go to London, and there submit to a great amount of
trouble and inconvenience—possibly some pain.
"I tell you this last, my dear lord," continued the good doctor,
"because I ought not to deceive you; and because, so far as I have seen,
you are a courageous boy—nay, almost a man—or will be soon. I
must forewarn you also that the experiment, is only an experiment—
that it may fail; but even in that case you would be only where you were
before—no better, no worse, except for the temporary annoyance and
"And if it succeeded?" said Helen, almost in a whisper, as she returned
The earl smiled—a bright, vague, but hopeful smile—"I might be a
little more able to do things—to live my life with a little less
trouble to myself, and possibly to other people. Well, Helen? You
don't speak, but I think your eyes say 'Try!'"
"Yes, my dear." She sometimes, though not often now, lest it might vex
him by making him still so much a child, called him "my dear."
This ended the conversation, which Helen did not communicate to any
body, nor referred to again with Lord Cairnforth, though she pondered
over it and him continually.
A week after this, Mr. Menteith unexpectedly appeared at the Castle, and
after a long consultation with Mr. Cardross, it was agreed that what
seemed the evident wish of the earl should be accomplished if possible;
that he, Malcolm, Mrs. Campbell, and Mr. Menteith should start for
Such a journey was then a very different thing from what it is now, and
to so helpless a traveler as Lord Cairnforth its difficulties were
doubled. He had to post the whole distance in his own carriage, which
was fitted up so as to be as easy as possible in locomotion, besides
being so arranged that he could sleep in it if absolutely necessary, for
ordinary beds and ordinary chairs were sometimes very painful to him.
Had he been poor, in all probability he would long ago have died—of
Fortunately, it was summer time. He staid at Cairnforth till after his
birthday, "for I may never see another," said he, with that gentle smile
which seemed to imply that he would be neither glad nor sorry, and then
he started. He was quite cheerful himself, but Mr. Menteith and Mrs.
Campbell looked very anxious. Malcolm was full of superstitious
forebodings, and Helen Cardross and her father, when they bade him
good-by and watched the carriage drive slowly from the Castle doors,
felt as sad as if they were parting from him, not for London, but for
the other world.
Not until he was gone did they recognize how much they missed him: in
the Manse parlor where "the earl's chair" took its regular place—in
the pretty Manse garden, where its wheels had made in the gravel walks
deep marks which Helen could not bear to have erased—in his pew at
the kirk, where the minister had learned to look Sunday after Sunday for
that earnest, listening face. Mr. Cardross, too, found it dull no
longer to have his walk up to the Castle, and his hour or two's rest in
the yet unfinished library, which he and Lord Cairnforth had already
begun to consult about, and where the earl was always to be found,
sitting at his little table with his books about him, and Malcolm
lurking within call, or else placed contentedly by the French window,
looking out upon that blaze of beauty into which the countess's
flower-garden had grown. How little they had thought—the young
father and mother, cut off in the midst of their plans, that their poor
child would one day so keenly enjoy them all, and have such sore need
for these or any other simple and innocent enjoyments.
"Papa, how we do miss him!" said Helen one day as she walked with her
father through the Cairnforth woods. "Who would have thought it when he
first came here only a few years ago?"
"Who would indeed?" said the minister, remembering a certain walk he had
taken through these very paths nineteen years before, when he had
wondered why providence had sent the poor babe into the world at all,
and thought how far, far happier it would have been lying dead on its
dead mother's bosom—that beautiful young mother, whose placid face
upon the white satin pillows of her coffin Mr. Cardross yet vividly
recalled; for he saw it often reflected in the living face of the son,
whom, happily, she had died without beholding.
"That was a wise saying of King David's, 'Let me fall into the hands of
the Lord, and not into the hands of men,'" mused Mr. Cardross, who had
just been hearing from Mr. Mentieth a long story of his perplexities
with "those Bruces," and had also had lately a few domestic dissensions
in his own parish, which did quarrel among itself occasionally, and
always brought its quarrels to be settled by the minister. "It is a
strange thing, Helen, my dear, what wonderful peace there often is in
great misfortunes. They are quite different from the petty miseries
which people make for themselves."
"I suppose so. But do you think, papa, that any good will come out of
the London journey?"
"I can not tell; still, it was right to try. You yourself said it was
right to try."
"Yes;" and then, seeing it was done now, the practical, brave Helen
stilled her uncertainties and let the matter rest.
No one was surprised that weeks elapsed before there came any tidings of
the travelers. Then Mr. Menteith wrote, announcing their safe arrival
in London, which diffused great joy throughout the parish, for of course
every body knew whither Lord Cairnforth had gone, and many knew why.
Scarcely a week passed that some of the far-distant tenantry even, who
lived on the other side of the peninsula, did not cross the hills,
walking many miles for no reason but to ask at the Manse what was the
latest news of "our earl."
But after the first letter there came no farther tidings, and indeed
none were expected. Mr. Menteith had probably returned to Edinburg, and
in those days there was no penny post, and nobody indulged in
unnecessary correspondence. Still, sometimes Helen thought, with a sore
uneasiness, "If the earl had had good news to tell, he would have surely
told it. He was always so glad to make any body happy."
The long summer twilights were ended, and one or two equinoctial gales
had whipped the waters of Loch Beg into wild "white horses," yet still
Lord Cairnforth did not return. At last, one Monday night, when Helen
and her father were returning from a three days' absence at the
"preachings'—that is, the half-yearly sacrament—in a neighboring
parish, they saw, when they came to the ferry, the glimmer of lights
from the Castle windows on the opposite shore of the loch.
"I do believe Lord Cairnforth is come home!"
"Ou ay, Miss Helen," said Duncan, the ferryman, "his lordship crossed
wi' me the day; an' I'm thinking, minister," added the old man
confidentially, "that ye suld just gang up to the Castle an' see him;
for it's ma opinion that the earl's come back as he gaed awa, nae better
and nae waur."
"What makes you thinks so? Did he say any thing?"
"Ne'er a word but just 'How are ye the day, Duncan?' and he sat and
glowered at the hills and the loch, and twa big draps rolled down his
puir bit facie—it's grown sae white and sae sma', ye ken—and I
said, 'My lord, it's grand to see your lordship back. Ye'll no be gaun
to London again, I hope?' 'Na, na,' says he; 'na, Duncan, I'm best at
hame—best at hame!' And when Malcolm lifted him, he gied a bit
skreigh, as if he'd hurted himself—Minister, I wish I'd thae London
doctors here by our loch side," muttered Duncan between his teeth, and
pulling away fiercely at his oar; but the minister said nothing.
He and Helen went silently home, and finding no message, walked on as
silently up to the Castle together.
Old Duncan's penetration had been correct—the difficult and painful
London journey was all in vain. Lord Cairnforth had returned home
neither better nor worse than he was before; the experiment had failed.
Helen and her father guessed this from their first sight of him, though
they had found him sitting as usual in his arm-chair at his favorite
corner, and when they entered the library he had looked up with a smile
—the same old smile, as natural as though he had never been away.
"Is that you, Mr. Cardross? Helen too? How kind of you to come and see
me so soon!"
But, in spite of his cheerful greeting, they detected at once the
expression of suffering in the poor face—"sae white and sae sma',"
as Duncan had said; pale beyond its ordinary pallor, and shrunken and
withered like an old man's; the more so, perhaps, as the masculine down
had grown upon cheek and chin, and there was a matured manliness of
expression in the whole countenance, which formed a strange contrast to
the still puny and childish frame—alas! Not a whit less helpless or
less distorted than before. Yes, the experiment had failed.
They were so sure of this, Mr. Cardross and his daughter, that neither
put to him a single question on the subject, but instinctively passed it
over, and kept the conversation to all sorts of commonplace topics: the
journey—the wonders of London—and the small events which had
happened in quiet Cairnforth during the three months that the earl had
Lord Cairnforth was the first to end their difficulty and hesitation by
openly referring to that which neither of his friends could bear to
"Yes," he said, at last, with a faint, sad smile, "I agree with old
Duncan—I never mean to go to London any more. I shall stay for the
rest of my days among my own people."
"So much the better for them," observed the minister, warmly.
"Do you think that? Well, we shall see. I must try and make it so, as
well as I can. I am but where I was before, as Dr. Hamilton said. Poor
Dr. Hamilton! He is so sorry."
Mr. Cardross did not ask about what, but turned to the table and began
cutting open the leaves of a book. For Helen, she drew nearer to Lord
Cairnforth's chair, and laid over the poor, weak, wasted fingers her
soft, warm hand.
The tears sprang to the young earl's eyes. "Don't speak to me," he
whispered; "it is all over now; but it was very hard for a time."
"I know it."
"Yes—at least as much as you can know."
Helen was silent. She recognized, as she had never recognized before,
the awful individuality of suffering which it had pleased God to lay
upon this one human being—suffering at which even the friends who
loved him best could only stand aloof and gaze, without the possibility
"Ay," he said, at last, "it is all over: I need try no more experiments.
I shall just sit still and be content."
What was the minute history of the experiments he had tried, how much
bodily pain they had cost him, and through how much mental pain he had
struggled before he attained that "content," he did not explain even to
Helen. He turned the conversation to the books which Mr. Cardross was
cutting, and many other books, of which he had bought a whole cart-load
for the minister's library. Neither then, nor at any other time, did he
ever refer, except in the most cursory way, to his journey to London.
But Helen noticed that for a long while—weeks, nay, months, he
seemed to avoid more than ever any conversation about himself. He was
slightly irritable and uncertain of mood, and disposed to shut himself
up in the Castle, reading, or seeming to read, from morning till night.
It was not till a passing illness of the minister's in some degree
forced him that he reappeared at the Manse, and fell into his old ways
of coming and going, resuming his studies with Mr. Cardross, and his
walks with Helen—or rather drives, for he had ceased to be carried
in Malcolm's arms.
"I am a man, now, or ought to be," he said once, as a reason for this,
after which no one made any remarks on the subject. Malcolm still
retained his place as the earl's close attendant—as faithful as his
shadow, almost as silent.
But the next year or so made a considerable alteration in Lord
Cairnforth. Not in growth—the little figure never grew any bigger
than that of a boy of ten or twelve; but the childish softness passed
from the face; it sharpened, and hardened, and became that of a young
man. The features developed; and a short black beard, soft and curly,
for it had never known the razor, added character to what, in ordinary
men, would have been considered a very handsome face. It had none of
the painful expression so often seen in deformed persons, but more
resembled those sweet Italian heads of youthful saints—Saint
Sebastian's, for instance—which the old masters were so fond of
painting; and though there was a certain melancholy about it when in
repose, during conversation it brightened up, and was the cheerfullest,
most sunshiny face imaginable.
That is, it ultimately became so; but for a long time after the journey
to London a shadow hung over it, which rarely quite passed away except
in Helen's company. Nobody could be dreary for long beside Helen
Cardross; and either through her companionship, or his own inherent
strength of will, or both combined, the earl gradually recovered from
the bitterness of lost hopes, whatsoever they had been, and became once
more his own natural self, perhaps even more cheerful, since it was now
not so much the gayety of a boy as the composed, equable serenity of a
His education might be considered complete: it had advanced to the
utmost limit to which Mr. Cardross could carry it; but the pupil
insisted on retaining, nominally and pecuniarily, his position at the
Or else the two would spend hours—nay, days, shut up together in the
Castle Library, the beautiful octagon room, with its painted ceiling,
and its eight walls lined from floor to roof with empty shelves, to plan
the filling of which was the delight of the minister's life, since, but
for his poor parish and his large family, Mr. Cardross would have been a
thorough bibliomaniac. Now, in a vicarious manner, the hobby of his
youth reappeared, and at every cargo of books that arrived at the Castle
his old eyes brightened—for he was growing to look really an old man
now—and he would plunge among them with an ardor that sometimes made
both the earl and Helen smile. But Helen's eyes were dim too, for she
saw through all the tender cunning, and often watched Lord Cairnforth as
he sat contentedly in his little chair, in the midst of a pile of books,
examining, directing, and sympathizing, though doing nothing. Alas!
nothing could he do. But it was one of the secrets which made these
three lives so peaceful, that each could throw itself out of itself into
that of another, and take thence, secondarily, the sunshine that was
denied to its own.
Beyond the family at the Manse the earl had no acquaintance whatsoever,
and seemed to desire none. His rank lifted him above the small
proprietors who lived within visitable distance of the Castle: they
never attempted to associate with him. Sometimes a stray caller
appeared, prompted by curiosity, which Mrs. Campbell generally found
ingenious reasons for leaving ungratified, and Lord Cairnforth's
excessive shyness and dislike to appear before strangers did the rest.
It is astonishing how little the world cares to cultivate those out of
whom it can get nothing; and the small establishment at Cairnforth
Castle, with its almost invisible head, soon ceased to be an object of
interest to any body—at least to any body in that sphere of life
where the earl would otherwise have moved.
Among his own tenantry, the small farmers along the shores of the two
lochs which bounded the peninsula, his long minority and mysterious
affliction made him personally almost unknown. They used to come twice
a year, at WhitSunday and Martinmas, to pay their rents to Mr. Menteith;
to inquire for my lord's health, and to drink in abundance of whisky;
but the earl himself they never saw, and their feelings toward him were
a mixture of reverence and awe.
It was different with the earl's immediate neighbors, the humble
inhabitants of the clachan. These, during the last nine years, had
gradually grown familiar, first with the little childish form, carried
about tenderly in Malcolm's arms, and then with the muffled figure,
scarcely less of a child to look at, which Malcolm, and sometimes Miss
Cardross, drove about in a pony-chaise. At the kirk especially, though
he was always carefully conveyed in first, and borne out last of all the
congregation, his face—his sweet, kind, beautiful face was known to
them all, and the children were always taught to doff their bonnets or
pull their forelocks to the earl.
Beyond that, nobody knew any thing about him. His large property,
accumulating every year, was entirely under the management of Mr.
Menteith; he himself took no interest in it; and the way by which the
former heirs of Cairnforth had used to make themselves popular from
boyhood, by going among the tenantry, hunting, shooting, fishing, and
boating, was impossible to this earl. His distant dependents hardly
remembered his existence, and he took no heed of theirs, until a few
months before he came of age, when one of these slight chances which
often determine so much changed the current of affairs.
If was just before the "term." Mr. Menteith had been expected all day,
but had not arrived, and the earl had taken a long drive with Helen and
her father through the Cairnforth woods, where the wild daffodils were
beginning to succeed the fading snowdrops, and the mavises had been
heard to sing those few rich notes which belong especially to the
twilights of early spring, and earnest of all the richness, and glory,
and delight of the year. The little party seemed to feel it—that
soft, dreamy sense of dawning spring, which stirs all the soul,
especially in youth, with a vague looking forward to some pleasantness
which never comes. They sat, silent and talking by turns, beside the
not unwelcome fire, in a corner of the large library.
"We shall miss Alick a good deal this spring," said Helen, recurring to
a subject of which the family heart was full, the departure of the
eldest son to "begin the world" in Mr. Menteith's office in Edinburg.
He was not a very clever lad, but he was sensible and steady, and
blessed with that practical mother-wit which is often better than
brains. The minister, though he had been bemoaning his boy's "little
Latin and less Greek," and comparing Alick's learning very
disadvantageously with that of the earl, to whom Mr. Cardross confided
all his troubles, nevertheless seemed both proud and hopeful of his
eldest son, the heir to his honest name, which Alick would now carry out
into a far wider world than that of the poor minister of Cairnforth,
and doubtless, in good time, transmit honorably to a third generation.
"Yes," added the father, when innumerable castles in the air had been
built and rebuilt for Alick's future, "I'll not deny that my lad is a
good lad. He is the hope of the house, and he knows it. It's little of
worldly gear that he'll get for many a day, and he tells me he will have
to work from morning till night; but he rather enjoys the prospect than
"No wonder. Work must be a happy thing," said, with a sigh, the young
Earl of Cairnforth.
Helen's heart smote her for having let the conversation drift into this
direction, as it did occasionally when, from their long familiarity with
him, they forgot how he must feel about many things, natural enough to
them, but to him, unto whom the outer world, with all its duties,
energies, enjoyments, could never be any thing but a name, full of
sharpest pain. She said, after a few minutes watching of the grave,
still face—not exactly sad, but only very still, very grave—
"Just look at papa, how happy he is among those books you sent for!
Your plan of his arranging the library is the delight of his life."
"Is it? I am so glad," said the earl, brightening up at once. 'What a
good thing I thought of it!"
"You always do think of every thing that is good and kind," said Helen,
"Thank you," and the shadow passed away, as any trifling pleasure always
had power to make it pass. Sometimes Helen speculated vaguely on what a
grand sort of man the earl would have been had he been like other people
—how cheerful, how active, how energetic and wise. But then one
never knows how far circumstances create and unfold character. We often
learn as much by what is withheld as by what is enjoyed.
"Helen," he said, moving his chair a little nearer her—he had
brought one good thing from London, a self-acting chair, in which he
could wheel himself about easily, and liked doing it—"I wonder
whether your father would have taken as much pleasure in his books
thirty years ago. Do you think one could fill up one's whole life with
reading and study?"
"I can not say; I'm not clever myself, you know."
"Oh, but you are—with a sort of practical cleverness. And so is
Alick, in his own way. How happy Alick must be, going out into the
world, with plenty to do all day long! How bright he looked this
"He sees only the sunny side of things, he is still no more than a boy."
"Not exactly; he is a year older than I am."
Helen hardly knew what to reply. She guessed so well the current of the
earl's thoughts, which were often her own too, as she watched his absent
or weary looks, though he tried hard to keep his attention to what Mr.
Cardross was reading or discussing. But the distance between twenty and
sixty—the life beginning and the life advancing toward its close—
was frequently apparent; also between an active, original mind,
requiring humanity for its study, and one whose whole bent was among the
dry bones of ancient learning—the difference, in short, between
learning and knowledge—the mere student and the man who only uses
study as a means to the perfecting of his whole nature, his complete
existence as a human being.
All this Helen felt with her quick, feminine instinct, but she did not
clearly understand it, and she could not reason about it at all. She
only answered in a troubled sort of way that she thought every body,
somehow or other, might in time find enough to do—to be happy in
doing—and she was trying to put her meaning into more connected and
intelligible form, when, greatly to her relief, Malcom entered the
Malcolm, being so necessary and close a personal attendant on the earl,
always came and went about his master without any body's noticing him;
but now Helen fancied he was making signals to her or to some one. Lord
Cairnforth detected them.
"Is any thing wrong, Malcolm? Speak out; don't hide things from me. I
am not a child now."
There was just the slightest touch of sharpness in the gentle voice, and
Malcolm did speak out.
"I wadna be troubling ye, my lord, but it's just an auld man, Dougal Mc
Dougal, frae the head o' Loch Mhor—a puir doited body, wha says he
maun hae a bit word wi' your lordship. But I tellt him ye coulna be
fashed wi' the like o' him."
"That was not civil or right, Malcolm—an old man, too. Where is
"Just by the door—eh—and he's coming ben—the ill-mannered
loon!" cried Malcolm, angrily, as he interrupted the intruder—a
tall, gaunt figure wrapped in a shepherd's plaid, with the bonnet set
upon the grizzled head in that sturdy independence—nay, more than
independence—rudeness, rough and thorny as his own thistle, which is
the characteristic of the Scotch peasant externally, till you get below
the surface to the warm, kindly heart.
"I'm no ill-mannered, and I'll just gang through the hale house till I
find my lord," said the old man, shaking off Malcolm with a strength
that his seventy odd years seemed scarcely to have diminished. "I'm
wushing ane harm to ony o' ye, but I maun get speech o' my lord. He's
no bairn; he'll be ane-and-twenty the thirtieth o' June: I mind the day
weel, for the wife was brought to bed o' her last wean the same day as
the countess, and our Dougal's a braw callant the noo, ye ken. Gin the
earl has ony wits ava, whilk folk thocht was aye doubtful', he'll hae
gotten them by this time. I maun speak wi' himself', unless, as they
said, he's no a' there."
"Haud your tongue, ye fule!" cried Malcolm, stopping him with a fierce
whisper. "Yon's my lord!"
The old shepherd started back, for at this moment a sudden blaze-up of
the fire showed him, sitting in the corner, the diminutive figure,
attired carefully after the then fashion of gentlemen's dress, every
thing rich and complete, even to the black silk stockings and shoes on
the small, useless feet, and the white ruffles half hiding the twisted
wrists and deformed hands.
"Yes, I am the Earl of Cairnforth. What did you want to say to me?"
He was so bewildered, the rough shepherd, who had spent all his life on
the hill-sides, and never seen or imagined so sad a sight as this, that
at first he could not find a word. Then he said, hanging back and
speaking confusedly and humbly, "I ask your pardon, my lord—I dina
ken—I'll no trouble ye the day."
"But you do not trouble me at all. Mr. Menteith is not here yet, and I
know nothing about business; still, if you wished to speak to me, do so;
I am Lord Cairnforth."
"Are ye?" said the shepherd, evidently bewildered still, so that he
forgot his natural awe for his feudal superior. "Are ye the countess's
bairn, that's just the age o' our Dougal? Dougal's ane o' the
gamekeepers, ye ken—sic a braw fellow—sax feet three. Ye'll hae
seen him, Maybe?"
"No, but I should like to see him. And yourself—are you a tenant of
mine, and what did you want with me?"
Encouraged by the kindly voice, and his own self-interest becoming
prominent once more, old Dougal told his tale—not an uncommon one
—of sheep lost on the hill-side, and one misfortune following
another, until a large family, children and orphan grandchildren, were
driven at last to want the "sup o' parritch" for daily food, sinking to
such depths of poverty as the earl in secluded life had never even heard
of. And yet the proud old fellow asked nothing except the remission of
one year's rent, after having paid rent honestly for half a lifetime.
That stolid, silent endurance, which makes a Scotch beggar of any sort
about the last thing you ever meet with in Scotland, supported him to
the very end.
The earl was deeply touched. As a matter of course, he promised all
that was desired of him, and sent the old shepherd away happy; but long
after Dougal's departure he sat thoughtful and grave.
"Can such things be, Helen, and I never heard of them? Are some of my
people—they are my people, since the land belongs to me—as
terribly poor as that man?"
"Ay, very many, though papa looks after them as much as he can. Dougal
is out of his parish, or he would have know him. Papa knows every body,
and takes care of every body, as far as possible."
"So ought I—or I must do it when I am older," said the earl,
"There will be no difficulty about that when you come of age and enter
on your property."
"Is it a very large property? For I never heard or inquired."
"Show me its boundary; there is the map."
Helen took it down and drew with a pencil the limits of the Cairnforth
estates. They extended along the whole peninsula, and far up into the
"There, Lord Cairnforth, every bit of this is yours."
"To do exactly what I like with?"
"Helen, it is an awfully serious thing."
Helen was silent.
"How strange!" He continued, after a pause. "And this was really all
mine from the very hour of my birth?"
"And when I come of age I shall have to take my property into my own
hands, and manage it just as I choose, or as I can?"
"Of course you will; and I think you can do it, if you try."
For it was not the first time that Helen had pondered over these things,
since, being neither learned nor poetical, worldly-minded nor selfish,
in her silent hours her mind generally wandered to the practical
concerns of other people, and especially of those she loved.
"'Try' ought to be the motto of the Cardross arms—of yours certainly,"
said Lord Cairnforth, smiling. "I should like to assume it on mine,
instead of my own 'Virtute et fide,' which is of little use to me.
How can I—I—be brave or faithful?"
"You can be both—and you will," said Helen, softly. Years from that
day she remembered what she had said, and how true it was.
A little while afterward, while the minister still remained buried in
his beloved books, Lord Carinforth recurred again to Dougal Mac Dougal.
"The old fellow was right. If I am ever to have 'ony wits ava,' I ought
to have them by this time. I am nearly twenty-one. Any other young
man would have been a man long ago. And I will be a man—why should
I not? True manliness is not solely outside. I dare say you could find
many a fool and a coward six feet high."
"Yes," answered Helen, all she could find to say.
"And if I have nothing else, I have brains—quite as good brains, I
think, as my neighbors. They can not say of me now that I'm 'no a'
there.' Nay, Helen, don't look so fierce; they meant me no ill; it was
but natural. Yes, God has left me something to be thankful for."
The earl lifted his head—the only part of his frame which he could
move freely, and his eyes flashed under his broad brows. Thoroughly
manly brows they were, wherein any acute observer might trace that clear
sound sense, active energy, and indomitable perseverance which make the
real man, and lacking which the "brawest" young follow alive is a mere
body—and animal wanting the soul.
"I wonder how I should set about managing my property. The duty will
not be as easy for me as for most people, you know," added he, sadly;
"still, if I had a secretary—a thorough man of business, to teach me
all about business, and to be constantly at my side, perhaps I might be
able to accomplish it. And I might drive about the country—driving
is less painful to me now—and get acquainted with my people; see
what they wanted, and how I could best help them. They would get used
to me, too. I might turn out to be a very respectable laird, and become
interested in the improvement of my estates."
"There is great opportunity for that, I know," replied Helen. And then
she told him of a conversation she had heard between her father and Mr.
Menteith, when the latter had spoken of great changes impending over
quiet Cairnforth: how a steamer was to begin plying up and down the loch
—how there were continual applications for land to be feued—and
how all these improvements would of necessity require the owner of the
soil to take many a step unknown to and undreamed of by his forefathers
—to make roads, reclaim hill and moorland, build new farms, churches,
"In short, as Mr. Menteith said, the world is changing so fast that the
present Earl of Cairnforth will have any thing but the easy life of his
father and grandfather.
"Did Mr. Menteith say that?" cried the earl, eagerly.
"He did, indeed; I heard him."
"And did he seem to think that I should be able for it?"
"I can not tell," answered truthful Helen. "He said not a word one way
or the other about your being capable of doing the work; he only said
the work was to done."
"Then I will try and do it."
The earl said this quietly enough, but his eyes gleamed and his lips
Helen laid her hand upon his, much move. "I said you were brave—
always; still, you must think twice about it, for it will be a very
responsible duty—enough, Mr. Menteith told papa, to require a man's
whole energies for the next twenty years."
"I wonder if I shall live so long. Well, I am glad, Helen. It will be
something worth living for."
Malcolm's saying that "if my lord taks a thing into his heid he'll do't,
ye ken," was as true now as when the earl was a little boy.
Mr. Mentieth hardly knew how the thing was accomplished—indeed, he
had rather opposed it, believing the mere physical impediments to his
ward's overlooking his own affairs were insurmountable; but Lord
Cairnforth contrived in the course of a day or two to initiate himself
very fairly in all the business attendant upon the "term;" to find out
the exact extent and divisions of his property, and to whom it was
feued. And on term-day he proposed, though with an evident effort which
touched the old lawyer deeply, to sit beside Mr. Menteith while the
tenants were paying their rents, so as to become personally known to
each of them.
Many of these, like Dougal Mac Dougal, were over come with surprise,
nay, something more painful than surprise, at the sight of the small
figure which was the last descendant of the noble Earls of Cairnforth,
and with whom the stalwart father and the fair young mother looking down
from the pictured walls, contrasted so piteously; but after the first
shock was over they carried away only the remembrance of his sweet,
grave face, and his intelligent and pertinent observations, indicating a
shrewdness for which even Mr. Menteith was unprepared. When he owned
this, after business was done, the young earl smiled, evidently much
"Yes, I don't think they can say of me that I'm 'no a' there!" Also he
that evening confessed to Helen that he found "business" nearly as
interesting as Greek and Latin, perhaps even more so, for there was
something human in it, something which drew one closer to one's
fellow-creatures, and benefited other people besides one's own self. "I
think," he added, "I should rather enjoy being what is called 'a good
man of business.'"
He pleaded so hard for farther instruction in all pertaining to his
estate that Mr. Menteith consented to spare two whole weeks out of his
busy Edinburg life, during which Lord Cairnforth and he were shut up
together for a great part of every day, investigating matters connected
with the property, and other things which hitherto in the young man's
education had been entirely neglected.
"For," said his guardian, sadly, "I own, I never thought of him as a
young man—or as a man at all; nevertheless, he is one, and will
always be. That clear, cool head of his, just for brains, pure brains,
is worth both his father's and grandfather's put together."
And when Helen repeated this saying to Lord Cairnforth, he smiled his
exceedingly bright smile, and was more cheerful, joyous, for days after.
On Mr. Menteith's return home, he sent back to the Castle one of his old
clerks, who had been acquainted with the Cairnforth affairs for nearly
half a century; he also was astonished at the capacity which the young
earl showed. Of course, physically, he was entirely helpless; the
little forked stick was still in continual requisition; nor could he
write except with much difficulty; but he had the faculty of arrangement
and order, and the rare power—rarer than is supposed—of guiding
and governing, so that what he could not do himself he could direct
others how to do, and thus attain his end so perfectly, that even those
who knew him best were oftentimes actually amazed at the result he
Then he enjoyed his work; took such an interest in the plans for feuing
land along the loch-side, and the sort of houses that was to be built
upon each feu, the roads he would have to make, and especially in the
grand wooden pier which, by Mr. Menteith's advice, was shortly to be
erected in lieu of the little quay of stones at the ferry, which had
hitherto served as Cairnforth's chief link with the outside world.
If Mr. Cardross and Helen grieved a little over this advancing tide of
civilization, which might soon sweep away many things old and dear from
the shores of beautiful Loch Beg, they grew reconciled when they saw the
light in the earl's eyes, and heard him talk with an interest and
enthusiasm quite new to him of what he meant to do when he came of age.
Only in all his projects was one peculiarity rather uncommon in young
heirs—the entire absence of any schemes for personal pleasure.
Conforts he had, of course; his faithful friends and servants took care
that his condition should have every alleviation that wealth could
furnish; but of enjoyments, after the fashion of youth, he planned
nothing; for, indeed, what of them was left him to enjoy?
And so, faster than was usual, being so well filled with occupations,
the weeks and months slipped by, until the important thirtieth of June,
when Mr. Menteith's term of guardianship would end, and a man's free
life and independent duties, so far as he could perform them, would
legally begin for the Earl of Cairnforth.
There had been great consultations on this topic all along the two
lochs, and beyond them, for Dougal Mac Dougal had carried his story of
the earl and his goodness to the extreme verge of the Cairnforth
territory. Throughout June the Manse was weekly haunted by tenants
arriving from all quarters to consult the minister, the universal
referee, as to how best they could celebrate the event, which, whenever
it occurred, had for generations been kept gloriously in the little
peninsula, though no case was known of any earl's attaining his majority
as being already Earl of Cairnforth. The Montgomeries were usually a
long-lived race, and their heirs rarely came to their titles till
middle-aged fathers of families.
"But we maun hae grand doings this time, ye ken," said an old farmer to
the minister, "for I doubt there'll ne'er be anither Earl o'
Which fact every one seemed sorrowfully to recognize. It was not only
probable, but right, that in this Lord Cairnforth—so terribly
afflicted—the long line should end.
As the day of the earl's majority approached, the minister's feelings
were of such a mingled kind that he shrank from these demonstrations of
joy, and rather repressed the warm loyalty which was springing up every
where toward the young man. But after taking counsel with Helen, who
saw into things a little deeper than he did, Mr. Cardross decided that
it was better all should be done exactly as if the present lord were not
different from his forefathers, and that he should be helped both to act
and to feel as like other people as possible.
Therefore, on a bright June morning, as bright as that of his sad
birth-day and his mother's death-day, twenty-one years before, the earl
awoke to the sound of music playing—if the national pipes of the
peninsula could be called music—underneath his window, and heard his
good neighbors from the clachan, young and old, men, women, and bairns,
uniting their voices in one hearty shout, wishing "A lang life and a
merry ane" to the Earl of Cairnforth.
Whether or not the young man's heart echoed the wish, who could tell?
It was among the solemn secrets which every human soul has to keep and
ever must keep between itself and its Maker.
Very soon the earl appeared out of doors, wheeling himself along the
terrace in his little chair, answering smilingly the congratulations of
every body, and evidently enjoying the pleasant morning, the sunshine,
and the scent of the flowers in what was still called "The countess's
garden." People notice afterward how very like he looked that day to
his beautiful mother; and many a mother out of the clachan, who
remembered the lady's face still, and how, during her few brief months
of married happiness and hope, she used to stop her pretty pony-carriage
to notice every poor woman's baby she chanced to pass—many of these
now regarded pitifully and tenderly her only son, the last heir of the
last Countess of Cairnfoth.
Yet he certainly enjoyed himself, there could be no doubt of it; and
when, later in the day, he discovered a conspiracy between the Castle,
the Manse, and the clachan, which resulted in a grand feast on the lawn,
he was highly delighted.
"All this for me!" he cried, almost childish in his pleasure. "How good
every body is to me!"
And he insisted on mixing with the little crowd, and seeing them sit
down to their banquet, which they ate as if they had never eaten in
their lives before, and drank—as Highlanders can drink, and
Highlanders alone. But, before the whisky began to grow dangerous, the
oldest man among the tenantry, who declared that he could remember three
Earls of Cairnfoth, proposed the health of this earl, which was received
with acclamations long and loud, the pipers playing the family tune of
"Montgomerie's Reel," which was chiefly notable for having neither
beginning, middle, nor ending.
Lord Cairnforth bowed his head in acknowledgment.
"Ought not somebody to make a little speech of thanks to them?"
whispered he to Helen, who stood close behind his chair.
"You should; and I think you could," was her answer.
"Very well; I will try."
And in his poor feeble voice, which trembled much, yet was distinct and
clear, he said a few words, very short and simple, to the people near
him. He thanked them for all this merry-making in his honor, and said,
"he was exceedingly happy that day." He told them he meant always to
reside at Cairnforth, and to carry out all sorts of plans for the
improvement of his estates, both for his tenants' benefits and his own.
That he hoped to be both a just and kind landlord, working with and for
his tenantry to the utmost of his power.
"That is," he added, with a slight fall of the voice, "to the utmost of
those few powers which it has pleased Heaven to give me."
After this speech there was a full minute's silence, tender, touching
silence, and the arose a cheer, long and loud, such had rarely echoed
through the little peninsula on the coming of age of any Lord
When the tenantry had gone away to light bonfires on the hill-side, and
perform many other feats of jubilation, a little dinner-party assembled
in the large dining-room, which had been so long disused, for the earl
always preferred the library, which was on a level with his bedroom,
whence he could wheel himself in and out as he pleased. To-day the
family table was outspread, and the family plate glittered, and the
family portraits stared down from the wall as the last Earl of
Cairnforth moved—or rather was moved—slowly down the long room.
Malcolm was wheeling him to a side seat well sheltered and comfortable,
when he said,
"Stop! Remember I am twenty-one to-day. I think I ought to take my
seat at the head of my own table."
Malcolm obeyed. And thus, for the first time since the late earl's
death, the place—the master's place—was filled.
"Mr. Cardross, will you say grace?"
The minister tried once—twice—thrice; but his voice failed him.
His tender heart, which had lived through so many losses, and this day
saw all the past brought before him vivid as yesterday, entirely broke
down. Thereupon the earl, from his seat at the head of his own table,
repeated simply and naturally the few words which every head of a
household—as priest in his own family—may well say, "For these
and all other mercies, Lord, make us thankful."
After that, Mr. Menteith took snuff vehemently, and Mr. Cardross openly
wiped his eyes. But Helen's, if not quite dry, were very bright. Her
woman's heart, which looked beyond the pain of suffering into the beauty
of suffering nobly endured, even as faith looks through "the grave and
gate of death" into the glories of immortality—Helen's heart was
scarcely sad, but very glad and proud.
The day after Lord Cairnforth's coming of age Mr. Menteith formally
resigned his trust. He had managed the property so successfully during
the long minority that even he himself was surprised at the amount of
money, both capital and income, which the earl was now master of,
without restriction or reservation, and free from the control of any
"Yes, my lord," said he, when the young man seemed subdued and almost
overcome by the extent of his own wealth, "it is really all your own.
You may make ducks and drakes of it, as the saying goes, as soon as ever
you please. You are accountable for it to no one—except One," added
the good, honest, religious man, now growing an old man, and a little
gentler, grave, as well as a little more demonstrative than he had been
twenty years before.
"Except One. I know that; I hope I shall never forget it," replied the
Earl of Cairnforth.
And then they proceeded to wind up their business affairs.
"How strange it is," observed the earl, when they had nearly concluded,
"how very strange that I should be here in the world, an isolated human
being, with not a single blood relation, not a soul who has any real
claim upon me!"
"Certainly not—no claim whatsoever; and yet you are not quite
without blood relations."
Lord Cairnforth looked surprised. "I always understood that I had no
'Of near kindred you have none. But there are certain far-away cousins,
of whom, for many reasons, I never told you, and begged Mr. Cardross not
to tell you either."
"I think I ought to have been told."
Mr. Menteith explained his strong reasons for silence, such as the late
lord's unpleasant experience—and his own—of the Bruce family,
and the necessity he saw for keeping his ward quite out of their
association and their influence till his character was matured, and he
was of age to judge for himself, and act for himself, concerning them.
All the more, because remote as their kinship was, and difficult to be
proved, still, if proved, they would be undoubtedly his next heirs.
"My next heirs," repeated the earl—"of course. I must have an heir.
I wonder I never thought of that. If I died, there must be somebody to
succeed me in the title and estates."
"Not in the title," said Mr. Menteith, hesitating, for he saw it was
opening a subject most difficult and painful, yet which must be opened
sometime or other, and the old was too hones to shrink from so doing, if
"Why not the title?"
"It is entailed, and can be inherited in the direct male line only."
"That is, it descends from father to son?"
"I see," said the young man, after a long pause.
"Then I am the last Earl of Cairnforth."
There was no answer. Mr. Menteith could not for his life have given
one; besides, none seemed required. The earl said it as if merely
stating a fact beyond which there is no appeal, and neither expecting
nor desiring any refutation or contradiction.
"Now," Lord Cairnforth continued, suddenly changing the conversation,
"let us speak once more of the Bruces, who, you say, might any day
succeed to my fortune, and would probably make a very bad use of it."
"I believe so; upon my conscience I do!" said Mr. Menteith, earnestly,
"else I never should have felt justified in keeping them out of your way
as I have done."
"Who are they? I mean, of what does the family consist?"
"An old man—Colonel Bruce he calls himself, and is known as such in
every disreputable gambling town on the Continent; a long tribe of
girls, and one son, eldest or youngest, I forget which, who was sent to
India through some influence I used for your father's sake, but who may
be dead by now for aught I know. Indeed, the utmost I have had to do
with the family of late years has been paying the annuity granted them
by the late earl, which I continued, not legally, but through charity,
on trust that the present earl would never call me to account for the
"Most certainly I never shall."
"Then you will take my advice, and forgive my intruding upon you a
little more of it?"
"Forgive? I am thankful, my good old friend, for every wise word you
say to me."
Again the good lawyer hesitated: "There is a subject, one exceedingly
difficult to speak of, but it should be named, since you might not think
of it yourself. Lord Cairnforth, the only way in which you can secure
your property against these Bruces is by at once making your will."
"Making my will!" replied the earl, looking as if the new
responsibilities opening upon him were almost bewildering.
"Every man who has any thing to leave ought to make a will as soon as
ever he comes of age. Vainly I urged this upon your father."
"My poor father! That he should die—so young and strong—and I
should live—how strange it seems! You think, then—perhaps Dr.
Hamilton also thinks—that my life is precarious?"
"I can not tell; my dear lord, how could any man possibly tell?"
"Well, it will not make me die one day sooner or later to have made my
will: as you say, every man ought to do it; I ought especially, for my
life is more doubtful than most people's, and it is a solemn charge to
posses so large a fortune as mine."
"Yes. The good—or harm—that might be done with it is
"I feel that—at least I am beginning to feel it."
And for a time the earl sat silent and thoughtful; the old lawyer
fussing about, putting papers and debris of all sorts into their right
places, but feeling it awkward to resume the conversation.
"Mr. Menteith, are you at liberty now? For I have quite made up my
mind. This matter of the will shall be settled at once. It can be
"Sit down, then, and I will dictate it. But first you must promise not
to interfere with any disposition I may see fit to make of my property."
"I should not have the slightest right to do so, Lord Cairnforth."
"My good old friend! Well, now, how shall we begin?"
"I should recommend your first stating any legacies you may wish to
leave to dependents—for instance, Mrs. Campbell, or Malcolm, and
then bequeathing the whole bulk of your estates to some one person—
some young person likely to outlive you, and upon whom you can depend to
carry out all your plans and intentions, and make as good a use of your
fortune as you would have done yourself. That is my principle as to
choice of an heir. There are many instances in which blood is not
thicker than water, and a friend by election is often worthier and
dearer, besides being closer than any relative."
"You are right."
"Still, consanguinity must be considered a little. You might leave a
certain sum to these Bruces—or if, on inquiry, you found among them
any child whom you approved, you could adopt him as your heir, and he
could take the name Montgomerie."
"No," replied the ear, decisively, "that name is ended. All I have to
consider is my own people here—my tenants and servants. Whoever
succeeds me ought to know them all, and be to them exactly what I have
been, or rather what I hope to be."
"Mr. Cardross, for instance. Were you thinking of him as your heir?"
"No, not exactly," replied Lord Cairnforth, slightly coloring. "He is a
little too old. Besides, he is not quite the sort of person I should
wish—too gentle and self-absorbed—too little practical."
"One of his sons, perhaps?"
"No, nor one of yours either; to whom, by the way you will please to set
down a thousand pounds apiece. Nay, don't look so horrified; it will
not harm them. But personally I do not know them, nor they me. And my
heir should be some one whom I thoroughly do know, thoroughly respect,
thoroughly love. There is but one person in the world—one young
person—who answers to all those requisites."
"Who is that?"
Mr. Menteith was a good deal surprised. Though he had a warm corner in
his heart for Helen, still, the idea of her as heiress to so large an
estate was novel and startling. He did not consider himself justified
in criticizing the earl's choice; still, he thought it odd. True, Helen
was a brave, sensible, self-dependent woman—not a girl any longer
—and accustomed from the age of fifteen to guide a household, to be
her father's right hand, and her brothers' help and counselor—one of
those rare characters who, without being exactly masculine, are yet not
too feebly feminine—in whom strength is never exaggerated to
boldness, nor gentleness deteriorated into weakness. She was firm, too;
could form her own opinion and carry it out; though not accomplished,
was fairly well educated, possessed plenty of sound practical knowledge
of men and things, and, above all, had habits of extreme order and
regularity. People said, sometimes, that Miss Cardross ruled not only
the Manse, but the whole parish; however, if so, she did it in so sweet
a way that nobody ever objected to her government.
All these things Mr. Menteith ran over in his acute mind within the next
few minutes, during which he did not commit himself to any remarks at
all. At last he said,
"I think, my lord, you are right. Helen's no bonnie, but she is a rare
creature, with the head of a man and the heart of a woman. She is worth
all her brothers put together, and, under the circumstances, I believe
you could not do better than make her your heiress."
"I am glad you think so," was the brief answer. Though, by the
expression of the earl's face, Mr. Menteith clearly saw that, whether he
had thought it or not, the result would have been just the same. He
smiled a little to himself, but he did not dispute the matter. He knew
that one of the best qualities the earl possessed—most blessed and
useful to him, as it is to every human being—was the power of making
up his own mind, and acting upon it with that quiet resolution which is
quite distinct from obstinacy—obstinacy, usually the last
strong-hold of cowards, and the blustering self-defense of fools.
"There is but one objection to your plan, Lord Cairnforth. Miss
Cardross is young—twenty-six, I think."
"Twenty-five and a half."
"She may not remain always Miss Cardross. She may marry; and we can not
tell what sort of man her husband may be, or how fit to be trusted with
so large a property."
"So good a woman is not likely to choose a man unworthy of her," said
Lord Cairnforth, after a pause. "Still, could not my fortune be settled
upon herself as a life-rent, to descend intact to her heirs—that is,
"My dear lord, how you must have thought over every thing!"
"You forget, my friend, I have nothing to do but to sit thinking."
There was a sad intonation in the voice which affected Mr. Menteith
deeply. He made no remark, but busied himself in drawing up the will,
which Lord Cairnforth seemed nervously anxious should be completed that
"For, suppose any thing should happen—if I died this night, for
instance! No, let what is done be done as soon as possible, and as
"You wish, then, the matter to be kept private?" asked Mr. Menteith.
So in the course of the next few hours the will was drawn up. It was
somewhat voluminous with sundry small legacies, no one being forgotten
whom the earl desired to benefit or thought needed his help; but the
bulk of his fortune he left unreservedly to Helen Cardross. Malcolm and
another servant were called in as witnesses, and the earl saying to them
with a cheerful smile "that he was making his will, but did not mean to
die a day the sooner," signed it with that feeble, uncertain signature
which yet had cost him years of pains to acquire, and never might have
been acquired at all but for his own perseverance and the unwearied
patience of Helen Cardross.
"She taught me to write, you know," said he to Mr. Menteith, as—the
witnesses being gone—he, with a half-amused look, regarded his own
"You have used the results of her teaching well on her behalf today. It
is no trifle—a clear income of ten thousand a year; but she will
make a good use of it."
"I am sure of that. So, now, all is safe and right, and I may die as
soon as God pleases."
He leaned his head back wearily, and his face was overspread by that
melancholy shadow which it wore at times, showing how, at best, life was
a heavy burden, as it could not but be—to him.
"Come, now," said the earl, rousing himself, "we have still a good many
things to talk over, which I want to consult you about before you go,"
whereupon the young man opened up such a number of schemes, chiefly for
the benefit of his tenantry and the neighborhood, that Mr. Menteith was
"Why, my lord, you are the most energetic Earl of Cairnforth that ever
came to the title. It would take three lifetimes, instead of a single
one, even if that reached threescore and ten, to carry out all you want
"Would it? Then let us hope it was not for nothing that those good folk
yesterday made themselves hoarse with wishing me 'a lang life and a
merry ane.' And when I die—but we'll not enter upon that subject.
My dear old friend, I hope for many and many a thirtieth of June I shall
make you welcome to Cairnforth. And now let us take a quiet drive
together, and fetch all the Manse people up to dinner at the Castle."
The same evening the earl and his guests were sitting in the June
twilight—the long, late northern twilight, which is nowhere more
lovely than on the shores of Loch Beg. Malcolm had just come in with
candles, as a gentle hint that it was time for his master, over whose
personal welfare he was sometimes a little too solicitous, to retire,
when there happened what for the time being startled every body present.
Malcolm, going to the window, sprang suddenly back with a shout and a
"I kent it weel. It was sure to be! Oh, my lord, my lord!"
"What is the matter?" said Mr. Menteith, sharply. "You're gone daft,
man;" for the big Highlander was trembling like a child.
"Whisht! Dinna speak o't. It was my lord's wraith, ye ken. It just
keekit in and slippit awa."
"Folly! I saw nothing."
"But I think I did," said Lord Cairnforth.
"Hear him! Ay, he saw't his ain sel. Then it maun be true. Oh my dear
Poor Malcolm fell on his knees by the earl's little chair in such
agitation that Mr. Cardross looked up from his book, and Helen from her
peaceful needle-work, which was rarely out of her active hands.
"He thinks he has seen his master's wraith; and because the earl signed
his will this morning, he is sure to die, especially as Lord Cairnforth
saw the same thing himself. Will you say, my lord, what you did see?"
"Mr. Menteith, I believe I saw a man peering in at that window."
"It wasna a man—it was a speerit," moaned Malcolm. "My lord's
wraith, for sure."
"I don't think so, Malcolm; for it was a tall, thin figure that moved
about lightly and airily—was come and gone in a moment. Not very
like my wraith, unless wraith of myself as I might have been."
The little party were silent till Helen said,
"What do you think it was, then?"
"Certainly a man, made of honest flesh and blood, though not much of
either, for he was excessively thin and sickly-looking. He just
'keerkit in,' as Malcolm says, and disappeared."
"What an odd circumstance!" said Mr. Menteith.
"Not a robber, I trust. I am much more afraid of robbers than of
"We never rob at Cairnforth; we are very honest people here. No, I
think it is far likelier to be one of those stray tourists who are
brought here by the steamers. They sometimes take great liberties,
wandering into the Castle grounds, and perhaps one of them thought he
might as well come and stare in at my windows."
"I hope he was English; I should not like a Scotsman to do such a rude
thing," cried Helen, indignantly.
Lord Cairnforth laughed at her impulsiveness. There was much of the
child nature mingled in Helen's gravity and wisdom, and she sometimes
did both speak and act from impulse—especially generous and kindly
impulse—as hastily and unthinkingly as a child.
"Well, Malcolm, the only way to settle this difficulty is to search the
house and grounds. Take a good thick stick and a lantern, and whatever
you find—be it tourist or burglar, man or spirit—bring him at
once to me."
And then the little group waited, laughing among themselves, but still
not quite at ease. Lord Cairnforth would not allow Mr. Cardross and
Helen to walk home; the carriage was ordered to be made ready.
Presently, Malcolm appeared, somewhat crestfallen.
"It is a man, my lord, and no speerit. But he wadna come ben. He says
he'll wait your lordship's will, and that's his name," laying a card
before the earl, who looked at it and started with surprise.
"Mr. Menteith, just see—'Captain Ernest Henry Bruce.' What an odd
"Coincidence, indeed!" repeated the lawyer, skeptically. "Let me see
"Earnest Henry! was that the name of the young man whom you sent out to
"How should I remember? It was ten or fifteen years ago. Very
annoying! However, since he is a Bruce, or says he is, I suppose your
lordship must just see him."
"Certainly," replied, in his quiet, determined tone, the Earl of
Helen, who looked exceedingly surprised, offered to retire, but the earl
would not hear of it.
"No, no; you are a wise woman, and an acute one too. I would like you
to see and judge of this cousin of mine—a faraway cousin, who would
like well enough, Mr. Menteith guesses, to be my heir. But we will not
judge him harshly, and especially we will not prejudge him. His father
was nothing to boast of, but this may be a very honest man for all we
know. Sit by me, Helen and take a good look at him."
And, with a certain amused pleasure, the earl watched Helen's puzzled
air at being made of so much importance, till the stranger appeared.
He was a man of about thirty, though at first sight he seemed older,
from his exceedingly worn and sickly appearance. His lank black hair
fell about his thin, sallow face; he wore what we now call the Byron
collar and Byron tie—for it was in the Byron era, when
sentimentalism and misery-making were all the fashion. Certainly the
poor captain looked miserable enough, without any pretense of it; for,
besides his thin and unhealthy aspect, his attire was in the lowest
depth of genteel shabbiness. Nevertheless, he looked gentlemanly, and
clever too; nor was it an unpleasant face, though the lower half of it
indicated weakness and indecision; and the eyes—large, dark, and
hollow—were a little too closely set together, a peculiarity which
always gives an uncandid, and often a rather sinister expression to any
face. Still there was something about the unexpected visitor decidedly
Even Helen looked up from her work once—twice—with no small
curiosity; she saw so few strangers, and of men, and young men, almost
none, from year's end to year's end. Yet it was a look as frank, as
unconscious, as maidenly as might have been Miranda's first glance at
Captain Bruce did not return her glance at all. His whole attention was
engrossed by Lord Cairnforth.
"My lord, I am so sorry—so very sorry—if I startled you by my
rudeness. The group inside was so cheering a sight, and I was a poor
"Do not apologize, Captain Bruce. I am happy to make your
"It has been the wish of my life, Lord Cairnforth, to make yours."
Lord Cairnforth turned upon him eyes sharp enough to make a less acute
person than the captain feel that honesty, rather than flattery, was the
safest tack to go upon. He took the hint.
"That is, I have wished, ever since I came home from India, to thank you
and Mr. Menteith—this is Mr. Menteith, I presume?—for my
cadetship, which I got through you. And though my ill health has
blighted my prospects, and after some service—for I exchanged from
the Company's civil into the military service—I have returned to
England an invalided and disappointed man, still my gratitude is exactly
the same, and I was anxious to see and thank you, as my benefactor and
Lord Cairnforth merely bent his head in answer to this long speech,
which a little perplexed him. He, like Helen, was both unused and
indifferent to strangers.
But Captain Bruce seemed determined not to be made a stranger. After
the brief ceremony of introduction to the little party, he sat down
close to Lord Cairnforth, displacing Helen, who quietly retired, and
began to unfold all his circumstances, giving as credentials of identity
a medal received for some Indian battle; a letter from his father, the
colonel, whose handwriting Mr. Menteith immediately recognized, and
other data, which sufficiently proved that he really was the person he
assumed to be.
"For," said he, with that exceedingly frank manner he had, the sort of
manner particularly taking with reserved people, because it saves them
so much trouble—"for otherwise how should you know that I am not an
impostor—a swindler—instead of your cousin, which I hope you
believe I really am, Lord Cairnforth?"
"Certainly," said the earl, smiling, and looking both amused an
interested by this little adventure, so novel in his monotonous life.
Also, his kindly heart was touched by the sickly and feeble aspect of
the young man, by his appearance of poverty, and by something in his air
which the earl fancied implied that brave struggle against misfortune,
more pathetic than misfortune itself. With undisguised pleasure, the
young host sat and watched his guest doing full justice to the very best
supper that the Castle could furnish.
"You are truly a good Samaritan," said Captain Bruce, pouring out freely
the claret which was then the universal drink of even the middle classes
in Scotland. "I had fallen among thieves (literally, for my small
baggage was stolen from me yesterday, and I have no worldly goods beyond
the clothes I stand in); you meet me, my good cousin, with oil and wine,
and set me on your own beast, which I fear I shall have to ask you to
do, for I am not strong enough to walk any distance. How far is it to
the nearest inn?"
"About twenty miles. But we will discuss that question presently. In
the mean time, eat and drink; you need it."
"Ah! Yes. You have never known hunger—I hope you never may; but it
is not a pleasant thing, I assure you, actually to want food."
Helen looked up sympathetically. As Captain Bruce took not the
slightest notice of her, she had ample opportunity to observe him. Pity
for his worn face made her lenient. Lord Cairnforth read her favorable
judgment in her eyes, and it inclined him also to judge kindly of the
stranger. Mr. Menteith alone, more familiar with the world, and goaded
by it into that sharp suspiciousness which is the last hardening of a
kindly and generous heart—Mr. Menteith held aloof for some time,
till at last even he succumbed to the charm of the captain's
conversation. Mr. Cardross had already fallen a willing victim, for he
had latterly been deep in the subject of Warren Hastings, and to meet
with any one who came direct from that wondrous land of India, then as
mysterious and far-away a region as the next world, to people in
England, and especially in the wilds of Scotland, was to the good
minister a delight indescribable.
Captain Bruce, who had at first paid little attention to any body but
his cousin, soon exercised his faculty of being "all things to all men,"
gave out his stores of information, bent all his varied powers to
gratify Lord Cairnforth's friends, and succeeded.
The clock had struck twelve, and still the little party were gathered
round the supper-table. Captain Bruce rose.
"I am ashamed to have detained you from your natural rest, Lord
Cairnforth. I am but a poor sleeper myself; my cough often disturbs me
much. Perhaps, as there is no inn, one of your servants could direct me
to some cottage near, where I could get a night's lodging, and go on my
way to-morrow. Any humble place will do; I am accustomed to rough it;
besides, it suits my finances: half-pay to a sickly invalid is hard
"Still, if I could only get health! I have been told that this part of
the country is very favorable to people with delicate lungs. Perhaps I
might meet with some farm-house lodging?"
"I could not possibly allow that," said Lord Cairnforth, unable, in
spite of all Mr. Menteith's grave warning looks, to shut up his warm
heart any longer. "The Castle is your home, Captain Bruce, for as long
as you may find it pleasant to remain here."
The invitation, given so unexpectedly and cordially, seemed to surprise,
nay, to touch the young man exceedingly.
"Thank you, my cousin. You are very kind to me, which is more than I
can say of the world in general. I will thankfully stay with you for a
little. It might give me a chance of health."
"I trust so."
Still, to make all clear between host and guest, let me name some end to
my visit. This is the first day of July; may I accept your hospitality
for a fortnight—say till the 15th?"
"Till whenever you please," replied the earl, courteously and warmly;
for he was pleased to find his cousin, even though a Bruce, so very
agreeable; glad, too, that he had it in his power to do him a kindness,
which, perhaps, had too long been neglected. Besides, Lord Cairnforth
had few friends, and youth so longs for companionship. This was
actually the first time he had had a chance of forming an intimacy with
a young man of his own age, education, and position, and he caught at it
with avidity, the more so because Captain Bruce seemed likely to supply
all the things which he had not and never could have—knowledge of
the world outside; "hair-breadth 'scapes" and adventurous experiences,
told with a point and cleverness that added to their charm.
Besides, the captain was decidedly "interesting." Young ladies would
have thought him so, with his pale face and pensive air, which, seeing
that the Byron fever had not yet attacked the youths of Cairnforth,
appeared to his simple audience a melancholy quite natural and not
assumed. And his delicacy of health was a fact only too patent. There
was a hectic brilliant color on his cheek, and his cough interrupted him
continually. His whole appearance implied that, in any case, a long
life was scarcely probable, and this alone was enough to soften any
tender heart toward him.
"What does Helen think of my new cousin?" whispered Lord Cairnforth,
looking up to her with his affectionate eyes, as she bent over his chair
to bid him goodnight.
"I like him," was the frank answer. "He is very agreeable, and then he
looks so ill."
"Was I right in asking him to stay here?"
"Yes, I think so. He is your nearest relation, and, as the proverb
says, 'Bluid is thicker than water.'"
"But now you will soon be able to judge how you like him, I hope you
will be very kind to him."
"Do you, Helen? Then I certainly will."
The earl kept his word. Many weeks went by; the 15th of July was long
past, and still Captain Bruce remained a guest at the Castle—quite
domesticated, for he soon made himself as much at home as if he had
dwelt there all his days. He fluctuated a little between the Castle and
the Manse, but soon decided that the latter was "rather a dull house"
—the boys rough—the minister too much of a student—and Miss
Cardross "a very good sort of girl, but certainly no beauty," which
dictum delivered in an oracular manner, as from one well accustomed to
criticize the sex, always amused the earl exceedingly.
To Lord Cairnforth, his new-found cousin devoted himself in the most
cousinly way. Tender, respectful, unobtrusive, bestowing on him enough,
and not too much of his society; never interfering, and yet always at
hand with any assistance required: he was exactly the companion which
the earl needed, and liked constantly beside him. For, of course,
Malcolm, fond and faithful as he was, was only a servant; a friend, who
was also a gentleman, yet who did not seem to feel or dislike the many
small cares and attentions which were necessities to Lord Cairnforth,
was quite a different thing. It was a touching contrast to see the two
together; the active, elegant young man—for, now he was
well-dressed, Captain Bruce looked remarkably elegant and gentlemanly,
and the little motionless figure, as impassive and helpless almost as an
image carved in stone, but yet who was undoubtedly the Earl of
Cairnforth, and sole master of Cairnforth Castle.
Perhaps the wisest bit of the captain's proceedings was the tact with
which he always recognized this fact, and paid his cousin that respect
and deference, and that tacit acknowledgment of his rights of manhood
and government which could not but be soothing and pleasant to one so
afflicted. Or perhaps—let us give the kindest interpretation
possible to all things—the earl's helplessness and loveableness
touched a chord long silent, or never stirred before in the heart of the
man of the world. Possibly—who can say?—he really began to like
At any rate, he seemed as if he did, and Lord Cairnforth gave back to
him in double measure all that he bestowed.
As a matter of course, all the captain's pecuniary needs were at once
supplied. His threadbare clothes became mysteriously changed into a
wardrobe supplied with every thing that a gentleman could desire, and a
rather luxurious gentleman too; which, owing to his Indian habits and
his delicate health, the young captain turned out to be. At first he
resisted all this kindness; but all remonstrances being soon overcome,
he took his luxuries quite naturally, and evidently enjoyed them, though
scarcely so much as the earl himself.
To that warm heart, which had never had half enough of its ties whereon
to expend itself and its wealth of generosity, it was perfectly
delicious to see the sick soldier daily gaining health by riding the
Cairnforth horses, shooting over the moors, or fishing in the lochs.
Never had the earl so keenly enjoyed his own wealth, and the blessings
it enabled him to lavish abroad; never in his lifetime had he looked so
"Helen," he said one day, when she had come up for an hour or two to the
Castle, and then as usual, Captain Bruce had taken the opportunity of
riding out—he owned he found Miss Cardross's company and
conversation "slow"—"Helen, that young man looks stronger and better
every day. What a bright-looking fellow he is! It does one good to see
him." And the earl followed with his eyes the graceful steed and
equally graceful rider, caracoling in front of the Castle window.
Helen said nothing.
"I think," he continued, "that the next best thing to being happy one's
self is to be able to make other people so. Perhaps that may be the
sort of happiness they have in the next world. I often speculate about
it, and wonder what sort of creature I shall find myself there. But."
added he, abruptly, "now to business. You will be my secretary this
morning instead of Bruce?"
"Willingly;" for, though she too, like Malcolm, had been a little
displaced by this charming cousin, there was not an atom of jealousy in
her nature. Hers was that pure and unselfish affection which could bear
to stand by and see those she loved made happy, even though it was by
another than herself.
She fell to work in her old way, and the earl employed as much as he
required her ready handwriting, her clear head, and her full
acquaintance with every body and every thing in the district; for Helen
was a real minister's daughter—as popular and as necessary in the
parish as the minister himself; and she was equally important at the
Castle, where she was consulted, as this morning, on every thing Lord
Cairnforth was about to do, and on the wisest way of expending—he
did not wish to save—the large yearly income which he now seemed
really beginning to enjoy.
Helen, too, after a long morning's work, drew her breath with a sigh of
"What a grand thing it is to be as rich as you are!"
"One can do such a deal of good with plenty of money."
"Yes. Should you like to be very rich, Helen?" watching her with an
Helen shook her head and laughed. "Oh, it's no use asking me the
question, for I shall never have the chance of being rich."
"You can not say; you might marry, for instance."
"That is not likely. Papa could never do without me; besides, as the
folk say, I'm 'no bonnie, ye ken.' But," speaking more seriously,
"indeed, I never think of marrying. If it is to be it will be; if not,
I am quite happy as I am. And for money, can I not always come to you
whenever I want it? You supply me endlessly for my poor people. And,
as Captain Bruce was saying to papa the other night, you are a perfect
mine of gold—and of generosity."
"Helen," Lord Cairnforth said, after he had sat thinking a while, "I
wanted to consult you about Captain Bruce. How do you like him? That
is, do you still continue to like him, for I know you did at first?"
"And I do still. I feel so very sorry for him."
"Only, my dear"—Lord Cairnforth sometimes called her "my dear," and
spoke to her with a tender, superior wisdom—"one's link to one's
friends ought to be a little stronger than being sorry for them; one
ought to respect them. One must respect them before one can trust them
very much—with one's property, for instance."
"Do you mean," said straightforward Helen, "that you have any thoughts
of making Captain Bruce your heir?"
"No, certainly not; but I have grave doubts whether I ought not to
remember him in my will, only I wished to see his health re-established
first, since, had he continued as delicate as when he came, he might not
even have outlived me."
"How calmly you talk of all this," said Helen, with a little shiver.
She, full of life and health, could hardly realize the feeling of one
who stood always on the brink of another world, and looking to that
world only for real health—real life.
"I think of it calmly, and therefore speak calmly. But, dear Helen, I
will not grieve you to-day. There is plenty of time, and all is safe,
whatever happens. I can trust my successor to do rightly. As for my
cousin, I will try him a little longer, lest he prove
"'A little more than kin, and less than kind.'"
"There seems no likelihood of that. He always speaks in the warmest
manner of you whenever he comes to the Manse; that is what makes me like
him, I fancy; and also, because I would always believe the best of
people until I found out to the contrary. Life would not be worth
having if we were continually suspecting every body—believing every
body bad till we had found them out to be good. If so, with many, I
fear we should never find the good out at all. That is—I can't put
it cleverly, like you, but I know what I mean."
Lord Cairnforth smiled. "So do I, Helen, which is quite enough for us
two. We will talk this over some other time; and meanwhile"—he
looked at her earnestly and spoke with meaning—"if ever you have an
opportunity of being kind to Captain Bruce, remember he is my next of
kin, and I wish it."
"Certainly," answered Helen. "But I am never likely to have the chance
of doing any kindness to such a very fine gentleman."
Lord Cairnforth smiled to himself once more, and let the conversation
end; afterward—long afterward, he recalled it, and thought with a
strange comfort that then, at least, there was nothing to conceal;
nothing but sincerity in the sweet, honest face—not pretty, but so
perfectly candid and true—with the sun shining on the lint-white
hair, and the bright blue eyes meeting his, guileless as a child's. Ay,
and however they were dimmed with care and washed with tears—oceans
of bitterness—that innocent, childlike look never, even when she was
an old woman, quite faded out of Helen's eyes.
"Ay," Lord Cairnforth said to himself, when she had gone away, and he
was left alone in that helpless solitude which, being the inevitable
necessity, had grown into the familiar habit of his life, "ay, it is all
right. No harm could come—there would be nothing neglected—even
were I to die to-morrow."
That "dying to-morrow," which might happen to any one of us, how few
really recognize it and prepare for it! Not in the ordinary religious
sense of "preparation for death"—often a most irreligious thing
—a frantic attempt of sinning and terror-stricken humanity to strike
a balance-sheet with heaven, just leaving a sufficient portion on the
credit side—but preparation in the ordinary worldly meaning—
keeping one's affairs straight and clear, that no one may be perplexed
therewith afterward; forgiving and asking forgiveness of offenses;
removing evil done, and delaying not for a day any good that it is
possible to do.
It was a strange thing; but, as after his death it was discovered, the
true secret of the wonderful calmness and sweetness which, year by year,
deepened more and more in Lord Cairnforth's character, ripening it to a
perfectness in which those who only saw the outside of his could hardly
believe, consisted in this ever-abiding thought—that he might die
to-morrow. Existence was to him such a mere twilight, dim, imperfect,
and sad, that he never rested in it, but lived every day, as it were, in
prospect of the eternal dawn.
This summer, which, as it glided away, Lord Cairnforth often declared to
be the happiest of his life, ended by bringing him the first heavy
affliction—external affliction—which his life had ever known.
Suddenly, in the midst of the late-earned rest of a very toilsome
career, died Mr. Menteith, the earl's long-faithful friend, who had been
almost as good to him as a father. He felt it sorely; the more so,
because, though his own frail life seemed always under the imminent
shadow of death, death had never touched him before as regarded other
people. He had lived, as we all unconsciously do, till the great enemy
smites us, feeling as if, whatever might be the case with himself, those
whom he loved could never die. This grief was something quite new to
him, and it struck him hard.
The tidings came on a gloomy day in late October, the season when
Cairnforth is least beautiful; for the thick woods about it make the
always damp atmosphere heavy with "the moist, rich smell of the rotting
leaves," and the roads lying deep in mud, and the low shore hung with
constant mists, give a general impression of dreariness. The far-away
hills vanish entirely for days together, and the loch itself takes a
leaden hue, as if it never could be blue again. You can hardly believe
that the sun will ever again shine out upon it; the white waves rise,
the mountains reappear, and the whole scene grows clear and lovely, as
life does sometimes if we have only patience to endure through the weary
winter until spring.
But for the good man, John Menteith, his springs and winter were alike
ended; he was gathered to his fathers, and his late ward mourned him
Mr. Cardross and Helen, coming up to the Castle as soon as the news
reached them, found Lord Cairnforth in a state of depression such as
they had never before witnessed in him. One of the things which seemed
to affect him most painfully, as small things sometimes do in the midst
of deepest grief, was that he could not attend Mr. Menteith's funeral.
"Every other man," said he, sadly, "every other man can follow his dear
friends and kindred to the grave, can give them respect in death as he
has given them love and help during life—I can do neither. I can
help no one—be of use to no one. I am a mere cumberer of the
ground. It would be better if I were away."
"Hush! Do not dare to say that," answered Mr. Cardross. And he sent
the rest away, even Helen, and sat down beside his old pupil, not merely
as a friend, but as a minister—in the deepest meaning of the word,
even as it was first used of Him who "came not to be ministered unto,
but to minister."
Helen's father was not a demonstrative man under ordinary circumstances;
he was too much absorbed in his books, and in a sort of languid
indifference to worldly matters, which had long hung over him, more or
less, ever since his wife's death; but, when occasion arose, he could
rise equal to it; and he was one of those comforters who knew the way
through the valley of affliction by the marks which their own feet have
He and the earl spent a whole hour alone together. Afterward, when
sorrow, compared to which the present grief was calm and sacred, fell
upon them both, they remembered this day, and were not afraid to open
their wounded hearts to one another.
At last Mr. Cardross came out of the library, and told Helen that Lord
Cairnforth wanted to speak to her.
"He wishes to have your opinion, as well as my own, about a journey he
is projecting to Edinburg, and some business matters which he desires to
arrange there. I think he would have like to see Captain Bruce too.
Where is he?"
The captain had found this atmosphere of sorrow a little too
overpowering, and had disappeared for a long ride; so Miss Cardross had
been sitting alone all the time.
"Your father has been persuading me, Helen," said the earl, when she
came in, "that I am not quite so useless in the world as I imagined. He
says he has reason to believe, from things Mr. Menteith let fall, that
my dear old friend's widow is not very well provided for, and she and
her children will have a hard battle even now. Mr. Cardross thinks I
can help her very materially, in one way especially. You know I have
made my will?"
"Yes," replied unconscious Helen, "you told me so."
"Mr. Menteith drew it up the last time he was here. How little we
thought it would be really the last time! Ah! Helen, if we could only
"It is best not," said Helen, earnestly.
"Well, my will is made. And though in it I left nothing to Mr. Menteith
himself, seeing that such a return of his kindness would be very
unwelcome, I insisted doing what was equivalent—bequeathing a
thousand pounds to each of his children. Was I right in that? You do
"Most assuredly not," answered Helen, though a little surprised at the
question. Still, she was so long accustomed to be consulted by the
earl, and to give her opinion frankly and freely on all points, that the
surprise was only momentary.
"And, by the way, I mean to leave the same sum—one thousand pounds
—to my cousin, Captain Bruce. Remember that, Helen; remember it
particularly, will you? In case any thing should happen before I have
time to add this to my will. But to the Menteiths. Your father thinks,
and I agree with him, that the money I design for them will be far
better spent now, or some portion of it, in helping these fatherless
children on in the world, than in keeping them waiting for my death,
which may not happen for years. What do you think?"
Helen agreed heartily. It would cause a certain diminution of yearly
income, but then the earl had far more than enough for his own wants,
and if not spent thus, the sum would certainly have been expended by him
some other form of benevolence. She said as much.
"Possibly it might. What else should I do with it?" was Lord
Cairnforth's answer. "But, in order to get at the money, and alter my
will, so that in no case should this sum be paid twice over, to the
injury of my heir—I must take care of my heir," and he slightly
smiled, "I ought to go at once to Edinburg. Shall I?"
Helen hesitated. The earl's last journey had been so unpropitious—
he had taken so long a time to recover from it—that she had
earnestly hoped he would never attempt another. She expressed this as
delicately as she could.
"No, I never would have attempted it for myself. Change is only pain
and weariness to me. I have no wish to leave dear, familiar Cairnforth
till I leave it for—the place where my good old friend is now. And
sometimes, Helen, I fancy the hills of Paradise will not be very unlike
the hills about our loch. You would think of me far away, when you were
looking at them sometimes?"
Helen fixed her tender eyes upon him—"It is quite as likely that you
may have to think of me thus, for I may go first; I am the elder of us
two. But all that is in God's hands alone. About Edinburg now. When
should you start?"
"At once, I think; though, with my slow traveling, I should not be in
time for the funeral; and even if I were, I could not attend it without
giving much trouble to other people. But, as your father has shown me,
the funeral does not signify. The great matter is to be of use to Mrs.
Menteith and the children in the way I explained. Have I your consent,
For an answer, Helen pointed to a few lines in a Bible which lay open on
the library table: no doubt her father had been reading out of it, for
it was open at that portion which seems to have plumbed the depth of all
human anguish—the Book of Job. She repeated the verses:
"'When the ear heard me, then it blessed me; and when the eye saw me,
it gave witness to me;
"'Because I delivered the poor that cried, and the fatherless, and him
that had none to help him:
"'The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me, and I
caused the widow's heart to sing for joy.'
"That is what will be said of you one day, Lord Cairnforth. Is not this
something worth living for?"
"Ay, it is!" replied the earl, deeply moved; and Helen was scarcely less
They discussed no more the journey to Edinburg; but Lord Cairnforth, in
his decided way, gave orders immediately to prepare for it, taking with
him, as usual, Malcolm and Mrs. Campbell. By the time Captain Bruce
returned from his ride, the guest was startled by the news that his host
meant to quit Cairnforth at daylight the next morning, which appeared to
disconcert the captain exceedingly.
"I would volunteer to accompany you, cousin," said he, after expressing
his extreme surprise and regret, "but the winds of Edinburg are ruin to
my weak lungs, which the air here suits so well. So I must prepare to
quit pleasant Cairnforth, where I have received so much kindness, and
which I have grown to regard almost like home—the nearest approach
to home that in my sad, wandering life I ever knew."
There was an unmistakable regret in the young man's tone which, in spite
of his own trouble, went to the earl's good heart.
"Why should you leave at all?" said he. "Why not remain here and await
my return, which can not be long delayed—two months at most—even
counting my slow traveling? I will give you something to do meanwhile:
I will make you viceroy of Cairnforth during my absence—that is,
under Miss Cardross, who alone knows all the parish affairs—and
mine. Will you accept the office?"
"Under Miss Cardross?" Captain Bruce laughed, but did not seem quite to
relish it. However, he expressed much gratitude at having been thought
worthy of the earl's confidence.
"Don't be humble, my good cousin and friend. If I did not trust you,
and like you, I should never think of asking you to stay. Mr. Cardross
—Helen—what do you say to my plan"?
Both gave a cordial assent, as was indeed certain. Nothing ill was
known of Captain Bruce, and nothing noticed in him unlikeable, or
unworthy of liking. And even as to his family, who wrote to him
constantly, and whose letters he often showed, there had appeared
sufficient evidence in their favor to counterbalance much of the
suspicions against them, so that the earl was glad he had leaned to the
charitable side in making his cousin welcome to Cairnforth; glad, too,
that he could atone by warm confidence and extra kindness for what now
seemed too long a neglect of those who were really his nearest kith and
Mr. Cardross also; any prejudices he had from his knowledge of the late
earl's troubles with the Bruces were long ago dispersed. And Helen was
too innocent herself ever to have had a prejudice at all. She said,
when appealed to pointedly by the earl, as he now often appealed to her
in many things, that she thought the scheme both pleasant and advisable.
"And now, papa," added she, for her watchful eye detected Lord
Cairnforth's pale face and wearied air, "let us say good-night—and
Long after, they remembered, all of them, what an exceedingly quiet and
ordinary good-by it was, none having the slightest feeling that it was
more than a temporary parting. The whole thing had been so sudden, and
the day's events appeared quite shadowy, and as if every body would wake
up to-morrow morning to find them nothing but a dream.
Besides, there was a little hurrying and confusion consequent on the
earl's insisting on sending the Cardrosses home, for the dull, calm day
had changed into the wildest of nights—one of those sudden
equinoctial storms, that in an hour or two alter the whole aspect of
things this region.
"You must take the carriage, Helen—you and your father; it is the
last thing I can do for you—and I would do every thing in the world
for you if I could; but I shall, one day. Good-by. Take care of
yourself, my dear."
These were the earl's farewell words to her. She was so accustomed to
his goodness and kindness that she never thought much about them till
long afterward, when kindness was gone, and goodness seemed the merest
delusion and dream.
When his friends had departed, Lord Cairnforth sat silent and
melancholy. His cousin good-naturedly tried to rouse him into the usual
contest at chess with which they had begun to while away the long winter
evenings, and which just suited Lord Cairnforth's acute, accurate, and
introspective brain, accustomed to plan and to order, so that he
delighted in the game, and was soon as good a player as his teacher.
But now his mind was disturbed and restless; he sat by the fireside,
listening to the fierce wind that went howling round and round the
Castle, as the wind can howl along the sometimes placid shores of Loch
"I hope they have reached the Manse in safety. Let me know, Malcolm,
when the carriage returns. I will go to bed then. I wish they would
have remained here; but the minister never will stay; he dislikes
sleeping a single night from under his own roof. Is he not a good man,
cousin—one of a thousand?"
"I have not the slightest doubt of it."
"And his daughter—have you in any way modified your opinion of her,
which at first was not very favorable?"
"Not as to her beauty, certainly," was the careless reply. "She's 'no
bonnie,' as you say in these parts—terribly Scotch; but she is very
good. Only don't you think good people are just a little wearisome
The earl smiled. He was accustomed to, and often rather amused by his
cousin's honest worldliness and outspoken skepticisms—that candid
confession of badness which always inclines a kindly heart to believe
the very best of the penitent.
"Nevertheless, though Miss Cardross may be 'no bonnie,' and too good to
please your taste, I hope you will go often to the Manse in my absence,
and write me word how they are, otherwise I shall hear little—the
minister's letters are too voluminous to be frequent—and Miss
Cardross is not given to much correspondence."
Captain Bruce promised, and again the two young men sat silent,
listening to the eerie howling of the wind. It inclined both of them to
graver talk than was their habit when together.
"I wonder," said the earl, "whether this blast, according to popular
superstition, is come to carry many souls away with it 'on the wings of
the wind!' Where will they fly to the instant they leave the body? How
free and happy they must feel!"
"What an odd fancy! And not a particularly pleasant one," replied the
captain, with a shiver.
"Not unpleasant, to my mind. I like to think of these things. If I
were out of the body, I should, if I could fly back to Cairnforth."
"Pray don't imagine such dreadful things. May you live a hundred
"Not quite, I hope. A hundred years—of my life! No. the most
loving friend I have would not wish it for me." Then, suddenly, as with
an impulse created by the sad events of the day—the stormy night—
and the disturbed state of his own mental condition, inclining him to
any sort of companionship, "Cousin, I am going to trust you, specially,
in a matter of business which I wish named to the Cardrosses. I should
have done so before they left to-night. May I confide to you the
"Willingly. What is it about?" and the captain's keen black eyes
assumed an expression which, if the earl had noticed, he might have
repented of his trust. But no, he never would have noticed it. His
upright, honest nature, though capable of great reserve, was utterly
incapable of false pretense, deceit, or self-interested diplomacy. And
what was impossible in himself he never suspected in other people. He
thought his cousin shallow sometimes, but good-natured; a little
worldly, perhaps, but always well-meaning. That Captain Bruce could
have come to Cairnforth for any other purpose than mere curiosity, and
remained there for any motive except idleness and the pursuit of health,
did not occur to Lord Cairnforth.
"It is on the subject that you so much dislike my talking about—my
own death; a probability which I have to consider, as being rather
nearer to me than it is to most people. Should I die, will you remember
that my will lies at the office of Menteith and Ross, Edinburg?"
"So you have made your will?" said the captain, rather eagerly; then
added, "What a courageous man you are! I never durst make mine. But
then, to be sure, I have nothing to leave—except my sword, which I
hereby make over to you, well-beloved cousin."
"Thank you, though I should have very little use it. And that reminds
me to explain something. The day I made my will was, by an odd chance,
the day you arrived here. Had I know you then, I should have named you
in it, leaving you—I may as well tell you the sum—a thousand
pounds, in token of cousinly regard."
"You are exceedingly kind, but I am no fortune-hunter."
"I know that. Still, the legacy may not be useless. I shall make it
legally secure as soon as I get to Edinburg. In any case you are quite
safe, for I have mentioned you to my heir."
"Your heir! Who do you mean?" interrupted Captain Bruce, thrown off his
guard by excessive surprise.
The earl said, with a little dignity of manner, "It is scarcely needful
to answer your question. The title, you are aware, will be extinct; I
meant the successor to my landed property."
"Do I know the gentleman?"
"I named no gentleman."
"Not surely a lady? Not—" a light suddenly breaking in upon him, so
startling that it overthrew all his self-control, and even his good
breeding. "It can not possibly be Miss Helen Cardross?"
"Captain Bruce," said the earl, the angry color flashing all over his
pale face, "I was simply communicating a message to you; there was no
need for any farther questioning."
"I beg your pardon, Lord Cairnforth," returned the other, perceiving how
great a mistake he had made. "I have no right whatever to question, or
even to speculate concerning your heir, who is doubtless the fittest
person you could have selected."
"Most certainly," replied the earl, in a manner which put a final stop
to the conversation.
It was not resumed on any other topics; and shortly afterward, Malcolm
having come in with the announcement that the carriage had returned
from the Manse (at which Captain Bruce's sharp eyes were bent
scrutinizing on the earl's face, but learned nothing thence), the
The captain had faithfully promised to be up at dawn to see the
travelers off, but an apology came from him to the effect that the
morning air was too damp for his lungs, and that he had spent a
sleepless night owning to his cough.
"An' nae wonder," remarked Malcolm, cynically, as he delivered the
message, "for I heard him a' through the wee hours walkin' and walkin'
up and doun, for a' the world like a wolf in a cage. And eh, but he's
dour the day!"
"A sickly man finds it difficult not to be dour at times," said the Earl
The earl reached Edinburg in the beginning of winter, and in those days
an Edinburg winter was a very gay season. That brilliant society, which
has now become a matter of tradition, was then in its zenith. Those
renowned support-parties, where great wits, learned philosophers, and
clever and beautiful women met together, a most enjoyable company, were
going on almost every night, and drawing into their various small
circles every thing that was most attractive in the larger circle
Lord Cairnforth was a long time before he suffered himself to be drawn
in likewise; but the business which detained him in Edinburg grew more
and more tedious; he found difficulties arise on every hand, and yet he
was determined not to leave until he had done all he wanted to do. Not
only in money, but by personal influence, which, now that he tried to
use it, he found was considerable, he furthered, in many ways, the
interests of Mr. Menteith's sons. The widow, too, a gentle, helpless
woman, soon discovered where to come to, on all occasions, for counsel
and aid. Never had the earl led such a busy life—one more active,
as far as his capabilities allowed.
Still, now and then time hung on his hands, and he felt a great lack of
companionship, until, by degrees, his name and a good deal of his
history got noised abroad, and he was perfectly inundated with
acquaintances. Of course, he had it at his own option how much or how
little he went out into the world. Every advantage that rank or fortune
could give was his already; but he had another possession still—his
own as much here as in the solitudes of Cairnforth, the art of making
himself "weel likit." The mob of "good society," which is not better
than any other mob, will run after money, position, talent, beauty, for
a time; but it requires a quality higher and deeper than these, and
distinct from them all, to produce lasting popularity.
This the earl had. In spite of his infirmities, he possessed the rare
power of winning love, of making people love him for his own sake. At
first, of course, his society was sought from mere curiosity, or even
through meaner motives; but gradually, like the good clergyman with whom
"Fools who came to scoff remained to pray,"
Those who visited him to stare at, or pity a fellow-creature so
afflicted, remained, attached by his gentleness, his patience, his
wonderful unselfishness. And some few, of noble mind, saw in him the
grandest and most religious spectacle that men can look upon—a
human soul which has not suffered itself to be conquered by adversity.
Very soon the earl gathered round him, besides acquaintances, a knot of
real friends, affectionate and true, who, in the charm of his cultivated
mind, and the simplicity of his good heart, found ample amends for every
thing that nature had denied him, the loss of which he bore so
cheerfully and uncomplainingly.
By-and-by, induced by these, the excellent people whom, as by mesmeric
attraction, goodness soon draws to itself, he began to go out a little
into society. It could be done, with some personal difficulty and pain,
and some slight trouble to his friends, which last was for a long time
his chief objection; for a merciful familiarity with his own affliction
had been brought about by time, and by the fact that he had never known
any other sort of existence, and only, as a blind person guesses at
colors, could speculate upon how it must feel to move about freely, to
walk and run. He had also lost much of his early shyness, and ceased to
feel any actual dread of being looked at. His chief difficulty was the
practical one of locomotion, and this for him was solved much easier
than if he had been a man of limited means. By some expenditure of
money, and by a good deal of ingenious contrivance, he managed to be
taken about as easily in Edinburg as at Cairnforth; was present at
church and law-court, theatre and concert-room, and at many a pleasant
reunion of pleasant people every where.
For in his heart Lord Cairnforth rather liked society. To him, whose
external resources were so limited, who could in truth do nothing for
his own amusement but read, social enjoyments were very valuable. He
took pleasure in watching the encounter of keen wits, the talk of clever
conversationalists. His own talent in that line was not small, though
he seldom used it in large circles; but with two or three only about
him, the treasures of his well-stored mind came out often very
brilliantly. Then he was so alive to all that was passing in the world
outside, and took as keen an interest in politics, social ethics, and
schemes of philanthropy as if he himself had been like other men,
instead of being condemned (or exalted—which shall we say? Dis
aliter visum!) to a destiny of such solemn and awful isolation.
Yet he never put forward his affliction so as to make it painful to
those around him. Many, in the generation now nearly passed away, long
and tenderly remembered the little figure, placed motionless in the
centre of a brilliant circle—all clever men and charming women—
yet of whose notice the cleverest and most charming were always proud.
Not because he was an earl—nobility was plentiful enough at Edinburg
then—but because he was himself. It was a pleasure just to sit
beside him, and to meet his pleasantness with cheerful chat, gay banter,
or affectionate earnestness.
For every body loved him. Women, of course, did; they could not help
it; but men were drawn to him likewise, with the sort of reverential
tenderness that they would feel toward a suffering child or woman—
and something more—intense respect. His high sense of honor, his
true manliness, attracted the best of all the notabilities then
constituting that brilliant set; and there was not one of them worth
having for a friend at all who was not, in greater or less degree, the
friend of the Earl of Cairnforth.
But there was another side of his Edinburg life which did not appear
till long after he had quitted Modern Athens forever—nor even then
fully; not until he had passed quite away from the comments of this
mortal world. Then, many a struggling author, or worn-out professional
man, to whom life was all up-hill, or to whom sudden misfortune had made
the handful of "siller" (i.e. "silver") a matter of absolute salvation
to both body and soul—scores of such as these afterward recalled
hours or half hours spent in the cozy study in Charlotte Square, beside
the little figure in its chair—outwardly capable of so little, yet
endowed with both the power and will to do so much. Doing it so
generously, too, and withal so delicately, that the most sensitive went
away with their pride unwounded, and the most hardened and irreligious
were softened by it into thankfulness to One higher than their earthly
benefactor, who was only the medium through whom the blessings came.
These were accidental offices, intermingled with the principal duty
which the earl had undertaken, and which he carried out with unremitting
diligence—the care of his old friend's children. He placed some at
school, and others at college; those who were already afloat in the
world he aided with money and influence—an earl's name was so very
influential, as, with an amused smile, he occasionally discovered.
But, busy as his new life was, he never forgot his old life and his old
friends. He turned a deaf ear to all persuasions to take up his
permanent abode, according as his rank and fortune warranted, in
Edinburg. He was not unhappy there—he had plenty to do and to
enjoy; but his heart was in quiet Cairnforth. Several times,
troublesome, and even painful as the act of penmanship was to him, he
sent a few lines to the Manse. But it happened to be a very severe
winter, which made postal communication difficult. Besides, in those
days people neither wrote nor expected letters very often. During the
three months that Lord Cairnforth remained in Edinburg he only received
two epistles from Mr. Cardross, and those were in prolix and Johnsonian
style, on literary topics, and concerning the great and learned, with
whom the poor learned country minister had all his life longed to mix,
and had never been able.
Helen, who had scarcely penned a dozen letters in her life, wrote to him
once only, in reply to one of his, telling him she was doing every
thing as she thought he would best like; that Captain Bruce had assisted
her and her father in many ways, so far as his health allowed, but he
was very delicate still, and talked of going abroad, to the south of
France probably, as soon as possible. The captain himself never wrote
one single line.
At first the earl was a little surprised at this: however, it was not
his habit easily to take offense at his friends. He was quite without
that morbid self-esteem which is always imagining affronts or injuries.
If people liked him, he was glad; if they showed it, he believed them,
and rested in their affection with the simple faith of a child. But if
they seemed to neglect him, he still was ready to conclude the slight
was accidental, and he rarely grieved over it. Mere acquaintances had
not the power to touch his heart. And this gentle heart which, liking
many, loved but few, none whom he loved ever could really offend. He
"Grappled them to his soul with hooks of steel,"
And believed in them to the last extremity of faith that was possible.
So, whether Captain Bruce came under the latter category or the former,
his conduct was passed over, waiting for future explanation when Lord
Cairnforth returned home, as now, every day, he was wearying to do.
"But I will be back again in pleasant Edinburg next winter," said he to
one of his new friends, who had helped to make his stay pleasant, and
was sorely regretting his departure. "And I shall bring with me some
very old friends of mine, who will enjoy it as much as I shall myself."
And he planned, and even made preliminary arrangements for a house to be
taken, and an establishment formed, where the minister, Helen, and,
indeed, all the Cardross family, if they chose, might find a hospitable
home for the ensuing winter season.
"And how they will like it!" said he, in talking it over with Malcolm
one day. "How the minister will bury himself in old libraries, and Miss
Cardross will admire the grand shops and the beautiful views. And how
the boys will go skating on Dunsappi Loch, and golfing over Bruntsfield
Links. Oh, we'll make them all so happy!" added he, with pleasure
shining in those contented eyes, which drew half their light from the
joy that they saw, and caused to shine in the eyes around him.
It was after many days of fatiguing travel that Lord Cairnforth reached
the ferry opposite Cairnforth.
There the Castle stood, just as he had left it, its white front gleaming
against the black woods, then yellow and brown with autumn, but now only
black, or with a faint amber shadow running through them, preparatory to
the green of spring. Between lay the beautiful loch, looking ten times
more beautiful than ever to eyes which had not seen it for many long
months. How it danced and dimpled, as it had done before the squall in
which the earl's father was drowned, and as it would do many a time
again, after the fashion of these lovely, deceitful lochs, and of many
other things in this world.
"Oh, Malcolm, it's good to be at home!" said the earl, as he gazed
fondly at his white castle walls, at the ivy-covered kirk, and the gable
end of the Manse. He had been happy in Edinburg, but it was far sweeter
to come to the dear old friends that loved him. He seemed as if he had
never before felt how dear they were, and how indispensable to his
"You are quite sure, Malcolm, that nobody knows we are coming? I wished
to go down at once to the Manse, and surprise them all."
'Ye'll easy do that, my lord, for there's naebody in sight but Sandy the
ferryman, wha little kens it's the earl himsel he's kepit waiting sae
"And how's a' wi' ye, Sandy?" said Lord Cairnforth, cheerily, when the
old man was rowing him across. "All well at home—at the Castle, the
Manse, and the clachan"?
"Ou ay, my lord. Except maybe the minister. He's no weel. He's
missing Miss Helen sair."
"Missing Miss Helen!" echoed the earl, turning pale.
"Ay, my lord. She gaed awa—it's just twa days sin syne. She was
sair vexed to leave Cairnforth and the minister."
"Leave her father?"
"A man maun leave father and mither, and cleave unto his wife—the
scripture says it. And a woman maun just do the like for her man, ye
ken. Miss Helen's awa to France, or some sic place, wi' her husband,
The earl was sitting in the stern of the ferry-boat alone, no one being
near him but Sandy, and Malcolm, who had taken the second oar. To old
Sandy's communication he replied not a word—asked not a single
question more—and was lifted out at the end of the five-minutes'
passage just as usual. But the two men, though they also said nothing,
remembered the expression of his face to their dying day.
"Take me home, Malcolm; I will go to the Manse another time. Carry me
in your arms—the quickest way."
Malcolm lifted his master, and carried him, just as in the days when the
earl was a child, through the pleasant woods of Cairnforth, up to the
Nobody had expected them, and there was nothing ready.
"It's no matter—no matter," feebly said the earl, and allowed
himself to be placed in an arm-chair by the fire in the housekeeper's
room. There he sat passive.
"Will I bring the minister?" whispered Malcolm, respectfully. "Maybe
ye wad like to see him, my lord."
"His lordship's no weel please," said the housekeeper to Mrs. Campbell,
when the earl leant his head back, and seemed to be sleeping. "Is it
about the captain's marriage: Did he no ken?"
"Ne'er a word o't"
"That was great lack o'respect on the part o' Captain Bruce, and he sic
a pleasant young man; and Helen, too. Miss Helen tauld me her ain sel
that the earl was greatly set upon her marriage, for the captain gaed to
Edinburg just to tell him o't. And he wrote her word that his lordship
wished him no to bide a single day, but to marry Miss Helen and tak her
awa'. She'd never hae done it, in my opinion, but for that. For the
captain was at her ilka day an a' day lang, looking like a ghaist, and
telling' her he couldna live without her—she's a tender heart, Miss
Helen—and she was sae awfu' vexed for him, ye ken. For, sure,
Malcolm, the captain did seem almost like deein'."
"Deein'!" cried Malcolm, contemptuously, and then stopped. For while
they were talking the earl's eyes had open wide, and fixed with a
strange, sad, terrified look upon vacancy.
He remembered it all now—the last night he had spent at Cairnforth
with his cousin—the conversation which passed between them—the
questions asked, which, from his not answering, might have enabled the
captain to guess at the probable disposal of his property. He could
come to no other conclusion than that Captain Bruce had married Helen
with the same motive which must have induced his appearance at the
castle, and his eager and successful efforts to ingratiate himself there
—namely, money; that the fortune which he had himself missed might
accrue to him through his union with Lord Cairnforth's heiress.
How had he possibly accomplished this? How had he succeeded in making
good, innocent, simple Helen love him? For that she would never have
married without love the earl well knew. By what persuasions,
entreaties, or lies—the housekeeper's story involved some evident
lies—he had attained his end, remained, and must ever remain, among
the mysteries of the many mysterious marriages which take place every
And it was all over. She was married, and gone away. Doubtless the
captain had taken his precautions to prevent any possible hinderance.
That it was a safe marriage legally, even though so little was known of
the bridegroom's antecedent life, seemed more than probable—certain,
seeing that the chief object he would have in this marriage was its
legality, to assure himself thereby of the property which should fall to
Helen in the event of the earl's decease. That he loved Helen for
herself, or was capable of loving her or any woman in the one noble,
true way, the largest limit of charitable interpretation could hardly
Still, she had loved him—she must have done so—with that strange,
sudden idealization of love which sometimes seizes upon a woman who has
reached—more than reached—mature womanhood, and never
experienced the passion. And she had married him, and gone away with
him—left, for his sake, father, brothers, friends—her one
special friend, who was now nothing to her—nothing!
Whatever emotions the earl felt—and it would be almost sacrilegious
to intrude upon them, or to venture on any idle speculation concerning
them—one thing was clear; in losing Helen, the light of his eyes,
the delight of his life was gone.
He sat in his chair quite still, as indeed he always was, but now it was
a deathlike quietness, without the least sign of the wonderful mobility
of feature and cheerfulness of voice and manner which made people so
soon grow used to his infirmity—sat until his room was prepared.
Then he suffered himself to be carried to his bed, which, for the first
time in his life, he refused to leave for several days.
Not that he was ill—he declined any medical help, and declared that
he was only "weary, weary"—at which, after his long journey, no one
was surprised. He refused to see any body, even Mr. Cardross, and would
suffer no one beside him but his old nurse, Mrs. Campbell, whom he
seemed to cling to as when he was a little child. For hours she sat by
his bed, watching him, but scarcely speaking a word; and for hours he
lay, his eyes wide open, but with that blank expression in them which
Mrs. Campbell had first noticed when he sat by the housekeeper's fire.
"My bairn! My bairn!" was all she said—for she loved him. And,
somehow, her love comforted him. "Ye maun live, ye maun live. Maybe
they'll need ye yet," sobbed she, without explaining—perhaps without
knowing—who "they" meant. But she knew enough of her "bairn" to
know that if any thing would rouse him it was the thought of other folk.
"Do you think so, nurse? Do you think I can be of any good to any
creature in this world?"
"Ay, ye can, ye can, my lord—ye'd be awfully missed gin ye were to
"Then I'll no dee"—faintly smiling, and using the familiar speech of
his childhood. "Call Malcolm. I'll try to rise. And, nurse, if you
would have the carriage ordered—the pony carriage—I will drive
down to the Manse and see how Mr. Cardross is. He must be rather dull
without his daughter."
The earl did not—and it was long before he did—call her by name.
But after that day he always spoke of her as usual to every body; and
from that hour he rose from his bed, and went about his customary work
in his customary manner, taking up all his duties as if he had never
left them, and as if nothing had ever happened to disturb the even tenor
of his life—the strange, peaceful, and yet busy life led by the
solitary master of Cairnforth.
It happened that, both this day and the day following, Mr. Cardross was
absent on one of his customary house-to-house visitings in remote
corners of his parish. So the earl, before meeting Helen's father, had
time to hear from other sources all particulars about her marriage—
at least all that were known to the little world of Cairnforth.
The minister himself had scarcely more to communicate, except the fact,
of which he seemed perfectly certain, that her absence would not exceed
six months, when Captain Bruce had faithfully promised to come back and
live upon his half pay in the little peninsula. Otherwise Mr. Cardross
was confident his "dear lassie" would never have left her father for any
It was a marriage, externally, both natural and suitable; the young
couple being of equal age and circumstances, and withal tolerably well
acquainted with one another, for it appeared the captain had begun daily
visits to the Manse from the very day of Lord Cairnforth's departure.
"And he always spoke so warmly of you, expressed such gratitude toward
you, such admiration of you—I think it was that which won Helen's
heart. And when he did ask her to marry him, she would not accept him
for a good while, not till after he had seen you in Edinburg."
"Seen me in Edinburg!" repeated the earl, amazed, and then suddenly
stopped himself. It was necessary for Helen's sake, for every body's
sake, to be cautious over every word he said; to arrive at full
confirmation of his suspicions before he put into the poor father's
heart one doubt that Helen's marriage was not as happy or as honorable
as the minister evidently believed it to be.
"He told us you seemed so well," continued Mr. Cardross; "that you were
in the very whirl of Edinburg society, and delighted in it; that you
had said to him that nothing could be more to your mind than this
marriage, and that if it could be carried out without waiting for your
return, which was so very uncertain, you would be all the happier. Was
that not true?"
"No," said the earl.
"You wish she had waited till your return?"
The minister looked sorry; but still he evidently had not the slightest
suspicion that aught was amiss.
"You must forgive my girl," said he. "She meant no disrespect to her
dear old friend; but messages are so easily misconstrued. And then, you
see, a lover's impatience must be considered. We must excuse Captain
Bruce, I think. No wonder he was eager to get our Helen."
And the old man smiled rather sadly, and looked wistfully round the
Manse parlor, whence the familiar presence had gone, and yet seemed
lingering still—in her flower-stand, her little table, her
work-basket; for Mr. Cardross would not have a single article moved.
"She will like to see them all when she comes back again," said he.
"And you—were you quite satisfied with the marriage?" asked the
earl, making his question and the tone of it as commonplace and cautious
as he could.
"Why not? Helen loved him, and I loved Helen. Besides, my own married
life was so happy; God forbid I should grudge any happiness to my
children. I knew nothing but good of the lad; and you liked him too;
Helen told me you had specially charged her, if ever she had an
opportunity, to be kind to him."
Lord Cairnforth almost groaned.
"Captain Bruce declared you must have said it because you knew of his
attachment, which he had not had courage to express before, but had
rather appeared to slight her, to hide his real feelings, until he was
assured of your consent."
The earl listened, utterly struck dumb. The lies were so plausible, so
systematic, so ingeniously fitted together, that he could almost have
deluded himself into supposing them truth. No wonder, then, that they
had deluded simple Helen, and her even simpler and more unworldly
And now the cruel question presented itself, how far the father was to
The earl was, both by nature and circumstances, a reserved character;
that is, he did not believe in the duty of every body to tell out every
thing. Helen often argued with him, and even laughed at him, for this;
but he only smiled silently, and held to his own opinion, taught by
experience. He knew well that her life—her free open, happy life,
was not like his life, and never could be. She had yet to learn that
bitter but salutary self-restraint, which, if it has to suffer, often
for others' sake as well as for its own, prefers to suffer alone.
But Lord Cairnforth had learned this to the full. Otherwise, as he sat
in the Manse parlor, listening patiently to Helen's father, and in the
newness and suddenness of her loss, and the strong delusion of his own
fond fancy, imagining every minute he heard her step on the stair and
her voice in the hall, he must have utterly broken down.
He did not do so. He maintained his righteous concealment, his noble
deceit—to the very last; spending the whole evening with Mr.
Cardross, and quitting him without having betrayed a word of what he
dreaded—what he was almost sure of.
Though the marriage might be, and no doubt was, a perfectly legal and
creditable marriage in the eye of the world, still, in the eyes of
honest men, it would be deemed altogether unworthy and unfortunate, and
he knew the minister would think it so. How could he tell the poor old
father, who had so generously given up his only daughter for the one
simple reason—sufficient reason for any righteous marriage—
"Helen loved him," that his new son-in-law was proved by proof
irresistible to be a deliberate liar, a selfish, scheming, mercenary
So, under this heavy responsibility, Lord Cairnforth decided to do what,
in minor matters, he had often noticed Helen do toward her gentle and
easily-wounded father—to lay upon him no burdens greater than he
could bear, but to bear them herself for him. And in this instance the
earl's only means of so doing, for the present at least, was by taking
refuge in that last haven of wounded love and cruel suffering—
The earl determined to maintain a silence unbroken as the grave
regarding all the past, and his own relations with Captain Bruce—
that is, until he saw the necessity for doing otherwise.
One thing, however, smote his heart with a sore pang, which, after a
week or so, he could not entirely conceal from Mr. Cardross. Had Helen
left him—him, her friend from childhood—no message, no letter?
Had her happy love so completely blotted out old ties that she could go
away without one word of farewell to him?
The minister thought not. He was sure she had written; she had said she
should, the night before her marriage, and he had heard her moving about
in her room, and even sobbing, he fancied, long after the house was gone
to rest. Nay, he felt sure he had seen her on her wedding morning give
a letter to Captain Bruce, saying "it was to be posted to Edinburg."
"Where, you know, we believed you then were, and would remain for some
time. Otherwise I am sure my child would have waited, that you might
have been present at her marriage. And to think you should have come
back the very next day! She will be so sorry!"
"Do you think so?" said the earl, sadly, and said no more.
But, on his return to the Castle, he saw lying on his study-table a
letter, in the round, firm, rather boyish hand, familiar to him as that
of his faithful amanuensis of many years.
"It's surely frae Miss Helen—Mrs. Bruce, that is," said Malcolm,
lifting it. "But folk in love are less mindfu' than ordinar. She's
directed it to Charlotte Square, Edinburg, and then carried it up to
London wi' hersel', and some other body, the captain, I think, has
redirected it to Cairnforth Castle."
"No remarks, Malcolm," interrupted the earl, with unwonted sharpness.
"Break the seal and lay the letter so that I can read it. Then you may
Bur, when his servant had gone, he closed his eyes in utter hopelessness
of dejection, for he saw how completely Helen had been deceived.
Her letter ran thus—her poor, innocent letter—dated ever so long
ago—indeed, the time when she had told her father she should write
—the night before her marriage-day:
"MY DEAR FRIEND,—I am very busy, but have striven hard to find an
hour in which to write to you, for I do not think people forget their
friends because they have gotten other people to be mindful of too. I
think a good and happy love only makes other loves feel closer and
dearer. I am sure I have been greeting (Old English: weeping) like a
bairn, twenty times a day, ever since I knew I was to be married,
whenever I called to mind you and my dear father. You will be very good
to him while I am away? But I need not ask you that. Six months, he
says—I mean Captain Bruce—will, according to the Edinburg
doctor's advice, set up his health entirely, if he travels about in a
warm climate; and, therefore, by June, your birthday, we are sure to be
back in dear old Cairnforth, to live there for the rest of our days, for
he declares he likes no other place half so well.
"I am right to go with him for these six months—am I not? But I
need not ask; you sent me word so yourself. He had nobody to take care
of him—nobody in the world but me. His sisters are gay, lively
girls, he says, and he has been so long abroad that they are almost
strangers. He tells me I might as well send him away to die at once,
unless I went with him as his wife. So I go.
"I hope he will come home quite strong and well, and able to begin
building our cottage on that wee bit of ground on the hill-side above
Cairnforth which you have promised to give to him. I am inexpressibly
happy about it. We shall all live so cheerily together—and meet
every day—the Castle, the Manse, and the Cottage. When I think of
that, and of my coming back, I am almost comforted for this sad going
away—leaving my dear father, and the boys, and you.
"Papa has been so good to me, you do not know. I shall never forget it
—nor will Ernest. Ernest thought he would stand in the way of our
marriage, but he did not. He said I must choose for myself, as he had
done when he married my dearest mother; that I had been a good girl to
him, and a good daughter would make a good wife; also that a good wife
would not cease to be a good daughter because she was married—
especially living close at hand, as we shall always live: Ernest has
"Thus, you see, nobody I love will lose me at all, nor shall I forget
them: I should hate myself if it were possible. I shall be none the
less a daughter to my father—none the less a friend to you. I will
never, never forget you, my dear!" (here the writing became blurred, as
if large drops had fallen on the paper while she wrote.) "It is twelve
o'clock, and I must bid you good-night—and God bless you ever and
ever! The last time I sign my dear old name (except once) is thus to
"Your faithful and loving friend,
Thus she had written, and thus he sat and read—these two, who had
been and were so dear to one another. Perhaps the good angels, who
watch over human lives and human destinies, might have looked with pity
As for Helen's father, and Helen herself too, if (as some severe judges
may say) they erred in suffering themselves to be thus easily deceived
—in believing a man upon little more than his own testimony, and in
loving him as bad men are sometimes loved, under a strong delusion, by
even good women, surely the errors of unworldliness, unselfishness, and
that large charity which "thinketh no evil" are not so common in this
world as to be quite unpardonable. Better, tenfold, to be sinned
against than sinning.
"Better trust all, and be deceived,
And weep that trust and that deceiving,
Than doubt one heart which, if believed,
Had bless'd one's life with true believing."
Lord Cairnforth did not think this at the time, but he learned to do so
afterward. He learned, when time brought round its divine amende,
neither to reproach himself so bitterly, nor to blame others; and he
knew it was better to accept any sad earthly lot, any cruelty, deceit,
or wrong inflicted by others, than to have hardened his heart against
any living soul by acts of causeless suspicion or deliberate injustice.
Meanwhile, the marriage was accomplished. All that Helen's fondest
friend could do was to sit and watch the event of things, as the earl
determined to watch—silently, but with a vigilance that never slept.
Not passively neither. He took immediate steps, by means which his
large fortune and now wide connection easily enable him to employ, to
find out exactly the position of Helen's husband, both his present
circumstances, and, so far as was possible, his antecedents, at home or
abroad. For after the discovery of so many atrocious, deliberate lies,
every fact that Captain Bruce had stated concerning himself remained
open to doubt.
However, the lies were apparently that sort of falsehood which springs
from a brilliant imagination, a lax conscience, and a ready tongue—
prone to say whatever comes easiest and upper most. Also, because
probably following the not uncommon Jesuitical doctrine that the end
justifies the means, he had, for whatever reason he best knew,
determined to marry Helen Cardross, and took his own measures
The main facts of his self-told history turned out to be correct. He
was certainly the identical Ernest Henry Bruce, only surviving son of
Colonel Bruce, and had undoubtedly been in India, a captain in the
Company's service. His medals were veritable—won by creditable
bravery. No absolute moral turpitude could be discovered concerning him
—only a careless, reckless life; and utter indifference to debt; and
a convenient readiness to live upon other people's money rather than his
own—qualities not so rare, or so sharply judged in the world at
large, as they were likely to be by the little world of innocent, honest
And yet he was young—he had married a good wife—he might mend.
At present, plain and indisputable, his character stood—
good-natured, kindly—perhaps not even unlovable—but destitute of
the very foundations of all that constitutes worth in a man—or woman
either—truthfulness, independence, honor, honesty. And he was
Helen's husband—Helen, the true and the good; the poor minister's
daughter, who had been brought up to think that it was better to starve
upon porridge and salt than to owe any one a halfpenny! What sort of a
marriage could it possibly turn out to be?
To this question, which Lord Cairnforth asked himself continually, in an
agony of doubt, no answer came—no clue whatsoever, though, from even
the first week, Helen's letters reached the Manse as regularly as clock
work. But they were merely outside letters—very sweet and loving
—telling her father every thing that could interest him about foreign
places, persons, and things; only of herself and her own feelings saying
almost nothing. It was unlikely she should: the earl laid this comfort
to his soul twenty times a day. She was married now; she could not be
expected to be frank as in her girlhood; still, this total silence, so
unnatural to her candid disposition, alarmed him.
But there was no resource—no help. Into that secret chamber which
her own hand thus barred, no other hand could presume to break. No one
could say—ought to say to a wife, "Your husband is a scoundrel."
And besides, (to this hope Lord Cairnforth clung with a desperation
heroic as bitter), Captain Bruce might not be an irredeemable scoundrel;
and he might—there was still a chance—have married Helen not
altogether from interested motives. She was so lovable that he might
have loved her, or have grown to love her, even though he had slighted
her at first.
"He must have loved her—he could not help it," groaned the earl,
inwardly, when the minister and others stabbed him from time to time
with little episodes of the courting days—the captain's devotedness
to Helen, and Helen's surprised, fond delight at being so much "made of"
by the first lover who had ever wooed her, and a lover whom externally
any girl would have been proud of. And then the agonized cry of another
faithful heart went up to heaven—"God grant he may love her; that
she may be happy—anyhow—any where!"
But all this while, with the almost morbid prevision of his character,
Lord Cairnforth took every precaution that Helen should be guarded, as
much as was possible, in case there should befall her that terrible
calamity, the worst that can happen to a woman—of being compelled to
treat the husband and father, the natural protector, helper, and guide
of herself and her children, as not only her own, but their natural
The earl did not cancel Helen's name from his will; he let every thing
stand as before her marriage; but he took the most sedulous care to
secure her fortune unalienably to herself and her offspring. This,
because, if Captain Bruce were honest, such precaution could not affect
him in the least: man and wife are one flesh—settlements were a mere
form, which love would only smile at, and at which any honorable man
must be rather glad of than otherwise. But if her husband were
dishonorable, Helen was made safe, so far as worldly matters went—
safe, except for the grief from which, alas! no human friend can protect
another—a broken heart!
Was her heart broken or breaking?
The earl could not tell nor even guess. She left them at home not a
loophole whereby to form a conjecture. Her letters came regularly, from
January until May, dated from all sorts of German towns, chiefly
gambling towns; but the innocent dwellers at Cairnforth (save the earl)
did not know this fact. They were sweet, fond letters as ever—
mindful, with a pathetic minuteness, of every body and every thing at
the dear old home; but not a complaint was breathed—not a murmur of
regret concerning her marriage. She wrote very little of her husband;
gradually, Lord Cairnforth fancied, less and less. They had not been to
the south of France, as was ordered by the physicians, and intended. He
preferred, she said, these German town, where he met his own family—
his father and sisters. Of these, as even the minister himself at
length noticed with surprise, Helen gave no description, favorable or
otherwise; indeed, did not say of her husband's kindred, beyond the bare
fact that she was living with them, one single word.
Eagerly the earl scanned her letters—those long letters, which Mr.
Cardross brought up immediately to the Castle and then circulated their
contents round the whole parish with the utmost glee and pride; for the
whole parish was in its turn dying to hear news of "Miss Helen." Still,
nothing could be discovered of her real life and feelings. And at last
her friend's fever of uneasiness calmed down a little; he contented
himself with still keeping a constant watch over all her movements—
speaking to no one, trusting no one, except so far as he was obliged to
trust the old clerk who was once sent down by Mr. Menteith, and who had
now come to end his days at Cairnforth, in the position of the earl's
private secretary—as faithful and fond as a dog, and as safely
So wore the time away, as it wears on with all of us, through joy and
sorrow, absence or presence, with cheerful fullness or aching emptiness
of heart. It brought spring back, and summer—the sunshine to the
hills, and the leaves, and flowers, and birds to the woods; it brought
the earl's birthday—kept festively as ever by his people, who loved
him better every year; but it did not bring Helen home to Cairnforth.
Life, when we calmly analyze it, is made up to us all alike of three
simple elements—joy, sorrow, and work. Some of us get tolerably
equal proportions of each of these; some unequal—or we fancy so; but
in reality, as the ancient sage says truly, "the same things come alike
The Earl of Cairnforth, in his imperfect fragment of a life, had had
little enough of enjoyment; but he knew how to endure better than most
people. He had, however, still to learn that existence is not wholly
endurance; that a complete human life must have in it not only
submission but resistance; the fighting against evil and in defense of
good; the struggle with divine help to overcome evil with good; and
finally the determination not to sit down tamely to misery but to strive
after happiness—lawful happiness, both for ourselves and others. In
short, not only passively to accept joy or grief, but to take means to
secure the one and escape the other; to "work out our own salvation" for
each day, as we are told to do it for an eternity, though with the same
divine limitation—humbling to all pride, and yet encouraging to
ceaseless effort—"for it is God that worketh in us both to will and
to do of His good pleasure."
That self-absorption of loss, which follows all great anguish; that
shrinking up unto one's self, which is the first and most natural
instinct of a creature smitten with a sorrow not unmingled with cruel
wrong, is, with most high natures, only temporary. By-and-by comes the
merciful touch which says to the lame, "Arise and walk;" to the sick,
"Take up thy bed and go into thine house." And the whisper of peace is,
almost invariably, a whisper of labor and effort: there is not only
something to be suffered, but something to be done.
With the earl this state was longer in coming, because the prior
collapse did not come to him at once. The excitement of perpetual
expectation—the preparing for some catastrophe, which he felt sure
was to follow, and the incessant labor entailed by his wide enquiries,
in which he had no confidant but Mr. Mearns, the clerk, and him he
trusted as little as possible, lest any suspicion or disgrace should
fall upon Helen's husband—all this kept him in a state of unnatural
activity and strength.
But when the need for action died away; when Helen's letters betrayed
nothing; and when, though she did not return, and while expressing most
bitter regret, yet gave sufficiently valid reasons for not returning in
her husband's still delicate health—after June, Lord Cairnforth fell
into a condition, less of physical than mental sickness, which lasted a
long time, and was very painful to himself, as well as to those that
loved him. He was not ill, but his usual amount of strength—so
small always—became much reduced; neither was he exactly irritable
—his sweet temper never could sink into irritability; but he was, as
Malcolm expressed it, "dour," difficult to please; easily fretted about
trifles; inclined to take sad and cynical views of things.
This might have been increased by certain discoveries, which, during the
summer, when he came to look into his affairs, Lord Cairnforth made. He
found that money which he had entrusted to Captain Bruce for various
purposes had been appropriated, or misappropriated, in different ways
—conduct scarcely exposing the young man to legal investigation, and
capable of being explained away as "carelessness"—"unpunctuality in
money matters"—and so on, but conduct of which no strictly upright,
honorable person would ever have been guilty. This fact accounted for
another—the captain's having expressed ardent gratitude for a sum
which he said the earl had given him for his journey and marriage
expenses, which, though Mr. Cardross's independent spirit rather
revolted from the gift, at least satisfied him about Helen's comfort
during her temporary absence. And once more, for Helen's sake, the earl
kept silence. But he felt as if every good and tender impulse of his
nature were hardening into stone.
Hardened at the core Lord Cairnforth could never be; no man can whose
heart has once admitted into its deepest sanctuary the love of One who,
when all human loves fail, still whispers, "We will come in unto him,
and make our abode with him"—ay, be it the forlornest bodily
tabernacle in which immortal soul ever dwelt. But there came an outer
crust of hardness over his nature which was years before it quite melted
away. Common observers might not perceive it—Mr. Cardross even did
not; still it was there.
The thing was inevitable. Right or wrong, deservedly or undeservedly,
most of us have at different crises of our lives known this feeling—
the bitter sense of being wronged; of having opened one's heart to the
sunshine, and had it all blighted and blackened with frost; of having
laid one's self down in a passion of devotedness for beloved feet to
walk upon, and been trampled upon, and beaten down to the dust. And as
months slipped by, and there came no Helen, this feeling, even against
his will and his conscience, grew very much upon Lord Cairnforth. In
time it might have changed him to a bitter, suspicious, disappointed
cynic, had there not also come to him, with strong conviction, one truth
—a truth preached on the shores of Galilee eighteen hundred years ago
—the only truth that can save the wronged heart from breaking—
that he who gives away only a cup of cold water shall in no wise lose
his reward. Still, the reward is not temporal, and is rarely rewarded
in kind. He—and He alone—to whom the debt is due, repays it;
not in our, but in his own way. One only consolation remains to the
sufferers from ingratitude, but that one is all-sufficing: "Inasmuch as
ye have done it unto the least of these little ones, ye have done it
All autumn, winter, and during another spring and summer, Helen's
letters—most fond, regular, and (to her father) satisfactory—
contained incessant and eager hopes of return, which were never
fulfilled. And gradually she ceased to give any reason for their
non-fulfillment, simply saying, with a sad brevity of silence, which
one, at least, of her friends knew how to comprehend and appreciate,
that her coming home at present was "impossible."
"It's very true," said the good minister, disappointed as he was: "a man
must cleave to his wife, and a woman to her husband. I suppose the
captain finds himself better in warm countries—he always said so.
My bairn will come back when she can—I know she will. And the boys
are very good—specially Duncan."
For Mr. Cardross had now, he thought, discovered germs of ability in his
youngest boy, and was concentrating all his powers in educating him for
college and the ministry. This, and his growing absorption in his
books, reconciled him more than might have been expected to his
daughter's absence; or else the inevitable necessity of things, which,
as we advance in years, becomes so strange and consoling an influence
over us, was working slowly upon the good old minister. He did not seem
heart-broken or even heart-wounded—he did his parish work with
unfailing diligence; but as, Sunday after Sunday, he passed from the
Manse garden through the kirk-yard, where, green and moss-covered now,
was the one white stone which bore the name of "Helen Lindsay, wife of
the Reverend Alexander Cardross," he was often seen to glance at it less
sorrowfully than smilingly. Year by year, the world and its cares were
lessening and slipping away from him, as they had long since slipped
from her who once shared them all. She now waited for him in that
eternal reunion which the marriage union teaches, as perhaps none other
can, to realize as a living fact and natural necessity.
But it was different with the earl. Sometimes, in an agony of
bitterness, he caught himself blaming her—Helen—whom her old
father never blamed; wondering how much she had found out of her
husband's conduct and character; speculating whether it was possible to
touch pitch and not be defiled; and whether the wife of Captain Bruce
had become in any way different from, and inferior to, innocent Helen
Lord Cairnforth had never answered her letter—he could not, without
being a complete hypocrite; and she had not written again. He did not
expect it—scarcely wished it—and yet the blank was sore. More
and more he withdrew from all but necessary associations, shutting
himself up in the Castle for weeks together—neither reading, nor
talking much to any one, but sitting quite still—he always sat quite
still—by the fireside in his little chair. He felt creeping over him
that deadness to external things which makes pain itself seem
comparatively almost sweet. Once he was heard to say, looking wistfully
at Mrs. Campbell, who had been telling him with many tears, of a "freend
o' hers" who had just died down at the clachan, "Nurse, I wish I could
greet like you."
The first thing which broke up in his heart this bitter, blighting frost
was, as so often happens, the sharp-edged blow of a new trouble.
He had not been at the Manse for two or three weeks, and had not even
heard of the family for several days, when, looking up from his seat in
church, he was startled by the apparition of an unfamiliar face in the
pulpit—a voluble, flowery-tongued, foolish young assistant,
evidently caught haphazard to fill the place which Mr. Cardross, during
a long term of years, had never vacated, except at communion seasons.
It gave his faithful friend and pupil a sensation almost of pain to see
any new figure there, and not the dear old minister's, with his long
white hair, his earnest manner, and his simple, short sermon. Shorter
and simpler the older he grew, till he often declared he should end by
preaching like the beloved apostle John, who, tradition says, in his
latter days, did nothing but repeat, over and over again, to all around
him, his one exhortation—he, the disciple whom Jesus loved—
"Little children, love one another."
On inquiry after service, the earl found that Mr. Cardross had been
ailing all week, and had had on Saturday to procure in haste this
substitute. But, on going to the Manse, the earl found him much as
usual, only complaining of a numbness in his arm.
"And," he said, with a composure very different from his usual
nervousness about the slightest ailment, "Now I remember, my mother died
of paralysis. I wish Helen would come home."
"Shall she be sent for?" suggested Lord Cairnforth.
"Oh no—not the least necessity. Besides, she says she is coming."
"She has long said that."
"But now she is determined to make the strongest effort to be with us at
the New Year. Read her letter—it came yesterday; a week later than
usual. I should have sent it up to the Castle, for it troubled me a
little, especially the postscript; can you make it out? part of it is
under the seal. It is in answer to what I told her of Duncan; he was
always her pet, you know. How she used to carry him about the garden,
even when he grew quite a big boy! Poor Helen!"
While the minister went on talking, feebly and wanderingly, in a way
that at another time would have struck the earl as something new and
rather alarming, Lord Cairnforth eagerly read the letter. It ended
"Tell Dunnie I am awfully glad he is to be a minister. I hope all my
brothers will settle down in dear old Scotland, work hard, and pay their
way like honest men. And bid them, as soon as ever they can, to marry
honest women—good, loving Scotch lassies—no fremd (archaic:
strange, foreign) folk. Tell them never to fear for 'poortith cauld,'
as Mr. Burns wrote about; it's easy to bear, when it's honest poverty.
I would rather see my five brothers living on porridge and milk—
wives, and weans, and all—than see them like these foreigners,
counts, barons, and princes though they be. Father, I hate them all.
And I mind always the way I was brought up, and that I was once a
minister's daughter in dear and bonnie Cairnforth."
"What can she mean by that?" said Mr. Cardross, watching anxiously the
earl's countenance as he read.
I suppose, what Helen always means, exactly what she says."
"That is true. You know we used always to say Helen could hold her
tongue, though it wasn't easy to her, the dear lassie; but she could not
say what was not the fact, nor even give the impression of it.
Therefore, if she were unhappy, she would have told me?"
This was meant as a question, but it gained no answer.
"Surely," entreated the father, anxiously, "surely you do not think the
lassie is unhappy?"
"This is not a very happy world," said the earl, sadly. "But I do
believe that if any thing had been seriously wrong with her Helen would
have told us."
He spoke his real belief. But he did not speak of a dread far deeper,
which had sometimes occurred to him, but which that sad and even bitter
postscript now removed, that circumstances could change character, and
that Helen Cardross and Helen Bruce were two different women.
As he went home, having arranged to come daily every forenoon to sit
with the minister, and to read a little Greek with Duncan, lest the
lad's studies should be interrupted, he decided that, in her father's
state, which appeared to him the more serious the longer he considered
it, it was right Helen should come home, and somebody, not Mr. Cardross,
ought to urge it upon her. He determined to do this himself. And, lest
means should be wanting—though of this he had no reason to fear, his
information from all quarters having always been that the Bruce family
lived more than well—luxuriously—he resolved to offer a gift
with which he had not before dared to think of insulting independent
With difficulty and pains, not intrusting this secret to even his
faithful secretary, he himself wrote a few lines, in his own feeble,
shaky hand, telling her exactly how things were; suggesting her coming
home, and inclosing wherewithal to do it, from "her affectionate old
friend and cousin," from whom she need not hesitate to accept any thing.
But though he carefully, after long consideration, signed himself her
"cousin," he did not once name Captain Bruce. He could not.
This done, he waited day after day, till every chance of Helen's not
having had time to reply was long over, and still no answer came. That
the letter had been received was more than probable, almost certain.
Every possible interpretation that common sense allowed Lord Cairnforth
gave to her silence, and all failed. Then he let the question rest. To
distrust her, Helen, his one pure image of perfection, was impossible.
He felt it would have killed him—not his outer life, perhaps, but
the life of his heart, his belief in human goodness.
So he still waited, nor judged her either as daughter or friend, but
contented himself with doing her apparently neglected duty for her—
making himself an elder brother to Duncan, and a son to the minister,
and never missing a day without spending some hours at the Manse.
For almost the first time since her departure, Helen's regular monthly
letter did not arrive, and the earl grew seriously alarmed. In the
utmost perplexity, he was resolving in his own mind what next step to
take—how, and how much he ought to tell of his anxieties to her
father—when all difficulties were solved in the sharpest and yet
easiest way by a letter from Helen herself—a letter so unlike
Helen's, so un-neat, blurred, and blotted, that at first he did not even
recognize it as hers.
"To the Right Honorable the Earl of Cairnforth:
"My Lord,—I have only just found your letter. The money inclosed
was not there. I conclude it had been used for our journey hither; but
it is gone, and I can not come to my dearest father. My husband is very
ill, and my little baby only three weeks old. Tell my father this, and
send me news of him soon. Help me, for I am almost beside myself with
"—— Street, Edinburg."
Edinburg! Then she was come home!
The earl had opened and read the letter with his secretary sitting by
him. Yet, dull and not prone to notice things as the old man was, he
was struck by an unusual tone of something very like exultation in his
master's voice as he said,
"Mr. Mearns, call Malcolm to me; I must start for Edinburg immediately."
In the interval Lord Cairnforth thought rapidly over what was best to be
done. To go at once to Helen, whatever her misery was, appeared to him
beyond question. To take Mr. Cardross in his present state, or the lad
Duncan, was not desirable: some people, good as they may be, are not the
sort of people to be trusted in calamity. And Helen's other brothers
were out and away in the world, scattered all over Scotland, earning,
diligently and hardly, their daily bread.
There was evidently not a soul to go to her help except himself. Her
brief and formal letter, breaking down into that piteous cry of "help
me," seemed to come out of the very depths of despair. It pierced to
the core of Lord Cairnforth's heart; and yet—and yet—he felt
that strange sense of exultation and delight.
Even Malcolm noticed this.
"Your lordship has gotten gude news," said he. "Is it about Miss Helen?
She's coming home?"
"Yes. We must start for Edinburg at once, and we'll bring her back with
us." He forgot for the moment the sick husband, the newborn baby—
every thing but Helen herself and her being close at hand. "It's only
forty-eight hours journey to Edinburg now. We will travel post; I am
strong enough, Malcolm; set about it quickly, for it must be done."
Malcolm knew his master too well to remonstrate. In truth, the whole
household was so bewildered by this sudden exploit—for the wheels of
life moved slowly enough ordinarily at Cairnforth—that before any
body was quite aware what had happened, the earl and his two necessary
attendants, Malcolm and Mr. Mearns—also Mrs. Campbell—Helen
might want a woman with her—were traveling across country as fast as
the only fast traveling of that era—relays of post-horses day and
night—could carry them.
Lord Cairnforth, after much thought, left Helen's letter behind with
Duncan Cardross, charging him to break the tidings gradually to the
minister, and tell him that he himself was then traveling to Edinburg
with all the speed that, in those days, money, and money alone, could
procure. Oh, how he felt the blessing of riches! Now, whatever her
circumstances were, or might have been once, misery, poverty, could
never afflict Helen more. He was quite determined that from the time he
brought them home, his cousin and his cousin's wife should inhabit
Cairnforth Castle; that, whether Captain Bruce's life proved to be long
or short, worthy or unworthy, he should be borne with, and forgiven
every thing—for Helen's sake.
All the journey—sleeping or waking, day or night—Lord Cairnforth
arranged or dreamed over his plans, until at ten o'clock the second
night he found himself driving along the familiar Princes Street, with
the grim Castle rock standing dark against the moonlight; while beyond,
on the opposite side of what was then a morass, but is now railways and
gardens, rose tier upon tier, like a fairy palace, the glittering lights
of the old town of Edinburg.
The earl reached Edinburg late at night. Mrs. Campbell entreated him to
go to bed, and not seek out the street where the Bruces lived till
"For I ken the place weel," said she, when she heard Lord Cairnforth
inquiring for the address Helen had given. "It's ane o' thae high lands
in the New Town—a grand flat wi' a fine ha' door—and then ye
gang up an' up, till at the top flat ye find a bit nest like a bird's
—and the folk living there are as ill off as a bird in winter-time."
The earl, weary as he had been, raised his head at this, and spoke
"Tell Malcolm to fetch a coach. I will go there tonight."
"Eh! Couldna ye bide till the morn? Ye'll just kill yourself,' my
lamb," cried the affectionate woman, forgetting all her respect in her
affection; but Lord Cairnforth understood it, and replied in the good
old Scotch, which he always kept to warm his nurse's heart,
"Na, na, I'll no dee yet. Keep your heart content; we'll all soon be
safe back at Cairnforth."
It seemed, in truth, as if an almost miraculous amount of endurance and
energy had been given to that frail body for this hour of need. The
earl's dark eyes were gleaming with light, and every tone of his voice
was proud and manly, as the strong, manly soul, counteracting all
physical infirmities, rose up for the protection for the one creature in
all the world who to him had been most dear.
"You'll order apartments in the hotel, nurse. See that every thing is
right and comfortable for Mrs. Bruce. I shall bring them back at once,
if I can," was his last word as he drove off, alone with Malcolm: he
wished to have no one with him who could possibly be done without.
It was nearly midnight when they stood at the foot of the high stair—
six stories high—and Captain Bruce, they learned, was inhabiting the
topmost flat. Malcolm looked at the earl uneasily.
"The top flat! Miss Helen canna be vera well aff, I doubt. Will I gang
up and see, my lord"?
"No, I will go myself. Carry me, Malcolm."
And, in the old childish way, the big Highlander lifted his master up in
his arms, and carried him, flight after flight, to the summit of the
long dark stair. It narrowed up to a small door, very mean and
shabby-looking, from the keyhole of which, when Malcolm hid his lantern,
a light was seen to gleam.
"They're no awa' to their beds yet, my lord. Will I knock?"
Lord Cairnforth had no time to reply, if indeed he could have replied;
for Malcolm's footsteps had been heard from within, and opening the door
with an eager "Is that you, doctor?" there stood before them, in her
very own likeness, Helen Cardross.
At least a woman like enough to the former Helen to leave no doubt it
was herself. But a casual acquaintance would never have recognized her.
The face, once so round and rosy, was sharp and thin; the cheek-bones
stood out; the bright complexion was faded; the masses of flaxen curls
—her chief beauty—were all gone; and the thin hair was drawn up
close under a cap. Her dress, once the picture of neatness, was neat
still, but the figure had become gaunt and coarse, and the shabby gown
hung upon her in forlorn folds, as if put on carelessly by one who had
neither time nor thought to give to appearances.
She was evidently sitting up watching, and alone. The rooms which her
door opened to view were only two, this topmost flat having been divided
in half, and each half made into just "a but and a ben," and furnished
in the meanest fashion of lodgings to let.
"Is it the doctor?" she said again, shading her light and peering down
the dark stair.
She recognized at once the little figure in Malcolm's arms.
"You—you! And you have come to me—come your own self! Oh,
She leant against the doorway—not for weeping; she looked like one
who had wept till she could weep no more, but breathing hard in heavy
breaths, like sobs.
"Set me down, Malcolm, somewhere—any where. Then go outside."
Malcolm obeyed, finding a broken arm-chair and settling his master
therein. Then, as he himself afterward told the story, though not till
many years after, when nothing he told about that dear master's concerns
could signify any more, he "gaed awa' doun and grat like a bairn."
Lord Cairnforth sat silent, waiting till Helen had recovered herself—
Helen, whom, however changed, he would have known among a thousand. And
then, with his quick observation, he took in as much of her
circumstances as was betrayed by the aspect of the room, evidently
kitchen, dining-room, and bedroom in one; for at the far end, close to
the door that opened into the second apartment, which seemed a mere
closet, was one of those concealed beds so common in Scotland, and on it
lay a figure which occasionally stirred, moaned, or coughed, but very
feebly, and for the most part lay still—very still.
Its face, placed straight on the pillow—and as the fire blazed up,
the sharp profile being reflected in grotesque distinctness on the wall
behind—was a man's face, thin and ghastly, the skin tightly drawn
over the features, as is seen in the last stage of consumption.
Lord Cairnforth had never beheld death—not in any form. But he
felt, by instinct, that he was looking upon it now, or the near approach
to it, in the man who lay there, too rapidly passing into
unconsciousness even to notice his presence—Helen's husband, Captain
The dreadful fascination of the sight drew his attention even from Helen
herself. He sat gazing at his cousin, the man who had deceived and
wronged him, and not him only, but those dearer to him than himself
—-the man whom, a day or two ago, he had altogether hated and despised.
He dared do neither now. A heavier hand than that of mortal justice was
upon his enemy. Whatever Captain Bruce was, whatever he had been, he
was now being taken away from all human judgment into the immediate
presence of Him who is at once the Judge and the Pardoner of sinners.
Awe-struck, the earl sat and watched the young man (for he could not be
thirty yet), struck down thus in the prime of his days—carried away
into the other world—while he himself, with his frail, flickering
taper of a life, remained. Wherefore? At length, in a whisper, he
called "Helen!" and she came and knelt beside the earl's chair.
"He is fast going," said she.
"I see that."
"In an hour or two, the doctor said."
"Then I will stay, if I may?"
Helen said it quite passively; indeed, her whole appearance as she moved
about the room, and then took her seat by her husband's side, indicated
one who makes no effort either to express or to restrain grief—who
has, in truth, suffered till she can suffer no more.
The dying man was not so near death as the doctor had thought, for after
a little he fell into what seemed a natural sleep. Helen leant her head
against the wall and closed her eyes. But that instant was heard from
the inner room a cry, the like of which Lord Cairnforth had never heard
before—the sharp, waking cry of a very young infant.
In a moment Helen started up—her whole expression changed; and when,
after a short disappearance, she re-entered the room with her child, who
had dropped contentedly asleep again, nestling to her bosom, she was
perfectly transformed. No longer the plain, almost elderly woman; she
had in her poor worn face the look—which makes any face young, nay,
lovely—the mother's look. Fate had not been altogether cruel to
her; it had given her a child.
"Isn't he a bonnie bairn?" she whispered, as once again she knelt down
by Lord Cairnforth's chair, and brought the little face down so that he
could see it and touch it. He did touch it with his feeble fingers—
the small soft cheek—the first baby-cheek he had ever beheld.
"It is a bonnie bairn, as you say; God bless it!" which, as she
afterward told him, was the first blessing ever breathed over the child.
"What is its name:" he asked by-and-by, seeing she expected more notice
taken of it.
"Alexander Cardross—after my father. My son is a born Scotsman too
—an Edinburg laddie. We were coming home, as fast as we could, to
Cairnforth. He"—glancing toward the bed—"he wished it."
Thus much thought for her, the dying man had shown. He had been
unwilling to leave his wife forlorn in a strange land. He had come
"fast as he could," that her child might be born and her husband die at
Cairnforth—at least so the earl supposed, nor subsequently found any
reason to doubt. It was a good thing to hear then—good to remember
For hours the earl sat in the broken chair, with Helen and her baby
opposite, watching and waiting for the end.
It did not come till near morning. Once during the night Captain Bruce
opened his eyes and looked about him, but either his mind was confused,
or—who knows?—made clearer by the approach of death, for he
evinced no sign of surprise at the earl's presence in the room. He only
fixed upon him a long, searching, inquiring gaze, which seemed to compel
Lord Cairnforth spoke:
"Cousin, I am come to take home with me your wife and child. Are you
"I promise you they shall never want. I will take care of them always."
There was a faint assenting movement of the dying head, and then, just
as Helen went out of the room with her baby, Captain Bruce followed her
with his eyes, in which the earl thought was an expression almost
approaching tenderness. "Poor thing—poor thing! Her long trouble
These were the last words he ever said, for shortly afterward he again
fell into a sleep, out of which he passed quietly and without pain into
sleep eternal. They looked at him, and he was still breathing; they
looked at him a few minutes after, and he was, as Mr. Cardross would
have expressed it, "away"—far, far away—in His safe keeping with
whom abide the souls of both the righteous and the wicked, the living
and the dead.
Let Him judge him, for no one else ever did. No one ever spoke of him
but as their dead can only be spoken of either to or by the widow and
Without much difficulty—for, after her husband's death, Helen's
strength suddenly collapsed, and she became perfectly passive in the
earl's hands and in those of Mrs. Campbell—Lord Cairnforth learned
all he required about the circumstances of the Bruce family.
They were absolutely penniless. Helen's boy had been born only a day or
two after their arrival at Edinburg. Her husband's illness increased
suddenly at the last, but he had not been quite incapacitated till she
had gained a little strength, so as to be able to nurse him. But how
she had done it—how then and for many months past she had contrived
to keep body and soul together, to endure fatigue, privation, mental
anguish, and physical weakness, was, according to good Mrs. Campbell,
who heard and guessed a great deal more than she chose to tell, "just
wonderful'." It could only be accounted for by Helen's natural vigor of
constitution, and by that preternatural strength and courage which
Nature supplies to even the saddest form of motherhood.
And now her brief term of wifehood—she had yet not been married two
years—was over forever, and Helen Bruce was left a mother only. It
was easy to see that she would be one of those women who remain such—
mothers, and nothing but mothers, to the end of their days.
"She's ower young for me to say it o' her," observed Mrs. Campbell, in
one of the long consultations that she and the earl held together
concerning Helen, who was of necessity given over almost exclusively to
the good woman's charge; "but ye'll see, my lord, she will look nae mair
at any mortal man. She'll just spend her days in tending that wean o'
hers—and a sweet bit thing it is, ye ken—by-and-by she'll get
blithe and bonnie again. She'll be aye gentle and kind, and no dreary,
but she'll never marry. Puir Miss Helen! She'll be ane o' thae widows
that the apostle tells o'—that are 'widows indeed'."
And Mrs. Campbell, who herself was one of the number, heaved a sigh—
perhaps for Helen, perhaps for herself, and for one whose very name was
now forgotten; who had gone down to the bottom of Loch Beg when the
Earl's father was drowned, and never afterward been seen, living or
dead, by any mortal eye.
The earl gave no answer to his good nurse's gossip. He contented
himself with making all arrangements for poor Helen's comfort, and
taking care that she should be supplied with every luxury befitting not
alone Captain Bruce's wife and Mr. Cardross's daughter, but the "cousin"
of the Earl of Cairnforth. And now, whenever he spoke of her, it was
invariably and punctiliously as "my cousin."
The baby too—Mrs. Campbell's truly feminine soul was exalted to
infinte delight and pride at being employed by the earl to procure the
most magnificent stock of baby clothes that Edinburg could supply. No
young heir to a peerage could be appareled more splendidly than was,
within a few days, Helen's boy. He was the admiration of the whole
hotel; and when his mother made some weak resistance, she received a
gentle message to the effect that the Earl of Cairnforth begged, as a
special favor, to be allowed to do exactly as he liked with his little
And every morning, punctual to the hour, the earl had himself taken up
stairs into the infantile kingdom of which Mrs. Campbell was installed
once more as head nurse, where he would sit watching with an amused
curiosity, that was not without its pathos, the little creature so
lately come into the world—to him, unfamiliar with babies, such a
wondrous mystery. Alas! A mystery which it was his lot to behold—as
all the joys of life—from the outside.
But, though life's joys were forbidden him, its duties seemed to
accumulate daily. There was Mr. Cardross to be kept patient by the
assurance that all was well, and that presently his daughter and his
grandchild would be coming home. There was Alick Cardross, now a young
clerk in the office of Menteith & Ross, to be looked after, and kept
from agitating his sister by any questionings; and there was a tribe of
young Menteiths always needing assistance or advice—now and then
something more tangible than advice. Then there were the earl's
Edinburg friends, who thronged round him in hearty welcome as soon as
ever they heard he was again in the good old city, and would willingly
have drawn him back again into that brilliant society which he had
enjoyed so much.
He enjoyed it still—a little; and during the weeks that elapsed
before Helen was able to travel, or do any thing but lie still and be
taken care of, he found opportunity to mingle once more among his former
associates. But his heart was always in that quiet room which he only
entered once a day, where the newly-made widow sat with her orphan child
at her bosom, and waited for Time, the healer, to soothe and bind up the
At last the day arrived when the earl, with his little cortege of two
carriages, one his own, and the other containing Helen, her baby, and
Mrs. Campbell, quitted Edinburg, and, traveling leisurely, neared the
shores of Loch Beg. They did not come by the ferry, Lord Cairnforth
having given orders to drive round the head of the loch, as the easiest
and most unobtrusive way of bringing Helen home. Much he wondered how
she bore it—the sight of the familiar hills—exactly the same—
for it was the same time of year, almost the very day, when she had left
Cairnforth; but he could not inquire. At length, after much thought,
during the last stage of the journey, he bade Malcolm ask Mrs. Bruce if
she would leave her baby for a little and come into the earl's carriage,
which message she obeyed at once.
These few weeks of companionship, not constant, but still sufficiently
close, had brought them back very much into their old brother and sister
relation, and though nothing had been distinctly said about it, Helen
had accepted passively all the earl's generosity both for herself and
her child. Once or twice, when he had noticed a slight hesitation of
uneasiness in her manner, Lord Cairnforth had said, "I promised him, you
remember," and this had silenced her. Besides she was too utterly worn
out and broken down to resist any kindness. She seemed to open her
heart to it—Helen's proud, sensitive, independent heart—much as
a plant, long dried up, withered, and trampled upon, opens itself to the
sunshine and the dew.
But now her health, both of body and mind, had revived a little; and as
she sat opposite him in her grave, composed widowhood, even the disguise
of the black weeds could not take away a look that returned again and
again, reminding the earl of the Helen of his childhood—the bright,
sweet, wholesome-natured, high-spirited Helen Cardross.
"I asked you to come to me in the carriage," said he, after they had
spoken a while about ordinary things. "Before we reach home, I think we
ought to have a little talk upon some few matters which we have never
referred to as yet. Are you able for this?"
"Oh yes, but—I can't—I can't!" and a sudden expression of
trouble and fear darkened the widow's face. "Do not ask me any
questions about the past. It is all over now; it seems like a dream—
as if I had never been away from Cairnforth."
"Let it be so then, Helen, my dear," replied the earl, tenderly.
"Indeed, I never meant otherwise. It is far the best."
Thus, both at the time and ever after, he laid, and compelled others to
lay, the seal of silence upon those two sad years, the secrets of which
were buried in Captain Bruce's quiet grave in Grayfriars' church-yard.
"Helen," he continued, "I am not going to ask you a single question; I
am only going to tell you a few things, which you are to tell your
father at the first opportunity, so as to place you in a right position
toward him, and whatever his health may be, to relieve his mind entirely
both as to you and Boy."
"Boy" the little Alexander had already begun to be called. "Boy" par
excellence, for even at that early period of his existence he gave
tokens of being a most masculine character, with a resolute will of his
own, and a power of howling till he got his will which delighted Nurse
Campbell exceedingly. He was already a thorough Cardross—not in the
least a Bruce; he inherited Helen's great blue eyes, large frame, and
healthy temperament, and was, in short, that repetition of the mother in
the son which Dame Nature delights in, and out of which she sometimes
makes the finest and noblest men that the world ever sees.
"Boy has been wide awake these two hours, noticing every thing," said
his mother, with a mother's firm conviction that this rather imaginative
fact was the most interesting possible to every body. "He might have
known the loch quite well already, by the way he kept staring at it."
"He will know it well enough by-and by," said the earl, smiling. "You
are aware, Helen, that he and you are permanently coming home."
"To the Manse? yes! My dear father! he will keep us there during his
life time. Afterward we must take our chance, my boy and I."
"Not quite that. Are you not aware—I thought, from circumstances,
you must have guessed it long ago—that Cairnforth Castle, and my
whole property, will be yours sometime?"
"I will tell you no untruth, Lord Cairnforth. I was aware of it. That
is, he—I mean it was suspected that you had meant it once. I found
this out—don't ask me how—shortly after I was married; and I
determined, as the only chance of avoiding it—and several other
things—never to write to you again; never to take the least means of
bringing myself—us—back to your memory."
"I wished you to forget us, and all connected with us, and to choose
some one more worthy, more suitable, to inherit your property."
"But, Helen, that choice rested with myself alone," said the earl,
smiling. "Has not a man the right to do what he likes with his own?"
"Yes, but—oh," cried Helen, earnestly, "do not talk of this. It
caused me such misery once. Never let us speak of it again."
"I must speak of it," was the answer, equally earnest. "All my comfort
—I will not say happiness; we have both learned, Helen, not to count
too much upon happiness in this world—but all the peace of my future
life, be it short or long, depends upon my having my heart's desire in
this matter. It is my heart's desire, and no one shall forbid it. I
will carry out my intentions, whether you agree to them or not. I will
speak of them no more, if you do not wish it, but I shall certainly
perform them. And I think it would be far better if we could talk
matters out together, and arrange every thing plainly and openly before
you go home to the Manse, if you prefer the Manse, though I could have
wished it was to the Castle."
"To the Castle!"
"Yes. I intended to have brought you back from Edinburgh—all of
you," added the earl, with emphasis, "to the Castle for life!"
Helen was much affected. She made no attempt either to resist or to
"But now, my dear, you shall do exactly what you will about the home you
choose—exactly what makes you most content, and your father also.
Only listen to me just for five minutes, without interrupting me. I
never could bear to be interrupted, you know."
Helen faintly smiled, and Lord Cairnforth, in a brief, business-like
way, explained how, the day after his coming of age, he had
deliberately, and upon what he—and Mr. Menteith likewise—
considered just grounds, constituted her, Helen Cardross, as his sole
heiress; that he had never altered his will since, and therefore she now
was, and always would have been, and her children after her, rightful
successors to the Castle and broad acres of Cairnforth.
"The title lapses," he added: "there will be no more Earls of
Cairnforth. But your boy may be the founder of a new name and family,
that may live and rule for generations along the shores of our loch, and
perhaps keep even my poor name alive there for a little while."
Helen did not speak. Probably she too, with her clear common sense, saw
the wisdom of the thing. For as, as the earl said, he had a right to
choose his own heir—and as even the world would say, what better
heir could he choose than his next of kin—Captain Bruce's child?
What mother could resist such a prospect for her son? She sat, her
tears flowing, but still with a great light in her blue eyes, as if she
saw far away in the distance, far beyond all this sorrow and pain, the
happy future of her darling—her only child.
"Of course, Helen, I could pass you over, and leave all direct to that
young man of yours, who is, if I died intestate, my rightful heir. But
I will not—at least, not yet. Perhaps, if I live to see him of age,
I may think about making him take my name, as Bruce-Montgomerie. But
meanwhile I shall educate him, send him to school and college, and at
home he shall be put under Malcolm's care, and have ponies to ride and
boats to row. In short, Helen," concluded the earl, looking earnestly
in her face with that sad, fond, and yet peaceful expression he had, "I
mean your boy to do all that I could not do, and to be all that I ought
to have been. You are satisfied?"
"Yes—quite. I thank you. And I thank God."
A minute more, and the carriage stopped at the wicket-gate of the Manse
There stood the minister, with his white locks bared, and his whole
figure trembling with agitation, but still himself—stronger and
better than he had been for many months.
"Papa! papa!" And Helen, his own Helen, was in his arms.
"Drive on," said Lord Cairnforth, hurriedly; "Malcolm, we will go
straight to the Castle now."
And so, no one heeding him—they were too happy to notice any thing
beyond themselves—the earl passed on, with a strange smile, not of
this world at all, upon his quiet face, and returned to his own stately
and solitary home.
Good Mrs. Campbell had guessed truly that from this time forward Helen
Bruce would be only a mother. Either she was one of those women in whom
the maternal element predominates—who seem born to take care of
other people and rarely to be taken care of themselves—or else her
cruel experience of married life had forever blighted in her all wifely
emotions—even wifely regrets. She was grave, sad, silent, for many
months during her early term of widowhood, but she made no pretense of
extravagant sorrow, and, except under the rarest and most necessary
circumstances, she never even named her husband. Nothing did she betray
about him, or her personal relations with him, even to her nearest and
dearest friends. He had passed away, leaving no more enduring memory
than the tomb-stone which Lord Cairnforth had erected in Grayfriars'
—-Except his child, of whom it was the mother's undisguised delight
that, outwardly and inwardly, the little fellow appeared to be wholly a
Cardross. With his relatives on the father's side, after the one formal
letter which she had requested should be written to Colonel Bruce
announcing Captain Bruce's death, Helen evidently wished to keep up no
acquaintance whatever—nay, more than wished; she was determined it
should be so—with that quiet, resolute determination which was
sometimes seen in every feature of her strong Scotch face, once so
girlish, but it bore tokens of what she had gone through—of a battle
from which no woman ever comes out unwounded or unscarred.
But, as before said, she was a mother, and wholly a mother, which
blessed fact healed the young widow's heart better and sooner than any
thing else could have done. Besides, in her case, there was no
suspense, no conflict of duties—all her duties were done. Had they
lasted after her child's birth the struggle might have been too hard;
for mothers have responsibilities as well as wives, and when these
conflict, as they do sometimes, God help her who has to choose between
them! But Helen was saved this misfortune. Providence had taken her
destiny out of her own hands, and here she was, free as Helen Cardross
of old, in exactly the same position, and going through the same simple
round of daily cares and daily avocations which she had done as the
minister's active and helpful daughter.
For as nothing else but the minister's daughter would she, for the
present, be recognized at Cairnforth. Lord Cairnforth's intentions
toward herself or her son she insisted on keeping wholly secret, except,
of course, as regarded that dear and good father.
"I may die," she said to the earl—"die before yourself; and if my
boy grows up, you may not love him, or he may not deserve your love, in
which case you must choose another heir. No, you shall be bound in no
way externally; let all go on as heretofore. I will have it so."
And of all Lord Cairnforth's generosity she would accept of nothing for
herself except a small annual sum, which, with her widow's pension from
the East India Company, sufficed to make her independent of her father;
but she did not refuse kindness to her boy.
Never was there such a boy. "Boy" he was called from the first, never
"baby;" there was nothing of the baby about him. Before he was a year
old he ruled his mother, grandfather, and Uncle Duncan with a rod of
iron. Nay, the whole village were his slaves. "Miss Helen's bairn" was
a little king every where. It might have gone rather hard for the poor
wee fellow thus allegorically
"Wearing on his baby brow the round
And top of sovereignty"
That dangerous sovereignty—any human being—to wield, had there
not been at least one person who was able to assume authority over him.
This was, strange to say—and yet not strange—the Earl of
From his earliest babyhood Boy had been accustomed to the sight of the
sight of the motionless figure in the moving chair, who never touched
him, but always spoke so kindly and looked around so smilingly; whom, he
could perceive—for children are quicker to notice things than we
some times think—his mother and grandfather invariably welcomed with
such exceeding pleasure, and treated with never-failing respect and
tenderness. And, as soon as he could crawl, the footboard of the
mysterious wheeled chair became to the little man a perfect
treasure-house of delight. Hidden there he found toys, picture-books,
"sweeties"—such as he got nowhere else, and for which, before
appropriating them, he was carefully taught to express thanks in his own
infantile way, and made to understand fully from whom they came.
"It's bribery, and against my principles," the earl would say, half
sadly. "But, if I did not give him things, how else could Boy learn to
Helen never answered this, no more than she used answer many similar
speeches in the earl's childhood. She knew time would prove them all to
What sort of idea the child really had of this wonderful donor, the
source of most of his pleasures, who yet was so different externally
from every body else; who never moved from the wheel-chair; who neither
caressed him nor played with him, and whom he was not allowed to play
with, but only lifted up sometimes to kiss softly the kind face which
always smiled down upon him with a sort of "superior love"—what the
child's childish notion of his friend was no one could of course
discover. But it must have been a mingling of awe and affectionateness;
for he would often—even before he could walk—crawl up to the
little chair, steady himself by it, and then look into Lord Cairnforth's
face with those mysterious baby eyes, full of questioning, but yet
without the slightest fear. And once, when his mother was teaching him
his first hymn—
"Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
Look upon a little child,"
Boy startled her by the sudden remark—one of the divine profanities
that are often falling from the innocent lips of little children—
"I know Jesus. He is the earl."
And then Helen tried, in some simple way, to make the child understand
about Lord Cairnforth, and how he had been all his life so heavily
afflicted; but Boy could not comprehend it as affliction at all. There
seemed to him something not inferior, but superior to all other people
in that motionless figure, with its calm sweet face—who was never
troubled, never displeased—whom every body delighted to obey, and at
whose feet lay treasures untold.
"I think Boy likes me," Lord Cairnforth would say, when he met the
upturned beaming face as the child, in an ecstasy of expectation, ran to
meet him. "His love may last as long as the playthings do."
But the earl was mistaken, as Helen knew. His love-victory had been in
something deeper than toys and "goodies." Even when their charm began
to cease Boy still crept up to the little chair, and looked from the
empty footboard up to the loving face, which no one, man, woman, or
child, ever regarded without something far higher than pity.
And, by degrees, Boy, or "Carr"—which, as being the diminutive for
his second Christian name, Cardross, he was often called now—found a
new attraction in his friend. He would listen with wide-open eyes, and
attention that never flagged, to the interminable "tories" which the
earl told him, out of the same brilliant imagination which had once used
to delight his uncles in the boat. And so, little by little, the child
and the man grew to be "a pair of friends"—familiar and fond, but
with a certain tender reverence always between them, which had the most
salutary effect on the younger.
Whenever he was sick, or sorry, or naughty—and Master "Boy" could
be exceedingly naughty sometimes—the voice which had most influence
over him, the influence to which he always succumbed, came from the
little wheeled chair. No anger did he ever find there—no dark looks
or sharp tones—but he found steady, unbending authority; the firm
will which never passed over a single fault, or yielded to a single
whim. In his wildest passions of grief or wrath, it was only necessary
to say to the child, "If the earl could see you!" to make him pause; and
many and many a time, whenever motherly authority, which in this case
was weakened by occasional over-indulgence and by an almost morbid
terror of the results of the same, failed to conquer the child, Helen
used, as a last resource, to bring him in her arms, set him down beside
Lord Cairnforth, and leave him there. She never came back but she found
"He makes me good, too, I think," the earl would say now and then, "for
he makes me happy."
It was true. Lord Cairnforth never looked otherwise than happy when he
had beside him that little blossom of hope of the new generation—
As years went by, though he still lived alone at the Castle, it was by
no means the secluded life of his youth and early manhood. He gradually
gathered about him neighbors and friends. He filled his house
occasionally with guests, of his own rank and of all ranks; people
notable and worthy to be known. He became a "patron," as they called it
in those days, of art and literature, and assembled around him all who,
for his pleasure and their own benefit, chose to enjoy his hospitality.
In a quiet way, for he disliked public show, he was likewise what was
termed a "philanthropist," but always on the system which he had learned
in his boyhood from Helen and Mr. Cardross, that "charity begins at
home;" with the father who guides well his own household; the minister
whose footstep is welcomed at every door in his own parish; the
proprietor whose just, wise, and merciful rule make him sovereign
absolute in his own estate. This last especially was the character
given along all the country-side to the Earl of Cairnforth.
His was not a sad existence; far from it. None who knew him, and
certainly none who ever staid long with him in his own home, went away
with that impression. He enjoyed what he called "a sunshiny life"—
having sunshiny faces about him; people who knew how to accept the sweet
and endure the bitter; to see the heavenly side even of sorrow; to do
good to all, and receive good from all; avoiding all envies, jealousies,
angers, and strifes, and following out literally the apostolic command,
"As much as in you lies, live peaceably with all men."
And so the earl was, in the best sense of the word, popular. Every body
liked him, and he liked every body. But deep in his heart—ay,
deeper than any of these his friends and acquaintance ever dreamed—
steadying and strengthening it, keeping it warm for all human uses, yet
calm with the quiet sadness of an eternal want, lay all those emotions
which are not likings, but loves; not sympathies, but passions; but
which with him were to be, in this world, forever dormant and
Never, let the Castle be ever so full of visitors, or let his daily
cares, his outward interest, and his innumerable private charities be
ever so great, did he omit driving over twice or thrice a week to spend
an hour or two at the Manse—in winter, by the study fire; in summer,
under the shade of the green elm-trees—the same trees where he had
passed that first sunny Sunday when he came a poor, lonely, crippled
orphan child into the midst of the large, merry family—all scattered
The minister, Helen, and Boy were the sole inmates left at the Manse,
and of these three the latter certainly was the most important. Hide it
as she would, the principal object of the mother's life was her only
child. Many a time, as Lord Cairnforth sat talking with her, after his
old fashion, of all his interests, schemes, labors, and hopes—hopes
solely for others, and labors, the end of which he knew he would never
see—he would smile to himself, noticing how Helen's eye wandered all
the while—wandered to where that rosy young scapegrace rode his tiny
pony—the earl's gift—up and down the gravel walks, or played at
romps with Malcolm, or dug holes in the flower-beds, or got into all and
sundry of the countless disgraces which were forever befalling Boy; yet
which, so lovable was the little fellow, were as continually forgiven,
and, behind his back, even exalted into something very like merits.
But once—and it was an incident which, whether or not Mrs. Bruce
forgot it herself, her friend never did, since it furnished a key to
much of the past, and a serious outlook for the future—Boy committed
an error which threw his mother into an agony of agitation such as she
had not betrayed since she came back, a widow, to Cairnforth.
Her little son told a lie! It was a very small lie, such as dozens of
children tell—are punished and pardoned—but a lie it was. It
happened on August morning, when the raspberries for which the Manse was
famous. He was desired not to touch them—"not to lay a finger on
them," insisted the mother. And he promised. But, alas! The promises
of four years old are not absolutely reliable; and so that which
happened once in a more ancient garden happened in the garden of the
Manse. Boy plucked and ate. He came back to his mother with his white
pinafore all marked and his red mouth redder still with condemnatory
stains. Yet, when asked "if he had touched the raspberries," he opened
that wicked mouth and said, unblushingly, "No!"
Of course it was an untruth—self-evident; in its very simplicity
almost amusing; but the earl was not prepared for the effect it seemed
to have upon Helen. She started back, her lips actually blanched and
her eyes glowing.
"My son has told a lie!" she cried, and kept repeating it over and over
again. "My son has looked me in the face and told me a lie—his
"Hush, Helen!" for her manner seemed actually to frighten the child.
"No, I can not pass it over! I dare not! He must be punished. Come!"
She seized Boy by the hand, looking another way, and was moving off with
him, as if she hardly knew what she was doing.
"Helen!" called the earl, almost reproachfully; for, in his opinion, out
of all comparison with the offense seemed the bitterness with which the
mother felt it, and was about to punish it. "Tell me, first, what are
you going to do with the child?"
"I hardly know—I must think—must pray. What if my son, my only
son, should inherit—I mean, if he should grow up a liar?"
That word "inherit" betrayed her. No wonder now at the mother's agony
of fear—she who was mother to Captain Bruce's son. Lord Cairnforth
guessed it all.
"I understand," said he. "But—"
"No," Helen interrupted, "you need understand nothing, for I have told
you nothing. Only I must kill the sin—the fatal sin—at the very
root. I must punish him. Come, child!"
"Come back, Helen," said the earl; and something in the tone made her
obey at once, as occasionally during her life Helen had been glad to
obey him, and creep under the shelter of a stronger will and clearer
judgment than her own. "You are altogether mistaken, my dear friend.
Your boy is only a child, and errs as such, and you treat him as if he
had sinned like a grown-up man. Be reasonable. We will both take care
of him. No fear that he will turn out a liar!"
Helen hesitated; but still her looks were so angry and stern, all the
mother vanished out of them, that the boy, instead of clinging to her,
ran away crying, and hid himself behind Lord Cairnforth's chair.
"Leave him to me, Helen. Can not you trust me—me—with your
Mrs. Bruce paused.
"Now," said the earl, wheeling himself round a little, so that he came
face to face with the sobbing child, "lift up your head, Boy, and speak
the truth like a man to me and to your mother—see! She is listening.
Did you touch those raspberries?"
"Cardross!" Calling him by his rarely-spoken name, not his pet-name, and
fixing upon him eyes, not angry, but clear and searching, that compelled
the truth even from a child, "think again. You must tell us!"
"No, me didn't touch them," answered Boy, dropping his head in conscious
shame. "Not with me fingers. Me just opened me mouth and they popped
Lord Cairnforth could hardly help smiling at the poor little sinner—
the infant Jesuit attaining his object by such an ingenious device; but
the mother didn't smile, and her look was harder than ever.
"You hear! If not a lie, it was a prevarication. He who lies is a
scoundrel, but he who prevaricates is a scoundrel and coward too.
Sooner than Boy should grow up like—like that, I would rather die.
No, I would rather see him die; for I might come in time to hate my own
By these fierce words, and by the gleaming eyes, which made a sudden and
total change in the subdued manner, and the plain, almost elderly face
under the widow's cap that Helen always wore, Lord Cairnforth guessed,
more than he had ever guessed before, of what the sufferings of her
married life had been.
"My friend," he said, and there was infinite pity as well as tenderness
in his voice, "believe me, you are wrong. You are foreboding what,
please God, will never happen. God does not deal with us in that
manner. He bids us do His will, each of us individually, without
reference to the doings or misdoings of any other person. And if we
obey Him, I believe He takes care we shall not suffer—at least not
forever, even in this world. Do not be afraid. Boy," calling the
little fellow, who was now sobbing in bitterest contrition behind the
wheeled chair, "come and kiss your mother. Promise her that you will
never again vex her by telling a lie."
"No, no, no. Me'll not vex mamma. Good mamma! Pretty mamma! Boy so
And he clung closely and passionately to his mother, kissing her averted
face twenty times over.
"You see, Helen, you need not fear," said the earl.
Helen burst into tears.
After that day it came to be a general rule that, when she could not
manage him herself, which not infrequently happened—for the very
similarity in temperament and disposition between the mother and son
made their conflicts, even at this early age, longer and harder—Helen
brought Boy up to the Castle and left him, sometimes for hours together,
in the library with Lord Cairnforth. He always came home to the Manse
quiet and "good."
And so out of babyhood into boyhood, and thence into youth, grew the
earl's adopted son; for practically it became that relationship, though
no distinct explanation was ever given, or any absolute information
vouchsafed, for indeed there was none who had a right to inquire; still,
the neighborhood and the public at large took it for granted that such
were Lord Cairnforth's intentions toward his little cousin.
As for the boy's mother, she led a life very retired—more retired
than even Helen Cardross, doing all her duties as the minister's
daughter, but seldom appearing in society. And society speculated
little about her. Sometimes, when the Castle was full of guests, Mrs.
Bruce appeared among them, still in her widow's weeds, to be received by
Lord Cairnforth with marked attention and respect—always called "my
cousin," and whoever was present, invariably requested to take the head
of his table; but, except at these occasional seasons, and at birthdays,
new years, and so on, Helen was seldom seen out of the Manse, and was
very little known to the earl's ordinary acquaintance.
But every body in the whole peninsula knew the minister's grandson,
young Master Bruce. The boy was tall of his age—not exactly
handsome, being too like his mother for that; nevertheless, the
robustness of form, which in her was too large for comeliness, became in
him only manly size and strength. He was athletic, graceful, and
active; he learned to ride almost as soon as he could walk; and, under
Malcolm's charge, was early initiated in all the mysteries of moor and
loch. By fourteen years of age Cardross Bruce was the best shot, the
best fisher, the best hand at an oar, of all the young lads in the
Then, too, though allowed to run rather wild, he was unmistakably a
gentleman. Though he mixed freely with every body in the parish, he was
neither haughty nor over-familiar with any one. He had something of the
minister's manner with inferiors—frank, gentle, and free—winning
both trust and love, and yet it was impossible to take liberties with
him. And some of the elder people in the clachan declared the lad had
at times just "the merry glint o' the minister's e'en" when Mr. Cardross
first came to the parish as a young man with his young wife.
He was an old man now, "wearin' awa'," but slowly and peacefully;
preaching still, though less regularly; for, to his great delight, his
son Duncan, having come out creditably at college, had been appointed
his assistant and successor. Uncle Duncan—only twelve years his
nephew's senior—was also appointed by Lord Cairnforth tutor to "Boy"
Bruce. The two were very good friends, and not unlike one another.
"Ay, he's just a Cardross," was the universal remark concerning young
Bruce. No one had ever hinted that the lad was like his father.
He was not. Nature seemed mercifully to have forgotten to perpetuate
that type of character which had given Mr. Menteith formerly, and others
since, such a justifiable dread of the Bruce family, and such a
righteous determination to escape them. Lord Cairnforth still paid the
annuity, but on condition that no one of his father's kindred should
ever interfere, in the smallest degree, with Helen's child.
This done, both he and she trusted to the strong safeguards of habit and
education, and all other influences which so strongly modify character,
to make the boy all that they desired him to be, and to counteract those
tendencies which, as Lord Cairnforth plainly perceived, were Helen's
daily dread. It was a struggle, mysterious as that which visible human
free-will is forever opposing (apparently) to invisible fate, the end of
which it is impossible to see, and yet we struggle on.
Thus laboring together with one hope, one aim, and one affection, all
centered in this boy, Lord Cairnforth and Mrs. Bruce passed many a
placid year. And when the mother's courage failed her—when her
heart shrank in apprehension from real terrors or from chimeras of her
own creating, her friend taught her to fold patiently her trembling
hands, and say, as she herself and the minister had first taught him in
his forlorn boyhood, the one only prayer which calms fear and comforts
sorrow—the lesson of the earl's whole life—"Thy will be done!"
"Helen, that boy of yours ought to be sent to college."
"Oh no! Surely you do not think it necessary?" said Helen, visibly
She and Lord Cairnforth were sitting together in the Castle library.
Young Cardross had been sitting beside them, holding a long argument
with his mother, as he often did, for he was of a decidedly
argumentative turn of mind, until, getting the worst of the battle, and
being rather "put down"—a position rarely agreeable to the
self-esteem of eighteen—he had flushed up angrily, made no reply,
but opened one of the low windows and leaped out on the terrace. There,
pacing to and fro along the countess's garden, they saw the boy, or
rather young man, for he looked like one now. He moved with a rapid
step, the wind tossing his fair curls—Helen's curls over again—
and cooling his cheeks as he tried to recover his temper, which he did
not often lose, especially in the earl's presence.
Experience had not effaced the first mysterious impression made on the
little child's mind by the wheeled chair and its occupant. If there was
one person in the world who had power to guide and control this
high-spirited lad, it was Lord Cairnforth. And as the latter moved his
chair a little round, so that he could more easily look out into the
garden and see the graceful figure sauntering among the flower-beds, it
was evident by his expression that the earl loved Helen's boy very
"He is a fine fellow, and a good fellow as ever was born, that young man
of yours. Still, as I have told you many a time, he would be all the
better if he were sent to college."
"For his education?" I thought Duncan was fully competent to complete
"Not altogether. But, for many reasons, I think it would be advisable
for him to go from home for a while."
"Why? Because his mother spoils him?"
The earl smiled, and gave no direct answer. In truth, the harm Helen
did her boy was not so much in her "spoiling"—love rarely injures
—as in the counteracting weight which she sometimes threw on the
other side—in the sudden tight rein which she drew upon his little
follies and faults—the painful clashing of two equally strong wills,
which sometimes happened between the mother and the son.
This was almost inevitable, with Helen's peculiar character. As she sat
there, the sun shining on her fair face—still fair; a clear, healthy
red and white, though she was over forty—you might trace some harsh
lines in it, and see clearly that, save for her exceeding unselfishness
and lovingness of disposition, Mrs. Bruce might in middle age have grown
into what is termed a "hard" woman; capable of passionate affection, but
of equally passionate severity, and prone to exercise both alike upon
the beings most precious to her on earth.
"I fear it is not a pleasant doctrine to preach to mothers," said Lord
Cairnforth; "but, Helen, all boys ought to leave home some time. How
else are they to know the world?"
"I do not wish my boy to know the world."
"But he must. He ought. Remember his life is likely to be a very
different one from either yours or mine."
"Do not let us think of that," said Helen, uneasily.
"My friend, I have been thinking of it ever since he was born—or, at
least, ever since he came to Cairnforth. That day seems almost like
yesterday, and yet—We are growing quite middle-aged folk, Helen, my
Helen sighed. These peaceful, uneventful years, how fast they had
slipped by! She began to count them after the only fashion by which she
cared to count any thing now. "Yes, Cardross will be a man—actually
and legally a man—in little more than two years."
"That is just what I was considering. By that time we must come to some
decision on a subject which you will never let me speak of; but by-and
by, Helen, you must. Do you suppose that your son guesses, or that any
body has ever told him, what his future position is to be?"
"I think not. There was nobody to tell him, for nobody knew. No,"
continued Helen, speaking strongly and decidedly, "I am determined on
one point—nothing shall bind you as regards my son or me—
nothing, except your own free will. To talk of me as your successor is
idle. I am older than you are; and you must not be compromised as
regards my son. He is a good boy now, but temptation is strong, and,"
with an irrepressible shudder, "appearances are deceitful sometimes.
Wait, as I have always said—wait till you see what sort of man
Cardross turns out to be."
Lord Cairnforth made no reply, and once more the two friends sat
watching the unconscious youth, who had been for so many years the one
object of both their lives.
"Ignorance is not innocence," said the earl at length, after along fit
of musing. "If you bind a creature mortally hand and foot, how can it
ever learn to walk? It would, as soon as you loosed the bonds, find
itself not free, but paralyzed—as helpless a creature as myself."
Helen turned away from watching her boy, and laid her hand tenderly, in
her customary caress, on the feeble hand, which yet had been the means
of accomplishing so much.
"You should not speak so," she said. "Scarcely ever is there a more
useful life than yours."
"More useful, certainly, than any one once expected—except you,
Helen. I have tried to make you not ashamed of me these thirty years."
"Is it so many? Thirty years since the day you first came to the
"Yes; you know I was forty last birthday. Who would have thought my
life would have lasted so long? But it can not last forever; and before
I am 'away' as your dear old father would say, I should like to leave
you quite settled and happy about that boy."
"Who says I am not happy?" answered Mrs. Bruce, rather sharply.
"Nobody; but I see it myself sometimes—when you get that restless,
anxious look—there it is now! Helen, I must have it away. I think
it would trouble me in my grave if I left you unhappy," added the earl,
regarding her with that expression of yearning tenderness which she had
been so used to all her days that she rarely noticed it until the days
came when she saw it no more.
"I am not unhappy," she said, earnestly. "Why should I be? My dear
father keeps well still—he enjoys a green old age. And is not my
son growing up every thing that a mother's heart could desire?"
"I do believe it. Cardross is a good boy—a very good boy. But the
metal has never been tested—as the soundest metal always requires to
be—and until this is done, you will never rest. I had rather it
were done during my lifetime than afterward. Helen, I particularly wish
the boy to go to college."
The earl spoke so decidedly that Mrs. Bruce replied with only the brief
"To Edinburg; because there he would not be left quite alone. His uncle
Alick would keep an eye upon him, and he could be boarded with Mrs.
Menteith, whose income would be none the worse for the addition I would
make to it; for of course, Helen, if he goes, it must be—not exactly
as my declared heir, since you dislike that so much, but—as my
cousin and nearest of kin, which he is undeniably."
Helen acquiesced in silence.
"I have a right to him, you see," said Lord Cairnforth, smiling, "and
really I am rather proud of my young fellow. He may not be very clever
—the minister says he is not—but he is what I call a man. Like
his mother, who never was clever, but yet was every inch a woman—the
best woman, in all relations of life, that I ever knew."
Helen smiled too—a little sadly, perhaps—but soon her mind
recurred from all other things to her one prominent thought.
"And what would you do with the boy himself? He knows nothing of money
—has never had a pound-note in his pocket all his life."
"Then it is high time he should have—and a good many of them. I
shall pay Mrs. Menteith well for his board, but I shall make him a
sufficient allowance besides. He must stand on his own feet, without
any one to support him. It is the only way to make a boy into a man—
a man that is worth anything. Do you not see that yourself?"
"I see, Lord Cairnforth, that you think it would be best for my boy to
be separated from his mother."
She spoke in a hurt tone, and yet with a painful consciousness that what
she said was not far off the truth, more especially as the earl did not
absolutely deny the accusation.
"I think, my dear Helen, that it would be better if he were separated
from us all for a time. We are such quiet, old-fashioned folks at
Cairnforth, he may come to weary of us, you know. But my strongest
motive is exactly what I stated—that he should be left to himself,
to feel his own strength and the strength of those principles which we
have tried to give him—that any special character he possesses may
have free space to develop itself. Up to a certain point we can take
care of our children; beyond, we can not—nay, we ought not; they
must take care of themselves. I believe—do not be angry, Helen—
but I believe there comes a time in every boy's life when the wisest
thing even his mother can do for him is—to leave him alone."
"And not watch over him—not to guide him?"
"Yes, but not so as to vex him by the watching and the guiding.
However, we will talk of this another day. Here the lad comes."
And the earl's eyes brightened almost as much as Helen's did when
Cardross leaped in at the window, all his good-humor restored, kissed
his mother in his rough, fond way, of which he was not in the least
ashamed as yet, and sat down by the wheeled chair with that tender
respectfulness and involuntary softening of manner and tone which he
never failed to show Lord Cairnforth, and had never shown so much to any
other human being.
Ay, the earl had his compensations. We all have, if we know it.
Gradually, in many a long, quiet talk, during which she listened to his
reasonings as probably she would have listened to no other man's, he
contrived to reconcile Mrs. Bruce to the idea of parting with her boy
—their first separation, even for a day, since Cardross was born. It
was neither for very long nor very far, since civilization had now
brought Edinburg within a few hours' journey of Cairnforth; but it was
very sore, nevertheless, to both mother and son.
Helen took her boy and confided him to Mrs. Menteith herself; but she
could not be absent for more than one day, for just about this time her
father's "green old age" began to fail a little, and he grew extremely
dependent upon her, which, perhaps, was the best thing that could have
happened to her at this crisis. She had to assume that tenderest,
happiest duty of being "nursing mother" to the second childhood of one
who throughout her own childhood, youth, and middle age had been to her
every thing that was honored and deserving honor—loving, and worthy
of love—in a parent.
Not that Mr. Cardross had sank into any helpless state of mind or body;
the dread of paralysis had proved a false alarm; and Helen's coming
home, to remain there forever, together with the thoroughly peaceful
life which he had since lived for so many years, had kept up the old
man's vitality to a surprising extent. His life was now only fading
away by slow and insensible degrees, like the light out of the sunset
clouds, or the colors from the mountains—silent warnings of the
night coming "in which no man can work."
The minister had worked all his days—his Master's work; none the
less worthy that it was done in no public manner, and had met with no
public reward. Beyond his own Presbytery the name of the Reverend
Alexander Cardross was scarcely known. He was not a popular preacher;
he had never published a book, nor even a sermon, and he had taken no
part in the theological controversies of the time. He was content to
let other men fight about Christianity; he only lived it, spending
himself for naught, some might think, in his own country parish and
among his poor country people, the pastor and father of them all.
He had never striven after this world's good things, and they never came
to him in any great measure; but better things did. He always had
enough, and a little to spare for those who had less. In his old age
this righteous man was not "forsaken," and his seed never "begged their
bread." His youngest, Duncan, was always beside him, and yearly his
four other sons came to visit him from the various places where they had
settled themselves, to labor, and prosper, and transmit honorably to
another generation the honest name of Cardross.
For the minister's "ae dochter," she was, as she had been always, his
right hand, watching him, tending him, helping and guarding him,
expending her whole life for him, so as to make him feel as lightly as
possible the gradual decay of his own; above all, loving him with a love
that made labor easy and trouble light—the passionately devoted love
which we often see sons show to mothers, and daughters to fathers, when
they have never had the parental ideal broke, nor been left to wander
through life in a desolation which is only second to that of being
"without God in the world."
"I think he has a happy old age—the dear old father!" said Helen one
day, when she and Lord Cairnforth sat talking, while the minister was as
usual absorbed in the library—the great Cairnforth library, now
becoming notable all over Scotland, of which Mr. Cardross had had the
sole arrangement, and every book therein the earl declared he loved as
dearly as he did his children.
"Yes, he is certainly happy. And he has had a happy life, too—more
so than most people."
"He deserved it. All these seventy-five years he has kept truth on his
lips, and honor and honesty in his heart. He has told no man a lie; has
overreached and deceived no man; and, though he was poor—poor
always; when he married my mother, exceedingly poor—he has
literally, from that day to this, 'owed no man any thing but to love one
another.' Oh!" cried Helen, looking after the old man in almost a
passion of tenderness, "oh that my son may grow up like his grandfather!
Like nobody else—only his grandfather."
"I think he will," answered Lord Cairnforth.
And, in truth, the accounts they had of young Cardross were for some
time extremely satisfactory. He had accommodated himself to his new
life—had taken kindly to his college work; gave no trouble to Mrs.
Menteith, and still less to his uncle; the latter a highly respectable
but not very interesting gentleman—a partner in the firm of Menteith
and Ross, and lately married to the youngest Miss Menteith.
Still, by his letters, the nephew did not seem overwhelmingly fond of
him, complaining sometimes that Uncle Alick interfered with him a little
too much; investigated his expenses, made him balance his accounts, and
insisted that these should be kept within the limits suitable for Mrs.
Bruce's son and Mr. Cardross's grandson, who would have to work his way
in the world as his uncles had done before him.
"You see, Helen," said the earl, "all concealment brings its
difficulties. It would be much easier for the boy if he were told his
position and his future career at once—nay, if he had known it from
But Helen would not hear of this. She was obstinate, all but fierce, on
the subject. No argument would convince her that it was not safer for
her son, who had been brought up in such Arcadian simplicity, to
continue believing himself what he appeared to be, than to be dazzled by
the knowledge that he was the chosen heir of the Earl of Cairnforth.
So, somewhat against his judgment, the earl yielded.
All winter and spring things went on peacefully in the little peninsula,
which was now being grasped tightly by the strong arm of encroaching
civilization. Acre after acre of moorland disappeared, and became
houses, gardens, green-houses, the feu-rents of which made the estate of
Cairnforth more valuable every year.
"That young man of yours will have enough on his hands one day," the
earl said to Helen. "He lives an easy life now, and little thinks what
hard work he is coming to. As Mr. Menteith once told me, the owner of
Cairnforth has no sinecure, nor will have for the next quarter of a
"You expect a busy life, then?"
"Yes; and I must have that boy to help me—till he comes to his own.
But, Helen, after that time, you must not let him be idle. The richest
man should work, if he can. I wonder what line of work Cardross will
take; whether he will attempt politics—his letters are very
political just now, do you notice?"
"Very. And there is not half enough about himself."
"He might get into Parliament," continued the earl, "and perhaps some
day win a peerage in his own right. Eh, Helen? Would you like to be
mother to a viscount—Viscount Cairnforth?"
"No," said Helen, tenderly, "there shall never be another Lord
Thus sat these two, planning by the hour together the future of the boy
who was their one delight. It amused them through all the winter and
spring, till Cairnforth woods grew green again, and Loch Beg recovered
its smile of sunshiny peace, and the hills at the head of it took their
summer colors, lovely and calm, even as, year after year, these friends
had watched them throughout their two lives, of which both were now
keenly beginning to feel the greater part lay, not before them, but
behind. But in thinking of this boy they felt young again, as if he
brought to one the hope, to the other the faint recollection of
happiness that in the great mystery of Providence to each had been
And yet they were not unhappy. Helen was not. No one could look into
her face—strongly marked, but rosy-complexioned, health, and comely
—the sort of large comeliness which belongs to her peculiar type of
Scotch women, especially in their middle age—without seeing that
life was to her not only duty, but enjoyment—ay, in spite of the
widow's cap, which marked her out as one who permanently belonged and
meant to belong only to her son.
And the earl, though he was getting to look old—older than Helen did
—for his black curls were turning gray, and the worn and withered
features, contrasting with the small childish figure, gave him a weird
sort of aspect that struck almost painfully at first upon strangers,
still Lord Cairnforth preserved the exceeding sweetness and peacefulness
of expression which had made his face so beautiful as a boy, and so
winning as a young man.
"He'll ne'er be an auld man," sometimes said the folk about Cairnforth,
shaking their heads as they looked after him, and speculating for how
many years the feeble body would hold out. Also, perhaps—for
self-interest is bound up in the heart of every human being—feeling
a little anxiety as to who should come after him, to be lord and ruler
over them; perhaps to be less loved, less honored—more so none could
It was comfort to those who loved him then, and far more comfort
afterward to believe—nay, to know for certain—that many a man,
absorbed in the restless struggle of this busy world, prosperous
citizen, husband and father, had, on the whole, led a far less happy
life than the Earl of Cairnforth.
One mild, sunny autumn day, when Cardross, having ended his first
session at college, had spent apparently with extreme enjoyment his
first vacation at home, and had just gone back again to Edinburg to
commence his second "year," the Earl of Cairnforth drove down to the
Manse, as he now did almost daily, for the minister was growing too
feeble to come to the Castle very often.
His old pupil found him sitting in the garden, sunning himself in a
sheltered nook, backed by a goodly show of China roses and fuchsias,
and companioned by two or three volumes of Greek plays, in which,
however, he did not read much. He looked up with pleasure at the sound
of the wheeled chair along the gravel walk.
"I'm glad you are come," said he. "I'm sorely needing somebody, for I
have scarcely seen Helen all the morning. There she is! My lassie,
where have you been these three hours?"
Helen put off his question in some gentle manner, and took her place
beside her charge, or rather between her two charges, each helpless in
their way, though the one most helpless once was least so now.
"Helen, something is wrong with you this morning?" said the earl, when,
Mr. Cardross having gone away for his little daily walk up and down
between the garden and the kirk-yard, they two sat by themselves for a
Mrs. Bruce made no answer.
"Nothing can be amiss with your boy, for I had a letter from him only
"I had one this morning."
"And what does he say to you? To me little enough, merely complaining
how dull he finds Edinburg now, and wishing he were back again among us
"I do not wonder," said Helen, in a hard tone, and with that hard
expression which sometimes came over her face: the earl knew it well.
"Helen, I am certain something is very wrong with you. Why do you not
tell it out to me?"
"Hush! Here comes my father!"
And she hurried to him, gave him her arm, and helped his feeble steps
back into the house, where for some time they three remained talking
together about the little chit-chat of the parish, and the news of the
family, in its various ramifications, now extending year by year. Above
all, the minister like to hear and to talk about his eldest and favorite
grandchild—his name-child, too—Alexander Cardross Bruce.
But on this subject, usually the never-ceasing topic at the Manse, Helen
was for once profoundly silent. Even when her father had dropped
asleep, as in his feebleness of age he frequently did in the very midst
of conversation, she sat restlessly fingering her wedding-ring, and
another which she wore as a sort of guard to it, the only jewel she
possessed. It was a very large diamond, set in a plain hoop of gold.
The earl had given it to her a few months after she came back to
Cairnforth, when her persistent refusal of all his offered kindnesses
had almost produced a breach between them—at least the nearest
approach to a quarrel they had ever known. She, seeing how deeply she
had wounded him, had accepted this ring as a pledge of amity, and had
worn it ever since—by his earnest request—until it had become as
familiar to her finger as the one beside it. But now she kept looking
at it, and taking it off and on with a troubled air.
"I am going to ask you a strange question, Lord Cairnforth—a rude
one, if you and I were not such old friends that we do not mind any
thing we say to one another."
"Is this ring of mine very valuable?"
"Worth how much?"
"You certainly are rude, Helen," replied the earl, with a smile. "Well,
if you particularly wish to know, I believe it is worth two hundred
"Two hundred pounds!"
"Was that so alarming? How many times must I suggest that a man may do
what he likes with his own? It was mine—that is, my mother's, and I
gave it to you. I hope you are worth to me at least two hundred
But no cheerfulness removed the settled cloud from Mrs. Bruce's face.
"Now—answer me—you know, Helen, you always answer me candidly
and truly, what makes you put that question about the ring?"
"Because I wished to sell it."
"Sell it! why?"
"I want money; in fact, I must have money—a good large sum," said
Helen, in exceeding agitation. "And as I will neither beg, borrow, not
steal, I must sell something to procure that sum, and this diamond is
the only thing I have to sell. Now you comprehend?"
"I think I do," was the grave answer. "My poor Helen!"
She might have held out, but the tenderness of his tone overcame her.
She turned her head away.
"Oh, it's bitter, bitter! After all these years!"
"What is bitter? But you need not tell me. I think I can guess. You
did not show me your boy's letter of this morning."
"There it is!"
And the poor mother, with her tears fast flowing—they had been
restrained so long that now they burst out like a tide—gave way to
that heart-break which many a mother has had to endure—the discovery
that her son was not the perfect being she had thought him; that he was
no better than other women's sons, and equally liable to fall away.
Poor Cardross had been doing all sorts of wrong and foolish things,
which he had kept to himself as long as he could, as long as he dared,
and then had come, in an agony of penitence, and poured out the whole
story of his errors and his miseries into his mother's bosom.
They were, happily, only errors, not sins—extravagancies in dress;
amusements and dissipations, resulting in serious expenses; but the
young fellow had done nothing absolutely wicked. In the strongest
manner, and with the most convincing evidence to back it, he protested
this and promised to amend his ways, to "turn over a new leaf," if only
his mother would forgive him, and find means to pay the heap of bills
which he enclosed, and which amounted to much more than would be covered
by his yearly allowance from the earl.
"Poor lad!" said Lord Cairnforth, as he read the letter twice over, and
then carefully examined the list of debts it enclosed. "A common
"I know that," cried Helen, passionately. "But oh! That it should have
happened to my son!"
And she bowed her face upon her hands, and swayed herself to and fro in
the bitterest grief and humiliation.
The earl regarded her a little while, and then said, gently, "My friend,
are you not making for yourself a heavy burden out of a very light
"A light matter? But you do not see—you can not understand."
"I think I can."
"It is not so much the thing itself—the fact of my son's being so
mean, so dishonest as to run into debt, when he knows I hate it—that
I have cause to hate it, and to shrink from it as I would from—But
this is idle talking. I see you smile. You do not know all the—the
"My dear, I do know—every thing you could tell me—and more."
"Then can not you see what I dread? The first false step—the fatal
beginning, of which no one can foresee the end? I must prevent it. I
must snatch my poor boy like a brand from the burning. I shall go to
Edinburg myself to-morrow. I would start this very day if could leave
"You can not possibly leave your father," said the ear, gently but
decisively. "Sit down, Helen. You must keep quiet."
For she was in a state of excitement such as, since her widowed days,
had never been betrayed by Helen Bruce.
"These debts must be paid, and immediately. The bare thought of them
nearly drives me wild. But you shall not pay—do not think it," she
added, almost fiercely. "See what my son himself says—and thank God
he had the grace to say it—that I am on no account to go to you;
that he 'will turn writer's clerk, or tutor, or any thing, rather than
encroach farther on Lord Cairnforth's generosity.'."
"Poor boy! poor boy!"
"Then you don't think him altogether a bad boy?" appealed Mrs. Bruce,
pitifully. "You do not fear that I may live to weep over the day when
my son was born?"
The earl smiled, and that quiet, half-amused smile, coming upon her in
her excited state, seemed to soothe the mother more than any reasoning
could have done.
"No, Helen, I do not think any such thing. I think the lad has been
very foolish, and we may have been the same. We kept him in
leading-strings too long, and trusted him out of them too suddenly. But
as to his being altogether bad—Helen Cardross's son, and the
minister's grandson—nonsense, my dear."
Mr. Cardross might have heard himself named, for he stirred in his
peaceful slumbers, and Helen hastily took her letter from Lord
"Not a word to him. He is too old. No trouble must ever come near him
"No, Helen. But remember your promise to do nothing till you have
talked with me. It is my right, you know. The boy is my boy too. When
will you come up to the Castle?" To-morrow? Nay, to-night, if you
"I will come to-night."
So, at dusk, in the midst of a wild storm, such as in these regions
sometimes, nay, almost always succeeds very calm, mild autumn days,
Helen appeared at the Castle, and went at once into the library where
the earl usually sat. Strange contrast it was between the spacious
apartment, with its lofty octagon walls laden with treasures of
learning; book-shelves, tier upon tier, reaching to the very roof, which
was painted in fresco; every ornamentation of the room being also made
as perfect as its owner's fine taste and lavish means could accomplish,
and this owner, this master of it all, a diminutive figure, sitting all
alone by the vacant fireside—before him a little table, a lamp, and
a book. But he was not reading; he was sitting thinking, as he often
did now; he said he had read so much in his time that he was rather
weary of it, and preferred thinking. Of what? the life he had passed
through—still, uneventful, and yet a full and not empty human life?
Or it might be, oftener still, upon the life to come?
Lord Cairnforth refused to let his visitor say one word, or even sit
down, till he had placed her in Mrs. Campbell's charge, to be dried and
reclothed, for she was dripping wet with rain—such rain as come
nowhere but at Loch Beg. By-and-by she reappeared in the library,
moving through its heavy shadows, and looking herself again—the
calm, dignified woman, "my cousin, Mrs. Bruce," who sometimes appeared
among Lord Cairnforth's guests, and whom, though she was too retiring to
attract much notice, every body who did notice was sure to approve.
She took her accustomed place by the earl's side, and plunged at once,
in Helen's own way, into the business which had brought her hither.
"I am not come to beg or to borrow, do not think it—only to ask
advice. Tell me, what am I to say to my boy?"
And again, the instant she mentioned her son's name, she gave way to
tears. Yet all the while her friend saw that she was very hard, and
bent upon being hard; that, had Cardross appeared before her at that
minute, she would immediately have frozen up again into the stern mother
whose confidence had been betrayed, whose principles infringed, and who,
though loving her son with all the strength of her heart, could also
punish him with all the power of her conscience, even though her heart
was breaking with sorrow the while.
"I will give you the best advice I can. But, first, let me have his
Lord Cairnforth read it slowly over, Mrs. Bruce's eager eyes watching
him, and then suffered her to take it from his helpless hands, and fold
it up, tenderly, as mothers do.
"What do you think of it?"
"Exactly what I did this morning—that your boy has been very
foolish, but not wicked. There is no attempt at deception or
"No, thank God! Whatever else he is, my son is not a liar. I have
prevented or conquered that."
"Yes, because you brought him up, as your father brought us up, to be
afraid of nothing, to speak out our minds to him without fear of
offending him, to stand in no dread of rousing his anger, but only of
grieving his love. And so, you see, Helen, it is the same with your
boy. He never attempts to deceive you. He tells out, point-blank, the
most foolish things he has done—the most ridiculous expenses he has
run into. He may be extravagant, but he is not untruthful. I have no
doubt, if I sent this list to his trades-people, they would verify every
halfpenny, and that this really is the end of the list. Not such a long
list neither, if you consider. Below two hundred pounds for which you
were going to sell my ring."
"Were going! I shall do it still."
"If you will; though it seems a pity to part with a gift of mine, when
the sum is a mere nothing to me, with my large income, which, Helen,
will one day be all yours."
Helen was silent—a little sorry and ashamed. The earl talked with
her till he had succeeded in calming her and bringing her into her
natural self again—able to see things in their right proportions,
and take just views of all.
"Then you will trust me?" she said at last. "You think I may be depended
upon to do nothing rashly when I go to Edinburg to-morrow?"
"My dear, I have no intention of letting you go."
"But some one must go. Something must be done, and I can not trust
Alick to do it. My brother does not understand my boy," said she,
returning to her restless, helpless manner. She, the helpful Helen,
only weak in this one point—her only son.
"Something has been done. I have already sent for Cardross. He will
be at the Castle to-morrow."
"At the Castle, I said, not the Manse. No, Helen, you shall not be
compromised; you may be as severe as you like with your son. But he is
my son too"—and a faint shade of color passed over the earl's
withered cheeks—"my adopted son, and it is time that he should know
"Do you mean to tell him—"
"I mean to tell him all my intentions concerning him."
"Yes, now. It is the safest and most direct course, both for him, for
you, and for me. I have been thinking over the matter all day, and can
come to no other conclusion. Even for myself—if I may speak of
myself—it is best. I do not wish to encroach upon his mother's
rights—it is not likely I should," added the earl, with a somewhat
sad smile; "still, it is hard that during the years, few or many, that I
have to live, I, a childless man, should not enjoy a little of the
comfort of a son."
Helen sat silent with averted face. It was all quite true, and yet—
"I will tell you, to make all clear, the position I wish Cardross to
hold with regard to me—shall I?"
Mrs. Bruce assented.
"Into his mother's place he can never step; I do not desire it. You
must still be, as you have always been, and I shall now publicly give
out the fact, my immediate successor; and, except for a stated
allowance, to be doubled when he marries, which I hope he will, and
early, Cardross must still be dependent upon his mother during her
lifetime. Afterward he inherits all. But there is one thing," he
continued, seeing that Helen did not speak, "I should like: it would
make me happy if, on his coming of age, he would change his name, or add
mine to it—be Alexander Cardross Bruce Montgomerie, or simply
Alexander Cardross Montgomerie. Which do you prefer?"
Helen meditated long. Many a change came and went over the widow's face
—widowed long enough for time to have softened down all things, and
made her remember only the young days—the days of a girl's first
love. It might have been so, for she said at last, almost with a gasp,
"I wish my son to be Bruce-Montgomerie."
"Be it so."
After that Lord Cairnforth was long silent.
Helen resumed the conversation by asking if he did not think it
dangerous, almost wrong, to tell the boy of this brilliant future
immediately after his errors?
"No, not after errors confessed and forsaken. Remember, it was over
very rags that the prodigal's father put upon him the purple robe. But
our boy is not a prodigal, Helen. I know him well, and I have faith in
him, and faith in human nature—especially Cardross nature." And the
earl smiled. "Far deeper than any harshness will smite him the
consciousness of being forgiven and trusted—of being expected to
carry out in his future life all that was a-missing in two not
particularly happy lives, his mother's—and mine."
Helen Bruce resisted no more. She could not. She was a wise woman—
a generous and loving-hearted woman; still, in that self-contained,
solitary existence, which had been spent close beside her, yet into the
mystery of which she had never penetrated, and never would penetrate,
there was a nearness to heaven and heavenly things, and clearness of
vision about earthly things which went far beyond her own. She could
not quite comprehend it—she would never have thought of it herself
—but she dimly felt that the earl's judgment was correct, and that,
strange as his conduct might appear, he was acting after that large
sense of rightness which implies righteousness; a course of action which
the world so often ridicules and misconstrues, because the point of view
is taken from an altitude not of this world, and the objects regarded
there-from are things not visible, but invisible.
Cardross appeared next day—not at home, but at the Castle, and was
closeted there for several hours with the earl before he ever saw his
mother. When he did—and it was he who came to her, for she refused
to take one step to go to him—he flung himself on his knees before
her and sobbed in her lap—the great fellow of six feet high and
twenty years old—sobbed and prayed for forgiveness with the humility
of a child.
"Oh, mother, mother—and he has forgiven me too! To think what he
has done for me—what he is about to do—me, who have had no
father, or worse than none. Do you know, sometimes people in Edinburgh
—the Menteiths, and so on—have taunted me cruelly about my
"And what do you answer?" asked Helen, in a slow, cold voice.
"That he was my father, and that he was dead; and I bade them speak no
more about him."
"That was right, my son."
Then they were silent till Cardross burst out again.
"It is wonderful—wonderful! I can hardly believe it yet—that we
should never be poor nay more—you, mother, who have gone through so
much, and I, who thought I should have to work hard all my days for both
of us. And I will work!" cried the boy, as he tossed back his curls
and lifted up to his mother a face that in brightness and energy was the
very copy of her own, or what hers used to be. "I'll show you, and the
earl too, how hard I can work—as hard as if for daily bread. I'll
do every thing he wishes me—I'll be his right hand, as he says. I
will make a name for myself and him too—mother, you know I am to
bear his name?"
"Yes, my boy."
"And I am glad to bear it. I told him so. He shall be proud of me yet,
and you too. Oh, mother, mother, I will never vex you again."
And once more his voice broke into sobs, and Helen's too, as she clasped
him close, and felt that whatever God had taken away from her, He had
given her as much—and more.
Mother and son—widowed mother and only son—there is something in
the tie unlike all others in the world—not merely in its
blessedness, but in its divine compensations.
Helen waited till her father had retired, which he often did quite
early, for the days were growing too long for him, with whom every one
of them was numbered; and he listened to the wonderful news which his
grandson told him with the even smile of old age, which nothing now
either grieves or surprises.
"You'll not be going to live at the Castle, though, not while I am
alive, Helen?" was his first uneasy thought. But his daughter soon
quieted it, and saw him to his bed, as she did every evening, bidding
him good-night, and kissing his placid brow—placid as a child's—
just as if he had been her child instead of her father. Then she took
her son's arm—such a stalwart arm now, and walked with him through
the bright moonlight, clear as day, to Cairnforth Castle.
When they entered the library they found the earl sitting in his usual
place, and engaged in his usual evening occupation, which he sometimes
called "the hard labor of doing nothing;" for, though he was busy enough
in the daytime with a young man he had as secretary—his faithful old
friend, Mr. Mearns, having lately died—still, he generally spent his
evenings alone. Malcolm lurked within call, in case he wanted any
thing; but he rarely did. Often he would pass hours at a time sitting
as now, with his feeble hands folded on his lap, his head bent, and his
eyes closed, or else open and looking out straight before him—
calmly, but with an infinite yearning in them that would have seemed
painful to those who did not know how peaceful his inmost nature was.
But at the first sound of his visitors' footsteps he turned round—
that is, he turned his little chair round—and welcomed them heartily
A little ordinary talk ensued, in which Cardross scarcely joined. The
young man was not himself at all—silent, abstracted; and there was
an expression in his face which almost frightened his mother, so solemn
was it, yet withal so exceedingly sweet.
The earl had been right in his conclusions; he, with his keen insight
into character, had judged Cardross better than the boy's own mother
would have done. Those brilliant prospects, that total change in his
expected future, which might have dazzled a lower nature and sent it all
astray, made this boy—Helen's boy, with Helen's nature strong in
him, only the more sensible of his deficiencies as well as his
responsibilities—humble, self-distrustful, and full of doubts and
fears. Ten years seemed to have passed over his head since morning,
changing him from a boy into a sedate, thoughtful man.
Lord Cairnforth noticed this, as he noticed every thing; and at last,
seeing the young heart was too full almost to bear much talking, he said
"Cardross, give your mother that arm-chair; she looks very wearied. And
the, would you mind having a consultation with Malcolm about those
salmon-weirs at the head of the Loch Mohr? I know his is longing to
open his heart to you on the subject. Go, my boy, and don't hurry back.
I want to have a good long talk with your mother."
Cardross obeyed. The two friends looked after him as he walked down the
room with his light, active step, and graceful, gentlemanly figure—a
youth who seemed born to be heir to all the splendors around him. Helen
clasped her hands tightly together on her lap, and her lips moved. She
did not speak, but the earl almost seemed to hear the great outcry of
the mother's heart going up to God—"Give any thing thou wilt to me,
only give him all!" Alas! That such a cry should ever fall back to
earth in the other pitiful moan, "Would God that I had died for thee, O
Abaslom, my son—my son!"
But it was not to be so with Helen Bruce. Her son was no Absalom. Her
days of sorrow were ended.
Laird Cairnforth saw how violently affected she was, and began to talk
to her in a commonplace and practical manner about all that he and
Cardross had been arranging that morning.
"And I must say that, though he will never shine at college, and
probably his grandfather would mourn over him as having no learning,
there is an amount of solid sense about the fellow with which I am quite
delighted. He is companionable too—knows how to make use of his
acquirements. Whatever light he possesses, he will never hide it under
a bushel, which is, perhaps, the best qualification for the position
that he will one day hold. I have no fear about Cardross. He will be
an heir after my own heart—will accomplish all I wished, and
possibly a little more."
Mrs. Bruce answered only by tears.
"But there is one thing which he and I have settled between us, subject
to your approval, of course. He must go back to college immediately."
"Do not look so alarmed, Helen. No, not Edinburg. It is best to break
off all associations there—he wishes it himself. He would like to
go to a new University—St. Andrew's."
"But he knows nobody there. He would be quite alone. For I can not—
do you not see I can not?—leave my father. Oh, it is like being
pulled in two," cried Mrs. Bruce, in great distress.
"Be patient, Helen, and hear. We have arranged it all, the boy and I.
Next week we are both bound for St. Andrew's."
"You think I shall be useless? That it is a man, and not such a
creature as I, who ought to take charge of your boy?"
The earl spoke with that deep bitterness which sometimes, though very,
very rarely, he betrayed, till he saw what exceeding pain he had given.
"Forgive me, Helen; I know you did not mean that; but it was what I
myself often thought until this morning. Now I see that after all I—
even I—may be the very best person to go with the boy, because,
while keeping a safe watch over him, and a cheerful house always open to
him, I shall also give him somebody to take care of. I shall be as much
charge to him almost as a woman, and it will be good for him. Do you
not perceive this?"
Helen did, clearly enough.
"Besides," continued the earl, "I might, perhaps, like to see the world
myself—just once again. At any rate, I shall like to see it through
this young man's eyes. He has not told you of our plan yet?"
"Not a word."
"That is well. I like to see he can keep faith. I made him promise
not, because I wanted to tell you myself, Helen—I wanted to see how
you would take the plan. Will you let us go? That is, the boy must go,
and—you will do without me for a year?"
"A whole year! Can not Cardross come home once—just once?"
"Yes, I will manage it so; he shall come, even if I can not," replied
the earl, and then was silent.
"And you," said Mrs. Bruce, suddenly, after a long meditation upon her
son and his future, "you leave, for a year, your home, your pleasant
life here; you change all your pursuits and plans, and give yourself no
end of trouble, just to go and watch over my boy, and keep his mother's
heart from aching! How can I ever thank you—ever reward you?"
No, she never could.
"It is an ugly word, 'reward;' I don't like it. And, Helen, I thought
thanks were long since set aside as unnecessary between you and me."
"And you will be absent a whole year?"
"Probably, or a little more; for the boy ought to keep two sessions at
least; and locomotion is not so easy to me as it is to Cardross. Yes,
my dear, you will have to part with me—I mean I shall have to part
with you—for a year. It is a long time in our short lives. I would
not do it—give myself the pain of it—for any thing in this world
except to make Helen happy."
"Thank you; I know that."
But Helen, full of her son and his prospects—her youth renewed in
his youth, her life absorbed in his, seeming to stretch out to a future
where there was no ending, knew not half of what she thanked him for.
She yielded to all the earl's plans; and after so many years of
resistance, bowed her independent spirit to accept his bounty with
humility of gratitude that was almost painful to both, until a few words
of his led her to, and left her in the belief that he was doing what was
agreeable to himself—that he really did enjoy the idea of a long
sojourn at St. Andrew's; and, mother-like, when she was satisfied on
this head, she began almost to envy him the blessing of her boy's
So she agreed to all his plans cheerfully, contentedly, as indeed she
had good reason to be contented; thankfully accepted every thing, and
never for a moment suspected that she was accepting a sacrifice.
During a whole year the Earl of Cairnforth and Mr. Bruce-Montgomery—
for, as soon as possible, Cardross legally assumed the name—resided
at that fairest of ancient cities and pleasantest of Scotch
Universities, St. Andrew's.
A few of the older inhabitants may still remember the house the earl
occupied there, the society with which he filled it, and the general
mode of life carried on by himself and his adopted son. Some may recall
—for indeed it was not easy to forget—the impression made in the
good old town by the two new-comers when they first appeared in the
quiet streets, along the Links and on the West Sands—every where
that the little carriage could be drawn. A strange contrast they were
—the small figure in the pony-chair, and the tall young man walking
beside it in all the vigor, grace, and activity of his blooming youth.
Two companions pathetically unlike, and yet always seen together, and
evidently associating with one another from pure love.
They lived for some time in considerable seclusion, for the earl's rank
and wealth at first acted as a bar to much seeking of his acquaintance
among the proud and poor University professors and old-fashioned
inhabitants of the city; and Cardross, being the senior of most of the
college lads, did not cultivate them much. By degrees, however, he
became well known—not as a hard student—that was not his line
—he never took any high college honors; but he was the best golfer,
the most dashing rider, the boldest swimmer—he saved more than one
life on that dangerous shore; and, before the session was half over, he
was the most popular youth in the whole University. But he would leave
every thing, or give up every thing—both his studies and his
pleasures—to sit, patient as a girl, beside the earl's chair, or to
follow it—often guiding it himself—up and down St. Andrews'
streets; never heeding who looked at him, or what comments were made—
as they were sure to be made—upon him, until what was at first so
strange and touching a sight grew at last familiar to the whole town.
Of course, very soon all the circumstances of the case came out,
probably with many imaginary additions, though the latter never reached
the ears of the two concerned. Still, the tale was romantic and
pathetic enough to make the earl and his young heir objects of marked
interest, and welcome guests in the friendly hospitalities of the place,
which hospitalities were gladly requited, for Lord Cairnforth still
keenly enjoyed society, and Cardross was at an age when all pleasure is
People said sometimes, What a lucky fellow was Mr. Bruce-Montgomerie!
But they also said—as no one could help seeing and saying—that
very few fathers were blessed with a son half so attentive and devoted
as this young man was to the Earl of Cairnforth.
And meantime Helen Bruce lived quietly at the Manse, devoting herself to
the care of her father, who still lingered on, feeble in body, though
retaining most of his faculties, as though death were unwilling to end a
life which had so much of peace and enjoyment of it to the very last.
When the session was over, Cardross went home to see his mother and
grandfather, and on his return Lord Cairnforth listened eagerly to all
the accounts of Cairnforth, and especially of all that Mrs. Bruce was
doing there; she, as the person most closely acquainted with the earl's
affairs, having been constituted regent in his absence.
"She's a wonderful woman—my mother," said Cardross, with great
admiration. "She has the sense of a man, and the tact of a woman. She
is doing every thing about the estate almost as cleverly as you would do
"Is she? It is good practice for her," said the earl. "She will need
Cardross looked at him. He had never till then noticed, what other
people began to notice, how exceedingly old the earl now looked, his
small, delicate features withering up almost like those of an elderly
man, though he was not much past forty.
"You don't, mean—oh no, not that! You must not be thinking of that.
My mother's rule at Cairnforth is a long way off yet." And—big
fellow as he was—the lad's eyes filled with tears.
After that day he refused all holiday excursions in which Lord
Cairnforth could not accompany him. It was only by great persuasion
that he agreed to go for a week to Edinburg, to revisit his old haunts
there, to look on the ugly fields where he had sown his wild oats, and
prove to even respectable and incredulous Uncle Alick that there was no
fear of their ever sprouting up again. Also, Lord Cairnforth took the
opportunity to introduce his cousin into his own set of Edinburg
friends, to familiarize the young man with the society in which he must
shortly take his place, and to hear from them, what he so warmly
believed himself, that Cardross was fitted to be heir to any property in
"What a pity," some added, "that he could not be heir to the earldom
also!" "No," said others, "better that 'the wee earl' (as old-fashioned
folk still sometimes called him) should be the last Earl of Cairnforth."
With the exception of those two visits, during a whole twelvemonth the
earl and his adopted son were scarcely parted for a single day. Years
afterward, Cardross loved to relate, first to his mother, and then to
his children, sometimes with laughter, and again with scarcely repressed
tears, may an anecdote of the life they two led together at St. Andrew's
—a real student life, yet filled at times with the gayest amusements.
For the earl loved gayety—actual mirth; sometimes he and Cardross
were as full of jests and pranks as two children, and at other times
they held long conversations upon all manner of grave and earnest
topics, like equal friends. It was the sort of companionship, free and
tender, cheerful and bright, yet with all the influence of the elder
over the younger, which, occurring to a young man of Cardross's age and
temperament, usually determines his character for life.
Thus, day by day, Helen's son developed and matured, becoming more and
more a thorough Cardross, sound to the core, and yet polished outside in
a manner which had not been the lot of any of the earlier generation,
save the minister. Also, he had a certain winning way with him—a
power of suiting himself to every body, and pleasing every body—
which even his mother, who only pleased those she loved or those that
loved her, had never possessed.
"It's his father's way he has, ye ken," Malcolm would say—Malcolm,
who, after a season of passing jealousy, had for years succumbed wholly
to his admiration of "Miss Helen's bairn." "But it's the only bit o'
the Bruces that the lad's gotten in him, thank the Lord!"
Though the earl did not say openly "thank the Lord," still he, too,
recognized with a solemn joy that the qualities he and Helen dreaded had
either not been inherited by Captain Bruce's son, or else timely care
had rooted them out. And as he gradually relaxed his watch over the
young man, and left him more and more to his own guidance, Lord
Cairnforth, sitting alone in his house at St. Andrew's—almost as
much alone as he used to sit in the Castle library—would think, with
a strange consolation, that this year's heavy sacrifice had not been in
Once Cardross, coming in from a long golfing match, broke upon one of
these meditative fits, and was a little surprised to find that the earl
did not rouse himself out of it quite so readily as was his wont; also
that the endless college stories, which he always liked so much to
listen to, fell rather blank, and did not meet Lord Cairnforth's hearty
laugh, as gay as that of a young fellow could share and sympathize in
"You are not well to-day," suddenly said the lad. "What have you been
"My usual work—nothing."
"But you have been thinking. What about?" cried Cardross, with the
affectionate persistency of one who knew himself a favorite, and looking
up in the earl's face with his bright, fond eyes—Helen's very eyes.
"I was thinking of your mother, my boy. You know it is a whole year
since I have seen your mother."
"So she said in her last letter, and wondered when you intended coming
home, because she misses you more and more every day."
"You, she means, Carr."
"No, yourself. I know my mother wishes you would come home."
"Does she? And so do I. But I should have to leave you alone, my boy;
for if once I make the effort, and return to Cairnforth, I know I shall
never quit it more."
He spoke earnestly—more so than the occasion seemed to need, and
there was a weary look in his eyes which struck his companion.
"Are you afraid to leave me alone, Lord Cairnforth?" asked Cardross,
"No." And again, as if he had not answered strongly enough, he
repeated, "My dear boy, no!"
"Thank you. You never said it, but I knew. You came here for my sake,
to take charge of me. You made me happy—you never blamed me—you
neither watched me or domineered over me—still, I knew. Oh, how
good you have been!"
Lord Cairnforth did not speak for some time, and then he said, gravely,
"However things were at first, you must feel, my boy, that I trust you
now entirely, and that you and I are thorough friends—equal
"Not equal. On, never in my whole life shall I be half so good as you!
But I'll try hard to be as good as I can. And I shall be always beside
you. Remember your promise."
This was, that after he came of age, and ended his university career,
instead of taking "the grand tour," like most young heirs of the period,
Cardross should settle down at home, in the character of of Lord
Cairnforth's private secretary—always at hand, and ready in every
possible way to lighten the burden of business which, even as a young
man, the earl had found heavy enough, and as an old man he would be
unable to bear.
"I shall never be clever, I know that," pleaded the lad, who was
learning a touching humility, "but I may be useful; and oh! if you would
but use me, in any thing or every thing, I'd work day and night for you
—I would indeed!"
"I know you would, my son" (earl sometimes called him "my son" when they
were by themselves), "and so you shall."
That evening Lord Cairnforth dictated to Helen, by her boy's hand, one
of his rare letters, telling her that he and Cardross would return home
in time for the latter's birthday, which would be in a month from now,
and which he wished kept with all the honors customary to the coming of
age of an heir of Cairnforth.
"Heir of Cairnforth!" The lad started, and stopped writing.
"It must be so, my son; I wish it. After your mother, you are my heir,
and I shall honor you as such; afterward you will return here alone, and
stay till the session is over; then come back, and live with me at the
Castle, and fit yourself in every way to become—what I can now wholly
trust you to be—the future master of Cairnforth."
And so, as soon as the earl's letter reached the peninsula, the
rejoicings began. The tenantry knew well enough who the earl had fixed
upon to come after him, but his was his first public acknowledgment of
the fact. Helen's position, as heiress presumptive, was regarded as
merely nominal; it was her son, the fine young fellow whom every body
knew from his babyhood, toward whom the loyalty of the little community
blazed up in a height of feudal devotion that was touching to see. The
warm Scotch heart—all the warmer, perhaps, for a certain narrowness
and clannishness, which in its pride would probably, nay, certainly,
have shut itself up against a stranger or an inferior—opened freely
to "Miss Helen's" son and the minister's grandson, a young man known to
all and approved of by all.
So the festivity was planned to be just the earl's coming of age over
again, with the difference between June and December, which removed the
feasting-place from the lawn to the great kitchen of the Castle, and
caused bonfires on the hill-tops to be a very doubtful mode of
jubilation. The old folk—young then—who remembered the bright
summer festival of twenty-four years ago told many a tale of that day,
and how the "puir wee earl" came forward in his little chair and made
his brief speech, every word and every promise of which his after life
had so faithfully fulfilled.
"The heir's a wise-like lad, and a braw lad," said the old folks of the
clachan, patronizingly. "He's no that ill the noo, and he'll aiblins
grow the better, ye ken; but naibody that comes after will be like him.
We'll ne'er see anither Earl o' Cairnforth."
The same words which Mr. Menteith and the rest had said when the earl
was born, but with what a different meaning!
Lord Cairnforth came back among his own people amid a transport of
welcome. Though he had been long away, Mrs. Bruce and other assistants
had carried out his plans and orders so successfully that the estate had
not suffered for his absence. In the whole extent of it was now little
or no poverty; none like that which, in his youth, had startled Lord
Cairnforth into activity upon hearing the story of the old shepherd of
Loch Mhor. There was plenty of work, and hands to do it, along the
shores of both lochs; new farms had sprung up, and new roads been made;
churches and schools were built as occasion required; and though the
sheep had been driven a little higher up the mountains, and the deer and
grouse fled farther back into the inland moors, still Cairnforth village
was a lovely spot, inhabited by a contented community. Civilization
could bring to it no evils that were not counteracted by two strong
influences—(stronger than any one can conceive who does not
understand the peculiarities almost feudal in their simplicity, of
country parish life in Scotland)—a minister like Mr. Cardross, and a
resident proprietor like the Earl of Cairnforth.
The earl arrived a few days before the festival day, and spent the time
in going over his whole property from one end to the other. He took
Mrs. Bruce with him. "I can't want you for a day now, Helen," said he,
and made her sit beside him in his carriage, which, by dint of various
modern appliances, he could now travel in far easier than he used to do,
or else asked her to drive him in the old familiar pony-chaise along the
old familiar hill-side roads, whence you look down on ether loch—
sometimes on both—lying like a sheet of silver below.
Man a drive they took every day, the weather being still and clam, as it
often is at Cairnforth, by fits and snatches, all winter through.
"I think there never was such a place as this place," the earl would
often say, when he stopped at particular points of view, and gazed his
fill on every well-known outline of the hills and curve of the lochs,
generally ending with a smiling look on the face beside him, equally
familiar, which had watched all these things with him for more than
thirty years. "Helen, I have had a happy life, or it seems so, looking
back upon it. Remember, I said this, and let no one ever say the
And in all the houses they visited—farm, cottage, or bothie—
every body noticed how exceedingly happy the earl looked, how cheerfully
he spoke, and how full of interest he was in every thing around him.
"His lordship may live to be an auld man yet," said some one to Malcolm,
and Malcolm indignantly repudiated the possibility of any thing else.
The minister was left a little lonely during this week of Lord
Cairnforth's coming home, but he did not seem to feel it. He felt
nothing very much now except pleasure in the sunshine and the fire, in
looking at the outside of his books, now rarely opened, and in watching
the bright faces around him. He was made to understand what a grand
festival was to be held at Cairnforth, and the earl took especial pains
to arrange that the feeble octogenarian should be brought to the Castle
without fatigue, and enabled to appear both at the tenants' feast in the
kitchen, and the more formal banquet of friends and neighbors in the
hall—the grand old dining-room—which was arranged exactly as it
had been on the earl's coming of age.
However, there was a difference. Then the board was almost empty, now
it was quite full. With a carefulness that at the time Helen almost
wondered at, the earl collected about him that day the most brilliant
gathering he could invite from all the country round—people of
family, rank, and wealth—above all, people of worth; who, either by
inherited position, or that high character which is the best possession
of all, could confer honor by their presence, and who, since "a man is
known by his friends," would be suitable and creditable friends to a
young man just entering the world.
And before all these, with Helen sitting as mistress at the foot of the
table, and Helen's father at his right hand, the Earl of Cairnforth
introduced, in a few simple words, his chosen heir.
"Deliberately chosen," he added; "not merely as being my cousin and my
nearest of kin, but because he is his mother's son, and Mr. Cardross's
grandson, and worthy of them both—also because, for his own sake, I
respect him, and I love him. I give you the health of Alexander
And then they all wished the young man joy, and the dining-hall of
Cairnforth Castle rang with hearty cheers for Mr. Bruce-Montgomerie.
No more speeches were made, for it was noticed that Lord Cairnforth
looked excessively wearied; but he kept his place to the last. Of the
many brilliant circles that he had entertained at his hospitable board,
none were ever more brilliant than this; none gayer, with the genial,
wholesome gayety which the earl, of whom it might truly be said,
"A merrier man, never spent an hour's talk withal,"
knew so well how to scatter around him. By what magic he did this, no
one ever quite found out; but it was done, and especially so on this
night of all nights, when, after his long absence, he came back to his
own ancestral home, and appeared again among his own neighbors and
friends. They long remembered it—and him.
At length the last carriage rolled away, and shortly afterward the wind
began suddenly to rise and howl wildly round the Castle. There came on
one of those wild winter-storms, common enough in these regions—
brief, but fierce while they last.
"You can not go home," said the earl to Mrs. Bruce, who remained with
him, the minister having departed with his son Duncan early in the
evening. "Stay here till to-morrow. Cardross, persuade your mother.
You never yet spent a night under my roof. Helen, will you do it his
once? I shall never ask you again."
There was an earnest entreaty in his manner which Helen could not
resist; and hardly knowing why she did it, she consented. Her son went
off to his bed, fairly worn out with pleasurable excitement, and she
staid with Lord Cairnforth, as he seemed to wish, for another half hour.
They sat by the library fire, listening to the rain beating and the wind
howling—not continuously, but coming and going in frantic blasts,
which seemed like the voices of living creatures borne on its wings.
"Do you mind, Helen, it was just such a night as this when Mr. Menteith
died, before I went to Edinburg? The sort of wind that, they say, is
always sent to call away souls. I know not why it is, or why there
should be any connection between things material and immaterial,
comprehensible and wholly incomprehensible, but I often sit here and
fancy I should like my soul to be called away in just such a tempest as
this—to be set free,
"'And on the wings of mighty winds
Go flying all abroad,'
"As the psalm has it. It would be glorious—glorious! Suddenly to
find one's self strong, active—cumbered with no burden of a body—
to be all spirit, and spirit only."
As the earl spoke, his whole face, withered and worn as it was, lighted
up and glowed, Helen thought, almost like what one could imagine a
She answered nothing, for she could find nothing to say. Her quiet,
simple faith was almost frightened at the passionate intensity of his,
and the nearness with which he seemed to realize the unseen world.
"I wonder," he said again—"I sometimes sit for hours wondering—
what the other life is like—the life of which we know nothing, yet
which may be so near to us all. I often find myself planning about it
in a wild, vague way, what I am to do in it—what God will permit me
to do—and to be. Surely something more than He ever permitted here."
"I believe that," said Helen. And after her habit of bringing all
things to the one test and the one teaching, she reminded him of the
parable of the talents: "I think," she added, "that you will be one of
those whom, in requital for having made the most of all his gifts here,
He will make 'ruler over ten cities' at least, if he is a just God."
"He is a just God. In my worst trials I have never doubted that,"
replied Lord Cairnforth, solemnly. And then he repeated those words of
St. Paul, to which many an agonized doubter has clung, as being the last
refuge of sorrow—the only key to mysteries which sometime shake the
firmest faith—"'For now we see through a glass darkly, but then
face to face; now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I
When Helen rose to retire, which was not till midnight—for the earl
seemed unwilling to let her go, saying it was so long since they had had
a quiet talk together—he asked her earnestly if she were content
about her son.
"Perfectly content. Not merely content, but happy—happier than I
once thought it possible to be in this world. And it is you who have
done it all—you who have made my boy what he is. But he will reward
you—I know he will. Henceforward he will be as much your son as
"I hope so. And now good-night, my dear."
"Good-night—God bless you."
Mrs. Bruce knelt down beside the chair, and touched with her lips the
poor, useless hands.
"Helen," said the earl as she rose, "kiss me—just once—as I
remember your doing when I was a boy—a poor, lonely, miserable boy."
She kissed him very tenderly, then went away and left him sitting there
in his little chair, opposite the fire, alone in the large, splendid,
* * * * *
Helen Bruce could not sleep that night. Either the day's excitement had
been too much for her, or she was disturbed by the wild winds that went
shrieking round the Castle, reminding her over and over again of what
the earl had just said concerning them. There came into her mind an
uneasy feeling about her father, whom for so many years she had never
left a night alone; but it was useless regretting this now. At last,
toward morning, the storm gradually lulled. She rose, and looked out of
her window on the loch, which glittered in moonlight like a sea of
glass. It reminded her, with an involuntary fancy, of the sea "clear as
glass, like unto crystal," spoken of in the fourth chapter of the
Apocalypse as being "before the Throne." She stood looking at it for a
minute or so, then went back to her bed and slept peacefully till
She was dressing herself, full of quiet and happy thoughts, admiring the
rosy winter sunrise, and planning all she meant to do that day, when she
was startled by Mrs. Campbell, who came suddenly into the room with a
face as white and rigid as marble.
"He's awa'," she said, or rather whispered.
"Who's is away?" shrieked Helen, thinking at once of her father.
"Whisht!" said the old nurse, catching hold of Mrs. Bruce as she was
rushing from the room, and speaking beneath her breath; "wisht! My
lord's deid; but we'll no greet; I canna greet. He's gane awa' hame."
No, it was not the old man who was called. Mr. Cardross lived several
years after then—lived to be nearly ninety. It was the far younger
life—young, and yet how old in suffering!—which had thus
suddenly and unexpectedly come to an end.
The earl was found dead in his bed, in his customary attitude of repose,
just as Malcolm always placed him, and left him till the morning. His
eyes were wide open, so that he could not have died in his sleep. But
how, at what hour, or in what manner he had died—whether the summons
had been slow or sudden, whether he had tried to call assistance and
failed, or whether, calling no one and troubling no one, his fearless
soul had passed, and chosen to pass thus solitary unto its God, none
ever knew or ever could know, and it was all the same now.
He died as he had lived, quite alone. But it did not seem to have been
a painful death, for the expression of his features was peaceful, and
they had already settled down into that mysteriously beautiful
death-smile which is never seen on any human face but once.
Helen stood and looked down upon it—the dear familiar face, now, in
the grandeur of death, suddenly grown strange. She thought of what hey
had been talking about last night concerning the world to come. Now he
knew it all. She did not "greet;" she could not. In spite of its
outward incompleteness, it had been a noble life—an almost perfect
life; and now it was ended. He had had his desire; his poor helpless
body cumbered him no more—he was "away."
* * * * *
It was a bright winter morning the day the Earl of Cairnforth was buried
—clear hard frost, and a little snow—not much—snow never lies
long on the shores of Loch Beg. There was no stately funeral, for it
was found that he had left express orders to the contrary; but four of
his own people, Malcolm Campbell and three more, took on their shoulders
the small coffin, scarcely heavier than a child's, and bore it tenderly
from Cairnforth Castle to Cainforth kirk-yard. After it came a long,
long train of silent mourners, as is customary in Scotch funerals. Such
a procession had not been witnessed for centuries in all this
country-side. Ere they left the Castle the funeral prayer was offered
up by Mr. Cardross, the last time the good old minister's voice was ever
heard publicly in his own parish, and at the head of the coffin walked,
as chief mourner, Cardross Bruce-Montgomerie, the earl's adopted son.
And so, laid beside his father and mother, they left him to his rest.
According to his own wish, his grave bears this inscription, carved upon
a plain upright stone, which—also by his particular request—
stands facing the Manse windows:
Charles Edward Stuart Montgomerie,
THE LAST EARL OF CAIRNFORTH,
Aged 43 Years.
"Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven."