I T was Friday when news of the Auld Laird's death reached the village, and on the following Sabbath there was not an empty seat in the kirk, for every one was anxious to hear the latest gossip about the event which meant so much to every one in the region. There was no newspaper in the village, and the news of the week was passed about by word of mouth in the kirkyard after service, or on week days was retailed over the counter at the village post-office, which was post-office and general store in one.
The Campbells were early in their pew, and the Twins watched the other worshipers as they came slowly up the aisle and took their places before time for the service to begin. Sandy winked at them most indecorously across the church, but his mother poked him to remind him of his duty, and he sent no more silent messages to the other members of the Clan.
There was an air of expectation, which seemed to affect every one in the kirk. Even the minister looked as if he had something special on his mind, and as for Mr. Craigie, he was as solemnly important, Sandy said afterwards, "as though he were the corpse himself," while Angus Niel acted like nothing less than the chief mourner.
In the kirkyard he let it be known that he was entirely familiar with the details of the Auld Laird's funeral, which had occurred in London the day before, though how the particulars reached him in so short a time must forever remain a mystery.
It was Mr. Craigie, however, who gave out the important news which every one had felt must be coming. On the steps after service he said to Mr. Crumpet, "It's likely, Andrew, that you may have more time about your lease. I've had news that the new Laird is coming soon to the castle with his lawyers and some other people to look over the estate and take possession. Eppie McLean is to get ready for quite a party of the gentry."
Mrs. Crumpet was standing near her husband, and she was a bold woman who would have asked a question of the Auld Laird himself, if she had had occasion. "Then it's the sickly bit laddie who's the heir?" she said, "and not the Edinburgh man?"
Mr. Craigie looked majestic and waved her aside, merely saying, as he went down the steps, "It isna an Edinburgh body," but giving no hint as to whether it was man, woman, or child. The people, who had gathered about him thinking to hear something definite looked resentfully at his back as he walked away, and Mrs. Crumpet openly expressed her opinion that he knew nothing more about it himself. "If he did, he couldn't help letting it dribble out by degrees, like a leaky kirn, being too stingy to tell it out free, like any other body," she said.
Mrs. Crumpet was a woman of rare penetration. Even Sandy didn't often get ahead of his mother.
For another week the village waited in suspense for further news, and then on Saturday the report spread like wildfire through the town that the new Laird with his party had arrived at the castle the night before.
It was Sandy who brought the news to the little gray house. "And they say there were three carriage-loads of them and they never got to Glen Cairn until dark," he cried; "and the tale is that the castle ovens have never been cool since the word came a week ago! Mother says Eppie McLean has been laying in provisions as if she looked for seven lean years like Joseph in Egypt."
"Losh!" interrupted Jock, "I wish Alan was here. Wouldn't we get some of those good things for the cave, though."
"But that isn't all the news," cried Sandy, who had come three miles to tell it and was not going to let it burst from him too suddenly. "There's more."
"What is it, Sandy?" cried Jean, dancing with impatience. "Hurry, lad; let out what's bottled up in you or you'll blow the cork!"
"Well," exploded Sandy, "you'll get some of the good things without Alan, I'm telling you, for there's to be a grand feast at the castle, and everybody is asked to come! There's a sign up in the village, and it's to be Monday at five o'clock. They say Eppie McLean has fowls waiting by the dozen and a barrel of tatties ready for the pot. Losh! I don't see how the new Laird can stay weakly with so much to fill him up."
"Sal!" cried Jean, "if he's such a wee laddie as they say, it's likely his mother will be the one to say what's to be done in Glen Cairn, and it's not likely she'll be wanting to go rampaging over the country shooting game like the Auld Laird."
"Ye can never tell," said Sandy, with a worldly air. "Some say ladies is worse than men."
"Never believe that," said Jean, promptly, and then she added a little wistfully, "especially if they are mothers."
At church the next day the congregation was in such a state of excitement it was with the greatest difficulty that the proper Sabbath decorum was observed. Sandy Crumpet brazenly looked over his shoulder every time any one passed up the aisle, thinking that perhaps the new Laird and his mother might come in at any moment, and even the grown people looked sidewise, but no new faces appeared and fear was expressed afterwards that the mother of the heir was of the Established Church. Mrs. Crumpet said she had always heard that among the gentry the women were fiercer in their religion than the men. The Shepherd remembered the Laird of Kinross, but said nothing.
On the way home from church Jean and Jock noticed that smoke was issuing from all the castle chimneys. It was now early autumn, and, as Jean said, the castle must be damp from standing so long empty, and they had the right to warm it up for the wee Laird, him being so sickly.
The suspense of the long weeks of summer had now become acute. If the Auld Laird's wish to turn the tenants out of their holdings to make Glen Cairn into a large game preserve was to be carried out, the time for doing it was near, and the people looked forward to the supper at the castle with both hope and dread.
Every one was to be there, and on Monday a wonderful amount of preparation was going forward in every cottage and farmhouse on the estate. Jean had her father's blacks on the line and thoroughly brushed early in the morning, and the Sabbath clothes for all three of them laid out on the chairs in "the room" by noon. At four o'clock they were on their way to the castle. Jock had wanted to start at three, but Jean was firm.
"It isna genteel to be going so early,"
Any one would have said Jean looked pretty that day, for she was not wearing her "Saturday face," and the little curls had crept around her head unbeknownst and were blowing in bright tendrils about her forehead under the edge of her bonnet with its sprig of pine. Her cheeks were pink and her eyes bright with health and excitement, and Robert Campbell, looking with pride at his sturdy son and daughter, said to himself, "It's a sonsie lassie and braw lad. I wish their mother could see them."
They walked down the river road, where the autumn colors were beginning to appear, and at the bridge met the Crumpet family all dressed in their best, also on their way to the castle. Sandy had scrubbed himself till his face was shining like a glass bottle, and the sprig of pine waved proudly from his bonnet, too. At every branch road they were joined by others, and when they neared the castle gates there was already quite a large group of people from the village as well. Every one was in a state of tense excitement, for the fate of all hung in the balance. Since the tenure of their homes was at the mercy of the new Laird, his ideas and disposition were of vital importance in their lives, and they were keen to see him and find out for themselves what manner of person he might be. Mr. Crumpet was looking very glum. He took a morose view of life at best, and the present circumstances certainly warranted apprehension.
"If it's a wee bit of a laddie, as we are led to expect," he said to the Shepherd, "he'll have no judgment of his own, and be dependent on them as has him in charge. Mr. Craigie will not be loosening his hold, and with only a weak woman and a sickly boy to deal with, he'll wind 'em around his finger like a wisp o' wool. It's my opinion we'll have Mr. Craigie to deal with more than ever."
"Well," said Mrs. Crumpet philosophically, "and if we jump at all 'twill be but from the fire back to the frying-pan again, I'm thinking."
Various other opinions were expressed by one and another as the tenants of Glen Cairn followed the wide drive which led to the castle doors. Most of them had never before been inside the walls of the park, and they looked about them with interest at the unkempt and overgrown drive and at the bracken and heather spreading even over the lawns. It was evident that the place had been left to take care of itself for many years.
It was a warm day in late September, and though there was a touch of red in the ivy which draped the gray castle walls, the air was mellow with the haze of autumn and musical with the buzzing of bees.
Mr. Craigie, looking more like a pair of tongs than ever, stood on the terrace with the minister and his wife, while Angus Niel, swelling with importance, ranged round the outskirts of the crowd as they approached the castle, gradually herding them toward the entrance. When they were all gathered in front of the terrace, the minister came forward to the steps and lifted his hand. A hush instantly fell upon the waiting people, and the minister spoke.
"Her ladyship has asked me to say to you that she and the new Laird will meet you here," he said, "and afterward conduct you to the banqueting-hall, where supper will be served. It is their desire to know you all personally, and I will be here to present you as you come up the steps."
There was a surprised look on every face as the minister finished speaking. What manner of landlord could this be, who made a point of knowing his tenants as men and women the moment he came to the estate? It was a breathless moment when at last the great castle doors swung open, revealing a group of people standing in the entrance. There was an instant's pause, and then a tall strong-looking woman stepped forward upon the terrace, with her hand resting lightly on the shoulder of a sturdy black-haired boy nearly as tall as herself. The boy was dressed in kilts, with the Campbell plaid flung over his shoulder and a spray of evergreen pine nodding gayly from his Glengarry bonnet.
"Michty me! It's Alan!" exclaimed Jock, so stunned by surprise that his knees nearly gave way under him, while Jean, her eyes shining like stars, clutched her father's hand, too stunned to realize at first that Alan and the new Laird of Glen Cairn were one and the same person. In fact, nobody realized it at once, for many of the tenants had come to know and like Alan during the summer, simply as "the boy who was staying with Eppie McLean."
They were still gazing at the castle door and wondering why the "puny wee laddie, who was not long for this world" did not appear, when the gracious lady, who still stood with her hand resting proudly on Alan's shoulder, began to speak.
"Many of you already know the new Laird of Glen Cairn as Alan McCrae," she said, smiling kindly down into their blank upturned faces. "He has been among you all summer and has learned to love our Highland country without dreaming that he himself would one day inherit this beautiful estate. He is next of kin to the Auld Laird, though not a near relative, and had no idea that I had any purpose beyond the improvement of his health in sending him here for the summer. I knew that which he did not, that he was likely soon to be called to take the Auld Laird's place here, and I wanted him to know you first, not as tenants, but as friends merely. He has come to love this region for its own sake, and comes among you like a true Scotchman, meaning to make this his home and the interests of this community his own interests. He is not yet of age, as you see, but his purposes and plans are clearly formed, and I will leave him to explain them to you himself."
She stopped speaking, and the people, overwhelmed with surprise and joy, burst into a hearty and prolonged cheer, as Alan stepped forward to make his speech. He was only a boy, and a very much embarrassed one at that, but he knew what he wanted to say and he got to the point at once.
"I just want you to know," he said, "that nobody's going to be turned out if he doesn't want to be. I know all about the lease, and that it's going to run out this fall, but any one who wants to stay on the land and improve it is going to have the chance to do it. My mother knows a lot about such things, and we're going to collect the rents ourselves, and we think, maybe, when I'm of age, there'll be some way by which people who really want to use the land may own it instead of being obliged to rent. Mother says they are beginning to do it in Ireland, and in England too in some places.
"I've found out that people are more important than rabbits and deer, and they are going to have first chance at the land of Glen Cairn as long as I'm Laird." This was greeted with such a roar of cheers that for a moment it was quite impossible for Alan to proceed. He smiled bashfully at his mother and then held up his hand for silence.
"I just want to say, too," he went on, biting his lips to keep from laughing, "that after this there won't be any gamekeeper on Glen Cairn. If the rabbits spoil your crops you're welcome to catch them if you can! I've ranged these woods myself all summer, and I have found out that gamekeepers are no safeguard against poachers." A gasp of astonishment greeted this statement, and Angus Niel was observed to turn ashy pale.
"In fact, I know that sometimes gamekeepers turn poachers themselves and make money selling what they have killed," he went on. Here Angus Niel, looking suddenly deflated, like a burst balloon, began quietly to slink out of sight, and Alan, brimful of mischief, raised his voice so it would be sure to reach him and said, "I've seen it done myself, and if Angus Niel wants to know any more about that gang of twenty blood-thirsty villains which has scared the life out of him all summer, he can come to me and I'll tell him. I'm the Chief of that gang, and there are three others just like me, and that's all!" He winked rapturously at the three other members of the Clan, who were gazing up at him in a stupor of astonishment, and fired his last shot at the fleeing Angus, while the audience, catching his meaning, burst into howls of derisive laughter.
"Don't hurry, Angus," he called. "I want to tell you about your boat and about the water witch that haunted you. I'm the water witch too!" But Angus was already out of hearing and scuttling as fast as his trembling legs could carry him to get out of sight, as well. When the roars of laughter had subsided, Alan said, with a boyish grin, "It's too bad he couldn't stay to supper. And now come up, everybody, and meet my mother."
It was then that the Shepherd of Glen Easig astonished himself and every one else by shouting at the top of his lungs, "Three cheers for the young Laird!" and when they had been given with such energy that the hills rang with the echoes, he called for three more for her ladyship, and Alan waved his cap in acknowledgment for them both.
Then the people, surprised out of their usual Scotch reserve by laughter and by the joy of good news, came swarming up the steps and were introduced to Alan's mother by Alan himself when he knew them, and by the minister when he did not.
The Shepherd, with the bashful Clan in his wake, came last of all, and the Twins heard him say to her ladyship, "God bless the laddie! It was a rare day for the Glen when he fell into the burn and came to dry himself by our fireside."
"It was a rare day for me, too, Cousin Campbell," said Alan, and then, catching sight of Sandy and the Twins hanging back behind their father, what did he do but pucker up his lips and whistle the pewit call? The Clan was too overcome then even to attempt a pucker, and Alan, springing forward, tried to grasp three hands at once and introduced them to his mother as his Rob Roy Clan.
The Twins and Sandy were not a bit like the bold buccaneers of the cave when the great lady of Glen Cairn smiled on them kindly.
"I told you I'd wear the sprig of evergreen pine and whistle the call of the Clan the next time you saw me," cried Alan, as they fell in behind the others, who were now entering the banquet-hall. "Why didn't you answer?"
"Oh, but," said Jean, a little sadly and blushing like a poppy, "we never thought you'd be coming back so grand like. You'll never be playing with the Clan any more in Glen Easig, surely, now that you're a great Laird!"
"And why not, I'd like to know?" cried the great Laird, looking hurt. "I'm still Alan McRae, Chief of the Clan, the same as before, and as true to my friends as Rob Roy himself was before me. We'll have many a good day in the woods yet before snow flies; and listen, I've a plan in my head!"
"There speaks the Chief," cried Jock, forgetting to be afraid of him. "He was ever having plans in his head. Out with it, man."
"It's this," said Alan, "I'm going to have a tutor here at the castle, and you're all to have your lessons here with me, and no end of larks!" Here Sandy, who had so far merely gazed at his Chief with speechless devotion, suddenly, burst into words.
"Aye, Chief," he cried, "that was a true word you spoke; about no gamekeeper being needed in Glen Cairn. I'm none so keen for the learning, but if there should be poachers hanging about, they'll have Sandy Crumpet to deal with; let them take warning of that!"
Alan laughed and clapped Sandy on the back. "I'd rather have you than forty Angus Niels," he said, and then they were swept along, without a chance for further words, into the great hall, where they found long tables spread and Eppie McLean with a dozen helpers bringing in such stores of food that all Sandy had said about the preparations at the castle was justified at a glance.
Most of the people had already found places at the tables when the young Laird and his mother, followed by the minister and his wife and the castle guests, came into the hall. The Twins and Sandy hung back behind all the other guests, but Alan found places for them opposite his own, and then he handed his mother to the seat of honor at the head of the table. The minister and the guests from the city ranged themselves on either side, and every one stood with bowed head while the minister asked a blessing upon the food, upon the new Laird and his mother, and upon all the people of Glen Cairn.
There was a great scraping of chairs, and then every one sat down and fell upon the good things like an army of locusts upon a harvest field. The great hall, so long silent, echoed with happy voices and the clatter of knives and forks, and Jean, looking across the table at the new Laird, in all his glory, wondered if it could be possible that it was the very Alan whom she had shaken when Angus shot the stag, or who had helped her set the table in the kitchen of the little gray house, while his wet clothes were drying by the cottage fire. She ate her supper like one in a dream, and though she kept a watchful eye on Jock's table manners and warned Sandy's elbows off the table several times in her own efficient way, she could scarcely believe such wonderful things were really happening to her.
At last the wonderful day drew to a close, and the people of Glen Cairn, happier than they had been in a long time, said good-bye to the gracious lady of the castle and to the already beloved young Laird, and started home in the deepening twilight of the autumn evening.
The Clan, lingering behind their parents, looked back at the group on the castle terrace before the trees hid them from sight, and Jock sent the pewit call shrilling through the dusk. It was answered instantly from the terrace.
"He is just like Prince Charlie, I'm thinking," said Sandy, and Jock, to ease his feelings, whistled "Charlie is my darling" all the way to the gate of the park.
The evening star was shining brightly
over the dark outline of old Ben Vane as
the Campbells reached the little gray house
on the brae, now safely their home forever,
and Tam came bounding down the path to
meet them. Jean kissed her hand to the
star and murmured to
"Star light, star bright,
I have the wish I wished to‑night."