T HE rest of the week seemed at least a month long to the lonely twins. Sandy came to see them, to be sure, but with the passing of the Chief, the flavor seemed gone from the play, and the Clan made no further expeditions after Angus Niel.
"He can just kill all the game he wants to," said Jean. "It's the worse for the Auld Laird, I doubt, but who cares for that, so long as he leaves Tam alone and keeps away from here? It's nothing to me."
Their father had been so taken up with his work and with turning over in his mind plans for the future, when they should be "walking the world," that he paid little attention to their punishment of Angus Niel, about which he knew little and cared less. He was absorbed in planning the best market for his sheep and in getting as much from his garden as he could, hoping to sell what he was unable to use himself, when the time came to leave. His usually cheerful face had grown more and more troubled as the summer wore on, and it was seldom now that his bagpipes woke the mountain echoes, and whenever he did while away a rainy evening with music, the melodies were as wild and mournful as his own sad thoughts.
Angus Niel's barometer now rose again. Finding himself no longer pursued by his unseen foes, his waning self-confidence returned, and it was only a week or two after Alan's departure that wonderful stories began to go about the village concerning his prowess in ridding the woods of thieves and marauders single-handed.
"I've even found my boat," he announced one evening to a group of men lounging about the village store, "and it was no human hands that put it where I found it either! It was below the falls, if you'll believe me, safe and sound and tight as ever. Any man that is easily scared would better not be walking the woods in that direction, I'm telling you, or likely he'd be whisked away by the little people and shut up in some cave in the hills. I felt the drawing myself once, but I knew how to manage, I was just gey firm with them, and they knew I wasna fearful and let me go. It's none so easy being a gamekeeper. It takes a bold man, and a canny one, and well the poacher gang knew that. They're gone and good riddance. It's taken me all summer to bring it about."
"Oh," murmured Jock to Jean, when this was repeated to them by Sandy the following Sabbath, "wouldn't Alan like to hear that?" It was on that very Sabbath, too, that they learned the Dominie had recovered and that school was to reopen on the following day. This was good news to the Twins, for like all Scotch children they longed for an education, and the next morning, bright and early, they were on the road to the village, carrying some scones and hard-boiled eggs for their luncheon, in a little tin pail.
The days passed swiftly after that, for, with the house to care for, lessons to get, and the walk of five miles to school and back, there was little time for moping or even dreading the day when they must leave their highland home.
It was late August when they came rushing home one afternoon, bursting with a great piece of news, which they had learned in the village. Never had they covered the five miles of the homeward journey more quickly, but when they reached the little gray house, their father had not yet returned from the pastures, though it was after his time. The two children ran back of the house to the cow byre, and there in the distance they saw him coming across the barren moor. He was walking slowly, with his head bent as though he were tired and discouraged, and Tam, limping along beside him, looked discouraged too. The Twins gave a wild whoop and raced across the moor to meet them. Jock got there first, but was too out of breath to speak for an instant.
"Dear, dear! What can the matter be?" said their father, looking from one excited face to the other.
"Oh, Father," gasped Jean, finding her tongue first, "you never can guess, so I'll tell you. The Auld Laird's dead."
The Shepherd stood still in his tracks, too stunned for words.
"Aye!" cried Jock, wishing to share in the glory of such an exciting revelation. "He's as dead as a salt herring."
"Oh, Father!" cried Jean, "aren't you glad? Now we won't have to leave the wee bit hoosie and the Glen."
"I'm none so sure of that," said the Shepherd slowly, when he had recovered from the first shock of surprise. "The next Laird may be worse than the old. Be that as it may, I'm not one to rejoice at the death of any man. Death is a solemn thing; my dawtie, but the Lord's will be done, and I'm not pretending to mourn."
"We went to the village," cried Jean, "to get a bit of meat for the pot, and there was a whole crowd of people around the post-office door. 'Twas the post-master gave us the news, and Mr. Craigie and Angus Niel have put weeds on their hats and look as mournful as Tam when he's scolded. We saw them out of the school-house window not two hours gone."
"They have reason to mourn," said the
Shepherd grimly, "not for the Auld Laird's
death only, but for their own lives as well.
Aye, that's a subject for grief." He shook
his head dubiously, and, seeming to feel it
was an occasion for a moral lesson, he
"What has that to do with the Auld Laird?" asked Jock, much mystified. "Nothing at all, maybe," answered the Shepherd, "but it's a wise word to remember against our own time."
"I wish Angus Niel would remember it," exclaimed Jean.
"And Mr. Craigie no less," added Jock.
"Well, well," said the Shepherd, "heard ye anything more in the village?"
"Aye, that we did," said Jean, who loved to prolong the excitement of news.
"Let me tell that," said Jock. "You told about the Auld Laird. Well, then, Father, there's all kinds of tales about the new Laird. It's said he's a wee bit of a laddie, not more than four years old, and not the son of the Auld Laird at all, but a cousin or something. It's said he's weak and sickly-like and not long for this world."
"Sandy's mother was in the village and walked with us to the bridge," interrupted Jean, "and she heard that the heir is a young man living in Edinburgh, and not even known to the Auld Laird, who had no near kin. She had it from the minister's wife, so it must be true."
"Didn't Mr. Craigie say anything? He ought to know more about it than any one. He's the Auld Laird's factor to carry out his will while he was living. It's likely he'd know more than any other about his will, now he's dead," said the Shepherd.
"Mrs. Crumpet says he goes about with his mouth shut up as tight as an egg, as though he knew a great deal more than other folk, being so intimate-like with the Laird," said Jean.
"Aye!" added Jock, "but she said she believed there was a muckle he did not know at all, and he was keeping his mouth shut to make folks think he knew but wasna telling."
Jean now took up the tale. "Mrs. Crumpet had all the news in town," she said, "and she told us that Angus Niel said he hoped the new Laird was fond of the hunting and would appreciate his work in preserving the game and driving poachers from the forests of Glen Cairn. He said he had done the work of ten men, and it was well that people should know it and be able to tell the new Laird, when he comes into his own!"
Even the Shepherd couldn't help smiling at that, and as for Jean and Jock, they shouted with laughter. In spite of themselves, the children and their father felt such relief from anxiety that they walked back to the little gray house with lighter hearts than they had felt for some time. Whoever the new Laird might be, it would take time to settle the estate and find out the will of its new owner, and meanwhile they could live on in their old home. Beyond that, they could even hope that they might not have to go at all.
That night Jean cooked the first of their early potatoes from the garden for supper and a bit of ham to eat with them, by way of celebrating their reprieve, and after supper the Shepherd got out his bagpipes and played "The Blue Bells of Scotland" until the rafters rang again. Jean stepped busily about the kitchen in tune to the music, humming the words to herself.
"Oh where, tell me where is your Highland laddie gone?
He's gone with streaming banners where noble deeds are done,
And it's oh! in my heart, I wish him safe at home."
And she thought of Alan as she sang. Afterward, when Jock and Jean were safely stowed away for the night, the Shepherd went over and brought from the table in the room his well-worn copy of Robert Burns's "Poems," and the last view Jean had of him before she went to sleep, he was reading "The Cotter's Saturday Night" aloud to himself by the light of a flickering candle.