Young Robin Gray by Bret Harte
The good American barque Skyscraper was swinging at her moorings in the
Clyde, off Bannock, ready for sea. But that good American barque—although
owned in Baltimore—had not a plank of American timber in her hulk,
nor a native American in her crew, and even her nautical "goodness" had
been called into serious question by divers of that crew during her
voyage, and answered more or less inconclusively with belaying-pins,
marlin-spikes, and ropes' ends at the hands of an Irish-American captain
and a Dutch and Danish mate. So much so, that the mysterious powers of the
American consul at St. Kentigern had been evoked to punish mutiny on the
one hand, and battery and starvation on the other; both equally attested
by manifestly false witness and subornation on each side. In the exercise
of his functions the consul had opened and shut some jail doors, and
otherwise effected the usual sullen and deceitful compromise, and his flag
was now flying, on a final visit, from the stern sheets of a smart boat
alongside. It was with a feeling of relief at the end of the interview
that he at last lifted his head above an atmosphere of perjury and
bilge-water and came on deck. The sun and wind were ruffling and glinting
on the broadening river beyond the "measured mile"; a few gulls were
wavering and dipping near the lee scuppers, and the sound of Sabbath
bells, mellowed by a distance that secured immunity of conscience, came
peacefully to his ear.
"Now that job's over ye'll be takin' a partin' dhrink," suggested the
The consul thought not. Certain incidents of "the job" were fresh in his
memory, and he proposed to limit himself to his strict duty.
"You have some passengers, I see," he said, pointing to a group of two men
and a young girl, who had apparently just come aboard.
"Only wan; an engineer going out to Rio. Them's just his friends seein'
him off, I'm thinkin'," returned the captain, surveying them somewhat
The consul was a little disturbed. He wondered if the passenger knew
anything of the quality and reputation of the ship to which he was
entrusting his fortunes. But he was only a PASSENGER, and the consul's
functions—like those of the aloft-sitting cherub of nautical song—were
restricted exclusively to looking after "Poor Jack." However, he asked a
few further questions, eliciting the fact that the stranger had already
visited the ship with letters from the eminently respectable consignees at
St. Kentigern, and contented himself with lingering near them. The young
girl was accompanied by her father, a respectably rigid-looking
middle-class tradesman, who, however, seemed to be more interested in the
novelty of his surroundings than in the movements of his daughter and
their departing friend. So it chanced that the consul re-entered the cabin—ostensibly
in search of a missing glove, but really with the intention of seeing how
the passenger was bestowed—just behind them. But to his great
embarrassment he at once perceived that, owing to the obscurity of the
apartment, they had not noticed him, and before he could withdraw, the man
had passed his arm around the young girl's half stiffened, yet half
"Only one, Ailsa," he pleaded in a slow, serious voice, pathetic from the
very absence of any youthful passion in it; "just one now. It'll be gey
lang before we meet again. Ye'll not refuse me now."
The young girl's lips seemed to murmur some protest that, however, was
lost in the beginning of a long and silent kiss.
The consul slipped out softly. His smile had died away. That unlooked-for
touch of human weakness seemed to purify the stuffy and evil-reeking
cabin, and the recollection of its brutal past to drop with a deck-load of
iniquity behind him to the bottom of the Clyde. It is to be feared that in
his unofficial moments he was inclined to be sentimental, and it seemed to
him that the good ship Skyscraper henceforward carried an innocent freight
not mentioned in her manifest, and that a gentle, ever-smiling figure, not
entered on her books, had invisibly taken a place at her wheel.
But he was recalled to himself by a slight altercation on deck. The young
girl and the passenger had just returned from the cabin. The consul, after
a discreetly careless pause, had lifted his eyes to the young girl's face,
and saw that it was singularly pretty in color and outline, but perfectly
self-composed and serenely unconscious. And he was a little troubled to
observe that the passenger was a middle-aged man, whose hard features were
already considerably worn with trial and experience.
Both he and the girl were listening with sympathizing but cautious
interest to her father's contention with the boatman who had brought them
from shore, and who was now inclined to demand an extra fee for returning
with them. The boatman alleged that he had been detained beyond "kirk
time," and that this imperiling of his salvation could only be compensated
by another shilling. To the consul's surprise, this extraordinary argument
was recognized by the father, who, however, contented himself by simply
contending that it had not been stipulated in the bargain. The issue was,
therefore, limited, and the discussion progressed slowly and deliberately,
with a certain calm dignity and argumentative satisfaction on both sides
that exalted the subject, though it irritated the captain.
"If ye accept the premisses that I've just laid down, that it's a
contract"—-began the boatman.
"Dry up! and haul off," said the captain.
"One moment," interposed the consul, with a rapid glance at the slight
trouble in the young girl's face. Turning to the father, he went on: "Will
you allow me to offer you and your daughter a seat in my boat?"
It was an unlooked-for and tempting proposal. The boatman was lazily lying
on his oars, secure in self-righteousness and the conscious possession of
the only available boat to shore; on the other hand, the smart gig of the
consul, with its four oars, was not only a providential escape from a
difficulty, but even to some extent a quasi-official endorsement of his
contention. Yet he hesitated.
"It'll be costin' ye no more?" he said interrogatively, glancing at the
consul's boat crew, "or ye'll be askin' me a fair proportion."
"It will be the gentleman's own boat," said the girl, with a certain shy
assurance, "and he'll be paying his boatmen by the day."
The consul hastened to explain that their passage would involve no
additional expense to anybody, and added, tactfully, that he was glad to
enable them to oppose extortion.
"Ay, but it's a preencipel," said the father proudly, "and I'm pleased,
sir, to see ye recognize it."
He proceeded to help his daughter into the boat without any further
leave-taking of the passenger, to the consul's great surprise, and with
only a parting nod from the young girl. It was as if this momentous
incident were a sufficient reason for the absence of any further trivial
Unfortunately the father chose to add an exordium for the benefit of the
astonished boatsman still lying on his oars.
"Let this be a lesson to ye, ma frien', when ye're ower sure! Ye'll ne'er
say a herrin' is dry until it be reestit an' reekit."
"Ay," said the boatman, with a lazy, significant glance at the consul, "it
wull be a lesson to me not to trust to a lassie's GANGIN' jo, when thair's
anither yin comin'."
"Give way," said the consul sharply.
Yet his was the only irritated face in the boat as the men bent over their
oars. The young girl and her father looked placidly at the receding ship,
and waved their hands to the grave, resigned face over the taffrail. The
consul examined them more attentively. The father's face showed
intelligence and a certain probity in its otherwise commonplace features.
The young girl had more distinction, with, perhaps, more delicacy of
outline than of texture. Her hair was dark, with a burnished copper tint
at its roots, and eyes that had the same burnished metallic lustre in
their brown pupils. Both sat respectfully erect, as if anxious to record
the fact that the boat was not their own to take their ease in; and both
were silently reserved, answering briefly to the consul's remarks as if to
indicate the formality of their presence there. But a distant railway
whistle startled them into emotion.
"We've lost the train, father!" said the young girl.
The consul followed the direction of her anxious eyes; the train was just
quitting the station at Bannock.
"If ye had not lingered below with Jamie, we'd have been away in time, ay,
and in our own boat," said the father, with marked severity.
The consul glanced quickly at the girl. But her face betrayed no
consciousness, except of their present disappointment.
"There's an excursion boat coming round the Point," he said, pointing to
the black smoke trail of a steamer at the entrance of a loch, "and it will
be returning to St. Kentigern shortly. If you like, we'll pull over and
put you aboard."
"Eh! but it's the Sabbath-breaker!" said the old man harshly.
The consul suddenly remembered that that was the name which the righteous
St. Kentigerners had given to the solitary bold, bad pleasure-boat that
defied their Sabbatical observances.
"Perhaps you won't find very pleasant company on board," said the consul
smiling; "but, then, you're not seeking THAT. And as you would be only
using the boat to get back to your home, and not for Sunday recreation, I
don't think your conscience should trouble you."
"Ay, that's a fine argument, Mr. Consul, but I'm thinkin' it's none the
less sopheestry for a' that," said the father grimly. "No; if ye'll just
land us yonder at Bannock pier, we'll be ay thankin' ye the same."
"But what will you do there? There's no other train to-day."
"Ay, we'll walk on a bit."
The consul was silent. After a pause the young girl lifted her clear eyes,
and with a half pathetic, half childish politeness, said: "We'll be doing
very well—my father and me. You're far too kind."
Nothing further was said as they began to thread their way between a few
large ships and an ocean steamer at anchor, from whose decks a few
Sunday-clothed mariners gazed down admiringly on the smart gig and the
pretty girl in a Tam o' Shanter in its stern sheets. But here a new idea
struck the consul. A cable's length ahead lay a yacht, owned by an
American friend, and at her stern a steam launch swung to its painter.
Without intimating his intention to his passengers he steered for it.
"Bow!—way enough," he called out as the boat glided under the
yacht's counter, and, grasping the companion-ladder ropes, he leaped
aboard. In a few hurried words he explained the situation to Mr. Robert
Gray, her owner, and suggested that he should send the belated passengers
to St. Kentigern by the launch. Gray assented with the easy good-nature of
youth, wealth, and indolence, and lounged from his cabin to the side. The
consul followed. Looking down upon the boat he could not help observing
that his fair young passenger, sitting in her demure stillness at her
father's side, made a very pretty picture. It was possible that "Bob Gray"
had made the same observation, for he presently swung himself over the
gangway into the gig, hat in hand. The launch could easily take them; in
fact, he added unblushingly, it was even then getting up steam to go to
St. Kentigern. Would they kindly come on board until it was ready? At an
added word or two of explanation from the consul, the father accepted,
preserving the same formal pride and stiffness, and the transfer was made.
The consul, looking back as his gig swept round again towards Bannock
pier, received their parting salutations, and the first smile he had seen
on the face of his grave little passenger. He thought it very sweet and
He did not return to the Consulate at St. Kentigern until the next day.
But he was somewhat surprised to find Mr. Robert Gray awaiting him, and
upon some business which the young millionaire could have easily deputed
to his captain or steward. As he still lingered, the consul pleasantly
referred to his generosity on the previous day, and hoped the passengers
had given him no trouble.
"No," said Gray with a slight simulation of carelessness. "In fact I came
up with them myself. I had nothing to do; it was Sunday, you know."
The consul lifted his eyebrows slightly.
"Yes, I saw them home," continued Gray lightly. "In one of those
by-streets not far from here; neat-looking house outside; inside,
corkscrew stone staircase like a lighthouse; fourth floor, no lift, but
SHE circled up like a swallow! Flat—sitting-room, two bedrooms, and
a kitchen—mighty snug and shipshape and pretty as a pink. They OWN
it too—fancy OWNING part of a house! Seems to be a way they have
here in St. Kentigern." He paused and then added: "Stayed there to a kind
of high tea!"
"Indeed," said the consul.
"Why not? The old man wanted to return my 'hospitality' and square the
account! He wasn't going to lie under any obligation to a stranger, and,
by Jove! he made it a special point of honor! A Spanish grandee couldn't
have been more punctilious. And with an accent, Jerusalem! like a
northeaster off the Banks! But the feed was in good taste, and he only a
mathematical instrument maker, on about twelve hundred dollars a year!"
"You seem to know all about him," said the consul smilingly.
"Not so much as he does about me," returned Gray, with a half perplexed
face; "for he saw enough to admonish me about my extravagance, and even to
intimate that that rascal Saunderson, my steward, was imposing on me. SHE
took me to task, too, for not laying the yacht up on Sunday that the men
could go 'to kirk,' and for swearing at a bargeman who ran across our
bows. It's their perfect simplicity and sincerity in all this that gets
me! You'd have thought that the old man was my guardian, and the daughter
my aunt." After a pause he uttered a reminiscent laugh. "She thought we
ate and drank too much on the yacht, and wondered what we could find to do
all day. All this, you know, in the gentlest, caressing sort of voice, as
if she was really concerned, like one's own sister. Well, not exactly like
mine"—he interrupted himself grimly—"but, hang it all, you
know what I mean. You know that our girls over there haven't got THAT
trick of voice. Too much self-assertion, I reckon; things made too easy
for them by us men. Habit of race, I dare say." He laughed a little. "Why,
I mislaid my glove when I was coming away, and it was as good as a play to
hear her commiserating and sympathizing, and hunting for it as if it were
a lost baby."
"But you've seen Scotch girls before this," said the consul. "There were
Lady Glairn's daughters, whom you took on a cruise."
"Yes, but the swell Scotch all imitate the English, as everybody else
does, for the matter of that, our girls included; and they're all alike.
Society makes 'em fit in together like tongued and grooved planks that
will take any amount of holy-stoning and polish. It's like dropping into a
dead calm, with every rope and spar that you know already reflected back
from the smooth water upon you. It's mighty pretty, but it isn't getting
on, you know." After a pause he added: "I asked them to take a little
holiday cruise with me."
"And they declined," interrupted the consul.
Gray glanced at him quickly.
"Well, yes; that's all right enough. They don't know me, you see, but they
do know you; and the fact is, I was thinking that as you're our consul
here, don't you see, and sort of responsible for me, you might say that it
was all right, you know. Quite the customary thing with us over there. And
you might say, generally, who I am."
"I see," said the consul deliberately. "Tell them you're Bob Gray, with
more money and time than you know what to do with; that you have a fine
taste for yachting and shooting and racing, and amusing yourself
generally; that you find that THEY amuse you, and you would like your
luxury and your dollars to stand as an equivalent to their independence
and originality; that, being a good republican yourself, and recognizing
no distinction of class, you don't care what this may mean to them, who
are brought up differently; that after their cruise with you you don't
care what life, what friends, or what jealousies they return to; that you
know no ties, no responsibilities beyond the present, and that you are not
a marrying man."
"Look here, I say, aren't you making a little too much of this?" said Gray
The consul laughed. "I should be glad to know that I am."
Gray rose. "We'll be dropping down the river to-morrow," he said, with a
return of his usual lightness, "and I reckon I'll be toddling down to the
wharf. Good-bye, if I don't see you again."
He passed out. As the consul glanced from the window he observed, however,
that Mr. Gray was "toddling" in quite another direction than the wharf.
For an instant he half regretted that he had not suggested, in some
discreet way, the conclusion he had arrived at after witnessing the girl's
parting with the middle-aged passenger the day before. But he reflected
that this was something he had only accidentally overseen, and was the
girl's own secret.
When the summer had so waxed in its fullness that the smoke of factory
chimneys drifted high, permitting glimpses of fairly blue sky; when the
grass in St. Kentigern's proudest park took on a less sober green in the
comfortable sun, and even in the thickest shade there was no chilliness,
the good St. Kentigerners recognized that the season had arrived to go
"down the river," and that it was time for them to betake themselves, with
rugs, mackintoshes, and umbrellas, to the breezy lochs and misty hillsides
for which the neighborhood of St. Kentigern is justly famous. So when it
came to pass that the blinds were down in the highest places, and the most
exclusive pavements of St. Kentigern were echoless and desolate, the
consul heroically tore himself from the weak delight of basking in the
sunshine, and followed the others.
He soon found himself settled at the furthest end of a long narrow loch,
made longer and narrower by the steep hillside of rock and heather which
flanked its chilly surface on either side, and whose inequalities were
lost in the firs and larches that filled ravine and chasm. The fragrant
road which ran sinuously through their shadowy depths was invisible from
the loch; no protuberance broke the seemingly sheer declivity; the even
sky-line was indented in two places—one where it was cracked into a
fanciful resemblance to a human profile, the other where it was curved
like a bowl. Need it be said that one was distinctly recognized as the
silhouette of a prehistoric giant, and that the other was his
drinking-cup; need it be added that neither lent the slightest human
suggestion to the solitude? A toy-like pier extending into the loch,
midway from the barren shore, only heightened the desolation. And when the
little steamboat that occasionally entered the loch took away a solitary
passenger from the pier-head, the simplest parting was invested with a
dreary loneliness that might have brought tears to the most hardened eye.
Still, when the shadow of either hillside was not reaching across the
loch, the meridian sun, chancing upon this coy mirror, made the most of
it. Then it was that, seen from above, it flashed like a falchion lying
between the hills; then its reflected glory, striking up, transfigured the
two acclivities, tipped the cold heather with fire, gladdened the funereal
pines, and warmed the ascetic rocks. And it was in one of those rare,
passionate intervals that the consul, riding along the wooded track and
turning his eyes from their splendors, came upon a little house.
It had once been a sturdy cottage, with a grim endurance and inflexibility
which even some later and lighter additions had softened rather than
changed. On either side of the door, against the bleak whitewashed wall,
two tall fuchsias relieved the rigid blankness with a show of color. The
windows were prettily draped with curtains caught up with gay ribbons. In
a stony pound-like enclosure there was some attempt at floral cultivation,
but all quite recent. So, too, were a wicker garden seat, a bright
Japanese umbrella, and a tropical hammock suspended between two
arctic-looking bushes, which the rude and rigid forefathers of the hamlet
would have probably resented.
He had just passed the house when a charming figure slipped across the
road before him. To his surprise it was the young girl he had met a few
months before on the Skyscraper. But the Tam o' Shanter was replaced by a
little straw hat; and a light dress, summery in color and texture, but
more in keeping with her rustic surroundings, seemed as grateful and rare
as the sunshine. Without knowing why, he had an impression that it was of
her own making—a gentle plagiarism of the style of her more
fortunate sisters, but with a demure restraint all her own. As she
recognized him a faint color came to her cheek, partly from surprise,
partly from some association. To his delighted greeting she responded by
informing him that her father had taken the cottage he had just passed,
where they were spending a three weeks' vacation from his business. It was
not so far from St. Kentigern but that he could run up for a day to look
after the shop. Did the consul not think it was wise?
Quite ready to assent to any sagacity in those clear brown eyes, the
consul thought it was. But was it not, like wisdom, sometimes lonely?
Ah! no. There was the loch and the hills and the heather; there were her
flowers; did he not think they were growing well? and at the head of the
loch there was the old tomb of the McHulishes, and some of the coffins
were still to be seen.
Perhaps emboldened by the consul's smile, she added, with a more serious
precision which was, however, lost in the sympathizing caress of her
voice, "And would you not be getting off and coming in and resting a wee
bit before you go further? It would be so good of you, and father would
think it so kind. And he will be there now, if you're looking."
The consul looked. The old man was standing in the doorway of the cottage,
as respectably uncompromising as ever, with the slight concession to his
rural surroundings of wearing a Tam o' Shanter and easy slippers. The
consul dismounted and entered. The interior was simply, but tastefully
furnished. It struck him that the Scotch prudence and economy, which
practically excluded display and meretricious glitter, had reached the
simplicity of the truest art and the most refined wealth. He felt he could
understand Gray's enthusiasm, and by an odd association of ideas he found
himself thinking of the resigned face of the lonely passenger on the
"Have you heard any news of your friend who went to Rio?" he asked
pleasantly, but without addressing himself particularly to either.
There was a perceptible pause; doubtless of deference to her father on the
part of the young girl, and of the usual native conscientious caution on
the part of the father, but neither betrayed any embarrassment or emotion.
"No; he would not be writing yet," she at length said simply, "he would be
waiting until he was settled to his business. Jamie would be waiting until
he could say how he was doing, father?" she appealed interrogatively to
the old man.
"Ay, James Gow would not fash himself to write compliments and gossip till
he knew his position and work," corroborated the old man. "He'll not be
going two thousand miles to send us what we can read in the 'St. Kentigern
Herald.' But," he added, suddenly, with a recall of cautiousness, "perhaps
YOU will be hearing of the ship?"
"The consul will not be remembering what he hears of all the ships,"
interposed the young girl, with the same gentle affectation of superior
worldly knowledge which had before amused him. "We'll be wearying him,
father," and the subject dropped.
The consul, glancing around the room again, but always returning to the
sweet and patient seriousness of the young girl's face and the grave
decorum of her father, would have liked to ask another question, but it
was presently anticipated; for when he had exhausted the current topics,
in which both father and daughter displayed a quiet sagacity, and he had
gathered a sufficient knowledge of their character to seem to justify
Gray's enthusiasm, and was rising to take his leave, the young girl said
"Would ye not let Bessie take your horse to the grass field over yonder,
and yourself stay with us to dinner? It would be most kind, and you would
meet a great friend of yours who will be here."
"Mr. Gray?" suggested the consul audaciously. Yet he was greatly surprised
when the young girl said quietly, "Ay."
"He'll be coming in the loch with his yacht," said the old man. "It's not
so expensive lying here as at Bannock, I'm thinking; and the men cannot
gang ashore for drink. Eh, but it's an awful waste o' pounds, shillings,
and pence, keeping these gowks in idleness with no feeshin' nor carrying
"Ay, but it's better Mr. Gray should pay them for being decent and
well-behaved on board his ship, than that they should be out of work and
rioting in taverns and lodging-houses. And you yourself, father, remember
the herrin' fishers that come ashore at Ardie, and the deck hands of the
excursion boat, and the language they'll be using."
"Have you had a cruise in the yacht?" asked the consul quickly.
"Ay," said the father, "we have been up and down the loch, and around the
far point, but not for boardin' or lodgin' the night, nor otherwise
conteenuing or parteecipating. I have explained to Mr. Gray that we must
return to our own home and our own porridge at evening, and he has agreed,
and even come with us. He's a decent enough lad, and not above
instructin', but extraordinar' extravagant."
"Ye know, father," interposed the young girl, "he talks of fitting up the
yacht for the fishing, and taking some of his most decent men on shares.
He says he was very fond of fishing off the Massachusetts coast, in
America. It will be, I'm thinking," she said, suddenly turning to the
consul with an almost pathetic appeal in her voice, "a great occupation
for the rich young men over there."
The consul, desperately struggling with a fanciful picture of Mr. Robert
Gray as a herring fisher, thought gravely that it "might be." But he
thought still more gravely, though silently, of this singular companion
ship, and was somewhat anxious to confront his friend with his new
acquaintances. He had not long to wait. The sun was just dipping behind
the hill when the yacht glided into the lonely loch. A boat was put off,
and in a few moments Robert Gray was climbing the little path from the
Had the consul expected any embarrassment or lover-like consciousness on
the face of Mr. Gray at their unexpected meeting, he would have been
disappointed. Nor was the young man's greeting of father and daughter,
whom he addressed as Mr. and Miss Callender, marked by any tenderness or
hesitation. On the contrary, a certain seriousness and quiet reticence,
unlike Gray, which might have been borrowed from his new friends,
characterized his speech and demeanor. Beyond this freemasonry of sad
repression there was no significance of look or word passed between these
two young people. The girl's voice retained its even pathos. Gray's grave
politeness was equally divided between her and her father. He corroborated
what Callender had said of his previous visits without affectation or
demonstration; he spoke of the possibilities of his fitting up the yacht
for the fishing season with a practical detail and economy that left the
consul's raillery ineffective. Even when, after dinner, the consul
purposely walked out in the garden with the father, Gray and Ailsa
presently followed them without lingering or undue precipitation, and with
no change of voice or manner. The consul was perplexed. Had the girl
already told Gray of her lover across the sea, and was this singular
restraint their joint acceptance of their fate; or was he mistaken in
supposing that their relations were anything more than the simple
friendship of patron and protegee? Gray was rich enough to indulge in such
a fancy, and the father and daughter were too proud to ever allow it to
influence their own independence. In any event the consul's right to
divulge the secret he was accidentally possessed of seemed more
questionable than ever. Nor did there appear to be any opportunity for a
confidential talk with Gray, since it was proposed that the whole party
should return to the yacht for supper, after which the consul should be
dropped at the pier-head, distant only a few minutes from his hotel, and
his horse sent to him the next day.
A faint moon was shimmering along the surface of Loch Dour in icy little
ripples when they pulled out from the shadows of the hillside. By the
accident of position, Gray, who was steering, sat beside Ailsa in the
stern, while the consul and Mr. Callender were further forward, although
within hearing. The faces of the young people were turned towards each
other, yet in the cold moonlight the consul fancied they looked as
impassive and unemotional as statues. The few distant, far-spaced lights
that trembled on the fading shore, the lonely glitter of the water, the
blackness of the pine-clad ravines seemed to be a part of this repression,
until the vast melancholy of the lake appeared to meet and overflow them
like an advancing tide. Added to this, there came from time to time the
faint sound and smell of the distant, desolate sea.
The consul, struggling manfully to keep up a spasmodic discussion on
Scotch diminutives in names, found himself mechanically saying:
"And James you call Jamie?"
"Ay; but ye would say, to be pure Scotch, 'Hamish,'" said Mr. Callender
precisely. The girl, however, had not spoken; but Gray turned to her with
something of his old gayety.
"And I suppose you would call me 'Robbie'?"
Her voice was low yet distinct, but she had thrown into the two syllables
such infinite tenderness, that the consul was for an instant struck with
an embarrassment akin to that he had felt in the cabin of the Skyscraper,
and half expected the father to utter a shocked protest. And to save what
he thought would be an appalling silence, he said with a quiet laugh:—
"That's the fellow who 'made the assembly shine' in the song, isn't it?"
"That was Robin Adair," said Gray quietly; "unfortunately I would only be
'Robin Gray,' and that's quite another song."
"AULD Robin Gray, sir, deestinctly 'auld' in the song," interrupted Mr.
Callender with stern precision; "and I'm thinking he was not so very
The discussion of Scotch diminutives halting here, the boat sped on
silently to the yacht. But although Robert Gray, as host, recovered some
of his usual lightheartedness, the consul failed to discover anything in
his manner to indicate the lover, nor did Miss Ailsa after her single
lapse of tender accent exhibit the least consciousness. It was true that
their occasional frank allusions to previous conversations seemed to show
that their opportunities had not been restricted, but nothing more. He
began again to think he was mistaken.
As he wished to return early, and yet not hasten the Callenders, he
prevailed upon Gray to send him to the pier-head first, and not disturb
the party. As he stepped into the boat, something in the appearance of the
coxswain awoke an old association in his mind. The man at first seemed to
avoid his scrutiny, but when they were well away from the yacht, he said
"I see you remember me, sir. But if it's all the same to you, I've got a
good berth here and would like to keep it."
The consul had a flash of memory. It was the boatswain of the Skyscraper,
one of the least objectionable of the crew. "But what are you doing here?
you shipped for the voyage," he said sharply.
"Yes, but I got away at Key West, when I knew what was coming. I wasn't on
her when she was abandoned."
"Abandoned!" repeated the consul. "What the d—-l! Do you mean to say
she was wrecked?"
"Well, yes—you know what I mean, sir. It was an understood thing.
She was over-insured and scuttled in the Bahamas. It was a put-up job, and
I reckoned I was well out of it."
"But there was a passenger! What of him?" demanded the consul anxiously.
"Dnnno! But I reckon he got away. There wasn't any of the crew lost that I
know of. Let's see, he was an engineer, wasn't he? I reckon he had to take
a hand at the pumps, and his chances with the rest."
"Does Mr. Gray know of this?" asked the consul after a pause.
The man stared.
"Not from me, sir. You see it was nothin' to him, and I didn't care
talking much about the Skyscraper. It was hushed up in the papers. You
won't go back on me, sir?"
"You don't know what became of the passenger?"
"No! But he was a Scotchman, and they're bound to fall on their feet
The December fog that overhung St. Kentigern had thinned sufficiently to
permit the passage of a few large snowflakes, soiled in their descent,
until in color and consistency they spotted the steps of the Consulate and
the umbrellas of the passers-by like sprinklings of gray mortar.
Nevertheless the consul thought the streets preferable to the persistent
gloom of his office, and sallied out. Youthful mercantile St. Kentigern
strode sturdily past him in the lightest covert coats; collegiate St.
Kentigern fluttered by in the scantiest of red gowns, shaming the furs
that defended his more exotic blood; and the bare red feet of a few
factory girls, albeit their heads and shoulders were draped and hooded in
thick shawls, filled him with a keen sense of his effeminacy. Everything
of earth, air, and sky, and even the faces of those he looked upon, seemed
to be set in the hard, patient endurance of the race. Everywhere on that
dismal day, he fancied he could see this energy without restlessness, this
earnestness without geniality, all grimly set against the hard environment
of circumstance and weather.
The consul turned into one of the main arteries of St. Kentigern, a wide
street that, however, began and ended inconsequently, and with half a
dozen social phases in as many blocks. Here the snow ceased, the fog
thickened suddenly with the waning day, and the consul found himself
isolated and cut off on a block which he did not remember, with the
clatter of an invisible tramway in his ears. It was a block of small
houses with smaller shop-fronts. The one immediately before him seemed to
be an optician's, but the dimly lighted windows also displayed the
pathetic reinforcement of a few watches, cheap jewelry on cards, and
several cairngorm brooches and pins set in silver. It occurred to him that
he wanted a new watch crystal, and that he would procure it here and
inquire his way. Opening the door he perceived that there was no one in
the shop, but from behind the counter another open door disclosed a neat
sitting-room, so close to the street that it gave the casual customer the
sensation of having intruded upon domestic privacy. The consul's entrance
tinkled a small bell which brought a figure to the door. It was Ailsa
The consul was startled. He had not seen her since he had brought to their
cottage the news of the shipwreck with a precaution and delicacy that
their calm self-control and patient resignation, however, seemed to make
almost an impertinence. But this was no longer the handsome shop in the
chief thoroughfare with its two shopmen, which he previously knew as
"Callender's." And Ailsa here! What misfortune had befallen them?
Whatever it was, there was no shadow of it in her clear eyes and frank yet
timid recognition of him. Falling in with her stoical and reticent
acceptance of it, he nevertheless gathered that the Callenders had lost
money in some invention which James Gow had taken with him to Rio, but
which was sunk in the ship. With this revelation of a business interest in
what he had believed was only a sentimental relation, the consul ventured
to continue his inquiries. Mr. Gow had escaped with his life and had
reached Honduras, where he expected to try his fortunes anew. It might be
a year or two longer before there were any results. Did the consul know
anything of Honduras? There was coffee there—so she and her father
understood. All this with little hopefulness, no irritation, but a divine
patience in her eyes. The consul, who found that his watch required
extensive repairing, and had suddenly developed an inordinate passion for
cairngorms, watched her as she opened the show-case with no affectation of
unfamiliarity with her occupation, but with all her old serious concern.
Surely she would have made as thorough a shop-girl as she would—His
half-formulated thought took the shape of a question.
"Have you seen Mr. Gray since his return from the Mediterranean?"
Ah! one of the brooches had slipped from her fingers to the bottom of the
case. There was an interval or two of pathetic murmuring, with her fair
head under the glass, before she could find it; then she lifted her eyes
to the consul. They were still slightly suffused with her sympathetic
concern. The stone, which was set in a thistle—the national emblem—did
he not know it?—had dropped out. But she could put it in. It was
pretty and not expensive. It was marked twelve shillings on the card, but
he could have it for ten shillings. No, she had not seen Mr. Gray since
they had lost their fortune. (It struck the consul as none the less
pathetic that she seemed really to believe in their former opulence.) They
could not be seeing him there in a small shop, and they could not see him
elsewhere. It was far better as it was. Yet she paused a moment when she
had wrapped up the brooch. "You'd be seeing him yourself some time?" she
"Then you'll not mind saying how my father and myself are sometimes
thinking of his goodness and kindness," she went on, in a voice whose
tenderness seemed to increase with the formal precision of her speech.
"And you'll say we're not forgetting him."
As she handed him the parcel her lips softly parted in what might have
been equally a smile or a sigh.
He was able to keep his promise sooner than he had imagined. It was only a
few weeks later that, arriving in London, he found Gray's hatbox and bag
in the vestibule of his club, and that gentleman himself in the
smoking-room. He looked tanned and older.
"I only came from Southampton an hour ago, where I left the yacht. And,"
shaking the consul's hand cordially, "how's everything and everybody up at
old St. Kentigern?"
The consul thought fit to include his news of the Callenders in reference
to that query, and with his eyes fixed on Gray dwelt at some length on
their change of fortune. Gray took his cigar from his mouth, but did not
lift his eyes from the fire. Presently he said, "I suppose that's why
Callender declined to take the shares I offered him in the fishing scheme.
You know I meant it, and would have done it."
"Perhaps he had other reasons."
"What do you mean?" said Gray, facing the consul suddenly.
"Look here, Gray," said the consul, "did Miss Callender or her father ever
tell you she was engaged?"
"Yes; but what's that to do with it?"
"A good deal. Engagements, you know, are sometimes forced, unsuitable, or
unequal, and are broken by circumstances. Callender is proud."
Gray turned upon the consul the same look of gravity that he had worn on
the yacht—the same look that the consul even fancied he had seen in
Ailsa's eyes. "That's exactly where you're mistaken in her," he said
slowly. "A girl like that gives her word and keeps it. She waits, hopes,
accepts what may come—breaks her heart, if you will, but not her
word. Come, let's talk of something else. How did he—that man Gow—lose
The consul did not see the Callenders again on his return, and perhaps did
not think it necessary to report the meeting. But one morning he was
delighted to find an official document from New York upon his desk, asking
him to communicate with David Callender of St. Kentigern, and, on proof of
his identity, giving him authority to draw the sum of five thousand
dollars damages awarded for the loss of certain property on the
Skyscraper, at the request of James Gow. Yet it was with mixed sensations
that the consul sought the little shop of the optician with this
convincing proof of Gow's faithfulness and the indissolubility of Ailsa's
engagement. That there was some sad understanding between the girl and
Gray he did not doubt, and perhaps it was not strange that he felt a
slight partisanship for his friend, whose nature had so strangely changed.
Miss Ailsa was not there. Her father explained that her health had
required a change, and she was visiting some friends on the river.
"I'm thinkin' that the atmosphere is not so pure here. It is deficient in
ozone. I noticed it myself in the early morning. No! it was not the
confinement of the shop, for she never cared to go out."
He received the announcement of his good fortune with unshaken calm and
great practical consideration of detail. He would guarantee his identity
to the consul. As for James Gow, it was no more than fair; and what he had
expected of him. As to its being an equivalent of his loss, he could not
tell until the facts were before him.
"Miss Ailsa," suggested the consul venturously, "will be pleased to hear
again from her old friend, and know that he is succeeding."
"I'm not so sure that ye could call it 'succeeding,'" returned the old
man, carefully wiping the glasses of a pair of spectacles that he held
critically to the light, "when ye consider that, saying nothing of the
waste of valuable time, it only puts James Gow back where he was when he
"But any man who has had the pleasure of knowing Mr. and Miss Callender
would be glad to be on that footing," said the consul, with polite
"I'm not agreeing with you there," said Mr. Callender quietly; "and I'm
observing in ye of late a tendency to combine business wi' compleement.
But it was kind of ye to call; and I'll be sending ye the authorization."
Which he did. But the consul, passing through the locality a few weeks
later, was somewhat concerned to find the shop closed, with others on the
same block, behind a hoarding that indicated rebuilding and improvement.
Further inquiry elicited the fact that the small leases had been bought up
by some capitalist, and that Mr. Callender, with the others, had benefited
thereby. But there was no trace nor clew to his present locality. He and
his daughter seemed to have again vanished with this second change in
It was a late March morning when the streets were dumb with snow, and the
air was filled with flying granulations that tinkled against the windows
of the Consulate like fairy sleigh-bells, when there was the stamping of
snow-clogged feet in the outer hall, and the door was opened to Mr. and
Miss Callender. For an instant the consul was startled. The old man
appeared as usual—erect, and as frigidly respectable as one of the
icicles that fringed the window, but Miss Ailsa was, to his astonishment,
brilliant with a new-found color, and sparkling with health and only
half-repressed animation. The snow-flakes, scarcely melting on the brown
head of this true daughter of the North, still crowned her hood; and, as
she threw back her brown cloak and disclosed a plump little scarlet jacket
and brown skirt, the consul could not resist her suggested likeness to
some bright-eyed robin redbreast, to whom the inclement weather had given
a charming audacity. And shy and demure as she still was, it was evident
that some change had been wrought in her other than that evoked by the
stimulus of her native sky and air.
To his eager questioning, the old man replied briefly that he had bought
the old cottage at Loch Dour, where they were living, and where he had
erected a small manufactory and laboratory for the making of his
inventions, which had become profitable. The consul reiterated his delight
at meeting them again.
"I'm not so sure of that, sir, when you know the business on which I
come," said Mr. Callender, dropping rigidly into a chair, and clasping his
hands over the crutch of a shepherd-like staff. "Ye mind, perhaps, that ye
conveyed to me, osteensibly at the request of James Gow, a certain sum of
money, for which I gave ye a good and sufficient guarantee. I thought at
the time that it was a most feckless and unbusiness-like proceeding on the
part of James, as it was without corroboration or advice by letter; but I
took the money."
"Do you mean to say that he made no allusion to it in his other letters?"
interrupted the consul, glancing at Ailsa.
"There were no other letters at the time," said Callender dryly. "But
about a month afterwards we DID receive a letter from him enclosing a
draft and a full return of the profits of the invention, which HE HAD SOLD
IN HONDURAS. Ye'll observe the deescrepancy! I then wrote to the bank on
which I had drawn as you authorized me, and I found that they knew nothing
of any damages awarded, but that the sum I had drawn had been placed to my
credit by Mr. Robert Gray."
In a flash the consul recalled the one or two questions that Gray had
asked him, and saw it all. For an instant he felt the whole bitterness of
Gray's misplaced generosity—its exposure and defeat. He glanced
again hopelessly at Ailsa. In the eye of that fresh, glowing, yet demure,
young goddess, unhallowed as the thought might be, there was certainly a
distinctly tremulous wink.
The consul took heart. "I believe I need not say, Mr. Callender," he began
with some stiffness, "that this is as great a surprise to me as to you. I
had no reason to believe the transaction other than bona fide, and acted
accordingly. If my friend, deeply sympathizing with your previous
misfortune, has hit upon a delicate, but unbusiness-like way of assisting
you temporarily—I say TEMPORARILY, because it must have been as
patent to him as to you, that you would eventually find out his generous
deceit—you surely can forgive him for the sake of his kind
intention. Nay, more; may I point out to you that you have no right to
assume that this benefaction was intended exclusively for you; if Mr.
Gray, in his broader sympathy with you and your daughter, has in this way
chosen to assist and strengthen the position of a gentleman so closely
connected with you, but still struggling with hard fortune"—
"I'd have ye know, sir," interrupted the old man, rising to his feet,
"that ma frien' Mr. James Gow is as independent of yours as he is of me
and mine. He has married, sir, a Mrs. Hernandez, the rich widow of a
coffee-planter, and now is the owner of the whole estate, minus the
encumbrance of three children. And now, sir, you'll take this,"—he
drew from his pocket an envelope. "It's a draft for five thousand dollars,
with the ruling rate of interest computed from the day I received it till
this day, and ye'll give it to your frien' when ye see him. And ye'll just
say to him from me"—
But Miss Ailsa, with a spirit and independence that challenged her
father's, here suddenly fluttered between them with sparkling eyes and
"And ye'll say to him from ME that a more honorable, noble, and generous
man, and a kinder, truer, and better friend than he, cannot be found
anywhere! And that the foolishest and most extravagant thing he ever did
is better than the wisest and most prudent thing that anybody else ever
did, could, or would do! And if he was a bit overproud—it was only
because those about him were overproud and foolish. And you'll tell him
that we're wearying for him! And when you give him that daft letter from
father you'll give him this bit line from me," she went on rapidly as she
laid a tiny note in his hand. "And," with wicked dancing eyes that seemed
to snap the last bond of repression, "ye'll give him THAT too, and say I
There was a stir in the official apartment! The portraits of Lincoln and
Washington rattled uneasily in their frames; but it was no doubt only a
discreet blast of the north wind that drowned the echo of a kiss.
"Ailsa!" gasped the shocked Mr. Callender.
"Ah! but, father, if it had not been for HIM we would not have known
It was the last that the consul saw of Ailsa Callender; for the next
summer when he called at Loch Dour she was Mrs. Gray.