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The McTavish by Gouverneur Morris

I

By the look of her she might have been a queen, or a princess, or at the very least a duchess. But she was no one of these. She was only a commoner—a plain miss, though very far from plain. Which is extraordinary when you consider that the blood of the Bruce flowed with exceeding liveliness in her veins, together with the blood of many another valiant Scot—Randolph, Douglas, Campbell—who bled with Bruce or for him.

With the fact that she was not at the very least a duchess, most of her temporal troubles came to an abrupt end. When she tired of her castle at Beem-Tay she could hop into her motor-car and fly down the Great North Road to her castle at Brig O'Dread. This was a fifty-mile run, and from any part of the road she could see land that belonged to her—forest, farm, and moor. If the air at Beem-Tay was too formal, or the keep at Brig O'Dread too gloomy, she could put up at any of her half-dozen shooting lodges, built in wild, inaccessible, wild-fowly places, and shake the dust of the world from her feet, and tread, just under heaven, upon the heather.

But mixed up with all this fine estate was one other temporal trouble. For, over and above the expenses of keeping the castles on a good footing, and the shooting lodges clean and attractive, and the motor-car full of petrol, and the horses full of oats, and the lawns empty of weeds, and the glass houses full of fruit, she had no money whatsoever. She could not sell any of her land because it was entailed—that is, it really belonged to somebody who didn't exist; she couldn't sell her diamonds, for the same reason; and she could not rent any of her shootings, because her ancestors had not done so. I honestly believe that a sixpence of real money looked big to her.

Her first name was the same as that of the Lady of the Lake—Ellen. Her last name was McTavish—if she had been a man she would have been The McTavish (and many people did call her that)—and her middle names were like the sands of the sea in number, and sounded like bugles blowing a charge—Campbell and Cameron, Dundee and Douglas. She had a family tartan—heather brown, with Lincoln green tit-tat-toe crisscrosses—and she had learned how to walk from a thousand years of strong-walking ancestors. She had her eyes from the deepest part of a deep moorland loch, her cheeks from the briar rose, some of the notes of her voice from the upland plover, and some from the lark. And her laugh was like an echo of the sounds that the River Tay makes when it goes among the shallows.

One day she was sitting all by herself in the Seventh Drawing Room (forty feet by twenty-four) of Brig O'Dread Castle, looking from a fourteen-foot-deep window embrasure, upon the brig itself, the river rushing under it, and the clean, flowery town upon both banks. From most of her houses she could see nothing but her own possessions, but from Brig O'Dread Castle, standing, as it did, in one corner of her estates, she could see past her entrance gate, with its flowery, embattled lodge, a little into the outside world. There were tourists whirling by in automobiles along the Great North Road, or parties of Scotch gypsies, with their dark faces and ear-rings, with their wagons and folded tents, passing from one good poaching neighborhood to the next. Sometimes it amused her to see tourists turned from her gates by the proud porter who lived in the lodge; and on the present occasion, when an automobile stopped in front of the gate and the chauffeur hopped out and rang the bell, she was prepared to be mildly amused once more in the same way.

The proud porter emerged like a conquering hero from the lodge, the pleated kilt of the McTavish tartan swinging against his great thighs, his knees bare and glowing in the sun, and the jaunty Highland bonnet low upon the side of his head. He approached the gate and began to parley, but not with the chauffeur; a more important person (if possible) had descended from the car—a person of unguessable age, owing to automobile goggles, dressed in a London-made shooting suit of tweed, and a cap to match. The parley ended, the stranger appeared to place something in the proud porter's hand; and the latter swung upon his heel and strode up the driveway to the castle. Meanwhile the stranger remained without the gate.

Presently word came to The McTavish, in the Seventh Drawing Room, that an American gentleman named McTavish, who had come all the way from America for the purpose, desired to read the inscriptions upon the McTavish tombstones in the chapel of Brig O'Dread Castle. The porter, who brought this word himself, being a privileged character, looked very wistful when he had delivered it—as much as to say that the frightful itching of his palm had not been as yet wholly assuaged. The McTavish smiled.

"Bring the gentleman to the Great Tower door, McDougall," she said, "and—I will show him about, myself."

The proud porter's face fell. His snow-white mustachios took on a fuller droop.

"McDougall," said The McTavish—and this time she laughed aloud—"if the gentleman from America crosses my hand with silver, it shall be yours."

"More like"—and McDougall became gloomier still—"more like he will cross it with gold." (Only he said this in a kind of dialect that was delightful to hear, difficult to understand, and would be insulting to the reader to reproduce in print.)

"If it's gold," said The McTavish sharply, "I'll not part wi' it,
McDougall, and you may lay to that."

You might have thought that McDougall had been brought up in the Black Hole of Calcutta—so sad he looked, and so hurt, so softly he left the room, so loudly he closed the door.

The McTavish burst into laughter, and promised herself, not without some compunction, to hand over the gold to McDougall, if any should materialize. Next she flew to her dressing-room and made herself look as much like a gentlewoman's housekeeper as she could in the few minutes at her disposal. Then she danced through a long, dark passageway, and whisked down a narrow winding stair, and stood at last in the door of the Great Tower in the sunlight. And when she heard the stranger's feet upon the gravel she composed her face; and when he appeared round the corner of a clipped yew she rattled the keys at her belt and bustled on her feet, as becomes a housekeeper, and bobbed a courtesy.

The stranger McTavish was no more than thirty. He had brown eyes, and wore upon his face a steady, enigmatic smile.

II

"Good-morning," said the American McTavish. "It is very kind of Miss
McTavish to let me go into her chapel. Are you the housekeeper?"

"I am," said The McTavish. "Mrs. Nevis is my name."

"What a pity!" murmured the gentleman.

"This way, sir," said The McTavish.

She stepped into the open, and, jangling her keys occasionally, led him along an almost interminable path of green turf bordered by larkspur and flowering sage, which ended at last at a somewhat battered lead statue of Atlas, crowning a pudding-shaped mound of turf.

"When the Red Currie sacked Brig O'Dread Castle," said The McTavish, "he dug a pit here and flung the dead into it. There will be McTavishes among them."

"There are no inscriptions," said the gentleman.

"Those are in the chapel," said The McTavish. "This way." And she swung into another turf walk, long, wide, springy, and bordered by birches.

"Tell me," said the American, "is it true that Miss McTavish is down on strangers?"

She looked at him over her shoulder. He still wore his enigmatic smile.

"I don't know what got into her," she said, "to let you in." She halted in her tracks and, looking cautiously this way and that, like a conspirator in a play: "She's a hard woman to deal with," she said, "between you and me."

"I've heard something of the kind," said the American. "Indeed, I asked the porter. I said, 'What manner of woman is Miss McTavish?' and he said, in a kind of whisper, 'The McTavish, sir, is a roaring, ranting, stingy, bony female.'"

"He said that, did he?" asked the pseudo Mrs. Nevis, tightening her lips and jangling her keys.

"But I didn't believe him," said the American; "I wouldn't believe what he said of any cousin of mine."

"Is The McTavish your cousin?"

"Why, yes," said he; "but just which one I don't know. That's what I have come to find out. I have an idea—I and my lawyers have—that if The McTavish died without a direct heir, I should be The McTavish; that is, that this nice castle, and Red Curries Mound, and all and all, would be mine. I could come every August for the shooting. It would be very nice."

"It wouldn't be very nice for The McTavish to die before you," said
Mrs. Nevis. "She's only twenty-two."

"Great heavens!" said the American. "Between you, you made me think she was a horrid old woman!"

"Horrid," said Mrs. Nevis, "very. But not old."

She led the way abruptly to a turf circle which ended the birch walk and from which sprang, in turn, a walk of larch, a walk of Lebanon cedars, and one of mountain ash. At the end of the cedar walk, far off, could be seen the squat gray tower of the chapel, heavy with ivy. McTavish caught up with Mrs. Nevis and walked at her side. Their feet made no sound upon the pleasant, springy turf. Only the bunch of keys sounded occasionally.

"How," said McTavish, not without insinuation, "could one get to know one's cousin?"

"Oh," said Mrs. Nevis, "if you are troubled with spare cash and stay in the neighborhood long enough, she'll manage that. She has little enough to spend, poor woman. Why, sir, when she told me to show you the chapel, she said, 'Catherine,' she said, 'there's one Carnegie come out of the States—see if yon McTavish is not another.'"

"She said that?"

"She did so."

"And how did you propose to go to work to find out, Mrs. Nevis?"

"Oh," said she, "I've hinted broadly at the news that's required at headquarters. I can do no more."

McTavish reflected, "Tell her," he said presently, "when you see her, that I'm not Carnegie, nor near it. But tell her that, as we Americans say, 'I've enough for two.'"

"Oh," said Mrs. Nevis, "that would mean too much or too little to a
Scot."

"Call it, then," said McTavish, "several million pounds."

"Several," Mrs. Nevis reflected.

"Say—three," said McTavish.

Mrs. Nevis sighed. "And where did you gather it all?" she asked.

"Oh, from my father," said McTavish. "And it was given to him by the government."

"Why?" she asked.

"Not why," said he, "so much as how. You see, our government is passionately fond of certain people and makes them very rich. But it's perfectly fair, because at the same time it makes other people, of whom it is not fond, desperately poor. We call it protection," he said. "For instance, my government lets a man buy a Shetland wool sweater in Scotland for two dollars, and lets him sell it on Broadway for twenty dollars. The process makes that man rich in time, but it's perfectly fair, because it makes the man who has to buy the sweater poor."

"But the fool doesn't have to buy it," said Mrs. Nevis.

"Oh yes, he does," said McTavish; "in America—if he likes the look of it and the feel of it—he has to buy. It's the climate, I suppose."

"Did your father make his money in Shetland sweaters?" she asked.

"Nothing so nice," said McTavish; "rails."

A covey of birds rose in the woods at their right with a loud whir of wings.

"Whew!" exclaimed McTavish.

"Baby pheasants," explained Mrs. Nevis. "They shoot three thousand at
Brig O'Dread in the season."

After certain difficulties, during which their hands touched, the greatest key in Mrs. Nevis's bunch was made to open the chapel door, and they went in.

The place had no roof; the flagged floor had disappeared, and it had been replaced by velvety turf, level between the graves and headstones. Supporting columns reared themselves here and there, supporting nothing. A sturdy thorn tree grew against the left-hand wall; but the sun shone brightly into the ruin, and sparrows twittered pleasantly among the in-growths of ivy.

"Will you wish to read all the inscriptions?" asked Mrs. Nevis, doubtfully, for there were hundreds of tombstones crowding the turf or pegged to the walls.

"No, no," said McTavish "I see what I came to see—already."

For the first time the enigmatic smile left his face, and she watched him with a kind of excited interest as he crossed the narrow houses of the dead and halted before a small tablet of white marble. She followed him, more slowly, and stood presently at his side as he read aloud:

        "SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF
            COLLAND McTAVISH,
     WHO DISAPPEARED, AGED FIVE YEARS,
            JUNE 15TH, 1801."

Immediately below the inscription a bar of music was engraved in the marble. "I can't read that," said McTavish.

Mrs. Nevis hummed a pathetic air very sweetly, almost under her breath. He listened until she had finished and then: "What tune is that?" he asked, excitedly.

"'Wandering Willie,'" she answered.

"Of course," said he, "it would be that."

"Was this the stone you came to see?" she asked presently.

"Yes," he said. "Colland McTavish, who disappeared, was my great-grandfather. The old gentleman—I never saw him myself—used to say that he remembered a long, long driveway, and a great iron gate, and riding for ever and ever in a wagon with a tent over it, and sleeping at night on the bare hills or in forests beside streams. And that was all he remembered, except being on a ship on the sea for years and years. But he had this—"

McTavish extracted from a pocket into which it had been buttoned for safety what appeared, at first sight, to be a linen handkerchief yellow with age. But, on unfolding, it proved to be a child's shirt, cracked and broken in places, and lacking all but one of its bone buttons. Embroidered on the tiny shirt tail, in faint and faded blue, was the name Colland McTavish.

"He always thought," said McTavish, "that the gypsies stole him. It looks as if they had, doesn't it? And, just think, he used to live in this beautiful place, and play in it, and belong to it! Wasn't it curious, my seeing that tablet the first thing when we came in? It looked as big as a house and seemed to beckon me."

"It looks more like the ghost of a little child," said Mrs. Nevis quietly. "Perhaps that is why it drew you so."

"Why," said he, "has this chapel been allowed to fall to pieces?"

"Because," said Mrs. Nevis, "there's never been the money to mend it."

"I wonder," he mused, "if The McTavish would let me do it? After all,
I'm not an utter stranger; I'm a distant cousin—after all."

"Not so distant, sir," said Mrs. Nevis, "as may appear, if what you say is true. Colland McTavish, your great-grandfather, and The McTavish's great-grandfather, were brothers—and the poor bereft mother that put up this tablet was your great-great-grandmother, and hers."

"Surely then," said he, "The McTavish would let me put a roof on the chapel. I'd like to," he said, and the red came strongly into his cheeks. "I'll ask her. Surely she wouldn't refuse to see me on such a matter."

"You can never tell," Mrs. Nevis said. "She's a woman that won't bear forcing."

He looked at her for the first time in some minutes. "Why," said he, "you're ill; you're white as a sheet!"

"It's the long walk uphill. It takes me in the heart, somehow."

"I'm sorry," said McTavish simply. "I'm mighty sorry. It's all my fault."

"Why, so it is," said she, with the flicker of a smile.

"You must take my arm going back. I am sorry."

When they had left the chapel and locked the door, she took his arm without any further invitation.

"I will, if you don't mind," she said. "I am shaken, and that's the truth…. But what," and again the smile flickered—"what would The McTavish say if she saw us—her cousin and her housekeeper—dawdling along arm in arm?"

McTavish laughed. "I don't mind, if you don't."

They returned slowly by the long turf walk to the statue of Atlas.

"Now," said he, "how should I go about getting an interview with The
McTavish?"

"Well," said Mrs. Nevis, "it will not be for to-day. She is leaving within the hour for Beem-Tay in her motor-car."

"Oh, then I shall follow her to Beem-Tay."

"If you can do that," said Mrs. Nevis, "I will give you a line to my sister. Maybe she could help you. She's the housekeeper at Beem-Tay—Miss MacNish is her name." And she added as if by an after-thought. "We are twins."

"Are there two of you?" exclaimed McTavish.

"Why not?" she asked, with a guileless face.

"Why," said he, "it's wonderful. Does she look like you?"

"Exactly," said Mrs. Nevis. "Same red hair, same eyes, nose, and faint spells—only," and there was a certain arch quality in her clear voice, "she's single."

"And she looks exactly like you—and she's single! I don't believe it."

Mrs. Nevis withdrew her hand from his arm. When they had reached the door of the Great Tower she stopped.

"If you care for a line to my sister," she said, "I'll write it. You can wait here."

"I wish it of all things, and if there are any stairs to climb, mind you take your time. Remember you're not very good at hills."

When she had gone, he smiled his enigmatic smile and began to walk slowly up and down in front of the door, his hands clasped behind his back. Once he made a remark. "Scotland," he said, "is the place for me."

But when at length she returned with the letter, he did not offer her money; instead he offered his hand. "You've been very kind," he said, "and when I meet your mistress I will tell her how very courteous you have been. Thank you."

He placed the letter in the breast-pocket of his shooting-coat. "Any messages for your sister?" he asked.

"You may tell her I hope she is putting by something for a rainy day. You may tell her The McTavish is verra hard up the noo"—she smiled very charmingly in his face—"and will na' brook an extravagant table."

"Do you think," said McTavish, "that your sister will get me a chance to see The McTavish?"

"If any one can, she can."

"Good-by," he said, and once more they shook hands.

A few minutes later she heard the distant purring of his car, and a thought struck her with dismay. "What if he goes straight to Beem-Tay and presents the letter before I get there!"

She flowered into swift action, flashed up the turret stairs, and, having violently rung a bell, flew into her dressing-room, and began to drag various automobiling coats, hats, and goggles out of their hiding places. When the bell was answered: "The car," she cried, "at once!"

A few moments later, veiled, goggled, and coated, she was dashing from the castle to the stables. Halfway she met the car. "McDonald," she cried, "can you make Beem-Tay in the hour?"

"It's fifty miles," said the driver, doubtfully.

"Can you make it?"

"The road—" he began.

"I know the road," she said impatiently; "it's all twisty-wisty. Can you make it?"

"I'm a married man," said he.

"Ten pounds sterling if you make it."

"And if we smash and are kilt?"

"Why, there'll be a more generous master than I in Beem-Tay and in Brig
O'Dread—that's all."

She leaped into the car, and a minute later they were flying along the narrow, tortuous North Road like a nightmare. Once she leaned over the driver's seat and spoke in his ear: "I hav'na the ten pounds noo," she said, "but I'll beg them, McDonald, or borrow them—" The car began to slow down, the driver's face grew gloomy. "Or steal them!" she cried. McDonald's face brightened, for The McTavish's money difficulties were no better known than the fact that she was a woman of her word. He opened the throttle and the car once more shot dizzily forward.

Twenty miles out of Brig O'Dread they came upon another car, bound in the same direction and also running desperately fast. They passed it in a roaring smother of dust.

"McDonald," said The McTavish, "you needna run sae fast noo. Keep the lead o' yon car to Beem-Tay gate—that is all."

She sank back luxuriously, sighed, and began to wonder how she should find McDonald his ten pounds sterling.

III

She need not have hurried, nor thrown to the wind those ten pounds that she had somehow to raise. On arriving at Beem-Tay she had given orders that any note addressed to Miss MacNish, and presented at the gate, should be brought at once to her. McTavish did not come that day, but she learned indirectly that he had taken rooms at the McTavish Arms in Beem-Tay village, and from Mr. Traquair, manager of the local branch of the Bank of Scotland, that he was taking steps to hire for the season the forest of Clackmanness, a splendid sporting estate that marched with her own lands. Mr. Traquair, a gentleman as thin as a pipe stem, and as kind as tobacco, had called upon her the second day, in answer to an impetuous summons. He found her looking very anxious and very beautiful, and told her so.

"May the looks stand me in good stead, Mr. Traquair," said she, "for I'm like to become Wandering Willie of the song—Wandering Wilhelmina, rather. There's a man yont, named McTavish, will oost me frae hoose and name."

"That would be the young gentleman stopping at the McTavish Arms."

"Ah," said The McTavish, "he might stop here if he but knew."

"He's no intending it, then," said Mr. Traquair, "for he called upon me this morning to hire the Duke's forest of Clackmanness."

"Ah!" said The McTavish.

"And now," said Mr. Traquair, stroking his white mustache, "tell me what it all means."

"It means that Colland McTavish, who was my great-grandfather's elder brother, has returned in the person of the young gentleman at the Arms."

"A fine hornpipe he'll have to prove it," said Mr. Traquair.

"Fine fiddlesticks!" said The McTavish. "Man," she continued earnestly, "you have looked in his face and you tell me it will be a dance to prove him The McTavish?"

"He is a McTavish," admitted Mr. Traquair; "so much I knew before he told me his name."

"He has in his pocket the bit shirt that wee Colland wore when the gypsies snitched him and carried him over seas; it's all of a piece with many another garment of wee Colland's. I've had out the trunk in which his little duds have been stored these many years. The man is Colland's great-grandson. I look at him, and I admit it without proof."

"My dear," said Mr. Traquair, "you have no comprehension of the law. I will fight this claim through every court of the land, or I'm ready to meet him on Bannockburn field, my ancestral claymore against his. A rare laugh we'll have when the pretender produces his bit shirtie in the court, and says, 'Look, your honor, upon my patent o' nobilitee.'"

"Mind this," said The McTavish, "I'll make no contests, nor have none made. Only," she smiled faintly, "I hay'na told him who he rightly is. He claims cousinship. But it has not dawned on him that Colland was to have been The McTavish, that he is The McTavish, that I am merely Miss Ellen Alice Douglas Cameron Dundee Campbell McGregor Breadalbane Blair McTavish, houseless, homeless spinster, wi' but a drap o' gude blood to her heritage. I have not told him, Mr. Traquair. He does not know. What's to be done? What would you do—if you knew that he was he, and that you were only you?"

"It's your meeserable conscience of a Church-going Scot," commiserated
Traquair, not without indignation. "What would a Campbell have done?
He'd have had himself made a judge in the land, and he'd have condemned
the pretender to the gallows—out of hand, my dear—out of hand!"

She shook her head at him as at a naughty child. "Where is your own meeserable conscience, Traquair?"

"My dear," cried the little man, "it is storming my reason."

"There," said she, "I told you so. And now we are both of one mind, you shall present these tidings to McTavish together with my compliments."

"First," said Traquair cautiously, "I'll bide a bit on the thought."

"I will leave the time to your meeserable conscience," said Miss McTavish generously. "Meanwhile, my dear man, while the semblance of prosperity abides over my head in the shape of a roof, there's a matter o' ten pound—"

Mr. Traquair rose briskly to his feet. "Ten pound!" he exclaimed.

"Only ten pound," she wheedled.

"My dear," he said, "I don't see where you're to raise another matter o' saxpence this month."

"But I've promised the ten pound on my honor," she said. "Would you have me break my word to a servant?"

"Well—well," temporized Mr. Traquair, "I'll have another look at the books. Mind, I'm not saying it can be done—unless you'll sell a bit timber here and yont—"

"Dear man," she said, "full well ye know it's not mine to sell. Then you're to let me have the ten pound?"

"If I were to employ a wheedler," said Mr. Traquair, "I'd have no choice 'twixt you and Satan. Mind, I make no promises. Ten pound is a prodeegious sum o' money, when ye hay'na got it."

"Not later than to-morrow, then," said Miss McTavish, as though to cap a promise that had been made to her. "I'm obliged to you, Traquair, deeply obliged."

IV

But it was not the matter of the ten pounds that worried Traquair as he climbed into his pony cart and drove slowly through the castle policies to the gate. Indeed, the lofty gates had not been closed behind him before he had forgotten all about them. That The McTavish was not The McTavish alone occupied his attention. And when he perceived the cause of the trouble, strolling beside the lofty ring fence of stone that shielded the castle policies from impertinent curiosity, it was in anything but his usual cheerful voice that he hailed him.

"Will you take a lift, Mr. McTavish?" he invited dismally.

"Oh, no," said The McTavish, "I won't trouble you, thanks."

Traquair's meeserable conscience got the better of him all at once. And with that his cheerfulness returned.

"Get in," he said. "You cannot help troubling me, Mr. McTavish. I've a word for you, sir."

McTavish, wondering, climbed into the car.

"Fergus," said Traquair to the small boy who acted as groom, messenger, and shoe polisher to the local branch of the Bank of Scotland, "ye'll walk."

When the two were thus isolated from prying ears, Mr. Traquair cleared his throat and spoke. "Is there anything, Mr. McTavish," he said, "in this world that a rich man like you may want?"

"Oh, yes," said McTavish, "some things."

"More wealth?"

McTavish shook his head.

"Houses—lands?" Traquair looked up shrewdly from the corner of his eye, but McTavish shook his head again.

"Power, then, Mr. McTavish?"

"No—not power."

"Glory?"

"No," said McTavish; "I'm sorry, but I'm afraid not."

"Then, sir," said Traquair, "it's a woman."

"No," said McTavish, and he blushed handsomely. "It's the woman."

"I withdraw my insinuation," said Traquair gravely.

"I thank you," said Mr. McTavish.

"I am glad, sir," said Traquair presently, "to find you in so generous a disposition, for we have need of your generosity. I have it from Miss McTavish herself," he went on gravely, "that your ancestor, so far as you know, was Colland McTavish."

"So far as I know and believe," said McTavish, "he was."

"Did you know that Colland McTavish should have been The McTavish?" asked Mr. Traquair.

"It never entered my head. Was he the oldest son?"

"He was," said Mr. Traquair solemnly, "until in the eyes of the law he ceased to exist."

"Then," said McTavish, "in every eye save that of the law I am The
McTavish."

Mr. Traquair bowed. "Miss McTavish," he said, "was for telling you at once; but she left the matter entirely to my discretion. I have thought best to tell you."

"Would the law," asked McTavish, "oust Miss McTavish and stand me in her shoes?"

"The law," said Traquair pointedly, "would not do the former, and," with a glance at McTavish's feet, "the Auld Nick could not do the latter."

McTavish laughed. "Then why have you told me?" he asked.

"Because," said Traquair grandly, "it is Miss McTavish's resolution to make no opposition to your claim."

"I see; I am to become 'The' without a fight."

"Precisely," said Traquair.

"Well, discretionary powers as to informing me of this were given you, as I understand, Mr. Traquair?"

"They were," said Traquair.

"Well," said McTavish again, "there's no use crying over spilt milk. But is your conscience up to a heavy load?"

"'Tis a meeserable vehicle at best," protested Traquair.

"You must pretend," said McTavish, "that you have not yet told me."

"Ah!" Traquair exclaimed. "You wish to think it over."

"I do," said McTavish.

Both were silent for some moments. Then Traquair said rather solemnly: "You are young, Mr. McTavish, but I have hopes that your thinking will be of a wise and courageous nature."

"Do you read Tennyson?" asked McTavish, apropos of nothing.

"No," said Traquair, slightly nettled. "Burns."

"I am sorry," said McTavish simply; "then you don't know the lines:

     'If you are not the heiress born,
       And I,' said he, 'the lawful heir,' etc.

do you?"

"No," said Traquair, "I do not."

"It is curious how often a lack of literary affinity comes between two persons and a heart-to-heart talk."

"Let me know," said Traquair, "when you have thought it over."

"I will. And now if you will put me down—?"

He leaped to the ground, lifted his hat to the older man, and, turning, strode very swiftly, as if to make up for lost time, back toward the castle gate.

V

McTavish was kept waiting a long time while a servant took his letter of introduction to Miss MacNish, and brought back an answer from the castle.

Finally, midway of a winding and shrubby short cut, into which he turned as directed by the porter, he came suddenly upon her.

"Miss MacNish—?" he said.

"You're not Mr. McTavish!—" She seemed dumfounded, and glanced at a letter which she carried open in her hand. "My sister writes—"

"What does she write?" asked McTavish eagerly.

"No—no!" Miss MacNish exclaimed hastily, "the letter was to me." She tore it hastily into little pieces.

"Miss MacNish," said McTavish, somewhat hurt, "it is evident that I give diametrically opposed impressions to you and your sister. Either she has said something nice about me, and you, seeing me, are astonished that she should; or she has said something horrid about me—I do hope it's that way—and you are even more surprised. It must be one thing or the other. And before we shake hands I think it only proper for you to tell me which."

"Let bygones be bygones," said Miss MacNish, and she held out her hand.
McTavish took it, and smiled his enigmatic smile.

"It is your special wish, I have gathered," said Miss MacNish, "to meet The McTavish. Now she knows about your being in the neighborhood, knows that you are a distant cousin, but she hasn't expressed any wish to meet you—at least I haven't heard her. If she wishes to meet you, she will ask you to call upon her. If she doesn't wish to, she won't. Of course, if you came upon her suddenly—somewhere in the grounds, for instance—she'd have to listen to what you had to say, and to answer you, I suppose. But to-day—well I'd not try it to-day."

"Why not?" asked McTavish.

"Why," said Miss MacNish, "she caught cold in the car yesterday, and her poor nose is much too red for company."

"Why do you all try to make her out such a bad lot?"

"Is it being a bad lot to have a red nose?" exclaimed Miss MacNish.

"At twenty-two?" McTavish looked at her in surprise and horror. "I ask you," he said. "There was the porter at Brig O'Dread, and your sister—they gave her a pair of black eyes between them, and here you give her a red nose. When the truth is probably the reverse."

"I don't know the reverse of red," said Miss MacNish, "but that would give her white eyes."

"I am sure, Miss MacNish, that quibbling is not one of your prerogatives. It belongs exclusively to the Speaker of the House of Representatives. As for me—the less I see of The McTavish, the surer I am that she is rather beautiful, and very amusing, and good."

"Are these the matters on which you are so eager to meet her?" asked Miss MacNish. She stood with her back to a clump of dark blue larkspur taller than herself—a lovely picture, in her severe black housekeeper's dress that by contrast made her face and dark red hair all the more vivacious and flowery. Her eyes at the moment were just the color of the larkspur.

McTavish smiled his enigmatic smile. "They are," he said.

"Good heavens!" exclaimed Miss MacNish.

"When I meet her—" McTavish began, and abruptly paused.

"What?" Miss MacNish asked with some eagerness.

"Oh, nothing; I'm so full of it that I almost betrayed my own confidence."

"I hope that you aren't implying that I might prove indiscreet."

"Oh, dear no!" said McTavish.

"It had a look of it, then," said Miss MacNish tartly.

"Oh," said McTavish, "if I've hurt your feelings—why, I'll go on with what I began, and take the consequences, shall I?"

"I think," said Miss MacNish primly, "that it would tend to restore confidence between us."

"When I meet her, then," said McTavish, "I shall first tell her that she is beautiful, and amusing, and good. And then," it came from him in a kind of eager, boyish outburst, "I shall ask her to marry me."

Miss MacNish gasped and stepped backward into the fine and deep soil that gave the larkspur its inches. The color left her cheeks and returned upon the instant tenfold. And it was many moments before she could find a word to speak. Then she said in an injured and astonished tone: "Why?"

"The Scotch Scot," said McTavish, "is shrewd, but cautious. The American Scot is shrewd, but daring. Caution, you'll admit, is a pitiful measure in an affair of the heart."

Miss MacNish was by this time somewhat recovered from her consternation. "Well," said she, "what then? When you have come upon The McTavish unawares somewhere in the shrubbery, and asked her to marry you, and she has boxed your ears for you—what then?"

"Then," said McTavish with a kind of anticipatory expression of pleasure, "I shall kiss her. Even if she hated it," he said ruefully, "she couldn't help but be surprised and flattered."

Miss MacNish took a step forward with a sudden hilarious brightening in her eyes. "Are you quizzing me," she said, "or are you outlining your honest and mad intentions? And if the latter, won't you tell me why? Why, in heaven's name, should you ask The McTavish to marry you—at first sight?"

"I can't explain it," said McTavish. "But even if I never have seen her—I love her."

"I have heard of love at first sight—" began Miss MacNish.

But he interrupted eagerly. "You haven't ever experienced it, have you?"

"Of course, I haven't," she exclaimed indignantly. "I've heard of it—often. But I have never heard of love without any sight at all."

"Love is blind," said McTavish.

"Now, who's quibbling?"

"Just because," he said, "you've never heard of a thing, away off here in your wild Highlands, is a mighty poor proof that it doesn't exist. I suppose you don't believe in predestination. I've always known," he said grandly, "that I should marry my cousin—even against her will and better judgment. You don't more than half believe me, do you?"

"Well, not more than half," Miss MacNish smiled.

"It's the truth," he said; "I will bet you ten pounds it's the truth."

Miss MacNish looked at him indignantly, and in the midst of the look she sighed. "I don't bet," said she.

McTavish lowered his glance until it rested upon his own highly polished brown boots.

"Why are you looking at your boots?" asked Miss MacNish.

"Because," he said simply, "considering that I am in love with my cousin, I don't think I ought to look at you any more. I'm afraid I got the habit by looking at your sister; but then, as she has a husband, it couldn't matter so much."

Miss MacNish, I'm afraid, mantled with pleasure. "My sister said something in her letter about your wishing to see the house of your ancestors. Miss McTavish is out now—would you like to look about a little?"

"Dearly," said McTavish.

VI

Miss McTavish sent for Mr. Traquair. He went to her with a heavy conscience, for as yet he had done nothing toward raising the ten pounds. At her first words his conscience became still more laden.

"Traquair," she said, "you mustn't tell him yet."

It was all Traquair could do to keep countenance. "Then it's fortunate I haven't," said he, "for you gave me a free hand."

"Consider it tied behind your back for the present, for a wonderful thing is going to happen."

"Indeed," said Traquair.

"You wouldn't believe me when I tell you that the silly man is going to fall in love with me, and ask me to marry him!"

"Although you haven't offered me a chair, my dear," said Traquair, "I will take one."

All in a burst then, half laughing, half in a grave kind of excitement, she told her old friend how she had played housekeeper first at Brig O'Dread and later at Beem-Tay. And how, on the latter occasion, McTavish had displayed his admiration so openly that there could be but the one climax.

"And after all," she concluded, "if he thinks I'm just a housekeeper, and falls in love with me and asks me to marry him—I'd know the man was sincere—wouldn't I, Traquair?"

"It seems to me," said Traquair, "that I have never seen you so thoroughly delighted with yourself."

"That is unkind. It is a wonderful thing when a girl of position, and hedged in as I have been, finds that she is loved for herself alone and not for her houses and lands, and her almost royal debts."

"Verra flattering," said Traquair, "na doot. And what answer will you give?"

"Traquair," she said, "I'm not a profane girl; but I'm hanged if I know."

"He is a very wealthy man, and I have no doubt a very kind and honest man."

"He is a very cheeky man," smiled Miss McTavish.

"No doubt—no doubt," said Traquair; "and it would leave you to the honest enjoyment of your houses and lands, which otherwise you propose to hand over to him. Still, it is well for a Scot to be cautious."

"For a Scotch Scot," said Miss McTavish. "I should be an American Scot if I married him. He tells me they are noted for their daring."

While they were thus animatedly conversing, word came that Mr. McTavish had called in the hope of seeing Miss MacNish.

"There," said Miss McTavish, "you see! Go down to him, Traquair, and be pleasant, until I come. Then vanish."

Traquair found McTavish smoking a thick London cigarette upon the steps of the side entrance, and gazing happily into a little garden of dark yew and vivid scarlet geraniums with daring edgings of brightest blue lobelia.

"Will you be making any changes," asked Traquair, "when you come into your own?"

McTavish looked up with a smile and handed his open cigarette case to the older man.

"Mr. Traquair," he said, "I'm young and a stranger. I wish you could find it in your heart to be an uncle to me."

Traquair accepted a cigarette and sat down, first assuring himself that the stone steps were dry.

"If I were your nephew," said McTavish, "and came to you all out of breath, and told you that I wished to marry Miss McTavish's housekeeper, what would you say?"

"I would say," said Traquair, "that she was the daughter of a grand family that had fallen from their high estate. I would say, 'Charge, nephew, charge!'"

"Do you mean it!" exclaimed McTavish.

"There's no more lovely lass in the United Kingdom," said Traquair, "than Miss—Miss—"

"MacNish," McTavish helped him; "and she would be mistress where she had been servant. That's a curious twist of fate."

"You have made up your mind, then," said Traquair, "to claim your own?"

"By no means—yet," said McTavish. "I was only speculating. It's all in the air. Suppose uncle, that Miss MacNish throws me down!"

"Throws you down!" Traquair was shocked.

"Well," said McTavish humbly, "you told me to charge."

"To charge," said Traquair testily, "but not to grapple."

"In my country," said McTavish, "when a girl refuses to marry a man they call it throwing him down, giving him the sack, or handing him a lemon."

"Yours is an exceptional country," said Traquair.

Miss MacNish appeared in the doorway behind them. "I'm sorry to have been so long," she said; "I had to give out the linen for luncheon."

McTavish flung away his cigarette, and sprang to his feet as if some one had stuck a pin into him. Traquair, according to the schedule, vanished.

"It seemed very, very long," said McTavish.

"Miss McTavish," said Miss MacNish, "has consented to see you."

"Good Heavens!—when?"

"Now."

"But I don't want to see her now."

"But you told me"—Miss MacNish looked thoroughly puzzled—"you told me just what you were going to say to her. You said it was all predestined."

"Miss MacNish, it was not Miss McTavish I was thinking of—I'm sure it wasn't. It was you."

"Are you proposing to me?" she asked.

"Of course, I am. Come into the garden—I can't talk on these steps, right on top of a gravel walk with a distant vista of three gardeners and a cartful of sand."

"I must say," said Miss MacNish, "that this is the suddenest thing that ever happened to me."

"But you said you believed in love at first sight," McTavish explained. "You knew yesterday what had happened to me—don't say you didn't, because I saw you smiling to yourself. You might come into the garden and let me say my say."

She didn't budge.

"Very well then. I will make a scene—right here—a terrible scene." He caught her two hands in his, and drew her toward him so that the keys at her belt jangled and clashed.

"This is preposterous!" she exclaimed.

"Not so preposterous as you think. But what's your first name?"

"I think I haven't any at the moment."

"Don't be ridiculous. There—there—"

She tore her hands from him and struck at him wildly. But he ducked like a trained boxer.

"With everybody looking!" she cried, crimson with mortification.

"I had a cable," he said, "calling me back to America. That is why I have to hurry over the preliminaries."

"The preliminaries," she cried, almost in tears. "Do you know who I am that you treat me like a barmaid?"

"Ladies," said McTavish, "who masquerade as housekeepers ought to know what to expect."

Her face was a blank of astonishment. "Traquair told," she said indignantly. "Wait till I—"

"No," said McTavish; "the porter at Brig O'Dread told. He said that you yourself would show me the chapel. He said not to be surprised if you pretended to be some one else. He said you had done that kind of thing before. He seemed nettled about something."

In spite of herself Miss McTavish laughed. "I told him," she said, "that if you crossed my hand with silver, I would give it to him; but if you crossed my hand with gold, I would keep it for myself. That made him furious, and he slammed the door when he left. So you knew all along?"

"Yes—Mrs. Nevis MacNish McTavish, I did; and when you had the faint spell in the chapel, I almost proposed then. I tell you, your voice and your face, and the way you walked—oh, they did for this young man on the spot! Do you know how much hunger and longing and loving can be crowded into a few days? I do. You think I am in a hurry? It seems to me as if there'd been millions of years of slow waiting."

"I have certainly played the fool," said Miss McTavish, "and I suppose I have let myself in for this." Her voice was gentler. "Do you know, too, why I turned white in the chapel?"

"Yes," he said, "I know that."

"Traquair told you."

"Yes."

"And if you hadn't liked me this way, would you have turned me out of house and home?"

He drew her hand through his arm, and they crossed the gravel path into the garden. "What do you think?" he asked.

"I think—no," said she.

"Thank you," said he. "Do you read Tennyson?"

"No," said she, "Burns."

McTavish sighed helplessly. Then a light of mischief came into his eye.
"As Burns says," said he:

     "'If you are not the heiress born,
         And I,' said he, 'the lawful heir,
       We two will wed to-morrow morn,
         And you shall still be Lady Clare,'"

"I love every word Burns wrote," she said enthusiastically, and
McTavish, though successful, was ashamed.

"McTavish," she said, "the other day, when I felt that I had to get here before you, I promised my driver ten pounds if he beat your car,"

"Yes," said McTavish, "I guessed what was up, and told my man to go slower. It wasn't the psychological moment for either of us to break our necks, was it?"

"No; but I promised the man ten pound, McTavish—and I hay'na got it."

"Ten pounds ought to have a certain purchasing power," said he.

"Then shut your eyes," she commanded.

"And after all," she said, "you'll be The McTavish, won't you?"

"I will not," he said. "Do you think I'm going to take you back to America with me Saturday, and have all my friends in New York point their fingers at me, and call me—The?"