The McTavish by
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
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
"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
"McDougall," said The McTavish—and this time she laughed aloud—"if
the gentleman from America crosses my hand with silver, it shall
"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.
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
"'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
"You can never tell," Mrs. Nevis said. "She's a woman that won't bear
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
"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
"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,
"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
"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
"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
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.
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
"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,
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,
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."
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," 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
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
"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.
"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
McTavish was kept waiting a long time while a servant took his letter of
introduction to Miss MacNish, and brought back an answer from
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"Dearly," said McTavish.
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
"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
"Traquair," she said, "I'm not a profane girl; but I'm hanged if I
"He is a very wealthy man, and I have no doubt a very kind and honest
"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
"Will you be making any changes," asked Traquair, "when you come into
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,
"Do you mean it!" exclaimed McTavish.
"There's no more lovely lass in the United Kingdom," said Traquair,
"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."
"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
"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."
"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?"