The Bells of Cullam
THE BELLS OF CULLAM
By Ethel Watts Mumford
ILLUSTRATIONS BY ALONZO KIMBALL
LORD LOVALL STUART McCAMMERON of Abernethy and Lochan, was a grand golfer—"gowfer," he pronounced it, with a wonderful rounded "ow." He was sixty-five years old, stood six feet six in his spiked heather-brogues, and his temper was as short as his stroke was long and his accent broad. He was the admiration and terror of all the links from John o' Groat's to "Killiecrankie," and body and soul he owned "Wully" Forsythe, the only caddie to survive his fierce czarship of "the Game of Kings."
In his tyrannical way the old man loved the boy. It was his one concession to human weakness. Ice and iron he was to every other claim. He hated weakness, he hated it so viciously that he had cut out his own heart—though his tenants claimed he never had one—to satisfy that hatred. The countryside told in whispers how he had cast forth his only daughter, lovely, gentle Ann Linsey, because in her feminine softness she had given her heart to Duncan Gordon, who was "no wat, but a puir laddie frae the pass o' the Laicht." Ay, he had put her out, and she and her husband had gone to Canada, to be heard of no more, and the estate being entailed, there was but little cause to hope that lovely Ann Linsey would ever glad the wayside with her bonnie face again. But her father, having cast her from his house, to all appearances cast her from his mind also. Her name was never mentioned after the boards were nailed across the doors of the rooms that had been hers. Consequently the affection the dour lord displayed for Wully Forsythe was a miracle second only to that of Daniel in the lions' den.
To have passed through the ordeal of being his lordship's caddie, and not only retained this high office, but actually to have wrung favor from the taskmaster, argued a being little short of angelic. Could the good people of Abernethy have eavesdropped at the forming of this strange alliance, they would have understood the situation better, for Wully was far from being even a lesser cherub. At the age of eleven, undersized, red-headed, and freckled in flakes, he was as emotional a little liar as ever told himself to sleep with stories of hair-raising, crimes, not the least frequent of which were the mental trouncings he gave his master. Wully was tender-hearted to foolishness, and sentimental as only a Highlander can be. Tears dwelt so near his red-lashed eyelids that he controlled them only by giving his tongue free rein. The Fates, in order to keep him from bursting when fury was upon him, had endowed him with language. He could swear!—heavens, how he could swear! It was this gift, which amounted to real genius, that performed the miracle.
It happened one hot August morning on the second day of Wully's incumbency of the position of caddie-in-chief. He lugged his master's clubs across the links, perspiration dropping from his bulbous brow, weariness cramping his thin legs as he strove to keep pace with the huge, tireless old man. The giant was having his own troubles. The unaccustomed heat put him off his game. He foozled, he tore the turf, he lost three balls in the Banlock tarn, and ended by breaking his favorite lofter. "What were caddies for but to be sworn at? Any able-bodied man could carry his own clubs." Thus he would have argued, and, therefore, with a clear conscience, he cursed Wully Forsythe right through the dictionary of anathema. The boy's eyes took on a misty look, furious tears gathered back of the pale blue, his nose pricked, and he swelled like a pink and freckled toad.
Lord Lovall continued his tirade, and, words failing, he struck the boy fair on the bare knees with the handle of the broken lofter.
Then the dam broke. Tears dripped from Wully's eyes, his gash of a mouth opened to eloquence that swept over the great golfer's choice collection of insults, drowned it and flowed on unchecked. When he had used up every epithet known to the links, he invented new ones, derived from, the de'il himself would have to guess where. They were vivid, picturesque, biting as vitriol, spontaneous and all-embracing.
His lordship stood, his huge legs spread apart, his knotted hands on his hips, his shoulders bent forward, and his great leonine head overhanging the childish little figure that danced with rage before him.
Wully capped the climax by snatching up the head of the golf-stick and casting it at the giant's shin, where it landed with a resounding crack. Having committed the crime of leze-majesty, Wully stopped short. He stood still, aghast, fully expecting to be beaten to jelly with any or all of the steel-tipped weapons he carried.
What happened was sheer cataclysm— Lord Lovall Stuart McCammeron held out his hand.
"I apologize, Wully. I should have been mair the man than to cast ma ill-will at a child. I beg yer pairdon."
Wully calmed down instantly, but he stood his ground.
"Ah accept yer lordship's apology," he said with the dignity of an archbishop.
Lovall's vast shoulders began to shake, and he turned away his face to hide the grin that would not be controlled. The boy had won. From that day the two were companions. Wully left his aunt's none too opulent home, and came to live at the castle. Up and down the land, as golf tournaments drew them, went the dean of the sport and his freckled squire, together, one and inseparable.
But success had made him overbold, and there came a day when Wully overstepped his bounds, a day that burned itself into the boy's mind and heart, a day of wrath, a day that threatened complete disruption. And the cause of his undoing was far-away Ann Linsey, and thereafter he hated her resentfully.
Came a letter to Factor Stevens, a letter from Canada—a pitiful, proud, brave letter. There was news, great news and sad news. Duncan Gordon was dead and gone—killed in the cave-in of a mine— and his son was born in black sorrow in a blacker world. There was also an enclosure addressed to his lordship, in a shaking hand.
Factor Stevens sat for long in the office, thinking. Who dare present that letter? Not he! He was manager of the vast estate, and had no will to forfeit his job. He was minded for a moment to destroy both communications, for who would ever know? But his conscience smote him cruelly and he mumbled excuses to himself under his breath. With the thin foreign paper scorching his pocket he sought out the minister, Stewart Campbell, at the manse. Campbell looked at the envelope directed in that quavering hand, and his spirit sickened—he was a mild little man. Face the Lion of Lochan with that message—not he! He had four motherless children, and the manse was comfortable, "the minister's pool" in the salmon river, a rich one, and the "glebe" rented well. But Ann Linsey's letter must, for all that, reach its destination.
He rose, donned his fiat black hat, seized Stevens's arm, and led him across the cobbled street to the long gray schoolhouse, over which presided Dominie Farquarson, a man of learning and resource. They found him seated at his back door, a pipe in his mouth, Epictetus in his hand. And there, with the babble of the Banlock burn in their ears, they set the matter before him. "He stood well with his lordship—-better than any. It would be his place to deliver the letter." Dominie Farquarson wrinkled his shrewd eyes.
"Afreed fer yer jobs?" he said. "Weel, so am I." He shifted his pipe and raised his book. The visitors, with sinking hearts, departed.
Stevens looked blank, the minister scratched his gray head and pursed his lips. And then came Hepsey McLean bobbing down the street, a basket of "scattern" on her arm, her withered face framed in a red knitted cap, as enveloping as an aviator's.
"It's Hepsey," said Campbell hopefully.
"Ay, it's Hepsey," said Stevens with a sigh of relief.
They headed her off and conducted her to the quiet of the lane back of the fish-shop. And there they consulted her, as did every one in Lochan and Abernethy.
She shook her old head and clacked her withered lips. "Auch, ay!" she murmured, and wiped the tears from her rhumy eyes. "There's but one in the world can tak that letter tae his lordship and live," she said, "and that same is Wully Forsythe, the caddie."
The two harassed men looked at each other.
"It's Wully," said they in one breath. "Wumman, yer recht."
"And Wully's in high favor noo," Stevens added. "His lordship has made the score for the bell at Cullam links, and made the bell at Lorcan, too, within the month. It's the Lord's doin', I'm thinkin'."
"Tell his aunt, the widow Forres," suggested Hepsey. "She'll send for the lad, and then ye can win him to it, he's as soft as a girl. Get him tae greet over Ann Linsey, an' yer got him. Auch, ay," she sighed, and took up the basket and went her way.
Thus it came about that Wully was sent for. Very flattered he was when the two great men of the village made much of him, assured him that he alone could be trusted with the all-important communication, complimented him on holding his unique position of caddie for well over a year; and Wully, swelling with self-importance, wept over her leddyship's misfortunes, and, between pride and pity, was swept off his common-sense feet.
He hid the letter in his inside pocket and returned to the castle. As he trudged on his gait became heavier, his courage began to ooze, his braggart pride collapsed like a pricked balloon. He was a very frightened, very unhappy, and, after all, a very little boy of only twelve. But his word was passed to deliver that letter. He had no alternative.
He sought admittance to the library, where his lordship never read, but often sat of a lonely evening. His master looked up, his lion's eyes glaring at the intruder.
"I didna send for ye, lad," he growled.
"Please, sir," Wully shuffled, "it's ma rapoort." He handed his school report to the giant, who glanced at it.
"An'—an'," Wully's heart was beating hard.
"Oot with it," his lordship commanded. "What hae ye done the noo?"
Wully fumbled in his breast, clutched the envelope, and brought it forth with a trembling hand. "I brought yer lordship a letter," he squeaked, like a cornered mouse, and placed the missive on the great oak table under his master's eyes.
The change that came over the old man was terrifying. His face became livid, his eyes blazed with ungovernable fury. He rose with one terrible up-sweep of his gigantic figure.
"Throw that letter in the fire!" he thundered, "throw it!" Shaking like a blown reed, Wully took up the letter and tossed it on the embers, where it blazed for an instant and fell to black wisps. "And now"—the great hand fell upon the boy's shoulders; he was lifted clean off his feet, shaken till his teeth rattled and his eyes started from his head, and thrown across the room, where he fell asprawl, his head within an inch of a stand of heavy armor that would have killed him outright had he struck upon it. Half stunned, he looked up into the contorted face of his chief. "Listen tae me!" Lord Lovall bellowed. "If ever ye dare to bring me such a letter—or to mention that name, or by word or deed mind me of that limmer—that day I'll kill ye, Wully Forsythe, dead wheer ye stand."
A heavy dog-whip lay on the table. His lordship seized it and brought the lash down with all the force of his huge body on the boy's quivering shoulders again and again. Wully did not cry out. He clambered to his feet, covering his face with his skinny arm, and shrieked:
"I resign, damn ye, I resign!"
His coat was torn open in half a dozen places, and the blood glowed on the white shirt beneath.
Lovall, with an oath, cast the whip onto the hearth and, crossing his great arms, seemed to press back his rage within himself. When he spoke again his voice was calm.
"Tell Mar, the gillie, tae wash yer back, Wully—and be on the links at six thirty, the morn."
The boy lifted his livid face. "Ye links 'deil,' I hae resigned! I telt yer."
"At six thirty," said his lordship. "Ye canna tell me, Wully Forsythe, ye didna ken ye shudna have come tae me with that letter. Ye got yer pay fer comin.' Ye ken what tae expect shud ye offend again. Now we understand one another. At six thirty, the morn."
Stiff, sore, and outwardly sullen, Wully was on the links when the mists cleared, but deep in his heart was overwhelming thanksgiving—he was not to be cast out. Once more the strange friendship was cemented. The two took up their united life, one and inseparable—the giant of ice and iron; the romantic, sentimental boy.
The weary, dreary fogs of Glasgow drifted before Lord Lovall McCammeron's windows overlooking the gray and crowded street. The grand old golfer sat wedged in an armchair, two sizes too small for him, and surveyed the boy. Wully was now thirteen. The years had pulled him out long and narrow and peppered him with more freckles. His hair was auburn, and his blue eyes held back the sympathetic or tempestuous tears with a harder pucker, a parody and unconscious imitation of his lordship's challenging eye. Time had been unable to hack or hew another wrinkle on McCammeron's face or filch a cubit from his upright stature. Grimmer of expression it could not have made him, but at the moment satisfied pride had relaxed the gashes from nostril to chin that bounded his iron mouth on the east and west.
"Wully," said he, "it's a great honor they have conferred upon us, d'ye mind it, lad? To be made custodian of the golf bells at the Glasgow Exhibeetion! It's the highest tribute the united governors of all the links in Scotland could pay, and I hope ye'll realize it."
Wully flushed magenta under the freckles.
"I ken," he nodded. "It's grrand!"
"We will now go forrmally to the exhibeetion grrounds and prresent ourrselves," his lordship announced, rising with difficulty from the grip of the chair.
The boy rang a hand-bell, which brought forward a serving-man attired in a suit of shockingly loud plaid—his lordship's "service tartan." The whiskered valet presented his master with stick, gloves, and handkerchief, and helped him with his wide-skirted overcoat. Wully took up his cap and jerked the knees of his outgrown golf trousers. The dean of the links and his henchman were about to take office as custodians of the trophies; and the keeper of the Great Seal of England guarded a mere trifle compared to the glorious responsibility of the golf prizes of Scotland's ancient and honorable companies.
At the door of the hotel his lordship's barouche awaited him—he scorned such "kittle cattle" as taxis—and in state, Wully on the box beside the driver, was driven to the exhibition grounds. At the historical pavilion they were met by a deputation of officers representing the great clubs, the formidable links of the north and south countries, and Lovall Stuart McCammeron, Lord of Abernethy and Lochan, was conducted to the long, well-lighted room, where, on shelves and in cases, shone the priceless treasures that two hundred years of golfing had won and lost. There were high silver flagons bearing the hall-marks of the Georges, tankards and bowls of Queen Anne's time, platters and nefs and loving-cups, shields and beakers of all sorts and sizes and ages. A brave and glittering show they made, and each bore the score and the name of the match it commemorated, a feast for the eye of every true golfer—a silver record of mighty strokes and magnificent putting.
But it was not upon this gorgeous display that the eye of their honorable custodian dwelt with keenest pride, not the magnificence of hall-marked plate that rejoiced his sporting soul. Such plate one might gaze upon in many an ancient hall, many a castle boasted its carefully polished and hoarded testimonials to golf supremacy. But only once in a proverbial blue moon were the golf bells brought together for the vulgar herd to covet and wonder at. The golf bells! How their jingling music tinkled down the years, and how they shone and twinkled in the long central cases down the room. Each of the great links had its own show-case—and there the silver bells reposed. In shape like sleigh-bells, of varying sizes, strung on the slim rod of an ancient golf-stick that had itself made its grand record; each bell bearing a name, the winner of the club match of the year. There were brassies and lofters and putters galore, fitted close between handle and iron, with crowding bells. One read in quaint script names world-famous in their day, names forgotten, except for a mossy stone in the kirkyard, and on the dented "grelot" that commemorated a championship.
It was upon the golf bells that the Lord of Abernethy's eyes gloated. Here, indeed, was the Great Trust.
Wully's eyes almost popped from their tawny-lashed sockets as the keys of the cases were turned over to his master. For upon him would devolve the dusty honor of polishing these honored relics during the long months the exhibition would last. And as he looked at the serried ranks of silver his heart misgave him. There must be a million bells. It seemed impossible that all the golf associations of Scotland together for two hundred years could have accumulated such a collection. But the pride in his lordship's eyes brought an answering glow to his squire's. Without a doubt, to polish the golf bells of Scotland was a privilege, and meet for brag when one should be once again among the heather hills. But six months with a tooth-brush and silver powder!—when the open heath called, and the cloud shadows raced each other across bunker and tee—! Wully swallowed a sigh—a king may sigh at his coronation for thought of schoolboy freedom. There may have been a regret in his master's heart as well, for while the exhibition lasted the links would call in vain. When his lordship accepted responsibility he took it hard, and woe betide him who failed to realize it and abide by the law. So the days of guardianship began.
In the directors' room his lordship presided, grandly as a chancellor of the realm. In the gallery, after hours, Wully kept the "siller o' Scotland" bright. His days were free. He hung around the rooms, listening to the talk of the visitors as they gazed at the famous bells. Occasionally he proudly acted as exhibitor, pointing out the oldest and most famous trophies, speaking of the individual tone and tinkle, for now he knew them all like the voices of friends.
It was during these early days that he first met the Lady and the Baby. She was tall and slender and very pretty, with frail apple-blossom beauty. But the surprising thing was her interest in golf. As a rule, the women enthusiasts were gowned in tweed, well-set-up, outstriding females, with open-air manners. This was no wielder of the brassy; she was too slow of movement, too weak, too gentle. Then, too, she brought the baby when she haunted the exhibition. The baby was a strapping, solid person, who looked as if, given time and opportunity, he might achieve first-class caddiehood. The lady made Wully's acquaintance and asked him a thousand questions. She was more interested than all the tweeded champions. The friendship ripened. Wully so far forgot his manly importance as to take a fancy to the future caddie. Once or twice he dared to open the cases and run a finger over the tinkling bells, to the infant's delight.
Then the lady ceased to come. She had looked very white for a day or so, her step had dragged, even the preoccupied boy had noticed it. Then for a week her slim figure in its plain, threadbare black, did not show itself at the accustomed noon-hour. Perhaps she was only an exhibition visitor, and had gone away. Sorely Wully missed her. Often she had brought her lunch in a paper, and the baby's bottle strapped to a hotwater bag wrapped in a napkin, and the three had sat out-of-doors, in the sunny esplanade, and eaten their "piece." She might at least have said good-by, thought Wully, strangely annoyed at this lack of courtesy. He had taken much pains to show the lady everything of interest, and she had appeared to drink in his words, never tiring of hearing of the prowess of his lordship and all the details of the great matches they had won together. She even loved to hear of Abernethy and the castle and the collies, and all the little happenings on Abernethy links. Yet she could go away with never a word! Wully was very lonely in his foreign grandeur. More and more his master was surrounded and absorbed by banquets and addresses. He was writing articles, too, "On the development of the 'lofter' and the 'putter,'" "the maintenance of greens," and the "tabulation of bogies." Wully saw little of him now, and the frail lady in black with the large baby in white had come to mean a great deal in his empty days.
On the eighth day of her absence, a shock-haired youth clopped into the gallery and pounded sulkily up to Wully, sitting disconsolate in a corner under the great International Challenge Cup. The youth spoke in the heavy accents of the Glasgow dialect that defies transcription. The lady in black was ill, was the gist of his message, and asked that Wully come to see her. The youth thrust a slip of paper bearing an address in the heart of Glasgow's cheapest slum, and clopped out again.
Had there been any one to notice Wully's absences from that day on, he must have observed their growing length. Had any one been keen to follow his mental and moral processes, they would have seen a new wonder, a new responsibility, an abiding terror in his red-lashed eyes, and the pucker of his freckled forehead never relaxed. But no one saw and no one cared. The days lengthened into weeks. Several times Wully appeared at the exhibition rooms, shamefacedly carrying the massive infant. He sat long hours nursing the child in his lap, or guiding its unsteady rambles, his eye fearfully watchful of the door at the end of the gallery that led to the directors' room.
These were days of great official activities, and his lordship was busy meeting the "Committees on Art and Sculpture," the "Committee on Scottish Historical Exhibits," "Scottish Manufactures," "Caledonian Transportation," and all the other committees the great exhibition had brought together.
He never saw the astonishing spectacle of Wully Forsythe and his newly acquired child.
Then one day Wully absented himself wholly, only turning up after hours to assume his task as polisher-in-chief.
The morning following this truancy his lordship chose to devote to an inventorial examination of the treasures in his charge. Catalogue in hand, he came slowly down the great corridor, checking up the contents of each show-case with a vigorous stab of his gold pencil. All was in perfect order until his progress led him before the centre case. Suddenly he stopped short and his jaw fell. He looked again, unwilling to believe his perfectly healthy old eyes. A bell was missing from the Arran Links Club—the big grelot, with three dents in it, inscribed in running script: "John Manerchill, 1792!" His horrified glance rested on a second club loaded with its jingling trophies, thick as grapes on a stem. By Saint Andrew, patron saint of balls and brassies! The Killiecrankie Club was minus its bell of 1903!
Lord Lovall's heart stood still. In all his violent life he had never known shame or fear. But it was not for him to die unknowing their sting. He remembered opening that very case on the previous day, and passing the laden clubs from hand to hand of the members of the "Art Loan Committee"—and two bells were missing! He closed the glass door, beads of perspiration spangling his brow. With anguished care he inventoried the contents of the other cases. They were intact. He retired to the official room, a prey to all the devils of mortification and suspicion. Fortunately there was no one to whom the loss must be reported—he was sole custodian.
He sallied forth in vexation of spirit to walk the streets. To accuse the members of the visiting committee was out of the question. There had been twenty of them present. On no one in particular could he cast suspicion; a score of men could not collectively steal two golf bells. But he was responsible. His trust was broken. He could not hope that the theft would pass unnoticed. Yet to report the loss was to shame himself forever and cast suspicion upon twenty men sure to bitterly resent the imputation—it was a case of devil and deep sea.
Then Lord Lovall had an inspiration. He would replace the missing tokens. To have them fashioned in Glasgow was out of the question. The whole of Scotland would inevitably and literally ring with the scandal. There was nothing for it save a trip to London. He cancelled engagements, pleaded business with his solicitors, and fled in the night. He remembered the missing bells clearly. Out of all the thousands displayed he could have minutely described each one. The West End silversmith who made them to his order was mystified at the necessity of adding dents and scratches. The engraver in the East End, who marked the two pieces, asked no questions, doubtless never troubled to ask himself any. But his lordship trembled guiltily before both these humble artisans, to whom he gave his name as "Mr. James Wentworth."
That week in London was terrible. He hid from the millions he did not know, and who knew him not, with the craft of a Fenimore Cooper Mohican. He was haunted by the thought that the loss would be discovered before he could make his substitution. To ease his anxiety he wrote daily to Wully Forsythe, and received daily painful, tongue-in-the-cheek, pencil-chewed letters from the boy.
Apparently no one, not even the caddie, had noticed the mysterious disappearances. His lordship, in spite of his relief, made a mental note against his freckled squire. Wully should have noticed the loss. His work must be heedless, indeed, if he failed to note the absence of two of his sacred charges.
With his substitutes in his overcoat pocket, their tinkling voices gagged by bits of paper, the miserable custodian of Scotland's most honorable relics retraced his way to Glasgow. With furtive eyes he watched for a chance to replace the lost bells. All day he hovered guiltily at a distance from the case that drew him like a magnet. It seemed to him that the whole population of Glasgow and every visitor to the exhibition had given rendezvous in the "Golf Trophy Hall."
At last the great rooms were closed to the public, and Wully Forsythe, a strangely preoccupied and silent Wully, came in, rag in hand, to begin his ministrations. Master and man exchanged nervous greetings. His lordship found a lame excuse and sent his squire to search for a mythical muffler dropped somewhere in the entry.
At last he was alone. Hastily he tiptoed to the case, unlocked it, and thrust his hand into his pocket. He paused, open-mouthed. Mysteriously returned to their parent stem, the two missing bells gleamed at him. He gulped, slammed the glass door shut, staggered to a settee, and sat down heavily. Anger glowed in his heart. This was a hoax! a wretched wheeze evolved by some addle-brained joker among his confrères! They had made a fool of him; well and good. Find out the mystificator he would, and then he should learn that fooling with the wrong man is costly business. Boiling inwardly, but outwardly his dour pompous self, he stalked to the hotel. His ruminations of the night elucidated nothing, but left him a determined sleuth. He sought out each member of the suspected "Historical Loan Committee" and watched him keenly. They were a generation of deceivers. Not one showed evidence of guilt or concealed amusement. The Chief of Abernethy and Lochan descended to eavesdropping, to cat-footed trailing—all to no purpose. And then, four days after his return from hated London, the sword of Fate fell once more. The first and second bells were removed from the Cullam stick!
His brain whirling, the harassed custodian staggered to the directors' room. They dared to play with him! with him—the ferocious, fear-compelling, unforgiving Lovall Stuart McCammeron, whom no one in all the golfing shires dared so much as contradict! Were the culprit before him he would brain him where he stood.
But the culprit was not before him, neither could he summon him. For once in his life the rage of the old Lion of Lochan spent itself on unresisting air, his fury thwarted, his red-eyed madness inspiring no panic. It was a new experience. He was apoplectic with unrelieved anger. Yet he could not voice his fury without delivering himself into the hands of those who jeered him. He spent a day and a night of torment, sleepless, nursing his hot resentment. And it went hard with the whiskered, green-plaided valet, who had need of all his clan loyalty. Over and over in his superexcited mind Lovall turned the facts of the case. A thought obtruded. Could it be Wully Forsythe? He dismissed the notion with a shrug. But it returned. Wully had acted strangely. There was something fearsome and furtive in the boy's blue eyes. Wully had access to the cases, and Wully had been given the run of the town all day without restraint. The thought hurt him. His affection for the lad was deep as it was rough and selfish. That insidious suspicion pained him cruelly. He hated himself for harboring the thought—he who had never questioned any thought or act of his own. "I will na be unjust to the lad!" he told himself—he who had never thought in terms of justice. But the more his heart rebelled at the suggestion of his protégé's guilt, the more his slow brain tenaciously and logically clung to the theory. Emotionally torn as he had never been torn before, he threw trust to the winds. Know the truth he must.
He began to watch with the evil sharpness of a weasel in his level, leonine eyes, and with every uneasy, slinking action of the quarry his painful conviction grew. Had the lad been tossing pennies and pawned the bells, only to redeem and return them? A pang shot through him. He cursed himself for giving the boy no pocket-money. He paid his expenses, bought his clothes, threw him a tip at rare intervals; but had Wully any wants outside the round of his daily tasks, they must, perforce, have gone unsatisfied. His miserable benefactor controlled an impulse to offer the lad an allowance. First he must learn if it were, indeed, Wully who had committed the unspeakable theft. Were they not joint custodians of the bells, their honor jointly at stake? For such a crime there could be no forgiveness. He realized suddenly how complete and unquestioning had been his faith in the lad. Ay, he had been weak!
Weak he had been, but deep within his breast, unknown, unguessed even by himself, cataclysmic changes had taken place. Iron he had been, and iron he remained, but rebellious metal sloughs, disintegrates, and rots where the continuous, unseen currents of electricity work upon it, until, while the semblance stands, an unbending rod, the substance is ready to melt at a touch. Are not affections aroused and palpitant the electricity of the spirit? The love he had grown to bear the boy had quickened others long dormant and wilfully sealed with the stamp of oblivion. His anguish of heart stirred shrouded ghosts of other memories—there came tormenting visions of Wully and his letter, the letter burned unread.
The longer he brooded on his fears and the gnawing hurt of suspicion ate, at his heart, the surer the weakening of his armor of tyranny. His sorrow and his fears, his parched and aching heart were breaking down his resistance; he was human at last, and he cursed himself for his weakness and vowed bitter vengeance to heal his hurt. But now he knew that punishment and vengeance would be of no avail, and regrets whispered to him from behind the closed and boarded doors of empty rooms away in Lochan Castle. He was near breaking down with the strain of his misery, the doubt and anxiety that made him even doubt himself. But none would have guessed from his frowning eyes and hard, set mouth that closed grimmer and more dour than ever.
Wully was apprehensively conscious of the watching eyes of his master. There was a dogged look in the boy's freckled face, a drawn twist to his gash of a mouth, a suspicious redness of the eyelids proclaiming the threat of tears; but he fully believed he had eluded his fate when, late one night, he left the exhibition buildings and, threading his way through the brawling Saturday night crowds, lost himself in the narrow streets of Glasgow's slums. The towering form of his lordship was no easy one to hide. He topped the crowd always, like a pine in a forest of saplings, and Wully's glances over his shoulders disclosed no avenging giant on his trail. But, keeping him in view, doubled over on his cane like a palsied cripple, retribution was following close. Many a tipsy street wag paused to jeer and leer at the stooping figure in gray homespun of Edinboro' cut, but they gave ground before the glare of the lion eyes and the fierce set of the great jaws. His lordship followed his caddie with love and pain, fury and fear at his heart, for what could a country-bred lad be doing in this city reek; a lad with his keep well doled him at the best hotel in Glasgow? The old man's heart bled with apprehension.
Wully turned in at the door of a gaunt building, black with the damps of centuries of Scotch fog, and hurried up flight after flight of stone steps in a passage as cold and clammy as a vault. His lordship followed. He dared not risk the ascent of the noisy stairs. He stood below in the dark, counting the landings as the boy's shadow crossed the glare of an oil lamp at each rise. Four—there was the sound of a closing door, then only the myriad sounds of a teeming tenement.
Stealthily the old man mounted from floor to floor. A woman came down from the fourth corridor with a word flung back. She passed him, eying him curiously and with trepidation—they send big men to collect the rents in such human hives. Impassive as Fate the grim intruder mounted the worn stone stairs and stood silent and tense on the last landing. With a firm hand he opened the door, for there was no mistaking the silver bell-voices that came from within.
Wully stood by a bed at the far side of the ill-furnished chamber, holding out his hands to a baby. On a faded blue ribbon, about the child's neck, hung the big, glossy bells of Cullam, tinkling softly.
Lord Lovall slammed the door shut, the baby sat down with a jolt, and the boy turned white as wax, the fear of death in his eyes.
"So!" roared his outraged master, "it's ye, Wully Forsythe! I'd 'a' told the devil in hell he lied if he'd told me ye waur a thief—a thief!" he bellowed. "A thief! a thief!"
"I'm no!" shrieked the boy. "I'm no a thief!—He wanted them, I tell ye, he wanted them. He waur sick and cried for the wee bit bells!"
"And ye give slum brats the honor of Scotland to play with—your honor and my honor, the trophies o' the links o' Cullam—you dishonored, thieving cummer, that spits upon the bread of kindness!"
The tears burst from Wully's eyes, and he swore as never before. Words tumbled from his quivering lips in a stream of fire, the epithets thinned to coherence at last.
"It's you, you, that should beg yer pairdon o' the Lord," he shrilled—"it's you! He wanted them, I tell ye. I had ta' bring them, and his mither awa' in the hospital. I've na a hairt of stain."
"What's that tae me?" his lordship said, and now his voice was cold as gray steel. He came forward, seized the ribbon at the baby's neck, and broke it with a snap of his huge fingers.
The child's pink fist closed on the cherished playthings and he set up a howl of protest. Wully, beside himself, struck with all his might at his master, tears of emotion raining down his cheeks.
"Shame! black shame to ye!" he croaked. "An' you his grandda!"
There was stark silence in the room.
Lord Lovall slowly drew himself erect, his great hand unclinched, the bells of Cullam fell and rolled across the floor with musical tinklings. The voice of regret behind the closed and barred doors of Lochan Castle was now a sudden call——
"Ann Linsey!" he whispered.
"Ay, ay," sobbed Wully, "his father's dead in Canada and his mither's in the hospital. I pit them back once, but he fretted an' cried for the wee bit bells, so I tuck them again—an' now ye can beat me, now ye can kill me, ay, ' kill me dead where I stand,' as ye said ye would—I'm ready."
As on that far day of his first defiance, Wully stood his ground, awaiting annihilation—never for an instant doubting that it was the end.
The Lord of Lochan leaned over the bed, lifted the baby in his arms, and glowered at it, his lips working. The iron of his armor was rusted away.
"Pit the bells in yer pooch, Wully," he growled. "We'll tae the hospital, lad. I'm takin' ma twa bairns hame."