The Master of Stair/Book 2/Chapter 3

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The guests had gone; the roses hung limp and faded; guttering, dying candles cast a dull light over the Countess Peggy as she stood in her deserted ballroom.

She leaned against a mirror; her red hair fell over her bare white shoulders and purple dress; at her bosom drooped a cluster of crimson roses; with anxious eyes she looked at the gray-clad figure of her husband, who sat beside her in an attitude of utter weariness.

"What will be the end of it, Jock?" she asked in a hushed voice.

"Ruin for the Earl o' Stair," he answered, "They've set their minds to it, Tweeddale and his crew, and they'll na be letting him escape, there is enough against him to hang him—though he'll no' be persuaded of it."

"Let Lord Stair go," said the Countess, "I dinna care—what will be the end of it for ye, Jock?"

He gave her a tender look.

"Why—they hav'na' ony evidence against me, Peggy—I didna' put my name to rash letters—they canna prove onything—I'm safe enow—and sae is Argyll—though he is half-demented wi' fear."

"But this trumped up foolery o' Glenlyon feasting a fortnicht in the Glen, Jock—that touches us—"

The Earl smiled.

"It doesna'—Glenlyon had his commands frae Hamilton na frae me—and Glenlyon—Glenlyon hae been bought by the Jacks—I hae heard—this vera evening—that he hae appeared and will be examined before the commissioners."

"But however Glenlyon lee—we can disprove that the Campbells were in the Glen a fortnicht."

"We can," answered the Earl, "but we willna'. Dinna ye see, Peggy—we must ken naething o' what occurred—we were miles awa'—at Kilchurn, we must say—we ken naething—naething. If we disprove lees that dinna harm us we must reveal the truth—which wad be vera damaging."

"Then Lord Stair will indeed be ruined," said the Countess slowly. "But it is na ony business o' ours. Ye may trust my silence, Jock."

She moved to the window and pulled aside the curtain; the stars hung bright and luminous above the sleeping city; a church clock struck one.

The Countess Peggy leaned her head against the mullions and her face fell into lines of weariness; she twisted the ends of her bright hair in and out of slack fingers and the withered roses on her breast, crushed against the window-frame, shed their faded leaves at her feet.

Many of the candles had guttered to the socket and gone out; only two or three, burning ghostly before the tall mirrors, remained to cast a light through the darkened room.

Silence and loneliness were abroad; the Countess gazed up at the infinite distance of the stars and shivered through her slender body; against the sky rose a misty vision often seen by her: the vision of a man with a beautiful face and clothes clay-stained and bloody, holding a lace cravat and looking at her with mournful eyes.

She smiled bitterly as she thought of the uselessness of that blood on her soul; Jerome Caryl might have lived. An obscure traitor had informed and the plot to be carried out at Turnham Green had come to nothing.

She turned from the stars and her eyes sought her husband.

"Jock!" she cried, and there was a world of tenderness, of appeal, of passion in her voice. "Jock!"

She crossed the great shadowy room to where he sat and went on her knees beside him.

"I did it for ye," she murmured, as if answering an accusation. "Jock—I hae served ye weel?"

He took her hands in his and smiled down at her.

"Peggy, ye ken vera weel ye are all the world to me," he said most tenderly.

Her head drooped against his arm.

"Then I dinna care for onything," she whispered. "Yet at times I'm no' sae brave—I'm afraid."

Breadalbane's wide light eyes gazed across the dark. "Afraid o' what, Peggy?"

She drew a little closer to him.

"Of wraiths—o' the dead."

He smiled, fondling her hair.

"I wad'na' fear when dead what I had'na' feared when living, Peggy."

"Nay, nay, I dinna fear—at least I'm no' afraid, Jock, when ye are close—but—Ah, Jock—wad I could forget!"

He frowned above his smile.

"Are ye thinking of the Macdonalds, Peggy?"

With a little uneasy movement she lifted her head; her long throat gleamed unnaturally white above her dark dress.

"Sometimes—I—think o' the Macdonalds."

Breadalbane laughed as if he cast aside some foolish fancy.

"We hae triumphed ower the Macdonalds, Peggy—the auld thief Makian got his deserts."

"Yea, I ken."

"And Ronald Macdonald—ye hated him, Peggy."

"I ken," she said hastily, with yearning eyes on his face. "I wad I might forget."

"Wherefore, Peggy?"

"Ah!—sleeping and waking—I see it—the Glen o' Weeping—as I rode through it that day wi' the smoke drifting ower the corpses—and the bitter dawn a-breaking—the bluid ower the heather and the silence, the silence."

With a half-shudder her eyes drooped and her clasp of his arm tightened.

"This is fules' talk," said Breadalbane imperiously. "Sic sights are common in the Hielands—ye ken vera weel—the Campbells hae fed the eagles often enow—I shouldna' hae thought that ye, Peggy, wad hae sickened at the bluid o' the Macdonalds."

"I dinna—but—I canna forget."

Breadalbane's eyes flashed.

"Nay—because the Hielands are clear o' the thieves—we canna forget, when we see Argyllshire and Invernesshire free to the Campbells, when we can ride unarmed with nae to question us—lords o' the Hielands. Ye say weel we canna forget."

She warmed a little in response to his tone. "I dinna regret or repent," she said. "Hate o' the Macdonalds is in the bluid—it is na sorrow for them but fear—fear maybe, Jock, o' the reckoning."

"We shallna' pay, Peggy—Lord Stair will answer to that."

Lady Breadalbane was silent, only something like a sigh escaped her.

The last candle sank into darkness; only the pale light of the stars and the street lamps without illumined the room.

"And he will pay," said Breadalbane.

She started from a reverie.


"Lord Stair."

"Ye think he will be ruined?"

"What else? They will put it all on him—the King canna do less than dismiss him."

"Weel, Jock, we dinna care."

"Nay—I never liked him."

"Nor I—and his wife, Jock, is a fule."

"She willna' abide by him if he be ruined."

"She will leave him, Jock—ye think?"

"I know and he knows—she hasna' a tie to hold her—she will be blithe of his disgrace."

"She hates him—weel, I never knew ony that loved a Dalrymple—they say Lord Stair's mither wad sit on her husband's judgment seat in the likeness o' a black cat—an she hated him—there is somewhat uncanny in the bluid—ye couldna' love a Dalrymple."

"Yet Lord Stair is the handsomest gentleman in Scotland, Peggy," smiled Breadalbane.

"Weel—he is na winning—an there is too much of the auld Viscount, wha made his neck awry striving to listen to the divil, aboot him."

"The divil must be Lord Stair's advocate noo—for there is no one else in Scotland will be."

A silence while they gazed at the paling sky through the long windows; then Breadalbane spoke.

"Peggy—when we gang back to the Hielands—we'll ride through the Glen o' Weeping, ye and I—and ye shall hae anither picture o' it to think on after, when the badges and music o' the Campbells glitter and ring through the ruins o' Glencoe."

"Jock—I am a fule—I dinna regret."

"Peggy—my dear, my dear!"

She looked up at him through the vague gray light.

"Jock!" she said passionately. "I am content—an' no afraid o' the living or the—dead."