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Title: The Devil's Mistress
Author: J W Brodie Innes
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Language: English
Date first posted:  September 2018
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The Devil's Mistress

by

J W Brodie Innes


First published 1915


Contents

Author's Note
Chapter One. At the Farm of Lochloy
Chapter Two. How Isabel Goudie Met the Stranger
Chapter Three. The Sands of Culben
Chapter Four. A Tryst With the Devil
Chapter Five. The Sickness of the Laird of Park's Son
Chapter Six. The Escape of Cosmo Hamilton
Chapter Seven. 'Horse and Hattock!'
Chapter Eight. The Arrows of Death
Chapter Nine. Magic--Black And White
Chapter Ten. The Water of the Seven Wells
Chapter Eleven. The Making of the Moon-Paste
Chapter Twelve. The Man-Hunt at Gordonstown
Chapter Thirteen. The Witching of Mr. Harry Forbes
Chapter Fourteen. Happenings at Gordonstown
Chapter Fifteen. The Way to Elfinland
Chapter Sixteen. Fairies and Witches
Chapter Seventeen. How Isabel Came Back
Chapter Eighteen. How Isabel Raised a Storm
Chapter Nineteen. A Race with the Devil
Chapter Twenty. The Absolution of Isabel
Chapter Twenty-One. The Devil's Last Throw


Author's Note

IF the story which follows were to be regarded as a work of imagination, it might justly be characterised as too wildly fanciful to deserve even serious consideration. But it is not this: it is an attempt to portray exactly one of the most curious phases of belief or superstition that ever passed over this country, the witchcraft, namely, of the latter part of the seventeenth century. Isabel Goudie was a real person, and her own story of her life in full detail, given voluntarily and under no coercion, is preserved in the archives of the Justiciary Court in Edinburgh. Other contemporary records confirm her account. For example, the illness of Harry Forbes, the minister of Aulderne, is recorded in the Presbytery minutes. The Diary of Lord Brodie is well known. The old house of Gordonstown still stands, almost as described in the tale, and in the muniment room are many letters of the Wizard Laird, the remains of whose alchemic furnaces and apparatus are yet to be seen in one of the so-called dungeons, and whose portrait hangs in the drawing-room. The tale of his ride for life with the Devil is still current in Morayshire. Many of the letters of Patrick Innes are in the Seafield Correspondence: others are in my own possession. All the leading characters in the story are actual historic persons, and the incidents told of them vouched by contemporary writings. I have merely set down as truthfully as I could what the actors undoubtedly believed to be unquestionable facts, and must leave it to the reader to decide whether a monstrous delusion swept over the whole country, or whether a strange manifestation of supernatural powers, either evil or good, took place some three centuries ago. In either case, it is an interesting study in the history of human thought.

The recovery of many of the incidents in the tale, and their subsequent confirmation by documents, and much concerning the writing of the book itself, would form exceedingly interesting matter for the Society for Psychical Research; but of this I say nothing at present, preferring that the book should rest merely on its own merits as a record, as nearly accurate as I can snake it, of an interesting, important, and little-known period.


Chapter One. At the Farm of Lochloy

SOMEWHERE about the middle of the seventeenth century my great-great-great-grandfather--I believe I am right about the number of greats,--the godly Mr. Patrick Innes, was minister of Banff. He was a man of singular piety, or so it was reported. It is a quality rather sporadic than hereditary in the family, and the wickedness of the times grieved him very sorely, for his father, who was a chirurgeon of the good town of Aberdeen, had brought him up very strictly in the tenets of the Reformed faith; and moreover, his patron, the Earl of Findlater, had entrusted him with the care of two boys, who were rather wild young sparks, notwithstanding the excellent reports that the worthy Mr. Patrick sent home of their conduct. And in truth there were evil practices in the country then. In spite of the long and godly discourses delivered each Sabbath day from the pulpit, it must be confessed that the morals of the town of Banff were lamentably loose. There were soldiers in the town, and soldiers are proverbially men of godless lives. But then, as in all ages of the world's history, a uniform was an irresistible attraction to the women, and some of the ladies of Banff actually preferred lonely walks with soldiers on Deveron's banks, even on the blessed Sabbath day, to the Reverend Mr. Patrick's sermons; and so they fell into the toils of the Evil One, as might have been expected. And it was a joyous day for the worthy minister when the Provost was moved to purge the town of such evil doings, and order that these shameless hussies should be scourged in the presence of the soldiers, mustered for the purpose, and driven forth of the town. Whence we may conclude that discipline was stricter in those days than now, or that the spirit of soldiers was meeker. For one can scarcely conceive of such a sentence being passed by a civil magistrate of today, or being carried out without some demonstration by the men whose sweethearts were thus rudely treated.

That these ill doings arose from the direct instigation of Satan there could indeed be no doubt. For even within Banff itself there were many reputed witches who gathered about Our Lady's Well near the Kirk of Ordiquhill, and kneeling there--which, of course, was very gross superstition--were enabled by Satan to do deeds of magic art; and especially a vagabond man named John Philp, who had worked cures upon sick people by charming and washing them, by the aid of the Devil, and had been put in the stocks and thereafter was justly burned at the Market Cross of Banff.

It was not without reason that Mr. Patrick was perturbed, for it was barely twenty years since terrible doings had been brought to light in the neighbouring county of Moray. Indeed, in spite of all the godly discipline of the holy Kirk, it seemed as though the Devil were gaining greater power over the souls and bodies of men than ever before.

Mr. Patrick was a frequent visitor both in Nairn and Forres, when he went to take part in the half-yearly sacramental meetings, and, it was said, preached with great acceptance for some two hours at a time. It was at these meetings, and at the gatherings of the ministers and elders thereafter, that he heard at first hand from men who were well acquainted with the facts the curious stories that shall here be set down. His old friend Mr. Harry Forbes, the minister of Aulderne, had taken an active part in some of the happenings, and knew of his own experience of the power and work of the arch-enemy of mankind, So that there could be no possible doubt of the truth of these terrible things. Matters indeed, as Mr. Patrick was very well certified, were rapidly gathering to a head, as had been foretold. The forces of evil were mustering for the great trial of strength against the hosts of the Lord, represented, as everyone knows, by the true Protestant Kirk of Scotland. So that there could be no doubt that the end was at hand, and the Battle of Armageddon and the final triumph of the righteous and the end of the world could not be far distant.

The world still survives, but I make no doubt that my great-great-great-grandfather would find that the end was only slightly postponed.

The story that follows has been of necessity pieced together from very many sources, but in its main lines it may be read by the curious in the archives of the Court of Justiciary. And there is also abundant documentary evidence to prove that my great-great-great-grandfather had not invented the tale from hatred of the power and domination of Satan, which was only natural to his cloth and his exemplary piety, or from sheer love of the marvellous.

Anyone who in those days journeyed eastward from Nairn, following the northern road near the coast towards the woods of Brodie, came after a couple of miles or so to the farm-steading of Lochloy. A dreary, forsaken looking place it was, though there was some fairly fertile corn-land on the landward side. The farmhouse was thatched, with low whitewashed walls and small windows; the byres and stables abutted so close on the house that the reek of them unavoidably filled the rooms day and night; the thatch let in water, and in places the walls were soaked and grew a slimy moss that was half fungus and smelt vilely. Yet John Gilbert, the tenant, was deemed a most excellent man, industrious and thrifty, many said close-fisted, and withal an elder of the Kirk, and most exemplary in his attendance every Sabbath and his enforcing of discipline on man and maid. But he was a dour and gloomy man, and stubborn as a mule when he took an idea in his head, and rather than do a hand's turn to the repair of his house he would have suffered any manner of inconvenience. It was his landlord's business, and he could not see why he should do it. Mr. Hay, the laird of Lochloy and Park, did not see that he was bound to repair Gilbert's house; moreover, he had no money to do it with. Moreover again--and this perhaps weighed a good deal with him--Gilbert's wife had snubbed him definitely and distinctly, and he was a man very full of his own importance, and not apt to take a snub.

The muirland stretched between the farmhouse and the sea, and the long dreary mere whence it took its name gleamed sullen and stagnant, and the cries of the thronging water-fowl on its bosom sounded inexpressibly mournful. To right and left as you looked from the house door, the miry broken road wandered between the muir and the cornfields. Gilbert's carts went along it, and his cattle traversed it morning and evening, going to and returning from their pastures, but foot of stranger rarely passed that way, now that the laird no longer rode by Lochloy. Time was when his sorrel nag took the muirland road almost of her own accord. Not indeed for any love that Hay of Lochloy and Park bore to his tenant John Gilbert. For the laird was a genial, convivial soul, loving wine and good company, and especially loving pretty women, and the dour, penurious old farmer was little to his taste. But on one point he was mightily curious, what on earth had ever induced Mistress Isabel Goudie to marry John Gilbert; and to solve the question he rode often past the farm, timing his visits, however, to the hours when he knew that John would be busy on some distant fields.

And indeed others beside the laird had speculated on that same question. For Mistress Isabel, who was the daughter of a country lawyer, was exceptionally well educated for her time and class. She read much, played fairly well on the spinet, and could dance a minuet as well as any lady in the land. Her father had been brought up a papist, but, having little conviction one way or another, had no scruple in giving his adherence to the true Protestant Kirk of Scotland, and thus retained his business and his prosperity. His daughter preserved a certain partiality for the ritual of the old faith. But this same being as everyone knows a damnable heresy, and placing one in danger of hell-fire, as well as the more palpable danger of loss of property and reputation, possibly even of bonds and imprisonment, she carefully concealed any leanings she might have had in that direction and dutifully went to kirk with her father and slept peacefully through the minister's discourse. In person she was strangely unlike the women of the farmer class in province of Moray, being tall and slight, with a mass of flaming red hair, deep brown eyes that seemed as though brooding over hidden fires, dark eyebrows almost straight in a face that seemed unnaturally pale, a slightly arched nose, and full red lips. What could there possibly be in common between her and John Gilbert, the grim, heavy, untidy farmer, with his ragged hair and unshaven chin, his clothes rarely changed save when he donned his rusty black on the Sabbath day to officiate as elder at the plate at the Kirk of Aulderne, and listen to the discourses of Master Harry Forbes the minister thereof?

Hay of Lochloy and Park wondered, and turned the matter over in his mind. In truth, Mistress Isabel's personality pleased him far more than he pleased her. She had refinement and a sense of breeding much above her class and position, and he was in nature coarser even than the average seventeenth-century laird. Still, he was the laird, and had power to do much; the house badly needed repair, and she was not sorry that he should see it. She might persuade him to make them more comfortable; he seemed not disinclined to do something. But his interest in the house and farm resolved itself into openly expressed admiration for herself, and a hint of the price she could pay for his assistance. The sordidness of the bargain revolted her--the bloated red face of the laird, and his hot breath that smelt of drink even thus early in the day, disgusted her, and she spoke sharply, unwisely it might be. Then with a hiccupping laugh he tried to kiss her, and she smacked his face and turned back into the house, seeing only the red face blazing with anger, and the wig knocked awry by her blow. 'Beast!' she muttered. 'Oh, a very beast! May you never have male child to come after you!'

So it was that the laird rode no more along the road by Lochloy, and the house was unrepaired, and the rotting couples of the roof sagged and cracked till it was a marvel how it held together at all. John Gilbert had a fat bag of money hidden somewhere, but his wife was not privy to the place of concealment, and well she knew that not one penny Scots would he expend on his house; nor even might she buy a new gown, though she had brought him a fair tocher, and for very shame of her rusty clothes she went seldom to a town, but walked far into the country and among the woods and muirs.

Seldom, too, came any neighbours to visit at Lochloy. Mistress Isabel was not of their class, and they knew it and resented her superiority, and perhaps for this reason whispered venomously among themselves concerning the laird's frequent ridings on the Lochloy road, and hinted at good reasons why he came no longer openly. Only Janet Broadhead came occasionally, full of tales of adventure and romance, picked up the Lord knows where, which only served to make the realities of life seem more dreary and sordid than ever.

There was really no great mystery about Mistress Isabel's marriage, though certainly the pair seemed strangely incongruous; it was a purely commercial matter. Her father the lawyer chanced to owe Gilbert a round sum of money, which at the time it was inconvenient to pay; Gilbert had the idea, not uncommon in his class, that he could raise his social position by marriage. Mistress Isabel was clearly his superior, and, moreover, was well liked by many of the local lairds and their families, so the bargain was struck. Daughters in those days were dutiful, and she raised no objections. If there had been thrills and tremors when some good-looking young soldier saluted her in passing, they were all set on one side; her father's debt was not spoken of any more, and she settled down with such content as she could muster into the position of a farmer's wife.

But it did not work out as Gilbert hoped. The wife of the dour old farmer was a different person from the lawyer's daughter; the lairds forgot her, and the farmers' wives resented her beauty and accomplishments. To Gilbert she was as much a stranger as when he had first bargained for her hand; honestly she had tried to win him, but he felt and hated her fastidious refinement, and the more she strove to bring him to some outward semblance of decency in dress and manner, the more uncouth he grew from sheer perversity.

All these things drifted vaguely through her mind as she stood at the farmhouse door watching the autumn sunset flaming over the hills beyond Inverness, and touching into glory the roofs and towers of Nairn.

'Bought and sold!' she mused bitterly, 'and now alone all the rest of my life.'

There was the ill-will of Hay of Lochloy to reckon with now, and he was not a man it was safe to offend. A rich and influential man himself, and the Brodies too were his near kin, for his aunt had married the Thane of Brodie, and was the mother of seven stalwart sons, every one of whom had become a laird.

'Beast!' she said again. 'A very beast! He will persecute us now. Oh, for a chance to be even with him!'

She longed for Janet Broadhead to come in and gossip, for Janet was a great teller of stories, and Isabel listened greedily to tales of wild adventure that afterwards made her own life look so grey and colourless that almost she wished Janet had never come. But now days had passed with no sign of her friend, and she longed once more to revel even in fancy in that bright life of stir and excitement that was really living. She was prepared to pay the price of the reaction to the dull stagnation which must surely follow. It was like dram-drinking; the graphically told stories set her blood tingling in her veins, brought a flush to her cheek, and made her limbs quiver deliciously. All which goes to prove, as the godly Master Harry Forbes said long afterwards, how subtle are the snares of the arch-enemy of mankind; for had she but listened to pious discourses ordained to be preached every Sabbath, she would have found therein a sure remedy for these restless feelings that so disquieted her. But of a truth, as everyone knows, the Devil is the begetter of all papists, and cannot endure with patience the teachings of the true Protestant Kirk of Scotland.

The shadow of night swept over the Laigh of Moray, long lines of mist veiled the fertile lands of Culben, and from the dreary mere arose a flight of wild-fowl winging their way towards the Buckie Loch. The men and horses had long returned from their work; she could hear the cattle moving in the byre. Every day was the repetition of the day before, and every day would be the same, till at last the turf of Aulderne kirkyard closed over her.

Only Gilbert was late. Unusually late. She began to long for his coming in a queer unaccustomed way. The spirit of adventure was in her blood. Could she rouse that dull, heavy man, whose soul knew but two interests, the Kirk and his money bags? Somewhere in him there must be passions that could be wakened. Even if he should turn and rend her, it would break the dull, deadly monotony.

With feverish eagerness she turned indoors and unlocked the heavy oaken kist she had brought with her when first she came to the lonely farmstead. Old bits of finery, many of which had been given to her by the county ladies, the wives of lairds for whom her father acted, and which she fondly hoped to wear at assemblies at Nairn or Forres, or even, with good fortune, at Brodie Castle itself. How they roused old memories, and now to be used to try and fascinate that rough, sullen old farmer.

Hesitating somewhat, she took out a dainty shimmering thing that had once been used as a bedgown by a French marquise when Louise XIV first came to the throne, when Anne of Austria was Regent, and great ladies, according to the scandalous fashion of the time, received their friends and admirers in bed in the early hours of the morning; from her it had passed to a cadet of the gay and gallant house of Gordon, and been given to Isabel on her marriage.

Hastily she began to loosen the rough homespun gown she wore, when she heard John Gilbert's heavy foot tramp over the threshold; she laughed softly to herself, the spirit of coquetry possessed her, she would not go to meet him, he should want her, call for her, then she would appear in all the glory of the French robe and subjugate him entirely.

It was now long past the usual supper time, and supper was set out in the kitchen. He walked heavily in and sat down in silence; she heard him pour out a great tankard of beer and begin to eat noisily; he did not seem to notice her absence. She was piqued, and grew angry. Night after night she had wished him away, had longed for quiet and solitude; now, strangely, she wanted him. In her girlhood she knew she could draw men as she would with a casual glance, a lift of an eyebrow, a turn of a shoulder, and they came and went where she would, while she feigned indifference or surprise, and sent them about their business. Tonight she desired to try the old power once more; and John Gilbert ate stolidly. At last she could bear it no more; she opened the door and looked out into the kitchen. John was smoking before the fire, his grey hair was matted and a week's growth was on his cheeks and chin; his clothes, heavy with the sweat of men and horses and the reek of the byre, smelt vilely; he certainly was not an attractive object. It mattered not, he was a man, he must feel her power, since there was no other man available.

'Are you not coming to bed, John?' she called softly. He looked round and saw but her face looking from the door, and that only dimly, for the light was almost gone.

'No,' he said, 'I am not; I must be afoot early tomorrow, before sunrise; I shall lie in the byre.'

The rebuff smote her like a blow on the face, but only spurred her resolve to conquer him. The magic of her feminity had been potent enough in old days, and truly she looked a dainty figure now in her shimmering night robe, that might have well beguiled the heart out of a man's breast. But as the godly Master Harry Forbes was wont to say, such things were a snare of the Devil, and not to be tolerated in the holy Protestant Kirk. John Gilbert looked up with a dull stare in his small cunning eyes under their shaggy, grey eyebrows.

'What is this foolishness?' he growled.

She came forward bravely, swallowing her nausea at the man, and crouched on the floor by the fire, laying one long, white arm across his knees.

'John,' she said, and there was a soft coo in her voice recalling the note of a wood-pigeon at nesting time, 'come to me tonight. I am tired and lonely, and the owls are hooting fearsomely.'

He jerked himself away from her, and swept her arm off his knee.

'Get ye to bed, ye besom; and learn to dress like a God-fearing Christian woman, and not a French strumpet. And hark ye! I'll have ye to the kirk on Sabbath. No more pretence of headache and sickness; and ye shall go decently apparelled as becometh the wife of a ruling elder. Now get ye to bed, and trouble me no more, or by this and that ye shall do penance in the face of the congregation, ye accursed papist.'

Sullenly he lumbered to his feet, pushing her from him, and tramped out of the door; she heard him open and close the door of the byre.

One moment she stood by the dying fire looking like a beautiful statue, with one arm raised as if in denunciation. Her spells had failed. The magic of beauty and of sex availed nothing against brutish stupidity.

'Oh, for power!' she ejaculated out loud. 'I will not be crushed. Why should I waste all my youth, and never know a moment's joy. Must I die before I have ever lived?'

She turned back into the bedroom, and threw the despised finery back into the kist. The full moon shone through the little window; Isabel was hot and feverish, and the cool night air was grateful and refreshing as it bathed her long, lithe body.

She leant from the window and recalled Janet Broadhead's stories. Others there were who had adventures, whose lives were full of colour. Might she not perchance share in some of these wild doings, and live, though it were but for a few days? Out to the west, Dunbar of Durris ruled at Grangehill, and the Dunbars were a wild crew and little given to scruples of any sort. And beyond again lay the lands of Culben. Little troubled was Kinnaird of Culben with kirk or minister. Even on every blessed Sabbath day he and his grieve would sit at the cards while the cracked bell from the township of Findhorn called them to listen to the preaching. She would gladly go and play with the laird, for indeed she could hold a very pretty hand at the cards. And farther out and away, beyond the Broch, Sir Robert Gordon of Gordonstown hobnobbed with the Devil himself. Many were Janet's tales of this Sir Robert. He had lost his shadow, so it was said, when he studied magic at Salamanca in Spain, and only just now after years of labour he had made a creature out of the fire who did his bidding in everything. And then again, after one night's frost, he drove over Loch Spynie on the ice in his old chariot and four black horses.

As she thought of Sir Robert, for no reason whatsoever, for she had never seen him, waves of heat and cold seemed to rush over her, she flushed and panted, and her heart-beats were almost audible. How glorious it would be, she thought, to sit beside him there in his coach, while the coal-black horses flew through the night. To look down and see John Gilbert who had scorned her, Hay of Lochloy who had made insulting love to her, Harry Forbes who had preached at her, and pour her scorn upon them, send Sir Robert's fire-creature to torment them. Sir Robert would let her do what she willed, of that she was sure. He would be a most gallant and desirable lover.

Her slender body writhed and twisted with excitement. It was mad, unreasoning, but she cared not. In fancy she must let herself go. Then succeeded a wave of unreasonable dread. Who were these spectres that would drag her down into the depths? They seemed closing round her, taking possession of her. She must escape somehow. Then suddenly, and for no reason, there came before her the fair face of the Lady Jean Gordon, who had been kind to her in old days, who had knelt beside her at Mass in the time before her father had joined the Protestant Kirk, the only one of her old friends who had taken the trouble to take a whole day's journey to the lonely farm on Lochloy to visit Isabel and wish her well, and had given her a tiny gold crucifix, which now remained sewn into the breast of her homespun gown, between the stuff and the lining, where none might see it.

And now Lady Jean was to be married, so she had heard, to a young soldier of the House of Hamilton; but because they were both papists there was impending trouble, and they might have to go and live in France on nothing but a soldier's meagre pay. A wave of pity came over her for her friend, but a wave of envy also for one who had love and life before her.

'Oh, for power!' she sighed once more. 'How lovely I would make life for them! How helpless I am!'

The night air struck her with a strange chill, and she crept into bed weary but calm, and with all the fever gone for the moment, and slept soundly.


Chapter Two. How Isabel Goudie Met the Stranger

MY great-great-great-grandfather records that in his boyhood there was an extreme terror that spread over the land, by reason of certain mysterious happenings. In some houses of the lairds, furniture was found in the morning thrown about and disarranged, as though a drunken party had held unholy revels overnight, and strange sounds were heard of knockings and tramplings, whereby the household were so terrified that none dared venture forth from their rooms, yet all the doors were fast locked. The same sometimes is said to occur nowadays, and is by some believed to be caused by the spirits of the dead, who desire in this way to send loving messages to their friends yet alive; and others hold such manifestations to be merely a fraud of professional mediums. But Mr. Patrick Innes, strong in the profession of the Reformed faith, entertained no doubt of the direct interposition of Satan, permitted, as he explained in one of his eloquent pulpit discourses, to vex the elect for a season, on account of the sad lack of zeal among God's chosen people; by which he meant not, of course, the Hebrews, who vaunted that title to themselves, but the Kirk of Scotland. Also beasts died of some strange murrain, and even men sometimes would suddenly fall dead with no visible cause.

No wonder the people were terrified and called on the ministers to deliver them from this awful visitation. But the ministers were powerless. It was the backsliding of their flocks that had brought a curse upon them. Indeed, the Presbytery had pointed to the lamentable falling-off of the offertories as a convincing proof of the decay of faith, which had given occasion to the enemy of mankind to enter.

At the farm of Lochloy two of the cows had gone off their milk; not an uncommon occurrence among cows, I am told, but John Gilbert, without hesitation, ascribed it to the power of the Evil One, allowed to molest him on account of the papistry of his wife. Wherefore he had ordered her to attend at the kirk punctually, and had thoughts of purging her iniquities by penance in a white sheet in the face of the congregation, according to the fashion of the time.

When Isabel wakened from a long and dreamless sleep, after the events already recorded, Gilbert had been gone some time. The head man, usually conversant with all his master's doings, was ignorant or reticent as to his errand--he was going far, would not be back that night, perhaps not the following. Isabel was rested and refreshed, the fever and excitement of the previous night had subsided, but the loneliness that had oppressed her returned with double force. Even John Gilbert, though he jarred on her nerves at every turn, had been something; she had never been without hope of making him even a trifle more presentable, and anyhow the struggle had given a certain zest to life. Now she was utterly alone; life seemed to stretch before her in an interminable dull vista, grey and hopeless. She had longed for power, conscious that she could use it well, but surely never was a creature so helpless. If only some strong man could come into her life! The need for some masculine vitality was almost overpowering; but there was none. She went to the door--the farm-steading was deserted, the men had gone to the fields, for the corn was cut and harvest was in full swing, only the two sick cows remained in the byre. She had never been allowed to take any part in the working of the farm. Gilbert's first ambition to parade her as a lady had failed, and it was now too late for her to assume the place of a working farmer's wife.

The only cure for the blank depression that had settled down on her was to go out, as often before, for a long walk; the loneliness of the dreary farmstead was unendurable. She had some curious instinct not to put on the old homespun gown in whose bosom the little gold crucifix was sewn; a still older and shabbier gown of faded russet, much soiled and frayed, should serve her turn today; for she was not going near the haunts of any living souls; and over her flaming hair she drew a thin old tartan screen of the dark green Urquhart plaid, and sallied forth. She was sensitively conscious of her appearance--she who had been so daintily dressed, so fastidious in every detail. Any if the neighbours who saw her now would surely say that the rough, untidy old farmer had dragged her down to his level, and that without even making her a good household drudge. It only remained now to avoid being seen, to creep past all inhabited places like a shy animal, and seek the friendly shelter of the woods. On her left were the woods of Brodie, but there were many farms and cottages there. Besides, the Brodies of that generation had gotten a turn of the most exemplary piety; several of the girls had married ministers, and the atmosphere seemed alien to her. On her right lay the lands and mansion-house of Park, equally to be avoided. But straight before her, and crossing over a stretch of wet, boggy land, devious footpaths led through a lonely district with few human habitations, away into the great woods of Darnaway. This way then she would go. She would lose herself among the friendly trees and forget for a while the sordid dreariness of life. In spite of the teachings of the holy Kirk, she had deep down in her nature an instinctive belief in the spirits of the woods and streams, which as everyone knows is a gross and heathen superstition, not, it is true, as distinctly pernicious as the belief in saints, which is a damnable error of the papists, but still an error, finding no warrant in Holy Writ, and not to be entertained by the enlightened disciples of the Reformed faith.

Isabel, however, cared little for the Reformed faith or in ministers; the spirits of the woods were kind and friendly and she loved to dream of them, and to pretend to herself that they were sheltering her under their great strong arm. As she walked on, the feeling of loneliness and depression was lifted. After the dark, stagnant atmosphere that seemed to hang round the marshy lands of Lochloy, the clean, pure air of the Darnaway woods flowed into her lungs, and drove the malignant vapours from her blood; she felt the sting of fresh life in all her veins, her pulses tingled with a queer sense of coming adventure. It was half delight, and half a sort of shy shrinking. After all, life might yet hold some brave doings; the world was not all dominated by ministers and elders.

In her youth she had read many poems and romances, even some of Master William Shakespeare's plays, and her fancy, long crushed down and deemed an evil thing, began to plume its wings once more. She spread her tartan screen on the ground and lay down under a great oak, and tried to picture to herself the spirit that dwelt therein. A strong, beautiful man it must be. What a desirable lover he would make! She shut her eyes and tried to fancy him coming to her, holding her in his arms. Her heart beat wildly. Then the sky and the trees grew dim, the interlacing branches ran one into another, and she fell asleep.

When she woke it was high noon; she had dreamed, but could remember none of her dreams, only vague confused images remained. Somehow she had been a person of great power, she had held the words of life and death, she had done justice and redressed wrongs, but how she knew not.

One thing only she was sure of, she was exceedingly hungry. A lonely cottage stood by the side of the path, under a huge ash tree; a black cat sat sunning itself in the window. Here she could surely get a drink of milk and a piece of bread. In the doorway stood a pleasant-faced, comfortable-looking woman with night-black hair.

'Come away in, dearie,' she said, 'I've been waiting for ye.'

'Nay! that you cannot. I only just now found I was hungry, and seeing your cottage, I thought maybe ye could give me a drink of milk.'

'Come away, then, and I'll show ye that I expected ye.'

She led the way into the cottage, where a large jug of milk and a plate of newly baked scones were spread on the table. Isabel looked in wonder.

'I saw ye coming, my dearie! long ago, when ye left your own farmhouse. Ye need not wonder, I have the sight, ye ken. Now sit ye down and eat and drink all ye want to, for it's welcome ye are, and I'm fain to have a bonny lass like yourself to talk to, for it's lonely at times. Ye will know me by name, I'm sure. Margaret Brodie--that am I--and a true daughter of the late laird of Brodie, and half sister to his lordship, though I think he would not have it mentioned, for its unco guid the Brodies are now, outwardly at all events. My mother's a gipsy, that's how I come to have the sight. That, and other things.'

While she talked, Isabel greatly enjoyed the hospitable provisions of milk and scones. Here was another friend with whom she could exchange ideas; life was no longer so dreary as it had seemed that morning.

'Maybe I'll be seeing you at the kirk one of these days,' said Margaret, after a pause.

'Oh aye! My man says I must go, but I'm not caring much for it.'

'Eh, but I was meaning--No! I'll not say--But it's fine to go to the kirk. Ye'll know that some day.'

Isabel fell to wondering a little; her new friend did not seem one who would listen to godly admonitions for the pure love of it, nor had she a husband to take her by force.

A door at the back of the room opened slightly, and a face peered out that smote her with a sick, icy dread. It was the colour of old stained parchment, dark with age and preternaturally wrinkled. Intensely bright eyes glared from beneath bushy eyebrows, and long grizzled wisps of hair hung down on either side. Over the toothless mouth the long nose nearly met the prominent chin.

It was a fearsome face. Isabel started and turned pale as ashes. Then the door closed again and the face disappeared. Margaret Brodie laughed lightly.

'It's only my mother,' she said. 'You would hardly think to see her now that she had been a beauty once. Gipsies age very soon; she has got very morose and solitary, she seems to care for nothing but her old raven. Never mind! you come and see me, you needn't be afraid of mother, she never comes out of her own den.'

Once out again in the free air and among the trees Isabel's spirits soon revived, and she forgot the terrible old woman and remembered only the kind and hospitable Margaret Brodie. Yes, she would go and see her again. Here was another to all appearance as solitary as herself, but taking it with a bright cheerfulness that was infectious. But as she emerged from the woods, and saw the mists creeping over the low-lying lands, the old feeling of nervous depression settled on her once more. She breasted the slight rise by the small farm of Drumduan, and looked eastward over the sullen bogs. Towards these lay her way.

These flat dreary fields had seemed to her before the material presentment of her own dreary existence, and now after the short escape and the gleams of hope of the day they oppressed her more unbearably than ever. Oh, for an adventure of any kind whatsoever! Oh, for some strong man in whom she could confide! who would help her, one who would bring her joy, and would not vex her. Not even to herself did she say a lover, yet had she been practised in self-analysis, and closely examined, she might have realised that this was in effect what she really meant.

Coming round a turn in the road she was not surprised to see a man walking towards her some distance off. Not surprised, because in a sense she saw him before she saw him; she knew he was there, yet her heart gave a great bound when she realised that he was actually there. And yet there was nothing specially remarkable about him. Grey clothes and knee-breeches, a very dark blue Scotch bonnet after the fashion of the time--so much she noticed; also that he walked with an even, dignified gait that was neither a slouch nor a swagger.

There was a moment of exultation. Here was an adventure. The man was none of the known people about the district, he was a stranger, maybe from some town, a cultured man evidently. Her opportunity had come. Then came a sudden fear of the unknown; the old familiar life at Lochloy looked sheltered and safe. Should she--could she--break it? If she met this man she felt he must speak to her, he would come into her life. Nothing would be the same again. A nervous shrinking came over her. No! she would not. Resolutely and definitely she turned to the right between some tall trees towards the Muir of Inshoch, where a little rise hid the road from sight. She would go round this way until the man should have passed, and then return to the farmstead.

But no sooner was she out of sight of the road than the sense of loss came over her. What a fool she was! her opportunity had come, and she like a craven feared to take it; the chance might never come again. She stood irresolute, weighing and debating, her heart was throbbing painfully. Could she face the endless dreary years at Lochloy? And after all, what was this man? A harmless, probably a courteous, stranger. Suppose she did exchange a greeting with him, a few words on general topics. Easy enough then to bid him farewell, and return to the farm, and no harm done. Easy enough, if he should presume, to treat him as she had treated Hay of Lochloy and Park. But he would not presume, of that she was sure; and to be treated as a lady once more, to converse on equal terms with a man of refinement and courtesy! Surely she was a fool to lose such a chance, though it were but for five minutes' conversation.

She trusted he had not passed, and then half hoped he had. She turned back to the road, walking slowly, as though dragged against her will, then quickening her pace almost to a run, then almost standing still, as she saw he was still there, walking towards her with the same dignified deliberate pace. Mechanically she threw back her tartan screen, the low sun at her back flamed on her bright hair. He should see her thus, she knew not why, but thus this man must see her. She looked curiously at him. He was scrupulously neat, his grey clothes fitted him perfectly, his grey stockings showed a well-turned leg and a slender ankle, bright silver buckles gleamed on his shoes, his hair was dark, and slightly touched with grey; his face was that of a student, grave and somewhat sad, but his eyes were piercingly bright with a strange magnetic attraction.

She felt weird thrills run through her limbs. He was now close to her; he raised his bonnet in courteous salutation.

'Give you good day, Mistress,' he said, and his voice was low and musical. 'You seem in some trouble.'

'No, sir! no trouble. Only I am so lonely. So terribly lonely.'

That he should thus open her grief to a total stranger surprised herself even as she said it. But she could not think of him as a stranger.

'Nay, I cannot think so fair a lady could be lonely. Methinks you cannot know your own power.'

'Power! What would I give for power! I am helpless as a poor mouse caught in a trap, and I could do so much. I am young still, and I am married, and I have never known love. Oh, why do I talk to you like this? I know not what you must think of me.'

'Nay, Mistress! I prithee look on me as one who has known the world for more years than I care to remember. I have known men and women, and I can sympathise. Maybe I can help. As for power, ye would use it well. A beautiful woman always has power if she will. Yet I could teach ye more. Knowledge is power, and I have studied every science, and won power for myself, and this I can give to you if so be ye will.'

'How good you are,' she murmured softly. 'I never saw you before, yet I feel I trust you more than any man I ever met.'

'I can do somewhat for you. I think I partly know your trouble. Tell me, ye are baptised, is it not so?'

'They baptised me when I joined the Reformed faith, sorely against my will. Why do ye ask this?'

'There is the source of much of your trouble. Ye know how men speak of luck. It is a foolish word. It is themselves that attract power and happiness. This foolish rite of baptism repels all that is pleasant or desirable. Indeed, your Reformed kirk looks on all pleasure as wrong.'

'Oh, I know, and I hate it! If you only knew how I hate it. But it's done and I can't undo it.'

'Nay, I think you can. What you have taken on you, you can renounce. If once you renounce this silly vain form of baptism, you can draw to yourself all that you desire.'

'And can I really do this? Can I win power so easily? Have ye got power yourself?'

'See now, ye desire a proof. Look out there to the east. You know they are gathering the harvest in the lands of Culben. To-morrow the farmer is to hold a great festivity for all men and his neighbours to celebrate the ingetting of the best harvest he has ever had. Now mark--he will never hold that feast. His lands shall be buried and all that is upon them shall be lost, and thus or thus wise may it be with all your enemies and all who hurt you, if only you will it to be so.'

'But this is amazing! Are ye then such a miracle worker?'

'No! a poor student, who has learned a few things.'

'And can you--will you--really teach me to do the same? Oh! I would give anything to have such power. But why should you take such interest in me? I am an utter stranger to you.'

'See ye, Mistress! When the Lords of this world give great beauty to a woman, it is intended that she shall have great power, for beauty is a supreme source of power. If ye are, as you say, helpless, you are not fulfilling your destiny. All my studies have taught me that the enabling of any to fulfil their destiny will help me as much as the person I help. Ye are born for greatness, for power, and for happiness. This I can give you if you will. If you will dare to meet me to-morrow night at midnight, when the moon is full at the kirk of Aulderne, I will show you more.'

'I will, I will. But how can I? My husband--' she said with a sudden recollection. Gilbert would never permit her to be out at midnight.

'He will still be away. Ye need have no fear.'

'I will come! I never wanted that baptism. But stay one moment. I was baptised before as a Catholic.'

'With that I have nothing to do,' he said gravely. 'Fare ye well, Mistress, until to-morrow night. Then ye shall see whereunto a beautiful woman is born.'

He turned and was gone. Whether he passed up the by-lane, where she had undergone such doubts and hesitations before she could summon courage to meet him, or vanished in any other way, she could not tell.

But concerning that enigmatical last sentence of his, there was later on much disputation among the learned. For the Presbytery, whereon my great-great-great-grandfather was a shining light, maintained, and set forth a most learned pronouncement on the subject, that the papistical baptism, being a mere heathen ceremony, and a gross superstition, was of no account whatsoever. But Father Bernard Angelico of Florence stated in an elaborate Latin treatise, with much citation of authority, that baptism into the Holy Catholic Church was a sacrament of such high power and efficacy that it could never be renounced under any circumstances whatsoever, and therefore that any attempt to do so was of no avail. Whence we see that the stranger who accosted Mistress Isabel between the township of Drumduan and the Bogheads must have been a personage of some considerable importance, since his utterances were the subject of so much learned disputation.

Isabel, however, walked back to the farm of Lochloy in strange exultation, but mixed with other thoughts and feelings filling her mind with a strange medley. The man had been courteous and deferential, he had promised her power, which was what she craved for; and indeed her whole sensation of him was one of power, he radiated power. He spoke of the spell of her beauty. But it seemed powerless on him. Not by one single look or word had he suggested making love to her. She had been alertly ready to resent any such suggestion. Now she was half conscious of a vague disappointment, that no such suggestion had been made. Half acknowledged to herself, but gradually growing, was the wish that he would make love to her, that she could bring him under the spell he had spoken of. Was he then after all merely a talker with nothing behind him, merely passing an idle quarter of an hour in chatting with a chance-met woman, and beguiling her with foolish boasts of what he could do? She grew mightily curious about him. Well, Gilbert would be at home the following night, so there was no good in thinking more about it. The thing was past and done with; she would hear no more of the stranger.

Still, if Gilbert did not return, it would be some sort of a proof that the stranger knew more than ordinary folk. It might be worth while to go to the kirk of Aulderne and see what happened; there could be no harm in going; she could just find out what it all meant; she need do nothing, would in fact do nothing, and would come away again, and no one would be any the wiser.

Curious, too, how she was pushed to go to the kirk of Aulderne. Gilbert had ordered her to go. Margaret Brodie had said she would be sure to meet her there, and now this stranger had trysted her to meet him in the same place.

Then there was that wild story about the lands of Culben. That was surely the most empty boast. But what could he mean by making such an assertion which a few hours would conclusively refute?

On the whole it was an adventure. It had served to break the dreary monotony of her life; it was something to look back on, a story to tell Janet Broadhead, and quite as thrilling as many of hers; but she was glad it was over and done with.

The sun was setting luridly in piles of blood-red cloud, torn and lashed into a thousand fantastic shapes behind the great purple mass of Wyvis, but over Lochloy brooded an almost deathlike calm. The sea lay dark and sullen looking, and the rays of the setting sun gleamed redly on the enormous hills of sand that had accumulated on the old bar. It was a weird and extraordinary scene. Isabel with her quick poetic fancy looked at it with delight. She watched the flaming colours of sunset gradually fade to a dull leaden grey, as the sun sank out of sight. She listened to a low moan as though of wind, though the trees stirred not a single leaf. A sudden chill came over the low-lying lands. The water-fowl on the loch were strangely disturbed and flew inland with wild discordant crying. A pair of owls hooted from a dead tree behind the farmhouse.

Isabel shivered and went in, and in a very short time had crept between the blankets and buried her head to seek for sleep. Visions of the stranger still haunted her. He stood where they had met, and there was a sort of fiery halo round him; his raised his arm in a commanding attitude, and thunder clouds and wild lightnings seemed to follow his gestures. She woke trembling. Then she said to herself: 'What nonsense! I am just dreaming of the absurdities he talked.' She shook herself impatiently, and turned over to dream again. The rising wind was moaning round the house. She dozed and woke again as the little window rattled and the walls shook. She was thankful she was in shelter, for the storm was clearly increasing. The blasts howled and moaned round the farm; the chimney fell with a crash, a stinging shower of sand dashed against the window. Isabel lay and trembled, waiting for the dawn; sleep was impossible until, just as grey streaks were beginning to throw a wan gleam on the wall opposite to the window, the wild wind dropped as suddenly as it rose, and a profound stillness fell, and then wearied out she fell into a sound dreamless sleep, from which she was only aroused an hour after her usual time by one of the herd girls who ran into the room crying: 'Oh, Mistress, waken! Here is terrible news indeed. The whole of the farm of Culben is buried in sand by last night's storm.'


Chapter Three. The Sands of Culben

THE news of the terrible disaster at the farm of Culben spread rapidly over the countryside, and from every hand lairds, farmers and labourers flocked to see the desolation. All work was for the time abandoned, and the harvest lay ungathered. The farm of Lochloy was utterly deserted. Isabel alone remained in the empty house. Looking out over the muir towards the sea to the right, she saw the line of the old bar, now only just visible above the water, the enormous hills of sand on its western end that she had watched under the red sunset the previous evening were gone; only away to the eastward the great sandhills still remained, piled like a miniature island mountain in the midst of the blue waters.

What had happened was now clear; the furious north-easterly tempest had cut like a line across the end of the bar, coming straight from the direction of the Souters of Cromarty, and had swept all that accumulation of sand, piled up during years, perhaps centuries, by the winds and tides, over the narrow intervening water on to the farm. The debris of the crumbling sandstone of the eastward coast had gone on unheeded piling itself up on the old bar; now suddenly, and without a moment's warning, almost a quarter of the whole mass had been hurled on to the fertile land known as 'the granary of Moray' from their wonderful fertility. Only the westernmost farm, known as the Mains of Culben had been buried, but over this the sand was heaped to a depth varying from four feet to upwards of twenty. The mansion-house and its policies and the eastern farms were untouched. The line of the storm must have been very narrow and sharply defined; it swept over the farm lands, but stopped almost in a rigid line, avoiding the Chapel and Chapel Garth of St. Ninians, where in older and more pious days the lairds of Culben had worshipped.

Hay of Lochloy and Park, immediately he heard of the disaster, rode out from his mansion-house to see the scene of destruction, and meeting on his way with Master Harry Forbes, the minister of Aulderne, they rode together, the minister's blind old pony with difficulty keeping pace with the laird's sorrel nag, albeit the laird frequently reined in his steed in deference to his companion.

Isabel saw them coming, and turned back into the house, but from the window she saw the laird cast a look of venomous anger at her door, and lean over to say something to the minister, whereat the latter also looked towards the farmhouse, first in surprise and then aversion.

Mr Patrick Innes records how, long years after, Mr. Harry Forbes had told him of that ride, and of the surprise with which he had heard of the ill-repute of Mistress Isabel Goudie, whose husband was a right godly man, and an elder of his own kirk. Concerning the curious track of the storm which avoided the mansion-house and the Chapel and Chapel Garth, Mr. Patrick, who witnessed the final catastrophe whereby these were overwhelmed in the great sand storm of 1694, was clearly convinced that the wickedness of the laird of Culben and the heathen papistry of that chapel which was preserved when it should have been totally destroyed, were the cause of the final ruin of the fair estate, but that at the time we are now speaking of, the measure of their iniquity was not yet full. Harry Forbes seems to have described very graphically the state of terror that was over the whole country, and how this occurrence at Culben, coming on the head of all the other things of which mention has been made, had brought the country folk to a condition of panic that bordered on madness. They clamoured for a victim, but none could at the moment be found. True, the laird of Culben was unquestionably a very wicked man, for cards as everyone knows are the Devil's own books, and besides, he persistently profaned the blessed Sabbath day. But the vengeance in this case had fallen on him, and Lord Brodie, who was a senator of the College of Justice up in Edinburgh, astutely argued that a man could scarcely be the author of his own ruin. 'For if Satan,' he said, 'be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand'; and Lord Brodie was not only a most eminent lawyer, but a man of exemplary piety. These matters then did the laird of Park and the minister discuss, during that ride to the sand-whelmed farm of Culben. And neither of them doubted that the wickedness of men had brought this signal judgment on the land.

Mistress Isabel Goudie, watching them pass, had caught that look exchanged between them, and knew well the anger of the laird against her.

'Beast!' she said once more. 'Oh, if that stranger only spoke the truth! If he will but give me the power he spoke of, I'll be even with you yet. May you never have male child to come after you!'

Then she fell a-thinking. The stranger had foretold this destruction of the lands of Culben. On this very day, he had said, the farmer was to 'hold a great feast of all his men to celebrate the ingathering of the harvest. But that feast, he had said, never would be held, for the lands would be buried. An empty foolish boast it had seemed then. But now it was verified. Was it possible to think that he had done this? Even if he had only foreseen it, he must have extraordinary power. What had chanced to the farmer of Culben chance to the laird of Park. She thrilled at the thought.

Meantime a continuous stream of folk were going past bound for Culben to see this last work of the Devil as they believed, and as she gathered from scraps of conversation that drifted to her ears. She longed to go herself, but shame of her poor attire held her back. Surely if she could have that wonderful power that he spoke of, a new gown or so might not be out of the question. It was a remarkable sight that presented itself to these pilgrims when they emerged from the Brodie woods and passed Dunbar's fine house on Grangehill. The lands that only yesterday had been dotted over with the rich sheaves, and golden with the harvest, now lay a desert of dazzling white sand that hurt the eye. All sense of the furious tempest of the night had vanished, the sun shone from an absolutely cloudless sky on wastes and hills of sand, in which the foot sank ankle-deep; a weird golden haze seemed brooding over the bleak white land, making it look strange and unreal, and the men working on it appear like phantoms. Busily they were working, trying hard, poor souls, to save such little property as they could by burrowing into their buried houses, or to rescue their horses and cattle, for they had been roused in the middle of the night by the rush of the storm, and had only just time to save their own lives by fleeing to shelter anywhere beyond the bounds of that awful sand stream.

From all directions folk were pouring in to see and to render what help they could.

Sir Robert Gordon drove over from Gordonstown in his famous old chariot, the same which was said to have driven over Loch Spynie after one night's frost, and with him came his kinswoman the Lady Mary Gordon, with her niece Jean, the same who had been kind to Isabel Goudie in olden days, and who was now betrothed, despite much opposition, to young Hamilton. Sir Robert was a remarkable-looking man, grave and forceful, with a broad brow, keen eyes, and a short dark beard carefully trimmed. He had been a Privy Councillor of King Charles I, but since the execution of the king and the coming of Oliver Cromwell he had retired to his country house of Gordonstown. As he stood among the crowd by the edge of the sand, talking with Thomas Kinnaird the laird of Culben, one could not help noticing that the people round, though markedly deferential, yet shrank from him with looks of fear. In truth Sir Robert Gordon was a man they dreaded, but dared not meddle with; strange tales were told of his weird powers. And in times when, as was well known, the Devil had licence such as never before for the vexing of the holy Kirk of Scotland, it was only common prudence to be careful. Yet some there were who did not hesitate to say that the laird of Culben and the laird of Gordonstown were both of them vessels of wrath fitted for destruction. But these sentiments were only whispered behind doffed bonnets in the ear of trusted cronies.

Lady Mary, who stood beside him, was a stately dame of a queenly presence, but Jean, her niece, took captive the hearts of all who saw her. She was of a rare type of fragile beauty, with soft, darkish-brown hair, and a wild rose complexion, and eyes of the true cornflower blue. The sensitive face was full of sympathy and understanding; and while the wonderful spectacle evidently interested her keenly, and its weird picturesqueness moved her imagination and her artistic sense profoundly, her soul went out in pity for all the poor people who had been rendered homeless and had lost all their little belongings in that terrible catastrophe.

The minister of Aulderne and the laird of Park passed close by her, and she caught a few words of their conversation, the word Lochloy occurring frequently, and she heard the laird say:

'A very wild cat, I assure you; flew at me like a fury, though I was only trying to see how I could repair their house and make them more comfortable.'

Then the two passed out of hearing.

But Jean caught the name Lochloy. There was a moment of indecision while she searched her memory for the association of that name. Then she remembered it was where her old friend Isabel Goudie, who used to kneel beside her in the little Catholic chapel, had gone on her marriage. Since then she knew and secretly mourned over the fact that Isabel had joined the Reformd faith. But in those days of persecution very few were steadfast. Now she thought of it, Lochloy could not be far away. It would be nice to see Isabel again.

'Uncle,' she said, for so she always affectionately called Sir Robert, though in fact he was only a distant cousin, 'would it be too far for the horses to go on to Lochloy?'

'Lochloy, child! That's on Hay's place, just the other side of Brodie. Why, it's not more than three or four Scots miles at most. My horses do what I bid 'em, or I know the reason why. Are ye wanting to see it? It's a dreary place.'

'No, uncle; but there's an old friend of mine married to the farmer there, Mistress Isabel Goudie, and I would fain greet her again now that we are so near.'

'Isabel Goudie! Surely I know the name,' said Sir Robert, who knew everyone in the neighbourhood, and never forgot a name. 'A red-haired slip of a wench, was she not? Far above her class, ought to be one of us, the sort that would make a great saint, or a great sinner. Yes, we'll drive out and see her. What the devil did she marry that lout of a farmer for! As the minister says, it's a sheer waste of God's mercies.'

So it chanced that the lumbering old coach and the four black horses headed away through Brodie Woods, and Sir Robert entertained the ladies with sundry sarcastic comments on Lord Brodie, for truth to say he held that distinguished senator in but small respect. The old scholar, who had been an ornament of the gallant and witty Court of the Stuarts, and whose learning was famed over half Europe, had small patience with the narrow and pedantic piety and store of legal maxims of Oliver Cromwell's follower and admirer.

And so it was that the neighbours, returning from gaping over the buried fields of Culben, beheld the unwonted spectacle of a great family coach and four coal-black horses rocking and plunging along the miry, broken road between the loch and the cultivated fields of Lochloy, and halting before the door of the little thatched farmhouse, Whereat there were sundry whisperings, and lifting of eyebrows, and some hinted broadly enough that Sir Robert Gordon had taken the place of Hay of Lochloy and Park, and that indeed it was just as well that John Gilbert was from home; but these gossips were somewhat nonplussed to see two ladies descend from the coach, for a man does not generally take his womankind with him when he goes a-courting his neighbour's wife.

But of these glances and whispers Sir Robert and his ladies knew and recked nothing, and hardly had they climbed down from the ponderous and unwieldy vehicle than Jean and Isabel were in each other's arms, talking both at once, exchanging affectionate greetings, asking for each other's news, till at length, in a pause, Jean bethought her, and presented her aunt and Sir Robert Gordon, who had stood by, amused spectators of the gush of feminine confidences. Isabel recollected herself, and greeted her guests with a long sweeping curtsy. Sir Robert doffed his hat with a courtly grace as though to a duchess.

'I pray ye enter,' she said. ''Tis a poor house, but a right blithe welcome to the kin of my dear friend here.'

'Save you, Mistress!' quoth the baronet, 'we look not at the setting when the jewel is of such fine quality.'

Beside Isabel the tender fragile beauty of Jean Gordon was more than usually apparent; already the delicacy that grew afterwards to serious illness seemed to throw a prophetic shadow over her.

'I pray you, take some refreshment,' said Isabel; 'ye have come far, and ye must be wearied.'

'Nay, we will taste nothing,' said Sir Robert, feeling with instinctive courtesy the narrow resources of the farmhouse, and divining a certain hesitating shyness, betokening a distrust of her larder. 'We return to Gordonstown for supper. Another day, I trust, we may have the honour to welcome you there, Mistress Isabel. There are things there I think might interest you.'

Isabel, craving pardon of the baronet and Lady Mary, carried off her friend to her own little room, and showed her the tiny gold crucifix, and told her of the dreariness and sorrow of her own life. But she said nothing of the stranger. Jean in return told of her own troubles, of how she and her gallant young lover were persecuted, of the delicacy of health that troubled her, and of the dark, hopeless future that lay before them. Then they returned, their arms affectionately twined round each other.

But before the party took their leave, Sir Robert, rising from the settle by the kitchen fire where he had ensconced himself, said to Isabel: 'I pray you, Mistress, of your courtesy, that ye will show me how your loch lieth. Ye may know that I have great interest in drainage, and there is on my property a very great loch, ye may have heard of it, called the Loch of Spynie, which I design to drain.'

'Come ye this way, sir,' said Isabel. 'If the ladies will excuse us. You will see the loch finely from the hill just to the east of us.'

'Robert must have his way,' said Lady Mary. 'When he talks drainage there is no room for any other topic in the world. But when ye have done, Robert, we must e'en take the road or night will be on us.'

But so soon as they had got beyond the cottage, Sir Robert turned round to his companion.

'I brought ye out here, Mistress Isabel, not to talk of drainage, whereof I deem ye know little, but because I see that ye are in trouble, and I would help ye, if that I may.'

'Oh, sir!' she faltered, 'you are over good to me, and indeed there is much of trouble and but little of satisfaction in my lot; but more than for myself am I now exercised for my dear Jean Gordon. We were the closest of friends, and my heart bleeds for her; she is delicate and overtaxes her strength, and they persecute her for the man she loves.'

'And in all this,' said Sir Robert kindly, 'you can help better than any other. The power lies close to your hand, if you will but dare to take it. You can help your friend, and you can do much for yourself too; I deem there are things you would do for yourself.'

'Yea, indeed, and there are, Sir Robert, and there are those who have dealt ill by me; and ye see how poorly I am lodged, and scarce even a sup or a crust to offer a friend who should come to see me,' she cried, with a sudden burst of confidence, for she felt this strong, wonderful man who so generously offered his help was one on whom she might rely. It was absurd to be reticent with him.

'All this you can do too if ye will. But remember, fear is failure. When the chance comes, ye must be brave and take it. And remember this too. The ministers tell you if you need anything you should come to the kirk and ask for it, and this is true, but not in their sense. Indeed, they know not how true it is. Fare ye well; Mistress! Perhaps in time to come ye may do something for me too. I need a secretary badly, but I have found none capable to do my work. Gladly would I have you in that office, for think ye could help me well.'

So with many mutual compliments and affectionate leave-takings, they parted, and Isabel remained in a strangely elated condition, thinking over the events of the day. Circumstances seemed to be pushing her irresistibly. It was now no longer merely the chance-met stranger on the road. Sir Robert Gordon, a wise man, a scholar, and a Privy Councillor, had spoken almost as though he knew of the stranger, and were, without seeming to do so, urging her not to let the opportunity slip. 'Fear is failure,' he said. 'Power was within her reach,' he said, what other possible way than by the stranger's offer? And what held her back; to be honest with herself, was it not fear? Both Sir Robert and the stranger had been kind and courteous. They had not insulted her like the coarse and brutal laird of Park. Sir Robert admired her, he told her she was beautiful, but he said it as a courteous gentleman might to a lady of his own rank, with grave deference. Then there was that enigmatical reference to the kirk. Why was everything combining to drive her to the kirk, where, sooth to say, she never desired go? Midnight at the kirk of Aulderne! It savoured of a weird, mysterious adventure. Would sheeted ghosts prowl around? It was curious to hear Sir Robert Gordon talk of the kirk, for his reputation was quite otherwise. But after all, a fig for country gossip, and if indeed Sir Robert did collogue with the Devil, if as they said he had made some sort of elemental spirit or creature out of the fire who did his bidding, well! he seemed none the worse for it. He was a grave prosperous, learned gentleman, far superior to the average country laird.

In all of which anyone who knows the subtleties of human nature may discern that Mistress Isabel, down in the depths of her nature, did desire, perhaps only half consciously, to keep the tryst with the stranger, and sought for arguments and justification in so doing.

There remained John Gilbert. If John came home that night the adventure would be impossible, and she half hoped he might, and so cut the perplexity. But as the darkness deepened after sunset, and a step sounded outside, she thought he had come, and a sick disappointment came over her--the adventure, the chance of her life, was to turn to nothing after all. It was only one of the men going to see to the sick cows. She breathed again.

As she ate her solitary supper, the feminine question occurred to her, what should she wear? The stranger was neat and fastidious, the old homespun gown wherein was sewn the little gold crucifix was too poor, too shabby, and the gown she had worn when she met him yesterday was worse. In the old kist, whence she had taken the flimsy robe with which she had so disastrously sought to fascinate John Gilbert, were still some dresses, the relics of the old days when the lawyer's daughter was an acknowledged beauty and much fêted, but all too fine and out of keeping with her present state. They had never been worn since, never even looked at. She had no heart for finery she could not wear. Here she found a dress of an exquisite soft green, given to her long ago by Jean Gordon, with a little gold embroidery, and a wimple and a hood of white. Could she, dare she, wear this? It was light and thin, and open at the neck and breast as was the mode of the time for ladies for evening wear at fashionable assemblies. She looked out on the night. It was calm and warm. The tempest of the previous night had swept the air clear and clean. The full moon would be rising soon. Not a soul would be abroad at that hour. She would risk it.

She had all the country woman's knowledge of time, without any aid of clocks or watches, and she knew that when the moon touched the top of the blighted fir tree to the east of the farmhouse on that night, it would want half an hour of midnight. At that moment then she would start. She laid out the green robe.

''Tis the fairies' colour,' she murmured as she looked at it lovingly. Would the time ever come when she would wear such robes habitually, and associate again with cultured men and women? Yes, surely, if Sir Robert were to be believed.

She was restless and impatient. She wandered round the farm, looked into the byre to see how the sick cows fared, listened to hear if the men were asleep, and was reassured by their heavy snores; the herd girls too were sound asleep; the whole farm seemed under a drowsy spell, only herself stirring, and she very wide awake. A sound on the road made her heart plunge. Was it Gilbert after all, returning so late? It was only a stray horse, probably belonging to some gipsies, cropping the roadside grass.

At last the edge of the moon appeared above the desolate muir. It was the signal she had set to herself. She turned into the farm, and rapidly, with trembling hands, cast off her homespun gown, and stood in the clear moonlight only in her shift, with her wonderful flaming red hair shed like a veil around her. Then she put on the green gown, thinking, it must be said, but little of the golden crucifix. The wimple and the hood were adjusted, but the mass of hair she simply tied back with a green ribbon, after the fashion of a snood. She would take no memory of John Gilbert, nor of her ill-fated marriage; she would revert to the simple fashion of her girlhood. Why she did this she could not have told; she simply felt impelled to go thus to the tryst.

So southward she took her way, just when the full moon touched the top of the fir tree. She had succeeded at last in driving all hesitation from her mind. She looked forward feverishly to seeing again that courteous stranger who had met her in the road, and she passed with a thrill at her heart just over the very place where he had stood as he talked to her. What a wonderful man he was! All other men seemed faint shadows beside him, and she was to see him again. A faint fear came over her. What if he should never come, what if he were only playing with her? She dismissed the thought as too dreadful to contemplate, and walked rapidly on.

Aulderne Kirk stood boldly up among the thronging graves. Isabel now felt nerved for anything by her excitement and expectation. If, indeed, she had seen the pale sheeted forms of the dead of the many generations she would have felt no fear now. It was a species of intoxication that possessed her. She was expected. He, the marvellous man who had stooped from the heights to recognise and to ask for her, was there, actually there. She was going to him.

Through the windows of the kirk there gleamed a strange light. Not the light of a service on a dark winter Sabbath evening, when a few rush-lights made the darkness only more dense, except by the reader's desk, but rather as if it were on fire. He had done this, then, in her honour. Would there be any others there? She hoped there would, for a certain shyness was creeping over her again, and she hurried now in fear lest she might be late.

Passing through the kirkyard, she felt an arm cast round her waist, and looked up with a half-acknowledged hope. Was it the stranger?

The next instant she knew Margaret Brodie.

'Welcome, my dearie! I knew ye would come, but I thought not it would be so soon.'

'Indeed, I knew not myself, said Isabel, glad to meet a friend there, yet with a queer catch of jealousy. Did Margaret also know him? Was she familiar with the wondrous man? Nay, but he must know very many, and at any rate he had singled her out, her, Isabel Goudie, for singular honour.

'I know,' said Margaret gently. 'He has invited you himself. Oh, but lassie it's a rare honour ye have gotten; come away ben. He is waiting for ye.'

So they entered the kirk. A warm red glow pervaded the whole place, very different from the forbidding chill that Isabel had associated with it. Many were there gathered, but she knew them not, she was only aware of one fact. In the reader's desk stood the stranger, and as she passed through the door his eyes sought hers, and hers were fixed on him, as though in all that assemblage they two were alone, and she scarce felt Margaret Brodie's supporting arm.

'Mistress Isabel Goudie,' he said, and his voice was sad and musical, like the tone of a great bell, 'have ye thought of what I said to you but yester e'en, and are ye prepared?'

'It needs no thought,' she made answer. 'I sought no baptism, I desired it not. Gladly I renounce it.'

'Will ye then come to me? Will ye devote yourself body and soul to me for ever?'

The marvellous attraction of the man drew her like a magnet. Electric thrills ran through her limbs, till she would have fallen, but for Margaret's arm around her. To go to him, to belong to him, it was a bliss beyond all she had ever dreamed. She was mad, delirious, all power of thought, even of knowledge of where she was, or how she came there, was gone. Only faintly could she gasp out, 'I will.'

'Then you will place one hand beneath the sole of your foot, and the other on the crown of your head, and say after me--'

Stooping down, and leaning hard on the arms that held her, she did so while he dictated the words of the oath.

'I swear by the height of heaven, and the depth of the sea, by the flux of air, and by the glory of the fire, I renounce and pledge and give unto thee all that lieth between my two hands. Yes, for ever, soul and body, I will belong unto thee, whom men call the Devil.'

'Whom men call the Devil,' she repeated firmly. A murmur of applause and of greeting went round, but she heeded not.

'Bring her to me,' said the stranger, closing the black book he held in his hand.

Margaret led, half carrying, her up to the desk.

Gently he laid his hand on her shoulder, sweeping aside the green gown, and laying the white flesh bare. Then he placed his other hand palm downwards below the shoulder, and she felt a sharp prick like a stab, and a gush of blood came over the soft skin. The stranger stooped with the air of a courtier, and kissed the wound, sucking out the blood till it was all staunched, then putting his finger in his mouth he drew it out covered with her blood, and marking a strange figure on her forehead, he said:

'Thou hast renounced thy false baptism, now I rebaptise thee in my own name. Thy earth name is lost now among us; thou shalt henceforth be known as Janet in our assemblies. Thou art now one of us. If thou wilt learn more, and have the wisdom and the power and the joy that I can give thee, come to me where I shall appoint.'

'I will,' she whispered.

A crash of thunder rolled across the sky, and as though the very windows of heaven were opened, a rush of rain tore against the wall of the kirk. All was in darkness--only against her cheek she heard that deep musical voice saying:

'At the Wards of Inshoch, on Sabbath next, during the time of service.' Then all was still.

'How will I win home through this?' she said, thinking Margaret Brodie was there.

Then, thinking but to shelter till the storm had abated, she sank into a pew, and for a moment seemed to dream, but roused again to see a familiar gleam of light, and knew it was coming through the little window of her own room in the farmhouse.

How she got there she never knew, but it was a fact that she was lying in her own bed, and the dawn was breaking.


Chapter Four. A Tryst With the Devil

THE familiar gleam of light only partially roused her to a dim memory of the past night. It seemed a mixture of reality with a very vivid dream, but therewith was a horrible sense of apprehension and dread, which the half-awakened brain was powerless to shake off. Her thoughts moved automatically, and her will for the moment was powerless to control them.

Luridly, recollections came in terrifying pictures.

'What have I done? O God, what have I done?' she said to herself. Then again, 'It was only a dream. But what made me dream it?' Then as it came back in distinct detail, 'O God! I have given myself to the Devil for ever and ever, to burn in hell everlastingly. What shall I do? What can I do?'

Then the conviction that it was all a dream. She remembered the rush of rain, the sounds of the thunderstorm. How could she have come through it? If it had been a reality she must have been drenched to the skin, yet she had no memory of being out in the wet, or even having got the least muddied or damp. There hung the green gown she had laid out with such pride and joy the night before. Had it ever been worn? Certainly not in rain or storm. It hung there fresh as when she took it from the kist; but to her sleep-dimmed eyes it looked like a fantastic simulacrum of herself, as though she were looking at herself standing by the door. Then it wavered and grew dim. Consciousness flickered, revived for a moment, then a warm indolent wave passed, the relaxed limbs sank heavily, and she was asleep again.

When she woke an hour later it was already full day. The phantoms of the night had fled away, the dread and apprehension were gone. She felt a remarkable clearness of perception, and a self-confidence to which since her marriage she had been wholly unaccustomed. No longer was she, as she had described herself to the stranger, like a mouse caught in a trap, but more like the golden eagle sailing free and unfettered through the sky. Whatever she desired was in her power to attain, the force of her will could bring things to pass.

As to the events of last night she reasoned calmly and dispassionately. There had been a storm undoubtedly, for the whole land lay in stagnant pools which were not there yesterday. Equally certain her green gown had not been out in it; there was no speck of mud, no trace of damp on it, though she examined it with minute care. So the memory of the stranger she had met and of Sir Robert Gordon's visit had started a dream, the sound of the storm had worked into it, and produced the culmination. She had read of such a theory of dreams. Then a slight pain below the shoulder took her attention. She hurried to the little blurred mirror; there on the shoulder, and just above the swell of the white breast, was a distinct scar, dark with a rosy aureole round it, and on her forehead a spot of blood--more than a spot now that she looked at it closely, a trace of something. Was it an inverted horse shoe? or two horns? It was too faint to see. She washed it off; but this was discomposing. The experience must have been real then after all, in spite of the green gown; she must have gone to the kirk and been marked. But then, in what possible gown could she have gone? not the green one, and there was no other that had any trace of wet.

Another possible solution occurred. She might have wounded herself in her sleep somehow, perhaps got up in a dream and scratched herself on a nail. This must clearly be the explanation.

Then she remembered how the stranger had trysted her to meet him at the Wards of Inshoch next Sabbath during kirk time. She must make some excuse to John Gilbert, in spite of his definite command that she should accompany him. She could get up and then pretend to faint, something or other she would do, and send him off alone. She felt now that she could do this without any question, and she would go and meet the stranger. There was an extraordinary hunger in her blood to see him again. Come of it what might, she must see him. The memory of the thrill of that last whisper, when he told her where to come, remained with her yet. But, and this came with a sick feeling of apprehension, what if this too were a dream like all the rest?

No! in spite of every evidence to the contrary, it must be real. Rather all should be real than that there should be any doubt of this tryst. Whether he were man or Devil she cared not, she longed for him with a feverish longing.

She wished very much now that she could go and see Sir Robert Gordon. That wise old man would resolve all her doubts and explain things. But that was clearly impossible. It must be some fifteen or twenty good Scots miles away. There was no means of getting thither, though Sir Robert had so courteously invited her.

Then she remembered Margaret Brodie. Margaret would know if it were dream or reality. She it was who had first told her they would meet at the kirk; she it was who had welcomed her there, who seemed familiar with all the wild mad doings. She had felt Margaret's arm supporting her through all the strange scene. Also, and this was the most vital, Margaret would know something of the stranger; she would be able to tell where he might be found, if indeed he were to be found; but, and here a bit of human nature strongly asserted itself, even to Margaret she would say nothing about that tryst in the Wards of Inshoch. That, if it were indeed aught but a dream, lay between the stranger and herself, and all the wonder and glory, all the romance and the sweetness she imagined to herself for that interview she could not share with anyone whatsoever.

The old shabby gown of faded russet was good enough for this expedition, it was the one in which Margaret had seen her before. But first she would take a look into the byre to see how the sick cows were. The men were all away. None noticed her as she went in. Over the stalls, and over the heads of the two cows, there brooded a sickly, poisonous-looking yellow mist. Through it there looked faintly and hardly to be seen, rather to be imagined, a cruel evil face, a face she did not know.

'Who are you?' she said aloud, for she was startled. 'Ye have no business here, Get ye gone--in the Devil's name!'

It was only a common turn of expression used in those days and often since, and she used it without thinking.

Instantly like a cloud before a wind the yellow mist curled up, writhed and wavered a moment, and disappeared.

She went forward and laid her hand lightly on the head of the nearest cow.

'Poor Whitefoot! Ye are well now, I think.'

Instantly, somehow, she knew that the cows were cured, and she knew that she was able to cure sick beasts, but how it could be she knew not, nor did it trouble her, for it all seemed so supremely natural. It was like moving or speaking, a thing she could do of course; the surprising thing would be if she were not able to do it.

Margaret Brodie stood at her door, pleasant-faced and welcoming. 'I knew ye would come the day, my dearie,' she said, 'or I should have been down at your house to talk with ye when all the folk were away. I think maybe it were not altogether well for ye that I should be seen thereabouts. The people say this and that about my mother. They have nothing against me, though they might have gin they knew everything; but they call me the witch's daughter, and I think they are feared.

'Well, I knew I'd meet ye at the kirk, but I did not know it would be so soon. Come away ben and tell me. To think that he should go himself to seek ye. And most folk have to wait long, and beg and pray, and do all manner of services, and even then perhaps they never see him.'

'Ye know him then, Margaret?'

'What! the Dark Master, as we call him, Ay, my dearie, I know him fine and well. Did not I myself bring ye to him at the kirk.'

'Who is he, Margaret? What is he? Was it all a dream, or was it real? It all seemed so real to me, and you brought me up to him even as ye say. But how did I get home through all that storm last night, and never a drop of wet on me?'

'Oh, that's easy. Look at me a moment.'

Isabel turned round, but Margaret was nowhere to be seen. A laugh sounded up in the air over the cottage roof, she looked up in amazement, and that instant Margaret came round the corner from behind the house.

'What is it? How is it?' gasped Isabel, at a loss for words. 'Are you then--?'

'A witch, ay, dearie, that's what they would say if they knew. But they don't know, and they never will. He can take care of his friends. Ye ask me who he is, and sorrow a bit can I tell ye, Whiles I think he is a man, only great and strong, more than any man ye ever saw. He can take other forms too, or it seems as if he did. He says he is that one whom men call the Devil. My mother says the Devil is black and awful, with horns and fire all about him, and none can touch him, for he is red hot. The Dark Master is not like that. And he is very good to his friends.'

'But tell me, is it all real, or do we just dream it?'

Isabel's mind kept running on some of the romances she had read long ago, the power of the imagination was no new thing to her.

'I've often wondered,' Margaret answered after a pause while she seemed to be thinking what to say. 'We do queer things sometimes. For instance, ye know Maggie Wilson in Aulderne. Well, she has her old man to consider. But she comes with us when we are out for revelling. She just puts a besom in the bed, and the old man thinks it is herself, and never misses her. But whether it is her that's at home, or her that's with us, none knows, or whether she is two women on that night. And she doesn't know. She swears she is with us, and the old man says she is at home. Well, ye ken whiles I have thought it may be the same with the Dark Master. Perhaps he is just a man who has learned many things, and makes us think he is the Devil, as Maggie makes her man think that the besom is her. Or he may indeed be the Devil and makes us think whiles that he is just a man. Or perhaps he isn't there at all, but we just fancy he is. But there, dearie, it's no good wondering. Life is fine, and we are the queens of the country; while he helps us we can do what we will, and the country doesn't know it. So we've only got to hold our tongues, lest they burn us some day, and just enjoy our time while we have it.'

'But ye do things, ye say. How do ye do them?' said Isabel, whose curiosity was now keenly alive. 'Can I do them?'

'Oh, ye'll learn fast enough, no fear. See, lassie, ye are a prime favourite. I never knew the Master take to anyone so sudden like before. He'll teach ye. There's spells, ye ken, words ye have to say. But I doubt the words are not much without he puts his power to them. I mean another person might say them and nothing would happen. Always in rhyme they are; there's something queer about rhyme. I've tried it, and the same words seem to lose their power if ye miss the rhyme.'

'Well, there's something come to me since last night. I seem as if I could understand things I never understood before, and as if I could do anything I wanted to.'

She stopped a moment thinking how far she might confide in Margaret, then she went on to tell about the sick cows, and how she had cured them.

'That's queer,' said Margaret, 'They were bewitched, those cows. But who was it that put the spell on them? I wonder if that was one of my mother's cantrips. Whiles she does things. She is very stupid now. See, mother--och hey!' she called loud and clear, 'Beelzebub calls, the Puddock's loose. Come out, ye auld she-deevil!'

'Would ye speak to your mother like that,' said Isabel; 'are ye no afeared, and she a witch too?'

'Afeared, is it?--and indeed I am not. She's ay sitting glowering ben there in her own den, and thinking naught but mischief. There's naught but hatred left in her. Oh, they're a fearsome lot the gipsy witches, but they have not much power. Just a few things handed down from one to another in families. He will have nothing to do with them. I believe she loved my father, the laird, until he left her for his young wife, and then she hated him. I know she tried to poison him once, and she hated his wife, and hates her now. Ye ken she's married on to Dunbar, the Sheriff, since my father died; and so she hates the Sheriff and all his family, and she hates me because the laird was my father; but she can't hurt me, ye ken, because the Dark Master is o'er strong for her. There's no one she doesn't hate; she just lives on it. Ye ken we're on the Moray's land here; gin it had been Brodie's I wot they'd have putten us out langsyne. Och hey! mother, cannot ye hear me, ye auld faggot!'

There was a stir in the back room, and a scraping of a chair. The door opened cautiously, and the black raven flew out and circled round their heads, settling by the ingle nook. The horrible old woman's face peered out, the bright eyes glowing like coals with concentrated malignity.

'Who calls?' she mumbled through her toothless gums, 'Ye ill tawpie! what for do ye disturb me?'

'See here, ye auld witch, was ye pulling an ill will on John Gilbert's cows?'

'Och hey John Gilbert indeed! What was he to call me an auld witch and set his dogs on me? It'll be worse than that he'll get. It'll not be cows the next time. Eh! but I'll teach him to miscall his betters--me that's been wed by true gipsy law to the laird of Brodie. Curse him for a faithless Georgio! Didn't we leap over the broomstick thegither. Curse them all!'

'Haud your whisht, ye auld deevil! And harken ye now! Ye'll not interfere with John Gilbert, or his family, or aught that is his. I forbid it. See! Now ye ken me, and ye ken full well I mean what I say.'

'Eh! curse ye, daughter of an ill race that ye are! And ay must ye thwart your auld mother. Och hey! Ye must have your will, I suppose. Come away, Nickum.'

The raven rose and flew heavily round, finally settling on the old woman's shoulder, as with a glare of hatred she retreated to her den again.

Strange to say, Isabel felt not the slightest fear of the terrible old woman, only a disgust, and a certain half-conscious longing for the stranger whom Margaret called the Dark Master. If he would but put his arm round her she felt she could face anything.

As if in answer to her thought, Margaret said:

'Ay! Trust in him, lassie, He'll not let any harm come to ye. Gin he were a man, I would say he was in love with ye. I warrant he'll let any of us suffer before ill befalls ye; and whatever he is, ye may ken he is strong. And gin there's anyone that does ye despite, ye can be even with them. Woe to any who shall injure any of our coven, and I say it is most of all so for yourself.'

Isabel's thoughts turned instinctively to the laird of Park, but she said nothing.

'And tell me,' she said, 'if there's one whom ye love. Can ye do good to them?' She was thinking of Jean Gordon.

'That I cannot tell ye. We can lift the spell if any inferior witch has overlooked anyone, as my mother did your cows, or has caused a sickness, and we can get great good for ourselves. But more than this I do not know. Ye see, there's no one for me to love, there's none been particularly kind to me, until I was brought to the Dark Master. Oh no! He never sought for me. But all of our coven have been good to me. But now, mind ye this, lassie, your man will be home tonight, and ye'll find him different. Don't ye be afeared for him.'

A sick dread came over Isabel as she spoke. Gilbert to be home that night, and on Sabbath she was to meet the stranger at the Wards of Inshoch, but John had bidden her to kirk with him. She could not ask Margaret of this. It was a secret between her and the stranger, but how she longed for the time. No, she would not forgo that, whatever chanced. In love with her, Margaret said, and she knew something of the Dark Master. It was more than she dared to dream of. Who was she that she should be thus honoured? Nay! She would not be afeared for John. She felt within herself that she could manage anything now; and if the Dark Master really wanted her at the Wards of Inshoch, he would take care she was able to be there.

Somehow she was happier and more at ease as she walked home, though her doubts had not been resolved, and Margaret Brodie seemingly knew really no more than herself. 'Perhaps he's just a man,' she had said; and Isabel could not hide from herself how much she wanted him to be just a man. 'Gin he were a man, I would say he was in love with ye.' Her heart beat wildly, the earth seemed to sing; what was this that was coming to her at last, a something she had never felt, never dreamed of before. A wonder and a delight beyond all imagining.

The radiance of that dream stayed with her all day; and in the evening Gilbert came back. But in a measure a changed Gilbert, even as Margaret Brodie had said would be the case. Glum and dour as ever. Unkempt, unshaven, and dirty as ever. But he was not now bullying or abusive. He regarded her with a new-born respect, almost it seemed with a sort of awe, as a peasant might look on the lady of the manor who had come into his house on a visit or for shelter. It was a queer attitude that appeared to be forced on him against his will. He was apologetic for his long absence, and for not telling her the time of his return, and he slunk almost shamefacedly out to the byre.

A new feeling altogether was coming on Isabel, a sense of self-confidence to which she had long been a stranger. She was no longer the chattel belonging to a dour old peasant farmer, no longer a poor mouse in a trap with no prospect but gradually to grow older, dropped from sheer weariness into the sods of Aulderne Kirk. She was a person belonging to herself, with life and joy before her, and above all with power to do or undo, to help those who were good to her, to get even with those who insulted or injured her. And all this since her meeting with the stranger, and the weird experience in the kirk of Aulderne. Barely forty-eight hours! He must be a man of extraordinary powers. Was he a man? So much she wanted him to be 'just a man' that she refused to think anything else. A man and a lover. As such she could manage him; she felt no doubt of her power in this respect. He could do wonderful things, and he should do them for her.

She saw herself in fancy teasing, provoking, exciting, exasperating him, cajoling him with smiles and honeyed words till he was her slave, and did whatsoever she desired.

She slept that night, weary but elated; already she saw herself grasping the power so long desired, she saw herself with the Dark Master the secret king and queen of the countryside, swaying the destinies of everyone according to their pleasure. Now at last her dreams had come to her. A life of love and joy and power, a life worth living, after all these weary years of waiting. She would make him king of the world, but she would be the queen, and to her he should be her obedient vassal. So ran her dreams.

Gilbert lay on the settle by the kitchen fire. He seemed not to dare to come near her, nor did she invite him. She dreamed of the Wards of Inshoch.

Next day came Janet Broadhead, full of gossip and tales as usual.

'And have ye heard, Bell, what yon blackguard Hay of Park said of ye?'

'Nay, I have not. No good, I'll warrant. Tell me.'

'He's been telling everyone that ye made shameless love to him, that ye desired him to come to the farm when your good man was away, and that ye wished to visit him at his mansion-house of Park, and when he bade ye to desist for shame, that ye slapped his face; and when he sought to repair the roof of your house, ye flew at him like a wild cat, and told him it was himself ye wanted, and not his money. Oh, it's the fine character he's given ye.'

'Oh, the beast!' said Isabel. 'No matter, I'll be even with him.'

She thought with some pride in her heart how she would tell the Dark Master of the ill doings of Hay of Park, and how he would take up her cause, and avenge her on this man.

'I'll help ye,' said Janet. 'I have a crow to pluck with him too. He came round once to my house at Belmageith, on the same errand, and mind ye, I can do something. My man, that's John Taylor in Belmageith ye ken, he learned me. But I wet ye'll ken far more than me now, for the Dark Master favours yet. He just puts up with me because my man brought me to him.'

Isabel started, she had not thought to hear that Janet too was of the Dark Master's company. Janet continued:

'I trow ye'll be the queen of us all now. Well, I'll help ye, and be proud to do it, and so will my man. We know when we've gotten a good master.'

Something, she knew not quite what, held Isabel back from questioning Janet concerning the stranger. Evidently Janet did not look on him as a man, and Isabel longed so feverishly that he should be a man and a lover that she would run no chance of hearing anything else. Moreover, there seemed a certain disloyalty now in discussing him even with one who was in his company. It was like discussing the character of a king. She was the queen, and would speak of him to no inferiors.

Then as time went on, the very vehemence of her desire that he should be 'just a man' began to produce its reaction and its doubt. Suppose he actually were, as he had said in the kirk at Aulderne, that great one whom men call the Devil. He could be no human lover, nor could she rule him and use his power. On the contrary, he would own her, use her, do what he would with her. She would not belong to herself.

Here was a new consideration--

What if she went to the Wards of Inshoch only to be dominated and enslaved? to change one slavery for another? to take the Dark Master instead of John Gilbert? For one wild moment she said to herself, 'Yes! ten times yes! To lie at his feet for a mat for him to walk on, to be trampled and beaten by him, to be killed if he desired to kill me. I want nothing better than to lose all my being in him.'

Then in a calmer, saner mood she thought, 'No, I will not go. If he is the great being he pretends, and that they seem to say, he will come and find me anyhow. No! I will see if he comes.' But no sooner had she made this resolve than she repented. What if she were throwing away the one chance that might never come again? Sir Robert Gordon had said that fear was failure; he told her to dare, when her chance came to be brave and take it. And, after all, she had promised to go, and what could harm her, she would soon see if he were a man. If he were, then she could manage him; she was quite confident of her power so far. If he were not, well! she would know what to do then. If she had denied one baptism of the Kirk, she could equally deny the other one at the midnight ceremony. He could not hold her to that. So on the whole it was clearly right to go. And how much her own half-acknowledged fierce desire to go, her own wild longing for the stranger, underlay her reasonings with herself, none can tell. She was unconscious of this, save to the extent of a profound satisfaction when she reached the conclusion.

The Sabbath morning was clear and calm. The firth sparkled blue and silver under the autumn sun, and the western end of the old bar looked strange and bare denuded of the great sandhills that had been emptied on to the farm of Culben.

Isabel lingered over her dressing, she had taken a bannock and a glass of milk before she got up, she was doing all she could to put off the time. Planning what she should say when John Gilbert called her to go to kirk. She heard him moving about in the kitchen, then she heard him tramp to the door, go out, and close it behind him. She heard his heavy step on the road outside, and peered through the blind. Yes, there was no doubt he was taking the road to kirk alone. He had his rusty black coat, and his great Bible, and the clean handkerchief he always placed on the top of it, and even the sprig of southernwood, which was part of his ritual.

She panted with eagerness and apprehension. Was the story so elaborately prepared not to be needed, all the subterfuges to be superfluous? So it seemed; she trembled with anxiety so that she could hardly lace the bodice of her gown. A green gown and bodice laced with gold, with a black hood trimmed with lace. She found it in the old kist. She had not known she had it. But it seemed suiting the occasion; she must look her best for the Dark Master. As she sallied forth, there was no soul about, man and maid all were gone to the kirk. One moment she thought with a sinking of dismay, how should she get rid of her finery on her return? all would be then returning or back. Could she frame some excuse and stay out till it was dark, and all were in bed? Should she even now steal back, and carry the old homespun dress, and hide it in a wood somewhere, and change into it after she left the Dark Master? Would she ever leave him? Would she return to the farm of Lochloy ever again? No, she must now trust to chance. Not five minutes would she waste of the time she might perhaps have with him.

On she sped southward away towards Inshoch, till the ruins of the old castle rose before her. Well as her own farm almost she knew that grey ruin. Often she had sat there and dreamed of the past, and of the knights and ladies who might have lived there. None of them all with such a romance as hers. But today it looked curiously unfamiliar. Almost it seemed an inhabited house, yet it was the same ruin. And in the doorway stood the stranger with doffed bonnet and deferential air of welcome.

'Ye have come,' he said, 'I thank ye, Mistress. 'Tis good of ye to put such trust in an unknown poor scholar. I grieve indeed that I have here no worthier place wherein to bid ye welcome.'

'I would come anywhere to meet you. Ye have been strangely kind to me.' She spoke instinctively, and as it were without her will.

'Again I thank ye. And I will prove my thanks. I have heard, no matter how, that there is a man who hath dared speak slightingly of ye, whose shoe-lace he is not fit to tie. I have, as I told ye, a little power from my studies, and I will deliver him into your hands, to do with him whatsoever ye will.'

'But tell me. Ye speak thus. Are ye truly a man as ye seem, or what are ye?'

'Ay, sweetheart! Truly a man, and a man to love ye, for of a sooth never have I seen woman worthier to be loved. Dost doubt me?'

His arm was round her, as he drew her gently through the door into the courtyard of the ruin.

'Nay, I doubt ye not. But ye are so strong, so great. Ye are too great almost for man.'

'Not too great to be thy humble slave, All the greatness that the greatest of us men can achieve is nothing to the magic of a beautiful woman; and you are beautiful, sweetheart! And if I am strong, it is but to provide a setting worthy of so rich a jewel.'

He drew her towards a rich bed of golden brackens in the corner of the courtyard.

'Still art thou timid, sweetheart! Nay, I love thee all the more. See, I am but a man, humble to thee. Thou art my queen! Let me but worship thee!'

With his left hand he swept back the hood from her head, and stroked the rich, luxuriant hair that, loosened from the snood she had once more put on, flowed wildly over the green bodice. With a gentle pressure he turned her head upwards towards him, and gazed into the great dark eyes. She looked into his piercingly bright ones, and it seemed as though all will gradually oozed away from her, and therewith all memory and consciousness of everything save only herself and him; the past and the future were gone, non-existent; the castle itself was gone.

They were in some great hall with trophies and splendid ornaments, and in one corner was a heap of wondrous cushions, spread with Oriental robes and silken coverings of orange and scarlet and amber. And all the time those marvellous eyes were searching hers, and it seemed as if the whole of his being were dominating 'her, till she knew and desired nothing else in all the earth. Her head lay on his shoulder, her face upturned to his as she received his long, sweet, shuddering kiss on her lips, and closed her eyes in an ecstasy of bliss. Then he drew her to the corner, to the pile of cushions that made a sort of divan, and it seemed to her as though all material things melted and dissolved. She was floating in a golden haze, without sense, without volition. Then consciousness itself faded, and she knew no more.

A cold breeze on her forehead roused her, and she opened her eyes slowly. She felt some hard, rough substance under her arms. She looked out on the familiar Sutors of Cromarty. She was leaning over a wall beside a gate on the road from Aulderne to Lochloy. She had been asleep then. But how she came there she had no knowledge at all, she had no recollection of walking out. She had had a headache, and had not gone to the kirk. She must have wandered out in her sleep, and just wakened here. As she wondered, she heard voices. The folk were coming back from the kirk. She stood beside the gate, and several passed by twos and threes. Then John Gilbert came along, walking alone. Moved by some sudden impulse, she stepped out into the road and walked along beside him, thinking to tell him that her headache was better and she had come out to take the air, and to meet him. Then he turned round and said:

'Was not that a fine discourse we had the day from Mr. Forbes? Indeed, I am right glad ye were there.'


Chapter Five. The Sickness of the Laird of Park's Son

IN looking over my great-great-great-grandfather's papers, and other records of the time, I find frequent references to a strange sickness that attacked many persons, with no ostensible cause, somewhat of the kind that we should now term an epidemic. Mr. Patrick's father, the worthy Robert Innes, who was a distinguished chirurgeon of Aberdeen, gave it a learned name, compounded of equal parts of Greek and Latin, but he had to confess his inability to cure it. The common people called it 'the wasting sickness'.

True to the traditions of his cloth, Mr. Patrick ascribed it to the direct malice of the Devil, allowed to vex the elect on account of the decay of faith and the disloyalty of the people of Scotland to the purity and doctrines of the Reformed Kirk; and it seems that the Catholic priest of Dufftown, who with his tiny congregation had by some curious inadvertence been entirely forgotten and passed over by the godly reformers, and continued to say his Mass continually without molestation, while agreeing with Mr. Patrick as to the agency of the Devil, ascribed his power to hurt to the spread of the doctrines of that very Reformed Kirk. Whereas, said Sir Robert Gordon, the Devil may have laughed in his sleeve at them both.

But whatever may have been the cause, there is no doubt that the sickness was greatly dreaded among the common folk, and indeed among the gentry also, for it spared no class, and was nearly always fatal.

Isabel Goudie, looking back towards the old castle, which now seemed to her almost like a holy place, where a new life had dawned for her, a life of joy and of power, of love and gladness, where a lover had come to her such as surely mortal woman had never known before, saw some boys running towards the castle, the foremost of them being the eldest son of the laird of Park. She heard their shouts and their talk, and her hatred of the family blazed strong in her brain.

'To-morrow I'll climb that old wall,' cried young Hay.

'Ye daur na,' said one of his companions.

'Ay, but I daur, and I'll fling down some of the stones, and scare the bats and the owls, I warrant ye!'

Isabel felt a bitter resentment, much as a papist might feel hearing a sacrilegious proposal to desecrate the altar. That place had been consecrated by that wonderful meeting with the Dark Master. It was intolerable that riotous boys should destroy the beautiful associations and trample on her romance. Above all, such a boy as that.

'May he never have male issue to come after him!'

She recalled the wish so often uttered. Her brain was boiling with indignation. As she could love, so she could hate, with an intensity and concentration that carried her away in a resistless tide.

'Oh, may the wasting sickness seize him,' she muttered, and instantly she was calm, the paroxysm of anger had passed.

Gilbert at her side knew nothing of it, but continued to speak slowly and heavily of the sermon, of the folk who had been at the kirk, and, regretfully, of the small amount in the plate.

She scarcely heeded, her mind was going back over all the incidents of her meeting with the Dark Master in the ruined castle. It was not ruined though; it was a splendid hall, not even the Earl of Moray in his fine castle of Darnaway had such a hall; and how she and the Master had lain there in each other's arms on a couch of Oriental magnificence. This was her destiny, her rightful position. Only she grieved that she had lost consciousness; she had floated away in a delicious dream, but she had missed some moments, some hours mayhap, of that wonderful time, every moment of which was precious to her.

He had praised her green gown, he had admired the way her hair lay on it, and he had stroked her hair with that thrilling touch of his.

Stay! What of that gown? How in the world had Gilbert not asked about it? How could he tolerate her going abroad in such finery, as he so often condemned, and would never permit her to wear?

She looked down in apprehension, which turned to amazed wonder, for she had on the old homespun gown, and laying her hand on her bosom she could feel the little gold crucifix sewn therein.

Had she then dreamed all that meeting in the Wards of Inshoch? No, ten thousand times! If that were a dream, then perish all earthly things. There was nothing in all the world worth living for. Sooner than give over that one experience, as an actual palpable reality, she would give herself and her soul's salvation. Yea! let everything else be a lie, but let that one thing be true.

That afternoon, as is usual with most God-fearing members of the Kirk, on the Sabbath, John Gilbert spread himself on the settle by the kitchen fire and slept audibly. Isabel walked out to the edge of the dreary loch, and looked across the still waters to the firth and the distant shores of Cromarty and Sutherland, lying very clear and defined in softest tones of grey and blue and pearl under the declining sun. But it was no longer dreary to her; on the contrary, it was irradiated with a magic light. Romance had come to her at last, and the fulfilment of her dreams.

For one fleeting moment the memory of marriage vows recurred to her, only to be instantly dismissed. The Church wherein she was brought up would acknowledge none such; in the eyes of the priest at Dufftown her marriage was no marriage at all. What mattered it what the Kirk might say? She had renounced her baptism therein, she was no longer a member of that Kirk. But with her baptism in the Catholic Church the Dark Master himself said he had nothing to do.

Then had John Gilbert ever been a husband to her? She was but his chattel bought and sold. Nay, she would not be a chattel; she refused to be bought. She belonged to herself. No human being can be bought thus in free Scotland; belonging to herself, she gave herself willingly, gladly, to a lover worthy of her.

All of which, it must be admitted, was a very specious argument, though untenable. But her heart went with it, and her heart was a most powerful advocate, whose success she desired.

All the same, mysteries surrounded her. What was real and what was dream or fancy? She could not disentangle the events. She had seemed to be perfectly solidly in the kirk at Aulderne, and there had been an actual material storm, yet she had come home without a speck of mud or wet. She had not the slightest doubt that she was bodily in the old castle at Inshoch, when she met the Dark Master that very morning in a green gown (which, by the way, she had not known she possessed) and a black hood; yet she had come home in the old homespun dress without the smallest chance of changing. If some things were dream others were real, and there was no distinguishing which was which.

Yet the very uncertainty seemed to add to the fascination of the position. If it was a puzzle it was a delightful one. She and her lover would solve it together. Her lover! Dare she call him so, even to her inmost heart. It was a wild, delicious thrill to use that term, at any rate. She would not forgo that. Her lover! her lover! She repeated the words with a glad reiteration of pride.

Awhile she wandered along the banks of the loch, then she turned and went in.

Strange dreams came to her that night.

She was by the kirk of Aulderne, just within the kirkyard wall; some women were in the kirkyard. At least she thought they were women by their dress, but they were very dimly seen, and who they were she could not determine. Vague, shadowy figures they were.

At one corner of the kirkyard the brown earth was heaped over a newly made grave; round this the spectral figures gathered. She seemed to remember that an unchristened child had been buried there. The figures began to dig the newly turned earth. She watched, horrified but fascinated. She knew in her dream that they would disinter the child's body. Something of this she had read.

Presently one of the spectres, leaping down into the grave, lifted out the little coffin, and the others, gathering round, seemed to prise off the coffin lid.

As usually chances in a dream, all sense of right and wrong, all sense of horror or disgust, seemed to have left her. The most unnatural and abominable things seemed unaccountably natural and of course. She tried to see, but the crowding phantoms prevented her. Yet by a strange instinct in her dream she knew what they were doing. They were cutting the heart out of the little body and then replacing it in the coffin, which was lowered again into the grave and covered up. Meantime the heart was placed in an earthenware vessel, and the evil congregation separated hither and thither, some seemingly collecting various grasses and herbs, others bringing earth from different places. She could now see more clearly how two foul and evil-looking women bent over the vessel that held the heart of the child; one of them clipping locks of her own grizzled and matted hair, which she snipped up into little pieces, while the other pared her nails and scattered the parings into the vessel. The others now returned with the things they had collected and threw them all into the pot, and two commenced to pound the contents with heavy sticks, the whole company chanting a kind of dirge that sounded more like the baying of dogs than anything human.

Then a rush of darkness swept over everything, a suffocating cloud in which she gasped for breath. The nightmare oppression passed and she did not wake. Now she was near to the Wards of Inshoch. A gate gave access to the castle ruins, and on this sat a raven. An evil-looking old woman, dirty and dishevelled, whose eyes blazed like flames, hobbled up to it, carrying the same earthenware vessel she had seen before. Twice, thrice she essayed to pass the gate, but it seemed as though she were driven back by some strong force. Muttering curses she thrust her hand in the vessel, and smeared some of its contents on the gate.

'Woe unto him who first touches this gate, she said; then she chanted:

'With hurt and hate

I charm this gate

He shall not sleep or soon or late.'

Then the howling dirge began again. But this time it was the howling of a dog strayed on the moor.

Isabel woke, still hearing the dog. She remembered Margaret Brodie's account of the rhyming spells. Then she thought of the castle of Inshoch. What could that villainous old woman have to do with that place of delicious memories? Then she remembered that the old woman could not enter. So, then, the place was guarded. Her lover was as careful as she herself would be to preserve it from contamination. But the gate was fatal: who would enter there first? she wondered sleepily. Then recollection came. Young Hay of Park. He was to be slain. She had willed it, but she had not willed these loathsome hags. What could such as they have to do with her, or with the Dark Master? She thought of the scene in the kirkyard she had dreamed of--horrible, repulsive beyond measure. Still curiosity stung her. It was but a dream, but she did wish she could have seen more. It was not real, so there was no harm in wishing to see more. It was but like reading a book of horrors that gives one a not unpleasant thrill, and one rather resents the mitigation of its gruesomeness.

So she fell asleep. But she dreamed no more that night.

The tale must shift here to the mansion-house of Park, a pleasant, sunny house built in the old Scottish style, with white harled walls and corby steps, a round tower set in one corner, and the front door looking as though it were jammed in at the angle made by the tower and the wall. Stately old trees stood round it. A bright room on the first floor looked out through the small panes of its two windows to the blue waters of the firth and the hills beyond.

A gentle-faced woman with a weary, sad expression gazed out of the window, and walked restlessly up and down, then returned to look out again.

'Will the leech not come?' she said.

The laird of Lochloy and Park fidgeted in his deep armchair; his face was flushed, his coat unbuttoned, waistcoat and trunks loose and ungirt, and his ruffed shirt had a wine stain on it and marks of spilled snuff.

'Why all this steer?' he muttered impatiently, and somewhat thickly.

'I tell ye, David, the bairn is sick, he is very sick; and I would to the Lord the leech would hasten, for I know not what ails him.'

'Well, well! Woman's fancies! 'Tis but some trifling childish ill. The bairn was well enough this morn when he went forth.'

'Ay, I know that fine. He went to play in the Wards of Inshoch, with his school-mates. But no sooner had he touched the gate that leads into the old castle (he had run on before them all as he is ever wont to do) than he fell in a faint; and they carried him away till they met a cart returning this way, and they put him therein, and so they brought him home; and now he is hot, burning with fever, yet with a cold sweat over him, and ever he moans and cries of some terrible thing he sees.'

'Oh, David! I tell ye it was a wicked thing ye did when ye counselled the Earl of Moray to put out the folk from that cottage of his. They say the old woman is a gipsy and a witch, and I fear she hath overlooked our bairn.'

'Nay, an' she be a witch I'll see to it that she be worried at the stake. But I think 'tis all nonsense, a silly superstition, and ye know they are a constant annoyance to my Lord Brodie, for the old woman declares she was his father's mistress, boasts of it, and says that he deserted her. The Earl will not put them out, though indeed I urged him so to do for his own peace of mind. But he cares not. An' the old woman be a witch, she shall be burned. But I believe not in such nonsense myself.'

'Sure it is wiser to let them alone, David. Leave the Kirk and the Courts to manage what is their business. If these people be truly of the power they say, let us not bring their curses on us. Heaven knows we have trouble enough of our own. And if they be innocent and deluded, or a mark for the spite of others, it were a cruel thing to burn or torture them, and would surely bring God's curse on the shedders of innocent blood.'

'Ay! woman's reason! I tell ye, mistress, ye know naught of these matters. Leave them to men. Go ye and attend to your household. There lies your business. Look you, there comes your leech. He will assure ye. The bairn has but a stomach-ache from over many green apples. Get ye to your own department, and leave me to mine.'

He rose heavily and a trifle unsteadily, shook off the snuff from his shirt front and laced his trunks and waistcoat, and walked out, calling for his man to order round his sorrel nag.

Mistress Hay of Park and Lochloy hurried to meet the leech and take him to the sick boy's chamber, whence presently they emerged, grave but somewhat reassured.

'At present, madam, I can tell ye but little. I am thankful that this is not, so far as I can tell just now, what we know as "the wasting sickness," and is more like to some poison in the blood from some unknown cause. Now that I have let blood freely, I will send you some conserve of lilies with snake-root and other ingredients, and I trust that soon there may be a good recovery. I shall call again shortly. Madam, I have the honour to wish you good day.'

Half way down the avenue he met Mr. Harry Forbes.

'I hear the young laird hath been smitten of a sore sickness,' said the latter. 'I go now to try, by my prayers, to counter the wiles and malice of Satan, for in truth he has been very busy among us of late.'

'Ye may pray as ye like, minister,' said the doctor, who was something of an unbeliever, 'and the young laird will get well, yet in truth it is my blood-letting that's to thank. That and my conserve of lilies, whereof I alone have the secret, and which is a specific. And it was fortunate the good lady of Park sent for me when she did. In two hours it might have been too late.'

'Ay! use ye your skill, Sir Leech. We have warrant in Holy Writ for the employment of a physician, but beware lest ye blaspheme. These sicknesses, I tell ye, come from the Devil, and it is through his servants who practise the abominable and wicked crime of witchcraft or sorcerie, against the divine law of Almighty God, that he is able thus to vex the elect. The which practices, by the laws of God, and also by divers Acts of the Parliament of this realm, are declared worthy of death. And well ye know that within the bounds of the Forest of Darnaway there dwells a notorious witch, at one time joined in sin unto the father of the Lord Brodie, a godly man; but for this sin she hath never repented, nor been put to penance in the kirk. But because the laird of Park hath urged the Earl to remove her, which notwithstanding he has not done, she hath been heard to threaten him with her evil sorcerie. Now, there ye have the cause of this sickness. But indeed I trust the power of the Holy Kirk of the Reformed faith may be able to defeat the malice of the Devil.'

The doctor fidgeted with much impatience during this harangue.

'Ay! pray as ye list, minister. But I'd have ye to know that this is but a certain humour of the blood, engendered betwixt the hot and dry natures, during the waning of the moon, and in the opposition of Mars unto Mercury, and hath little to do with such superstition and vain device as ye speak of. And ye know well that witchcraft cannot be accomplished but by characters, signs, crosses, poisoned waters, ashes, oils, figures, pictures, herbs, roots, or other matters, whereof there is no appearance here. Therefore ye are greatly superstitious. But by natural means, and the employment of science, shall this sickness be banished; and so fare ye well.'

Mr. Patrick Innes, being himself a godly minister of the Word, and also the son as hath been said of a distinguished chirurgeon, records the disputes that frequently fell out betwixt these two worthy men, and hath a certain sympathy with them both. Yet well he knew that Mr. Harry Forbes was right in ascribing these troubles to the agency of the Devil, whereof indeed there was a certain proof thereafter, as shall be more particularly shown.

And this tale of the sickness of the laird's son spread quickly through the district, so that news of it was brought before noon to the farm of Lochloy, and told to Mistress Isabel Goudie by one of the farm wenches. The memory of her dream of the past night came back on her vividly. Could it then be that her wish had borne fruit thus suddenly? But this was no action of hers. Nor, as she thought, had it aught to do with the Dark Master. She must seek Margaret Brodie and get some certainty of these things.

She wished greatly that she knew how she might communicate with the Dark Master himself. If he were truly her lover, as she hoped and believed, and if he were to give her the power he had promised, he would not leave the vengeance she desired to be accomplished by other means, nor would he entrust it to the hands of such an evil hag as she had seen at the gate, who could not even enter into that enclosure so full of sweet memories secret between herself and him.

'Nay, lassie!' said Margaret as they sat together beside her fire, 'this is just one of my mother's cantrips. Ill faur the auld deevil! She would bring destruction on us all, but for the Master's aid. Often I've warned her to have naught to do with her cursed gipsy sorcerie. Ye shall learn in good time how to put "the wasting sickness" on any, and all of our coven will aid ye therein. Ye shall draw down the moon from heaven, and the paste that ye shall make shall be of power to do what ye will. Therewith can ye rule all men in the power of the Dark Master. But my mother, with her foul gipsy spells, hath but little power; she cannot give death, however she may boast, but only a sickness, and the bairn will recover this time. Yet if ye desire to destroy the male offspring of the laird of Park, I say ye have good cause to do so, and it will be easy for ye. So haud ye a still tongue. We are on the Moray's land here, and the Earl will not put us off, for good reason. Moreover, there is right good wine within the cellars of Darnaway, the which we will taste ere many days be past, and a prime venison pasty withal.'

'But, tell me, Margaret! How may I meet with him? If indeed I be, as ye say, a favourite with him, he will not leave me without some means of calling to him when I am in need.'

'Nay, dearie! Fear ye not that. But I may not tell ye. He will teach ye himself the words of power. He is good to us, and well I wot that ye are now the queen of the coven.'

She rose from the settle where she sat, and, crossing over, laid a hand on Isabel's head, grasping both her hands in the other hand. A delicious languor seemed to steal over her.

'Listen!' said Margaret.

Far away through the woods there came the sound of steady footsteps.

'The Dark Master is walking through the woods,' she said again. 'He communes with the trees and the streams. Listen now again.'

There was a rushing sound in the air, the leaves and branches rattled and pattered.

''Tis the spirits that do his bidding. The spirits that serve us at our covens. Oh, lassie! 'tis the rare sport we have! Ye know not what it is to live yet. But ye shall, ye shall! Hey, then! The hunt is up! The hunt is up! Hark to them!'

It sounded like the tramp of galloping horses overhead; wild cries seemed blended with the hoof-strokes. Isabel strained her ears. She heard over and over again the cry of 'Horse and hattock! Horse and hattock!'

Her pulses throbbed madly. Oh, to be out with them! the wild chase, the mad exhilaration! This were something to live for.

'Horse and hattock! Horse and hattock!'

She fancied herself on horseback, remembering the days when as a young girl she was a daring rider. But now on a great black steed rushing through the air, with the Dark Master beside her. The deer fled before them. A great stag was close before the plunging horses. Her breath came fast, her eyes shone with a wild light. The spirit of the chase was on her, she longed for the kill. The stag fell before the spear of the Dark Master, but the knife to gralloch him was in her hand.

Then Margaret let her hand drop, and in an instant all vanished.

'Ye see, dearie! he's not far off.'

Isabel opened her eyes with a sigh.

'Eh, Margaret! What a time! Sure there's life somewhere; I deemed it was all grey and dreary.'

'Nay, my lassie! not when ye have learned to know him. But think ye no more of yon dream of yours. 'Twas but one of my mother's cantrips, and anyway he asks ye not to join in anything ye like not. For me, I mind not a corpse here and there. It interests me to see more of them than ever I saw before, to see how they're made; and there's queer power about them too. But I ken there's some that likes them not, and there's some that's afeared of them. And he asks of none what they like not.'

New ideas were thronging on Isabel as she walked home. The memories of love in the old castle on the Wards of Inshoch were a very precious secret shrine in her mind; but now there was also the dream of the wild mad gallop, the hunting of the stag, the rush of glorious excitement. Was that ever to be realised? Life was beginning to open out into marvellous vistas.

Even the scene of her dream in the kirkyard of Aulderne had almost ceased to be horrible; almost she wished she had seen more. She felt like a schoolboy who, gloating over a story of ghastly horrors, resents the omission of any detail.

She slept that night calm and dreamless, yet with a thrill of anticipation that the wonders of life were only just beginning.


Chapter Six. The Escape of Cosmo Hamilton

ONCE again the scene of the tale must shift--and this time to the city of Elgin. Sir Robert Gordon writes: 'This poor desolate town hath suffered greatly, insomuch that a very little more will put them clean out of breath.' In the times of confusion the town was sometimes in the hands of Covenanters, and at others of the Royalists, and was plundered and burnt by both sides impartially. Only some ten years since the Marquis of Montrose had fought a great battle at Aulderne, and defeated the Covenanters, whose bones John Gilbert frequently turned up in ploughing his farm lands. Montrose had come on to Elgin to supper on the following Sunday evening, and before he left on the next Wednesday had burnt and plundered half the town. Before two years had passed two threatened attacks, by Lord Aboyne and by Lord Lewis Gordon, were averted by the personal influence, and possibly other powers, exerted by Sir Robert Gordon.

After the battle of Dunbar, and the final extinction for the time being of the Royalist hopes at Worcester, Scotland was under the firm government of General Monk and his army, who, although taking his orders from Cromwell in London, still cherished hopes, afterwards realised, of a Restoration. Of this, however, at the time no one dreamed. But Elgin was in a curious state of unrest. Many of the old families had remained Royalist, and among them there were still some who secretly but firmly stood steadfast to the old Catholic faith, but the mass of the citizens were vehemently attached to the Covenanters; and there were also quartered there a body of English troops, vehement Covenanters all of them, but, being English, they hated, and were hated by, the good folk of Elgin. The Burgh Records are full of accounts of brawls in the streets, of attacks by night on the houses of peaceful citizens, of plunder and burning.

On an autumn day, soon after the events last recorded, down the brae to the north-east of the great Cathedral was heard a wild tramp of horses and a rattle of wheels as a heavy family coach with four magnificent black horses came at full gallop down the hill, swerving round the turn as they came in sight of the towers and spire of 'the lanthorn of the North', as the beautiful church was fondly called. Beautiful still it is, though falling sadly to decay.

There was no mistaking Sir Robert Gordon's equipage. The four splendid coal-black horses, generally driven at a gallop, were frequently to be seen thundering through the streets. In the chariot were Sir Robert himself and the Lady Mary Gordon, and opposite to them the fair Jean Gordon, looking now radiantly happy, for beside her was young Cosmo Hamilton, her fiancé in spite of Covenanters, and Governments, and political intrigues.

Sadly they noted the ruin of the Cathedral, for the choir was roofless for twenty years, since the great storm had blown down the rafters, and a fanatical mob, headed by the minister and the laird of Brodie, had torn down the beautiful wooden partition, whose glowing colours, in spite of exposure to the weather, were as fresh as when newly painted. A number of the Covenanting soldiers were amusing themselves--some with muskets and hackbuts, others hurling big stones--with breaking the delicate tracery of the great west window, shouts of laughter and applause greeting the fall of each piece of exquisitely carved work. Many of the citizens, in spite of their adherence to the Reformed faith, were yet proud of the once magnificent building, and they stood by and silently but heartily cursed the English.

Sir Robert was feared by many, being more than suspected of dealings with the Devil, and was disliked by most on account of his known Royalist proclivities. But the town on more than one occasion had had to thank him for their deliverance from threatened plunder or burning, and they knew well that they might very probably have to appeal to him again. He was too powerful a personage to offend. Moreover, his father, the great Earl of Sutherland, had joined the true Protestant Kirk of Scotland; and together it behoved them to put their feelings in their pouches, and be civil to the Wizard Laird, as they called him behind his back.

So the chariot and the black horses rattled up the main street, and drew up in front of a house on the north side with a round tower and three round arches supported by squat pillars. Under one of these stood a sailor in the uniform of the English Navy, who saluted and came forward to open the door of the chariot. The citizens gave a languid attention. Sir Robert's interest in the Navy was well known, and not unnaturally it was surmised that some new move was intended. However, the sailor preceded the ladies and young Hamilton into the house, while the baronet remained below, and shortly afterwards might have been seen on the opposite side of the street, talking earnestly with a man dressed in grey clothes, with a dark blue Scotch bonnet.

The three others, with the sailor, entered the house, and climbed the narrow winding stair in the round tower up to the topmost floor. Here in a tiny landing the sailor, begging to be excused, disappeared for a moment, and almost immediately returned dressed in a cassock and biretta of a priest of the Catholic Church. Reverently the three knelt before him. 'Father Blackhall, give us your blessing,' said Lady Mary. 'These young people, hoping soon to be joined in holy matrimony, come here now to entreat God's blessing in the holy Mass, whereat for six months now they have had no opportunity to be present. And hearing of your presence at Gordon Castle, they have begged of you that you would come hither. We thank you that you have granted our request.'

'I bless ye all,' said the priest, raising his hands in the sign of the cross over their bowed heads. 'Ye have well done; would to God there were more as steadfast to our holy faith in these times of trouble. Yet the Lord has been wonderfully gracious to me, for my disguise hath not been penetrated, and none have guessed that Will Marley the English sailor was none other than that poor Father Blackhall whom they have sought early and late to cast him, as they say, into the hell made for papists. But come within--Cosmo, my son, you shall serve.'

He unlocked a door leading from the little landing, admitting them to a room apparently containing only some old trunks and boxes, but a few dexterous movements of the priest rapidly transformed these to an impromptu altar and reredos, the priest's vestments came from another box and the other necessary furniture from yet a third, and the ladies knelt while Father Blackhall recited the sacred words of the Mass, and young Hamilton reverently served.

The final words of the Mass were said, the blessing was pronounced, and rapidly as it had been transmogrified the room was restored to its former aspect of a lumber room. Father Blackhall, passing into what had once been a tiny bed cupboard, now serving as an extemporary vestry, reappeared as Will Marley the English sailor, and the four descended to a comfortable sitting-room on the first floor to wait for Sir Robert, who had promised to call for them. Jean and Cosmo stood together in earnest lovers' conversation before the fire, while Lady Mary and Father Blackhall tactfully found considerable interest in watching Sir Robert's chariot and black horses in the street below waiting for their return, and Lady Mary heard somewhat of Father Blackhall's adventures. These, as narrated by himself with much humour under the title of 'A Breiffe Narration of the Services Done to Three Noble Ladies' by Gilbert Blakhal, may yet be read by the curious.

So entertained was the Lady Mary with the good priest's stories, that the time went by unheeded, and the lovers talked without interruption. When suddenly Lady Mary saw Sir Robert hurriedly cross the street, followed closely by his groom, whose office was to ride one of the black horses. As he crossed, he looked anxiously right and left, up and down the street.

He looked troubled as he entered the room.

'We have been betrayed,' he said, 'Some cur of Cromwell's breed hath denounced our young friend there. They have marked the house, and the Sheriff's officers will be here directly, reinforced by a detachment of those blackguard English soldiers whom they have drawn off from their godly exercise of destroying beautiful things for God's glory. They are at present all round this house, before and behind. Not a mouse could escape.'

The young soldier laid his hand on his sword, and stood forward.

'At least they shall not take me alive.'

But Sir Robert held up a restraining hand.

'Tut, tut, boy! Not so impetuous! There are a troop of them--they would kill you almost ere ye could draw, and what service were a dead hero our dear Jean there. Nay! go ye must, and we must think of some means to get ye loose again.'

'Oh, help us, uncle,' she cried. 'Don't let him be taken. Those cursed Covenanters. They let none go free whom they once take. Smuggle him away somewhere, or 'twill be Tower Hill and a short shrift.'

'The Chapel!' muttered Father Blackhall. 'No! they search too shrewdly. It would but bring all our necks in peril, and there would be none left to aid the boy.'

'Ye can do something, cousin!' said Lady Mary. 'I know they call you the Wizard Laird. An ye have any power, now is the time to show it.'

'Ay!' cried Jean. 'That's it, ye have wondrous powers, uncle. Invoke the Devil, or whomever ye will, I care not. An the Devil can help, I'll welcome him. Only let not Cosmo be taken.'

'What's all this steer?' said Cosmo firmly. 'What! Cannot a soldier face danger? I have been taken prisoner before, ay, and condemned to death too, and here I am. 'Tis but one of our usual chances. Cheer thee, sweet love. We shall laugh over this yet.'

'Ye must not mistake me,' said Sir Robert. 'I have been a student all my life, and have learned many of the secrets of nature, and nature's forces. But these are not in place here. Nathless, I have some political power. And I may be able to do somewhat. Only here resistance is futile, and would but endager us all, and prevent our doing aught.'

'Sir Robert is right, said the priest. 'We cannot resist. So we must e'en acquiesce with a good grace, and then do all we can afterwards.'

At this moment there came a startling knock at the door, and a stern voice outside demanded:

'Entrance in the name of the Commonwealth!'

Sir Robert signed to his groom, who threw open the door, and stepped back in obedience to his master's gesture to the fireplace, where he stood beside young Cosmo.

'And now, sirs,' said the baronet, 'what means this uncivil entry on a peaceful family party, resting themselves ere they return to my poor house of Gordonstown?'

Three or four sheriff's officers stood somewhat shamefacedly at the door.

'Save ye, Sir Robert Gordon,' said the one who appeared to be their leader. 'The Lord knows I would not willingly offend your lordship. But my orders are imperative. I have to arrest yon young springald, and well ye know my Lord Commissioners take no excuse. If I fail in my duty, it's like my head will pay the forfeit.'

'And on what charge?'

'That of popish recusancy and idolatry, and conspiring against the true religion.'

'Who knows what is true?' said Sir Robert. 'It is but a pretended charge to cover some political intrigue. But I wot ye know naught of this, my good fellow, and ye must do your errand. Whose commission do ye hold to come here and arrest my friend?'

'Marry! I know not who hath rule here now. But my commission on this arrest is from the Lords Commissioners of the Commonwealth.'

'Ay! An English commission, and I trow of small authority in this realm. Nathless, ye must proceed, since there is no remedy, and take your prisoner.'

The men advanced, and closed round young Hamilton, Sir Robert went up to his groom, and took him by the arm.

'See,' he said. 'Tarry not one instant, Get ye down and into my chariot; ride not, but get inside. Bid the coachman drive and spare not horseflesh, but gallop with all speed he may to Gordon Castle, Take this paper; open it when ye are clear of the town of Elgin; ye will find therein what ye must say to my Lord Duke. Then, if he shall so bid ye, get ye down to the sea, and make all speed to whatsoever port he may tell ye--London or France or wheresoever he shall say--and let me hear of your errand. Begone!'

A faint cry behind took his attention as the groom hurriedly left. Jean had fallen in a faint to the floor. While the men were removing their prisoner, Sir Robert and Lady Mary were busied in administering simple remedies, and before long she was sufficiently recovered to sit up.

'Now,' said Sir Robert, 'in the meantime we can do naught in this grievous matter. But our young friend will be lodged in the jail. We will go across and see him, and bid him be of good cheer; and we will await the success of my message to my Lord Duke. I have good hopes.'

There was a humorous twinkle in his eye as he spoke, as of one who knows more than he says.

The jail of Elgin was then situated in the midst of the High Street, where the fountain now stands, and almost opposite to the house where they were.

'Will Marley shall go with us,' said Sir Robert. 'I have much faith in the navy; it will be a mighty power yet. Maybe he will administer some spiritual comfort to the poor prisoner.'

As they crossed the street, the man in grey with whom Sir Robert had been seen to speak previously approached, and said a word or two in an undertone. Jean's quick ear caught the name of Isabel Goudie, and she wondered dully why they should speak of another person in the face of so monstrous a calamity. Sir Robert seemed to assent, and the party entered the precincts of the jail, where the baronet made inquiry for the Provost. He was in his private room to the right of the entrance, and stood up as they entered.

'Welcome, my Lord of Gordonstown,' he said. 'As it chanced, I was at this moment inditing a letter unto you, for there is trouble feared with Lord Lewis Gordon.' He handed to Sir Robert a sheet still wet, requesting that his worship might come down the morrow as timely as he could that they might have his worship's opinion.

'Something of this same nature ye have written me afore, and more than once,' said Sir Robert. 'But it was not of this that I came to confer with you, my Lord Provost. Ye must know that sundry of the Sheriff's men, I know not what Sheriff, whether it be Dunbar of Westfield, or Simon of Lovat, or who, have arrested a young friend of mine, for no crime that I can judge, and have lodged him in this jail, and I would fain have speech of him with these ladies of my kin and Master Will Marley of the English Navy, who is a good friend of mine.'

''Tis irregular, Sir Robert, mighty irregular. And indeed I have no power. But for your worship's sake, and the good I trust ye will do our town, I will stretch a point, and take ye myself to see the prisoner. Come ye this way. I trow I must be present at your interview.'

'That ye shall, and welcome, Sir Provost.' There was the same twinkle in his eye as he spoke, and Lady Mary, knowing the baronet well, wondered.

The Provost led the way to the cells, and ordered a turnkey to unlock a door he pointed out. Jean pressed through in front, but immediately fell back in dismay.

Sir Robert, looking over her shoulder, burst into a loud fit of laughter.

'Why, faith!' he cried. 'But this beats even all the stupidity of the Covenanting rascals. See, my Lord Provost, what they have done. They have arrested my poor groom, and what they have done with young Cosmo Hamilton, the Lord knoweth.'

It was indeed Sir Robert's groom who stood there, with a broad grin on his honest face, and the Provost, who knew the man well by sight, stood speechless for a moment in sheer amazement.

'What in the world means this? I must call the varlets; they are still here drinking, I'll be bound. It will be an ill day's work for them.'

'Nay, my Lord Provost, with your favour, this matter will not only be ill for them. And, after all, 'twas but a mistake. But it will bring the whole town of Elgin, and our vigilance, and our justice into disrepute. We shall be a laughing-stock to a parcel of knaves in London, who must needs meddle over much with our Scottish affairs. Wherefore I counsel ye for your own good that ye keep this matter quiet. At present it is but known to ourselves and to the Sheriff's men, who for their own sakes will not speak thereof. Ye shall just inform the turnkeys, who know naught, that having examined into the charges there is naught therein, and the men will just report to whoever commissioned them that they failed to execute the warrant, not finding the panel. And ye will restore my groom to me.'

The Provost thought for a moment, and scratched his head.

'I find your counsel good, Sir Robert, and ye will aid us in the matter of Lord Lewis.'

'Why, yes! I will do that, and seeing he is my relative, and is moreover indebted to me in sundry matters, I think he will harken to me.'

'Now, sirrah,' he said, turning to the groom, 'get ye out with all speed ye may, and procure me some kind of hired coach, that may take me back to Gordonstown.'

The groom departed, and Sir Robert and the Provost sent for the Sheriff's men, who stood flabbergasted. They had taken young Cosmo Gordon. Did not Sir Robert see that they did so? or the sailor? No! Both had been engaged at the moment in attending on the lady who had fainted. They thought the men knew their duty. At all events, the matter must be kept very quiet. To that all agreed. So then and there a report was drawn up, and Will Marley, who seemed to have some gift of words, wrote it out, artfully phrasing it to throw blame on the English soldiers, whose slack vigilance had permitted the panel to escape, if that indeed he were in the house at all. It was a most convincing report, and was counter-signed by the Provost. Sir Robert, for very good reasons of his own, took no ostensible part in it.

Soon after this was accomplished, the hired coach was at the door of the jail, and the party started for Gordonstown. Sir Robert humorously indignant at the discomforts of the vehicle after his own luxurious chariot; Lady Mary stately and resigned as usual, but eminently glad to get away; Jean, now the excitement and present anxiety was passed, feeling the reaction piteously near to collapse; Will Marley, or, rather, Father Blackhall, calm, strong, and self-reliant.

As soon as they were past the cobble-stones of Elgin, and could hear each other's voices, Lady Mary began to question Sir Robert about the strange events they had experienced.

'I am certain you know something of all this, Robert,' she said. 'Your assumption of ignorant innocence was all very well for the Provost, but we know ye. Now how in creation did Sandy the groom get into the hands of the Sheriff's men? and, above all, what's become of our dear Cosmo?'

Sir Robert chuckled gently to himself.

'A simple trick of delusion which I learned in Spain. My groom and Cosmo for the moment borrowed each other's appearance. The Sheriff's men, looking at Sandy, could have sworn it was Cosmo. So indeed would yourselves had you not all been busy attending to Jean, and needs must that they haled the poor fellow off to jail, for he knew not why they did so. And as for Cosmo, he went off snugly seated in my chariot, in the very mortal likeness of Sandy, and with a paper of instructions in his hand, bound for Gordon Castle ostensibly. He will not go to the castle, however, for the Lord of Lorne is in possession there on account of poor Huntly's debts, and I like not the Campbell breed, nor do I trust them. But he will make for the coast and take a swift vessel for France, where for the time being he will be safe.'

'Oh, uncle! how good you are, how noble,' sobbed Jean, now fairly hysterical with mingled emotions. 'Ye think of everything.'

'Pardon me,' said Father Blackhall, 'But how will ye provide a swift vessel? Myself, I have but lately come from France, on my way from the Scots College in Rome to visit the faithful in this unhappy land, and there was the most extreme difficulty to procure a vessel at all, and by no means a swift one.'

'Ye can do many things an ye know how,' replied Sir Robert, 'Hark in your ear, for I know ye are safe, and this is sub sigillo. There is a vessel, as swift as any on the seas, that hath but lately landed a good cargo of French aqua vitae for me at my own shore of Covesea. At the present she lieth at the Port of Buckie under disguise of a fishing craft. Cosmo hath my written orders to the captain, and I warrant he will reach the French port in the shortest possible time and in all safety. An ye desire it, Father, I will charge myself with your own convoy back to France as soon as your business here is sped and ye desire to return.'

'I thank ye, Sir Robert,' said the priest. 'The Lord will reward ye for your kindness to a poor priest of an alien faith. And I shall not fail to avail myself thereof, should opportunity or necessity arise.'

'And here, at long last, we are at Gordonstown,' said Sir Robert. 'And I bid ye welcome to my poor house, Father! and crave that ye will accept my hospitality so long as it lists ye, if indeed ye be not feared to abide with one reported to be over intimate with Satan.'

'Nay, I fear nothing,' said the priest. 'I have fought many rounds with Sathanas myself, and I think we know each other. Also, there are many questions on this very theme that I would fain ask ye.'

Father Blackhall had great curiosity concerning the house of Gordonstown, concerning which he had heard much, but there was no time now to see even the exterior appearance of the building, for Sir Robert hurried the party out of the hired coach, and in at the door, saying:

'Ask what ye will, Father, at the proper time, but now is the time to refresh. Mary, ye will take our dear Jean and bestow her safely in bed. This day hath been over much for her, but I trust a simple cordial and a long sleep may perfectly restore her. And for you, Father, come ye with me, and ye shall taste such a tass of cognac, twenty years old and more, as seldom I warrant hath passed your lips.'

Seated in the great hall of Gordonstown, beside the ample fire, each with a stoup of the very finest French brandy before him, they conversed with much interest.

'I ween,' said Sir Robert, 'ye wish to hear somewhat of myself, and to you, Father, I have no objection to disclose what many seek to know. For I know that ye are safe. All my life I have been a student. Others seek riches, honours, power, what not, but for me the one thing I have ever desired was knowledge. From my youth up it has ever been the secrets of nature that have attracted me. In Spain I learned many curious things concerning the elemental spirits. It is the fashion now to deny that such beings exist. Yet an they do not, ye can in no otherwise account for the things that happen around us. I learned, then, there how a man having will and courage might communicate with these spirits, and indeed after a fashion command them, and thus may learn many things, the verity whereon is hidden from the vulgar.'

'But they say that ye collogue with the Devil, Sir Robert. Now I would fain hear you on that subject. For I have known much of the works of Sathanas, having often withstood him, and these works are manifest: to wit, hatred, variance, strife, evil-speaking, lust, rapine and murder; and none of these do I find in you, but I find them often and markedly displayed among the very godly Covenanters, who are ready to denounce and to doom to the stake those of their opponents whom they get into their power.'

'Ay, indeed! and they would willingly burn myself an they dared,' said the baronet with his whimsical chuckle. 'But they are afraid of me. I have much political power, as ye know, and am nearly related to leading men in both parties, and they credit me with supernatural powers because I know some of the secrets of nature. And it is my safety that I encourage these beliefs, which breed a kind of dread in the vulgar. I have told ye that I desire neither riches nor power, yet in a sense I do, for fain would I make of this property of mine an estate worthy of my name and race--and of this old house a mansion whereof a Gordon of Sutherland need not to be ashamed. This, as ye know, takes money, and therefore do I bring in my cargoes of the good French aqua vitae, and other things from the fair land of France. Nor have I hesitation so to do. For I do but take the money from these accursed English Covenanting Lords, who would tax our free land of Scotland. Yet to do this I must inspire the folk with such dread that they dare not meddle nor inquire too closely concerning me. Ye have heard, doubtless, how I drove my chariot over the ice on Loch Spynie, after one night's frost. 'Tis not hard to do if ye have the ear of the spirits of the waters. Even your own St. Peter--But I will not intrude on theological matters. Now ye see how I have to spend much money on this old house. When it came to us from Innes of Drainie, it was but a hole scarce fit for a rat. Only the dungeons were watertight, and there was a still older mansion, part thereof, which had once belonged to the Bishop of Moray.'

'But all of this,' said Father Blackhall, 'tells me nothing of the Devil.'

'Nor can I tell ye anything. The elemental spirits, who are the powers of nature, are subject unto a great head--the Lord of Earth--Him the ignorant hold in great dread. Yet I think without cause. The forces of nature will destroy the ignorant man who wantonly invokes their strength, but they will faithfully serve the philosopher who rightly studies their conditions.'

'I thank you greatly for your patience and courtesy, Sir Robert. Ye have taught me much. But sincerely would I say to you--Beware! lest at last ye raise forces ye cannot control.'

Late that night another guest sat in the inglenook opposite to Sir Robert. It was the same man in grey who had spoken to him in the town of Elgin.

'And can my science then naught avail,' said Sir Robert, 'to avert this trouble from my niece Jean?'

'It availeth nothing,' replied the other; 'because it is but science. There is but one that will be able to help ye then, and that is Isabel Goudie. And gin she help ye, she will lose everything.'

'Women have done as much before now,' said Sir Robert. 'And will again.'


Chapter Seven. 'Horse and Hattock!'

SIR ROBERT GORDON did not fail to make close inquiries as to who it was who had denounced young Cosmo Hamilton. His position and connections gave him many opportunities of ascertaining things not generally known, or meant to be known. So it was that he soon found out that it was Hay of Lochloy and Park who had set the matter in train. And the motive, too, was not far to seek, for David Hay gossiped in his cups among his boon companions, and there were few secrets in his life that were not sooner or later known and talked of. He had seen fair Jean Gordon with Sir Robert at Culben, the day after the storm, and admired her in his own evil way, and desired to get her into his power--for with him admiration of a woman had but one meaning. He soon learned of her betrothal to Cosmo Hamilton, and he saw the chariot with its black horses at the door of Gilbert's farm, and ascertained the intimate friendship between Jean and Isabel. By removing Cosmo then he could get rid of one obstacle to his designs on Jean, and through her he could hurt Isabel. The combination pleased him. It was very crude, but he chuckled as though he had thought of something clever.

That night he sought the Lord Brodie, and represented that this young firebrand, a danger to the Commonwealth and to the Reformed faith, a most pernicious papist, was in fact plotting for the restoration of the evil house of Stuart, and the overthrow of the Commonwealth, the destruction of the Parliament and of the true Protestant Kirk, and the re-establishment of the popish errors cast out with so much of labour and bloodshed, and moreover the casting down of the saints of God, such as his worship the Lord Brodie, and others whom the Lord had placed over the flock as true shepherds.

Lord Brodie had listened gravely, weighing the words of his friend, occasionally interposing wise saws and modern instances, and tags of sermons; finally, finding the advice good, he had agreed to write that very night to the Lords Commissioners. He was a man of much weight and consideration with the Parliament, who sagely judged that he must know the conditions of his own country well, and that any danger to the Commonwealth was also a danger to himself, and accordingly took action. Watching Jean Gordon they soon became aware of the man of whom they were in search. And the rest followed naturally, as we have seen.

Hay's eldest boy still lay very sick at Park. But the laird seemed to take no special heed. He had said there was nothing the matter with the boy but a trifle of overeating or such like, and he would not alter this view. So he went about his own affairs as usual. It was absurd that women's scares about a trifling illness should interfere with the serious business of drinking and lovemaking, and the natural pastimes of a man of his condition. He was rather seriously annoyed, however, to find that there was presently no woman to make love to, none with whom he was intimate enough to drop in on his morning rides for a drink, and other matters not spoken of. Isabel had repulsed him and boxed his ears, and his soul was filled with a venomous rancour against her. Jean Gordon was only an exciting possibility in the distance. That adventure was beginning. When Cosmo Hamilton was out of the way, as he hoped was now the case, there might be some other pleasant little steps he could take. But in the meantime he felt deserted and alone.

'Oh, let the Devil, an there be a Devil, send me a mistress! Life is dull,' he muttered, as he rode through the Brodie woods, in vast ill-humour with the world.

'This also shall come.'

Was it a voice in the trees above his head, or an echo in his own brain, or was it himself answering himself? He could not tell. He rode on to the Mills of Brodie, where he knew he could depend on getting some fiery Spanish wine, for the miller had many small kegs hidden in the sacks of grain that came up to him from the port of Findhorn, and men said he made more profit on these than on the legitimate contents of those sacks.

News was brought to Isabel at the farm of the boy's continued sickness. The herd girls, of course, gossiped among themselves, and it seems the laird was no favourite except with drinking men. Isabel's bitter hatred of David Hay surprised herself, and persistently she sought to justify it to herself, by considerations of his ill-deeds; yet in her inmost self she knew that it was an instinctive aversion, even as her feeling for the Dark Master was an instinctive attraction. In the old days when she was a Catholic, she would have been sure that both were sinful, and she would have struggled hard to conquer them both, she would have tried to fix her mind on any trait of good she could find in the laird, and she would have made excuses for his evil propensities, and schooled herself to disregard and shut her eyes to his coarseness and brutality and the qualities that repelled her finer and more fastidious taste. And she would have avoided the Dark Master, and tried to banish from her mind the fascination that drew her to him. But now she accepted both, even encouraged them.

She had several times uttered the curse upon the laird, 'May he never have male issue to come after him!' and she earnestly desired that this should be so, but that it should be her doing. She wished to wreak her hatred herself, not that it should happen by anyone else's intervention; least of all by that of the hideous old witch, Margaret Brodie's mother.

Some strange longing drew her to walk out again to the Castle of Inshoch and revisit what for her now had become almost a sacred place from the memories of that Sabbath morning's greeting. It was a calm autumn morning with a touch of frost. She sat in the gateway, recalling and living over again every moment of that delicious time when love had come to her and she had given herself unreservedly. Almost physically again she seemed to see the Dark Master and to feel the same thrills of joy as when she first met with him.

Then with a sensation of the deepest disgust she became aware of the old hag hobbling towards the gate, and striking at it with her stick as she mumbled, half chanting, the words:

'I set this charm upon this gate

With sorrow and sigh and muckle hate.'

Isabel shrank within the castle enclosure, keeping well out of sight, but watching curiously what might befall.

A shrill cry sounded from the edge of the wood, and Margaret Brodie came flying down in great haste.

'Come away out o' that, ye auld limmer. How often must I tell yea I will have none o' your cursed gipsy witch work. Ye'll bring us all to the stake ere ye've done.'

The old crone hobbled away muttering curses, and Margaret coming up to the gate passed her hands over it, chanting in a low clear voice:

'I take the spell from off this gate--

Nae ill shall fall o' muckle hate,

Till the Devil speaks the word of Fate,

Hail shall he be in the Devil's name.'

Again she passed her hands over the gate and raised them as if in supplication. Then she hurried after the old woman.

Isabel became increasingly conscious of the Dark Master her lover. She was not afraid to call him so now to herself, though no longer did any idea of making him her slave present itself. On the contrary, she knew that she was only too glad and proud to be his, only she would not let the others see it. When others were there, she and he would play a part. She would pretend to tease him then, and he should pretend to be hurt.

But when they were alone, she would give herself body and soul to him to do what he would with her. She would glory in abject submission.

She seemed to see him now, greater and stronger than he had been before, a big man with a rollicking humour and a mighty enjoyment. She caught the infection of his mood. It was like the time in Margaret's cottage when she had heard the wild cries of 'Horse and hattock!' She began to realise that there were other aspects of her lover which she had not yet proved, infinite possibilities of delight. What glories might not the future hold for her.

Now she fancied he came close to her. She almost felt strong arms round her, warm breath on her cheek, hot kisses on her lips.

'Tonight the coven meets. I shall come for ye, my sweetheart. Ye shall be the queen of our assembly.'

Were the words fancy? They seemed definitely spoken. Yet when she drew a long breath and looked around for him, there was no one there. The old castle walls were grey and solid and matter of fact as ever. If they knew aught of these weird happenings, it was well indeed that they kept their secret.

Tonight he would come and take her to the coven. She had heard of the coven from Margaret Brodie, and from Janet Broadhead. But what it was she only vaguely guessed, and she did not like to inquire too closely. Somehow she felt always that whatever information she got must come from him. She belonged to him, and all the others were--well, others. She could not put it in any different way to herself. But what about John Gilbert? How could she leave, and how return without waking or disturbing him? Sometimes he slept lightly, sometimes he did not sleep. Sometimes even he would take a fancy to come to her room. Well, what would be would. Perhaps the Dark Master would take her away altogether.

The thought seemed almost unbelievably beautiful.

But if only once she could join in that mad gallop which she had heard sweep over the woods, feel herself rushing through the air in a wild hunt with her lover beside her, she would not care what came to her afterwards.

'Horse and hattock!' Unconsciously she murmured the words. Her imagination was working strongly; she fancied the black steed was there; she had but to spring on his back, and go whither she would.

Then a doubt passed over her mind; there was no real horse there; she must keep the sane balance of her reason. Tonight she would know. The Dark Master surely would teach her somewhat of his knowledge and skill, and if the whole matter were real and not a monstrous delusion of the mind, then all would be made clear.

The moorland between Inshoch and Lochloy lay before her, gleaming in the sunshine as it had done any time for all these past years since she came to live with John Gilbert. Just the same moor that she had grown so weary of. The enchantment that made it all like a veritable fairyland was only in her own mind.

Nothing but a straw blown past in the wind, and she knew not why she noticed that.

No matter. In fancy lay the supremest joys of life, so the poets had said. If she could create a fairyland for herself, was it not well done? The hours seemed interminably long till nightfall. It was a moonless night, but the stars were brilliantly clear, gemming the whole vault of heaven, like a shower of diamond dust. Isabel had retired early, but she could not sleep--a strange excitement possessed her. At times she dozed, and in confused dreams she saw the Dark Master, and anon the wicked, fearsome face of Margaret Brodie's mother. Then the rush of the wild horses seemed to dash past. Then she woke again, and all was so quiet and still that she felt sure all that she had experienced was but the delusion of a disordered fancy. She would allow such visions no more; she must sleep. Gilbert's regular snoring came from the kitchen.

Then beside the window there was a flutter. Some night bird, doubtless. Such had frightened her before, but she had grown used to them now. Once an owl had come into the room, and scared itself, had scared her nigh to death. Languidly she looked at the window, faintly visible from the starlight outside. She had forgotten to fasten the hasp. Something pushed it open and, with a flutter of wings, a large and solemn-looking crow hopped into the room and perched on the footboard of her bed with a loud and raucous caw. She sat up in bed and looked anxiously towards the kitchen. Above all things she did not want John Gilbert to be wakened. His continued snores reassured her. She looked back towards the foot of the bed to see what the crow should be doing. It was an uncanny visitor at this time of night. The light was very dim, and she could only make out something shadowy on the footboard, but, as her eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, it began to take more definite shape, and a low laugh sounded in her ear, as she gradually made out a head and shoulders, and became conscious, though without knowing how, that the Dark Master himself was there, leaning over the footboard, his gleaming eyes fixed on her. Somehow, there seemed to be a subtle light around him, but whether emanating from himself or from whence, she could not tell. Beyond doubt it was himself, but it was himself in a new phase. Not now the grave student, not even the passionate lover of the Castle of Inshoch, though liker to this. He was now a kingly figure, expressing wild strength and power, such as she might fancy the chief of some half-savage clan. His coal-black hair seemed to have the spirit of the wind in it, and his eyes gleamed fiery with force and will, but also with an extraordinary and infinite tenderness. His face was marvellous in its beauty of wild energy, a face she thought then that a woman would follow to the end of the world, and into the very pit of hell, rejoicing only to follow, craving only to serve.

With a low glad cry she leapt from bed, and nestled in the strong arms that strained her closely to his breast.

'Did I startle thee, sweetheart? I meant not to do so, I have come to fetch thee, for the coven meets tonight. Dost fear to ride with me?'

'Nay, 'twas a joyous start,' she whispered, clinging closer to him as she wound her white arms around his great shoulders. Take me where ye will, my sweet lord.'

Gently as any woman his strong hand smoothed back the masses of her glorious hair, that hung like a veil round her, and he gazed hungrily into her eyes; then fastened his lips on hers in a long kiss.

'Tonight, sweetheart, you sit with me as the queen of the coven. Come!' She made a gesture towards the kitchen, thinking momentarily of Gilbert.

'Nay, he sleeps fast. None can know aught when I bid them not to know.'

'But if he should come in here. Sometimes he doth.'

'Oh, faithless! Dost not trust me then? See, take this besom and lay it in the bed. Should he come in, ay! even though he were sleeping beside ye, he will see the besom, and think it is yourself. Good enough for him, I wot.'

'Ay, in sooth,' she murmured, with a low merry laugh. 'Ye must know he called me a besom, when he was wroth. Now he hath it. But an I am to come with ye, sweet lord, give me leave to dress.'

'Nay, love! it skills not. Thy lord can provide for his bride.'

He lifted her lightly in his strong arms, and how it came about she knew not, but somehow they were together outside the farmhouse, and she found herself dressed in a wondrous robe, green, always green. But this was the green of the young apple shoots in May, and the delicate line of embroidery and the lining were of the purest wild-rose colour, or the inside of a sea-shell, and a golden girdle round the waist.

He whistled low, and a mighty black horse stood before them, arching his proud neck to the touch of his master's hand. Loosing his clasp of her for one moment, he placed his hand on the pummel and vaulted into the saddle. She placed one little foot on his and sprang up before him. In infinite content now she nestled against his breast; his arm was round her.

'Horse and hattock! Horse and hattock!'

The great steed sprang forward. He chanted in jubilant exultation:

'Horse and hattock! Mount and go!

Horse and hattock! Oh, ho, ho!'

They were rushing fast through the spaces and silences of the star-sprinkled night, the cool soft shadows around them. Guiding the horse easily with one hand, he bent and kissed her.

'Why didst not ride this morning, love? I sent the horse when ye called.'

'Did I call? Nay, I was afeard. But I will never fear again now.'

On they sped into Brodie woods, and over the blasted heath. Then she lost knowledge of the road. All seemed strange. At length they pulled up at the door of what seemed a comfortable farmhouse. Here he leapt from the horse and swung her lightly down, then whispered a word in the good steed's ear, and where it had stood there was nothing, only a straw whirled down the wind.

She recalled the straw she had noticed that morning, and wondered. He opened the door and, giving her his hand, they entered. A long room was before them. There were many gathered there, mostly women, but there were a few men scattered about.

A shout of welcome rose, but the Dark Master held up his hand and instant silence fell. The company formed themselves in two lines: the women crouched on their knees with their hands on the floor, and their hair hanging loose over their eyes, and their heads bent down; the men stood behind in reverent attitudes.

Slowly, and looking neither to right nor left, he walked down the middle to the farther end of the room, leading Isabel by the hand.

'Rise, my faithful ones, rise, I present unto you now the queen of your coven. As Janet I baptised her at Aulderne in my own name. But henceforth shall she be known unto you as Hacallah, that is, the Bride.'

He stood forth on the dais, a kingly figure, in the rich hunting dress of the period, with an eagle feather in his bonnet fastened with a golden brooch; and Isabel beside him, standing dainty and queenlike in her spring green robe, with all her wealth of rich red hair flowing over her shoulders.

'We feast not here tonight,' he said. 'We are for Darnaway--to celebrate the occasion. But we crush one cup to the bride, and a small piece of business--then away.'

Isabel looked curiously around. There were many there that she knew by sight, if not personally. Margaret Brodie was the nearest to them on the left-hand side, and Janet Broadhead on the right; lower down her neighbour Isabel Nichol, whose husband was also a farmer on Lochloy, but Isabel had never been very friendly with her; and much lower down was Bessie Wilson of Aulderne, and her sister Maggie Wilson, an ill-favoured, sulky-looking woman, very unlike the rest of the jovial company. There were two other women from Aulderne, Elspet Chisholme and Isabel More, whom she knew by sight. The men seemed of little account. Their office seemed to be only to wait on the women.

Alexander Elder, the farmer of Earlseat, took the lead, and the other men present followed, handing round cups filled with a strong sweet liquor. And the Master, raising his high in the air, shouted:

'Scald to the Bride! Ho, ho, wassail!' and drained his cup, tossing it into the air, where it seemed to be caught in a tongue of flame. All the company did the like, and shouts almost deafening of 'Scald to the Bride, Queen of the Coven!' rang through the room.

Then once more the Dark Master commanded silence.

'My faithful ones,' he said, 'I would have ye all to know that there is a man justly to be hated and despised by us. Ye may know him by name, at least; some of ye know more, to wit, David Hay.' The name was greeted with a chorus of groans. 'So much I expected of ye. He hath done despite to and hath insulted some of ye. In the name of what he terms the Kirk he would refuse all joy to the sons of men, yet is he a hypocrite, for ever he seeketh to snatch joy for himself. Rightly he sayeth that all joy is of the Devil, yet would he burn and torture you who take such joy as he seeketh secretly to take for himself. Most of all, he hath insulted your queen.' There were loud cries of 'Shame!' 'Yea, shame it is. But this day hath he called on me. Ye may wonder, but so it is. And they who call on me I in no way refuse. I will grant his request. He sought of me that I would grant him a mistress, which at the present time he has not got. I decree therefore that thou whom we call Toad o' the Wind, but whose name on earth is Maggie Wilson, shall be his mistress.'

'Nay, Master, that I will not. He is a vile man. Give me some proper man, or I serve ye no longer.'

'Silence!' shouted the Master in stentorian tones. 'Once before ye have rebelled and given me insolence, and I forgave ye. This is your last chance. An ye take it not I deliver ye to the hands of men to torture and to burn ye in temporal fires, and thereafter to the hands of my imps to burn ye for ever in everlasting fires. What! Ye have sworn obedience to me, and I have given ye the joys of life; and now ye would defy me. Have I spoken right, comrades?'

'Right! Right!' resounded from every side.

'It is well. Now, then, I endow ye with power to fascinate this man. Ill-favoured as ye are, ye shall be beautiful to him, and he shall desire ye, till all that see shall marvel, and shall deride him, and he shall be a mockery and a scorn to all men. Now, will ye do this, or will ye abide my vengeance?'

Thoroughly cowed, Maggie Wilson bowed her head and said:

'Great Lord! Pardon thy servant. I will do it.'

Isabel drew closer to the Dark Master, 'Love, I thank thee,' she said.

'It is well,' he said. 'The meeting is closed. Now, hey for Darnaway, and the Earl's good Spanish wine! Call on your attendant spirits, and mount your steeds, and all follow me and your queen. Sweet love, I give you here a spirit to wait on you, whom ye may call whensoe'er ye will.' He snapped his fingers, and a merry-looking spirit all in black skintight garments, save for a brilliant scarlet collar and cord round his neck, and a scarlet cord in his hair, danced up. He seemed unable to move except at a dance.

'His name,' said the Dark Master, 'is the Red Reiver. He will serve ye faithfully. Call on him when ye need aught. If ye need me, send him, and I will be with ye almost ere ye can draw breath. Now then, sirrah! my horse. My lady and I ride together this time. Is it not so, sweetheart?'

'Yea, my lord,' she said, 'So I would have it.'

In an instant, without knowing how it chanced, they were outside the house. The black horse stood there just as she had seen him last, and she and her lover once more were together, as she lay in his arms with the great horse beneath them, and the whole of the coven flying behind them; but she was unconscious of anything save that he and she were together; everything else was unreal, a squalid, stupid dream.

Oh, the mad glory and wonder of that ride, the wild exhilaration, the racing of the pulses, as the horses swept on, thundering through the woods, dashing over the plains. A herd of deer started before them.

'No,' he shouted. 'We hunt not tonight. We sup at Darnaway. Another night we shall hunt. Ho! rise ye in the air. Horse and hattock! Horse and hattock!'

Up in the air rose that wild hunt, the Dark Master and Isabel on the huge coal-black horse leading. Like an eagle sweeping and veering over the tree-tops, with all the mad coven shouting and yelling behind them. Over Brodie woods they rushed, and westward till they passed over Park. Here he drew his hunting knife, and cutting off a small portion of Isabel's fiery tresses, he scattered it in the air with a muttered spell. She saw every individual hair like a tiny flame float and flicker, and finally settle down round the house, passing down the chimneys, entering in at the windows, wherever one was left open.

'Each one will find its goal, he said. 'Each one will light on the laird, and torment him. By this spell I have delivered him over to thee. Do with him as thou wilt. Spare him not.'

Now with a wide sweep they passed over the forest of Darnaway, and saw the white towers of the castle peering above the trees.

The old castle where of old Black Agnes the female Earl had ruled, which Cochrane the mystic architect had completed and adorned with triumphs of his skill, where the beautiful ill-fated Marie Stuart had visited when her evil brother the Regent was there, and whence she had ridden to the famous tournament on the meads of St. John, was still standing in all its beauty. Round and round they circled three times widdershins, chanting:

'Slumber deep,

All shall keep,

In the Devil's name let all sleep.

Fast asleep all remain,

They shall not wake till we choose again.'

Wild was the revel in Randolph's Hall that night, and mad the feasting. The Dark Master and Isabel sat at the head of the board, and pledged the company. Venison pasties, salmon from the Findhorn, game of all kinds, and noble Spanish wines went round in reckless profusion. Then the tables were drawn, and the fiddlers started the old rant called Gillatrypes, which would make the lame and the paralytic dance, so captivating is the rhythm and the lilt of it. The Dark Master rose, and leading Isabel forth, they two led the dance. And when they came to the special snap where the leading couple leap together, he cried, 'O'er the Dyke with it.' And everyone that followed, as they came to leap, cried after him, 'O'er the Dyke with it,' and that was the name of the dance for many years thereafter. But at last even Isabel was growing weary, and she sank with sleep into the arms of her partner.

'So, sweetheart! I must e'en carry ye back to bed,' he said, and she nestled close to him, and felt herself sinking into a delicious languor, from which she was awakened by his low laugh, and opening her eyes they were together in her own room at Lochloy, and John Gilbert, snoring beside the besom, awoke with a start.

''Tis sunrise,' he called: 'awake, ye lazy limmer,' and rolled out of bed himself, with some gruff curses, to take his way to the byre.

'Sleep ye well now, sweetheart,' said the Master. 'I'll see that he comes no more to disturb ye. But by this and that, it was comic.'

The sun was high when she woke, but the memory of the night was clear and vivid, and, faith! she longed to have that dream again.


Chapter Eight. The Arrows of Death

LOOKING over the records of the time, I find that Mr. Patrick Innes was convinced as he stated in his letters, and also in his pulpit discourses, and before the Presbytery, that witches were taught by the Devil certain potent spells whereby they might assume various forms at will--as of a cat, or a hare, or sundry kinds of birds. They had but to repeat a doggerel rhyme which they learned from him, and in his name, and forthwith they appeared in that form, but could, at will, resume the appearance of women. Also they could draw away the milk from cows, and take the substance from corn in a granary so that the farmer should find but empty husks there, and draw the strength from ale so that it was but as water; and thereby much mischief was done, and many innocent people were ruined, yet without ever being able to detect the hand from whence the ill had come upon them.

And it appears that as each occurrence was reported and gossiped of, there was very great indignation and clamours for vengeance. Both those who had suffered, and those who feared they might suffer, cried loudly that the perpetrators of such wanton outrages should be punished by any means that could be devised. And the difficulty of detection made them even more savage, so that they vied with each other in suggesting cruel torments and ingenious modes of death for those who thus interfered with their property. But it was very hard to obtain proof. True, there was Master John Kincaid, the notorious witchfinder, who professed to have a special gift for discovering witches, and who could find, so he said, the Devil's mark on a witch, wherein if a pin were thrust the witch neither felt the prick thereof nor was blood drawn, and this was conclusive evidence.

Many of the depositions of Master Kincaid are extant, and may be read by the curious, and many witches were burned on his statements alone. Whence it appears that he drove a very thriving trade, for so anxious were the people to find someone on whom they might wreak their vengeance, that they would accept any evidence, however slight, even the unsupported testimony of a witch-finder. And Master Kincaid grew rich.

In all of this, however, there was an element of truth. Mistress Isabel Goudie herself has left an account of the spells that the Dark Master taught her, and these fully confirm the account given by Mr. Patrick and other godly ministers of the Kirk.

Even the learned were greatly puzzled and exercised by these events, for we find my Lord Advocate Mackenzie, who was a man not given to superstition of any kind, and the astutest lawyer of his day, after careful investigation of the subject, to which he brought a very sceptical mind, concluding there must be some truth in the accusations.

But Mr. Harry Forbes rejoices over the great refomation that had come on Mistress Isabel Goudie. She became, he says, regular in her attendance at kirk, and most circumspect in her behaviour, listening with exemplary attention to his discourses. And when he saw the laird of Park notoriously infatuated with that dirty, ill-favoured slut Maggie Wilson in Aulderne, and neglecting his wife and family to pass long hours drinking, and maybe worse, in her cottage, he began to review the stories that the laird had told of Mistress Isabel, and to consider that the laird's ill-will was more of a testimonial of righteousness than otherwise. So he rejoiced greatly over the salvation of a soul from the damnable errors of papistry, and on many a Sabbath morning in the old Castle of Inshoch and elsewhere Mistress Isabel and the Dark Master laughed gaily together over his somewhat unctuous felicitations.

There seem to have been many meetings at that time, sometimes of two or three chosen ones together, sometimes of the whole coven. But at Inshoch the Dark Master was the learned student who had become the ardent lover. No other was ever present at these meetings, and we have only Mistress Isabel's own account to guide us. Mostly they took place on the Sabbath when folk were at kirk, and Isabel seems to have been sorely exercised as to how she should account for her constant absence from the diet of worship.

'But,' said her lover, 'ye need not be absent. Ye can send that part of yourself that is not needed here. It is not a kirk-going bride that I want. See, now! If only ye can imagine yourself to be in any place, a part of ye is there; and if ye imagine strongly enough, ye may be seen there. Come then, now, sweetheart, as ye lie in my arms we will together imagine ye are at the kirk, and I'll warrant everyone that's there will see ye, and yourself here will be all the happier to be quit of that part of ye. For the part of ye that would take ye to kirk has naught to do with love and joy.'

That day it was that Master Harry Forbes accepted John Gilbert's invitation to take his mid-day meal at the farm of Lochloy; and Isabel, who had a very keen sense of humour, was mightily entertained at the conversation on the morning's discourse, at which her opinion was often asked, and was given with grave deliberation and much piety. It seems that, having once exercised the imagination in strong, concentrated will, no more was needed; the wraith of Isabel sat dutifully and attentively in the kirk, listening with apparent edification to the worthy minister's exposition, while she herself, or perhaps we may say the other and more material part of her, was at Inshoch learning diabolic arts and rejoicing infinitely with her lover.

Concerning this there have been great discussions among the learned. The ministers and authorities of the holy Protestant Kirk entertained no doubt that it was a manifestation of the power of the Devil, and herein the popish priests agreed, though they differed widely as to the causes, that gave such power to the arch-enemy. For each considered the other as the true servants of Satan, who invited and gave him occasion thus to delude and vex the faithful. Lawyers and philosophers were apt to disbelieve the whole story, which they attributed either to hysterical delusion or stark lying. But later authorities, aware of the strange hallucinations produced by what is now called hypnotism, have thought that the Dark Master, whatever else he might have been, was a powerful hypnotist and was able by these means to produce in the whole congregation the illusion that they actually saw Mistress Isabel sitting in the kirk beside John Gilbert. The which is a comfortable and not altogether improbable theory, but leaves many points unaccounted for.

David Hay of Park and Lochloy may well have wished that he had the same power, for he found himself falling rapidly into disfavor. His infatuation for Maggie Wilson was becoming notorious, and was the subject of considerable derision among his friends, and of grave condemnation among the more serious-minded of his neighbours and acquaintances. Lord Brodie no longer welcomed him at the Castle, and many of the smaller lairds, who followed his Lordship's lead, intimated that they did not desire his company. He very seldom now appeared at kirk, preferring to pass the Sabbath morning in Maggie's cottage, and no wraith took his place. But the more he was shunned by the respectable, the more he swaggered and lurched unsteadily through fair and market, with a careless insolence that gave greater offence even than his notorious evil life.

Isabel could hardly think of him with any patience. That such a beast, against Whom her whole soul revolted with a sick disgust, should dare to say that she had made love to him! She, the chosen of the greatest and most desirable of men! This insult rankled far more even than the attempted kiss for which she had boxed his ears. He had admired her, and now he had demeaned himself to Maggie Wilson. She thought over him till she felt murderous. She would not be insulted for nothing. He should learn what it was to provoke a woman like her. She was not to be played with by any man with impunity. Moreover, her lover had himself denounced him; here was good enough reason for her hatred, if any were needed, and he had been delivered to her to do what she would with. As she thought thus, she saw him staggering out from Maggie's cottage, with an insolent leer on his bloated face as he passed her, and had there been a knife in her hand she would undoubtedly have stabbed him then and there. But he passed by, and she muttered to herself, 'No! It's too good for the like of him. He must suffer. I'll make him suffer. May he never have male child to come after him!'

Then she bethought her that Margaret Brodie had told her that she should learn the words of life and death. If she could be the death-giver, she might have means in her hand of adequately punishing this man, and indulging her hatred as she had indulged her love to the full.

The thought followed her even in her meetings with her lover at Inshoch, and in the wild midnight rides and revels of the coven, when they hunted the great red deer over the lonely moors of Strathdearn, or when they held high festival in the hall of Darnaway, or some other great castle. Well, she knew now how to place a windlestraw between her feet, and, crying 'Horse and hattock, in the Devil's name!' to find the black charger beneath her, and to ride where she would, galloping over the countryside, ambling gently in a half dream through the woods, or mounting in the air and fleeing among the clouds. Far she had gone on these excursions, and once had circled round the house of Gordonstown, but had not descended. She wished much for another talk with the wizard laird, but she felt an invisible but nevertheless impenetrable barrier around the house. On this occasion she had ridden alone, but mostly when she rode it was with the coven, or some of them; and what she loved best were the wild rides when she sat before the Dark Master, held up in his strong arms as they sped the hunt, and all the latent savagery of her nature had full play, and he and she together felt and indulged the lust to kill which, sooth to say, is inherent in every child of man, and only with difficulty subdued on the surface of civilisation.

Then the mad carouse after, when the deep draughts of strong, heady wine washed out the savour of blood, and the wild revel and wild nights of love roused all the primitive instincts of the animal nature to mad exultation, followed by a dreamy delight.

Oh, they were days and nights of the gods those, when she tasted to the full the savour of living!

And ever there was the joy of the kill; and the nobler the victim the greater was the joy.

'My sweet lord,' she whispered one day, half afraid of her own daring, 'kill ye ever a man?'

'Ay, sweetheart, 'Tis the finest game there is. Not indeed for the hunting, for the stag shows the finest sport when the hunt is up and our steeds rush through glen and corrie; and the chase of the lion and the tiger is grand too in the wild jungles. But for the kill itself, there is naught can compare with man as a quarry. Ye shall know it, I wot ye are like unto me in that. Blood stings ye to the utmost.'

'And will ye truly let me kill too, my lord?'

'Ay, sweetheart! that will I; and thereafter we will revel as no lovers before us have revelled, and as I trow none will again. We have our time now, and when the world loses the glory of your hair and the sweetness of your lips it will lose that which it will never recover in any new love-time so long as the planet abideth. But come ye with me now, and I will show ye how the Arrows of Death are made, and ye shall have them whene'er ye will.'

'My lord! for the laird of Park?'

'Ay, truly! A good, fair mark; and I have given him to ye. But, hark ye, love: ye need practice. It is not easy to wield the Arrows of Death at first. But mind not this--ye shall be an expert in time, and the laird cannot escape ye. I have given him to ye.'

Two corbies winged their way over Brodie woods and the kirk of Dyke, past Grangehill, and away over the buried farm of Culben towards the sea. At the edge of the sand was the blacksmith's shop, as it was called, which was, in fact, a bloomery or iron furnace, where iron derived from the iron sand and the Morayshire pan was smelted in a primitive alchemy, and the smith was sometimes reported to be wiser than an honest man has any right to be. On the roof of this the corbies alighted, and within a very few moments a handsome pair walked round from behind the shop and greeted the smith, who was working thus late to finish some implements of quaint design that he wished not the ordinary folk to see.

'We would visit the arrow-makers,' said the Dark Master. 'I trow ye ken me fine, Rob. I need no pass.'

'Pass on, my Lord!' replied the smith. 'Ye may trust that I am always on the watch, and none pass without your Lordship's sign.'

'Through the shop,' said the Master. 'It is the only way.'

In at the door they went, and a puff of wind down the chimney scattered a shower of sparks all round them; out at a door behind, where they saw a narrow track leading towards the shore, skirting the sand.

'None can come this way,' said he, 'except by passing through the shop, and Rob will stop any who have no business. None but my faithful ones may use the Arrows of Death.'

'What are they? Tell me,' said Isabel. 'Is this your own armoury, Lord? Is this where ye forge death for men?'

'Ay, and so it hath been for many a thousand years. And men will find our arrows and know not what they are, for they will have lost the art that makes them deadly. But the time will come When they will know again, and the Lords of Death shall reign in the world once more. See there, before ye!'

The sand seemed shimmering and moving, and presently as her eyes grew accustomed she made out figures of dwarfish men dressed in leathern garments so nearly the colour of the sand that they were hardly visible. Some were hurrying to and fro; others squatting on the ground were diligently tapping, hammering, and chipping. As they passed among them she saw that they were shaping the flint arrow-heads which even now are constantly found, and of which numberless examples are in all our museums.

He walked among them, examining their work with a critical eye, occasionally taking a hammer himself and finishing one that was better made than the rest. These he put in his pouch, but many of the little men he rated soundly for clumsy work.

As they walked away he taught her how to use the arrow-heads, curling the forefinger round the barb and propelling them with a flick of the thumb, till in a little she became quite expert. He took one from his pouch and breathed on it, muttering some mystic words.

'There, now, that is charged with death. It will kill anything, man or beast or bird, that it touches. See, now, try your skill.'

A hare started up before them. She flipped the arrow-head, which just grazed the hare's ear and it fell over dead.

'A splendid shot!' he said, Sweetheart, ye shall deal death as ye will.'

He took two or three arrows from his pouch, breathed on them, and handed them to her. 'Now hey for home!' he cried; 'but by the ford of the Muckle Burn we will rest. There is a dainty little nook there where a pair of lovers may well shelter. Tomorrow we hunt with the coven.'

She gave a little cry.

'My armlet! I've lost my armlet! Oh, my dear lord, search ere the sand cover it! 'Twas an old armlet that once belonged, they say, to a King of Scotland. It was given to me on my marriage.'

'Vain to look, sweetheart! The Lords of Death ever claim a tribute at the first kill from the Arrows. Henceforth, unless that armlet be returned, ye are under their protection, and no Arrows of Death can harm ye, even though by inadvertence one should strike ye.'

The armlet was not returned to Isabel. For two hundred and fifty years it lay buried in the sand. Quite recently it was found, and is now preserved in the mansion-house of Altyre, where it may still be seen, but its story has been forgotten.

Over the low, flat lands the corbies winged their homeward way, but at the ford of the Muckle Burn they alighted, where a little hollow shadowed by thorn trees formed a natural bower where they rested. A stumbling, uncertain step came along the path, and Isabel started and clung to her lover's arm.

'Be calm, sweetheart,' he said. 'Even with no magic spells no human eye could see us here. Look forth.'

Curiously she peered out. It was the laird of Park stumbling home from a heavy drinking bout. As he balanced himself unsteadily on a stepping-stone of the ford, a wave of loathing filled her brain. That he should appear just at this moment was too much; the mingled rush of emotion, of love and hate surging on her brain, wrought to a species of madness. Hardly knowing what she did, she seized an arrow and flipped it. It fell short, and the laird stumbled on, unconscious of his danger.

The Master laughed.

'Ye should know witch-law better than that, love. Know ye not that running water destroys our spells? Ye could never strike him there.'

He stroked her hair with his old caressing gesture, and the turmoil of her brain calmed down.

'I am glad,' she whispered softly. 'I would not kill him now; it is too easy an end. If I killed him I could not hurt him any more. Oh, sweet my lord, how I hate that man! As much almost as I love thee. When I see his insolent face, and his cruel sneer at me when he passes, I feel what a luxury it will be to watch him gradually humbled, cringing into the dust, to torment him, to make him suffer. Dost hate me, my lord, because I am human? I must tell thee everything. I must lay bare my whole soul. It is a joy to me that ye should know every atom of me. Lord, how can I make him suffer?'

'Sweetheart! I love thee for thy hate. Faith, ye are my very child: liker unto me than most of the children of men. Ye are worthy to have the moon-paste, and this too I will give thee. Then thou canst not only kill but torture too. Thou shalt enjoy and gloat on thy vengeance. Woe unto them who deal evilly by thee! And thou shalt give thy love to me, all the stronger and the hotter for the hate that goes therewith. We will torture, and we will kill, and the savour of blood shall whip us up to the keenest bites and stings of love, such as the feeble children of earth scarce dare to dream of. That which ye give me shall be for no other lover so long as the world endureth. Come, now! Hey for Lochloy! and there I leave ye for a while. One more kiss, and then we fly.'

Over the low-lying marshy grounds near the shore the two corbies wheeled and circled, swooping over the breaking waves by the shore, making a sudden dash out over the end of the old bar, and then straight southward crossing the western end of the loch, where they alighted, and a man and a woman might be seen walking gravely up from the loch's margin, towards the farmhouse.

On the miry road to the eastward a man dressed as a groom on a splendid black horse was moving slowly up and down as though waiting for someone. As they approached he put his steed to a trot, and reined up close to them.

'For Mistress Isabel Goudie,' he said, saluting as he held out a letter, 'from Sir Robert Gordon of Gordonstown. I was bidden to deliver it to none but into your own hands, Mistress, and to tell mine errand to none.'

Isabel took the epistle and broke the seal. The Dark Master stood aside, but she motioned to him to come and read with her. The letter ran thus:

'Unto the fair lady, and my honoured friend, an she will permit me to call her so, the Mistress Isabel Goudie, commonly said to be the spouse of John Gilbert in Lochloy.'

'Commonly said,' she whispered. 'I like that word. Sir Robert is a courtier.'

'I pray you, Mistress,' the letter continued, 'of your charity that you will come hither with all the speed ye may, for my dear young relative, Mistress Jean Gordon, and your friend, is truly in a dangerous sickness and crieth for you; and I am assured that of all this world ye can heal her. I would send my coach for you, but I think that he whom we know can provide for you better accommodation than I can, and that without remark, the which is truly desirable for we live in censorious times. I beg leave to assure you that I have it on absolute authority that it was your neighbour David Hay of Park who denounced her lover Cosmo Hamilton and my good friend to the cursed English Covenanters, and the crew of the brewer's knave, and hath brought this sickness on her. But fortunately, and by the aid of him whom we know, I frustrated his evil purpose, and young Hamilton is by my last advices safe in France. I trust that the said David may be tormented according to his deserts, and with my humble duty I beg to remain your most obedient servant to command.

'ROBERT GORDON OF GORDONSTOWN.'

'Master, shall I go? Oh, I fain would go! And can I be of help to my dear Jean--can you help me herein?'

'Yea! go, sweetheart. This sickness cometh but from evil wishing of men who would be my servants if they dared, and if I would have them, which I will not. Poor fools! they would serve the Devil, and keep their peace with what they call their consciences, and preserve the respect of their fellow-men, which always they lose. They would make the best of both worlds, but, being fools, they have but the worst of all. Such poor magic ye can lift. Far otherwise were it if this were a decree of the Mighty Lords of Fate. But of this we will not speak. Whene'er ye will, take ye a windlestraw and go "by horse and hattock," but I will aid ye. Fare ye well.'

'Say to Sir Robert I will do his will,' she said to the groom, who set spurs to his horse and galloped off.

Gilbert had been snoring for some time.


Chapter Nine. Magic--Black And White

A BRISK wind blew, but the day was fine, and in Brodie woods the autumn leaves rained down till the air seemed full of them and the ground was carpeted with yellow and brown and red. The farmstead of Lochloy, as usual in the daytime, was deserted. It had never occurred to John Gilbert that day after day Isabel was left alone and without even the ordinary occupations of a farmer's wife, for these were all done by the herd girls, exactly as they had been before she came to the farm.

She stood by the door, looking as she commonly did across the sea to the Sutherland and Caithness hills. She was thinking of the change that had come over her own life--how she had been merely a cipher on that lonely farm, whose coming had made no difference whatsoever, and all the dreary desolation of it, and now the wonder and romance that had come to her. Then she thought of poor Jean Gordon and Sir Robert's message. The Dark Master had bidden her go, and had promised that he would help her; yet when should she go? Sir Robert had named no time. As she pondered on this, a wind-blown straw whirled down upon a gust almost into her hand; it seemed an answer to her thought; she seized it and placed it on the ground between her feet, crying, 'Horse and hattock, in the Devil's name!' Instantly, she knew not how, the black horse was beneath her. She was on his back riding, as she had done in her Childhood, astride. The Dark Master stood on the bank beside the road, with doffed bonnet.

'It is the propitious time,' he said. 'Haste ye!'

'But I cannot go like this.' She was suddenly conscious that she wore the old homespun dress with the little gold crucifix, and that she was astride of the horse in a way that no grown woman of any position or dignity in those days would think of riding.

'Go as you are,' he answered. 'It suits best for that ye have to do.'

He stood far off, and spoke coldly. Her whole being yearned to him, longed for him. She stretched loving arms, but he stood still.

'Haste ye!' he said, 'I meet ye there.'

She felt a slight pang of disappointment. She longed for an embrace, she was insatiable to feel those strong arms round her. Also she would have fain gone to Sir Robert in some more beseeching garb. But what he said was law.

'Horse and hattock! Mount and go!

Horse and hattock! Oh, ho, ho!

In the Devil's name.'

The great horse reared and bounded into the air, rising clear above the roof of the farm.

'Hey for Gordonstown!' she cried, as they swept round to the east, over Brodie woods, and past the fords of the Findhorn. Beneath them lay the meads of St. John, where the beautiful Queen Mary had witnessed the famous tournament. Over the mouldering old Abbey of Kinloss, now fast sinking into ruin since Cromwell took half the stones to build his fort at Inverness. Over Windyhills, where another Brodie lived. On and on till the water of Spynie Loch came in sight, and down towards the sea the woods surrounding the house of Gordonstown. A strange pile it was; the fragments of the grey old castle in the centre, and the remains still discernible of the house of Innes of Drainie, reputed haunted for many years past, and the unfinished buildings of Sir Robert himself, transformed the heterogeneous structure into something having the appearance of a Dutch chateau. Here the black horse, now very ordinary-looking, trotted sedately along the avenue leading to the house, and Isabel was aware of a groom riding behind her. She dismounted at the door while the groom held the horses, and Sir Robert stood on the steps to receive her.

'Welcome, Mistress, to my poor house,' he said. 'I thank ye that ye are come so quickly.'

'I pray, sir, that ye pardon my poor attire. I was bidden come at once, and not stay to change.'

'Whatever the attire, it becomes ye well. But far more than the attire, I see radiating out from ye the power to heal; and indeed now Jean is very sick, and like to die, and she crieth for ye. I pray you that ye will let me take you to her at once, for I deem there is none other that can help us at this time.'

Isabel looked round: the horses had disappeared, but the groom was none other than the Dark Master himself. But he still stood aloof.

'Take me to her,' she said. 'Oh, my poor darling Jean! What would I not give to have the power to help her!'

'The power is yours,' said a voice near her. 'Do and say but as ye are moved, and she will recover.'

There was no one near. The voice came out of the air or from her own brain.

Then the Lady Mary came into the hall from the great staircase with cordial greetings to Isabel--calm and stately as usual, but there was a look of trouble on her face.

'Jean bids me to say to you, with her dear love, how glad she is that ye are come. She is persuaded that ye can heal her, and God grant that it may be so, for we have been in very great anxiety, as ye know.'

'Take her up to the child,' said Sir Robert. 'I have a few words to say to a friend here.'

As Isabel followed Lady Mary up the wide stair she looked back a moment and saw Sir Robert in earnest conversation with the Dark Master, in his groom's dress. Something, she knew not what, impelled her to take a tiny knife that she always carried, and cut the stitches that sewed the gold crucifix into the bosom of her dress, and hold it in her hand. As she did so she became aware somehow that the old homespun dress no longer looked old and shabby. It was the same gown, but transformed, new and fresh, a joy to wear.

'Our Jean is very ill,' said Lady Mary. 'Ye will find her sadly changed. And we know not what has caused it. It is not "the wasting sickness," so the leech assures us; and Robert--who had some skill; indeed, I think myself he hath more skill than the leech--is sure it is not that. But neither he nor the leech can find a cure. And when she cried for ye, Robert said that it was you and none other who could cure her. What made him say so I know not. But he insisted, and made the groom ride out with a note for ye.'

'And it's right glad I am to come,' said Isabel, 'if only I may be of some service.'

Very wasted and wan looked poor Jean as she lay on her pillow, and turned weary eyes of love and welcome on Isabel.

The latter drew near and knelt by the bedside, laying a long cool hand on the burning brow, and smoothing the soft brown hair, waiting to know what to say or do. Then memory came back to her of words she had learned long ago in the little Catholic chapel. 'It shall be given you in that hour what ye ought to say.' So she waited.

As she knelt with one hand on Jean's forehead, she clasped the wasted hand in her own which held the golden crucifix, and then words came to her mind. Whence they came she knew not then, nor indeed did she ever know, and she chanted low under her breath a somewhat barbarous rhyme:

The Lord rade fair and free

Ower the hills till Galilee;

He pat the blood to the blood till all upstood,

The lith till the lith till all took with.

Owr Ladie charmed her dearlie son, with her tooth and her townge

And her ten fingaris.

Be ye then hail and well,

In the name of Father, Son, and Halie Ghaist.'

As she chanted, the fever seemed to die out of Jean's eyes, and the quick breath grew regular and steady. Her head sank low on the pillow.

'Oh, the blessed peace!' she murmured low. 'Dear Isabel, I knew ye would heal me. All the pain is gone. Bless you!'

She was asleep.

The Lady Mary and Isabel crept softly from the room, but Isabel clung to the banisters almost fainting; all her strength seemed to have left her. Lady Mary put an arm around her and led her down to the hall, and deposited her in a huge cushioned chair. Sir Robert was alone.

'See, Robert,' said Lady Mary, 'ye were quite right, this dear lassie has indeed wrought a miracle. For Jean is already better, and will be quite well soon. But all the life has gone from Isabel. I deem she has given herself for her friend.'

'That may soon be remedied,' he said; 'nevertheless this would she do, an I mistake not.'

He turned to a shelf beside his elbow and, taking a bottle of some strong sweet cordial, he poured out a glass.

'Drink ye this, Mistress Isabel. It will revive ye.'

She lifted sad weary eyes to his face, and mechanically drank the liquor. It tasted like the fiery wines she had drunk at the revels of the coven at Darnaway. As Sir Robert looked steadily at her, she felt as if new life were flowing through her veins; the weariness disappeared.

'Mary,' he said, 'I have a few words to say to Mistress Isabel of thanks and so forth for her timely aid. Give us leave for a few moments.'

'I will go to watch by Jean. I deem she sleeps?'

'And will wake recovered. Go ye then, Mary.'

Sir Robert and Isabel were left alone. It was the opportunity she had so long and earnestly desired, yet now it was come she was tongue-tied.

Sir Robert said kindly: 'I know that ye wish to ask me somewhat, Mistress, since our talk in Lochloy. Ye think me a man of very great powers, and maybe ye may wonder why I should not myself heal my niece, and why ye should have the power.'

'Indeed, Sir Robert, this has been on my mind,' was all she could say,

'Knowledge is what I have always sought. From boyhood I had an insatiable curiosity. And I have gained much knowledge, perhaps in ways that some might deem unlawful. I cared not so long as I got it. And by my knowledge I can do some few things that other men cannot. But this was not my object. I never sought power, nor pleasure. Now you, I know, are joined with a friend of mine, of whom I need not speak more. Through him ye can have power, and love, and pleasure. Ye have the keys of death but not of life. Through him ye can hurt, but ye cannot heal. Ye can only help those who are also joined with him, and that only to a certain extent. That is what he can give ye. But ye have more than this. For ye were baptised in the Catholic Church, and as such ye have by right the command of certain forces of healing and giving life. Yea, even of reversing the decrees of the Lords of Fate; but this ye could do only at a very great sacrifice to yourself. Not this did ye do just now. For what ailed Jean was but the effect of the ill-wishing of a very evil man, who has linked himself with a low type of witch. The man has no power save by his abominable thoughts and desires. Such a spell ye can lift by your own power; but ye did it, and rightly in this case, by the power of your Catholic baptism. But this must for the time hold ye apart from your friend.'

'Was this, then,' she cried, 'why he stood so strangely aloof. It distressed me.'

'What is that which ye hold in your hand?'

She opened her hand and showed him the little golden crucifix.

'That is it. So long as ye hold that he cannot come nigh ye. It is the law of his being.'

For a brief moment she had a mad impulse to fling the crucifix from the window. Sir Robert held up a restraining hand.

'No! Do not so. So long as ye hold that, or have it on your person, he must stand aloof. But when ye wear it not, nor have it about ye, all will be as before.'

'But why should I keep it if I can heal without it, as ye say? I desire not that he should stand aloof.'

She stopped in a little confusion; she had not meant to betray so much to Sir Robert. He smiled gently, and indulgently.

'Nay! but he will not, believe me, save when ye wear it. And see, ye healed by it to-day, and so ye will again. Only it may be that in some dire need ye may desire to lift a decree of the mighty Lords of Fate, and this too ye can do by the aid of this. And herein have ye greater power than I, with all my studies, could ever accomplish. But only once. When ye do this ye will have no power more. Nor will it ever come back to you. Beware, then; ye have in your hand a talisman of the mightiest power that ever was upon this earth.'

'Sir Robert, there is such wonder in all this that ye tell me, and that I have known, that scarce can I think of it as aught but a strange wild dream. Tell me an ye can, is it real?'

'Real, Mistress Isabel! Which of us is there who can say with confidence what is real? Hundreds of years ago the keenest intellects, the wisest philosophers of the world disputed over this very question. And it is not settled yet, nor ever will be, so long as the world abideth. Dreams are not real, they say, yet many of us in dream have seen material happenings. If we saw them awake they would say 'twas real. You can fly in the air, and most men would say that was unreal, yet in Italy Messer Leonardo well nigh did the same, and in time to come all who desire will be able to do the same. I myself by my studies can do some things that men would say were unreal, yet time shall be when such things will be common. And some there are to-day who maintain that nothing is real at all. Ay, Mistress! if anything is real, all is real, I but know some secrets of nature that other men know not. Ye can yourself do some things that others cannot. Now I may keep ye no longer. Fear not to trust me. I know the spells whereby ye work. I know him with whom ye came. He hath given me knowledge; he hath given you power, and joy. Let me lead ye to the door till ye call your steed. And once more I thank ye for your courtesy in coming to us in our need.'

Beside the front door a windlestraw fluttered down to her hand. She caught it and placed it between her feet. Sir Robert gave her his hand as she cried 'Horse and hattock, in the Devil's name!' The black horse was beneath her. She chanted the spell:

'Horse and hattock! Mount and go!

Horse and pellatis! Ho, ho!

In the Devil's name.'

She wondered a little why the little gold crucifix did not seem to interfere in the least with her flight. She was still holding it in her hand. She replaced it in her bosom as she flew. But the Dark Master was nowhere to be seen.

At Lochloy, when she alighted from the black horse, the windlestraw fluttered down the wind, and she half saw, half fancied she saw, the Dark Master standing by the dyke at the roadside. A wave of apprehension came over her, What was it that had come betwixt them? Had all that glory and romance passed out of her life now as suddenly as it had come in? Her heart sank and a numb pain crept even to her finger-tips, as her eyes filled with tears.

'Red Reiver, Red Reiver!' she called, mindful of the attendant sprite, but none answered. Only something seemed to flutter round her at some distance, or was it but a shadow? Was he then also taken away? The desolation was more than she could bear. Then she remembered what Sir Robert had said of the crucifix. Impetuously she would have cast it from her, but he had bidden not, and assured her that when she did not wear it, all would be as before. She hurried indoors, the crucifix belonged to that homespun gown. So long then as she wore not that there was nothing to keep her from her lover, but when she had it he must stand aloof. Quickly, with feverish fingers, she began to replace the stitches and fasten it again into the bosom of the gown. Then she tore off the dress, and, only in her shift, she turned and opened the kist and laid it therein.

As she rose from bending down to fold the dress, the Dark Master himself was beside her, and she was in his arms.

'Love!' she whispered, as he kissed off the hot tears that still lay on her cheeks. 'Verily I thought I had lost ye, and the world turned black and all the sunshine was fled.'

'Nay, 'love, think not so. Glorious times are before us, and far more power can I give thee than yet thou dreamest of. But my friend Sir Robert Gordon hath told ye where that symbol is there I may not come. 'Tis not I that stand aloof, but it is thyself that holds me off. Yet I know well thou doest what thou must. See, now, how the new moon rides in the wake of the sun. When She shall be full thou shalt make for thyself the moon-paste. In the old castle, which hath so often been our bridal bower, I will myself teach thee the art.'

'Tell me, sweet lord! what is this moon-paste, whereof I have heard so much?'

'Sit here then on my knee, So! Yet first pin thy shawl over the window. Now I can tell thee. Nay, fear not. None of the farm folk will return as yet. I have bound them to the fields while I speak with thee. See, then--Hecate, who appears to the children of men as the moon, hath strange powers, and these, when ye know the art, ye may control. When her sickle becomes her silver shield, ye shall draw her down from heaven to do your will, and she shall consecrate for ye the paste that ye shall make; and therewith, if ye shall make an image of any, it shall be unto that person even as ye shall do unto that image. Ye have heard of "the wasting sickness"--the godly folk of the Kirk ascribe this to the power of the Devil, and they are right, for it occurreth when my faithful ones have made such an image, and have roasted it gradually. Yea, and when they pierce it with pins there come excruciating pains in all the limbs.'

'Oh, my sweet lord! the laird of Park,' she murmured.

'Ay, him if thou wilt, love; or whomsoever thou wilt. Sudden death thou canst give with the Arrows of Death. But thou canst torment with this paste, and many other things thou canst do. Thou canst bring parted lovers together.'

'My dear Jean and her lover?'

'Yea! an thou wilt.'

'And this will not part me from thee, as my healing of her did?'

'Nay, Hecate is my servant, the world-old witch. Older than the world, yet ever young and beautiful.'

'I am somewhat jealous of Hecate,' she whispered, clinging to him and burying her face on his shoulder.

'Be not so. Hecate hath not thy wondrous spell of sex. World-old she is and marvellously lovely, but she is cold even as thou seest the moon ever is. Never a lover hath waked her to dreams of joy. My servant she is, and shall be thine. But thou art my queen. Listen then, there is more that thou canst do. Thou canst part the dearest friends, the fondest lovers. Thou canst make whomsoever thou wilt follow thee blindly, and do thy bidding.'

'Sweet lord, give me this. It is the power I have longed for, and dreamed of all my life. Oh, give it to me at once.'

'Nay, love! In the castle I will teach thee how to make it. Thou must make it for thyself. Thou hast seen in a dream how the foul hags who learned the paltry spells of the old gipsy witch made their vile brew in the kirkyard of Aulderne. A little power was therein, the power that springs from malice and hate. But very feeble is this. With one word, ye, who are the queen of the coven, can counter their malice when ye will. But the magic of the moon-paste none can counter, save I myself. Unless ye should use that talisman, ye wot of. But then ye would lose all.'

Isabel shuddered.

'When will ye teach me, my sweet lord?'

'Ere yon moon groweth to her full. For when she rides high in mid-heaven, round as a silver shield, then is the favoured time. Now, sweet love! one more kiss and I go.'

It was one corby who flew away from the lonely farm, as the men were returning from the fields, and Isabel put on the russet gown all in a tremble of joy and expectation. New delights, new powers were coming to her. She knew now she could bring healing where she loved. She was to learn to strike and bring torment and death when she would where she hated. She was to learn how to unite Jean to the man she loved, and this too without losing her lover. Strange other power too she had by that little crucifix, but at some terrible sacrifice, she understood not what. Well, she sought not to reverse the decrees of the Lords of Fate. Fate had been very good to her. So this mattered not. She began to set out the supper, with all her blood singing in her veins.

The experiences of the day haunted her dreams that night.

Again she seemed to be in the house of Gordonstown, but not in the room where Sir Robert had talked to her, nor in Jean's room. Sir Robert took her along to the western wing and into a vaulted dungeon-like place whose walls, floor, and roof were entirely of stone. A fierce fire blazed in a hooded furnace; crucibles, alembics, and other chemical apparatus were scattered round. A vessel was boiling on the fire, from which a pipe was led to a hollow globe standing on a table before a strong lamp. This globe seemed filled with clouds of steam writhing and curling like a nest of brilliant serpents. In the hottest glow of the fire she seemed half to see a filmy form, something like a lizard, that manipulated the boiling vessel.

Sir Robert and the Dark Master were here together. They seemed to beckon to her to come forward and look into the globe.

'I cannot see here,' said the latter. 'The priest's power restrains me, as I told ye. But she can, and will tell us.'

In her dream she peered into the globe standing between the two men, each of whom held one of her hands. The clouds writhed and curled and cleared away. Then she saw a picture forming itself within the globe. A long straight road bordered with poplar trees, a canal on one side and a chateau at the end of it, with towers at the angles and a drawbridge. This she described, and Sir Robert said:

'That is Montfaucon. She really sees where we could not.'

'The priest's protection is not against the Catholic baptised,' said his companion.

Then a man appeared in the globe in the uniform of an officer of the Scottish Guard. She described him minutely.

'It is Cosmo,' cried Sir Robert, in high delight. 'Now look closely, my dear Mistress. I know there is danger that threatens him, but I know not from what quarter.'

Closely she seemed to watch while the clouds rolled over, and cleared and rolled over again. She seemed to see the evil bloated face of the laird of Park, and the sanctimonious council of Roundheads sitting in London. Then came a picture of a port with vessels coming and going, and many sailors and others on the landing. Some she seemed to know were in disguise.

'It is at the port for London,' she said; 'they watch for him there. Men in disguise waiting to seize or stab him. They have word that he is returning.'

'All is safe, then,' said Sir Robert. 'I bade him bide at Montfaucon till I sent him word, Mistress, I thank ye. And now that I know ye can see, I am well at ease. I shall ask ye again in time of difficulty.'

Darkness swept over the whole scene. She was in her own bed at Lochloy, and the day was dawning. It was all a dream, but so singularly vivid that she almost deemed she had been physically there.


Chapter Ten. The Water of the Seven Wells

THERE are innumerable records of the political affairs of the time, both in the form of state papers and of private letters and diaries, written by both prominent and obscure persons, both Royalist and Covenanting, and these are so hopelessly conflicting that it is impossible to trace the verities. There were plots to restore King Charles, and counter-plots to defeat and destroy the plotters. Men suspect were assassinated with small scruple, and suspicion was so easy and so common that none went really safe. In France, though the royalists who had friends there, or were connected with any of the great houses, were safe under the protection of Anne of Austria and Cardinal Mazarin, yet the wars of the Fronde produced a state of great insecurity, and the very favour of the Court party would put them in danger from the Frondeurs and their sympathisers.

Hence, though the great house of Hamilton had almost more connections in France than in Scotland, and young Cosmo was warmly welcomed among his numerous relations there, his position was a perilous one, and Sir Robert Gordon's anxiety was fully justified. At the Chateau de Montfaucon indeed he was at present safe. But for how long none could foresee. It was difficult to restrain the impetuous young soldier from hurrying back to Jean, though Sir Robert and Lady Mary had carefully minimised the seriousness of her illness in their communications with him. The great Cardinal had given him a commission in the Scots Guards of King Louis, who was then a mere boy, and Sir Robert adjured him to remain where he was; to which Jean, in full confidence in Sir Robert's power and wisdom, added her earnest entreaties, much as she longed for him. So in the meantime the lovers were necessarily parted; and although Jean's recovery after Isabel Goudie's visit was as rapid as it was unexpected by everyone except Sir Robert, yet this separation and the apparent hopelessness of the situation preyed on her mind, and nothing but her absolute trust in Sir Robert kept her up.

Sir Robert himself, in his eager quest for knowledge, had now verified two new facts. Isabel Goudie had an amazing power of healing; also she could see clairvoyantly, notwithstanding the circle of protection set by the priest. These two points showed him that Mistress Isabel Goudie was a very exceptional personality, and worthy of close study. And that with regard to Jean she could give assistance such as could be had from no one else. The combination of her unrenounced Catholic baptism and her pact with the Dark Master produced results absorbingly interesting.

It would seem that some very learned theologians of the Catholic Church denied altogether that under the circumstances any miraculous power could possibly manifest itself through her, and that only diabolic influences could be looked for. The Presbyteries, and the divines of the Reformed Kirk of Scotland, denied that any miracles could ever happen through the agency of the infamous popish Church, and its blasphemous deceits; though it was well known that the fervent prayers of the godly ministers of the Kirk might at times be very efficacious. The sceptical philosophers both of France and Scotland roundly denied that there was any miraculous power in any of them, though it was well known and admitted that certain simples, gathered at the proper time of the moon, and with favourable conjunctions of the stars, were very potent to heal, but this was science, not superstition.

Sir Robert, however, though he listened to all these opinions, shrewdly remarked that facts were of more value than theories, and that if Isabel could heal, and could see, it was not much use for a whole university of professors to state learnedly that both of these were impossible. Nor was it much use to say that it was done by the power of the Devil, when he, being well acquaint with Sathanas, knew that he had failed to do these very things. Mistress Isabel Goudie also herself states that she healed some who were sick. But though she quotes the spell, and mentions the use of the name of the Trinity in healing, and the Devil's name for doing hurt, she seems to have had no clear idea of the reason herself.

Father Blackhall too was very greatly interested in these manifestations. As a priest he fought tooth and nail against what he deemed the work of the Devil in the world, and this he conceived to be, as was laid down by the Apostles, envy, hatred, malice, evil-speaking, blasphemy, pride, foolishness, and the like; all things that separate one from another, and war against the holy spirit of love. He was therefore keenly anxious to learn all that could be known concerning the personality of the arch-enemy.

It appears that he must have been asked concerning the sudden deaths that occurred when, for no apparent cause, men and women fell dead, for there is extant a letter of his, in answer to some such inquiry, wherein he says that the same question may be asked concerning the quarry that men take and kill in the name of what they call sport. He had witnessed the huntings of the great nobles in France and Italy, and seemingly he had been asked how these could be justified, and how also it could be permitted that men should be slain by the power and malice of the Devil, for no fault of their own. And he replied that the two things were on precisely the same level, for that, as we know, no sparrow falleth to the ground without the will of God; therefore we must conclude that every beast that is slain in a hunt is destined to die just at that time and in that manner, and could not die in any other way. Though he does not therefore excuse the hunters, with whom he seems to have but small sympathy. And equally, he continues, if a man is slain by the spell of a witch, or by the malice of the Devil, it is because that man's time to die has come, and that is the appointed mode of his death, and the witch is but the instrument to carry out what must be. Vain therefore to waste any pity on the victims. And he ranks the witch with the hunter. His ideas seem to have been markedly at variance with those of his time. For he concludes that, though it is justifiable to kill for food, and indeed is commanded, there is no justification in taking pleasure in the kill. This being the primitive instinct engrained in every child of man, which it is the work of the divine spirit to subdue and eradicate.

It will be seen that in this the reverend father recognised those very instincts which Isabel had felt so strongly, and herein may be perceived the essential difference in the way that these were regarded by him and by the Dark Master. These deaths of men and women were caused, as we now know, by the Arrows of Death. But at the time they were strange and mysterious, and caused, as has been said, great terror in the land.

Isabel, secretly handling the arrows which the Dark Master had given her, rejoiced in the sense of power they gave her, but as yet she had never used them since that one time when she had killed the hare, and had shot at and missed the laird of Park. She enjoyed the feeling that she could deal death when she would; but what she now greatly craved was the moon-paste--the power of this was what she desired all her life.

Meanwhile the son of the laird had wholly recovered. The crescent of the moon had grown to half her full, and the time was drawing nigh when the spell was to be put in action.

In their solitary meetings in the old castle of Inshoch the Dark Master gave her the secrets of many spells. He taught her how to lay a strong delusion on anyone she pleased, so that they should fancy what she wished. How to raise the wind by laying a wet cloth on a stone and beating it, while chanting a certain rhyme, and how to lay the wind again. He told her of the Hand of Glory, cut from the wrist of a hanged murderer, and holding in its grizzly fingers a candle made of the fat of an unchristened child, with which if one should knock at any door, with the words, 'Open locks whoever knocks,' all bolts and bars would fly back, and the holder of the hand could enter freely.

But this she never would use, being, as has been said, sensitive with regard to corpses, and with an instinctive shrinking from necromancy of all kinds. Knowing this, her lover told her of such doings only as a curiosity of witchcraft, and like the disgusting hell-brews made by a low class of witches, of small power.

'Ye see, love,' he said, 'how the great gates of Darnaway swing wide to let us in. We need no Hand of Glory. But there are foul and ignorant gipsy witches, such as one that ye wot of, who could enter by no other means.'

At this time too she heard that the laird of Park suffered from the eruption known then as St Anthony's Fire, but now called erysipelas, which tormented him sorely. She remembered the lock of her own fiery tresses cast down upon the mansion of Park on that first wild ride of the coven to Darnaway, and how the Dark Master had said that every individual hair should find its goal, and should torment the laird, and she rejoiced.

At the farm things went better. Gilbert obeyed her will, though he had not the slightest idea that he was doing so. He opened his concealed money bag and repaired the house, since as he said it was useless now to hope for any help from the laird. The stock throve well too, and the corn of that harvest was exceptionally fine and heavy. None knew that Mistress Isabel had drawn off the substance of a neighbour's grain. But Master Harry Forbes said that this prosperity was a clear proof of the efficacy of the faith of the Reformed Kirk of Scotland, for whereas they had had nothing but trouble when Mistress Goudie neglected the kirk, and, as he believed, still hankered after the false doctrines of the papists, now that she had become a true and godly Presbyterian, all was well. So he rejoiced, and she was vastly amused at his rejoicing. But he altered his opinion later, as will appear.

She had not failed to inquire of the Dark Master at one of their meetings concerning the sickness that had overtaken Jean Gordon.

'It is very simple, he said. 'Ye will remember how I ordered Maggie Wilson, whom we call Toad i' the Wind, and right well the name beseems her, to become the mistress of the laird of Park, and ye know she hath done so, and no other lover hath she, or is ever likely to have. But he desires ever to get your friend Mistress Jean Gordon into his power, and this hath Toad i' the Wind found out; also that he caused the young Cosmo Hamilton, her betrothed, to be sent out of the kingdom, for his own safety; wherefore she became exceeding jealous, and put forth some of the cursing spells on Mistress Jean. She is one of the coven, and hath some power, but not much. Therefore ye can lift her curses by any spells ye choose, for ye are the queen of the coven, and none of their spells can prevail against your word.'

'But what was it ye said, lord, about the spell that should lose me everything?'

'That is only if ye lift the decree of the mighty Lords of Fate. We will not speak of that. These be great and terrible powers, to which even I must bow. An ye do this, ye are reft from me for ever, and all our love and our joy is over.'

She shuddered.

'But there is much I can do by the moon-paste, is there not, love, without losing thee? It is thine own spell. Cannot I help them by its means?'

'Ay, truly! As I told ye, by this ye can bring together parted lovers. Also most of the sicknesses that come on the children of men are the result of the ill-will of some witch, even as ye have seen in the case of the son of the laird of Park, that was lifted by your friend Margaret, and in the case also of Mistress Jean, that was lifted by yourself. Ye can do many things by this moon-paste.'

'Once more, love, tell me--that I be sure I forget nothing. Will ye be with me when I make it?'

'Nay, that I may not. For efficacy ye must make it alone and unassisted. But I shall be near, and when Hecate comes down, then the process is complete, and I may come to ye, for I know that then thy beauty will be far beyond the beauty of mortal woman.'

'All such poor beauty as I have is for thee,' she whispered softly.

'Remember, then, the seven fountains, these thou must find thyself.'

'Lord! they are all found.'

'And the three kirks?'

'They also.'

'And all the herbs? Be particular as to this. I shall not be there to remind thee. And see that thou forget not one word of the spell. For thousands of years hath this mighty spell been worked. In ancient Thessaly did my faithful ones draw down the moon from heaven, to aid their magic and enchantments. And there hath been no variation in the spells from that time even until now, save only in the language; the ideas and the forms are the same.'

'My lord,' she said, 'wilt thou not tell me who thou art? Wast thou indeed on earth thousands of years ago?'

'Nay, love! that thou must not ask. Be content that for thee I am very man and thy lover. A student, who has learned some things, I am he whom men call the Devil. Yet they know not what they mean thereby.'

His word was law to Isabel. He bade her not seek to know concerning him. And in truth she was very content so to leave the matter. Yet a little she wondered still. He was a man when she nestled in his arms in infinite content. He was the wild noble and chieftain when he led the coven in mad revelry, hunting and feasting and dancing; but at times he seemed almost as a god. She could not fancy the earth without him, she could not think of him growing old, or as ever having been any other than he was now. Meantime there was this wonderful spell he had taught her, and the time was drawing very near to put it into practice, and to win the power that would make her more than a queen, almost the secret arbiter of destiny to all the countryside.

In her room at the farmhouse there was a new plaid of a dark green tartan laid over something that looked like a long box. In old days Gilbert would have inquired curiously concerning this, and have rated her soundly for extravagance in buying anything without his leave; but now he came rarely to her room, and when he did, it was apologetically and not venturing to remark or criticise aught that he saw there. In fact he was, as Margaret Brodie had said would be the case, greatly changed.

To himself he said that his wife had now at last repented of the sins of her former life; she had renounced the errors of papistry, and since the godly Master Harry Forbes himself was pleased to approve her judgement, and even to ask her opinion concerning his pulpit discourses, it was not for a mere elder to find any fault.

Yet in truth, had John Gilbert but been honest with himself, he would have admitted that he did not find fault because he dared not. When he was in his wife's presence all his dour, bullying nature was cowed. He felt a force he could not understand, and when Master Forbes spoke of the force of godliness, he was glad to accept that explanation.

The night before the full moon was clear with a touch of frost in the air. For days Isabel had been preparing for the great work. She had gone not out with the coven, nor had she even ridden with her lover. The spell of 'Horse and hattock' had not been worked, and her attendant sprite, the Red Reiver, may well have languished for lack of employment.

As the time drew near she grew anxious and nervous. Almost she wished to give up the enterprise. Then something would stir anew her hatred of the laird of Park, and she feverishly longed for the magic powers.

She had retired for the night, but not to sleep. She drew off the dark green plaid and examined carefully a new kneading trough which she had recently bought. Then she replaced the plaid, and took the besom that had served her well before, and laid it in the bed, chanting as she did so:

'I lay this besom in the Devil's name,

It shall not stir till I come again.'

Almost to herself she could fancy that the brown twigs on the pillow took on a sort of fantastic likeness to her own fiery tresses.

Then she took down a ewer from the shelf, and went forth into the night. Her resolve was taken, there was no going back now. But a long solitary walk lay before her, and what adventures she knew not. Straight towards the rising moon she set her steps, along the southern shore of the loch and into the dark shadows of Brodie woods. The trees looked spectral in the moonlight, and a nervous apprehension came over her. What weird, uncanny things might not lurk in those dim shadows. She knew now that there were horrible things that had a ghastly reality. She had seen somewhat of the doings of evil witches, and the Dark Master was not here to protect her. Vain now to take the form of hare or corby. She had her work to do, and she must e'en do it just as she was. She repeated Sir Robert Gordon's saying that 'fear is failure.' She must fight. Hitherto, since she had met the Dark Master, she had not known what fear was. In fact, she had relied on his strength, but now she felt somehow that she was alone, as he had said she must do this spell alone and unassisted. Brodie woods became a mysterious haunt of horrors. On the path before her the moonlight lay in silver pools, inlaid with a fretwork of crossing lines of shadow from the intertwining branches overhead. These made fantastic shapes which the fancy might well imagine to be weird elemental forms. But it was in deeper shadows behind that dangers lurked. She could lift the spells of inferior witches, so she kept constantly telling herself. But somehow it did not ring true now. Either her power in magic seemed to have left her, or it had never existed, and all was a mighty delusion, only the perils were real, and they were not the perils of witches, but of something unhuman, monstrous, and unknown. Witches seemed by comparison to be familiar things and harmless. She said to herself now that she had experienced and proved all that there was in witchcraft, and there was nothing, in fact all her experiences had faded to sort of simulacrum, and she said to herself that she just imagined a few odds and ends out of romances she had read. But here in the depth of the woods were real horrors. The ancient, ghastly, decaying evil that haunted the shadows before the birth of man upon the earth, waiting to spring upon her and enmesh her in the old primeval magic, from which there could be no escape in time or in eternity.

She had to visit seven wells, and at each to meet and overcome the guardian demon whose function is to prevent those who seek the blessing and the healing of the well from attaining it, so that only those who are full of faith and courage can win what they desire. Faith and courage were oozing from her. In spite of herself fear was creeping over her. The moon, almost full, shone over the tree tops, making the shadows still darker and more fearsome. She was Hecate the ruler of magic and enchantments, the queen of the dead, and she was to come down from heaven in answer to the spells. A rustle sounded among the trees, and Isabel started and stood feeling almost paralysed, daring not to go forward or back. Had Hecate really descended prematurely? There was something visible, or half visible, among the branches of a huge, dark tree that overhung her path. Two luminous orbs flashed into sight, large and yellow; they might be two moons. A low snarl caught her ear, and at once she knew that it was a wild cat that was glaring at her. But now material terrors blended with supernatural, each increasing the other. The eye of the wild cat, she had been taught, was the symbol of Hecate, waxing and waning with the moon, and these were the material presentment of the powers of necromancy, which she hated and dreaded. Moreover, the wild cat was a savage beast, that might readily attack and even kill if irritated; and this to her imagination magnified itself to a personification of the powers of the immemorial evil haunting the depths of the woods. The magic of Hecate wielding primeval cruel savagery.

The yellow orbs seemed to grow larger and more moon-like, already she fancied the fierce beast about to spring and tear her throat. Then, with a yell and a scutter, it rushed up the tree, apparently in pursuit of another cat. She heard them crash through the boughs, and with weird dissonant cries retreat far into the depths of the ghoul-haunted woods.

Trembling still, she pursued her way. She was bound for the two wells that lay between Grangehill and Culben, and the chapel of Culben. She had to fetch water from these two wells and to dedicate it by the chapel door facing the guardian demons. And why did she do this? she asked herself. The power and romance that had come to her seemed to have faded to a troubled dream, wherein she had fancied things that had no reality whatsoever; and now, but half acknowledged at the back of her mind, lay the vague hope that in this moon-paste the glory and delight she had known might come back to her, that she might know it for a truth. What matter if she had sold her soul to the Devil--if only that wonder of life might become real again!

Brodie woods were now past, and Grangehill lay before her, and Culben, sand-covered, showed white in the moonlight. There before her was the thorn tree that overshadowed the well. All looked calm and peaceful, but an apprehension was over her. She wanted to drop the ewer and run back to the farm of Lochloy, and forever get away from these mad fancies. But the terror of passing again through those haunted woods was almost greater than the terror of the unknown that was before her, and even though she passed these in safety, what did she gain?--only that insufferably dreary existence that she had escaped. With that thought, resolution came back. The spells she once knew had faded. She had neither faith nor desire to use them any more. She was just an ordinary woman, trying by means she had been taught, but only half believed, to get to some promised land where desire should be fulfilled.

A cloud was forming itself over the well between her and the moss-grown stone coping. Why should she fear that cloud? She could not tell; but as she advanced towards the rotting wooden platform whence buckets were lowered, she felt a sick chill come over her. It was like a snow mist on an easterly wind, though the night was calm, a nameless terror, and a feeling as of icy fingers ever pressing her back. She would not be pressed back. Pride came to her aid here. She had embarked on this errand, she would carry it through. She summoned all her forces, and made a dash for the well, lowered the bucket, and poured a little of the water into her ewer. That instant the cloud vanished, and a voice either from the air or within her own brain said 'Well done! the first test is past.'

Something definite was gained at last. All that she had been told was not a mere dream. The rapture of life might be regained even yet perhaps. It was but a short distance now to the well that lay beside the chapel of Culben. She was excited and hopeful, and almost ran. A rude stone niche covered this well, and the water rose into a worn stone basin. It would be an easy matter to dip her ewer into the basin and blend this water with that which she already had. She stooped down below the stone lintel of the niche, and started back in dismay as gleaming green eyes glared at her from the back of the stonework with a concentration of malevolent hate so intense, that almost she dropped the ewer and fled anywhere to escape that deadly stare. Almost, but not quite. She remembered that the first test was passed hurriedly; she dipped her ewer, and with a fierce snarl the eyes disappeared, and she had two blended waters.

The chapel of Culben was before her--almost a ruin now, for the lairds of this time had joined the Reformed faith. Winter storms had carried off many of the stone slabs from the roof, leaving the rafters bare, and the water had got in, rotting the walls, and mischievous boys had broken the stained glass with which the piety of earlier generations had enriched the windows. Isabel was deadly tired, and her brain was numb, but she must hold on, and must visit the kirk.

As she approached there was no appearance of any cloud or demon, the kirk lay clear in the moonlight, sad and desolate; but as she came to the door there were voices. They might have been in the air, or within her own brain, she could not tell, for fear had now given place to a heavy depression. 'Go back,' they seemed to say. 'All is delusion. You have only dreamed. Your lover is merely an unscrupulous man pretending to great powers. Go back to the material life. It is the only real thing. Forget all this dream.'

She recalled the desolation of her material life.

'Heaven forfend!' she exclaimed, and rallied all her forces. 'Begone!' she cried. 'Let everything be a lie if it will. Come what may, I will go on.'

Above the kirk door was a small rose window; in this a little glass still remained unbroken, and looking up to this she saw the reflection of the moon. The well-known lines upon it combined with the lines and colours of the fragment of glass seemed to form the image of a beautiful woman's face. She held up the ewer.

'O Hecate! if indeed it be thou, if indeed thou wilt come down from heaven tomorrow night in answer to my call, throw thine influence now into this water, and into the other waters that I shall collect, so that the paste wherein is thine own spell may be made, and this deadly cloud of depression may pass.'

Moved by some impulse, she knew not what, she so held the ewer that she saw therein the reflection of the little window, and of the moon, and dipping her hand therein, she bathed her fevered aching forehead.

Instantly she felt renewed strength, she braced herself and turned westwards again, taking the road that led towards the kirk of Dyke.

Close to the edge of the kirkyard there were at this time three springs bubbling up through the moss in the form of a triangle. From each of these a tiny rivulet meandered through fern and moss till they joined in a little stream that flowed into the Fionnmoniadh Burn, now known as the Muckle Burn, or at that particular place as the Brodie Burn. Water from these three she must get. She seemed to have got new energy from the vision of Hecate. Physically she had the tireless strength of her time and class, but the intense depression, and the fear through which she had passed had sapped it, and produced the feeling of terrible weariness. Over Dyke kirk a phosphorescent light seemed to play, and she fancied she could see into the grim vault where on shelves and on tressels lie the coffins of the dead Brodies. The kirkyard itself seemed to be transparent to her eyes, and the mouldering dead, half escaping from their rotting coffins in all stages of ghastly corruption, were gruesomely visible. The smell of a charnel assailed her senses, and the memory of that horrid dream in which she had watched the fearsome hags raise the body of the child recurred to her.

The voices came again: 'This is only witchcraft. It is to this you have sold yourself. Go back while there is yet time.'

Almost the horror came over her again, almost but not quite. One of the springs lay at her feet, she stood ankle deep in the soaked moss. Looking down, she saw the image of the moon in the water.

'Hecate, aid me!' she cried again, and immediately the voices were silent, the kirk looked spectral in the moonlight, but the uncanny appearances of the dead were gone, and the evil influences seemed to have passed. She drew water from all three springs and again held the ewer up to the moon before the door of the kirk, repeating the formula of bathing her forehead with the mingled waters.

There now remained only to visit the spring of the holly tree and the Wishing Well at Inshoch, and to make her final invocation at the kirk of Aulderne.

As she walked along the long road from Dyke to Aulderne it seemed as though a tall silvery form that might have been fashioned of ice mists glided before her. Cold and passionless it was, but it seemed protective, and the numbness and depression vanished. She seemed to herself to be moving and acting mechanically without the least personal desire to do or not to do, simply impelled by some superior force; she moved because she must. Hecate had obsessed her, taken possession of her, and was now leading her to the last two springs, and thence to the kirk of Aulderne.

The blended water of the seven springs was now completed, and she held up arms of invocation to the moon that seemed to float so calmly in the clear dark of the sky. Instantly the silvery figure appeared to come close to her, to enfold her in its cold strong arms, and clasp her to the icy breast. It was a chill as of death, and she lost all sense, all consciousness, till she opened her eyes to find herself in her own room in the farmhouse, half thinking she was only just about to start on her long journey in search of the water of seven springs, till she saw the ewer standing beside the plaid that covered the new kneading trough.

The brown twigs of the besom lay on the pillow, and she laughed as John Gilbert looked cautiously in, seeing the besom but not seeing her.

'Lazy limmer!' he muttered, 'fast, asleep still; but I daren't wake her. I'd have the minister oil my back. Nay, plague her! she must e'en gang her ain gait, and I must do all the work, and take all the blame too.

Still growling, he betook himself to the work of the farm, while she crept into bed and was sound asleep in a few minutes.


Chapter Eleven. The Making of the Moon-Paste

ON the night of the full moon the sun had gone down through a sky of brilliant orange, crossed by a few bars of grey cloud, which as he sank towards the horizon turned to crimson on their under sides and then all over, like fiery islands floating in a sea of gold. The red flush that lay over the Inverness hills deepened and spread. The sea lay so still it looked strangely metallic, and the warm glow caught the tufts of white bog-cotton on the shores of the loch, turning them to faintly coloured flame-flowers.

It was intensely still with a brooding heavy calm, that might have betokened a coming storm if the sky had not been so clear. The touch of frost had passed away, and the air had grown almost sultry, as sometimes happens in St Luke's little summer. Isabel had slept very late that morning--heavy dreamless sleep. When she woke at last all the folk had gone from the farm. Doggedly she had gone on with the work she had set herself to do, and now all was done. She had gathered all the herbs prescribed, and had pounded them together; she had taken the clay from the special place, and kneaded a lump of it and placed it over the kitchen fire to dry till it was like a brick, then she had broken it small with a hammer, and pounded and turned and sifted it, and pounded it again till it was fine like meal; then she mixed it with the herbs and pounded it again. Now it lay all ready in an iron pot, and the ewer with the blended water of the seven springs which she had collected the previous night stood beside the dark green plaid that covered the new kneading trough.

She sat on the edge of the bed thinking. What foolery was this that she was going to play at? The whole thing was quite plain to her now. A dissolute man with a strong imagination, probably some Highland bard, or some kind of a poet, had beguiled her with a fantastic story that no sane woman ought to have believed. It was all very well to play at 'make-believe' with him. He was fascinating certainly. She liked being with him, she enjoyed his wild stories, and his love-making. He was an agreeable relief from John Gilbert, the dour and dirty. His romances, however wild, were in welcome contrast to the utter inexpressible dullness of her life at the farm. One or two things were queer certainly, such as the destruction of the farm of Culben, just as and when he said it would happen. But, after all, this might be just a coincidence, or he might be peculiarly weatherwise and had foreseen the storm and its effects, and traded on his knowledge.

She refused to think of other things that might have carried conviction.

For a moment she thought she would put it all to the test now, and try one of the spells she had learned. But then she said to herself that she would have none of such utter foolishness. She had embarked on an intrigue with a strange man, she had only to go on a little and his deception would be clear, then he would be in her power. He could deceive all these silly women, like Margaret Brodie and Janet Broadhead, but not her. She would be queen of the crew, for she would rule him absolutely; she had only to threaten to expose him. So she would have a tame poet, and if things got too dull she would make him take her away. But as for trying any of his spells--it was too silly, Away in the back of her mind and unacknowledged was the fear that perhaps after all the spell would fail. She did not want to think what she said to herself that she did think.

This moon-paste, then! She said to herself she did not want to work this stupid ceremony. She wanted to give it up, and just tell the man that she had found out all about him. But then she had begun it, and she must go through with it; but it was the last time. Never again! Of course the moon would not come down from heaven. Who ever heard of such nonsense. Just this once, because she had begun, because she had promised herself that she would do it.

John Gilbert was away that night; he had journeyed to the town of Inverness to bring home some cows he had bought. It seemed like an opportunity specially made for the adventure.

Supposing she should be seen? The thought made her shiver. The man, her lover, had told her this was impossible; but then he was merely a romancer, a fantastic dreamer. Still, the risk! Her wild blood stirred, there was fascination in the risk. Of course there was nothing in the spell and the ceremony, but the hairbreadth chance of discovery was exciting. What a thing to have done!

By this time the sun had set--the amber and rose were fading out of the western sky, and to the east the first faint stars began to twinkle through the soft obscure.

Then she set about her preparations. Having first washed her fair white body all over with scrupulous care, she poured a little of the blended water into the hollow of her hand, and rubbed it over herself, then cast a few drops on her head, calling on Hecate. Next she put on a new smock of finest Paisley linen, and so standing, a tall white slim figure by the window, just as the moon showed her first light over the eastern horizon, she recited the triple invocation to the lunar forces--Lucina, who presides over sex-magic and birth, and the forces of life coming into manifestation; Diana, the chaste and cold, ruler of all forms of asceticism, self-sacrifice, and denial; and Hecate, mistress of enchantments, and queen of the dead, merging again into Lucina, as death is the gate of life.

As the moon rose above the trees of Brodie woods and shone full on her forehead and on her wealth of hair shed like a veil over her snowy smock, it seemed as if a strange new understanding came to her, and in a sudden gleam of light she saw the eternal wheel--birth, and life, and death, and rebirth issuing from death, and the meaning and power of enchantments. There was no need now to ask what was real, as she had questioned of Sir Robert Gordon; she knew with a certainty that was beyond question. The great realities that lay beyond this temporary material existence, and the delusions that were around us here because we only saw it partially and incorrectly.

It was a momentary glimpse of eternal verities, and faded as she moved away and turned from the window, yet leaving the memory that she had once known, and the conviction that that knowledge and that certainty might be recovered.

She looked round to see what gown she should wear, and as she opened the kist, at the very top there lay a robe she had no remembrance of whatsoever. Yet it seemed to be associated with her lover. Had he given it to her and she entirely forgotten it? There were confused memories haunting her consciousness. She knew he had given her some things, but what she could not recall. Perhaps he had given her this, perhaps it had been specially intended for this night. She began to think that this must be the case. In any case, it seemed singularly appropriate to what she was about to do. It was a deep soft purple, and in shape a long robe hung from the shoulder and confined by a silver girdle, whose clasp was a crescent moon; a few stray lines of silver meandered through it, but hardly to be called definite embroidery. It was lined with some white fur, which, though she did not recognise it, was in fact the skin of the white fox.

Beside the robe there lay a pair of sandals, with fox-skin thongs. These must doubtless have been part of the same gift, but her memory was wholly vague concerning it; indeed trying to think back, she could not recall any of his gifts clearly, though she was conscious there had been many. This robe, however, was clearly the appropriate dress for the night's adventure, so she slipped it over her shoulders, noticing as she did so the mark below the shoulder that she had received on the night of her initiation in the kirk of Aulderne. The girdle was clasped round her waist, and the brilliant hair bound with a silver snood; finally she slipped her bare feet into the sandals, and looked forth again.

By this time the moon had climbed half through the arc of heaven, and floated like a silver globe over the sleeping woods. It was time to set forth, and all the farm lay fast asleep.

It would be necessary to make two journeys to the kirk of Aulderne, for the new kneading trough must be taken there, also the clay in the iron pot and the blended water of the seven springs. She wrapped the trough in the dark green plaid, and threw it over her shoulder. The night was alive with strange beings gliding and flitting round, but whenever she paused and looked steadily at any of them there was nothing there, only the filmy silvery figures were to the right and left. The tombstones gleamed white and ghastly in the moonlight, and seemed like weird spectral beings moving in a quaint dance, as though they were trying to come in front of her and intercept her passage.

The strange feeling of unreality was over her. It was the well-known road from Lochloy to Aulderne that she had traversed, the kirkyard that was as familiar as the farm-steading itself that she was entering, yet almost it seemed as though it were just a picture forming in her own room in the farmhouse. The little window through which the moon shone seemed at the back of all the appearance of the gaunt bare kirk and the spectral tombstones.

Nevertheless she walked resolutely forward, caring not whether it were a dream or no, she was obsessed and quivering with the spirit of adventure. In the middle of the kirkyard she deposited the kneading trough, and set her face backward to the farm. The rustlings of the leaves became whispers sounding behind her and sometimes close at her side. Not a breath was stirring, yet a cool air through the sultriness seemed to move her hair, unseen fingers seemed to pluck at her dress from behind She turned round indignant, but there was nothing there. At last she gained the farm, walking so quickly that it was almost a run. The door was on the latch as she had left it. She lifted the ewer and the iron pot; as she turned the moonlight on the uneven glass of the little window looked like a crowd of evil faces grinning and mowing at her. A chill apprehension seized her. All these beings filled with a vile curiosity would watch her while she performed the ceremony. No! She could not face it. She set down the ewer and the pot and turned back, then she remembered the new kneading trough left in the kirkyard. Come what might, she must get that back again. It would be found and identified for hers in the morning. How could she possibly account for it. She must go back, and if she went back, she certainly might as well take the water and the clay, even though she brought them all home again.

So she set forth again with a consciousness of pushing her way through a crowd that dared not really interfere with her, but were infinitely annoying. Hideous faces grinned at her and vanished, white forms scarcely more than moonlit mist, yet with a human semblance, darted in front of her, like mischievous boys before a horse, but were gone before she could see them properly, and then were whispering behind. Yet all the time they did not seem to be real. As she neared the kirkyard they became more definite, gleaming eyes glared out of white fleshless skulls, and the bodies below were faintly blue, and faded away to nothing as they neared the ground, so that they glided without touching solid earth. When she stood still and fronted them they all vanished, to reappear directly she moved forward again.

At last she reached the kirkyard gate, and full in the moonlight before her she saw her kneading trough reposing in the midst of the kirkyard, half swathed in the dark plaid. The instant she passed the gate all the throng vanished with a mocking laugh, she was alone, but still uncomfortably conscious of being watched, However, she was determined now to persevere, or rather perhaps she lacked the volition not to go on.

She remembered every detail that she had to do. She went straight to the trough and emptied into it the powdered clay she had brought, with the herbs and other concomitants so carefully collected. Then she looked up. On this night the moon at her full would rise exactly in mid-heaven at midnight, and now she hung clear and dazzling brilliant, almost in the centre of her arc. Isabel cast the iron pot from her, there was nothing to identify in this, a common iron pot, many such were cast away. It rolled into a bed of nettles and was lost to sight. She lifted the ewer and poured its contents into the trough, then stooping over it she kneaded the clay with her hands into a thin paste. A little of the water was left in the ewer, with this she washed off the clay that stuck to them, and flung the ewer against a tombstone, shivering it into a hundred fragments. The moon now rested on her midmost point.

Isabel retired to the north-east corner of the kirkyard--the supreme moment had come--could she, dared she, go on? Half timorously she looked all round to the right and left, before and behind. The stillness was intense. Even the usual night sounds were hushed, all nature seemed pausing, as she thought with a frightened catch at her heart, to observe her. The very stars seemed to be a thousand eyes, watching with shameless curiosity. Then the fascination of the daring took her. She drew a long breath, stood erect for a moment, and then loosening the clasp of her robe at the neck she dropped her arms and let the dark robe and the white smock together slip rustling to her knees. One second she held her arms aloft, then she loosed the silver snood and shook out the mass of her tresses, stepped from the confining entanglement of the clothes about her feet, and stood forth a beautiful white naked figure in the strong moonlight.

She raised white arms of supplication, and fixing her eyes on the moon, she moved forward mechanically, as if in a dream, towards the trough, chanting as she moved almost under her breath:

'Hail, Lucina! Goddess, hail!

Love hath left thee passion-pale,

Giver of the fierce desire,

Lips of love that never tire,

Kisses hot as wine or fire,

Salt with foam as in the sea,

What bright babes are born of thee?

Teach me all the lust of love,

All thy secret ways to prove,

Quit thy throne in heaven above,

Come, O come!'

Reaching the trough as she chanted, she saw how the clay had somewhat settled, leaving the surface clear in which she saw the moon's image. Round the trough she went widdershins and continued her walk, finishing the invocation as she came to the wall, then turned and walked to the south-east. Here as she faced the trough the moon was behind her. Yet she dared not entirely lose sight of her. Standing erect and pressing the backs of her hands against her shoulders to balance herself, she threw her head back as far as she could, turning her eyes upward until the moon came into the range of her vision, and strained to the extreme in eye and in muscle she tottered forward. There was no obstruction in the path, but long grasses and ferns brushed her legs, sharp stones hurt her feet, the strain of the position made her giddy, but she held on till her foot struck against the trough. Once more round widdershins, and as in turning she faced again to the south and saw the moon reflected in the trough, as she stood in a natural posture, the relief was extreme. She crooned this part of the triple invocation, almost unconsciously:

'Hail, Diana! Huntress pale!

Ruler of the night, all hail!

Mistress of the ebb and flow,

Goddess of the silver bow,

Let me all thy secrets know,

Cold as ice, and chaste as snow,

Let me with thee hunt and kill,

Now obedient to my will,

From thy Temple on the hill,

Come, O come!'

A little farther, leaning back, and looking at the moon over the top of her head, with her hair falling straight back, and clear of her white body. Then she turned, but she tottered and could scarcely stand, for she was sick and giddy, and aching all over from the stress; the trees and the roofs of Aulderne wavered unsteadily before her eyes. But feeling her way from one tombstone to another, she came immediately to the north of the trough, where the moon shone directly behind it. Here, as at first, she raised her arms to the moon, and looking at it between her two forefingers pointed. She was hardly conscious, her brain felt numb as though she would never think clearly again, she longed for sleep, even the sleep of death, if sleep might come in no other way, and the whole of her spine was one continous ache. But she would finish this task she had begun, though she lay down on the turf to die when it was done. The final chant was only whispered, so weak and weary was she:

'Hecate! Hecate! Hecate!

Queen of the dead. The hour is sped.

Come down! Come down! Come down!

From 'thy throne on high. In the midnight sky,

With the Northern Lights thy crown--

Hecate! Hecate! Hecate!

Come down! Come down! Come down!'

So going directly towards the moon she stumbled across the intervening space to the trough, and standing a short distance from it, so that she could see the moon reflected, she raised her eyes to the moon in the sky. But still the aching eyeballs refused to steady themselves. She was certain the moon itself was wavering--then a brilliant meteor shot across the sky, and when she looked again there was actually a simulacrum as it were of the moon detaching itself from the luminary and floating downwards, pale and ghostlike, as though to join the image of itself in the trough. This grew brighter as she forced her eyes to follow it, and the moon itself in the heaven seemed to grow very dim as though only the spectre of itself remained in the heaven. Down and down till the reflection in the trough seemed rising to meet its image. Only with great difficulty could she hold her eyes open and watch the two images. Men under the influence of fiery Spanish wines have seen the like. At length the two coalesced, and a mist arose from the trough around the brilliant orb, that was not a reflection. It seemed as if the water was boiling, and a white foam like churning snow was formed over the surface. It rose and spread like sea-foam dashed on a rock in a storm.

Now she remembered what she had to do--she went forward, controlling herself with strong effort, took up the dark green plaid and with her hands gathered the foam as it boiled over. It felt cold as ice, and half solid like whipped cream. Handful after handful she threw into the plaid till all was gone. Then behind the trough and looking at her stood a wondrous beautiful female form, pale and silvery with eyes of love and kindness, strong and sweet and vast--she was fully twice the height and size of common humanity. She laid cool hands on Isabel's burning brow and aching eyes, then opening wide her strong arms she folded her therein, soothing her like a tired child. The turmoil of the brain ceased, the weariness vanished. It was as though a new vigorous life were poured into her, and all the old vitality and joy of life came back in a strong flood. She closed her eyes and let herself sink back in rapturous peace and enjoyment. The castle of Inshoch rose before her mental vision, and all the romance and glory of the times she had known. There was now no doubt, all was real, all was splendid, and life, real life, was coming again.

Thrills shot through her limbs and a warm glow rushed over her. She opened her eyes again, knowing well that she would see the Dark Master, for she felt his presence before she saw him, and there verily he stood smiling before her.

'Well done, sweetheart!' he said. Well done! I knew ye were worthy to be my bride and the queen of the coven. Others have won the moon-paste with help and with diffculty. None have ever got it through such difficulties as ye have faced. None have ever worked spells so potent.'

He spread his arms, opening wide the long cloak he wore, and enfolded her within and bore her to the corner of the kirkyard, or was it a sumptuous coach of Oriental magnificence?

'Rest here awhile, sweet love--then hey for home. I will myself bear ye there, well have ye earned all the homage that I or any of mine can pay ye.'

Awhile they rested there, and he praised her courage and determination in winning the moon-paste against such heavy odds, and praised her beauty, which, as he said, now glowed fairer than ever, bright as the lily flower. It seemed he could never tire of his wild adulation, nor she of listening. But at last he said:

'Now, dear love! the hour has struck, we must away. Come, I will for once be your tiring woman.'

The discarded robe lay on the grass of the kirkyard, and he helped her put it on again, and to fasten the girdle around her waist.

'For this very occasion did I give it thee, love. It was consecrated to Hecate for this service. No then, with this windlestraw we will away; but first gather up the moon-paste thou hast won in the neuk of the plaid; gird it round thy shoulders. So! Now then "Horse and hattock, mount and go!" And hey for Lochloy!'

The great black steed stood there before them, and instantly she was, as of old, nestling in her lover's arms, and holding the plaid in the neuk of which was carried the precious moon-paste. The kneading trough he had but kicked with his foot and it. Its function was done.

Over Brodie woods they circled, and over the town of Forres, where some who were early afoot saw a strange meteor flash through the sky, and told their comrades they had heard wild cries, and the tramp of a horse, whereat they were very nearly haled before the magistrates on the charge of drunkenness, but were excused on the plea that it was just a stark lie, so censorious is the world towards those who simply narrate what they see and hear. Then back they wheeled towards Lochloy.

All the old ideas and desires surged over her in redoubled force from their temporary suppression.

'Lord,' she whispered, 'ye will take me for a man-hunt, as ye promised?'

'Ay, love! that will I; 'tis the noblest sport. But mark ye this. We hunt on Brodie, and on Grangehill and Culben for these are of the Covenant and belong to us of nature; and we hunt on Gordonstown, for Sir Robert hath given his sanction. But we hunt not on the Morays' lands nor on Tannachy. For in Darnaway we feast, and Tulloch is a good friend of the Morays. Over the Cummings' lands of Altyre at present we hunt not, for the wild Cummings have been good friends of mine for many a year. So our next hunt shall be along the sea-coast.'

'Where ye will, my lord, but take me with ye.'

'So shall it be, love; and here we are at Lochloy, and the dawn is breaking. So fare ye well!'

Without knowing how it chanced, she found herself in her own room, and all that had passed might well have been a dream, save that her weariness and depression had vanished as by magic, and in the neuk of her plaid there was a curious plastic substance like very white clay.


Chapter Twelve. The Man-Hunt at Gordonstown

FROM the north side of Gordonstown house a straight track led through the trees and over some fields to the links, and thence continuing through half a mile or so of rough heather and whins to the edge of the great red sandstone cliffs, honeycombed with caves. The moon, now decreased to half her round, shone in mid-heaven, and the shadow of the cliffs lay on the water, where the waves lashed white over the dangerous skerries, the low rocks that were almost or quite submerged at high tide, and through which ran bewildering cross currents, and at certain times a strong undertow, making a navigation such as only a very skilful sailor, and one absolutely familiar with the coast, could attempt.

Sir Robert stood on the cliff's edge talking to a man dressed in hodden grey, with a blue Scots bonnet, who was often seen in his company.

'To-morrow night, then,' said the baronet.

'Nay! not night, we must have light enough. An hour before sunset we pass over here. Watch from the roof of Gordonstown--'twill be worth seeing.'

'So it is well. Look down there. Not one thing can ye see in the shadow, yet there lies the little Mermaid, she is the smallest of my craft, but one of the best on the seas, and there's not a man in Morayland who could take her out from there except old Danny. Ten days ago she brought over certain hogsheads of good French aqua vitae. Since then she has lain at Buckie in the guise of a fishing boat. Old Danny knoweth how to disguise her till her own builder would not recognise her. Now she comes back for the return voyage, taking advantage of the shadow of the moon for her landing here, and I warrant me old Danny will have her out and away ere yon moon shall set.'

'A clever loon, I ken that full well,' said the other; 'yet an some of my covens were to set a spell on him and raise the wind, I trow even he would not win out in safety, nor would the Mermaid ever sail the salt seas again. Even Mistress Isabel, who hath just learned the spells; is more than a match for your Danny.'

'Well I wot,' said Sir Robert, 'but therefore do send him forth in all confidence though the moon be ringed, and all the signs of a storm. This keeps the Lords Commissioners' sleuth-hounds at bay. They dare not venture forth with such tokens of tempests in the air. But thou and I, good gossip, know whence the tempests come, and I know they will not be loosened this night.'

'That ye may trust to. Ye have my promise. Yet the time may well come when ye may be glad to have a tempest raised, and Mistress Isabel's help may not come amiss.'

'I like her,' said Sir Robert. 'She hath wit and culture and beauty. And in sooth ye ken full well I like not that tear-sheet crew of thine. Hags indeed, the most of them.'

'They serve me well,' said the other curtly. 'I like her too,' he continued, with a certain change of tone which Sir Robert noted.

'Ay! Black Jock. Ye were ever a lover. Was it not ye that deceived old Adam's wife in Eden? Well; such play is not for me. Women attract me not in that manner; it is knowledge I need, and that ye give me. I ask but leave to watch how things move, and to explore the forces that move them. Isabel, the dear creature, is young. She wants to alter them.'

'So much the better for you, Robert! Ye will need her help to alter some things yet. Ye might watch them till they destroyed ye before your time.'

Sir Robert turned round with a reply on his tongue, but the other was no longer there.

Meditatively Sir Robert walked to the edge of the cliff, and struck a path downward that was indeed little more than a ledge and hardly to be seen.

'Before my time,' he muttered. 'Ay, Black Jock, perhaps ye have me there; yet men have cheated the Devil before now, and there's Birnie kirkyard. Well, well! time enough yet, I trow.'

At the foot of the path a sailor met him; one of the dark, foreign-looking men of the Broch, with ringlet curls and earrings in his ears, heavy sea-boots to his thighs, and a knitted woollen jersey of dark blue, and a stocking-shaped cap of the same.

'Good e'en to ye, Danny,' said Sir Robert. 'Ye will sail to-night. What carry ye back?'

'Saut fish and other merchandise from Findhorn, your honour. I went thither from Buckie two days ago. Ye ken I'm just a wee bit trading boatie, ower slow it may be for the trade. But I carry them cheap, so they will not be minding greatly. Oh, they ken me well in Findhorn. But yon's safe enough in the cave there, twenty good barrels, and there'll be twenty more on the next voyage.'

'And what news from the French port, Danny? Heard ye aught concerning young Master Hamilton?'

'Ay, did I. But none that was good. The sailors there gossip among themselves; and the English lords are just mad to catch the young gentleman, and the French rebels will help them. I wot they have good English gold in their pouches, and more promised if they succeed. And they are mad against your honour too. Ye ken I warned ye of that before.'

'Ay! that ye did; and ye told me of some of my own people that were plotting with the English to take me prisoner. Marry! I think the man who puts his hand in an earth to pull out a fox has a chance to get bitten. But who are they? Ye promised me their names.'

'I did so, your honour, and here they are.'

He pulled a dirty screw of paper from his pouch and read.

'There's John Rhind and William Rhind, James Anderson, and Peter Adam. These four and a woman with them, that's Kirsty Johnston. She bides with Peter Adam, but I trow it's no by the leave o' the kirk.'

'Well, well! Lowlanders and Covenanters the whole lot of them. Are ye sure that these are all, and no one else knows of this scheme?'

'Those are all, your honour, with the exception of course of myself. I arranged the whole plan for catching your honour unawares, and I am to lend my boat to convey your honour bound to France, and for this I am to have a double share of the English gold. Of course, ye ken my boat's but a slow one, and heavy and ill to manage--oh, it's fine she can disguise herself, the tawpie!--they know that, but it does not much matter, for once we have your honour safe on board, there will be no one of the interfere with us, and the English frigate will watch. But ye may rely on it, these men will tell no one; they want none to share the English gold with them.'

'Well, Danny! There are many chances in life, and if these five persons should chance to die, take it their secret will die with them.'

'Under favour, I wish not to die yet, your honour.'

'I said five, Danny, not six. Ye are a strong man, and used to the sea; I think ye are likely to survive the others.'

Danny chuckled grimly.

'As your honour pleases,' he said. 'I think I may be of some small service yet. Well, the tide is on the turn, and the wind is right. I will e'en get me on board, and set forth while the moon serves. 'Twere ill to try crossing the skerries in the dark.'

He saluted, and the shadow of the cliff swallowed him.

Sir Robert turned and climbed the steep path up the cliff, and walked rapidly over the links and fields to Gordonstown. Sitting down beside his business table, he drew out a small black book headed 'Daily Accompt of Labour on the Lands of Gordonstown.' This he studied with minute care, making sundry marginal notes. 'That will do well,' he said to himself. Then he wrote a memorandum, which he placed on the table for the steward's instruction in the morning--'The two Rhinds. Anderson and Adam, and the woman Johnston to work in the fields of the Pleughlands of Drainie until the hour of sunset. These fields must all be cleansed and ploughed; all the other men to work upon my new stables. The women when the cows are tended, to busy themselves within doors, where there is much that needs to do.'

'Were it safe for me, I wonder, to bide at home and go on the roof, or to go abroad toamorrow?' he mused. 'I will e'en seek counsel of Arel.'

He took his way to the western wing of the house to a vaulted stone room, where a hooded furnace was burning with a clear red glow. On to the heart of the fire he cast a powder that immediately flamed up with weird blue light, in which his face looked like the face of a dead man. As this died down, the glowing mass became an emerald green, with a lurid heart of red, and strange curls of blue smoke writhed upward like serpents. Sir Robert sat on the settle gazing intently into the midst of the fire, till all else seemed to vanish, and the embers and the curls of smoke began to take on fantastic shapes, and a yellow flame that flickered and danced over the fiery mass seemed to become a dancing figure that answered the signs he made with his hand towards it. He looked yet more intently, and something within his head seemed to reply to his unspoken thoughts.

'Ha! On the roof, sayest thou. Well, I believe thou art right. Tell me now, what of Cosmo? In danger, is he? So much I deemed. But he will escape this time, sayest thou. But what of the future? Thou canst not tell. The Lords of Fate! Ha! Ever they cross me. There is a power there that is mightier than any that I can yet control. Even Black Jock must bow to them. Tell me, then, can I resist their decree? Shall I ever be able to resist it? What is it that thou sayest? Once only. And then-- Ha! Art thou gone?'

The leaping, yellow flame flickered and vanished, the vaulted room grew dim. Sir Robert took a small hand cruisie which he lighted from the furnace, and betook himself to his sleeping apartment.

The date of the sailing of Danny's boat from the port of Findhorn is duly recorded in the ledgers of the Calders, the worthy merchants of that town, and at the same time we find that Master Harry Forbes records that there arose a recrudescence of the grievous sickness that had before vexed the land. For on the very day following the departure of the slow but safe fishing boat bound for France, wherein, by reason of the cheapness, the Calders had placed a cargo of unimportant matter, such as cured fish and the like, the minister of Aulderne says it was reported to him that five persons, to wit, four men and a woman labouring in the fields of Pleughlands of Gordonstown, did on a sudden and for no visible cause fall dead. 'I hear,' he continues, 'that the worthy laird of Gordonstown hath been most kind and considerate, and hath generously provided from his own purse for the families of these unfortunate persons, and they that be dead he hath caused bury at his own charges. It is said also that there is a new outbreak of the wasting sickness, but of this I know not at present. And I fear much that a judgment of God hath fallen on this unhappy land.'

But it seems that his friend the leech was very scornful concerning this judgment. Though indeed his own explanation of the deaths of these unfortunate persons, albeit couched in very learned language, and garnished with sundry Latin tags and quotations, was by no means so clear as he would have it thought. The sum and substance of his opinion appeared to be that whereas certain marshy lands on the margin of Loch Spynie had been left dry all the summer and were now soaked with stagnant water, there arose therefrom a certain poisonous miasma, which by reason of an electrical disturbance, due to a peculiar configuration of the planets, was carried over the said Pleughlands, or indeed might perchance arise from the very soil thereof, the same being now ploughed for the first time, and the ancient vapours set free, would instantly be fatal to those who breathed them. Which indeed was laid down by the learned Magister Averroes, as also by Harpocrates and Aesculapiusa. And it was specially to be noted, in confirmation thereof, that one of the five had been a considerable distance towards Roseisle.

Be that as it may. It is certain that these persons died as was said, and the labourers working on Sir Robert's new stables reported to their fellows that an hour before sunset they heard a sound as of wild trampling and rushing of horses in the air, and cries and shoutings, but they could not distinguish any words. But others again said there had been a thunderstorm about that time, and a very fierce fall of hail lasting for some half an hour or so, and that they fancied there had been a sound of horses' hoofs, as indeed anyone might whose imagination was vivid enough. Some, however, in timorous whispers, and careful that they were not overheard, queried of these and of the house servants whether they deemed the wizard laird had aught to do with the matter. But this unworthy suggestion was promptly negatived by his generous kindness to the families of those who had thus died. Moreover, they were his own people, and no man will thus causelessly and from wantonness destroy his own.

Major Whitehead, who at the time commanded the English Covenanting soldiers in Elgin, wrote concerning this event to his superior in London. 'I beg to report, having good cause, as you are aware, to suspect Sir Robert Gordon of disaffection to the Parliamentary cause, and to the well-being of the Commonwealth; yet by reason of his great influence and powerful friends, and for other good and sufficient reasons, being unable to take any active or overt measures against him I did, as you commanded, arrange with certain good and true men employed in his service to take him privily and place him on board a small ship commanded by a man on whom I could implicitly rely, who plies with honourable merchandise betwixt here and France; to the end that, being separated from his friends, and none knowing his situation or destination, he might be dealt with as seemed good to the Lords Commissioners. Yet it seemed that the Devil takes good care of his own. For the five persons to whom this charge was given did all die suddenly while at their avocations. For which, save by the malice of the Devil and his hatred of the true principles of the Covenant, and of the Protestant faith, and the Commonwealth, I am unable to account; for I am very certain that no news of this plan of ours could by any means have come to the ears of the said Sir Robert. Nor can I trace any connivance of his in this sad catastrophe, and I fear it will be hard to procure any others who will take any part against him.'

So many various opinions were there of this catastrophe which caused no small terror in the land. For though there had been sudden and unexplained deaths before, there had never been such a wholesale mortality, so many at one time and place so suddenly struck down. There was report also of a man in Kinloss who had died similarly the same day while taking some stones from the old Abbey ruins.

There were two persons who could have given a true account of these happenings, and they were Isabel Goudie and Sir Robert Gordon of Gordonstown, but neither of these for very good reasons of their own said anything about the matter.

It was in fact the day of the great hunt which the Dark Master had promised to Isabel, and to which she had keenly looked forward.

Questioned long afterwards whether she felt no compunction or hesitation in thus going forth to take lives that had done her no ill, she replied frankly that the idea had never at that time occurred to her. It was the sport she loved. The deer was a nobler quarry than the hare, so the man was noblest and most desirable of all. She might kill for hatred, that was another matter. She hated the wolf for the ill he did, and would kill him in hatred; but she did not hate the deer, nor did she kill for use. One might fly a hawk at a partridge and eat it afterwards, yet it was nobler sport to fly at a heron. In this way she tried to explain, but we gather the questioner failed to understand.

All the morning of this day she had been in a tremor of excitement. The whole coven were to turn out. The night before the Dark Master had visited her. She had now got to know and to love the solemn black crow that fluttered in through the unfastened lattice. She always left it unfastened now. John Gilbert hardly ever now came to her room, and when he did, it was with many apologies and shamefacedly, and when the black crow hopped gravely through the window, his snores from the kitchen proved how deep was his slumber, nor did he ever waken, however much they might laugh together.

This night he told her of the programme. They were not to ride together, for both must have their hands free to shoot whenever the quarry was sighted, but they would ride side by side, and the rest of the coven should follow. Over Brodie, and Culben, Muirtown, Windyhills, and Roseisle would be their route to Gordonstown. There they would turn. Passing the fairy Hill of Alves about sunset, and so home. Then, as she nestled in his arms, he said:

'When I am gone, sweetheart, look in your old kist, there ye will find your hunting dress. Take it as a gift from me. One hour after the sun touches the hour of noon, put it on. Take a windlestraw and cry "Horse and hattock," and ride eastward; on the edge of Brodie woods is our gathering place. There I will meet ye. Mind ye fill your pouch with the arrows I gave ye. I think we shall meet with rare sport. Now to sleep, and rest ye well to gather strength for the morrow.'

He laid his hand on her head, and with a contented little sigh, like a tired child, she nestled down into the bed, and knew no more.

She was fast asleep when John Gilbert left. He was well content now, for his farm was thriving as never before. Why, he never inquired too closely. Harry Forbes told him it was because his wife was now a godly follower of the Reformed Kirk, and, having abandoned the papistical errors that she formerly had a leaning to, had become a shining light and ensample unto the district, the which he much desired that all good wives in Aulderne would follow more closely; and John himself had become in a certain measure more kempt and presentable.

It was a glorious day of early winter, the air keen and sparkling and full of life. The sun shone brightly over the bare boughs of the hardwood trees, and gilded the tall funereal pines. Isabel rose thoroughly rested and exhilarated and full of life and joy of living. She eagerly opened the kist, and there lay a hunting dress such as she had hardly dared to imagine. It was a dark green, nearly the colour of the spruce fir, and laced with silver; a dainty little hunting cap lay beside it, and a pouch which promptly she filled with the arrows she had treasured for an occasion such as this. There also a baldrick to which was attached a silver-mounted hunting horn. She unfolded it and laid it out, but she would not put it on till the time her lover had specified, when the noon had passed by one hour, but she stroked and smoothed and fondled it. Besides being his gift, it was a thing of beauty in itself.

She went to the door and looked out into the sunshine.

A stoat ran across the road in front of the farmhouse, carrying a sparrow in its mouth.

'Brave little hunter!' she said. 'Ye have taken your game early this fine morning. Dost know that I go a-hunting too to-day. It is a glad day for us both. Methinks we are akin, thou and I. Hey! but what sport we will have.'

In the course of the morning Margaret Brodie came over from her cottage.

'Wot ye, my dearie, that we hunt to-day? Och hey! but 'twill be fine! Ye have never hunted with us yet. I count not the rides we have had after the deer in Darnaway. Ho! Is that your hunting dress? My word, but 'tis grand. Ye will look like the queen of the coven indeed. Nay, fear not, I'll never touch it. And the horn too. Eh, lassie! but I'm glad. And it's proud that I am that it was I who held ye to be baptized. Indeed, there's not one of us can come near ye. And now I'll tell ye news. That ill besom Toad i' the Wind hath told her lover Hay of Park about ye.'

Isabel shivered.

'Margaret! what comes of this? An the tale gets abroad about us, what shall befall us? And wot ye the man hates me, for he sought to be my lover, but I would have none of him.'

'Now nay, my dearie! ye must fear naught. Sure, ye are the Dark Master's favourite, and think ye he has not power to protect ye. He hath delivered Hay into your hands. Moreover, Hay dare not utter a word to any, for it would give away his mistress to be a witch, and I tell ye he is afraid of his life of her now. Och hey! it's the miserable man he is; and for all the wealth of Morayland I would not be in the shoes of Toad i' the Wind. She hath angered the Master once too often, and when he smites he smites hard. Fare ye well now. I must e'en get back to prepare for the hunt. Eh! but it's the glorious sport we'll have!'

Isabel, left to herself, soon dismissed Hay of Lochloy and Park from her mind, the day was too fine and the prospect of sport too splendid for any such unpleasant images. She trusted her lover absolutely. Come what might, he would protect her, and Hay and his light o' love would suffer. Perhaps she would have the extra delight of punishing them, or him at any rate--the thought was a luxury.

She took her mid-day meal with appetite and enjoyment, and watched the sun sloping from his highest culmination in the heaven. Then at last in a tremor of delight she began to put on the hunting dress. How she loved every fold of it! She looked at herself in the little flawed mirror and was conscious that she was looking her very best. The little jaunty cap with the silver embroidery, and the curled white feather, exactly suited her ruddy locks, and the dress itself fitted her long lithe figure like a glove. She fastened the pouch to the waist belt, and felt that the arrows were there; then she slung the baldrick over her shoulder, and placed the hunting horn in position, half tempted to blow a blast and try the effect. All being complete, she stepped from the door and caught a drifting windlestraw. Laying it on the ground, she cried 'Horse and hattock, in the Devil's name!' and immediately the great black horse was there before her. She stepped on the dyke and thence sprang to the saddle.

'Horse and hattock! Mount and go!

Horse and pellatis! Ho, ho!'

Away to the eastward they sped. Others she saw coming along from various quarters. Margaret Brodie drew up beside her on a chestnut horse.

'Eh, my dearie! but I'm glad to see ye here; 'tis a grand day for a hunt, and I think we'll see fine sport.'

'How many will we kill, think ye, Margaret?'

'Indeed, I could not say. Last time we were out there was three or four. It was a good day that. Sometimes there's but two, and sometimes none at all. There's much of chance in it, sometimes all we see are marked "preserved," and ye ken we must not shoot at these. But we go over good ground to-day. Hist, here we are.'

The scene looked very like an ordinary hunting meet, save that the horses were finer than even were usually seen at my Lord of Moray's great gatherings at Darnaway, and all the company were gay in beautiful hunting dresses, but none so exquisitely attired as Isabel. The Dark Master, on his superb black stallion, and in the costly hunting dress worn by men at that time, was at the opening of a glade facing the company. He cast his eyes over the riders as each new arrival came up.

'Where is Toad i' the Wind?' he said sternly. 'I bade her specially come.'

'Master,' said another woman from Aulderne, 'I heard her say she was wearied, and could not hunt to-day.'

'A paltry excuse,' said he. 'She knoweth that she hath wearied my patience by repeated disobedience and disloyalty. Nay, more, she hath broken her pledged word to me, and hath repeated the secrets of the coven to outside ears, and why? Because through a vile and contemptible jealousy she hath sought to bring trouble on your queen. An I suffer this to pass, none of ye were safe See now she shall come whether she like or no.'

Low to himself he chanted some strange words, whereof those present could catch nothing, and raised his right hand with a commanding gesture, pointing it towards Aulderne.

'Come!' he called in a loud, stern voice, 'Toad I' the Wind, come! Thy Master calls.'

Instantly on the road from Aulderne, the wretched woman came riding on a sorry horse, dirty, dishevelled and ill-favoured.

'Master, forgive!' she ejaculated.

'The time is past,' he said. 'Follow the coven. I shall have somewhat to say to thee presently.'

'Now, sweet love!' he said, turning to Isabel. 'Forget that malignant hag. She sought to injure thee. But I have her safe. Dost trust me?'

'Yea, my dear lord. In life and death, am I not thine?'

'Ride, then, beside me, and we will see the rarest sport to-day. Remember only two things for our hunting. Whenever ye shall see a glow like unto a white mist around man or woman, shoot not. These are preserved. It is the sign we are bound to respect. Also shoot not across water, for ye would but lose our arrows to no purpose. Keep close to me, and whatever game we sight, ye 'shall have the best of it.'

Through Brodie woods they swept, separating along the drives, making a wide line over the open farms: but for long they saw none. Then the Lord Brodie himself passed, but the white mist was round him. Some cursed, but the Dark Master only laughed.

'Too young,' he said. 'Not in years, but in maturity. His time hath to come yet.'

Some men and women were working in a field, but all had the sign of preservation. A man and woman were digging in a field; there was no sign on them. Margaret Brodie and Janet Broadhead simultaneously loosed their arrows, but they fell short.

'Witless are ye,' quoth the Master. 'Have ye lived here all your lives and know not the Muckle Burn yet, though it runs out of sight among the willows? Now ye have lost two shots. Up in the air then. Let us take a wide sweep over Dyke and Culben. Perchance we may find something there.'

Near to Culben mansion-house they saw a man carrying a dog to drown it.

'After him,' cried the Master; 'a pestilent scoundrel!'

Elspet Nishie of Aulderne wheeled round and dashed for the man. He heard the rushing through the air, dropped the dog, and turned and fled. She loosed an arrow in haste and missed him.

'May I shoot again?' she called back.

'Nay,' said the Master, 'ye will not get him this time. Gather together and fly south over Forres. We will get something there.'

By the east end of Forres a man was coming out at a gate; no protective mist was round him. Bessie Hay had seen him first; she turned her horse and headed him off. He ran back through the gate making for the shelter of his house, but she was too quick for him, and loosed an arrow, striking him full in the head. He reeled over and fell. The whole coven shouted with delight at the first kill of the day.

'It was well done,' said the Master; 'ye shall have his ghost to serve ye.'

A thin white form hovered over the body. Bessie pounced on it and bound it to her saddle bow.

'Master,' said Isabel, as they all gathered round, 'tell me, is that what they call the soul?'

'Nay, sweetheart. See ye! A man can but damn his own soul. But for the ghost we have power, if so be we can kill him. It lives but a short time. The ghost belongs of right to the one who kills.'

A crowd had collected where the man fell, and a leech hurried up.

''Tis a stroke,' he said. 'The man is dead, Had I but been in time to blood him before he fell, he would have lived.'

'Away,' cried the Dark Master, 'We have no time to waste. Ho! "Horse and hattock!" Now, sweetheart, ye shall take the next.'

By Kinloss, as they swept eastward, two men were sitting on a wall talking. Isabel sped out from the company, circling round, and blew a long clear blast from her bugle to start them. One fled into the Abbey ruins and was in sanctuary; the other ran down the burn. In another moment he would have crossed it and baffled her shot, but she headed him, and fitting an arrow in her forefinger, sprang it with her thumb, knocking him clean over on the bank before his foot touched the water. Remembering Bessie Hay's kill in Forres, she rode up, and as the ghost floated over the body her attendant spirit, the Red Reiver, was on the spot, and seized it, binding it fast to her saddle bow.

'Horse and hattock!' Onward again the coven sped across the lands of Windyhills, where they found two and got one of them, and then on for the Pleughlands of Gordonstown. The spirits of the whole coven were wild with delight. The day was clear and bright, the air sparkling and exciting like deep draughts of good wine, the sport was splendid. Four were bagged already, and only half of the day was passed. Never had been such a hunt. They ascribed it to Isabel's presence among them. Gaily she wound her bugle horn. She was the only one of the coven save the Master himself who was allowed to carry this symbol of authority.

Toad i' the Wind followed sullenly, the only discontented one there, nursing a jealous hatred in her heart against Isabel, As they passed by the old hawthorn tree on Roseisle, she secretly felt in her pouch for an arrow, and watching her opportunity, she launched it at Isabel, as she galloped beside the Master. With a light laugh he put out his hand and caught it.

'So, Mistress,' he said. 'We have a reckoning yet to dispose of when this hunt is done.' It was perhaps fortunate for her that none others of the coven saw her dastardly attempt, for they would assuredly have torn her to pieces then and there. So great was their pride in their queen.

'Horse and hattock!' With shouts and cheers and merry bugle blasts they sped to Gordonstown, where the five already mentioned were at work on the fields of the Pleughlands. Ho! but the sport was rare. Could they but bag all five! But an unforeseen complication occurred here, for Anderson had the sight, and looking upward he saw the whole troop careering through the clouds, as a heavy storm rolled up into the sunny air from the south over the Monaughty. A quick breeze sprang up, and the sky grew overcast. The coven separated and swung round into a wide circle to cut off any escape. The five dashed in different directions, but were headed everywhere. Four were killed, the Master himself taking one at a very long shot, but James Anderson, having the advantage of 'the sight,' knew exactly where his pursuers were and contrived to break through the line and run for Roseisle. He was jubilant, for now he alone was left of the plotters. He could hire a few broken men to help him at a small cost, and claim the whole reward of the English Covenanters for kidnapping Sir Robert. A sudden rush of hail beat on him and confused him, he stumbled in a ditch, and a gleam of lightning showed him Isabel Goudie on her black horse directly before him. She had seen him cross the line and get away, and instantly had dashed out alone in pursuit. The arrow sped with fatal aim. Red Reiver was by her stirrup in a moment, and the ghost of the traitor was at her saddle bow as she rode back in triumph.

Sir Robert, watching from the roof of Gordonstown, saw the last of the plotters fall just as the storm cloud drifted away over the sea, and the sun laughed out again.

'Bear ye round by your right,' the Master shouted. 'We are for the Fairy Hill of Alves, the Seat of Justice. We have business there.'

Toad i' the Wind cowered and shivered, and a cold sweat was on her cold limbs as her flesh quivered with fear. But follow she must. So on over the fertile lowlands the coven swept, the Dark Master and Isabel leading. The Knock of Alves rose before them, bare of trees then, and covered only with a thick growth of whin and heather. Round to the south side they circled, where there was an immemorial beech-wood in whose recesses lay a tiny loch, whose clear, still waters imaged the tree trunks and the flaming sunset behind. A few hundred yards farther on was an ancient stone circle, around which stood some giant beeches, now wholly bare of leaves. On the central moss-covered stone that looked like a giant's throne with green velvet cushions the Master took his seat. Isabel stood beside him. As she did so she was aware of a dainty figure of a woman dressed in long, flowing white silk robes with a cloak of green, gold-broidered, her golden hair flowing down over the cloak almost to her knee; on her head a coronet of gold and pearls confined a gauzy white veil, and her face was of a rare and steadfast beauty; beside her was a young man, slim and agile in appearance, but very stately and royal in his bearings, wearing a green silk shirt, loose to the level of his thigh, and a green cap with a gold coronet round it set jauntily on his curly chestnut hair.

'We are on their ground,' the Master said aside to Isabel, 'and hold court here by their permission.'

The rest of the coven stood outside the circle. The Master made a sign with his hand, and two stalwart women of the band haled the wretched Toad i' the Wind to the two tallest stones that formed the entrance to the circle.

'Toad i' the Wind,' he said, 'the hour has struck. My patience is exhausted. Long have I borne with ye, because ye were vowed to me, and ye have been of the coven. Ye have disobeyed me, and resisted my will. I have warned ye, but ye took no warning. Moreover, ye have insulted the Queen of the Coven, even the Lady Hacallah. I gave ye one more chance: I gave ye for a mistress to the man Hay of Lochloy, that ye might redeem your honour and your place among us. But ye have betrayed even this trust, and ye have spoken to this man of the queen; ye have said that which ye vowed never to say, and he hath repeated it to the minister of Aulderne. Thereby ye have done your best to place the whole coven in danger which I shall have to ward off. Last of all, even this day, in vile spite and jealousy, which should not even be named among us, ye have dared attempt the life of the Lady Hacallah, with one of my own arrows. Did ye then doubt my power? Nay then, I will give ye the last proof ye will ever have in this world. I hereby withdraw from ye all that I gave, all my power and protection. You trust to men. Very well, men shall deal with ye. Ho! rise ye now "Horse and hattock!"'

Up in the air rose the coven, their horses wheeling and circling round. The pair whom Isabel had first noticed remained within the circle, standing beside the mossy stone. Toad i' the Wind alone remained crouching piteously on the ground. She caught a drifting straw and cried 'Horse and hattock, in the name of the Devil!' but the straw never stirred. Two men came along through the wood and spied her.

'There's one of them,' said the foremost; 'heard ye not how she called on the Devil? Methinks he wants her not. 'Tis an ill-faured besom. Seize her! Come along, ye vile witch. I trow Master Kincaid shall deal with ye. It's worried at the stake ye'll be, and lucky if ye be not burnt quick. I myself heard ye call on the Devil. Now see if he will help ye. Come! turn yourself to a hare, or a cat, an ye can. Sheriff's men are we. Come along then. We be God-fearing men of the Reformed Kirk, and the Presbyteries will put down all such accursed practices.'

Rapidly they dragged her away, vainly protesting and crying out that she was no witch but an honest woman.

Isabel would fain have pleaded with her lover for the wretched creature, but he was grim and stern as she had never seen him before.

'Go down, sweetheart,' he said, 'and take my salutation to yon noble pair, and my thanks for the favour they have shown me. They may show ye favours also, in an hour of need, should such arise.'

She turned her horse and circled round again, descending in the circle. Here she sprang from her horse and bowed low before the princely pair, delivering her message. The lady bent forwardly graciously, and laid her hand on Isabel's head. That instant the rough stones of the circle seemed to be exquisitely carved marble pillars, entwined with lovely roses, unseen harps rang with sweet minstrelsy, the scent of a hundred flowers was on the air, and troops of dainty beings were dancing.

'Lady,' she said, 'I have watched ye long. Ye are welcome to Elfland. By our pact we must accord courtesy to him who but now sat here. Yet is there little of kin between us. I bid ye come here whenever ye have need. Ye shall pass a night and a day with us, and all trouble and sorrow shall fall from ye.'

Isabel sought to thank her and speak words of courtesy, but none would come, only the soothing influence of the scene, the music and the scents passed into her brain, and the memory of Toad i' the Wind wholly passed from her as though such a thing had never been. And when she looked around the fairy court had disappeared, she lay alone in the old stone circle, the great black horse too was gone. She must hie her home. She must overtake the rest of the coven. A windlestraw would take her quickly. One drifted past; she raised her hand to catch it, but she was intolerably weary. A weight lay on her eyelids. She lifted a fern stem, but she could not even cry the spell of 'Horse and hattock.' Her head sank on the mossy stone, and all consciousness faded till the half-moon shining through her own chamber window woke her. But days afterwards she came to know that Maggie Wilson was missing from the little house in Aulderne village, and that five men who had plotted to kidnap Sir Robert Gordon had died suddenly of some mysterious sickness in the Pleughlands of Drainie by Gordonstown. So then it was not altogether merely a vivid dream as it seemed to be at first.


Chapter Thirteen. The Witching of Mr. Harry Forbes

MR. PATRICK INNES relates that his friend Harry Forbes told him of a very serious illness that befell him about this time, whereby he was kept in his bed for several weeks, and was unable for some months to resume his duties as a minister of the gospel. It was a year, he said, of very grievous sickness throughout the land. For not only had men been suddenly struck dead who had previously been quite hale and strong, but there had been a fresh and most lamentable outbreak of 'the wasting sickness.' wherewith the eldest son of the laird of Park and Lochloy had been attacked, and other forms of disease had been prevalent besides. It chanced also, he said, that at the same time a notorious witch, one Maggie Wilson, who lived in his own parish of Aulderne, had been taken in the very act of invoking the Devil beside the Knock of Alves, and close to the heathen temple that is there; which things were proved on the sworn testimony of two good and true men who were Sheriff's officers, and heard her call on the Devil, who, however, they said, came not to her aid. Wherefore being taken to Elgin, they did place her in the Order Pot to undergo the ordeal by water, whereupon by the aid of her wicked sorcery she floated on the said water; and thereafter John Kincaid, called the witch-finder, or sometimes the common pricker, being in the town of Elgin, was desired as a person having some skill and dexterity in trying of the Devil's mark in the persons of such as were suspected to be witches, to use his trial of her, as he had done of others, which, when he had done, he found the Devil's mark a little below her left shoulder, which, being pricked with a long pin, she neither felt the pin, nor did any blood come when it was taken out again.

Being therefore brought before a commission of worthy and respectable men, she did stoutly deny her said wickedness, but on being put to the question, she confessed all, and declared that she had caused all the said sickness in the country. But being interrogated as to who were her associates herein, she could answer naught. She said she had associates, but could by no means remember their names, and being straitly questioned, she did give the names of sundry ministers of the gospel in the county of Moray. Wherefore, being brought to an assize, she was condemned to be worried at the stake, and thereafter her body to be burned, the which was duly carried out at the West Port of Elgin; and many thought that by reason of her contumacy she should have been burned quick, and that the judges showed overmuch mercy in permitting her to be worried at the stake.

But Master Harry Forbes himself, in this his sickness, did for the time entirely lose his memory, the which at the time grieved him sorely, for ever he knew that some important statement had been made to him which he should communicate to the authorities, but what it was he could by no means recall; nor could he remember anything that had chanced to him before his illness. But the leech who attended him said that ever he cried out lustily that his room was full of witches, that he saw the Devil standing opposite to his bed, and a number of women who crouched on their knees before him, with their hair all hanging about their faces and over their eyes, and that they had a bag which they swung against him. And the leech said that he was in a delirium from the fever, for it was clear that no witches were in the room, he himself being present at the time and seeing none; and, moreover, that there is no such thing as a witch, as is well known to science, but that the season was unhealthy, and the worthy minister had but contracted a sickness that was common in the country. But with regard to the son of the laird of Park, not all his professional skill, nor the learning wherewith his opinion was adorned, availed at all; for ever the boy grew worse and wasted away, and complained sorely of the fever that beset him, and of pains that were like to pins being continually run into him.

And concerning this David Hay of Park, an unexpected light occurs in a letter written by one John Innes, a Notary Public, to Mr. Patrick Innes of Banff, to whom he seems to have been some sort of cousin, telling how Hay had sought his professional advice. In the light of subsequent events and other documents, the details of that interview may be fairly well pieced together. It appears that Hay was very greatly concerned about the disappearance of Maggie Wilson from Aulderne, and also as to certain statements she had made to him concerning other women in the district, and especially concerning Mistress Isabel Goudie, the which he considered ought immediately to be communicated to the proper authorities, for they had to do with the infamous crime of witchcraft and dealings with the Devil. Whereupon Mr. John Innes had shrewdly counselled him to lie as quiet as he could, and say nothing whatever to any human soul.

'For,' he said, 'Mr. Hay, I would have ye token, that ye are yourself a man suspect. This same Maggie Wilson that ye speak of hath been apprehended and taken before the Justice Depute in Elgin on a charge manifestly proved of witchcraft. This thing I ken well for a fact, for the depositions were signed before me only yesterday. And I may tell ye that your own name was mentioned as companying with this woman; and well ye ken, or gin ye do not, ye should, that the companying with witches, or having recourse unto them, is a crime almost as grievous as witchcraft itself; and one witness deponed to having heard ye call on the Devil to send ye a mistress. But I stoutly averred, as of my own knowledge, that this was clearly a lie, considering your position, and I referred unto the godly minister of Aulderne, who could speak to your decent and honest repute. Moreover, I said that, if this woman were a witch, as said is, that the fact was certainly unknown to ye, and that your interest in her was but due to your well-known kindness of heart and charity.'

Hay felt ice going down his spine, and his red face grew grey as ashes,

'But good God, man!' he said, 'I have already spoken to the minister on this matter. What can I do?'

'Then, sir, ye may thank the Lord for your good fortune. For I hear that Master Forbes hath fallen on a dangerous sickness, which is prevalent now, and for the time hath entirely lost his memory. He desireth to say some things, but cannot remember what they are. Moreover, the leech hath deponed that he is suffering from suchlike strong delusions that his depositions can by no means be received. And as to Mistress Isabel Goudie, I would warn ye to beware also, for in all the neighbourhood she is counted as a most godly and exemplary woman, and gin ye bring any charge against her, it will recoil on your own pate.'

'She is a most pestilent strumpet, to my own knowledge.'

'It may be, laird. It may be. I am not saying. But ye must e'en bear in mind what the folk say in the country. For this will the assize heed, and not what ye may declare. I have heard it publicly reported that ye made court to her, and, because she would have none of ye, that ye have persecuted her; and the talk is all in her favour and against you. Now then, if ye have spoken of this matter to none save the minster, and if ye will keep a still tongue in your head, I think it may all yet be well. But ye must rely on me. In my position as Notary Public, and having charge to take all the depositions, I can help ye out of this complexity, and none other can.'

Hay thought ruefully of the worthy notary's scale of charges, but he saw no other way out.

'I will do as ye say, and I thank ye kindly for your help. But think ye now of my son, an ill-mannered loon and a mischievous one, that I grant ye, though his mother will not hear it said. Well, he was set on by other loons to fire the stacks on John Gilbert's farm, for which I would have skelped him; it was just devilry. But Mistress Goudie saw him and warned him off, and the loon threw a stone at her, and called her foul names. I'm not denying he got that from me; and ever since that time he has sickened, and the leech can do nothing for him.'

'Well, well, laird. I tell again, gin ye ascribe aught o' this to Mistress Goudie ye will have the whole countryside against ye, and seeing that they are talking of ye now, it may go ill wi' ye. So, as I said before, haud ye a still tongue. We will set down this sickness also to the score of Maggie Wilson. For she will be burnt any gait, and one thing more or less will make no differ. She is in that mood now that she will confess anything. Ye might think to hear her she was the author of all the evils in Scotland for the last ten years, but she would have ye believe that she did everything by herself, for of who were with her in her misdeeds she either cannot or will not speak; so hath she never mentioned your name, nor that of any other; nor even by the extreme question can she be made to do so.'

Hay turned on his heel. Intrinsically selfish, the plight of his late mistress only affected him in so far as it implied a loss of what he was accustomed to, and he was relieved that for some reason she could not, or would not, tell of her relations to himself, and he was quite content that whatever had to be placed on any shoulders should be placed on hers. Moreover, the notary had promised him safety. But in the meantime he must be very careful not to mention the name of Isabel Goudie.

Now, all these statements, collected from old documents, and recording what appeared to be perfectly natural though unfortunate happenings, go to prove the truth of the old saying, that the Devil takes care of his own. For clearly because Toad i' the Wind, through spite and jealousy, babbled to Hay of Lochloy concerning Isabel, the whole coven was in danger, and there were various persons who must be silenced. Not only these two, but Hay had indiscreetly spoken before his boy, who, boylike, would be sure to tell all his companions; and he had also circumstantially told Master Harry Forbes the minister. The minister would believe nothing against Mistress Isabel Goudie, for did not his own knowledge inform him without doubt that she was a most godly woman, a lamb snatched in time from the errors of the papacy, and now a most faithful adherent of the true Reformed Kirk of Scotland. Plainly it was impossible that a woman who so regularly attended at the weekly diet of worship, and listened with such evident profit to his own pulpit discourses, could have any dealings with the Devil--the thing was absurd. Nevertheless, of course, there were witches. No one was so foolish and blasphemous as to doubt that fact, unless perhaps some poor, feckless bodies like the leech, puffed up with their own conceit; and there might be some even in his own parish of Aulderne who dealt with the Devil, and it was his duty to inform the authorities of what he had heard.

But all these were outside appearances of things. What actually chanced has been recorded by Isabel herself, and from her statement it is clear that the things which the worthy minister saw in his fever were real happenings; albeit the leech set them down to the delusions of delirium. And this I am assured may often chance, for the brain and the senses, being greatly exalted by the ferment of the blood, the man is able to perceive things of which in his normal state he would be unconscious. Such at least was the opinion of Mr. Patrick Innes' father, the eminent chirurgeon.

Some members of the coven were accordingly cited to meet at Janet Broadhead's house, for she and her husband had a special grievance of their own against Master Harry Forbes, inasmuch as he had publicly reproved them for their non-attendance at kirk on the blessed Sabbath day. For which cause Janet had shot at him once with the Arrows of Death, but had missed him, and the Dark Master had said she should not have his life, but that sickness might be laid on him. And at that meeting Isabel and the Dark Master as usual occupied the seats of honour, which on this occasion were two settles beside the inglenook, the others sat on either side of the large deal table in the farm kitchen, John Taylor, Janet's husband, sat at the farther end of the table facing the Master, and midway down on his right-hand side was Alexander Elder of Earlseat, a fat flabby man, who was a sort of butt of the others. These were the only men present.

'Now, my faithful ones,' said the Master, 'ye know well that there hath been treachery among us, and ye must use your powers to provide for your own safety. I myself have dealt with Toad i' the Wind, for she was my servant and pledged to me. But with the others ye must deal, and ye have powers sufficient thereto. But mark ye this. Ye may not have the life of Master Harry Forbes. It shall suffice that he be sick. Therefore ye shall not use the Arrows of Death, neither would an image be fit for this purpose.'

'An I could but have a witch bag,' said Janet Broadhead. 'My man gave me one lang syne, before I joined the coven. I could gar him lie sick and forget everything. But I burnt that lest it should be found.'

'I could make another,' said John Taylor; 'but 'twould take ower long to collect the materials.'

'Let me speak,' said Margaret Brodie eagerly, 'I will steal my mother's bag. The auld limmer hath a fearsome thing. This I will give ye, and we will all go and see ye use it.'

'Ye have spoken,' said the Master. 'So let it be; and I will myself be there to see how ye acquit yourselves. Now for the laird of Park.'

'Dear lord,' whispered Isabel eagerly, 'ye promised him to me.'

'I did so, my love; well hath he been tormented by Toad i' the Wind. But ye shall fulfil your own curse on him. Mind ye what it was?'

'Ay, right well do I. That he might never have male children to come after him. And that boy, my lord, hath stoned me and called me foul names, and hath tried to burn our stacks.'

'This shall ye do,' said the Master, 'by means of that moon-paste which ye made, and some of these here present shall instruct ye. For, though queen of the coven, ye are yet young at our spells. I taught ye myself to make the paste, but I would that some of my faithful ones should teach ye the use thereof, that ye all might have practice. For the laird himself, it needeth no spell to keep his mouth close. Fear will do this, and well ye wot that fear is often as potent as any spell we can devise. And now have we talked long enough. Tonight we hunt the red deer in Lord Moray's lands and we feast in Darnaway. We shall join another coven there who are returning from Strathdearn. Hey! but we will have a merry time. Ho, there! Horse and hattock!'

The coven swept away in wild glee, up into the lonely moors of the Moray's lands, and through the white mists in the hush of the starshine. The great stags fled before them, but not so swiftly as their horses. Sometimes the Arrows of Death brought them down. But when a magnificent royal was started, Isabel and the Master sped fast in pursuit, and in a lonely corrie, where towering craigs showed dimly through the mist, they drew level with him, one on either side, and Isabel leaned over from her horse and with her hunting knife she stabbed him behind the shoulder, and the great beast threw up his head, faltered in his stride, staggered, tripped, and fell. Whereupon, with a little cry of triumph, she leaped from the saddle, and, dabbing her fingers in the blood, she signed herself on brow and breast. The Master gave a shout--

'Verily, sweetheart, thou are mine own child! Blood whips thee to delight. Yea, blood is the Devil's wine.'

He sprang from his horse, and caught her in his arms.

'And proud am I to be the Devil's love,' she cried.

Swiftly they fled after the rest of the coven, and royal that night in Darnaway was the feast and the dance and song, and of the venison they had taken that night they left more in the castle larders than all that they ate. For the Master had a kindness to the race of the Morays. It was the next night after this that Isabel was awakened by the now well-known fluttering of the corby at her window, and the Master bade her rise and come away to visit Master Harry Forbes.

'See ye, sweetheart! ye must come with me to help your gossip. I wish not that ye should work any ill on this man, for, indeed, he is very serviceable to us. Ye can always look to him for a good report. Wherefore I have said that his life is safe. But he must suffer sickness for a while, and ye shall see the working of the witch bag.'

Southward over the fields to the manse of Aulderne flew the two corbies. But as walking gravely and discreetly Isabel and her lover entered the garden gate they met various others of the coven. Margaret Brodie came up carrying a bag.

See,' she said, 'I have stolen the auld limmer's bag while she slept. There's fearsome things in it that she got from the corpse of yon man that was hanged and a child she dug up, and bits of toads, and hair and nails, and dear knows what else. And I have pitten the spell on him, so now he is sick in bed, and I ken the leech is with him, for I saw him go in. So unless we do something, the minister will be well the morn. Take ye the bag then,' she continued, as she handed it to Janet Broadhead, 'and do what ye will; we will help ye.'

The door opened before them, and the party passed up the stairs to the minister's bedroom, but his old housekeeper, bustling out of the kitchen, saw nothing of them, only she said:

'Guid sakes, what a cold draught! and the minister, puir man, in a burning fever, Now, who has left the door open? Sure and I locked it fast after the leech came in, and he's not gone yet. Well, well! There's something of an ill smell too. Maybe I forgot to lock it after all. I'm just getting foolish in my auld age. There, it's safe enough now, anygait.'

Upstairs the minister was in bed, and the leech sat beside him.

'Now, Master Forbes, I'll just wait a little to see the effect of the draught I've given ye, and tomorrow I'll come round and let blood, and ye will soon be well again; 'tis but a slight attack.'

'Master Leech,' said the sick man, 'think ye I can travel tomorrow.'

'Tomorrow! Is the man mad? Tomorrow forsooth! Nay, not for three days. What want ye?'

'I must get me to Nairn tomorrow. I have important business--' he hesitated. His business was not such as he could conveniently disclose to the leech. 'Parochial business, ye understand; I must see the Moderator.'

'Well then, an ye must, I'll bring the Moderator to ye here. But out of this ye do not stir till I give ye leave.'

Master Forbes did not want the Moderator, but did not know how to say so; he was growing very sleepy and beginning to dream, the room grew indistinct, and the leech's figure sitting by his bedside mixed itself fantastically with its shadow on the wall and ceiling, thrown by the cruisie lamp. But what was that other figure standing behind him? Dark and powerful with blazing eyes, and a lambent light around him.

'See there, Master Leech, who is that? There, behind your chair.'

'Pooh, pooh! Ye are dreaming, man. There's no one there. Come, wake up.'

'But I tell ye there is. It is no dream. Turn him out. Protect me, for God's sake! Eh! Master Leech, it is the Devil! There's a woman beside him. Oh! don't leave me.'

'Be sure if there's a woman there, the Devil is not far off. Come, come, Mr. Forbes. Ye have no business to have women in your bedchamber. I shall have to acquaint the Moderator with this.'

He spoke lightly, intending to divert the sick man's thoughts and bring him back to his waking common sense. But in vain. The fever fit had come on again in spite of his febrifuge. He regretted he had put off the blood-letting, and had not brought his implements with him. The sick man cried again--

'There are more of them, the room is full of them! Women, fearsome hags they be, with their hair all hanging over their eyes, squatting on their hands and knees before the Devil! One of them is swinging a bag towards me. Witches they are. I know it. I am overlooked. They are chanting something. I can hear no words.'

Isabel and the Master smiled to each other, but the leech was seriously anxious, the access of fever and delirium had been sudden and violent, just when he thought it was subdued. It was useless to reason with the minister, he was shaking with fear and with the fever.

'Fool! to come without my lancet,' he muttered. 'A little venesection or cupping would relieve him. No matter, he shall have a strong sleeping mixture, I wot Mars is now combust with the Sun, and this hath caused the attack. Here now, man, drink this.'

Janet Broadhead swung the bag towards him, chanting:

'He is lying on his bed; he is lying sick and sore.

He shall lie intil his bed two months and three days more.'

'That will do,' said the Master. 'Come away. We have still work to do.'

The leech rose and opened the window,

'He must have air,' he said.

Something whirled past him and out into the night.

'Confound it! A flittermouse. How did it get in? Why, there must be a dozen or more out there. I never saw them abroad at this season before. They should be sleeping long ago.'

He turned to look at the sick man. The fever had subsided as suddenly as it rose.

The minister was breathing quietly, and looked sleepy; the draught had evidently taken effect, and the leech congratulated himself on his skill.

'They are all gone. Sir Leech, thank ye. I will sleep now in peace.'

'What was it ye desired to say to the Moderator, Mrs Forbes? I may bring him tomorrow.'

'Eh! I wished no Moderator. I have naught to say to any man. How came I here? I have forgotten. There was something I had to say to someone, but 'tis all gone now. Who was it was talking with me this morning when I met ye?'

'Ye had but just parted from Mr. Hay of Lochloy.'

'Hay! Who is Hay then? I ken no one of that name.'

'Save us,' muttered the leech to himself, 'his memory is clean gone. Well, he will sleep sound tonight, and tomorrow we will see.'

Nevertheless he still sat on by the bedside, for the case interested and puzzled him, and besides, the minister was a close friend, though they quarrelled incessantly, and each held the other a fool.

Meantime the coven sped rapidly over the fields to the farm of Lochloy, and some farmers returning from a night carouse were amazed, as the leech had been, at seeing a swarm of bats flying in early winter, and finally decided that the aqua vitae must have been more potent than usual.

Three bats flew in through Isabel's chamber window, the others for the time hanging under the thatch. Isabel turned drowsily and half raised herself from her bed. John Gilbert could be heard snoring stertorously in the kitchen, at the foot of the bed stood the Dark Master and John Taylor of Belmakeith.

'Come,' said the Master, 'my Lady Hacallah, we have need of ye yet. One is silenced. The minister will not speak of what he has heard for two months and three days. But there still remains the laird of Park, or rather, I should say, his son, for he will say naught.'

'My dear lord,' she cried, 'this is my task.'

'Ay, sooth it is. Therefore have I brought this man to ye. For he shall carry off the moon-paste to his farm of Belmakeith, and there we will teach ye to prepare it. See now, in yonder vessel lies the stuff; take ye sufficient thereof in the neuk of your plaid, and come with us.'

'Eh, lord! What a dream I have had,' said Isabel. 'Methought we visited the minister in his manse.'

'Yea, but by this and that 'twas no dream, as the minister will find. And woe be to poor men, who know more than they were meant to know, for ever they find trouble at the tail thereof.'

John Taylor by this time had stowed a certain quantity of the precious moon-paste in the neuk of his plaid and walked out of the door with it. Isabel and the Dark Master fastened the door after him, and the two bats fluttered from the window, rousing the rest who were hanging under the eaves.

In the old farm kitchen of Balmakeith that night were weird doings. The moon-paste, which was plastic like damp clay, was kneaded by John Taylor, and placed in a large ashet. Then Isabel, who in her girlhood had been taught a little modelling which at that time was considered an accomplishment which young ladies should possess, undertook to make an image of the laird's eldest son and heir. She had very skilful fingers, and the little figure was most artistically made, and a creditable likeness of the boy. All were loud in praise. While she was working Margaret Brodie with a ewer in her hand kept constantly moistening the paste. The Dark Master approaching, held both hands above hers, chanting:

'Pour this water among the meal

For lang dwining and ill-heal.'

Then, as it was finished, he said, laying his left hand on the image--

'I baptise this image, in my own name, young David Hay the younger of Park. As befalls to it, so befall it to him.'

Three times he repeated the words. Then the coven all falling down on their hands and knees before him with hair hanging about their eyes repeated the words. Then it was laid, still on the ashet, in front of the fire, which glowed red and very hot, and all chanted after the Master.

'We put this image intil the low

That it may be burnt both stick and stow.

It shall be burned with our will,

As any stickle upon a kill.'

It shrivelled slightly with the heat, and turned red. Then the Master thrust a pin into the side of it, and it was taken up and laid carefully away in a case prepared for it.

'Take heed now all of ye, and remember this, for it is a matter of great power. So long as ye preserve this image ye can bring sickness and death on any of the laird of Park's male children. Till it be broken, the virtue is in it, and it can only be broken by human hands. Cast it over a kirk it will not break. But it can be broken with an axe or suchlike tool in a man's hands. Whatever ye do with it will happen to the child till he die. And this spell from the beginning of the world have my disciples put forth on all who offended them, and thus have sicknesses been caused, and will be caused till the sun is cold, nor will men ever discover whence they come, nor will leeches ever be able to heal them. Nor will men ever believe in the power, yea, though ye confess and bring proof, yet will they not believe, for their eyes are blinded, and this is our greatest spell. Now hie ye home, the coven is dissolved.'

In divers ways the coven dispersed, and bats were seen in the early morning flitting through Brodie woods, which things was noticed and recorded in the diaries of several of the more observant persons as a strange phenomenon, never before seen at that time of year.

Isabel lying awake in her bed in the farmhouse of Lochloy was excited and jubilant. All the scorn and indignity put upon her by the laird of Park recurred to her mind, and she gloated over it and fed her hatred. She recalled the insults of the boy. An overweening sense of self possessed her. That they should have dared to treat her thus. It was intolerable. Her own personality, her own importance filled her mind, to the exclusion of all else. It did not seem vanity or conceit. But simply no one else existed. She was the one person, and she had been insulted and played with, and now she was to get even. Her hatred was fierce and unbalanced as her love. The thought was thrilling rapture.

As that grey dawn was breaking, the leech, leaving the manse where the minister seemed now a little easier, and able to sleep fitfully, was met by a hurried messenger bidding him to the mansion-house of Park with all speed, for the laird's son was sick and like to die. Racked with fever pains, so the messenger said, and unable to utter any connected words.

At the same time there rode up to the farm of Lochloy Sir Robert Gordon's groom on his black horse with a note for Mistress Isabel Goudie, which ran thus:

'To my dearest Isabel,

'By our love I beseech you, help me. When I was sick you came and healed me. Now, I pray you, do something an you can for my beloved Cosmo, for he is in sore straits. He is not safe in France. The rebels there seek his life. Nor he is not safe on the seas, for the English Admiral will take him if he can. Nor he is not safe here in Scotland. It seems there is no place on earth where he can abide in safety. The world is cruel, when two who seek but to live together in peace, and trouble none, and just be forgotten by the world, should be so hard bested. I think that you can help us, indeed, my uncle so sayeth, and gin you can, I know well that you will. Fare you well.

'These from your ever loving and most unfortunate,

'J EAN G ORDON .'

Isabel's moods swung rapidly from one extreme to the other. Hatred gave way to love. For Jean Gordon she would do anything. But what to do? She had asked Margaret Brodie and got little consolation. Love came not within her purview. She would ask her lover, and if he could or would do nothing, there were still those beautiful elfin beings that she had seen on the Fairy Hill of Alves. They had promised aid, and bade her visit them again. Playing with this thought in her mind, she sank into a calm and peaceful sleep, and dreamed of fairies dancing in the woods, and of Master William Shakespeare's ingenious Midsummer-Night's Dream.


Chapter Fourteen. Happenings at Gordonstown

THE thought of poor Jean Gordon's pathetic letter haunted Isabel's mind all next day. Somehow, something must be done to keep Cosmo from harm. Jean trusted to her. What she could do she knew not, but she would not fail the friend who had stood by her when there seemed no other. She called up the Red Reiver, and sent a message begging the Master to come to her at the old castle on the Wards of Inshoch, and then as the sun was setting she walked thither. It was the first time she had gone to him with a request that was not connected with himself or the coven, and she felt a certain shy reluctance. The bringing in of any outside wishes or ideas to their romance seemed to strike a new note, which she somehow feared, she knew not why.

At the gate of the castle he stood awaiting her, looking just as he had done at their first meeting, the grave scholar who had grown to the ardent lover, and all her old love and trust in him was undiminished in force.

'Ye have something to ask of me, sweetheart,' he said; 'ask whatsoever ye will. Ye ken I have power, and all that I may I will give ye.'

Hesitating and doubtfully she told him the story of Jean Gordon and Cosmo Hamilton, and begged his aid.

'I know, I know,' he said. 'My old friend Sir Robert Gordon hath told me of their plight, and fain would he aid them. But what he hath sought from me is not power of this description. Though he can do many things, he cannot do this. Therefore, saith he wisely, that ye can aid where none other can. Now this is one of the virtues of that moon-paste. Which ye have. This, then, ye shall do. Get from Mistress Jean a locket with the portrait, and take a small portion of the paste, knead it up well, and as ye knead it say thus:

"Whosoe'er this charm shall wear,
No man may take, no man may snare,
Unscaithed shall he stay--
Till have passed a year and day."

Put a little of it in the back of the locket, and let Mistress Jean convey it to him. So long as he wears it he is safe, for a year and a day; after this its virtue is gone. This much I do for love of ye. Though not often do I aught for any save those who are pledged to me.'

He caught her in his arms. He had become the lover again.

'Verily, sweetheart, ye have asked a hard thing of me, and an unusual; not oft do folk desire of the Devil works of love and of kindness. Yet, truly, I do think ye are of my own kin, and for ye I even forswear my own nature.'

'But, lord, ye love me. Is it not so?'

'Aye, sweetheart! so it is. And now come, we have talked long enough. Shall we ride together thou and I, and none other with us. Let us go to thy home and fetch the moon-paste, and then away to Gordonstown and see if we find Mistress Jean and deliver our errand. And wot ye well, 'tis for your sake I do this; and yet not wholly, for I ken that the Laird of Park still plotteth to get her into his power, and it is his scheming that hath raised all this stour anent her lover.'

'Lord! to baffle him were as sweet as to help my dear Jean. Oh! ye are wise, my dear lord, and right well ye can read a woman's heart, and ye know that hate is as deep as love, and I hate him, hate him! Ask me not why. I ken no more than I ken why I love thee.'

'Thou art my own bairn, and my queen. Now come! Ho! Horse and hattock! We will ride together, thou in my arms; as we have ridden oft before.'

To Isabel that ride in the brilliant sunset light was the best and most glorious she had ever known. Alone with her lover, clasped close to his breast, while the great horse, arching his proud neck, plunged and curvetted beneath them, as rejoicing in his burden, and her errand satisfied the two cravings of hate and love at once. She would baffle Hay of Park, and she would do for Jean Gordon that which most she desired.

In her own little room in the farmhouse she took a small portion of the moon-paste and kneaded it well, chanting softly to herself the spell he had taught her, and this she placed in a tiny trinket box, and laid in her bosom. As she did so she caught sight of the old homespun gown in whose bosom still was sewn the little gold crucifix. It recalled Jean, but also and more poignantly it recalled that terrible evening when after her visit to Gordonstown she had seemed so utterly separated from him. She had never worn it since, but she could not make up her mind to part with it. So memories revived for a moment. Then she remembered that soon now John Gilbert and his men would return. She must not be missed. Once again she laid the besom in her bed. He should think she had retired perhaps a trifle indisposed. She smiled to herself as she chanted the old spell over the birchen twigs, and half fancied she saw herself or some dim reflection of herself lying there; then out at the door, a step on to the dyke, her hand was in her lover's, her foot on his, and she sprang into his arms and nestled down in complete comfort.

'Horse and hattock! Mount and go!'

The sunset streamed out from the Inverness hills as they thundered through the woods. Peasants returning from their work were oddly conscious of something, but what it was they knew not. Physically they neither saw nor heard. But by some strange inner perception they knew that something passed, and something they were afraid of. They skirted the eastern boundary of Darnaway forest, and rose in the air to pass the Findhorn. Through the High Street of Forres they sped, and the hoofs of the good steed struck fire from the cobble stones, 'Ho there! Horse and hattock!' Some boys playing round the muckle kirk heard the sound, and a few of them looked up and caught the words. 'Horse and hattock!' they cried in their play, and one boy was lifted into the air, and dropped on the ground.

'Those are my own bairns,' said the Master. 'Warlocks they will be some day.'

Past the mouldering ruins of Kinloss Abbey they galloped. Dim blue lights flitted round the old walls. It is said that grizzly phantoms haunted the place, that the ivy rotted off the ruins, and no birds would build there, only the owl hooted by day. A shadow lay over it, and mostly the people were afraid to go near it. Then on past what had been the chanter's house of Windyhills. On over the fertile lowlands by various ruined castles, Hempriggs by the shore, Burgie and Aslisk to the south, Duffus and Spynie before them. Then they rose in the air again and circled like hawks over the Gordonstown woods.

All the west was still a mass of purple and gold and crimson. The deep blue outlines of Wyvis were clear cut against a background of pure amber, and the clouds above were rosy on their under sides. So fast they had sped that the sun which was sinking even When first the Dark Master had cried 'Horse and hattock!' in the Wards of Inshoch had not yet sunk out of sight.

Down below them, along one of the straight drives planned by Sir Robert around Gordonstown, they saw a slim figure walking slowly, her white dress trailing on the ground. Isabel gave a little cry of joy. It was Jean. Then she closed her eyes. A sudden turn of giddiness seemed to come over her; for an instant she forgot where she was; then suddenly she was walking along the drive, and Jean Gordon was advancing to meet her. She was alone; the Dark Master and the horse were gone. It was like walking from a dream with only a confused idea of where she was, or how she got there. But clearly solid earth was beneath her feet, the crisp winter air blew in her face; she was verily here in the Gordonstown woods, however she got there, and there was her dear Jean. In another instant they were embracing each other.

'Oh, Isabel, it's blithe I am to see ye; but how gat ye here?'

'It was your letter brought me, Jean, that and a friend's horse. When I heard ye were in trouble I could not bide away. Now tell me what is all asteer? Is anything new since I saw ye last?'

'Deed it is the same, and yet much worse. Ye ken how the Lords Commissioners persecute my poor Cosmo. And God alone knows why. Still he bides at Montfaucon, but day by day the nets are closing round him, and I ken well it is Mr. David Hay of Park, your own laird, that keeps them aware of all his movements. Of course we all pray always that King Charles may be restored to us, and this bitter tyranny ended before our dear country is ruined entirely by the rascal knaves who now govern her, to her shame. And Cosmo hath been in the counsels of the royalist party from the beginning. They trust him, and he knoweth more than any of the party, and hath much influence besides. But none knew this till Mr. David Hay, through Lord Brodie got it conveyed to the Lords Commissioners in London. But what David Hay hath to do with it, or why he should do this cruel thing, and persecute my Cosmo, passeth my poor comprehension entirely. So, ye see, Montfaucon is not safe for him any longer, and we know not what place is. If he should leave France the Commissioners will take him, either on the seas or within the Kingdom of Scotland, and ye ken that if they take him they have no mercy. Indeed, I hear that free Scotsmen have been sold as slaves to the American plantations, for no other crime than being loyal to their king, and resisting this cursed government.'

Isabel pondered a moment.

'He must not leave France just now,' she said. 'Have ye a portrait of yourself, Jean?'

'How strange you should ask me that! See! I have just had this done. It is for Cosmo, and Uncle Robert's Danny is to take it with him on his next voyage, and procure it to be conveyed privily to Montfaucon.'

She drew from her bosom a little golden locket, and, touching a secret spring, it flew open, disclosing an exquisite miniature of herself.

Isabel took it and examined it with minute care. There was a tiny box at the back, the existence of which would have been unsuspected by anyone who had not been shown the secret opening. Isabel carried it into an open space under pretence of examining it more carefully in a better light, and there, unseen, she rapidly, with skilled fingers, moulded and manipulated a fragment of the moon-paste, which she dropped into the cavity.

'Will you let me send this also to your Cosmo with my love, if I may so far venture?' she said.

'Of course, Isabel dear? What is it? Do let me see! A fragment of bone, is it not? A relic, surely?'

'Yes, a relic, Jean. And one of peculiar sanctity. Given to me by a very dear friend. I know not of what saint, nor what history. But I know that so long as one wears it, it is a sure protection against arrest; whoever wears it can never be taken by his enemies. Convey this to him, bid him for thy sake to wear the locket always next his heart. But tell him not of the relic or its virtue. That must be a secret between me and thee. But can ye be sure it reaches him? I would not it fell into any other hands.'

'Ay, that can I! Father Blackhall returns to France in Danny's boat. He shall convey it, and deliver it safe to Cosmo's own hands. Oh, he hath ways and means. The Father hath passed in disguise through the midst of his bitterest enemies and none have known. What we poor Catholics would have done without him in this bitter time I cannot think. He hath been all through Scotland, saying the Mass in cottages and places, on lonely hillsides, and whenever a few could be gathered together. He hath been a soldier, and a sailor, a billman in the very Covenanting armies, a field labourer. There is nothing he hath not been. And all the crew of the Covenant have searched for him but could not find him.'

'The very man!' said Isabel; 'and ye say he will do this for ye?'

'Aye will he, Isabell Ye are strangely good to me. My heart is lighter now, for needs must I believe in ye, since that day when ye healed me when I lay so sore sick. Indeed, Isabel, I think ye must be a saint yourself. But ye will come within, and see my uncle. He thinks great things of ye, and he would be sorely disappointed gin he were to hear that ye had been here and not seen him. Then ye can call your horse and return when ye will.'

'It grows late, replied Isabel. 'Natheless I will give greeting to Sir Robert.'

She was growing a little anxious, for the Dark Master and the horse had utterly disappeared, and she dared not breathe the spell of Horse and Hattock in the presence of Jean; nor did she quite know how she should return to Lochloy. The sun had now quite set, only a rosy glow in the west still remained to mark where he had sunk below the distant hills. Before them were the strange round stables, built to Sir Robert's design, for the purpose, he said, of driving their cattle to a place of safety in the event of a Highland raid.

'See,' said Jean, 'how curiously the mist hangs over the stables! I never saw it like that before.'

In truth there did seem to be a faint blue cloud floating over the stable. Isabel rubbed her eyes to see more clearly, forgetting for the moment the remains of the moon-paste on her fingers. Instantly the cloud became a flight of grey spectral figures, floating round and round in quaint gyrations, and standing on the highest point of the building was the form of the Master, as though he were swaying and directing them.

She remembered the virtue of the paste to make one see, but she wondered greatly what her lover was doing there among these ghostly forms. It was a new and unfamiliar aspect of him. Was it something he was doing for Sir Robert, protecting him from some evil? or was it something that threatened him? Who were these grey figures? Somehow, without knowing why, she feared them.

At the hall door stood the baronet himself, full of cordial welcome to Isabel.

'Come within!' he said. 'Come within! It's blithely welcome ye are to my poor house. I heard of your coming, and I kenned well ye would not part without a greeting. Faith, we owe ye much, Mistress Isabel. Ye shall e'en drain a stoup of claret ere ye go, and your friend will join us. Jean, give us room, an ye please, my dear! Ye have had Mistress Isabel to yourself for long enough.'

With a graceful curtsy Jean retired, and immediately, Isabel knew not how, the Dark Master sat there by the great oak table in the hall, and beakers of the finest French claret stood before them.

'Some of Danny's last cargo,' said Sir Robert. ''Tis the best that the fair land of France produceth. Come, Mistress! let me fill ye a cup to drink to the future of young Cosmo. Ho! Black Jock, I ken ye love better the fiery wines of Spain. But crush me a cup of this, and gin it go not off in steam in your throat, as well it may, ye shall find it soft as the best Genoa velvet, whereof too I have a pretty store down yonder. How say ye, Mistress, is this equal to the Earl of Moray's Malvoisie? Oh! I know of your carouses. Youth will be merry, and Jock there hath a liquorish taste.'

'I have done ye a service this night, Rob,' said the Master. 'Ye know much, but ye cannot always do all ye know. It's a fine magic circle ye have made with those new stables of yours, and ye have set my seal in the midst, and drawn the elemental spirits of the air, but ye have not controlled them. Now, I have disciplined them, and gin ye need a foggy night, ye can have it. But mind ye, for the raising or laying of storms or the like ye must come to Mistress Isabel here--the Queen of the Coven.'

'I saw them,' cried Isabel, 'I saw them, and I saw ye, my lord, ruling and directing them. Tell me what are they? I never saw the like before.'

'Every element hath its spirits,' the Master answered, 'And these are the spirits of air. Ye must ken that all the elements are my kingdom. Therefore can I give the children of men all that they desire if they will but believe in me, and follow me faithfully. Here in this life--that is. Afterwards--well, we shall see.'

Sir Robert shuddered slightly, and drained another cup of claret.

'At least ye have given me joy such as I never dreamed of before,' said Isabel, 'and come what may, I say 'twas worth it.'

'Bravely spoken! That is my true bairn, Queen of the Coven. Come now, we must away. One more bumper, Rob. Fill up. No heel taps! Drain it to the Devil's kingdom on earth, that shall endure as long as the earth itself, and as long as man knoweth the world of pleasure.'

By the hall door they stood for a moment.

'Why ride ye not with us, Rob?' said the Dark Master, 'ye know the spell well enough.'

'Ay, and I know what men count for in your covens, as ye call them. Nay, Black Jock! Keep your limmers for aught I care. Mistress Isabel is the only one ye have ever gotten that was worth the pains of getting. I ken the spells well enough, and that is all I need; I put them not forth.'

'Well, well, maybe we will ride a race yet one day, Rob.'

He snapped his fingers:

'Horse and hattock! Mount and go!

Horse and pellatis! Oh ho!'

The great black stallion under his double burden rose in the air and disappeared over the roof of Gordonstown House. At the same moment Father Blackhall came from the door and stood beside Sir Robert.

'Is that he whom ye call the Devil?' he queried. 'I would fain have speech with him for a few minutes. If it be he indeed, he and I are old acquaintances, old foes I may say. But I know not this appearance of him. Oh, never fear, I will not be discourteous to a friend of yours. Even Michael the Archangel, ye know, brought no railing accusation. He knew a gentleman, and so treated him. I leave Master Luther to hurl ink-pots. Such well befitteth the Protestant temper. We know each other and respect each other, if him indeed it be.'

Jean came from the house.

'I sought for ye, Father,' she said, 'but the house was all deserted. Not one of the serving men or the lasses to be seen.'

'It is not wise that they come when a certain friend of mine is here,' said Sir Robert simply; and Jean, who knew by this time the necessity for secrecy in many of Sir Robert's affairs, nodded an acquiescence. 'I will ask ye, Father, to be my messenger, an I may burden ye so far, to carry this to Montfaucon and give it personally to the hands of Cosmo.'

'That will I do right gladly, and 'twill be easy, for I am bound for Montfaucon so soon as I reach France. I go as a Geneva preacher, and I think the Lord of Montfaucon will wish to turn me out, and will not dare because of the Frondeurs, who will insist on my remaining in the chateau. When I come to Scotland again, I may have some comedy to narrate.'

Isabel, nestling in her lover's arms, recalled the elemental spirits she had seen about the round stables, and queried further. It seemed that a new world was opening to her. A world peopled by beings of whose existence she had been entirely ignorant. Were these the fairies whereof Master Shakespeare wrote, the mermaids and mermen of her girlhood's romantic dreams, and of the Highland traditions? Was it possible they could be real, actual beings, and not the mere baseless fabric of a dream? They were passing over the fairy-haunted Knock of Alves. She remembered the strange and gracious forms she had seen there, who had so courteously bidden her welcome, Could they be of the same kindred?

'Ay, he said. They are of the same race, but between them and me there is but little in common. They are altogether too fine. We feast and drink and dance and love. They seem to pass their days and nights in dreaming of the delights that we enjoy. But those whom ye saw over the stables are my subjects, and shall be yours. Ye shall learn the spells to conjure them.'

'But, my dear lord! these in the hill have asked me to visit them.'

'And so ye shall, sweetheart, an ye have a mind too. Indeed, if ever danger should threaten ye, 'twere a safe retreat. Now here we are again back at your home, and ye can throw the old besom back into its corner again. Eh! but, by this and that, never shall I forget old John Gilbert cursing that besom for a lazy limmer, I would not have missed that sight for half my kingdom.'

They laughed merrily together, and the grey dawn was already breaking when a corby flew out from the little window of the cottage, and flapped his way out over the forest of Darnaway.

In the archives of the Castle of Montfaucon was long preserved a diary composed by the old seneschal in the time of the Fronde, wherein is recorded how a Lutheran preacher from Geneva came one night late to the castle. The times were very perilous, for Mazarin had fled, Condé was in open rebellion, Mademoiselle de Montpensier was holding Orleans for her father Gaston, from whom the Lutheran preacher bore dispatches, to the effect that if he were not received and made welcome, the armies of the Fronde would raze Montfaucon to the ground. The following page commences with the words, 'The Lutheran preacher afterwards was known to be really--' The remainder of the page is roughly torn off, as though the writer had written more than he intended. But on the next is recorded that Mass had been said in the chateau for the first time for some months, the old chaplain having died, and priests being afraid to come there on account of the disturbed state of the country. Also there is a note that when the Lutheran preacher arrived the Count appeared to be furiously angry, and said he was to be thrown out, but that none of the serving-men moved to execute the order, and the Count did not enforce it, which was so contrary to his usual temper, which was somewhat violent, that the old seneschal thought perhaps it was not seriously meant. But he adds naively, 'These be matters I may not meddle with.'

In a subsequent part of his diary he speaks of young Cosmo Hamilton, who seems to have been a very welcome guest. The Frondeurs, he says, were always anxious to arrest him, and one day when he had ventured too far from the chateau unattended, they actually seized him, as they thought, but when they brought him before Condé's aide-de-camp, it was found that they had arrested one of their own spies, who had somehow got access to the chateau. Whereat, as the old chronicler says, there was great laughter, inasmuch as it was the second time that another man had been arrested in mistake for Cosmo, the first being in Elgin, as we have seen. Moreover, he continues, anxious as they were, they seemed quite unable to arrest him, for on one occasion walking near the chateau, he met a company of Frondeurs and walked past them, they taking no notice of him whatever till he was close to the great gate of the chateau, then they turned and ran hard to catch him before he got in, but could not run fast enough. So many of the Frondeurs' men got into sad disgrace.

Louis XIV's attainment of majority and the return of Cardinal Mazarin to Paris made matters easier at Montfaucon, but did not in the least diminish the anxiety of the Lords Commissioners to lay Cosmo by the heels.

Meantime Danny came back to Covesea, and reported that he had conveyed Father Blackhall safe to the Port of France; and returning from a subsequent voyage, he brought letters from the Father himself, telling of how he had got safely to Montfaucon in the guise of a Lutheran preacher from Geneva, and carrying missives purporting to emanate from Gaston de Montpensier, and how the Count de Montfaucon had feigned a great rage, but his serving men, who were forewarned, took no account thereof, and of the laughter afterwards when the family, being alone, the pretended dispatches were solemnly burned. Also how the Father used to go forth from the chateau to the villages round, most of which were sympathisers with the Fronde, and preach them political sermons, dilating much on the wickedness of the Regent and the Cardinal, and on the hardships he was put to in the chateau, where, however, he was determined to stay in order to find out the counsels of the royalists. All of which gave him as much enjoyment as it gave to his hearers, and was a source of infinite amusement to the family at Gordonstown. Mistress Jean especially rejoiced over the efficacy of Isabel's relic. Sir Robert, in his conferences with the Dark Master, learned the true nature of the moon-paste that had been set therein, and added yet more to his great store of knowledge.

Yet, sooth to say, several obscure hints dropped by his comrade had begun to cause him no little apprehension. He had bought knowledge, and now it seemed that the price might be exacted some day in the not very distant future. Yet, as he wisely said to himself, men had cheated the Devil before now, and might do so again.


Chapter Fifteen. The Way to Elfinland

CONCERNING the history of the time following the arrest and execution of Maggie Wilson there is very scanty information. Mr. Harry Forbes seems to have told my great-grand-great-grandfather of his serious illness, which is also recorded by the Presbytery, and it appears that other ministers supplied his place in the pulpit at Aulderne, but he himself could remember very little of the time. The son of the laird of Park lay long grievously sick of 'the wasting sickness,' occasionally recovering a little, and then being taken with a relapse and renewed fever, and constantly growing weaker after every attack. The laird himself too, according to contemporary letters, seems to have been strangely changed. He no longer caroused with his boon companions, and no longer gossiped in his cups; on the contrary, he had become curiously reticent, and was but little seen abroad. Some of the old ladies wrote to their friends that he was grieving greatly for the illness of his son, and it was like to cause a reformation in his character. But Mistress Hay, writing at this date, says that he showed no natural affection at all, and hardly even took the trouble to inquire after the boy's state, but was constantly closeted with Master John Innes, the Notary Public, whom she cordially disliked. This appears in a letter to Elizabeth, the sister of Lord Brodie, who had married Colin Campbell of Ardersier, who had before her marriage been her dearest friend and confidante. A fragment of a business account from the said John Innes, found among his papers, showed frequent consultations. But the details had either been torn off or carefully obliterated. Moreover, some said he looked always like a man oppressed with some haunting fear.

Through the country generally there were many curious and uncanny happenings, and much suffering, which the ministers ascribed to the power of the Devil, allowed, as hath been said, to vex the elect for a season. The godly Covenanters, of whom, as Mr. Patrick Innes said, the world was not worthy, wrought strenuously to overthrow the kingdom of Satan, but all in vain; for terrible murrain fell on the cattle, the cows refused their milk, the grain threshed in the barns proved to be mostly mere empty husks, the beer had no strength in it. Men fell sick or died suddenly and mysteriously. None knew when misfortune might overtake them. So it was that a great terror fell on the land. It was well known that there were many servants of the Devil who were very active in doing his evil will, but notwithstanding all the efforts of the godly, they were ill to find. Some indeed were caught who professed to cure sicknesses, and who were indeed proved to have done so. And others who were heard to repeat the Hail Mary, which, as is well known, is a special popish spell taught by the Devil; and these of course being apprehended, were taken to Master John Kincaid, who failed not to find the Devil's mark on them. Indeed, in this he seems never to have failed, as may be read by the curious in the published records of the time; which proves the great frequency of this most abominable and unnatural crime, and incidentally accounts for Master Kincaid's wonderful prosperity. For we know he grew very rich, as a man should who detects a crime so secret and so hard to discover. For many of those who were pricked by him and so detected were held to be good and kindly persons, intent only on helping those in trouble, and relieving sickness and sorrow, so subtle is the Devil in casting a glamour in men's eyes.

But though these, when apprehended, were worried at the stake, or often after the extreme question were burned quick, and were most righteously tortured here in this life for the salvation of their souls, as is averred by many ministers of the Reformed Kirk of Scotland, and by divers other discreet and godly men, yet was the evil by no means abated, and throughout the land there were lots to restore the corrupt house of Stuart, and to bring back all the evils of the popish superstition which our forefathers had suffered and bled to purge out for ever from this land. And so no wonder that all men were troubled in their minds, and fear laid hold on them, and they were ready to devise any kind of terrible punishment for any who were suspect of such unlawful dealings. For, as was well said, until all the servants of the Devil be driven forth from this land of Scotland, there can be no safety for any man's property, or indeed his very life.

The doings of the covens meanwhile have been recorded in a fashion by Mistress Isabel Goudie, and by others, and serve now to throw some light on what was dark and mysterious at the time. There were frequent meetings and many hunts over the woods of Darnaway, feasting and frolic in the great hall of the castle. Many new spells were taught them by the Dark Master, and there was much merriment over the terror that reigned in the land, and the reasons that were given for the mischances and troubles and sicknesses that befell, and the causes whereby the Devil had such power and licence. They were taught how to draw away the milk from cows by plaiting a rope the wrong way in the Devil's name, and putting it between the cow's hinder feet, and out between the fore feet, and then milking the rope they could take all that cow's milk. Also how before Candlemas at Kinloss they yoked a plough with puddocks, and the traces were of dog grass, and the coulter was a ram's horn, and as they went up and down they cried to the Devil that they might have the fruit of the land, and that thistles and briars might grow there; whereat the land did in fact produce only straw and empty ears, and great quantities of thistles and weeds, but the barns of the coven were filled with good corn in due season. Such matters, I am told, do happen even now, but are ascribed to other causes. There were spells of healing for wounds, for fevers, and especially for the bone-shave, now called sciatica, which over all the world is well known to be healed by magic art. This was done by gently stroking or massaging the painful limb, using for the purpose the twigs of the hazel, such as diviners use for the finding of water, or the bark of the same tree macerated and boiled, and on that account called the witch hazel. And these things also are commonly done now, and without offence, but in the time we speak of, it was deemed a sure proof of unlawful intimacy with the Devil if any should thus heal another, and many were burned for this cause alone, for the ministers of the true Reformed Kirk of Scotland, having more accurate knowledge of the Devil and his powers than any have now, did surely understand that only by the aid of the arch-enemy of mankind could such works be accomplished.

They learned also the various spells whereby they might assume the form of cats, or hares, or corbies, or the like, and if in such shape they chanced to be pursued and caught by dogs, or struck by a man, they could never be killed, but the witch would be found wounded in bed; and by this means too were many taken, and being proved by Master Kincaid, were condemned and burned. Hence the coven were warned to be exceeding careful not to be caught in such alien form. Indeed, Janet Broadhead had a narrow escape. Being in the form of a hare, she was pursued by a dog before she had time to say the words that should bring her back to a woman's shape. Wherefore running into a neighbour's house, she slipped behind a big chest, and while the dog was nosing about, she managed to steal out and get into the back room, where she quickly said the words that undo the spell. So, coming forth in her own form, just as the owner of the dog appeared at the door, she upbraided him roundly, telling him that his dog had chased a hare into the kitchen, and upset and broken several cups and platters in his eagerness. The man apologised and called the dog off, but was not satisfied in his mind, and thus again the coven began to be talked about. Spells also there were to draw the fish from the fishers' boats at the Port of Findhorn, when they came in with a good catch, and they must steal a fish, or somehow get one fish for nothing, and then they have all that catch; though the boat seems to be full of fish, yet when the fishermen come to divide it they find it is nothing but foam and seaweed. And they learned how to raise or to lay the wind, so that they could produce storms at sea. And this Isabel particularly loved to do.

But most of all, the memory of the fairies at the Knock of Alves fascinated her. There was something about them so fine and dainty that by comparison the revels of the coven often seemed coarse and unsatisfying. Moreover, in the times when she was not in her lover's arms or riding with him on one of their wild hunts, she longed feverishly for some new adventure. He had said this would be a safe retreat for her if danger should threaten, and there seemed to be some danger ahead now that the coven was again beginning to be talked of. It would be useful at any rate to know how to get into communication with them. But how? The Dark Master either could not or would not help her in this. There seemed to be little in common between him and them.

It was in this perplexity that there fell into her hands a quaint old book containing the romance of Sir Thomas of Erceldoune, called Thomas the Rhymer, and the Elfin Queen, the manuscript whereof may still be seen by the curious in the Advocates' Library in Edinburgh. Sitting beside her window when all the men were away and the farm deserted, she devoured the story of how Thomas lay beside the huge old moss-covered stone at the foot of the Eildons near by Melrose, and saw the Elfin Queen come riding by, and how he was rapt away and stayed with her for what seemed but a single night--but meanwhile seven years of earth time had passed over. As she brooded over the quaint pictured page, the intervening five centuries seemed to roll away, and she fancied she saw the Rhymer's Geln, as it is called now, and the poet expectant beside the stone at the edge of the wood at the foot of the Eildon Hills, which only a hundred years before had been cleft into three by the power of Michael Scott the wizard. Folk said the Devil aided him. Was it indeed the Dark Master himself, she wondered. Men and women also seemed to visit the Court of Elfinland then. Things were not so very different, and all the happenings that had appeared to her so extraordinary had happened before, only they did more wonderful things then, and they were not burned or tortured.

So as she read, and visuallised the pictures conjured up by the wonderful romance, she became conscious of the Queen of Elfinland with her attendant train riding along under the shadows of the wood in spring-time, and the wild birds sang blithely in the wet boughs of the hawthorn that was white with the frost of its blossoms, and scented the air with a heavy sweetness. And then the flower, and the bird's song, and the scent seemed to fade away to unreality in the presence of the wondrous fairies, and she saw how the Queen alighted from her milk-white jennet, and met Thomas and embraced him, and her hair that was like burnished gold glowed round him, and somehow she knew the spells that had brought him there, and she saw the little plaque of gold that he wore on his breast, and knew that it was a protective emblem. The design of it was roughly drawn on the margin of the book she was reading. 'Oh,' she thought, 'True Thomas, if only thou wert alive now, to tell me how to win there!'

Long she sat there under the window in the fading light, the sunset gleaming on her fiery hair. Margaret Brodie passing by saw her, and saw also a marvellous dainty and graceful man standing behind her, in a curious roseate light. Whereat she marvelled, for this was no apparition that had ever come to her own ken, but she held her peace and went her way.

Isabel remembered a small gold disk given to her long ago in her maiden days by one of her admirers as a token. It had been the back of a miniature or something of the kind, and she had kept it in memory of the giver, but had forgotten it until now. Could she scratch the design on it, she wondered. She took it out and hung it round her neck when she went to bed, still haunted by the visions of the fairy court and Thomas of Erceldoune.

Dreams came to her. She was at the foot of the Eildons. She saw Michael Scott the famous wizard talking with the Dark Master. There was no doubt that it was himself and no other. She saw the gathering blackness, and heard the rush of the storm, and felt the shattering tremor and heaving of the earthquake that cleft the single hill into three. Then, as chances in a dream, the chaos and devastation of the earthquake seemed to melt into a smiling landscape, and Thomas the Rhymer was walking to meet her under a mighty beech tree. There in the woods of dreamland they wandered together, and Thomas told her stories of the Elfin Court, and how to get there, and the precautions to take. Above all things, never to accept anything from the fairies unless assured that it is a free and unbound gift. And for the protective symbol, it was to ensure her return home, as otherwise they might keep her for as many years as they pleased. He himself had been seven years there, but it was because he so wished, and they passed as one night, but he could have returned when he pleased. She woke next morning in a quiver of excitement. A new adventure opened before her. Sooth to say, she was growing a little weary of the doings of the coven, and only her love for the Dark Master preserved her interest in them. She could not help knowing that they were all common and ignorant women compared with herself; but in Elfinland was all the beauty and poetry of her early dreams and aspirations. Here was the world that Master Shakespeare had so well pictured, and which had seemed so baseless, so far removed from all reality, now suddenly become, or about to become, actual.

The year had turned, the feeling of spring was in the air, the birds sang over their mating. A gossiping herd-lass coming back into the farm kitchen from milking the cows told her scraps of news. Master Harry Forbes had recovered, and was to occupy his own pulpit the next Sabbath. The laird of Park's son had lain insensible for several days, and might die at any time, and the second son had sickened in the same way, maybe had caught the disease from his brother. The laird himself was a broken man, but he still busied himself about politics, and had even been to London to see my Lords Commissioners.

Isabel guessed the reason, he was still persecuting Cosmo Hamilton, and the momentary regret she had felt for the various meetings of the coven and roasting of the little clay figure vanished before the rush of hatred that the mention of the laird revived in her breast. Gladly would she slay all his male issue, and purge the land of an evil breed.

Her hand fell on the little golden disk, and she remembered how she had determined to scratch on it the device she had dreamed of, worn by Thomas of Erceldoune, and which was also drawn in the margin of the book she had read. Now she was impatient that the gossiping herd-girl should go about the farm business, that she might set about it. She hunted for a tool wherewith she might engrave the lines on the soft gold, and at length found a cobbler's awl, with which Gilbert used to repair his heavy boots. For a farmer in those days had to be able to do all things for himself.

Left to herself at last, she sat down as she had done now for many days past beside the window, with the old book before her, and the gold disk on a settle beside her knee. Very carefully she traced the device upon it. It was like the capital letter Y, with a continuation of the upright stem upwards between the two arms. Then having marked and measured it, and compared it with the drawing in the book, she began laboriously to cut the lines with the awl, gradually deepening them, as the design grew under her hand, For over an hour she laboured at this work, until she got it to her satisfaction; then she took a coin, and an old trading token of the Calders from the Port of Findhorn, and using these as guides, she traced two circles round the design. As she was completing this, she was conscious of a shadow that passed behind her, and dimmed the light of the window, then an arm thrown round her and looking over her shoulder, her lover himself was watching her work.

'So they have taught ye that,' he said. 'I am glad. So will ye win the middle kingdom. 'Twill be a safe refuge for ye, and may be needed ere long.'

He gathered her into his arms, and for some minutes she lay there in tranced delight. Glad to be with him again, glad that he approved her efforts to reach Elfinland. At least then she would not lose him in this new adventure, and if she left the coven for a while, at any rate she would not grieve overmuch.

'How mean ye that it may be needed, my lord?'

'Times are perilous. We silenced the stour when Toad i' the Wind was taken, but there remaineth always the seed of this gossip. All who were ever seen with her are suspect; and now Master Harry Forbes is well again after two months and three days illness, as was decreed for him by the spell of the witch bag, and now he hath a vague memory of the tales told him by the laird of Park. The laird's mouth is shut by fear for his own skin, but Master Forbes is suspicious, and will be set on inquiry. Also, though the boy is almost dead, and will say no more, he has dropped some hints to his fellows, and the boys of Forres and of Nairn begin to talk of witches, even as boys will. Then again Janet Broadhead's unfortunate experience when she was out as a hare set gossip afloat again. The man who owned the dog that chased her only half believed her story. None of these things alone would matter at all, but all put together they cause the coven to be watched and suspected. Only to a certain extent can I protect them. But for thee, my dear love, there is a sure refuge with the fairies of the Knock. There can ye bide till safer times shall come. For your sake, I would fain protect your Mistress Jean Gordon, and the moon-paste will secure Master Cosmo Hamilton from arrest for one year and a day. By that time I trust the danger will have passed. See ye now.' He pointed to the little gold disk with its engraved lines. 'This line to the left is mine, and that way at present danger lieth. But this middle line leadeth to the middle kingdom, and there is safety. Mind ye wear this always, and never part with it on any pretence. Now come, once more, let us ride as we have ridden so often. Up to Strathdearn and the Monaliadhs. We will chase the great red deer by moonlight, we will start the wolf, and the fox, and returning we will meet two covens, who are to hunt over Brodie and the Moray woods, and to-night we will feast at Darnaway, and dance until the morning's light. Ho then! hattock! Once more, if never again.'

'Once more, dear lord! Hey then! If we never ride together more, ye have given me such joy of life as never did I deem possible.'

'Dear love! ye have there the Rhymer's spell. I kenned him well, though he was not servant of mine. But Master Michael Scott and I had many a merry bout together. Sooth but men were men in those days, and there was joy on earth! Sir Robert is the only one now who is like the old crew, and he is too grave and solemn. Moreover, his time is nearly done. Once he got the best of me, at Salamanca. We have a final round to play.'

It was a wonderful and glorious ride. All the wild excitement of the previous autumn when she had first known the new life and the power of the Dark Master revived. He appeared as the great chief, strong and terrible, yet infinitely tender, and she clung to the belt that girt him, and pressed against his breast, longing to grow closer and closer to him, till her very body should melt into his utterly, and no part of her should be separate. So she hated the laird of Park, and all his race, with an intensity that seemed the reflection of his hatred. All the tricks of the coven, the drawing off of the substance of milk and corn, the sickness of cattle and of men, the burning of farm-steadings, even the shooting of men with the Arrows of Death, seemed but playful mischief as a boy might torment a captive mouse. These were trifles, but here in her union with the Dark Master was reality, transcendent blinding joy. And she knew now that he had lived and been the same through the centuries. Therefore he would still live on when the present aspect of things and all that now lived should have passed away. And if he lived, why should not she live with him? If she only became really a part of him as she desired. She thought of herself as twining round him like a serpent, and then he too was a serpent, and she sought hungrily for ever fresh points of contact with that king-serpent. So far up in Monaliadh Mountains among dim corries and deep mist-filled glens they hunted the great stags, and with the sacrament of their blood the fierce excitement grew.

'Lord! now the power is on me, I could do anything, anything.'

'Ay! and so ye could, sweetheart! See there.'

Down below them was a lonely shieling, the rotten latch had given way and the door was slightly ajar. In the room a baby within was sleeping peacefully in its cradle; outside a fierce, hungry wolf stole up, and was gathering itself for a spring. Already the cruel jaws were open. The fangs gleamed white. The feet were gathered to launch itself on the sleeping child. In another instant--

'Stop that wolf!' he cried suddenly.

'Haltl!' she called. The wolf had already sprung. He turned in his jump, as though from a powerful blow, and fell on the cottage floor, then turned and slunk away with a snarl of intense malignity.

'See ye now,' he said, 'how the magic power rushes full through ye. When ye are mad with joy, ye can do all that ye will. My disciples in eastern lands know this well, hence they have great powers, but in these cold northern lands it is but little they can do.'

Returning over the MacIntosh lands, they fell in with the two covens who were hunting there, and with wild shouts the whole party swept eastwards in a mad gallop. Passing over Nairn some boys who had been poaching in the Cawdor heard the cries and looked up.

'Ho there! a witch-hunting,' cried one of them.

Isabel, twining one arm round her lover's neck, shouted, 'Horse and hattock with yon boy.' Immediately he was lifted up in the air, and carried as by a whirlwind out of sight. He was found afterwards wandering in the Brodie woods, and they said he had lost his memory, and knew not whence he came or how he got there. She laughed merrily at the success of her spell, but the Master looked grave.

'These are warlocks by nature,' he said. 'They have seen us, and there is no more safety. Dear love! ye must begone to the middle kingdom, as soon as ye may. Be ready by the full moon. It will be in three days from now. But to-night is safe. Ho, then Horse and hattock! We are for Daranaway. To-night is for feast and song and dance. Let to-morrow bring what it may.'

The following day the remains of the same excitment were still on her, and an enthusiasm for the new adventure of her visit to Elfinland, now seeming doubly desirable because it was his wish that she should go there for her own safety's sake.

Diligently therefore she laboured all the next day at the little gold disk. On the back of it, as laid down by Thomas the Rhymer in his story of Elfinland, and also in her dreams of him, she wrought with care and exactness a six-pointed star or Hexagram, as used in magic operations from the time of King Solomon, and maybe much earlier, and then the disk was polished and the lines smoothed and perfected.

Next she took a pair of sandal shoon without heels, and cut certain small rods of wood which she fitted neatly together into a five-pointed star or Pentagram, and these she fastened to the soles of the sandals, using the awl and waxed thread. One of these same shoes was afterwards seen by Mr Patrick Innes, who, however, had no idea who they belonged to, or what was their purpose, but was struck by the peculiarity of his own family cognisance on the sole of a shoe. He attributed it to an intentional insult on the part of one of the Dunbars, who had thus presumed to trample on the mullet, but Mr. Harry Forbes told him that these were known as the wizard's foot, and were probably connected with some of the unholy dealings with the Devil that were rife in the county about that time.

Her preparations being thus far complete, she looked out from her kist the filmy, shimmery French robe that on that night, that now seemed so strangely far away that almost it might have belonged to another life, she had put on to try and fascinate John Gilbert, with such disastrous results. It was a pale watery green, with delicate gold lines faintly traced in needlework. This she laid with an overdress of a darker green that seemed to blend the colours of the young grass with those of the spruce fir.

Now all was ready, and the day of the full moon had come. Evening was closing in, the men had returned. John Gilbert was already about his supper. The farm was active with preparation for the night. She looked round on her little room, would she ever see it again, she wondered. All the loneliness and the sorrow she had known there in the old days, all the romance and glory of the past six months. Her belongings were all stowed away in the oaken kist, locked and fastened with two heavy padlocks, the keys hung to her girdle, a dark purple cloak covered her green dress, the sandals were thrust into the girdle. So she stepped out into the road that ran past the farm. A short distance she walked till a dyke took her out of sight of the house. There by the dyke side stood the Master. Without a word he took her in his arms, and kissed her hair, her eyes, her lips, long and close.

'Two of the coven were taken last night,' he said. 'Their own fault--they will not follow my rules. All are in danger now. Ye go to safety. Farewell, my love, for a time, we shall meet again when this trouble is overpast.'

He called up the great steed, and gently lifted her to its back.

'Hey for the Knock of Alves!' and away they sped towards the rising moon.

At that moment two men rapped loudly and imperatively at the door of the farmhouse of Lochloy--

'Open in the name of the Commonwealth.'

'We seek Mistress Isabel Goudie--Sheriff's men we be.'

'She hath but just stepped down the road. What want ye with her.'

'Charge of accompanying with notorious witches.'

'See ye here,' said Gilbert in high wrath. 'My wife is an honest woman, and well respected, a godly member of the Kirk, as Master Harry Forbes can testify, and all the elders of Aulderne parish. Get ye forth. Ye come not into my house. Get out, ere I call the farm hands to throw ye forth into the road. Witches, forsooth! That ye should dare to use such a word in connection with my wife, a pretty state the country is coming to with your Englishry. Now, will ye go at once in peace, or will ye not?'

Several of the farm hands were running up, hearing his angry tones, and the men walked sullenly forth, muttering low words of deforcement and the like. As soon as they were safely off the premises, John Gilbert locked the door and ran out at the back to warn or protect his wife, with half a dozen of his men at his heels. But nowhere was she to be seen, and neither there nor anywhere for long weary months did he see her again coming and going about the farm of Lochloy.


Chapter Sixteen. Fairies and Witches

FOR what follows we have only Isabel's own account to guide us, and that is imperfect. All that can be distinctly verified is that on the night of the visit of the Sheriff's men to the farm of Lochloy she disappeared, and for a long time all traces of her was lost. Her own story seemed so inherently improbable that it was rejected by those who heard it, as we shall see, and there were some who roundly stated that she had become delirious and, being taken care of and nursed in concealment in a shepherd's hut, had dreamed all the wonderful things whereof she had read in the Rhymer's book and verily imagined they had chanced to herself.

At the same time, the remarkable similarity of her alleged experiences to the recorded adventures of many others in other countries and their accounts of the kingdom of Elfinland seem to point to something more than a mere dream. For these accounts she could by no means have read, and there is much therein not contained in the Rhymer's story. The episode must be left among the unsolved problems. Her own story was as follows:

While the Sheriff's men sought for her vainly at Lochloy, the good steed that bore her halted on the south side of the fairy Knock of Alves, where a tiny mere lies amid tall trees at the foot of the hill. She stood under a graceful birch tree, and, mindful of the instructions she had so carefully learned, she plucked a branch thereof and looked around her in wonder and delight at the exquisite beauty of the scene. A light cloud veil spread over the sky, dimming slightly the full radiance of the moonlight, and forming a white luminous background against which the branches of the trees showed in an intricate network. The landscape to the southward, seen through the delicate thronging stems, seemed a study in silver greys. The rushes on the margin of the mere showed clear against the still luminous water.

She stood to the north of the pool, facing the moon, and there threw off the purple robe she had put on over her green dress. Then she opened the dress itself, and the moonlight shone softly on the shimmery garment beneath, through which the warm white wealth of her body shone. Thrice she saluted the moon, and then, drawing from her girdle the sandals whose soles bore the wooden pentagram she had afixed thereto, she cast off her thick shoes, and put them on. Then she advanced to the edge, and dipped the birchen bough in the water, and, drawing it out, she cast a shower of drops upwards towards the moon.

Then she dashed the bough into the water till it was quite submerged and waved it wildly upwards, sending showers of drops all around, chanting as she did so:

'The streamlet from the mountains

Flows downwards to the plain,

The cloud that floats in heaven

Comes back to earth in rain.

Beat the water! Hurl the water! Beat and hurl amain!'

The last words were uttered in a sort of chanting fury:

'The mists that veil the edges,

The cloud-wreaths on the plain,

Rise from the trembling sedges

And float to heaven again.

Beat the water! Hurl the water! Beat and hurl amain!'

The air was full of falling and scattering drops like fine mist. Behind her was an upright stone heavily covered with cushions of green moss. All the ground around was soft and spongy, and the wooden pentagrams on her feet left definite marks in the mud. She turned about after the scattering of the water and walked widdershins round the stone three times, carefully at each step pressing the pentagram into the earth. Coming back again to the water's edge after the third circumambulation, she again repeated the spell, casting the water still more energetically into the air, till it seemed full of a white mist. Looking at the circle her footmarks had traced, she saw, or seemed to see, pale and shadowy forms, as if formed out of the white mist of the flying drops of water that she threw aloft. They seemed to be examining the footprints. Once more she made the three circles, and again repeated the spell of 'Beat the water! Hurl the water!' The mist now grew so thick that the trees were scarcely visible, but the forms around the circle had grown much more definite and were stooping over the marks she had made. Yet once more was the formula repeated, and now she halted and turned into the centre of her circle, facing the moon, and standing beside the mossy stone, raising her branch on high like a sceptre, she recited her invocation to the fairy forces of Luna:

'By the lily and lotus

Bleached white in thy rays,

And the broad leaves that float, as

Green rafts of the fays.

Queen of the night,

Pause in thy flight,

Gleam on the lake,

For the fays are awake.

Thy spirit entrancing

Shall wrap us in dream,

For fairies are dancing

By lochan and stream.'

As she chanted, the moonbeams in the mist seemed to coalesce and grow more solid, forming themselves into a slim, graceful figure, standing facing her, that became clearer and clearer as she looked at him. He stretched a hand of greeting to her. But before she took it she parted her under-robe and showed him the little golden disk that lay on her breast.

He then saluted courteously, and said:

'Lady! I bid you welcome. I am sent to bid you to the Court of the King of this realm. Will you take my hand that I may guide you?'

'Yea! that will I right joyfully, since I see you know this symbol.'

'It should be the badge of our Order. But I pray you let me examine it more closely to be sure that it is indeed what I believe it to be. Take if off for one moment, gracious lady.'

'Nay, that I may not. It is personal to myself. But you can look at it as closely as you please, while it lies on my bosom.'

'It is well, lady! Come with me! I have the King's commands.'

She took his hand, and turned around towards the hill. Before her was a portal, with the doors thrown wide open, and within was a splendid hall. The air was full of music and the scent of lovely flowers; wreaths of flowers twined round the pillars and hung in festoons. Bright, dainty beings were gliding to and fro, and many were dancing to the strains of aerial harps. On a dais at the end sat the King and Queen as she had seen them before, on the night when Toad i' the Wind was judged in the old stone circle. The courteous guide led her by the hand up to the foot of the dais, and the King rose from his throne and came forward himself to meet and greet her, saying:

'Welcome, lady! I bade you come here in any time of trouble or danger. Now you are free of Elfinland, and any explanations that you desire shall be freely given to you. For first you come to us with one to whom we are to some extent bound by treaty, and by the law of our being. His servants come not here; there is little betwixt us and them. But you are not wholly his servant, and in some ways you belong more truly to us. Therefore you are welcome here, and having the sign of Thomas of Erceldoune, you are free to come and go as you will.'

Multitudes of the fairy beings thronged round her. They kissed her and caressed her, and they let down her wonderful hair and combed it, and bathed her brow with some delicious liquid which they said was the essence of the roses; and all care and fear and trouble fell from her, and nothing was left but a blissful content, and a desire never again to leave these happy, peaceful beings.

Then she bethought her to ask concerning all the strange things that had chanced to her during the past six months, and concerning him with whom she had first come to that wonder-world whereof she was now made free. But the King answered shortly:

'Presently I will show you some of the wonders of this kingdom; now you have but to rest and enjoy. Yet this much I will tell you now. He is the lord of all material life in which there is no soul, in which nothing is sought but the pleasing of yourself. This is the kingdom of earth, and to him it is given. Deny and cast out the divine spirit, and in this world you shall have whatever you crave: physical enjoyment to the very highest; knowledge, if you desire it; power, if that is what you want; all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them. But it is only for one short life, only the joy of the body. Afterwards, when the immortal spirit is freed from the body and the eternal joy should dawn, the spirit knows what it has lost. But of this we will not speak now. It is too terrible.'

'But what are you, then; are ye not of his ministers?'

'Nay! We are the spirits of the life of nature. We cause the flowers to bloom and the sap to flow in the plants and trees. We bring in the life from the sun and distribute it to make the world beautiful. We teach the birds to sing, and the great trees to whisper their lullabies in the evening air. We bring dreams to the poet from the lady-moon. But we are ever under the dominion and rule of the great Spirit of the Universe. He with whom you first came here is the lord of unbalanced force. We are like unto the children of men in shape and form, for we also are human, though we fell not with the fall of Adam. But come! sweet lady, you shall join in our dances, and listen to the strains of our music; you shall sup of the essence of the flowers, and shall know the delights of a land where sin hath never been.'

The gentle fairies came thronging round her, claiming her as their playmate, and carried her off to show her the wonders of their lovely kingdom. One of them, with the sweetest smile, offered her a bouquet of the most exquisite flowers. But, mindful of what she had been taught, she declined the gift with gracious courtesy, saying:

'Nay, sweet friend, I may take nothing, unless you will assure me that it is entirely a free and unbound gift, under no conditions.'

She touched the little protective symbol as she said this. The fairy who offered her the flowers smiled and said:

'I see that you know our conditions, and the rules of our existence. We are bound to try and retain among us all who come to us. But we desire not to coerce any, and we gladly welcome unconditionally all who know enough, and are strong enough, to come to us as friends, and on equal terms. Be content then, I offer you a gift freely as you desire, and I pray your acceptance. You are free of Elfinland.'

Graciously then she took the bouquet, and as she inhaled the sweet fragrance she seemed to herself to become one of the fairies, partaking of their kindly and beautiful nature, yet without losing her own individuality. But she knew, too, how easily in that perfume she might have lost herself altogether, and forgotten her earth life and remained there always.

The scene of the tale must now shift back to Lochloy, after the sheriff's men, being turned off the farm by John Gilbert, walked down the road and searched all round the farm in hopes of pouncing upon her somewhere near. For they felt convinced she must be hiding close by. But nowhere could she be seen, and at length they decided to go on to the mansion-house of Park, believing that from the laird they might get some information. Though at one time he had been a man suspect, yet the exertions of Master John Innes had succeeded in freeing him from this suspicion, and obviously he knew something of the movements of the suspected women, several of whom, indeed, were tenants of his own.

They were ushered into what was called the laird's business room, though in fact the business seemed mainly to consist of Spanish wines, of which he had already imbibed somewhat more than sufficient; and he remained seated when they entered, possibly from a doubt as to his own stability. But of the object of their errand he could or would tell them little.

'As to witches, gentlemen, I know nothing. My leech, indeed, assures me there are none such. There was a poor woman in whom I was interested, and whom I befriended, who was haled off to Elgin, and burned, so they tell me. A barbarous thing, I hold. But who were her associates, I know not. As to Mistress Isabel Goudie, I can say nothing. It were better you should ask Master Harry Forbes the minister. She is well thought of, though I find the man a troublesome tenant myself. Do you say she has left the farm? Indeed, I knew nothing of it. But in these days, when the popish abomination rears its head again and men plot to bring back the infamous Stuart kings, we can wonder at no wickedness. Let me tell you, gentlemen, while you seek to arrest foolish old women, there be plots going on under your noses that ye take no account of. See here, now! I have the fullest information in these papers of the complexity of young Cosmo Hamilton to restore Charles Stuart, and with him of course all the popish superstitions, and all the debauchery of that foul Court, and at Gordonstown House is the very centre of his intrigues. For there the lady to whom he is betrothed bides with her aunt, and with Sir Robert Gordon. Fie, then! Why do ye not strike at the head of the viper? See ye these papers. They were laid before my Lords Commissioners. But of course they do nothing. We who live here know, but in London they are so filled with their own importance they will believe none but themselves. See to it, gentlemen, arrest ye papists and adherents of the Stuarts, they are your real witches. Arrest Sir Robert Gordon, an ye dare. There is the first criminal.'

He had handed the men a collection of memoranda in his own handwriting. They were, sooth to say, somewhat weary of his discourse; wine had made him loquacious, but his speech was thick and halting. But one scrap caught their attention as they languidly and perfunctorily turned over the papers he handed to them. It was a torn fragment of a letter he had written and not sent to Master Forbes, before that worthy minister fell sick.

'See,' said one of them, 'this is important. Here be names.'

The other thrust it in his pocket.

'This is sufficient,' he said.

'I pray you, gentlemen, what have you there?' said the laird, a flash of caution gleaming through his intoxication.

'Merely a note of some names, contained in this most admirable and lucid account you have written of the plots. Sir Robert Gordon's and others. We are to acquaint the Sheriff with all this that ye have told us, and he will deal therewith.'

The names on the paper were actually those of companions of Maggie Wilson, but the sheriff's men did not think well to say so. The name of Isabel Goudie had been on the paper, but this had been torn off. Three names, however, remained legible. Meanwhile the other had been turning over the papers, the laird regarding his own handiwork with a certain drunken satisfaction.

'See here,' said the man who was examining the papers, 'here be important matters. This letter clearly involves Sir Robert Gordon, and this memorandum, professing to be written by Cosmo Hamilton, seemeth to give all details of a plot against the Commonwealth and the Reformed faith. Under your favour, Mr. Hay, we must take possession of these. They are for the Sheriff to deal with.'

'Nay, gentlemen,' cried the laird, with a sudden access of caution, 'I cannot part with those papers; they are the very backbone of the information I have collected with infinite pains, and have not yet been seen of any. I am to make my own terms with the Lord Commissioners for the production thereof. They enable the government to arrest Cosmo Hamilton as an arch-traitor. If I lose those, I lose all. Give them back.'

His voice rose to a scream. He staggered from his chair, attempting to seize the papers from the sheriff's man, who however evaded him, and the laird, reeling forward, fell heavily on the floor. The men gathered up their papers and departed. Just at that moment Mistress Hay entered the room pale and distraught.

'David,' she said, 'come quickly! The bairn is dead, Oh! David, do not delay. For God's sake, come!'

But David Hay neither moved nor spoke, he lay on the floor in a drunken stupor.

The two men meanwhile walked back to Aulderne, not ill pleased with the results of their visit to Park.

'This should be worth good money to us in some way,' said one of them.

'Ay, we hold the cards, an we can but play them wisely. Methinks the Lords Commissioners will pay well, or failing them, Sir Robert Gordon will pay to save his own skin, or to save this young springald, for whom he seemeth to have an affection. I think we shall hold these papers for a while till we see who desireth them most.'

'Ay, truly! Tell me, what can we make of this Sir Robert? I ken but little of your affairs in this county as yet.'

'Sir Robert liveth mostly alone at Gordonstown, which he designeth to make a great family mansion, and they say his own family cannot thole him, for he doeth many things that are questionable, and men say the Devil helpeth him. For my part, I am a plain man, and I know not of these matters. An the Devil will help me to a good stoup of ale and a warm bed, I had as lief it were him as another. But none of Sir Robert's family bide at Gordonstown at the present. His wife is a daughter of the Lord of Glenluce; she hath not been seen here this long time. His son Ludovic stayeth mostly with his dear friend Dunbar of Hempriggs, the which is nigh to the lands of Windyhills. At this time his cousin the Lady Mary Gordon keepeth house for him, and with her bideth her niece, who is betrothed to this same Cosmo.'

'Marry! herein is a matter for good profit as it seemeth, Methinks we can deal with Sir Robert. Sooth, I fear not his Devil. Let him save him if he can; but I think these papers will be more to the point. Come now, good gossip! here we be at Aulderne, and here an I mistake not is the house indicated to us. Let us keek through the window. By my troth, there is a light there. See ye! three of them crouching over the fire. What do they? By the name of Beelzebub, they be roasting something. It must be one of those figures, whereof the last witch that was taken spoke in her confession. Marry! but here is proof enough. Break the door, and seize them. Comrade, we have done well this night.'

'What will we do with them when we have them?'

'Sooth, there is but one thing to do. We must take them to Forres. 'Tis a long tramp, and the Findhorn is in spate, but there is no other thing. An we go to Nairn we lose all our profit of the catch, for Dallas of Cantrey is sheriff and we have no commission. In Forres we can house them for the night, and then to Elgin the morn, Now, comrade. Down with the door, and rush.'

Three weary, draggled women, roughly driven forward by the two sheriff's men, toiled through the Brodie woods under the clear moonlight, past Dyke and Grangehill, making for the ford of the Findhorn. As they neared the river, the roar of the waters proved clearly that she was coming down in spate and the crossing would be perilous.

But not till they came in full sight of the ford was the danger fully evident. The river rolled black under the moon in waves like a turbulent sea with white crests. Boughs torn off the trees were tossing on the flood. At the ford the dark brown peat-stained water rolled tumultuously over the stepping-stones, the moon low in the west showed the debris carried furiously downward. The rising wind that had almost become a tempest tore off the crests of the waves and swirled them into the air. The two sheriff's men looked at each other in dismay.

'What's to do?' said one.

'God save us! there's naught to do but try it. Gin ye stick to the stones, it's not more than ankle deep on them. Oh! we'll win over safe enough, and though we lose these limmers, it's naught but missing that reward, and we'll get plenty from Sir Robert, e'en let them drown an they will. Get on, ye besoms--into the water with ye--your master gars ye float, so they say, and ye can hold us up. The foul fiend catch ye. Ye'll be wanting water badly enough when they have ye at the stake.'

Urged by threats and blows the wretched women plunged through the water to the first stepping-stone, and thence jumped to the next, whose top showed now and then between the waves that lashed over it. The men followed. But as they reached the midmost stone a dull roar made them look upstream; a towering wave was sweeping down, and in their abject terror they seemed to see a mighty threatening form riding on its crest. The two men squealed like hares in a trap in their mad fright, shrieking out a mixture of blasphemy and prayers and entreaties, indifferently to God and the Devil, to save them from imminent death. The women raised their arms and cast themselves towards the oncoming wave. In another second it was on them, and the whole five were swept away, whirled hither and thither on the tossing flood, struck against the snags, battered on the stones, entangled in the floating branches of the trees. Eventually the bodies of the two men were recovered by the Port of Findhorn, knocked and smashed out of all recognition, but identified by their clothes, and by the papers found upon them. So it chanced that the precious papers which they had taken from Hay of Lochloy, came to the possession of Dunbar of Westfield as hereditary sheriff, and he as a prudent man, notwithstanding the doubts that then existed as to who was the actual sheriff, having got possession of the papers, retained them, and said nothing of the matter to anyone until he should see which way his own advantage lay.

Of the three women, however, not a trace was ever found. There were some in the Port of Findhorn who roundly averred that they had seen three witches floating out to sea in eggshells, and this saying was commonly reported among the boys of that port for many a year afterwards, and never would they leave an eggshell without making a crosswise hole in the bottom of it, lest it should be taken and used as a witch boat; moreover, it is stated by some that these same three women were afterwards seen at North Berwick, or as some say on the shores of Fife, having journeyed thither in their eggshell boats. But as to this the evidence is far from satisfactory. There are, it is true, certain confessions of North Berwick witches that narrate their coming thither in eggshells, or some say in sieves, from a distant place where they had been persecuted, and in their statements it seems that they knew much the same spells, and did much the same things as were recorded of the covens in Moray. But all of this proves nothing, for we know that the Devil taught much the same things to all of his disciples all the world over, even in America, as is told by the ingenious Mr. Cotton Mather.

All that can be certainly averred with regard to these women is that they were taken from the house of one of them by the sheriff's officers, that they were seen by one or two being conveyed down towards the Waterford, and that the sheriff's men being indubitably drowned, the bodies of the women were never recovered. Some there were who said that the witches had themselves raised the spate on the river, but others declared they had no power of water, but might have raised the wind. Others again, and with some justification, say that after a witch is taken she hath no power any more. So, generally, so far as I can ascertain, the ministers, who had more perfect knowledge of the ways of the Devil than ordinary folk, concluded that it was he himself who raised this storm, in order to drown the righteous and godly servants of the Commonwealth, and to free his own disciples.

Sir Robert Gordon it appears somehow or other got knowledge of the incriminating papers that had been taken from Hay of Lochloy, probably some of his Dunbar friends may have found out something and let him know. He was also growing uneasy on other accounts. For the Dark Master had dropped sundry hints, in which there was a grim humour, not at all to Sir Robert's taste, and his manner had grown distinctly more that of the owner who will presently claim his own. Sir Robert searched his memory for the terms of the covenant under which the wisdom he craved so earnestly had been given him. He looked back to his student days in Spain, the old renegade monk who had taught him diabolic lore, his studies of the Grimoire and of Trithemius, the cave at Salamanca and the snatching of his higher self, which the ignorant were wont to call his shadow, knowing nothing of the real nature of that transaction. Then the pact signed with his blood. Was the end actually near at hand, and the dread penalty to be paid?

Greatly now he desired to have an interview with Isabel Goudie, to whom instinctively he looked for assistance. But in vain. All he could learn was that she had disappeared none knew where, and that there had been several arrests of notorious witches at Aulderne and the neighbourhood, some of whom were known to have been her intimate friends. And all these matters caused him very considerable uneasiness, as may well be imagined.


Chapter Seventeen. How Isabel Came Back

WINTER passed into spring, and all over the laigh of Moray the trees came early into bud and leaf. It was an extraordinarily mild and beautiful season, little disturbed either by late frosts or wild wind storms. Even at that time the climate of the lowlands of Moray was known as the best in Scotland. The late troubles, too, seemed to have ceased for a time.

With the last frosts of winter 'the wasting sickness' seemed to have disappeared. Since March no new cases were heard of, and the terror that had brooded over the land seemed to have passed away. The second son of the laird of Park had died, but his other sons had not been attacked. The laird himself seems to have become a chronic invalid, and rarely moved out of his house. He was sorely exercised over the loss of his papers, but he had no notion what had become of them. He hoped that they had been lost when the two sheriff's men were drowned, but he dared not inquire. Better for him, he thought, that they should be lost altogether than fall into other hands. Dunbar of Grangehill might have enlightened him, if he would, for he was in Westfield's confidence.

As a fact, Westfield was using the information contained in those papers to make his position more secure with the authorities of the Commonwealth in London, intending to produce them at the most suitable time.

Oliver Cromwell had been made Lord Protector, and the hopes of the royalists were for the time dashed to the ground, though Monk still cherished dreams of a Restoration, which however, he avowed to none.

Sir Robert Gordon continued to send Danny across to France and to receive rich cargoes of aqua vita and other commodities, the proceeds whereof went to the building of Gordonstown House. It is said that the Dark Master aided him herein, inasmuch as his ships were never detected nor was his trade interfered with. In fact, though it was commonly stated that Sir Robert was a notorious smuggler, I can find no hint thereof in any of the official records of the time. The stories survive to the present day, and the very hiding places are shown, but no atom of proof is forthcoming, whence I conclude either that he was supernaturally aided or that he must have been a man of most diabolic cunning, and perhaps the two alternatives may not have been so very far apart from each other. For some philosophers of the day asserted that the Devil doth not so much aid a man as endow him with wit to aid himself.

There were times when he recalled with considerable apprehension the pact he had signed with the Dark Master; he could not precisely remember its terms nor could he recall the time when the penalty had to be paid. Meantime they drank together in Gordonstown Hall, and the Master proved himself as ever a merry boon companion. But ever the awful shadow of impending doom hung over their meetings. Sir Robert began to feel like a man sentenced to death, who knows not when the summons will come and the masked executioner be waiting for him. If only he could ascertain the time, he would betake himself to Birnie kirkyard, for it was well known that this place was of such extraordinary sanctity that all the devils in hell cannot take a man from there. Thither he would go, and if necessary he would build himself a hut in the kirkyard, and defy the Devil. He looked on it all as a game, wherein he might, if he were clever enough, again defeat the Devil, as he had done once before. It was high stakes he was playing for. His salvation if he won; hell for all eternity if he lost. But he could not find out the time, nor would the Master tell him.

'One final throw, Rob,' he said, 'and I shall win this time.'

However, Sir Robert was convinced that the time was not yet, and before it arrived he would be able to ascertain all the conditions.

With the early summer Danny's boat brought back Father Blackhall from France, full of stories of his adventures there and of Montfaucon, delighting to sit in the great hall and tell Jean tales of Cosmo, his skill, his daring, and how beloved he was. Also how he seemed to bear a charmed life, what narrow escapes he had had of arrest, till his luck became proverbial, and the soldiers of the Fronde began to say that he could not be a man at all but was some phantom. Sometimes he slipped through their very grasp when they were sure they had him. Sometimes when they saw him quite clearly, he was not there when they came up to him. Sometimes again, with extraordinary strength and agility, he fought his way single-handed through a troop, for he was a master of weapons, and sword in hand there was no man in either army who could stand face to face with him. Jean thrilled with pride and delight. But the Father came also with a definite suggestion, that caused her heart to throb with hope, to which it had long been a stranger. This was from no less a personage than the great Cardinal Mazarin himself, who seems to have formed a very high opinion of Cosmo, and sought for some means of relieving his troubles. Cosmo, so Father Blackhall reported, had had a long interview with the Cardinal, in which he had confided to the latter the story of his engagement, of the vehement persecution of the Covenanters and the Lords Commissioners. The Cardinal would gladly have given him a commission near to himself that would lead to profit and advance, but Cosmo's one great desire was to retire to a quiet country life with Jean, and that seemed wholly impossible in Scotland or England or France. The Cardinal, who sincerely wished to benefit him both from his affection for the brilliant young man and in gratitude for his services, turned his thoughts across the Atlantic to the new world. There was Nova Scotia, originally the French Acadia. It had been largely colonised by the English from Virginia, and had been wholly claimed by James I. It would, he said, certainly soon be French again. In the meantime Sir Robert Gordon had a grant as the first of James' baronets of Nova Scotia of 16,000 acres of land in the finest and most fertile part of the province. The Cardinal's proposition therefore was that Sir Robert should make over this tract of land to Cosmo. He had influential friends with the government who would, on terms, recognise his rights. When this was done, and the lands assigned to Cosmo, the Cardinal undertook that France should recognise Cosmo's title, which being thus under the protection of both governments would be unassailable. Mazarin having his finger on European politics, and knowing all the moves of every government, was fully aware that Cromwell, now that he had been placed in practically absolute power, intended to occupy the peninsula in force. But he was also confident that before many years had passed it would be restored to France, when Charles Stuart came back to his ancestral throne, which Mazarin regarded as a certainty in spite of all appearances to the contrary. Cosmo's services to the cause of the exiled monarch, coupled with the charters that Mazarin undertook to produce from Louis XIV, would ensure him a peaceful and happy home and a fair fortune in the very garden of the province, the valley of Annapolis, lying behind the precipices that skirt the Bay of Fundi.

All depended on the recognition by the English government of Sir Robert's claim under his patent, as premier Knight Baronet of Nova Scotia, to these lands, and following thereon his grant to Cosmo.

All of this Father Blackhall expounded minutely, and brought all the necessary papers; Sir Robert, sooth to say, had long ceased to think of these Nova Scotian claims. Since the murder of King Charles, and the triumph of the Parliamentary forces, he had ceased to take any interest in this settlement of which in its inception he had been one of the leading spirits. He had settled down in the estate he had acquired from Innes of Drainie, and devoted himself to the acquisition of the knowledge which he had so earnestly craved. But now a new vista opened before him. If only time were allowed him, he could defeat his enemies and provide for Jean, whom indeed he loved far more than any of his own family. Mentally he reviewed his political friends and connections. Yes! there were many influential men on the Parliamentarian side, and all under obligations to him. He could count on their support, and they would suffice. Cromwell, in his new dignity as Lord Protector, could not afford to offend them. So with no delay, missives were sent forth to several of the leading men on that side of politics. But considerable time must need to elapse before replies could be received, and Sir Robert realised with apprehension that his time might be short; the final throw with the Dark Master might be forced upon him before the necessary confirmations of his rights could be obtained. He was a strong man and accustomed to be self-reliant, he was not going to play the craven now, or to whine over the pact he had himself made. He had entered on the game in a gambler's spirit, and he was going to win if he could. But now more depended on it than he had calculated on. For the sake of these two children he must get this business put through before the last contest.

'Yet another race we must ride, Rob,' the Master said in one of their carouses, 'and maybe I shall win this time.'

'And when will that be, Black Jock? By our pact ye can take me when the time is up. I never promised to give myself to ye. So ye shall e'en take me if ye can. I challenge ye to do it. And I trow ye will fail again, as ye did before. But I would know when the time is.'

He spoke confidently, but he was far from feeling as assured as his words implied.

'Nay, Rob! that is just what ye may not know. Think ye I am such a fool as to quit any advantage that is on my side? A man who hath beaten the Devil once needs to be very clever to do it a second time. Ye have had your innings, Rob, and a right good one. Soon it will be my turn. Drink out, man. This Spanish wine is good, though ye do prefer your claret. Ye might have had more pleasure--women, and feasting and jollity, but ye preferred knowledge, and I gave ye power besides. But the time of our last bout I will not tell ye.'

Father Blackhall came in.

'Ha!' he said, 'this is the meeting I have long desired. Sathanas, mine old adversary! whom I have never encountered in the flesh before.'

'Scarcely "in the flesh," Sir Priest. Clearly ye do not know me well, even yet. By very many names I am and have been called among the sons of men. But is not your Reverence afraid to talk thus with the Devil? I am held to have some power.'

'No power at all against the weapons I hold, replied the Father. 'I know well your empire is only over material things, and as ye are well aware, material things weigh not one grain with me. Long have I known that it is only the eternal kingdom of the divine spirit that hath any reality. But why say ye "scarcely in the flesh"?'

'See ye then, since ye know me so little--your Reverence is in the flesh. Ye were born and ye will die, and in the meantime ye are solidly there, and ye cannot get out of your prison of the body. I am eternal as matter itself, whereof I am the lord, for that was delivered unto me. So can I change my shape even as matter changes, but perishes not. Choose, then, what I shall give ye. There must be something ye desire for yourself or some other. Be not afraid of asking. Well ye know it is in my power to grant anything ye wish for. I am not in the flesh, I am eternal as ye know, therefore real as ye just now said.'

'Specious, but untrue,' smiled the Father. 'The world began and the world will end, and ye will end, miserably as will all your dupes. My Master came in the flesh, and will be Lord of all when you and your kingdom are hurled down to hell. Therefore, I fear you not, and therefore also I scorn your offers. But I desire to know more of your nature, that I may haply deliver some poor souls from your deceptions. Also it were well that ye should know that I have some power too.' He made the sign of the cross. 'By the power committed unto me by my Divine Master, I order ye, lord of unbalanced force, whom men call the Devil or Sathanas, that ye come apart with me, and answer truly the questions I shall put to ye.'

He rose to his feet, and his figure seemed to grow tall and commanding. The Dark Master visibly shuddered, and cringed before him, as together they passed out of the hall.

Sir Robert had remained a passive spectator of this strange colloquy. He had sought knowledge with untiring diligence, and knowledge had been his, far beyond what is ordinarily attained by men. His beloved sovereign King Charles had extolled his wisdom, and had trusted him above all his counsellors, Sir Robert had smiled to himself thinking of the contrast between the nature of the saintly monarch and the source of the wisdom he praised so highly; afterwards he grew apprehensive. His wisdom, after all, was only of the world. King Charles had the divine spirit, and the nobility of his death made earthly wisdom look poor and mean; yet here was a priest, pretending to no special knowledge or wisdom, by the simple power of his orders compelling and coercing the dread lord of all material things, the source of all the knowledge and power he had risked his soul and his eternal life to win. He found all his outlook on life suddenly reversed.

Well, the past could not be undone. He must go through with it. The fair prospect that opened before Jean and Cosmo was in his hands, he must get this for them, and he must play out his last match with the Devil, and whatever the issue he must be worthy of his race.

What passed in that secret colloquy between Father Blackhall and the Devil will never be divulged, but certain it is that after that day the Reverend Father had a much fuller knowledge of the works and ways of Sathanas. He grew very tolerant of many things that previously he had most scathingly denounced, and on the other hand he unflinchingly condemned much that in the world hardly passed for more than the most venial fault. Some day, perhaps, a memoir of his life may be written, and his own writings may be rescued from oblivion, and even though, as is likely, this meeting may be set down as a dream or fancy, its influence will be very apparent.

But Father Blackhall's increased knowledge of the diabolic nature was no help to Sir Robert. He could not tell the priest the whole story, and though he had certainly been profoundly impressed by the power he showed when he ordered the Dark Master to follow him, and was obeyed, still he could not alter the pact that Sir Robert had signed, nor extract information that Sathanas was unwilling to afford.

Instinctively, and without quite knowing why, he wished very much that he could see Mistress Isabel Goudie. From the very first moment he had seen her he recognised something unusual about her. And though he had only thought of her latterly as Black Jock's favourite mistress, yet deep down in his mind he knew that he placed her in a far different category from the covens, whom sooth to say he much disliked. But Mistress Isabel had vanished completely, and the most careful inquiries failed to elicit the slightest clue to what had become of her. John Gilbert thought the sheriff's men had arrested her after all, and that she had been drowned at the fords of the Findhorn. Mr. Harry Forbes and the laird of Park seemingly shared this view, the minister loudly asserting that, be that as it might, she was no witch but a most honest godly woman, which opinion the neighbours generally shared.

Isabel herself, as soon as she received the bouquet from the friendly fairy on that night when she was made free of Elfinland, felt that she had now indeed become one of them, and gladly she went with them to see all they had to show her, and to learn the nature of this new magic world she had so often longed to know of, and to visit.

'This is the land of thought,' they said; 'thoughts are things with us.'

Wonderful pictures passed before her wherein she saw the realities of things. She saw a perfectly ordered world, where everything obeyed a great divine law, but through this the children of men wandered purblind, seeing contradictions, and cruelty, and injustice everywhere, because they could only see a part of the great whole. She saw how that part which they saw, and which they called the material world, seemed to them the reality. Only a few, such as bards and poets, could penetrate the realm of thought and see what lay behind, and these the world termed mad. Then she saw the doings of the covens, and that world to which she had belonged. Here nothing was real, but what the senses could perceive. Here physical enjoyment was the only thing sought or recognised, and the highest physical enjoyment was obtained on terms of giving up the power to see anything beyond. This then was the loss of the soul. So then the nature and work of the Devil was clear. She saw herself and she saw Sir Robert of Gordonstown, and knew that the conditions of both were in fact the same; she had desired romance, adventure, and the pleasing of the physical senses; he had desired knowledge, and the satisfaction of his physical brain. She had given her soul to the Dark Master in Aulderne kirk; in Salamanca he had lost his shadow, which was his higher faculty of perceiving the truths that the senses or the reason cannot penetrate.

Then she looked to see the end of these things. In the world of thought she knew that man has an immortal part, but his body dies and decays. What then of the bodiless spirit, when the instrument whereby it gratifies its desire is perished, but all the desires are still vital, the burning thirst for the water of life, whereof no single drop can touch the parched lips? Nothing left but the eternal torment of unsatisfied, unsatisfiable cravings, an eternal solitude helpless and hopeless. She had never believed in the hell of the theologians, but this was not only true, it was inevitable.

Even in her Catholic days, she could never fully accept the theory of punishment for wrongdoing. But now, as the pictures passed before her, and the verities of things became clear, she saw that there was no punishment but the certain and logical result of a cause. If a man plucks out his eyes, we do not say that it is a punishment that he cannot see. She saw, too, that the trouble and unhappiness of the world arose from the contest of the material world with the world of thought, the spiritual world. The bards and poets and the saints were happy, because the world of thought was the only real world to them, the material world weighed as nothing. The disciples of the Dark Master were happy so long as life lasted, for the spiritual world was nothing to them, they had renounced the faculty of perceiving it at all, they took every material pleasure of the senses without any scruple, and in return for such renunciation he could give them every conceivable pleasure that their nature desired here in this life. But she herself had not entirely so renounced. There was her Catholic baptism, and the spirit born from that only slept; it was not and could not be killed. She saw in picture the things that she had done, and she knew that not in any of these lay the offence for which, as she now clearly saw, she had come into grievous peril. In many cases they were but natural laws, deemed supernatural because unknown. She had used many of them unscrupulously to please herself, or gratify her vanity, such as raising storms and the like. But in the using of them was no sin, whatever ministers might say. But it was in the denying and renouncing of her spiritual nature that she lost all that life that should be hers when the material body perished, and doomed herself to the eternal torment and solitude. Yet both for her and for Sir Robert there was still hope. For her, because the spirit of her Catholic baptism had never been renounced; for him, because he had made a pact whereby the Devil might take him if he could. He had not given himself, and it was even possible that she might aid him. Therefore she was here that she might see all this clearly. New hope arose within her, and a new happiness and peace.

Now she knew the secret of the happiness of the kindly gentle fairies of Elfinland, she could share their innocent mirth, play and dance with them, and gather renewed strength this night. On the morrow she would return to the world she had left. She knew what she had to do, and she would do it. So they led her back to the great hall, where the king had received her, and taught her their games and their dances, while the exquisite music throbbed around them, and the scent of the flowers wrapped her like a garment.

It was a true intuition, as will be seen from her experiences in Elfinland, that made Sir Robert so keenly desire her return, and it had been a true intuition that had drawn him so strangely to her from the first, though of its cause he had no idea. He had, in fact, dimly perceived the likeness in their experience, strange and weird as it was, and he was conscious in some dim curious way of the fact that she could help him, where no other could. But it was in vain, she was gone none knew whither, and he felt sadly alone and deserted. Many things combined to cause him uneasiness. He was growing old, and the date of his last contest was uncertain. Only he knew it was inevitable; and what form it would take was also dark. There was no possibility to prepare. Then days and weeks extended themselves to months, and no answer came from the political friends to whom he had applied for a confirmation of his patent and his rights to the lands in Nova Scotia. Until he got this, he could not make over these lands to Cosmo, and all the charters and titles which Mazarin had promised and which King Louis had granted would be waste paper, for all depended on Cosmo getting the grant from him.

The beeches of Gordonstown had shed the ruined gold of autumn over the dead grass, the great hills to the southward had doffed their royal robes of purple heather and flung over their mighty shoulders the ermine mantle of early winter, and still there was no news.

By Mazarin's advice, Cosmo was coming home to get from Sir Robert such documents as were possible under the circumstances, that there be no delay.

'He hath a talisman,' said the baronet, in a conversation with the Dark Master. 'He cannot be arrested.'

'Nay, Rob! be not oversure of that. I ken well the talisman he hath, in fact it cometh from me through Mistress Isabel, and its virtue is but for a year and a day. Look ye back, Rob, how long ago, think ye, since that talisman was given? It was when his Reverence left us last.'

A cold chill went down Sir Robert's spine, and stirred the roots of his hair; he realised in a flash that the appointed time had passed. Cosmo had left France, he was unprotected. Cromwell's spies looked for him everywhere, they surely knew all his movements. If not on the high seas, they would catch him as soon as he set foot on Scottish shores, and then would all the trouble be in vain, all the high hopes would crumble to dust. It would be a deathblow to Jean. Hardly was the spirit left in the old man to face his last throw with the Devil. Was it worth while to fight at all when the Lords of Fate dealt blows like this.'

He had come too openly; grown presumptuous with his long immunity and extraordinary luck, as it seemed to them. Far better if he had trusted to Danny's boat and to some disguise. Danny had been sent to look out and report. Cosmo was to land at the Port of Leith, and come up from there either overland, or if he so pleased, in Danny's boat. But the last dispatch from the old sailor was discouraging. The English Admiral had seen the vessel pass, he had certainly known that Cosmo was on board, but had taken no notice, but by the pier and shore of Leith were the soldiers of the Lord Protector waiting and watching for something.

Isabel felt that she must not linger in this lovely fairyland, exquisite though it was. She was urgently needed. The pictures shown her had convinced her of this. When her work was done she might return, meantime this one night had opened a new life for her. In a pause of their revels she presented herself again to the king and craved permission to depart on the morrow, with grateful thanks for all she had received.

'Nay,' said the king, 'but ye shall bide with us for a little while yet.'

'I may not bide, sweet friends,' she said. 'One night is all that I may spare just now. When my work is done I will return, an ye will once more grant me your courteous hospitality.'

'Know ye, he replied, 'that since ye came to us there hath already passed a year and a day of earth time.' Dismay rushed over her. A year and a day. The charm she had given Jean Gordon, the spell of the moon-paste, was only valid for that time, its efficacy was already past. What might not have happened?

'Oh, let me go at once, great lord, I pray you. Indeed there must be no delay. I know not what may have chanced in this time.'

'Lady! I grieve to refuse. I cannot let ye depart. I know that ye go to trouble and suffering such as ye dream not of. For your own safety and protection, I must keep ye here with us.'

'Ye dare not detain me,' she said, 'I bear the amulet of Thomas of Erceldoune.'

She held out the little golden disk, turning it round and showing him the hexagram engraven on the reverse.

'With great reluctance,' he said, 'I must let ye depart and speed ye on your way. Fain would I have saved ye, but one stronger than I compels me. Farewell, sweet lady! I pray ye remember always the fairies of the Knock. And if the fates be kinder to ye than I deem possible, and ye are able to return, none will be more welcome. We shall watch and strengthen ye for that which ye have to do. Go forth then in the name and strength of those who rule both us and you. Where will ye that ye shall awake to the earth life?'

'On the lands of Gordonstown,' she said, 'there it is that I am needed.'

Softer and softer and fainter sounded the fairy music in her ears as the fairies flocked around, kissing her and stroking her hair as they laid her down on a couch of softest silk, and the strains of the music died away and the whole scene grew dim. A chill and feeling of cramp oppressed her, she strove for a moment or two to open her eyes, wondering how the fairies would convey her to Gordonstown. There was a smell of salt in the air, and a feeling of winter keenness and crispness, the sound of breaking waves was in her ears With a struggle she sat up, and looked around amazed. She had awaked on the edge of the cliffs overlooking the caves of Covesea. A boat was rocking at anchor in the offing, and over the edge of the cliff came old Danny, Sir Robert's man, with whom she had held many a talk in former days. He started as though he had verily seen a ghost.

'Save us;' he cried, ''tis Mistress Goudie. Long hath Sir Robert mourned ye as dead. Faith! but I'm relieved to see ye, Mistress, for 'tis heavy tidings I have, and I ken not how I may break them to Sir Robert and the family. Indeed it is of the worst. Young Master Hamilton is a prisoner in the hands of the Commonwealth. Taken last night at Leith, he was. And I fear it will go hard with him. They be bitter cruel to those they take. And he that they call the Lord Protector hath no mercy. Sir Robert too hath been ailing these last days. Well, the Lord be good to us! At least ye will help to break this ill news and to support us all.'

Isabel was pleased to notice how the faithful old man identified himself with the family he had served so long.

'For that reason I am come,' she said simply. 'Take me to the house, good friend. Naught that I can do shall be left undone.'


Chapter Eighteen. How Isabel Raised a Storm

AT GORDONSTOWN House there was trouble and anxiety. For long the fate of Cosmo was unknown, save for Danny's brief report. Sir Robert wrote urgent letters to all his influential friends on both sides to obtain whatever information he could, but days and weeks passed and not a word could be obtained. At last, when all were sick with anxiety, an answer came that only deepened their trouble. By the order of the Council of State fifty Scotch prisoners were ordered to be delivered to John Reid, master of the brigantine Liberty, to be transported to New England, and there to be sold. The name of Cosmo Hamilton appeared on the list. This selling of Scottish prisoners into slavery was a known practice of the Lords Commissioners, and was continued under the Lord Protector, though the fact is conveniently glossed over by most historians. There is extant a list of two hundred and seventy-two who were sent over in the John and Sara, which cleared at Gravesend 8th November 1651. In the previous year one hundred and fifty had been shipped in the Unity for transportation. The Scots living at Boston in 1657 founded the 'Scots Charitable Society' for helping these unfortunate victims of the party of liberty and the Reformed faith, which Society still exists and is the oldest charitable organisation in America. And there is still among the papers at Gordonstown House 'Ane list of one hundred prisoners in the "Castle of Dunatter" to be delivered to Mr. George Scott of Pitlochie for transportation, according to ane Act of Counsell for that effect.' There are also in various family archives receipts for 'men sold.' The prices seem to have been high. No doubt Scotsmen were valuable as slaves on the American plantations.

No wonder there was deep anxiety. Jean Gordon lay almost senseless with grief and trouble. Sir Robert himself was far from well, and the whole burden of the household was upon Lady Mary, for Sir Robert's two sons either could not or would not come to Gordonstown, and both his daughters were married. Isabel Goudie stayed on at Gordonstown, and was a great comfort and support to Sir Robert, who refused to part with her.

At length, after long waiting, news came that the Liberty was to clear at Leith on the following day. All political influence that Sir Robert could bring to bear was in vain. The order of the Council of State was imperative, there was absolutely nothing to be done. A single minister might be influenced or even coerced, but a Council is impervious. In his perplexity Sir Robert consulted Mistress Isabel.

'I can help ye, Sir Robert,' she said. 'Just let me know the hour and the place of the ship's leaving, and I'll warrant ye she comes not safe to any shore. Moreover, I will bring the lovers together again. For well ye ken my spells work, though, in truth, I have seen cause to come to another mind concerning them. But whatever the result or the cost may be, I'll risk it this time. Only first I must revisit Lochloy.'

'My chariot and horses are at your disposal, Mistress Isabel; and most heartily do I thank ye for your kindly and timely help, as so often ye have helped us before.'

'I thank ye, Sir Robert. I have, as ye know, other and quicker means of travelling. I believe I can go and return unseen now. There will, I think, be none about the farm at this hour.'

She stepped forth from the door to the entrance drive, and, standing on a low wall, she chanted the 'horse and hattock' spell. She had driven from her mind all doubt as to its efficacy, and sure enough there stood the coal-black horse waiting for her to mount. 'Hey for Lochloy!' she cried, and they rose in the air, and sped fast over the lowlands, now frostbound in the grip of winter.

Slightly dismayed, as she approached the farm, she saw John Gilbert, contrary to his custom, working only a couple of hundred yards to the east of the house. He was clearing out a few old thorn trees from a bit of land he had long designed to bring into cultivation. As he rested on his mattock, he saw, but hardly noticed, a hare that ran past him in the direction of the farm.

The door was on the latch, and Isabel, after saying the words to return to woman's shape, stood once more in her own little room. Nothing had been changed. John Gilbert had the fancy or superstition common to many of his class and time to leave all the belongings of the dead undisturbed till after burial; and there had been no burial, and could not be, so for over a year the room had remained precisely as she had left it. It was the vessel containing the sacred moon-paste of which she was in search, and this was just where she had put it. Hurriedly, lest Gilbert should return, she took a portion and hid it in the bosom of her dress. Then, moved by a sudden impulse, she took from the kist the old homespun dress in whose bosom was sewn the little gold crucifix, and tied it up in a bundle to take with her. Then she looked round the room which she had more than half expected she would never see again.

The familiar flutter that she knew so well was at the latticed window; it seemed only yesterday that she had left it all; her stay at Gordonstown looked like a dream. The Dark Master stood in the room. She laid down her bundle and was clasped in his arms as in the old times, joying to be there. Yet now it was with a difference. Somehow now she was not looking forward to joyous adventures with him, feastings, and revels with the coven. It seemed more like a leave-taking, but why she could not see.

'Sweetheart! ye have been long away, and the influence of the Middle Kingdom is on ye yet, but ye will come back to me as ye were. There have been troubles, and many of the coven have been taken. But soon this will be past, and all be as it was before. This is in the decrees of the Lords of Fate.'

'Sooth. Lord! I know not. Yet blithe I am to be with ye again. But now I may not stay; I must to Gordonstown.'

'Ay, love, make the most of your time. Sir Robert's hour hath almost struck. By our pact I shall take him, and he shall work for thee and me. I can place thee by my side, and we shall reign the king and queen of earth--all the kingdoms of the world shall be subject unto us. In thee I have found the only woman fit to be a mate for me.'

'Yea, but sooth I know not. I must fulfil mine errand.'

'Ay, and so ye shall, and all the spells of my kingdom shall aid ye.'

She took up her bundle again, and as she did so he stood aside and she stepped forth again, and cried, 'Horse and hattock!' and away. For one moment John Gilbert could have declared he saw his wife standing as of old by the farmhouse door. Then he rubbed his eyes, and knew it was but a trick of memory that had deceived him. A shadow and a gleam of sun on the half-open door had recalled her form. He was not wont to be so fanciful.

Back again at Gordonstown, she sat by Jean's bedside, for the poor child was unable to sit up; anxiety had robbed her of sleep, and a return of the old delicacy had come over her. But holding Isabel's hand she felt better and stronger, and new hope came to her through the seeming hopelessness of everything. Isabel had privily taken a fragment of the moon-paste on her finger, and with this she made a cross on Jean's forehead while she stroked her hair and softly caressed her.

'Never fear, sweet child,' she whispered, 'he will come back to ye. He will be safe. Never mind how hopeless it looks. I promise ye it will be well.'

'Isabel, I believe ye. Indeed, ye are a saint, of that I am sure. Already I am better and stronger. I feel somehow united with Cosmo again.' Isabel under her breath had breathed a spell on the moon-paste, calling on the fragment that was in the locket Cosmo wore to unite itself with that which she had placed on Jean's forehead. For this spell, too, she had been taught, to bring parted lovers together, and the influence of this Jean felt, though knowing not whence it came.

That night in her chamber she made with all the care she could a tiny image of Cosmo with the paste. She dashed water round it, she blew furiously upon it, but always with extreme care, sheltering it from any contact with the wild forces so raised in miniature semblance; then she softly chanted:

'I hold thee safe in the Devil's name,

Unscathed of water shalt thou remain,

Unhurt of wind, undrowned in sea,

Safe so long as pleaseth me.'

'None other name know I to conjure with,' she said to herself, 'and though lose my soul at the last, what matters it? their souls and their happiness are worth far more, and so I trow it is well done.'

That night, to the relief of all, Jean slept calm and tranquil, and dreamed of Cosmo.

The next morning Isabel asked of Sir Robert to tell her the precise hour of the sailing of the Liberty, and to take her up on the roof of Gordonstown, and point out to her exactly the direction where lay the town of Leith. The vessel was to clear at ten o'clock, at which time the tide would serve; but, as Sir Robert said, it would likely be a full hour after ere they were well away from the port, and towards evening before they rounded North Berwick. Standing beside one of the lofty chimneys, Sir Robert took a compass in his hand, and making a careful calculation he made two marks on the stone battlements surrounding the roof, one of which indicated the direction of Leith, and the other of North Berwick. He then descended, leaving Isabel, by her own request, on the roof. She whistled thrice, and snapped her fingers, crying, 'Red Reiver, Red Reiver, hither to me!'

Immediately the attendant sprite was there, asking for her commands. 'Fly swiftly,' she said, 'unto North Berwrick, to my gossip of olden days, Kirsty Simpson the gipsy. Bid her watch out for the brigantine Liberty from Leith, bound for New England, and send me word immediately she roundeth the shore of North Berwick. Say that the ship is doomed, and shall never win to port; and bid her aid me in that which I do. Now enough, flee! And I look to ye to bring me word when the ship is sighted.'

She waited on the roof till she heard the great horologe in the hall chime the hour of eleven. Then she descended to the laundry of the house and borrowed a beetle from one of the maids, saying that she had some things of her own she wished to wash. With this and a piece of cloth she returned to the roof, and laid it on the mark that indicated the direction of Leith. Then she sprinkled it with water from an ewer she brought up also with her, and beat the cloth with the beetle, saying as she did so:

'I beat this rag upon this stane

To raise the wind in the Devil's name;

It shall not fall till I please again.'

A low moaning sound was heard, and puffs of wind began to blow round the chimney. She stood beside the chimney that was her mark, and looked steadfastly towards the stone whereon lay the rag of cloth.

'Little is the breeze now,' she said, 'but 'twill be a storm ere night. Let the sailors beware passing Berwick Law.'

She went down to her chamber and carefully brought up the tiny clay image she had made of Cosmo. There was a pool of water where the lead of the roof had slightly sagged; this the puffs of wind lashed into a mimic storm. She set the little figure beside it just where the fullest force of the wind fell, but somehow the driven water never touched it, nor, though it stood on its feet with no support, did the wind overset it.

'It is well,' she said; 'he will be safe.' And she descended, and sat with Jean, cheery and hopeful, till the invalid grew bright and cheerful, and almost, in spite of every evidence to the contrary, began to believe that somehow a miracle would happen, and that Cosmo would be rescued or would escape.

Towards nightfall she repeated the same spell, only with far greater vigour and intensity.

Punctually at eleven o'clock that morning Mr John Reid, master of the brigantine Liberty, had cleared from Leith and set his course eastward towards North Berwick. The fifty prisoners had been duly delivered to him, and he had given a receipt for them, undertaking to hand them over all safe and sound and in good health to the consignee in New England; but a gusty wind from the east rendered their progress slow, and the sun was already setting before they approached North Berwick. There was a greenish light behind the red sunset clouds, and every indication that it was likely to come on to blow in the night. Master Reid decided that it would be well to shorten all sail and keep as far out as possible. The ship lurched, and heaved, and pitched, and many of the prisoners were deadly sick. Cosmo bravely kept up their spirits, though his own heart was very sore within him, for he knew not how much his friends in the north knew of his fate, or what might chance to his beloved Jean.

Before midnight the wind made a sudden shift to the south, throwing the ship right into the trough of the sea; a huge wave struck her before she could right herself, and started some of her timbers, and following almost immediately, another wave tore away the rudder, and she was driven helplessly before the gale. The sailors rushed to the pumps, for there was four feet of water in the hold.

Gangs of men relieved each other at the pumps, but with all their exertions could scarcely keep the water down. Then a terrific cross-blast from the east laid her on her beam ends, and it seemed as though she must inevitably go to the bottom. The water poured out of the hold, over the decks. The sailors left the Pumps and rushed to cut away the masts, and, relieved of this weight, the ship at length righted herself; but she was now nothing but a log at the mercy of the winds and tides. With some ado they had managed to stop the leak, temporarily at all events, so that she would still float, till they should drift across some vessel that might give them help. It was useless to think of lowering the boats in such a sea as was running. There was nothing for it but to stick to the ship and hope for some succour. The prisoners were in hopeless misery for the most part. Some prayed and some cursed; a few broke away from the guards and threw themselves into the sea. Many of the sailors shouted for grog, thinking, perhaps, that it was more decent to die drunk, and began to make a threatening movement towards the spirit-room. Cosmo seized an old horse-pistol from the nerveless hand of the second mate, and, dashing forward, placed himself in front of the door; daring any man to come an inch nearer.

So on the raging gale and tide the dismantled ship drifted northward, by some strange providence keeping well out to sea, and kept afloat by constant pumping. The cargo, of course, had long been jettisoned.

And thus for two weary days and nights they were driven before the furious tempest. The sun was sinking on the third day when the wind shifted a point or two to the east of south, and, not knowing in the least where they were, it seemed almost certain that they must be driven on to the shore, and all hope of safety seemed to have utterly gone. Some clamoured for the boats, and with very great difficulty the pinnace was lowered to the boiling sea. The sailors crushed and crowded to get into her, several falling into the water in their mad efforts. At length, greatly overcrowded, they tried to shove her off. But a furious wave caught her just as she cleared the ship, and dashed her against the side, throwing every man on board into the seething waters, where they were swept away in a moment.

Against the angry glow of the sunset they could now see the purple line of the shore, and made out the hills behind Peterhead. Destruction seemed imminent, but they were helpless. All they could do was to keep afloat as long as possible. Master John Reid, a stern and fierce old man, had by this time got his crew well in hand, and such of them as were left had managed to draw a sail under the ship's bottom and so control the leak for a while.

Contrary to all expectation, the ship drifted past the shore, passing only a mile out from Fraserburgh, when the wind made a sudden shift to the east, and carried her, rolling and tossing like a log, into the Moray Firth.

During that night the wind moderated, and though the sea still worked tempestuously when morning broke, it was possible to get the boats away. And indeed, none too soon, for it was clear that the good ship Liberty was settling down. The pinnace was gone, but the long boat, the yawl, and the cutter were still available, and these would take many of those on board. Some, however, preferred to make a raft by lashing together the broken spars and all the wreckage they could lay their hands on. Master Reid and his officers were well aware that Cosmo was the chiefest prize, and that they would do well for themselves by securing him at all hazards. Reid, having assured himself that there was sufficient accommodation for all that were left after the raft had been cast adrift, held Cosmo close to himself, and saw all the remaining souls into the boats. It was not without difficulty that this was accomplished. But Reid stood on the deck with two pistols in his hands, raving and cursing, and swearing to shoot any man who disobeyed his orders, which most of the men verily believed he would have done. Finally Cosmo was roughly thrown into the long boat, and Reid followed just as the ship, settling lower into the water, gave a final shudder as the seas swept over her deck, and she settled down by the head and sank.

Nine men were in the long boat, besides Cosmo and Reid. They had oars, and they managed to improvise a sail, but wind and tide kept them out to sea, which, indeed, was fortunate, for none of the men knew the coast of Firth, and they must certainly have been dashed to pieces had they attempted to run in.

Meanwhile they had provisions enough to last for some days, and a keg of fresh water; and though they suffered grievously from the cold, still they were so far safe and alive, and they had got their most important prisoner secure, and they were making rapidly westward. Reid knew in a general way that there were sandy shores farther up the Firth, where, with decent luck, he might run his boats ashore, or even fall in with some fishermen or coasting vessels. So with oars and sail, aided by wind and tide, they made fairly rapid progress.

Hitherto, since the ship had sprung the first leak, they had not seen anything afloat on the wild waste of waters. Every vessel of any kind whatsoever had either made for the open sea or run into shelter. But as the tempest moderated there was some chance of meeting with something that might rescue them from their peril.

Meantime, on the edge of the cliffs above Covesea, Isabel Goudie stood with old Danny. The wind had moderated, but still blew too strongly for any boat to live in safety on that rocky coast. Out in the offing a boat was visible toiling along westward, and vainly trying against a north wind to keep out to sea; bit by bit she was drifting in on the skerries.

'Can she live, Danny?' said Isabel.

'Ay, can she, if the wind goes down, but not otherwise,' the old man replied. 'Even then I doubt it, unless there is those on board that ken the coast near as well as I ken it myself.'

'Could you win out to her, Danny?'

'Ay, if the wind dropped I might, in the coble. There's just one passage that's possible in this sea, and I'm thinking no other man in Morayshire would try it but myself. I've done it in as bad a sea, and I might again. But ye ken, mistress, it's an unchancy thing to try.'

'See, then, I'm telling ye. Master Cosmo Hamilton is in that boat. An he can be saved, it saves Mistress Jean's life, and saves Sir Robert, for surely he will die if harm comes to Master Cosmo. Will ye try it?'

'That I will, mistress! For Master Cosmo's own sake. See ye, I love that boy as gin he was my own son. An' Mistress Jean, bless her bonny face! there's naught in life I would not do for her. A man can but die once. But think ye the wind will go down, mistress? I believe ye are more weather-wise than any of us; 'twas ye who told me this storm was coming up, and not a sailor boy on the coast would have thought it. Man and boy I have been nigh on fifty years on these seas, and I would have laughed at ye had I not been ashamed when ye said yon. But ye were right.'

'Well, Danny, I tell ye again now, the wind will be all gone in less than a quarter of an hour.'

'Then I'll get out to yon boatie, mistress! I'll believe ye this time, and to show it I'll e'en go now and get out the coble.'

He strode to the edge of the cliff, and down the narrow path to the shore. Left to herself, Isabel took from her pocket the cloth she had beaten before, and which lay almost dry, and spread it on a rock, saying:

'I lay this wind in the Devil's name,

It shall not rise till I please again.'

The wind was sinking, but not so fast as she designed. She whistled thrice and called, 'Red Reiver! Red Reiver! Hither to me!'

The sprite was there on the instant.

'Red Reiver! Quick! Conjure me this wind in the Devil's name:

'May the winds lie hushed and still,

And rise no more without I will.'

There was a final long sigh from the north, and the wind dropped entirely. Old Danny below looked in wonder at sea and sky. Everything had portended a continuance or renewal of the storm, and here, as Mistress Goudie had said, it had absolutely fallen. Danny crossed himself, for he was a God-fearing Catholic, and this was uncanny. All the same, he got the coble afloat. But the great waves still rushed with resistless force over the skerries and foamed over the wicked teeth of the rocks. The long boat came driving in. The long, flat rock known as the 'Scarf' showed its wicked crest above the waves, there was a bump and a crash, and she was over it. But out of sight, though barely under the surface, was the 'Spindle.' A huge wave hurled her on to its jagged point, and tore a gaping hole in her side. It was but an instant, and all the eleven men were cast hither and thither in the raging sea. Cosmo was flung almost stunned on a small crest of rock, to which he clung instinctively, battered and bruised, with just sufficient strength left to hang on; all the other ten, swept back by the sweep of the returning wave, were drowned. Danny in his coble strove with might and main to reach him, and at length by superhuman efforts succeeded, and Cosmo, more dead than alive, was brought ashore, and old Danny and Isabel between them helped him up to the cliff, where he was speedily put to bed, and Sir Robert and Lady Mary were made acquaint with the joyful news.

Of the whole of the souls who were in the ship Liberty when she cleared from Leith, Cosmo was, so far as it is possible to ascertain, the sole survivor, and of his rescue none save the household of Gordonstown knew. In the archives of the Commonwealth his name occurs as among those who perished in the wreck of the Liberty. Cosmo recovered rapidly from the fatigue and strain of the shipwreck, and Jean, under the happiness of being reunited to her lover, and with the influence of Isabel, soon regained her health and spirits. But the anxiety and trouble, coupled with the sudden relief of Cosmo's reappearance, told heavily on Sir Robert. For some days he had seemed to wander about in a half-dazed condition, and one evening on rising after dinner he suddenly reeled and fell on the floor with a choking cry, and lay breathing heavily. He was carried up to his room and laid on his bed, helpless and unconscious. The leech hurriedly summoned from Elgin said he had had a fit, and might die at any moment. It was unlikely that he could regain any sane consciousness, though it might be possible; meantime he must be kept absolutely quiet. He let blood, and left strict orders that he was to be kept informed of any change.

On the following morning, the papers so long delayed came from London. Sir Robert was confirmed by the Lord Protector in the patent granting him the lands in Nova Scotia. Just too late; for Sir Robert was now absolutely incapable of understanding or dealing with them. The lands must now pass to his son Ludovick, and if, as Mazarin foretold, the province were to be ceded to France, the confirmation of the Lord Protector would go for nothing, and the lands would be wholly lost. Only Cosmo's claim would be admitted by France, and this could never now be made.


Chapter Nineteen. A Race with the Devil

SIR ROBERT GORDON'S seizure would now probably be called epileptic, but it may be questioned whether any more is known of this strange disease now than in the seventeenth century. It was of a type most peculiarly distressing to himself, for after the first attack had passed he was acutely conscious of everything that happened around him, but utterly unable to speak or to move or respond in any way. To all appearance he might have been dead. In fact, persons have not infrequently been buried in this kind of trance, being aware of everything that was done, but unable to give the slightest sign of life or consciousness.

With Sir Robert indeed, his powerful brain was even abnormally active, so that all knowledge he had acquired was increased and intensified, and his psychic perception was keener than ever.

Isabel sat beside him constantly, his indefatigable nurse. Cosmo and Jean were greatly occupied with each other, as was natural. There was safety now, for the Lord Protector and the government, believing Cosmo to be drowned with all the rest of those who sailed in the ill-fated Liberty, had ceased to watch for him or to trouble about him at all. He and Isabel Goudie, both thought to be dead, were in a safe harbour of refuge at Gordonstown; nor was there one among the retainers who would betray their secret. Men and maids were sometimes found faithful in the seventeenth century, and loyalty was not altogether yet a forgotten virtue.

The loss of the lands in Nova Scotia was a terrible blow to them, dashing to the ground as it did all their pleasant hopes of a happy life in a new country, just when everything seemed to be settled and their future assured. Whether they should still go out and try their fortunes in the land of the west, they debated often and anxiously. To succeed without friends, or interest, or capital seemed almost impossible; but Cosmo was young, strong, and active, able and willing to work, and Jean was more than willing to share all hardships with him, and to prove a veritable and ancient helpmeet. But her delicacy of health was a serious consideration. With all her willingness, would she be able to face the rough hardships of a pioneer's life? The alternative was to accept the Cardinal's offer and take service with him, or with King Louis, and embark again on the perilous seas of European politics. This, too, had its attractions. Cosmo was a soldier by instinct and training. He knew all the moves of the game better than anyone of his years in Europe, and was beloved and trusted by all who knew him. On the other hand, he had bitter and implacable enemies. Jean at the French Court would have a position of ease and luxury. No hardships need be feared for her, but she was unaccustomed to Courts, and disliked the prospect of the confinement, the artificiality, the perpetual conventions that hedged Court life and society.

On the whole, they were inclined to risk all and try their fortunes in the new world. On Sir Robert's death they would be left penniless, for the whole estates would go to Ludovick, and he had just married, and, moreover, was by no means friendly to the royalist party, or to the Catholics. Lady Mary would help them so far as she could, but that was very little, for her own means when Sir Robert was gone would be but slender.

So the prospects, as discussed in family conclave, were dark enough in any direction. Greatly they longed for Sir Robert's wise counsels, but he lay helpless, apparently unconscious, but actually knowing all their plans and their embarrassments, and unable to give any hint or light.

Sometimes when Isabel sat by Sir Robert's bedside, the Dark Master would be there too, and Isabel besought her lover to use his powers to restore the invalid to his normal state, but this he was unable to do.

'Ye must not blame me, Rob,' he said once, and she knew that Sir Robert heard and understood. 'When ye signed that pact ye gave power to the Lords of Fate, and both you and I are in their hands, neither of us can resist their decrees. I must take ye gin I can, and whether I can or no is in the hands of Fate. We gamble for high stakes, but we must play it out. I have kept my part of the bargain, as well ye know.'

Sir Robert stirred not and gave no outward sign of hearing, but it seemed to Isabel that in his mind he said:

'Yea, I know; and so have I, and so will I. But I will defeat ye gin I can. There is nothing in the pact to prevent this.'

Sir Robert lay on the bed like a waxen figure, his fine face taking on a new nobility from its pallid stillness. But the brain within was working intensely, and the perceptions were abnormally heightened. To him now the Dark Master was as solid and real as Isabel, or any material object in the room; and not only so, but many other forms unseen of human eyes. He knew, too, all the position far more accurately than he had done in his waking consciousness, and the nature of the Dark Master was plain to him, and the terms and effect of his pact; mentally he was rapidly evolving schemes whereby the Devil might be defeated. But in every direction his ideas seemed to have been anticipated, and provided against with a diabolic cunning that he had not perceived at the time.

Isabel also, by reason of her relations with the Dark Master, was able to know and follow their colloquies, and understand the working of Sir Robert's brain as clearly as if he had spoken. She wished much that Father Blackhall had been there. A strong, wise man in whom she could trust, would be of enormous help to her now in this perplexity. But the Father was away, visiting some of the scattered Catholic congregations in the west. To outward appearance a shepherd in charge of a flock of Highland sheep, he wandered through the mountains and glens, saying Mass here and there wherever a few could be found who desired the ministrations of the Church.

After a time a change came in Sir Robert's illness. Nightmare dreams began to beset him. Grim and grizzly horrors, in which he saw himself hunted by legions of devils, fleeing through boundless regions of empty space for infinite ages, growing ever more exhausted as the foul crew gained upon him. Crossing fearsome abysses on a single plank where volcanic craters yawned beneath him, pits of living flame and white-hot points of rock. The suffocating reek half stifled him. In dreams his head swam; he reeled and fell, clutching the plank with despairing grasp. There he hung, and there he must hang for ever and ever, or fall into the pit of flames that stretched up hungry tongues as if to lick him down. He struggled to raise himself once more on to the plank, and in the struggles something seemed to snap in his brain. He could move. To the watcher by the bedside the deathlike stupor had given way to convulsions.

He half sat up with a choking cry; his back was arched like a bow, and absolutely rigid. His man ran in at her call--a powerful Highlander, who grasped the old man in his arms, while he struggled madly, and with the strength of madness, babbling incoherent cries. The fit was of short duration. Almost suddenly the body became limp in the man's arms, and was laid on the bed calm and peaceful. The nightmare dream had passed. To himself it seemed that Isabel Goudie had bent over him while he hung on the plank over that awful abyss, and stretched out a hand that grasped his, and landed him safe on a flowery mead, where he sank to sleep. Meanwhile Isabel noted with joy that he moved slightly after the fit had passed over, though it was but a slight turn of the head, a little movement of one hand. In the course of an hour the leech was there, and let blood once more.

'Don't deceive yourselves,' he said. 'I would bid ye hope if I dared, but tell ye he can never be conscious again. This is but the prelude to his death, or if he survive he can never have his sane reason again. He will be hopelessly mad. But I surely think he cannot live more than a day or two at most.'

Once, being very weary, she slept at her post, or at any rate lost consciousness for a moment. Only for a moment, though, for a movement in the bed caught her attention at once. The patient had raised himself and was sitting up.

'Mistress Isabel,' he said, 'I know now. My time is near at hand, I have fled before devils in dream. I must flee in reality. Birnie Kirkyard is safe. Pray for me that I may get there.'

'I pray!' she gasped in amazement. She who had renounced body and soul to the Devil, what had she to do with prayer?

'Ay, pray ye! When my time comes, I know ye will.'

He sank back on the pillows. His man was in the room at the time waiting to attend on him.

'Saw ye that, Duncan?' she said. 'He is better; he will recover. He sat up and talked.'

'Nay, mistress! I trow ye dreamed. The master never moved. Indeed, I ken well he never will move again. For many days now the winding sheet hath been around him. Ay! Indeed! May the Lord have mercy on his soul! He has known more than Christian man should know.'

Isabel pondered. New lights were breaking on her. Perhaps the reflection of the exalted condition of Sir Robert's brain affected hers; she seemed to see more clearly than ever before. This, then, was the final throw of the dice. He must reach Birnie Kirkyard before he could be caught, and he would be pursued. In his nightmare dreams he had been pursued. It was a forecast. He had not been caught then; she had helped him. How could she help him again? He said, 'Pray for me.' How should she pray? The very idea seemed a contradiction in terms; everything she had asked for had been in the Devil's name, and the Devil could not aid here. It was against the Devil that she must pray, if at all. How could one bound body and soul to the Devil pray? To whom? She might recite the old Catholic prayers, but they could have no efficacy. It would be sheer blasphemy. And blasphemy could but invoke the Devil--so the old priest of her girlhood had taught her. From this circle there seemed no escape.

But most earnestly she longed to help. Not only Sir Robert but Jean and Cosmo depended on her doing the right thing, and she had no notion what was the right thing, Oh, for five minutes of Father Blackhall! But this was impossible; she must play out this game alone. One thing only came to her mind. If he had to flee, at least she could provide him with a swift horse. The old 'Horse and hattock' spell worked for her as well as ever; she had proved that. And the horse she called up for herself was in nowise inferior to that which the Dark Master himself rode; she had proved that too, in their playful races, when they rode over the Monaliadhs. She could mount Sir Robert on that; perhaps even she might gain him a few minutes' start. True, the Master would be angry. She might lose his favour and his love by thus interfering with his schemes. He might turn and claim the forfeit from her that she deprived him of from Sir Robert, supposing for a moment she could do so. Well, what mattered that? What was her wretched soul, compared with these three, all dependent on her? Yes! There was indeed something she could do.

It was Fate, so the Master had said. A sudden flash came over her. She might once reverse the decree of the mighty Lords of Fate. Might this be the once?

She paused appalled. What was this she thought to do? To set herself, weak woman as she was, and already bound body and soul by her own act, against all the power of the Devil, and against the Lords of Fate, whom none may resist; to pledge her own soul, and her salvation (if it were not lost already), as the stake in the game she was to play for three who were dear to her. The stakes were tremendous, all the odds were against her, and she had no idea how the game was to be played. Beyond risking her lover's anger, and risking the total wreck of her own earthly joy, of all the romance and delight which had opened a new world to her, by providing Sir Robert with a horse, and, if it might be, a start, she had not the least notion what further she could do. That risk she would take, and stand by the consequences whatever they were. She would recite the Catholic prayers for him, when the hour came. They would be prayers against her lover, who had given her all the joy she had known since girlhood's days. Perhaps even by the blasphemy of so doing she might give the Devil more power. But Sir Robert had asked this of her. Come of it what might, this she must do. She clenched her hands and shut her teeth, and with a mighty effort of will she cast behind her all that had made life beautiful. Unknown trouble and suffering lay before her, but she felt a giant's strength to bear it all.

Two more days passed with little change, Sir Robert moved slightly now and then. His face showed recognition when any of the household came into the room; that was all. But his brain was alive and active as ever.

Then there came a night when the full moon was rising to the eastward and silvering the trees of Gordonstown. He was conscious of all the beauty of it, and longed to be able to go out as of old and enjoy the exquisite calm of the star-spangled sky and the sleeping woodlands. He was more conscious of his body than he had been at any time since his seizure. He knew at this moment all its mechanism, all the working of every organ. The brain, with its thousand cells, its nerves, and ganglia, lay open before him, and he knew where lay the jar, the lesion that had paralysed him. He saw how an effort of will rightly directed, as he knew now how to direct it, would cure the fault, and restore his bodily powers. He would be well again. At this moment a voice that came from the air, from the sky, from the earth, from all around as it seemed, sounded with dreadful clearness though it was a voice of silence:

'The time has come. Arise! Robert Gordon, and come away with thy Master.'

A cold sweat stood on all his limbs. The dread summons had sounded, and just as he had learned how he could recover his power to move and act he was called on to arise and surrender himself. He sprang to his feet. Isabel also had heard the call. She did not falter one moment in her resolve. The window looked out on a low roof. She flung it open and whistled thrice, crying:

'Horse and hattock! Mount and go!

Horse and pellatis! Oh, ho!

In the Devil's name.'

The coal-black horse stood there on the low roof. Sir Robert was behind her.

'Mount, Sir Robert! mount and ride!' she cried. 'Tarry not one instant! Ride like the tempest blast! Hey for Birnie! Ride! ride! Ye will win. I pledge my soul for ye.'

Sir Robert in his new-found power sprang out of the window, and in an instant was on the back of the great charger. He had been a strong and daring rider, and all the skill and strength of his youth seemed to have come back to him. With one mighty bound the steed sprang from the flat roof to the ground, and gathering his fleet limbs rushed into the shadows of the trees. The green sward glided fast beneath them, and in the excitement of the mad speed Sir Robert forgot his age, his illness, everything except the wild exhilaration of the gallop.

Isabel turned. The Dark Master stood beside her.

'Woman! What hast thou done? Have I then done so ill by thee that thou must attempt to foil my will, to set thy puny strength against mine. Ill will it go now with those thou hast thought to snatch from me. I had treated him well had he come to me according to our pact. Now he shall suffer! suffer! suffer! through ages of pain. This hast thou brought about by thy cursed interference. Let him ride never so fast, I can catch him. Ay, though he had half an hour's start. Know ye not my power better than that?'

She quailed a moment. Had she indeed done him an injury by her efforts? She knew not how to play the game. Had she made a false move? No! For if so, he would not be angry.

'Nay, love,' she whispered, clinging close to him as of old, 'be not thus angry. Surely I know thy power, else had I not attempted to stand in thy way. See! I have given thee opportunity to show what thou canst do. Look ye! no hunter worth the name will take the game sitting. I have but started the quarry for thee, as a good beater; thou wilt have a glorious chase. Even such as we were wont to have over the Monaliadhs when the great red stags fled before us; dost remember? And how we embraced and loved one another in the corry under the fen when the death-blow was given. When shall we ride thus again?'

'Truly, thou art a very witch, sweetheart! and canst bewitch the Devil himself. Fain even now would I stay to give thee but one embrace; but I may not. Let me but catch this cunning knave who thinks to baffle the Devil, and I return; and then for a night of love such as we were wont to know.'

'Fly, then, my dearest lord! Ride as ye only can ride, and bring him back at your saddle bow. Ye shall give him to me for a slave when ye have won this chase. Fly and win. By this kiss ye will.'

She clung to him--delaying his departure. But at last he broke from her, and crying 'Horse and hattock!' his own superb stallion stood beside the window, and he sprang to his back, waving her an adieu as they sped into the moonlit silences.

Sir Robert knew well how she had delayed the Dark Master, and that he must make the most of his start. He had sprung from his bed in his night gear, but now he found himself booted and spurred and caparisoned for riding. He bowed his head and buried his spurs in the horse's flanks, and fast as the wind they sped over the lowlands around Gordonstown. He had heard how the Devil and the covens were wont to rise in the air, and how the sounds of the cheers and laughter, the wild halloos, the blasts of the horn had been heard in the clouds, when the storm winds swept by. He knew the spells that they used, as he knew most spells. But to-night these spells were impossible. It seemed to be too material an experience for rising to the clouds; only the furious gallop as of an ordinary earthly charger was possible. His pursuer would be on his track. Would he be able to rise in the air and speed through the clouds? If so, small chance was there for Sir Robert, for his enemy would sweep and strike like a hawk--cruel, inevitable, and relentless.

Faster and ever faster he urged the coal-black stallion. The flying hoofs cast up great divots of turf. Duffus Castle, dark in the moonlight, rose before them, and was left behind. Still there was no sign of pursuit. His enemy was surely presuming on his speed, and trusting to what he deemed a certainty. His very delay caused apprehension. Had there been any doubt of his success in the capture, he would not thus play with his chance.

Loch Spynie gleamed before him, a sheet of thin ice. The fugitive recalled his old adventure when he drove over it after one night's frost. Should he risk it again or lose time in going round? Far in the distance came the beat of flying hoofs. The pursuit was up, no time to be lost. If he turned to go round the loch the pursuer would cut him off by dashing across, and no escape were possible. The only possible safety lay in crossing the loch on the ice. A high wall rose directly in front. The great horse veered in his gallop like a bird on the wing, and, gathering himself for a tremendous bound, launched himself at the wall and cleared it by a good six inches. They were on the margin of the loch. Sir Robert rapidly recited in his breath the invocation of power to the elementals of the waters, and the horse's forefeet crashed among the reeds on the edge of the water. Another moment and they were on the ice. Alarming cracks rattled like artillery from side to side of the wide sheet of water, the ice waved beneath them like a carpet, the horse slipped and plunged, but recovered his footing. Spynie Palace rose before them, its huge bulk standing gaunt and deserted now, a black shadow against the stars. There was Bishop Hepburn's Tower; he half thought the old bishop, himself a wizard, and now gone (so folk said) to his own place of torment, stood there wrapt in a mantle of flame, waiting to receive a new recruit to the horrors of his prison-house.

Among the reeds at the foot of the Steep bank, wherefrom the castle walls rose sheer, two poachers were crouching, intent to capture the wild fowl that roosted there. They looked up in wonder. Whence came this mighty black horse with his rider suddenly dashing out of nowhere, and thundering under the castle wall, followed at no long distance by another? They could not have crossed the loch, yet what other way could they have come? Were these the riders of the Sidhe, and was it a death warning to themselves? Trembling and scared, they dropped their traps and nets and fled home to their hovels to pray, resolving to lead honest lives in future, if only they might be spared. Through Findrassie, the thundering of the flying hoofs of the pursuer was scarce a mile behind. Slowly but surely the distance between them was diminishing.

Isabel Goudie sat by the window spell-bound. In thought, and with a strange clarity of vision, as though she were actually riding with Sir Robert, she followed the wild, mad gallop, her nerves growing tenser and tenser as she noted the gradual gaining of the pursuer, and saw the confident, malignant smile on his face, as of some cruel bird of prey certain of the quarry. Half an instant she looked back into the room. Her eyes and fancy deceived her; she half thought she saw the form of Sir Robert laid on the bed, and tossing in fever. For a second the idea flashed through her mind. Was it another fit coming on? Then she knew it was a device of the Devil to distract her thought. She could aid him; she was aiding him. She felt and knew that her intense will that he should escape, that he should win that great race and baffle pursuit, was having its effect. It was lending him strength, giving her strength to increase his own, giving him hope and courage. If she wavered for a moment, or took her attention off, he would lose ground. This was what the Devil wanted. He would make her believe it was all a dream, and that Sir Robert was not really riding that fearsome race, but was merely dreaming in his bed; and thus deprived of the support she could give, cut off from a part of his resources, he would be vanquished. She banished the ideas from her mind with an indignant scorn for such a contemptible artifice, and returned to watch.

Over the Lossie sped the great steed with Sir Robert on his back, and only two minutes later now came the pursuer. The burghers of Elgin started from sleep as the High Street resounded with the clatter and rush of the horses, and the cobbles flashed fire under their feet. First one, then another, at full gallop thundering along. The Provost looked out in his bedgown, and caught a glimpse of a white face in the wan moonlight. 'God save us!' he cried, ''tis Sir Robert Gordon and another. What errand so urgent, and this time o' night? Sir Robert lies sick and paralysed. I trow he is dead. Eh, sirs! but 'tis an awful like sight yon.' Others, however, saw not so clearly, and deemed it was two messengers of the Commonwealth on urgent business; and others again were confident that at last Charles Stuart had landed and the tyranny of 'liberty and democracy' was over, and these were the first messengers. But no solution came to all these various questionings. The riders thundered away into the open country, and the street returned to its wonted quiet. Isabel's anxiety grew painful in its intensity. She had almost lost sight and knowledge of her physical surroundings, and was with Sir Robert, feeling with his feelings, almost dropping with fatigue of that long race and the terror of it. Beside the upper waters of the Lossie the pursuer was close behind. Already in the distance Birnie Kirk could be dimly seen on the horizon, but the pursuing horse was only now a few yards behind. It seemed impossible that the chase could last more than a minute or so. What could she do? She was there, she knew and followed every movement, every chance of the ride, but she was powerless. Then she seemed to hear Sir Robert's voice again, 'Pray for me.' He asked it. She must:

'Ave Maria, Gratia Plena.'

The old Catholic formula came back to her memory. Would it avail aught? A gracious presence seemed to be beside her as she uttered the once familiar words. Something that bade her be calm, for whatever must be would be. Yet nothing seemed to alter the conditions of pursuer and pursued--the horses raced on. Birnie grew nearer and clearer, but the hinder horse was drawing up on the flank of the foremost. There could now at the utmost be about a minute and a half. Ninety seconds before they must reach the kirkyard wall, or Sir Robert's body would dangle, the prize of victory, at the saddle bow of Sathanas. The long lean head of the black stallion pushed forward on the flank of the other. The cruel smile on the rider's face became a malignant laugh of triumph. Already his arm was disengaging itself from his cloak and trappings, the whip was shifted into the bridle hand, ready to shoot out and grasp his prey. Isabel's eyes dilated with horror; fifty seconds of the ninety had passed. The horses were almost side by side. The contest was over, the long agony was passed. The Devil had won. A voice came on her ear, 'So it is fated. None can resist.' An arm shot out, not a hand--a cruel, evil talon--grasping like a steel trap, to seize Sir Robert's shoulder and drag him from the horse. Memory rushed across her:

'Yea! It was promised to me. I can resist the decrees of the mighty Lords of Fate.'

And the voice came again:

'Wilt thou renounce everything--all thy joy, all thy happiness, thyself, thy soul? Wilt thou go out into eternal extinction?'

And firmly she replied:

'I will--I renounce them all. Only save him.'

The horses ran neck and neck straight for the kirkyard wall. The Devil's grasp was on Sir Robert's shoulder; he felt the talons through his cloak pierce his flesh like red-hot teeth. The fiery breath was in his face, he saw or felt the evil look of triumph, and read his doom there. The merry boon companion was the savage and exulting captor.

That instant his horse swerved away from the other, causing the grip on his shoulder almost to miss its hold. The cloak was torn away, the flesh torn and mangled, the horse rushed furiously against the kirkyard wall, knocking off some of the stones of the coping, and the rider, too weary to retain his seat, was thrown heavily over the wall, as a great darkness closed over him, and he felt only the impact of a heavy blow.

Isabel heard the crash--the first physical sound she had really heard since she followed that terrible race. Sir Robert had thrown out an arm and overset a small table. He looked at her dazed, and like a man who has long wandered in the fields of nightmare, dreaming; and she too felt as though a horrid dream had passed. And the moonlight shone in through the window, and neither of them dared to break the silence that reigned.


Chapter Twenty. The Absolution of Isabel

THE next morning there was very little outward change in any of the household at Gordonstown. Sir Robert lay still, as he had done for many days now, practically motionless. But yet there was a change for those who noticed closely. There was slightly more power of movement, there was more expression in the face, and when he looked at Isabel it seemed as though it was a look of infinite gratitude, and a calm and peace such as had not been there since his illness began.

Jean noticed it, and said:

'Isabel, dear! I am sure uncle wants to say how much he has loved your nursing, and all your goodness to him. He is so much better for it.'

Isabel said nothing. She was struggling with the remembrance of some strange, terrible nightmare of a dream, which yet she could not recall. She seemed to have done something for him, to have given him something, but what was not clear. She had dozed by the window, and only waked when he gave a great start in his sleep or trance, and jerked himself with a great convulsion on his bed, oversetting the little table as he did so, as a sleeper often will when waking from a nightmare. Then he lay quiet and still, and a look of great happiness came over his face. He seemed to be sleeping. His man came in and took her place, and she retired to rest. But the morning light seemed to blot out all memory of the dreams, or visions, or realities of the past night.

That afternoon Jean and Cosmo, walking together over the links towards the shore, met with a shepherd, rather dirty and travel-stained, who inquired whether he might have grazing for a few nights for his sheep, travelling a long way. He was taking them to Aberdeen.

'Sir Robert Gordon is very ill,' said Jean; 'he can transact no business. Yet I ween I may say for him that ye can pasture your sheep, and welcome, on our grass lands. There are no sheep there at present, though we often have them at this time of year. Sir Robert doth usually grant pasture for a few days, without payment, for travelling flocks. He saith 'tis for the good of the country that the sheep should come to fair pastures in the winter months, and it is the duty of lairds to give this privilege and not to charge for it.'

'Benedicite!' said the shepherd.

Jean looked up in wonder at the salutation.

'My flock are scattered over all the highlands. But the poor shepherd gives ye thanks.'

Then she knew. Under the clever disguise it was Father Blackhall himself.

'Welcome indeed, Father!' she said. 'We have missed you, and we have needed you more shrewdly than I can say. My uncle lieth at the point of death, unable to move, and knowing and understanding nothing, and all has gone wrong. Even the proposals ye brought from France have all failed, for the papers came too late.'

In brief, earnest words she told him all that had chanced since he had left them, as they walked together up to the house. And Cosmo expounded the matter of the papers. The difficulty there had been to procure the consent of the Lord Protector, a difficulty as he thought, and probably rightly, to be more or less due to himself. For Sir Robert's affection for him was well known, and though the English government dared not openly attack Sir Robert, yet they would not put it into his hands in any way to benefit Cosmo, in whom they saw an adversary far more powerful than his years would warrant. Therefore only when they were convinced that Cosmo was finally out of the way amongst those drowned on the Liberty would they listen to Sir Robert's friends, and agree to do anything for him.

This seemed plausible enough, but it finally dashed any hope of anything more being done in this direction. For Sir Robert clearly needed now no grant or help from any government, and Ludovick had no influence, even if he could have been induced to move; and for Cosmo to appear would be simply to raise the whole hue and cry against him. His only chance of safety was in keeping as quiet as possible, and, as Father Blackhall said, remaining dead.

The Father was delighted to hear that Mistress Isabel Goudie was still a visitor at Gordonstown. His colloquy with Sathanas remained an outstanding, marvellous fact, and her relations with the Prince of Darkness were absorbingly interesting. Something further might be done in this direction, and he might get to know more of his old adversary that would be useful to him in future.

But to Isabel all seemed a hopeless despair. She had renounced her eternal salvation for the sake of adventure, romance, and power, and the pleasure of life; and these she had had to the very fullest measure. Then she had renounced these for the sake of the three who were especially dear to her. Now what was left to her? Somewhat timidly she had tried the old spells; nothing would work. In vain she cried 'Horse and hattock!' no coal-black steed came at her bidding. In vain she cried for the Red Reiver, the sprite came not, nor was there any answer. The crisp, bright air of winter blew in her face, but roused no joy. A dull depression settled on her. There was no exhilaration in anything. There was not, and there could never again be, any joy, any adventure in life; and when life was over there was the terrible prospect of--she knew not what. Torment perhaps--so the theologians said. Slavery to the Devil and the covens--so she believed. Eternal extinction perhaps. In any case no hope after death. She had gained what she sought for, temporary joy and material pleasure for herself--that was over and done; the good of those who had been good to her--that was gained. For herself she had lost everything here and hereafter.

Yet she knew well that were it to do again she would do it.

It was blank depression rather than any horror that settled on her. She was simply very tired of life, and of everything. Nothing seemed worth while. Only mechanically she continued to nurse Sir Robert, who lingered on in much the same state.

In this condition it was that Father Blackhall found her. His first sensation was somewhat of disappointment; for, sooth to say, he had not really regarded her as a human Christian woman, but he had mentally set her in the same category with Sathanas, a subhuman or superhuman embodiment of evil, whom he might have the opportunity to study much as a physician of to-day might study a disease microbe, in order that, knowing its nature and conditions, he might protect those who asked his protection. But this was no witch, this was no embodiment of evil, this was simply a weary and stricken woman, to whom his soul went out in love and pity. What had wrought the change? At all events she knew something of the nature and power of Sathanas. She could aid him; indeed, in his contest against the powers of evil, she would be a most effective help if, having been a thrall of the Devil, she were now by any means released from his power. The Father grew mightily interested.

She, too, was glad to see him. An instinctive feeling told her that here was one in whom she might freely confide.

Gently he asked the cause of the change in her.

'Father, you see one who has lost all joy in this life, all hope in that which is to come. And one who now is able to realise her loss, which she was not conscious of before. O Father! advise me if ye can, though, indeed, I doubt I am past all advice or help now.'

'Nay, my child! that I cannot think. But if ye deem that I can help you, then come to Michael's kirk with me tomorrow and confess. Only in the sacrament of confession can I aid you. But you will not know even the simplest method of confession. They practise it not in your Reformed faith, I am told.'

'Oh! I know well, I was brought up a Catholic, and often I have been to confession. More the shame to me!'

'That is well, then. Now I will tell you something that will rejoice you, if I am right, and I think I am. In my travels I have had to learn something of medicine. I have had to minister to bodies as well as souls when there was no other, and I have had occasion to observe the science and methods of physic abroad as well as at home, and I am convinced that Sir Robert will recover from this attack. I say not that he will ever be well again, or that he will live more than a few weeks at the most: do not think so. But he will recover his powers of speech, and perhaps of movement, and his sane consciousness. In fact, I think he is well on the road to recovery now, though there is but little sign of it at present. I have seen many in the same state, and have noted the symptoms of gradual recovery which he shows. In three days I expect he will talk to us.'

'O Fatherl heaven bless you for those words! Ye know not what it means to us all.'

'Ay, my child! I know somewhat. But perhaps there is more that you will tell me. Now go and prepare, I will give you no instruction as to preparation. I prefer to leave this entirely to yourself.'

To Isabel, the Father's words indeed opened new spring of hope. For it had seemed to her that her great sacrifice had been largely in vain. She had reversed the decree of the mighty Lords of Fate, and she had won for Sir Robert his second victory over the Devil; but for Jean and Cosmo, whose future she had so much at heart, all that she had done and given had produced no effect apparently--their future was as dark and hopeless as ever, Sir Robert, it is true, had escaped the dread doom that was before him, but the provision he had tried so hard to make for them was still as impossible as ever. The papers had come too late. But if the Father was right, and he spoke confidently, the papers might yet be signed. The estates in Nova Scotia might be secured for them; her great sacrifice would not be in vain, as far as they were concerned.

Sitting there, as she watched Sir Robert, she thought she detected a dawning power of movement, a look in his eyes as though at any moment he might speak, and resolve all their troubles. But nothing came except those very slight indications.

Rapidly her mind went back over all her past life. She must recall every incident. She would lay the whole story bare to the Father's eyes. He would naturally turn from her in wrath and horror. But that she must bear: it was part of the punishment she must endure. That he could give her absolution was, of course, for ever impossible. Her mind went back to her girlhood's study of the romance of Tannhauser, and how the Pope himself shook his staff at him, whose sins were far less than hers, and bade him begone. 'Sooner,' said he, 'shall this dry staff break into leaf and flower than absolution be given to you.' Even so would the Father speak to her, and would turn his back on her for ever. Then the conclusion of the legend came to her. How the Pope sent a messenger flying after the knight as he wandered heart-broken away from the presence, bearing the staff now broken into bud and leaf, a sign that absolution was for him too, and a reproof to the Pontiff from his divine Master. He had but stayed a while with Venus in Mount Horsel. What had she done? Nay, what had she not done. Was there any sin she had not committed?

Her thoughts ran over it all, from the first meeting with the Master between Drumduan and the Heads. Then the reception and baptism in the kirk of Aulderne. Her wild love for him--sensuous and self-pleasing, as she now knew. Her wild hate of the laird of Park, equally self-pleasing this too; and the doings of the covens--the hunting, and feasting, and revelry. The mischief she had done, the men she had killed. Most of all now she repented of that. Every incident stood out in clear, pitiless light. Till she came to the last scene of all, Sir Robert's ride and what she had done then--it was the very last spell she had ever uttered, or would ever utter--and that final great defiance of the Lords of Fate. They had decreed his final falling into the hands of the Devil. She had rescued him. Henceforth, then, Fate was her enemy, and the Devil, her lover, the Dark Master, was her implacable tyrant. He would never forgive her. No torture could be too bad, or too hard for him to inflict. She knew him. In his nature there was no forgiveness. And to this hard, implacable master she had voluntarily given herself, pledged herself body and soul for all eternity to him.

'What skills it to confess,' she said to herself, when her recalling of her life was done. 'What I did, I did willingly, and I have received the price. Yet perhaps, if my poor story is told, it may be somewhat of a warning to others; and the Father desired it, perchance, for that very reason. So he shall have it.'

Sir Robert's eyes were fixed on her, and she seemed to read in them a message that it would in some way benefit him also. So she was reconciled. But the prayers that should go before a confession she could not say.

So on the morrow Father Blackhall called her, and Sir Robert's man took her place. They went out by the door to the south into the gardens, then just laid out but not completed; they turned to the left, and walked a mile or so to the little kirk, that was so small it could hardly hold the household. Yet it had to serve as the parish church in Catholic days. Now it was dilapidated, almost a ruin, and, buried in the woods, had been forgotten by the zealous Protestants. Sir Robert had always himself externally professed the Reformed faith, though, be it said, he never went to kirk, nor sat under the godly minister who occupied the pulpit of Duffus. But his servants were all Catholics; and whenever opportunity offered there was Mass said in the tiny Michael kirke.

Father Blackhall sat on a stone bench to the south of the altar, that served him for a confessional, and Isabel knelt beside him, somewhat frightened indeed now to find herself again in a church, and again kneeling before a priest for confession, but otherwise apathetic. She wanted to benefit Sir Robert, and she was impressed by the Father's confident declaration that he would recover his sane reason and power of motion. But beyond this what could she do more for anyone? She had given all, there was nothing further that she could surrender.

Bit by bit the whole story was told out, and Father Blackhall listened, intensely pitiful, intensely sympathetic. Surely never before in this world had an actual undoubted witch, bound body and soul to the service of the Devil, knelt as a penitent at the feet of a Catholic priest, to recount all her experiences.

But what could he say? How could he absolve after this amazing story? What penance could he impose? Moreover, was she penitent? There seemed nothing active or alive about her. The soul was dead, and the beautiful, passionate body was sunk in what seemed a death in life.

He commenced, 'In nomine--' but there came a silence. Somehow he could not speak the sacred name.

'My child,' he said, 'I must consider carefully of all this. Yet this one thing is clear to me. Thy root sin of all hath been the lack of faith. Tell me, why didst thou leave the Catholic faith, wherein thou wast born and brought up, and join the so-called Reformed Kirk? Was it from conviction that it was the only true faith?'

'Well, ye see, Father! it was my husband's faith.'

'A pitiful reason! Had ye really and truly believed, ye could not thus lightly have left the faith of your baptism. And ye found all barren and desolate, did ye not?'

'Ay, truly!'

'Of course ye did. For ye had no faith either in what ye left or in what ye went to.'

'I had no faith, Father! I sought only what should please me, only the material things. But now I believe, for I know.'

'Nay, my daughter! Ye know because ye believe. Now in the name--'

Again that silence. He could not say it.

'Ye see, Father! it is all useless. I am past hope, past praying for.'

For some minutes no word was spoken between them. That silence, where the great Name should be spoken, was more awe-inspiring than even a terrible manifestation of diabolic power. It was so slight, yet so tremendous. The nerves of both were tense almost beyond endurance. What was that laugh by the altar? Coming in that sacred place, and at that moment of intense feelings wrought to their highest pitch, that low, sneering laugh seemed both to the penitent and the priest as the voice of doom sounding from the depths of Hell, proclaiming the impotence of the Church's power, even denying redemption itself; claiming this soul against all the might of the divine Spirit, descending in unbroken succession from the gift of the first Whitsuntide even to the priest who now sat by the altar in that little chapel. It was a terrible laugh, a laugh of confident defiance. 'There is no God,' that laugh said. 'Poor fools!' it said, 'ye have lost all ye might have had, and now there is nothing.' Almost Father Blackhall's own faith wavered before that insolent laugh, sounding by God's own altar.

Almost--but only for a moment. Then he rose to his feet, Isabel still knelt, crouching and terrified. She had heard that laugh before. It was her sentence of doom. She had crossed the Dark Master, and he never forgave. Eternities of torment lay before her. There was no release, no salvation ever possible. He would joy in her anguish and torture, as he had joyed in giving her all she had asked for in the old days--both were sensations to him. She had known this when he seized and tortured others. Now it was her turn.

The priest stood by the altar. He had no time to palter with keys or fastenings. He dashed his hand through the front of the tabernacle where the Holy Host was enshrined, and brought out the consecrated wafer. He seemed to grow mighty and heroic in his proportions. She thought he was Michael himself, the great Archangel, actually and visibly present in his own chapel, to vindicate his divine nature. A great fear came over her. He would cast her forth even from this last poor sanctuary and shelter. How should a foot so profane as hers dare to pollute the sacred house of the Holy Michael?

'Sathanas! Come forth!' cried the priest in loud and stern tones. 'Exorciso te, in nomine--' A moment's pause, then the spell was broken. He fairly shouted the Divine Name in an ecstasy of devotion. She lay prostrate on the floor of the chapel, daring not to look up, yet imagining how the great Michael brandished his cross of red and drew his flashing sword.

The Dark Master came forth at the priest's voice, from behind the altar, cringing and cowering, but insolent to the last.

'What seek ye, Sir Priest? Would ye deprive me of mine own?'

'Cease to blaspheme! and cease to lie. Thou canst have no power over a soul who hath Catholic baptism.'

'She renounced her baptism. She is mine, and I will have her.'

'Thyself said that with her Catholic baptism thou hast naught to do. In the Name of Him whom I serve, and by this which I hold in my hand, I say to thee, take now thine own shape, that she, my penitent, may know thee again.'

What Isabel saw will never be known. She fell on the stone floor in a dead faint, and the priest, making the sign of the cross, said solemnly, 'Now, by my power as a priest, and by this Holy Host which I hold in my hand, and by this symbol of man's redemption, I bid thee begone. Thou hast neither part nor lot with this woman. Observe now, for thou professest to abide by strictest justice, though thou art the Lord of Unbalanced Force, and therefore unjust, and a liar from the beginning; yet, as thou claimest justice, I may say this to thee: thou didst persuade her by thy subtley to barter eternal bliss and satisfaction, embracing every sense, not only physical but every other, for a short period of sensuous gratification. Say she made this bargain, has she had the price? All the joy of life that thou hast promised has been taken away.'

'Yea! by her own act.'

'I know, and thou canst not assure to her even the paltry, contemptible price promised. Get thee gone for a cheat and a liar! In nomine Sancti Trinitatis, I adjure thee begone, and trouble not this house nor them that dwell therein, nor any of them, wheresoever on the face of the earth for the time they may abide. And especially trouble not the old man, Sir Robert Gordon, whom thou hast thought to take in thy snare, nor this woman, Isabel Goudie, who foolishly made a pact with thee which thou hast broken because thou couldst not keep it. Begone! or, by the power of these symbols and emblems which I bear, I will torment thee. I will hold thee. Thou knowest well I have the power to hold thee before me, and torture thee worse than ever thou torturest thy victims, and this I will do an I see or hear of thee in any of these lands of Gordonstown, or vexing any who dwell herein. Now begone! and if thou canst, joy thee in my clemency.'

The dark, evil, crouching figure was gone. Father Blackhall reverently replaced the Holy Host which he had held, and, as far as he could, replaced the shattered fragments of the tabernacle.

Isabel still lay in a faint on the floor. She had seen the Devil in his true form, and the awfulness of that sight had burned itself into her brain for ever. Father Blackhall lifted her in his powerful arms and carried her back to Gordonstown House, and handed her over to Jean, who saw her laid on her own bed.

Thus, then, for two days these two, Sir Robert Gordon and Isabel Goudie, both sworn servants of the Devil, both now released from his thraldom, were lying helpless and apparently unconscious, Jean and Cosmo and Lady Mary caring for them with the most assiduous devotion, in which they were effectively aided by Father Blackhall. For during his wanderings and his disguises over half Europe, he had learned most of the household arts, and he could cook and serve a meal, and, in fact, do the whole work of a house if need be. So the servants, with the exception of Sir Robert's own man, needed never to come near either of the invalids. For thus Father Blackhall wished it to be, not knowing whether on their waking something might happen, or be said, that servants, however faithful, had better not hear. Isabel soon recovered. Physically strong and vigorous, the effect of the shock had passed away in twenty-four hours, and she was able to resume her post by Sir Robert's bedside.

At length, on the third day, as Father Blackhall had predicted, Sir Robert woke from the apparent stupor that had oppressed him so long, and sat up in his bed, and began to talk quite rationally, and to inquire what had chanced. They told him of the arrival of the papers. This he had known in his trance, but on waking it had passed from his mind. Now, however, that he was told of them, all that he had planned when he lay seemingly unconscious recurred to his memory, and he knew at once what to do.

Master John Innes, the notary public, was summoned from Elgin, that the papers might be duly signed granting all Sir Robert's lands in Nova Scotia to his beloved kinsman, Cosmo Hamilton, and his beloved cousin or niece, Jean Gordon, the same to take effect from the day of their marriage.

'And, hark ye, Master Notary!' said Sir Robert; 'one word to any human soul of this transaction and I will wring your neck, and I trow 'twill not be a great loss to any human soul.'

'And look ye, Master Notary!' said Father Blackhall; 'one word of this and I damn your soul.'

Master John Innes shivered. Though he had no religion worth speaking of, he had a great deal of superstition, and believed much in the power of the Church.

'And again, hark ye, Master Notary!' said Cosmo; 'ye have done a fine thing for me and my Jean, and ye shall draw our marriage contract, and gin I succeed out in the western lands, as I hope I may, ye shall have a lordly fee over and above what ye have earned. But an ye speak a word, I come back myself to slit thy scurvy throat.'

Whether Cosmo kept his word or no, history is silent; but it appears that Master John Innes died worth, so men said, considerably more than he was likely to have earned by the lawful practice of his calling.

Sir Robert regained his full mental powers and power of speech, but only partially the power of movement. He could sit up, and walk with help, but could not write. He took all his usual interest in the matters around him and the political affairs of the day. But of the strange learning and weird experiments that had formerly so enthralled and delighted him, he now took no account whatever. His alchemical furnace and laboratory were deserted, cold, and given over to dust and rats. None now invoked the earth elementals in the magic circle of the round stables. Even his contraband trade with France was abandoned, and old Danny, though still in Sir Robert's pay, merely traded harmlessly for the Calders at the port of Findhorn. The day of all these things was over, and Ludovick, when he succeeded, took no interest in them. Later on the grandson, another Sir Robert, made an attempt to practise wizardry on his own account, and brought out some of the stories of his grandfather, telling them as though they were his own experiences, whereby he was sometimes believed by the ignorant to be the actual warlock laird of Gordonstown, and the traditions have got so mixed that it is hard to dissever the one from the other. The secret cave, where Sir Robert had stored the kegs and vats that old Danny brought from France, was used in the '45 to hide the Gordonstown horses for safety's sake, and is still called Sir Robert's stable.

But all these matters now had ceased to interest him at all. He was chiefly concerned about his great 'History of the Earldom of Sutherland,' a monumental work still of high repute. He wished to bring the history up to date and to add some corrections, recently discovered. In this Isabel Goudie helped him materially, acting as his amanuensis, and the latest corrections of the history in Sir Robert's private copy are said to be in her handwriting. Though what has become of his copy I am quite unable to say, the Gordonstown library having long ago disappeared.

With the stimulus of this work Isabel's spirits revived somewhat, and the cloud of dull lethargy that had oppressed her seemed to be lifting slightly, when, about a fortnight after the events last recorded, Sir Robert died suddenly and very quietly, and was buried in the old Michael kirk.

It was long after his death that the minister of Birnie asserted that he had been waked from sleep and seen the termination of that wild race with the Devil, and Sir Robert thrown over the wall; and had deemed it but a dream, until he found a broken spur in the kirkyard. But this was very probably a thing imagined after the event. For the tales of the kirkyard of Birnie were many and Sir Robert's pact with the Devil was often spoken of, especially after his death, and as he died quietly in his bed it was necessary to suppose that somehow or other he got to the sacred soil of Birnie.

But meanwhile Father Blackhall was seriously concerned over the fact that Isabel had confessed fully and completely, but had not had absolution. Nor did he see precisely what he should do. The case seemed as unprecedented as was that of the knight Tannhauser, that so baffled a Pop. Yet something must be done, for Sir Robert was dead. Ludovick would be served heir, and would come to Gordonstown with his wife and his son, the second Robert, now an infant in arms. The household of Gordonstown would have to leave, and Father Blackhall, having taken the responsibility for Isabel Goudie, could not abandon her now.

They had long talks together in which the Father endeavoured to ascertain exactly what the position was.

'My child,' he said, 'it seems to me clear that you intended to barter your eternal happiness for material and temporary gratification, not clearly understanding or believing in the eternal happiness. And hence you were persuaded to renounce your baptism. But this, by the goodness of God, you were not able to do. For your Catholic baptism you could not, and did not, renounce. Therefore, though you were twice cheated--first by taking advantage of your ignorance, and secondly, because the very price, the poor consideration for so great a renunciation, was taken from you--you did not give what you thought, and what the great enemy intended should be given.

'Yet you have sinned grievously. For you have done harm to those who never harmed you, and that wantonly and of intention. But all the sins you have committed are sins of the body, and material; therefore, in my judgement, to be expiated in the body. They are not sins of the soul.

'Now the condition of absolution is reparation, so far as it is possible; and herein lies my difficulty, for there can be no reparation for much that you have done. For those whom you slew with clay figures, for the men who died by the Arrows of Death, for those whom you robbed of their substance--these things can never be restored.'

'See ye then, Father, how hopeless is my condition, even as I told ye! That which I have done cannot be undone. For the evil is no reparation, and without reparation is no absolution. There can be no forgiveness.'

'I say not so. Even when ye served the Devil ye did not always evil. Ye did not always please only yourself. For ye came here and healed Jean Gordon. Also, had your doings been all evil, and all for the pleasing of yourself, ye could not have been admitted to the Middle Kingdom, That is, if I rightly apprehend its laws. And now, lastly, ye have made a great act of renunciation for the good of others. Ye have given all that ye had to win release for Sir Robert from the power of the Devil, and fortune and prosperity for Jean and Cosmo. This is a great atonement, and no good deed was ever unrecognised in our Father's sight. I say this then. Ye have sinned against humanity, against mankind, and for this man exacts a terrible penalty. The body sins, and the body pays the penalty. So is reparation, and the soul set free. But how this may be at present I know not; I must think. In the meantime, if thou wilt yield thyself to me, I will place thee for the time with a small company of holy women who dwell secretly in a solitary place far up in the hills, in perpetual adoration. Here in meditation and prayer thou shalt prepare thyself, and after a season I will visit thee, and I think that it will be shown thee there that which thou oughtest to do.'

'Father! I will do whatsoever ye say. Do with me, whatsoever ye will, if only I may be by any means attain forgiveness. I sincerely repent of all I have done. And most of all I repent the loss of my faith.'

'Then, my child, in reliance on that promise, and because I believe in thy repentance, by my power as a priest I absolve thee. The way to salvation I think the Lord Himself will show thee.'

He laid his hand on her head in benediction.

The following morning they set out.


Chapter Twenty-One. The Devil's Last Throw

IT was a changed Gordonstown after Sir Robert was laid to rest. The household dispersed rapidly, for Ludovick was served heir and lost no time in coming to take possession. Dame Gordon, his mother, Sir Robert's widow, also came back after long absence, and with her came her daughter, Mistress Barclay of Ury, whose husband was a well-known member of the then newly founded sect of Quakers. Father Blackhall and Isabel Goudie were the first to leave. She now wore the old homespun dress she had brought with her when last she visited the farm of Lochloy. This dress, with the little crucifix that was sewn in the bosom of it, was the link with her girlhood that most she cherished. She had worn it on the occasion when she healed Jean, and on saying farewell to Jean she wore it again, and showed her how her gift of the crucifix was cherished. The Father put on again the garb of a shepherd which he had worn when he came to Gordonstown, and the pair looked just like such a couple of peasants as you might often see at that time tramping the roads in search of work.

But before they left, Father Blackhall had united Cosmo and Jean in the little chapel of Michael's kirk, and a few days later old Danny's boat carried them to France, whence one of King Louis XIV's ships took them to Nova Scotia. We have no concern to follow their history further. The records of the peninsula show that Cosmo was well received on landing, for in spite of the act of the Lord Protector in occupying the province in force in the name of England the whole popular sentiment was French, and, outside the garrisons, the high-handed action was much resented. Cosmo had a title that all followers of the Lord Protector were bound to respect, for the grant to Sir Robert was absolute and unconditional, and his conveyance to Cosmo equally unexceptionable. And the letters and commendations of the ex-Regent, of Cardinal Mazarin, and of King Louis himself, ensured him a warm welcome from the French settlers. A few years later, when King Charles II was restored to the throne of his ancestors, he gave back the rich province to France, and Mazarin's prophecy was fulfilled. So this pair pass out of this history; but for over a hundred years there were Hamiltons in Nova Scotia, claiming descent from them, and for aught I know the family may still be living and thriving there. But I am told that the lands in Sir Robert's patent cannot now be identified.

Lady Mary Gordon retired to her little cottage in Aberdeenshire, and very soon the warlock laird and his small circle of friends became no more than a tradition, adorned and exaggerated as such traditions very readily become.

At Gordonstown itself, Sir Ludovick, who had been educated in Holland, continued the building and laying out of the mansion and grounds, adorning it with straight canals and walks in the Dutch taste, some of which survive to this day. But the dungeons, and old Sir Robert's furnace and alembics, and other weird implements, were untouched, and rotted away from neglect.

Meantime Father Blackhall and Isabel tramped together through Dallas Glen, and up into the great lonely mountains, sometimes sheltering in a peasant's cottage, sometimes pausing for a day or two, that the Father might say a Mass for some lonely congregation among the hills, or at the house of some laird or Chief who had remained faithful to the old religion in spite of persecution.

In the intercourse of these days, the Father gathered a great deal more than he had known before concerning Sathanas, and Isabel was instructed in the Catholic faith. Gradually, as she learned its tenets, she came to a fervent belief, and noted with wonder the intense hostility of the country-people towards the papists.

Once when they took shelter during a storm of rain in a little cottage, a small child lay in a cot by the fire tossing in fever and ague. Isabel sat by the tiny sufferer, crooning a lullaby and gently stroking the little curly head, damp with perspiration and pain. The restless tossing subsided, the hands grew cool, and the child sank to a sweet slumber.

'Sancta Maria--Mystic Rose,' she sang softly, as the child breathed calmly and regularly, free from pain for the first time for weeks. But the quick ear of the mother caught the words.

'A cursed papist!' she cried. 'Would ye mutter your foul spells over the innocent bairn? Oh, damn ye! trow ye have healed her. Aroint thee, witch! Get out of my house ere I set the dogs on ye. What for would ye be curing the sick? 'Tis well known that this is but by the power of the Devil.'

So furious did the woman become that they had to flee out of that house, though one is glad to think that the child recovered.

But as they journeyed so through the deep glens and the great corries the healthy, open-air life and simple fare restored Isabel's health, and to some extent lifted the cloud of depression that weighed on her. She began now to feel the dreariness of her present conditions, and their hopelessness, in the inevitable reaction after the exalted moods that had brought about her great sacrifice, her confession, and her determination to go with the Father wheresoever he would lead. Spite of herself her mind and memory wandered back over the past. What days they were! Of course she repented, she would gladly undo the past if she could, she had sought absolution and vowed herself to her penance; still, there was no harm in thinking of the wild times she had had, of the loves, and the hunts, and the feastings. Father Blackhall was very good, but not very exciting. It could not be a great sin to recall some of the best of the times. Not the killing of men, or the stealing of their goods, or the wanton mischief--of these things she sincerely repented; but the Father had not so greatly condemned the feastings and frolic, and the hunts, and all the enjoyment that did no harm, save that she had bartered her soul for these things. So she let her fancy play.

Then, one night, there was no human habitation near, when the evening closed, and the only shelter seemed to be a lonely hut, deserted and almost ruinous. It was only two rooms, each entered by a separate door, and a shed at the end; but they gathered some dry heather to make a couch, in each room, and with a little oatcake and bannocks that they brought from their last resting place, and a draught of water from a spring near by, they made a shift of an evening meal, and, after prayer, retired to rest. Far up in the mountains they could now see their destination, a white-washed wall hardly distinguishable from the rocks and cliffs around. But Isabel was restless. The solemn grandeur of the great hills recalled the Monaliadhs, and the merry huntings they had had there. Spite of herself, she hungered for the keen joy of the old life.

A little roe-deer trotted in, seemingly it had been used to find a shelter there, may be it was tame, someone's pet, for it seemed not in the least alarmed, but ran up to Isabel, and laid its graceful head in her lap. She patted it, and pulled its delicate ears caressingly.

Then something in the eyes of the beast aroused a memory and she paused, frightened. It was not only the eyes, it was a strangely human look about the head of the deer. It could not be all fancy. This must be something other than an ordinary roe-deer. Why should it have come in thus? Why should she have taken so keen a liking for it? Legends of deer that appeared to the saints and guided them occurred to her. She looked, half believing, half incredulous, for a cross between its horns, such as legends always pictured. There was none such there, but the head was markedly human, and the shoulders too. Why had she not noticed this before? Why was it so familiar? A light laugh, a tug at her heart. How was it she had not known sooner? It was the Dark Master himself.

'Ye see, sweetheart, I could not keep away from ye. Nay! do not shrink from me, I can do ye no harm now, are ye not shriven, and holy? Oh yes, I know I beguiled ye. What expect ye from the Devil? Yet I would have been very good to ye. Ye should never have repented. Yea, I know ye were my servant, and that ye should never have been, but knew not how else to hold ye and keep ye. But now ye are free, ye are shriven. We can meet as friends. I can give ye joy without bargaining. Ye have escaped from me; I can make no terms; ye are stronger than I am now. But I forswear my own nature in that I come to ye, for I cannot keep away. Wilt not then celebrate your new-found freedom and rejoice? Ye are hungry for joy. I know it. Say then the word, and come. An hour of joy, and under no obligation.'

In sooth she was hungry for joy. It seemed her very soul was starved. She wondered he did not clasp her in his arms as of old. Then she remembered. In the bosom of her dress was the little gold crucifix. He could not come.

'Cast if off,' he said, as if interpreting her thought, ''tis a mouldy old dress, not fit for our frolic, I have here a hunting dress worthy of yea.'

'Stay!' she said. 'Joy is good, and many fair frolics we have had. But better are the eternal joys than those that perish. The spirit must be set above matter. He whom now I serve will give me far better and more enduring joys than those of the material world.'

'Credulous fool!' he said. 'Can ye believe all the silly tales that priest tells ye. Know ye not that he hath made up the whole story to beguile simple women. His God and his salvation and all the rest of it is a played-out tale fit to amuse the nursery. What hath he ever given ye?'

'Peace!' she replied.

He sneered. 'This I can give ye and sovereignty besides. Look ye, sweetheart, I must come to ye, for ye are stronger by far than I am. Did ye not defy and overcome the mighty Lords of Fate, to whom I must eternally bow? Did ye not snatch from my very hands the soul of Sir Robert whom they had destined for me? I am the Lord of Earth as ye know, but ye are the queen of me, therefore the Queen of Earth. An ye have, as ye say, nobler and higher joys than any of mine, take me and my kingdom and give it all to the service of this new Lord whom thou servest. Give the whole world this knowledge and this joy that thou knowest of. Yea, even this priest thou thinkest so much of, thou mayest give him power to spread his faith over all the land, to be no longer hunted and despised with his life in his hand. All this Reformed Kirk may be swept out of the way at a word from thee. Only say it.'

It was a tempting prospect to be able to give to Father Blackhall what he so longed for. And she had the power--she had exercised it. The force that had saved Sir Robert's soul, at the very last moment, against such stupendous odds, could surely do more. She was more than human, she felt it, and knew it. Were it not a sin to have such powers and let them lie idle when so much was to be done--such gigantic evil in the world to be combated? Yet why? If the Saviour of mankind desired them to cease to exist. He needed not her interference. So had Father Blackhall taught her often. The pride that had swelled so high shrank to very small proportions.

'Nay,' she said, 'my new Lord, as ye call Him, can do all this if He wishes without me. I am content to leave it all in His hands.'

'Poor credulous fool!' said he. 'It is well for that Lord and the priests that there are women such as ye are to be beguiled. Sooth, it is not hard--scarcely worth the Devil's trouble to beguile such a simple soul. Come now, I venture a challenge. Put it to the proof. Ye know well how I can protect ye. All the time when the Sheriff and the Commissioners were hunting for witches, came any nigh to ye? Did any think ye were one of us? Can your new Lord do as much? He can protect ye, He sayeth. Well, then, I ask ye for nothing--no pledge, no spell; come forth and ride with me, and see if He can guard ye. I pledge ye my word, He will fail. He can do nothing. I pledge ye my word also that when He fails, I will guard ye, and keep ye safe. Come, sweetheart! an ye believe in Him, ye will not fear to test His power. See what a triumph for Him and for thy priest. Ye will sweep Scotland with your doctrines.'

'Nay!' she said. 'I have given my word--I believe--and 'twere an act of disbelief to try to apply a test to that which I believe.'

The moon cast a shadow from the doorway. Stern and strong, Father Blackhall stood there in the silvery light.

'Vade reto , Sathanas!' he cried, lifting on high the crucifix he wore under his shepherd's cloak. 'Exorciso te, in nomine Sancti Trinitatis. Ye have thrown your last cast, and been defeated. Saved and redeemed, she is no slave of thine any longer, but the free servant of the Lord of Hosts.'

'Yea,' said the Dark Master, 'but through grievous pain and terror must she pass, such as might daunt the strongest, and of her own will and choice. Think ye, Sir Priest, she will do this? Indeed, I think not. She will come to me yet to deliver her from thee, and thy pretended gifts, which are worth nothing, as thou well knowest. Shame on thee, for deluding the credulous. Thou knowest the God that ye proclaim so boldly is but an invention of your own to win silly women. There is no God, and all must come to me sooner or later.'

'Cease to blaspheme, and begone!' cried the priest in stentorian tones. 'Through pain and anguish if it be necessary she will pass to rest and glory, that shall endure when thou and thy kingdom have passed like a withered leaf, and fled as a shrivelled scroll. Short and sharp the agony; but glorious the victory, when the golden gates fly open at the blast of God's bright archangel.'

He made the sign of the Cross, and the Dark Master cowered and shrank to the earth, and fled.

The Father passed an arm round Isabel to support her.

'Well done, good and faithful one!' he said, 'needs must I leave thee to fight out this conflict alone, but I prayed diligently for thee that thy faith might not fail. Now lie down and rest. No more shall thy sleep be broken by the powers of evil. To-morrow we reach the home where thou shalt find rest for thy soul.'

Rested and refreshed, on the morrow they set forth again, and towards evening they reached the little building in the heart of the great lonely hills. An isolated and forgotten community of half a dozen saintly women, who preserved a perpetual adoration of the Holy Sacrament in a tiny chapel.

The Reverend Mother, a calm and stately woman, with a face of great beauty and snow-white hair, belonging to one of the noblest of the old historic houses of Scotland, received them, cordially greeting the Father, and after hearing his story, took Isabel to a cell that was to be her home till the Father should come for her.

'My child,' he said, 'I think that the Lord Himself will direct thee what thou shouldst do. I shall return when I have visited some of our scattered flocks in the west. Meantime, ye are safe here. Pray and meditate, and endeavour to draw night to Him who lovest thee.'

The Father said Mass for the little community in the morning, and departed.

Of Isabel's life in that tiny convent nothing whatsoever is known, nor how long she stayed there. Of that small religious house there are no records preserved. Even among the Catholics its existence was known to very few. The neighbouring peasants supplied the simple necessities of life and guarded the secret with scrupulous care. We can only suppose that in the calm, regular life of devotion, all the restlessness and heart-hunger passed away from her, and that the second sight which she had by nature, aided by prayer and the rigid austere rule of the community, developed into visions such as were accorded, as legends tell us, to the saints.

Once or twice Father Blackhall came, but he bore no message, and it seemed as though in this quiet retreat her days were to end.

Then one night as she rose from prayer a sudden glory filled her cell, and she was aware of Christ Himself standing before her.

What passed, or what message was delivered to her, can never be known. But next morning she sought the Reverend Mother and craved permission to depart.

'I am called,' she said simply; and the Reverend Mother bowed her silvery head and said, 'My daughter, go in peace, it is the Lord's will.'

Down the mountain path she passed, a solitary figure in the great solemn silences of the hills. Dressed now again in the old homespun gown which had been discarded for the convent robe during her sojourn there; and the little convent with its chapel hung spectral on the mountain side, a symbol of the faith that survived trouble and persecution, that kept its strength and purity in the midst of the desolate solitudes, a gleaming white landmark by which the wayfarer might guide himself, though he knew not what manner of things it was that thus shone so ghost-like on the barren slopes.

She had no idea whither she was going. All the country was strange to her. She knew not even the direction in which she and the Father had come nor how far. Only now voices called her, and she could not disobey the call.

Downwards, ever downwards, the path lay, over rough heather and through peat mosses, over hard boulders difficult to climb among, and across many burns. It was a road used only by shepherds, and very few even of them. A light seemed to be around her, and a clear conviction that she was led, and could not possibly go wrong or miss the way. She carried a small wallet with simple provisions for the way given her by the Reverend Mother, but when these were exhausted there was nothing. There was no cottage in sight anywhere, not a sign of any human occupation or even of humanity in any direction. The convent had long been left behind, and was out of sight. She could not find her way back. Was it the intention that this should be her end, to die of exposure and starvation in these awful solitudes, or to be slain by a wolf? Was this the grievous pain and terror she must pass through to expiate her sins? It seemed too slight for this. Nevertheless, whatever it was, she welcomed it. It was the path the Lord chose for her, and He was leading her along it.

As night fell she came to a shepherd's hut, a tiny mud building with a thatch of heather. Only a pleasant-faced old woman was there; very, very old she was, and wrinkled almost beyond belief.

'Benedicite!' said Isabel. 'Mother, in the name of the Lord, can ye give me shelter for the night?'

'Yea, and dearly welcome! 'tis long since I have heard the Catholic word. Come ben then, and sup. It is but plain fare I have--a few oatcakes and spring water, but ye are dearly welcome for the sake of the word ye spake.'

On again next morning, and another long tramp, so mysteriously guided she never had any doubt of the way she must go, though often there was no visible track, the great muirs were solitary and pathless. At length she came upon a rough track by which carts could go. She was almost dropping from fatigue, when a light cart driven by a peddler, came along and halted beside her. It was a dark-complexioned man who drove, untidy and dirty, yet with a merry twinkle in his eyes, a brilliantly coloured neckerchief was twisted round his throat and his long black hair under his soft slouched hat curled in greasy locks. He was one of those wandering Egyptians, alternately patronised and persecuted by the kings of Scotland but at present fallen on marked disfavour.

'Ye look weary, lass!' he said. 'Will ye have a lift, gin your way be the same as mine?'

'I know not where my way leads,' she replied. 'But I thank yea. Whither is your road?'

'I am for Nairn and Aulderne to buy and sell an they will let me.'

She started. She had not thought that she could be anywhere in the neighbourhood of her old home. Was this, then, whither the Lord was leading her?

'Surely 'tis a long way?' she queried.

'Nay, not so far, some twenty Scots miles or so--'tis safer to travel though the night, as ye may understand. By day I can hide the cart and the beast, and sleep in a ditch. In towns they are glad to see me, but in the country there are often rough men, and my race are not beloved just now.'

Through the night they drove, and as the grey light of dawn began to grow rosy over the sea, they emerged from the Cawdor woods, and saw Nairn gleaming before them. Isabel, worn out with fatigue, had slept in the cart, despite its rough uneasy jolting over the muir track.

As they came out of the woods, two men, who were hiding in a ditch, sprang out and seized the horse's bridle.

'I thought we should have him here,' said one. ''Tis Michael Faa, the gipsy; 'tis well we caught him here, they would not let us have him in town, faith! they would rescue him. What have we here? A woman--a witch, I'll be bound.'

'See ye not, ye gowk! 'tis Isabel Goudie whom we have sought so long. Come away, Mistress, ye are sought for, ye are denounced for a witch. One of your foul crew who was burned told on ye. She said ye had no power now, and she might speak.'

They seized her roughly.

'Therefore am I come,' she said simply. 'I pray ye lead me to someone to whom I may tell all the story.'

'O ho! Would ye confess then? Nay, I trow ye would tell lies as they all do, till they be pitten to the question. Come ye away. It's in the gaol of the town of Nairn that ye lodge to-day, till an assize can meet to hear what ye have to say.'

The details of that assize which was held at Aulderne are now public property, and may be read by any who choose. It was all taken down by John Innes, the Notary Public. Master Harry Forbes presided, and beside him there sat Dallas of Cantrey, the Sheriff of Nairn, and young Brodie of Lethen, Hay of Brightmoney, the younger brother of the laird of Lochloy, and of course a number of Dunbars. There was more truth than usual in John Innes' opening statement that the confession was made 'voluntarily, and without any compulsitouris.' But what he took down was not so much Isabel's own statements, as the directions of the various members of the assize as to what they thought it should have been.

When she came to tell how she had dreamed of the witches raising the dead child in the kirkyard, the Sheriff cried, 'Ye dreamed, God wot! Ye would have us believe that ye have done no ill, but that ye have only dreamed foolish dreams. Marry! but that is a poor defence. Master Innes, write that she said "we raised an un-christened child." So we shall get the truth at long last.'

She spoke also of her visit to the Court of Elfinland, but that did not interest the inquisitors.

''Tis sheer nonsense,' quoth Master Harry Forbes. 'We know that there are devils, or a Devil at all events. But there be no such things as fairies. Strike out all that, Master Innes, 'tis not relevant.'

'Tell us more of your dealings with the Devil in the Castle of Inshoch,' said young Brodie of Lethen. 'Gad, I wish I had been the Devil,' he muttered under his breath. 'Some day I'll go there and find me a witch for myself.'

So at length, after four long sittings, the confession was duly recorded in the state in which it pleased the very godly assize, and forwarded to the Justice Depute, whose note, albeit somewhat torn, appears attached thereto and may still be seen. It is endorsed:--

'Considered and found relevant be the Justice depute. Tak cair of this paper. See the Justice Deputis judgement on it. Show this to the Commissioneris.

'Having read and considered the confession of Isabel Goudie within conteened as particularly--Sathan, Renunciation of Baptism--with divers malifices, I find that a commission may verie justlie pass for her last tryall.

'(sic subscribiter) A. C OLUILLE ( Justice depute .)'

There is no need to follow out here in detail all the processes of a criminal trial in the seventeenth century. The curious may study every step for themselves. Even to the savage and cruel 'Doom' finally pronounced, 'That ye be taken away to the town of Elgin to the West Port thereof, betwixt three and four o'clock in the afternoon, and there that ye be strangled to death by the hand of the hangman, and thereafter your body to be burned to ashes, and ordains all your moveable goods and gear to be escheat and inbrought to His Majesty's use for the causes foresaid.'

Only a small torn fragment of this 'Doom' remains now to witness to the brutality of the time.

Father Blackhall, journeying back from the west, came to the little convent on the hills, and learned there of Isabel's sudden resolve, and departure.

'She was called of God,' he said; 'she hath gone to her death.'

As rapidly as he could he made his way down to the lowlands of Moray, and reached the town of Elgin early one morning. No need for him now to go in disguise, for King Charles had come back, and for the time being there was no more persecution of Catholics.

A priest whom he had known told him all the news.

He inquired of Isabel Goudie, and his friend silently, with bowed head, took him to the West Port, where a half-burned stake stood, still fast in the ground, and a heap of white ashes were stirred by the morning wind.

'Long ago,' said Father Blackhall, 'Sir Robert Gordon said to me that she was a great sinner or a great saint. It is on my mind she was both. May the Lord have mercy on her soul!'

'Amen,' said the other.


THE END

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