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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMacleod Of Dare - Chapter 13. At Home
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Macleod Of Dare - Chapter 13. At Home Post by :codebluenj Category :Long Stories Author :William Black Date :May 2012 Read :1511

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Macleod Of Dare - Chapter 13. At Home

CHAPTER XIII. AT HOME

The two women-folk, with whom he was most nearly brought into contact, were quite convinced that his stay in London had in nowise altered the buoyant humor and brisk activity of Keith Macleod. Castle Dare awoke into a new life on his return. He was all about and over the place accompanied by the faithful Hamish; and he had a friendly word and smile for every one he met. He was a good master: perhaps he was none the less liked because it was pretty well understood that he meant to be master. His good-nature had nothing of weakness in it. "If you love me, I love you," says the Gaelic proverb; "_otherwise do not come near me_." There was not a man or lad about the place who would not have adventured his life for Macleod; but all the same they were well aware that the handsome young master, who seemed to go through life with a merry laugh on his face, was not one to be trifled with. This John Fraser, an Aberdeen man, discovered on the second night after Macleod's return to Castle Dare.

Macleod had the salmon-fishing on this part of the coast, and had a boat's crew of four men engaged in the work. One of these having fallen sick, Hamish had to hire a new hand, an Aberdeenshire man, who joined the crew just before Macleod's departure from London. This Fraser turned out to be a "dour" man; and his discontent and grumbling seemed to be affecting the others, so that the domestic peace of Dare was threatened. On the night in question old Hamish came into Macleod's conjoint library and gun-room.

"The fishermen hef been asking me again, sir," observed Hamish, with his cap in his hand. "What will I say to them?"

"Oh, about the wages?" Macleod said, turning round.

"Ay, sir."

"Well, Hamish, I don't object. Tell them that what they say is right. This year has been a very good year; we have made some money; I will give them two shillings a week more if they like. But then, look here, Hamish--if they have their wages raised in a good year, they must have them lowered in a bad year. They cannot expect to share the profit without sharing the loss too. Do you understand that, Hamish?"

"Yes, Sir Keith, I think I do."

"Do you think you could put it into good Gaelic for them?"

"Oh ay."

"Then tell them to choose for themselves. But make it clear."

"Ay, Sir Keith," said Hamish. "And if it was not for that ---- man, John Fraser, there would be no word of this thing. And there is another thing I will hef to speak to you about, Sir Keith; and it is John Fraser, too, who is at the bottom of this, I will know that fine. It is more than two or three times that you will warn the men not to bathe in the bay below the castle; and not for many a day will any one do that, for the Cave bay it is not more as half a mile away. And when you were in London, Sir Keith, it was this man John Fraser he would bathe in the bay below the castle in the morning, and he got one or two of the others to join him; and when I bade him go away, he will say that the sea belongs to no man. And this morning, too--"

"This morning!" Macleod said, jumping to his feet. There was an angry flash in his eyes.

"Ay, sir, this very morning I saw two of them myself--and John Fraser he was one of them--and I went down and said to them, 'It will be a bad day for you,' says I to them, 'if Sir Keith will find you in this bay.'"

"Are they down at the quay now?" Macleod said.

"Ay, they will be in the house now."

"Come along with me, Hamish. I think we will put this right."

He lifted his cap and went out into the cool night air, followed by Hamish. They passed through the dark fir-wood until they came in sight of the Atlantic again, which was smooth enough to show the troubled reflection of the bigger stars. They went down the hillside until they were close to the shore, and then they followed the rough path to the quay. The door of the square stone building was open; the men were seated on rude stools or on spare coils of rope, smoking. Macleod called them out, and they came to the door.

"Now look here, boys," said he, "you know I will not allow any man to bathe in the bay before the house. I told you before; I tell you now for the last time. They that want to bathe can go along to the Cave bay; and the end of it is this--and there will be no more words about it--that the first man I catch in the bay before the house I will take a horsewhip to him, and he will have as good a run as ever he had in his life."

With that he was turning away, when he heard one of the men mutter, "_I would like to see you do it!_" He wheeled round instantly--and if some of his London friends could have seen the look of his face at this moment, they might have altered their opinion about the obliteration of certain qualities from the temperament of the Highlanders of our own day.

"Who said that?" he exclaimed.

There was no answer.

"Come out here, you four men!" he said. "Stand in a line there. Now let the man who said that step out and face me. I will show him who is to be master here. If he thinks he can master me, well; but it is one or the other of us who will be master!"

There was not a sound or a motion; but Macleod sprang forward, caught the man Fraser by the throat, and shook him thrice--as he might have shaken a reed.

"You scoundrel!" he said. "You coward! Are you afraid to own it was you? There has been nothing but bad feeling since ever you brought your ugly face among us--well, we've had enough of you!"

He flung him back.

"Hamish," said he, "you will pay this man his month's wages to-night. Pack him off with the Gometra men in the morning; they will take him out to the _Pioneer_. And look you here, sir," he added, turning to Fraser, "it will be a bad day for you the day that I see your face again anywhere about Castle Dare."

He walked off and up to the house again, followed by the reluctant Hamish. Hamish had spoken of this matter only that Macleod should give the men a renewed warning; he had no notion that this act of vengeance would be the result. And where were they to get a man to put in Fraser's place?

It was about an hour later that Hamish again came into the room.

"I beg your pardon, sir," said he, "but the men are outside."

"I cannot see them."

"They are ferry sorry, sir, about the whole matter, and there will be no more bathing in the front of the house, and the man Fraser they hef brought him up to say he is ferry sorry too."

"They have brought him up?"

"Ay, sir," said Hamish, with a grave smile. "It was for fighting him they were one after the other because he will make a bad speech to you; and he could not fight three men one after the other; and so they hef made him come up to say he is ferry sorry too; and will you let him stay on to the end of the season?"

"No. Tell the men that if they will behave themselves, we can go on as we did before, in peace and friendliness; but I mean to be master in this place. And I will not have a sulky fellow like this Fraser stirring up quarrels. He must pack and be off."

"It will not be easy to get another man, Sir Keith," old Hamish ventured to say.

"Get Sandy over from the _Umpire_."

"But surely you will want the yacht, sir, when Mr. Ogilvie comes to Dare?"

"I tell you Hamish, that I will not have that fellow about the place. That is an end of it. Did you think it was only a threat that I meant? And have you not heard the old saying that 'one does not apply plaster to a threat?' You will send him to Gometra in the morning in time for the boat."

And so the sentence of banishment was confirmed; and Hamish got a young fellow from Ulva to take the place of Fraser; and from that time to the end of the fishing season perfect peace and harmony prevailed between master and men.

But if Lady Macleod and Janet saw no change whatever in Macleod's manner after his return from the South, Hamish, who was more alone with the young man, did. Why this strange indifference to the very occupations that used to be the chief interest of his life? He would not go out after the deer; the velvet would be on their horns yet. He would not go out after the grouse: what was the use of disturbing them before Mr. Ogilvie came up?

"I am in no hurry," he said, almost petulantly. "Shall I not have to be here the whole winter for the shooting?"--and Hamish was amazed to hear him talk of the winter shooting as some compulsory duty, whereas in these parts it far exceeded in variety and interest the very limited low-ground shooting of the autumn. Until young Ogilvie came up, Macleod never had a gun in his hand. He had gone fishing two or three days; but had generally ended by surrendering his rod to Hamish, and going for a walk up the glen, alone. The only thing he seemed to care about, in the way of out of door occupation, was the procuring of otter-skins; and every man and boy in his service was ordered to keep a sharp lookout on that stormy coast for the prince of fur-bearing animals. Years before he had got enough skins together for a jacket for his cousin Janet; and that garment of beautiful thick black fur--dyed black, of course--was as silken and rich as when it was made. Why should he forget his own theory of letting all animals have a chance in urging a war of extermination against the otter?

This preoccupation of mind, of which Hamish was alone observant, was nearly inflicting a cruel injury on Hamish himself. On the morning of the day on which Ogilvie was expected to arrive, Hamish went in to his master's library. Macleod had been reading a book, but he had pushed it aside, and now both his elbows were on the table, and he was leaning his head on his hands, apparently in deep meditation of some kind or other.

"Will I tek the bandage off Nell's foot now, sir?"

"Oh yes, if you like. You know as much as I do about it."

"Oh, I am quite sure," said Hamish, brightly, "that she will do ferry well to-morrow. I will tek her whatever; and I can send her home if it is too much for her."

Macleod took up his book again.

"Very well, Hamish. But you have plenty to do about the house. Duncan and Sandy can go with us to-morrow."

The old man started, and looked at his master for a second. Then he said, "Ferry well, sir," in a low voice, and left the room.

But for the hurt, and the wounded, and the sorrowful there was always one refuge of consolation in Castle Dare. Hamish went straight to Janet Macleod; and she was astonished to see the emotion of which the keen, hard, handsome face of the old man was capable. Who before had ever seen tears in the eyes of Hamish MacIntyre?

"And perhaps it is so," said Hamish, with his head hanging down, "and perhaps it is that I am an old man now, and not able any more to go up to the hills; but if I am not able for that, I am not able for anything; and I will not ask Sir Keith to keep me about the house, or about the yacht. It is younger men will do better as me; and I can go away to Greenock; and if it is an old man I am, maybe I will find a place in a smack, for all that--"

"Oh, nonsense, Hamish!" Janet Macleod said, with her kindly eyes bent on him. "You may be sure Sir Keith did not mean anything like that--"

"Ay, mem," said the old man, proudly, "and who wass it that first put a gun into his hand? and who wass it skinned the ferry first seal that he shot in Loch Scridain? and who wass it told him the name of every spar and sheet of the _Umpire_, and showed him how to hold a tiller? And if there is any man knows more as me about the birds and the deer, that is right--let him go out; but it is the first day I hef not been out with Sir Keith since ever I wass at Castle Dare; and now it is time that I am going away; for I am an old man; and the younger men they will be better on the hills, and in the yacht too. But I can make my living whatever."

"Hamish, you are speaking like a foolish man," said Janet Macleod to him. "You will wait here now till I go to Sir Keith."

She went to him.

"Keith," said she, "do you know that you have nearly broken old Hamish's heart?"

"What is the matter?" said he, looking up in wonder.

"He says you have told him he is not to go out to the shooting with you to-morrow; and that is the first time he has been superseded; and he takes it that you think he is an old man; and he talks of going away to Greenock to join a smack."

"Oh, nonsense!" Macleod said. "I was not thinking when I told him. He may come with us if he likes. At the same time, Janet, I should think Norman Ogilvie will laugh at seeing the butler come out as a keeper."

"You know quite well, Keith," said his cousin, "that Hamish is no more a butler than he is captain of the _Umpire or clerk of the accounts. Hamish is simply everybody and everything at Castle Dare. And if you speak of Norman Ogilvie--well, I think it would be more like yourself, Keith, to consult the feelings of an old man rather than the opinions of a young one."

"You are always on the right side, Janet. Tell Hamish I am very sorry. I meant him no disrespect. And he may call me at one in the morning if he likes. He never looked on me but as a bit of his various machinery for killing things."

"That is not fair of you, Keith. Old Hamish would give his right hand to save you the scratch of a thorn."

She went off to cheer the old man, and he turned to his book. But it was not to read it; it was only to stare at the outside of it in an absent sort of way. The fact is, he had found in it the story of a young aid-de-camp who was intrusted with a message to a distant part of the field while a battle was going forward, and who in mere bravado rode across a part of the ground open to the enemy's fire. He came back laughing. He had been hit, he confessed, but he had escaped: and he carelessly shook a drop or two of blood from a flesh wound on his hand. Suddenly, however, he turned pale, wavered a little, and then fell forward on his horse's neck, a corpse.

Macleod was thinking about this story rather gloomily. But at last he got up with a more cheerful air, and seized his cap.

"And if it is my death-wound I have got," he was thinking to himself, as he set out for the boat that was waiting for him at the shore, "I will not cry out too soon."

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