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CHAPTER XXIV.

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    It was only when that extraordinary momentary tragedy was over, and the hush of silence, overawed and thunder-stricken, had taken the place of the tumult, that it became apparent to most of the spectators that all was not over, that there was yet something to be done. “Let some one go for the nearest doctor,” the inspector said quickly.

    “No need for any doctors here, sir,” said the men in concert.

    “Go at once; you, Young, that know where to find one: and some of you go with him, to lose no time. There's a woman shot beside,” said the officer in his curt tones of command.

    But the woman shot was not Mrs Ainslie, at whom the pistol was levelled. These three visitors, so strangely mixed up in the mle and in the confusion of events, had been hustled about among the policemen, to the consternation of the father and{357} daughter, who could not explain to themselves at first what was going on, nor what their companion had to do with it. As the course of the affair advanced, Mr Logan began to perceive, as has been said, that it was a special providence which had brought him here; but Susie, troubled and full of anguish, her whole heart absorbed in Robbie and his mother, and the mysterious trouble which she did not understand, which was hanging over them, stood alone, pressed back against the wall, following every movement of her friends, suffering with them. A sharp cry had come out of her very heart when the handcuffsthose dreadful signs of shamewere put upon his hands. She saw nothing, thought of nothing, but these two figureswhat was any other to her?and all that she understood or divined was that some dreadful trouble had happened to Robbie, and that she could not help him. She took no notice of her future step-mother's strange proceedings, nor of the extraordinary fact that she had forced herself into the midst of itshe, a strangerand was adding her foolish shrill opinion to the discussion. If Susie thought of Mrs Ainslie at all, it was with a passing reflection that she loved to be in the midst of everything, which was far too trifling a thought to occupy Susie in the deep distress of sympathy in which she was. Her father moved about helplessly among the men. He thought he had been brought there by a special providence, but he did not know what to do.{358} Mrs Ogilvy had turned upon him almost fiercely, when he had hesitated in giving his testimony for Robbiewhich was not from any lack of kindness, but solely because he wanted to say a great deal on the subject. Mrs Ogilvy by this time had come a little to herself, she had given up the foolish struggle with the handcuffs; and when Janet's over-frankness had drawn attention again to Lew, the mistress withdrew for a moment her own anxious looks from her son, and turned to the other, of whom she had said nothing, protecting him instinctively, even in the face of Robbie's danger. But when she looked at Lew's face, she trembled. The horror of last night came over her once more. Was that murder that was in it, the fire of hell? She had learned now what it meant when he put his hand to his pocket, and hers, perhaps, was the only eye that saw that gesture. He was looking at some one: was it at her, was it at some one behind her? Mrs Ogilvy instinctively made a step back, whether to escape in her own person, or to protect that other, she knew not, her eyes fixed on him with a fascination of terror. She stretched out her arms, with her shawl covering them like wings, facing him always, stretching forth what was like a white shield between him in his fury and all the unarmed defenceless people. She seemed to feel nothing but the sharp sound of the report, which rang through and through her. She did not know why she fell. There came a{359} shriek from the woman behind her, at whom that bullet was aimed; but the real victim fell softly without a cry, with a murmur of bewilderment, and the sharp sound still ringing, ringing in her ears. The man seemed to spring over her where she lay; but she knew no more of what had happened, except that soft arms came suddenly round her, and her head was raised on some one's breast, and Susie's voice began to sound over her, calling her name, asking where was she hurt. She did not know she was hurt. It all seemed to become natural again with the sound of Susie's voice. She did not lose consciousness, though she fell, and though it was evident now that the white shawl was all dabbled with red. It was hard to tell what it all meant, but yet there seemed some apology wanted. “He did not mean it,” she said; “he did not mean it. There isgood in him.” She laid her head back on Susie's bosom with a soft look of content. “It is maybenot so bad as you think,” she said.

    The shot was in the shoulder, and the wound bled a great deal. No ambulance classes nor amateur doctoring had reached so far as Eskholm; but Susie by the light of nature did all that was possible to stop the bleeding until the doctor came. She sent Janet off for cushions and pillows, to make so far as she could an impromptu bed, that the sufferer might rest more easily. Most of the police party had been ordered outside, though two of them still stood, a{360} living screen, between the group round the wounded woman and that figure lying in the doorway, which was not to be disturbed till the doctor came, some one having found or fancied a faint flutter in the heart. Mrs Ainslie, to do her justice, had been totally overwhelmed for the moment. She had flung herself down on her knees by Mrs Ogilvy's side, weeping violently, her face hidden in her hands. She was of no help in the dreadful strait; but at least she was in a condition of excitement and shattered nerves from which no help could be expected. Mr Logan had not taken any notice of her, though he was not yet aroused to any questions as to her behaviour and position here. He was moving about with soft suppressed steps from one side to another, in an agony of desire to do his duty, and consciousness of having been brought by a special providence. But the minister was appalled by the dead face in the moonlight, the great figure fallen like a tower. When it was said there was still life in him, he knelt down heroically by Lew's side, and tried to whisper into his ear an entreaty that still at the eleventh hour he should prepare to meet his God. And then he came round and looked over his daughter's head at Mrs Ogilvy. Ought he to recall to her mind the things that concerned her peace as long as she was able to hear? But the words died on the minister's lips. He was a good man, though he was not quick to understand, or able to divine. His lips{361} moved with the conventional phrases which belonged to his profession, which it was his duty to say; but he could not utter any of them. He felt with a curious stupefied sense of reality that most likely after all God was here, and knew more perfectly all about it than he.

    Meanwhile, the chief person in this scene lay quite still, not suffering as appeared, very quiet and tranquil in her mind, Susie's arm supporting her, and her head on Susie's breast. The bleeding had almost stopped, partly because of the complete peace, partly from Susie's expedients. Mrs Ogilvy, no doubt, thought she was dying; but it did not disturb her. The loss of blood had reduced her to that state of weakness in which there is no struggle. Impressions passed lightly over her brain in its confusion. Sometimes she asked a question, and then forgot what it was, and the answer to it together. She was aware of a coming and going in the place, a sense of movement, the strange voices and steps of the men about; but they were all part of the turmoil, and she paid no attention to them. Only she roused a little when Robbie stood near: he looked so large, when one looked up at him lying stretched out on the floor. He was talking to some one gravely, standing up, a free man, talking and moving like the master of the house. She smiled and held out a feeble hand to him, and he came immediately and knelt down by her side. “He did not{362} mean it,” she said. And then, “It is maybe not so bad as you think.” These were the little phrases which she had got by heart.

    He patted her on the sound shoulder with a large trembling hand, and bade her be quiet, very quiet, till the doctor came.

    “You have not left me, Robbie?”

    “No, mother.” His voice trembled very much, and he stooped and kissed her. “Never, never any more!”

    She smiled at him, lying there contented, with her head on Susie's breastjoyful, but not surprised by this news, for nothing could surprise her nowand then she motioned to him to come closer, and whispered, “Has he got away?”

    The appearance of the doctor, notwithstanding his pause and exclamation of horror at the door, was an unspeakable relief. That cry conveyed no information to the patient within, who did not seem even to require an answer to her question. There was no question any longer of any fluttering of Lew's heart. The slight shake of the doctor's head, the look on his face, his rapid, low-spoken directions for the removal of the dead man, renewed the dreadful commotion of the night for a moment. And then he had Mrs Ogilvy removed on the mattress which his skilled hands helped to place her on, into her own parlour, where he examined her wound. She was still quite{363} conscious, and told him over again her old phrases. “He did not mean it,”and “Maybe it will not be so ill as you think,”with a smile which wavered between consciousness and unconsciousness. Her troubled brain had got those words as it were by heart. She said them many times over during the course of the long and feverish night, during which she saw many visions, glimpses of her son bending over her, smoothing her pillow, touching her with ignorant tender hands, glimpses of Susie sitting beside her, coming and going. They were all dreams, she knewbut sometimes dreams are sweet. She was ill somehowbut oh, how immeasurably content!

    This catastrophe made Robert Ogilvy a manat least it gave him the courage and sense which since his arrival at home he seemed to have lost. He gave the police inspector an account of the man who was dead, who could no longer be extradited or tried, in Scotland or elsewhere. He did not conceal that he himself had been more or else connected with the troop which Lew had led. The inspector nodded. “We know all about that,” he said; “we know you didn't count,” which pricked Robbie all the more, half with the sense of injured pride, to prove that now at least he did count. His story filled up all that the authorities had wanted to know. What Lew's antecedents were, what his history had been, mattered{364} nothing in this country. They mattered very little even in that from which he came; and where already his adventures had dropped into the legends of the road which we still hear from America with wonder, as if the days of Turpin were not over. No one doubted Robert Ogilvy's word. He felt for the first time, on this night, when for a brief and terrible moment he had worn handcuffs, and borne the brand of shameand when he had felt that he was about to be left to stand in another man's name for his lifethat he was now a known person, the master, at least in a secondary sense, of a house which “counted,” though it was not a great house: and that he had, what he had never been conscious before of having, a local habitation and a name. Robbie was very much overpowered by this discovery, as well as by the other incidents of the night. He was not perhaps deeply moved by grief for his friend. The man had not been his friend; he had been his master, capable of fascinating and holding him, with an influence which he could not resist. But whenever he was removed from that influence, his mind and spirit had rebelled against it. Now it seemed impossible, too wonderful to believe, that he was free, that Lew's voice would never call him back, nor Lew's will rule him again. But neither was he glad. Lew had led him very far in these few daysalmost to the robbing, almost to the killing, of his motherhis mother, who{365} had fought for them both like a lion, who had done everything and dared everything for their sakes. But the slave, the bondsman, though he felt the thrill of his freedom in his veins, did not rejoice in the death of his taskmaster. It was too recent, too terrible, too tragical for that. The sight of that familiar face lying in the moonlight was always before himhe could not get it out of his eyes. He did not attempt to go to bed, but walked up and down, sometimes going into the drawing-room where his mother lay, with a wonderful tenderness towards her, altogether new to his consciousness, and understanding of the part she had played. He had never thought of this before. It had seemed to him merely the course of nature, what was to be expected, the sort of thing women did, and were glad and proud to be permitted to do. To have a son to do everything for was her delight. Why should not the son take it as such?she was pleasing herself. That was what he had always thought,he awakened to a different sense, another appreciation, not perhaps very vivid, but yet genuine. She had almost been killed for her lovesurely there was something in it after all, more than the course of nature. He was very sorry for her, to see her lying there with little spots of blood upon her white night-dress, and the shawl all covered with blood laid aside in the corner. Poor mother! She was old and she{366} was weak, and most likely she would die of it. And it was Lew's doing, and all for his own sake.

    The house had once more become still. The crowd of people who had so suddenly taken possession of it had surged away. No one knew how it was that Mr Logan and his daughter and the lady who was going to be his wife had appeared in that strange scene, and no one noted how at least the last-named person disappeared. One moment she was kneeling on the floor, in wild fits of convulsive weeping, her hat pushed back from her head, her light hair hanging loose, wholly lost in trouble and distress: the next she was gone. She had indeed stolen away in the commotion caused by the arrival of the doctor, when Mrs Ogilvy was taken away, and that tragic obstruction removed from the doorway. It is to be supposed that she had come to herself by that time. She managed to steal out unseen, though with a shudder crossing the threshold where Lew had lain. It was she doubly, both in her betrayal of him, and in her exasperation of him, who was the cause of all; but probably she did not realise that. She found her way somehow through the moonlight and the black shadows, along the road all slippery with the recent rain, to her own house, and there spent the night as best she might, packing up many things which she prized, clothes and trinkets, and the bibelots, which in their fashion and hers, she loved like her betters.{367} And early in the morning, by the first train, she went awayto Edinburgh, in the first place, and Eskholm saw her no more.

    When the doctor's ministrations were over, for which Mr Logan waited to hear the result, the minister went into all the rooms looking for her. He had thought she was helping Susie at first; then, that she had retired somewhere in the excess of her feelings, which were more exquisite and delicate than those of common folk. He had in the excitement of the time never thought of as yet, or even begun to wonder at, the position she had assumed here, and the part she had taken. He knew that if his Elizabeth had a fault, it was that she liked to be always in the front, taking a foremost place in everything. He waited as long as he could, looking about everywhere; and then, when he was quite sure she was not to be found, and saw the doctor starting on his walk home, took his hat and went also. “You think it will not be fatal, doctor?”

    “It may not beI cannot answer for anything. She's very quiet, which is much in her favour. But how, in the name of all that is wonderful, did I find a dead man, whom I never saw in life, lying across the doorsteps of the Hewan, and a quiet old lady like Mrs Ogilvy struck almost to death with a pistol-shot?”

    “It is a wonder indeed,” said the minister. “I, if{368} ye will believe me, was led there, I cannot tell ye how, with the idea of a common calland found the police all about the house. It is just the most extraordinary special providence,” said Mr Logan with solemnity, “that I ever encountered in the course of my life.” He began by this time to feel that he had been of great use. But he was a little troubled, poor man, by the thought of his Elizabeth running home by herself, as she must have done in the night. He passed her house on his way to the manse, and was relieved to find that there was a light in her bedroom window; but though he knocked and knocked again, and even went so far as to throw up gravel at the window, he could obtain no response. He went home full of thought. There began to rise into his mind recollections of things which he was not conscious of having noticed at the timeof the energy with which she had rushed to the front (but that was her way, he reflected, with a faint smile) and insisted with the inspector: and then some one had called her LizLiz!who was it that had called her Liz?

    Mr Logan's thoughts grew, through a night that was not very comfortable to him more than to the other persons involved. The absence of Susie made things worse. He would not have spoken to Susie on such a delicate subject, especially as she was already hostile; but still, if Susie had been therein her absence there was an usual tumult in the house, and he had no one{369} to save him from it. And his mind was sorely troubled. She had taken a part last night that would not have been becoming in a minister's wife. He would speak to her about it: and was itcould it besurely it was that robber villain, the suicide, the murderer, who had called her Liz? It added to all his troubles, that when he had finally made up his mind to go to hershe not coming to him, as was her habit in the morninghe found her gone. Away to Edinburgh with the first train, leaving her boxes packed, and a message that they would be sent for, her bewildered maid said. Mr Logan returned home, a sorely disturbed man. But he never saw more the woman who had so nearly been his wife. There was truth in the story she told her daughter and son-in-law in Edinburgh, that the scene she had witnessed had completely shattered her nerves, and that she did not think she could ever face the associations of that dreadful place again. She did not cheat anybody or rob anybody, but left her little affairs at Eskholm in Tom Blair's hands, who paid everything scrupulously. I don't know that he ever was repaid; but he saw very little of his mother-in-law after this extraordinary overturn of her fate.

    Mrs Ogilvy's wound took a long time to heal, but it did heal in the end. She was very weak, but had for a long time that wonderful exemption from care which is usually the privilege of the dying, though she did not die. Perhaps there was no time of her life when{370} she was happier than during these weeks of illness. Susie was by her bedside night and day. Robbie came in continually, a large shadow standing over her, staying but a moment at first, then longer, sitting by her, talking to her, answering her questions. I do not know that there was soon or fundamentally a great moral improvement in Robbie; but he had been startled into anxiety and kindness, and a little went a long way with those two women, who loved him. For there was little doubt in any mind, except perhaps in his own, that Susie loved him too, with something of the same tolerant, all-explaining, all-pardoning love which was in his mother's heart. She had done so all her life, waiting for him all those years, through which he never thought of her: that did not matter to Susie,nobody had ever touched her faithful simple heart but he. She would not perhaps have been an unhappy woman had he never come back: she would have gone on looking for him with a vague and visionary hope, which would have lent a grace to her gentle being, maiden-mother as she had been born. And even this wild episode, which she never quite understood, which she never desired to understand, made no difference to Susie. She forgave it all to the man who was dead, and shed tears over the horror of his fate; but she put easily all the blame upon him. Robbie had been faithful to the death for him, would have gone away instead of him to save him.{371} It covered Lew with a shining mantle of charity that he called forth so much that was noble in his friend.

    The minister, who was shamed to the heart, and wounded in his amour propre beyond expression by the desertion of Mrs Ainslie, and by the conviction, slowly forced upon him, that she had deceived him, and was no exquisite English lady of high pretensions but an adventuressfelt that the only amends he could make to himself and the world was to carry out his intention of marrying, and that as quickly as possible. Providence, as he piously said, directed his eyes to one of those kind old maids who fill up the crevices of the world, and who are often so humbly ready to take that position of nurse-housekeeper-wife, in which perhaps they can be of more use to their generation than in their solitude, and which satisfies, I suppose, the wish to belong to somebody, and be the first in some life, as well as the mother-yearning in their hearts. Such a blessed solution of the difficulty enchanted the parish, and satisfied the boys and the little girls, who had now unlimited petting to look forward toand set Susie free. She married Robert Ogilvy soon after his mother's recovery. Fortunately Mrs Ogilvy was never conscious of the details of the tragedy, and did not know ever what had lain there in the moonlight across her threshold. I doubt if she could have come and gone cheerfully as she did over that door-stone had she ever known. And the young{372} ones full of their own life forgotand the family of three continued in the Hewan in love and content. Robbie never became a model man. He never did anything, notwithstanding the fulness of his life and strength. He had no impulse to workrather the reverse: his impulses were all in the way of idleness; he lounged about and occupied himself with trifles, and gardened a little, and carpentered a little, and was never weary. It fretted the two women often, sometimes the length of despair, especially Susie, who would burst out into regrets of all his talents lost, and the great things he might have done. But Mrs Ogilvy did not echo those regrets: she was well enough aware what Robbie's talents were, and the great things which he would never have done. She represented to her daughter-in-law that if he had been weary of the quiet, if he had grown moody, tired of his idleness, tired of his life, as some men do, there would then have been occasion to complain. “But he is just very happy, God bless him!” his mother said. “And you and me, Susie, we are two happy women; and the Lord be thanked for all He has done for us, and no suffered me to go down famished and fasting to the grave.”

    The End
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