As if inspired by fortune, or my good genius, Lady Louisa began thus, in
a low voice—
“By the way, Mr. Norcliff, you were to have shown me the house in which
Alexander Selkirk—or Robinson Crusoe—was born in 1676, I think you
“Oh; it is only a cottage, consisting of one storey and a garret; but
the next time we come to Largo, I shall show you his flip-can, musket,
and a lock of his hair.”
“Ah, that reminds me, Mr. Norcliff, that you must return to me the lock
of hair which you obtained when inspired with romance by Miss
Calderwood’s legend last night.”
“Lady Louisa, I implore your permission to retain it,” said I, in a low
“To what end, or for what reason?” she asked, with a furtive smile.
“I am going far, far away, and it will serve as a memento of many happy
days, and of one whom I shall never cease to remember, but with——”
“Why, you don’t mean to say that—that you are serious?” she asked, in a
voice that betrayed emotion, while my heart rose to my trembling lips,
and I turned to gaze upon her with an unmistakable expression of love
and tenderness, which made her colour come and go visibly.
Reassuring herself, she began to smile.
“Perhaps your creed is a soldier’s one?” said she, with a little
convulsive laugh, as she tied her veil under her chin.
“A soldier’s! I hope so; but in what sense do you mean?”
“’To love all that is lovely, and all that you can,’ as the song has
I laid a hand lightly on her soft arm, and was about to say something
there could be no misconstruing, while a film seemed to pass over my
eyes, and my soul rose to my lips; but Pitblado, who, whether he was
listening or not, had a sharp eye on the cattle, now said—
“Beg your pardon, sir, but I don’t like the look of that leader.”
“The blood mare with the white star on her forehead,” said I, touching
her lightly on the flank with the whip, and making her curvet; “she is
usually very quiet.”
“Perhaps so, sir; but she’s always clapping her ears close down—throwing
her eyes backward, and showing the whites. She’s up to mischief, I’m
“Jump down, then,” said I, “shorten the curb, and lengthen the traces by
a hole or two.”
This was done in a trice; Willie sprang into his seat like a harlequin,
and away we went from the Kirktoun of Largo at a rasping pace.
“She’s a lovely animal, with pasterns like a girl’s ankles; but she’s
clapping her tail a little too close in for my taste, sir, and she’s up
to some devilry,” persisted Pitblado, and ere long his surmises proved
“We’ve left the drag behind; distanced it clean already,” said I.
“It’s a heavier drag than the regimental one at head-quarters, sir,”
said Willie, taking the hint to look back now; but the sound of hoofs or
wheels could no longer be detected in the still evening air behind.
Full of blood and ill-natured, over-corned, and anxious to get back to
their stables, the speed of the animals increased to a pace that soon
became alarming, and the light vehicle to which they were harnessed, as
I have said, a tandem, swept along like a toy at their heels, while we
flew eastward by Halhill; and, ere we reached the woods of Balcarris,
where the road turns due north, and round by the base of Dunnikier Law,
it was evident that they were fairly and undoubtedly off!
The leader had got the bit between her teeth, and, when descending a
hill-side, the splinter-bar goaded the wheeler to madness. All my
strength, together with Pitblado’s, failed to arrest their mad career,
and, while imploring Lady Louisa, who clung to me, “to hold fast, to sit
still,” and so forth, I bent all my energies rather to guide them along,
and avoid collisions, than to attempt to stop them; and, to add to our
troubles, the patent drag gave way.
Luckily, the road was smooth, and free from all obstruction.
“To the left, sir—to the left,” shouted Pitblado, as we came to a place
where two roads branched off; “that is Drumhead. Our way lies due west.”
Pitblado might as well have shouted to the wind; the infuriated brutes
took their own way, and tore at an awful pace due north. Horses
pasturing by the wayside trotted to the rear, and sheep browsing in the
fields fled at our approach; cattle kicked up their heels, and scampered
away in herds. House-dogs barked, terriers yelled, and pursued us
open-mouthed; children, ducks, cocks, and hens fled from the village
gutters; peasants, at their cottage doors, held up their hands, with
shouts of fear, while broad fields and lines of leafless trees, turf
dykes, and hedges, drains, and thatched dwellings seemed all to fly past
with railway speed, or to be revolving in a circle round us.
A shriek of commiseration burst from my affrighted companion, when, just
as we swept past the base of Drumcarra Craig, in the cold, bleak, and
elevated district of Cameron, poor Willie Pitblado, who had risen to
give me the assistance of his hands in bearing on the reins, or for the
last time to try and let down the faulty drag, fell out behind, and
vanished in a moment. And now before us spread Magus Muir, where the
graves of Archbishop Sharpe’s murderers lie in a field that has never
been ploughed even unto this day.
Twilight had come on, and a brilliant aurora, forming great pillars of
variegated light, that shot upward and downward from the horizon to the
dome of heaven, filled all the northern quarter of the sky with singular
but many masses of streamers. Thus, the brilliance of the atmosphere
cast forward in strong and black outline the range of hills that bound
the Howe of Fife, and terminate the valley through which the Ceres flows
to join the Eden; and all this, I think, conduced to add to the terror
of the horses.
Pitblado’s fate greatly alarmed and concerned me, for he was a brave,
handsome, and faithful fellow, and an old acquaintance; but I had
another—a nearer, dearer—and more intense source of anxiety. If she who
sat beside me, clinging to me, and embracing my left arm with all her
energy—she whom I loved so deeply, and whom I had lured into the tandem,
when she might have been safely in the drag or carriage, should lose her
life that night, of what value would my future existence be, embittered
with such a terrible reflection?
“If a linchpin comes loose, or a trace gives way,” thought I, “all will
be over with us both.”
“Oh, Mr. Norcliff, Mr. Norcliff!” she exclaimed, while the tears, which
she had no means of wiping away, streamed over her pale and beautiful
face, and while her head half-reclined on my shoulder. “Heaven help us,
this is terrible—most terrible! We shall certainly be killed!”
“Then I hope it shall be _together_,” I exclaimed. “Lady Loftus—dear
Lady Loftus—dearest Louisa (here was a jump) trust to me, and me only!
(what stuff men will talk; who else could she trust to?) and if it is in
the power of humanity to save you, you shall be saved, or I shall die
with you. Louisa, oh, Louisa, hear me. I would not—I could not survive
you; but—but sit still, sit close, grasp me and hold on for Heaven’s
sake. (D—n that leader!) Oh, Louisa, I love you, love you dearly and
devotedly. You must believe me when I say it at a time like this; when
death, perhaps, is staring us face to face. Speak to me, dearest!”
I felt that the day, the hour, the moment of destiny had come; that time
of joy or sorrow forever, and casting all upon it, committing the reins
to my right hand, I threw my left arm round her, and pressing her to my
breast, told her again and again how fondly I loved her, while still our
mad steeds tore on.
“I know that you love me, Mr. Norcliff,” she said, in a low and agitated
voice, as her constitutional self-possession returned. “I have long
seen it—felt it.”
“My adorable Louisa!”
“And I will not—will not——”
She paused, painfully.
“What? Oh, speak.”
“Deny that I love you in return.”
“Heaven bless you, my darling, for saying so; for lifting a load of
anxiety from my heart, and for making me so happy,” I whispered, making
an effectual effort to kiss her forehead.
“But then, Mr. Norcliff——”
“Alas! yes; but what?”
“There is mamma; you know, perhaps, her views concerning me—ambitious
views; but we must take another time, if Heaven spares, to talk of that
“What time so good as this?” I exclaimed impetuously, as we tore along,
and Magus Muir, the Bishop’s Wood, and Gullane’s gravestone were left
behind. “Poor me, a lieutenant of the lancers; and the earl, your
“Oh, dear papa—good, easy man—I don’t think he troubles his head much in
the affair; but if mamma knew all this, such a violation of her standing
orders, heaven help us!”
She could almost have laughed but for the peril on which we were
rushing, and a shrill little cry escaped her, as the leader suddenly
quitted the hard highway, and, followed by the wheeler, passed throughan
open field gate, and continued at the same frightful speed across a
large space of pasture land that sloped steeply down to where my
forebodings told me the Eden lay, and there, sure enough, in less than a
minute, we could see the river rolling among the copsewood, with its
waters swollen by the snows that had recently melted among the Lomond
Though a placid stream usually, and having a pretty level course, in
that quarter the banks were rugged, and the bed full of fallen larches
and large boulder stones. If the vehicle overturned, what might be the
fate of her who had just acknowledged that she loved me?
A prayer—almost a solemn invocation—rose to my lips, when, with the
rapidity of light, the thought occurred to me of heading the leader
towards a little stone bridge that spanned the stream. It was a mere
narrow footway for shepherds, sheep, and cattle, and not of sufficient
breadth to permit the passage of a four-wheeled gig; but I knew that if
the latter could be successfully jammed between the walls, the course of
the runaways would be arrested.
There was no alternative between attempting this and risking death from
drowning or mutilation in the rugged bed of the swollen stream.
Down the steep grassy slope our foam-covered cattle rushed straight for
the narrow bridge; I grasped the rail of the seat with one hand and arm;
the other was round Louisa, lest the coming shock might throw us off.
In an instant we felt it, and she clung to me, half-fainting, as there
was a terrible crash, a ripping and splitting sound, as wood was smashed
and harness rent. Our course was arrested—the wheels and axle of the
fore-carriage wedged between the stone walls of the narrow bridge, the
wheeler kicking furiously at the splinter-bar and splash-board, and the
leader, the blood mare, the source of all the mischief, hanging over the
parapet in the stream, snorting, half-swimming, and for ought I cared,
My first thought was my companion. We both trembled in every limb as I
lifted her gently to the ground, and placed the seat-cushions on a
stone, where she might sit and compose herself till I considered what we
should do next, and where we were.
She was greatly agitated, but passively permitted me to encircle her
with my arms, to assure her that she was safe, to press her hands, and
to wipe away her tears caressingly. I forgot all about poor Pitblado,
“spilt” on the road, all about my uncle’s best blood mare hanging in the
traces, and all about the half-ruined gig.
In short, I felt only the most exquisite joy that I had gained, as it
were, life and Louisa together. It was that moment of intense rapture,
when, combined with the natural revulsion of feeling consequent to
escape from a deadly peril, I enjoyed that emotion which a man feels
once, and once only, in a lifetime, when the first woman he loves
confesses to a mutual regard; and, half-kneeling, I stooped over her,
kissing her again and again, assuring her—of I know not what.
From one of her fingers I transferred to mine a ring of small value—a
pearl set in blue enamel, leaving in its place a rose diamond. It was a
beautiful stone, of the purest water, which I had found when our troops
sacked the great pagoda at Rangoon, and I had it set at Calcutta by a
jeweller, who assured me that it was worth nine hundred rupees, or
ninety pounds, and I only regretted now that it was not worth ten times
as much, to be truly worthy of the slender finger on which I placed it.
She regarded me with a loving smile on her pale face, and in the quiet
depths of her soft dark eyes, as she reclined in my arms. I gazed on
her with emotions of the purest rapture. She was now humbled, gentle and
loving—this brilliant beauty, this proud earl’s daughter—mine,
indeed—all that a man could dream of as perfection in a woman or as a
wife; at least, I thought so then; and I was not a little proud of the
idea of what our mess would say—the colonel, Studhome, Scriven, Wilford,
Berkeley, and the rest—of a marriage that would certainly be creditable
to the regiment, though we had titles and honourables enough in the
lancers; and already, in fancy, I saw myself “tooling” into Maidstone
barrack-square in a dashing phaeton, with a pair of cream-coloured
ponies, with Norcliff and Loftus quartered on the panels, and silver
harness, and Louisa by my side, in one of the most perfect of morning
toilettes and of marriage bonnets that London millinery could produce.
Poor devil! with only two hundred per annum besides my pay, and the war
before me, I was thus acquiring castles in Airshire, and estates in the
Isle of Sky.
Oblivious of time, while the woods and hills of Dairsie were darkening
against the sky, while the murmuring Eden flowed past towards the Tay,
and the ever-changing spears and streamers of the northern aurora were
growing brighter and more bright, I remained by the side of Louisa,
wholly entranced, and only half-conscious that something should be done
to enable us to return home; for night was coming on—the early night of
the last days of January, when the sober sun must set at half-past
four—and I knew not how far we were from Calderwood Glen.
Suddenly a shout startled us; the hoofs of horses were heard coming
rapidly along the highway, and then three mounted men wheeled into the
field and rode straight towards us. To my great satisfaction, one
proved to be my faithful fellow, Willie Pitblado, who, not a wit the
worse for his capsize on the road, had procured horses and assistance at
the place called Drumhead, and tracked us to where we lay, wrecked by
the old bridge of the Eden.
“Poor Willie,” said Louisa, “I thought you were killed.”
“No, my lady,” said he, touching his hat; “it’s lang or the de’il dees
by the dykeside.”
Of this answer she could make nothing.
The gig was now released and run back, and though scratched, splintered,
and started in many places by the shock to which it had been subjected,
it was still quite serviceable. The wheeler was traced to it again, the
leader, her ardour completely cooled now, was fished out of the stream,
and harnessed again, and in less than half an hour, so able had been the
assistance rendered us, we were bowling along the highway towards my
An hour’s rapid driving soon brought us in sight of the long avenue, the
lighted windows, and quaint façade of the old mansion, at the door of
which I drew up; and as I threw the whip and reins to Willie Pitblado,
and, fearless now even of Mamma Chillingham, handed my companion down,
tenderly and caressingly, I found myself an engaged man, and the
_fiancé_ of one of the fairest women in Britain—the brilliant Louisa