Mrs. Mowbray took the minister’s arm with a little eagerness. “I am so
glad,” she said, “so very glad to have an opportunity of speaking to you
alone. I want so much to consult you, Mr. Buchanan. I should have
ventured to come over in the morning to ask for you, if I had not this
opportunity; but then your wife would have had to know, and just at
first I don’t want anyone to know–so I am more glad of this opportunity
than words can say—-”
“I am sure,” said Mr. Buchanan, steadily, “that I shall be very glad if
I can be of any use to you. I am afraid you will not find much to
interest you in our homely garden. Vegetables on one side, and flowers
on the other, but at the east corner there is rather a pretty view. I
like to come out in the evening, and see the lighthouses in the distance
slowly twirling round. We can see the Bell Rock—-”
“Oh, yes,” said Mrs. Mowbray, “I have no doubt it is very fine, but take
me to the quietest corner, never mind about the view–other people will
be coming to see the view, and to talk is what I want.”
“I don’t think anyone will be coming,” said the minister, and he led her
among the flower-beds, and across what was then, in homely language,
called not the lawn, but the green, to the little raised mound upon
which there was a little summer-house, surrounded with tall lilac
bushes–and the view. Mrs. Mowbray gave but a passing glance at the
“Oh, yes,” she said, “the same as you see from the cliffs, the
Forfarshire coast and the bay. It is very nice, but not
remarkable–whereas what I have got to say to you is of the gravest
importance–at least to Frank and me. Mr. Buchanan, as the clergyman,
you must know of everything that is going on–you knew the late Mr.
Anderson, my husband’s uncle, very well, didn’t you? Well, you know
Frank has always been brought up to believe himself his great-uncle’s
heir. And we believed it would be something very good. My poor husband,
in his last illness, always said, ‘Uncle John will provide for you and
the boy.’ And we thought it would be quite a good thing. Now you know,
Mr. Buchanan, it is really not at all a good thing.”
In the green shade of the foliage, Mr. Buchanan’s face looked gray. He
said, “Indeed, I am sorry,” in a mechanical way, which seemed intended
to give the impression that he was not interested at all.
“Oh, perhaps you think that is not of much importance,” said the lady.
“Probably you imagine that we have enough without that. But it is not
really so–it is of the greatest importance to Frank and me. Oh, here
are some people coming! I knew other people would be coming to see this
stupid view–when they can see it from the road just as well, any time
they please.”
It was a young pair of sweethearts who came up the little knoll,
evidently with the intention of appropriating the summer-house, and much
embarrassed to find their seniors in possession. They had, however, to
stay a little and talk, which they all did wildly, pointing out to each
other the distant smoke of the city further up, and the white gleam of
the little light-house opposite. Mrs. Mowbray said scarcely anything,
but glared at the intrusive visitors, to whom the minister was too
civil. Milly Beaton, who was one of these intruders, naturally knew
every point of the view as well as he did, but he pointed out everything
to her in the most elaborate way, at which the girl could scarcely
restrain her laughter. Then the young people heard, or pretended to
hear, some of their companions calling them, and hurried away.
“I knew,” said Mrs. Mowbray, “that we should be interrupted here—-”
“No, I don’t think so: there will be no more of it,” said the minister.
He was not so unwilling to be interrupted as she was. Then it occurred
to her, with a knowledge drawn from other regions than St. Rule’s, that
she was perhaps compromising the minister, and this idea gave her a
lively pleasure.
“They will be wondering what we have to say to each other,” she cried
with a laugh, and she perceived with delight, or thought she perceived,
that this idea discomposed Mr. Buchanan. He changed colour, and shuffled
from one foot to the other, as he stood before her. She had placed
herself on the garden-seat, within the little chilly dark green bower.
She had not contemplated any such amusement, but neither had she time to
indulge in it, which might have been done so very safely with the
minister. For it was business that was in her mind, and she felt herself
a business woman before all.
“Fortunately,” she went on, “nobody can the least guess what I want to
consult you about. Oh! here is another party! I knew how it would be.
Take me to see your cabbages, Mr. Buchanan, or anywhere. I must speak to
you without continual interruptions like this.”
Her tone was a little imperative, which the minister resented. He was
not in the habit of being spoken to in this way, and he was extremely
glad of the interruption.
“It is only a parcel of boys,” he said, “they will soon go.” Perhaps he
did not perceive that the carefully-attired Frank was among the others,
led by his own older son John, who, Mr. Buchanan well knew, would not
linger when he saw how the summer-house was occupied. Frank, however,
came forward and made his mother a satirical bow.
“Oh, this is where you are, mater?” he said. “I couldn’t think where
you had got to. My compliments, I wouldn’t interrupt you for the world.”
“You ridiculous boy!” Mrs. Mowbray said; and they both laughed, for what
reason neither Mr. Buchanan nor his serious son John could divine.
“So you have come up, too, to see the view,” said the lady; “I never
knew you had any love for scenery and the beauties of nature.”
“Do you call this scenery?” said Frank, who, in his mother’s presence,
felt it necessary to be superior as she was. “If you could only have the
ruins in the foreground, instead of this great bit of sea, and those
nasty little black rocks.”
“They may be little,” said John, with all the sudden heat of a son of
St. Rule’s, “but they’re more dangerous than many that are far bigger. I
would not advise you to go near them in a boat. Father, isn’t that
“It is true that it is a dangerous coast,” said Mr. Buchanan, “that is
the reason why no ship that can help it comes near the bay.”
“I don’t care for that kind of boating,” said Frank. “Give me a wherry
on the river.”
“Give you a game–a ball, or something,” said his mother, exasperated.
“You ought to get up something to amuse the young ladies. Doesn’t Mrs.
Buchanan allow dancing? You might teach them, Frank, some of the new
“We want you for that, mater,” said the lad.
“Oh, I can’t be bothered now. I’ve got some business to talk over with
Mr. Buchanan.”
Frank looked malicious and laughed, and Mrs. Mowbray laughed, too, in
spite of herself. The suggestion that she was reducing the minister to
subjection was pleasant, even though it was an interruption. Meanwhile,
Mr. Buchanan and his son stood gazing, absolutely unable to understand
what it was all about. John, however, not used to badinage, seized with
a firm grip the arm of the new-comer.
“Come away, and I’ll take you into the Castle,” he said, giving a drag
and push, which the other, less vigorous, was not able to resist.
“I cannot stand this any longer,” cried Mrs. Mowbray, “take me please
somewhere–into your study, Mr. Buchanan, where I can talk to you
undisturbed. I am sure for once your wife will not mind.”
“My wife!” the minister said, in great surprise, “why should my wife
mind?” But it was certain, that he did himself mind very much, having
not the faintest desire to admit this intruder into his sanctum. But it
was in vain to resist. He took her among the cabbages as she had
suggested, but by this time the garden was in the possession of a young
crowd penetrating everywhere, and after an ineffectual attempt among
those cabbages to renew the conversation, Mrs. Mowbray so distinctly
declared her desire to finish her communication in the study, that he
could no longer resist. Mrs. Mowbray looked about her, before she had
taken her seat, and went into the turret-room with a little curiosity.
“I suppose you never admit anyone here,” she said.
“Admit! No, but the two younger children used to be constantly here,”
said Mr. Buchanan. “They have left some of their books about still.
There was a great alliance between them a few years ago, but since Rodie
grew more of a school-boy, and Elsie more of a woman—-”
“Elsie! why, she is quite grown-up,” said the visitor. “I hope you don’t
let her come here to hear all your secrets. I shouldn’t like her to hear
mine, I am sure. Is there any other door?”
“There is neither entrance nor exit, but by my study door,” Mr. Buchanan
said, somewhat displeased.
“Well, that is a good thing. I hope you always make sure when you
receive your penitents that there is nobody there.”
The minister made no reply. He thought her a very disagreeable, very
presuming and impertinent woman; but he placed a chair for her with all
the patience he could muster. He had a faint feeling as if she had
lodged an arrow somewhere in him, and that he felt it quivering, but did
not inquire into his sensations. The first thing seemed to be to get rid
of her as quickly as he could.
“Now we can talk at last,” she said, sinking down into the arm-chair,
stiff and straight as it was–for the luxury of modern days had scarcely
yet begun and certainly had not come as far as St. Rule’s–which Mrs.
Buchanan generally occupied when she came upstairs to talk over their
“whens and hows” with her husband.
“It is very serious indeed, and I am very anxious to know if you can
throw any light upon it. Mr. Morrison, the man of business, tells me
that old Mr. Anderson had lent a great deal of money to various people,
and that it proved quite impossible to get it back. Was that really the
case? or is this said merely to cover over some defalcations–some—-”
“Morrison,” cried the minister, almost angrily, “is as honourable a man
as lives; there have been no defalcations, at least so far as he is
“It is very satisfactory to hear that,” said Mrs. Mowbray, “because of
course we are altogether in his hands; otherwise I should have got my
English solicitor to come down and look into matters. But you know one
always thinks it must be the lawyer’s fault–and then so many men go
wrong that have a very good reputation.”
Mr. Buchanan relieved his heart with a long painful breath. He said:
“It is true; there are such men: but Morrison is not one of them.”
“Well, that’s satisfactory at least to hear,” she said doubtfully, “but
tell me about the other thing. Is it true that our old uncle was so
foolish, so mad–I really don’t know any word sufficiently severe to
use–so unjust to us as to give away his money on all hands, and lend
to so many people without a scrap of acknowledgment, without so much as
an I.O.U., so that the money never could be recovered; is it possible
this can be true?”
Mr. Buchanan was obliged to clear his throat several times before he
could speak.
“Mr. Anderson,” he said, “was one of the men who are so highly commended
in Scripture, though it is perhaps contrary to modern ideas. The
merciful man is merciful and lendeth. He was a providence to many
troubled persons. I had heard—-”
“But, Mr. Buchanan,” cried the lady, raising herself up in her chair,
“you cannot think that’s right; you cannot imagine it is justifiable.
Think of his heirs.”
“Yes,” he replied, “perhaps at that time he did not think of his heir.
If it had been his own child–but we must be fair to him. Your son was
not a very near relation, and he scarcely knew the boy.”
“Not a near relation!” exclaimed Mrs. Mowbray, “but he was the nearest
relation. There was no one else to count at all. A man’s money belongs
to his family. He has no right to go and alienate it, to give a boy
reason to expect a good fortune, and then to squander the half of it,
which really belonged to Frank more than to him.”
“You must remember,” said the minister, with a dreadful tightening at
his throat, feeling that he was pleading for himself as well as for his
old benefactor, “you must remember that the money did not come from the
family–in which case all you say might be true–but from his own
exertions; and probably he believed what is also written in Scripture,
that a man has a right to do what he will with his own.”
“Oh, Mr. Buchanan!” cried Mrs. Mowbray, “that I should hear a clergyman
speak like this. Who is the widow and the orphan to depend upon, if not
on the clergy, to stand up for them and maintain their rights? I should
have thought now that instead of encouraging people who got round this
old man–who probably was not very clear in his head at the end of his
life–and got loans from him, you would have stood up for his heirs and
let them know–oh! with all the authority of the church, Mr.
Buchanan–that it was their duty before everything to pay their debts,
all the more,” cried the lady, holding up an emphatic finger, “all the
more if there was nothing to show for them, no way of recovering them,
and it was left to their honour to pay.”
The minister had been about to speak; but when she put forth this
argument he sat dumb, his lips apart, gazing at her almost with a look
of terror. It was a full minute before he attempted to say anything, and
that in the midst of a discussion of this sort seems a long time. He
faltered a little at last, when he did speak.
“I am not sure,” he said, “that I had thought of this: but no doubt you
are right, no doubt you are right.”
“Certainly I am right,” she cried, triumphant in her victory. “I knew
you would see the justice of it. Frank has always been brought up to
believe that he would be a rich man. He has been brought up with this
idea. He has the habits and the notions of a man with a very good
fortune; and now that I am here and can look into it, what is it? A mere
competence! Nothing that you could call a fortune at all.”
Oh, what it is to be guilty! The minister had not a word to say. He
looked piteously in her face, and it seemed to him that it was an
injured woman who sat before him, injured by his hand. He had never
wronged any one so far as he knew before, but this was a woman whom he
had wronged. She and her son, and her son’s children to all possible
generations,–he had wronged them. Though no one else might know it, yet
he knew it himself. Frank Mowbray’s fortune, which was not a fortune,
but a mere competence, had been reduced to that shrunken measure by him.
His conscience smote him with her voice. There was nothing to show for
it, no way of recovering it; it was a debt of honour, and it was this
that he refused to pay. He trembled under her eye. He felt that she must
be able to read to the bottom of his soul.
“I am very sorry,” he said; “I am afraid that perhaps none of us thought
of that. But it is all past–I don’t know what I could do, what you
would wish me to do.”
“I would wish you,” cried Mrs. Mowbray, “to talk to them about it. Ah! I
knew I should not speak in vain when I spoke to you. It is a shameful
thing, is it not, to defraud a truthful, inexperienced boy, one that
knows nothing about money nor how to act in such circumstances. If he
had not his mother to speak for him, what would become of Frank? He is
so young and so peace-making. He would say don’t bother if he heard me
speaking about it. He would be content to starve himself, and let other
people enjoy what was his. I thought you would tell me perhaps who were
the defaulters.”
“No, I certainly could not do that,” he said harshly, with a sound in
his voice which made him not recognise it for his. He had a momentary
feeling that some one else in the room, not himself, had here interposed
and spoken for him.
“You could not? you mean you would not. And you the clergyman, the
minister that should protect the orphan! Oh, Mr. Buchanan, this is not
what I expected when I braced up my nerves to speak to you. I never
thought but that you would take up my cause. I thought you would perhaps
go round with me to tell them they must pay, and how badly my poor boy
had been left: or that at least you would preach about it, and tell the
people what was their duty. He must have lent money to half St. Rule’s,”
cried Mrs. Mowbray; “those people that all look so decent and so
well-dressed on Sunday at church. They are all as well-dressed (though
their clothes are not well made) as any one need wish to be: and to
think they should be owing us hundreds, nay, thousands of money! It is a
dreadful thing for my poor Frank.”
“Not thousands,” said the minister, “not thousands. A few hundreds
perhaps, but not more.”
“I beg your pardon,” said Mrs. Mowbray. “I have heard there was one that
got four hundred out of him; at interest and compound interest, what
does that come to by this time? Not much short of thousands, Mr.
Buchanan, and there may be many more.”
“Did Morrison tell you that?” he asked hastily.
“No matter who told me. How am I to get at that man? I should make him
pay up somehow, oh trust me for that, if I could only make out who he
“There was no such man,” said the minister. There breathed across his
mind, as he spoke, the burden of the parable: “Take now thy bill, and
sit down quickly, and write fourscore.” “I have not heard of any of Mr.
Anderson’s debtors who had got so large a loan as that: but Morrison
expressly said that it was in the will he had freely forgiven them all.”
“I should not forgive them,” cried the lady, harshly. “Get me a list of
them, Mr. Buchanan, give me a list of them, and then we shall see what
the law will say. Get me a list of them, Mr. Buchanan! I am sure that
you must know them all.”
“I don’t know that I could tell you more than one of them.”
“That will be the four hundred man!” cried Mrs. Mowbray. “Tell me of
him, tell me of him, Mr. Buchanan, and I shall always be grateful to
you. Tell me the one you know.”
“I must first think it over–and–take counsel,” the minister said.