THE MOWBRAYS

Mrs. Mowbray and her son had reappeared for a short time on several
occasions during these silent years. They had come at the height of the
season for “the gowff,” which Frank, not having been a St. Rule’s boy,
nor properly brought up to it, played badly like an Englishman. It must
be understood that this was generations before golf had penetrated into
England, and when it was, in fact, thought of contemptuously by most of
the chance visitors, who considered it a game for old gentlemen, and
compared it scornfully with cricket, and called the clubs “sticks,” to
the hot indignation of the natives. Since then “the gowff” has had its
revenges, and it is now the natives who are scornful, and smile grimly
over the crowds of the strangers who are so eager, but never can get
over the disabilities of a childhood not dedicated to golf. Not only
Rodie, and Alick, and Ralph, but even Johnny Wemyss, who, though he
rarely played, had yet a natural understanding of the game, laughed at
the attempts of Frank, and at his dandyism, and his “high English,” and
many other signs of the alien, who gave himself airs, or was supposed to
do so. But, at the period of which I am now speaking, Frank had become
a man, and had learned several lessons in life. He was, indeed, older
than even Johnny Wemyss; he was nearly twenty-five, and had been at an
English University, and had had a large pair of whiskers, and was no
longer a dandy. The boys recognised him as a fellow-man, even as a man
in an advanced stage, who knew some things they did not, but no longer
gave himself airs. He had even learned that difficult lesson, which many
persons went through life without ever learning, that he could not play
golf. And when he settled himself with his mother in the old house which
belonged to him, in the beginning of summer, and addressed himself
seriously to the task of making up his deficiencies, his youthful
acquaintances rallied round him, and forgot their criticisms upon his
neckties, and his spats, and all the ornamental particulars of “the
fashion,” which he brought with him; nay, they began secretly to make
notes of these points, and shyly copied them, one after another, with a
great terror of being laughed at, which would have been completely
justified by results, but for the fact that they were all moved by the
same temptation. When, however, Rodie Buchanan and Alick Seaton, both
stepping out, with much diffidence, on a fresh Sunday morning, in their
first spats, red with apprehension, and looking about them suspiciously,
with a mingled dread of and desire to be remarked, suddenly ran upon
each other, they both paused, looked at each other’s feet, and, with
unspeakable relief, burst into a roar of laughter, which could be heard
both east and west to the very ends of the town; not very proper, many
people thought, on the Sunday morning, especially in the case of a
minister’s son. They were much relieved, however, to find themselves
thus freed from the terror of ridicule, and when all the band adopted
the new fashion, it was felt that the High Street had little to learn
from St. James’s, as well as–which was always known–much that it could
teach that presumptuous locality. Johnny Wemyss got no spats, he did not
pretend to follow the fashion; he smiled a little grimly at Frank, and
had a good hearty roar over the young ones, when they all defiled before
him on the Sunday walk on the links, shamefaced, but pleased with
themselves, and, in the strength of numbers, joining in Johnny’s laugh
without bitterness. Frank was _bon prince_, even in respect to Johnny;
he went so far as to pretend, if he did not really feel, an interest in
the “beasts,” and never showed any consciousness of the fact that this
member of the community had a different standing-ground from the others,
a fact, however, which, I fear, Mrs. Mowbray made very apparent, when
she in any way acknowledged the little company of young men.
Mrs. Mowbray herself had not improved in these years. She had a look of
care which contracted her forehead, and gave her an air of being older
than she was, an effect that often follows the best exertions of those
who desire to look younger than they are. She talked a good deal about
her expenses, which was a thing not common in those days, and about the
difficulty of keeping up a proper position upon a limited income, with
all Frank’s costly habits, and her establishment in London, and the
great burden of keeping up the old house in St. Rule’s, which she would
like to sell if the trustees would permit her. By Mr. Anderson’s will,
however, Frank did not come of age, so far as regarded the Scotch
property, till he was twenty-five, and thus nothing could be done. She
had become a woman of many grievances, which is not perhaps at any time
a popular character, complaining of everything, even of Frank; though he
was the chief object of her life, and to demonstrate his superiority to
everybody else, was the chief subject of her talk, except when her
troubles with money and with servants came in, or the grievance of Mr.
Anderson’s misbehaviour in leaving so much less money than he ought,
overwhelmed all other subjects. Mrs. Mowbray took, as was perhaps
natural enough, Mr. Buchanan for her chief confidant. She had always,
she said, been in the habit of consulting her clergyman; and though
there was a difference, she scarcely knew what, between a clergyman and
a minister, she still felt that it was a necessity to have a spiritual
guide, and to lay forth the burden of her troubles before some one, who
would tell her what it was her duty to do in circumstances so
complicated and trying. She learned the way, accordingly, to Mr.
Buchanan’s study, where he received all his parish visitors, the elders
who came on the business of the Kirk session, and any one who wished to
consult him, whether upon spiritual matters, or upon the affairs of the
church, or charitable institutions. The latter were the most frequent,
and except a poor widow-woman in search of aid for her family, or, with
a certificate for a pension to be signed, or a letter for a hospital,
his visitors were almost always rare. It was something of a shock when a
lady, rustling in silk, and with all her ribbons flying, was first shown
in by the half-alarmed maid, who had previously insisted, to the verge
of ill-breeding, that Mrs. Buchanan was in the drawing-room: but as time
went on, it became a very common incident, and the minister started
nervously every time a knock sounded on his door, in terror lest it
should be she.
In ordinary cases, I have no doubt Mr. Buchanan would have made a little
quiet fun of his visitor, whose knock and step he had begun to know, as
if she had been a visitor expected and desired. But what took all the
fun out of it and prevented even a smile, was the fact that he was
horribly afraid of her all the time, and never saw her come in without a
tremor at his heart. It seemed to him on each repeated visit that she
must in the interval since the last have discovered something: though he
knew that there was nothing to discover, and that the proofs of his own
culpability were all locked up in his own heart, where they lay and
corroded, burning the place, and never permitting him to forget what he
had done, although he had done nothing. How often had he said to himself
that he had done nothing! But it did him no good, and when Mrs. Mowbray
came in with her grievances, he felt as if each time she must denounce
him, and on the spot demand that he should pay what he owed. Oh, if that
only could be, if she had denounced him, and had the power to compel
payment, what a relief it would have been! It would have taken the
responsibility off his shoulders, it would have brought him out of hell.
There would then have been no possibility of reasoning with himself, or
asking how it was to be done, or shrinking from the shame of revealing
even to his wife, what had been his burden all these years. He had in
his imagination put the very words into her mouth, over and over again.
He had made her say: “Mr. Buchanan, you were owing old Mr. Anderson
three hundred pounds.” And to this he had replied: “Yes, Mrs. Mowbray,”
and the stone had rolled away from his heart. This imaginary
conversation had been repeated over and over again in his mind. He never
attempted to deny it, never thought now of taking his bill and writing
fourscore. Not an excuse did he offer, nor any attempt at denial. “Yes,
Mrs. Mowbray:” that was what he heard himself saying: and he almost
wished it might come true.
The condition of strange suspense and expectation into which this
possibility threw him, is very difficult to describe or understand. His
wife perceived something, and perhaps it crossed her mind for a moment
that he liked those visits, and that there was reason of offence to
herself in them: but she was a sensible woman and soon perceived the
folly of such an explanation. But the mere fact that an explanation
seemed necessary, disturbed her, and gave her an uncomfortable sensation
in respect to him, who never had so far as she knew in all their lives
kept any secret from her. What was it? The most likely thing was, that
the secret was Mrs. Mowbray’s which she had revealed to him, and which
was a burden on his mind because of her, not of himself. _That_
woman–for this was the way in which Mrs. Buchanan began to describe the
other lady in her heart–was just the sort of woman to have a history,
and what if she had burdened the minister’s conscience with it to
relieve her own? “I wonder,” she said to Elsie one day, abruptly, a
remark connected with nothing in particular, “what kind of mind the
Catholic priests have, that have to hear so many confessions of ill
folks’ vices and crimes. It must be as if they had done it all
themselves, and not daring to say a word.”
“What makes you think of that, mother?” said Elsie.
“It is no matter what makes me think of it,” said Mrs. Buchanan, a
little sharply. “Suppose you were told of something very bad, and had to
see the person coming and going, and never knowing when vengeance might
overtake them by night or by day.”
“Do you mean, mother, that you would like to tell, and that they should
be punished?” Elsie said.
“It would not be my part to punish her,” said the mother, unconsciously
betraying herself. “No, no, that would never be in my mind: but you
would always be on the outlook for everything that happened if you
knew–and specially if she knew that you knew. Whenever a stranger came
near, you would think it was the avenger that was coming, or, at the
least, it was something that would expose her, that would be like a clap
of thunder. Bless me, Elsie, I cannot tell how they can live and thole
it, these Catholic priests.”
“They will hear so many things, they will not think much about them,”
Elsie said, with philosophy.
“No think about them! when perhaps it is life or death to some poor
creature, and her maybe coming from time to time looking at you very
wistful as if she were saying: ‘Do you think they will find me out? Do
you think it was such a very bad thing? do you think they’ll kill me for
it?’ I think I would just go and say it was me that did it, and would
they give me what was my due and be done with it, for ever and ever. I
think if it was me, that is what I would do.”
“But it would not be true, mother.”
“Oh, lassie,” said Mrs. Buchanan, “dinna fash me with your trues and
your no trues! I am saying what I would be worked up to, if my
conscience was bowed down with another person’s sin.”
“Would it be worse than if it was your own?” asked Elsie.
“A great deal worse. When you do what’s wrong yourself, everything that
is in you rises up to excuse it. You say to yourself, Dear me, what are
they all making such a work about? it is no so very bad, it was because
I could not help it, or it was without meaning any harm, or it was
just–something or other; but when it is another person, you see it in
all its blackness and without thinking of any excuse. And then when it’s
your own sin, you can repent and try to make up for it, or to confess it
and beg for pardon both to him you have wronged, and to God, but
especially to him that is wronged, for that is the hardest. And in any
way you just have it in your own hands. But you cannot repent for
another person, nor can you make up, nor give her the right feelings;
you have just to keep silent, and wonder what will happen next.”
“You are meaning something in particular, mother?” Elsie said.
“Oh, hold your tongue with your nonsense, everything that is, is
something in particular,” Mrs. Buchanan said. She had been listening to
a rustle of silk going past the drawing-room door; she paused and
listened, her face growing a little pale, putting out her hand to hinder
any noise, which would prevent her from hearing. Elsie in turn watched
her, staring, listening too, gradually making the strange discovery that
her mother’s trouble was connected with the coming of Mrs. Mowbray, a
discovery which disturbed the girl greatly, though she could not make
out to herself how it was.
Mrs. Buchanan could not refrain from a word on the same subject to her
husband. When she went to his room after his visitor was gone, she found
him with his elbows supported on his table and his face hidden in his
hands. He started at her entrance, and raised his head suddenly with a
somewhat scared countenance towards her: and then drawing his papers
towards him, he began to make believe that he had been writing. “Well,
my dear,” he said, turning a little towards her, but without raising his
eyes.
“Claude, my dear, what ails you that you should start like that–when
it’s just me, your own wife, coming into the room?”
“Did I start?” he said; “no, I don’t think I started: but I did not hear
you come in.” Then with a pretence at a smile he added, “I have just had
a visit from that weariful woman, Mrs. Mowbray. It was an evil day for
me when she was shown the way up here.”
“But surely, Claude,” said Mrs. Buchanan, “it was by your will that she
ever came up here.”
“Is that all you know, Mary?” he said, with a smile. “Who am I, that I
can keep out a woman who is dying to speak about herself, and thinks
there is no victim so easy as the minister. It is just part of the day’s
duty, I suppose.”

“But you were never, that I remember, taigled in this way before,” Mrs.
Buchanan said.
“I was perhaps never brought face to face before with a woman determined
to say her say, and that will take no telling. My dear, if you will free
me of her, you will do the best day’s work for me you have ever done in
your life.”
“There must be something of the first importance in what she has to
say.”
“To herself, I have no doubt,” said the minister, with a deep sigh. “I
am thinking there is no subject in the world that has the interest our
own affairs have to ourselves. She is just never done: and all about
herself.”
“I am not a woman to pry into my neighbour’s concerns: but this must be
some sore burden on her conscience, Claude, since she has so much to say
to you.”
“Do you think so?” he cried. “Well, that might perhaps be an
explanation: for what I have to do with her small income, and her way of
spending her money, and her house, and her servants, I cannot see. There
is one thing that gives it a sting to me. I cannot forget that we have
something to do with the smallness of her income,” Mr. Buchanan said.
“We to do with smallness of her income! I will always maintain,” said
Mrs. Buchanan, “that the money was the old man’s, and that he had the
first right to give it where he pleased; but, dear Claude, man, you that
should ken–what could that poor three hundred give her? Fifteen pound
per annum; and what is fifteen pound per annum?–not enough to pay that
English maid with all her airs and graces. If it had been as many
thousands, there might have been some justice it.”
“That is perhaps an idea,” said the harassed minister, “if we were to
offer her the interest, Mary? My dear, what would you say to that? It
would be worse than ever to gather together that money and pay it back;
but fifteen pounds a year, that might be a possible thing; you might put
your shoulder to the wheel, and pay her that.”
“Claude,” said Mrs. Buchanan, “are you sure that is all the woman is
wanting? I cannot think it can be that. It is just something that is on
her conscience, and she wants to put it off on you.”
“My dear,” said the minister, “you’re a very clever woman, but you are
wrong there. I have heard nothing about her conscience, it is her wrongs
that she tells to me.” The conversation had eased his mind a little, and
his wife’s steady confidence in his complete innocence in the matter,
and the perfect right of old Anderson to do what he liked with his own
money, was always, for the moment at least, refreshing to his soul:
though he soon fell back on the reflection that the only fact of any
real importance in the matter was the one she never knew.
Mrs. Buchanan was a little disconcerted by the failure of her prevision,
but she would not recede. “If she has not done it yet, she will do it
sometime. Mind what I am saying to you, Claude: there is something on
her conscience, and she wants to put it off on you.”
“Nonsense, Mary,” he said. “What should be on the woman’s conscience?
and why should she try to put it upon mine? Dear me, my conscience would
be far easier bearing the weight of her ill-doing than the weight of my
own. We must get this beam out of our own eye if we can, and then the
mote in our neighbour’s–if there is a mote–will be easy, oh, very
easy, to put up with. It is my own burden that troubles me.”
“Toot,” said Mrs. Buchanan, “you are just very exaggerated. It was most
natural Mr. Anderson should do as he did, knowing all the
circumstances–and you, what else should you do, to go against him? But
you will just see,” she added, confidently, “that I will prove a true
prophet after all. If it has not been done, it will be done, and you
will get her sin to bear as well as your own.”