The laird and his mother sat and looked at Kirsty as her horse tore up the brae.

"She can ride— can't she mother?" said Francis.

"Well enough for a hoiden," answered Mrs. Gordon.

"She rides to please her horse now, but she'll have him as quiet as yours before long," rejoined her son, both a little angry and a little amused at her being called a hoiden who was to him like an angel grown young with aeonian life.

"Yes," resumed his mother, as if she would be fair, "she does ride well! If only she were a lady that I might ask her to ride with me! After all it's none of my business what she is — so long as you don't want to marry her!" she concluded with an attempt at a laugh.

"But I do want to marry her, mother!" rejoined Francis.

A short year before, his mother would have said what was in her heart, and it would not have been pleasant to hear; but now she was afraid of her son, and was silent, but it added to her torture that she must be silent. To be dethroned in castle Weelset by the daughter of one of her own tenants, for as such she thought of them, was indeed galling. "The 276 impudent quean!" she said to herself. "She's ridden on her horse into the heart of the laird!" For the wholesome consciousness of her own shame, which she felt that her son was always sparing, she would have raged like a fury.

"You that might have had any lady in the land!" she said at length.

"If I might, mother, it would be just as vain to look for her equal. "

"You might at least have shown your mother the respect of choosing a lady to set in her place! You drive me from the house!"

"Mother," said Francis, "I have twice asked Kirsty Barclay to be my wife, and she has twice refused me."

"You may try her again: she had her reasons! she never meant to let you slip! If you got disgusted with her afterward, she would always have her refusal of you to throw in your teeth."

Francis laid his hand on his mother's, and stopped her horse.

"Mother, you compel me!" he said. "When I came home ill, and, as I thought, dying, you called me bad names, and drove me from the house. Kirsty found me in a hole in the earth, actually dying then, and saved my life."

"Good heavens, Francis! Are you mad still? How dare you tell such horrible falsehoods of your own mother? You never came near me! You went straight to Corbyknowe."

"Ask Mrs. Bremner if I speak the truth. She ran out after me, but could not get up with me. You drove me out; and if you do not know it now, you 277 do not need to be told how it is that you have forgotten it."

She knew what he meant and was silent.

"Then Kirsty went to Edinburgh, to sir Haco Macintosh, and with his assistance brought me to my right mind. If it were not for Kirsty, I should be in my grave, or wandering the earth a maniac. Even alive and well as I am, I should not be with you now had she not shown me my duty. "

"I thought as much. All this tyranny of yours, all your late insolence to your mother, comes from the power of that low-born woman over you! I declare to you, Francis Gordon, if you marry her, I will leave the house."

He made her no answer, and they rode the rest of the way in silence; but in that silence things grew clearer to him. Why should he take pains to persuade his mother to a consent which she had no right to withhold? His desire was altogether reasonable: why should its fulfilment depend on the unreason of one who had not strength to order her own behavior? He had to save her not to please her, gladly as he would have done both!

When he had helped her from the saddle, he would have remounted and ridden at once to Corbyknowe, but feared leaving her. She shut herself in her room till she could bear her own company no longer, and then went to the drawing-room, where Francis read to her, and played several games of backgammon with her. Soon after dinner she retired saying the ride had wearied her; and the moment Francis knew she was in bed, he got his horse, and galloped to the Knowe.

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