Annie came again to her chief, with the complaint that Mr. Sercombe
persisted in his attentions. Alister went to see her home. They had
not gone far when Sercombe overtook them, and passed. The chief told
Annie to go on, and called after him,
"I must have a word or two with you, Mr. Sercombe!"
He turned and came up with long steps, his hands in his
"I warned you to leave that girl alone!" said the chief.
"And I warn you now," rejoined Sercombe, "to leave me alone!"
"I am bound to take care of her."
"And I of myself."
"Not at her expense!"
"At yours then!" answered Sercombe, provoking an encounter, to which
he was the more inclined that he saw Ian coming slowly up the ridge.
"It was your deliberate intention then to forget the caution I gave
you?" said the chief, restraining his anger.
"I make a point of forgetting what I do not think worth
"I forget nothing!"
"I congratulate you."
"And I mean to assist your memory, Mr. Sercombe."
"Mr. Macruadh!" returned Sercombe, "if you expect me not to open my
lips to any hussy in the glen without your leave,--"
His speech was cut short by a box on the ear from the open hand of
the chief. He would not use his fist without warning, but such a
word applied to any honest woman of his clan demanded instant
Sercomhe fell back a step, white with rage, then darting forward,
struck straight at the front of his adversary. Alister avoided the
blow, but soon found himself a mere child at such play with the
Englishman. He had not again touched Sercombe, and was himself
bleeding fast, when Ian came up running.
"Damn you! come on!" cried Sercombe when he saw him; "I can do the
precious pair of you!"
"Stop!" cried Ian, laying hold of his brother from behind, pinning
his arms to his sides, wheeling him round, and taking his place.
"Give over, Alister," he went on. "You can't do it, and I won't see
you punished when it is he that deserves it. Go and sit there, and
"YOU can't do it, Ian!" returned Alister. "It is my business. One
blow in will serve. He jumps about like a goat that I can't hit
"You are blind with blood!" said Ian, in a tone that gave Sercombe
expectation of too easy a victory. "Sit down there, I tell you!"
"Mind, I don't give in!" said Alister, but turning went to the bank
at the roadside. "If he speak once again to Annie, I swear I will
make him repent it!"
Sercombe laughed insultingly.
"Mr. Sercombe," said Ian, "had we not better put off our bout till
to-morrow? You have fought already!"
"Damn you for a coward, come on!"
"Would you not like to take your breath for a moment?"
"I have all I am likely to need."
"It is only fair," persisted Ian, "to warn you that you will not
find my knowledge on the level of my brother's!"
"Shut up," said Sercombe savagely, "and come on."
For a few rounds Ian seemed to Alister to be giving Sercombe time to
recover his wind; to Sercombe he seemed to be saving his own. He
stood to defend, and did not attempt to put in a blow.
"Mr. Sercombe," he said at length, "you cannot serve me as you did
"I see that well enough. Come on!"
"Will you give your word to leave Annie of the shop alone?"
Sercombe answered with a scornful imprecation.
"I warn you again, I am no novice in this business!" said Ian.
Sercombe struck out, but did not reach his antagonist.
The fight lasted but a moment longer. As his adversary drew back
from a failed blow, Alister saw Ian's eyes flash, and his left arm
shoot out, as it seemed, to twice its length. Sercombe neither
reeled nor staggered but fell supine, and lay motionless. The
brothers were by his side in a moment.
"I struck too hard!" said Ian.
"Who can think about that in a fight!" returned Alister.
"I could have helped it well enough, and a better man would.
Something shot through me--I hope it wasn't hatred; I am sure it was
anger--and the man went down! What if the devil struck the blow!"
"Nonsense, Ian!" said Alister, as they raised Sercombe to carry him
to the cottage. "It was pure indignation, and nothing to blame in
"I wish I could be sure of that!"
They had not gone far before he began to come to himself.
"What are you about?" he said feebly but angrily. "Set me down."
They did so. He staggered to the road-side, and leaned against the
"What's been the row?" he asked. "Oh, I remember!--Well, you've had
the best of it!"
He held out his hand in a vague sort of way, and the gesture invaded
their soft hearts. Each took the hand.
"I was all right about the girl though," said Sercombe. "I didn't
mean her any harm."
"I don't think you did," answered Alister; "and I am sure you could
have done her none; but the girl did not like it."
"There is not a girl of the clan, or in the neighbourhood, for whom
my brother would not have done the same." said Ian.
"You're a brace of woodcocks!" cried Sercombe. "It's well you're not
out in the world. You would be in hot water from morning to night! I
can't think how the devil you get on at all!"
"Get on! Where?" asked Ian with a smile.
"Come now! You ain't such fools as you want to look! A man must make
a place for himself somehow in the world!"
He rose, and they walked in the direction of the cottage.
"There is a better thing than that," said Ian!
"To get clean out of it."
"What! cut your throats?"
"I meant that to get out of the world clean was better than to get
on in it."
"I don't understand you. I don't choose to think the man that
thrashed me a downright idiot!" growled Sercombe.
"What you call getting on," rejoined Ian, "we count not worth a
thought. Look at our clan! it is a type of the world itself.
Everything is passing away. We believe in the kingdom of heaven."
"Come, come! fellows like you must know well enough that's all bosh!
Nobody nowadays--nobody with any brains--believes such rot!"
"We believe in Jesus Christ," said Ian, "and are determined to do
what he will have us do, and take our orders from nobody else."
"I don't understand you!"
"I know you don't. You cannot until you set about changing your
whole way of life."
"Oh, be damned! what an idea! a sneaking, impossible idea!"
"As to its being an impossible idea, we hold it, and live by it. How
absurd it must seem to you, I know perfectly. But we don't live in
your world, and you do not even see the lights of ours."
"'There is a world beyond the stars'!--Well, there may be; I know
nothing about it; I only know there is one on this side of them,--a
very decent sort of world too! I mean to make the best of it."
"And have not begun yet!"
"Indeed I have! I deny myself nothing. I live as I was made to
"If you were not made to obey your conscience or despise yourself,
you are differently made from us, and no communication is possible
between us. We must wait until what differences a man from a beast
make its appearance in you."
"You are polite!"
"You have spoken of us as you think; now we speak of you as we
think. Taking your representation of yourself, you are in the
condition of the lower animals, for you claim inclination as the law
of your life."
"My beast is better than your man!"
"You mean you get more of the good of life!"
"Right! I do."
The brothers exchanged a look and smile.
"But suppose," resumed Ian, "the man we have found in us should one
day wake up in you! Suppose he should say, 'Why did you make a
beast of me?'! It will not be easy for you to answer him!"
"That's all moonshine! Things are as you take them."
"So said Lady Macbeth till she took to walking in her sleep, and
couldn't get rid of the smell of the blood!"
Sercombe said no more. He was silent with disgust at the nonsense of
They reached the door of the cottage. Alister invited him to walk
in. He drew back, and would have excused himself.
"You had better lie down a while," said Alister.
"You shall come to my room," said Ian. "We shall meet nobody."
Sercombe yielded, for he felt queer. He threw himself on Ian's bed,
and in a few minutes was fast asleep.
When he woke, he had a cup of tea, and went away little the worse.
The laird could not show himself for several days.
After this Annie had no further molestation. But indeed the young
men's time was almost up--which was quite as well, for Annie of the
shop, after turning a corner of the road, had climbed the hill-side,
and seen all that passed. The young ladies, hearing contradictory
statements, called upon Annie to learn the truth, and the
intercourse with her that followed was not without influence on
them. Through Annie they saw further into the character of the
brothers, who, if they advocated things too fine for the world the
girls had hitherto known, DID things also of which it would by no
means have approved. They valued that world and its judgment not a