Here the woman herself broke in upon Mr. Saul. “He had nae conscience—he had nae conscience. He was just a poor luck-child, born by mischance and put away without baptism. He had nae conscience. How should he?”
I looked from her to Mr. Saul in perplexity.
“Whist!” said he; “we’ll talk of that anon.”
“We will not,” said she. “We will talk of it now. He was my own child, sir, by the young Laird’s own father. That was before he was married upon the wife he took later—”
Here Mr. Saul nudged me, and whispered: “The old Laird—had her married to that daunderin’ old half-wit Duncan, to cover things up. This part of the tale is true enough, to my knowledge.”
“My bairn was overlaid, sir,” the woman went on; “not by purpose, I will swear before you and God. They buried his poor body without baptism; but not his poor soul. Only when the young Laird came, and my own bairn clave to him as Mackenzie to Mackenzie, and wrought and hunted and mended for him—it was not to be thought that the poor innocent, without knowledge of God’s ways—”
She ran on incoherently, while my thoughts harked back to the voice I had heard wailing behind the door of the entresol at Brussels; to the young Laird’s face, his furious indignation, followed by hopeless apathy, as of one who in the interval had learnt what he could never explain; to the marked coin so mysteriously spirited from sight; to Mr. Urquhart’s words before he left me on the night of Quatre Bras.
“But he was sorry,” the woman ran on; “he was sorry—sorry. He came wailing to me that night; yes, and sobbing. He meant no wrong; it was just that he loved his own father’s son, and knew no better. There was no priest living within thirty miles; so I dressed, and ran to the minister here. He gave me no rest until I started.”
I addressed Mr. Saul. “Is there reason to suppose that, besides this woman and (let us say) her accomplice, any one shared the secret of these pilferings?”
“Ardlaugh never knew,” put in the woman quickly. “He may have guessed we were helping him; but the lad knew nothing, and may the saints in heaven love him as they ought! He trusted me with his purse, and slight it was to maintain him. But until too late, he never knew—no, never, sir!”
I thought again of that voice behind the door of the entresol.
“Elspeth Mackenzie,” I said, “I and two other living men alone know of what your master was accused. It cannot affect him; but these two shall hear your exculpation of him. And I will write the whole story down, so that the world, if it ever hears the charge, may also hear your testimony, which of the two (though both are strange) I believe to be not the less credible.”
THREE MEN OF BADAJOS
You enter the village of Gantick between two round-houses set one on each side of the high road where it dips steeply towards the valley bottom. On the west of the opposite hill the road passes out between another pair of round-houses. And down in the heart of the village among the elms facing the churchyard lych-gate stands a fifth, alone.