Before seven o’clock the book-room was full of people, soaked through with the mist. They were the people Marcella had known all her life—fisher-folk, farm labourers, crofters—and she felt a momentary exultant pride to think that, at a word from her father, they had thronged to his house. There seemed something fitting in their coming on All Souls’ Night into this bare room with the tattered pennant and the crackling wood fire that flickered on their weather-beaten faces. Their coming obediently to be talked to by her father for the good of their souls gave her a sense of savage exaltation for the moment. Then she saw Hunchback Wullie and Tammas and Jock, and went across to talk to them.
“Is the Lashcairn better, then?” asked Wullie. She shook her head.
“He says he’s going to die to-night, Wullie—All Souls’ Night,” she said in a low voice.
Wullie nodded comprehension.
Aunt Janet came into the room, her thin face set and grim, her rusty dress of old black satin all cracking, and her great cairngorm brooch marking her from the rest in capes and homespun. They drew away from her; she had never tried to associate with them; in her detachment she had never been human to them as Andrew had been in his wildness and his weakness, and now she walked silently across the room and sat down. The firelight shone out fiercely as she savagely poked the logs, and with a motion ordered young Jock, who stood near, to throw more wood to the flames. It shone on gnarled hands gripping gnarled sticks, on rugged, ruddy faces, on white and sandy hair, on bright blue eyes, old and young. And then the door opened sharply and Andrew Lashcairn stood there, leaning on his stick.
Everyone but Aunt Janet stared at him as the firelight flamed up to blue and purple flame, lighting his gaunt face. But Aunt Janet, like a fate, sat gazing up the misty side of Lashnagar through the uncovered window. Andrew stood still, looking from one to the other. Then he took two steps forward.
“Jamie Mactavish and Andrew Gray are not here,” he said sternly, as though he were a schoolmaster calling the roll. Explanations of the absence murmured out and he came inside, pushing the door to.
Marcella, standing by Wullie, was shivering with nervous dread, and suddenly noting his red-rimmed eyes, blazing and wild, she clutched Wullie’s arm.
“Wullie—look at him!” she whispered.
“He’s been at the bar’l,” muttered Wullie, and with a cry she started forward. But Wullie caught her back gently.
“He knows what he’s daein’, lassie,” he whispered, watching Andrew’s face expectantly, and the girl stood petrified beside him. It came to her very certainly that her father had realized he had not strength to make what he called his allegiance to God, and that at the last he had sought the momentary strength of the whisky that he knew would shatter his glass heart.
“That’s why he knew he would die to-day,” her voice whispered, choked in tears. She felt that she was in the grip of things that were bending and breaking her life as they liked.