Strickland went, to the hall, where he found Alice.
“Come to the fire! I’ve been watching the snow, but it is so white and thick and still it fair frightens me! Davie told you that Alexander has come?”
“Yes. From Edinburgh to-day.”
“Yes. He left London as soon as he had our letters.”
She stood opposite him, a bright and bonny lass, with a look of her mother, but with more beauty. The light from the burning logs deepened the gold in her hair, as the warmth made more vivid the rose of her cheek. She owned a warm and laughing heart, a natural goodness. Strickland, who had watched and taught her since she was a slip of a child, had for her a great fondness.
Jamie entered the hall. “Father’s awake now, but Aunt Grizel and Tibbie Ross will not tell him Alexander’s come until they’ve given him something to eat.” He came to the fire and stood, his blue eyes glinting light. “It’s fine to see Alexander! The whole place feels different!”
“You’ve got a fine love for Alexander,” said Strickland. So long had he lived with the Jardines of Glenfernie that they had grown like own folk to him, and he to them. He looked very kindly at the young man, handsome, big, flushed with feeling. He did not say, “Now you’ll be going, Jamie, and he’ll be staying,” but the thought was in mind, and presently Alice gave it voice.
“He says that he has seen his earth, and that now he means to be a long time at home.”
Davie appeared. “Mr. Alexander has gone to the laird’s room. Mrs. Grizel wad have ye all come, too, sae be ye move saftly and sit dumb.”
The three went. The laird’s room was large and somewhat grimly bare. When his wife died he would have taken out every luxury. But a great fire burned on the hearth and gave a touch of redemption. A couch, too, had been brought in for the watcher at night, and a great flowered chair. In this now sat Mrs. Grizel Kerr, a pleasant, elderly, comely body, noted for her housewifery and her garden of herbs. Behind her, out of a shadowy corner, gleamed the white mutch of Tibbie Ross, the best nurse in that countryside. Jamie and Alice took two chairs that had been set for them near the bed. Strickland moved to the recess of a window. Outside the snow fell in very large flakes, large and many, straight and steady, there being no wind.
In a chair drawn close to the great bed, on a line with the sick man’s hand lying on the coverlet, sat the heir of Glenfernie. He sat leaning forward, with one hand near the hand of his father. The laird’s eyes were closed. He had been given a stimulant and he now lay gathering his powers that were not far from this life’s frontier. The curtains of the bed had been drawn quite back; propped by pillows into a half-sitting posture, he was plain to all in the room, in the ruddy light of the fire. A clock upon the wall ticked, ticked. Those in the room sat very still.