The laird of Glenfernie stayed longer from home than, riding away, he had expected to do. It was the latter half of August when he and Black Alan, Tam Dickson and Whitefoot, came up the winding road to Glenfernie door. Phemie it was, at the clothes-lines, who noted them on the lowest spiral, who turned and ran and informed the household. “The laird’s coming! The laird’s coming!” Men and women and dogs began to stir.
Strickland, looking from the window of his own high room, saw the riders in and out of the bronzing woods. Descending, he joined Mrs. Grizel upon the wide stone step without the hall door. Davie was in waiting, and a stable-boy or two came at a run.
“Two months!” said Mrs. Grizel. “But it used to be six months, a year, two years, and more! He grows a home body, as lairds ought to be!”
Alexander dismounted at the door, took her in his arms and kissed her twice, shook hands with Strickland, greeted Davie and the men. “How good it is to get home! I’ve pined like a lost bairn. And none of you look older—Aunt Grizel hasn’t a single white hair!”
“Go along with you, laddie!” said Aunt Grizel. “You haven’t been so long away!”
The sun was half-way down the western quarter. He changed his riding-clothes, and they set food for him in the hall. He ate, and Davie drew the cloth and brought wine and glasses. Some matter or other called Mrs. Grizel away, but Strickland stayed and drank wine with him.
Questions and answers had been exchanged. Glenfernie gave in detail reasons for his lengthened stay. There had been a business postponement and complication—in London Jamie’s affairs; again, in Edinburgh, insistence of kindred with whom Alice was blooming, “growing a fine lady, too!” and at the last a sudden and for a while dangerous sickness of Tam Dickson’s that had kept them a week at an inn a dozen miles this side of Edinburgh.
“Each time I started up sprang a stout hedge! But they’re all down now and here I am!” He raised his wine-glass. “To home, and the sweetness thereof!” said Alexander.
“I am glad to see you back,” said Strickland, and meant it.
The late sunlight streamed through the open door. Bran, the old hound, basked in it; it wiped the rust from the ancient weapons on the wall and wrote hieroglyphics in among them; it made glow the wine in the glass. Alexander turned in his chair.
“It’s near sunset.... Now what, just, did you hear about Ian Rullock’s going?”