“Come, laddie,” said the Earl, “ye understand not these matters. I will explain to you when we gang back to the braw things in Edinbra’ toon!”
“No, no,” cried the boy, stooping to pick up his sword, “I will bide with my brothers, and help to kill the murderers of my cousins. What William says, I say.”
Then the five young men went out and called for their horses, their youngest brother following them. And as the flap of the tent fell, and he was left alone, James the Gross sank his head between his soft, moist palms, and sobbed aloud.
For he was a weak, shifty, unstable man, loving approval, and a burden to himself in soul and body when left to bear the consequences of his acts.
“Oh, my bairns,” he cried over and over, “why was I born? I am not sufficient for these things!”
And even as he sobbed and mourned, the hoofs of his sons’ horses rang down the wind as they rode through the camp towards Galloway. And little Henry rode betwixt William and James.
THE WITHERED GARLAND
Meanwhile Sholto fared onwards down the side of the sullen water of Dee. The dwellers along the bank were all on the alert, and cried many questions to him about the death of the Earl, most thinking him a merchant travelling from Edinburgh to take ship at Kirkcudbright. Sholto answered shortly but civilly, for the inquirers were mostly decent folk well on in years, whose lads had gone to the levy, and who naturally desired to know wherefore their sons had been summoned.
In return he asked everywhere for news of any cavalcade which might have passed that way, but neither from the country folk, nor yet from hoof-marks upon the grassy banks, could he glean the least information pertinent to the purpose of his quest.
Not till he came within a few miles of the town did he meet with man or woman who could give him any material assistance. It was by the Fords of Tongland that he first met with one Tib MacLellan, who with much volubility and some sagacity retailed fresh fish to the burghers of Kirkcudbright and the whole countryside, giving a day to each district so long as the supply of her staple did not fail.
“Fair good day to ye, mistress!” said Sholto, taking off his bonnet to the sonsy upstanding fishwife.
“And to you, bonny lad,” replied the complimented dame, dropping a courtesy, “may the corbie never cry at ye nor ill-faured pie juik at your left elbow. May candle creesh never fa’ on ye, red fire burn ye, nor water scald ye.”
Tib was reeling off her catalogue of blessings when Sholto cut her short.
“Can you tell me, good lady,” he asked, in his most insinuating tones, “if there has been any vessel cleared from the port during these last weeks?”