Read CHAPTER XXIII of Nancy Stair A Novel , free online book, by Elinor Macartney Lane, on


While these events were going forward at Allan-lough I sat in an ignorant complacency at Stair, pleased with the advices of Janet’s convalescence, and with no knowledge whatever of Danvers Carmichael’s whereabouts save that he was from Arran Towers. My lack of knowledge concerning his movements occurred by reason of a new trouble which broke out at this time between his father and Hugh Pitcairn concerning a watercourse which crossed the adjoining lands of both, somewhere back in the country. The water was of no use to Sandy, and equally valueless to Hugh; but the fact that one of them wanted it heightened its value to the other, and talk went back and forth, with Sandy deaving my ears concerning his rights on Monday, and Hugh going over the same ground, looking the other way, on Tuesday, until I was driven from Stair and avoided both, spending my time at the clubs, the coffee-houses, or with Creech and his queer old books.

Coming down the steps of his shop on the morning of the twelfth of February I recall the date because it was the beginning of all the troublous times at Stair I encountered James Gordon, looking both worried and perplexed.

“John,” said he, “you are the very man to help me from an embarrassing position. My wife and daughter have been taken with a fever; our town-house is small, and I have invited Borthwicke to stay with us during the meeting of the Lighthouse Commission

“Let me have him at Stair,” I cried. “Nancy is from home, I am leading a bachelor life, and you will be showing a kindness to send me such good company as John Montrose.”

In this entirely unplanned manner the duke became my visitor, and I found him a merry companion, easy, accessible, agreeable; praising my wines, naming my house the most attractive place in Scotland, and my daughter the most wonderful woman in the world; and I wandered abroad no more, but stayed at home, like a cream-fed cat by the fireside, his grace making the time gay with his tales, his wit, and his worldly wisdom. He urged me to accompany the commission to the northern coasts, and one day, when I was debating whether to join in this expedition or to go down to the West and visit Nancy, the girl settled the question for me herself by appearing at Stair, and at the first sight of her my heart sank within me. She had become much thinner, there was the pallor of sickness in her face, and a weakness both in voice and body as she clung to me, telling me her joy at seeing me again and that she would never leave me more. The news of Borthwicke’s presence in the house she received with some surprise, which showed neither pleasure nor regret, going immediately to her rooms, however, making her long journey an excuse for dining alone.

It was after luncheon on the following day that old Dr. McMurtrie came into the library and addressed me, with some heat and scant apology.

“John,” said he, looking at me over his glasses, “I am going to make myself disagreeable. I am going to be that damned nuisance, a candid friend; but somebody’s got to speak to you, for you’re just letting that girl of yours kill herself.”

I stared at him in speechless wonderment.

“She’s killing herself,” he went on, relentlessly. “And when it’s too late you’ll see the truth of it. No girl’s body is equal to the excitement she’s had for years, ever since she was a baby, in fact, with her charities and her Burn-folking and her verse-writing. It’s all damned nonsense,” he summed up, succinctly, “and it’s for you to stop it.

“Instead of helping her get out a second edition of poems,” he went on, “ye’d show more sense if you put your mind to considering the problem of how much work a woman can do in justice to the race. Every female creature is in all probability the repository of unborn generations, and should be trained to think of that solemn fact as a man is taught to think of his country.”

“Some women,” I answered, testily, “are forced to work daily at laborious tasks to support families

“And others,” he interrupted, “squeeze their feet and give each other poison; but they are not my patients, and Nancy Stair is. And I think you’ll find that the women who work, as ye say, do most of it with their bodies, not with their heads or their nerves, and it’s in work of this kind the trouble of female labor lies. Nancy should save her vitality. She should store it up for wifehood and motherhood. She’ll be a spent woman before she has a husband, and your grandchildren puny youngsters as a resulting. Think it over, John,” he concluded; “think it over.”

He was scarce out of the house when Nancy appeared from the garden, coming over to the place I sat to put her hand on my shoulder.

“I’m thinking of marrying John Montrose, Jock,” she said, with no introduction whatever.

“Ye have my own gentle way of breaking news to people, Little Flower,” I said; and then: “Do you love him, Nancy? Or, what is more to the point, are you in love with him?”

“Neither,” she responded; “but I have grown to believe in him, in spite of his past, and love may come,” and here she clasped her hands together and her eyes widened with pain as she said: “I have had a great temptation, Daddy. A great temptation, and I want to put away any chance of it ever coming to me again. I could be true to another always when I might not

“Nancy,” I interrupted, drawing her down on my knee, “there is no greater mistake a woman can make than to think that marrying one man will help her to forget another; for there is just one thing worse than not having the man you want, and that is having the man you don’t want. And if you’re not in love with Montrose, you’ll never get my consent to the wedding, not if he were the Prince himself.”

On the morning following these talks the duke, who was still with us, sent excuses to the breakfast-room that he had passed an uneasy night and would rest until noon; and his valet, who brought this message, ended by saying:

“His grace is not well. His grace should have a doctor, for he had the bleeding from the lungs again last night, although it would be worth my place if he knew I mentioned it to your lordship.”

In our foggy country a little throat trouble is no great matter, but I ordered my horse for town, meaning to get McMurtrie out, as if by accident, to see what attentions the duke might require; and riding in some haste by the Bridge end, found a group of men, with papers in their hands, discussing some bit of news with much interest. As I drew near them, Dundas waved the journal at me and called out:

“Our congratulations, John.”

I reined in my horse, asking the very natural question, upon what I was to be congratulated, when Blake handed me a copy of The Lounger, indicating a certain paragraph for me to read. The notice began:

“We understand that the long-expected betrothal between his Grace of Borthwicke and Mistress Nancy Stair, only daughter of Lord Stair, is announced,” the penny-a-liner going on with much wordiness to state the time and place fixed for the coming marriage, and even the shops in London from which the trousseau was to come.

“Gentlemen,” I cried, “upon my honor there is not a word of truth in all of this,” and, securing a copy of the miserable sheet, turned back to Stair to discover from Nancy whether to deny the announcement by direct statement or let the rumor die in silence.

I entered the house by the side door which leads to the music-room, outside of which I paused, astonished at the sound of angry and excited voices within the apartment. As I listened, wondering if some new trouble was upon us, I recognized Danvers Carmichael’s tone, and almost upon the instant of this recognition, heard him cry out:

“I will save you the promising, for I swear he shall never live to marry you!”

His Grace of Borthwicke being within possible earshot of this altercation, I decided to leave Danvers to Nancy’s management, and hurried up the winding stairs to hold the duke’s attention until Danvers had left the house.

Looking down into the main hall as I ascended the stair I saw Hugh Pitcairn rise from a couch upon which he had been lying and cross to the far window with some suddenness of manner, and knew by instinct that he had realized the talk was not intended for his ears, and had hastily changed his position, like the man of honor that he was.

Finding that the duke had not left his apartment in my absence I crossed to my own room, where I was not alone above five minutes before Nancy joined me.

“Mr. Pitcairn is below, waiting for the duke to affix some signatures,” she said; and then:

“Danvers Carmichael has been here, too. He saw an announcement in The Lounger that I was betrothed to his Grace of Borthwicke, and came by to tell me as you did yourself,” she ended, with a smile, “that the wedding would have to take place without his approval.”