A painful thought crossed the old man's mind, being mirrored upon his brow by the deep lines which puckered there for a few brief moments. "Well," he exclaimed, smiling, "that's surely no reason why you should not go to the ball at Connachan to-night." "I have my duty to perform, dad; my duty is to remain with you," she said decisively.
As full of high spirits as of high principles, he was in every way worthy the name of the gallant family whose name he bore, a Murie of Connachan, both for physical strength and scrupulous honesty; while his affection for Gabrielle Heyburn was that deep, all-absorbing devotion which makes men sacrifice themselves for the women they love. He was not very demonstrative.
"Now come, dad," the girl exclaimed, colouring slightly, "you're really too bad! I thought you had promised me not to mention him again." "So I did, dear; I I quite forgot," replied Sir Henry apologetically. "Forgive me. You are now your own mistress. If you prefer to stay away from Connachan, then do so by all means. Only, make a proper excuse to your mother; otherwise she will be annoyed."
From the margin of the loch the ground rose for a couple of miles until it reached a plateau upon which stood the fine, imposing Priory, the ancestral seat of the Muries of Connachan. The aspect as they drove up was very imposing.
But Lady Heyburn was always purchasing quaint odds and ends, and, like most giddy women of her class, was extraordinarily fond of fantastic jewellery and ornaments such as other women did not possess. Several members of the house-party at Connachan entered and chatted, all being full of the success of the previous night's entertainment.
"You know you have quite a lot to do, and when your mother has gone we'll spend an hour or two here at work." "I hear that Walter Murie is at home again at Connachan. Hill told me this morning," remarked her father. "So I heard also," answered the girl. "And yet you are not going to the ball, Gabrielle, eh?" laughed the old man mischievously.
There were half-a-dozen guests staying in the house, but neither Gabrielle nor her father took the slightest interest in any of them. They had been, of course, invited to the ball at Connachan, and at dinner had expressed surprise when their host's pretty daughter, the belle of the county, had declared that she was not going.
The papers she handled had been taken from the safe by Sir Henry himself. And they contained a man's secret. In the spreading dawn the house party had returned from Connachan and had ascended to their rooms, weary with the night's revelry, the men with shirt-fronts crumpled and ties awry, the women with hair disordered, and in some cases with flimsy skirts torn in the mazes of the dance.
The Laird of Connachan died quite suddenly about seven months ago, and Walter Murie succeeded to the noble estate. Gabrielle sweet, almost child-like in her simple tastes and delightful charm, and more devoted to Walter than ever is now little Lady Murie, having been married in Edinburgh a month ago.
Near Crieff Junction station the lands of Glencardine and Connachan march together; therefore both Sir Henry Heyburn and his friend, Sir George Murie, had looked upon an alliance between the two houses as quite within the bounds of probability. If the truth were told, Gabrielle had never looked upon any other man save Walter with the slightest thought of affection.