The Last of Their Race
Annie S. Swan
The Last of Their Race by Annie S. Swan Isla Mackinnon came out from the narrow doorway of the Castle of Achree, and stood for a moment on the broad step, worn by the feet of generations, while she thoughtfully drew on a pair of shabby, old leather gloves with gauntlets which came well up her slender arms. Hers were small, fine, capable hands, in which at that moment, though she knew it not, lay the whole destiny of Achree. Its very existence was to be threatened that cool, clear March day, and there was none but Isla to step into the breach.She did not look incompetent; nay, about her there was a fine strength and courage, in her wide grey-blue eyes an undaunted spirit.It was a spirit that had had much to try its quality in her six-and-twenty years of life, for half of which, at least, she had been the chief buttress and hope of the house of her fathers.She looked her age, though her figure was very slender and straight. The years that had brought her womanhood had left her the heart of a child. It looked out from the clear eyes under the delicate lashes, it was in the slightly downward curves of the small sensitive mouth that had not had sufficient occasion for smiles to bring out all its sweetness.Her hair, under the small tweed hat turned up at the brim with a pheasant's wing, was a clear brown, with here and there a touch of the sun inclining it to ruddy gold. She wore a short skirt of Harris tweed, leather-bound, and a woollen coat of her own knitting, a pair of brown brogues well fitted to her shapely feet, and under her arm she had a shepherd's crook with a whistle at the end of it.Presently, when its clear, low call broke the stillness of the morning, three dogs came bounding from some region beyond the house, betraying a wild excitement which even her remonstrance could not keep in check."Down, Murdo boy, and don't nip Bruce's ear again, or back you go to the stable. Janet, you silly old woman, at your time of life you ought to have more sense. Well then, off you go!"The big deer-hound, the fat, glossy, sable collie, and the small, wiry Aberdeen lady who rejoiced in the sober name of Janet, thus admonished, bounded before her down the drive between the laurel and the pine trees, barking joyously as was their wont.About fifty yards from the house the carriage-way took a sharp turn, so that the next few steps hid all except the cold slate roof and the pinnacles of the little round towers which mark that particular style of architecture called the Scottish baronial.The old Castle of Achree was considered one of the best examples of it in the country, and it certainly was picturesque, if a little "ill-convenient," as the country-folk had it. It was a large mansion of sorts, but totally unsuited to the needs of a family and almost completely devoid of all those modern conveniences which, in these days, every artisan has at his command.It was so cut up by winding stairs and queer little passages that there was scarcely a room of decent dimensions within its walls. It was full of legend, of tragic memories, and did not even lack the ghost, a mailed and headless warrior who haunted the dungeon-room where he had been done to death.It was whitewashed or harled, but looked sadly in need of the washer's brush. The rains of many a year had soddened and discoloured it, while, here and there, at angles specially exposed, there were green patches where the moss and lichen clung.Yet it made a picture of indescribable beauty, not untouched with pathos, as the cradle of every great race must be, its history woven in with its very stones. People came from far and near to see it, and many artists had lingered enchanted over its picturesque detail. It stood on a small, green plateau facing south, sheltered at the back by the pine-clad hill of Creagh, which stood, like a sentinel, guarding the great moor of Creagh that stretched away in the distance till it joined the lands of Breadalbane towards Loch Tay.