A DAUGHTER OF THE PICTS
The Cuif put his hands in his pockets as if to keep them away from the dangerous temptation of touching Meg. He stood with his shoulder against the wall and chewed a straw.
‘What's come o' Maister Peden thae days?’ asked Meg.
‘He's maist michty unsettled like,’ replied Saunders, ‘he's for a' the world like a stirk wi' a horse cleg on him that he canna get at. He comes in an' sits doon at his desk, an' spreads oot his buiks, an' ye wad think that he's gaun to be at it the leevelang day. But afore ye hae time to turn roon' an' get at yer ain wark, the craitur'll be oot again an' awa' up to the hill wi' a buik aneath his oxter. Then he rises early in the mornin', whilk is no a guid sign o' a learned man, as I judge. What for should a learned man rise afore his parritch is made? There maun be something sair wrang,’ said Saunders Mowdiewort.
‘Muckle ye ken aboot learned men. I suppose, ye think because ye carry up the Bible, that ye ken a' that's in't,’ returned Meg, with a sneer of her voice that might have turned milk sour. The expression of the emotions is fine and positive in the kitchens of the farm towns of Galloway.
‘Swish, swish!’ steadily the white streams of milk shot into the pails. ‘Jangle, jangle!’ went the steel head chains of the cows. Occasionally, as Jess and Meg lifted their stools, they gave Flecky or Speckly a sound clap on the back with their hand or milking-pail, with the sharp command of ‘Stan' aboot there!’ ‘Haud up!’ ‘Mind whaur yer comin'!’ Such expressions as these Jess and Meg could interject into the even tenor of their conversation, in a way that might have been disconcerting in dialogues conducted on other principles. But really the interruptions did not affect Ebie Farrish or any other of the byre-visiting young men, any more than the rattling of the chains, as Flecky and Speckly arranged their own business at the end devoted to imports. These sharp words of command were part of the nightly and morningly ceremony of the ‘milking’ at every farm. The cans could no more froth with the white reaming milk without this accompaniment of slaps and adjurations than Speckly, Flecky, and the rest could take their slow, thoughtfully considerate, and sober way from the hill pastures into the yard without Meg at the gate of the field to cry: ‘Hurley, Hurley, hie awa' hame!’ to the cows themselves; and ‘Come awa' bye wi' them, fetch them, Roger!’ to the short-haired collie, who knew so much better than to go near their flashing heels.
The conversation in the byre proceeded somewhat in this way:
Jess was milking her last cow, with her head looking sideways at Ebie, who stood plaiting Marly's tail in a newfangled fashion he had brought from the low end of the parish, and which was just making its way among young men of taste.
‘Aye, ye'll say so, nae doot,’ said Jess, in reply to some pointed compliment of her admirer; ‘but I ken you fowk frae the laich end ower weel. Ye hae practeesed a' that kind o' talk on the lasses doon there, or ye wadna be sae gleg wi't to me, Ebie.’
This is an observation which shows that Jess could not have eaten more effectively of the tree of knowledge, had she been born in Mayfair.
Ebie laughed a laugh half of depreciation, half of pleasure, like a cat that has its back stroked and its tail pinched at the same time.
‘Na, na, Jess, it a' comes by natur'. I never likit a lassie afore I set my een on you,’ said Ebie, which, to say the least of it, was curious, considering that he had an assortment of locks of hair—black, brown, and lint-white—up in the bottom of his ‘kist’ in the stable loft where he slept. He kept them along with his whipcord and best Sunday pocket knife, and sometimes he took a look at them when he had to move them in order to get his green necktie. ‘I never really likit a lass afore, Jess, ye may believe me, for I wasna a lad to rin after them. But whenever I cam' to Craig Ronald I saw that I was dune for.’
‘Stan’ back, ye muckle slabber! said Jess, suddenly and emphatically, in a voice that could have been heard a hundred yards away. Speckly was pushing sideways against her as if to crowd her off her stool.
‘Say ye sae, Ebie?’ she added, as if she had not previously spoken, in the low even voice in which she had spoken from the first, and which could be heard by Ebie alone. In the country they conduct their love-making in water-tight compartments. And though Ebie knew very well that the Cuif was there, and may have suspected Jock Forrest, even after his apparent withdrawal, so long as they did not trouble him in his conversation with Jess, he paid no heed to them, nor indeed they to him. No man is his brother's keeper when he goes to the byre to plait cows' tails.
‘But hoo div ye ken, or, raither, what gars ye think that ye're no the first that I hae likit, Jess?’
‘Oh, I ken fine,’ said Jess, who was a woman of knowledge, and had her share of original sin.
‘But hoo div ye ken?’ persisted Ebie.
‘Fine that,’ said Jess, diplomatically.
‘But tell us, Jess,’ said Ebie, who was in high good humour at these fascinating accusations.
‘Oh,’ said Jess, with a quick gipsy look out of her fine dark eyes, ‘brawly I kenned on Saturday nicht that yon wasna the first time ye had kissed a lass!’
‘Jess,’ said Ebie, ‘ye're a wunnerfu' woman!’ which was his version of Ralph's ‘You are a witch.’ In Ebie's circle ‘witch’ was too real a word to be lightly used, so he said ‘wunnerfu' woman.’
He went on looking critically at Jess, as became so great a connoisseur of the sex.
‘I hae seen, maybes, bonnier faces, as ye micht say—’
‘Haud aff, wi’ ye there; mind whaur yer comin’ ye muckle senseless nowt!’ said Jess to her Ayrshire Hornie, who had been treading on her toes.
‘As I was sayin', Jess, I hae seen—’
‘Can y no unnderstan’, ye senseless lump?’ cried Jess, warningly; ‘I'll knock the heid aff ye, gin ye dinna drap it!’ still to Hornie, of course.
But the purblind theorist went on his way: ‘I hae seen bonnier faces, but no mair takin', Jess, than yours. It's no aye beauty that tak's a man, Jess, ye see, an' the lassies that hae dune best hae been plain-favoured lassies that had pleasant expressions—’
‘Tell the rest to Hornie gin ye like!’ said Jess, rising viciously and leaving Ebie standing there dumfounded. He continued to hold Hornie's tail for some time, as if he wished to give her some further information on the theory of beauty, as understood in the ‘laich’ end of the parish.
Saunders saw him from afar, and cried out to him down the length of the byre,
‘Are ye gaun to mak' a watch-guard o' that coo's tail, Ebie?—ye look fell fond o't.’
‘Ye see what it is to be in love,’ said John Scott, the herd, who had stolen to the door unperceived and so had marked Ebie's discomfiture.
‘He disna ken the difference between Jess hersel' an' Hornie!’ said the Cuif, who was repaying old scores.
WHEN THE KYE COMES HAME
That night Saunders went up over the hill again, dressed in his best. He was not a proud lover, and he did not take a rebuff amiss; besides, he had something to tell Meg Kissock. When he got to Craig Ronald, the girls were in the byre at the milking, and at every cow's tail there stood a young man, rompish Ebie Farrish at that at which Jess was milking, and quiet Jock Forrest at Meg's. Ebie was joking and keeping up a fire of running comment with Jess, whose dark-browed gipsy face and blue-black wisps of hair were set sideways towards him, with her cheek pressed upon Lucky's side, as she sent the warm white milk from her nimble fingers, with a pleasant musical hissing sound against the sides of the milking-pail.
Farther up the byre, Meg leaned her head against Crummy and milked steadily. Apparently she and Jock Forrest were not talking at all. Jock looked down and only a quiver of the corner of his beard betrayed that he was speaking. Meg, usually so outspoken and full of conversation, appeared to be silent; but really a series of short, low-toned sentences was being rapidly exchanged, so swiftly that no one, standing a couple of yards away, could have remarked the deft interchange.
But as soon as Saunders Mowdiewort came to the door, Jock Forrest had dropped Crummy's tail, and slipped silently out of the byre, even before Meg got time to utter her usual salutation of--
‘Guid een to ye, Cuif! Hoo's a' the session?’
It might have been the advent of Meg's would-be sweetheart that frightened Jock Forrest away, or again he might have been in the act of going in any case. Jock was a quiet man who walked sedately and took counsel of no one. He was seldom seen talking to any man, never to a woman—least of all to Meg Kissock. But when Meg had many ‘lads’ to see her in the evening, he could be observed to smile an inward smile in the depths of his yellow beard, and a queer subterranean chuckle pervaded his great body, so that on one occasion Jess looked up, thinking that there were hens roosting in the baulks overhead.
Jess and Ebie pursued their flirtation steadily and harmlessly, as she shifted down the byre as cow after cow was relieved of her richly perfumed load, rumbling and clinking neck chains, and munching in their head-stalls all the while. Saunders and Meg were as much alone as if they had been afloat on the bosom of Loch Grannoch.
‘Ye are a bonny like man,’ said Meg, ‘to tak' yer minny to speak for ye before the session. Man, I wonder at ye. I wonder ye didna bring her to coort for ye?’
‘War ye ever afore the Session, Meg?’
‘Me afore the session—ye're a fule man, but ye dinna ken what yer sayin'—gin I thocht ye did—’
Here Meg became so violently agitated that Flecky, suffering from the manner in which Meg was doing her duty, kicked out, and nearly succeeded in overturning the milk-pail. Meg's quickness with hand and knee foiled this intention, but Flecky succeeded quite in planting the edge of her hoof directly on the Cuif's shin-bone. Saunders thereupon let go Flecky's tail, who instantly switched it into Meg's face with a crack like a whip.
‘Ye great muckle senseless hullion!’ exclaimed Meg, ‘gin ye are nae use in the byre, gang oot till ye can learn to keep haud o' a coo's tail! Ye hae nae mair sense than an Eerishman!’
There was a pause. The subject did not admit of discussion, though Saunders was a cuif, he knew when to hold his tongue—at least on most occasions.
‘An' what brocht ye here the nicht, Cuif?’ asked Meg, who, when she wanted information, knew how to ask it directly, a very rare feminine accomplishment.
‘To see you, Meg, my dawtie,’ replied Saunders, tenderly edging nearer.
‘Yer what?’ queried Meg with asperity; ‘I thocht that ye had aneuch o' the session already for caa'in' honest fowk names; gin ye begin wi' me, ye'll get on the stool o' repentance o' yer ain accord, afore I hae dune wi' ye!’
‘But, Meg, I hae telled ye afore that I am sair in need o' a wife. It's byordinar' [extraordinary] lonesome up in the hoose on the hill. An' I'm warned oot, Meg, so that I'll look nae langer on the white stanes o' the kirkyaird.’
‘Gin ye want a wife, Saunders, ye'll hae to look oot for a deef yin, for it's no ony or'nar' woman that could stand yer mither's tongue. Na, Saunders, it wad be like leevin' i' a corn-mill rinnin' withoot sheaves.’
‘Meg,’ said Saunders, edging up cautiously, ‘I hae something to gie ye!’
‘Aff wi' ye, Cuif! I'll hae nae trokin' wi' lads i' the byre—na, there's a time for everything—especial wi' widowers, they're the warst o' a'—they ken ower muckle. My granny used to say, gin Solomon couldna redd oot the way o' a man wi' a maid, what wad he hae made o' the way o' a weedower that's lookin' for his third?
THE CUIF BEFORE THE SESSION
‘Called, nominate, summoned to appear, upon this third citation, Alexander Mowdiewort, or Moldieward, to answer for the sin of misca'in' the minister and session o' this parish, and to show cause why he, as a sectary notour, should not demit, depone, and resign his office of grave digger in the kirk-yard of this parish with all the emoluments, benefits, and profits thereto appertaining.—Officer, call Alexander Mowdiewort!’
Thus Jacob Kittle, schoolmaster and session clerk of the parish of Dullarg, when in the kirk itself that reverent though not revered body was met in full convocation. There was presiding the Rev. Erasmus Teends himself, the minister of the parish, looking like a turkey-cock with a crumpled white neckcloth for wattles. He was known in the parish as Mess John, and was full of dignified discourse and excellent taste in the good cheer of the farmers. He was a judge of nowt [cattle], and a connoisseur of black puddings, which he considered to require some Isle of Man brandy to bring out their own proper flavour.
‘Alexander Moldieward, Alexander Moldieward!’ cried old Snuffy Callum, the parish beadle, going to the door. Then in a lower tone, ‘Come an' answer for't, Saunders.’
Mowdiewort and a large-boned, grim-faced old woman of fifty-five were close beside the door, but Christie cried past them as if the summoned persons were at the top of the Dullarg Hill at the nearest, and also as if he had not just risen from a long and confidential talk with them.
It was within the black interior of the old kirk that the session met, in the yard of which Saunders Mowdiewort had dug so many graves, and now was to dig no more, unless he appeased the ire of the minister and his elders for an offence against the majesty of their court and moderator.
‘Alexander Moldieward!’ again cried the old ‘betheral,’ very loud, to someone on the top of the Dullarg Hill—then in an ordinary voice, ‘come awa', Saunders man, you and your mither, an' dinna keep them waitin'—they're no chancy when they're keepit.’
Saunders and his mother entered.
‘Here I am, guid sirs, an' you Mess John,’ said the grave-digger very respectfully, ‘an' my mither to answer for me, an' guid een to ye a'.’
‘Come awa', Mistress Mowdiewort,’ said the minister. ‘Ye hae aye been a guid member in full communion. Ye never gaed to a prayer- meetin' or Whig conventicle in yer life. It's a sad peety that ye couldna keep your flesh an' bluid frae companyin' an' covenantin' wi' them that lichtly speak o' the kirk.’
‘'Deed, minister, we canna help oor bairns—an' 'deed ye can speak till himsel'. He is of age—ask him! But gin ye begin to be ower sair on the callant, I'se e'en hae to tak' up the cudgels mysel'.’
With this, Mistress Mowdiewort put her hands to the strings of her mutch, to feel that she had not unsettled them; then she stood with arms akimbo and her chest well forward like a grenadier, as if daring the session to do its worst.
‘I have a word with you,’ said Mess John, lowering at her; ‘it is told to me that yon keepit your son back from answering the session when it was his bounden duty to appear on the first summons. Indeed, it is only on a warrant for blasphemy and the threat of deprivation of his livelihood that he has come today. What have you to say that he should not be deprived and also declarit excommunicate?’
‘Weel, savin' yer presence, Mess John,’ said Mistress Mowdiewort, ‘ye see the way o't is this: Saunders, my son, is a blate man, an' he canna weel speak for him sel'. I thought that by this time the craiter micht hae gotten a wife again that could hae spoken for him, an' had he been worth the weight o' a bumbee's hind leg he wad hae had her or this—an' a better yin nor the last he got. Aye, but a sair trouble she was to me; she had juist yae faut, Saunders's first wife, an' that was she was nae use ava! But it was a guid thing he was grave-digger, for he got her buriet for naething, an' even the coffin was what ye micht ca' a second-hand yin—though it had never been worn, which was a wunnerfu' thing. Ye see the way o't was this: There was Creeshy Callum, the brither o' yer doitit auld betheral here, that canna tak' up the buiks as they should (ye should see my Saunders tak' them up at the Marrow kirk)—’
‘Woman,’ said the minister, ‘we dinna want to hear—’
‘Very likely no—but ye hae gien me permission to speak, an' her that's stannin afore yer honourable coort, brawly kens the laws. Elspeth Mowdiewort didna soop yer kirk an wait till yer session meetings war ower for thirty year in my ain man's time withoot kennin' a' the laws. A keyhole's a most amazin' convenient thing by whiles, an' I was suppler in gettin' up aff my hunkers then than at the present time.’
‘Silence, senseless woman!’ said the session clerk.
‘I'll silence nane, Jacob Kittle; silence yersel', for I ken what's in the third volume o' the kirk records at the thirty second page; an' gin ye dinna haud yer wheesht, dominie, ilka wife in the pairish'll ken as weel as me. A bonny yin you to sit cockin' there, an' to be learnin' a' the bairns their caritches [catechism].’
The session let her go her way; her son meantime stood passing an apologetic hand over his sleek hair, and making deprecatory motions to the minister, when he thought that his mother was not looking in his direction.
‘Aye, I was speakin' aboot Creeshy Callum's coffin that oor Saunders—the muckle tongueless sumph there got dirt cheap—ye see Greeshy had been measured for't, but, as he had a short leg and a shorter, the joiner measured the wrang leg—joiners are a' dottle stupid bodies—an' whan the time cam' for Creeshy to be streekit, man, he wadna fit—na, it maun hae been a sair disappointment till him—that is to say—gin he war in the place whaur he could think wi' ony content on his coffin, an' that, judgin' by his life an' conversation, was far frae bein' a certainty.’
‘Mistress Mowdiewort, I hae aye respectit ye, an' we are a' willin' to hear ye noo, if you have onything to say for your son, but you must make no insinuations against any members of the court, or I shall be compelled to call the officer to put you out,’ said the minister, rising impressively with his hand stretched towards Mistress Elspeth Mowdiewort.
But Elspeth Mowdiewort was far from being impressed.
‘Pit me oot, Snuffy Callum; pit me, Eppie Mowdiewort, oot! Na, na, Snuffy's maybe no very wise, but he kens better nor that. Man, Maister Teends, I hae kenned the hale root an' stock o' thae Callums frae first to last; I hae dung Greeshy till he couldna stand—him that had to be twice fitted for his coffin; an' Wull that was hangit at Dumfries for sheep-stealin'; an' Meg that was servant till yersel—aye, an' a bonny piece she was as ye ken yersel'; an' this auld donnert carle that, when he carries up the Bibles, ye can hear the rattlin' o' his banes, till it disturbs the congregation—I hae dung them a' heeds ower heels in their best days—an' to tell me at the hinner end that ye wad ca' in the betheral to pit oot Elspeth Mowdiewort! Ye maun surely hae an awsome ill wull at the puir auld craitur!’
‘Mither,’ at last said Saunders, who was becoming anxious for his grave-diggership, and did not wish to incense his judges further, ‘I'm willin' to confess that I had a drap ower muckle the ither night when I met in wi' the minister an' the dominie; but, gin I confess it, ye'll no gar me sit on the muckle black stool i' repentance afore a' the fowk, an' me carries up the buiks i' the Marrow kirk.’
‘Alexander Mowdiewort, ye spak ill o' the minister an' session, o' the kirk an' the wholesome order o' this parish. We have a warrant for your apprehension and appearance which we might, unless moved by penitence and dutiful submission, put in force. Then are ye aware whaur that wad land you—i' the jail in Kirkcudbright toon, my man Saunders.’
But still it was the dread disgrace of the stool of repentance that bulked most largely in the culprit's imagination.
‘Na, na,’ interjected Mistress Mowdiewort, ‘nae siccan things for ony bairns o' mine. Nae son o' mine sall ever set his hurdies on the like o't.’
‘Be silent, woman!’ said the minister severely; ‘them that will to black stool maun to black stool. Rebukit an' chastised is the law an' order, and rebukit and chastised shall your son be as weel as ithers.’
‘'Deed, yer nae sae fond o' rebukin' the great an' the rich. There's that young speldron frae the castle; its weel kenned what he is, an' hoo muckle he's gotten the weight o'.’
‘He is not of our communion, and not subject to our discipline,’ began the minister.
‘Weel,’ said Elspeth, ‘weel, let him alane. He's a Pape, an' gaun to purgatory at ony gate. But then there's bletherin' Johnnie o' the Dinnance Mains—he's as fu' as Solway tide ilka Wednesday, an' no only speaks agin minister an' session, as maybe my Saunders did (an' maybe no), but abuses Providence, an the bellman, an' even blasphemes agin the fast day—yet I never heard that ye had him cockit up on the black henbauks i' the kirk. But then he's a braw man an' keeps a gig!’
‘The law o' the kirk is no respecter of persons,’ said Mess John.
‘No, unless they are heritors,’ said Cochrane of the Holm, who had a pew with the name of his holding painted on it.
‘Or members o' session,’ said sleeky Carment of the Kirkland, who had twice escaped the stool of repentance on the ground that, as he urged upon the body, ‘gleds shouldna pike gleds een oot.’
‘Or parish dominies,’ said the session clerk, to give solidarity to his own position.
‘Weel, I ken juist this if nae mair: my son disna sit on ony o' yer stools o' repentance,’ said Eppie Mowdiewort, demonstrating the truth of her position with her hand clenched at the dominie, who, like all clerks of ecclesiastical assemblies, was exceedingly industrious in taking notes to very small purpose. ‘Mair nor that, I'm maybe an unlearned woman, but I've been through the Testaments mair nor yince—the New Testament mair nor twice—an' I never saw naethin' aboot stools o' repentance in the hoose o' God. But my son Saunders was readin' to me the ither nicht in a fule history buik, an' there it said that amang the Papists they used to hae fowk that didna do as they did an' believe as they believed. Sae wi' a lang white serk on, an' a can'le i' their hands, they set them up for the rabble fowk to clod at them, an' whiles they tied them to a bit stick an' set lunt to them—an that's the origin o' yer stool o' repentance. What say ye to that?’
Mrs. Mowdiewort's lecture on church history was not at all appreciated by the session. The minister rose.
‘We will close this sederunt,’ he said; ‘we can mak' nocht o' these two. Alexander Mowdiewort, thou art removed from thy office of grave-digger in the parish kirkyard, and both thysel' and thy mother are put under suspension for contumacy!’
‘Haith!’ said Elspeth Mowdiewort, pushing back her hair; ‘did ye ever hear the mak' o' the craitur. I haena been within his kirk door for twenty year. It's a guid job that a body can aye gang doon to godly Maister Welsh, though he's an awfu' body to deave ye wi' the Shorter Quastions.’
‘An it's a guid thing,’ added Saunders, ‘that there's a new cemetery a-makkin'. There's no room for anither dizzen in yer auld kailyaird onyway—an' that I'm tellin' ye. An' I'm promised the new job too. Ye can howk yer ain graves yersel's.’
‘Fash na yer heid, Saunders, aboot them,’ said the old betheral at the door; ‘it's me that's to be grave-digger, but ye shall howk them a' the same in the mornin', an' get the siller, for I'm far ower frail—ye can hae them a' by afore nine o'clock, an' the minister disna pu' up his bedroom blind till ten!’
Thus it was that Saunders Mowdiewort ended his connection with an Erastian establishment, and became a true and complete member of the Marrow kirk. His mother also attended with exemplary diligence, but she was much troubled with a toothache on the days of catechising, and never quite conquered her unruly member to the last. But this did not trouble herself much—only her neighbours.
ON THE EDGE OF THE ORCHARD
But Agnew Greatorix came as often as ever to Craig Ronald. Generally he found Winsome busy with her household affairs, sometimes with her sleeves buckled above her elbows, rolling the tough dough for the crumpy farles of the oat-cake, and scattering handfuls of dry meal over it with deft fingers to bring the mass to its proper consistency for rolling out upon the bake-board. Leaving his horse tethered to the great dismounting stone at the angle of the kitchen (a granite boulder or ‘travelled stone,’ as they said thereabouts), with an iron ring into it, he entered and sat down to watch. Sometimes, as today, he would be only silent and watchful; but he never failed to compass Winsome with the compliment of humility and observance. It is possible that better things were stirring in his heart than usually brought him to such places. There is no doubt, indeed, that he appreciated the frankness and plain speech which he received from the very practical young mistress of Craig Ronald.
When he left the house it was Agnew Greatorix's invariable custom to skirt the edge of the orchard before mounting. Just in the dusk of the great oak-tree, where its branches mingle with those of the gean [wild cherry], he was met by the slim, lithe figure of Jess Kissock, in whose piquant elvishness some strain of Romany blood showed itself.
Jess had been waiting for him ever since he had taken his hat in his hand to leave the house. As he came in sight of the watcher, Agnew Greatorix stopped, and Jess came closer to him, motioning him imperiously to bring his horse close in to the shadow of the orchard wall. Agnew did so, putting out his arm as if he would kiss her; but, with a quick fierce movement, Jess thrust his hand away.
‘I have told you before not to play these tricks with me—keep them for them that ye come to Craig Ronald to see. It's the mistress ye want. What need a gentleman like you meddle with the maid?’
‘Impossible as it may seem, the like has been done,’ said Agnew, smiling down at the black eyes and blowing elf locks.
‘Not with this maid,’ replied Jess succinctly, and in deed she looked exceedingly able to take care of herself, as became Meg Kissock's sister.
‘I'll go no further with Winsome,’ said Greatorix gloomily, breaking the silence. ‘You said that if I consulted her about the well-being of the poor rats over at the huts, and took her advice about the new cottages for the foresters, she would listen to me. Well, she did listen, but as soon as I hinted at any other subject, I might as well have been talking to the old daisy in the sitting-room with the white band round her head.’
‘Did anybody ever see the like of you menfolk?’ cried Jess, throwing up her hands hopelessly; ‘d'ye think that a bonny lass is just like a black ripe cherry on a bough, ready to drap into your mooth when it pleases your high mightinesses to hold it open?’
‘Has Winsome Charteris any sweetheart?’ asked the captain.
‘What for wad she be doing with a sweetheart? She has muckle else to think on. There's a young man that's baith braw an' bonny, a great scholar frae Enbra' toon that comes gye an' aften frae the manse o' Dullarg, whaur he's bidin' a' the simmer for the learnin'. He comes whiles, an' Winsome kind o' gies him a bit convoy up the hill.’
‘Jess Kissock,’ said the young man passionately, ‘tell me no lies, or—’
‘Nane o' yer ill tongue for me, young man; keep it for yer mither. I'm little feared o' ye or ony like ye. Ye'll maybe get a bit dab frae the neb o' a jockteleg that will yeuk [tickle] ye for a day or twa gin ye dinna learn an' that speedily, as Maister Welsh wad say, to keep yer Han's aff my faither's dochter.’ Jess's good Scots was infinitely better and more vigorous than the English of the lady's maid.
‘I beg your pardon, Jess. I am a passionate, hasty man. I am sure I meant no harm. Tell me more of this hulking landlouper , and I'll give you a kiss.’
‘Keep yer kisses for them that likes them. The young man's no landlouper ony mair nor yersel'—no as mickle indeed, but a very proper young man, wi' a face as bonny as an angel—’
‘But, Jess, do you mean to say that you are going to help him with Winsome?’ asked the young man.
‘Feint a bit!’ answered the young woman frankly. ‘She'll no get him gin I can help it. I saw him first and bid him guid-day afore ever she set her een on him. It's ilka yin for hersel' when it comes to a braw young man,’ and Jess tossed her gipsy head, and pouted a pair of handsome scarlet lips.
Greatorix laughed. ‘The land lies that way, does it?’ he said. ‘Then that's why you would not give me a kiss today, Jess,’ he went on; ‘the black coat has routed the red baith but an' ben—but we'll see. You cannot both have him, Jess, and if you are so very fond of the parson, ye'll maybe help me to keep Winsome Charteris to myself.’
‘Wad ye mairry her gin ye had the chance, Agnew Greatorix?’
‘Certainly; what else?’ replied the young man promptly.
‘Then ye shall hae her,’ replied Jess, as if Winsome were within her deed of gift,
‘And you'll try for the student, Jess?’ asked the young man. ‘I suppose he would not need to ask twice for a kiss?’
‘Na, for I would kiss him withoot askin'—that is, gin he hadna the sense to kiss ME,’ said Jess frankly.
‘Well,’ said Greatorix, somewhat reluctantly, ‘I'm sure I wish you joy of your parson. I see now what the canting old hound from the Dullarg Manse meant when he tackled me at the loaning foot. He wanted Winsome for the young whelp.’
‘I dinna think that,’ replied Jess; ‘he disna want him to come aboot here ony mair nor you.’
‘How do you know that, Jess?’
‘Ou, I juist ken.’
‘Can you find out what Winsome thinks herself?’
‘I can that, though she hasna a word to say to me—that am far mair deservin' o' confidence than that muckle peony faced hempie, Meg, that an ill Providence gied me for a sis ter. Her keep a secret?—the wind wad waft it oot o' her.’ Thus affectionately Jess.
‘But how can you find out, then?’ persisted the young man, yet unsatisfied.
‘Ou fine that,’ said Jess. ‘Meg talks in her sleep.’
Before Agnew Greatorix leaped on to his horse, which all this time had stood quiet on his bridle-arm, only occasionally jerking his head as if to ask his master to come away, he took the kiss he had been denied, and rode away laughing, but with one cheek much redder than the other, the mark of Jess's vengeance.
‘Ye hae ower muckle conceit an' ower little sense ever to be a richt blackguard,’ said Jess as he went, ‘but ye hae the richt intention for the deil's wark. Ye'll do the young mistress nae hurt, for she wad never look twice at ye, but I cannot let her get the bonny lad frae Embra'-na, I saw him first, an' first come first served!’
‘Where have you been so long,’ asked her mistress, as she came in.
‘Juist drivin' a gilravagin' muckle swine oot o' the orchard!’ replied Jess with some force and truth.
CAPTAIN AGNEW GREATORIX
Greatorix Castle sat mightily upon a hill. It could not be hid, and it looked down superciliously upon the little squiredom of Craig Ronald, as well as upon farms and cottages a many. In days not so long gone by, Greatorix Castle had been the hold of the wearers of the White Cockade, rough riders after Lag and Sir James Dalzyell, and rebels after that, who had held with Derwentwater and the prince. Now there was quiet there. Only the Lady Elizabeth and her son Agnew Greatorix dwelt there, and the farmer's cow and the cottager's pig grazed and rooted unharmed—not always, however, it was whispered, the farmer's daughter, for of all serfdoms the droit du seignior is the last to die. Still, Greatorix Castle was a notable place, high set on its hill, shires and towns beneath, the blue breath of peat reek blowing athwart the plain beneath and rising like an incense about.
Here the Lady Elizabeth dwelt in solemn but greatly reduced state. She was a woman devoted to the practice of holiness according to the way of the priest. It was the whole wish of her life that she might keep a spiritual director, instead of having Father Mahon to ride over from Dumfries once a month.
Within the castle there were many signs of decay—none of rehabilitation. The carpets were worn into holes where feet had oftenest fallen, and the few servants dared not take them out to be beaten in the due season of the year, for indubitably they would fall to pieces. So the curtains hung till an unwary stranger would rest upon them with a hand's weight. Then that hand plucked a palmbreadth away of the rotten and moth-eaten fabric.
There was an aged housekeeper at Greatorix Castle, who dwelt in the next room to the Lady Elizabeth, and was supposed to act as her maid. Mistress Humbie, however, was an exacting person; and being an aged woman, and her infirmities bearing upon her, she considered it more fitting that the Lady Elizabeth should wait upon her. This, for the good of her soul, the Lady Elizabeth did. Two maids and a boy, a demon boy, in buttons, who dwelt below stairs and gave his time to the killing of rats with ingenious catapults and crossbows, completed the household—except Agnew Greatorix.
The exception was a notable one. Save in the matter of fortune, Nature had not dealt unhandsomely with Agnew Greatorix; yet just because of this his chances of growing up into a strong and useful man were few. He had been nurtured upon expectations from his earliest youth. His uncle Agnew, the Lady Elizabeth's childless brother, who for the sake of the favour of a strongly Protestant aunt had left the mother church of the Greatorix family, had been expected to do something for Agnew; but up to this present time he had received only his name from him, in lieu of all the stately heritages of Holywood in the Nith Valley hard by Lincluden, and Stennesholm in Carrick.
So Agnew Greatorix had grown up in the midst of raw youths who were not his peers in position. He companied with them till his mother pointed out that it was not for a Greatorix to drink in the Blue Bell and at the George with the sons of wealthy farmers and bonnet lairds. By dint of scraping and saving which took a long time, and influence which, costing nothing, took for a Greatorix no time at all, the Lady Elizabeth obtained for her son a commission in the county yeomanry. There he was thrown with Maxwells of the Braes, Herons from the Shireside, and Gordons from the northern straths—all young men of means and figure in the county. Into the midst of these Agnew took his tightly knit athletic figure, his small firmly set head and full-blooded dark face—the only faults of which were that the eyes were too closely set together and shuttered with lids that would not open more than half way, and that he possessed the sensual mouth of a man who has never willingly submitted to a restraint. Agnew Greatorix could not compete with his companions, but he cut them out as a squire of dames, and came home with a dangerous and fascinating reputation, the best-hated man in the corps.
So when Captain Agnew clattered through the village in clean-cut scarlet and clinking spurs, all the maids ran to the door, except only a few who had once run like the others but now ran no more. The captain came often to Craig Ronald. It was upon his way to kirk and market, for the captain for the good of his soul went occasionally to the little chapel of the Permission at Dumfries. Still oftener he came with the books which the Lady Elizabeth obtained from Edinburgh, the reading of which she shared with Mistress Walter Skirving, whose kinship with the Lochinvars she did not forget, though her father had been of the moorland branch of that honourable house, and she herself had disgraced her ancient name by marrying with a psalm-singing bonnet laird. But the inexplicability of saying whom a woman may not take it into her head to marry was no barrier to the friendship of the Lady Elizabeth, who kept all her religion for her own consumption and did not even trouble her son with it—which was a great pity, for he indeed had much need, though small desire, thereof.
On the contrary, it was a mark of good blood sometimes to follow one's own fancy. The Lady Elizabeth had done that herself against the advice of the countess her mother, and that was the reason why she dwelt amid hangings that came away in handfuls, and was waiting-maid to Mistress Humbie her own housekeeper.
Agnew Greatorix had an eye for a pretty face, or rather for every pretty face. Indeed, he had nothing else to do, except clean his spurs and ride to the market town. So, since the author of Waverley began to write his inimitable fictions, and his mother to divide her time between works of devotion and the adventures of Ivanhoe and Nigel, Agnew Greatorix had made many pilgrimages to Craig Ronald. Here the advent of the captain was much talked over by the maids, and even anticipated by Winsome herself as a picturesque break in the monotony of the staid country life. Certainly he brought the essence of strength and youth and athletic energy into the quiet court-yard, when he rode in on his showily paced horse and reined him round at the low steps of the front door, with the free handling and cavalry swing which he had inherited as much from the long line of Greatorixes who had ridden out to harry the Warden's men along the marches, as from the yeomanry riding-master.
Now, the captain was neither an obliging nor yet a particularly amiable young man, and when he took so kindly to fetching and carrying, it was not long before the broad world of farm towns and herds' cot-houses upon which Greatorix Castle looked down suspected a motive, and said so in its own way.
On one occasion, riding down the long loaning of Craig Ronald, the captain came upon the slight, ascetic figure of Allan Welsh, the Marrow minister, leaning upon the gate which closed the loaning from the road. The minister observed him, but showed no signs of moving. Agnew Greatorix checked his horse.
‘Would you open the gate and allow me to pass on my way?’ he said, with chill politeness. The minister of the Marrow kirk looked keenly at him from under his grey eyebrows.
‘After I have had a few words with you, young sir,’ said Mr. Welsh.
‘I desire no words with you,’ returned the young man impatiently, backing his horse.
‘For whom are your visits at Craig Ronald intended?’ said the minister calmly. ‘Walter Skirving and his spouse do not receive company of such dignity; and besides them there are only the maids that I know of.’
‘Who made you my father confessor?’ mocked Agnew Greatorix, with an unpleasant sneer on his handsome face.
‘The right of being minister in the things of the Spirit to all that dwell in Craig Ronald House,’ said the minister of the Marrow firmly.
‘Truly a pleasant ministry, and one, no doubt, requiring frequent ministrations; yet do I not remember to have met you at Craig Ronald,’ he continued. ‘So faithful a minister surely must be faithful in his spiritual attentions.’
He urged his horse to the side of the gate and leaned over to open the gate himself, but the minister had his hand firmly on the latch.
‘I have seen you ride to many maids' houses, Agnew Greatorix, since the day your honoured father died, but never a one have I seen the better of your visits. Woe and sorrow have attended upon your way. You may ride off now at your ease, but beware the vengeance of the God of Jacob; the mother's curse and the father's malison ride not far behind!’
‘Preach me no preachments,’ said the young man; ‘keep such for your Marrow folk on Sundays; you but waste your words.’
‘Then I beseech you by the memory of a good father, whom, though of another and an alien communion, I shall ever respect, to cast your eyes elsewhere, and let the one ewe lamb of those whom God hath stricken alone.’
The gate was open now, and as he came through, Agnew Greatorix made his horse curvet, pushing the frail form of the preacher almost into the hedge.
A STRING OF THE LILAC SUNBONNET
For a long time they were silent, though it was not long before Winsome drew away her hand, which, however, continued to burn consciously for an hour afterwards. Silence settled around them. The constraint of speech fell first upon Ralph, being town-bred and accustomed to the convenances at Professor Thriepneuk's.
‘You rise early,’ he said, glancing shyly down at Winsome, who seemed to have forgotten his presence. He did not wish her to forget. He had no objection to her dreaming, if only she would dream about him.
Winsome turned the bewildering calmness of her eyes upon him. A gentleman, they say, is calm-eyed. So is a cow. But in the eye of a good woman there is a peace which comes from many generations of mothers—who, every one Christs in their way, have suffered their heavier share of the Eden curse.
Ralph would have given all that he possessed—which, by the way, was not a great deal—to be able to assure himself that there was any hesitancy or bashfulness in the glance which met his own. But Winsome's eyes were as clearly and frankly blue as if God had made them new that morning. At least Ralph looked upon their Sabbath peace and gave thanks, finding them very good.
A sparkle of laughter, at first silent and far away, sprang into them, like a breeze coming down Loch Grannoch when it lies asleep in the sun, sending shining sparkles winking shoreward, and causing the wavering golden lights on the shallow sand of the bays to scatter tremulously. So in the depths of Winsome's eyes glimmered the coming smile. Winsome could be divinely serious, but behind there lay the possibility and certainty of very frank earthly laughter. If, as Ralph thought, not for the first time in this rough island story, this girl were an angel, surely she was one to whom her Maker had given that rarest gift given to woman— a well-balanced sense of humour.
So when Ralph said, hardly knowing what he said, ‘You rise early,’ it was with that far-away intention of a smile that Winsome replied:
‘And you, sir, have surely not lagged in bed, or else you have come here in a great hurry.’
‘I rose,’ returned Ralph, ‘certainly betimes—in fact, a great while before day; it is the time when one can best know one's self.’
The sententiousness, natural to his years and education, to some extent rebuked Winsome, who said more soberly:
‘Perhaps you have again lost your books of study?’
‘I do not always study in books,’ answered Ralph.
Winsome continued to look at him as though waiting his explanation.
‘I mean,’ said Ralph, quickly, his pale cheek touched with red, ‘that though I am town-bred I love the things that wander among the flowers and in the wood. There are the birds, too, and the little green plants that have no flowers, and they all have a message, if I could only hear it and understand it.’
The sparkle in Winsome's eyes quieted into calm.
‘I too—’ she began, and paused as if startled at what she was about to say. She went on: ‘I never heard anyone say things like these. I did not know that anyone else had thoughts like these except myself.’
‘And have you thought these things?’ said Ralph, with a quick joy in his heart.
‘Yes,’ replied Winsome, looking down on the ground and playing with the loose string of the lilac sunbonnet. ‘I used often to wonder how it was that I could not look on the loch on Sabbath morning without feeling like crying. It was often better to look upon it than to go to Maister Welsh's kirk. But I ought not to say these things to you,’ she said, with a quick thought of his profession.
Ralph smiled. There were few things that Winsome Charteris might not say to him. He too had his experiences to collate.
‘Have you ever stood on a hill-top as though you were suspended in the air, and when you seem to feel the earth whirling away from beneath you, rushing swiftly eastward towards the sunrise?’
‘I have heard it,’ said Winsome unexpectedly.
‘Heard it?’ queried Ralph, with doubt in his voice.
‘Yes,’ said Winsome calmly, ‘I have often heard the earth wheeling round on still nights out on the top of the Craigs, where there was no sound, and all the house was asleep. It is as if some Great One were saying 'Hush!' to the angels—I think God himself!’
These were not the opinions of the kirk of the Marrow; neither were they expressed in the Acts Declaratory or the protests or claims of right made by the faithful contending remnant. But Ralph would not at that moment have hesitated to add them to the Westminster Confession.
It is a wonderful thing to be young. It is marvellously delightful to be young and a poet as well, who has just fallen—nay, rather, plunged fathoms—deep in love. Ralph Peden was both. He stood watching Winsome Charteris, who looked past him into a distance moistly washed with tender ultramarine ash, like her own eyes too full of colour to be gray and too pearly clear to be blue.
An equal blowing wind drew up the loch which lay beneath flooded with morning light, the sun basking on its broad expanse, and glittering in a myriad sparkles on the, narrows beneath them beside which the blanket-washing had been. A frolicsome breeze blew down the hill towards them in little flicks and eddies. One of these drew a flossy tendril of Winsome's golden hair, which this morning had red lights in it like the garnet gloss on ripe wheat or Indian corn, and tossed it over her brow. Ralph's hand tingled with the desire to touch it and put it back under her bonnet, and his heart leaped at the thought. But though he did not stir, nor had any part of his being moved save the hidden thought of his heart, he seemed to fall in his own estimation as one who had attempted a sacrilege.
‘Have you ever noticed,’ continued Winsome, all unconscious, going on with that fruitful comparison of feelings which has woven so many gossamer threads into three-fold cords, ‘how everything in the fields and the woods is tamer in the morning? They seem to have forgotten that man is their natural enemy while they slept.’
‘Perhaps,’ said Ralph theologically, ‘when they awake they forget that they are not still in that old garden that Adam kept.’
Winsome was looking at him now, for he had looked away in his turn, lost in a poet's thought. It struck her for the first time that other people might think him handsome. When a girl forgets to think whether she herself is of this opinion, and begins to think what others will think on a subject like this (which really does not concern her at all), the proceedings in the case are not finished.
They walked on together down by the sunny edge of the great plantation. The sun was now rising well into the sky, climbing directly upward as if on this midsummer day he were leading a forlorn hope to scale the zenith of heaven. He shone on the russet tassels of the larches, and the deep sienna boles of the Scotch firs. The clouds, which rolled fleecy and white in piles and crenulated bastions of cumulus, lighted the eyes of the man and maid as they went onward upon the crisping piny carpet of fallen fir-needles.
‘I have never seen Nature so lovely,’ said Ralph, ‘as when the bright morning breaks after a night of shower. Everything seems to have been new bathed in freshness.’
‘As if Dame Nature had had her spring cleaning,’ answered Winsome, ‘or Andrew Kissock when he has had his face washed once a week,’ who had been serious long enough, and who felt that too much earnestness even in the study of Nature might be a dangerous thing.
But the inner thought of each was something quite different. This is what Ralph thought within his heart, though his words were also perfectly genuine:
‘There is a dimple on her chin which comes out when she smiles,’ so he wanted her to smile again. When she did so, she was lovely enough to peril the Faith or even the denomination.
Ralph tried to recollect if there were no more stiles on this hill path over which she might have to be helped. He had taken off his hat and walked beside her bareheaded, carrying his hat in the hand farthest from Winsome, who was wondering how soon she would be able to tell him that he must keep his shoulders back.
Winsome was not a young woman of great experience in these matters, but she had the natural instinct for the possibilities of love without which no woman comes into the world—at once armour defensive and weapon offensive. She knew that one day Ralph Peden would tell her that he loved her, but in the meantime it was so very pleasant that it was a pity the days should come to an end. So she resolved that they should not, at least not just yet. If tomorrow be good, why confine one's self to today? She had not yet faced the question of what she would say to him when the day could be no longer postponed. She did not care to face it. Sufficient unto the day is the good thereof, is quite as excellent a precept as its counterpart, or at least so Winsome Charteris thought. But, all the same, she wished that she could tell him to keep his shoulders back.
A sudden resolve sprang full armed from her brain. Winsome had that strange irresponsibility sometimes which comes irresistibly to some men and women in youth, to say something as an experiment which she well knew she ought not to say, simply to see what would happen. More than once it had got her into trouble.
‘I wish you would keep back your shoulders when you walk!’ she said, quick as a flash, stopping and turning sideways to face Ralph Peden.
Ralph, walking thoughtfully with the student stoop, stood aghast, as though not daring to reply lest his ears had not heard aright.
‘I say, why do you not keep your shoulders back?’ repeated Winsome sharply, and with a kind of irritation at his silence.
He had no right to make her feel uncomfortable, whatever she might say.
‘I did not know—I thought—nobody ever told me,’ said Ralph, stammering and catching at the word which came uppermost, as he had done in college when Professor Thriepneuk, who was as fierce in the class-room as he was mild at home, had him cornered upon a quantity.
‘Well, then,’ said Winsome, ‘if everyone is so blind, it is time that someone did tell you now.’
Ralph squared himself like a drill-sergeant, holding himself so straight that Winsome laughed outright, and that so merrily that Ralph laughed too, well content that the dimple on her cheek should play at hide and seek with the pink flush of her clear skin.
So they had come to the stile, and Ralph's heart beat stronger, and a nervous tension of expectation quivered through him, bewildering his judgment. But Winsome was very clear-headed, and though the white of her eyes was as dewy and clear as a child's, she was no simpleton. She had read many men and women in her time, for it is the same in essence to rule Craig Ronald as to rule Rome.
‘This is your way,’ she said, sitting down on the stile. ‘I am going up to John Scott's to see about the lambs. It will be breakfast-time at the manse before you got back.’
Ralph's castle fell to the ground.
‘I will come up with you to John Scott's,’ he said with an undertone of eagerness.
‘Indeed, that you will not,’ said Winsome promptly, who did not want to arrive at seven o'clock in the morning at John Scott's with any young man. ‘You will go home and take to your book, after you have changed your shoes and stockings,’ she said practically.
‘Well, then, let me bid you good-bye, Winsome!’ said Ralph.
Her heart was warm to hear him say Winsome—for the first time. It certainly was not unpleasant, and there was no need that she should quarrel about that. She was about to give him her hand, when she saw something in his eye.
‘Mind, you are not to kiss it as you did grannie's yesterday; besides, there are John Scott's dogs on the brow of the hill,’ she said, pointing upward.
Poor Ralph could only look more crestfallen still. Such knowledge was too high for him. He fell back on his old formula:
‘I said before that you are a witch—’
‘And you say it again?’ queried Winsome, with careless nonchalance, swinging her bonnet by its strings. ‘Well, you can come back and kiss grannie's hand some other day. You are something of a favourite with her.’
But she had presumed just a hair-breadth too far on Ralph's gentleness. He snatched the lilac sunbonnet out of her hands, tearing, in his haste, one of the strings off, and leaving it in Winsome's hand. Then he kissed it once and twice outside where the sun shone on it, and inside where it had rested on her head. ‘You have torn it,’ she said complainingly, yet without anger.
‘I am very glad,’ said Ralph Peden, coming nearer to her with a light in his eye that she had never seen before.
Winsome dropped the string, snatched up the bonnet, and fled up the hill as trippingly as a young doe towards the herd's cottage. At the top of the fell she paused a moment with her hand on her side, as if out of breath. Ralph Peden was still holding the torn bonnet-string in his hand.
He held it up, hanging loose like a pennon from his hand. She could hear the words come clear up the hill:
‘I'm very—glad—that—I—tore—it, and I will come and—see— your—grandmother!’
‘Of all the—’ Winsome stopped for want of words, speaking to herself as she turned away up the hill—‘of all the insolent and disagreeable—’
She did not finish her sentence, as she adjusted the outraged sunbonnet on her curls, tucking the remaining string carefully within the crown; but as she turned again to look, Ralph Peden was calmly folding tip the string and putting it in a book.
‘I shall never speak to him again as long as I live,’ she said, compressing her lips so that a dimple that Ralph had never seen came out on the other side. This, of course, closed the record in the case. Yet in a little while she added thoughtfully: ‘But he is very handsome, and I think he will keep his shoulders back now. Not, of course, that it matters, for I am never to speak to him any more!’
John Scott's dogs were by this time leaping upon her, and that worthy shepherd was coming along a steep slope upon the edges of his boot-soles in the miraculous manner, which is peculiar to herds, as if he were walking on the turnpike.
Winsome turned for the last time. Against the broad, dark sapphire expanse of the loch, just where the great march dyke stepped off to bathe in the summer water, she saw something black which waved a hand and sprang over lightly.
Winsome sighed, and said a little wistfully yet not sadly:
‘Who would have thought it of him? It just shows!’ she said. All which is a warning to maids that the meekest worm may turn.
True love is at once chart and compass. It led Ralph Peden out into a cloudy June dawning. It was soft, amorphous, uncoloured night when he went out. Slate-coloured clouds were racing along the tops of the hills from the south. The wind blew in fitful gusts and veering flaws among the moorlands, making eddies and back-waters of the air, which twirled the fallen petals of the pear and cherry blossoms in the little manse orchard.
As he stepped out upon the moor and the chill of dawn struck inward, he did not know that Allan Welsh was watching him from his blindless bedroom. Dawn is the testing-time of the universe. Its cool, solvent atmosphere dissolves social amenities. It is difficult to be courteous, impossible to be polite, in that hour before the heart has realized that its easy task of throwing the blood horizontally to brain and feet has to be exchanged for the harder one of throwing it vertically to the extremities.
Ralph walked slowly and in deep thought through the long avenues of glimmering beeches and under the dry rustle of the quivering poplars. Then, as the first red of dawn touched his face, he looked about him. He was clear of the trees now, and the broad open expanse of the green fields and shining water meadows that ring in Loch Grannoch widened out before him. The winds sighed and rumbled about the hill-tops of the Orchar and the Black Laggan, but in the valley only the cool moist wind of dawn drew largely and statedly to and fro.
Ralph loved Nature instinctively, and saw it as a townbred lad rarely does. He was deeply read in the more scientific literature of the subject, and had spent many days in his Majesty's botanic gardens, which lie above the broad breast of the Forth. He now proved his learning, and with quick, sure eye made it real on the Galloway hills. Every leaf spoke to him. He could lie for half a day and learn wisdom from the ant. He took in the bird's song and the moth's flight. The keepers sometimes wondered at the lights which flashed here and there about the plantations, when in the coolness of a moist evening he went out to entrap the sidelong- dashing flutterers with his sugar-pots.
But since he came to Galloway, and especially since he smelled the smell of the wood-fire set for the blanket-washing above the Crae Water bridge, there were new secrets open to him. He possessed a voice that could wile a bird off a bough. His inner sympathy with wild and tame beasts alike was such that as he moved quietly among a drowsing, cud-chewing herd on the braes of Urioch not a beast moved.
Among them a wild, untamed colt stood at bay, its tail arched with apprehension, yet sweeping the ground, and watched him with flashing eyes of suspicion. Ralph held out his hand slowly, more as if it were growing out of his side by some rapid natural process than as if he were extending it. He uttered a low ‘sussurrus’ of coaxing and invitation, all the while imperceptibly decreasing his distance from the colt. The animal threw back its head, tossed its mane in act to flee, thought better of it and dropped its nose to take a bite or two of the long coarse grass. Then again it looked up and continued to gaze, fascinated at the beckoning and caressing fingers. At last, with a little whinny of pleasure, the colt, wholly reassured, came up and nestled a wet nose against Ralph's coat. He took the wild thing's neck within the arch of his arm, and the two new friends stood awhile in grave converse.
A moment afterwards Ralph bent to lay a hand upon the head of one of the placid queys that had watched the courtship with full, dewy eyes of bovine unconcern. Instantly the colt charged into the still group with a wild flourish of hoofs and viciously snapping teeth, scattering the black-polled Galloways like smoke. Then, as if to reproach Ralph for his unfaithfulness, he made a circle of the field at a full, swinging gallop, sending the short turf flying from his unshod hoofs at every stride. Back he came again, a vision of floating mane and streaming tail, and stopped dead three yards from Ralph, his forelegs strained and taut, ploughing furrows in the grass. As Ralph moved quietly across the field the colt followed, pushing a cool moist nose over the young man's shoulder. When at last Ralph set a foot on the projecting stone which stood out from the side of the grey, lichen-clad stone dyke, the colt stood stretching an eager head over as though desirous of following him; then, with a whinny of disappointment, he rushed round the field, charging at the vaguely wondering and listlessly grazing cattle with head arched between his forelegs and a flourish of widely distributed heels.
Over the hill, Craig Ronald was still wrapped in the lucid impermanence of earliest dawn, when Winsome Charteris set her foot over the blue flag-stones of the threshold. The high tide of darkness, which, in these northern summer mornings never rose very high or lasted very long, had ebbed long ago. The indigo grey of the sky was receding, and tinging towards the east with an imperceptibly graded lavender which merged behind the long shaggy outline of the piny ridge into a wash of pale lemon yellow.
The world paused, finger on lip, saying ‘Hush!’ to Winsome as she stepped over the threshold from the serenely breathing morning air, from the illimitable sky which ran farther and farther back as the angels drew the blinds from the windows of heaven.
‘Hush!’ said the cows over the hedge, blowing fragrant breaths of approval from their wide, comma-shaped nostrils upon the lush grass and upon the short heads of white clover, as they stood face to the brae, all with their heads upward, eating their way like an army on the march.
‘Hush! hush!’ said the sheep who were straggling over the shorter grass of the High Park, feeding fitfully in their short, uneasy way—crop, crop, crop—and then a pause, to move forward their own length and begin all over again.
But the sheep and the kine, the dewy grass and the brightening sky, might every one have spared their pains, for it was in no wise in the heart of Winsome Charteris to make a noise amid the silences of dawn. Meg Kissock, who still lay snug by Jess in a plump-cheeked country sleep, made noise enough to stir the country side when, rising, she set briskly about to get the house on its morning legs. But Winsome was one of the few people in this world —few but happy—to whom a sunrise is more precious than a sun set —rarer and more calming, instinct with message and sign from a covenant-keeping God. Also, Winsome betook herself early to bed, and so awoke attuned to the sun's rising.
What drew her forth so early this June day was no thought or hope or plan except the desire to read the heart of Nature, and perhaps that she might not be left too long alone with the parable of her own heart. A girl's heart is full of thought which it dares not express to herself—of fluttering and trembling possibilities, chrysalis-like, set aside to await the warmth of an unrevealed summer. In Winsome's soul the first flushing glory of the May of youth was waking the prisoned life. But there were throbs and thrillings too piercingly sweet to last undeveloped in her soul. The bursting bud of her healthful beauty, quickened by the shy radiance of her soul, shook the centres of her life, even as a laburnum-tree mysteriously quivers when the golden rain is in act to break from the close-clustered dependent budlets.
Thus it was that, at the stile which helps the paths between the Dullarg and Craig Ronald to overleap the high hill dyke, Ralph met Winsome. As they looked into one another's eyes, they saw Nature suddenly dissolve into confused meaninglessness. There was no clear message for either of them there, save the message that the old world of their hopes and fears had wholly passed away. Yet no new world had come when over the hill dyke their hands met. They said no word. There is no form of greeting for such. Eve did not greet Adam in polite phrase when he awoke to find her in the dawn of one Eden day, a helpmeet meet for him. Neither did Eve reply that ‘it was a fine morning.’ It is always a fine morning in Eden. They were silent, and so were these two. Their hands lay within one another a single instant. Then, with a sense of something wanting, Ralph sprang lightly over the dyke as an Edinburgh High-School boy ought who had often played hares and hounds in the Hunter's Bog, and been duly thrashed therefor by Dr. Adam on the following morning.
When Ralph stood beside her upon the sunny side of the stile he instinctively resumed Winsome's hand. For this he had no reason, certainly no excuse. Still, it may be urged in excuse that it was as much as an hour or an hour and a half before Winsome remembered that he needed any. Our most correct and ordered thoughts have a way of coming to us belated, as the passenger who strolls in confidently ten minutes after the platform is clear. But, like him, they are at least ready for the next train.
As Winsome and Ralph turned towards the east, the sun set his face over the great Scotch firs on the ridge, whose tops stood out like poised irregular blots on the fire centred ocean of light.
It was the new day, and if the new world had not come with it, of a surety it was well on the way.
the lilac sunbonnet
First serialised in The Christian Leader, 1894.