UNDER THE BED HEATHER
So refreshed, Ralph and Jock passed on their way. All the forenoon they plodded steadily forward. From Moniaive they followed the windings of a flashing burn, daching and roaring in a shallow linn, here and there white with foam and fretting, and again dimpling black in some deep and quiet pool. Through the ducal village of Thornhill and so northward along the Nithside towards the valley of the Menick they went. The great overlapping purple folds of the hills drew down about these two as they passed. Jock Gordon continually scoured away to either side like a dog fresh off the leash. Ralph kept steadily before him the hope in his heart that before long the deep cleft would be filled up and that for always.
It so happened that it was night when they reached the high summit of the Leadhills and the village of Wanlockhead gleamed grey beneath them. Ralph proposed to go down and get lodgings there; but Jock had other intentions.
‘What for,’ he argued, ‘what for should ye pay for the breadth of yer back to lie doon on? Jock Gordon wull mak' ye juist as comfortable ablow a heather buss as ever ye war in a bed in the manse. Bide a wee!’
Jock took him into a sheltered little ‘hope,’ where they were shut in from the world of sheep and pit-heads.
With his long, broad-bladed sheath-knife Jock was not long in piling under the sheltered underside of a great rock over which the heather grew, such a heap of heather twigs as Ralph could hardly believe had been cut in so short a time. These he compacted into an excellent mattress, springy and level, with pliable interlacings of broom.
‘Lie ye doon there, an' I'll mak' ye a bonnie plaidie,’ said Jock.
There was a little ‘cole’ or haystack of the smallest sort close at hand. To this Jock went, and, throwing off the top layer as possibly damp, he carried all the rest in his arms and piled it on Ralph till he was covered up to his neck.
‘We'll mak' a' snod again i' the mornin'!’ he said. ‘Noo, we'll theek ye, an' feed ye!’ said Jock comprehensively. So saying, he put other layers of heather, thinner than the mattress underneath, but arranged in the same way, on the top of the hay.
‘Noo ye're braw an' snug, are ye na'? What better wad ye hae been in a three-shillin' bed?’
Then Jock made a fire of broken last year's heather. This he carefully watched to keep it from spreading, and on it he roasted half a dozen plover's eggs which he had picked up during the day in his hillside ranging. On these high moors the moor-fowls go on laying till August. These being served on warmed and buttered scones, and sharpened with a whiff of mordant heather smoke, were most delicious to Ralph, who smiled to himself, well pleased under his warm covering of hay and overthatching of heather.
After each egg was supplied to him piping hot, Jock would say:
‘An' isna that as guid as a half-croon supper?’
Then another pee-wit's egg, delicious and fresh--
‘Luckie Morrine couldna beat that,’ said Jock.
There was a surprising lightness in the evening air, the elastic life of the wide moorland world settling down to rest for a couple of hours, which is all the night there is on these hill-tops in the crown of the year.
Jock Gordon covered himself by no means so elaborately as he had provided for Ralph, saying: ‘I hae covered you for winter, for ye're but a laddie; the like o' me disna need coverin' when the days follow yin anither like sheep jumpin' through a slap.’
Ralph was still asleep when the morning came. But when the young sun looked over the level moors—for they were on the very top of the heathery creation—Jock Gordon made a little hillock of dewy heather to shelter Ralph from the sun. He measured at the same time a hand's breadth in the sky, saying to himself, ‘I'll wakken the lad when he gets to there!’ He was speaking of the sun.
But before the flood of light overtopped the tiny break-water and shot again upon Ralph's face, he sat up bewildered and astonished, casting a look about him upon the moorland and its crying birds.
Jock Gordon was just coming towards him, having scoured the face of the ridge for more plover's eggs.
‘Dinna rise,’ said Jock, ‘till I tak' awa' the beddin'. Ye see,’ continued the expert in camping out on hills, ‘the hay an' the heather gets doon yer neck an' mak's ye yeuk an' fidge a' day. An' at first ye mind that, though after a while gin ye dinna yeuk, ye find it michty oninterestin'!’
Ralph sat up. Something in Jock's bare heel as he sat on the grass attracted his attention.
‘Wi', Jock,’ he said, infinitely astonished, ‘what's that in yer heel?’
‘Ou!’ said Jock, ‘it's nocht but a nail!’
‘A nail!’ said Ralph; ‘what are ye doin' wi' a nail in yer foot?’
‘I gat it in last Martinmas,’ he said.
‘But why do you not get it out? Does it not hurt?’ said Ralph, compassionating.
‘'Deed did it awhile at the first,’ said Jock, ‘but I got used to it. Ye can use wi' a'thing. Man's a wunnerful craitur!’
‘Let me try to pull it out,’ said Ralph, shivering to think of the pain he must have suffered.
‘Na, na, ye ken what ye hae, but ye dinna ken what ye micht get. I ken what I hae to pit up wi', wi' a nail in my fit; but wha kens what it micht be gin I had a muckle hole ye could pit yer finger in? It wadna be bonny to hae the clocks howkin' and the birdies biggin' their nests i' my heel! Na, na, it's a guid lesson to be content wi' yer doon-settin', or ye may get waur!’
It was in the bright morning light that these two took the Edinburgh road, which clambered down over the hillsides by the village of Leadhills into the valley of the Clyde. Through Abingdon and Biggar they made their way, and so admirable were Jock's requisitioning abilities that Winsome's green purse was never once called into action.
When they looked from the last downward step of the Mid-Lothian table-land upon the city of Edinburgh, there was a brisk starting of smoke from many chimneys, for the wives of the burgesses were kindling their supper fires, and their husbands were beginning to come in with the expectant look of mankind about meal-time.
‘Come wi' me, Jock, and I'll show ye Edinburgh, as ye have showed me the hills of heather!’ This was Ralph's invitation.
‘Na,’ said Jock, ‘an' thank ye kindly a' the same. There's muckle loons there that micht snap up a guid-lookin' lad like Jock, an' ship him ontill their nesty ships afore he could cry 'Mulquarchar and Craignell!' Jock Gordon may be a fule, but he kens when he's weel aff. Nae Auld Reekies for him, an' thank ye kindly. When he wants to gang to the gaol he'll steal a horse an' gang daicent! He'll no gang wi' his thoom in his mooth, an' when they say till him, 'What are ye here for?' be obleeged to answer, 'Fegs, an' I dinna ken what for!' Na, na, it wadna be mensefu' like ava'. A' the Gordons that ever was hae gaen to the gaol—but only yince. It's aye been a hangin' maitter, an' Jock's no the man to turn again the rule an' custom o' his forebears. 'Yince gang, yince hang,' is Jock's motto.’
Ralph did not press the point. But he had some unexpected feeling in saying good-bye to Jock. It was not so easy. He tried to put three of Winsome's guineas into his hand, but Jock would have none of them.
‘Me wi' gowden guineas!’ he said. ‘Surely ye maun hae an ill-wull at puir Jock, that wusses ye weel; what wad ony body say gin I poo'ed out sic a lump of gowd? 'There's that loon Jock been breakin' somebody's bank,' an' then 'Fare-ye-weel, Kilaivie,' to Jock's guid name. It's gane, like his last gless o' whusky, never to return.’
‘But you are a long way from home, Jock; how will you get back?’
‘Hoots, haivers, Maister Ralph, gin Jock has providit for you that needs a' things as gin ye war in a graund hoose, dinna be feared for Jock, that can eat a wamefu' o' green heather-taps wi' the dew on them like a bit flafferin' grouse bird. Or Jock can catch the muir-fowl itsel' an' eat it ablow a heather buss as gin he war a tod. Hoot awa' wi' ye! Jock can fend for himsel' brawly. Sillar wad only tak' the edge aff his genius.’
‘Then is there nothing that I can bring you from Edinburgh when I come again?’ said Ralph, with whom the coming again was ever present.
‘'Deed, aye, gin ye are so ceevil—it's richt prood I wad be o' a boxfu' o' Maister Cotton's Dutch sneeshin'—him that's i' the High Street—they say it's terrible graund stuff. Wullie Hulliby gat some when he was up wi' his lambs, an' he said that, after the first snifter, he grat for days. It maun be graund!’
Ralph promised, with gladness to find some way of easing his load of debt to Jock.
‘Noo, Maister Ralph, it's a wanchancy place, this Enbra', an' I'll stap aff an' on till the morrow's e'en here or hereaboots, for sae it micht be that ye took a notion to gang back amang kent fowk, whaur ye wad be safe an' soun'.’
‘But, Jock,’ urged Ralph, ‘ye need not do that. I was born and brought up in Edinburgh!’
‘That's as may be; gin I bena mista'en, there's a byous heap o' things has happened since then. Gang yer ways, but gin ye hae message or word for Jock, juist come cannily oot, an' he'll be here till dark the morn.’
OVER THE HILLS AND FAR AWA'
Winsome came back to a quiet Craig Ronald. The men were in the field. The farmsteading was hushed, Meg not to be seen, the dogs silent, the bedroom blind undrawn when she entered to find the key in the door. She went within instantly and threw herself down upon the bed. Outside, the morning sun strengthened and beat on the shining white of the walls of Craig Ronald, and on Ralph far across the moors.
Winsome must wait. We shall follow Ralph. It is the way of the world at any rate. The woman always must wait and nothing said. With the man are the keen interests of the struggle, the grip of opposition, the clash of arms. With the woman, naught worth speaking of—only the silence, the loneliness, and waiting.
Ralph went northward wearing Winsome's parting kiss on his brow like an insignia of knighthood. It meant much to one who had never gone away before. So simple was he that he did not know that there are all-experiencing young men who love and sail away, clearing as they go the decks of their custom-staled souls for the next action.
He stumbled, this simple knight, blindly into the ruts and pebbly water courses down which the winter rains had rushed, tearing the turf clean from the granite during the November and February rains.
So he journeyed onward, heedless of his going.
To him came Jock Gordon, skipping like a wild goat down the Bennanside.
‘Hey, mon, d'ye want to drive intil Loch Ken? Ye wad mak' braw ged-bait. Haud up the hill, breest to the brae.’
Through his trouble Ralph heard and instinctively obeyed. In a little while he struck the beautiful road which runs north and south along the side of the long loch of Ken. Now there are fairer bowers in the south sunlands. There are Highlands and Alp-lands of sky-piercing beauty. But to Galloway, and specially to the central glens and flanking desolations thereof, one beauty belongs. She is like a plain girl with beautiful eyes. There is no country like her in the world for colour—so delicately fresh in the rain- washed green of her pasture slopes, so keen the viridian of her turnip-fields when the dew is on the broad, fleshy, crushed leaves, so tender and deep the blue in the hollow places. It was small wonder that Ralph had set down in the note-book in which he sketched for future use all that passed under his eye:
‘Hast thou seen the glamour that follows, The falling of summer rain- The mystical blues in the hollows, The purples and greys on the plain?’
It is true that all these things were but the idle garniture of a tale that had lost its meaning to Ralph this morning; but yet in time the sense that the beauty and hope of life lay about him stole soothingly upon his soul. He was glad to breathe the gracious breaths of spraying honeysuckle running its creamy riot of honey-drenched petals over the hedges, and flinging daring reconnaissances even to the tops of the dwarf birches by the wayside.
So quickly Nature eased his smart, that—for such is the nature of the best men, even of the very best—at the moment when Winsome threw herself, dazed and blinded with pain, upon her low white bed in the little darkened chamber over the hill at Craig Ronald, Ralph was once more, even though with the gnaw of emptiness and loss in his heart, looking forward to the future, and planning what the day would bring to him on which he should return.
Even as he thought he began to whistle, and his step went lighter, Jock Gordon moving silently along the heather by his side at a dog's trot. Let no man think hardly of Ralph, for this is the nature of the man. It was not that man loves the less, but that with him in his daring initiative and strenuous endeavour the future lies.
The sooner, then, that he could compass and overpass his difficulties the more swiftly would his face be again set to the south, and the aching emptiness of his soul be filled with a strange and thrilling expectancy. The wind whistled in his face as he rounded the Bennan and got his first glimpse of the Kells range, stretching far away over surge after surge of heather and bent, through which, here and there, the grey teeth of the granite shone. It is no blame to him that, as he passed on from horizon to horizon, each step which took him farther and farther from Craig Ronald seemed to bring him nearer and nearer to Winsome. He was going away, yet with each mile he regained the rebounding spirit of youth, while Winsome lay dazed in her room at Craig Ronald. But let it not be forgotten that he went in order that no more she might so lie with the dry mechanic sobs catching ever and anon in her throat. So the world is not so ill divided, after all. And, being a woman, perhaps Winsome's grief was as dear and natural to her as Ralph's elastic hopefulness.
Soon Ralph and Jock Gordon were striding across the moors towards Moniaive. Ralph wished to breakfast at one of the inns in New Galloway, but this Jock Gordon would not allow. He did not like
that kind o' folk, he said.
‘Gie's tippens, an' that'll serve brawly,’ said Jock.
Ralph drew out Winsome's purse; he looked at it reverently and put it back again. It seemed too early, and too material a use of her love-token.
‘Nae sillar in't?’ queried Jock. ‘How's that? It looks brave and baggy.’
‘I think I will do without for the present,’ said Ralph.
‘Aweel,’ said Jock, ‘ye may, but I'm gaun to hae my breakfast a' the same, sillar or no sillar.’
In twenty minutes he was back by the dykeside, where he had left Ralph sitting, twining Winsome's purse through his fingers, and thinking on the future, and all that was awaiting him in Edinburgh town.
Jock seemed what he had called Winsome's purse—baggy.
Then he undid himself. From under the lower buttons of his long russet ‘sleeved waistcoat’ with the long side flaps which, along with his sailor-man's trousers, he wore for all garment, he drew a barn-door fowl, trussed and cooked, and threw it on the ground. Now came a dozen farles of cake, crisp and toothsome, from the girdle, and three large scones raised with yeast.
Then followed, out of some receptacle not too strictly to be localized, half a pound of butter, wrapped in a cabbage-leaf, and a quart jug of pewter.
Ralph looked on in amazement.
‘Where did you get all these?’ he asked.
‘Get them? Took them!’ said Jock succinctly. ‘I gaed alang to Mistress MacMorrine's, an' says I, 'Guid-mornin' till ye, mistress, an' hoo's a' wi' ye the day?' for I'm a ceevil chiel when folks are ceevil to me.’
‘Nane the better for seein' you, Jock Gordon,' says she, for she's an unceevil wife, wi' nae mair mainners nor gin she had just come ower frae Donnachadee—the ill-mainnered randy.
‘But,' says I, 'maybes ye wad be the better o' kennin' that the kye's eatin' your washin' up on the loan. I saw Provost Weir's muckle Ayreshire halfway through wi' yer best quilt,' says I.
‘She flung up her hands.
‘Save us!' she cries; 'could ye no hae said that at first?'
‘An' wi' that she ran as if Auld Hornie was at her tail, screevin' ower the kintra as though she didna gar the beam kick at twa hunderweicht guid.’
‘But was that true, Jock Gordon?’ asked Ralph, astounded.
‘True!—what for wad it be true? Her washin' is lyin' bleachin', fine an' siccar, but she get a look at it and a braw sweet. A race is guid exercise for ony yin that its as muckle as Luckie MacMorrine.’
‘But the provisions—and the hen?’ asked Ralph, fearing the worst.
‘They were on her back-kitchen table. There they are now,’ said Jock, pointing with his foot, as though that was all there was to say about the matter.
‘But did you pay for them?’ he asked.
‘Pay for them! Does a dowg pay for a sheep's heid when he gangs oot o' the butcher's shop wi' yin atween his teeth, an' a twa-pund wecht playin' dirl on his hench-bane? Pay for't! Weel, I wat no! Didna yer honour tell me that ye had nae sillar, an' sae gaed it in hand to Jock?’
Ralph started up. This might be a very serious matter. He pulled out Winsome's purse again. In the end he tried first there was silver, and in the other five golden guineas in a little silken inner case. One of the guineas Ralph took out, and, handing it to Jock, he bade him gather up all that he had stolen and take his way back with them. Then he was to buy them from Luckie MacMorrine at her own price.
‘Sic a noise aboot a bit trifle!’ said Jock. ‘What's aboot a bit chuckle an' a heftin' o' cake? Haivers!’
But very quickly Ralph prevailed upon him, and Jock took the guinea. At his usual swift wolf's lope he was out of sight over the long stretches of heather and turf so speedily that he arrived at the drying-ground on the hillside before Luckie MacMorrine, handicapped by her twenty stone avoirdupois, had perspired thither.
Jock met her at the gate.
‘Noo, mistress,’ exclaimed Jock, busily smoothing out the wrinkles and creases of a fine linen sheet, with ‘E. M. M.’ on the corner, ‘d'ye see this? I juist gat here in time, and nae mair. Ye see, thae randies o' kye, wi' their birses up, they wad sune hae seen the last o' yer bonny sheets an' blankets, gin I had letten them.’
Mistress MacMorrine did not waste a look on the herd of cows, but proceeded to go over her washing with great care. Jock had just arrived in time to make hay of it, before the owner came puffing up the road. Had she looked at the cows curiously it might have struck her that they were marvellously calm for such ferocious animals. This seemed to strike Jock, for he went after them, throwing stones at them in the manner known as ‘henchin'’, much practised in Galloway, and at which Jock was a remarkable adept. Soon he had them excited enough for anything, and pursued them with many loud outcryings till they were scattered far over the moor.
When he came back he said: ‘Mistress MacMorrine, I ken brawly that ye'll be wushin' to mak' me some sma' recompense for my trouble an' haste. Weel, I'll juist open my errand to ye. Ye see the way o't was this: There is twa gentlemen shooters on the moors, the Laird o' Balbletherum an' the Laird o' Glower-ower-'em-twa respectit an' graund gentlemen. They war wantin' some luncheon, but they were that busy shootin' that they hadna time to come, so they says to me, 'Jock Gordon, do ye ken an honest woman in this neighbourhood that can supply something to eat at a reasonable chairge?' 'Yes,' says I, 'Mistress MacMorrine is sic a woman, an' nae ither.' 'Do ye think she could pit us up for ten days or a fortnight?' says they. 'I doot na', for she's weel plenisht an' providit,' I says. 'Noo, I didna ken but ye micht be a lang time detained wi' the kye (as indeed ye wad hae been, gin I hadna come to help ye), an' as the lairds couldna be keepit, I juist took up the bit luncheon that I saw on your kitchie table, an' here it is, on its way to the wames o' the gentlemen—whilk is an honour till't.'‘
Mistress MacMorrine did not seem to be very well pleased at the unceremonious way in which Jock had dealt with the contents of her larder, but the inducement was too great to be gainsaid.
‘Ye'll mak' it reasonable, nae doot,’ said Jock, ‘sae as to gie the gentlemen a good impression. There's a' thing in a first impression.’
‘Tak' it till them an' welcome—wi' the compliments o' Mrs. MacMorrine o' the Blue Bell, mind an' say till them. Ye may consider it a recognition o' yer ain trouble in the matter o' the kye; but I will let the provost hear o't on the deafest side o' his heid when he ca's for his toddy the nicht.’
‘Thank ye, mistress,’ said Jock, quickly withdrawing with his purchases; ‘there's nocht like obleegements for makin' freends.’
At last Ralph saw Jock coming at full speed over the moor.
He went forward to him anxiously.
‘Is it all right?’ he asked.
‘It's a' richt, an' a' paid for, an' mair, gin ye like to send Jock for't; an' I wasna to forget Mistress MacMorrine's compliments to ye intil the bargain.’
Ralph looked mystified.
‘Ye wadna see the Laird o' Balbletherum? Did ye?’ said Jock, cocking his impudent, elvish head to the side.
‘Who is he?’ asked Ralph.
‘Nor yet the Laird o' Glower—ower—'em?’
‘I have seen nobody from the time you went away,’ said Ralph.
‘Then we'll e'en fa' to. For gin thae twa braw gentlemen arena here to partake o' the guid things o' this life, then there's the mair for you an' Jock Gordon.’
Jock never fully satisfied Ralph's curiosity as to the manner in which he obtained this provender. Luckie Morrine bestowed it upon him for services rendered, he said; which was a true, though somewhat abbreviated and imperfect account of the transaction.
What the feelings of the hostess of the Blue Bell were when night passed without the appearance of the two lairds, for whom she had spread her finest sheets, and looked out her best bottles of wine, we have no means of knowing. Singularly enough, for some considerable time thereafter Jock patronized the ‘Cross Keys’ when he happened to be passing that way. He ‘preferred it to the Blue Bell,’ he said.
SUCH SWEET SORROW
Winsome and Ralph laughed, but Winsome sat up and put straight her sunbonnet. Sunbonnets are troublesome things. They will not stick on one's head. Manse Bell contradicts this. She says that her sunbonnet never comes off, or gets pushed back. As for other people's, lasses are not what they were in her young days.
‘I must go home,’ said Winsome; ‘they will miss me.’
‘You know that it is 'good-bye,' then,’ said Ralph.
‘What!’ said Winsome, ‘shall I not see you tomorrow?’ the bright light of gladness dying out of her eye. And the smile drained down out of her cheek like the last sand out of the sand-glass.
‘No,’ said Ralph quietly, keeping his eyes full on hers, ‘I cannot go back to the manse after what was said. It is not likely that I shall ever be there again.’
‘Then when shall I see you?’ said Winsome piteously. It is the cry of all loving womanhood, whose love goes out to the battle or into the city, to the business of war, or pleasure, or even of money- getting. ‘Then when shall I see you again?’ said Winsome, saying a new thing. There is nothing new under the sun, yet to lovers like Winsome and Ralph all things are new.
There was a catch in her throat. A salter dew gathered about her eyes, and the pupils expanded till the black seemed to shut out the blue.
Very tenderly Ralph looked down, and said, ‘Winsome, my dear, very soon I shall come again with more to ask and more to tell.’
‘But you are not going straight away to Edinburgh now? You must get a drive to Dumfries and take the Edinburgh coach.’
‘I cannot do that,’ said Ralph; ‘I must walk all the way; it is nothing.’
Winsome looked at Ralph, the motherly instinct that is in all true love surging up even above the lover's instinct. It made her clasp and unclasp her hands in distress, to think of him going away alone over the waste moors, from the place where they had been so happy.
‘And he will leave me behind!’ she said, with a sudden fear of the loneliness which would surely come when the bright universe was emptied of Ralph.
‘Had it only been tomorrow, I could have borne it better,’ she said. ‘Oh, it is too soon! How could he let us be so happy when he was going away from me?’
Winsome knew even better than Ralph that he must go, but the most accurate knowledge of necessity does not prevent the resentful feeling in a woman's heart when one she loves goes before his time.
But the latent motherhood in this girl rose up. If he were truly hers, he was hers to take care of. Therefore she asked the question which every mother asks, and no sweetheart who is nothing but a sweetheart has ever yet asked:
‘Have you enough money?’
Ralph blushed and looked most unhappy, for the first time since the sun rose.
‘I have none at all,’ he said; ‘my father only gave me the money for my journey to the Dullarg, and Mr. Welsh was to provide me what was necessary—’ He stopped here, it seemed such a hard and shameful thing to say. ‘I have never had anything to do with money,’ he said, hanging down his head.
Now Winsome, who was exceedingly practical in this matter, went forward to him quickly and put an arm upon his shoulder.
‘My poor boy!’ she said, with the tenderest and sweetest expression on her face. And again Ralph Peden perceived that there are things more precious than much money.
‘Now bend your head and let me whisper.’ It was already bent, but it was in his ear that Winsome wished to speak.
‘No, no, indeed I cannot, Winsome, my love; I could not, indeed, and in truth I do not need it.’
Winsome dropped her arms and stepped back tragically. She put one hand over the other upon her breast, and turned half way from him.
‘Then you do not love me,’ she said, purely as a coercive measure.
‘I do, I do—you know that I do; but I could not take it,’ said Ralph, piteously.
‘Well, good-bye, then,’ said Winsome, without holding out her hand, and turning away.
‘You do not mean it; Winsome, you cannot be cruel, after all. Come back and sit down. We shall talk about it, and you will see—’
Winsome paused and looked at him, standing so piteously. She says now that she really meant to go away, but she smiles when she says it, as if she did not quite believe the statement herself. But something—perhaps the look in his eyes, and the thought that, like herself, he had never known a mother—made her turn. Going back, she took his hand and laid it against her cheek.
‘Ralph,’ she said, ‘listen to me; if I needed help and had none I should not be proud; I would not quarrel with you when you offered to help me. No, I would even ask you for it! But then I love you.’ It was hardly fair. Winsome acknowledges as much herself; but then a woman has no weapons but her wit and her beauty—which is, seeing the use she can make of these two, on the whole rather fortunate than otherwise.
Ralph looked eager and a little frightened.
‘Would you do that really?’ he asked eagerly.
‘Of course I should!’ replied Winsome, a little indignantly.
Ralph took her in his arms, and in such a masterful way, that first she was frightened and then she was glad. It is good to feel weak in the arms of a strong man who loves you. God made it so when he made all things well.
‘My lassie!’ said Ralph for all comment.
Then fell a silence so prolonged that a shy squirrel in the boughs overhead resumed his researches upon the tassels and young shoots of the pine-tops, throwing down the debris in a contemptuous manner upon Winsome and Ralph, who stood below, listening to the beating of each other's hearts.
Finally Winsome, without moving, produced apparently from regions unknown a long green silk purse with three silver rings round the middle.
As she put it into Ralph's hand, something doubtful started again into his eyes, but Winsome looked so fierce in a moment, and so decidedly laid a finger on his lips, that perforce he was silent.
As soon as he had taken it, Winsome clapped her hands (as well as was at the time possible for her—it seemed, indeed, altogether impossible to an outsider, yet it was done), and said:
‘You are not sorry, dear—you are glad?’ with interrogatively arched eyebrows.
‘Yes,’ said Ralph, ‘I am very glad.’ As indeed he might well be.
‘You see,’ said the wise young woman, ‘it is this way: all that is my very own. I am your very own, so what is in the purse is your very own.’
Logic is great—greatest when the logician is distractingly pretty; then, at least, it is sure to prevail—unless, indeed, the opponent be blind, or another woman. This is why they do not examine ladies orally in logic at the great colleges.
We have often tried to recover Ralph's reply, but the text is corrupt at this place, the context entirely lost. Experts suspect a palimpsest.
Perhaps we linger overly long on the records; but there is so much called love in the world, which is no love, that there may be some use in dwelling upon the histories of a love which was fresh and tender, sweet and true. It is at once instruction for the young, and for the older folk a cast back into the days that were. If to any it is a mockery or a scorning, so much the worse—for of them who sit in the scorner's chair the doom is written.
Winsome and Ralph walked on into the eye of the day, hand in hand, as was their wont. They crossed the dreary moor, which yet is not dreary when you came to look at it on such a morning as this.
The careless traveller glancing at it as he passed might call it dreary; but in the hollows, miniature lakes glistened, into which the tiny spurs of granite ran out flush with the water like miniature piers. The wind of the morning waking, rippled on the lakelets, and blew the bracken softly northward. The heather was dark rose purple, the ‘ling’ dominating the miles of moor; for the lavender-grey flush of the true heather had not yet broken over the great spaces of the south uplands.
So their feet dragged slower as they drew near to that spot where they knew they must part. There was no thought of going back. There was even little of pain.
Perfect love had done its work. All frayed and secondhand loves may be made ashamed by the fearlessness of these two walking to their farewell trysting-place, lonely amid the world of heather. Only daft Jock Gordon above them, like a jealous scout, scoured the heights—sometimes on all-fours, sometimes bending double, with his long arms swinging like windmills, scaring even the sheep and the deer lest they should come too near. Overhead there was nothing nearer them than the blue lift, and even that had withdrawn itself infinitely far away, as though the angels themselves did not wish to spy on a later Eden. It was that midsummer glory of love-time, when grey Galloway covers up its flecked granite and becomes a true Purple Land.
If there be a fairer spot within the four seas than this fringe of birch-fringed promontory which juts into westernmost Loch Ken, I do not know it. Almost an island, it is set about with the tiniest beaches of white sand. From the rocks that look boldly up the loch the heather and the saxifrage reflect themselves in the still water. To reach it Winsome led Ralph among the scented gall-bushes and bog myrtle, where in the marshy meadows the lonely grass of Parnassus was growing. Pure white petals, veined green, with spikelets of green set in the angles within, five-lobed broidery of daintiest gold stitching, it shone with so clear a presage of hope that Ralph stooped to pick it that he might give it to Winsome.
She stopped him.
‘Do not pull it,’ she said; ‘leave it for me to come and look at— when—when you are gone. It will soon wither if it is taken away; but give me some of the bog myrtle instead,’ she added, seeing that Ralph looked a little disappointed.
Ralph gathered some of the narrow, brittle, fragrant leaves. Winsome carefully kept half for herself, and as carefully inserted a spray in each pocket of his coat.
‘There, that will keep you in mind of Galloway!’ she said. And indeed the bog myrtle is the characteristic smell of the great world of hill and moss we call by that name. In far lands the mere thought of it has brought tears to the eyes unaccustomed, so close do the scents and sights of the old Free Province—the lordship of the Picts—wind themselves about the hearts of its sons.
‘We transplant badly, we plants of the hills. You must come back to me,’ said Winsome, after a pause of wondering silence.
Loch Ken lay like a dream in the clear dispersed light of the morning, the sun shimmering upon it as through translucent ground glass. Teal and moor-hen squattered away from the shore as Winsome and Ralph climbed the brae, and stood looking northward over the superb levels of the loch. On the horizon Cairnsmuir showed golden tints through his steadfast blue.
Whaups swirled and wailed about the rugged side of Bennan above their heads. Across the loch there was a solitary farm so beautifully set that Ralph silently pointed it out to Winsome, who smiled and shook her head.
‘The Shirmers has just been let on a nineteen years' lease,’ she said, ‘eighteen to run.’
So practical was the answer, that Ralph laughed, and the strain of his sadness was broken. He did not mean to wait eighteen years for her, fathers or no fathers.
Then beyond, the whole land leaped skyward in great heathery sweeps, save only here and there, where about some hill farm the little emerald crofts and blue-green springing oatlands clustered closest. The loch spread far to the north, sleeping in the sunshine. Burnished like a mirror it was, with no breath upon it. In the south the Dee water came down from the hills peaty and brown. The roaring of its rapids could faintly be heard. To the east, across the loch, an island slept in the fairway, wooded to the water's edge.
It were a good place to look one's last on the earth, this wooded promontory, which might indeed have been that mountain, though a little one, from which was once seen all the kingdoms of the earth and the glory of them. For there are no finer glories on the earth than red heather and blue loch, except only love and youth.
So here love and youth had come to part, between the heather that glowed on the Bennan Hill and the sapphire pavement of Loch Ken.
For a long time Winsome and Ralph were silent—the empty interior sadness, mixed of great fear and great hunger, beginning to grip them as they stood. Lives only just twined and unified were again to twain. Love lately knit was to be torn asunder. Eyes were to look no more into the answering eloquence of other eyes.
‘I must go,’ said Ralph, looking down into his betrothed's face.
‘Stay only a little,’ said Winsome. ‘It is the last time.’
So he stayed.
Strange, nervous constrictions played at ‘cat's cradle’ about their hearts. Vague noises boomed and drummed in their ears, making their own words sound strange and empty, like voices heard in a dream.
‘Winsome!’ said Ralph.
‘Ralph!’ said Winsome.
‘You will never for a moment forget me?’ said Winsome Charteris.
‘You will never for a moment forget me?’ said Ralph Peden.
The mutual answer taken and given, after a long silence of soul and body in not-to-be-forgotten communion, they drew apart.
Ralph went a little way down the birch-fringed hill, but turned to look a last look. Winsome was standing where he had left her. Something in her attitude told of the tears steadily falling upon her summer dress. It was enough and too much.
Ralph ran back quickly.
‘I cannot go away, Winsome. I cannot bear to leave you like this!’
Winsome looked at him and fought a good fight, like the brave girl she was. Then she smiled through her tears with the sudden radiance of the sun upon a showery May morning when the white hawthorn is coming out.
At this a sob, dangerously deep, rending and sudden, forced itself from Ralph's throat. Her smile was infinitely more heart-breaking than her tears. Ralph uttered a kind of low inarticulate roar at the sight—being his impotent protest against his love's pain. Yet such moments are the ineffaceable treasures of life, had he but known it. Many a man's deeds follow his vows simply because his lips have tasted the salt water of love's ocean upon the face of the beloved.
‘Be brave, Winsome,’ said Ralph; ‘it shall not be for long.’
Yet she was braver than he, had he but known it; for it is the heritage of the woman to be the stronger in the crises which inevitably wait upon love and love's achievement.
Winsome bent to kiss, with a touch like a benediction, not his lips now but his brow, as he stood beneath her on the hill slope.
‘Go,’ she said; ‘go quickly, while I have the strength. I will be brave. Be thou brave also. God be with thee!’
So Ralph turned and fled while he could. He dared not trust himself to look till he was past the hill and some way across the moor. Then he turned and looked back over the acres of heather which he had put between himself and his love.
Winsome still stood on the hill-top, the sun shining on her face. In her hand was the lilac sunbonnet, making a splash of faint pure colour against the blonde whiteness of her dress. Ralph could just catch the golden shimmer of her hair. He knew but he could not see how it crisped and tendrilled about her brow, and how the light wind blew it into little cirrus wisps of sun-flossed gold. The thought that for long he should see it no more was even harder than parting. It is the hard things on this earth that are the easiest to do. The great renunciation is easy, but it is infinitely harder to give up the sweet, responsive delight of the eye, the thought, the caress. This also is human. God made it.
The lilac sunbonnet waved a little heartless wave which dropped in the middle as if a string were broken. But the shining hair blew out, as a waft of wind from the Bennan fretted a moving patch across the loch.
Ralph flung out his hand in one of the savage gestures men use when they turn bewildered and march away, leaving the best of their lives behind them.
So shutting his eyes Ralph plunged headlong into the green glades of the Kenside and looked no more. Winsome walked slowly and sedately back, not looking on the world any more, but only twining and pulling roughly the strings of her sunbonnet till one came off. Winsome threw it on the grass. What did it matter now? She would wear it no longer. There was none to cherish the lilac sunbonnet any more.
THE DEW OF THEIR YOUTH
Jock made his way without a moment's hesitation to the little hen- house which stood at one end of the farm steading of Craig Ronald. Up this he walked with his semi-prehensile bare feet as easily as though he were walking along the highway. Up to the rigging of the house he went, then along it—setting one foot on one side and the other on the other, turning in his great toes upon the coping for support. Thus he came to the gable end at which Meg slept. Jock leaned over the angle of the roof and with his hand tapped on the window.
‘Wha's there? ‘said Meg from her bed, no more surprised than if the knock had been upon the outer door at midday.
‘It's me, daft Jock Gordon,’ said Jock candidly.
‘Gae wa' wi' ye, Jock! Can ye no let decent fowk sleep in their beds for yae nicht?’
‘Ye maun get up, Meg,’ said Jock.
‘An' what for should I get up?’ queried Meg indignantly. ‘I had ancuch o' gettin' up yestreen to last me a gye while.’
‘There's a young man here wantin' to coort your mistress!’ said Jock delicately.
‘Haivers!’ said Meg, ‘hae ye killed another puir man?’
‘Na, na, he's honest—this yin. It's the young man frae the manse. The auld carle o' a minister has turned him oot o' hoose an' hame, and he's gaun awa' to Enbra'. He says he maun see the young mistress afore he gangs—but maybe ye ken better, Meg.’
‘Gae wa' frae the wunda, Jock, and I'll get up,’ said Meg, with a brevity which betokened the importance of the news.
In a little while Meg was in Winsome's room. The greyish light of early morning was just peeping in past the little curtain. On the chair lay the lilac-sprigged muslin dress of her grandmother's, which Winsome had meant to put on next morning to the kirk. Her face lay sideways on the pillow, and Meg could see that she was softly crying even in her sleep. Meg stood over her a moment. Something hard lay beneath Winsome's cheek, pressing into its soft rounding. Meg tenderly slipped it out. It was an ordinary memorandum-book written with curious signs. On the pillow by her lay the lilac sunbonnet.
Meg put her arms gently round Winsome, saying:
‘It's me, my lamb. It's me, your Meg!’
And Meg's cheek was pressed against that of Winsome, moist with sleep. The sleeper stirred with a dovelike moaning, and opened her eyes, dark with sleep and wet with the tears of dreams, upon Meg.
‘Waken, my bonnie; Meg has something that she maun tell ye.’
So Winsome looked round with the wild fear with which she now started from all her sleeps; but the strong arms of her loyal Meg were about her, and she only smiled with a vague wistfulness, and said:
‘It's you, Meg, my dear!’
So into her ear Meg whispered her tale. As she went on, Winsome clasped her round the neck, and thrust her face into the neck of Meg's drugget gown. This is the same girl who had set the ploughmen their work and appointed to each worker about the farm her task. It seems necessary to say so.
‘Noo,’ said Meg, when she had finished, ‘ye ken whether ye want to see him or no!’
‘Meg,’ whispered Winsome, ‘can I let him go away to Edinburgh and maybe never see me again, without a word?’
‘Ye ken that best yersel',’ said Meg with high impartiality, but with her comforting arms very close about her darling.
‘I think,’ said Winsome, the tears very near the lids of her eyes, ‘that I had better not see him. I—I do not wish to see him—Meg,’ she said earnestly; ‘go and tell him not to see me any more, and not to think of a girl like me—’
Meg went to Winsome's little cupboard wardrobe in the wall and took down the old lilac-sprayed summer gown which she had worn when she first saw Ralph Peden.
‘Ye had better rise, my lassie, an' tak' that message yersel'!’ said Meg dryly.
So obediently Winsome rose. Meg helped her to dress, holding silently her glimmering white garments for her as she had done when first as a fairy child she came to Craig Ronald. Some of them were a little roughly held, for Meg could not see quite so clearly as usual. Also when she spoke her speech sounded more abruptly and harshly than was its wont.
At last the girl's attire was complete, and Winsome stood ready for her morning walk fresh as the dew on the white lilies. Meg tied the strings of the old sunbonnet beneath her sweet chin, and stepped back to look at the effect; then, with sudden impulsive movement, she went tumultuously forward and kissed her mistress on the cheek.
‘I wush it was me!’ she said, pushing Winsome from the room.
The day was breaking red in the east when Winsome stepped out upon the little wooden stoop, damp with the night mist, which seemed somehow strange to her feet. She stepped down, giving a little familiar pat to the bosom of her dress, as though to advertise to any one who might be observing that it was her constant habit thus to walk abroad in the dawn.
Meg watched her as she went. Then she turned into the house to stop the kitchen clock and out to lock the stable door.
Through the trees Winsome saw Ralph long before he saw her. She was a woman; he was only a naturalist and a man. She drew the sunbonnet a little farther over her eyes. He started at last, turned, and came eagerly towards her.
Jock Gordon, who had remained about the farm, went quickly to the gate at the end of the house as if to shut it.
‘Come back oot o' that,’ said Meg sharply.
Jock turned quite as briskly.
‘I was gaun to stand wi' my back til't, sae that they micht ken there was naebody luikin'. D'ye think Jock Gordon haes nae mainners?’ he said indignantly.
‘Staun wi' yer back to a creel o' peats, Jock; it'll fit ye better!’ ooserved Meg, giving him the wicker basket with the broad leather strap which was used at Craig Ronald for bringing the peats in from the stack.
Winsome had not meant to look at Ralph as she came up to him. It seemed a bold and impossible thing for her ever again to come to him. The fear of a former time was still strong upon her.
But as soon as she saw him, her eyes somehow could not leave his face. He dropped his hat on the grass beneath, as he came forward to meet her under the great branches of the oak-trees by the little pond. She had meant to tell him that he must not touch her —she was not to be touched; yet she went straight into his open arms like a homing dove. Her great eyes, still dewy with the warm light of love in them, never left his till, holding his love safe in his arms, he drew her to him and upon her sweet lips took his first kiss of love.
‘At last!’ he said, after a silence.
The sun was rising over the hills of heather. League after league of the imperial colour rolled westward as the level rays of the sun touched it.
‘Now do you understand, my beloved?’ said Ralph. Perhaps it was the red light of the sun, or only some roseate tinge from the miles of Galloway heather that stretched to the north, but it is certain that there was a glow of more than earthly beauty on Winsome's face as she stood up, still within his arms, and said:
‘I do not understand at all, but I love you.’
Then, because there is nothing more true and trustful than the heart of a good woman, or more surely an inheritance from the maid-mother of the sinless garden than her way of showing that she gives her all, Winsome laid her either hand on her lover's shoulders and drew his face down to hers—laying her lips to his of her own free will and accord, without shame in giving, or coquetry of refusal, in that full kiss of first surrender which a woman may give once, but never twice, in her life.
This also is part of the proper heritage of man and woman, and whoso has missed it may attain wealth or ambition, may exhaust the earth—yet shall die without fully or truly living.
A moment they stood in silence, swaying a little like twin flowers in the wind of the morning. Then taking hands like children, they slowly walked away with their faces towards the sunrise. There was the light of a new life in their eyes. It is good sometimes to live altogether in the present. ‘Sufficient unto the day is the good thereof,’ is a proverb in all respects equal to the scriptural original.
For a little while they thus walked silently forward, and on the crest of the ridge above the nestling farm Ralph paused to take his last look of Craig Ronald. Winsome turned with him in complete comprehension, though as yet he had told her no word of his projects. Nor did she think of any possible parting, or of anything save of the eyes into which she did not cease to look, and the lover whose hand it was enough to hold. All true and pure love is an extension of God—the gladness in the eyes of lovers, the tears also, bridals and espousals, the wife's still happiness, the delight of new-made homes, the tinkle of children's laughter. It needs no learned exegete to explain to a true lover what John meant when he said, ‘For God is love.’ These things are not gifts of God, they are parts of him.
It was at this moment that Meg Kissock, having seen them stand a moment still against the sky, and then go down from their hilltop towards the north, unlocked the stable door, at which Ebie Fairrish had been vainly hammering from within for a quarter of an hour. Then she went indoors and pulled close the curtains of Winsome's little room. She came out, locked the bedroom door, and put the key in her pocket. Her mistress had a headache. Meg was a treasure indeed, as a thoughtful person about a household often is.
As Winsome and Ralph went down the farther slope of the hill, towards the road that stretched away northward across the moors, they fell to talking together very practically. They had much to say. Before they had gone a mile the first strangeness had worn off, and the stage of their intimacy may be inferred from the fact that they were only at the edge of the great wood of Grannoch bank, when Winsome reached the remark which undoubtedly Mother Eve made to her husband after they had been some time acquainted:
‘Do you know, I never thought I should talk to any one as I am talking to you?’
Ralph allowed that it was an entirely wonderful thing—indeed, a belated miracle. Strangely enough, he had experienced exactly the same thought. ‘Was it possible?’ smiled Winsome gladly, from under the lilac sunbonnet.
Such wondrous and unexampled correspondence of impression proved that they were made for one another, did it not? At this point they paused. Exercise in the early morning is fatiguing. Only the unique character of these refreshing experiences induces us to put them on record.
Then Winsome and Ralph proceeded to other and not less extraordinary discoveries. Sitting on a wind-overturned tree-trunk, looking out from the edge of the fringing woods of the Grannoch bank towards the swells of Cairnsmuir's green bosom, they entered upon their position with great practicality. Nature, with an unusual want of foresight, had neglected to provide a back to this sylvan seat, so Ralph attended to the matter himself. This shows that self-help is a virtue to be encouraged.
Ralph had some disinclination to speak of the terrors of the night which had forever rolled away. Still, he felt that the matter must be cleared up; so that it was with doubt in his mind that he showed Winsome the written line which had taken him to the bridge instead of to the hill gate.
‘That's Jess Kissock's writing!’ Winsome said at once. Ralph had the same thought. So in a few moments they traced the whole plot to its origin. It was a fit product of the impish brain of Jess Kissock. Jess had sent the false note of appointment to Ralph by Andra, knowing that he would be so exalted with the contents that he would never doubt its accuracy. Then she had despatched Jock Gordon with Winsome's real letter to Greatorix Castle; in answer to the supposed summons, which was genuine enough, though not meant for him, Agnew Greatorix had come to the hill gate, and Jess had met Ralph by the bridge to play her own cards as best she could for herself.
‘How wicked!’ said Winsome, ‘after all.’
‘How foolish!’ said Ralph, ‘to think for a moment that any one could separate you and me.’
But Winsome bethought herself how foolishly jealous she had been when she found Jess putting a flower into Ralph's coat, and Jess's plot did not look quite so impossible as before.
‘I think, dear,’ said Ralph, ‘you must after this make your letters so full of your love, that there can be no mistake whom they are intended for.’
‘I mean to,’ said Winsome frankly.
There was also some fine scenery at this point.
But there was no hesitation in Ralph Peden's tone when he settled down steadily to tell her of his hopes.
Winsome sat with her eyes downcast and her head a little to one side, like a bright-eyed bird listening.
‘That is all true and delightful,’ she said, ‘but we must not be selfish or forget.’
‘We must remember one another!’ said Ralph, with the absorption of newly assured love.
‘We are in no danger of forgetting one another,’ said that wise woman in counsel; ‘we must not forget others. There is your father—you have not forgotten him.’
With a pang Ralph remembered that there was yet something that he could not tell Winsome. He had not even been frank with her concerning the reason of his leaving the manse and going to Edinburgh. She only understood that it was connected with his love for her, which was not approved of by the minister of the Marrow kirk.
‘My father will be as much pleased with you as I,’ said Ralph, with enthusiasm.
‘No doubt,’ said Winsome, laughing; ‘fathers always are with their sons' sweethearts. But you have not forgotten something else?’
‘What may that be?’ said Ralph doubtfully.
‘That I cannot leave my grandfather and grandmother at Craig Ronald as they are. They have cared for me and given me a home when I had not a friend. Would you love me as you do, if I could leave them even to go out into the world with you?’
‘No,’ said Ralph very reluctantly, but like a man.
‘Then,’ said Winsome bravely, ‘go to Edinburgh. Fight your own battle, and mine,’ she added.
‘Winsome,’ said Ralph, earnestly, for this serious and practical side of her character was an additional and unexpected revelation of perfection, ‘if you make as good a wife as you make a sweetheart, you will make one man happy.’
‘I mean to make a man happy,’ said Winsome, confidently.
The scenery again asserted its claim to attention. Observation enlarges the mind, and is therefore pleasant.
After a pause, Winsome said irrelevantly.
‘And you really do not think me so foolish?’
‘Foolish! I think you are the wisest and—’
‘No, no.’ Winsome would not let him proceed. ‘You do not really think so. You know that I am wayward and changeable, and not at all what I ought to be. Granny always tells me so. It was very different when she was young, she says. Do you know,’ continued Winsome thoughtfully, ‘I used to be so frightened, when I knew that you could read in all these wise books of which I did not know a letter? But I must confess—I do not know what you will say, you may even be angry—I have a note-book of yours which I kept.’
But if Winsome wanted a new sensation she was disappointed, for Ralph was by no means angry.
‘So that's where it went?’ said Ralph, smiling gladly.
‘Yes,’ said Winsome, blushing not so much with guilt as with the consciousness of the locality of the note-book at that moment, which she was not yet prepared to tell him. But she consoled herself with the thought that she would tell him one day.
Strangely however, Ralph did not seem to care much about the book, so Winsome changed the subject to one of greater interest.
‘And what else did you think about me that first day?—tell me,’ said Winsome, shamelessly.
It was Ralph's opportunity.
‘Why, you know very well, Winsome dear, that ever since the day I first saw you I have thought that there never was any one like you—’
‘Yes?’ said Winsome, with a rising inflection in her voice.
‘I ever thought you the best and the kindest—’
‘Yes?’ said Winsome, a little breathlessly.
‘The most helpful and the wisest—’
‘Yes?’ said Winsome.
‘And the most beautiful girl I have ever seen in my life!’
‘Then I do not care for anything else!’ cried Winsome, clapping her hands. She had been resolving to learn Hebrew five minutes before.
‘Nor do I, really,’ said Ralph, speaking out the inmost soul that is in every young man.
As Ralph Peden sat looking at Winsome the thought came sometimes to him—but not often—‘This is Allan Welsh's daughter, the daughter of the woman whom my father once loved, who lies so still under the green sod of Crossthwaite beneath the lea of Skiddaw.’
He looked at her eyes, deep blue like the depths of the Mediterranean Sea, and, like it, shot through with interior light.
‘What are you thinking of?’ asked Winsome, who had also meanwhile been looking at him.
‘Of your eyes, dear!’ said Ralph, telling half the truth—a good deal for a lover.
Winsome paused for further information, looking into the depths of his soul. Ralph felt as though his heart and judgment were being assaulted by storming parties. He looked into these wells of blue and saw the love quivering in them as the broken light quivers, deflected on its way through clear water to a sea bottom of golden sand.
‘You want to hear me tell you something wiser,’ said Ralph, who did not know everything; ‘you are bored with my foolish talk.’
And he would have spoken of the hopes of his future.
‘No, no; tell me—tell me what you see in my eyes,’ said Winsome, a little impatiently.
‘Well then, first,’ said truthful Ralph, who certainly did not flinch from the task, ‘I see the fairest thing God made for man to see. All the beauty of the world, losing its way, stumbled, and was drowned in the eyes of my love. They have robbed the sunshine, and stolen the morning dew. The sparkle of the light on the water, the gladness of a child when it laughs because it lives, the sunshine which makes the butterflies dance and the world so beautiful—all these I see in your eyes.’
‘This story is plainly impossible. This practical girl was not one to find pleasure in listening to flattery. Let us read no more in this book.’ This is what some wise people will say at this point. So, to their loss will they close the book. They have not achieved all knowledge. The wisest woman would rather hear of her eyes than of her mind. There are those who say the reverse, but then perhaps no one has ever had cause to tell them concerning what lies hid in their eyes.
Many had wished to tell Winsome these things, but to no one hitherto had been given the discoverer's soul, the poet's voice, the wizard's hand to bring the answering love out of the deep sea of divine possibilities in which the tides ran high and never a lighthouse told of danger.
‘Tell me more,’ said Winsome, being a woman, as well as fair and young. These last are not necessary; to desire to be told about one's eyes, it is enough to be a woman.
Ralph looked down. In such cases it is necessary to refresh the imagination constantly with the facts. As in the latter days wise youths read messages from the quivering needle of the talking machine, so Ralph read his message flash by flash as it pulsated upward from a pure woman's soul.
‘Once you would not tell me why your eyelashes were curled up at the ends,’ said this eager Columbus of a new continent, drawing the new world nearer his heart in order that his discoveries might be truer, surer, in detail more trustworthy. ‘I know now without telling. Would you like to know, Winsome?’
Winsome drew a happy breath, nestling a little closer—so little that no one but Ralph would have known. But the little shook him to the depths of his soul. This it is to be young and for the first time mastering the geography of an unknown and untraversed continent. The unversed might have thought that light breath a sigh, but no lover could have made the mistake. It is only in books, wordy and unreal, that lovers misunderstand each other in that way.
‘I know,’ said Ralph, needing no word of permission to proceed, ‘it is with touching your cheek when you sleep.’
‘Then I must sleep a very long time!’ said Winsome merrily, making light of his words.
‘Underneath in the dark of either eye,’ continued Ralph, who, be it not forgotten, was a poet, ‘I see two young things like cherubs.’
‘I know,’ said Winsome; ‘I see myself in your eyes—you see yourself in mine.’
She paused to note the effect of this tremendous discovery.
‘Then,’ replied Ralph, ‘if it be indeed my own self I see in your eyes, it is myself as God made me at first without sin. I do not feel at all like a cherub now, but I must have been once, if I ever was like what I see in your eyes.’
‘Now go on; tell me what else you see,’ said Winsome.
‘Your lips—’ began Ralph, and paused.
‘No, six is quite enough,’ said Winsome, after a little while, mysteriously. She had only two, and Ralph only two; yet she said with little grammar and no sense at all, ‘Six is enough.’
But a voice from quite other lips came over the rising background of scrub and tangled thicket.
‘Gang on coortin',’ it said; ‘I'm no lookin', an' I canna see onything onyway.’
It was Jock Gordon. He continued:
‘Jock Scott's gane hame till his breakfast. He'll no bother ye this mornin', sae coort awa'.’
the lilac sunbonnet
First serialised in The Christian Leader, 1894.