chapter thirty seven
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.’
the lilac sunbonnet
First serialised in The Christian Leader, 1894.