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.
the lilac sunbonnet
First serialised in The Christian Leader, 1894.