‘Andra is completely spoiled,’ exclaimed Winsome; ‘he is a clever boy, and I fear we have given him too much of his own will. Only Jess can manage him.’
Winsome felt the reference to be somewhat unfortunate. It was, of course, no matter to her whether a servant lass put a flower in Ralph Peden's coat; though, even as she said it, she owned to herself that Jess was different from other servant maids, both by nature and that quickness of tongue which she had learned when abroad.
Still, the piquant resentment Winsome felt, gave just that touch, of waywardness and caprice which was needed to make her altogether charming to Ralph, whose acquaintance with women had been chiefly with those of his father's flock, who buzzed about him everywhere in a ferment of admiration.
‘Your feet are wet,’ said Winsome, with charming anxiety.
Andra was assuredly now far over the moor. They had rounded the jutting point of rock which shut in the linn, and were now walking slowly along the burnside, with the misty sunlight shining upon them, with a glistering and suffused green of fresh leaf sap in its glow. So down that glen many lovers had walked before.
Ralph's heart beat at the tone of Winsome's inquiry. He hastened to assure her that, as a matter of personal liking, he rather preferred to go with his feet wet in the summer season.
‘Do you know,’ said Winsome, confidingly, ‘that if I dared I would run barefoot over the grass even yet. I remember to this day the happiness of taking off my stockings when I came home from the Keswick school, and racing over the fresh grass to feel the daisies underfoot. I could do it yet.’
‘Well, let us,’ said Ralph Peden, the student in divinity, daringly.
Winsome did not even glance up. Of course, she could not have heard, or she would have been angry at the preposterous suggestion. She thought awhile, and then said: ‘I think that, more than anything in the world, I love to sit by a waterside and make stories and sing songs to the rustle of the leaves as the wind sifts among them, and dream dreams all by myself.’
Her eyes became very thoughtful. She seemed to be on the eve of dreaming a dream now.
Ralph felt he must go away. He was trespassing on the pleasaunce of an angel.
‘What do you like most? What would you like best to do in all the world?’ she asked him.
‘To sit with you by the waterside and watch you dream,’ said Ralph, whose education was proceeding by leaps and bounds.
Winsome risked a glance at him, though well aware that it was dangerous.
‘You are easily satisfied,’ she said; ‘then let us do it now.’
So Ralph and Winsome sat down like boy and girl on the fallen trunk of a fir-tree, which lay across the water, and swung their feet to the rhythm of the wimpling burn beneath.
‘I think you had better sit at the far side of that branch,’ said Winsome, suspiciously, as Ralph, compelled by the exigencies of the position, settled himself precariously near to her section of the tree-trunk.
‘What is the matter with this?’ asked Ralph, with an innocent look. Now no one counterfeits innocence worse than a really innocent man who attempts to be more innocent than he is.
So Winsome looked at him with reproach in her eyes, and slowly she shook her head. ‘It might do very well for Jess Kissock, but for me it will balance better if you sit on the other side of the branch. We can talk just as well.’
Ralph had thought no more of Jess Kissock and her flower from the moment he had seen Winsome. Indeed, the posy had dropped unregarded from his button-hole while he was gathering up the trout. There it had lain till Winsome, who had seen it fall, accidentally set her foot on it and stamped it into the grass. This indicates, like a hand on a dial, the stage of her prepossession. A day before she had nothing regarded a flower given to Ralph Peden; and in a little while, when the long curve has at last been turned, she will not regard it, though a hundred women give flowers to the beloved.
‘I told you I should come,’ said Ralph, beginning the personal tale which always waits at the door, whatever lovers may say when they first meet. Winsome was meditating a conversation about the scenery of the dell. She needed also some botanical information which should aid her in the selection of plants for a herbarium. But on this occasion Ralph was too quick for her. ‘I told you I should come,’ said Ralph boldly, ‘and so you see I am here,’ he concluded, rather lamely.
‘To see my grandmother,’ said Winsome, with a touch of archness in her tone or in her look—Ralph could not tell which, though he eyed her closely. He wished for the first time that the dark-brown eyelashes which fringed her lids were not so long. He fancied that, if he could only have seen the look in the eyes hidden underneath, he might have risked changing to the other side of the unkindly frontier of fir-bough which marked him off from the land of promise on the farther side.
But he could not see, and in a moment the chances were past.
‘Not only to see your grandmother, who has been very kind to me, but also to see you, who have not been at all kind to me,’ answered Ralph.
‘And pray, Master Ralph Peden, how have I not been kind to you?’ said Winsome with dignity, giving him the full benefit of a pair of apparently reproachful eyes across the fir-branch.
Now Ralph had strange impulses, and, like Winsome, certainly did not talk by rule.
‘I do wish,’ he said complainingly, with his head a little to one side, ‘that you would only look at me with one eye at a time. Two like that are too much for a man.’
This is that same Ralph Peden whose opinions on woman were written in a lost note-book which at this present moment is—we shall not say where.
the lilac sunbonnet
First serialised in The Christian Leader, 1894.