Chapter twenty four
As Ralph Peden went through the flower-decked parlour in which he had met Jess Kissock an hour before, he heard the clang of controversy, or perhaps it is more correct to say, he heard the voice of Meg Kissock raised to its extreme pitch of command.
‘Certes, my lass, but ye'll no hoodwink me; ye hae dune no yae thing this hale mornin' but wander athort the hoose wi' that basket o' flooers. Come you an' gie us a hand wi' the kirn this meenit! Ye dinna gang a step oot o' the hoose the day!’
Ralph did not think of it particularly at the time, but it was probably owing to this utilitarian occupation that he did not again see the attractive Jess on his way out. For, with all her cleverness, Jess was afraid of Meg.
Ralph passed through the yard to the gate which led to the hill. He was wonderfully comforted in heart, and though Winsome had been alternatively cold and kind, he was too new in the ways of girls to be uplifted on that account, as a more experienced man might have been. Still, the interview with the old people had done him good.
As he was crossing the brook which flows partly over and partly under the road at the horse watering-place, he looked down into the dell among the tangles of birch and the thick viscous foliage of the green-berried elder. There he caught the flash of a light dress, and as he climbed the opposite grassy bank on his way to the village, he saw immediately beneath him the maiden of his dreams and his love-verses. Now she leaped merrily from stone to stone; now she bent stealthily over till her palms came together in the water; now she paused to dash her hair back from her flushed face. And all the time the water glimmered and sparkled about her feet. With her was Andra Kissock, a bare-legged, bonnetless squire of dames. Sometimes he pursued the wily burn trout with relentless ferocity and the silent intentness of a sleuthhound. Often, however, he would pause and with his finger indicate some favourite stone to Winsome. Then the young lady, utterly forgetful of all else and with tremulous eagerness, delicately circumvented the red-spotted beauties.
Once throwing her head back to clear the tumbling avalanches of her hair, she chanced to see Ralph standing silent above. For a moment Winsome was annoyed. She had gone to the hill brook with Andra so that she might not need to speak further with Ralph Peden, and here he had followed her. But it did not need a second look to show her that he was infinitely more embarrassed than she. This is the thing of all others which is fitted to make a woman calm and collected. It allows her to take the measure of her opportunity and assures her of her superiority. So, with a gay and quipsome wave of the hand, in which Ralph was conscious of some faint resemblance to her grandmother, she called to him.
‘Come down and help us to catch some trout for supper.’
Ralph descended, digging his heels determinedly into the steep bank, till he found himself in the bed of the streamlet. Then he looked at Winsome for an explanation. This was something he had not practised in the water of Leith. Andra Kissock glared at him with a terrible countenance, in which contempt was supposed to blend with a sullen ferocity characteristic of the noble savage. The effect was slightly marred by a black streak of mud which was drawn from the angle of his mouth to the roots of his hair. Ralph thought from his expression that trout-fishing of this kind did not agree with him, and proposed to help Winsome instead of Andra.
This proposal had the effect of drawing a melodramatic ‘Ha! ha!’ from that youth, ludicrously out of keeping with his usual demeanour. Once he had seen a play-acting show unbeknown to his mother, when Jess had taken him to Cairn Edward September fair.
So ‘Ha! ha!’ he said with the look of smothered desperation which to the unprejudiced observer suggested a pain in his inside. ‘You guddle troot!’ he cried scornfully, ‘I wad admire to see ye! Ye wad only fyle yer shune an' yer braw breeks!’
Ralph glanced at the striped underskirt over which Winsome had looped her dress. It struck him with astonishment to note how she had managed to keep it clean and dry, when Andra was apparently wet to the neck.
‘I do not know that I shall be of any use,’ he said meekly, ‘but I shall try.’
Winsome was standing poised on a stone, bending like a lithe maid, her hands in the clear water. There had been a swift and noiseless rush underneath the stone; a few grains of sand rose up where the white under part of the trout had touched it as it glided beneath. Slowly and imperceptibly Winsome's hand worked its way beneath the stone. With the fingers of one hand she made that slight swirl of the water which is supposed by expert ‘guddlers’ to fascinate the trout, and to render them incapable of resisting the beckoning fingers. Andra watched breathlessly from the bank above. Ralph came nearer to see the issue. The long, slender fingers, shining mellow in the peaty water, were just closing, when the stone on which Ralph was standing precariously toppled a little and fell over into the burn with a splash. The trout darted out and in a moment was down stream into the biggest pool for miles.
Winsome rose with a flush of disappointment, and looked very reproachfully towards the culprit. Ralph, who had followed the stone, stood up to his knees in the water, looking the picture of crestfallen humility.
Overhead on the bank Andra danced madly like an imp. He would not have dared to speak to Ralph on any other occasion, but guddling, like curling, loosens the tongue. He who fails or causes the failures of others is certain to hear very plainly of it from those who accompany him to this very dramatic kind of fishing.
‘O' a' the stupid asses!’ cried that young man. ‘Was there ever sic a beauty?—a pund wecht gin it was an ounce!—an' to fa' aff a stane like a six-months' wean!’
His effective condemnation made Winsome laugh. Ralph laughed along with her, which very much increased the anger of Andra, who turned away in silent indignation. It was hard to think, just when he had got the ‘prairie flower’ of Craig Ronald (for whom he cherished a romantic attachment of the most desperate and picturesque kind) away from the house for a whole long afternoon at the fishing, that this great grown-up lout should come this way and spoil all his sport. Andra was moved to the extremity of scorn.
‘Hey, mon!’ he called to Ralph, who was standing in the water's edge with Winsome on a miniature bay of shining sand, looking down on the limpid lapse of the clear moss-tinted water slipping over its sand and pebbles—‘hey, mon!’ he cried.
‘Well, Andra, what is it?’ asked Winsome Charteris, looking up after a moment. She had been busy thinking.
‘Tell that chap frae Enbro',’ said Andra, collecting all his spleen into one tremendous and annihilating phrase—‘him that tummilt aff the stane—that there's a feck o' paddocks [a good many frogs] up there i' the bog. He micht come up here an' guddle for paddocks. It wad be safer for the like o' him!’ The ironical method is the favourite mode or vehicle of humour among the common orders in Galloway. Andra was a master in it.
‘Andra,’ said Winsome warmly, ‘you must not—’
‘Please let him say whatever he likes. My awkwardness deserves it all,’ said Ralph, with becoming meekness.
‘I think you had better go home now,’ said Winsome; ‘it will soon be time for you to bring the kye home.’
‘Hae ye aneuch troots for the mistress's denner?’ said Andra, who knew very well how many there were.
‘There are the four that you got, and the one I got beneath the bank, Andra,’ answered Winsome.
‘Nane o' them half the size o' the yin that he fleyed frae ablow the big stane,’ said Andra Kissock, indicating the culprit once more with the stubby great toe of his left foot. It would have done Ralph too much honour to have pointed with his hand. Besides, it was a way that Andrew had at all times. He indicated persons and things with that part of him which was most convenient at the time. He would point with his elbow stuck sideways at an acute angle in a manner that was distinctly libellous. He would do it menacingly with his head, and the indication contemptuous of his left knee was a triumph. But the finest and most conclusive use of all was his great toe as an index-finger of scorn. It stuck out apart from all the others, red and uncompromising, a conclusive affidavit of evil conduct.
‘It's near kye-time,’ again said Winsome, while Ralph yearned with a great yearning for the boy to betake himself over the moor. But Andra had no such intention.
‘I'se no gaun a fit till I hae showed ye baith what it is to guddle. For ye mauna gang awa' to Embro’ (elbow contemptuous to the north, where Andra supposed Edinburgh to lie immediately on the other side of the double-breasted swell of blue Cairnsmuir of Carsphairn), ‘an' think that howkin' wi' a lassie to help ye in among the gravel is guddlin'. You see here!’ cried Andra, and before either Winsome or Ralph could say a word, he had stripped himself to his very brief breeches and ragged shirt, and was wading into the deepest part of the pool beneath the water-fall.
Here he scurried and scuttled for all the world like a dipper, with his breast showing white like that of the bird, as he walked along the bottom of the pool. Most of the time his head was beneath the water, as well as all the rest of his body. His arms bored their way round the intricacies of the boulders at the bottom. His brown and freckled hands pursued the trouts beneath the banks. Sometimes he would have one in each hand at the same time.
When he caught them he had a careless and reckless way of throwing them up on the bank without looking where he was throwing. The first one he threw in this way took effect on the cheek of Ralph Peden, to his exceeding astonishment.
Winsome again cried ‘Andra!’ warningly, but Andra was far too busy to listen; besides, it is not easy to hear with one's head under water and the frightened trout flashing in lightning wimples athwart the pool.
But for all that, the fisherman's senses were acute, even under the water; for as Winsome and Ralph were not very energetic in catching the lively speckled beauties which found themselves so unexpectedly frisking upon the green grass, one or two of them (putting apparently their tails into their mouths, and letting go, as with the release of a steel spring) turned a splashing somersault into the pool. Andra did not seem to notice them as they fell, but in a little while he looked up with a trout in his hand, the peat-water running in bucketfuls from his hair and shirt, his face full of indignation.
‘Ye're lettin' them back again!’ he exclaimed, looking fiercely at the trout in his hand. ‘This is the second time I hae catched this yin wi' the wart on its tail!’ he said. ‘D'ye think I'm catchin' them for fun, or to gie them a change o' air for their healths, like fine fowk that come frae Embro'!’
‘Andra, I will not allow—’ Winsome began, who felt that on the ground of Craig Ronald a guest of her grandmother's should be respected.
But before she had got further Andra was again under the water, and again the trout began to rain out, taking occasional local effect upon both of them.
Finally Andra looked up with an air of triumph. ‘It tak's ye a' yer time to grup them on the dry land, I'm thinkin',’ said he with some fine scorn; ‘ye had better try the paddocks. It's safer.’ So, shaking himself like a water-dog, he climbed up on the grass, where he collected the fish into a large fishing basket which Winsome had brought. He looked them over and said, as he handled one of them:
‘Oh, ye're there, are ye? I kenned I wad get ye some day, impidence. Ye hae nae business i' this pool ony way. Ye belang half a mile faurer up, my lad; ye'll bite aff nae mair o' my heuks. There maun be three o' them i' his guts the noo—’
Here Winsome looked a meaning look at him, upon which Andra said:
‘I'm juist gaun. Ye needna tell me that it's kye-time. See you an' be hame to tak' in yer grannie's tea. Ye're mair likely to be ahint yer time than me!’
Haying sped this Parthian shaft, Andra betook himself over the moor with his backful of spoil.
the lilac sunbonnet
First serialised in The Christian Leader, 1894.