THE LOVE-SONG OF THE MAVIS
Winsome stamped her little foot in real anger now, and crumpling the paper in her hand she threw it indignantly on the floor. She was about to say something to Meg, but that erratic and privileged domestic was in her own room by this time at the top of the house, with the door barred.
But something like tears stood in Winsome's eyes. She was very angry indeed. She would speak to Meg in the morning. She was mistress of the house, and not to be treated as a child. Meg should have her warning to leave at the term. It was ridiculous the way that she had taken to speaking to her lately. It was clear that she had been allowing her far too great liberties. It did not occur to Winsome Charteris that Meg had been accustomed to tease her in something like this manner about every man under forty who had come to Craig Ronald on any pretext whatever—from young Johnnie Dusticoat, the son of the wholesale meal-miller from Dumfries, to Agnew Greatorix, eldest son of the Lady Elizabeth, who came over from the castle with books for her grandmother rather oftener than might be absolutely necessary, and who, though a papist, had waited for Winsome three Sabbath days at the door of the Marrow kirk, a building which he had never previously entered during his life.
Winsome went indignant to bed. It was altogether too aggravating that Meg should take on so, she said to herself.
‘Of course I do not care a button,’ she said as she turned her hot cheek upon the pillow and looked towards the pale gray-blue of the window-panes, in which there was already the promise of the morning; though yet it was hardly midnight of the short midsummer of the north.
‘It would be too ridiculous to suppose that I should care for anybody whom I have only seen twice. Why, it was more than a year before I really cared for dear old grannie! Meg might know better, and it is very silly of her to say things like that. I shall send back his book and paper tomorrow morning by Andrew Kissock when he goes to school.’ Still even after this resolution she lay sleepless.
‘Now I will go to sleep,’ said Winsome, resolutely shutting her eyes. ‘I will not think about him any more.’ Which was assuredly a noble and fitting resolve. But Winsome had yet to discover in restless nights and troubled morrows that sleep and thought are two gifts of God which do not come or go at man's bidding. In her silent chamber there seemed to be a kind of hushed yet palpable life. It seemed to Winsome as if there were about her a thousand little whispering voices. Unseen presences flitted everywhere. She could hear them laughing such wicked, mocking laughs. They were clustering round the crumpled piece of paper in the corner. Well, it might lie there forever for her.
‘I would not read it even if it were light. I shall send it back to him tomorrow without reading it. Very likely it is a Greek exercise, at any rate.’
Yet, for all these brave sayings, neither sleep nor dawn had come, when, clad in shadowy white and the more manifest golden glimmer of her hair, she glided to the windowseat, and drawing a great knitted shawl about her, she sat, a slender figure enveloped from head to foot in sheeny white. The shawl imprisoned the pillow tossed masses of her rippling hair, throwing them forward about her face, which, in the half light, seemed to be encircled with an aureole of pale Florentine gold.
In her hand Winsome held Ralph Peden's poem, and in spite of her determination not to read it, she sat waiting till the dawn should come. It might be something of great importance. It might only be a Greek exercise. It was, at all events, necessary to find out, in order that she might send it back.
It was a marvellous dawning, this one that Winsome waited for. Dawn is the secret of the universe. It thrills us somehow with a far-off prophecy of that eternal dawning when the God That Is shall reveal himself—the dawning which shall brighten into the more perfect day.
It was just the slack water—the water-shed of the night. So clear it was this June night that the lingering gold behind the western ridge of the Orchar Hill, where the sun went down, was neither brighter nor yet darker than the faint tinge of lucent green, like the colour of the inner curve of the sea-wave just as it bends to break, which had begun to glow behind the fir woods to the east.
The birds were waking sleepily. Chaffinches began their clear, short, natural bursts of song. ‘churr!’ said the last barn owl as he betook himself to bed. The first rook sailed slowly overhead from Hensol wood. He was seeking the early worm. The green lake in the east was spreading and taking a roseate tinge just where it touched the pines on the rugged hillside.
Beneath Winsome's window a blackbird hopped down upon the grass and took a tentative dab or two at the first slug he came across; but it was really too early for breakfast for a good hour yet, so he flew up again into a bush and preened his feathers, which had been discomposed by the limited accommodation of the night. Now he was on the topmost twig, and Winsome saw him against the crimson pool which was fast deepening in the east.
Suddenly his mellow pipe fluted out over the grove. Winsome listened as she had never listened before. Why had it become so strangely sweet to listen to the simple sounds? Why did the rich Tyrian dye of the dawn touch her cheek and flush the flowering floss of her silken hair? A thrush from the single laurel at the gate told her:
‘There—there—there—’ he sang, ‘Can't you see, can't you see, can't you see it? Love is the secret, the secret! Could you but know it, did you but show it! Hear me! hear me! hear me! Down in the forest I loved her! Sweet, sweet, sweet! Would you but listen, I would love you! All is sweet and pure and good! Twilight and morning dew, I love it, I love it, Do you, do you, do you?’
This was the thrush's love-song. Now it was light enough for Winsome to read hers by the red light of the midsummer's dawn.
This was Ralph's Greek exercise:
Sweet mouth, red lips, broad unwrinkled brow,
Sworn troth, woven hands, holy marriage vow,
Unto us make answer, what is wanting now?
Love, love, love, the whiteness of the snow;
Love, love, love, and the days of long ago.
Broad lands, bright sun, as it was of old;
Red wine, loud mirth, gleaming of the gold;
Something yet a-wanting—how shall it be told?
Love, love, love, the whiteness of the snow;
Love, love, love, and the days of long ago.
Large heart, true love, service void of sound,
Life-trust, death-trust, here on Scottish ground,
As in olden story, surely I have found—
Love, love, love, the whiteness of the snow,
Love, love, love, and the days of long ago.’
The thrush had ceased singing while Winsome read. It was another voice which she heard—the first authentic call of the springtime for her. It coursed through her blood. It quickened her pulse. It enlarged the pupil of her eye till the clear germander blue of the iris grew moist and dark. It was a song for her heart, and hers alone. She felt it, though no more than a leaf blown to her by chance winds. It might have been written for any other, only she knew that it was not. Ralph Peden had said nothing. The poem certainly did not suggest a student of divinity in the Kirk of the Marrow. There were a thousand objections—a thousand reasons— every one valid, against such a thing. But love that laughs at locksmiths is equally contemptuous of logic. It was hers, hers, and hers alone. A breath from Love's wing as he passed came again to Winsome. The blackbird was silent, but a thrush this time broke in with his jubilant love-song, while Winsome, with her love-song laid against a dewy cheek, paused to listen with a beating heart and a new comprehension:
‘Hear! hear! hear! Dear! dear! dear! Far away, far away, far away, I saw him pass this way, Tirrieoo, tirrieoo! so tender and true, Chippiwee, chippiwee, oh, try him and see! Cheer up! cheer up! cheer up! He'll come and he'll kiss you, He'll kiss you and kiss you, And I'll see him do it, do it, do it!’
‘Go away, you wicked bird!’ said Winsome, when the master singer in speckled grey came to this part of his song. So saying, she threw, with such exact aim that it went in an entirely opposite direction, a quaint, pink seashell at the bird, a shell which had been given her by a lad who was going away again to sea three years ago. She was glad now, when she thought of it, that she had kissed him because he had no mother, for he never came back any more.
‘Keck, keck!’ said the mavis indignantly, and went away.
Then Winsome lay down on her white bed well content, and pillowed her cheek on a crumpled piece of paper.
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the lilac sunbonnet
First serialised in The Christian Leader, 1894.