The Lilac Sunbonnet
by S. R. Crockett
A LOVE STORY
PROLOGUE. BY THE
CHAPTER I. THE
CHAPTER II. THE
MOTHER OF KING
CHAPTER III. A
CHAPTER IV. A
CHAPTER V. A
MAN ARMS EOR
CHAPTER IX. THE
ADVENT OF THE
CHAPTER X. THE
LOVE-SONG OF THE
GOES TO SCHOOL.
CHAPTER XIII. A
STRING OF THE
CHAPTER XV. ON
THE EDGE OF THE
CHAPTER XVI. THE
CUIF BEFORE THE
WHEN THE KYE
CHAPTER XVIII. A
DAUGHTER OF THE
CHAPTER XIX. AT
THE BARN END.
CHAPTER XXI. THE
RETURN OF EBIE
THE OPINIONS OF
THAT GIPSY JESS.
THE DARK OF THE
MOON AT THE
CHAPTER XXX. THE
THE STUDY OF THE
MANSE OF DULLARG.
ALIEN FROM THE
TAKES A HAND.
THE DEW OF THEIR
OVER THE HILLS
AND FAR AWA'.
UNDER THE BED
CHAPTER XL. A
CHAPTER XLI. THE
MEETING OF THE
CHAPTER XLV. THE
LAST OF THE
PROLOGUE. BY THE WAYSIDE
As Ralph Peden came along the dusty Cairn Edward road from the
coach which had set him down there on its way to the Ferry town, he
paused to rest in the evening light at the head of the Long Wood of
Larbrax. Here, under boughs that arched the way, he took from his
shoulders his knapsack, filled with Hebrew and Greek books, and rested
his head on the larger bag of roughly tanned Westland leather, in
which were all his other belongings. They were not numerous. He might,
indeed, have left both his bags for the Dullarg carrier on Saturday,
but to lack his beloved books for four days was not to be thought of
for a moment by Ralph Peden. He would rather have carried them up the
eight long miles to the manse of the Dullarg one by one.
As he sat by the tipsy milestone, which had swayed sidelong and
lay half buried amid the grass and dock leaves, a tall, dark girl
came by—half turning to look at the young man as he rested. It was
Jess Kissock, from the Herd's House at Craig Ronald, on her way home
from buying trimmings for a new hat. This happened just twice a year,
and was a solemn occasion.
"Is this the way to the manse of Dullarg?" asked the young man,
standing up with his hat in his hand, the brim just beneath his chin.
He was a handsome young man when he stood up straight.
Jess looked at him attentively. They did not speak in that way in
her country, nor did they take their hats in their hands when they
had occasion to speak to young women.
"I am myself going past the Dullarg," she said, and paused with a
hiatus like an invitation.
Ralph Peden was a simple young man, but he rose and shouldered his
knapsack without a word. The slim, dark-haired girl with the bright,
quick eyes like a bird, put out her hand to take a share of the burden
of Ralph's bag.
"Thank you, but I am quite able to manage it myself," he said, "I
could not think of letting you put your hand to it."
"I am not a fine lady," said the girl, with a little impatient
movement of her brows, as if she had stamped her foot. "I am nothing
but a cottar's lassie."
"But then, how comes it that you speak as you do?" asked Ralph.
"I have been long in England—as a lady's maid," she answered with
a strange, disquieting look at him. She had taken one side of the bag
of books in spite of his protest, and now walked by Ralph's side
through the evening coolness.
"This is the first time you have been hereaway?" his companion
Ralph nodded a quick affirmative and smiled.
"Then," said Jess Kissock, the rich blood mantling her dark
cheeks, "I am the first from the Dullarg you have spoken to!"
"The very first!" said Ralph.
"Then I am glad," said Jess Kissock. But in the young man's heart
there was no answering gladness, though in very sooth she was an
exceeding handsome maid.
CHAPTER I. THE BLANKET-WASHING.
Ralph Peden lay well content under a thorn bush above the Grannoch
water. It was the second day of his sojourning in Galloway—the first
of his breathing the heather scent on which the bees grew tipsy, and
of listening to the grasshoppers CHIRRING in the long bent by the loch
side. Yesterday his father's friend, Allan Welsh, minister of the
Marrow kirk in the parish of Dullarg, had held high discourse with him
as to his soul's health, and made many inquiries as to how it sped in
the great city with the precarious handful of pious folk, who gathered
to listen to the precious and savoury truths of the pure Marrow
teaching. Ralph Peden was charged with many messages from his father,
the metropolitan Marrow minister, to Allan Welsh—dear to his soul as
the only minister who had upheld the essentials on that great day,
when among the assembled Presbyters so many had gone backward and
walked no more with him.
"Be faithful with the young man, my son," Allan Welsh read in the
quaintly sealed and delicately written letter which his brother
minister in Edinburgh had sent to him, and which Ralph had duly
delivered in the square, grim manse of Dullarg, with a sedate and
old-fashioned reverence which sat strangely on one of his years. "Be
faithful with the young man," continued the letter; "he is well
grounded on the fundamentals; his head is filled with godly lear, and
he has sound views on the Headship; but he has always been a little
cold and distant even to me, his father according to the flesh. With
his companions he is apt to be distant and reserved. I am to blame for
the solitude of our life here in James's Court, but to you I do not
need to tell the reason of that. The Lord give you his guidance in
leading the young man in the right way."
So far Gilbert Peden's letter had run staidly and in character
like the spoken words of the writer. But here it broke off. The
writing, hitherto fine as a hair, thickened; and from this point
became crowded and difficult, as though the floods of feeling had
broken some dam. "O man Allan, for my sake, if at all you have loved
me, or owe me anything, dig deep and see if the lad has a heart. He
shews it not to me."
So that is why Ralph Peden lies couched in the sparce bells of the
ling, just where the dry, twisted timothy grasses are beginning to
overcrown the purple bells of the heather. Tall and clean-limbed,
with a student's pallor of clear-cut face, a slightly ascetic stoop,
dark brown curls clustering over a white forehead, and eyes which
looked steadfast and true, the young man was sufficient of a hero. He
wore a broad straw hat, which he had a pleasant habit of pushing back,
so that his clustering locks fell over his brow after a fashion which
all women thought becoming. But Ralph Peden heeded not what women
thought, said, or did, for he was trysted to the kirk of the Marrow,
the sole repertory of orthodox truth in Scotland, which is as good as
saying in the wide world—perhaps even in the universe.
Ralph Peden had dwelt all his life with his father in an old house
in James's Court, Edinburgh, overlooking the great bounding circle of
the northern horizon and the eastern sea. He had been trained by his
father to think more of a professor's opinion on his Hebrew exercise
than of a woman's opinion on any subject whatever. He had been told
that women were an indispensable part of the economy of creation; but,
though he accepted word by word the Westminster Confession, and as an
inexorable addition the confessions and protests of the remnant of the
true kirk in Scotland (known as the Marrow kirk), he could not but
consider woman a poor makeshift, even as providing for the continuity
of the race. Surely she had not been created when God looked upon all
that he had made and found it very good. The thought preserved Ralph's
Ralph Peden had come out into the morning air, with his note-book
and a volume which he had been studying all the way from Edinburgh.
As he lay at length among the grass he conned it over and over. He
referred to passages here and there. He set out very calmly with that
kind of determination with which a day's work in the open air with a
book is often begun. Not for a moment did he break the monotony of his
study. The marshalled columns of strange letters were mowed down
A great humble-bee, barred with tawny orange, worked his way up
from his hole in the bank, buzzing shrilly in an impatient, stifled
manner at finding his dwelling blocked as to its exit by a mountainous
bulk. Ralph Peden rose in a hurry. The beast seemed to be inside his
coat. He had instinctively hated bees and everything that buzzed ever
since as a child he had made experiments with the paper nest of a
tree-building wasp. The humble-bee buzzed a little more,
discontentedly, thought of going back, crept out at last from beneath
the Hebrew Lexicon, and appeared to comb his hair with his feeler.
Then he slowly mounted along the broad blade of a meadow fox-tail
grass, which bent under him as if to afford him an elastic send-off
upon his flight. With a spring he lumbered up, taking his way over the
single field which separated his house from the edge of the Grannoch
water—where on the other side, above the glistening sickle-sweep of
sand which looked so inviting, yet untouched under the pines by the
morning sun, the hyacinths lay like a blue wreath of peat smoke in the
hollows of the wood.
But there was a whiff of real peat smoke somewhere in the air, and
Ralph Peden, before he returned to his book, was aware of the murmur
of voices. He moved away from the humble-bee's dwelling and
established himself on a quieter slope under a bush of broom. A
whin-chat said "check, check" above him, and flirted a brilliant
tail; but Ralph Peden was not afraid of whin-chats. Here he settled
himself to study, knitting his brows and drumming on the ground with
the toe of one foot to concentrate his attention. The whin-chat could
hear him murmuring to himself at intervals, "Surely that is the
sense—it must be taken this way." Sometimes, on the contrary, he
shook his head at Luther's Commentary, which lay on the short, warm
turf before him, as if in reproof. Ralph was of opinion that Luther,
but for his great protective reputation, and the fact that he had been
dead some time, might have been served with a libel for heresy—at
least if he had ministered to the Marrow kirk.
Then after a little he pulled his hat over his eyes to think, and
lay back till he could just see one little bit of Loch Grannoch
gleaming through the trees, and the farm of Nether Crae set on the
hillside high above it. He counted the sheep on the green field over
the loch, numbering the lambs twice because they frisked irresponsibly
about, being full of frivolity and having no opinions upon Luther to
Gradually a haze spun itself over the landscape, and Ralph Peden's
head slowly fell back till it rested somewhat sharply upon a spikelet
of prickly whin. His whole body sat up instantly, with an exclamation
which was quite in Luther's manner. He had not been sleeping. He
rejected the thought; yet he acknowledged that it was nevertheless
passing strange that, just where the old single- arched bridge takes a
long stride over the Grannoch lane, there was now a great black pot
a-swing above a blinking pale fire of peats and fir-branches, and a
couple of great tubs set close together on stones which he had not
seen before. There was, too, a ripple of girls' laughter, which sent a
strange stirring of excitement along the nerves of the young man. He
gathered his books to move away; but on second thoughts, looking
through the long, swaying tendrils of the broom under which he sat, he
resolved to remain. After all, the girls might be as harmless as his
helper of yesterday.
"Yet it is most annoying," he said; "I had been quieter in James's
Still he smiled a little to himself, for the broom did not grow in
James's Court, nor the blackbirds flute their mellow whistle there.
Loch Grannoch stretched away three miles to the south, basking in
alternate blue and white, as cloud and sky mirrored themselves upon
it. The first broad rush of the ling [Footnote: Common heath (Erica
tetralix).] was climbing the slopes of the Crae Hill above —a pale
lavender near the loch-side, deepening to crimson on the dryer slopes
where the heath-bells grew shorter and thicker together. The wimpling
lane slid as silently away from the sleeping loch as though it were
eloping and feared to awake an angry parent. The whole range of hill
and wood and water was drenched in sunshine. Silence clothed it like a
garment—save only for the dark of the shadow under the bridge, from
whence had come that ring of girlish laughter which had jarred upon
the nerves of Ralph Peden.
Suddenly there emerged from the indigo shade where the blue
spruces overarched the bridge a girl carrying two shining pails of
water. Her arms were bare, her sleeves being rolled high above her
elbow; and her figure, tall and shapely, swayed gracefully to the
movement of the pails. Ralph did not know before that there is an art
in carrying water. He was ignorant of many things, but even with his
views on woman's place in the economy of the universe, he could not
but be satisfied with the fitness and the beauty of the girl who came
up the path, swinging her pails with the compensatory sway of lissom
body, and that strong outward flex of the elbow which kept the
brimming cans swinging in safety by her side.
Ralph Peden never took his eyes off her as she came, the theories
of James's Court notwithstanding. Nor indeed need we for a little.
For this is Winifred, better known as Winsome Charteris, a very
important young person indeed, to whose beauty and wit the poets of
three parishes did vain reverence; and, what she might well value
more, whose butter was the best (and commanded the highest price) of
any that went into Dumfries market on Wednesdays.
Fair hair, crisping and tendrilling over her brow, swept back in
loose and flossy circlets till caught close behind her head by a tiny
ribbon of blue—then again escaping it went scattering and wavering
over her shoulders wonderingly, like nothing on earth but Winsome
Charteris's hair. It was small wonder that the local poets grew grey
before their time in trying to find a rhyme for "sunshine," a
substantive which, for the first time, they had applied to a girl's
hair. For the rest, a face rather oval than long, a nose which the
schoolmaster declared was "statuesque" (used in a good sense, he
explained to the village folk, who could never be brought to see the
difference between a statue and an idol—the second commandment being
of literal interpretation along the Loch Grannoch side), and eyes
which, emulating the parish poet, we can only describe as like two
blue waves when they rise just far enough to catch a sparkle of light
on their crests. The subject of her mouth, though tempting, we refuse
to touch. Its description has already wrecked three promising
But withal Winsome Charteris set her pails as frankly and plumply
on the ground, as though she were plain as a pike-staff, and bent a
moment over to look into the gypsy-pot swung on its birchen triangle.
Then she made an impatient movement of her hand, as if to push the
biting fir-wood smoke aside. This angered Ralph, who considered it
ridiculous and ill-ordered that a gesture which showed only a hasty
temper and ill-regulated mind should be undeniably pretty and pleasant
to look upon, just because it was made by a girl's hand. He was angry
with himself, yet he hoped she would do it again. Instead, she took up
one pail of water after the other, swung them upward with a single
dexterous movement, and poured the water into the pot, from which the
steam was rising. Ralph Peden could see the sunlight sparkle in the
water as it arched itself solidly out of the pails. He was not near
enough to see the lilac sprig on her light summer gown; but the lilac
sunbonnet which she wore, principally it seemed in order that it
might hang by the strings upon her shoulders, was to Ralph a
singularly attractive piece of colour in the landscape. This he did
not resent, because it is always safe to admire colour.
Ralph would have been glad to have been able to slip off quietly
to the manse. He told himself so over and over again, till he
believed it. This process is easy. But he saw very well that he could
not rise from the lee of the whin bush without being in full view of
this eminently practical and absurdly attractive young woman. So he
turned to his Hebrew Lexicon with a sigh, and a grim contraction of
determined brows which recalled his father. A country girl was nothing
to the hunter after curious roots and the amateur of finely shaded
significances in Piel and Pual.
"I WILL not be distracted!" Ralph said doggedly, though a Scot,
correct for once in his grammar; and he pursued a recalcitrant
particle through the dictionary like a sleuthhound.
A clear shrill whistle rang through the slumberous summer air.
"Bless me," said Ralph, startled, "this is most discomposing!"
He raised himself cautiously on his elbow, and beheld the girl of
the water-pails standing in the full sunshine with her lilac
sunbonnet in her hand. She wared it high above her head, then she
paused a moment to look right in his direction under her hand held
level with her brows. Suddenly she dropped the sunbonnet, put a
couple of fingers into her mouth in a manner which, if Ralph had only
known it, was much admired of all the young men in the parish, and
whistled clear and loud, so that the stone-chat fluttered up indignant
and scurried to a shelter deeper among the gorse. A most revolutionary
young person this. He regretted that the humble-bee had moved him
nearer the bridge.
Ralph was deeply shocked that a girl should whistle, and still
more that she should use two fingers to do it, for all the world like
a shepherd on the hill. He bethought him that not one of his cousins,
Professor Habakkuk Thriepneuk's daughters (who studied Chaldaeic with
their father), would ever have dreamed of doing that. He imagined
their horror at the thought, and a picture, compound of Jemima, Kezia,
and Kerenhappuch, rose before him.
Down the hill, out from beneath the dark green solid foliaged
elder bushes, there came a rush of dogs.
"Save us," said Ralph, who saw himself discovered, "the deil's in
the lassie; she'll have the dogs on me!"—an expression he had
learned from John Bairdison, his father's "man," [Footnote: Church
officer and minister's servant.] who in an unhallowed youth had
followed the sea.
Then he would have reproved himself for the unlicensed exclamation
as savouring of the "minced oath," had he not been taken up with
watching the dogs. There were two of them. One was a large, rough
deerhound, clean cut about the muzzle, shaggy everywhere else, which
ran first, taking the hedges in his stride. The other was a small,
short-haired collie, which, with his ears laid back and an air of grim
determination not to be left behind, followed grimly after. The collie
went under the hedges, diving instinctively for the holes which the
hares had made as they went down to the water for their evening drink.
Both dogs crossed to windward of him, racing for their mistress. When
they reached the green level where the great tubs stood they leaped
upon her with short sharp barks of gladness. She fended them off again
with gracefully impatient hand; then bending low, she pointed to the
loch-side a quarter of a mile below, where a herd of half a dozen
black Galloway cows, necked with the red and white of the smaller
Ayrshires, could be seen pushing its way through the lush heavy grass
of the water meadow.
"Away by there! Fetch them, Roger!" she cried. "Haud at them—the
kye's in the meadow!"
The dogs darted away level. The cows continued their slow advance,
browsing as they went, but in a little while their dark fronts were
turned towards the dogs as after a momentary indecision they
recognized an enemy. With a startled rush the herd drove through the
meadow and poured across the unfenced road up to the hill pasture
which they had left, whose scanty grasses had doubtless turned slow
bovine thoughts to the coolness of the meadow grass, and the pleasure
of standing ruminant knee-deep in the river, with wavy tail nicking
the flies in the shade.
For a little while Ralph Peden breathed freely again, but his
satisfaction was short-lived. One girl was discomposing enough, but
here were two. Moreover the new-comer, having arranged some blankets
in a tub to her satisfaction, calmly tucked up her skirts in a
professional manner and got bare-foot into the tub beside them. Then
it dawned upon Ralph, who was not very instructed on matters of
household economy, that he had chanced upon a Galloway
blanket-washing; and that, like the gentleman who spied upon
Musidora's toilet, of whom he had read in Mr. James Thomson's
Seasons, he might possibly see more than he had come out to see.
Yet it was impossible to rise composedly and take his way
manseward. Ralph wished now that he had gone at the first alarm. It
had become so much more difficult now, as indeed it always does in
such cases. Moreover, he was certain that these two vagabonds of curs
would return. And they would be sure to find him out. Dogs were
unnecessary and inconvenient beasts, always sniffing and nosing about.
He decided to wait. The new-comer of the kilts was after all no Naiad
or Hebe. Her outlines did not resemble to any marked degree the plates
in his excellent classical dictionary. She was not short in stature,
but so strong and of a complexion so ruddily beaming above the reaming
white which filled the blanket tub, that her mirthful face shone like
the sun through an evening mist.
But Ralph did not notice that, in so far as she could, she had
relieved the taller maiden of the heavier share of the work; and that
her laugh was hung on a hair trigger, to go off at every jest and
fancy of Winsome Charteris. All this is to introduce Miss Meg Kissock,
chief and favoured maidservant at the Dullarg farm, and devoted
worshipper of Winsome, the young mistress thereof. Meg indeed, would
have thanked no one for an introduction, being at all times well able
(and willing) to introduce herself.
It had been a shock to Ralph Peden when Meg Kissock walked up from
the lane-side barefoot, and when she cleared the decks for the
blanket tramping. But he had seen something like it before on the
banks of the water of Leith, then running clear and limpid over its
pebbles, save for a flour-mill or two on the lower reaches. But it was
altogether another thing when, plain as print, he saw his first
goddess of the shining water-pails sit calmly down on the great
granite boulder in the shadow of the bridge, and take one small foot
in her hand with the evident intention of removing her foot-gear and
occupying the second tub.
The hot blood surged in responsive shame to Ralph Peden's cheeks
and temples. He started up. Meg Kissock was tramping the blankets
rhythmically, holding her green kirtle well up with both hands, and
singing with all her might. The goddess of the shining pails was also
happily unconscious, with her face to the running water. Ralph bent
low and hastened through a gap in the fence towards the shade of the
elder bushes on the slope. He did not run—he has never acknowledged
that; but he certainly came almost indistinguishably near it. As soon,
however, as he was really out of sight, he actually did take to his
heels and run in the direction of the manse, disconcerted and
The dogs completed his discomfiture, for they caught sight of his
flying figure and gave chase—contenting themselves, however, with
pausing on the hillside where Ralph had been lying, with indignant
barkings and militant tails high crested in air.
Winsome Charteris went up to the broom bushes which fringed the
slope to find out what was the matter with Tyke and Roger. When she
got there, a slim black figure was just vanishing round the white bend
of the Far Away Turn. Winsome whistled low this time, and without
putting even one finger into her mouth.
CHAPTER II. THE MOTHER OF KING
It was not till Ralph Peden had returned to the study of the manse
of the Marrow kirk of Dullarg, and the colour induced by exercise had
had time to die out of his naturally pale cheeks, that he remembered
that he had left his Hebrew Bible and Lexicon, as well as a
half-written exegesis on an important subject, underneath the fatal
whin bush above the bridge over the Grannoch water. He would have been
glad to rise and seek it immediately—a task which, indeed, no longer
presented itself in such terrible colours to him. He found himself
even anxious to go. It would be a serious thing were he to lose his
father's Lexicon and Mr. Welsh's Hebrew Bible. Moreover, he could not
bear the thought of leaving the sheets of his exposition of the last
chapter of Proverbs to be the sport of the gamesome Galloway
winds—or, worse thought, the laughing-stock of gamesome young women
who whistled with two fingers in their mouths.
Yet the picture of the maid of the loch which rose before him
struck him as no unpleasant one. He remembered for one thing how the
sun shone through the tangle of her hair. But he had quite forgotten,
on the other hand, at what part of his exegesis he had left off. It
was, however, a manifest impossibility for him to slip out again.
Besides, he was in mortal terror lest Mr. Welsh should ask for his
Hebrew Bible, or offer to revise his chapter of the day with him. All
the afternoon he was uneasy, finding no excuse to take himself away to
the loch-side in order to find his Bible and Lexicon.
"I understand you have been studying, with a view to license, the
last chapter of the Proverbs of Solomon?" said Gilbert Welsh,
interrogatively, bending his shaggy brows and pouting his underlip at
The Marrow minister was a small man, with a body so dried and
twisted ("shauchelt" was the local word) that all the nerve stuff of
a strong nature had run up to his brain, so that when he walked he
seemed always on the point of falling forward, overbalanced by the
weight of his cliff-like brow.
"Ralph, will you ground the argument of the mother of King Lemuel
in this chapter? But perhaps you would like to refer to the original
Hebrew?" said the minister.
"Oh, no," interrupted Ralph, aghast at the latter suggestion, "I
do not need the text—thank you, sir."
But, in spite of his disclaimer, he devoutly desired to be where
the original text and his written comment upon it were at that
moment—which, indeed, was a consummation even more devoutly to be
wished than he had any suspicion of. The Marrow minister leaned his
head on his hand and looked waitingly at the young man.
Ralph recalled himself with an effort. He had to repeat to himself
that he was in the manse study, and almost to pinch his knee to
convince himself of the reality of his experiences. But this was not
necessary a second time, for, as he sat hastily down on one of Allen
Welsh's hard-wood chairs, a prickle from the gorse bush which he had
brought back with him from Loch Grannoch side was argument sharp
enough to convince Bishop Berkeley.
"Compose yourself to answer my question," said the minister, with
some slight severity. Ralph wondered silently if even a minister of
the Marrow kirk in good standing, could compose himself on one whin
prickle for certain, and the probability of several others developing
themselves at various angles hereafter.
Ralph "grounded" himself as best as he could, explaining the views
of the mother of King Lemuel as to the woman of virtue and
faithfulness. He seemed to himself to have a fluency and a fervour in
exposition to which he had been a stranger. He began to have new views
about the necessity for the creation of Eve. Woman might possibly,
after all, be less purely gratuitous than he had supposed.
"The woman who is above rubies," said he, "is one who rises early
to care for the house, who oversees the handmaids as they cleanse the
household stuffs—in a" (he just saved himself from saying "in a black
pot")—"in a fitting vessel by the rivers of water."
"Well put and correctly mandated," said Mr. Welsh, very much
pleased. There was unction about this young man. Though a bachelor by
profession, he loved to hear the praises of good women; for he had
once known one.
"She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and—"
Here Ralph paused, biting his tongue to keep from describing the
picture which rose before him.
"And what," said the minister, tentatively, leaning forward to
look into the open face of the young man, "what is the distinction or
badge of true beauty and favour of countenance, as so well expressed
by the mother of King Lemuel?"
"A LILAC SUNBONNET!" said Ralph Peden, student in divinity.
CHAPTER III. A TREASURE-TROVE.
Winsome CHARTERIS was a self-possessed maid, but undeniably her
heart beat faster when she found on the brae face, beneath the bush
of broom, two books the like of which she had never seen before, as
well as an open notebook with writing upon it in the neatest and
delicatest of hands. First, as became a prudent woman of experience,
she went up to the top of the hill to assure herself that the owner of
this strange treasure was not about to return. Then she carefully let
down her high-kilted print dress till only her white feet "like little
mice" stole in and out. It did not strike her that this sacrifice to
the conventions was just a trifle belated.
As she returned she said "Shoo!" at every tangled bush, and
flapped her apron as if to scare whatever curious wild fowl might
have left behind it in its nest under the broom such curious nest-
eggs as two great books full of strange, bewitched-looking printing,
and a note-book of curious and interesting writings. Then, with a half
sigh of disappointment, Winsome Charteris sat herself down to look
into this matter. Meg Kissock from the bridge end showed signs of
coming up to see what she was about; but Winsome imperiously checked
"Bide where you are, Meg; I'll be down with you presently."
She turned over the great Hebrew Bible reverently. "A. Welsh" was
written on the fly-leaf. She had a strange idea that she had seen it
before. It seemed somehow thrillingly familiar.
"That's the minister's Hebrew Bible book, no doubt," she said.
"For that's the same kind of printing as between the double verses of
the hundred-and-nineteenth Psalm in my grandfather's big Bible," she
continued, sapiently shaking her head till the crispy ringlets tumbled
about her eyes, and she had impatiently to toss them aside.
She laid the Bible down and peeped into the other strange-looking
book. There were single words here of the same kind as in the other,
but the most part was in ordinary type, though in a language of which
she could make nothing. The note-book was a resource. It was at least
readable, and Winsome Charteris began expectantly to turn it over. But
something stirred reprovingly in her heart. It seemed as if she were
listening to a conversation not meant for her. So she kept her finger
on the leaf, but did not turn it.
"No," she said, "I will not read it. It is not meant for me."
Then, after a pause, "At least I will only read this page which is
open, and then look at the beginning to see whose it is; for, you
know, I may need to send it back to him." The back she had seen
vanish round the Far Away Turn demanded the masculine pronoun.
She lifted the book and read:
"Alas!" (so ran the writing, fluent and clear, small as printer's
type, Ralph Peden's beautiful Hellenic script), "alas, that the good
qualities of the housewives of Solomon's days are out of date and
forgotten in these degenerate times! Women, especially the younger of
them, are become gadabouts, chatterers in the public ways, idle,
adorners of their vain selves, pamperers of their frail tabernacles—"
Winsome threw down the book and almost trod upon it as upon a
"'Tis some city fop," she said, stamping her foot, "who is tired
of the idle town dames. I wonder if he has ever seen the sun rise or
done a day's work in his life? If only I had the wretch! But I will
read no more!"
In token of the sincerity of the last assertion, she picked up the
note-book again. There was little more to read. It was at this point
that the humble-bee had startled the writer.
But underneath there were woids faintly scrawled in pencil: "Must
concentrate attention"—"The proper study of mankind is"—this last
written twice, as if the writer were practising copy-lines absently.
Then at the very bottom was written, so faintly that hardly any eyes
but Winsome's could have read the words:
"Of all colours I do love the lilac. I wonder all maids do not
wear gear of that hue!"
"Oh!" said Winsome Charteris quickly.
Then she gathered up the books very gently, and taking a kerchief
from her neck, she folded the two great books within it, fastening
them with a cunning knot. She was carrying them slowly up towards the
farm town of Craig Ronald in her bare arms when Ralph Peden sat
answering his catechism in the study at the manse. She entered the
dreaming courtyard, and walked sedately across its silent sun- flooded
spaces without a sound. She passed the door of the cool parlour where
her grandfather and grandmother sat, the latter with her hands folded
and her great tortoiseshell spectacles on her nose, taking her
afternoon nap. A volume of Waverley lay beside her. Into her own white
little room Winsome went, and laid the bundle of books in the bottom
of the wall-press, which was lined with sheets of the Cairn Edward
Miscellany. She looked at it some time before she shut the door.
"His name is Ralph," she said. "I wonder how old he is—I shall
know tomorrow, because he will come back; but—I would like to know
She sighed a little—so light a breath that it was only the dream
of a sigh. Then she looked at the lilac sunbonnet, as if it ought to
"At any rate he has very good taste," she said.
But the lilac sunbonnet said never a word.
CHAPTER IV. A CAVALIER PURITAN.
The farm town of Craig Ronald drowsed in the quiet of noon. In the
open court the sunshine triumphed, and only the purple-grey marsh
mallows along the side of the house under the windows gave any sign
of life. In them the bees had begun to hum at earliest dawn, an hour
and a half before the sun looked over the crest of Ben Gairn. They
were humming busily still. In all the chambers of the house there was
the same reposeful stillness. Through them Winsome Charteris moved
with free, light step. She glanced in to see that her grandfather and
grandmother were wanting for nothing in their cool and wide
sitting-room, where the brown mahogany-cased eight- day clock kept up
an unequal ticking, like a man walking upon two wooden legs of which
one is shorter than the other.
It said something for Winsome Charteris and her high-hearted
courage, that what she was accustomed to see in that sitting-room had
no effect upon her spirits. It was a pleasant room enough, with two
windows looking to the south—little round-budded, pale- petalled
monthly roses nodding and peeping within the opened window-frames.
Sweet it was with a great peace, every chair covered with old sprigged
chintz, flowers of the wood and heather from the hill set in china
vases about it. The room where the old folk dwelt at Craig Ronald was
fresh within as is the dew on sweetbrier. Fresh, too, was the apparel
of her grandmother, the flush of youth yet on her delicate cheek,
though the Psalmist's limit had long been passed for her.
As Winsome looked within,
"Are ye not sleeping, grandmother?" she said.
The old lady looked up with a resentful air.
"Sleepin'! The lassie's gane gyte! [out of her senses]. What for
wad I be sleepin' in the afternune? An' me wi' the care o' yer
gran'faither—sic a handling, him nae better nor a bairn, an' you a
bit feckless hempie wi' yer hair fleeing like the tail o' a twa-
year-auld cowt! [colt]. Sleepin' indeed! Na, sleepin's nane for me!"
The young girl came up and put her arms about her grandmother.
"That's rale unceevil o' ye, noo, Granny Whitemutch!" she said,
speaking in the coaxing tones to which the Scots' language lends
itself so easily, "an' it's just because I hae been sae lang at the
blanket-washin', seein' till that hizzy Meg. An' ken ye what I
saw!-ane o' the black dragoons in full retreat, grannie; but he left
his camp equipage ahint him, as the sergeant said when—Ye ken the
story, grannie. Ye maun hae been terrible bonny in thae days!"
"'Deed I'm nane sae unbonny yet, for a' yer helicat
flichtmafleathers, sprigget goons, an' laylac bonnets," said the old
lady, shaking her head till the white silk top-knots trembled. "No,
nor I'm nane sae auld nayther. The gudeman in the corner there, he's
auld and dune gin'ye like, but no me—no me! Gin he warna spared to
me, I could even get a man yet," continued the lively old lady, "an'
whaur wad ye be then, my lass, I wad like to ken?"
"Perhaps I could get one too, grannie," she said. And she shook
her head with an air of triumph. Winsome kissed her grandmother
gently on the brow.
"Nane o' yer Englishy tricks an' trokin's," said she, settling the
white muslin band which she wore across her brow wrinkleless and
straight, where it had been disarrayed by the onslaught of her
"Aye," she went on, stretching out a hand which would have done
credit to a great dame, so white and slender was it in spite of the
hollows which ran into a triangle at the wrist, and the pale- blue
veins which the slight wrinkles have thrown into relief.
"An' I mind the time when three o' his Majesty's officers—nane o'
yer militia wi' horses that rin awa' wi' them ilka time they gang oot
till exerceese, but rale sodgers wi' sabre-tashies to their heels and
spurs like pitawtie dreels. Aye, sirs, but that was before I married
an elder in the Kirk o' the Marrow. I wasna twenty-three when I had
dune wi' the gawds an' vanities o' this wicked world."
"I saw a minister lad the day—a stranger," said Winsome, very
"Sirce me," returned her grandmother briskly; "kenned I e'er the
like o' ye, Winifred Chayrteris, for licht-heedit-ness an' lack o' a'
common sense! Saw a minister an' ne'er thocht, belike, o' sayin' cheep
ony mair nor if he had been a wutterick [weasel]. An' what like was
he, na? Was he young, or auld—or no sae verra auld, like mysel'? Did
he look like an Establisher by the consequence o' the body, or—"
"But, grannie dear, how is it possible that I should ken, when all
that I saw of him was but his coat-tails? It was him that was running
"My certes," said grannie, "but the times are changed since my
day! When I was as young as ye are the day it wasna sodger or
minister ayther that wad hae run frae the sicht o' me. But a
minister, and a fine, young-looking man, I think ye said," continued
Mistress Walter Skirving anxiously.
"Indeed, grandmother, I said nothing—" began Winsome.
"Haud yer tongue, Deil's i' the lassie, he'll be comin' here.
Maybes he's comin' up the loan this verra meenit. Get me my best kep
[cap], the French yin o' Flanders lawn trimmed wi' Valenceenes lace
that Captain Wildfeather, of his Majesty's—But na, I'll no think o'
thae times, I canna bear to think o' them wi' ony complaisance ava.
But bring me my kep—haste ye fast, lassie!"
Obediently Winsome went to her grandmother's bedroom and drew from
under the bed the "mutch" box lined with pale green paper, patterned
with faded pink roses. She did not smile when she drew it out. She was
accustomed to her grandmother's ways. She too often felt the cavalier
looking out from under her Puritan teaching; for the wild strain of
the Gordon blood held true to its kind, and Winsome's grandmother had
been a Gordon at Lochenkit, whose father had ridden with Kenmure in
the great rebellion.
When she brought the white goffered mutch with its plaits and
puckers, granny tried it on in various ways, Winsome meanwhile
holding a small mirror before her.
"As I was sayin', I renounced thinkin' aboot the vanities o' youth
langsyne. Aye, it'll be forty years sin'—for ye maun mind that I was
marriet whan but a lassie. Aye me, it's forty-five years since Ailie
Gordon, as I was then, wed wi' Walter Skirving o' Craig Ronald (noo o'
his ain chammer neuk, puir man, for he'll never leave it mair)," added
she with a brisk kind of acknowledgment towards the chair of the
semi-paralytic in the corner.
There silent and unregarding Walter Skirving sat—a man still
splendid in frame and build, erect in his chair, a shawl over his
knees even in this day of fervent heat, looking out dumbly on the
drowsing, humming world of broad, shadowless noonshine, and often
also on the equable silences of the night.
"No that I regret it the day, when he is but the name o' the man
he yince was. For fifty years since there was nae lad like Walter
Skirving cam into Dumfries High Street frae Stewartry or frae Shire.
No a fit in buckled shune sae licht as his, his weel-shapit leg
covered wi' the bonny 'rig-an'-fur' stockin' that I knitted mysel'
frae the cast on o' the ower-fauld [over-fold] to the bonny white
forefit that sets aff the blue sae weel. Walter Skirving could button
his knee-breeks withoot bendin' his back—that nane could do but the
king's son himsel'; an' sic a dancer as he was afore guid an' godly
Maister Cauldsowans took hand o' him at the tent, wi' preachin' a
sermon on booin' the knee to Baal. Aye, aye, its a' awa'—an' its mony
the year I thocht on it, let alane thocht on wantin' back thae days o'
vanity an' the pride o' sinfu' youth!"
"Tell me about the officer men, granny," said Winsome.
"'Deed wull I no. It wad be mair tellin' ye gin ye were learnin'
yer Caritches" [Westminster Catechism].
"But, grandmammy dear, I thought that you said that the officer
men ran away from you—"
"Hear till her! Rin frae me? Certes, ye're no blate. They cam'
frae far an' near to get a word wi' me. Na, there was nae rinnin'
frae a bonny lass in thae days. Weel, there was three o' them; an'
they cam' ower the hill to see the lasses, graund in their reed
breeks slashed wi' yellow. An' what for no, they war his Majesty's
troopers; an' though nae doot they had been on the wrang side o' the
dyke, they were braw chiels for a' that!"
"An' they cam' to see you, granny?" asked Winsome, who approved of
"What else—but they got an unco begunk [cheat]. Ye see, my
faither had bocht an awfu' thrawn young bull at the Dumfries fair,
an' he had been gaun gilravagin' aboot; an' whaur should the contrary
beast betak' himsel' to but into the Roman camp on Craig Ronald bank,
where the big ditch used to be? There we heard him routin' for three
days till the cotmen fand him i' the hinderend, an' poo'ed him oot wi'
cart-rapes. But when he got oot—certes, but he was a wild beast! He
got at Jock Hinderlands afore he could climb up a tree; an', fegs, he
gaed up a tree withoot clim'in', I'se warrant, an' there he hung,
hanket by the waistband o' his breeks, baa-haain' for his minnie to
come and lift him doon, an' him as muckle a clampersome [awkward]
hobbledehoy as ever ye saw!
"Then what did Carlaverock Jock do but set his heid to a yett
[gate] and ding it in flinders; fair fire-wood he made o't; an' sae,
rampagin' into the meadow across whilk," continued the old lady, with
a rising delight in her eye, "the three cavalry men were comin' to see
me, wi' the spurs on them jangling clear. Reed breeks did na suit
Jock's taste at the best o' times, and he had no been brocht up to
countenance yellow facin's. So the three braw King George's sodgers
that had dune sic graund things at Waterloo took the quickest road
through the meadow. Captain St. Clair, he trippit on his sword, an'
was understood to cry oot that he had never eaten beef in his life.
Ensign Withershins threw his shako ower his shoother and jumpit intil
the water, whaur he expressed his opinion o' Carlaverock Jock stan'in'
up to his neck in Luckie Mowatt's pool—the words I dinna juist call
to mind at this present time, which, indeed, is maybe as weel; but it
was Lieutenant Lichtbody, o' his Majesty's Heavy Dragoons, that cam'
aff at the waurst. He made for the stane dyke, the sven-fite march
dyke that rins up the hill, ye ken. Weel, he made as if he wad mak'
ower it, but Boreland'a big Heelant bull had heard the routin' o' his
friend Carlaverock Jock, an' was there wi' his horns spread like a man
keppin' yowes [catching sheep]. Aye, my certes!" here the old lady
paused, overcome by the humour of her recollections, laughing in her
glee a delightfully catching and mellow laugh, in which Winsome
"Sae there was my braw beau, Lieutenant Lichtbody, sittin' on his
hunkers on the dyke tap girnin' at Carlaverock Jock an' the Boreland
Hielantman on baith sides o' him, an' tryin' tae hit them ower the
nose wi' the scabbard o' his sword, for the whinger itsel' had drappit
oot in what ye micht ca' the forced retreat. It was bonny, bonny to
see; an' whan the three cam' up the loanin' the neist day, 'Sirs,' I
said, 'I'm thinkin' ye had better be gaun. I saw Carlaverock Jock the
noo, fair tearin' up the greensward. It wudna be bonny gin his
Majesty's officers had twice to mak' sae rapid a march to the
rear—an' you, Lieutenant Lichtbody, canna hae a'thegither gotten the
better o' yer lang sederunt on the tap o' the hill dyke. It's a bonny
view that ye had. It was a peety that ye had forgotten yer perspective
"And wad ye believe it, lassie, the threesome turned on the braid
o'their fit an' marched doon the road withoot as muckle as Fair-
guid-e'en or Fair-guid-day!"
"And what said ye, grannie dear?" said Winsome, who sat on a low
seat looking up at her granny.
"O lassie, I juist set my braid hat ower my lug wi' the bonny
white cockade intil't an' gied them 'The Wee, Wee German Lairdie' as
they gaed doon the road, an' syne on the back o't:
"'Awa, Whigs, awa'!
Ye're but a pack——'"
But the great plaid-swathed figure of Winsome's grandfather turned
at the words of the long-forgotten song as though waking from a deep
sleep. A slumberous fire gleamed momentarily in his eye.
"Woman," he said, "hold your peace; let not these words be heard
in the house of Walter Skirving!"
Having thus delivered himself, the fire faded out of his eyes dead
as black ashes; he turned to the window, and lost himself again in
meditation, looking with steady eyes across the ocean of sunshine
which flooded the valley beneath.
His wife gave him no answer. She seemed scarce to have heard the
interruption. But Winsome went across and pulled the heavy plaid
gently off her grandfather's shoulder. Then she stood quietly by him
with one hand upon his head and with the other she gently stroked his
brow. A milder light grew in his dull eye, and he put up his hand
uncertainly as if to take hers.
"But what for should I be takin' delicht in speakin' o' thae auld
unsanctified regardless days," said her grandmother, "that 'tis mony
a year since I hae ta'en ony pleesure in thinkin' on? Gae wa', ye
hempie that ye are!" she cried, turning with a sudden and uncalled-for
sparkle of temper on her granddaughter; "There's nae time an' little
inclination in this hoose for yer flichty conversation. I wonder
muckle that yer thouchts are sae set on the vanities o' young men. And
such are all that delight in them." She went on somewhat irrelevantly,
"Did not godly Maister Cauldsowans redd up [settle] the doom o'
such—'all desirable young men riding upon horses—'"
"An' I'll gae redd up the dairy, an' kirn the butter, grannie!"
said Winsome Charteris, breaking in on the flow of her grandmother's
CHAPTER V. A LESSON IN BOTANY.
No lassie in all the hill country went forth more heart-whole into
the June morning than Winsome Charteris. She was not, indeed, wholly a
girl of the south uplands. Her grandmother was never done reminding
her of her "Englishy" ways, which, according to that authority, she
had contracted during those early years she had spent in Cumberland.
From thence she had been brought to the farm town of Craig Ronald,
soon after the death of her only uncle, Adam Skirving—whose death,
coming after the loss of her own mother, had taken such an effect upon
her grandfather that for years he had seldom spoken, and now took
little interest in the ongoings of the farm.
Walter Skirving was one of a class far commoner in Galloway sixty
years ago than now. He was a "bonnet laird" of the best type, and his
farm, which included all kinds of soil—arable and pasture, meadow and
moor, hill pasture and wood—was of the value of about L300 a year, a
sum sufficient in those days to make him a man of substance and
consideration in the country.
He had been all his life, except for a single year in his youth
when he broke bounds, a Marrow man of the strictest type; and it had
been the wonder and puzzle of his life (to others, not to himself) how
he came to make up to Ailie Gordon, the daughter of the old
moss-trooping Lochenkit Gordons, that had ridden with the laird of
Redgauntlet in the killing time, and more recently had been out with
Maxwell of Nithsdale, and Gordon of Kenmure, to strike a blow for the
"King-over-the-Water." And to this very day, though touched with a
stroke which prevented her from moving far out of her chair, Ailie
Skirving showed the good blood and high- hearted lightsomeness that
had won the young laird of Craig Ronald upon the Loch Grannoch side
nearly fifty years before.
It was far more of a wonder how Ailie Gordon came to take Walter
Skirving. It may be that she felt in her heart the accent of a true
man in the unbending, nonjuring elder of the Marrow kirk. Two great
heart-breaks had crossed their lives: the shadow of the life story of
Winsome's mother, that earlier Winsome whose name had not been heard
for twenty years in the house of Craig Ronald; and the more recent
death of Adam, the strong, silent, chivalrous-natured son who had
sixteen years ago been killed, falling from his horse as he rode home
alone one winter's night from Dumfries.
It was a natural thing to be in love with Winsome Charteris. It
seemed natural to Winsome herself. Ever since she was a little lass
running to school in Keswick, with a touse of lint-white locks blowing
out in the gusts that came swirling off Skiddaw, Winsome had always
been conscious of a train of admirers. The boys liked to carry her
books, and were not so ashamed to walk home with her, as even at six
years of age young Cumbrians are wont to be in the company of maids.
Since she came to Galloway, and opened out with each succeeding year,
like the bud of a moss rose growing in a moist place, Winsome had
thought no more of masculine admiration than of the dull cattle that
"goved" [stared stupidly] upon her as she picked her deft way among
the stalls in the byre. In all Craig Ronald there was nothing between
the hill and the best room that did not bear the mark of Winsome's
method and administrative capacity. In perfect dependence upon
Winsome, her granny had gradually abandoned all the management of the
house to her, so that at twenty that young woman was a veritable
Napoleon of finance and capacity. Only old Richard Clelland of the
Boreland, grave and wise pillar of the kirk by law established, still
transacted her market business and banked her siller—being, as he
often said, proud to act as "doer" for so fair a principal. So it
happened that all the reins of government about this tiny lairdship of
one farm were in the strong and capable hands of a girl of twenty.
And Meg Kissock was her true admirer and faithful slave—Winsome's
heavy hand, too, upon occasion; for all the men on the farm stood in
awe of Meg's prowess, and very especially of Meg's tongue. So also the
work fell mostly upon these two, and in less measure upon a sister of
Meg's, Jess Kissock, lately returned from England, a young lady whom
we have already met.
During the night and morning Winsome had studied with some
attention the Hebrew Bible, in which the name Allan Welsh appeared,
as well as the Latin Luther Commentary, and the Hebrew Lexicon, on the
first page of which the name of Ralph Peden was written in the same
neat print hand as in the note-book.
This was the second day of the blanket-washing, and Winsome,
having in her mind a presentiment that the proprietor of these
learned quartos would appear to claim his own, carried them down to
the bridge, where Meg and her sister were already deep in the
mysteries of frothing tubs and boiling pots. Winsome from the broomy
ridge could hear the shrill "giff-gaff" [give and take] of their
colloquy. She sat down under Ralph's very broom bush, and absently
turned over the leaves of the note-book, catching sentences here and
"I wonder how old he is?" she said, meditatively; "his coat-tails
looked old, but the legs went too lively for an old man; besides, he
likes maids to be dressed in lilac—" She paused still more
thoughtfully. "Well, we shall see." She bent over and pulled the
milky-stalked, white-seeded head of a dandelion. Taking it between
the finger and thumb of her left hand she looked critically at it as
though it were a glass of wine. "He is tall, and he is fair, and his
Here she pouted her pretty lips and blew.
"One—ha, ha!—he was an active infant when he ran from the
blanket-tramping—two, three, four—"
Some tiny feather-headed spikelets disengaged themselves
unwillingly from the round and venerable downpolled dandelion. They
floated lazily up between the tassels of the broom upon the light
"Five, six, seven, eight—faith, he was a clean-heeled laddie yon.
Ye couldna see his legs or coat-tails for stour as he gaed roon' the
Far Away Turn."
Winsome was revelling in her broad Scots. She had learned it from
"Nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen—I'll no
can set the dogs on him then—sixteen, seventeen, eighteen—dear me,
this is becoming interesting."
The plumules were blowing off freely now, like snow from the eaves
on a windy day in winter.
"Nineteen, twenty, twenty-one—I must reverence my elders. If I
don't blow stronger he'll turn out to be fifty—twenty-three,
A shadow fell across the daintily-held dandelion and lay a blue
patch on the grass. Only one pale grey star stood erect on the stem,
the vacant green sheathing of the calyx turning suddenly down.
"TWENTY-FOUR!—" said Ralph Peden quietly, standing with his hat
in his hand and an eager flush on his cheek. The last plumule floated
Winsome Charteris had risen instinctively, and stood looking with
crimson cheeks and quicker-coming breath at this young man who came
upon her in the nick of time.
He was startled and a little indignant. So they stood facing one
another while one might count a score—silent and drinking each the
other in, with that flashing transference of electric sympathy
possible only to the young and the innocent.
It was the young man who spoke first. Winsome was a little
indignant that he should dare to come upon her while so engaged. Not,
of course, that she cared for a moment what he thought of her, but he
ought to have known better than to have stolen upon her while she was
behaving in such a ridiculous, childish way. It showed what he was
"My name is Ralph Peden," he said humbly. "I came from Edinburgh
the day before yesterday. I am staying with Mr. Welsh at the manse."
Winsome Charteris glanced down at the books and blushed still more
deeply. The Hebrew Bible and Lexicon lay harmlessly enough on the
grass, and the Luther was swinging in a frivolous and untheological
way on the strong, bent twigs of broom. But where was the note-book?
Like a surge of Solway tide the remembrance came over her that, when
she had plucked the dandelion for her soothsaying, she had thrust it
carelessly into the bosom of her lilac-sprigged gown. Indeed, a corner
of it peeped out at this moment. Had he seen it?—monstrous thought!
She knew young men and the interpretations that they put upon
nothings! This, in spite of his solemn looks and mantling bashfulness,
was a young man.
"Then I suppose these are yours," said Winsome, turning sideways
towards the indicated articles so as to conceal the note-book. The
young man removed his eyes momentarily from her face and looked in
the direction of the books. He seemed to have entirely forgotten what
it was that had brought him to Loch Grannoch bridge so early this June
morning. Winsome took advantage of his glance to feel that her
sunbonnet sat straight, and as her hand was on its way to her
clustering curls she took this opportunity of thrusting Ralph's
note-book into more complete concealment. Then her hands went up to
her head only to discover that her sunbonnet had slipped backward, and
was now hanging down her back by the strings.
Ralph Peden looked up at her, apparently entirely satisfied. What
was a note-book to him now? He saw the sunbonnet resting upon the
wavy distraction of the pale gold hair. He had a luxurious eye for
colour. That lilac and gold went well together, was his thought.
Trammelled by the fallen head-gear, Winsome threw her head back,
shaking out her tresses in a way that Ralph Peden never forgot. Then
she caught at the strings of the errant bonnet.
"Oh, let it alone!" he suddenly exclaimed.
"Sir?" said Winsome Charteris—interrogatively, not imperatively.
Ralph Peden, who had taken a step forward in the instancy of his
appeal, came to himself again in a moment.
"I beg your pardon," he said very humbly, "I had no right—"
He paused, uncertain what to say.
Winsome Charteris looked up quickly, saw the simplicity of the
young man, in one full eye-blink read his heart, then dropped her
eyes again and said:
"But I thought you liked lilac sunbonnets!"
Ralph Peden had now his turn to blush. Hardly in the secret of his
own heart had he said this thing. Only to Mr. Welsh had his forgetful
tongue uttered the word that was in his mind, and which had covered
since yesterday morn all the precepts of that most superfluous wise
woman, the mother of King Lemuel.
"Are you a witch?" asked Ralph, blundering as an honest and
bashful man may in times of distress into the boldest speech.
"You want to go up and see my grandmother, do you not?" said
Winsome, gravely, for such conversation was not to be continued on
"Yes," said the young man, perjuring himself with a readiness and
facility most unbecoming in a student desiring letters of probation
from the Protesting and Covenant-keeping Kirk of the Marrow.
Ralph Peden lightly picked up the books, which, as Winsome knew,
were some considerable weight to carry.
"Do you find them quite safe?" she asked.
"There was a heavy dew last night," he answered, "but in spite of
it they seem quite dry.
"We often notice the same thing on Loch Grannoch side," said
"I thought—that is, I was under the impression—that I had left a
small book with some manuscript notes!" said the young man,
"It may have dropped among the broom," replied the simple maid.
Whereupon the two set to seeking, both bareheaded, brown cropped
head and golden wilderness of tresses not far from one another, while
the "book of manuscript notes" rose and fell to the quickened
heart-beating of that wicked and deceitful girl, Winsome Charteris.
CHAPTER VI. CURLED EYELASHES.
Now Meg Kissock could stand a great deal, and she would put up
with a great deal to pleasure her mistress; but half an hour of
loneliness down by the washing was overly much for her, and the
struggle between loyalty and curiosity ended, after the manner of her
sex, in the victory of the latter.
As Ralph and Winsome continued to seek, they came time and again
close together and the propinquity of flushed cheek and mazy ringlet
stirred something in the lad's heart which had never been touched by
the Mistresses Thriepneuk, who lived where the new houses of the
Plainstones look over the level meadows of the Borough Muir. His
father had often said within himself, as he walked the Edinburgh
streets to visit some sick kirk member, as he had written to his
friend Adam Welsh, "Has the lad a heart?" Had he seen him on that
broomy knowe over the Grannoch water, he had not doubted, though he
might well have been fearful enough of that heart's too sudden
Never before had the youth come within that delicate AURA of charm
which radiates from the bursting bud of the finest womanhood. Ralph
Peden had kept his affections ascetically virgin. His nature's finest
juices had gone to feed the brain, yet all the time his heart had
waited expectant of the revealing of a mystery. Winsome Charteris had
come so suddenly into his life that the universe seemed newborn in a
day. He sprang at once from the thought of woman as only an
unexplained part of the creation, to the conception of her (meaning
thereby Winsome Charteris) as an angel who had not lost her first
It was a strange thing for Ralph Peden, as indeed it is to every
true man, to come for the first time within the scope of the
unconscious charms of a good girl. There is, indeed, no better
solvent of a cold nature, no better antidote to a narrow education,
no better bulwark of defence against frittering away the strength and
solemnity of first love, than a sudden, strong plunge into its deep
Like timid bathers, who run a little way into the tide and then
run out again with ankles wet, fearful of the first chill, many men
accustom themselves to love by degrees. So they never taste the
sweetness and strength of it as did Ralph Peden in these days, when,
never having looked upon a maid with the level summer lightning of
mutual interest flashing in his eyes, he plunged into love's
fathomless mysteries as one may dive upon a still day from some craggy
platform among the westernmost isles into Atlantic depths.
Winsome's light summer dress touched his hand and thrilled the lad
to his remotest nerve centres. He stood light-headed, taking in as
only they twain looked over the loch with far-away eyes, that subtle
fragrance, delicate and free, which like a garment clothed the maid of
the Grannoch lochside.
"The water's on the boil," cried Meg Kissock, setting her ruddy
shock of hair and blooming, amplified, buxom form above the knoll,
wringing at the same time the suds from her hands, "an' I canna lift
it aff mysel'."
Her mistress looked at her with a sudden suspicion. Since when had
Meg grown so feeble?
"We had better go down," she said simply, turning to Ralph, who
would have cheerfully assented had she suggested that they should
together walk into the loch among the lily beds. It was the "we" that
overcame him. His father had used the pronoun in quite a different
sense. "WE will take the twenty-ninth chapter of second Chronicles
this morning, Ralph—what do WE understand by this peculiar use of VAV
But it was quite another thing when Winsome Charteris said simply,
as though he had been her brother:
"We had better go down!"
So they went down, taking the little stile at which Winsome had
meditated over the remarks of Ralph Peden concerning the creation of
Eve upon their way. Meg Kissock led the van, and took the dyke
vigorously without troubling the steps, her kirtle fitting her for
such exercises. Winsome came next, and Ralph stood aside to let her
pass. She sprang up the low steps light as a feather, rested her
fingertips for an appreciable fraction of a second on the hand which
he instinctively held out, and was over before he realized that
anything had happened. Yet it seemed that in that contact, light as a
rose-leaf blown by the winds of late July against his cheek, his past
life had been shorn clean away from all the future as with a sharp
Ralph Peden had dutifully kissed his cousins Jemima, Kezia, and
Kerenhappuch; but, on the whole, he had felt more pleasure when he
had partaken of the excellent bannocks prepared for him by the fair
hands of Kerenhappuch herself. But this was wholly a new thing. His
breath came suddenly short. He breathed rapidly as though to give his
lungs more air. The atmosphere seemed to have grown rarer and colder.
Indeed, it was a different world, and the blanket-washing itself was
transferred to some deliciously homely outlying annex of paradise.
Yet it seemed the most natural thing in the world that he should
be helping this girl, and he went forward with the greatest assurance
to lift the black pot off the fire for her. The keen, acrid swirls of
wood-smoke blew into his eyes, and the rank steam of yellow home-made
soap, manufactured with bracken ash for lye, rose to his nostrils.
Now, Ralph Peden was well made and strong. Spare in body but
accurately compacted, if he had ever struggled with anything more
formidable than the folio hide-hound Calvins and Turretins on his
father's lower shelf in James's Court, he had been no mean antagonist.
But, though he managed with a great effort to lift the black pot
off its gypsy tripod, he would have let the boiling contents swing
dangerously against his legs had not Winsome caught sharply at his
other hand and leaned over, so balancing the weight of the boiling
water. So they walked down the path to where the tubs stood under the
shade of the great ash-trees, with their sky-tossing, dry- rustling
leaves. There Ralph set his burden down. Meg Kissock had been watching
him keenly. She saw that he had severely burned his hand, and also
that he said nothing whatever about it. He was a man. This gained for
the young man Meg's hearty approval almost as much as his bashfulness
and native good looks. What Meg Kissock did not know was that Ralph
was altogether unconscious of the wound in his hand. It was a deeper
wound which was at that time monopolising his thoughts. But this
little incident was more than a thousand certificates in the eyes of
Meg Kissock, and Meg's friendship was decidedly worth cultivating.
Even for its own sake she did not give it lightly.
Before Winsome Charteris could release her hand, Ralph turned and
"Do you know you have not yet told me your name?"
Winsome did know it very well, but she only said, "My name is
Winsome Charteris, and this is Meg Kissock."
"Winsome Charteris, Winsome Charteris," said Ralph's heart over
and over again, and he had not even the grace to say "Thank you"; but
Meg stepped up to shake him by the hand.
"I'm braw an' prood to ken ye, sir," said Meg. "That muckle sumph
[stupid], Saunders Mowdiewort, telled me a' aboot ye comin' an' the
terrible store o' lear [learning] ye hae. He's the minister's man, ye
ken, an' howks the graves ower by at the parish kirk-yard, for the
auld betheral there winna gang ablow three fit deep, and them that
haes ill-tongued wives to haud doon disna want ony mistake—"
"Meg," said her mistress, "do not forget yourself."
"Deil a fear," said Meg; "it was auld Sim o' Glower-ower-'em, the
wizened auld hurcheon [hedgehog], that set a big thruch stane ower
his first wife; and when he buried his second in the neist grave, he
just turned the broad flat stone. 'Guid be thankit!' he says, 'I had
the forethocth to order a stane heavy eneuch to hand them baith
"Get to the washing, Meg," said Winsome.
"Fegs!" returned Meg, "ye waur in nae great hurry yersel' doon aff
the broomy knowe! What's a' the steer sae sudden like?"
Winsome disdained an answer, but stood to her own tub, where some
of the lighter articles—pillow-slips, and fair sheets of
"seventeen-hundred" linen were waiting her daintier hand.
As Winsome and Meg washed, Ralph Peden carried water, learning the
wondrous science of carrying two cans over a wooden hoop; and in the
frankest tutelage Winsome put her hand over his to teach him, and the
relation of master and pupil asserted its ancient danger.
It had not happened to Winsome Charteris to meet any one to whom
she was attracted with such frank liking. She had never known what it
was to have a brother, and she thought that this clear-eyed young man
might be a brother to her. It is a fallacy common among girls that
young men desire them as sisters. Ralph himself was under no such
illusion, or at least would not have been, had he had the firmness of
mind to sit down half a mile from his emotions and coolly look them
over. But in the meanwhile he was only conscious of a great and rising
delight in his heart.
As Winsome Charteris bent above the wash-tub he was at liberty to
observe how the blood mantled on the clear oval of her cheek. He had
time to note—of course entirely as a philosopher—the pale purple
shadow under the eyes, over which the dark, curling lashes came down
like the fringe of the curtain of night.
"Why—I wonder why?" he said, and stopped aghast at his utterance
aloud of his inmost thought.
"What do you wonder?" said Winsome, glancing up with a frank dewy
freshness in her eyes.
"I wonder why—I wonder that you are able to do all this work," he
said, with an attempt to turn the corner of his blunder.
Winsome shook her head.
"Now you are trying to be like other people," she said; "I do not
think you will succeed. That was not what you were going to say. If
you are to be my friend, you must speak all the truth to me and speak
it always." A thing which, indeed, no man does to a woman. And,
besides, nobody had spoken of Ralph Peden being a friend to her. The
meaning was that their hearts had been talking while their tongues had
spoken of other things; and though there was no thought of love in the
breast of Winsome Charteris, already in the intercourse of a single
morning she had given this young Edinburgh student of divinity a place
which no other had ever attained to. Had she had a brother, she
thought, what would he not have been to her? She felt specially fitted
to have a brother. It did not occur to her to ask whether she would
have carried her brother's college note-book, even by accident, where
it could be stirred by the beating of her heart.
"Well," Ralph said at last, "I will tell you what I was wondering.
You have asked me, and you shall know: I only wondered why your
eyelashes were so much darker than your hair."
Winsome Charteris was not in the least disturbed.
"Ministers should occupy their minds with something else," she
said, demurely. "What would Mr. Welsh say? I am sure he has never
troubled his head about such things. It is not fitting," Winsome said
"But I want to know," said this persistent young man, wondering at
"Well," said Winsome, glancing up with mischief in her eye, "I
suppose because I am a very lazy sort of person, and dark window-
blinds keep out the light."
"But why are they curled up at the end?" asked unblushingly the
author of the remarks upon Eve formerly quoted.
"It is time that you went up and saw my grandmother!" said
Winsome, with great composure.
"Juist what I was on the point o' remarkin' mysel'!" said Meg
CHAPTER VII. CONCERNING TAKING
Winsome and Ralph walked silently and composedly side by side up
the loaning under the elder-trees, over the brook at the watering-
place to which in her hoydenish girlhood Winsome had often ridden the
horses when the ploughmen loosed Bell and Jess from the plough. In
these days she rode without a side-saddle. Sometimes she did it yet
when the spring gloamings were gathering fast, but no one knew this
except Jock Forrest, the ploughman, who never told any more than he
Silence deep as that of yesterday wrapped about the farmhouse of
Craig Ronald. The hens were all down under the lee of the great
orchard hedge, chuckling low to themselves, and nestling with their
feathers spread balloon-wise, while they flirted the hot summer dust
over them. Down where the grass was in shadow a mower was sharpening
his blade. The clear metallic sound of the "strake" or sharpening
strop, covered with pure white Loch Skerrow sand set in grease, which
scythemen universally use in Galloway, cut through the slumberous hum
of the noonday air like the blade itself through the grass. The bees
in the purple flowers beneath the window boomed a mellow bass, and the
grasshoppers made love by millions in the couch grass, chirring in a
thousand fleeting raptures.
"Wait here while I go in," commanded Winsome, indicating a chair
in the cool, blue-flagged kitchen, which Meg Kissock had marked out
in white, with whorls and crosses of immemorial antiquity—the same
that her Pictish forefathers had cut deep in the hard Silurian rocks
of the southern uplands.
It was a little while before, in the dusk of the doorway Winsome
appeared, looking paler and fairer and more infinitely removed from
him than before. Instinctively he wished himself out with her again on
the broomy knowe. He seemed somehow nearer to her there. Yet he
followed obediently enough.
Within the shadowed "ben"-room of Craig Ronald all the morning
this oddly assorted pair of old people had been sitting—as indeed
every morning they sat, one busily reading and often looking up to
talk; while the other, the master of the house himself, sat silent, a
majestic and altogether pathetic figure, looking solemnly out with
wide-open, dreamy eyes, waking to the actual world of speech and
purposeful life only at rare intervals.
But Walter Skirving was keenly awake when Ralph Peden entered. It
was in fact he, and not his partner, who spoke first—for Walter
Skirving's wife had among other things learned when to be silent—
which was, when she must.
"You honour my hoose," he said; "though it grieves me indeed that
I canna rise to receive yin o' your family an' name! But what I have
is at your service, for it was your noble faither that led the
faithful into the wilderness on the day o' the Great Apostasy!"
The young man shook him by the hand. He had no bashfulness here.
He was on his own ground. This was the very accent of the society in
which he moved in Edinburgh.
"I thank you," he said, quietly and courteously, stepping back at
once into the student of divinity; "I have often heard my father
speak of you. You were the elder from the south who stood by him on
that day. He has ever retained a great respect for you."
"It WAS a great day," Walter Skirving muttered, letting his arm
rest on the little square deal table which stood beside him with his
great Bible open upon it—"a great day—aye, Maister Peden's laddie i'
my hoose! He's welcome, he's mair nor welcome."
So saying, he turned his eyes once more on the blue mist that
filled the wide Grannoch Valley, and the bees hummed again in the
honey-scented marshmallows so that all heard them.
"This is my grandmother," said Winsome, who stood quite quiet
behind her chair, swinging the sunbonnet in her hand. From her
flower-set corner the old lady held out her band. With a touch of his
father's old-fashioned courtesy he stooped and kissed it. Winsome
instinctively put her hand quickly behind her as though he had kissed
that. Once such practices have a beginning, who knows where they may
end? She had not expected it of him, though, curiously, she thought no
worse of him for his gallantry.
But the lady of Craig Ronald was obviously greatly pleased.
"The lad has guid bluid in him. That's the minnie [mother] o' him,
nae doot. She was a Gilchrist o' Linwood on Nithsdale. What she saw
in your faither to tak' him I dinna ken ony mair than I ken hoo it
cam' to pass that I am the mistress o' Walter Skirving's hoose the
day.—Come oot ahint my chair, lassie; dinna be lauchin' ahint folks's
backs. D'ye think I'm no mistress o' my ain hoose yet, for a' that ye
are sic a grand hoosekeeper wi' your way o't."
The accusation was wholly gratuitous. Winsome had been grave with
a great gravity. But she came obediently out, and seated herself on a
low stool by her grandmother's side. There she sat, holding her hand,
and leaning her elbow on her knee. Ralph thought he had never seen
anything so lovely in his life—an observation entirely correct. The
old lady was clad in a dress of some dark stiff material, softer than
brocade, which, like herself, was more beautiful in its age than even
in youth. Folds of snowy lawn covered her breast and fell softly about
her neck, fastened there by a plain black pin. Her face was like a
portrait by Henry Raeburn, so beautifully venerable and sweet. The
twinkle in her brown eyes alone told of the forceful and restless
spirit which was imprisoned within. She had been reading a new volume
of the Great Unknown which the Lady Elizabeth had sent her over from
the Big House of Greatorix. She had laid it down on the entry of the
young man. Now she turned sharp upon him.
"Let me look at ye, Maister Ralph Peden. Whaur gat ye the 'Ralph'?
That's nae westland Whig name. Aye, aye, I mind—what's comin' o' my
memory? Yer grandfaither was auld Ralph Gilchrist; but ye dinna tak'
after the Gilchrists—na, na, there was no ane o' them weel
faured—muckle moo'd [large-mouthed] Gilchrists they ca'ed them.
It'll be your faither that you favour."
And she turned him about for inspection with her hand.
"Grandmother—" began Winsome, anxious lest she should say
something to offend the guest of the house. But the lady did not heed
her gentle monition.
"Was't you that ran awa' frae a bonny lass yestreen?" she queried,
sudden as a flash of summer lightning.
It was now the turn of both the younger folk to blush. Winsome
reddened with vexation at the thought that he should think that she
had seen him run and gone about telling of it. Ralph grew redder and
redder, and remained speechless. He did not think of anything at all.
"I am fond of exercise," he said falteringly.
The gay old lady rippled into a delicious silver stream of
laughter, a little thin, but charmingly provocative. Winsome did not
join, but she looked up imploringly at her grandmother, leaning her
head back till her tresses swept the ground.
When Mistress Skirving recovered herself,
"Exerceese, quo' he, heard ye ever the like o' that? In their
young days lads o' speerit took their exerceese in comin' to see a
bonny lass—juist as I was sayin' to Winifred yestreen nae faurer
gane. Hoot awa', twa young folk! The simmer days are no lang. Waes
me, but I had my share o' them! Tak' them while they shine, bankside
an' burnside an' the bonny heather. Aince they bloomed for Ailie
Gordon. Once she gaed hand in hand alang the braes, where noo she'll
gang nae mair. Awa' wi' ye, ye're young an' honest. Twa auld cankered
carles are no fit company for twa young folks like you. Awa' wi' ye;
dinna be strange wi' his mither's bairn, say I—an' the guid man hae's
spoken for the daddy o' him."
Thus was Ralph Peden made free of the Big Hoose of Craig Ronald.
CHAPTER VIII. THE MINISTER'S MAN
ARMS EOR CONQUEST.
Saunders Mowdiewort, minister's man and grave-digger, was going a
sweethearting. He took off slowly the leathern "breeks" of his craft,
sloughing them as an adder casts his skin. They collapsed upon the
floor with a hideous suggestion of distorted human limbs, as Saunders
went about his further preparations. Saunders was a great,
soft-bodied, fair man, of the chuby flaxen type so rare in
Scotland—the type which looks at home nowhere but along the south
coast of England. Saunders was about thirty-five. He was a widower in
search of a wife, and made no secret of his devotion to Margaret
Kissock, the "lass" of the farm town of Craig Ronald.
Saunders was slow of speech when in company, and bashful to a
degree. He was accustomed to make up his mind what he would say
before venturing within the range of the sharp tongue of his well-
beloved—an excellent plan, but one which requires for success both
self-possession and a good memory. But for lack of these Saunders had
made an excellent courtier.
Saunders made his toilet in the little stable of the manse above
which he slept. As he scrubbed himself he kept up a constant sibilant
hissing, as though he were an equine of doubtful steadiness with whom
the hostler behooved to be careful. First he carefully removed the
dirt down to a kind of Plimsoll load-line midway his neck; then he
frothed the soap-suds into his red rectangular ears, which stood out
like speaking trumpets; there he let it remain. Soap is for putting on
the face, grease on the hair. It is folly then to wash either off.
Besides being wasteful. His flaxen hair stood out in wet strands and
clammy tags and tails. All the while Saunders kept muttering to
"An' says I to her: 'Meg Kissock, ye're a bonny woman,' says I.
'My certie, but ye hae e'en like spunkies [will-o'-the-wisps] or
maybes," said Saunders in a meditative tone. "I had better say 'like
whurlies in a sky-licht.' It micht be considered mair lovin' like!"
"Then she'll up an' say: 'Saunders, ye mak' me fair ashamed to
listen to ye. Be mensefu' [polite], can ye no?'"
This pleased Saunders so much that he slapped his thigh so that
the pony started and clattered to the other side of his stall.
"Then I'll up an' tak' her roun' the waist, an' I'll look at her
like this—" (here Saunders practised the effect of his fascinations
in the glass, a panorama which was to some extent marred by the
necessary opening of his mouth to enable the razor he was using to
excavate the bristles out of the professional creases in his lower
jaw. Saunders pulled down his mouth to express extra grief when a
five-foot grave had been ordered. His seven-foot manifestations of
respect for the deceased were a sight to see. He held the opinion that
anybody that had no more 'conceit o' themsel'' [were so much left to
themselves] than to be buried in a three-foot grave, did not deserve
to be mourned at all. This crease, then, was one of Saunders's assets,
and had therefore to be carefully attended to. Even love must not
interfere with it.)
"Sae after that, I shall tak' her roun' the waist, juist like
this—" said he, insinuating his left arm circumferentially. It was
an ill-judged movement, for, instead of circling Meg Kissock's waist,
he extended his arm round the off hindleg of Birsie, the minister's
pony, who had become a trifle short tempered in his old age. Now it
was upon that very leg and at that very place that, earlier in the
day, a large buzzing horse-fly had temporarily settled. Birsie was in
no condition, therefore, for argument upon the subject. So with the
greatest readiness he struck straight out behind and took Saunders
what he himself called a "dinnle on the elbuck." Nor was this all, for
the razor suddenly levered upwards by Birsie's hoof added another and
entirely unprofessional wrinkle to his face.
Saunders uprose in wrath, for the soap was stinging furiously in
the cut, and expostulated with Birsie with a handful of reins which
he lifted off the lid of the corn-chest.
"Ye ill-natured, thrawn, upsettin' blastie, ye donnart auld
deevil!" he cried.
"Alexander Mowdiewort, gin ye desire to use minced oaths and braid
oaths indiscriminately, ye shall not use them in my stable. Though ye
be but a mere Erastian and uncertain in yer kirk membership, ye are at
least an occasional hearer, whilk is better than naething, at the kirk
o' the Marrow; and what is more to the point, ye are my own hired
servant, and I desire that ye cease from makin' use o' any such
expressions upon my premises."
"Weel, minister," said Saunders, penitently, "I ken brawly I'm i'
the wrang; but ye ken yersel', gin ye had gotten a dinnle i' the
elbuck that garred ye loup like a troot i' Luckie Mowatt's pool, or
gin ye had cuttit yersel' wi' yer ain razor, wad 'Effectual Callin','
think ye, hae been the first word i' yer mooth? Noo, minister, fair
"At any rate," said the minister, "what I would have said or done
is no excuse for you, as ye well know. But how did it happen?"
"Weel, sir, ye see the way o't was this: I was thinkin' to mysel',
'There's twa or three ways o' takin' the buiks intil the pulpit—
There's the way consequential—that's Gilbert Prettiman o' the
Kirkland's way. Did ever ye notice the body? He hauds the Bibles
afore him as if he war Moses an' Aaron gaun afore Pharaoh, wi' the
coat-taillies o' him fleein' oot ahint, an' his chin pointin' to the
soon'in'-board o' the pulpit."
"Speak respectfully of the patriarchs," said Mr. Welsh
sententiously. Saunders looked at him with some wonder expressed in
"Far be it frae me," he said, "to speak lichtly o' ony ane o' them
(though, to tell the truth, some o' them war gye boys). I hae been
ower lang connectit wi' them, for I hae carriet the buiks for fifteen
year, ever since my faither racket himsel' howkin' the grave o' yer
predecessor, honest man, an' I hae leeved a' my days juist ower the
wa' frae the kirk."
"But then they say, Saunders," said the minister, smilingly, "'the
nearer the kirk the farther frae grace.'"
"'Deed, minister," said Saunders, "Grace Kissock is a nice bit
lassie, but an' Jess will be no that ill in a year or twa, but o' a'
the Kissocks commend me till Meg. She wad mak' a graund wife. What
think ye, minister?"
Mr. Welsh relaxed his habitual severe sadness of expression and
laughed a little. He was accustomed to the sudden jumps which his
man's conversation was wont to take.
"Nay," he said, "but that is a question for you, Saunders. It is
not I that think of marrying her."
"The Lord be thankit for that! for gin the minister gaed speerin',
what chance wad there be for the betheral?"
"Have you spoken to Meg herself yet?" asked Mr. Welsh.
"Na," said Saunders; "I haena that, though I hae made up my mind
to hae it oot wi' her this verra nicht—if sae it micht be that ye
warna needin' me, that is—" he added, doubtfully, "but I hae guid
reason to hope that Meg—"
"What reason have you, Saunders? Has Margaret expressed a
preference for you in any way?"
"Preference!" said Saunders; "'deed she has that, minister; a
maist marked preference. It was only the last Tuesday afore
Whussanday [Whitsunday] that she gied me a clour [knock] i' the lug
that fair dang me stupid. Caa that ye nocht?"
"Well, Saunders," said the minister, going out, "certainly I wish
you good speed in your wooing; but see that you fall no more out with
Birsie, lest you be more bruised than you are now; and for the rest,
learn wisely to restrain your unruly member."
"Thank ye, minister," said Saunders; "I'll do my best endeavours
to obleege ye. Meg's clours are to be borne wi' a' complaisancy, but
Birsie's dunts are, so to speak, gratuitous!"
CHAPTER IX. THE ADVENT OF THE CUIF.
"Here's the Cuif!" said Meg Kissock, who with her company gown on,
and her face glowing from a brisk wash, sat knitting a stocking in
the rich gloaming light at the gable end of the house of Craig
Ronald. Winsome usually read a book, sitting by the window which
looked up the long green croft to the fir-woods and down to the quiet
levels of Loch Grannoch, on which the evening mist was gathering a
pale translucent blue. It was a common thing for Meg and Jessie
Kissock to bring their knitting and darning there, and on their
milking-stools sit below the window. If Winsome were in a mood for
talk she did not read much, but listened instead to the brisk chatter
of the maids. Sometimes the ploughmen, Jock Forrest and Ebie Farrish,
came to "ca' the crack," and it was Winsome's delight on these
occasions to listen to the flashing claymore of Meg Kissock's rustic
wit. Before she settled down, Meg had taken in the three tall candles
"ben the hoose," where the old people sat—Walter Skirving, as ever,
silent and far away, his wife deep in some lively book lent her by the
Lady Elizabeth out of the library of Greatorix Castle.
A bank of wild thyme lay just beneath Winsome's window, and over
it the cows were feeding, blowing softly through their nostrils among
the grass and clover till the air was fragrant with their balmy
"Guid e'en to ye, 'Cuif,'" cried Meg Kissock as soon as Saunders
Mowdiewort came within earshot. He came stolidly forward tramping
through the bog with his boots newly greased with what remained of
the smooth candle "dowp" with which he had sleeked his flaxen locks.
He wore a broad blue Kilmarnock bonnet, checked red and white in a
"dam-brod" [draught-board] pattern round the edge, and a blue-buttoned
coat with broad pearl buttons. It may be well to explain that there is
a latent meaning, apparent only to Galloway folk of the ancient time,
in the word "cuif." It conveys at once the ideas of inefficiency and
folly, of simplicity and the ignorance of it. The cuif is a feckless
person of the male sex, who is a recognized butt for a whole
neighbourhood to sharpen its wits upon.
The particular cuif so addressed by Meg came slowly over the
"Guid e'en to ye," he said, with his best visiting manners.
"Can ye no see me as weel, Saunders?" said Jess, archly, for all
was grist that came to her mill.
Saunders rose like a trout to the fly.
"Ow aye, Jess, lass, I saw ye brawly, but it disna do to come
seekin' twa lasses at ae time."'
"Dinna ye be thinkin' to put awa' Meg, an' then come coortin' me!"
said Jess, sharply.
Saunders was hurt for the moment at this pointed allusion both to
his profession and also to his condition as a "seekin'" widower.
"Wha seeks you, Jess, 'ill be sair ill-aff!" he replied very
briskly for a cuif.
The sound of Meg's voice in round altercation with Jock Gordon,
the privileged "natural" or innocent fool of the parish, interrupted
this interchange of amenities, which was indeed as friendly and as
much looked for between lads and lasses as the ordinary greeting of
"Weel, hoo's a' wi' ye the nicht?" which began every conversation
between responsible folks.
"Jock Gordon, ye lazy ne'er-do-weel, ye hinna carried in a single
peat, an' it comin' on for parritch-time. D'ye think my maister can
let the like o' you sorn on him, week in, week oot, like a mawk on a
sheep's hurdie? Gae wa' oot o' that, lyin' sumphin' [sulking] an'
sleepin' i' the middle o' the forenicht, an' carry the water for the
boiler an' bring in the peats frae the stack."
Then there arose a strange elricht quavering voice—the voice of
those to whom has not been granted their due share of wits. Jock
Gordon was famed all over the country for his shrewd replies to those
who set their wits in contest with his. Jock is remembered on all
Deeside, and even to Nithsdale. He was a man well on in years at this
time, certainly not less than forty-five. But on his face there was no
wrinkle set, not a fleck of gray upon his bonnetless fox-red shock of
hair, weather-rusted and usually stuck full of feathers and short
pieces of hay. Jock Gordon was permitted to wander as a privileged
visitor through the length and breadth of the south hill country. He
paid long visits to Craig Ronald, where he had a great admiration and
reverence for the young mistress, and a hearty detestation for Meg
Kissock, who, as he at all times asserted, "was the warst maister to
serve atween the Cairnsmuirs."
"Richt weel I'll do yer biddin', Meg Kissock," he answered in his
shrill falsetto, "but no for your sake or the sake o' ony belangin'
to you. But there's yae bonny doo [dove], wi' her hair like gowd, an'
a fit that she micht set on Jock Gordon's neck, an' it wad please him
weel. An' said she, 'Do the wark Meg Kissock bids ye,' so Jock Gordon,
Lord o' Kelton Hill an' Earl o' Clairbrand, will perform a' yer wull.
Otherwise it's no in any dochter o' Hurkle-backit [bent-backed]
Kissock to gar Jock Gordon move haund or fit."
So saying, Jock clattered away with his water-pails, muttering to
Meg Kissock came out again to sit down on her milking-stool under
the westward window, within which was Winsome Charteris, reading her
book unseen by the last glow of the red west.
Jess and Saunders Mowdiewort had fallen silent. Jess had said her
say, and did not intend to exert herself to entertain her sister's
admirer. Jess was said to look not unkindly on Ebie Farrish, the
younger ploughman who had recently come to Craig Ronald from one of
the farms at the "laigh" end of the parish. Ebie had also, it was
said, with better authority, a hanging eye to Jess, who had the
greater reason to be kind to him, that he was the first since her
return from England who had escaped the more BRAVURA attractions of
"Can ye no find a seat guid eneuch to sit doon on, cuif?" inquired
Meg with quite as polite an intention as though she had said, "Be so
kind as to take a seat." The cuif, who had been uneasily balancing
himself first on one foot and then on the other, and apologetically
passing his hand over the sleek side of his head which was not covered
by the bonnet, replied gratefully:
"'Deed I wull that, Meg, since ye are sae pressin'."
He went to the end of the milk-house, selected a small tub used
for washing the dishes of red earthenware and other domestic small
deer, turned it upside down, and seated himself as near to Meg as he
dared. Then he tried to think what it was he had intended to say to
her, but the words somehow would not now come at call. Before long he
hitched his seat a little nearer, as though his present position was
not quite comfortable.
But Meg checked him sharply.
"Keep yer distance, cuif," she said; "ye smell o' the muils"
"Na, na, Meg, ye ken brawly I haena been howkin' [digging] since
Setterday fortnicht, when I burriet Tarn Rogerson's wife's guid-
brither's auntie, that leeved grainin' an' deein' a' her life wi' the
rheumatics an' wame disease, an' died at the last o' eatin' swine's
cheek an' guid Cheddar cheese thegither at Sandy Mulquharchar's
"Noo, cuif," said Meg, with an accent of warning in her voice,
"gin ye dinna let alane deevin' [deafening] us wi' yer kirkyaird
clavers, ye'll no sit lang on my byne" [tub].
From the end of the peat-stack, out of the dark hole made by the
excavation of last winter's stock of fuel, came the voice of Jock
"The deil he sat on the high lumtap,
HECH HOW, BLACK AN' REEKY!
Gang yer ways and drink yer drap,
Ye'll need it a' whan ye come to stap
IN MY HOLE SAE BLACK AN' REEKY, O!
HECH HOW, BLACK AN' REEKY!
"Hieland kilt an' Lawland hose,
Parritch-fed an' reared on brose,
Ye'll drink nae drap whan ye come tae stap
IN MY HOLE SAE BLACK AN' REEKY, O!
HECH HOW, BLACK AN' REEKY!"
Meg Kissock and her sweetheart stopped to listen. Saunders
Mowdiewort smiled an unprofessional smile when he heard the song of
the natural. "That's a step ayont the kirkyaird, Meg," he said. "Gin
ye hae sic objections to hear aboot honest men in their honest graves,
what say ye to that elricht craitur scraichin' aboot the verra deil
an' his hearth-stane?"
Certainly it sounded more than a trifle uncanny in the gloaming,
coming out of that dark place where even in the daytime the black
Galloway rats cheeped and scurried, to hear the high, quavering voice
of Jock Gordon singing his unearthly rhymes.
By-and-bye those at the house gable could see that the innocent
had climbed to the top of the peat-stack in some elvish freak, and
sat there cracking his thumbs and singing with all his might:
"HECH HOW, BLACK AN' REEKY!
IN MY HOLE SAE BLACK AN' REEKY, O!"
"Come doon oot o' that this meenit, Jock Gordon, ye gomeral!"
cried Meg, shaking her fist at the uncouth shape twisting and singing
against the sunset sky like one demented.
The song stopped, and Jock Gordon slowly turned his head in their
direction. All were looking towards him, except Ebie Farrish, the new
ploughman, who was wondering what Jess Kissock would do if he put his
arm around her waist.
"What said ye?" Jock asked from his perch on the top of the peat-
"Hae ye fetched in the peats an' the water, as I bade ye?" asked
Meg, with great asperity in her voice. "D'ye think that ye'll win aff
ony the easier in the hinnerend, by sittin' up there like yin o' his
ain bairns, takkin' the deil's name in vain?"
"Gin ye dinna tak' tent to [care of] yersel', Meg Kissock,"
retorted Jock, "wi' yer eternal yammer o' 'Peats, Jock Gordon, an'
'Water, Jock Gordon,' ye'll maybes find yersel' whaur Jock Gordon'll
no be there to serve ye; but the Ill Auld Boy'll keep ye in routh o'
peats, never ye fret, Meg Kissock, wi' that reed-heed [red head] o'
yours to set them a-lunt [on fire]. Faith an' ye may cry 'Water!
water!' till ye crack yer jaws, but nae Jock Gordon there—na, na—nae
Jock Gordon there. Jock kens better."
But at this moment there was a prolonged rumble, and the whole
party sitting by the gable end (the "gavel," as it was locally
expressed) rose to their feet from tub and hag-clog and milking-
stool. There had been a great land-slip. The whole side of the
peat-stack had tumbled bodily into the great "black peat-hole" from
which the winter's peats had come, and which was a favourite lair of
Jock's own, being ankle-deep in fragrant dry peat "coom"— which is,
strange to say, a perfectly clean and even a luxurious bedding, far to
be preferred as a couch to "flock" or its kindred abominations.
All the party ran forward to see what had become of Jock, whose
song had come to so swift a close.
Out of the black mass of down-fallen peat there came a strange,
"O guid deil, O kind deil, dinna yirk awa' puir Jock to that ill
bit—puir Jock, that never yet did ye ony hairm, but aye wished ye
weel! Lat me aff this time, braw deil, an' I'll sing nae mair ill
gangs aboot ye!"
"Save us!" exclaimed Meg Kissock, "the craitur's prayin' to the
Ill Body himsel'."
Ebbie Farrish began to clear away the peat, which was, indeed, no
difficult task. As he did so, the voice of Jock Gordon mounted higher
"O mercy me, I hear them clawin' and skrauchelin'! Dinna let the
wee yins wi' the lang riven taes and the nebs like gleds [beaks like
kites] get haud o' me! I wad rayther hae yersel', Maister o' Sawtan,
for ye are a big mensefu' deil. Ouch! I'm dune for noo, althegither;
he haes gotten puir Jock! Sirce me, I smell the reekit rags o' him!"
But it was only Ebie Farrish that had him by the roll of ancient
cloth which served as a collar for Jock's coat. When he was pulled
from under the peats and set upon his feet, he gazed around with a
"O man, Ebie Farrish," he said solemnly, "If I didna think ye war
the deil himsel'—ye see what it is to be misled by ootward
There was a shout of laughter at the expense of Ebie, in which Meg
thought that she heard an answering ripple from within Winsome's
"Surely, Jock, ye were never prayin' to the deil?" asked Meg from
the window, very seriously. "Ye ken far better than that."
"An' what for should I no pray to the deil? He's a desperate
onsonsy chiel yon. It's as weel to be in wi' him as oot wi' him ony
day. Wha' kens what's afore them, or wha they may be behaudin' to
afore the morrow's morn?" answered Jock stoutly.
"But d'ye ken," said John Scott, the theological herd, who had
quietly "daundered doon" as he said, from his cot-house up on the
hill, where his bare-legged bairns played on the heather and short
grass all day, to set his shoulder against the gable end for an hour
with the rest.
"D'ye ken what Maister Welsh was sayin' was the new doctrine amang
thae New Licht Moderates—'hireling shepherds,' he ca'd them? Noo I'm
no on mysel' wi' sae muckle speakin' aboot the deil. But the minister
was sayin' that the New Moderates threep [assert] that there's nae
deil at a'. He dee'd some time since!"
"Gae wa' wi' ye, John Scott! wha's gaun aboot doin' sae muckle ill
then, I wad like to ken?" said Meg Kissock.
"Dinna tell me," said Jock Gordon, "that the puir deil's deed, and
that we'll hae to pit up wi' Ebie Farrish. Na, na, Jock's maybe daft,
but he kens better than that!"
"They say," said John Scott, pulling meditatively at his cutty,
"that the pooer is vested noo in a kind o' comy-tee [committee]!"
"I dinna haud wi' comy-tees mysel'," replied Meg; "it's juist
haein' mony maisters, ilka yin mair cankersome and thrawn than
"Weel, gin this news be true, there's a heep o' fowk in this
parish should be mentioned in his wull," said Jock Gordon,
significantly. "They're near kin till him—forby a heep o' bairns
that he has i' the laich-side o' the loch. They're that hard there,
they'll no gie a puir body a meal o' meat or the shelter o' a barn."
"But," said Ebie Farrish, who had been thinking that, after all,
the new plan might have its conveniences, "gin there's nae deil to
tempt, there'll be nae deil to punish."
But the herd was a staunch Marrow man. He was not led away by any
human criticism, nor yet by the new theology.
"New Licht here, New Licht there," he said; "I canna' pairt wi' ma
deil. Na, na, that's ower muckle to expect o' a man o' my age!"
Having thus defined his theological position, without a word more
he threw his soft checked plaid of Galloway wool over his shoulders,
and fell into the herd's long swinging heather step, mounting the
steep brae up to his cot on the hillside as easily as if he were
walking along a level road.
There was a long silence; then a ringing sound, sudden and sharp,
and Ebie Farrish fell inexplicably from the axe-chipped hag-clog,
which he had rolled up to sit upon. Ebie had been wondering for more
than an hour what would happen if he put his arm round Jess Kissock's
waist. He knew now.
Then, after a little Saunders Mowdiewort, who was not unmindful of
his prearranged programme nor yet oblivious of the flight of time,
saw the stars come out, he knew that if he were to make any progress,
he must make haste; so he leaned over towards his sweetheart and
whispered, "Meg, my lass, ye're terrible bonny."
"D'ye think ye are the first man that has telled me that, cuif?"
said Meg, with point and emphasis.
Jock Forrest, the senior ploughman—a very quiet, sedate man with
a seldom stirred but pretty wit, laughed a short laugh, as though he
knew something about that. Again there was a silence, and as the night
wind began to draw southward in cool gulps of air off the hills,
Winsome Charteris's window was softly closed.
"Hae ye nocht better than that to tell us, cuif?" said Meg,
briskly, "nocht fresh-like?"
"Weel," said Saunders Mowdiewort, groping round for a subject of
general interest, his profession and his affection being alike
debarred, "there's that young Enbra' lad that's come till the manse.
He's a queer root, him."
"What's queer aboot him?" asked Meg, in a semi-belligerent manner.
A young man who had burned his fingers for her mistress's sake must
not be lightly spoken of.
"Oh, nocht to his discredit ava, only Manse Bell heard him arguin'
wi' the minister aboot the weemen-folk the day that he cam'. He
canna' bide them, she says."
"He has but puir taste," said Ebie Farrish; "a snod bit lass is
the bonniest work o' Natur'. Noo for mysel'—"
"D'ye want anither?" asked Jess, without apparent connection.
"He'll maybe mend o' that opeenion, as mony a wise man has dune
afore him," said Meg, sententiously. "Gae on, cuif; what else aboot
the young man?"
"Oh, he's a lad o' great lear. He can read ony language back or
forrit, up or doon, as easy as suppin' sowens. He can speak
byordinar' graund. They say he'll beat the daddy o' him for preachin'
when he's leecensed. He rade Birsie this mornin' too, after the
kickin' randie had cuist me aff his back like a draff sack."
"Then what's queer aboot him?" said Jess.
Meg said nothing. She felt a draft of air suck into Winsome's
room, so that she knew that the subject was of such interest that her
mistress had again opened her window. Meg leaned back so far that she
could discern a glint of yellow hair in the darkness.
The cuif was about to light his pipe. Meg stopped him.
"Nane o' yer lichts here, cuif," she said; "it's time ye were
thinkin' aboot gaun ower the hill. But ye haena' telled us yet what's
queer aboot the lad."
"Weel, woman, he's aye write—writin', whiles on sheets o' paper,
and whiles on buiks."
"There's nocht queer aboot that," says Meg; "so does ilka
"But Manse Bell gied me ane o' his writings, that she had gotten
aboot his bedroom somewhere. She said that the wun' had blawn't aff
his table, but I misdoot her."
"Yer ower great wi' Manse Bell an' the like o' her, for a man that
comes to see me!" said Meg, who was a very particular young woman
"It was cuttit intil lengths like the metre psalms, but it luikit
gye an' daft like, sae I didna' read it," said the cuif hastily.
"Here it's to ye, Meg. I was e'en gaun to licht my cutty wi't."
Something shone gray-white in Saunders's hand as he held it out to
Meg, It passed into Meg's palm, and then was seen no more.
The session at the house end was breaking up. Jess had vanished
silently. Ebie Farrish was not. Jock Forrest had folded his tent and
stolen away. Meg and Saunders were left alone. It was his supreme
He leaned over towards his sweetheart. His blue bonnet had fallen
to the ground, and there was a distinct odour of warm candle- grease
in the air.
"Meg," he said, "yer maist amazin' bonny, an' I'm that fond o' ye
that I am faain' awa' frae my meat! O Meg, woman, I think o' ye i'
the mornin' afore the Lord's Prayer, I sair misdoot! Guid forgie me!
I find mysel' whiles wonderin' gin I'll see ye the day afore I can
gang ower in my mind the graves that's to howk, or gin Birsie's oats
are dune. O Meg, Meg, I'm that fell fond o' ye that I gruppit that
thrawn speldron Birsie's hint leg juist i' the fervour o' thinkin' o'
"Hoo muckle hae ye i' the week?" said Meg, practically, to bring
the matter to a point.
"A pound a week," said Saunders Mowdiewort, promptly, who though a
cuif was a business man, "an' a cottage o' three rooms wi' a graun'
view baith back an' front!"
"Ow aye," said Meg, sardonically, "I ken yer graund view. It's o'
yer last wife's tombstane, wi' the inscriptions the length o' my airm
aboot Betty Mowdiewort an' a' her virtues, that Robert Paterson cuttit
till ye a year past in Aprile. Na, na, ye'll no get me to leeve a' my
life lookin' oot on that ilk' time I wash my dishes. It wad mak' yin
be wantin' to dee afore their time to get sic-like. Gang an' speer
[ask] Manse Bell. She's mair nor half blind onyway, an' she's fair
girnin' fain for a man, she micht even tak' you."
With these cruel words Meg lifted her milking-stool and vanished
within. The cuif sat for a long time on his byne lost in thought.
Then he arose, struck his flint and steel together, and stood looking
at the tinder burning till it went out, without having remembered to
put it to the pipe which he held in his other hand. After the last
sparks ran every way and flickered, he threw the glowing red embers on
the ground, kicked the pail on which he had been sitting as solemnly
as if he had been performing a duty to the end of the yard, and then
stepped stolidly into the darkness.
The hag-clog was now left alone against the wall beneath Winsome's
window, within which there was now the light of a candle and a waxing
and waning shadow on the blind as some one went to and fro. Then there
was a sharp noise as of one clicking in the "steeple" or brace of the
front door (which opened in two halves), and then the metallic grit of
the key in the lock, for Craig Ronald was a big house, and not a mere
farm which might be left all night with unbarred portals.
Winsome stepped lightly to her own door, which opened without
noise. She looked out and said, in a compromise between a coaxing
whisper and a voice of soft command:
"Meg, I want ye."
Meg Kissock came along the passage with the healthy glow of the
night air on her cheeks, and her candle in her hand. She seemed as if
she would pause at the door, but Winsome motioned her imperiously
within. So Meg came within, and Winsome shut to the door. Then she
simply held out her hand, at which Meg gazed as silently.
"Meg!" said Winsome, warningly.
A queer, faint smile passed momentarily over the face of Winsome's
handmaid, as though she had been long trying to solve some problem
and had suddenly and unexpectedly found the answer. Slowly she lifted
up her dark-green druggit skirt, and out of a pocket of enormous size,
which was swung about her waist like a captured leviathan heaving
inanimate on a ship's cable, she extracted a sheet of crumpled paper.
Winsome took it without a word. Her eye said "Good-night" to Meg
as plain as the minister's text.
Meg Kissock waited till she was at the door, and then, just as she
was making her silent exit, she said:
"Ye'll tak' as guid care o't as the ither yin ye fand. Ye can pit
them baith thegither."
Winsome took a step towards her as if with some purpose of
indignant chastisement. But the red head and twinkling eyes of
mischief vanished, and Winsome stood with the paper in her hand. Just
as she had begun to smooth out the crinkles produced by the hands of
Manse Bell who could not read it, Saunders who would not, and Meg
Kissock who had not time to read it, the head of the last named was
once more projected into the room, looking round the edge of the
"Ye'll mak' a braw mistress o' the manse, Mistress—Ralph—
Peden!" she said, nodding her head after each proper name.
CHAPTER X. THE LOVE-SONG OF THE
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 to-morrow 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 to-morrow 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
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
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
"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.
CHAPTER XI. ANDREW KISSOCK GOES TO
Love is, at least in maidens' hearts, of the nature of an
intermittent fever. The tide of Solway flows, but the more rapid his
flow the swifter his ebb. The higher it brings the wrack up the beach,
the deeper, six hours after, are laid bare the roots of the seaweed
upon the shingle. Now Winsome Charteris, however her heart might
conspire against her peace, was not at all the girl to be won before
she was asked. Also there was that delicious spirit of contrariness
that makes a woman even when won, by no means seem won.
Besides, in the broad daylight of common day she was less attuned
and touched to earnest issues than in the red dawn. She had even
taken the poem and the exercise book out of the sacred enclosure,
where they had been hid so long. She did not really know that she
could make good any claim to either. Indeed, she was well aware that
to one of them at least she had no claim whatever. Therefore she had
placed both the note-book and the poem within the same band as her
precious housekeeping account-book, which she reverenced next her
Bible—which very practical proceeding pleased her, and quite showed
that she was above all foolish sentiment. Then she went to churn for
an hour and a half, pouring in a little hot water critically from time
to time in order to make the butter come. This exercise may be
recommended as an admirable corrective to foolish flights of
imagination. There is something concrete about butter-making which
counteracts an overplus of sentiment— especially when the butter will
not come. And hot water may be overdone.
Now Winsome Charteris was a hard-hearted young woman—a fact that
may not as yet have appeared; at least so she told herself. She had
come to the conclusion that she had been foolish to think at all of
Ralph Peden, so she resolved to put him at once and altogether out of
her mind, which, as every one knows, is quite a simple matter. Yet
during the morning she went three times into her little room to look
at her housekeeping book, which by accident lay within the same band
as Ralph Peden's lost manuscripts. First, she wanted to see how much
she got for butter at Cairn Edward the Monday before last; then to
discover what the price was on that very same day last year. It is an
interesting thing to follow the fluctuations of the produce market,
especially when you churn the butter yourself. The exact quotation of
documents is a valuable thing to learn. Nothing is so likely to grow
upon one as a habit of inaccuracy. This was what her grandmother was
always telling her, and it behooved Winsome to improve. Each time as
she strapped the documents together she said, "And these go back
to-day by Andra Kissock when he goes to school." Then she took another
look, in order to assure herself that no forgeries had been introduced
within the band while she was churning the butter. They were still
Winsome went out to relieve Jess Kissock in the dairy, and as she
went she communed with herself: "It is right that I should send them
back. The verses may belong to somebody else—somebody in
Edinburgh—and, besides, I know them by heart."
A good memory is a fine thing.
The Kissocks lived in one of the Craig Ronald cot-houses. Their
father had in his time been one of the herds, and upon his death,
many years ago, Walter Skirving had allowed the widow and children to
remain in the house in which Andrew Kissock, senior, had died.
Mistress Kissock was a large-boned, soft-voiced woman, who had
supplied what dash of tenderness there was in her daughters. She had
reared them according to good traditions, but as she said, when all
her brood were talking at the same time, she alone quietly silent:
"The Kissocks tak' efter their faither, they're great hands to
talk—a' bena [except] An'ra'."
Andrew was her youngest, a growing lump of a boy of twelve, who
was exceeding silent in the house. Every day Andra betook himself to
school, along the side of Loch Grannoch, by the path which looked down
on the cloud-flecked mirror of the loch. Some days he got there, but
His mother had got him ready early this June morning. He had
brought in the kye for Jess. He had helped Jock Gordon to carry water
for Meg's kitchen mysteries. He had listened to a brisk conversation
proceeding from the "room" where his very capable sister was engaged
in getting the old people settled for the day. All this was part of
the ordinary routine. As soon as the whole establishment knew that
Walter Skirving was again at the window over the marshmallows, and his
wife at her latest book, a sigh of satisfaction went up and the wheels
of the day's work revolved. So this morning it came time for Andra to
go to school all too soon. Andra did not want to stay at home from
school, but it was against the boy's principle to appear glad to go to
school, so Andra made it a point of honour to make a feint of wanting
to stay every morning.
"Can I no bide an' help ye wi' the butter-kirnin' the day, Jess?"
said Andra, rubbing himself briskly all over as he had seen the
ploughmen do with their horses. When he got to his bare red legs he
reared and kicked out violently, calling out at the same time:
"Wad ye then, ye tairger, tuts—stan' still there, ye kickin'
beast!" as though he were some fiery untamed from the desert.
Jess made a dart at him with a wet towel.
"Gang oot o' my back kitchen wi' yer nonsense!" she said. Andra
passaged like a strongly bitted charger to the back door, and there
ran away with himself, flourishing in the air a pair of very dirty
heels. Ebie Farrish was employed over a tin basin at the stable door,
making his breakfast toilet, which he always undertook, not when he
shook himself out of bed in the stable loft at five o'clock, but
before he went in to devour Jess with his eyes and his porridge in the
ordinary way. It was at this point that Andra Kissock, that prancing
Galloway barb, breaking away from all restrictions, charged between
Ebie's legs, and overset him into his own horse-trough. The yellow
soap was in Ebie's eyes, and before he got it out the small boy was
far enough away. The most irritating thing was that from the back
kitchen came peal on peal of laughter.
"It's surely fashionable at the sea-bathin' to tak' a dook [swim]
in the stable-trough, nae less!"
Ebie gathered himself up savagely. His temperature was something
considerably above summer heat, yet he dared not give expression to
his feelings, for his experiences in former courtships had led him to
the conclusion that you cannot safely, having regard to average family
prejudice, abuse the brothers of your sweetheart. After marriage the
case is believed to be different.
Winsome Charteris stood at the green gate which led out of the
court-yard into the croft, as Andra was making his schoolward exit.
She had a parcel for him. This occasioned no surprise, nor did the
very particular directions as to delivery, and the dire threatenings
against forgetfulness or failure in the least dismay Andra. He was
entirely accustomed to them. From his earliest years he had heard
nothing else. He never had been reckoned as a "sure hand," and it was
only in default of a better messenger that Winsome employed him. Then
these directions were so explicit that there did not appear to be any
possibility of mistake. He had only to go to the manse and leave the
parcel for Mr. Ralph Peden without a message.
So Andrew Kissock, nothing loath, promised faithfully. He never
objected to promising; that was easy. He carried the small, neatly
wrapped parcel in his hand, walking most sedately so long as
Winsome's eyes were upon him. He was not yet old enough to be under
the spell of the witchery of those eyes; but then Winsome's eye
controlled his sister Meg's hand, and for that latter organ he had a
most profound respect.
Now we must take the trouble to follow in some detail the course
of this small boy going to school, for though it may be of no
interest in itself save as a study in scientific procrastination, a
good deal of our history directly depends upon it.
As soon as Andrew was out of sight he pulled his leather satchel
round so that he could open it with ease, and, having taken a handful
of broken and very stale crumbs out of it for immediate use, he
dropped Winsome's parcel within. There it kept company with a tin
flask of milk which his mother filled for him every morning, having
previously scalded it well to restore its freshness. This was
specially carefully done after a sad occasion upon which his mother,
having poured in the fine milk for Andra's dinner fresh from Crummie
the cow, out of the flask mouth there crawled a number of healthy
worms which that enterprising youth had collected from various
quarters which it is best not to specify. Not that Andra objected in
the least. Milk was a good thing, worms were good things, and he was
above the paltry superstition that one good thing could spoil another.
He will always consider to his dying day that the very sound licking
which his mother administered to him, for spoiling at once the family
breakfast and his own dinner, was one of the most uncalled-for and
gratuitous, which, even in his wide experience, it had been his lot
So Andra took his way to school. He gambolled along, smelling and
rooting among the ragged robin and starwort in the hedges like an
unbroken collie. It is safe to say that no further thought of school
or message crossed his mind from the moment that the highest white
steading of Craig Ronald sank out of view, until his compulsory
return. Andra had shut out from his view so commonplace and
ignominious facts as home and school.
At the first loaning end, where the road to the Nether Crae came
down to cross the bridge, just at the point where the Grannoch lane
leaves the narrows of the loch, Andra betook himself to the side of
the road, with a certain affectation of superabundant secrecy.
With prodigious exactness he examined the stones at a particular
part of the dyke, hunted about for one of remarkable size and colour,
said "Hist! hist!" in a mysterious way, and ran across the road to see
that no one was coming.
As we have seen, Andra was the reader of the family. His eldest
brother had gone to America, where he was working in New York as a
joiner. This youth was in the habit of sending across books and
papers describing the terrible encounters with Indians in the Boone
country—the "dark and bloody land" of the early romancers. Not one in
the family looked at the insides of these relations of marvels except
Andra, who, when he read the story of the Indian scout trailing the
murderers of his squaw across a continent in order to annihilate them
just before they entered New York city, felt that he had found his
vocation—which was to be at least an Indian scout, if indeed it was
too late for him to think of being a full-blooded Indian.
The impressive pantomime at the bridge was in order to ascertain
whether his bosom companion, Dick Little, had passed on before him.
He knew, as soon as he was within a hundred yards of the stone, that
he had NOT passed. Indeed, he could see him at that very moment
threading his way down through the tangle of heather and bog myrtle,
or, as he would have said, "gall busses opposite." But what of
that?—For mighty is the power of make-believe, and in Andra,
repressed as he was at home, there was concentrated the very energy
and power of some imaginative ancestry. He had a full share of the
quality which ran in the family, and was exceeded only by his brother
Jock in New York, who had been "the biggest leer in the country side"
before he emigrated to a land where at that time this quality was not
specially marked among so many wielders of the long bow. Jock, in his
letters, used to frighten his mother with dark tales of his
hair-breadth escapes from savages and desperadoes on the frontier,
yet, strangely enough, his address remained steadily New York.
Now it is not often that a Galloway boy takes to lying; but when
he does, a mere Nithsdale man has no chance with him, still less a
man from the simple-minded levels of the "Shire."[Footnote:
Wigtonshire is invariably spoken of in Galloway as the Shire,
Kirkcudbrightshire as the Stewardry.] But Andra Kissock always lied
from the highest motives. He elevated the saying of the thing that was
not to the height of a principle. He often lied, knowing that he would
be thrashed for it—even though he was aware that he would be rewarded
for telling the truth. He lied because he would not demean himself to
tell the truth.
It need not therefore surprise us in the least that when Dick
Little came across the bridge he was greeted by Andra Kissock with
the information that he was in the clutches of The Avenger of Blood,
who, mounted upon a mettle steed with remarkably dirty feet, curveted
across the road and held the pass. He was required to give up a "soda
scone or his life." The bold Dick, who had caught the infection,
stoutly refused to yield either. His life was dear to him, but a soda
scone considerably dearer. He had rather be dead than hungry.
"Then die, traitor!" said Andra, throwing down his bag, all
forgetful of Winsome Charteris's precious parcel and his promises
thereanent. So these two brave champions had at one another with most
They were armed with wooden swords as long as themselves, which
they manoeuvred with both hands in a marvellously savage manner. When
a blow did happen to get home, the dust flew out of their jackets. But
still the champions fought on. They were in the act of finishing the
quarrel by the submission of Dick in due form, when Allan Welsh,
passing across the bridge on one of his pastoral visitations, came
upon them suddenly. Dick was on his knees at the time, his hands on
the ground, and Andra was forcing his head determinedly down toward
the surface of the king's highway. Meanwhile Dick was objecting in the
most vigorous way.
"Boys," said the stern, quiet voice of the minister, "what are you
doing to each other? Are you aware it is against both the law of God
and man to fight in this way? It is only from the beasts that perish
that we expect such conduct."
"If ye please, sir," answered Andra in a shamefaced way, yet with
the assurance of one who knows that he has the authorities on his
side, "Dick Little wull no bite the dust."
"Bite the dust!—what do you mean, laddie?" asked the minister,
"Weel sir, if ye please, sir, the Buik says that the yin that got
his licks fell down and bit the dust. Noo, Dick's doon fair aneuch.
Ye micht speak till him to bite the dust!"
And Andra, clothed in the garments of conscious rectitude, stood
back to give the minister room to deliver his rebuke.
The stern face of the minister relaxed.
"Be off with you to school," he said; "I'll look in to see if you
have got there in the afternoon."
Andra and Dick scampered down the road, snatching their satchels
as they ran. In half an hour they were making momentary music under
the avenging birch rod of Duncan Duncanson, the learned Dullarg
schoolmaster. Their explanations were excellent. Dick said that he had
been stopped to gather the eggs, and Andra that he had been detained
conversing with the minister. The result was the same in both
cases—Andra getting double for sticking to his statement. Yet both
stories were true, though quite accidentally so, of course. This is
what it is to have a bad character. Neither boy, however, felt any
ill-will whatever at the schoolmaster. They considered that he was
there in order to lick them. For this he was paid by their parents'
money, and it would have been a fraud if he had not duly earned his
money by dusting their jackets daily. Let it be said at once that he
did most conscientiously earn his money, and seldom overlooked any of
his pupils even for a day.
Back at the Grannoch bridge, under the parapet, Allan Welsh, the
minister of the Kirk of the Marrow, found the white packet lying
which Winsome had tied with such care. He looked all round to see
whence it had come. Then taking it in his hand, he looked at it a
long time silently, and with a strange and not unkindly expression on
his face. He lifted it to his lips and kissed the handwriting which
addressed it to Master Ralph Peden. As he paced away he carefully put
it in the inner pocket of his coat. Then, with his head farther
forward than ever, and the immanence of his great brow overshadowing
his ascetic face, he set himself slowly to climb the brae.
CHAPTER XII. MIDSUMMER DAWN.
True love is at once chart and compass. It led Ralph Peden out
into a cloudy June dawning. It was soft, amorphous, uncoloured night
when he went out. Slate-coloured clouds were racing along the tops of
the hills from the south. The wind blew in fitful gusts and veering
flaws among the moorlands, making eddies and back-waters of the air,
which twirled the fallen petals of the pear and cherry blossoms in the
little manse orchard.
As he stepped out upon the moor and the chill of dawn struck
inward, he did not know that Allan Welsh was watching him from his
blindless bedroom. Dawn is the testing-time of the universe. Its
cool, solvent atmosphere dissolves social amenities. It is difficult
to be courteous, impossible to be polite, in that hour before the
heart has realized that its easy task of throwing the blood
horizontally to brain and feet has to be exchanged for the harder one
of throwing it vertically to the extremities.
Ralph walked slowly and in deep thought through the long avenues
of glimmering beeches and under the dry rustle of the quivering
poplars. Then, as the first red of dawn touched his face, he looked
about him. He was clear of the trees now, and the broad open expanse
of the green fields and shining water meadows that ring in Loch
Grannoch widened out before him. The winds sighed and rumbled about
the hill-tops of the Orchar and the Black Laggan, but in the valley
only the cool moist wind of dawn drew largely and statedly to and fro.
Ralph loved Nature instinctively, and saw it as a townbred lad
rarely does. He was deeply read in the more scientific literature of
the subject, and had spent many days in his Majesty's botanic gardens,
which lie above the broad breast of the Forth. He now proved his
learning, and with quick, sure eye made it real on the Galloway hills.
Every leaf spoke to him. He could lie for half a day and learn wisdom
from the ant. He took in the bird's song and the moth's flight. The
keepers sometimes wondered at the lights which flashed here and there
about the plantations, when in the coolness of a moist evening he went
out to entrap the sidelong- dashing flutterers with his sugar-pots.
But since he came to Galloway, and especially since he smelled the
smell of the wood-fire set for the blanket-washing above the Crae
Water bridge, there were new secrets open to him. He possessed a
voice that could wile a bird off a bought. His inner sympathy with
wild and tame beasts alike was such that as he moved quietly among a
drowsing, cud-chewing herd on the braes of Urioch not a beast moved.
Among them a wild, untamed colt stood at bay, its tail arched with
apprehension, yet sweeping the ground, and watched him with flashing
eyes of suspicion. Ralph held out his hand slowly, more as if it were
growing out of his side by some rapid natural process than as if he
were extending it. He uttered a low "sussurrus" of coaxing and
invitation, all the while imperceptibly decreasing his distance from
the colt. The animal threw back its head, tossed its mane in act to
flee, thought better of it and dropped its nose to take a bite or two
of the long coarse grass. Then again it looked up and continued to
gaze, fascinated at the beckoning and caressing fingers. At last, with
a little whinny of pleasure, the colt, wholly reassured, came up and
nestled a wet nose against Ralph's coat. He took the wild thing's neck
within the arch of his arm, and the two new friends stood awhile in
A moment afterwards Ralph bent to lay a hand upon the head of one
of the placid queys [Footnote: Young—cows.] that had watched the
courtship with full, dewy eyes of bovine unconcern. Instantly the
colt charged into the still group with a wild flourish of hoofs and
viciously snapping teeth, scattering the black-polled Galloways like
smoke. Then, as if to reproach Ralph for his unfaithfulness, he made a
circle of the field at a full, swinging gallop, sending the short turf
flying from his unshod hoofs at every stride. Back he came again, a
vision of floating mane and streaming tail, and stopped dead three
yards from Ralph, his forelegs strained and taut, ploughing furrows in
the grass. As Ralph moved quietly across the field the colt followed,
pushing a cool moist nose over the young man's shoulder. When at last
Ralph set a foot on the projecting stone which stood out from the side
of the grey, lichen-clad stone dyke, the colt stood stretching an
eager head over as though desirous of following him; then, with a
whinny of disappointment, he rushed round the field, charging at the
vaguely wondering and listlessly grazing cattle with head arched
between his forelegs and a flourish of widely distributed heels.
Over the hill, Craig Ronald was still wrapped in the lucid
impermanence of earliest dawn, when Winsome Charteris set her foot
over the blue flag-stones of the threshold. The high tide of
darkness, which, in these northern summer mornings never rose very
high or lasted very long, had ebbed long ago. The indigo grey of the
sky was receding, and tinging towards the east with an imperceptibly
graded lavender which merged behind the long shaggy outline of the
piny ridge into a wash of pale lemon yellow.
The world paused, finger on lip, saying "Hush!" to Winsome as she
stepped over the threshold from the serenely breathing morning air,
from the illimitable sky which ran farther and farther back as the
angels drew the blinds from the windows of heaven.
"Hush!" said the cows over the hedge, blowing fragrant breaths of
approval from their wide, comma-shaped nostrils upon the lush grass
and upon the short heads of white clover, as they stood face to the
brae, all with their heads upward, eating their way like an army on
"Hush! hush!" said the sheep who were straggling over the shorter
grass of the High Park, feeding fitfully in their short, uneasy
way—crop, crop, crop—and then a pause, to move forward their own
length and begin all over again.
But the sheep and the kine, the dewy grass and the brightening
sky, might every one have spared their pains, for it was in no wise
in the heart of Winsome Charteris to make a noise amid the silences of
dawn. Meg Kissock, who still lay snug by Jess in a plump-cheeked
country sleep, made noise enough to stir the country side when,
rising, she set briskly about to get the house on its morning legs.
But Winsome was one of the few people in this world —few but
happy—to whom a sunrise is more precious than a sun set —rarer and
more calming, instinct with message and sign from a covenant-keeping
God. Also, Winsome betook her self early to bed, and so awoke attuned
to the sun's rising.
What drew her forth so early this June day was no thought or hope
or plan except the desire to read the heart of Nature, and perhaps
that she might not be left too long alone with the parable of her own
heart. A girl's heart is full of thought which it dares not express to
herself—of fluttering and trembling possibilities, chrysalis-like,
set aside to await the warmth of an unrevealed summer. In Winsome's
soul the first flushing glory of the May of youth was waking the
prisoned life. But there were throbs and thrillings too piercingly
sweet to last undeveloped in her soul. The bursting bud of her
healthful beauty, quickened by the shy radiance of her soul, shook the
centres of her life, even as a laburnum-tree mysteriously quivers when
the golden rain is in act to break from the close-clustered dependent
Thus it was that, at the stile which helps the paths be tween the
Dullarg and Craig Ronald to overleap the high hill dyke, Ralph met
Winsome. As they looked into one another's eyes, they saw Nature
suddenly dissolve into confused meaninglessness. There was no clear
message for either of them there, save the message that the old world
of their hopes and fears had wholly passed away. Yet no new world had
come when over the hill dyke their hands met. They said no word. There
is no form of greeting for such. Eve did not greet Adam in polite
phrase when he awoke to find her in the dawn of one Eden day, a
helpmeet meet for him. Neither did Eve reply that "it was a fine morn
ing." It is always a fine morning in Eden. They were silent, and so
were these two. Their hands lay within one another a single instant.
Then, with a sense of something wanting, Ralph sprang lightly over the
dyke as an Edin burgh High-School boy ought who had often played hares
and hounds in the Hunter's Bog, and been duly thrashed therefor by Dr.
Adam [Footnote: The Aery famous master of the High School of
Edinburgh.] on the following morning.
When Ralph stood beside her upon the sunny side of the stile he
instinctively resumed Winsome's hand. For this he had no reason,
certainly no excuse. Still, it may be urged in excuse that it was as
much as an hour or an hour and a half before Winsome remembered that
he needed any. Our most correct and ordered thoughts have a way of
coming to us belated, as the passenger who strolls in confidently ten
minutes after the platform is clear. But, like him, they are at least
ready for the next train.
As Winsome and Ralph turned towards the east, the sun set his face
over the great Scotch firs on the ridge, whose tops stood out like
poised irregular blots on the fire centred ocean of light.
It was the new day, and if the new world had not come with it, of
a surety it was well on the way.
CHAPTER XIII. A STRING OF THE LILAC
For a long time they were silent, though it was not long before
Winsome drew away her hand, which, however, continued to burn
consciously for an hour afterwards. Silence settled around them. The
constraint of speech fell first upon Ralph, being town-bred and
accustomed to the convenances at Professor Thriepneuk's.
"You rise early," he said, glancing shyly down at Winsome, who
seemed to have forgotten his presence. He did not wish her to forget.
He had no objection to her dreaming, if only she would dream about
Winsome turned the bewildering calmness of her eyes upon him. A
gentleman, they say, is calm-eyed. So is a cow. But in the eye of a
good woman there is a peace which comes from many generations of
mothers—who, every one Christs in their way, have suffered their
heavier share of the Eden curse.
Ralph would have given all that he possessed—which, by the way,
was not a great deal—to be able to assure himself that there was any
hesitancy or bashfulness in the glance which met his own. But
Winsome's eyes were as clearly and frankly blue as if God had made
them new that morning. At least Ralph looked upon their Sabbath peace
and gave thanks, finding them very good.
A sparkle of laughter, at first silent and far away, sprang into
them, like a breeze coming down Loch Grannoch when it lies asleep in
the sun, sending shining sparkles winking shoreward, and causing the
wavering golden lights on the shallow sand of the bays to scatter
tremulously. So in the depths of Winsome's eyes glimmered the coming
smile. Winsome could be divinely serious, but behind there lay the
possibility and certainty of very frank earthly laughter. If, as Ralph
thought, not for the first time in this rough island story, this girl
were an angel, surely she was one to whom her Maker had given that
rarest gift given to woman— a well-balanced sense of humour.
So when Ralph said, hardly knowing what he said, "You rise early,"
it was with that far-away intention of a smile that Winsome replied:
"And you, sir, have surely not lagged in bed, or else you have
come here in a great hurry."
"I rose," returned Ralph, "certainly betimes—in fact, a great
while before day; it is the time when one can best know one's self."
The sententiousness, natural to his years and education, to some
extent rebuked Winsome, who said more soberly:
"Perhaps you have again lost your books of study?"
"I do not always study in books," answered Ralph.
Winsome continued to look at him as though waiting his
"I mean," said Ralph, quickly, his pale cheek touched with red,
"that though I am town-bred I love the things that wander among the
flowers and in the wood. There are the birds, too, and the little
green plants that have no flow ers, and they all have a message, if I
could only hear it and understand it."
The sparkle in Winsome's eyes quieted into calm.
"I too—" she began, and paused as if startled at what she was
about to say. She went on: "I never heard any one say things like
these. I did not know that any one else had thoughts like these
"And have you thought these things?" said Ralph, with a quick joy
in his heart.
"Yes," replied Winsome, looking down on the ground and playing
with the loose string of the lilac sunbonnet. "I used often to wonder
how it was that I could not look on the loch on Sabbath morning
without feeling like crying. It was often better to look upon it than
to go to Maister Welsh's kirk. But I ought not to say these things to
you," she said, with a quick thought of his profession.
Ralph smiled. There were few things that Winsome Charteris might
not say to him. He too had his experiences to collate.
"Have you ever stood on a hill-top as though you were suspended in
the air, and when you seem to feel the earth whirling away from
beneath you, rushing swiftly eastward towards the sunrise?"
"I have heard it," said Winsome unexpectedly.
"Heard it?" queried Ralph, with doubt in his voice.
"Yes," said Winsome calmly, "I have often heard the earth wheeling
round on still nights out on the top of the Craigs, where there was
no sound, and all the house was asleep. It is as if some Great One
were saying 'Hush!' to the angels—I think God himself!"
These were not the opinions of the kirk of the Marrow; neither
were they expressed in the Acts Declaratory or the protests or claims
of right made by the faithful contending remnant. But Ralph would not
at that moment have hesitated to add them to the Westminster
It is a wonderful thing to be young. It is marvellously delightful
to be young and a poet as well, who has just fallen—nay, rather,
plunged fathoms—deep in love. Ralph Peden was both. He stood
watching Winsome Charteris, who looked past him into a distance
moistly washed with tender ultramarine ash, like her own eyes too
full of colour to be gray and too pearly clear to be blue.
An equal blowing wind drew up the loch which lay be neath flooded
with morning light, the sun basking on its broad expanse, and
glittering in a myriad sparkles on the, narrows beneath them beside
which the blanket-washing had been. A frolicsome breeze blew down the
hill towards them in little flicks and eddies. One of these drew a
flossy tendril of Winsome's golden hair, which this morning had red
lights in it like the garnet gloss on ripe wheat or Indian corn, and
tossed it over her brow. Ralph's hand tingled with the desire to touch
it and put it back under her bonnet, and his heart leaped at the
thought. But though he did not stir, nor had any part of his being
moved save the hidden thought of his heart, he seemed to fall in his
own estimation as one who had attempted a sacrilege.
"Have you ever noticed," continued Winsome, all unconscious, going
on with that fruitful comparison of feelings which has woven so many
gossamer threads into three-fold cords, "how everything in the fields
and the woods is tamer in the morning? They seem to have forgotten
that man is their natural enemy while they slept."
"Perhaps," said Ralph theologically, "when they awake they forget
that they are not still in that old garden that Adam kept."
Winsome was looking at him now, for he had looked away in his
turn, lost in a poet's thought. It struck her for the first time that
other people might think him handsome. When a girl forgets to think
whether she herself is of this opinion, and begins to think what
others will think on a subject like this (which really does not
concern her at all), the proceedings in the case are not finished.
They walked on together down by the sunny edge of the great
plantation. The sun was now rising well into the sky, climbing
directly upward as if on this midsummer day he were leading a forlorn
hope to scale the zenith of heaven. He shone on the russet tassels of
the larches, and the deep sienna boles of the Scotch firs. The clouds,
which rolled fleecy and white in piles and crenulated bastions of
cumulus, lighted the eyes of the man and maid as they went onward upon
the crisping piny carpet of fallen fir-needles.
"I have never seen Nature so lovely," said Ralph, "as when the
bright morning breaks after a night of shower. Everything seems to
have been new bathed in freshness."
"As if Dame Nature had had her spring cleaning," answered Winsome,
"or Andrew Kissock when he has had his face washed once a week," who
had been serious long enough, and who felt that too much earnestness
even in the study of Nature might be a dangerous thing.
But the inner thought of each was something quite different. This
is what Ralph thought within his heart, though his words were also
"There is a dimple on her chin which comes out when she smiles,"
so he wanted her to smile again. When she did so, she was lovely
enough to peril the Faith or even the denomination.
Ralph tried to recollect if there were no more stiles on this hill
path over which she might have to be helped. He had taken off his hat
and walked beside her bareheaded, carrying his hat in the hand
farthest from Winsome, who was wondering how soon she would be able
to tell him that he must keep his shoulders back.
Winsome was not a young woman of great experience in these
matters, but she had the natural instinct for the possibilities of
love without which no woman comes into the world—at once armour
defensive and weapon offensive. She knew that one day Ralph Peden
would tell her that he loved her, but in the meantime it was so very
pleasant that it was a pity the days should come to an end. So she
resolved that they should not, at least not just yet. If to-morrow be
good, why confine one's self to to-day? She had not yet faced the
question of what she would say to him when the day could be no longer
postponed. She did not care to face it. Sufficient unto the day is the
good thereof, is quite as excellent a precept as its counterpart, or
at least so Winsome Charteris thought. But, all the same, she wished
that she could tell him to keep his shoulders back.
A sudden resolve sprang full armed from her brain. Winsome had
that strange irresponsibility sometimes which comes irresistibly to
some men and women in youth, to say something as an experiment which
she well knew she ought not to say, simply to see what would happen.
More than once it had got her into trouble.
"I wish you would keep back your shoulders when you walk!" she
said, quick as a flash, stopping and turning sideways to face Ralph
Ralph, walking thoughtfully with the student stoop, stood aghast,
as though not daring to reply lest his ears had not heard aright.
"I say, why do you not keep your shoulders back?" repeated Winsome
sharply, and with a kind of irritation at his silence.
He had no right to make her feel uncomfortable, whatever she might
"I did not know—I thought—nobody ever told me," said Ralph,
stammering and catching at the word which came uppermost, as he had
done in college when Professor Thriepneuk, who was as fierce in the
class-room as he was mild at home, had him cornered upon a quantity.
"Well, then," said Winsome, "if every one is so blind, it is time
that some one did tell you now."
Ralph squared himself like a drill-sergeant, holding himself so
straight that Winsome laughed outright, and that so merrily that
Ralph laughed too, well content that the dimple on her cheek should
play at hide and seek with the pink flush of her clear skin.
So they had come to the stile, and Ralph's heart beat stronger,
and a nervous tension of expectation quivered through him,
bewildering his judgment. But Winsome was very clear-headed, and
though the white of her eyes was as dewy and clear as a child's, she
was no simpleton. She had read many men and women in her time, for it
is the same in essence to rule Craig Ronald as to rule Rome.
"This is your way," she said, sitting down on the stile. "I am
going up to John Scott's to see about the lambs. It will be
breakfast-time at the manse before you got back."
Ralph's castle fell to the ground.
"I will come up with you to John Scott's," he said with an
undertone of eagerness.
"Indeed, that you will not," said Winsome promptly, who did not
want to arrive at seven o'clock in the morning at John Scott's with
any young man. "You will go home and take to your book, after you have
changed your shoes and stockings," she said practically.
"Well, then, let me bid you good-bye, Winsome!" said Ralph.
Her heart was warm to hear him say Winsome—for the first time. It
certainly was not unpleasant, and there was no need that she should
quarrel about that. She was about to give him her hand, when she saw
something in his eye.
"Mind, you are not to kiss it as you did grannie's yesterday;
besides, there are John Scott's dogs on the brow of the hill," she
said, pointing upward.
Poor Ralph could only look more crestfallen still. Such knowledge
was too high for him. He fell back on his old formula:
"I said before that you are a witch—"
"And you say it again?" queried Winsome, with careless
nonchalance, swinging her bonnet by its strings. "Well, you can come
back and kiss grannie's hand some other day. You are something of a
favourite with her."
But she had presumed just a hair-breadth too far on Ralph's
gentleness. He snatched the lilac sunbonnet out of her hands,
tearing, in his haste, one of the strings off, and leaving it in
Winsome's hand. Then he kissed it once and twice outside where the
sun shone on it, and inside where it had rested on her head. "You
have torn it," she said complainlngly, yet without anger.
"I am very glad," said Ralph Peden, coming nearer to her with a
light in his eye that she had never seen before.
Winsome dropped the string, snatched up the bonnet, and fled up
the hill as trippingly as a young doe towards the herd's cottage. At
the top of the fell she paused a moment with her hand on her side, as
if out of breath. Ralph Peden was still holding the torn bonnet-string
in his hand.
He held it up, hanging loose like a pennon from his hand. She
could hear the words come clear up the hill:
"I'm very—glad—that—I—tore—it, and I will come and—see—
"Of all the—" Winsome stopped for want of words, speaking to
herself as she turned away up the hill—"of all the insolent and
She did not finish her sentence, as she adjusted the outraged
sunbonnet on her curls, tucking the remaining string carefully within
the crown; but as she turned again to look, Ralph Peden was calmly
folding tip the string and putting it in a book.
"I shall never speak to him again as long as I live," she said,
compressing her lips so that a dimple that Ralph had never seen came
out on the other side. This, of course, closed the record in the case.
Yet in a little while she added thoughtfully: "But he is very
handsome, and I think he will keep his shoulders back now. Not, of
course, that it matters, for I am never to speak to him any more!"
John Scott's dogs were by this time leaping upon her, and that
worthy shepherd was coming along a steep slope upon the edges of his
boot-soles in the miraculous manner, which is peculiar to herds, as if
he were walking on the turnpike.
Winsome turned for the last time. Against the broad, dark sapphire
expanse of the loch, just where the great march dyke stepped off to
bathe in the summer water, she saw something black which waved a hand
and sprang over lightly.
Winsome sighed, and said a little wistfully yet not sadly:
"Who would have thought it of him? It just shows!" she said. All
which is a warning to maids that the meekest worm may turn.
CHAPTER XIV. CAPTAIN AGNEW
Greatorix Castle sat mightily upon a hill. It could not be hid,
and it looked down superciliously upon the little squiredom of Craig
Ronald, as well as upon farms and cottages a many. In days not so long
gone by, Greatorix Castle had been the hold of the wearers of the
White Cockade, rough riders after Lag and Sir James Dalzyell, and
rebels after that, who had held with Derwentwater and the prince. Now
there was quiet there. Only the Lady Elizabeth and her son Agnew
Greatorix dwelt there, and the farmer's cow and the cottager's pig
grazed and rooted unharmed—not always, however, it was whispered, the
farmer's daughter, for of all serfdoms the droit du seignior is the
last to die. Still, Greatorix Castle was a notable place, high set on
its hill, shires and towns beneath, the blue breath of peat reek
blowing athwart the plain beneath and rising like an incense about.
Here the Lady Elizabeth dwelt in solemn but greatly reduced state.
She was a woman devoted to the practice of holiness according to the
way of the priest. It was the whole wish of her life that she might
keep a spiritual director, instead of having Father Mahon to ride over
from Dumfries once a month.
Within the castle there were many signs of decay—none of
rehabilitation. The carpets were worn into holes where feet had
oftenest fallen, and the few servants dared not take them out to be
beaten in the due season of the year, for indubitably they would fall
to pieces. So the curtains hung till an unwary stranger would rest
upon them with a hand's weight. Then that hand plucked a palmbreadth
away of the rotten and moth-eaten fabric.
There was an aged housekeeper at Greatorix Castle, who dwelt in
the next room to the Lady Elizabeth, and was supposed to act as her
maid. Mistress Humbie, however, was an exacting person; and being an
aged woman, and her infirmities bearing upon her, she considered it
more fitting that the Lady Elizabeth should wait upon her. This, for
the good of her soul, the Lady Elizabeth did. Two maids and a boy, a
demon boy, in buttons, who dwelt below- stairs and gave his time to
the killing of rats with ingenious catapults and crossbows, completed
the household—except Agnew Greatorix.
The exception was a notable one. Save in the matter of fortune,
Nature had not dealt unhandsomely with Agnew Greatorix; yet just
because of this his chances of growing up into a strong and useful
man were few. He had been nurtured upon expectations from his
earliest youth. His uncle Agnew, the Lady Elizabeth's childless
brother, who for the sake of the favour of a strongly Protestant aunt
had left the mother church of the Greatorix family, had been expected
to do something for Agnew; but up to this present time he had received
only his name from him, in lieu of all the stately heritages of
Holywood in the Nith Valley hard by Lincluden, and Stennesholm in
So Agnew Greatorix had grown up in the midst of raw youths who
were not his peers in position. He companied with them till his
mother pointed out that it was not for a Greatorix to drink in the
Blue Bell and at the George with the sons of wealthy farmers and
bonnet lairds. By dint of scraping and saving which took a long time,
and influence which, costing nothing, took for a Greatorix no time at
all, the Lady Elizabeth obtained for her son a commission in the
county yeomanry. There he was thrown with Maxwells of the Braes,
Herons from the Shireside, and Gordons from the northern straths—all
young men of means and figure in the county. Into the midst of these
Agnew took his tightly knit athletic figure, his small firmly set head
and full-blooded dark face—the only faults of which were that the
eyes were too closely set together and shuttered with lids that would
not open more than half way, and that he possessed the sensual mouth
of a man who has never willingly submitted to a restraint. Agnew
Greatorix could not compete with his companions, but he cut them out
as a squire of dames, and came home with a dangerous and fascinating
reputation, the best-hated man in the corps.
So when Captain Agnew clattered through the village in clean-cut
scarlet and clinking spurs, all the maids ran to the door, except
only a few who had once run like the others but now ran no more. The
captain came often to Craig Ronald. It was upon his way to kirk and
market, for the captain for the good of his soul went occasionally to
the little chapel of the Permission at Dumfries. Still oftener he came
with the books which the Lady Elizabeth obtained from Edinburgh, the
reading of which she shared with Mistress Walter Skirving, whose
kinship with the Lochinvars she did not forget, though her father had
been of the moorland branch of that honourable house, and she herself
had disgraced her ancient name by marrying with a psalm-singing bonnet
laird. But the inexplicability of saying whom a woman may not take it
into her head to marry was no barrier to the friendship of the Lady
Elizabeth, who kept all her religion for her own consumption and did
not even trouble her son with it—which was a great pity, for he
indeed had much need, though small desire, thereof.
On the contrary, it was a mark of good blood sometimes to follow
one's own fancy. The Lady Elizabeth had done that herself against the
advice of the countess her mother, and that was the reason why she
dwelt amid hangings that came away in handfuls, and was waiting-maid
to Mistress Humbie her own housekeeper.
Agnew Greatorix had an eye for a pretty face, or rather for every
pretty face. Indeed, he had nothing else to do, except clean his
spurs and ride to the market town. So, since the author of Waverley
began to write his inimitable fictions, and his mother to divide her
time between works of devotion and the adventures of Ivanhoe and
Nigel, Agnew Greatorix had made many pilgrimages to Craig Ronald. Here
the advent of the captain was much talked over by the maids, and even
anticipated by Winsome herself as a picturesque break in the monotony
of the staid country life. Certainly he brought the essence of
strength and youth and athletic energy into the quiet court-yard, when
he rode in on his showily paced horse and reined him round at the low
steps of the front door, with the free handling and cavalry swing
which he had inherited as much from the long line of Greatorixes who
had ridden out to harry the Warden's men along the marches, as from
the yeomanry riding-master.
Now, the captain was neither an obliging nor yet a particularly
amiable young man, and when he took so kindly to fetching and
carrying, it was not long before the broad world of farm towns and
herds' cot-houses upon which Greatorix Castle looked down suspected a
motive, and said so in its own way.
On one occasion, riding down the long loaning of Craig Ronald, the
captain came upon the slight, ascetic figure of Allan Welsh, the
Marrow minister, leaning upon the gate which closed the loaning from
the road. The minister observed him, but showed no signs of moving.
Agnew Greatorix checked his horse.
"Would you open the gate and allow me to pass on my way?" he said,
with chill politeness. The minister of the Marrow kirk looked keenly
at him from under his grey eyebrows.
"After I have had a few words with you, young sir," said Mr.
"I desire no words with you," returned the young man impatiently,
backing his horse.
"For whom are your visits at Craig Ronald intended?" said the
minister calmly. "Walter Skirving and his spouse do not receive
company of such dignity; and besides them there are only the maids
that I know of."
"Who made you my father confessor?" mocked Agnew Greatorix, with
an unpleasant sneer on his handsome face.
"The right of being minister in the things of the Spirit to all
that dwell in Craig Ronald House," said the minister of the Marrow
"Truly a pleasant ministry, and one, no doubt, requiring frequent
ministrations; yet do I not remember to have met you at Craig
Ronald," he continued. "So faithful a minister surely must be
faithful in his spiritual attentions."
He urged his horse to the side of the gate and leaned over to open
the gate himself, but the minister had his hand firmly on the latch.
"I have seen you ride to many maids' houses, Agnew Greatorix,
since the day your honoured father died, but never a one have I seen
the better of your visits. Woe and sorrow have attended upon your way.
You may ride off now at your ease, but beware the vengeance of the God
of Jacob; the mother's curse and the father's malison ride not far
"Preach me no preachments," said the young man; "keep such for
your Marrow folk on Sundays; you but waste your words."
"Then I beseech you by the memory of a good father, whom, though
of another and an alien communion, I shall ever respect, to cast your
eyes elsewhere, and let the one ewe lamb of those whom God hath
The gate was open now, and as he came through, Agnew Greatorix
made his horse curvet, pushing the frail form of the preacher almost
into the hedge.
"If you would like to come and visit us up at the castle," he said
mockingly, "I dare say we could yet receive you as my forefathers, of
whom you are so fond, used to welcome your kind. I saw the thumbikins
the other day; and I dare say we could fit you with your size in
"The Lord shall pull down the mighty from their seats, and exalt
them that are of low estate!" said the preacher solemnly.
"Very likely," said the young man as he rode away.
CHAPTER XV. ON THE EDGE OF THE
But Agnew Greatorix came as often as ever to Craig Ronald.
Generally he found Winsome busy with her household affairs, sometimes
with her sleeves buckled above her elbows, rolling the tough dough for
the crumpy farles of the oat-cake, and scattering handfuls of dry meal
over it with deft fingers to bring the mass to its proper consistency
for rolling out upon the bake-board. Leaving his horse tethered to the
great dismounting stone at the angle of the kitchen (a granite boulder
or "travelled stone," as they said thereabouts), with an iron ring
into it, he entered and sat down to watch. Sometimes, as to-day, he
would be only silent and watchful; but he never failed to compass
Winsome with the compliment of humility and observance. It is possible
that better things were stirring in his heart than usually brought him
to such places. There is no doubt, indeed, that he appreciated the
frankness and plain speech which he received from the very practical
young mistress of Craig Ronald.
When he left the house it was Agnew Greatorix's invariable custom
to skirt the edge of the orchard before mounting. Just in the dusk of
the great oak-tree, where its branches mingle with those of the gean
[wild cherry], he was met by the slim, lithe figure of Jess Kissock,
in whose piquant elvishness some strain of Romany blood showed itself.
Jess had been waiting for him ever since he had taken his hat in
his hand to leave the house. As he came in sight of the watcher,
Agnew Greatorix stopped, and Jess came closer to him, motioning him
imperiously to bring his horse close in to the shadow of the orchard
wall. Agnew did so, putting out his arm as if he would kiss her; but,
with a quick fierce movement, Jess thrust his hand away.
"I have told you before not to play these tricks with me—keep
them for them that ye come to Craig Ronald to see. It's the mistress
ye want. What need a gentleman like you meddle with the maid?"
"Impossible as it may seem, the like has been done," said Agnew,
smiling down at the black eyes and blowing elf locks.
"Not with this maid," replied Jess succinctly, and in deed slhe
looked exceedingly able to take care of herself, as became Meg
"I'll go no further with Winsome," said Greatorix gloomily,
breaking the silence. "You said that if I consulted her about the
well-being of the poor rats over at the huts, and took her advice
about the new cottages for the foresters, she would listen to me.
Well, she did listen, but as soon as I hinted at any other subject, I
might as well have been talking to the old daisy in the sitting-room
with the white band round her head."
"Did anybody ever see the like of you menfolk?" cried Jess,
throwing up her hands hopelessly; "d'ye think that a bonny lass is
just like a black ripe cherry on a bough, ready to drap into your
mooth when it pleases your high mightinesses to hold it open?"
"Has Winsome charteris any sweetheart?" asked the captain.
"What for wad she be doing with a sweetheart? She has muckle else
to think on. There's a young man that's baith braw an' bonny, a great
scholar frae Enbra' toon that comes gye an' aften frae the manse o'
Dullarg, whaur he's bidin' a' the simmer for the learnin'. He comes
whiles, an' Winsome kind o' gies him a bit convoy up the hill."
"Jess Kissock," said the young man passionately, "tell me no lies,
"Nane o' yer ill tongue for me, young man; keep it for yer mither.
I'm little feared o' ye or ony like ye. Ye'll maybe get a bit dab
frae the neb o' a jockteleg [point of a sheath-knife] that will yeuk
[tickle] ye for a day or twa gin ye dinna learn an' that speedily, as
Maister Welsh wad say, to keep yer Han's aff my faither's dochter."
Jess's good Scots was infinitely better and more vigorous than the
English of the lady's maid.
"I beg your pardon, Jess. I am a passionate, hasty man. I am sure
I meant no harm. Tell me more of this hulking landlouper [intruder],
and I'll give you a kiss."
"Keep yer kisses for them that likes them. The young man's no
landlouper ony mair nor yersel'—no as mickle indeed, but a very
proper young man, wi' a face as bonny as an angel—"
"But, Jess, do you mean to say that you are going to help him with
Winsome?" asked the young man.
"Feint a bit!" answered the young woman frankly. "She'll no get
him gin I can help it. I saw him first and bid him guid-day afore
ever she set her een on him. It's ilka yin for hersel' when it comes
to a braw young man," and Jess tossed her gipsy head, and pouted a
pair of handsome scarlet lips.
Greatorix laughed. "The land lies that way, does it?" he said.
"Then that's why you would not give me a kiss to-day, Jess," he went
on; "the black coat has routed the red baith but an' ben—but we'll
see. You cannot both have him, Jess, and if you are so very fond of
the parson, ye'll maybe help me to keep Winsome Charteris to myself."
"Wad ye mairry her gin ye had the chance, Agnew Greatorix?"
"Certainly; what else?" replied the young man promptly.
"Then ye shall hae her," replied Jess, as if Winsome were within
her deed of gift,
"And you'll try for the student, Jess?" asked the young man. "I
suppose he would not need to ask twice for a kiss?"
"Na, for I would kiss him withoot askin'—that is, gin he hadna
the sense to kiss ME," said Jess frankly.
"Well," said Greatorix, somewhat reluctantly, "I'm sure I wish you
joy of your parson. I see now what the canting old hound from the
Dullarg Manse meant when he tackled me at the loaning foot. He wanted
Winsome for the young whelp."
"I dinna think that," replied Jess; "he disna want him to come
aboot here ony mair nor you."
"How do you know that, Jess?"
"Ou, I juist ken."
"Can you find out what Winsome thinks herself?"
"I can that, though she hasna a word to say to me—that am far
mair deservin' o' confidence than that muckle peony faced hempie,
Meg, that an ill Providence gied me for a sis ter. Her keep a
secret?—the wind wad waft it oot o' her." Thus affectionately Jess.
"But how can you find out, then?" persisted the young man, yet
"Ou fine that," said Jess. "Meg talks in her sleep."
Before Agnew Greatorix leaped on to his horse, which all this time
had stood quiet on his bridle-arm, only occasion ally jerking his
head as if to ask his master to come away, he took the kiss he had
been denied, and rode away laugh ing, but with one cheek much redder
than the other, the mark of Jess's vengeance.
"Ye hae ower muckle conceit an' ower little sense ever to be a
richt blackguard," said Jess as he went, "but ye hae the richt
intention for the deil's wark. Ye'll do the young mistress nae hurt,
for she wad never look twice at ye, but I cannot let her get the bonny
lad frae Embra'-na, I saw him first, an' first come first served!"
"Where have you been so long," asked her mistress, as she came in.
"Juist drivin' a gilravagin' muckle swine oot o' the or chard!"
replied Jess with some force and truth.
CHAPTER XVI. THE CUIF BEFORE THE
"Called, nominate, summoned to appear, upon this third citation,
Alexander Mowdiewort, or Moldieward, to answer for the sin of
misca'in' the minister and session o' this parish, and to show cause
why he, as a sectary notour, should not demit, depone, and resign his
office of grave digger in the kirk-yard of this parish with all the
emoluments, benefits, and profits thereto appertaining.—Officer, call
Thus Jacob Kittle, schoolmaster and session clerk of the parish of
Dullarg, when in the kirk itself that reverent though not revered
body was met in full convocation. There was presiding the Rev.
Erasmus Teends himself, the minister of the parish, looking like a
turkey-cock with a crumpled white neckcloth for wattles. He was known
in the parish as Mess John, and was full of dignified discourse and
excellent taste in the good cheer of the farmers. He was a judge of
nowt [cattle], and a connoisseur of black puddings, which he
considered to require some Isle of Man brandy to bring out their own
"Alexander Moldieward, Alexander Moldieward!" cried old Snuffy
Callum, the parish beadle, going to the door. Then in a lower tone,
"Come an' answer for't, Saunders."
Mowdiewort and a large-boned, grim-faced old woman of fifty-five
were close beside the door, but Christie cried past them as if the
summoned persons were at the top of the Dullarg Hill at the nearest,
and also as if he had not just risen from a long and confidential talk
It was within the black interior of the old kirk that the session
met, in the yard of which Saunders Mowdiewort had dug so many graves,
and now was to dig no more, unless he appeased the ire of the minister
and his elders for an offence against the majesty of their court and
"Alexander Moldieward!" again cried the old "betheral," very loud,
to some one on the top of the Dullarg Hill—then in an ordinary
voice, "come awa', Saunders man, you and your mither, an' dinna keep
them waitin'—they're no chancy when they're keepit."
Saunders and his mother entered.
"Here I am, guid sirs, an' you Mess John," said the grave-digger
very respectfully, "an' my mither to answer for me, an' guid een to
"Come awa', Mistress Mowdiewort," said the minister. "Ye hae aye
been a guid member in full communion. Ye never gaed to a prayer-
meetin' or Whig conventicle in yer life. It's a sad peety that ye
couldna keep your flesh an' bluid frae companyin' an' covenantin' wi'
them that lichtly speak o' the kirk."
"'Deed, minister, we canna help oor bairns—an' 'deed ye can speak
till himsel'. He is of age—ask him! But gin ye begin to be ower sair
on the callant, I'se e'en hae to tak' up the cudgels mysel'."
With this, Mistress Mowdiewort put her hands to the strings of her
mutch, to feel that she had not unsettled them; then she stood with
arms akimbo and her chest well forward like a grenadier, as if daring
the session to do its worst.
"I have a word with you," said Mess John, lowering at her; "it is
told to me that yon keepit your son back from answering the session
when it was his bounden duty to appear on the first summons. Indeed,
it is only on a warrant for blasphemy and the threat of deprivation of
his liveli hood that he has come to-day. What have you to say that he
should not be deprived and also declarit excommunicate?"
"Weel, savin' yer presence, Mess John," said Mistress Mowdiewort,
"ye see the way o't is this: Saunders, my son, is a blate [shy] man,
an' he canna weel speak for him sel'. I thought that by this time the
craiter micht hae gotten a wife again that could hae spoken for him,
an' had he been worth the weight o' a bumbee's hind leg he wad hae had
her or this—an' a better yin nor the last he got. Aye, but a sair
trouble she was to me; she had juist yae faut, Saunders's first wife,
an' that was she was nae use ava! But it was a guid thing he was
grave-digger, for he got her buriet for naething, an' even the coffin
was what ye micht ca' a second-hand yin—though it had never been
worn, which was a wunnerfu' thing. Ye see the way o't was this: There
was Creeshy Callum, the brither o' yer doitit [stupid] auld betheral
here, that canna tak' up the buiks as they should (ye should see my
Saunders tak' them up at the Marrow kirk)—"
"Woman," said the minister, "we dinna want to hear—"
"Very likely no—but ye hae gien me permission to speak, an' her
that's stannin afore yer honourable coort, brawly kens the laws.
Elspeth Mowdiewort didna soop yer kirk an wait till yer session
meetings war ower for thirty year in my ain man's time withoot
kennin' a' the laws. A keyhole's a most amazin' convenient thing by
whiles, an' I was suppler in gettin' up aff my hunkers then than at
the present time."
"Silence, senseless woman!" said the session clerk.
"I'll silence nane, Jacob Kittle; silence yersel', for I ken
what's in the third volume o' the kirk records at the thirty second
page; an' gin ye dinna haud yer wheesht, dominie, ilka wife in the
pairish'll ken as weel as me. A bonny yin you to sit cockin' there,
an' to be learnin' a' the bairns their caritches [catechism]."
The session let her go her way; her son meantime stood passing an
apologetic hand over his sleek hair, and making deprecatory motions
to the minister, when he thought that his mother was not looking in
"Aye, I was speakin' aboot Creeshy Callum's coffin that oor
Saunders—the muckle tongueless sumph there got dirt cheap—ye see
Greeshy had been measured for't, but, as he had a short leg and a
shorter, the joiner measured the wrang leg—joiners are a' dottle
stupid bodies—an' whan the time cam' for Creeshy to be streekit,
man, he wadna fit—na, it maun hae been a sair disappointment till
him—that is to say—gin he war in the place whaur he could think wi'
ony content on his coffin, an' that, judgin' by his life an'
conversation, was far frae bein' a certainty."
"Mistress Mowdiewort, I hae aye respectit ye, an' we are a'
willin' to hear ye noo, if you have onything to say for your son, but
you must make no insinuations against any members of the court, or I
shall be compelled to call the officer to put you out," said the
minister, rising impressively with his hand stretched towards Mistress
But Elspeth Mowdiewort was far from being impressed.
"Pit me oot, Snuffy Oallum; pit me, Eppie Mowdiewort, oot! Na, na,
Snuffy's maybe no very wise, but he kens better nor that. Man,
Maister Teends, I hae kenned the hale root an' stock o' thae Callums
frae first to last; I hae dung Greeshy till he couldna stand—him that
had to be twice fitted for his coffin; an' Wull that was hangit at
Dumfries for sheep-stealin'; an' Meg that was servant till
yersel—aye, an' a bonny piece she was as ye ken yersel'; an' this
auld donnert carle that, when he carries up the Bibles, ye can hear
the rattlin' o' his banes, till it disturbs the congregation—I hae
dung them a' heeds ower heels in their best days—an' to tell me at
the hinner end that ye wad ca' in the betheral to pit oot Elspeth
Mowdiewort! Ye maun surely hae an awsome ill wull at the puir auld
"Mither," at last said Saunders, who was becoming anxious for his
grave-diggership, and did not wish to incense his judges further,
"I'm willin' to confess that I had a drap ower muckle the ither night
when I met in wi' the minister an' the dominie; but, gin I confess it,
ye'll no gar me sit on the muckle black stool i' repentance afore a'
the fowk, an' me carries up the buiks i' the Marrow kirk."
"Alexander Mowdiewort, ye spak ill o' the minister an' session, o'
the kirk an' the wholesome order o' this parish. We have a warrant
for your apprehension and appearance which we might, unless moved by
penitence and dutiful submission, put in force. Then are ye aware
whaur that wad land you—i' the jail in Kirkcudbright toon, my man
But still it was the dread disgrace of the stool of repentance
that bulked most largely in the culprit's imagination.
"Na, na," interjected Mistress Mowdiewort, "nae siccan things for
ony bairns o' mine. Nae son o' mine sall ever set his hurdies on the
"Be silent, woman!" said the minister severely; "them that will to
black stool maun to black stool. Rebukit an' chastised is the law an'
order, and rebukit and chastised shall your son be as weel as ithers."
"'Deed, yer nae sae fond o' rebukin' the great an' the rich.
There's that young speldron frae the castle; its weel kenned what he
is, an' hoo muckle he's gotten the weight o'."
"He is not of our communion, and not subject to our discipline,"
began the minister.
"Weel," said Elspeth, "weel, let him alane. He's a Pape, an' gaun
to purgatory at ony gate. But then there's bletherin' Johnnie o' the
Dinnance Mains—he's as fu' as Solway tide ilka Wednesday, an' no only
speaks agin minister an' session, as maybe my Saunders did (an' maybe
no), but abuses Providence, an the bellman, an' even blasphemes agin
the fast day—yet I never heard that ye had him cockit up on the black
henbauks i' the kirk. But then he's a braw man an' keeps a gig!"
"The law o' the kirk is no respecter of persons," said Mess John.
"No, unless they are heritors," said Cochrane of the Holm, who had
a pew with the name of his holding painted on it.
"Or members o' session," said sleeky Carment of the Kirkland, who
had twice escaped the stool of repentance on the ground that, as he
urged upon the body, "gleds [hawks] shouldna pike gleds een oot."
"Or parish dominies," said the session clerk, to give solidarity
to his own position.
"Weel, I ken juist this if nae mair: my son disna sit on ony o'
yer stools o' repentance," said Eppie Mowdiewort, demonstrating the
truth of her position with her hand clenched at the dominie, who, like
all clerks of ecclesiastical assemblies, was exceedingly industrious
in taking notes to very small purpose. "Mair nor that, I'm maybe an
unlearned woman, but I've been through the Testaments mair nor
yince—the New Testament mair nor twice—an' I never saw naethin'
aboot stools o' repentance in the hoose o' God. But my son Saunders
was readin' to me the ither nicht in a fule history buik, an' there it
said that amang the Papists they used to hae fowk that didna do as
they did an' believe as they believed. Sae wi' a lang white serk on,
an' a can'le i' their hands, they set them up for the rabble fowk to
clod at them, an' whiles they tied them to a bit stick an' set lunt
[fire] to them—an that's the origin o' yer stool o' repentance. What
say ye to that?"
Mrs. Mowdiewort's lecture on church history was not at all
appreciated by the session. The minister rose.
"We will close this sederunt," he said; "we can mak' nocht o'
these two. Alexander Mowdiewort, thou art removed from thy office of
grave-digger in the parish kirkyard, and both thysel' and thy mother
are put under suspension for contumacy!"
"Haith!" said Elspeth Mowdiewort, pushing back her hair; "did ye
ever hear the mak' o' the craitur. I haena been within his kirk door
for twenty year. It's a guid job that a body can aye gang doon to
godly Maister Welsh, though he's an awfu' body to deave [deafen] ye
wi' the Shorter Quastions."
"An it's a guid thing," added Saunders, "that there's a new
cemetery a-makkin'. There's no room for anither dizzen in yer auld
kailyaird onyway—an' that I'm tellin' ye. An' I'm promised the new
job too. Ye can howk yer ain graves yersel's."
"Fash na yer heid, Saunders, aboot them," said the old betheral at
the door; "it's me that's to be grave-digger, but ye shall howk them
a' the same in the mornin', an' get the siller, for I'm far ower
frail—ye can hae them a' by afore nine o'clock, an' the minister
disna pu' up his bedroom blind till ten!"
Thus it was that Saunders Mowdiewort ended his connection with an
Erastian establishment, and became a true and complete member of the
Marrow kirk. His mother also attended with exemplary diligence, but
she was much troubled with a toothache on the days of catechising, and
never quite conquered her unruly member to the last. But this did not
trouble herself much—only her neighbours.
CHAPTER XVII. WHEN THE KYE COMES
That night Saunders went up over the hill again, dressed in his
best. He was not a proud lover, and he did not take a rebuff amiss;
besides, he had something to tell Meg Kissock. When he got to Craig
Ronald, the girls were in the byre at the milking, and at every cow's
tail there stood a young man, rompish Ebie Farrish at that at which
Jess was milking, and quiet Jock Forrest at Meg's. Ebie was joking and
keeping up a fire of running comment with Jess, whose dark-browed
gipsy face and blue-black wisps of hair were set sideways towards him,
with her cheek pressed upon Lucky's side, as she sent the warm white
milk from her nimble fingers, with a pleasant musical hissing sound
against the sides of the milking-pail.
Farther up the byre, Meg leaned her head against Crummy and milked
steadily. Apparently she and Jock Forrest were not talking at all.
Jock looked down and only a quiver of the corner of his beard
betrayed that he was speaking. Meg, usually so outspoken and full of
conversation, appeared to be silent; but really a series of short,
low-toned sentences was being rapidly exchanged, so swiftly that no
one, standing a couple of yards away, could have remarked the deft
But as soon as Saunders Mowdiewort came to the door, Jock Forrest
had dropped Crummy's tail, and slipped silently out of the byre, even
before Meg got time to utter her usual salutation of—
"Guid een to ye, Cuif! Hoo's a' the session?"
It might have been the advent of Meg's would-be sweetheart that
frightened Jock Forrest away, or again he might have been in the act
of going in any case. Jock was a quiet man who walked sedately and
took counsel of no one. He was seldom seen talking to any man, never
to a woman—least of all to Meg Kissock. But when Meg had many "lads"
to see her in the evening, he could he observed to smile an inward
smile in the depths of his yellow beard, and a queer subterranean
chuckle pervaded his great body, so that on one occasion Jess looked
up, thinking that there were hens roosting in the baulks overhead.
Jess and Ebie pursued their flirtation steadily and harmlessly, as
she shifted down the byre as cow after cow was relieved of her richly
perfumed load, rumbling and clinking neck chains, and munching in
their head-stalls all the while. Saunders and Meg were as much alone
as if they had been afloat on the bosom of Loch Grannoch.
"Ye are a bonny like man," said Meg, "to tak' yer minny to speak
for ye before the session. Man, I wonder at ye. I wonder ye didna
bring her to coort for ye?"
"War ye ever afore the Session, Meg?"
"Me afore the session—ye're a fule man, but ye dinna ken what yer
sayin'—gin I thocht ye did—"
Here Meg became so violently agitated that Flecky, suffering from
the manner in which Meg was doing her duty, kicked out, and nearly
succeeded in overturning the milk-pail. Meg's quickness with hand and
knee foiled this intention, but Flecky succeeded quite in planting the
edge of her hoof directly on the Cuif's shin-bone. Saunders thereupon
let go Flecky's tail, who instantly switched it into Meg's face with a
crack like a whip.
"Ye great muckle senseless hullion!" exclaimed Meg, "gin ye are
nae use in the byre, gang oot till ye can learn to keep haud o' a
coo's tail! Ye hae nae mair sense than an Eerishman!"
There was a pause. The subject did not admit of discussion, though
Saunders was a cuif, he knew when to hold his tongue—at least on
"An' what brocht ye here the nicht, Cuif?" asked Meg, who, when
she wanted information, knew how to ask it directly, a very rare
"To see you, Meg, my dawtie," replied Saunders, tenderly edging
"Yer what?" queried Meg with asperity; "I thocht that ye had
aneuch o' the session already for caa'in' honest fowk names; gin ye
begin wi' me, ye'll get on the stool o' repentance o' yer ain accord,
afore I hae dune wi' ye!"
"But, Meg, I hae telled ye afore that I am sair in need o' a wife.
It's byordinar' [extraordinary] lonesome up in the hoose on the hill.
An' I'm warned oot, Meg, so that I'll look nae langer on the white
stanes o' the kirkyaird."
"Gin ye want a wife, Saunders, ye'll hae to look oot for a deef
yin, for it's no ony or'nar' woman that could stand yer mither's
tongue. Na, Saunders, it wad be like leevin' i' a corn-mill rinnin'
"Meg," said Saunders, edging up cautiously, "I hae something to
"Aff wi' ye, Cuif! I'll hae nae trokin' wi' lads i' the byre—na,
there's a time for everything—especial wi' widowers, they're the
warst o' a'—they ken ower muckle. My granny used to say, gin Solomon
couldna redd oot the way o' a man wi' a maid, what wad he hae made o'
the way o' a weedower that's lookin' for his third?"
CHAPTER XVIII. A DAUGHTER OF THE
The Cuif put his hands in his pockets as if to keep them away from
the dangerous temptation of touching Meg. He stood with his shoulder
against the wall and chewed a straw.
"What's come o' Maister Peden thae days?" asked Meg.
"He's maist michty unsettled like," replied Saunders, "he's for a'
the world like a stirk wi' a horse cleg on him that he canna get at.
He comes in an' sits doon at his desk, an' spreads oot his buiks, an'
ye wad think that he's gaun to be at it the leevelang day. But afore
ye hae time to turn roon' an' get at yer ain wark, the craitur'll be
oot again an' awa' up to the hill wi' a buik aneath his oxter. Then he
rises early in the mornin', whilk is no a guid sign o' a learned man,
as I judge. What for should a learned man rise afore his parritch is
made? There maun be something sair wrang," said Saunders Mowdiewort.
"Muckle ye ken aboot learned men. I suppose, ye think because ye
carry up the Bible, that ye ken a' that's in't," returned Meg, with a
sneer of her voice that might have turned milk sour. The expression of
the emotions is fine and positive in the kitchens of the farm towns of
"SWISH, SWISH!" steadily the white streams of milk shot into the
pails. "JANGLE, JANGLE!" went the steel head chains of the cows.
Occasionally, as Jess and Meg lifted their stools, they gave Flecky
or Speckly a sound clap on the back with their hand or milking-pail,
with the sharp command of "Stan' aboot there!" "Haud up!" "Mind whaur
yer comin'!" Such expressions as these Jess and Meg could interject
into the even tenor of their conversation, in a way that might have
been disconcerting in dialogues conducted on other principles. But
really the interruptions did not affect Ebie Farrish or any other of
the byre-visiting young men, any more than the rattling of the chains,
as Flecky and Speckly arranged their own business at the end devoted
to imports. These sharp words of command were part of the nightly and
morningly ceremony of the "milking" at every farm. The cans could no
more froth with the white reaming milk without this accompaniment of
slaps and adjurations than Speckly, Flecky, and the rest could take
their slow, thoughtfully considerate, and sober way from the hill
pastures into the yard without Meg at the gate of the field to cry:
"Hurley, Hurley, hie awa' hame!" to the cows themselves; and "Come
awa' bye wi' them, fetch them, Roger!" to the short-haired collie, who
knew so much better than to go near their flashing heels.
The conversation in the byre proceeded somewhat in this way:
Jess was milking her last cow, with her head looking sideways at
Ebie, who stood plaiting Marly's tail in a newfangled fashion he had
brought from the low end of the parish, and which was just making its
way among young men of taste.
"Aye, ye'll say so, nae doot," said Jess, in reply to some pointed
compliment of her admirer; "but I ken you fowk frae the laich end
ower weel. Ye hae practeesed a' that kind o' talk on the lasses doon
there, or ye wadna be sae gleg [ready] wi't to me, Ebie."
This is an observation which shows that Jess could not have eaten
more effectively of the tree of knowledge, had she been born in
Ebie laughed a laugh half of depreciation, half of pleasure, like
a cat that has its back stroked and its tail pinched at the same
"Na, na, Jess, it a' comes by natur'. I never likit a lassie afore
I set my een on you," said Ebie, which, to say the least of it, was
curious, considering that he had an assortment of locks of
hair—black, brown, and lint-white—up in the bottom of his "kist" in
the stable loft where he slept. He kept them along with his whipcord
and best Sunday pocket knife, and sometimes he took a look at them
when he had to move them in order to get his green necktie. "I never
really likit a lass afore, Jess, ye may believe me, for I wasna a lad
to rin after them. But whenever I cam' to Craig Ronald I saw that I
was dune for."
"STAN' BACK, YE MUCKLE SLABBER!" said Jess, suddenly and
emphatically, in a voice that could have been heard a hundred yards
away. Speckly was pushing sideways against her as if to crowd her off
"Say ye sae, Ebie?" she added, as if she had not previously
spoken, in the low even voice in which she had spoken from the first,
and which could be heard by Ebie alone. In the country they conduct
their love-making in water-tight compartments. And though Ebie knew
very well that the Cuif was there, and may have suspected Jock
Forrest, even after his apparent withdrawal, so long as they did not
trouble him in his conversation with Jess, he paid no heed to them,
nor indeed they to him. No man is his brother's keeper when he goes to
the byre to plait cows' tails.
"But hoo div ye ken, or, raither, what gars ye think that ye're no
the first that I hae likit, Jess?"
"Oh, I ken fine," said Jess, who was a woman of knowledge, and had
her share of original sin.
"But hoo div ye ken?" persisted Ebie.
"Fine that," said Jess, diplomatically.
A DAUGHTER OF THE PICTS
"But tell us, Jess," said Ebie, who was in high good humour at
these fascinating accusations.
"Oh," said Jess, with a quick gipsy look out of her fine dark
eyes, "brawly I kenned on Saturday nicht that yon wasna the first
time ye had kissed a lass!"
"Jess," said Ebie, "ye're a wunnerfu' woman!" which was his
version of Ralph's "You are a witch." In Ebie's circle "witch" was
too real a word to be lightly used, so he said "wunnerfu' woman."
He went on looking critically at Jess, as became so great a
connoisseur of the sex.
"I hae seen, maybes, bonnier faces, as ye micht say—"
"HAUD AFF, WI' YE THERE; MIND WHAUR YER COMIN', YE MUCKLE
SENSELESS NOWT!" said Jess to her Ayrshire Hornie, who had been
treading on her toes.
"As I was sayin', Jess, I hae seen—"
"CAN YE NO UNNERSTAN', YE SENSELESS LUMP?" cried Jess, warningly;
"I'll knock the heid aff ye, gin ye dinna drap it!" still to Hornie,
But the purblind theorist went on his way: "I hae seen bonnier
faces, but no mair takin', Jess, than yours. It's no aye beauty that
tak's a man, Jess, ye see, an' the lassies that hae dune best hae been
plain-favoured lassies that had pleasant expressions—"
"Tell the rest to Hornie gin ye like!" said Jess, rising viciously
and leaving Ebie standing there dumfounded. He continued to hold
Hornie's tail for some time, as if he wished to give her some further
information on the theory of beauty, as understood in the "laich" end
of the parish.
Saunders saw him from afar, and cried out to him down the length
of the byre,
"Are ye gaun to mak' a watch-guard o' that coo's tail, Ebie?—ye
look fell fond o't."
"Ye see what it is to be in love," said John Scott, the herd, who
had stolen to the door unperceived and so had marked Ebie's
"He disna ken the difference between Jess hersel' an' Hornie!"
said the Cuif, who was repaying old scores.
CHAPTER XIX. AT THE BARN END.
In a little while the cows were all milked. Saunders was standing
at the end of the barn, looking down the long valley of the Grannoch
water. There was a sweet coolness in the air, which he vaguely
recognized by taking off his hat.
"Open the yett!" cried Jess, from the byre door. Saunders heard
the clank and jangle of the neck chains of Hornie and Specky and the
rest, as they fell from their necks, loosened by Jess's hand. The
sound grew fainter and fainter as Jess proceeded to the top of the
byre where Marly stood soberly sedate and chewed her evening cud. Now
Marly did not like Jess, therefore Meg always milked her; she would
not, for some special reason of her own, "let doon her milk" when Jess
laid a finger on her. This night she only shook her head and pushed
heavily against Jess as she came.
"Hand up there, ye thrawn randy!" said Jess in byre tones.
And so very sulkily Marly moved out, looking for Meg right and
left as she did so. She had her feelings as well as any one, and she
was not the first who had been annoyed by the sly, mischievous gipsy
with the black eyes, who kept so quiet before folk. As she went out of
the byre door, Jess laid her switch smartly across Marly's loins, much
to the loss of dignity of that stately animal, who, taking a hasty
step, slipped on the threshold, and overtook her neighbours with a
slow resentment gathering in her matronly breast.
When Saunders Mowdiewort heard the last chain drop in the byre,
and the strident tones of Jess exhorting Marly, he took a few steps
to the gate of the hill pasture. He had to pass along a short
home-made road, and over a low parapetless bridge constructed simply
of four tree-trunks laid parallel and covered with turf. Then he
dropped the bars of the gate into the hill pasture with a clatter,
which came to Winsome's ears as she stood at her window looking out
into the night. She was just thinking at that moment what a good thing
it was that she had sent back Ralph Peden's poem. So, in order to see
whether this were so or not, she repeated it all over again to
When he came back again to the end of the barn, Saunders found
Jess standing there, with the wistful light in her eyes which that
young woman of many accomplishments could summon into them as easily
as she could smile. For Jess was a minx—there is no denying the fact.
Yet even slow Saunders admitted that, though she was nothing to Meg,
of course, still there was something original and attractive about
her—like original sin.
Jess was standing with her head on one side, putting the scarlet
head of a poppy among her black hair. Jess had strange tastes, which
would be called artistic nowadays in some circles. Her liking was
always BIZARRE and excellent, the taste of the primitive Galloway Pict
from whom she was descended, or of that picturesque Glenkens warrior,
who set a rowan bush on his head on the morning when he was to lead
the van at the battle of the Standard. Scotland was beaten on that
great occasion, it is true; but have the chroniclers, who complain of
the place of Galloway men in the ranks, thought how much more terribly
Scotland might have been beaten had Galloway not led the charge? But
this is written just because Jess Kissock, a Galloway farm lassie,
looked something like a cast back to the primitive Pict of the south,
a fact which indeed concerns the story not at all, for Saunders
Mowdiewort had not so much as ever heard of a Pict.
Jess did not regard Saunders Mowdiewort highly at any time. He was
one of Meg's admirers, but after all he was a man, and one can never
tell. It was for this reason that she put the scarlet poppy into her
She meditated "I maybe haena Meg's looks to the notion o' some
folk, but I mak' a heap better use o' the looks that I hae, an' that
is a great maitter!"
"Saunders," said Jess softly, going up to the Cuif and pretending
to pick a bit of heather off his courting coat. She did this with a
caressing touch which soothed the widower, and made him wish that Meg
would do the like. He began to think that he had never properly valued
"Is Meg comin' oot again?" Jess inquired casually, the scarlet
poppy set among the blue-black raven's wings, and brushing his beard
in a distracting manner.
Saunders would hare given a good deal to be able to reply in the
affirmative, but Meg had dismissed him curtly after the milking, with
the intimation that it was time he was making manseward. As for her,
she was going within doors to put the old folks to bed.
After being satisfied on this point the manner of Jess was
decidedly soothing. That young woman had a theory which was not quite
complimentary either to the sense or the incorruptibility of men. It
was by showing an interest in them and making them think that they (or
at least the one being operated upon) are the greatest and most
fascinating persons under the sun, almost anything can be done. This
theory has been acted upon with results good and bad, in other places
besides the barn end of Craig Ronald.
"They're a' weel at the Manse?" said Jess, tentatively.
"On aye," said Saunders, looking round the barn end to see if Meg
could see him. Satisfied that Meg was safe in bed, Saunders put his
hand on Jess's shoulder—the sleek-haired, candle-greased deceiver
that he was.
"Jess, ye're bonny," said he.
"Na, na," said Jess, very demurely, "it's no me that's bonny—its
Jess was still looking at him, and interested in getting all the
rough wool off the collar of his homespun coat.
The Samson of the graveyard felt his strength deserting him.
"Davert, Jess lass, but it's a queer thing that it never cam
across me that ye were bonny afore!"
Jess looked down. The Cuif thought that it was because she was
shy, and his easy heart went out to her; but had he seen the smile
that was wasted on a hopping sparrow beneath, and especially the
wicked look in the black eyes, he might have received some
information as to the real sentiments of girls who put red poppies in
their hair in order to meet their sisters' sweethearts at the barn
"Is the young minister aye bidin' at the Manse?" asked Jess.
"Aye, he is that!" said Saunders, "he's a nice chiel' yon. Ye'll
see him whiles ower by here. They say—that is Manse Bell says— that
he's real fond o' yer young mistress here. Ken ye ocht aboot that,
"Hoots, havers, our young mistress is no for penniless students, I
wot weel. There'll be nocht in't, an' sae ye can tell Bell o' the
Manse, gin you an' her is so chief [intimate]."
"Very likely ye're richt. There'll be nocht in't, I'm thinkin'—at
least on her side. But what o' the young man? D'ye think he's sair
ta'en up aboot Mistress Winsome? Meg was sayin' so."
"Meg thinks there's naebody worth lookin' at in the warl' but
hersel' and Mistress Winifred Charteris, as she ca's hersel'; but
there's ithers thinks different."
"What hae ye against her, Jess? I thocht that she's a fell fine
"Oh she's richt eneuch, but there's bonny lasses as weel as her;
an' maybe, gin young Maister Peden comes ower by to Oraig Eonald to
see a lass nnkenned o' a'—what faut wad there be in that?"
"Then it's Meg he comes to see, and no' the young mistress?" said
the alarmed grave-digger.
"Maybes aye an' maybes no—there's bonny lasses forby Meg Kissock
for them that hae gotten een in their heads."
"Wi' Jess! Is't yerself?" said Saunders.
Jess was discreetly silent.
"Ye'll no tell onybody, wull ye, Maister Mowdiewort?" she said
To Saunders this was a great deal better than being called a
"Na, Jess, lass, I'll no tell a soul—no yin."
"No' even Meg-mind!" repeated Jess, who felt that this was a vital
So Saunders promised, though he had intended to do so on the first
"Mind, if ye do, I'll never gie ye a hand wi' Meg again as lang as
I leeve!" said Jess emphatically.
"Jess, d'ye think she likes me?" asked the widower in a hushed
"Saunders, I'm jnist sure o't," replied Jess with great readiness.
"But she's no yin o' the kind to let on."
"Na," groaned Saunders, "I wuss to peace she was. But ye mind me
that I gat a letter frae the young minister that I was to gie to Meg.
But as you're the yin he comes to see, I maun as weel gie't direct to
"It wad be as weel," said Jess, with a strange sort of sea-fire
like moonshine in her eyes.
Saunders passed over a paper to her readily, and Jess, with her
hand still on his coat-collar, in a way that Meg had never used,
thanked him in her own way.
"Juist bide a wee," she said; "I'll be wi' ye in a minute!"
Jess hurried down into the old square-plotted garden, which ran up
to the orchard trees. She soon found a moss-rose bush from which she
selected a bud, round which the soft feathery envelope was just
beginning to curl back. Then she went round by the edge of the brook
which keeps damp one side of the orchard, where she found some single
stems of forget-me-nots, shining in the dusk like beaded turquoise.
She pulled some from the bottom of the half-dry ditch, and setting the
pale moss-rosebud in the middle, she bound the whole together with a
striped yellow and green withe. Then snipping the stacks with her
pocket scissors, she brought the posy to Saunders, with instructions
to wrap it in a dock-leaf and never to let his hands touch it the
Saunders, dazed and fascinated, forgetful even of Meg and loyalty,
promised. The glamour of Jess, the gypsy, was upon him.
"But what am I to say," he asked.
"Say its frae her that he sent the letter to; he'll ken brawly
that Meg hadna the gumption to send him that!" said Jess candidly.
Saunders said his good-night in a manner which would certainly
have destroyed all his chances with Meg had she witnessed the
parting. Then he stolidly tramped away down the loaning.
Jess called after him, struck with a sudden thought. "See that ye
dinna gie it to him afore the minister."
Then she put her hands beneath her apron and walked home
meditating. "To be a man is to be a fool," said Jess Kissock, putting
her whole experience into a sentence. Jess was a daughter of the cot;
put then she was also a daughter of Eve, who had not even so much as a
CHAPTER XX. "DARK-BROWED EGYPT."
As soon as Jess was by herself in the empty byre, to which she
withdrew herself with the parcel which the faithful and trustworthy
Cuif had entrusted to her, she lit the lantern which always stood in
the inside of one of the narrow triangular wickets that admitted light
into the byre. Sitting down on the small hay stall, she pulled the
packet from her pocket, looked it carefully over, and read the simple
address, "In care of Margaret Kissock." There was no other writing
upon the outside.
Opening the envelope carefully, he let the light of the byre
lantern rest on the missive. It was written in a delicate but strong
handwriting—the hand of one accustomed to forming the smaller letters
of ancient tongues into a current script. "To Mistress Winifred
Charteris," it ran. "Dear Lady: That I have offended you by the
hastiness of my words and the unforgivable wilfulness of my actions, I
know, but cannot forgive myself. Yet, knowing the kindness of your
disposition, I have thought that you might be better disposed to
pardon me than I myself. For I need not tell you, what you already
know, that the sight of you is dearer to me than the light of the
morning. You are connected in my mind and heart with all that is best
and loveliest. I need not tell now that I love you, for you know that
I love the string of your bonnet. Nor am I asking for anything in
return, save only that you may know my heart and not be angry. This I
send to ease its pain, for it has been crying out all night long,
'Tell her— tell her!' So I have risen early to write this. Whether I
shall send it or no, I cannot tell. There is no need, Winsome, to
answer it, if you will only let it fall into your heart and make no
noise, as a drop of water falls into the sea. Whether you will be
angry or not I cannot tell, and, truth to tell you, sweetheart, I am
far past caring. I am coming, as I said, to Craig Ronald to see your
grandmother, and also, if you will, to see you. I shall not need you
to tell me whether you are angered with a man's love or no; I shall
know that before you speak to me. But keep a thought for one that
loves you beyond all the world, and as if there were no world, and
naught but God and you and him. For this time fare you well. Ralph
Jess turned it over with a curious look on her face. "Aye, he has
the grip o't, an' she micht get him gin she war as clever as Jess
Kissock; but him that can love yin weel can lo'e anither better, an'
I can keep them sindry [asunder]. I saw him first, an' he spak to me
first. 'Ye're no to think o' him,' said my mither. Think o' him! I hae
thocht o' nocht else. Think of him! Since when is thinkin' a crime? A
lass maun juist do the best she can for hersel', be she cotman's
dochter or laird's. Love's a' yae thing— kitchen or byre, but or ben.
See a lad, lo'e a lad, get a lad, keep a lad! Ralph Peden will kiss me
afore the year's oot," she said with determination.
So in the corner of the byre, among the fragrant hay and fresh-cut
clover, Jess Kissock the cottar's lass prophesied out of her wayward
soul, baring her intentions to herself as perhaps her sister in
boudoir hushed and perfumed might not have done. There are Ishmaels
also among women, whose hand is against every woman, and who stand for
their own rights to the man on whom they have set their love; and the
strange thing is, that such are by no means the worst of women either.
Stranger still, so strong and dividing to soul and marrow is a
clearly defined purpose and determinately selfish, that such women do
not often fail. And indeed Jess Kissock, sitting in the hay- neuk,
with her candle in the lantern throwing patterns on the cobwebby walls
from the tiny perforations all round, made a perfectly correct
prophecy. Ralph Peden did indeed kiss her, and that of his own free
will as his love of loves within a much shorter space of time than a
Strangely also, Jess the gipsy, the dark-browed Pictess, was
neither angry nor jealous when she read Ralph's letter to Winsome.
According to all rules she ought to have been. She even tried to
persuade herself that she was. But the sight of Ralph writing to
Winsome gave no pang to her heart. Nor did this argue that she did
not love really and passionately. She did; but Jess had in her the
Napoleon instinct. She loved obstacles. So thus it was what she
communed with herself, sitting with her hand on her brow, and her
swarthy tangle of hair falling all about her face. All women have a
pose in which they look best. Jess looked best leaning forward with
her elbows on her knees. Had there been a fender at her father's
fireside Jess would have often sat on it, for there is a dangerous
species of girl that, like a cat, looks best sitting on a fender. And
such a girl is always aware of the circumstance.
"He has written to Winsome," Jess communed with herself. "Well, he
shall write to me. He loves her, he thinks; then in time he shall
love me, and be sure perfectly o't. Let me see. Gin she had gotten
this letter, she wadna hae answered it. So he'll come the morn, an'
he'll no say a word to her aboot the letter. Na, he'll juist look if
she's pleased like, and gin that gomeral Saunders gied him the rose,
he'll no be ill to please eyther! But afore he gangs hame he shall see
Jess Kissock, an' hear frae her aboot the young man frae the Castle!"
Jess took another look at the letter." It's a bonny hand o' write,"
she said, "but Dominie Cairnochan learned me to write as weel as
onybody, an' some day he'll write to me. I'se no be byre lass a' my
life. Certes no. There's oor Meg, noo; she'll mairry some ignorant
landward man, an' leeve a' her life in a cot hoose, wi' a dizzen weans
tum'lin' aboot her! What yin canna learn, anither can," continued
Jess. "I hae listened to graun' fowk speakin', an' I can speak as weel
as onybody. I'll disgrace nane. Gin I canna mak' mysel' fit for kirk
or manse, my name's no Jess Kissock. I'm nae country lump, to be left
where I'm set doon, like a milkin' creepie [stool], an' kickit ower
when they are dune wi' me."
It is of such women, born to the full power and passion of sex,
and with all the delicate keenness of the feminine brain, utterly
without principle or scruple, that the Cleopatras are made. For
black-browed Egypt, the serpent of old Nile, can sit in a country
byre, and read a letter to another woman. For Cleopatra is not
history; she is type.
CHAPTER XXI. THE RETURN OF EBIE
Now Ebie Farrish had been over at the Nether Crae seeing the
lassies there in a friendly way after the scene in the byre, for
Galloway ploughmen were the most general of lovers. Ebie considered
it therefore no disloyalty to Jess that he would display his
watch-guard and other accomplishments to the young maids at the Crae.
Nor indeed would Jess herself have so considered it. It was only Meg
who was so particular that she did not allow such little practice
excursions of this kind on the part of her young men.
When Ebie started to go home, it was just midnight. As he came
over the Grannoch bridge he saw the stars reflected in the water, and
the long stretches of the loch glimmering pearl grey in the faint
starlight and the late twilight. He thought they looked as if they
were running down hill. His thoughts and doings that day and night had
been earthly enough. He had no regrets and few aspirations. But the
coolness of the twilight gave him the sense of being a better man than
he knew himself to be. Ebie went to sit under the ministrations of the
Reverend Erasmus Teends at twelve by the clock on Sunday. He was a
regular attendant. He always was spruce in his Sunday blacks. He
placed himself in the hard pews so that he could have a view of his
flame for the time being. As he listened to the minister he thought
sometimes of her and of his work, and of the turnip-hoeing on the
morrow, but oftenest of Jess, who went to the Marrow kirk over the
hills. He thought of the rise of ten shillings that he would ask at
the next half- year's term, all as a matter of course—just as Robert
Jamieson the large farmer, thought of the rent day and the market
ordinary, and bringing home the "muckle greybeard "full of excellent
Glenlivat from the Cross Keys on Wednesday. Above them both the
Reverend Erasmus Teends droned and drowsed, as Jess Kissock said with
her faculty for expression, "bummelin' awa like a bubbly-Jock or a
bum-bee in a bottle."
But coming home in the coolness of this night, the ploughman was,
for the time being, purged of the grosser humours which come
naturally to strong, coarse natures, with physical frames ramping
with youth and good feeding. He stood long looking into the lane
water, which glided beneath the bridge and away down to the Dee
without a sound.
He saw where, on the broad bosom of the loch, the stillness lay
grey and smooth like glimmering steel, with little puffs of night
wind purling across it, and disappearing like breath from a new
knife-blade. He saw where the smooth satin plane rippled to the first
water-break, as the stream collected itself, deep and black, with the
force of the water behind it, to flow beneath the bridge. When Ebie
Farrish came to the bridge he was a material Galloway ploughman,
satisfied with his night's conquests and chewing the cud of their
He looked over. He saw the stars, which were perfectly reflected a
hundred yards away on the smooth expanse, first waver, then tremble,
and lastly break into a myriad delicate shafts of light, as the water
quickened and gathered. He spat in the water, and thought of trout for
breakfast. But the long roar of the rapids of the Dee came over the
hill, and a feeling of stillness with it, weird and remote. Uncertain
lights shot hither and thither under the bridge, in strange gleams of
reflection. The ploughman was awed. He continued to gaze. The
stillness closed in upon him. The aromatic breath of the pines seemed
to cool him and remove him from himself. He had a sense that it was
Sabbath morning, and that he had just washed his face to go to church.
It was the nearest thing to worship he had ever known. Such moments
come to the most material, and are their theology. Far off a solitary
bird whooped and whinnied. It sounded mysterious and unknown, the cry
of a lost soul. Ebie Farrish wondered where he would go to when he
died. He thought this over for a little, and then he concluded that it
were better not to dwell on this subject. But the crying on the lonely
hills awed him. It was only a Jack snipe from whose belated nest an
owl had stolen two eggs. But it was Ebie Farrish's good angel. He
resolved that he would go seldomer to the village public o' nights,
and that he would no more find cakes and ale sweet to his palate. It
was a foregone conclusion that on Saturday night he would be there,
yet what he heard and saw on Grannoch Bridge opened his sluggish eyes.
Of a truth there was that in the world which had not been there for
him before. It is to Jess Kissock's credit, that when Ebie was most
impressed by the stillness and most under the spell of the night, he
thought of her. He was only an ignorant, godless, good-natured man,
who was no more moral than he could help; but it is both a testimonial
and a compliment when such a man thinks of a woman in his best and
most solemn moments.
At that moment Jess Kissock was putting Winsome Charteris's letter
into her pocket.
There is no doubt that poor, ignorant Ebie, with his highly
developed body and the unrestrained and irregular propensities of his
rudimentary soul, was nearer the Almighty that night than his
keen-witted and scheming sweetheart.
A trout leaped in the calm water, and Ebie stopped thinking of the
eternities to remember where he had set a line. Far off a cock crew,
and the well-known sound warned Ebie that he had better be drawing
near his bed. He raised himself from the copestone of the parapet, and
solemnly tramped his steady way up to the "onstead" of Craig Ronald,
which took shape before him as he advanced like a low, grey-bastioned
castle. As he entered the low square on his way across to the stable
door he was surprised to notice a gleam of light in the byre. Ebie
thought that some tramps were trespassing on the good nature of the
mistress of the house, and he had the feeling of loyalty to his
master's interests which distinguished the Galloway ploughman of an
older time. He was mortally afraid of bogles, and would not have
crossed the kirkyard after the glimmer of midnight without seeing a
dozen corpse- candles; but tramps were quite another matter, for Ebie
was not in the least afraid of mortal man—except only of Allan Welsh,
the Marrow minister.
So he stole on tiptoe to the byre door, circumnavigating the
"wicket," which poured across the yard its tell-tale plank of light.
Standing within the doorway and looking over the high wooden stall,
tenanted in winter by Jock, the shaggy black bull, Ebie saw Jess
Kissock, lost in her dreams. The lantern was set on the floor in front
of her. The candle had nearly burned down to the socket. Jess's eyes
were large and brilliant. It seemed to Ebie Farrish that they were
shining with light. Her red lips were pouted, and there was a warm,
unwonted flush on her cheeks. In her dreams she was already mistress
of a house, and considering how she would treat her servants. She
would treat them kindly and well. She had heard her sister, who was
servant at Earlston, tell how the ladies there treated their servants.
Jess meant to do just the same. She meant to be a real lady. Ambition
in a woman has a double chance, for adaptation is inborn along with
it. Most men do not succeed very remarkably in anything, because at
heart they do not believe in themselves. Jess did. It was her heritage
from some Pict, who held back under the covert of his native woods so
long as the Roman tortoise crept along, shelved in iron, but who drave
headlong into a gap with all his men, when, some accident of
formation showed the one chance given in a long day's march.
Ebie thought he had never seen Jess so beautiful. It had never
struck him before that Jess was really handsomer than Meg. He only
knew that there was a stinging wild-fruit fragrance about Jess and
her rare favours he had never experienced in the company of any other
woman. And he had a large experience.
Was it possible that she knew that he was out and was waiting for
him? In this thought, which slowly entered in upon his astonishment,
the natural Ebie forced himself to the front.
"Jess!" he exclaimed impulsively, taking a step within, the door.
Instantly, as though some night-flying bat had flown against it, the
candle went out—a breath wafted by him as lightly and as silently as
a snowy owl flies home in the twilight. A subtle something, the
influence of a presence, remained, which mingled strangely with the
odours of the clover in the neuk, and the sour night-smell of the
byre. Again there was a perfect silence. Without, a corncrake ground
monotonously. A rat scurried along the rafter. Ebie in the silence and
the darkness had almost persuaded himself that he had been dreaming,
when his foot clattered against something which fell over on the
cobble-stones that paved the byre. He stopped and picked it up. It was
the byre lantern. The wick was still glowing crimson when he opened
the little tin door. As he looked it drew slowly upward into a red
star, and winked itself out. It was no dream. Jess had been in the
byre. To meet whom? he asked himself.
Ebie went thoughtfully up-stairs, climbing the stable ladder as
the first twilight of the dawn was slowly pouring up from beneath
into a lake of light and colour in the east, as water gushes from a
"Ye're a nice boy comin' to yer bed at this time o' the mornin',"
said Jock Forrest from his bunk at the other side.
"Nicht-wanderin' bairns needs skelpin'!" remarked Jock Gordon, who
had taken up his abode in a vacant stall beneath.
"Sleep yer ain sleeps, ye pair o' draft-sacks, in yer beds,"
answered Ebie Farrish without heat and simply as a conversational
He did not know that he was quoting the earliest English classic.
He had never heard of Chaucer.
"What wad Jess say?" continued Jock Forrest, sleepily.
"Ask her," said Ebie sharply.
"At any rate, I'm no gaun to be disturbit in my nicht's rest wi'
the like o' you, Ebie Farrish! Ye'll eyther come hame in time o'
nicht, or ye'll sleep elsewhere—up at the Crae, gin ye like."
"Mind yer ain business," retorted Ebie, who could think of nothing
else to say.
Down below daft Jock Gordon, with some dim appropriateness was
beginning his elricht croon of—
"The devil sat on his ain lum-tap,
Hech how—black and reeky—"
when Jock Forrest, out of all patience, cried out down to him:
"Jock Gordon, gin ye begin yer noise at twa o'clock i' the mornin'
I'll come down an' pit ye i' the mill-dam!"
"Maybes ye'll be cryin' for me to pit you i' the mill-dam some
warm day!" said Jock Gordon grimly, "but I'se do naething o' the
kind. I'll een bank up the fires an' gie ye a turn till ye're weel
brandered. Ye'll girn for mill-dams then, I'm thinkin'!"
So, grumbling and threatening in his well-accustomed manner, Jock
Gordon returned to the wakeful silence which he kept during the hours
usually given to sleep. It was said, however, that he never really
slept. Indeed, Ebie and Jock were ready to take their oath that they
never went up and down that wooden ladder, from which three of the
rounds were missing, without seeing Jock Gordon's eyes shining like a
cat's out of the dark of the manger where, like an ape, he sat all
A SCARLET POPPY.
IT was early afternoon at Craig Ronald. Afternoon is quite a
different time from morning at a farm. Afternoon is slack-water in
the duties of the house, at least for the womenfolk—except in hay
and harvest, when it is full flood tide all the time, night and day.
But when we consider that the life of a farm town begins about four in
the morning, it will be readily seen that afternoon comes far on in
the day indeed for such as have tasted the freshness of the morning.
In the morning, Winsome had seen that every part of her farm
machinery was going upon well-oiled wheels. She had consulted her
honorary factor, who, though a middle-aged man and a bachelor of long
and honourable standing, enrolled himself openly and avowedly in the
army of Winsome's admirers. He used to ask every day what additions
had been made to the list of her conquests, and took much interest in
the details of her costume. This last she mostly devised for herself
with taste which was really a gift natural to her, but which seemed
nothing less than miraculous to the maidens and wives of a parish
which had its dressmaking done according to the canons of an art which
the Misses Crumbcloth, mantua-makers at the Dullarg village, had
learned twenty-five years before, once for all.
Now it was afternoon, and Winsome was once more at the bake-board.
There were few things that Winsome liked better to do, and she daily
tried the beauty of her complexion before the open fireplace, though
her grandmother ineffectually suggested that Meg Kissock would do just
While Winsome was rubbing her hands with dry meal, before
beginning, she became conscious that some one was coming up the
drive. So she was not at all astonished when a loud knock in the
stillness of the afternoon echoed through the empty house and far
down the stone passages.
It was Ralph Peden who knocked, as indeed she did not need to tell
herself. She called, however, to Meg Kissock.
"Meg," she said, "there is the young minister come to see my
grandmother. Go and show him into the parlour."
Meg looked at her mistress. Her reply was irrelevant. "I was born
on a Friday," she said.
But notwithstanding she went, and received the young man. She took
him into the parlour, where he was set down among strange voluted
foreign shells with a pink flush within the wide mouth of every one
of them. Here there was a scent of lavender and subtle essences in the
air, and a great stillness. While he sat waiting, he could hear afar
off the sound of rippling water. It struck a little chill over him
that, after the letter he had sent, Winsome should not have come to
greet him herself. From this he argued the worst. She might be
offended, or—still more fatal thought—she and Meg might be laughing
over it together.
A tall, slim girl entered the quiet parlour with a silent, catlike
tread. She was at his side before he knew it. It was the girl whom he
had met on his way to the Manse the first day of his arrival. Jess's
experience as a maid to her ladyship has stood her in good stead. She
had a fineness of build which even the housework of a farm could not
coarsen. Besides, Winsome considered Jess delicate, and did not allow
her to lift anything really heavy. So it happened that when Ralph
Peden came Jess was putting the fresh flowers in the great bowls of
low relief chinaware—roses from the garden and sprays of white
hawthorn, which flowers late in Galloway, blue hyacinths and harebells
massed together—yellow marigolds and glorious scarlet poppies, of
which Jess with her taste of the savage was passionately fond. She had
arranged some of these against a pale blue background of bunches of
forget-me- nots, with an effect strangely striking in that cool, dusky
When Jess came in Ralph had risen instinctively. He shook hands
heartily with her. As she looked up at him, she said:
"Do you remember me?"
Ralph replied with an eager frankness, all the more marked that he
had expected Winsome instead of Jess Kissock: "Indeed, how could I
forget, when you helped me to carry my books that night? I am glad to
find you here. I had no idea that you lived here."
Which was indeed true, for he had not yet been able to grasp the
idea that any but Winsome lived at Craig Ronald.
Jess Kissock, who knew that not many moments were hers before Meg
might come in, replied:
"I am here to help with the house. Meg Kissock is my sister." She
looked to see if there was anything in Ralph's eyes she could resent;
but a son of the Marrow kirk had not been trained to respect of
"I am sure you will help very much," he said, politely.
"I'm not as strong as my sister, you see, so that I'm generally in
the house," said Jess, who was carrying two dishes of flowers at once
across the room. At Ralph's feet one of them overset, and poured all
its wealth of blue and white and splashed crimson over the floor.
Jess stooped to lift them, crying shame on her own awkwardness.
Ralph kindly assisted her. As they stooped to gather them together,
Jess put forward all her attractions. Her lithe grace never showed to
more advantage. Yet, for all the impression she made on Ralph, she
might as well have wasted her sweetness on Jock Gordon—indeed, better
so, for Jock recognized in her something strangely kin to his own
When the flowers were all gathered and put back:
"Now you shall have one for helping," said Jess, as she had once
seen a lady in England do, and she selected a dark-red, velvety
damask rose from the wealth which she had cut and brought out of the
garden. Standing on tiptoe, she could scarcely reach his button-hole.
"Bend down," she said. Obediently Ralph bent, good-humouredly
patient, to please this girl who had done him a good turn on that day
which now seemed so far away—the day that had brought Craig Ronald
and Winsome into his life.
But in spite of his stooping, Jess had some difficulty in pinning
in the rose, and in order to steady herself on tiptoe, she reached up
and laid a staying hand on his shoulder. As he bent down, his face
just touched the crisp fringes of her dark hair, which seemed a
strange thing to him.
But a sense of another presence in the room caused him to raise
his eyes, and there in the doorway stood Winsome Charteris, looking
so pale and cold that she seemed to be a thousand miles away.
"I bid you good-afternoon, Master Peden," said Winsome quietly; "I
am glad you have had time to come and visit my grandmother. She will
be glad to see you."
For some moments Ralph had no words to answer. As for Jess, she
did not even colour; she simply withdrew with the quickness and
feline grace which were characteristic of her, without a flush or a
tremor. It was not on such occasions that her heart stirred. When she
was gone she felt that things had gone well, even beyond her
When Ralph at last found his voice, he said somewhat falteringly,
yet with a ring of honesty in his voice which for the time being was
lost upon Winsome:
"You are not angry with me for coming to-day. You knew I would
come, did you not?"
Winsome only said: "My grandmother is waiting for me. You had
better go in at once."
"Winsome," said Ralph, trying to prolong the period of his
converse with her, "you are not angry with me for writing what I
Winsome thought that he was referring to the poem which had come
to her by way of Manse Bell and Saunders Mowdiewort. She was
indignant that he should try to turn the tables upon her and so make
her feel guilty.
"I received nothing that I had any right to keep," she said.
Ralph was silent. The blow was a complete one. She did not wish
him to write to her any more or to speak to her on the old terms of
friendship. He thought wholly of the letter that he had sent by
Saunders the day before, and her coldness and changed attitude were
set down by him to that cause, and not to the embarrassing position in
which Winsome had surprised him when she came into the flower-strewn
parlour. He did not know that the one thing a woman never really
forgives is a false position, and that even the best of women in such
cases think the most unjust things. Winsome moved towards the inner
door of her grandmother's room.
Ralph put out his hand as if to touch hers, but Winsome withdrew
herself with a swift, fierce movement, and held the door open for him
to pass in. He had no alternative but to obey.
CHAPTER XXIII. CONCERNING JOHN
"Guid e'en to ye, Maister Ralph," said the gay old lady within, as
soon as she caught sight of Ralph. "Keep up yer heid, man, an' walk
like a Gilchrist. Ye look as dowie as a yow [ewe] that has lost her
Walter Skirving from his arm-chair gave this time no look of
recognition. He yielded his hand to Ralph, who raised it clay- chill
and heavy even in the act to shake. When he let it drop, the old man
held up his palm and looked at it.
"Hae ye gotten aneuch guid Gallawa' lear to learn ye no to rin awa
frae a bonny lass yet, Maister Ralph?" said the old lady briskly. She
had not many jokes save with Winsome and Meg, and she rode one hard
when she came by it.
But no reply was needed.
"Aye, aye, weelna," meditated the old lady, leaning back and
folding her hands like a mediaeval saint of worldly tendencies, "tell
me aboot your faither." "He is very robust and strong in health of
body," said Kalph.
"Ye leeve in Edinbra'?" said the old lady, with a rising
inflection of inquiry.
"Yes," said Ralph, "we live in James's Court. My father likes to
be among his people."
"Faith na, a hantle o' braw folk hae leeved in James's Court in
their time. I mind o' the Leddy Partan an' Mistress Girnigo, the
king's jeweller's wife haein' a fair even-doon fecht a' aboot wha was
to hae the pick o' the hooses on the stair.—Winifred, ma lassie, come
here an' sit doon! Dinna gang flichterin' in an' oot, but bide still
an' listen to what Maister Peden has to tell us aboot his farther."
Winsome came somewhat slowly and reluctantly towards the side of
her grandmother's chair. There she sat holding her hand, and looking
across the room towards the window where, motionless and abstracted,
Walter Skirving, who was once so bold and strong, dreamed his life
"I hardly know what to tell you first," said Ralph, hesitatingly.
"Hoot, tell me gin your faither and you bide thegither withoot ony
woman body, did I no hear that yince; is that the case na?" demanded
the lady of Craig Ronald with astonishing directness.
"It is true enough," said Ralph, smiling, "but then we have with
us my father's old Minister's Man, John Bairdieson. John has us both
in hands and keeps us under fine. He was once a sailor, and cook on a
vessel in his wild days; but when he was converted by falling from the
top of a main yard into a dock (as he tells himself), he took the
faith in a somewhat extreme form. But that does not affect his
cooking. He is as good as a woman in a house."
"An' that's a lee," said the old lady. "The best man's no as guid
as the warst woman in a hoose!"
Winsome did not appear to be listening. Of what interest could
such things be to her?
Her grandmother was by no means satisfied with Ralph's report.
"But that's nae Christian way for folk to leeve, withoot a woman o'
ony kind i' the hoose—it's hardly human!"
"But I can assure you, Mistress Skirving, that, in spite of what
you say, John Bairdieson does very well for us. He is, however,
terribly jealous of women coming about. He does not allow one of them
within the doors. He regards them fixedly through the keyhole before
opening, and when he does open, his usual greeting to them is, 'Noo
get yer message dune an' be gaun!'"
The lady of Craig Ronald laughed a hearty laugh.
"Gin I cam' to veesit ye I wad learn him mainners! But what does
he do," she continued, "when some of the dames of good standing in
the congregation call on your faither? Does he treat them in this
"In that case," said Ralph, "John listens at my father's door to
hear if he is stirring. If there be no sign, John says, 'The
minister's no in, mem, an' I could not say for certain when he wull
be!' Once my father came out and caught him in the act, and when he
charged John with telling a deliberate lie to a lady, John replied,
'A'weel, it'll tak' a lang while afore we mak' up for the aipple!'"
It is believed that John Bairdieson here refers to Eve's fatal
gift to Adam.
"John Bairdieson is an ungallant man. It'll be from him that ye
learned to rin awa'," retorted the old lady.
"Grandmother," interrupted Winsome, who had suffered quite enough
from this, "Master Peden has come to see you, and to ask how you find
"Aye, aye, belike, belike—but Maister Ralph Peden has the power
o' his tongue, an' gin that be his errand he can say as muckle for
himsel'. Young fowk are whiles rale offcecious!" she said, turning to
Ralph with the air of an appeal to an equal from the
unaccountabilities of a child.
Winsome lifted some stray flowers that Jess Kissock had dropped
when she sped out of the room, and threw them out of the window with
an air of disdain. This to some extent relieved her, and she felt
better. It surprised Ralph, however, who, being wholly innocent and
unembarrassed by the recent occurrence, wondered vaguely why she did
"Noo tell me mair aboot your faither," continued Mistress
Skirving. "I canna mak' oot whaur the Marrow pairt o' ye comes in —I
suppose when ye tak' to rinnin' awa'."
"Grandmammy, your pillows are not comfortable; let me sort them
Winsome rose and touched the old lady's surroundings in a manner
that to Ralph was suggestive of angels turning over the white-
bosomed clouds. Then Ralph looked at his pleasant querist to find out
if he were expected to go on. The old lady nodded to him with an
"Well," said Ralph, "my father is like nobody else. I have missed
my mother, of course, but my father has been like a mother for
tenderness to me."
"Yer grandfaither, auld Ralph Gilchrist, was sore missed. There
was thanksgiving in the parish for three days after he died!" said
the old lady by way of an anticlimax.
Winsome looked very much as if she wished to say something, which
brought down her grandmother's wrath upon her.
"Noo, lassie, is't you or me that's haein' a veesit frae this
young man? Ye telled me juist the noo that he had come to see me.
Then juist let us caa' oor cracks, an' say oor says in peace."
Thus admonished, Winsome was silent. But for the first time she
looked at Ralph with a smile that had half an understanding in it,
which made that yonng man's heart leap. He answered quite at random
for the next few moments.
"About my father—yes, he always takes up the Bibles when John
"What!" said the old lady.
"I mean, John Bairdieson takes up the Bibles for him when he
preaches, and as he shuts the door, John says over the railing in a
whisper,'Noo, dinna be losin' the Psalms, as ye did this day three
weeks'; or perhaps,'Be canny on this side o' the poopit; the hinge is
juist pitten on wi' potty [putty];' whiles John will walk half-way
down the kirk, and then turn to see if my father has sat quietly down
according to instructions. This John has always done since the day
when some inward communing overcame my father before he began his
sermon, and he stood up in the pulpit without saying a word till the
people thought that he was in direct communion with the Almighty."
"There was nane o' thae fine abstractions aboot your grandfaither,
Ralph Gilchrist—na, whiles he was taen sae that he couldna speak he
was that mad, an' aye he gat redder an' redder i' the face, till yince
he gat vent, and then the ill words ran frae him like the Skyreburn
[Footnote: A Galloway mountain stream noted for sudden floods.] in
"What else did John Bairdieson say to yer faither?" asked Winsome,
for the first time that day speaking humanly to Ralph.
That young man looked gratefully at her, as if she had suddenly
dowered him with a fortune. Then he paused to try (because he was
very young and foolish) to account for the unaccountability of
He endeavoured to recollect what it was that he had said and what
John Bairdieson had said, but with indifferent success. He could not
remember what he was talking about.
"John Bairdieson said—John Bairdieson said—It has clean gone out
of my mind what John Bairdieson said," replied Ralph with much
The old lady looked at him approvingly. "Ye're no a Whig. There's
guid bluid in ye," she said, irrelevantly.
"Yes, I do remember now," broke in Ralph eagerly. "I remember what
John Bairdieson said. 'Sit doon, minister,' he said, 'gin yer ready
to flee up to the blue bauks'" [rafters—said of hens going to rest at
nights]; "'there's a heap o' folk in this congregation that's no juist
sae ready yet.'"
Ralph saw that Winsome and her grandmother were both genuinely
interested in his father.
"Ye maun mind that I yince kenned yer faither as weel as e'er I
kenned a son o' mine, though it's mony an' mony a year sin' he was i'
this hoose." Winsome looked curiously at her grandmother. "Aye,
lassie," she said, "ye may look an' look, but the faither o' him
there cam as near to bein' your ain faither—"
Walter Skirving, swathed in his chair, turned his solemn and awful
face from the window, as though called back to life by his wife's
words. "Silence, woman!" he thundered.
But Mistress Skirving did not look in the least put out; only she
was discreetly silent for a minute or two after her husband had
spoken, as was her wont, and then she proceeded:
"Aye, brawly I kenned Gilbert Peden, when he used to come in at
that door, wi' his black curls ower his broo as crisp an' bonny as
his son's the day."
Winsome looked at the door with an air of interest. "Did he come
to see you, grandmammy?" she asked.
"Aye, aye, what else?—juist as muckle as this young man here
comes to see me. I had the word o' baith o' them for't. Ralph Peden
says that he comes to see me, an' sae did the faither o' him—"
Again Mistress Skirving paused, for she was aware that her husband
had turned on her one of his silent looks.
"Drive on aboot yer faither an' John Rorrison," she said; "it's
"Bairdieson," said Winsome, correctingly.
Ralph, now reassured that he was interesting Winsome as well, went
on more briskly. Winsome had slipped down beside her grandmother, and
had laid her arm across her grandmother's knees till the full curve of
her breast touched the spare outlines of the elder woman. Ralph
wondered if Winsome would ever in the years to come be like her
grandmother. He thought that he could love her a thousand times more
"My father," said Ralph, "is a man much beloved by his
congregation, for he is a very father to them in all their troubles;
but they give him a kind of adoration in return that would not be good
for any other kind of man except my father. They think him no less
than infallible. 'Dinna mak' a god o' yer minister,' he tells them,
but they do it all the same."
Winsome looked as if she did not wonder.
"When I kenned yer faither," said the old dame, "he wad hae been
nocht the waur o' a pickle mair o' the auld Adam in him. It's a rale
usefu' commodity in this life—"
"Why, grandmother—" began Winsome.
"Noo, lassie, wull ye haud yer tongue? I'm sair deeved wi' the din
o' ye! Is there ony yae thing that a body may say withoot bern'
interruptit? Gin it's no you wi' yer 'Grandmither!' like a cheepin'
mavis, it's him ower by lookin' as if ye had dung doon the Bible an'
selled yersel' to Sawtan. I never was in sic a hoose. A body canna get
their tongue rinnin' easy an' comfortable like, but it's 'Woman,
silence!' in a yoice as graund an' awfu' as 'The Lord said unto
Moses'—or else you wi' yer Englishy peepin' tongue, 'Gran'mither!' as
terrible shockit like as if a body were gaun intil the kirk on Sabbath
wi' their stockin's doon aboot their ankles!"
The little outburst seemed mightily to relieve the old lady.
Neither of the guilty persons made any signs, save that Winsome
extended her elbow across her grandmother's knee, and poised a
dimpled chin on her hand, smiling as placidly and contentedly as if
her relative's words had been an outburst of admiration. The old woman
looked sternly at her for a moment. Then she relented, and her hand
stole among the girl's clustering curls. The little burst of temper
gave way to a semi-humorous look of feigned sternness.
"Ye're a thankless madam," she said, shaking her white-capped
head; "maybe ye think that the fifth commandment says nocht aboot
grandmithers; but ye'll be tamed some day, my woman. Mony's the
gamesome an' hellicat [madcap] lassie that I hae seen brocht to
hersel', an' her wings clippit like a sea-gull's i' the yaird,
tethered by the fit wi' a family o' ten or a dizzen—"
Winsome rose and marched out of the room with all the dignity of
offended youth at the suggestion. The old lady laughed a hearty
laugh, in which, however, Ralph did not join.
"Sae fine an' Englishy the ways o' folk noo," she went on; "ye
mauna say this, ye mauna mention that; dear sirse me, I canna mind
them a'. I'm ower auld a Pussy Bawdrous to learn new tricks o' sayin'
'miauw' to the kittlins. But for a' that an' a' that, I haena noticed
that the young folk are mair particular aboot what they do nor they
waur fifty years since. Na, but they're that nice they manna say this
and they canna hear that."
The old lady had got so far when by the sound of retreating
footsteps she judged that Winsome was out of hearing. Instantly she
changed her tone.
"But, young man," she said, shaking her finger at him as if she
expected a contradiction, "mind you, there's no a lass i' twunty
parishes like this lassie o' mine. An' dinna think that me an' my
guidman dinna ken brawly what's bringin' ye to Craig Ronald. Noo,
it's richt an' better nor richt—for ye're yer faither's son, an' we
baith wuss ye weel. But mind you that there's sorrow comin' to us a'.
Him an' me here has had oor sorrows i' the past, deep buried for mair
nor twenty year."
"I thank you with all my heart," said Ralph, earnestly. "I need
not tell you, after what I have said, that I would lay my life down
as a very little thing to pleasure Winsome Charteris. I love her as I
never thought that woman could be loved, and I am not the kind to
"The faither o' ye didna change, though his faither garred him
mairry a Gilchrist-an' a guid bit lass she was. But for a' that he
didna change. Na, weel do I ken that he didna change."
"But," continued Ralph, "I have no reason in the world to imagine
that Winsome thinks a thought about me. On the contrary, I have some
reason to fear that she dislikes my person; and I would not be
troublesome to her—"
"Hoot toot! laddie, dinna let the Whig bluid mak' a pulin' bairn
o' ye. Surely ye dinna expect a lass o' speerit to jump at the thocht
o' ye, or drap intil yer moo' like a black-ripe cherry aff a tree i'
the orchard. Gae wa' wi' ye, man! what does a blithe young man o'
mettle want wi' encouragement—encouragement, fie!"
"Perhaps you can tell me—" faltered Ralph. "I thought—"
"Na, na, I can tell ye naething; ye maun juist find oot for
yersel', as a young man should. Only this I wull say, it's only a
cauldrife Whigamore that wad tak' 'No' for an answer. Mind ye that
gin the forbears o' the daddy o' ye was on the wrang side o' Bothwell
Brig that day—an' guid Westland bluid they spilt, nae doot, Whigs
though they waur—there's that in ye that rode doon the West Port wi'
Clavers, an' cried:
'Up wi' the bonnets o' bonny Dundee!'"
"I know," said Ralph with some of the stiff sententiousness which
he had not yet got rid of, "that I am not worthy of your
granddaughter in any respect—"
"My certes, no," said the sharp-witted dame, "for ye're a man, an'
it's a guid blessin' that you men dinna get your deserts, or it wad
be a puir lookoot for the next generation, young man. Gae wa' wi' ye,
man; mind ye, I'll no' say a word in yer favour, but raither the ither
way—whilk," smiled Mistress Skirving in the deep still way that she
sometimes had in the midst of her liveliness, "whilk will maybe do ye
mair guid. But I'm speakin' for my guid-man when I say that ye hae oor
best guid-wull. We think that ye are a true man, as yer faither was,
though sorely he was used by this hoose. It wad maybes be some
amends," she added, as if to herself.
Then the dear old lady touched her eyes with a fine handkerchief
which she took out of a little black reticule basket on the table by
As Ralph rose reverently and kissed her hand before retiring,
Walter Skirving motioned him near his chair. Then he drew him
downward till Ralph was bending on one knee. He laid a nerveless
heavy hand on the young man's head, and looked for a minute—which
seemed years to Ralph—very fixedly on his eyes. Then dropping his
hand and turning to the window, he drew a long, heavy breath.
Ralph Peden rose and went out.
CHAPTER XXIV. LEGITIMATE SPORT.
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 [about] 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 [dirty] 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
"I do not know that I shall be of any use," he said meekly, "but I
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
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.
"0' 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 [frightened]
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
"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
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
"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
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.
CHAPTER XXV. BARRIERS BREAKING.
"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,
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
"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
"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
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
"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
CHAPTER XXVI. SUCH SWEET PERIL.
Winsome looked away down the glen, and strove to harden her face
into a superhuman indignation.
"That he should dare—the idea!"
But it so happened that the idea so touched that rare gift of
humour, and the picture of herself looking at Ralph Peden solemnly
with one eye at a time, in order at once to spare his
susceptibilities and give the other a rest, was too much for her. She
laughed a peal of rippling merriment that sent all the blackbirds
indignant out of their copses at the infringement of their
Ralph's humour was slower and a little grimmer than Winsome's,
whose sunny nature had blossomed out amid the merry life of the woods
and streams. But there was a sternness in both of them as well, that
was of the heather and the moss hags. And that would in due time come
out. It is now their day of love and bounding life. And there are few
people in this world who would not be glad to sit just so at the
opening of the flower of love. Indeed, it was hardly necessary to tell
Laughter, say the French (who think that their l'amour is love,
and so will never know anything), kills love. But not the kind of
laughter that rang in the open dell which peeped like the end of a
great green-lined prospect glass upon the glimmering levels of Loch
Grannoch; nor yet the kind of love which in alternate currents pulsed
to and fro between the two young people who sat so demurely on either
side of the great, many-spiked fir-branch.
"Is not this nice?" said Winsome, shrugging her shoulders
contentedly and swinging her feet.
Their laughter made them better friends than before. The
responsive gladness in each other's eyes seemed part of the midsummer
stillness of the afternoon. Above, a red squirrel dropped the husks of
larch tassels upon them, and peered down upon them with his bright
eyes. He was thinking himself of household duties, and had his own
sweetheart safe at home, nestling in the bowl of a great beech deep in
the bowering wood by the loch.
"I liked to hear you speak of your father to-day," said Winsome,
still swinging her feet girlishly. "It must be a great delight to
have a father to go to. I never remember father or mother."
Her eyes were looking straight before her now, and a depth of
tender wistfulness in them went to Ralph's heart. He was beginning to
hate the branch.
"My father," he said, "is often stern to others, but he has never
been stern to me—always helpful, full of tenderness and kindness.
Perhaps that is because I lost my mother almost before I can
Winsome's wet eyes, with the lashes curving long over the under
side of the dark-blue iris, were turned full on him now with the
tenderness of a kindred pity.
"Do you know I think that your father was once kind to my mother.
Grandmother began once to tell me, and then all at once would tell me
no more—I think because grandfather was there."
"I did not know that my father ever knew your mother," answered
"Of course, he would never tell you if he did," said the woman of
experience, sagely; "but grandmother has a portrait in an oval
miniature of your father as a young man, and my mother's name is on
the back of it."
"Her maiden name?" queried Ralph.
Winsome Charteris nodded. Then she said wistfully: "I wish I knew
all about it. I think it is very hard that grandmother will not tell
Then, after a silence which a far-off cuckoo filled in with that
voice of his which grows slower and fainter as the midsummer heats
come on, Winsome said abruptly, "Is your father ever hard and—
Ralph started to his feet as if hastily to defend his father.
There was something in Winsome's eyes that made him sit down
again—something shining and tender and kind.
"My father," he said, "is very silent and reserved, as I fear I
too have been till I came down here" (he meant to say, "Till I met
you, dear," but he could not manage it), "but he is never hard or
unkind, except perhaps on matters connected with the Marrow kirk and
its order and discipline. Then he becomes like a stone, and has no
pity for himself or any. I remember him once forbidding me to come
into the study, and compelling me to keep my own garret- room for a
month, for saying that I did not see much difference between the
Marrow kirk and the other kirks. But I am sure he could never be
unkind or hurtful to any one in the world. But why do you ask,
"Because—because—" she paused, looking down now, the underwells
of her sweet eyes brimming to the overflow—"because something
grandfather said once, when he was very ill, made me wonder if your
father had ever been unkind to my mother."
Two great tears overflowed from under the dark lashes and ran down
Winsome's cheek. Ralph was on the right side of the branch now, and,
strangely enough, Winsome did not seem to notice it. He had a
lace-edged handkerchief in his hand which had been his mother's, and
all that was loving and chivalrous in his soul was stirred at the
sight of a woman's tears. He had never seen them before, and there is
nothing so thrilling in the world to a young man. Gently, with a
light, firm hand, he touched Winsome's cheek, instinctively murmuring
tenderness which no one had ever used to him since that day long ago,
when his mother had hung, with the love of a woman who knows that she
must give up all, over the cot of a boy whose future she could not
For a thrilling moment Winsome's golden coronet of curls touched
his breast, and, as he told himself after long years, rested
willingly there while his heart beat at least ten times.
Unfortunately, it did not take long to beat ten times.
One moment more, and without any doubt Ralph would have taken
Winsome in his arms. But the girl, with that inevitable instinct
which tells a woman when her waist or her lips are in danger—
matters upon which no woman is ever taken by surprise, whatever she
may pretend—drew quietly back. The time was not yet.
"Indeed, you must not, you must not think of me. You must go away.
You know that there are only pain and danger before us if you come to
see me any more."
"Indeed, I do not know anything of the kind. I am sure that my
father could never be unkind to any creature, and I am certain that
he was not to your mother. But what has he to do with us, Winsome?"
Her name sounded so perilously sweet to her, said thus in Ralph's
low voice, that once again her eyes met his in that full, steady gaze
which tells heart secrets and brings either life-long joys or unending
regrets. Nor—as we look—can we tell which?
"I cannot speak to you now, Ralph," she said, "but I know that you
ought not to come to see me any more. There must be something strange
and wicked about me. I feel that there is a cloud over me, Ralph, and
I do not want you to come under it."
At the first mention of his name from the lips of his beloved,
Ralph drew very close to her, with that instinctive drawing which he
was now experiencing. It was that irresistible first love of a man who
has never wasted himself even on the harmless flirtations which are
said to be the embassies of love.
But Winsome moved away from him, walking down towards the mouth of
the linn, through the thickly wooded glen, and underneath the
overarching trees, with their enlacing lattice-work of curving
"It is better not," she said, almost pleadingly, for her strength
was failing her. She almost begged him to be merciful.
"But you believe that I love you, Winsome?" he persisted.
Low in her heart of hearts Winsome believed it. Her ear drank in
every word. She was silent only because she was thirsty to hear more.
But Ralph feared that he had fatally offended her.
"Are you angry with me, Winsome?" he said, bending from his
masculine height to look under the lilac sunbonnet.
Winsome shook her head. "Not angry, Ralph, only sorry to the
She stopped and turned round to him. She held out a hand, when
Ralph took it in both of his. There was in the touch a determination
to keep the barriers slight but sure between them. He felt it and
"Listen, Ralph," she said, looking at him with shining eyes, in
which another man would have read the love, "I want you to
understand. There is a fate about those who love me. My mother died
long ago; my father I never knew; my grandfather and grandmother
are—what you know, because of me; Mr. Welsh, at the Manse, who used
to love me and pet me when I was a little girl, now does not speak to
me. There is a dark cloud all about me!" said Winsome sadly, yet
bravely and determinedly.
Yet she looked as bright and sunshiny as her own name, as if God
had just finished creating her that minute, and had left the Sabbath
silence of thanksgiving in her eyes. Ralph Peden may be forgiven if he
did not attend much to what she said. As long as Winsome was in the
world, he would love her just the same, whatever she said.
"What the cloud is I cannot tell," she went on; "but my
grandfather once said that it would break on whoever loved me—
and—and I do not want that one to be you."
Ralph, who had kept her hand a willing prisoner, close and warm in
his, would have come nearer to her.
He said: "Winsome, dear" (the insidious wretch! he thought that,
because she was crying, she would not notice the addition, but she
did)—"Winsome, dear, if there be a cloud, it is better that it
should break over two than over one."
"But not over you," she said, with a soft accent, which should
have been enough, for any one, but foolish Ralph was already fixed on
his own next words:
"If you have few to love you, let me be the one who will love you
all the time and altogether. I am not afraid; there will be two of us
against the world, dear."
Winsome faltered. She had not been wooed after this manner before.
It was perilously sweet. Little ticking pulses beat in her head. A
great yearning came to her to let herself drift up on a sea of love.
That love of giving up all, which is the precious privilege, the
saving dowry or utter undoing of women, surged in upon her heart.
She drew away her hand, not quickly, but slowly and firmly, and as
if she meant it. "I have come to a decision—I have made a vow," she
said. She paused, and looked at Ralph a little defiantly, hoping that
he would take the law into his own hands, and forbid the decision and
disallow the vow.
But Ralph was not yet enterprising enough, and took her words a
little too seriously. He only stood looking at her and waiting, as if
her decision were to settle the fate of kingdoms.
Then Winsome emitted the declaration which has been so often made,
at which even the more academic divinities are said to smile, "I am
resolved never to marry!"
An older man would have laughed. He might probably have heard
something like this before. But Ralph had no such experience, and he
bowed his head as to an invincible fate—for which stupidity Winsome's
grandmother would have boxed his ears.
"But I may still love you, Winsome?" he said, very quietly and
"Oh, no, you must not—you must not love me! Indeed, you must not
think of me any more. You must go away."
"Go away I can and will, if you say so, Winsome; but even you do
not believe that I can forget you when I like."
"And you will go away?" said Winsome, looking at him with eyes
that would have chained a Stoic philosopher to the spot.
"Yes," said Ralph, perjuring his intentions.
"And you will not try to see me any more—you promise?" she added,
a little spiteful at the readiness with which he gave his word.
So Ralph made a promise. He succeeded in keeping it just twenty-
four hours—which was, on the whole, very creditable, considering.
What else he might have promised we cannot tell—certainly
anything else asked of him so long as Winsome continued to look at
Those who have never made just such promises, or listened to them
being made—occupations equally blissful and equally vain—had better
pass this chapter by. It is not for the uninitiated. But it is true,
So in silence they walked down to the opening of the glen. As they
turned into the broad expanse of glorious sunshine the shadows were
beginning to slant towards them. Loch Grannoch was darkening into
pearl grey, under the lee of the hill. Down by the high- backed
bridge, which sprang at a bound over the narrows of the lane, there
was a black patch on the greensward, and the tripod of the gipsy pot
could faintly be distinguished.
Ralph, who had resumed Winsome's hand as a right, pointed it out.
It is strange how quickly pleasant little fashions of that kind tend
to perpetuate themselves!
As Winsome's grandmother would have said, "It's no easy turnin' a
coo when she gets the gate o' the corn."
Winsome looked at the green patch and the dark spot upon it. "Tell
me," she said, looking up at him, "why you ran away that day?"
Ralph Peden was nothing if not frank. "Because," he said, "I
thought you were going to take off your stockings!"
Through the melancholy forebodings which Winsome had so recently
exhibited there rose the contagious blossom of mirth, that never
could be long away even from such a fate-harassed creature as Winsome
Charteris considered herself to be. "Poor fellow," she said, "you must
indeed have been terribly frightened!"
"I was," said Ralph Peden, with conviction. "But I do not think I
should feel quite the same about it now!"
They walked silently to the foot of the Craig Ronald loaning,
where by mutual consent they paused.
Winsome's hand was still in Ralph's. She had forgotten to take it
away. She was, however, still resolved to do her duty.
"Now you are sure you are not going to think of me any more?" she
"Quite sure," said Ralph, promptly.
Winsome looked a little disappointed at the readiness of the
answer. "And you won't try to see me any more?" she asked,
"Certainly not," replied Ralph, who had some new ideas.
Winsome looked still more disappointed. This was not what she had
"Yes," said Ralph, "because I shall not need to think of you
again, for I shall never stop thinking of you; and I shall not try to
see you again, because I know I shall. I shall go away, but I shall
come back again; and I shall never give you up, though every friend
forbid and every cloud in the heavens break!"
The gladness broke into his love's face in spite of all her
"But remember," said Winsome, "I am never going to marry. On that
point I am quite determined."
"You can forbid me marrying you, Winsome dear," said Ralph, "but
you cannot help me loving you."
Indeed on this occasion and on this point of controversy Winsome
did not betray any burning desire to contradict him. She gave him her
hand—still with the withholding power in it, however, which told
Ralph that his hour was not yet come.
He bowed and kissed it—once, twice, thrice. And to him who had
never kissed woman before in the way of love, it was more than many
caresses to one more accustomed.
Then she took her way, carrying her hand by her side tingling with
consciousness. It seemed as if Ebie Farrish, who was at the
watering-stone as she passed, could read what was written upon it as
plain as an advertisement. She put it, therefore, into the lilac
sunbonnet and so passed by.
Ralph watched her as she glided, a tall and graceful young figure,
under the archway of the trees, till he could no longer see her light
dress glimmering through the glades of the scattered oaks.
CHAPTER XXVII. THE OPINIONS OF
SAUNDERS MOWDIEWORT UPON BESOMSHANKS.
Ralph Peden kept his promise just twenty-four hours, which under
the circumstances was an excellent performance. That evening, on his
return to the manse, Manse Bell handed him, with a fine affectation of
unconcern, a letter with the Edinburgh post-mark, which had been
brought with tenpence to pay, from Cairn Edward. Manse Bell was a
smallish, sharp-tongued woman of forty, with her eyes very close
together. She was renowned throughout the country for her cooking and
her temper, the approved excellence of the one being supposed to make
up for the difficult nature of the other.
The letter was from his father. It began with many inquiries as to
his progress in the special studies to which he had been devoting
himself. Then came many counsels as to avoiding all entanglements
with the erroneous views of Socinians, Erastians, and Pelagians In
conclusion, a day was suggested on which it would be convenient for
the presbytery of the Marrow kirk to meet in Edinburgh in order to put
Ralph through his trials for license. Then it was that Ralph Peden
felt a tingling sense of shame. Not only had he to a great extent
forgotten to prepare himself for his examinations, which would be no
great difficulty to a college scholar of his standing, but
unconsciously to himself his mind had slackened its interest in his
licensing. The Marrow kirk had receded from him as the land falls back
from a ship which puts out to sea, swiftly and silently. He was
conscious that he had paid far more attention to his growing volume of
poems than he had done to his discourses for license; though indeed of
late he had given little attention to either.
He went up-stairs and looked vaguely at his books. He found that
it was only by an effort that he could at all think himself into the
old Ralph, who had shaken his head at Calvin under the broom- bush by
the Grannoch Water. Sharp penitence rode hard upon Ralph's conscience.
He sat down among his neglected books. From these he did not rise till
the morning fully broke. At last he lay down on the bed, after looking
long at the ridge of pines which stood sharp up against the morning
sky, behind which Craig Ronald lay. Then the underlying pang, which he
had been crushing down by the night's work among the Hebrew roots,
came triumphantly to the surface. He must leave the manse of Dullarg,
and with it that solitary white farmhouse on the braeface, the orchard
at the back of it, and the rose-clambered gable from which a dear
window looked down the valley of the Grannoch, and up to the heathery
brow of the Crae Hill.
So, unrefreshed, yet unconscious of the need of any refreshment,
Ralph Peden rose and took his place at the manse table.
"I saw your candle late yestreen," said the minister, pausing to
look at the young man over the wooden platter of porridge which
formed the frugal and sufficient breakfast of the two.
Porridge for breakfast and porridge for supper are the cure-alls
of the true Galloway man. It is not every Scot who stands through all
temptation so square in the right way as morning and night to confine
himself to these; but he who does so shall have his reward in a rare
sanity of judgment and lightness of spirit, and a capacity for work
unknown to countrymen of less Spartan habit.
So Ralph answered, looking over his own "cogfu' o' brose" as Manse
Bell called them, "I was reading the book of Joel for the second
"Then you have," said the minister, "finished your studies in the
Scripture character of the truly good woman of the Proverbs, with
which you were engaged on your first coming here?"
"I have not quite finished," said Ralph, looking a little
strangely at the minister.
"You ought always to finish one subject before you begin another,"
said Mr. Welsh, with a certain slow sententiousness.
By-and-bye Ralph got away from the table, and in the silence of
his own room gave himself to a repentant and self-accusing day of
study. Remorsefully sad, with many searchings of heart, he questioned
whether indeed he were fit for the high office of minister in the kirk
of the Marrow; whether he could now accept that narrow creed, and take
up alone the burden of these manifold protestings. It was for this
that he had been educated; it was for this that he had been given his
place at his father's desk since ever he could remember.
Here he had studied in the far-off days of his boyhood strange
deep books, the flavour of which only he retained. He had learned his
letters out of the Bible—the Old Testament. He had gone through the
Psalms from beginning to end before he was six. He remembered that the
paraphrases were torn out of all the Bibles in the manse. Indeed, they
existed only in a rudimentary form even in the great Bible in the kirk
(in which by some oversight a heathen binder had bound them), but
Allan Welsh had rectified this by pasting them up, so that no preacher
in a moment of demoniac possession might give one out. What would have
happened if this had occurred in the Marrow kirk it is perhaps better
only guessing. At twelve Ralph was already far on in Latin and Greek,
and at thirteen he could read plain narrative Hebrew, and had a
Hebrew Bible of his own in which he followed his father, to the
admiration of all the congregation.
Prigs of very pure water have sometimes been manufactured by just
such means as this.
Sometimes his father would lean over and say, "My son, what is the
expression for that in the original?" whereupon Ralph would read the
passage. It was between Gilbert Peden and his Maker that sometimes he
did this for pride, and not for information; but Ralph was his only
son, and was he not training him, as all knew, in order that he might
be a missionary apostle of the great truths of the protesting kirk of
the Marrow, left to testify lonely and forgotten among the scanty
thousands of Scotland, yet carrying indubitably the only pure doctrine
as it had been delivered to the saints?
But, in spite of all, the lad's bent was really towards
literature. The books of verses which he kept under lock and key were
the only things that he had ever concealed from his father. Again,
since he had come to man's estate, the articles he had covertly sent
to the Edinburgh Magazine were manifest tokens of the bent of his
mind. All the more was he conscious of this, that he had truly lived
his life before the jealous face of his father's God, though his heart
leaned to the milder divinity and the kindlier gospel of One who was
the Bearer of Burdens.
Ralph lay long on his bed, on which he had lain down at full
length to think out his plans, as his custom was. It did not mean to
leave Winsome, this call to Edinburgh. His father would not utterly
refuse his consent, though he might urge long delays. And, in any
case, Edinburgh was but two days' journey from the Dullarg; two days
on the road by the burnsides and over the heather hills was nothing to
him. But, for all that, the aching would not be stilled. Hearts are
strange, illogical things; they will not be argued with.
Finally, he rose with the heart of him full of the intention of
telling Winsome at once. He would write to her and tell her that he
must see her immediately. It was necessary for him to acquaint her
with what had occurred. So, without further question as to his motive
in writing, Ralph rose and wrote a letter to give to Saunders
Mowdiewort. The minister's man was always ready to take a letter to
Craig Ronald after his day's work was over. His inclinations jumped
cheerfully along with the shilling which Ralph—who had not many
such—gave him for his trouble. Within a drawer, the only one in his
room that would lock, on the top of Ralph's poems lay the white
moss-rose and the forget-me-nots which, as a precious and pregnant
emblem from his love, Saunders had brought back with him.
As Ralph sat at the window writing his letter to Winsome, he saw
over the hedge beneath his window the bent form of Allan Welsh— his
great, pallid brow over-dominating his face—walking slowly to and fro
along the well-accustomed walk, at one end of which was the little
wooden summer house in which was his private oratory. Even now Ralph
could see his lips moving in the instancy of his unuttered
supplication. His inward communing was so intense that the agony of
prayer seemed to shake his frail body. Ralph could see him knit his
hands behind his back in a strong tension of nerves. Yet it seemed a
right and natural thing for Ralph to be immersed in his own concerns,
and to turn away with the light tribute of a sigh to finish his
love-letter—for, after all (say they), love is only a refined form of
"Beloved," wrote Ralph, "among my many promises to you yester
even, I did not promise to refrain from writing to you; or if I did,
I ask you to put off your displeasure until you have read my letter. I
am not, you said, to come to see you. Then will you come to meet me?
You know that I would not ask you unless the matter were important. I
am at a cross-roads, and I cannot tell which way to go. But I am sure
that you can tell me, for your word shall be to me as the whisper of a
kind angel. Meet me to-night, I beseech you, for ere long I must go
very far away, and I have much to say to thee, my beloved! Saunders
will bring any message of time or place safely. Believing that you
will grant me this request—for it is the first time and may be the
last—and with all my heart going out to thee, I am the man who truly
loves thee.—RALPH PEDEN."
It was when Saunders came over from his house by the kirkyard that
Ralph left his books and went down to find him. Saunders was in the
stable, occupying himself with the mysteries of Birsie's straps and
buckles, about which he was as particular as though he were driving a
pair of bays every day.
"An' this is the letter, an' I'm to gie it to the same lass as I
gied the last yin till? I'll do that, an' thank ye kindly," said
Saunders, putting the letter into one pocket and Ralph's shilling
into the other; "no that I need onything but white silver kind o'
buckles friendship. It's worth your while, an' its worth my while
—that's the way I look at it."
Ralph paused a moment. He would have liked to ask what Meg said,
and how Winsome looked, and many other things about Saunders's last
visit; but the fear of appearing ridiculous even to Saunders withheld
The grave-digger went on: "It's a strange thing—love—it levels
a'. Noo there's me, that has had a wife an' burriet her; I'm juist as
keen aboot gettin' anither as if I had never gotten the besom i' the
sma' o' my back. Ye wad never get a besom in the sma' o' yer back?" he
"No," said Ralph, smiling in spite of himself.
"Na, of course no; ye havna been mairrit. But bide a wee; she's a
fell active bit lass, that o' yours, an' I should say"—here Saunders
spoke with the air of a connoisseur—"I wad say that she micht be
verra handy wi' the besom."
"You must not speak in that way," began Ralph, thinking of
Winsome. But, looking at the queer, puckered face of Saunders, he
came to the conclusion that it was useless to endeavour to impress
any of his own reverence upon him. It was not worth the pains,
especially as he was assuredly speaking after his kind.
"Na, of course no," replied Saunders, with a kind of sympathy for
youth and inexperience in his tone; "when yer young an' gaun coortin'
ye dinna think o' thae things. But bide a wee till ye gann on the same
errand the second time, and aiblins the third time—I've seen the
like, sir—an' a' thae things comes intil yer reckoning, so so speak."
"Really," said Ralph, "I have not looked so far forward."
Saunders breathed on his buckle and polished it with the tail of
his coat, after which he rubbed it on his knee. Then he held it up
critically in a better light. Still it did not please him, so he
breathed on it once more.
"'Deed, an' wha could expect it? It's no in youth to think o' thae
things—no till it's ower late. Noo, sir, I'll tell ye, whan I was
coortin' my first, afore I gat her, I could hae etten [eaten] her,
an' the first week efter Maister Teends mairrit us, I juist danced I
was that fond o' her. But in anither month, faith, I thocht that she
wad hae etten me, an' afore the year was oot I wussed she had. Aye,
aye, sir, it's waur nor a lottery, mairriage—it's a great mystery."
"But how is it, then, that you are so anxious to get married
again?" asked Ralph, to whom these conversations with the Cuif were a
means of lightening his mind of his own cares.
"Weel, ye see, Maister Ralph," pursued the grave-digger, "I'm by
inclination a social man, an' the nature o' my avocation, so to
speak, is a wee unsocial. Fowk are that curious. Noo, when I gang
into the square o' a forenicht, the lads 'll cry oot, 'Dinna be
lookin' my gate, Saunders, an' wonnerin' whether I'll need a
seven-fit hole, or whether a six-fit yin will pass!' Or maybe the
bairns'll cry oot, 'Hae ye a skull i' yer pooch?' The like o' that
tells on a man in time, sir."
"Without doubt," said Ralph; "but how does matrimony, for either
the first or the second time, cure that?"
"Weel, sir, ye see, mairriage mak's a man kind o' independent
like. Say, for instance, ye hae been a' day at jobs up i' the yaird,
an' it's no been what ye micht ca' pleesant crunchin' through green
wud an' waur whiles. Noo, we'll say that juist as a precaution, ye
ken, ye hae run ower to the Black Bull for a gless or twa at noo's an'
nan's" [now and then].
"I have run over, Saunders?" queried Ralph.
"Oh, it's juist a mainner o' speakin', sir; I was takin' a
personal example. Weel, ye gang hame to the wife aboot the gloamin',
an' ye open the door, an' ye says, says you, pleesant like, bein' warm
aboot the wame,' Guid e'en to ye, guidwife, my dawtie, an' hoos a'
thing been gaim wi' ye the day?' D'ye think she needs to luik roon' to
ken a' aboot the Black Bull? Na, na, she kens withoot even turnin' her
heid. She kenned by yer verra fit as ye cam' up the yaird. She's maybe
stirrin' something i' the pat. She turns roon' wi the pat-stick i' her
haund. 'I'll dawtie ye, my man!' she says, an' WHANG, afore ye ken
whaur ye are, the pat-stick is acquant wi' the side o' yer heid. 'I'll
dawtie ye, rinnin' rakin' to the public-hoose wi' yer hard-earned
shillin's. Dawtie!' quo' she; 'faith, the Black Bull's yer dawtie!'"
"But how does she know?" asked Ralph, in the interests of truth
and scientific inquiry.
Saunders thought that he was speaking with an eye on the future.
He lifted up his finger solemnly: "Dinna ye ever think that ye can
gang intil a public hoose withoot yer wife kennin'. Na, it's no the
smell, as an unmarrit man micht think; and peppermints is a vain
thing, also ceenimons. It's juist their faculty—aye, that's what it
is—it's a faculty they hae; an' they're a' alike. They ken as weel
wi' the back o' their heids till ye, an' their noses fair stuffit wi'
the cauld, whether ye hae been makin' a ca' or twa on the road hame on
pay-nicht. I ken it's astonishin' to a single man, but ye had better
tak' my word for't, it's the case. 'Whaur's that auchteenpence?' Betty
used to ask; 'only twal an' sixpence, an' your wages is fourteen
shillings—forbye your chance frae mourners for happen the corp up
quick'—then ye hummer an' ha', an' try to think on the lee ye made up
on the road doon; but it's a gye queery thing that ye canna mind o't.
It's an odd thing hoo jooky [nimble] a lee is whan ye want it in time
Ralph looked so interested that Saunders quite felt for him.
"And what then?" said he.
"Then," said Saunders, nodding his head, so that it made the
assertion of itself without any connection with his body—"then, say
ye, then is juist whaur the besom comes in"—he paused a moment in
deep thought—"i' the sma' o' yer back!" he added, in a low and musing
tone, as of one who chews the cud of old and pleasant memories. "An'
ye may thank a kind Providence gin there's plenty o' heather on the
end o't. Keep aye plenty o' heather on the end o' the besom," said
Saunders; "a prudent man aye sees to that. What is't to buy a new
besom or twa frae a tinkler body, whan ye see the auld yin gettin'
bare? Nocht ava, ye can tak' the auld yin oot to the stable, or lose
it some dark nicht on the moor! O aye, a prudent man aye sees to his
wife's besom." Saunders paused, musing. "Ye'll maybe no believe me,
but often what mak's a' the hale differ atween a freendly turn up wi'
the wife, that kind o' cheers a man up, an' what ye micht ca' an
onpleesantness— is juist nae mair nor nae less than whether there's
plenty o' heather on his wife's besom."
Saunders had now finished all his buckles to his satisfaction. He
summed up thus the conclusion of his great argument: "A besom i' the
sma' o' yer back is interestin' an' enleevinin', whan it's new an'
bushy; but it's the verra mischief an' a' whan ye get the bare shank
on the back o' yer heid—an' mind ye that."
"I am very much indebted to you for the advice, Saunders."
"Aye, sir," said Saunders, "it's sound! it's sound! I can vouch
Ralph went towards the door and looked out. The minister was still
walking with his hands behind his back. He did not in the least hear
what Saunders had said. He turned again to him. "And what do you want
another wife for, then, Saunders?"
"'Deed, Maister Ralph, to tell ye the Guid's truth, it's awfu'
deevin' [deafening] leevin' wi' yin's mither. She's a awfu' woman to
talk, though a rale guid mither to me. Forbye, she canna tak' the
besom to ye like yer ain wife—the wife o' yer bosom, so to
speak—when ye hae been to the Black Bull. It's i' the natur' o'
things that a man maun gang there by whiles; but on the ither haund
it's richt that he should get a stap ta'en oot o' his bicker when he
comes hame, an' some way or ither the best o' mithers haena gotten the
richt way o't like a man's ain wife."
"And you think that Meg would do it well?" said Ralph, smiling.
"Aye, sir, she Avad that, though I'm thinkin' that she wad be
kindlier wi' the besom-shank than Jess; no that I wad for a moment
expect that there wad be ony call for siclike," he said, with a look
of apology at Ralph, which was entirely lost on that young man, "but
in case, sir—in case—"
Ralph looked in bewilderment at Saunders, who was indulging in
mystic winks and nods.
"You see, the way o't is this, sir: yin's mither—(an' mind, I'm
far frae sayin' a word agin my ain mither—she's a guid yin, for a'
her tongue, whilk, ye ken, sir, she canna help ony mair than bein' a
woman;) but ye ken, that when ye come hame frae the Black Bull, gin a
man has only his mither, she begins to flyte on [scold] him, an' cast
up to him what his faither, that's i' the grave, wad hae said, an'
maybe on the back o' that she begins the greetin'. Noo, that's no
comfortable, ava. A man that gangs to the Black Bull disna care a
flee's hin' leg what his faither wad hae said. He disna want to be
grutten ower [wept over]; na, what he wants is a guid-gaun tongue, a
wullin' airm, an' a heather besom no ower sair worn."
Ralph nodded in his turn in appreciative comment.
"Then, on the morrow's morn, when ye rub yer elbow, an' fin'
forbye that there's something on yer left shoother-blade that's no on
the ither, ye tak' a resolve that ye'll come straught hame the nicht.
Then, at e'en, when ye come near the Black Bull, an' see the crony
that ye had a glass wi' the nicht afore, ye naturally tak' a bit race
by juist to get on the safe side o' yer hame. I'm hearin' aboot
new-fangled folk that they ca' 'temperance advocates,' Maister Ralph,
but for my pairt gie me a lang-shankit besom, an' a guid-wife's wullin
These are all the opinions of Saunders Mowdiewort about besom-
CHAPTER XXVIII. THAT GIPSY JESS.
Saunders took Ralph's letter to Craig Ronald with him earlier that
night than usual, as Ralph had desired him. At the high hill gate,
standing directing the dogs to gather the cows off the hill for
milking, he met Jess.
"Hae ye ouy news, Saunders?" she asked, running down to the little
foot-bridge to meet him. Saunders took it as a compliment; and,
indeed, it was done with a kind of elfish grace, which cast a glamour
over his eyes. But Jess, who never did anything without a motive,
really ran down to be out of sight of Ebie Farrish, who stood looking
at her from within the stable door.
"Here's a letter for ye, Jess," Saunders said, importantly,
handing her Ralph's letter. "He seemed rale agitatit when he brocht
it in to me, but I cheered him up by tellin' him how ye wad dreel him
wi' the besom-shank gin he waur to gang to the Black Bull i' the
"Gang to the Black Bull!—what div ye mean, ye gomeril?—Saunders
I mean; ye ken weel that Maister Peden wadna gang to ony Black Bull."
"Weel, na, I ken that; it was but a mainner o' speakin'; but I can
see that he's fair daft ower ye, Jess. I ken the signs o' love as
weel as onybody. But hoo's Meg—an' do ye think she likes me ony
"She was speakin' aboot ye only this mornin'," answered Jess
pleasantly, "she said that ye waur a rale solid, sensible man, no a
young ne'er-do-weel that naebody kens whaur he'll be by the Martinmas
"Did Meg say that!" cried Saunders in high delight, "Ye see what
it is to be a sensible woman. An' whaur micht she be noo?"
Now Jess knew that Meg was churning the butter, with Jock Forrest
to help her, in the milk-house, but it did not suit her to say so.
Jess always told the truth when it suited as well as anything else;
if not, then it was a pity.
"Meg's ben the hoose wi' the auld fowk the noo," she said, "but
she'll soon be oot. Juist bide a wee an' bind the kye for me."
Down the brae face from the green meadowlets that fringed the moor
came the long procession of cows. Swinging a little from side to
side, they came—black Galloways, and the red and white breed of
Ayrshire in single file—the wavering piebald line following the
intricacies of the path. Each full-fed, heavy-uddered mother of the
herd came marching full matronly with stately tread, blowing her
flower-perfumed breath from dewy nostrils. The older and staider
animals—Marly, and Dumple, and Flecky—came stolidly homeward, their
heads swinging low, absorbed in meditative digestion, and soberly
retasting the sweetly succulent grass of the hollows, and the crisper
and tastier acidity of the sorrel- mixed grass of the knolls. Behind
them came Spotty and Speckly, young and frisky matrons of but a year's
standing, who yet knew no better than to run with futile head at
Roger, and so encourage that short-haired and short-tempered collie to
snap at their heels. Here also, skirmishing on flank and rear, was
Winsome's pet sheep, "Zachary Macaulay"—so called because he was a
living memorial to the emancipation of the blacks. Zachary had been
named by John Dusticoat, who was the politician of Cairn Edward, and
"took in" a paper. He was an animal of much independence of mind. He
utterly refused to company with the sheep of his kind and degree, and
would only occasionally condescend to accompany the cows to their hill
pasture. Often he could not be induced to quit poking his head into
every pot and dish about the farm-yard. On these occasions he would
wander uninvited with a little pleading, broken-backed bleat through
every room in the house, looking for his mistress to let him suck her
thumb or to feed him on oatcake or potato parings.
To-night he came down in the rear of the procession. Now and then
he paused to take a random crop at the herbage, not so much from any
desire for wayside refreshment, as to irritate Roger into attacking
him. But Roger knew better. There was a certain imperiousness about
Zachary such as became an emancipated black. Zachary rejoiced when
Speckly or any of the younger or livelier kine approached to push him
away from a succulent patch of herbage. Then he would tuck his
belligerent head between his legs, and drive fore-and-aft in among the
legs of the larger animals, often bringing them down full broadside
with the whole of their extensive systems ignominiously shaken up.
By the time that Saunders had the cows safe into the byre, Jess
had the letter opened, read, and resealed. She had resolved, for
reasons of her own, on this occasion to give the letter to Winsome.
Jess ran into the house, and finding Winsome reading in the parlour,
gave her the letter in haste.
"There's a man waiting for the answer," she said, "but he can easy
bide a while if it is not ready."
Winsome, seeing it was the handwriting she knew so well, that of
the note-book and the poem, went into her own room to read her first
love-letter. It seemed very natural that he should write to her, and
her heart beat within her quickly and strongly as she opened it. As
she unfolded it her eye seemed to take in the whole of the writing at
once as if it were a picture. She knew, before she had read a word,
that "beloved" occurred twice and "Winsome dear" twice, nor had she
any fault to find, unless it were that they did not occur oftener.
So, without a moment's hesitation, she sat down and wrote only a
line, knowing that it would be all-sufficient. It was her first
love-tryst. Yet if it had been her twentieth she could not have been
"I shall be at the gate of the hill pasture," so she wrote, "at
ten o'clock to-night."
It was with a very tumultuous heart that she closed this missive,
and went out quickly to give it to Jess lest she should repent. A day
before, even, it had never entered her mind that by any possibility
she could write such a note to a young man whom she had only known so
short a time. But then she reflected that certainly Ralph Peden was
not like any other young man; so that in this case it was not only
right but also commendable. He was so kind and good, and so fond of
her grandmother, that she could not let him go so far away without a
word. She ought at least to go and tell him that he must never do the
like again. But she would forgive him this time, after being severe
with him for breaking his word, of course. She sighed when she thought
of what it is to be young and foolish. Once the letter in Jess's
hands, these doubts and fears came oftener to her. After a few minutes
of remorse, she ran out in order to reclaim her letter, but Jess was
nowhere to be seen. She was, in fact, at her mother's cottage up on
the green, where she was that moment employed in coercing her brother
Andra to run on a message for her. "When she went out of the kitchen
with Winsome's reply in her pocket she made it her first duty to read
it. This there was no difficulty in doing, for opening letters was one
of Jess's simplest accomplishments. Then Jess knitted her black brows,
and thought dark and Pictish thoughts. In a few moments she had made
her dispositions. She was not going to let Winsome have Ralph without
a struggle. She felt that she had the rude primogeniture of first
sight. Besides, since she had no one to scheme for her, she resolved
that she would scheme for herself. Shut in her mother's room she
achieved a fair imitation of Winsome's letter, guiding herself by the
genuine document spread out before her. She had thought of sending
only a verbal message, but reflecting that Ralph Peden had probably
never seen Winsome's handwriting, she considered it safer, choosing
between two dangers, to send a written line.
"Meet me by the waterside bridge at ten o'clock," she wrote. No
word more. Then arose the question of messengers. She went out to
find Saunders Mowdiewort; she got him standing at the byre door,
looking wistfully about for Meg. "Saunders," she said, "you are to
take back this answer instantly to the young Master Peden."
"Na, na, Jess, what's the hurry? I dinna gang a fit till I hae
seen Meg," said Saunders doggedly. "Your affairs are dootless verra
important, but sae are mine. Your lad maun een wait wi' patience till
I gang hame, the same as I hae had mony a day to wait. It's for his
Jess stamped her foot. It was too irritating that her combinations
should fail because of a Cuif whom she had thought to rule with a
word, and upon whom she had counted without a thought.
She could not say that it was on Winsome's business, though she
knew that in that case he would have gone at once on the chance of
indirectly pleasuring Meg. She had made him believe that she herself
was the object of Ralph Peden's affections. But Jess was not to be
beaten, for in less than a quarter of an hour she had overcome the
scruples of Andra, and despatched Jock Gordon on another message in
another direction. Jess believed that where there is a will there are
several ways: the will was her own, but she generally made the way
some one else's. Then Jess went into the byre, lifting up her house
gown and covering it with the dust- coloured milking overall, in which
she attended to Speckly and Crummy. She had done her best—her best,
that is, for Jess Kissock—and it was with a conscience void of
offence that she set herself to do well her next duty, which happened
to be the milking of the cows. She did not mean to milk cows any
longer than she could help, but in the meantime she meant to be the
best milker in the parish. Moreover, it was quite in accordance with
her character that, in her byre flirtations with Ebie Farrish, she
should take pleasure in his rough compliments, smacking of the field
and the stable. Jess had an appetite for compliments perfectly
eclectic and cosmopolitan. Though well aware that she was playing this
night with the sharpest of edged tools, till her messengers should
return and her combinations should close, Jess was perfectly able and
willing to give herself up to the game of conversational give-and-take
with Ebie Farrish. She was a girl of few genteel accomplishments, but
with her gipsy charm and her frankly pagan nature she was fitted to go
CHAPTER XXIX. THE DARK OF THE MOON
AT THE GKANNOCH BRIDGE.
Over the manse of Dullarg, still and grey, with only the two men
in it; over the low-walled rectangular farm steading of Craig Ronald,
fell alike the midsummer night. Ten o'clock on an early July evening
is in Galloway but a modified twilight. But as the sun went down
behind the pines he sent an angry gleam athwart the green braes. The
level cloud-band into which he plunged drew itself upward to the
zenith, and, like the eyelid of a gigantic eye, shut down as though
God in his heaven were going to sleep, and the world was to be left
It was the dark of the moon, and even if there had been full moon
its light would have been as completely shut out by the cloud canopy
as was the mild diffusion of the blue-grey twilight. So it happened
that, as Ralph Peden took his way to his first love- tryst, it was all
that he could do to keep the path, so dark had it become. But there
was no rain—hardly yet even the hint or promise of rain.
Yet under the cloud there was a great solitariness—the murmur of
a land where no man had come since the making of the world. Down in
the sedges by the lake a blackcap sang sweetly, waesomely, the
nightingale of Scotland. Far on the moors a curlew cried out that its
soul was lost. Nameless things whinnied in the mist-filled hollows. On
the low grounds there lay a white mist knee-deep, and Ralph Peden
waded in it as in a shallow sea. So in due time he came near to the
place of his tryst.
Never had he stood so before. He stilled the beating of his heart
with his hand, so loud and riotous it was in that silent place. He
could hear, loud as an insurrection, the quick, unequal double-
knocking in his bosom.
A grasshopper, roosting on a blade of grass beneath, his feet,
tumbled off and gave vent to his feelings in a belated "chirr."
Overhead somewhere a raven croaked dismally and cynically at
intervals. Ralph's ears heard these things as he waited, with every
sense on the alert, at the place of his love-tryst.
He thrilled with the subtle hope of strange possibilities. A mill-
race of pictures of things sweet and precious ran through his mind.
He saw a white-spread table, with Winsome seated opposite to himself,
tall, fair, and womanly, the bright heads of children between them.
And the dark closed in. Again he saw Winsome with her head on his arm,
standing looking out on the sunrise from the hilltop, whence they had
watched it not so long ago. The thought brought him to his
pocket-book. He took it out, and in the darkness touched his lips to
the string of the lilac sunbonnet. It surely must be past ten now, he
thought. Would she not come? He had, indeed, little right to ask her,
and none at all to expect her. Yet he had her word of promise—one
precious line. What would he say to her when she came? He would leave
that to be settled when his arms were about her. But perhaps she would
be colder than before. They would sit, he thought, on the parapet of
the bridge. There were no fir-branches to part them with intrusive
spikes. So much at least should be his.
But then, again, she might not come at all! What more likely than
that she had been detained by her grandmother? How could he expect
it? Indeed, he told himself he did not expect it. He had come out
here because it was a fine night, and the night air cooled his brain
for his studies. His heart, hammering on his life's anvil,
contradicted him. He could not have repeated the Hebrew alphabet. His
head, bent a little forward in the agony of listening, whirled madly
round; the ambient darkness surrounding all.
There! He heard a footstep. There was a light coming down the
avenue under the elders. At last! No, it was only the glow-worms
under the leaves, shining along the grass by the wayside. The
footstep was but a restless sheep on the hillside. Then some one
coughed, with the suppressed sound of one who covers his mouth with
his hand. Ralph was startled, but almost laughed to think that it was
still only the lamb on the other side of the wall moving restlessly
about in act to feed. Time and again the blood rushed to his temples,
for he was sure that he heard her coming to him. But it was only the
echo of the blood surging blindly through his own veins, or some of
the night creatures fulfilling their love-trysts, and seeking their
destinies under the cloud of night.
Suddenly his whole soul rose in revolt against him. Certainly now
he heard a light and swift footstep. There was a darker shape coming
towards him against the dim, faint grey glimmer of the loch. It was
his love, and she had come out to him at his bidding. He had dreamed
of an angel, and lo! now he should touch her in the hollow night, and
find that she was a warm, breathing woman.
Wrapped from head to foot in a soft close shawl, she came to him.
He could see her now, but only as something darker against the canopy
of the night. So, in the blissful dark, which makes lovers brave, he
opened his arms to receive her. For the first time in his life he drew
them to him again not empty.
The thrill electric of the contact, the yielding quiescence of the
girl whom he held to his breast, stilled his heart's tumultuous
beating. She raised her head, and their lips drew together into a
long kiss. What was this thing? It was a kiss in which he tasted a
strange alien flavour even through the passion of it. A sense of
wrong and disappointment flowed round Ralph's heart. So on the bridge
in the darkness, where many lovers had stood ever since the first Pict
trysted his dark-browed bride by the unbridged water, the pair stood
very still. They only breathed each other's breath. Something familiar
struck on Ralph's senses. He seemed to be standing silent in the
parlour at Craig Ronald—not here, with his arms round his love—and
somehow between them there rose unmistakable the perfume of the flower
which for an hour he had carried in his coat on the day that he and
she went a-fishing.
"Beloved," he said tenderly, looking down, "you are very good to
me to come!"
For all reply a face was held close pressed to his. The mists of
night had made her cheek damp. He passed his hand across the ripples
of her hair. Half hidden by the shawl he could feel the crisping of
the curls under his fingers.
It was harder in texture than he had fancied Winsome's hair would
be. He half smiled that he had time at such a moment to think such a
thing. It was strange, however. He had thought a woman's hair was like
floss silk—at least Winsome's, for he had theorized about none other.
"Winsome, dear!" he said, again bending his head to look down, "I
have to go far away, and I wanted to tell you. You are not angry with
me, sweetest, for asking you to come? I could not go without bidding
you good-bye, and in the daytime I might not have seen you alone. You
know that I love you with all my life and all my heart. And you love
me—at least a little. Tell me, beloved!"
Still there was no answer. Ralph waited with some certitude and
ease from pain, for indeed the clasping arms told him all he wished
There was a brightness low down in the west. Strangely and slowly
the gloomy eyelid of cloud which had fallen athwart the evening
lifted for a moment its sullen fringe; a misty twilight of lurid
light flowed softly over the land. The shawl fell back like a hood
from off the girl's shoulders. She looked up throbbing and
palpitating. Ralph Peden was clasping Jess Kissock in his arms. She
had kept her word. He had kissed her of his own free will, and that
within a day. Her heart rejoiced over Winsome. "So much, at least, she
cannot take from me."
Ralph Peden's heart stopped beating for a tremendous interval of
seconds. Then the dammed-back blood-surge drave thundering in his
ears. He swayed, and would have fallen but for the parapet of the
bridge and the clinging arms about his neck. All his nature and love
in full career stopped dead. The shock almost unhinged his soul and
reason. It was still so dark that, though he could see the outline of
her head and the paleness of her face, nothing held him but the
intense and vivid fascination of her eyes. Ralph would have broken
away, indignant and amazed, but her arms and eyes held him close
prisoner, the dismayed turmoil in his own heart aiding.
"Yes, Ralph Peden," Jess Kissock said, cleaving to him, "and you
hate me because it is I and not another. You think me a wicked girl
to come to you in her place. But you called her because you loved her,
and I have come because I loved you as much. Have I not as much right?
Do not dream that I came for aught but that. Have I not as good a
right to love as you?"
She prisoned his face fiercely between her hands, and held him off
from her as if to see into his soul by the light of the lingering
lake of ruddy light low in the west.
"In your Bible where is there anything that hinders a woman from
loving? Yet I know you will despise me for loving you, and hate me
for coming in her place."
"I do not hate you!" said Ralph, striving to go without rudely
unclasping the girl's hands. Her arms fell instantly again about his
neck, locking themselves behind.
"No, you shall not go till you have heard all, and then you can
cast me into the loch as a worthless thing that you are better rid
Through his disappointment and his anger, Ralph was touched. He
would have spoken, but the girl went on:
"No, you do not hate me—I am not worth it. You despise me, and do
you think that is any better? I am only a cottar's child. I have been
but a waiting-maid. But I have read how maids have loved the kings and
the kings loved them. Yes, I own it. I am proud of it. I have schemed
and lain awake at nights for this. Why should I not love you? Others
have loved me without asking my leave. Why should I ask yours? And
love came to me without your leave or my own that day on the road when
you let me carry your books."
She let her arms drop from his neck and buried her face in her
hands, sobbing now with very genuine tears. Ralph could not yet move
away, even though no longer held by the stringent coercion of this
girl's arms. He was too grieved, too suddenly and bitterly
disappointed to have any fixed thought or resolve. But the good man
does not live who can listen unmoved to the despairing catch of the
sobbing in a woman's throat. Then on his hands, which he had clasped
before him, he felt the steady rain of her tears; his heart went out
in a great pity for this wayward girl who was baring her soul to him.
The whole note and accent of her grief was of unmistakable
feeling. Jess Kissock had begun in play, but her inflammable nature
kindled easily into real passion. For at least that night, by the
bridge of the Grannoch water, she believed that her heart was broken.
Ralph put his hand towards her with some unformed idea of
sympathy. He murmured vague words of comfort, as he might have done
to a wailing child that had hurt itself; but he had no idea how to
still the tempestuous grief of a passion-pale woman.
Suddenly Jess Kissock slipped down and clasped him about the
knees. Her hair had broken from its snood and streamed a cloud of
intense blackness across her shoulders. He could see her only weirdly
and vaguely, as one may see another by the red light of a wood ember
in the darkness. She seemed like a beautiful, pure angel, lost by some
mischance, praying to him out of the hollow pit of the night.
"I carried your burden for you once, the day I first saw you. Let
me carry your burden for you across the world. If you will not love
me, let me but serve you. I would slave so hard! See, I am strong—"
She seized his hands, gripping thorn till his fingers clave
together with the pressure.
"See how I love you!" her hands seemed to say. Then she kissed his
hands, wetting them with the downfalling of her tears.
The darkness settled back thicker than before. He could not see
the kneeling woman whose touch he felt. He strove to think what he
should do, his emotions and his will surging in a troubled maelstrom
about his heart.
But just then, from out of the darkness high on the unseen hill
above them, there came a cry—a woman's cry of pain, anger, and
ultimate danger: "Ralph, Ralph, come to me—come!" it seemed to say
to him. Again and again it came, suddenly faltered and was silenced as
if smothered—as though a hand had been laid across a mouth that cried
and would not be silent.
Ralph sprang clear of Jess Kissock in a moment. He knew the voice.
He would have known it had it come to him across the wreck of worlds.
It was his love's voice. She was calling to him—Ralph Peden—for
help. Without a thought for the woman whose despairing words he had
just listened to, he turned and ran, plunging into the thick darkness
of the woods, hillward in the direction of the cry. But he had not
gone far when another cry was heard—not the cry of a woman this time,
but the shorter, shriller, piercing yell of a man at the point of
death—some deadly terror at his throat, choking him. Mixed with this
came also unearthly, wordless, inhuman howlings, as of a wild beast
triumphing. For a dozen seconds these sounds dominated the night. Then
upon the hill they seemed to sink into a moaning, and a long, low cry,
like the whining of a beaten dog. Lights gleamed about the farm, and
Ralph could vaguely see, as he sprang out of the ravine, along which
he and Winsome had walked, dark forms flitting about with lanterns.
In another moment he was out on the moor, ranging about like a wild,
questing hound, seeking the cause of the sudden and hideous outcry.
CHAPTER XXX. THE HILL GATE.
There was no merry group outside Winsome's little lattice window
this night, as she sat unclad to glimmering white in the quiet of her
room. In her heart there was that strange, quiet thrill of
expectancy—the resolve of a maiden's heart, when she knows without
willing that at last the flood-gates of her being must surely be
raised and the great flood take her to the sea. She did not face the
thought of what she would say. In such a case a man plans what he will
say, and once in three times he says it. But a woman is wiser. She
knows that in that hour it will be given her what she shall speak.
"I shall go to him," said Winsome to herself; "I must, for he is
going away, and he has need of me. Can I let him go without a word?"
Though Ralph had done no noble action in her sight or within her
ken, yet there was that about him which gave her the knowledge that
she would be infinitely safe with him even to the world's end. Winsome
wondered how she could so gladly go, when she would not have so much
as dreamed of stealing out at night to meet any other, though she
might have known him all her life. She did not know, often as she had
heard it read, that "perfect love casteth out fear." Then she said to
herself gently, as if she feared that the peeping roses at the window
might hear, "Perhaps it is because I love him." Perhaps it was. Happy
Winsome, to have found it out so young!
The curtain of the dark drew down. Moist airs blew into the room,
warm with the scent of the flowers of a summer night. Honeysuckle and
rose blew in, and quieted the trembling nerves of the girl going to
meet her first love.
"He has sair need o' me!" she said, lapsing as she sometimes did
into her grandmother's speech. "He will stand before me," she said,
"and look so pale and beautiful. Then I will not let him come
nearer—for a while—unless it is very dark and I am afraid."
She glanced out. It promised to be very dark, and a tremour came
over her. Then she clad herself in haste, drawing from a box a thin
shawl of faded pale blue silk with a broad crimson edge, which she
drew close about her shoulders. The band of red lying about her neck
forced forward her golden tresses, throwing them about her brow so
that they stood out round her face in a changeful aureole of fine-spun
gold. She took a swift glance in the mirror, holding her candle in her
hand. Then she laughed a nervous little laugh all to herself. How
foolish of her! Of course, it would be impossible for him to see her.
But nevertheless she put out her light, and went to the door smiling.
She had no sense of doing that which she ought not to do; for she had
been accustomed to her liberty in all matters whatsoever, ever since
she came to Craig Ronald, and in the summer weather nothing was more
common than for her to walk out upon the moor in the dewy close of
day. She shut the door quietly behind her, and set her foot on the
silent elastic turf, close cropped by many woolly generations. The
night shut down behind her closer than the door. The western wind
cooled her brain, and the singing in her heart rose into a louder
altar-song. A woman ever longs to be giving herself. She rejoices in
sacrifice. It is a pity that she so often chooses an indifferently
worthy altar. Yet it is questionable whether her own pleasure in the
sacrifice is any the less.
At the gate of the yard, which had been left open and hung
backward perilously upon its hinges, she paused.
"That is that careless girl, Jess!" she said, practical even at
such a moment.
And she was right—it was Jess who had so left it. Indeed, had she
been a moment sooner, she might have seen Jess flit by, taking the
downward road which led through the elder—trees to the waterside. As
it was, she only shut the gate carefully, so that no night- wandering
cattle might disturb the repose of her grandparents, laid carefully
asleep by Meg in their low-ceilinged bedroom.
The whole farm breathed from its walls and broad yard spaces the
peaceful rise and fall of an infant's repose. There was no sound
about the warm and friendly place save the sleepy chunner of a hen on
the bauks of the peat-house, just sufficiently awake to be conscious
of her own comfort.
The hill road was both stony and difficult, but Winsome's light
feet went along it easily and lightly. On not a single stone did she
stumble. She walked so gladsomely that she trod on the air. There were
no rocks in her path that night. Behind her the light in the west
winked once and went out. Palpable darkness settled about her. The
sigh of the waste moorlands, where in the haggs the wild fowl were
nestling and the adders slept, came down over the well-pastured braes
Winsome did not hasten. Why hasten, when at the end of the way
there certainly lies the sweet beginning of all things. Already might
she be happy in the possession of certainties? It never occurred to
her that Ralph would not be at the trysting-place. That a messenger
might fail did not once cross her mind. But maidenly tremours,
delicious in their uncertainty, coursed along her limbs and through
all her being. Could any one have seen, there was a large and almost
exultant happiness in the depths of her eyes. Her lips were parted a
little, like a child that waits on tiptoe to see the curtain rise on
some wondrous and long- dreamed-of spectacle.
Soon against the darker sky the hill dyke stood up, looking in the
gloom massive as the Picts' Wall of long ago. It followed irregularly
the ridgy dips and hollows downward, till it ran into the in tenser
darkness of the pines. In a moment, ere yet she was ready, there
before her was the gate of her tryst. She paused, affrighted for the
first time. She listened, and there was no sound. A trembling came
over her and an uncertainty. She turned, in act to flee.
But out of the dark of the great dyke stepped a figure cloaked
from head to heel, and while Winsome wavered, tingling now with shame
and fear, in an instant she was enclosed within two very strong arms,
that received her as in a snare a bird is taken.
Suddenly Winsome felt her breath shorten. She panted as if she
could not get air, like the bird as it nutters and palpitates.
"Oh, I ought not to have come!" said, "but I could not help it!"
There was no word in answer, only a closer folding of the arms
that cinctured her. In the west the dusk was lightening and the
eyelid of the night drew slowly and grimly up.
When for the first time she looked shyly upward, Winsome found
herself in the arms of Agnew Greatorix. Wrapped in his great military
cloak, with a triumphant look in his handsome face, he smiled down
Great Lord of Innocence! give now this lamb of thine thy help!
The leaping soul of pure disembodied terror stood in Winsome's
eyes. Fascinated like an antelope in the coils of a python she gazed,
her eyes dilating and contracting—the world whirling about her, the
soul of her bounding and panting to burst its bars.
"Winsome, my darling!" he said, "you have come to me. You are
mine"—bending his face to hers.
Not yet had the power to speak or to resist come back to her, so
instant and terrible was her surprise. But at the first touch of his
lips upon her cheek the very despair brought back to her tenfold her
own strength. She pushed against him with her hands, straining him
from her by the rigid tension of her arms, setting her face far from
his, but she was still unable to break the clasp of his arms about
"Let me go! let me go!" she cried, in a hoarse and labouring
"Gently, gently, fair and softly, my birdie," said Greatorix;
"surely you have not forgotten that you sent for me to meet you here.
Well, I am here, and I am not such a fool as to come for nothing!"
The very impossibility of words steeled Winsome's heart,
"I send for you!" cried Winsome; "I never had message or
word with you in my life to give you a right to touch me with your
little finger. Let me go, and this instant, Agnew Greatorix!"
"Winsome, sweetest girl, it pleases you to jest. Have not I your
own letter in my pocket telling me where to meet you? Did you not
write it? I am not angry. You can play out your play and pretend you
do not care for me as much as you like; but I will not let you go. I
have loved you too long, though till now you were cruel and would give
me no hope. So when I got your letter I knew it was love, after all,
that had been in your eyes as I rode away."
"Listen," said Winsome eagerly; "there is some terrible mistake; I
never wrote a line to you—"
"It matters not; it was to me that your letter came, brought by a
messenger to the castle an hour ago. So here I am, and here you are,
my beauty, and we shall just make the best of it, as lovers should
when the nights are short."
He closed his arms about her, forcing the strength out of her
wrists with slow, rude, masculine muscles. A numbness and a deadness
ran through her limbs as he compelled her nearer to him. Her head spun
round with the fear of fainting. With a great effort she forced
herself back a step from him, and just as she felt the breath of his
mouth upon hers her heart made way through her lips.
"Ralph! Ralph! Help me—help! Oh, come to me!" she cried in her
extremity of terror and the oncoming rigour of unconsciousness.
The next moment she dropped limp and senseless into the arms of
Agnew Greatorix. For a long moment he held her up, listening to the
echoes of that great cry, wondering whether it would wake up the whole
world, or if, indeed, there were none to answer in that solitary
But only the wild bird wailed like a lost soul too bad for heaven,
too good for hell, wandering in the waste forever.
Agnew Greatorix laid Winsome down on the heather, lifeless and
still, her pure white face resting in a nest of golden curls, the red
band of her mother's Indian shawl behind all.
But as the insulter stooped to take his will of her lips, now pale
and defenceless, something that had been crouching beastlike in the
heather for an hour, tracking and tracing him like a remorseless
crawling horror, suddenly sprang with a voiceless rush upon him as he
bent over Winsome's prostrate body—gripped straight at his throat and
bore him backward bareheaded to the ground.
So unexpected was the assault that, strong man as Greatorix was,
he had not the least chance of resistance. He reeled at the sudden
constriction of his throat by hands that hardly seemed human, so wide
was their clutch, so terrible the stringency of their grasp. He struck
wildly at his assailant, but, lying on his back with the biting and
strangling thing above him, his arms only met on one another in vain
blows. He felt the teeth of a great beast meet in his throat, and in
the sudden agony he sent abroad the mighty roar of a man in the grips
of death by violence. But his assailant was silent, save for a fierce
whinnying growl as of a wild beast greedily lapping blood.
It was this terrible outcry ringing across the hills that brought
the farm steading suddenly awake, and sent the lads swarming about
the house with lanterns. But it was Ralph alone who, having heard the
first cry of his love and listened to nothing else, ran onward,
bending low with a terrible stitch in his side which caught his breath
and threw him to the ground almost upon the white-wrapped body of his
love. Hastily he knelt beside her and laid his hand upon her heart. It
was beating surely though faintly.
But on the other side, against the gray glimmer of the march dyke,
he could see the twitchings of some great agony. At intervals there
was the ghastly, half-human growling and the sobbing catch of some one
striving for breath.
A light shone across the moor, fitfully wavering as the searcher
cast its rays from side to side. Ralph glanced behind him with the
instinct to carry his love away to a place of safety. But he saw the
face of Meg Kissock, with slow Jock Forrest behind her carrying a
lantern. Meg ran to the side of her mistress.
"Wha's dune this?" she demanded, turning fiercely to Ralph. "Gin
"I know nothing about it. Bring the lantern here quickly," he
said, leaving Winsome in the hands of Meg. Jock Forrest brought the
lantern round, and there on the grass was Agnew Greatorix, with daft
Jock Gordon above him, his sinewy hands gripping his neck and his
teeth in his throat.
Ralph pulled Jock Gordon off and flung him upon the heather, where
Jock Forrest set his foot upon him, and turned the light of the
lantern upon the fierce face of a maniac, foam-flecked and blood-
streaked. Jock still growled and gnashed his teeth, and struggled in
sullen fury to get at his fallen foe. With his hat Ralph brought water
from a deep moss-hole and dashed it upon the face of Winsome. In a
little while, she began to sob in a heartbroken way. Meg took her head
upon her knees, and soothed her mistress, murmuring tendernesses. Next
he brought water to throw over the face and neck of Greatorix, which
Jock Gordon in his fury had made to look like nothing human.
The rest might wait. It was Ralph's first care to get Winsome
home. Kneeling down beside her he soothed her with whispered words,
till the piteous sobbing in her throat stilled itself. The ploughman
was at this moment stolidly producing pieces of rope from his pockets
and tying up Jock Gordon's hands and feet; but after his first
attempts again to fly at Greatorix, and his gasps of futile wrath when
forced into the soft moss of the moor by Jock Forrest's foot, he had
not offered to move.
His paroxysm was only one of the great spasms of madness which
sometimes come over the innocently witless. He had heard close by him
the cries of Winsome Charteris, whom he had worshipped for years
almost in the place of the God whom he had not the understanding to
know. The wonder rather was that he did not kill Greatorix outright.
Had it happened a few steps nearer the great stone dyke, there is
little doubt but that Jock Gordon would have beat out the assailant's
brains with a ragged stone.
Winsome had not yet awakened enough to ask how all these things
came about. She could only cling to Meg, and listen to Ralph
whispering in her ear.
"I can go home now," she said earnestly.
So Ralph and Meg helped her up, Ralph wrapping her in her great
Ralph would have kissed her, but Winsome, standing unsteadily
clasping Meg's arm, said tenderly:
"Not to-night. I am not able to bear it."
It was almost midnight when Ralph and the silent Jock Forrest got
Agnew Greatorix into the spring-cart to be conveyed to Greatorix
He lay with his eyes closed, silent. Ralph took Jock Gordon to the
manse with him, determined to tell the whole to Mr. Welsh if
necessary; but if it were not necessary, to tell no one more than he
could help, in order to shelter Winsome from misapprehension. It says
something for Ralph that, in the turmoil of the night and the
unavailing questionings of the morning, he never for a moment thought
of doubting his love. It was enough for him that in the depths of
agony of body or spirit she had called out to him. All the rest would
be explained in due time, and he could wait. Moreover, so selfish is
love, that he had never once thought of Jess Kissock from the moment
that his love's cry had pealed across the valley of the elder-trees
and the plain of the water meadows.
When he brought Jock Gordon, hardly yet humanly articulate, into
the kitchen of the manse, the house was still asleep. Then Ralph
wakened Manse Bell, who slept above. He told her that Jock Gordon had
taken a fit upon the moor, that he had found him ill, and brought him
home. Next he went up to the minister's room, where he found Mr. Welsh
reading his Bible. He did not know that the minister had watched him
both come and go from his window, or that he had remained all night in
prayer for the lad, who, he misdoubted, was in deep waters.
As soon as Jock Gordon had drunk the tea and partaken of the beef
ham which Manse Bell somewhat grumblingly set before him, he said:
"Noo, I'll awa'. The tykes'll be after me, nae doot, but it's no
in yin o' them to catch Jock Gordon gin yince he gets into the
Dungeon o' Buchan."
"But ye maun wait on the minister or Maister Peden. They'll hae
muckle to ask ye, nae doot!" said Bell, who yearned for news.
"Nae doot, nae doot!" said daft Jock Gordon, "an' I hae little to
answer. It's no for me to tie the rape roond my ain craig [neck]. Na,
na, time aneu' to answer when I'm afore the sherra at Kirkcudbright
for this nicht's wark."
With these words Jock took his pilgrim staff and departed for
parts unknown. As he said, it was not bloodhounds that could catch
Jock Gordon on the Rhinns of Kells.
In the morning there was word come to the cot-house of the
Kissocks that Mistress Kissock was wanted up at the castle to nurse a
gentleman who had had an accident when shooting. Mistress Kissock was
unable to go herself, but her daughter Jess went instead of her,
having had some practice in nursing, among other experiences which she
had gained in England. It was reported that she made an excellent
CHAPTER XXXI. THE STUDY OF THE
MANSE OF DULLARG.
IT was growing slowly dusk again when Ralph Peden returned from
visiting Craig Ronald along the shore road to the Dullarg and its
manse. He walked briskly, as one who has good news. Sometimes he
whistled to himself—breaking off short with a quick smile at some
recollection. Once he stopped and laughed aloud. Then he threw a stone
at a rook which eyed him superciliously from the top of a turf dyke.
He made a bad shot, at which the black critic wiped the bare butt of
his bill upon the grass, uttered a hoarse "A-ha!" of derision, and
plunged down squatty among the dock- leaves on the other side.
As Ralph turned up the manse loaning to the bare front door, he
was conscious of a vague uneasiness, the feeling of a man who returns
to a house of gloom from a world where all things have been full of
sunshine. It was not the same world since yesterday. Even he, Ralph
Peden, was not the same man. But he entered the house with that
innocent affectation of exceeding ease which is the boy's tribute to
his own inexperience. He went up the stairs through the dark lobby and
entered Allan Welsh's study. The minister was sitting with his back to
the window, his hands clasped in front of him, and his great domed
forehead and emaciated features standing out against the orange and
crimson pool of glory where the sun had gone down.
Ralph ostentatiously clattered down his armful of books on the
table. The minister did not speak at first, and Ralph began his
"I am sorry," he said, hesitating and blushing under the keen eyes
of his father's friend. "I had no idea I should have been detained,
but the truth is—"
"I ken what the truth is," said Allan Welsh, quietly. "Sit down,
Ralph Peden. I have somewhat to say to you."
A cold chill ran through the young man's veins, to which succeeded
a thrill of indignation. Was it possible that he was about to
reproach him, as a student in trials for the ministry of the Marrow
kirk, with having behaved in any way unbecoming of an aspirant to that
high office, or left undone anything expected of him as his father's
The minister was long in speaking. Against the orange light of
evening which barred the window, his face could not be seen, but
Ralph had the feeling that his eyes, unseen themselves, were reading
into his very soul. He sat down and clenched his hands under the
"I was at the Bridge of Grannoch this day," began the minister at
last. "I was on my way to visit a parishioner, but I do not conceal
from you that I also made it my business to observe your walk and
"By what right do you so speak to me?" began Ralph, the hotter
blood of his mother rising within him.
"By the right given to me by your father to study your heart and
to find out whether indeed it is seeking to walk in the more perfect
way. By my love and regard for you, I hope I may also say."
The minister paused, as if to gather strength for what he had yet
to say. He leaned his head upon his hand, and Balph did not see that
his frail figure was shaken with some emotion too strong for his
physical powers, only kept in check by the keen and indomitable will
"Ralph, my lad," Allan Welsh continued, "do not think that I have
not foreseen this; and had jour father written to inform me of his
intention to send you to me, I should have urged him to cause you to
abide in your own city. What I feared in thought is in act come to
pass. I saw it in your eyes yestreen."
Kalph's eyes spoke an indignant query.
"Ralph Peden," said the minister, "since I came here, eighteen
years ago, not a mouse has crept out of Craig Ronald but I have made
it my business to know it. I am no spy, and yet I need not to be told
what happened yesterday or to-day."
"Then, sir, you know that I have no need to be ashamed."
"I have much to say to you, Ralph, which I desire to say by no
means in anger. But first let me say this: It is impossible that you
can ever be more to Winifred Charteris than you are to-day."
"That is likely enough, sir, but I would like to know why in that
case I am called in question." "Because I have been, more than twenty
years ago, where you are to-day, Ralph Peden, I—even I— have seen
eyes blue as those of Winsome Charteris kindle with pleasure at my
approach. Yes, I have known it. And I have also seen the lids lie
white and still upon these eyes, and I am here to warn you from the
primrose way; and also, if need be, to forbid you to walk therein."
His voice took a sterner tone with the last words.
Ralph bowed his head on the table and listened; but there was no
feeling save resentment and resistance in his heart.
The minister went on in a level, unemotional tone, like one
telling a tale of long ago, of which the issues and even the
interests are dead and gone.
"I do not look now like a man on whom the eye of woman could ever
rest with the abandonment of love. Yet I, Allan Welsh, have seen 'the
love that casteth out fear.'"
After a pause the high, expressionless voice took up the tale.
"Many years ago there were two students, poor in money but rich in
their mutual love. They were closer in affection than twin brothers.
The elder was betrothed to be married to a beautiful girl in the
country; so he took down his friend with him to the village where the
maid dwelt to stand by his side and look upon the joy of the
bridegroom. He saw the trysted (betrothed) of his friend. He and she
looked into one another's eyes and were drawn together as by a power
beyond them. The elder was summoned suddenly back to the city, and for
a week he, all unthinking, left the friends of his love together glad
that they should know one another better. They walked together. They
spoke of many things, ever returning back to speak of themselves. One
day they held a book together till they heard their hearts beat
audibly, and in the book read no more that day.
"Upon the friend's return he found only an empty house and
distracted parents. Bride and brother had fled. Word came that they
had been joined by old Joseph Paisley, the Gretna Green 'welder,'
without blessing of minister or kirk. Then they hid themselves in a
little Cumbrian village, where for six years the unfaithful friend
wrought for his wife—for so he deemed her—till in the late
bitterness of bringing forth she died, that was the fairest of women
and the unhappiest."
The minister ceased. Outside the rain had come on in broad single
drops, laying the dust on the road. Ralph could hear it pattering on
the broad leaves of the plane-tree outside the window. He did not like
to hear it. It sounded like a woman's tears.
But he could not understand how all this bore on his case. He was
silenced and awed, but it was with the sight of a soul of a man of
years and approved sanctity in deep apparent waters of sorrow.
The minister lifted his head and listened. In the ancient woodwork
of the manse, somewhere in the crumbling wainscoting, the little
boring creature called a death-watch ticked like the ticking of an
old verge watch. Mr. Welsh broke off with a sudden causeless auger
very appalling in one so sage and sober in demeanour.
"There's that beast again!" he said; "often have I thought it was
ticking in my head. I have heard it ever since the night she died—"
"I wonder at a man like you," said Ralph, "with your wisdom and
Christian standing, caring for a worm—"
"You're a very young man, and when you are older maybe you'll
wonder at a deal fewer things," answered the minister with a kind of
excited truculence very foreign to his habit, "for I myself am a worm
and no man," he added dreamily. "And often I tried to kill the beast.
Ye see thae marks—" he broke off again—"I bored for it till the
boards are a honeycomb, but the thing aye ticks on."
"But, Mr. Welsh," said Ralph eagerly, with some sympathy in his
voice, "why should you trouble yourself about this story now—or I,
for the matter of that? I can understand that Winsome Charteris has
somehow to do with it, and that the knowledge has come to you in the
course of your duty; but even if, at any future time, Winsome
Charteris were aught to me or I to her—the which I have at present
only too little hope of—her forbears, be they whomsoever they might,
were no more to me than Julius Caesar. I have seen her and looked into
her eyes. What needs she of ancestors that is kin to the angels?"
Something like pity came into the minister's stern eyes as he
listened to the lad. Once he had spoken just such wild, heart- eager
"I will answer you in a sentence," he said. "I that speak with you
am the cause. I am he that has preached law and the gospel—for
twenty years covering my sin with the Pharisee's strictness of
observance. I am he that was false friend but never false lover—
that married without kirk or blessing. I am the man that clasped a
dead woman's hand whom I never owned as wife, and watched afar off
the babe that I never dared to call mine own. I am the father of
Winifred Oharteris, coward before man, castaway before God. Of my sin
two know besides my Maker—the father that begot you, whose false
friend I was in the days that were, and Walter Skirving, the father of
the first Winifred whose eyes this hand closed under the Peacock tree
The broad drops fell on the window-panes in splashes, and the
thunder rain drummed on the roof.
The minister rose and went out, leaving Ralph Peden sitting in the
dark with the universe in ruins about him. The universe is fragile at
And overhead the great drops fell from the brooding thunder-
clouds, and in the wainscoting of Allan Welsh's study the death-
CHAPTER XXXII. OUTCAST AND ALIEN
FROM THE COMMONWEALTH.
"Moreover," said the minister—coming in an hour afterwards to
take up the interrupted discussion—"the kirk of the Marrow overrides
all considerations of affection or self-interest. If you are to enter
the Marrow kirk, you must live for the Marrow, and fight for the
Marrow, and, above all, you must wed for the Marrow—"
"As you did, no doubt," said Ralph, somewhat ungenerously.
Ralph had remained sitting in the study where the minister had
"No, for myself," said the minister, with a certain firmness and
high civility, which made the young man ashamed of himself, "I am no
true son of the Marrow. I have indeed served the Marrow kirk in her
true and only protesting section for twenty-five years; but I am only
kept in my position by the good grace of two men—of your father and
of Walter Skirving. And do not think that they keep their mouths
sealed by any love for me. Were there only my own life and good name
to consider, they would speak instantly, and I should be deposed,
without cavil or word spoken in my own defence. Nay, by what I have
already spoken, I have put myself in your hands. All that you have to
do is simply to rise in your place on the Sabbath morn and tell the
congregation what I have told you— that the minister of the Marrow
kirk in Dullarg is a man rebuking sin when his own hearthstone is
unclean—a man irregularly espoused, who wrongfully christened his own
Allan Welsh laid his brow against the hard wood of the study table
as though to cool it.
"No," he continued, looking Ralph in the face, as the midnight
hummed around, and the bats softly fluttered like gigantic moths
outside, "your father is silent for the sake of the good name of the
Marrow kirk; but this thing shall never be said of his own son, and
the only hope of the Marrow kirk—the lad she has colleged and watched
and prayed for—not only the two congregations of Edinburgh and the
Dullarg contributing yearly out of their smallest pittances, but the
faithful single members and adherents throughout broad Scotland—many
of whom are coming to Edinburgh at the time of our oncoming synod, in
order to be present at it, and at the communion when I shall assist
"But why can not I marry Winsome Charteris, even though she be
your daughter, as you say?" asked Ralph.
"O young man," said the minister, "ken ye so little about the kirk
o' the Marrow, and the respect for her that your father and myself
cherish for the office of her ministry, that ye think that we could
permit a probationer, on trials for the highest office within her
gift, to connect himself by tie, bond, or engagement with the daughter
of an unblest marriage? That wouald be winking at a new sin, darker
even, than the old." Then, with a burst of passion—"I, even I, would
sooner denounce it myself, though it cost me my position! For twenty
years I have known that before God I was condemned. You have seen me
praying—yes, often—all night, but never did you or mortal man hear
me praying for myself."
Ralph held out his hand in sympathy. Mr. Welsh did not seem to
notice it. He went on:
"I was praying for this poor simple folk—the elect of God—their
minister alone a castaway, set beyond the mercy of God by his own
act. Have I not prayed that they might never be put to shame by the
knowledge of the minister's sin being made a mockery in the courts of
Belial? And have I not been answered?"
Here we fear that Mr. Welsh referred to the ecclesiastical
surroundings of the Reverend Erasmus Teends.
"And I prayed for my poor lassie, and for you, when I saw you both
in the floods of deep waters. I have wept great and bitter tears for
you twain. But I am to receive my answer and reward, for this night
you shall give me your word that never more will you pass word of love
to Winsome, the daughter of Allan Charteris Welsh. For the sake of the
Marrow kirk and the unstained truth delivered to the martyrs, and
upheld by your father one great day, you will do this thing."
"Mr. Welsh," said the young man calmly, "I cannot, even though I
be willing, do this thing. My heart and life, my honour and word, are
too deeply engaged for me to go back. At whatever cost to myself, I
must keep tryst and pledge with the girl who has trusted me, and who
for me has to-night suffered things whose depths of pain and shame I
know not yet."
"Then," said the minister sternly, "you and I must part. My duty
is done. If you refuse my appeal, you are no true son of the Marrow
kirk, and no candidate that I can recommend for her ministry.
Moreover, to keep you longer in my house and at my board were tacitly
to encourage you in your folly."
"It is quite true," replied Ralph, unshaken and undaunted, "that I
may be as unfit as you say for the office and ministry of the Marrow
kirk. It is, indeed, only as I have thought for a long season. If that
be so, then it were well that I should withdraw, and leave the place
for some one worthier."
"I wonder to hear ye, Ralph Peden, your father's son," said the
minister, "you that have been colleged by the shillings and sixpences
of the poor hill folk. How will ye do with these?"
"I will pay them back," said Ralph.
"Hear ye, man: can ye pay back the love that hained and saved to
send them to Edinburgh? Can ye pay back the prayers and expectations
that followed ye from class to class, rejoicing in your success,
praying that the salt of holiness might be put for you into the
fountains of earthly learning? Pay back, Ralph Peden?—I wonder sair
that ye are not shamed!"
Indeed, Ralph was in a sorrowful quandary. He knew that it was all
true, and he saw no way out of it without pain and grief to some. But
the thought of Winsome's cry came to him, heard in the lonesome night.
That appeal had severed him in a moment from all his old life. He
could not, though he were to lose heaven and earth, leave her now to
reproach and ignominy. She had claimed him only in her utter need, and
he would stand good, lover and friend to be counted on, till the world
"It is true what you say," said Ralph; "I mourn for it every word,
but I cannot and will not submit my conscience and my heart to the
keeping even of the Marrow kirk."
"Ye should have thought on that sooner," interjected the minister
"God gave me my affections as a sacred trust. This also is part of
my religion. And I will not, I cannot in any wise give up hope of
winning this girl whom I love, and whom you above all others ought
surely to love."
"Then," said the minister, rising solemnly with his hand
outstretched as when he pronounced the benediction, "I, Allan Welsh,
who love you as my son, and who love my daughter more than ten
daughters who bear no reproach, tell you, Ralph Peden, that I can no
longer company with you. Henceforth I count you as a rebel and a
stranger. More than self, more than life, more than child or wife, I,
sinner as I am, love the honour and discipline of the kirk of the
Marrow. Henceforth you and I are strangers."
The words fired the young man. He took up his hat, which had
fallen upon the floor.
"If that be so, the sooner that this house is rid of the presence
of a stranger and a rebel the better for it, and the happier for you.
I thank you for all the kindness you have shown to me, and I bid you,
with true affection and respect, farewell!"
So, without wailing even to go up-stairs for anything belonging to
him, and with no further word on either side, Ralph Peden stepped
into the clear, sobering midnight, the chill air meeting him like a
wall. The stars had come out and were shining frosty-clear, though it
And as soon as he was gone out the minister fell on his knees, and
so continued all the night praying with his face to the earth.
CHAPTER XXXIII. JOCK GORDON TAKES A
Whatever is too precious, too tender, too good, too evil, too
shameful, too beautiful for the day, happens in the night. Night is
the bath of life, the anodyne of heartaches, the silencer of passions,
the breeder of them too, the teacher of those who would learn, the
cloak that shuts a man in with his own soul. The seeds of great deeds
and great crimes are alike sown in the night. The good Samaritan doeth
his good by stealth; the wicked one cometh and soweth his tares among
the wheat. The lover and the lustful person, the thief and the
thinker, the preacher and the poacher, are abroad in the night. In
factories and mills, beside the ceaseless whirl of machinery, stand
men to whom day is night and night day. In cities the guardians of the
midnight go hither and thither with measured step under the drizzling
rain. No man cares that they are lonely and cold. Yet, nevertheless,
both light and darkness, night and day, are but the accidents of a
little time. It is twilight—the twilight of the morning and of the
gods—that is the true normal of the universe. Night is but the shadow
of the earth, light the nearness of the central sun. But when the soul
of man goeth its way beyond the confines of the little multiplied
circles of the system of the sun, it passes at once into the dim
twilight of space, where for myriads of myriad miles there is only
the grey of the earliest God's gloaming, which existed just so or
ever the world was, and shall be when the world is not. Light and
dark, day and night, are but as the lights of a station at which the
train does not stop. They whisk past, gleaming bright but for a
moment, and the world which came out of great twilight plunges again
into it, perhaps to be remade and reillumined on some eternal morning.
It is good for man, then, to be oftentimes abroad in the early
twilight of the morning. It is primeval-instinct with possibilities
of thought and action. Then, if at all, he will get a glimpse into his
soul that may hap to startle him. Judgment and the face of God justly
angry seem more likely and actual things than they do in the city when
the pavements are thronged and at every turning some one is ready for
good or evil to hail you "fellow."
So Ralph Peden stepped out into the night, the sense of injustice
quick upon him. He had no plans, but only the quick resentments of
youth, and the resolve to stay no longer in a house where he was an
unwelcome guest. He felt that he had been offered the choice between
his career and unfaithfulness to the girl who had trusted him. This
was not quite so; but, with the characteristic one- sidedness of
youth, that was the way that he put the case to himself.
It was the water-shed of day and night when Ralph set out from the
Dullarg manse. He had had no supper, but he was not hungry. Naturally
his feet carried him in the direction of the bridge, whither he had
gone on the previous evening and where amid an eager press of thoughts
he had waited and watched for his love. When he got there he sat down
on the parapet and looked to the north. He saw the wimples of the lazy
Grannoch Lane winding dimly through their white lily beds. In the
starlight the white cups glimmered faintly up from their dark beds of
leaves. Underneath the bridge there was only a velvety blackness of
What to do was now the question. Plainly he must at once go to
Edinburgh, and see his father. That was the first certainty. But
still more certainly he must first see Winsome, and, in the light of
the morning and of her eyes, solve for her all the questions which
must have sorely puzzled her, at the same time resolving his own
perplexities. Then he must bid her adieu. Right proudly would he go to
carve out a way for her. He had no doubts that the mastership in his
old school, which Dr. Abel had offered him a month ago, would still be
at his disposal. That Winsome loved him truly he did not doubt. He
gave no thought to that. The cry across the gulf of air from the high
march dyke by the pines on the hill, echoing down to the bridge in the
valley of the Grannoch, had settled that question once for all.
As he sat on the bridge and listened to the ripple of the Grannoch
lane running lightly over the shallows at the Stepping Stones, and to
the more distant roar of the falls of the Black Water, he shaped out a
course for himself and for Winsome. He had ceased to call her Winsome
Charteris. "She," he called her—the only she. When next he gave her a
surname he would call her Winsome Peden. Instinctively he took off his
hat at the thought, as though he had opened a door and found himself
light-heartedly and suddenly in a church.
Sitting thus on the bridge alone and listening to the ocean-like
lapse of his own thoughts, as they cast up the future and the past
like pebbles at his feet, he had no more thought of fear for his
future than he had that first day at Craig Ronald, under the whin-
bushes on the ridge behind him, on that day of the blanket-washing so
many ages ago. He was so full of love that it had cast out fear.
Suddenly out of the gloom beneath the bridge upon which he was
sitting, dangling his legs, there came a voice.
"Maister Ralph Peden, Maister Ralph Peden."
Ralph nearly fell backward over the parapet in his astonishment.
"Who is that calling on me?" he asked in wonder.
"Wha but juist daft Jock Gordon? The hangman haesna catchit him
yet, an' thank ye kindly—na, nor ever wull."
"Where are you, Jock, man?" said Ralph, willing to humour the
instrument of God.
"The noo I'm on the shelf o' the brig; a braw bed it maks, if it
is raither narrow. But graund practice for the narrow bed that I'll
get i' the Dullarg kirkyaird some day or lang, unless they catch puir
Jock and hang him. Na, na," said Jock with a canty kind of content in
his voice, "they may luik a lang while or they wad think o' luikin'
for him atween the foundation an' the spring o' the airch. An' that's
but yin o' Jock Gordon's hidie holes, an' a braw an' guid yin it is. I
hae seen this bit hole as fu' o' pairtricks and pheasants as it could
hand, an' a' the keepers and their dowgs smellin', and them could na
find it oot. Na, the water taks awa' the smell."
"Are ye not coming out, Jock?" queried Ralph.
"That's as may be," said Jock briefly. "What do ye want wi' Jock?"
"Come up," said Ralph; "I shall tell you how ye can help me. Ye
ken that I helped you yestreen."
"Weel, ye gied me an unco rive aff that blackguard frae the
Castle, gin that was a guid turn, I ken na!"
So grumbling, Jock Gordon came to the upper level of the bridge,
paddling unconcernedly with his bare feet and ragged trousers through
"Weel, na—hae ye a snuff aboot ye, noo that I am here? No—dear
sirce, what wad I no do for a snuff?"
"Jock," said Ralph, "I shall have to walk to Edinburgh. I must
start in the morning."
"Ye'll hae plenty o' sillar, nae doot?" said Jock practically.
Ralph felt his pockets. In that wild place it was not his custom
to carry money, and he had not even the few shillings which were in
his purse at the manse.
"I am sorry to say," he said, "that I have no money with me."
"Then ye'll be better o' Jock Gordon wi' ye?" said Jock promptly.
Ralph saw that it would not do to be saddled with Jock in the
city, where it might be necessary for him to begin a new career
immediately; so he gently broke the difficulties to Jock.
"Deed na, ye needna be feared; Jock wadna set a fit in a toon.
There's ower mony nesty imps o' boys, rinnin' an' cloddin' stanes at
puir Jock, forby caa'in' him names. Syne he loses his temper wi' them
an' then he micht do them an injury an' get himsel' intil the gaol.
Na, na, when Jock sees the blue smoor o' Auld Reeky gaun up into the
lift he'll turn an' gae hame."
"Well, Jock," said Ralph, "it behooves me to see Mistress Winsome
before I go. Ye ken she and I are good friends."
"So's you an' me; but had puir Jock no cried up till ye, ye wad
hae gane aff to Embra withoot as muckle as 'Fairguide'en to ye,
"Ah, Jock, but then you must know that Mistress Charteris and I
are lad and lass," he continued, putting the case as he conceived in
a form that would suit it to Jock's understanding.
"Lad an' lass! What did ye think Jock took ye for? This is nane o'
yer Castle tricks," he said; "mind, Jock can bite yet!"
"No, no, Jock, you need not be feared. She and I are going to be
married some day before very long"—a statement made entirely without
"Hoot, hoot!" said Jock, "wull nocht ser' ye but that ava—a
sensible man like you? In that case ye'll hae seen the last o' Jock
Gordon. I canna be doin' wi' a gilravage o' bairns aboot a hoose—"
"Jock," said Ralph earnestly, "will you help me to see her before
"'Deed that I wull," said Jock, very practically. "I'll gaun an'
wauken her the noo!"
"You must not do that," said Ralph, "but perhaps if you knew where
Meg Kissock slept, you might tell her."
"Certes, I can that," said Jock; "I can pit my haund on her in a
meenit. But mind yer, when ye're mairret, dinna expect Jock Gordon to
come farther nor the back kitchen."
So grumbling, "It couldna be expeckit—I canna be doin' wi' bairns
ava'—"Jock took his way up the long loaning of Craig Ronald,
followed through the elderbushes by Ralph Peden.
CHAPTER XXXIV. THE DEW OF THEIR
Jock made his way without a moment's hesitation to the little hen-
house which stood at one end of the farm steading of Craig Ronald. Up
this he walked with his semi-prehensile bare feet as easily as though
he were walking along the highway. Up to the rigging of the house he
went, then along it—setting one foot on one side and the other on the
other, turning in his great toes upon the coping for support. Thus he
came to the gable end at which Meg slept. Jock leaned over the angle
of the roof and with his hand tapped on the window.
"Wha's there? "said Meg from her bed, no more surprised than if
the knock had been upon the outer door at midday.
"It's me, daft Jock Gordon," said Jock candidly.
"Gae wa' wi' ye, Jock! Can ye no let decent fowk sleep in their
beds for yae nicht?"
"Ye maun get up, Meg," said Jock.
"An' what for should I get up?" queried Meg indignantly. "I had
ancuch o' gettin' up yestreen to last me a gye while."
"There's a young man here wantin' to coort your mistress!" said
"Haivers!" said Meg, "hae ye killed another puir man?"
"Na, na, he's honest—this yin. It's the young man frae the manse.
The auld carle o' a minister has turned him oot o' hoose an' hame,
and he's gaun awa' to Enbra'. He says he maun see the young mistress
afore he gangs—but maybe ye ken better, Meg."
"Gae wa' frae the wunda, Jock, and I'll get up," said Meg, with a
brevity which betokened the importance of the news.
In a little while Meg was in Winsome's room. The greyish light of
early morning was just peeping in past the little curtain. On the
chair lay the lilac-sprigged muslin dress of her grandmother's, which
Winsome had meant to put on next morning to the kirk. Her face lay
sideways on the pillow, and Meg could see that she was softly crying
even in her sleep. Meg stood over her a moment. Something hard lay
beneath Winsome's cheek, pressing into its soft rounding. Meg tenderly
slipped it out. It was an ordinary memorandum-book written with
curious signs. On the pillow by her lay the lilac sunbonnet.
Meg put her arms gently round Winsome, saying:
"It's me, my lamb. It's me, your Meg!"
And Meg's cheek was pressed against that of Winsome, moist with
sleep. The sleeper stirred with a dovelike moaning, and opened her
eyes, dark with sleep and wet with the tears of dreams, upon Meg.
"Waken, my bonnie; Meg has something that she maun tell ye."
So Winsome looked round with the wild fear with which she now
started from all her sleeps; but the strong arms of her loyal Meg
were about her, and she only smiled with a vague wistfulness, and
"It's you, Meg, my dear!"
So into her ear Meg whispered her tale. As she went on, Winsome
clasped her round the neck, and thrust her face into the neck of
Meg's drugget gown. This is the same girl who had set the ploughmen
their work and appointed to each worker about the farm her task. It
seems necessary to say so.
"Noo," said Meg, when she had finished, "ye ken whether ye want to
see him or no!"
"Meg," whispered Winsome, "can I let him go away to Edinburgh and
maybe never see me again, without a word?"
"Ye ken that best yersel'," said Meg with high impartiality, but
with her comforting arms very close about her darling.
"I think," said Winsome, the tears very near the lids of her eyes,
"that I had better not see him. I—I do not wish to see him—Meg,"
she said earnestly; "go and tell him not to see me any more, and not
to think of a girl like me—"
Meg went to Winsome's little cupboard wardrobe in the wall and
took down the old lilac-sprayed summer gown which she had worn when
she first saw Ralph Peden.
"Ye had better rise, my lassie, an' tak' that message yersel'!"
said Meg dryly.
So obediently Winsome rose. Meg helped her to dress, holding
silently her glimmering white garments for her as she had done when
first as a fairy child she came to Craig Ronald. Some of them were a
little roughly held, for Meg could not see quite so clearly as usual.
Also when she spoke her speech sounded more abruptly and harshly than
was its wont.
At last the girl's attire was complete, and Winsome stood ready
for her morning walk fresh as the dew on the white lilies. Meg tied
the strings of the old sunbonnet beneath her sweet chin, and stepped
back to look at the effect; then, with sudden impulsive movement, she
went tumultuously forward and kissed her mistress on the cheek.
"I wush it was me!" she said, pushing Winsome from the room.
The day was breaking red in the east when Winsome stepped out upon
the little wooden stoop, damp with the night mist, which seemed
somehow strange to her feet. She stepped down, giving a little
familiar pat to the bosom of her dress, as though to advertise to any
one who might be observing that it was her constant habit thus to walk
abroad in the dawn.
Meg watched her as she went. Then she turned into the house to
stop the kitchen clock and out to lock the stable door.
Through the trees Winsome saw Ralph long before he saw her. She
was a woman; he was only a naturalist and a man. She drew the
sunbonnet a little farther over her eyes. He started at last, turned,
and came eagerly towards her.
Jock Gordon, who had remained about the farm, went quickly to the
gate at the end of the house as if to shut it.
"Come back oot o' that," said Meg sharply.
Jock turned quite as briskly.
"I was gaun to stand wi' my back til't, sae that they micht ken
there was naebody luikin'. D'ye think Jock Gordon haes nae mainners?"
he said indignantly.
"Staun wi' yer back to a creel o' peats, Jock; it'll fit ye
better!" ooserved Meg, giving him the wicker basket with the broad
leather strap which was used at Craig Ronald for bringing the peats
in from the stack.
Winsome had not meant to look at Ralph as she came up to him. It
seemed a bold and impossible thing for her ever again to come to him.
The fear of a former time was still strong upon her.
But as soon as she saw him, her eyes somehow could not leave his
face. He dropped his hat on the grass beneath, as he came forward to
meet her under the great branches of the oak-trees by the little pond.
She had meant to tell him that he must not touch her —she was not to
be touched; yet she went straight into his open arms like a homing
dove. Her great eyes, still dewy with the warm light of love in them,
never left his till, holding his love safe in his arms, he drew her to
him and upon her sweet lips took his first kiss of love.
"At last!" he said, after a silence.
The sun was rising over the hills of heather. League after league
of the imperial colour rolled westward as the level rays of the sun
"Now do you understand, my beloved?" said Ralph. Perhaps it was
the red light of the sun, or only some roseate tinge from the miles
of Galloway heather that stretched to the north, but it is certain
that there was a glow of more than earthly beauty on Winsome's face as
she stood up, still within his arms, and said:
"I do not understand at all, but I love you."
Then, because there is nothing more true and trustful than the
heart of a good woman, or more surely an inheritance from the
maid-mother of the sinless garden than her way of showing that she
gives her all, Winsome laid her either hand on her lover's shoulders
and drew his face down to hers—laying her lips to his of her own free
will and accord, without shame in giving, or coquetry of refusal, in
that full kiss of first surrender which a woman may give once, but
never twice, in her life.
This also is part of the proper heritage of man and woman, and
whoso has missed it may attain wealth or ambition, may exhaust the
earth—yet shall die without fully or truly living.
A moment they stood in silence, swaying a little like twin flowers
in the wind of the morning. Then taking hands like children, they
slowly walked away with their faces towards the sunrise. There was
the light of a new life in their eyes. It is good sometimes to live
altogether in the present. "Sufficient unto the day is the good
thereof," is a proverb in all respects equal to the scriptural
For a little while they thus walked silently forward, and on the
crest of the ridge above the nestling farm Ralph paused to take his
last look of Craig Ronald. Winsome turned with him in complete
comprehension, though as yet he had told her no word of his projects.
Nor did she think of any possible parting, or of anything save of the
eyes into which she did not cease to look, and the lover whose hand it
was enough to hold. All true and pure love is an extension of God—the
gladness in the eyes of lovers, the tears also, bridals and espousals,
the wife's still happiness, the delight of new-made homes, the tinkle
of children's laughter. It needs no learned exegete to explain to a
true lover what John meant when he said, "For God is love." These
things are not gifts of God, they are parts of him.
It was at this moment that Meg Kissock, having seen them stand a
moment still against the sky, and then go down from their hilltop
towards the north, unlocked the stable door, at which Ebie Fairrish
had been vainly hammering from within for a quarter of an hour. Then
she went indoors and pulled close the curtains of Winsome's little
room. She came out, locked the bedroom door, and put the key in her
pocket. Her mistress had a headache. Meg was a treasure indeed, as a
thoughtful person about a household often is.
As Winsome and Ralph went down the farther slope of the hill,
towards the road that stretched away northward across the moors, they
fell to talking together very practically. They had much to say.
Before they had gone a mile the first strangeness had worn off, and
the stage of their intimacy may be inferred from the fact that they
were only at the edge of the great wood of Grannoch bank, when Winsome
reached the remark which undoubtedly Mother Eve made to her husband
after they had been some time acquainted:
"Do you know, I never thought I should talk to any one as I am
talking to you?"
Ralph allowed that it was an entirely wonderful thing—indeed, a
belated miracle. Strangely enough, he had experienced exactly the
same thought. "Was it possible?" smiled Winsome gladly, from under
the lilac sunbonnet.
Such wondrous and unexampled correspondence of impression proved
that they were made for one another, did it not? At this point they
paused. Exercise in the early morning is fatiguing. Only the unique
character of these refreshing experiences induces us to put them on
Then Winsome and Ralph proceeded to other and not less
extraordinary discoveries. Sitting on a wind-overturned tree- trunk,
looking out from the edge of the fringing woods of the Grannoch bank
towards the swells of Cairnsmuir's green bosom, they entered upon
their position with great practicality. Nature, with an unusual want
of foresight, had neglected to provide a back to this sylvan seat, so
Ralph attended to the matter himself. This shows that self-help is a
virtue to be encouraged.
Ralph had some disinclination to speak of the terrors of the night
which had forever rolled away. Still, he felt that the matter must be
cleared up; so that it was with doubt in his mind that he showed
Winsome the written line which had taken him to the bridge instead of
to the hill gate.
"That's Jess Kissock's writing!" Winsome said at once. Ralph had
the same thought. So in a few moments they traced the whole plot to
its origin. It was a fit product of the impish brain of Jess Kissock.
Jess had sent the false note of appointment to Ralph by Andra, knowing
that he would be so exalted with the contents that he would never
doubt its accuracy. Then she had despatched Jock Gordon with
"Winsome's real letter to Greatorix Castle; in answer to the supposed
summons, which was genuine enough, though not meant for him, Agnew
Greatorix had come to the hill gate, and Jess had met Ralph by the
bridge to play her own cards as best she could for herself.
"How wicked!" said Winsome, "after all."
"How foolish!" said Ralph, "to think for a moment that any one
could separate you and me."
But Winsome bethought herself how foolishly jealous she had been
when she found Jess putting a flower into Ralph's coat, and Jess's
plot did not look quite so impossible as before.
"I think, dear," said Ralph, "you must after this make your
letters so full of your love, that there can be no mistake whom they
are intended for."
"I mean to," said Winsome frankly.
There was also some fine scenery at this point.
But there was no hesitation in Ralph Peden's tone when he settled
down steadily to tell her of his hopes.
Winsome sat with her eyes downcast and her head a little to one
side, like a bright-eyed bird listening.
"That is all true and delightful," she said, "but we must not be
selfish or forget."
"We must remember one another!" said Ralph, with the absorption of
newly assured love.
"We are in no danger of forgetting one another," said that wise
woman in counsel; "we must not forget others. There is your
father—you have not forgotten him."
With a pang Ralph remembered that there was yet something that he
could not tell Winsome. He had not even been frank with her
concerning the reason of his leaving the manse and going to
Edinburgh. She only understood that it was connected with his love
for her, which was not approved of by the minister of the Marrow
"My father will be as much pleased with you as I," said Ralph,
"No doubt," said Winsome, laughing; "fathers always are with their
sons' sweethearts. But you have not forgotten something else?"
"What may that be?" said Ralph doubtfully.
"That I cannot leave my grandfather and grandmother at Craig
Ronald as they are. They have cared for me and given me a home when I
had not a friend. Would you love me as you do, if I could leave them
even to go out into the world with you?"
"No," said Ralph very reluctantly, but like a man.
"Then," said Winsome bravely, "go to Edinburgh. Fight your own
battle, and mine," she added.
"Winsome," said Ralph, earnestly, for this serious and practical
side of her character was an additional and unexpected revelation of
perfection, "if you make as good a wife as you make a sweetheart, you
will make one man happy."
"I mean to make a man happy," said Winsome, confidently.
The scenery again asserted its claim to attention. Observation
enlarges the mind, and is therefore pleasant.
After a pause, Winsome said irrelevantly.
"And you really do not think me so foolish?"
"Foolish! I think you are the wisest and—"
"No, no." Winsome would not let him proceed. "You do not really
think so. You know that I am wayward and changeable, and not at all
what I ought to be. Granny always tells me so. It was very different
when she was young, she says. Do you know," continued Winsome
thoughtfully, "I used to be so frightened, when I knew that you could
read in all these wise books of which I did not know a letter? But I
must confess—I do not know what you will say, you may even be
angry—I have a note-book of yours which I kept."
But if Winsome wanted a new sensation she was disappointed, for
Ralph was by no means angry.
"So that's where it went?" said Ralph, smiling gladly.
"Yes," said Winsome, blushing not so much with guilt as with the
consciousness of the locality of the note-book at that moment, which
she was not yet prepared to tell him. But she consoled herself with
the thought that she would tell him one day.
Strangely however, Ralph did not seem to care much about the book,
so Winsome changed the subject to one of greater interest.
"And what else did you think about me that first day?—tell me,"
said Winsome, shamelessly.
It was Ralph's opportunity.
"Why, you know very well, Winsome dear, that ever since the day I
first saw you I have thought that there never was any one like you—"
"Yes?" said Winsome, with a rising inflection in her voice.
"I ever thought you the best and the kindest—"
"Yes?" said Winsome, a little breathlessly.
"The most helpful and the wisest—"
"Yes?" said Winsome.
"And the most beautiful girl I have ever seen in my life!"
"Then I do not care for anything else!" cried Winsome, clapping
her hands. She had been resolving to learn Hebrew five minutes
"Nor do I, really," said Ralph, speaking out the inmost soul that
is in every young man.
As Ralph Peden sat looking at Winsome the thought came sometimes
to him—but not often—"This is Allan Welsh's daughter, the daughter
of the woman whom my father once loved, who lies so still under the
green sod of Crossthwaite beneath the lea of Skiddaw."
He looked at her eyes, deep blue like the depths of the
Mediterranean Sea, and, like it, shot through with interior light.
"What are you thinking of?" asked Winsome, who had also meanwhile
been looking at him.
"Of your eyes, dear!" said Ralph, telling half the truth—a good
deal for a lover.
Winsome paused for further information, looking into the depths of
his soul. Ralph felt as though his heart and judgment were being
assaulted by storming parties. He looked into these wells of blue and
saw the love quivering in them as the broken light quivers, deflected
on its way through clear water to a sea bottom of golden sand.
"You want to hear me tell you something wiser," said Ralph, who
did not know everything; "you are bored with my foolish talk."
And he would have spoken of the hopes of his future.
"No, no; tell me—tell me what you see in my eyes," said Winsome,
a little impatiently.
"Well then, first," said truthful Ralph, who certainly did not
flinch from the task, "I see the fairest thing God made for man to
see. All the beauty of the world, losing its way, stumbled, and was
drowned in the eyes of my love. They have robbed the sunshine, and
stolen the morning dew. The sparkle of the light on the water, the
gladness of a child when it laughs because it lives, the sunshine
which makes the butterflies dance and the world so beautiful—all
these I see in your eyes."
"This story is plainly impossible. This practical girl was not one
to find pleasure in listening to flattery. Let us read no more in
this book." This is what some wise people will say at this point. So,
to their loss will they close the book. They have not achieved all
knowledge. The wisest woman would rather hear of her eyes than of her
mind. There are those who say the reverse, but then perhaps no one has
ever had cause to tell them concerning what lies hid in their eyes.
Many had wished to tell Winsome these things, but to no one
hitherto had been given the discoverer's soul, the poet's voice, the
wizard's hand to bring the answering love out of the deep sea of
divine possibilities in which the tides ran high and never a
lighthouse told of danger.
"Tell me more," said Winsome, being a woman, as well as fair and
young. These last are not necessary; to desire to be told about one's
eyes, it is enough to be a woman.
Ralph looked down. In such cases it is necessary to refresh the
imagination constantly with the facts. As in the latter days wise
youths read messages from the quivering needle of the talking
machine, so Ralph read his message flash by flash as it pulsated
upward from a pure woman's soul.
"Once you would not tell me why your eyelashes were curled up at
the ends," said this eager Columbus of a new continent, drawing the
new world nearer his heart in order that his discoveries might be
truer, surer, in detail more trustworthy. "I know now without telling.
Would you like to know, Winsome?"
Winsome drew a happy breath, nestling a little closer—so little
that no one but Ralph would have known. But the little shook him to
the depths of his soul. This it is to be young and for the first time
mastering the geography of an unknown and untraversed continent. The
unversed might have thought that light breath a sigh, but no lover
could have made the mistake. It is only in books, wordy and unreal,
that lovers misunderstand each other in that way.
"I know," said Ralph, needing no word of permission to proceed,
"it is with touching your cheek when you sleep."
"Then I must sleep a very long time!" said Winsome merrily, making
light of his words.
"Underneath in the dark of either eye," continued Ralph, who, be
it not forgotten, was a poet, "I see two young things like cherubs."
"I know," said Winsome; "I see myself in your eyes—you see
yourself in mine."
She paused to note the effect of this tremendous discovery.
"Then," replied Ralph, "if it be indeed my own self I see in your
eyes, it is myself as God made me at first without sin. I do not feel
at all like a cherub now, but I must have been once, if I ever was
like what I see in your eyes."
"Now go on; tell me what else you see," said Winsome.
"Your lips—" began Ralph, and paused.
"No, six is quite enough," said Winsome, after a little while,
mysteriously. She had only two, and Ralph only two; yet she said with
little grammar and no sense at all, "Six is enough."
But a voice from quite other lips came over the rising background
of scrub and tangled thicket.
"Gang on coortin'," it said; "I'm no lookin', an' I canna see
It was Jock Gordon. He continued:
"Jock Scott's gane hame till his breakfast. He'll no bother ye
this mornin', sae coort awa'."
CHAPTER XXXV. SUCH SWEET SORROW.
WINSOME and Ralph laughed, but Winsome sat up and put straight her
sunbonnet. Sunbonnets are troublesome things. They will not stick on
one's head. Manse Bell contradicts this. She says that her sunbonnet
never comes off, or gets pushed back. As for other people's, lasses
are not what they were in her young days.
"I must go home," said Winsome; "they will miss me."
"You know that it is 'good-bye,' then," said Ralph.
"What!" said Winsome, "shall I not see you to-morrow?" the bright
light of gladness dying out of her eye. And the smile drained down
out of her cheek like the last sand out of the sand-glass.
"No," said Ralph quietly, keeping his eyes full on hers, "I cannot
go back to the manse after what was said. It is not likely that I
shall ever be there again."
"Then when shall I see you?" said Winsome piteously. It is the cry
of all loving womanhood, whose love goes out to the battle or into
the city, to the business of war, or pleasure, or even of money-
getting. "Then when shall I see you. again?" said Winsome, saying a
new thing. There is nothing new under the sun, yet to lovers like
Winsome and Ralph all things are new.
There was a catch in her throat. A salter dew gathered about her
eyes, and the pupils expanded till the black seemed to shut out the
Very tenderly Ralph looked down, and said, "Winsome, my dear, very
soon I shall come again with more to ask and more to tell."
"But you are not going straight away to Edinburgh now? You must
get a drive to Dumfries and take the Edinburgh coach."
"I cannot do that," said Ralph; "I must walk all the way; it is
Winsome looked at Ralph, the motherly instinct that is in all true
love surging up even above the lover's instinct. It made her clasp
and unclasp her hands in distress, to think of him going away alone
over the waste moors, from the place where they had been so happy.
"And he will leave me behind!" she said, with a sudden fear of the
loneliness which would surely come when the bright universe was
emptied of Ralph.
"Had it only been to-morrow, I could have borne it better," she
said. "Oh, it is too soon! How could he let us be so happy when he
was going away from me?"
Winsome knew even better than Ralph that he must go, but the most
accurate knowledge of necessity does not prevent the resentful
feeling in a woman's heart when one she loves goes before his time.
But the latent motherhood in this girl rose up. If he were truly
hers, he was hers to take care of. Therefore she asked the question
which every mother asks, and no sweetheart who is nothing but a
sweetheart has ever yet asked:
"Have you enough money?"
Ralph blushed and looked most unhappy, for the first time since
the sun rose.
"I have none at all," he said; "my father only gave me the money
for my journey to the Dullarg, and Mr. Welsh was to provide me what
was necessary—" He stopped here, it seemed such a hard and shameful
thing to say. "I have never had anything to do with money," he said,
hanging down his head.
Now Winsome, who was exceedingly practical in this matter, went
forward to him quickly and put an arm upon his shoulder.
"My poor boy!" she said, with the tenderest and sweetest
expression on her face. And again Ralph Peden perceived that there
are things more precious than much money.
"Now bend your head and let me whisper." It was already bent, but
it was in his ear that Winsome wished to speak.
"No, no, indeed I cannot, Winsome, my love; I could not, indeed,
and in truth I do not need it."
Winsome dropped her arms and stepped back tragically. She put one
hand over the other upon her breast, and turned half way from him.
"Then you do not love me," she said, purely as a coercive measure.
"I do, I do—you know that I do; but I could not take it," said
"Well, good-bye, then," said Winsome, without holding out her
hand, and turning away.
"You do not mean it; Winsome, you cannot be cruel, after all. Come
back and sit down. We shall talk about it, and you will see—"
Winsome paused and looked at him, standing so piteously. She says
now that she really meant to go away, but she smiles when she says
it, as if she did not quite believe the statement herself. But
something—perhaps the look in his eyes, and the thought that, like
herself, he had never known a mother—made her turn. Going back, she
took his hand and laid it against her cheek.
"Ralph," she said, "listen to me; if
I needed help and had
none I should not be proud; I would not quarrel with you when you
offered to help me. No, I would even ask you for it! BUT THEN I LOVE
YOU." It was hardly fair. Winsome acknowledges as much herself; but
then a woman has no weapons but her wit and her beauty—which is,
seeing the use she can make of these two, on the whole rather
fortunate than otherwise.
Ralph looked eager and a little frightened.
"Would you do that really?" he asked eagerly.
"Of course I should!" replied Winsome, a little indignantly.
Ralph took her in his arms, and in such a masterful way, that
first she was frightened and then she was glad. It is good to feel
weak in the arms of a strong man who loves you. God made it so when
he made all things well.
"My lassie!" said Ralph for all comment.
Then fell a silence so prolonged that a shy squirrel in the boughs
overhead resumed his researches upon the tassels and young shoots of
the pine-tops, throwing down the debris in a contemptuous manner upon
Winsome and Ralph, who stood below, listening to the beating of each
Finally Winsome, without moving, produced apparently from regions
unknown a long green silk purse with three silver rings round the
As she put it into Ralph's hand, something doubtful started again
into his eyes, but Winsome looked so fierce in a moment, and so
decidedly laid a finger on his lips, that perforce he was silent.
As soon as he had taken it, Winsome clapped her hands (as well as
was at the time possible for her—it seemed, indeed, altogether
impossible to an outsider, yet it was done), and said:
"You are not sorry, dear—you are glad?" with interrogatively
"Yes," said Ralph, "I am very glad." As indeed he might well be.
"You see," said the wise young woman, "it is this way: all that is
my very own. I am your very own, so what is in the purse is
your very own."
Logic is great—greatest when the logician is distractingly
pretty; then, at least, it is sure to prevail—unless, indeed, the
opponent be blind, or another woman. This is why they do not examine
ladies orally in logic at the great colleges.
We have often tried to recover Ralph's reply, but the text is
corrupt at this place, the context entirely lost. Experts suspect a
Perhaps we linger overly long on the records; but there is so much
called love in the world, which is no love, that there may be some
use in dwelling upon the histories of a love which was fresh and
tender, sweet and true. It is at once instruction for the young, and
for the older folk a cast back into the days that were. If to any it
is a mockery or a scorning, so much the worse—for of them who sit in
the scorner's chair the doom is written.
Winsome and Ralph walked on into the eye of the day, hand in hand,
as was their wont. They crossed the dreary moor, which yet is not
dreary when you came to look at it on such a morning as this.
The careless traveller glancing at it as he passed might call it
dreary; but in the hollows, miniature lakes glistened, into which the
tiny spurs of granite ran out flush with the water like miniature
piers. The wind of the morning waking, rippled on the lakelets, and
blew the bracken softly northward. The heather was dark rose purple,
the "ling" dominating the miles of moor; for the lavender-grey flush
of the true heather had not yet broken over the great spaces of the
So their feet dragged slower as they drew near to that spot where
they knew they must part. There was no thought of going back. There
was even little of pain.
Perfect love had done its work. All frayed and secondhand loves
may be made ashamed by the fearlessness of these two walking to their
farewell trysting-place, lonely amid the world of heather. Only daft
Jock Gordon above them, like a jealous scout, scoured the
heights—sometimes on all-fours, sometimes bending double, with his
long arms swinging like windmills, scaring even the sheep and the deer
lest they should come too near. Overhead there was nothing nearer them
than the blue lift, and even that had withdrawn itself infinitely far
away, as though the angels themselves did not wish to spy on a later
Eden. It was that midsummer glory of love-time, when grey Galloway
covers up its flecked granite and becomes a true Purple Land.
If there be a fairer spot within the four seas than this fringe of
birch-fringed promontory which juts into westernmost Loch Ken, I do
not know it. Almost an island, it is set about with the tiniest
beaches of white sand. From the rocks that look boldly up the loch
the heather and the saxifrage reflect themselves in the still water.
To reach it Winsome led Ralph among the scented gall-bushes and bog
myrtle, where in the marshy meadows the lonely grass of Parnassus was
growing. Pure white petals, veined green, with spikelets of green set
in the angles within, five-lobed broidery of daintiest gold stitching,
it shone with so clear a presage of hope that Ralph stooped to pick it
that he might give it to Winsome.
She stopped him.
"Do not pull it," she said; "leave it for me to come and look at—
when—when you are gone. It will soon wither if it is taken away; but
give me some of the bog myrtle instead," she added, seeing that Ralph
looked a little disappointed.
Ralph gathered some of the narrow, brittle, fragrant leaves.
Winsome carefully kept half for herself, and as carefully inserted a
spray in each pocket of his coat.
"There, that will keep you in mind of Galloway!" she said. And
indeed the bog myrtle is the characteristic smell of the great world
of hill and moss we call by that name. In far lands the mere thought
of it has brought tears to the eyes unaccustomed, so close do the
scents and sights of the old Free Province—the lordship of the
Picts—wind themselves about the hearts of its sons.
"We transplant badly, we plants of the hills. You must come back
to me," said Winsome, after a pause of wondering silence.
Loch Ken lay like a dream in the clear dispersed light of the
morning, the sun shimmering upon it as through translucent ground
glass. Teal and moor-hen squattered away from the shore as Winsome
and Ralph climbed the brae, and stood looking northward over the
superb levels of the loch. On the horizon Cairnsmuir showed golden
tints through his steadfast blue.
Whaups swirled and wailed about the rugged side of Bennan above
their heads. Across the loch there was a solitary farm so beautifully
set that Ralph silently pointed it out to Winsome, who smiled and
shook her head.
"The Shirmers has just been let on a nineteen years' lease," she
said, "eighteen to run."
So practical was the answer, that Ralph laughed, and the strain of
his sadness was broken. He did not mean to wait eighteen years for
her, fathers or no fathers.
Then beyond, the whole land leaped skyward in great heathery
sweeps, save only here and there, where about some hill farm the
little emerald crofts and blue-green springing oatlands clustered
closest. The loch spread far to the north, sleeping in the sunshine.
Burnished like a mirror it was, with no breath upon it. In the south
the Dee water came down from the hills peaty and brown. The roaring of
its rapids could faintly be heard. To the east, across the loch, an
island slept in the fairway, wooded to the water's edge.
It were a good place to look one's last on the earth, this wooded
promontory, which might indeed have been that mountain, though a
little one, from which was once seen all the kingdoms of the earth
and the glory of them. For there are no finer glories on the earth
than red heather and blue loch, except only love and youth.
So here love and youth had come to part, between the heather that
glowed on the Bennan Hill and the sapphire pavement of Loch Ken.
For a long time Winsome and Ralph were silent—the empty interior
sadness, mixed of great fear and great hunger, beginning to grip them
as they stood. Lives only just twined and unified were again to twain.
Love lately knit was to be torn asunder. Eyes were to look no more
into the answering eloquence of other eyes.
"I must go," said Ralph, looking down into his betrothed's face.
"Stay only a little," said Winsome. "It is the last time."
So he stayed.
Strange, nervous constrictions played at "cat's cradle" about
their hearts. Vague noises boomed and drummed in their ears, making
their own words sound strange and empty, like voices heard in a dream.
"Winsome!" said Ralph.
"Ralph!" said Winsome.
"You will never for a moment forget me?" said Winsome Charteris.
"You will never for a moment forget me?" said Ralph Peden.
The mutual answer taken and given, after a long silence of soul
and body in not-to-be-forgotten communion, they drew apart.
Ralph went a little way down the birch-fringed hill, but turned to
look a last look. Winsome was standing where he had left her.
Something in her attitude told of the tears steadily falling upon her
summer dress. It was enough and too much.
Ralph ran back quickly.
"I cannot go away, Winsome. I cannot bear to leave you like this!"
Winsome looked at him and fought a good fight, like the brave girl
she was. Then she smiled through her tears with the sudden radiance
of the sun upon a showery May morning when the white hawthorn is
At this a sob, dangerously deep, rending and sudden, forced itself
from Ralph's throat. Her smile was infinitely more heart-breaking
than her tears. Ralph uttered a kind of low inarticulate roar at the
sight—being his impotent protest against his love's pain. Yet such
moments are the ineffaceable treasures of life, had he but known it.
Many a man's deeds follow his vows simply because his lips have tasted
the salt water of love's ocean upon the face of the beloved.
"Be brave, Winsome," said Ralph; "it shall not be for long."
Yet she was braver than he, had he but known it; for it is the
heritage of the woman to be the stronger in the crises which
inevitably wait upon love and love's achievement.
Winsome bent to kiss, with a touch like a benediction, not his
lips now but his brow, as he stood beneath her on the hill slope.
"Go," she said; "go quickly, while I have the strength. I will be
brave. Be thou brave also. God be with thee!"
So Ralph turned and fled while he could. He dared not trust
himself to look till he was past the hill and some way across the
moor. Then he turned and looked back over the acres of heather which
he had put between himself and his love.
Winsome still stood on the hill-top, the sun shining on her face.
In her hand was the lilac sunbonnet, making a splash of faint pure
colour against the blonde whiteness of her dress. Ralph could just
catch the golden shimmer of her hair. He knew but he could not see
how it crisped and tendrilled about her brow, and how the light wind
blew it into little cirrus wisps of sun-flossed gold. The thought that
for long he should see it no more was even harder than parting. It is
the hard things on this earth that are the easiest to do. The great
renunciation is easy, but it is infinitely harder to give up the
sweet, responsive delight of the eye, the thought, the caress. This
also is human. God made it.
The lilac sunbonnet waved a little heartless wave which dropped in
the middle as if a string were broken. But the shining hair blew out,
as a waft of wind from the Bennan fretted a moving patch across the
Ralph flung out his hand in one of the savage gestures men use
when they turn bewildered and march away, leaving the best of their
lives behind them.
So shutting his eyes Ralph plunged headlong into the green glades
of the Kenside and looked no more. Winsome walked slowly and sedately
back, not looking on the world any more, but only twining and pulling
roughly the strings of her sunbonnet till one came off. Winsome threw
it on the grass. What did it matter now? She would wear it no longer.
There was none to cherish the lilac sunbonnet any more.
CHAPTER XXXVI. OVER THE HILLS AND
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 Bennan
"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 [Footnote: Veronese green] 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
"Nae sillar in't?" queried Jock. "How's that? It looks brave and
"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
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
"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'" [jerking from the side], 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
"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.
CHAPTER XXXVII. UNDER THE BED
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
"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
"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 [neat] again i' the mornin'!" he said. "Noo,
we'll theek [thatch] 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 [itch] 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
"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,
"'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' [beetles digging] 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 [fox]. 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 [uncertain] 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
[extraordinary] 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."
CHAPTER XXXVIII. BEFORE THE
"The Lord save us, Maister Ralph, what's this?" said John
Bairdieson, opening the door of the stair in James's Court. It was a
narrow hall that it gave access to, more like a passage than a hall.
"Hoo hae ye come? An' what for didna Maister Welsh or you write to say
ye war comin'? An' whaur's a' the buiks an' the gear?" continued John
"I have walked all the way, John," said Ralph. "I quarrelled with
the minister, and he turned me to the door."
"Dear sirce!" said John anxiously, "was't ill-doing or unsound
"Mr. Welsh said that he could not company with unbelievers."
"Then it's doctrine—wae's me, wae's me! I wuss it had been the
lasses. What wull his faither say? Gin it had been ill-doin', he
micht hae pitten it doon to the sins o' yer youth; but ill- doctrine
he canna forgie. O Maister Ralph, gin ye canna tell a lee yersel',
wull ye no haud yer tongue—I can lee, for I'm but an elder—an' I'll
tell him that at a kirn [harvest festival] ye war persuaded to drink
the health o' the laird, an' you no bein' acquant wi' the strength o'
"John, John, indeed I cannot allow it. Besides, you're a sailor-
man, an' even in Galloway they do not have kirns till the corn's
ripe," replied Ralph with a smile.
"Aweel, can ye no say, or let me say for ye, gin ye be particular,
that ye war a wee late oot at nicht seein' a bit lassie—or ocht but
the doctrine? It wasna anything concernin' the fundamentals o' the
Marrow, Maister Ralph, though, surely," continued John Bairdieson,
whose elect position did not prevent him from doing his best for the
interests of his masters, young and old. Indeed, to start with the
acknowledged fact of personal election sometimes gives a man like John
Bairdieson an unmistakable advantage. Ralph went to his own room,
leaving John Bairdieson listening, as he prayed to be allowed to do,
at the door of his father's room.
In a minute or two John Bairdieson came up, with a scared face.
"Ye're to gang doon, Maister Ralph, an' see yer faither. But, O
sir, see that ye speak lown [calm] to him. He hasna gotten sleep for
twa nichts, an' he's fair pitten by himsel' wi' thae ill-set
Conformists—weary fa' them! that he's been in the gall o' bitterness
Ralph went down to his father's study. Knocking softly, he
entered. His father sat in his desk chair, closed in on every side.
It had once been the pulpit of a great Reformer, and each time that
Gilbert Peden shut himself into it, he felt that he was without father
or mother save and except the only true and proper Covenant-keeping
doctrine in broad Scotland, and the honour and well-being of the
sorely dwindled Kirk of the Marrow.
Gilbert Peden was a noble make of a man, larger in body though
hardly taller than his son. He wore a dark-blue cloth coat with wide
flaps, and the immense white neckerchief on which John Bairdieson
weekly expended all his sailor laundry craft. His face was like his
son's, as clear-cut and statuesque, though larger and broader in frame
and mould. There was, however, a coldness about the eye and a downward
compression of the lips, which speaks the man of narrow though fervid
Ralph went forward to his father. As he came, his father stayed
him with the palm of his hand, the finger-tips turned upward.
"Abide, my son, till I know for what cause you have left or been
expelled from the house of the man to whom I committed you during
your trials for license. Answer me, why have you come away from the
house of Allan Welsh like a thief in the night?"
"Father," said Ralph, "I cannot tell you everything at present,
because the story is not mine to tell. Can you not trust me?"
"I could trust you with my life and all that I possess," said his
father; "they are yours, and welcome; but this is a matter that
affects your standing as a probationer on trials in the kirk of the
Marrow, which is of divine institution. The cause is not mine, my son.
Tell me that the cause of your quarrel had nothing to do with the
Marrow kirk and your future standing in it, and I will ask you no more
till you choose to tell me of your own will concerning the matter."
The Marrow minister looked at his son with a gleam of tenderness
forcing its way through the sternness of his words.
But Ralph was silent.
"It was indeed in my duty to the Marrow kirk that Mr. Welsh
considered that I lacked. It was for this cause that he refused to
company further with me."
Then there came a hardness as of grey hill stone upon the
minister's face. It was not a pleasant thing to see in a father's
"Then," he said slowly, "Ralph Peden, this also is a manse of the
Marrow kirk, and, though ye are my own son, I cannot receive ye here
till your innocence is proven in the presbytery. Ye must stand yer
Ralph bowed his head. He had not been unprepared for something
like this, but the pain he might have felt at another time was made
easier by a subtle anodyne. He hardly seemed to feel the smart as a
week before he might have done. In some strange way Winsome was
helping him to bear it—or her prayers for him were being answered.
John Bairdieson broke into the study, his grey hair standing on
end, and the shape of the keyhole cover imprinted on his brow above
his left eye. John could see best with his left eye, and hear best
with his right ear, which he had some reason to look upon as a special
equalization of the gifts of Providence, though not well adapted for
being of the greatest service at keyholes.
"Save us, minister!" he burst out; "the laddie's but a laddie, an'
na doot his pranks hae upset guid Maister Welsh a wee. Lads will be
lads, ye ken. But Maister Ralph's soond on the fundamentals—I learned
him the Shorter Questions mysel', sae I should ken—forbye the hunner
an' nineteenth Psalm that he learned on my knee, and how to mak' a
Fifer's knot, an' the double reef, an' a heap o' usefu' knowledge
forbye; an' noo to tak' it into your heid that yer ain son's no soond
in the faith, a' because he has fa'en oot wi' a donnert auld carle—"
"John," said the minister sternly, "leave the room! You have no
right to speak thus of an honoured servant of the kirk of the
Ralph could see through the window the light fading off the Fife
Lomonds, and the long line of the shore darkening under the night
into a more ethereal blue.
There came to him in this glimpse of woods and dewy pastures
overseas a remembrance of a dearer shore. The steading over the
Grannoch Loch stood up clear before him, the blue smoke going
straight up, Winsome's lattice standing open with the roses peeping
in, and the night airs breathing lovingly through them, airing it out
as a bed-chamber for the beloved.
The thought made his heart tender. To his father he said:
"Father, will you not take my word that there is nothing wicked or
disgraceful in what I have done? If it were my own secret, I would
gladly tell you at once; but as it is, I must wait until in his own
time Mr. Welsh communicates with you."
The minister, sitting in the Reformer's seat, pulling at his stern
upper lip, winced; and perhaps had it not been for the pulpit the
human in him might have triumphed. But he only said:
"I am quite prepared to support you until such time as at a
meeting of the presbytery the matter be tried, but I cannot have in a
Marrow Manse one living under the fama of expulsion from the house of
a brother minister in good standing."
"Thank you, father," said his son, "for your kind offer, but I do
not think I shall need to trouble you."
And so with these words the young man turned and went out proudly
from the father's sight, as he had gone from the manse of the other
minister of the Marrow kirk.
As he came to the outside of the door, leaving his father sitting
stately and stern in the Reformer's pulpit, he said, in the deeps of
"God do so to me, and more also, if I ever seek again to enter the
Marrow kirk, if so be that, like my father, I must forget my humanity
in order worthily to serve it!"
After he had gone out, the Reverend Gilbert Peden took his Bible
and read the parable of the prodigal son. He closed the great book,
which ever lay open before him, and said, as one who both accuses and
"But the prodigal son was not under trials for license in the kirk
of the Marrow!"
At the door, John Bairdieson, his hair more than ever on end, met
Ralph. He held up his hands.
"It's an awfu'—like thing to be obleegit to tell the hale truth!
O man, couldna ye hae tell't a wee bit lee? It wad hae saved an awfu'
deal o' fash! But it's ower late now; ye can juist bide i' the spare
room up the stair, an' come an' gang by door on the Castle Bank, an'
no yin forbye mysel' 'ill be a hair the wiser. I, John Bairdieson, 'll
juist fetch up yer meals the same as ordinar'. Ye'll be like a laddie
at the mastheid up there; it'll be braw an' quate for the studyin'!"
"John, I am much obliged to you for your kind thought," said
Ralph, "but I cannot remain in his house against my father's
expressed wish, and without his knowledge."
"Hear till him! Whaur else should he bide but in the hoose that he
was born in, an' his faither afore him? That would be a bonny like
story. Na, na, ye'll juist bide, Maister Ralph, an'—"
"I must go this very night," said Ralph. "You mean well, John, but
it cannot be. I am going down to see my uncle, Professor Thriepneuk."
"Leave yer faither's hoose to gang to that o' a weezened auld—"
"John!" said Ralph, warningly.
"He's nae uncle o' yours, onygate, though he married your mother's
sister. An' a sair life o't she had wi' him, though I doot na but
thae dochters o' his sort him to richts noo."
So, in spite of John Bairdieson's utmost endeavours, and waiting
only to put his clothes together, Ralph took his way over to the
Sciennes, where his uncle, the professor, lived in a new house with
his three daughters, Jemima, Kezia, and Keren-happuch. The professor
had always been very kind to Ralph. He was not a Marrow man, and
therefore, according to the faith of his father, an outcast from the
commonwealth. But he was a man of the world of affairs, keen for the
welfare of his class at the University College—a man crabbed and
gnarled on the surface, but within him a strong vein of tenderness of
the sort that always seems ashamed of catching its possessor in a kind
To him Ralph knew that he could tell the whole story. The Sciennes
was on the very edge of the green fields. The corn-fields stretched
away from the dyke of the Professor's garden to the south towards the
red-roofed village of Echo Bank and the long ridge of Liberton,
crowned by the square tower on which a stone dining-room table had
been turned up, its four futile legs waving in the air like a beetle
overset on its back.
CHAPTER XXXIX. JEMIMA, KEZIA, AND
Ralph found the professor out. He was, indeed, engaged in an
acrimonious discussion on the Wernerian theory, and at that moment he
was developing a remarkable scientific passion, which threatened to
sweep his adversaries from the face of the earth in the debris of
Within doors, however, Ralph found a very warm welcome from his
three cousins—Jemima, Kezia, and Keren-happuch. Jemima was tall and
angular, with her hair accurately parted in the middle, and drawn in a
great sweep over her ears—a fashion intended by Nature for
Keren-happuch, who was round of face, and with a complexion in which
there appeared that mealy pink upon the cheeks which is peculiar to
the metropolis. Kezia was counted the beauty of the family, and was
much looked up to by her elder and younger sisters.
These three girls had always made much of Ralph, ever since he
used to play about the many garrets and rooms of their old mansion
beneath the castle, before they moved out to the new house at the
Sciennes. They had long been in love with him, each in her own way;
though they had always left the first place to Kezia, and wove
romances in their own heads with Ralph for the central figure. Jemima,
especially, had been very jealous of her sisters, who were
considerably younger, and had often spoken seriously to them about
flirting with Ralph. It was Jemima who came to the door; for, in those
days, all except the very grandest persons thought no more of opening
the outer than the inner doors of their houses.
"Ralph Peden, have you actually remembered that there is such a
house as the Sciennes?" said Jemima, holding up her face to receive
the cousinly kiss.
Ralph bestowed it chastely. Whereupon followed Kezia and little
Keren-happuch, who received slightly varied duplicates.
Then the three looked at one another. They knew that this Ralph
had eaten of the tree of knowledge.
"That is not the way you kissed us before you went away," said
outspoken Kezia, who had experience in the matter wider than that of
the others, looking him straight in the eyes as became a beauty.
For once Ralph was thoroughly taken aback, and blushed richly and
Kezia laughed as one who enjoyed his discomfiture.
"I knew it would come," she said. "Is she a milkmaid? She's not
the minister's daughter, for he is a bachelor, you said!"
Jemima and Keren-happuch actually looked a little relieved, though
a good deal excited. They had been standing in the hall while this
conversation was running its course.
"It's all nonsense, Kezia; I am astonished at you!" said Jemima.
"Come into the sitting-parlour," said Kezia, taking Ralph's hand;
"we'll not one of us bear any malice if only you tell us all about
Jemima, after severe consideration, at last looked in a curious
sidelong way to Ralph.
"I hope," she said, "that you have not done anything hasty."
"Tuts!" said Kezia, "I hope he has. He was far too slow before he
went away. Make love in haste; marry at leisure—that's the right
"Can I have the essay that you read us last April, on the origin
of woman?" asked Keren-happuch unexpectedly. "You won't want it any
more, and I should like it."
Even little Keren-happuch had her feelings.
The three Misses Thriepneuks were a little jealous of one another
before, but already they had forgotten this slight feeling, which
indeed was no more than the instinct of proprietorship which young
women come to feel in one who has never been long out of their house,
and with whom they have been brought up.
But in the face of this new interest they lost their jealousy of
one another; so that, in place of presenting a united front to the
enemy, these three kindly young women, excited at the mere hint of a
love-story, vied with one another which should be foremost in interest
and sympathy. The blush on Ralph's face spoke its own message, and
now, when he was going to speak, his three cousins sat round with
eager faces to listen.
"I have something to tell, girls," said Ralph, "but I meant to
tell it first to my uncle. I have been turned out of the manse of
Dullarg, and my father will not allow me to live in his house till
after the meeting of the presbytery."
This was more serious than a love-story, and the bright expression
died down into flickering uncertainty in the faces of Jemima, Kezia,
"It's not anything wrong?" asked Jemima, anxiously.
"No, no," said Ralph quickly, "nothing but what I have reason to
be proud enough of. It is only a question of the doctrines and
practice of the Marrow kirk—"
"Oh!" said all three simultaneously, with an accent of mixed scorn
and relief. The whole matter was clear to them now.
"And of the right of the synod of the Marrow kirk to control my
actions," continued Ralph.
But the further interest was entirely gone from the question.
"Tell us about HER," they said in unison.
"How do you know it is a 'her'?" asked Ralph, clumsily trying to
put off time, like a man.
Kezia laughed on her own account, Keren-happuch, because Kezia
laughed, but Jemima said solemnly:
"I hope she is of a serious disposition."
I hope she is pretty," said Kezia.
"And I hope she will love me," said little Keren-happuch.
Ralph thought a little, and then, as it was growing dark, he sat
on the old sofa with his back to the fading day, and told his
love-story to these three sweet girls, who, though they had played
with him and been all womanhood to him ever since he came out of
petticoats, had not a grain of jealousy of the unseen sister who had
come suddenly past them and stepped into the primacy of Ralph's life.
When he was half-way through with his tale he suddenly stopped,
"But I ought to have told all this first to your father, because
he may not care to have me in his house. There is only my word for
it, after all, and it is the fact that I have not the right to set
foot in my own father's house."
"We will make our father see it in the right way," said Jemima
"Yes," interposed Kezia, "or I would not give sixpence for his
peace of mind these next six months."
"It is all right if you tell us," said little Keren-happuch, who
was her father's playmate. Jemima ruled him, Kezia teased him—the
privilege of beauty—but it was generally little Keren-happuch who
fetched his slippers and sat with her cheek against the back of his
hand as he smoked and read in his great wicker chair by the north
There was the sound of quick nervous footsteps with an odd halt in
their fall on the gravel walk outside. The three girls ran to the
door in a tumultuous greeting, even Jemima losing her staidness for
the occasion. Ralph could hear only the confused babble of tongues and
the expressions, "Now you hear, father—" "Now you understand—"
"Listen to me, father—" as one after another took up the tale.
Ralph retold the story that night from the very beginning to the
professor, who listened silently, punctuating his thoughts with the
puffs of his pipe.
When he had finished, there was an unwonted moisture in the eyes
of Professor Thriepneuk—perhaps the memory of a time when he too had
He stretched the hand which was not occupied with his long pipe to
Ralph, who grasped it strongly.
"You have acted altogether as I could have desired my own son to
act; I only wish that I had one like you. Let the Marrow Kirk alone,
and come and be my assistant till you see your way a little into the
writer's trade. Pens and ink are cheap, and you can take my classes in
the summer, and give me quietness to write my book on 'The Abuses of
Ut with the Subjunctive.'"
"But I must find lodgings—" interrupted Ralph.
"You must find nothing—just bide here. It is the house of your
nearest kin, and the fittest place for you. Your meat's neither here
nor there, and my lasses—"
"They are the best and kindest in the world," said Ralph.
The professor glanced at him with a sharp, quizzical look under
his eyebrows. He seemed as if he were about to say something, and
then thought better of it and did not. Perhaps he also had had his
As Ralph was going to his room that night Kezia met him at the
head of the stairs. She came like a flash from nowhere in particular.
"Good-night, Ralph," she said; "give your Winsome a kiss from me—
the new kind—like this!"
Then Kezia vanished, and Ralph was left wondering, with his candle
in his hand.
CHAPTER XL. A TRIANGULAR
It was the day of the fast before the Communion in the Dullarg.
The services of the day were over, and Allan Welsh, the minister of
the Marrow kirk, was resting in his study from his labours. Manse Bell
came up and knocked, inclining her ear as she did so to catch the
minister's low-toned reply.
"Mistress Winifred Charteris frae the Craig Ronald to see ye,
Allan Welsh commanded his emotion without difficulty—what of it
he felt—as indeed he had done for many years.
He rose, however, with his hand on the table as though for
support, as Winsome came in. He received her in silence, bending over
her hand with a certain grave reverence.
Winsome sat down. She was a little paler but even lovelier in the
minister's eyes than when he had seen her before. The faint violet
shadows under her lower lids were deeper, and gave a new depth to her
sapphire eyes whose irises were so large that the changeful purple
lights in them came and went like summer lightnings.
It was Winsome who first spoke, looking at him with a strange pity
and a stirring of her soul that she could not account for. She had
come unwillingly on her errand, disliking him as the cause of her
lover's absence—one of the last things a woman learns to forgive.
But, as she looked on Allan Welsh, so bowed and broken, his eyes
fallen in, looking wistfully out of the pain of his life, her heart
went out to him, even as she thought that of a truth he was Ralph
"My grandfather," she said, and her voice was low, equable, and
serious, "sent me with a packet to you that he instructed me only to
give into your own hands."
Winsome went over to the minister and gave him a sealed parcel.
Allan Welsh took it in his hand and seemed to weigh it.
"I thank you," he said, commanding his voice with some difficulty.
"And I ask you to thank Walter Skirving for his remembrance of me. It
is many years since we were driven apart, but I have not forgotten the
kindness of the long ago!"
He opened the parcel. It was sealed with Walter Skirving's great
seal ring which he wore on his watch-chain, lying on the table before
him as he kept his never-ending vigil. There was a miniature and a
parcel of letters within.
It was the face of a fair girl, with the same dark-blue eyes of
the girl now before him, and the same golden hair—the face of an
earlier but not a fairer Winifred. Allan Welsh set his teeth, and
caught at the table to stay his dizzying head. The letters were his
own. It was Walter Skirving's stern message to him. From the very tomb
his own better self rose in judgment against him. He saw what he might
have been—the sorrow he had wrought, and the path of ultimate
He had tried to part two young lovers who had chosen the straight
and honest way. It was true that his duty to the kirk which had been
his life, and which he himself was under condemnation according to his
own standard, had seemed to him to conflict with the path he had
marked out for Ralph.
But his own letters, breaking from their brittle confining band,
poured in a cataract of folded paper and close-knit writing which
looked like his own self of long ago, upon the table before him. He
was condemned out of his own mouth.
Winsome sat with her face turned to the window, from which she
could see the heathery back of a hill which heaved its bulk between
the manse and the lowlands at the mouth of the Dee. There was a dreamy
look in her eyes, land her heart was far away in that Edinburgh town
from which she had that day received a message to shake her soul with
love and pity.
The minister of the Dullarg looked up.
"Do you love him?" he asked, abruptly and harshly.
Winsome looked indignant and surprised. Her love, laid away in the
depths of her heart, was sacred, and not thus to be at the mercy of
every rude questioner. But as her eye rested on Allan Welsh, the
unmistakable accent of sincerity took hold on her—that accent which
may ask all things and not be blamed.
"I do love him," she said—"with all my heart."
That answer does not vary while God is in his heaven.
The eye of Allan Welsh fell on the miniature. The woman he had
loved so long ago took part in the conversation.
"That is what you said twenty years ago!" the unseen Winsome said
from the table.
"And he loves you?" he asked, without looking up.
"If I did not believe it, I could not live!"
Allan Welsh glanced with a keen and sudden scrutiny at Winsome
Charteris; but the clearness of her eye and the gladness and faith at
the bottom of it satisfied him as to his thought.
This Ralph Peden was a better man than he. A sad yearning face
looked up at him from the table, and a voice thrilled in his ears
across the years—
"So did not you!"
"You know," said Allan Welsh, again untrue to himself, "that it is
not for Ralph Peden's good that he should love you." The formal part
of him was dictating the words.
"I know you think so, and I am here to ask you why," said Winsome
"And if I persuade you, will you forbid him?" said Allan Welsh,
convinced of his own futility.
Winsome's heart caught the accent of insincerity. It had gone far
beyond forbidding love or allowing it with Ralph Peden and herself.
"I shall try!" she said, with her own sweet serenity. But across
the years a voice was pleading their case. As the black and faded ink
of the letters flashed his own sentences across the minister's eye,
the soul God had put within him rose in revolt against his own petty
and useless preaching.
"So did not you" persisted the voice in his ear. "Me you
counselled to risk all, and you took me out into the darkness,
lighting my way with love. Did ever I complain—father lost, mother
lost, home lost, God well nigh lost—all for you; yet did I even
regret when you saw me die?"
"Think of the Marrow kirk," said the minister. "Her hard service
does not permit a probationer, before whom lies the task of doctrine
and reproof, to have father or mother, wife or sweetheart."
"And what did you," said the voice, "in that past day, care for
the Marrow kirk, when the light shone upon me, and you thought the
world, and the Marrow kirk with it, well lost for love's sake and
Allan Welsh bowed his head yet lower.
Winsome Charteris went over to him. His tears were falling fast on
the dulled and yellowing paper.
Winsome put her hands on his shoulder.
"Is that my mother's picture?" she said, hardly knowing what she
Allan Welsh put his hand greedily about it, he could not let it
"Will you kiss me for your mother's sake?" he said.
And then, for the first time since her babyhood, Winsome
Charteris, whose name was Welsh, kissed her father.
There were tears on her mother's miniature, but through them the
face of the dead Winifred seemed to smile well pleased.
"For my mother's sake!" said Winsome again, and kissed him of her
own accord on the brow.
Thus Walter Skirving's message was delivered.
CHAPTER XLI. THE MEETING OF THE
With the vestry of the Marrow kirk in Bell's Wynd the synod met,
and was constituted with prayer. Sederunt, the Reverend Gilbert
Peden, moderator, minister of the true kirk of God in Scotland,
commonly called the Marrow Kirk, in which place the synod for the
time being was assembled; the Reverend Allan Welsh, minister of the
Marrow kirk in Dullarg, clerk of the synod; John Bairdieson, synod's
officer. The minutes of the last meeting having been read and approved
of, the court proceeded to take up business. Inter alia the trials of
Master Ralph Peden, some time student of arts and humanity in the
College of Edinburgh, were a remit for this day and date. Accordingly,
the synod called upon the Reverend Allan Welsh, its clerk, to make
report upon the diligence, humility, and obedience, as well as upon
the walk and conversation of the said Ralph Peden, student in
divinity, now on trials for license to preach, the gospel.
Allan Welsh read all this gravely and calmly, as if the art of
expressing ecclesiastical meaning lay in clothing it in as many
overcoats as a city watchman wears in winter.
The moderator sat still, with a grim earnestness in his face. He
was the very embodiment of the kirk of the Marrow, and though there
were but two ministers with no elders there that day to share the
responsibility, what did that matter?
He, Gilbert Peden, successor of all the (faithful) Reformers, was
there to do inflexible and impartial justice.
John Bairdieson came in and sat down. The moderator observed his
presence, and in his official capacity took notice of it.
"This sederunt of the synod is private," he said. "Officer, remove
In his official capacity the officer of the court promptly removed
John Bairdieson, who went most unwillingly.
The matter of the examination of probationers comes up immediately
after the reading of the minutes in well-regulated church courts,
being most important and vital.
"The clerk will now call for the report upon the life and conduct
of the student under trials," said the moderator.
The clerk called upon the Reverend Allan Welsh to present his
report. Then he sat down gravely, but immediately rose again to give
his report. All the while the moderator sat impassive as a statue.
The minister of Dullarg began in a low and constrained voice. He
had observed, he said, with great pleasure the diligence and ability
of Master Ralph Peden, and considered the same in terms of the remit
to him from the synod. He was much pleased with the clearness of the
candidate upon the great questions of theology and church government.
He had examined him daily in his work, and had confidence in bearing
testimony to the able and spiritual tone of all his exercises, both
oral and written.
Soon after he began, a surprised look stole over the face of the
moderator. As Allan Welsh went on from sentence to sentence, the thin
nostrils of the representative of the Reformers dilated. A strange and
intense scorn took possession of him. He sat back and looked fixedly
at the slight figure of the minister of Dullarg bending under the
weight of his message and the frailty of his body. His time was
Allan Welsh sat down, and laid his written report on the table of
"And is that all that you have to say?" queried the moderator,
"That is all," said Allan Welsh.
"Then," said the moderator, "I charge it against you that you have
either said too much or too little: too much for me to listen to as
the father of this young man, if it be true that you extruded him,
being my son and a student of the Marrow kirk committed to your care,
at midnight from your house, for no stated cause; and too little, far
too little to satisfy me as moderator of this synod, when a report not
only upon diligence and scholarship, but also upon a walk and
conversation becoming the gospel, is demanded."
"I have duly given my report according to the terms of the remit,"
said Allan Welsh, simply and quietly.
"Then," said the moderator, "I solemnly call you to account as the
moderator of this synod of the only true and protesting Kirk of
Scotland, for the gravest dereliction of your duty. I summon you to
declare the cause why Ralph Peden, student in divinity, left your
house at midnight, and, returning to mine, was for that cause denied
bed and board at his father's house."
"I deny your right, moderator, to ask that question as an officer
of this synod. If, at the close, you meet me as man to man, and, as a
father, ask me the reasons of my conduct, some particulars of which I
do not now seek to defend, I shall be prepared to satisfy you."
"We are not here convened," said the moderator, "to bandy
compliments, but to do justice—"
"And to love mercy," interjected John Bairdieson through the
"Officer," said the moderator, "remove that rude interrupter."
"Aye, aye, sir," responded the synod officer promptly, and removed
the offender as much as six inches.
"You have no more to say?" queried the moderator, bending his
brows in threatening fashion.
"I have no more to say," returned the clerk as firmly. They were
both combative men; and the old spirit of that momentous conflict, in
which they had fought so gallantly together, moved them to as great
obstinacy now that they were divided.
"Then," said the moderator, "there's nothing for't but another
split, and the Lord do so, and more also, to him whose sin brings it
"Amen!" said Allan Welsh.
"You will remember," said the moderator, addressing the minister
of Dullarg directly, "that you hold your office under my pleasure.
There is that against you in the past which would justify me, as
moderator of the kirk of the Marrow, in deposing you summarily from
the office of the ministry. This I have in writing under your own hand
"And I," said the clerk, rising with the gleaming light of war in
his eye, "have to set it against these things that you are guilty of
art and part in the concealment of that which, had you spoken twenty
years ago, would have removed from the kirk of the Marrow an
unfaithful minister, and given some one worthier than I to report on
the fitness of your son for the ministry. It was you, Gilbert Peden,
who made this remit to me, knowing what you know. I shall accept the
deposition which you threaten at your hands, but remember that
co-ordinately the power of this assembly lies with me—you as
moderator, having only a casting, not a deliberative vote; and know
you, Gilbert Peden, minister and moderator, that I, Allan Welsh, will
depose you also from the office of the ministry, and my deposition
will stand as good as yours."
"The Lord preserve us! In five meenetes there'll be nae Marrow
Kirk" said John Bairdieson, and flung himself against the door; but
the moderator had taken the precaution of locking it and placing the
key on his desk.
The two ministers rose simultaneously. Gilbert Peden stood at the
head and Allan Welsh at the foot of the little table. They were so
near that they could have shaken hands across it. But they had other
work to do.
"Allan Welsh," said the moderator, stretching out his hand,
"minister of the gospel in the parish of Dullarg to the faithful
contending remnant, I call upon you to show cause why you should not
be deposed for the sins of contumacy and contempt, for sins of person
and life, confessed and communicate under your hand."
"Gilbert Peden," returned the minister of the Dullarg and clerk to
the Marrow Synod, looking like a cock-boat athwart the hawse of a
leviathan of the deep, "I call upon you to show cause why you should
not be deposed for unfaithfulness in the discharge of your duty, in so
far as you have concealed known sin, and by complicity and compliance
have been sharer in the wrong."
There was a moment's silence. Gilbert Peden knew well that what
his opponent said was good Marrow doctrine, for Allan Welsh had
confessed to him his willingness to accept deposition twenty years
Then, as with one voice, the two men pronounced against each other
the solemn sentence of deposition and deprivation:
"In the name of God, and by virtue of the law of the Marrow Kirk,
I solemnly depose you from the office of the ministry."
John Bairdieson burst in the door, leaving the lock hanging awry
with the despairing force of his charge.
"Be merciful, oh, be merciful!" he cried; "let not the Philistines
rejoice, nor the daughter of the uncircumcised triumph. Let be! let
be! Say that ye dinna mean it! Oh, say ye dinna mean it! Tak' it
back—tak' it a' back!"
There was the silence of death between the two men, who stood
lowering at each other.
John Bairdieson turned and ran down the stairs. He met Ralph and
Professor Thriepneuk coming up.
"Gang awa'! gang awa'!" he cried. "There's nae leecense for ye
noo. There's nae mair ony Marrow Kirk! There's nae mair heaven and
earth! The Kirk o' the Marrow, precious and witnessing, is nae mair!"
And the tears burst from the old sailor as he ran down the street,
not knowing whither he went.
Half-way down the street a seller of sea-coal, great and grimy,
barred his way. He challenged the runner to fight. The spirit of the
Lord came upon John Bairdieson, and, rejoicing that a foe withstood
him, he dealt a buffet so sore and mighty that the seller of coal,
whose voice could rise like the grunting of a sea beast to the highest
windows of the New Exchange Buildings, dropped as an ox drops when it
is felled. And John Bairdieson ran on, crying out: "There's nae kirk
o' God in puir Scotland ony mair!"
CHAPTER XLII. PURGING AND
It was the Lord's day in Edinburgh town. The silence in the early
morning was something which could be felt—not a footstep, not a
rolling wheel. Window-blinds were mostly down—on the windows
provided with them. Even in Bell's Wynd there was not the noise of
the week. Only a tinker family squabbled over the remains of the deep
drinking of the night before. But then, what could Bell's Wynd
expect—to harbour such?
It was yet early dawn when John Bairdieson, kirk officer to the
little company of the faithful to assemble there later in the day,
went up the steps and opened the great door with his key. He went all
round the church with his hat on. It was a Popish idea to take off the
head covering within stone walls, yet John Bairdieson was that morning
possessed with the fullest reverence for the house of God and the
highest sense of his responsibility as the keeper of it.
He was wont to sing:
My God's house would I keep a door
Than dwell in tents of sin."
That was the retort which he flung across at Taminas Laidlay, the
beadle of the Established Kirk opposite, with all that scorn in the
application which was due from one in John Bairdieson's position to
one in that of Tammas Laidlay.
But this morning John had no spirit for the encounter. He hurried
in and sat down by himself in the minister's vestry. Here he sat for
a long season in deep and solemn thought.
"I'll do it!" he said at last.
It was near the time when the minister usually came to enter into
his vestry, there to prepare himself by meditation and prayer for the
services of the sanctuary. John Bairdieson posted himself on the top
step of the stairs which led from the street, to wait for him. At
last, after a good many passers-by, all single and all in black,
walking very fast, had hurried by, John's neck craning after every
one, the minister appeared, walking solemnly down the street with his
head in the air. His neckcloth was crumpled and soiled—a fact which
was not lost on John.
The minister came up the steps and made as though he would pass
John by without speaking to him; but that guardian of the sanctuary
held out his arms as though he were wearing sheep.
"Na, na, minister, ye come na into this Kirk this day as minister
till ye be lawfully restored. There are nae ministers o' the kirk o'
the Marrow the noo; we're a body without a heid. I thocht that the
Kirk was at an end, but the Lord has revealed to me that the Marrow
Kirk canna end while the world lasts. In the nicht season he telled me
what to do."
The minister stood transfixed. If his faithful serving-man of so
many years had turned against him, surely the world was at an end.
But it was not so.
John Bairdieson went on, standing with his hat in his hand, and
the hairs of his head erect with the excitement of unflinching
"I see it clear. Ye are no minister o' this kirk. Mr. Welsh is no
minister o' the Dullarg. I, John Bairdieson, am the only officer of
the seenod left; therefore I stand atween the people and you this day,
till ye hae gane intil the seenod hall, that we ca' on ordinary days
the vestry, and there, takkin' till ye the elders that remain, ye be
solemnly ordainit ower again and set apairt for the office o' the
"But I am your minister, and need nothing of the sort!" said
Gilbert Peden. "I command you to let me pass!"
"Command me nae commands! John Bairdieson kens better nor that. Ye
are naither minister nor ruler; ye are but an elder, like mysel'—
equal among your equals; an' ye maun sit amang us this day and help
to vote for a teachin' elder, first among his equals, to be set
The minister, logical to the verge of hardness, could not gainsay
the admirable and even-handed justice of John Bairdieson's position.
More than that, he knew that every man in the congregation of the
Marrow Kirk of Bell's Wynd would inevitably take the same view.
Without another word he went into the session-house, where in due
time he sat down and opened the Bible.
He had not to wait long, when there joined him Gavin MacFadzean,
the cobbler, from the foot of Leith Walk, and Alexander Taylour,
carriage-builder, elders in the kirk of the Marrow; these, forewarned
by John Bairdieson, took their places in silence. To them entered
Allan Welsh. Then, last of all, John Bairdieson came in and took his
own place. The five elders of the Marrow kirk were met for the first
time on an equal platform. John Bairdieson opened with prayer. Then he
stated the case. The two ex-ministers sat calm and silent, as though
listening to a chapter in the Acts of the Apostles. It was a strange
scene of equality, only possible and actual in Scotland.
"But mind ye," said John Bairdieson, "this was dune hastily, and
not of set purpose—for ministers are but men—even ministers of the
Marrow kirk. Therefore shall we, as elders of the kirk, in full
standing, set apairt two of our number as teaching elders, for the
fulfilling of ordinances and the edification of them that believe.
Have you anything to say? If not, then let us proceed to set apairt
and ordain Gilbert Peden and Allan Welsh."
But before any progress could be made, Allan Welsh rose. John
Bairdieson had been afraid of this.
"The less that's said, the better," he said hastily, "an' it's
gottin' near kirk-time. We maun get it a' by or then."
"This only I have to say," said Allan Welsh, "I recognize the
justice of my deposition. I have been a sinful and erring man, and I
am not worthy to teach in the pulpit any more. Also, my life is done.
I shall soon lay it down and depart to the Father whose word I,
hopeless and castaway, have yet tried faithfully to preach."
Then uprose Gilbert Peden. His voice was husky with emotion.
"Hasty and ill-advised, and of such a character as to bring dishonour
on the only true Kirk in Scotland, has such an action been. I confess
myself a hasty man, a man of wrath, and that wrath unto sin. I have
sinned the sin of anger and presumption against a brother. Long ere
now I would have taken it back, but it is the law of God that deeds
once done cannot be undone; though we seek repentance carefully with
tears, we cannot put the past away."
Thus, with the consecration and the humility of confession Gilbert
Peden purged himself from the sin of hasty anger.
"Like Uzzah at the threshing-floor of Nachon," he went on, "I have
sinned the sin of the Israelite who set his hand to the ox-cart to
stay the ark of God. It is of the Lord's mercy that I am not
consumed, like the men of Beth-shemesh."
So Gilbert Peden was restored, but Allan Welsh would not accept
"I am not a man accepted of God," he said. And even Gilbert Peden
said no word.
"Noo," said John Bairdieson, "afore this meetin' scales [is
dismissed], there is juist yae word that I hae to say. There's nane
o' us haes wives, but an' except Alexander Taylour, carriage- maker.
Noo, the proceedings this mornin' are never to be jince named in the
congregation. If, then, there be ony soond of this in the time to
come, mind you Alexander Taylour, that it's you that'll hae to bear
the weight o't!"
This was felt to be fair, even by Alexander Taylour, carriage-
The meeting now broke up, and John Bairdieson went to reprove
Margate Truepenny for knocking with her crutch on the door of the
house of God on the Sabbath morning.
"D'ye think," he said, "that the fowk knockit wi' their staves on
the door o' the temple in Jerusalem?"
"Aiblins," retorted Margate, "they had feller [quicker]
doorkeepers in thae days nor you, John Bairdieson."
The morning service was past. Gilbert Peden had preached from the
text, 'Greater is he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a
"Oor minister is yin that looks deep intil the workings o' his ain
heart," said Margate, as she hirpled homeward.
But when the church was empty and all gone home, in the little
vestry two men sat together, and the door was shut. Between them they
held a miniature, the picture of a girl with a flush of rose on her
cheek and a laughing light in her eyes. There was silence, but for a
quick catch in the stronger man's breathing, which sounded like a sob.
Gilbert Peden, who had only lost and never won, and Allan Welsh, who
had both won and lost, were forever at one. There was silence between
them, as they looked with eyes of deathless love at the picture which
spoke to them of long ago.
Walter Skirving's message, which Winsome had brought to the manse
of Dullarg, had united the hearts estranged for twenty years. Winsome
had builded better than she knew.
CHAPTER XLIII. THREADS DRAWN
Winsome took her grandmother out one afternoon into the rich
mellow August light, when the lower corn-fields were glimmering with
misty green shot underneath with faintest blonde, and the sandy knowes
were fast yellowing. The blithe old lady was getting back some of her
strength, and it seemed possible that once again she might be able to
go round the house without even the assistance of an arm.
"And what is this I hear," said Mistress Skirving, "that the daft
young laird frae the Castle has rin' aff wi' that cottar's lassie,
Jess Kissock, an' marriet her at Gretna Green. It's juist no
"But, grandma, it is quite true, for Jock Gordon brought the news.
He saw them postin' back from Gretna wi' four horses!"
"An' what says his mither, the Lady Elizabeth?"
"They say that she's delighted," said Winsome.
"That's a lee, at ony rate!" said the mistress of Craig Ronald,
without a moment's hesitation. She knew the Lady Elizabeth,
"They say," said Winsome, "that Jess can make them do all that she
wants at the Castle."
"Gin she gars them pit doon new carpets, she'll do wonders," said
her grandmother, acidly. She came of a good family, and did not like
mesalliances, though she had been said to have made one herself.
But there was no misdoubting the fact that Jess had done her sick
nursing well, and had possessed herself in honourable and lawful
wedlock of the Honourable Agnew Greatorix—and that too, apparently
with the consent of the Lady Elizabeth.
"What took them to Gretna, then?" said Winsome's grandmother.
"Well, grandmammy, you see, the Castle folk are Catholic, and
would not have a minister; an' Jess, though a queer Christian, as
well as maybe to show her power and be romantic, would have no priest
or minister either, but must go to Gretna. So they're back again, and
Jock Gordon says that she'll comb his hair. He has to be in by seven
o'clock now," said Winsome, smiling.
"Wha's ben wi' yer grandfaither?" after a pause, Mistress Skirving
"Only Mr. Welsh from the manse," said Winsome. "I suppose he came
to see grandfather about the packet I took to the manse a month ago.
Grandmother, why does Mr. Welsh come so seldom to Craig Ronald?" she
But her grandmother was shaking in a strange way.
"I have not heard any noise," she said. "You had better go in and
Winsome stole to the door and looked within. She saw the minister
with his head on the swathed knees of her grandfather. The old man
had laid his hand upon the grey hair of the kneeling minister. Awed
and solemnised, Winsome drew back.
She told her grandmother what she had seen, and the old lady said
nothing for the space of a quarter of an hour. At the end of that
time she said:
"Help me ben."
And Winsome, taking her arm, guided her into the hushed room where
her husband sat, still holding his hand on the head of Allan Welsh.
Something in the pose of the kneeling man struck her—a certain
helpless inclination forward.
Winsome ran, and, taking Allan Welsh by the shoulders, lifted him
up in her strong young arms.
He was dead. He had passed in the act of forgiveness.
Walter Skirving, who had sat rapt and silent through it all as
though hardly of this world, now said clearly and sharply:
"'For if ye forgive men their trespasses, so also shall your
heavenly Father forgive you.'"
Walter Skirving did not long survive the man, in hatred of whom he
had lived, and in unity with whom he had died. It seemed as though he
had only been held to the earth by the necessity that the sun of his
life should not go down upon his wrath. This done, like a boat whose
moorings are loosed, very gladly he went out that same night upon the
ebb tide. The two funerals were held upon the same day. Minister and
elder were buried side by side one glorious August day, which was a
marvel to many. So the Dullarg kirk was vacant, and there was only
Manse Bell to take care of the property. Jonas Shillinglaw came from
Cairn Edward and communicated the contents of both Walter Skirving's
will and of that of Allan Welsh to those whom it concerned. Jonas had
made several journeys of late both to the manse as well as to the
steading of Craig Ronald. Walter Skirving left Craig Ronald and all
of which he died possessed to Winsome Charteris, subject to the
approval of her grandmother as to whom she might marry. There was a
recent codicil. "I desire to record my great satisfaction that
Winifred Charteris or Welsh is likely to marry the son of my old
friend Gilbert Peden, minister of the Marrow kirk in Edinburgh; and
hearing that the young man contemplates the career of letters, I
desire that, if it be possible, in the event of their marriage, they
come to abide at Craig Ronald, at least till a better way be opened
for them. I commend my wife, ever loving and true, to them both; and
in the good hope of a glorious resurrection I commit myself to Him who
Allan Welsh left all his goods and his property to Ralph Peden,
"being as mine own son, because he taught me to know true love, and
fearlessness and faith unfeigned. Also because one dear to him brought
me my hope of forgiveness."
There was indeed need of Ralph at Craig Ronald. Mistress Skirving
cried out incessantly for him. Meg begged Winsome to let her look
every day at the little miniature Ralph had sent her from Edinburgh.
The Cuif held forth upon the great event every night when he came over
to hold the tails of Meg's cows. Jock Forrest still went out, saying
nothing, whenever the Cuif came in, which the Cuif took to be a good
sign. Only Ebie Fairrish, struck to the heart by the inconstancy of
Jess, removed at the November term back again to the "laigh end" of
the parish, and there plunged madly into flirtations with several of
his old sweethearts. He is reported to have found in numbers the
anodyne for the unfaithfulness of one. As for what Winsome thought and
longed for, it is better that we should not begin to tell, not having
another volume to spare.
Only she went to the hill-top by the side of Loch Ken and looked
northward every eventide; and her heart yearned within her.
CHAPTER XLIV. WINSOME'S LAST TRYST.
It was the morn before a wedding, and there had been a constant
stir all night all about the farmsteading, for a brand-new world was
in the making. Such a marrying had not been for years. The farmers'
sons for miles around were coming on their heavy plough- horses, with
here and there one of better breed. Long ago in the earliest morning
some one had rung the bell of the little kirk of the Dullarg. It came
upon the still air a fairy tinkle, and many a cottar and many a
shepherd turned over with a comfortable feeling: "This is the Sabbath
morn; I need not rise so soon to-day." But all their wives remembered,
and turned them out with wifely elbow.
It was Winsome Charteris's wedding day. The flower of all the
countryside was to wed the young Edinburgh lad who had turned out so
great a poet. It was the opinion of the district that her "intended"
had unsettled the thrones of all the great writers of the past by his
volume of poems, which no one in the parish had read; but the fame of
whose success had been wafted down upon the eastern breezes which bore
the snell bite of the metropolis upon their front.
"Tra-la-la-la!" chanted the cocks of Craig Ronald.
"Tra-la-la-la-la!" airily sang the solitary bird which lived up
among the pine woods, where, in the cot of Mistress Kissock, Ralph
Peden occupied the little bedroom which Meg had got ready for him
with such care and honour.
"Tra-la-la-laa!" was echoed in the airiest diminuendo from the
far-away leader of the harem at the Nether Orae. His challenge
crossed the wide gulf of air above Loch Grannoch, from which in the
earliest morning the mists were rising.
Ralph Peden heard all three birds. He had a delightfully
comfortable bedroom, and the flowers on the little white-covered
table have come from the front square of Mistress Kissock's garden.
There was a passion-flower on his table, which somehow reminded him of
a girl who had put poppies in hair of the raven's wing hue. It had not
grown in the garden of the cot.
Yet Ralph was out in the earliest dawn, listening to the sighing
of the trees and taking in the odour of the perfume from the pines on
Ralph did not write any poem this morning, though the Muses were
abroad in the stillness of the dawn. His eyes were on a little window
once more overclambered by the June roses. His poem was down there,
and it was coming to him.
How eagerly he looked, his eyes like telescopes! Then his heart
thrilled. In the cool flood of slanting morning sunshine which had
just overflowed the eastern gable of the house, some one swiftly
crossed the court-yard of the farm. In a moment the sun, winking on a
pair of tin pails, told him that Meg Kissock was going to the well.
From the barn end some one stepped out by her side and walked to the
well. Then, as they returned, it was not the woman who was carrying
the winking pails. At the barn end they drew together in the shadow
for a long minute, and then again Ralph saw Meg's back as she walked
sedately to the kitchen door, the cans flashing rhythmically as she
swung them. So high was he above them that he could even notice the
mellow dimple of diffused light from the water in the bright pail
centring and scattering the morning sunlight as it swayed.
Presently the one half of the blue kitchen door became black. It
had been opened. Ralph's heart gave a great bound. Then the black
became white and glorified, for framed within it appeared a slender
shape like a shaft of light. Ralph's eyes did not leave the figure as
it stepped out and came down by the garden edge.
Along the top of the closely-cut hawthorn a dot of light moved. It
was but a speck, like the paler centre of the heather bells. Ralph
ran swiftly down the great dyke in a manner more natural to a young
man than dignified in a poet. In a minute he came to the edge of the
glen in which Andra Kissock had guddled the trouts. That flash of
layender must pass this way. It passed and stayed.
So in the cool translucence of morning light the lovers met in
this quiet glade, the great heather moors above them once more
royally purple, the burnie beneath singing a gentle song, the birds
vying with each other in complicated trills of pretended artlessness.
It was purely by chance that Winsome Charteris passed this way.
And a kind Providence, supplemented on Ralph's side by some activity
and observation, brought him also to the glen of the elders that June
morning. Yet there are those who say that there is nothing in
When Winsome, moving thoughtfully onward, gently waving a slip of
willow in her hand, came in sight of Ralph, she stood and waited.
Ralph went towards her, and so on their marriage morn these two
It was like that morning on which by the lochside they parted, yet
it was not like it.
With that prescience which is a sixth sense to women, Winsome had
slipped on the old sprigged gown which had done duty at the
blanket-washing so long ago, and her hair, unbound in the sun, shone
golden as it flowed from beneath the lilac sunbonnet. As for Ralph, it
does not matter how he was dressed. In love, dress does not matter a
brass button after the first corner is turned—at least not to the
"Sweet," said Ralph, "you are awake?"
Winsome looked up with eyes so glorious and triumphant that a
blind man could scarce have doubted the fact.
"And you love me?" he continued, reading her eyes. With her old
ripple of laughter she lightened the strain of the occasion.
"You are a silly boy," she said; "but you'll learn. I have come
out to gather flowers," she added, ingenuously. "I shall expect you
to help. No—no—and nothing else."
Had Ralph been in a fit condition to observe Nature this morning,
it might have occurred to him that when girls come out to gather
flowers for somewhat extensive decoration, they bring with them at
least a basket and generally also their fourth best pair of scissors.
Winsome had neither. But he was not in a mood for careful inductions.
The morning lights sprayed upon them as they went hither and
thither gathering flowers—dew-drenched hyacinths, elastic wire-
strung bluebells the colour of the sky when the dry east wind blows,
the first great red bushes of the ling. Now it is a known fact that,
in order properly to gather flowers, the collectors must divide and so
quarter the ground.
"But this was not a scientific expedition," said Ralph, when the
folly of their mode of proceeding was pointed out to him.
It was manifestly impossible that they could gather flowers
walking with the palm of Ralph's left hand laid on the inside of
Winsome's left arm. The thing cannot be done. At least so Ralph
"No," said Ralph, "but you made me promise to keep my shoulders
back, and I am trying to to do it now."
And his manner of assisting Winsome to gather her flowers for her
wedding bouquet was, when you come to think of it, admirably adapted
for keeping the shoulders back.
"Meg waked me this morning," said Winsome suddenly.
"She did, did she?" remarked Ralph ineffectively, with a quick
envy of Meg. Then it occurred to him that he had no need to envy Meg.
And Winsome blushed for no reason at all.
Then she became suddenly practical, as the protective instinct
teaches women to be on these occasions.
"You have not seen your study," she said.
"No," said Ralph, "but I have heard enough about it. It has
occupied sixteen pages in the last three letters."
Ralph considered the study a good thing, but he had his views upon
the composition of love-letters.
"You are an ungrateful boy," said Winsome sternly, "and I shall
see that you get no more letters—not any more!"
"I shall never want any, little woman," cried Ralph joyously, "for
I shall have you!"
It was a blessing that at this moment they were passing under the
dense shade of the great oaks at the foot of the orchard. Winsome had
thought for five minutes that it would happen about there. It
A quarter of an hour later they came out into the cool ocean of
leaf shadow which lay blue upon the grass and daisies. Winsome now
carried the sunbonnet over her arm, and in the morning sunshine her
uncovered head was so bright that Ralph could not gaze at it long.
Besides, he wanted to look at the eyes that looked at him, and one
cannot do everything at once.
"This is your study," she said, standing back to let him look in.
It was a long, low room with an outside stair above the farthermost
barn, and Winsome had fitted it up wondrously for Ralph. It opened off
the orchard, and the late blossoms scattered into it when the winds
blew from the south.
They stood together on the topmost step. There was a desk and one
chair, and a low window-seat in each of the deep windows.
"You will never be disturbed here," said Winsome.
"But I want to be disturbed," said Ralph, who was young and did
not know any better.
"Now go in," said Winsome, giving him a little push in the way
that, without any offence, a proximate wife may. "Go in and study a
little this morning, and see how you like it."
Ralph considered this as fair provocation, and turned, with bonds
and imprisonment in his mind. But Winsome had vanished.
But from beneath came a clear voice out of the unseen:
"If you don't like it, you can come round and tell me. It will not
be too late till the afternoon. Any time before three!"
A mere man is at a terrible disadvantage in word play of this
kind. On this occasion Ralph could think of nothing better than—
"Winsome Charteris, I shall pay you back for this!"
Then he heard what might either have been a bell ringing for the
fairies' breakfast, or a ripple of the merriest earthly laughter very
Then he sat down to study.
It took him quite an hour to arrive at a conclusion; but when
reached it was a momentous one. It was, that it is a mistake to be
married in summer, for three o'clock in the afternoon is such a long
time in coming.
CHAPTER XLV. THE LAST OF THE LILAC
Craig Ronald lies bright in a dreaming day in mid-September. The
reapers are once more in the fields. Far away there is a crying of
voices. The corn-fields by the bridge are white with a bloomy and
mellow whiteness. Some part of the oats is already down. Close into
the standing crop there is a series of rhythmic flashes, the scythes
swinging like a long wave that curls over here and there. Behind the
line of flashing steel the harvesters swarm like ants running hither
and thither crosswise, apparently in aimless fashion.
Up through the orchard comes a girl, tall and graceful, but with a
touch of something nobler and stiller that does not come to girlhood.
It is the seal of the diviner Eden grace which only comes with the
after Eden pain.
Winsome Peden carries more than ever of the old grace and beauty;
and the eyes of her husband, who has been finishing the proofs of his
next volume and at intervals looking over the busy fields to the
levels of Loch Grannoch, tell her so as she comes.
But suddenly from opposite sides of the orchard this girl with the
gracious something in her eyes is borne down by simultaneous assault.
Shrieking with delight, a boy and a girl, dressed in complete
defensive armour of daisies, and wielding desperate arms of lath
manufactured by Andra Kissock, their slave, rush fiercely upon her.
They pull down their quarry after a brisk chase, who sinks helplessly
upon the grass under a merciless fire of caresses.
It is a critical moment. A brutal and licentious soldiery are not
responsible at such moments. They may carry sack and rapine to
unheard of extremities.
"You young barbarians, be careful of your only mother—unless you
have a stock of them!" calls a voice from the top of the stairs which
lead to the study.
"Father's come out—hurrah! Come on, Allan!" shouts Field-Marshal
Winifred the younger who is leader and commander, to her army whose
tottery and chubby youth does not suggest the desperation of a forlorn
hope. So the study is carried at the point of the lath, and the banner
of the victors—a cross of a sort unknown to heraldry, marked on a
white ground with a blue pencil—is planted on the sacred desk itself.
Winsome the matron comes more slowly up the stairs.
"Can common, uninspired people come in?" she says, pausing at the
She looks about with a motherly eye, and pulls down the blind of
the window into which the sun has been streaming all the morning. It
is one of the advantages of such a wife that her husband, especially
the rare literary variety, may be treated as no more than the eldest
but most helpless of the babes. It is also true that Ralph had pulled
up the blind in order that he might the better be able to see his wife
moving among the reapers. For Winsome was more than ever a woman of
She stood in the doorway, looking in spite of the autumn sun and
the walk up from the corn-field, deliriously cool. She fanned herself
with a broad rhubarb-leaf—an impromptu fan plucked by the way. She
sat down on the ledge of the upper step of Ralph's study, as she often
did when she worked or rested. Ralph was again within, reclining on a
window-seat, while the pack of reckless banditti swarmed over him.
"Have the rhymes been behaving themselves this morning?" Winsome
said, looking across at Ralph as only a wife of some years' standing
can look at her husband—with love deepened into understanding, and
tempered with a spice of amusement and a wide and generous
tolerance—the look of a loving woman to whom her husband and her
husband's ways are better than a stage play. Such a look is a
certificate of happy home and an ideal life, far more than all
heroics. The love of the after-years depends chiefly on the capacity
of a wife to be amused by her husband's peculiarities—and not to let
him see it.
"There are three blanks," said Ralph, a little wistfully. "I have
written a good deal, but I dare not read it over, lest it should be
This was a well-marked stage in Ralph's composition, and it was
well that his wife had come.
"I fear you have been dreaming, instead of working," she said,
looking at him with a kind of pitying admiration. Ralph, too, had
grown handsomer, so his wife thought, since she had him to look
after. How, indeed, could it be otherwise?
She rose and went towards him.
"Sun down, now, children, and play on the grass," she said. "Sun,
chicks—off with you—shoo!" and she flirted her apron after them as
she did when she scattered the chickens from the dairy door. The
pinafored people fled shrieking across the grass, tumbling over each
other in riotous heaps.
Then Winsome went over and kissed her husband. He was looking so
handsome that he deserved it. And she did not do it too often. She
was glad that she had made him wear a beard. She put one of her hands
behind his head and the other beneath his chin, tilting his profile
with the air of a connoisseur. This can only be done in one position.
"Well, does it suit your ladyship?" said Ralph.
She gave him a little box on the ear.
"I knew," he said, "that you wanted to come and sit on my knee!"
"I never did," replied Winsome with animation, making a statement
almost certainly inaccurate upon the face of it.
"That's why you sent away the children," he went on, pinching her
"Of all things in this world," said Winsome indignantly, "commend
me to a man for conceit!"
"And to winsome wives for wily ways!" said her husband instantly.
To do him justice, he did not often do this sort of thing.
"Keep the alliteration for the poems," retorted Winsome. "Truth
will do for me."
After a little while she said, without apparent connection:
"It is very hot."
"What are they doing in the hay-field?" asked Ralph.
"Jock Forrest was leading and they were cutting down the croft
very steadily. I think it looks like sixty bushels to the acre," she
continued practically; "so you shall have a carpet for the study this
year, if all goes well."
"That will be famous!" cried Ralph, like a schoolboy, waving his
hand. It paused among Winsome's hair.
"I wish you would not tumble it all down," she said; "I am too old
for that kind of thing now!"
The number of times good women perjure themselves is almost
But the recording angel has, it is said, a deaf side, otherwise he
would need an ink-eraser. Ralph knew very well what she really meant,
and continued to throw the fine-spun glossy waves over her head, as a
miser may toss his gold for the pleasure of the cool, crisp touch.
"Then," continued Winsome, without moving (for, though so unhappy
and uncomfortable, she sat still—some women are born with a genius
for martyrdom), "then I had a long talk with Meg."
"And the babe?" queried Ralph, letting her hair run through his
"And the babe," said Winsome; "she had laid it to sleep under a
stock, and when we went to see, it looked so sweet under the narrow
arch of the corn! Then it looked up with big wondering eyes. I believe
he thought the inside of the stook was as high as a temple."
"It is not I that am the poet!" said Ralph, transferring his
attention for a moment from her hair.
"Meg says Jock Forrest is perfectly good to her, and that she
would not change her man for all Greatorix Castle."
"Does Jock make a good grieve?" asked Ralph.
"The very best; he is a great comfort to me," replied his wife. "I
get far more time to work at the children's things—and also to look
after my Ursa Major!"
"What of Jess?" asked Ralph; "did Meg say?"
"Jess has taken the Lady Elizabeth to call on My Lord at Bowhill!
What do you think of that? And she leads Agnew Greatorix about like a
lamb, or rather like a sheep. He gets just one glass of sherry at
dinner," said Winsome, who loved a spice of gossip—as who does not?
"There is a letter from my father this morning," said Ralph, half
turning to pick it off his desk; "he is well, but he is in distress,
he says, because he got his pocket picked of his handkerchief while
standing gazing in at a shop window wherein books were displayed for
sale, but John Bairdieson has sewed another in at the time of writing.
They had a repeating tune the other day, and the two new licentiates
are godly lads, and turning out a credit to the kirk of the Marrow."
"And that is more than ever you would have done, Ralph," said his
"Kezia is to be married in October, and there is a young man
coming to see little Keren-happuch, but Jemima thinks that the minds
of both of her younger sisters are too much set on the frivolous
things of this earth. The professor has received a new kind of snuff
from Holland which Kezia says is indistinguishable in its effects from
pepper—one of his old students brought it to him—and that's all the
news," said Ralph, closing up the letter and laying it on the table.
"Has Saunders Moudiewort cast his easy affections on any one this
year yet?" Ralph asked, returning to the consideration of Winsome's
Saunders was harvesting at present at Craig Ronald. The mistress
of the farm laughed.
"I think not," she said; "Saunders says that his mother is the
most' siccar' housekeeper that he kens of, and that after a while ye
get to mind her tongue nae mair nor the mill fanners."
"That's just the way with me when you scold me," said Ralph.
"Very well, then, I must go to the summer seat and put you out of
danger," replied Winsome. "Since you are so imposed upon, I shall see
if the grannymother has done with her second volume. She never gets
dangerous, except when she is kept waiting for the third."
But before they had time to move, the rollicking storm-cloud of
younglings again came tumultuously up the stairs—Winifred far in
front, Allan toddling doggedly in the rear.
"See what granny has put on my head!" cried Mistress Winifred the
youngest, whose normal manner of entering a room suggested a
"Oo" said Allan, pointing with his chubby finger, "yook, yook!
mother's sitting on favver's knee-rock-a-by, favver, rock-a-by!"
But Ralph had no eyes for anything but the old sunbonnet in which,
the piquant flower face of Mistress Five-year-old Winifred was all
but lost. He stooped and kissed it, and the face under it. It was
frayed and faded, and it had lost both strings.
Then he looked up and kissed the wife who was still his
sweetheart, for the love the lilac sunbonnet had brought to them so
many years ago was still fresh with the dew of their youth.