Heather and Snow
by George MacDonald
CHAPTER I. A
MOTHER AND SON
CHAPTER III. AT
THE FOOT OF THE
CHAPTER IV. DOG-STEENIE
CHAPTER VI. MAN-STEENIE
DAVID AND HIS
CHAPTER IX. AT
CHAPTER X. DAVID
KIRSTY AND PHEMY
CHAPTER XII. THE
CHAPTER XIII. A
CHAPTER XVII. A
THE STORM AGAIN
HOW KIRSTY FARED
HOW DAVID FARED
HOW MARION FARED
HUSBAND AND WIFE
AND WHAT WAS
LEFT OF STEENIE
FROM SNOW TO
IN THE WORKSHOP
A RACE WITH
BACK FROM THE
FRANCIS COMES TO
A GREAT GULF
CHAPTER XL. MRS.
CHAPTER XLI. TWO
THE LAIRD AND
HEATHER AND SNOW
CHAPTER I. A RUNAWAY RACE
Upon neighbouring stones, earth-fast, like two islands of an
archipelago, in an ocean of heather, sat a boy and a girl, the girl
knitting, or, as she would have called it, weaving a stocking,
and the boy, his eyes fixed on her face, talking with an animation that
amounted almost to excitement. He had great fluency, and could have
talked just as fast in good English as in the dialect in which he was
now pouring out his ambitions—the broad Saxon of Aberdeen.
He was giving the girl to understand that he meant to be a soldier
like his father, and quite as good a one as he. But so little did he
know of himself or the world, that, with small genuine impulse to
action, and moved chiefly by the anticipated results of it, he saw
success already his, and a grateful country at his feet. His
inspiration was so purely ambition, that, even if, his mood unchanged,
he were to achieve much for his country, she could hardly owe him
'I'll no hae the warl' lichtly (make light of) me!' he said.
'Mebbe the warl' winna tribble itsel aboot ye sae muckle as e'en to
lichtly ye!' returned his companion quietly.
'Ye do naething ither!' retorted the boy, rising, and looking
down on her in displeasure. 'What for are ye aye girdin at me? A body
canna lat his thouchts gang, but ye're doon upo them, like doos upo
'I wadna be girdin at ye, Francie, but that I care ower muckle aboot
ye to lat ye think I haud the same opingon o' ye 'at ye hae o' yersel,'
answered the girl, who went on with her knitting as she spoke.
'Ye'll never believe a body!' he rejoined, and turned half away. 'I
canna think what gars me keep comin to see ye! Ye haena a guid word to
gie a body!'
'It's nane ye s' get frae me, the gait ye're gaein, Francie! Ye
think a heap ower muckle o' yersel. What ye expec, may some day a' come
true, but ye hae gien nobody a richt to expec it alang wi' ye, and I
canna think, gien ye war fair to yersel, ye wad coont yersel ane it was
to be expeckit o'!'
'I tauld ye sae, Kirsty! Ye never lay ony weicht upo what a body
That depen's upo the body. Did ye never hear maister Craig p'int oot
the differ atween believin a body and believin in a body,
'No—and I dinna care.'
'I wudna like ye to gang awa thinking I misdoobtit yer word,
Francie! I believe onything ye tell me, as far as I think ye
ken, but maybe no sae far as ye think ye ken. I believe ye, but
I confess I dinna believe in ye—yet. What hae ye ever dune to
gie a body ony richt to believe in ye? Ye're a guid rider, and a guid
shot for a laddie, and ye rin middlin fest—I canna say like a deer,
for I reckon I cud lick ye mysel at rinnin! But, efter and a',—'
'Wha's braggin noo, Kirsty?' cried the boy, with a touch of not
'Me,' answered Kirsty; '—and I'll do what I brag o'!' she added,
throwing her stocking on the patch of green sward about the stone, and
starting to her feet with a laugh. 'Is't to be uphill or alang?'
They were near the foot of a hill to whose top went the heather, but
along whose base, between the heather and the bogland below, lay an
irregular belt of moss and grass, pretty clear of stones. The boy did
not seem eager to accept the challenge.
'There's nae guid in lickin a lassie!' he said with a shrug.
'There mith be guid in tryin to du't though—especially gien ye war
lickit at it!' returned the girl.
'What guid can there be in a body bein lickit at onything?'
'The guid o' haein a body's pride ta'en doon a wee.'
'I'm no sae sure o' the guid o' that! It wud only hand ye ohn tried
(from trying) again.'
'Jist there's what yer pride dis to ye, Francie! Ye maun aye be
first, or ye'll no try! Ye'll never du naething for fear o' no bein
able to gang on believin ye cud du 't better nor ony ither body! Ye
dinna want to fin' oot 'at ye're naebody in particlar. It's a sair pity
ye wunna hae yer pride ta'en doon. Ye wud be a hantle better wantin
aboot three pairts o' 't.—Come, I'm ready for ye! Never min' 'at I'm a
lassie: naebody 'ill ken!'
'Ye hae nae sheen (shoes)!' objected the boy.
'Ye can put aff yer ain!'
'My feet's no sae hard as yours!'
'Weel, I'll put on mine. They're here, sic as they are. Ye see I
want them gangin throuw the heather wi' Steenie; that's some sair upo
the feet. Straucht up hill throuw the heather, and I'll put my sheen
'I'm no sae guid uphill.'
'See there noo, Francie! Ye tak yersel for unco courteous, and
honourable, and generous, and k-nichtly, and a' that—oh, I ken a'
aboot it, and it's a' verra weel sae far as it gangs; but what the
better are ye for 't, whan, a' the time ye're despisin a body 'cause
she's but a quean, ye maun hae ilka advantage o' her, or ye winna gie
her a chance o' lickin ye!—Here! I'll put on my sheen, and rin ye
alang the laich grun'! My sheen's twice the weicht o' yours, and they
dinna fit me!'
The boy did not dare go on refusing: he feared what Kirsty would say
next. But he relished nothing at all in the challenge. It was not fit
for a man to run races with a girl: there were no laurels, nothing but
laughter to be won by victory over her! and in his heart he was not at
all sure of beating Kirsty: she had always beaten him when they were
children. Since then they had been at the parish school together, but
there public opinion kept the boys and girls to their own special
sports. Now Kirsty had left school, and Francis was going to the
grammar-school at the county-town. They were both about fifteen. All
the sense was on the side of the girl, and she had been doing her best
to make the boy practical like herself—hitherto without much success,
although he was by no means a bad sort of fellow. He had not yet passed
the stage—some appear never to pass it in this world—in which an
admirer feels himself in the same category with his hero. Many are
content with themselves because they side with those whose ways they do
not endeavour to follow. Such are most who call themselves Christians.
If men admired themselves only for what they did, their conceit would
be greatly moderated.
Kirsty put on her heavy tacketed (hob-nailed) shoes—much too
large for her, having been made for her brother—stood up erect, and
putting her elbows back, said,
'I'll gie ye the start o' me up to yon stane wi' the heather growin
oot o' the tap o' 't.'
'Na, na; I'll hae nane o' that!' answered Francis.
'Fairplay to a'!'
'Ye'd better tak it!'
'Aff wi' ye, or I winna rin at a'!' cried the boy,—and away they
Kirsty contrived that he should yet have a little the start of
her—how much from generosity, and how much from determination that
there should be nothing doubtful in the result, I cannot say—and for a
good many yards he kept it. But if the boy, who ran well, had looked
back, he might have seen that the girl was not doing her best—that she
was in fact restraining her speed. Presently she quickened her pace,
and was rapidly lessening the distance between them, when, becoming
aware of her approach, the boy quickened his, and for a time there was
no change in their relative position. Then again she quickened her
pace—with an ease which made her seem capable of going on to
accelerate it indefinitely—and was rapidly overtaking him. But as she
drew near, she saw he panted, not a little distressed; whereupon she
assumed a greater speed still, and passed him swiftly—nor once looked
round or slackened her pace until, having left him far behind, she put
a shoulder of the hill between them.
The moment she passed him, the boy flung himself on the ground and
lay. The girl had felt certain he would do so, and fancied she heard
him flop among the heather, but could not be sure, for, although not
even yet at her speed, her blood was making tunes in her head, and the
wind was blowing in and out of her ears with a pleasant but deafening
accompaniment. When she knew he could see her no longer, she stopped
likewise and threw herself down while she was determining whether she
should leave him quite, or walk back at her leisure, and let him see
how little she felt the run. She came to the conclusion that it would
be kinder to allow him to get over his discomfiture in private. She
rose, therefore, and went straight up the hill.
About half-way to the summit, she climbed a rock as if she were a
goat, and looked all round her. Then she uttered a shrill, peculiar
cry, and listened. No answer came. Getting down as easily as she had
got up, she walked along the side of the hill, making her way nearly
parallel with their late racecourse, passing considerably above the
spot where her defeated rival yet lay, and descending at length a
little hollow not far from where she and Francis had been sitting.
In this hollow, which was covered with short, sweet grass, stood a
very small hut, built of turf from the peat-moss below, and roofed with
sods on which the heather still stuck, if, indeed, some of it was not
still growing. So much was it, therefore, of the colour of the ground
about it, that it scarcely caught the eye. Its walls and its roof were
so thick that, small as it looked, it was much smaller inside; while
outside it could not have measured more than ten feet in length, eight
in width, and seven in height. Kirsty and her brother Steenie, not
without help from Francis Gordon, had built it for themselves two years
before. Their father knew nothing of the scheme until one day, proud of
their success, Steenie would have him see their handiwork; when he was
so much pleased with it that he made them a door, on which he put a
'For though this be na the kin' o' place to draw crook-fingered
gentry,' he said, 'some gangrel body micht creep in and mak his bed
intil 't, and that lock 'ill be eneuch to haud him oot, I'm thinkin.'
He also cut for them a hole through the wall, and fitted it with a
window that opened and shut, which was more than could be said of every
window at the farmhouse.
Into this nest Kirsty went, and in it remained quiet until it began
to grow dark. She had hoped to find her brother waiting for her, but,
although disappointed, chose to continue there until Francis Gordon
should be well on his way to the castle, and then she crept out, and
ran to recover her stocking.
When she got home, she found Steenie engrossed in a young horse
their father had just bought. She would fain have mounted him at once,
for she would ride any kind of animal able to carry her; but, as he had
never yet been backed, her father would not permit her.
CHAPTER II. MOTHER AND SON
Francis lay for some time, thinking Kirsty sure to come back to him,
but half wishing she would not. He rose at length to see whether she
was on the way, but no one was in sight. At once the place was aghast
with loneliness, as it must indeed have looked to anyone not at peace
with solitude. Having sent several ringing shouts, but in vain, after
Kirsty, he turned, and, in the descending light of an autumn afternoon,
set out on the rather long walk to his home, which was the wearier that
he had nothing pleasant at hand to think about.
Passing the farm where Kirsty lived, about two miles brought him to
an ancient turreted house on the top of a low hill, where his mother
sat expecting him, ready to tyrannize over him as usual, and none the
less ready that he was going to leave her within a week.
'Where have you been all day, Frank?' she said.
'I have been a long walk,' he answered.
'You've been to Corbyknowe!' she returned. 'I know it by your eyes.
I know by the very colour of them you're going to deceive me. Now don't
tell me you haven't been there. I shall not believe you.'
'I haven't been near the place, mother,' said Francis; but as he
said it his face glowed with a heat that did not come from the fire. He
was not naturally an untruthful boy, and what he said was correct, for
he had passed the house half a mile away; but his words gave, and were
intended to give the impression that he had not been that day with any
of the people of Corbyknowe. His mother objected to his visiting the
farmer, but he knew instinctively she would have objected yet more to
his spending half the day with Kirsty, whom she never mentioned, and of
whom she scarcely recognized the existence. Little as she loved her
son, Mrs. Gordon would have scorned to suspect him of preferring the
society of such a girl to her own. In truth, however, there were very
few of his acquaintance whose company Francis would not have chosen
rather than his mother's—except indeed he was ill, when she was
generally very good to him.
'Well, this once I shall believe you,' she answered, 'and I am glad
to be able. It is a painful thought to me, Frank, that son of mine
should feel the smallest attraction to low company. I have told you
twenty times that the man was nothing but a private in your father's
'He was my father's friend!' answered the boy.
'He tells you so, I do not doubt,' returned his mother. 'He was not
likely to leave that mouldy old stone unturned.'
The mother sat, and the son stood before her, in a drawing-room
whose furniture of a hundred years old must once have looked very
modern and new-fangled under windows so narrow and high up, and within
walls so thick: without a fire it was always cold. The carpet was very
dingy, and the mirrors were much spotted; but the poverty of the room
was the respectable poverty of age: old furniture had become
fashionable just in time to save it from being metamorphosed by its
mistress into a show of gay meanness and costly ugliness. A good fire
of mingled peat and coal burned bright in the barrel-fronted steel
grate, and shone in the brass fender. The face of the boy continued to
look very red in the glow, but still its colour came more from within
than from without: he cherished the memory of his father, and did not
love his mother more than a little.
'He has told me a great deal more about my father than ever you did,
mother!' he answered.
'Well he may have!' she returned. 'Your father was not a young man
when I married him, and they had been together through I don't know how
'And you say he was not my father's friend!'
'Not his friend, Frank; his servant—what do they call
them?—his orderly, I dare say; certainly not his friend.'
'Any man may be another man's friend!'
'Not in the way you mean; not that his son should go and see him
every other day! A dog may be a man's good friend, and so was sergeant
Barclay your father's—very good friend that way, I don't doubt!'
'You said a moment ago he was but a private, and now you call him
'Well, where's the difference?'
'To be made sergeant shows that he was not a common man. If he had
been, he would not have been set over others!'
'Of course he was then, and is now, a very respectable man. If he
were not I should never have let you go and see him at all. But you
must learn to behave like the gentleman you are, and that you never
will while you frequent the company of your inferiors. Your manners are
already almost ruined—fit for no place but a farmhouse! There you are,
standing on the side of your foot again!—Old Barclay, I dare say,
tells you no end of stories about your mother!'
'He always asks after you, mother, and then never mentions you
She knew perfectly that the boy spoke the truth.
'Don't let me hear of your being there again before you go to
school!' she said definitively. 'By the time you come home next year I
trust your tastes will have improved. Go and make yourself tidy for
dinner. A soldier's son must before everything attend to his dress.'
Francis went to his room, feeling it absolutely impossible to have
told his mother that he had been with Kirsty Barclay, that he had run a
race with her, and that she had left him alone at the foot of the Horn.
That he could not be open with his mother, no one that knew her
unreasoning and stormy temper would have wondered; but the pitiful boy,
who did not like lying, actually congratulated himself that he had got
through without telling a downright falsehood. It would not have
bettered matters in the least had he disclosed to her the good advice
Kirsty gave him: she would only have been furious at the impudence of
the hussey in talking so to her son.
CHAPTER III. AT THE FOOT OF THE HORN
The region was like a waste place in the troubled land of dreams—a
spot so waste that the dreamer struggles to rouse himself from his
dream, finding it too dreary to dream on. I have heard it likened to
'the ill place, wi' the fire oot;' but it did not so impress me when
first, after long desire, I saw it. There was nothing to suggest the
silence of once roaring flame, no half-molten rocks, no huge,
honey-combed scoriae, no depths within depths glooming mystery and
ancient horror. It was the more desolate that it moved no active sense
of dismay. What I saw was a wide stretch of damp-looking level, mostly
of undetermined or of low-toned colour, with here and there a black
spot, or, on the margin, the brighter green of a patch of some growing
crop. Flat and wide, the eye found it difficult to rest upon it and not
sweep hurriedly from border to border for lack of self-asserted object
on which to alight. It looked low, but indeed lay high; the bases of
the hills surrounding it were far above the sea. These hills, at this
season a ring of dull-brown high-heaved hummocks, appeared to make of
it a huge circular basin, miles in diameter, over the rim of which
peered the tops and peaks of mountains more distant. Up the side of the
Horn, which was the loftiest in the ring, ran a stone wall, in the
language of the country a dry-stane-dyke, of considerable size,
climbing to the very top—an ugly thing which the eye could not avoid.
There was nothing but the grouse to have rendered it worth the
proprietor's while to erect such a boundary to his neighbour's
property, plentiful as were the stones ready for that poorest use of
The farms that border the hollow, running each a little way up the
side of the basin, are, some of them at least, as well cultivated as
any in Scotland, but Winter claims there the paramountcy, and yields to
Summer so few of his rights that the place must look forbidding, if not
repulsive, to such as do not live in it. To love it, I think one must
have been born there. In the summer, it is true, it has the character
of bracing, but can be such, I imagine, only to those who are
pretty well braced already; the delicate of certain sorts, I think it
must soon brace with the bands of death.
The region is in constant danger of famine. If the snow come but a
little earlier than usual, the crops lie green under it, and no store
of meal can be laid up in the cottages. Then, if the snow lie deep, the
difficulty in conveying supplies of the poor fare which their hardihood
counts sufficient, will cause the dwellers there no little suffering.
Of course they are but few. A white cottage may be seen here and there
on the southerly slopes of the basin, but hardly one in its bottom.
It was now summer, and in a month or two the landscape would look
more cheerful; the heather that covered the hills would no longer be
dry and brown and in places black with fire, but a blaze of red purple,
a rich mantle of bloom. Even now, early in July, the sun had a little
power. I cannot say it would have been warm had there been the least
motion in the air, for seldom indeed could one there from the south
grant that the wind had no keen edge to it; but on this morning there
was absolute stillness, and although it was not easy for Kirsty to
imagine any summer air other than warm, yet the wind's absence had not
a little to do with the sense of luxurious life that now filled her
heart. She sat on her favourite grassy slope near the foot of the
cone-shaped Horn, looking over the level miles before her, and knitting
away at a ribbed stocking of dark blue whose toe she had nearly
finished, glad in the thought, not of rest from her labour, but of
beginning the yet more important fellow-stocking. She had no need to
look close at her work to keep the loops right; but she was so careful
and precise that, if she lived to be old and blind, she would knit
better then than now. It was to her the perfect glory of a summer day;
and I imagine her delight in the divine luxury greater than that of
many a poet dwelling in softer climes.
The spot where she sat was close by the turf-hut which I have
already described. At every shifting of a needle she would send a new
glance all over her world, a glance to remind one somehow of the sweep
of a broad ray of sunlight across earth and sea, when, on a morning of
upper wind, the broken clouds take endless liberties with shadow and
shine. What she saw I cannot tell; I know she saw far more than a
stranger would have seen, for she knew her home. His eyes would, I
believe, have been drawn chiefly to those intense spots of live white,
opaque yet brilliant, the heads of the cotton-grass here and there in
thin patches on the dark ground. For nearly the whole of the level was
a peat-moss. Miles and miles of peat, differing in quality and varying
in depth, lay between those hills, the only fuel almost of the region.
In some spots it was very wet, water lying beneath and all through its
substance; in others, dark spots, the sides of holes whence it had been
dug, showed where it was drier. His eyes would rest for a moment also
on those black spaces on the hills where the old heather had been
burned that its roots might shoot afresh, and feed the grouse with soft
young sprouts, their chief support: they looked now like neglected
spots where men cast stones and shards, but by and by would be covered
with a tenderer green than the rest of the hill-side. He would not see
the moorland birds that Kirsty saw; he would only hear their cries,
with now and then perhaps the bark of a sheep-dog.
My reader will probably conclude the prospect altogether
uninteresting, even ugly; but certainly Christina Barclay did not think
it such. The girl was more than well satisfied with the world-shell in
which she found herself; she was at the moment basking, both bodily and
spiritually, in a full sense of the world's bliss. Her soul was bathed
in its own content, calling none of its feelings to account. The sun,
the air, the wide expanse; the hill-tops' nearness to the heavens which
yet they could not invade; the little breaths which every now and then
awoke to assert their existence by immediately ceasing; doubtless also
the knowledge that her stocking was nearly done, that her father and
mother were but a mile or so away, that she knew where Steenie was, and
that a cry would bring him to her feet;—all these things bore each a
part in making Kirsty quiet with satisfaction. That there was, all the
time, a deeper cause of her peace, Kirsty knew well-the same that is
the root of life itself; and if it was not, at this moment or at that,
filled with conscious gratitude, her heart was yet like a bird ever on
the point of springing up to soar, and often soaring high indeed.
Whether it came of something special in her constitution that happiness
always made her quiet, as nothing but sorrow will make some, I do not
presume to say. I only know that, had her bliss changed suddenly to
sadness, Kirsty would have been quiet still. Whatever came to Kirsty
seemed right, for there it was!
She was now a girl of sixteen. The only sign she showed of interest
in her person, appeared in her hair and the covering of her neck. Of
one of the many middle shades of brown, with a rippling tendency to
curl in it, her hair was parted with nicety, and drawn back from her
face into a net of its own colour, while her neckerchief was of blue
silk, covering a very little white skin, but leaving bare a brown
throat. She wore a blue print wrapper, nowise differing from that of a
peasant woman, and a blue winsey petticoat, beyond which appeared her
bare feet, lovely in shape, and brown of hue. Her dress was nowise
trim, and suggested neither tidiness nor disorder. The hem of the
petticoat was in truth a little rent, but not more than might seem
admissible where the rough wear was considered to which the garment was
necessarily exposed: when a little worse it would receive the proper
attention, and be brought back to respectability! Kirsty grudged the
time spent on her garments. She looked down on them as the moon might
on the clouds around her. She made or mended them to wear them, not
think about them.
Her forehead was wide and rather low, with straight eyebrows. Her
eyes were of a gentle hazel, not the hazel that looks black at night.
Her nose was strong, a little irregular, with plenty of substance, and
sensitive nostrils. A decided and well-shaped chin dominated a neck by
no means slender, and seemed to assert the superiority of the face over
the whole beautiful body. Its chief expression was of a strong repose,
a sweet, powerful peace, requiring but occasion to pass into
determination. The sensitiveness of the nostrils with the firmness in
the meeting of the closed lips, suggested a faculty of indignation
unsparing toward injustice; while the clearness of the heaven of the
forehead gave confidence that such indignation would never show itself
save for another.
I wish, presumptuous wish! that I could see the mind of a woman grow
as she sits spinning or weaving: it would reveal the process next
highest to creation. But the only hope of ever understanding such
things lies in growing oneself. There is the still growth of the
moonlit night of reverie; cloudy, with wind, and a little rain, comes
the morning of thought, when the mind grows faster and the heart more
slowly; then wakes the storm in the forest of human relation, tempest
and lightning abroad, the soul enlarging by great bursts of vision and
leaps of understanding and resolve; then floats up the mystic twilight
eagerness, not unmingled with the dismay of compelled progress, when,
bidding farewell to that which is behind, the soul is driven toward
that which is before, grasping at it with all the hunger of the new
birth. The story of God's universe lies in the growth of the individual
soul. Kirsty's growth had been as yet quiet and steady.
Once more as she shifted her needle her glance went flitting over
the waste before her. This time there was more life in sight. Far away
Kirsty descried something of the nature of man upon horse: to say how
far would have been as difficult for one unused to the flat moor as for
a landsman to reckon distances at sea. Of the people of the place,
hardly another, even under the direction of Kirsty, could have
contrived to see it. At length, after she had looked many times, she
could clearly distinguish a youth on a strong, handsome hill-pony, and
remained no longer in the slightest doubt as to who he might be.
They came steadily over the dark surface of the moor, and it was
clear that the pony must know the nature of the ground well; for now he
glided along as fast as he could gallop, now made a succession of short
jumps, now halted, examined the ground, and began slowly picking his
Kirsty watched his approach with gentle interest, while every
movement of the youth indicated eagerness. Gordon had seen her on the
hillside, probably long before she saw him, had been coming to her in
as straight a line as the ground would permit, and at length was out of
the boggy level, and ascending the slope of the hillfoot to where she
sat. When he was within about twenty yards of her she gave him a little
nod, and then fixed her eyes on her knitting. He held on till within a
few feet of her, then pulled up and threw himself from his pony's back.
The creature, covered with foam, stood a minute panting, then fell to
work on the short grass.
Francis had grown considerably, and looked almost a young man. He
was a little older than Kirsty, but did not appear so, his expression
being considerably younger than hers. Whether self-indulgence or
aspiration was to come out of his evident joy in life, seemed yet
undetermined. His countenance indicated nothing bad. He might well have
represented one at the point before having to choose whether to go up
or down hill. He was dressed a little showily in a short coat of dark
tartan, and a highland bonnet with a brooch and feather, and carried a
lady's riding-whip—his mother's, no doubt—its top set with stones—so
that his appearance was altogether a contrast to that of the girl. She
was a peasant, he a gentleman! Her bare head and yet more her bare feet
emphasized the contrast. But which was by nature and in fact the
superior, no one with the least insight could have doubted.
He stood and looked at her, but neither spoke. She cast at length a
glance upward, and said,
Francis did not open his mouth. He seemed irresolute. Nothing in
Kirsty's look or carriage or in the tone of her one word gave sign of
consciousness that she was treating him, or he her, strangely. With
complete self-possession she left the initiative to the one who had
sought the interview: let him say why he had come!
In his face began to appear indication of growing displeasure. Two
or three times he turned half away with a movement instantly checked
which seemed to say that in a moment more, if there came no change, he
would mount and ride: was this all his welcome?
At last she appeared to think she must take mercy on him: he used to
say thirty words to her one!
'That's a bonny powny ye hae,' she remarked, with a look at the
creature as he fed.
'He's a' that,' he answered dryly.
'Whaur did ye get him?' she asked.
'My mither coft (bought) him agen my hame-comin,' he replied.
He prided himself on being able to speak the broadest of the
'She maun hae a straucht e'e for a guid beast!' returned Kirsty,
with a second glance at the pony.
'He's a bonny cratur and a willin,' answered the youth. 'He'll gang
skelp throuw onything—watter onygait;—I'm no sae sure aboot fire.'
A long silence followed, broken this time by the youth.
'Winna ye gie me luik nor word, and me ridden like mad to hae a
sicht o' ye?' he said.
She glanced up at him.
'Weel ye hae that!' she answered, with a smile that showed her
lovely white teeth: 'ye're a' dubs (all bemired)! What for sud
ye be in sic a hurry? Ye saw me no three days gane!'
'Ay, I saw ye, it's true; but I didna get a word o' ye!'
'Ye was free to say what ye likit. There was nane by but my mither!'
'Wud ye hae me say a'thing afore yer mither jist as I wud til ye yer
lane (alone)?' he asked.
Ay wud I,' she returned. 'Syne she wad ken, 'ithoot my haein to tell
her sic a guse as ye was!'
Had he not seen the sunny smile that accompanied her words he might
well have taken offence.
'I wuss ye war anither sic-like!' he answered simply.
'Syne there wud be twa o' 's!' she returned, leaving him to
Silence again fell.
'Weel, what wud ye hae, Francie?' said Kirsty at length.
'I wud hae ye promise to merry me, Kirsty, come the time,' he
answered; 'and that ye ken as well as I du mysel!'
'That's straucht oot ony gait!' rejoined Kirsty. 'But ye see,
Francie,' she went on, 'yer father, whan he left ye a kin' o' a legacy,
as ye may ca' 't, to mine, hed no intention that I was to be
left oot; neither had my father whan he acceppit o' 't!'
'I dinna unerstan ye ae styme (one atom)!' interrupted
'Haud yer tongue and hearken,' returned Kirsty. 'What I'm meanin 's
this: what lies to my father's han' lies to mine as weel; and I'll
never hae 't kenned or said that, whan my father pu't (pulled)
ae gait, I pu't anither!'
'Sakes, lassie! what are ye haverin at? Wud it be pu'in agen
yer father to merry me?'
'It wud be that.'
'I dinna see hoo ye can mak it oot! I dinna see hoo, bein sic a
freen' o' my father's, he sud objeck to my father's son!'
'Eh, but laddies ir gowks!' cried Kirsty. 'My father was your
father's freen' for his sake, no for his ain! He thinks o' what
wud be guid for you, no for himsel!'
'Weel, but,' persisted Gordon, 'it wud be mair for my guid nor
onything ither he cud wuss for, to hae you for my wife!'
Kirsty's nostrils began to quiver, and her lip rose in a curve of
'A bonnie wife ye wud hae, Francie Gordon, wha, kennin her father
duin ilk mortal thing for the love o' his auld maister and comrade,
tuik the fine chance to mak her ain o' 't, and haud her grip o' the
callan til hersel!—Think ye aither o' the auld men ever mintit at sic
a thing as fatherin baith? That my father had a lass-bairn o' 's ain
shawed mair nor onything the trust your father pat in 'im! Francie, the
verra grave wud cast me oot for shame 'at I sud ance hae thoucht o' sic
a thing! Man, it wud maist drive yer leddy-mither dementit!'
'It's my business' Kirsty, wha I merry!'
'And I houp yer grace 'll alloo it's pairt my business wha ye
sail not merry—and that's me, Francie!'
Gordon sprang to his feet with such a look of wrath and despair as
for a moment frightened Kirsty who was not easily frightened. She
thought of the terrible bog-holes on the way her lover had come, sprang
also to her feet, and caught him by the arm where, his foot already in
the stirrup, he stood in the act of mounting.
'Francie! Francie!' she cried, 'hearken to rizzon! There's no a
body, man or wuman, I like better nor yersel to du ye ony guid or turn
o' guid—'cep' my father, of coorse, and my mither, and my ain
'And hoo mony mair, gien I had the wull to hear the lang
bible-chapter o' them, and see mysel comin in at the tail o' them a',
like the hin'most sheep, takin his bite as he cam? Na, na! it's time I
was hame, and had my slip (pinafore) on, and was astride o' a
stick! Gien ye had a score o' idiot-brithers, ye wud care mair for ilk
are o' them nor for me! I canna bide to think o' 't.'
'It's true a' the same, whether ye can bide to think o' 't or no,
Francie!' returned the girl, her face, which had been very pale, now
rosy with indignation. 'My Steenie's mair to me nor a' the Gordons
thegither, Bow-o'-meal or Jock-and-Tam as ye like!'
She drew back, sat down again to the stocking she was knitting for
Steenie, and left her lover to mount and ride, which he did without
'There's mair nor ae kin' o' idiot,' she said to herself, 'and
Steenie's no the kin' that oucht to be ca'd ane. There's mair in
Steenie nor in sax Francie Gordons!'
If ever Kirsty came to love a man, it would be just nothing to her
to die for him; but then it never would have been anything to her to
die for her father or her mother or Steenie!
Gordon galloped off at a wild pace, as if he would drive his pony
straight athwart the terrible moss, taking hag and well-eye as it came.
But glancing behind and seeing that Kirsty was not looking after him,
he turned the creature's head in a safer direction, and left the moss
at his back.
CHAPTER IV. DOG-STEENIE
She sat for some time at the foot of the hill, motionless as itself,
save for her hands. The sun shone on in silence, and the blue
butterflies which haunted the little bush of bluebells, that is
harebells, beside her, made no noise; only a stray bee, happy in the
pale heat, made a little music to please itself—and perhaps the
butterflies. Kirsty had an unusual power of sitting still, even with
nothing for her hands to do. On the present occasion, however, her
hands and fingers went faster than usual—not entirely from eagerness
to finish her stocking, but partly from her displeasure with Francis.
At last she broke her 'worset,' drew the end of it through the final
loop, and, drawing it, rose and scanned the side of the hill. Not far
off she spied the fleecy backs of a few feeding sheep, and straightway
sent out on the still air a sweet, strong, musical cry. It was
instantly responded to by a bark from somewhere up the hill. She sat
down, clasped her hands over her knees, and waited.
She had not to wait long. A sound of rushing came through the
heather, and in a moment or two, a fine collie, with long, silky, wavy
coat of black and brown, and one white spot on his face, shot out of
the heather, sprang upon her, and, setting his paws on her shoulders,
began licking her face. She threw her arms round him, and addressed him
in words of fondling rebuke:—
'Ye ill-mennered tyke!' she said; 'what richt hae ye to tak the
place o' yer betters? Gang awa doon wi' ye, and wait. What for sud ye
tak advantage o' your fower legs to his twa, and him the maister o' ye!
But, eh man, ye're a fine doggie, and I canna bide the thoucht 'at yer
langest day maun be sae short, and tak ye awa hame sae lang afore the
lave o' 's!'
While she scolded, she let him caress her as he pleased. Presently
he left her, and going a yard or two away, threw himself on the grass
with such abandon as no animal but a weary dog seems capable of
reaching. He had made haste to be first that he might caress her before
his master came; now he heard him close behind, and knew his
Stephen came next out of the heather, creeping to Kirsty's feet on
all-fours. He was a gaunt, longbacked lad, who, at certain seasons
undetermined, either imagined himself the animal he imitated, or had
some notion of being required, or, possibly, compelled to behave like a
dog. When the fit was upon him, all the day long he would speak no word
even to his sister, would only bark or give a low growl like the
collie. In this last he succeeded much better than in running like him,
although, indeed, his arms were so long that it was comparatively easy
for him to use them as forelegs. He let his head hang low as he went,
throwing it up to bark, and sinking it yet lower when he growled, which
was seldom, and to those that loved him indicated great trouble. He did
not like Snootie raise himself on his hindlegs to caress his sister,
but gently subsided upon her feet, and there lay panting, his face to
the earth, and his fore-arms crossed beneath his nose.
Kirsty stooped, and stroked and patted him as if he were the dog he
seemed fain to be. Then drawing her feet from under him, she rose, and
going a little way up the hill to the hut, returned presently with a
basin full of rich-looking milk, and a quarter of thick
oat-cake, which she had brought from home in the morning. The milk she
set beside her as she resumed her seat. Then she put her feet again
under the would-be dog, and proceeded to break small pieces from the
oat-cake and throw them to him. He sought every piece eagerly as it
fell, but with his mouth only, never moving either hand, and seemed to
eat it with a satisfaction worthy of his simulated nature. When the
oat-cake was gone, she set the bowl before him, and he drank the milk
with care and neatness, never putting a hand to steady it.
'Now you must have a sleep, Steenie!' said his sister.
She rose, and he crawled slowly after her up the hill on his hands
and knees. All the time he kept his face down, and, his head hanging
toward the earth, his long hair hid it quite. He strongly suggested a
When they reached the hut, Kirsty went in, and Steenie crept after
her. They had covered the floor of it with heather, the stalks set
upright and close packed, so that, even where the bells were worn off,
it still made a thick long-piled carpet, elastic and warm. When the
door was shut, they were snug there even in winter.
Inside, the hut was about six feet long, and four wide. Its
furniture was a little deal table and one low chair. In the turf of
which the wall consisted, at the farther end from the door, Kirsty had
cut out a small oblong recess to serve as a shelf for her books. The
hut was indeed her library, for in that bole stood, upright with its
back to the room, in proper and tidy fashion, almost every book she
could call her own. They were about a dozen, several with but one board
and some with no title, one or two very old, and all well used. Most of
her time there, when she was not knitting, Kirsty spent in reading and
thinking about what she read; many a minute, even when she was
knitting, she managed to read as well. She had read two of sir Walter's
novels, and several of the Ettrick-shepherd's shorter tales, which the
schoolmaster had lent her; but on her shelf and often in her hands were
a Shakspere, a Milton, and a translation of Klopstock's Messiah
—which she liked far better than the Paradise Lost, though she
did not admire it nearly so much. Of the latter she would say, 'It's
unco gran', but it never maks my hert grit (great), meaning that
it never caused her any emotion. Among her treasures was also a curious
old book of ghost-stories, concerning which the sole remark she was
ever heard to make was, that she would like to know whether they were
true: she thought Steenie could tell, but she would not question him
about them. Ramsay's Gentle Shepherd was there too, which she
liked for the good sense in it. There was a thumbed edition of Burns
also, but I do not think much of the thumbing was Kirsty's, though she
had several of his best poems by heart.
Between the ages of ten and fifteen, Kirsty had gone to the parish
school of the nearest town: it looked a village, but they always called
it the town. There a sister of her father lived, and with her
she was welcome to spend the night, so that she was able to go in most
weathers. But when she staid there, her evening was mostly spent at the
Mr. Craig was an elderly man, who had married late, and lost his
wife early. She had left him one child, a delicate, dainty,
golden-haired thing, considerably younger than Kirsty, who cherished
for her a love and protection quite maternal. Kirsty was one of the
born mothers, who are not only of the salt, but are the sugar and
shelter of the world. I doubt if little Phemie would have learned
anything but for Kirsty. Not to the day of her death did her father see
in her anything but the little girl his wife had left him. He spoiled
her a good deal, nor ever set himself to instruct her, leaving it
apparently to the tendency of things to make of her a woman like her
He was a real student and excellent teacher. When first he came as
schoolmaster to Tiltowie, he was a divinity student, but a man so far
of thought original that he saw lions in the way of becoming a
minister. Such men as would be servants of the church before they are
slaves of the church's Master will never be troubled with Mr. Craig's
difficulties. For one thing, his strong poetic nature made it
impossible for him to believe in a dull, prosaic God: when told that
God's thoughts are not as our thoughts, he found himself unable to
imagine them inferior to ours. The natural result was that he remained
a schoolmaster—to the advantage of many a pupil, and very greatly to
the advantage of Kirsty, whose nature was peculiarly open to his
influences. The dominie said he had never had a pupil that gave him
such satisfaction as Kirsty; she seemed to anticipate and catch at
everything he wanted to make hers. There was no knowledge, he declared,
that he could offer her, which the lassie from Corbyknowe would not
take in like her porridge. Best thing of all for her was that,
following his own predilections, he paid far more attention, in his
class for English, to poetry than to prose. Colin Craig was himself no
indifferent poet, and was even a master of the more recondite forms of
verse. If, in some measure led astray by the merit of the form, he was
capable of admiring verse essentially inferior, he yet certainly
admired the better poetry more. He had, besides, the faculty of
perceiving whether what he had written would or would not convey
his thought—a faculty in which even a great poet may be deficient.
In a word, Kirsty learned everything Mr. Craig brought within her
reach; and long after she left school, the Saturday on which she did
not go to see him was a day of disappointment both to the dominie and
to his little Phemie.
When she had once begun to follow a thing, Kirsty would never leave
the trail of it. Her chief business as well as delight was to look
after Steenie, but perfect attention to him left her large opportunity
of pursuing her studies, especially at such seasons in which his
peculiar affection, whatever it really was, required hours of untimely
sleep. For, although at all times he wandered at his will without her,
he invariably wanted to be near her when he slept; while she, satisfied
that so he slept better, had not once at such a time left him. During
summer, and as long before and after as the temperature permitted, the
hut was the place he preferred when his necessity was upon him; and it
was Kirsty's especial delight to sit in it on a warm day, the door open
and her brother asleep on her feet, reading and reading while the sun
went down the sky, to fill the hut as he set with a glory of promise;
after which came the long gloamin, like a life out of which the light
but not the love has vanished, in which she neither worked nor read,
but brooded over many things.
Leaving the door open behind them, Kirsty took a book from the bole,
and seated herself on the low chair; instantly Steenie, who had waited
motionless until she was settled, threw himself across her feet on the
carpet of heather, and in a moment was fast asleep.
There they remained, the one reading, the other sleeping, while the
hours of the warm summer afternoon slipped away, ripples on the ocean
of the lovely, changeless eternity, the consciousness of God. For a
time the watching sister was absorbed in King Lear; then she fell to
wondering whether Cordelia was not unkindly stiff toward her old
father, but perceived at length that, with such sisters listening, she
could not have spoken otherwise. Then she wondered whether there could
be women so bad as Goneril and Regan, concluding that Shakspere must
know better than she. At last she drew her bare feet from under
Steenie, and put them on his back, where the coolness was delightful.
Then first she became aware that the sun was down and the gloamin come,
and that the whole world must be feeling just like her feet. The long
clear twilight, which would last till morning, was about her, the eerie
sleeping day, when the lovely ghosts come out of their graves in the
long grass, and walk about in the cool world, with little ghosty sighs
at sight of the old places, and fancy they are dreaming. Kirsty was
always willing to believe in ghosts: awake in the dark nights she did
not; but in her twilight reveries she grew very nearly a ghost herself.
It was a wonder she could sit so long and not feel worn out; but
Kirsty was exceptionally strong, in absolute health, and specially
gifted with patience. She had so early entertained and so firmly
grasped the idea that she was sent into the world expressly to take
care of Steenie, that devotion to him had grown into a happy habit with
her. The waking mind gave itself up to the sleeping, the orderly to the
troubled brain, the true heart to the heart as true.
CHAPTER V. COLONEL AND SERGEANT
There was no difference of feeling betwixt the father and mother in
regard to this devotion of Kirsty's very being to her Steenie; but the
mother in especial was content with it, for while Kirsty was the apple
of her eye, Steenie was her one loved anxiety.
David Barclay, a humble unit in the widespread and distinguished
family of the Barclays or Berkeleys, was born, like his father and
grandfather and many more of his ancestors, on the same farm he now
occupied. While his father was yet alive, with an elder son to succeed
him, David listed—mainly from a strong desire to be near a
school-friend, then an ensign in the service of the East India Company.
Throughout their following military career they were in the same
regiment, the one rising to be colonel, the other sergeant-major. All
the time, the schoolboy-attachment went on deepening in the men; and,
all the time, was never man more respectfully obedient to orders than
David Barclay to those of the superior officer with whom in private he
was on terms of intimacy. As often as they could without attracting
notice, the comrades threw aside all distinction of rank, and were
again the Archie Gordon and Davie Barclay of old school-days—as real
to them still as those of the hardest battles they had fought together.
In more primitive Scotland, such relations are, or were more possible
than in countries where more divergent habits of life occasion wider
social separations; and then these were sober-minded men, who neither
made much of the shows of the world, nor were greedy after distinction,
which is the mere coffin wherein Duty-done lies buried.
When they returned to their country, both somewhat disabled, the one
retired to his inherited estate, the other to the family farm upon that
estate, where his brother had died shortly before; so that Archie was
now Davie's landlord. But no new relation would ever destroy the
friendship which school had made close, and war had welded. Almost
every week the friends met and spent the evening together—much
oftener, by and by, at Corbyknowe than at Castle Weelset. For both
married soon after their return, and their wives were of different
'My colonel has the glory,' Barclay said once, and but once, to his
sister, 'but, puir fallow, I hae the wife!' And truly the wife at the
farm had in her material enough, both moral and intellectual, for ten
ladies better than the wife at the castle.
David's wife brought him a son the first year of their marriage, and
the next year came a son to the colonel and a daughter to the sergeant.
One night, as the two fathers sat together at the farm, some twelve
hours after the birth of David's girl, they mutually promised that the
survivor would do his best for the child of the other. Before he died
the colonel would gladly have taken his boy from his wife and given him
to his old comrade.
As to Steenie, the elder of David's children, he was yet unborn when
his father, partly in consequence of a wound from which he never quite
recovered, met with rather a serious accident through a young horse in
the harvest-field, and the report reached his wife that he was killed.
To the shock she thus received was generally attributed the peculiarity
of the child, prematurely born within a month after. He had long passed
the age at which children usually begin to walk, before he would even
attempt to stand, but he had grown capable of a speed on all-fours that
was astonishing. When at last he did walk, it was for more than two
years with the air of one who had learned a trick; and throughout his
childhood and a great part of his boyhood, he continued to go on
all-fours rather than on his feet.
CHAPTER VI. MAN-STEENIE
The sleeping youth began at length to stir: it was more than an hour
before he quite woke up. Then all at once he started to his feet with
his eyes wide open, putting back from his forehead the long hair which
fell over them, and revealing a face not actually looking old, but
strongly suggesting age. His eyes were of a pale blue, with a hazy,
mixed, uncertain gleam in them, reminding one of the shifty shudder and
shake and start of the northern lights at some heavenly version of the
game of Puss in the Corner. His features were more than good; they
would have been grand had they been large, but they were peculiarly
small. His head itself was very small in proportion to his height, his
forehead, again, large in proportion to his head, while his chin was
such as we are in the way of calling strong. Although he had been all
day acting a dog in charge of sheep, and treating the collie as his
natural companion, there was, both in his countenance and its
expression, a remarkable absence of the animal. He had a kind of
exaltation in his look; he seemed to expect something, not at hand, but
sure to come. His eyes rested for a moment, with a love of absolute
devotion, on the face of his sister; then he knelt at her feet, and as
if to receive her blessing, bowed his head before her. She laid her
hand upon it, and in a tone of unutterable tenderness said,
'Man-Steenie!' Instantly he rose to his feet. Kirsty rose also, and
they went out of the hut.
The sunlight had not left the west, but had crept round some
distance toward the north. Stars were shining faint through the thin
shadow of the world. Steenie stretched himself up, threw his arms
aloft, and held them raised, as if at once he would grow and reach
toward the infinite. Then he looked down on Kirsty, for he was taller
than she, and pointed straight up, with the long lean forefinger of one
of the long lean arms that had all day been legs to the would-be
dog—into the heavens, and smiled. Kirsty looked up, nodded her head,
and smiled in return. Then they started in the direction of home, and
for some time walked in silence. At length Steenie spoke. His voice was
rather feeble, but clear, articulate, and musical.
'My feet's terrible heavy the nicht, Kirsty!' he said. 'Gien it
wasna for them, the lave o' me wud be up and awa. It's terrible to be
hauden doon by the feet this gait!'
'We're a' hauden doon the same gait, Steenie. Maybe it's some waur
for you 'at wud sae fain gang up, nor for the lave o' 's 'at's mair
willin to bide a wee; but it 'll be the same at the last whan we're a'
up there thegither.'
'I wudna care sae muckle gien he didna grip me by the queets (
ankles), like! I dinna like to be grippit by the queets! He winna
lat me win at the thongs!'
'Whan the richt time comes,' returned Kirsty solemnly, 'the bonny
man 'll lowse the thongs himsel.'
'Ay, ay! I ken that weel. It was me 'at tellt ye. He tauld me
himsel! I'm thinkin I'll see him the nicht, for I'm sair hauden doon,
sair needin a sicht o' 'im. He's whiles lang o' comin!'
'I dinna won'er 'at ye're sae fain to see 'im, Steenie!' 'I am
that; fain, fain!'
'Ye'll see 'im or lang. It's a fine thing to hae patience.'
'Ye come ilka day, Kirsty: what for sudna he come ilka nicht?'
'He has reasons, Steenie. He kens best.'
'Ay, he kens best. I ken naething but him—and you, Kirsty!'
Kirsty said no more. Her heart was too full.
Steenie stood still, and throwing back his head, stared for some
moments up into the great heavens over him. Then he said:
'It's a bonny day, the day the bonny man bides in! The ither
day—the day the lave o' ye bides in—the day whan I'm no mysel but a
sair ooncomfortable collie—that day's ower het—and sometimes ower
cauld; but the day he bides in is aye jist what a day sud be! Ay, it's
that! it's that!'
He threw himself down, and lay for a minute looking up into the sky.
Kirsty stood and regarded him with loving eyes.
'I hae a' the bonny day afore me!' he murmured to himself. 'Eh, but
it's better to be a man nor a beast Snootie's a fine beast, and a gran'
collie, but I wud raither be mysel—a heap raither—aye at han' to
catch a sicht o' the bonny man! Ye maun gang hame to yer bed, Kirsty!—
Is't the bonny man comes til ye i' yer dreams and says, “Gang til him,
Kirsty, and be mortal guid til him”? It maun be surely that!'
'Willna ye gang wi' me, Steenie, as far as the door?' rejoined
Kirsty, almost beseechingly, and attempting no answer to what he had
It was at times such as this that Kirsty knew sadness. When she had
to leave her brother on the hillside all the long night, to look on no
human face, hear no human word, but wander in strangest worlds of his
own throughout the slow dark hours, the sense of a separation worse
than death would wrap her as in a shroud. In his bodily presence,
however far away in thought or sleep or dreams his soul might be, she
could yet tend him with her love; but when he was out of her sight, and
she had to sleep and forget him, where was Steenie, and how was he
faring? Then he seemed to her as one forsaken, left alone with his
sorrows to an existence companionless and dreary. But in truth Steenie
was by no means to be pitied. However much his life was apart from the
lives of other men, he did not therefore live alone. Was he not still
of more value than many sparrows? And Kirsty's love for him had in it
no shadow of despair. Her pain at such times was but the indescribable
love-lack of mothers when their sons are far away, and they do not know
what they are doing, what they are thinking; or when their daughters
seem to have departed from them or ever the silver cord be loosed, or
the golden bowl broken. And yet how few, when the air of this world is
clearest, ever come into essential contact with those they love best!
But the triumph of Love, while most it seems to delay, is yet
ceaselessly rushing hitherward on the wings of the morning.
'Willna ye gang as far as the door wi' me, Steenie?' she said.
'I wull do that, Kirsty. But ye're no feart, are ye?'
'Na, no a grain! What would I be feart for?'
'Ow, naething! At this time there's naething oot and aboot to be
feart at. In what ye ca' the daytime, I'm a kin' o' in danger o'
knockin mysel again things; I never du that at nicht.'
As he spoke he sprang to his feet, and they walked on. Kirsty's
heart seemed to swell with pain; for Steenie was at once more rational
and more strange than usual, and she felt the farther away from him.
His words were very quiet, but his eyes looked full of stars.
'I canna tell what it is aboot the sun 'at maks a dog o' me!' he
said. 'He's hard-like, and hauds me oot, and gars me hing my heid, and
feel as gien I wur a kin' o' ashamed, though I ken o' naething. But the
bonny nicht comes straucht up to me, and into me, and gangs a' throuw
me, and bides i' me; and syne I luik for the bonny man!'
'I wuss ye wud lat me bide oot the nicht wi' ye, Steenie!'
'What for that, Kirsty? Ye maun sleep, and I'm better my lane.'
'That's jist hit!' returned Kirsty, with a deep-drawn sigh. 'I canna
bide yer bein yer lane, and yet, do what I like, I canna, whiles, even
i' the daytime, win a bit nearer til ye! Gien only ye was as little as
ye used to be, whan I cud carry ye aboot a' day, and tak ye intil my
ain bed a' nicht! But noo we're jist like the sun and the mune!-whan
ye're oot' I'm in; and whan ye're in—well I'm no oot' but my sowl's
jist as blear-faced as the mune i' the daylicht to think ye'll be awa
again sae sune!—But it canna gang on like this to a' eternity,
and that's a comfort!'
'I ken naething aboot eternity. I'm thinkin it'll a' turn intil a
lown starry nicht, wi' the bonny man intil't. I'm sure o' ae thing, and
that only—'at something 'ill be putten richt 'at's far frae richt the
noo; and syne, Kirsty, ye'll hae yer ain gait wi' me, and I'll be sae
far like ither fowk: idiot 'at I am, I wud be sorry to be turnt
a'thegither the same as some! Ye see I ken sae muckle they ken naething
aboot, or they wudna be as they are! It maybe disna become me to
say't, ony mair nor Gowk Murnock 'at sits o' the pu'pit stair,—but eh
the styte (nonsense) oor minister dings oot o' his ain heid, as
gien it war the stoor oot o' the bible-cushion! It's no possible he's
ever seen the bonny man as I hae seen him!'
'We'll a' hae to come ower to you, Steenie, and learn frae ye what
ye ken. We'll hae to mak you the minister, Steenie!'
'Na, na; I ken naething for ither fowk—only for mysel; and that's
whiles mair nor I can win roun', no to say gie again!' 'Some nicht
ye'll lat me bide oot wi' ye a' nicht? I wud sair like it, Steenie!'
'Ye sail, Kirsty; but it maun be some nicht ye hae sleepit a' day.'
'Eh, but I cudna do that, tried I ever sae hard!'
'Ye cud lie i' yer bed ony gait, and mak the best o' 't! Ye
hae naebody, I ken, to gar you sleep!'
They went all the rest of the way talking thus, and Kirsty's heart
grew lighter, for she seemed to get a little nearer to her brother. He
had been her live doll and idol ever since his mother laid him in her
arms when she was little more than three years old. For though Steenie
was nearly a year older than Kirsty, she was at that time so much
bigger that she was able, not indeed to carry him, but to nurse him on
her knees. She thought herself the elder of the two until she was about
ten, by which time she could not remember any beginning to her carrying
of him. About the same time, however, he began to grow much faster, and
she found before long that only upon her back could she carry him any
The discovery that he was the elder somehow gave a fresh impulse to
her love and devotion, and intensified her pitiful tenderness. Kirsty's
was indeed a heart in which the whole unhappy world might have sought
and found shelter. She had the notion, notwithstanding, that she was
harder-hearted than most, and therefore better able to do things that
were right but not pleasant.
CHAPTER VII. CORBYKNOWE
'Ye'll come in and say a word to mother, Steenie?' said Kirsty, as
they came near the door of the house.
It was a long, low building, with a narrow paving in front from end
to end, of stones cast up by the plough. Its walls, but one story high,
rough-cast and white-washed, shone dim in the twilight. Under a thick
projecting thatch the door stood wide open, and from the kitchen, whose
door was also open, came the light of a peat-fire and a fish-oil-lamp.
Throughout the summer Steenie was seldom in the house an hour of the
twenty-four, and now he hesitated to enter. In the winter he would keep
about it a good part of the day, and was generally indoors the greater
part of the night, but by no means always.
While he hesitated, his mother appeared in the doorway of the
kitchen. She was a tall, fine-looking woman, with soft gray eyes, and
an expression of form and features which left Kirsty accounted for.
'Come awa in by, Steenie, my man!' she said, in a tone that seemed
to wrap its object in fold upon fold of tenderness, enough to make the
peat-smoke that pervaded the kitchen seem the very atmosphere of the
heavenly countries. 'Come and hae a drappy o' new-milkit milk, and a
piece (a piece of bread)'.
Steenie stood smiling and undecided on the slab in front of the
'Dreid naething, Steenie,' his mother went on. 'There's no are to
interfere wi' yer wull, whatever it be. The hoose is yer ain to come
and gang as ye see fit. But ye ken that, and Kirsty kens that, as
weel's yer father and mysel.'
'Mother, I ken what ye say to be the trowth, and I hae a gran' pooer
o' believin the trowth. But a'body believes their ain mither: that's i'
the order o' things as they war first startit! Still I wud raither no
come in the nicht. I wud raither hand awa and no tribble ye wi' mair o'
the sicht o' me nor I canna help—that is, till the cheenge come, and
things be set richt. I dinna aye ken what I'm aboot, but I aye ken 'at
I'm a kin' o' a disgrace to ye, though I canna tell hoo I'm to blame
for 't. Sae I'll jist bide theroot wi' the bonny stars 'at's aye
theroot, and kens a' aboot it, and disna think nane the waur o' me.'
'Laddie! laddie! wha on the face o' God's yerth thinks the waur o'
ye for a wrang dune ye?—though wha has the wyte o' that same I daurna
think, weel kennin 'at a'thing's aither ordeent or allooed, makin
muckle the same. Come winter, come summer, come richt, come wrang, come
life, come deith, what are ye, what can ye be, but my ain, ain laddie!'
Steenie stepped across the threshold and followed his mother into
the kitchen, where the pot was already on the fire for the evening's
porridge. To hide her emotion she went straight to it, and lifted the
lid to look whether boiling point had arrived. The same instant the
stalwart form of her husband appeared in the doorway, and there stood
for a single moment arrested.
He was a good deal older than his wife, as his long gray hair, among
other witnesses, testified. He was six feet in height, and very erect,
with a rather stiff, military carriage. His face wore an expression of
stern goodwill, as if he had been sent to do his best for everybody,
and knew it.
Steenie caught sight of him ere he had taken a step into the
kitchen. He rushed to him, threw his arms round him, and hid his face
on his bosom.
'Bonny, bonny man!' he murmured, then turned away and went back to
His mother was casting the first handful of meal into the pot.
Steenie fetched a three-leggit creepie and sat down by her,
looking as if he had sat there every night since first he was able to
The farmer came forward, and drew a chair to the fire beside his
son. Steenie laid his head on his father's knee, and the father laid
his big hand on Steenie's head. Not a word was uttered. The mother
might have found them in her way had she been inclined, but the thought
did not come to her, and she went on making the porridge in great
contentment, while Kirsty laid the cloth. The night was as still in the
house as in the world, save for the bursting of the big blobs of the
porridge. The peat fire made no noise.
The mother at length took the heavy pot from the fire, and, with
what to one inexpert might have seemed wonderful skill, poured the
porridge into a huge wooden bowl on the table. Having then scraped the
pot carefully that nothing should be lost, she put some water into it,
and setting it on the fire again, went to a hole in the wall, took
thence two eggs, and placed them gently in the water.
She went next to the dairy, and came back with a jug of the richest
milk, which she set beside the porridge, whereupon they drew their
seats to the table—all but Steenie.
'Come, Steenie,' said his mother, 'here's yer supper.'
'I dinna care aboot ony supper the nicht, mother,' answered Steenie.
'Guidsake, laddie, I kenna hoo ye live!' she returned in an accent
almost of despair,
'I'm thinkin I dinna need sae muckle as ither fowk,' rejoined
Steenie, whose white face bore testimony that he took far from
nourishment enough. 'Ye see I'm no a' there,' he added with a smile,
'sae I canna need sae muckle!'
'There's eneuch o' ye there to fill my hert unco fou,' answered his
mother with a deep sigh. 'Come awa, Steenie, my bairn!' she went on
coaxingly. 'Yer father winna ate a moufu' gien ye dinna: ye'll see
that!—Eh, Steenie,' she broke out, 'gien ye wad but tak yer supper and
gang to yer bed like the lave o' 's! It gars my hert swall as gien 't
wud burst like a blob to think o' ye oot i' tho mirk nicht! Wha's to
tell what michtna be happenin ye! Oor herts are whiles that sair, yer
father's and mine, i' oor beds, 'at we daurna say a word for fear the
tane set the tither greetin.'
'I'll bide in, gien that be yer wull,' replied Steenie; 'but eh,
gien ye kent the differ to me, ye wudna wuss 't. I seldom sleep at
nicht as ye ken, and i' the hoose it's jist as gien the darkness wan
inside o' me and was chokin me.'
'But it's as dark theroot as i' the hoose—whiles, onygait!'
'Na, mother; it's never sae dark theroot but there's licht eneuch to
ken I'm theroot and no i' the hoose. I can aye draw a guid full breath
oot i' the open.'
'Lat the laddie gang his ain gait, 'uman,' interposed David. 'The
thing born in 'im 's better for him nor the thing born in anither. A
man maun gang as God made him.'
'Ay, whether he be man or dog!' assented Steenie solemnly.
He drew his stool close to his father where he sat at the table, and
again laid his head on his knee. The mother sighed but said nothing.
She looked nowise hurt, only very sad. In a minute, Steenie spoke
'I'm thinkin nane o' ye kens,' he said, 'what it's like whan a' the
hillside 's gien up to the ither anes!'
'What ither anes?' asked his mother. 'There can be nane there but
yer ain lane sel!'
'Ay, there 's a' the lave o' 's,' he rejoined, with a wan smile.
The mother looked at him with something almost of fear in her eyes
'Steenie has company we ken little aboot,' said Kirsty. 'I whiles
think I wud gie him my wits for his company.'
'Ay, the bonny man!' murmured Steenie. '—I maun be gauin!'
But he did not rise, did not even lift his head from his father's
knee: it would be rude to go before the supper was over—the ruder that
he was not partaking of it!
David had eaten his porridge, and now came the almost nightly
difference about the eggs. Marion had been 'the perfect spy o' the
time' in taking them from the pot; but when she would as usual have her
husband eat them, he as usual declared he neither needed nor wanted
them. This night, however, he did not insist, but at once proceeded to
prepare one, with which, as soon as it was nicely mixed with salt, he
began to feed Steenie. The boy had been longer used to being thus fed
than most children, and having taken the first mouthful instinctively,
now moved his head, but without raising it from his knee, so that his
father might feed him more comfortably. In this position he took every
spoonful given him, and so ate both the eggs, greatly to the delight of
the rest of the company.
A moment more and Steenie got up. His father rose also.
'I'll convoy ye a bit, my man,' he said.
'Eh, na! ye needna that, father! It's near-ban' yer bedtime! I hae
naegait to be convoyt. I'll jist be aboot i' the nicht—maybe a
stane's-cast frae the door, maybe the tither side o' the Horn. Here or
there I'm never frae ye. I think whiles I'm jist like are o' them 'at
ye ca' deid: I'm no awa; I'm only deid! I'm aboot somegait!'
So saying, he went. He never on any occasion wished them good-night:
that would be to leave them, and he was not leaving them! he was with
them all the time!
CHAPTER VIII. DAVID AND HIS DAUGHTER
The instant he was gone, Kirsty went a step or two nearer to her
father, and, looking up in his face, said:
'I saw Francie Gordon the day, father.'
'Weel, lassie, I reckon that wasna ony ferly (strange occurrence
)! Whaur saw ye him?'
'He cam to me o' the Hornside, whaur I sat weyvin my stockin, ower
the bog on 's powny—a richt bonny thing, and clever—a new are he's
gotten frae 's mither. And it's no the first time he's been owre there
to see me sin' he cam hame!'
'Whatfor gaed he there? That wasna the best o' places to gang ridin
'He kenned whaur he was likest to see me: it was me he wantit.'
'He wantit you, did he? And he's been mair nor ance efter
ye?—Whatfor didna ye tell me afore, Kirsty?'
'We war bairns thegither, ye ken, father, and I never ance thoucht
the thing worth fashin ye aboot till the day. We've aye been used to
Francie comin and gaein! I never tellt my mither onything, he said, and
I tell her a'thing worth tellin, and mony a thing forby. I aye leuch at
him as I wud at a bairn till the day. He spak straucht oot the day, and
I did the same, and angert him; and syne he angert me.'
'And whatfor are ye tellin me the noo?'
'Cause it cam intil my heid 'at maybe it would be better—no 'at it
maks ony differ I can see.'
During this conversation Marion was washing the supper-things,
putting them away, and making general preparation for bed. She heard
every word, and went about her work softly that she might hear, never
opening her mouth to speak.
'There's something ye want to tell me and dinna like, lassie!' said
David. 'Gien ye be feart at yer father, gang til yer mither.'
'Feart at my father! I wad be, gien I bed onything to be ashamet o'.
Syne I micht gang to my mither, I daursay—I dinna ken.'
'Ye wud that, lassie. Fathers maun sometimes be fearsome to
'Whan I'm feart at you, father, I'll be a gey bit on i' the ill
gait!' returned Kirsty, with a solemn face, looking straight into her
'Than it'll never be, or I maun hae a heap to blame mysel for. I
think whiles, gien bairns kenned the terrible wyte their fathers micht
hae to dree for no duin better wi' them, they wud be mair particlar to
hand straucht. I hae been ower muckle taen up wi' my beasts and my
craps— mair, God forgie me! nor wi' my twa bairns; though, he kens,
ye're mair to me, the twa, than oucht else save the mither o' ye!'
'The beasts and the craps cudna weel du wi' less; and there was aye
oor mither to see efter hiz!'
'That's true, lassie! I only houp it wasna greed at the hert o' me!
At the same time, wha wud I be greedy for but yersels?—Weel, and
what's it a' aboot? What garred ye come to me aboot Francie? I'm some
feart for him whiles, noo 'at he's sae muckle oot o' oor sicht. The
laddie's no by natur an ill laddie—far frae 't! but it's a sore pity
he cudna hae been a' his father's, and nane o' him his mither's!'
'That wudna hae been sae weel contrived, I doobt!' remarked Kirsty.
'There wudna hae been the variety, I'm thinkin!'
'Ye're richt there, lass!—But what's this aboot Francie?' 'Ow
naething, father, worth mentionin! The daft loon wud hae bed me promise
to merry him—that's a'!'
'The Lord preserve's!—Aff han'?'
'There's no tellin what micht hae been i' the heid o' 'im: he didna
win sae far as to say that onygait!'
'God forbid!' exclaimed her father with solemnity, after a short
'I'm thinkin God's forbidden langsyne!' rejoined Kirsty.
'What said ye til 'im, lassie?'
'First I leuch at him—as weel as I can min' tho nonsense o' 't—and
ca'd him the gowk he was; and syne I sent him awa wi' a flee in 's lug:
hadna he the impidence to fa' oot upo' me for carin mair aboot Steenie
nor the likes o' him! As gien ever he cud come 'ithin sicht o'
Her father looked very grave.
'Are ye no pleased, father? I did what I thoucht richt.'
'Ye cudna hae dune better, Kirsty. But I'm sorry for the callan, for
eh but I loed his father! Lassie, for his father's sake I cud tak
Francie intil the hoose, and work for him as for you and
Steenie—though it's little guid Steenie ever gets o' me, puir sowl!'
'Dinna say that, father. It wud be an ill thing for Steenie to hae
onybody but yersel to the father o' 'im! A muckle pairt o' the nicht he
wins ower in loein at you and his mother.'
'And yersel, Kirsty.'
'I'm thinkin I hae my share i' the daytime.'
'And hoo, think ye, gangs the lave o' the nicht wi' 'im?'
'The bonny man has the maist o' 't, I dinna doobt, and what better
cud we desire for 'im!—But, father, gien Francie come back wi' the
same tale—I dinna think he wull efter what I telled him, but he
may—what wud ye hae me say til 'im?'
'Say what ye wull, lassie, sae lang as ye dinna lat him for a moment
believe there's a grain o' possibility i' the thing. Ye see, Kirsty,—'
'Ye dinna imagine, father, I cud for ae minute think itherwise aboot
it nor ye du yersel! Div I no ken 'at his father gied him in chairge to
you? and haena I therefore to luik efter him? Didna ye tell me a' aboot
yer gran' freen' and hoo, and hoo lang ye had loed him? and didna that
mak Francie my business as weel's yer ain? I'm verra sure his father
wud never appruv o' ony gaeins on atween him and a lassie sic like's
mysel; and fearna ye, father, but I s' hand him weel ootby. No that
it's ony tyauve (struggle) to me, though I aye likit Francie!
Haena I my ain Steenie?'
'Glaidly wud I shaw Francie the ro'd to sic a wife as ye wud mak
him, my bonny Kirsty! But ye see clearly the thing itsel's no to be
thoucht upon.—Eh, Kirsty, but it's gran' to an auld father's hert to
hear ye tak yer pairt in his devours efter sic a wumanly fashion!'
'Am I no yer ain lass-bairn, father? Whaur wud I be wi' a father 'at
didna keep his word? and what less cud I du nor help ony man to keep
his word? Gien breach o' the faimily-word cam throuw me, my life wud
gang frae me.—Wad ye hae me tell the laddie's mither? I wudna like to
expose the folly o' him, but gien ye think it necessar, I'll gang the
'I dinna think that wud be weel. It wad but raise a strife atween
the twa, ohn dune an atom o' guid. She wud only rage at the laddie, and
pit him in sic a reid heat as wad but wald thegither him and his wull
sae 'at they wud maist never come in twa again. And though ye gaed and
tauld her yer ain sel, my leddy wad lay a' the wyte upo' you nane the
less. There's no rizzon, tap nor tae, i' the puir body, and ye're
naewise b'und to her farther nor to du richt by her.'
'I'm glaid ye dinna want me to gang,' answered Kirsty. 'She carries
hersel that gran' 'at ye're maist driven to the consideration hoo
little she's worth; and that's no the richt speerit anent onybody or
thing God thoucht worth makin.'
CHAPTER IX. AT CASTLE WEELSET
Francie's anger had died down a good deal by the time he reached
home. He was, as his father's friend had just said, by no means a bad
sort of fellow, only he was full of himself, and therefore of little
use to anybody. His mother and he, when not actually at strife, were
constantly on the edge of a quarrel. The two must have their own way,
each of them. Francie's way was sometimes good, his mother's sometimes
not bad, but both were usually selfish. The boy had fits of generosity,
the woman never, except toward her son. If she thought of something to
please him, good and well! if he wanted anything of her, it would never
do! The idea must be her own, or meet with no favour. If she imagined
her son desired a thing, she felt it one she never could grant, and
told him so: thereafter Francis would not rest until he had compassed
the thing. Sudden division and high words would follow, with
speechlessness on the mother's part in the rear, which might last for
days. Becoming all at once tired of it, she would in the morning appear
at breakfast looking as if nothing had ever come between them, and they
would be the best of friends for a few days, or perhaps a week, seldom
longer. Some fresh discord, nowise different in character from the
preceding, would arise between them, and the same weary round be
tramped again, each always in the right, and the other in the wrong.
Every time they made it up, their relation seemed unimpaired, but it
was hardly possible things should go on thus and not at length quite
estrange their hearts.
In matters of display, to which Francis had much tendency, his
mother's own vanity led her to indulge and spoil him, for, being hers,
she was always pleased he should look his best. On his real self she
neither had nor sought any influence. Insubordination or arrogance in
him, her dignity unslighted, actually pleased her: she liked him to
show his spirit: was it not a mark of his breeding?
She was a tall and rather stout woman, with a pretty,
small-featured, regular face, and a thin nose with the nostrils
Castle Weelset was not much of a castle: to an ancient round tower,
discomfortably habitable, had been added in the last century a rather
large, defensible house. It stood on the edge of a gorge, crowning one
of its stony hills of no great height. With scarce a tree to shelter
it, the situation was very cold in winter, and it required a hardy
breeding to live there in comfort. There was little of a garden, and
the stables were somewhat ruinous. For the former fact the climate
almost sufficiently accounted, and for the latter, a long period of
The young laird did not like farming, and had no love for books: in
this interval between school and college, he found very little to
occupy him, and not much to amuse him. Had Kirsty and her family proved
as encouraging as he had expected, he would have made use of his new
pony almost only to ride to Corbyknowe in the morning and back to the
castle at night.
His mother knew old Barclay, as she called him, well enough—that
is, not at all, and had never shown him any cordiality, anything,
indeed, better than condescension. To treat him like a gentleman, even
when he sat at her own table, she would have counted absurd. He had
never been to the castle since the day after her husband's funeral,
when she received him with such emphasized superiority that he felt he
could not go again without running the risk either of having his
influence with the boy ruined, or giving occasion to a nature not
without generosity to take David's part against his mother.
Thenceforward, therefore, he contented himself with giving Francis
invariable welcome, and doing what he could to make his visits
pleasant. Chiefly, on such not infrequent occasions, the boy delighted
in drawing from his father's friend what tales about his father, and
adventures of their campaigns together, he had to tell; and in this way
David's wife and children heard many things about himself which would
not otherwise have reached them. Naturally, Kirsty and Francie grew to
be good friends; and after they went to the parish school, there were
few days indeed on which they did not walk at least as far homeward
together as the midway divergence of their roads permitted. It was not
wonderful, therefore, that at length Francis should be, or should fancy
himself in love with Kirsty. But I believe all the time he thought of
marrying her as a heroic deed, in raising the girl his mother despised
to share the lofty position he and that foolish mother imagined him to
occupy. The anticipation of opposition from his mother naturally
strengthened his determination; of opposition on the part of Kirsty, he
had not dreamed. He took it as of course that, the moment he stated his
intention, Kirsty would be charmed, her mother more than pleased, and
the stern old soldier overwhelmed with the honour of alliance with the
son of his colonel. I do not doubt, however, that he had an affection
for Kirsty far deeper and better than his notion of their relations to
each other would indicate. Although it was mainly his pride that
suffered in his humiliating dismissal, he had, I am sure, a genuine
heartache as he galloped home. When he reached the castle, he left his
pony to go where he would, and rushed to his room. There, locking the
door that his mother might not enter, he threw himself on his bed in
the luxurious consciousness of a much-wronged lover. An uneducated
country girl, for as such he regarded her, had cast from her, not
without insult, his splendidly generous offer of himself!
Poor king Cophetua did not, however, shed many tears for the loss of
his recusant beggar-maid. By and by he forgot everything, found he had
gone to sleep, and, endeavouring to weep again, did not succeed.
He grew hungry soon, and went down to see what was to be had. It was
long past the usual hour for dinner, but Mrs. Gordon had not seen him
return, and had had it put back—so to make the most of an opportunity
of quarrel not to be neglected by a conscientious mother. She let it
'Gracious, you've been crying!' she exclaimed, the moment she saw
Now certainly Francis had not cried much; his eyes were,
notwithstanding, a little red.
He had not yet learned to lie, but he might then have made his first
assay had he had a fib at his tongue's end; as he had not, he gloomed
deeper, and made no answer.
'You've been fighting!' said his mother.
'I haena,' he returned with rude indignation. 'Gien I had been, div
ye think I wud hae grutten?'
'You forget yourself, laird!' remarked Mrs. Gordon, more annoyed
with his Scotch than the tone of it. 'I would have you remember I am
mistress of the house!'
'Till I marry, mother!' rejoined her son.
'Oblige me in the meantime,' she answered, 'by leaving vulgar
language outside it.'
Francis was silent; and his mother, content with her victory, and in
her own untruthfulness of nature believing he had indeed been fighting
and had had the worse of it, said no more, but began to pity and pet
him. A pot of his favourite jam presently consoled the love-wounded
hero—in the acceptance of which consolation he showed himself far less
unworthy than many a grown man, similarly circumstanced, in the choice
CHAPTER X. DAVID AND FRANCIS
One day there was a market at a town some eight or nine miles off,
and thither, for lack of anything else to do, Francis had gone to
display himself and his pony, which he was riding with so tight a curb
that the poor thing every now and then reared in protest against the
agony he suffered.
On one of these occasions Don was on the point of falling backward,
when a brown wrinkled hand laid hold of him by the head, half pulling
the reins from his rider's hand, and ere he had quite settled again on
his forelegs, had unhooked the chain of his curb, and fastened it some
three links looser. Francis was more than indignant, even when he saw
that the hand was Mr. Barclay's: was he to be treated as one who did
not know what he was about!
'Hoots, my man!' said David gently, 'there's no occasion to put a
water-chain upo' the bonny beastie: he has a mou like a leddy's! and to
hae 't linkit up sae ticht is naething less nor tortur til 'im!—It's a
won'er to me he hasna broken your banes and his ain back thegither,
puir thing!' he added, patting and stroking the spirited little
creature that stood sweating and trembling. 'I thank you, Mr. Barclay,'
said Francis insolently, 'but I am quite able to manage the brute
myself. You seem to take me for a fool!'
''Deed, he's no far aff ane 'at cud ca' a bonny cratur like that a
brute!' returned David, nowise pleased to discover such hardness in one
whom he would gladly treat like a child of his own. It was a great
disappointment to him to see the lad getting farther away from the
possibility of being helped by him. 'What 'ud yer father say to see ye
illuse ony helpless bein! Yer father was awfu guid til 's horse-fowk.'
The last word was one of David's own: he was a great lover of
'I'll do with my own as I please!' cried Francis, and spurred the
pony to pass David. But one stalwart hand held the pony fast, while the
other seized his rider by the ankle. The old man was now thoroughly
angry with the graceless youth.
'God bless my sowl!' he cried, 'hae ye the spurs on as weel? Stick
ane o' them intil him again, and I'll cast ye frae the seddle. I' the
thick o' a fecht, the lang blades playin aboot yer father's heid like
lichts i' the north, he never stack spur intil 's chairger needless!'
'I don't see,' said Francis, who had begun to cool down a little,
'how he could have enjoyed the fight much if he never forgot himself! I
should forget everything in the delight of the battle!'
'Yer father, laddie, never forgot onything but himsel. Forgettin
himsel left him free to min' a'thing forbye. Ye wud forget ilka
thing but yer ain rage! Yer father was a great man as weel's a great
soger, Francie, and a deevil to fecht, as his men said. I hae mysel
seen by the set mou 'at the teeth war clinched i' the inside o' 't,
whan a' the time on the broo o' 'im sat never a runkle. Gien ever there
was a man 'at cud think o' twa things at ance, your father cud think o'
three; and thae three war God, his enemy, and the beast aneath him.
Francie, Francie, i' the name o' yer father I beg ye to regaird the
richts o' the neebour ye sit upo'. Gien ye dinna that, ye'll come or
lang to think little o' yer human neebour as weel, carin only for what
ye get oot o' 'im!'
A voice inside Francis took part with the old man, and made him yet
angrier. Also his pride was the worse annoyed that David Barclay, his
tenant, should, in the hearing of two or three loafers gathered behind
him, of whose presence the old man was unaware, not only rebuke him,
but address him by his name, and the diminutive of it. So when David,
in the appeal that burst from his enthusiastic remembrance of his
officer in the battle-field, let the pony's head go, Francis dug his
spurs in his sides, and darted off like an arrow. The old man for a
moment stared open-mouthed after him. The fools around laughed: he
turned and walked away, his head sunk on his breast.
Francis had not ridden far before he was vexed with himself. He was
not so much sorry, as annoyed that he had behaved in fashion
undignified. The thought that his childish behaviour would justify
Kirsty in her opinion of him, added its sting. He tried to console
himself with the reflection that the sort of thing ought to be put an
end to at once: how far, otherwise, might not the old fellow's
interference go! I am afraid he even said to himself that such was a
consequence of familiarity with inferiors. Yet angry as he was at his
fault-finding, he would have been proud of any approval from the lips
of the old soldier. He rode his pony mercilessly for a mile or so, then
pulled up, and began to talk pettingly to him, which I doubt if the
little creature found consoling, for love only makes petting worth
anything, and the love here was not much to the front.
About halfway home, he had to ford a small stream, or go round two
miles by a bridge. There had been much rain in the night, and the
stream was considerably swollen. As he approached the ford, he met a
knife-grinder, who warned him not to attempt it: he had nearly lost his
wheel in it, he said. But Francis always found it hard to accept
advice. His mother had so often predicted from neglect of hers evils
which never followed, that he had come to think counsel the one thing
not to be heeded.
'Thank you,' he said; 'I think we can manage it!' and rode on.
When he reached the ford, where of all places he ought to have left
the pony's head free, he foolishly remembered the curb-chain, and
getting off, took it up a couple of links.
But when he remounted, whether from dread of the rush of the brown
water, or resentment at the threat of renewed torture, the pony would
not take the ford, and a battle royal arose between them, in which
Francis was so far victorious that, after many attempts to run away,
little Don, rendered desperate by the spur, dashed wildly into the
stream, and went plunging on for two or three yards. Then he fell, and
Francis found himself rolling in the water, swept along by the current.
A little way lower down, at a sharp turn of the stream under a high
bank, was a deep pool, a place held much in dread by the country lads
and lasses, being a haunt of the kelpie. Francis knew the spot well,
and had good reason to fear that, carried into it, he must be drowned,
for he could not swim. Roused by the thought to a yet harder struggle,
he succeeded in getting upon his feet, and reaching the bank, where he
lay for a while, exhausted. When at length he came to himself and rose,
he found the water still between him and home, and nothing of his pony
to be seen. If the youth's good sense had been equal to his courage, he
would have been a fine fellow: he dashed straight into the ford,
floundered through it, and lost his footing no more than had Don,
treated properly. When he reached the high ground on the other side, he
could still see nothing of him, and with sad heart concluded him
carried into the Kelpie's Hole, never more to be beheld alive:—what
would his mother and Mr. Barclay say? Shivering and wretched, and with
a growing compunction in regard to his behaviour to Don, he crawled
Don, however, had at no moment been much in danger. Rid of his
master, he could take very good care of himself. He got to the bank
without difficulty, and took care it should be on the home-side of the
stream. Not once looking behind him after his tyrant, he set off at a
good round trot, much refreshed by his bath, and rejoicing in the
thought of his loose box at castle Weelset.
In a narrow part of the road, however, he overtook a cart of Mr.
Barclay's; and as he attempted to pass between it and the steep brae,
the man on the shaft caught at his bridle, made him prisoner, tied him
to the cart behind, and took him to Corbyknowe. When David came home
and saw him, he conjectured pretty nearly what had happened, and tired
as he was set out for the castle. Had he not feared that Francis might
have been injured, he would not have cared to go, much as he knew it
must relieve him to learn that his pony was safe.
Mrs. Gordon declined to see David, but he ascertained from the
servants that Francis had come home half-drowned, leaving Don in the
David hesitated a little whether or not to punish him for his
behaviour to the pony by allowing him to remain in ignorance of his
safety, and so leaving him to the agen-bite of conscience; but
concluding that such was not his part, he told them that the animal was
safe at Corbyknowe, and went home again.
But he wanted Francis to fetch the pony himself, therefore did not
send him, and in the meantime fed and groomed him with his own hands as
if he had been his friend's charger. Francis having just enough of the
grace of shame to make him shrink from going to Corbyknowe, his mother
wrote to David, asking why he did not send home the animal. David, one
of the most courteous of men, would take no order from any but his
superior officer, and answered that he would gladly give him up to the
young laird in person.
The next day Mrs. Gordon drove, in what state she could muster, to
Corbyknowe. Arrived there, she declined to leave her carriage,
requesting Mrs. Barclay, who came to the door, to send her husband to
her. Mrs. Barclay thought it better to comply.
David came in his shirt-sleeves, for he had been fetched from his
'If I understand your answer to my request, Mr. Barclay, you decline
to send back Mr. Gordon's pony. Pray, on what grounds?'
'I wrote, ma'am, that I should be glad to give him over to Mr.
'Mr. Gordon does not find it convenient to come all this way on
foot. In fact he declines to do it, and requests that you will send the
pony home this afternoon.'
'Excuse me, mem, but it's surely enough done that a man make known
the presence o' strays, and tak proper care o' them until they're
claimt! I was fain forbye to gie the bonny thing a bit pleesur in life:
Francie's ower hard upon him.'
'You forget, David Barclay, that Mr. Gordon is your landlord!'
'His father, mem, was my landlord, and his father's father was my
father's landlord; and the interests o' the landlord hae aye been oors.
Ither nor Francie's herty freen I can never be!'
'You presume on my late husband's kindness to you, Barclay!'
'Gien devotion be presumption, mem, I presume. Archibald Gordon was
and is my freen, and will be for ever. We hae been throuw ower muckle
thegither to change to are anither. It was for his sake and the
laddie's ain that I wantit him to come to me. I wantit a word wi' him
aboot that powny o' his. He'll never be true man 'at taks no tent (
care) o' dumb animals! You 'at's sae weel at hame i' the seddle
yersel, mem, micht tak a kin'ly care o' what's aneth his!'
'I will have no one interfere with my son. I am quite capable of
teaching him his duty myself.'
'His father requestit me to do what I could for him, mem.'
'His late father, if you please, Barclay!'
'He s' never be Francie's late father to Francie, gien I can
help it, mem! He may be your late husband, mem, but he's my
cornel yet, and I s' keep my word til him! It'll no be lang noo, i' the
natur o' things, till I gang til him; and sure am I his first word 'll
be aboot the laddie: I wud ill like to answer him, “Archie, I ken
naething aboot him but what I cud weel wuss itherwise!” Hoo wud ye like
to gie sic an answer yersel, mem?'
'I'm surprised at a man of your sense, Barclay, thinking we shall
know one another in heaven! We shall have to be content with God
'I said naething about h'aven, mem! Fowk may ken are anither and no
be in ae place. I took note i' the kirk last Sunday 'at Abrahaam kent
the rich man, and the rich man him, and they warna i' the same
place.—But ye'll lat the yoong laird come and see me, mem?' concluded
David, changing his tone and speaking as one who begged a favour; for
the thought of meeting his old friend and having nothing to tell him
about his boy, quenched his pride.
'Home, Thomas!' cried her late husband's wife to her coachman, and
'Dod! they'll hae to gie that wife a hell til hersel!' said David,
turning to the door discomfited.
'And maybe she'll no like it whan she hes't!' returned his wife, who
had heard every word. 'There's fowk 'at's no fit company for onybody!
and I'm thinkin she's ane gien there bena anither!'
'I'll sen' Jeamie hame wi' the powny the nicht,' said David. 'A body
canna insist whaur fowk are no frien's. That weud grow to enmity, and
the en' o' a' guid. Na, we maun sen' hame the powny; and gien there be
ony grace i' the bairn, he canna but come and say thank ye!'
Mrs. Gordon rejoiced in her victory; but David's yielding showed
itself the true policy. Francis did call and thank him for taking care
of Don. He even granted that perhaps he had been too hard on the pony.
'Ye cud richteously expeck naething o' a powny o' his size that that
powny o' yours cudna du, Francie!' said David. 'But, in God's name,
dear laddie, be a richteous man. Gien ye requere no more than's fair
frae man or beast, ye'll maistly aye get it. But gien yer ootluik in
life be to get a'thing and gie naething, ye maun come to grief ae w'y
and a' w'ys. Success in an ill attemp is the warst failyie a man can
But it was talking to the wind, for Francis thought, or tried to
think David only bent, like his mother, on finding fault with him. He
made haste to get away, and left his friend with a sad heart.
He rode on to the foot of the Horn, to the spot where Kirsty was
usually at that season to be found; but she saw him coming, and went up
the hill. Soon after, his mother contrived that he should pay a visit
to some relatives in the south, and for a time neither the castle nor
the Horn saw anything of him. Without returning home he went in the
winter to Edinburgh, where he neither disgraced nor distinguished
himself. David was to hear no ill of him. To be beyond his mother's
immediate influence was perhaps to his advantage, but as nothing
superior was substituted, it was at best but little gain. His
companions were like himself, such as might turn to worse or better, no
one could tell which.
CHAPTER XI. KIRSTY AND PHEMY
During the first winter which Francis spent at college, his mother
was in England, and remained there all the next summer and winter. When
at last she came home, she was even less pleasant than before in the
eyes of her household, no one of which had ever loved her. Throughout
the summer she had a succession of visitors, and stories began to
spread concerning strange doings at the castle. The neighbours talked
of extravagance, and the censorious among them of riotous living; while
some of the servants more than hinted that the amount of wine and
whisky consumed was far in excess of what served when the old colonel
One of them who, in her mistress's frequent fits of laziness, acted
as housekeeper, had known David Barclay from his boyhood, and
understood his real intimacy with her late master: it was not
surprising, therefore, that she should open her mind to him, while
keeping toward everyone else a settled silence concerning her
mistress's affairs: none of the stories current in the country-side
came from her. David was to Mrs. Bremner the other side of a deep pit,
into the bottom of which whatever was said between them dropped.
'There'll come a catastrophe or lang,' said Mrs. Bremner one evening
when David Barclay overtook her on the road to the town, 'and that'll
be seen! The property's jist awa to the dogs! There's Maister Donal,
the factor, gaein aboot like are in a dilemm as to cuttin 's thro't or
blawin his harns oot! He daursna say a word, ye see! The auld laird
trustit him, and he's feart 'at he be blamit, but there's nae duin
onything wi' that wuman: the siller maun be forthcomin whan she's
'The siller's no hers ony mair nor the Ian'; a' 's the yoong
laird's!' remarked David.
'That's true; but she's i' the pooer o' 't till he come o' age; and
Maister Donal, puir man, mony's the time he 's jist driven to are mair
to get what's aye wantit and wantit! What comes o' the siller it jist
blecks me to think: there's no a thing aboot the hoose to shaw for 't!
And hearken, David, but latna baith lugs hear 't, for dreid the tane
come ower't again to the tither—I'm doobtin the drink's gettin a sair
grup o' her!'
''Deed I wudna be nane surprised!' returned David. 'Whatever micht
want in at her door, there's naething inside to baud it oot. Eh, to
think o' Archie Gordon takin til himsel sic a wife! that a man like
him, o' guid report, and come to years o' discretion—to think o'
brains like his turnin as fozy as an auld neep at sicht o' a bonny
front til an ae wa' hoose (a house of but one wall)! It canna be
'at witchcraft's clean dune awa wi'!'
'Bonny, Dawvid! Ca'd ye the mistress bonny?'
'She used to be—bonny, that is, as a button or a buckle micht be
bonny. What she may be the noo, I dinna ken, for I haena set ee upon
her sin' she cam to the Knowe orderin me to sen' back Francie's powny:
she was suppercilly eneuch than for twa cornels and a corporal, but no
ill luikin. Gien she hae a spot o' beaouty left, the drink 'll tak it
or it hae dune wi' her!'
'Or she hae dune wi' hit, Dawvid! It's ta'en ae colour frae her
a'ready, and begud to gie her anither! But it concerns me mair aboot
Francie nor my leddy: what's to come o' him when a' 's gane? what'll
there be for him to come intil?'
Gladly would David have interfered, but he was helpless; he had no
legal guardianship over or for the boy! Nothing could be done till he
was a man!—'gien ever he be a man!' said David to himself with a sigh,
and the thought how much better off he was with his half-witted Steenie
than his friend with his clever Francie.
Mrs. Bremner was sister-in-law to the schoolmaster, and was then on
her way to see him and his daughter Phemy. From childhood the girl had
been in the way of going to the castle to see her aunt, and so was well
known about the place. Being an engaging child, she had become not only
welcome to the servants but something of a favourite with the mistress,
whom she amused with her little airs, and pleased with her winning
manners. She was now about fourteen, a half-blown beauty of the red and
white, gold and blue kind. She had long been a vain little thing,
approving of her own looks in the glass, and taking much interest in
setting them off, but so simple as to make no attempt at concealing her
self-satisfaction. Her pleased contemplation of this or that portion of
her person, and the frantic attempts she was sometimes espied making to
get a sight of her back, especially when she wore a new frock, were
indeed more amusing than hopeful, but her vanity was not yet so
pronounced as to overshadow her better qualities, and Kirsty had not
thought it well to take notice of it, although, being more than anyone
else a mother to her, she was already a little anxious on the score of
it, and the rather that her aunt, like her father, neither saw nor
imagined fault in her.
That the child had no mother, drew to her the heart of the girl
whose mother was her strength and joy; while gratitude to the child's
father, who, in opening for her some doors of wisdom and more of
knowledge, had put her under eternal obligations, moved her to make
what return she could. It deepened her sense of debt to Phemy that the
schoolmaster did not do for his daughter anything like what he had
years long been doing for his pupil, whence she almost felt as if she
had diverted to her own use much that rightly belonged to Phemy. At the
same time she knew very well that had she never existed the relation
between the father and the daughter would have been the same. The child
of his dearly loved wife, the schoolmaster was utterly content with his
Phemy; for he felt as if she knew everything her mother knew, had the
same inward laws of being and the same disposition, and was simply,
like her, perfect.
That she should ever do anything wrong was an idea inconceivable to
him. Nor was there much chance of his discovering it if she did. When
not at work, he was constantly reading. Most people close a book
without having gained from it a single germ of thought; Mr. Craig
seldom opened one without falling directly into a brown study over
something suggested by it. But I believe that, even when thus absorbed,
Phemy was never far from his thought. At the same time, like many
Scots, while she was his one joy, he seldom showed her sign of
affection, seldom made her feel, and never sought to make her feel how
he loved her. His love was taken by him for understood by her, and was
to her almost as if it did not exist.
That his child required to be taught had scarcely occurred to the
man who could not have lived without learning, or enjoyed life without
teaching—as witness the eagerness with which he would help Kirsty
along any path of knowledge in which he knew how to walk. The love of
knowledge had grown in him to a possessing passion, paralyzing in a
measure those powers of his life sacred to life—that is, to God and
Kirsty could not do nearly what she would to make up for his
neglect. For one thing, the child did not take to learning, and though
she loved Kirsty and often tried to please her, would not keep on doing
anything without being more frequently reminded of her duty than the
distance between their two abodes permitted. Kirsty had her to the farm
as often as the schoolmaster would consent to her absence, and kept her
as long as he went on forgetting it; while Phemy was always glad to go
to Corbyknowe, and always glad to get away again. For Mrs. Barclay
thought it her part to teach her household matters, and lessons of that
sort Phemy relished worse than some of a more intellectual nature. If
left with her, the moment Kirsty appeared again, the child would fling
from her whatever might be in her hand, and flee as to her deliverer
from bondage and hard labour. Then would Kirsty always insist on her
finishing what she had been at, and Phemy would obey, with the protest
of silent tears, and the airs of a much injured mortal. Had Kirsty been
backed by the child's father, she might have made something of her; but
it grew more and more painful to think of her future, when her
self-constituted guardian should have lost what influence she had over
Phemy was rather afraid of Steenie. Her sunny nature shrank from the
shadow, as of a wall, in which Steenie appeared to her always to stand.
From any little attention he would offer her, she, although never rude
to him, would involuntarily recoil, and he soon learned to leave her
undismayed. That the child's repugnance troubled him, though he never
spoke of it, Kirsty saw quite plainly, for she could read his face like
a book, and heard him sigh when even his mother did not. Her eyes were
constantly regarding him, like sheep feeding on the pasture of his
face:—I think I have used a figure of sir Philip Sidney's. But say
rather—the thoughts that strayed over his face were the sheep to which
all her life she had been the devoted shepherdess.
At Corbyknowe things went on as hitherto. Kirsty was in no danger of
tiring of the even flow of her life. Steenie's unselfish solitude of
soul made him every day dearer to her. Books she sought in every
accessible, and found occasionally in an unhopeful quarter. She had no
thought of distinguishing herself, no smallest ambition of becoming
learned; her soul was athirst to understand, and what she understood
found its way from her mind into her life. Much to the advantage of her
thinking were her keen power and constant practice of observation. I
utterly refuse the notion that we cannot think without words, but
certainly the more forms we have ready to embody our thoughts, the
farther we shall be able to carry our thinking. Richly endowed, Kirsty
required the more mental food, and was the more able to use it when she
found it. To such of the neighbours as had no knowledge of any
diligence save that of the hands, she seemed to lead an idle life; but
indeed even Kirsty's hands were far from idle. When not with Steenie
she was almost always at her mother's call, who, from the fear that she
might grow up incapable of managing a house, often required a good deal
of her. But the mother did not fail to note with what alacrity she
would lay her book aside, sometimes even dropping it in her eagerness
to answer her summons. Dismissed for the moment, she would at once take
her book again and the seat nearest to it: she could read anywhere, and
gave herself none of the student-airs that make some young people so
pitifully unpleasant. At the same time solitude was preferable for
study, and Kirsty was always glad to find herself with her books in the
little hut, Steenie asleep on the heather carpet on her feet, and the
assurance that there no one would interrupt her.
It was not wonderful that, in the sweet absence of selfish cares,
her mind full of worthy thoughts, and her heart going out in
tenderness, her face should go on growing in beauty and refinement. She
was not yet arrived at physical full growth, and the forms of her
person being therefore in a process of change were the more easily
modelled after her spiritual nature. She seemed almost already one that
would not die, but live for ever, and continue to inherit the earth.
Neither her father nor her mother could have imagined anything better
to be made of her.
Steenie had not changed his habits, neither seemed to grow at all
more like other people. He was now indeed seldom so much depressed as
formerly, but he showed no sign of less dependence on Kirsty.
CHAPTER XII. THE EARTH-HOUSE
About a year after Francis Gordon went to Edinburgh, Kirsty and
Steenie made a discovery.
Between Corbyknowe and the Horn, on whose sides David Barclay had a
right of pasturage for the few sheep to which Steenie and Snootie were
the shepherds, was a small glen, through which, on its way to join the
little river with the kelpie-pot, ran a brook, along whose banks lay
two narrow breadths of nice grass. The brother and sister always
crossed this brook when they wanted to go straight to the top of the
One morning, having each taken the necessary run and jump, they had
began to climb on the other side, when Kirsty, who was a few paces
before him, turned at an exclamation from Steenie.
'It's a' the weicht o' my muckle feet!' he cried, as he dragged one
of the troublesome members out of a hole. 'Losh, I dinna ken hoo far it
michtna hae gane doon gien I hadna gotten a haud o' 't in time and pu'd
How much of humour, how much of silliness, and how much of truth
were wrapt up together in some of the things he said, it was impossible
to determine. I believe Kirsty came pretty near knowing, but even she
was not always sure where wilful oddity and where misapprehension was
at the root of a remark.
'Gien ye set yer fit upon a hole,' said Kirsty, 'what can the puir
thing du but gang doon intil 't? Ye maunna be oonrizzonable wi' the
craturs, Steenie! Ye maun be fair til them.'
'But there was nae hole!' returned Steenie. 'There cudna hae been.
There's the hole noo! My fit made it, and there it'll hae to bide! It's
a some fearsome thing, divna ye think, 'at what aiven the fit o' a body
dis, bides? What for disna the hole gang awa whan the fit lifts? Luik
ye there! Ye see thae twa stanes stan'in up by themsels, and there's
the hole—atween the twa! There cudna hae been a hole there afore the
weicht o' my fit cam doon upo' the spot and ca'd it throuw! I gaed in
maist til my knee!'
'Lat's luik!' said Kirsty, and proceeded to examine the place.
She thought at first it must be the burrow of some animal, but the
similarity in shape of the projecting stones suggesting that their
position might not be fortuitous, she would look a little farther, and
began to pull away the heather about the mouth of the opening. Steenie
set himself, with might and main, to help her. Kirsty was much the
stronger of the two, but Steenie always did his best to second her in
anything that required exertion.
They soon spied the lump of sod and heather which Steenie's heavy
foot had driven down, and when they had pulled that out, they saw that
the hole went deeper still, seeming a very large burrow
indeed—therefore a little fearsome. Having widened the mouth of it by
clearing away a thick growth of roots from its sides, and taken out a
quantity of soft earth, they perceived that it went sloping into the
ground still farther. With growing curiosity they leant down into it,
lying on the edge, and reaching with their hands removed the loose
earth as low as they could. This done, the descent showed itself about
two feet square, as far down as they had cleared it, beyond which a
little way it was lost in the dark.
What were they to do next? There was yet greater inducement to go
on, but considerations came which were not a little deterrent. Although
Steenie had worked well, Kirsty knew he had a horror of dark places,
associating them somehow with the weight of his feet: whether such
places had for him any suggestion of the grave, I cannot tell;
certainly to get rid of his feet was the form his idea of the salvation
he needed was readiest to take. Then might there not be some animal
inside? Steenie thought not, for there was no opening until he made it!
and Kirsty also thought not, on the ground that she knew no wild animal
larger than fox or badger, neither of which would have made such a big
hole. One moment, however, her imagination was nearly too much for her:
what if some huge bear had been asleep in it for hundreds of years, and
growing all the time! Certainly he could not get out, but if she roused
him, and he got a hold of her! The next instant her courage revived,
for she would have been ashamed to let what she did not believe
influence any action. The passage must lead somewhere, and it was large
enough for her to explore it!
Because of her dress, she must creep in head foremost—in which lay
the advantage that so she would meet any danger face to face! Telling
Steenie that if he heard her cry out, he must get hold of her feet and
pull, she laid herself on the ground and crawled in. She thought it
must lead to an ancient tomb, but said nothing of the conjecture for
fear of horrifying Steenie, who stood trembling, sustained only by his
faith in Kirsty.
She went down and down and quite disappeared. Not a foot was left
for Steenie to lay hold of. Terrible and long seemed the time to him as
he stood there forsaken, his darling out of sight in the heart of the
earth. He knew there were wolves in Scotland once; who could tell but a
she-wolf had been left, and a whole clan of them lived there
underground, never issuing in the daytime! there might be the open
mouth of a passage, under a rock and curtained with heather, in some
other spot of the hill! What if one of them got Kirsty by the throat
before she had time to cry out! Then he thought she might have gone
till she could go no father, and not having room to turn, was trying to
creep backward, but her clothes hindered her. Forgetting his repugnance
in over-mastering fear, the faithful fellow was already half inside the
hole to go after her, when up shot the head of Kirsty, almost in his
face. For a moment he was terribly perplexed: he had been expecting to
come on her feet, not her head: how could she have gone in head
foremost, and not come back feet foremost?
'Eh, wuman,' he said in a fear-struck whisper, 'it's awfu' to see ye
come oot o' the yird like a muckle worm!'
'Ye saw me gang in, Steenie, ye gowk!' returned Kirsty, dismayed
herself at sight of his solemn dread.
'Ay,' answered Steenie, 'but I didna see ye come oot! Eh, Kirsty,
wuman, hae ye a heid at baith en's o' ye?'
Kirsty's laughter blew Steenie's discomposure away, and he too
'Come back hame,' said Kirsty; 'I maun get haud o' a can'le! Yon's a
place maun be seen intil. I never saw, or raither faun' (felt)
the like o' 't, for o' seein there's nane, or next to nane. There's
room eneuch; ye can see that wi' yer airms!'
'What is there room eneuch for?' asked Steenie.
'For you and me, and twenty or thirty mair, mebbe—I dinna ken,'
'I s' mak ye a present o' my room intil 't,' returned Steenie. 'I
want nane o' 't.'
'Ill gang doon wi' the can'le,' said Kirsty, 'and see whether 't be
a place for ye. Gien I cry oot, “Ay is't,” wull ye come?'
'That I wull, gien 't war the whaul's belly!' replied Steenie.
They set out for the house, and as they walked they talked.
'I div won'er what the place cud ever hae been for!' said Kirsty,
more to herself than Steenie. 'It's bigger nor ony thoucht I had o'
'What is 't like, Kirsty?' inquired Steenie.
'Hoo can I tell whan I saw naething!' replied Kirsty.
'But,' she added thoughtfully, 'gien it warna that we're in
Scotlan', and they're nigh-han' Rom', I wud hae been 'maist sure I had
won intil ane o' the catacombs!'
'Eh, losh, lat me awa to the hill!' cried Steenie, stopping and half
turning. 'I canna bide the verra word o' the craturs!'
'What word than?' asked Kirsty, a little surprised; for how did
Steenie know anything about the catacombs?
'To think,' he went on, 'o' a haill kirk o' cats aneath the yird—a'
sittin kaimin themsels wi' kaims!—Kirsty, ye winna think it a
place for me? Ye see I'm no like ither fowk, and sic a thing
micht ca (drive) me oot o' a' the sma' wits ever I hed!'
'Hoots!' rejoined Kirsty, with a smile, 'the catacombs has naething
to du wi' cats or kaims!'
'Tell me what are they, than.'
'The catacombs,' answered Kirsty, 'was what in auld times, and no i'
this cuintry ava, they ca'd the places whaur they laid their deid.'
'Eh, Kirsty, but that's waur!' returned Steenie. 'I wudna gang intil
sic a place wi' feet siclike's my ain—na, no for what the warl cud gie
me!—no for lang Lowrie's fiddle and a' the tunes intil't! I wud never
get my feet oot o' 't! They'd haud me there!'
Then Kirsty began to tell him, as she would have taught a child,
something of the history of the catacombs, knowing how it must interest
'I' the days langsyne,' she said, 'there was fowk, like you and me,
unco fain o' the bonny man. The verra soun o' the name o' 'im was
eneuch to gar their herts loup wi' doonricht glaidness. And they gaed
here and there and a' gait, and tellt ilka body aboot him; and fowk 'at
didna ken him, and didna want to ken him, cudna bide to hear tell o'
him, and they said, “Lat's hae nae mair o' this! Hae dune wi' yer bonny
man! Haud yer tongues,” they cryit. But the ithers, they wadna hear o'
haudin their tongues. A'body maun ken aboot him! “Sae lang's we hae
tongues, and can wag them to the name o' him,” they said, “we'll no
haud them!” And at that they fell upo' them, and ill-used them sair;
some o' them they tuik and burnt alive—that is, brunt them deid; and
some o' them they flang to the wild beasts, and they bitit them and
tore them to bits. And—,
'Was the bitin o' the beasts terrible sair?' interrupted Steenie.
'Ay, I reckon it was some sair; but the puir fowk aye said the bonny
man was wi' them; and lat them bite!—they didna care!'
'Ay, of coorse, gien he was wi' them they wadna min' 't a hair, or
at least, no twa hairs! Wha wud! Gien he be in yon hole, Kirsty, I'll
gang back and intil't my lee lane. I wull noo!'
Steenie turned and had run some distance before Kirsty succeeded in
stopping him. She did not run after him.
'Steenie! Steenie!' she cried, 'I dinna doobt he's there, for he's
a'gait; but ye ken yersel ye canna aye see him, and maybe ye wudna see
him there the noo, and micht think he wasna there, and turn fleyt. Bide
till we hae a licht, and I gang doon first.'
Steenie was persuaded, and turned and came back to her. To father,
mother, and sister he was always obedient, even on the rare occasions
when it cost him much to be so.
'Ye see, Steenie,' she continued, 'yon's no the place! I dinna ken
yet what place yon is. I was only gaein to tell ye aboot the places it
min't me o'! Wud ye like to hear aboot them?'
'I wad that, richt weel! Say awa, Kirsty.'
'The fowk, than, ye see, 'at lo'ed the bonny man, gethert themsels
aye thegither to hae cracks and newses wi' ane anither aboot him; and,
as I was tellin ye, the fowk 'at didna care aboot him war that angert
'at they set upo' them, and jist wud hae nane o' them nor him. Sae to
hand oot o' their grip, they coonselled thegither, and concludit to
gether in a place whaur naebody wud think o' luikin for them—whaur but
i' the booels o' the earth, whaur they laid their deid awa upo' skelfs,
like in an aumry!'
'Eh, but that was fearsome!' interposed Steenie. 'They maun hae been
sair set!—Gien I had been there, wud they hae garred me gang wi'
'Na, no gien ye didna like. But ye wud hae likit weel to gang. It
wasna an ill w'y to beery fowk, nor an ill place to gang til, for they
aye biggit up the skelf, ye ken. It was howkit oot—whether oot o' hard
yird or saft stane, I dinna ken; I reckon it wud be some no sae hard
kin' o' a rock—and whan the deid was laid intil 't, they biggit up the
mou o' the place, that is, frae that same skelf to the ane 'at was
abune 't, and sae a' was weel closed in.'
'But what for didna they beery their deid mensefulike i' their
''Cause theirs was a great muckle toon, wi' sic a heap o' hooses
that there wasna room for kirkyards; sae they tuik them ootside the
toon, and gaed aneth wi' them a'thegither. For there they howkit a lot
o' passages like trances, and here and there a wee roomy like, wi'
ither trances gaein frae them this gait and that. Sae, whan they tuik
themsels there, the freens o' the bonny man wud fill ane o' the
roomies, and stan' awa in ilk ane o' the passages 'at gaed frae 't; and
that w'y, though there cudna mony o' them see ane anither at ance, a
gey lottie wud hear, some a', and some a hantle o' what was said. For
there they cud speyk lood oot, and a body abune hear naething and
suspec naething. And jist think, Steenie, there's a pictur o' the bonny
man himsel paintit upo' the wa' o' ane o' thae places doon aneth the
'I reckon it'll be unco like him!'
'Maybe: I canna tell aboot that.'
'Gien I cud see 't, I cud tell; but I'm thinkin it'll be some gait
gey and far awa?'
'Ay, it 's far, far.—It wud tak a body—lat me see—maybe half a
year to trevel there upo' 's ain fit,' answered Kirsty, after some
'And me a hantle langer, my feet's sae odious heavy!' remarked
Steenie with a sigh.
As they drew near the house, their mother saw them coming, and went
to the door to meet them.
'We're wantin a bit o' a can'le, and a spunk or twa, mother,' said
'Ye s' get that,' answered Marion. 'But what want ye a can'le for i'
the braid mids o' the daylicht?'
'We want to gang doon a hole,' replied Steenie with flashing eyes,
'and see the pictur o' the bonny man.'
'Hoot, Steenie! I tellt ye it wasna there,' interposed Kirsty.
'Na,' returned Steenie; 'ye only said yon hole wasna that place. Ye
said the bonny man was there, though I michtna see him. Ye didna
say the pictur wasna there.'
'The pictur 's no there, Steenie.—We've come upon a hole, mother,
'at we want to gang doon intil and see what it's like,' said Kirsty.
'The weicht o' my feet brak throu intil 't,' added Steenie.
'Preserve 's, lassie! tak tent whaur ye cairry the bairn!' cried the
mother. 'But, eh, tak him whaur ye like,' she substituted, correcting
herself. 'Weel ken I ye'll tak him naegait but whaur it's weel he sud
gang! The laddie needs twa mithers, and the Merciful has gien him the
twa! Ye're full mair his mither nor me, Kirsty!'
She asked no more questions, but got them the candle and let them
go. They hastened back, Steenie in his most jubilant mood, which seemed
always to have in it a touch of deathly frost and a flash as of the
primal fire. What could be the strange displacement or maladjustment
which, in the brain harbouring the immortal thing, troubled it so, and
made it yearn after an untasted liberty? The source of his jubilance
now was easy to tell: the idea of the bonny man was henceforth, in that
troubled brain of his, associated with the place into which they were
about to descend.
The moment they reached the spot, Kirsty, to the renewed
astonishment of Steenie, dived at once into the ground at her feet, and
'Kirsty! Kirsty!' he cried out after her, and danced like a
terrified child. Then he shook with a fresh dismay at the muffled sound
that came back to him in answer from the unseen hollows of the earth.
Already Kirsty stood at the bottom of the sloping tunnel, and was
lighting her candle. When it burned up, she found herself looking into
a level gallery, the roof of which she could touch. It was not an
excavation, but had been trenched from the surface, for it was roofed
with great slabs of stone. Its sides, of rough stones, were six or
seven feet apart at the floor, which was paved with small boulders, but
sloped so much toward each other that at the top their distance was
less by about two and a half feet. Kirsty was, as I have said, a keen
observer, and her power of seeing had been greatly developed through
her constant conscientious endeavour to realize every description she
She went on about ten or twelve yards, and came to a bend in the
gallery, succeeded by a sort of chamber, whence branched a second
gallery, which soon came to an end. The place was in truth not unlike a
catacomb, only its two galleries were built, and much wider than the
excavated thousands in the catacombs. She turned back to the entrance,
there left her candle alight, and again startled Steenie, still staring
into the mouth of the hole, with her sudden reappearance.
'Wud ye like to come doon, Steenie?' she said. 'It's a queer place.'
'Is 't awfu' fearsome?' asked Steenie, shrinking.
His feeling of dismay at the cavernous, the terrene dark, was not
inconsistent with his pleasure in being out on the wild waste hillside,
when heaven and earth were absolutely black, not seldom the whole of
the night, in utter loneliness to eye or ear, and his never then
feeling anything like dread. Then and there only did he seem to have
room enough. His terror was of the smallest pressure on his soul, the
least hint at imprisonment. That he could not rise and wander about
among the stars at his will, shaped itself to him as the heaviness of
his feet holding him down. His feet were the loaded gyves that made of
the world but a roomy prison. The limitless was essential to his
'No a bittock,' answered Kirsty, who felt awe anywhere—on hilltop,
in churchyard, in sunlit silent room—but never fear. 'It's as like the
place I was tellin ye aboot—'
'Ay, the cat-place!' interrupted Steenie.
'The place wi' the pictur,' returned Kirsty.
Steenie darted forward, shot head-first into the hole as he had seen
Kirsty do, and crept undismayed to the bottom of the slope. Kirsty
followed close behind, but he was already on his feet when she joined
him. He grasped her arm eagerly, his face turned from her, and his eyes
gazing fixedly into the depth of the gallery, lighted so vaguely by the
candle on the floor of its entrance.
'I think I saw him!' he said in a whisper full of awe and delight.
'I think I did see him!—but, Kirsty, hoo am I to be sure 'at I saw
'Maybe ye did and maybe ye didna see him,' replied Kirsty; 'but that
disna metter sae muckle, for he's aye seem you; and ye'll see him, and
be sure 'at ye see him, whan the richt time comes.'
'Ye div think that, Kirsty?'
'Ay div I,' returned Kirsty, confidently.
'I s' wait,' answered Steenie, and in silence followed Kirsty along
This was Steenie's first, and all but his last descent into the
earth-house, or Picts' House, or weem, as a place of
the sort is called: there are many such in the east of Scotland, their
age and origin objects of merest conjecture. The moment he was out of
it, he fled to the Horn.
The next Sunday he heard read at church the story of the burial and
resurrection of the Lord, and unavoidably after their talk about the
catacombs, associated the chamber they had just discovered with the
tomb in which 'they laid him,' at the same time concluding the top of
the hill, where he had, as he believed, on certain favoured nights met
the bonny man, the place whence he ascended—to come again as Steenie
thought he did! The earth-house had no longer any attraction for
Steenie: the bonny man was not there; he was risen! He was somewhere
above the mountain-top haunted by Steenie, and that he sometimes
descended upon it Steenie already knew, for had he not seen him there!
Happy Steenie! Happier than so many Christians who, more in their
brain-senses, but far less in their heart-senses than he, haunt the
sepulchre as if the dead Jesus lay there still, and forget to walk the
world with him who dieth no more, the living one!
But his sister took a great liking to the place, nor was repelled by
her mistaken suspicion that there the people of the land in times
unknown had buried some of their dead. In the hot days, when the
earth-house was cool, and in the winter when the thick blanket of the
snow lay over it, and it felt warm as she entered it from the frosty
wind, she would sit there in the dark, sometimes imagining herself one
of the believers of the old time, thinking the Lord was at hand,
approaching in person to fetch her and her friends. When the spring
came, she carried down sod and turf, and made for herself a seat in the
central chamber, there to sit and think. By and by she fastened an oil
lamp to the wall, and would light its rush-pith-wick, and read by it.
Occasionally she made a good peat fire, for she had found a chimney
that went sloping into the upper air; and if it did not always draw
well, peat-smoke is as pleasant as wholesome, and she could bear a good
deal of its smothering. Not unfrequently she carried her book there
when no one was likely to want her, and enjoyed to the full the rare
and delightful sense of absolute safety from interruption. Sometimes
she would make a little song there, with which as she made it its own
music would come, and she would model the air with her voice as she
wrote the words in a little book on her knee.
CHAPTER XIII. A VISIT FROM FRANCIS
The summer following Gordon's first session at college, castle
Weelset and Corbyknowe saw nothing of him. No one missed him much, and
but for his father's sake no one would have thought much about him.
Kirsty, as one who had told him the truth concerning himself, thought
of him oftener than anyone except her father.
The summer after, he paid a short visit to castle Weelset, and went
one day to Corbyknowe, where he left a favourable impression upon all,
which impression Kirsty had been the readier to receive because of the
respect she felt for him as a student. The old imperiousness which made
him so unlike his father had retired into the background; his smile,
though not so sweet, came oftener; and his carriage was full of
courtesy. But something was gone which his old friends would gladly
have seen still. His behaviour in the old time was not so pleasant, but
he had been as one of the family. Often disagreeable, he was yet
loving. Now, he laid himself out to make himself acceptable as a
superior. Freed so long from his mother's lowering influences, what was
of his father in him might by this time have come more to the surface
but for certain ladies in Edinburgh, connections of the family, who,
influenced by his good looks and pleasant manners, and possibly by his
position in the Gordon country, sought his favour by deeds of flattery,
and succeeded in spoiling him not a little.
Steenie happening to be about the house when he came, Francis
behaved to him so kindly that the gentle creature, overcome with
grateful delight, begged him to go and see a house he and Kirsty were
In some families the games of the children mainly consist in the
construction of dwellings, of this kind or that—castle, or ship, or
cave, or nest in the treetop—according to the material attainable. It
is an outcome of the aboriginal necessity for shelter, this instinct of
burrowing: Welbeck Abbey is the development of a weem or
Picts' house. Steenie had very early shown it, probably from a
vague consciousness of weakness, and Kirsty came heartily to his aid in
following it, with the reaction of waking in herself a luxurious idea
of sheltered safety. Northern children cherish in their imaginations
the sense of protection more, I fancy, than others. This is partly
owing to the severity of their climate, the snow and wind, the rain and
sleet, the hail and darkness they encounter. I doubt whether an English
child can ever have such a sense of protection as a Scots bairn in bed
on a winter night, his mother in the nursery, and the wind howling like
a pack of wolves about the house.
Francis consented to go with Steenie to see his house, and Kirsty
naturally accompanied them. By this time she had gathered the little
that was known, and there is very little known yet, concerning
Picts' houses, and as they went it occurred to her that it would be
pleasant to the laird to be shown a thing on his own property of which
he had never heard, and which, in the eyes of some, would add to its
value. She took the way, therefore, that led past the weem.
She had so well cleared out its entrance, that it was now
comparatively easy of access, else I doubt if the young laird would
have risked the spoiling of his admirably fitting clothes to satisfy
the mild curiosity he felt regarding Kirsty's discovery. As it was, he
pulled off his coat before entering, despite her assurance that he
'needna fear blaudin onything.'
She went in before him to light her candle and he followed. As she
showed him the curious place, she gave him the results of her reading
about such constructions, telling him who had written concerning them,
and what they had written. 'There's mair o' them, I gether,' she said,
'and mair remarkable anes, in oor ain coonty nor in ony ither in
Scotlan'. I hae mysel seen nane but this.' Then she told him how
Steenie had led the way to its discovery. By the time she ended, Gordon
was really interested—chiefly, no doubt, in finding himself possessor
of a thing which many men, learned and unlearned, would think worth
coming to see.
'Did you find this in it?' he asked, seating himself on her little
throne of turf.
'Na; I put that there mysel,' answered Kirsty. 'There was naething
intil the place, jist naething ava! There was naething ye cud hae
pickit aff o' the flure. Gien it hadna been oot o' the gait o' the
win', ye wud hae thoucht it had sweepit it clean. Ye cud hae tellt by
naething intil't what ever it was meant for, hoose or byre or barn,
kirk or kirkyard. It had been jist a hidy-hole in troubled times, whan
the cuintry wud be swarmin wi' stravaguin marauders!'
'What made ye the seat for, Kirsty?' asked Gordon, calling her by
her name for the first time, and falling into the mother tongue with a
flash of his old manner.
'I come here whiles,' she answered, 'to be my lane and read a bit.
It's sae quaiet. Eternity seems itsel to come and hide in 't whiles.
I'm tempit whiles to bide a' nicht.'
'Isna 't awfu' cauld?'
'Na, no aften that. It's fine and warm i' the winter. And I can
licht a fire whan I like.—But ye hae na yer coat on, Francie! I oucht
na to hae latten ye bide sae lang!'
He shivered, rose, and made his way out. Steenie stood in the
sunlight waiting for them.
'Why, Steenie,' said Gordon, 'you brought me to see your house: why
didn't you come in with me?'
'Na, na! I'm feart for my feet: this is no my hoose!'
answered Steenie. 'I'm biggin ane. Kirsty's helpin me: I cudna big a
hoose wantin Kirsty! That's what I wud hae ye see, no this ane. This is
Kirsty's hoose. It was Kirsty wantit ye to see this ane.—Na, it's no
mine,' he added reflectively. 'I ken I maun come til 't some day, but I
s' bide oot o' 't as lang's I can. I like the hill a heap better.'
'What does he mean?' asked Francis, turning to Kirsty.
'Ow, he has a heap o' notions o' 's ain!' answered Kirsty, who did
not care, especially in his presence, to talk about her brother save to
those who loved him.
When Francis turned again, he saw Steenie a good way up the hill.
'Where does he want to take me, Kirsty? Is it far?' he asked.
'Ay, it's a gey bitty; it's nearhan' at the tap o' the Horn, a wee
'Then I think I shall not go,' returned Francis. 'I will come
'Steenie! Steenie!' cried Kirsty, 'he'll no gang the day. He maun
gang hame. He says he'll come anither time. Haud ye awa on to yer
hoose; I s' be wi' ye by and by.'
Steenie went up the hill, and Kirsty and Francis walked toward
'Has no young man appeared yet to put Steenie's nose out of joint,
Kirsty?' asked Gordon.
Kirsty thought the question rude, but answered, with quiet dignity,
'No ane. I never had muckle opinion o' yoong men, and dinna care
aboot their company.—But what are ye thinkin o' duin yersel—I mean,
whan ye're throu wi' the college?' she continued. 'Ye'll surely be
comin hame to tak things intil yer ain han'? My father says whiles he's
some feart they're no bein made the maist o'.'
'The property must look after itself, Kirsty. I will be a soldier
like my father. If it could do without him when he was in India, it may
just as well do without me. As long as my mother lives, she shall do
what she likes with it.'
Thus talking, and growing more friendly as they went, they walked
slowly back to the house. There Francis mounted his horse and rode
away, and for more than two years they saw nothing of him.
CHAPTER XIV. STEENIE'S HOUSE
Steenie seemed always to experience a strange sort of terror while
waiting for anyone to come out of the weem, into which he never
entered; and it was his repugnance to the place that chiefly moved him
to build a house of his own. He may have also calculated on being able,
with such a refuge at hand, to be on the hill in all weathers. They
still made use of their little hut as before, and Kirsty still kept her
library in it, but it was at the root of the Horn, and Steenie loved
the peak of it more than any other spot in his narrow world.
I have already said that when, on the occasion of its discovery,
Steenie, for the first and the last time, came out of the weem, he fled
to the Horn. There he roamed for hours, possessed with the feeling that
he had all but lost Kirsty who had taken possession of a house into
which he could never accompany her. For himself he would like a house
on the very top of the Horn, not one inside it!
Near the top was a little scoop out of the hill, sheltered on all
sides except the south, which, the one time I saw it, reminded me
strongly of Dante's grembo in the purgatorial hill, where the
upward pilgrims had to rest outside the gate, because of the darkness
during which no man could go higher. Here, it is true, were no flowers
to weave a pattern upon its carpet of green; true also, here were no
beautiful angels, in green wings and green garments, poised in the
sweet night-air, watchful with their short, pointless, flaming swords
against the creeping enemy; but it was, nevertheless, the loveliest
carpet of grass and moss, and as to the angels, I find it impossible to
imagine, even in the heavenly host, one heart more guardant than that
of Kirsty, one truer, or more devoted to its charge. The two were
together as the child of earth, his perplexities and terrors ever shot
through with flashes of insight and hope, and the fearless, less
imaginative, confident angel, appointed to watch and ward and see him
safe through the loose-cragged mountain-pass to the sunny vales beyond.
On the northern slope of the hollow, full in the face of the sun, a
little family of rocks had fallen together, odd in shapes and positions
but of long stable equilibrium, with narrow spaces between them. The
sun was throwing his last red rays among these rocks when Steenie the
same evening wandered into the little valley. The moment his eyes fell
upon them, he said in his heart, 'Yon's the place for a hoose! I'll get
Kirsty to big ane, and mebbe she 'll come and bide in 't wi' me
In his mind there were for some years two conflicting ideas of
refuge, one embodied in the heathery hut with Kirsty, the other
typified by the uplifted loneliness, the air and the space of the
mountain upon which the bonny man sometimes descended: for the last
three years or more the latter idea had had the upper hand: now it
seemed possible to have the two kinds of refuge together, where the
more material would render the more spiritual easier of attainment!
Such were not Steenie's words; indeed he used none concerning the
matter; but such were his vague thoughts—feelings rather, not yet
The spot had indeed many advantages. For one thing, the group of
rocks was the ready skeleton of the house Steenie wanted. Again, if the
snow sometimes lay deeper there than in other parts of the hill, there
first it began to melt. A third advantage was that, while, as I have
said, the valley was protected by higher ground everywhere but on the
south, it there afforded a large outlook over the boggy basin and over
the hills beyond its immediate rim, to a horizon in which stood some of
the loftier peaks of the highland mountains.
When Steenie's soul was able for a season to banish the nameless
forms that haunt the dim borders of insanity, he would sit in that
valley for hours, regarding the wider-spread valley below him, in which
he knew every height and hollow, and, with his exceptionally keen
sight, he could descry signs of life where another would have beheld
but an everyway dead level. Not a live thing, it seemed almost, could
spread wing or wag tail, but Steenie would become thereby aware of its
presence. Kirsty, boastful to her parents of the faculty of Steenie,
said to her father one day,
'I dinna believe, father, wi' Steenie on the bog, a reid worm cud
stick up his heid oot o' 't ohn him seen 't!'
'I'm thinkin that's no sayin over muckle, wuman!' returned David. 'I
never jist set mysel to luik, but I dinna think I ever did tak notice
o' a worm settin up that heid o' his oot o' a bog. I dinna think it's a
sile they care aboot. I kenna what they would get to please them there.
It's the yerd they live upo'. Whaur craps winna grow, I doobt gien
worms can live.'
Kirsty laughed: she had made herself ridiculous, but the ridicule of
some is sweeter than the praise of others.
Steenie set about his house-building at once, and when he had got as
far as he could without her, called for help from Kirsty, who never
interfered with, and never failed him. Divots he was able to cut, and
of them he provided a good quantity, but when it came to moving stones,
two pairs of hands were often wanted. Indeed, before the heavier work
of 'Steenie's hoosie' was over, the two had to beg the help of more—of
their father, and of men from the farm.
During its progress, Phemy Craig paid rather a lengthened visit to
Corbyknowe, and often joined the two in their labour on the Horn. She
was not very strong, but would carry a good deal in the course of the
day; and through this association with Steenie, her dread of him
gradually vanished, and they became comrades.
When Steenie's design was at length carried out, they had built up
with stone and lime the open spaces between several of the rocks; had
cased these curtain-walls outside and lined them inside with softer and
warmer walls of fells or divots cut from the green sod of the hill; and
had covered in the whole as they found it possible—very irregularly no
doubt, but smoothing up all the corners and hollows with turf and
heather. This done, one of the men who was a good thatcher, fastened
the whole roof down with strong lines, so that the wind should not get
under and strip it off. The result was a sort of burrow, consisting of
several irregular compartments with open communication—or rather,
perhaps, of a single chamber composed of recesses. One small rock they
included quite: Steenie would make it serve for a table, and some of
its inequalities for shelves. In one of the compartments or recesses,
they contrived a fireplace, and in another a tolerably well concealed
exit; for Steenie, like a trap-door-spider, could not endure the
thought of only one way out: one way was enough for getting in, but two
were needful for getting out, his best refuge being the open hill.
The night came at length when Steenie, in whose heart was a solemn,
silent jubilation, would take formal possession of his house. It was
soft and warm, in the middle of the month of July. The sun had been set
about an hour when he got up to leave the parlour, where the others
always sat in the summer, and where Steenie would now and then appear
among them. As usual he said goodnight to no one of them, but stole
Kirsty knew what was in his mind, but was careful not to show that
she took any heed of his departure. As soon as her father and mother
retired, however, when he had been gone about half an hour, she put
aside her work, and hastened out. She felt a little anxious about him,
though she could not have said why. She had no dread of displeasing by
rejoining him; nothing, but a sight of the bonny man could, she knew,
give him more delight than having her to share his night-watch with
him. This she had done several times, and they were the only occasions
on which, so far as he could tell, he had slept any part of the night.
Folded in the twilight, Earth lay as still and peaceful as if she
had never done any wrong, never seen anything wrong in one of her
children. There was light everywhere, and darkness everywhere to make
it strange. A pale green gleam prevailed in the heavens, as if the
world were a glow-worm that sent abroad its home-born radiance into
space, and coloured the sky. In the green light rested a few small
solid clouds with sharp edges, and almost an assertion of repose.
Throughout the night it would be no darker! The sun seemed already to
have begun to rise, only he would be all night about it. From the door
she saw the point of the Horn clear against the green sky: Steenie
would be up there soon! he was hurrying thither! Sometimes he went very
leisurely, stopping and gazing, or sitting down to meditate: he would
not do so that night! A special solemnity in his countenance made her
sure that he would go straight to his new house. But she could walk
faster than he, and would not be long behind him!
The sky was full of pale stars, and Kirsty amused herself, as she
went, with arranging them—not into their constellations, though she
knew the shapes and names of most of them, but into mathematical
figures. The only star Steenie knew by name was the pole star, which,
however, he always called The bonny man's lantern. Kirsty
believed he had thoughts of his own about many another, and a name for
She had climbed the hill, and was drawing near the house, when she
was startled by a sound of something like singing, and stopped to
listen. She had never heard Steenie attempt to sing, and the very
thought of his doing so moved her greatly: she was always expecting
something marvellous to show itself in him. She drew nearer. It was not
singing, but it was something like it, or something trying to be like
it—a succession of broken, harsh, imperfect sounds, with here and
there a tone of brief sweetness. She thought she perceived in it an
attempt at melody, but the many notes that refused to be made,
prevented her from finding the melody intended, or the melody, rather,
after which he was feeling. The broken music ceased suddenly, and a
different kind of sound succeeded. She went yet nearer. He could not be
reading: she had tried to teach him to read, but the genuine effort he
put forth to learn made his head ache, and his eyes feel wild, he said,
and she at once gave up the endeavour. When she reached the door, she
could plainly hear him praying.
He had been accustomed to hear his father pray—always extempore. To
the Scots mind it is a perplexity how prayer and reading should ever
seem one. Kirsty went a little deeper into the matter when she said:—
'The things that I want, I ken; and I maun hae them! There's nae
necessity ava to tell me what I want. The buik may wauk a sense o'
want, I daursay, I dinna ken, but it maistly pits intil me the thoucht
o' something a body micht weel want, withoot makin me awaur o' wantin
't at that preceese moment.'
Prayer, with Steenie, as well as with Kirsty, was the utterance,
audible or silent, in the ever open ear, of what was moving in him at
the time. This was what she now heard him say:—
'Bonny man, I ken ye weel: there's naebody in h'aven or earth 'at's
like ye! Ye ken yersel I wad jist dee for ye; or gien there be onything
waur to bide nor deein, that's what I would du for ye—gien ye wantit
it o' me, that is, for I'm houpin sair 'at ye winna want it, I'm that
awfu cooardly! Oh bonny man, tak the fear oot o' my hert, and mak me
ready just to walk aff o' the face o' the warl', weichty feet and a',
to du yer wull, ohn thoucht twise aboot it! And eh, bonny man, willna
ye come doon sometime or lang, and walk the hill here, that I may luik
upo' ye ance mair—as i' the days of old, whan the starlicht muntain
shook wi' the micht o' the prayer ye heavit up til yer father in
h'aven? Eh, gien ye war but ance to luik in at the door o' this my
hoose that ye hae gien me, it wud thenceforth be to me as the gate o'
paradise! But, 'deed, it's that onygait, forit's nigh whaur ye tak yer
walks abro'd. But gien ye war to luik in at the door, and cry,
Steenie! sune wud ye see whether I was in the hoose or no!—I thank
ye sair for this hoose: I'm gaein to hae a rich and a happy time upo'
this hill o' Zion, whaur the feet o' the ae man gangs walkin!—And eh,
bonny man, gie a luik i' the face o' my father and mither i' their bed
ower at the Knowe; and I pray ye see 'at Kirsty's gettin a fine sleep,
for she has a heap o' tribble wi' me. I'm no worth min'in', yet ye min'
me: she is worth min'in'!—and that clever!—as ye ken wha made her!
And luik upo' this bit hoosie, 'at I ca' my ain, and they a' helpit me
to bigg, but as a lean-to til the hoose at hame, for I'm no awa frae it
or them—jist as that hoose and this hoose and a' the hooses are a'
jist but bairnies' hooses, biggit by themsels aboot the big flure o'
thy kitchie and i' the neuks o' the same—wi' yer ain truffs and stanes
and divots, sir.'
Steenie's voice ceased, and Kirsty, thinking his prayer had come to
an end, knocked at the door, lest her sudden appearance should startle
him. From his knees, as she knew by the sound of his rising, Steenie
sprang up, came darting to the door with the cry, 'It's yersel! It's
yersel, bonny man!' and seemed to tear it open. Oh, how sorry was
Kirsty to stand where the loved of the human was not! She had almost
turned and fled.
'It's only me, Steenie!' she faltered, nearly crying.
Steenie stood and stared trembling. Neither, for a moment or two,
'Eh, Steenie,' said Kirsty at length, 'I'm richt sorry I
disapp'intit ye! I didna ken what I was duin. I oucht to hae turnt and
gane hame again!'
'Ye cudna help it,' answered Steenie. 'Ye cudna be him, or ye wud!
But ye're the neist best, and richt welcome. I'm as glaid as can be to
see ye, Kirsty. Come awa ben the hoose.'
Kirsty followed him in silence, and sat down dejected. The loving
heart saw it.
'Maybe ye're him efter a'!' said Steenie. 'He can tak ony shape he
likes. I wudna won'er gien ye was him! Ye're unco like him ony gait!'
'Na, na, Steenie! I'm far frae that! But I wud fain be what he wud
hae me, jist as ye wud yersel. Sae ye maun tak me, what I am, for his
This was the man's hour, not the dog's, yet Steenie threw himself at
'Gang oot a bit by yersel, Steenie,' she said, caressing him with
her hand. 'That's what ye'll like best, I ken! Ye needna min' me! I
only cam to see ye sattlet intil yer ain hoose. I'll bide a gey bit.
Gang ye oot, an ken 'at I'm i' the hoose, and that ye can come back to
me whan ye like. I hae my bulk, and can sit and read fine.'
'Ye're aye richt, Kirsty!' answered Steenie, rising. 'Ye aye ken
what I'm needin. I maun win oot, for I'm some chokin like.—But jist
come here a minute first,' he went on, leading the way to the door.
There he pointed up into the wild of stars, and said, 'Ye see yon star
o' the tap o' that ither ane 'at's brichter nor itsel?'
'I see 't fine, and ken 't weel,' answered Kirsty.
'Weel, whan that starnie comes richt ower the white tap o' yon stane
i' the mids o' that side o' the howe, I s' be here at the door.'
Kirsty looked at the stone, saw that the star would arrive at the
point indicated in about an hour, and said, 'Weel, I'll be expeckin ye,
Steenie!' whereupon he departed, going farther up the hill to court the
soothing of the silent heaven.
In conditions of consciousness known only to himself and
incommunicable, the poor fellow sustained an all but continuous
hand-to-hand struggle with insanity, more or less agonized according to
the nature and force of its varying assault; in which struggle, if not
always victorious, he had yet never been defeated. Often tempted to
escape misery by death, he had hitherto stood firm. Some part of every
solitary night was spent, I imagine, in fighting that or other evil
suggestion. Doubtless, what kept him lord of himself through all the
truth-aping delusions that usurped his consciousness, was his
unyielding faith in the bonny man.
The name by which he so constantly thought and spoke of the saviour
of men was not of his own finding. The story was well known of the
idiot, who, having partaken of the Lord's supper, was heard, as he
retired, murmuring to himself, 'Eh, the bonny man! the bonny man!' And
persons were not wanting, sound in mind as large of heart, who thought
the idiot might well have seen him who came to deliver them that were
bound. Steenie took up the tale with most believing mind. Never
doubting the man had seen the Lord, he responded with the passionate
desire himself to see the bonny man. It awoke in him while yet
quite a boy, and never left him, but, increasing as he grew, became, as
well it might, a fixed idea, a sober, waiting, unebbing passion, urging
him to righteousness and lovingkindness.
Kirsty took from her pocket an old translation of Plato's Phaedo,
and sat absorbed in it until the star, unheeded of her, attained its
goal, and there was Steenie by her side! She shut the book and rose.
'I'm a heap better, Kirsty,' said Steenie. 'The ill colour's awa
doon the stair, and the saft win' 's made its w'y oot o' the lift, an'
's won at me. I 'maist think a han' cam and clappit my heid. Sae noo
I'm jist as weel 's there's ony need to be o' this side the mist. It
helpit me a heap to ken 'at ye was sittin there: I cud aye rin til
ye!—Noo gang awa to yer bed, and tak a guid sleep. I'm some thinkin
I'll be hame til my br'akfast.'
'Weel, mother's gaein to the toon the morn, and I'll be wantit fell
air; I may as weel gang!' answered Kirsty, and without a goodnight, or
farewell of any sort, for she knew how he felt in regard to
leave-takings, Kirsty left him, and went slowly home. The moon was up
and so bright that every now and then she would stop for a moment and
read a little from her book, and then walk on thinking about it.
From that night, even in the stormy dark of winter, Kirsty was not
nearly so anxious about Steenie away from the house: on the Horn he had
his place of refuge, and she knew he never ventured on the bog after
sunset. He always sought her when he wanted to sleep in the daytime,
but he was gradually growing quieter in his mind, and, Kirsty had
reason to think, slept a good deal more at night.
But the better he grew the more had he the look of one expecting
something; and Kirsty often heard him saying to himself—'It's comin!
'And at last,' she said, telling his story many years after, 'at
last it cam; and ahint it, I doobtna! cam the face o' the bonny man!'
CHAPTER XV. PHEMY CRAIG
Things went on in the same way for four years more, the only visible
change being that Kirsty seldomer went about bare-footed. She was now
between two and three and twenty. Her face, whose ordinary expression
had always been of quiet, was now in general quieter still; but when
heart or soul was moved, it would flash and glow as only such a face
could. Live revelation of deeps rarely rippled save by the breath of
God, how could it but grow more beautiful! Cloud or shadow of cloud was
hardly ever to be seen upon it. Her mother, much younger than her
father, was still well and strong, and Kirsty, still not much wanted at
home, continued to spend the greater part of her time with her brother
and her books. As to her person, she was now in the first flower of
harmonious womanly strength. Nature had indeed done what she could to
make her a lady, but Nature was not her mother, and Kirsty's essential
ladyhood came from higher-up, namely, from the Source itself of Nature.
Simple truth was its crown, and grace was the garment of it. To see her
walk or run was to look on the divine idea of Motion.
As for Steenie, he looked the same loose lank lad as before, with a
smile almost too sad to be a smile, and a laugh in which there was
little hilarity. His pleasures were no doubt deep and high, but seldom,
even to Kirsty, manifested themselves except in the afterglow.
Phemy was now almost a woman. She was rather little, but had a nice
figure, which she knew instinctively how to show to advantage. Her main
charm lay in her sweet complexion—strong in its contrast of colours,
but wonderfully perfect in the blending of them: the gradations in the
live picture were exquisite. She was gentle of temper, with a shallow,
birdlike friendliness, an accentuated confidence that everyone meant
her well, which was very taking. But she was far too much pleased with
herself to be a necessity to anyone else. Her father grew more and more
proud of her, but remained entirely independent of her; and Kirsty
could not help wondering at times how he would feel were he given one
peep into the chaotic mind which he fancied so lovely a cosmos. A good
fairy godmother would for her discipline, Kirsty imagined, turn her
into the prettiest wax doll, but with real eyes, and put her in a glass
case for the admiration of all, until she sickened of her very
consciousness. But Kirsty loved the pretty doll, and cherished any
influence she had with her against a possible time when it might be
sorely needed. She still encouraged her, therefore, to come to
Corbyknowe as often as she felt inclined. Her father never interfered
with any of her goings and comings. At the present point of my
narrative, however, Kirsty began to notice that Phemy did not care so
much for being with her as hitherto.
She had been, of course, for some time the cynosure of many
neighbouring eyes, but had taken only the more pleasure in the
cynosure, none in the persons with the eyes, all of whom she regarded
as much below her. To herself she was the only young lady in Tiltowie,
an assurance strengthened by the fact that no young man had yet
ventured to make love to her, which she took as a general admission of
their social inferiority, behaving to all the young men the more
sweetly in consequence.
The tendency of a weakly artistic nature to occupy itself much with
its own dress was largely developed in her. It was wonderful,
considering the smallness of her father's income, how well she arrayed
herself. She could make a poor and scanty material go a great way in
setting off her attractions. The judicial element of the neighbourhood,
not content with complaining that she spent so much of her time in
making her dresses, accused her of spending much money upon them,
whereas she spent less than most of the girls of the neighbourhood, who
cared only for a good stuff, a fast colour, and the fashion: fit to
figure and fitness to complexion they did not trouble themselves about.
The possession of a fine gown was the important thing. As to how it
made them look, they had not imagination enough to consider that.
She possessed, however, another faculty on which she prided herself
far more, her ignorance and vanity causing her to mistake it for a
grand accomplishment—the faculty of verse-making. She inherited a
certain modicum of her father's rhythmic and riming gift; she could
string words almost as well as she could string beads, and many thought
her clever because she could do what they could not. Her aunt judged
her verses marvellous, and her father considered them full of promise.
The minister, on the other hand, held them unmistakably silly—as her
father would had they not been hers and she his. Only the poorest part
of his poetic equipment had propagated in her, and had he taught her
anything, she would not have overvalued it so much. Herself full of
mawkish sentimentality, her verses could not fail to be foolish, their
whole impulse being the ambition that springs from self-admiration. She
had begun to look down on Kirsty, who would so gladly have been a
mother to the motherless creature; she was not a lady! Neither in
speech, manners, nor dress, was she or her mother genteel! Their free,
hearty, simple bearing, in which was neither smallest roughness nor
least suggestion of affected refinement, was not to Phemy's taste, and
she began to assume condescending ways.
It was of course a humiliation to Phemy to have an aunt in Mrs.
Bremner's humble position, but she loved her after her own feeble
fashion, and, although she would willingly have avoided her upon
occasion, went not unfrequently to the castle to see her; for the
kindhearted woman spoiled her. Not only did she admire her beauty, and
stand amazed at her wonderful cleverness, but she drew from her little
store a good part of the money that went to adorn the pretty butterfly.
She gave her at the same time the best of advice, and imagined she
listened to it; but the young who take advice are almost beyond the
need of it. Fools must experience a thing themselves before they will
believe it; and then, remaining fools, they wonder that their children
will not heed their testimony. Faith is the only charm by which the
experience of one becomes a vantage-ground for the start of another.
CHAPTER XVI. SHAM LOVE
One day Phemy went to Castle Weelset to see her aunt, and, walking
down the garden to find her, met the young laird.
Through respect for the memory of his father, he had just received
from the East India Company a commission in his father's regiment; and
having in about six weeks to pass the slight examination required, and
then sail to join it, had come to see his mother and bid her goodbye.
He was a youth no longer, but a handsome young fellow, with a pale face
and a rather weary, therefore what some would call an interesting look.
For many months he had been leading an idle life.
He lifted his hat to Phemy, looked again, and recognised her. They
had been friends when she was a child, but since he saw her last she
had grown a young woman. She was gliding past him with a pretty bow,
and a prettier blush and smile, when he stopped and held out his hand.
'It's not possible!' he said; 'you can't be little Phemy!—Yet you
must be!—Why, you're a grown lady! To think how you used to sit on my
knee, and stroke my face! How is your father?'
Phemy murmured a shy answer, a little goose but blushing a very
flamingo. In her heart she saw before her the very man for her hero. A
woman's hero gives some measure, not of what she is, hardly of what she
would like to be, but of what she would like to pass for: here was the
ideal for which Phemy had so long been waiting, and wherein consisted
his glory? In youth, position, and good looks! She gazed up at him with
a mixture of shyness and boldness not uncommon in persons of her silly
kind, and Francis not only saw but felt that she was an unusually
pretty girl: although he had long ceased to admire his mother, he still
admired the sort of beauty she once had. He saw also that she was very
prettily dressed, and, being one of those men who, imagining themselves
gentlemen, feel at liberty to take liberties with women socially their
inferiors, he plucked a pheasant-eye-narcissus in the border, and
said—at the same time taking the leave he asked,—
'Let me finish your dress by adding this to it! Have you got a
pin?—There!—all you wanted to make you just perfect!'
Her face was now in a very flame. She saw he was right in the flower
he had chosen, and he saw, not his artistic success only, but her
recognition of it as well, and was gratified. He had a keen feeling of
harmony in form and colour, and flattered women, while he paraded his
own insight, by bringing it to bear on their dress.
The flower, in its new position, seemed radiant with something of
the same beauty in which it was set; it was like the face above
it, and hinted a sympathetic relation with the whole dainty person of
the girl. But in truth there was more expression in the flower than was
yet in the face. The flower expressed what God was thinking of when he
made it; the face what the girl was thinking of herself. When she
ceased thinking of herself then, like the flower, she would show what
God was thinking of when he made her.
Francis, like the man he was, thought what a dainty little lady she
would make if he had the making of her, and at once began talking as he
never would have talked had she been what is conventionally called a
lady—with a familiarity, namely, to which their old acquaintance gave
him no right, and which showed him not his sister's keeper. She, poor
child, was pleased with his presumption, taking it for a sign that he
regarded her as a lady; and from that moment her head at least was full
of the young laird. She had forgotten all she came about. When he
turned and walked down the garden, she walked alongside of him like a
linnet by a tall stork, who thought of her as a very pretty green frog.
Lost in delight at his kindness, and yet more at his admiration, she
felt as safe in his hands as if he had been her guardian angel: had he
not convinced her that her notion of herself was correct! Who should
know better whether she was a lady, whether she was lovely or not, than
this great, handsome, perfect gentleman! Unchecked by any question of
propriety, she accompanied him without hesitation into a little arbour
at the bottom of the garden, and sat down with him on the bench there
provided for the weary and the idle—in this case a going-to-be gallant
officer, bored to death by a week at home with his mother, and a girl
who spent the most of her time in making, altering, and wearing her
'How good it was of you, Phemy,' he said, 'to come and see me! I was
ready to cut my throat for want of something pretty to look at. I was
thinking it the ugliest place with the ugliest of people, wondering how
I had ever been able to live in it. How unfair I was! The whole country
is beautiful now!'
'I am so glad,' answered poor Phemy, hardly knowing what she said:
it was to her the story of a sad gentleman who fell in love at first
sight with a beautiful lady who was learning to love him through pity.
Her admiration of him was as clear as the red and white on her face;
and foolish Francis felt in his turn flattered, for he too was fond of
himself. There is no more pitiable sight to lovers of their kind, or
any more laughable to its haters, than two persons falling into the
love rooted in self-love. But possibly they are neither to be pitied
nor laughed at; they may be plunging thus into a saving hell.
'You would like to make the world beautiful for me, Phemy?' rejoined
'I should like to make it a paradise!' returned Phemy.
'A garden of Eden, and you the Eve in it?' suggested Francis.
Phemy could find no answer beyond a confused look and a yet deeper
Talk elliptical followed, not unmingled with looks bold and shy.
They had not many objects of thought in common, therefore not many
subjects for conversation. There was no poetry in Gordon, and but the
flimsiest sentiment in Phemy. Her mind was feebly active, his full of
tedium. Hers was open to any temptation from him, and his to the
temptation of usurping the government of her world, of constituting
himself the benefactor of this innocent creature, and enriching her
life with the bliss of loving a noble object. Of course he meant
nothing serious! Equally of course he would do her no harm! To lose him
would make her miserable for a while, but she would not die of love,
and would have something to think about all her dull life afterward!
Phemy at length got frightened at the thought of being found with
him, and together they went to look for her aunt. Finding her in an
outhouse that was used for a laundry, Francis told Mrs. Bremner that
they had been in the garden ever so long searching for her, and he was
very glad of the opportunity of hearing about his old friend, Phemy's
father! The aunt was not quite pleased, but said little.
The following Sunday she told the schoolmaster what had taken place,
and came home in a rage at the idiocy of a man who would not open his
eyes when his house was on fire. It was all her sister's fault, she
said, for having married such a book-idiot! She felt indeed very
uncomfortable, and did her best in the way of warning; but Phemy seemed
so incapable of understanding what ill could come of letting the young
laird talk to her, that she despaired of rousing in her any sense of
danger, and having no authority over her was driven to silence for the
present. She would have spoken to her mistress, had she not plainly
foreseen that it would be of no use, that she would either laugh, and
say young men must have their way, or fly into a fury with Phemy for
trying to entrap her son, and with Mrs. Bremner for imagining he would
look at the hussey; while one thing was certain—that, if his mother
opposed him, Francis would persist.
CHAPTER XVII. A NOVEL ABDUCTION
Phemy went seldom to the castle, but the young laird and she met
pretty often: there was solitude enough in that country for an army of
lovers. Once or twice Gordon, at Phemy's entreaty, went and took tea
with her at her father's, and was cordially received by the
schoolmaster, who had no sense of impropriety in their strolling out
together afterward, leaving him well content with the company of his
books. Before this had happened twice, all the town was talking about
it, and predicting evil. Phemy heard nothing and feared nothing; but if
feeling had been weather and talk tempest, she would have been glad
enough to keep within. So rapidly, however, did the whirlwind of
tongues extend its giration that within half a week it reached Kirsty,
and cast her into great trouble: her poor silly defenceless Phemy, the
child of her friend, was in danger from the son of her father's friend!
Her father could do nothing, for Francis would not listen to him,
therefore she herself must do something! She could not sit still and
look on at the devil's work! Having always been on terms of sacred
intimacy with her mother, she knew more of the dangers of the world,
while she was far safer from them, than such girls as their natural
guardians watch instead of fortifying, and understood perfectly that an
unwise man is not to be trusted with a foolish girl. She felt,
therefore, that inaction on her part would be faithlessness to the
teaching of her mother, as well as treachery to her father, whose
friend's son was in peril of doing a fearful wrong to one to whom he
owed almost a brother's protection for his schoolmaster's sake. She did
not believe that Francis meant Phemy any harm, but she was
certain he thought too much of himself ever to marry her, and were the
poor child's feelings to go for nothing? She had no hope that Phemy
would listen to expostulation from her, but she must in fairness,
before she did anything, have some speech with her!
She made repeated efforts, therefore, to see her, but without
success. She tried one time of the day after another, but, now by
accident and now by clever contrivance, Phemy was not to be come at.
She had of late grown tricky. One of the windows of the schoolmaster's
house commanded the street in both directions, and Phemy commanded the
window. When she saw Kirsty coming, she would run into the garden and
take refuge in the summer-house, telling the servant on her way that
she was going out, and did not know what time she would be in. On more
occasions than one Kirsty said she would wait, when Phemy, learning she
was not gone, went out in earnest, and took care she had enough of
waiting. Such shifts of cunning no doubt served laughter to the lovers
when next they met, but they showed that Phemy was in some degree
afraid of Kirsty.
Had Kirsty known the schoolmaster no better than his sister-in-law
knew him, she would, like her, have gone to him; but she was perfectly
certain that it would be almost impossible to rouse him, and that, once
convinced that his confidence had been abused, he would be utterly
furious, and probably bear himself in such fashion as to make Phemy
desperate, perhaps make her hate him. As it was, he turned a deaf ear
and indignant heart to every one of the reports that reached him. To
listen to it would be to doubt his child! Why should not the young
laird fall in love with her? What more natural? Was she not worth as
much honour as any man, be he who he might, could confer upon her? He
cursed the gossips of the town, and returned to his book.
Convinced at length that Phemy declined an interview, Kirsty
resolved to take her own way. And her way was a somewhat masterful one.
About a mile from castle Weelset, in the direction of Tiltowie, the
road was, for a few hundred yards, close-flanked by steep heathery
braes. Now Kirsty had heard of Phemy's being several times seen on this
road of late; and near the part of it I have just described, she
resolved to waylay her. From the brae on the side next Corbyknowe she
could see the road for some distance in either direction.
For a week she watched in vain. She saw the two pass together more
than once, and she saw Francis pass alone, but she had never seen Phemy
One morning, just as she arrived at her usual outlook, she saw Mrs.
Bremner in the road below, coming from the castle, and ran down to
speak to her. In the course of their conversation she learned that
Francis was to start for London the next morning. When they parted, the
old woman resuming her walk to Tiltowie, Kirsty climbed the brae and
sat down in the heather. She was more anxious than ever. She had done
her best, but it had come to nothing, and now she had but one chance
more! That Francis Gordon was going away so soon was good news, but
what might not happen even yet before he went! At the same time she
could think of nothing better than keep watch as hitherto, firm as to
her course if she saw Phemy alone, but now determined to speak to both
if Francis was with her, and all but determined to speak to Francis
alone, if an opportunity of doing so should be given her.
All the morning and afternoon she watched in vain, eating nothing
but a piece of bread that Steenie brought her. At last, in the
evening—it was an evening in September, cold and clear, the sun down,
and a melancholy glory hanging over the place of his vanishing—she
spied the solitary form of Phemy hastening along the road in the
direction of the castle. Although she had been on the outlook for her
all day, she was at the moment so taken up with the sunset, that Phemy
was almost under where she stood before she saw her. She ran at full
speed a hundred yards, then slid down a part of the brae too steep to
climb, and leaped into the road a few feet in front of Phemy—so
suddenly that the girl started with a cry, and stopped. The moment she
saw who it was, however, she drew herself up, and would have passed
with a stiff greeting. But Kirsty stood in front of her, and would not
'What do you want, Kirsty Barclay?' demanded Phemy, who had within
the last week or two advanced considerably in confidence of manner; 'I
am in a hurry!'
'Ye're in a waur hurry nor ye ken, for yer hurry sud be the ither
gait!' answered Kirsty; 'and I'm gaein to turn ye, or at least no gaein
to lat ye gang, ohn heard a bit o' the trowth frae a woman aulder nor
yersel! Lassie, ye seem to think naebody worth hearkenin til a word
frae 'cep ae man, but I mean ye to hearken to me! Ye dinna ken what
ye're aboot! I ken Francie Gordon a heap better nor you, and though I
ken nae ill o' him, I ken as little guid: he never did naething yet but
to please himsel, and there never cam salvation or comfort to man,
woman, or bairn frae ony puir cratur like him!'
'How dare you speak such lies of a gentleman behind his back!' cried
Phemy, her eyes flashing. 'He is a friend of mine, and I will not hear
'There's sma' hairm can come to ony man frae the trowth, Phemy!'
answered Kirsty. 'Set the man afore me, and I'll say word for word
intil his face what I'm sayin to you ahint his back.'
'Miss Barclay,' rejoined Phemy, with a rather pitiable attempt at
dignity, 'I can permit no one to call me by my Christian name who
speaks ill of the man to whom I am engaged!'
'That s' be as ye please, Miss Craig. But I wud lat you ca' me a'
the ill names in the dictionar to get ye to heark to me! I'm tellin ye
naething but what's true as death.'
'I call no one names. I am always civil to my neighbours whoever
they may be! I will not listen to you.'
'Eh, lassie, there's but feow o' yer neebours ceevil to yer name,
whatever they be to yersel! There's hardly ane has a guid word for ye,
Phemy!—Miss Craig—I beg yer pardon!'
'Their lying tongues are nothing to me! I know what I am about! I
will not stay a moment longer with you! I have an important
Once more, as several times already, she would have passed her, but
Kirsty stepped yet again in front of her.
'I can weel tak yer word,' replied Kirsty, ''at ye hae an
engagement; but ye said a minute ago 'at ye was engaged til him: tell
me in ae word—has Francie Gordon promised to merry ye?'
'He has as good as asked me,' answered Phemy, who had fits of
apprehensive recoil from a downright lie.
'Noo there I cud 'maist believe ye! Ay, that wud be ill eneuch for
Francie! He never was a doonricht leear, sae lang's I kenned him—ony
mair nor yersel! But, for God's sake, Phemy, dinna imagine he'll ever
merry ye, for that he wull not.'
'This is really insufferable!' cried Phemy, in a voice that began to
tremble from the approach of angry tears. 'Pray, have you a
claim upon him?'
'Nane, no a shedow o' ane,' returned Kirsty. 'But my father and his
father war like brithers, and we hae a' to du what we can for his
father's son. I wud fain hand him ohn gotten into trouble wi' you or
'I get him into trouble! Really, Miss Barclay, I do not know
how to understand you!'
'I see I maun be plain wi' ye: I wudna hae ye get him into trouble
by lattin him get you into trouble!—and that's plain speykin!'
'You insult me!' said Phemy.
'Ye drive me to speyk plain!' answered Kirsty. 'That lad, Francie
'Speak with respect of your superiors,' interrupted Phemy.
'I'll speyk wi' respec o' ony body I hae respec for!' answered
'Let me pass, you rude young woman!' cried Phemy, who had of late
been cultivating in her imagination such speech as she thought would
befit Mrs. Gordon of castle Weelset.
'I winna lat ye pass,' answered Kirsty; '—that is, no til ye hear
what I hae to say to ye.'
'Then you must take the consequences!' rejoined Phemy, and, in the
hope that her lover would prove within earshot, began a piercing
It roused something in Kirsty which she could not afterward
identify: she was sure it had nothing to do with anger. She felt, she
said, as if she had to deal with a child who insisted on playing with
fire beside a barrel of gunpowder. At the same time she did nothing but
what she had beforehand, in case of the repulse she expected, resolved
upon. She caught up the little would-be lady, as if she had been that
same naughty child, and the suddenness of the action so astonished her
that for a moment or two she neither moved nor uttered a sound. The
next, however, she began to shriek and struggle wildly, as if in the
hug of a bear or the coils of an anaconda, whereupon Kirsty closed her
mouth with one hand while she held her fast with the other. It was a
violent proceeding, doubtless, but Kirsty chose to be thus far an
offender, and yet farther.
Bearing her as she best could in one arm, she ran with her toward
Tiltowie until she reached a place where the road was bordered by a
more practicable slope; there she took to the moorland, and made for
Corbyknowe. Her resolve had been from the first, if Phemy would not
listen, to carry her, like the unmanageable child she was, home to the
mother whose voice had always been to herself the oracle of God. It was
in a loving embrace, though hardly a comfortable one, and to a heart
full of pity, that she pressed the poor little runaway lamb: her mother
was God's vicar for all in trouble: she would bring the child to
reason! Her heart beating mightily with love and labour, she waded
through the heather, hurrying along the moor.
It was a strange abduction; but Kirsty was divinely simple, and that
way strange. Not until they were out of sight of the road did she set
'Noo, Phemy,' she said, panting as she spoke, 'haud yer tongue like
a guid lassie, and come awa upo' yer ain feet.'
Phemy took at once to her heels and her throat, and ran shrieking
back toward the road, with Kirsty after her like a grayhound. Phemy had
for some time given up struggling and trying to shriek, and was
therefore in better breath than Kirsty whose lungs were pumping hard,
but she had not a chance with her, for there was more muscle in one of
Kirsty's legs than in Phemy's whole body. In a moment she had her in
her arms again, and so fast that she could not even kick. She gave way
and burst into tears. Kirsty relaxed her hold.
'What are you gaein to du wi' me?' sobbed Phemy.
'I'm takin ye to the best place I ken—hame to my mother,' answered
Kirsty, striding on for home-heaven as straight as she could go.
'I winna gang!' cried Phemy, whose Scotch had returned with her
'Ye are gaein,' returned Kirsty dryly; '—at least I'm takin
ye, and that's neist best.'
'What for? I never did ye an ill turn 'at I ken o'!' said Phemy, and
burst afresh into tears of self-pity and sense of wrong.
'Na, my bonny doo,' answered Kirsty, 'ye never did me ony ill turn!
It wasna in ye. But that's the less rizzon 'at I sudna du you a guid
ane. And yer father has been like the Bountiful himsel to me! It's no
muckle I can du for you or for him, but there's ae thing I'm set upo',
and that's haudin ye frae Francie Gordon the nicht. He'll be awa the
'Wha tellt ye that?' returned Phemy with a start.
'Jist yer ain aunt, honest woman!' answered Kirsty, 'and sair she
grat as she telled me, but it wasna at his gaein!'
'She micht hae held the tongue o' her till he was gane! What was
there to greit about!'
'Maybe she thocht o' her sister's bairn in a tribble 'at silence
wadna hide!' answered Kirsty. 'Ye haena a notion, lassie, what ye're
duin wi' yersel! But my mither 'll lat ye ken, sae that ye gangna
blinlins intil the tod's hole.'
'Ye dinna ken Frank, or ye wudna speyk o' 'im that gait!'
'I ken him ower weel to trust you til him.'
'It's naething but ye're eenvious o' me, Kirsty, 'cause ye canna get
him yersel! He wud never luik at a lass like you!'
'It's weel a'body sees na wi' the same een, Phemy! Gien I had yer
Francie i' the parritch-pat, I wudna pike him oot, but fling frae me
pat and parritch. For a' that, I hae a haill side o' my hert saft til
him: my father and his lo'd like brithers.'
'That canna be, Kirsty—and it's no like ye to blaw! Your father was
a common so'dier and his was cornel o' the regiment!'
'Allooin!' was all Kirsty's answer. Phemy betook herself to
'Lat me gang, Kirsty! Please! I'll gang doon o' my knees til ye! I
canna bide him to think I've played him fause.'
'He'll play you fause, my lamb, whatever ye du or he think! It maks
my hert sair to ken 'at no guid will your hert get o' his.—He s' no
see ye the nicht, ony gait!'
Phemy uttered a childish howl, but immediately choked it with a
'Ye're hurtin me, Kirsty!' she said, after a minute or so of
silence. 'Lat me doon, and I'll gang straucht hame to my father. I
'I'll set ye doon,' answered Kirsty, 'but ye maun come hame to my
'What'll my father think?'
'I s' no forget yer father,' said Kirsty.
She sent out a strange, piercing cry, set Phemy down, took her hand
in hers, and went on, Phemy making no resistance. In about three
minutes there was a noise in the heather, and Snootie came rushing to
Kirsty. A few moments more and Steenie appeared. He lifted his bonnet
to Phemy, and stood waiting his sister's commands.
'Steenie,' she said, 'tak the dog wi' ye, and rin doon to the toon,
and tell Mr. Craig 'at Phemy here's comin hame wi' me, to bide the
nicht. Ye winna be langer nor ye canna help, and ye'll come to the
hoose afore ye gang to the hill?'
'I'll du that, Kirsty. Come, doggie,'
Steenie never went to the town of his own accord, and Kirsty never
liked him to go, for the boys were rude, but to-night it would be dark
before he reached it.
'Ye're no surely gaun to gar me bide a' nicht!' said Phemy,
beginning again to cry.
'I am that—the nicht, and maybe the morn's nicht, and ony nummer o'
nichts till we're sure he's awa!' answered Kirsty, resuming her walk.
Phemy wept aloud, but did not try to escape.
'And him gaein to promise this verra nicht 'at he would merry me!'
she cried, but through her tears and sobs her words were indistinct.
Kirsty stopped, and faced round on her.
'He promised to merry ye?' she said.
'I didna say that; I said he was gaein to promise the nicht. And noo
he'll be gane, and never a word said!'
'He promised, did he, 'at he would promise the nicht?—Eh, Francie!
Francie! ye're no yer father's son!—He promised to promise to merry
ye! Eh, ye puir gowk o' a bonny lassie!'
'Gien I met him the nicht—ay, it cam to that.'
All Kirsty's inborn motherhood awoke. She turned to her, and,
clasping the silly thing in her arms, cried out—
'Puir wee dauty! Gien he hae a hert ony bigger nor Tod Lowrie's (the
fox's) ain, he'll come to ye to the Knowe, and say what he has to
'He winna ken whaur I am!' answered Phemy with an agonized burst of
'Will he no? I s' see to that—and this verra nicht!' exclaimed
Kirsty. 'I'll gie him ilka chance o' doin the richt thing!'
'But he'll be angert at me!'
'What for? Did he tell ye no to tell?'
'Ay did he.'
'Waur and waur!' cried Kirsty indignantly. 'He wad hae ye a' in his
grup! He tellt ye, nae doobt, 'at ye was the bonniest lassie 'at ever
was seen, and bepraised ye 'at yer ain minnie wouldna hae kenned ye!
Jist tell me, Phemy, dinna ye think a hantle mair o' yersel sin' he
took ye in han'?'
She would have Phemy see that she had gathered from him no figs or
grapes, only thorns and thistles. Phemy made no reply: had she not
every right to think well of herself? He had never said anything to her
on that subject which she was not quite ready to believe.
Kirsty seemed to divine what was passing in her thought.
'A man,' she said, ''at disna tell ye the trowth aboot himsel 's no
likly to tell ye the trowth aboot your_sel! Did he tell ye hoo mony
lassies he had said the same thing til afore ever he cam to you? It
maitered little sae lang as they war lasses as hertless and toom-heidit
as himsel, and ower weel used to sic havers; but a lassie like you, 'at
never afore hearkent to siclike, she taks them a' for trowth, and the
leein sough o' him gars her trow there was never on earth sic a
won'erfu cratur as her! What pleesur there can be i' leein 's mair nor
I can faddom! Ye're jist a gey bonnie lassie, siclike as mony anither;
but gien ye war a' glorious within, like the queen o' Sheba, or whaever
she may happen to hae been, there wad be naething to be prood o' i'
that, seem ye didna contrive yersel. No ae stane, to bigg yersel, hae
ye putten upo' the tap o' anither!'
Phemy was nowise capable of understanding such statement and
deduction. If she was lovely, as Frank told her, and as she saw in the
glass, why should she not be pleased with herself? If Kirsty had been
made like her, she would have been just as vain as she!
All her life the doll never saw the beauty of the woman. Beside
Phemy, Kirsty walked like an Olympian goddess beside the naiad of a
brook. And Kirsty was a goddess, for she was what she had to be, and
never thought about it.
Phemy sank down in the heather, declaring she could go no farther,
and looked so white and so pitiful that Kirsty's heart filled afresh
with compassion. Like the mother she was, she took the poor girl yet
again in her arms, and, carrying her quite easily now that she did not
struggle, walked with her straight into her mother's kitchen.
Mrs. Barclay sat darning the stocking which would have been Kirsty's
affair had she not been stalking Phemy. She took it out of her mother's
hands, and laid the girl in her lap.
'There's a new bairnie til ye, mother! Ye maun daut her a wee, she's
unco tired!' she said, and seating herself on a stool, went on with the
darning of the stocking.
Mistress Barclay looked down on Phemy with such a face of loving
benignity that the poor miserable girl threw her arms round her neck,
and laid her head on her bosom. Instinctively the mother began to hush
and soothe her, and in a moment more was singing a lullaby to her.
Phemy fell fast asleep. Then Kirsty told what she had done, and while
she spoke, the mother sat silent brooding, and hushing, and thinking.
CHAPTER XVIII. PHEMY'S CHAMPION
When she had told all, Kirsty rose, and laying aside the stocking,
'I maun awa to Weelset, mother. I promised the bairn I would lat
Francie ken whaur she was, and gie him the chance o' sayin his say til
'Verra weel, lassie! ye ken what ye're aboot, and I s' no interfere
wi' ye. But, eh, ye'll be tired afore ye win to yer bed!'
'I'll no tramp it, mother; I'll tak the gray mear.'
'She's gey and fresh, lassie; ye maun be on yer guaird.'
'A' the better!' returned Kirsty. 'To hear ye, mother, a body wud
think I cudna ride!'
'Forbid it, bairn! Yer father says, man or wuman, there's no ane i'
the countryside like ye upo' beast-back.'
'They tak to me, the craturs! It was themsels learnt me to ride!'
answered Kirsty, as she took a riding whip from the wall, and went out
of the kitchen.
The mare looked round when she entered the stable, and whinnied.
Kirsty petted and stroked her, gave her two or three handfuls of oats,
and while she was eating strapped a cloth on her back: there was no
side-saddle about the farm. Kirsty could ride well enough sideways on a
man's, but she liked the way her father had taught her far better.
Utterly fearless, she had, in his training from childhood until he
could do no more for her, grown a horsewoman such as few.
The moment the mare had finished her oats she bridled her, led her
out, and sprang on her back; where sitting as on a pillion, she rode
quietly out of the farm-close. The moment she was beyond the gate, she
leaned back, and, throwing her right foot over the mare's crest, rode
like an Amazon, at ease, and with mastery. The same moment the mare was
away, up hill and down dale, almost at racing speed. Had the coming
moon been above the horizon, the Amazon farm-girl would have been worth
meeting! So perfectly did she yield her lithe, strong body to every
motion of the mare, abrupt or undulant, that neither ever felt a jar,
and their movements seemed the outcome of a vital force common to the
two. Kirsty never thought whether she was riding well or ill,
gracefully or otherwise, but the mare knew that all was right between
them. Kirsty never touched the bridle except to moderate the mare's
pace when she was too much excited to heed what she said to her.
Doubtless, to many eyes, she would have looked better in a riding
habit, but she would have felt like an eagle in a nightgown. She wore a
full winsey petticoat, which she managed perfectly, and stockings of
the same colour.
On her head she had nothing but the silk net at that time and in
that quarter much worn by young unmarried women. In the rush of the
gallop it slipped, and its content escaped: she put the net in her
pocket, and cast a knot upon her long hair as if it had been a rope.
This she did without even slackening her speed, transferring from her
hand to her teeth the whip she carried. It was one colonel Gordon had
given her father in remembrance of a little adventure they had
together, in which a lash from it in the dark night was mistaken for a
sword-cut, and did them no small service.
By the time they reached the castle, the moon was above the horizon.
Kirsty brought the mare to a walk, and resuming her pillion-seat,
remanded her hair to its cage, and readjusted her skirt; then, setting
herself as in a side-saddle, she rode gently up to the castle-door.
A manservant, happening to see her from the hall-window, saved her
having to ring the bell, and greeted her respectfully, for everybody
knew Corbyknowe's Kirsty. She said she wanted to see Mr. Gordon, and
suggested that perhaps he would be kind enough to speak to her at the
door. The man went to find his master, and in a minute or two brought
the message that Mr. Gordon would be with her presently. Kirsty drew
her mare back into the shadow which, the moon being yet low, a great
rock on the crest of a neighbouring hill cast upon the approach, and
It was three minutes before Francis came sauntering bare-headed
round the corner of the house, his hands in his pockets, and a cigar in
his mouth. He gave a glance round, not seeing his visitor at once, and
then with a nod, came toward her, still smoking. His nonchalance, I
believe, was forced and meant to cover uneasiness. For all that had
passed to make him forget Kirsty, he yet remembered her uncomfortably,
and at the present moment could not help regarding her as an angelic
bete noir, of whom he was more afraid than of any other human
being. He approached her in a sort of sidling stroll, as if he had no
actual business with her, but thought of just asking whether she would
sell her horse. He did not speak, and Kirsty sat motionless until he
was near enough for a low-voiced conference.
'What are ye aboot wi' Phemy Craig, Francie?' she began, without a
word of greeting.
Kirsty was one of the few who practically deny time; with whom what
was, is; what is, will be. She spoke to the tall handsome man in the
same tone and with the same forms as when they were boy and girl
He had meant their conversation to be at arm's length, so to say,
but his intention broke down at once, and he answered her in the same
'I ken naething aboot her. What for sud I?' he answered.
'I ken ye dinna ken whaur she is, for I div,' returned Kirsty. 'Ye
answer a queston I never speired! What are ye aboot wi' Phemy, I
challenge ye again! Puir lassie, she has nae brither to say the word!'
'That's a' verra weel; but ye see, Kirsty,' he began—then stopped,
and having stared at her a moment in silence, exclaimed, 'Lord, what a
splendid woman you've grown!'—He had probably been drinking with his
Kirsty sat speechless, motionless, changeless as a soldier on guard.
Gordon had to resume and finish his sentence.
'As I was going to say, you can't take the place of a brother
to her, Kirsty, else I should know how to answer you!—It's awkward
when a lady takes you to task,' he added with a drawl.
'Dinna trouble yer heid aboot that, Francie: hert ye hae little to
trouble aboot onything!' rejoined Kirsty. Then changing to English as
he had done, she went on: 'I claim no consideration on that score.'
Francis Gordon felt very uncomfortable. It was deuced hard to be
bullied by a woman!
He stood silent, because he had nothing to say.
'Do you mean to marry my Phemy?' asked Kirsty.
'Really, Miss Barclay,' Francis began, but Kirsty interrupted him.
'Mr. Gordon,' she said sternly, 'be a man, and answer me. If you
mean to marry her, say so, and go and tell her father—or my father, if
you prefer. She is at the Knowe, miserable, poor child! that she did
not meet you to-night. That was my doing; she could not help herself.
Gordon broke into a strained laugh.
'Well, you've got her, and you can keep her!' he said.
'You have not answered my question!'
'Really, Miss Barclay, you must not be too hard on a man! Is a
fellow not to speak to a woman but he must say at once whether or not
he intends to marry her?'
'Answer my question.'
'It is a ridiculous one!'
'You have been trystin' with her almost every night for something
like a month!' rejoined Kirsty, 'and the question is not at all
'Let it be granted then, and let the proper person ask me the
question, and I will answer it. You, pardon me, have nothing to do with
the matter in hand.'
'That is the answer of a coward,' returned Kirsty, her cheek flaming
at last. 'You know the guileless nature of your old schoolmaster, and
take advantage of it! You know that the poor girl has not a man to look
to, and you will not have a woman befriend her! It is cowardly,
ungrateful, mean, treacherous. You are a bad man, Francie! You always
were a fool, but now you are a wicked fool! If I were her brother—if I
were a man, I would thrash you!'
'It's a good thing you're not able, Kirsty! I should be frightened!'
said Gordon, with a laugh and a shrug, thinking to throw the thing
aside as done with.
'I said, if I was a man!' returned Kirsty. 'I did not say, if I was
able. I am able.'
'I don't see why a woman should leave to any man what she's able to
do for herself!' said Kirsty, as if communing with her own thoughts.—
'Francie, you're no gentleman; you are a scoundrel and a coward!' she
immediately added aloud.
'Very well,' returned Francis angrily; 'since you choose to be
treated as a man, and tell me I am no gentleman, I tell you I wouldn't
marry the girl if the two of you went on your knees to me!—A common,
silly, country-bred flirt!—ready for anything a man—'
Kirsty's whip descended upon him with a merciless lash. The hiss of
it, as it cut the air with all the force of her strong arm, startled
her mare, and she sprang aside, so that Kirsty, who, leaning forward,
had thrown the strength of her whole body into the blow, could not but
lose her seat. But it was only to stand upright on her feet, fronting
her— call him enemy, antagonist, victim, what you will. Gordon was
grasping his head: the blow had for a moment blinded him. She gave him
another stinging cut across the hands.
'That's frae yer father! The whup was his, and his swoord never did
fairer wark!' she said.—'I hae dune for him what I cud!' she added in
a low sorrowful voice, and stepped back, as having fulfilled her
He rushed at her with a sudden torrent of evil words. But he was no
match for her in agility as, I am almost certain, he would have proved
none in strength had she allowed him to close with her: she avoided him
as she had more than once jinkit a charging bull, every now and
then dealing him another sharp blow from his father's whip. The
treatment began to bring him to his senses.
'For God's sake, Kirsty,' he cried, ceasing his attempts to lay hold
of her, 'behaud, or we'll hae the haill hoose oot, and what'll come o'
me than I daurna think! I doobt I'll never hear the last o' 't as
'Am I to trust ye, Francie?'
'I winna lay a finger upo' ye, damn ye!' he said in mingled wrath
Throughout, Kirsty had held her mare by the bridle, and she,
although behaving as well as she could, had, in the fright the laird's
rushes and the sounds of the whip caused her, added not a little to her
mistress's difficulties. Just as she sprang on her back, the door
opened, and faces looked peering out; whereupon with a cut or two she
encouraged a few wild gambols, so that all the trouble seemed to have
been with the mare. Then she rode quietly through the gate.
Gordon stood in a motionless fury until he heard the soft thunder of
the mare's hoofs on the turf as Kirsty rode home at a fierce gallop;
then he turned and went into the house, not to communicate what had
taken place, but to lie about it as like truth as he might find
About half-way home, on the side of a hill, across which a low wind,
the long death-moan of autumn, blew with a hopeless, undulant, but not
intermittent wail among the heather, Kirsty broke into a passionate fit
of weeping, but ere she reached home all traces of her tears had
Gordon did not go the next day, nor the day after, but he never saw
Phemy again. It was a week before he showed himself, and then he was
not a beautiful sight. He attributed the one visible wale on his cheek
and temple to a blow from a twig as he ran in the dusk through the
shrubbery after a strange dog. Even at the castle they did not know
exactly when he left it. His luggage was sent after him.
The domestics at least were perplexed as to the wale on his face,
until the man to whom Kirsty had spoken at the door hazarded a
conjecture or two, which being not far from the truth, and as such
accepted, the general admiration and respect which already haloed
Corbyknowe's Kirsty, were thenceforward mingled with a little wholesome
When Kirsty told her father and mother what she had done at castle
Weelset, neither said a word. Her mother turned her head away, but the
light in her father's eyes, had she had any doubt as to how they would
take it, would have put her quite at her ease.
CHAPTER XIX. FRANCIS GORDON'S
Poor little Phemy was in bed, and had cried herself asleep. Kirsty
was more tired than she had ever been before. She went to bed at once,
but, for a long time, not to sleep.
She had no doubt her parents approved of the chastisement she had
given Gordon, and she herself nowise repented of it; yet the instant
she lay down, back came the same sudden something that set her weeping
on the hillside. As then, all un-sent for, the face of Francie Gordon,
such as he was in their childhood, rose before her, but marred by her
hand with stripes of disgrace from his father's whip; and with the
vision came again the torrent of her tears, for, if his father had then
struck him so, she would have been bold in his defence. She pressed her
face into the pillow lest her sobs should be heard. She was by no means
a young woman ready to weep, but the thought of the boy-face with her
blows upon it, got within her guard, and ran her through the heart. It
seemed as if nevermore would she escape the imagined sight. It is a
sore thing when a woman, born a protector, has for protection to become
an avenger, and severe was the revulsion in Kirsty from an act of
violence foreign to the whole habit, though nowise inconsistent with
the character, of the calm, thoughtful woman. She had never struck even
the one-horned cow that would, for very cursedness, kick over the
milk-pail! Hers was the wrath of the mother, whose very presence in a
calm soul is its justification—for how could it be there but by the
original energy? The wrath was gone, and the mother soul turned against
itself—not in judgment at all, but in irrepressible feeling. She did
not for one moment think, I repeat, that she ought not to have done it,
and she was glad in her heart to know that what he had said and she had
done must keep Phemy and him apart; but there was the blow on the face
of the boy she had loved, and there was the reflex wound in her own
soul! Surely she loved him yet with her mother-love, else how could she
have been angry enough with him to strike him! For weeks the pain
lasted keen, and it was ever after ready to return. It was a human type
of the divine suffering in the discipline of the sinner, which with
some of the old prophets takes the shape of God's repenting of the
evils he has brought on his people; and was the only trouble she ever
kept from her mother: she feared to wake her own pain in the dearer
heart. She could have told her father; for, although he was, she knew,
just as loving as her mother, he was not so soft-hearted, and would
not, she thought, distress himself too much about an ache more or less
in a heart that had done its duty; but as she could not tell her
mother, she would not tell her father. But her father and mother saw
that a change had passed upon her, and partially, if not quite,
understood the nature of it. They perceived that she left behind her on
that night a measure of her gaiety, that thereafter she was yet gentler
to her parents, and if possible yet tenderer to her brother.
For all the superiority constantly manifested by her in her
relations with Francis, the feeling was never absent from her that he
was of a race above her own; and now the visage of the young officer in
her father's old regiment never, any more than that of her play-fellow,
rose in her mind's eye uncrossed by the livid mark of her whip from the
temple down the cheek! Whether she had actually seen it so, she did not
certainly remember, but so it always came to her, and the face of the
man never cost her a tear; it was only that of the boy that made her
Another thing distressed her even more: the instant ere she struck
the first, the worst blow, she saw on his face an expression so meanly
selfish that she felt as if she hated him. That expression had vanished
from her visual memory, her whip had wiped it away, but she knew that
for a moment she had all but hated him—if it was indeed all but!
All the house was careful the next morning that Phemy should not be
disturbed; and when at length the poor child appeared, looking as if
her colour was not 'ingrain,' and so had been washed out by her tears,
Kirsty made haste to get her a nice breakfast, and would answer none of
her questions until she had made a proper meal.
'Noo, Kirsty,' said Phemy at last, 'ye maun tell me what he said
whan ye loot him ken 'at I cudna win til him 'cause ye wudna lat me!'
'He saidna muckle to that. I dinna think he had been sair missin
'I see ye're no gaein to tell me the trowth, Kirsty! I ken by mysel
he maun hae been missin me dreidfu'!'
'Ye can jeedge nae man by yersel, Phemy. Men's no like hiz
Phemy laughed superior.
'What ken ye aboot men, Kirsty? There never cam a man near ye, i'
the w'y o' makin up til ye!'
'I'm no preten'in to ony exparience,' returned Kirsty; 'I wad only
hae ye tak coonsel wi' common sense. Is 't likly, Phemy, 'at a man wi
gran' relations, and gran' notions, a man wi' a fouth o' grit leddies
in 's acquantance to mak a fule o' him and themsel's thegither, special
noo 'at he's an offisher i' the Company's service—is 't ony gait
likly, I say, 'at he sud be as muckle ta'en up wi' a wee bit cuintry
lassie as she cudna but be wi' him?'
'Noo, Kirsty, ye jist needna gang aboot to gar me mistrust ane wha's
the verra mirror o' a' knichtly coortesy,' rejoined Phemy, speaking out
of the high-flown, thin atmosphere she thought the region of poetry,
'for ye canna! Naething ever onybody said cud gar me think different o'
'Nor naething ever he said himsel?' asked Kirsty.
'Naething,' answered Phemy, with strength and decision.
'No gien it was 'at naething wud ever gar him merry ye?'
'That he micht weel say, for he winna need garrin!—But he never
said it, and ye needna try to threpe it upo' me!' she added, in a tone
that showed the very idea too painful.
'He did say't, Phemy.'
'Wha tellt ye? It's lees! Somebody's leein!'
'He said it til me himsel. Never a lee has onybody had a chance o'
puttin intil the tale!'
'He never said it, Kirsty!' cried Phemy, her cheeks now glowing, now
pale as death. 'He daurna!'
'He daured; and he daured to me! He said, “I wudna merry her
gien baith o' ye gaed doon upon yer knees to me!”'
'Ye maun hae sair angert him, Kirsty, or he wudna hae said it! Of
coorse he wasna to be guidit by you! He cud_na hae meaned what he
said! He wad never hae said it to me! I wuss wi' a' my hert I hadna
latten ye til 'im! Ye hae ruined a'!'
'Ye never loot me gang, Phemy! It was my business to gang.'
'I see what's intil't!' cried Phemy, bursting into tears. 'Ye tellt
him hoo little ye thoucht o' me, and that gart him change his min'!'
'Wud he be worth greitin about gien that war the case, Phemy? But ye
ken it wasna that! Ye ken 'at I jist cudna du onything o' the sort!—
I'm jist ashamed to deny't!'
'Hoo am I to ken? There's nae a wuman born but wad fain hae him til
Kirsty held her peace for pity, thinking what she could say to
convince her of Gordon's faithlessness.
'He didna say he hadna promised?' resumed Phemy through her sobs.
'We camna upo' that.'
'That's what I'm thinkin!'
'I kenna what ye're thinking, Phemy!'
'What did ye gie him, Kirsty, whan he tauld ye—no 'at I believe a
word o' 't—'at he wud nane o' me?'
Kirsty laughed with a scorn none the less clear that it was quiet.
'Jist a guid lickin,' she answered.
'Ha, ha!' laughed Phemy hysterically. 'I tellt ye ye was leein! Ye
hae been naething but leein—a' for fun, of coorse, I ken that—to mak
a fule o' me for bein fleyt!'
Despair, for a moment, seemed to overwhelm Kirsty. Was it for this
she had so wounded her own soul! How was she to make the poor child
understand? She lifted up her heart in silence. At last she said,—
'Ye winna see mair o' him this year or twa onygait, I'm thinkin!
Gien ever ye get a scart o' 's pen, it'll surprise me. But gien ever ye
hae the chance, which may God forbid, tell him I said I had gien him
his licks, and daured him to come and deny't to my face. He winna du
that, Phemy! He kens ower weel I wad jist gie him them again!'
'He wud kill ye, Kirsty! You gie him his licks!'
'He micht kill me, but he'd hae a pairt o' his licks first!—And noo
gien ye dinna believe me I winna answer a single question mair ye put
to me. I hae been tellin ye—no God's trowth, it's true, but the
deevil's—and it's no use, for ye winna believe a word o' 't!'
Phemy rose up a pygmy Fury.
'And ye laid han' to cheek o' that king o' men, Kirsty Barclay?
Lord, haud me ohn killt her! Little hauds me frae riven ye to bits wi'
my twa han's!'
'I laidna han' to cheek o' Francie Gordon, Phemy; I jist throosh him
wi' his father's ain ridin whup 'at my hert's like to brak to think o'
't. I doobt he'll carry the marks til's grave!'
Kirsty broke into a convulsion of silent sobs and tears.
'Kirsty Barclay, ye're a deevil!' cried Phemy in a hoarse whisper:
she was spent with passion.
The little creature stood before Kirsty, her hands clenched and
shaking with rage, blue flashes darting about in her eyes. Kirsty, at
once controlling the passion of her own heart, sat still as a statue,
regarding her with a sad pity. A sparrow stood chattering at a big
white brooding dove; and the dove sorrowed for the sparrow, but did not
know how to help the fluttering thing.
'Lord!' cried Phemy, 'I'll be cursin a' the warl' and God himsel,
gien I gang on this gait!—Eh, ye fause wuman!'
Kirsty sprang upon her at one bound from her seat, threw her arms
round her so that she could not move hers, and sitting down with her on
her lap, said—
'Phemy, gien I was yer mither, I wad gie ye yer licks for sayin what
ye didna i' yer hert believe! A' the time ye was keepin company wi'
Francie Gordon, ye ken i' yer ain sowl ye was never richt sure o' him!
And noo I tell ye plainly that, although I strack him times and times
wi' my whup—and saired him weel!-I div not believe him sae
ill-contrived as ye wad gar me think him. Him and me was bairns
thegither, and I ken the natur o' him, and tak his pairt again ye, for,
oot o' pride and ambition, ye're an enemy til him: I div not believe
ever he promised to merry ye! He's behaved ill eneuch wantin
that—lattin a gowk o' a lassie like you believe what ye likit, and him
only carryin on wi' ye for the ploy o' 't, haeing naething to du, and
sick o' his ain toom heid and still toomer hert; but a man's word's his
word, and Francie's no sae ill as your tale wud mak him! There, Phemy,
I hae said my say!'
She loosened her arms. But Phemy lay still, and putting her arms
round Kirsty's neck, wept in a bitter silence.
CHAPTER XX. MUTUAL MINISTRATION
In a minute or so the door opened, and Steenie coming one step into
the kitchen, stood and stared with such a face of concern that Kirsty
was obliged to speak. I do not believe he had ever before seen a woman
weeping. He shivered visibly.
'Phemy's no that weel,' she said. 'Her hert's sae sair it gars her
greit. She canna help greitin, puir dauty!'
Phemy lifted her face from Kirsty's bosom, where, like a miserable
child, she had been pressing it hard, and, seeming to have lost in the
depth of her grief all her natural shyness, looked at Steenie with the
most pitiful look ever countenance wore: her rage had turned to
self-commiseration. The cloud of mingled emotion and distress on the
visage of Steenie wavered, shifted, changed, and settled into the
divinest look of pity and protection. Kirsty said she never saw
anything so unmistakably Godlike upon human countenance. Involuntarily
she murmured, 'Eh, the bonny man!' He turned away from them, and, his
head bent upon his breast, stood for a time utterly motionless. Even
Phemy, overpowered and stilled by that last look he cast upon her,
gazed at him with involuntary reverence. But only Kirsty knew that the
half-witted had sought and found audience with the Eternal, and was now
in his presence.
He remained in this position, Kirsty thought, about three minutes.
Then he lifted his head, and walked straight from the house, nor turned
nor spoke. Kirsty did not go after him: she feared to tread on holy
ground uninvited. Nor would she leave Phemy until her mother came.
She got up, set the poor girl on the chair, and began to get ready
the mid-day meal, hoping Phemy would help her, and gain some comfort
from activity. Nor was she disappointed. With a childish air of
abstraction, Phemy rose and began, as of old in the house, to busy
herself, and Kirsty felt much relieved.
'But, oh,' she said to herself, 'the sairness o' that wee herty i'
the inside o' her!'
Phemy never spoke, and went about her work mechanically. When at
length Mrs. Barclay came into the kitchen, Kirsty thought it better to
leave them together, and went to find Steenie. She spent the rest of
the day with him. Neither said a word about Phemy, but Steenie's
countenance shone all the afternoon, and she left him at night in his
house on the Horn, still in the after-glow of the mediation which had
irradiated him in the morning.
When she came home, Kirsty found that her mother had put Phemy to
bed. The poor child had scarcely spoken all day, and seemed to have no
life in her. In the evening an attack of shivering, with other
symptoms, showed she was physically ill. Mrs. Barclay had sent for her
father, but the girl was asleep when he came. Aware that he would not
hear a word casting doubt on his daughter's discretion, and fearing
therefore that, if she told him how she came to be there, he would take
her home at any risk, where she would not be so well cared for as at
the Knowe, she had told him nothing of what had taken place; and he,
thinking her ailment would prove but a bad cold, had gone back to his
books without seeing her. At Mrs. Barclay's entreaty he had promised to
send the doctor, but never thought of it again.
Kirsty found her very feverish, breathing with difficulty, and in
considerable pain. She sat by her through the night. She had seen
nothing of illness, but sympathetic insight is the first essential
endowment of a good nurse.
All the night long—and Kirsty knew he was near—Steenie was roving
within sight of the window where the light was burning. He did not know
that Phemy was ill; pity for her heart-ache drew him thither. As soon
as he thought his sister would be up, he went in: the door was never
locked. She heard him, and came to him. The moment he learned Phemy's
condition, he said he would go for the doctor. Kirsty in vain begged
him to have some breakfast first: he took a piece of oatcake in his
hand and went.
The doctor returned with him, and pronounced the attack pleurisy.
Phemy did not seem to care what became of her. She was ill a long time,
and for a fortnight the doctor came every day.
There was now so much to be done, that Kirsty could seldom go with
Steenie to the hill. Nor did Steenie himself care to go for any time,
and was never a night from the house. When all were in bed, he would
generally coil himself on a bench by the kitchen-fire, at any moment
ready to answer the lightest call of Kirsty, who took pains to make him
feel himself useful, as indeed he was. Although now he slept
considerably better at night and less in the day, he would start to his
feet at the slightest sound, like the dog he had almost ceased to
imagine himself except in his dreams. In carrying messages, or in
following directions, he had always shown himself perfectly
Slowly, very slowly, Phemy recovered. But long before she was well,
his family saw that the change for the better which had been evident in
Steenie's mental condition for some time before Phemy's illness, was
now manifesting itself plainly in his person. The intense compassion
which, that memorable morning, roused his spirit even to the glorifying
of his visage, seemed now settling in his looks and clarifying them.
His eyes appeared to shine less from his brain, and more from his mind;
he stood more erect; and, as encouraging a symptom, perhaps, as any, he
had grown more naturally conscious of his body and its requirements.
Kirsty, coming upon him one morning as he somewhat ruefully regarded
his trowsers, suggested a new suit, and was delighted to see his face
shine up, and hear him declare himself ready to go with her and be
measured for it. She found also soon after, to her joy, that he had for
some time been enlarging with hammer and chisel a certain cavity in one
of the rocks inside his house on the Horn, that he might use it for a
In all these things she saw evident signs of a new start in the
growth of his spiritual nature; and if she spied danger ahead, she knew
that the God whose presence in him was making him grow, was ahead with
the danger also.
Steenie not only now went attired as befitted David Barclay's son,
but to an ordinary glance would have appeared nowise remarkable. Kirsty
ceased to look upon him with the pity hitherto colouring all her
devotion; pride had taken its place, which she buttressed with a
massive hope, for Kirsty was a splendid hoper. People in the town,
where now he was oftener seen, would remark on the wonderful change in
him.—'What's come to fule Steenie?' said one of a group he had just
passed. 'Haith, he's luikin 'maist like ither fowk!'—'I'm thinkin the
deevil maun hae gane oot o' him!' said another, and several joined in
with their remarks.—'Nae muckle o' a deevil was there to gang oot! He
was aye an unco hairmless cratur!'—'And that saft-hertit til a' leevin
thing!'—'He was that! I saw him ance face a score o' laddies to
proteck a poddick they war puttin to torment, whan, the Lord kens, he
had need o' a' his wits to tak care o' himsel!'—'Aye, jist like
him!'—'Weel, the Lord taks care o' him, for he's ane o' his ain
Kirsty, before long, began to teach him to sit on a horse, and,
after but a few weeks of her training, he could ride pretty well.
It was many weeks before Phemy was fit to go home. Her father came
to see her now and then, but not very often: he had his duties to
attend to, and his books consoled him.
As soon as Phemy was able to leave her room, Steenie constituted
himself her slave, and was ever within her call. He seemed always to
know when she would prefer having him in sight, and when she would
rather be alone. He would sit for an hour at the other end of the room,
and watch her like a dog without moving. He could have sat so all day,
but, as soon as she was able to move about, nothing could keep Phemy in
one place more than an hour at the utmost. By this time Steenie could
read a little, and his reading was by no means as fruitless as it was
slow; he would sit reading, nor at all lose his labour that, every
other moment when within sight of her, he would look up to see if she
wanted anything. To this mute attendance of love the girl became so
accustomed that she regarded it as her right, nor had ever the spoiled
little creature occasion to imagine that it was not yielded her; and if
at a rare moment she threw him glance or small smile—a crumb from her
table to her dog—Steenie would for one joyous instant see into the
seventh heaven, and all the day after dwell in the fifth or sixth. On
fine clear noontides she would walk a little way with him and Snootie,
and then he would talk to her as he had never done except to Kirsty,
telling her wonderful things about the dog and the sheep, the stars and
the night, the clouds and the moon; but he never spoke to her of the
bonny man. When, on their return, she would say they had had a pleasant
walk together, his delight would be unutterable; but all the time
Steenie had not once ventured a word belonging to any of the deeper
thoughts in which his heart was most at home. Was it that in his own
eyes he was but a worm glorified with the boon of serving an angel? was
it that he felt as if she knew everything of that kind, and he had
nothing to tell her but the things that entered at his eyes and ears?
or was it that a sacred instinct of her incapacity for holy things kept
him silent concerning such? At times he would look terribly sad, and
the mood would last for hours.
Not once since she began to get better, had Phemy alluded to her
faithless lover. In its departure her illness seemed to have carried
with it her unwholesome love for him; and certainly, as if overjoyed at
her deliverance, she had become much more of a child. Kirsty was glad
for her sake, and gladder still that Francie Gordon had done her no
irreparable injury—seemed not even to have left his simulacrum in her
memory and imagination. As her strength returned, she regained the
childish merriment which had always drawn Kirsty, and the more strongly
that she was not herself light-hearted. Kirsty's rare laugh was indeed
a merry one, but when happiest of all she hardly smiled. Perhaps she
never would laugh her own laugh until she opened her eyes in heaven!
But how can any one laugh his real best laugh before that! Until then
he does not even know his name!
Phemy seemed more pleased to see her father every time he came; and
Kirsty began to hope she would tell him the trouble she had gone
through. But then Kirsty had a perfect faith in her father, and a girl
like Phemy never has! Her father, besides, had never been father enough
to her. He had been invariably kind and trusting, but his books had
been more to his hourly life than his daughter. He had never drawn her
to him, never given her opportunity of coming really near him. No
story, however, ends in this world. The first volume may have been very
dull, and yet the next be full of delight.
CHAPTER XXI. PHEMY YIELDS PLACE
It was the last week in November when the doctor came himself to
take Phemy home to her father. The day was bright and blue, with a thin
carpet of snow on the ground, beneath which the roads were in good
condition. While she was getting ready, old David went out and talked
to the doctor who would not go in, his wrinkled face full of light, and
his heart glad with the same gladness as Kirsty's.
Mrs. Barclay and Kirsty busied themselves about Phemy, who was as
playful and teasing as a pet kitten while they dressed her, but Steenie
kept in the darkest corner, watching every thing, but offering no
unneeded help. Without once looking or asking for him, never missing
him in fact, Phemy climbed, with David's aid, into the gig beside the
doctor, at once began talking to him, and never turned her head as they
drove away. The moment he heard the sound of the horse's hoofs, Steenie
came quietly from the gloom and went out of the back-door, thinking no
eye was upon him. But his sister's heart was never off him, and her
eyes were oftener on him than he knew.
Of late he had begun again to go to the hill at night, and Kirsty
feared his old trouble might be returning. Glad as she was to serve
Phemy, and the father through the daughter, she was far from regretting
her departure, for now she would have leisure for Steenie and her
books, and now the family would gather itself once more into the
perfect sphere to which drop and ocean alike desires to shape itself!
'I thoucht ye wud be efter me!' cried Steenie, as she opened the
door of his burrow, within an hour of his leaving the house.
Now Kirsty had expected to find him full of grief because of Phemy's
going, especially as the heartless girl, for such Steenie's sister
could not help thinking her, never said good-bye to her most loving
slave. And she did certainly descry on his countenance traces of
emotion, and in his eyes the lingering trouble as of a storm all but
overblown. There was however in his face the light as of a far sunk
aurora, the outmost rim of whose radiance, doubtfully visible, seemed
to encircle his whole person. He was not lost in any gloom! She sat
down beside him, and waited for him to speak.
Never doubting she would follow him, he had already built up a good
peat-fire on the hearth, and placed for her beside it a low settle
which his father had made for him, and he had himself covered with a
sheepskin of thickest fleece. They sat silent for a while.
'Wud ye say noo, Kirsty, 'at I was ony use til her?' he asked at
'Jist a heap,' answered Kirsty. 'I kenna what ever she or I wud hae
dune wantin ye! She nott (needed) a heap o' luikin til!'
'And ye think mebbe she'll be some the better, some way or ither,
'Ay, I div think that, Steenie. But to tell the trowth, I'm no sure
she'll think verra aft aboot what ye did for her!'
'Ow, na! What for sud she? There's no need for that! It was for
hersel, no for her think-aboot-it, I tried. I was jist fain to du
something like wash the feet o' her. Whan I cam in that day—the day
efter ye broucht her hame, ye ken—the luik of her puir, bonny,
begrutten facy jist turnt my hert ower i' the mids o' me. I maist
think, gien I hadna been able to du onything for her afore she gaed, I
wud hae come hame here to my ain hoose like a deein sheep, and lain
doon. Yon face o' hers comes back til me noo like the face o' a lost
lammie 'at the shepherd didna think worth gaein oot to luik for. But
gien I had sic a sair hert for her, the bonny man maun hae had a
sairer, and he'll du for her what he can—and that maun be
muckle—muckle! They ca' 'im the gude Shepherd, ye ken!'
He sat silent for some minutes, and Kirsty's heart was too full to
let her speak. She could only say to her-self—'And folk ca's him
half-wuttit, div they! Weel, lat them! Gien he be half-wuttit, the
Lord's made up the ither half wi' better!'
'Ay!' resumed Steenie, 'the gude shepherd tynes (loses) no
ane o' them a'! But I'll miss her dreidfu'! Eh, but I likit to watch
the wan bit facy grow and grow till 't was roon' and rosy again! And,
eh, sic a bonny reid and white as it was! And better yet I likit to see
yon hert-brakin luik o' the lost are weirin aye awa and awa till 't was
clean gane!—And noo she's back til her father, bricht and licht and
bonny as the lown starry nicht!—Eh, but it maks me happy to think o'
'Sae it maks me!' responded Kirsty, feeling, as she regarded him,
like a glorified mother beholding her child walking in the truth.
'And noo,' continued Steenie, 'I'm richt glaid she's gane, and my
min' 'll be mair at ease gien I tell ye what for:—I maun aye tell you
a'thing 'at 'll bide tellin, Kirsty, ye ken!—Weel, a week or twa ago,
I began to be troubled as I never was troubled afore. I canna weel say
what was the cause o' 't, or the kin' o' thing it was, but something
had come that I didna want to come, and couldna keep awa. Maybe ye'll
ken what it was like whan I tell ye 'at I was aye think-thinkin aboot
Phemy. Noo, afore she cam, I was maist aye thinkin aboot the bonny man;
and it wasna that there was ony sic necessity for thinkin aboot Phemy,
for by that time she was oot o' her meesery, whatever that was, or
whatever had the wyte (blame) o' 't. I' the time afore her, whan
my min' wud grow a bit quaiet, and the pooers o' darkness wud draw
themsels awa a bit, aye wud come the face o' the bonny man intil the
toom place, and fill me fresh up wi' the houp o' seein him or lang; but
noo, at ilka moment, up wud come, no the face o' the bonny man, but the
face o' Phemy; and I didna like that, and I cudna help it. And a
scraichin fear grippit me, 'at I was turnin fause to the bonny man. It
wisna that I thoucht he wud be vext wi' me, but that I cudna bide
onything to come atween me and him. I teuk mysel weel ower the heckles,
but I cudna mak oot 'at I cud a'thegither help it. Ye see, somehoo, no
bein made a'thegither like ither fowk, I cudna think aboot twa things
at ance, and I bude to think aboot the ane that cam o' 'tsel like. But,
as I say, it troubled me. Weel, the day, my hert was sair at her gangin
awa, for I had been lang used to seein her ilka hoor, maist ilka
minute; and the ae wuss i' my hert at the time was to du something
worth duin for her, and syne dee and hae dune wi' 't—and there, I
doobt, I clean forgot the bonny man! Whan she got intil the doctor's
gig and awa they drave, my hert grew cauld; I was like ane deid and
beginnin to rot i' the grave. But that minute I h'ard, or it was jist
as gien I h'ard—I dinna mean wi' my lugs, but i' my hert, ye ken—a
v'ice cry, “Steenie! Steenie!” and I cried lood oot, “Comin, Lord!” but
I kent weel eneuch the v'ice was inside o' me, and no i' my heid, but
i' my hert—and nane the less i' me for that! Sae awa at ance I cam to
my closet here, and sat doon, and hearkent i' the how o' my hert. Never
a word cam, but I grew quaiet—eh, sae quaiet and content like, wi'oot
onything to mak me sae, but maybe 'at he was thinkin aboot me! And I'm
quaiet yet. And as sune 's it's dark, I s' gang oot and see whether the
bonny man be onywhaur aboot. There's naething atween him and me noo;
for, the moment I begin to think, it's him 'at comes to be thoucht
aboot, and no Phemy ony mair!'
'Steenie,' said Kirsty, 'it was the bonny man sent Phemy til ye—to
gie ye something to du for him, luikin efter ane o' his silly lambs.'
'Ay,' returned Steenie; 'I ken she wasna wiselike, sic as you and my
mither. She needit a heap o' luikin efter, as ye said.'
'And wi' haein to luik efter her, he kenned that the thouchts that
troubled ye wudna sae weel win in, and wud learn to bide oot. Jist luik
at ye noo! See hoo ye hae learnt to luik efter yersel! Ye saw it cudna
be agreeable to her to hae ye aboot her no that weel washed, and wi'
claes ye didna keep tidy and clean! Sin' ever ye tuik to luikin efter
Phemy, I hae had little trouble luikin efter you!'
'I see't, Kirsty, I see't! I never thoucht o' the thing afore! I
micht du a heap to mak mysel mair like ither fowk! I s' no forget, noo
'at I hae gotten a grip o' the thing. Ye'll see, Kirsty!'
'That's my ain Steenie!' answered Kirsty. 'Maybe the bonny man cudna
be aye comin to ye himsel, haein ither fowk a heap to luik til, and sae
sent Phemy to lat ye ken what he would hae o' ye. Noo 'at ye hae begun,
ye'll be growin mair and mair like ither fowk.'
'Eh, but ye fleg me! I may grow ower like ither fowk! I maun awa
oot, Kirsty! I'm growin fleyt.'
'What for, Steenie?' cried Kirsty, not a little frightened herself,
and laying her hand on his arm. She feared his old trouble was
returning in force.
''Cause ither fowk never sees the bonny man, they tell me,' he
'That's their ain wyte,' answered Kirsty. 'They micht a' see him
gien they wud—or at least hear him say they sud see him or lang.'
'Eh, but I'm no sure 'at ever I did see him, Kirsty!'
'That winna haud ye ohn seen him whan the hoor comes. And the like's
true o' the lave.'
'Ay, for I canna du wantin him—and sae nouther can they!'
'Naebody can. A' maun hae seen him, or be gaein to see him.'
'I hae as guid as seen him, Kirsty! He was there! He helpit me whan
the ill folk cam to pu' at me!—Ye div think though, Kirsty, 'at I'm
b'un' to see him some day?'
'I'm thinkin the hoor's been aye set for that same!' answered
'Kirsty,' returned Steenie, not quite satisfied with her reply,
'I'll gang clean oot the wuts I hae, gien ye tell me I'm never to see
him face to face!'
'Steenie,' rejoined Kirsty solemnly, 'I wud gang oot o' my wuts
mysel gien I didna believe that! I believe 't wi' a' my heart, my bonny
'Weel, and that's a' richt! But ye maunna ca' me yer bonny man,
Kirsty; for there's but ae bonny man, and we 're a' brithers and
sisters. He said it himsel!'
'That's verra true, Steenie; but whiles ye're sae like him I canna
help ca'in ye by his name.'
'Dinna du't again, Kirsty. I canna bide it. I'm no bonny! No but I
wud sair like to be bonny—bonny like him, Kirsty!—Did ye ever hear
tell 'at he had a father? I h'ard a man ance say 'at he bed. Sic a
bonny man as that father maun be! Jist think o' his haein a son like
him!— Dauvid Barclay maun be richt sair disappintit wi' sic a son
as me—and him sic a man himsel! What for is't, Kirsty?'
'That 'll be are o' the secrets the bonny man's gaein to tell his
ain fowk whan he gets them hame wi' him!'
'His ain fowk, Kirsty?'
'Ay, siclike's you and me. Whan we gang hame, he'll tell's a' aboot
a heap o' things we wad fain ken.'
'His ain fowk! His ain fowk!' Steenie went on for a while murmuring
to himself at intervals. At last he said,
'What maks them his ain fowk, Kirsty?'
'What maks me your fowk, Steenie?' she rejoined.
'That's easy to tell! It's 'cause we hae the same father and mither;
I hae aye kenned that!' answered Steenie with a laugh.
She had been trying to puzzle him, he thought, but had failed!
'Weel, the bonny man and you and me, we hae a' the same father:
that's what maks us his ain fowk!—Ye see noo?'
'Ay, I see! I see!' responded Steenie, and again was silent.
Kirsty thought he had plenty now to meditate upon.
'Are ye comin hame wi' me,' she asked, 'or are ye gaein to bide,
'I'll gang hame wi' ye, gien ye like, but I wud raither bide the
nicht,' he answered. 'I'll hae jist this ae nicht mair oot upo' the
hill, and syne the morn I'll come hame to the hoose, and see gien I can
help my mither, or maybe my father. That's what the bonny man wud like
best, I'm sure.'
Kirsty went home with a glad heart: surely Steenie was now in a fair
way of becoming, as he phrased it, 'like ither fowk'! 'But the Lord's
gowk's better nor the warl's prophet!' she said to herself.
CHAPTER XXII. THE HORN
The beginning of the winter had been open and warm, and very little
snow had fallen. This was much in Phemy's favour, and by the new year
she was quite well. But, notwithstanding her heartlessness toward
Steenie, she was no longer quite like her old self. She was quieter and
less foolish; she had had a lesson in folly, and a long ministration of
love, and knew now a trifle about both. It is true she wrote nearly as
much silly poetry, but it was not so silly as before, partly because
her imagination had now something of fact to go upon, and poorest fact
is better than mere fancy. So free was her heart, however, that she
went of herself to see her aunt at the castle, to whom, having beheld
the love between David and his daughter, and begun to feel injured by
the little notice her father took of her, she bewailed his
At Mrs. Bremner's request she had made an appointment to go with her
from the castle on a certain Saturday to visit a distant relative,
living in a lonely cottage on the other side of the Horn—a woman too
old ever to leave her home. When the day arrived, both saw that the
weather gave signs of breaking, but the heavy clouds on the horizon
seemed no worse than had often shown themselves that winter, and as
often passed away. The air was warm, the day bright, the earth dry, and
Phemy and her aunt were in good spirits. They had purposed to return
early to Weelset, but agreed as they went that Phemy, the days being so
short, should take the nearer path to Tiltowie, over the Horn. By this
arrangement, their visit ended, they had no great distance to walk
together, Mrs. Bremner's way lying along the back of the hill, and
Phemy's over the nearer shoulder of it.
As they took leave of each other a little later than they had
intended, Mrs. Bremner cast a glance at the gathering clouds, and said,
'I doobt, lassie, it's gaein to ding on afore the nicht! I wuss we
war hame the twa o' 's! Gien it cam on to snaw and blaw baith, we micht
hae ill winnin there!'
'Noucht's to fear, auntie,' returned Phemy. 'It's a heap ower warm
to snaw. It may rain—I wudna won'er, but there'll be nae snaw—no
afore I win hame, onygait.'
'Weel, min', gien there be ae drap o' weet, ye maun change ilka stic
the minute ye're i' the hoose. Ye're no that stoot yet!'
'I'll be sure, auntie!' answered Phemy, and they parted almost at a
Before Phemy got to the top of the hill-shoulder, which she had to
cross by a path no better than a sheep-track, the wind had turned to
the north, and was blowing keen, with gathering strength, from the
regions of everlasting ice, bringing with it a cold terrible to be
faced by such a slight creature as Phemy; and so rapidly did its force
increase that in a few minutes she had to fight for every step she
took; so that, when at length she reached the top, which lay bare to
the continuous torrent of fierce and fiercer rushes, her strength was
already all but exhausted. The wind brought up heavier and heavier
snow-clouds, and darkness with them, but before ever the snow began to
fall, Phemy was in evil case—in worse case, indeed, than she could
know. In a few minutes the tempest had blown all energy out of her, and
she sat down where was not a stone to shelter her. When she rose,
afraid to sit longer, she could no more see the track through the
heather than she could tell without it in which direction to turn. She
began to cry, but the wind did not heed her tears; it seemed determined
to blow her away. And now came the snow, filling the wind faster and
faster, until at length the frightful blasts had in them, perhaps, more
bulk of blinding and dizzying snowflakes than of the air which drove
them. They threatened between them to fix her there in a pillar of
snow. It would have been terrible indeed for Phemy on that waste
hillside, but that the cold and the tempest speedily stupefied her.
Kirsty always enjoyed the winter heartily. For one thing, it roused
her poetic faculty—oh, how different in its outcome from Phemy's!—far
more than the summer. That very afternoon, leaving Steenie with his
mother, she paid a visit to the weem, and there, in the heart of the
earth, made the following little song, addressed to the sky-soaring
What gars ye sing sae, birdie,
As gien ye war lord o' the lift?
On breid ye're an unco sma' lairdie,
But in hicht ye've a kingly gift!
A' ye hae to coont yersel rich in,
'S a wee mawn o' glory-motes!
The whilk to the throne ye're aye hitchin
Wi' a lang tow o' sapphire notes!
Ay, yer sang's the sang o' an angel
For a sinfu' thrapple no meet,
Like the pipes til a heavenly braingel
Whaur they dance their herts intil their feet!
But though ye canna behaud, birdie,
Ye needna gar a'thing wheesht!
I'm noucht but a herplin herdie,
But I hae a sang i' my breist!
Len' me yer throat to sing throuw,
Len' me yer wings to gang hie,
And I'll sing ye a sang a laverock to cow,
And for bliss to gar him dee!
Long before she had finished writing it, the world was dark outside.
She had heard but little heeded the roaring of the wind over her: when
at length she put her head up out of the earth, it seized her by the
hair as if it would drag it off. It took her more than an hour to get
In the meantime Steenie had been growing restless. Coming wind often
affected him so. He had been out with his father, who expected a storm,
to see that all was snug about byres and stables, and feed the few
sheep in an outhouse; now he had come in, and was wandering about the
house, when his mother prevailed on him to sit down by the fireside
with her. The clouds had gathered thick, and the afternoon was very
dark, but all was as yet still. He called his dog, and Snootie lay down
at his feet, ready for what might come. Steenie sat on a stool, with
his head on his mother's knee, and for a while seemed lost in thought.
Then, without moving or looking up, he said, as if thinking aloud,—
'It maun be fine fun up there amang thae cloods afore the flauks
begin to spread!'
'What mean ye by that, Steenie, my man?' asked his mother.
'They maun be packit sae close, sae unco close i' their muckle
pocks, like the feathers in a feather-bed! and syne, whan they lat them
a' oot thegither, like haudin the bed i' their twa ban's by the boddom
corners, they maun be smorin thick till they begin to spread!'
'And wha think ye shaks oot the muckle pocks, Steenie?'
'I dinna ken. I hae aften thoucht aboot it. I dinna think it's likly
to be the angels. It's mair like wark for the bairnies up yoner at the
muckle ferm at hame, whaur ilk ane, to the littlest littlin, kens what
he's aboot, and no ane o' them's like some o' 's doon here, 'at gangs
a' day in a dream, and canna get oorsels waukent oot o' 't. I wud be
surer but that I hae thoucht whiles I saw the muckle angels themsels
gaein aboot, throu and throu the ondingin flauchter o' the snaw—no
mony o' them, ye ken, but jist whiles ane and whiles anither, throu
amo' the cauld feathers, gaein aye straught wi' their heids up, walkin
comfortable, as gien they war at hame in't. I'm thinkin at sic a time
they'll be efter helpin some puir body 'at the snaw's like to be ower
muckle for. Eh me! gien I cud but get rid o' my feet, and win up to
'What for yer feet, Steenie? What ails ye aye at yer feet? Feet's
gey usefu' kin o' thing's to craturs, whether gien them in fours or
'Ay, but mine's sic a weicht! It's them 'at's aye haudin me doon! I
wad hae been up and awa lang syne gien it hadna been for them!'
'And what wud hae been comin o' hiz wantin ye, Steenie?'
'Ye wad be duin sae weel wantin me, 'at ye wud be aye wantin to be
up and efter me! A body's feet's nae doobt usefu to hand a body steady,
and ohn gane blawin aboot, but eh, they're unco cummarsum! But syne
they're unco guid tu to hand a body ohn thoucht owre muckle o' himsel!
They're fine heumblin things, a body's feet! But, eh, it'll be fine
'Whaur on earth gat ye sic notions aboot yer feet? Guid kens there's
naething amiss wi' yer feet! Nouther o' ye hes ony rizzon to be ashamit
o' yer feet. The fac is, your feet's by ordinar sma', Steenie, and can
add but unco little to yer weicht!'
'It's a' 'at ye ken, mother!' answered Steenie with a smile. 'But,
'deed, I got my information aboot the feet o' fowk frae naegate i' this
warl'! The bonny man himsel sent word aboot them. He tellt the minister
'at tellt me, ance I was at the kirk wi' you, mother—lang, lang syne—
twa or three hun'er years, I'm thinkin'. The bonny man tellt his ain
fowk first that he was gaein awa in order that they michtna be able to
do wantin him, and bude to stir themselves and come up efter him. And
syne he slippit aff his feet, and gaed awa up intil the air whaur the
snaw comes frae. And ever sin syne he comes and gangs as he likes. And
efter that be telled the minister to tell hiz 'at we was to lay aside
the weicht that sae easy besets us, and rin. Noo by rin he maun
hae meaned rin up, for a body's no to rin frae the deevil but
resist him; and what is't that hauds onybody frae rinnin up the air but
his feet? There!—But he's promised to help me aff wi' my feet some
day: think o' that!—Eh, gien I cud but get my feet aff! Eh, gien they
wad but stick i' my shune, and gang wi' them whan I pu' them aff!
They're naething efter a', ye ken, but the shune o' my sowl!'
A gust of wind drove against the house, and sank as suddenly.
'That'll be ane o' them!' said Steenie, rising hastily. 'He'll be
wantin me! It's no that aften they want onything o' me ayont the fair
words a' God's craturs luik for frae ane anither, but whiles they do
want me, and I'm thinkin they want me the nicht. I maun be gaein!'
'Hoots, laddie!' returned his mother, 'what can they be wantin, thae
gran' offishers, o' siclike as you? Sit ye doon, and bide till they cry
ye plain. I wud fain hae ye safe i' the hoose the nicht!'
'It's a' his hoose, mother! A' theroot's therein to him. He's in's
ain hoose a' the time, and I'm jist as safe atween his wa's as atween
yours. Didna naebody ever tell ye that, mother? Weel, I ken it to be
true! And for wantin sic like as me, gien God never has need o' a
midge, what for dis he mak sic a lot o' them?'
''Deed it's true eneuch ye say!' returned his mother. 'But I div
won'er ye're no fleyt!'
'Fleyt!' rejoined Steenie; 'what for wud I be fleyt? What is there
to be fleyt at? I never was fleyt at face o' man or wuman—na, nor o'
beast naither!—I was ance, and never but that ance, fleyt at the face
o' a bairn!'
'And what for that, Steenie?
'He was rinnin efter his wee sister to lick her, and his face was
the face o' a deevil. He nearhan' garred me hate him, and that wud hae
been a terrible sin. But, eh, puir laddie, he bed a richt fearsome wife
to the mither o' him! I'm thinkin the bonny man maun hae a heap o'
tribble wi' siclike, be they bairns or mithers!'
'Eh, but ye're i' the richt there, laddie!—Noo hearken to me: ye
maunna gang the nicht!' said his mother anxiously. 'Gien yer father and
Kirsty wad but come in to persuaud ye! I'm clean lost wi'oot them!'
'For the puir idiot hasna the sense to ken what's wantit o' him!'
supplemented Steenie, with a laugh almost merry.
'Daur ye,' cried his mother indignantly, 'mint at sic a word and my
bairn thegither? He's my bonny man!'
'Na, mother, na! He's the bonny man at wha's feet I sall ae
day sit, clothed and i' my richt min'. He is the bonny man!'
'Thank the Lord,' continued his mother, still harping on the outrage
of such as called her child an idiot,' 'at ye're no an orphan—'at
there's three o' 's to tak yer part!'
'Naebody can be an orphan,' said Steenie, 'sae lang's God's nae
'Lord, and they ca' ye an idiot, div they!' exclaimed Marion
Barclay.— 'Weel, be ye or no, ye're ane o' the babes in wha's mooth he
'He'll du that some day, maybe!' answered Steenie.
'But! eh, Steenie,' pursued his mother, 'ye winna gang the nicht!'
'Mother,' he answered, 'ye dinna ken, nor yet do I, what to mak o'
me— what wits I hae, and what wits I haena; but this ye'll alloo,
that, for onything ye ken, the bonny man may be cryin upon me to gang
efter some puir little yowie o' his, oot her lane i' the storm the
With these words he walked gently from the kitchen, his dog
A terrible blast rushed right into the fire when he opened the door.
But he shut it behind him easily, and his mother comforted herself that
she had known him out in worse weather. Kirsty entered a moment after,
and when her father came in from the loft he called his workshop, they
had their tea, and sat round the fire after it, peacefully talking, a
little troubled, but nowise uneasy that their Steenie, the darling of
them all, was away on the Horn: he knew every foot of its sides better
than the collie who, a moment ago asleep before the fire, was now
following at his master's heel.
The wind, which had fallen immediately after the second gust as
after the first, now began to blow with gathering force, and it took
Steenie much longer than usual to make his way over height and hollow
from his father's house to his own. But he was in no hurry, not knowing
where he was wanted. I do not think he met any angels as he went, but
it was a pleasure to think they might be about somewhere, for they were
sorry for his heavy feet, and always greeted him kindly. Not that they
ever spoke to him, he said, but they always made a friendly
gesture—nodding a stately head, waving a strong hand, or sending him a
waft of cool air as they went by, a waft that would come to him through
the fiercest hurricane as well as through the stillest calm.
Before, strong-toiling against the wind, man and dog reached their
refuge among the rocks, the snow had begun to fall, and the night
seemed solid with blackness. The very flakes might have been black as
the snow of hell for any gleam they gave. But they arrived at last, and
Steenie, making Snootie go in before him, entered the low door with
bent head, and closed it behind them. The dog lay down weary, but
Steenie set about lighting the peats ready piled between the great
stones of the hearth. The wind howled over the waste hill in
multitudinous whirls, and swept like a level cataract over the ghastly
bog at its foot, but scarce a puff blew against the door of their
When his fire was well alight, Steenie seated himself by it on the
sheepskin settle, and fell into a reverie. How long he had sat thus he
did not know, when suddenly the wind fell, and with the lull master and
dog started together to their feet: was it indeed a cry they had heard,
or but a moan between wind and mountain? The dog flew to the door with
a whine, and began to sniff and scratch at the crack of the threshold;
Steenie, thinking it was still dark, went to get a lantern Kirsty had
provided him with, but which he had never yet had occasion to use. The
dog ran back to him, and began jumping upon him, indicating thus in the
dark recess where he found him that he wanted him to open the door. A
moment more and they were in the open universe, in a night all of snow,
lighted by the wide swooning gleam of a hidden moon, whose radiance,
almost absorbed, came filtering through miles of snow-cloud to reach
the world. Nothing but snow was to be seen in heaven or earth, but for
the present no more was falling. Steenie set the lighted lantern by the
door, and followed Snootie, who went sniffing and snuffing about.
Steenie always regarded inferior animals, and especially dogs, as a
lower sort of angels, with ways of their own, into which it would be
time to inquire by and by, when either they could talk or he could bark
intelligently and intelligibly—in which it used to annoy him that he
had not yet succeeded. It was in part his intense desire to enter into
the thoughts of his dog, that used to make him imitate him the most of
the day. I think he put his body as nearly into the shape of the dog's
as he could, in order thus to aid his mind in feeling as the dog was
As the dog seemed to have no scent of anything, Steenie, after
considering for a moment what he must do, began to walk in a spiral,
beginning from the door, with the house for the centre. He had thus got
out of the little valley on to the open hill, and the wind had begun to
threaten reawaking, when Snootie, who was a little way to one side of
him, stopped short, and began scratching like a fury in the snow.
Steenie ran to him, and dropped on his knees to help him: he had
already got a part of something clear! It was the arm of a woman. So
deep was the snow over her, that the cry he and the dog had heard,
could not surely have been uttered by her! He was gently clearing the
snow from the head, and the snow-like features were vaguely emerging,
when the wind gave a wild howl, the night grew dark again, and in
bellowing blackness the death-silent snow was upon them. But in a
moment or two more, with Snootie's vigorous aid, he had drawn the body
of a slight, delicately formed woman out of it's cold, white mould.
Somehow, with difficulty, he got it on his back, the only way he could
carry it, and staggered away with it toward his house. Thus laden, he
might never have found it, near as it was, for he was not very strong,
and the ground was very rough as well as a little deep in snow, but
they had left such a recent track that the guidance of the dog was
sure. The wise creature did not, however, follow the long track, but
led pretty straight across the spiral for the hut.
The body grew heavy on poor Steenie's back, and the cold of it came
through to his spine. It was so cold that it must be a dead thing, he
thought. His breathing grew very short, compelling him, several times,
to stop and rest. His legs became insensible under him, and his feet
got heavier and heavier in the snow-filled, entangling, impeding
What if it were Phemy! he thought as he struggled on. Then he would
have the beautiful thing all to himself! But this was a dead thing, he
feared—only a thing, and no woman at all! Of course it couldn't be
Phemy! She was at home, asleep in her father's house! He had always
shrunk from death; even a dead mouse he could not touch without a
shudder; but this was a woman, and might come alive! It belonged to the
bonny man, anyhow, and he would stay out with it all night rather than
have it lie there alone in the snow! He would not be afraid of her: he
was nearly dead himself, and the dead were not afraid of the dead! She
had only put off her shoes! But she might be alive, and he must get her
into the house! He would like to put off his feet, but most people
would rather keep them on, and he must try to keep hers on for her!
With fast failing energy he reached the door, staggered in, dropped
his burden gently on his own soft heather-bed, and fell exhausted. He
lay but a moment, came to himself, rose, and looked at the lovely thing
he had laboured to redeem from 'cold obstruction.' It lay just as it
had fallen from his back, its face uppermost: it was Phemy!
For a moment his blood seemed to stand still; then all the divine
senses of the half-witted returned to him. There was no time to be
sorrowful over her: he must save the life that might yet be in that
frozen form! He had nothing in the house except warmth, but warmth more
than aught else was what the cold thing needed! With trembling hands he
took off her half-thawed clothes, laid her in the thick blankets of his
bed, and covered her with every woollen thing in the hut. Then he made
up a large fire, in the hope that some of its heat might find her.
She showed no sign of life. Her eyes were fast shut: those who die
of cold only sleep into a deeper sleep. Not a trace of suffering was to
be seen on her countenance. Death alone, pure, calm, cold, and sweet,
was there. But Steenie had never seen Death, and there was room for him
to doubt and hope. He laid one fold of a blanket over the lovely white
face, as he had seen a mother do with a sleeping infant, called his
dog, made him lie down on her feet, and told him to watch; then turned
away, and went to the door. As he passed the fire, he coughed and grew
faint, but recovering himself, picked up his fallen stick, and set out
for Corbyknowe and Kirsty. Once more the wind had ceased, but the snow
was yet falling.
CHAPTER XXIII. THE STORM AGAIN
Kirsty woke suddenly out of a deep, dreamless sleep. A white face
was bending over her—Steenie's—whiter than ever Kirsty had seen it.
He was panting, and his eyes were huge. She started up.
'Come; come!' was all he was able to say.
'What's the metter, Steenie?' she gasped. For a quarter of a minute
he stood panting, unable to speak.
'I'm no thinkin onything's gane wrong,' he faltered at length with
an effort, recovering breath and speech a little. 'The bonny man—'
He burst into tears and turned his head away. A vision of the white,
lovely, motionless thing, whose hand had fallen from his like a lump of
lead, lying alone at the top of the Horn, with the dog on her feet, had
overwhelmed him suddenly.
Kirsty was sore distressed. She dreaded the worst when she saw him
thus lose the self-restraint hitherto so remarkable in him. She leaned
from her bed, threw her arms round him, and drew him to her, kneeled,
laid his head on her bosom, and wept as she had never known him weep.
'I'll tak care o' ye, Steenie, my man!' she murmured. 'Fear ye
It is amazing how much, in the strength of its own divinity, love
will dare promise!
'Ay, Kirsty, I ken ye wull, but it's no me!' said Steenie.
Thereupon he gave a brief, lucid account of what had occurred in the
'And noo 'at I hae telt ye,' he added, 'it luiks a' sae strange 'at
maybe I hae been but dreamin, efter a'! But it maun be true, for that
maun hae been what the angels cam cryin upo' me for. I'm thinkin they
wud hae broucht me straucht til her themsels—they maistly gang aboot
in twas, as whan they gaed and waukent the bonny man—gien it hadna
been 'at the guid collie was aiqual to that!'
Kirsty told him to go and rouse the kitchen fire, and she would be
with him in a minute. She sprang out of bed, and dressed as fast as she
could, thinking what she had best take with her. 'The puir lassie,' she
said to herself, 'may be growin warm, and sleepin deith awa; and by the
time we win there she'll be needin something, like the lassie 'at the
Lord liftit!' But in her heart she had little hope: it would be a sad
day for the schoolmaster.
She went to her father and mother's room, found them awake, and told
them Steenie's tale.
'It's time we war up, wuman!' said David.
'Ay,' returned his wife, 'but Kirsty canna bide for 's. Ye maun be
aff, lassie! Tak a wee whusky wi' ye; but min' it's no that safe wi'
frozen fowk. Het milk's the best thing. Tak a drappie o' that wi' ye. I
s' be efter ye wi' mair. And dinna forget a piece to uphaud ye as ye
gang; it'll be ill fechtin the win'. Dinna lat Steenie gang back wi'
ye; he canna be fit. Sen' him to me, and I'll persuaud him.—Dauvid,
man, ye'll hae to saiddle and ride; the doctor maun gang wi' ye
straught to Steenie's hoose.'
'Lat me up,' said David, making a motion to free himself of the
Kirsty went, and got some milk to make it hot. But when she reached
the kitchen, Steenie was not there, and the fire, which he had tried to
wake up, was all but black. The house-door was open, and the snow
drifting in. Steenie was gone into the storm again! She hurriedly
poured the milk into a small bottle, and thrust it into her bosom to
grow warm as she went. Then she lighted a lantern, chiefly that Steenie
might catch sight of it, and set out.
She started running, certain, she thought, to overtake him. The wind
was up again, but it was almost behind her, and the night was not
absolutely dark, for the moon was somewhere. She was far stronger than
Steenie, and could walk faster, but, keen as was her outlook on all
sides, for the snow was not falling too thick to let her see a little
way through it, she was at length near the top of the Horn without
having caught a glimpse of him. Had he dropped on the way? Had she in
her haste left him after all in the house? She might have passed him;
that was easy to do. One thing she was sure of—he could not have got
to his house before her!
As she drew near the door she heard a short howl, and knew it for
Snootie's. Perhaps Phemy had revived! But no! it was a desolate,
forsaken cry! The next moment came a glad bark: was it the footstep of
Kirsty it greeted, or the soul of Phemy?
With steady hand, and heart prepared, she opened the door and went
in. The dog came bounding to her: either he counted himself relieved,
or could bear it no longer. He cringed at her feet; he leaped upon her;
he saw in her his saviour from the terrible silence and cold and
motionlessness. Then he stood still before her, looking up to her, and
wagging his tail, but his face said plainly: It is there!
Kirsty hesitated a moment; a weary sense of uselessness had
overtaken her, and she shrank from encountering the unchanging and
unchangeable; but she cast off the oppression, and followed the dog to
the bedside. He jumped up, and lay down where his master had placed
him, as if to say he knew his duty, had been lying there all the time,
and had only got up the moment she came. It was the one warm spot in
all the woollen pile; the feet beneath it were cold as the snow
outside, and the lovely form lay motionless as a thing that would never
move again. Kirsty lifted the blanket: there was Phemy's face, blind
with the white death! It did not look at her, did not recognise her:
Phemy was there and not there! Phemy was far away! Phemy could not move
from where she lay!
Hopeless, Kirsty yet tried her best to wake her from her snow-sleep,
shrinking from nothing, except for the despair of it. But long ere she
gave up the useless task, she was thinking far more about Steenie than
He did not come! 'He must be safe with his mother!' she kept saying
in her heart; but she could not reassure herself. The forsaken fire,
the open door haunted her. She would succeed for a moment or two in
quieting her fears, calling them foolish; the next they would rush upon
her like a cataract, and almost overwhelm her. While she was busy with
the dead, he might be slowly sinking into the sleep from which she
could not wake Phemy!
She laid the cold snow-captive straight, and left her to sleep on.
Then, calling the dog, she left the hut, in the hope of meeting her
mother, and learning that Steenie was at home.
Now and then, while at her sad task, she had been reminded of the
wind by its hollow roaring all about the hill, but not until she opened
the door had she any notion how the snow was falling; neither until she
left the hollow for the bare hill-side did she realize how the wind was
raging. Then indeed the world looked dangerous! If Steenie was out, if
her mother had started, they were lost! She would have gone back into
the hut with the dead, but that she might get home in time to prevent
her mother from setting out, or might meet her on the way. At the same
time the tempest between her and her home looked but a little less
terrible to her than a sea breaking on a rocky shore.
CHAPTER XXIV. HOW KIRSTY FARED
It was quite dark, and round her swept as it were a whirlpool of
snow. The swift fakes struck at her eyes and ears like a swarm of
vicious flies. In such a wind, the blows of the soft thin snow, beating
upon her face, now from one quarter, now from another, were enough to
bewilder even a strong woman like Kirsty. They were like hail to a
horse. After trying for a while to force her way, she suddenly became
aware of utter ignorance as to the direction in which she was going,
and, for the first time in her life, a fell terror possessed her—not
for herself, but for Steenie and her father and mother. To herself,
Kirsty was nobody, but she belonged to David and Marion Barclay, and
what were they and Steenie to do without her! They would go on looking
for her till they too died, and were buried yards deep in the snow!
She kept struggling on, her head bent, and her body leaning forward,
forcing herself against, it hardly seemed through, the snow-filled
wind—but whither? It was only by the feel of the earth under her feet,
that she could tell, and at times she was by no means sure, whether she
was going up or down hill. She kept on and on, almost hopeless of
getting anywhere, certain of nothing but that, if once she sat down,
she would never rise again. Fatigue that must not yield, and the
in-roads of the cold sleep, at length affected her brain, and her
imagination began to take its own way with her. She thought herself
condemned to one of those awful dust-towers, for she had read Prideaux,
specially devilish invention of the Persians, in which by the constant
stirring of the dust so that it filled the air, the lungs of the
culprit were at length absolutely choked up. Dead of the dust, she
revived to the snow: it was fearfully white, for it was all dead faces;
she crushed and waded through those that fell, while multitudes came
whirling upon her from all sides. Gladly would she have thrown herself
down among them, but she must walk, walk on for ever!
All the time, she felt in her dim suffering as if not she but those
at home suffered: she had deserted them in trouble, and do what she
might she would never get back to them! She could, she thought, if she
but put forth the needful energy, but the last self-exhaustive effort
never would come!
Where was the dog? He had left her! he was nowhere near her! She
tried to call him, but the storm choked every sound in her very throat.
He would never have left her to save himself! He who makes the dogs
must be at least as faithful as they! So she was not left comfortless!
Then she heard, or thought she heard the church-bell, and that may
have had something to do with the strange dream out of which she came
gradually to herself.
CHAPTER XXV. KIRSTY'S DREAM
Her dream was this:—
She sat at the communion-table in her own parish-church, with many
others, none of whom she knew. A man with piercing eyes went along the
table, examining the faces of all to see if they were fit to partake.
When he came to Kirsty, he looked at her for a moment sharply, then
said, 'That woman is dead. She has been in the snow all night. Lay her
in the vault under the church.' She rose to go because she was dead,
and hands were laid upon her to guide her as she went. They brought her
out of the church into the snow and wind, and turned away to leave her.
But she remonstrated: 'The man with the eyes,' she said, 'gave the
order that I should be taken to the vault of the church!'—'Very well,'
answered a voice, 'there is the vault! creep into it.' She saw an
opening in the ground, at the foot of the wall of the church, and
getting down on her hands and knees, crept through it, and with
difficulty got into the vault. There all was still. She heard the wind
raving, but it sounded afar off. Who had guided her thither? One of
Steenie's storm-angels, or the Shepherd of the sheep? It was all one,
for the storm-angels were his sheep-dogs! She had been bewildered by
the terrible beating of the snow-wind, but her own wandering was
another's guiding! Beyond the turmoil of life and unutterably glad, she
fell asleep, and the dream left her. In a little while, however, it
She was lying, she thought, on the stone-floor of the church-vault,
and wondered whether the examiner, notwithstanding the shining of his
eyes, might not have made a mistake: perhaps she was not so very dead!
Perhaps she was not quite unfit to eat of the bread of life after all!
She moved herself a little; then tried to rise, but failed; tried again
and again, and at last succeeded. All was dark around her, but
something seemed present that was known to her—whether man, or woman,
or beast, or thing, she could not tell. At last she recognised it; it
was a familiar odour, a peculiar smell, of the kind we call earthy:—it
was the air of her own earth-house, in days that seemed far away!
Perhaps she was in it now! Then her box of matches might be there too!
She felt about and found it. With trembling hands she struck one, and
proceeded to light her lamp.
It burned up. Something seized her by the heart.
A little farther in, stretched on the floor, lay a human form on its
face. She knew at once that it was Steenie's. The feet were toward her,
and between her and them a pair of shoes: he was dead!—he had got rid
of his feet!—he was gone after Phemy—gone to the bonny man! She
knelt, and turned the body over. Her heart was like a stone. She raised
his head on her arm: it was plain he was dead. A small stream of blood
had flowed from his mouth, and made a little pool, not yet quite
frozen. Kirsty's heart seemed about to break from her bosom to go after
him; then the eternal seemed to descend upon her like a waking sleep, a
clear consciousness of peace. It was for a moment as if she saw the
Father at the heart of the universe, with all his children about his
knees: her pain and sorrow and weakness were gone; she wept glad tears
over the brother called so soon from the nursery to the great presence
chamber. 'Eh, bonny man!' she cried; 'is 't possible to expec ower
muckle frae your father and mine!'
She sat down beside what was left of Steenie, and ate of the
oatcake, and drink of the milk she had carried forgotten until now.
'I won'er what God 'll du wi' the twa!' she said to herself. 'Gien
I lo'ed them baith as I did, he lo'es them better! I
wud hae dee'd for them; he did!'
She rose and went out.
Light had come at last, but too dim to be more than gray. The world
was one large white sepulchre in which the earth lay dead. Warmth and
hope and spring seemed gone for ever. But God was alive; his
hearth-fire burned; therefore death was nowhere! She knew it in her own
soul, for the Father was there, and she knew that in his soul were all
the loved. The wind had ceased, but the snow was still falling, here
and there a flake. A faint blueness filled the air, and was colder than
the white. Whether the day was at hand or the night, she could not
distinguish. The church bell began to ring, sounding from far away
through the silence: what mountains of snow must yet tower unfallen in
the heavens, when it was nearly noon, and still so dark! But Steenie
was out of the snow—that was well! Or perhaps he was beside her in it,
only he could leave it when he would! Surely anyhow Phemy must be with
him! She could not be left all alone and she so silly! Steenie would
have her to teach! His trouble must have gone the moment he died, but
Phemy would have to find out what a goose she was! She would be very
miserable, and would want Steenie! Kirsty's thoughts cut their own
channels: she was as far ahead of her church as the woman of Samaria
was ahead of the high priest at Jerusalem.
Thus thinking, thinking, she kept on walking through the snow to
weep on her mother's bosom. Suddenly she remembered, and stood still:
her mother was going to follow her to Steenie's house! She too must be
dead in the snow!—Well, let Heaven take all! They were born to die,
and it was her turn now to follow her mother! She started again for
home, and at length drew near the house.
It was more like a tomb than a house. The door looked as if no one
had gone in there or out for ages. Had she slept in the snow like the
seven sleepers in the cave? Were the need and the use of houses and
doors long over? Or was she a ghost come to have one look more at her
old home in a long dead world? Perhaps her father and mother might have
come back with like purpose, and she would see and speak to them! Or
was she, alas! only in a dream, in which the dead would not speak to
her? But God was not dead, and while God lived she was not alone even
in a dream!
A dark bundle lay on the door-step: it was Snootie. He had been
scratching and whining until despair came upon him, and he lay down to
She lifted the latch, stepped over the dog, and entered. The
peat-fire was smouldering low on tho hearth. She sat down and closed
her eyes. When she opened them, there lay Snootie, stretched out before
the fire! She rose and shut the door, fed and roused the fire, and
brought the dog some milk, which he lapped up eagerly.
Not a sound was in the house. She went all over it. Father nor
mother was there. It was Sunday, and all the men were away. A cow
lowed, and in her heart Kirsty blessed her: she was a live creature!
She would go and milk her!
CHAPTER XXVI. HOW DAVID FARED
David Barclay got up the moment Kirsty was out of the room, dressed
himself in haste, swallowed a glass of whisky, saddled the gray mare,
gave her a feed of oats, which she ate the faster that she felt the
saddle, and set out for Tiltowie to get the doctor. Threatening as the
weather was, he was well on the road before the wind became so full of
snow as to cause him any anxiety, either for those on the hill or for
himself. But after the first moment of anxiety, a very few minutes
convinced him that a battle with the elements was at hand more
dangerous than he had ever had to fight with armed men. For some
distance the road was safe enough as yet, for the storm had not had
time to heap up the snow between the bordering hills; but by and by he
must come out upon a large track recovered by slow degrees and great
labour from the bog, and be exposed to the full force of the now
furious wind, where in many places it would be far easier to wander off
than to stay upon a road level with the fields, and not even bounded by
a ditch the size of a wheel-track. When he reached the open, therefore,
he was compelled to go at a footpace through the thick, blinding,
bewildering tempest-driven snow; and was not surprised when, in spite
of all his caution, he found, by the sudden sinking and withdrawing of
one of his mare's legs with a squelching noise, that he had got astray
upon the bog, nor knew any more in what direction the town or other
abode of humanity lay. The only thing he did know was the side of the
road to which he had turned; and that he knew only by the ground into
which he had got: no step farther must in that direction be attempted.
His mare seemed to know this as well as himself, for when she had
pulled her leg out, she drew back a pace, and stood; whereupon David
cast a knot on the reins, threw them on her neck, and told her to go
where she pleased. She turned half round and started at once, feeling
her way at first very carefully. Then she walked slowly on, with her
head hanging low. Again and again she stopped and snuffed, diverged a
little, and went on.
The wind was packed rather than charged with snow. Men said there
never was a wind of the strength with so much snow in it. David began
to despair of ever finding the road again, and naturally in such strait
thought how much worse would Kirsty and Steenie be faring on the open
hill-side. His wife, he knew, could not have started before the storm
rose to tempest, and would delay her departure. Then came the
reflection, how little at any time could a father do for the wellbeing
of his children! The fact of their being children implied their need of
an all-powerful father: must there not then be such a father? Therewith
the truth dawned upon him, that first of truths, which all his
church-going and Bible-reading had hitherto failed to disclose, that,
for life to be a good thing and worth living, a man must be the child
of a perfect father, and know him. In his terrible perturbation about
his children, he lifted up his heart—not to the Governor of the world;
not to the God of Abraham or Moses; not in the least to the God of the
Kirk; least of all to the God of the Shorter Catechism; but to the
faithful creator and Father of David Barclay. The aching soul which
none but a perfect father could have created capable of deploring its
own fatherly imperfection, cried out to the father of fathers on behalf
of his children, and as he cried, a peace came stealing over him such
as he had never before felt.
Then he knew that his mare had been for some time on hard ground,
and was going with purpose in her gentle trot. In five minutes more, he
saw the glimmer of a light through the snow. Near as it was, or he
could not have seen it, he failed repeatedly in finding his way to it.
The mare at length fell over a stone wall out of sight in the snow, and
when they got up they found themselves in a little garden at the end of
a farmhouse. Not, however, until the farmer came to the door, wondering
who on such a morning could be their visitor, did he know to what farm
the mare had brought him. Weary, and well aware that no doctor in his
senses would set out for the top of the Horn in such a tempest of black
and white, he gratefully accepted the shelter and refreshment of which
his mare and he stood by this time in much need, and waited for a lull
in the storm.
CHAPTER XXVII. HOW MARION FARED
In the meantime the mother of the family, not herself at the moment
in danger, began to suffer the most. It dismayed her to find, when she
came down, that Steenie had, as she thought, insisted on accompanying
Kirsty, but it was without any great anxiety that she set about
preparing food with which to follow them.
She was bending over her fire, busy with her cooking, when all at
once the wind came rushing straight down the chimney, blew sleet into
the kitchen, blew soot into the pot, and nearly put out the fire. It
was but a small whirlwind, however, and presently passed.
She went to the door, opened it a little way, and peeped out: the
morning was a chaos of blackness and snow and wind. She had been born
and brought up in a yet wilder region, but the storm threatened to be
such as in her experience was unparalleled.
'God preserve 's!' cried the poor woman, 'can this be the en' o'
a'thing? Is the earth turnin intil a muckle snaw-wreath, 'at whan a'
are deid, there may be nae miss o' fowk to beery them? Eh, sic a
sepulchrin! Mortal wuman cudna carry a basket in sic a leevin
snaw-drift! Losh, she wudna carry hersel far! I maun bide a bit gien I
wad be ony succour till them! It's my basket they'll be wantin', no me;
and i' this drift, basket may flee but it winna float!'
She turned to her cooking as if it were the one thing to save the
world. Let her be prepared for the best as well as for the worst!
Kirsty might find Phemy past helping, and bring Steenie home! Then
there was David, at that moment fighting for his life, perhaps!—if he
came home now, or any of the three, she must be ready to save their
lives! they must not perish on her hands. So she prepared for the
possible future, not by brooding on it, but by doing the work of the
present. She cooked and cooked, until there was nothing more to be done
in that way, and then, having thus cleared the way for it, sat down and
cried. There was a time for tears: the Bible said there was! and when
Marion's hands fell into her lap, their hour—and not till then, was
come. To go out after Kirsty would have been the bare foolishness of
suicide, would have been to abandon her husband and children against
the hour of their coming need: one of the hardest demands on the
obedience of faith is—to do nothing; it is often so much easier to do
But she did not weep long. A moment more and she was up and at work
again, hanging a great kettle of water on the crook, and blowing up the
fire, that she might have hot bottles to lay in every bed. Then she
assailed the peat-stack in spite of the wind, making to it journey
after journey, until she had heaped a great pile of peats in the corner
nearest the hearth.
The morning wore on; the storm continued raging; no news came from
the white world; mankind had vanished in the whirling snow. It was well
the men had gone home, she thought: there would only have been the more
in danger, the more to be fearful about, for all would have been abroad
in the drift, hopelessly looking for one another! But oh Steenie,
Steenie! and her ain Kirsty!
About half-past ten o'clock the wind began to abate its violence,
and speedily sank to a calm, wherewith the snow lost its main terror.
She looked out; it was falling in straight, silent lines, flickering
slowly down, but very thick. She could find her way now! Hideous fears
assailed her, but she banished them imperiously: they should not sap
the energy whose every jot would be wanted! She caught up the bottle of
hot milk she had kept ready, wrapped it in flannel, tied it, with a
loaf of bread, in a shawl about her waist, made up the fire, closed the
door, and set out for Steenie's house on the Horn.
CHAPTER XXVIII. HUSBAND AND WIFE
Two hours or so earlier, David, perceiving some Assuagement in the
storm, and his host having offered to go at once to the doctor and the
schoolmaster, had taken his mare, and mounted to go home. He met with
no impediment now except the depth of the snow, which made it so hard
for the mare to get along that, full of anxiety about his children, he
found the distance a weary one to traverse.
When at length he reached the Knowe, no one was there to welcome
him. He saw, however, by the fire and the food, that Marion was not
long gone. He put up the gray, clothed her and fed her, drank some
milk, caught up a quarter of cakes, and started for the hill.
The snow was not falling so thickly now, but it had already almost
obliterated the footprints of his wife. Still he could distinguish them
in places, and with some difficulty succeeded in following their track
until it was clear which route she had taken. They indicated the
easier, though longer way—not that by the earth-house, and the father
and daughter passed without seeing each other. When Kirsty got to the
farm, her father was following her mother up the hill.
When David reached the Hillfauld, the name he always gave Steenie's
house, he found the door open, and walked in. His wife did not hear
him, for his iron-shod shoes were balled with snow. She was standing
over the body of Phemy, looking down on the white sleep with a solemn,
motherly, tearless face. She turned as he drew near, and the pair, like
the lovers they were, fell each in the other's arms. Marion was the
first to speak.
'Eh Dauvid! God be praised I hae yersel!'
'Is the puir thing gane?' asked her husband in an awe-hushed tone,
looking down on the maid that was not dead but sleeping.
'I doobt there's no doobt aboot that,' answered Marion. 'Steenie, I
was jist thinkin, wud be sair disapp'intit to learn 'at there was. Eh,
the faith o' that laddie! H'aven to him's sic a rale place, and sic a
hantle better nor this warl', 'at he wad not only fain be there himsel,
but wad hae Phemy there—ay, gie it war ever sae lang afore himsel! Ye
see he kens naething aboot sin and the saicrifeece, and he disna
un'erstan 'at Phemy was aye a gey wull kin' o' a lassie!'
'Maybe the bonny man, as Steenie ca's him,' returned David, 'may hae
as muckle compassion for the puir thing i' the hert o' 'im as Steenie
'Ow ay! Whatfor no! But what can the bonny man himsel du, a' bein
'Dinna leemit the Almichty, wuman—and that i' the verra moment whan
he's been to hiz—I wunna say mair gracious nor ord'nar, for that cudna
be—but whan he's latten us see a bit plainer nor common that he is
gracious! The Lord o' mercy 'ill manage to luik efter the lammie he
made, ae w'y or ither, there as here. Ye daurna say he didna du his
best for her here, and wull he no du his best for her there as weel?'
'Doobtless, Dauvid! But ye fricht me! It souns jist rank papistry—
naither mair nor less! What can he du? He canna dee again for
ane 'at wudna turn til 'im i' this life! The thing's no to be thoucht!'
'Hoo ken ye that, wuman? Ye hae jist thoucht it yersel! Gien I was
you, I wudna daur to say what he cudna du! I' the meantime, what he
maks me able to houp, I'm no gaein to fling frae me!'
David was a true man: he could not believe a thing with one half of
his mind, and care nothing about it with the other. He, like his
Steenie, believed in the bonny man about in the world, not in the mere
image of him standing in the precious shrine of the New Testament.
After a brief silence—
'Whaur's Kirsty and Steenie?' he said.
'The Lord kens; I dinna.'
'They'll be safe eneuch.'
'It's no likly.'
'It's sartin,' said David.
And therewith, by the side of the dead, he imparted to his wife the
thoughts that drove misery from his heart as he sat on his mare in the
storm with the reins on her neck, nor knew whither she went.
'Ay, ay,' returned his wife after a pause, 'ye're unco richt,
Dauvid, as aye ye are! And I'm jist conscience-stricken to think 'at a'
my life lang I hae been ready to murn ower the sorrow i' my
hert, never thinkin o' the glaidness i' God's! What call hed I to greit
ower Steenie, whan God maun hae been aye sair pleased wi' him! What
sense is there in lamentation sae lang's God's eident settin richt a'!
His hert's the safity o' oors. And eh, glaid sure he maun be, wi sic a
lot o' his bairns at hame aboot him!'
'Ay,' returned David with a sigh, thinking of his old comrade and
the son he had left behind him, 'but there's the prodigal anes!'
'Thank God, we hae nae prodigal!'
'Aye, thank him!' rejoined David; 'but he has prodigals that
trouble him sair, and we maun see til't 'at we binna thankless auld
Again followed a brief silence.
'Eh, but isna it strange?' said Marion. 'Here's you and me stanin
murnin ower anither man's bairn, and naewise kennin what's come o' oor
ain twa!—Dauvid, what can hae come o' Steenie and Kirsty?'
'The wull o' God's what's come o' them; and God hand me i' the grace
o' wussin naething ither nor that same!'
'Haud to that, Dauvid, and hand me till't: we kenna what's comin!'
'The wull o' God's comin,' insisted David. 'But eh,' he added, 'I'm
concernt for puir Maister Craig!'
'Weel, lat's awa hame and see whether the twa bena there afore
's!—Eh, but the sicht o' the bonny corp maun hae gien Steenie a sair
hert! I wudna won'er gien he never wan ower't i' this life!'
'But what'll we du aboot it or we gang? It's the storm may come on
again waur nor ever, and mak it impossible to beery her for a month!'
'We cudna carry her hame atween's, Dauvid—think ye?'
'Na, na; it's no as gien it was hersel! And cauld's a fine keeper—
better nor a' the embalmin o' the Egyptians! Only I'm fain to hand
Steenie ohn seen her again!'
'Weel, lat's hap her i' the bonny white snaw!' said Marion. 'She'll
keep there as lang as the snaw keeps, and naething 'ill disturb her
till the time comes to lay her awa!'
'That's weel thoucht o'!' answered David. 'Eh, wuman, but it's a
bonny beerial compared wi' sic as I hae aften gien comrade and foe
They went out and chose a spot close by the house where the snow lay
deep. There they made a hollow, and pressed the bottom of it down hard.
Then they carried out and laid in it the death-frozen dove, and heaped
upon her a firm, white, marble-like tomb of heavenly new-fallen snow.
Without re-entering it, they closed the door of Steenie's refuge,
and leaving the two deserted houses side by side, made what slow haste
they could, with anxious hearts, to their home. The snow was falling
softly, for the wind was still asleep.
CHAPTER XXIX. DAVID, MARION, KIRSTY,
SNOOTIE, AND WHAT WAS LEFT OF STEENIE
Kirsty saw their shadows darken the wall, and turning from her work
at the dresser, ran to the door to meet them.
'God be thankit!' cried David.
Marion gave her daughter one loving look, and entering cast a
fearful, questioning glance around the kitchen.
'Whaur's Steenie?' she said.
'He's wi' Phemy, I'm thinkin,' faltered Kirsty.
'Lassie, are ye dementit?' her mother almost screamed. 'We're this
minute come frae there!'
'He is wi' Phemy, mother. The Lord canna surely hae pairtit
them, gangin in maist haudin hans!'
'Kirsty, I haud ye accoontable for my Steenie!' cried Marion,
sinking on a chair, and covering her face with her hands.
'It's the wull o' God 'at's accoontable for him, wuman!' answered
David, sitting down beside her, and laying hold of her arm.
She burst into terrible weeping.
'He maun be sair at hame wi' the bonny man!' said Kirsty.
'Lassie,' said David, 'you and me and yer mither, we hae naething
left but be better bairns, and gang the fester to the bonny
man!—Whaur's what's left o' the laddie, Kirsty?'
'Lyin i' my hoose, as he ca'd it. Mine was i' the yerd, his i' the
air, he said. He was awa afore I wan to the kitchen. He had jist killt
himsel savin at Phemy, rinnin and fechtin on, upo' the barest chance o'
savin her life; and sae whan he set off again to gang til her, no bidin
for me, he was that forfouchten 'at he hed a bluid-brak in 's breist,
and was jist able, and nae mair, to creep intil the weem oot o' the
snaw. He didna like the place, and yet had a kin' o' a notion o' the
bonny man bein there whiles. I'm thinkin Snootie maun hae won til him,
and run hame for help, for I faund him maist deid upo' the door-step.'
David stooped and patted the dog.
'Na, that cudna be,' he said, 'or he wud never hae left him, I'm
thinkin.—Ye're a braw dog,' he went on to the collie, 'and I'm
thankfu' yer no lyin wi yer tongue oot!—But guid comes to guid
doggies!' he added, fondling the creature, who had risen, and feebly
set his paws on his knee.
'And ye left him lyin there! Hoo hed ye the hert, Kirsty?' sobbed
the mother reproachfully.
'Mother, he was better aff nor ony ither ane o' 's! I winna say,
mother, 'at I lo'ed him sae weel as ye lo'ed him, for maybe that wudna
be natur—I dinna ken; and I daurna say 'at I lo'e him as the bonny man
lo'es his brithers and sisters a'; but I hae yet to learn hoo to lo'e
him better. Onygait, the bonny man wantit him, and he has him! And whan
I left him there, it was jist as gien I hield him oot i' my airms and
said, “Hae, Lord; tak him: he's yer ain!”'
'Ye're i' the richt, Kirsty, my bonny bairn!' said David. 'Yer
mither and me, we was never but pleased wi' onything 'at ever ye
did.—Isna that true, Mar'on, my ain wuman?'
'True as his word!' answered the mother, and rose, and went to her
David sought the yard, saw that all was right with the beasts, and
fed them. Thence he made his way to his workshop over the cart-shed,
where in five minutes he constructed, with two poles run through two
sacks, a very good stretcher, carrying it to the kitchen, where Kirsty
sat motionless, looking into the fire.
'Kirsty,' he said, 'ye're 'maist as strong's a man, and I wudna
wullinly ony but oor ain three sels laid finger upo' what's left o'
Steenie: are ye up to takin the feet o' 'im to fess him hame? Here's
what'll mak it 'maist easy!'
Kirsty rose at once.
'A drappy o' milk, and I'm ready,' she answered. 'Wull ye no tak a
moofu' o' whusky yersel' father?'
'Na, na; I want naething,' replied David.
He had not yet learned what Kirsty went through the night before,
when he asked her to help him carry the body of her brother home
through the snow. Kirsty, however, knew no reason why she should not be
as able as her father.
He took the stretcher, and they set out, saying nothing to the
mother: she was still in her own room, and they hoped she might fall
'It min's me o' the women gauin til the sepulchre!' said David. 'Eh,
but it maun hae been a sair time til them!—a heap sairer nor this
hert-brak here!' 'Ye see they didna ken 'at he wasna deid,' assented
Kirsty, 'and we div ken 'at Steenie's no deid! He's maybe walkin aboot
wi the bonny man—or maybe jist ristin himsel a wee efter the uprisin!
Jist think o' his heid bein a' richt, and his een as clear as the bonny
man's ain! Eh, but Steenie maun be in grit glee!'
Thus talking as they went, they reached and entered the earth-house.
They found no angels on guard, for Steenie had not to get up again.
David wept the few tears of an old man over the son who had been of
no use in the world but the best use—to love and be loved. Then, one
at the head and the other at the feet, they brought the body out, and
laid it on the bier.
Kirsty went in again, and took Steenie's shoes, tying them in her
'His feet's no sic a weicht noo!' she said, as together they carried
their burden home.
The mother met them at the door.
'Eh!' she cried, 'I thoucht the Lord had taen ye baith, and left me
my lane 'cause I was sae hard-hertit til him! But noo 'at he 's broucht
ye back—and Steenie, what there is o' him, puir bairn!—I s' never say
anither word, but jist lat him du as he likes.—There, Lord, I hae
dune! Pardon thoo me wha canst.'
They carried the forsaken thing up the stair, and laid it on
Kirsty's bed, looking so like and so unlike Steenie asleep. Marion was
so exhausted, both mind and body, that her husband insisted on her
postponing all further ministration till the morning; but at night
Kirsty unclothed the untenanted, and put on it a long white nightgown.
When the mother saw it lying thus, she smiled, and wept no more; she
knew that the bonny man had taken home his idiot.
CHAPTER XXX. FROM SNOW TO FIRE
My narrative must now go a little way back in time, and a long way
from the region of heather and snow, to India in the year of the
mutiny. The regiment in which Francis Gordon served, his father's old
regiment, had lain for months besieged in a well known city by the
native troops, and had begun to know what privation meant, its
suffering aggravated by that of not a few women and children. With the
other portions of the Company's army there shut up, it had behaved
admirably. Danger and sickness, wounds and fatigue, hunger and death,
had brought out the best that was in the worst of them: when their
country knew how they had fought and endured, she was proud of them.
Had their enemies, however, been naked Zulus, they would have taken the
place within a week.
Francis Gordon had done his part, and well.
It would be difficult to analyze the effect of tho punishment Kirsty
had given him, but its influence was upon him through the whole of the
terrible time—none the less beneficent that his response to her
stinging blows was indignant rage. I dare hardly speculate what, had
she not defended herself so that he could not reach her, he might not
have done in the first instinctive motions of natural fury. It is
possible that only Kirsty's skill and courage saved him from what he
would never have surmounted the shame of—taking revenge on a woman
avenging a woman's wrong: from having deserved to be struck by a woman,
nothing but repentant shame could save him.
When he came to himself, the first bitterness of the thing over, he
could not avoid the conviction, that the playmate of his childhood,
whom once he loved best in the world, and who when a girl refused to
marry him, had come to despise him, and that righteously. The idea took
a firm hold on him, and became his most frequently recurrent thought.
The wale of Kirsty's whip served to recall it a good many nights; and
long after that had ceased either to smart or show, the thought would
return of itself in the night-watches, and was certain to come when he
had done anything his conscience called wrong, or his judgment foolish.
The officers of his mess were mostly men of character with ideas
better at least than ordinary as to what became a man; and their
influence on one by no means of a low, though of an unstable nature,
was elevating. It is true that a change into a regiment of jolly,
good-mannered, unprincipled men would within a month have brought him
to do as they did; and in another month would have quite silenced, for
a time at least, his poor little conscience; but he was at present
rising. Events had been in his favour; after reaching India, he had no
time to be idle; the mutiny broke out, he must bestir himself, and, as
I have said, the best in him was called to the front.
He was specially capable of action with show in it. Let eyes be bent
upon him, and he would go far. The presence of his kind to see and laud
was an inspiration to him. Left to act for himself, undirected and
unseen, his courage would not have proved of the highest order.
Throughout the siege, nevertheless, he was noted for a daring that
often left the bounds of prudence far behind. More than once he was
wounded—once seriously; but even then he was in four days again at his
post. His genial manners, friendly carriage, and gay endurance rendered
him a favourite with all.
The sufferings of the besieged at length grew such, and there was so
little likelihood of the approaching army being able for some time to
relieve the place, that orders were issued by the commander-in-chief to
abandon it: every British person must be out of the city before the
night of the day following. The general in charge thereupon resolved to
take advantage of the very bad watch kept by the enemy, and steal away
in silence the same night.
The order was given to the companies, to each man individually, to
prepare for the perilous attempt, but to keep it absolutely secret save
from those who were to accompany them; and so cautious was the little
English colony as well as the garrison, that not a rumour of the
intended evacuation reached the besiegers, while, throughout the lines
and in the cantonments, it was thoroughly understood that, at a certain
hour of the night, without call of bugle or beat of drum, everyone
should be ready to march. Ten minutes after that hour the garrison was
in motion. With difficulty, yet with sufficing silence, the gates were
passed, and the abandonment effected.
The first shot of the enemy's morning salutation, earlier than
usual, went tearing through a bungalow within whose shattered walls lay
Francis Gordon. In a dining-room, whose balcony and window-frame had
been smashed the day before, he still slumbered wearily, when close
past his head rushed the eighteen-pounder with its infernal scream. He
started up, to find the blood flowing from a splinter wound on his
temple and cheek-bone. A second shot struck the foot of his long chair.
He sprang from it, and hurried into his coat and waistcoat.
But how was all so still inside? Not one gun answered! Firing at
such an hour, he thought, the rebels must have got wind of their
intended evacuation. It was too late for that, but why did not the
garrison reply? Between the shots he seemed to hear the
universal silence. Heavens! were their guns already spiked? If so, all
was lost!—But it was daylight! He had overslept himself! He ought to
have been with his men—how long ago he could not tell, for the first
shot had taken his watch. A third came and broke his sword, carrying
the hilt of it through the wall on which it hung. Not a sound, not a
murmur reached him from the fortifications. Could the garrison be gone?
Was the hour past? Had no one missed him? Certainly no one had called
him! He rushed into the compound. Not a creature was there! He was
alone—one English officer amid a revolted army of hating Indians!
But they did not yet know that their prey had slid from their grasp,
for they were going on with their usual gun-reveille, instead of
rushing on flank and rear of the retreating column! He might yet elude
them and overtake the garrison! Half-dazed, he hurried for the gate by
which they were to leave the city. Not a live thing save two starved
dogs did he meet on his way. One of them ran from him; the other would
have followed him, but a ball struck the ground between them, raising a
cloud of dust, and he saw no more of the dog.
He found the gate open, and not one of the enemy in sight. Tokens of
the retreat were plentiful, making the track he had to follow plain
But now an enemy he had never encountered before—a sense of
loneliness and desertion and helplessness, rising to utter desolation,
all at once assailed him. He had never in his life congratulated
himself on being alone—not that he loved his neighbour, but that he
loved his neighbour's company, making him less aware of an uneasy self.
And now first he realized that he had seen his sword-hilt go off with a
round shot, and had not caught up his revolver—that he was, in fact,
He quickened his pace to overtake his comrades. On and on he trudged
through nothing but rice-fields, the day growing hotter and hotter, and
his sense of desolation increasing. Two or three natives passed him,
who looked at him, he thought, with sinister eyes. He had eaten no
breakfast, and was not likely to have any lunch. He grew sick and
faint, but there was no refuge: he must walk, walk until he fell and
could walk no more! With the heat and his exertion, his hardly healed
wound began to assert itself; and by and by he felt so ill, that he
turned off the road, and lay down. While he lay, the eyes of his mind
began to open to the fact that the courage he had hitherto been so
eager to show, could hardly have been of the right sort, seeing it was
He rose and resumed his walk, but at every smallest sound started in
fear of a lurking foe. With vainest regret he remembered the
long-bladed dagger-knife he had when a boy carried always in his
pocket. It was exhaustion and illness, true, that destroyed his
courage, but not the less was he a man of fear, not the less he felt
himself a coward. Again he got into a damp brake and lay down, in a
minute or two again got up and went on, his fear growing until, mainly
through consciousness of itself, it ripened into abject terror.
Loneliness seemed to have taken the shape of a watching omnipresent
enemy, out of whose diffusion death might at any moment break in some
It was getting toward night when at length he saw dust ahead of him,
and soon after, he descried the straggling rear of the retreating
English. Before he reached it a portion had halted for a little rest,
and he was glad to lie down in a rough cart. Long before the morning
the cart was on its way again, Gordon in it, raving with fever, and
unable to tell who he was. He was soon in friendly shelter, however,
under skilful treatment, and tenderly nursed.
When at length he seemed to have almost recovered his health, it was
clear that he had in great measure lost his reason.
CHAPTER XXXI. KIRSTY SHOWS
Things were going from bad to worse at castle Weelset. Whether Mrs.
Gordon had disgusted her friends or got tired of them, I do not know,
but she remained at home, seldom had a visitor, and never a guest.
Rumour, busy in country as in town, said she was more and more
manifesting herself a slave to strong drink. She was so tired of
herself, that, to escape her double, she made it increasingly a bore to
her. She never read a book, never had a newspaper sent her, never
inquired how things were going on about the place or in any part of the
world, did nothing for herself or others, only ate, drank, slept, and
raged at those around her.
One morning David Barclay, having occasion to see the factor, went
to the castle, and finding he was at home ill, thought he would make an
attempt to see Mrs. Gordon, and offer what service he could render: she
might not have forgotten that in old days he had been a good deal about
the estate. She received him at once, but behaved in such extraordinary
fashion that he could not have any doubt she was at least half-drunk:
there was no sense, David said, either to be got out of her, or put
At Corbyknowe they heard nothing of the young laird. The papers said
a good deal about the state of things in India, but Francis Gordon was
In the autumn of the year 1858, when the days were growing short and
the nights cold in the high region about the Horn, the son of a
neighbouring farmer, who had long desired to know Kirsty better, called
at Corbyknowe with his sister, ostensibly on business with David. They
were shown into the parlour, and all were sitting together in the early
gloamin, the young woman bent on persuading Kirsty to pay them a visit
and see the improvements they had made in house and garden, and the two
farmers lamenting the affairs of the property on which they were
'But I hear there's new grief like to come to the auld lairdship,'
said William Lammie, as he sat with an elbow on the tea-table whence
Kirsty was removing the crumbs.
'And what may the wisdom o' the country-side be puttin furth the
noo?' asked David in a tone of good-humoured irony. 'Weel, as I hear,
Mistress Comrie's been to Embro' for a week or twa, and's come hame wi'
a gey queer story concernin the young laird—awa oot there whaur
there's been sic a rumpus wi' the h'athen so'diers. There's word come,
she says, 'at he's fa'en intil the verra glaur o' disgrace, funkin at
something they set him til: na, he wudna! And they hed him afore a
coort-mairtial as they ca' 't, and broucht it in, she says, bare
cooardice, and jist broke him. He'll hae ill shawin the face o' 'm
again i' 's ain calf-country!'
'It's a lee,' said Kirsty. 'I s' tak my aith o' that, whaever took
the tellin o' 't. There never was mark o' cooard upo' Francie Gordon.
He hed his fauts, but no ane o' them luikit that gait. He was a kin' o'
saft-like whiles, and unco easy come ower, but, haein little fear
mysel, I ken a cooard whan I see him. Something may hae set up his
pride—he has eneuch o' that for twa deevils—but Francie was never nae
'Dinna lay the lee at my door, I beg o' ye, Miss Barclay. I was but
tellin ye what fowk was saying.'
'Fowk's aye sayin, and seldom sayin true. The warst o' 't is 'at
honest fowk's aye ready to believe leears! They dinna lee themsel's,
and sae it's no easy to them to think anither wad. Thereby the fause
word has free coorse and is glorifeed! They're no a' leears 'at spreads
the lee; but for them 'at maks the lee, the Lord silence them!'
'Hoots, Kirsty,' said her mother, 'it disna become ye to curse
naebody! It's no richt o' ye.'
'It's a guid Bible-curse, mother! It's but a w'y o' sayin “His wull
'Ye needna be sae fell aboot the laird, Miss Barclay! He was nae
partic'lar frien o' yours gien a' tales be true!' remarked her admirer.
'I'm tellin ye tales is maistly lees. I hae kenned the laird sin' he
was a wee laddie—and afore that; and I'm no gaein to hear him leed
upo' and haud my tongue! A lee's a lee whether the leear be a leear or
no!—I hae dune.'
She did not speak another word to him save to bid him good-night.
In the beginning of the year, a rumour went about the country that
the laird had been seen at the castle, but it died away.
David pondered, but asked no questions, and Mrs. Bremner volunteered
Kirsty of course heard the rumour, but she never took much interest
in the goings on at the castle. Mrs. Gordon's doings were not such as
the angels desire to look into; and Kirsty, not distantly related to
them, and inheriting a good many of their peculiarities, minded her own
CHAPTER XXXII. IN THE WORKSHOP
One night in the month of January, when the snow was falling thick,
but the air, because of the cloud-blankets overhead, was not piercing,
Kirsty went out to the workshop to tell her father that supper was
ready. David was a Jack-of-all-trades—therein resembling a sailor
rather than a soldier, and by the light of a single dip was busy with
some bit of carpenter's work.
He did not raise his head when she entered, and heard her as if he
did not hear. She wondered a little and waited. After a few moments of
silence, he said quietly, without looking up—
'Are ye awaur o' onything by ord'nar, Kirsty?
'Na, naething, father,' answered Kirsty, wondering still.
'It's been beirin 'tsel in upo' me at my bench here, 'at Steenie's
aboot the place the nicht. I canna help imaiginin he's been upo' this
verra flure ower and ower again sin' I cam oot, as gien he wad fain say
something, but cudna, and gaed awa again.'
'Think ye he's here at this moment, father?'
'Na, he's no.'
'He used to think whiles the bonny man was aboot!' said Kirsty
'My mother was a hielan wuman, and hed the second sicht; there was
no mainner o' doobt aboot it!' remarked David, also thoughtfully.
'And what wad ye draw frae that, father?' asked Kirsty.
'Ow, naething verra important, maybe, but just 'at possibly it micht
be i' the faimily!'
'I wud like to ken yer verra thoucht, father!'
'Weel, it's jist this: I'm thinkin 'at some may be nearer the deid
'And, maybe,' supplemented Kirsty, 'some o' the deid may win nearer
the livin nor ithers!'
'Ay, that's it! that's the haill o' 't!' answered David.
Kirsty turned her face toward the farthest corner. The place was
rather large, and everywhere dark except within the narrow circle of
the candle-light. In a quiet voice, with a little quaver in it, she
'Gien ye be here, Steenie, and hae the pooer, lat's ken gien there
be onything lyin til oor han' 'at ye wuss dune. I'm sure, gien there
be, it's for oor sakes and no for yer ain, glaid as we wud a' be to du
onything for ye: the bonny man lats ye want for naething; we're sure o'
'Ay are we, Steenie,' assented his father.
No voice came from the darkness. They stood silent for a while. Then
'Gang in, lassie; yer mother 'll be won'erin what's come o' ye. I'll
be in in a meenit. I hae jist the last stroke to gie this bit jobby.'
CHAPTER XXXIII. A RACE WITH DEATH
Without a word, but with disappointment in her heart that Steenie
had not answered them, Kirsty obeyed. But she went round through the
rickyard that she might have a moment's thought with herself. Not a
hand was laid upon her out of the darkness, no faintest sound came to
her ears through the silently falling snow. But as she took her way
between two ricks, where was just room for her to pass, she felt—felt,
however, without the slightest sense of material opposition,
that she could not go through. Endeavouring afterward to describe what
rather she was aware of than felt, she said the nearest she could come
to it, but it was not right, was to say that she seemed to encounter
the ghost of solidity. Certainly nothing seemed to touch her. She made
no attempt to overcome the resistance, and the moment she turned, knew
herself free to move in any other direction. But as the house was still
her goal, she tried another space between two of the ricks. There again
she found she could not pass. Making a third essay in yet another
interval, she was once more stopped in like fashion. With that came the
conviction that she was wanted elsewhere, and with it the thought of
the Horn. She turned her face from the house and made straight for the
hill, only that she took, as she had generally done with Steenie, the
easier and rather longer way.
The notion of the presence of Steenie, which had been with her all
the time, naturally suggested his house as the spot where she was
wanted, and thither she sped. But the moment she reached, almost before
she entered it, she felt as if it were utterly empty—as if it had not
in it even air enough to give her breath.
When a place seems to repel us, when we feel as if we could not live
there, what if the cause be that there are no souls in it making it
comfortable to the spiritual sense? That the knowledge of such
presence would make most people uneasy, is no argument against the
fancy: truth itself, its intrinsic, essential, necessary trueness
unrecognised, must be repellent.
Kirsty did not remain a moment in Steenie's house, but set her face
to go home by the shorter and rougher path leading over the earth-house
and across the little burn.
The night continued dark, with an occasional thinning of the
obscurity when some high current blew the clouds aside from a little
nest of stars. Just as Kirsty reached the descent to the burn, the snow
ceased, the clouds parted, and a faint worn moon appeared. She looked
just like a little old lady too thin and too tired to go on living more
than a night longer. But her waning life was yet potent over Kirsty,
and her strange, wasted beauty, dying to rise again, made her glad as
she went down the hill through the snow-crowned heather. The oppression
which came on her in Steenie's house was gone entirely, and in the face
of the pale ancient moon her heart grew so light that she broke into a
silly song which, while they were yet children, she made for Steenie,
who was never tired of listening to it:
Willy, wally, woo!
Hame comes the coo—
Hummle, bummle, moo!—
Widin ower the Bogie,
Hame to fill the cogie!
Bonny hummle coo,
Wi' her baggy fu'
O' butter and o' milk,
And cream as saft as silk,
A' gethered frae the gerse
Intil her tassly purse,
To be oors, no hers,
Gudewillie, hummle coo!
Willy, wally, woo!
Moo, Hummlie, moo!
Singing this childish rime, dear to the slow-waking soul of Steenie,
she had come almost to the bottom of the hill, was just stepping over
the top of tho weem, when something like a groan startled her. She
stopped and sent a keen-searching glance around. It came again, muffled
and dull. It must be from the earth-house! Somebody was there! It could
not be Steenie, for why should Steenie groan? But he might be calling
her, and the weem changing the character of the sound! Anyhow she must
be wanted! She dived in.
She could scarcely light the candle, for the trembling of her hand
and the beating of her heart. Slowly the flame grew, and the glimmer
began to spread. She stood speechless, and stared. Out of the darkness
at her feet grew the form, as it seemed, of Steenie, lying on his face,
just as when she found him there year before. She dropped on her knees
He was alive at least, for he moved! 'Of course,' thought Kirsty,
'he's alive: he never was anything else!' His face was turned from her,
and his arm was under it. The arm next her lay out on the stones, and
she took the ice-cold hand in hers: it was not Steenie's! She took the
candle, and leaned across to see the face. God in heaven! there was the
mark of her whip: it was Francie Gordon! She tried to rouse him. She
could not; he was cold as ice, and seemed all but dead. But for the
groan she had heard she would have been sure he was dead. She blew out
the light, and, swift as her hands could move, took garment after
garment off, and laid it, warm from her live heart, over and under
him—all save one which she thought too thin to do him any good. Last
of all, she drew her stockings over his hands and arms, and, leaving
her shoes where Steenie's had lain, darted out of the cave. At the
mouth of it she rose erect like one escaped from the tomb, and sped in
dim-gleaming whiteness over the snow, scarce to have been seen against
it. The moon was but a shred—a withered autumn leaf low fallen toward
the dim plain of the west. As she ran she would have seemed to one of
Steenie's angels, out that night on the hill, a newly disembodied ghost
fleeing home. Swift and shadowless as the thought of her own brave
heart, she ran. Her sense of power and speed was glorious. She
felt—not thought—herself a human goddess, the daughter of the
Eternal. Up height and down hollow she flew, running her race with
death, not an open eye, save the eyes of her father and mother, within
miles of her in a world of sleep and snow and night. Nor did she
slacken her pace as she drew near the house, she only ran more softly.
At last she threw the door to the wall, and shot up the steep stair to
her room, calling her mother as she went.
CHAPTER XXXIV. BACK FROM THE GRAVE
When David came in to supper, he said nothing, expecting Kirsty
every moment to appear. Marion was the first to ask what had become of
her. David answered she had left him in the workshop.
'Bless the bairn! what can she be aboot this time o' nicht?' said
'I kenna,' returned David.
When they had sat eating their supper for ten minutes, vainly
expecting her, David went out to look for her. Returning unsuccessful,
he found that Marion had sought her all over the house with like
result. Then they became uneasy.
Before going to look for her, however, David had begun to suspect
her absence in one way or another connected with the subject of their
conversation in the workshop, to which he had not for the moment meant
to allude. When now he told his wife what had passed, he was a little
surprised to find that immediately she grew calm.
'Ow, than, she'll be wi' Steenie!' she said.
Nor did her patience fail, but revived that of her husband. They
could not, however, go to bed, but sat by the fire, saying a word or
two now and then. The slow minutes passed, and neither of them moved
save David once to put on peats.
The house-door flew open suddenly, and they heard Kirsty cry,
'Mother, mother!' but when they hastened to the door, no one was there.
They heard the door of her room close, however, and Marion went up the
stair. By the time she reached it, Kirsty was in a thick petticoat and
buttoned-up cloth-jacket, had a pair of shoes on her bare feet, and was
glowing a 'celestial rosy-red.' David stood where he was, and in half a
minute Kirsty came in three leaps down the stair to him, to say that
Francie was lying in the weem. In less than a minute the old soldier
was out with the stable-lantern, harnessing one of the horses, the
oldest in the stable, good at standing, and not a bad walker. He called
for no help, yet was round at the door so speedily as to astonish even
Kirsty, who stood with her mother in the entrance by a pile of bedding.
They put a mattress in the bottom of the cart, and plenty of blankets.
Kirsty got in, lay down and covered herself up, to make the rough
ambulance warm, and David drove off. They soon reached the weem
and entered it.
The moment Kirsty had lighted the candle,
'Lassie,' cried David, 'there's been a wuman here!'
'It luiks like it,' answered Kirsty: 'I was here mysel, father!'
'Ay, ay! of coorse, but here's claes—woman's claes! Whaur cam they
frae? Wha's claes can they be?'
'Wha's but mine?' returned Kirsty, as she stooped to remove from his
face the garment that covered his head.
'The Lord preserve 's!—to the verra stockins upo' the han's o' 'm!'
'I had no dreid, father, o' the Lord seem me as he made me!'
'Lassie,' cried David, with heartfelt admiration, 'ye sud hae been
dother til a field-mershall.'
'I wudna be dother til a king!' returned Kirsty. 'Gien I bed to be
born again, I wudna be born 'cep it was to Dauvid Barclay.'
'My ain lassie!' murmured her father. 'But, eh,' he added,
interrupting his own thoughts, 'we maun hand oor tongues till we've
dune the thing we're sent to du!'
They bent at once to their task.
David was a strong man still, and Kirsty was as good at a lift as
most men. They had no difficulty in raising Gordon between them, David
taking his head and Kirsty his feet, but it was not without difficulty
they got him through the passage. In the cart they covered him so that,
had he been a new-born baby, he could have taken no harm except it were
by suffocation, and then, Kirsty sitting with his head in her lap, they
drove home as fast as the old horse could step out.
In the meantime Marion had got her best room ready, and warm. When
they reached it, Francie was certainly still alive, and they made haste
to lay him in the hot feather-bed. In about an hour they thought he
swallowed a little milk. Neither Kirsty nor her parents went to bed
that night, and by one or other of them the patient was constantly
Kirsty took the first watch, and was satisfied that his breathing
grew more regular, and by and by stronger. After a while it became like
that of one in a troubled sleep. He moved his head a little, and
murmured like one dreaming painfully. She called her father, and told
him he was saying words she could not understand. He took her place and
sat near him, when presently his soldier-ears, still sharp, heard
indications of a hot siege. Once he started up on his elbow, and put
his hand to the side of his head. For a moment he looked wildly awake,
then sank back and went to sleep again.
As Marion was by him in the morning, all at once he spoke again, and
'Go away, mother!' he said. 'I am not mad. I am only troubled in my
mind. I will tell my father you killed me.'
Marion tried to rouse him, telling him his mother should not come
near him. He did not seem to understand, but apparently her words
soothed him, for he went to sleep once more.
He was gaunt and ghastly to look at. The scar on his face, which
Kirsty had taken for the mark of her whip, but which was left by the
splinter that woke him, remained red and disfiguring. But the worst of
his look was in his eyes, whose glances wandered about uneasy and
searching. It was clear all was not right with his brain. I doubt if
any other of his tenants would have recognized him.
For a good many days he was like one awake yet dreaming, always
dreading something, invariably starting when the door opened, and when
quietest would lie gazing at the one by his bedside as if puzzled. He
took in general what food they brought him, but at times refused it
quite. They never left him alone for more than a moment.
So far were they from giving him up to his mother, that the mere
idea of letting her know he was with them never entered the mind of one
of them. To the doctor, whom at once they had called in, there was no
need to explain the right by which they constituted themselves his
guardians: anyone would have judged it better for him to be with them
than with her. David said to himself that when Francie wanted to leave
them he should go; but he had sought refuge with them, and he should
have it: nothing should make him give him up except legal compulsion.
CHAPTER XXXV. FRANCIS COMES TO
One morning, Kirsty sitting beside him, Francis started to his elbow
as if to get up, then seeing her, lay down again with his eyes fixed
upon her. She glanced at him now and then, but would not seem to notice
him much. He gazed for two or three minutes, and then said, in a low,
doubtful, almost timid, voice,
'Ay; what is't, Francie?' returned Kirsty.
'Is't yersel, Kirsty?' he said.
'Ay, wha ither, Francie!'
'Are ye angry at me, Kirsty?'
'No a grain. What gars ye speir sic a queston?'
'Eh, but ye gae me sic a are wi' yer whup—jist here upo' the
He turned the side of his head toward her, and stroked the place,
like a small, self-pitying child. Kirsty went to him, and kissed it
like a mother. She had plainly perceived that such a scar could not be
from her blow, but it added grievously to her pain at the remembrance
of it that the poor head which she had struck, had in the very same
place been torn by a splinter—for so the doctor said. If her whip left
any mark, the splinter had obliterated it.
'And syne,' he resumed, 'ye ca'd me a cooard!'
'Did I du that, ill wuman 'at I was!' she returned, with tenderest
He laid his arms round her neck, drew her feebly toward him, hid his
head on her bosom, and wept.
Kirsty put her arm round him, held him closer, and stroked his head
with her other hand, murmuring words of much meaning though little
sense. He drew back his head, looked at her beseechingly, and said,
'Div ye think me a cooard, Kirsty?'
'No wi' men,' answered the truthful girl, who would not lie even in
ministration to a mind diseased.
'Maybe ye think I oucht to hae strucken ye back whan ye strack me? I
wull be a cooard than, lat ye say what ye like. I never did, and I
never will hit a lassie, lat her kill me!'
'It wasna that, Francie. Gien I ca'd ye a cooard, it was 'at ye
behaved sae ill to Phemy.'
'Eh, the bonny little Phemy! I had 'maist forgotten her! Hoo is she,
'She's weel—and verra weel,' answered Kirsty; 'she's deid.'
'Deid!' echoed Gordon, with a cry, again raising himself on his
elbow. 'Surely it wasna—it wasna 'at the puir wee thing cudna forget
me! The thing's no possible! I wasna worth it!'
'Na, na; it wasna ae grain that! Her deein had naething to du wi
that— nor wi you in ony w'y. I dinna believe she was a hair waur for
ony nonsense ye said til her—shame o' ye as it was! She dee'd upo' the
Horn, ae awfu' tempest o' a nicht. She cudna hae suffert lang, puir
thing! She hadna the stren'th to suffer muckle. Sae awa she gaed!—and
Steenie efter her!' added Kirsty in a lower tone, but Francis did not
seem to hear, and said no more for awhile.
'But I maun tell ye the trowth, Kirsty,' he resumed: 'forby yersel,
there's them 'at says I'm a cooard!'
'I h'ard ae man say't, only ane, and him only ance.'
'And ye said til 'im, “Ay, I hae lang kenned that!”
'I tellt him whaever said it was a leear!'
'But ye believt it yersel, Kirsty!'
'Wad ye hae me leear and hypocrite forby, to ca' fowk ill names for
sayin what I believt mysel!'
'But I am a cooard, Kirsty!'
'Ye are not, Francie. I wunna believe't though yersel say 't!
It's naething but a dist o' styte and nonsense 'at's won in throu the
cracks ye got i' yer heid, fechtin. Ye was aye a daft kin' o' a cratur,
Francie! Gien onybody ever said it, mak ye speed and get yer health
again, and syne ye can shaw him plain 'at he's a leear.'
'But I tell ye, Kirsty, I ran awa!'
'I fancy ye wud hae been naething but a muckle idiot gien ye
hadna!—Ye didna ley onybody in trouble!—did ye noo?'
'No a sowl 'at I ken o'. Na, I didna do that. The fac was—but nae
blame to them—they a' gaed awa and left me my lane, sleepin. I maun
hae been terrible tired.'
'I telled ye sae!' cried Kirsty. 'Jist gang ower the story to me,
Francie, and I s' tell ye whether ye're a cooard or no. I dinna believe
a stime o' 't! Ye never was, and never was likly to be a cooard. I s'
be at the boddom o' 't wi' whaever daur threpe me sic a lee!'
But Francis showed such signs of excitement as well as exhaustion,
that Kirsty saw she must not let him talk longer.
'Or I'll tell ye what!' she added: '—ye'll tell father and mother
and me the haill tale, this verra nicht, or maybe the morn's mornin. Ye
maun hae an egg noo, and a drappy o' milk—creamy milk, Francie! Ye aye
She went and prepared the little meal, and after taking it he went
In the evening, with the help of their questioning, he told them
everything he could recall from the moment he woke to find the place
abandoned, not omitting his terrors on the way, until he overtook the
rear of the garrison.
'I dinna won'er ye was fleyt, Francie,' said Kirsty. 'I wud hae been
fleyt mysel, wantin my swoord, and kennin nae God to trust til! Ye maun
learn to ken him, Francie, and syne ye'll be feart at naething!'
After that, his memory was only of utterly confused shapes, many of
which must have been fancies. The only things he could report were the
conviction pervading them all that he had disgraced himself, and the
consciousness that everyone treated him as a deserter, and gave him the
His next recollection was of coming home to, or rather finding
himself with his mother, who, the moment she saw him, flew into a rage,
struck him in the face, and called him coward. She must have taken him,
he thought, to some place where there were people about him who would
not let him alone, but he could remember nothing more until he found
himself creeping into a hole which he seemed to know, thinking he was a
fox with the hounds after him.
'What's my claes like, Kirsty?' he asked at this point.
'They war no that gran',' answered Kirsty, her eyes smarting with
the coming tears; 'but ye'll ne'er see a stick (stitch) o' them
again: I pat them awa.'
'What w'y 'ill I win up, wantin' them?' he rejoined, with a tremor
of anxiety in his voice.
'We'll see aboot that, time eneuch,' answered Kirsty.
'But my mither may be efter me! I wud fain be up! There's no sayin
what she michtna be up til! She canna bide me!'
'Dreid ye naething, Francie. Ye're no a match for my leddy, but I s'
be atween ye and her. She's no sae fearsome as she thinks! Onygait, she
disna fleg me.'
'I left some guid eneuch claes there whan I gaed awa, and I daursay
they're i' my room yet—gien only I kenned hoo to win at them!'
'I s' gang and get them til ye—the verra day ye're fit to rise. But
ye maunna speyk a word mair the nicht.'
CHAPTER XXXVI. KIRSTY BESTIRS
They held a long consultation that night as to what they must do.
Plainly the first and most important thing was to rid Francis of the
delusion that he had disgraced himself in the eyes of his
fellow-officers. This would at once wake him as from a bad dream to the
reality of his condition: convinced of the unreality of the idea that
possessed him, he would at once, they believed, resume his place in the
march of his generation through life. To find means, then, for the
attainment of this end, they set their wits to work; and it was almost
at once clear to David that the readiest way would be to enter into
communication with any they could reach of the officers under whom he
had served. His regiment having by this time, however, with the rest of
the Company's soldiers, passed into the service of the Queen, a change
doubtless involving many other changes concerning which Francis, even
were he fit to be questioned, could give no information, David resolved
to apply to sir Haco Macintosh, who had succeeded Archibald Gordon in
the command, for assistance in finding those who could bear the
testimony he desired to possess.
'Divna ye think, father,' said Kirsty, 'it wud be the surest and
speediest w'y for me to gang mysel to sir Haco?'
''Deed it wud be that, Kirsty!' answered David. 'There's naething
like the bodily presence o' the leevin sowl to gar things gang!'
To this Marion, although at first not a little appalled at the
thought of Kirsty alone in such a huge city as Edinburgh, could not
help assenting, and the next morning Kirsty started, bearing a letter
from her father to his old officer, in which he begged for her the
favour of a few minutes' conference on business concerning her father
and the son of the late colonel Gordon.
Sir Haco had retired from the service some years before the mutiny,
and was living in one of the serenely gloomy squares of the Scots
capital. Kirsty left her letter at the door, and calling the next day,
was shown to the library, where lady Macintosh as well as sir Haco
awaited, with curious and kindly interest, the daughter of the man they
had known so well, and respected so much.
When Kirsty entered the room, dressed very simply in a gown of dark
cloth and a plain straw bonnet, the impression she at once made was
more than favourable, and they received her with a kindness and
courtesy that made her feel herself welcome. They were indeed of her
Sir Haco was one of the few men who, regarding constantly the
reality, not the show of things, keep throughout their life, however
long, great part of their youth, and all their childhood. Deeper far in
his heart than any of the honours he had received, all unsought but
none undeserved, lay the memory of a happy and reverential boyhood.
Sprung from a peasant stock, his father was a man of 'high erected
thought seated in a heart of courtesy.'
He was well matched with his wife, who, though born to a far higher
social position in which simplicity is rarer, was, like him, true and
humble and strong. They had one daughter, who grew up only to die: the
moment they saw Kirsty, their hearts went out to her.
For there was in Kirsty that unassumed, unconscious dignity, that
simple propriety, that naturalness of a carriage neither trammeled nor
warped by thought of self, which at once awakes confidence and regard;
while her sweet, unaffected 'book English,' in which appeared no
attempt at speaking like a fine lady, no disastrous endeavour to avoid
her country's utterance, revealed at once her genuine cultivation. Sir
Haco said afterward that when she spoke Scotch it was good and
thorough, and when she spoke English it was Wordsworthian.
Listening to her first words, and reminded of the solemn sententious
way in which sergeant Barclay used to express himself, his face rose
clear in his mind's eye, he saw it as it were reflected in his
daughter's, and broke out with—
'Eh, lassie, but ye're like yer father!'
'Ye min' upon him, sir?' rejoined Kirsty, with her perfect smile.
'Min' upon him! Naebody worth his min'in upo' could ever
forget him! Sit ye doon, and tell's a' aboot him!'
Kirsty did as she was told. She began at the beginning, and
explained first, what doubtless sir Haco knew at least something of
before, the relation between her father and colonel Gordon, whence his
family as well as himself had always felt it their business to look
after the young laird. Then she told how, after a long interval, during
which they could do nothing, a sad opportunity had at length been given
them of at least attempting to serve him; and it was for aid in this
attempt that she now sought sir Haco, who could direct her toward the
procuring of certain information.
'And what sort of information do you think I can give or get for
you, Miss Barclay?' asked sir Haco.
'I'll explain the thing to ye, sir, in as feow words as I can,'
answered Kirsty, dropping her English. 'The young laird has taen 't
intil his heid that he didna carry himsel like a man i' the siege, and
it's grown to be in him what they ca' a fixt idea. He was left, ye see,
sir, a' himlane i' the beleaguert toon, and I fancy the suddent waukin
and the discovery that he was there his lee lane, jist pat him beside
Here she told the whole story, as they had gathered it from Francis,
mingling it with some elucidatory suggestions of her own, and having
ended her narration, went on thus:—
'Ye see, sir, and my leddy, he was little better nor a laddie, and
fowk 'at sair needs company, like Francie, misses company ower sair.
Men's no able—some men, my leddy—to tak coonsel wi' their ain
herts, as women whiles learns to du. And sae, whan he cam oot o' the
fricht, he was ower sair upon himsel for bein i' the fricht. For it
seems to me there's no shame in bein frichtit, sae lang as ye dinna
serve and obey the fricht, but trust in him 'at sees, and du what ye
hae to du. Naebody 'at kenned Francie as I did, cud ever believe he
faun' mair fear in 's hert nor was lawfu' and rizzonable—sae lang,
that is, as he was in his richt min': ayont that nane but his maker can
jeedge him. I dinna mean Francie was a pettern, but, sir, he was no
cooard—and that I ken, for I 'm no cooard mysel, please God to keep me
as he 's made me. But the laddie—the man, I suld say—he's no to be
persuaudit oot o' the fancy o' his ain cooardice; and I dinna believe
he'll ever win oot o' 't wantin the testimony o' his fellow-officers,
wha o' them may be left to grant the same. And I canna but think, gien
ye'll excuse me, sir, that, for his father's sake, it wud be a gracious
ac' to tak him intil the queen's service, and lat him baud on fechtin
for 's country, whaurever it may please her mejesty to want him.—Oot
whaur he was afore micht be best for him—I dinna ken. It wad be to put
his country's seal upo' their word.'
'Surely, Miss Barclay, you wouldn't set the poor lad in the
forefront of danger again!' said lady Macintosh.
'I wud that, my lady! I canna but think the airmy, savin for this
misadventur—gien there be ony sic thing as misadventur—hed a fair
chance o' makin a man o' Francie; and whiles I canna help doobtin gien
onything less 'ill ever restore him til himsel but restorin him til 's
former position. It wud ony gait gie him the best chance o' shawin til
himsel 'at there wasna a hair o' the cooard upon him.'
'But,' said sir Haco, 'would her majesty be justified in taking the
risk involved? Would it not be to peril many for a doubtful good to
Kirsty was silent for a moment, with downcast eyes.
I'm answert, sir—as to that p'int,' she said, looking up.
'For my part,' said lady Macintosh, 'I can't help thinking that the
love of a good woman like yourself must do more for the poor fellow
than the approval of all the soldiers in the world.—Pardon me, Haco.'
'Indeed, my lady, you're perfectly right!' returned her husband with
But lady Macintosh hardly heard him, so startled, almost so
frightened was she at the indignation instantly on Kirsty's
'Putna things intil ony held, my leddy, 'at the hert wud never put
there. It wad be an ill fulfillin o' my father's duty til his auld
colonel, no to say his auld frien, to coontenance sic a notion!'
'I beg your pardon, Miss Barclay; I was wrong to venture the remark.
But may I say in excuse, that it is not unnatural to imagine a young
woman, doing so much for a young man, just a little bit in love with
'I wud fain hae yer leddyship un'erstaun,' returned Kirsty, 'that my
father, my mother, and mysel, we're jist are and nae mair. No are o' 's
hes a wuss that disna belang to a' three. The langest I can min', it's
been my ae ambition to help my father and mother to du what they
wantit. I never desirit merriage, my leddy, and gien I did, it wudna be
wi' sic as Francie Gordon, weel as I lo'e him, for we war bairnies, and
laddie and lassie thegither: I wudna hae a man it was for me to fin'
faut wi'! 'Deed, mem, what fowk ca's love, hes neither airt nor pairt
i' this metter!'
Not to believe the honest glow in Kirsty's face, and the clear
confident assertion of her eyes, would have shown a poor creature in
whom the faculty of belief was undeveloped.
Sir Haco and lady Macintosh insisted on Kirsty's taking up her abode
with them while she was in Edinburgh; and Kirsty, partly in the hope of
expediting the object of her mission thereby, and partly because her
heart was drawn to her new friends, gladly consented. Before a week was
over, like understanding like, her hostess felt as if she were a
daughter until now long waiting for her somewhere in the infinite.
The self-same morning, sir Haco sat down to his study-table, and
began writing to every officer alive who had served with Francis
Gordon, requesting to know his feeling, and that of the regiment about
him. Within three days he received the first of the answers, which kept
dropping in for the next six months. They all described Gordon as
rather a scatterbrain, as not the less a favourite with officers and
men, and as always showing the courage of a man, or rather of a boy,
seeing he not unfrequently acted with a reprehensible recklessness that
smacked a little of display.
'That's Francie himsel!' cried Kirsty, with the tears in her eyes,
when her host read, to this effect, the first result of his inquiry.
Within a fortnight he received also, from one high in office, the
assurance that, if Mr. Gordon, on his recovery, wished to enter her
majesty's service, he should have his commission.
While her husband was thus kindly occupied, lady Macintosh was
showing Kirsty every loving attention she could think of, and, in
taking her about Edinburgh and its neighbourhood, found that the
country girl knew far more of the history of Scotland than she did
She would gladly have made her acquainted with some of her friends,
but Kirsty shrank from the proposal: she could not forget how her
hostess had herself misinterpreted the interest she took in Francie
Gordon. As soon as she felt that she could do so without seeming
ungrateful, she bade her new friends farewell, and hastened home,
carrying with her copies of the answers which sir Haco had up to that
When she arrived it was with such a glad heart that, at sight of
Francis in her father's Sunday clothes, she laughed so merrily that her
mother said 'The lassie maun be fey!' Haggard as he looked, the old
twinkle awoke in his eye responsive to her joyous amusement; and David,
coming in the next moment from putting up the gray mare with which he
had met the coach to bring Kirsty home, saw them all three laughing in
such an abandonment of mirth as, though unaware of the immediate
motive, he could not help joining.
The same evening Kirsty went to the castle, and Mrs. Bremner needed
no persuasion to find the suit which the young laird had left in his
room, and give it to her to carry to its owner; so that, when he woke
the next morning, Francis saw the gray garments lying by his bed-side
in place of David's black, and felt the better for the sight.
The letters Kirsty had brought, working along, with returning
health, and the surrounding love and sympathy most potent of all,
speedily dispelled his yet lingering delusion. It had occasionally
returned in force while Kirsty was away, but now it left him
CHAPTER XXXVII. A GREAT GULF
It was now midsummer, and Francis Gordon was well, though thin and
looking rather delicate. Kirsty and he had walked together to the top
of the Horn, and there sat, in the heart of old memories. The sun was
clouded above; the boggy basin lay dark below, with its rim of heathery
hills not yet in bloom, and its bottom of peaty marsh, green and black,
with here and there a shining spot; the growing crops of the far-off
farms on the other side but little affected the general impression the
view gave of a waste world; yet the wide expanse of heaven and earth
lifted the heart of Kirsty with an indescribable sense of presence,
purpose, promise. For was it not the country on which, fresh from God,
she first opened the eyes of this life, the visible region in which all
her efforts had gone forth, in which all the food of her growth had
been gathered, in which all her joys had come to her, in which all her
loves had had their scope, the place whence by and by she would go away
to find her brother with the bonny man!
Francis saw without heeding. His heart was not uplifted. His earthly
future, a future of his own imagining, drew him.
'This winna du ony langer, Kirsty!' he said at length. 'The accusin
angel 'll be upo' me again or I ken! I maunna be idle 'cause I'm happy
ance mair—thanks to you, Kirsty! Little did I think ever to raise my
heid again! But noo I maun be at my wark! I'm fit eneuch!'
'I'm richt glaid to hear't!' answered Kirsty. 'I was jist thinkin
lang for a word o' the sort frae ye, Francie. I didna want to be the
first to speyk o' 't.'
'And I was just thinkin lang to hear ye speyk o' 't!' returned
Francis. 'I wantit to du't as the thing ye wad hae o' me!'
'Even than, Francie, ye wudna, it seems, hae been doin 't to please
me, and that pleases me weel! I wud be nane pleast to think ye duin 't
for me! It wud gie me a sair hert, Francie!'
'What for that, Kirsty?'
''Cause it wud shaw ye no a man yet! A man's a man 'at dis what's
richt, what's pleasin to the verra hert o' richt. Ye'll please me best
by no wantin to please me; and ye'll please God best by duin what he's
putten intil yer hert as the richt thing, and the bonny thing, and the
true thing, though ye suld dee i' the duin o' 't.—Tell me what ye're
thinkin o' duin.'
'What but gaeing efter this new commission they hae promised me?
There's aye a guid chance o' fechtin upo' the borders—the frontiers,
as they ca' them!'
Kirsty sat silent. She had been thinking much of what Francis ought
to do, and had changed her mind on the point since the time when she
talked about him with sir Haco.
'Isna that what ye wud hae me du, Kirsty?' he said, when he found
she continued silent. 'A body's no a fule for wantin guid advice!'
'No, that's true eneuch! What for wad ye want to gang fechtin?'
'To shaw the warl' I'm nane o' what my mither ca'd me.'
'And shawn that, hoo muckle the better man wud ye be for 't? Min' ye
it's ae thing to be, and anither to shaw. Be ye maun; shaw ye needna.'
'I dinna ken; I micht be growin better a' the time!'
'And ye micht be growin waur.—What the better wud ony neebour be
for ye gane fechtin? Wudna it be a' for yersel? Is there naething gien
intil yer ban' to du—naething nearer hame nor that? Surely o' twa
things, are near and are far, the near comes first!'
'I dinna ken. I thoucht ye wantit me to gang!'
'Ay, raither nor bide at hame duin naething; but michtna there be
something better to du?'
'I dinna ken. I thoucht to please ye, Kirsty, but it seems naething
'Ay; that's whaur the mischief lies. Ye thoucht to please me!'
'I did think to please you, Kirsty! I thoucht, ance dune weel afore
the warl as my father did, I micht hae the face to come hame to you,
and say—“Kirsty, wull ye hae me?”'
'Aye the same auld Francie!' said Kirsty, with a deep sigh.
'I tell ye, Francie, i' the name o' God, I'll never hae ye on nae
sic terms!—Suppose I was to merry some-body whan ye was awa pruvin to
yersel, and a' the lave 'at never misdoobted ye, 'at ye was a brave
man—what wud ye du whan ye cam hame?'
'Naething o' mortal guid! Tak to the drink, maybe.'
'Ye tell me that! and ye think, wi' my een open to ken 'at ye say
true, I wud merry ye?—a man like you! Eh, Francie, Francie! ye're no
worth my takin' and ye're no like to be worth the takin o' ony honest
wuman!—Can ye possibly imegine a wuman merryin a man 'at she kenned
wud drive her to coontless petitions to be hauden ohn despisit him? Ye
mak my hert unco sair, Francie! I hae dune my best wi' ye, and the en'
o' 't is, 'at ye're no worth naething!'
'For the life o' me, Kirsty, I dinna ken what ye're drivin at, or
what ye wud hae o' me! I canna but think ye're usin me as ye wudna like
to be used yersel!'
''Deed I wud not like it gien I was o' your breed, Francie! Man, did
ye never ance i' yer life think what ye hed to du—what was gien ye to
du—what it was yer duty to du?'
'No sae aften, doobtless, as I oucht. But I'm ready to hear ye tell
me my duty; I'm no past reasonin wi'!'
'Did ye never hear 'at ye're to lo'e yer neebour as yersel?'
'I'm duin that wi' a' my hert, Kirsty—and that ye ken as weel as I
'Ye mean me, Francie! And ye ca' that lo'in me, to wull me merry a
man 'at 's no a man ava! But it's nae me 'at 's yer neebour, Francie!'
'Wha is my neebour, Kirsty?'
'The queston's been speirt afore—and answert.'
'And what's the answer til't?'
''At yer neebour's jist whaever lies neist ye i' need o' yer help.
Gien ye read the tale o' the guid Sameritan wi' ony sort o' gumption,
that's what ye'll read intil 't and noucht else. The man or wuman ye
can help, ye hae to be neebour til.'
'I want to help you.'
'Ye canna help me. I'm in no need o' yer help. And the queston's no
whar's the man I micht help, but whaur's the man I maun
help. I wantit to be your neebour, but I cudna win at ye for the
thieves; ye wad stick to them, and they wudna lat me du
'What thieves, i' the name o' common sense, Kirsty?'
'Love o' yer ain gait, and love o' makin a show, and want o' care
for what's richt. Aih, Francie, I doobt something a heap waur 'll hae
to come upo' ye! A' my labour's lost, and I dearly grudge it—no the
labour, but the loss o' 't! I grudge that sair.'
'Kirsty, i' the name o' God, wha is my neebour?'
'Yer ain mither.'
'My ain mither!—her oot o' a' the warl'?—I never cam upo'
spark o' rizzon intil her!'
'Michtna she be that are, oot o' a' the warl', ye never shawed spark
o' rizzon til?'
'There's nae place in her for reason to gang til!'
'Ye never tried her wi' 't! Ye wud arguy wi' her mair nor plenty,
but did ye ever shaw her rizzon i' yer behaviour?'
'Weel ye are turnin agen me—you 'at 's saved my life frae
her! Diana I tell you hoo, whan I wan hame at last and gaed til her,
for she was aye guid to me when I wasna weel, she fell oot upo' me like
a verra deevil, ragin and ca'in me ill names, 'at I jist ran frae the
hoose— and ye ken whaur ye faun' me! Gien it hadna been for you, I wud
have been deid: I was waur nor deid a'ready! What w'y can I be
neebour to her! It wud be naething but cat and dog atween's frae
mornin to nicht!'
'Ae body canna be cat and dog baith! And the dog's as ill's the
cat— whiles waur!'
'Ony dog wud yowl gien ye threw a kettle o' bilin watter ower him!'
'Did she that til ye?'
'She mintit at it. I ran frae her. She bed the toddy-kettle in her
ban', and she splasht it in her ain face tryin to fling't at me.'
'Maybe she didna ken ye!'
'She kenned me weel eneuch. She ca'd me by my ain as weel 's ither
'Ye're jist croonin my arguyment, Francie! Yer mither's jist
perishin o' drink! She drinks and drinks, and, by what I hear, cares
for noucht else. A' 's upo' the ro'd to ruin in her and aboot her. She
hasna the brains noo, gien ever she bed them, to guide hersel. Is Satan
to grip her 'cause ye winna be neebour til her and hand him aff o' her?
I ken ye're a guid son sae far as lat her du as she likes and tak
'maist a' the siller, but that's what greases the exle o' the cairt the
deevil's gotten her intil! I ken weel she hesna been muckle o' a mither
til ye, but ye're her son whan a' 's said. And there can be naething
ye're callt upon to du, sae lang as she's i' the grup o' the enemy, but
rugg her oot o' 't. Gien ye dinna that, ye'll never be oot o' 's grup
yersel. Ye come oot thegither, or ye bide thegither.'
Gordon sat speechless.
'It's im_possible!' he said at length.
'Francie,' rejoined Kirsty, very quietly and solemnly, 'ye're yer
mother's keeper; ye're her neist neebour: are ye gauin to du yer duty
by her, or are ye not?' 'I canna; I daurna; I'm a cooard afore her.'
'Gien ye lat her gang on to disgrace yer father, no to say
yersel—and that by means o' what's yours and no hers, I'll say mysel
'at ye're a cooard.'
'Come hame wi' me and tak my pairt, and I'll promise ye to du my
'Ye maun tak yer ain pairt; and ye maun tak her pairt tu against
'It's no to be thoucht o', Kirsty!'
'I canna my lane. I winna try 't. It wud be waur nor useless.'
Kirsty rose, turning her face homeward. Gordon sprang to his feet.
She was already three yards from him.
'Kirsty! Kirsty!' he cried, going after her.
She went straight for home, never showing by turn of head, by
hesitation of step, or by change of carriage, that she heard his voice
or his feet behind her.
When they had thus gone two or three hundred yards, he quickened his
pace, and laid his hand on her arm.
She stopped and faced him. He dropped his hand, grew yet whiter, and
said not a word. She walked on again. Like one in a dream he followed,
his head hanging, his eyes on the heather. She went on faster. He was
falling behind her, but did not know it. Down and down the hill he
followed, and only at the earth-house lifted his head: she was nearly
over the opposite brae! He had let her go! He might yet have overtaken
her, but he knew that he had lost her.
He had no home, no refuge! Then first, not when alone in the
beleaguered city, he knew desolation. He had never knocked at the door
of heaven, and earth had closed hers! An angel who needed no flaming
sword to make her awful, held the gate of his lost paradise against
him. None but she could open to him, and he knew that, like God
himself, Kirsty was inexorable. Left alone with that last terrible look
from the eyes of the one being he loved, he threw himself in despair on
the ground. True love is an awful thing, not to the untrue only, but
sometimes to the growing-true, for to everything that can be burned it
is a consuming fire. Never more, it seemed, would those eyes look in at
his soul's window without that sad, indignant repudiation in them! He
rose, and crept into the earth-house.
Kirsty lost herself in prayer as she went. 'Lord, I hae dune a' I
can!' she said. 'Until thou hast dune something by thysel, I can do
naething mair. He's i' thy han's still, I praise thee, though he's oot
o' mine! Lord, gien I hae dune him ony ill, forgie me; a puir human
body canna ken aye the best! Dinna lat him suffer for my ignorance,
whether I be to blame for 't or no. I will try to do whatever thou
makest plain to me.'
By the time she reached home she was calm. Her mother saw and
respected her solemn mood, gave her a mother's look, and said nothing:
she knew that Kirsty, lost in her own thoughts, was in good company.
What was passing in the soul of Francis Gordon, I can only indicate,
I cannot show. The most mysterious of all vital movements, a
generation, a transition, was there—how initiated, God only knows.
Francis knew neither whence it came nor whither it went. He was being
re-born from above. The change was in himself; the birth was that of
his will. It was his own highest action, therefore all God's. He was
passing from death into life, and knew it no more than the babe knows
that he is being born. The change was into a new state of being, of the
very existence of which most men are incredulous, for it is beyond
preconception, capable only of being experienced. Thorough as is the
change, the man knows himself the same man, and yet would rather cease
to be, than return to what he was. The unknown germ in him, the root of
his being, yea, his very being itself, the holy thing which is his
intrinsic substance, hitherto unknown to his consciousness, has begun
to declare itself, and the worm is passing into the butterfly, the
creeping thing into the Psyche. It is a change in which God is the
potent presence, but which the man must will, or remain the
gaoler who prisons in loathsomeness his own God-born self, and chokes
the fountain of his own liberty.
Francis knew nothing of all this; he only felt he must knock at the
door behind which Kirsty lived. Kirsty could not open the door to him,
but there was one who could, and Francis could knock! 'God help me!' he
cried, as he lay on his face to live, where once he had lain on his
face to die. For the rising again is the sepulchre. The world itself is
one vast sepulchre for the heavenly resurrection. We are all busy
within the walls of our tomb burying our dead, that the corruptible may
perish, and the incorruptible go free. Francis Gordon came out of that
earth-house a risen man: his will was born. He climbed again to the
spot where Kirsty and he had sat together, and there, with the vast
clear heaven over his head, threw himself once more on his face, and
lifted up his heart to the heart whence he came.
CHAPTER XXXVIII. THE NEIGHBOURS
He had eaten nothing since the morning, and felt like one in a calm
ethereal dream as he walked home to Weelset in the soft dusk of an
evening that would never be night, but die into the day. No one saw him
enter the house, no one met him on the ancient spiral stair, as, with
apprehensive anticipation, he sought the drawing-room.
He had just set his foot on the little landing by its door when a
wild scream came from the room. He flung the door open and darted in.
His mother rushed into his arms, enveloped from foot to head in a cone
of fire. She was making, in wild flight, for the stair, to reach which
would have been death to her. Francis held her fast, but she struggled
so wildly that he had actually to throw her on the floor ere he could
do anything to deliver her. Then he flung on her the rug, the
table-cover, his coat, and one of the window-curtains, tearing it
fiercely from the rings. Having got all these close around her, he rang
the bell with an alarum-peal, but had to ring three times, for service
in that house was deadened by frequent fury of summons. Two of the
maids—there was no manservant in the house now—laid their mistress on
a mattress, and carried her to her room. Gordon's hands and arms were
so severely burned that he could do nothing beyond directing: he
thought he had never felt pain before.
The doctor was sent for, and came speedily. Having examined them, he
said Mrs. Gordon's injuries would have caused him no anxiety but for
her habits: their consequences might be very serious, and every
possible care must be taken of her.
Disabled as he was, Francis sat by her till the morning; and the
night's nursing did far more for himself than for his mother. For, as
he saw how she suffered, and interpreted her moans by what he had felt
and was still feeling in his own hands and arms, a great pity awoke in
him. What a lost life his mother's had been! Was this to be the end of
it? The old kindness she had shown him in his childhood and youth,
especially when he was in any bodily trouble, came back upon him, and a
new love, gathering up in it all the intermittent love of days long
gone by, sprang to life in his heart, and he saw that the one thing
given him to do was to deliver his mother.
The task seemed, if not easy, yet far from irksome, so long as she
continued incapable of resisting, annoying, or deceiving him; but the
time speedily came when he perceived that the continuous battle rather
than war of duty and inclination must be fought and in some measure won
in himself ere he could hope to stir up any smallest skirmish of sacred
warfare in the soul of his mother. What added to the acerbities of this
preliminary war was, that the very nature of the contest required
actions which showed not only unbecoming in a son, but mean and
disgraceful in themselves. There was no pride, pomp, or circumstance of
glorious war in this poor, domestic strife, this seemingly sordid and
unheroic, miserably unheroic, yet high, eternal contest! But now that
Francis was awake to his duty, the best of his nature awoke to meet its
calls, and he drew upon a growing store of love for strength to thwart
the desires of her he loved. 'Entire affection hateth nicer hands,' and
Francis learned not to mind looking penurious and tyrannical, selfish,
heartless, and unsympathetic, in the endeavour to be truly loving and
lovingly true. He had not Kirsty to support him, but he could now go
higher than to Kirsty for the help he needed; he went to the same
fountain from which Kirsty herself drew her strength. At the same time
frequent thought of her filled him with glad assurance of her sympathy,
which was in itself a wondrous aid. He neither saw nor sought to see
her: he would not go near her before at least she already knew from
other sources what would give her the hope that he was trying to do
The gradually approaching strife between mother and son burst out
the same moment in which the devilish thirst awoke to its cruel
tyranny. It was a mercy to both of them that it re-asserted itself
while yet the mother was helpless toward any indulgence of her passion.
Francis was no longer afraid of her, but it was the easier because of
her condition, although not the less painful for him to frustrate her
desire. Neither did it make it the less painful that already her
countenance, which the outward fire had not half so much disfigured as
that which she herself had applied inwardly, had begun to remind him of
the face he had long ago loved a little, but this only made him, if
possible, yet more determined that not one shilling of his father's
money should go to the degradation of his mother. That she lusted and
desired to have, was the worst of reasons why she should obtain! A
compelled temperance was of course in itself worthless, but that alone
could give opportunity for the waking of what soul was left her. Puny
as it was, that might then begin to grow; it might become aware of the
bondage to which it had been subjected, and begin to long for liberty.
In carrying out his resolution, Francis found it specially hard to
fight, along with the bad in his mother, the good in himself: the lower
forms of love rose against the higher, and had to be put down. To see
the scintillation of his mother's eyes at the sound of any liquid, and
know how easily he could give her an hour of false happiness, tore his
heart, while her fierce abuse hardly passed the portals of his brain.
Her condition was so pitiful that her words could not make him angry.
She would declare it was he who set her clothes on fire, and as soon as
she was up again she would publish to the world what a coward and sneak
he showed himself from morning to night. Had Francis been what he once
was, his mother and he must soon have come as near absolute hatred as
is possible to the human; but he was now so different that the worst
answer he ever gave her was,
'Mother, you know you don't mean it!'
'I mean it with all my heart and soul, Francis,' she replied,
glaring at him.
He stooped to kiss her on the forehead, she struck him on the face
so that the blood sprang. He went back a step, and stood looking at her
sadly as he wiped it away.
'Crying!' she said. 'You always were a coward, Francis!'
But the word had no more any sting for him.
'I'm all right, mother. My nose got in the way!' he answered,
restoring his handkerchief to his pocket.
'It's the doctor puts him up to it!' said Mrs. Gordon to herself.
'But we shall soon be rid of him now! If there's any more of this
nonsense then, I shall have to shut Francis up again! That will teach
him how to behave to his mother!'
When at length Mrs. Gordon was able to go about the house again, it
was at once to discover that things were not to be as they had been.
Then deepened the combat, and at the same time assumed aspects and
occasioned situations which in the eye of the world would have seemed
even ludicrously unbecoming. The battle of the warrior is with confused
noise and garments rolled in blood, but how much harder and worthier
battles are fought, not in shining armour, but amid filth and squalor
physical as well as moral, on a field of wretched and wearisome
It was essential to success that there should be no traitor among
the servants, and Francis had made them understand what his measures
were. Nor was there in this any betrayal of a mother's weakness, for
Mrs. Gordon's had long been more than patent to all about her. When,
therefore, he one day found her, for the first time, under the
influence of strong drink, he summoned them and told them that, sooner
than fail of his end, he would part with the whole house-hold, and
should be driven to it if no one revealed how the thing had come to
pass. Thereupon the youngest, a mere girl, burst into tears, and
confessed that she had procured the whisky. Hardly thinking it possible
his mother should have money in her possession, so careful was he to
prevent it, he questioned, and found that she had herself provided the
half-crown required, and that her mistress had given her in return a
valuable brooch, an heirloom, which was hers only to wear, not to give.
He took this from her, repaid her the half-crown, gave her her wages up
to the next term, and sent Mrs. Bremner home with her immediately. Her
father being one of his own tenants, he rode to his place the next
morning, laid before him the whole matter, and advised him to keep the
girl at home for a year or two.
This one evil success gave such a stimulus to Mrs. Gordon's passion
that her rage with her keeper, which had been abating a little, blazed
up at once as fierce as at first. But, miserable as the whole thing
was, and trying as he found the necessary watchfulness, Gordon held out
bravely. At the end of six months, however, during which no fresh
indulgence had been possible to her, he had not gained the least ground
for hoping that any poorest growth of strength, or even any waking of
desire toward betterment, had taken place in her.
All this time he had not been once to Corbyknowe. He had
nevertheless been seeing David Barclay three or four times a week. For
Francis had told David how he stood with Kirsty, and how, while
refusing him, she had shown him his duty to his mother. He told him
also that he now saw things with other eyes, and was endeavouring to do
what was right; but he dared not speak to her on the subject lest she
should think, as she would, after what had passed between them, be well
justified in thinking, that he was doing for her sake what ought to be
done for its own. He said to him that, as he was no man of business,
and must give his best attention to his mother, he found it impossible
for the present to acquaint himself with the state of the property, or
indeed attend to it in any serviceable manner; and he begged him, as
his father's friend and his own, to look into his affairs, and, so far
as his other duties would permit, place things on at least a better
To this petition, David had at once and gladly consented.
He found everything connected with the property in a sad condition.
The agent, although honest, was weak, and had so given way to Mrs.
Gordon that much havoc had been made, and much money wasted. He was now
in bad health, and had lost all heart for his work. But he had turned
nothing to his own advantage, and was quite ready, under David's
supervision, to do his best for the restoration of order, and the
curtailment of expenses.
All that David now saw in his intercourse with the young laird, went
to convince him that he was at length a man of conscience, cherishing
steady purposes. He reported at home what he saw, and said what he
believed, and his wife and daughter perceived plainly that his heart
was lighter than it had been for many a day. Kirsty listened, said
little, asked a question here and there, and thanked God. For her
father brought her not only the good news that Francis was doing his
best for his mother, but that he had begun to open his eyes to the fact
that he had his part in the wellbeing of all on his land; that the
property was not his for the filling of his pockets, or for the
carrying out of schemes of his own, but for the general and individual
comfort and progress.
'I do believe,' said David, 'the young laird wud fain mak o' the
lan's o' Weelset a spot whauron the e'en o' the bonny man micht rist as
he gaed by!'
Mrs. Gordon's temper seemed for a time to have changed from fierce
to sullen, but by degrees she began to show herself not altogether
indifferent to the continuous attentions of her inexorable son. It is
true she received them as her right, but he yielded her a right
immeasurably beyond that she would have claimed. He would play draughts
or cribbage with her for hours at a time, and every day for months read
to her as long as she would listen—read Scott and Dickens and Wilkie
Collins and Charles Reade.
One day, after much entreaty, she consented to go out for a drive
with him, when round to the door came a beautiful new carriage, and
such a pair of horses as she could not help expressing satisfaction
with. Francis told her they were at her command, but if ever she took
unfair advantage of them, he would send both carriage and horses away.
She was furious at his daring to speak so to her, and had
almost returned to her room, but thought better of it and went with
him. She did not, however, speak a word to him the whole way. The next
morning he let her go alone. After that, he sometimes went with her,
and sometimes not: the desire of his heart was to behold her a free
She was quite steady for a while, and her spirits began to return.
The hopes of her son rose high; he almost ceased to fear.
CHAPTER XXXIX. KIRSTY GIVES ADVICE
It was again midsummer, and just a year since they parted on the
Horn, when Francis appeared at Corbyknowe, and found Kirsty in the
kitchen. She received him as if nothing had ever come between them, but
at once noting he was in trouble, proposed they should go out together.
It was a long way to be silent, but they had reached the spot, whence
they started for the race recorded in my first chapter, ere either of
them said a word.
'Will ye no sit, Kirsty?' said Francis at length.
For answer she dropped on the same stone where she was sitting when
she challenged him to it, and Francis took his seat on its neighbour.
'I hae had a some sair time o' 't sin' I shawed ye plain hoo little
I was worth yer notice, Kirsty!' he began.
'Ay,' returned Kirsty, 'but ilka hoor o' 't hes shawn what the rael
'I kenna, Kirsty. A' I can say is—'at I dinna think nearhan sae
muckle o' mysel as I did than.'
'And I think a heap mair o' ye,' answered Kirsty. 'I canna but think
ye upo' the richt ro'd noo, Francie!'
'I houp I am, but I'm aye fin'in' oot something 'at 'ill never du.'
'And ye'll keep fin'in' oot that sae lang 's there 's onything left
but what 's like himsel.'
'I un'erstan ye, Kirsty. But I cam to ye the day, no to say onything
aboot mysel, but jist 'cause I cudna du wantin yer help. I wudna hae
presumed but that I thoucht, although I dinna deserve 't, for auld
kin'ness ye wud say what ye wud advise.'
'I'll du that, Francie—no for auld kin'ness, but for kin'ness never
auld. What's wrang wi' ye?'
'Kirsty, wuman, she's brocken oot again!'
'I dinna won'er. I hae h'ard o' sic things.'
'It's jist taen the pith oot o' me! What am I to du?'
'Ye canna du better nor weel; jist begin again.'
'I had coft her a bonny cairriage, wi' as fine a pair as ever ye
saw, Kirsty, as I daursay yer father has telled ye. And they warna lost
upon her, for she had aye a gleg ee for a horse. Ye min' yon
powny?—And up til yesterday, a' gaed weel, till I was thinkin I cud
trust her onygait. But i' the efternune, as she was oot for an airin,
are o' the horses cuist a shue, and thinkin naething o' the risk til a
human sowl, but only o' the risk til the puir horse, the fule fallow
stoppit at a smithy nae farrer nor the neist door frae a public, and
tuik the horse intil the smithy, lea'in the smith's lad at the held o'
the ither horse. Sae what suld my leddy but oot upo' the side frae
the smithy, and awa roon the back o' the cairriage to the public, and
in! Whether she took onything there I dinna ken, but she maun hae
broucht a bottle hame wi her, for this mornin she was fou—fou as e'er
ye saw man in market!'
He broke down, and wept like a child.
'And what did ye du?' asked Kirsty.
'I said naething. I jist gaed to the coachman and gart him put his
horses tu, and tak his denner wi' him, and m'unt the box, and drive
straucht awa til Aberdeen, and lea' the carriage whaur I boucht it, and
du siclike wi' the horses, and come hame by the co'ch.'
As he ended the sad tale, he glanced up at Kirsty, and saw her
regarding him with a look such as he had never seen, imagined, or
dreamed of before. It lasted but a moment; her eyes dropt, and she went
on with the knitting which, as in the old days, she had brought with
'Noo, Kirsty, what am I to du neist?' he said.
'Hae ye naething i' yer ain min'?' she asked.
'Weel, we'll awa hame!' she returned, rising. 'Maybe, as we gang,
we'll get licht!'
They walked in silence. Now and then Francis would look up in
Kirsty's face, to see if anything was coming, but saw only that she was
sunk in thought: he would not hurry her, and said not a word. He knew
she would speak the moment she had what she thought worth saying.
Kirsty, recalling what her father had repeatedly said of Mrs.
Gordon's management of a horse in her young days, had fallen awondering
how one who so well understood the equine nature, could be so incapable
of understanding the human; for certainly she had little known either
Archibald Gordon or David Barclay, and quite as little her own son.
Having come to the conclusion that the incapacity was caused by
overpowering affection for the one human creature she ought not to
love, Kirsty found her thoughts return to the sole faculty her father
yielded Mrs. Gordon—that of riding a horse as he ought to be ridden.
Thereupon came to her mind a conclusion she had lately read somewhere—
namely, that a man ought to regard his neighbour as specially
characterized by the possession of this or that virtue or capacity,
whatever it might be, that distinguished him; for that was as the
door-plate indicating the proper entrance to his inner house. A moment
more and Kirsty thought she saw a way in which Francis might gain a
firmer hold on his mother, as well as provide her with a pleasure that
might work toward her redemption.
Francie,' she said, 'I hae thoucht o' something. My father has aye
said, and ye ken he kens, 'at yer mother was a by ordinar guid rider in
her young days, and this is what I wud hae ye du: gang straucht awa,
whaurever ye think best, and buy for her the best luikin, best
tempered, handiest, and easiest gaein leddy's-horse ye can lay yer
ban's upo'. Ye hae a gey fair beast o' yer ain, my father says, and ye
maun jist ride wi' her whaurever she gangs.'
'I'll du 't, Kirsty. I canna gang straucht awa, I doobt, though; I
fear she has whusky left, and there's no sayin what she micht du afore
I wan back. I maun gang hame first.'
'I'm no clear upo' that. Ye canna weel gang and rype (search)
a' the kists and aumries i' the hoose she ca's her ain! That wud anger
her terrible. Nor can ye weel lay ban's upon her, and tak frae her by
force. A wuman micht du that, but a man, and special a wuman's ain ae
son, canna weel du 't—that is, gien there's ony ither coorse 'at can
be followt. It seems to me ye maun tak the risk o' her bottle. And it
may be no ill thing 'at she sud disgrace hersel oot and oot. Onygait
wi' bein awa, and comin back wi' the horse i' yer ban' ye'll come afore
her like bringin wi' ye a fresh beginnin, a new order o' things like,
and that w'y av'ide words wi' her, and words maun aye be av'idit.'
Francis remained in thoughtful silence.
'I hae little fear,' pursued Kirsty, 'but we'll get her frae the
drink a'thegither, and the houp is we may get something better putten
intil her. Bein fou whiles, isna the main difficulty. But I beg yer
pardon, Francie! I maunna forget 'at she's your mother!'
'Gien ye wud but tak her and me thegither, Kirsty, it wud be a gran'
thing for baith o' 's! Wi' you to tak the half o' 't, I micht stan' up
un'er the weicht o' my responsibility!'
'I'm takin my share o' that, onygait, daurin to advise ye,
Francie!—Noo gang, laddie; gang straucht awa and buy the horse.'
'I maun rin hame first, to put siller i' my pooch! I s' hand oot o'
'Gang til my faither for't. I haena a penny, but he has aye plenty!'
'I maun hae my horse; there's nae co'ch till the morn's mornin.'
'Gangna near the place. My father 'ill gie ye the gray mear—no an
ill are ava! She'll tak ye there in four or five hoors, as ye
ride. Only, min' and gie her a pickle corn ance, and meal and watter
twise upo' the ro'd. Gien ye seena the animal yere sure 'ill please
her, gang further, and comena hame wantin 't.'
CHAPTER XL. MRS. GORDON
When Mrs. Gordon came to herself, she thought to behave as if
nothing had happened, and rang the bell to order her carriage. The maid
informed her that the coachman had driven away with it before lunch,
and had not said where he was going.
'Driven away with it!' cried her mistress, starting to her feet; 'I
gave him no orders!'
'I saw the laird giein him directions, mem,' rejoined the maid.
Mrs. Gordon sat down again. She began to remember what her son had
said when first he gave her the carriage.
'Where did he send him?' she asked.
'I dinna ken, mem.'
'Go and ask the laird to step this way.'
'Please, mem, he's no i' the hoose. I ken, for I saw him gang—hoors
'Did he go in the carriage?'
'No, mem; he gaed upo' 's ain fit.'
'Perhaps he's come home by this time!'
'I'm sure he's no that, mem.'
Mrs. Gordon went to her room, all but finished the bottle of whisky,
and threw herself on her bed.
Toward morning she woke with aching head and miserable mind. Now
dozing, now tossing about in wretchedness, she lay till the afternoon.
No one came near her, and she wanted no one.
At length, dizzy and despairing, her head in torture, and her heart
sick, she managed to get out of bed, and, unable to walk, literally
crawled to the cupboard in which she had put away the precious
bottle:—joy! there was yet a glass in it! With the mouth of it to her
lips, she was tilting it up to drain the last drop, when the voice of
her son came cheerily from the drive, on which her window looked down:
'See what I've brought you, mother!' he called.
Fear came upon her; she took the bottle from her mouth, put it again
in the cupboard, and crept back to her bed, her brain like a hive
buzzing with devils.
When Francis entered the house, he was not surprised to learn that
she had not left her room. He did not try to see her.
The next morning she felt a little better, and had some tea. Still
she did not care to get up. She shrank from meeting her son, and the
abler she grew to think, the more unwilling she was to see him. He came
to her room, but she heard him coming, turned her head the other way,
and pretended to be asleep. Again and again, almost involuntarily, she
half rose, remembering the last of the whisky, but as often lay down
again, loathing the cause of her headache.
Stronger and stronger grew her unwillingness to face her son: she
had so thoroughly proved herself unfit to be trusted! She began to feel
towards him as she had sometimes felt toward her mother when she had
been naughty. She began to see that she could make her peace, with him
or with herself, only by acknowledging her weakness. Aided by her
misery, she had begun to perceive that she could not trust herself, and
ought to submit to be treated as the poor creature she was. She had
resented the idea that she could not keep herself from drink if she
pleased, for she knew she could; but she had not pleased! How could she
ever ask him to trust her again!
What further passed in her, I cannot tell. It is an unfailing
surprise when anyone, more especially anyone who has hitherto seemed
without strength of character, turns round and changes. The only thing
Mrs. Gordon then knew as helping her, was the strong hand of her son
upon her, and the consciousness that, had her husband lived, she could
never have given way as she had. But there was another help which is
never wanting where it can find an entrance; and now first she began to
pray, 'Lead me not into temptation.'
There was one excuse which David alone knew to make for her—that
her father was a hard drinker, and his father before him.
Doubtless, during all the period of her excesses, the soul of the
woman in her better moments had been ashamed to know her the thing she
was. It could not, when she was at her worst, comport with her idea of
a lady, poor as that idea was, to drink whisky till she did not know
what she did next. And when the sleeping woman God made, wakes up to
see in what a house she lives, she will soon grasp at besom and bucket,
nor cease her cleansing while spot is left on wall or ceiling or floor.
How the waking comes, who can tell! God knows what he wants us to
do, and what we can do, and how to help us. What I have to tell is
that, the next morning, Mrs. Gordon came down to breakfast, and finding
her son already seated at the table, came up behind him, without a word
set the bottle with the last glass of whisky in it before him, went to
her place at the table, gave him one sorrowful look, and sat down.
His heart understood, and answered with a throb of joy so great that
he knew it first as pain.
Neither spoke until breakfast was almost over. Then Francis said,
'You've grown so much younger, mother, it is quite time you took to
riding again! I've been buying a horse for you. Remembering the sort of
pony you bought for me, I thought I should like to try whether I could
not please you with a horse of my buying.'
'Silly boy!' she returned, with a rather pitiful laugh, 'do you
suppose at my age I'm going to make a fool of myself on horseback? You
forget I'm an old woman!'
'Not a bit of it, mother! If ever you rode as David Barclay says you
did, I don't see why you shouldn't ride still. He's a splendid
creature! David told me you liked a big fellow. Just put on your habit,
mammy, and we'll take a gallop across, and astonish the old man a bit.'
'My dear boy, I have no nerve! I'm not the woman I was! It's my own
fault, I know, and I'm both sorry and ashamed.'
'We are both going to try to be good, mother dear!' faltered
The poor woman pressed her handkerchief with both hands to her face,
and wept for a few moments in silence, then rose and left the room. In
an hour she was ready, and out looking for Francis. Her habit was a
little too tight for her, but wearable enough. The horses were sent
for, and they mounted.
CHAPTER XLI. TWO HORSEWOMEN
There was at Corbyknowe a young, well-bred horse which David had
himself reared: Kirsty had been teaching him to carry a lady. For her
hostess in Edinburgh, discovering that she was fond of riding and that
she had no saddle, had made her a present of her own: she had not used
it for many years, but it was in very good condition, and none the
worse for being a little old-fashioned. That same morning Kirsty had
put on a blue riding-habit, which also lady Macintosh had given her,
and was out on the highest slope of the farm, hoping to catch a sight
of the two on horseback together, and so learn that her scheme was a
success. She had been on the outlook for about an hour, when she saw
them coming along between the castle and Corbyknowe, and went straight
for a certain point in the road so as to reach it simultaneously with
them. For she had just spied a chance of giving Gordon the opportunity
which her father had told her he was longing for, of saying something
about her to his mother.
'Who can that be?' said Mrs. Gordon as they trotted gently along,
when she spied the lady on horseback. 'She rides well! But she seems to
be alone! Is there really nobody with her?'
As she spoke, the young horse came over a dry-stane-dyke in
'Why, she's an accomplished horsewoman!' exclaimed Mrs. Gordon. 'She
must be a stranger! There's not a lady within thirty miles of Weelset
can ride like that!'
'No such stranger as you think, mother!' rejoined Francis. 'That's
Kirsty Barclay of Corbyknowe.'
'Never, Francis! The girl rides like a lady!'
Francis smiled, perhaps a little triumphantly. Something like what
lay in the smile the mother read in it, for it roused at once both her
jealousy and her pride. Her son to fall in love with a girl that
was not even a lady! A Gordon of Weelset to marry a tenant's daughter!
Kirsty was now in the road before them, riding slowly in the same
direction. It was the progress, however, not the horse that was slow:
his frolics, especially when the other horses drew near, kept his rider
Mrs. Gordon quickened her pace, and passed without turning her head
or looking at her, but so close, and with so sudden a rush that
Kirsty's horse half wheeled, and bounded over the dyke by the roadside.
Her rudeness annoyed her son, and he jumped his horse into the field
and joined Kirsty, letting his mother ride on, and contenting himself
with keeping her in sight. After a few moments' talk, however, he
proposed that they should overtake her, and cutting off a great loop of
the road, they passed her at speed, and turned and met her. She had by
this time got a little over her temper, and was prepared to behave with
propriety, which meant—the dignity becoming her.
'What a lovely horse you have, Miss Barclay!' she said, without
other greeting. 'How much do you want for him?'
'He is but half-broken,' answered Kirsty, 'or I would offer to
change with you. I almost wonder you look at him from the back of your
'He is a beauty—is he not? This is my first trial of him. The laird
gave me him only this morning. He is as quiet as a lamb.'
'There, Donal,' said Kirsty to her horse, 'tak example by yer
betters! Jist luik hoo he stan's!—The laird has a true eye for a
horse, ma'am,' she went on, 'but he always says you gave it him.'
'Always! hm!' said Mrs. Gordon to herself, but she looked kindly at
'How did you learn to ride so well, Kirsty?' she asked.
'I suppose I got it from my father, ma'am! I began with the cows.'
'Ah, how is old David?' returned Mrs. Gordon. 'I have seen him once
or twice about the castle of late, but have not spoken to him.'
'He is very well, thank you.—Will you not come up to the Knowe and
rest a moment? My mother will be very glad to see you.'
'Not to-day, Kirsty. I haven't been on horseback for years, and am
already tired. We shall turn here. Good-morning!'
'Good-morning, ma'am! Good-bye, Mr. Gordon!' said Kirsty cheerfully,
as she wheeled her horse to set him straight at a steep grassy brae.
CHAPTER XLII. THE LAIRD AND HIS
The laird and his mother sat and looked at Kirsty as her horse tore
up the brae.
'She can ride—can't she, mother?' said Francis.
'Well enough for a hoiden,' answered Mrs. Gordon.
'She rides to please her horse now, but she'll have him as quiet as
yours before long,' rejoined her son, both a little angry and a little
amused at her being called a hoiden who was to him like an angel grown
young with aeonian life.
'Yes,' resumed his mother, as if she would be fair, 'she does
ride well! If only she were a lady, that I might ask her to ride with
me! After all it's none of my business what she is—so long as you
don't want to marry her!' She concluded, with an attempt at a laugh.
'But I do want to marry her, mother!' rejoined Francis.
A short year before, his mother would have said what was in her
heart, and it would not have been pleasant to hear; but now she was
afraid of her son, and was silent. But it added to her torture that she
must be silent. To be dethroned in castle Weelset by the daughter of
one of her own tenants, for as such she thought of them, was indeed
galling. 'The impudent quean!' she said to herself, 'she's ridden on
her horse into the heart of the laird!' But for the wholesome
consciousness of her own shame, which she felt that her son was always
sparing, she would have raged like a fury.
'You that might have had any lady in the land!' she said at length.
'If I might, mother, it would be just as vain to look for her
'You might at least have shown your mother the respect of choosing a
lady to sit in her place! You drive me from the house!'
'Mother,' said Francis, 'I have twice asked Kirsty Barclay to be my
wife, and she has twice refused me.'
'You may try her again: she had her reasons! She never meant to let
you slip! If you got disgusted with her afterwards, she would always
have her refusal of you to throw in your teeth.'
Francis laid his hand on his mother's, and stopped her horse.
'Mother, you compel me!' he said. 'When I came home ill, and, as I
thought, dying, you called me bad names, and drove me from the house.
Kirsty found me in a hole in the earth, actually dying then, and saved
'Good heavens, Francis! Are you mad still? How dare you tell such
horrible falsehoods of your own mother? You never came near me! You
went straight to Corbyknowe!'
'Ask Mrs. Bremner if I speak the truth. She ran out after me, but
could not get up with me. You drove me out; and if you do not know it
now, you do not need to be told how it is that you have forgotten it.'
She knew what he meant, and was silent.
'Then Kirsty went to Edinburgh, to sir Haco Macintosh, and with his
assistance brought me to my right mind. If it were not for Kirsty, I
should be in my grave, or wandering the earth a maniac. Even alive and
well as I am, I should not be with you now had she not shown me my
'I thought as much! All this tyranny of yours, all your late
insolence to your mother, comes from the power of that low-born woman
over you! I declare to you, Francis Gordon, if you marry her, I will
leave the house.'
He made her no answer, and they rode the rest of the way in silence.
But in that silence things grew clearer to him. Why should he take
pains to persuade his mother to a consent which she had no right to
withhold? His desire was altogether reasonable: why should its
fulfilment depend on the unreason of one who had not strength to order
her own behaviour? He had to save her, not to please her, gladly as he
would have done both!
When he had helped her from the saddle, he would have remounted and
ridden at once to Corbyknowe, but feared leaving her. She shut herself
in her room till she could bear her own company no longer, and then
went to the drawing-room, where Francis read to her, and played several
games of backgammon with her. Soon after dinner she retired, saying her
ride had wearied her; and the moment Francis knew she was in bed, he
got his horse, and galloped to the Knowe.
CHAPTER XLIII. THE CORONATION
When he arrived, there was no light in the house: all had gone to
rest. Unwilling to disturb the father and mother, he rode quietly to
the back of the house, where Kirsty's room looked on the garden. He
called her softly. In a moment she peeped out, then opened her window.
'Cud ye come doon a minute, Kirsty?' said Francis.
'I'll be wi' ye in less time,' she replied; and he had hardly more
than dismounted, when she was by his side.
He told her what had passed between him and his mother since she
'It's a rael bonny nicht!' said Kirsty, 'and we'll jist tak oor time
to turn the thing ower—that is, gien ye bena tired, Francie. Come,
we'll put the beastie up first.'
She led the horse into the dark stable, took his bridle off, put a
halter on him, slackened his girths, and gave him a feed of corn—all
in the dark; which things done, she and her lover set out for the Horn.
The whole night seemed thinking of the day that was gone. All doing
seemed at an end, yea God himself to be resting and thinking. The peace
of it sank into their bosoms, and filled them so, that they walked a
long way without speaking. There was no wind, and no light but the
starlight. The air was like the clear dark inside some diamonds. The
only sound that broke the stillness as they went was the voice of
Kirsty, sweet and low—and it was as if the dim starry vault thought,
rather than she uttered, the words she quoted:—
'Summer Night, come from God,
On your beauty, I see,
A still wave has flowed
At a certain spot on the ridge of the Horn, Francis stopped.
'This is whaur ye left me this time last year, Kirsty,' he
said;'—left me wi' my Maker to mak a man o' me. It was 'maist makin me
There was a low stone just visible among the heather; Kirsty seated
herself upon it. Francis threw himself among the heather, and lay
looking up in her face.
'That mother o' yours is 'maist ower muckle for ye, Francie!' said
'It's no aften, Kirsty, ye tell me what I ken as weel 's yersel!'
'Weel, Francie, ye maun tell me something the night!—Gien it
wudna mismuve ye, I wad fain ken hoo ye wan throu that day we pairtit
Without a moment's hesitation, Francis began the tale—giving her to
know, however, that in what took place there was much he did not
understand so as to tell it again.
When he made an end, Kirsty rose and said,
'Wad ye please to sit upo' that stane, Francie!'
In pure obedience he rose from the heather, and sat upon the stone.
She went behind him, and clasped his head, round the temples, with
her shapely, strong, faithful hands.
'I ken ye noo for a man, Francis. Ye hae set yersel to du his
wull, and no yer ain: ye're a king; and for want o' a better croon, I
croon ye wi my twa ban's.'
Little thought Kirsty how near she came, in word and deed, to the
crowning of Dante by Virgil, as recorded toward the close of the
Then she came round in front of him, he sitting bewildered and
taking no part in the solemn ceremony save that of submission, and
knelt slowly down before him, laying her head on his knees, and
'And here's yer kingdom, Francis—my heid and my hert! Du wi' me
what ye wull.'
'Come hame wi' me, and help save my mother,' he answered, in a voice
choked with emotion.
'I wull,' she said, and would have risen; but he laid his hands on
her head, and thus they remained for a time in silence. Then they rose,
They had gone about half-way to the farm before either spoke. Then
'Francie, there's ae thing I maun beg o' ye, and but ane—'at ye
winna desire me to tak the heid o' yer table. I canna but think it an
ungracious thing 'at a young wuman like me, the son's wife, suld put
the man's ain mother, his father's wife, oot o' the place whaur his
father set her. I'm layin doon no prenciple; I'm sayin only hoo it
affecs me. I want to come hame as her dochter, no as mistress o' the
hoose in her stead. And ye see, Francie, that'll gie ye anither haud o'
her, agen disgracin o' hersel! Promise me, Francie, and I'll sune tak
the maist pairt o' the trouble o' her aff o' yer han's.'
'Ye're aye richt, Kirsty!' answered Francis. 'As ye wull.'
CHAPTER XLIV. KIRSTY'S TOCHER
The next morning, Kirsty told her parents that she was going to
'Ye du richt, my bairn,' said her father. 'He's come in sicht o' 's
high callin, and it's no possible for ye langer to refuse him.'
'But, eh! what am I to du wantin ye, Kirsty?' moaned her mother. 'Ye
min', mother,' answered Kirsty, 'hoo I wad be oot the lang day wi'
Steenie, and ye never thoucht ye hadna me!'
'Na, never. I aye kenned I had the twa o' ye.'
'Weel, it's no a God's-innocent but a deil's-gowk I'll hae to luik
efter noo, and I maun come hame ilka possible chance to get hertenin
frae you and my father, or I winna be able to bide it. Eh, mother,
efter Steenie, it'll be awfu' to spen' the day wi' her! It's no
'at ever she'll be fou: I s' see to that!—it's 'at she'll aye be
toom!— aye ringin wi' toomness!'
Here Kirsty turned to her father, and said,—
'Wull ye gie me a tocher, father?'
'Ay wull I, lassie,—what ye like, sae far as I hae 't to gie.'
'I want Donal—that's a'. Ye see I maun ride a heap wi' the puir
thing, and I wud fain hae something aneth me 'at ye gae me! The
cratur'll aye hing to the Knowe, and whan I gie his wull he'll fess me
hame o' himsel.—I wud hae likit things to bide as they are, but she
wud hae worn puir Francie to the verra deid!'
CHAPTER XLV. KIRSTY'S SONG
Mrs. Gordon manages the house and her reward is to sit at the head
of the table. But she pays Kirsty infinitely more for the privilege
than any but Kirsty can know, in the form of leisure for things she
likes far better than housekeeping—among the rest, for the discovery
of such songs as this, the last of hers I have seen:—
LOVE IS HOME.
Love is the part, and love is the whole;
Love is the robe, and love is the pall;
Ruler of heart and brain and soul,
Love is the lord and the slave of all!
I thank thee, Love, that thou lovest me;
I thank thee more that I love thee.
Love is the rain, and love is the air;
Love is the earth that holdeth fast;
Love is the root that is buried there,
Love is the open flower at last!
I thank thee, Love all round about,
That the eyes of my love are looking out.
Love is the sun, and love is the sea;
Love is the tide that comes and goes;
Flowing and flowing it comes to me;
Ebbing and ebbing to thee it flows!
Oh my sun, and my wind, and tide!
My sea, and my shore, and all beside!
Light, oh light that art by showing;
Wind, oh wind that liv'st by motion;
Thought, oh thought that art by knowing;
Will, that art born in self-devotion!
Love is you, though not all of you know it;
Ye are not love, yet ye always show it!
Faithful creator, heart-longed-for father,
Home of our heart-infolded brother,
Home to thee all thy glories gather—
All are thy love, and there is no other!
O Love-at-rest; we loves that roam—
Home unto thee, we are coming home!