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The McBrides by John Sillars


THE McBRIDES

A Romance of Arran

by

JOHN SILLARS

Fifth Impression

The Ryerson Press, Toronto William Blackwood and Sons Edinburgh and London 1922

TO

MY MOTHER

 

PART I.
CHAPTER I. WHICH TELLS OF THE COMING OF THE GIPSY.
CHAPTER II. MAKES SOME MENTION OF ONE JOCK McGILP, AND TELLS HOW BELLE BROUGHT   THE WEAN IN THE TARTAN SHAWL INTO THE HOUSE OF NOURN.
CHAPTER III. IN WHICH I CHASE DEER AND SEE STRANGE HORSEMEN ON THE HILL,   AND A LIGHT FLASHING ON THE SEA.
CHAPTER IV. I MEET JOCK McGILP AND HIS MATE McNEILAGE AT THE TURF INN, AND   LEARN WHAT HAS BECOME OF THE WEAN IN THE TARTAN SHAWL.
CHAPTER V. MIRREN STUART'S ERRAND.
CHAPTER VI. WE TRAMP THROUGH THE SNOW TO McKELVIE'S INN.
CHAPTER VII. WE SAIL IN McKELVIE'S SKIFF TO THE HOLY ISLAND.
CHAPTER VIII. THE DEATH OF McDEARG, THE RED LAIRD.
CHAPTER IX. MIRREN STUART BIDS HER DOG LIE DOWN.
CHAPTER X. DOL BEAG IS FLUNG INTO A FIRE.
CHAPTER XI. THE BLAZING WHINS.
CHAPTER XII. McALLAN'S LOCKER.
CHAPTER XIII. DAN McBRIDE SAILS FROM LOCH RANZA.
CHAPTER XIV. WE RETURN.
CHAPTER XV. THE STRANGER ON THE MOORS.
CHAPTER XVI. I HAVE SOME TALK WITH McGILP IN McKINNON'S KITCHEN.
PART II.
CHAPTER XVII. I TURN SCHOOLMASTER.
CHAPTER XVIII. THE FIRST MEETING.
CHAPTER XIX. THE RIDERS ON THE MOOR.
CHAPTER XX. “THE LOVE SECRET.”
CHAPTER XXI. DOL BEAG LAUGHS.
CHAPTER XXII. THE SHAMELESS LASS.
CHAPTER XXIII. HELEN AND BRYDE McBRIDE REST AT THE FOOT OF THE URIE.
CHAPTER XXIV. THE HALFLIN'S MESSAGE.
CHAPTER XXV. I RIDE AGAIN TO McALLAN'S LOCKER.
CHAPTER XXVI. A WEDDING ON THE DOORSTEP.
CHAPTER XXVII. MARGARET McBRIDE KISSES HELEN.
CHAPTER XXVIII. IN WHICH BETTY COMPLAINS OF GROWING-PAINS.
CHAPTER XXIX. THE RAKING BLACK SCHOONER.
CHAPTER XXX. TELLS WHERE BRYDE MET HAMISH OG.
CHAPTER XXXI. BRYDE AND MARGARET.
CHAPTER XXXII. BRYDE AND HELEN.
CHAPTER XXXIII. HOW JOHN McCOOK HEARS OF THE PLOY AT THE CLATES.
CHAPTER XXXIV. WHAT CAME OF THE PLOY.
CHAPTER XXXV. DOL BEAG LAUGHS AGAIN.

 

  LIST OF GAELIC NAMES AND EXPRESSIONS.

  Crotal, lichen.
  “A traill,” you sluggard.
  Cleiteadh mor, big ridge of rocks.
  Bothanairidh, summer sheiling.
  Birrican, a place name.
  Rhuda ban, white headland.
  Bealach an sgadan, Herring slap.
  Skein dubh, black knife.
  Crubach, lame.
  Mo ghaoil, my darling.
  Direach sin, (just that), (now do you see).
  Lag 'a bheithe, hollow of the birch.
  Mo bhallach, my boy.
  Ceilidh, visit (meeting of friends); ceilidhing; ceilidher.
  Cha neil, negative, no.
  Mo leanabh, my child.
  Cailleachs, old women.
  Og, young.
  Mhari nic Cloidh, Mary Fullarton.

 

THE McBRIDES.

 

PART I.

CHAPTER I. WHICH TELLS OF THE COMING OF THE GIPSY.

It was April among the hills, waes me, the far-away days of my youth, when the hills were smiling through the mists of their tears, and the green grasses thrusting themselves through the withered mat of the pasture like slender fairy swords. April in the hills, with the curlews crying far out on the moorside, past the Red Ground my grandfather wrought, and where again the heather will creep down, rig on rig, for all the stone dykes, deer fences, and tile drains that ever a man put money in. I never knew why it was they called it “Red Ground,” for it was mostly black peaty soil, but my grandfather would be saying, “It will be growing corn. Give it wrack, and it will be growing corn for evermore.”

They tell me he was a great farmer for all he was laird, and never happier than at his own plough tail, breaking a colt to work in chains; and he it was who improved the stock in cattle and horse in our glens, for he would be aye telling the young farmers, “Gie the quey calves plenty o' milk, as much as they'll lash into themselves. Be good to them when the baby flesh is on them, and they'll grow and thrive, and your siller'll a' come back in the milking.”

The countryside clavered and havered when he bought his pedigree bulls and his pedigree mares. “It's money clean wasted,” said the old farmers, “for a calf's a calf no odds what begets it, and a horse that can work in chains and take its turn on the road is horse enough for any man, without sinking money in dumb beasts, and a' this sire-and-dam pother.” It would anger the old man that talk, ay, even when he was the old frail frame of what once he was,—like a dead and withered ash-tree, dourly awaiting the death gale to send it crashing down, to lie where once its shade fell in the hot summer days of its youth,—and the blood would rise up on his neck, where the flesh had shrunk like old cracked parchment, and left cords and pipes of arteries and veins, gnarled like old ivy round a tree.

Querulous he was and ill-tempered with the scoffers. “Man, if I had twenty more years I would grow hoofs on your horse and udders on your in-coming queys.” Well, well, I'm fond of this farming, but I have set out to tell a tale, which in my poor fancy should even be like a rotation of crops, from the breaking in of the lea to the sowing out in grass, with the sun and winds and sweet rains to ripen and swell the grain—the crying of the harvesters and the laughing of lassies among the stocks in the gloaming, the neighing of horse and the lowing of kine in the evening.

On that morning so long ago Dan and I were ploughing stubble, and I followed my horses in all joy, laughing to see them snap as I turned them in at the head-rigs, and coaxing them as they threw their big glossy shoulders into the collar on the brae face. So the morning wore on as I ploughed, with maybe a word now and then to Dick, and a touch of the rein to Darling, and the sea-gulls screaming after us as the good land was turned over. The sun came glinting through the hill mist, and the green buds were bursting in the hedgerows for very gladness.

I was free from the college, free from the smoke-wrack and the grime of the town, free to hear the birds awake and singing in the planting behind the stackyard, and I breathed great gulps of air and felt clean and purged of all the evil of the town; for if there is vice in the country, it is to my mind evil without sordidness.

I remember my foolish thoughts were something like these, even though my reading should have taught me better, for the Garden of Eden was a fine place to sin in by all accounts, yet the environment did not mitigate the punishment. In these young days, when my body glowed from a swim and my eyes were clear, I thought the minister too hard on that original iniquity.

It was coming on for dinner-time—lowsin' time, as we say in the field—when Dan shouted—

“Hamish,” says he, “who'll yon be that's travellin' so fast above the Craig-an-dubh?”

“I will be telling you that, Dan, when she's half a mile nearer.”

“Ye hinna the toon mirk rubbed out your een yet, Hamish, or ye would ken the bonny spaewife. I've been watchin' her this last three 'bouts.”

“Dan, Dan,” said I, “do you think of nothing but women and horses? Have ye never learned the lesson of Joseph?”

“Man, Hamish,” says he, with a whimsical smile and a hand at his moustache, “ye should put a' things in their proper order. Horses and weemen noo. It's not a bad thing—a while wi' a lass after the horses are bedded and foddered, but horses first; and as for Joseph”—his smile broadened until I could see his teeth—“if it had been Dauvit the leddy had met on the stair, the meenisters wid never hiv heard a cheep about it. . . .

“It's a fine lesson yon, I aye think, for auld men to be preaching, but deevil a word about their ain youthfu' rants. Ye're a lusty lad yirsel', and there's many a cheery nicht among the lasses wi' petticoats and short-goons, and I'll teach ye hoo tae whistle them oot if ye would leave your books and come raking wi' Dan.”

We had unyoked the horses and got astride, and when we came to the gate there was the bonny spaewife carrying a bairn in a tartan shawl. Dan drew up, and I also; so there we stood, the horses in an impatient semi-circle on the road, Dan and I on horseback, and the woman looking up at us.

She had the blackest eyes I ever saw, and hair black and curly as a water-dog's clustered over her head, and the wee rain-drops clung about the curls round her ears and brow. Her nose was delicate and faultless, and her complexion was that born of sun and rain and wind. There seemed a smile to play round her red lips, and a sombreness about her eyes (so that she held mine fixed), until Dan spoke.

“I think, Belle,” said he, “you're gettin' bonnier, and if it wasna for the wean I would leave a kiss on your bonny red mouth.”

Round the pupils of her black eyes a little ring began to glow, as though a light came from a great distance through darkness, her white teeth bit on her under lip, and she stepped closer to Dan's horse.

“Haud away, woman, haud away, for the love o' your Maker; the stallion canna thole weemen about him.”

I fear me the town had taken some of the game out of me, for when I saw the big dark horse flatten his ears, the wicked eyes rolling, and the great fore-hoofs drumming on the road, ready to leap and batter the woman and her bairn to a bloody pulp fornent me, my stomach turned, as we say, and I felt sick and giddy. Many a morning had I stood at the loose-box door and watched the devil in the horse and the devil in the man battle for mastery, and aye the horse was cowed. Even on the mornings when I heard Dan's step, soft and wary on the cobbles, before the sun was up, and knew by the look of him, and the gruffness in his voice, that he had travelled many a weary mile from his light-o'-love, and that sleep had not troubled him, I would hear the stable door opening and Dan whistling like the cheery early bird as he opened the corn-kist. After the morning feed the battle began, for Chieftain had a devil, but I think Dan had seven of that ilk.

“It's him or me, Hamish,” he would croon, “him or me, but I'm likin' myself a' the time”; and he kept the lathering, plunging devil off himself, whiles with his fists, and whiles with a short stick.

“I'll handle him were he twice as big and twice as bad. I'll hae nae gentlemen among the horse when there's lea to plough!” and the fight would go on. But Dan was the only man who could handle Chieftain, and there seemed a kind of laughing comradeship between them.

I have digressed that you might see with my eyes the queer uncanny thing that happened on the road there between the woman and the horse. I have told you the spaewife—if spaewife you would call her, for I think sorceress fitted her better—I have said she came close to Chieftain's head, her black eyes fairly lowing; and as the brute, his skin twitching, gathered himself to rear on her, she hit him full on the mouth with her little brown hand, and hissed a word at him in her own tongue. As the word struck my ears I felt myself tingle to my finger-tips, and the world seemed to go quiet all round me. The horse's ears went forward, and he stretched his great neck, and there he was quiet as an old pony, nibbling with his lips at the woman's shawl and hair.

And the woman looked at Dan.

A kind of half laugh, half sigh, left his lips.

“I wish,” said he, “I had your gait o' handlin' horse. It's desperate sudden, but it's sure, as our friend Hamish wid observe. Maybe, my dear, you'll hiv a spell tae turn the horse tae himsel' again and something extra, an' I'm no' sayin' but what I would be likin' him better, for sittin' here on a quate beast that sould be like the ravening devil o' holy writ is no' canny.”

“Spell,” said the girl, for indeed she was little more, and under her brown skin I could see the darker red rising. “Spell, ye night-hawk!” and her broad bosom heaved with the rage in her, and her body trembled with living anger.

“I come o' folk, ye reiver, that lay down and rose up among their horse, in the black tents, that loved and hated among their horse, that lived and died among their horse, and ye would talk to me o' spells. Did I but say the word to that black horse, not you nor any o' the folk ye cam' crooked among would straddle him and live to boast o' it after.”

Dan sat his horse like a statue. It makes my old eyes moist and my throat choky to this day to think of it, for I loved him through everything. Could he have had command of heavy horse, and won his rest on some glorious field, brave, headstrong, devil-may-care Dan; but there he sat and looked on the Cassandra, and his eyes were laughing from his stern face as he took a turn on the rope reins.

“Back, my bonny horse,” said he to Chieftain, and there was a kind of joyous lilt in his voice. “Draw away your pair, Hamish, and this lan' horse o' mine. We'll miss our dinner maybe, but I've an unco hankering after this word.”

Away down in my heart I knew what was coming, and I watched the woman loosen her tartan shawl and lay her infant in a neuk among the hedge roots.

“I'm waitin' now, my dear,” said Dan, “and in case I dee I'll tell ye I think I could break you in, for I like the devil temper bleezin' in your bonny black een, and your lips would warm a deein' man. My dear, I think I could be your man for a' ye say I cam' crooked; for spaewife or no—God's life, ye're awfu' bonny, Belle.”

The gipsy gave a little lilting laugh.

“You,” says she—“you. I'm not saying but you're a pretty man, and I've good looks enough for baith—if I loved ye; but, man, my love would be a flame. Wid ye burn with me, lad; wid ye burn?”

“I think I would too,” said he, “for your een have started the bleeze a'ready, and I'm dootin' it'll finish in brimstane.”

“Ay, ay, Dan; I'm spaein' true. I jibed at you, although you did not say the word o' the glens o' the wee creatur' under the hedge there, as ye might have. Ye've good blood in ye, lad, and I'm loving your spirit, but I'm the Belle o' your death, Dan, the Death-Bell. Now!”

No words of mine can convey my impression of that scene. There were the hills, silent and grandly contemptuous, there was a rabbit loping across the road to the hedge foot, and there the road the woman had come stretched upwards; but as she spoke some subtle essence seemed to flood her veins, her sombre eyes flashed, her cheeks glowed darkly, and she trembled so that I could see her clenched hands flutter like segans.[1] It was not excitement, but to my mind as though some vital powerful force had taken possession of her body and shook it, as an aspen quivers in a gale.

The power seemed to grow stronger and stronger as she spoke, until with her word it seemed to break free and envelop us.

Where I have written “Now” she leaned rigidly towards Chieftain and almost hissed, so sharply came a word between her teeth. With some such sound, I think, will the devil unshackle his hounds. Well for me that my horses were rugging at the hedge, or I had never been troubled more with headache.

For the stallion reared his huge bulk into the air with a scream of brute rage. I have never heard such a sound since, and never wish to again. He turned like an eel, his mouth agape, and the veins round his nostrils like cord. His great gleaming teeth snapped like a trap at his rider's legs, and snapped again after he had a blow on the head that might have stunned him, and at the hollow sound of it I felt my teeth take an edge to them. Twice he reared and fell backwards, and twice Dan was astride as he rose. I could see the sweat running down his face and the bulging of the muscles as his knees pressed and clung to the heaving spume-spattered flanks. I think he knew he was fighting for his life, but his smile seemed graven on his face, though it looked like the smile of a man in sore distress. I knew every muscle felt red-hot, and time would give the victory to the stronger brute. And then I saw the change like a lightning-flash. Dan's shoulders haunched themselves, his head was low and stretched forward, and a look of the most devilish ferocity came over his face, his lips were pulled down, and his eyes almost hidden under the bunched and corrugated brows.

There was a knotted rope rein in his hand, and his arm, brown and bare to the elbow, and hard as an oak branch, rose, and I saw his teeth clench till the muscles on his jaws stood out like crab-apples.

“Ye wid fecht wi' me,” he crooned—“me, damn ye, me.” At every reiterated word the rein fell, and the weals rose on the stallion's neck and flank, and he snorted and screamed with rage.

“Woman,” said I, having led the other horses away and returned—“woman or devil, whatever you are, ye have made a horse mad this day, and now the man's mad. Will ye put an end to this business before worse happens, for the horse is worth siller if the man's regardless, and there's many a lass will greet herself to sleep till the fires of her youth are burnt out if harm comes to Dan McBride. Have ye no pity for your ain sex?”

“Peety,” she cries—“peety for a wheen licht-heided hussies that lo'e the man best that tells the bonniest lees, or speaks them fairest. Na, na, ma lad, nae peety. I'm watchin' a man that has tied their strings and kissed their bonny ankles, when he should have let them dry his sweat wi' their hair an' his feet wi' their braws.[2] Oh, why, why,” she kind of wailed—“why will the King aye gang the cadger's road, and ken himsel' a king, and the cadger a cadger.” The horse, panting and grunting at every breath, had breenged to the knowe on the roadside, and still the knotted rein fell; and then with a mighty plunge he reared up, balanced an instant on hind-legs, and then crashed backwards and lay, and I felt my heart give a mighty beat as Dan sprang on the brute's head and lay there, horse and man done.

“Come, you,” snarled the man, as though he spoke to a dog; and the girl went to him.

“Quate the brute,” said he, “for he's trimmlin' sair, and I like his temper a' the better for no' bein' broken.”

“Ay, I'll quate the brute, easy as I wid yoursel'.”

You may think you know a man till something happens, and you find him a stranger, and so I found, for at her words the man sprang to his feet as she soothed the horse.

“Say ye so,” said he, and took her by the shoulder—“say ye so. I've broken many a horse afore this ane, and, Belle, I'll break you,” and I watched the swarthy flush rise on the girl's face, and looked at the man's eyes and saw the reason of it.

“Wheest, lad, wheest,” she cried; “let me go to the wean.”

“Wean—ye never had a wean. . . .”

And then she did a queer thing. She bent her dark head till I could not see her eyes, but only the smooth eyelids and dark lashes, and she put her little brown hand over the man's eyes and stood a picture of humility, with a sad little smile on her face.

“Don't break me . . . yet,” she murmured, and I saw Dan kiss her hand as she slid it down over his lips, and her face brightened like a flower in sunlight.

And there were the horses, rugging at the hedge where I had tethered them; and Chieftain on his feet, shaky and foam-flecked, and trembling at his knees; and the gipsy lass's wean greetin' at the hedge foot, with one wee bare arm clear of the shawl, seeming to beckon all the world to its aid.

And Belle the gipsy lass lifted the child and wrapped her in the shawl, and took the road in front of us. I had mind of Belle when she was the bonniest lass among a wheen of black-avised Eastern folk, that camped for many's the year on the ground of Scaurdale, where my uncle's friend, John o' Scaurdale, farmed land; but I was not prepared for her strange powers on horse, or for the beauty of her, and I think Dan was of my way of thinking also, for at the stable door says he: “I think, Hamish, a fee from John o' Scaurdale would not be such a bad thing with a lass like Belle to be seeing in the gloaming.”

[1] Ires—“flags.”

[2] Costly apparel.

CHAPTER II. MAKES SOME MENTION OF ONE JOCK McGILP, AND TELLS HOW BELLE BROUGHT
  THE WEAN IN THE TARTAN SHAWL INTO THE HOUSE OF NOURN.

Nourn was home to me in my holidays and vacations from the college, and here I was back again for good, having become Magister Artium and well acquainted with the plane-stanes and glaber of the town of Glasgow—back again to the green countryside on my uncle's land of Nourn, concerned more about horses and cattle beasts than with the Arts, and with enough siller left me by my parents to be able to follow my inclinations.

My uncle—the Laird of Nourn, as he was called—had married kind of late, a common habit where the years bring strength and not eld; and Dan, his brother Ewan the soldier's son, had been at Nourn since he could creep, being early left an orphan.

On the Sunday after the coming of Belle the gipsy I lay long abed. In those days my cousin Dan and I made a practice of sleeping above the horses, “to be near them,” as Dan said; but for myself I aye thought it would be that he might the easier slip out at night, and in again in the morning, and nobody the wiser.

In the years I would be at the college Dan had become airt and pairt of every wildness in the countryside, and in these times every man with red blood in him was concerned with the smuggling or the distilling of whisky,—and that is the reason that mothers were wishful that their sons should be able to “take a horse by the head and a boat by the helm,” for these would be very needful attributes in a handy lad.

And lying there in bed I minded how I once fell in with Jock McGilp, the captain of the smuggler Seagull, a man that sailed the Gull like a witch, and cracked his fingers at the Revenue cutters, and this was the way of it.

When I was a lonely boy, dreaming dreams of ages past and long ago, I had a favourite haunt. I made my way to the graveyard and lay among the long lush grass, for the grass grew nowhere so long or so full of sap as in the graveyard, and I thought of all the great warriors of our glens whose bones had been laid in this place, and shivered to think of the hot red blood stilled in death, and the grass roots creeping downwards like tentacles into the chinks of the wood, and sending up great fat greasy blades that sweated in the sun. I hated the grass roots, and dreamed horribly of them piercing into my heart, and drawing the life-blood to feed the bloated sweaty leaves, but the graveyard had an awful fascination for me. Sometimes old men would wander inside the dyke and move slowly to a rude stone and sit there, and I would hear great sighs bursting into the quiet afternoon, when the sun always beat down. But I liked the old men for being there when the ivy rustled on the ruined old chapel wall when the wind was lost, and the starlings flew affrighted from their nests over the mural tablet that told all men to—

  FIR GOD
  16—

And I feared God very much, and spoke to Him often in my lonely wanderings, when I saw wee men in green coats among the heather, but oftener on the soft green turfy bits on the hill. And one awful time when the hill road was all silent and the grasshoppers hidden and quiet, an eerie humming came into my ears like a language I could not understand, and I felt myself waiting for something. Round the turn of the hill before you come to the old quarry it came, and I stopped stricken as a rabbit when a snake sways before it, for there came towards me a thing like a dog—but such a dog—its shaggy coat was white and its ears only were black, and as it passed its tongue lolled out, and it looked at me through blue eyes with black rims, and I think I feared that thing more than God. But always before I left the graveyard for my hill road home I crept up to a window, and looked into a part of the chapel that was walled off and dark. Great brambles grew in this space and nettles of phenomenal size, with ugly fleshy-looking clots of seeds on them. A gnarled ash-tree had grown and broken the wall, but over against the broken wall were great stones, and one of these I liked best of all, for it made the blood tingle down my back and my eyes see visions. On a warm Sunday I lay half in the window resting on the sill, for the walls were very thick, and I gazed at the foot of the great stone where a plumed helmet was carved, and a sword in its sheath; and round the helmet and sword battle-gear lay as though the warrior had flung down his harness as he rested. In imagination I had girt me with the sword, the plumed helmet was on my head, when my feet were seized and a rumbling voice cried—

“Can ye read?”

“Ay.”

“Read that stane. I'm no' a bawkin.”

  “BLENHEIM.
  BAMILLIES.
  OUDENARDE.
  MALPLAQUET.”

“Thayse the battles; read the man's name.

  “MAJOR EWAN McBRIDE.”

“Ay, ay; come oot,” and I was pulled out of the window, and an enormous man stood before me, looking at me with a queer smile, and scratching his neck till I could hear the hairs of his whiskers crickle and snap like breaking twigs.

“D'ye ken who Major Ewan McBride was?”

“No.”

“Well—Dan's faither; he was kilt; he's no in there at a'—it's a peety, for things wid hiv been different.

“Eat ye your pease-brose and keep clear o' the weemen, and ye'll be as great a man as him, but never say a word tae Dan. Says you, when ye go home and see him wi' nobody aboot, says you: 'Jock McGilp was saying the turf's in and the gull's a bonny bird.' Mind it noo; 'The turfs in' and 'the gull's a bonny bird.'”

And that night so long ago, when Dan and I kneeled on the stone-flagged floor beside one another and listened to my uncle pray and pray and pray in Gaelic, I whispered—

“Dan.”

“What?”

“Jock McGilp was saying . . .”

Uncle gave a great pause after asking “a clean heart,” and Dan whispered—

“Come nearer, ye devil, and don't speak so loud, or a' the servants 'll be damned and sent to hell for lack o' attention.”

“Jock McGilp was saying the turf was in and the seagull's a bonny bird.”

“Wheest noo and listen, ye graceless deevil. . . .”

For a week after that I never saw Dan, but my uncle got sterner and sterner, and when Dan returned, loud voices I heard in the night and slamming doors, but Dan was whistling among his horses at cock-crow, and told me I took after my mother's folk and would be a man yet. . . .

But on this April Sunday, after the week of ploughing stubble, we lay long and listened to the pleasant rattling of horse chains, and rustling of bedding, when the horses pawed for their morning meal. There was the sun, well up on his day's journey, and a whole day to be and enjoy him in. And we rose and took our breakfast, and daunered to the far fields, and inspected the young beasts, picking out the good ones with many a knowing observation on heads and pasterns and hocks, and then round the wrought land, and over the fields where a drain had choked, and the rushes marked its course. We mapped out how this should be mended and strolled back to the stable, and lay in an empty stall where some hay had been left, and waited until dinner, with the shepherd's dogs lying watching their masters, and the herds and ploughmen telling terrible stories of one Mal-mo-Hollovan. Into this peaceful scene came rushing a lass with the word that the Laird was at church, as he should be, and Belle the gipsy wanted speech wi' the mistress.

“An' why no', my lass?” said Dan; “she'll no' bite the mistress.”

“The black eyes o' her, and the air o' her,—speech wi' the mistress, indeed—the tinker!”

“Jean,” said Dan, “be canny wi' Belle, or she'll put such a spell on ye that ye'll no' hear your lad whistling ootside your window, and the first thing ye'll ken he'll be inside, and you maybe in your sark.”

“Ye ken too much aboot sich truck and trollop and the wey in by windows,” cried Jean, her face like the heart o' the fire; for her lad was looking sheepishly at her from the corn-kist.

“Well, well, let Belle alane, or I'll be puttin' mysel' in Tam's place,” and poor Tam could only grin with a very red face.

And so it came that Belle made her way to the old room where the mistress, my uncle's wife, was abed, after the birth of her son, about whom the women-folk talked and laughed in corners, and looked so disdainful at poor men-folk, that Dan said—

“It's a peety for the wean, wi' a' these weemen waitin' till he grows up. I'm dootin' he'll be swept oot o' his ain hoose wi' petticoats, and take up wi' the dark-skinned beauties in the far glens, like Esau.”

And sorely put out were the women when Dan, referring to the heir, said he'd come in time for the best o' the grass.

“If the colt has got plenty o' daylight below him, and middlin' clean o' the bane, he'll thrive right enough!” The heir of all Nourn a leggy colt! There was nothing but black looks and pursed-up lips till even the easy-going cause o' the change said drily enough: “They're damned ill tae leeve wi' whiles, a man's ain weemen-folk, Hamish, an' I meant the bairn nae ill either.”

Well, Belle was ta'en to the old room where the mistress, my uncle's wife, lay abed—her they ca'ed the Leddy, a fine strapping woman, with kindly hands to man and beast and a wheedling, coaxing way with her, though she could be cold and haughty at times, for she came of fighting stock, and could not thole clavering and fussing, and I think she would not hasten her stately step to be in time for the Last Judgment, for the pride of her.

The room was fine and cool, with a wood fire spluttering in the great stone fireplace, and the light playing on the carved pillars of the canopied bed, and blinking on the oak panels; but it was a fine room, with deerskin rugs here and there on the floor, and space to move about without smashing trumpery that women collect round them, God knows why, except to hide the lines of the building.

My aunt lay there on the great bed, her dark hair damp and clinging to the white brow, and one arm crooked round her child, and she was gazing at his head where the hair was already thickening, when Belle came to the bedside.

“It's not red,” said my aunt. “I feared it would be red, for there are red ones here and there in his house . . . look, woman, it's not red; it will not be red.”

“Na, na, it's fair, Leddy—fair and fause; but it'll darken wi' the years, never fear. What ails ye at rid, Leddy—the prettiest man in these parts is rid enough?”

“Poor Dan,” cried my aunt, with a bright smile and no hesitation. “The Laird tells me he's wasted enough keep for many bullocks laying the yard with straw lest his horses should wake me in the mornings, but I've missed his songs lying here. They were merry enough too in the fine spring mornings if the words were . . .” And a delicate flush crept over her neck and face, and she smiled a little as at the fault of some wayward boy.

The door was opened softly, and a tall woman entered—a tall woman with a world of sorrow in her wise old eyes, and years of patience in the clasp of her hands.

“Betty,” cried the patient—“Betty, is everything done well, now I'm tied to my son,” and she put her cheek to the downy head.

“The weemen are flighty and the lads are quate, and the hoose will no' be itsel' till ye will be moving about again, an' Miss Janet's lad will . . .”

“I will not have Dan called that, Betty,” says my aunt. “Ewan McBride's lad he is, if ye must deave me with his forebears . . .”

“My dearie, my ain dearie, did I not nurse his mother when she grat ower his wee body and a' the warl' was turned on her, and her man at the great wars. Ech, ech, a weary time, and her crying to him in the nicht, and throwin' oot her white arms in the stillness and crying: 'My brave fierce lad, my brave wild lover, come back and let me dee wi' your arms aboot me.' Ay, and her wild lad, her kindly lad, lying stark on yon bluidy field and the corbies maybe at his bonny blue een. I love Dan, for I took him frae his mither's caul' breast; but ech, why will he be shaming his name, and shaming his ain sel'—but I shouldna be haverin', my dearie . . . and here's your soup now.”

Jean—she of the stable raid—with a haughty look at the gipsy, who had stood in a corner by the fire all this time, came with the bowl of soup, but Belle slid forward noiselessly.

“Is it soup, Jean?” says she, and the wench stopped. “Skim the fat off it, then, for I saw a hussy like you gi'e her mistress soup like that—and she died.” My aunt sat up in her bed, her face very stern when Betty talked of Dan shaming himself and his name.

“I will know this,” she cried. “I am not ill any more—who is the woman?”

Jean would have spoken at this, but the gipsy whispered: “Begone, or I'll turn your hair white as the driven snaw,” and the wench fled with her soup, and spilled most of it in the stone-flagged corridor leading to the kitchen, where she sat and trembled and grat her fill, every now and again catching her yellow locks to make sure no change had started yet.

So here we have Betty whispering—

“Don't vex yoursel', my Leddy; it's juist the lassie's clavers, for Jean cam' in frae the stable, where she had nae right to be, except to be seein' her lad—they ha'e lads on the brain the lassies noo—and greetin' that young Dan had shamed her before the men, and a' because o' a tinker body like Belle here, although the great folk will treat her so kindly; no' that I mean her any harm,” she added (erring on the safe side, for Belle's eyes had begun to glow finely); “and then in came Kate and Leezie wi' a tale o' a wean, tied in a tartan shawl, lying in a biss in the wee byre. Then and there they faithered and mithered the bairn, the useless hussies. . . .” The mother's haughty eyes turned to the gipsy.

“I never found you lying, Belle. Is this story true?—a bonny family is this to be among,” she cried, her hand pressing the child closer, and maybe she pressed him too tightly, for the boy doubled his baby fist, his wee voice whimpered, and his outflung arm struck his mother in the face.

“Oh, oh,” she cried; “will you turn on me too, and leave me for farmer's wenches and tinker women like the lave of your folk?”

The gipsy lass was on her knees at the bedside.

“Lady,” she cries, and her face was finely aglow, “nae wonder ye grieved aboot the colour o' the bairn's hair. Are ye a' Dan mad?” Then when she saw the anger in the mother's eyes she cries—

“Ye'll maybe be in a mood to listen to the truth now.”

“I'm in a fine mood to have ye whipped from my doors, ye shameless . . .”

“Ay, shameless, madam, if I love I'll be that, but if I have a man I'll share him wi' nane, and you'll not be yourself to be believing these false tales; and you, Betty, I had thought ye had seen sorrow enough without brimming your cup over. It's true I left a wean sleeping in the sweet hay; was there harm in that? She's lain wi' me in the stable lofts and outlying barns these many nights, but the wean is nane o' mine. It's an ill bird that fouls its ain nest, Betty, and when a' the auld wives are shakin' their mutches at the end o' peat stacks and sayin', 'This'll be another o' his; ye might have asked yourself how? The poor wee mitherless mite; her feet will be on the neck o' her enemies, and, mistress, maybe I can tell ye why. I hinna leed tae ye yet, and ye can whip me from your doors if ye will, but hard, hard will it fa' on them that raise the scourge.”

Such a look passed between these two, so full of meaning, that my aunt told Betty to leave her.

“And keep better manners among your wenches,” said she, “for I will not have Dan tormented with the baggage; and tell him I hope my son will grow tall and strong like him, for I will be mindful of his kindness.”

“Indeed, indeed, he would be very good, my dearie,” cried Betty, anxious to make amends. “When ye were taken ill he lay in the kitchen the lang night through, and his horse saddled and bridled ready in his stall; ay, and he would not go to bed for the Laird himsel'. Indeed, many a wild night he galloped through, and him oot in the morning when the doctor had left.”

Belle had slipped out as the old woman was speaking, and now came back with her tartan bundle; and when Betty had left the room the gipsy took from the shawl a wean that cried so lustily that it wakened the heir to all Nourn.

As the women whispered and crooned over the bairns, their cries resounded through the house, and made it no place for men-folk.

But crossing the yard, Betty beckoned me with a crooked forefinger.

“Who's wean is that, think ye, Hamish, that Belle brought here?”

“I think you should be asking Belle,” said I.

“Ask here or ask there,” says Betty, “the wean has a look o'—dinna be feart, my lad—the wean has the look o' John o' Scaurdale. And that,” says she, “would be fair scandalous.”

But after Betty's jalousing I had a word or two with Dan McBride, my cousin.

“Wean,” says he, “and Betty thinks the bairn has a look o' John o' Scaurdale. It beats me, the cleverness of that woman. This is the story I got from Belle, Hamish. It's a little dreich, but it will be as well that ye should ken.”

“Well,” says Dan, “when ye were at the College in the toon and learning yer tasks, there was a lass came to stop at Scaurdale, a niece she was to the Laird there (a sister's wean, I am thinking), very prim and bonny she was, and fu' o' nonsensical book-lore. She took a liking to the place, and there are some that pretend to ken, that say she took mair than a liking to the Laird's son. I would not say for that; he was a brisk lad for so douce a lady. Well, well, Hamish, they cast out, and away goes the lass in a huff to her ain folk, and then back comes the word o' her wedding (some South-country birkie her man was, o' the name o' Stockdale, if I mind it right), and when that word came, John o' Scaurdale's son was like to go out at the rigging. We'll say naething about that, Hamish; ye ken what came on him: his horse threw him at the Laird's Turn yonder, and he never steered—he was by wi' it.”

“What has this to do with Belle's wean?” said I.

“Belle's wean! Man, Belle never had a wean. That bairn is Stockdale's; and I'm hearing,” said he, “that Scaurdale's niece, the mother of it, sent word to her uncle to take away the bairn, for her man turned out an ill-doer, and it's like she would be feart. But I ken this much, Hamish, Belle is waiting word from Scaurdale, and,” says he, “they ken all the outs and ins of it, our friends here, and whenever it will be safe the wean will go to John o' Scaurdale.”

“Scaurdale is not so far from here,” said I. “Could Belle not have taken the bairn there at the first go off?”

“I thought ye had mair heid, Hamish. There's aye plenty o' gossips in the world, and Scaurdale will want this business kept quiet.”

“In plain words,” said I, “the wean has been stolen away from her father with the mother's help.”

“That's just it precisely, Hamish; and what better place could she be hidden than here, with Scaurdale and your uncle so very friendly, and this so quiet a place?”

CHAPTER III. IN WHICH I CHASE DEER AND SEE STRANGE HORSEMEN ON THE HILL,
  AND A LIGHT FLASHING ON THE SEA.

The corn was in the stackyard and the stacks thatched, and all that summer Belle and her wean stayed with us, the lass working at the weeding and the harvesting, and the wean well cared for, for the mistress remained not long abed after the spaewife's coming. Belle's wean might be “a tinker's brat” in whispered corners in byres and hay-sheds, where the wenches could claver out of hearing, but the Laird's son got no better attention than the tinker's brat when the mistress was near.

And now that the corn was secure and the stackyard full, the deer came down from the hills and lay close to till nightfall, and then wrought havoc in the turnip-drills, and I noticed that, like cows in a field of grain, they spoiled more crop than they ate, both of potatoes and turnips; and, indeed, it angered a man to see his good root-crops haggled and thrawn with the thin-flanked beasts, like the lean cattle, and I thought to go round the hill dyke with the dogs on an October evening, and harry them back to their heather and bracken again.

It was early in the evening, so I took my stick and daunered to the hay-shed (which was next to the planting) behind the stackyard, for I liked the noise of the wood, and would lie on the hay and listen to the scurry of the rabbits, the rippling note of the cushats in the tree-tops, and watch for the coming of the white owls that flitted among the trees. And as I lay on the sweet-smelling clovery hay there came over me a drowsiness, for I had been early abroad, and I dovered and dovered till sleep and waking were mingled, and strange voices came into my ears; and then I knew the voices, and felt myself go hot all over, for I could not move or I would be discovered with the rustling of the hay.

“I have waited long for ye, my bonny dark lass, waited when I was shivering to take ye in my arms,” and I could see Dan lean forward and look into Belle's black eyes, one great arm round her shoulders and his hand below her chin, and she was bonny, bonny in the blink o' the moon.

“Ye were a good lad,” says she, smiling up at him; “it whiles made me angry ye would be so good, and I would be lying at night thinking ye had forgotten the gipsy lass, and would be assourying[1] wi' red-cheeked, long-legged farmer lassies; and then ye would be coming to my window and knocking, and I was glad, and listened and listened for ye to be coming, although ye would not be knowing from me at all, and I would be cold, cold to ye. . . .”

“My dear, it's news to me,” cried he, in great wonder, “for never a knock did I knock,” and his eyes were laughing down at her.

“What!” she cries; “what! And who would be daring?”

“That's just what I cannot say, for the lads think ye're no' canny some way, but maistly because the weemen hiv them under their thumbs, so I'm thinkin' it must just have been Hamish.”

It was on the tip of my tongue to cry out at that, but I saw by his face that he could not help hurting gently whatever he liked, and he had no thought for me at all, but waited for the girl to speak. The great sombre eyes were looking up at him, and the moon glintin' on her teeth as, her red lips parted, a brown hand fluttered about the man's breast.

“You would be knocking. I am wantin' you to be knocking,” she cried, “for I am only a wicked gipsy lass. . . .”

I saw the man stretch her back with a straightening of his arm; I saw the limber length of him, the lean flank and the curve of his chest, as he half lay on the hay.

“I am wishing ye to be knocking,” he mimicked in a half-fierce, half-laughing voice, “for I am only a wicked gipsy lass”; and again, “My dear, my dear, I'm not seeing much wickedness in a' this, and so I must be creeping out and knockin' on a lass that will not be saying a civil word to me, let alone a kiss in the gloamin'.”

“Oh,” she lilted, “oh, so you would be knocking to that unkind lass;” and then in a far-away voice, “Will you be remembering that place where I found you, when I would be running a wild thing like a young foal? . . .”

“Bonnily, Belle, bonnily I mind ye—a long-legged, black-maned filly ye were, and the big eyes o' ye, I began to love ye then. . . .”

“It would be terrible and you lying in the stall beside your horse at that place, and them not going near you, and you only a boy. I will be dreaming of the horse tramping your face yet.”

“I'll teach ye something better to be dreaming than that, dear lass, for I was only a boy then, and I was carrying a man's share o' French brandy, more shame to me. I had nae sense at all, to be lying beside the horse, and him a kittle brute too; but I'll aye be mindin' ye coorieing ower me, and greetin' for a' that, when the men o' the Seagull were feart tae venture into the stall, being sailors and strange wi' horse.”

Among the hay there I remembered the loud voices and the slamming of doors in the night, and Jock McGilp and his message about the “turf being in”; and here it was coming round that these two had met then, and I somehow had helped to bring them together.

“I will be asking you to do me a service the night,” I heard the girl say.

“I'm thinkin' that, my dear, will it be ridin' for the priest, for indeed you're such a wicked lass I see nae ither way for it. I canna aye be knockin' when your wickedness keeps me in the caul' . . . .”

“Come,” she cried, rising, “come, for we will have been dallying too long, and I did give my word to Scaurdale. I will not be listening any more to your talk.”

“Where fell ye across that grizzly dog, John, Laird o' Scaurdale?” said Dan as they rose.

      * * * * * *

So I waited until the hay was all quiet and the lovers gone, and I got the dogs and went after the deer.

Outside the dyke I found them herded, their sentinels posted like an army resting, and away they headed, the collies at their heels, and me racing through bracken and heather and burn, after seeing them clearing a rise and disappearing, the big antlers like branching trees. Away and away I followed, till the dogs' barking was faint in the night and the three lonely hills were looming before me, and I saw the wild-fire glimmer on the peat-bogs and the moon going down as I whistled and whistled for the dogs.

And as I waited I heard the thud, thud, thud of horses galloping, and then the jangle of bridle-chains, and I lay down in the heather. Two horsemen passed me, wrapped in their riding-cloaks, and after a while a light jumped out on the hillside, and I knew the horsemen had stopped at the old empty shepherd's house, and I made my way there, for since old McCurdy died the house had been empty. I could hear the dogs barking away among the hills, and the rustle of the night-folks among the dry heather as I cautiously rounded the “but and ben,” and there at the door were the two horses that had passed me. Quietly I crawled into a clump of heather and lay a-watching, and turned in my mind everything I might be a witness to, and found no answer. Then, away behind me, I heard a horse neigh, and the tethered horses answered, and a gaunt figure, white-haired and martial, stalked through the door, and I knew John, Laird of Scaurdale, waited, he and his man.

I heard a laughing voice on the night wind.

“It's a great thing to have a lass on the saddle wi' ye, Belle, ye can kiss her at every stride,” and Belle's answer must have been kissed into silence, for I never heard it.

There came Dan on our best horse, an upstanding raking bay, and in front of him was Belle with the wean in the tartan shawl. The servant lifted Belle from the saddle, and Dan, looking awkward in the glow from the window, held the tartan bundle, then handed it to the gipsy, and all of them went in, and I was left alone on my heather tussock. Maybe ten minutes passed, and the servant came out and led the horses to the back, where there was a sheepfold and a well, and I heard him drawing water, and in a little time he entered the house, an empty sack in his hand, and I knew the horses were at their feed, and crawled up to the lighted window and peered in. The Laird was striding up and down the narrow room, his fierce old face twitching, the body-servant stood by the door like a wooden man, and Dan, as though the ploy pleased him, smiled at the gipsy, who held the wean.

The Laird's words came clearly—

“She would have the false knave, she was afraid o' my stern lad and would have the carpet-knight—the poor wee lass; but she minded her cousin—she minded my boy at the end o' a' when she hated the Englishman. I ken fine how her pride suffered before she sent me word, but the word cam' at the hinder end. Belle,” said he, stopping his march, “ye have done finely wi' your lad an' a'.”

“It's not me he'll be lookin' at, sir,” wi' a toss of her head.

“The bigger fool him; it was a' grist that cam' to my mill when I was mowing down the twenties.”

“Ay, Laird,” says Dan wi' a bold look, “I've heard it said ye kept the ministers in texts for many a day, and the sins o' the great made the poor folks' teeth water from wan Sunday till the next.”

“I had thought them more concerned wi' brewing their whisky and poaching than in the inside o' a kirk,” growled the Laird, for he was choleric when reminded of his past by any but his own conscience, which had turned in on itself, and grown morbid as a result.

“It's a grand place the kirk, sir; I've seen and heard enough there to keep me cheery a' week. There was the time when we walked there in droves, and would be takin' a look at the beasts in the parks as we went, and often the beasts would be turned on the roadside, for a man might buy on Monday what he only saw on Sunday. Once, going by Hector's, the lassies wi' their shoon in their hands, were walkin' easier barefit and savin' shoe leather, and a young Embro' leddy, wi' a hooped skirt wi' the braidin' like theek rope on a stack, and high-heeled shoon, looked disdainfu' at them. Well, well, the pigs were on the roadside at Hector's, and they kent the barefit lassies; but the grand lady they didna ken at all, and one caught her gown by the braidin' and scattered away reivin' and tearin', and set the lady spinning like a peerie, and the lassies laughed and cried 'suckie, suckie,' and put on their boots to go into the kirk, well put on, and in a rale godly frame o' mind.”

Belle had the wean wrapped in the cloak the servant had provided and was croonin' ower it, and the body-servant was waitin' for orders, and there stood Dan and the Laird as though loath to part, and them on business that might mean worse than burnin' stackyards. And it came to me that Scaurdale was not the man to be cherishing any tinker's whelp, not even if he had fair claim to.

“And what lesson did ye get that day, Sir Churchman?”

“Pride goeth before a fall,” says Dan, “but that was a bad day for me.”

“And how?” cried Scaurdale, and I could see he was wasting time on purpose.

“Indeed it was no fault o' mine, for between the shepherds' dogs huntin' aboot till the church scaled, and the pigs lookin' for diversion, a kind o' hunt got up, and a pig came into the church wi' a' the collies in full cry and made a bonny to-do among the Elect. The poor beast made a breenge and got a hat on its snout, and then a fling o' its heid ended matters, and there was the pig in the deacon's hat, and sair pit aboot was the pig, and sairer the deacon.

“Aweel, I was reproved and reminded o' the time when I had had a sermon a' tae masel'; but the end crowned a', for I had killed an adder that morning on the road, and put the beast in my pouch for Hamish. In the middle o' the sermon, after the Gadarene swine and the dogs were outside, the adder somewie cam' alive and crawled on to the aisle, and the minister eyed it, and then me, and I felt hot and caul', for I didna ken o' any new evil that might hiv reached him, and I didna see the beast till the preacher stopped and pointed.

“'Man o' evil,' he cried, 'take the image o' your father and go hence,' and so I'm clean lost,” said Dan, wi' a comical sigh.

I had just time to lay myself flat in the heather before the servant came out and walked to the top o' the rise. I could see the loom o' him against the skyline, for the moon was now very low, and then he whistled, and Dan came leading the horses, and the gipsy carrying the wean. I crawled to the rise but farther away, and prayed that the dogs had gone home and would not get wind o' me. For a while they stood, Dan and the body-servant at the horses' heads, and the Laird a little apart, and then I heard Dan—

“Yon's him at last,” says he, and I saw a light glimmer for a little away out at sea, and the servant ran back to the hut and brought the lighted lantern, and three times he covered it with his cloak, and three times he swung it bare, and I saw the long black shadow of the horses' legs start away into the darkness, and then away out to sea a flare glimmered three times and all was dark.

“Easy going,” says Dan; “McGilp has nae wind to come close in, and it's a long pull to the cove.”

The Laird swung himself to the saddle, and as the servant mounted, Belle made to give him the tartan bundle, but John, Laird o' Scaurdale, trusted none but himself on a night ride over the road to Scaurdale.

“Give me the wean,” says he, and loosened his cloak. Belle held the wee bundle to him, and he put it in the crook of his arm.

“Ye will be a great one and whip the tinkers from your door, my dear,” whispered Belle to the sleeping infant, “but ye've lain in the heather, and listened tae the noises o' the hill nights, and the burns, and the clean growing things, and maybe ye'll mind them dimly in your heart and be kind when ye come to your kingdom.”

At that Scaurdale leant over his saddle.

“Ye'll never be in want if ye knock at my door, so long as the mortar holds the stanes thegither.”

“Good night to you, Sir Churchman; I'm in nae swither whether I would change places wi' ye the night, but weemen are daft craturs, poor things, and I've had my day.”

Then there came the swish, swish o' galloping hoofs in dry bracken, for Scaurdale was a bog-trooper and born wi' spurs on, and I heard the whimper o' the wean, and a gruff voice petting. Belle was greetin' softly, and as Dan made to lift her in the saddle—

“I will not be sitting that way again,” she cried; and I know, because her heart was sore, she must be sharp with a man that had done nothing to anger her that I could see.

“Aweel, I was aye a bonny rinner,” says Dan. “When I was herdin' and the beasts lay down behind the black hill in the forenoon, I could rin tae the Wineport and back before they were rising.” I laughed to think how we estimate time in the college by the rules of Physics, and how the herd on the moorside did, and wondered who but he could say how long a cow beast would lie and chew her cud, and how many miles a man could run in the time she took to chew it.

“I will not be having you running at all, and, indeed, you have been kind and good to me. But why should I be going back to that place when the thing is done I came to be doing? I will go away to my own folk, and you will be forgetting me.”

“I'll never be forgettin' you,” says he, calling her pet words that made me wish myself far enough away, for I was shy of lovers' talk, and he held her to his breast and spoke quickly, and turned and caught the bridle of his horse.

“No,” cried the lass—“no, I will not be staying here,” and I was glad the moon was clouded at her words, “and you will not be seeing me till I am grown old and wrinkled like a granny.”

At that he gathered her in his arms, and for a while I saw only his head and not her face at all, except just a blur that looked pale, and then I heard her say—

“You will be saying that to all these other women, for you will be wicked.”

“Not wicked any more, lass. I'll just be loving you, and why are ye turned soft; where is the lass that asked me would I burn?”

“Indeed, it is just with you I will be too gentle, I think, all my days, for ye will be a brute and a baby, all in one, and yet you would be aye kind to me. I could not be tholing another man after ye.”

“I think I would not be tholing that either, my dear,” cried he in a fierce voice, “but the lantern has to be lighted and the fire. Maybe ye'll let me do that much for you,” and this time I saw her smiling, and clinging to him with both her hands.

At the door she waited till he had made the horse comfortable in the stone fanks,[2] and when he joined her she stretched her arms up and pulled his head down.

“I am wishing to do this,” she said, and kissed him on the mouth. “You will not be loving any more but me,” and she struck him lightly but with fierce abandon on the cheek, and I heard him laughing, and then the door opened and closed, and I had all the hills to myself. A great loneliness came over me, and I wished the dogs had waited.

And as I made my way home, I thought of that little whimpering wean in the crook of Scaurdale's arm, and wondered how she would fare on board the Gull, for by Dan's word I kent McGilp had shone the flare away seaward. Scaurdale, it seemed, would be hiding the wean in fair earnest now, and McGilp I kent would whiles be on the French coast. But never a word did I get from Dan for many's the day about Belle, or McGilp, or Scaurdale—we talked of horses and sheep, until the coming of Neil Beg.

[1] Courting, clandestine courtship.

[2] Sheepfold.

CHAPTER IV. I MEET JOCK McGILP AND HIS MATE McNEILAGE AT THE TURF INN, AND
  LEARN WHAT HAS BECOME OF THE WEAN IN THE TARTAN SHAWL.

We were at common work enough, Dan and me, in the Blair Mhor when the night clouds were banking behind the Blackhill to swoop down on the fast flying winter afternoon. Indeed, it was a matter of a braxy ewe, and the poor beast lay at the hedge-side and the blood clotting at her throat, for Dan had bled her, and the briars o' many a brake trailed behind her.

“Braxy and oatmeal, Hamish,” says he, “there's many a lusty lad reared on worse; but we'll be hivin' tatties and herrin' for a change, and plenty o' sour milk tae slocken the drouth o' it.”

And as he stooped to tie the ewe's clits together to make her a handier load, I looked round me at the cold bare trees, asleep till the spring would waken them with sap. The hills were bleak and barren, the rocks harsh and cold with no warm crotal on them, and just the reek from the houses rising into the frosty sky.

The night was just down on us, when I heard the lilt o' a whistle, clear as a whaup's, and with a great melody. To us there came whistling a kilted lad, his knees red as collops, for he had waded the burn, and the cheeks o' him glowing like wild roses.

“Ah-ha, Neil Veg,” cries Dan, for he made a work wi' weans always, “is it stravagin' after the lassies ye are this bonny nicht?”

“Indeed no, it iss not that; it's yourself I'll be after,” shrilled the lad, wi' a burning face.

“And what for will ye be after me, Neil Veg?”

“I will be tellin' you by yourself alone, for my father will be sayin' to me, 'Did you find him, and him alone? '”

At that Dan took him a step aside, with a wink to me not to be minding, and the lad delivered his message in Gaelic and sped away, and his clear whistle came back to us.

“A brave lad, Hamish,” says Dan; “he'll have listened to a' the ghost and bogle and bawkin stories since he could creep, and yet he'll whistle himsel' safe ower the hill and be too proud tae run, an' I'm thinkin' every muircock that craws, and every whaup that cries, out on the peat-hags, will be a bogle in his childish mind.”

“There's truth in that,” said I, “and I wish I could be hearin' the stories, for you have not the way o' telling them. Ye will not be believing them.”

“Come ye raikin' wi' me the night and maybe ye'll be hearing some o' them,” says Dan, and so when the horses were bedded and the kye fothered, we slipped through the planting and took the old peat road for it, and that I was to hear stories was all that he would tell me.

We came out on the old road to the cove, and rough enough passage we made, for a hill burn that crossed the bare rock o' the road had frozen and melted and frozen again, so that on the worst o' the hill we took our hands and knees for it, and even that comedown to a hillman was better than breaking our necks over the rocks on the low side, for the track was whiles no more than a scratch along a precipice.

When we came on to good heather again Dan stopped me.

“Bide a wee, bide a wee, James,” and he took a step from me, and there came at my very ear the lone night-cry of a gull, so weird and melancholy a sound, that but for a low laugh beside me again I would have sworn the bird had passed in the darkness.

“Listen,” says he; “I startled ye first with your Christian name, and ye were so made up wi' it, ye wid believe a gull brushed your lug; but listen, Hamish, listen.”

From out of the night came the answer, and in my mind there came the picture I had often watched, the grey night seas and the lonely gull flying low, and ever and anon voicing its cry as though it mourned the lost spirit of the deep.

“There's just the two roads, you see, the shore road and the hill road, and a strange foot carries far, and there's aye a lad on the watch when the 'turf's in.'”

So that was Wee Neil's message; McGilp and his crew would be ashore, as many as could be spared from the schooner, and we were making for the Turf Inn, and as we travelled I asked why it came to be called that. “It's a long story,” said Dan, “but maybe ye'll have noticed a hole in a smiddy wall, where they will be throwing out the ashes. Well, in this lonely place here, there werena many to trouble, and it cam' to be known that a man could get a dram if he paid for it, and as much as he liked to be payin' for. Well, well, a stranger cam' in one day and asked refreshment and got it, and then he plankit down a gowden guinea and waited for his change, for the stranger was a ganger, and here was a capture just waitin' for him.

“Well, he waited and waited and cracked away wi' the lass, for there seemed nobody about but just Meg the gleevitch, and she had talk eno' for five men, and a trim pair o' ankles forbye.

“'I'll be goin' now, mistress,' says the stranger, rising.

“'I'm sorry for that,' says Meg, and looked as if she meant it.

“'If ye'll just give me my change. . . .'

“'Change!' she cries, 'God save us, change; we sell naething here,' and she lifted the guinea oot the old jug on the shelf and handed it back. 'I thought it was just a present,' says she, makin' eyes at him, 'for a thankfu' man's free wi' his siller. Ye were lucky to get the only drop o' drink in the hoose,'—and that was true enough, for the time they had been talkin' and Meg kiltin' her skirt tae kind o' divert the stranger's attention, the lads had the keg in a safe place. Aweel, and so he had just to take shank's mare for it. I'll come back tae the hole in the wa'. There was one in the old house, and Meg cut a divot and stuffed the hole wi' it if there was nae danger, and if she had word o' excisemen or gaugers on the lookout for smuggling she took the turf oot, and that's how the place got it's name (and why we pass the word that the 'turf's in' if there's word o' a run), but it must have hurt Meg to gie back the guinea, for she's a wild long eye for siller.”

We were now close to a white house, stone built and thatched, set among big plane-trees, and looking to the sea. At the door I heard Gaelic songs and great laughing, and then we went inside. At first I saw nothing but two ship's lanthorns, swung from hooks such as we use to hang hams on, and the blazing fire, where a ship's timber burned with wee blue flames licking out, as the fire got at the salt of the seven seas. Then I made out the swarthy faces turned to us, and heard Dan's name voiced by the revellers, and a woman, stout built and perky but still young, that I took to be Meg the gleevitch, from her bird-like way of making little rushes, or, as we express it, “fleein' at things,” brought us steaming glasses of toddy, so strong that I think she had watered the whisky with more whisky, for the tears started to my eyes as I drank my first drink. But I felt fine and warm inside for all that. Captain McGilp, as tough a looking seaman as ever shook out a reef, hoisted himself beside Dan. He had not mind of me, I think.

“We did yon business o' Scaurdale's,” he whispered, “and got the len' of a cow to keep the wean in milk, and I'll no' say but I forget where the beast came frae, for it's in the barrel now, what's left o't. The wean's in France in a convent among the nuns, where I'm envying her her innocence,” and the captain became so wild and heedless in his speech that I drew away. “Ho, my cockerel,” says he, “Miss Mim-mou (mim-mouth), that's the bonniest wie I ken o' gettin' yir wesan cut,” and to Dan, “There's a lot o' the stallion to that colt.” This would mean that I resembled my father, the minister now dead, for he survived my mother, the Laird's sister, by but a few years.

“Let the lad be, Jock McGilp, or you and me'll be cuttin' wesands,” says Dan, and I could have flown at the burly smuggler's throat for the joy of Dan's backing.

“It'll be his first night, hey? Well, look at McNeilage there; he's been drunk fifteen flaming years.”

“A bonny mate that—fifteen flaming years.”

The mate slowly lifted his head, which had sunk on his massive chest, and as I saw his face I grew amazed, for he resembled nothing so much as a good-living, well-fed minister.

“I ha' used the sea, Cap'n, in my time. I loved the nuns and the virgins in San Iago afore we made a bonfire o' it, ay the holy nuns, but they skirled. Here's tae them, they were good while they lasted,” and the unholy wretch smacked his lips as though he relished the memory more than the drink.

“Sanny McNeilage, they ca' me. I've seen what I've seen and what ye'll never see—I've seen the decks red for a week and all hands drunk;” and then he turned to me, and his face shone with kindliness, “Are ye any man wi' a cutlass, my lad?”

“No,” says I, for my blood boiled at the thought of the nuns, “I wish I were.”

“So do I,” says he in a pitiful voice.

“All that was before your mother died,” says a young lad at his elbow, fierce Ronny McKinnon, and the mate put his head in his arms and his shoulders shook with his greetin', while nods and winks went round the godless crew.

“She was English, my poor old mother,” he cried, “and I would lay down my damned soul for her, but she died fifteen year ago, and she could not say 'wee tatties' in the English when she slipped her cable, for she turned into Gaelic—yes,” and he looked up, the tears in his eyes and rolling down his cheeks. I think I never saw anything so hateful, but then I saw his hand at his hanger and his big shoulders haunching. “Will any o' ye be denying it?” he murmured in his pitiful voice, and then through the tears I saw the devil mocking, and knew why the crew hastened to reassure him.

Meg, the gleevitch, kept the drink going and threw more wood on the fire. “Drink up,” she cries, “it's a rid tinker's night this.”

“Why red tinkers, Meg?” says Dan, raising his head from close confab wi' the captain.

“Ye ken the story fine,” says she, “how the weans hiv the red hair tae keep them warm maybe, lying oot.”

“Not me, my lass,” says Dan; “sit down here beside me and tell us.”

And as we took our drink she told us of the red tinkers and when they took to the road.

“Indeed, and that will be a good story too,” said an old shepherd by the fireside, with his dogs at his feet, “and I will be tellin' you another, if you will be caring. . . .”

It wore on to the small hours of the morning, and cocks began to crow, and yet we sat. Indeed, by that time I was seeing two fires, and I knew that most of the crew slept as they sat or sprawled, and the mate was again weeping and leering round for some one to fight, as though his seeming gentleness would entice a stranger. Dan was parrying with Meg, for in her story she had made great stress on a gipsy lass, and all with knowing looks in Dan's direction; but at last we made our homeward way, of which I remember little, except that Dan had me on his back on the worst of the road, and I was singing.

Next morning I was ill, and black looks I got at the breakfast, although my aunt was kind enough and I caught her smiling at me, for I suppose I must have cut a queer enough figure, but my uncle was very stern. After I had made some pretence of eating, I rose, and he asked me, in his grandest manner, to come to him in an hour.

He was among his books, for he was more of a bookworm than his folks, and standing in front of the fire as I entered.

“Hamish,” said he, “I thought more of ye. Dan is no model to follow,” says he; “forbye, your head is not so strong, if that be any excuse for drink and devilry on his pairt. I ken of his ongoings, but I hold my peace, for he minds his work, and I have a promise to his father, my brother, that's lying far frae his kith and kin in the field of Malplaquet. Let this be a warning to ye, Hamish, for this morning ye were looking lamentable,” says he, “just lamentable.”

CHAPTER V. MIRREN STUART'S ERRAND.

The shame of my first night's ploy at the Turf Inn lay heavy on me for a while, and then I would be thinking of the swarthy crew with their knives and their fierce oaths at the cards, of the spluttering glowing fire and the old men of the glens in the glow of it, and when I heard the wind moan and cry in the planting in the night, I longed to hear the old dread stories of a people long dead who had raised great stones on our wind-swept moors, and marked their heroes' resting-places with cairns.

Something of this I told to Dan as we gathered in the sheep from the far hills on the day before the big storm. I mind it fine, the grey heavy sky, the bursts of wind that rose ever and anon in the hills, and died away with an eerie cry, and made me think that all the winds had word to gather somewhere, and were hastening to the feast like corbies to a dying ewe.

There was the smell of snow in the air, and the moss pools were frozen hard, and beautiful it was to see the stag-horn moss entombed in the clear ice, and the wee water-plants, pale and cold and pitiful, at the bottom of the pools. Round the far marches we gathered—the wild shy wethers, seeing the dogs, paused as if to question the right of the intruders, and then bounded away like goats, and in my mind's eye I see yet the whitey-yellow wool where the wind ruffled the fleeces. Dan was very quiet that day, speaking seldom except to the dogs.

“There's something no canny coming, Hamish,” said he; “I feel it in my banes. We're but puir craturs when a's said and done. A pig can see the wind, and there's them that can hear the grass growing, but a man just breenges on, blin', blin', and fou o' pride.”

And again, “Ye've a terrible hankerin' for bawkins,[1] Hamish. I whiles think ye will be some old Druid priest come back that's forgotten the word o' power, but kens dimly in his mind that the white glistening berries o' the oak and the old standing stanes are freens. Ye're no feart o' bawkins, and ye're never tired o' hearing about them. Aweel, it's a kind o' bravery I envy ye, for weel I mind that first time I heard the Black Hound o' Nourn bay. I can feel the tingle of fear run in my bones yet when I think o' the dogs leaving me alane in that unchancey wood, and that devil beast near me in the dark.”

By this time we were at Bothanairidh, maybe a heather mile from Craignaghor, the flock heading quietly in and the dogs at heel, and at a bare hawthorn tree Dan stopped.

“An' this, Hamish, will be another o' your freens,” said he. “There's many a lilting laugh hidden in the ears o' this old tree, for here it was the cailleachs cam' tae spin in the long summer forenights, when everybody left their hames and took their beasts tae the hill for the summer. There were no dykes or hedges in those days, and the beasts had to be herded on the hill if the crops were to come to anything. Aweel, the men a' went to the fishing and a' the weemen stayed at Bothanairidh, and in the evenings the young lassies would be making great laughing while the cailleachs span; and once, long long ago, when the crotal was young on the rocks on the moors, there came a swarthy lad and said fareweel tae his lass under this tree. There was red wild blood in the boy, and before he came back he had seen a many men swing from the yard-arm. Ay, when he did return, he met a red bride, for another had awaited his coming.

“'This will be the bride ye are seeking,' snarled he that waited, and gave the sailor the dagger where the throat dimples above the collar-bone. And they say the swarthy lad writhed him up against the old tree and laughed.

“'As long as this tree stands,' he cried, 'you'll never hold to your coward heart the lass ye have done the dirty killin' for,' and died. Well, Hamish, I'm no' hand at stories, but the old hawthorn had aye flourished white until then, and after that the flourish was fine rich red, and when he that slew the swarthy lad sought to tear the tree down, his hair changed colour in a night, and the strange folks' mark was on him, and he wandered in the hills and died.”

As we stood, I fitted into Dan's brief story—for his tale seemed to me to resemble more the headings of a story than a real story,—I fitted in a background of great wind-swept spaces, of bare rocks and cold heather and that poor love-maddened outcast wandering alone, and wondered what black pool cooled his brow at the last of it, and there came to my ears a distant cry, and so sure was I that I had imagined it, that I never turned to look, till Dan's laugh roused me.

“Come away from the standin' stanes and the heroes' graves. That wasna the skirl o' a ghost, but a hail frae a sonsy lass—but what gars her risk her bonny legs in yon daft-like wie beats me.”

“I think,” says I, “yon'll be Finlay Stuart's Uist powny; there's none here has the silver mane and tail. . . .”

“Imphm,” says Dan; “imphm, Hamish, as Aul' Nick said when his mouth was fu'. Yon's Finlay's beast, and I'm thinkin' o' a' Finlay's lassies, there's just wan wid bother her noddle tae come here away, and that's Mirren; but wae's me,” said he, with his droll smile, “she's set her cap at the excise-man, they tell me.”

The lass drew up her pony beside us, and, man, they were a picture, these two—her hair, blown all loose, rippling like a wave, and the flush of youth glowing in her face and neck, and her eyes shining, and the noble Hieland pony, with his great curved neck and round dark barrel, and the flowing silver mane and tail. To me she bowed coldly enough, but with all the grace of one whose men-folk called themselves Royal, or maybe from Appin—especially in their cups. Although it seems the Royal Stuart race were none too particular whatever, but Dan had always his own way with the lassies.

“Has the de'il run away wi' the excise-man, Mirren, that you're risking horseflesh among the peat-bogs?”

“No,” she cries, “no, but I wish he would be taking the whole dollop o' them to his hob, and then maybe decent folks would be having peace.”

“That would stamp ye Finlay's lass if I didna ken already,” says Dan.

“Ken me,” cried the maid; “I'm well kent as a bad sixpence—a lass that should ha' been a lad wi' work to do or fighting, instead o' sitting—sitting like a peat stack, or”—with a fine flare o' colour—“like a midden waiting to be 'lifted.'”

“Ye're hard to please, my dear; there's many a lad wid be sair put oot if ye took to the breeks. . . .”

“It will not be this gab clash I came to be hearin', Dan McBride, but a most private business.”

“Oh, don't be minding Hamish, my lass; he canna pass a rick o' barley but his eyes and mouth water. It's just lamentable,” said he.

Her red lips took a curl at that, and then her speech came all in a rush.

“I've heard—oh, do not be asking me how I will be hearing these things, but the preventive men are lying at the cove waiting for the Gull, and I thought maybe if she came the night, wi' a storm comin' from the southard and them trying to make the port, they might all be taken away and transported, and he would be among them. . . .”

“Gilchrist the exciseman, Mirren?”

“Why will ye be naming that man to me?” she cried, in a burst of passion. “Is it not bad enough to be doing that I let him tell me their plans, and him not knowing where I carry them.”

“I might have kent the breed o' ye wouldna be content wi' an exciseman, Mirren. Aweel, Hamish and me will just be having a sail this night, storm or no', and the Gull can coorie into mony's the neuk among the rocks; but whit bates me is how they fun' oot the cove.”

“It would just be Dol Bob that told,” whispered Mirren.

“The dirty slink,” cried Dan. “I'm thinking there will be some talk between that man and me soon; but I'm no good enough looking to be thinking ye rade here to warn me, Mirren, so I'll be tellin' Ronny McKinnon tae keep his heart up yet when the Seagull's here, but ye'll hiv a big handfu' wi' Ronny.”

“I would not be having him less,” she cried, a little pleased as I thought; and then, as she turned to go, “There's a bonny wild lass at McCurdy's old hut, Dan, and she told me where to look for ye. Ye might tell her Mirren Stuart was speiring for her kindly, and thinking naething of Dan McBride, for the look she gied me out o' her black een made me grue.” [2]

So Belle was still at McCurdy's hut. But Dan was thoughtful again, and never spoke till we had the sheep in the low sheltered fields.

But coming home he was whimsical. “Are they not droll now, the lassies, Hamish—here's Mirren Stuart, namely for her good looks, and for the bold spirit of her. Many's the house she has saved with that same Hielan' pony, for Gilchrist, a game lad among gangers, canna keep anything from Mirren, and here she is among the heather wi' word o' treachery, and d'ye ken who she will be doing it for?”

“No,” said I, “except this McKinnon ye spoke of.”

“Ay, McKinnon, just wild Ronny, that she cast out wi' years ago when he was a decent farmer's son, close to her own place in the Glen yonder at the far end o' Lamlash, before he slipped away on the Seagull.”

“I am wishing, Dan,” said I, “that ye kent less about the smugglers.”

“A man must be doing something, Hamish, to get any pith out o' life. This is what I am thinking we will be doing the night. We will tell the Laird that it will be as well that somebody should be giving an eye to the sheep he has wintering at Lamlash and the South End, and then we will make for McKelvie's Inn at Lamlash and get a boat across to the Holy Island, and gie McGilp a signal frae the seaward side o' it, where it will not be seen except in the channel. McKelvie at the Quay Inn will ken a' about that. There's a man in the island ye will be glad to meet if he's in his ordinar—McDearg they ca' him—and after that, Hamish, we will stravaig to the South End and see the sheep there and come back hame again. Are ye game for it?” says he.

“Ay, Dan, but there's just this—who is this Dol Beag?”

“Dol Beag has a boat and a wife and weans, and he's a sour riligous man, keen for siller at any price. Well, I'm hoping the gangers have paid him well by this time, for I am thinking he will not enjoy it long.”

[1] Fearsome apparitions.

[2] Shiver involuntarily.

CHAPTER VI. WE TRAMP THROUGH THE SNOW TO McKELVIE'S INN.

With the afternoon came snow, round hard flakes like wee snowballs, dry and silent and all-pervading, and the hills were changed, and there came on the sea that queer mysterious snow light, and then the wind rose skirling, sweeping the uplands bare and filling the quiet hollows.

At supper-time the gale was at its height, the roar from the iron-bound shore was like giants in battle, and I knew that on the black rocks the spray was rising in drifting white smoke, and the rocks trembling to the onset of the seas.

Behind the stackyard, in the old trees, the crows were complaining bitterly with their hard clap-clap tongues, and now and then a great crashing warned of the death of some old storm-scarred veteran of the wood. But it was fine, the music of the storm, the blatter of the snow and the wailing cry of the wind, before a great devastating blast came.

Fine to think that the stackyard was safe and sheltered, and the beasts warm and well, were tearing away at their fodder all unconcerned, and that the sheep were in the low ground of many sheltering knowes and sturdy whin-bushes, comfortable as sheep could well be, and the thought came to me of how Belle was faring in her lonely sheiling. When the supper was made a meal of and the horn spoons of the lads still busy, Dan had a word with my uncle, for my aunt was mainly taken up watching each new trick of her bairn these days.

“This snaw,” says Dan, “will likely haud, and I would like fine to ken if a' these hogs ye hiv wintering over the hill will be getting enough keep.[1] I'm thinking Hamish and me will be as well tae inquire the night before it gets worse outside, for worse it'll be, and we'll be back as soon as the weather betters.”

At this my uncle takes a turn round his room with a thoughtful frown on his brow.

“No pranks,” says he; “I'll have no gallivanting, but I ken fine ye have an interest in the beasts. . . . Ye can go,” and as we turned to leave the room, he wheeled round with outstretched arm and his white finger pointing.

“No pranks, mind. I'll have no pranks.”

“God's life,” says Dan, as we muffled ourselves for our tramp—“God's life, Hamish, he's queer names for things, that uncle o' yours; there's nae prank in my heid this night—a queer prank it would be no' tae warn McGilp,”—and as we tramped through the kitchen where the lassies were coorieing over the fire telling bawkin stories, and edging closer to the farm lads for comfort when the gale moaned and whined in the wide chimney—as we tramped through, old Betty took Dan by the sleeve.

“Let go, ye old randy,” cried he, in a great pretence of terror. “I'm thinking the old ones are perkier than the young ones these days. . . .”

“Och, my bairn, my bairn,” cried the old woman, her two hands on him, “will ye not be stopping in this night, this devil's night? It's nae hogs that's taking ye trakin' weary miles this very night, and fine ye ken the hogs are weel, but ye're just leadin' the young lad astray efter some quean that'll be stickin' tae him like the buttons on his coat.

“Wae's me, wae's me, will ye not have enough truck wi' the wenches already that ye mak' me lie eching and pechin' and listening for the death-watch on sic a nicht,”—and at that Jean giggled hysterically and crept closer to Tam, and the old dame turned on her like a flash.

“Wheest, ye besom, wi' your deleries; there's trouble enough aboot the night without you skirling like a craking hen. It's no' your kind I'm feared for, ye useless one, but these wild hill lassies, for when the devil is loose among the hills, he gars the wild blood leap in their veins, and the wind tae loose the knot o' their lang hair—ay, and he'll bring the man that'll gar them tingle at his touch, and send the red blood flaming in their cheeks.”

Dan's smile was broader and broader, and I noticed the red blood flaming in the cheeks of our own sonsy dairy lassies, Liz and Betty. . . .

“Ye were bred in the hills yourself, old mother,” says Dan, and put an arm round the withered old neck, “and I'm kissing you for that,” and we went out into the smother of the snowstorm.

At the byre end the old rowan-trees were creaking and groaning to the violence of the gale, the bourtree bushes were flattened near to the ground, and everywhere was white. The driven snow melted on my tongue as I gasped, and I felt the flakes melt in my eyes; but we followed the road by instinct, for where the hedges should have been only a black blur showed. On the low road it was not so bad; but when we took the hill road again, I fain would have turned my back to the gale, and stood like a stirk on a wet day, but I powled on after Dan, thinking shame of my coward heart. Below us the sea roared like a cold, cold, cruel hell; the maddened anger of the breakers made me shiver with dread, and the gloating, horrible grumbling as the seas rumbled into the coves made a cold sweat break on my back and limbs. But I bent my head before the gale and clawed my way upwards with numbed fingers clutching like talons to the heather, and prayed that the roots might hold. So we toiled upwards, Dan always leading, and sometimes I saw him turning and knew he was speaking; but the wind cut the words as they left his lips, and bore them tearing and shrieking to the sea below.

Before we gained the top of the hill I saw Dan climbing upwards from the old peat track, and I followed dumbly as he led me into an old quarry, long since disused except by the sheep on the warm summer days, and there we lay almost exhausted, content just to know that the storm rushed over our pitiful retreat, and it seems droll to me now that I spoke scarcely above my breath; but then it seemed as though the storm-king might hear me if I raised my voice.

But when Dan spoke the black anger was trembling in his voice.

“They're lying there snug and dry in our cove, d—-n them, and that poor Gull straining and crying out there, reaching for her hame, and them ready to pounce on her crew, the crawling slinks,”—and I knew he was thinking of the Preventive men.

In a while we crawled to the path again, and clawed our way to the top of the hill, and there below us was a wondrous sight. The sea ran inwards in a noble bay, and the bay was almost landlocked with an island, but down below us was a myriad twinkling lights, hundreds of them, rising and falling. The snow had taken off for a little, and a hazy moon hurrying behind grey clouds showed us the ships tossing and straining at their cables. Some of the lights seemed to move slowly past the others, and these I took to be vessels dragging their anchors.

We stood looking down a while, for with the stopping of the snow a weight seemed to be lifted from us, and then made our way downwards towards the sea. After our fight upwards, the descent seemed easy and almost calm, although the wind was howling still; but we were close to farmed land now, and company, and once in a field sheltered by the wood of the Point, we came on sheep, standing and lying close in by the trees, and Dan bawled into my ear, “The hogs are doing finely, Hamish; I hadna expected to see them,” and I remembered that we were wintering sheep with old Hector of the Point as well as Easdale and Birrican. We struck the shore road and passed the big rock, and the sea was washing over the road, carrying spars, and bamboos, and sailors' beds, and leaving them high and dry on the fields by the roadside.

Groups of noisy seamen passed us with a great clop-clopping of sea-boots, and many little thatch houses we hurried by, until we came to the Quay Inn, where there were many people gathered, and pushed ourselves through drunken, quarrelling sailors to the counter.

[1] Forage.

CHAPTER VII. WE SAIL IN McKELVIE'S SKIFF TO THE HOLY ISLAND.

Through the throng of bearded sailors we strode and made our way to the kitchen of the Quay Inn. A place sacred to kenspeckle folk it was, and from its smoke-stained rafters hung many pieces of bacon and dried shallots, and there were also bunches of centaury, and camomile, and dandelion root, and bogbean, for the goodman's wife was cunning in medicines of the older-fashioned sort. In this place the noise from the common room was not so plainly heard, and indeed it gave me the impression of a haven from the boisterous spirit there.

As I stood before the blazing fire, guiltily conscious of the puddle of water at my feet where the snow had melted, Dan left the kitchen by a door leading to a yard and stables, and I heard him speaking to some one; and then when he came back there was the goodwife with him, and Dan cried for a long hot drink, for the flesh was frozen on his bones. At that the goodwife, with many “to be sures” and “of courses,” hurried herself here and there, and all the time she would be talking of the sheep in this terrible weather, and of our long tramp across the hill; and then she handed us the drink, and would not be having any payment at all for it, for were we not freens of her ain folk (however far out), and strangers too, moreover? And then the low door opened, and the innkeeper entered from the taproom, a dark man, very heavy across the shoulders, and a little bent on his legs like a sailor. I had seen him as we entered, black-bearded, silent, with his two swarthy sons, eyeing his company from below pent-house brows. His eyes, blue and keen, took us in from stem to stern, as the sailors say, and he came close to Dan before the fire, and—

“Ay,” says he, “it'll be the boat again,” and his voice was a growl.

“Just that,” says Dan, sipping his drink, and then he talked quickly, and I heard him tell of Mirren Stuart's message and of Dol Rob Beag's treachery (for he had taken the word to the Preventives of where McGilp kept his cargo in the cove above the Snib before it was carted inland, or stowed in many an innocent-looking smack bound for the mainland).

“Dol Rob Beag will be slipping his cable one of these fine nights,” growled the listener; and then, “There's just the caves at the Rhu Ban,” [1] says he.

“I had that in my head,” says Dan, “for the gangers are in the Cove at Bealach an sgadan, and McGilp will be in the Channel. McDearg o' the Isle House is in this to his oxters. There's just nothing for it but to show a glim on the seaward side o' the Isle, and McGilp will take the Gull to the Rhu Ban when the wind takes off; but, man, it's risky, devilish risky, wi' the bay fou o' boats.”

“It's the deil's own night,” agreed the innkeeper, “black as pitch and blowing smoke, but the snow will be helping us too,” and then we sat before the fire all silent for a while, the goodwife busy with her infusions and brews.

“Will ye be remembering the night they pressganged McKillop?” thus suddenly to Dan.

“A droll night's work yon.”

“Ye see,” turning to me, “this Neil McKillop would be a likely lad, clever on the boats, and clever wi' the snares—ay, clever, clever—and kept his mother well. Ay—well, there came a night like this, but not so much wind, and the pressgang boat slipped into the bay, and nobody knowing, and ashore came the crew o' her, and many's the likely lad they took, and among them Neil McKillop. The boat would just be shoving off from the old Stone Quay when his mother came there in her white mutch.

“'Give me back my son, my only son,' she cried, standing on the quay-head; 'you will not be taking away the one that keeps me in meat and drink, me an old, old woman. Och, bring him back, my lad, and I'll be blessing ye and praying for ye in your bloody wars.'

“At that a tarry breeks up with an oar and skelps a splash o' water at the old woman, and laughed at her with the wind blowing her skirts, and showing her lean shanks.

“'Go back to your weeds and your snakes, ye witch,” he cries in the Gaelic; 'we'll make a sailor-man out o' your whelp,' and the oars began to plash.

“Down on her knees went the old cailleach. 'Bring him to me, ye hounds, before I put a curse on ye,' and she tore her coorie from her head, and the wind tore through the strands of her white hair, and they rose like elf-locks. High above her head she threw her arm, her fingers stiff and pointing, there on the quay-head, an awesome sight in the mirk of a half moon.

“Then slowly, slowly, softly she began—

“'Cursed be ye all, seed, breed, and generations o' ye. The madness o' the sea come on ye in the still night watches, friendless, friendless on the face o' the waters be your lives, and your deaths too foul for the sea to be giving you a cleanly burial.' Then in a skirl o' rage, her face working, 'The foul things o' the deep shall reive the flesh from ye in your death, and in your lives ye shall mourn for the quiet streams o' fresh water and the sight of green things growing—and never, never, never get nigh them. . . .'

“In the boat the men lay on their oars, with faces white below the tan o' wind and weather, and then hurriedly she came astern, and Neil McKillop sprang on the quay, and to his mother, and the pressgang boat shot into the haze off the land, and the mother and son went back to the croft on the hillside.”

His tale finished, McKelvie drained his glass at a gulp, and his lips pressed together as though he were unwilling that even the volatile essence might escape, and then—

“We'll go,” says he. “Robin!”

At his word one of the swarthy sons entered and stood waiting, and through the open door to the common room I saw groups of sailors, asleep on the floor before the fire, and asleep on the benches where they sat; yet some hardened drinkers kept the drink going.

“Ye see, Hamish,” Dan whispered, “there's a big sea running, and these sailor boys would rather risk the floor than their wee boats.”

I felt a sinking at my heart, for I knew that the sailors were sweirt to risk their lives, yet there was not one timid face among them, but many bold and truculent—men used to risk their lives, and maybe enjoying the risk. But I held my peace, for I thought shame of my terror, and before Dan too. So the four of us went out quietly the back way and came to the quay, where we found a boat on the lee side, afloat, and with the mast stepped, and all ready for hoisting the sail, and I wondered if Dan's talking to the goodwife in the inn yard had had anything to do with it, for the boats at that time of the year were mostly upturned on the beach, and indeed most of the dingies and gigs from the ships were also drawn up.

Robin McKelvie slipped down the quay-wall as nimbly as a cat, and busied himself with the sail, doing what I know not, though I prayed he might not loosen any reef, and his father followed, more slowly, for he was a heavier man, but wonderfully active in a boat. Then Dan bade me climb down, and I scrambled down and found my feet on a gunwale just as I expected to feel the water, so I sat down in the boat suddenly, and Dan was beside me in a wee while.

Robin had the sail up, and made fast, as his father cast off and took the tiller, and the roar of the sea all round me as we sailed from the lee of the quay at first filled me with fear, but soon I felt the skiff rise to the first sea, and I forgot my terror in watching the helmsman.

“Ay, ay,” he spoke softly; “they're coming now, the three sisters,” and his eyes seemed to pierce the gloom for the three rolling curling waves as he shouldered the skiff over them. Sometimes I watched the water curling over the gunwale, and wondered if ever again I would reach the land, and then a wave would break somewhere near, and the helmsman would mutter—

“I ken ye; I will be hearing your whispering,” and it seemed to me as if he were a cunning old warrior in the midst of well-tried foes, wary and courageous, and always winning through. But in the middle of the bay the waves rose madly round us, the stout skiff was tossed like a cork, now perched giddily on the crest, and now racing madly to the trough, and then to the crest again with a horrible side motion (which I think seamen call yawing), most fearful of all. But McKelvie spoke to his boat as I have heard horsemen speak to their horses.

When a squall struck us and the skiff lay down to it, he would croon softly—

“You will not be killing yourself, lass—easy, easy,—oh, but you are eager for the sea,” and I knew that I was watching a master hand, a man cunning in the moods of the sea; but as I sat he bade me bale the water out of the boat, for it was slushing about high over the floor-boards, and these had come adrift, and were moving with every motion, so I baled with a will, glad for something mechanical to do, to keep my eyes off the menacing waves which seemed to rush up to devour us, and as if we were too poor a prey, spurned us away. Then I saw that we were in calmer water, and the steep shore of the Isle seemed close to, and the light of the white house clear, and in a little time the sail came rattling down, and the skiff's keel grated on the flat gravel, and we sprang ashore and put the anchor on the beach though the tide was going back.

And as we made our way over the gravelly shore I saw a crouching figure rise from among the wrack and come to us.

“Oh, oh; have ye come for me, father? Have ye come for me at last?” and a girl flung herself into McKelvie's arms, and hung there crying.

“Wheest, lass, wheest,” commanded the innkeeper sternly.

“Oh, I just crept as near the sea as I could go, for oh, yon hoose is no' canny, and a' day the ravens from the Red Rocks have walked in at the doors, fluttering and croaking, and the Red Man is crying that he's gaun tae his hame the night; and McRae piping to him a' day, and him drinking and blaspheming. . . .”

“If McDearg's gaun the night, we'll maybe hae news tae stop him, my dear,” said Dan. “Anywie, ye're surely no' feart of a raven's croaking?”

With that we started for the Isle House, the whitewash of it looking yellowish against the snow, and all about us the flapping of wings and the crying of sea-birds as our feet scrunched on the gravel.

“I canna go there,” cried the lass. “I just canna; let me bide in the boat,” and then, as she saw her brother take the lantern from the bows, she ran to him.

“Take me wi' ye, Robin. I'll speil tae the Goat's Ledge wi' ye; but oh, do not be making me go back there. . . .”

“Wheest, my lassie, my poor wee lassie,” said her father; “there's nae harm will come on you, wi' your father and Robin beside ye; but you will not be mentioning any Goat's Ledge, for the devil himself will carry word to the Preventives.”

So, standing some way from the skiff, we held a council of war, and at length Robin took his lantern and left us to climb to the Goat Ledge and make the warning signal, should M'Gilp be in the channel, and we others made for an outhouse, where we left McKelvie's lass content enough wi' two collies, for she was at her service in the Isle House, and they kent her. We left her there sitting on a bag of corn and the dogs at her feet, and made our way through the yard to the house.

[1] Bhuda ban=white headland.

CHAPTER VIII. THE DEATH OF McDEARG, THE RED LAIRD.

While we were still in the yard the door opened, throwing a scad of light over the snow, and a high screiching voice came to us—

“Come in, lads, come in; the lassies are weary waiting for their lads, the poor bit things, sair negleckit on this weary isle, wi' nane to see their ankles but scarts[1] and solangeese.”

And as we entered she held out a dry wrinkled hand.

“Prosperous New Year, Young Dan. Six bonny sons Auld Kate wishes ye, tall braw lads that'll no feel the weight o' your coffin; but if a' tales be true, you'll no' be in want. Ech, they're clever, clever, your lassies. Same to you, McKelvie. Your lass has ta'en the rue the day. Happy New Year, young sir; you'll be a McBride too,” and the old withered crone peered at me through eyes bleared, as it seemed to me, with the peat reek of a hundred winters.

I was sore amazed at our welcome, for it was not near New Year, and I wondered if the scad of light on the snow, shining on us, had taken the old woman back to her younger days, but Dan took me out of my amazement.

“Humour her, Hamish; humour the weemen. A new face is New Year to Auld Kate that keeps house tae McDearg.”

“Och, it's the lassies will be the pleased ones, coiling the blankets round them; it's Auld Kate that kens,” and then she gave a screitchy hooch and began to sing in her cracked thin voice—

  'The man's no' born and he never will be,
  The man's no born that will daunton me.'

It's that I used to be singing to your grandfather, Dan, when I was at my service in Nourn. He had a terrible grip, your grandfather, and the devil was in him; but he's deid, they're a' deid but Auld Kate. But we'll have a dram, and you'll be seeing the Red Laird.” And in a little I saw that there was more than old age the matter.

There came the noise of piping in that strange house, and we tramped along a stone-flagged passage, and entered a room looking to the sea, and there, before a great fire, was McDearg, an old man, with evil looking from his eyes. He sat in his great chair, his head on his breast, and his shepherd, with the pipes on his knee, sat listening.

“A brave night, a brave night, and the devil on the roof-tree, McBride. What seek ye o' the Red Laird? The Gull, say ye; the Preventives—to hell wi' the Preventives; there's a bonny cove at the Rhu Ban, lads; but ye're in good time to see the devil coming for Red Roland.”

A terrible squall struck the house and moaned round the gables, and the lowes blew into the room.

“D'ye hear him, the laughing o' him, and his blackbirds spying all day—ay, the Ravens from the Red Rocks; but they have nae terrors for Roland McDearg.”

A long time he was silent, and then slowly the words came—

“McRae, McRae (for the McRaes were all pipers), play me back, back till I hear my mother laughing, in the evening, till I see the grass, green, green and beautiful in the sun, and the golden ben-weeds swaying to the breeze, and I am a boy again—I, Red Roland, searching among the heather, with the scent o' wild honey around me, searching for the shy white heather to bring coyly to my lass, and bravely the sun shines among the hills, and the hawk's brown wings flutter in the blue vault. Play me back, McRae, till I hear the water wimpling on the hill burns, when I lie flat to drink, the brown peaty water, McRae, and the sheep looking at me before they run. The sun and the sea and the wild winds o' my youth, McRae; bring them back to me before I go.”

As he spoke, the Red Laird lolled his head on the back of his chair. His eyes were closed, and his mind looked backwards; and as he cried for the sun and the growing grass and the wave of the wind in the hay, his hand rose and fell. And McRae, McRae the piper, looked long into the glowing fire, looked till his harsh face softened and the smiling came round his eyes, and softly, softly he played. And in his playing I saw the goodman bend over his wife and whisper. I saw her face glow in the evening sun, and I heard her laughter, clear and sweet like diamonds ajingle, as she struck him playfully, and walked stately and slow to the green where her children played on the lush grass, and ever and ever she looked over her shoulder for her man, because he was her lover still. And I saw a boy moving among the crags, the honey dust round his knees, and ever and ever his eyes searched the heather, and I heard his cry of gladness as he fell down beside the lucky heather, white and chaste as a virgin.

And I looked at Dan and saw him far away in his youth, and even McKelvie looked not comfortable. But the Laird was all happy, a boy again with all his days before him, and when McRae made an end of his piping, said Dan with a queer sigh—

“A great gift, Hamish, to be drowned in drink,” and as I watched the piper gulp his usquebach I kent what he meant.

But at his stopping, the Laird rose. “Let be the days o' innocence, McRae. The March, The March, now, and the onset o' battle. Dirl it out, dirl it out, for Red Roland was first in the charge, and the cries o' fear made the blood tingle in his back, the women screaming, and the men crying, and the red blood flowing, and my father's sword dauntless in the van—bring it back, McRae. Make my cauld blood hot as in my manhood.”

When he cried for the battle-music, his clenched fist beat the air, his long locks tossed like an old lion's mane, and the war love shone in his eyes. A great change came on the piper. He stood his full height, as straight as a young larch tree, and a cold deadly pride came on his face, and then with a great swing he threw the drones to his shoulder, his arm caressed the bag, and his foot beat, beat, beat like a restive horse, till he got the very swing of his pibroch.

Then with that fine prideful swing of his shoulders he started to march, and I saw the clansmen gather, wet from the mountain torrents, with knees red-scarred by the briars of many a wood. I heard the clamour of their talk, and the high note of their anger, and then swiftly, silently, below a pale moon I saw their ranks lock and the grim march begin, onward, onward to the southlands.

And then I heard the wail of the southern mothers, and the laughing cry of the clansmen as the foemen stood to arms, the wild devilish lilt of it for glory or a laughing death, and all around a black, black land, lighted alone with blazing farms, and the broad red swathe where the hillmen trailed. Came the very struggle, the gasping for breath, the cry of the fallen, the hand-to-hand grip, and then the great blare of triumph, and the Red Laird yelled aloud—

“Through, by God, through!”

“I've lived my life, McBride, my ain wild life, and the sadness is coming on me, to leave my bonny hills and the cold splash o' a summer's sea. The sadness o' the silent peaks and the gloom o' the hidden valleys, McBride—ay, but it's fine, the sadness, better than the heated joys o' the south.” And again McRae played, looking into the heart of the fire, and the far-away look in his eyes, and as he played I felt a lump rise in my throat, for a sorrow I kent not, except that the wind moaned eerily through the thatch, and grey and gurly grew the sea, with the black jackdaws flying low inshore. The uneasy cattle were lowing in the byre, and the rain fell in great drops from the leafless trees—fell on the cold wet earth, and the fire on the hearth was out, and cold white ash marked where nevermore would peat be lighted; and oh! I heard the wail of the mourners, and saw the sobbing daughter cling to her mother, and the youngest son leave for the wars, the last of his house and name, and his name forgotten in the glens already.

“Stop him, stop him,” I cried; “there's cold death at my very side, and his breath on my cheek like an east wind,” and I would have run from the room.

“Death,” cried the Red Laird—“death. I flouted him in my youth; I wrestled with him and flung him from me. I laughed at his cold eyes across a naked sword, and spurned him on the heather; but now in my age, when my bones are brittle and my arms shrunk, he creeps behind me again, sure, sure o' his prey,” and as he spoke he crouched like a stealthy enemy, one groping hand outstretched. Then he flung himself upright, his eyes flashing, dauntless as a lion.

“Come then, Death, to the last grips wi' Red Roland; ay, your cold hand is at my throat, old warrior—ay, but mine is firmer yet. The Onset, the Onset, the blare o' it, the madness o' it for Red Roland's last fight,” and at his words the swinging lamp went out with the last great gust of the gale, and in the darkness came the crash of a fallen man, and Red Roland lay dead in the red glow of his own fire. And as we stood there, Robin McKelvie came in with the word that the Gull was battling in the channel.

      * * * * * *

And they carried the dead man and laid him decently on his bed.

Behind Robin, the house servants, stout dairymaids from the mainland, stood awhisper, their sonsy red cheeks pale and mottled with fear, and among them came the bullock-feeders; for the Red Laird fattened stock for the mainland markets, and had his own quay, where the carrying vessels moored in these days, and from the kitchen came the moaning of old Kate.

“Ochone, ochone, he's gone, the strong one, and I mind me when his back was like a barn door and the love-locks curling on his brow,” and she came into the chamber wringing pitiful, toil-worn hands, and the servants after her, ashiver to be left alone in the dim passage. Round the fire they huddled, none speaking except in whispers, as though they feared the great unseen Presence; and as they sat in that eerie silence there came the hollow clop-clop of sea-boots in the passage, and I saw the serving maids stiffen and straighten as they sat, and a look of terrible fear came on their faces.

And McKelvie's lass skirled, “He's coming,” and cooried back in a corner.

“Can ye not hear the tramping?” and she thrust an arm before her head as a bairn will to escape a cuff.

With that the door opened, and McKelvie entered in high sea-boots, but the fear did not leave them, for the Laird was wont to wear sea-boots when the weather was bad on his rocky isle; and with their minds all a-taut for warnings and signs, the tramping in the flagged passage was fearsome enough. Indeed, I breathed the more freely myself when McKelvie entered with Dan at his heels.

Dan had a stone jar in his hand, and he poured a stiff jorum, and held it to auld Kate, greetin' at the fireside.

“The Red Laird's gone tae his ain folk, cailleach,” says Dan, standing straight and manly beside the huddled old woman. “Good points he had and bad, but he's finished his last rig and taken the long fee.

“Drink tae the memory o' him, Kate: ye kent him weel, and he had aye a dram for a ceilidher.”

“Ou ay, Dan, mo leanabh, ou ay; but I cannot thole the thought o' his spirit fleeing among the cauld clear stars, for there's nae heaven for him if his ain piper is no there to cheer him, or mak' him wae. Och, ay, I'll tak' the dram, but I'll be sore afraid there's plenty o' pipers in hell wi' the devils dancing on hot coals tae their springs, and he'll maybe be well enough.”

As Dan put round the drink the doleful mood lifted a wee, and the lads started to tell stories.

“I mind me,” said Donald, the shepherd—“I mind o' a night I had on the hills at the time o' the lambing, and in the grey o' the morning, when the rocks are whispering one to another, and will be just back in their places when a man comes near them, and when ye hear voices speaking not plainly, because o' the scish o' the burn on the gravelly mounds, but if ye listen till the burn is quiet a wee, ye'll be hearing the laughing o' the Wee Folk at their games.

“Mora, in the grey o' the morning, I would be just among the sprits[2] above the loch-side, when there came an eerie 'swish, swish' at my side, slow and soft. I thought it would be a hare, and I stopped to let her get away, for I would not be crossing her path, but see her I could not, and I turned round to speak to 'Glen,' and there was no dog there at all.

“Ay, well, I whistled and I whistled in that dreary place till the noise of it put a fear on me, and I started on again, and there at my side was the swish, swish in the sprits, and I would be poking my crook among them, but when I would be stopping it would be stopping, and I felt my hair bristle on my neck for the fear on me; but I pushed on, looking at my feet and all round me, till something inside of myself made me be looking up, and there was something before me, wi' eyes glowering at me—oh, big, big it was, as a stack o' hay, and it was in my path, and I shut my eyes and stood, for it would kill me. And when nothing would be happening I opened my two eyes, and it was not there, and then I looked round with just my head, and aw!”—and a shudder went through the shepherd, and he gulped at his drink,—“it was just at my own very shoulder grinning at me. And I ran and ran, skirling like a hare, and it behind me—ran till I felt my heart beating in my throat, and ran through burn and briars and hedges till I ran into the barn and fell on the straw, and remembered no more.”

“And why,” says I, “did you not run into your ain house?”

“Are you not knowing that?” says Donald. “If I had run to my house and the door shut, I would just be fallin' dead on the doorstep.”

“There's McGilp,” says Dan. “He aye carries a sail needle in his kep lining, and he'll say it's just to be handy, but it's aye been in the same place. An' what will it be for, Neil Crubach?”

Neil looked up, his blue eyes hazy with dreaming things out of the past. His face was very beautiful, and his body massive and strong, but he halted on his leg, and could walk but lamely.

“Oh,” says Neil, with a kindly smile, “you will be knowing that surely, and you a McBride, and reared among the rocks and the bonnie heather.

“It will just be that when our forefathers would be among the hill sat night, many and many's the time the evil one would be coming to them and speaking, and sometimes he would be coming in the form of a black dog, like the Black Hound o' Nourn, wi' a red tongue lolling from his mouth, and sometimes he would be a wild cat louping among the rocks, hissing and spitting wi' his eyes lowin', and the old wise ones in the far glen found the power in the unknown places in the hills, and they said to the young hunters and warriors, 'Aye be carrying steel, for steel will sever all bargains,' but a skein-dubh is the best to be carrying in the hills, for a devil will not come near the black-hefted knife wi' a strong bright blade—no,” and Neil Crubach smiled, and looked among the red embers for his dreams.

And then, still looking into the embers, he began to speak in his soft-voiced way—

“They're bonnie wee things, the Wee Folk, and merry as the lambs in June.

“When my leg would be troubling me sorely in my mind, and me a lad fit to break a man's back, and to fling the great stone from me like a chuckle—ay, in these long-ago days, there was a lass, and, och, she was just to me in my mind like the sun rising from the sea on a summer morning, and I could have taken her away in my own arms, for I would be fierce like my folk, in their hate and their love, and whiles I would be feeling in me the wish to be killing her nearly just to watch her eyes opening like the sky when the white woolly clouds are drifting apart, and among the hills when I wandered I would be dreaming of holding her in my arms, for they would be great arms in these old days; and one day she came, and I told her all that was in my heart, and she said never a word, but just put her white round arms on my shoulder and her head on my breast.”

For a long time he was silent, and I saw the servant lassies look at one another, their terrors all forgot in the beauty of his picture, for there was colour in his very tone.

“I would be carrying her in my arms, for was she not but a mountain flower, but when I would have taken her up I saw her eyes with a great pity in them for my lameness, and I felt hell rising in my heart, for were not my folk straight in their limbs, and nimble as goats among the rocks? and then she saw my face, and I think there would be black murder in it, but for myself, not for my white flower, for Neil Crubach I hated when my love looked on this poor limb (it was only a little shorter, but I knew the pride that was in his race).

“Then my love looked into my soul.

“'Neil,' she said, and drew my head down to her—'Neil, my hero, take me up,' and I took her up, and she lay curled in my arms, with her lips at my neck, and then she whispered, 'Neil, you will not be angry if I say it now.'

“'Never angry, mo ghaoil,' and my heart stopped to be listening.

“'I wish—I just wish, Neil, mo ghaoil, that you would be more lame, for my mother will be seeing us too soon, and I want aye to stay here.'“ Neil was just thinking aloud.

“A year, just a wee year, with her smiling at her spinning, and running to meet me in the far fields to be carried home—ay, she would be calling my arms 'home,'—and when we would be ceilidhing she would be saying, 'Neil, it will be time your lass was “home,” and her eyes would be laughing at me, and no one else would be knowing at all.'

“A year, a wee year, and she lay like a white flower, still and cold, and all my love could not make her hear.

“And I sat by her silent spinning-wheel and waited till she should come back night by night; I forgot the old kirkyard, for how would the earth be keeping my love from coming to me, and as I sat came my old mother, and she was wise and gentle to her lame son.

“'My son, if you would be lying behind the wee hill when the moon is young, maybe you would be forgiving your old mother'—for when she was sad she blamed herself for the fall that left me lame, even when I laughed and made nothing of it in her hearing.

“Behind the wee hill I lay when the moon was young and the grass was cool on my brow, and I would be hearing the breathings of the hills in the silence as they slept, and the moon sailed behind a black cloud and all the world was dark, and I heard a great laughing in the dark near me like diamonds and pearls sparkling, so wee was the sound and so bright the laughing, and then the moon sailed out clear silver in a blue sky, and there were all the Wee Folk at their games on the short turf. Bravely, bravely were they dressed in their green coats, and near me, sitting and looking with longing eyes I saw my own love, and she was looking down a wee, wee track in the grass, but it seemed to me hundreds of miles. And my love cried and waved as she looked down the path, and I heard her laughing, my own love, and then, 'Hurry fast, Neil, and take me home'; and again I heard her laughing joyously, and then in the track of grass, away and away, I saw a-coming one that halted on his foot, and he was away and away, but my love clapped her hands, and ran down the path with her arms stretched out to be carried home, and I saw all the Wee Folk run to welcome the one that halted on his foot, and I knew that the path that they were travelling so fast was just Time, and slowly, slowly only can Neil Crubach march, but she is running to meet me—my love.”

By this time old Kate had forgotten her troubles, and was away back in her youth, when, if all accounts be true, there were few, few fit to hold a candle to her wild beauty or devilry.

“Och, the nights like this would not be hindering the ploys when my leg was the talk o' a parish, and my cheeks like the wild red rose. We had a' the lads to pick and choose among, Bell and me; and mora, it was not gear they cam' courting for.

“There was a time we slept in the bochan to be nearer the beasts, we would be telling the old ones, but maybe it was not for that at all, for your grandfather was raiking then, Dan McBride, it kinna runs in the breed o' ye. Ay, well, we were in bed, Bell and me, when the Laird o' Nourn whistled low outside. 'The devil take ye, Kate,' Bell would be crying, 'he'll be in,' for there was only divots in the window in the bochan. 'He will that,' says I, and I saw the divots tumbling, and in he came assourying wi' two o' us, and us feart when he gied his great nicker o' a laugh, for fear he would be awakening the old folks, or rouse the dogs, although they kent him well enough, a rake like themselves.”

“Was he no' the auld devil?” says Dan with a laugh; “two o' ye, and the best-looking lassies in the countryside.”

“He wasna aul',” cried Kate—“aul'; he was as like you as two trout. He got us two suits o' sailors' claes and he cam' tae see us dressed in them, and bonny sailors we made, Bell and me, and we went to the Glen and called on our uncles. It was dark inside, and they were sitting ower the fire talking slow and loud, and we went in.

“'What will you be wantin' here in God's name?' said Angus.

“'We've nae money and nae meat,' said I, 'and our ship has sailed without us, and we're starving.'

“'Starving, John, starving, will ye be hearin' the poor sailor lads. We have not got any money, John, to be giving, but gie the lads an egg apiece, John, an egg apiece; and John brought us an egg, and then Bell winked at me, and 'Ye hard old scart,' says I in the Gaelic, and he got up on his feet, for he would be knowing my voice, and he could not be understanding it at all, and when we had finished our devilry I gave him the egg what I was fit and ran, and Angus would be crying—

“'Give me the graip, John; give me the graip. Angus will kill boas (both).'

“So an' on the night wore through; whiles we would be telling old stories, and there would be times when we sat silent except for auld Kate whimpering at the fireside.

“These were the days and these were the nights, ochone and ochone, for the like o' them we'll be seeing nevermore.”

And in the morning the women made a meal, moving stealthily about the house and keeping together when the men went out to their beasts—for birth or death, wedding or christening, the beasts must be looked to, and that's good farming. The seas were breaking white in the bay and the ships lay at the stretch of their cables, but although we searched long and ardently, we could not find the Seagull. We were downcast and silent, and no man looked at his neighbour, for the fear was on all of our hearts that McGilp and his crew were lost, and at last I voiced my dread to the innkeeper.

“Ye do not ken McGilp to be speaking that way,” said he, and his voice was hoarse as a raven's croak. “We could not have run a cargo last night wi' the sea like a boiling pot; and if the Gull had anchored off the Rhu Ban Cove there would be plenty to be wondering why she was there. No, no, my lad; there's sailor men on the Gull, and a wee thing will not frighten them. She just ran before it, man, and she's standing off and on till the night.”

And so it proved, for that night McGilp himself was rowed ashore, and his eyes were red as a rabbit's wi' the lashing o' the sea, and the white salt was dried on his beard.

With him was McNeilage, his mate, his face red and shining like a well-fed minister, and the drink to his thrapple.

“A great night last night,” said he. “Och, a night like the old roaring times when every ship on God's seven seas was a fortune for the lifting.”

We were on the shore at the Rhu Ban, working and toiling at the cargo with the oars muffled, and no man speaking above his breath, and when we had the cargo in the coves, and the seaweed and trash from the shore concealing it, we made our way to the outhouse where McKelvie's lass had waited, for there were friends of the dead Laird's in the house, and new men are hard to trust in the smuggling. And at the outhouse I spoke to fierce Ronny McKinnon as he stood among the crew.

“Ronny,” said I, “there was a bonny lass putting herself about for ye, or ye might have been listening to mice cheeping instead o' the waves out there.”

“I've been in many's the ploy,” says Ronny, “and the lassies liked me well enough, except just one.”

“Would her name be Mirren now?” said I.

“I'll no' say but it might just be that,” says Ronny, with a thinking look in his eyes.

“There was a lass o' that name, on a Hielan' pony, met Dan and me at Bothanairidh the day before the snow,” says I. “She talked about ye for a while.”

“She would be having nothing good to be saying,” says he with a laugh. “For everything I did was a fault except just I would be sitting at home with my old mother, and so I just fell in wi' McGilp, and left the lassies to claver among themsel's for a year or two, for they will have too many cantrips for a simple man.”

“It would just be that lass that told us about the Preventives lying in the cove near the Snib, and she was sore feart a lad Ronny McKinnon would be transported.”

“And would she be saying just that,” says Ronny.

“She would just,” says I.

“It's no like her temper at a', but I'll be thanking her for that kind thought,” says he, and commenced to his whistling o' pipers' tunes.

[1] Cormorants.

[2] Boghay.

CHAPTER IX. MIRREN STUART BIDS HER DOG LIE DOWN.

It was after the burial of the Red Laird that we returned to the Quay Inn in McKelvie's skiff, and this time we had McKelvie's lass and Ronny McKinnon with us. The Seagull was at anchor now over near Donal's Point, for McGilp had much business to attend to. Little skiffs had flitted in the night through the darkness of the bay. The cove was empty, and in the sand ballast of many a smack sailing for the mainland ports, there was that hidden that the smacksmen prized more than their honest cargoes of coal or potatoes. Ronny McKinnon had been aye about the cove, concealed in the daytime and busy in the night, for McGilp trusted him much, and McKelvie's skiff had made a run with only the innkeeper and swart Robin on board, except for a keg or two concealed beneath a sail and a tangled long line. At the Quay Inn Mrs McKelvie made a great work with her lass, and would not be letting her do a hand's turn, but just sit and be resting, and every one was very merry about the place. The two sons were scattering clean sand on the floor, and the fine scent of cooking in the kitchen was wafted to the tap-room and made my very teeth water for a square meal, for the sea had made me hungry. Ronny left us at the inn and made his way homewards, and I would be hearing his cheery cries to the folk he passed, for he would be everybody's fair-headed laddie, and maybe Mirren Stuart would be feeling surer of her man when he would be sitting at home with his old mother, for it seemed to me that the lassies that would be passing had very bright eyes, and that they would be looking back often too.

We sat down to a meal in the kitchen, Dan and me, and he kept them all in crack. For the mistress he promised to gather bog-bean when the time came, and she was in her very element; and there sat Dan McBride with Gude kens what evil in his head, his eyes smiling at the old dame and listening how she cured a young lass of a stomach complaint with the wee round caps of the wilks—“for mind you,” says she, “each wee round cap will lift its ain weight o' poison frae the stomach.”

“And the coosp,[1] now, mistress; Hamish here will no' be believing me, but there's de'il the halt better for the coosp than”—and so his talk went on, and him not believing one word. And when her mother would be rattling among the plates on the dresser, Dan would be bending over and speaking to the lass, and looking into her eyes, and the gruff old father saying never a word, and the two sons arguing where it was that Dan had jumped the Nourn burn when the bridge was carried away with the big spate. And when we had our fill o' eating, we followed Ronny up the Glen, for Dan would ken how the hogs were doing there now he was this length, and so we tracked through the Glen, leaving Finlay Stuart's house behind us. As we passed I saw a lass in the stable, and I wondered if Ronny had seen his mother yet.

It was just the long weary road to the South End that Dan and me travelled, so the reader can follow Ronny, for he told me his story long after of his coming when we needed him most. And this was the story that he told me:—

“Man,” said Ronny, “when I took my leave o' ye at the Quay I just thought yon day would see it settled between Mirren and me, once and for all, and I'll no' be denying a queer happy feeling, for I felt I could be conquering everything that day; but maybe it was because o' the siller I had in my spluchan to be giving to my old mother, for if the want o' it will not be making a lad miserable, the having o' it will aye keep his spirits up.

“I would be thinking, inside of myself, that she would be sitting in the kitchen, my old mother, and shooing the wee white hen away from layin' in the bed, and then I would be coming in so quiet, and be putting my hands over her eyes, and she would be kenning me, and laughing, and greeting, for that I was back. Then I would be making her spread her brat over her knees, and be throwing the siller into her lap and listening to the cries o' her. But whiles among these thoughts I would be making pictures o' a limber long-legged lass that could work horse like a man, and would be on the hill after sheep when her neighbours would be stretching themselves in bed, and rubbing the sleep from their eyes. And I was seeing her standing on the top of the hill, wi' the morning breeze playing with her brown hair, wi' the clear sparkle in her eyes and her lips curled to whistle on the dogs, and aye I would be wondering if I would get a sight o' her when I passed her father's place.

“When I came near, there was the great barking o' dogs, and a black-and-tan collie came at me wi' the burses ridged on his back and his white teeth showing.

“'Chance, ye old fool,' said I, and at that he gave a yelp, and came at me daft to be seeing me, and jumping to be licking my face. I got him to heel, although, mind you, it did my heart good, his welcome, for we were long friends, and there were few, few that Chance would welcome. But I would aye be liking the dog since the first time I put my arm round Mirren, and that was years ago. She would have thrown it from her that time, for she was like a quick-tempered boy, but at her angry movement the old dog girned at me, and the rumble o' his growl made us look, and there he was ready to spring at me, and it makes me laugh yet; for Mirren, my own quick-tempered lass, fondled my hand at her waist to quieten him.

“'Mirren,' said I, and I took my arm away, 'there's just nothing for it but you should put your arm round me, for I can see you will only be tholing mine for the sake o' my skin.'

“'There will be many a blue sea below your feet before Mirren Stuart will be doing that,' said she, and I let her go a step in front of me, maybe to see the fine swing o' her, and her free mountain stride.

“I was thinking o' that time when we came to the gate o' Finlay's place, Chance and me, and the snow had been cleared from before the stable, and when I looked, there was the Uist pony standing at the door and Mirren busy at the grooming o' him, and her hair was tousled a wee and curled at the nape o' her neck, and her sleeves turned back.

“I put my arms on the gate and stood watching her, for many a night I would be thinking of her and me away, and then maybe because she would be feeling an eye on her, she turned round.

“'Will ye aye be my lass yet, Mirren?' and I was proud to see the red flush rise to her cheeks.

“'How many would that be making, Ronny?' she cried, and came half way and stopped.

“'Just the one, Mirren,' said I, and opened the gate and came beside her.

“'Ye will have changed then since last I kent ye.'

“'Indeed, and I think ye're bonnier yoursel', lass, and I would not be believing that possible,' and we walked to the stable door wi' old Chance at our heels.

“'They will have surely been teaching you nice talk, the stranger lassies, Ronny.'

“'Mirren, dear,' said I, and put my hand on her shoulder, 'we will not be talking that way any more, you and me,' and at the stable door o' Finlay Stuart's place I put my arm round the shoulders of his proud lass Mirren, and held her back, and made her look at me.

“'My lass,' said I, 'in a wee while I will be kissing my trysted wife.'

“'Look at the dog, Ronny, first,' said Mirren, but her eyes were laughing.

“'I will be hearing him without looking away from you,' said I.

“And with that I bent my head to kiss her, but her face was turned away from me, and even then I was hearing the growling o' the collie, and wondering where he would be fastening on me. Then with my head quite close to her, I whispered—

“'Will it not have been any good at all, dear, all my love for you? Will you be sending me away from you after all?'

“Then as I waited, she said a queer thing—

“'Chance! Chance! lie down!' and at that the laughing came on me, and my own lass turned her dear face to me glowing, and with a look of mingled pride and shame she looked at me and put her arms round my neck.

“'I will not be a great hand at saying love talk, Ronny,' she whispered. 'I can just be holding you tight, but take me if ye will be having so poor a lass, for I will have been loving you all to myself all the time.'

“And when a wee while was passed and we found ourselves in the stable (for a lass has always an eye for who may be looking), Mirren Stuart gave me a look of great scorn, but playfully.

“'It will be as well that one o' us is farmer enough to mind the beasts,' said she, and went out and took the garron into his stall, for he had been clean forgot, and stood looking longingly into his stable and the wind raising a pook o' hair on his tail.”

      * * * * * *

“Well, when the lassies, Mirren's sisters, were by wi' teasing us, I sat down to a meal in Finlay's kitchen, and when I rose on my legs to be going, my lass flung a shawl round her, and wondrous bonny she was in that shawl, and we left by the back road to be seeing my mother, and the lassies flung bachles at us 'for luck.' And although Mirren was not out o' my sight in the house, yet I will be quite sure they kent we were for the marrying, for I got a glimpse o' Peggy, a rollicking tomboy o' a lass, rubbing herself against Mirren's shawl and crying, 'It's me that will be going off next.'

“And Anne, a ruddy lass, whispered—

“'Now that you will have the lad you were speaking about through your sleep, Mirren, maybe ye'll be giving me your garters,' and between one and the other o' them, it was a red-faced, brave-looking lass that stood wi' me in my mother's kitchen.

“And my mother, that I had been wearying for a sight o' for three years past, my old mother, kissed the lass first, and then—

“'You will have managed to bring him to his senses at last, Mirren dear,' said she; and then I found that these two had been having the great confabs when I would be away, and my wife has told me since, when she was new-fangled wi' me, and very loving, that she would just be going there to be listening to my mother's stories about me, when I would be a wean; and although I will be telling her that the things I am remembering most are the skelpings I would be getting, she just will be laughing at me.

“'It is not one half of what you would be deserving, my man,' she says.

“So and on, there we sat wi' the red glow of the fire shining on my old mother's face, making her look hearty and well in her white mutch, and glinting on Mirren's eyes when she turned to speak, and lowing in the copper o' her hair, and I would be content to sit and listen to these two, till Mirren had to be going. On the road home she made no complaints when I put my arm round her, for was she not my own lass now. Moreover, it was dark. We were at our first good-night under the rowan-trees beside the byre, for rowans will keep the fairies away, and it is good farming to have them where the beasts will be walking under them every day. We were loath to part, Mirren and me, and she would be lying against my breast, when there came the figure of a man running, and I kent him for Gilchrist the excise-man.

“'Stop a wee, my lad; stop,' says I. 'What will be hurrying ye?'

“'That damned McGilp has escaped us again,' said he, 'and Dan McBride has killed Dol Rob Beag.'

“'Run, Ronny, run,' cried Mirren, and pulled me to the stable. 'Dan will be needing all his friends before the morning,' and she had the bridle on the garron, and I was on his back like a flash, and making for the Quay Inn before she was done speaking.”

[1] Coosp=chilblain on the heel.

CHAPTER X. DOL BEAG IS FLUNG INTO A FIRE.

And now you will be coming to meet Dan and me on the long road back from the South End, and coming on with us like a good comrade, for Dan that day walked like a man that was fey, and I, who would be thinking I kent him, might just as weel have been walking with a stranger. Below the shoulder o' the big black hill, before ye come to the Laird's Turn, he halted.

“Man, Hamish, the hills are just vexed wi' me this day,” said he, “and I ken a' their moods, as weel as a bairn kens his mother.”

“To me,” said I, and I would be searching about in my mind for the right words, like a pedant, for was I not college-bred—“to me,” said I, “they aye look just grandly contemptuous,” and, mind you, my heart went out to the great strong man at my side because of the soft place in his warm heart for the grim old hills, for I would aye be feared to talk that way to him, for fear of his laughing.

“I ken what ye mean by grandly contemptuous too,” said he. “I have felt that way when I would be gathering sheep, and looking up at the crags and the rocks above me, and the head o' the hill would be turned from me in disdain, and I would be feeling like the wee red ant crawling on the beard o' a warrior, asleep on a glorious battlefield. I canna just be putting the right words to it, but, man, I feel it inside o' me.

“There's days in the early summer mornings before the heat-haze has lifted when a man can see the hills lying on their backs wi' their faces to the sun, like giants resting, and he can see the smile on the brow o' them when the sun beats down, and it's fine to be imagining that they're laughing to one another; and on these days the hills are aye friendly to a man, and when he lies down among the heather the spirit o' the hills will be knowing him, and his forebears, since the hills were established; but ah! they will be glooming at me the day.

“There's a frown on the brow o' the Urie, and his face is hidden from me, and listen to the grumbling and flyting o' the burn. They're a' vexed, Hamish, but we're to have company down through the glen, for yonder will be Sandy Nicol driving his stots to the bay.”

We made up on the drover, a wild unkempt man with a great red beard wagging on his broad chest, and fierce blue eyes that seldom winked, and it seemed to me that his dogs—for two deep-chested, lean-flanked black collies slunk at his heel—it seemed to me that they kent his mind before he spoke a word, for they worked the wild hill-bred stots like the dogs the old folk will be telling about.

“Ye would be looking to the hogs,” said he, as if he had kent us from the hillside and no greeting was needed; and as he spoke I thought of an old door swinging on rust-eaten hinges, for his voice was deep and harsh, as though he opened his mouth seldom to speak; and indeed such was the case, for he lived on his farm among the hills alone with his dogs.

“It's no great day this to be travelling beasts,” said Dan, as we walked at the tails o' the little herd.

“Ay, but this is just the day for Sandy. Nae fears o' the evil eye wi' the snaw on the road, for there's something clean aboot snaw, and auld wives are at their firesides, wi' their ill wishes and evil eyes.”

“You will ken the Red Laird's deid and buried, Sandy?”

For a wee while after Dan's question we three walked in silence, and then the drover turned his wild face to us.

“We watched the devil coming for him yon night; we watched his coming, ay, away far out on the sea, the black stallions stretched to the gallop like racing hounds, and the hoofs o' them striking white fire frae the water, and the flames o' hell curling and twisting round the wheels o' his chariot. Ay, we watched oor lane, the dogs and me, and his whip was forked lightning, and his voice drooned the roar o' the gale.”

I felt a grue slither through me when the man stopped, for his harsh voice intoned his words like some dreadful chant.

“Ye would be late out that night,” said Dan, and again we were silent till the drover spoke, and the thought came to me that he arranged all his words in his mind, and then loosed his tongue to them.

“They were round us, that night, evil spirits and evil beasts, and they would be lifting the thatch from the roof; and we went out, the dogs and me, and a' the great rocks on the hillside would be jumbling and jarring thegether, for all the evil ones were loose from the pit, and tumbling the hills, and setting them straight, and the blue lowes were rissling on the hill-tops. But I would be holding my steel in my hand, and we sat and watched, the dogs and me.”

“Was it the skein-dubh you would be holding?”

“It would not be the black knife, Dan McBride; it would just be this.”

At that Sandy Nicol showed us a small object, which seemed to me to be a twisted horse-shoe nail wrapped round about with wool; but he would not be letting it go from his palm, and when I would have examined it closer he put it past.

“It's not Sandy that would be droving without his steel,” he cried.

“Would you aye be carrying that?” said I; for he looked so wild and lawless that it was not in me to be believing that he trusted to aught save his dirk.

“There was a time no, mo bhallach,” said Sandy Nicol, “a time when I would be selling back-calvers and stots to the Red Laird for the mainland markets; and it would just be the wee Broon Lass o' Ardbennan that saved the beasts—for, ye see, I did not always stay ma lane, and when my mother would be failin' and her joints stiffening like a' aged beasts, the milking would aye be done and the byre mucked when she got up in the morning. Oh, but she was the wise one, for she would be leaving the best o' the cream in a basin, and maybe a bannock, for the wee Broon Lass, for my mother would be seeing her flitting among the battens. And before she went away she would be telling me: 'Never be offering her boots or claes when the snaw comes, Sandy, for the Broonie o' Lag 'a bheithe[1] left in sore anger for that they pitied her in the snaw.'

“Direach sin, it was a fine day I started to drive the back-calvers and stots, and the sun red wi' a fine-weather haze, and the roads hard and dry, and it was maybe two hours I was on the road and the beasts settled, when there came a woman on the road and a shawl about her head, and I kent her for a devil's black bairn that could be telling her ain folk when the rain would come in the harvest, and when the butter would come on at the kirning.

“A bad unchancy woman; ye'll ken the breed o' them, for they will be sore feart o' clean burn-water, but they'll be coorieing ower a fire a' day, and talking to the black cat, and I had it in my mind to be turning when I saw her, for did she not come into the byre at Dyke-end when the beasts were at their fother, and she stood and she eyed them.

“'So bonny,' says she, 'so bonny and fat and glossy, and the wee bit speckled quey calves they'll be leaving,' and with that she walked up the byre and ran her hand over the tors of the beasts, crooning away to herself; and another month saw the last of the kye pic calved.

“Well, well, I stood when she came to me, and she smirked at me. 'Seven braw beasts, and not a lame yin among them,' says she, and tittered a wee bit laugh that set the dogs girning through their bare teeth; and then she went her way, and her laughing coming back to me, and we would not be far on when the first of the beasts was hirpling; and one after the other the lameness came on them, till I could just have sat down and grat that I had not set the dogs on the witch.

“I would just be turning the beasts on the road for a wee, when there came the wee Broon Lass among the bracken on the hillside, and then I left the road and took the dogs with me, and we hid on the low side, for fear to anger the wee Broon Lass. She went among the beasts, and they would be kenning her, and lowing quietly like calves, and she would be lifting their feet, and then there would be a hole in the clits o' them a'. And the wee Broon Lass, she blew and she blew into the hole, and went on to the next, and in a wee the beasts were walking sound, and taking a bite at the sprits and the scrog on the roadside, and I lay close till I saw the wee one near the rise o' the hill, and started the beasts again, and the lameness came near them not any more, but aye I would be carrying the steel after that.”

In the middle of the glen we left Sandy Nicol with his dogs and his travelling beasts, and before we turned the bend where the nut-trees were I looked back, and there he came on slowly with the sunset light on him as he came, and I saw him looking to the great rocks on his left hand as though he waited the coming of something not of this world; and again he would be looking down through the bare trees to the dark glen where the burn was muttering and grumbling coldly, and it was strange to me that these wild men, so terrible in their anger, would be believing all these old stories, until the thought came to me that it would just be the poetry and imaginings of the Celt, alone among the hills that are aye on the very point of speaking to their children; for a man, and a bold man, will be seeing and hearing strange things among the hills, when the mist comes down, when he will have listened to the stories of hate and love and clan feuds of his folks since he could be listening, clapped on his creepie stool close to his mother's skirt, and his head against her knees.

      * * * * * *

There was great company gathered at the Quay Inn when we entered, although many of the ships had sailed, but there were sailors too, for the bay was not handy for owners to come at, and the Quay Inn was a favourite, so that it was no uncommon thing for ships to be wind-bound for days, and even weeks, and there would be the great fights between the men from the ships and the lads from the glens. But there was no trouble when we entered at all, for with the snow and the hard frost outside, the great fire was the cheery place to be sitting at, and indeed there must needs be ill blood between men if they will not be agreeing over the best of drink, and fine company to be drinking it with.

But it was as if every one was well pleased and with no worries, for I saw no men whispering, with heads close, but every one happy to recklessness, and already there was the darker red flush on the faces that told of drink taken, and then I saw that many of the men gathered, had been to the cove at the Rhu Ban in their skiffs, and were met here to celebrate the run in their ain way. A great shouting they made when Dan stood among them, his eyes shining, for a ploy of this kind was meat and drink to him, and they made room for us by the fire; while McKelvie brought steaming glasses, and winked and nodded, and would be looking wise as though we might ken something about his wares that he would not be telling everybody, till indeed I could not keep back the laughing to see the grave stern man so far gone with his own liquor.

And as we sat I would be watching a sailor with a knife at his hip, and the lithe swing of the mountaineer in his carriage—a Skye man, I was thinking; but he stood silent against the jamb of the fireplace, and his eyes were dreamy and sad, and in myself I knew he was seeing his own place, and him outward bound. When the night was wearing on it came his turn to sing, and with his song I knew that my thinking was right, for his song was a farewell to Skye. Now I know not the words, but the air will haunt me whiles when the days are shortening, and the pictures he painted will never be leaving my mind.

For I saw the dark sad hills of Coulin, and the sun blood-red on the peaks, and the heavy dark night clouds tinged and burnished with gold, and the sea was all silent, with the wee waves rippling on the shore. And on the shore was a maiden looking away and away to sea, and the nets all unheeded at her feet, and the seagulls not heeding her at all, and the great sorrow was in her eyes, in the very poise of her; and I wondered where was the lithe lad she should be having to love her, for her eyes would aye be looking at the empty sea. . . .

When my mind was wandering on pictures of sadness, of an empty sea and great grim silent hills, the inn door was pushed open, and the cold swirl of frosty night air made the roysterers turn, and in there came a thick-set junk of a man. Always to my mind, Dol Rob Beag, for he it was, had a look of a Joonie doorie, being all run to shoulders, and no neck on him at all. His arms hung well to his knee, giving the man the appearance of a powerful animal. His face was brown as a smack's sail, and his eyes red and shifty as a ferret's.

“What is it ye waant here?” growled McKelvie with a lowerin' look, and there was silence from the others; and the men put their drink down where it would not spill if there should be a scrimmage. Dol Beag put a hand to his beard, and his shifty eyes fixed on the innkeeper.

“Ceevility,” says he, “from a man in the public. I'm wantin' that, and I'll be payin' for whatever drink I'll tak. Put a refreshment before me, McKelvie, and go back again to your affairs.”

There's no denying the man had a cold-steel bravery in him, and a grim smile flickered on his face as he watched McKelvie, for no Hielan'man born can thole being likened to a menial, and the dark blood of hatred glowed on the innkeeper's face.

“I ken the ceevility I would like to be giving to you, Dol Beag,” says he, and put a drink on the table, and lifting the coin tendered in payment he hurled it behind the fire. “I would not be thinking myself clean if I kept your money.”

Dol Beag was on him before his words were out.

“The hell take you,” he girned through clenched teeth, and his knife left his hip. “Ye'll lick where that lay, McKelvie, ye—ye—maker of meats for sailors,” and the sweat rolled off his brow, and his voice was a skirl of rage.

McKelvie grabbed a horse-pistol from among his kegs.

“Ye hound, I'll put a hole in ye that will be hurrying the gaugers tae fill wi' siller,” and as quick as light he levelled the pistol and drew the trigger. The room was filled with brimstone smoke that gripped the back of the throat, but Dol Beag was unhurt, and creeping like a powerful beast on his enemy. (The heavy bullet had smashed through the eight-day clock.) McKelvie was retreating warily to his barrels again, and I wondered if he had another pistol, when Dan laid his hand on Dol Beag.

“Stop a minute,” said he; “there's some talk due to me before ye kill McKelvie.”

“Ay, ay, wan at a time, McBride; I'll be feenishing the stickin' o' this pig before I will start on you, and you can be countin' your bastards again,” and with that he whipped round on Dan like an eel with his dirk hand high. But a spring took Dan clear, and before Dol Beag could follow, Dan had him in the air spitting like a cat.

“Ashes to ashes,” says he, “dhust to dhust,” says he, in a thick blind rage, and hurled Dol smash between the stone jambs to the back of the fire.

I saw Dol Rob Beag's neck take the corner of the jamb, and heard the wrench, and then the singeing smell started, and I pulled him out from the fire and the Skye man flung a stoup of water on him.

“Give him the whisky quick,” cried swart Robin McKelvie; “put it down his throat,” but Dol Beag lay still.

A young man at the door—the same exciseman, Gilchrist, that trotted at Mirren Stuart's coat-tails—cried in a thin voice, “Christ, he's deid; ye'll swing for this, Dan McBride,” and disappeared in the night. With that the sailors made for the door, driven by that fear of the law with the long arm and the ruthless grasp; but Dan stood for a while looking on his handiwork in dour silence.

“He brought it on himself, Hamish,” says he; “but, man, I'm sorry for his wife's sake.”

“Out, man, out,” I cried at him; “there's nae time for sorrow,” and there came the clop-clop of a galloping horse on the frozen road, and Ronny McKinnon flung himself among us.

“The back door, damnation, the back door,” he cried, and pushed Dan before him. “Will ye wait till that wasp's bink is buzzin' aboot yer lugs?”

We followed McKinnon through the kitchen and into the yard behind the inn, and a great fear came on me, for the yard was overhung with a bush-covered precipice, and the long icicles glittering, and there was only the track round to the main road open.

“We're trapped, Dan; we're trapped.”

“Trapped nane. Follow me, ye gomeril; there's a track up the broo,” whispered McKinnon, and swung himself among the lowest of the bushes, and we followed.

“I ken the very branches to put my hand on,” says he, “and where every stane is, for many's the night I ran the cutter for the auld wives.” We were half-way up before Dan spoke.

“I never kilt a man before,” says he in a low whisper.

“Ye did weel for a beginner,” says that wild young sea-hawk. “Nobody will be blaming ye for botching the work.” And as we struggled up he hissed a fierce sea oath at me, when my clumsier boot dislodged an icicle that tinkled like breaking glass in the yard below us.

“On, man, on,” he whispered. “Ye'll need a' your start, for the gang will hunt ye doon like a mad dog.”

“Fareweel, Hamish,” says Dan, and put his hand to mine on the cliff head. “I'll harrow my ain ploughing.”

“Go on, man, go on,” I cried; “they're coming,” for lights were flashing on the road, and loud voices raised. We had gained a bare half-mile on the cliff face, for the road up was “round about,” and Ronny was impatient.

“Och, will ye wait for the hangman's rope?” in a fierce whisper below his breath. “There's a hidie-hole I ken, but little good it'll dae ye when the hitch is on your thrapple.” And we started the long race to the hills, picking out the patches behind the dykes where the ground was bare.

[1] Lag 'a bheithe=the hollow of the birch.

CHAPTER XI. THE BLAZING WHINS.

McKinnon was first in that long race and I next to him, for Dan would not let me out of his sight lest I should lag behind and get rough handling, although indeed, except the gaugers would yelp questions at me which I might not find easy to answer, there was little I had to fear, but it was always in Dan's mind that he had the charge of me. The land was cultivated on a stey[1] face of maybe a half-mile before the hill common started, and over the common (where in the summer the cattle and hens were taken) the heather was patchy with bog hay, and short crisp turf in places. It was this wrought land I feared most, for the snow was not swept in wreaths, leaving darker patches, but lay like a white napkin over the land, and a black object could be seen from a great distance. But there was a belting of beech-trees and Scots firs marching two farms; and coorieing in sheuchs, where the ice crinkled in metallic splinters under our feet, we crawled to the belting, and were able to stand upright again, at which I breathed a sigh of relief, for my back had a pain like a band of hot iron with the long bending. We scrambled among the trees, and lay a moment, for there was a roughness of bushes and briars, and the snow had been blown off the branches, so there was little likelihood of our being seen. We lay breathing hard and peering through the bushes for signs of pursuit (for the exciseman who cried the news at Finlay Stuart's, not knowing his listener, would have roused his pack by this time), and that Rob Beag was in their pay secretly there was now little doubt. It would be short shrift for Dan if he were caught. Maybe two minutes we lay, and I could have counted every beat of my heart, as it rose with a great thud against my chest, and I felt the blood throb in my head like a prisoner dashing against his cell. The noise of a fall of snow from the fir branches seemed loud as thunder, although we must have been quiet enough, for I mind me of the rabbits loping from the burrows daintily, and sitting up very boldly, almost under reach of a shepherd's crook from me.

“They will have taken roun' the road,” says Ronny; “they'll be on us before we see them if we lie here.”

On we went in single file in the belting. Briars swung back and cut me across the face, branches tore at us in passing all unheeded, and once my leg, to the knee, sunk into a hole and threw me bodily; but I pulled myself out, and was lame for six steps maybe, and forgot about it. When we were half-way to the hill common there came sharp and clear through the night the neigh of a horse.

“The doited fules,” cries Ronny. “They've ta'en the horses to ride a man doon among the hills.”

“Let me once win the peat bink,” says Dan, “and I'll wander the devil himsel'.” And from the ring in his voice I kent his dark mood had passed, and waited to see him take the lead; but no, he herded me from behind, but cheerily now. We had crossed a high road, and entered the belting of trees again, and along this road the gangers would come, and our spoor was written plain.

“There will be the collieshangie when they see our marks in the snaw, but they'll founder their horses on the brae and ill-use time tae nae purpose, if just we get ower the common.”

From the high ground we could see the road for half a mile and the hunters in full cry, some on horseback and some afoot.

“Horse and foot,” says Dan at my ear. “A grim chase, Hamish. I wish ye had left me, lad.”

A terrible curse from Ronny made me think our flank was already turned. “The devil blast them. The whuns, I clean forgot the whuns,” and he called on the Almighty to blast and destroy every whin-bush that ever grew.

Amidst the torrent of oaths that buzzed around me I remembered hearing of the whin planting. In these days keep for beasts was scarce, and the crofters would be cutting green whins, and pounding them between flat stones and feeding cattle and horse with them. Indeed, to this day you'll see the flat stone yet at many a byre-end, although it is never used now except maybe to set a boyne on on washing days; but the poor cow beasts were terribly fond of the whins, and they'll tell you yet, the old folks, that when they were herding in their young days, when the beasts got scattered, they would take a whin bush and light it to windward, and let the whin smoke drift down the wind, and the beasts would come running, for they liked the charred whins with the sap still in the jags. Here and there they planted whins, for at one time they had to go all the way to the castle for them, and on one side the common was a great dense bank of them, thick as corn, and well grown.

“They'll be round us like collies round a marrow bane,” said Ronny, and as he spoke there was a shout from the highroad, and Dan laughed.

“This is where the kirn starts,” and looking over my shoulder as I ran I saw the horsemen spread out like a fan (on either side the belting) where we crossed the road, and the men on foot were on our heels.

They knew of the bank of whins we must struggle through, and relied on their horses' speed to take them round the planting and catch us coming out while the men on foot harried our rear. It was 'twixt devil and deep sea, and the smuggler cursed himself for leading us into the clove hitch.

Between us and the whins was a burn with steep earthy banks, and too wide and deep to risk horses over. So the horsemen on our left made for a slap[2] where a rough peat-track crossed the burn, but those on our right kept straight on, like the road to Imachar. At the lower end of the whins the burn was shallower and the banks low.

We flung across the stream, carrying down an avalanche of loose earth and stones after us, and breenged into the maze of prickly bushes, winding through those that the snow had been blown off. But mostly the bushes were dry and bare of snow, and this indeed proved our safety. We were nearly through the clumps when the horsemen on our right crossed the burn with a great floundering and splashing, and those on our left came galloping over the peat-track, and the first horseman galloped past us, so close that I heard the squeak of the saddle leather. We were crouched in a wee burn winding among the bushes; for they grew strongly on either side, and left a little tunnel which one could creep through without much hindrance, and as the riders drove their unwilling beasts among the whins we crawled upwards like cats. While the men on foot beat for us, and the horsemen kept wary eyes for a movement to betray us, we crept from the whins and crawled like adders belly flat up the little stream, over which dry bracken still hung and straggling whin bushes, like soldiers marching away from the main body. We had crawled maybe fifty yards, when McKinnon turned his face to me, and the blood was drying on his cheeks and brow where the whins had marked him.

“Stop,” his lips only moved; and I stopped and turned to Dan, for he still had the rear-guard.

The burn had worn out a round hole under our bank, and we crawled in and lay there, and never, never will I forget the cold of that pool and the streak of light above us, for we lay in a brook that a sheep could walk over, and indeed its very narrowness was our safety, for it surely had been watched else. And while we lay in the frozen cold of the pool, the water tinkled and gurgled and laughed, and went plout-plout at my knees, as though it was a hot summer day and we were stooping to drink.

“We must just lie here like rats,” whispered the smuggler, and I held my chin to stop the chattering of my teeth, “for this burn gets narrower than a sheep drain. We must just steep in the water and think of the whisky.”

We could hear the swishing among the whins, and the shouts of the rabble behind us, and the clatter of horses' hoofs on the shingle of the burn, and the splashing.

“They're in there like rabbits in a patch of corn in the harvest,” cried one man.

“By God, if I could only get that Ronny McKinnon under my bonny blue hanger,” said Gilchrist, the ganger that had the soft side for Mirren Stuart.

“One good prog wid pay for this night's daftness,” growled his leader, and again came Gilchrist's voice—

“Was I tae ken McKinnon was ootside Finlay Stuart's and a dozen o' ye in the kitchen.”

“Umph,” sniffed Ronny, “it's the great company that gathers at Finlays,” and indeed Mirren Stuart saved many's the house at that time, for the gangers and excisemen went after her sisters, while old Finlay smiled grimly, and Mirren got hold of the secrets.

“If a man runnin' like that Gilchrist can blurt oot the news and keep runnin', it's maistly truth, but if he stops and begins to walk, and twist his mouth before he speaks, he's makin' lies,” said McKinnon, and turned himself in the water.

The searchers were beginning to tire of beating.

“Roast the devil oot.” “Ay, gie McBride a taste o' the fire.”

“I'm thanking God for a fool,” said Dan, “if the whins will just burn, but whins are dour revengefu' bushes.”

“Burn,” says Ronny—“burn; they'll hiv a bleeze ye'll see for twenty miles—we're bate, Dan.”

“Na, na,” says Dan. “Wait you, yonder's a twinkle, anither. Man, they'll mak' a bonny lowe, and waste a heap of good keep.”

Men were rushing hither and thither with flaming branches, and already, when the breeze freshened, you could hear the roar and crackle. The great lilac flames leapt ten feet in the air, and the night rained stars. The sparks fell above us like fire-flakes, and some came down and sizzled out in our pool.

When the flames were roaring like a hurricane, Dan spoke softly—

“We'll go now.”

“Are ye daft?” said Ronny.

“Ye don't ken the effect o' a fire like that,” said Dan. “A man must look at it, and see the lowes ploofin' into the sky, and the sparks fleein'. He canna help himsel'. The horses will be needing a lot o' handling too, and the men on the low side'll just hiv tae run tae winward or lie in the burn, for the heat o' whuns is terrible. They'll a' face the flames waitin' till we run oot like bleezin' deevils, and they're sae sure that we will start every moment, they will not lift their eyes for fear they will be missing the sight o' us.”

“We must just risk it,” said I, “for I'm like to freeze here.”

Dan put his head out of our hole and crawled out, and I followed, and Ronny last. We could feel the air warm, and the night was clear as day, and yet the searchers stood gazing at their fire as Dan had said. We crawled flat like snakes, keeping among dark patches as much as we could, till we came to the turf dyke, and still our pursuers tended the fire. Slowly and softly we crossed into heather, and lay for a minute. Then, looking down across the common, Dan threw back his head and laughed in his silent fashion.

“We're among our ain heather now, Hamish,” says he. “In an hour we'll be among the peat hags. I've a mind tae whistle them up.”

“I've lain long enough in the water, Dan,” said I.

“Aweel,” says he, “we'll just make McAllan's Locker for it; eh, Ronny?” And again we started to run, zigzagging to the dark bits till we crossed the first rise, and we stood looking back. The whins were all ablaze and the trees in the belting standing out clear, and the little figures still running with the torches.

[1] Steep.

[2] Opening.

CHAPTER XII. McALLAN'S LOCKER.

Over the first rise of the hills was a long dreary waste—treeless, awesome, desolate. Whiles, as we ran, a curlew would rise, and its long whirling cry rose in the night, filling the ears and leaving an emptiness afterwards in the silence, for things not canny to be filling. Once we startled a herd of red-deer feeding round the mossy lips of a frozen pool, and away they galloped. One lordly stag wheeled with antlers high, gazed at our flight, and vanished, leaving us in that dreadful stillness, and a cold eerie wind whined and sighed over us. We spoke little, having no breath to spare, for the ground was growing more steep and broken towards the second rise, up which we clambered, sliding and falling, grasping frozen heather till we reached the top. The hill was now a riddle of peat hags and binks, like a bee's skep, a place of treachery and slimy death, although the frost would have most of the sinking pools in its iron hand; but we never stopped the long stride that seemed so slow to me at first. Dan bent and twisted through the peat banks like a hound on the trail. Here was a place where folk had wrought, cutting their fuel for generations; and God knows what memories were lurking here from the old days, what ghosts of love and hatred, what spirits of tears and laughter. Would the race never end? My tongue, dry and swollen, stuck raspily against the roof of my mouth. Round my lips was a hot fire, for I had grasped a handful of snow and melted it in my mouth as I ran. We were past the peat hags, and the ground fell away under our feet; the heather got scantier and sprits more common, until we had descended, maybe, five hundred feet into a wide valley with a level plain at its heart, with many clumps of stunted birches and hardy firs. Here was the great grazing for young beasts in the summer, away here in the glen, but now only stillness and desolation. A wide burn rumbled and splashed on its gravelly banks in front of us, and we could hear the deep noise of a waterfall.

“Hold in to the fall,” cried McKinnon, and his voice was hoarse as a raven's.

“I ken this like the back o' my hand,” said Dan, and led us, with never a break, to an easy crossing.

And now we took the greatest care of our going, for a great hill rose before us steep, as it seemed to me, as the wall of a house, and then all our care was made useless, for the snow began again.

Slowly, blindly we clambered and spelled up the hillside, now numb with cold, now fiery hot, Dan always in the lead, and me groaning at his hurdie.

“Keep a stout heart, Hamish; this is the last o't.”

We were now, as it were, on a ladder on the hill face, for there were a succession of great holes like steps, on each of which three men could stand—the giant's steps, the old folks called them.

At the back of the step where we three lay was a grey rock, as though the earth had been worn away, leaving the rock partly bare. As we lay Dan struck it three times with a stone about the size of a putting-ball, and a great low baying sounded, and my blood ran cold, and then the grey rock moved inch by inch, and I heard a great rift of Gaelic, and Dan went crawling like a snake through the hole, and myself and McKinnon at his heels.

“Welcome, hearty welcome; whatever drives ye sae fast. Welcome to McAllan's Locker.”

“It's latish for ceilidhing,” said Dan. “I'm hoping me and my friends are not putting ye out in any ways, but just a shakedown o' breckans is all we're asking, and thankful for it.”

“Better the bottom o' the locker than the end o' the cable. Sit ye doon and warm yourself.”

I was sore done wi' the long running, and lay on the rook floor with my head on my arms, and I felt as a hound feels after a long chase, till the caveman answered Dan. At the first I thought his tongue had been malformed as he stood in the light, for a growling and grumbling came from his throat; and as he growled, from the darkness of the chamber a great brindled dog stalked to his side and stretched his fore-paws, opened a mouth like a red pit, and whined with outstretched curling tongue.

“He would tear down a stag, him,” says Dan, nodding at the brute. Again came the growling rumbling from the stranger.

“Hark tae him, Marr; hark tae him—a stag. Ho, ho, ho! He would tear a man's throat oot at his first leap,” and man and dog rumbled and growled in devilish mirth. “Sing tae me, dog—sing,” and the man threw his head up, and there came the long greeting howl of a dog baying the moon, and dog and man howled in unison, with swaying bodies and heads thrown upwards.

“God, but the open hill's a bonny place,” said McKinnon, and a shiver went over him. In this terrible place we lay the night—a great gloomy forbidding place in the belly of the hill. Shiver on shiver went through me as I looked round me. The walls were rock, bare and dry, converging high up in the gloom; for there was just the peat fire and a cruisie alight. Once, as though disturbed in its sleep, I heard a rock-pigeon “rookatihoo coo-a” away above me in some cranny that must open on the hill face. The smoke curled up in a rude dry-stone chimney for about five or six feet against the rock, and the bulk of it still ascended in a column, although the chimney stopped, but a waving pall hung over the cave, swaying and undulating in long waves and streamers, and the air below was cool and fresh. There were great carvings on the walls—warriors and ships, galleys and horses a-rearing, and on a flat stone projecting from the chimney, and serving as the brace or mantelpiece, were models of ships made from the breast-bones of birds, some quite large and others very small, and needing an infinite deal of patience. There were rough stools and a table, all of which must have been made inside the cave, and, indeed, the bark was dry and brittle on the legs. Great bundles of heather, fashioned like narrow beds, lay along the wall in the firelight, and like a dark unwinking eye the light glimmered on a pool. There were square steps cut in the rock down to the pool, which was shaped like a horn spoon with the handle cut off short, and the water entering it from a crack in the rock, noiselessly as oil, trickled silently away in a little sloping gutter to the back of the cavern. Who first discovered the cavern I never knew, but by the fire lay, twisted and blackened, the hilt and half of a sword, and in a corner a black and rust-pitted breastplate. The back part of the cave narrowed, and through a passage the Nameless Man passed to bring us meat and drink. Have you walked on a bare moor road in the pit mirk wi' a drizzle of soft mist in a silence you could hear? Have you felt the fear coming over you, like a cold hand on your heart, when ye knew that a thing gibbered and mouthed at your side? Well, the thought o' that man, the Nameless Man, brings fear to me in a lighted room.

For he was a dead white man, his hair, lank and white, hung round his shoulders, his beard was slimy and soft as a white hare's, face and hands cold, dead white, and his features were frozen.

No trace of any feeling showed on his face. His voice and his laughter rumbled from his throat, leaving his face unchanged, only his pupils waxed and waned like a cat's in the dark. He was covered with a patchwork of skins and tatters of cloth, and as he set meat before us, venison, it came to me that he must hunt his food in the dark, always in the dark. That cold whiteness was not of the good God's sunlight. As we ate, Dan told him some of our story, and the Nameless Man sat, a handful of his beard in his hand, his elbow on the table, and his eyes growing and fading.

“I'm sair feart I left him deid,” said Dan. “If they come for us, dog, when we're lying at the still and the good water turnin' to fine whisky—and the good nice water, trickling and dripping through the rocks for a hundred years—if they creep upon us, dog, what will we be doing, you and me, Marr? Ho—ho—ho! killing them, eh? Leaving their bones wi' the white bones away in there—the old, old bones,” and dog and man made a howling of laughter. I knew then that this was the watcher of a smugglers' still; for let the gang o' Preventives do their worst, whisky would still be made in the hills.

It came to me then why the folk would be leaving peats for the wee folks, as they said, when they would be taking down the creels from the hills; for the Nameless Man threw more on the fire from some hidden store, likely nearer his worm, when we had finished eating. The great dog lay at the rock by which we entered, and I saw that the stone was swung on a balance; but if there was a way to open from the outside I never knew till long after. McKinnon and Dan lay talking, but I was silent for the most part, thinking of the sword and the armour, and of the people who fashioned the well, and wondering about the old, old bones away through the dark passage into the heart of the hill. The far, far-away stories were in my mind of Finn and his warriors, of his great dogs and his queens. Did Ossian the bard tune his harp to great deeds, and to lovely women of the land of the Ever Young, in the cave of the past? Into my musings—for sleep had nearly come over me—broke the voice of the Nameless Man.

“I gave her to drink of the foamy milk—warm, and the bubbles of froth in it. 'Drink, my lost lass,' said I, 'for ye loved me well once,' and all the time I would be telling her that death was coming with the white milk. And she took up the fine nice milk and drank, because she had loved me well once, she that loved me yet but feared—the coward, the soft, soft, white coward that would lie on another man's heart after I had keeled her for myself. Ay, she took up the milk and drank, and I took my ways, and they came running to Glen Darruach to tell me she had died.

“Oh, oh! the dark, the dark, and never more the sun shining on the bonny blooms of dark Darruach, never mair the white lambs running, and the gleam on the wing of the moorcock.

“Ay, they would be for the killing of me, and I lay among the rafters, under the thatch of my mother's house, and listened to them miscalling me, the black killer—the bloody man that had the black art and the evil eye; and it came over my heart to catch them by the hair, and pull them up to me as they were speaking, and let my black knife kiss their hearts. It was all red, red before me, up there under the thatch, and them down below, and my sisters shaking when they saw me watching down in the dark. It's droll, droll—because a soft white coward died—they would kill me, me that would kill a man when I drew my dirk—ho, ho, ho!

“I lay hid among the rocks above the Herring Slap, alane day and night, and the blue rockdoos left their nestlings and circled above my lair, till I was feart that folk wid see them, and come peering down and get me. But a herrin' skiff took me away from that place in the dark of the night, and I drifted to the warm South Seas and the darkling women and the white glistening houses; but she came with me, she that had died. I would be seeing her rising before the bows o' the ship, rising from the sea, and waving on me to follow, and the weather was worse and worse at her every coming. An' there was a man o' the Western Isles in the crew, and he had the sight, and would be telling o' the woman rising from the sea, and her hair blowing over the yeast o' the waves, and her eyes staring, staring, and the waving of her hand when I was at the tiller; and so bad the weather got, and the sickness among the crew, that the captain swore he would send the woman's man to her, and he lay aft in his cabin, and drank rum till his boy was feart to venture near him; and then he came on deck—a fine wild man, all in his finery o' lace and golden earrings, and he called his sailors aft to make choice of the woman's man. There was many there that would have been making choice of me, but my hand was quick on the dirk, and no man spoke above a whisper, and then I looked over the bows, and I would be seeing her coming, and the man of the Western Isles cried out in his fear—

“'She's wavin', she's wavin', Chrisht's mercy.' He was pointing to the grey seas, and the froth was on his lips.

“And as he was standing gazing I creeped round behind him like a cat, so quiet, and I had my arms round him before his eyes were winking.

“'Go to your wet love,' I cried, and I flung him over the rail by the poop, and the captain was at the laughing.

“'The curse is lifted, my lads,' he roared. 'Crowd the sail on her. Heigh-ho for the North and the gay adventures!' But after that there were two to be watching in the darkness when I took the tiller—ay, and I crawled from the sea at last, and came to the hills again—in the dark.

“Oh, the dark, the dark, and never mair the sun shining on the heather howes of dark Glen Darruach.” As we lay on the heather beds the Nameless Man wandered through the cave, and the booming of his voice rumbled in the heart of the hill, as he wandered through unknown galleries in the dark. The day came at last, and I saw a wee shaft of light filter down some way on the cavern walls, but we could only lie still till the dusk would come again, and we might make our way among the hills, for after our sleeping Dan and Ronny and me had a great confab.

“I canna lie here like a rat in a hole a' my days,” said Dan.

“Ye'll never sleep sound till there's many a mile o' blue sea between you and Dol Beag's hunters,” said I. “If we could pass the word for a skiff. . . .”

“We're daft, we're clean daft,” cried Ronny. “McGilp is lying at the north end, standing off and on. If we can just make Loch Ranza, ye're safe.”

“Ay,” said Dan. “I'm thinking it's the Low Country now for me, Hamish. Whatever money is due me, ye'll leave wi' McGilp, and he'll find a way for sending it on. I'm sair sweirt tae part frae my bonny horses for yon mauk's sake. . . . And there's the bonny spaewife, Hamish; if anything comes wrong tae that lass I'll be relying on you.” And then for a long time he sat brooding at the fire.

In the afternoon a change came over the Nameless Man. He crawled on his knees about the cave, whining and howling like a beast. He glared at the black pool, and pointed.

“She's there in the water.” And then with a yell to the dog, “Had her, Marr; tear her sinery; rive her sinery, good Marr.” And he hissed the hound on to his vision, and the dog, frenzied at his crying, breenged into the pool, and the man whined with joy, and caressed the soaking coat. Later on in the day, after we had had a meal, he sat at the passage-way and eyed us, and the dog girned and showed his teeth.

“They'll no come creepin' into the dim places where the queer things are hidden, no—spying and spying.” And when we paid no heed to his ravings, except that we kept the fire bright and had armed ourselves, he lay down and slept across the passage-way, his head on the hound's flank. At every movement of our bodies the growling rumbled to our ears, and the bristles rose on the dog's back. But when it was nearly dark the sleeper wakened, and we left the dreadful place called McAllan's Locker, and took to the hills again.

CHAPTER XIII. DAN McBRIDE SAILS FROM LOCH RANZA.

For a while we lay silent on the giant's step of McAllan's Locker, and I felt my spirits lighten to be outside of that place. The hills were silent, but from the cave came a baying and growling of dog and man, at first as from a distance, and growing louder and louder, as though the Nameless Man and his grim hound ranged through the unknown caverns. We three sprauchled upwards, for we had no relish to meet these two, and as we neared the rise of the hill the baying filled the night, and suddenly the great hound bounded down the hillside with great twisting leaps, and at his heels the wild figure of his master followed. In the valley they played like gambolling puppies, rushing at one another and wrestling, with whiles the brute worrying the man playfully, and whiles the man kneeling on the dog; then away they would dash separately, wheeling and leaping and rubbing their flanks in the snow. For a long time the game went on, and then the players slunk closer, the shaggy heads thrust skywards, and the long whining cry rose on the night; then away they ranged, running flank to flank through the peat hags and over the rise of the hill we had crossed the night before.

“He'll be a bold man that shepherds these hills in the lambing,” said Dan.

All through this night we held our course a little to the west of the pole-star, though McKinnon and Dan had travelled the way before. We were now in the middle of the great barren range, frowning mountains menaced our path, and burns rumbled in the darkness; and when Dan spoke his voice was thick with anger—

“I lifted a snipe o' a man, and I flung him the back of the fire. What is there in that to be running from?

“If the man has freens, I'll meet them a' wherever they like; but this running sticks in my gizzard. It's just ain brother tae caul' fear,” and we marched on in grim silence.

On the mountains my feet were almost without feeling at all with the cold, and my clothes sticking to my shoulders with sweat; and on the last of the hills McKinnon clapped like a startled hare.

“Look at yon,” he whispered; “they're to win'ward o' us after a'.”

Far below us a little light flickered and blinked on the hillside, and we watched it, hardly breathing, and again I heard my heart begin to pound.

After some wee while of watching, Dan grunted—

“Umph!” says he. “Ye see droll things in the hills when ye're rinnin' for dear life. Yon's just Tchonie Handy Ishable and his lantern.”

“I never would be believing that story,” said Ronny.

“Man, if I had the time I would get his secret this night,” says Dan. “Ye see, Hamish, yon's an old man down yonder, and they'll be saying he pays the Duke's rent in the big money. They've the story of how he found a hoard o' it among the hills; and it's likely enough, for many's the bold stark lad took to the Southern Seas from these glens. Och, an' I ken folk mysel' that found an iron pot o' doubloons in the peat bink; but aul' Tchonie, he just takes what he will be needin', and he takes it at night when the folks are abed. They used to be following him, but he was skilly among the rocks, and they would maybe come on his lantern sitting lighted, and once they found a dagger stuck at the entrance to a cave to keep the wee folk from shuttin' it when a man was inside; but they were never able to get the secret, for Tchonie Handy Ishable would be sittin' over his peat fire when the lads came back in the mornin'.”

At the screich o' day we came from Glen Chalmadale into the thatched village of Loch Ranza. At a house some way back from the others McKinnon stopped us.

“The man that lives here is a farmer and a fisherman,” said he, “and a very po-lite man in his taalk moreover, for I know him well,” and he mimicked the Loch Ranza speech, which, indeed, is very proper speech, and I was very startled at one time to hear the very weans with the polite way of it.

“Ye will be havin' the dogs on us,” says Dan in a low voice; “and there's folks here that are unfreens o' mine.”

“Alaister Jock has weans enough to do without the dogs,” says Ronny, “for dogs are unchancy beasts in the smuggling nights, and Alaister himsel' will be always up wi' the drake's dridd.”

In a little time Ronny came back to us, and we made our way into Alastair's house, a place where a grown man could stand broad-soled on the clay floor and touch the rafters of the roof with the flat of his palms. The peat fire was smouldering on the floor, and the reek made its way out at the rigging. Alastair himself, a tall stooped man with a red beard and a thin beak of a nose, brought peats and threw them on the fire.

“There was one came for you in the night yesterday,” says he to Dan in his very proper polite way. “I would not be having her in my house at all, for I am a reeleegious man with a family to rear before the Lord. I put her into the byre with the kye, for she is of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage; and my wife sprinkled a little meal and a little saut over the rumps of the kye to keep away her spells, for we must meet spell with spell—not that I will be believing in these evil-doers of the Black Art.”

“Och, I kent, I kent,” cried Dan, long before Alastair had done with his speaking, and disappeared through a door which gave me a glimpse of a cow's head looking over its biss, and it struck me that the byre was the handy place to get at in Loch Ranza. Ronny and Alastair were thrang at the talking, with the farmer laying off with his hands, and wagging his head like a minister in the pulpit, and all in a voice so raised in tone that I believed from hearing him what our folks say, that when two farmers are ploughing at the north end they can talk comfortably across three fields, and they are great at the handling of their skiffs and bold sailors. I heard Dan—

“Och, my lass, my ain lass; it went sair against my heart to be leaving without seein' you at all.”

I heard her brave voice with a crooning quiver like a mother's.

“I ran, I ran all the long road, for I kent it all from the first o' it,” and in the dimness of the byre I could see these two clinging to each other.

“Is it the sight[1] ye think ye have now, my droll dark lass?” says Dan, looking down at her, one arm holding her away from him and the great love in his eyes.

“There's whiles I come near to hating you when you will be talking like that,” said the swarthy girl. “Mirren Stuart brought me word.”

“You'll be glad to be rid o' me then. You'll be forgetting me soon,” and the man let his arm drop from her shoulders, and the cold intolerant pride of his voice stung like a whip-lash, for he never could thole that the woman he loved could even have a thought different from his own, let alone a love-hatred.

I expected a proud heart-breaking lie from the sombre beauty, but for all his answer she crept close, and clung to him with both hands, and hid her face on his breast; then holding him at the stretch of her arms she raised her head, and looked Dan in his eyes.

“Oh, man,” she cried, “I have that that will keep me in mind o' ye, shameless, shameless that I am,” and two great tears rose in her eyes, the first tears I ever saw there, but Dan lifted her in his arms like a baby.

“Was ever there such a mother for a bold man's son,” I heard him cry in a voice of love and pride and laughter.

In Alastair's kitchen the thought came to me then what will the son of these two be—the father strong as a mountain ash, and with the cruel arrogant pride of a long-bred race behind him, his own will his only law, and the queer twist of tenderness for old stories and old songs and his love for all nature—a stark man, who would reach out and take what he desired; and the mother fiercely tender, wildly, passionately loving her chosen man, all the dark East in her black eyes, all the deadly South in her blazing angers—a graceful, hard, blue steel blade of Damascus, with jewel-encrusted hilt and sheath of velvet. What was the son of these to be?

Alastair slipped out quietly, and Ronny and me sat at the fireside.

“We'll manage,” said McKinnon, “for the gomerils have let us slip at their bonfire and lost us. The goodman here is McGilp's man, and his skiff's ready, and the Gull will be close in behind the point at high water. It will just be good-bye to Dan McBride wi' the turn o' the tide.”

“But how can this godly man be a smuggler?” said I, more to make talk than anything else.

“Godly men must live like ither folk,” said Ronny.

For a while we sat there till Dan and Belle joined us, and the lass could not be letting go of her man, the brave proud lass. I watched her hand quivering in his great brown one, and her eyes following his every change of look, and her face was all sorrow. I came near to hating Dan McBride too.

In the grey of the morning we made our way stealthily to the shore by the point.

Dan and the gipsy stood some way from us, on the cold dark shore head, and I think we had all a lowness of spirits, for that place is more sad and mournful than any place I have ever seen.

“You'll set McCurdy's hut to rights for my dark wife,” said Dan to me, “and let it be her own place, and the money that is lying with my uncle, you'll be giving her when she needs it,” and there he went on, keeping up her heart with his talk, and his eyes were straining longingly to the loom of hills in the dimness, like a man saying farewell, and I think the gangers and Dol Beag were clean forgot.

There came to our ears the low swish-sch of a boat gliding and slithering over wrack, and the beating of wings in the air as the sea-birds left the beach, and Alastair's boat grated on the gravel of the shore.

“Will ye no' come wi' me, my dear,” cried Dan to the lass as she clung to him, and I had a twinge of jealousy that I was all forgot.

“Oh, fain, fain wid I be to travel wi' ye, my man, the cool long roads and the waving green meadows; but oh! ye hivna the nature o' my folk—there will be the great battles calling ye, and I would be trying to keep ye beside me, till ye grew weary o' me. But you will remember always and always in your wanderings you will never be thinking of me, but just that I will be loving you somewhere,” and with a great cry, “Have I no' loved ye—can I ever be forgetting ye?”

When Dan would have taken her to his heart, she sprang away, her eyes blazing.

“Do not be petting me,” she cries. “I am not a bairn to be quieted. Tell me ye love me—I want my ain fierce lover that wid make me kneel to him because he loved me—the love in his eyes and the strength o' his hands,—oh, I have loved a man.” And then the man answered, and she saw the sorrow of parting in his face.

“My ain brave lass” . . . and at his words she came to him—“I will be waiting for you all the long days, for I will be with you again; but oh! it were better for all that ye never set your boot on these shores, for then the storm-clouds will gather, and the lightning will leap in the scarred mountains—my love, my love; but my heart cannot be brave enough to forbid you to come back to me.” And for an instant the wild fierce woman clung to her lover, then fled from the shore. Dan stepped into the waiting boat in silence, his head on his breast, and a word from McKinnon or me, I think, would have kept him; but we said our farewells, and Alastair set to the sculling, and we watched the receding boat from the shore head until she drew close to the Seagull, and we saw Dan climb on board, and the skiff returning.

As we walked back to Alastair's, we saw Belle standing on a ridge of high ground, with the morning light behind her—dark against the light, and her eyes straining to the sea; and as we came closer I spoke, thinking to take her away from her sorrow, but her dark eyes remained fixed on the schooner, as though she had never heard me. There was a little mist hanging over the sea.

We sat down to a meal of salted herrings in Alastair's kitchen, the weans round us still sleepy and barefooted, and with tousled red locks, which they flung from their eyes with a gesture very like a spirited Hielan' pony tossing its mane; and when I looked from the door again—which I was glad enough to do, for the reek was a little nippy to my eyes—as I looked from the door I saw Belle returning, and with her no other than Robin McKelvie of the Quay Inn. There was no sign of the Seagull, for a fog had come down on the firth, and even the melancholy pleasure of seeing Dan's ship again was taken from me.

McKelvie stood at the door, and his face was red with running, and streaked with white in places with fatigue.

“My father thought ye would make for this place. Rob Beag's no' dead,” he said; “the devil has more for him to do yet.”

[1] Second sight.

CHAPTER XIV. WE RETURN.

We made the great to-do in Alastair's kitchen between the exceeding gladness of the news and the foolishness of our flight, and Alastair himself was rowing in the fog after the Gull—only Belle said no word, but went quietly behind a rick of peats close to the house, and I, following her in my slow useless way, came on her suddenly, her arms outstretched to the empty sea, and such a look of anguish on her face that I was silent. No words at all came from her, but her bosom rose and fell as she battled with her sorrow.

“The man's not deid,” said I, for I felt that was the great news, but little did I know the woman.

“Dead,” she cries—“dead,” and laughed. “Would that dog's death have brought a tear to my eyes. Hamish, Hamish, I have lost my man.”

And wondrous fierce and beautiful she was as I left her.

We made our way back by the drove road, Ronny McKinnon and me, and we were silent for the most part, for there was that in my throat to keep me from speaking, for Dan was gone, and no rowing would get him back, and who could get word to him.

There was the whiteness and stillness of snow over everything, and I mind me how my mind would cling to wee things, like the footprints of rabbits, and the wee bits of grey fur here and there, and the flight of cushies in the trees, to come back with a start to the Gull away out in the Firth, and Dan on board of her.

Silently we ate our bannocks at a little burn under some stunted trees and close to the shore, and wearily trailed on; and just at the darkness I made out the lights of the big house, and came into the kitchen, where Ronald McKinnon had a meal. He took away over the hill for his mother's house then, as he said, but I'm thinking maybe Mirren Stuart would have another way of it, and at his going I went to that grim man, the Laird.

He was with his back to a red fire of peats, and looked dourly at me.

“What new devilry is this?” says he, and bit his lip. “Here are women and men gane gyte wi' the tellin' o' death and murder—and where is Dan McBride?”

“There is nae murder that I ken,” said I, “and the hogs are doing finely.”

I believe the man had clean forgot about the sheep.

“Hogs,” quo' he; “deil tak' the braxy beasts. Sir, where is Dan McBride?” and at that I told him.

“And there's more yet,” said I, for I had passed my word. “There's more to tell yet.”

“Ay,” said he, “there will be. Well, tell on.”

And I told him of Belle and the old hut. He was not so very ill-pleased.

“See that the woman has what she will be needing,” said he—“a cow and such-like, Hamish, and peats and gear and plenishings. Poor lass, poor lass. Hech, sirs, this will no' make bonny tellin' to the mistress. The mistress will no' be pleased wi' this—she'll be in need o' siller too.”

      * * * * * *

So it was on the first good day, with the sun red through a frosty haze, and the snow melted for the most part, we yoked the horses to the creels, and took gear and plenishing and peats to McCurdy's hut away in the hills over beyond the peat hags, and it was a weary cow beast that trailed behind, tied to the spars.

When we came over the last rise and stood to breathe the horses, I saw Belle at her door, shading her eyes under her flattened palms from the rays of the sun, and watching for us; and the horses looked in wonder to see a house so far among the hills, and tossed their ropy manes.

Man, they were the great little horses we had these days, with little heads such as I have seen in the paintings of Arab steeds, and an alert eager look to them, broad forehead, and soft neat muzzle. Close coupled they were, with a great girth, broad chest and sloping shoulders, and legs like iron. But it was the pride and the strength of them I never tired of, and it may be there was truth in the talk of the old folk, that the Hielan' horse was come off Spanish or Moorish horses of the Armada. But none could tell me if these Arab horses would be having the silver tail and mane of our little horses. And as I stood looking, I thought me it was a dreary wild place for a lass to be living her lane, with the muirfowl for company and the great geese flying north in the spring, and the bleating of sheep in the mist.

So all that winter I worked by the cottage; on the dry days thatching and building, keeping a little horse to take me over the peat road in the gloaming.

In the mornings I would be at it with mattock and spade delving hard at the founds, and I had the great days sliping stones. Indeed, I became so strong and proud of myself that you will see to this day on that hillside the dents I struck on great boulders, that now I would be sweir to move. I had with me an old man from the Lowlands, very good at the building of dry-stone dykes, a knowledgeable man in many ways, but especially in trees and gardens and such-like. The byre we built was not very big, and very dark, but it was cosy, too, under the crooked joists, and covered with heather scraws and thatch. In the loft I put flat boards across the joists, and made a square hole in the doorway, and brought hens and cocks to be making the place more homelike.

All this was on my uncle's hill land, but I had my way of it, and jaloused maybe that the mistress was putting in her good word, for she had aye a soft side for young Dan. When I told him about breaking in from the moor, he hummed and hawed and gloomed at me. “This will mean the less sheep,” says he.

“There's a wean coming,” said I, and felt the blood rise in my face to be saying it. “Has he to be put in the heather, and die maybe in a sheuch like a braxy ewe.”

“Tut,” says he, his colour rising a bit; “these are no words to be in the mouth of a boy,” but I kent I had him on the soft side. “A man must be dacent to his ain blood,” said he, and that was the last of it.

So we had the great days at the burning of heather, and when I would be running with a kindling here and there, and watching the lowes lick into the dry scrog with a hiss before the breeze, I would be thinking much of Dan and Ronny McKinnon and me in the blazing whins, and the gangers and excisemen and riff-raff of that kidney hallooing round us. Belle loved this burning and the very fierceness of the flames, with the eerie gloaming falling, and she would not be heeding the cries of Old Betty (for Betty was much with her these days for company) to be keeping indoors.

“Hamish,” she would say, coming close to me in the ruddy light, and the dark cheeks of her glowing and her eyes flashing—“Hamish, I have that in the heart of me.” And as she stood thus pointing to the fires, all lit up and wild and beautiful, I thought there must surely have been away back in her story a priestess who tended fires in some far Eastern land.

Well, well, it's fine to be thinking back on these far-off days, and the work we made at the dyke-building round the first park, and how we gathered the lying stones and rousted out the deeper-set ones; and the dyker made all grist that came to his mill, for he would split up considerable boulders with great exactness and skill, a feat that never came easily to me. Then there were the stone drains to be making, and the great talking about the run of the water, and the lie of the land, and the niceness with which we laid those drains! They were all joys to me. I dreamed green meadows and well-kept dykes and good beasts.

And then the ploughing—a sair job ploughing heather roots—and the furrows I drew would have brought the laughing to Dan McBride; but the soil was not so black, but where the rabbits had burrowed there was good green grass among the red scrapings. The sowing and the harrowing were the easy job after that, and I mind me how I leaned on that dyke and gazed on the first three acres won out of the hill, when the green breard was showing, as a man might gaze on his first-born son. In these night trakings in the hills I learned the shape of every stunted bush and tree, and the place of every rock on either hand, and many's the droll ploy I came into. Ye'll still see the track yet down from the peat hags like a scar on the hillside, but the stories of the road are lost in the swirling mists, and carried away in the winter gales.

There was a burn running over the road down from the little loch with the green rush islands, where the sea-birds build, and the staghorn moss is boot-deep, and in that little plouting burn there was grand water to be making the whisky. And in the gloaming have I seen a lonely man with his dog at heel, hurrying by the burn-side, through the bare birch trees, and disappearing to his night watch in some cunning place on the hillside. And once at the place where there is now a little holly-tree, gnarled and full of years, I met the limber lads with the kegs on their backs, and carrying the worm and all the gear for the whisky-making. And we buried everything in the peat hags below the three hills, for the excisemen were close on us, and there they lie, kegs and stoups, to this day; and would not the whisky be fine to be drinking now, but maybe a little peaty.

CHAPTER XV. THE STRANGER ON THE MOORS.

It would be well on into May, for the men were thrang with work, and the lassies at the big house haining a bit of bannock to be putting under their pillows for fear of hearing the cuckoo, when first I heard the strange whistling. It is not a very lucky thing to be hearing the cuckoo and you wanting food, and I think this is just a haver of the old folk to be making the young ones rise early on the fine clear mornings; but many's the first bite I ken was taken from below the pillows, and the cuckoo crying like all that.

There was a thick bit of a wood behind the stackyard at the big house, and as I lay listening to the sounds of the early morning there came often of late this clear melody, not loud but sweet and thrilling, as I had heard Ronny McKinnon whistle and Dan too, and the words of that tune are not to be talked about; but when I went quietly to the planting one morning there was only the little moving of birds in the greyness of the morning and the stillness of the wood.

I came back to the kitchen and rummaged the aumary for something to be eating, and made my way to the stable and put a feed before my beast, and watched him hard at it and the other beasts stamping and rattling at their chains in their impatience.

We were on the hill road before the sun, for there was the matter of a calf to be seeing to, and it was fine to be alone in the fresh day with the dew still heavy on the green grass and wetting the horse to the fetlocks; and the sun was coming up in the East, and here and there the curl of blue smoke rising up from far-out clachans. I would maybe be on the other side of the black hill and going finely, and relishing the green of the new growth, when there came to me that sweet whistling again, and cooried by the roadside beside a grey stone I saw a man sitting. He was the droll figure of a man, with outlandish garb and wee gold earrings. His teeth showed white as milk against his swarthy face, and he had many colours about him, at his throat and his waist, and useless tatters and tassels, but withal he had the proud bearing of mountain folk, and level black brows.

Abreast of him we came and he bended low, but with such grace and so much dignity that it were as though he were a king receiving a vassal.

“Have you the Gaelic?” said I in the old tongue.

“Cha nail, cha nail, cha nail,” cried he, so quickly and with such gestures of his hands that I was startled.

“Geelp,” said he—“Geelp.”

“Are you McGilp's man?” said I.

“Man, yass,” says he, and all his body would seem to be very glad; and then I questioned him of his whistling, and got his story from him.

By his way of it, he had been a camp-follower or servant to a horse-soldier in the Low Countries, which was maybe true, for I will not be denying these wandering folk have the way of horse, and he made a play of himself to be showing how he was beaten often with the stirrup-leather. Some time in his wanderings in the Low Countries he fell in with “les Ecossais,” and he was at the play-acting again with his hands to be describing the Scotch soldiers, and then from some pouch or hidie-hole about his outlandish garb he brought Dan's letter.

At that I sat on the roadside, and the Eastern man, with the rein loose in his hand, crouched on his hunkers before me like an image.

There was much of sadness in that letter, and much of Belle the gipsy lass, and of many wanderings from France to the Low Countries,

“Hamish, man, I'm minding the very stanes in the hill dykes and the track o' the sheep on the hillside.” Why he had been kind to the Egyptian he told me. “Ye'll ken fine, Hamish, for what lass's sake,”—and sent him into France with a Scotch soldier he kent, returning there, with directions to wait at the little town on the coast where McGilp would whiles be, and “bring you this word o' me and a wheen things for Belle.” He was asking me to see McGilp too. The last of it was like Dan. “I'm thinking, Hamish, if the houris in his paradise kenned the words o' the spring I've been deaving him wi', the Egyptian would be very greatly thought of.”

When I was by with the reading of Dan's news, “Ye'll have another letter,” said I, making signs at the pagan.

“Yass,” and at that he put it in my hands. It was for Belle.

We got on the road again, the pony trotting now and the messenger running easily, one brown hand at the stirrup-leather, and very many times he would be saying “Geelp,” till it came on me that McGilp would be wishing to be seeing me at once.

At Belle's cottage door I dismounted, and with the clatter of the horse there came old Betty, with that queer look on her face of disdain and mystery, and just itching to be at the talking.

The wean's hame,” said she, and slammed the door with a last nod of her old head and her lips pursed up; and then there came the snuffling ill-natured greeting of a wean that made me grue as I made my way to the byre, for till then my mind had clean forgot the calf I was to be seeing that day.

In the byre we sat, the heathen and me—for we were but simple men in this affair—and the byre was a dark place to be sitting, and in a while old Betty came, havering at hens and talking to herself. As she came and stood in the doorway and looked closely within, with her back bent and her hand on the lintel, her eyes fell on the messenger, and she let a great cry from her in the Gaelic. To be putting it in English is not so good, but it would be like this, “What dost thou require of me, father of devils?” and she fell on her knees. Well, well, I can laugh at that sight yet. But she “came to” in a little, and took me into the sunlight, and said the gipsy lass would be seeing me for a little time; and I was taken to Belle's sleeping-place, and her arm was round her wean, and she was lying on her back, and her black hair a little damp curling on the pillow.

“You have been very good,” said she. “My man, your kinsman, will be owing you thanks.” And at that her eyes suffused, and two great tears gathered and glittered, and she smiled up to me, and I gave her the letter and turned away.

In a long while she cried, proud and piteous—

“Bring me the messenger; he will have his father's gift for my son.” And the lilt of joy in her voice made me think shame to be a man at all. Silently the messenger came, his eyes on the ground, and kneeled, and at that they were at it in their own Gaelic, and Belle raised the wean a little, and I saw his face wrinkled and red, and his blue staring eyes. And the man laid a long blue blade across the bed, and the little groping fingers of the child fluttered a moment, and then closed on the hilt, and when I lifted the gleaming snake-like sword, from the hilt scroll with a tinkling fell a ring, and it fell on the bosom of the mother—and she lay and smiled.

      * * * * * *

But I made a safe place for that sword and scabbard (for the messenger gave that last into my hands), and for many nights in my dreams the little dimpled hand fluttered and closed on the hilt.

CHAPTER XVI. I HAVE SOME TALK WITH McGILP IN McKINNON'S KITCHEN.

In the gloaming I left the sheiling, and took my way through the hill, as we say, for McKinnon's house by the glen on the road to Birrican, and the first of that road is just plain guessing, but after, maybe, a mile there rises up the Mulloch Mhor, the big peak of the Island, and with that, a little to a man's left hand, the road to the sea is easy. There is a road crossing that way that you'll still see running in through the Planting above the Letter, and through by the Little Clearing, and joining the road to the castle.

To the left of me I could hear the kye at the Bothanairidh, where there was a common grazing, for by this time it was well to have the beasts away from the steadings, because there was no great fencing in these days, and the weans would be put to the herding, out on the hillside. You'll see yet the wee turf byres where the kye were milked, and the founds of the bochans where the old folk had their summer, with the hens and beasts about them. And many's the story I could be telling about these summer quarters when the lassies and old wives would be at the spinning.

All the glen on the right of me was a McBride place, but you will not get that name there any more now, and nothing belonging to them but the trees, old and straggling, that they would be planting long ago, and the furs on the side of the hill where they had rigs about, and lazy-beds.

There were not many houses on the shore in these days, except maybe at a place they would be calling Clamperton, not very far from McKelvie's Inn.

Ronny was the pleased man to welcome me to his house, and Mirren, his wife, was at her best to be showing what a thrifty goodwife she was making, and she was very kind, and spoke good words to me; so, thinks I, Ronny will have been telling her about the talk we had yon day on the Isle.

“They will be saying,” says Mirren, “that yon dark lass has her trouble past her.”

“I am hoping that,” said I, and looked at Ronny's mother sitting very bright and perky by the fire, with a clean white mutch on her head and the strings not tied.

“It is goot,” says she, “to have a boy whatever—a boy iss a good thing, no matter which way he will be got,” and she ended her little talk with a very brisk demand. “Gif me a dram, Mirren; yes”—and that set us to the laughing, for the young wife was setting the drink before us and not making signs of giving the old one any.

We sat down to a meal of roasted fowl, very tasty, and a very good drop of spirits to it, and I would be laughing inside of myself because of the boldness of McKinnon to be praising his wife's cooking before his ain mother, and Mirren was greatly pleased too; indeed, many's the time I will be thinking that the road to a quiet lass's heart will be to praise her cooking. When we had made an end of the eating I gave McKinnon the story of the stranger that came whistling at uncanny hours, and asked him where I would be like to find McGilp, for it appeared the man wanted speech with me.

“You are on the right tack,” says he, “for I am waiting for his hand on the sneck any time this two hours past,” and the dishes were hardly cleared away when the smuggler bent his head to be coming in the door, for in these days there were no locks in the Isle of the Peaks.

There came in with the man a kind of waft of the sea as he threw off his great-coat and clattered his cutlass in a corner—a fine figure of a man, towering up to the rafters, and his voice held in as though it would be more comfortable to hurl an order in the teeth of a gale.

“Ha!” says he, looking from McKinnon to his wife; “she has brought you to port finely.” But he was mightily complimentary, and gave many good wishes with his glass in his great hand.

“And how are you, Mister Hamish?” says he. “Every plank sailing—in fine trim—and that's good hearing these days.”

With that McKinnon got his fiddle, and played us many sprightly airs, for he was a very creditable performer, and the smuggler would be asking for this or that one, and nodding his head with great spirit.

“You would have speech with the Pagan,” said he, when the night was wearing on. “An' cold eneuch he was when I picked him up at the mouth o' the Rouen river, for I had an express from a compatriot, Mr Hamish, serving overseas”—this with a very grand air.

“Were you wanting speech with me?” said I, for I could see the drink was going to his head.

“It's a wee thing private,” says he; “but tak' up your dram. I canna thole a man that loiters wi' drink till the pith is out of it.”

At that we drew our chairs close before the fire.

“Many's the time we would be talking about ye, Mr Hamish,” says he, “Dan and myself; yon time we left ye in the haar at Loch Ranza—a senseless job, too, by all accounts, and Alastair rowing to the suthard, and us creeping out to the nor'west; he'll be hard to find now, by Gully—ay, Dan will be hard to find.

“I am hoping you are not close-hauled for time,” says he, “for it's hard to come at my tale, Mr Hamish; but ye see, Dan McBride had some notion o' what might occur—I am thinking ye will see with me there.

“I am giving you the man's words, ye see, for he had great faith in ye.

“'Ye'll say to Hamish,' says he, and I'm telling you he was a sober man—'ye'll say, I am not wanting the wean to grow up like a cadger's dog, to be running from kicks and whining for a bone.'

“I am no' great hand at this wean business, Mr Hamish, but McBride was a fine man.”

At that I made mention of the wean he had taken to the convent in France.

“I'm with you there,” says he. “I was paid good money for that job, and I ken what I ken, and mair—what I've found out. Ye'll no' hiv great mind o' Scaurdale's son? No? Aweel, he was a bog-louper, and wild, wild at that, but he fell in wi' some south-country lady—a cousin o' his ain, that stopped for years at Scaurdale—a young thing that was feart to haud the man, but fond o' him too. I canna mind the name o' her. The long and short of it was jeest this—she married on an Englishman, a landed man and weel bred—Stockdale they ca'ed him—but he turned oot ill after a', and the first wean was a lass instead o' a boy. And I'm jalousin' she would be getting her keel-haulings for that, poor lady. Ye ken weel that young Scaurdale broke his neck, and ye ken where.

“'I'll be in hell or hame,' says he, 'in forty minutes.' At the Quay Inn it was, and his horse lathered and foaming and wild wi' fear. Aweel, Mr Hamish, he's no hame yet.

“Things were going from bad to worse with the lass he lost, and her man aye at the bottle, and sometimes she would be finding him lookin' at the wean and cursing, so what does she do but get word to the old Laird o' Scaurdale, who was fond o' her and a just man. I'll wager ye, he did not hang long in irons. The thing was done circumspectly, mind you—nae high-handedness—but Belle's folk were about Glen Scaur, a droll wandering band, claiming great descent from Eastern folk, and with horses and dogs and spaewife among them; and Belle (as they will be calling her) was the daughter o' the Chief, a very proud man.

“They were a wandering tribe, Mr Hamish, and they wandered into the south country, and I'm thinking ye saw the bonny spaewife coming back her lane, except for a wean, on a morning ye ploughed stubble.

“But here's the droll bit,” says he. “Stockdale was kilt an his horse, too, in his ain park, for he scoured the place like a madman after the wean was lost. Weel, weel, that finished the lady, poor body. Ye'll see how things are now, Mr Hamish,” says he.

“Yon's an heiress. An' that's a' I'll be saying,” says he, for McKinnon came in from his stable, “but the Laird, your uncle, was in the ploy,” says he, “or I'm sair mistaken, and the Mistress too.”

With that we rose to be going, and had a glass, and the captain's last words were—“Ye'll mind yon: 'I'm not wanting the wean to grow up like a cadger's dog.'”

As I was walking home that night the thought came into my head of the wisdom of Betty at the big house.

I minded her saying to me on the Sunday that Belle took the wean in the tartan shawl to the Mistress—her very words came back to me—

“The wean has the look o' John o' Scaurdale.”

PART II.

CHAPTER XVII. I TURN SCHOOLMASTER.

There were many things to be doing in these days—peats to be cutting and carted home and built into tidy stacks, just as you can see them to-day, and the sprits and bog hay to be saving, for we were not good at growing hay, and then, when the boys grew up, there was the schooling of them. It was the boys we would aye be calling them, Dan's boy and the Laird's son, and they were fine boys.

Bryde McBride, that was the name of Dan's son, and Hugh, with a wheen other names, was the young Laird, who was schooled in Edinburgh and was not long back to us, and there was a lass Margaret, his sister. They would be with me everywhere on the long summer days, and me with the books by me; but mostly in the summer we would hold school at the Wee Hill, for there was a green place as level as the page of a book, and a little turf dyke enclosing it nearly, that we called the Wee Hill. Wae's me, now they have hens scarting about the place, and the greenness is gone from it.

There was the stone of twenty-two snails close by, for that was the number we found on it, a thing I have many times thought about; and great games we had, Bryde with his black hair and swarthy skin and wild blue eyes, with laughter just ready in them, and the speed and grace of a wild cat; and Hugh, ruddy like his folks, and dour too and very loyal; and the lass Margaret, who could turn Bryde with her little finger, and gloried in the doing of it. Ay, they grew up with me, and would be swimming with me in the sea, and every path in the hills we would be riding over, and we were happy together. These were the happiest hours of all, ochone; the sun shone more brightly and the days were longer.

And in his mother's eyes there was none like Bryde. The sun rose and set on him, his every little mannerism was a joy, and I have watched her gazing at him for long without speech, and suddenly rise and press his head against her heart, and her happiness was when he looked up from his task and smiled. I think never was a hand laid on him in anger.

There was something elemental about the lad. He would stand mother naked in the dim morning light below the little fall, and his pony awaiting him, and he kent every horse and dog within twenty miles. Indeed, there was a time when he would have slept with his horses.

“They might be needing me in the night,” said he.

In these days we grew hay in a droll fashion. If there was a field namely for good grass, we would be getting green divots from it and putting them in our own parks, and scattering good rich earth round the divots. And when the grass was blown about by the winds, the seeds would fall and strike on the loose scattered earth, so that these divots were the leaven that leavened the whole field. But when he was sixteen and man grown, a fair scholar and expert with the sword, Bryde would be laughing at the notion. And he was strong and tough like the mountain ash.

“Hill land,” said he, “will only be growing hill grass,” and he set his folk and he went himself and took the seeds from the hill grasses. Guid kens how long it took him, but he sowed his hill grasses with his corn, and the seeds came, as we say, and he cut it and threshed it with the flails; and after that he had hay-stacks in his yard, and his beasts were well done by, so that at the fair he got great prices both for stots and back-calvers. And, indeed, it was at the fair that first I saw the mettle in the boy, although his eyes had always dancing devils in them. There was much drink in these days, and the mainland dealers had not the head for it that the boys from the glens had. The young boys would be holding saddle beasts from the early morning and making the easy money. Aweel, on this fair day, Margaret the maid, the sister of Hugh, had craked and craked to be seeing the beasts and the ferlies, and her mother, the Lady, and her father, the Laird, were sore against it.

“I will be with Bryde, my cousin,” said she; “and who will meddle me.” (I was clean forgotten.)

“He is not a real cousin, Margaret,” said the mother.

“He is a fine lad; you will go, my lass,” said the Laird, for blood was more to him than a stroke left-handed across a shield, and that day she rode with Hugh and me—Margaret, the Flower of Nourn. Tall she was and limber like a lance, her eyes like blue forget-me-nots that grow by the burn mhor, fearless and daring, with long black lashes. Her brown hair curled at her white neck, and her white chin was strong like a man's, but very soft and beautiful; her lips red, and her teeth like pearls.

She was silent for the most part on the road that day, though whiles she would be quizzing her brother about the lassies in the college town, for he had two years of the College at St Andrews. He was the great hand with the lassies by all accounts, Hugh, and many's the time his mother would be havering about them, but that man, my uncle, would wink as though he would be amused.

But when we passed McKelvie's Inn and saw old McKelvie there, stout and hearty, but very white about the head, and had a salutation from Ronald McKinnon thrang with the dealers, and Mirren not far off still sonsy—when we passed there I saw that Margaret was all trembling; and when we saw Bryde, tall and swarthy, coming to us, I saw the smiling in her eyes and her face aglow.

“What was that, my dear lass?” said I, looking at her.

“That would be my heart leaping,” said she, with a laugh and a blush.

And Bryde lifted her from her little horse, and her hands were never tired to be touching him. She was all tremulous with laughter and eager-eyed, and the red was flaming in her cheeks, and she would be ordering Bryde like a queen, but pleadingly withal.

“You will stable my little horse,” said she, and when Bryde, smiling down at her, took the bridle, “But—but I will be coming with you,” she cried, “or surely you will be forgetting to halter him, or letting him run off and leave me,” and as those two with the proud little horse moved to the inn, I saw her look up at the boy with all her heart in her eyes and her lips smiling a little pitifully.

“Do you think I would be caring, Bryde, if he ran off—if you were left with me?”

Ah, she was brave in her loving, was the Flower of Nourn.

Mirren McKinnon, that was once Mirren Stuart, was dowie that day, and her eyes red with greeting, for her son had gone to the sea, as his father had long ago. “I will be missing his step,” she said softly, “when my man is on the hill,” but Ronny would not be listening.

“It will make a man of the lad,” said he; “there's something clean and fine about the sea.”

Bryde had sold his beasts well, and it was his pleasure to be showing Margaret the bonniest foals, rough-haired and tousled as they were, and Hugh and me would be passing judgment. There was a mob of mares and foals and yearlings gathered in one place, and the mainland dealers bargaining with the farmers—always on the point of fighting by their way of it, and laughing to scorn the offered prices, as you will see to this day when folks are dealing in horse.

And as we stood a little way off, a great burly red-faced man—a Lowland dealer, strong as a tree, and a wit in a coarse way—turned his round drink-reddened eyes on us a time or two, and whispered behind his hand to his cronies, and I heard the titter of Dol Beag's laughing as Hugh pointed to a bonny yearling colt, and we stepped away, but not so far that I heard the dealer's words.

“Ou ay,” says he, looking at Bryde, “Dan's is he? I've heard tell o' him, but whitna queen is't that's lookin' at him like a motherless foal?”

At that Bryde put Margaret in my hands. His face was like a devil's and his teeth showed as though his mouth were dry. To Hugh he gave one word. “Stop!” said he, and the word was a snarl.

Never another word he spoke, but leapt among the bargainers, and slid through the great flailing arms of the bucolic wit, and his right hand sank into the man's red throat. I see him still, his left hand behind the man's back, the shoulders raised, all the lithe length of him as he stood on his toes, his eyes like blue flame. I saw him shake his enemy as a dog shakes a rabbit. The great red face took a blae colour—the tongue protruded from his mouth and the eyes stared wildly. Men would have dragged Bryde off, but he hissed a “begone” through clenched teeth (it was a word of his mother), and they fell back as from a sword-stroke.

“Go down, go down, ye beast, if ye never come up,” he girned, and flung the man from him to the earth, where he lay.

I heard no word, and no look that I saw passed between, but Margaret left us and ran to Bryde.

“Put your foot on that cur, my lady,” says he, cold as an icicle, and his head bare. Her two white hands trembled at his sleeve and she turned her face from the groaning man in horror, and then she raised her great blue eyes in one long look, and then her little foot but touched the man's shoulder.

A grim smile came over the face of Bryde McBride, like sunlight in a dark pool. “A brave lass,” said he, and I only heard her reply, and saw her colour rise at his praise.

“Take me home,” she whispered, “Bryde—Bryde dear.”

“Drink,” cried the man on the ground, “drink. God, I wis near hand it that time.”

On the road home we pretended to be very merry, for nothing would please Margaret but Bryde would ride to her father's house. On the hill road she set spurs to her horse with a challenge to Bryde, and they left us some way behind, Hugh and me.

“Man,” said Hugh, and his face was troubled, “this will not do.”

“No,” said I, and hated myself, “for the boy's as good as you or me.”

“Good!” cries Hugh; “he's like the mountains—he's granite, and what are we but dressed sandstone—and the lass kens it,” says he. “God help us.”

CHAPTER XVIII. THE FIRST MEETING.

When we made our way indoors the dogs were bounding and frolicking round Margaret, and she was all laughter. Her eyes were dancing, and her wind-whipped cheeks glowed darkly; then she turned, one dainty finger at her lips, and we kent that no word of her doings that day was for the ears of her parents.

There was a bustle of women-folk about the house, and the noise of crockery, and booming into the corridors came the voice of John, Laird of Scaurdale.

“Chick or child,” says he, “she's all I have—a wee Frenchified, Laird, but she'll learn the wie o' the Scots yet.”

And as Margaret entered, a little startled, and us at her heels, “Come ben, my dear,” he cries, “I've a new friend for ye,” and beside the mistress I saw Helen Stockdale.

I was always the great one for watching faces, and as these two maidens approached, I saw the glowing cheeks of Margaret pale a little, her lips press together, and her chin become a little proud, but her eyes never wavered; but Mistress Helen beats me to be describing. There was an elegance about her and an air of languor, maybe from her sombre dark eyes, yet her every movement was graceful, and her smile a thing to be looking for, and she was slender as the stalk of a bluebell. The Laird of Scaurdale was in great humour, well on to seventy, his teeth still strong and white, and his shoulders with but a horseman's stoop.

“Kiss, my dearies,” says he; “was ever such dainty ladies? Hugh, man, where are your manners, and you such a namely man among the Saint Andra lassies. Hoots, man, this blateness does not become ye; ye've slept wi' the lass before. Ha, Saint Bryde o' the Mountains,” says he to Bryde, “well done, sir,” for Mistress Helen, with a quick flashing upward glance, had rendered her little hand for salutation.

And at his words I saw, like a flash, a look of cold hate leap in the blue eyes of Margaret McBride.

I did much thinking while the others would be talking, and I thought of the day, fresh from the college, when we ploughed the stubble and Belle brought the wean in the tartan shawl,—the wean that grat beside Hugh in the old room when Belle carried her from the wee byre—the wean that was carried to McCurdy's hut with Belle and Dan McBride, and had lain in the crook of the arm of John of Scaurdale that night when McGilp had shown a light away seaward.

And there she was before me, Helen Stockdale, and I minded McGilp's words, “Yon's an heiress.”

And sitting there in dour silence, there came on me such a longing for Dan McBride that I could have wept. Eighteen years had I watched the ploughing and the harvesting, the cutting of the peats and the carting of hay, and never a word of Dan since the queer outlandish messenger carried my word to him to come home. The boys were grown men, the Laird and his Lady getting on in years, and the old folk going away with every winter, and never a word.

McGilp and his Seagull were not so often at the cove these last years, and yet McKinnon had a crack with him in Tiree, where he was buying a horse or two.

“Young Dan's deid,” said McKinnon, “and Dol Beag will be hirpling aboot and eating his kail broth for many's the day.”

There was one that never doubted—Belle, and after eighteen years she was little changed, a weary look sometimes in her eyes, for was she not like a wild thing chained, but more like a sister to Bryde than a mother.

And old Betty, Betty of eighty winters, sat by the fireside and would look at Bryde with her old, old eyes, hardly seeing, and whiles she would be calling the boy “Young Dan,” and whiles havering of Miss Janet, his grandmother.

“You will be clever, clever,” she would be saying to Belle, “and you will get another man yet. . . .”

And one night as I stood at the door—a clear night, I mind, with a harvest moon—“Hamish,” said Belle, and her hand was at her heart, “I could go to him barefoot, for is he not always with me in the night?”

As I sat dreaming and listening in a kind of a way to the talk round me, it came on me that Margaret kept near to her mother, and once only did I see her look at Bryde, a hurried puzzled look,—but Hugh was ardent already, his face flushed and his laugh merry, and Mistress Helen was happy too.

There was the great struggling with our language, and she had a droll taking way of it that Hugh would be correcting in his college manner; but Bryde sat back, listening mostly, his face proud and swarthy in the shadows, and sometimes smiling to Mistress Helen, for her eyes would come back to him often.

When the moon was up, Bryde rose.

“With your leave,” said he, “I will be on the road.”

Margaret came over beside me and put her hand into mine.

“You're early, sir, you're early,” cried Scaurdale; “it's asourying wi' the lasses ye will be at.”

The mistress looked not so ill-pleased at that, but it seemed to me Margaret's hand tightened in mine with a little tremble.

“I'm thinking, Scaurdale, we will be getting a pair of colours for Bryde,” said my uncle. “Would he not make a slashing light dragoon?”

At that Mistress Helen clapped her hands. “I think yes,” said she, “but yes, certainly.”

“I would be going to the sea,” said Bryde, “like Angus McKinnon—the tall ships and the strange countries, the white sails in the moonlight, and the black cannon and the cutlasses,” said he, and then with a sort of shame, “and all that,” but his eyes were full of longing and his cheek flushed.

“Ah oui,” cried Helen, “I am seeing all that, M'sieu.”

And Hugh McBride looked glumly at Bryde as he left.

“I am forgetting,” said Margaret, “I am wanting Bryde. Take me, Hamish,” and her hand was pressing mine. But I thought to be teaching her a lesson, and sat still a little.

“What is it you will have been forgetting, Margaret?” said I.

“Oh—oh,” says she, her face all suffused, “it will just be about a pup he was to be bringing me. . . .”

At that I took her with me. “Pup,” said I; “pup, Margaret. What tale is this?”

“Cat or dog, or—or anything,” she cried. “I am wanting him.”

Bryde was at his horse's girths, and old Tam with a lanthorn.

“Bryde,” cried the lass, “I am wanting you.”

He had the horse out by this time, and I went away a little, but I heard her say—

“You never kissed my hand, sir—no, not in all your life.”

“No, Mistress Margaret,” said the boy.

“But why, why, why?” said she, and I laughed to see her stamp.

“Ye see,” said he, and mounted, then bending over his saddle, “Ye see, my dear, I was loving your hand all that time,” and the clatter of his horse's feet on the cobbles brought me to my senses.

“Pup,” said I.

“But, Hamish,” whispered the lass, “I am wanting him.”

“For what now?”

“I am wanting him to keep,” said she, and put her head against my arm—the brave lass.

CHAPTER XIX. THE RIDERS ON THE MOOR.

I would be seeing very little of Bryde for many a day after that, for there was aye work to be doing at his hill farm, and hard work will be bringing sound sleep.

But Hugh was become the great gallant, with old Tam rubbing his stirrups with sand from the sand-brae, that and wet divots, till the irons shone like silver.

“Hoch-a-soch,” he would say, “the young Laird is ta'en wi' the weemen. I will be at the polishing o' his horse's shoes next, and it iss the fine smells he will be haffin' on his claes—fine smells for the leddies, yess.”

“Tush, man,” said the Laird, “ye smell o' my Lady's bower. Your forebears had the reek o' peats about them, or a waft o' ships. . . .”

But the road to Scaurdale would be drawing Hugh.

“It is Mistress Helen that will be having the dainty lad, Hugh, my dear,” his sister would be flashing; “your folk would not be hanging so long at a lassie's coat-tails, if old stories will be true.”

But he had an answer for her.

“What tails will Bryde be hanging at, my lass?”

“His plough-tail, my dainty lad,” said Margaret, and laughed to be provoking him.

“Maybe ay, Meg,” says he, “and maybe no.”

It was not long after that when Margaret would be wheedling me to be on the hill.

“See, Hamish, my little brown horse is wearying for the air o' the hills and the spring water,” and she would smile with her brows raised a little and her lips pouting.

When we were on the brow of the black hill—

“I am thinking we will ride to the peat hags,” said Margaret, “and we'll maybe be seeing Bryde,” and she laughed in my face, and, indeed, after that she was always at the laughing.

“What would his father be like, Hamish—Bryde's father?”

“A fine man he was, Margaret, but a little wild.”

“Ay,” said she, “he would be spoiled with the lasses.”

And for a while she was thoughtful. Bryde was at his plough-tail on an outlying bit, but his horses were standing at the head-rig, and Bryde was laughing and talking to a lady, and when I saw the serving-man holding a pair of Scaurdale's horse, I kent the lass.

“I am wondering,” said I, “where is Hugh, and Mistress Helen so far from hame; but ye were in the right of it, Margaret, for Bryde is at his plough-tail.”

“He will have good company even there, it seems,” said the lass.

But in a little Helen and she were at the talking.

“And where would you be leaving all your cavaliers, Helen,” said Margaret, for Hugh had been telling us of the young sparks at Scaurdale.

“Cavaliers, Margaret!” with a very dainty moving of the shoulders. “Of these I am weary this day, and so I inflict myself on the dragoon,” and here she bowed very low and gracefully to the ploughman, and there was a little devilry in her black eyes.

Bryde was at his furrow again when Hugh joined us with his very braw clothes, and he was a little dour-looking.

“We're all on the moor these days,” says he, “and keeping a man from his work seemingly.”

“But now you have come we will ride to Scaurdale,” said Helen, but Margaret would not be heeding.

“I am to see my cousin's wife,” says she, “in the house yonder, with Hamish here; but here is Hugh on edge to be on the Scaurdale road, and Bryde eager to be ploughing.” So Margaret and I made our way to the house, and it was hard to be knowing where the shepherd's hut was among the outbuildings of the steading, and as we turned into the stackyard and watched Hugh and Mistress Helen ride on, Margaret turned to me.

“Is it not droll,” said she, “that a man o' my folk, my own brother, cannot be putting a ring on the finger of an easy lass like that?”

“Are you thinking she is easy?” said I.

“I am thinking she is a merry lass and wants a bold man—she will be loving a bold man.”

“I think that too.”

“Who is it?” said Margaret, like a flash.

“Oh, just Hugh.”

“Hamish,” said the lass, “ye never lied to me before.”

A halflin lad took the horses and we came to the house, and there was Belle to meet us, smiling to Margaret, and her eyes wandering to where her son was at the ploughing.

Now it was a droll thing to me to watch these two, for Margaret McBride had the pride of her mother, and there were many times when she would be very haughty, and yet in this moorland farmhouse she would be all softness and the quiet laughter of gladness, and talking very wisely to Belle about homely things. And I would often be laughing at Margaret and her talk of milk, and fowls, and calves, and lambs, but she would be very serious.

“A woman should be knowing these things, Hamish,” she would say.

But Belle was the slave of Margaret since the days when Hugh and Bryde and the little wild lass would be playing in the heather, and climbing for jackdaw's eggs or young rock-pigeons in Dun Dubh. But that day Margaret was beside old Betty, and making her comfortable in the chair by the fire of red peats.

“Will you be very wise, old Betty?” said she, looking down on the old one.

“Yess, yess, Betty has the wisdom, and Betty kens the secrets o' the hill folks, but ye will not be needing to ken the secrets, for will you not be keeping the lads away from ye with a stick. Na, na, ye will not be needing the love secret.”

“My motherless lass!” cried Margaret, with a droll laugh, “and is there a secret way of it?”

“Yess, yess, a very goot way, mo leanabh; you will chust be scraping a little from the white of your nail and putting it in his dram, yess, and he will be yours through all the worlds. . . .”

“But what,” said I, “if he'll not be taking a dram?”

“I could always be wheedling him, Hamish,” she laughed. At that I looked at her.

“I am thinking of Hugh,” says she, “Hugh and Mistress Helen,” but she had the grace to be shamed a little.

“Indeed,” said Belle, “they are a bonny pair, the young Laird and the young lady. She will be riding here many times, for the Laird of Scaurdale will have been telling her old tales of the place.”

“Will they be making a match of it?” said I.

“I am hoping that, Hamish,” said Belle—“and, indeed, she is liking the hills and the folk, and fond of the horses too, and will be keen to be seeing Bryde breaking the young beasts, and watching him for long. She will whiles be putting the old tartan shawl round her.”

At that Margaret went out of the house, and in a while I saw her with Bryde, walking step for step with him on the lea he was breaking, and her hand would sometimes be beside his on the stilt of the plough.

On the home road that day I would be showing her the road we had travelled that night of the whin-burning, and where in the hills was McAllan's Locker, and wondering what had come to the Killer, the dead white man. And I would be minding a story of a dog that howled in the night and slunk by in the darkness of Lag 'a bheithe, and I wondered if the Nameless Man had gone to his love that beckoned in the pool, or if the ravens had got him at the last of it, and if the pigeons built still away in the cranny of the Locker, and there was a sadness in me.

She had not been speaking, the lass beside me, and her merriness was all gone, for she was aye merry with Bryde, and at last—

“Hamish,” said she, “there is something will happen.”

And on top of my own mood I was startled, and the words did not come to me.

“Am I not the daft lassie?” said she, and started to the singing of merry airs; but before we saw the rowan-tree that grows on the face of the black hill, her songs were sad again.

“He will be lonesome away there, Bryde,” said she, looking back.

“He will be looking for a lass one of these nights,” said I, a little angry, “and there are bonny lasses here and there, between here and Scaurdale.”

“I am wishing, Hamish, I could be at the herding and the kelp-burning with the other lasses,” said she, looking at me, and there was a little smile at her lips, and a kind of eagerness I did not understand.

“Do you think Bryde will be looking at these wenches,” said I in great scorn (for I feared he did).

“No, Hamish, no,” she cried amidst her laughter, and I understood then.

“Mistress Margaret,” said I, “I am not a match for you in wit, it seems, but since we are agreed he canna just be suited with these lassies, there will just be two left by your way of it.”

“Between here and Scaurdale, Hamish,” said she, “it is your own words I am giving you.”

“Bryde is a fine lad,” said I, “but he's like to be spoiled, and,” said I, “your mother will have told you he has not even a name.” At that the dull anger I had been choking down most of that day broke over me. “Damn the whole affair,” said I, and dismounted.

When I lifted her from her horse, she was laughing and blinking tears from her lashes, and she put her arms very tightly about my neck.

“Oh, Hamish, Hamish,” said she, “I will have been doing that this while.”

CHAPTER XX. “THE LOVE SECRET.”

Lassies are droll creatures, and will tell many things the one to the other in the way of a ploy, and Margaret McBride made great work with old Betty's love potion, and that to Helen alone.

“I will be trying it on Hugh,” said she, “when I have you sleeping, for I will get scraping the white of your nail then.”

And now this is the droll thing that came about. We had a day after the otters at the Bennan, a wet cold day, with little that was laughable in it, except that a man of the Macdonalds took an otter home over his shoulders, and the beast dead, as we thought; but coming in at his own door it gripped him by the back of his hip, and at the start he got he let a great cry to his wife in the Gaelic.

“Fell the beast, fell the beast,” and the wife, with a beetle in her hand, and in a flurry of excitement to be felling the beast, came a dour on her man's head that felled him, poor man, and we left them then, the otter killed at last, and the man and wife demented with the suddenness of the happenings, and came to the house of Scaurdale.

Now the lassies, Margaret and Helen, were in the mood for a ploy, and Margaret it was who scraped the little white powder from Helen's polished nail. “A wee tashte,” she laughed, “old Betty would be saying, 'chust a wee tashte.'“ And when the boys came in red-faced and with sparkling eyes (for I was watching the prank), “Now,” said Margaret, “I will be giving poor Hugh his dram, and then everything will do finely.”

“But,” said Helen, “I will be my own cup-bearer, or maybe the charm will be a useless thing.” And she took the old glass—a rummer it was—and she carried it very daintily to the boys and bowed.

“Here is refreshment, my tired hunter,” said she, and gave the glass into Bryde's hand, and that swarthy hillman raised the glass to the cup-bearer and drained it.

“I will not be very clever, it seems, Hamish,” said Margaret.

But I had admiration for Helen, for she came back, laughing very softly. “Now we shall prove your charm, Mistress Margaret,” said she; “for truly M'sieu Hugh did not require it, but Bryde—he is cold and hard like his own hills with me.”

And that very night it was as though old Betty's havers were potent spells, for Bryde was the fair-haired laddie with the Laird of Scaurdale always, and as the evening wore on he grew a little flushed with wine, so that all his silence left him, and he was very shyly bold and very gallant; but Margaret was stately and proud like her mother, and smiled but little. And Hugh gloomed and laughed by turns, and had an air of patronage to his cousin that was hurtful for me to be seeing in him.

Hugh and Margaret were stopping at Scaurdale, but when the moon was well up Bryde was for the road. At that there was an outcry, for he was the soul of the place. The Laird of Scaurdale would have hindered his going, and Helen made much ado, but his horse was brought, and we came to the door to be seeing him off.

There was a brave moon, and the hillside very plain, and the noise of the burn rumbling—a fine night to be out.

“I could be riding home too,” said Margaret.

Bryde slipped his boot from the stirrup.

“Jump,” said he, “and in two hours you'll be home, if Hamish and Hugh will be allowing it.”

I think she would have liked to go, for I saw the flash in her eyes, and her quick smile, but then—

“No,” said she; “it is a little cold here,” and turned to go in.

Helen was at the Laird's side.

“But I have never ridden so,” said she. “Would Monsieur take me to the bridge—a little way and back,” but before the Laird had given his assent she was in the saddle and off with a wave of her arm; and I thought of the night when she had ridden that way once before, with the father of Bryde on the big roadster, and the Laird was thinking the same thing.

They were back in a little; indeed, the hoof-beats were very plain all the time, but Helen was white as she dismounted, and her good-bye was very low, and she listened to the klop-to-klop of the hoofs for a long time before she came in.

That night she came into Margaret's room (for the lass told me everything), and sat down wearily by the bedside.

“Your spell works, Mistress Margaret,” said she.

I think Margaret would raise herself on her pillows.

“Ah,” said she, “have you brought Bryde to heel, Helen?”

“The spell works,” said Helen, “but I think backwards. Margaret, ma belle, he brings me to heel, it seem.”

“They all have that knack, my men-folk,” said Margaret—“mostly.”

CHAPTER XXI. DOL BEAG LAUGHS.

To town-bred folk the country in the winter time is an arid waste. There is no throng of folk, no lighted ways, nor much amusement by their way of it; but to the countryman the winter is the time—the long dark nights for ceilidhing, the days after the rabbits and hares, and the cosiness about a steading, with the beasts at their straw and turnips, and the lassies to be coming home with, and the old stories that will make the hair rise on a man's head. Och, these are the nights to be enjoying.

I would whiles take a stick and the dogs and over the hill for it to McKinnon's for a crack with Ronald and Mirren, and then we would go to the Quay Inn and listen to the singing, or talk to McGilp—for McGilp had left the sea and settled at McKelvie's, where he was very much respected as a moneyed man, having sold the Seagull to McNeilage, his mate. He was much exercised by the morals of the place, and very religious, except when in drink, which would be mostly every night.

On such a night, with Ronald and myself at the table and McGilp opposite, the door opened, and in came Bryde and Hugh with a cold swirl of sleet, and sat down beside us, and Robin McKelvie brought their drink, and old McKelvie came ben to be doing the honours. We were close by the fire, for McGilp liked to be hearing the sough of the wind in the lum, and him snug and warm. On the other side of the fire was Dol Beag, a man well over fifty, very silent, and I could not thole the look of his crooked back. But there was with him one of his own kidney, and he began to let his tongue wag.

“We had many's the ploy in the old days,” says he, “and wild nights too. It will chust be twenty years off an' on since I was swundged behin' that fire like a sheep's heid—yes.

“I will haf forgotten what ploy that was—I was aalways fighting.”

“Dol Beag, can ye no' be quate before dacent folk?” said Ronald.

“Ou ay, Ronald, I was chust thinking of the old ploys—I see you have strangers with you.”

Then he turned to Bryde—

“You will be a stronger man than your father, and he wass a fine man, but you would kill a man too. Yes, but we will not be talking of killing when it's the lassies you will be thinking about, and I'm hearing the southern leddy is very chief with you,” and he sniggered and went out.

“God's blood,” said Hugh in a white rage, “do you let any drunken rogue blackguard a lady?”

“I am not to be touching that man,” said Bryde, and his face was dark red.

“Have I to live to see one of my name a coward—a bastard and a coward?”

“By the living God, you lie, Hugh McBride,” said Bryde through his teeth, and struck Hugh on the mouth with the back of his hand.

“That will be all that is needful,” says Hugh with a bow; “there's a yard outside, and maybe McKelvie will be giving us a couple of lanthorns.”

Never a word said Bryde, but the breath whistled through his nostrils, and we made our way through the kitchen, for it was easier to stop the big burn in spate than these two. There were cutlasses on the wall crossed like the sign of a battle on a map, and Hugh had them down.

“I think they are marrows,” says he, trying to be calm, but his very voice shook with rage.

“Outside,” said Bryde.

There was a puddly yard, squelched with the feet of cow beasts. The scad of light from the door and the two lanterns lit up the yellow trampled glaur, and both the boys stripped in silence and stood on guard, and then started.

McGilp and McKinnon and the McKelvies were there only, and if these had not been my own boys I could have enjoyed the business, for they were matched to a hair, and tireless as tigers.

The blue blades sprang from cut to parry like live things, and in the light I saw the same cruel smile, line for line, in both faces. The snow was falling in big wet flakes, and the fight went on, neither giving an inch, and then from behind came a thin voice—

“The McBrides are at it, hammer and tongs—the Laird and the bastard, te-he,” cried Dol Beag from the dark.

At that word Bryde's blade seemed to waver an instant, and Hugh's bit into his thigh, but like a flash I saw Bryde recover, and a lightning stroke and Hugh's cutlass was clattering on the cobbles, and then I saw Bryde whirl his sword round his head, and raise himself uplifted for a dreadful blow that would have cleft his cousin to the chest, and the cruel smile was still on both faces, and then Bryde stopped.

“It's no' true, Hughie,” said he, and lowered his hand and walked back to the kitchen, swayed a minute, and thrust his arms out blindly, and fell on the flagstones.

“Have I killed him, Hamish?” cried Hugh—“have I killed Bryde? God, what will Margaret say to this?”

“I do not know what you have done,” said I. “It would be maybe better if he is dead, for I think you will have killed his spirit.”

We would have had him to bed in the inn, but he came to himself.

“Hamish,” said he, “take me home to my”—and in a brave voice—“to my mother.”

And Hugh went out of the room, and I knew he would never be a boy again.

McKelvie's wife was at the doctoring of the wound with her concoctions, and I made what job I could of it, and then we put Bryde in a peat creel, with straw and blankets, and took him to his mother.

“It was just a daft prank,” said he to Belle, who leant over him like some wild fierce creature. “It was just a mad ploy, mother.”

CHAPTER XXII. THE SHAMELESS LASS.

I left Bryde sleeping at last and restless, with Belle wide-eyed by his bedside, and traked down to the big house very bitter at heart against Hugh, for the quarrel had been of his seeking; and when I came under the rowan-trees and past the moss-covered stone horse-trough, the grey day was coming in. And at the little window of Margaret's room I saw a white face peering, and there in a bare stone-flagged lobby she came to me, a stricken white thing, and dumb. She had no words at all, but stood gazing at my face, her hands twisting and twisting, and a strange moving in her white throat.

“Come, my lass,” said I, and took her up and carried her to my room, where there was still a glow of red in the wide fireplace, and I kicked the charred wood together, and threw dry spills on that and made a blaze, and set her in my chair in the glow of it, for she was stiff with cold, being but half clothed or maybe less. Then I brought from an aumery some French spirit, and she took a little, shivering and making faces, but it lifted the cold from her heart. Yet in her eyes was a dreadful look, as of one who had gazed all night over bottomless chasms of nameless fear.

“And now, Mistress Margaret McBride,” said I in as blithe a voice as I could be mustering, “why am I to be finding you in cold lobbies, and carrying you to my chamber like the ogre?”

At that came the saddest little smile over her face, and all her body seemed to relax.

“Tell me,” said she, “there would not be laughing in your voice and him—away,” and even then I was thinking she would be afraid to say that grim word.

“Bryde will have a sned from a hanger,” said I, making light of it. “You will have seen deeper in a turnip, and I left him sleeping.”

“The dear,” said she—“the dear,” and then looking at me, “Oh, Hamish, Hamish, be good to me; I will not can help it.”

“Where is Hugh?” said I.

“He came into us,” said the lass, “like a wraith.”

“'I have provoked my cousin,' he said, 'and wounded and maybe killed him, and I am owing him my life forbye,' and I ran to be waiting for you, and locked my door on all of them, even my mother.”

She had a droll coaxing way with her, Margaret—a way of saying, “Will you tell me?” and then of repeating it, and she started now.

“Hamish,” said she, “will you tell me one thing? Will you tell me?”

I nodded.

“Would it be—will you tell me—truly?” and she waited for my assent.

“Would it be Helen the boys were fighting over?”

“It would not,” said I, and she said nothing more after that; but as I took her to the door she pulled my head down.

“I am thinking often, Hamish,” said she, “you are the best one of us all.”

      * * * * * *

Now I will say this—that Bryde was like a wean in bed, fretful and ill-natured and restless, and his mother had to be beside him when folk came in, and I think in his new knowledge he feared she might suffer some indignity.

And he lashed his pride with a new-found humbleness, and railed at himself. I can hear his words on that day I brought Margaret to be seeing him, and she had many dainty dishes to be describing.

“It is very kind of you indeed,” said he, “to be minding a poor body like me, and kind of your people to be allowing you to visit my mother and myself.”

And at the sound of these words the poor lass was red and white time about, and at last fell all aback like a little ship in the wind's eye.

“Oh, Bryde,” cried she, “what is this talk of my people? Are not my people your own people also?”

“I have my mother's word for it,” said he, with his arm over his eyes, and the dark blood surging upwards over throat and cheeks.

The lass was on her knees by his bedside at that.

“Do you think,” she cried—“do you think that would weigh with me; I have kent that long syne.”

“It was news to me,” said he, turning his face away; “bonny news to me.”

“This will be news to me also,” said she, her face hidden, “for I would be thinking in the night-time—in the dark—I would be thinking it would maybe be me you differed over.

“You, Mistress Margaret,” cried he. “What could I ever be to such as you—but a servant?”

“Bryde McBride, do you ken what there is in my heart to be doing to you,” and her eyes were all alight, and her breath coming fast—her face close to his and her arms round him: “I could be kissing your hurt till it was healed. I am wanting your head here, here at my heart, for I am yours—I will be yours—I will be yours.”

“Some day,” said Bryde in a soft whisper, with amazement in his tones—“some day you will find a man worthy of that great love. . . .”

But she was at her wheedling now.

“Will you tell me, Bryde—will you tell me truly?” and she put her lips to his ear. “I love you, Bryde—did ye not know? Am I not a shameless lass?”

“There never was maiden like you before, Margaret,” said he. “I am always loving you, always. . . .”

“But tell me,” she cried—“tell me,” and she put her ear close to his mouth, and her eyes were closed and a smiling gladness on her face.

“Love you,” he cried in a great voice. “The good God will maybe be knowing the love in my heart for you,” and his face was grey with pain, but at his words she pressed her face to his gently.

“Now,” she said, “I will be happy again.”

And when I came into the room there was the lass standing very proud with her hand on his brow.

“Is he not a restless boy, our Bryde?” said she, and there was pride and love and tears and laughter in her tones, and she left us together.

“Hamish,” said he, “you will not be bringing her here again ever—I will not be strong enough lying here . . .” and then in a lower voice, “My mother has a ring,” said he. “I could not be asking her, my mother, and who is there to turn to but you,” and I told him of the messenger who came from the Low Countries with Dan's letters and his mother's ring.

“And your baby fist closed on the sword,” said I.

“The sword,” said he. “Where is my father's gift?”

At that I went to the old byre where the heathen had sat that day, and I digged the cobbles from a corner of a biss close to the trough, and there, wrapped in a sheep's skin in a box, was the sword as I had buried it long ago, and I brought it to Dan's son.

He took it with a kind of joy, and his eyes all lit up.

“My father would be knowing,” said he, and drew the blade. “This will clear the tangles.”

There were flowers very beautifully let into the blade in thin gold. “Is she not a maiden richly dowered?” said Bryde—“a slim grey maiden, a faithful maiden, who will be lying at my side, and fierce to be defending me?”

Belle hated that sword from the first day, but Bryde had it by him at his bedside always.

There were many folk coming and going these days, and Ronny McKinnon and McGilp would be sitting with Bryde, and they would have the great tales of ships and the sea, and whiles Ronny would have his fiddle and play, and whiles it would be the old stories they would be telling.

There was a day too when Hugh McBride and Helen came a-riding on the moors, and the thought came to me that both were a little sobered, and the lass had not the same gaiety about her; but I was thinking maybe she would be anxious about the Laird of Scaurdale, for there was word that he would not be keeping so very well of late.

There was a sternness about Hugh as of a man that would be carrying a grim load, but Bryde made very much of him always, and I am thinking that was not the least of his troubles, for there were some words between us after the fight.

“Yon was a dirty business,” said Hugh. “I am not fit to stand in the same park with my cousin, and I will have told him that,” for his mother would aye be warning Bryde never to lay hands on Dol Beag all his days.

CHAPTER XXIII. HELEN AND BRYDE McBRIDE REST AT THE FOOT OF THE URIE.

There was a long time that Bryde was lame and weak, for he had lost much blood, but his strength came back to him, and it is droll to think that he had grown in his bed. When he was out he could not be having enough of the hills, and the fields and the sun. He would be talking to the very beasts about the place in his gladness, and Hugh would be giving him an arm, and they would often be at the laughing like brothers; but for long was Margaret, his sister, cold to Hugh.

And in the month of May, Bryde came down to the big house, and the Laird and his Lady welcomed him at the door, and Margaret behind them very sedate by her way of it.

And the Laird gave Bryde a good word that day in my hearing.

“You will not be minding that tale, my lad,” said he, with his hand on Bryde's shoulder. “We will whiles be a little careless in the marrying, our folk,” said he, “but the blood is strong enough, and we hold together.”

But for all that I kent that there would be something strange about Dan's son since he rose from his bed, and I think that Margaret kent it too, for I would be seeing a wistful look in her eyes when no one would be near her.

And then there was a day when Hugh brought Helen to the house, and she was closeted a long time with Margaret.

“Your cousin Bryde will be leaving us ver' soon,” said she.

I will never be the one to deny that Mistress Helen came fast to the bit.

“Will Hugh have been telling you that?” said Margaret in a certain tone.

“Hugh—no. I meet Bryde ver' often. He is good to be meeting—there is a fire and dash about him,” and at that she spread out her white hands with a fine gesture, and took a turn to the window, her riding-switch at her teeth.

Now there was an intolerance about Margaret which you will find often with a proud spirit, and that Bryde should be happy away from her hurt her like a lash. The women maybe will have a name for it, for there was a smile in Helen's eyes as Margaret spoke—

“I am glad,” said she, “he will have so good a friend as you. Maybe he will be staying if you were to ask him.”

“And you, Margaret?”

“I do not come of folk who ask,” said Margaret, with great unconcern; then for no reason seemingly (but maybe thinking of a certain time when she all but asked) her neck and face and forehead grew dark with mantling blood.

“Is he then not of your people who are slow to ask—favours?” said Helen. “I think so, yes. Do you remember I ride with him a little way from Scaurdale? There is a moon, and the hills ver' clear and we gallop.”

“I am minding,” said Margaret.

“'It is Romance,' I say to him, and he will be carrying me away off to the hills, and he is laughing.

“'An unwilling captive,' he says.

“'Not ver' unwilling,' I say, for he looked ver' gallant.

“'But a willing captive, she would kiss me,' said Bryde, your cousin, and then I make no movement of my head, but my eyes are looking at his laughing down at me—asking favours, ma belle, and still I not move, and he throw back his head (comme ça), and say—

“'I do not beg—even kisses,' very proudly he looks, ma belle, and his blue eyes laughing. . . .”

“I am remembering that the charm was working, Helen,” said Margaret, in a voice like the north wind for coldness.

“Ah oui,” cried Helen, “backwards it work—I kiss him la la,” and she laughed like silver bells a-tinkle.

Now that was a daftlike tale to be telling, but Margaret was for ever cleaving me with Helen after that. “She is beautiful,” she would tell me, “and merry and a great lady, and I think any man will be loving her,” but there were many nights when Margaret lay wide-eyed, for all that she drove Bryde from her with jest and laughter. But I think it was well that she never kent of the meeting of Bryde and Helen Stockdale at the ford in the burn yonder at the foot of the Urie.

On a summer morning that was, with the heat-haze hardly lifted and long slender threads of spider webs clinging to the leaves of the birches by the burnside, and the bracken green and strong, with the white cuckoo spittals on them that will leave a mark like froth on the knees of a horse. To the pebbly ford above the “Waulk Mill” came Bryde, riding loosely with slack rein, for he was thinking much these days. In the burn his horse halted to drink, and then rested a little from the water—his head high and his ears forward—Bryde looking to his path for the South End, for he was on some errand of grazing beasts. Then there came that fine sound, the distant neigh of a horse, and the horse in the burn answered gallantly, and came splashing on, passaging and side-stepping a little, with curved crest. And there by the burnside they met, Bryde and Helen.

Their words at the meeting were formal enough, for there were houses at a little distance from the crossing; but you will only be seeing the founds of them now, and the plum-trees gone to wood, and the straggling hawthorns and the heather growing to the very burnside by the Lagavile.[1] But at the meeting there was a rich glowing colour in the face of the maid, and her lips were parted in a little smile, and her great eyes, sombre often, but now alight with love a-laughing in them, rested on the man like a caress.

“Ha, well met, my swarthy dragoon,” said she, “or are we sailors this merry morning?”

“There's aye the night for dreams, Mistress Helen, but in the daytime I will be but a plain farming body, concerned about bestial. . . .”

“Bestial,” quo' she, as they rode in the old track by the burnside that you'll see yet from the other road, “my horse is a-lathered, and I too am concerned about bestial. We will let us down,” said she, “in the shade yonder, and rest the horses, and be good farmers together—yes?”

Bryde slacked the girths and tied the horses, and then joined the lass on a little mound of green like a couch.

“And now,” cried Helen Stockdale—“now, sir, here are we in the green wood with neither page nor groom—squire and dame—and I am loving it,” said she, and her little brown capable hand took one of his great hard ones.

[1] Laga vile=hollow of the tree.

“You have fine hands, M'sieu Bryde,” said she, her fingers over his to be comparing them, “great and strong and well-tried.”

And there fell a silence between them, and as both strove to break that silence their eyes met, and there came a quick changing of colour on the face of Helen, and Bryde's hand closed over hers. And as she sat by his side her eyes lowered, and the curling lashes sweeping her cheek, it came to the man how very beautiful she was, her pride all forgotten. He felt her hand trembling in his, and then she raised her head with a questioning little sound at her lips, and looked at him, and smiled, pouting.

“And must I beg,” she whispered.

“I think,” said Bryde, “that the horses are rested.”

The light left her eyes, as the sea darkens when a cloud comes over the sun. Red surged the blood over throat and face and brow. She sprang to her feet, twisting her whip in her brown hands. By the horses she turned—

“Am I lame, or blind, or ugly?” she cried. “Oh, man, I could kill you . . . but some day, Monsieur, some day I shall laugh when that proud Mistress Margaret flouts your love . . .” She laughed, mocking.

“'It will be no concern of mine whether Bryde McBride goes or stays,' says the Lady Margaret. 'I do not beg—and what is he to me.'”

“You are a droll lass,” said Bryde, with a frown on his face—“a droll lass, and very beautiful—so Mistress Margaret . . .” but Helen broke into his talk.

“Am I beautiful to you, M'sieu? I am honoured,” but her eyes were soft—“but what would the proud Margaret say to that?”

“We will forget her, Mistress Helen—what have I to be doing except to be a loyal kinsman to her?” and here the drollest laughing came over Helen.

“I am sure she will be loving that,” said she, “a loyal kinsman.”

And although her breath was still flurried with her swift rage, her eyes were laughing at the man.

“I can never be in anger with you, Bryde,” said she. “I wish it were not so.”

“Are you wishing to be angry with me now?” said he in a deep voice, with one great arm round her shoulder, and his face bent to her. And as she looked at him a sort of fierceness came over Helen. She flung her arms round the man, and stood on tiptoe to be reaching up to him.

“Some day I will be forgetting my convent teaching,” said she, “and then I will make you love me, and you will be mine altogether.”

“There will be something in that,” said Bryde, and laughed a loud ringing laugh, as the drollness of the business came on him. And when he looked down, there was the lass all humbled, and tears standing in her eyes, and a pitiful little mouth on her.

“You are laughing at me, Bryde,” said she in a little voice, shakily.

“No, dear, no,” said he, “I would be thinking of the Laird of Scaurdale if he kent, and me with a name to be making. Do not be greetin',” said he, “there will be nothing at all to be greeting for,” and he set her on her horse gently, and they rode on by the burnside, and watched the brown trout flash in below the boulders, and darting across the amber pools, just as they do to-day.

CHAPTER XXIV. THE HALFLIN'S MESSAGE.

I mind that there was a good back-end that year, as we say, with plenty of keep for the beasts, and the stacks under thatch of sprits by the end of September, and I would be standing in the stackyard as a man will, just pleased to be seeing things as they were, and swithering if I should be taking a step to the Quay Inn, when the halflin lad from Bryde's place came up to me.

“He is not yonder,” said he, in a daft-like way. “He will not be in his own place any more.”

And then I got at him with the questions.

“The mother will be sitting all day and not greeting terrible,” says he, “and Betty will be oching and seching like a daith in the house; and I came to be telling you—and he will have the thin sword with him.”

And the lad lisped and boggled at the English, till I shook the Gaelic into him—and there was the story.

It would be two nights ago that Bryde McBride came into the loft where the halflin was sleeping, and bade him dress.

“He would be all in his good claes,” said the lad, “and the sword on him,” and he told me how the two of them had carried a kist through the hill and down behind the Big House—“there would still be a light in the young leddy's chamber,” for Bryde McBride had stood looking at it, and talking in the Gaelic. “And,” said the lad, looking over his shoulder half fearfully, “he said, 'If ever there is a word comes out of your mouth about this, Homish, I will be ramming three feet o' blue steel through your gizzard,' and we would be carrying the kist down to the herrin' slap (Bealach an agadan) and to the shore. There was a skiff lying there all quiet and three men waiting, and when we would be among them they took the kist, and wan of the sailors wass saying they would be in Fowey soon, but the master turned on me, and he had money for me.

“'You will be minding the place until I come back to you,' he said, 'or I'll reive the skin from you for a bridle,' and he made me go away from the rocks and to be going back, but I lay among the trees, and I would be seeing the men put the kist on board, and then they rowed away with the master sitting at the stern and looking back, for I would be seeing his face white in the moon,” and at that the poor lad was so near the greetin' that I took him to the kitchen for a meal of meat, and it all came plain to me as I sat there among the serving bodies and the dogs.

I minded the way the boy had taken the sword from me, as he lay in his bed. “This will be clearing the way,” he had said, and now he would be started to the clearing, and then there was Margaret.

“You will not be bringing her here again, for I am not strong enough lying here.”

That would be at the time he would be lying with Hugh's sword-stroke in his thigh, and calling himself a misbegot, and not fit to be speaking to decent folk. And I minded the pride of him, and kent the very feelings that had sent him away, but I was wishing he could have stayed for all that, for his mother's sake.

At that time I had no word of what had happened at the ford of the burn at Lagavile, or that Mistress Helen in her rage had turned Margaret's words to her own purpose, but that I got later from Margaret herself.

Well, I went into the house and told them, and there was the tiravee; and Margaret like to go out at the rigging, for indeed she was a little spoiled. And Hugh it was that got the rough edge of her tongue, until “I will go and fetch him back,” said he.

“You!” says she, “you! As well might the hoodie-craw bring back the kestrel,” and at that the mother bridled.

“What kind of talk is this in my house?” said she, “and to your brother. Mend your manners, mistress. What is this fly-by-night (to say nothing worse) to you?”

“He will be all the man ever I will have,” said Margaret, standing up, and her eyes flashing, and at that her father, roused by her bravery, laughed aloud.

“Capital,” he cried, “capital,”—and then, “Hoot, my wee lass,” said he, “you're young yet. Come away wi' me,” and she went out with him, leaving us sitting mumchance.

“The best thing that could have happened,” said the mistress, and made her way to the kitchen, for if things were not right she must have some work on her hands.

The very next day I made my way to the stable and found Margaret's horse gone.

“She is away like the devil spinning heather,” said old Tam. “She'll be at Bothanairidh by noo,” and so it was, for when I came to the farm on the moor there was Margaret, thrang at the talking to the halflin, and looking blither than I had thought to see her; and thinks I to myself, he will have been telling her about Bryde and the lighted window—and that I was right I know, although Margaret would never be telling me what it was that Bryde said that night; and the halflin I would not be asking, but I would be telling the lass about the three feet of blue steel in the lad's gizzard, and at that she would laugh at me.

“I will be giving him a golden guinea for every foot o' blue steel,” said she, “and when I will have Bryde back he will be giving him the double of it, for telling me these good words,” and I believe the daft lassie did just that.

But Belle would be fit for nothing but sitting and mourning. “Oh, why did I leave my own folk and the tents and the horses, the laughter o' the little ones, and the winding roads, to be left desolate on this weary moor—desolate, desolate, and mourning like the Israelitish women—the father is not, and now is the son gone from me.”

And when Margaret would have comforted her, “Are not you of the same folk, maiden?” she cried, turning her eyes bright and hard and dry on the lass, “the same cruel proud breed”; and then again, “He was a good son—there never was woman blessed with such a son, kind and brave and loving, the very beasts would come to his whistle.”

“But this will not be the finish,” said I; “the dogs are not howling,” and at that old Betty brisked herself.

“Yess, yess, the dogs will not be greeting Belle, woman, and that is a sure sign,” said she, wonderfully cheered. “Bryde will be coming back a great man, and bringing old Betty a silk dress and good whisky—yess.”

“Where is Fowey, Hamish?” said Margaret.

“On the coast of England, a place the smugglers frequent,” said I.

“Bryde will be with the smuggling laads,” cried Betty, clapping her hands. “Is he not the brisk lad, and he will be bringing the whisky sure—maybe it will be brandy moreover.”

And we left them a little cheered that day, and Margaret still looked happy with her thoughts.

It was in October, the fair day, that Mistress Helen came to visit Margaret, and Hugh had carried her the news of Bryde's going.

“Your cousin has gone to his tall ships,” said she to Margaret, “the tall ships and the black cannon and the cutlasses, you remember, ma belle.”

“Bryde has gone away truly,” said Margaret, and then the two retired to their confidences. But the next day it was that Margaret told me of the meeting by the ford.

“I am hating that woman, Hamish,” said she, “with her bravery and her beauty, and her charms that will be working backwards. . . .”

“Who was it that started these same spells?” says I. “Was it not in your mind to be trying these havers on Bryde yourself?”

“It was not in my mind that Helen Stockdale should be trying them on him,” said she, “at any rate.”

And at my laughing she left me in a pet, but not long after she would be telling me—

“There is something fine and brave about that woman, too, Hamish,” she would say, “for she would be telling lies to Bryde McBride of what I had said about his going, and yet she told me all these lies. I could not be doing that,” said Margaret. “No, I could not be owning to a thing like that—myself.”

CHAPTER XXV. I RIDE AGAIN TO McALLAN'S LOCKER.

There came a weariness of the spirit over me that long dreary winter, and all nature was there to be seconding my dismal thoughts. For months never did I awake but my first thought would be, “What is there not right?” and then I would be remembering that Bryde was not any more on the moorlands.

It seemed to me that always there was a drizzle of soft rain and a blanket of cold mist, that would be half hiding the friendly places, that the very hills were become the abode of strange uncanny beasts instead of decent ewes and fat wethers, and that the mists would be hiding the revels of the folk a man does not care to be speaking of. The trees would be dreary and sad—the sea always grey and gurly and ochone, the very roads had the look of bareness and emptiness, as though all a man's friends had marched over them, never to return.

Margaret, the Flower of Nourn, had taken to walking alone in the rain, under the trees by the burnside, or maybe I would be seeing her on the shore, and looking to the sea, and her songs were sad—ay, when she tried to be at her gayest. And once I am minding, when she was with me on the shore-head watching the men at the wrack-carting—

“I am wondering,” said she, dipping her hands in the little waves, “I am wondering if these little waves will maybe once have swirled under the forefoot of his ship,” and I had not the heart to be giving her a lesson on physics, and a little understanding of the laws that will be governing the waves.

And Hugh that was the gallant would be interesting himself in all the matters of farming, and seldom riding out with his clean stirrups and polished leathers, and there were times when I was sore put to it to be keeping my hands off him, because he would be so douce and agreeable.

I would be trying the drink often, and took my glass with the Laird, my uncle, but it would not be bettering me any, and a man that drink will not be making merrier company of is in no good way.

At the farm in the hills the halflin would be doing finely—a little lavish with the feeding, as a body will be when the keep is not his own, but the beasts would be looking well, and the steading clean and tidy. Belle, it seemed to me, was a little dazed for many a long day, and whiles I would be finding her with some wee childish garb of Bryde's, and greeting and laughing at it in her hands, and old Betty yammering by the fireside, mixing her stories of bawkins and wee folk, and the ploys she would be having in her young days at the peats.

There was a moon at the New Year, I mind, and me standing in front of Belle's house, and Belle herself at the open door, with the light behind her, when there came to my ears the sound of a shod beast walking, and, thinks I to myself, this will be a horse broke loose. Then I saw the beast, and after a little wheedling and coaxing I was able to get my hand on his bridle. He was a great horse, bigger than any of ours, and a weight-carrier; but it was the gear on him that I could not be understanding, for there was on him a heavy saddle with a high pommel and cantle, and his bridle would have strange contrivances on it, but especially a spare curb chain strapped to the headpiece, and the bit was altogether new to me, resembling the bit with the long curving bars that the old crusaders would be using long ago.

He was thin and drawn up at the belly, but his eye was full and fiery, and I kent this was no serving-man's beast, but I took him to the stable and gave him a stall, with dry bracken for a bedding, and a measure of corn and peas, and the halflin came from the loft and got at the rubbing of him down, gabbling all the time about pasterns and withers, and Belle watched me, saying no word.

“There will be word for him in the morning,” said I; “this will surely be a beast from the Castle,” and at that Belle went into the house, and I left the halflin still watching the strange horse and made my way on foot across the hill. The peewits were circling over me with eerie cries, and now and then on the moor-side the curlews would be crying into the night—lonely as I was lonely; and in every heather tussock I would be seeing shapes, and dreading the thought of the Nameless Man and his brindled hunter, till my hair was like to rise on my head, and I would feel it in my legs to be running, but that I kent my folk, dead and gone, would be laughing at me, in their own place, for our past folk are not so much dead as just away, and maybe watching; and maybe I would be comforting myself with the thought that the Killer would be dead long syne in the course of nature—he and his great dog—but for all that I had a twig of rowan in my hand, for the night was not canny. And there came a kind of lifting of my spirit when I got the glint of the lights of the Big House, and kent there would be folks to be talking to and dogs to give a man heart.

When I was come to the stable door, there was old Tam, thrang with his bottles of straw for the horses' last bite (a thing to bring a man to himself it is to listen to horse beasts riving at straw and crunching into turnips), but Tam laid down his bundle and came close to me.

“There was a man here,” says he, “in the gloaming after you would be leaving for your ceilidhing, and he would be giving me a festner,” says he, with a toothless grin and his old eyes gleaming; “ay, a noble festner,” says he, “from the bottle. He would be wanting speech with you.”

“Whatna man was he?” said I.

“A red-faced man and very clean,” says he, “and his face shining like a wean's. Och, he might be wan of the Elect but for the glint in the eyes o' him and free wi' the bottle—a great performer with the bottle.”

“Would he be leaving any word?” said I, for I would be wearying to come at the man's business.

“He kind o' let on tae some knowledge o' a place McEilin's Locker or that,” says Tam. “Ye would be expected there the night. I am minding he would be calling himself McNeilage—the mother o' him was Sassenach.”

“Would he be speaking o' the Gull?” said I.

“No, man, but a party told me,” said the old rascal, “a party told me that the skiffs were below Bealach an sgadan before the moon was up, and Tam is thinking that there will be some fine, fine water on the mainland side before the morning—afore the more-nin,” says he.

There was a strange thumping at my ribs when I had the garron at the door, and would be tramping the long yellow straw from his forefeet, and I led him out of the yard and we were on the shoulder of the black hill when the moon was beginning to go down. And now there were no thoughts of ghosts or bawkins in my head, and I would be laughing when the moor-birds would be rising with a quick whirring of wings under the horse's feet in the heather. At a long loping canter we crossed the peat hags, and slithered into the valley on the other side and made the burn. I mind I stood the horse in the burn to his knees, and he cooled a little, and then started to be pawing at the water, and snoring at it glinting past his legs, and tinkling and laughing down the glen. The heather was dark and withered, and at the banks of the stream I am seeing yet the long tufts of white grass, like an old man's beard, shaking with a dry rustle, and there was the sparkle of the last of the moon making a granite boulder gleam into jewel points, and then we made our way to the Locker. I was not very sure of the place, but I made the three long whistles on my fingers that the boys will be using when there is help needed. From the hillside I got the answer, clear and piercing like a shepherd's, and then all would be silent except for the swishing of the heather and the thumping at the ribs of me, for I would be sure now that Bryde was in the Locker on some mad ploy. When I was come near the entrance I dismounted and left the beast loose, for I kent he would make his way home to his stable. As I was clambering up the last of it, a voice came to me.

“Oh man, Hamish, hurry,” and it was not the voice of Bryde, but I kent the voice, and the eagerness of it and the gladness.

“Dan,” I cried, “och, Dan,” and after that I am not remembering. How I came to be sitting in the Locker with Dan beside me, and the smoke eddying up, and the droll-shaped pond and the queer carving all there, as it would be yon daft night twenty years ago, I am not remembering.

But there was Dan McBride with a sabre slash from his ear to the point of his chin, and a proud set to his head, and a way of bending from his hips like a man reared in the saddle. A great martial moustache curled at the corners of his mouth. Dan McBride that was away for twenty years, and mair. He was arrayed in some outlandish soldier rig, with great boots and prodigious spurs.

“The lass,” says he at the first go-off, “what came o' the lass that will be my wife?” says he, with a great breath. “Is all things right with Belle?”

“Finely,” says I; “you will be seeing her with the daylight.”

“Man, I will have been needing that word,” says he.

“What am I to be calling ye, man?”

“Hooch,” says he, and his words were sharper and fiercer than of yore. “My father's rank will be good enough for me, but ye will call me Dan McBride and naething else. Major I was in the Low Countries, and the warrant's in my saddle-bags,” says he. “Wae's me, for I've lost that, horse and all.”

But I had a word to say to that.

“The horse will be sleeping in the stable,” said I, “and I will be the man that's put him there,” and told him about the strange horse.

“Yon crater, Dol Beag, didna just dee,” says he after a while.

“Nor a drop out of his lug,” says I, “if ye will be overlooking a crooked back. I sent ye that word with the heathen.”

“The heathen—the skemp—yon was the last o' the heathen—hilt or hair o' him that I saw, and me mixed up wi' daftlike wars—it was a packet that reached me—in Dantzig,” says he, “after lying a year, frae some sensible wench calling hersel' Helen Stockdale. . . .”

I was dumb at that, but I was remembering the lass asking of the Scot that took the Pagan to the mouth of the Rouen river. “Ay, a priest gave the packet to a Scots friend o' mine in Rouen, and then it came to me at a tavern in Dantzig. I didna bide long there. I was landed wi' the smugglers at Fowey,” says he, “and McNeilage put me ashore last night at the Point and was to leave word for ye. It was a thought gruesome here,” says he, “wi' McAllan and the dog among the bones ben there—deid? Ay, deid twenty years, Hamish, by the look o' things. Tell me about Belle,” said he, “Belle and the boy, Hamish. The lass that wrote had a great word o' the boy, and she wanted me hame. I am not sure why—weemen are such droll . . . Is she religious?” says he.

“Ye'll be seeing,” says I.

And then again, “I had to have a crack wi' ye, Hamish, before I could be doing anything; it's no' canny coming in on folk after a matter o' twenty years.”

All that night we sat before a fire with no other light, and many a time I would be thinking of the Killer dying in there in the dark, and the dog beside him; the Nameless Man was not in Dan's mind, but the length of the night.

“Belle and the boy—'a likely lad,' ye say. Hoch, he'll come hame, Hamish, never fear—the lasses will be taking him hame at his age.”

And when we were stretched before the red glow of the fire he would still be at the talking, and the last I am minding was his voice.

“I will have lain beside the fire on the battlefield and seen the eyes o' the wolves glowering through the lowes, Hamish; but, man, it was a king to this weary waiting, a king to this.”

CHAPTER XXVI. A WEDDING ON THE DOORSTEP.

It was at the drakes' dridd that Dan roused me, and we left McAllan's Locker behind us with its gruesome keepers, and came down the hillside to the burn. I mind that there was a raven above us in the morning air, and his vindictive croak-croak was the only living sound that came to us as we marched.

At the burn I saw the track of the garron where he had crossed in the night, and at the burnside Dan stopped.

“Many a time have I wearied for the sight o' a burn, Hamish, cold and sweet and clean, when we would be drinking water that was stinking,” and he made preparations to splash his face; and it was droll to see the bronze of his face stop at the throat, and the skin below like a leek for whiteness.

There were many things to be telling the wanderer—that he had got some notion of from McNeilage of the Seagull, but for the most part it was hard to talk to a man walking fast.

We came up over the last of the three lonely hills, with bare moorlands and peat hags fornent us, and away below the sea, and I held on for the house on the moor that once was McCurdy's hut. The first beast we saw was a raddy, a droll sheep with four daft-like horns, and there came a great crying of curlews; and then, when we came near to the house without yet seeing it, there was a look of wonder in Dan's face.

“There was nae grass here when I left hame,” says he; “this will be your work, Hamish. Ye were aye a great hand for grass.”

As he spoke, it seemed to me that the voice was the same voice that I kent when I was a boy, but I was at the walking now and hurried him on.

“Grass,” said I; “look at yon,” and I pointed to the parks and the steading, with the smoke rising straight from the lums into the frosty morning air.

“That was the young lad's work,” said I.

“He will be a farmer at all events . . .” and there was on Dan's face as he spoke a look of pride and pity all mixed.

“Belle will not be knowing you are here.”

“Ay, but she will that, Hamish—ye don't ken Belle; look, man, look, she's at the doorstep now.” And if ever a man had it in his bones to run it was Dan, and at the door they met—the very door where the woman had kissed her man and smote him on the cheek, when I lay in the heather, and the Laird of Scaurdale rode with the wean in the crook of his arm—the same Helen that had brought them there then, had brought also this happy meeting. It was a picture I would be aye wishing I could be painting—Belle, her dark face flushed, her eyes suffused, the pride, the love, the longing of her, and her hands twisting and clasping, and her lips trembling, without words coming to them. The heaving breast and the little flutter at the delicate nostril, what man can be telling of these things; and Dan, his brows pulled down, and the scar red on his cheek, and his arms half outstretched—Dan took his woman into his arms as a man lifts a wean, and I saw his head bend to her face, and the wild clasp of her arms round him, and her lips parting as she raised them to his.

I did a daftlike thing then, for I put the saddle on the great horse—and he was a mettle beast, with many outlandish capers—and I rode through the hill to the kirk, and left word that the minister would be doing well to ceilidh at the house on the moor.

And indeed it was well on in the afternoon when that grave man dismounted a little stiffly from his pony, and I made bold to search for Dan and Belle, and tell my errand. It would maybe be a chancy business, but these two were like bairns then—and on the doorstep they were married. And when the minister's little pony was on its road home, and the sun still red to the west, and we three still standing at the door, Belle with with her two hands on Dan's arm, said he—

“I had clean forgot, my dear, but Hamish would always be remembering the due observances o' the sacraments.”

A wedding, it seems to me, will be waking the devil of speech in all women, and old Betty would be havering like all that.

“What would I be telling ye?” she would say. “Has he not had the wale of all the weemen, and never the wan could be keeping him but you. And you a young thing yet—there will be time for a scroosch of weans; it is Betty that kens, and Bryde the lad will be daidlin' his brother on his knee.

“Ye could have been waiting,” says she, “till the lad would be home, and standing under his mother's shawl before the minister, but ye would be that daft to be at the marrying—hoot, toot.”

      * * * * * *

Dan came back to his farming as a boy returns to his play, and it was droll whiles at the head-rig to see him straighten his back from the plough stilts, with also a quick far-seeing look to right and left of him, and an upward tilt to his chin that brought back the soldier in a moment; and then ye would hear the canny coaxing to get the horses into the furrow again, and the lost years were all forgotten.

My uncle took the news of the wedding finely.

“I'll not be denying Belle is a clever woman,” says he, “a managing two-handed lass—imphm. There might have been more of a splore,” says he, “and no harm done—a wheen hens and a keg would not have been out of place.”

But my aunt was not in his way of thinking.

“There would surely be no occasion,” said she (when Margaret was not there), “the woman was well enough done by already.”

“You would not have him live there in open scandal?” said I.

“An old song now,” says she; “we always kind of put a face on things, but if Dan would be making a decent woman of Belle, there is nothing to be said.”

I rode with Hugh and Margaret to be seeing Dan for the first time, and he had his soldier garb on him when we sat down to meat; and Margaret kept close to him at the table, and their talk was of the Low Countries and a soldier's life, and yet for all that he would be telling her how the lassies would be dressing themselves, or the manner of the braiding of their hair, and for Hugh and me he would be giving a great insight into the working of soils and manures, and the different kinds of cattle beasts and horse; and very little talk of war we got from him, unless, maybe, it would be a story he would be telling that would give us an inkling of the business. He would aye be harping on the waste of land, and indeed if there was nothing else to be doing, he would be having good red earth carted from useless places and scattered on his own fields, which I think the old monks would be doing round their monasteries long ago, a practice maybe learned from Rome in the early days, but I have no sure knowledge of it.

It was that day that Helen came to the moor house, and among us, with word from John of Scaurdale for Dan to be coming to see him, and I saw that the very sight of her made a difference; for the face of Hugh flushed as he stood to greet her, and Margaret took to the talking in a vivacious manner that was not like her.

And Dan had many words for his visitor. “For,” says he, in a grand fashion, “were it not for you, madam, I might be finding myself lying in harness, with the half o' Europe between me and this bonny place;” and again, after a quizzing look, “I will not be the one to think you will be overly religious either”; but I am thinking I was the only one that would be getting the meaning of that saying.

“But why did you not return—many years?” said Helen.

“Just precisely that I would never be the one to see one o' my name dangling at the end o' a cart tether,” said Dan, “or jingling at a cross-roads on a wuddy. Many a night I would be at this place,” says he, with a smile to his wife, “but there was no word for me, and the years came and went, and there would be fighting to be going on with—och, it was a weary waiting when there was no little war somewhere, but it's by wi' now, the great thing is that it's by with. . . .”

Hugh and Mistress Helen went their own road, and we watched them from the doorstep, and Dan himself put the saddle gear on Margaret's little horse, and walked a bit of the way with us on the home road.

“I am liking that man too,” said Margaret, when we were alone, “but I am thinking there was a liking for the wandering, and the fighting in him, or else he had been back long syne.”

“He would have his happy days these twenty years,” said she, “in new towns and among new folk, and Belle kind of chained to the moor here—it is that silent woman I will be liking the best of all, Hamish.”

“My dear,” said I, “you are not understanding the pride of your ain folk. Yon was the God's truth and nothing else he told Mistress Helen; the hangman's rope is no decent to be coiled about a man's folk. It's just the cleverness of Helen Stockdale I will be made up with—the simple sending of a screed of news; what beats me is why she did it.”

“And that's easy to me,” says Margaret. “It would just be a gift to Belle, Hamish.”

“To Belle,” says I.

“There are maybe more ways o' killing a cat than choking it with butter,” said the lass, “but that will be a very effective way, and even the cat might like it, I am thinking. Ye'll mind, Hamish, that Belle is the mother o' Bryde McBride, and what could not but be pleasing to the mother, would be like enough to please the lad, that doted on her a' his days.”

“I think I am seeing it,” said I.

“Ay, but Helen never would be seeing it like that, Hamish. She saw it like a flash, and sent the letter that brought back Dan, and I am not sure but Bryde would be here yet, if the mail had but come to hand sooner.”

“Margaret,” said I, “are there none among the young sparks coming about the place that you could be tholing about ye?”

“No,” says she, with a smile; “there is a word among the kitchen wenches that whiles comes into my mind, Hamish.”

“The kitchen wenches' conversation will be doing finely for me,” says I, a little put out.

“It is none such a bad saying either, Hamish. This is it,” said she, “and there's no great occasion to be in a black mood with a lass—

“A clean want, Hamish, is better than a dirty breakfast. That's what the lassies say, whiles, in the kitchen.”

CHAPTER XXVII. MARGARET McBRIDE KISSES HELEN.

It would always be a great pleasure for me to be watching Dan, the way he would be toiling against the heather, and draining in the moss in the seasons, and rearing his horses, for his great war-horse sired many foals, and maybe to this day you will see the traces of that breed in the little crofts where the horses and cattle beasts are as long bred as the names of the folk that own them. They were black for the most part, the breed of the war-horse, and very proud in their bearing, but bigger beasts than the native breed, and not so much cow-hocked (although that is a hardy sign), nor so scroggy at the hoof—ay, and they would trot for evermore. You will maybe hear to this day a farmer saying of a mare of that strain: “She is one of the old origineels.” But whiles the twenty years of his soldiering would come over the man, and ye would be hearing him at his camp-songs in the French language, and there would come a prideful swing to his body, and a quick way of speech, and an overbearing look, as though maybe the common work was galling, and the sheep and beasts nothing better than for boiling in a soldier's camp-kettle. These times would maybe be after a fair or a wedding, and indeed he was not to be interfered with except by his own native folk, for he would ride at a ganger or an exciseman for the pleasure of seeing them run like dafties when the mood was on him—or a drop too much in him—and for no ill-nature whatever; but it was fearsome to see the big black horse stretch to the gallop, with flying mane and wicked eye a-rolling. But Belle could tame her man, and she kent his every mood and his every look. It was droll and laughable too to see her hand his little son to Dan (for old Betty was right: there was another son to Belle—not a “scroosch,” as the old one said, but one boy, and they put Hamish on him for a name: Hamish Og they called him, and he ruled that house).

“Here is your son to be holding for a little, my man,” that dark woman Belle would be saying, and Dan, in his big moods, would be answering—

“Have I not held the sword in my hand for twenty years, and what were weans to me in these days?”

“Very little—I am hoping, Dan,” his wife would answer with a straight dark look, and the beginning of a laugh in her eyes, for always Dan would be remembering the first boy this wife of his had reared in those years, and a kind of shame would come over him, and Belle would laugh for that she had her man back, and her laughter was a thing to gladden the heart, and Dan would never be tired of hearing it. So the big mood would pass, and the hard-fighting farmer would be at work again; but whiles, after the laughing, the old longing, half-fierce look would be in Belle's eyes, and I kent it was not Dan or Hamish Og she was thinking of, but her first-born, Bryde.

And as the years wore on there was another thing to be watching in Belle. She would take the wean in a shawl swathed round her limber figure, and only the little head of him outside of it, and his eyes seeing things, like a young bird, and she would walk to the rise where old John of Scaurdale's man waved the lanthorn to McGilp on the night when I chased the deer, and there she would stand for long, looking seaward and crooning to the wean. This she would be doing every night before the gloaming.

“He will come on yon road,” she would sometimes be telling Hamish Og, and point to the grey sea away to the suthard.

Now these freits are very catchy, and will follow folks that put faith in them, and there are many such folk to this day; and even Margaret McBride would always be putting great faith in the crowing of a cock—a noble fellow he was, of the Scots Grey breed. At the feeding-time Margaret would be thrang with her white hands in a measure of grain, and I would be hearing her speaking to the chanticleer. If he would be crowing once, it was not good, and she would be coaxing him.

“Have you not better word than that?” she would flyte at him at the second cry; and if the bird would crow the three times, she would be lavish with the feeding and grow cheerful. And there was a time when Mistress Helen was with her at this task, and curious at all the talking.

“If he will cry three times—is it that something happens?” said Helen.

“It will be good news.”

“Perhaps a lover comes?”

“I am not to have a man, it seems,” says Margaret.

“If my lover comes,” murmured Helen softly, with her slow smile, “I will know—another way.”

“In what way?” says Margaret, throwing the last of the grain to the fowls about her feet.

“Something will leap up here, ma belle, where my heart is.”

And for some reason Margaret, the Flower of Nourn, dropped her grain dish and kissed her guest.

Now there is little to be telling when little things only are in the memory, and yet the days with little to be remembering are the happy days, that go past quickly like youth, and leave but vague memories of sunshine and laughter—of nights, and song, and dance. And there were great nights of happiness, for in these days the folk had the time to be knowing one the other, and neighbourly. And maybe in an evening there would be gathered at Dan's place all the old friends of his youth. You would be seeing Ronald McKinnon and Mirren, sitting in the circle round the fire, thrang at the knitting—both man and wife—kemping as they called it: that is, each would tie a knot in the worsted and make a race of it, who would be finished first. And Jock McGilp too would be there, standing off and on, between the stories of his wild seafaring days and the ghost stories of his youth; and Robin McKelvie and his sister that met us on the shore head of the isle that night the Red Laird passed; and there was no Red Roland in her mind these days, for she had weans to her oxter. And maybe, perched on a table like a heathen god, the tailor would be working; and if there were young lassies with their lads, ye would have the fiddle going, and the hoochin' and the dancing.

And even in the cottars' houses the good-wife would have a meal on such a night, and it would be pork and greens, or herring and potatoes; and then when it was bedtime in the morning, the ceilidhers would take the road, with maybe a piper at the head of them, and it would be at another house they would be meeting on the next night. Wae's me, these days are fast going, and there are bolts and bars on the doors now. The story of a winter's ceilidhing would be a great book for fine stories.

And into a meeting of this kind, when the evening was well on, came Hugh McBride, and there was the great scraping of chairs and stools back from the fire, and Belle would have been putting a fire in a better room; but Dan had been too long in the field for these capers, for all that Hugh would be Laird and very grand above common folk. Dan waved him to a chair in his polite way, and made him very welcome. But Hugh was not seeing chairs that night, much less sitting quietly. There was a sparkle in his eye and a flush on his cheeks, and his smile was for everybody, and when the lave of the folk were on the road he told us the news.

“Mistress Helen will be having me,” says he. “Och, I will have been singing every love-song I was remembering since I left the gate at Scaurdale.”

And we made a great “to-do” about it, and we were not any the better maybe for what we drank to his luck, and the lass's luck; and on the hill-road home he was at the singing again.

“She is a fine lass, Hamish—my wife that will be; is she no'?”

“A fine lass.”

“For a while—a long while the night,—it was in my mind that she would not be caring to have me, for she has the wale of brisk Ayrshire lads to pick from, and she swithered long.”

“'We were babies together,' says she, 'in your mother's house?'

“I heard tell of that from my mother.”

“'And Bryde, he was not born yet—Bryde, your relative?'”

“He was born in the hill house yonder, beside the 'three lonely ones,' Helen.”

“'Three lonely ones, Hugh,' said she, very low—'three lonely ones. I feel it in my bones that always there will be three lonely ones.'

“Till the frost and the rain of a million years level the hills,” said I.

“'A million years, Hugh! It is long to wait.'

“It will not be so long as I have waited, Helen; and she smiled at that, Hamish, and then—

“'You have a very old name in this place, my guardian says.'

“Ay, an old name, Helen.

“'Then,' said she, 'I think—I think I will be, what they say, “all in the family.”'”

“What would she mean by that, Hugh?”

“I am not sure,” said he, “but I ken that John o' Scaurdale and my father are set on a weddin', and the lass kens it too, and I am thinking it is the land she is thinking of; it will be all in the family when we make a match of it.”

“Just that,” said I; but in my mind there was another thought that I never was telling, and this was it—

Mistress Helen was thinking that Bryde would never have Margaret, because of a fault that was none of his making, and that would leave two lonely ones; and maybe, too, she was thinking that she herself would never be having Bryde (for another reason), and that would make three lonely ones. As for being all in the family—well, if she could not be having Bryde, she could be having his cousin, and I'm thinking that not the half of an acre of land was even in her mind at all. But it would not do to be telling that to a man that would just have left his trysted wife.

When Margaret had the word there were tears standing in her eyes.

“I am wondering if there would be something to leap up when Helen promised herself to our Hugh,” said she.

CHAPTER XXVIII. IN WHICH BETTY COMPLAINS OF GROWING-PAINS.

It was the Halflin that brought me word that Betty was not so well, and would I be coming to see her.

“What is her complaint?” said I.

“It iss the growing-pains, in her old legs, and in the top of her oxters—wild, bad, ay, terrible bad.”

There was a great change in the old one, it seemed to me, when I was seeing her. She would be so very wee-looking in her bed, and her spirits so low. She looked at the lotions and mixtures I had fetched with me, and then shook her head sadly, and cried in the Gaelic, “The hour of my departure is come. Hamish, Hamish, is the whisky to be not any more use?”

“There are the good words I could be saying,” says she in a whisper, “but the minister is no' for them.”

“Whatna good words?”

“Och, chust to be calling on the saints, St Peter and St Paul—mora, but Paul wass the lad,” and she brisked up a wee at that, and whispered, “There are them I could be naming, Hamish, that St Paul would be curing. Ay, bodies and beasts I have seen the good words working a cure on, but wae's me, Hamish, I will never be hearing the cuckoo again. I am loath to part wi' this bonny place, calm and peaceful for a body's old age, and I will be missing the fine smell of the grass when it will be newly cut, and the clink of the stones on the cutting-hooks.”

“Well, Betty, it will be the road we all must go at the hinder end—a fine road, Betty, from the point at the Gorton to the Island; for it was in her mind to be in the old burial-ground, and you will be lying there among your folk, on yon holy place, with the sun beating down and the cool blue sea at your feet, and all the friends sitting on the Mount of Weeping above the Brae, thrang at the greeting; and maybe on an east-wind night the spirit of ye will be hearing the rattle of halyards and the plash of the anchors, when the boats come in for shelter—and Bryde's among them. . . .”

“Bryde, Hamish—och, the limber lad. . . . Are you thinking it is all over wi' Betty, Hamish?”

“Ay, Betty.”

Well, it's no'—give me a little spirits,” said she, a look of indomitable courage on her face, and pursing her lips into a thin line.

When I put the spirits into her hand she sipped a little, and coughed politely at the strength of it, and then turned herself towards me.

“A grain o' water,” said she. “You will be liking it plain yourself, but I would aye be liking a little water—after it. Many's the day have I been waiting for the coming of Bryde, the dear one, the limber lad, and I will be tholing yet a wee, for I will be seeing him before I will be going to my own place.”

And with that Margaret came to be speaking to the old one, and for myself I made my way outside to where I could be laughing in comfort, for the sight of Betty's face when she had made up her mind to be tholing a little longer was too much for me.

It was after this visit to Betty that Margaret would be asking me to be taking the dogs and catching her a pair or two, maybe, of young rabbits, for they were well grown, and she took butter in the blade of a kail, and such-like truck, and went to see Mhari nic Cloidh.

She was come of a great race this Mhari nic Cloidh, a race that has given the old names to glens and to burns, a race that led the Brandanes of the Kings; but she was old and lived alone, except maybe when the young lassies would be doing the scouring of her blankets, tramping like all that, and among the lassies was the saying that Mhari nic Cloidh had the gift.

Well, for that I will not be saying, but she would aye have a dram for kent folk, and Dan McBride took me with him there many a time. Well, well, the young boys would be tormenting the old lady—they would be lighting green branches in the fire in her sleeping-place, to smeek her out, not meaning any ill, but just for a ploy, and to see her lindging at them with the stick from her bed, and craking and raging at them time about, to be taking the divot off the top of the lum. And that was the great diversion for them; but when Margaret went to her this time she was thrang at the building of her stack of peat, and there was with her a younger woman, and Mhari nic Cloidh was not in good wind, for the first of her words came to us: “A traill,” says she to her helper. “Traill,” it seems to me, would be meaning in the English, “lazy, useless, bedraggled”; but there is no word in English that would be giving the contempt of that word, which I am thinking would have some connection with the Norse word “troll,” but I am not sure of it. But there was no end to her kindness for Margaret.

“It was in me that you would be coming, mo leanabh, fresh and beautiful like the bloom on the hawthorn, a maiden of the morning, bringing gifts in her hands.”

So I left them in the house, and tried my hand at the building of the peats till I was seeing that the traill was well contented to be sitting watching me and doing nothing; and at that I left the rick, for I cannot put up with idleness; besides, I was not making a very good hand at the building. When I put my head into the room again, Mhari nic Cloidh was thrang at the talking in a droll sing-song voice, and this was the air of it—

“The word will come over the water—soon it will be coming—ay, soon—there will be one coming from the sea.”

Now I was jalousing that Margaret was like the lave of lassies, very keen to be at the probing into the future, a thing that is not canny to be having any belief in, and not in accordance with the Scriptures; but for all that—

“What havers was it the old one would be telling you, and me outside at the peats?”

“She will be getting old and thinking droll thoughts, Hamish—just old wives' havers, about the crops and the wars that will be coming. . . .”

“And the word from the sea, Margaret? Will that be news of a battle maybe?”

“I am not sure I was understanding that,” said she, looking away. “I am thinking that would be not anything at all,” but I could see her hiding a smile.

“I am hoping there is no harm come to Bryde,” said I, “and the word coming home on a ship.”

At that the sly smile (for it was sly) was quick to vanish from the lass's face, and she turned to me then.

“I am hating you when you croak like a raven, wishing evil,” she cried—“there will be no harm to Bryde. I will be having news of him soon, and I will be going on a journey with him. . . .”

“Well, my lass, could you not have been telling me” (for she was angry and nearly weeping), “instead of talking about crops and wars,” said I.

“Are you not always telling me it is havers,” she cried out, “and not for sensible folk to be listening to, and putting belief in. I am thinking you are worse than me,” and at that she left me in a fine flare of temper.

      * * * * * *

Now on the shore from Bealach an sgadan till you come well below the rise of the hill of the fort there is a roughness of grass and sprits that will put a fine skin on grazing beasts, maybe from the strength of the salt in the ground and the wrack, for with high tides the place is often flooded. We would graze young beasts there all the summer with a herd-boy at the watching of them. A lonely eerie place for a night vigil, with nothing but waterfowl and cushies for company; and on a Sabbath I went there (for a man must see his beasts, no matter for the evil example of stravaging on the Lord's Day), and when I would be through with the queys I walked on the little path, on the short turf well past the grazing, to the place where the rocks on the shore are very large, and set in droll positions, as though maybe a daft giant of the old days had cocked them up for his play, and at this place, lying curled between the smaller boulders, was a man twisting a bit of tattered rope into fantastic knots, and eyeing his work with a droll half-pleased look, and his head a little to one side.

I gave him good-day, and he started round suddenly all alert, like a man well used to handling himself.

“Ay,” said he, “there will be mackerel there,” and he pointed to the sea, all a-louping with the fish, and then he unravelled his knots, and smoothed the strands with hands brown as a bark sail, and hard-looking as an oak.

“You will be following the sea?”

“Just that,” said he, “this long while—seven years maybe. I was at the herdin' before that with my father—it is a homely thing to be hearing the crying o' the sheep in the hills. Many's the time I would be thinking on that when the fog would be round us, and naething to be listening for but the creaking o' a block in the rigging. Maist sailor-men have the notion o' a farm,” says he, “when they will be at sea. I am thinking it will come to that wi' me too, when my father is old and my mother.”

“Where is your place?” said I. “Are you from these parts?” for there was a look about him I kent, and yet could not be naming it.

“Ronald McKinnon is my father,” said he.

“And you went to sea years ago,” I cried at him, “just before the fair on the green. You are Angus McKinnon, and Ronald, your father, will be the proud man.”

“Yea, I was thinking you would be kennin' me soon,” said he, laughing; “and my father was telling me you would be walking here on a Sunday. It will be very sedate in our house this day, and McGilp, that was master of the Gull, waling the Bible for stories of sailing craft; and my father reading about Jacob, and yon droll tricks he would be doing with the cattle o' his mother's brother—yon was sailin' near the win'.

“I was seein' beasts like yon, speckled and spotted and runnin' wild” (he would be thinking of Laban's herd), “in an island in the Indies,” said Ronald's son after a while.

“A herd?”

“A herd—ay, kye in legions. We made a slaughter o' them and smoke-cured the flesh for the harnish casks—the Frenchmen are the clever ones at that work—'boucan,' they would be saying; and, man, it aye minded me o' a bochan wi' the smoke and that”; and I was thinking while Angus McKinnon was speaking of the wee black huts that our folk will be calling bochans to this day, and wondering if the French had put that name on them, for smoky they are indeed.

“It was that I was coming to,” said the sailor; “it would be there I fell in with your kinsman.”

“Ay,” said I, sitting up and thinking of Mhari nic Cloidh; “is it Bryde McBride you are meaning?”

“Just that,” said he, looking far to sea; “a devil o' a man yon, with eyes that would drill a hole in an oak timber. He came there in a privateer—Captain Cook, I think, was master of her, Bryde McBride mate—lieutenant, the crew would be saying, for the schooner carried letters o' marque—a fast ship and well found; the Spray was the name of her.”

“And Bryde McBride—had you speech with him?”

“I had that—ay, we yarned for long and long, him in his fine clothes an' all, and very pressing with the rum. He would be speaking about you, and telling me if I was seeing you ever to be saying he would be doing finely, and very full of notions about growing fine crops when he would be back again. It was droll to be listening to him yarning about his crops, and me with all the stories I would be hearing from the crew of his schooner.”

“Ay, man; but what like is the boy?”

“The boy,” says he, and laughed. “Lord, he is a boy, ye may weel say it, quiet and smiling, and fond of throwing back the head of him and laughing. He will aye be doing that; but there is no man will run foul o' him, drunk or sober, in these seas, and there are bold sailor-men in the Indies, ay, bold stark men. He carries a long lean sword wi' a bonny grip—the maiden, he will be calling her,—she will have kissed many, they were saying. . . .”

“And is he coming home?”

“He would be settling that,” said the sailor; “but there were stories o' bonny bright eyes in Jamaica and the towns there-away—ay there is dancing and devilry in these bonny places”; and McKinnon's son sighed in a way that would have brought no pleasure to the ears of his mother, Mirren Stuart, that used to ride the Uist pony in her young days.

The grass was wet with dew when I left the sailor and made my road home, and I mind that I looked away to the suthard for a sail, and there was a queer gladness and a sorrow in me, and a grave doubt about that old woman Mhari nic Cloidh and her havers.

CHAPTER XXIX. THE RAKING BLACK SCHOONER.

I met Belle and Dan with the boy with them at the big stones away below the peat hags where the sea lies open to a man's look, and I took the young boy on my shoulder and laughed at Belle when she would be saying he was too big to be carried, and there was the look of pride in the swarthy face, pride and tenderness, as she stood, her hand on the arm of her man. But Dan kent me better.

“Out with it, Hamish. What good news gars ye giggle like a lass?”

“Man,” I said, “have ye no' heard?—McKinnon's son is home, and has word o' Bryde. Betty will be seeing him with this boy in his arms yet. Bryde is coming home.”

Belle's hands came to her heart for a little, and then her arms were round Dan like a wild thing.

“Oh, man, man, are you not glad?” she cried—“are you not glad?”

“Glad!” said Dan, and swallowed hard. “Ay, lass, glad is not the word,” and then he kept shaking my hand, and looking at me without words, but Belle was afire.

“Hamish,” she cried, clinging to me with her daftlike foreign ways, “will you always be bringing me good news till I am old and ugly?”

That night old Betty forgot her growing-pains and sang to the boy, Hamish Og, and it was a mercy that he had not much of the Gaelic so far, for the songs were not very douce, and not what a body might be expecting from an old woman that had seen much sorrow; but I am often thinking that she would have her good days too, for she would be enjoying her biting, and putting a pith into it that made Dan himself stare in wonder.

And I told my uncle and my aunt the news when Margaret was not by, for I kept mind of her talk of old wives' havers, and I kent the mother of Margaret would not be telling her, nor the Laird either for that part, for he was a good deal under her thumb in these matters; but for all that I might have been sparing myself the bother, for this is what came of it.

We were gathered for the reading and Hugh a little late, as was usual when he went 'sourrying—God forbid that he should—when he went courting, and after the reading there was a little time to talk, and, said he, stretching his legs—

“Helen was telling me Bryde will be home one of these days.”

Now here, thinks I, is a bonny kettle of fish, for Margaret was sitting with us, but for all the suddenness of it she never geed her beaver, and I kent then that she had word some way.

“Mistress Helen has quick news,” said I.

“She has a maid yonder, Dol Beag's lass, and she brought the word frae McKinnon's son, it seems; Kate Dol Beag had the news.”

“Imphm,” said I, for Margaret was looking down and smiling in a way that angered me a little—“imphm,” said I. “Did she say was he bringing his wife with him?”

“Wife?” said Hugh with a start.

Margaret was not smiling now, but I will say this; she was making a brave try at it.

“Some lady in Jamaica,” said I, “wi' bonny bright eyes, young McKinnon was thinking.”

At that Hugh left us, smiling.

“Hamish,” said Margaret, “you are not being kind to me any more—it is not true.”

“Margaret, when did you see Ronald's son?”

“Oh, I was looking for a sailor coming home,” said she, “since yon day we went to old Mhari nic Cloidh's, and then the lassies told me Ronald's boy was home—and—and the night you were at Dan's they brought him here—a nice quiet boy—and I happened to go into the kitchen when he was there . . . and, Hamish, it is not nice to be unfriends like this, you and me, and I would not be meaning yon I said to you about old wives' havers—now,” and after that she came and sat beside me, and put an arm round my neck.

“Will you tell me this, Hamish?” says she in her wheedling voice. “Will you tell me truly?”

“What is it?” said I.

“Did McKinnon's son say anything about bonny bright eyes?”

“He said there were bonny bright eyes in Jamaica and the towns thereabout, Margaret, and he kind o' looked as though maybe he was wearying to be back there.”

“Poof!” said she, “and was that all. I am thinking I would maybe be like that myself, if the Lord had made me a boy.”

“Well, my lass, there's nane will deny that Bryde was a little that way himself—he would aye have a quick eye for a likely lass from what I can mind.”

“Well,” said she, being very merry and bold, and showing herself before me, “am not I a likely lass, Hamish, my dear?”

Now the old folk will use that expression with a very definite meaning, and when I thought of that I was feeling my face smiling, and me trying not to, as I looked at the lass.

“Hamish,” she cried, “did you ever look at a lass like that before—it is a wonder to me you are not married long ago,” and then with a frown on her face, but half laughing yet, “I ken,” she cried, “she was married already, poor Hamish—was it Belle?”

But I was thinking it was time to be putting an end to her daffing.

“Listen, my dear,” said I; “I ken another likely lass.”

“Oh?”

“Helen,” said I.

“Likely,” she cried—“likely, the likeliest lass I will ever be seeing, Hamish—for a sister.”

But for all that she would be jibing at Hugh and his marriage. “Hughie,” she would cry, “the fine sunny days are passing. When I get a man I am thinking it will be half the joy of it to be out with him on the hills and among the trees, and maybe on the sea. You will be waiting till the rainy days come, and that will not be so lucky.”

“Och,” said Hugh, “I will be sitting inside with the lass I marry on the wet days.”

“Yes, Hugh; but I would be liking to be out with him in the rain and laughing at it and loving it, because I would be with him.”

“The Lord should have made you a man,” said I, “for you would be kissing your lass on some hill-top with the rain in her brown face and clinging to her curls, Margaret.”

“Brown face and curls,” she cried. “I wonder. Would my lass have been like that, Hamish, like Belle, or with a look—like Mistress Helen maybe; but I would be loving the kissing anyway,” said she.

And Helen Stockdale was often with us, whiles, to my thinking, a little skeich[1] with Hugh, as though maybe she would rouse the temper in him, for that she seemed to delight in, but never would she be telling us what her man should be like.

“Husban',” she would say, with a shrug of her shoulder, “il faut necessaire—one must, I think, be sensible; is it not so?—perrhaps in anozer world one may know from the beginning,” and I often wondered if she had forgotten how something should leap up at her heart. She would talk to Margaret about her gowns, using terms that never before had I heard tell of, and sending as far as Edinburgh for her braws, which, I am thinking, was a waste of good money, but I kept my thumb on that. For the wedding was to come off at the back-end, and I would be hoping that the weather would keep up, and the harvest be well got, wedding or not.

And in these long summer evenings very often I would be taking one of the men with me and a net, and taking the boat from the beach we would go out with the splash-net, for I would be fond of the sport as well as of the daintiness of the eating in salmon trout. In the dusk we would be leaving, and whiles not coming in till it was two or three o'clock in the morning.

I am thinking that maybe long ago the folk on the island would be watching for an enemy landing from the water, for with the sea as calm as a mill-pond and just the loom of the land—maybe through a haze—the senses will become very alert, and any little noise without the boat a man will be hearing, and wondering about, as well as listening to the splash of a fish falling into the water after a gladsome leap, and the noise of splashing of the oars to frighten the salmon-trout into the meshes.

On an August evening we were in the little bay near the rock at the mouth of the wee burn that passes the great granite stone on the shore—for that is a namely place for trout. There was a bright golden gleam as the oars dipped, and a swirl of phosphor fire at the stern like little wandering stars, when I heard the noise of oars and the creak of thole-pins, and I turned to look, thinking maybe some other was at the fishing, but the boat was heading for the port at the Point—wrack-grown now, and only to be seen at low tide.

In the bay at anchor was a schooner, a low raking black schooner, with the gleam of her riding light reflecting a long way over the water toward the shore—a sign of rain, we say. In a little I heard a gruff voice in the English, for the words came to me plainly—

“Easy, starbo'd; easy, all,” and then the scrunch of a keel on sand, and after a little time I heard a boat being shoved off and the thrust of oars, and then the same voice again—

“Give way together,” and it came to me that the quick command had the ring of a Government ship, and I was wondering if the Gull was making for her home port, for my heart somehow warmed to the Gull, and McNeilage, when I would be looking at the loom of that raking black schooner, and hearing the quick short strokes of the oars of the row-boat with no singing or any laughter. We had a good catch of fish when we got started to row back to the place where we beached the little boat, and it would be the best of an hour's rowing to get there. Little we spoke passing round the Point, except maybe to voice a wonder that a boat should come in there. And never another word was said till such times as we would be going gently, feeling, as it were, for the little gut in the rock, where we made a habit of coming ashore.

The sky was clearing to the eastward, the light giving a droll shape to the bushes, and showing a little mist hanging low when the keel grated on the gravel, and there on the shore-head was a man standing, a sea-coat, as I think they name it, round him. The eeriness of the dim light, the wild squawks of the sea-birds in the ears, and that great dark figure standing motionless, put a dread on the serving-man.

“In the name of God,” said he, “cho-sin (who is it)?”

“If he is Finn himself,” said I, trying to be bold, “he will be giving us a hand with the skiff whatever.”

There came a ringing laugh from the stranger.

“Well done, Hamish; ye'll aye make good your putt—a bonny lan' tack they would make wanting you.”

“It is he,” cried the serving-man.

“Bryde,” I cried, “what is it makes you come back this way and at this time of the night?”

These were the daftlike words I had for him, and me holding his hand and clapping him on the back, as if he were a wean again.

“It was a notion I had,” said he, “to come back the way I would be leaving yon time—in the dark.”

[1] Frisky.

CHAPTER XXX. TELLS WHERE BRYDE MET HAMISH OG.

What would you be having me tell you now?—of how we carried the fish home from the skiff, of how we walked slowly up the shore road, with Bryde standing to look at the places he would have been remembering.

“I have been in many places,” said he, “but I am not remembering so bonny a place as this.”

Would it be pleasing you to hear that when we came to the Big House, Bryde left me standing, and went through the wood behind the stackyard and stood on the knowe and looked at the window where the Flower of Nourn slept.

“Now,” said he after that, “I will go to my mother.”

“She will be awaiting,” said I, “your mother and the boy Hamish—your brother.”

“And who,” said he stopping, “who is the father of my brother?” and there was a whistling of his breath in his nostrils.

“Your father,” said I.

“Ah,” said he, “is that man home?” and his pace was quicker and there was a line deep in his brows. “How long has my father been in this place?”

“It would be soon after you would be following the seas, and they were married.”

“He was a little behind the fair, it seems,” and the bitterness in his voice was not good to be hearing. We were silent until we came in sight of the white stone below the house on the moor on the road to the three lonely ones, and then I cried, pointing—

“She is waiting.”

“I see her,” said he, “and the boy with her,” and I looked at the far-seeing sailor eyes with the little wrinkles at the corners that seamen and hillmen have, and he left me. When I reached the stone they were there, the son comforting the mother, and the little boy Hamish standing a little way off, affrighted.

“Take me,” he cried, his arms out, “Hamish is feared of the great black man,” and I would have taken him, but Bryde was before me.

“Come, little dear,” said he, and smiled, and the boy came to him slowly, the mother watching, and then Bryde swung his little brother on his shoulder.

“We will be doing finely now,” said he; “and you kent I was coming,” said he to the mother, smiling at her.

“I saw her sailing in the Firth, your black schooner, the neatness of her, and the pride, and I said, 'It is my son's ship you are'; and when she was at an anchor in the calm water I was watching for the little boat to be coming to the shore, but the darkness was down and your father took me away. Morning and evening,” said she, “rain or fine, I would be looking for you since Angus McKinnon came home.”

“What—is he home then? I forgathered with him, I mind. I was mate on the Spray,” said Bryde. “Well, he would be telling you I was lucky. I have word that I can be sailing a King's ship if I will be going back.”

At the door of the place that was old McCurdy's hut, Dan McBride was standing. The white was streaking in the redness of his face, and he was shaking. Bryde put the boy in his mother's arms, and it is droll, but Belle went to the side of her man.

“Dan,” said she, “I have brought you your son,” and she looked from one to the other, her lips quivering. Bryde opened his mouth to speak, looking at his father—a long level look.

“You are a fine man,” said he, “my father.”

At the words Dan took a great gulp of a breath and his eyes were filling.

“I will have a great son,” said he, and cried aloud on his Maker. “My son, oh, my son, can you be forgiving your father?”

“There is no ill in my heart for you,” said the son, “only pity and a strange love since the day that Hamish put your gift to me into my hand. I will have been carving my own name with that sword, and it is kindness in you to be lending your name to me.”

“My name and all that I have,” cried the father, and took his son into the house.

Well, well, it is easy to be writing of that meeting, but the dread of it that was on me I kent afterwards when we were at meat, when we had all laughed together. It would be Betty that brought the laughing on us, for she would be crying to us to ken who was the stranger.

And when Bryde went to her bedside, she scrambled up among her pillows.

“Will you have been fetching a silk dress for Betty?” she cried at him.

“Silk and lace and more,” said Bryde.

“Not brandy,” says she, her lips pursed up.

“Just brandy.”

“Come and be kissing me first,” said she, a little tremulously, “and then we will maybe be having a drop of it.”

The halflin, a stout man now, and clever with horse, came in to the house to be seeing Bryde.

“Ye can be riving the skin off my bones,” said he, “for I was telling her about yon.”

“About what?” said Bryde, but I think that he kent, for his face was dark.

“About the words ye would be telling her yon night ye left wi' the kist, and her not there to be hearing. She would be giving me siller,” said the halflin.

I am thinking he would get mair siller. And most of that day, it would be nothing but questions, Bryde sitting with his brother on his knee, and Dan going out of himself with little kindnesses.

“Hugh is not married, ye tell me. What ails the man?”

“Och,” said I, “his days o' freedom will be getting fewer, for they will be at the marrying soon.”

“We will be having a spree then,” said Bryde. “I am thinking I have a present for Mistress Helen in my traps.”

And his kists and bags and droll cases came from the stone quay in the evening, and I was greatly taken with the cunningness of the cases of leather, fashioned likely from a cow belly, and with the hair still sticking, although maybe a little bare and worn, and the corners clamped with iron, making a box of leather of a handy shape for a pack beast, or easy to be stored in a ship.

And the cries of Betty when she had her dress (all of fine black silk with much lace, fine like cobwebs), the cries of her were heartening in a body so old, but maybe a little foolish. For his mother he had a host of things—a chain of fine gold with a pearl here and there at intervals, and a watch for me of chased silver, very large and handsome. To his father he gave a bridle of plaited hair and ornamented with silver, a very fine bit of work, and too beautiful for everyday use, but Dan sat with it on his knee, and indeed it was hung in the place of honour beside his great sword.

And we sat long listening to Bryde when the strangeness wore off him, and he was telling us of how he came on board a King's ship and worked and fought until his officers were proud of him, and of how he became an officer on board a frigate, a position most difficult to attain to in those days (although there are other men from the island who have done the like, as a man can be reading in the records). He told us of his sailing days in the privateer Spray in the Indies, and of his meeting with Angus McKinnon, but of these things I will not be writing at any length in this story.

The father and son left me a good way on the home road, and I made my way indoors with no noise, and there was not so much as a dog barking, and when I was in my own place I sat thinking for a long time.

And it came on me that Bryde was the wise one to be going away with his sword, and to be making a name for himself, and siller. For the Bryde that was fit to command a King's ship would be far different from the boy on a moorside farm, and I was weaving dreams like a lass at her spinning when the door was opened behind me and Margaret stood looking in, a light held high in her hand and her arm bare.

“When will he be coming?” said she. It would likely be the man that was with me at the splash-net that would be telling her the news.

“He has been here already,” said I, “and you sound sleeping.”

“I will be easy wakened, Hamish; a chuckle stone at the window would not have been putting you out of your road. Will he be changed in his features?” says she, “and was he asking for all of us?”

“Indeed he was all questions,” said I; “but I am not remembering that he spoke of you, my lass.”

“My motherless lass! am I clean forgot then?”

“I would not say that either,” said I, and told her about the window gazing.

“He will be a little blate for such a namely man,” said Margaret, but I could see there was a glow of pleasure over her.

“It will be long past time for the bedding,” said I.

“There is no sleep will come to me this night”; and then, “I wonder will the daylight never be coming?”

“Margaret,” said I, and I am glad always that I said this—“Margaret,” said I, “Bryde will be coming here in the morning; you will be meeting your kinsman on the road,” said I, “and that will be doing him a kindness.

“Maybe he will not be for me to be meeting him, Hamish?”

“There's aye that, Margaret, but I would be risking it.”

CHAPTER XXXI. BRYDE AND MARGARET.

I think truly there was not much sleep for Margaret, even as she said, for did not I hear her moving, and I would be thinking of her turning and twisting fornent the image-glass.

And I will tell you where the place is that they met, Bryde and Margaret, on the hill where the cairn stands and no man knows who would be the builders. For the lass walked easy and slow to the Hill of the Fort, as we will be calling it, and then turned to the ridge that runs to the right hand, for that way one can be seeing all the valley. And she sat by the foot of the cairn. I am thinking that the far-seeing blue eyes of Bryde would be watching every rise and hollow, or why else would he have made the cairn, for that is not just the nearest road to the Big House.

To her he came there and stood before her, and she rose to be meeting him, but had no words of greeting. It is like she would be rehearsing in her mind how this meeting should go, but for all that she rose, and her hands clasped and pressed themselves hard at her heart, and she turned herself a little away from him, only her eyes holding his.

“Br—Bryde,” was the word that came softly between her lips like a whisper.

But the man took two strides and was at her side, his hands not yet touching her, and there came a trembling on the lass.

“If you cannot be loving me and keeping me for ever,” said she, “do not be touching me, for if you will be touching me I am lost,” and there was a dignity in her bearing, although her lips were quivering.

“I am not fit to be touching you, for I have no right folk,” said he.

“Do you think it is heeding that I will be, if it is me and no other that has your heart?”

“But that has aye been yours, little lass, from the beginning, for there is sunshine and gladness where you are.”

“Then,” she cried, “then, my darling, I will not can wait any longer,” and he held her close and looked down into her eyes. There was a place of flat rocks a little way off, and he carried her there, and a white swirl of mist hung around them, and the wind blowing it away, and the sun licking up the trailing white wreaths.

“We are on the high ground,” he cried; “look, my dear, the sea below us, and the woods and the heather, the sun and the mist and the winds are round us—it is here that I would be loving to kiss you.”

“Kiss me, then,” she cried, “for I have been dreaming of such?”

Always when I am on the hill I will be looking at that little rocky place, and seeing these two, brave and proud and young and loving, seeing them clasped heart to heart on that high wind-swept space against the sky, with the little curls and whirls of mist and the sun licking up the floating wreaths. So must the young gods have loved.

And they sat there with the wild-fowl only and the sheep to be seeing them.

“Bryde,” cried the girl, looking at her man with great starry eyes and her cheeks aglow, “Bryde, will it anger you if I will be telling something.”

For answer he smiled down at her.

“Mhari nic Cloidh did tell me this would come, and there is more to come. There is to be a journey we will be making together—and listen, for these will be her words, 'And his hand will be over yours at the rough places, and he will lead you to the land of the pleasant ways, the wide green meadows, starred with flowers and the blue of sparkling seas,'—are not these good words?”

“My heart would be in such a land,” said he. “My dear, could you be trusting yourself to me in the great new land, for the farming is in the very marrow of my bones. Would you be grieving for your own folk, and your own hills, in that new land, where the cattle would be grazing knee-deep in grass, and the horses roaming in herds, long-tailed and with great tangled manes—roaming on the great pastures?”

“I would be loving that place!” she cried.

“There would be the house-building. By a stream the house would be, where there would be fishing, and the byres and the stables and the dykes to be building, and you would be loving to see the little foals near to you, and the young calves in the joy of living, running daftlike races in the sunshine.”

“Bryde, is it not the land of the Ever Young you will be showing me?”

“It is a young land, a land for strong youth. I could be getting ground there,” said he, “in that far America; but would you not be vexed when the years went by—vexed at the strange faces, and yearning for the cold splash of the sea in summer, and the green of the waving bracken, the purple of the hills, and the sound of voices that you would be knowing?”

“Would I not be having you, Bryde? Is there anything I could be wishing for more than that? I am loving that land, and,” she whispered, snuggling her head close to his side, “when we are grown old and our—our—children gone from us, maybe if you would be wearying for this place, we could be coming back and lying down yonder,” said she, pointing to the old kirk, “among our folk.”

“There would maybe be some of the boys here coming with us,—Angus McKinnon and Guy Hamilton and Pate Currie,” says Bryde, “and we could be talking of this place and remembering it when it would be New Year, and telling the old stories again.”

“Do you know who I think will be coming?” cried Margaret. “I am thinking Hamish will be coming too.”

When they rose to leave the place—and they were loath to leave—the face of Margaret was changed; there was a glamour of joy over her, and her eyes were not seeing very well, but rather looking away into that happy future, and she clung to Bryde.

“Will I be too happy?” she whispered fearfully, and made the sign that wards off the spirit of evil. “Bryde, we will not be telling this for a wee while,—I am to be holding my happiness in my hands, holding it to my heart, and nobody knowing.”

      * * * * * *

It will whiles make me smile to think of the coming of Bryde and Margaret to the Big House that day, for with all her cleverness the eyes of Margaret could not be leaving her man, and her mouth would tremble into a smile, and her cheeks glow at a word; but Bryde that day was all-conquering.

To my aunt—the Leddy, as they will be naming her—to her he was all courtesy, all deference, yet he would be surprising her into quick laughing—indeed, I will always be remembering her words.

“My dear,” said she, and her voice trembling, “I am glad to welcome you—I am glad to be proud of you, for I will have loved you like my own son,” and she kissed him very heartily and wept a little, and the Laird, my uncle, broke out—

“Hoots, what is it for—this greetin'; the lad kens he's welcome. King's ship or no', and we will be having a bottle of the wine of Oporto,” says he, and came back with it himself, handling the dusty age-crusted bottle with great skill, and we drank Bryde McBride his health. “'To the day when you will be slaying a deer,'“ said the Laird, “'and to the day when you will not be slaying a deer,' and I'm thinking, Bryde, to-day you will have had a very good hunting.”

And at that we drained our glasses, and Mistress Margaret and the mother of her would be looking with new eyes at the Laird, for there was a double twist to the thrust, and so it was that Bryde took up his life among us again, after his wandering to the sea. But he would be better for the wandering, having made himself a milled man in the hard school of the world.

You will be thinking of him on the farm on the moor, with that great red man his father and the brother Hamish that came so late, and Belle, that silent woman, watching with dark soft eyes. Margaret, the Flower of Nourn, was there often and none to gainsay her, for Bryde did not long keep his love a secret, but bearded the Laird, and won, for all that the old man opened the business with a great sternness.

“You will be over sib to the lass,” says he at the first go-off, “but her mother will be telling me she will have set her heart on you, and, Bryde McBride,” said he, at the finish of it, “as you do to the lass, so may God deal wi' you.”

And in all that time, although he would be in every house mostly, and Hugh and he often thrang at the talking, and on the hill together and among the crops, in all that time till the wedding of Hugh, never did I hear that Helen Stockdale had speech with Bryde McBride. But I was to have word of it.

CHAPTER XXXII. BRYDE AND HELEN.

And this is how the matter fell out. There will be to this day a love of stravaging among the young men, and maybe in the old ones as well, and I kent that Bryde would whiles be ceilidhing, and often he and Dan, his father, would be at McKinnon's, where Angus would be trying his hand at the farming, and it was the fine sight to be seeing old McGilp on the hill with Angus, and thrang at the working of sheep.

I am minding once that I was seeing them and Angus working a young collie bitch, Flora, he would be calling her, and she would not be working any too well, and that would be angering McGilp. There was a steep knowe where they were and a wheen sheep on it, and the bitch would not be understanding how to gather, and at the last of it McGilp gave a great roar out of him.

“Lay aloft, ye bitch,” he roared in exasperation, “lay aloft, damn ye,” and at that great sea voice Flora made off and left them, and I am not wondering at it, for surely never was a dog so ordered; but Robin McKinnon was telling me that when he was at the ploughing and McGilp walking with him step for step, the smuggler would be crying to the horses, and them turning in at the head-rig—

“Luff,” he would cry, “luff, luff, and come to win'ward and we'll give you the weight o' the mainsail down the hill.”

It would be doing a man's heart good to be hearing Bryde making a mock of the old captain at these times, and the good laughter of him that would start a houseful o' folk to laugh also. It was when he was for McKinnon's that he fell in with Helen.

The stubble was white in the fields, and the leaves red and brown and yellow, still holding here and there to the trees, a great night with a touch of frost for the kail, and the half of a gale coming out the nor'west.

Bryde was on his road for a crack with McGilp and Angus, and the road was swept bare and dry and the night clear as a bell, when there came that fine sound, the clatter and klop of riding-horse. They were on him at the bend above the Waulk Mill, Helen on her black horse, Hillman, and the serving-man hard put to keep with her. You see her there—the black on his haunches and the breath of him like a white cloud, and Bryde standing and his sea-coat flapping in the wind. There was no greeting from her, but her arms stretched out.

“Take me down,” she said, and he lifted her.

Then to the serving-man—

“Walk the horses; but no—your mother's cottage is at the burnside. Go there and I will come soon,” and the lad walked the horses away, and these two stood watching. Then Helen turned to Bryde and looked at him, her black eyes flashing, her cheeks wind-whipped, her hair a disarray with the speed of her travelling, and her lips smiling. If ever there would be beauty in a woman in the white night with a half gale, it was in Helen. She took his two hands and stood back from him a little and looked, and then from her white throat there came laughter, bubbling laughter, like a little brook in summer, joy and happiness and content was in her laughing.

“Dear,” she cried, “dear,” to the great dark man, and in her tones were the sounds you will hear in the voice of a mother. “But God is kind that I see you again before I am wife to your cousin. And you too,” and her laughter came again, “your cousin will be wife to you. It is droll,” and she had always a taking way of that word. “Listen, my friend, here is this good night with a great strong wind and the moon clear like the fire of the Bon Dieu, and the little stars merry and twinkling, and the great white road. Are not we the children of this night? Are not we the frien's of the night peoples?”

Bryde nodded, still looking.

“Then this is mine—all this night, this good night. Come.”

On the dry bracken, a little way from the roadside, he spread his coat to make a resting-place for her.

“Now,” she cried, “tell me.”

“This is not right, Helen,” and then—

“I care not for right,” she cried, and her laughing came again, but he waved her words aside.

“It will be only days now and you will be the wife of Hugh.”

“No—no—no,” she clasped her arms round herself. “All this will be his, but my heart—my heart will be waiting, but this one night my heart is mine. See,” she cried, “he beat—beat—beat for joy. Once I tell you I will forget my convent ways, and I will make you forget. See, my mother love one man and marry another, and I am born, and all in me cry for that hill man—it is the cry from my mother in me.”

Her hand was holding his arm. “Hugh tells me you will go to America with Margaret. It is not true—tell me.”

“It is true, Helen,” said Bryde; “I am loving her for that, God bless her.”

“Ah, but will not Helen be blessed a little too,” said the lass, and for the first time there were tears in her eyes, and one great drop fell like a white pearl in the moonlight. “Dear, this is not you, so calm—that is like Hugh,—you are cold. Why do I cry and you not comfort me?” She pouted her lips. “One kiss, and I will remember always.”

“One kiss,” said Bryde, laughing, “and I will never be forgetting.” And at that they laughed.

“Ah, now it is Bryde—come, we will go to the horses,” and she sprang to her feet.

With the serving-man at his mother's door she had a word—

“You will come home in the morning—to-night you will stay with your mother.”

On the road, with Bryde mounted alongside of her on the servant's beast, she set spurs to her horse Hillman, and he reared, and as he pawed in the air she laughed, and she pointed with her whip outstretched—

“Take me over that hill, and we will not come back ever, ever again.”

And after the first mad gallop—

“I will tell you—you love Margaret, why—because Margaret is here always since you were ver' little boy, always Margaret. . . .”

“Helen, I am loving Margaret because—I will not can tell why, but there is peace and a great happiness in me when she is near me.”

“I understand; it is that so great calm—me, I would kill you if you love me and become cold; but she—she would smile and her heart be breaking.”

“I am thinking that too,” said Bryde, and his eyes were soft. The horses were walking side by side, snapping a little playfully, for they were loving the night.

“Mon coeur,” whispered the lass, and her voice was low and her face half-shamed, but very brave. “We would have so great a son,” said she, and hung her head low after one long look at the man. At the jerk on the rein, the horses stopped.

“You are the bravest lass I will ever meet,” said Bryde, and there was a fire of admiration in his eyes, and a ring in his voice. Her hands groped out to his blindly, and she swayed to him.

“It is heaven to be here,” said she, and pressed her face against his breast, her eyes wide and dark, and her face half hidden. “Dear,”—her whole body quivered at the word,—“there is not any word a man can say will be telling how much I am loving the bravery of you for that word. It is in me to hold you here against my heart for the bravery of it.”

“Take me,” she whispered—“see, I am ready,” and she opened her arms wide and held her face upwards. Her eyes were fast shut and the long lashes dark on her cheek. There came a look of infinite tenderness on the fierce swarthy face of Bryde McBride.

“And afterwards, my brave lass?”

“Ah, then, I could not let you go. Jesu aid me . . . you are mine from the beginning; it is not right that you love that other. Be kind to me, Bryde, let me whisper—je t'adore, always I love you—thus,” she cried, and kissed him wildly in a kind of madness. “I think,” said she, “when I am standing with Hugh to be married, I think I will run to you,” and then—

“Take me home now,” all brokenly she spoke, “my brave night is finished.”

CHAPTER XXXIII. HOW JOHN McCOOK HEARS OF THE PLOY AT THE CLATES.

There is a fate that stalks in the hills and plays with the lives of the folk in the valleys. “You will stop with your mother,”—these were the words that Helen gave her serving-man, John McCook, that night she rode with Bryde, and McCook stayed for a little in his mother's house, and then, being young and of good spirit, he made his way to the inn to be seeing his friends. And he sat with them in McKelvie's place above the quay, and now and then when Robin would be bringing drink into a room a little apart, he would be hearing gusts of laughter, and whiles the snatches of words.

And McCook was wanting to know who would be in the room, to be telling his news when he reached Scaurdale, and he moved his stool so that his ear was near to the crack of the door, and he could see a little into the place. There was great company in that room—McGilp and Dan McBride were there, and Ronald McKinnon and his son Angus, and two or three of the men of the old names who would be sailor-men too, and there was great argument, for the men would be sailing their boats, and their glasses on the table representing the sloops. Once there came high voices and deep oaths when a Kelso luffed his vessel so close to his rival's that he spilled Charleach Ian's glass, but Rob McKelvie righted the vessel and loaded her again with spirits, and the racing would be continued.

As the time went on the voices were none so loud, but still he could hear, and it was Ronny McKinnon that was speaking most, and the tale that came to McCook was this:—

“There would be folk at the South End,” said Ronald, “bien folk of his own name some of them, and the harvest was very good for this year, and there would be a considerable of spirit and salt to be taken across quietly. It will be hidden well,” said Ronald, “at the Cleiteadh mor, and the Gull will be there in the offing, and send her boats ashore. There will be none to expect a ploy that night, for it will be the night that Hugh McBride will be married on the English lady, and that will be a diversion.”

For, indeed, on such an occasion the half of a parish would be merry with the eating of hens and drinking of spirit, and the piping and dancing.

“I will be there,” said Dan, “and my son Bryde. It's long since I will have been at the smuggling,” and then there came singing of Gaelic songs that you can be hearing yet, and at that McCook took off his dram and went out at the door, for he would be early on the road the next day.

      * * * * * *

There is a fate that stalks in the hills and plays with the lives of the folk in the valley.

Kate Dol Beag, as ye ken, was a lass at her service at Scaurdale, a bonny dark ruddy lass and keen for the marrying, and the lad she had her eye on was the serving-man, McCook. And when these two were in the stackyard at Scaurdale and well hidden behind the ricks on the next night, she yoked on him.

“It is not me you are liking,” said she, and put his hand from her neck, “for last night you did not come home and me waiting.”

“I could not be coming home, my lass,” said he, “for the young mistress made me stop at my mother's, and Bryde McBride, the sailor, rode with her.”

“Ay,” said Kate, “she came home like a lass that goes to her grave-claes instead o' her braws, and never a word from her, but a white hue round her lips and her eyes staring. . . . Did you go to my father's,” said Kate, for she was of a jealous nature.

“No, I was at McKelvie's for a wee after I would be with my mother, and I was thinking Dol Beag your father would be there too.”

“There was no lass you were with, then?”—this a little more softly and her body came closer to his.

“There was no lass that I saw,” said McCook, “but there were many people at the inn,” said he.

“Give me the news, then,” she cried, and put an arm round his neck now that she kent he would not have been with another woman. And then he told her how the South End folk would be at the smuggling on the night of the wedding, and all that he had heard, meaning no ill, and the lass was laughing, and her kindness came back to her.

“I will not have been good to you,” said she, and lay back against the stack, “and I am wearying this long while for your arms round me, and the jagging of your hair on my face.”

And as she sat there was more of her ankle showing than she would maybe be liking in strange company.

“Ye have the fine legs,” said John, looking at them, for he would be a great gallant by his way of it; but the lass just smiled and pulled them under her.

“It will be as well ye should ken, my man,” said she, “and I will be needing them the morn, for I am to be walking hame and seeing my folk.”

And there they were in each other's arms, and he promised to meet her well on, on the road home, for she was feart of the giant that lived in the glen and was killed by the folk long ago—but that is an old wife's tale.

      * * * * * *

They were good to her at hame the next day when she was seated with her folk at a meal, and after that she was with her mother for a while, a little red in the face, but brave enough.

“He will be marrying me, mother,” said she; “I ken he will be coming to you soon, and—and there will be no cutty-stool either,” said she, “for he is a nice lad and dacent, if he will be a little game,” maybe thinking of the stackyard.

“Time will be curing that,” said her mother.

“I daresay that,” and then with a hearty laugh and her head flung back, “Kate will be helping too,” said she, and ran into the kitchen.

Dol Beag, her father, was baiting a long line, his crook back throwing a great black shadow on the wall.

“There will be great doings at your place soon, Kate,” said he.

“Ay, there's nae talk but marrying yonder. I am thinking the mistress would rather be having the other man,” said she, and rose to put peat on the fire.

“Whatever other man is it?” says the mother.

“Kate will be meaning Dan McBride's bastard,” says Dol Beag, and his hand shook a little on the hook.

“He is free with his money whatever, and a fine man they are saying.”

“Ay, ay, the father o' him was free with his gifts too,” said her father. “They will all be thonder, I am thinking. Laird and leddies and bastards, the whole clamjamfry. We will be hoping for a good day at the time o' the year.”

“John McCook would be telling me there will be a ploy that night at the Cleiteadh mor,” said the lass; “the folk will have a cargo ready. McBride and his son will be there for the ploy,” said the lass, “but he said no' to be speaking of it.”

Her father stopped a little at his baiting.

“They were aye the great hands for a ploy,” said he, and twitched his shoulder, and the black shadow on the wall wobbled and was still. There came a long whistle as you will hear a shepherd call.

“That will be himsel',” said Kate.

“Fetch the lad in,” said the mother, and went to the fire.

Dol Beag took down the great Bible. “We will worship the Lord,” said he, “before you will be leaving,” and he opened the Book and read, and the voice of him rolled in relish of the Gaelic, and then they kneeled on the bare floor and Dol Beag prayed before his God, and John McCook, opening his eyes, saw his lass smiling to him.

The lad and lass took the hill road in the moonlight, and the mother watching them.

      * * * * * *

Dol Beag lay in his bed long, turning and turning like a man not at his ease, and then he rose and put his clothes on him.

“Where will you be going at this hour?” said his wife.

“Woman,” said he, “I will have forgotten if the skiff is high on the shore-head, for the wind is away to the west'ard,” and he went out into the night.

In an hour maybe he was in again and the cruisie lighted, and again he fell on his knees by the side of the bed and prayed aloud, and his wife would be hearing in her sleep.

“Lord, look on Thy servant. Was not I the straight one before Thee, straight like a young tree, and strong before Thee. Lord, look then from that great mountain. Thy home and Thy dwelling-place, and see me, Thy servant, twisted and gnarled like the roots of a fallen tree. It will be in Thy hands to raise up or cast down, and the wicked are before Thee. Strike, God of Battle, and the raging sea, strike and spare not the wicked, for Thy servant will have waited long.”

      * * * * * *

Gilchrist, who was now the head of the gangers and preventives, turned on his pillow after Dol Beag had crept out.

“Ay, Mirren Stuart,” said he, “Mirren Stuart that rade the Uist pony and laughed at me in my young days—maybe, Mirren, ye will come to my door yet—my back door.”

      * * * * * *

And those two that took the road up through the Glen by the burnside past the very trees where Bryde and Helen sat on yon June morning when the spider-webs were floating—John and Kate that dawdled on the road, for never was a road too long for young folk in love—these two would be making but the one shadow on the road, for the lass had thrown her shawl over them both, and for a long time they were in the heather, not far from Birrican, at a place they will be calling Oliver's garden—the wherefore I will not know, unless maybe some of Cromwell's men would be killed there, for I have heard the old folk say that Cromwell's garrison at the Castle would be put to the sword; but I have no sure knowledge of the garrison, or of the place of the killing, although I am hoping that the folk did bravely, for it is never in me to be forgiving the Drove at Dunbar. But it was not Dunbar that these lovers were heeding about—ye will have been in the heather with a lass maybe, so you will be guessing that.

“Would you be telling the mother of you that we would be for marrying, Kate?”

“Yes,” said the lass in a whisper, and put her head against the curve of his breast. “I could be sleeping here.”

“Och, my lass, it is fine to be sleeping in the heather. My father and his brother would be lying out like the kye in the summer, when they would be at the smuggling, they will be often telling me. And, Kate,” said he, “you would not be saying any word o' the ploy at the Cleiteadh mor, for your father, Dol Beag, is not very chief with Dan McBride.”

“It will not be spoken of,” said she; but the lass held her man the closer. “You will not be thinking of going to that place. I could not be letting you go there now.”

“It will be the rent o' the crofts and steadings, the smuggling money,” said he, “and sair wrocht for, and if they will not be hindering me, I will be going there. I was hearing at hame that Gilchrist is mad for a new hoose, and he will have the promise of it if he can be putting hands on a still, or 'making seizure,' as they will be naming it.”

A shiver went over the lass. “What is it makes ye grue?”

“I am wishing to greet to think you will be leaving me on that night.”

“Come hame, lass,” said McCook, and shook himself as a horse will shake on a cold day; “there is a goose on my grave too,” said he, and laughed and kissed her.

CHAPTER XXXIV. WHAT CAME OF THE PLOY.

Bryde and Margaret would be aye at their planning, and the lass with a glamour of joy at the sewing and marking of linen; and whiles it would seem that Bryde himself was forgot, but there would be times when they would be away for hours together, the lass with her two arms clinging to his, and laughing up into his face, and the folk would be smiling to be just seeing her, for it was as though her love was so good and great a power that she must be kind to the whole world.

“Why will you be loving me?” she would cry, and stand, her great blue eyes all loving.

“My dear,” Bryde would say, “the day grows brighter when you are with me; there is peace in my heart and gladness. The flowers are more beautiful and the sea is grander. Och, I cannot be telling you in words.”

“I will be content and listen; this is the way of it with me,” and she put her hand to her breast. “There is something here that will grow when you are near me, and I am telling myself that will be my happiness choking me. Am I not the daft lass?”

And little Hamish would be with them often, and Dan and Belle were proud folk, but walking soberly for fear of too much happiness; but once when we watched the father and his two sons coming home, and the young boy between them, begging to be lifted and swung across little pools. Belle spoke—

“Hamish, keep guard,” she said in that droll fashion that belonged to her. “Once when I was young there was a dream of evil came on me, but I am forgetting it—I am forgetting.”

“I will be loath to part with Bryde,” said Dan. “We were long strangers; but, Hamish, my heart cannot hold the love I will have for him, and maybe when Hamish Og is grown he will go to Bryde's place, and Bryde will be coming home. I would be wishing to see a grandson.”

And at the Big House it would be Bryde this and Bryde that, till I am thinking poor Hugh would be near demented.

And the night before the wedding Bryde stayed with us, and we had a great night of it, for Hugh would not be having any other for his best man, as they will be calling it, and Margaret was to be helping the lass Helen, and was at Glenscaur already with the Laird and her mother, and that night Hugh slept with Bryde like boys again, and I would be hearing the laughing of them.

In the morning Bryde was up and crying that the sun was shining, and that it would be time to be on the road.

“You will not be last at your ain wedding,” he would say to Hugh, for the boy was not very clever with his fingers that day; but we gave him a good jorum, and he brisked up at that, and we got on the horses and away, with the bauchles raining round our lugs and the horses sketch. On all the road the folk would be walking to be seeing the couple, and it was all we could be doing to be holding the horses, for there would be salutes from blunderbusses, and flags on the trams of creels, old flags and tattered from many's the sea, and we came to Scaurdale, and smuggled Hugh into the house like a thief, for fear he would be seeing Helen, and got at the dressing of him.

It was Bryde who had mind of all the freits.

  “Something old and something new,
  Something borrowed and something blue,”

he would be singing, for it will not be lucky to be married without the due observance of these old sayings.

I would be sitting with Hugh in his room, and Bryde away to be seeing if all things were ready, and to have a word with Margaret, for this wedding would be putting things into his head maybe. At last back he came, tall and swarthy and smiling.

“She is a beautiful wife you will be getting, Hughie,” said he; “and Margaret and the old women will have her imprisoned, so you will be coming with me,”—and we took Hugh out under the trees where the place was made ready, and the guests were gathered, and in a little Helen came to his side and Margaret with her, and the marrying was begun.

And the Laird of Scaurdale was lifted out in his chair, very white, but with a good spirit in him yet.

It would be Helen I would be watching, for her hand was tight clenched, and she swayed a little as a flower sways, but she spoke bravely. It would be a long business, a marriage in these days.

But when the ring was on her finger and Margaret had lifted the veil, she turned to her man, and held him to be kissing her.

“You are kind to me, Hugh,” said she in a little low voice.

And when it would be Bryde's turn to be at the kissing, she kissed his cheek.

“I am your cousin now, is it not?” said she, with a little smile, and I caught her as she swayed, and all her body would be a-quiver like a fiddle-string.

There would be a great spread there in the open—pasties of mutton from black-faced ewes, very sweet and good to be remembering, and fish too, and fowls roasted and browned, and the crop of them bursting with stuffing. There was sirloin and pork, and dishes of every kind. There was ale, good strong ale, that puts flesh on a man if he will be having the rib to be carrying it. For dainty folk foreign wine, and for grown men brandy and usquebach. It would be a goodly feast, with much laughing and neighbourliness among the guests, and there is a droll thing I am remembering, and that is the good clothes of the folk. If you will be taking time and rummaging about in some old kist, you will be finding these clothes to this day, with the infinite deal of sewing on them, and the beautiful buttons, and you will likely be finding too an old lease maybe, with all the stipulations anent the burning of kelp.

I am wishing that you could be with us on the road on such a day, for every man would be stopping and getting his dram, and giving his good wishes to the pair before he would be going on with his business.

And Hugh would be speaking for his wife and himself, and giving his thanks to the folk for their well-wishing. And the old Laird of Scaurdale made the lassies keep their faces lowered, for he would be a bluff hearty man, with little false modesty in him, if indeed he would be having any of any kind.

“There is nothing,” says he, “will be taming a lass like skelping a wean, or curing him o' the hives, and it's weans I will be wanting about the place,” says he.

I will not be telling too much about the talk, for these would be wilder days than now, as you can be seeing if you will be looking at the Session Records.

Then in the evening the dancing would be going on, with the pipers in their own place, three of them abreast, and piping until their faces would be shining with the joy of it. Och, the great joyousness of the dancing, with the lassies taking a good hold of their skirts and lifting them to be getting the bonny steps in, and the boys from the glens hooching with upthrown arm, now this and now that, and their shoes beating out the time as though the music and the dancing was in the very blood of them, and indeed so it was.

And there would be fiddlers too, and step-dancing, and singing and everything to be making merry the heart of a man.

Hugh and Helen would be leaving the dance at last, and there was a buzz of laughing, although nobody would be knowing where the pair of them were to be that night; and it was then that Margaret would be at her good-nights to Bryde, for they could not be having enough of each other all that day.

“It will be you and me next,” said Bryde, “Margaret, my little darling,” and she crept closer to him.

“Take me somewhere,” said she, “where the folk will not be seeing.”

And then, “I will have been mad to be doing this all this night,” said she, and pulled his head down to her and kissed him. “Tell me, Bryde, oh, tell me.”

“I am loving you,” said he, and his eyes burning, “loving the grace and the beauty and the bravery in you,” and he lifted her into his arm like a wean, and his face was bent to hers and her white arms round him. Her eyes were softly closed, and a little white smile on her face.

“For ever and ever, my great dark man,” she whispered.

“Darling,” said Bryde, “little darling, for ever and ever,” and with a face all laughing and her eyes like stars she ran from him to her room.

And coming from her door—for he had followed her, laughing at her dainty finger raised in smiling command—coming from her closed door with her love about him like a cloud, there met him his cousin's wife, and he could hear the crying of the dancers below, and Hugh's voice forbidding pursuit.

“Good-night,” said Helen, and gave him her hand—it was very cold. “Good-night,” and then with a half sob, “Jus' won kiss,” she whispered . . . I am often wondering. . . .

      * * * * * *

I would be with Belle when Bryde came among the dancers again. Her eyes were yearning over him.

“I am wishing I had you home—you will be too happy, my wild boy.”

“There are none to be wishing evil this night,” said Bryde, and laughed down at his mother; and then, “There is no lass so bonny as my mother, Hamish,” and he put his arm round her. “I will be behaving, little mother,” said he, and then Dan came to us and took Belle away.

      * * * * * *

It made high-water at five in the morning, and there was the last of a moon showing the darkness on the shore and throwing a gleam on the sea.

There were folk moving on the beach, all silently except maybe you would be hearing a sech of a breath, as when a man will be stretching himself after resting from a load. There would come now and then the howling of a dog, an eerie sound, and then he would be at the barking a long way through the night. Sometimes a little horse would come out of the darkness with a pack-load on his back, and men would be lifting the load and laying it on the beach, and there would be quiet whispering, and the little horse be led away and swallowed up in the dark among the scrog and bushes. And in a while there came the soft noise of muffled oars, a sound very faint that will be stirring the blood of a man, and a little knot of folk gathered round the barrels on the beach.

“That will be the boats now,” said Dan McBride.

“It will be all quiet,” said Ronald McKinnon, “and Gilchrist will not be having his new hoose yet for a wee.”

And Gilchrist—if Ronny had only kent—Gilchrist and his men shifted a little among the bushes, and old Dol Beag was there among them trembling a little and his mouth praying.

John McCook came close to Bryde McBride, and pointed to the very place where the gangers were lying waiting.

“Would there be something moving there among the bushes?” said he.

“A sheep maybe,” said Bryde.

“I am wishing I had the dogs with me,” said John.

There were silent figures of women, with shawls tight about their shoulders, and they looked a little fearfully to the dark places.

Margaret was in her first sleep and dreaming, and it was a daft dream, and her lips curled softly and parted a little, for in her dreams Bryde would be knocking and knocking at her door.

“I am just thinking this,” she was saying to her dreaming self, “because he would be tormenting me to be kissing him again,” and she opened her arms and her lips pouted, and then again came the knocking, low at the first of it, and then growing louder, until at last she became broad awake, and there would be only a little moonlight in her room.

“Who is it?” she said, standing a little fearfully behind her door, and her heart beating.

“Let me in; oh, let me in,” she could hear a woman's voice, and opened the door, and a lass flung herself inside.

“He will be away to the smuggling, mistress,” cried the lass, “and I will be feart, I will be feart, for I told my father—I told my father.”

“Go back to your bed, Kate,” said Margaret; “it is the nightmare. Who will be gone to the smuggling?—there will not be any smuggling.”

“At the Clates, mistress—my man is there, the man I am to be marrying, and your man, mistress, and his father,” and then she got her words. “It is my father I am dreading,” said she. “Dol Beag is my father. I am thinking he is a little wrong in the head, and to-day my mother came to be telling me to keep my man beside me. Oh, if my own mistress would be free I would be telling her, and what would be frightening her, my poor mistress—with the wrong man in her bed.”

“Out of my way,” said Margaret, and she started to her dressing. “Away from me, with your wicked thoughts, ye traitor.”

“Go, you fool,” for she was in a royal rage—“go to the stable and waken the men. Hurry,” she cried—“hurry,” and shoved the wench before her and came to my door, and it was not long until I had the horses saddled.

      * * * * * *

Margaret was on Helen's black horse Hillman, her face a white mask and her lips a thin line. Ye will have heard that Mistress Helen was a bold rider, but you were not seeing Margaret that night. It has come to me since that she would be like Bryde in her rage. She had the black at the stretch of his gallop, and cutting him with the whip, and a ruthlessness like cold iron was in her voice when she spoke to him. I do not like to be thinking of her then, for it would not be thus she would be using horse.

      * * * * * *

Round a bend of the road in this mad ride we smashed into Hugh and Helen, their horses walking quietly, and I learned afterwards that they were to spend their bridal night at the village called Lagg, and had made their escape quietly.

I have often wondered why Helen was not on her own black horse that night, and I think it was that she had put all thoughts of Bryde from her mind—for Bryde was fond of the black, and would be praising and petting him often.

But she kent her horse in the passing, and well she kent his rider.

“Come on,” I cried to Hugh, and gathered my horse under me, for I was all but thrown.

“No, no; they're married,” cried Margaret, and cut again at the black, although he was half maddened already.

As he leapt from the lash I heard Helen—

“Ah, Hillman,” she cried (now Hillman was a by-name for Bryde), and then, “Where is the so great calm of Margaret?”

“The gaugers are at the Clates—Gilchrist and Dol Beag and Bryde and Dan. Can ye not see what will come of it?” I know not what I cried to Hugh as we galloped.

But at my words Helen leaned forward on her saddle, and coaxed her horse in a whisper, and he stretched to the gallop like a hound.

“A droll beginning this,” said Hugh. “Helter-skelter ower the countryside for a wheen gangers. What sort o' bridal night is this? Could they no' keep their dirty fighting out o' my marriage. . . .”

“Ye were not meant to ken, Hugh.”

“And I wish I did not ken. God, look at Helen—look at my wife—look at yon.”

For Helen was abreast of Margaret and leaning from her saddle, and speaking to the black horse, and he kent her voice and swerved to his mistress.

“Do-you-know-who-he-is-like, my brave Hillman?” said Helen.

“He is like his mist . . . he is like the devil,” said Margaret.

Sometimes yet I can see Helen's face clear-cut upraised against the sky, her curling black hair flying loose, and never, never will I forget her laughing—the devilry and the joy of it.

CHAPTER XXXV. DOL BEAG LAUGHS AGAIN.

Angus McKinnon stretched himself on the shore at the Clates. “I am not liking this waiting,” said he to Dan McBride; “McNeilage might have been standing closer in.”

“It will be the Revenue cutter he is feared of, Angus,” said his father.

“The Revenue boat is lying off the White Rock in Lamlash,” said Angus. “McNeilage will be getting old and sober.”

“Wait a wee, Angus—wait a wee, my boy.” It was another McKinnon, a friend of his own, that spoke. “Things are just right; the wee boats will be in 'e noo. It is a good park of barley I had, yes, and the best of it in the kegs.”

“Angus is right, father,” said a tall lass with a shawl about her head, not hiding the bonny boyish face of her.

“Hooch ay, lass; Angus will be always right by your way of it,—it is in your bed you should be.”

The wee boats were close inshore now, and the Gull well off, for the Clates is not a nice place if the wind will be shifting to the suthard. With the grating of the keel of the first boat on the beach the men made a start to be lifting the kegs, and carrying them to the boat and wading, for it is not very safe to let a boat go hard aground if there will be a hurry to be shoving her off again.

Into this mix-up of bending and hurrying folk came the voice of Gilchrist the gauger.

“In the King's name,” he roared, and his men sprang forward.

And these were the words that I heard when Helen and Margaret flung themselves from the horses and ran forward into the press of people.

There was the dropping of kegs and the straightening of folk at the voice, but I saw the great figure of Dan cooried beside the boat. Then came Gilchrist's voice again—

“Touch nothing—you scoundrels will touch nothing—I mak' seizure in the King's name. Get roon' them, lads, with your pieces ready,” and the excisemen made a circle of the smugglers. The second small boat was nearing the shore.

The lass McKinnon, with the bonny boyish face, stooped to pick up her shawl, and Gilchrist was jumping and shouting. “A bonny catch,” he cried—“a bonny catch,” and at that the boyish lass straightened herself. “The boats ahoy,” she cried, “ahoy, the boat; the gaugers are on us.”

“Stop the bitch,” screamed Gilchrist, and sprang at the lass with his fist raised.

“Back, ye damned kerrigan,” and Bryde's voice was high like a bugle-note, and he sprang forward.

“Dan McBride has the sailors on us,” came a shout from Dol Beag, and then Dan's great voice, laughing, “Fall on, lads; fall on. Into them with the steel.”

“Fire,” screamed Gilchrist—“fire, or we're by wi' it,” and the pieces burst and spattered round us in a wild confusion. With the blaze of the pieces I saw Dol Beag spring at Bryde as a wild cat springs; crooked and bestial he was, and his knife flashing, but swifter than the knife-flash was the love of the maid, who fell as Bryde fell. Into the bedlam of smoke and noise and groaning men, came the horrible laughter of a man, wild and high and devilish.

“McBride, Dan McBride, McBride, Dan McBride, look at the bonny bastard; look at your bonny bastard.” Dol Beag was crawling and writhing on the beach like a beast, and then suddenly the breath left him. At that terrible sound, scream and scream of laughing, the excisemen drew back, and the sailors stood fidgeting and looking half afeared, and there came the sharp crack of a signal gun from the Gull and the rattling cr-a-ik, cr-a-ik of halyards.

“Back on the boats,” cried Ronald McKinnon, for well he kent McNeilage would make sail for only one thing, and that was the Government ship; and the sailors drew off quickly with their wounded. The excisemen stood reloading the flintlocks, and Gilchrist, in a flutter of fear, gave no orders until the skiffs were offshore and rowing hard for the Gull, waiting with her sails all aback.

But for me, at that laughing I turned, and I saw the ruddy face of Dan McBride blench like linen, his legs become weak like a man that has a mortal blow, and he came to his son. Bryde was on his back at his full stretch on the shore, and his right arm under his head, with a little switch of hazel in his hand; and lying against his breast with her arms round his neck was Helen.

Margaret McBride was on her knees, and her hand held in the fast grip of her man.

They brought lanterns round us now, and I would have lifted Helen, for the dark stain on her back was growing and growing.

“Let me be,” she whispered; “I am happy.”

And then there came on the face of Bryde a slow smile, and his eyes opened wide.

“I think I am not hurt—my shoulder—a lass came between——” and then in a loud voice of terror, “Margaret, Margaret.”

“I am s-safe, Bryde—safe—it is Helen.” Margaret was weeping, and at these words Helen spoke to Bryde, even as we were staunching her wound.

“My Bryde,” said she with a little smile, “and—I—was—almost—the bride—of Hugh. It—is—droll—poor Hugh.”

Margaret would have taken the proud dark head to her breast, but Helen's voice came faintly, “J'y suis, j'y reste. Be very good to Bryde, Margaret, ma belle, while he is with you—you bring him peace and a great contentment and a so great calm.” I wonder could she be smiling. “When he come to me he will 'ave no great calm—no great contentment—only—only—a great love.”

So passed that proud spirit.

And her serving-man, John McCook, would be with her on the journey, for his body was cold on the shore-head, and all the gameness out of it, for a ganger's bullet found his heart, for all that Kate Dol Beag thought she had it. But because John McCook was come of good folk, I took the dagger from Dol Beag's hand in the darkness, and wiped it clean, and put it back into the sheath, while folk were seeing to the wound on Bryde's shoulder, for a bullet had passed through it, even as Helen robbed Dol Beag of his vengeance.

And of the folk, only those who dressed Helen for her last journey knew that her death was a dagger-wound, these and our own people.

The daylight was strong when we would be blowing out the lanterns, and the Gull was away to the westward of the Craig, and the Revenue boat hard on her heels, but making little of it; and then came folk and lifted Dol Beag, and his back would not lie evenly on the board, but gave his body a cant to one side, and there was no wound on him, for I think he died of his laughing, and when he would be passing, Dan McBride covered his face. . . .

It is after the dark wet days of winter that the sun comes again, bringing greenness to the world and joy into the voices of birds, and so came happiness to Bryde and Margaret in the old house of Nourn, for Hugh could not thole his native place for many years, and indeed did great things in America. And Margaret McBride would take her sons to the wee hill and tell them the great tales and the old stories, and her arm would be on the shoulder of her man, and her eyes resting on him.

And at night, after the reading, when the boys would be sent scampering to bed, you would see Bryde carrying a little lass to her sleeping-place, and Margaret, his wife, following—and they would stand by the bedside and listen to the laughing—and you will know the name of that brave little lass.

 
 
 

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