by John Sillars
A Romance of Arran
The Ryerson Press, Toronto William Blackwood and Sons Edinburgh and
CHAPTER I. WHICH
TELLS OF THE
COMING OF THE
MENTION OF ONE
JOCK McGILP, AND
TELLS HOW BELLE
WEAN IN THE
INTO THE HOUSE
CHAPTER III. IN
WHICH I CHASE
DEER AND SEE
ON THE HILL,
AND A LIGHT
FLASHING ON THE
CHAPTER IV. I
MEET JOCK McGILP
AND HIS MATE
McNEILAGE AT THE
TURF INN, AND
LEARN WHAT HAS
BECOME OF THE
WEAN IN THE
CHAPTER VI. WE
THE SNOW TO
CHAPTER VII. WE
TO THE HOLY
THE DEATH OF
McDEARG, THE RED
BIDS HER DOG LIE
CHAPTER X. DOL
BEAG IS FLUNG
INTO A FIRE.
CHAPTER XI. THE
SAILS FROM LOCH
CHAPTER XIV. WE
CHAPTER XV. THE
STRANGER ON THE
CHAPTER XVI. I
HAVE SOME TALK
WITH McGILP IN
CHAPTER XVII. I
CHAPTER XIX. THE
RIDERS ON THE
CHAPTER XX. “THE
CHAPTER XXI. DOL
HELEN AND BRYDE
McBRIDE REST AT
THE FOOT OF THE
CHAPTER XXV. I
RIDE AGAIN TO
CHAPTER XXVI. A
WEDDING ON THE
IN WHICH BETTY
THE RAKING BLACK
BRYDE MET HAMISH
BRYDE AND HELEN.
HOW JOHN McCOOK
HEARS OF THE
PLOY AT THE
WHAT CAME OF THE
DOL BEAG LAUGHS
LIST OF GAELIC NAMES AND EXPRESSIONS.
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.
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.
Mhari nic Cloidh, Mary Fullarton.
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
grainthe 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
It was coming on for dinner-timelowsin' time, as we say in the
fieldwhen Dan shouted
Hamish, says he, who'll yon be that's travellin' so fast above
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 thinga while wi' a lass after the horses
are bedded and foddered, but horses first; and as for Josephhis
smile broadened until I could see his teethif 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 spaewifeif spaewife you would call her, for I
think sorceress fitted her betterI 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
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
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
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 noGod's life, ye're awfu' bonny, Belle.
The gipsy gave a little lilting laugh.
You, says sheyou. I'm not saying but you're a pretty man, and
I've good looks enough for baithif 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. 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
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 croonedme, 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
returnedwoman 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 criespeety 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. Oh, why,
why, she kind of wailedwhy 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 shouldersay 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.
Weanye 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.
 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
Glasgowback 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 unclethe Laird of Nourn, as he was calledhad 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
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 dogbut such a dogits 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?
Read that stane. I'm no' a bawkin.
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?
WellDan'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
Jock McGilp was saying . . .
Uncle gave a great pause after asking a clean heart, and Dan
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
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
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, indeedthe 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,
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 abedher 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, Leddyfair and fause; but it'll darken wi' the
years, never fear. What ails ye at rid, Leddythe 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 entereda 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 patientBetty, 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.
Jeanshe of the stable raidwith 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
thatand 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 morewho is the
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
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 ladthey ha'e lads on the brain the lassies nooand
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
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 ladthe 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
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 steeredhe 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 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
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 yea 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
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-knightthe poor wee lass; but she minded her
cousinshe 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
And how? cried Scaurdale, and I could see he was wasting time on
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 lassno, 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
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, 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 Scaurdalewe talked of horses and sheep, until
the coming of Neil Beg.
 Courting, clandestine courtship.
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
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
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
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 thatfifteen 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 seeI'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 Gaelicyes, 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
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 gatheredthe 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, 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 storyfor 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 lassbut 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 twoher 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 Appinespecially 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
Ken me, cried the maid; I'm well kent as a bad sixpencea lass
that should ha' been a lad wi' work to do or fighting, instead o'
sittingsitting like a peat stack, orwith a fine flare o'
colourlike 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
Her red lips took a curl at that, and then her speech came all in a
I've heardoh, 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. 
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, Hamishhere'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
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 ordinarMcDearg they ca' himand 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 thiswho 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
 Fearsome apparitions.
 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. 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
No pranks, mind. I'll have no pranks.
God's life, says Dan, as we muffled ourselves for our
trampGod's life, Hamish, he's queer names for things, that uncle o'
yours; there's nae prank in my heid this nighta 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 chimneyas 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
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 hairay,
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.
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
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,  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 snaresay, clever, cleverand
kept his mother well. Aywell, 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
'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
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 growingand
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 truculentmen 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
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
You will not be killing yourself, lasseasy, 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
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.
 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 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
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
Preventivesto 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
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
dayay, the Ravens from the Red Rocks; but they have nae terrors for
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 againI, 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 vanbring it back, McRae. Make my cauld blood hot as in my
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, McBrideay, 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
treesfell 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 Lairddeath. 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 warrioray, 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
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 shepherdI 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 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 meoh, 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 meran 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
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 bladeno, 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
They're bonnie wee things, the Wee Folk, and merry as the lambs in
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
chuckleay, 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 wishI 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 homeay, 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 memy 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
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 Kateaul'; 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
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
beastsfor 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
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
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'
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 wilksfor mind you, says she, each wee
round cap will lift its ain weight o' poison frae the stomach.
And the coosp, now, mistress; Hamish here will no' be believing
me, but there's de'il the halt better for the coosp thanand 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
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
'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
'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
'Look at the dog, Ronny, first,' said Mirren, but her eyes were
'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
'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
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.
 Coosp=chilblain on the heel.
CHAPTER X. DOL BEAG IS FLUNG INTO A
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,
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-bredto 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
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 dogsfor two deep-chested, lean-flanked
black collies slunk at his heelit 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
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'
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
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 beastsfor, 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 left in sore anger for that they pitied her in the
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
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 carriagea 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, yeyemaker 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
Stop a minute, said he; there's some talk due to me before ye
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
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 doorthe same exciseman, Gilchrist, that trotted
at Mirren Stuart's coat-tailscried 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
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.
 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 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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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 Ronnyburn; they'll hiv a bleeze ye'll see for twenty
mileswe'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.
CHAPTER XII. McALLAN'S LOCKER.
Over the first rise of the hills was a long dreary wastetreeless,
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
Hold in to the fall, cried McKinnon, and his voice was hoarse as a
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
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 standthe 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
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
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 hima 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, dogsing, 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
God, but the open hill's a bonny place, said McKinnon, and a
shiver went over him. In this terrible place we lay the nighta 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
wallswarriors 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
whiskyand the good nice water, trickling and dripping through the
rocks for a hundred yearsif they creep upon us, dog, what will we be
doing, you and me, Marr? Hohoho! killing them, eh? Leaving their
bones wi' the white bones away in therethe 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 musingsfor sleep had nearly come over mebroke
the voice of the Nameless Man.
I gave her to drink of the foamy milkwarm, 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
fearedthe 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 killerthe 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, drollbecause a soft white
coward diedthey would kill me, me that would kill a man when I drew
my dirkho, 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 decka 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
'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
'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 tilleray, and
I crawled from the sea at last, and came to the hills againin the
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
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
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, nospying 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
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
He'll be a bold man that shepherds these hills in the lambing,
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
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
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
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
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 spellnot 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
Is it the sight 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
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 bethe 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 naturea 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 angersa 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
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
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
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
folkthere 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 yecan I ever be forgetting ye?
When Dan would have taken her to his heart, she sprang away, her
Do not be petting me, she cries. I am not a bairn to be quieted.
Tell me ye love meI want my ain fierce lover that wid make me kneel
to him because he loved methe 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 himI 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 mountainsmy 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 herdark 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
againwhich I was glad enough to do, for the reek was a little nippy
to my eyesas 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.
 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 Gullonly 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 criesdead, 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
What new devilry is this? says he, and bit his lip. Here are
women and men gane gyte wi' the tellin' o' death and murderand where
is Dan McBride?
There is nae murder that I ken, said I, and the hogs are doing
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
See that the woman has what she will be needing, said hea 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' thisshe'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
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
Hamish, she would say, coming close to me in the ruddy light, and
the dark cheeks of her glowing and her eyes flashingHamish, 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
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 ploughinga sair job ploughing heather rootsand 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
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 heGeelp.
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 mefor we were but simple men
in this affairand 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 motherand 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
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
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
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
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 whatevera 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; yesand 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 cornera 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 sailingin
fine trimand 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 overseasthis 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 Ranzaa
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 Gullyay, 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 occurI 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'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
I'm with you there, says he. I was paid good money for that job,
and I ken what I ken, and mairwhat 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 ladya
cousin o' his ain, that stopped for years at Scaurdalea 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 thisshe married on an
Englishman, a landed man and weel bredStockdale they ca'ed himbut
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
'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
younae high-handednessbut 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 wereYe'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 Mistressher very words came back to me
The wean has the look o' John o' Scaurdale.
CHAPTER XVII. I TURN SCHOOLMASTER.
There were many things to be doing in these dayspeats 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
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
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
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
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 meMargaret, 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
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
sonsywhen 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
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, Butbut 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 offif 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 farmersalways 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 mana
Lowland dealer, strong as a tree, and a wit in a coarse wayturned 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
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
colourthe 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, BrydeBryde 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
Good! cries Hugh; he's like the mountainshe's granite, and what
are we but dressed sandstoneand the lass kens it, says he. God help
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
Chick or child, says he, she's all I havea 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 byrethe 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 doubtedBelle, 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
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 doora clear night, I mind, with a
harvest moonHamish, 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 McKinnonthe
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
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.
Ohoh, 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
Cat or dog, oror 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, sirno, 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 armthe 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 claesfine 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
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, HamishBryde'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
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
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 manshe 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
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 Belleand, 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
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
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
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
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
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 glassa rummer it
wasand 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 Brydehe 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
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 rumblinga 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 bridgea 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
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 Margaretmostly.
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 timethe 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 McGilpfor 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
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 heidyes.
I will haf forgotten what ploy that wasI 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 ploysI 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
Have I to live to see one of my name a cowarda bastard and a
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
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
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 tongsthe 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
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 Hughhave 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 myand in a brave voiceto
And Hugh went out of the room, and I knew he would never be a boy
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
himaway, 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 shethe 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, Margareta 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?
Would it bewill you tell metruly? and she waited for my
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
* * * * * *
Now I will say thisthat 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
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 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 crieddo 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
This will be news to me also, said she, her face hidden, for I
would be thinking in the night-timein the darkI would be thinking
it would maybe be me you differed over.
You, Mistress Margaret, cried he. What could I ever be to such as
youbut 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 fasther
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 yoursI will be yoursI will be yours.
Some day, said Bryde in a soft whisper, with amazement in his
tonessome day you will find a man worthy of that great love. . . .
But she was at her wheedling now.
Will you tell me, Brydewill you tell me truly? and she put her
lips to his ear. I love you, Brydedid ye not know? Am I not a
There never was maiden like you before, Margaret, said he. I am
always loving you, always. . . .
But tell me, she criedtell 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 everI
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
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 Brydea slim grey maiden,
a faithful maiden, who will be lying at my side, and fierce to be
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
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
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
Will Hugh have been telling you that? said Margaret in a certain
Hughno. I meet Bryde ver' often. He is good to be meetingthere
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 askfavours? 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
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 measking favours, ma belle, and still
I not move, and he throw back his head (comme ça), and say
'I do not begeven 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 workI 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
waterhis head high and his ears forwardBryde 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. 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 togetheryes?
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 Stockdalenow, sir, here are we in the
green wood with neither page nor groomsquire and dameand I am
loving it, said she, and her little brown capable hand took one of his
great hard ones.
 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
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 begand what is he to me.'
You are a droll lass, said Bryde, with a frown on his facea
droll lass, and very beautifulso Mistress Margaret . . . but Helen
broke into his talk.
Am I beautiful to you, M'sieu? I am honoured, but her eyes were
softbut what would the proud Margaret say to that?
We will forget her, Mistress Helenwhat have I to be doing except
to be a loyal kinsman to her? and here the drollest laughing came over
I am sure she will be loving that, said she, a loyal
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
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,
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 youand he will have the thin sword with
And the lad lisped and boggled at the English, till I shook the
Gaelic into himand 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 Housethere 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
'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
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
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
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
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
windowand 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
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 moordesolate, desolate, and mourning like the Israelitish
womenthe 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
sonthere 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
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
suremaybe 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
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 thatmyself.
CHAPTER XXV. I RIDE AGAIN TO
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 sadthe 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 saday, 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
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 finelya 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 nightlonely 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 naturehe and his
great dogbut 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
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 bottlea great performer with
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 McNeilagethe 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 morningafore 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
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 heathenthe skempyon was the last o' the heathenhilt or
hair o' him that I saw, and me mixed up wi' daftlike warsit was a
packet that reached mein 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
theredeid? 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 whyweemen 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 fearthe 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
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 wandererthat 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
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
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
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, Hamishye 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 metthe 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 armthe 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 paintingBelle, 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 outstretchedDan 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
horseand he was a mettle beast, with many outlandish capersand 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 thenand 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 yetthere 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 marryinghoot, 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 lassimphm. There might have been more of a splore, says
he, and no harm donea wheen hens and a keg would not have been out
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 returnmany 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
withoch, 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
hereit is that silent woman I will be liking the best of all,
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 withthe
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
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
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
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 hoofay, 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 himor a
drop too much in himand 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 Bellenot 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
Have I not held the sword in my hand for twenty years, and what
were weans to me in these days?
Very littleI 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 cocka 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
If he will cry three timesis it that something happens? said
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 knowanother 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 laughterof 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 knittingboth man and
wifekemping 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
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, Hamishmy wife that will be; is she no'?
A fine lass.
For a whilea 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 yetBryde, your relative?'
He was born in the hill house yonder, beside the 'three lonely
'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,
'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 thinkI 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 familywell, 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
oxterswild, 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 Paulmora,
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
Well, Betty, it will be the road we all must go at the hinder
enda 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
shelterand Bryde's among them. . . .
Bryde, Hamishoch, the limber lad. . . . Are you thinking it is
all over wi' Betty, Hamish?
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
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
A grain o' water, said she. You will be liking it plain yourself,
but I would aye be liking a little waterafter 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 ladythey 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 watersoon it will be comingay,
soonthere 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, Hamishjust
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
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
criedthere 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,
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 whileseven years maybe. I was at
the herdin' before that with my fatherit 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 brotheryon was sailin' near
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 herday, kye in legions. We made a slaughter o' them and
smoke-cured the flesh for the harnish casksthe 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
privateerCaptain Cook, I think, was master of her, Bryde McBride
matelieutenant, the crew would be saying, for the schooner carried
letters o' marquea fast ship and well found; the Spray was the
name of her.
And Bryde McBridehad you speech with him?
I had thatay, 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 gripthe 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-awayay
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
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
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 criedare 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 'sourryingGod forbid that he shouldwhen 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 littleimphm, 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 moreit
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 homeandand the night you were at Dan's they
brought him herea nice quiet boyand 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' haversnow, 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 himselfhe 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
beforeit 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 Hamishwas 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.
Helen, said I.
Likely, she criedlikely, the likeliest lass I will ever be
seeing, Hamishfor 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 looklike 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 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
necessaireone 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 landmaybe through a hazethe
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
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
shorefor 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
Pointwrack-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 shorea 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 putta 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 timein the dark.
CHAPTER XXX. TELLS WHERE BRYDE MET
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
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
Now, said he after that, I will go to my mother.
She will be awaiting, said I, your mother and the boy
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
It would be soon after you would be following the seas, and they
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
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.
Whatis 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
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 fathera 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
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
Will you have been fetching a silk dress for Betty? she cried at
Silk and lace and more, said Bryde.
Not brandy, says she, her lips pursed up.
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
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 thingsa 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
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
thisMargaret, 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
BrBryde, was the word that came softly between her lips like a
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
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 usit 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
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
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 togetherand 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 manesroaming 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
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 byvexed 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
ourourchildren 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 placeand they were loath to leavethe
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
To my auntthe Leddy, as they will be naming herto her he was all
courtesy, all deference, yet he would be surprising her into quick
laughingindeed, I will always be remembering her words.
My dear, said she, and her voice trembling, I am glad to welcome
youI 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 forthis 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
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
therethe 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 noyour 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 mineall 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.
Nonono, she clasped her arms round herself. All this will be
his, but my heartmy heart will be waiting, but this one night my
heart is mine. See, she cried, he beatbeatbeat 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 manit 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 truetell me.
It is true, Helen, said Bryde; I am loving her for that, God
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
calmthat 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
One kiss, said Bryde, laughing, and I will never be forgetting.
And at that they laughed.
Ah, now it is Brydecome, 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 morningto-night you will stay with your
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
Take me over that hill, and we will not come back ever, ever
And after the first mad gallop
I will tell youyou love Margaret, whybecause Margaret is here
always since you were ver' little boy, always Margaret. . . .
Helen, I am loving Margaret becauseI 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 calmme, I would kill you if you
love me and become cold; but sheshe would smile and her heart be
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 whisperedsee, 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 whisperje t'adore, always I love youthus, 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
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 roomMcGilp 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
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
* * * * * *
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 agobut 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, andand 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
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
* * * * * *
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
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 daysmaybe, Mirren, ye will come to my
door yetmy 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 floatingJohn and Kate that dawdled on the road,
for never was a road too long for young folk in lovethese 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 gardenthe
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 aboutye 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
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
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
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
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
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 itI 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
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
There would be a great spread there in the openpasties 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
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
And coming from her doorfor he had followed her, laughing at her
dainty finger raised in smiling commandcoming 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
Good-night, said Helen, and gave him her handit 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 homeyou 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
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 Gilchristif Ronny had only kentGilchrist 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
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 fatherI told my
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, mistressmy 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 mistresswith 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 ragego to the stable and
waken the men. Hurry, she criedhurry, and shoved the wench before
her and came to my door, and it was not long until I had the horses
* * * * * *
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 mindfor 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 ClatesGilchrist 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 Helenlook at my wifelook
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
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 laughingthe 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
The Revenue boat is lying off the White Rock in Lamlash, said
Angus. McNeilage will be getting old and sober.
Wait a wee, Anguswait 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 nothingyou scoundrels will touch nothingI 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
crieda bonny catch, and at that the boyish lass straightened
herself. The boats ahoy, she cried, ahoy, the boat; the gaugers are
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 Gilchristfire, 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
I think I am not hurtmy shouldera lass came between and
then in a loud voice of terror, Margaret, Margaret.
I am s-safe, Brydesafeit is Helen. Margaret was weeping, and
at these words Helen spoke to Bryde, even as we were staunching her
My Bryde, said she with a little smile, andIwasalmostthe
brideof Hugh. Itisdrollpoor 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 youyou 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 calmno great
contentmentonlyonlya 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, followingand they would stand
by the bedside and listen to the laughingand you will know the name
of that brave little lass.