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Heather and Snow
by George MacDonald
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She made repeated efforts, therefore, to see her, but without success. She tried one time of the day after another, but, now by accident and now by clever contrivance, Phemy was not to be come at. She had of late grown tricky. One of the windows of the schoolmaster's house commanded the street in both directions, and Phemy commanded the window. When she saw Kirsty coming, she would run into the garden and take refuge in the summer-house, telling the servant on her way that she was going out, and did not know what time she would be in. On more occasions than one Kirsty said she would wait, when Phemy, learning she was not gone, went out in earnest, and took care she had enough of waiting. Such shifts of cunning no doubt served laughter to the lovers when next they met, but they showed that Phemy was in some degree afraid of Kirsty.

Had Kirsty known the schoolmaster no better than his sister-in-law knew him, she would, like her, have gone to him; but she was perfectly certain that it would be almost impossible to rouse him, and that, once convinced that his confidence had been abused, he would be utterly furious, and probably bear himself in such fashion as to make Phemy desperate, perhaps make her hate him. As it was, he turned a deaf ear and indignant heart to every one of the reports that reached him. To listen to it would be to doubt his child! Why should not the young laird fall in love with her? What more natural? Was she not worth as much honour as any man, be he who he might, could confer upon her? He cursed the gossips of the town, and returned to his book.

Convinced at length that Phemy declined an interview, Kirsty resolved to take her own way. And her way was a somewhat masterful one.

About a mile from castle Weelset, in the direction of Tiltowie, the road was, for a few hundred yards, close-flanked by steep heathery braes. Now Kirsty had heard of Phemy's being several times seen on this road of late; and near the part of it I have just described, she resolved to waylay her. From the brae on the side next Corbyknowe she could see the road for some distance in either direction.

For a week she watched in vain. She saw the two pass together more than once, and she saw Francis pass alone, but she had never seen Phemy alone.

One morning, just as she arrived at her usual outlook, she saw Mrs. Bremner in the road below, coming from the castle, and ran down to speak to her. In the course of their conversation she learned that Francis was to start for London the next morning. When they parted, the old woman resuming her walk to Tiltowie, Kirsty climbed the brae and sat down in the heather. She was more anxious than ever. She had done her best, but it had come to nothing, and now she had but one chance more! That Francis Gordon was going away so soon was good news, but what might not happen even yet before he went! At the same time she could think of nothing better than keep watch as hitherto, firm as to her course if she saw Phemy alone, but now determined to speak to both if Francis was with her, and all but determined to speak to Francis alone, if an opportunity of doing so should be given her.

All the morning and afternoon she watched in vain, eating nothing but a piece of bread that Steenie brought her. At last, in the evening—it was an evening in September, cold and clear, the sun down, and a melancholy glory hanging over the place of his vanishing—she spied the solitary form of Phemy hastening along the road in the direction of the castle. Although she had been on the outlook for her all day, she was at the moment so taken up with the sunset, that Phemy was almost under where she stood before she saw her. She ran at full speed a hundred yards, then slid down a part of the brae too steep to climb, and leaped into the road a few feet in front of Phemy—so suddenly that the girl started with a cry, and stopped. The moment she saw who it was, however, she drew herself up, and would have passed with a stiff greeting. But Kirsty stood in front of her, and would not permit her.

'What do you want, Kirsty Barclay?' demanded Phemy, who had within the last week or two advanced considerably in confidence of manner; 'I am in a hurry!'

'Ye're in a waur hurry nor ye ken, for yer hurry sud be the ither gait!' answered Kirsty; 'and I'm gaein to turn ye, or at least no gaein to lat ye gang, ohn heard a bit o' the trowth frae a woman aulder nor yersel! Lassie, ye seem to think naebody worth hearkenin til a word frae 'cep ae man, but I mean ye to hearken to me! Ye dinna ken what ye're aboot! I ken Francie Gordon a heap better nor you, and though I ken nae ill o' him, I ken as little guid: he never did naething yet but to please himsel, and there never cam salvation or comfort to man, woman, or bairn frae ony puir cratur like him!'

'How dare you speak such lies of a gentleman behind his back!' cried Phemy, her eyes flashing. 'He is a friend of mine, and I will not hear him maligned!'

'There's sma' hairm can come to ony man frae the trowth, Phemy!' answered Kirsty. 'Set the man afore me, and I'll say word for word intil his face what I'm sayin to you ahint his back.'

'Miss Barclay,' rejoined Phemy, with a rather pitiable attempt at dignity, 'I can permit no one to call me by my Christian name who speaks ill of the man to whom I am engaged!'

'That s' be as ye please, Miss Craig. But I wud lat you ca' me a' the ill names in the dictionar to get ye to heark to me! I'm tellin ye naething but what's true as death.'

'I call no one names. I am always civil to my neighbours whoever they may be! I will not listen to you.'

'Eh, lassie, there's but feow o' yer neebours ceevil to yer name, whatever they be to yersel! There's hardly ane has a guid word for ye, Phemy!—Miss Craig—I beg yer pardon!'

'Their lying tongues are nothing to me! I know what I am about! I will not stay a moment longer with you! I have an important engagement.'

Once more, as several times already, she would have passed her, but Kirsty stepped yet again in front of her.

'I can weel tak yer word,' replied Kirsty, ''at ye hae an engagement; but ye said a minute ago 'at ye was engaged til him: tell me in ae word—has Francie Gordon promised to merry ye?'

'He has as good as asked me,' answered Phemy, who had fits of apprehensive recoil from a downright lie.

'Noo there I cud 'maist believe ye! Ay, that wud be ill eneuch for Francie! He never was a doonricht leear, sae lang's I kenned him—ony mair nor yersel! But, for God's sake, Phemy, dinna imagine he'll ever merry ye, for that he wull not.'

'This is really insufferable!' cried Phemy, in a voice that began to tremble from the approach of angry tears. 'Pray, have you a claim upon him?'

'Nane, no a shedow o' ane,' returned Kirsty. 'But my father and his father war like brithers, and we hae a' to du what we can for his father's son. I wud fain hand him ohn gotten into trouble wi' you or ony lass.'

'I get him into trouble! Really, Miss Barclay, I do not know how to understand you!'

'I see I maun be plain wi' ye: I wudna hae ye get him into trouble by lattin him get you into trouble!—and that's plain speykin!'

'You insult me!' said Phemy.

'Ye drive me to speyk plain!' answered Kirsty. 'That lad, Francie Gordon,—'

'Speak with respect of your superiors,' interrupted Phemy.

'I'll speyk wi' respec o' ony body I hae respec for!' answered Kirsty.

'Let me pass, you rude young woman!' cried Phemy, who had of late been cultivating in her imagination such speech as she thought would befit Mrs. Gordon of castle Weelset.

'I winna lat ye pass,' answered Kirsty; '—that is, no til ye hear what I hae to say to ye.'

'Then you must take the consequences!' rejoined Phemy, and, in the hope that her lover would prove within earshot, began a piercing scream.

It roused something in Kirsty which she could not afterward identify: she was sure it had nothing to do with anger. She felt, she said, as if she had to deal with a child who insisted on playing with fire beside a barrel of gunpowder. At the same time she did nothing but what she had beforehand, in case of the repulse she expected, resolved upon. She caught up the little would-be lady, as if she had been that same naughty child, and the suddenness of the action so astonished her that for a moment or two she neither moved nor uttered a sound. The next, however, she began to shriek and struggle wildly, as if in the hug of a bear or the coils of an anaconda, whereupon Kirsty closed her mouth with one hand while she held her fast with the other. It was a violent proceeding, doubtless, but Kirsty chose to be thus far an offender, and yet farther.

Bearing her as she best could in one arm, she ran with her toward Tiltowie until she reached a place where the road was bordered by a more practicable slope; there she took to the moorland, and made for Corbyknowe. Her resolve had been from the first, if Phemy would not listen, to carry her, like the unmanageable child she was, home to the mother whose voice had always been to herself the oracle of God. It was in a loving embrace, though hardly a comfortable one, and to a heart full of pity, that she pressed the poor little runaway lamb: her mother was God's vicar for all in trouble: she would bring the child to reason! Her heart beating mightily with love and labour, she waded through the heather, hurrying along the moor.

It was a strange abduction; but Kirsty was divinely simple, and that way strange. Not until they were out of sight of the road did she set her down.

'Noo, Phemy,' she said, panting as she spoke, 'haud yer tongue like a guid lassie, and come awa upo' yer ain feet.'

Phemy took at once to her heels and her throat, and ran shrieking back toward the road, with Kirsty after her like a grayhound. Phemy had for some time given up struggling and trying to shriek, and was therefore in better breath than Kirsty whose lungs were pumping hard, but she had not a chance with her, for there was more muscle in one of Kirsty's legs than in Phemy's whole body. In a moment she had her in her arms again, and so fast that she could not even kick. She gave way and burst into tears. Kirsty relaxed her hold.

'What are you gaein to du wi' me?' sobbed Phemy.

'I'm takin ye to the best place I ken—hame to my mother,' answered Kirsty, striding on for home-heaven as straight as she could go.

'I winna gang!' cried Phemy, whose Scotch had returned with her tears.

'Ye are gaein,' returned Kirsty dryly; '—at least I'm takin ye, and that's neist best.'

'What for? I never did ye an ill turn 'at I ken o'!' said Phemy, and burst afresh into tears of self-pity and sense of wrong.

'Na, my bonny doo,' answered Kirsty, 'ye never did me ony ill turn! It wasna in ye. But that's the less rizzon 'at I sudna du you a guid ane. And yer father has been like the Bountiful himsel to me! It's no muckle I can du for you or for him, but there's ae thing I'm set upo', and that's haudin ye frae Francie Gordon the nicht. He'll be awa the morn!'

'Wha tellt ye that?' returned Phemy with a start.

'Jist yer ain aunt, honest woman!' answered Kirsty, 'and sair she grat as she telled me, but it wasna at his gaein!'

'She micht hae held the tongue o' her till he was gane! What was there to greit about!'

'Maybe she thocht o' her sister's bairn in a tribble 'at silence wadna hide!' answered Kirsty. 'Ye haena a notion, lassie, what ye're duin wi' yersel! But my mither 'll lat ye ken, sae that ye gangna blinlins intil the tod's hole.'

'Ye dinna ken Frank, or ye wudna speyk o' 'im that gait!'

'I ken him ower weel to trust you til him.'

'It's naething but ye're eenvious o' me, Kirsty, 'cause ye canna get him yersel! He wud never luik at a lass like you!'

'It's weel a'body sees na wi' the same een, Phemy! Gien I had yer Francie i' the parritch-pat, I wudna pike him oot, but fling frae me pat and parritch. For a' that, I hae a haill side o' my hert saft til him: my father and his lo'd like brithers.'

'That canna be, Kirsty—and it's no like ye to blaw! Your father was a common so'dier and his was cornel o' the regiment!'

'Allooin!' was all Kirsty's answer. Phemy betook herself to entreaty.

'Lat me gang, Kirsty! Please! I'll gang doon o' my knees til ye! I canna bide him to think I've played him fause.'

'He'll play you fause, my lamb, whatever ye du or he think! It maks my hert sair to ken 'at no guid will your hert get o' his.—He s' no see ye the nicht, ony gait!'

Phemy uttered a childish howl, but immediately choked it with a proud sob.

'Ye're hurtin me, Kirsty!' she said, after a minute or so of silence. 'Lat me doon, and I'll gang straucht hame to my father. I promise ye.'

'I'll set ye doon,' answered Kirsty, 'but ye maun come hame to my mither.'

'What'll my father think?'

'I s' no forget yer father,' said Kirsty.

She sent out a strange, piercing cry, set Phemy down, took her hand in hers, and went on, Phemy making no resistance. In about three minutes there was a noise in the heather, and Snootie came rushing to Kirsty. A few moments more and Steenie appeared. He lifted his bonnet to Phemy, and stood waiting his sister's commands.

'Steenie,' she said, 'tak the dog wi' ye, and rin doon to the toon, and tell Mr. Craig 'at Phemy here's comin hame wi' me, to bide the nicht. Ye winna be langer nor ye canna help, and ye'll come to the hoose afore ye gang to the hill?'

'I'll du that, Kirsty. Come, doggie,'

Steenie never went to the town of his own accord, and Kirsty never liked him to go, for the boys were rude, but to-night it would be dark before he reached it.

'Ye're no surely gaun to gar me bide a' nicht!' said Phemy, beginning again to cry.

'I am that—the nicht, and maybe the morn's nicht, and ony nummer o' nichts till we're sure he's awa!' answered Kirsty, resuming her walk.

Phemy wept aloud, but did not try to escape.

'And him gaein to promise this verra nicht 'at he would merry me!' she cried, but through her tears and sobs her words were indistinct.

Kirsty stopped, and faced round on her.

'He promised to merry ye?' she said.

'I didna say that; I said he was gaein to promise the nicht. And noo he'll be gane, and never a word said!'

'He promised, did he, 'at he would promise the nicht?—Eh, Francie! Francie! ye're no yer father's son!—He promised to promise to merry ye! Eh, ye puir gowk o' a bonny lassie!'

'Gien I met him the nicht—ay, it cam to that.'

All Kirsty's inborn motherhood awoke. She turned to her, and, clasping the silly thing in her arms, cried out—

'Puir wee dauty! Gien he hae a hert ony bigger nor Tod Lowrie's (the fox's) ain, he'll come to ye to the Knowe, and say what he has to say!'

'He winna ken whaur I am!' answered Phemy with an agonized burst of dry sobbing.

'Will he no? I s' see to that—and this verra nicht!' exclaimed Kirsty. 'I'll gie him ilka chance o' doin the richt thing!'

'But he'll be angert at me!'

'What for? Did he tell ye no to tell?'

'Ay did he.'

'Waur and waur!' cried Kirsty indignantly. 'He wad hae ye a' in his grup! He tellt ye, nae doobt, 'at ye was the bonniest lassie 'at ever was seen, and bepraised ye 'at yer ain minnie wouldna hae kenned ye! Jist tell me, Phemy, dinna ye think a hantle mair o' yersel sin' he took ye in han'?'

She would have Phemy see that she had gathered from him no figs or grapes, only thorns and thistles. Phemy made no reply: had she not every right to think well of herself? He had never said anything to her on that subject which she was not quite ready to believe.

Kirsty seemed to divine what was passing in her thought.

'A man,' she said, ''at disna tell ye the trowth aboot himsel 's no likly to tell ye the trowth aboot yoursel! Did he tell ye hoo mony lassies he had said the same thing til afore ever he cam to you? It maitered little sae lang as they war lasses as hertless and toom-heidit as himsel, and ower weel used to sic havers; but a lassie like you, 'at never afore hearkent to siclike, she taks them a' for trowth, and the leein sough o' him gars her trow there was never on earth sic a won'erfu cratur as her! What pleesur there can be i' leein 's mair nor I can faddom! Ye're jist a gey bonnie lassie, siclike as mony anither; but gien ye war a' glorious within, like the queen o' Sheba, or whaever she may happen to hae been, there wad be naething to be prood o' i' that, seem ye didna contrive yersel. No ae stane, to bigg yersel, hae ye putten upo' the tap o' anither!'

Phemy was nowise capable of understanding such statement and deduction. If she was lovely, as Frank told her, and as she saw in the glass, why should she not be pleased with herself? If Kirsty had been made like her, she would have been just as vain as she!

All her life the doll never saw the beauty of the woman. Beside Phemy, Kirsty walked like an Olympian goddess beside the naiad of a brook. And Kirsty was a goddess, for she was what she had to be, and never thought about it.

Phemy sank down in the heather, declaring she could go no farther, and looked so white and so pitiful that Kirsty's heart filled afresh with compassion. Like the mother she was, she took the poor girl yet again in her arms, and, carrying her quite easily now that she did not struggle, walked with her straight into her mother's kitchen.

Mrs. Barclay sat darning the stocking which would have been Kirsty's affair had she not been stalking Phemy. She took it out of her mother's hands, and laid the girl in her lap.

'There's a new bairnie til ye, mother! Ye maun daut her a wee, she's unco tired!' she said, and seating herself on a stool, went on with the darning of the stocking.

Mistress Barclay looked down on Phemy with such a face of loving benignity that the poor miserable girl threw her arms round her neck, and laid her head on her bosom. Instinctively the mother began to hush and soothe her, and in a moment more was singing a lullaby to her. Phemy fell fast asleep. Then Kirsty told what she had done, and while she spoke, the mother sat silent brooding, and hushing, and thinking.



CHAPTER XVIII

PHEMY'S CHAMPION

When she had told all, Kirsty rose, and laying aside the stocking, said,

'I maun awa to Weelset, mother. I promised the bairn I would lat Francie ken whaur she was, and gie him the chance o' sayin his say til her.'

'Verra weel, lassie! ye ken what ye're aboot, and I s' no interfere wi' ye. But, eh, ye'll be tired afore ye win to yer bed!'

'I'll no tramp it, mother; I'll tak the gray mear.'

'She's gey and fresh, lassie; ye maun be on yer guaird.'

'A' the better!' returned Kirsty. 'To hear ye, mother, a body wud think I cudna ride!'

'Forbid it, bairn! Yer father says, man or wuman, there's no ane i' the countryside like ye upo' beast-back.'

'They tak to me, the craturs! It was themsels learnt me to ride!' answered Kirsty, as she took a riding whip from the wall, and went out of the kitchen.

The mare looked round when she entered the stable, and whinnied. Kirsty petted and stroked her, gave her two or three handfuls of oats, and while she was eating strapped a cloth on her back: there was no side-saddle about the farm. Kirsty could ride well enough sideways on a man's, but she liked the way her father had taught her far better. Utterly fearless, she had, in his training from childhood until he could do no more for her, grown a horsewoman such as few.

The moment the mare had finished her oats she bridled her, led her out, and sprang on her back; where sitting as on a pillion, she rode quietly out of the farm-close. The moment she was beyond the gate, she leaned back, and, throwing her right foot over the mare's crest, rode like an Amazon, at ease, and with mastery. The same moment the mare was away, up hill and down dale, almost at racing speed. Had the coming moon been above the horizon, the Amazon farm-girl would have been worth meeting! So perfectly did she yield her lithe, strong body to every motion of the mare, abrupt or undulant, that neither ever felt a jar, and their movements seemed the outcome of a vital force common to the two. Kirsty never thought whether she was riding well or ill, gracefully or otherwise, but the mare knew that all was right between them. Kirsty never touched the bridle except to moderate the mare's pace when she was too much excited to heed what she said to her.

Doubtless, to many eyes, she would have looked better in a riding habit, but she would have felt like an eagle in a nightgown. She wore a full winsey petticoat, which she managed perfectly, and stockings of the same colour.

On her head she had nothing but the silk net at that time and in that quarter much worn by young unmarried women. In the rush of the gallop it slipped, and its content escaped: she put the net in her pocket, and cast a knot upon her long hair as if it had been a rope. This she did without even slackening her speed, transferring from her hand to her teeth the whip she carried. It was one colonel Gordon had given her father in remembrance of a little adventure they had together, in which a lash from it in the dark night was mistaken for a sword-cut, and did them no small service.

By the time they reached the castle, the moon was above the horizon. Kirsty brought the mare to a walk, and resuming her pillion-seat, remanded her hair to its cage, and readjusted her skirt; then, setting herself as in a side-saddle, she rode gently up to the castle-door.

A manservant, happening to see her from the hall-window, saved her having to ring the bell, and greeted her respectfully, for everybody knew Corbyknowe's Kirsty. She said she wanted to see Mr. Gordon, and suggested that perhaps he would be kind enough to speak to her at the door. The man went to find his master, and in a minute or two brought the message that Mr. Gordon would be with her presently. Kirsty drew her mare back into the shadow which, the moon being yet low, a great rock on the crest of a neighbouring hill cast upon the approach, and waited.

It was three minutes before Francis came sauntering bare-headed round the corner of the house, his hands in his pockets, and a cigar in his mouth. He gave a glance round, not seeing his visitor at once, and then with a nod, came toward her, still smoking. His nonchalance, I believe, was forced and meant to cover uneasiness. For all that had passed to make him forget Kirsty, he yet remembered her uncomfortably, and at the present moment could not help regarding her as an angelic bete noir, of whom he was more afraid than of any other human being. He approached her in a sort of sidling stroll, as if he had no actual business with her, but thought of just asking whether she would sell her horse. He did not speak, and Kirsty sat motionless until he was near enough for a low-voiced conference.

'What are ye aboot wi' Phemy Craig, Francie?' she began, without a word of greeting.

Kirsty was one of the few who practically deny time; with whom what was, is; what is, will be. She spoke to the tall handsome man in the same tone and with the same forms as when they were boy and girl together.

He had meant their conversation to be at arm's length, so to say, but his intention broke down at once, and he answered her in the same style.

'I ken naething aboot her. What for sud I?' he answered.

'I ken ye dinna ken whaur she is, for I div,' returned Kirsty. 'Ye answer a queston I never speired! What are ye aboot wi' Phemy, I challenge ye again! Puir lassie, she has nae brither to say the word!'

'That's a' verra weel; but ye see, Kirsty,' he began—then stopped, and having stared at her a moment in silence, exclaimed, 'Lord, what a splendid woman you've grown!'—He had probably been drinking with his mother.

Kirsty sat speechless, motionless, changeless as a soldier on guard. Gordon had to resume and finish his sentence.

'As I was going to say, you can't take the place of a brother to her, Kirsty, else I should know how to answer you!—It's awkward when a lady takes you to task,' he added with a drawl.

'Dinna trouble yer heid aboot that, Francie: hert ye hae little to trouble aboot onything!' rejoined Kirsty. Then changing to English as he had done, she went on: 'I claim no consideration on that score.'

Francis Gordon felt very uncomfortable. It was deuced hard to be bullied by a woman!

He stood silent, because he had nothing to say.

'Do you mean to marry my Phemy?' asked Kirsty.

'Really, Miss Barclay,' Francis began, but Kirsty interrupted him.

'Mr. Gordon,' she said sternly, 'be a man, and answer me. If you mean to marry her, say so, and go and tell her father—or my father, if you prefer. She is at the Knowe, miserable, poor child! that she did not meet you to-night. That was my doing; she could not help herself.

Gordon broke into a strained laugh.

'Well, you've got her, and you can keep her!' he said.

'You have not answered my question!'

'Really, Miss Barclay, you must not be too hard on a man! Is a fellow not to speak to a woman but he must say at once whether or not he intends to marry her?'

'Answer my question.'

'It is a ridiculous one!'

'You have been trystin' with her almost every night for something like a month!' rejoined Kirsty, 'and the question is not at all ridiculous.'

'Let it be granted then, and let the proper person ask me the question, and I will answer it. You, pardon me, have nothing to do with the matter in hand.'

'That is the answer of a coward,' returned Kirsty, her cheek flaming at last. 'You know the guileless nature of your old schoolmaster, and take advantage of it! You know that the poor girl has not a man to look to, and you will not have a woman befriend her! It is cowardly, ungrateful, mean, treacherous. You are a bad man, Francie! You always were a fool, but now you are a wicked fool! If I were her brother—if I were a man, I would thrash you!'

'It's a good thing you're not able, Kirsty! I should be frightened!' said Gordon, with a laugh and a shrug, thinking to throw the thing aside as done with.

'I said, if I was a man!' returned Kirsty. 'I did not say, if I was able. I am able.'

'I don't see why a woman should leave to any man what she's able to do for herself!' said Kirsty, as if communing with her own thoughts.— 'Francie, you're no gentleman; you are a scoundrel and a coward!' she immediately added aloud.

'Very well,' returned Francis angrily; 'since you choose to be treated as a man, and tell me I am no gentleman, I tell you I wouldn't marry the girl if the two of you went on your knees to me!—A common, silly, country-bred flirt!—ready for anything a man—'

Kirsty's whip descended upon him with a merciless lash. The hiss of it, as it cut the air with all the force of her strong arm, startled her mare, and she sprang aside, so that Kirsty, who, leaning forward, had thrown the strength of her whole body into the blow, could not but lose her seat. But it was only to stand upright on her feet, fronting her— call him enemy, antagonist, victim, what you will. Gordon was grasping his head: the blow had for a moment blinded him. She gave him another stinging cut across the hands.

'That's frae yer father! The whup was his, and his swoord never did fairer wark!' she said.—'I hae dune for him what I cud!' she added in a low sorrowful voice, and stepped back, as having fulfilled her mission.

He rushed at her with a sudden torrent of evil words. But he was no match for her in agility as, I am almost certain, he would have proved none in strength had she allowed him to close with her: she avoided him as she had more than once jinkit a charging bull, every now and then dealing him another sharp blow from his father's whip. The treatment began to bring him to his senses.

'For God's sake, Kirsty,' he cried, ceasing his attempts to lay hold of her, 'behaud, or we'll hae the haill hoose oot, and what'll come o' me than I daurna think! I doobt I'll never hear the last o' 't as 'tis!'

'Am I to trust ye, Francie?'

'I winna lay a finger upo' ye, damn ye!' he said in mingled wrath and humiliation.

Throughout, Kirsty had held her mare by the bridle, and she, although behaving as well as she could, had, in the fright the laird's rushes and the sounds of the whip caused her, added not a little to her mistress's difficulties. Just as she sprang on her back, the door opened, and faces looked peering out; whereupon with a cut or two she encouraged a few wild gambols, so that all the trouble seemed to have been with the mare. Then she rode quietly through the gate.

Gordon stood in a motionless fury until he heard the soft thunder of the mare's hoofs on the turf as Kirsty rode home at a fierce gallop; then he turned and went into the house, not to communicate what had taken place, but to lie about it as like truth as he might find possible.

About half-way home, on the side of a hill, across which a low wind, the long death-moan of autumn, blew with a hopeless, undulant, but not intermittent wail among the heather, Kirsty broke into a passionate fit of weeping, but ere she reached home all traces of her tears had vanished.

Gordon did not go the next day, nor the day after, but he never saw Phemy again. It was a week before he showed himself, and then he was not a beautiful sight. He attributed the one visible wale on his cheek and temple to a blow from a twig as he ran in the dusk through the shrubbery after a strange dog. Even at the castle they did not know exactly when he left it. His luggage was sent after him.

The domestics at least were perplexed as to the wale on his face, until the man to whom Kirsty had spoken at the door hazarded a conjecture or two, which being not far from the truth, and as such accepted, the general admiration and respect which already haloed Corbyknowe's Kirsty, were thenceforward mingled with a little wholesome fear.

When Kirsty told her father and mother what she had done at castle Weelset, neither said a word. Her mother turned her head away, but the light in her father's eyes, had she had any doubt as to how they would take it, would have put her quite at her ease.



CHAPTER XIX

FRANCIS GORDON'S CHAMPION

Poor little Phemy was in bed, and had cried herself asleep. Kirsty was more tired than she had ever been before. She went to bed at once, but, for a long time, not to sleep.

She had no doubt her parents approved of the chastisement she had given Gordon, and she herself nowise repented of it; yet the instant she lay down, back came the same sudden something that set her weeping on the hillside. As then, all un-sent for, the face of Francie Gordon, such as he was in their childhood, rose before her, but marred by her hand with stripes of disgrace from his father's whip; and with the vision came again the torrent of her tears, for, if his father had then struck him so, she would have been bold in his defence. She pressed her face into the pillow lest her sobs should be heard. She was by no means a young woman ready to weep, but the thought of the boy-face with her blows upon it, got within her guard, and ran her through the heart. It seemed as if nevermore would she escape the imagined sight. It is a sore thing when a woman, born a protector, has for protection to become an avenger, and severe was the revulsion in Kirsty from an act of violence foreign to the whole habit, though nowise inconsistent with the character, of the calm, thoughtful woman. She had never struck even the one-horned cow that would, for very cursedness, kick over the milk-pail! Hers was the wrath of the mother, whose very presence in a calm soul is its justification—for how could it be there but by the original energy? The wrath was gone, and the mother soul turned against itself—not in judgment at all, but in irrepressible feeling. She did not for one moment think, I repeat, that she ought not to have done it, and she was glad in her heart to know that what he had said and she had done must keep Phemy and him apart; but there was the blow on the face of the boy she had loved, and there was the reflex wound in her own soul! Surely she loved him yet with her mother-love, else how could she have been angry enough with him to strike him! For weeks the pain lasted keen, and it was ever after ready to return. It was a human type of the divine suffering in the discipline of the sinner, which with some of the old prophets takes the shape of God's repenting of the evils he has brought on his people; and was the only trouble she ever kept from her mother: she feared to wake her own pain in the dearer heart. She could have told her father; for, although he was, she knew, just as loving as her mother, he was not so soft-hearted, and would not, she thought, distress himself too much about an ache more or less in a heart that had done its duty; but as she could not tell her mother, she would not tell her father. But her father and mother saw that a change had passed upon her, and partially, if not quite, understood the nature of it. They perceived that she left behind her on that night a measure of her gaiety, that thereafter she was yet gentler to her parents, and if possible yet tenderer to her brother.

For all the superiority constantly manifested by her in her relations with Francis, the feeling was never absent from her that he was of a race above her own; and now the visage of the young officer in her father's old regiment never, any more than that of her play-fellow, rose in her mind's eye uncrossed by the livid mark of her whip from the temple down the cheek! Whether she had actually seen it so, she did not certainly remember, but so it always came to her, and the face of the man never cost her a tear; it was only that of the boy that made her weep.

Another thing distressed her even more: the instant ere she struck the first, the worst blow, she saw on his face an expression so meanly selfish that she felt as if she hated him. That expression had vanished from her visual memory, her whip had wiped it away, but she knew that for a moment she had all but hated him—if it was indeed all but!

All the house was careful the next morning that Phemy should not be disturbed; and when at length the poor child appeared, looking as if her colour was not 'ingrain,' and so had been washed out by her tears, Kirsty made haste to get her a nice breakfast, and would answer none of her questions until she had made a proper meal.

'Noo, Kirsty,' said Phemy at last, 'ye maun tell me what he said whan ye loot him ken 'at I cudna win til him 'cause ye wudna lat me!'

'He saidna muckle to that. I dinna think he had been sair missin ye.'

'I see ye're no gaein to tell me the trowth, Kirsty! I ken by mysel he maun hae been missin me dreidfu'!'

'Ye can jeedge nae man by yersel, Phemy. Men's no like hiz lass-fowk!'

Phemy laughed superior.

'What ken ye aboot men, Kirsty? There never cam a man near ye, i' the w'y o' makin up til ye!'

'I'm no preten'in to ony exparience,' returned Kirsty; 'I wad only hae ye tak coonsel wi' common sense. Is 't likly, Phemy, 'at a man wi gran' relations, and gran' notions, a man wi' a fouth o' grit leddies in 's acquantance to mak a fule o' him and themsel's thegither, special noo 'at he's an offisher i' the Company's service—is 't ony gait likly, I say, 'at he sud be as muckle ta'en up wi' a wee bit cuintry lassie as she cudna but be wi' him?'

'Noo, Kirsty, ye jist needna gang aboot to gar me mistrust ane wha's the verra mirror o' a' knichtly coortesy,' rejoined Phemy, speaking out of the high-flown, thin atmosphere she thought the region of poetry, 'for ye canna! Naething ever onybody said cud gar me think different o' him!'

'Nor naething ever he said himsel?' asked Kirsty.

'Naething,' answered Phemy, with strength and decision.

'No gien it was 'at naething wud ever gar him merry ye?'

'That he micht weel say, for he winna need garrin!—But he never said it, and ye needna try to threpe it upo' me!' she added, in a tone that showed the very idea too painful.

'He did say't, Phemy.'

'Wha tellt ye? It's lees! Somebody's leein!'

'He said it til me himsel. Never a lee has onybody had a chance o' puttin intil the tale!'

'He never said it, Kirsty!' cried Phemy, her cheeks now glowing, now pale as death. 'He daurna!'

'He daured; and he daured to me! He said, "I wudna merry her gien baith o' ye gaed doon upon yer knees to me!"'

'Ye maun hae sair angert him, Kirsty, or he wudna hae said it! Of coorse he wasna to be guidit by you! He cudna hae meaned what he said! He wad never hae said it to me! I wuss wi' a' my hert I hadna latten ye til 'im! Ye hae ruined a'!'

'Ye never loot me gang, Phemy! It was my business to gang.'

'I see what's intil't!' cried Phemy, bursting into tears. 'Ye tellt him hoo little ye thoucht o' me, and that gart him change his min'!'

'Wud he be worth greitin about gien that war the case, Phemy? But ye ken it wasna that! Ye ken 'at I jist cudna du onything o' the sort!— I'm jist ashamed to deny't!'

'Hoo am I to ken? There's nae a wuman born but wad fain hae him til hersel!'

Kirsty held her peace for pity, thinking what she could say to convince her of Gordon's faithlessness.

'He didna say he hadna promised?' resumed Phemy through her sobs.

'We camna upo' that.'

'That's what I'm thinkin!'

'I kenna what ye're thinking, Phemy!'

'What did ye gie him, Kirsty, whan he tauld ye—no 'at I believe a word o' 't—'at he wud nane o' me?'

Kirsty laughed with a scorn none the less clear that it was quiet.

'Jist a guid lickin,' she answered.

'Ha, ha!' laughed Phemy hysterically. 'I tellt ye ye was leein! Ye hae been naething but leein—a' for fun, of coorse, I ken that—to mak a fule o' me for bein fleyt!'

Despair, for a moment, seemed to overwhelm Kirsty. Was it for this she had so wounded her own soul! How was she to make the poor child understand? She lifted up her heart in silence. At last she said,—

'Ye winna see mair o' him this year or twa onygait, I'm thinkin! Gien ever ye get a scart o' 's pen, it'll surprise me. But gien ever ye hae the chance, which may God forbid, tell him I said I had gien him his licks, and daured him to come and deny't to my face. He winna du that, Phemy! He kens ower weel I wad jist gie him them again!'

'He wud kill ye, Kirsty! You gie him his licks!'

'He micht kill me, but he'd hae a pairt o' his licks first!—And noo gien ye dinna believe me I winna answer a single question mair ye put to me. I hae been tellin ye—no God's trowth, it's true, but the deevil's—and it's no use, for ye winna believe a word o' 't!'

Phemy rose up a pygmy Fury.

'And ye laid han' to cheek o' that king o' men, Kirsty Barclay? Lord, haud me ohn killt her! Little hauds me frae riven ye to bits wi' my twa han's!'

'I laidna han' to cheek o' Francie Gordon, Phemy; I jist throosh him wi' his father's ain ridin whup 'at my hert's like to brak to think o' 't. I doobt he'll carry the marks til's grave!'

Kirsty broke into a convulsion of silent sobs and tears.

'Kirsty Barclay, ye're a deevil!' cried Phemy in a hoarse whisper: she was spent with passion.

The little creature stood before Kirsty, her hands clenched and shaking with rage, blue flashes darting about in her eyes. Kirsty, at once controlling the passion of her own heart, sat still as a statue, regarding her with a sad pity. A sparrow stood chattering at a big white brooding dove; and the dove sorrowed for the sparrow, but did not know how to help the fluttering thing.

'Lord!' cried Phemy, 'I'll be cursin a' the warl' and God himsel, gien I gang on this gait!—Eh, ye fause wuman!'

Kirsty sprang upon her at one bound from her seat, threw her arms round her so that she could not move hers, and sitting down with her on her lap, said—

'Phemy, gien I was yer mither, I wad gie ye yer licks for sayin what ye didna i' yer hert believe! A' the time ye was keepin company wi' Francie Gordon, ye ken i' yer ain sowl ye was never richt sure o' him! And noo I tell ye plainly that, although I strack him times and times wi' my whup—and saired him weel!-I div not believe him sae ill-contrived as ye wad gar me think him. Him and me was bairns thegither, and I ken the natur o' him, and tak his pairt again ye, for, oot o' pride and ambition, ye're an enemy til him: I div not believe ever he promised to merry ye! He's behaved ill eneuch wantin that—lattin a gowk o' a lassie like you believe what ye likit, and him only carryin on wi' ye for the ploy o' 't, haeing naething to du, and sick o' his ain toom heid and still toomer hert; but a man's word's his word, and Francie's no sae ill as your tale wud mak him! There, Phemy, I hae said my say!'

She loosened her arms. But Phemy lay still, and putting her arms round Kirsty's neck, wept in a bitter silence.



CHAPTER XX

MUTUAL MINISTRATION

In a minute or so the door opened, and Steenie coming one step into the kitchen, stood and stared with such a face of concern that Kirsty was obliged to speak. I do not believe he had ever before seen a woman weeping. He shivered visibly.

'Phemy's no that weel,' she said. 'Her hert's sae sair it gars her greit. She canna help greitin, puir dauty!'

Phemy lifted her face from Kirsty's bosom, where, like a miserable child, she had been pressing it hard, and, seeming to have lost in the depth of her grief all her natural shyness, looked at Steenie with the most pitiful look ever countenance wore: her rage had turned to self-commiseration. The cloud of mingled emotion and distress on the visage of Steenie wavered, shifted, changed, and settled into the divinest look of pity and protection. Kirsty said she never saw anything so unmistakably Godlike upon human countenance. Involuntarily she murmured, 'Eh, the bonny man!' He turned away from them, and, his head bent upon his breast, stood for a time utterly motionless. Even Phemy, overpowered and stilled by that last look he cast upon her, gazed at him with involuntary reverence. But only Kirsty knew that the half-witted had sought and found audience with the Eternal, and was now in his presence.

He remained in this position, Kirsty thought, about three minutes. Then he lifted his head, and walked straight from the house, nor turned nor spoke. Kirsty did not go after him: she feared to tread on holy ground uninvited. Nor would she leave Phemy until her mother came.

She got up, set the poor girl on the chair, and began to get ready the mid-day meal, hoping Phemy would help her, and gain some comfort from activity. Nor was she disappointed. With a childish air of abstraction, Phemy rose and began, as of old in the house, to busy herself, and Kirsty felt much relieved.

'But, oh,' she said to herself, 'the sairness o' that wee herty i' the inside o' her!'

Phemy never spoke, and went about her work mechanically. When at length Mrs. Barclay came into the kitchen, Kirsty thought it better to leave them together, and went to find Steenie. She spent the rest of the day with him. Neither said a word about Phemy, but Steenie's countenance shone all the afternoon, and she left him at night in his house on the Horn, still in the after-glow of the mediation which had irradiated him in the morning.

When she came home, Kirsty found that her mother had put Phemy to bed. The poor child had scarcely spoken all day, and seemed to have no life in her. In the evening an attack of shivering, with other symptoms, showed she was physically ill. Mrs. Barclay had sent for her father, but the girl was asleep when he came. Aware that he would not hear a word casting doubt on his daughter's discretion, and fearing therefore that, if she told him how she came to be there, he would take her home at any risk, where she would not be so well cared for as at the Knowe, she had told him nothing of what had taken place; and he, thinking her ailment would prove but a bad cold, had gone back to his books without seeing her. At Mrs. Barclay's entreaty he had promised to send the doctor, but never thought of it again.

Kirsty found her very feverish, breathing with difficulty, and in considerable pain. She sat by her through the night. She had seen nothing of illness, but sympathetic insight is the first essential endowment of a good nurse.

All the night long—and Kirsty knew he was near—Steenie was roving within sight of the window where the light was burning. He did not know that Phemy was ill; pity for her heart-ache drew him thither. As soon as he thought his sister would be up, he went in: the door was never locked. She heard him, and came to him. The moment he learned Phemy's condition, he said he would go for the doctor. Kirsty in vain begged him to have some breakfast first: he took a piece of oatcake in his hand and went.

The doctor returned with him, and pronounced the attack pleurisy. Phemy did not seem to care what became of her. She was ill a long time, and for a fortnight the doctor came every day.

There was now so much to be done, that Kirsty could seldom go with Steenie to the hill. Nor did Steenie himself care to go for any time, and was never a night from the house. When all were in bed, he would generally coil himself on a bench by the kitchen-fire, at any moment ready to answer the lightest call of Kirsty, who took pains to make him feel himself useful, as indeed he was. Although now he slept considerably better at night and less in the day, he would start to his feet at the slightest sound, like the dog he had almost ceased to imagine himself except in his dreams. In carrying messages, or in following directions, he had always shown himself perfectly trustworthy.

Slowly, very slowly, Phemy recovered. But long before she was well, his family saw that the change for the better which had been evident in Steenie's mental condition for some time before Phemy's illness, was now manifesting itself plainly in his person. The intense compassion which, that memorable morning, roused his spirit even to the glorifying of his visage, seemed now settling in his looks and clarifying them. His eyes appeared to shine less from his brain, and more from his mind; he stood more erect; and, as encouraging a symptom, perhaps, as any, he had grown more naturally conscious of his body and its requirements. Kirsty, coming upon him one morning as he somewhat ruefully regarded his trowsers, suggested a new suit, and was delighted to see his face shine up, and hear him declare himself ready to go with her and be measured for it. She found also soon after, to her joy, that he had for some time been enlarging with hammer and chisel a certain cavity in one of the rocks inside his house on the Horn, that he might use it for a bath.

In all these things she saw evident signs of a new start in the growth of his spiritual nature; and if she spied danger ahead, she knew that the God whose presence in him was making him grow, was ahead with the danger also.

Steenie not only now went attired as befitted David Barclay's son, but to an ordinary glance would have appeared nowise remarkable. Kirsty ceased to look upon him with the pity hitherto colouring all her devotion; pride had taken its place, which she buttressed with a massive hope, for Kirsty was a splendid hoper. People in the town, where now he was oftener seen, would remark on the wonderful change in him.—'What's come to fule Steenie?' said one of a group he had just passed. 'Haith, he's luikin 'maist like ither fowk!'—'I'm thinkin the deevil maun hae gane oot o' him!' said another, and several joined in with their remarks.—'Nae muckle o' a deevil was there to gang oot! He was aye an unco hairmless cratur!'—'And that saft-hertit til a' leevin thing!'—'He was that! I saw him ance face a score o' laddies to proteck a poddick they war puttin to torment, whan, the Lord kens, he had need o' a' his wits to tak care o' himsel!'—'Aye, jist like him!'—'Weel, the Lord taks care o' him, for he's ane o' his ain innocents!'

Kirsty, before long, began to teach him to sit on a horse, and, after but a few weeks of her training, he could ride pretty well.

It was many weeks before Phemy was fit to go home. Her father came to see her now and then, but not very often: he had his duties to attend to, and his books consoled him.

As soon as Phemy was able to leave her room, Steenie constituted himself her slave, and was ever within her call. He seemed always to know when she would prefer having him in sight, and when she would rather be alone. He would sit for an hour at the other end of the room, and watch her like a dog without moving. He could have sat so all day, but, as soon as she was able to move about, nothing could keep Phemy in one place more than an hour at the utmost. By this time Steenie could read a little, and his reading was by no means as fruitless as it was slow; he would sit reading, nor at all lose his labour that, every other moment when within sight of her, he would look up to see if she wanted anything. To this mute attendance of love the girl became so accustomed that she regarded it as her right, nor had ever the spoiled little creature occasion to imagine that it was not yielded her; and if at a rare moment she threw him glance or small smile—a crumb from her table to her dog—Steenie would for one joyous instant see into the seventh heaven, and all the day after dwell in the fifth or sixth. On fine clear noontides she would walk a little way with him and Snootie, and then he would talk to her as he had never done except to Kirsty, telling her wonderful things about the dog and the sheep, the stars and the night, the clouds and the moon; but he never spoke to her of the bonny man. When, on their return, she would say they had had a pleasant walk together, his delight would be unutterable; but all the time Steenie had not once ventured a word belonging to any of the deeper thoughts in which his heart was most at home. Was it that in his own eyes he was but a worm glorified with the boon of serving an angel? was it that he felt as if she knew everything of that kind, and he had nothing to tell her but the things that entered at his eyes and ears? or was it that a sacred instinct of her incapacity for holy things kept him silent concerning such? At times he would look terribly sad, and the mood would last for hours.

Not once since she began to get better, had Phemy alluded to her faithless lover. In its departure her illness seemed to have carried with it her unwholesome love for him; and certainly, as if overjoyed at her deliverance, she had become much more of a child. Kirsty was glad for her sake, and gladder still that Francie Gordon had done her no irreparable injury—seemed not even to have left his simulacrum in her memory and imagination. As her strength returned, she regained the childish merriment which had always drawn Kirsty, and the more strongly that she was not herself light-hearted. Kirsty's rare laugh was indeed a merry one, but when happiest of all she hardly smiled. Perhaps she never would laugh her own laugh until she opened her eyes in heaven! But how can any one laugh his real best laugh before that! Until then he does not even know his name!

Phemy seemed more pleased to see her father every time he came; and Kirsty began to hope she would tell him the trouble she had gone through. But then Kirsty had a perfect faith in her father, and a girl like Phemy never has! Her father, besides, had never been father enough to her. He had been invariably kind and trusting, but his books had been more to his hourly life than his daughter. He had never drawn her to him, never given her opportunity of coming really near him. No story, however, ends in this world. The first volume may have been very dull, and yet the next be full of delight.



CHAPTER XXI

PHEMY YIELDS PLACE

It was the last week in November when the doctor came himself to take Phemy home to her father. The day was bright and blue, with a thin carpet of snow on the ground, beneath which the roads were in good condition. While she was getting ready, old David went out and talked to the doctor who would not go in, his wrinkled face full of light, and his heart glad with the same gladness as Kirsty's.

Mrs. Barclay and Kirsty busied themselves about Phemy, who was as playful and teasing as a pet kitten while they dressed her, but Steenie kept in the darkest corner, watching every thing, but offering no unneeded help. Without once looking or asking for him, never missing him in fact, Phemy climbed, with David's aid, into the gig beside the doctor, at once began talking to him, and never turned her head as they drove away. The moment he heard the sound of the horse's hoofs, Steenie came quietly from the gloom and went out of the back-door, thinking no eye was upon him. But his sister's heart was never off him, and her eyes were oftener on him than he knew.

Of late he had begun again to go to the hill at night, and Kirsty feared his old trouble might be returning. Glad as she was to serve Phemy, and the father through the daughter, she was far from regretting her departure, for now she would have leisure for Steenie and her books, and now the family would gather itself once more into the perfect sphere to which drop and ocean alike desires to shape itself!

'I thoucht ye wud be efter me!' cried Steenie, as she opened the door of his burrow, within an hour of his leaving the house.

Now Kirsty had expected to find him full of grief because of Phemy's going, especially as the heartless girl, for such Steenie's sister could not help thinking her, never said good-bye to her most loving slave. And she did certainly descry on his countenance traces of emotion, and in his eyes the lingering trouble as of a storm all but overblown. There was however in his face the light as of a far sunk aurora, the outmost rim of whose radiance, doubtfully visible, seemed to encircle his whole person. He was not lost in any gloom! She sat down beside him, and waited for him to speak.

Never doubting she would follow him, he had already built up a good peat-fire on the hearth, and placed for her beside it a low settle which his father had made for him, and he had himself covered with a sheepskin of thickest fleece. They sat silent for a while.

'Wud ye say noo, Kirsty, 'at I was ony use til her?' he asked at length.

'Jist a heap,' answered Kirsty. 'I kenna what ever she or I wud hae dune wantin ye! She nott (needed) a heap o' luikin til!'

'And ye think mebbe she'll be some the better, some way or ither, for 't?'

'Ay, I div think that, Steenie. But to tell the trowth, I'm no sure she'll think verra aft aboot what ye did for her!'

'Ow, na! What for sud she? There's no need for that! It was for hersel, no for her think-aboot-it, I tried. I was jist fain to du something like wash the feet o' her. Whan I cam in that day—the day efter ye broucht her hame, ye ken—the luik of her puir, bonny, begrutten facy jist turnt my hert ower i' the mids o' me. I maist think, gien I hadna been able to du onything for her afore she gaed, I wud hae come hame here to my ain hoose like a deein sheep, and lain doon. Yon face o' hers comes back til me noo like the face o' a lost lammie 'at the shepherd didna think worth gaein oot to luik for. But gien I had sic a sair hert for her, the bonny man maun hae had a sairer, and he'll du for her what he can—and that maun be muckle—muckle! They ca' 'im the gude Shepherd, ye ken!'

He sat silent for some minutes, and Kirsty's heart was too full to let her speak. She could only say to her-self—'And folk ca's him half-wuttit, div they! Weel, lat them! Gien he be half-wuttit, the Lord's made up the ither half wi' better!'

'Ay!' resumed Steenie, 'the gude shepherd tynes (loses) no ane o' them a'! But I'll miss her dreidfu'! Eh, but I likit to watch the wan bit facy grow and grow till 't was roon' and rosy again! And, eh, sic a bonny reid and white as it was! And better yet I likit to see yon hert-brakin luik o' the lost are weirin aye awa and awa till 't was clean gane!—And noo she's back til her father, bricht and licht and bonny as the lown starry nicht!—Eh, but it maks me happy to think o' 't!'

'Sae it maks me!' responded Kirsty, feeling, as she regarded him, like a glorified mother beholding her child walking in the truth.

'And noo,' continued Steenie, 'I'm richt glaid she's gane, and my min' 'll be mair at ease gien I tell ye what for:—I maun aye tell you a'thing 'at 'll bide tellin, Kirsty, ye ken!—Weel, a week or twa ago, I began to be troubled as I never was troubled afore. I canna weel say what was the cause o' 't, or the kin' o' thing it was, but something had come that I didna want to come, and couldna keep awa. Maybe ye'll ken what it was like whan I tell ye 'at I was aye think-thinkin aboot Phemy. Noo, afore she cam, I was maist aye thinkin aboot the bonny man; and it wasna that there was ony sic necessity for thinkin aboot Phemy, for by that time she was oot o' her meesery, whatever that was, or whatever had the wyte (blame) o' 't. I' the time afore her, whan my min' wud grow a bit quaiet, and the pooers o' darkness wud draw themsels awa a bit, aye wud come the face o' the bonny man intil the toom place, and fill me fresh up wi' the houp o' seein him or lang; but noo, at ilka moment, up wud come, no the face o' the bonny man, but the face o' Phemy; and I didna like that, and I cudna help it. And a scraichin fear grippit me, 'at I was turnin fause to the bonny man. It wisna that I thoucht he wud be vext wi' me, but that I cudna bide onything to come atween me and him. I teuk mysel weel ower the heckles, but I cudna mak oot 'at I cud a'thegither help it. Ye see, somehoo, no bein made a'thegither like ither fowk, I cudna think aboot twa things at ance, and I bude to think aboot the ane that cam o' 'tsel like. But, as I say, it troubled me. Weel, the day, my hert was sair at her gangin awa, for I had been lang used to seein her ilka hoor, maist ilka minute; and the ae wuss i' my hert at the time was to du something worth duin for her, and syne dee and hae dune wi' 't—and there, I doobt, I clean forgot the bonny man! Whan she got intil the doctor's gig and awa they drave, my hert grew cauld; I was like ane deid and beginnin to rot i' the grave. But that minute I h'ard, or it was jist as gien I h'ard—I dinna mean wi' my lugs, but i' my hert, ye ken—a v'ice cry, "Steenie! Steenie!" and I cried lood oot, "Comin, Lord!" but I kent weel eneuch the v'ice was inside o' me, and no i' my heid, but i' my hert—and nane the less i' me for that! Sae awa at ance I cam to my closet here, and sat doon, and hearkent i' the how o' my hert. Never a word cam, but I grew quaiet—eh, sae quaiet and content like, wi'oot onything to mak me sae, but maybe 'at he was thinkin aboot me! And I'm quaiet yet. And as sune 's it's dark, I s' gang oot and see whether the bonny man be onywhaur aboot. There's naething atween him and me noo; for, the moment I begin to think, it's him 'at comes to be thoucht aboot, and no Phemy ony mair!'

'Steenie,' said Kirsty, 'it was the bonny man sent Phemy til ye—to gie ye something to du for him, luikin efter ane o' his silly lambs.'

'Ay,' returned Steenie; 'I ken she wasna wiselike, sic as you and my mither. She needit a heap o' luikin efter, as ye said.'

'And wi' haein to luik efter her, he kenned that the thouchts that troubled ye wudna sae weel win in, and wud learn to bide oot. Jist luik at ye noo! See hoo ye hae learnt to luik efter yersel! Ye saw it cudna be agreeable to her to hae ye aboot her no that weel washed, and wi' claes ye didna keep tidy and clean! Sin' ever ye tuik to luikin efter Phemy, I hae had little trouble luikin efter you!'

'I see't, Kirsty, I see't! I never thoucht o' the thing afore! I micht du a heap to mak mysel mair like ither fowk! I s' no forget, noo 'at I hae gotten a grip o' the thing. Ye'll see, Kirsty!'

'That's my ain Steenie!' answered Kirsty. 'Maybe the bonny man cudna be aye comin to ye himsel, haein ither fowk a heap to luik til, and sae sent Phemy to lat ye ken what he would hae o' ye. Noo 'at ye hae begun, ye'll be growin mair and mair like ither fowk.'

'Eh, but ye fleg me! I may grow ower like ither fowk! I maun awa oot, Kirsty! I'm growin fleyt.'

'What for, Steenie?' cried Kirsty, not a little frightened herself, and laying her hand on his arm. She feared his old trouble was returning in force.

''Cause ither fowk never sees the bonny man, they tell me,' he replied.

'That's their ain wyte,' answered Kirsty. 'They micht a' see him gien they wud—or at least hear him say they sud see him or lang.'

'Eh, but I'm no sure 'at ever I did see him, Kirsty!'

'That winna haud ye ohn seen him whan the hoor comes. And the like's true o' the lave.'

'Ay, for I canna du wantin him—and sae nouther can they!'

'Naebody can. A' maun hae seen him, or be gaein to see him.'

'I hae as guid as seen him, Kirsty! He was there! He helpit me whan the ill folk cam to pu' at me!—Ye div think though, Kirsty, 'at I'm b'un' to see him some day?'

'I'm thinkin the hoor's been aye set for that same!' answered Kirsty.

'Kirsty,' returned Steenie, not quite satisfied with her reply, 'I'll gang clean oot the wuts I hae, gien ye tell me I'm never to see him face to face!'

'Steenie,' rejoined Kirsty solemnly, 'I wud gang oot o' my wuts mysel gien I didna believe that! I believe 't wi' a' my heart, my bonny man.'

'Weel, and that's a' richt! But ye maunna ca' me yer bonny man, Kirsty; for there's but ae bonny man, and we 're a' brithers and sisters. He said it himsel!'

'That's verra true, Steenie; but whiles ye're sae like him I canna help ca'in ye by his name.'

'Dinna du't again, Kirsty. I canna bide it. I'm no bonny! No but I wud sair like to be bonny—bonny like him, Kirsty!—Did ye ever hear tell 'at he had a father? I h'ard a man ance say 'at he bed. Sic a bonny man as that father maun be! Jist think o' his haein a son like him!— Dauvid Barclay maun be richt sair disappintit wi' sic a son as me—and him sic a man himsel! What for is't, Kirsty?'

'That 'll be are o' the secrets the bonny man's gaein to tell his ain fowk whan he gets them hame wi' him!'

'His ain fowk, Kirsty?'

'Ay, siclike's you and me. Whan we gang hame, he'll tell's a' aboot a heap o' things we wad fain ken.'

'His ain fowk! His ain fowk!' Steenie went on for a while murmuring to himself at intervals. At last he said,

'What maks them his ain fowk, Kirsty?'

'What maks me your fowk, Steenie?' she rejoined.

'That's easy to tell! It's 'cause we hae the same father and mither; I hae aye kenned that!' answered Steenie with a laugh.

She had been trying to puzzle him, he thought, but had failed!

'Weel, the bonny man and you and me, we hae a' the same father: that's what maks us his ain fowk!—Ye see noo?'

'Ay, I see! I see!' responded Steenie, and again was silent.

Kirsty thought he had plenty now to meditate upon.

'Are ye comin hame wi' me,' she asked, 'or are ye gaein to bide, Steenie?'

'I'll gang hame wi' ye, gien ye like, but I wud raither bide the nicht,' he answered. 'I'll hae jist this ae nicht mair oot upo' the hill, and syne the morn I'll come hame to the hoose, and see gien I can help my mither, or maybe my father. That's what the bonny man wud like best, I'm sure.'

Kirsty went home with a glad heart: surely Steenie was now in a fair way of becoming, as he phrased it, 'like ither fowk'! 'But the Lord's gowk's better nor the warl's prophet!' she said to herself.



CHAPTER XXII

THE HORN

The beginning of the winter had been open and warm, and very little snow had fallen. This was much in Phemy's favour, and by the new year she was quite well. But, notwithstanding her heartlessness toward Steenie, she was no longer quite like her old self. She was quieter and less foolish; she had had a lesson in folly, and a long ministration of love, and knew now a trifle about both. It is true she wrote nearly as much silly poetry, but it was not so silly as before, partly because her imagination had now something of fact to go upon, and poorest fact is better than mere fancy. So free was her heart, however, that she went of herself to see her aunt at the castle, to whom, having beheld the love between David and his daughter, and begun to feel injured by the little notice her father took of her, she bewailed his indifference.

At Mrs. Bremner's request she had made an appointment to go with her from the castle on a certain Saturday to visit a distant relative, living in a lonely cottage on the other side of the Horn—a woman too old ever to leave her home. When the day arrived, both saw that the weather gave signs of breaking, but the heavy clouds on the horizon seemed no worse than had often shown themselves that winter, and as often passed away. The air was warm, the day bright, the earth dry, and Phemy and her aunt were in good spirits. They had purposed to return early to Weelset, but agreed as they went that Phemy, the days being so short, should take the nearer path to Tiltowie, over the Horn. By this arrangement, their visit ended, they had no great distance to walk together, Mrs. Bremner's way lying along the back of the hill, and Phemy's over the nearer shoulder of it.

As they took leave of each other a little later than they had intended, Mrs. Bremner cast a glance at the gathering clouds, and said,

'I doobt, lassie, it's gaein to ding on afore the nicht! I wuss we war hame the twa o' 's! Gien it cam on to snaw and blaw baith, we micht hae ill winnin there!'

'Noucht's to fear, auntie,' returned Phemy. 'It's a heap ower warm to snaw. It may rain—I wudna won'er, but there'll be nae snaw—no afore I win hame, onygait.'

'Weel, min', gien there be ae drap o' weet, ye maun change ilka stic the minute ye're i' the hoose. Ye're no that stoot yet!'

'I'll be sure, auntie!' answered Phemy, and they parted almost at a right angle.

Before Phemy got to the top of the hill-shoulder, which she had to cross by a path no better than a sheep-track, the wind had turned to the north, and was blowing keen, with gathering strength, from the regions of everlasting ice, bringing with it a cold terrible to be faced by such a slight creature as Phemy; and so rapidly did its force increase that in a few minutes she had to fight for every step she took; so that, when at length she reached the top, which lay bare to the continuous torrent of fierce and fiercer rushes, her strength was already all but exhausted. The wind brought up heavier and heavier snow-clouds, and darkness with them, but before ever the snow began to fall, Phemy was in evil case—in worse case, indeed, than she could know. In a few minutes the tempest had blown all energy out of her, and she sat down where was not a stone to shelter her. When she rose, afraid to sit longer, she could no more see the track through the heather than she could tell without it in which direction to turn. She began to cry, but the wind did not heed her tears; it seemed determined to blow her away. And now came the snow, filling the wind faster and faster, until at length the frightful blasts had in them, perhaps, more bulk of blinding and dizzying snowflakes than of the air which drove them. They threatened between them to fix her there in a pillar of snow. It would have been terrible indeed for Phemy on that waste hillside, but that the cold and the tempest speedily stupefied her.

Kirsty always enjoyed the winter heartily. For one thing, it roused her poetic faculty—oh, how different in its outcome from Phemy's!—far more than the summer. That very afternoon, leaving Steenie with his mother, she paid a visit to the weem, and there, in the heart of the earth, made the following little song, addressed to the sky-soaring lark:—

What gars ye sing sae, birdie, As gien ye war lord o' the lift? On breid ye're an unco sma' lairdie, But in hicht ye've a kingly gift!

A' ye hae to coont yersel rich in, 'S a wee mawn o' glory-motes! The whilk to the throne ye're aye hitchin Wi' a lang tow o' sapphire notes!

Ay, yer sang's the sang o' an angel For a sinfu' thrapple no meet, Like the pipes til a heavenly braingel Whaur they dance their herts intil their feet!

But though ye canna behaud, birdie, Ye needna gar a'thing wheesht! I'm noucht but a herplin herdie, But I hae a sang i' my breist!

Len' me yer throat to sing throuw, Len' me yer wings to gang hie, And I'll sing ye a sang a laverock to cow, And for bliss to gar him dee!

Long before she had finished writing it, the world was dark outside. She had heard but little heeded the roaring of the wind over her: when at length she put her head up out of the earth, it seized her by the hair as if it would drag it off. It took her more than an hour to get home.

In the meantime Steenie had been growing restless. Coming wind often affected him so. He had been out with his father, who expected a storm, to see that all was snug about byres and stables, and feed the few sheep in an outhouse; now he had come in, and was wandering about the house, when his mother prevailed on him to sit down by the fireside with her. The clouds had gathered thick, and the afternoon was very dark, but all was as yet still. He called his dog, and Snootie lay down at his feet, ready for what might come. Steenie sat on a stool, with his head on his mother's knee, and for a while seemed lost in thought. Then, without moving or looking up, he said, as if thinking aloud,—

'It maun be fine fun up there amang thae cloods afore the flauks begin to spread!'

'What mean ye by that, Steenie, my man?' asked his mother.

'They maun be packit sae close, sae unco close i' their muckle pocks, like the feathers in a feather-bed! and syne, whan they lat them a' oot thegither, like haudin the bed i' their twa ban's by the boddom corners, they maun be smorin thick till they begin to spread!'

'And wha think ye shaks oot the muckle pocks, Steenie?'

'I dinna ken. I hae aften thoucht aboot it. I dinna think it's likly to be the angels. It's mair like wark for the bairnies up yoner at the muckle ferm at hame, whaur ilk ane, to the littlest littlin, kens what he's aboot, and no ane o' them's like some o' 's doon here, 'at gangs a' day in a dream, and canna get oorsels waukent oot o' 't. I wud be surer but that I hae thoucht whiles I saw the muckle angels themsels gaein aboot, throu and throu the ondingin flauchter o' the snaw—no mony o' them, ye ken, but jist whiles ane and whiles anither, throu amo' the cauld feathers, gaein aye straught wi' their heids up, walkin comfortable, as gien they war at hame in't. I'm thinkin at sic a time they'll be efter helpin some puir body 'at the snaw's like to be ower muckle for. Eh me! gien I cud but get rid o' my feet, and win up to see!'

'What for yer feet, Steenie? What ails ye aye at yer feet? Feet's gey usefu' kin o' thing's to craturs, whether gien them in fours or twas!'

'Ay, but mine's sic a weicht! It's them 'at's aye haudin me doon! I wad hae been up and awa lang syne gien it hadna been for them!'

'And what wud hae been comin o' hiz wantin ye, Steenie?'

'Ye wad be duin sae weel wantin me, 'at ye wud be aye wantin to be up and efter me! A body's feet's nae doobt usefu to hand a body steady, and ohn gane blawin aboot, but eh, they're unco cummarsum! But syne they're unco guid tu to hand a body ohn thoucht owre muckle o' himsel! They're fine heumblin things, a body's feet! But, eh, it'll be fine wantin them!'

'Whaur on earth gat ye sic notions aboot yer feet? Guid kens there's naething amiss wi' yer feet! Nouther o' ye hes ony rizzon to be ashamit o' yer feet. The fac is, your feet's by ordinar sma', Steenie, and can add but unco little to yer weicht!'

'It's a' 'at ye ken, mother!' answered Steenie with a smile. 'But, 'deed, I got my information aboot the feet o' fowk frae naegate i' this warl'! The bonny man himsel sent word aboot them. He tellt the minister 'at tellt me, ance I was at the kirk wi' you, mother—lang, lang syne— twa or three hun'er years, I'm thinkin'. The bonny man tellt his ain fowk first that he was gaein awa in order that they michtna be able to do wantin him, and bude to stir themselves and come up efter him. And syne he slippit aff his feet, and gaed awa up intil the air whaur the snaw comes frae. And ever sin syne he comes and gangs as he likes. And efter that be telled the minister to tell hiz 'at we was to lay aside the weicht that sae easy besets us, and rin. Noo by rin he maun hae meaned rin up, for a body's no to rin frae the deevil but resist him; and what is't that hauds onybody frae rinnin up the air but his feet? There!—But he's promised to help me aff wi' my feet some day: think o' that!—Eh, gien I cud but get my feet aff! Eh, gien they wad but stick i' my shune, and gang wi' them whan I pu' them aff! They're naething efter a', ye ken, but the shune o' my sowl!'

A gust of wind drove against the house, and sank as suddenly.

'That'll be ane o' them!' said Steenie, rising hastily. 'He'll be wantin me! It's no that aften they want onything o' me ayont the fair words a' God's craturs luik for frae ane anither, but whiles they do want me, and I'm thinkin they want me the nicht. I maun be gaein!'

'Hoots, laddie!' returned his mother, 'what can they be wantin, thae gran' offishers, o' siclike as you? Sit ye doon, and bide till they cry ye plain. I wud fain hae ye safe i' the hoose the nicht!'

'It's a' his hoose, mother! A' theroot's therein to him. He's in's ain hoose a' the time, and I'm jist as safe atween his wa's as atween yours. Didna naebody ever tell ye that, mother? Weel, I ken it to be true! And for wantin sic like as me, gien God never has need o' a midge, what for dis he mak sic a lot o' them?'

''Deed it's true eneuch ye say!' returned his mother. 'But I div won'er ye're no fleyt!'

'Fleyt!' rejoined Steenie; 'what for wud I be fleyt? What is there to be fleyt at? I never was fleyt at face o' man or wuman—na, nor o' beast naither!—I was ance, and never but that ance, fleyt at the face o' a bairn!'

'And what for that, Steenie?

'He was rinnin efter his wee sister to lick her, and his face was the face o' a deevil. He nearhan' garred me hate him, and that wud hae been a terrible sin. But, eh, puir laddie, he bed a richt fearsome wife to the mither o' him! I'm thinkin the bonny man maun hae a heap o' tribble wi' siclike, be they bairns or mithers!'

'Eh, but ye're i' the richt there, laddie!—Noo hearken to me: ye maunna gang the nicht!' said his mother anxiously. 'Gien yer father and Kirsty wad but come in to persuaud ye! I'm clean lost wi'oot them!'

'For the puir idiot hasna the sense to ken what's wantit o' him!' supplemented Steenie, with a laugh almost merry.

'Daur ye,' cried his mother indignantly, 'mint at sic a word and my bairn thegither? He's my bonny man!'

'Na, mother, na! He's the bonny man at wha's feet I sall ae day sit, clothed and i' my richt min'. He is the bonny man!'

'Thank the Lord,' continued his mother, still harping on the outrage of such as called her child an idiot,' 'at ye're no an orphan—'at there's three o' 's to tak yer part!'

'Naebody can be an orphan,' said Steenie, 'sae lang's God's nae deid.'

'Lord, and they ca' ye an idiot, div they!' exclaimed Marion Barclay.— 'Weel, be ye or no, ye're ane o' the babes in wha's mooth he perfecteth praise!'

'He'll du that some day, maybe!' answered Steenie.

'But! eh, Steenie,' pursued his mother, 'ye winna gang the nicht!'

'Mother,' he answered, 'ye dinna ken, nor yet do I, what to mak o' me— what wits I hae, and what wits I haena; but this ye'll alloo, that, for onything ye ken, the bonny man may be cryin upon me to gang efter some puir little yowie o' his, oot her lane i' the storm the nicht!'

With these words he walked gently from the kitchen, his dog following him.

A terrible blast rushed right into the fire when he opened the door. But he shut it behind him easily, and his mother comforted herself that she had known him out in worse weather. Kirsty entered a moment after, and when her father came in from the loft he called his workshop, they had their tea, and sat round the fire after it, peacefully talking, a little troubled, but nowise uneasy that their Steenie, the darling of them all, was away on the Horn: he knew every foot of its sides better than the collie who, a moment ago asleep before the fire, was now following at his master's heel.

The wind, which had fallen immediately after the second gust as after the first, now began to blow with gathering force, and it took Steenie much longer than usual to make his way over height and hollow from his father's house to his own. But he was in no hurry, not knowing where he was wanted. I do not think he met any angels as he went, but it was a pleasure to think they might be about somewhere, for they were sorry for his heavy feet, and always greeted him kindly. Not that they ever spoke to him, he said, but they always made a friendly gesture—nodding a stately head, waving a strong hand, or sending him a waft of cool air as they went by, a waft that would come to him through the fiercest hurricane as well as through the stillest calm.

Before, strong-toiling against the wind, man and dog reached their refuge among the rocks, the snow had begun to fall, and the night seemed solid with blackness. The very flakes might have been black as the snow of hell for any gleam they gave. But they arrived at last, and Steenie, making Snootie go in before him, entered the low door with bent head, and closed it behind them. The dog lay down weary, but Steenie set about lighting the peats ready piled between the great stones of the hearth. The wind howled over the waste hill in multitudinous whirls, and swept like a level cataract over the ghastly bog at its foot, but scarce a puff blew against the door of their burrow.

When his fire was well alight, Steenie seated himself by it on the sheepskin settle, and fell into a reverie. How long he had sat thus he did not know, when suddenly the wind fell, and with the lull master and dog started together to their feet: was it indeed a cry they had heard, or but a moan between wind and mountain? The dog flew to the door with a whine, and began to sniff and scratch at the crack of the threshold; Steenie, thinking it was still dark, went to get a lantern Kirsty had provided him with, but which he had never yet had occasion to use. The dog ran back to him, and began jumping upon him, indicating thus in the dark recess where he found him that he wanted him to open the door. A moment more and they were in the open universe, in a night all of snow, lighted by the wide swooning gleam of a hidden moon, whose radiance, almost absorbed, came filtering through miles of snow-cloud to reach the world. Nothing but snow was to be seen in heaven or earth, but for the present no more was falling. Steenie set the lighted lantern by the door, and followed Snootie, who went sniffing and snuffing about.

Steenie always regarded inferior animals, and especially dogs, as a lower sort of angels, with ways of their own, into which it would be time to inquire by and by, when either they could talk or he could bark intelligently and intelligibly—in which it used to annoy him that he had not yet succeeded. It was in part his intense desire to enter into the thoughts of his dog, that used to make him imitate him the most of the day. I think he put his body as nearly into the shape of the dog's as he could, in order thus to aid his mind in feeling as the dog was feeling.

As the dog seemed to have no scent of anything, Steenie, after considering for a moment what he must do, began to walk in a spiral, beginning from the door, with the house for the centre. He had thus got out of the little valley on to the open hill, and the wind had begun to threaten reawaking, when Snootie, who was a little way to one side of him, stopped short, and began scratching like a fury in the snow. Steenie ran to him, and dropped on his knees to help him: he had already got a part of something clear! It was the arm of a woman. So deep was the snow over her, that the cry he and the dog had heard, could not surely have been uttered by her! He was gently clearing the snow from the head, and the snow-like features were vaguely emerging, when the wind gave a wild howl, the night grew dark again, and in bellowing blackness the death-silent snow was upon them. But in a moment or two more, with Snootie's vigorous aid, he had drawn the body of a slight, delicately formed woman out of it's cold, white mould. Somehow, with difficulty, he got it on his back, the only way he could carry it, and staggered away with it toward his house. Thus laden, he might never have found it, near as it was, for he was not very strong, and the ground was very rough as well as a little deep in snow, but they had left such a recent track that the guidance of the dog was sure. The wise creature did not, however, follow the long track, but led pretty straight across the spiral for the hut.

The body grew heavy on poor Steenie's back, and the cold of it came through to his spine. It was so cold that it must be a dead thing, he thought. His breathing grew very short, compelling him, several times, to stop and rest. His legs became insensible under him, and his feet got heavier and heavier in the snow-filled, entangling, impeding heather.

What if it were Phemy! he thought as he struggled on. Then he would have the beautiful thing all to himself! But this was a dead thing, he feared—only a thing, and no woman at all! Of course it couldn't be Phemy! She was at home, asleep in her father's house! He had always shrunk from death; even a dead mouse he could not touch without a shudder; but this was a woman, and might come alive! It belonged to the bonny man, anyhow, and he would stay out with it all night rather than have it lie there alone in the snow! He would not be afraid of her: he was nearly dead himself, and the dead were not afraid of the dead! She had only put off her shoes! But she might be alive, and he must get her into the house! He would like to put off his feet, but most people would rather keep them on, and he must try to keep hers on for her!

With fast failing energy he reached the door, staggered in, dropped his burden gently on his own soft heather-bed, and fell exhausted. He lay but a moment, came to himself, rose, and looked at the lovely thing he had laboured to redeem from 'cold obstruction.' It lay just as it had fallen from his back, its face uppermost: it was Phemy!

For a moment his blood seemed to stand still; then all the divine senses of the half-witted returned to him. There was no time to be sorrowful over her: he must save the life that might yet be in that frozen form! He had nothing in the house except warmth, but warmth more than aught else was what the cold thing needed! With trembling hands he took off her half-thawed clothes, laid her in the thick blankets of his bed, and covered her with every woollen thing in the hut. Then he made up a large fire, in the hope that some of its heat might find her.

She showed no sign of life. Her eyes were fast shut: those who die of cold only sleep into a deeper sleep. Not a trace of suffering was to be seen on her countenance. Death alone, pure, calm, cold, and sweet, was there. But Steenie had never seen Death, and there was room for him to doubt and hope. He laid one fold of a blanket over the lovely white face, as he had seen a mother do with a sleeping infant, called his dog, made him lie down on her feet, and told him to watch; then turned away, and went to the door. As he passed the fire, he coughed and grew faint, but recovering himself, picked up his fallen stick, and set out for Corbyknowe and Kirsty. Once more the wind had ceased, but the snow was yet falling.



CHAPTER XXIII

THE STORM AGAIN

Kirsty woke suddenly out of a deep, dreamless sleep. A white face was bending over her—Steenie's—whiter than ever Kirsty had seen it. He was panting, and his eyes were huge. She started up.

'Come; come!' was all he was able to say.

'What's the metter, Steenie?' she gasped. For a quarter of a minute he stood panting, unable to speak.

'I'm no thinkin onything's gane wrong,' he faltered at length with an effort, recovering breath and speech a little. 'The bonny man—'

He burst into tears and turned his head away. A vision of the white, lovely, motionless thing, whose hand had fallen from his like a lump of lead, lying alone at the top of the Horn, with the dog on her feet, had overwhelmed him suddenly.

Kirsty was sore distressed. She dreaded the worst when she saw him thus lose the self-restraint hitherto so remarkable in him. She leaned from her bed, threw her arms round him, and drew him to her, kneeled, laid his head on her bosom, and wept as she had never known him weep.

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