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Ranald Bannerman's Boyhood
by George MacDonald
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I'm sorry grannie's so hard to make it up."

"I deserve it," I said. "Elsie, I'm a brute. I could knock my head on the wall. Please forgive me."

"It's not me," she answered. "You didn't hurt me. I didn't mind it."

"Oh, Elsie! I struck you with that horrid snowball."

"It was only on the back of my neck. It didn't hurt me much. It only frightened me."

"I didn't know it was you. If I had known, I am sure I shouldn't have done it. But it was wicked and contemptible anyhow, to any girl."

I broke down again, half from shame, half from the happiness of having cast my sin from me by confessing it. Elsie held my hand now.

"Never mind; never mind," she said; "you won't do it again."

"I would rather be hanged," I sobbed.

That moment a pair of strong hands caught hold of mine, and the next I found myself being hoisted on somebody's back, by a succession of heaves and pitches, which did not cease until I was firmly seated. Then a voice said—

"I'm his horse again, Elsie, and I'll carry him home this very night."

Elsie gave a pleased little laugh; and Turkey bore me to the fireside, where my father was talking away in a low tone to the old woman. I believe he had now turned the tables upon her, and was trying to convince her of her unkind and grumbling ways. But he did not let us hear a word of the reproof.

"Eh! Turkey, my lad! is that you? I didn't know you were there," he said.

I had never before heard my father address him as Turkey.

"What are you doing with that great boy upon your back?" he continued.

"I'm going to carry him home, sir."

"Nonsense! He can walk well enough."

Half ashamed, I began to struggle to get down, but Turkey held me tight.

"But you see, sir," said Turkey, "we're friends now. He's done what he could, and I want to do what I can."

"Very well," returned my father, rising; "come along; it's time we were going."

When he bade her good night, the old woman actually rose and held out her hand to both of us.

"Good night, Grannie," said Turkey. "Good night, Elsie." And away we went.

Never conqueror on his triumphal entry was happier than I, as through the starry night I rode home on Turkey's back. The very stars seemed rejoicing over my head. When I think of it now, the words always come with it, "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth," and I cannot but believe they rejoiced then, for if ever I repented in my life I repented then. When at length I was down in bed beside Davie, it seemed as if there could be nobody in the world so blessed as I was: I had been forgiven. When I woke in the morning, I was as it were new born into a new world. Before getting up I had a rare game with Davie, whose shrieks of laughter at length brought Mrs. Mitchell with angry face; but I found myself kindly disposed even towards her. The weather was much the same; but its dreariness had vanished. There was a glowing spot in my heart which drove out the cold, and glorified the black frost that bound the earth. When I went out before breakfast, and saw the red face of the sun looking through the mist like a bright copper kettle, he seemed to know all about it, and to be friends with me as he had never been before; and I was quite as well satisfied as if the sun of my dream had given me a friendly nod of forgiveness.



CHAPTER XX

I Have a Fall and a Dream

Elsie Duff's father was a farm-labourer, with a large family. He was what is called a cottar in Scotland, which name implies that of the large farm upon which he worked for yearly wages he had a little bit of land to cultivate for his own use. His wife's mother was Grannie Gregson. She was so old that she needed someone to look after her, but she had a cottage of her own in the village, and would not go and live with her daughter, and, indeed, they were not anxious to have her, for she was not by any means a pleasant person. So there was no help for it: Elsie must go and be her companion. It was a great trial to her at first, for her home was a happy one, her mother being very unlike her grandmother; and, besides, she greatly preferred the open fields to the streets of the village. She did not grumble, however, for where is the good of grumbling where duty is plain, or even when a thing cannot be helped? She found it very lonely though, especially when her grannie was in one of her gloomy moods. Then she would not answer a question, but leave the poor girl to do what she thought best, and complain of it afterwards. This was partly the reason why her parents, towards the close of the spring, sent a little brother, who was too delicate to be of much use at home, to spend some months with his grannie, and go to school. The intention had been that Elsie herself should go to school, but what with the cow and her grandmother together she had not been able to begin. Of course grannie grumbled at the proposal, but, as Turkey, my informant on these points, explained, she was afraid lest, if she objected, they should take Elsie away and send a younger sister in her place. So little Jamie Duff came to the school.

He was a poor little white-haired, red-eyed boy, who found himself very much out of his element there. Some of the bigger boys imagined it good fun to tease him; but on the whole he was rather a favourite, for he looked so pitiful, and took everything so patiently. For my part, I was delighted at the chance of showing Elsie Duff some kindness through her brother. The girl's sweetness clung to me, and not only rendered it impossible for me to be rude to any girl, but kept me awake to the occurrence of any opportunity of doing something for her sake. Perceiving one day, before the master arrived, that Jamie was shivering with cold, I made way for him where I stood by the fire; and then found that he had next to nothing upon his little body, and that the soles of his shoes were hanging half off. This in the month of March in the north of Scotland was bad enough, even if he had not had a cough. I told my father when I went home, and he sent me to tell Mrs. Mitchell to look out some old garments of Allister's for him; but she declared there were none. When I told Turkey this he looked very grave, but said nothing. When I told my father, he desired me to take the boy to the tailor and shoemaker, and get warm and strong clothes and shoes made for him. I was proud enough of the commission, and if I did act the grand benefactor a little, I have not yet finished the penance of it, for it never comes into my mind without bringing its shame with it. Of how many people shall I not have to beg the precious forgiveness when I meet them in the other world! For the sake of this penal shame, I confess I let the little fellow walk behind me, as I took him through the streets. Perhaps I may say this for myself, that I never thought of demanding any service of him in return for mine: I was not so bad as that. And I was true in heart to him notwithstanding my pride, for I had a real affection for him. I had not seen his sister—to speak to I mean—since that Sunday night.

One Saturday afternoon, as we were having a game something like hare and hounds, I was running very hard through the village, when I set my foot on a loose stone, and had a violent fall. When I got up, I saw Jamie Duff standing by my side, with a face of utter consternation. I discovered afterwards that he was in the way of following me about. Finding the blood streaming down my face, and remarking when I came to myself a little that I was very near the house where Turkey's mother lived, I crawled thither, and up the stairs to her garret, Jamie following in silence. I found her busy as usual at her wheel, and Elsie Duff stood talking to her, as if she had just run in for a moment and must not sit down. Elsie gave a little cry when she saw the state I was in, and Turkey's mother got up and made me take her chair while she hastened to get some water. I grew faint, and lost my consciousness. When I came to myself I was leaning against Elsie, whose face was as white as a sheet with dismay. I took a little water and soon began to revive.

When Turkey's mother had tied up my head, I rose to go home, but she persuaded me to lie down a while. I was not unwilling to comply. What a sense of blissful repose pervaded me, weary with running, and perhaps faint with loss of blood, when I stretched myself on the bed, whose patchwork counterpane, let me say for Turkey's mother, was as clean as any down quilt in chambers of the rich. I remember so well how a single ray of sunlight fell on the floor from the little window in the roof, just on the foot that kept turning the spinning-wheel. Its hum sounded sleepy in my ears. I gazed at the sloping ray of light, in which the ceaseless rotation of the swift wheel kept the motes dancing most busily, until at length to my half-closed eyes it became a huge Jacob's ladder, crowded with an innumerable company of ascending and descending angels, and I thought it must be the same ladder I used to see in my dream. The drowsy delight which follows on the loss of blood possessed me, and the little garret with the slanting roof, and its sloping sun-ray, and the whirr of the wheel, and the form of the patient woman that span, had begun to gather about them the hues of Paradise to my slowly fading senses, when I heard a voice that sounded miles away, and yet close to my ear:

"Elsie, sing a little song, will you?"

I heard no reply. A pause followed, and then a voice, clear and melodious as a brook, began to sing, and before it ceased, I was indeed in a kind of paradise.



But here I must pause. Shall I be breaking my promise of not a word of Scotch in my story, if I give the song? True it is not a part of the story exactly, but it is in it. If my reader would like the song, he must have it in Scotch or not at all. I am not going to spoil it by turning it out of its own natural clothes into finer garments to which it was not born—I mean by translating it from Scotch into English. The best way will be this: I give the song as something extra—call it a footnote slipped into the middle of the page. Nobody needs read a word of it to understand the story; and being in smaller type and a shape of its own, it can be passed over without the least trouble.

SONG

Oh! the bonny, bonny dell, whaur the yorlin[1] sings, Wi' a clip o' the sunshine atween his wings; Whaur the birks[2] are a' straikit wi' fair munelicht, And the broom hings its lamps by day and by nicht; Whaur the burnie comes trottin' ower shingle and stane, Liltin'[3] bonny havers[4] til 'tsel alane; And the sliddery[5] troot, wi' ae soop o' its tail, Is awa' 'neath the green weed's swingin' veil! Oh! the bonny, bonny dell, whaur I sang as I saw The yorlin, the broom, an' the burnie, an' a'!

Oh! the bonny, bonny dell, whaur the primroses wonn, Luikin' oot o' their leaves like wee sons o' the sun; Whaur the wild roses hing like flickers o' flame, And fa' at the touch wi' a dainty shame; Whaur the bee swings ower the white clovery sod, And the butterfly flits like a stray thoucht o' God; Whaur, like arrow shot frae life's unseen bow, The dragon-fly burns the sunlicht throu'! Oh! the bonny, bonny dell, whaur I sang to see The rose and the primrose, the draigon and bee!

Oh! the bonny, bonny dell, whaur the mune luiks doon, As gin she war hearin' a soundless tune, Whan the flowers an' the birds are a' asleep, And the verra burnie gangs creepy-creep; Whaur the corn-craik craiks in the lang lang rye, And the nicht is the safter for his rouch cry; Whaur the wind wad fain lie doon on the slope, And the verra darkness owerflows wi' hope! Oh! the bonny, bonny dell, whaur, silent, I felt The mune an' the darkness baith into me melt.

Oh! the bonny, bonny dell, whaur the sun luiks in, Sayin', Here awa', there awa', baud awa', sin! Wi' the licht o' God in his flashin' ee, Sayin', Darkness and sorrow a' work for me! Whaur the lark springs up on his ain sang borne, Wi' bird-shout and jubilee hailin' the morn; For his hert is fu' o' the hert o' the licht, An', come darkness or winter, a' maun be richt! Oh! the bonny, bonny dell, whaur the sun luikit in, Sayin', Here awa', there awa', hand awa', sin.

Oh! the bonny, bonny dell, whaur I used to lie Wi' Jeanie aside me, sae sweet and sae shy! Whaur the wee white gowan wi' reid reid tips, Was as white as her cheek and as reid as her lips. Oh, her ee had a licht cam frae far 'yont the sun, And her tears cam frae deeper than salt seas run! O' the sunlicht and munelicht she was the queen, For baith war but middlin' withoot my Jean. Oh! the bonny, bonny dell, whaur I used to lie Wi' Jeanie aside me, sae sweet and sae shy!

Oh! the bonny, bonny dell, whaur the kirkyard lies, A' day and a' nicht, luikin' up to the skies; Whaur the sheep wauk up i' the summer nicht, Tak a bite, and lie doon, and await the licht; Whaur the psalms roll ower the grassy heaps, And the wind comes and moans, and the rain comes and weeps!

But Jeanie, my Jeanie—she's no lyin' there, For she's up and awa' up the angels' stair. Oh! the bonny, bonny dell, whaur the kirkyard lies, And the stars luik doon, and the nicht-wind sighs!

[Footnote 1: The Yellow-hammer.]

[Footnote 2: Birch-trees.]

[Footnote 3: Singing.]

[Footnote 4: Nonsense.]

[Footnote 5: Slippery.]

Elsie's voice went through every corner of my brain: there was singing in all its chambers. I could not hear the words of the song well enough to understand them quite; but Turkey gave me a copy of them afterwards. They were the schoolmaster's work. All the winter, Turkey had been going to the evening school, and the master had been greatly pleased with him, and had done his best to get him on in various ways. A friendship sprung up between them; and one night he showed Turkey these verses. Where the air came from, I do not know: Elsie's brain was full of tunes. I repeated them to my father once, and he was greatly pleased with them.

On this first acquaintance, however, they put me to sleep; and little Jamie Duff was sent over to tell my father what had happened. Jamie gave the message to Mrs. Mitchell, and she, full of her own importance, must needs set out to see how much was the matter.

I was dreaming an unutterably delicious dream. It was a summer evening. The sun was of a tremendous size, and of a splendid rose-colour. He was resting with his lower edge on the horizon, and dared go no farther, because all the flowers would sing instead of giving out their proper scents, and if he left them, he feared utter anarchy in his kingdom before he got back in the morning. I woke and saw the ugly face of Mrs. Mitchell bending over me. She was pushing me, and calling to me to wake up. The moment I saw her I shut my eyes tight, turned away, and pretended to be fast asleep again, in the hope that she would go away and leave me with my friends.

"Do let him have his sleep out, Mrs. Mitchell," said Turkey's mother.

"You've let him sleep too long already," she returned, ungraciously. "He'll do all he can, waking or sleeping, to make himself troublesome. He's a ne'er-do-well, Ranald. Little good'll ever come of him. It's a mercy his mother is under the mould, for he would have broken her heart."

I had come to myself quite by this time, but I was not in the least more inclined to acknowledge it to Mrs. Mitchell.

"You're wrong there, Mrs. Mitchell," said Elsie Duff; and my reader must remember it required a good deal of courage to stand up against a woman so much older than herself, and occupying the important position of housekeeper to the minister. "Ranald is a good boy. I'm sure he is."

"How dare you say so, when he served your poor old grandmother such a wicked trick? It's little the children care for their parents nowadays. Don't speak to me."

"No, don't, Elsie," said another voice, accompanied by a creaking of the door and a heavy step. "Don't speak to her, Elsie, or you'll have the worst of it. Leave her to me.—If Ranald did what you say, Mrs. Mitchell, and I don't deny it, he was at least very sorry for it afterwards, and begged grannie's pardon; and that's a sort of thing you never did in your life."

"I never had any occasion, Turkey; so you hold your tongue."

"Now don't you call me Turkey. I won't stand it. I was christened as well as you."

"And what are you to speak to me like that? Go home to your cows. I dare say they're standing supperless in their stalls while you're gadding about. I'll call you Turkey as long as I please."

"Very well, Kelpie—that's the name you're known by, though perhaps no one has been polite enough to use it to your face, for you're a great woman, no doubt—I give you warning that I know you. When you're found out, don't say I didn't give you a chance beforehand."

"You impudent beggar!" cried Mrs. Mitchell, in a rage. "And you're all one pack," she added, looking round on the two others. "Get up, Ranald, and come home with me directly. What are you lying shamming there for?"

As she spoke, she approached the bed; but Turkey was too quick for her, and got in front of it. As he was now a great strong lad, she dared not lay hands upon him, so she turned in a rage and stalked out of the room, saying,

"Mr. Bannerman shall hear of this."

"Then it'll be both sides of it, Mrs. Mitchell," I cried from the bed; but she vanished, vouchsafing me no reply.

Once more Turkey got me on his back and carried me home. I told my father the whole occurrence. He examined the cut and plastered it up for me, saying he would go and thank Turkey's mother at once. I confess I thought more of Elsie Duff and her wonderful singing, which had put me to sleep, and given me the strange lovely dream from which the rough hands and harsh voice of the Kelpie had waked me too soon.

After this, although I never dared go near her grandmother's house alone, I yet, by loitering and watching, got many a peep of Elsie. Sometimes I went with Turkey to his mother's of an evening, to which my father had no objection, and somehow or other Elsie was sure to be there, and we spent a very happy hour or two together. Sometimes she would sing, and sometimes I would read to them out of Milton—I read the whole of Comus to them by degrees in this way; and although there was much I could not at all understand, I am perfectly certain it had an ennobling effect upon every one of us. It is not necessary that the intellect should define and separate before the heart and soul derive nourishment. As well say that a bee can get nothing out of a flower, because she does not understand botany. The very music of the stately words of such a poem is enough to generate a better mood, to make one feel the air of higher regions, and wish to rise "above the smoke and stir of this dim spot". The best influences which bear upon us are of this vague sort—powerful upon the heart and conscience, although undefined to the intellect.

But I find I have been forgetting that those for whom I write are young—too young to understand this. Let it remain, however, for those older persons who at an odd moment, while waiting for dinner, or before going to bed, may take up a little one's book, and turn over a few of its leaves. Some such readers, in virtue of their hearts being young and old both at once, discern more in the children's books than the children themselves.



CHAPTER XXI

The Bees' Nest

It was twelve o'clock on a delicious Saturday in the height of summer. We poured out of school with the gladness of a holiday in our hearts. I sauntered home full of the summer sun, and the summer wind, and the summer scents which filled the air. I do not know how often I sat down in perfect bliss upon the earthen walls which divided the fields from the road, and basked in the heat. These walls were covered with grass and moss. The odour of a certain yellow feathery flower, which grew on them rather plentifully, used to give me special delight. Great humble-bees haunted the walls, and were poking about in them constantly. Butterflies also found them pleasant places, and I delighted in butterflies, though I seldom succeeded in catching one. I do not remember that I ever killed one. Heart and conscience both were against that. I had got the loan of Mrs. Trimmer's story of the family of Robins, and was every now and then reading a page of it with unspeakable delight. We had very few books for children in those days and in that far out-of-the-way place, and those we did get were the more dearly prized. It was almost dinner-time before I reached home. Somehow in this grand weather, welcome as dinner always was, it did not possess the same amount of interest as in the cold bitter winter. This day I almost hurried over mine to get out again into the broad sunlight. Oh, how stately the hollyhocks towered on the borders of the shrubbery! The guelder-roses hung like balls of snow in their wilderness of green leaves; and here and there the damask roses, dark almost to blackness, and with a soft velvety surface, enriched the sunny air with their colour and their scent. I never see these roses now. And the little bushes of polyanthus gemmed the dark earth between with their varied hues. We did not know anything about flowers except the delight they gave us, and I dare say I am putting some together which would not be out at the same time, but that is how the picture comes back to my memory.

I was leaning in utter idleness over the gate that separated the little lawn and its surroundings from the road, when a troop of children passed, with little baskets and tin pails in their hands; and amongst them Jamie Duff. It was not in the least necessary to ask him where he was going.

Not very far, about a mile or so from our house, rose a certain hill famed in the country round for its store of bilberries. It was the same to which Turkey and I had fled for refuge from the bull. It was called the Ba' Hill, and a tradition lingered in the neighbourhood that many years ago there had been a battle there, and that after the battle the conquerors played at football with the heads of the vanquished slain, and hence the name of the hill; but who fought or which conquered, there was not a shadow of a record. It had been a wild country, and conflicting clans had often wrought wild work in it. In summer the hill was of course the haunt of children gathering its bilberries. Jamie shyly suggested whether I would not join them, but they were all too much younger than myself; and besides I felt drawn to seek Turkey in the field with the cattle—that is, when I should get quite tired of doing nothing. So the little troop streamed on, and I remained leaning over the gate.

I suppose I had sunk into a dreamy state, for I was suddenly startled by a sound beside me, and looking about, saw an old woman, bent nearly double within an old grey cloak, notwithstanding the heat. She leaned on a stick, and carried a bag like a pillow-case in her hand. It was one of the poor people of the village, going her rounds for her weekly dole of a handful of oatmeal. I knew her very well by sight and by name—she was old Eppie—and a kindly greeting passed between us. I thank God that the frightful poor-laws had not invaded Scotland when I was a boy. There was no degradation in honest poverty then, and it was no burden to those who supplied its wants; while every person was known, and kindly feelings were nourished on both sides. If I understand anything of human nature now, it comes partly of having known and respected the poor of my father's parish. She passed in at the gate and went as usual to the kitchen door, while I stood drowsily contemplating the green expanse of growing crops in the valley before me. The day had grown as sleepy as myself. There were no noises except the hum of the unseen insects, and the distant rush of the water over the dams at our bathing-place. In a few minutes the old woman approached me again. She was an honest and worthy soul, and very civil in her manners. Therefore I was surprised to hear her muttering to herself. Turning, I saw she was very angry. She ceased her muttering when she descried me observing her, and walked on in silence—was even about to pass through the little wicket at the side of the larger gate without any further salutation. Something had vexed her, and instinctively I put my hand in my pocket, and pulled out a halfpenny my father had given me that morning—very few of which came in my way—and offered it to her. She took it with a half-ashamed glance, an attempt at a courtesy, and a murmured blessing. Then for a moment she looked as if about to say something, but changing her mind, she only added another grateful word, and hobbled away. I pondered in a feeble fashion for a moment, came to the conclusion that the Kelpie had been rude to her, forgot her, and fell a-dreaming again. Growing at length tired of doing nothing, I roused myself, and set out to seek Turkey.

I have lingered almost foolishly over this day. But when I recall my childhood, this day always comes back as a type of the best of it.

I remember I visited Kirsty, to find out where Turkey was. Kirsty welcomed me as usual, for she was always loving and kind to us; and although I did not visit her so often now, she knew it was because I was more with my father, and had lessons to learn in which she could not assist me. Having nothing else to talk about, I told her of Eppie, and her altered looks when she came out of the house. Kirsty compressed her lips, nodded her head, looked serious, and made me no reply. Thinking this was strange, I resolved to tell Turkey, which otherwise I might not have done. I did not pursue the matter with Kirsty, for I knew her well enough to know that her manner indicated a mood out of which nothing could be drawn. Having learned where he was, I set out to find him—close by the scene of our adventure with Wandering Willie. I soon came in sight of the cattle feeding, but did not see Turkey.

When I came near the mound, I caught a glimpse of the head of old Mrs. Gregson's cow quietly feeding off the top of the wall from the other side, like an outcast Gentile; while my father's cows, like the favoured and greedy Jews, were busy in the short clover inside. Grannie's cow managed to live notwithstanding, and I dare say gave as good milk, though not perhaps quite so much of it, as ill-tempered Hawkie. Mrs. Gregson's granddaughter, however, who did not eat grass, was inside the wall, seated on a stone which Turkey had no doubt dragged there for her. Trust both her and Turkey, the cow should not have a mouthful without leave of my father. Elsie was as usual busy with her knitting. And now I caught sight of Turkey, running from a neighbouring cottage with a spade over his shoulder. Elsie had been minding the cows for him.

"What's ado, Turkey?" I cried, running to meet him.

"Such a wild bees' nest!" answered Turkey. "I'm so glad you're come! I was just thinking whether I wouldn't run and fetch you. Elsie and I have been watching them going out and in for the last half-hour.—Such lots of bees! There's a store of honey there."

"But isn't it too soon to take it, Turkey? There'll be a great deal more in a few weeks.—Not that I know anything about bees," I added deferentially.

"You're quite right, Ranald," answered Turkey; "but there are several things to be considered. In the first place, the nest is by the roadside, and somebody else might find it. Next, Elsie has never tasted honey all her life, and it is so nice, and here she is, all ready to eat some. Thirdly, and lastly, as your father says—though not very often," added Turkey slyly, meaning that the lastly seldom came with the thirdly,—"if we take the honey now, the bees will have plenty of time to gather enough for the winter before the flowers are gone, whereas if we leave it too long they will starve."

I was satisfied with this reasoning, and made no further objection.

"You must keep a sharp look-out though, Ranald," he said; "for they'll be mad enough, and you must keep them off with your cap."

He took off his own, and gave it to Elsie, saying: "Here, Elsie: you must look out, and keep off the bees. I can tell you a sting is no joke. I've had three myself."

"But what are you to do, Turkey?" asked Elsie, with an anxious face.

"Oh, Ranald will keep them off me and himself too. I shan't heed them. I must dig away, and get at the honey."

All things being thus arranged, Turkey manfully approached the dyke, as they call any kind of wall-fence there. In the midst of the grass and moss was one little hole, through which the bees kept going and coming very busily. Turkey put in his finger and felt in what direction the hole went, and thence judging the position of the hoard, struck his spade with firm foot into the dyke. What bees were in came rushing out in fear and rage, and I had quite enough to do to keep them off our bare heads with my cap. Those who were returning, laden as they were, joined in the defence, but I did my best, and with tolerable success. Elsie being at a little distance, and comparatively still, was less the object of their resentment. In a few moments Turkey had reached the store. Then he began to dig about it carefully to keep from spoiling the honey. First he took out a quantity of cells with nothing in them but grub-like things—the cradles of the young bees they were. He threw them away, and went on digging as coolly as if he had been gardening. All the defence he left to me, and I assure you I had enough of it, and thought mine the harder work of the two: hand or eye had no rest, and my mind was on the stretch of anxiety all the time.

But now Turkey stooped to the nest, cleared away the earth about it with his hands, and with much care drew out a great piece of honeycomb, just as well put together as the comb of any educated bees in a garden-hive, who know that they are working for critics. Its surface was even and yellow, showing that the cells were full to the brim of the rich store. I think I see Turkey weighing it in his hand, and turning it over to pick away some bits of adhering mould ere he presented it to Elsie. She sat on her stone like a patient, contented queen, waiting for what her subjects would bring her.



"Oh, Turkey! what a piece!" she said as she took it, and opened her pretty mouth and white teeth to have a bite of the treasure.

"Now, Ranald," said Turkey, "we must finish the job before we have any ourselves."

He went on carefully removing the honey, and piling it on the bank. There was not a great deal, because it was so early in the year, and there was not another comb to equal that he had given Elsie. But when he had got it all out—

"They'll soon find another nest," he said. "I don't think it's any use leaving this open for them. It spoils the dyke too."

As he spoke he began to fill up the hole, and beat the earth down hard. Last of all, he put in the sod first dug away, with the grass and flowers still growing upon it. This done, he proceeded to divide what remained of the honey.

"There's a piece for Allister and Davie," he said; "and here's a piece for you, and this for me, and Elsie can take the rest home for herself and Jamie."

Elsie protested, but we both insisted. Turkey got some nice clover, and laid the bits of honeycomb in it. Then we sat and ate our shares, and chatted away for a long time, Turkey and I getting up every now and then to look after the cattle, and Elsie too having sometimes to follow her cow, when she threatened an inroad upon some neighbouring field while we were away. But there was plenty of time between, and Elsie sung us two or three songs at our earnest request, and Turkey told us one or two stories out of history books he had been reading, and I pulled out my story of the Robins and read to them. And so the hot sun went down the glowing west, and threw longer and longer shadows eastward. A great shapeless blot of darkness, with legs to it, accompanied every cow, and calf, and bullock wherever it went. There was a new shadow crop in the grass, and a huge patch with long tree-shapes at the end of it, stretched away from the foot of the hillock. The weathercock on the top of the church was glistening such a bright gold, that the wonder was how it could keep from breaking out into a crow that would rouse all the cocks of the neighbourhood, even although they were beginning to get sleepy, and thinking of going to roost. It was time for the cattle, Elsie's cow included, to go home; for, although the latter had not had such plenty to eat from as the rest, she had been at it all day, and had come upon several very nice little patches of clover, that had overflowed the edges of the fields into the levels and the now dry ditches on the sides of the road. But just as we rose to break up the assembly, we spied a little girl come flying across the field, as if winged with news. As she came nearer we recognized her. She lived near Mrs. Gregson's cottage, and was one of the little troop whom I had seen pass the manse on their way to gather bilberries.

"Elsie! Elsie!" she cried, "John Adam has taken Jamie. Jamie fell, and John got him."

Elsie looked frightened, but Turkey laughed, saying: "Never mind, Elsie. John is better than he looks. He won't do him the least harm. He must mind his business, you know."

The Ba' Hill was covered with a young plantation of firs, which, hardy as they were, had yet in a measure to be coaxed into growing in that inclement region. It was amongst their small stems that the coveted bilberries grew, in company with cranberries and crowberries, and dwarf junipers. The children of the village thus attracted to the place were no doubt careless of the young trees, and might sometimes even amuse themselves with doing them damage. Hence the keeper, John Adam, whose business it was to look after them, found it his duty to wage war upon the annual hordes of these invaders; and in their eyes Adam was a terrible man. He was very long and very lean, with a flattish yet Roman nose, and rather ill-tempered mouth, while his face was dead-white and much pitted with the small-pox. He wore corduroy breeches, a blue coat, and a nightcap striped horizontally with black and red. The youngsters pretended to determine, by the direction in which the tassel of it hung, what mood its owner was in; nor is it for me to deny that their inductions may have led them to conclusions quite as correct as those of some other scientific observers. At all events the tassel was a warning, a terror, and a hope. He could not run very fast, fortunately, for the lean legs within those ribbed grey stockings were subject to rheumatism, and could take only long not rapid strides; and if the children had a tolerable start, and had not the misfortune to choose in their terror an impassable direction, they were pretty sure to get off. Jamie Duff, the most harmless and conscientious creature, who would not have injured a young fir upon any temptation, did take a wrong direction, caught his foot in a hole, fell into a furze bush, and, nearly paralysed with terror, was seized by the long fingers of Adam, and ignominiously lifted by a portion of his garments into the vast aerial space between the ground and the white, pock-pitted face of the keeper. Too frightened to scream, too conscious of trespass to make any resistance, he was borne off as a warning to the rest of the very improbable fate which awaited them.

But the character of Adam was not by any means so frightful in the eyes of Turkey; and he soon succeeded in partially composing the trepidation of Elsie, assuring her that as soon as he had put up the cattle, he would walk over to Adam's house and try to get Jamie off, whereupon Elsie set off home with her cow, disconsolate but hopeful. I think I see her yet—for I recall every picture of that lovely day clear as the light of that red sunset—walking slowly with her head bent half in trouble, half in attention to her knitting, after her solemn cow, which seemed to take twice as long to get over the ground because she had two pairs of legs instead of one to shuffle across it, dragging her long iron chain with the short stake at the end after her with a gentle clatter over the hard dry road. I accompanied Turkey, helped him to fasten up and bed the cows, went in with him and shared his hasty supper of potatoes and oatcake and milk, and then set out refreshed, and nowise apprehensive in his company, to seek the abode of the redoubtable ogre, John Adam.



CHAPTER XXII

Vain Intercession

He had a small farm of his own at the foot of the hill of which he had the charge. It was a poor little place, with a very low thatched cottage for the dwelling. A sister kept house for him. When we approached it there was no one to be seen. We advanced to the door along a rough pavement of round stones, which parted the house from the dunghill. I peeped in at the little window as we passed. There, to my astonishment, I saw Jamie Duff, as I thought, looking very happy, and in the act of lifting a spoon to his mouth. A moment after, however, I concluded that I must have been mistaken, for, when Turkey lifted the latch and we walked in, there were the awful John and his long sister seated at the table, while poor Jamie was in a corner, with no basin in his hand, and a face that looked dismal and dreary enough. I fancied I caught a glimpse of Turkey laughing in his sleeve, and felt mildly indignant with him—for Elsie's sake more, I confess, than for Jamie's.

"Come in," said Adam, rising; but, seeing who it was, he seated himself again, adding, "Oh, it's you, Turkey!"—Everybody called him Turkey. "Come in and take a spoon."

"No, thank you," said Turkey; "I have had my supper. I only came to inquire after that young rascal there."

"Ah! you see him! There he is!" said Adam, looking towards me with an awful expression in his dead brown eyes. "Starving. No home and no supper for him! He'll have to sleep in the hay-loft with the rats and mice, and a stray cat or two."

Jamie put his cuffs, the perennial handkerchief of our poor little brothers, to his eyes. His fate was full of horrors. But again I thought I saw Turkey laughing in his sleeve.

"His sister is very anxious about him, Mr. Adam," he said. "Couldn't you let him off this once?"

"On no account. I am here in trust, and I must do my duty. The duke gives the forest in charge to me. I have got to look after it."

I could not help thinking what a poor thing it was for a forest. All I knew of forests was from story-books, and there they were full of ever such grand trees. Adam went on—

"And if wicked boys will break down the trees—"

"I only pulled the bilberries," interposed Jamie, in a whine which went off in a howl.

"James Duff!" said Adam, with awful authority, "I saw you myself tumble over a young larch tree, not two feet high."

"The worse for me!" sobbed Jamie.

"Tut! tut! Mr. Adam! the larch tree wasn't a baby," said Turkey. "Let Jamie go. He couldn't help it, you see."

"It was a baby, and it is a baby," said Adam, with a solitary twinkle in the determined dead brown of his eyes. "And I'll have no intercession here. Transgressors must be prosecuted, as the board says. And prosecuted he shall be. He sha'n't get out of this before school-time to-morrow morning. He shall be late, too, and I hope the master will give it him well. We must make some examples, you see, Turkey. It's no use your saying anything. I don't say Jamie's a worse boy than the rest, but he's just as bad, else how did he come to be there tumbling over my babies? Answer me that, Master Bannerman."

He turned and fixed his eyes upon me. There was question in his mouth, but neither question nor speculation in his eyes. I could not meet the awful changeless gaze. My eyes sank before his.

"Example, Master Bannerman, is everything. If you serve my trees as this young man has done—"

The idea of James Duff being a young man!

"—I'll serve you the same as I serve him—and that's no sweet service, I'll warrant."

As the keeper ended, he brought down his fist on the table with such a bang, that poor Jamie almost fell off the stool on which he sat in the corner.

"But let him off just this once," pleaded Turkey, "and I'll be surety for him that he'll never do it again."

"Oh, as to him, I'm not afraid of him," returned the keeper; "but will you be surety for the fifty boys that'll only make game of me if I don't make an example of him? I'm in luck to have caught him. No, no, Turkey; it won't do, my man. I'm sorry for his father and his mother, and his sister Elsie, for they're all very good people; but I must make an example of him."

At mention of his relatives Jamie burst into another suppressed howl.

"Well, you won't be over hard upon him anyhow: will you now?" said Turkey.

"I won't pull his skin quite over his ears," said Adam; "and that's all the promise you'll get out of me."

The tall thin grim sister had sat all the time as if she had no right to be aware of anything that was going on, but her nose, which was more hooked than her brother's, and larger, looked as if, in the absence of eyes and ears, it was taking cognizance of everything, and would inform the rest of the senses afterwards.

I had a suspicion that the keeper's ferocity was assumed for the occasion, and that he was not such an ogre as I had considered him. Still, the prospect of poor little Jamie spending the night alone in the loft amongst the cats and rats was sufficiently dreadful when I thought of my midnight awaking in the barn. There seemed to be no help, however, especially when Turkey rose to say good night.

I felt disconsolate, and was not well pleased with Turkey's coolness. I thought he had not done his best.

When we got into the road—

"Poor Elsie!" I said; "she'll be miserable about Jamie."

"Oh no," returned Turkey. "I'll go straight over and tell her. No harm will come to Jamie. John Adam's bark is a good deal worse than his bite. Only I should have liked to take him home if I could."

It was now twilight, and through the glimmering dusk we walked back to the manse. Turkey left me at the gate and strode on towards the village; while I turned in, revolving a new scheme which had arisen in my brain, and for the first time a sense of rivalry with Turkey awoke in my bosom. He did everything for Elsie Duff, and I did nothing. For her he had robbed the bees' nest that very day, and I had but partaken of the spoil. Nay, he had been stung in her service; for, with all my care—and I think that on the whole I had done my best—he had received what threatened to be a bad sting on the back of his neck. Now he was going to comfort her about her brother whom he had failed to rescue; but what if I should succeed where he had failed, and carry the poor boy home in triumph!

As we left the keeper's farm, Turkey had pointed out to me, across the yard, where a small rick or two were standing, the loft in which Jamie would have to sleep. It was over the cart-shed, and its approach was a ladder. But for the reported rats, it would have been no hardship to sleep there in weather like this, especially for one who had been brought up as Jamie had been. But I knew that he was a very timid boy, and that I myself would have lain in horror all the night. Therefore I had all the way been turning over in my mind what I could do to release him. But whatever I did must be unaided, for I could not reckon upon Turkey, nor indeed was it in my heart to share with him the honour of the enterprise that opened before me.



CHAPTER XXIII

Knight-Errantry

I must mention that my father never objected now to my riding his little mare Missy, as we called her. Indeed, I had great liberty with regard to her, and took her out for a trot and a gallop as often as I pleased. Sometimes when there was a press of work she would have to go in a cart or drag a harrow, for she was so handy they could do anything with her; but this did not happen often, and her condition at all seasons of the year testified that she knew little of hard work. My father was very fond of her, and used to tell wonderful stories of her judgment and skill. I believe he was never quite without a hope that somehow or other he should find her again in the next world. At all events I am certain that it was hard for him to believe that so much wise affection should have been created to be again uncreated. I cannot say that I ever heard him give utterance to anything of the sort; but whence else should I have had such a firm conviction, dating from a period farther back than my memory can reach, that whatever might become of the other horses, Missy was sure to go to heaven? I had a kind of notion that, being the bearer of my father upon all his missions of doctrine and mercy, she belonged to the clergy, and, sharing in their privileges, must have a chance before other animals of her kind. I believe this was a right instinct glad of a foolish reason. I am wiser now, and extend the hope to the rest of the horses, for I cannot believe that the God who does nothing in vain ever creates in order to destroy.

I made haste to learn my lessons for the Monday, although it was but after a fashion, my mind was so full of the adventure before me. As soon as prayers and supper were over—that is, about ten o'clock—I crept out of the house and away to the stable. It was a lovely night. A kind of grey peace filled earth and air and sky. It was not dark, although rather cloudy; only a dim dusk, like a vapour of darkness, floated around everything. I was fond of being out at night, but I had never before contemplated going so far alone. I should not, however, feel alone with Missy under me, for she and I were on the best of terms, although sometimes she would take a fit of obstinacy, and refuse to go in any other than the direction she pleased. Of late, however, she had asserted herself less frequently in this manner. I suppose she was aware that I grew stronger and more determined.

I soon managed to open the door of the stable, for I knew where the key lay. It was very dark, but I felt my way through, talking all the time that the horses might not be startled if I came upon one of them unexpectedly, for the stable was narrow, and they sometimes lay a good bit out of their stalls. I took care, however, to speak in a low tone that the man who slept with only a wooden partition between him and the stable might not hear. I soon had the bridle upon Missy, but would not lose time in putting on the saddle. I led her out, got on her back with the help of a stone at the stable door, and rode away. She had scarcely been out all day, and was rather in the mood for a ride. The voice of Andrew, whom the noise of her feet had aroused, came after me, calling to know who it was. I called out in reply, for I feared he might rouse the place; and he went back composed, if not contented. It was no use, at all events, to follow me.

I had not gone far before the extreme stillness of the night began to sink into my soul and make me quiet. Everything seemed thinking about me, but nothing would tell me what it thought. Not feeling, however, that I was doing wrong, I was only awed not frightened by the stillness. I made Missy slacken her speed, and rode on more gently, in better harmony with the night. Not a sound broke the silence except the rough cry of the land-rail from the fields and the clatter of Missy's feet. I did not like the noise she made, and got upon the grass, for here there was no fence. But the moment she felt the soft grass, off she went at a sudden gallop. Her head was out before I had the least warning of her intention. She tore away over the field in quite another direction from that in which I had been taking her, and the gallop quickened until she was going at her utmost speed. The rapidity of the motion and the darkness together—for it seemed darkness now—I confess made me frightened. I pulled hard at the reins, but without avail. In a minute I had lost my reckoning, and could not tell where I was in the field, which was a pretty large one; but soon finding that we were galloping down a hill so steep that I had trouble in retaining my seat, I began, not at all to my comfort, to surmise in what direction the mare was carrying me. We were approaching the place where we had sat that same afternoon, close by the mound with the trees upon it, the scene of my adventure with Wandering Willie, and of the fancied murder. I had scarcely thought of either until the shadows had begun to fall long, and now in the night, when all was shadow, both reflections made it horrible. Besides, if Missy should get into the bog! But she knew better than that, wild as her mood was. She avoided it, and galloped past, but bore me to a far more frightful goal, suddenly dropping into a canter, and then standing stock-still.

It was a cottage half in ruins, occupied by an old woman whom I dimly recollected having once gone with my father to see—a good many years ago, as it appeared to me now. She was still alive, however, very old, and bedridden. I recollected that from the top of her wooden bed hung a rope for her to pull herself up by when she wanted to turn, for she was very rheumatic, and this rope for some cause or other had filled me with horror. But there was more of the same sort. The cottage had once been a smithy, and the bellows had been left in its place. Now there is nothing particularly frightful about a pair of bellows, however large it may be, and yet the recollection of that huge structure of leather and wood, with the great iron nose projecting from the contracting cheeks of it, at the head of the old woman's bed, so capable yet so useless, did return upon me with terror in the dusk of that lonely night. It was mingled with a vague suspicion that the old woman was a bit of a witch, and a very doubtful memory that she had been seen on one occasion by some night-farer, when a frightful storm was raging, blowing away at that very bellows as hard as her skinny arms and lean body could work the lever, so that there was almost as great a storm of wind in her little room as there was outside of it. If there was any truth in the story, it is easily accounted for by the fact that the poor old woman had been a little out of her mind for many years,—and no wonder, for she was nearly a hundred, they said. Neither is it any wonder that when Missy stopped almost suddenly, with her fore-feet and her neck stretched forward, and her nose pointed straight for the door of the cottage at a few yards' distance, I should have felt very queer indeed. Whether my hair stood on end or not I do not know, but I certainly did feel my skin creep all over me. An ancient elder-tree grew at one end of the cottage, and I heard the lonely sigh of a little breeze wander through its branches. The next instant a frightful sound from within the cottage broke the night air into what seemed a universal shriek. Missy gave a plunge, turned round on her hind-legs, and tore from the place. I very nearly lost my seat, but terror made me cling the faster to my only companion, as ventre-a-terre she flew home. It did not take her a minute to reach the stable-door. There she had to stop, for I had shut it when I brought her out. It was mortifying to find myself there instead of under John Adam's hayloft, the rescuer of Jamie Duff. But I did not think of that for a while. Shaken with terror, and afraid to dismount and be next the ground, I called upon Andrew as well as my fear would permit; but my voice was nearly unmanageable, and I could do little more than howl with it.

In a few minutes, to me a time of awful duration—for who could tell what might be following me up from the hollow?—Andrew appeared half-dressed, and not in the best of tempers, remarking it was an odd thing to go out riding when honest people were in their beds, except, he added, I meant to take to the highway. Thereupon, rendered more communicative by the trial I had gone through, I told him the whole story, what I had intended and how I had been frustrated. He listened, scratched his head, and saying someone ought to see if anything was the matter with the old woman, turned in to put on the rest of his clothes.

"You had better go home to bed, Ranald," he said.

"Won't you be frightened, Andrew?" I asked.

"Frightened? What should I be frightened at? It's all waste to be frightened before you know whether the thing is worth it."

My courage had been reviving fast in the warm presence of a human being. I was still seated on Missy. To go home having done nothing for Jamie, and therefore nothing for Elsie, after all my grand ideas of rescue and restoration, was too mortifying. I should feel so small when I woke in the morning! And yet suppose the something which gave that fearful cry in the cottage should be out roaming the fields and looking for mel I had courage enough, however, to remain where I was till Andrew came out again, and as I sat still on the mare's back, my courage gradually rose. Nothing increases terror so much as running away. When he reappeared, I asked him:

"What do you think it could be, Andrew?"

"How should I tell?" returned Andrew. "The old woman has a very queer cock, I know, that always roosts on the top of her bed, and crows like no cock I ever heard crow. Or it might be Wandering Willie—he goes to see her sometimes, and the demented creature might strike up his pipes at any unearthly hour."

I was not satisfied with either suggestion; but the sound I had heard had already grown so indistinct in my memory, that for anything I could tell it might have been either. The terror which it woke in my mind had rendered me incapable of making any observations or setting down any facts with regard to it. I could only remember that I had heard a frightful noise, but as to what it was like I could scarcely bear the smallest testimony.

I begged Andrew to put the saddle on for me, as I should then have more command of Missy. He went and got it, appearing, I thought, not at all over-anxious about old Betty; and I meantime buckled on an old rusty spur which lay in the stable window, the leathers of it crumbling off in flakes. Thus armed, and mounted with my feet in the stirrups, and therefore a good pull on Missy's mouth, I found my courage once more equal to the task before me. Andrew and I parted at right angles; he across the field to old Betty's cottage, and I along the road once more in the direction of John Adam's farm.



CHAPTER XXIV

Failure

It must have been now about eleven o'clock. The clouds had cleared off, and the night had changed from brown and grey to blue sparkling with gold. I could see much better, and fancied I could hear better too. But neither advantage did much for me. I had not ridden far from the stable, before I again found myself very much alone and unprotected, with only the wide, silent fields about me, and the wider and more silent sky over my head. The fear began to return. I fancied something strange creeping along every ditch—something shapeless, but with a terrible cry in it. Next I thought I saw a scarcely visible form—now like a creature on all-fours, now like a man, far off, but coming rapidly towards me across the nearest field. It always vanished, however, before it came close. The worst of it was, that the faster I rode, the more frightened I became; for my speed seemed to draw the terrors the faster after me. Having discovered this, I changed my plan, and when I felt more frightened, drew rein and went slower. This was to throw a sort of defiance to the fear; and certainly as often as I did so it abated. Fear is a worse thing than danger.

I had to pass very nigh the pool to which Turkey and I had gone the night of our adventure with Bogbonny's bull. That story was now far off in the past, but I did not relish the dull shine of the water in the hollow, notwithstanding. In fact I owed the greater part of the courage I possessed—and it was little enough for my needs—to Missy. I dared not have gone on my own two legs. It was not that I could so easily run away with four instead, but that somehow I was lifted above the ordinary level of fear by being upon her back. I think many men draw their courage out of their horses.

At length I came in sight of the keeper's farm; and just at that moment the moon peeped from behind a hill, throwing as long shadows as the setting sun, but in the other direction. The shadows were very different too. Somehow they were liker to the light that made them than the sun-shadows are to the sunlight. Both the light and the shadows of the moon were strange and fearful to me. The sunlight and its shadows are all so strong and so real and so friendly, you seem to know all about them; they belong to your house, and they sweep all fear and dismay out of honest people's hearts. But with the moon and its shadows it is very different indeed. The fact is, the moon is trying to do what she cannot do. She is trying to dispel a great sun-shadow—for the night is just the gathering into one mass of all the shadows of the sun. She is not able for this, for her light is not her own; it is second-hand from the sun himself; and her shadows therefore also are second-hand shadows, pieces cut out of the great sun-shadow, and coloured a little with the moon's yellowness. If I were writing for grown people I should tell them that those who understand things because they think about them, and ask God to teach them, walk in the sunlight; and others, who take things because other people tell them so, are always walking in the strange moonlight, and are subject to no end of stumbles and terrors, for they hardly know light from darkness. Well, at first, the moon frightened me a little—she looked so knowing, and yet all she said round about me was so strange. But I rode quietly up to the back of the yard where the ricks stood, got off Missy and fastened the bridle to the gate, and walked across to the cart-shed, where the moon was shining upon the ladder leading up to the loft. I climbed the ladder, and after several failures succeeded in finding how the door was fastened. When I opened it, the moonlight got in before me, and poured all at once upon a heap of straw in the farthest corner, where Jamie was lying asleep with a rug over him. I crossed the floor, knelt down by him, and tried to wake him. This was not so easy. He was far too sound asleep to be troubled by the rats; for sleep is an armour—yes, a castle—against many enemies. I got hold of one of his hands, and in lifting it to pull him up found a cord tied to his wrist. I was indignant: they had actually manacled him like a thief! I gave the cord a great tug of anger, pulled out my knife, and cut it; then, hauling Jamie up, got him half-awake at last. He stared with fright first, and then began to cry. As soon as he was awake enough to know me, he stopped crying but not staring, and his eyes seemed to have nothing better than moonlight in them.

"Come along, Jamie," I said. "I'm come to take you home."

"I don't want to go home," said Jamie. "I want to go to sleep again."

"That's very ungrateful of you, Jamie," I said, full of my own importance, "when I've come so far, and all at night too, to set you free."

"I'm free enough," said Jamie. "I had a better supper a great deal than I should have had at home. I don't want to go before the morning."

And he began to whimper again.

"Do you call this free?" I said, holding up his wrist where the remnant of the cord was hanging.

"Oh!" said Jamie, "that's only—"

But ere he got farther the moonlight in the loft was darkened. I looked hurriedly towards the door. There stood the strangest figure, with the moon behind it. I thought at first it was the Kelpie come after me, for it was a tall woman. My heart gave a great jump up, but I swallowed it down. I would not disgrace myself before Jamie. It was not the Kelpie, however, but the keeper's sister, the great, grim, gaunt woman I had seen at the table at supper. I will not attempt to describe her appearance. It was peculiar enough, for she had just got out of bed and thrown an old shawl about her. She was not pleasant to look at. I had myself raised the apparition, for, as Jamie explained to me afterwards, the cord which was tied to his wrist, instead of being meant to keep him a prisoner, was a device of her kindness to keep him from being too frightened. The other end had been tied to her wrist, that if anything happened he might pull her, and then she would come to him.



"What's the matter, Jamie Duff?" she said in a gruff voice as she advanced along the stream of moonlight.

I stood up as bravely as I could.

"It's only me, Miss Adam," I said.

"And who are you?" she returned.

"Ranald Bannerman," I answered.

"Oh!" she said in a puzzled tone. "What are you doing here at this time of the night?"

"I came to take Jamie home, but he won't go."

"You're a silly boy to think my brother John would do him any harm," she returned. "You're comfortable enough, aren't you, Jamie Duff?"

"Yes, thank you, ma'am, quite comfortable," said Jamie, who was now wide-awake. "But, please ma'am, Ranald didn't mean any harm."

"He's a housebreaker, though," she rejoined with a grim chuckle; "and he'd better go home again as fast as he can. If John Adam should come out, I don't exactly know what might happen. Or perhaps he'd like to stop and keep you company."

"No, thank you, Miss Adam," I said. "I will go home."

"Come along, then, and let me shut the door after you."

Somewhat nettled with Jamie Duff's indifference to my well-meant exertions on his behalf, I followed her without even bidding him good night.

"Oh, you've got Missy, have you?" she said, spying her where she stood. "Would you like a drink of milk or a piece of oatcake before you go?"

"No, thank you," I said. "I shall be glad to go to bed."

"I should think so," she answered. "Jamie is quite comfortable, I assure you; and I'll take care he's in time for school in the morning. There's no harm in him, poor thing!"

She undid the bridle for me, helped me to mount in the kindest way, bade me good night, and stood looking after me till I was some distance off. I went home at a good gallop, took off the saddle and bridle and laid them in a cart in the shed, turned Missy loose into the stable, shut the door, and ran across the field to the manse, desiring nothing but bed.

When I came near the house from the back, I saw a figure entering the gate from the front. It was in the full light of the moon, which was now up a good way. Before it had reached the door I had got behind the next corner, and peeping round saw that my first impression was correct: it was the Kelpie. She entered, and closed the door behind her very softly. Afraid of being locked out, a danger which had scarcely occurred to me before, I hastened after her; but finding the door already fast, I called through the keyhole. She gave a cry of alarm, but presently opened the door, looking pale and frightened.

"What are you doing out of doors this time of the night?" she asked, but without quite her usual arrogance, for, although she tried to put it on, her voice trembled too much.

I retorted the question.

"What were you doing out yourself?" I said.

"Looking after you, of course."

"That's why you locked the door, I suppose—to keep me out."

She had no answer ready, but looked as if she would have struck me.

"I shall let your father know of your goings on," she said, recovering herself a little.

"You need not take the trouble. I shall tell him myself at breakfast to-morrow morning. I have nothing to hide. You had better tell him too."

I said this not that I did not believe she had been out to look for me, but because I thought she had locked the door to annoy me, and I wanted to take my revenge in rudeness. For doors were seldom locked in the summer nights in that part of the country. She made me no reply, but turned and left me, not even shutting the door. I closed it, and went to bed weary enough.



CHAPTER XXV

Turkey Plots

The next day, at breakfast, I told my father all the previous day's adventures. Never since he had so kindly rescued me from the misery of wickedness had I concealed anything from him. He, on his part, while he gave us every freedom, expected us to speak frankly concerning our doings. To have been unwilling to let him know any of our proceedings would have simply argued that they were already disapproved of by ourselves, and no second instance of this had yet occurred with me. Hence it came that still as I grew older I seemed to come nearer to my father. He was to us like a wiser and more beautiful self over us,—a more enlightened conscience, as it were, ever lifting us up towards its own higher level.

This was Sunday; but he was not so strict in his ideas concerning the day as most of his parishioners. So long as we were sedate and orderly, and neither talked nor laughed too loud, he seldom interfered with our behaviour, or sought to alter the current of our conversation. I believe he did not, like some people, require or expect us to care about religious things as much as he did: we could not yet know as he did what they really were. But when any of the doings of the week were referred to on the Sunday, he was more strict, I think, than on other days, in bringing them, if they involved the smallest question, to the standard of right, to be judged, and approved or condemned thereby. I believe he thought that to order our ways was our best preparation for receiving higher instruction afterwards. For one thing, we should then, upon failure, feel the burden of it the more, and be the more ready to repent and seek the forgiveness of God, and that best help of his which at length makes a man good within himself.

He listened attentively to my story, seemed puzzled at the cry I had heard from the cottage, said nothing could have gone very wrong, or we should have heard of it, especially as Andrew had been to inquire, laughed over the apparition of Miss Adam, and my failure in rescuing Jamie Duff. He said, however, that I had no right to interefere with constituted authority—that Adam was put there to protect the trees, and if he had got hold of a harmless person, yet Jamie was certainly trespassing, and I ought to have been satisfied with Turkey's way of looking at the matter.

I saw that my father was right, and a little further reflection convinced me that, although my conduct had a root in my regard for Jamie Duff, it had a deeper root in my regard for his sister, and one yet deeper in my regard for myself—for had I not longed to show off in her eyes? I suspect almost all silly actions have their root in selfishness, whether it take the form of vanity, of conceit, of greed, or of ambition.

While I was telling my tale, Mrs. Mitchell kept coming into the room oftener, and lingering longer, than usual. I did not think of this till afterwards. I said nothing about her, for I saw no occasion; but I do not doubt she was afraid I would, and wished to be at hand to defend herself. She was a little more friendly to me in church that day: she always sat beside little Davie.

When we came out, I saw Andrew, and hurried after him to hear how he had sped the night before. He told me he had found all perfectly quiet at the cottage, except the old woman's cough, which was troublesome, and gave proof that she was alive, and probably as well as usual. He suggested now that the noise was all a fancy of mine—at which I was duly indignant, and desired to know if it was also Missy's fancy that made her go off like a mad creature. He then returned to his former idea of the cock, and as this did not insult my dignity, I let it pass, leaning however myself to the notion of Wandering Willie's pipes.



On the following Wednesday we had a half holiday, and before dinner I went to find Turkey at the farm. He met me in the yard, and took me into the barn.

"I want to speak to you, Ranald," he said.

I remember so well how the barn looked that day. The upper half of one of the doors had a hole in it, and a long pencil of sunlight streamed in, and fell like a pool of glory upon a heap of yellow straw. So golden grew the straw beneath it, that the spot looked as if it were the source of the shine, and sent the slanting ray up and out of the hole in the door. We sat down beside it, I wondering why Turkey looked so serious and important, for it was not his wont.

"Ranald," said Turkey, "I can't bear that the master should have bad people about him."

"What do you mean, Turkey?" I rejoined.

"I mean the Kelpie."

"She's a nasty thing, I know," I answered. "But my father considers her a faithful servant."

"That's just where it is. She is not faithful. I've suspected her for a long time. She's so rough and ill-tempered that she looks honest; but I shall be able to show her up yet. You wouldn't call it honest to cheat the poor, would you?"

"I should think not. But what do you mean?"

"There must have been something to put old Eppie in such an ill-temper on Saturday, don't you think?"

"I suppose she had had a sting from the Kelpie's tongue."

"No, Ranald, that's not it. I had heard whispers going about; and last Saturday, after we came home from John Adam's, and after I had told Elsie about Jamie, I ran up the street to old Eppie. You would have got nothing out of her, for she would not have liked to tell you; but she told me all about it."

"What a creature you are, Turkey! Everybody tells you everything."

"No, Ranald; I don't think I am such a gossip as that. But when you have a chance, you ought to set right whatever you can. Right's the only thing, Ranald."

"But aren't you afraid they'll call you a meddler, Turkey? Not that I think so, for I'm sure if you do anything against anybody, it's for some other body."

"That would be no justification if I wasn't in the right," said Turkey. "But if I am, I'm willing to bear any blame that comes of it. And I wouldn't meddle for anybody that could take care of himself. But neither old Eppie nor your father can do that: the one's too poor, and the other too good."

"I was wondering what you meant by saying my father couldn't take care of himself."

"He's too good; he's too good, Ranald. He believes in everybody. I wouldn't have kept that Kelpie in my house half the time."

"Did you ever say anything to Kirsty about her?"

"I did once; but she told me to mind my own business. Kirsty snubs me because I laugh at her stories. But Kirsty is as good as gold, and I wouldn't mind if she boxed my ears—as indeed she's done—many's the time."

"But what's the Kelpie been doing to old Eppie?"

"First of all, Eppie has been playing her a trick."

"Then she mustn't complain."

"Eppie's was a lawful trick, though. The old women have been laying their old heads together—but to begin at the beginning: there has been for some time a growing conviction amongst the poor folk that the Kelpie never gives them an honest handful of meal when they go their rounds. But this was very hard to prove, and although they all suspected it, few of them were absolutely certain about it. So they resolved that some of them should go with empty bags. Every one of those found a full handful at the bottom. Still they were not satisfied. They said she was the one to take care what she was about. Thereupon old Eppie resolved to go with something at the bottom of her bag to look like a good quantity of meal already gathered. The moment the door was closed behind her—that was last Saturday—she peeped into the bag. Not one grain of meal was to be discovered. That was why she passed you muttering to herself and looking so angry. Now it will never do that the manse, of all places, should be the one where the poor people are cheated of their dues. But we roust have yet better proof than this before we can say anything."

"Well, what do you mean to do, Turkey?" I asked. "Why does she do it, do you suppose? It's not for the sake of saving my father's meal, I should think."

"No, she does something with it, and, I suppose, flatters herself she is not stealing—only saving it off the poor, and so making a right to it for herself. I can't help thinking that her being out that same night had something to do with it. Did you ever know her go to see old Betty?"

"No, she doesn't like her. I know that."

"I'm not so sure. She pretends perhaps. But we'll have a try. I think I can outwit her. She's fair game, you know."

"How? What? Do tell me, Turkey," I cried, right eagerly.

"Not to-day. I will tell you by and by."

He got up and went about his work.



CHAPTER XXVI

Old John Jamieson

As I returned to the house I met my father.

"Well, Ranald, what are you about?" he said, in his usual gentle tone.

"Nothing in particular, father," I answered.

"Well, I'm going to see an old man—John Jamieson—I don't think you know him: he has not been able to come to church for a long time. They tell me he is dying. Would you like to go with me?"

"Yes, father. But won't you take Missy?"

"Not if you will walk with me. It's only about three miles."

"Very well, father. I should like to go with you."

My father talked about various things on the way. I remember in particular some remarks he made about reading Virgil, for I had just begun the AEneid. For one thing, he told me I must scan every line until I could make it sound like poetry, else I should neither enjoy it properly, nor be fair to the author. Then he repeated some lines from Milton, saying them first just as if they were prose, and after that the same lines as they ought to be sounded, making me mark the difference. Next he did the same with a few of the opening lines of Virgil's great poem, and made me feel the difference there.

"The sound is the shape of it, you know, Ranald," he said, "for a poem is all for the ear and not for the eye. The eye sees only the sense of it; the ear sees the shape of it. To judge poetry without heeding the sound of it, is nearly as bad as to judge a rose by smelling it with your eyes shut. The sound, besides being a beautiful thing in itself, has a sense in it which helps the other out. A psalm tune, if it's the right one, helps you to see how beautiful the psalm is. Every poem carries its own tune in its own heart, and to read it aloud is the only way to bring out its tune."

I liked Virgil ever so much better after this, and always tried to get at the tune of it, and of every other poem I read.

"The right way of anything," said my father, "may be called the tune of it. We have to find out the tune of our own lives. Some people don't seem ever to find it out, and so their lives are a broken and uncomfortable thing to them—full of ups and downs and disappointments, and never going as it was meant to go."

"But what is the right tune of a body's life, father?"

"The will of God, my boy."

"But how is a person to know that, father?"

"By trying to do what he knows of it already. Everybody has a different kind of tune in his life, and no one can find out another's tune for him, though he may help him to find it for himself."

"But aren't we to read the Bible, father?"

"Yes, if it's in order to obey it. To read the Bible thinking to please God by the mere reading of it, is to think like a heathen."

"And aren't we to say our prayers, father?"

"We are to ask God for what we want. If we don't want a thing, we are only acting like pagans to speak as if we did, and call it prayer, and think we are pleasing him."

I was silent. My father resumed.

"I fancy the old man we are going to see found out the tune of his life long ago."

"Is he a very wise man then, father?"

"That depends on what you mean by wise. I should call him a wise man, for to find out that tune is the truest wisdom. But he's not a learned man at all. I doubt if he ever read a book but the Bible, except perhaps the Pilgrim's Progress. I believe he has always been very fond of that. You like that—don't you, Ranald?"

"I've read it a good many times, father. But I was a little tired of it before I got through it last time."

"But you did read it through—did you—the last time, I mean?"

"Oh yes, father. I never like to leave the loose end of a thing hanging about."

"That's right, my boy; that's right. Well, I think you'd better not open the book again for a long time—say twenty years at least. It's a great deal too good a book to let yourself get tired of. By that time I trust you will be able to understand it a great deal better than you can at present."

I felt a little sorry that I was not to look at the Pilgrim's Progress for twenty years; but I am very glad of it now.

"We must not spoil good books by reading them too much," my father added. "It is often better to think about them than to read them; and it is best never to do either when we are tired of them. We should get tired of the sunlight itself, beautiful as it is, if God did not send it away every night. We're not even fit to have moonlight always. The moon is buried in the darkness every month. And because we can bear nothing for any length of time together, we are sent to sleep every night, that we may begin fresh again in the morning."

"I see, father, I see," I answered.

We talked on until we came in sight of John Jamieson's cottage.

What a poor little place it was to look at—built of clay, which had hardened in the sun till it was just one brick! But it was a better place to live in than it looked, for no wind could come through the walls, although there was plenty of wind about. Three little windows looked eastward to the rising sun, and one to the south: it had no more. It stood on the side of a heathy hill, which rose up steep behind it, and bending round sheltered it from the north. A low wall of loose stones enclosed a small garden, reclaimed from the hill, where grew some greens and cabbages and potatoes, with a flower here and there between. In summer it was pleasant enough, for the warm sun makes any place pleasant. But in winter it must have been a cold dreary place indeed. There was no other house within sight of it. A little brook went cantering down the hill close to the end of the cottage, singing merrily.

"It is a long way to the sea, but by its very nature the water will find it at last," said my father, pointing to the stream as we crossed it by the single stone that was its bridge.

He had to bend his head low to enter the cottage. An old woman, the sick man's wife, rose from the side of the chimney to greet us. My father asked how John was.

"Wearing away," was her answer. "But he'll be glad to see you."

We turned in the direction in which her eyes guided us. The first thing I saw was a small withered-looking head, and the next a withered-looking hand, large and bony. The old man lay in a bed closed in with boards, so that very little light fell upon him; but his hair glistened silvery through the gloom. My father drew a chair beside him. John looked up, and seeing who it was, feebly held out his hand. My father took it and stroked it, and said:

"Well, John, my man, you've had a hard life of it."

"No harder than I could bear," said John.

"It's a grand thing to be able to say that," said my father.

"Oh sir! for that matter, I would go through it all again, if it was his will, and willingly. I have no will but his, sir."

"Well, John, I wish we could all say the same. When a man comes to that, the Lord lets him have what he wants. What do you want now, John?"

"To depart and be with the Lord. It wouldn't be true, sir, to say that I wasn't weary. It seems to me, if it's the Lord's will, I've had enough of this life. Even if death be a long sleep, as some people say, till the judgment, I think I would rather sleep, for I'm very weary. Only there's the old woman there! I don't like leaving her."

"But you can trust God for her too, can't you?"

"It would be a poor thing if I couldn't, sir."

"Were you ever hungry, John—dreadfully hungry, I mean?"

"Never longer than I could bear," he answered. "When you think it's the will of God, hunger doesn't get much hold of you, sir."

"You must excuse me, John, for asking so many questions. You know God better than I do, and I want my young man here to know how strong the will of God makes a man, old or young. He needn't care about anything else, need he?"

"There's nothing else to care about, sir. If only the will of God be done, everything's all right, you know. I do believe, sir, God cares more for me than my old woman herself does, and she's been as good a wife to me as ever was. Young gentleman, you know who says that God numbers the very hairs of our heads? There's not many of mine left to number," he added with a faint smile, "but there's plenty of yours. You mind the will of God, and he'll look after you. That's the way he divides the business of life."

I saw now that my father's talk as we came, had been with a view to prepare me for what John Jamieson would say. I cannot pretend, however, to have understood the old man at the time, but his words have often come back to me since, and helped me through trials pretty severe, although, like the old man, I have never found any of them too hard to bear.

"Have you no child to come and help your wife to wait upon you?" my father asked.

"I have had ten, sir, but only three are left alive. There'll be plenty to welcome me home when I go. One of the three's in Canada, and can't come. Another's in Australia, and he can't come. But Maggie's not far off, and she's got leave from her mistress to come for a week—only we don't want her to come till I'm nearer my end. I should like her to see the last of her old father, for I shall be young again by the next time she sees me, please God, sir. He's all in all—isn't he, sir?"

"True, John. If we have God, we have all things; for all things are his and we are his. But we mustn't weary you too much. Thank you for your good advice."

"I beg your pardon, sir; I had no intention of speaking like that. I never could give advice in all my life. I always found it was as much as I could do to take the good advice that was given to me. I should like to be prayed for in the church next Sunday, sir, if you please."

"But can't you pray for yourself, John?"

"Yes, sir; but I would like to have some spiritual gift because my friends asked it for me. Let them pray for more faith for me. I want more and more of that. The more you have, the more you want. Don't you, sir? And I mightn't ask enough for myself, now I'm so old and so tired. I sleep a great deal, sir."

"Then don't you think God will take care to give you enough, even if you shouldn't ask for enough?" said my father.

"No doubt of that. But you see I am able to think of it now, and so I must put things in a train for the time when I shan't be able to think of it."

Something like this was what John said; and although I could not understand it then, my father spoke to me several times about it afterwards, and I came to see how the old man wanted to provide against the evil time by starting prayers heavenward beforehand, as it were.

My father prayed by his bedside, pulled a parcel or two from his pocket for his wife, and then we walked home together in silence. My father was not the man to heap words upon words and so smother the thought that lay in them. He had taken me for the sake of the lesson I might receive, and he left it to strike root in my mind, which he judged more likely if it remained undisturbed.



CHAPTER XXVII

Turkey's Trick

When we came to the farm on our way home, we looked in to see Kirsty, but found the key in the door, indicating that she had gone out. As we left the yard, we saw a strange-looking woman, to all appearance a beggar, approaching. She had a wallet over her shoulder, and walked stooping with her eyes on the ground, nor lifted them to greet us—behaviour which rarely showed itself in our parish. My father took no notice, but I could not help turning to look after the woman. To my surprise she stood looking after us, but the moment I turned, she turned also and walked on. When I looked again she had vanished. Of course she must have gone into the farm-yard. Not liking the look of her, and remembering that Kirsty was out, I asked my father whether I had not better see if any of the men were about the stable. He approved, and I ran back to the house. The door was still locked. I called Turkey, and heard his voice in reply from one of the farthest of the cow-houses. When I had reached it and told him my story, he asked if my father knew I had come back. When he heard that he did know, he threw down his pitchfork, and hastened with me. We searched every house about the place, but could find no sign whatever of the woman.

"Are you sure it wasn't all a fancy of your own, Ranald?" said Turkey.

"Quite sure. Ask my father. She passed as near us as you are to me now."

Turkey hurried away to search the hayloft once more, but without success; and at last I heard my father calling me.

I ran to him, and told him there was no woman to be seen.

"That's odd," he said. "She must have passed straight through the yard and got out at the other side before you went in. While you were looking for her, she was plodding away out of sight. Come along, and let us have our tea."

I could not feel quite satisfied about it, but, as there was no other explanation, I persuaded myself that my father was right.

The next Saturday evening I was in the nursery with my brothers. It was growing dusk, when I heard a knocking. Mrs. Mitchell did not seem to hear it, so I went and opened the door. There was the same beggar woman. Rather frightened, I called aloud, and Mrs. Mitchell came. When she saw it was a beggar, she went back and reappeared with a wooden basin filled with meal, from which she took a handful as she came in apparent preparation for dropping it, in the customary way, into the woman's bag. The woman never spoke, but closed the mouth of her wallet, and turned away. Curiosity gave me courage to follow her. She walked with long strides in the direction of the farm, and I kept at a little distance behind her. She made for the yard. She should not escape me this time. As soon as she entered it, I ran as fast as I could, and just caught sight of her back as she went into one of the cow-houses. I darted after her. She turned round upon me—fiercely, I thought, but judge my surprise when she held out the open mouth of the bag towards me, and said—

"Not one grain, Ranald! Put in your hand and feel."

It was Turkey.

I stared in amazement, unable for a time to get rid of the apparition and see the reality. Turkey burst out laughing at my perplexed countenance.

"Why didn't you tell me before, Turkey?" I asked, able at length to join in the laugh.

"Because then you would have had to tell your father, and I did not want him to be troubled about it, at least before we had got things clear. I always did wonder how he could keep such a creature about him."

"He doesn't know her as we do, Turkey."

"No. She never gives him the chance. But now, Ranald, couldn't you manage to find out whether she makes any store of the meal she pretends to give away?"

A thought struck me.

"I heard Davie the other day asking her why she had two meal-tubs: perhaps that has something to do with it."

"You must find out. Don't ask Davie."

For the first time it occurred to me that the Kelpie had upon that night of terror been out on business of her own, and had not been looking for me at all.

"Then she was down at old Betty's cottage," said Turkey, when I communicated the suspicion, "and Wandering Willie was there too, and Andrew was right about the pipes. Willie hasn't been once to the house ever since he took Davie, but she has gone to meet him at Betty's. Depend on it, Ranald, he's her brother, or nephew, or something, as I used to say. I do believe she gives him the meal to take home to her family somewhere. Did you ever hear anything about her friends?"

"I never heard her speak of any."

"Then I don't believe they're respectable. I don't, Ranald. But it will be a great trouble to the minister to have to turn her away. I wonder if we couldn't contrive to make her go of herself. I wish we could scare her out of the country. It's not nice either for a woman like that to have to do with such innocents as Allister and Davie."

"She's very fond of Davie."

"So she is. That's the only good thing I know of her. But hold your tongue, Ranald, till we find out more."

Acting on the hint Davie had given me, I soon discovered the second meal-tub. It was small, and carefully stowed away. It was now nearly full, and every day I watched in the hope that when she emptied it, I should be able to find out what she did with the meal. But Turkey's suggestion about frightening her away kept working in my brain.



CHAPTER XXVIII

I Scheme Too

I began a series of persecutions of the Kelpie on my own account. I was doubtful whether Turkey would approve of them, so I did not tell him for some time; but I was ambitious of showing him that I could do something without him. I doubt whether it is worth while to relate the silly tricks I played her—my father made me sorry enough for them afterwards. My only excuse for them is, that I hoped by them to drive the Kelpie away.

There was a closet in the hall, the floor of which was directly over the Kelpie's bed, with no ceiling between. With a gimlet I bored a hole in the floor, through which I passed a piece of string. I had already got a bit of black cloth, and sewed and stuffed it into something of the shape of a rat. Watching an opportunity, I tied this to the end of the string by the head, and hid it under her bolster. When she was going to bed, I went into the closet, and, laying my mouth to the floor, began squeaking like a rat, and scratching with my nails. Knowing by the exclamation she made that I had attracted her attention, I tugged at the string; this lifted the bolster a little, and of course out came my rat. I heard her scream, and open her door. I pulled the rat up tight to the ceiling. Then the door of the nursery, where we slept only in the winter, opened and shut, and I concluded she had gone to bed there to avoid the rat. I could hardly sleep for pleasure at my success.

As she waited on us at breakfast next morning, she told my father that she had seen in her bed the biggest rat she ever saw in her life, and had not had a wink of sleep in consequence.

"Well," said my father, "that comes of not liking cats. You should get a pussy to take care of you."

She grumbled something and retired.

She removed her quarters to the nursery. But there it was yet easier for me to plague her. Having observed in which bed she lay, I passed the string with the rat at the end of it over the middle of a bar that ran across just above her head, then took the string along the top of the other bed, and through a little hole in the door. As soon as I judged her safe in bed, I dropped the rat with a plump. It must have fallen on or very near her face. I heard her give a loud cry, but before she could reach the door, I had fastened the string to a nail and got out of the way.

It was not so easy in those days to get a light, for the earliest form of lucifer match was only just making its appearance in that part of the country, and was very dear: she had to go to the kitchen, where the fire never went out summer or winter. Afraid lest on her return she should search the bed, find my harmless animal suspended by the neck, and descend upon me with all the wrath generated of needless terror, I crept into the room, got down my rat, pulled away the string, and escaped. The next morning she said nothing about the rat, but went to a neighbour's and brought home a fine cat. I laughed in my sleeve, thinking how little her cat could protect her from my rat.

Once more, however, she changed her quarters, and went into a sort of inferior spare room in the upper part of the house, which suited my operations still better, for from my own bed I could now manage to drop and pull up the rat, drawing it away beyond the danger of discovery. The next night she took the cat into the room with her, and for that one I judged it prudent to leave her alone, but the next, having secured Kirsty's cat, I turned him into the room after she was in bed: the result was a frightful explosion of feline wrath.

I now thought I might boast of my successes to Turkey, but he was not pleased.

"She is sure to find you out, Ranald," he said, "and then whatever else we do will be a failure. Leave her alone till we have her quite."

I do not care to linger over this part of my story. I am a little ashamed of it.

We found at length that her private reservoir was quite full of meal. I kept close watch still, and finding one night that she was not in the house, discovered also that the meal-tub was now empty. I ran to Turkey, and together we hurried to Betty's cottage.

It was a cloudy night with glimpses of moonlight. When we reached the place, we heard voices talking, and were satisfied that both the Kelpie and Wandering Willie were there.

"We must wait till she comes out," said Turkey. "We must be able to say we saw her."

There was a great stone standing out of the ground not far from the door, just opposite the elder-tree, and the path lay between them.

"You get behind that tree—no, you are the smaller object—you get behind that stone, and I'll get behind the tree," said Turkey; "and when the Kelpie comes out, you make a noise like a beast, and rush at her on all-fours."

"I'm good at a pig, Turkey," I said. "Will a pig do?"

"Yes, well enough."

"But what if she should know me, and catch me, Turkey?"

"She will start away from you to my side; I shall rush out like a mad dog, and then she'll run for it."

We waited a long time—a very long time, it seemed to me. It was well it was summer. We talked a little across, and that helped to beguile the weary time; but at last I said in a whisper:

"Let's go home, Turkey, and lock the doors, and keep her out."

"You go home then, Ranald, and I'll wait. I don't mind if it be till to-morrow morning. It is not enough to be sure ourselves; we must be able to make other people sure."

"I'll wait as long as you do, Turkey; only I'm very sleepy, and she might come out when I was asleep."

"Oh, I shall keep you awake!" replied Turkey; and we settled down again for a while.

At the long last the latch of the door was lifted. I was just falling asleep, but the sound brought me wide awake at once. I peeped from behind my shelter. It was the Kelpie, with an empty bag—a pillow-case, I believe—in her hand. Behind her came Wandering Willie, but did not follow her from the door. The moment was favourable, for the moon was under a thick cloud. Just as she reached the stone, I rushed out on hands and knees, grunting and squeaking like a very wild pig indeed. As Turkey had foretold, she darted aside, and I retreated behind my stone. The same instant Turkey rushed at her with such canine fury, that the imitation startled even me, who had expected it. You would have thought the animal was ready to tear a whole army to pieces, with such a complication of fierce growls and barks and squeals did he dart on the unfortunate culprit. She took to her heels at once, not daring to make for the cottage, because the enemy was behind her. But I had hardly ensconced myself behind the stone, repressing my laughter with all my might, when I was seized from behind by Wandering Willie, who had no fear either of pig or dog. He began pommelling me.



"Turkey! Turkey!" I cried.

The cry stopped his barking pursuit of the Kelpie. He rose to his feet and rushed to my aid. But when he saw the state of affairs, he turned at once for the cottage, crying:

"Now for a kick at the bagpipes!"

Wandering Willie was not too much a fool to remember and understand. He left me instantly, and made for the cottage. Turkey drew back and let him enter, then closed the door, and held it.

"Get away a bit, Ranald. I can run faster than Willie. You'll be out of sight in a few yards."

But instead of coming after us, Wandering Willie began playing a most triumphant tune upon his darling bagpipes. How the poor old woman enjoyed it, I do not know. Perhaps she liked it. For us, we set off to outstrip the Kelpie. It did not matter to Turkey, but she might lock me out again. I was almost in bed before I heard her come in. She went straight to her own room.



CHAPTER XXIX

A Double Exposure

Whether the Kelpie had recognized us I could not tell, but not much of the next morning passed before my doubt was over. When she had set our porridge on the table, she stood up, and, with her fists in her sides, addressed my father:

"I'm very sorry, sir, to have to make complaints. It's a thing I don't like, and I'm not given to. I'm sure I try to do my duty by Master Ranald as well as everyone else in this house."

I felt a little confused, for I now saw clearly enough that my father could not approve of our proceedings. I whispered to Allister—

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