Saunders and his mother entered.
"Here I am, guid sirs, an' you Mess John," said the grave-digger very respectfully, "an' my mither to answer for me, an' guid een to ye a'."
"Come awa', Mistress Mowdiewort," said the minister. "Ye hae aye been a guid member in full communion. Ye never gaed to a prayer- meetin' or Whig conventicle in yer life. It's a sad peety that ye couldna keep your flesh an' bluid frae companyin' an' covenantin' wi' them that lichtly speak o' the kirk."
"'Deed, minister, we canna help oor bairns—an' 'deed ye can speak till himsel'. He is of age—ask him! But gin ye begin to be ower sair on the callant, I'se e'en hae to tak' up the cudgels mysel'."
With this, Mistress Mowdiewort put her hands to the strings of her mutch, to feel that she had not unsettled them; then she stood with arms akimbo and her chest well forward like a grenadier, as if daring the session to do its worst.
"I have a word with you," said Mess John, lowering at her; "it is told to me that yon keepit your son back from answering the session when it was his bounden duty to appear on the first summons. Indeed, it is only on a warrant for blasphemy and the threat of deprivation of his liveli hood that he has come to-day. What have you to say that he should not be deprived and also declarit excommunicate?"
"Weel, savin' yer presence, Mess John," said Mistress Mowdiewort, "ye see the way o't is this: Saunders, my son, is a blate [shy] man, an' he canna weel speak for him sel'. I thought that by this time the craiter micht hae gotten a wife again that could hae spoken for him, an' had he been worth the weight o' a bumbee's hind leg he wad hae had her or this—an' a better yin nor the last he got. Aye, but a sair trouble she was to me; she had juist yae faut, Saunders's first wife, an' that was she was nae use ava! But it was a guid thing he was grave-digger, for he got her buriet for naething, an' even the coffin was what ye micht ca' a second-hand yin—though it had never been worn, which was a wunnerfu' thing. Ye see the way o't was this: There was Creeshy Callum, the brither o' yer doitit [stupid] auld betheral here, that canna tak' up the buiks as they should (ye should see my Saunders tak' them up at the Marrow kirk)—"
"Woman," said the minister, "we dinna want to hear—"
"Very likely no—but ye hae gien me permission to speak, an' her that's stannin afore yer honourable coort, brawly kens the laws. Elspeth Mowdiewort didna soop yer kirk an wait till yer session meetings war ower for thirty year in my ain man's time withoot kennin' a' the laws. A keyhole's a most amazin' convenient thing by whiles, an' I was suppler in gettin' up aff my hunkers then than at the present time."
"Silence, senseless woman!" said the session clerk.
"I'll silence nane, Jacob Kittle; silence yersel', for I ken what's in the third volume o' the kirk records at the thirty second page; an' gin ye dinna haud yer wheesht, dominie, ilka wife in the pairish'll ken as weel as me. A bonny yin you to sit cockin' there, an' to be learnin' a' the bairns their caritches [catechism]."
The session let her go her way; her son meantime stood passing an apologetic hand over his sleek hair, and making deprecatory motions to the minister, when he thought that his mother was not looking in his direction.
"Aye, I was speakin' aboot Creeshy Callum's coffin that oor Saunders—the muckle tongueless sumph there got dirt cheap—ye see Greeshy had been measured for't, but, as he had a short leg and a shorter, the joiner measured the wrang leg—joiners are a' dottle stupid bodies—an' whan the time cam' for Creeshy to be streekit, man, he wadna fit—na, it maun hae been a sair disappointment till him—that is to say—gin he war in the place whaur he could think wi' ony content on his coffin, an' that, judgin' by his life an' conversation, was far frae bein' a certainty."
"Mistress Mowdiewort, I hae aye respectit ye, an' we are a' willin' to hear ye noo, if you have onything to say for your son, but you must make no insinuations against any members of the court, or I shall be compelled to call the officer to put you out," said the minister, rising impressively with his hand stretched towards Mistress Elspeth Mowdiewort.
But Elspeth Mowdiewort was far from being impressed.
"Pit me oot, Snuffy Oallum; pit me, Eppie Mowdiewort, oot! Na, na, Snuffy's maybe no very wise, but he kens better nor that. Man, Maister Teends, I hae kenned the hale root an' stock o' thae Callums frae first to last; I hae dung Greeshy till he couldna stand—him that had to be twice fitted for his coffin; an' Wull that was hangit at Dumfries for sheep-stealin'; an' Meg that was servant till yersel—aye, an' a bonny piece she was as ye ken yersel'; an' this auld donnert carle that, when he carries up the Bibles, ye can hear the rattlin' o' his banes, till it disturbs the congregation—I hae dung them a' heeds ower heels in their best days—an' to tell me at the hinner end that ye wad ca' in the betheral to pit oot Elspeth Mowdiewort! Ye maun surely hae an awsome ill wull at the puir auld craitur!"
"Mither," at last said Saunders, who was becoming anxious for his grave-diggership, and did not wish to incense his judges further, "I'm willin' to confess that I had a drap ower muckle the ither night when I met in wi' the minister an' the dominie; but, gin I confess it, ye'll no gar me sit on the muckle black stool i' repentance afore a' the fowk, an' me carries up the buiks i' the Marrow kirk."
"Alexander Mowdiewort, ye spak ill o' the minister an' session, o' the kirk an' the wholesome order o' this parish. We have a warrant for your apprehension and appearance which we might, unless moved by penitence and dutiful submission, put in force. Then are ye aware whaur that wad land you—i' the jail in Kirkcudbright toon, my man Saunders."
But still it was the dread disgrace of the stool of repentance that bulked most largely in the culprit's imagination.
"Na, na," interjected Mistress Mowdiewort, "nae siccan things for ony bairns o' mine. Nae son o' mine sall ever set his hurdies on the like o't."
"Be silent, woman!" said the minister severely; "them that will to black stool maun to black stool. Rebukit an' chastised is the law an' order, and rebukit and chastised shall your son be as weel as ithers."
"'Deed, yer nae sae fond o' rebukin' the great an' the rich. There's that young speldron frae the castle; its weel kenned what he is, an' hoo muckle he's gotten the weight o'."
"He is not of our communion, and not subject to our discipline," began the minister.
"Weel," said Elspeth, "weel, let him alane. He's a Pape, an' gaun to purgatory at ony gate. But then there's bletherin' Johnnie o' the Dinnance Mains—he's as fu' as Solway tide ilka Wednesday, an' no only speaks agin minister an' session, as maybe my Saunders did (an' maybe no), but abuses Providence, an the bellman, an' even blasphemes agin the fast day—yet I never heard that ye had him cockit up on the black henbauks i' the kirk. But then he's a braw man an' keeps a gig!"
"The law o' the kirk is no respecter of persons," said Mess John.
"No, unless they are heritors," said Cochrane of the Holm, who had a pew with the name of his holding painted on it.
"Or members o' session," said sleeky Carment of the Kirkland, who had twice escaped the stool of repentance on the ground that, as he urged upon the body, "gleds [hawks] shouldna pike gleds een oot."
"Or parish dominies," said the session clerk, to give solidarity to his own position.
"Weel, I ken juist this if nae mair: my son disna sit on ony o' yer stools o' repentance," said Eppie Mowdiewort, demonstrating the truth of her position with her hand clenched at the dominie, who, like all clerks of ecclesiastical assemblies, was exceedingly industrious in taking notes to very small purpose. "Mair nor that, I'm maybe an unlearned woman, but I've been through the Testaments mair nor yince—the New Testament mair nor twice—an' I never saw naethin' aboot stools o' repentance in the hoose o' God. But my son Saunders was readin' to me the ither nicht in a fule history buik, an' there it said that amang the Papists they used to hae fowk that didna do as they did an' believe as they believed. Sae wi' a lang white serk on, an' a can'le i' their hands, they set them up for the rabble fowk to clod at them, an' whiles they tied them to a bit stick an' set lunt [fire] to them—an that's the origin o' yer stool o' repentance. What say ye to that?"
Mrs. Mowdiewort's lecture on church history was not at all appreciated by the session. The minister rose.
"We will close this sederunt," he said; "we can mak' nocht o' these two. Alexander Mowdiewort, thou art removed from thy office of grave-digger in the parish kirkyard, and both thysel' and thy mother are put under suspension for contumacy!"
"Haith!" said Elspeth Mowdiewort, pushing back her hair; "did ye ever hear the mak' o' the craitur. I haena been within his kirk door for twenty year. It's a guid job that a body can aye gang doon to godly Maister Welsh, though he's an awfu' body to deave [deafen] ye wi' the Shorter Quastions."
"An it's a guid thing," added Saunders, "that there's a new cemetery a-makkin'. There's no room for anither dizzen in yer auld kailyaird onyway—an' that I'm tellin' ye. An' I'm promised the new job too. Ye can howk yer ain graves yersel's."
"Fash na yer heid, Saunders, aboot them," said the old betheral at the door; "it's me that's to be grave-digger, but ye shall howk them a' the same in the mornin', an' get the siller, for I'm far ower frail—ye can hae them a' by afore nine o'clock, an' the minister disna pu' up his bedroom blind till ten!"
Thus it was that Saunders Mowdiewort ended his connection with an Erastian establishment, and became a true and complete member of the Marrow kirk. His mother also attended with exemplary diligence, but she was much troubled with a toothache on the days of catechising, and never quite conquered her unruly member to the last. But this did not trouble herself much—only her neighbours.
WHEN THE KYE COMES HAME.
That night Saunders went up over the hill again, dressed in his best. He was not a proud lover, and he did not take a rebuff amiss; besides, he had something to tell Meg Kissock. When he got to Craig Ronald, the girls were in the byre at the milking, and at every cow's tail there stood a young man, rompish Ebie Farrish at that at which Jess was milking, and quiet Jock Forrest at Meg's. Ebie was joking and keeping up a fire of running comment with Jess, whose dark-browed gipsy face and blue-black wisps of hair were set sideways towards him, with her cheek pressed upon Lucky's side, as she sent the warm white milk from her nimble fingers, with a pleasant musical hissing sound against the sides of the milking-pail.
Farther up the byre, Meg leaned her head against Crummy and milked steadily. Apparently she and Jock Forrest were not talking at all. Jock looked down and only a quiver of the corner of his beard betrayed that he was speaking. Meg, usually so outspoken and full of conversation, appeared to be silent; but really a series of short, low-toned sentences was being rapidly exchanged, so swiftly that no one, standing a couple of yards away, could have remarked the deft interchange.
But as soon as Saunders Mowdiewort came to the door, Jock Forrest had dropped Crummy's tail, and slipped silently out of the byre, even before Meg got time to utter her usual salutation of—
"Guid een to ye, Cuif! Hoo's a' the session?"
It might have been the advent of Meg's would-be sweetheart that frightened Jock Forrest away, or again he might have been in the act of going in any case. Jock was a quiet man who walked sedately and took counsel of no one. He was seldom seen talking to any man, never to a woman—least of all to Meg Kissock. But when Meg had many "lads" to see her in the evening, he could he observed to smile an inward smile in the depths of his yellow beard, and a queer subterranean chuckle pervaded his great body, so that on one occasion Jess looked up, thinking that there were hens roosting in the baulks overhead.
Jess and Ebie pursued their flirtation steadily and harmlessly, as she shifted down the byre as cow after cow was relieved of her richly perfumed load, rumbling and clinking neck chains, and munching in their head-stalls all the while. Saunders and Meg were as much alone as if they had been afloat on the bosom of Loch Grannoch.
"Ye are a bonny like man," said Meg, "to tak' yer minny to speak for ye before the session. Man, I wonder at ye. I wonder ye didna bring her to coort for ye?"
"War ye ever afore the Session, Meg?"
"Me afore the session—ye're a fule man, but ye dinna ken what yer sayin'—gin I thocht ye did—"
Here Meg became so violently agitated that Flecky, suffering from the manner in which Meg was doing her duty, kicked out, and nearly succeeded in overturning the milk-pail. Meg's quickness with hand and knee foiled this intention, but Flecky succeeded quite in planting the edge of her hoof directly on the Cuif's shin-bone. Saunders thereupon let go Flecky's tail, who instantly switched it into Meg's face with a crack like a whip.
"Ye great muckle senseless hullion!" exclaimed Meg, "gin ye are nae use in the byre, gang oot till ye can learn to keep haud o' a coo's tail! Ye hae nae mair sense than an Eerishman!"
There was a pause. The subject did not admit of discussion, though Saunders was a cuif, he knew when to hold his tongue—at least on most occasions.
"An' what brocht ye here the nicht, Cuif?" asked Meg, who, when she wanted information, knew how to ask it directly, a very rare feminine accomplishment.
"To see you, Meg, my dawtie," replied Saunders, tenderly edging nearer.
"Yer what?" queried Meg with asperity; "I thocht that ye had aneuch o' the session already for caa'in' honest fowk names; gin ye begin wi' me, ye'll get on the stool o' repentance o' yer ain accord, afore I hae dune wi' ye!"
"But, Meg, I hae telled ye afore that I am sair in need o' a wife. It's byordinar' [extraordinary] lonesome up in the hoose on the hill. An' I'm warned oot, Meg, so that I'll look nae langer on the white stanes o' the kirkyaird."
"Gin ye want a wife, Saunders, ye'll hae to look oot for a deef yin, for it's no ony or'nar' woman that could stand yer mither's tongue. Na, Saunders, it wad be like leevin' i' a corn-mill rinnin' withoot sheaves."
"Meg," said Saunders, edging up cautiously, "I hae something to gie ye!"
"Aff wi' ye, Cuif! I'll hae nae trokin' wi' lads i' the byre—na, there's a time for everything—especial wi' widowers, they're the warst o' a'—they ken ower muckle. My granny used to say, gin Solomon couldna redd oot the way o' a man wi' a maid, what wad he hae made o' the way o' a weedower that's lookin' for his third?"
A DAUGHTER OF THE PICTS.
The Cuif put his hands in his pockets as if to keep them away from the dangerous temptation of touching Meg. He stood with his shoulder against the wall and chewed a straw.
"What's come o' Maister Peden thae days?" asked Meg.
"He's maist michty unsettled like," replied Saunders, "he's for a' the world like a stirk wi' a horse cleg on him that he canna get at. He comes in an' sits doon at his desk, an' spreads oot his buiks, an' ye wad think that he's gaun to be at it the leevelang day. But afore ye hae time to turn roon' an' get at yer ain wark, the craitur'll be oot again an' awa' up to the hill wi' a buik aneath his oxter. Then he rises early in the mornin', whilk is no a guid sign o' a learned man, as I judge. What for should a learned man rise afore his parritch is made? There maun be something sair wrang," said Saunders Mowdiewort.
"Muckle ye ken aboot learned men. I suppose, ye think because ye carry up the Bible, that ye ken a' that's in't," returned Meg, with a sneer of her voice that might have turned milk sour. The expression of the emotions is fine and positive in the kitchens of the farm towns of Galloway.
"SWISH, SWISH!" steadily the white streams of milk shot into the pails. "JANGLE, JANGLE!" went the steel head chains of the cows. Occasionally, as Jess and Meg lifted their stools, they gave Flecky or Speckly a sound clap on the back with their hand or milking-pail, with the sharp command of "Stan' aboot there!" "Haud up!" "Mind whaur yer comin'!" Such expressions as these Jess and Meg could interject into the even tenor of their conversation, in a way that might have been disconcerting in dialogues conducted on other principles. But really the interruptions did not affect Ebie Farrish or any other of the byre-visiting young men, any more than the rattling of the chains, as Flecky and Speckly arranged their own business at the end devoted to imports. These sharp words of command were part of the nightly and morningly ceremony of the "milking" at every farm. The cans could no more froth with the white reaming milk without this accompaniment of slaps and adjurations than Speckly, Flecky, and the rest could take their slow, thoughtfully considerate, and sober way from the hill pastures into the yard without Meg at the gate of the field to cry: "Hurley, Hurley, hie awa' hame!" to the cows themselves; and "Come awa' bye wi' them, fetch them, Roger!" to the short-haired collie, who knew so much better than to go near their flashing heels.
The conversation in the byre proceeded somewhat in this way:
Jess was milking her last cow, with her head looking sideways at Ebie, who stood plaiting Marly's tail in a newfangled fashion he had brought from the low end of the parish, and which was just making its way among young men of taste.
"Aye, ye'll say so, nae doot," said Jess, in reply to some pointed compliment of her admirer; "but I ken you fowk frae the laich end ower weel. Ye hae practeesed a' that kind o' talk on the lasses doon there, or ye wadna be sae gleg [ready] wi't to me, Ebie."
This is an observation which shows that Jess could not have eaten more effectively of the tree of knowledge, had she been born in Mayfair.
Ebie laughed a laugh half of depreciation, half of pleasure, like a cat that has its back stroked and its tail pinched at the same time.
"Na, na, Jess, it a' comes by natur'. I never likit a lassie afore I set my een on you," said Ebie, which, to say the least of it, was curious, considering that he had an assortment of locks of hair—black, brown, and lint-white—up in the bottom of his "kist" in the stable loft where he slept. He kept them along with his whipcord and best Sunday pocket knife, and sometimes he took a look at them when he had to move them in order to get his green necktie. "I never really likit a lass afore, Jess, ye may believe me, for I wasna a lad to rin after them. But whenever I cam' to Craig Ronald I saw that I was dune for."
"STAN' BACK, YE MUCKLE SLABBER!" said Jess, suddenly and emphatically, in a voice that could have been heard a hundred yards away. Speckly was pushing sideways against her as if to crowd her off her stool.
"Say ye sae, Ebie?" she added, as if she had not previously spoken, in the low even voice in which she had spoken from the first, and which could be heard by Ebie alone. In the country they conduct their love-making in water-tight compartments. And though Ebie knew very well that the Cuif was there, and may have suspected Jock Forrest, even after his apparent withdrawal, so long as they did not trouble him in his conversation with Jess, he paid no heed to them, nor indeed they to him. No man is his brother's keeper when he goes to the byre to plait cows' tails.
"But hoo div ye ken, or, raither, what gars ye think that ye're no the first that I hae likit, Jess?"
"Oh, I ken fine," said Jess, who was a woman of knowledge, and had her share of original sin.
"But hoo div ye ken?" persisted Ebie.
"Fine that," said Jess, diplomatically.
A DAUGHTER OF THE PICTS
"But tell us, Jess," said Ebie, who was in high good humour at these fascinating accusations.
"Oh," said Jess, with a quick gipsy look out of her fine dark eyes, "brawly I kenned on Saturday nicht that yon wasna the first time ye had kissed a lass!"
"Jess," said Ebie, "ye're a wunnerfu' woman!" which was his version of Ralph's "You are a witch." In Ebie's circle "witch" was too real a word to be lightly used, so he said "wunnerfu' woman."
He went on looking critically at Jess, as became so great a connoisseur of the sex.
"I hae seen, maybes, bonnier faces, as ye micht say—"
"HAUD AFF, WI' YE THERE; MIND WHAUR YER COMIN', YE MUCKLE SENSELESS NOWT!" said Jess to her Ayrshire Hornie, who had been treading on her toes.
"As I was sayin', Jess, I hae seen—"
"CAN YE NO UNNERSTAN', YE SENSELESS LUMP?" cried Jess, warningly; "I'll knock the heid aff ye, gin ye dinna drap it!" still to Hornie, of course.
But the purblind theorist went on his way: "I hae seen bonnier faces, but no mair takin', Jess, than yours. It's no aye beauty that tak's a man, Jess, ye see, an' the lassies that hae dune best hae been plain-favoured lassies that had pleasant expressions—"
"Tell the rest to Hornie gin ye like!" said Jess, rising viciously and leaving Ebie standing there dumfounded. He continued to hold Hornie's tail for some time, as if he wished to give her some further information on the theory of beauty, as understood in the "laich" end of the parish.
Saunders saw him from afar, and cried out to him down the length of the byre,
"Are ye gaun to mak' a watch-guard o' that coo's tail, Ebie?—ye look fell fond o't."
"Ye see what it is to be in love," said John Scott, the herd, who had stolen to the door unperceived and so had marked Ebie's discomfiture.
"He disna ken the difference between Jess hersel' an' Hornie!" said the Cuif, who was repaying old scores.
AT THE BARN END
In a little while the cows were all milked. Saunders was standing at the end of the barn, looking down the long valley of the Grannoch water. There was a sweet coolness in the air, which he vaguely recognized by taking off his hat.
"Open the yett!" cried Jess, from the byre door. Saunders heard the clank and jangle of the neck chains of Hornie and Specky and the rest, as they fell from their necks, loosened by Jess's hand. The sound grew fainter and fainter as Jess proceeded to the top of the byre where Marly stood soberly sedate and chewed her evening cud. Now Marly did not like Jess, therefore Meg always milked her; she would not, for some special reason of her own, "let doon her milk" when Jess laid a finger on her. This night she only shook her head and pushed heavily against Jess as she came.
"Hand up there, ye thrawn randy!" said Jess in byre tones.
And so very sulkily Marly moved out, looking for Meg right and left as she did so. She had her feelings as well as any one, and she was not the first who had been annoyed by the sly, mischievous gipsy with the black eyes, who kept so quiet before folk. As she went out of the byre door, Jess laid her switch smartly across Marly's loins, much to the loss of dignity of that stately animal, who, taking a hasty step, slipped on the threshold, and overtook her neighbours with a slow resentment gathering in her matronly breast.
When Saunders Mowdiewort heard the last chain drop in the byre, and the strident tones of Jess exhorting Marly, he took a few steps to the gate of the hill pasture. He had to pass along a short home-made road, and over a low parapetless bridge constructed simply of four tree-trunks laid parallel and covered with turf. Then he dropped the bars of the gate into the hill pasture with a clatter, which came to Winsome's ears as she stood at her window looking out into the night. She was just thinking at that moment what a good thing it was that she had sent back Ralph Peden's poem. So, in order to see whether this were so or not, she repeated it all over again to herself.
When he came back again to the end of the barn, Saunders found Jess standing there, with the wistful light in her eyes which that young woman of many accomplishments could summon into them as easily as she could smile. For Jess was a minx—there is no denying the fact. Yet even slow Saunders admitted that, though she was nothing to Meg, of course, still there was something original and attractive about her—like original sin.
Jess was standing with her head on one side, putting the scarlet head of a poppy among her black hair. Jess had strange tastes, which would be called artistic nowadays in some circles. Her liking was always BIZARRE and excellent, the taste of the primitive Galloway Pict from whom she was descended, or of that picturesque Glenkens warrior, who set a rowan bush on his head on the morning when he was to lead the van at the battle of the Standard. Scotland was beaten on that great occasion, it is true; but have the chroniclers, who complain of the place of Galloway men in the ranks, thought how much more terribly Scotland might have been beaten had Galloway not led the charge? But this is written just because Jess Kissock, a Galloway farm lassie, looked something like a cast back to the primitive Pict of the south, a fact which indeed concerns the story not at all, for Saunders Mowdiewort had not so much as ever heard of a Pict.
Jess did not regard Saunders Mowdiewort highly at any time. He was one of Meg's admirers, but after all he was a man, and one can never tell. It was for this reason that she put the scarlet poppy into her hair.
She meditated "I maybe haena Meg's looks to the notion o' some folk, but I mak' a heap better use o' the looks that I hae, an' that is a great maitter!"
"Saunders," said Jess softly, going up to the Cuif and pretending to pick a bit of heather off his courting coat. She did this with a caressing touch which soothed the widower, and made him wish that Meg would do the like. He began to think that he had never properly valued Jess.
"Is Meg comin' oot again?" Jess inquired casually, the scarlet poppy set among the blue-black raven's wings, and brushing his beard in a distracting manner.
Saunders would hare given a good deal to be able to reply in the affirmative, but Meg had dismissed him curtly after the milking, with the intimation that it was time he was making manseward. As for her, she was going within doors to put the old folks to bed.
After being satisfied on this point the manner of Jess was decidedly soothing. That young woman had a theory which was not quite complimentary either to the sense or the incorruptibility of men. It was by showing an interest in them and making them think that they (or at least the one being operated upon) are the greatest and most fascinating persons under the sun, almost anything can be done. This theory has been acted upon with results good and bad, in other places besides the barn end of Craig Ronald.
"They're a' weel at the Manse?" said Jess, tentatively.
"On aye," said Saunders, looking round the barn end to see if Meg could see him. Satisfied that Meg was safe in bed, Saunders put his hand on Jess's shoulder—the sleek-haired, candle-greased deceiver that he was.
"Jess, ye're bonny," said he.
"Na, na," said Jess, very demurely, "it's no me that's bonny—its Meg!"
Jess was still looking at him, and interested in getting all the rough wool off the collar of his homespun coat.
The Samson of the graveyard felt his strength deserting him.
"Davert, Jess lass, but it's a queer thing that it never cam across me that ye were bonny afore!"
Jess looked down. The Cuif thought that it was because she was shy, and his easy heart went out to her; but had he seen the smile that was wasted on a hopping sparrow beneath, and especially the wicked look in the black eyes, he might have received some information as to the real sentiments of girls who put red poppies in their hair in order to meet their sisters' sweethearts at the barn end.
"Is the young minister aye bidin' at the Manse?" asked Jess.
"Aye, he is that!" said Saunders, "he's a nice chiel' yon. Ye'll see him whiles ower by here. They say—that is Manse Bell says— that he's real fond o' yer young mistress here. Ken ye ocht aboot that, Jess?"
"Hoots, havers, our young mistress is no for penniless students, I wot weel. There'll be nocht in't, an' sae ye can tell Bell o' the Manse, gin you an' her is so chief [intimate]."
"Very likely ye're richt. There'll be nocht in't, I'm thinkin'—at least on her side. But what o' the young man? D'ye think he's sair ta'en up aboot Mistress Winsome? Meg was sayin' so."
"Meg thinks there's naebody worth lookin' at in the warl' but hersel' and Mistress Winifred Charteris, as she ca's hersel'; but there's ithers thinks different."
"What hae ye against her, Jess? I thocht that she's a fell fine young leddy."
"Oh she's richt eneuch, but there's bonny lasses as weel as her; an' maybe, gin young Maister Peden comes ower by to Oraig Eonald to see a lass nnkenned o' a'—what faut wad there be in that?"
"Then it's Meg he comes to see, and no' the young mistress?" said the alarmed grave-digger.
"Maybes aye an' maybes no—there's bonny lasses forby Meg Kissock for them that hae gotten een in their heads."
"Wi' Jess! Is't yerself?" said Saunders.
Jess was discreetly silent.
"Ye'll no tell onybody, wull ye, Maister Mowdiewort?" she said anxiously.
To Saunders this was a great deal better than being called a "Cuif."
"Na, Jess, lass, I'll no tell a soul—no yin."
"No' even Meg-mind!" repeated Jess, who felt that this was a vital point.
So Saunders promised, though he had intended to do so on the first opportunity.
"Mind, if ye do, I'll never gie ye a hand wi' Meg again as lang as I leeve!" said Jess emphatically.
"Jess, d'ye think she likes me?" asked the widower in a hushed whisper.
"Saunders, I'm jnist sure o't," replied Jess with great readiness. "But she's no yin o' the kind to let on."
"Na," groaned Saunders, "I wuss to peace she was. But ye mind me that I gat a letter frae the young minister that I was to gie to Meg. But as you're the yin he comes to see, I maun as weel gie't direct to yoursel'."
"It wad be as weel," said Jess, with a strange sort of sea-fire like moonshine in her eyes.
Saunders passed over a paper to her readily, and Jess, with her hand still on his coat-collar, in a way that Meg had never used, thanked him in her own way.
"Juist bide a wee," she said; "I'll be wi' ye in a minute!"
Jess hurried down into the old square-plotted garden, which ran up to the orchard trees. She soon found a moss-rose bush from which she selected a bud, round which the soft feathery envelope was just beginning to curl back. Then she went round by the edge of the brook which keeps damp one side of the orchard, where she found some single stems of forget-me-nots, shining in the dusk like beaded turquoise. She pulled some from the bottom of the half-dry ditch, and setting the pale moss-rosebud in the middle, she bound the whole together with a striped yellow and green withe. Then snipping the stacks with her pocket scissors, she brought the posy to Saunders, with instructions to wrap it in a dock-leaf and never to let his hands touch it the whole way.
Saunders, dazed and fascinated, forgetful even of Meg and loyalty, promised. The glamour of Jess, the gypsy, was upon him.
"But what am I to say," he asked.
"Say its frae her that he sent the letter to; he'll ken brawly that Meg hadna the gumption to send him that!" said Jess candidly.
Saunders said his good-night in a manner which would certainly have destroyed all his chances with Meg had she witnessed the parting. Then he stolidly tramped away down the loaning.
Jess called after him, struck with a sudden thought. "See that ye dinna gie it to him afore the minister."
Then she put her hands beneath her apron and walked home meditating. "To be a man is to be a fool," said Jess Kissock, putting her whole experience into a sentence. Jess was a daughter of the cot; put then she was also a daughter of Eve, who had not even so much as a cot.
As soon as Jess was by herself in the empty byre, to which she withdrew herself with the parcel which the faithful and trustworthy Cuif had entrusted to her, she lit the lantern which always stood in the inside of one of the narrow triangular wickets that admitted light into the byre. Sitting down on the small hay stall, she pulled the packet from her pocket, looked it carefully over, and read the simple address, "In care of Margaret Kissock." There was no other writing upon the outside.
Opening the envelope carefully, he let the light of the byre lantern rest on the missive. It was written in a delicate but strong handwriting—the hand of one accustomed to forming the smaller letters of ancient tongues into a current script. "To Mistress Winifred Charteris," it ran. "Dear Lady: That I have offended you by the hastiness of my words and the unforgivable wilfulness of my actions, I know, but cannot forgive myself. Yet, knowing the kindness of your disposition, I have thought that you might be better disposed to pardon me than I myself. For I need not tell you, what you already know, that the sight of you is dearer to me than the light of the morning. You are connected in my mind and heart with all that is best and loveliest. I need not tell now that I love you, for you know that I love the string of your bonnet. Nor am I asking for anything in return, save only that you may know my heart and not be angry. This I send to ease its pain, for it has been crying out all night long, 'Tell her— tell her!' So I have risen early to write this. Whether I shall send it or no, I cannot tell. There is no need, Winsome, to answer it, if you will only let it fall into your heart and make no noise, as a drop of water falls into the sea. Whether you will be angry or not I cannot tell, and, truth to tell you, sweetheart, I am far past caring. I am coming, as I said, to Craig Ronald to see your grandmother, and also, if you will, to see you. I shall not need you to tell me whether you are angered with a man's love or no; I shall know that before you speak to me. But keep a thought for one that loves you beyond all the world, and as if there were no world, and naught but God and you and him. For this time fare you well. Ralph Peden."
Jess turned it over with a curious look on her face. "Aye, he has the grip o't, an' she micht get him gin she war as clever as Jess Kissock; but him that can love yin weel can lo'e anither better, an' I can keep them sindry [asunder]. I saw him first, an' he spak to me first. 'Ye're no to think o' him,' said my mither. Think o' him! I hae thocht o' nocht else. Think of him! Since when is thinkin' a crime? A lass maun juist do the best she can for hersel', be she cotman's dochter or laird's. Love's a' yae thing— kitchen or byre, but or ben. See a lad, lo'e a lad, get a lad, keep a lad! Ralph Peden will kiss me afore the year's oot," she said with determination.
So in the corner of the byre, among the fragrant hay and fresh-cut clover, Jess Kissock the cottar's lass prophesied out of her wayward soul, baring her intentions to herself as perhaps her sister in boudoir hushed and perfumed might not have done. There are Ishmaels also among women, whose hand is against every woman, and who stand for their own rights to the man on whom they have set their love; and the strange thing is, that such are by no means the worst of women either.
Stranger still, so strong and dividing to soul and marrow is a clearly defined purpose and determinately selfish, that such women do not often fail. And indeed Jess Kissock, sitting in the hay- neuk, with her candle in the lantern throwing patterns on the cobwebby walls from the tiny perforations all round, made a perfectly correct prophecy. Ralph Peden did indeed kiss her, and that of his own free will as his love of loves within a much shorter space of time than a year.
Strangely also, Jess the gipsy, the dark-browed Pictess, was neither angry nor jealous when she read Ralph's letter to Winsome. According to all rules she ought to have been. She even tried to persuade herself that she was. But the sight of Ralph writing to Winsome gave no pang to her heart. Nor did this argue that she did not love really and passionately. She did; but Jess had in her the Napoleon instinct. She loved obstacles. So thus it was what she communed with herself, sitting with her hand on her brow, and her swarthy tangle of hair falling all about her face. All women have a pose in which they look best. Jess looked best leaning forward with her elbows on her knees. Had there been a fender at her father's fireside Jess would have often sat on it, for there is a dangerous species of girl that, like a cat, looks best sitting on a fender. And such a girl is always aware of the circumstance.
"He has written to Winsome," Jess communed with herself. "Well, he shall write to me. He loves her, he thinks; then in time he shall love me, and be sure perfectly o't. Let me see. Gin she had gotten this letter, she wadna hae answered it. So he'll come the morn, an' he'll no say a word to her aboot the letter. Na, he'll juist look if she's pleased like, and gin that gomeral Saunders gied him the rose, he'll no be ill to please eyther! But afore he gangs hame he shall see Jess Kissock, an' hear frae her aboot the young man frae the Castle!" Jess took another look at the letter." It's a bonny hand o' write," she said, "but Dominie Cairnochan learned me to write as weel as onybody, an' some day he'll write to me. I'se no be byre lass a' my life. Certes no. There's oor Meg, noo; she'll mairry some ignorant landward man, an' leeve a' her life in a cot hoose, wi' a dizzen weans tum'lin' aboot her! What yin canna learn, anither can," continued Jess. "I hae listened to graun' fowk speakin', an' I can speak as weel as onybody. I'll disgrace nane. Gin I canna mak' mysel' fit for kirk or manse, my name's no Jess Kissock. I'm nae country lump, to be left where I'm set doon, like a milkin' creepie [stool], an' kickit ower when they are dune wi' me."
It is of such women, born to the full power and passion of sex, and with all the delicate keenness of the feminine brain, utterly without principle or scruple, that the Cleopatras are made. For black-browed Egypt, the serpent of old Nile, can sit in a country byre, and read a letter to another woman. For Cleopatra is not history; she is type.
THE RETURN OF EBIE FARRISH.
Now Ebie Farrish had been over at the Nether Crae seeing the lassies there in a friendly way after the scene in the byre, for Galloway ploughmen were the most general of lovers. Ebie considered it therefore no disloyalty to Jess that he would display his watch-guard and other accomplishments to the young maids at the Crae. Nor indeed would Jess herself have so considered it. It was only Meg who was so particular that she did not allow such little practice excursions of this kind on the part of her young men.
When Ebie started to go home, it was just midnight. As he came over the Grannoch bridge he saw the stars reflected in the water, and the long stretches of the loch glimmering pearl grey in the faint starlight and the late twilight. He thought they looked as if they were running down hill. His thoughts and doings that day and night had been earthly enough. He had no regrets and few aspirations. But the coolness of the twilight gave him the sense of being a better man than he knew himself to be. Ebie went to sit under the ministrations of the Reverend Erasmus Teends at twelve by the clock on Sunday. He was a regular attendant. He always was spruce in his Sunday blacks. He placed himself in the hard pews so that he could have a view of his flame for the time being. As he listened to the minister he thought sometimes of her and of his work, and of the turnip-hoeing on the morrow, but oftenest of Jess, who went to the Marrow kirk over the hills. He thought of the rise of ten shillings that he would ask at the next half- year's term, all as a matter of course—just as Robert Jamieson the large farmer, thought of the rent day and the market ordinary, and bringing home the "muckle greybeard "full of excellent Glenlivat from the Cross Keys on Wednesday. Above them both the Reverend Erasmus Teends droned and drowsed, as Jess Kissock said with her faculty for expression, "bummelin' awa like a bubbly-Jock or a bum-bee in a bottle."
But coming home in the coolness of this night, the ploughman was, for the time being, purged of the grosser humours which come naturally to strong, coarse natures, with physical frames ramping with youth and good feeding. He stood long looking into the lane water, which glided beneath the bridge and away down to the Dee without a sound.
He saw where, on the broad bosom of the loch, the stillness lay grey and smooth like glimmering steel, with little puffs of night wind purling across it, and disappearing like breath from a new knife-blade. He saw where the smooth satin plane rippled to the first water-break, as the stream collected itself, deep and black, with the force of the water behind it, to flow beneath the bridge. When Ebie Farrish came to the bridge he was a material Galloway ploughman, satisfied with his night's conquests and chewing the cud of their memory.
He looked over. He saw the stars, which were perfectly reflected a hundred yards away on the smooth expanse, first waver, then tremble, and lastly break into a myriad delicate shafts of light, as the water quickened and gathered. He spat in the water, and thought of trout for breakfast. But the long roar of the rapids of the Dee came over the hill, and a feeling of stillness with it, weird and remote. Uncertain lights shot hither and thither under the bridge, in strange gleams of reflection. The ploughman was awed. He continued to gaze. The stillness closed in upon him. The aromatic breath of the pines seemed to cool him and remove him from himself. He had a sense that it was Sabbath morning, and that he had just washed his face to go to church. It was the nearest thing to worship he had ever known. Such moments come to the most material, and are their theology. Far off a solitary bird whooped and whinnied. It sounded mysterious and unknown, the cry of a lost soul. Ebie Farrish wondered where he would go to when he died. He thought this over for a little, and then he concluded that it were better not to dwell on this subject. But the crying on the lonely hills awed him. It was only a Jack snipe from whose belated nest an owl had stolen two eggs. But it was Ebie Farrish's good angel. He resolved that he would go seldomer to the village public o' nights, and that he would no more find cakes and ale sweet to his palate. It was a foregone conclusion that on Saturday night he would be there, yet what he heard and saw on Grannoch Bridge opened his sluggish eyes. Of a truth there was that in the world which had not been there for him before. It is to Jess Kissock's credit, that when Ebie was most impressed by the stillness and most under the spell of the night, he thought of her. He was only an ignorant, godless, good-natured man, who was no more moral than he could help; but it is both a testimonial and a compliment when such a man thinks of a woman in his best and most solemn moments.
At that moment Jess Kissock was putting Winsome Charteris's letter into her pocket.
There is no doubt that poor, ignorant Ebie, with his highly developed body and the unrestrained and irregular propensities of his rudimentary soul, was nearer the Almighty that night than his keen-witted and scheming sweetheart.
A trout leaped in the calm water, and Ebie stopped thinking of the eternities to remember where he had set a line. Far off a cock crew, and the well-known sound warned Ebie that he had better be drawing near his bed. He raised himself from the copestone of the parapet, and solemnly tramped his steady way up to the "onstead" of Craig Ronald, which took shape before him as he advanced like a low, grey-bastioned castle. As he entered the low square on his way across to the stable door he was surprised to notice a gleam of light in the byre. Ebie thought that some tramps were trespassing on the good nature of the mistress of the house, and he had the feeling of loyalty to his master's interests which distinguished the Galloway ploughman of an older time. He was mortally afraid of bogles, and would not have crossed the kirkyard after the glimmer of midnight without seeing a dozen corpse- candles; but tramps were quite another matter, for Ebie was not in the least afraid of mortal man—except only of Allan Welsh, the Marrow minister.
So he stole on tiptoe to the byre door, circumnavigating the "wicket," which poured across the yard its tell-tale plank of light. Standing within the doorway and looking over the high wooden stall, tenanted in winter by Jock, the shaggy black bull, Ebie saw Jess Kissock, lost in her dreams. The lantern was set on the floor in front of her. The candle had nearly burned down to the socket. Jess's eyes were large and brilliant. It seemed to Ebie Farrish that they were shining with light. Her red lips were pouted, and there was a warm, unwonted flush on her cheeks. In her dreams she was already mistress of a house, and considering how she would treat her servants. She would treat them kindly and well. She had heard her sister, who was servant at Earlston, tell how the ladies there treated their servants. Jess meant to do just the same. She meant to be a real lady. Ambition in a woman has a double chance, for adaptation is inborn along with it. Most men do not succeed very remarkably in anything, because at heart they do not believe in themselves. Jess did. It was her heritage from some Pict, who held back under the covert of his native woods so long as the Roman tortoise crept along, shelved in iron, but who drave headlong into a gap with all his men, when, some accident of formation showed the one chance given in a long day's march.
Ebie thought he had never seen Jess so beautiful. It had never struck him before that Jess was really handsomer than Meg. He only knew that there was a stinging wild-fruit fragrance about Jess and her rare favours he had never experienced in the company of any other woman. And he had a large experience.
Was it possible that she knew that he was out and was waiting for him? In this thought, which slowly entered in upon his astonishment, the natural Ebie forced himself to the front.
"Jess!" he exclaimed impulsively, taking a step within, the door. Instantly, as though some night-flying bat had flown against it, the candle went out—a breath wafted by him as lightly and as silently as a snowy owl flies home in the twilight. A subtle something, the influence of a presence, remained, which mingled strangely with the odours of the clover in the neuk, and the sour night-smell of the byre. Again there was a perfect silence. Without, a corncrake ground monotonously. A rat scurried along the rafter. Ebie in the silence and the darkness had almost persuaded himself that he had been dreaming, when his foot clattered against something which fell over on the cobble-stones that paved the byre. He stopped and picked it up. It was the byre lantern. The wick was still glowing crimson when he opened the little tin door. As he looked it drew slowly upward into a red star, and winked itself out. It was no dream. Jess had been in the byre. To meet whom? he asked himself.
Ebie went thoughtfully up-stairs, climbing the stable ladder as the first twilight of the dawn was slowly pouring up from beneath into a lake of light and colour in the east, as water gushes from a strong well-eye.
"Ye're a nice boy comin' to yer bed at this time o' the mornin'," said Jock Forrest from his bunk at the other side.
"Nicht-wanderin' bairns needs skelpin'!" remarked Jock Gordon, who had taken up his abode in a vacant stall beneath.
"Sleep yer ain sleeps, ye pair o' draft-sacks, in yer beds," answered Ebie Farrish without heat and simply as a conversational counter.
He did not know that he was quoting the earliest English classic. He had never heard of Chaucer.
"What wad Jess say?" continued Jock Forrest, sleepily.
"Ask her," said Ebie sharply.
"At any rate, I'm no gaun to be disturbit in my nicht's rest wi' the like o' you, Ebie Farrish! Ye'll eyther come hame in time o' nicht, or ye'll sleep elsewhere—up at the Crae, gin ye like."
"Mind yer ain business," retorted Ebie, who could think of nothing else to say.
Down below daft Jock Gordon, with some dim appropriateness was beginning his elricht croon of—
"The devil sat on his ain lum-tap, Hech how—black and reeky—"
when Jock Forrest, out of all patience, cried out down to him: "Jock Gordon, gin ye begin yer noise at twa o'clock i' the mornin' I'll come down an' pit ye i' the mill-dam!"
"Maybes ye'll be cryin' for me to pit you i' the mill-dam some warm day!" said Jock Gordon grimly, "but I'se do naething o' the kind. I'll een bank up the fires an' gie ye a turn till ye're weel brandered. Ye'll girn for mill-dams then, I'm thinkin'!"
So, grumbling and threatening in his well-accustomed manner, Jock Gordon returned to the wakeful silence which he kept during the hours usually given to sleep. It was said, however, that he never really slept. Indeed, Ebie and Jock were ready to take their oath that they never went up and down that wooden ladder, from which three of the rounds were missing, without seeing Jock Gordon's eyes shining like a cat's out of the dark of the manger where, like an ape, he sat all night cross-legged.
A SCARLET POPPY.
IT was early afternoon at Craig Ronald. Afternoon is quite a different time from morning at a farm. Afternoon is slack-water in the duties of the house, at least for the womenfolk—except in hay and harvest, when it is full flood tide all the time, night and day. But when we consider that the life of a farm town begins about four in the morning, it will be readily seen that afternoon comes far on in the day indeed for such as have tasted the freshness of the morning.
In the morning, Winsome had seen that every part of her farm machinery was going upon well-oiled wheels. She had consulted her honorary factor, who, though a middle-aged man and a bachelor of long and honourable standing, enrolled himself openly and avowedly in the army of Winsome's admirers. He used to ask every day what additions had been made to the list of her conquests, and took much interest in the details of her costume. This last she mostly devised for herself with taste which was really a gift natural to her, but which seemed nothing less than miraculous to the maidens and wives of a parish which had its dressmaking done according to the canons of an art which the Misses Crumbcloth, mantua-makers at the Dullarg village, had learned twenty-five years before, once for all.
Now it was afternoon, and Winsome was once more at the bake-board. There were few things that Winsome liked better to do, and she daily tried the beauty of her complexion before the open fireplace, though her grandmother ineffectually suggested that Meg Kissock would do just as well.
While Winsome was rubbing her hands with dry meal, before beginning, she became conscious that some one was coming up the drive. So she was not at all astonished when a loud knock in the stillness of the afternoon echoed through the empty house and far down the stone passages.
It was Ralph Peden who knocked, as indeed she did not need to tell herself. She called, however, to Meg Kissock.
"Meg," she said, "there is the young minister come to see my grandmother. Go and show him into the parlour."
Meg looked at her mistress. Her reply was irrelevant. "I was born on a Friday," she said.
But notwithstanding she went, and received the young man. She took him into the parlour, where he was set down among strange voluted foreign shells with a pink flush within the wide mouth of every one of them. Here there was a scent of lavender and subtle essences in the air, and a great stillness. While he sat waiting, he could hear afar off the sound of rippling water. It struck a little chill over him that, after the letter he had sent, Winsome should not have come to greet him herself. From this he argued the worst. She might be offended, or—still more fatal thought—she and Meg might be laughing over it together.
A tall, slim girl entered the quiet parlour with a silent, catlike tread. She was at his side before he knew it. It was the girl whom he had met on his way to the Manse the first day of his arrival. Jess's experience as a maid to her ladyship has stood her in good stead. She had a fineness of build which even the housework of a farm could not coarsen. Besides, Winsome considered Jess delicate, and did not allow her to lift anything really heavy. So it happened that when Ralph Peden came Jess was putting the fresh flowers in the great bowls of low relief chinaware—roses from the garden and sprays of white hawthorn, which flowers late in Galloway, blue hyacinths and harebells massed together—yellow marigolds and glorious scarlet poppies, of which Jess with her taste of the savage was passionately fond. She had arranged some of these against a pale blue background of bunches of forget-me- nots, with an effect strangely striking in that cool, dusky room.
When Jess came in Ralph had risen instinctively. He shook hands heartily with her. As she looked up at him, she said:
"Do you remember me?"
Ralph replied with an eager frankness, all the more marked that he had expected Winsome instead of Jess Kissock: "Indeed, how could I forget, when you helped me to carry my books that night? I am glad to find you here. I had no idea that you lived here."
Which was indeed true, for he had not yet been able to grasp the idea that any but Winsome lived at Craig Ronald.
Jess Kissock, who knew that not many moments were hers before Meg might come in, replied:
"I am here to help with the house. Meg Kissock is my sister." She looked to see if there was anything in Ralph's eyes she could resent; but a son of the Marrow kirk had not been trained to respect of persons.
"I am sure you will help very much," he said, politely.
"I'm not as strong as my sister, you see, so that I'm generally in the house," said Jess, who was carrying two dishes of flowers at once across the room. At Ralph's feet one of them overset, and poured all its wealth of blue and white and splashed crimson over the floor.
Jess stooped to lift them, crying shame on her own awkwardness. Ralph kindly assisted her. As they stooped to gather them together, Jess put forward all her attractions. Her lithe grace never showed to more advantage. Yet, for all the impression she made on Ralph, she might as well have wasted her sweetness on Jock Gordon—indeed, better so, for Jock recognized in her something strangely kin to his own wayward spirit.
When the flowers were all gathered and put back:
"Now you shall have one for helping," said Jess, as she had once seen a lady in England do, and she selected a dark-red, velvety damask rose from the wealth which she had cut and brought out of the garden. Standing on tiptoe, she could scarcely reach his button-hole.
"Bend down," she said. Obediently Ralph bent, good-humouredly patient, to please this girl who had done him a good turn on that day which now seemed so far away—the day that had brought Craig Ronald and Winsome into his life.
But in spite of his stooping, Jess had some difficulty in pinning in the rose, and in order to steady herself on tiptoe, she reached up and laid a staying hand on his shoulder. As he bent down, his face just touched the crisp fringes of her dark hair, which seemed a strange thing to him.
But a sense of another presence in the room caused him to raise his eyes, and there in the doorway stood Winsome Charteris, looking so pale and cold that she seemed to be a thousand miles away.
"I bid you good-afternoon, Master Peden," said Winsome quietly; "I am glad you have had time to come and visit my grandmother. She will be glad to see you."
For some moments Ralph had no words to answer. As for Jess, she did not even colour; she simply withdrew with the quickness and feline grace which were characteristic of her, without a flush or a tremor. It was not on such occasions that her heart stirred. When she was gone she felt that things had gone well, even beyond her expectation.
When Ralph at last found his voice, he said somewhat falteringly, yet with a ring of honesty in his voice which for the time being was lost upon Winsome:
"You are not angry with me for coming to-day. You knew I would come, did you not?"
Winsome only said: "My grandmother is waiting for me. You had better go in at once."
"Winsome," said Ralph, trying to prolong the period of his converse with her, "you are not angry with me for writing what I did?"
Winsome thought that he was referring to the poem which had come to her by way of Manse Bell and Saunders Mowdiewort. She was indignant that he should try to turn the tables upon her and so make her feel guilty.
"I received nothing that I had any right to keep," she said.
Ralph was silent. The blow was a complete one. She did not wish him to write to her any more or to speak to her on the old terms of friendship. He thought wholly of the letter that he had sent by Saunders the day before, and her coldness and changed attitude were set down by him to that cause, and not to the embarrassing position in which Winsome had surprised him when she came into the flower-strewn parlour. He did not know that the one thing a woman never really forgives is a false position, and that even the best of women in such cases think the most unjust things. Winsome moved towards the inner door of her grandmother's room.
Ralph put out his hand as if to touch hers, but Winsome withdrew herself with a swift, fierce movement, and held the door open for him to pass in. He had no alternative but to obey.
CONCERNING JOHN BAIRDIESON.
"Guid e'en to ye, Maister Ralph," said the gay old lady within, as soon as she caught sight of Ralph. "Keep up yer heid, man, an' walk like a Gilchrist. Ye look as dowie as a yow [ewe] that has lost her lammie."
Walter Skirving from his arm-chair gave this time no look of recognition. He yielded his hand to Ralph, who raised it clay- chill and heavy even in the act to shake. When he let it drop, the old man held up his palm and looked at it.
"Hae ye gotten aneuch guid Gallawa' lear to learn ye no to rin awa frae a bonny lass yet, Maister Ralph?" said the old lady briskly. She had not many jokes save with Winsome and Meg, and she rode one hard when she came by it.
But no reply was needed.
"Aye, aye, weelna," meditated the old lady, leaning back and folding her hands like a mediaeval saint of worldly tendencies, "tell me aboot your faither." "He is very robust and strong in health of body," said Kalph.
"Ye leeve in Edinbra'?" said the old lady, with a rising inflection of inquiry.
"Yes," said Ralph, "we live in James's Court. My father likes to be among his people."
"Faith na, a hantle o' braw folk hae leeved in James's Court in their time. I mind o' the Leddy Partan an' Mistress Girnigo, the king's jeweller's wife haein' a fair even-doon fecht a' aboot wha was to hae the pick o' the hooses on the stair.—Winifred, ma lassie, come here an' sit doon! Dinna gang flichterin' in an' oot, but bide still an' listen to what Maister Peden has to tell us aboot his farther."
Winsome came somewhat slowly and reluctantly towards the side of her grandmother's chair. There she sat holding her hand, and looking across the room towards the window where, motionless and abstracted, Walter Skirving, who was once so bold and strong, dreamed his life away.
"I hardly know what to tell you first," said Ralph, hesitatingly.
"Hoot, tell me gin your faither and you bide thegither withoot ony woman body, did I no hear that yince; is that the case na?" demanded the lady of Craig Ronald with astonishing directness.
"It is true enough," said Ralph, smiling, "but then we have with us my father's old Minister's Man, John Bairdieson. John has us both in hands and keeps us under fine. He was once a sailor, and cook on a vessel in his wild days; but when he was converted by falling from the top of a main yard into a dock (as he tells himself), he took the faith in a somewhat extreme form. But that does not affect his cooking. He is as good as a woman in a house."
"An' that's a lee," said the old lady. "The best man's no as guid as the warst woman in a hoose!"
Winsome did not appear to be listening. Of what interest could such things be to her?
Her grandmother was by no means satisfied with Ralph's report. "But that's nae Christian way for folk to leeve, withoot a woman o' ony kind i' the hoose—it's hardly human!"
"But I can assure you, Mistress Skirving, that, in spite of what you say, John Bairdieson does very well for us. He is, however, terribly jealous of women coming about. He does not allow one of them within the doors. He regards them fixedly through the keyhole before opening, and when he does open, his usual greeting to them is, 'Noo get yer message dune an' be gaun!'"
The lady of Craig Ronald laughed a hearty laugh.
"Gin I cam' to veesit ye I wad learn him mainners! But what does he do," she continued, "when some of the dames of good standing in the congregation call on your faither? Does he treat them in this cavalier way?"
"In that case," said Ralph, "John listens at my father's door to hear if he is stirring. If there be no sign, John says, 'The minister's no in, mem, an' I could not say for certain when he wull be!' Once my father came out and caught him in the act, and when he charged John with telling a deliberate lie to a lady, John replied, 'A'weel, it'll tak' a lang while afore we mak' up for the aipple!'"
It is believed that John Bairdieson here refers to Eve's fatal gift to Adam.
"John Bairdieson is an ungallant man. It'll be from him that ye learned to rin awa'," retorted the old lady.
"Grandmother," interrupted Winsome, who had suffered quite enough from this, "Master Peden has come to see you, and to ask how you find yourself to-day."
"Aye, aye, belike, belike—but Maister Ralph Peden has the power o' his tongue, an' gin that be his errand he can say as muckle for himsel'. Young fowk are whiles rale offcecious!" she said, turning to Ralph with the air of an appeal to an equal from the unaccountabilities of a child.
Winsome lifted some stray flowers that Jess Kissock had dropped when she sped out of the room, and threw them out of the window with an air of disdain. This to some extent relieved her, and she felt better. It surprised Ralph, however, who, being wholly innocent and unembarrassed by the recent occurrence, wondered vaguely why she did it.
"Noo tell me mair aboot your faither," continued Mistress Skirving. "I canna mak' oot whaur the Marrow pairt o' ye comes in —I suppose when ye tak' to rinnin' awa'."
"Grandmammy, your pillows are not comfortable; let me sort them for you."
Winsome rose and touched the old lady's surroundings in a manner that to Ralph was suggestive of angels turning over the white- bosomed clouds. Then Ralph looked at his pleasant querist to find out if he were expected to go on. The old lady nodded to him with an affectionate look.
"Well," said Ralph, "my father is like nobody else. I have missed my mother, of course, but my father has been like a mother for tenderness to me."
"Yer grandfaither, auld Ralph Gilchrist, was sore missed. There was thanksgiving in the parish for three days after he died!" said the old lady by way of an anticlimax.
Winsome looked very much as if she wished to say something, which brought down her grandmother's wrath upon her.
"Noo, lassie, is't you or me that's haein' a veesit frae this young man? Ye telled me juist the noo that he had come to see me. Then juist let us caa' oor cracks, an' say oor says in peace."
Thus admonished, Winsome was silent. But for the first time she looked at Ralph with a smile that had half an understanding in it, which made that yonng man's heart leap. He answered quite at random for the next few moments.
"About my father—yes, he always takes up the Bibles when John Bairdieson preaches."
"What!" said the old lady.
"I mean, John Bairdieson takes up the Bibles for him when he preaches, and as he shuts the door, John says over the railing in a whisper,'Noo, dinna be losin' the Psalms, as ye did this day three weeks'; or perhaps,'Be canny on this side o' the poopit; the hinge is juist pitten on wi' potty [putty];' whiles John will walk half-way down the kirk, and then turn to see if my father has sat quietly down according to instructions. This John has always done since the day when some inward communing overcame my father before he began his sermon, and he stood up in the pulpit without saying a word till the people thought that he was in direct communion with the Almighty."
"There was nane o' thae fine abstractions aboot your grandfaither, Ralph Gilchrist—na, whiles he was taen sae that he couldna speak he was that mad, an' aye he gat redder an' redder i' the face, till yince he gat vent, and then the ill words ran frae him like the Skyreburn [Footnote: A Galloway mountain stream noted for sudden floods.] in spate."
"What else did John Bairdieson say to yer faither?" asked Winsome, for the first time that day speaking humanly to Ralph.
That young man looked gratefully at her, as if she had suddenly dowered him with a fortune. Then he paused to try (because he was very young and foolish) to account for the unaccountability of womankind.
He endeavoured to recollect what it was that he had said and what John Bairdieson had said, but with indifferent success. He could not remember what he was talking about.
"John Bairdieson said—John Bairdieson said—It has clean gone out of my mind what John Bairdieson said," replied Ralph with much shamefacedness.
The old lady looked at him approvingly. "Ye're no a Whig. There's guid bluid in ye," she said, irrelevantly.
"Yes, I do remember now," broke in Ralph eagerly. "I remember what John Bairdieson said. 'Sit doon, minister,' he said, 'gin yer ready to flee up to the blue bauks'" [rafters—said of hens going to rest at nights]; "'there's a heap o' folk in this congregation that's no juist sae ready yet.'"
Ralph saw that Winsome and her grandmother were both genuinely interested in his father.
"Ye maun mind that I yince kenned yer faither as weel as e'er I kenned a son o' mine, though it's mony an' mony a year sin' he was i' this hoose." Winsome looked curiously at her grandmother. "Aye, lassie," she said, "ye may look an' look, but the faither o' him there cam as near to bein' your ain faither—"
Walter Skirving, swathed in his chair, turned his solemn and awful face from the window, as though called back to life by his wife's words. "Silence, woman!" he thundered.
But Mistress Skirving did not look in the least put out; only she was discreetly silent for a minute or two after her husband had spoken, as was her wont, and then she proceeded:
"Aye, brawly I kenned Gilbert Peden, when he used to come in at that door, wi' his black curls ower his broo as crisp an' bonny as his son's the day."
Winsome looked at the door with an air of interest. "Did he come to see you, grandmammy?" she asked.
"Aye, aye, what else?—juist as muckle as this young man here comes to see me. I had the word o' baith o' them for't. Ralph Peden says that he comes to see me, an' sae did the faither o' him—"
Again Mistress Skirving paused, for she was aware that her husband had turned on her one of his silent looks.
"Drive on aboot yer faither an' John Rorrison," she said; "it's verra entertainin'."
"Bairdieson," said Winsome, correctingly.
Ralph, now reassured that he was interesting Winsome as well, went on more briskly. Winsome had slipped down beside her grandmother, and had laid her arm across her grandmother's knees till the full curve of her breast touched the spare outlines of the elder woman. Ralph wondered if Winsome would ever in the years to come be like her grandmother. He thought that he could love her a thousand times more then.
"My father," said Ralph, "is a man much beloved by his congregation, for he is a very father to them in all their troubles; but they give him a kind of adoration in return that would not be good for any other kind of man except my father. They think him no less than infallible. 'Dinna mak' a god o' yer minister,' he tells them, but they do it all the same."
Winsome looked as if she did not wonder.
"When I kenned yer faither," said the old dame, "he wad hae been nocht the waur o' a pickle mair o' the auld Adam in him. It's a rale usefu' commodity in this life—"
"Why, grandmother—" began Winsome.
"Noo, lassie, wull ye haud yer tongue? I'm sair deeved wi' the din o' ye! Is there ony yae thing that a body may say withoot bern' interruptit? Gin it's no you wi' yer 'Grandmither!' like a cheepin' mavis, it's him ower by lookin' as if ye had dung doon the Bible an' selled yersel' to Sawtan. I never was in sic a hoose. A body canna get their tongue rinnin' easy an' comfortable like, but it's 'Woman, silence!' in a yoice as graund an' awfu' as 'The Lord said unto Moses'—or else you wi' yer Englishy peepin' tongue, 'Gran'mither!' as terrible shockit like as if a body were gaun intil the kirk on Sabbath wi' their stockin's doon aboot their ankles!"
The little outburst seemed mightily to relieve the old lady. Neither of the guilty persons made any signs, save that Winsome extended her elbow across her grandmother's knee, and poised a dimpled chin on her hand, smiling as placidly and contentedly as if her relative's words had been an outburst of admiration. The old woman looked sternly at her for a moment. Then she relented, and her hand stole among the girl's clustering curls. The little burst of temper gave way to a semi-humorous look of feigned sternness.
"Ye're a thankless madam," she said, shaking her white-capped head; "maybe ye think that the fifth commandment says nocht aboot grandmithers; but ye'll be tamed some day, my woman. Mony's the gamesome an' hellicat [madcap] lassie that I hae seen brocht to hersel', an' her wings clippit like a sea-gull's i' the yaird, tethered by the fit wi' a family o' ten or a dizzen—"
Winsome rose and marched out of the room with all the dignity of offended youth at the suggestion. The old lady laughed a hearty laugh, in which, however, Ralph did not join.
"Sae fine an' Englishy the ways o' folk noo," she went on; "ye mauna say this, ye mauna mention that; dear sirse me, I canna mind them a'. I'm ower auld a Pussy Bawdrous to learn new tricks o' sayin' 'miauw' to the kittlins. But for a' that an' a' that, I haena noticed that the young folk are mair particular aboot what they do nor they waur fifty years since. Na, but they're that nice they manna say this and they canna hear that."
The old lady had got so far when by the sound of retreating footsteps she judged that Winsome was out of hearing. Instantly she changed her tone.
"But, young man," she said, shaking her finger at him as if she expected a contradiction, "mind you, there's no a lass i' twunty parishes like this lassie o' mine. An' dinna think that me an' my guidman dinna ken brawly what's bringin' ye to Craig Ronald. Noo, it's richt an' better nor richt—for ye're yer faither's son, an' we baith wuss ye weel. But mind you that there's sorrow comin' to us a'. Him an' me here has had oor sorrows i' the past, deep buried for mair nor twenty year."
"I thank you with all my heart," said Ralph, earnestly. "I need not tell you, after what I have said, that I would lay my life down as a very little thing to pleasure Winsome Charteris. I love her as I never thought that woman could be loved, and I am not the kind to change."
"The faither o' ye didna change, though his faither garred him mairry a Gilchrist-an' a guid bit lass she was. But for a' that he didna change. Na, weel do I ken that he didna change."
"But," continued Ralph, "I have no reason in the world to imagine that Winsome thinks a thought about me. On the contrary, I have some reason to fear that she dislikes my person; and I would not be troublesome to her—"
"Hoot toot! laddie, dinna let the Whig bluid mak' a pulin' bairn o' ye. Surely ye dinna expect a lass o' speerit to jump at the thocht o' ye, or drap intil yer moo' like a black-ripe cherry aff a tree i' the orchard. Gae wa' wi' ye, man! what does a blithe young man o' mettle want wi' encouragement—encouragement, fie!"
"Perhaps you can tell me—" faltered Ralph. "I thought—"
"Na, na, I can tell ye naething; ye maun juist find oot for yersel', as a young man should. Only this I wull say, it's only a cauldrife Whigamore that wad tak' 'No' for an answer. Mind ye that gin the forbears o' the daddy o' ye was on the wrang side o' Bothwell Brig that day—an' guid Westland bluid they spilt, nae doot, Whigs though they waur—there's that in ye that rode doon the West Port wi' Clavers, an' cried:
'Up wi' the bonnets o' bonny Dundee!'"
"I know," said Ralph with some of the stiff sententiousness which he had not yet got rid of, "that I am not worthy of your granddaughter in any respect—"
"My certes, no," said the sharp-witted dame, "for ye're a man, an' it's a guid blessin' that you men dinna get your deserts, or it wad be a puir lookoot for the next generation, young man. Gae wa' wi' ye, man; mind ye, I'll no' say a word in yer favour, but raither the ither way—whilk," smiled Mistress Skirving in the deep still way that she sometimes had in the midst of her liveliness, "whilk will maybe do ye mair guid. But I'm speakin' for my guid-man when I say that ye hae oor best guid-wull. We think that ye are a true man, as yer faither was, though sorely he was used by this hoose. It wad maybes be some amends," she added, as if to herself.
Then the dear old lady touched her eyes with a fine handkerchief which she took out of a little black reticule basket on the table by her side.
As Ralph rose reverently and kissed her hand before retiring, Walter Skirving motioned him near his chair. Then he drew him downward till Ralph was bending on one knee. He laid a nerveless heavy hand on the young man's head, and looked for a minute—which seemed years to Ralph—very fixedly on his eyes. Then dropping his hand and turning to the window, he drew a long, heavy breath.
Ralph Peden rose and went out.
As Ralph Peden went through the flower-decked parlour in which he had met Jess Kissock an hour before, he heard the clang of controversy, or perhaps it is more correct to say, he heard the voice of Meg Kissock raised to its extreme pitch of command.
"Certes, my lass, but ye'll no hoodwink me; ye hae dune no yae thing this hale mornin' but wander athort [about] the hoose wi' that basket o' flooers. Come you an' gie us a hand wi' the kirn this meenit! Ye dinna gang a step oot o' the hoose the day!"
Ralph did not think of it particularly at the time, but it was probably owing to this utilitarian occupation that he did not again see the attractive Jess on his way out. For, with all her cleverness, Jess was afraid of Meg.
Ralph passed through the yard to the gate which led to the hill. He was wonderfully comforted in heart, and though Winsome had been alternatively cold and kind, he was too new in the ways of girls to be uplifted on that account, as a more experienced man might have been. Still, the interview with the old people had done him good.
As he was crossing the brook which flows partly over and partly under the road at the horse watering-place, he looked down into the dell among the tangles of birch and the thick viscous foliage of the green-berried elder. There he caught the flash of a light dress, and as he climbed the opposite grassy bank on his way to the village, he saw immediately beneath him the maiden of his dreams and his love-verses. Now she leaped merrily from stone to stone; now she bent stealthily over till her palms came together in the water; now she paused to dash her hair back from her flushed face. And all the time the water glimmered and sparkled about her feet. With her was Andra Kissock, a bare-legged, bonnetless squire of dames. Sometimes he pursued the wily burn trout with relentless ferocity and the silent intentness of a sleuthhound. Often, however, he would pause and with his finger indicate some favourite stone to Winsome. Then the young lady, utterly forgetful of all else and with tremulous eagerness, delicately circumvented the red-spotted beauties.
Once throwing her head back to clear the tumbling avalanches of her hair, she chanced to see Ralph standing silent above. For a moment Winsome was annoyed. She had gone to the hill brook with Andra so that she might not need to speak further with Ralph Peden, and here he had followed her. But it did not need a second look to show her that he was infinitely more embarrassed than she. This is the thing of all others which is fitted to make a woman calm and collected. It allows her to take the measure of her opportunity and assures her of her superiority. So, with a gay and quipsome wave of the hand, in which Ralph was conscious of some faint resemblance to her grandmother, she called to him:
"Come down and help us to catch some trout for supper."
Ralph descended, digging his heels determinedly into the steep bank, till he found himself in the bed of the streamlet. Then he looked at Winsome for an explanation. This was something he had not practised in the water of Leith. Andra Kissock glared at him with a terrible countenance, in which contempt was supposed to blend with a sullen ferocity characteristic of the noble savage. The effect was slightly marred by a black streak of mud which was drawn from the angle of his mouth to the roots of his hair. Ralph thought from his expression that trout-fishing of this kind did not agree with him, and proposed to help Winsome instead of Andra.
This proposal had the effect of drawing a melodramatic "Ha! ha!" from that youth, ludicrously out of keeping with his usual demeanour. Once he had seen a play-acting show unbeknown to his mother, when Jess had taken him to Cairn Edward September fair.
So "Ha! ha!" he said with the look of smothered desperation which to the unprejudiced observer suggested a pain in his inside. "You guddle troot!" he cried scornfully, "I wad admire to see ye! Ye wad only fyle [dirty] yer shune an' yer braw breeks!"
Ralph glanced at the striped underskirt over which Winsome had looped her dress. It struck him with astonishment to note how she had managed to keep it clean and dry, when Andra was apparently wet to the neck.
"I do not know that I shall be of any use," he said meekly, "but I shall try."
Winsome was standing poised on a stone, bending like a lithe maid, her hands in the clear water. There had been a swift and noiseless rush underneath the stone; a few grains of sand rose up where the white under part of the trout had touched it as it glided beneath. Slowly and imperceptibly Winsome's hand worked its way beneath the stone. With the fingers of one hand she made that slight swirl of the water which is supposed by expert "guddlers" to fascinate the trout, and to render them incapable of resisting the beckoning fingers. Andra watched breathlessly from the bank above. Ralph came nearer to see the issue. The long, slender fingers, shining mellow in the peaty water, were just closing, when the stone on which Ralph was standing precariously toppled a little and fell over into the burn with a splash. The trout darted out and in a moment was down stream into the biggest pool for miles.
Winsome rose with a flush of disappointment, and looked very reproachfully towards the culprit. Ralph, who had followed the stone, stood up to his knees in the water, looking the picture of crestfallen humility.
Overhead on the bank Andra danced madly like an imp. He would not have dared to speak to Ralph on any other occasion, but guddling, like curling, loosens the tongue. He who fails or causes the failures of others is certain to hear very plainly of it from those who accompany him to this very dramatic kind of fishing.
"0' a' the stupid asses!" cried that young man. "Was there ever sic a beauty?—a pund wecht gin it was an ounce!—an' to fa' aff a stane like a six-months' wean!"
His effective condemnation made Winsome laugh. Ralph laughed along with her, which very much increased the anger of Andra, who turned away in silent indignation. It was hard to think, just when he had got the "prairie flower" of Craig Ronald (for whom he cherished a romantic attachment of the most desperate and picturesque kind) away from the house for a whole long afternoon at the fishing, that this great grown-up lout should come this way and spoil all his sport. Andra was moved to the extremity of scorn.
"Hey, mon!" he called to Ralph, who was standing in the water's edge with Winsome on a miniature bay of shining sand, looking down on the limpid lapse of the clear moss-tinted water slipping over its sand and pebbles—"hey, mon!" he cried.
"Well, Andra, what is it?" asked Winsome Charteris, looking up after a moment. She had been busy thinking.
"Tell that chap frae Enbro'," said Andra, collecting all his spleen into one tremendous and annihilating phrase—"him that tummilt aff the stane—that there's a feck o' paddocks [a good many frogs] up there i' the bog. He micht come up here an' guddle for paddocks. It wad be safer for the like o' him!" The ironical method is the favourite mode or vehicle of humour among the common orders in Galloway. Andra was a master in it.
"Andra," said Winsome warmly, "you must not—"
"Please let him say whatever he likes. My awkwardness deserves it all," said Ralph, with becoming meekness.
"I think you had better go home now," said Winsome; "it will soon be time for you to bring the kye home."
"Hae ye aneuch troots for the mistress's denner?" said Andra, who knew very well how many there were.
"There are the four that you got, and the one I got beneath the bank, Andra," answered Winsome.
"Nane o' them half the size o' the yin that he fleyed [frightened] frae ablow the big stane," said Andra Kissock, indicating the culprit once more with the stubby great toe of his left foot. It would have done Ralph too much honour to have pointed with his hand. Besides, it was a way that Andrew had at all times. He indicated persons and things with that part of him which was most convenient at the time. He would point with his elbow stuck sideways at an acute angle in a manner that was distinctly libellous. He would do it menacingly with his head, and the indication contemptuous of his left knee was a triumph. But the finest and most conclusive use of all was his great toe as an index-finger of scorn. It stuck out apart from all the others, red and uncompromising, a conclusive affidavit of evil conduct.
"It's near kye-time," again said Winsome, while Ralph yearned with a great yearning for the boy to betake himself over the moor. But Andra had no such intention.
"I'se no gaun a fit till I hae showed ye baith what it is to guddle. For ye mauna gang awa' to Embro" [elbow contemptuous to the north, where Andra supposed Edinburgh to lie immediately on the other side of the double-breasted swell of blue Cairnsmuir of Carsphairn], "an' think that howkin' (wi' a lassie to help ye) in among the gravel is guddlin'. You see here!" cried Andra, and before either Winsome or Ralph could say a word, he had stripped himself to his very brief breeches and ragged shirt, and was wading into the deepest part of the pool beneath the water-fall.
Here he scurried and scuttled for all the world like a dipper, with his breast showing white like that of the bird, as he walked along the bottom of the pool. Most of the time his head was beneath the water, as well as all the rest of his body. His arms bored their way round the intricacies of the boulders at the bottom. His brown and freckled hands pursued the trouts beneath the banks. Sometimes he would have one in each hand at the same time.
When he caught them he had a careless and reckless way of throwing them up on the bank without looking where he was throwing. The first one he threw in this way took effect on the cheek of Ralph Peden, to his exceeding astonishment.
Winsome again cried "Andra!" warningly, but Andra was far too busy to listen; besides, it is not easy to hear with one's head under water and the frightened trout flashing in lightning wimples athwart the pool.
But for all that, the fisherman's senses were acute, even under the water; for as Winsome and Ralph were not very energetic in catching the lively speckled beauties which found themselves so unexpectedly frisking upon the green grass, one or two of them (putting apparently their tails into their mouths, and letting go, as with the release of a steel spring) turned a splashing somersault into the pool. Andra did not seem to notice them as they fell, but in a little while he looked up with a trout in his hand, the peat-water running in bucketfuls from his hair and shirt, his face full of indignation.
"Ye're lettin' them back again!" he exclaimed, looking fiercely at the trout in his hand. "This is the second time I hae catched this yin wi' the wart on its tail!" he said. "D'ye think I'm catchin' them for fun, or to gie them a change o' air for their healths, like fine fowk that come frae Embro'!"
"Andra, I will not allow—" Winsome began, who felt that on the ground of Craig Ronald a guest of her grandmother's should be respected.
But before she had got further Andra was again under the water, and again the trout began to rain out, taking occasional local effect upon both of them.
Finally Andra looked up with an air of triumph. "It tak's ye a' yer time to grup them on the dry land, I'm thinkin'," said he with some fine scorn; "ye had better try the paddocks. It's safer." So, shaking himself like a water-dog, he climbed up on the grass, where he collected the fish into a large fishing basket which Winsome had brought. He looked them over and said, as he handled one of them: