That night the policeman without in any way trying to conceal his purpose walked down through the village and across the strip of moor and took up his position at the end of Hairyfithill's potato field. At once a group of young men led by Tam Donaldson set off with bags under their arms after it was dark for the pit at the other end of the village and were soon engaged in carrying coal as if their lives depended on it.
"Noo, lads, the first bag gangs to the polisman, mind," said Tam, shouldering his load and walking off.
"A' richt, Tam. If we a' gang wi' the first bag to him that'll be nine bags, then we can get two or three bags for hame. Dinna hurry; we ha'e a' nicht to carry, an' we can get in a fine lot afore daylicht breaks."
"That's richt," said Tam, "but mind an' no' tire yersels too much, for ye've a nicht at the tatties the morn. The polis'll be at the bing the morn's nicht efter this carry-on, an' when he is busy watchin' for coal thieves, we maun see that we get in a denner or twa o' tatties. I heard him sayin' he could not be everywhere at yince, an' couldna' both watch coal thieves an' tattie stealin' at yin an' the same time."
* * * * *
All this time matters went very smoothly. The men were very firm, having great trust in Smillie. After about six weeks, however, from various causes a suspicious atmosphere began to be created. Hints had been appearing from time to time in the newspapers that matters were not altogether as the miners thought they were. Then vague rumors got afloat in many districts and spread with great rapidity, and these began to undermine the confidence of the strikers.
"What think ye o' the fecht noo, Tam?" enquired Matthew Maitland one night as they sat among the others at the "Lazy Corner," as the village forum was called.
"I dinna ken what to think o' it," replied Tam glumly. "Do ye think there's any truth in that story aboot Smillie havin' sell't us?"
"It wad be hard to ken," replied Matthew Maitland, taking his pipe out of his mouth and spitting savagely upon the ground. "But I heard it for a fact, and that a guid wheen o' men doon the country hae gaen back to their work through it. An' yet, mind ye, Smillie seemed to me to be a straight-forret man an' yin that was sincere. Still, ye can never tell; an' twa-three hunner pound's a big temptation to a man."
"Ay," said Tam dryly, "we hae been diddled sae often wi' bigmoothed men on the make, that it mak's a body ay suspicious when yin hears thae stories. I heard Wiston, the coal-maister, had gien him five hunner pounds on the quiet."
"I heard that too," replied Matthew, "but, like you, I'm loth to think it o' Smillie. I'd believe it quicker aboot yon ither chiel, Charlie Rogerson. He comes oot to speak to us ay dressed in a black dress-suit, wi' white cuffs doon to his finger nebs, his gold ring, his lum hat, an' a' his fal-de-lals."
"Weel, I dinna believe a word o' this story aboot Bob," said Robert quietly, who had "hunkered" down beside the two men who sat so earnestly discussing matters while the others went on with their games and dancing.
"Do ye no', Rob?" said Tam.
"No, I do not," was the firm reply, "for nae matter what happens in a fight, it's ay the opeenion o' some folk that the men ha'e been sell't."
Robert, though young, took a keen interest in the fight. While other lads of his age looked upon it as a fine holiday, the heavy responsibilities he had to face gave him a different outlook, and so the men seemed to recognize that he was different from the other boys, and more sober in his view-point.
"This story is set aboot for the purpose o' breakin' oup the men," he continued. "We hear o' Smillie haein hale rows o' cottages bought, an' a lot ither rubbish, but I wouldna believe it. It's a' to get the men to gang back to their work; an' if they do that, it'll no' only break the strike, but it'll break up the union, an' that's what's wanted mair than anything else. I've heard Smillie an' my faither talkin' aboot a' thae things lang syne, an' Smillie says that's what the stories are set aboot for. We should ha'e sense enough no' to heed them, for I dinna think Smillie has sell't us at a'."
There was a fine, firm ring in the boy's voice as he spoke which moved the two older men, and made them feel a little ashamed that they had been so ready to doubt.
"Ah, weel, Rob," said Tam, "maybe you are richt, but a lot o' men ha'e gaen back to their work already, an' it'll break up the strike if it spreads. But we'll ha'e to get some tatties in the nicht; the polisman's goin' to be watchin' auld Burnfoot's hen-hoose, sae it'll be a grand chance for some tatties," and the talk drifted on to another subject.
About the eighth week of the strike the news went round the village that Sanny Robertson and Peter Fleming were "oot at the pit."
"I wad smash every bone in their dirty bodies if I had my way o' it. I would," said Matthew Maitland, with emphasis. Matthew was always emphatic in all he said, though seldom so in what he did.
"But we'll ha'e to watch hoo we act," said Andrew Marshall more cautiously. "It's agin the law, ye ken, to use force."
"I wadna' gi'e a damn," said Peter Pegg, his big eye making frantic efforts to wink. "I wad see that they blacklegged nae mair."
"Sae wad I," promptly exclaimed half a dozen of the younger men.
"We maun see that they don't do it ony mair."
"Ay, an' I hope we'll mak' sure work that they sleep in for twa-three mornin's."
"I'll tell ye what," said old Lauder, "let us get a few weemin' and weans thegither, an' we'll gang doon to the pit an' wait on them comin' up frae their shift. The bairns can get tin cans an' a stane for a drumstick, an' we'll ha'e a loonie band. We can sing twa or three o' thae blackleg sangs o' Tam Donaldson's, an' play them hame."
"That's the plan, Jamie," replied Tam, who had suddenly seen himself immortalized through his parodies of certain popular songs. "Let us get as mony women an' callans as possible, and we can mak' a damn'd guid turnout. We'll sing like linties, an' drum like thunder, an' the blacklegs'll feel as if they were goin' through Purgatory to the tune o':"
Tattie Wullie, Tattie Wullie, Tattie Wullie Shaw, Where's the sense o' workin', Wullie?— Faith, ye're lookin' braw.
Peter Fleming, Peter Fleming, Peter, man, I say, Ye've been workin', ye've been workin', Ye've been workin' the day.
Peter Fleming, Peter Fleming, If ye work ony mair, Peter Fleming, Peter Fleming, Your heart will be sair.
With little difficulty a band of men, women and children was organized and proceeded to the pit to await the coming up of the culprits. Hour after hour they waited patiently, determined not to miss them, and the time was spent in light jesting and singing ribald songs.
"I wadna' like if my faither was a blackleg," observed Mysie Maitland to the girl next her.
"No, nor me, either!" quickly agreed the other. "It wad be awfu' to hear folk cryin' 'Blackleg' after yir faither, wadna' it, Mysie?"
"Ay," was the reply. "I wadna' like it."
"They should a' be hunted oot o' the place," put in Robert, who was standing near. "They are just sellin' the rest o' the men, an' helpin' to break up the strike. So ye mind, Mysie, hoo Tam Graham's lass aye clashed on the rest o' us on the pit-head? She's just like her faither, ay ready to do onything agin the rest, if it would gi'e her a wee bit favor."
"Ay, fine I mind o' it, Rob," Mysie replied eagerly. "Do ye mind the day she was goin' to tell aboot you takin' hame the bit auld stick for firewood? When I telt her if she did, I'd tell on her stealin' the tallow frae the engine-house an' the paraffin ile ay when she got the chance. She didna say she'd tell then."
"Ay, Mysie. Maybe I'd ha'e gotten the sack if she had telt. But she was aye a clashbag. But here they come!" he shouted animatedly, as the bell signaled for the cage to rise, and presently the wheels began to revolve, as the cage ascended.
"May the tow break, an' land the dirty scums in hell," prayed one man.
"Ay, an' may the coals they howkit the day roast them forever," added another. Though they prayed thus, yet once again they found that the "prayer of the wicked availeth naught." Buckets of water, however, and even bits of stone and scrap iron were surreptitiously flung down the shaft; and when the blacklegs did appear, they were nearly frightened out of their senses. It would have gone hard with them as they left the cage, but someone whispered, "Here's the polis!" and so the crowd had to be content with beating their tin cans; and keeping time to the songs improvised by Tam Donaldson, they escorted the blacklegs to their homes.
Next morning a large number of the strikers gathered at the Lazy Corner, enjoying themselves greatly.
"They tell me," said Tam Donaldson, "that our fren's ha'e slept in this morning."
A laugh greeted this sally, which seemed to indicate that most of them knew about the sleeping-in and the reason for it.
"Ay, they'd be tired oot efter their hard day's work yesterday," replied another.
"Ay, an' they dinna seem to be up yet," said a third, "for I see the doors are still shut, an' the bairns are no' awa' to the school. They maun ha'e been awfu' tired to ha'e slept sae lang."
"Let's gang doon and gi'e them a bit sang to help to keep their dreams pleasant," suggested Tam Donaldson, as they moved off down the row and stopped before Jock Graham's door. Tam, clearing his throat, led of:
Hey, Johnnie Graham, are ye wauken yet, Or is yer fire no' ken'lt yet? If you're no wauken we will wait, An' tak' ye to the pit in the mornin'.
Black Jock sent a message in the dark, Sayin': Johnny Graham, come to your wark, For tho' ye've been locked in for a lark, Ye maun come to the pit in the mornin'.
You an' Fleeming, an' Robertson tae, Had better a' gang doon the brae, An' you'll get your pay for ilka day That ye gang to your work in the mornin'.
Then, leading off on to another, Tam, with great gusto, swung into a song that carried the others along uproariously:
O' a' the airts the win' can blaw, It canna blaw me free, For I am high an' dry in bed, When workin' I should be; But ropes are stronger faur than is Desire for work wi' me, An' sae I lie, baith high an' dry— I'll hae to bide a wee.
I canna say on whatna day I'll gang again to work, For sticks an' stanes may break my banes, As sure's my name's McGurk. Gie me the best place in the pit, Then happy I shall be, Just wi' yae wife to licht oor life, Big dirty Jock an' me!
After a round or two of applause and some shouts from the children, Tam broke out in a new air:
This is no' my ain lassie, Kin' though the lassie be, There's a man ca'd Black Jock Walker, Shares this bonnie lass wi' me. She's sweet, she's kin', her ways are fine, An' whiles she gies her love to me. She's ta'en my name, but, oh, the shame, That Walker shares the lass wi' me.
This is no' my ain lassie, She is changefu' as the sea, Whiles I get a' her sweet kisses, Whiles Black Jock shares them wi' me. She's fat and fair, she's het and rare, She's no' that trig, but ay she's free, It pays us baith, as sure as daith, That Walker shares the lass wi' me.
This sent the crowd wild with delight, and cries of "Good auld Tam!" were raised. "Damn'd guid, Tam! Ye're as guid as Burns." All of which made Tam feel that at last his genius was being recognized. The explanation of the joke was to be found in the fact, as one song had hinted, that the strikers had securely fastened the doors of all the blacklegs' houses with ropes, and jammed the windows with sticks, so that the inmates could not get out. Even the children could not get out to go to school. It was late in the afternoon before the police heard of it, and came and cut the ropes, and so relieved the imprisoned inmates.
This happened for a morning or two, and then the practice stopped, for the police watched the doors throughout the whole night. This preoccupation of the police was taken advantage of to raid again old Hairyfithill's potato field, and also to pay a visit to the bing for coal, and a very profitable time was thus spent by the strikers, even though the blacklegs were at their work in a few days.
What was happening in Lowwood was typical of almost all other mining villages throughout the country. Everywhere high spirits and cheerfulness prevailed among the men. As for the leaders, the situation proved too big for some of them to cope with it, the responsibility was too great; and so they failed at the critical moment. The demand of an increase of a shilling a day, for which the men had struck, had been conceded by some of the owners, whilst others had offered sixpence. Some of the leaders were in favor of accepting these concessions, and allowing the men at the collieries concerned to resume work, and so be able to contribute considerably to help keep out those whose demands had not been met. Others of the leaders refused to agree to this, and insisted that as all had struck together, they should fight together to the end, until the increase was conceded to all. This difference of opinion was readily perceived and welcomed by the coalmasters, and stiffened their resolution, for they saw that disagreement and divisions would soon weaken the morale of the men, and such proved to be the case.
No one can imagine what Smillie suffered at this time, as he saw his splendid effort going to pieces; but being a big man, he knew that it was impossible to turn back. His plans might for the moment miscarry; but that was merely a necessary, yet passing, phase in the great evolution of Industrialism, and his ideals must yet triumph.
As the result of the differences among the leaders, the strike collapsed at the end of seventeen weeks. The men were forced to return to work on the old terms. In some cases a reduction was imposed, making their condition worse than at the start. The masters sought to drive home their victory in order to break the union. In many parts of the country they succeeded, while in others the spirit of the men resisted it. Generally it ended in compromise; but, so far as the Union was concerned, it was a broken organization; branches went down, and it was many years afterwards before it was again reestablished in some of the districts.
Though at the time it might have seemed all loss, yet it had its advantages, and especially demonstrated the fact that there was a fine discipline and the necessary unity among the rank and file. The next great work was to find out how that unity could be guided and that discipline perfected—how to find a common ideal for the men. This was Robert Smillie's task, and who shall say, looking at the rank and file to-day, that he has failed?
Eight years passed, and Robert grew into young manhood. One of his younger brothers had joined him and Andrew Marshall in the partnership. It had been a long, stiff struggle, and his mother knew all the hardness and cruelty of it. In after years Robert loved his mother more for the fight she put up, though it never seemed to him that he himself had done anything extraordinary. He was always thoughtful, and planned to save her worry. On "pay-nights," once a fortnight, when other boys of his age were getting a sixpence, or perhaps even a shilling, as pocket-money, so that they could spend a few coppers on the things that delight a boy's heart, Robert resolutely refused to take a penny. For years he continued thus, always solacing himself with the thought that it was a "shilling's worth less of worry" his mother would have.
Yet, riches were his in that the enchantment of literature held him captive, and his imagination gained for him treasures incomparably greater than the solid wealth prized by worldly minds. His father had possessed about a dozen good books, among others such familiar Scottish household favorites as "Wilson's Tales of the Borders," "Mansie Waugh," by "Delta," "Scots Worthies," Allan Ramsay's "Gentle Shepherd," Scott's "Rob Roy" and "Old Mortality," and the well-thumbed and dog-eared copy of Robert Burns' Poems.
"Gae awa', man Robin," his mother would say sometimes to him, as he sat devouring Wilson's "Tales" or weeping over the tragic end of Wallace's wife Marion as recounted in Jean Porter's entrancing "Scottish Chiefs."
"Gang awa' oot an' tak' a walk. Ither laddies are a' oot playin' at something, an' forby it's no' healthy to sit too long aye readin'."
"Ach. I canna' be bothered," he would answer. "I'd raither read."
"What is't you're readin' noo?" she would enquire. "Oh, it's the 'Scottish Chiefs,' an' I'm jist at the bit aboot Wallace's wife being murdered by Hazelrig. My! It's awfu' vexin'."
"Ay, it's a fine book, Robin. Ye might read that bit oot to me."
"A' richt," and he would start to read while Nellie sat down to listen. Soon both were engrossed in the sad story, so powerfully told, and the tears would be running from the mother's eyes as her fancy pictured the sorrows of Wallace, while Robert's voice would break, and a sob come into his throat, as he proceeded. When finally the passage was reached where the brutal blow was struck, the book would have to be put down, while mother and son both cried as if the grief depicted were their own.
"It's an awfu' gran' book, Rob," she would say after a time, while she strove to subdue the sobs in her breast. "Puir Wallace! It maun ha'e been an awfu' blow to him, when he heard that Marion was killed. But you maun read on a bit far'er, for I'm no' gaun tae work ony mair till I see that dirty beast Hazelrig get his deserts. He has wrocht for it, sae jist gang on noo till you feenish the bit aboot him gettin' killed wi' Wallace. He deserves it for killin' a woman."
Thus Robert would have to go on, until the incident in question had been reached in the story, and as it unfolded itself his voice would grow firmer and stronger as he became infected with the narrative, while his mother's eyes would glow, and her body be tense with interest, and an expectant expression would creep over her face, betraying her excitement. In the interview between Wallace and Hazelrig in the house in the Wellgate in Lanark, when Wallace dramatically draws his sword in answer to the supplication for mercy, and says: "Ay, the same mercy as you showed my Marion," Robert's voice would thunder forth the words with terrible sternness, while Nellie would gasp and catch her breath in a quick little sob of excitement, as the feeling of satisfied justice filled her heart. And when the blow fell that laid the English governor low, she would burst out: "Serves him richt, the dirty tyrant. He's got what he deserved, an' it serves him right!"
On another occasion Robert would suddenly burst out laughing, when reading Delta's chronicle of the adventures of Mansie Waugh, the Scottish "Handy Andy."
"What are you laughing at, Robin?" Nellie would enquire, a smile breaking over her face also.
"Oh, it's Mansie Waugh, mither. Oh, but it's a gran' bit. Listen to this," and he would begin to read the passage, where Mansie, simple soul that he was, was described as going into the byre in the morning to learn if the cow had calved during the night, and finding, on opening the door, the donkey of a traveling tinker, he turned and ran into the house, crying: "Mither! Mither! The coo has calved, an' it's a cuddy!"
Whenever he reached this part of the story, his mother would go off into a fit of uncontrollable laughter which left her helpless and crumpled up in a heap upon the nearest chair. Her laugh was very infectious; it began with a low, mirthful ripple, well down in the throat, and rose in rapid leaps of musical joy till it had traveled a whole octave of bubbling happy sounds, when it culminated in a peal of double forte shakes and trills, that made it a joy to hear, and finally it died out in an "Oh, dear me! What a callan Mansie was!"
As Robert approached manhood, he took more and more to the moors, wandering alone among the haunts of the whaup and other moor birds, wrestling with problems to which older heads never gave a thought, trying to understand life and to build from his heart and experience something that would be satisfying. Silent, thoughtful, "strange" to the neighbors, a problem to everyone, but a bigger one to himself, life staggered him and appalled his soul.
Earnestly he worked and tested his thought against the thought of others, sturdily refusing everything which did not ring true and meet his standard. Old religious conceptions, the orthodoxy of his kith and kin, were fast tested in the crucible of his mind and flung aside as worthless. The idea of Hell and the old Morrisonian notion of the Hereafter appeared crude and barbarous. His father's fate and the condition of the family left to welter in poverty, the cruelty of life as it presented itself to the great mass of the working class, could not be reconciled with the Church's teaching of an all-loving and omniscient Father.
With the audacity of youth, he felt that he could easily have constructed a better universe. He felt that Hell could have no terrors for people condemned to such hardship and suffering as he saw around him. Life was colorless for them; stinted of pleasure and beauty, with merely the joys of the "gill-stoup" on a Saturday night at the local "store" to look forward to, there was in it no real satisfaction either for the body or the mind. Would he, indeed, have to wait till after death before knowing anything of real happiness or comfort? His mind refused to accept this doctrine so frequently expounded to working class congregations by ministers, who were themselves comparatively well endowed with "treasures upon earth."
Life was good, life was glorious if only it could be made as he dreamed it. This fair earth need be no vale of tears. There were the blue skies, the white tapestry of cloudland ever varying; there was the wind upon his face and the sweet rain; there was the purl of mountain brook, the graceful sweep of the river, the smile of the flowers, the songs of the birds; the golden splendor of the day and the silver radiance of the night.
But above and beyond all there was an ever-increasing love of his fellows, there were noble women like his mother to reverence, and there were sweet children to cherish. Surely life was good, and never was meant to be the mean, sordid thing that too often was the lot of people like himself. Heaven could and should be realized here and now. At twenty, he finished by accepting Humanity as it is, to be understood and loved, to be served, and, if necessary, to die for it.
Though thus naturally reserved and meditative, yet he was not unloved. There was no more popular lad in the village. Everyone in a tight corner came to him for help and advice. He was private secretary to half the village and father confessor to the other half. He served everyone, and in return all loved him more or less. In the course of time he came to occupy the place his father had held before him as president of the local branch of the Union, which had been recently revived. His duties as a Union official forced him more and more into mixing with others, and into taking a larger interest in the affairs of the locality.
Gradually with the activities of public life his moodiness gave place to a healthy cheerfulness, and his enthusiasm soon led him into taking part in nearly every form of sport which gave life more zest. His interest being roused, he was wholehearted in his application, whether as a member of the executive of any local sports association, or as a participant in the game itself. He was elected to the committee responsible for organizing the Lowwood Annual Games, but resigned because having taken up racing as his pet pastime for the time being, he wanted to compete in some of the items.
At last the "Sports" day arrived. The pits were idle, for this was one of the recognized holidays. Everyone looked forward eagerly to this day, and prepared for it, each in his or her own way. For weeks before it the children practiced racing, and trained themselves in jumping, football, quoiting and such sports. Young men stole away to secret places in the moor to train and harden themselves, timing their performances and concentrating on the strenuous day ahead when they would compete with one another in fair tests of speed, strength, skill and endurance.
One event was always a special attraction, even to professional racers all over the country. This was known as the "Red Hose Race," about which many legends were told. The most popular of these was to the effect that the stockings were knitted each year by the Laird's wife, and if no one entered for the race, the Laird must run it himself, or forfeit his extensive estate to the Crown. In addition to the Red Hose, there was a substantial money prize. To win the race was looked upon as the greatest achievement of the year, for it was one of the oldest sporting events and had been run for so many years that its origin seemed lost in the mists of antiquity. Robert made up his mind to win the Red Hose in this particular year. Mrs. Graydon, of Graydon House, had intimated that she herself would be present and would hand over the stockings to the proud winner in person, but it was not by any means on this account that Robert was so keen to win. It was the older lure that brought every year athletes of fame to run in the historic race.
"So you are going to run in the Red Hose," said a voice behind Robert while the people were all gathering to watch the preliminary races of the boys and girls. Robert turned from the group of young men who had been discussing the event with him, and met the smiling face of Peter Rundell, dressed in immaculate style and looking as fresh and fine a specimen of young manhood as anyone could wish to see.
"Yes," he said with a smile, "and I intend to win it."
"Do you?" returned Peter light-heartedly. "I have also entered for it, though I had no intention of doing so when I came over; but Mr. Walker, who, as you know, is on the committee, pressed me to go in, and so I consented."
"Oh!" said Robert, in surprise, "I thought after last year's success you were not going to run again." Then, in a bantering tone, and with a smile upon his lips, "I suppose we'll be rivals in this, then; but I gi'e you fair warning that I'm gaun to lift the Red Hose if I get a decent chance at all."
"Well, I have set my mind on winning it, too," replied Peter. "I'd like to lift it, just to be able to say in after years that I had done so."
"That's just hoo I feel aboot the matter too," lightly answered Robert. "I'd like jist to be able to say that I had won the Red Hose. I feel in good form for it, so you'd better be on your mettle."
"Well, I shall give you the race of your life for it," said Peter, entering into the same light spirited boasting. "I hear Mair and Todd and Semple are also entered, but with a decent handicap I won't mind these, even with their international reputation."
"All right," said Robert. "I suppose I shall have the greater pleasure in romping home before you all. Are the handicaps out yet?"
"Yes, I saw the list just before I spoke to you. Semple and Mair are scratch, with Todd at five yards. You start at twenty-five, and I get off at the limit forty.'
"Oh!" said Robert, a note of surprise in his voice. "Walker has surely forgotten who are the runners! Why, last year you won nearly all the confined events, and you were second in the Red Hose with twenty-five yards. He means you to romp home this year!" and there was heat in Robert's voice as he finished.
"Well, I daresay it is a decent handicap," said Peter, "and even though Semple is among the crowd, I should manage, I think, to pull it off with anything like luck."
"I should think so," said Robert. "Walker has just made you a present of the race. But I suppose it can't be helped, though it isn't fair. Anyhow, I'll give you a chase for it."
"All right. Half an hour and we shall be on," and Peter went on round the field, exchanging greetings with most of the villagers.
He was finishing his education at a Technical College in Edinburgh, and at present was home on holidays. He was a well set up young man, and though popular with most people, yet he brought with him an air of another world among the villagers, which made them feel uncomfortable. They recognized that his life was very different from their own, and while they talked to him when he spoke to them, and were agreeable enough to him, they felt awed and could not break down the natural reserve they always had towards people of another station of life. He was perhaps a little too thoughtless and impulsive, though generous-hearted enough. He drifted into things, rather than shaped them to his own ideas, and was often not sufficiently careful of the positions in which he found himself as a consequence of thoughtless acts.
The week before he had caught and kissed Mysie Maitland, who was now serving at Rundell House, merely because he was taken with her pretty face. From that Peter already believed himself in love with her, because she had not resented his action. He had even walked over with her from the village, when she had been home visiting her parents one night, and had felt more and more the witchery of her pretty face and the lure of her fine little figure.
Up to this time Mysie had always believed herself in love with Robert—Robert who was always so strange from the rest of young men. He had always been her hero, her protector; but there was something about him for which she could not account and which she could not have defined. Such was her admiration that she believed it was in his power to do anything he cared to attempt; it was just possible that it was this strange sense of unknown power which fascinated her. They had never been lovers in the accepted sense of the word. They had never "walked out" as young people in their social station usually do, but yet had always felt that they were meant for one another.
Only once had Robert kissed her, and that moment ever lived with her a glowing memory. She had been home and was returning through a moorland pass, when she came across him lying upon the rough heather, his thoughts doubtless full of her, for he had seen her in the village, and knew she must return that way.
"Oh, Rob!" she cried, her face flushing with excitement as she saw him. "Ye nearly frichted me oot o' my wits the noo."
"Did I, Mysie?" he answered, springing to his feet. "I didna mean to dae that. Ye'll be getting back, I suppose."
"Ay," she returned simply, and a silence fell upon them, in which both seemed to lose the power of speaking.
Robert looked at her as she stood there, her full, curved breasts rising and falling with the excitement of the unexpected meeting, the long lashes of her eyes sweeping her flushed cheeks, as she stood with downcast eyes before him. The last rays of the setting sun falling upon her brown hair touched it with a rare strange beauty. Her red lips like dew-drenched roses—luscious, pure, alluring, were parted a little in a half smile. But it was the fascinating movement of the breast, full, round and sensuous, that stirred and made an overpowering appeal to every pulse within him. It seemed so soft, so tender, so wonderfully alluring. At the moment he could not understand himself or her. There was a strange, surging impetus raging through him that he felt absolutely powerless to subdue, and he swayed a little as he stood.
"Oh, Mysie!" he cried, leaping forward and clasping her in his strong, young arms, and crushing her against him, holding her there, gasping, powerless but happy.
"You are mine, Mysie. Mine!" and he kissed her budded lips in an ecstasy of passion and warm-blooded feeling, while a thousand fevers seemed to course through him as he felt the contact of her body and her warm, eager lips on his. Blinded and delirious, he kissed her again and again in an impassioned burst of fervor, passion scorching his blood and filling his whole heart with the enjoyment of possession. She closed her eyes, and her head touched his shoulder, while the faint scent of her hair and its soft caressing touch upon his cheek maddened him to a fury of love.
"Say you are mine, Mysie! Say you are mine!" he cried, and his voice was strange and hoarse and dry with the desire within him. He felt her body yielding as it relaxed in his arms, as if in answer to some unspoken demand, and in a moment he realized himself and started back, hot shame surging over his face and conquering the passion in his blood. In that strange mad moment he had felt capable of anything—powerful, overmastering, relentless in his desires; and now—weak, shame-stricken and helpless. Ere he could say anything, Mysie had come to herself with a shock, and started away over the moor as if possessed by something that was mysterious and terrible.
That had happened a year ago, and though Robert sought to learn when she was in the village, and often watched her from a safe place where he was not seen, delighting his eyes with the sight of her figure, and feeling again the same hot shame come over him, as he had known that day on the moor, yet he had never met her near enough to speak to her, but had worshiped her at a distance and grown to love and desire her more and more with every day that passed.
He dreamed dreams around her, but was afraid to encounter her again. This strange mad love burned in his blood, until at times he was almost sick with desire and love. Every moor-bird called her name; every flower held the shyness of her face; the clouds of peaceful sunsets showed the glory of her hair, and the quiet, steadfast stars possessed the wonder of her eyes. The madness of the passionate moment of possession on the moor was at once his most treasured memory and his intensest shame.
As for Mysie, since she had not heard any more from Robert nor even seen him for almost a year, she felt quite flattered by the attentions of Peter Rundell. It was not that she was in love with either of the young men. Her nature was of the kind that is in love with love itself, and was not perhaps capable of a great love, such as had frightened her, when Robert, taken off his guard, had let her glimpse a strong, overmastering passion and a soul capable of great things. Already she dreamed of a grand house of which she would be mistress as Peter's wife, as she stood in the silence of her own room, pirouetting and smirking, and drawing pictures of herself in fine garments and stately carriage, playing the Lady Bountiful of the district.
THE RED HOSE RACE
"All competitors for the Red Hose, get ready!" called the bell-man, who announced the events at the sports, and immediately all was stir and bustle and excitement.
"Wha's gaun to win the day, Andrew?" enquired Matthew Maitland, as they stood waiting for the runners to emerge from the dressing tent.
"I dinna ken," answered Andrew Marshall. "That's a damn'd unfair handicap anyway. My neighbor is no' meant to lift it seemingly. Look at the start they've gi'en him, an' young Rundell starts at the limit."
"Ay!" said Matthew. "It's no' fair. It's some o' Black Jock's doings. He's meanin' young Rundell to wun it."
"Ay, it looks like it; but it's fashious kennin' what may happen. Rab's a braw runner," and Andrew spoke as one who knew, for he was the only person who had seen Robert train.
"Weel, it's harder for him to be a rinner than for young Rundell, a man wha never wrocht a day's work in a' his life, while Rab's had to slave hard and sair a' his days.... Though Rundell can rin too," he added, with ungrudged admiration.
"Ay, he ran weel last year, but they tell me he'd like to get the Red Hose to his credit, though for my pairt they'd been far better to ha'e presented it to him, than to gi'e him it that way. Man, he's a dirty brute o' a man, Black Jock!" and there was disgust in his voice. "Jist look at Mag Robertson there, flittering aboot quite shameless, and gecking and smirking at him, an' naebody daur say a word to her. She's a fair scunner!"
"If she belonged to me, I'd let her ken a different way o't."
"Ay, Andra," was the reply. "But ye maun mind that Mag mak's mair money than Sanny does. Jist look at her, the glaikit tinkler that she is. Black Jock's no' ill to please when that pleases him."
Mag Robertson, the subject of their talk, was quite oblivious, apparently, of the many remarks that were being passed about her, and she continued to follow Walker, who as a committee member, was busily arranging matters for the race.
"She's gie weel smeekit, Andra!" observed Matthew in a whisper, as Mag passed close by. "Did ye fin the smell o" her breath?"
"Ay!" replied Andrew. "She can haud a guid lot before ye see it on her. She's—" but a shout from the crowd cut his further revelations short.
"Here they come!" cried Matthew excitedly, as the tent opened, and young Rundell came out with confident bearing, leading the other half-dozen athletes to the starting place. "Let's gae roon' to the wunnin' post so as to see the feenish."
The competitors lined up, each on his separate mark, ready for the signal to start. Rundell, in a bright-colored costume of fine texture, showed well beside the other racer who started along with him at forty yards. Peter was slimly built, but there were energy and activity in his every movement; his legs especially, being finely developed, showed no superfluous flesh; his chest alone indicated any weakness, but withal he looked a likely winner.
Robert, on the other hand, while not carrying a great amount of flesh, was well built. The chest was broad and deep, the shoulders square and the head held well up, his nose being finely adapted for good respiration. The legs, by reason of heavy work in early life, were a little bent at the brawn, but were as hard as nails; they showed wonderfully developed muscles, and gave the impression of strength rather than speed.
They presented a fine picture of eager, determined young manhood, clean and healthy, and full of life and mettle. Each face betrayed how the mind was concentrated on, the work ahead, every thought directed with great intensity towards the goal, as they bent their bodies in preparation for the start.
The pistol cracked and rang out upon the midday air with startling suddenness, and immediately they were off on a fine start to the accompaniment of the cheering of the crowd which lined the whole track in a great circle. The first round ended with the runners much as they had started, the interval between each being fairly equally maintained. Semple, however, dropped out, not caring to overstrain himself as he had some heavy racing next day at another gathering, where a much higher money prize was the allurement.
Round the others went, the excitement growing among the crowd, who kept shouting encouraging remarks to the racers as they passed.
"Keep it up, Robin!" cried Andrew Marshall. "Keep it up, my lad. Ye're daein' fine."
"Come away, Rundell, the race is yer ain," shouted an enthusiastic supporter of Peter.
"Nae wonner!" answered Matthew Maitland, heatedly. "They've gi'en him the race in a present. Look at the handikep!"
"An' what aboot it?" enquired the other, not knowing what to answer.
"Plenty aboot it," replied Matthew. "If it hadna' been he was Peter Rundell, he wadna' ha'e gotten sic a start. Black Jock means him to get the race, an' it's no' fair. I wadna' ha'e the damn'd thing in that way, an' if he does win it he'll hae nae honor in it."
"But Rab's runnin' weel," Matthew continued, as he followed the runners with eager eyes, and stuck the head of his pipe in his mouth in his excitement, burning his lips in the process. "Dammit, I've burned my mooth," he ejaculated, spluttering, spitting and wiping his mouth. "But the laddie can rin. He's a fair dandie o' a rinner."
"He couldna' rin to catch the cauld," broke in Rundell's admirer, glad to get in a word. "Look at him. Dammit, ye could wheel a barrow oot through his legs. He jist rummles alang like a chained tame earthquake."
"What's that?" asked Matthew, somewhat nettled at this manner of describing Robert's slightly bent legs. "He canna rin, ye say! Weel, if he couldna' rin better than Peter Rundell, he should never try it. Look at Rundell!" he went on scathingly, "doubled up like a fancy canary, and a hump on his back like a greyhound licking a pot. Rinnin'! He's mair like an exhibition o' a rin-a-way toy rainbow. He's aboot as souple as a stookie Christ on a Christmas tree!" And Matthew glared at the other, as if he would devour him at a gulp.
"Look at him noo," he cried, as Robert began to overtake the young miner who had started equal with Rundell. "He's passed young Paterson noo, an' ye'll soon see him get on level terms wi' Rundell. Go on, Rob!" he yelled in delight, as Robert shot past. "Go on, my lad, you're daein' fine!"
Excitement was rousing the crowd to a great pitch, and yells and shouts of encouragement went up, and cheers rang out as the favored one went past the various groups of supporters.
All during the race as the competitors circled the course, excitement grew, until the last round was reached, when every one seemed to go mad. Only three remained to compete now for the prize, the others having given up.
But the shouts and cheers of the crowd seemed strangely far away to the racers, as each rounded the last corner for the final stretch of about one hundred yards. They were both spent, but will power kept them at it. They were not breathing, they were tearing their lungs out in great gulping efforts, and their hearts as well. Tense, determined, inevitability seemed to rest upon them.
Louder roared the crowd, hoarser and deeper the cheers, closer and closer the multitude surged to the winning post, yelling, shouting, crying and gesticulating incoherently as the two men sprinted along with great leaping strides, panting and almost breaking down under the terrible strain of the mile race.
Nearer and nearer they came, still running level, with hardly an inch to tell the difference; but in a pace like this Robert's greater strength and hard training were bound to tell. Fifty yards to go, and they came on like streaks of color, fleeting images of some fevered brain, and one girl's smile each knew was waiting there at the far end.
The prize for which both were now striving was that for which men at all times strive, which keeps the world young and sends the zest of creation wandering through the blood—a pair of dancing eyes, lit by the happy smile of love; for Mysie Maitland had smiled to them, each claiming the smile for himself, just before the race started.
And now the last ounce of energy was called up, but the mine-owner's son failed to respond. Dazed and stupid, his mind in a mad whirl, his legs almost doubling under him, he found his powers weaken and his strength desert him, and he staggered just as Robert was about to shoot past him; but in staggering he planted his spiked shoe right upon Robert's foot, and both men went down completely exhausted, Rundell unable to rise for want of strength and Sinclair powerless because of his lacerated foot.
"Guid God! He's spiked him!" roared Andrew in a terrible rage. "The dirty lump that he is—spiked him just when he was gaun to win, too!"
A howl of execration went up from Sinclair's supporters as he lay and writhed in agony, while Rundell lay still except for the heaving of his chest. For one tense moment they lay and the crowd was silent, whilst each man's heart was almost thumping itself out of place in his body, stretched upon the rough cinder track.
Then a low murmur broke from the crowd as they saw young Paterson coming round the track, almost staggering under the strain, but keenly intent on finishing now that his two formidable opponents were lying helpless. He had kept running during the last round merely to take the third prize. Now here was his chance of the coveted Red Hose, and he sprinted and tore along as fast as he was able, calling up every particle of effort he could muster, and intent on getting past before the two men could gather strength to rise.
"Come on, Rob!" roared Andrew Marshall, "get up an' feenish, my wee cock! Paterson's comin' along, an' he'll win. Get up an' try an' feenish it!"
Stirred by the warning, Robert tried to rise. He raised himself to his knees, but the pain in his injured foot was too great, and he fell forward on his face unconscious, and the race ended with Paterson as winner. It was an ironical situation, and soon the crowd were over the ropes, and the two opponents were carried to the dressing tent, where restoratives were applied under which they soon came round.
It was a poor ending to such a fine exhibition. A terrible anger smoldered in Robert's breast against the mine-owner's son for his unconscious action, an action which Robert, blinded by anger at losing, was now firmly convinced was deliberate, and he felt he would just like to smash Rundell's face for it.
Robert went home to have his injured foot attended to. He was too disgusted to feel any more interest in the games that day, and so he remained in the house, nursing his foot for the rest of the day, which passed as such days usually do. Everyone talked about his misfortune and regretted in a casual way the accident which had deprived him of the coveted honor.
It was in late June, and that night Peter Rundell, as he was returning from the games after every event had been decided, overtook Mysie on her way to Rundell House, after having spent the evening at her parents' home.
"It's a lovely evening, Mysie," he said, as he walked along by her side. "What did you think of the games to-day?"
"Oh, no' bad," replied Mysie, not knowing what else to say. "It was a gran' day, an' kept up fine," she continued, alluding to the weather.
"Yes. Didn't I make a horrible mess of things in the Red Hose?" he asked. Then, without waiting, he went on: "I was sorry for Sinclair. He's a fine chap, and ought to have won. It was purely an accident, and I couldn't help myself. I was beaten and done for, and it was hard lines for him to be knocked out in the way he was, just as he was on the point of winning, too."
"Oh, but ye couldna' help it," Mysie returned. "It was an accident."
"Yes; and I would rather Sinclair had got in, though. It was a good race, and Sinclair ought to have got the prize. It was rotten luck. I'm sorry, and I hope the poor beggar does not blame me. We seem always to be fated to be rivals," he continued, his voice dropping into reminiscent tones. "Do you remember how we used to fight at school? I've liked Sinclair always since for the way he stood up for the things he thought were right. I believe you were the cause of our hardest battle, and that also was an accident."
"Yes," replied Mysie, her face flushing slightly as she remembered the incident, and how Peter had been chosen, when her heart told her to choose Robert.
"Oh, well," said Peter, "I suppose we can't help these things. Fate wills it. Let's forget all about such unpleasant things. It's a lovely night. We might go round by the wood. It's not so late yet," and putting Mysie's arm in his, he turned off into the little pathway that skirted the wood, and she, caught by the glamor of the gloaming, as well as flattered by his attentions, acquiesced.
Plaintive and eerie the moor-birds protested against this invasion of their haunts. The moon came slowly up over the eastern end of the moor, flinging a silver radiance abroad, and softening the shadows cast by the hills. A strange, dank smell rose from the mossy ground—the scent of rotting heather and withered grass, mixed with the beautiful perfume from beds of wild thyme.
A low call came from a brooding curlew, a faint sigh from a plover, and the wild rasping cry of a lapwing greeted them overhead. Yet there was a silence, a silence broken for a moment by the cries of the birds, but a silence thick and heavy. Between the calls of the birds Mysie could almost hear her heart's quickened beat. Blood found an eager response, and the magic of the moonlight and the beauty of the night soon wrought upon the excited minds of the pair. Mysie looked in Peter's eyes more desirable than ever. The moonlight on her face, the soft light within her eyes, her shy, downcast look, and the touch of her arm on his charmed him.
"There are some things, Mysie, more desirable than the winning of the Red Hose," he said after a time, looking sideways at her, and placing his hand upon hers, which had been resting upon his arm. "Don't you think so?"
"I dinna ken," she answered simply, a strange little quiver running through her as she spoke.
"Isn't this better than anything else, just to be happy with everything so peaceful? Just you and I together, happy in each other's company."
"Ay," she answered again, a faint little catch in her voice, her heart a-tremble, and her eyes moist and shining. Then silence again, while they slowly strayed through the heather towards the little wooded copse, and Mysie felt that every thump of her heart must be heard at the farthest ends of the earth. Chased by the winds of passion raging within him, discretion was fast departing from Peter, leaving him more and more a prey to impulse and the unwearying persistence of the fever of love that was consuming him.
"Listen, Mysie, I read a song yesterday. It's the sort of thing I'd have written about you:
"In the passionate heart of the rose, Which from life its deep ardor is feeing. And lifts its proud head to disclose Its immaculate beauty and being. I can see your fine soul in repose, With an eye lit with love and all-seeing, In the passionate heart of the rose, All athrob with its beauty of being."
He quoted, and Mysie's pulse leapt with every word, as the low soothing wooing of his voice came in soft tones like a gentle breeze among clumps of briars.
"Isn't it a beautiful song, Mysie?" he said. "The man who wrote that must have been thinking of someone very like you," and as he said this, he gave her hand a tender squeeze. Mysie thrilled to his touch and her heart leapt and fluttered like a bird in a snare, her breath coming in short little gasps, which were at once a pain and a joy.
"Dinna say that," she said, a note of alarm in her voice as she tried to withdraw her hand.
But he only held it closer, and bent his lips over it, his manner gentle but firm.
"Ay, it is true, Mysie; but I am so stupid I can't do anything of that kind. I'm merely an ordinary sort of chap."
Mysie did not answer, and once again silence fell between them, broken only occasionally by the cry of the birds or the bleating of a sheep.
"I believe I'm in love with you, Mysie," he said at last. "You've grown very beautiful. Could you care for me, Mysie?" he asked, looking at her in the soft moonlight, a smile on his lips, his voice keeping its seductive wooing tone, and his eyes kindling.
Mysie's experience of life had been gleaned from the love stories of earls and lords marrying governesses and ladies' maids after a swift and very eventful courtship. Already she saw herself Peter's wife, her carriage coming at her order, everyone serving her and she the queen of all the district. Illiterate but romantic, she was swept off her feet at the first touch of passion, and the flattery of being recognized!
She did not answer. She did not know what to say; and Peter stole his arm about her waist, so tempting, so sweet to touch, and they passed beneath the shadow of the trees as they entered the little wooded copse. The moonlight filtered down through the trees, working silvery patterns upon the pathway. The silence, heavy and scented, was broken only by the far-away wheepling of a wakeful whaup and the grumbling of the burn near by, which bickered and hurried to be out in the open again on its way to the river.
Mysie heard the sounds, felt the fragrance of young briars and hawthorn mingled with the smell of last year's decaying leaves which carpeted the pathway. She noted the beauty of the foliage against the moon, heard the swift scurry of a frightened rabbit and the faint snort of a hedge-hog on the prowl for food.
"What have you to say to me, Mysie?" Peter persisted, his hot breath against her cheek, his blood coursing through his veins in red-hot passion. "Could you care for me, Mysie? I want you to be mine!"
"I dinna ken what to say," she at last answered, distress in her voice, yet pleased to be wooed by this young man. "Wad it no' be wrang to ha'e onything to dae wi' me? I'm only your mither's servant." She felt it was her duty to put it this way.
"No, you are my sweetheart," he cried, discretion all gone now in his eager furtherance of his pleading. "I want you—only you, Mysie," and he caught her in his arms in a strong burst of desire for her. "Mine, Mysie, mine!" he cried, his lips upon hers and hers responding now, his hot eyes greedily devouring her as he held her there in his strong young arms. "Say, Mysie, that you are mine, that I am yours, body and soul belonging to each other," and so he raved on in eager burning language, which was the sweetest music in Mysie's ears.
His arms about her, he made her sit down, she still unresisting and flattered by his words, he fondling and kissing her, his hands caressing her face, her ears, her hair, her neck, his head sometimes resting upon her breast.
Maddened and scorched by the passion raging within him, lured by the magic of the night, and impelled by the invitation of the sweet dewy lips that seemed to cry for kisses, he strained her to his breast.
He praised her eyes, her hair, her voice, whilst he poured kisses upon her, his fire kindling her whole being into response.
Then a thick cloud came over the face of the moon, darkening the dell, blotting out the silvery patterns on the ground, chasing the light shadows into dark corners; and a far-off protest of a whaup shouting to the hills was heard in a shriller and more anxious note that had something of alarm in it; the burn seemed to bicker more loudly in its anxiety to hurry on out into the open moor; and the scents and perfumes of the wood sank into pale ghosts of far-off memories.
When passion, red-eyed and fierce for conquest, had driven innocence from the throne of virtue the guardian angels wept; and all their tears, however bitter, could not obliterate the stains which marked the progress of destruction.
At the end of the copse, when Mysie and Peter emerged, they neither spoke nor laughed. There was shame in their downcast faces, and their feet dragged heavily. His arm no longer encircled her waist, he did not now praise her eyes, her hair, her figure. Lonely each felt, afraid to look up, as if something walked between them. And far away the whaup wheepled in protest, the burn still grumbled, and the perfumes, and the sounds of the glen and all its beauty were as if they had never existed, and the thick cloud grew blacker over the face of the moon.
Night after night for a week afterwards, Mysie lay awake till far on into the morning. She seemed to be face to face with life's realities at last. The silly, shallow love stories held no fascination for her. The love affairs of "Jean the Mill Girl" could not rouse her interest. Often she cried for hours, till exhaustion brought sleep, troubled and unrefreshing.
She grew silent and avoided company. She sang no more at her work, and she avoided Peter, and kept out of his way. She often compared Robert with him now, and loved to let her mind linger on that one mad moment of delirious joy a year ago, when he had crushed her to his breast, and cried to her to be his. Thus womanhood dawned for her, and its great responsibilities frightened her.
Robert, on the other hand, spent a week nursing his injured foot, but apart from the week's idle time, he suffered very little. He felt sore at losing the race, but was able now to look upon it as an unfortunate accident. But that smile which he had seen on the face of Mysie made him strangely happy, and it helped him to get over his disappointment. He was impatient to be out upon the moor again. He would wait for Mysie some night, he concluded, and tell her calmly that he wanted her to marry him.
His mother's prospects were fairly good now. The youngest boy would soon be working; besides, two other brothers were at work, while Jennie, his eldest sister, was in service, and Annie, the younger one, was helping in the house. He waited, night after night, after his injured foot was better—lingering on the moor by the path which Mysie must travel. He lay among the heather and read books, or dreamed of a rosy future, with her the center of his dreams; but no Mysie came along, and he began to grow anxious.
He wanted to make enquiries about her, but feared to arouse suspicion of having too keen an interest in her. By various ways he sought information, but never heard anything definite.
"I see Matthew Maitland's ither lassie has started on the pit-head," he said to his mother, as one night they sat by the fire before retiring.
"Ay," answered Mrs. Sinclair. "Matthew has the worst o' it by noo. Wi' his twa bits o' laddies workin', an' Mysie in service, an' Mary gaun to the pit-head, it should mak' his burden a wee easier."
"I dinna like the idea o' lasses gaun to work on the pithead," he said simply. "I aye mind of the time that Mysie an' me wrocht on it. It's no' a very nice place for lasses or women."
"No," his mother said. "I dinna like it either. Nae guid ever comes o' lasses gaun there. They lose a' sense o' modesty an' decency, after a while, an' are no' like women at a' when they grow aulder. Besides, it mak's them awfu' coorse."
"I wad hardly say that aboot them a'," he ventured cautiously. "Mysie's no' coorse, an' she worked on the pithead."
"No, Mysie's no' coorse," admitted his mother; "but Mysie didna work very lang on the pit-head. An' forby, we dinna ken but what Mysie micht hae been better if she had never been near it, or worse if she had stayed langer. Just look at Susan Morton, an' that Mag Lindsay. What are they but shameless lumps who dinna ken what modesty is?" and there was a spark of the old scorn in her voice as she finished.
"Oh, but I wadna gang as faur as you, mither," he said, "wi' your condemnations. I ken that baith Susan Morton an' Mag Lindsay are guid-hearted women. They may be coarse in their talk, an' a' that sort o' thing; but they are as kind-hearted as onybody else, an' kinder than some."
"Oh; I hae nae doot," she answered relentingly. "I didna mean that at a'; but the pit-head doesna make them ony better, an' it's no' wark for them at a'."
"I mind," said Robert reminiscently, "when Mysie an' me started on the pit-head, Mag Lindsay was awfu' guid to Mysie; an' I've kent her often sharin' her piece wi' wee Dicky Tamson, whiles when he had nane, if his mother happened to be on the fuddle for a day or twa. There's no a kinderhearted woman in Lowwood, mither, than Mag Lindsay. She'd swear at Dicky a' the time she was stappin' her piece into him. It was jist her wye, an' I think she couldna help it."
"Oh, ay, Mag's bark is waur then her bite. I ken that," was the reply. "An' wi' a' her fauts a body canna help likin' her."
"Speakin' of Mysie," said Robert with caution, "I hinna seen her owre for a while surely. Wull there be onything wrang?" and then, to hide the agitation he felt, "she used to come owre hame aboot twice a week, an' I hinna seen her for a while."
"Oh, there canna be onything wrang," replied Nellie, "or we wad hae heard tell o' it. But t' is time we were awa' to oor beds, or we'll no' be able to rise in time the morn," and rising as she spoke, she began to make preparations for retiring, and he withdrew to his room also.
Still, day after day, he hung about the moorland path, but no Mysie, so far as he knew, ever came past. She had visited her parents only once since the games and her mother was struck by her subdued and thoughtful demeanor. But nothing was said at the time.
Robert grew impatient, and began to roam nearer to Rundell House, in the hope of seeing her. Always his thoughts were full of Mysie and the raging passion in his blood for her gave him no rest. He loved to trace her name linked with his own, and then to obliterate it again, in case anyone would see it. All day his thoughts were of her; and her sweet, shy smile that day of the games was nursed in memory till it grew to be a solace to his heart and its hunger.
He saw likenesses to her in everything, and even the call of the moor-birds awakened some memory of an incident of childhood, when Mysie and he had, with other children, played together on the moors. Even the very words which she had spoken, or the way she had acted, or how she had looked, in cheap cotton frock and pinafore, were recalled by a familiar cry, or by the sudden discovery of a bog-flower in bloom.
It was a glorious afternoon in late July. The hum of insect life seemed to flood the whole moor; the scent of mown hay and wild thyme, and late hawthorn blossom from the trees on the edge of the moor, was heavy in the air, and the sun was very hot, and still high in the heavens. The hills that bordered the moor drowsed and brooded, like ancient gods, clothed in a lordly radiance that was slowly consuming them as they meditated upon their coming oblivion.
The heather gave promise, in the tiny purple buds that sprouted from the strong, rough stems, of the blaze of purple glory that would carpet the moors with magic in the coming days of autumn. Yet there was a vague hint, in the too deep silence, and in the great clouds that were slowly drifting along the sky, of pent-up force merely awaiting the time to be set free to gallop across the moor in anger and destruction. The clouds, too, were deeply red, with orange touches here and there, trailing into dark inky ragged edges.
Far away, at the foot of the hills a crofter's cow lowed lazily, calling forth a summons to be taken in and relieved of its burden of milk. The sheep came nearer to the "bughts," and the lambs burrowed for nourishment, with tails wagging, as they drew their sustenance, prodding and punching the patient mothers in the operation of feeding. Robert, noting all, with leisured enjoyment strolled lazily into the little copse, and lay down beneath the cool, grateful shelter of the trees.
Drugged by the sweetness and the solitude, he fell asleep, and the sun was low on the horizon when he awoke, the whole copse ringing with the evening songs of merle and mavis, and other less musical birds, and, as he looked down the glade, he saw, out on the moorland path, coming straight for the grove, the form of Mysie—the form of which he had dreamed, and for which he had longed so much.
The hot blood mounted to his face and raced through his frame, while his heart thumped at the thought that now, in the quietness of the dell, he would meet her and speak to her. He would speak calmly, and not frighten her, as he had done on that former occasion; and he braced himself to meet her.
Impatiently he waited, and then, as he saw her about to enter the grove, he rose as unconcernedly as he could, trying hard to assume the air of one who had met her by accident, and stepped on to the path when Mysie was within ten yards or so of him.
The color left her face, and her limbs felt weak beneath her, as she recognized him, and he was quick to note the change in her whole appearance.
She was paler, he thought, and thinner, and the bloom of a few weeks ago was gone. Her eyes were listless, and the soft, shy look had been replaced by an averted shame-stricken one. She was plainly flurried by the meeting, and looking about trying to find if there were not, even yet, a way of evading it.
"It's a fine nicht, Mysie," he began, stammering and halting before her, "though I think it is gaun to work to rain."
"Ay," she responded hurriedly, her agitation growing, as she was forced to halt before him.
"I've come oot on the muir a wheen o' nichts noo, to try an' meet you," he began, getting into the business right away, "an' I had begun to think you had stopped comin' owre."
But Mysie answered never a word. Her face grew paler, and her agitation became more evident.
"Mysie," he began, now fully braced for the important matter in view, "I want you to marry me. I want you to be my wife. You've kenned me a' my life. We gaed to the school together, and we gaed to work together, an' I hae aye looked on you as my lass. I canna keep it ony langer noo. I hae wanted to tell you a lang time aboot it, an' to ask you to be my wife. My place at hame is easier noo. My mother has the rest o' the family comin' on to take my place, and her battle is gey weel owre, an' I can see prospects o' settin' up a hoose o' my ain, if you'll agree to share it with me. I haven't muckle to offer you, but I think you'll ken by this time that I'll be guid to you. Mysie, I want you. Will you come?"
For answer, Mysie burst into tears, her shoulders heaving with the sobs of her grief, her breast surging and falling, while her little hands covered her eyes, as she stood with bent head, a pitiable little figure.
"What is it, Mysie?" he enquired, his hands at once going tenderly over her bent head, and caressing it as he spoke, "What is it, Mysie? Tell me. Hae I vexed you by speakin' like that? Dinna greet, Mysie," he went on soothingly, his voice soft and tender, and vibrant with sympathy and love. "Dinna greet. But tell me what's wrang. I'm sorry if it's me that has done it, Mysie. Maybe I hae frightened you; but, there now, dinna greet. I didna mean ony harm!" and he stroked and caressed her hair softly with his hands, or patted her shoulders at every word, as a mother does with a fretful child.
"There noo, Mysie, dinna greet," he said again, the soft, soothing note of vexation in his voice growing more tender and husky with emotion. "Look up, Mysie, for I dinna like to see you greetin'. It maun be something gey bad, surely, to mak' you greet like this," and his hands seemed to stab her with every tender touch, and his soft words but added more pain to her grief.
But still Mysie never answered. Her tears instead flowed faster, and her sobs grew heavier, until finally she moaned like a stricken animal in pain.
"Mysie! Mysie! my dochter, what is it?" unable to control himself longer. "Surely you can tell me what ails you? What is it, Mysie? Look up, my dear! Look up an' tell me what ails you!"
"Oh, dear! Oh, dear!" moaned Mysie, the floodgates of her grief now wide, and her soul in torture.
"Mysie," he cried, taking her head between his hands and raising it up, "what is it that's wrang with you? Is it me that is the cause o' you being vexed?"
"Oh, no, no," she moaned, trying to avert her face. "Oh, dinna, Rob!" she pleaded, and the old familiar name smote him and thrilled him as of old.
"Tell me what is the matter," he said, a stronger note in his voice, the old masterful spirit asserting itself again. "What is wrang wi' you? I can't understand it, an' I wish to try an' help you."
But still she sobbed and there was no answer.
"Look here," he said. "Tell me plainly if I have been the cause of this."
"No; oh, no," she sobbed, again hiding her eyes with her hands.
"Very weel, then," he went on. "Will you no' tell me what is wrong? I canna understand it unless you tell me. Are you in ony trouble o' ony kind? Speak, Mysie." Then, his voice becoming more pleading in its tones, "Wad you be feart to be my wife, Mysie? I aye thocht you cared for me. I hae loved you a' my days. You maun ken that, I think. Speak up, Mysie, an' tell me if you care for me. I want you, an' I maun ken what you think o' it. Come, Mysie, tell me!"
"Oh, dinna ask me, Rob," she pleaded. "Dinna ask me!"
"What is the matter then?" he cried. "There's something wrong, an' you'll no' tell me. Very well, tell me what you mean to do. I hae asked you a fair question. Are you going to marry me? I want yes or no to that," and there was a touch of impatience creeping into his voice.
"Come on," he urged, after a short silence, broken only by Mysie's sobs, "gie me an answer. Or, if you wad raither wait a wee while, till this trouble has blawn by that is bothering you, I'm quite agreeable to wait."
"It'll never blaw by, Rob," she sobbed. "Oh, dinna ask me ony mair. I canna be your wife noo, an' I jist want to be left alane!"
The pain and despair in her voice alarmed him. It was so keen and poignant, and went to his heart like a knife.
"Oh!" he gasped in surprise, as he strove to call his pride to his assistance. It was so unlike what he had anticipated that it amazed him to have such a disappointing reply. Then, recovering somewhat:—"Very well!" with great deliberation, while his voice sounded unnaturally strained. Then the effort failing, and his pride breaking down: "Oh, Mysie, Mysie," he burst out in poignant agony again relapsing into the pleading wooing tones that were so difficult to withstand, "How I hae loved you! I thocht you cared for me. I hae built mysel' up in you, an' I'll never, never be able to forget you! Oh, think what it is! You hae been life itsel' to me, Mysie, an' I canna think that you dinna care! Oh, Mysie!"
He turned away, his heart sore and his soul wounded, and strode from the copse out on to the moor, a thousand thoughts driving him on, a thousand regrets pursuing, and a load of pain in his heart that was bearing his spirit down.
"Oh, dear God!" moaned Mysie, kneeling down, her legs unable to support her longer, "Oh, dear God, my heart'll break!" and a wild burst of sobbing shook her frame, and her grief overpowering flowed through the tears—a picture of utter despair and terrible hopelessness.
Robert tore away from the dell, his whole calculation of things upset. To think that Mysie could not love him had never entered his head. What was wrong with her? What was the nature of her terrible grief?
He kicked savagely at a thistle which grew upon the edge of the pathway, his pride wounded, but now in possession of the citadel of his heart; and on he strode, still driven by the terrible passion raging within him; resolving already, as many have done under like circumstances, that his life was finished. Hope had gone, dreams were unreal and vanishing as the mist that crawled along the bog-pools at night.
At the crest of the little hill, just where it sloped down to the village, he stood and looked back.
Good God! Was he seeing aright! The figure of a man, who in the gray gloaming looked well-dressed, was approaching Mysie, and she was slowly moving to meet him. A few steps more, and the man had the girl, he thought, in his arms, and was kissing her where they stood.
Was he dreaming? What was the meaning of all this? "Oh, Christ!" he groaned. "What does it all mean?" and he rubbed his eyes and looked again, then sat down, all his pride and anger raging within him as he watched, kindling the jungle instinct within him into a raging fire, to fight for his mate—his by right of class and association. He doubled back, as the two figures turned in the direction of the copse—the resolve in his mind to go back and forcibly tear Mysie from this unknown stranger. He would fight for her. She was his, and he was prepared to assert his right of possession before all the world.
In a mad fury he started forward, a raging anger in his heart, striding along in quick, determined, relentless steps, his blood jumping and his energy roused, and all the madness of a strong nature coursing through him; but after a few yards he hesitated, stopped, and then turned back.
After all, Mysie must have made an appointment with this man. She evidently wanted him, and that was her reason for asking to be left alone.
"Oh, God!" he groaned again, sitting down. "This is hellish!" and he began to turn over the whole business in his mind once more.
Long he sat, and the darkness fell over the moor, matching the darkness that brooded over his heart and mind. He heard the moor-birds crying in restlessness, and saw the clouds piling themselves up, and come creeping darkly over the higher ground, bringing a threat of rain in their wake. The moan in the wind became louder, presaging a storm; but still he sat or lay upon the rough, withered grass, fighting out his battle, meeting the demons of despair and gloom, and the legions of pain and misery, in greater armies than ever he had met them before.
Again he groaned, as his ear caught the plaintive note of a widowed partridge, which sat behind him upon a grassy knoll of turf, crying out on the night air, an ache in every cry, the grief and sorrow of his wounded, breaking heart.
It seemed to Robert that there was a strange sort of kinship between him and the bird—a kinship and understanding which touched a chord of ready feeling in his heart. The ominous hoot of an owl in the wood startled him, and he rose to his feet. He could not sit still. Idleness would drive him mad. He strode off on to the moor, away from the track, his whole being burning in torture, and his mind a mass of unconnected fancies and pains.
Over the bogs and through the marshes, the madness of despair within him, he heeded not the deep ditches and the bog-pools. They were the pits of darkness, the sty-pools, which his soul must either cross, or in which he must perish. He tore up the hills into the mists and the rising storm, the thick clouds, full of rain, enveloping him, and matching the terrible fury of his breast.
On, ever on, in the darkness and the mire, through clumps of whin and stray bushes of wild briar. On, always on, driven and lashed into action by the resistless desire to get away from himself. He knew not the direction he had taken. He had lost his bearings on the moor; the darkness had completely hidden the landmarks, and even had he been conscious of his actions, he could not have told in which part of the moor he was.
"Oh, God!" he groaned again, almost falling over a bush of broom; and sitting down, he buried his face in his hands, and, forgetful of the wind and the rain, which now drove down in torrents, sat and brooded and thought, his mind seeking to understand the chaos of despair.
What was the meaning of life? What was beyond it after death? Would immortality, if such there were, be worth having? Men in countless, unthinkable millions, had lived, and loved, and lost, and passed on. Did immortality carry with it pain and suffering for them? If not, did it carry happiness and balm? To hell with religions and philosophies, he thought; they were all a parcel of fairy tales to drug men's minds and keep them tame; and he glared impotently at the pitiless heavens, as if he would defy gods, and devils, and men. He would be free—free in mind, in thought, and unhampered by unrealities!
No. Men had the shaping of their own lives. Pride would be his ally. He would lock up this episode in his heart, and at the end of time for him, there would be an end of the pain and the regret, when he was laid among the myriad millions of men of all the countless ages since man had being.
This was immortality; to be forever robed in the dreamless draperies of eternal oblivion, rather than have eternal life, with all its torments—mingling with the legions of the past, and with mother earth—the dust of success and happiness indistinguishable from the dust of failure and despair. Time alone would be his relief—the great physician that healed all wounds.
The wind blew stronger and the rain fell heavier, the one chasing, the other in raging gusts, and both tearing round and lashing the form of the man who sat motionless and unaware of all this fury. The wind god tried to shake him up by rushing and roaring at him; but still there was no response. Then, gathering re-inforcements, he came on in a mad charge, driving a cloud of rain in front of him as a sort of spear-head to break the defense of fearlessness and unconcern of this unhappy mortal. Yet the figure moved not.
Baffled and still more angry, the wind god retired behind the hills again to rest; then, driving a larger rain-cloud before him, with a roar and a crash he tore down the slope, raging and tearing in a wild tumult of anger, straight against the lonely figure which sat there never moving, his head sunk upon his breast.
Beaten and sullen, the god again retired to re-collect his strength. He moaned and growled as he retired, frightening the moor-birds and the hares, which lay closer to earth, their little hearts quivering with fear. Young birds were tucked safely under the parent wing, as terror strode across the moor, striking dread into every fluttering little heart and shivering body. Low growled the wind, as he ran around his broken forces, gathering again new forces in greater and greater multitudes.
Just then, with an oath, the figure rose and faced the storm, striding again up the slope, as if determined to carry the war into the camp of the enemy.
A low growl came rumbling from the hills, as the wind god rushed along, encouraging his legions, threatening, coaxing, pleading, commanding them to fight, and so to overcome this figure who now boldly faced his great army.
The advance guard of the storm broke upon him in wild desperation, rushing and thundering, howling and yelling, sputtering and hissing, spitting and hitting at him, and then the main body struck him full in the face, all the bulk and the force of it hurled upon him with terrible impetuous abandon, and Robert's foot striking a tuft at the moment, he went down, down into a bog-pool among the slush and moss, and decaying heather-roots, down before the mad rush of the wind-god's army, who roared and shouted in glee, with a voice that shook the hills and called upon the elements to laugh and rejoice.
And the widowed partridge out upon the moor, creeping closer to the lee side of his tuft of moss, cried out in his pain, not because of the fury of the blast, but because of the heart that was breaking under the little shivering body for the dead mate, who had meant so much of life and happiness to him—cried with an ache in every cry, and the heart of the man responded in his great, overpowering grief.
PETER MAKES A DECISION
Peter Rundell often wondered what had become of Mysie. For a day or two after the evening of the day of the games, he had shunned the possibility of meeting her, because of the shame that filled his heart.
His face burned when his thoughts went back to the evening in the grove on the moor. He wondered how it had all happened. He had not meant anything wrong when he suggested the walk. He could not account for what had occurred, and so he pondered and his shame rankled.
Then an uneasy feeling took possession of him and he felt he would like to see Mysie.
A week slipped away and he tried to find a way of coming in contact with her, but no real chance ever presented itself.
A fortnight passed and he grew still more uneasy. He grew anxious and there was a hot fear pricking at his heart. Then at last, one day he caught a glimpse of her, and his heart was smitten with dread.
She was changed. Her appearance was altered. She was thinner, much thinner and very white and listless. The old air of gayety and bubbling spirits was gone. Her step seemed to drag, instead of the bright patter her feet used to make; and his anxiety increased and finally he decided that he must talk with her.
There was something wrong and he wanted to know what it was. He tried to make an excuse for seeing her alone but no chance presented itself, and another week went past and he grew desperate. Then luck almost threw her into his arms one day in the hall.
"Mysie," he whispered, "there is something I want to discuss with you. Meet me in the grove to-night about ten. I must see you. Will you come?"
She nodded and passed on, not daring to raise her eyes, her face flaming suddenly into shame, and the color leaving it again, gave her a deeper pallor; and so he had to be content with that.
All day he was fidgety and ill at ease, torn by a thousand dreads, and consumed by anxiety, waiting impatiently for the evening, and puzzling over what could be the matter. He felt that for one moment of mad indiscretion, when allowing himself to be cast adrift upon the sea of passion, the frail bark of his life had set out upon an adventure from which he could not now turn back. He was out upon the great ocean current of circumstances, where everything was unknown and uncharted, so far as he was concerned. What rocks lay in his track, he did not know; but his heart guessed, and sought in many ways of finding a course that would bring his voyage to an end in the haven of comfort and respectability. Respectability was his god, as he knew it was the god of his parents. Money might save him; but there was something repugnant in the thought of leaving the whole burden of disgrace upon Mysie. For, after all, the fault was wholly his, and it was his duty to face the consequences. Still if a way could be found of getting over it in an easy way it would be better. But he would leave that till the evening when he had learned from Mysie, whether his fears were correct or not, and then a way might be found out of the difficulty.
But the day seemed long in passing, and by the time the clock chimed nine he was in a fever of excitement, and pained and ill with dread.
Yet he was late when it came the hour, and Mysie was there first and had already met Robert before he reached the grove.
When Robert had gone away, and she sat crying upon the moor, she felt indeed as if the whole world was slipping from her and that her life was finished. Only ruin, black, unutterable, stared her in the face. Oh, if only Robert had spoken sooner, she thought. If only that terrible beautiful night with its moonlight witchery had not been lived as it had been! If only something had intervened to prevent what had happened! And she sobbed in her despair, knowing what was before her and learning all too late, that Robert was the man she loved and wanted.
Then when her passionate grief had spent itself, she rose as she saw Peter coming hurriedly to meet her.
"What is the matter, Mysie?" he asked with real concern in his voice, noting the tear-stained face and her over-wrought condition. "What is it, Mysie?"
But Mysie did not answer just then, and they both turned and passed into the grove, walking separately, as if afraid of each other's touch, and something repellent keeping them apart.