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The McBrides - A Romance of Arran
by John Sillars
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THE McBRIDES

A Romance of Arran

by

JOHN SILLARS

Fifth Impression



The Ryerson Press, Toronto William Blackwood and Sons Edinburgh and London 1922



TO

MY MOTHER



LIST OF GAELIC NAMES AND EXPRESSIONS.

Crotal, lichen. "A traill," you sluggard. Cleiteadh mor, big ridge of rocks. Bothanairidh, summer sheiling. Birrican, a place name. Rhuda ban, white headland. Bealach an sgadan, Herring slap. Skein dubh, black knife. Crubach, lame. Mo ghaoil, my darling. Direach sin, (just that), (now do you see). Lag 'a bheithe, hollow of the birch. Mo bhallach, my boy. Ceilidh, visit (meeting of friends); ceilidhing; ceilidher. Cha neil, negative, no. Mo leanabh, my child. Cailleachs, old women. Og, young. Mhari nic Cloidh, Mary Fullarton.



CONTENTS.

PART I.

CHAP.

I. WHICH TELLS OF THE COMING OF THE GIPSY II. MAKES SOME MENTION OF ONE JOCK McGILP, AND TELLS HOW BELLE BROUGHT THE WEAN IN THE TARTAN SHAWL INTO THE HOUSE OF NOURN III. IN WHICH I CHASE DEER AND SEE STRANGE HORSEMEN ON THE HILL, AND A LIGHT FLASHING ON THE SEA IV. I MEET JOCK McGILP AND HIS MATE McNEILAGE AT THE TUBS' INN, AND LEARN WHAT HAS BECOME OF THE WEAN IN THE TARTAN SHAWL V. MIRREN STUART'S ERRAND VI. WE TRAMP THROUGH THE SNOW TO McKELVIE'S INN VII. WE SAIL IN McKELVIE'S SKIFF TO THE HOLY ISLAND VIII. THE DEATH OF McDEARG, THE RED LAIRD IX. MIRREN STUART BIDS HER DOG LIE DOWN X. DOL BEAG IS FLUNG INTO A FIRE XI. THE BLAZING WHINS XII. McALLAN'S LOCKER XIII. DAN McBRIDE SAILS FROM LOCH BANZA XIV. WE RETURN XV. THE STRANGER ON THE MOORS XVI. I HAVE SOME TALK WITH McGILP IN McKINNON'S KITCHEN

PART II.

XVII. I TURN SCHOOLMASTER XVIII. THE FIRST MEETING XIX. THE RIDERS ON THE MOOR XX. "THE LOVE SECRET" XXI. DOL BEAG LAUGHS XXII. THE SHAMELESS LASS XXIII. HELEN AND BRYDE McBRIDE REST AT THE FOOT OF THE URIE XXIV. THE HALFLIN'S MESSAGE XXV. I RIDE AGAIN TO McALLAN'S LOCKER XXVI. A WEDDING ON THE DOORSTEP XXVII. MARGARET McBRIDE KISSES HELEN XXVIII. IN WHICH BETTY COMPLAINS OF GROWING-PAINS XXIX. THE RAKING BLACK SCHOONER XXX. TELLS WHERE BRYDE MET HAMISH OG XXXI. BRYDE AND MARGARET XXXII. BRYDE AND HELEN XXXIII. HOW JOHN McCOOK HEARS OF THE PLOY AT THE CLATES XXXIV. WHAT CAME OF THE PLOY XXXV. DOL BEAG LAUGHS AGAIN



THE McBRIDES.

PART I.

CHAPTER I.

WHICH TELLS OF THE COMING OF THE GIPSY.

It was April among the hills, waes me, the far-away days of my youth, when the hills were smiling through the mists of their tears, and the green grasses thrusting themselves through the withered mat of the pasture like slender fairy swords. April in the hills, with the curlews crying far out on the moorside, past the Red Ground my grandfather wrought, and where again the heather will creep down, rig on rig, for all the stone dykes, deer fences, and tile drains that ever a man put money in. I never knew why it was they called it "Red Ground," for it was mostly black peaty soil, but my grandfather would be saying, "It will be growing corn. Give it wrack, and it will be growing corn for evermore."

They tell me he was a great farmer for all he was laird, and never happier than at his own plough tail, breaking a colt to work in chains; and he it was who improved the stock in cattle and horse in our glens, for he would be aye telling the young farmers, "Gie the quey calves plenty o' milk, as much as they'll lash into themselves. Be good to them when the baby flesh is on them, and they'll grow and thrive, and your siller'll a' come back in the milking."

The countryside clavered and havered when he bought his pedigree bulls and his pedigree mares. "It's money clean wasted," said the old farmers, "for a calf's a calf no odds what begets it, and a horse that can work in chains and take its turn on the road is horse enough for any man, without sinking money in dumb beasts, and a' this sire-and-dam pother." It would anger the old man that talk, ay, even when he was the old frail frame of what once he was,—like a dead and withered ash-tree, dourly awaiting the death gale to send it crashing down, to lie where once its shade fell in the hot summer days of its youth,—and the blood would rise up on his neck, where the flesh had shrunk like old cracked parchment, and left cords and pipes of arteries and veins, gnarled like old ivy round a tree.

Querulous he was and ill-tempered with the scoffers. "Man, if I had twenty more years I would grow hoofs on your horse and udders on your in-coming queys." Well, well, I'm fond of this farming, but I have set out to tell a tale, which in my poor fancy should even be like a rotation of crops, from the breaking in of the lea to the sowing out in grass, with the sun and winds and sweet rains to ripen and swell the grain—the crying of the harvesters and the laughing of lassies among the stocks in the gloaming, the neighing of horse and the lowing of kine in the evening.

On that morning so long ago Dan and I were ploughing stubble, and I followed my horses in all joy, laughing to see them snap as I turned them in at the head-rigs, and coaxing them as they threw their big glossy shoulders into the collar on the brae face. So the morning wore on as I ploughed, with maybe a word now and then to Dick, and a touch of the rein to Darling, and the sea-gulls screaming after us as the good land was turned over. The sun came glinting through the hill mist, and the green buds were bursting in the hedgerows for very gladness.

I was free from the college, free from the smoke-wrack and the grime of the town, free to hear the birds awake and singing in the planting behind the stackyard, and I breathed great gulps of air and felt clean and purged of all the evil of the town; for if there is vice in the country, it is to my mind evil without sordidness.

I remember my foolish thoughts were something like these, even though my reading should have taught me better, for the Garden of Eden was a fine place to sin in by all accounts, yet the environment did not mitigate the punishment. In these young days, when my body glowed from a swim and my eyes were clear, I thought the minister too hard on that original iniquity.

It was coming on for dinner-time—lowsin' time, as we say in the field—when Dan shouted—

"Hamish," says he, "who'll yon be that's travellin' so fast above the Craig-an-dubh?"

"I will be telling you that, Dan, when she's half a mile nearer."

"Ye hinna the toon mirk rubbed out your een yet, Hamish, or ye would ken the bonny spaewife. I've been watchin' her this last three 'bouts."

"Dan, Dan," said I, "do you think of nothing but women and horses? Have ye never learned the lesson of Joseph?"

"Man, Hamish," says he, with a whimsical smile and a hand at his moustache, "ye should put a' things in their proper order. Horses and weemen noo. It's not a bad thing—a while wi' a lass after the horses are bedded and foddered, but horses first; and as for Joseph"—his smile broadened until I could see his teeth—"if it had been Dauvit the leddy had met on the stair, the meenisters wid never hiv heard a cheep about it. . . .

"It's a fine lesson yon, I aye think, for auld men to be preaching, but deevil a word about their ain youthfu' rants. Ye're a lusty lad yirsel', and there's many a cheery nicht among the lasses wi' petticoats and short-goons, and I'll teach ye hoo tae whistle them oot if ye would leave your books and come raking wi' Dan."

We had unyoked the horses and got astride, and when we came to the gate there was the bonny spaewife carrying a bairn in a tartan shawl. Dan drew up, and I also; so there we stood, the horses in an impatient semi-circle on the road, Dan and I on horseback, and the woman looking up at us.

She had the blackest eyes I ever saw, and hair black and curly as a water-dog's clustered over her head, and the wee rain-drops clung about the curls round her ears and brow. Her nose was delicate and faultless, and her complexion was that born of sun and rain and wind. There seemed a smile to play round her red lips, and a sombreness about her eyes (so that she held mine fixed), until Dan spoke.

"I think, Belle," said he, "you're gettin' bonnier, and if it wasna for the wean I would leave a kiss on your bonny red mouth."

Round the pupils of her black eyes a little ring began to glow, as though a light came from a great distance through darkness, her white teeth bit on her under lip, and she stepped closer to Dan's horse.

"Haud away, woman, haud away, for the love o' your Maker; the stallion canna thole weemen about him."

I fear me the town had taken some of the game out of me, for when I saw the big dark horse flatten his ears, the wicked eyes rolling, and the great fore-hoofs drumming on the road, ready to leap and batter the woman and her bairn to a bloody pulp fornent me, my stomach turned, as we say, and I felt sick and giddy. Many a morning had I stood at the loose-box door and watched the devil in the horse and the devil in the man battle for mastery, and aye the horse was cowed. Even on the mornings when I heard Dan's step, soft and wary on the cobbles, before the sun was up, and knew by the look of him, and the gruffness in his voice, that he had travelled many a weary mile from his light-o'-love, and that sleep had not troubled him, I would hear the stable door opening and Dan whistling like the cheery early bird as he opened the corn-kist. After the morning feed the battle began, for Chieftain had a devil, but I think Dan had seven of that ilk.

"It's him or me, Hamish," he would croon, "him or me, but I'm likin' myself a' the time"; and he kept the lathering, plunging devil off himself, whiles with his fists, and whiles with a short stick.

"I'll handle him were he twice as big and twice as bad. I'll hae nae gentlemen among the horse when there's lea to plough!" and the fight would go on. But Dan was the only man who could handle Chieftain, and there seemed a kind of laughing comradeship between them.

I have digressed that you might see with my eyes the queer uncanny thing that happened on the road there between the woman and the horse. I have told you the spaewife—if spaewife you would call her, for I think sorceress fitted her better—I have said she came close to Chieftain's head, her black eyes fairly lowing; and as the brute, his skin twitching, gathered himself to rear on her, she hit him full on the mouth with her little brown hand, and hissed a word at him in her own tongue. As the word struck my ears I felt myself tingle to my finger-tips, and the world seemed to go quiet all round me. The horse's ears went forward, and he stretched his great neck, and there he was quiet as an old pony, nibbling with his lips at the woman's shawl and hair.

And the woman looked at Dan.

A kind of half laugh, half sigh, left his lips.

"I wish," said he, "I had your gait o' handlin' horse. It's desperate sudden, but it's sure, as our friend Hamish wid observe. Maybe, my dear, you'll hiv a spell tae turn the horse tae himsel' again and something extra, an' I'm no' sayin' but what I would be likin' him better, for sittin' here on a quate beast that sould be like the ravening devil o' holy writ is no' canny."

"Spell," said the girl, for indeed she was little more, and under her brown skin I could see the darker red rising. "Spell, ye night-hawk!" and her broad bosom heaved with the rage in her, and her body trembled with living anger.

"I come o' folk, ye reiver, that lay down and rose up among their horse, in the black tents, that loved and hated among their horse, that lived and died among their horse, and ye would talk to me o' spells. Did I but say the word to that black horse, not you nor any o' the folk ye cam' crooked among would straddle him and live to boast o' it after."

Dan sat his horse like a statue. It makes my old eyes moist and my throat choky to this day to think of it, for I loved him through everything. Could he have had command of heavy horse, and won his rest on some glorious field, brave, headstrong, devil-may-care Dan; but there he sat and looked on the Cassandra, and his eyes were laughing from his stern face as he took a turn on the rope reins.

"Back, my bonny horse," said he to Chieftain, and there was a kind of joyous lilt in his voice. "Draw away your pair, Hamish, and this lan' horse o' mine. We'll miss our dinner maybe, but I've an unco hankering after this word."

Away down in my heart I knew what was coming, and I watched the woman loosen her tartan shawl and lay her infant in a neuk among the hedge roots.

"I'm waitin' now, my dear," said Dan, "and in case I dee I'll tell ye I think I could break you in, for I like the devil temper bleezin' in your bonny black een, and your lips would warm a deein' man. My dear, I think I could be your man for a' ye say I cam' crooked; for spaewife or no—God's life, ye're awfu' bonny, Belle."

The gipsy gave a little lilting laugh.

"You," says she—"you. I'm not saying but you're a pretty man, and I've good looks enough for baith—if I loved ye; but, man, my love would be a flame. Wid ye burn with me, lad; wid ye burn?"

"I think I would too," said he, "for your een have started the bleeze a'ready, and I'm dootin' it'll finish in brimstane."

"Ay, ay, Dan; I'm spaein' true. I jibed at you, although you did not say the word o' the glens o' the wee creatur' under the hedge there, as ye might have. Ye've good blood in ye, lad, and I'm loving your spirit, but I'm the Belle o' your death, Dan, the Death-Bell. Now!"

No words of mine can convey my impression of that scene. There were the hills, silent and grandly contemptuous, there was a rabbit loping across the road to the hedge foot, and there the road the woman had come stretched upwards; but as she spoke some subtle essence seemed to flood her veins, her sombre eyes flashed, her cheeks glowed darkly, and she trembled so that I could see her clenched hands flutter like segans.[1] It was not excitement, but to my mind as though some vital powerful force had taken possession of her body and shook it, as an aspen quivers in a gale.

The power seemed to grow stronger and stronger as she spoke, until with her word it seemed to break free and envelop us.

Where I have written "Now" she leaned rigidly towards Chieftain and almost hissed, so sharply came a word between her teeth. With some such sound, I think, will the devil unshackle his hounds. Well for me that my horses were rugging at the hedge, or I had never been troubled more with headache.

For the stallion reared his huge bulk into the air with a scream of brute rage. I have never heard such a sound since, and never wish to again. He turned like an eel, his mouth agape, and the veins round his nostrils like cord. His great gleaming teeth snapped like a trap at his rider's legs, and snapped again after he had a blow on the head that might have stunned him, and at the hollow sound of it I felt my teeth take an edge to them. Twice he reared and fell backwards, and twice Dan was astride as he rose. I could see the sweat running down his face and the bulging of the muscles as his knees pressed and clung to the heaving spume-spattered flanks. I think he knew he was fighting for his life, but his smile seemed graven on his face, though it looked like the smile of a man in sore distress. I knew every muscle felt red-hot, and time would give the victory to the stronger brute. And then I saw the change like a lightning-flash. Dan's shoulders haunched themselves, his head was low and stretched forward, and a look of the most devilish ferocity came over his face, his lips were pulled down, and his eyes almost hidden under the bunched and corrugated brows.

There was a knotted rope rein in his hand, and his arm, brown and bare to the elbow, and hard as an oak branch, rose, and I saw his teeth clench till the muscles on his jaws stood out like crab-apples.

"Ye wid fecht wi' me," he crooned—"me, damn ye, me." At every reiterated word the rein fell, and the weals rose on the stallion's neck and flank, and he snorted and screamed with rage.

"Woman," said I, having led the other horses away and returned—"woman or devil, whatever you are, ye have made a horse mad this day, and now the man's mad. Will ye put an end to this business before worse happens, for the horse is worth siller if the man's regardless, and there's many a lass will greet herself to sleep till the fires of her youth are burnt out if harm comes to Dan McBride. Have ye no pity for your ain sex?"

"Peety," she cries—"peety for a wheen licht-heided hussies that lo'e the man best that tells the bonniest lees, or speaks them fairest. Na, na, ma lad, nae peety. I'm watchin' a man that has tied their strings and kissed their bonny ankles, when he should have let them dry his sweat wi' their hair an' his feet wi' their braws.[2] Oh, why, why," she kind of wailed—"why will the King aye gang the cadger's road, and ken himsel' a king, and the cadger a cadger." The horse, panting and grunting at every breath, had breenged to the knowe on the roadside, and still the knotted rein fell; and then with a mighty plunge he reared up, balanced an instant on hind-legs, and then crashed backwards and lay, and I felt my heart give a mighty beat as Dan sprang on the brute's head and lay there, horse and man done.

"Come, you," snarled the man, as though he spoke to a dog; and the girl went to him.

"Quate the brute," said he, "for he's trimmlin' sair, and I like his temper a' the better for no' bein' broken."

"Ay, I'll quate the brute, easy as I wid yoursel'."

You may think you know a man till something happens, and you find him a stranger, and so I found, for at her words the man sprang to his feet as she soothed the horse.

"Say ye so," said he, and took her by the shoulder—"say ye so. I've broken many a horse afore this ane, and, Belle, I'll break you," and I watched the swarthy flush rise on the girl's face, and looked at the man's eyes and saw the reason of it.

"Wheest, lad, wheest," she cried; "let me go to the wean."

"Wean—ye never had a wean. . . ."

And then she did a queer thing. She bent her dark head till I could not see her eyes, but only the smooth eyelids and dark lashes, and she put her little brown hand over the man's eyes and stood a picture of humility, with a sad little smile on her face.

"Don't break me . . . yet," she murmured, and I saw Dan kiss her hand as she slid it down over his lips, and her face brightened like a flower in sunlight.

And there were the horses, rugging at the hedge where I had tethered them; and Chieftain on his feet, shaky and foam-flecked, and trembling at his knees; and the gipsy lass's wean greetin' at the hedge foot, with one wee bare arm clear of the shawl, seeming to beckon all the world to its aid.

And Belle the gipsy lass lifted the child and wrapped her in the shawl, and took the road in front of us. I had mind of Belle when she was the bonniest lass among a wheen of black-avised Eastern folk, that camped for many's the year on the ground of Scaurdale, where my uncle's friend, John o' Scaurdale, farmed land; but I was not prepared for her strange powers on horse, or for the beauty of her, and I think Dan was of my way of thinking also, for at the stable door says he: "I think, Hamish, a fee from John o' Scaurdale would not be such a bad thing with a lass like Belle to be seeing in the gloaming."

[1] Ires—"flags."

[2] Costly apparel.



CHAPTER II.

MAKES SOME MENTION OF ONE JOCK McGILP, AND TELLS HOW BELLE BROUGHT THE WEAN IN THE TARTAN SHAWL INTO THE HOUSE OF NOURN.

Nourn was home to me in my holidays and vacations from the college, and here I was back again for good, having become Magister Artium and well acquainted with the plane-stanes and glaber of the town of Glasgow—back again to the green countryside on my uncle's land of Nourn, concerned more about horses and cattle beasts than with the Arts, and with enough siller left me by my parents to be able to follow my inclinations.

My uncle—the Laird of Nourn, as he was called—had married kind of late, a common habit where the years bring strength and not eld; and Dan, his brother Ewan the soldier's son, had been at Nourn since he could creep, being early left an orphan.

On the Sunday after the coming of Belle the gipsy I lay long abed. In those days my cousin Dan and I made a practice of sleeping above the horses, "to be near them," as Dan said; but for myself I aye thought it would be that he might the easier slip out at night, and in again in the morning, and nobody the wiser.

In the years I would be at the college Dan had become airt and pairt of every wildness in the countryside, and in these times every man with red blood in him was concerned with the smuggling or the distilling of whisky,—and that is the reason that mothers were wishful that their sons should be able to "take a horse by the head and a boat by the helm," for these would be very needful attributes in a handy lad.

And lying there in bed I minded how I once fell in with Jock McGilp, the captain of the smuggler Seagull, a man that sailed the Gull like a witch, and cracked his fingers at the Revenue cutters, and this was the way of it.

When I was a lonely boy, dreaming dreams of ages past and long ago, I had a favourite haunt. I made my way to the graveyard and lay among the long lush grass, for the grass grew nowhere so long or so full of sap as in the graveyard, and I thought of all the great warriors of our glens whose bones had been laid in this place, and shivered to think of the hot red blood stilled in death, and the grass roots creeping downwards like tentacles into the chinks of the wood, and sending up great fat greasy blades that sweated in the sun. I hated the grass roots, and dreamed horribly of them piercing into my heart, and drawing the life-blood to feed the bloated sweaty leaves, but the graveyard had an awful fascination for me. Sometimes old men would wander inside the dyke and move slowly to a rude stone and sit there, and I would hear great sighs bursting into the quiet afternoon, when the sun always beat down. But I liked the old men for being there when the ivy rustled on the ruined old chapel wall when the wind was lost, and the starlings flew affrighted from their nests over the mural tablet that told all men to—

FIR GOD 16—

And I feared God very much, and spoke to Him often in my lonely wanderings, when I saw wee men in green coats among the heather, but oftener on the soft green turfy bits on the hill. And one awful time when the hill road was all silent and the grasshoppers hidden and quiet, an eerie humming came into my ears like a language I could not understand, and I felt myself waiting for something. Round the turn of the hill before you come to the old quarry it came, and I stopped stricken as a rabbit when a snake sways before it, for there came towards me a thing like a dog—but such a dog—its shaggy coat was white and its ears only were black, and as it passed its tongue lolled out, and it looked at me through blue eyes with black rims, and I think I feared that thing more than God. But always before I left the graveyard for my hill road home I crept up to a window, and looked into a part of the chapel that was walled off and dark. Great brambles grew in this space and nettles of phenomenal size, with ugly fleshy-looking clots of seeds on them. A gnarled ash-tree had grown and broken the wall, but over against the broken wall were great stones, and one of these I liked best of all, for it made the blood tingle down my back and my eyes see visions. On a warm Sunday I lay half in the window resting on the sill, for the walls were very thick, and I gazed at the foot of the great stone where a plumed helmet was carved, and a sword in its sheath; and round the helmet and sword battle-gear lay as though the warrior had flung down his harness as he rested. In imagination I had girt me with the sword, the plumed helmet was on my head, when my feet were seized and a rumbling voice cried—

"Can ye read?"

"Ay."

"Read that stane. I'm no' a bawkin."

"BLENHEIM. BAMILLIES. OUDENARDE. MALPLAQUET."

"Thayse the battles; read the man's name.

"MAJOR EWAN McBRIDE."

"Ay, ay; come oot," and I was pulled out of the window, and an enormous man stood before me, looking at me with a queer smile, and scratching his neck till I could hear the hairs of his whiskers crickle and snap like breaking twigs.

"D'ye ken who Major Ewan McBride was?"

"No."

"Well—Dan's faither; he was kilt; he's no in there at a'—it's a peety, for things wid hiv been different.

"Eat ye your pease-brose and keep clear o' the weemen, and ye'll be as great a man as him, but never say a word tae Dan. Says you, when ye go home and see him wi' nobody aboot, says you: 'Jock McGilp was saying the turf's in and the gull's a bonny bird.' Mind it noo; 'The turfs in' and 'the gull's a bonny bird.'"

And that night so long ago, when Dan and I kneeled on the stone-flagged floor beside one another and listened to my uncle pray and pray and pray in Gaelic, I whispered—

"Dan."

"What?"

"Jock McGilp was saying . . ."

Uncle gave a great pause after asking "a clean heart," and Dan whispered—

"Come nearer, ye devil, and don't speak so loud, or a' the servants 'll be damned and sent to hell for lack o' attention."

"Jock McGilp was saying the turf was in and the seagull's a bonny bird."

"Wheest noo and listen, ye graceless deevil. . . ."

For a week after that I never saw Dan, but my uncle got sterner and sterner, and when Dan returned, loud voices I heard in the night and slamming doors, but Dan was whistling among his horses at cock-crow, and told me I took after my mother's folk and would be a man yet. . . .

But on this April Sunday, after the week of ploughing stubble, we lay long and listened to the pleasant rattling of horse chains, and rustling of bedding, when the horses pawed for their morning meal. There was the sun, well up on his day's journey, and a whole day to be and enjoy him in. And we rose and took our breakfast, and daunered to the far fields, and inspected the young beasts, picking out the good ones with many a knowing observation on heads and pasterns and hocks, and then round the wrought land, and over the fields where a drain had choked, and the rushes marked its course. We mapped out how this should be mended and strolled back to the stable, and lay in an empty stall where some hay had been left, and waited until dinner, with the shepherd's dogs lying watching their masters, and the herds and ploughmen telling terrible stories of one Mal-mo-Hollovan. Into this peaceful scene came rushing a lass with the word that the Laird was at church, as he should be, and Belle the gipsy wanted speech wi' the mistress.

"An' why no', my lass?" said Dan; "she'll no' bite the mistress."

"The black eyes o' her, and the air o' her,—speech wi' the mistress, indeed—the tinker!"

"Jean," said Dan, "be canny wi' Belle, or she'll put such a spell on ye that ye'll no' hear your lad whistling ootside your window, and the first thing ye'll ken he'll be inside, and you maybe in your sark."

"Ye ken too much aboot sich truck and trollop and the wey in by windows," cried Jean, her face like the heart o' the fire; for her lad was looking sheepishly at her from the corn-kist.

"Well, well, let Belle alane, or I'll be puttin' mysel' in Tam's place," and poor Tam could only grin with a very red face.

And so it came that Belle made her way to the old room where the mistress, my uncle's wife, was abed, after the birth of her son, about whom the women-folk talked and laughed in corners, and looked so disdainful at poor men-folk, that Dan said—

"It's a peety for the wean, wi' a' these weemen waitin' till he grows up. I'm dootin' he'll be swept oot o' his ain hoose wi' petticoats, and take up wi' the dark-skinned beauties in the far glens, like Esau."

And sorely put out were the women when Dan, referring to the heir, said he'd come in time for the best o' the grass.

"If the colt has got plenty o' daylight below him, and middlin' clean o' the bane, he'll thrive right enough!" The heir of all Nourn a leggy colt! There was nothing but black looks and pursed-up lips till even the easy-going cause o' the change said drily enough: "They're damned ill tae leeve wi' whiles, a man's ain weemen-folk, Hamish, an' I meant the bairn nae ill either."

Well, Belle was ta'en to the old room where the mistress, my uncle's wife, lay abed—her they ca'ed the Leddy, a fine strapping woman, with kindly hands to man and beast and a wheedling, coaxing way with her, though she could be cold and haughty at times, for she came of fighting stock, and could not thole clavering and fussing, and I think she would not hasten her stately step to be in time for the Last Judgment, for the pride of her.

The room was fine and cool, with a wood fire spluttering in the great stone fireplace, and the light playing on the carved pillars of the canopied bed, and blinking on the oak panels; but it was a fine room, with deerskin rugs here and there on the floor, and space to move about without smashing trumpery that women collect round them, God knows why, except to hide the lines of the building.

My aunt lay there on the great bed, her dark hair damp and clinging to the white brow, and one arm crooked round her child, and she was gazing at his head where the hair was already thickening, when Belle came to the bedside.

"It's not red," said my aunt. "I feared it would be red, for there are red ones here and there in his house . . . look, woman, it's not red; it will not be red."

"Na, na, it's fair, Leddy—fair and fause; but it'll darken wi' the years, never fear. What ails ye at rid, Leddy—the prettiest man in these parts is rid enough?"

"Poor Dan," cried my aunt, with a bright smile and no hesitation. "The Laird tells me he's wasted enough keep for many bullocks laying the yard with straw lest his horses should wake me in the mornings, but I've missed his songs lying here. They were merry enough too in the fine spring mornings if the words were . . ." And a delicate flush crept over her neck and face, and she smiled a little as at the fault of some wayward boy.

The door was opened softly, and a tall woman entered—a tall woman with a world of sorrow in her wise old eyes, and years of patience in the clasp of her hands.

"Betty," cried the patient—"Betty, is everything done well, now I'm tied to my son," and she put her cheek to the downy head.

"The weemen are flighty and the lads are quate, and the hoose will no' be itsel' till ye will be moving about again, an' Miss Janet's lad will . . ."

"I will not have Dan called that, Betty," says my aunt. "Ewan McBride's lad he is, if ye must deave me with his forebears . . ."

"My dearie, my ain dearie, did I not nurse his mother when she grat ower his wee body and a' the warl' was turned on her, and her man at the great wars. Ech, ech, a weary time, and her crying to him in the nicht, and throwin' oot her white arms in the stillness and crying: 'My brave fierce lad, my brave wild lover, come back and let me dee wi' your arms aboot me.' Ay, and her wild lad, her kindly lad, lying stark on yon bluidy field and the corbies maybe at his bonny blue een. I love Dan, for I took him frae his mither's caul' breast; but ech, why will he be shaming his name, and shaming his ain sel'—but I shouldna be haverin', my dearie . . . and here's your soup now."

Jean—she of the stable raid—with a haughty look at the gipsy, who had stood in a corner by the fire all this time, came with the bowl of soup, but Belle slid forward noiselessly.

"Is it soup, Jean?" says she, and the wench stopped. "Skim the fat off it, then, for I saw a hussy like you gi'e her mistress soup like that—and she died." My aunt sat up in her bed, her face very stern when Betty talked of Dan shaming himself and his name.

"I will know this," she cried. "I am not ill any more—who is the woman?"

Jean would have spoken at this, but the gipsy whispered: "Begone, or I'll turn your hair white as the driven snaw," and the wench fled with her soup, and spilled most of it in the stone-flagged corridor leading to the kitchen, where she sat and trembled and grat her fill, every now and again catching her yellow locks to make sure no change had started yet.

So here we have Betty whispering—

"Don't vex yoursel', my Leddy; it's juist the lassie's clavers, for Jean cam' in frae the stable, where she had nae right to be, except to be seein' her lad—they ha'e lads on the brain the lassies noo—and greetin' that young Dan had shamed her before the men, and a' because o' a tinker body like Belle here, although the great folk will treat her so kindly; no' that I mean her any harm," she added (erring on the safe side, for Belle's eyes had begun to glow finely); "and then in came Kate and Leezie wi' a tale o' a wean, tied in a tartan shawl, lying in a biss in the wee byre. Then and there they faithered and mithered the bairn, the useless hussies. . . ." The mother's haughty eyes turned to the gipsy.

"I never found you lying, Belle. Is this story true?—a bonny family is this to be among," she cried, her hand pressing the child closer, and maybe she pressed him too tightly, for the boy doubled his baby fist, his wee voice whimpered, and his outflung arm struck his mother in the face.

"Oh, oh," she cried; "will you turn on me too, and leave me for farmer's wenches and tinker women like the lave of your folk?"

The gipsy lass was on her knees at the bedside.

"Lady," she cries, and her face was finely aglow, "nae wonder ye grieved aboot the colour o' the bairn's hair. Are ye a' Dan mad?" Then when she saw the anger in the mother's eyes she cries—

"Ye'll maybe be in a mood to listen to the truth now."

"I'm in a fine mood to have ye whipped from my doors, ye shameless . . ."

"Ay, shameless, madam, if I love I'll be that, but if I have a man I'll share him wi' nane, and you'll not be yourself to be believing these false tales; and you, Betty, I had thought ye had seen sorrow enough without brimming your cup over. It's true I left a wean sleeping in the sweet hay; was there harm in that? She's lain wi' me in the stable lofts and outlying barns these many nights, but the wean is nane o' mine. It's an ill bird that fouls its ain nest, Betty, and when a' the auld wives are shakin' their mutches at the end o' peat stacks and sayin', 'This'll be another o' his; ye might have asked yourself how? The poor wee mitherless mite; her feet will be on the neck o' her enemies, and, mistress, maybe I can tell ye why. I hinna leed tae ye yet, and ye can whip me from your doors if ye will, but hard, hard will it fa' on them that raise the scourge."

Such a look passed between these two, so full of meaning, that my aunt told Betty to leave her.

"And keep better manners among your wenches," said she, "for I will not have Dan tormented with the baggage; and tell him I hope my son will grow tall and strong like him, for I will be mindful of his kindness."

"Indeed, indeed, he would be very good, my dearie," cried Betty, anxious to make amends. "When ye were taken ill he lay in the kitchen the lang night through, and his horse saddled and bridled ready in his stall; ay, and he would not go to bed for the Laird himsel'. Indeed, many a wild night he galloped through, and him oot in the morning when the doctor had left."

Belle had slipped out as the old woman was speaking, and now came back with her tartan bundle; and when Betty had left the room the gipsy took from the shawl a wean that cried so lustily that it wakened the heir to all Nourn.

As the women whispered and crooned over the bairns, their cries resounded through the house, and made it no place for men-folk.

But crossing the yard, Betty beckoned me with a crooked forefinger.

"Who's wean is that, think ye, Hamish, that Belle brought here?"

"I think you should be asking Belle," said I.

"Ask here or ask there," says Betty, "the wean has a look o'—dinna be feart, my lad—the wean has the look o' John o' Scaurdale. And that," says she, "would be fair scandalous."

But after Betty's jalousing I had a word or two with Dan McBride, my cousin.

"Wean," says he, "and Betty thinks the bairn has a look o' John o' Scaurdale. It beats me, the cleverness of that woman. This is the story I got from Belle, Hamish. It's a little dreich, but it will be as well that ye should ken."

"Well," says Dan, "when ye were at the College in the toon and learning yer tasks, there was a lass came to stop at Scaurdale, a niece she was to the Laird there (a sister's wean, I am thinking), very prim and bonny she was, and fu' o' nonsensical book-lore. She took a liking to the place, and there are some that pretend to ken, that say she took mair than a liking to the Laird's son. I would not say for that; he was a brisk lad for so douce a lady. Well, well, Hamish, they cast out, and away goes the lass in a huff to her ain folk, and then back comes the word o' her wedding (some South-country birkie her man was, o' the name o' Stockdale, if I mind it right), and when that word came, John o' Scaurdale's son was like to go out at the rigging. We'll say naething about that, Hamish; ye ken what came on him: his horse threw him at the Laird's Turn yonder, and he never steered—he was by wi' it."

"What has this to do with Belle's wean?" said I.

"Belle's wean! Man, Belle never had a wean. That bairn is Stockdale's; and I'm hearing," said he, "that Scaurdale's niece, the mother of it, sent word to her uncle to take away the bairn, for her man turned out an ill-doer, and it's like she would be feart. But I ken this much, Hamish, Belle is waiting word from Scaurdale, and," says he, "they ken all the outs and ins of it, our friends here, and whenever it will be safe the wean will go to John o' Scaurdale."

"Scaurdale is not so far from here," said I. "Could Belle not have taken the bairn there at the first go off?"

"I thought ye had mair heid, Hamish. There's aye plenty o' gossips in the world, and Scaurdale will want this business kept quiet."

"In plain words," said I, "the wean has been stolen away from her father with the mother's help."

"That's just it precisely, Hamish; and what better place could she be hidden than here, with Scaurdale and your uncle so very friendly, and this so quiet a place?"



CHAPTER III.

IN WHICH I CHASE DEER AND SEE STRANGE HORSEMEN ON THE HILL, AND A LIGHT FLASHING ON THE SEA.

The corn was in the stackyard and the stacks thatched, and all that summer Belle and her wean stayed with us, the lass working at the weeding and the harvesting, and the wean well cared for, for the mistress remained not long abed after the spaewife's coming. Belle's wean might be "a tinker's brat" in whispered corners in byres and hay-sheds, where the wenches could claver out of hearing, but the Laird's son got no better attention than the tinker's brat when the mistress was near.

And now that the corn was secure and the stackyard full, the deer came down from the hills and lay close to till nightfall, and then wrought havoc in the turnip-drills, and I noticed that, like cows in a field of grain, they spoiled more crop than they ate, both of potatoes and turnips; and, indeed, it angered a man to see his good root-crops haggled and thrawn with the thin-flanked beasts, like the lean cattle, and I thought to go round the hill dyke with the dogs on an October evening, and harry them back to their heather and bracken again.

It was early in the evening, so I took my stick and daunered to the hay-shed (which was next to the planting) behind the stackyard, for I liked the noise of the wood, and would lie on the hay and listen to the scurry of the rabbits, the rippling note of the cushats in the tree-tops, and watch for the coming of the white owls that flitted among the trees. And as I lay on the sweet-smelling clovery hay there came over me a drowsiness, for I had been early abroad, and I dovered and dovered till sleep and waking were mingled, and strange voices came into my ears; and then I knew the voices, and felt myself go hot all over, for I could not move or I would be discovered with the rustling of the hay.

"I have waited long for ye, my bonny dark lass, waited when I was shivering to take ye in my arms," and I could see Dan lean forward and look into Belle's black eyes, one great arm round her shoulders and his hand below her chin, and she was bonny, bonny in the blink o' the moon.

"Ye were a good lad," says she, smiling up at him; "it whiles made me angry ye would be so good, and I would be lying at night thinking ye had forgotten the gipsy lass, and would be assourying[1] wi' red-cheeked, long-legged farmer lassies; and then ye would be coming to my window and knocking, and I was glad, and listened and listened for ye to be coming, although ye would not be knowing from me at all, and I would be cold, cold to ye. . . ."

"My dear, it's news to me," cried he, in great wonder, "for never a knock did I knock," and his eyes were laughing down at her.

"What!" she cries; "what! And who would be daring?"

"That's just what I cannot say, for the lads think ye're no' canny some way, but maistly because the weemen hiv them under their thumbs, so I'm thinkin' it must just have been Hamish."

It was on the tip of my tongue to cry out at that, but I saw by his face that he could not help hurting gently whatever he liked, and he had no thought for me at all, but waited for the girl to speak. The great sombre eyes were looking up at him, and the moon glintin' on her teeth as, her red lips parted, a brown hand fluttered about the man's breast.

"You would be knocking. I am wantin' you to be knocking," she cried, "for I am only a wicked gipsy lass. . . ."

I saw the man stretch her back with a straightening of his arm; I saw the limber length of him, the lean flank and the curve of his chest, as he half lay on the hay.

"I am wishing ye to be knocking," he mimicked in a half-fierce, half-laughing voice, "for I am only a wicked gipsy lass"; and again, "My dear, my dear, I'm not seeing much wickedness in a' this, and so I must be creeping out and knockin' on a lass that will not be saying a civil word to me, let alone a kiss in the gloamin'."

"Oh," she lilted, "oh, so you would be knocking to that unkind lass;" and then in a far-away voice, "Will you be remembering that place where I found you, when I would be running a wild thing like a young foal? . . ."

"Bonnily, Belle, bonnily I mind ye—a long-legged, black-maned filly ye were, and the big eyes o' ye, I began to love ye then. . . ."

"It would be terrible and you lying in the stall beside your horse at that place, and them not going near you, and you only a boy. I will be dreaming of the horse tramping your face yet."

"I'll teach ye something better to be dreaming than that, dear lass, for I was only a boy then, and I was carrying a man's share o' French brandy, more shame to me. I had nae sense at all, to be lying beside the horse, and him a kittle brute too; but I'll aye be mindin' ye coorieing ower me, and greetin' for a' that, when the men o' the Seagull were feart tae venture into the stall, being sailors and strange wi' horse."

Among the hay there I remembered the loud voices and the slamming of doors in the night, and Jock McGilp and his message about the "turf being in"; and here it was coming round that these two had met then, and I somehow had helped to bring them together.

"I will be asking you to do me a service the night," I heard the girl say.

"I'm thinkin' that, my dear, will it be ridin' for the priest, for indeed you're such a wicked lass I see nae ither way for it. I canna aye be knockin' when your wickedness keeps me in the caul' . . . ."

"Come," she cried, rising, "come, for we will have been dallying too long, and I did give my word to Scaurdale. I will not be listening any more to your talk."

"Where fell ye across that grizzly dog, John, Laird o' Scaurdale?" said Dan as they rose.

* * * * * *

So I waited until the hay was all quiet and the lovers gone, and I got the dogs and went after the deer.

Outside the dyke I found them herded, their sentinels posted like an army resting, and away they headed, the collies at their heels, and me racing through bracken and heather and burn, after seeing them clearing a rise and disappearing, the big antlers like branching trees. Away and away I followed, till the dogs' barking was faint in the night and the three lonely hills were looming before me, and I saw the wild-fire glimmer on the peat-bogs and the moon going down as I whistled and whistled for the dogs.

And as I waited I heard the thud, thud, thud of horses galloping, and then the jangle of bridle-chains, and I lay down in the heather. Two horsemen passed me, wrapped in their riding-cloaks, and after a while a light jumped out on the hillside, and I knew the horsemen had stopped at the old empty shepherd's house, and I made my way there, for since old McCurdy died the house had been empty. I could hear the dogs barking away among the hills, and the rustle of the night-folks among the dry heather as I cautiously rounded the "but and ben," and there at the door were the two horses that had passed me. Quietly I crawled into a clump of heather and lay a-watching, and turned in my mind everything I might be a witness to, and found no answer. Then, away behind me, I heard a horse neigh, and the tethered horses answered, and a gaunt figure, white-haired and martial, stalked through the door, and I knew John, Laird of Scaurdale, waited, he and his man.

I heard a laughing voice on the night wind.

"It's a great thing to have a lass on the saddle wi' ye, Belle, ye can kiss her at every stride," and Belle's answer must have been kissed into silence, for I never heard it.

There came Dan on our best horse, an upstanding raking bay, and in front of him was Belle with the wean in the tartan shawl. The servant lifted Belle from the saddle, and Dan, looking awkward in the glow from the window, held the tartan bundle, then handed it to the gipsy, and all of them went in, and I was left alone on my heather tussock. Maybe ten minutes passed, and the servant came out and led the horses to the back, where there was a sheepfold and a well, and I heard him drawing water, and in a little time he entered the house, an empty sack in his hand, and I knew the horses were at their feed, and crawled up to the lighted window and peered in. The Laird was striding up and down the narrow room, his fierce old face twitching, the body-servant stood by the door like a wooden man, and Dan, as though the ploy pleased him, smiled at the gipsy, who held the wean.

The Laird's words came clearly—

"She would have the false knave, she was afraid o' my stern lad and would have the carpet-knight—the poor wee lass; but she minded her cousin—she minded my boy at the end o' a' when she hated the Englishman. I ken fine how her pride suffered before she sent me word, but the word cam' at the hinder end. Belle," said he, stopping his march, "ye have done finely wi' your lad an' a'."

"It's not me he'll be lookin' at, sir," wi' a toss of her head.

"The bigger fool him; it was a' grist that cam' to my mill when I was mowing down the twenties."

"Ay, Laird," says Dan wi' a bold look, "I've heard it said ye kept the ministers in texts for many a day, and the sins o' the great made the poor folks' teeth water from wan Sunday till the next."

"I had thought them more concerned wi' brewing their whisky and poaching than in the inside o' a kirk," growled the Laird, for he was choleric when reminded of his past by any but his own conscience, which had turned in on itself, and grown morbid as a result.

"It's a grand place the kirk, sir; I've seen and heard enough there to keep me cheery a' week. There was the time when we walked there in droves, and would be takin' a look at the beasts in the parks as we went, and often the beasts would be turned on the roadside, for a man might buy on Monday what he only saw on Sunday. Once, going by Hector's, the lassies wi' their shoon in their hands, were walkin' easier barefit and savin' shoe leather, and a young Embro' leddy, wi' a hooped skirt wi' the braidin' like theek rope on a stack, and high-heeled shoon, looked disdainfu' at them. Well, well, the pigs were on the roadside at Hector's, and they kent the barefit lassies; but the grand lady they didna ken at all, and one caught her gown by the braidin' and scattered away reivin' and tearin', and set the lady spinning like a peerie, and the lassies laughed and cried 'suckie, suckie,' and put on their boots to go into the kirk, well put on, and in a rale godly frame o' mind."

Belle had the wean wrapped in the cloak the servant had provided and was croonin' ower it, and the body-servant was waitin' for orders, and there stood Dan and the Laird as though loath to part, and them on business that might mean worse than burnin' stackyards. And it came to me that Scaurdale was not the man to be cherishing any tinker's whelp, not even if he had fair claim to.

"And what lesson did ye get that day, Sir Churchman?"

"Pride goeth before a fall," says Dan, "but that was a bad day for me."

"And how?" cried Scaurdale, and I could see he was wasting time on purpose.

"Indeed it was no fault o' mine, for between the shepherds' dogs huntin' aboot till the church scaled, and the pigs lookin' for diversion, a kind o' hunt got up, and a pig came into the church wi' a' the collies in full cry and made a bonny to-do among the Elect. The poor beast made a breenge and got a hat on its snout, and then a fling o' its heid ended matters, and there was the pig in the deacon's hat, and sair pit aboot was the pig, and sairer the deacon.

"Aweel, I was reproved and reminded o' the time when I had had a sermon a' tae masel'; but the end crowned a', for I had killed an adder that morning on the road, and put the beast in my pouch for Hamish. In the middle o' the sermon, after the Gadarene swine and the dogs were outside, the adder somewie cam' alive and crawled on to the aisle, and the minister eyed it, and then me, and I felt hot and caul', for I didna ken o' any new evil that might hiv reached him, and I didna see the beast till the preacher stopped and pointed.

"'Man o' evil,' he cried, 'take the image o' your father and go hence,' and so I'm clean lost," said Dan, wi' a comical sigh.

I had just time to lay myself flat in the heather before the servant came out and walked to the top o' the rise. I could see the loom o' him against the skyline, for the moon was now very low, and then he whistled, and Dan came leading the horses, and the gipsy carrying the wean. I crawled to the rise but farther away, and prayed that the dogs had gone home and would not get wind o' me. For a while they stood, Dan and the body-servant at the horses' heads, and the Laird a little apart, and then I heard Dan—

"Yon's him at last," says he, and I saw a light glimmer for a little away out at sea, and the servant ran back to the hut and brought the lighted lantern, and three times he covered it with his cloak, and three times he swung it bare, and I saw the long black shadow of the horses' legs start away into the darkness, and then away out to sea a flare glimmered three times and all was dark.

"Easy going," says Dan; "McGilp has nae wind to come close in, and it's a long pull to the cove."

The Laird swung himself to the saddle, and as the servant mounted, Belle made to give him the tartan bundle, but John, Laird o' Scaurdale, trusted none but himself on a night ride over the road to Scaurdale.

"Give me the wean," says he, and loosened his cloak. Belle held the wee bundle to him, and he put it in the crook of his arm.

"Ye will be a great one and whip the tinkers from your door, my dear," whispered Belle to the sleeping infant, "but ye've lain in the heather, and listened tae the noises o' the hill nights, and the burns, and the clean growing things, and maybe ye'll mind them dimly in your heart and be kind when ye come to your kingdom."

At that Scaurdale leant over his saddle.

"Ye'll never be in want if ye knock at my door, so long as the mortar holds the stanes thegither."

"Good night to you, Sir Churchman; I'm in nae swither whether I would change places wi' ye the night, but weemen are daft craturs, poor things, and I've had my day."

Then there came the swish, swish o' galloping hoofs in dry bracken, for Scaurdale was a bog-trooper and born wi' spurs on, and I heard the whimper o' the wean, and a gruff voice petting. Belle was greetin' softly, and as Dan made to lift her in the saddle—

"I will not be sitting that way again," she cried; and I know, because her heart was sore, she must be sharp with a man that had done nothing to anger her that I could see.

"Aweel, I was aye a bonny rinner," says Dan. "When I was herdin' and the beasts lay down behind the black hill in the forenoon, I could rin tae the Wineport and back before they were rising." I laughed to think how we estimate time in the college by the rules of Physics, and how the herd on the moorside did, and wondered who but he could say how long a cow beast would lie and chew her cud, and how many miles a man could run in the time she took to chew it.

"I will not be having you running at all, and, indeed, you have been kind and good to me. But why should I be going back to that place when the thing is done I came to be doing? I will go away to my own folk, and you will be forgetting me."

"I'll never be forgettin' you," says he, calling her pet words that made me wish myself far enough away, for I was shy of lovers' talk, and he held her to his breast and spoke quickly, and turned and caught the bridle of his horse.

"No," cried the lass—"no, I will not be staying here," and I was glad the moon was clouded at her words, "and you will not be seeing me till I am grown old and wrinkled like a granny."

At that he gathered her in his arms, and for a while I saw only his head and not her face at all, except just a blur that looked pale, and then I heard her say—

"You will be saying that to all these other women, for you will be wicked."

"Not wicked any more, lass. I'll just be loving you, and why are ye turned soft; where is the lass that asked me would I burn?"

"Indeed, it is just with you I will be too gentle, I think, all my days, for ye will be a brute and a baby, all in one, and yet you would be aye kind to me. I could not be tholing another man after ye."

"I think I would not be tholing that either, my dear," cried he in a fierce voice, "but the lantern has to be lighted and the fire. Maybe ye'll let me do that much for you," and this time I saw her smiling, and clinging to him with both her hands.

At the door she waited till he had made the horse comfortable in the stone fanks,[2] and when he joined her she stretched her arms up and pulled his head down.

"I am wishing to do this," she said, and kissed him on the mouth. "You will not be loving any more but me," and she struck him lightly but with fierce abandon on the cheek, and I heard him laughing, and then the door opened and closed, and I had all the hills to myself. A great loneliness came over me, and I wished the dogs had waited.

And as I made my way home, I thought of that little whimpering wean in the crook of Scaurdale's arm, and wondered how she would fare on board the Gull, for by Dan's word I kent McGilp had shone the flare away seaward. Scaurdale, it seemed, would be hiding the wean in fair earnest now, and McGilp I kent would whiles be on the French coast. But never a word did I get from Dan for many's the day about Belle, or McGilp, or Scaurdale—we talked of horses and sheep, until the coming of Neil Beg.

[1] Courting, clandestine courtship.

[2] Sheepfold.



CHAPTER IV.

I MEET JOCK McGILP AND HIS MATE McNEILAGE AT THE TURF INN, AND LEARN WHAT HAS BECOME OF THE WEAN IN THE TARTAN SHAWL.

We were at common work enough, Dan and me, in the Blair Mhor when the night clouds were banking behind the Blackhill to swoop down on the fast flying winter afternoon. Indeed, it was a matter of a braxy ewe, and the poor beast lay at the hedge-side and the blood clotting at her throat, for Dan had bled her, and the briars o' many a brake trailed behind her.

"Braxy and oatmeal, Hamish," says he, "there's many a lusty lad reared on worse; but we'll be hivin' tatties and herrin' for a change, and plenty o' sour milk tae slocken the drouth o' it."

And as he stooped to tie the ewe's clits together to make her a handier load, I looked round me at the cold bare trees, asleep till the spring would waken them with sap. The hills were bleak and barren, the rocks harsh and cold with no warm crotal on them, and just the reek from the houses rising into the frosty sky.

The night was just down on us, when I heard the lilt o' a whistle, clear as a whaup's, and with a great melody. To us there came whistling a kilted lad, his knees red as collops, for he had waded the burn, and the cheeks o' him glowing like wild roses.

"Ah-ha, Neil Veg," cries Dan, for he made a work wi' weans always, "is it stravagin' after the lassies ye are this bonny nicht?"

"Indeed no, it iss not that; it's yourself I'll be after," shrilled the lad, wi' a burning face.

"And what for will ye be after me, Neil Veg?"

"I will be tellin' you by yourself alone, for my father will be sayin' to me, 'Did you find him, and him alone? '"

At that Dan took him a step aside, with a wink to me not to be minding, and the lad delivered his message in Gaelic and sped away, and his clear whistle came back to us.

"A brave lad, Hamish," says Dan; "he'll have listened to a' the ghost and bogle and bawkin stories since he could creep, and yet he'll whistle himsel' safe ower the hill and be too proud tae run, an' I'm thinkin' every muircock that craws, and every whaup that cries, out on the peat-hags, will be a bogle in his childish mind."

"There's truth in that," said I, "and I wish I could be hearin' the stories, for you have not the way o' telling them. Ye will not be believing them."

"Come ye raikin' wi' me the night and maybe ye'll be hearing some o' them," says Dan, and so when the horses were bedded and the kye fothered, we slipped through the planting and took the old peat road for it, and that I was to hear stories was all that he would tell me.

We came out on the old road to the cove, and rough enough passage we made, for a hill burn that crossed the bare rock o' the road had frozen and melted and frozen again, so that on the worst o' the hill we took our hands and knees for it, and even that comedown to a hillman was better than breaking our necks over the rocks on the low side, for the track was whiles no more than a scratch along a precipice.

When we came on to good heather again Dan stopped me.

"Bide a wee, bide a wee, James," and he took a step from me, and there came at my very ear the lone night-cry of a gull, so weird and melancholy a sound, that but for a low laugh beside me again I would have sworn the bird had passed in the darkness.

"Listen," says he; "I startled ye first with your Christian name, and ye were so made up wi' it, ye wid believe a gull brushed your lug; but listen, Hamish, listen."

From out of the night came the answer, and in my mind there came the picture I had often watched, the grey night seas and the lonely gull flying low, and ever and anon voicing its cry as though it mourned the lost spirit of the deep.

"There's just the two roads, you see, the shore road and the hill road, and a strange foot carries far, and there's aye a lad on the watch when the 'turf's in.'"

So that was Wee Neil's message; McGilp and his crew would be ashore, as many as could be spared from the schooner, and we were making for the Turf Inn, and as we travelled I asked why it came to be called that. "It's a long story," said Dan, "but maybe ye'll have noticed a hole in a smiddy wall, where they will be throwing out the ashes. Well, in this lonely place here, there werena many to trouble, and it cam' to be known that a man could get a dram if he paid for it, and as much as he liked to be payin' for. Well, well, a stranger cam' in one day and asked refreshment and got it, and then he plankit down a gowden guinea and waited for his change, for the stranger was a ganger, and here was a capture just waitin' for him.

"Well, he waited and waited and cracked away wi' the lass, for there seemed nobody about but just Meg the gleevitch, and she had talk eno' for five men, and a trim pair o' ankles forbye.

"'I'll be goin' now, mistress,' says the stranger, rising.

"'I'm sorry for that,' says Meg, and looked as if she meant it.

"'If ye'll just give me my change. . . .'

"'Change!' she cries, 'God save us, change; we sell naething here,' and she lifted the guinea oot the old jug on the shelf and handed it back. 'I thought it was just a present,' says she, makin' eyes at him, 'for a thankfu' man's free wi' his siller. Ye were lucky to get the only drop o' drink in the hoose,'—and that was true enough, for the time they had been talkin' and Meg kiltin' her skirt tae kind o' divert the stranger's attention, the lads had the keg in a safe place. Aweel, and so he had just to take shank's mare for it. I'll come back tae the hole in the wa'. There was one in the old house, and Meg cut a divot and stuffed the hole wi' it if there was nae danger, and if she had word o' excisemen or gaugers on the lookout for smuggling she took the turf oot, and that's how the place got it's name (and why we pass the word that the 'turf's in' if there's word o' a run), but it must have hurt Meg to gie back the guinea, for she's a wild long eye for siller."

We were now close to a white house, stone built and thatched, set among big plane-trees, and looking to the sea. At the door I heard Gaelic songs and great laughing, and then we went inside. At first I saw nothing but two ship's lanthorns, swung from hooks such as we use to hang hams on, and the blazing fire, where a ship's timber burned with wee blue flames licking out, as the fire got at the salt of the seven seas. Then I made out the swarthy faces turned to us, and heard Dan's name voiced by the revellers, and a woman, stout built and perky but still young, that I took to be Meg the gleevitch, from her bird-like way of making little rushes, or, as we express it, "fleein' at things," brought us steaming glasses of toddy, so strong that I think she had watered the whisky with more whisky, for the tears started to my eyes as I drank my first drink. But I felt fine and warm inside for all that. Captain McGilp, as tough a looking seaman as ever shook out a reef, hoisted himself beside Dan. He had not mind of me, I think.

"We did yon business o' Scaurdale's," he whispered, "and got the len' of a cow to keep the wean in milk, and I'll no' say but I forget where the beast came frae, for it's in the barrel now, what's left o't. The wean's in France in a convent among the nuns, where I'm envying her her innocence," and the captain became so wild and heedless in his speech that I drew away. "Ho, my cockerel," says he, "Miss Mim-mou (mim-mouth), that's the bonniest wie I ken o' gettin' yir wesan cut," and to Dan, "There's a lot o' the stallion to that colt." This would mean that I resembled my father, the minister now dead, for he survived my mother, the Laird's sister, by but a few years.

"Let the lad be, Jock McGilp, or you and me'll be cuttin' wesands," says Dan, and I could have flown at the burly smuggler's throat for the joy of Dan's backing.

"It'll be his first night, hey? Well, look at McNeilage there; he's been drunk fifteen flaming years."

"A bonny mate that—fifteen flaming years."

The mate slowly lifted his head, which had sunk on his massive chest, and as I saw his face I grew amazed, for he resembled nothing so much as a good-living, well-fed minister.

"I ha' used the sea, Cap'n, in my time. I loved the nuns and the virgins in San Iago afore we made a bonfire o' it, ay the holy nuns, but they skirled. Here's tae them, they were good while they lasted," and the unholy wretch smacked his lips as though he relished the memory more than the drink.

"Sanny McNeilage, they ca' me. I've seen what I've seen and what ye'll never see—I've seen the decks red for a week and all hands drunk;" and then he turned to me, and his face shone with kindliness, "Are ye any man wi' a cutlass, my lad?"

"No," says I, for my blood boiled at the thought of the nuns, "I wish I were."

"So do I," says he in a pitiful voice.

"All that was before your mother died," says a young lad at his elbow, fierce Ronny McKinnon, and the mate put his head in his arms and his shoulders shook with his greetin', while nods and winks went round the godless crew.

"She was English, my poor old mother," he cried, "and I would lay down my damned soul for her, but she died fifteen year ago, and she could not say 'wee tatties' in the English when she slipped her cable, for she turned into Gaelic—yes," and he looked up, the tears in his eyes and rolling down his cheeks. I think I never saw anything so hateful, but then I saw his hand at his hanger and his big shoulders haunching. "Will any o' ye be denying it?" he murmured in his pitiful voice, and then through the tears I saw the devil mocking, and knew why the crew hastened to reassure him.

Meg, the gleevitch, kept the drink going and threw more wood on the fire. "Drink up," she cries, "it's a rid tinker's night this."

"Why red tinkers, Meg?" says Dan, raising his head from close confab wi' the captain.

"Ye ken the story fine," says she, "how the weans hiv the red hair tae keep them warm maybe, lying oot."

"Not me, my lass," says Dan; "sit down here beside me and tell us."

And as we took our drink she told us of the red tinkers and when they took to the road.

"Indeed, and that will be a good story too," said an old shepherd by the fireside, with his dogs at his feet, "and I will be tellin' you another, if you will be caring. . . ."

It wore on to the small hours of the morning, and cocks began to crow, and yet we sat. Indeed, by that time I was seeing two fires, and I knew that most of the crew slept as they sat or sprawled, and the mate was again weeping and leering round for some one to fight, as though his seeming gentleness would entice a stranger. Dan was parrying with Meg, for in her story she had made great stress on a gipsy lass, and all with knowing looks in Dan's direction; but at last we made our homeward way, of which I remember little, except that Dan had me on his back on the worst of the road, and I was singing.

Next morning I was ill, and black looks I got at the breakfast, although my aunt was kind enough and I caught her smiling at me, for I suppose I must have cut a queer enough figure, but my uncle was very stern. After I had made some pretence of eating, I rose, and he asked me, in his grandest manner, to come to him in an hour.

He was among his books, for he was more of a bookworm than his folks, and standing in front of the fire as I entered.

"Hamish," said he, "I thought more of ye. Dan is no model to follow," says he; "forbye, your head is not so strong, if that be any excuse for drink and devilry on his pairt. I ken of his ongoings, but I hold my peace, for he minds his work, and I have a promise to his father, my brother, that's lying far frae his kith and kin in the field of Malplaquet. Let this be a warning to ye, Hamish, for this morning ye were looking lamentable," says he, "just lamentable."



CHAPTER V.

MIRREN STUART'S ERRAND.

The shame of my first night's ploy at the Turf Inn lay heavy on me for a while, and then I would be thinking of the swarthy crew with their knives and their fierce oaths at the cards, of the spluttering glowing fire and the old men of the glens in the glow of it, and when I heard the wind moan and cry in the planting in the night, I longed to hear the old dread stories of a people long dead who had raised great stones on our wind-swept moors, and marked their heroes' resting-places with cairns.

Something of this I told to Dan as we gathered in the sheep from the far hills on the day before the big storm. I mind it fine, the grey heavy sky, the bursts of wind that rose ever and anon in the hills, and died away with an eerie cry, and made me think that all the winds had word to gather somewhere, and were hastening to the feast like corbies to a dying ewe.

There was the smell of snow in the air, and the moss pools were frozen hard, and beautiful it was to see the stag-horn moss entombed in the clear ice, and the wee water-plants, pale and cold and pitiful, at the bottom of the pools. Round the far marches we gathered—the wild shy wethers, seeing the dogs, paused as if to question the right of the intruders, and then bounded away like goats, and in my mind's eye I see yet the whitey-yellow wool where the wind ruffled the fleeces. Dan was very quiet that day, speaking seldom except to the dogs.

"There's something no canny coming, Hamish," said he; "I feel it in my banes. We're but puir craturs when a's said and done. A pig can see the wind, and there's them that can hear the grass growing, but a man just breenges on, blin', blin', and fou o' pride."

And again, "Ye've a terrible hankerin' for bawkins,[1] Hamish. I whiles think ye will be some old Druid priest come back that's forgotten the word o' power, but kens dimly in his mind that the white glistening berries o' the oak and the old standing stanes are freens. Ye're no feart o' bawkins, and ye're never tired o' hearing about them. Aweel, it's a kind o' bravery I envy ye, for weel I mind that first time I heard the Black Hound o' Nourn bay. I can feel the tingle of fear run in my bones yet when I think o' the dogs leaving me alane in that unchancey wood, and that devil beast near me in the dark."

By this time we were at Bothanairidh, maybe a heather mile from Craignaghor, the flock heading quietly in and the dogs at heel, and at a bare hawthorn tree Dan stopped.

"An' this, Hamish, will be another o' your freens," said he. "There's many a lilting laugh hidden in the ears o' this old tree, for here it was the cailleachs cam' tae spin in the long summer forenights, when everybody left their hames and took their beasts tae the hill for the summer. There were no dykes or hedges in those days, and the beasts had to be herded on the hill if the crops were to come to anything. Aweel, the men a' went to the fishing and a' the weemen stayed at Bothanairidh, and in the evenings the young lassies would be making great laughing while the cailleachs span; and once, long long ago, when the crotal was young on the rocks on the moors, there came a swarthy lad and said fareweel tae his lass under this tree. There was red wild blood in the boy, and before he came back he had seen a many men swing from the yard-arm. Ay, when he did return, he met a red bride, for another had awaited his coming.

"'This will be the bride ye are seeking,' snarled he that waited, and gave the sailor the dagger where the throat dimples above the collar-bone. And they say the swarthy lad writhed him up against the old tree and laughed.

"'As long as this tree stands,' he cried, 'you'll never hold to your coward heart the lass ye have done the dirty killin' for,' and died. Well, Hamish, I'm no' hand at stories, but the old hawthorn had aye flourished white until then, and after that the flourish was fine rich red, and when he that slew the swarthy lad sought to tear the tree down, his hair changed colour in a night, and the strange folks' mark was on him, and he wandered in the hills and died."

As we stood, I fitted into Dan's brief story—for his tale seemed to me to resemble more the headings of a story than a real story,—I fitted in a background of great wind-swept spaces, of bare rocks and cold heather and that poor love-maddened outcast wandering alone, and wondered what black pool cooled his brow at the last of it, and there came to my ears a distant cry, and so sure was I that I had imagined it, that I never turned to look, till Dan's laugh roused me.

"Come away from the standin' stanes and the heroes' graves. That wasna the skirl o' a ghost, but a hail frae a sonsy lass—but what gars her risk her bonny legs in yon daft-like wie beats me."

"I think," says I, "yon'll be Finlay Stuart's Uist powny; there's none here has the silver mane and tail. . . ."

"Imphm," says Dan; "imphm, Hamish, as Aul' Nick said when his mouth was fu'. Yon's Finlay's beast, and I'm thinkin' o' a' Finlay's lassies, there's just wan wid bother her noddle tae come here away, and that's Mirren; but wae's me," said he, with his droll smile, "she's set her cap at the excise-man, they tell me."

The lass drew up her pony beside us, and, man, they were a picture, these two—her hair, blown all loose, rippling like a wave, and the flush of youth glowing in her face and neck, and her eyes shining, and the noble Hieland pony, with his great curved neck and round dark barrel, and the flowing silver mane and tail. To me she bowed coldly enough, but with all the grace of one whose men-folk called themselves Royal, or maybe from Appin—especially in their cups. Although it seems the Royal Stuart race were none too particular whatever, but Dan had always his own way with the lassies.

"Has the de'il run away wi' the excise-man, Mirren, that you're risking horseflesh among the peat-bogs?"

"No," she cries, "no, but I wish he would be taking the whole dollop o' them to his hob, and then maybe decent folks would be having peace."

"That would stamp ye Finlay's lass if I didna ken already," says Dan.

"Ken me," cried the maid; "I'm well kent as a bad sixpence—a lass that should ha' been a lad wi' work to do or fighting, instead o' sitting—sitting like a peat stack, or"—with a fine flare o' colour—"like a midden waiting to be 'lifted.'"

"Ye're hard to please, my dear; there's many a lad wid be sair put oot if ye took to the breeks. . . ."

"It will not be this gab clash I came to be hearin', Dan McBride, but a most private business."

"Oh, don't be minding Hamish, my lass; he canna pass a rick o' barley but his eyes and mouth water. It's just lamentable," said he.

Her red lips took a curl at that, and then her speech came all in a rush.

"I've heard—oh, do not be asking me how I will be hearing these things, but the preventive men are lying at the cove waiting for the Gull, and I thought maybe if she came the night, wi' a storm comin' from the southard and them trying to make the port, they might all be taken away and transported, and he would be among them. . . ."

"Gilchrist the exciseman, Mirren?"

"Why will ye be naming that man to me?" she cried, in a burst of passion. "Is it not bad enough to be doing that I let him tell me their plans, and him not knowing where I carry them."

"I might have kent the breed o' ye wouldna be content wi' an exciseman, Mirren. Aweel, Hamish and me will just be having a sail this night, storm or no', and the Gull can coorie into mony's the neuk among the rocks; but whit bates me is how they fun' oot the cove."

"It would just be Dol Bob that told," whispered Mirren.

"The dirty slink," cried Dan. "I'm thinking there will be some talk between that man and me soon; but I'm no good enough looking to be thinking ye rade here to warn me, Mirren, so I'll be tellin' Ronny McKinnon tae keep his heart up yet when the Seagull's here, but ye'll hiv a big handfu' wi' Ronny."

"I would not be having him less," she cried, a little pleased as I thought; and then, as she turned to go, "There's a bonny wild lass at McCurdy's old hut, Dan, and she told me where to look for ye. Ye might tell her Mirren Stuart was speiring for her kindly, and thinking naething of Dan McBride, for the look she gied me out o' her black een made me grue." [2]

So Belle was still at McCurdy's hut. But Dan was thoughtful again, and never spoke till we had the sheep in the low sheltered fields.

But coming home he was whimsical. "Are they not droll now, the lassies, Hamish—here's Mirren Stuart, namely for her good looks, and for the bold spirit of her. Many's the house she has saved with that same Hielan' pony, for Gilchrist, a game lad among gangers, canna keep anything from Mirren, and here she is among the heather wi' word o' treachery, and d'ye ken who she will be doing it for?"

"No," said I, "except this McKinnon ye spoke of."

"Ay, McKinnon, just wild Ronny, that she cast out wi' years ago when he was a decent farmer's son, close to her own place in the Glen yonder at the far end o' Lamlash, before he slipped away on the Seagull."

"I am wishing, Dan," said I, "that ye kent less about the smugglers."

"A man must be doing something, Hamish, to get any pith out o' life. This is what I am thinking we will be doing the night. We will tell the Laird that it will be as well that somebody should be giving an eye to the sheep he has wintering at Lamlash and the South End, and then we will make for McKelvie's Inn at Lamlash and get a boat across to the Holy Island, and gie McGilp a signal frae the seaward side o' it, where it will not be seen except in the channel. McKelvie at the Quay Inn will ken a' about that. There's a man in the island ye will be glad to meet if he's in his ordinar—McDearg they ca' him—and after that, Hamish, we will stravaig to the South End and see the sheep there and come back hame again. Are ye game for it?" says he.

"Ay, Dan, but there's just this—who is this Dol Beag?"

"Dol Beag has a boat and a wife and weans, and he's a sour riligous man, keen for siller at any price. Well, I'm hoping the gangers have paid him well by this time, for I am thinking he will not enjoy it long."

[1] Fearsome apparitions.

[2] Shiver involuntarily.



CHAPTER VI.

WE TRAMP THROUGH THE SNOW TO McKELVIE'S INN.

With the afternoon came snow, round hard flakes like wee snowballs, dry and silent and all-pervading, and the hills were changed, and there came on the sea that queer mysterious snow light, and then the wind rose skirling, sweeping the uplands bare and filling the quiet hollows.

At supper-time the gale was at its height, the roar from the iron-bound shore was like giants in battle, and I knew that on the black rocks the spray was rising in drifting white smoke, and the rocks trembling to the onset of the seas.

Behind the stackyard, in the old trees, the crows were complaining bitterly with their hard clap-clap tongues, and now and then a great crashing warned of the death of some old storm-scarred veteran of the wood. But it was fine, the music of the storm, the blatter of the snow and the wailing cry of the wind, before a great devastating blast came.

Fine to think that the stackyard was safe and sheltered, and the beasts warm and well, were tearing away at their fodder all unconcerned, and that the sheep were in the low ground of many sheltering knowes and sturdy whin-bushes, comfortable as sheep could well be, and the thought came to me of how Belle was faring in her lonely sheiling. When the supper was made a meal of and the horn spoons of the lads still busy, Dan had a word with my uncle, for my aunt was mainly taken up watching each new trick of her bairn these days.

"This snaw," says Dan, "will likely haud, and I would like fine to ken if a' these hogs ye hiv wintering over the hill will be getting enough keep.[1] I'm thinking Hamish and me will be as well tae inquire the night before it gets worse outside, for worse it'll be, and we'll be back as soon as the weather betters."

At this my uncle takes a turn round his room with a thoughtful frown on his brow.

"No pranks," says he; "I'll have no gallivanting, but I ken fine ye have an interest in the beasts. . . . Ye can go," and as we turned to leave the room, he wheeled round with outstretched arm and his white finger pointing.

"No pranks, mind. I'll have no pranks."

"God's life," says Dan, as we muffled ourselves for our tramp—"God's life, Hamish, he's queer names for things, that uncle o' yours; there's nae prank in my heid this night—a queer prank it would be no' tae warn McGilp,"—and as we tramped through the kitchen where the lassies were coorieing over the fire telling bawkin stories, and edging closer to the farm lads for comfort when the gale moaned and whined in the wide chimney—as we tramped through, old Betty took Dan by the sleeve.

"Let go, ye old randy," cried he, in a great pretence of terror. "I'm thinking the old ones are perkier than the young ones these days. . . ."

"Och, my bairn, my bairn," cried the old woman, her two hands on him, "will ye not be stopping in this night, this devil's night? It's nae hogs that's taking ye trakin' weary miles this very night, and fine ye ken the hogs are weel, but ye're just leadin' the young lad astray efter some quean that'll be stickin' tae him like the buttons on his coat.

"Wae's me, wae's me, will ye not have enough truck wi' the wenches already that ye mak' me lie eching and pechin' and listening for the death-watch on sic a nicht,"—and at that Jean giggled hysterically and crept closer to Tam, and the old dame turned on her like a flash.

"Wheest, ye besom, wi' your deleries; there's trouble enough aboot the night without you skirling like a craking hen. It's no' your kind I'm feared for, ye useless one, but these wild hill lassies, for when the devil is loose among the hills, he gars the wild blood leap in their veins, and the wind tae loose the knot o' their lang hair—ay, and he'll bring the man that'll gar them tingle at his touch, and send the red blood flaming in their cheeks."

Dan's smile was broader and broader, and I noticed the red blood flaming in the cheeks of our own sonsy dairy lassies, Liz and Betty. . . .

"Ye were bred in the hills yourself, old mother," says Dan, and put an arm round the withered old neck, "and I'm kissing you for that," and we went out into the smother of the snowstorm.

At the byre end the old rowan-trees were creaking and groaning to the violence of the gale, the bourtree bushes were flattened near to the ground, and everywhere was white. The driven snow melted on my tongue as I gasped, and I felt the flakes melt in my eyes; but we followed the road by instinct, for where the hedges should have been only a black blur showed. On the low road it was not so bad; but when we took the hill road again, I fain would have turned my back to the gale, and stood like a stirk on a wet day, but I powled on after Dan, thinking shame of my coward heart. Below us the sea roared like a cold, cold, cruel hell; the maddened anger of the breakers made me shiver with dread, and the gloating, horrible grumbling as the seas rumbled into the coves made a cold sweat break on my back and limbs. But I bent my head before the gale and clawed my way upwards with numbed fingers clutching like talons to the heather, and prayed that the roots might hold. So we toiled upwards, Dan always leading, and sometimes I saw him turning and knew he was speaking; but the wind cut the words as they left his lips, and bore them tearing and shrieking to the sea below.

Before we gained the top of the hill I saw Dan climbing upwards from the old peat track, and I followed dumbly as he led me into an old quarry, long since disused except by the sheep on the warm summer days, and there we lay almost exhausted, content just to know that the storm rushed over our pitiful retreat, and it seems droll to me now that I spoke scarcely above my breath; but then it seemed as though the storm-king might hear me if I raised my voice.

But when Dan spoke the black anger was trembling in his voice.

"They're lying there snug and dry in our cove, d—-n them, and that poor Gull straining and crying out there, reaching for her hame, and them ready to pounce on her crew, the crawling slinks,"—and I knew he was thinking of the Preventive men.

In a while we crawled to the path again, and clawed our way to the top of the hill, and there below us was a wondrous sight. The sea ran inwards in a noble bay, and the bay was almost landlocked with an island, but down below us was a myriad twinkling lights, hundreds of them, rising and falling. The snow had taken off for a little, and a hazy moon hurrying behind grey clouds showed us the ships tossing and straining at their cables. Some of the lights seemed to move slowly past the others, and these I took to be vessels dragging their anchors.

We stood looking down a while, for with the stopping of the snow a weight seemed to be lifted from us, and then made our way downwards towards the sea. After our fight upwards, the descent seemed easy and almost calm, although the wind was howling still; but we were close to farmed land now, and company, and once in a field sheltered by the wood of the Point, we came on sheep, standing and lying close in by the trees, and Dan bawled into my ear, "The hogs are doing finely, Hamish; I hadna expected to see them," and I remembered that we were wintering sheep with old Hector of the Point as well as Easdale and Birrican. We struck the shore road and passed the big rock, and the sea was washing over the road, carrying spars, and bamboos, and sailors' beds, and leaving them high and dry on the fields by the roadside.

Groups of noisy seamen passed us with a great clop-clopping of sea-boots, and many little thatch houses we hurried by, until we came to the Quay Inn, where there were many people gathered, and pushed ourselves through drunken, quarrelling sailors to the counter.

[1] Forage.



CHAPTER VII.

WE SAIL IN McKELVIE'S SKIFF TO THE HOLY ISLAND.

Through the throng of bearded sailors we strode and made our way to the kitchen of the Quay Inn. A place sacred to kenspeckle folk it was, and from its smoke-stained rafters hung many pieces of bacon and dried shallots, and there were also bunches of centaury, and camomile, and dandelion root, and bogbean, for the goodman's wife was cunning in medicines of the older-fashioned sort. In this place the noise from the common room was not so plainly heard, and indeed it gave me the impression of a haven from the boisterous spirit there.

As I stood before the blazing fire, guiltily conscious of the puddle of water at my feet where the snow had melted, Dan left the kitchen by a door leading to a yard and stables, and I heard him speaking to some one; and then when he came back there was the goodwife with him, and Dan cried for a long hot drink, for the flesh was frozen on his bones. At that the goodwife, with many "to be sures" and "of courses," hurried herself here and there, and all the time she would be talking of the sheep in this terrible weather, and of our long tramp across the hill; and then she handed us the drink, and would not be having any payment at all for it, for were we not freens of her ain folk (however far out), and strangers too, moreover? And then the low door opened, and the innkeeper entered from the taproom, a dark man, very heavy across the shoulders, and a little bent on his legs like a sailor. I had seen him as we entered, black-bearded, silent, with his two swarthy sons, eyeing his company from below pent-house brows. His eyes, blue and keen, took us in from stem to stern, as the sailors say, and he came close to Dan before the fire, and—

"Ay," says he, "it'll be the boat again," and his voice was a growl.

"Just that," says Dan, sipping his drink, and then he talked quickly, and I heard him tell of Mirren Stuart's message and of Dol Rob Beag's treachery (for he had taken the word to the Preventives of where McGilp kept his cargo in the cove above the Snib before it was carted inland, or stowed in many an innocent-looking smack bound for the mainland).

"Dol Rob Beag will be slipping his cable one of these fine nights," growled the listener; and then, "There's just the caves at the Rhu Ban," [1] says he.

"I had that in my head," says Dan, "for the gangers are in the Cove at Bealach an sgadan, and McGilp will be in the Channel. McDearg o' the Isle House is in this to his oxters. There's just nothing for it but to show a glim on the seaward side o' the Isle, and McGilp will take the Gull to the Rhu Ban when the wind takes off; but, man, it's risky, devilish risky, wi' the bay fou o' boats."

"It's the deil's own night," agreed the innkeeper, "black as pitch and blowing smoke, but the snow will be helping us too," and then we sat before the fire all silent for a while, the goodwife busy with her infusions and brews.

"Will ye be remembering the night they pressganged McKillop?" thus suddenly to Dan.

"A droll night's work yon."

"Ye see," turning to me, "this Neil McKillop would be a likely lad, clever on the boats, and clever wi' the snares—ay, clever, clever—and kept his mother well. Ay—well, there came a night like this, but not so much wind, and the pressgang boat slipped into the bay, and nobody knowing, and ashore came the crew o' her, and many's the likely lad they took, and among them Neil McKillop. The boat would just be shoving off from the old Stone Quay when his mother came there in her white mutch.

"'Give me back my son, my only son,' she cried, standing on the quay-head; 'you will not be taking away the one that keeps me in meat and drink, me an old, old woman. Och, bring him back, my lad, and I'll be blessing ye and praying for ye in your bloody wars.'

"At that a tarry breeks up with an oar and skelps a splash o' water at the old woman, and laughed at her with the wind blowing her skirts, and showing her lean shanks.

"'Go back to your weeds and your snakes, ye witch," he cries in the Gaelic; 'we'll make a sailor-man out o' your whelp,' and the oars began to plash.

"Down on her knees went the old cailleach. 'Bring him to me, ye hounds, before I put a curse on ye,' and she tore her coorie from her head, and the wind tore through the strands of her white hair, and they rose like elf-locks. High above her head she threw her arm, her fingers stiff and pointing, there on the quay-head, an awesome sight in the mirk of a half moon.

"Then slowly, slowly, softly she began—

"'Cursed be ye all, seed, breed, and generations o' ye. The madness o' the sea come on ye in the still night watches, friendless, friendless on the face o' the waters be your lives, and your deaths too foul for the sea to be giving you a cleanly burial.' Then in a skirl o' rage, her face working, 'The foul things o' the deep shall reive the flesh from ye in your death, and in your lives ye shall mourn for the quiet streams o' fresh water and the sight of green things growing—and never, never, never get nigh them. . . .'

"In the boat the men lay on their oars, with faces white below the tan o' wind and weather, and then hurriedly she came astern, and Neil McKillop sprang on the quay, and to his mother, and the pressgang boat shot into the haze off the land, and the mother and son went back to the croft on the hillside."

His tale finished, McKelvie drained his glass at a gulp, and his lips pressed together as though he were unwilling that even the volatile essence might escape, and then—

"We'll go," says he. "Robin!"

At his word one of the swarthy sons entered and stood waiting, and through the open door to the common room I saw groups of sailors, asleep on the floor before the fire, and asleep on the benches where they sat; yet some hardened drinkers kept the drink going.

"Ye see, Hamish," Dan whispered, "there's a big sea running, and these sailor boys would rather risk the floor than their wee boats."

I felt a sinking at my heart, for I knew that the sailors were sweirt to risk their lives, yet there was not one timid face among them, but many bold and truculent—men used to risk their lives, and maybe enjoying the risk. But I held my peace, for I thought shame of my terror, and before Dan too. So the four of us went out quietly the back way and came to the quay, where we found a boat on the lee side, afloat, and with the mast stepped, and all ready for hoisting the sail, and I wondered if Dan's talking to the goodwife in the inn yard had had anything to do with it, for the boats at that time of the year were mostly upturned on the beach, and indeed most of the dingies and gigs from the ships were also drawn up.

Robin McKelvie slipped down the quay-wall as nimbly as a cat, and busied himself with the sail, doing what I know not, though I prayed he might not loosen any reef, and his father followed, more slowly, for he was a heavier man, but wonderfully active in a boat. Then Dan bade me climb down, and I scrambled down and found my feet on a gunwale just as I expected to feel the water, so I sat down in the boat suddenly, and Dan was beside me in a wee while.

Robin had the sail up, and made fast, as his father cast off and took the tiller, and the roar of the sea all round me as we sailed from the lee of the quay at first filled me with fear, but soon I felt the skiff rise to the first sea, and I forgot my terror in watching the helmsman.

"Ay, ay," he spoke softly; "they're coming now, the three sisters," and his eyes seemed to pierce the gloom for the three rolling curling waves as he shouldered the skiff over them. Sometimes I watched the water curling over the gunwale, and wondered if ever again I would reach the land, and then a wave would break somewhere near, and the helmsman would mutter—

"I ken ye; I will be hearing your whispering," and it seemed to me as if he were a cunning old warrior in the midst of well-tried foes, wary and courageous, and always winning through. But in the middle of the bay the waves rose madly round us, the stout skiff was tossed like a cork, now perched giddily on the crest, and now racing madly to the trough, and then to the crest again with a horrible side motion (which I think seamen call yawing), most fearful of all. But McKelvie spoke to his boat as I have heard horsemen speak to their horses.

When a squall struck us and the skiff lay down to it, he would croon softly—

"You will not be killing yourself, lass—easy, easy,—oh, but you are eager for the sea," and I knew that I was watching a master hand, a man cunning in the moods of the sea; but as I sat he bade me bale the water out of the boat, for it was slushing about high over the floor-boards, and these had come adrift, and were moving with every motion, so I baled with a will, glad for something mechanical to do, to keep my eyes off the menacing waves which seemed to rush up to devour us, and as if we were too poor a prey, spurned us away. Then I saw that we were in calmer water, and the steep shore of the Isle seemed close to, and the light of the white house clear, and in a little time the sail came rattling down, and the skiff's keel grated on the flat gravel, and we sprang ashore and put the anchor on the beach though the tide was going back.

And as we made our way over the gravelly shore I saw a crouching figure rise from among the wrack and come to us.

"Oh, oh; have ye come for me, father? Have ye come for me at last?" and a girl flung herself into McKelvie's arms, and hung there crying.

"Wheest, lass, wheest," commanded the innkeeper sternly.

"Oh, I just crept as near the sea as I could go, for oh, yon hoose is no' canny, and a' day the ravens from the Red Rocks have walked in at the doors, fluttering and croaking, and the Red Man is crying that he's gaun tae his hame the night; and McRae piping to him a' day, and him drinking and blaspheming. . . ."

"If McDearg's gaun the night, we'll maybe hae news tae stop him, my dear," said Dan. "Anywie, ye're surely no' feart of a raven's croaking?"

With that we started for the Isle House, the whitewash of it looking yellowish against the snow, and all about us the flapping of wings and the crying of sea-birds as our feet scrunched on the gravel.

"I canna go there," cried the lass. "I just canna; let me bide in the boat," and then, as she saw her brother take the lantern from the bows, she ran to him.

"Take me wi' ye, Robin. I'll speil tae the Goat's Ledge wi' ye; but oh, do not be making me go back there. . . ."

"Wheest, my lassie, my poor wee lassie," said her father; "there's nae harm will come on you, wi' your father and Robin beside ye; but you will not be mentioning any Goat's Ledge, for the devil himself will carry word to the Preventives."

So, standing some way from the skiff, we held a council of war, and at length Robin took his lantern and left us to climb to the Goat Ledge and make the warning signal, should M'Gilp be in the channel, and we others made for an outhouse, where we left McKelvie's lass content enough wi' two collies, for she was at her service in the Isle House, and they kent her. We left her there sitting on a bag of corn and the dogs at her feet, and made our way through the yard to the house.

[1] Bhuda ban=white headland.



CHAPTER VIII.

THE DEATH OF McDEARG, THE RED LAIRD.

While we were still in the yard the door opened, throwing a scad of light over the snow, and a high screiching voice came to us—

"Come in, lads, come in; the lassies are weary waiting for their lads, the poor bit things, sair negleckit on this weary isle, wi' nane to see their ankles but scarts[1] and solangeese."

And as we entered she held out a dry wrinkled hand.

"Prosperous New Year, Young Dan. Six bonny sons Auld Kate wishes ye, tall braw lads that'll no feel the weight o' your coffin; but if a' tales be true, you'll no' be in want. Ech, they're clever, clever, your lassies. Same to you, McKelvie. Your lass has ta'en the rue the day. Happy New Year, young sir; you'll be a McBride too," and the old withered crone peered at me through eyes bleared, as it seemed to me, with the peat reek of a hundred winters.

I was sore amazed at our welcome, for it was not near New Year, and I wondered if the scad of light on the snow, shining on us, had taken the old woman back to her younger days, but Dan took me out of my amazement.

"Humour her, Hamish; humour the weemen. A new face is New Year to Auld Kate that keeps house tae McDearg."

"Och, it's the lassies will be the pleased ones, coiling the blankets round them; it's Auld Kate that kens," and then she gave a screitchy hooch and began to sing in her cracked thin voice—

'The man's no' born and he never will be, The man's no born that will daunton me.'

It's that I used to be singing to your grandfather, Dan, when I was at my service in Nourn. He had a terrible grip, your grandfather, and the devil was in him; but he's deid, they're a' deid but Auld Kate. But we'll have a dram, and you'll be seeing the Red Laird." And in a little I saw that there was more than old age the matter.

There came the noise of piping in that strange house, and we tramped along a stone-flagged passage, and entered a room looking to the sea, and there, before a great fire, was McDearg, an old man, with evil looking from his eyes. He sat in his great chair, his head on his breast, and his shepherd, with the pipes on his knee, sat listening.

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