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Title: A Scots Quair
Author: Lewis Grassic Gibbon
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eBook No.: 0700471h.html
Language:  English
Date first posted: April 2007
Date most recently updated: April 2007

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A SCOTS QUAIR

SUNSET SONG | CLOUD HOWE | GREY GRANITE

 

by

 

Lewis Grassic Gibbon

 

 

Sunset Song first published 1932

Cloud Howe first published 1933

Grey Granite first published 1934

First published in one volume as A Scots Quair by Jarrolds 1946

 

 

CONTENTS


SUNSET SONG

CLOUD HOWE

GREY GRANITE

 

 

SUNSET SONG

A NOVEL

 

 

 

TO

JEAN BAXTER

 

 

 

CONTENTS


Prelude

The Unfurrowed Field

 

The Song

I Ploughing

II Drilling

III Seed-time

IV Harvest

 

Epilude

The Unfurrowed Field

 

 

NOTE

If the great Dutch language disappeared from literary usage and a Dutchman wrote in German a story of the Lekside peasants, one may hazard he would ask and receive a certain latitude and forbearance in his usage of German. He might import into his pages some score or so untranslatable words and idioms--untranslatable except in their context and setting; he might mould in some fashion his German to the rhythms and cadence of the kindred speech that his peasants speak. Beyond that, in fairness to his hosts, he hardly could go--to seek effect by a spray of apostrophes would be both impertinence and mistranslation.

The courtesy that the hypothetical Dutchman might receive from German a Scot may invoke from the great English tongue.

L. G. G.

 

 

 

PRELUDE

THE UNFURROWED FIELD

 

Kinraddie lands had been won by a Norman childe, Cospatric de Gondeshil, in the days of William the Lyon, when gryphons and suchlike beasts still roamed the Scots countryside and folk would waken in their beds to hear the children screaming, with a great wolf-beast, come through the hide window, tearing at their throats. In the Den of Kinraddie one such beast had its lair and by day it lay about the woods and the stench of it was awful to smell all over the countryside, and at gloaming a shepherd would see it, with its great wings half-folded across the great belly of it and its head, like the head of a meikle cock, but with the ears of a lion, poked over a fir tree, watching. And it ate up sheep and men and women and was a fair terror, and the King had his heralds cry a reward to whatever knight would ride and end the mischieving of the beast.

So the Norman childe, Cospetric, that was young and landless and fell brave and well-armoured, mounted his horse in Edinburgh Town and came North, out of the foreign south parts, up through the Forest of Fife and into the pastures of Forfar and past Aberlemno's Meikle Stane that was raised when the Picts beat the Danes; and by it he stopped and looked at the figures, bright then and hardly faded even now, of the horses and the charging and the rout of those coarse foreign folk. And maybe he said a bit prayer by that Stone and then he rode into the Mearns, and the story tells no more of his riding but that at last come he did to Kinraddie, a tormented place, and they told him where the gryphon slept, down there in the Den of Kinraddie.

But in the daytime it hid in the woods and only at night, by a path through the hornbeams, might he come at it, squatting in bones, in its lair. And Cospatric waited for the night to come and rode to the edge of Kinraddie Den and commended his soul to God and came off his horse and took his boar-spear in his hand, and went down into the Den and killed the gryphon. And he sent the news to William the Lyon, sitting drinking the wine and fondling his bonny lemans in Edinburgh Town, and William made him the Knight of Kinraddie, and gave to him all the wide parish as his demesne and grant to build him a castle there, and wear the sign of a gryphon's head for a crest and keep down all beasts and coarse and wayward folk, him and the issue of his body for ever after.

So Cospatric got him the Pict folk to build a strong castle there in the lithe of the hills, with the Grampians bleak and dark behind it, and he had the Den drained and he married a Pict lady and got on her bairns and he lived there till he died. And his son took the name Kinraddie, and looked out one day from the castle wall and saw the Earl Marischal come marching up from the south to join the Highlandmen in the battle that was fought at Mondynes, where now the meal-mill stands; and he took out his men and fought there, but on which side they do not say, but maybe it was the winning one, they were aye gey and canny folk, the Kinraddies.

And the great-grandson of Cospatric, he joined the English against the cateran Wallace, and when Wallace next came marching up from the southlands Kinraddie and other noble folk of that time they got them into Dunnottar Castle that stands out in the sea beyond Kinneff, well-builded and strong, and the sea splashes about it in the high tides and there the din of the gulls is a yammer night and day. Much of meal and meat and gear they took with them, and they laid themselves up there right strongly, they and their carles, and wasted all the Mearns that the Cateran who dared rebel against the fine English king might find no provision for his army of coarse and landless men. But Wallace came through the Howe right swiftly and he heard of Dunnottar and laid siege to it and it was a right strong place and he had but small patience with strong places. So, in the dead of one night, when the thunder of the sea drowned the noise of his feint, he climbed the Dunnottar rocks and was over the wall, he and the vagabond Scots, and they took Dunnottar and put to the slaughter the noble folk gathered there, and all the English, and spoiled them of their meat and gear, and marched away.

Kinraddie Castle that year, they tell, had but a young bride new home and she had no issue of her body, and the months went by and she rode to the Abbey of Aberbrothock where the good Abbot, John, was her cousin, and told him of her trouble and how the line of Kinraddie was like to die. So he lay with her that was September, and next year a boy was born to the young bride, and after that the Kinraddies paid no heed to wars and bickerings but sat them fast in their Castle lithe in the hills, with their gear and bonny leman queans and villeins libbed for service.

And when the First Reformation came and others came after it and some folk cried Whiggam! and some cried Rome! and some cried The King! the Kinraddies sat them quiet and decent and peaceable in their castle, and heeded never a fig the arguings of folk, for wars were unchancy things. But then Dutch William came, fair plain a fixture that none would move, and the Kinraddies were all for the Covenant then, they had aye had God's Covenant at heart, they said. So they builded a new kirk down where the chapel had stood, and builded a manse by it, there in the middle of the yews where the cateran Wallace had hid when the English put him to rout at last. And one Kinraddie, John Kinraddie, went south and became a great man in the London court, and was crony of the creatures Johnson and James Boswell and once the two of them, John Kinraddie and James Boswell, came up to the Mearns on an idle ploy and sat drinking wine and making coarse talk far into the small hours night after night till the old laird wearied of them and then they would steal away and as James Boswell set in his diary, Did get to the loft where the maids were, and one Πεγγι Δυνδας wας φατ ιν τhε βυττοcχς ανδ ι διδ λιε wιτh hερ. [Ed. note: ..., and one Peggi Dundas was fat in the buttocks and I did lie with her.]

But in the early days of the nineteenth century it was an ill time for the Scots gentry, for the poison of the French Revolution came over the seas and crofters and common folk like that stood up and cried Away to hell! when the Auld Kirk preached submission from its pulpits. Up as far as Kinraddie came the poison and the young laird of that time, and he was Kenneth, he called himself a Jacobin and joined the Jacobin Club of Aberdeen and there at Aberdeen was nearly killed in the rioting, for liberty and equality and fraternity, he called it. And they carried him back to Kinraddie a cripple, but he would still have it that all men were free and equal and he set to selling the estate and sending the money to France, for he had a real good heart. And the crofters marched on Kinraddie Castle in a body and bashed in the windows of it, they thought equality should begin at home.

More than half the estate had gone in this driblet and that while the cripple sat and read his coarse French books; but nobody guessed that till he died and then his widow, poor woman, found herself own no more than the land that lay between the coarse hills, the Grampians, and the farms that stood out by the Bridge End above the Denburn, straddling the outward road. Maybe there were some twenty to thirty holdings in all, the crofters dour folk of the old Pict stock, they had no history, common folk, and ill-reared their biggins clustered and chaved amid the long, sloping fields. The leases were one-year, two-year, you worked from the blink of the day you were breeked to the flicker of the night they shrouded you, and the dirt of gentry sat and ate up your rents but you were as good as they were.

So that was Kenneth's leaving to his lady body, she wept right sore over the pass that things had come to, but they kittled up before her own jaw was tied in a clout and they put her down in Kinraddie vault to lie by the side of her man. Three of her bairns were drowned at sea, fishing off the Bevie braes they had been, but the fourth, the boy Cospatric, him that died the same day as the Old Queen, he was douce and saving and sensible, and set putting the estate to rights. He threw out half the little tenants, they flitted off to Canada and Dundee and parts like those, the others he couldn't move but slowly.

But on the cleared land he had bigger steadings built and he let them at bigger rents and longer leases, he said the day of the fine big farm had come. And he had woods of fir and larch and pine planted to shield the long, bleak slopes, and might well have retrieved the Kinraddie fortunes but that he married a Morton quean with black blood in her, she smitted him and drove him to drink and death, that was the best way out. For his son was clean daft, they locked him up at last in an asylum, and that was the end of Kinraddie family, the Meikle House that stood where the Picts had builded Cospatric's castle crumbled to bits like a cheese, all but two-three rooms the trustees held as their offices, the estate was mortgaged to the hilt by then.

 

So by the winter of nineteen eleven there were no more than nine bit places left the Kinraddie estate, the Mains the biggest of them, it had been the Castle home farm in the long past times. An Irish creature, Erbert Ellison was the name, ran the place for the trustees, he said, but if you might believe all the stories you heard he ran a hantle more silver into his own pouch than he ran into theirs. Well might you expect it, for once he'd been no more than a Dublin waiter, they said. That had been in the time before Lord Kinraddie, the daft one, had gone clean skite. He had been in Dublin, Lord Kinraddie, on some drunken ploy, and Ellison had brought his whisky for him and some said he had halved his bed with him. But folk would say anything.

So the daftie took Ellison back with him to Kinraddie and made him his servant, and sometimes, when he was real drunk and the fairlies came sniftering out of the whisky bottles at him, he would throw a bottle at Ellison and shout Get out, you bloody dish-clout! so loud it was heard across at the Manse and fair affronted the minister's wife. And old Greig, him that had been the last minister there, he would glower across at Kinraddie House like John Knox at Holyrood, and say that God's hour would come. And sure as death it did, off to the asylum they hurled the daftie, he went with a nurse's mutch on his head and he put his head out of the back of the waggon and said Cockadoodledoo! to some school bairns the waggon passed on the road and they all ran home and were fell frightened.

But Ellison had made himself well acquainted with farming and selling stock and most with buying horses, so the trustees they made him manager of the Mains, and he moved into the Mains farmhouse and looked him round for a wife. Some would have nothing to do with him, a poor creature of an Irishman who couldn't speak right and didn't belong to the Kirk, but Ella White she was not so particular and was fell long in the tooth herself. So when Ellison came to her at the harvest ball in Auchinblae and cried Can I see you home to-night, me dear? she said Och, Ay. And on the road home they lay among the stooks and maybe Ellison did this and that to make sure of getting her, he was fair desperate for any woman by then.

They were married next New Year's Day, and Ellison had begun to think himself a gey man in Kinraddie, and maybe one of the gentry. But the bothy billies, the ploughmen and the orra men of the Mains, they'd never a care for gentry except to mock at them and on the eve of Ellison's wedding they took him as he was going into his house and took off his breeks and tarred his dowp and the soles of his feet and stuck feathers on them and then they threw him into the water-trough, as was the custom. And he called them Bloody Scotch savages, and was in an awful rage and at the term-time he had them sacked, the whole jingbang of them, so sore affronted he had been.

But after that he got on well enough, him and his mistress, Ella White, and they had a daughter, a scrawny bit quean they thought over good to go to the Auchinblae School, so off she went to Stonehaven Academy and was taught to be right brave and swing about in the gymnasium there with wee black breeks on under her skirt. Ellison himself began to get well-stomached, and he had a red face, big and sappy, and eyes like a cat, green eyes, and his mouser hung down each side of a fair bit mouth that was chokeful up of false teeth, awful expensive and bonny, lined with bits of gold. And he aye wore leggings and riding breeks, for he was fair gentry by then; and when he would meet a crony at a mart he would cry Sure, bot it's you, thin, ould chep! and the billy would redden up, real ashamed, but wouldn't dare say anything, for he wasn't a man you'd offend. In politics he said he was a Conservative but everybody in Kinraddie knew that meant he was a Tory and the bairns of Strachan, him that farmed the Peesie's Knapp, they would scraich out

 

Inky poo, your nose is blue,
You're awful like the Turra Coo

 

whenever they saw Ellison go by. For he'd sent a subscription to the creature up Turriff way whose cow had been sold to pay his Insurance, and folk said it was no more than a show off, the Cow creature and Ellison both; and they laughed at him behind his back.

 

So that was the Mains, below the Meikle House, and Ellison farmed it in his Irish way and right opposite, hidden away among their yews, were kirk and manse, the kirk an old, draughty place and in the wintertime, right in the middle of the Lord's Prayer, maybe, you'd hear an outbreak of hoasts fit to lift off the roof, and Miss Sarah Sinclair, her that came from Netherhill and played the organ, she'd sneeze into her hymnbook and miss her bit notes and the minister, him that was the old one, he'd glower down at her more like John Knox than ever.

Next door the kirk was an olden tower, built in the time of the Roman Catholics, the coarse creatures, and it was fell old and wasn't used any more except by the cushat-doves and they flew in and out the narrow slips in the upper storey and nested there all the year round and the place was fair white with their dung. In the lower half of the tower was an effigy-thing of Cospatric de Gondeshil, him that killed the gryphon, lying on his back with his arms crossed and a daft-like simper on her face; and the spear he killed the gryphon with was locked in a kist there, or so some said, but others said it was no more than an old bit heuch from the times of Bonny Prince Charlie. So that was the tower, but it wasn't fairly a part of the kirk, the real kirk was split in two bits, the main hall and the wee hall, and some called them the byre and the turnip-shed, and the pulpit stood midway.

Once the wee hall had been for the folk from the Meikle House and their guests and suchlike gentry but nearly anybody that had the face went ben and sat there now, and the elders sat with the collection bags, and young Murray, him that blew the organ for Sarah Sinclair. It had fine glass windows, awful old, the wee hall with three bit creatures of queans, not very decent-like in a kirk, as window-pictures. One of the queans was Faith, and faith she looked a daft-like keek for she was lifting up her hands and her eyes like a heifer choked on a turnip and the bit blanket round her shoulders was falling off her but she didn't seem to heed, and there was a swither of scrolls and fiddley-faddles all about her.

And the second quean was Hope and she was near as unco as Faith, but had right bonny hair, red hair, though maybe you'd call it auburn, and in the winter-time the light in the morning service would come splashing through the yews in the kirkyard and into the wee hall through the red hair of Hope. And the third quean was Charity, with a lot of naked bairns at her feet and she looked a fine and decent-like woman, for all that she was tied about with such daft-like clouts.

But the windows of the main hall, though they were coloured, they had never a picture in them and there were no pictures in there at all, who wanted them? Only coarse creatures like Catholics wanted a kirk to look like a grocer's calendar. So it was decent and bare-like, with its carved old seats, some were cushioned and some were not, if you weren't padded by nature and had the silver to spend you might put in cushions to suit your fancy. Right up in the lithe of the pulpit, at angles-like to the rest of the kirk, were the three seats where the choir sat and led the hymn-singing; and some called it the calfies' stall.

The back door, that behind the pulpit, led out across the kirkyard to the Manse and its biggings, set up in the time of the Old Queen, and fair bonny to look at, but awful damp said all the ministers' wives. But ministers' wives were aye folk to complain and don't know when they're well off, them and the silver they get for their bit creatures of men preaching once or twice a Sunday and so proud they hardly know you when they meet you on the road. The minister's study was high up in the house, it looked out over all Kinraddie, at night he'd see from there the lights of the farmhouses like a sprinkling of bright sands below his window and the flagstaff light high among the stars on the roof of the Meikle House. But that nineteen eleven December the Manse was empty and had been empty for many a month, the old minister was dead and the new one not yet voted on; and the ministers from Drumlithie and Arbuthnott and Laurencekirk they came time about in the Sunday forenoons and took the service there at Kinraddie; and God knows for all they had to say they might well have bidden at home.

But if you went out of the kirk by the main door and took the road east a bit, and that was the road that served kirk and Manse and Mains, you were on to the turnpike then. It ran north and south but opposite to the road you'd just come down was another, that went through Kinraddie by the Bridge End farm. So there was a cross-roads there and if you held to the left along the turnpike you came to Peesie's Knapp, one of the olden places, no more than a croft of thirty-forty acres with some rough ground for pasture, but God knows there was little pasture on it, it was just a fair schlorich of whins and broom and dirt, full up of rabbits and hares it was, they came out at night and ate up your crops and sent a body fair mad. But it wasn't bad land the most of the Knapp, there was the sweat of two thousand years in it, and the meikle park behind the biggings was black loam, not the red clay that sub-soiled half Kinraddie.

Now Peesie's Knapp's biggings were not more than twenty years old, but gey ill-favoured for all that, for though the house faced on the road--and that was fair handy if it didn't scunner you that you couldn't so much as change your sark without some ill-fashioned brute gowking in at you--right between the byre and the stable and the barn on one side and the house on the other was the cattle-court and right in the middle of that the midden, high and yellow with dung and straw and sharn, and Mistress Strachan could never forgive Peesie's Knapp because of that awful smell it had.

But Chae Strachan, him that farmed the place, he just said Hoots, what's a bit guff? and would start to tell of the terrible smells he'd smelt when he was abroad. For he'd been a fell wandering billy, Chae, in the days before he came back to Scotland and was fee'd his last fee at Netherhill. He'd been in Alaska, looking for gold there, but damn the bit of gold he'd seen, so he'd farmed in California till he was so scunnered of fruit he'd never look an orange or a pear in the face again, not even in a tin. And then he'd gone on to South Africa and had had great times there, growing real chieflike with the head one of a tribe of blacks, but an awful decent man for all that. Him and Chae had fought against Boers and British both, and beaten them, or so Chae said, but folk that didn't like Chae said all the fighting he'd ever done had been with his mouth and that as for beaten, he'd be sore made to beat the skin off a bowl of sour milk.

For he wasn't well liked by them that set themselves up for gentry, Chae, being a socialist creature and believing we should all have the same amount of silver and that there shouldn't be rich and poor and that one man was as good as another. And the silver bit of that was clean daft, of course, for if you'd all the same money one day what would it be the next?--Rich and Poor again! But Chae said the four ministers of Kinraddie and Auchinblae and Laurencekirk and Drumlithie were all paid much the same money last year and what had they this year?--Much the same money still! You'll have to get out of bed slippy in the morning before you find a socialist tripping and if you gave me any of your lip I'll clout you in the lug, my mannie.

So Chae was fell good in argy-bargying and he wasn't the quarrelsome kind except when roused, so he was well-liked, though folk laughed at him. But God knows, who is it they don't laugh at? He was a pretty man, well upstanding, with great shoulders on him and his hair was fair and fine and he had a broad brow and a gey bit coulter of a nose, and he twisted his mouser ends up with wax like that creature the German Kaiser, and he could stop a running stirk by the horns, so strong he was in the wrist-bones. And he was one of the handiest billies in Kinraddie, he would libb a calf or break in a horse or kill a pig, all in a jiffy, or tile your dairy or cut the bairns' hair or dig a well, and all the time he'd be telling you that socialism was coming or if it wasn't then an awful crash would come and we'd all go back to savagery, Dam't ay, man!

But folk said he'd more need to start socializing Mistress Strachan, her that had been Kirsty Sinclair of Netherhill, before he began on anybody else. She had a fell tongue, they said, that would clip clouts and yammer a tink from a door, and if Chae wasn't fair sick now and then for his hut and a fine black quean in South Africa damn the hut or the quean had he ever had. He'd feed'd at Netherhill when he came back from foreign parts, had Chae, and there had been but two daughters there, Kirsty and Sarah, her that played the kirk organ. Both were wearing on a bit, sore in the need of a man, and Kirsty with a fair letdown as it was, for it had seemed that a doctor billy from Aberdeen was out to take up with her. So he had done and left her in a gey way and her mother, old Mistress Sinclair, near went out of her mind with the shame of it when Kirsty began to cry and tell her the news.

Now that was about the term-time and home to Netherhill from the feeing market who should old Sinclair of Netherhill bring but Chae Strachan, with his blood warmed up from living in those foreign parts and an eye for less than a wink of invitation? But even so he was gey slow to get on with the courting and just hung around Kirsty like a futret round a trap with a bit meat in it, not sure if the meat was worth the risk; and the time was getting on and faith! Something drastic would have to be done.

So one night after they had all had supper in the kitchen and old Sinclair had gone pleitering out to the byres, old Mistress Sinclair had up and nodded to Kirsty and said Ah well, I'll away to my bed. You'll not be long in making for yours, Kirsty? And Kirsty said No, and gave her mother a sly bit look, and off the old mistress went up to her room and then Kirsty began fleering and flirting with Chae and he was a man warm enough and they were alone together and maybe in a minute he'd have had her couched down right well there in the kitchen but she whispered it wasn't safe. So he off with his boots and she with hers and up the stairs they crept together into Kirsty's room and were having their bit pleasure together when ouf! went the door and in burst old Mistress Sinclair with the candle held up in one hand and the other held up in horror. No, no, she'd said, this won't do at all, Chakie, my man, you'll have to marry her. And there had been no escape for Chae, poor man, with Kirsty and her mother both glowering at him.

So married they were and old Sinclair had saved up some silver and he rented Peesie's Knapp for Chae and Kirsty, and stocked the place for them, and down they sat there, and Kirsty's bairn, a bit quean, was born before seven months were past, well-grown and finished-like it seemed, the creature, in spite of its mother swearing it had come fair premature.

They'd had two more bairns since then, both laddies, and both the living spit of Chae, these were the bairns that would sing about the Turra Coo whenever they met the brave gig of Ellison bowling along the Kinraddie Road, and faith, they made you laugh.

Right opposite Peesie's Knapp, across the turnpike, the land climbed red and clay and a rough stone road went wandering up to the biggings of Blawearie. Out of the World and into Blawearie they said in Kinraddie, and faith! it was coarse land and lonely up there on the brae, fifty-sixty acres of it, forbye the moor that went on with the brae high above Blawearie, up to a great flat hill-top where lay a bit loch that nested snipe by the hundred; and some said there was no bottom to it, the loch, and Long Rob of the Mill said that made it like the depths of a parson's depravity.

That was an ill thing to say about any minister, though Rob said it was an ill thing to say about any loch, but there the spleiter of water was, a woesome dark stretch fringed rank with rushes and knife-grass; and the screeching of the snipe fair deafened you if you stood there of an evening. And few enough did that for nearby the bit loch was a circle of stones from olden times, some were upright and some were flat and some leaned this way and that, and right in the middle three big ones clambered up out of the earth and stood askew with flat sonsy faces, they seemed to listen and wait. They were Druid stones and folk told that the Druids had been coarse devils of men in the times long syne, they'd climb up there and sing their foul heathen songs around the stones; and if they met a bit Christian missionary they'd gut him as soon as look at him. And Long Rob of the Mill would say what Scotland wanted was a return of the Druids, but that was just a speak of his, for they must have been awful ignorant folk, not canny.

Blawearie hadn't had a tenant for nearly a year, but now there was one on the way, they said, a creature John Guthrie from up in the North. The biggings of it stood fine and compact one side of the close, the midden was back of them, and across the close was the house, a fell brave house for a little place, it had three storeys and a good kitchen and a fair stretch of garden between it and Blawearie road. There were beech trees there, three of them, one was close over against the house, and the garden hedges grew as bonny with honeysuckle of a summer as ever you saw; and if you could have lived on the smell of honeysuckle you might have farmed the bit place with profit.

 

Well, Peesie's Knapp and Blawearie were the steadings that lay Stoneheavenway. But if you turned east that winter along the Auchinblae road first on your right was Cuddiestoun, a small bit holding the size of Peesie's Knapp and old as it, a croft from the far-off times. It lay a quarter-mile or so from the main road and its own road was fair clamjamfried with glaur from late in the harvest till the coming of Spring. Some said maybe that accounted for Munro's neck, he could never get the glaur washed out of it. But others said he never tried. He was on a thirteen years' lease there, Munro, a creature from down south, Dundee way, and he was a good six feet in height but awful coarse among the legs, like a lamb with water on the brain, and he had meikle feet that aye seemed in his way. He was maybe forty years or so in age, and bald already, and his skin was red and creased in cheeks and chin and God! you never saw an uglier brute, poor stock.

For there were worse folk than Munro, though maybe they were all in the jail, and though he could blow and bombast till he fair scunnered you. He farmed his bit land in a then and now way, and it was land good enough, the most of it, with the same black streak of loam that went through the Peesie parks, but ill-drained, the old stone drains were still down and devil the move would the factor at Meikle House make to have them replaced, or mend the roof of the byre that leaked like a sieve on the head of Mistress Munro when she milked the kye on a stormy night.

But if anybody, chief-like, were to say, God, that's an awful byre you have, mistress, she would flare up in a minute It's one and good enough for the like of us. And if that body, not knowing better, poor billy, were to agree that the place was well enough for poor folk, she'd up again Who's poor? Let me tell you we've never needed anybody come to our help, though we don't boast and blow about it all over the countryside, like some I could mention. So the body would think there was no pleasing of the creature, and she was right well laughed at in all Kinraddie, though not to her face. And that was a thin one and she had black hair and snapping black eyes like a futret, and a voice that fair set your hackles on edge when she girned. But she was the best midwife for miles around, right often in the middle of the night some poor distracted billy would come chapping at her window Mistress Munro, Mistress Munro, will you get up and come to the wife? And out she'd get, and into her clothes before you could whistle, and out into the cold of Kinraddie night and go whipping through it like a futret, and soon be snapping her orders round the kitchen of the house she'd been summoned to, telling the woman in childbed she might easily be worse, and being right brisk and sharp and clever.

And the funny thing about the creature was that she believed none spoke ill of her, for if she heard a bit hint of such, dropped sly-like, she'd redden up like a stalk of rhubarb in a dung patch and look as though she might start to cry, and the body would feel real sorry for her till next minute she'd be screeching at Andy or Tony, and fleering them out of the little wits they had, poor devils.

Now, Andy and Tony were two dafties that Mistress Munro had had boarded out on her from an Asylum in Dundee, they weren't supposed to be dangerous. Andy was a meikle slummock of a creature, and his mouth was aye open, and he dribbled like a teething foal, and his nose wabbled all over his face and when he tried to speak it was just a fair jumble of foolishness. He was the daftest one, but fell sly, he'd sometimes run away to the hills and stand there with his finger at his nose, making faces at Mistress Munro, and she'd scraich at him and he'd yammer back at her and then over the moor he'd get to the bothy at Upperhill where the ploughmen would give him cigarettes and then torment him till he fair raged; and once tried to kill one with an axe he caught up from a hackstock. And at night he'd creep back to Cuddiestoun, outside he'd make a noise like a dog that had been kicked, and he'd snuffle round the door till the few remaining hairs on the bald pow of Munro would fair rise on end. But Mistress Munro would up and be at the door and in she'd yank Andy by the lug, and some said she'd take down his breeks and skelp him, but maybe that was a lie. She wasn't feared at him and he wasn't feared at her, so they were a gey well-matched pair.

And that was the stir at Cuddiestoun, all except Tony, for the Munros had never a bairn of their own. And Tony, though he wasn't the daftest, he was the queer one, too, right enough. He was small-bulked and had a little red beard and sad eyes, and he walked with his head down and you would feel right sorry for him for sometimes some whimsy would come on the creature right in the middle of the turnpike it might be or half-way down a rig of swedes, and there he would stand staring like a gowk for minutes on end till somebody would shake him back to his senses. He had fine soft hands, for he was no working body; folk said he had once been a scholar and written books and learned and learned till his brain fair softened and right off his head he'd gone and into the poorhouse asylum.

Now Mistress Munro she'd send Tony errands to the wee shop out beyond the Bridge End, and tell him what she wanted, plain and simple-like, and maybe giving him a bit clout in the lug now and then, as you would a bairn or a daftie. And he'd listen to her and make out he minded the messages and off to the shop he'd go, and come back without a single mistake. But one day, after she'd told him the things she wanted, Mistress Munro saw the wee creature writing on a bit of paper with a pencil he'd picked up somewhere. And she took the paper from him and looked at it and turned it this way and that, but feint the thing could she made of it. So she gave him a bit clout in the lug and asked him what the writing was. But he just shook his head, real gowked-like and reached out his hand for the bit of paper, but Mistress Munro would have none of that and when it was time for the Strachan bairns to pass the end of the Cuddiestoun road on their way to school down there she was waiting and gave the paper to the eldest the quean Marget, and told her to show it to the Dominie and ask him what it might mean.

And at night she was waiting for the Strachan bairns to come back and they had an envelope for her from the Dominie; and she opened it and found a note saying the writing was shorthand and that this was what it read when put in the ordinary way of writing: Two pounds of sugar The People's Journal half an ounce of mustard a tin of rat poison a pound of candles and I don't suppose I can swindle her out of tuppence change for the sake of a smoke, she's certainly the meanest bitch unhung this side of Tweed. So maybe Tony wasn't so daft, but he got no supper that night; and she never asked to see his notes again.

 

Now, following the Kinraddie road still east, you passed by Netherhill on your left, five places had held its parks in the crofter days before Lord Kenneth. But now it was a fair bit farm on its own, old Sinclair and his wife, a body that was wearing none so well--soured up the creature was that her eldest daughter Sarah still bided all unwed--lived in the farm-house, and in the bothy was foreman and second man and third man and orra lad. The Denburn lay back of the Netherhill, drifting low and slow and placid in its hollow, feint the fish had ever been seen in it and folk said that was just as well, things were fishy enough at Netherhill without the Denburn adding to them.

Through the rank schlorich of moor that lay between the place and Peesie's Knapp were the tracks of an old-time road, some said it was old as Calgacus, him that chased the Romans all to hell at the battle of Mons Graupius, others said it was a Druid work, laid by them that set the stones above Blawearie loch. And God! there must have been an unco few idle masons among the creatures, they'd tried their hands at another stone circle in the Netherhill moor, right midway the old-time road. But there were no more than two-three stones above the ground in this later day, Netherhill's ploughmen swore the rest must have been torn up and broadcast over the arable land, the parks were as tough and stony as the heart of the old wife herself.

But it was no bad place for turnips and oats, the Netherhill, sometimes the hay was fair to middling but the most of the ground was red clay and over coarse and wet for barley, if it hadn't been for the droves of pigs old Mistress Sinclair fed and sold in Laurencekirk maybe her man would never have sat where he did. She came of Gourdon stock, the old wife, and everybody knows what they are, the Gourdon fishers, they'd wring silver out of a corpse's wame and call stinking haddocks perfume fishes and sell them at a shilling a pair. She'd been a fishing quean before she took up with old Sinclair, and when they settled down in Netherhill on borrowed money it was she that would drive to Gourdon twice a week in the little pony lorry and come back with it stinking out the countryside for miles around with its load of rotten fish to manure the land. And right well it manured it and they'd fine crops the first six years or so and then the land was fair bled white and they'd to stop the fish-manure. But by then the pig-breeding was fine and paying, their debts were gone, they were coining silver of their own.

He was a harmless stock, old Sinclair, and had began to doiter and Mistress Sinclair would push him into his chair at night and take off his boots and put slippers on him there in front of the kitchen fire and say to him You've tired yourself out again, my lad. And he'd put his hand below her chin and say Och, I'm fine, don't vex yourself. . . . Ay your lad still, am I, lass? And they'd look at each other, daft-like, two wrinkled old fools, and their daughter Sarah that was so genteel would be real affronted if there were visitors about. But Sinclair and his old wife would just shake their heads at her and in their bed at night, hiddling their old bones close for warmth, give a bit sigh that no brave billy had ever show inclination to take Sarah to his bed. She'd hoped and peeked and preened long years, and once there had seemed some hope with Long Rob of the Mill, but Rob wasn't the marrying sort. God! If Cuddiestoun's dafties were real dafties what would you say of a man with plenty of silver that bided all by his lone and made his own bed and did his own baking when he might have had a wife to make him douce and brave?

 

But Rob of the Mill had never a thought of what Kinraddie said of him. Further along the Kinraddie road it stood, the Mill, on the corner of the side-road that led up to Upperhill, and for ten years now had Rob bided there alone, managing the Mill and reading the books of a coarse creature Ingersoll that made watches and didn't believe in God. He'd aye two-three fine pigs about the Mill had Rob, and fine might well they be for what did he feed them on but bits of corn and barley he'd nicked out of the sacks folk brought him to the Mill to grind? Nor could a body deny but that Long Rob's boar was one of the best in the Mearns; and they'd bring their sows from as far afield as Laurencekirk to have them set by that boar of his, a miekle, pretty brute of a beast.

Forbye the Mill and his swine and hens Rob had a Clydesdale and a sholtie beast he ploughed his twenty acres with, and a cow or so that never calved, for he'd never time to send them to the bull though well might he have taken the time instead of sweating and chaving like a daft one to tear up the coarse moorland behind the Mill and turn it into a park. He'd started that three years before and wasn't half through with it yet, it was filled with great holes and ponds and choked with meikle broom-roots thick as the arm of a man, you never saw a dafter ploy. They'd hear Rob out in that coarse ground hard at work when they went to bed, the rest of Kinraddie, whistling away to himself as though it were nine o'clock in the forenoon and the sun shining bravely. He'd whistle Ladies of Spain and There was a young maiden and The lass that made the bed for me, but devil the lass he'd ever taken to his bed, and maybe that was as well for the lass; she'd have seen feint the much of him in it beside her.

For after a night of it like that he'd be out again at the keek of day, and sometimes he'd have the Clydesdale or the sholtie out there with him and they'd be fine friends, the three of them, till the beasts would move off when he didn't want them or wouldn't move when he did; and then he'd fair go mad with them and call them all the coarsest names he could lay tongue to till you'd think he'd be heard over half the Mearns; and he'd leather the horses till folk spoke of sending for the Cruelty, though he'd a way with the beasts too, and would be friends with them again in a minute, and when he'd been away at the smithy in Drumlithie or the joiner's in Arbuthnott they'd come running from the other end of the parks at sight of him and he'd get off his bicycle and feed them with lumps of sugar he bought and carried about with him.

He thought himself a gey man with horses, did Rob, and God! he'd tell you stories about horses till you'd fair be grey in the head, but he never wearied of them himself, the long, rangy childe. Long he was, with small bones maybe, but gey broad for all that, with a small head on him and a thin nose and eyes smoky blue as an iron coulter on a winter morning, aye glinting, and a long mouser the colour of ripe corn it was, hanging down the sides of his mouth so that the old minister had told him he looked like a Viking and he'd said Ah well, minister, as long as I don't look like a parson I'll wrestle through the world right content, and the minister said he was a fool and godless, and his laughter like the thorns crackling under a pot. And Rob said he'd rather be a thorn than a sucker any day, for he didn't believe in ministers or kirks, he'd learned that from the books of Ingersoll though God knows if the creature's logic was as poor as his watches he was but a sorry prop to lean on. But Rob said he was fine, and if Christ came down to Kinraddie he'd be welcome enough to a bit meal or milk at the Mill, but damn the thing he'd get at the Manse. So that was Long Rob and the stir at the Mill, some said he wasn't all there but others said Ay, that he was, and a bit over.

 

Now Upperhill rose above the Mill, with its larch woods crowning it, and folk told that a hundred years before five of the crofter places had crowded there till Lord Kenneth threw their biggins down and drove them from the parish and built the fine farm of Upperhill. And twenty years later a son of one of the crofters had come back and rented the place, Gordon was the name of him, they called him Upprums for short and he didn't like that, being near to gentry with his meikle farm and forgetting his father the crofter that had cried like a bairn all the way from Kinraddie that night the Lord Kenneth drove them out. He was a small bit man with a white face on him, and he'd long, thin hair and a nose that wasn't straight but peeked away to one side of his face and no moustache and wee feet and hands; and he liked to wear leggings and breeks and carry a bit stick and look as proud as a cock on a midden.

Mistress Gordon was a Stonehaven woman, her father had been a bit post-office creature there, but God! to hear her speak you'd think he'd invented the post office himself and taken out a patent for it. She was a meikle sow of a woman, but aye well-dressed, and with eyes like the eyes of a fish, fair cod-like they were, and she tried to speak English and to make her two bit daughters, Nellie and Maggie Jean, them that went to Stonehaven Academy, speak English as well. And God! they made a right muck of it, and if you met the bit things on the road and said Well, Nellie, and how are your mother's hens laying? the quean would more than likely answer you Not very meikle the day and look so proud it was all you could do to stop yourself catching the futret across your knee and giving her a bit skelp.

Though she'd only a dove's flitting of a family herself you'd think to hear Mistress Gordon speak that she'd been clecking bairns a litter a month since the day she married. It was Now, how I brought up Nellie--or And the specialist in Aberdeen, said about Maggie Jean--till folk were so scunnered they'd never mention a bairn within a mile of Upperhill. But Rob of the Mill, the coarse brute, he fair mocked her to her face and he'd tell a story Now, when I took my boar to the specialist in Edinburgh, he up and said 'Mister Rob, this is a gey unusual boar, awful delicate, but SO intelligent, and you should send him to the Academy and some day he'll be a real credit to you.' And Mistress Gordon when she heard that story she turned as red as a fire and forgot her English and said Rob was an orra tink brute.

Forbye the two queans there was the son, John Gordon, as coarse a devil as you'd meet, he'd already had two-three queans in trouble and him but barely eighteen years old. But with one of them he'd met a sore stammy-gaster, her brother was a gardener down Glenbervie way and when he heard of it he came over to Upperhill and caught young Gordon out by the cattle-court. You'll be Jock? he said, and young Gordon said Keep your damned hands to yourself, and the billy said Ay, but first I'll wipe them on a dirty clout, and with that he up with a handful of sharn and splattered it all over young Gordon and then rolled him in the greip till he was a sight to sicken a sow from its supper.

The bothy men heard the ongoing and came tearing out but soon as they saw it was only young Gordon that was being mischieved they did no more than laugh and stand around and cry one to the other that here was a real fine barrow-load of dung lying loose in the greip. So the Drumlithie billy, minding his sister and her shame, wasn't sharp to finish with his tormenting, young Gordon looked like a half-dead cat and smelt like a whole-dead one for a week after, a sore affront to Upperhill's mistress. She went tearing round to the bothy and made at the foreman, a dour young devil of a Highlandman, Ewan Tavendale, Why didn't you help my Johnnie? and Ewan said I was fee'd as the foreman here, not as the nursemaid, he was an impudent brute, calm as you please, but an awful good worker, folk said he could smell the weather and had fair the land in his bones.

 

Now the eighth of the Kinraddie places you could call hardly a place at all, for that was Pooty's, midway along the Kinraddie road between the Mill and Bridge End. It was no more than a butt and a ben, with a rickle of sheds behind it where old Pooty kept his cow and bit donkey that was nearly as old as himself and faith! twice as good-looking; and folk said the cuddy had bided so long with Pooty that whenever it opened its mouth to give a bit bray it started to stutter. For old Pooty was maybe the worst stutterer ever heard in the Mearns and the worst of that worst was that he didn't know it and he'd clean compel any minister creature organising a concert miles around to give him a platform part. Then up he'd get on the platform, the doitered old fool, and recite Weeeee, ssss-leek-ed, ccccccowering TIMROUS BEASTIE or such-like poem and it was fair agony to hear him.

He'd lived at Pooty's a good fifty years they said, his father the crofter of the Knapp before that time, hardly a soul knew his name, maybe he'd forgotten it himself. He was the oldest inhabitant of Kinraddie and fell proud of it, though what there was to be proud of in biding all that while in a damp, sour house that a goat would hardly have stopped to ease itself in God knows. He was a shoe-maker, the creature, and called himself the Sutor, an old-fashioned name that folk laughed at. He'd grey hair aye falling about his lugs and maybe he washed on New Year's Days and birthdays, but not oftener, and if anybody had ever seen him in anything but the grey shirt with the red neckband he'd kept the fact a dead secret all to himself.

 

Alec Mutch was farmer of Bridge End that stood beyond the Denburn head, he'd come there up from Stonehaven way, folk said he was head over heels in debt, and damn it you couldn't wonder with a slummock of a wife like that to weigh him down. A grand worker was Alec and Bridge End not the worst of Kinraddie, though wet in the bottom up where its parks joined on to Upperhill. Two pairs of horses it was stabled for but Alec kept no more than three bit beasts, he'd say he was waiting for his family to grow up before he completed the second pair. And fast enough the family came, if she couldn't do much else, Mistress Mutch, fell seldom a year went by but she was brought to bed with a bairn, Mutch fair grew used to dragging himself out in the middle of the night and tearing off to Bervie for the doctor. And the doctor, old Meldrum he was, he'd wink at Alec and cry Man, Man, have you been at it again? and Alec would say Damn it, you've hardly to look at a woman these days but she's in the family way.

So some said that he must glower at his mistress a fell lot, and that was hard enough to believe, she was no great beauty, with a cock eye and a lazy look and nothing worried her, not a mortal thing, not though her five bairns were all yammering blue murder at the same minute and the smoke coming down the chimney and spoiling the dinner and the cattle broken into the yard and eating up her clean washing. She'd say Ah well, it'll make no difference a hundred years after I'm dead, and light up a bit cigarette, like a tink, for aye she carried a packet of the things about with her, she was the speak of half the Mearns, her and her smoking.

Two of the five bairns were boys, the oldest eleven, and the whole five of them had the Mutch face, broad and boney and tapering to a chinney point, like the face of an owlet or a fox, and meikle lugs on them like the handles on a cream-jar. Alec himself had such lugs that they said he flapped them against the flies in the summer-time, and once he was coming home on his bicycle from Laurencekirk, and he was real drunk and at the steep brae above the Denburn bridge he mistook the flow of the water for the broad road and in between coping and bank he went and head over heels into the clay bed twenty feet below; and often he'd tell that if he hadn't landed on a lug he might well have been brained, but Long Rob of the Mill would laugh and say Brained? Good God, Mutch, you were never in danger of that!

 

So that was Kinraddie that bleak winter of nineteen eleven and the new minister, him they chose early next year, he was to say it was the Scots countryside itself, fathered between a kailyard and a bonny brier bush in the lee of a house with green shutters. And what he meant by that you could guess at yourself if you'd a mind for puzzles and dirt, there wasn't a house with green shutters in the whole of Kinraddie.

 

 

THE SONG

 

I

PLOUGHING

 

Below and around where Chris Guthrie lay the June moors whispered and rustled and shook their cloaks, yellow with broom and powdered faintly with purple, that was the heather but not the full passion of its colour yet. And in the east against the cobalt blue of the sky lay the shimmer of the North Sea, that was by Bervie, and maybe the wind would veer there in an hour or so and you'd feel the change in the life and strum of the thing, bringing a streaming coolness out of the sea.

But for days now the wind had been in the south, it shook and played in the moors and went dandering up the sleeping Grampians, the rushes pecked and quivered about the loch when its hand was upon them, but it brought more heat than cold, and all the parks were fair parched, sucked dry, the red clay soil of Blawearie gaping open for the rain that seemed never-coming. Up here the hills were brave with the beauty and the heat of it, but the hayfield was all a crackling dryness and in the potato park beyond the biggings the shaws drooped red and rusty already. Folk said there hadn't been such a drought since eighty-three and Long Rob of the Mill said you couldn't blame this one on Gladstone, anyway, and everybody laughed except father. God knows why.

Some said the North, up Aberdeen way, had had rain enough, with Dee in spate and bairns hooking stranded salmon down in the shallows, and that must be fine enough, but not a flick of the greeve weather had come over the hills, the roads you walked down to Kinraddie smithy or up to the Denburn were fair blistering in the heat, thick with dust so that the motor-cars went shooming through them like kettles under steam.

And serve them right, they'd little care for anybody, the dirt that rode in motors, folk said; and one of them had nearly run over wee Wat Strachan a fortnight before and had skirled to a stop right bang in front of Peesie's Knapp, Wat had yowled like a cat with a jobe under its tail and Chae had gone striding out and taken the motorist man by the shoulder. And What the hell do you think you're up to? Chae had asked. And the motorist, he was a fair toff with leggings and a hat cocked over his eyes, he'd said Keep your damn children off the road in future. And Chae had said Keep a civil tongue in your head and had clouted the motorist man one in the ear and down he had flumped in the stour and Mistress Strachan, her that was old Netherhill's daughter, she'd gone tearing out skirling Mighty, you brute, you've killed the man! and Chae had just laughed and said Damn the fears! and off he'd gone.

But Mistress Strachan had helped the toff up to his feet and shook him and brushed him and apologised for Chae, real civil-like. And all the thanks she got was that Chae was summonsed for assault at Stonehaven and fined a pound, and came out of the courthouse saying there was no justice under capitalism, a revolution would soon sweep away its corrupted lackeys. And maybe it would, but faith! there was as little sign of a revolution, said Long Rob of the Mill, as there was of rain.

Maybe that was the reason for half the short tempers over the Howe. You could go never a road but farmer billies were leaning over the gates, glowering at the weather, and road-menders, poor stocks, chapping away at their hillocks with the sweat fair dripping off them, and the only folk that seemed to have a fine time were the shepherds up in the hills. But they swore themselves dry when folk cried that to them, the hill springs about a shepherd's herd would dry up or seep away all in an hour and the sheep go straying and baying and driving the man fair senseless till he'd led them weary miles to the nearest burn. So everybody was fair snappy, staring up at the sky, and the ministers all over the Howe were offering up prayers for rain in between the bit about the Army and the Prince of Wales' rheumatics. But feint the good it did for rain; and Long Rob of the Mill said he'd heard both Army and rheumatics were much the same as before.

 

Maybe father would have done better to keep a civil tongue in his head and stayed on in Echt, there was plenty of rain there, a fine land for rain, Aberdeen, you'd see it by day and night come drenching and wheeling over the Barmekin and the Hill of Fare in the fine northern land. And mother would sigh, looking out from Blawearie's windows, There's no land like Aberdeen or folk so fine as them that bide by Don.

She'd bidden by Don all her life, mother, she'd been born in Kildrummie, her father a ploughman there he'd got no more than thirteen shillings a week and he'd had thirteen of a family, to work things out in due ratio, maybe. But mother said they all got on fine, she was never happier in her life than those days when she tramped bare-footed the roads to the little school that nestled under the couthy hills. And at nine she left the school and they packed a basket for her and she bade her mother ta-ta and set out to her first fee, no shoes on her feet even then, she hadn't worn shoes till she was twelve years old. It hadn't been a real fee that first one, she'd done little more than scare the crows from the fields of an old bit farmer and sleep in a garret, but fine she'd liked it, she'd never forget the singing of the winds in those fields when she was young or the daft crying of the lambs she herded or the feel of the earth below her toes. Oh, Chris, my lass, there are better things than your books or studies or loving or bedding, there's the countryside your own, you its, in the days when you're neither bairn nor woman.

So mother had worked and ran the parks those days, she was blithe and sweet, you knew, you saw her against the sun as though you peered far down a tunnel of the years. She stayed long on her second fee, seven or eight years she was there till the day she met John Guthrie at a ploughing-match at Pittodrie. And often once she'd tell of that to Chris and Will, it was nothing grand of a match, the horses were poor and the ploughing worse and a coarse, cold wind was soughing across the rigs and half Jean Murdoch made up her mind to go home.

Then it was that it came the turn of a brave young childe with a red head and the swackest legs you ever saw, his horses were laced in ribbons, bonny and trig, and as soon as he began the drill you saw he'd carry off the prize. And carry it off he did, young John Guthrie, and not that alone. For as he rode from the park on one horse he patted the back of the other and cried to Jean Murdoch with a glint from his dour, sharp eye Jump up if you like. And she cried back I like fine! and caught the horse by its mane and swung herself there till Guthrie's hand caught her and set her steady on the back of the beast. So out from the ploughing match at Pittodrie the two of them rode together, Jean sitting upon the hair of her, gold it was and as long, and laughing up into the dour, keen face that was Guthrie's.

So that was beginning of their lives together, she was sweet and kind to him, but he mightn't touch her, his face would go black with rage at her because of that sweetness that tempted his soul to hell. Yet in two-three years they'd chaved and saved enough for gear and furnishings, and were married at last, and syne Will was born, and syne Chris herself was born, and the Guthries rented a farm in Echt, Cairndhu it was, and sat themselves down there for many a year.

Winters or springs, summers or harvests, bristling or sunning the sides of Barmekin, and life ploughed its rigs and drove its teams and the dourness hardened, hard and cold, in the heart of Jean Guthrie's man. But still the glint of her hair could rouse him, Chris would hear him cry in agony at night as he went with her, mother's face grew queer and questioning, her eyes far back on those Springs she might never see again, dear and blithe they had been, she could kiss and hold them still a moment alone with Chris or Will. Dod came, then Alec came, and mother's fine face grew harder then. One night they heard her cry to John Guthrie Four of a family's fine; there'll be no more. And father thundered at her, that way he had Fine? We'll have what God in His mercy may send to us, woman. See you to that.

He wouldn't do anything against God's will, would father, and sure as anything God followed up Alec with the twins, born seven years later. Mother went about with a queer look on her face before they came, she lost that sweet blitheness that was hers, and once, maybe she was ill-like, she said to father when he spoke of arranging a doctor and things, Don't worry about that. No doubt you friend Jehovah will see to it all. Father seemed to freeze up, then, his face grew black; he said never a word, and Chris had wondered at that, seeing how mad he'd been when Will used the word, thoughtless-like, only a week before.

For Will had heard the word in the kirk of Echt where the elders sit with shaven chins and the offering bags between their knees, waiting the sermon to end and to march with slow, sleeked steps up through the pews, hearing the penny of penury clink shy-like against the threepenny of affluence. And Will one Sunday, sitting close to sleep, heard fall from the minister's lips the word Jehovah, and treasured it for the bonniness and the beauty of it, waiting till he might find a thing or a man or beast that would fit this word, well-shaped and hantled and grand.

Now that was in summer, the time of fleas and glegs and golochs in the fields, when stirks would start up from a drowsy cud-chewing to a wild and feckless racing, the glegs biting through hair and hide to the skin below the tail-rump. Echt was alive that year with the thunder of herds, the crackle of breaking gates, the splash of stirks in tarns, and last with the groans of Nell, the old horse of Guthrie's, caught in a daft swither of the Highland steers and her belly ripped like a rotten swede with the stroke of a great, curved horn.

Father saw the happening from high in a park where the hay was cut and they set the swathes in coles, and he swore out Damn't to hell! and started to run, fleetly as was his way, down to the groaning shambles that was Nell. And as he ran he picked up a scythe-blade, and as he neared to Nell he unhooked the blade and cried Poor quean! and Nell groaned, groaning blood and sweating, and turned away her neck, and father thrust the scythe at her neck, sawing till she died.

So that was the end of Nell, father waited till the hay was coled and then tramped into Aberdeen and bought a new horse, Bess, riding her home at evening to the raptured starings of Will. And Will took the horse and watered her and led her into the stall where Nell had slept and gave to her hay and a handful of corn, and set to grooming her, shoulder to heel, and her fine plump belly and the tail of her, long and curled. And Bess stood eating her corn and Chris leant against the door-jamb, her Latin Grammar held in her hand. So, working with fine, strong strokes, and happy, Will groomed till he finished the tail, and then as he lifted the brush to hit Bess on the flank that she might move to the other side of the stall and he complete his grooming there flashed in his mind the fine word he had treasured. Come over, Jehovah! he cried, smiting her roundly, and John Guthrie heard the word out across the yard and came fleetly from the kitchen, wiping oatcake from his beard, and fleetly across the yard into the stable he came--

But he should not have stricken Will as he did, he fell below the feet of the horse and Bess turned her head, dripping corn, and looked down at Will, with his face bloody, and then swished her tail and stood still. And then John Guthrie dragged his son aside and paid no more heed to him, but picked up brush and curry-comb and cried Whoa, lass! and went on with the grooming. Chris had cried and hidden her face but now she looked again. Will was sitting up slowly, the blood on his face, and John Guthrie speaking to him, not looking at him, grooming Bess.

And mind, my mannie, if I ever hear you again take your Maker's name in vain, if I ever hear you use that word again, I'll libb you. Mind that. Libb you like a lamb.

So Will hated father, he was sixteen years of age and near a man, but father could still make him cry like a bairn. He would whisper his hate to Chris as they lay in their beds at night in the loft room high in the house and the harvest moon came sailing over the Barmekin and the peewits wheeped above the lands of Echt. And Chris would cover her ears and then listen, turning this cheek to the pillow and that, she hated also and she didn't hate, father, the land, the life of the land--oh, if only she knew!

For she'd met with books, she went into them to a magic land far from Echt, out and away and south. And at school they wrote she was the clever one and John Guthrie said she might have the education she needed if she stuck to her lessons. In time she might come out as a teacher then, and do him credit, that was fine of father the Guthrie whispered in her, but the Murdoch laughed with a blithe, sweet face. But more and more she turned from that laughter, resolute, loving to hear of the things in the histories and geographies, seldom thinking them funny, strange names and words like Too-long and Too-loose that convulsed the classes. And at arithmetic also she was more than good, doing great sums in her head so that always she was first in the class, they made her the dux and they gave her prizes, four prizes in four years she had.

And one book she'd thought fair daft, Alice in Wonderland it was, and there was no sense in it. And the second, it was What Katy did at School, and she loved Katy and envied her and wished like Katy she lived at a school, not tramping back in the spleiter of a winter night to help muck the byre, with the smell of the sharn rising feuch! in her face. And the third book was Rienzi, the Last of the Roman Tribunes, and some bits were good and some fair wearying. He had a right bonny wife, Rienzi had, and he was sleeping with her, her white arms round his neck, when the Romans came to kill him at last. And the fourth book, new given her before the twins came to Cairndhu, was The Humours of Scottish Life and God! if that stite was fun she must have been born dull.

And these had been all her books that weren't lesson-books, they were all the books in Cairndhu but for the Bibles grandmother had left to them, one to Chris and one to Will, and in Chris's one were set the words To my dawtie Chris: Trust in God and do the right. For grandmother, she'd been father's mother, not mother's mother, had been fell religious and every Sunday, rain or shine, had tramped to the kirk at Echt, sitting below some four-five ministers there in all. And one minister she'd never forgiven, for he'd said not GAWD, as a decent man would, but GOHD, and it had been a mercy when he caught a bit cold, laid up he was, and quickly passed away; and maybe it had been a judgment on him.

So that was Chris and her reading and schooling, two Chrisses there were that fought for her heart and tormented her. You hated the land and the coarse speak of the folk and learning was brave and fine one day and the next you'd waken with the peewits crying across the hills, deep and deep, crying in the heart of you and the smell of the earth in your face, almost you'd cry for that, the beauty of it and the sweetness of the Scottish land and skies. You saw their faces in firelight, father's and mother's and the neighbours', before the lamps lit up, tired and kind, faces dear and close to you, you wanted the words they'd known and used, forgotten in the far-off youngness of their lives, Scots words to tell to your heart, how they wrung it and held it, the toil of their days and unendingly their fight. And the next minute that passed from you, you were English, back to the English words so sharp and clean and true--for a while, for a while, till they slid so smooth from your throat you knew they could never say anything that was worth the saying at all.

But she sat for her bursary, won it, and began the conjugating Latin verbs, the easy ones only at first, Amo, amas, I love a lass and then you laughed out loud when the Dominie said that and he cried Whist, whist but was real pleased and smiled at you and you felt fine and tingly and above all the rest of the queans who weren't learning Latin or anything else, they were kitchen-maids in the bone. And then there was French, fair difficult, the u was the worst; and an inspector creature came to Echt and Chris near dropped through the schoolroom floor in shame when he made her stand out in front of them all and say o-oo, o-oo, o-oo-butin. And he said Put your mouth as though you were going to weesel, but don't do it, and say 'o-oo, o-oo, o-oo.' And she said it, she felt like a hen with a stone in its thrapple, after the inspector creature, an Englishman he was with an awful belly on him and he couldn't say whistle, only weesel.

And he went away down to the gig that was waiting to drive him to the station he went, and he left his brave leather bag behind, and the Dominie saw it and cried Whist, Chrissie, run after the Inspector man with his bag. So she did and caught him up at the foot of the playground, he growked at her and said Haw? and then gave a bit laugh and said Haw? again and then Thenks. And Chris went back to the Dominie's room, the Dominie was waiting for her and he asked if the Inspector had given her anything, and Chris said No, and the Dominie looked sore disappointed.

But everybody knew that the English were awful mean and couldn't speak right and were cowards who captured Wallace and killed him by treachery. But they'd been beaten right well at Bannockburn, then, Edward the Second hadn't drawn rein till he was in Dunbar, and ever after that the English were beaten in all the wars, except Flodden and they won at Flodden by treachery again, just as it told in The Flowers of the Forest. Always she wanted to cry when she heard that played and a lot of folk singing it at a parish concert in Echt, for the sadness of it and the lads that came back never again to their lasses among the stooks and the lasses that never married but sat and stared down south to the English border where their lads lay happed in blood and earth, with their bloodied kilts and broken helmets. And she wrote an essay on that, telling all how it happened, the Dominie said it was fine and that sometimes she should try to write poetry: like Mrs. Hemans.

But then, just after writing the essay, the twins were born and mother had as awful a time as she'd always had. She was sobbing and ill when she went to bed, Chris boiled water in kettles for hours and hours and then towels came down, towels clairted with stuff she didn't dare look at, she washed them quick and hung them to dry. The doctor came in with the evening, he stayed the whole night, and Dod and Alec shivered and cried in their room till father went up and skelped them right sore, they'd something to cry for then but they didn't dare. And father came down the stairs again, fleet as ever, though he hadn't been in bed for forty hours, and he closed the kitchen door and sat with his head between his hands and groaned and said he was a miserable sinner, God forgive him the lusts of the flesh, something about the bonny hair of her also he said and then more about lust, but he hadn't intended Chris to hear for he looked up and saw her looking at him and he raged at her, telling her to spread a table with breakfast for the doctor--through in the parlour there, and boil him an egg.

And then mother began to scream, the doctor called down the stairs Man, it's a fair tough case, I doubt I'll need your help, and at that father turned grey as a sheet and covered his face again and cried I dare not, I dare not! Then the doctor childe called him again Guthrie man, do you hear me? and father jumped up in a rage and cried Damn't to hell, I'm not deaf! and ran up the stairs, fleet as ever, and then the door in the room closed fast and Chris could hear no more.

Not that she wanted to hear, she felt real ill herself, cooking the egg and laying a meal in the parlour with a white cloth spread above the green plush cloth and all the furniture dark and shadowed and listening. Then Will came down the stair, he couldn't sleep because of mother, they sat together and Will said the old man was a fair beast and mother shouldn't be having a baby, she was far too old for that. And Chris stared at him with horrified imaginings in her mind, she hadn't known better then, the English bit of her went sick, she whispered What has father to do with it? And Will stared back at her, shamed-faced, Don't you know? What's a bull to do with a calf, you fool?

But then they heard an awful scream that made them leap to their feet, it was as though mother were being torn and torn in the teeth of beasts and couldn't thole it longer; and then a little screech like a young pig made followed that scream and they tried not to hear more of the sounds above them. Chris boiled the egg over and over till it was as hard as iron. And then mother screamed again, Oh God! your heart stopped to hear it, and that was when the second twin came.

Then quietness followed, they heard the doctor coming down the stairs, the morning was close, it hung scared beyond the stilled parks and listened and waited. But the doctor cried Hot water, jugs of it, pour me a basin of water, Chris, and put plenty of soap near by it. She cried Ay, doctor, to that but she cried in a whisper, he didn't hear and was fell angry. D'you hear me? And Will said to him, calling up the stair, Ay, doctor, only she's feared, and the doctor said She'll have a damned sight more to fear when she's having a bairn of her own. Pour out the water, quick! So they poured it and went through to the parlour while the doctor passed them with his hands held away from them, and the smell of his hands was a horror that haunted Chris for a day and a night.

 

That was the coming of the twins at Cairndhu, there'd been barely room for them all before that time, now they'd have to live like tinks. But it was a fell good farm, John Guthrie loath to part with it though his lease was near its end, and when mother came down from her bed in a fortnight's time with the shine of the gold still in the sweet hair of her and her eyes clear eyes again, he raged and swore when she spoke to him. More rooms? What more room do we want than we have? Do you think we're gentry? he cried, and went on again to tell that when he was a bairn in Pittodrie his mother had nine bairns all at home, nought but a butt and ben they had and their father nought but a plough-childe. But fine they'd managed, God-fearing and decent all he'd made them, and if one of Jean Murdoch's bairns were half as good the shame need never redden the face of her. And mother looked at him with the little smile on her lips, Well, well, we're to bide on here, then? and father shot out his beard at her and cried Ay, that we are, content yourself.

But the very next day he was driving back from the mart, old Bob in the cart, when round a corner below the Barmekin came a motor-car spitting and barking like a tink dog in distemper. Old Bob had made a jump and near landed the cart in the ditch and then stood like a rock, so feared he wouldn't move a step, the cart jammed fast across the road. And as father tried to haul the thrawn beast to the side a creature of a woman with her face all clamjamfried with paint and powder and dirt, she thrust her bit head out from the window of the car and cried You're causing an obstruction, my man. And John Guthrie roused like a lion: I'm not your man, thank God, for if I was I'd have your face scraped with a clart and then a scavenger wash it well. The woman nearly burst with rage at that, she fell back in the car and said You've not heard the last of this. Take note of his name-plate, James, d'you hear? And the shover looked out, fair shamed he looked, and keeked at the name-plate underneath Bob's shelvin, and quavered Yes, madam, and they turned about and drove off. That was the way to deal with dirt like the gentry, but when father applied for his lease again he was told he couldn't have it.

So he took a look at the People's Journal and got into his fine best suit, Chris shook the moth-balls from it and found him his collar and the broad white front to cover his working sark; and John Guthrie tramped into Aberdeen and took a train to Banchory to look at a small place there. But the rent was awful high and he saw that nearly all the district was land of the large-like farm, he'd be squeezed to death and he'd stand no chance. It was fine land though, that nearly shook him, fine it looked and your hands they itched to be at it; but the agent called him Guthrie, and he fired up at the agent: Who the hell are you Guthrie-ing? Mister Guthrie to you. And the agent looked at him and turned right white about the gills and then gave a bit laugh and said Ah well, Mr. Guthrie, I'm afraid you wouldn't suit us. And John Guthrie said It's your place that doesn't suit me, let me tell you, you wee dowp-licking clerk. Poor he might be but the creature wasn't yet clecked that might put on its airs with him, John Guthrie.

So back he came and began his searchings again. And the third day out he came back from far in the south. He'd taken a place, Blawearie, in Kinraddie of the Mearns.

 

Wild weather it was that January and the night on the Slug road smoring with sleet when John Guthrie crossed his family and gear from Aberdeen into the Mearns. Twice the great carts set with their shelvins that rustled still stray binder-twine from September's harvest-home laired in drifts before the ascent of the Slug faced the reluctant horses. Darkness came down like a wet, wet blanket, weariness below it and the crying of the twins to vex John Guthrie. Mother called him from her nook in the leading cart, there where she sat with now one twin at the breast and now another, and her skin bare and cold and white and a strand of her rust-gold hair draped down from the darkness about her face into the light of the swinging lantern: We'd better loosen up at Portlethen and not try the Slug this night.

But father swore at that Damn't to hell, do you think I'm made of silver to put up the night at Portlethen? and mother sighed and held off the wee twin, Robert, and the milk dripped creamily from the soft, sweet lips of him: No, we're not made of silver, but maybe we'll lair again and all die of the night.

Maybe he feared that himself, John Guthrie, his rage was his worriment with the night, but he'd no time to answer her for a great bellowing arose in the road by the winding scurry of peat-moss that lined the dying light of the moon. The cattle had bunched there, tails to the wind, refusing the Slug and the sting of the sleet, little Dod was wailing and crying at the beasts, Polled Angus and Shorthorns and half-bred Highland stirks who had fattened and feted and loved their life in the haughs of Echt, south there across the uncouthy hills was a world cold and unchancy.

But John Guthrie dropped the tarpaulin edge that shielded his wife and the twins and the furnishings of the best room and gear good and plentiful enough; and swiftly he ran past the head of the horse till he came to where the cattle bunched. And he swung Dod into the ditch with one swipe of his hand and cried Have you got no sense, you brat? and uncoiled from his hand the length of hide that served him as a whip. Its crackle snarled down through the sting of the sleet, the hair rose in long serrations across the backs of the cattle, and one in a minute, a little Highland steer it was, mooed and ran forward and fell to a trot, and the rest followed after, slipping and sprawling with their cloven hooves, the reek of their dung sharp and bitter in the sleet smore of the night. Ahead Alec saw them coming and turned himself about again, and fell to a trot, leading up the Slug to Mearns and the south.

So, creaking and creaking, and the shelvins skirling under the weight of their loads, they passed that danger point, the carts plodded into motion again, the first with its hooded light and house gear and mother suckling the twins. In the next, Clyde's cart, the seed was loaded, potato and corn and barley, and bags of tools and implements, and graips and forks fast tied with esparto twine and two fine ploughs and a driller, and dairy things and a turnip machine with teeth that cut as a guillotine cuts. Head down to the wind and her reins loose and her bonny coat all mottled with sleet went Clyde, the load a nothing to her, fine and clean and sonsy she marched, following John Guthrie's cart with no other thing or soul to guide but that ever and now, in this half-mile and that she heard his voice cry cheerily Fine, Clyde, fine. Come on then, lass.

Chris and Will with the last cart, sixteen Will and fifteen Chris, the road wound up and up, straight and unwavering, and sometimes they hiddled in the lithe and the sleet sang past to left and right, white and glowing in the darkness. And sometimes they clambered down from the shelvins above the laboured drag of old Bob and ran beside him, one either side, and stamped for warmth in their feet, and saw the whin bushes climb black the white hills beside them and far and away the blink of lights across the moors where folk lay happed and warm. But then the upwards road would swerve, right or left, into this steep ledge or that, and the wind would be at them again and they'd gasp, climbing back to the shelvins, Will with freezing feet and hands and the batter of the sleet like needles in his face, Chris in worse case, colder and colder at every turn, her body numb and unhappy, knees and thighs and stomach and breast, her breasts ached and ached so that nearly she wept. But of that she told nothing, she fell to a drowse through the cold, and a strange dream came to her as they plodded up through the ancient hills.

For out of the night ahead of them came running a man, father didn't see him or heed to him, though old Bob in the dream that was Chris's snorted and shied. And as he came he wrung his hands, he was mad and singing, a foreign creature, black-bearded, half-naked he was; and he cried in the Greek The ships of Pytheas! The ships of Pytheas! and went by into the smore of the sleet-storm on the Grampian hills, Chris never saw him again, queer dreaming that was. For her eyes were wide open, she rubbed them with never a need of that, if she hadn't been dreaming she must have been daft. They'd cleared the Slug, below was Stonehaven and the Mearns, and far beyond that, miles through the Howe, the twinkling point of light that shone from the flagstaff of Kinraddie.

 

So that was their coming to Blawearie, fell wearied all of them were the little of the night that was left them, and slept late into the next morning, coming cold and drizzly up from the sea by Bervie. All the darkness they heard that sea, a shoom-shoom that moaned by the cliffs of lone Kinneff. Not that John Guthrie listened to such dirt of sounds, but Chris and Will did, in the room where they'd made their shake-down beds. In the strangeness and cold and the sighing of that far-off water Chris could find no sleep till Will whispered Let's sleep together. So then they did, oxtering one the other till they were real warm. But at the first keek of day Will slipped back to the blankets of his own bed, he was feared what father would say if he found them lying like that. Chris thought of that angrily, puzzled and angry, the English Chris as sleep came on her again. Was it likely a brother and a sister would do anything if they slept together? And besides, she didn't know how.

But Will back in his bed had hardly a minute to get warm or a wink of sleep when John Guthrie was up and about the place, rousing them all, and the twins were wakened and crying for the breast, and Dod and Alec trying to light the fire. Father swore up and down the strange Blawearie stairs, chapping from door to door, weren't they sick with shame lying stinking in bed and half the day gone? Then out he went, the house quietened down as he banged the door, and he cried back that he was off up the brae to look at the loch in Blawearie moor--Get out and get on with the breakfast and get your work done ere I come back else I'll warm your lugs for you.

And faith, it was queer that the notion took father to climb the brae at that hour. For as he went up through the broom he heard a shot, did John Guthrie, cracking the morning so dark and iron-like, and he stood astounded, was not Blawearie his and he the tenant of it? And rage took him and he ceased to dander. Up through the hill among the dead broom he sped like a hare and burst in sight of the loch, grass-fringed and chill then under the winter morning, with a sailing of wild geese above it, going out east to the sea. All but one winged east in burnished strokes under the steel-grey sky, but that one loped and swooped and stroked the air with burnished pinions, and John Guthrie saw the feathers drift down from it, it gave a wild cry like a bairn smored at night below the blankets, and down it plonked on the mere of the loch, not ten yards from where the man with the gun was standing.

So John Guthrie he went cannily across the grass to this billy in the brave leggings and with the red face on him, and who was he standing so sure-like on Guthrie's land? He gave a bit jump, hearing Guthrie come, and then he swithered a laugh inside the foolish face of him, but John Guthrie didn't laugh. Instead, he whispered, quiet-like, Ay, man, you're been shooting, and the creature said Ay, just that. And John Guthrie said Ay, you'll be a bit poacher, then? and the billy said No, I'll not be that. I'm Maitland, the foreman at Mains, and John Guthrie whispered You may be the archangel Gabriel, but you're not to shoot on MY land, d'you hear?

The Standing Stones reared up above the two, marled and white-edged with snow they were, and a wind came blowing fit to freeze the chilblains on a brass monkey as they stood and glowered one at the other. Then Maitland muttered Ellison at Mains will see about this, and made off for all the world as if he feared the crack of a kick in the dowp of him. And right fairly there, midmost his brave breeks John Guthrie might well have kicked but that he restrained himself, cannily, for the goose was still lying by the side of the loch, jerking and slobbering blood through its beak; and it looked at him with terror in its slate-grey eyes and he waited, canny still, till Maitland was out of sight, syne he wrung the neck of the bird and took it down to Blawearie. And he told them all of the meeting with Maitland, and if ever they heard a shot on the land they were to run to him at once and tell him, he'd deal with any damn poacher--Jew, Gentile, or the Prince of Wales himself.

So that was how father made first acquaintance with the Standing Stones, and he didn't like them, for one evening in Spring after a day's ploughing and tired a bit maybe, he went up on a dander through the brae to the loch and found Chris lying there, just as now she lay in the summer heat. Tired though he was he came to her side right fleet enough, his shoulders straight and his frightening eyes on her, she had no time to close the story-book she read and he snatched it up and looked at it and cried Dirt! You've more need to be down in the house helping your mother wash out the hippens. And he glanced with a louring eye at the Standing Stones and then Chris had thought a foolish thing, that he kind of shivered, as though he were feared, him that was feared at nothing dead or alive, gentry or common. But maybe the shiver came from his fleetness caught in the bite of the cold Spring air, he stood looking at the Stones a minute and said they were coarse, foul things, the folk that raised them were burning in hell, skin-clad savages with never a skin to guard them now. And Chris had better get down to her work, had she heard any shooting that evening?

But Chris said No, and neither she had, nor any other evening till John Guthrie himself got a gun, a second-hand thing he picked up in Stonehaven, a muzzle-loader it was, and as he went by the Mill on the way to Blawearie Long Rob came out and saw it and cried Ay, man, I didn't mind you were a veteran of the '45. And father cried Losh, Rob, were you cheating folk at your Mill even then? for sometimes he could take a bit joke, except with his family. So home he brought the old gun and loaded it up with pellets and stuffed in wadding with a ram-rod; and by night he would go cannily out in the gloaming, and shoot here a rabbit and there a hare, no other soul must handle the gun but himself. Nor did any try till that day he went off to the mart at Laurencekirk and then Will took down the gun and laughed at the thing and loaded it and went out and shot at a mark, a herring box on the top of a post, till he was fell near perfect. But he wished he hadn't, for father came home and counted his pellets that evening and went fair mad with rage till mother grew sick of the subject and cried Hold your whist, you and your gun, what harm was in Will that he used it?

Father had been sitting at the neuk of the fire when he heard that, but he got to his feet like a cat then, looking at Will so that the blood flowed cold in Chris's veins. Then he said, in the quiet-like voice that was his when he was going to leather them, Come out to the barn with me, Will. Mother laughed that strange, blithe laugh that had come out of the Springs of Kildrummie with her, kind and queer in a breath it was, looking pityingly at Will. But Chris burned with shame because of him, he was over-old for that, she cried out Father, you can't!

As well have cried to the tides at Kinneff to keep away from the land, father was fair roused by then, he whispered Be quiet, quean, else I'll take you as well. And up to the barn he went with Will and took down his breeks, nearly seventeen though he was, and leathered him till the weals stood blue across his haunches; and that night Will could hardly sleep for the pain of it, sobbing into his pillow, till Chris slipped into his bed and took him into her arms and held him and cuddled him and put out her hand below his shirt on to his body and made gentle her fingers to pass and repass across the torn flesh of his body, soothing him, and he stopped from crying after a while and fell asleep, holding to her, strange it seemed then for she knew him bigger and older than she was, and somehow skin and hair and body stranger than once they had been, as though they were no longer children.

She minded then the stories of Marget Strachan, and felt herself in the darkness blush for shame and then think of them still more and lie awake, seeing out of the window as it wore on to midnight a lowe in mauve and gold that crept and slipt and wavered upon the sky, and that was the lowe of the night-time whin-burning up on the Grampians; and next morning she was almost too sleepy to stiter into her clothes and set out across the fields to the station and the College train for Duncairn.

For to the College she'd been sent and found it strange enough after the high classes in Echt, a little ugly place it was below Duncairn Station, ugly as sin and nearly as proud, said the Chris that was Murdoch, Chris of the land. Inside the main building of it was carved the head of a beast like a calf with colic, but they swore the creature was a wolf on a shield, whatever the brute might be doing there.

Every week or so the drawing master, old Mr. Kinloch, marched out this class or that to the playground in front of the wolf-beast; and down they'd all get on the chair they'd brought and try and draw the beast. Right fond of the gentry was Kinloch, if you wore a fine frock and your hair was well brushed and your father well to the fore he'd sit beside you and stroke your arm and speak in a slow sing-song that made everybody laugh behind his back. Noooooooooooo, that's not quate raight, he would flute, More like the head of one of Christie's faaaaaaaather's pigs than a heraaaaaaaaaaldic animal, I'm afraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaid.

So he loved the gentry, did Mr. Kinloch, and God knows he was no exception among the masters there. For the most of them were sons and daughters of poor bit crofters and fishers themselves, up with the gentry they felt safe and unfrightened, far from that woesome pit of brose and bree and sheetless beds in which they had been reared. So right condescending they were with Chris, daughter of a farmer of no account, not that she cared, she was douce and sensible she told herself. And hadn't father said that in the sight of God an honest man was as good as any school-teacher and generally a damned sight better?

But it vexed you a bit all the same that a creature like the Fordyce girl should be cuddled by Mr. Kinloch when she'd a face like a broken brose-cap and a voice like a nail on a slate. And but little cuddling her drawing warranted, her father's silver had more to do with it, not that Chris herself could draw like an artist, Latin and French and Greek and history were the things in which she shone. And the English master set their class an essay on Deaths of the Great and her essay was so good that he was forced to read it aloud to all the class, and the Fordyce quean had snickered and sniffed, so mad she was with jealousy.

Mr. Murgetson was the English master there, not that he was English himself, he came from Argyll and spoke with a funny whine, the Highland whine, and the boys swore he had hair growing up between his toes like a Highland cow, and when they'd see him coming down a corridor they'd push their heads round a corner and cry Moo! like a lot of cattle. He'd fly in an awful rage at that, and once when they'd done it he came into the class where Chris was waiting her lesson and he stood and swore, right out and horrible, and gripped a black ruler in his hands and glared round as if he meant to murder a body. And maybe he would if the French teacher, her that was bonny and brave, hadn't come simpering into the room, and then he lowered the ruler and grunted and curled up his lip and said Eh? Canaille? and the French teacher she simpered some more and said May swee.

So that was the college place at Duncairn, two Chrisses went there each morning, and one was right douce and studious and the other sat back and laughed a canny laugh at the antics of the teachers and minded Blawearie brae and the champ of horses and the smell of dung and her father's brown, grained hands till she was sick to be home again. But she made friends with young Marget Strachan, Chae Strachan's daughter, she was slim and sweet and fair, fine to know, though she spoke about things that seemed awful at first and then weren't awful at all and you wanted to hear more and Marget would laugh and say it was Chae that had told her. Always as Chae she spoke of him and that was an unco-like thing to do of your father, but maybe it was because he was socialist and thought that Rich and Poor should be Equal. And what was the sense of believing that and then sending his daughter to educate herself and herself become one of the Rich?

But Marget cried that wasn't what Chae intended, she was to learn and be ready for the Revolution that was some day coming. And if come it never did she wasn't to seek out riches anyway, she was off to be trained as a doctor, Chae said that life came out of women through tunnels of pain and if God had planned women for anything else but the bearing of children it was surely the saving of them.

And Marget's eyes, that were blue and so deep they minded you of a well you peeped into, they'd grow deeper and darker and her sweet face grow so solemn Chris felt solemn herself. But that would be only a minute, the next and Marget was laughing and fleering, trying to shock her, telling of men and women, what fools they were below their clothes; and how children came and how you should have them; and the things that Chae had seen in the huts of the blacks in Africa. And she told of a place where the bodies of men lay salted and white in great stone vats till the doctors needed to cut them up, the bodies of paupers they were--so take care you don't die as a pauper, Chris, for I'd hate some day if I rang a bell and they brought me up out of the vat your naked body, old and shrivelled and frosted with salt, and I looked in your dead, queer face, standing there with the scalpel held in my hand, and cried 'But this is Chris Guthrie!'

That was awful, Chris felt sick and sick and stopped midway the shining path that led through the fields to Peesie's Knapp that evening in March. Clean and keen and wild and clear, the evening ploughed land's smell up in your nose and your mouth when you opened it, for Netherhill's teams had been out in that park all day, queer and lovely and dear the smell Chris noted.

And something else she saw, looking at Marget, sick at the thought of her dead body brought to Marget. And that thing was a vein that beat in Marget's throat, a little blue gathering where the blood beat past in slow, quiet strokes, it would never do that when one was dead and still under grass, down in the earth that smelt so fine and you'd never smell; or cased in the icy darkness of a vat, seeing never again the lowe of burning whins or hearing the North Sea thunder beyond the hills, the thunder of it breaking through a morning mist, the right things that might not last and so soon went by. And they only were real and true, beyond them was nought you might ever attain but a weary dream and that last dark silence--Oh, only a fool loved being alive!

But Marget threw her arms around her when she said that, and kissed her with red, kind lips, so red they were that they looked like haws, and said there were lovely things in the world, lovely that didn't endure, and the lovelier for that. Wait till you find yourself in the arms of your lad, in the harvest time it'll be with the stooks round about you, and he'll stop from joking--they do, you know, and that's just when their blood-pressure alters--and he'll take you like this--wait, there's not a body to see us!--and hold you like this, with his hands held so, and kiss you like this!

It was over in a moment, quick and shameful, fine for all that, tingling and strange and shameful by turns. Long after she parted with Marget that evening she turned and stared down at Peesie's Knapp and blushed again; and suddenly she was seeing them all at Blawearie as though they were strangers naked out of the sea, she felt ill every time she looked at father and mother. But that passed in a day or so, for nothing endures.

Not a thing, though you're over-young to go thinking of that, you've your lessons and studies, the English Chris, and living and eating and sleeping that other Chris that stretches your toes for you in the dark of the night and whispers a drowsy I'm you. But you might not stay from the thinking when all in a day, Marget, grown part of your life, came waving to you as you neared the Knapp with the news she was off to Aberdeen to live with an auntie there--it's a better place for a scholar, Chae says, and I'll be trained all the sooner.

And three days later Chae Strachan and Chris drove down to the station with her, and saw her off at the platform, and she waved at them, bonny and young, Chae looked as numb as Chris felt. He gave her a lift from the station, did Chae, and on the road he spoke but once, to himself it seemed, not Chris: Ay, Marget lass, you'll do fine, if you keep the lads at bay from kissing the bonny breast of you.

 

So that was your Marget gone, there seemed not a soul in Kinraddie that could take her place, the servant queans of an age with Chris were no more than gowks and gomerils a-screech round the barn of the Mains at night with the ploughmen snickering behind them. And John Guthrie had as little use for them as Marget herself. Friends? Stick to your lessons and let's see you make a name for yourself, you've no time for friends.

Mother looked up at that, friendly-like, not feared of him at all, she was never feared. Take care her head doesn't soften with lessons and dirt, learning in books it was sent the wee red daftie at Cuddiestoun clean skite, they say. And father poked out his beard at her. Say? Would you rather see her skite with book-learning or skite with--and then he stopped and began to rage at Dod and Alec that were making a noise in the kitchen corner. But Chris, a-pore above her books in the glow of the paraffin lamp, heeding to Cæsar's coming in Gaul and the stour the creature raised there, knew right well what father had thought to speak of--lust was the word he'd wanted, perhaps. And she turned a page with the weary Cæsar man and thought of the wild career the daftie Andy had led one day in the roads and woods of Kinraddie.

Marget had barely gone when the thing came off, it was fair the speak of the place that happening early in April. The sowing time was at hand, John Guthrie put down two parks with grass and corn, swinging hand from hand as he walked and sowed and Will carried the corn across to him from the sacks that lined the rigs. Chris herself would help of an early morning when the dew had lifted quick, it was blithe and lightsome in the caller air with the whistle of the blackbirds in Blawearie's trees and the glint of the sea across the Howe and the wind blowing up the braes with a fresh, wild smell that caught you and made you gasp. So silent the world with the sun just peeking above the horizon those hours that you'd hear, clear and bright as though he paced the next field, the ringing steps of Chae Strachan--far down, a shadow and a sunlit dot, sowing his parks behind the steadings of Peesie's Knapp.

There were larks coming over that morning, Chris minded, whistling and trilling dark and unseen against the blaze of the sun, now one lark now another, till the sweetness of the trilling dizzied you and you stumbled with heavy pails corn-laden, and father swore at you over the red beard of him Damn't to hell, are you fair a fool, you quean?

That morning it was that the daftie Andy stole out of Cuddiestoun and started his scandalous rampage through Kinraddie. Long Rob of the Mill was to say he'd once had a horse that would do that kind of thing in the early Spring, leap dykes and ditches and every mortal thing it would if it heard a douce little mare go by. Gelding though it was, the horse would do that, and what more was Andy, poor devil, than a gelding? Not that Mistress Ellison had thought him that--faith no!

It was said she ran so fast after her meeting with the daftie she found herself down two stone in weight. The coarse creature chased her nearly in sight of the Mains and then scrabbled away into the rough ground, beyond the turnpike.

She'd been out fell early for her, Mistress Ellison, and was just holding along the road a bit walk to Fordoun when out of some bushes Andy jumped, his ramshackle face all swithering and his eyes all hot and wet. She thought at first he was hurted and then she saw he was trying to laugh, he tore at her frock and cried You come! She nearly fainted, but didn't, her umbrella was in her hand, she broke it over the daftie's head and then turned and ran, he went louping after her along the road, like a great monkey he leapt, crying terrible things to her. When sight of the Mains put an end to that chase he must have hung back in the hills for an hour or so and seen Mistress Munro, the futret, go sleeking down the paths to the Mains and Peesie's Knapp and Blawearie, asking sharp as you like, as though she blamed every soul but herself, Have you seen that creature Andy?

While she was up Blawearie way he must have made his road back across the hills, high up above the Cuddiestoun, till Upperhill came in sight. For later one of the ploughmen thought he'd seen the creature, shambling up against the skyline, picking a great bunch of sourocks and eating them. Then he got into the Upperhill wood and waited there, and it was through the wood at nine o'clock that Maggie Jean Gordon would hold her way to the station--close and thick larch wood with a path through it, where the light fell hardly at all and the cones crunched and rotted underfoot and sometimes a green barrier of whin crept up a wood ditch and looked out at you, and in the winter days the deer came down from the Grampians and sheltered there.

But in the April weather there were no deer to fright Maggie Jean, even the daftie didn't frighten her. He'd been waiting high in the wood before he took her, but maybe before that he ran alongside the path she was taking, keeping hidden from view of the lass, for she heard a little crackle rise now and then, she was to remember, and wondered that the squirrels were out so early. Gordon she was, none the better for that it might be, but a blithe little thing, thin body and bonny brown hair, straight to walk and straight to look, and you liked the laugh of her.

So through the wood and right into the hands of the daftie she went and when he lifted her in his hands she was frightened not even then, not even when he bore her far back into the wood, the broom-branches whipped their faces and the wet of the dew sprayed on them, coming into a little space, broom-surrounded, where the sun reached down a long finger into the dimness.

She stood up and shook herself when he set her down, and told him she couldn't play any longer, she must really hurry else she'd miss her train. But he paid no heed, crouching on one knee he turned his head this way and that, jerking round and about, listening and listening, so that Maggie Jean listened as well and heard the ploughmen cry to their horses and her mother at that moment calling the hens to feed--Tickie-ae! Tickie-ae!--Well, I must go, she told him and caught her bag in her hand and hadn't moved a step when he had her in his hands again; and after a minute or so, though she wasn't frightened even then, she didn't like him, and please she'd have to go. And she looked up at him, pushing him away, his mad, awful head, he began to purr like a great, wild cat, awful it must have been to see him and hear him.

And God alone knows the next thing he'd have done but that then, for it was never such a morning before for that bright clearness, far away down and across the fields a man began to sing, distant but very clear, with a blithe lilt in the voice of him. And he broke off and whistled the song and then he sang it again:

 

Bonny wee thing,
  Canty wee thing,
Lovely wee thing,
  Wert thou mine
I would clasp thee
  In my bosom
Lest my jewel
  I should tyne!

 

And at that, crouching and listening, the daftie took his hands from Maggie Jean and began to sing the song himself; and he took her in his arms again, but gentle, folding her as though she were a cat, and he set her on her feet and tugged straight the bit frock she wore; and stood up beside her and took her hand and guided her back to the path through the larch wood. And she went on and left him and once she looked back and saw him glowering after her; and because she saw he was weeping she ran back to him, kind thing, and patted his hand and said Don't cry! and she saw his face like that of a tormented beast and went on again, down to the station. And only when she came home that night did she tell the story of her meeting with Cuddiestoun's Andy.

But as the day wore on and Long Rob, working in that orra field above the Mill, still sang and sweated and swore at his horses, the singing must have drawn the Andy creature down from the larch wood, by hedges creeping and slipping from the sight of the Upperhill men in the parks. And once Rob raised his head and thought he saw a moving shadow in a ditch that bounded the orra ground. But he thought it a dog and just heaved a stone or so in case it was some beast in heat or on chicken-killing. The shadow yelped and snarled at that, but was gone from the ditch when Rob picked up another stone; so he went on with his work; and the daftie, tearing along the Kinraddie road out towards the Bridge End, with the blood red trickling down his woesome face, was all unseen by him.

But right at the corner, close where the road jerked round by Pooty's place, he nearly ran full tilt into Chris herself, coming up from Auchinblae she was with the messages her mother had sent her on, her basket over her arm and her mind far off with the Latin verbs in -are. He slavered at her, running towards her, and she screamed, though she wasn't over-frightened; and then she threw the basket clean at his head and made for Pooty's. Pooty himself was sitting just inside the door when she reached it, the louping beast was close behind, she heard the pant of his breath and was to wonder often enough in later times over that coolness that came on her then. For she ran fleet as a bird inside the door and banged it right in the daftie's face and dropped the bar and watched the planks bulge and crack as outside the body of the madman was flung against them again and again.

Pooty mouthed and stuttered at her in the dimness, but he grew real brave when she made him understand, he sharpened two of his sutor's knives and prowled trembling from window to window--the daftie left them untouched. Then Chris took a keek from one window and saw him again: he was raking about in the basket she'd thrown at his head, he made the parcels dirl on the road till he found a great bar of soap, and then he began to eat that, feuch! laughing and yammering all to himself, and running back to throw himself against the door of Pooty's again, the foam burst yellow through the beard of him as he still ate and ate at the soap.

But he soon grew thirsty and went down to the burn, Pooty and Chris stood watching him, and then it was that Cuddiestoun himself came ben the road. He sighted Andy and cried out to him, and Andy leapt the burn and was off, and behind him went Munro clatter-clang, and out of sight they vanished down the road to Bridge End. Chris unbarred the door in spite of Pooty's stutterings and went and repacked the bit basket, and everything was there except the soap; and that was down poor Andy's throat.

Feint the thing else he'd to eat that day, he was near the end of his tether; for though he ran like a hare and Cuddiestoun behind him was more than coarse in the legs, yet luck would have it that Mutch of Bridge End was just guiding his team across the road to start harrowing his yavil park when the two runners came in sight, real daft-like both of them, Andy running near double, soap and madness a-foam on his face, Cuddiestoun bellowing behind.

So Mutch slowed down his team and called out to Andy, Ay, man, you mustn't run near as fast as that, and when Andy was opposite threw out a foot and tripped him up, and down in the stour went Andy, and Cuddiestoun was on top of him in a minute, bashing in the face of him, but Alec Mutch just stood and looked on, maybe working his meikle ears a bit, it was no concern of his. The daftie's hands went up to his face as the bashings came and then Cuddiestoun gripped him in a tender private part, he screamed and went slack, like a sack in Cuddiestoun's hands.

And that was the end of Andy's ploy, for back to the Cuddiestoun he was driven and they said Mistress Munro took down his breeks and leathered him sore; but you never know the lies they tell, for others said it was Cuddiestoun himself she leathered, him having let the daftie out of the house that morning to scandalize her name with his coarse on-goings. But he'd no chance more of them, poor stock, next day the asylum officials came out and took him away in a gig, his hands fast tied behind his back; and that was the last they ever saw of Andy in Kinraddie.

 

Father raged when he heard the story from Chris, queer raging it was, he took her out to the barn and heard the story and his eyes slipped up and down her dress as she spoke, she felt sickened and queer. He shamed you then? he whispered; and Chris shook her head and at that father seemed to go limp and his eyes grew dull. Ah well, it's the kind of thing that would happen in a godless parish like this. It can hardly happen again with the Reverend Gibbon in charge.

Three minister creatures came down to Kinraddie to try for its empty pulpit. The first preached early in March, a pernickety thing as ever you saw, not over five feet in height, or he didn't look more. He wore a brave gown with a purple hood on it, like a Catholic creature, and jerked and pranced round the pulpit like a snipe with the staggers, working himself up right sore about Latter Day Doubt in the Kirk of Scotland. But Kinraddie had never a doubt of him, and Chris coming out of the kirk with Will and father heard Chae Strachan say he'd rather sit under a clucking hen than that for a minister. The second to try was an old bit man from Banff, shaking and old, and some said he'd be best, he'd have quietened down at his age, not aye on the look for a bigger kirk and a bigger stipend. For if there's a body on earth that would skin a tink for his sark and preach for a pension in purgatory it's an Auld Kirk minister.

But the poor old brute from Banff seemed fair sucked dry. He'd spent years in the writing of books and things, the spunk of him had trickled out into his pen, forbye that he read his sermon; and that fair settled his hash to begin with.

So hardly a soul paid heed to his reading, except Chris and her father, she thought it fine; for he told of the long dead beasts of the Scottish land in the times when jungle flowered its forests across the Howe and a red sun rose on the steaming earth that the feet of man had still to tread; and he pictured the dark, slow tribes that came drifting across the low lands of the northern seas, the great bear watched them come, and they hunted and fished and loved and died, God's children in the morn of time; and he brought the first voyagers sailing the sounding coasts, they brought the heathen idols of the great Stone Rings, the Golden Age was over and past and lust and cruelty trod the world; and he told of the rising of Christ, a pin-point of the cosmic light far off in Palestine, the light that crept and wavered and did not die, the light that would yet shine as the sun on all the world, nor least the dark howes and hills of Scotland.

So what could you make of that, except that he thought Kinraddie a right coarse place since the jungles had all dried up? And his prayers were as short as you please, he'd hardly a thing to say of the King or the Royal Family at all, had the Reverend Colquohoun. So that fair put him out with Ellison and Mutch, they were awful King's men both of them, ready to die for the King any day of the week and twice on Sundays, said Long Rob of the Mill. And his preaching had no pleasure at all for Chae Strachan either, he wanted a preacher to praise up socialism and tell how Rich and Poor should be Equal. So the few that listened thought feint the much of the old book-writer from Banff, he stood never a chance, pleasing Chris and her father only, Chris didn't count, John Guthrie did, but his vote was only one and a hantle few votes the Banff man got when it came to the counting.

Stuart Gibbon was the third to make try for Kinraddie manse, and that Sunday when Chris sat down in the kirk and looked up at him in the pulpit she knew as well as she knew her own hand that he was to please all of them, though hardly more than a student he was, with black hair on him and a fine red face and shoulders strong and well-bulked, for he was a pretty man. And first his voice took them, it was brave and big like the voice of a bull, and fine and rounded, and he said the Lord's Prayer in a way that pleased gentry and simple. For though he begged to be forgiven his sins as he forgave those that sinned against him--instead, as was more genteel, crying to be forgiven his trespasses as he forgave those that trespassed against him--still he did it with a fine solemnity that made everybody that heard right douce and grave-like; and one or two joined in near the end of the prayer, and that's a thing gey seldom done in an Auld Kirk kirk.

Next came his sermon, it was out of the Song of Solomon and well and rare he preached on it, showing that the Song had more meaning than one. It was Christ's description of the beauty and fine comeliness of the Auld Kirk of Scotland, and as such right reverently must it be read; and it was a picture of womanly beauty that moulded itself in the lithe and grace of the Kirk, and as such a perpetual manual for the women of Scotland that so they might attain to straight and fine lives in this world and salvation in the next. And in a minute or so all Kinraddie kirk was listening to him as though he were promising to pay their taxes at the end of Martinmas.

For it was fair tickling to hear about things like that read out from a pulpit, a woman's breasts and thighs and all the rest of the things, in that voice like the mooing of a holy bull; and to know it was decent Scripture with a higher meaning as well. So everybody went home to his Sunday dinner well pleased with the new minister lad, no more than a student though he was; and on the Monday Long Rob of the Mill was fair deaved with tales of the sermon and put two and two together and said Well, preaching like that's a fine way of having your bit pleasure by proxy, right in the stalls of a kirk, I prefer to take mine more private-like. But that was Rob all over, folk said, a fair caution him and his Ingersoll that could neither make watches nor sense. And feint the voter it put off from tramping in to vote for Kinraddie's last candidate.

So in he went with a thumping majority, the Reverend Gibbon, by mid-May he was at the Manse, him and his wife, an English creature he'd married in Edinburgh. She was young as himself and bonny enough in a thin kind of way, with a voice as funny as Ellison's, near, but different, and big, dark eyes on her, and so sore in love were they that their servant quean said they kissed every time he went out a bit walk, the minister. And one time, coming back from a jaunt and finding her waiting him, the minister picked up his wife in his arms and ran up the stairs with her, both cuddling one the other and kissing, and laughing in each other's faces with shining eyes; and into their bedroom they went and closed the door and didn't come down for hours, though it was bare the middle of the afternoon. Maybe that was true and maybe it wasn't for the servant quean was one that old Mistress Sinclair had fee'd for the Manse in Gourdon, and before a Gourdon quean speaks the truth the Bervie burn will run backwards through the Howe.

 

Now every minister since Time was clecked in Kinraddie had made a round of the parish when he was inducted. Some did it quick, some did it slow, the Reverend Gibbon was among the quick. He came up to Blawearie just after the dinner hour on a Saturday and met in with John Guthrie sharpening a hoe in the close, weeds yammered out of Blawearie soil like bairns from a school at closing time, it was coarse, coarse land, wet, raw, and red clay, father's temper grew worse the more he saw of it. So when the minister came on him and cried out right heartily Well, you'll be my neighbour Guthrie, man? father cocked his red beard at the minister and glinted at him like an icicle and said Ay, MISTER Gibbon, I'll be that. So the minister held out his hand and changed his tune right quick and said quiet-like You've a fine-kept farm here, Mr. Guthrie, trig and trim, though I hear you've sat down a bare six months. And he smiled, a big sappy smile.

So after that they were chief enough, sitting one the other on a handle on the sharn-barrow right in the middle of the close, the minister none feared for his brave, black clothes; and father told him the coarse land it was in Kinraddie, and the minister said he well believed him, it was only a man from the North could handle it so well. In a minute or so they were chief as brothers, father brought him over into the house, Chris stood in the kitchen and father said And this quean's my daughter, Chris. The minister smiled at her with his glinting black eyes and said I hear you're right clever, Chrissie, and go up to the Duncairn College. How do you like it? And Chris blushed and said Fine, sir, and he asked her what she was to be, and she told him a teacher, and he said there was no profession more honourable.

Then mother came ben from putting the twins to sleep and was quiet and friendly, just as she always was with loon or laird, crowned with gold with her lovely hair. And she made the minister some tea, and he praised it and said the best tea in his life he'd drunk in Kinraddie, it was the milk. And father asked whose milk they got at the Manse and the minister said The Mains, and father shot out his beard and said Well may it be good, it's the best land in the parish they've a hold of, the dirt, and the minister said And now I'll have to be dandering down to the Manse. Come over and see us some evening, Chrissie, maybe the wife and I'll be able to lend you some books to help in your studies. And off he went, swack enough, but no more fleet than father himself who swung alongside him down to where the turnip-park broke off from the road.

Chris made for the Manse next Monday night, she thought maybe that would be the best time, but she said nothing to father, only told mother and mother smiled and said Surely, far-off she seemed and dreaming to herself as so often in the last month or so. So Chris put on the best frock that she used for Sundays, and her tall lacing boots, and prigged out her hair in front of the glass in the parlour, and went up across the hill by Blawearie loch, with the night coming over the Grampians and the snipe crying in their hundreds beyond the loch's grey waters--still and grey, as though they couldn't forget last summer nor hope for another coming.

The Standing Stones pointed long shadow-shapes into the east, maybe just as they'd done of an evening two thousand years before when the wild men climbed the brae and sang their songs in the lithe of those shadows while the gloaming waited there above the same quiet hills. And a queer, uncanny feeling came on Chris then, she looked back half-feared at the Stones and the whiteness of the loch, and then went hurrying through the park paths till she came out above kirkyard and Manse. Beyond the road the Meikle House rose up in its smother of trees, you saw the broken walls of it, the flagstaff light was shining already, it would soon be dark.

She unsnecked the door of the kirkyard wall, passing through to the Manse, the old stones rose up around her silently, not old when you thought of the Standing Stones of Blawearie brae but old enough for all that. Some went back to the old, unkindly times of the Covenanters, one had a skull and crossed bones and an hour-glass on it and was mossed half over so that but hardly you could read the daft-like script with its esses like effs, and it made you shudder. The yews came all about that place of the oldest stone and Chris going past put out her hand against it and the low bough of a yew whispered and gave a low laugh behind her, and touched her hand with a cold, hairy touch so that a daft-like cry started up on her lips, she wished she'd gone round by the plain, straight-forward road, instead of this near-cut she'd thought so handy.

So she whistled to herself, hurrying, and just outside the kirkyard stood the new minister himself, leaning over the gate looking in among the stones, he saw her before she saw him and his voice fair startled her. Well, Chrissie, you're very gay, he said, and she felt ashamed to have him know she whistled in a kirkyard; and he stared at her strange and queer and seemed to forget her a minute; and he gave an unco half-laugh and muttered to himself, but she heard him, One's enough for one day. Then he seemed to wake up, he mooed out at her And now you'll be needing a book, no doubt. Well, the Manse is fair in a mess this evening, spring-cleaning or something like that, but if you just wait here a minute I'll run in and pick you something light and cheerful.

Off he set, she was left alone among the black trees that bent over the greyness of the kirkyard. Unendingly the unseen grasses whispered and rustled above the stones' dim, recumbent shapes, and she thought of the dead below those stones, farmers and ploughmen and their wives, and little bairns and new-born babes, their bodies turned to skeletons now so that if you dug in the earth you'd find only their bones, except the new-buried, and maybe there in the darkness worms and awful things crawled and festered in flesh grown rotten and black, and it was a terrifying place.

But at last came the minister, not hurrying at all but just drifting towards her, he held out a book and said Well, here it is, and I hope you'll like it. She took the book and looked at it in the dying light, its name was Religio Medici, and she mastered her shyness and asked Did you, sir? and the minister stared at her and said, his voice just even as ever. Oh, like hell! and turned about and left her to go back through the terror of the yews. But they didn't terrify at all, climbing home and thinking of that word he used, swearing it had been and nothing else, should she tell of it to father?

No, that wouldn't do, a minister was only a man, and he'd loned her a book, kind of him though he looked so queer. And besides, father didn't know of this errand of hers down to the Manse, maybe he'd think she was trying to hold in with gentry and would swear himself. Not that he swore often, father, she told herself as she hurried across the brae, and, hurrying, climbed out of the dimness into the last of the May daylight with the sunset a glow and a glimmer that danced about her feet, waiting for her; not often, except when things went clean over him, as that day in the sowing of the park below Blawearie when first the cart-shaft had broken and then the hammer had broken and then he'd watched the rain come on, and he'd gone nearly mad, raging at Will and Chris that he'd leather them till they hadn't enough skin to sit a threepenny bit on; and at last, fair skite, he'd shaken his fist at the sky and cried Ay, laugh, you Mucker!

 

Chris took a bit peep or so in Religio Medici and nearly yawned her head off with the reading of it, it was better fun on a spare, slow day to help mother wash the blankets. In the sun of the red, still weather Jean Guthrie had every bed in Blawearie cleared and the blankets piled in tubs half-filled with lukewarm water and soap, and Chris took off her boots and her stockings and rolled her knickers far up her white legs and stepped in the grey, lathered folds of blankets and tramped them up and down. It felt fine with the water gurgling blue and iridescent up through your toes and getting thicker and thicker; then into the next tub while mother emptied the first, lovely work, she felt she could trample blankets for ever, only it grew hot and hot, a red forenoon while they did the washing. So next time mother was indoors she took off her skirt and then her petticoat and mother coming out with another blanket cried God, you've stripped! and gave Chris a slap in the knickers friendly-like, and said You'd make a fine lad, Chris quean, and smiled the blithe way she had and went on with the washing.

But John Guthrie came home from the fields then, him and Will, and as soon as she saw her father's face she went all shrivelled up and he cried Get out of that at once, you shameful limmer, and get on your clothes! And out she got, white and ashamed, shamed more for father than herself, and Will turned red and led off the horses, awkward-like, but John Guthrie went striding across the close to the kitchen and mother and began to rage at her. What would folk say of the quean if they saw her sit there, near naked? We'd be the speak and laughing-stock of the place. And mother looked at him, sweet and cold, Ah, well, it wouldn't be the first time you've seen a naked lass yourself; and if your neighbours haven't they must have fathered their own bairns with their breeks on.

Father had been in a fair stamash at that, he left mother and went out with his face dead-white, not red, and he didn't say another word, he didn't speak to mother all that evening nor all the next day. Chris went to her bed that night and thought of the happening, lying close-up and alone, it had been as though she saw a caged beast peep from her father's eyes as he saw her stand in the tub. Like a fire that burned across the close, it went on and on as though she still stood there and he glowered at her. She hid her face below the blankets but she couldn't forget, next morning she was able to bear thinking of it no longer, the house had quietened with the folk gone out, she went to mother and asked her straight, she'd never asked anything of the kind before.

And then an awful thing happened, mother's face went grey and old as she stopped from her work at the kitchen table, she went whiter and whiter second on second, Chris near went out of her mind at the sight. Oh, mother, I didn't mean to vex, she cried and flung her arms round mother and held her tight, seeing her face then, so white and ill-looking it had grown in the last month. And mother smiled at her at last, putting her hands on her shoulders. Not you, Chris quean, just life. I cannot tell you a thing or advise you a thing, my quean. You'll have to face men for yourself when the time comes, there's none can stand and help you. And then she said something queerer, kissing Chris, Mind that for me sometime if I cannot thole it longer--and stopped and laughed and was blithe again. We're daft, the two of us, run out and bring me a pail of water. And Chris went out with the pail, out and up to the pump in the hot red weather, and then something came on her, she crept back soft-footed and there mother stood as she'd left her, white and lonely and sad, Chris didn't dare go into her, just stood and looked.

Something was happening to mother, things were happening to all of them, nothing ever stayed the same except maybe this weather and if it went on much longer the Reverend Colquohoun's bit jungles would soon be sprouting back across the parks of the Howe. The weary pleiter of the land and its life while you waited for rain or thaw! Glad she'd be when she'd finished her exams and was into Aberdeen University, getting her B.A. and then a school of her own, the English Chris, father and his glowering and girning forgotten, she'd have a brave house of her own and wear what she liked and have never a man vexed with sight of her, she'd take care of that.

Or maybe she wouldn't, queer that she never knew herself for long, grown up though she was, a woman now, near. Father said that the salt of the earth were the folk that drove a straight drill and never looked back, but she was no more than ploughed land still, the furrows went criss and cross, you wanted this and you wanted that, books and the fineness of them no more than an empty gabble sometimes, and then the sharn and the snapping that sickened you and drove you back to books--

She turned over on the grass with a jerk when she came to that troubled thinking. The sunset was painting the loch, but hot as ever it was, breaking up for one of those nights when you couldn't bear a blanket above you and even the dark was a foul, black blanket. It had died off, the wind, while she lay and thought, feint the loss was that, but there was sign of nothing in the place of it, the broom stood up in the late afternoon, not moving, great faces massed and yellow like the faces of an army of yellow men, looking down across Kinraddie, watching for the rain. Mother below would be needing her help, Dod and Alec back from the school already, father and Will soon in from the fields.

There somebody was crying her already!

She stood up and shook out her frock and went through the grass to the tail of the brae, and looked down and saw Dod and Alec far below waving up at her. They were crying her name excitedly, it sounded like the lowing of calves that had lost their mother, she went slow to tease them till she saw their faces.

It was then, as she flew down the hill with her own face white, that the sky crackled behind her, a long flash zig-zagged across the Grampian peaks, and far across the parks by the hills she heard the hiss of rain. The drought had broken at last.

 

 

II

DRILLING

 

Lying down when her climb up the cambered brae was done, panting deep from the rate she'd come at--skirt flying and iron-resolute she'd turn back for nothing that cried or called in all Blawearie--no, not even that whistle of father's!--Chris felt the coarse grass crackle up beneath her into a fine quiet couch. Neck and shoulders and hips and knees she relaxed, her long brown arms quivered by her side as the muscles slacked away, the day drowsed down an aureal light through the long brown lashes that drooped on her cheeks. As the gnomons of a giant dial the shadows of the Standing Stones crept into the east, snipe called and called--

Just as the last time she'd climbed to the loch: and when had that been? She opened her eyes and thought, and tired from that and closed down her eyes again and gave a queer laugh. The June of last year it had been, the day when mother had poisoned herself and the twins.

So long as that and so near as that, you'd thought of the hours and days as a dark, cold pit you'd never escape. But you'd escaped, the black damp went out of the sunshine and the world went on, the white faces and whispering ceased from the pit, you'd never be the same again, but the world went on and you went with it. It was not mother only that died with the twins, something died in your heart and went down with her to lie in Kinraddie kirkyard--the child in your heart died then, the bairn that believed the hills were made for its play, every road set fair with its warning posts, hands ready to snatch you back from the brink of danger when the play grew over-rough. That died, and the Chris of the books and the dreams died with it, or you folded them up in their paper of tissue and laid them away by the dark, quiet corpse that was your childhood.

So Mistress Munro of the Cuddiestoun told her that awful night she came over the rain-soaked parks of Blawearie and laid out the body of mother, the bodies of the twins that had died so quiet in their crib. She nipped round the rooms right quick and pert and uncaring, the black-eyed futret, snapping this order and that, it was her that terrified Dod and Alec from their crying, drove father and Will out tending the beasts. And quick and cool and cold-handed she worked, peeking over at Chris with her rat-like face. You'll be leaving the College now, I'll warrant, education's dirt and you're better clear of it. You'll find little time for dreaming and dirt when you're keeping the house at Blawearie.

And Chris in her pit, dazed and dull-eyed, said nothing, she minded later; and some other than herself went searching and seeking out cloths and clothes. Then Mistress Munro washed down the body that was mother's and put it in a night-gown, her best, the one with blue ribbons on it that she hadn't worn for many a year; and fair she made her and sweet to look at, the tears came at last when you saw her so, hot tears wrung from your eyes like drops of blood. But they ended quick, you would die if you wept like that for long, in place of tears a long wail clamoured endless, unanswered inside your head, Oh, mother, mother, why did you do it?

And not until days later did Chris hear why, for they tried to keep it from her and the boys, but it all came out at the inquest, mother had poisoned herself, her and the twins, because she was pregnant again and afraid with a fear dreadful and calm and clear-eyed. So she had killed herself while of unsound mind, had mother, kind-eyed and sweet, remembering those Springs of Kildrummie last of all things remembered, it may be, and the rooks that cried across the upland parks of Don far down beyond the tunnels of the years.

 

A month later Dod and Alec went back to school and as they left to go home that night first one scholar cried after them and others took it up Daftie, daftie! Whose mother was a daftie? They ran for Blawearie and came stumbling into the house weeping and weeping, father went fair mad at the sight of them and skelped them both, but skelping or not they wouldn't go back to the school next day.

And then Will spoke up, he cared not a fig for father now. All in a night it seemed the knowledge had come on him father wouldn't dare strike him again, he bought an old bicycle and would ride off in an evening as he pleased, his face cold and hard when he caught the glint of father's eye. Of a morning John Guthrie grumbled and girned at him, crying Where do you wander each night like a tink? But Will would say never a word, except once when John Guthrie made at him and then he swung round and whispered Take care. And at that father stopped and drew back, Chris watched them with angry eyes, angry and frightened in a breath as now when Will spoke up for his brothers.

Why should they go back? I wouldn't. Oh, and you needn't glower at me. You take damn good care you never go near a mart or a market yourself nowadays--I've to do all your dirty work for you!

Father louped to his feet at that, Will was on his as well, they stood with fists clenched in the kitchen and Dod and Alec stopped from their greeting and stared and stared. But Chris thrust the table in between the two, she made out she wanted it there for baking; and they dropped their fists and John Guthrie swore, but soft; and Will reddened up and looked foolish.

But father that night, he said never a word to the rest of them in Blawearie, he was over-proud for that, wrote off to his sister Janet in Auchterless and asked that she take Dod and Alec in her care and give them an Aberdeen schooling. In a week she was down from the North, Auntie Janet and her man. Uncle Tam he was, big and well-bulked and brave, and his watch-chain had rows and rows of wee medals on it he'd gotten for playing quoits. And they were fell kind, the two of them, Alec and Dod were daft with delight when they heard of the Auchterless plan. But Auntie and Uncle had never a bairn of their own and soon made plain if the boys went with them it would be for aye, they wanted to adopt the pair of them.

Father sneered and thrust out his beard at that So you'd like to steal the flesh of my body from me? and Auntie Janet nodded, right eye to eye, Aye, John, just that, we've never a wean of our own, though God knows it's not for want of the trying; and father said Ill blood breeds ill; and Auntie said Ay, it'll be long ere I have to kill myself because my man beds me like a breeding sow; and father said You dirty bitch.

Chris stuck the dirl of the tow till her head near burst and then ran out of the kitchen, through the close into the cornyard, where Will was prowling about. He'd heard the noise and he laughed at them, but his eyes were angry as his arm went round her. Never heed the dirty old devils, one's bad as the other, father, auntie, or that midden that's covered with its wee tin medals. Come off to the park with me and we'll bring home the kye.

Deep in clover the cows as they came on them, Chris and Will; and they went in no hurry at all, unanxious to be back in Blawearie. And Will seemed angry and gentle and kind all at once. Don't let them worry you, Chris, don't let father make a damned slave of you, as he'd like to do. We've our own lives to lead. And she said What else can I do but bide at home now?

He said he didn't know, but he'd be libbed and poleaxed and gutted if he did for long, soon as he'd saved the silver he was off to Canada, a man was soon his own master there. Chris listened to that with eyes wide opened, she caught at the hope of it and forgot to smack at the kye that loitered and boxed and galumphed in their cloverful-foolishness up the brae. Oh, Will, and you could send for me as your housekeeper! He turned a dull red and smacked at the kye and Chris sighed and the hope went out, he'd no need to answer Ay, maybe, but maybe it would hardly suit you.

So then she knew for sure he'd a lass somewhere in Drumlithie, it was with her he planned to share a bed and a steading in the couthy lands of Canada.

 

And when they got back to Blawearie they found the row ended, father'd given in to his sister Janet, ill the grace though he did it with. In three days time but three of them were sitting to meat at the kitchen table, Chris listened for days for voices of folk that were dead or gone, both far enough from Blawearie. But even that lost strangeness in time, the harvest drew on, she went out to the park to help with it, lush and heavy enough it had sprung and yellowed with the suns and rains of the last two months.

He'd no binder, father, wouldn't hear of the things, but he'd brought an old reaper from Echt and with that they cut the corn; though Will swore he'd be the fool of Kinraddie seen driving a thing like that. Father laughed at him over his beard, like a spitting cat, If Kinraddie's laughing can make you a bigger fool than nature made you it'll be a miracle, and don't fret the sark from your dowp, my mannie, I'LL do the driving. And though Will muttered at that he gave in all the same, for every harvest there came something queer and terrible on father, you couldn't handle the thing with a name, it was as if he grew stronger and crueller then, ripe and strong with the strength of the corn, he'd be fleeter than ever and his face filled out, and they'd hear him come up from the parks, astride the broad back of Bess, singing hymns, these were the only things that he ever sang, singing with a queer, keen shrillness that brought the sweat in the palms of your hands.

Now in the park below Blawearie, steading and house, the best crop, and that was the ley, was the first they cut, a great swither of a crop with straw you could hardly break and twist into bands for sheaves. Sore work Chris found it to keep her stretch of each bout cleared for the reaper's coming, the weather cool and grey though it was. But a sun was behind the greyness and sometimes when you raised your head from the sheaves you'd see a beam of light on the travel far over the parks of Upperhill or lazing across the moor or dancing a-top the Cuddiestoun stooks, a beam from the hot, grey haze of that sky that watched and waited above the sweat of the harvesting Howe.

First ere the cutting in the ley began there'd been roads to clear all round the corn, wide bouts that father scythed himself, he swore that the scythe would yet come back to its own when the binders and reapers rotted in rust and folk bred the old breed again. But its time was past or was yet to come, the scythe's, out the reaper was driven and yoked, Chris followed down at the tail of it. The best of weather for harvest, folk said, it was ill to cut in a swither of heat; and so still was the air by morn and noon it reminded you of the days in Spring, you'd hear the skirl of the blades ring down the Howe for mile on mile, the singing of Long Rob of the Mill, the Cuddiestoun creatures swearing at Tony as he stood and gowked at the stooks. Then Blawearie's reaper clanged in through the gates with Bess and Clyde at the pole, and the blades flashed and brightened like the teeth of a beast and snarled in a famished freedom. And then John Guthrie cried Get up! and swung the horses down the bout, and the hungry snarl changed to a deep, clogged growling as the corn was driven on the teeth by the swinging reaper flails; and down the bout, steady and fine, sped the reaper, clean-cutting from top to bottom, with never a straggling straw as on other farms, John Guthrie saw to that.

But feint the time had you for glowering at rip or reaper, soon as the horses were off and the flail drove the first sheaf from the tail-board Chris had pounced on that sheaf and gathered and bound it and flung it aside before you could say Glenbervie! and had run to the next and twisted its band, and gathered and bound and bound and gathered with her hands like a mist below her eyes, so quick they were. Midway the bout Will met with her, working up from the foot, and flicking the sweat from his face. And just as they straightened and stretched and looked up to the head of the park the clong, clong of the empty reaper would change to the snarling engaging whirr as father guided the horses to the cutting again. Still the sun smouldered behind its mists and out by Kinneff the fog-horn moaned all hours, you felt like moaning like that yourself long ere the day was out and your back near cracked and broke with the strain of the bending.

But in three days time the ley was cut, the yavil glowed yellow across the dykes and they moved to that without stop. And then suddenly the mists cleared up and the fog-horn stopped from its droning, it came on real blistering weather of heat, but hardly you'd bear to touch on the wood of the reaper shaft when you loosed the horses, so hot it grew. Kinraddie gasped and then bent to its chaving again, this heat wouldn't last, the rain was due, God help the crops that waited cutting then.

The second day of the yavil cutting a tink climbed up the Blawearie road from the turnpike and cried to John Guthrie for work, and father said Maybe, maybe. Let's see the work that you've in you first, and the tink said Ay, fine that. And he off with his coat and took the middle of the bout, and was up it in a jiffy, gathering and binding to the manner born, you might say, and giving Chris a bit smile when he met with her. So, coming down the next bout father cried to the tink that he'd take him on for a day or so, if the weather held; and Chris could get up to the house and see to the supper--no idling, quean, mind that. He was a black-like, gypsy childe, the tink, father wouldn't have him into the kitchen for meat, the creature might be all lice; and he wouldn't have him sleep in the house.

So Chris made him a shake-down out in the barn, he said he was real content with that. But when she carried him his supper over to the barn the first night she felt shamed for him suddenly, and told him she'd have had him eat in the house if it hadn't been father. And he said Don't let that fash you, lass, I'm as little anxious for his company as he is for mine. Forbye, he's only a Kinraddie clown! Chris felt her face flame at that, it just showed you there was no good doing kindness to tinks, but she made out she hadn't heard and turned back to go over the close.

Then it was the tink put out his arm, round her legs before she could move, almost he pulled her down on the hay beside him. You've never lain with a man yet, lass, I can see, and that's a sore waste of hot blood like yours. So mind I'm here if you want me. He loosed her then, laughing low, she couldn't do anything but stare and stare at him, sick and not angry, something turned in her stomach and her knees felt weak. The tink put out his hand and patted her leg again, Mind, if you want me I'll be here, and Chris shook her head, she felt too sick to speak, and slipped out of the barn and crossed the close and washed and washed at her hands and face with hot water till father lowered his paper and asked Have you gone clean daft?

But up in her room that night, the room that was hers and hers only now, Will slept where his brothers had slept, she saw a great moon come over the Grampians as she undressed for bed. She opened the window then, she liked to sleep with it open, and it was as though the night had been waiting for that, a waft of the autumn wind blew in, it was warm and cool and it blew in her face with a smell like the smell of late clover and the smell of dung and the smell of the stubble fields all commingled.

She leant there breathing it, watching the moon with the hills below it but higher than Blawearie, Kinraddie slept like a place in a picture-book, drifting long shadows that danced a petronella across the night-stilled parks. And without beginning or reason a strange ache came in her, in her breasts, so that they tingled, and in her throat, and below her heart, and she heard her heart beating, and for a minute the sound of the blood beating through her own head. And she thought of the tink lying there in the barn and how easy it would be to steal down the stairs and across the close, dense black in its shadows, to the barn.

But it was only for a second she thought of that, daftly, then laughed at herself, cool and trim and trig, and closed the window, shutting out the smells of the night, and slowly took off her clothes, looking at herself in the long glass that had once stood in mother's room. She was growing up limber and sweet, not bonny, perhaps, her cheek-bones were over high and her nose over short for that, but her eyes clear and deep and brown, brown, deep and clear as the Denburn flow, and her hair was red and was brown by turns, spun fine as a spider's web, wild, wonderful hair.

So she saw herself and her teeth clean-cut and even, a white gleam in that grave brown stillness of face John Guthrie's blood had bequeathed to her. And below face and neck now her clothes were off was the glimmer of shoulders and breast and there her skin was like satin, it tickled her touching herself. Below the tilt of her left breast was a dimple, she saw it and bent to look at it and the moonlight ran down her back, so queer the moonlight she felt the running of that beam along her back. And she straightened as the moonlight grew and looked at the rest of herself, and thought herself sweet and cool and fit for that lover who would some day come and kiss her and hold her, so.

And Chris saw the brown glimmer of her face grow sweet and scared as she thought of that--how they'd lie together, in a room with moonlight, and she'd be kind to him, kind and kind, giving him all and everything, and he'd sleep with his head here on her breast or they'd lie far into the mornings whispering one to the other, they'd have so much to tell!

And maybe that third and last Chris would find voice at last for the whimsies that filled her eyes, and tell of rain on the roof at night, the terror and the splendour of it across the long slate roofs; and the years that faded and fell, dissolved as a breath, before those third clear eyes; and mother's face, lying dead; and the Standing Stones up there night after night and day after day by the lock of Blawearie, how around them there gathered things that wept and laughed and lived again in the hours before the dawn, till far below the cocks began to crow in Kinraddie and day had come again. And all that he'd believe, more than so often she believed herself, not laugh at, holding and kissing her, so. And faith! no more than a corpse he'd hold if she didn't get into her bed-gown and into her bed, you may dream of a lad till you're frozen as a stone, but he'll want you warmer than that.

 

So that was the harvest madness that came on Chris, mild enough it had been, she fell fast asleep in the middle of it. But it scored her mind as a long drill scores the crumbling sods of a brown, still May, it left neither pleasure nor pain, but she'd know that track all the days of her life, and its dark, long sweep across the long waiting field. Binder and reaper clattered and wheeped through the brittle weather that held the Howe, soon the weather might break and the stooking was far behind in Blawearie. But Will would have nothing to do with night-time work, he laughed in John Guthrie's face at the mention of it and jumped on his bicycle and rode for Drumlithie evening on evening. Father would wander out by the biggins and stare at the parks and then come glinting into the house and glower at Chris, Get off to your bed when you've milked the kye; and she made little protest at that, she was tired enough at the end of a day to nearly sleep in the straw of the byre.

But one night she didn't dare sleep, for up in the room he'd shared with mother she heard John Guthrie get out of bed and go slow padding about in his stocking soles, like a great cat padding there, a beast that sniffed and planned and smelled at the night. And once he came soft down the cowering creak of the stairs and stopped by her door, and she held her breath, near sick with fright, though what was there to be feared of? And she heard his breath come quick and gasping and the scuffle of his hand on the sneck of the door; and then that stopped, he must have gone up or down, the house was quiet, but she didn't dare sleep again till Will came clattering home in the still, small hours.

For the harvest madness was out in Kinraddie if Chris had been quick to master hers. And though a lad and a quean might think their ongoings known to none but themselves, they'd soon be sore mistaken, you might hide with your lass on the top of Ben Nevis and have your bit pleasure there, but ten to one when you got up to go home there'd be Mistress Munro or some claik of her kidney, near sniggering herself daft with delight at your shame.

First it was Sarah Sinclair and the foreman at Upperhill, Ewan Tavendale he was, that the speak rose round: they'd been seen coming out of the larch wood above the Upperhill, that wood where the daftie had trapped Maggie Jean, and what had they been doing there on their lone? It was Alec Mutch of Bridge End that met them, him taking a dander over the moor to the smithy with a broken binder-blade for mending. The two hardly saw him at first, Miss Sinclair's face was an unco sight, raddled with blushing it was like the leg of a tuberculous rabbit when you skinned the beast, Ewan slouched along at her side. hang-dog he looked as though it was his mother he'd bedded with, said Alec, and maybe that's how it had felt. Alec cried a Good night! to the pair, they near jumped out of their skins, and went on with the story to the smithy beyond the moor. And from there you may well be sure it went through Kinraddie fast enough, the smith could tell lies faster than he could shoe horses; and he was fell champion at that.

Truth or no, Chae Strachan got hold of the story and went over to Upperhill to see Ewan Tavendale and ask in a friendly way what he meant to do about Sarah, his sister-in-law, the daft old trollop. And maybe he'd have settled things canty and fine but that he came on Ewan at the wrong bit minute, he was sitting outside the bothy door with the rest of the bothy billies; and when Chae came up there rose a bit snigger, that fair roused Chae, he stopped bang in front of them and asked what the hell they were laughing at? And Sam Gourlay said Little, damned little, looking Chae from head to foot; and Ewan said he felt more in the way of weeping than laughing at such a sight, and he spoke in a slow, impudent way that fair roused Chae's dander to the boiling point.

So, being a fell impatient man, and skilly with his hands, he took Sam Gourlay a clout in the lug that couped him down in the stour and then before you could wink he and Ewan were at it, ding-dong, like a pair of tinks, all round the Upperhill close; and Upprums came running in his leggings, the creature, fair scandalized, but he got a shove in the guts that couped him right down in the greip where once his son Jock had been so mischieved; and that was the end of his interfering. In a minute or so it was plain that Ewan, fight though he might, was like to have the worst of the sett, he was no match for that madman Chae. So the rest of the bothy lads up and went for Chae; and when he got back to Peesie's Knapp he'd hardly a stitch on his back. But Ewan, the coarse, dour brute, had a cut in the face that stopped his mouth for a while, and a black eye big enough to sole the boots on Cuddiestoun's meikle feet, folk said.

And faith! if it shouldn't be Cuddiestoun himself that began the next story, running into the middle of it himself, you might say, going up to the Manse to get a bit signature on some paper or other for his lawyer man. But Mr. Gibbon they told him wasn't at home, Mistress Gibbon herself came out to tell him that, kind and fine as she was, but he didn't like her, the English dirt.

So, fair disgruntled he turned from the door, maybe the poor brute's big sweating feet were fell sore already with a hot day's stooking. But just down at the end of the Manse's garden, where the yews bent thick above the lush grass their boughs that had sheltered the lost childe Wallace in the days before the coarse English ran him to earth and took him to London and there hanged and libbed him and hewed his body in four to hang on the gates of Scotland--there, in that grass in the half-dark was a rustling and squealing as though a drove of young pigs was rootling there. And Cuddiestoun stopped and picked up a handful of gravel from the minister's walk and flung it into the grass and cried Away with you! for maybe it was dogs in heat that were chaving there, big collies are none so chancy to meet when the creatures are set for mating. But instead of a collie up out of the grass rose the Gourdon quean, her that old Mistress Sinclair had fee'd for the Manse; and Munro saw her face then with a glazed look on it, like the face of a pig below the knife of its killer; and she brushed the hair from her face, daft-like, and went trailing past Munro, without a word from her, as though she walked half-asleep.

But past him, going into the Manse, she began to whistle, and laughed a loud scraich of a laugh--as though she'd tried right desperately for something, and won, and beaten all the world in the winning of it. So it seemed to Cuddiestoun, and faith! you couldn't put that down to imagination, for he'd never had any, the ugly stock; so fair queer it must well have been, he stood and stared after her, dumbfoundered-like, and was just turning at last, to tramp down to the road, when he found Mr. Gibbon himself at his elbow.

It had grown fell dark by then but not so dark that Cuddiestoun couldn't see the Minister was without a hat and was breathing in great deep paichs as though he'd come from the running of a race. And he barked out, Well, speak up, man, what do you want? Munro was sore took aback at hearing a fine childe like the minister snap at him that way. So he just said Well, well, Mr. Gibbon, you've surely been running a bit race? and then he wished he hadn't, for the minister went by him without another word, and then flung over his shoulder If you want me, come to-morrow.

And into the Manse he went and banged the door with a clash that fair made Cuddiestoun loup in his meikle boots. So there was nothing for him but to taik away home to Mistress Munro, and faith! you might well believe the story lost nothing in the telling she gave it, and soon every soul in Kinraddie had a different version, Long Rob's was cried to John Guthrie as he went by the Mill. He never spread scandal about folk, Long Rob--only horses, was the joke they told of him--but maybe he classed ministers lower than them.

It seemed like enough to John Guthrie, the story, though he'd no coarse notions like Rob and his Ingersoll, the world was rolling fast to a hell of riches and the old slave days come back again, ministers went with it and whored with the rest. For the bitterness had grown and eaten away into the heart of him in his year at Blawearie. So coarse the land proved in the turn of the seasons he'd fair been staggered, the crops had fared none so bad this once, but he saw in a normal year the corn would come hardly at all on the long, stiff slopes of the dour red clay.

Now also it grew plain to him here as never in Echt that the day of the crofter was fell near finished, put by, the day of folk like himself and Chae and Cuddiestoun, Pooty and Long Rob of the Mill, the last of the farming folk that wrung their living from the land with their own bare hands. Sign of the times he saw Jean Guthrie's killing of herself to shame him and make of his name a by-word in the mouths of his neighbours, sign of a time when women would take their own lives or flaunt their harlotries as they pleased, with the country-folk climbing on silver, the few, back in the pit, the many; and a darkness down on the land he loved better than his soul or God.

 

And next it was Will himself that started the claiks of Kinraddie, him and his doings in Drumlithie. But Chris met the story ere it reached Kinraddie, she met it in Drumlithie itself, in the yard of the gardener Galt. The tink had been gone from Blawearie that day she set out with her basket, no sign of the rain showed even then, the heat held still as the white, dull heat from a furnace door. Down in the turnpike, the motor-cars went whipping by as she set her feet for Mondynes there where the battle was fought in the days long syne. Below the bridge went the wash of the burn west to the Bervie Water, bairns cried and splashed in the bridge's lithe, they went naked there when they dared, she saw them glance white and startled in the shelter of the stones.

Soon the heat grew such that she took off her hat and swung that in her hand and so climbed the road, and there to the left rose Drumlithie at last, some called it Skite to torment the folk and they'd get fell angry at that in Skite. No more than a rickle of houses it was, white with sunshine below its steeple that made of Skite the laugh of the Howe, for feint the kirk was near it. Folk said for a joke that every time it came on to rain the Drumlithie folk ran out and took in their steeple, that proud they were of the thing, it came from the weaver days of the village when damn the clock was there in the place and its tolling told the hour.

So that was Skite, it rose out of its dusts and its ancient smells, the berries hung ripe in the yard of the gardener Galt and he looked at Chris in a queer kind of way when he heard her name. Syne he began a sly hinting and joking as he weighed her berries, a great sumph of a man the creature was, fair running with creash in that hot weather, you near melted yourself as you looked at him. And how's Will? he asked. We haven't seen much of him here of late--faith, the roses are fair fading from Mollie Douglas' cheeks. And Chris said Oh? right stiff-like, and then And I'll have two pounds of your blackberries too. So he packed her that, hinting and gleying like a jokesome fat pig, she could have taken him a clout in the face, but didn't, it would only stir up more scandal, there seemed enough and to spare of that. Whatever could Will have been doing; and what had he done to his quean that he'd left her?

Right glad she was to be out from the stink of Skite with the road of Mondynes in front of her. Then she heard the bell of a bicycle far down the road behind and drew to one side, but the thing didn't pass, it slowed down and somebody called out, timid-like, Are you Will Guthrie's sister? Chris turned and saw her then, knew her at once Will's quean, young and white-faced and fair, and heard her own voice, near troubled as the eyes that looked at her as she answered Yes; and you'll be Mollie Douglas?

The face of the girl blushed slow at that, slow and sweet, and she looked away back at the steeple of Skite as though she feared the thing spied on them; and then suddenly, near crying, she was asking Chris to tell Will he must ride over and see her again, come again that night, she couldn't bear it longer--she didn't care were she shameless or not, she couldn't! And then she seemed to read the question in Chris's eyes, the blood drained off from her face in a minute and then came back, it seemed to Chris she must be blushing all over under her clothes, right down to the soles of her feet as she herself sometimes blushed. But she cried Oh, you think THAT, like all of them, but it isn't true! Staring at her surprised and shamed Chris found she just couldn't speak up and deny that THAT was indeed what she'd thought, what else was a body to think?

Then she found Mollie Douglas's face bent close to hers, sweet and troubled and shamed as her own. And Mollie tried to look at her and then looked away, blushing as though she'd sink into the ground, such a fool of herself she was making. It's not that at all, only I love him so sore I can't live if I don't see Will!

So there they were in the middle of the road, so shamed to look one at the other they'd nothing to say; and then a gig came spanking along from the station, at sight of it Mollie jumped on her bicycle again, and wheeled it about, and looked over her shoulder with a smile you couldn't forget, and stammered and cried Ta-ta!

But Chris couldn't forget that look in her eyes, she went home with that in her mind and at supper that night couldn't take her own eyes from Will. She saw him then for the first time in years, almost a man, with his fair hair waving across his head and spreading to his cheeks in a rust-red down, like the down on a new-hatched chick; and his eyes blue and dark as a quean's, and kind when they looked at her, sulky when they turned on father. Not that they turned there often, there was never a word between Will and father unless they were clean compelled to it; like dumb folk working and eating together that needed no speech for hate.

Father ate his supper and climbed down the hill with his gun, Will loitered from door to window, whistling and idle, till he saw right across the Howe, up on Drumtochty hills, something that rose and coiled ash-grey and then darker against the autumn sky, a great shape like a snake there in the quiet of the evening air, with its tail a glimmer that wasn't the sunset, burning up red in the lithe of the hills. Whin-burning, he called to Chris, they're burning the whins up Drumtochty way, come on up the moor and have a try at ours. They're damned sore in the need of it.--But I've my jelly to make, you gowk!--Oh, to hell with your jelly, we'll soon be jelly and bones in a grave ourselves, come on!

So she went, they gathered great piles of old papers for twisting in torches, and made up the brae to the moor. They sat down on the grass and breathed a while, Kinraddie below them all cut and close-stooked, waiting the coming of the night, the lowe of the Bervie lights as the glow of another whin-burning there by the sea. They spread out to left and right below the moor-gate, Chris held to the left and ran through the whins, stopping to kick holes down close to the ground wherever a meikle bush rose up. Then far round the knowe Will cried he was starting, she saw him a long way off with the sky behind him and called back All right! and knelt by the biggest bush she'd struck; and kindled her torch and set its light to the crackling dryness of the grass.

It whoomed in an instant, the whin, she set her torch into it and ran to the next and fired that; and so in and out, backwards and forwards worked round the brae, you'd to speed quick as your legs could carry you to fire the frontward bushes when those behind raged out with their flames and smoke at your hair. In the dry, quiet evening the fire crackled up and spread and roared through the bushes and caught on the grass and crept and smoked on quick, searching trains to bushes unlit, and fired them, half you thought those questing tongues alive and malignant as they lapped through the grass. By the time Chris met with Will at the moor-gate there spread before them a park like an upland sea on fire, sweeping the hill, now the sun had quite gone and the great red roaring beast of a thing hunted and postured unchallenged, all Kinraddie was lit with its glare.

Will was black as a nigger, his eyebrows scorched, he pulled Chris down to rest on the grass. By God, I hope the fire doesn't catch on the fence up there, else old Guthrie will be casting me out of Blawearie for bringing his grey hairs in sorrow to the grave!

He said that sneering-like, mocking at father's Aberdeenshire voice, and Chris stirred half-angry, and sighed, and then asked What would you do if he did put you out? and Will said Go.--Would you get a fee?--Damn the fears of that.

But he didn't sound over-confident, Chris knew right well that he'd find it none so easy if it came to the push, with the harvest over now in the Howe. And then, for she'd clean forgot her in the excitement of the fires, she minded the quean Mollie Douglas--it was as though she saw her white face by Will's in the firelit dark: I met Mollie Douglas in Drumlithie to-day, she asked me to ask you to go down and see her.

He sat stock-still, he mightn't have heard, she pushed at his elbow Will! And at that he shook off her hand, Oh, I hear. What's the good? I can't have a quean like other folk--I haven't even a fee.--Maybe she doesn't want your fee, just you. Will, they're saying things about her and you in Drumlithie--Galt and coarse tinks like that.--Saying things? What things?--What they aye say--that she's with a baby to you and you're biding away from her now.--Galt said that?--Hinted at it, but he'll do more than hint when he's not speaking to a sister of yours.

She'd never heard him swear as he did then, jumping to his feet with his fists tight-clenched. That about Mollie--they said that, the orra swine! I'll mash that bloody Galt's head till his own mother won't know it! But Chris told him that wouldn't help much, folk would just snigger and say there was something, sure, in the story of Mollie's condition. Then what am I to do? Will asked, raging still, and Chris blushed and said Wait. Do you love her, Will? But she might have known well enough how he'd take that question, maybe he blushed himself in the lithe of the dark, he threw down the paper torches he'd saved and muttered I'm away to Drumlithie, and was running down the hill before she could stop him.

Maybe, as he told Chris later, he went with no other intention than seeing his Mollie herself. But as luck would have it, who should he near run down with his bicycle outside the Drumlithie Hotel but Galt himself, the great creash, gey drunk, and Alec Mutch in his company.

And Alec cried, Fine night, Will, but Galt cried Don't take her out to-night, Will lad, the grass is overwet for lying on. Will stopped and jumped off and left his bicycle lying in the road and went up to Galt--Speaking to me? And the fat creash, panting like a sow in litter and sweating all down the great face of him, hiccoughed drunken-like Who else?--Well take that then, Will said and let drive at the great belly of Galt; but Mutch caught his arm and cried Young Guthrie, you've fair gone daft, the man's old enough to be your father. Will said if he'd a father like that he'd kill him and then go and drown himself, and tried to break away from Mutch and get at the Galt creash again. But Galt was right unkeen for that, in a minute he'd turned, for all his fat, and made off like a hare up the Drumlithie lanes, real swack with his girth and all, and was out of sight in a second.

Well, sure you may be there were claiks enough in Skite for Mutch to get all the story and drive home with it to the Bridge End. In a day or so it was all about the place, Will was the laughing-stock of Kinraddie. Father heard it first from the postman, who waved him down to the road to tell him, and soon's he heard it John Guthrie went back to Will stooking in the yavil field and said What's this I hear about you and some orra tink bitch in Drumlithie?

Now Will had been in a fair fine temper all that day from seeing his Mollie again: and she'd made him swear he'd not fly in a rage or go making a fool of himself if he heard their coarse hinting at her. So he just went on with the stooking and said What the devil are you blithering about? Father shot out his beard and cried Answer my question, Will! and Will said Put a question with sense in it, then. How am I to know what you've been hearing? I'm not a thought-reader, and father said Damn't to hell, you coarse brute, am I to stand your lip as well as your whoring every night? Is't true there's a tink called Mollie Douglas that's with a bairn by you? and Will said If you call Mollie Douglas a tink again, I'll knock the damned teeth down the throat of you, father though you be.

And they stopped their stooking, glaring at each other, and father made to strike at Will but Will caught his arm and cried Mind! So father lowered his arm, white as a ghost he'd turned, and went on with the stooking. Will stared at him, white himself, and then went on with the stooking as well. And that might well have been the end of it so far as Blawearie went, but that evening they heard a clatter outside in the close and there was the minister's bicycle and Mr. Gibbon himself new off it; and into the kitchen he came and said Good evening, Chris, good evening, Mr. Guthrie. Can I have a word with Will?

So Chris was sent to bring Will from the byre where he bedded the kye, he came back with her grey in the gills, there sat the minister and father, solemn as two owls in the loft of a barn, it was plain they'd been taking the matter through hand together. Father said Chris, go to your room, and there was nothing else for her but go; and what happened after that she was never sure, for Will wouldn't tell her, but she heard the sound of the three of them, all speaking at once and Will getting in a rage: and then suddenly the kitchen-door banged and there was Will striding across the close to the barn where he stored his bicycle. Mr. Gibbon's voice cried after him, angry-like, with a boom, Just a minute, Will, where are you going? and Will looked back and said You're so anxious I should lie with my lass and get her with a bairn that I'm off to try and oblige you. And he wheeled his bicycle out by the honeysuckle hedge and pedalled away down the road and didn't come back to Blawearie till one o'clock in the morning.

Chris hadn't been able to sleep, she lay listening for him, and when she heard him come up the stairs she cried his name in a whisper Will! He stopped uncertain outside her door and then lifted the sneck and came in soft-footed and sat on the side of her bed. Chris raised herself on an elbow and peered at him, there was little light in the room and no moon that night though the sky was white with stars, and Will no more than a shadow hunched on her bedside there, with a whitish blotch for a face. And Chris whispered Will, I heard what you said when you went away. But you didn't do it? and Will gave a low laugh, he wasn't in a rage, It wouldn't be for want of prigging by half the holy muckers in Kinraddie if I had. But you needn't be feared for that, I'd as soon cut my own throat as do hurt to--HER.

 

So the minister's interfering brought no harm, faith! he'd more need to roust round his own bit byre with a clart if Cuddiestoun's story of the Gourdon quean were true. And soon enough after that a worse scandal went on the rounds about him, folk shook their heads and made out they were fell affronted: all but Long Rob of the Mill, and he swore B'God, it was the best he'd heard since Nebuchadnezzar went out to grass!

And the way of it was that in early November a bit daughter was born to the Manse, and the Reverend Gibbon was proud as punch, he preached a grand sermon that Sunday, For unto us a child is born; and it was so affecting that old Mistress Sinclair of the Netherhill broke down and cried in her hanky about it; but Long Rob of the Mill, when he heard that, said: She shouldn't take whisky sweeties to the kirk with her. Everybody else was fell impressed, folk who'd been a bit off the Manse for months agreed he'd maybe his faults, the Gibbon childe, but who hadn't these days? and feint the many could wag a pow like that in a Mearns pulpit. But damn't! if the next day he didn't go off and spoil the whole thing, the Monday it was, he was just setting out for the train to Aberdeen, Mr. Gibbon, when the nurse cried out to him he might bring a small chamber-pot for the girlie, none in the Manse was suitable. He gave a bit blush, the big, curly bull, and said Very well, nurse, in a bull-like voice, and off to the station he went, it was Fordoun, and left his bicycle there and caught his train.

About what happened after that some told one thing and some another and some told both together. But it seems that fair early in the day in Aberdeen the Reverend Gibbon fell in with some friends of his; and they'd have it that a dram there must be to celebrate the occasion. So off the whole lot of them went to a public house and had their dram and syne another on top of that to keep the first one down, syne two-three more to keep the wind out, it was blowy weather on the edge of winter. Some said that midway the carouse Mr. Gibbon had got up to make a bit prayer: and one of the barmaids had laughed at him and he chased her out of the bar up to her room and finished his prayer with her there. But you couldn't believe every lie you heard.

Sometime late in the afternoon he minded his train, the minister, and hired a cab and bought the bit chamber, and caught the train by the skin of the teeth. No sooner was he down in his carriage than, fell exhausted, he went fast asleep and blithely snored his way south through many a mile, right dead to the world he was.

Most of the story till then was maybe but guessing, ill-natured guessing at that, but the porter at the Bridge of Dunn, a good twenty miles south from Fordoun, swore to the rest. He was just banging the doors of the old 7.30 when out of a carriage window came a head, like a bull's head out of the straw, he'd fair a turn, had the porter, when he saw the flat hat that topped it. Is this Fordoun? the meikle head mooed, and the porter said No, man, it's a damned long way from being that.

So he opened the door for Kinraddie's minister, and Mr. Gibbon came stumbling out and rubbed his eyes, and the porter pointed to a platform where he'd find a slow train back to Fordoun. This platform lay over a little bridge and the minister set out to cross; and the first few steps he managed fell well, but near the top he began to sway and missed his footing and flung out his hands. The next thing that the porter saw was the chamber-pot, burst from its paper, rolling down the steps of the bridge with the minister's hat in competition and the minister thundering behind.

And then, when the porter had picked him up and was dusting him, the Reverend Gibbon broke down and sobbed on the porter's shoulder what a bloody place was Kinraddie! And how'd the porter like to live 'tween a brier bush and a rotten kailyard in the lee of a house with green shutters? And the minister sobbed some more about the shutters, and he said you couldn't lie down a minute with a quean in Kinraddie but that some half-witted clod-hopping crofter began to throw stones at you, they'd feint the respect for God or kirk or minister down in Kinraddie. And the porter said it was awful the way the world went, he'd thought of resigning from the railway himself and taking to preaching, but now he wouldn't.

Syne he helped the minister over to an up-going train and went home to his wife and told her the tale: and she told it to her sister from Auchenblae: and she told it to her man who told it to Mutch; and so the whole thing came out. And next time he rode down by the Peesie's Knapp, the minister, a head shot out of a hedge behind him, it was wee Wat Strachan, and cried loud as you like Any chambers to-day?

 

Not that they'd much to shout for that winter themselves, the Strachans; folk said it was easy to see why Chae was so strong on Rich and Poor being Equal: he was sore in need of the sharing out to start ere he went clean broke himself. Maybe old Sinclair or the wife were tight with the silver that year, but early as December Chae had to sell his corn, he brought the first threshing of the season down in Kinraddie. John Guthrie and Will were off at the keek of dawn when they saw the smoke rise from the engines, Chris followed an hour later to help Chae's wife with the dinner and things. And faith! broke he might be but he wasn't mean, Chae, when the folk came trampling in to eat there was broth and beef and chicken and oat-cakes, champion cakes they made at the Knapp; and loaf and jelly and dumpling with sugar and milk; and if any soul were that gutsy he wanted more he could hold to the turnip-field, said Chae.

The first three men to come in Chris hardly saw, so busied she was pouring their broth for them. Syne, setting the plates, she saw Alec

Mutch, his great lugs like red clouts hung out to dry: and he cried Ay, Chris! and began to sup as though he hadn't seen food for a fortnight. Beside him was Munro of the Cuddiestoun, he was eating like a colie ta'en off its chain, Chae's thresh was a spree to the pair of them. Then more trampling and scraping came from the door, folk came drifting in two-three at a time, Chris over-busied to notice their faces, but some watched her and give a bit smile and Cuddiestoun cried to father, Losh, man, she's fair an expert getting, the daughter. The kitchen's more her style than the College.

Some folk at the tables laughed out at that, the ill-nature grinned from the faces of them, and suddenly Chris hated the lot, the English Chris came back in her skin a minute, she saw them the yokels and clowns everlasting, dull-brained and crude. Alec Mutch took up the card from Cuddiestoun then and began on education and the speak ran round the tables. Most said it was a coarse thing, learning, just teaching your children a lot of damned nonsense that put them above themselves, they'd turn round and give you their lip as soon as look at you.

But Chae was sitting down himself by then and he wouldn't have that. Damn't man, you're clean wrong to think that. Education's the thing the working man wants to put him up level with the Rich. And Long Rob of the Mill said I'd have thought a bit balance in the bank would do that. But for once he seemed right in agreement with Chae--the more education the more of sense and the less of kirks and ministers. Cuddiestoun and Mutch were fair shocked at that, Cuddiestoun cried out Well, well, we'll hear nothing coarse of religion, as though he didn't want to hear anything more about it and was giving out orders. But Long Rob wasn't a bit took aback, the long rangy childe, he just cocked an eye at Cuddiestoun and cried Well, well, Munro, we'll turn to the mentally afflicted in general, not just in particular. How's that foreman of yours getting on, Tony? Is he still keeping up with his shorthand? There was a snicker at that, you may well be sure, and Cuddiestoun closed up quick enough, here and there folk had another bit laugh and said Long Rob was an ill hand to counter. And Chris thought of her clowns and yokels, and was shamed as she thought--Chae and Long Rob they were, the poorest folk in Kinraddie!

At a quarter past six the mill loosed off again from its bumble-bee hum, the threshers came trooping down to the tables again. More dumpling there was, cut up for tea, and bread and butter and scones and baps from the grocer, and rhubarb and blackberry jam, and syrup for them that preferred it, some folk liked to live on dirt out of tins. Most of the mill folk sat down in a right fine tune, well they might, and loosed out their waistcoats. Will was near last to come in from the close, a long, dark young childe came in at his heels, Chris hadn't set eyes on him before, nor he on her by the way he glowered. The two of them stood about, lost-like and gowked, looking for seats in the crowded kitchen till Mistress Strachan cried over to Chris Will you lay them places ben in the room?

So she did and took them their supper there, Will looked up and cried Hello, Chris, how have you gotten on? and Chris said Fine, how've you? Will laughed Well, God, my back would feel a damned sight easier if I'd spent the day in my bed. Eh, Tavendale? And then he minded his manners. This is Ewan Tavendale from Upprums, Chris.

So that was who; Chris felt queer as he raised his head and held out his hand, and she felt the blood come in her face and saw it come dark in his. He looked over young for the coarse, dour brute folk said he was, like a wild cat, strong and quick, she half-liked his face and half-hated it, it could surely never have been him that did THAT in the larch wood of Upperhill? But then if you could read every childe's nature in the way he wiped his nose, said Long Rob of the Mill, it would be a fine and easy world to go through.

So she paid him no more heed and was out of the Knapp a minute later and ran nearly all the way up to Blawearie to see to the milking there. The wind was still up but the frost was crackling below her feet as she ran, the brae rose cold and uncanny with Blawearie's biggings uncertain shadows high up in the cold mirk there. She felt tingling and blithe from her run, she said to herself if she'd only the time she'd go out every winter night and run up over hills with frost and the night star coming in the sky.

But that night as Blawearie went to its bed Will opened his bedroom door and cried Father! Chris! See that light down there in the Knapp!

Chris was over at her window then in a minute, barefooted she ran and peered by the shadow of the great beech tree. And there was a light right plain enough, more than a light, a lowe that crackled to yellow and red and rose in the wind that had come with the night. Peesie's Knapp would be all in a blaze in a minute, Chris knew; and then father came tearing down the stairs, crying to Will to get on his clothes and follow him, Chris was to bide at home, mind that. They heard him open the front door and go out and go running right fleetly down the night of Blawearie hill, Chris cried to Will Wait for me, I'm coming as well, and he cried back All right, but for God's sake hurry!

She couldn't find her stockings then, she was trembling and daft; and when found they were, her corsets were missing, slipped down the back of the kist they had, Will came knocking at the door Come on!--Light a match and come in, she called and in he came, knotting his muffler, and lighted a match and looked at her in her knickers and vest, reaching out for the new-seen corsets. Leave the damn things where they are, you're fine, you should never have been born a quean. She was into her skirt by then, and said I wish I hadn't, and pulled on her boots and half-laced them, and ran down the stairs after Will and put on her coat at the foot.

In a minute they were out in the dimness then, under the starlight, it was rimed with frost, and running like mad down to the lowe that now rose like a beacon against the whole of Kinraddie. I hope they've wakened! Will panted, for every soul knew the Strachans went straight to bed at the chap of eight. Running, they could see by then it was the barn itself that had taken alight, the straw sow seemed burned to a cinder already, and the barn had caught and maybe the house. And all over Kinraddie lights were springing up, as they ran Chris lifted her eyes and saw Cuddiestoun's blink and shine bright down through the dark.

And faith, quick though they were, it was father that saved Chae Strachan's folk. He was first down at the blazing Knapp, John Guthrie; and he ran round the biggings and saw the flames lapping and lowing at the kitchen end of the house, not a soul about or trying to stop them though the noise was fair awful, the crackling and burning, and the winter air bright with flying sticks and straw. He banged at the door and cried Damn't to hell do you want to be roasted? and when he got no answer he smashed in the window, they heard him then and the bairns scraiched, there was never such a lot for sleep, folk said, Chae'd have slept himself out of this world and into hell in his own firewood if John Guthrie hadn't roused him then. But out he came stumbling at last, he'd only his breeks on; and he took a keek at John Guthrie and another at the fire and cried out Kirsty, we're all to hell! and off he tore to the byre.

But half-way across the close as he ran the barn swithered and roared and fell, right in front of him, and he'd to run back, there was no way then of getting at the byre. By then Long Rob of the Mill came in about, he'd run over the fields, louping dykes like a hare, and his lungs were panting like bellows, he was clean winded. He it was that helped Mrs. Strachan with the bairns and such clothes as they could drag out to the road while Chae and John Guthrie tried to get at the byre from another angle: but that was no good, the place was already roaring alight.

For a while there was only the snarling of the fire eating into the wooden couplings, the rattle of falling slates through the old charred beams, and then, the first sound that Will and Chris heard as they came panting down the road, a scream that was awful, a scream that made them think one of the Strachans was trapped down there. And at that sound Chae covered his ears and cried Oh God, that's old Clytie, Clytie was his little horse, his sholtie, and she screamed and screamed, terrible and terrible, Chris ran back to the house trying not to hear and to help poor Kirsty Strachan, snivelling and weeping, and the bairns laughing and dancing about as though they were at a picnic, and Long Rob of the Mill smoking his pipe as cool as you please, there was surely enough smell and smoke without that? But pipe and all he dived in and out of the house and saved chairs and dishes and baskets of eggs; and Mistress Strachan cried Oh, my sampler! and in Rob tore and rived that off a blazing wall, a meikle worsted thing in a cracked glass case that Mistress Strachan had made as a bairn at school.

And then came the clip-clop of a gig, it was Ellison down from the Mains, him and two of his men, and God! he might be little more than a windy Irish brute but he'd sense for all that, the gig was crammed with ropes and pails, Ellison strung out the folk and took charge, the pails went swinging from hand to hand over the close from the well to the childe that stood nearest the fire, and he pelted the fire with water. But feint the much good that did for a while and then there was an awful sound from the byre, the lowing of the cattle with the flames among them, and Long Rob of the Mill cried out I can't stand it! and took a pick-axe and ran round the back of the close; and there he found the sow was nothing but a black heap then, hardly burning at all, and he cried back the news and himself louped through the smoke and came at the back wall of the byre and started to smash it in fast as he could.

Chae followed and John Guthrie, and the three of them worked like madmen there, Ellison's men splashed water down on the roof above them till suddenly the wall gave way before them and Chae's oldest cow stuck out its head and said Moo! right in Chae's face. The three scrambled through into the byre then, that was fell dangerous, the rafters were crumbling and falling all about the stalls, and it was half-dark there in spite of the flames. But they loosed another cow and two stirks before the fire drove them out, the others they had to leave, their lowing was fair demented and the smell of their burning sickening in your throat, it was nearly a quarter of an hour later before the roof fell in and killed the cattle. Long Rob of the Mill sat down by the side of the road and was suddenly as sick as could be, and he said By God, I never want to smell roasting beef again.

So that was the burning of the Peesie's Knapp, there was a great throng of folk in about by then, the Netherhill folk and the Upperhill, and Cuddiestoun, and Alec Mutch with his great lugs lit up by the fire, some had come on bicycles and some had run across half Kinraddie and two had brought their gigs. But there was little to do now but stand and glower at the fire and its mischief. Ellison drove off to the Mains with Mistress Strachan and the bairns, there for the night they were bedded. The cattle he'd saved from the byre Chae drove to Netherhill, folk began to put on their jackets again, it was little use waiting for anything else, they'd away home to their beds.

Chris could see nothing of either father or Will, she turned to make for Blawearie then. Outside the radiance of the burning Knapp it was hard and cold, starless but clear, as though the steel of the ground glowed faintly of itself; beyond rose the darkness as a black wall, still and opaque. On the verge of its embrasure it was that she nearly ran into two men tramping back along the road, she hardly saw them till she was on them. She cried Oh, I'm sorry, and one of them laughed and said something to the other, next instant before she knew what was happening that other had her in his arms, rough and strong, and had kissed her, he had a face with a soft, grained skin, it was the first time a man had ever kissed her like that, dark and frightening and terrible in the winter road.

The other stood by, Chris, paralysed, heard him breathing and knew he was laughing, and a far crackle rose from the last of the lowe in the burning biggings. Then she came to herself and kicked the man that held her, young he was with his soft, grained face, kicked him hard with her knee and then brought her nails down across his face. As he swore You bitch! and let go of her she kicked him again, with her foot this time, and he swore again, but the other said Hist! Here's somebody coming, and the two of them began to run, the cowardly tinks, it was father and Will on the road behind them.

And when Chris told Will of what happened, next morning it was that she told him when father wasn't by, he looked at her queerly, half-laughing, half-solemn, and made out he thought nothing of the happening, all ploughmen were like that, aye ready for fun. But it hadn't seemed fun to her, dead earnest rather; and lying that night in her bed between the cold sheets, curled up so that she might rub her white toes to some warmth and ease, it was in her memory like being chased and bitten by a beast, but worse and with something else in it, as though half she'd liked the beast and the biting and the smell of that sleeve around her neck and that soft, unshaven face against her own. Sweet breath he had had anyway, she thought, and laughed to herself, that was some consolation, the tink. And then she fell asleep and dreamed of him, an awful dream that made her blush even while she knew she was dreaming, she was glad when the morning came and was sane and cool and herself again.

 

But that dream came to her often while the winter wore on through Kinraddie, a winter that brought hardly any snow till New Year's Eve and then brought plenty darkening the sky with its white cascading. It was funny that darkening the blind fall and wheep of the snow should bring, like the loosening of a feather pillow above the hills, night came as early as three in the afternoon. They redd up the beasts early that evening, father and Will, feeding them well with turnips and straw and hot treacle poured on the straw, and then they came in to their supper and had it and sat close round the fire while Chris made a fine dumpling for New Year's Day. None of them spoke for long, listening to that whoom and blatter on the window-panes, and the clap-clap-clap of some loose slate far up on the roof, till father whispered and looked at them, his whisper hurt worse than a shout, God, I wonder why Jean left us?

Chris cried then, making no sound, she looked at Will and saw him with his face red and shamed, all three of them thinking of mother, her that was by them so kind and friendly and quick that last New Year, so cold and quiet and forgotten now with the little dead twins in the kirkyard of Kinraddie, piling black with the driving of the snow it would be under the rustle and swing and creak of the yews. And Will stared at father, his face was blind with pity, once he made to speak, but couldn't, always they'd hated one the other so much and they'd feel shamed if they spoke in friendship now.

So father took up his paper again and at ten o'clock Chris went out to milk the kye and Will went with her over the close, carrying the lantern, the flame of it leapt and starred and quivered and hesitated in the drive of the snow. In the light of it, like a rain of arrows they saw the coming of the storm that night swept down from the Grampian heuchs, thick and strong it was in Blawearie, but high in the real hills a smoring, straight wall must be sweeping the dark, blinding down against the lone huts of the shepherds and the faces of lost tinks tramping through it looking for lights the snow'd smothered long before. Chris was shaking, but not with cold, and inside the byre she leant on a stall and Will said God, you look awful, what is't? And she shook herself and said Nothing. Why haven't you gone to see Mollie to-night?

He said he was going next day, wasn't that enough, he'd be a corpse long ere he reached Drumlithie to-night--listen to the wind, it'll blow the damn place down on our lugs in a minute! And the byre shook, between the lulls it seemed to set its breath to rise and take from the hill-side into the air, there was such straining and creaking. Not that the calves or the stirks paid heed, they slept and snored in their stalls with never a care, there were worse things in the world than being a beast.

Back in the house it seemed to Chris she'd but hardly sieved the milk when the great clock ben in the parlour sent peal after peal out dirling through the place. Will looked at Chris and the two at father, and John Guthrie was just raising up his head from his paper, but if he'd been to wish them a happy New Year or not they were never to know, for right at that minute there came a brisk chap at the door and somebody lifted the sneck and stamped the snow from his feet and banged the door behind him.

And there he was, Long Rob of the Mill, muffled in a great grey cravat and with leggings up to the knees, covered and frosted from head to foot in the snow, he cried Happy New Year to you all! Am I the first? And John Guthrie was up on his feet, Ay, man, you're fairly that, out of that coat of yours! They stripped off the coat between them, faith! Rob's mouser was nearly frozen, but he said it was fine and laughed, and waited the glass of toddy father brought him and cried Your health! And just as it went down his throat there came a new knock, damn't if it wasn't Chae Strachan, he'd had more than a drink already and he cried Happy New Year, I'm the first foot in am I not? And he made to kiss Chris, she wouldn't have minded, laughing, but he slithered and couped on the floor. Long Rob peered down at him and cried out, shocked-like, Good God, Chae, you can't sleep there!

So he was hoisted into a chair and was better in a minute when he'd had another drink; and he began to tell what a hell of a life it was he'd to live in Netherhill now, the old mistress grew worse with the years, she'd near girn the jaws from her face if the Strachan bairns so much as gave a bit howl or had a bit fight--fell unreasoning that, no bairns there were but fought like tinks. And Long Rob said Ay, that was true, as it said in the hymn 'twas dog's delight to bark and bite, and faith! the average human could out-dog any cur that ever was pupped.

Now, horses were different, you'd hardly ever meet a horse that was naturally a quarreller, a coarse horse was a beast they'd broken in badly. He'd once had a horse--a three-four years come Martinmas that would have been, or no! man, it was only two--that he bought up in Auchinblae at the fall of the year, a big roan, coarse as hell, they said, and he'd nearly kicked the guts out of an old man there. Well, Rob had borrowed a bridle and tried to ride home the beast to the Mill, and twice in the first mile the horse threw him off with a snort and stood still, just laughing, as Rob picked himself up from the stour. But Rob just said to himself, All right, my mannie, we'll see who'll laugh last; and when he'd got that horse home he tied him up in his stall and gave him such a hammering, by God he nearly kicked down the stable.

Every night for a week he was walloped like that, and damn't man! in the shortest while he'd quietened down and turned into a real good worker, near human he was, that horse, he'd turn at the end of a rig as it drew to eleven o'clock and begin to nicker and neigh, he knew the time fine. Ay, canty beast that, he'd turned, and sold at a profit in a year or so, it just showed you what a handless man did with a horse, for Rob had heard that the beast's new owner had let the horse clean go over him. A sound bit leathering and a pinch of kindness was the only way to cure a coarse horse.

Chae hiccuped and said Damn't ay, man, maybe you're right. It's a pity old Sinclair never thought of treating his fish-wife like that, she'd deave a door-nail with her whines and plaints, the thrawn old Tory bitch. And Long Rob said there were worse folk than Tories and Chae said if there were they kept themselves damn close hidden, if he'd his way he'd have all Tories nailed up in barrels full of spikes and rolled down the side of the Grampians; and Long Rob said there would be a gey boom in the barrel trade then, the most of Kinraddie would be inside the barrels; and Chae said And a damned good riddance of rubbish, too.

They were both heated up with the toddy then, and raising their voices, but father just said, cool-like, that he was a Liberal himself, and what did they think of this bye-election coming off in the February? Chae said it would make no difference who got in, one tink robber was bad as another, Tory as Liberal; damn't if he understood why Blawearie should be taken in by those Liberals. Long Rob said Why don't you stand as the Socialist man yourself, Chae? and winked at Chris, but Chae took it real serious and said maybe he'd do that yet once Peesie's Knapp was builded again. And Long Rob said Why wait for that? You're allowing your opinions to eat their heads off in idleness, like a horse in a stall in winter. Losh, man, but they're queer beasts, horses. There's my sholtie, Kate--But Chae said Och, away to hell with your horses, Rob. Damn't, if you want a canty kind of beast there's nothing like a camel, and maybe he'd have just begun to tell them about the camel if he hadn't fallen off his chair then, nearly into the fire he went, and John Guthrie smiled at him over his beard, as though he'd really rather cut his throat than smile. And then Will and Long Rob helped Chae to his feet, Long Rob gave a laugh and said it was time they went dandering back to their beds, he'd see Chae far as the Netherhill.

The storm had cleared a bit by then, it was bright starlight Chris saw looking after the figures of the two from her bedroom window--not very steady, either of them, with shrouded Kinraddie lying below and a smudge there, faint and dark, far down in the night, that was the burned-out steading of Peesie's Knapp.

 

And there the smudge glimmered through many a week, they didn't start on Peesie's new steading till well in the February. But faith! there was clatter enough of tongues round the place right from the night of the fire onwards. All kinds of folk came down and poked in the ash with their walking-sticks, the police and the Cruelty came from Stone haven; and the factor came, he was seldom seen unless there was money in question; and insurance creatures buzzed down from Aberdeen like a swarm of fleas, their humming and hawing and gabbling were the speak of all Kinraddie.

Soon all kinds of stories flew up and down the Howe, some said the fire had been lighted by Chae himself, a Drumlithie billy riding by the Knapp late that night of the fire had seen Chae with a box of spunks in his hand, coming from the lighting of the straw sow, sure; for soon as he saw the billy on the bicycle back Chae had jumped to the lithe again. Others said the fire had been set by the folk of Netherhill, their only chance of recovering the silver they'd loaned to Chae. But that was just a plain lie, like the others, Chris thought, Chae'd have never cried for his burning sholtie like that if he'd meant it to burn for insurance.

But stories or no, they couldn't shake Chae, he was paid his claims up to the hilt, folk said he'd made two-three hundred pounds on the business, he'd be less keen now for Equality. But faith! if he'd won queer silver queerly, he'd lost feint the queer notion in the winning of it.

Just as the building of the new bit Knapp began so did the bye-election, the old member had died in London of drink, poor brute, folk said when they cut his corpse open it fair gushed out with whisky. Ah well, he was dead then, him and his whisky, and though he'd maybe been a good enough childe to represent the shire, feint the thing had the shire ever seen of him except at election times. Now there came a young Tory gent in the field, called Rose he was, an Englishman with a funny bit squeak of a voice, like a bairn that's wet its breeks. But the Liberal was an oldish creature from Glasgow, fell rich he was, folk said, with as many ships to his name as others had fields. And real Radical he was, with everybody's money but his own, and he said he'd support the Insurance and to Hell with the House of Lords, Vote for the Scottish Thistle and not for the English Rose.

But the Tory said the House of Lords had aye been defenders of the Common People, only he didn't say aye, his English was a real drawback; and it was at the meeting where he said that, that Chae Strachan up and asked if it wasn't true that his own uncle was a lord? And the Tory said Yes, and Chae said that maybe that lord would be glad to see him in Parliament but there was a greater Lord who heard when the Tories took the name of poor folk in vain. The God of old Scotland there was, aye fighting on the side of the people since the days of old John Knox, and He would yet bring to an end the day of wealth and waster throughout the world, liberty and equality and fraternity were coming though all the damned lordies in the House of Lords should pawn their bit coronets and throw their whores back in the streets and raise private armies to fight the common folk with their savings.

But then the stewards made at Chae, he hadn't near finished, and an awful stamash broke out in the hall; for though most of the folk had been laughing at Chae they weren't to see him mishandled by an English tink and the coarse fisher brutes he'd hired from Gourdon; to keep folk from asking him questions. So when the first steward laid hands on Chae, John Guthrie, who was sitting near, cried Ay, man, who'll you be? And the fisher swore You keep quiet as well, and father rose and took him a belt in the face, and the fisher's nose bled like the Don in spate, and somebody put out a leg and tripped him up and that was the end of his stewarding. And when the other steward made to come to his help Long Rob of the Mill said Away home to your stinking fish! and took him by the lug and ran him out of the hall and kicked him into the grass outside.

Then everybody was speaking at once, Mr. Gibbon was the Tory lad's chairman and he called out Can't you give us fair play, Charles Strachan? But Chae's blood was up, strong for the Kirk though he was in a way he clean forgot who he spoke to--Come outside a minute, my mannie, and I'll fair-play you! The minister wasn't such a fool as that, though, he said that the meeting was closed, fair useless it was to go on; and he said that Chae was a demagogue and Chae said that he was a liar, folk cried out Wheest, wheest! at that and begun to go home. The Tory childe got hantle few votes in the end, Chae boasted it was his help put in the old Liberal stock; and God knows if he thought that fine he was easily pleased, they never saw the creature again in Kinraddie.

 

But that was the last time father struck a man, striking in cold anger and cold blood as was the way of him. Folk said he was an unchancy child to set in a rage; but his next rage mischieved himself, not others. For a while up into the New Year, April and the turnip-time, things at Blawearie went fair and smooth, Will saying no more than his say at plate or park, never countering father, hardly he looked at him even; and father maybe thought to rule the roost as he'd done before when Will was no more than a boy that cowered when he heard that sharp voice raised, frightened and beaten and lying through nights with his sore wealed body in the arms of Chris. But Chris, knowing none of his plannings, guessed right well something new it was kept Will quiet, so quiet day on day, yet if you looked at him sudden you'd more likely than not seeing him smiling to himself, lovely the face that he smiled with, brown and clean, and his eyes were kind and clear and the hair grew down on his head in a bonny mop, Will took after mother with that flame of rusty gold that was hers.

Ah well, he kept to his whistling and his secret smiling, and every night after loosening and suppering was done, off down the road on his old bit bicycle he'd go, you'd hear through the evening stillness nothing but the sound of the old machine whirring down Blawearie road, and the weet-weet of the peewits flying twilit over Kinraddie, wheeling and circling there in the dark, daft creatures that made their nests in this rig and that and would come back next day and find them robbed or smothered away. So for hundreds of years they'd done, the peewits, said Long Rob of the Mill, and hadn't learned the sense of the thing even yet; and if you were to take that as a sample of the Divine Intelligence that had allotted a fitting amount of brain to each creature's needs then all you could suppose was that the Divine had more than a spite against the peesie.

Chris heard him say that one day she looked in at the Mill to ask when a sack of bruised corn, left there by Will, would be ready. But there on the bench outside the Mill, in the shade from the hot Spring weather, sat Rob and Chae and Mutch of Bridge End, all guzzling beer from long bottles they were, Rob more bent on bruising their arguments than on bruising Blawearie's corn.

Peewits were flying round the Mill fell thick, peewits and crows that nested in the pines above the Mill, and the birds it was had begun the argument. Chris waited for a while, pleased enough with the shade and rest, hearkening to Long Rob make a fool of God. But Alec Mutch wagged his meikle lugs, No, man, you're fair wrong there. And man, Rob, you'll burn in hell for that, you know. Chae was half on his side and half wasn't, he said Damn the fears, that's nothing but an old wife's gabble for fearing the bairns. But Something there IS up there, Rob man, there's no denying that. If I thought there wasn't I'd out and cut my throat this minute. Then the three of them sighted Chris and Rob got up, the long, rangy childe with the glinting eyes, and cried Is't about the bruised corn, Chris? Tell Will I'll do it to-night.

But Will had unyoked and made off to Drumlithie, his usual gait, when Chris got home, and father was up on the moor with his gun, you heard the bang of the shots come now and then. Chris had a great baking to do that night, both father and Will would eat oatcakes and scones for a wager, bought bread from the vans soon scunnered them sore. Warm work it was when you'd heaped a great fire and the girdle glowed below, you'd nearly to strip in fine weather if you weren't to sweat yourself sick. Chris got out of most things but a vest and a petticoat, she was all alone and could do as she pleased, it was fine and free and she baked with a will.

She was lifting the last cake, browned and good and twice cross cut, when she knew that somebody watched her from the door of the kitchen, and she looked, it was Ewan Tavendale, him she hadn't seen since the day of the thresh at Peesie's Knapp. He was standing against the jamb, long and dark with his glowering eyes, but he reddened when she looked, not half as much as she did herself, she could feel the red warm blushing come through her skin from tip to toe; such a look he's taking, she thought, it's a pity I'm wearing a thing and he can't study the blush to its end.

But he just said Hello, is Will about? and Chris said No, in Drumlithie I think, and they stood and glowered like a couple of gowks, Chris saw his eyes queer and soft and shy, the neck of his shirt had fallen apart, below it the skin was white as new milk, frothed white it looked, and a drop of sweat stood there where the brown of his tanning and the white of his real skin met. And then Chris suddenly knew something and blushed again, sharp and silly, she couldn't stop, she'd minded the night of the fire at Peesie's Knapp and the man that had kissed her on the homeward road, Ewan Tavendale it had been, no other, shameless and coarse.

He was blushing himself again by then, they looked at each other in a white, queer daze, Chris wondered in a kind of a panic if he knew what she knew at last, half-praying she was he wouldn't speak of it when he began to move off from the door, still red, stepping softly, like father, like a limber, soft-stepping cat. Well, I was hoping I'd see him in case he should leave us suddenlike.

She stared at him all awake, that kissing on the winter road forgotten. Leave? Who said Will was leaving?--Oh, I heard he was trying for a job in Aberdeen, maybe it's a lie. Tell him I called in about. Ta-ta.

She called Ta-ta, Ewan, after him as he crossed the close, he half-turned round and smiled at her, quick and dark like a cat again, Ta-ta, Chris. And she stood looking after him a long while, not thinking, smiling, till the smell of a burning cake roused her to run, just like the English creature Alfred.

And next morning she said to Will after breakfast, casual-like, but her heart in her throat, Ewan Tavendale was down to see you last night, he thought you'd be leaving Blawearie soon. And Will took it cool and quiet, Did he? God, they'd haver the breeks from a Highlandman's haunches, the gossipers of Kinraddie. Tavendale down to see me? More likely he was down to take a bit keek at you, Chris lass. So look after yourself, for he's Highland and coarse.

In July it came to the hay-time, and John Guthrie looked at Will and said he was going to have down the hay with a scythe this year, not spoil the bit stuff with a mower. Fair plain to Chris he expected Will to fly in a rage at that and say he wasn't to chave and sweat in the forking of rig after rig when a mower would clear Blawearie's park in a day or two at the most. But Will just said All right and went on with his porridge, and went out to the field in the tail of father, a fork on his shoulder and whistling happy as a lark, so that father turned round and snapped Hold your damned wheeber, you'll need your breath for the bout. Even at that Will laughed, as a man at a girning bairn, right off they were worse friends than even the year before. But all that time, Will was making his plans and on the morning of the August's last Saturday, Chris aye remembered that morning with its red sun and the singing of the North Sea over the Howe, that morning he said to father I'm off to Aberdeen to-day.

Father said never a word, he went on with his porridge and finished it, he mightn't have heard Will speak, he lighted his pipe and stepped out of the house, fleet as ever he went, and began coling the hayfield in front of the house; Will could see him then and be shamed of himself and his idle jaunting. But Will wasn't ashamed, he looked after father with a sneer, The old fool thinks he can frighten me still, and said something else Chris didn't catch, syne looked at her suddenly, his eyes bright and his lips moving, Chris--Lord, I wish you were coming as well!

She stared at that amazed, pleased as well. What, up to Aberdeen? I'd like it fine but I can't. Hurry and dress else you'll miss your train.

So he went and dressed, fell slow-like he seemed at the business, she thought, the morning and a jaunt in front of him. She went to the foot of the stairs and cried up to ask if he were having a sleep before he set out? And instead of answering her back with a jest and a fleer he laughed a shaky laugh and called out All right, he'd soon be down. And when he came she saw him in his Sunday suit, with his new boots shining, he'd on a new hat that suited him fine. Well, will I do? he asked and Chris said You look fair brave, and he said Havers! and picked up his waterproof, Well, ta-ta, Chris; and suddenly turned round to her and she saw his face red and strange and he kissed her, they hadn't kissed since they were children lying in a bed together on a frosty night.

She wiped her mouth, feeling shamed and pleased, and pushed him away, he tried to speak, and couldn't, and said Oh, to hell! and turned and ran out of the door, she saw him go down the Blawearie road fast as he could walk, looking up at the hills he was with the sun on them and the slow fog rising off the Howe, jerking his head this way and that, fast though he walked, but he didn't once look in father's direction nor father at him. Syne she heard him whistling bonny and clear, Up in the Morning, it was, they'd used that for a signal in the days when they went the school-road together, and down on the turnpike edge he looked round and stood still, and waved his hand, he knew she was watching. Then a queer kind of pain came into her throat, her eyes smarted and she told herself she was daft, Will was only off for the day, he'd be back at night.

 

But Will didn't come back that night, he didn't come back the next day, he came back never again to John Guthrie's Kinraddie. For up in Aberdeen he was wed to his Mollie Douglas, he'd altered his birth certificate for that; and the earth might have opened and swallowed them up after that, it seemed not a soul in Aberdeen had seen them go. So when father went into Aberdeen on the track of the two there wasn't a trace to be found, he went to the police and raged at them, but they only laughed--had he lain with the quean himself, maybe, that so mad he was with this son of his?

So father came home, fair bursting with rage, but that didn't help. And ten days went by before they heard of the couple again, it came in a letter Will sent to Chris at Blawearie; and it told that through Mollie's mother, old Mistress Douglas, Will had got him a job in the Argentine, cattleman there on a big Polled Angus ranch, and he and Mollie were sailing from Southampton the day he wrote; and oh! he wished Chris could have seen them married; and remember them kindly, they would write again, and Mrs. Douglas at Drumlithie would aye be a friend to her.

So that was Will's going, it was fair the speak of the parish a while, folk laughed at father behind his back and said maybe that would bring down his pride a bit; and they asked Chae Strachan, that well-travelled childe, where was this Argentine, was it a fine place, would you say? And Chae said Och, fine, he'd never been actually there, you might say, but a gey fine place it was, no doubt, a lot of silver was there; and Damn't man, young Guthrie's no fool to spread his bit wings, I was just the same myself. But most said it was fair shameful of Will to go off and leave his father like that, black burning shame he might think of himself; it just showed you what the world was coming to, you brought bairns into the world and reared them up and expected some comfort from them in your old age and what did you get? Nothing but a lot of damned impudence, it was all this education and dirt. You might well depend on it, that coarse young Guthrie brute would never thrive, there'd be a judgment on him, you'd see, him and his coarse tink quean.

Judgment or not on Will, it was hardly a week before his own rage struck down John Guthrie. He'd been setting up ricks in the cornyard when Chris heard a frightened squawk break out from the hens. She thought maybe some strange dog was among them and caught up a spurtle and ran out to the close and there saw father lying still in his blood, black blood it looked on his face where he'd fallen and mischieved himself against a stone.

She cried out to him in fright and then cooled herself down, and ran for water from the spring and dipped her hanky in it and bathed his face. He opened his eyes then, dazed-like he seemed, and he said All right, Jean lass, and tried to rise, and couldn't. And rage came on him again, he put out his hand and gave Chris a push that near threw her down, he tried and tried to rise up, it was sickening to see. He chaved on the ground as though something tied him there, all one of his sides and legs, and the blood veins stood out blue on his face; and he cursed and said Get into the house, you white-faced bitch! he wouldn't have her looking at him. So she watched from behind the door, near sick she felt, it was as though a great frog were squattering there in the stour, and the hens gathered and squawked about him.

And at last he stood up and staggered to a stone, and Chris didn't look more, going on with her work as well as she could with hands that quivered and quivered. But when he came in for supper he looked much as ever, and grumbled at this and that, and ate his egg as though it would do him ill, syne got his gun and went off to the hill as fleet as ever.

He was long up there, Chris went to the window and watched for him, seeing the August late night close in, Cuddiestoun's sheep were baaing high up in the Cuddiestoun moor and a sprig of the honeysuckle that made the Blawearie hedges so bonny through the summer tapped and touched against the window-pane, it was like a slow hand tapping there; and the evening was quiet in the blow of the night-wind, and no sign of father till Chris grew alarmed and nearly went out to look for him. But then she heard his step in the porch, in he came and put down his gun and saw her stand there and cried out Damn't to hell, is that all you've to do, stand about like a lady? So you could hardly believe there was much wrong with him then, except ill-nature, he'd plenty of that, you'd no foreseeing that next morning he'd try to get out of bed and lie paralysed.

She wouldn't in a hurry forget the sight of him then, nor the run she had down Blawearie brae till the new Knapp came in sight, brave with its biggings and house. But there at last was Chae Strachan, he was busied letting a strainer into the ground, smoking, the blue smoke of his pipe rose into the air, blue, like a pencil-stroke, a cock was crowing across the Denburn and he didn't hear her cry for a while. But then he did and was quick enough, he ran up to meet her, What's wrong, Chris lass? and she told him and he turned and ran down--Go back to your father and I'll get to the doctor myself and send the wife up to Blawearie.

And up she came, the fat, fusionless creature, all she could do was to stand and gowk at father, Mighty me, Mr. Guthrie, this is a sore, sore sight, whatever will you do now, eh? And father mouthed and mowed at her from the bed as though the first thing he'd be keen on doing was braining her, paralysis or not he'd still plenty of rage. For when the doctor came up at last from Bervie and bustled into the room, peering and poking with the sharp, quick face of him, and his bald head shining, and snapped in his curt-like way, What's this? what's wrong with you now, Blawearie? father managed to speak out then right enough--That's for you to find out, what the hell do you think you're paid for?

So the doctor grinned behind his hand, One of you women must help me strip him. And he looked from Kirsty to Chris and said You, Chris lass, and that she did while Mrs. Strachan went down to the kitchen to make him tea and trail around like a clucking hen, God! what might be happening in Peesie's Knapp without her? Chris lost her temper at last, she lost it seldom enough, this time it went with a bang--I don't know either what's happening in Peesie's Knapp but if you're in such tune about it you'd better go home and find out. Mrs. Strachan reddened up at that, bubbling like a hubbley-jock, that wasn't the way for a quean to speak to a woman that might well be her mother, she might think shame to curse and swear with her father lying at death's door there. And Chris said she hadn't sworn, but she was overweary to argie about it, and knew right well that whatever she said now Mistress Strachan would spread a fine story about her.

And sure as death so she did, it was soon all over the Howe that that coarse quean at Blawearie had started to swear at Mistress Strachan while her father was lying near dead in the room above their heads. Only Chae himself didn't believe it, and when he came up to Blawearie next day he whispered to Chris, Is't true you gave Kirsty a bit of a damning yesterday? and when she said she hadn't he said it was a pity, it was time that somebody did.

 

So there father lay and had lain ever since, all those five weeks he'd lain there half-paralysed, with a whistle beside his bed when he wanted attention, and God! that was often enough. Creeping to her bed half-dead at night Chris would find herself thinking a thing that wouldn't bear a rethinking out here in the sun, with the hum of the heather-bees, heather-smell in her face, Lord! could she only lie here a day how she'd sleep and sleep. Fold over her soul and her heart and put them away with their hours of vexing and caring, the ploughing was done, she was set to her drilling, and faith! it was weary work!

She started and sighed and took her hands down from her face and listened again. Far down in Blawearie there rose the blast of an angry-blown whistle.

 

 

III

SEED-TIME

 

She'd thought, running, stumbling up through the moor, with that livid flush on her cheek, up through the green of the April day with the bushes misted with cobwebs, I'll never go back, I'll never go back, I'll drown myself in the loch! Then she stopped, her heart it seemed near to bursting and terribly below it moved something, heavy and slow it had been when she ran out from Blawearie but now it seemed to move and uncoil. Slow, dreadfully, it moved and changed, like a snake she had once seen up on this hill, and the sweat broke out on her forehead. Had anything happened with it? Oh God, there couldn't be anything! If only she hadn't run so, had kept herself quiet, not struck as she'd done, deaved and angry and mad she had been!

Sobbing, she fell to a slow walk then, her hand at her side, and through the gate into the moorland went with slow steps, the livid flush burning still on her cheek, she felt it was branded there. Tears had come in her eyes at last, but she wouldn't have them, shook them off, wouldn't think; and a pheasant flew up beneath her feet, whirroo! as she came to the mere of the loch. She bent over there through the rushes, raising her hands to her hair that had come all undone, and parted it from her face and looked down at her face in the water. It rippled a moment, it was brown with detritus, at first she could see nothing of herself but a tremulous amorphousness in the shadow of the rushes; and then the water cleared, she saw the flush below her cheek-bone, her own face, strange to her this last month and stranger now.

Below in Kinraddie the carts were rattling up every farm-road, driving out dung to the turnip-planting, somewhere there was a driller on the go, maybe it was Upperhill's, the clank was a deafening thing. Nine o'clock in the morning and here up on the hill she was, she didn't know where to go or where to turn.

There were the Standing Stones, so seldom she'd seen them this last nine months. Cobwebbed and waiting they stood, she went and leant her cheek against the meikle one, the monster that stood and seemed to peer over the water and blue distances that went up to the Grampians. She leant against it, the bruised cheek she leaned and it was strange and comforting--stranger still when you thought that this old stone circle more and more as the years went on at Kinraddie, was the only place where ever she could come and stand back a little from the clamour of the days. It seemed to her now that she'd had feint the minute at all to stand and think since that last September day she'd spent up here, caught and clamped and turning she'd been in the wheel and grind of the days since father died.

 

But at the time a thing fine and shining it had been, she hadn't cared if folk deemed her heartless and godless--fine she thought it, a prayer prayed and answered, him dead at last with his glooming and glaring, his whistlings and whisperings. Chris, do this, and Chris, do that it went on from morn till night till but hardly she could drag herself to the foot of the stairs to heed him.

But a worse thing came as that slow September dragged to its end, a thing she would never tell to a soul, festering away in a closet of her mind the memory lay, it would die sometime, everything died, love and hate; fainter and fainter it had grown this year till but half she believed it a fancy, those evening fancies when father lay with the red in his face and his eye on her, whispering and whispering at her, the harvest in his blood, whispering her to come to him, they'd done it in Old Testament times, whispering You're my flesh and blood, I can do with you what I will, come to me, Chris, do you hear?

And she would hear him and stare at him, whispering also, I won't, they never spoke but in whispers those evenings. And then she'd slip down from his room, frightened and frightened, quivering below-stairs while her fancies raced, starting at every creak that went through the harvest stillness of Blawearie house, seeing father somehow struggling from his bed, like a great frog struggling, squattering across the floor, thump, thump on the stairs, coming down on her while she slept, that madness and tenderness there in his eyes.

She took to locking her door because of that wild fear. The morning of the day she woke to find him dead she leaned out from her bedroom window and heard Long Rob of the Mill, far ayont the parks of Pessie's Knapp, out even so early, hard at work with his chaving and singing, singing Ladies of Spain with a throat as young and clear as a boy's. She had slept but little that night, because of the fear upon her and the tiredness, but that singing was sweet to hear, sweet and heart-breaking, as though the world outside Blawearie were singing to her, telling her this thing in the dark, still house could never go on, no more than a chance and an accident it was in the wind-loved world of men.

She got into her clothes then, clearer-headed, and slipped down to the kitchen and put on the kettle and milked the kye and then made breakfast. Below the windows the parks stood cut and stooked and trim, Ellison and Chae and Long Rob had done that, good neighbours John Guthrie had, had he never aught else. There came no movement from father's room, he was sleeping long, and setting the tray with porridge and milk she hoped he'd have nothing to say, just glower and eat, she'd slip away then.

So she went up the stair and into his room without knocking, he hated knocking and all such gentry-like notions, she put down the tray and saw he was dead. For a moment she looked and then turned to the curtains and drew them, and took the tray in her hand again, no sense in leaving it there, and went down and ate a good breakfast, slowly and enjoyingly she ate and felt quiet and happy, even though she fell fast asleep in her chair and awoke to find it gone nine. She lay and looked at her outspread arms a while, dimpled and brown, soft-skinned with the play of muscles below them. Sleep? She could sleep as she chose now, often and long.

Then she tidied the kitchen and found a spare sheet and went out to the hedge above the road and spread the sheet there, the sign she'd arranged with Chae should she need him. In an hour or so, out in his parks he saw it and came hurrying up to Blawearie, crying to her halfway up Chris, lass, what's wrong? Then only she realized she hadn't yet spoken that day to a soul, wondered if her voice would shake and break, it didn't, was ringing and clear as a bell crying down to Chae, My father's dead.

It was fair a speak in Kinraddie, her coolness, she knew that well but she didn't care, she was free at last. And when Mistress Munro, her that came to wash down the corpse, poked out her futret face and said, A body would hardly think to look at you that your father was new dead, Chris looked at the dark, coarse creature and saw her so clearly as she'd never done before, she'd never had time to look at a soul through her own eyes before, Chris-come-here and Chris-go-there. Not a pringle of anger she felt, just smiled and said Wouldn't you, now, Mistress Munro? and watched her at work and watched her go, not caring a fig what she thought and did. Then she roused herself for a while, free yet she could hardly be for a day or so, and got ready the big room for Auntie Janet and her man to sleep in, medals and all, when they came down to the funeral.

Down the next day they came, the two of them, Auntie as cheery as ever, Uncle as fat, he'd another bit medal stuck on his chain; and when they saw she wasn't sniftering or weeping they put off the long decent faces they'd set for her sight, and told her the news, Dod and Alec did fine and had sent their love. And Auntie said they must sell up the things at Blawearie and Chris come and bide with them in the North, some brave bit farmer would soon marry her there.

And Chris said neither yea nor nay, but smiled at them, biding her time, waiting till she found if a will had been left by father. Chae Strachan and old Sinclair of Netherhill saw to the funeral, old Sinclair moving so slow up the road, you'd half think he'd stop and take root, clean agony it was to watch him, and his face so pitted and old, father had been young by the like of him. And Mr. Gibbon came over to see her, he'd been drinking a fell lot of late, folk said, maybe that accounted for the fact that as he crossed the twilit brae he was singing out loud to himself, Auntie heard the singing and ran up and out and hid in the lithe of a stack to try and make out what he sang. But he left off then and left her fair vexed, she said later she could have sworn it was a song they sang in the bothies about the bedding of a lad and a lass.

But Chris didn't care, keeping that secret resolve she'd made warm and clean and unsoiled in her heart, taking it out only alone to look at it, that old-time dream of hers. She'd never looked at herself so often or so long as now she did, the secret shining deep in her eyes, she saw her face thinner and finer than of yore, no yokel face it seemed. So she cared nothing for Mr. Gibbon and his singing, the great curly brute and his breath that smelt so bad, he went up with her to father's room where father lay in his coffin, in a fine white shirt and a tie, his beard combed out and decent and jutting up, you'd say in a minute he'd raise those dead eyelids and whisper at you.

Down on his knees the minister went, the great curly bull, and began to pray, Chris hesitated a minute and looked at the floor, and then, canny-like, when he wasn't seeing her, dusted a patch and herself knelt down. But she didn't heed a word he was saying, honeysuckle smell was drifting in on the air from the night, up on the hills the dog of some ploughman out poaching was barking and barking itself to a fair hysteria following the white blink of some rabbit's tail, in the closing dark she could see across the brae's shoulder the red light of Kinraddie House shine like a quiet star. So the curly bull prayed and boomed beside her, it was what he was paid for, she neither listened nor cared.

And that brought the funeral, it was raining early in the dawn when they woke, a fine drizzle that seeped and seeped from the sky, so soft and fine you'd think it snow without whiteness; there was no sun at all at first but it came up at last, a red ball, and hung there so till ten o'clock brought up the first of the funeral folk, and that was Chae, and his father-in-law, syne Ellison and Maitland in a gig they loosed in the corn-yard, setting the sholtie to graze. And Ellison cried out, but low and decent, I'll leave him here, me dear, sure he'll be all right, won't he? and Chris smiled and said Fine, Mr. Ellison, and he goggled his eyes, Irish as ever, you could never change Erbert Ellison, not even for the worse, folk said.

Next there came a whole drove of folk, the factor, the minister, Cuddiestoun with his ill-marled face like a potato-park dug in coarse weather, but a fine white front, new-starched, to cover his working sark, and cuffs that fair chafed his meikle red hands, right decent, and he'd on fine yellow boots on his meikle feet. Rob of the Mill and Alec Mutch came next, you could hear their tongues from the foot of Blawearie brae, folk were affronted and went out and cried Wheest-wheest! down to them, and Rob called back What is't? and faith! it would have been better if they'd been left alone, what with the wheesting and whispering that rose.

But they were real good, Rob bringing a bottle of whisky, Glenlivet it was, and Alec a half-bottle, they whisked them over to Uncle Tam when nobody looked; or anyway not a body but looked the other way and spoke, canny-like, of the weather. The kitchen was fair crowded, so was the room, like a threshing-day, folk sat and each had a dram, Mr. Gibbon said Spirits? Yes, thank you, I'll have a drop, there'd have been barely enough to go round but for Rob and Alec. Then they heard another gig come up the hill, it was Gordon's from Upperhill, him and his foreman. Uncle Tam winked at the whisky. You'll have a dram, Upperhill, you and your man? but Mr. Gordon said, sniffy-like, I hardly think it shows respect and Ewan's tee-tee as well.

Long Rob of the Mill sat next the door, he winked at Chris and then at Ewan Tavendale, Ewan turned fair red and said nothing. So he hadn't a dram, he'd have liked one fine, Chris guessed, and felt mean and pleased and shy, and then gave herself a shake inside, what did it matter to her? Then the minister looked at his watch and the undertaker came in about, and then last of all, they hadn't expected the poor old stock, there was Pooty on the doorstep, he'd on a clean collar and shirt and an old hat, green but well-brushed; and when Uncle whispered if he'd have a dram he said Och, ay, it's the custom, isn't it? and had two.

The undertaker had gone up by then, Uncle with him, folk followed them one by one and came down, syne Auntie beckoned Chris to the neuk of the stair and said Would you like to see him before he's screwed down?

Uncle Tam and Long Rob of the Mill were there and as Chris went in Long Rob said Well, well, good-bye, Blawearie man, and shook father's hand, his eyes looked queer when he turned away, he said He was a fine neighbour and went out and closed the door. Chris stood and looked at her father, seeing him so plain as never in life she'd seen him, he'd been over-restless for that and quick enough he'd have raged at you had you glowered at his face like this.

Still enough now, never-moving there in the coffin, he seemed to have changed already since he died, the face sunk in, it wasn't John Guthrie and yet it was. Uncle whispered behind her, him and the undertaker, and then Auntie was beside her. They're to screw it down now, kiss your father, Chris. But she shook her head, she couldn't do that, the room was still as they looked at her, for a moment she felt almost sick again as in those evening hours when that in the coffin had lain and whispered that she should lie with it. Then she just said Good-bye, father, and turned from him and went down to her own room and put on her coat and hat, it wasn't decent for a quean to go to a funeral, folk said, but in Blawearie's case there was no son or brother to see him into the kirkyard.

Chae and Long Rob and Ellison and Gordon carried the coffin down to the stair-foot, and settled it on their shoulders there, and went slow with it out through the front door then; and the rain held off a little, wind blowing in their faces, though, as they held down the hill. Behind walked the Reverend Gibbon, bare-headed, all the folk were bare-headed but Chris, Long Rob and Chae stepping easily and cannily, Ellison as well, but Gordon quivering at his coffin corner, he'd have done better with a dram to steady him up. But Chris walked free and uncaring, soon as the burial was over she'd be free as never in her life she'd been, she lifted her face to the blow of the wet September wind and the world that was free to her.

Then it was that she saw Ewan Tavendale walked beside her, he glanced down just then and straight and fair up into his eyes she looked, she nearly stumbled in the slow walk because of that looking. They came to the turnpike then, there Ewan took Gordon's corner and Alec Mutch Ellison's, and these two fell back beside the minister, but Chae and Long Rob shook their heads when others offered to change with them, they'd manage fine.

The rain still held off, presently the wind soughing down the Howe died away and a little peek of sun came through, not down the Denburn it came but high up in the hill peaks, the lost, coarse ground where never a soul lived or passed but some shepherd or gillie, you could see them far off, lone and lonesome there on a still, clear day. Maybe so the dead walked in a still clear, deserted land, the coarse lands of death where only the chance wanderer showed his face, Chris thought, and the dead lapwings wheeled and cried against another sun. Then she ceased from that, startled out a moment from the calm that had come to her with her father's dying--daft to dream these things now when she planned so much. Step, step, steadily and cannily went Long Rob and Chae, Chae getting bald and sandy in the crown, but Rob still with the corn hair clustered thick and the great moustaches swinging from his cheeks as they turned up the road that led to the kirkyard.

Then the sun went again, it was eleven o'clock perhaps, and Chris raised her eyes and saw through the trees the blinded windows of the Mains, the curtains were all drawn, decent-like, in respect for the funeral; and she felt a queer, sick thrill just below her left breast, not ill or sick, but just like a starting of the blood there, as though she'd leant on that place too long, and it had grown numb. It was dark under the yews, they dripped on the coffin and Long Rob, then there came a pattering as they passed by slow beneath, and Chris saw the long, oval leaves suddenly begin to quiver, it was as though a hand shook them, and through the leaves was the sky, it had blackened over and the rain was coming driving in a sheet down the brae from the Grampian haughs. It came and whipped the wet skirts about her legs, she saw Long Rob and Chae and Ewan stagger and then stand leaning against the drift, and then go on, not a soul put on his hat, there'd be bad colds by night and ill-tunes over this funeral yet.

That wasn't decent to think, but what did it matter to her? She wished she were back in Blawearie, and hoped the minister would not be over long-winded when he said his say. There was the grave-digger, a man from the Mains, a big scrawny childe who lived ill with his wife, folk said, he had his coat collar up and came out below the eaves of the kirk and motioned them along a path. And ben it they went, then Chris saw the grave, red clay and bright it was, not as she'd expected his grave somehow to be, they weren't burying him in mother's grave. For that land was over-crowded, folk said that every time the grave-digger stuck his bit spade in the ground some bone or another from the dead of olden time would come spattering out, fair scunnering you. But this was an old enough bit as well, right opposite rose the stone with the cross-bones, maybe all the dead bodies had long mouldered away into red clay here, clay themselves, and folk were glad they left the earth free for new-comers.

Uncle had come to her elbow then and he stood with her, the others stood back, it was strange and silent but for the soft patter of the rain on the yews and the Reverend Gibbon shielding his Bible away from the wet drive of it, beginning to read. And Chris listened, her head bent against the rain's whisper, to the words that promised Resurrection and Life through Jesus Christ our Lord, who had died long syne in Palestine and had risen on the third day and would take from that thing that had been John Guthrie quick, and was now John Guthrie dead, the quickness and give it habitation again.

And Chris thought of her dream looking up at the coarse lands of the hills and thinking of the lands of death, was that where Christ would meet with father? Unco and strange to think, standing here in the rain and listening to that voice, that father himself was there in that dark box heaped with the little flowers that folk had sent, father whom they were to leave here happed in red clay, alone in darkness and earth when the night came down. Surely he'd be back waiting her up in Blawearie, she'd hear his sharp, vexed voice and see him come fleetly out of the house, that red beard of his cocked as ever at the world he'd fought so dourly and well--

Somebody chaved at her hand then, it was the grave-digger, he was gentle and strangely kind, and she looked down and couldn't see, for now she was crying, she hadn't thought she would ever cry for father, but she hadn't known, she hadn't known this thing that was happening to him! She found herself praying then, blind with tears in the rain, lowering the cord with the hand of the grave-digger over hers, the coffin dirling below the spears of the rain. Father, father, I didn't know! Oh father, I didn't KNOW!

She hadn't known, she'd been dazed and daft with her planning, her days could never be aught without father; and she minded then, wildly, in a long, broken flash of remembrance, all the fine things of him that the years had hidden from their sight, the fleetness of him and his justice, and the fight unwearying he'd fought with the land and its masters to have them all clad and fed and respectable, he'd never rested working and chaving for them, only God had beaten him in the end.

And she minded the long roads he'd tramped to the kirk with her when she was young, how he'd smiled at her and called her his lass in days before the world's fight and the fight of his own flesh grew over-bitter, and poisoned his love to hate. Oh father, I didn't know! she prayed again, and then that was over, she was in the drive of the rain, hard and tearless, the grave-digger was pointing to the ground and she picked up a handful of soft, wet earth, and heard the Reverend Gibbon's voice drone out Dust to dust, ashes to ashes, and leant over the grave and dropped the wet earth; and then the grave-digger was throwing in the turf, the coffin rang as though it were hollow, she stared at it till Uncle had her by the elbow, speaking to her, and so was the Reverend Gibbon but she couldn't hear them at first; and folk were to say she must have been real fond of her father after all, the best of a coarse bit family in the end.

And then she was walking back through the kirkyard and the folk at the gate were stopping to shake her hand, Long Rob and Chae to say they'd aye help her, and Ellison, kind and solemn and Irish, and old Sinclair dripping in the rain, he should never have been out in a day like this. The last was Ewan Tavendale, he said Ta-ta, Chris, his hand was wet meeting hers as her own hand was, but he put up his left hand as well as his right and held both of hers a minute; and he didn't look ashamed and shy any more, but as though he was so sorry he'd help her in any way, not only the ways he could.

That was the last of them she saw and the end of father's funeral. Back in Blawearie Auntie Janet made her strip from her clothes and get into bed, God be here, it's you that'll be next in your grave! she cried. And Chris slept throughout the remainder of that day, undreaming, she didn't wake till late in the night, Blawearie listening and hearkening about her. And then she was afraid, awfully afraid, sitting up in bed and hearkening to that Something that walked the house with sharp, quick footsteps, running so fleetly up the stairs, impatient and unresting, a shadow with footfalls that were shadows; and into the night and far towards the dawn it roamed the house of Blawearie till the cocks were crowing and Uncle and Auntie moving, and Chris didn't feel afraid at all by then, only lay and wept softly for the father she'd never helped and forgot to love.

 

And the next forenoon the lawyer man came down from Stonehaven, it was Peter Semple, folk called him Simple Simon but swore that he was a swick. Father had trusted him, though, and faith! you'd be fell straight in your gait ere John Guthrie trusted you. Not that he'd listened to advice, father, he'd directed a will be made and the things to be set in that will; and when Mr. Semple had said he was being fell sore on some of his family father had told him to mind his own business, and that was a clerk's.

So Mr. Semple drew up the will, it had been just after Will went off to the Argentine, and father had signed it; and now the Blawearie folk sat down in the parlour, with whisky and biscuits for Mr. Semple, to hear it read. It was short and plain as you please, Chris watched the face of her uncle as the lawyer read and saw it go white in the gills, he'd expected something far different from that. And the will told that John Guthrie left all his possessions, in silver and belongings, to his daughter Christine, to be hers without let or condition, Mr. Semple her guardian in such law matters as needed one, but Chris to control the goods and gear as she pleased. And folk were to say, soon as Kinraddie heard of the will, and faith! they seemed to have heard it all before it was well out of the envelope, that it was an unco will, old Guthrie had been fair spiteful to his sons, maybe Will would dispute his sister's tocher.

The money was over three hundred pounds in the bank, it was hard to believe that father could have saved all that. But he had; and Chris sat and stared at the lawyer, hearing him explain and explain this, that, and the next, in the way of lawyers: they presume you're a fool and double their fees. Three hundred pounds! And now she could do as she'd planned, she'd go up to the College again and pass her exams and go on to Aberdeen and get her degrees, come out as a teacher and finish with the filthy soss of a farm. She'd sell up the gear of Blawearie, the lease was dead, it had died with father, oh! she was free and free to do as she liked and dream as she liked at last!

And it was pity now that she'd all she wanted she felt no longer that fine thrill that had been with her while she made her secret plans. It was as though she'd lost it down in Kinraddie kirkyard; and she sat and stared so still and white at the lawyer man that he closed up his case with a snap. So think it well over, Christine, he said and she roused and said Oh, I'll do that; and off he went, Uncle Tam drew a long, deep breath, as though fair near choked he'd been Not a word of his two poor, motherless boys!

It seemed he'd expected Alex and Dod would be left their share, maybe that was why he'd been so eager to adopt them the year before. But Auntie cried For shame, Tam, how are they motherless now that I've got them? And you'll come up and live with us when you've sold Blawearie's furnishings, Chris? And her voice was kind but her eyes were keen, Chris looked at her with her own eyes hard, Ay, maybe, and got up and slipped from the room, I'll go down and bring home the kye.

And out she went, though it wasn't near kye-time yet, and wandered away over the fields; it was a cold and louring day, the sound of the sea came plain to her, as though heard in a shell, Kinraddie wilted under the greyness. In the ley field old Bod stood with his tail to the wind, his hair ruffled up by the wind, his head bent away from the smore of it. He heard her pass and gave a bit neigh, but he didn't try to follow her, poor brute, he'd soon be over old for work. The wet fields squelched below her feet, oozing up their smell of red clay from under the sodden grasses, and up in the hills she saw the trail of the mist, great sailing shapes of it, going south on the wind into Forfar, past Laurencekirk they would sail, down the wide Howe with its sheltered glens and its late, drenched harvests, past Brechin smoking against its hill, with its ancient tower that the Pictish folk had reared, out of the Mearns, sailing and passing, sailing and passing, she minded Greek words of forgotten lessons, Παντα ρει, Nothing endures.

And then a queer thought came to her there in the drooked fields, that nothing endured at all, nothing but the land she passed across, tossed and turned and perpetually changed below the hands of the crofter folk since the oldest of them had set the Standing Stones by the loch of Blawearie and climbed there on their holy days and saw their terraced crops ride brave in the wind and sun. Sea and sky and the folk who wrote and fought and were learnéd, teaching and saying and praying, they lasted but as a breath, a mist of fog in the hills, but the land was forever, it moved and changed below you, but was forever, you were close to it and it to you, not at a bleak remove it held you and hurted you. And she had thought to leave it all!

She walked weeping then, stricken and frightened because of that knowledge that had come on her, she could never leave it, this life of toiling days and the needs of beasts and the smoke of wood fires and the air that stung your throat so acrid, Autumn and Spring, she was bound and held as though they had prisoned her here. And her fine bit plannings!--they'd been just the dreamings of a child over toys it lacked, toys that would never content it when it heard the smore of a storm or the cry of sheep on the moors or smelt the pringling smell of a new-ploughed park under the drive of a coulter. She could no more teach a school than fly, night and day she'd want to be back, for all the fine clothes and gear she might get and hold, the books and the light and learning.

The kye were in sight then, they stood in the lithe of the freestone dyke that ebbed and flowed over the shoulder of the long ley field, and they hugged to it close from the drive of the wind, not heeding her as she came among them, the smell of their bodies foul in her face--foul and known and enduring as the land itself. Oh, she hated and loved in a breath! Even her love might hardly endure, but beside it the hate was no more than the whimpering and fear of a child that cowered from the wind in the lithe of its mother's skirts.

 

And again that night she hardly slept, thinking and thinking till her head ached, the house quiet enough now, without fairlies treading the stairs, she felt cool and calm, if only she could sleep. But by morning she knew she couldn't go on with Uncle and Auntie beside her, they smothered her over with their years and their canny supposings. Quick after breakfast she dressed and came down and Auntie cried out, real sharp-like, Mighty be here, Chris, where are you going? as though she owned Blawearie stick and stone, hoof and hide. And Chris looked at her coolly, I'm away to Stonehaven to see Mr. Semple, can I bring you anything?

Uncle Tam rose up from the table then, goggling, with his medals clinking, Away to Stonehive? What are you jaunting there for? I'll transact any business you have. Their faces reddened up with rage, she saw plain as daylight how near it lay, dependence on them, she felt herself go white as she looked at them I'll transact my own business fine, she said hardly, and called Ta-ta from the door and heard no answer and held down the Blawearie road and ran over the parks to the station, and caught the early scholar's train that went to Stonehaven Academy.

It was crowded fell close, there were three-four scholars in the carriage she got in to, she didn't know any, they were learning French verbs. And she'd wanted to go back to things as silly!

They were past Drumlithie and the Carmont then, you could smell the woods of Dunnottar and look out at them from the window, girdling Stonehaven down to its bay, shining and white, the sun was out on the woods and the train like a weasel slipped through the wet smell of them. And there was Stonehaven itself, the home of the poverty toffs, folk said, where you might live in sin as much as you pleased but were damned to hell if you hadn't a white sark. She'd heard Chae Strachan say that, but it wasn't all true, there were fell poor folk in Stonehaven as well as the come-ups; and douce folk that were neither poor nor proud and had never a say when Stonehaven boomed of its braveness. And that it did fair often, the Mearns' capital, awful proud of its sarks but not of its slums and it thought itself real genteel, and a fine seafront it had that the English came to in summer--daft, as usual, folk said, hadn't they a sea in England?

Because it was early in the day and the lawyer's office still shut Chris loitered on the road in the tail of the hasting scholars, the little things they were, all legs and long boots, funny how they tried to speak English one to the other, looking sideways as they cried the words to see if folk thought them gentry. Had Marget and she been daft as that?

But the sun was out now on the long Stonehaven streets and Chris went past the Academy down to the market, still at that hour with just a stray cat or so on the sniff around, genteel and toff-like, Stonehaven, cats. Down through a lane she caught a glimmer of the North Sea then or maybe it was the sunlight against the sky, but the smell of the sea came up. And she still had plenty of time.

So she went down to the shore, the tide was out, thundering among the rocks, not a soul on the beach but herself, gulls flying and crying, the sun strong and warm. She sat on a seat in the glow of it and shut her eyes and was happy. Below her feet the ground drummed and trembled with reverberations from that far-off siege of the rocks that the sea was making out there by the point of the bay, it was strange to feel it and be of it, maybe folk there were who felt for the sea as last night she had felt in the rain-drenched fields of Kinraddie. But to her it seemed restless, awaiting and abiding nowhither, not fine like the glens that nestled and listened high up the coarse country, or the parks sun-heavy with clover that waited your feet at evening.

She fell asleep then, she slept there two hours in the sun and woke feeling fresher than she'd done since father's funeral. So hungry also she felt she couldn't wait the ending of the business she'd come on but went into a tea-house up in the square, two women kept it, old bodies they were that moved backward and forward the room, slow and rheumatic. One looked like the cats she'd seen in the square that morning, sleeked and stroked, the other was thin as a lathe, their tea-room looked scrubbed and clean and their tea had a taste to match. They were sharp and stroked and genteel, Chris thought for the first time then in her life how awful it would be to grow old like them, old maids without men, without ever having lain with a man, or had him kiss you and hold you, and be with you, and have children of his, or the arm of a man when you needed it, kind and steadfast and strong. If she'd lived her plan to train as a teacher she'd have grown like them.

She might grow so still! she thought, and daft-like suddenly felt quite feared, she paid for her tea in a hurry and went out to the square again, thinking of herself as an old maid, it wouldn't bear thinking about. So she hurried to the office of Simple Simon and a little clerk asked her business, perky-like, and she looked at him coolly and said her business was Mr. Semple's. And then she minded the old maids, was she herself one by nature? And in a cold fear she smiled at the clerk, desperately, with her lips and eyes, it was fine, the boy smiled also and blushed and thawed, and said Sit doom, this is fine and comfortable; and pulled out a padded chair for her; and down she sat, light-hearted again. Then the clerk came back and led her through a passage to Semple's room, he looked busy enough, with a telephone beside him and heaps of papers, and rows of little black boxes round the shelves. Then he rose and shook hands, Well, well, it's Miss Guthrie come up; you've been thinking of the will, no doubt?

She told him, Yes, just that; and she was going to live on at Blawearie a while, not roup the gear out at once, could he see to that with the factor?

He stared at her with his mouth fallen open, But you can't live there alone!

She told him she'd no such intention, couldn't he get her some woman come live with her, some old bit body who'd be glad of a home?

He said Oh, God, there are plenty of them! and began to chew at his mouser.

She told him it mightn't be for more than a month or so, till she'd made up her mind, just.

He said absent-like, Just? Hell, a woman's mind just! and then pulled himself up right sudden as she looked at him hardly and cool. Then he argued a bit, but Chris hardly listened, father's will had said she could do what she liked.

And presently, seeing she cared not a fig for him, Semple gave in and said he'd settle up with the factor, and he knew an old widow body, Melon, he'd send down to Blawearie the morn.

So Chris said Thank you, good-bye, and went out from the office, cool as she'd come, the sun was a fell blaze then and the streets chock-a-block with sheep, great droves of them, driven in to the weekly mart. Collies were running hither and yon, silent and cocked of ear, clean and quick as you'd wish, paying heed to none but shepherd and sheep. Drovers and beasts, they took a good look at Chris both, as she stood in her black clothes watching them; and just as she wondered what she'd do next, walk down to the sea and sit on a bench till it neared to dinnertime in the hotels, or go up to the station and take the 11.0, a gig going by slowed down of a sudden, a man jumped down and cried back to the driver.

The man that had jumped was the foreman at Upperhill, Ewan Tavendale, the driver old Gordon himself, he looked in a rage about something. And he cried Mind the time then! and gave Chris a sore glower and drove spanking away.

And then Ewan had crossed the pavement and was standing in front of her, he lifted his cap and said, shy-like, Hello! Chris said Hello, and they looked at each other, he was blushing, she minded the last time, she didn't like him half as she'd done at the funeral. He said Are you in for the day? and she mocked him, not knowing why she did that, it wasn't decent and father new dead, Och ay, just that. He blushed some more, she felt cool and queerly giddy in a breath, looking at the fool of a lad, folk were glowering at them both they were later to learn, not Gordon only but Ellison: and back the two of them went to Kinraddie and told every soul it was a sore shame there wasn't somebody about to heed to the Guthrie girl from the hands of that coarse tink brute, Ewan Tavendale.

But they hadn't known that and mightn't have cared, suddenly Chris felt herself hungry again, happy as well, not caring about Ewan himself but not wanting either he should leave her and go on to the mart. She said I'm going up to the Inn for dinner, and he looked at her, still shy, but with a kind of smoulder in the shyness, his eyes like the smoulder of a burning whin--Maybe we can eat together? And she said, as he turned by her side, Oh, maybe. But what will Mr. Gordon do? And Ewan said he could dance a jig on the head of the mart with sheer rage, for all he cared.

So in they went to old Mother White's, not that they saw the old body herself; and there was a fine room to eat in, with white cloths set, and a canary that sang above them, the windows fast closed to the dust and dirt. And they'd broth, it was good, and the oat-cakes better; and then boiled beef and potatoes and turnip; and then rice pudding with prunes; and then some tea, Ewan found his tongue as they drank the tea and said to-day was his holiday, for he'd worked all the last Sunday on a job libbing lambs. And Chris said, it was out of her mouth before she thought, So you're in no hurry to be back? and Ewan leaned across the table, the smoulder near kindled to a fire, Not unless you should be? What train are you taking up to Kinraddie?

And then how it all came about, their planning to spend the day together and their walk to Dunnottar, Chris never knew, maybe neither did Ewan. But half an hour later, Stonehaven a blinding white glimmer behind, Dunnottar in front, they were climbing down the path that led to the island. The air was blind with the splash of the incoming tide, above you the rock rose sheer as the path wound downwards sheer; and high up, crowning the rock were the ruins of the castle walls, splashed with sunlight and the droppings of sea-birds. Gulls there were everywhere, Chris was deafened in the clamour of the brutes, but quiet enough in the castle it proved, not a soul seemed visiting there but themselves.

They paid their shillings and the old man came with them from room to room, a scunner to Ewan, Chris guessed, for his eyes kept wandering, wearied, to her from this ruin and that. In walls little slits rose up, through these it was that in olden times the garrisons had shot their arrows at besiegers; and down below, in the dungeons, were the mouldering clefts where a prisoner's hands were nailed while they put him to torment. There the Covenanting folk had screamed and died while the gentry dined and danced in their lithe, warm halls, Chris stared at the places, sick and angry and sad for those folk she could never help now, that hatred of rulers and gentry a flame in her heart, John Guthrie's hate. Her folk and his they had been, those whose names stand graved in tragedy:

 

HERE : LYES : IOHN : STOT : IAMES : ATCHI
SON  : IAMES : RUSSELL : & WILLIAM :  BRO
UN : AND : ONE  : WHOSE  : NAME :  WEE  :
HAVE   :  NOT  :  GOTTEN  :  AND :  TWO :
WOMEN  :  WHOSE  :  NAMES  : ALSO : WEE :
KNOW  : NOT : AND : TWO : WHO : PERISHD :
COMEING :  DOUNE :  THE :  ROCK :  ONE  :
WHOSE  :  NAME :  WAS  :  IAMES :  WATSON
THE  : OTHER :  NOT : KNOWN : WHO : ALL :
DIED  :  PRISONERS  :  IN :  DUNNOTTAR  :
CASTLE  :  ANNO :  1685 :  FOR :  THEIR :
ADHERENCE  : TO : THE : WORD : OF : GOD :
AND   :   SCOTLANDS   :    COVENANTED   :
WORK : OF : REFORMATION :                
                   REV : II CH : 12 VERSE

 

But Ewan whispered, Oh, let's get out of this, though it was he himself that had planned they come to Dunnottar. So out in the sun, at the shelving entrance, they stood awhile in the cry of the gulls; and then Ewan said Come down to the sea: I know a nook.

And they climbed down and then up again, along the cliff-edge, it made you dizzy to look over and down at the incoming wash of froth, and sometimes, far under their feet, there rose a loud boom! like a gun going off. Ewan said that the rocks were sometimes hollow and the water ran far below the fields, so that ploughmen ploughed above the sea and in stormy weather they'd sometimes see their furrows quiver from that storm that raged under their feet. So they came to a crumbling path, it seemed to fall sheer away, a seagull sailed up to meet them, and Ewan with his feet already out of sight turned back and asked, You'll not be dizzy? And Chris shook her head and followed him, it seemed to her between sea and sky, down and down, and then Ewan was gripping her ankle, she swung almost loose for a moment, looking down in his face, it was white and strained, then her foot and hand caught again, Ewan called that it wasn't much further; and they got to the bottom and sat and looked at each other on a ledge of sand.

The sun poured in there, the tide whispered and splashed and threw out its hands at them on the sand, but it didn't come further up. And Chris saw that the place was closed in, you couldn't see a thing of the coast but the rocks overhanging, and only a segment of the sea itself a mile or so out a boat had tacked, it flashed its wings like a wheeling gull; and Ewan was sitting beside her, peeling an orange.

They ate it together and Chris took off her hat, she felt hot and uncouth in her sad black clothes. And suddenly, for no reason, she thought of a time, years before, when she'd been trampling blankets for mother a fine summer day in May, and had taken off her skirts and her mother had come out and laughed at her, You'd make a fine lad! It was as though she heard mother speak, she looked up and around, daftly, dazed-like a moment, but there was not a soul near but Ewan Tavendale lying on an elbow, looking at the sea, the sun in his face, young and smooth with its smouldering eyes. And she found she didn't mislike him any longer, she felt queer and strange to him, not feared, but as though he was to say something in a moment that she knew she couldn't answer. And then he said it, blushing, but his smouldering eyes didn't waver, Chris, do you like me a bit?

Can't thole you at all, that's why we're out lazing in this place together.

But a nervousness came on her, not that she feared him, she'd known all along she was safe with Ewan as Mollie with Will in those long-gone days of the court at Drumlithie. Only, it was as though her blood ran so clear and with such a fine, sweet song in her veins she must hold her breath and heark to it; and for the first time she knew the strange thing her hand was, held there dripping sand, it seemed as though all her body sat a little apart from herself, and she looked at it, wondering. So it was that she knew she liked him, loved him as they said in the soppy English books, you were shamed and a fool to say that in Scotland. Ewan Tavendale--that it should be him! And then she minded something, it didn't matter at all, but she wanted to know for all that. Ewan, was it true that story they told about you and old Sarah Sinclair?

It was as though she had belted him in the face. He went white then, funnily white leaving brown the red tan in the little creases of his face that the coarse field weather had made; and he sat up, angrily, and glowered at her, the great black cat, so sleeked and quick to anger. And the feeling she'd had for him, that dizziness that made earth and sea and her heart so light, quite went from her. She said Oh, I don't want to know, and began to hum to herself; and then Ewan reached out his hand and gripped her arm, it hurt, he said Damn well listen now that you've asked me. And it was awful, awful and terrible, she didn't want to listen to him, covering her face with her hands, he went on and on and then stopped at last--Now you're frightened, frightened that a woman should feel like that, maybe some day you'll feel it yourself.

She jumped to her feet then, angry as him, forgetting to feel ashamed. Maybe I will, but when I do I'll get a better man than you to serve me! And before he could answer that she had caught up her hat and was up the cliff path so quick she didn't know how she did it, her fingers and feet were nimble and sure, she heard Ewan cry below her and paid no need. He was barely half-way up when she reached the top and looked down, and then the rage quite went from her, she leaned over the edge instead, holding down her hand, and he caught it and smiled, and they stood and panted and smiled one at the other, fools again as they'd been in the market-square of Stonehaven.

But suddenly Ewan whipped out his watch, God, it must be getting fell late, and as he said it the sunshine went. Chris raised her head and saw why, they'd been sitting down there in the last of it, the gloaming was down on the countryside and the noise of the gulls rising up through the mirk. Ewan caught her hand and they ran by the cliff-edge of the gloaming-stilled parks, there were great dappled kye that stopped their grazing to look; and up in front, dark and uncanny, they saw Dunnottar rise on its rock. And then they reached the main road and slowed down, but she still left her hand in Ewan's.

And in Stonehaven they caught by the skin of the teeth the six o'clock train, the mart was long over and folk gone home. In the carriage were only themselves all the way to Kinraddie, Ewan sat on the opposite seat, she liked him sit there, liked him not wanting to hold her hand, she'd have hated him touch her now. And they didn't say a word till they neared Kinraddie, and then he said Chrissie! Tired? and she said Losh, no, and my name's Chris, Ewan. Then she saw him blush again in the flicker of the gaslight; and a strange, sweet surge of pity came on her, she leant over and patted his knee, he was only a boy in spite of his Sarah Sinclair.

But she thought of Sarah all the same that night, lying listening in bed to the coming of the rain again, a wet winter it promised the Howe. So women were like that when they didn't have the men they wanted?--many of them maybe like that, hiding it away even from themselves till a summer of heat drove on here and there to such acts as affronted Kinraddie. But she didn't feel affronted, it was maybe because she was over young, had read over many of the books, had been the English Chris as well as this one that lay thinking of Ewan; and the old ways of sinning and winning, having your own pleasure and standing affronted at other folk having theirs, seemed often daft to her. Sarah Sinclair might well have obliged her and met with some other lad than Ewan that August night; but then she wasn't to know Chris Guthrie would ever lie and think of him in her bed, hearing the batter of the rain against her window and the swish of the great Blawearie trees.

It was then, in a lull of the swishing, she heard the great crack of thunder that opened the worst storm that had struck the Howe in years. It was far up, she thought, and yet so close Blawearie's stones seemed falling about her ears, she half-scrambled erect. Outside the night flashed, flashed and flashed, she saw Kinraddie lighted up and fearful, then it was dark again, but not quiet. In the sky outside a great beast moved and purred and scrabbled, and then suddenly it opened its mouth again and again there was the roar, and the flash of its claws, tearing at the earth, it seemed neither house nor hall could escape. The rain had died away, it was listening--quiet in the next lull, and then Chris heard her Auntie crying to her Are you all right, Chrissie? and cried back she was fine. Funny Uncle Tam had cried never a word, maybe he was still in the sulks, he'd plumped head-first in when he'd heard of the old woman that Semple was sending to help keep house in Blawearie. They were off to Auchterless the morn, and oh! she'd be glad to see them go, she'd enough to do and to think without fighting relations.

The thunder clamoured again, and then she suddenly sat shivering, remembering something--Clyde and old Bob and Bess, all three of them were out in the ley field there, they weren't taken in till late in the year. Round the ley field was barbed wire, almost new, that father had put up in the Spring, folk said it was awful for drawing the lightning, maybe it had drawn it already.

She was out of bed in the next flash, it was a ground flash, it hung and it seemed to wait, sizzling, outside the window as she pulled on stockings and vest and knickers and ran to the door and cried up Uncle Tam, Uncle Tam, we must take in the horses! He didn't hear, she waited, the house shook and dirled in another great flash, then Auntie was crying something, Chris stood as if she couldn't believe her own ears. Uncle Tam was feared at the lightning, he wouldn't go out, she herself had best go back to her bed and wait for the morning.

She didn't wait to hear more than that, but ran to the kitchen and groped about for the box of matches and lighted the little lamp, it with the glass bowl, and then found the littlest lantern and lighted that, though her fingers shook and she almost dropped the funnel. Then she found old shoes and a raincoat, it had been father's and came near to her ankles, and she caught up the lamp and opened the kitchen door and closed it quick behind her just as the sky banged again and a flare of sheet lightning came flowing down the hill-side, frothing like the incoming tide at Dunnottar. It dried up, leaving her blinded, her eyes ached and she almost dropped the lantern again.

In the byre the kye were lowing fit to raise the roof, even the stirks were up and stamping about in their stalls. But they were safe enough unless the biggings were struck, it was the horses she'd to think of.

Right athwart her vision the haystacks shone up like great pointed pyramids a blinding moment, vanished, darkness complete and heavy flowed back on her again, the lantern-light seeking to pierce it like the bore of a drill. Still the rain held off as she stumbled and cried down the sodden fields. Then she saw that the barbed wire was alive, the lightning ran and glowed along it, a living thing, a tremulous, vibrant serpent that spat and glowed and hid its head and quivered again to sight. If the horses stood anywhere near to that they were finished, she cried to them again and stopped and listened, it was deathly still in the night between the bursts of the thunder, so still that she heard the grass she had pressed underfoot crawl and quiver erect again a step behind her. Then, as the thunder moved away--it seemed to break and roar down the rightward hill, above the Manse and Kinraddie Mains,--something tripped her, she fell and the lantern-flame flared up and seemed almost to vanish; but she righted it, almost sick though she was because of the wet, warm thing that her body and face lay upon.

It was old Bob, he lay dead, his tongue hanging out, his legs doubled under him queerly, poor brute, and she shook at his halter a minute before she realized it was useless and there were still Bess and Clyde to see to. And then she heard the thunder and clop of their hooves coming across the grass to her, they loomed suddenly into the light of the lamp, nearly running her down, they stood beside her and whinnied, frightened and quivering so that her hand on Bess's neck dirled as on the floor of a threshing-machine.

Then the lightning smote down again, quite near, though the thunder had seemed to move off, it played a great zig-zag over the field where she stood with the horses, and they pressed so near her she was almost crushed between them; and the lantern was pressed from her hand at last, it fell and went out with a crash and a crinkle of breaking glass. She caught Bess's bridle with one hand, Clyde's with another, and the lightning went and they began to move forward in the darkness, she thought she was in the right direction but she couldn't be sure. The next flash showed a field she didn't know, close at hand, with a high staked dyke, and then she knew she had gone utterly wrong, it was the dyke on the turnpike.

The thunder growled satisfiedly and Clyde whinnied and whinnied, she saw then the reason for that, right ahead was the waving of a lantern, it must be Uncle come out to look for her at last, she cried I'm here! and a voice cried Where? She cried again and the lantern came in her direction, it was two men climbing the dyke. The horses started and whinnied and dragged her forward and then she found herself with Chae Strachan and Ewan, they had seen to their own horses on Upperhill and the Knapp, and had met and had minded hers on Blawearie; and up they had come to look for them. In the moment as they recognized one the other the lightning flared, a last sizzling glow, and then the rain came again, they heard it coming far up in the moors, it whistled and moaned and then was a great driving swish. Chae thrust his lantern upon Ewan, Damn't man, take that and the lass and run for the house! I'll see to the horse!

Ewan caught Chris under the arm, he swung the lantern in his other hand, they ran for a gate that led to the turnpike, the horses galloped behind them, Chae dragging at their halters and cursing them; and the rain overtook them as they gained the road, it was a battering wet hand that beat at them, Chris was soaked to the skin in a moment.

But in another they'd gained the new biggings of Peesie's Knapp, there shone a light in the kitchen, Ewan opened the door and pushed Chris in, Bide here and I'll off and help Chae! He disappeared into the blackness, the door closed behind him, Chris went forward into the kitchen and the glow of the fire. She felt daft and deaf in the sudden silence and out of the rain, in the stillness of the new kitchen with its meikle clock wagging against the wall, and its calendars and pictures all spaced about, it looked calm and fine. Then she realised how wetted she was and took off the raincoat, it rained a puddle on the kitchen floor, she was dressed below only in knickers and vest, she'd not remembered that!

There came a rattle and clatter outside in the close as the men ran to the house, Chris slipped on the coat again and was tugging at the buttons as the two came stamping in. Chae cried, Damn't, Chris, get out of that coat, you must fair be soaked. Here, I'll stir up the fire, the old wife's in bed, she'd sleep through a hundred storms.

He bent over the fire then, poking it up, Chris found Ewan beside her, his hair black with the rain, the great cat, to help her off with her coat. She whispered, I can't, Ewan, I've nothing on below! and he blushed as red as a girl himself, and dropped his hands, and looked like a foolish boy so that she lost her own shyness at once, and told the same thing to Chae when he turned him round. He laughed at her with his twinkling eyes, What, nothing at all?--Well, not very much, Chae--Them come ben and I'll get you a coat of the wife's, you can slip into that.

The rain was pelting on the roof as she followed him through to Mistress Strachan's new parlour, it sounded loud enough to wake the dead let alone her that had been Kirsty Sinclair. Chae opened the wardrobe and brought out a fine coat, Mistress Strachan's best for the Sunday, lined and fine and smelling of moth-balls; and then a pair of her slippers. Get out of your things, Chris lass, and bring them to dry. I'll have something warm for you and Ewan to drink.

Left alone with the candle she wished she'd asked for a towel; Chae was kind but a man had no sense. But she managed without, though stripping from vest and knickers and stockings felt like parting wetly from her own skin, almost, so soaked she had been. Then she put on the coat and slippers and gathered up the wet under-things and went through with them to the kitchen; and there was Chae one side of the fire with a bottle of whisky at his elbow, making toddy, and Ewan at the other, with his coat off, warming his hands and looking at the door for her to come ben. They didn't look at her over-close, either of them, Chae pulled in one chair for her to sit on and another for her things to dry on, and when she'd spread them out he stopped in his toddy-making and said Damn't, Chris, was that ALL you'd on? And she nodded and he said You'll have your death of cold, sit closer--

And that was fine, sitting next to Ewan, close to the blaze of the meikle larch logs that Chae had put on, they were swack with resin. Syne Chae had the toddy made and he handed a glass to Ewan first, as was right with a man, and another to Chris, with three spoonfuls of sugar in it, Mistress Strachan might have had something to say about that if she'd seen such wastry. But she was fast asleep up in Chae's bed, and knew nothing of it all till the morning, she made up for it then, folk said she accused both Chae and Ewan of cuddling and sossing with the Guthrie quean all the hours of the night.

So that was the ongoing there was that night of lightning, nor was it the only one in Kinraddie, for the lightning, and maybe it was the big flash Chris had seen as she gained the brae leading down to the horses, drove a great hole through the Manse spare bedroom, and let in the rain and fair ruined the place. Folk said that when the Reverend Gibbon heard the bolt strike the house, he'd been awake and listening, he dived like a rabbit below the blankets and cried Oh, God, keep it away from me! Which wasn't the kind of conduct you'd have expected from a minister, but there was a fair flock of folk the lightning scared that night in one place or another, Jock Gordon at Upperhill ran to his mother's bedroom and wept all over the counterpane there like a bairn.

And Alec Mutch of Bridge End went out about midnight to look for his sheep, but he was half-drunk when he went and got drunker every minute as he chaved about, not seeing a thing. And at last he came to a big stook out in the corn-parks and crawled into that, it was a stook that stood near the turnpike, and feint the thing else was seen of him till late the next morning when the postman was going by and the sun was shining fine, and out Alec's face and meikle lugs were stuck from the stook and gave the postman such a turn in the wame he was nearly sick on the spot.

But of all that Chris knew nothing, she'd plenty to think of with her own bit ploys. For after the rain cleared and her under-things dried she went through to the parlour and got in them again, and into the raincoat of father's, and Chae lighted a lantern, fair yawning with sleep was Chae, and Ewan was to guide home to Blawearie both Chris and the horses. So out to the night again, the rain had cleared and freshened it, there was a wind from off the sea blowing in the stars, and clouds like the drifting of great women's veils, fisher-wives' veils, across the sad faces of the coarse high hills.

Then the horses champed in the courtyard, Ewan had their halter-ropes in his hand, Chris was beside him swinging the lantern, they cried Ta-ta! to Chae and Chae nearly uncovered the back of his gums, so sleepy he was, poor stock; and he started to cry something to Chris about coming up the morn and seeing to old Bob whom the lightning had killed, they'd be able to sell him to the knacker in Brechin. But a yawn put an end to whatever he'd to say, it hardly mattered, it was morn already, you could see far down by Bervie a band of greyness stroke the horizon, as though an idle finger stroked it there on a window-pane.

Tramp, tramp, with a nicker now and then and long snortings through their nostrils, the horses, glad to be roaded up to Blawearie, Ewan big by the side of Chris, she hadn't realised before how big he was. He said nothing at all, except shy-like, once Are you warm enough? and she laughed and said Fine, she'd never again be shy with Ewan Tavendale. And it seemed to her even then it would be long before she forgot this walk through the night that was hardly night at all, an hour poised on the edge of the morning like a penny on its rim, the flutter of the wind in their faces and the wet country sleeping about them, it smelt like Spring, not a morning in fore-winter.

Then she was yawning, stopping from that, it was still a bit way to the house, she wondered if Uncle or Auntie had known she went out to the horses in the lightning. But she needn't have worried, not a thing they'd guessed and didn't till the morning came. Blawearie was black as the inside of a lum-hat when they climbed to it, the kye quietened down, it hardly seemed home at all she had come to, a strange place this, with Ewan beside her. She opened the stable door for him, he led in the horses and made a shake-down, and came out and closed and barred up the door, she held him the lantern to see to that. And then he turned round, they were standing there in the close, his arms went round her, below her arms, and she said Oh, don't! and turned away her face; and he did nothing and she turned up her face to him again, peeping to see what he did.

Dark still it was but she saw his teeth, laughing at her, and then she put down the lantern and somehow resistance went from her, she hadn't wanted to resist, he was holding her close to him, kissing her, her cheeks and the tip of her nose because he couldn't see well in the darkness. And then he waited a moment and his lips came to hers and they were trembling as her own were, she wanted to cry and she wanted to laugh in a breath, and have him hold her for ever, so, in the close, and his trembling lips that came into hers, sweet and terrible those lips in hers.

There was a great power of honeysuckle that year, the smell of it drenched all the close in wet, still weather, it perfumed the night and that kiss, she wouldn't ever forget them both though she lived unkissed again till she died. And then she knew they were near to other things, both of them, Ewan's breath was quicker than it should, he'd stopped from kissing her that kiss in the lips, his lips were urgent on her neck; and she let him, standing so still, it was warm and sweet, she was his, he hers, for all things and everything, she never wanted better than that.

And then, in that ultimate moment, close at hand Chris heard the Blue Wyandotte, already so cocky that he was, stir on his ree, he gave a bit squawk before he stirred and peeked for the day he would crow so lustily. Somehow that stirring brought Chris to her senses, she wasn't afraid, only this could wait for another night's coming, it was sweet and she wanted it to live and last, not snatch it and fumble it blindly and stupidly. And she caught Ewan's hand and kissed him, he stopped with that kiss of hers on his cheek, his cheek with the soft brown skin; and she whispered Wait, Ewan!

He let her go at once, shamed of himself, he had little need to be that, she saw him troubled and uncertain in the dim light and put her arms about him and kissed him again and whispered Come down and see me to-morrow evening, and he said Chris, when'll you marry me? and she quivered strangely and sweetly as he said that, his hands holding her again, but gently. And then something happened, and the happening was a yawn, she yawned as though her head would fall off, she couldn't stop yawning; and a laugh came in the middle of it and that only made it worse. And Ewan let go of her again, maybe he was nearly in a rage at first, and then he yawned himself, they stood like two daft geese, yawning, and then they were laughing together, holding hands, not laughing too loud in case they'd be heard. And five minutes after that Ewan was far on his way to the steading of Upperhill and Chris lying in her bed, she'd hardly touched it when she thought of Ewan, she wanted to think of him long and long, only next minute she was fast asleep.

 

It didn't seem that minute had passed when she heard Uncle Tam come chapping at her door, fair testy, Come away, come away, now; there's a fire to light and your Auntie wants her tea. She sat up in bed, still sleepy and dazed, All right, Uncle Tam, and yawned and didn't move for a minute, remembering the things of the night and day she'd forgotten in sleep. And then she threw off the blankets and got out from the bed, and stretched till each muscle was taut and quivering, she felt light and free and fine, not at all Chris Guthrie with the grave brown face and heavy hair, light and free as a feather; and without a stitch on she did a little dance at her window in the splash of early sun that came there--what a speak for Kinraddie were she seen! And she was singing to herself as she dressed and went slipping downstairs, Uncle was kneeling at the kitchen fire, like a cow with colic, and fair sour in the face. You're in fine tune this morning, he glowered and she said Ay, Uncle, I'm that, give the sticks to me, and had them out of his hand and the fire snapping into them all in a minute.

Uncle went out to the close then, to look over the fields for the horses, and came back at a run, his little quoit medals swinging and clashing from his meikle belly, Mighty, Chris, there's no sign of a horse! She didn't turn round, just said You could hardly have looked in the stable, and heard him stop and breathe a great breath, and then go out again. And not a word more he said at the breakfast, he went up to their room to pack; but Auntie asked how the horses came to be in and was told Chris had done it herself, with Chae Strachan and Ewan to help. She seemed fair shamed to hear that, Auntie Janet, but angry as well, she whisked round the house like a wasp, Ah well, it's plain you've no use for your relatives here, I only pray you don't come to disaster. And Chris said That's awfully fine of you, Auntie, and that made her madder than ever, but Chris didn't care, she didn't care though all the world, all Kinraddie and the Howe, went mad and choked itself with its bootlaces over the things that had been between her and Ewan.

If it wasn't in a rage it was fair in a stir of scandal by postman time, Kinraddie. Not a thing but it knew of her day in Stonehaven with that coarse tink brute, Ewan Tavendale, they'd been seen to go wandering out to Dunnottar together, they'd hidden away down in a hole by the sea--what did they that for if they'd nothing to hide?

The postie told this to Auntie while Chris meated the chickens, Auntie fair grew worked up and forgot to rage, near crying she was as she told the story to Chris. How funny were folk! Chris thought, standing and fronting that trembling face. You knew them, saw through them, tied them up in little packets stowed away in your mind, labelled COARSE or TINKS or FINE; and they came tumbling from the packets at the very first shake, mixed and up-jumbled, she'd never known a soul bide neat and sure in his packet yet. For here was Auntie near crying because she thought her niece had been raped by Ewan Tavendale overnight, ashamed for her, sorry for her, fair set to carry her off to Aberdeen and cover her shame. But Chris said There's nothing to cry about yet, Auntie Janet, Ewan and I haven't lain together. We'll wait till we're married, and laughed at her Auntie's face, it was funny and pitiful both at once. And Auntie said He's to marry you then? and Chris said she hoped so, but you never knew, and Auntie fell in a fearsome stew again, it wasn't fair to torment her like that, but that was the mood of Chris that morning.

Then Chae Strachan came up from the Knapp and looked at old Bob lying dead in his park. He shook his head over him, he doubted if the knacker would pay more than a pound--the closest muckers in Scotland, knackers, and that was fair saying a lot. Syne he promised to drive Auntie and her man to the station, and went back to the Knapp for his gig and was up and waiting before you could blink. And Chris helped her relatives up in the gig, and sent them her love to her brothers, and off the gig spanked, they looked over their shoulders and saw her stand laughing, she didn't care a button, coarse quean that she was.

And fair a relief was the riddance, the place to herself again; and then as she watched the gig whip round the corner into the turnpike it came on her that it wasn't again, it was just the first time! Blawearie was hers, there wasn't a soul in the place but herself, nobody had a right to come near it but if she allowed. The honeysuckle was blinding sweet in the sun, wet still and as she stood beside it and buried her face in it, laughed into it, blushed in it, remembering herself of the night before. And Ewan would be up to see her soon, to see her . . . and she wouldn't think of more! she had hundreds of things to do.

By noon she had dinner set for the old wife sent from Stonehaven. And then she heard Chae's gig come driving up to Blawearie and there was Chae and an old bit body, fair tottery she seemed as she got from the gig, with a black mutch on and a string bag gripped in her hand. But when she reached the ground she was none so tottery, she said that the heights aye feared her legs; and she looked Chris all over as though to make sure of her, living or dead, and asked Where'll I put my box, Mem? And Chris blushed for shame that any old soul should Mem at her, Maybe Chae will carry it up for us? And Chae said Och, fine that, and hoisted the old tin thing on his shoulder, and went swaggering into the house, and Mrs. Melon followed after and Chris turned to Chae's gig.

By the time Chae came down she had nearly unyoked it, Chae cried Damn't Chris, what's on? and she told him Dinner, you're to stay for that. So he was fell pleased, though he hummed and hawed a minute about rousting back to the Knapp. But she smiled at him, that way she had done to the boy in Semple's office, and Chae stared at her and wound up his waxed mouser and twinkled his eyes and gave her shoulder a slap, Lord, Chris, they'll right soon be after you, the lads, with your eyes like that! And he gave a bit sigh as though, other times, other ways, he'd have headed the band himself.

So into the kitchen he came and sat himself down with old Mistress Melon, and Chris dished up the rabbit stew and they had a great dinner, Mistress Melon was a funny old wife as soon as she saw you put on no airs. She'd a great red face as though she'd just unbended from a day's hard baking, and pale blue eyes like a summer sky, and faded hair that had once been brown, and Chris soon saw she was maybe the biggest gossip that had ever come into Kinraddie, and faith! that meant the challenging of many a champion.

But her stories of Stonehaven had a lilt and a laugh, and the best was the one of the Provost that had lost his stud in his tumbler when speaking to a teetotal gathering. And Chae said that was a fine one, Damn't, mistress, when I was in Africa . . . and he told them a story of a man he knew, a black he'd been, real brave, and he found a diamond, on his own ground too, but as soon as the British heard of it they sent to arrest him for't. And what had that black childe done? Swallowed the damned thing and nothing of him could the British make, and they couldn't arrest him, and the black got his diamond back in a day or so in the course of nature, they were awful constipated folk, the blacks.

All the time he was telling the story Chae had been tearing into his rabbit and oat-cake; and soon's he'd finished one plate he took a look over the pot and cried God, that was right fine, Chris quean. Is there more on the go? Chris liked that, it was fine to have somebody that was hungry and liked his meat and didn't make out he was gentry or polite, there was less politeness about Chae than about a potato fork.

Mistress Melon was eating right heartily too, and syne Chae told them another story, about a lion that he and the black head childe had hunted, they'd been awful chief together. . . . And Mistress Melon asked What, you and the lions? and winked at Chris, but Chae wasn't a bit put out, he just said Damn't it no, mistress, me and the head man, and went on with the story again, it was plain Mistress Melon thought he was a bit of a liar till suddenly, casual-like, Chae opened the front of his sark and finished up, And that was the bit momento the damned beast left on me. Syne they saw the marks on his chest, the marks of great raking claws they were they had torn fair deep and sure, and Chae's dark body-hair didn't grow in them. So Mistress Melon was fair stammy-gastered at that; and said so to Chris when Chae was gone.

Soon as that was Chris set to arranging with the Melon wife how the two of them would partition the work, Mistress Melon could do the cooking and cleaning, Chris preferred the outside, she'd milk and see to the kine; and they'd get on bravely, no doubt. Mistress Melon was a fell good worker in spite of her awful tongue, she'd cleared up the dinner things and washed them and put them away ere Chris was well out of the house. Then down on her knees she went and was scrubbing the kitchen floor, Chris was glad enough to see her at that, she hated scrubbing herself. If only she'd been born a boy she'd never had such hatings vexing her, she'd have ploughed up parks and seen to their draining, lived and lived, gone up to the hills a shepherd and never had to scunner herself with the making of beds or the scouring of pots. But neither would she ever have had Ewan hold her as last night he had.

And then she blushed and went on in silence with the cleaning of the byre, thinking of his coming and what she would say to him and the thing it was they'd arrange. Before she knew it the new plan came shaping up bravely in her mind, neat and trim and trig, and when she looked out and saw the gloaming near and went over the close and down through the parks for the kye, she had everything fixed, it didn't matter a fig what folk might say.

So when Ewan came in by at last she waited him ben in the parlour, with a great fire kindled there and the two big leather chairs drawn close. It was Mistress Melon that brought him through, her meikle red face fair shaking with ill-fashionce, agog to know what was toward. But Chris just said Thank you, Mistress Melon, and ticed Ewan over to his chair, and took his cap from him and made him sit down and fair closed the door in the old wife's face.

It was bright and warm in the room, she turned round and saw her lad sit so; and then she raised her head and saw herself in the long, old mirror of the parlour wall, and thought how she'd changed, it crept on you and you hardly noticed, in ways you were still as young as the quean with the plaits that had run by Marget to catch the scholar's train. But she saw herself then in her long green skirt, long under the knee, and her hair wound in its great fair plaits about her head, and her high cheek-bones that caught the light and her mouth that was well enough, her figure was better still; and she knew for one wild passing moment herself both frightened and sorry she should be a woman, she'd never dream things again, she'd live them, the days of dreaming were by; and maybe they had been the best; and there was Ewan waiting for her, the great quiet cat, reddening and turning his head up with its smouldering eyes.

She went to him then and put her hand on his shoulder and before she knew it they were close together and so stayed long after they had finished with kissing, just quiet, in the firelight, his arms about her, her head on his shoulder, watching the fire. And when at last they began to speak she put her hands over his lips, whispering to him to whisper in case Mistress Melon should be listening out by. Maybe she wasn't but in the shortest while they heard her go stamping about in the kitchen, singing a hymn fell loud, and that was a bit suspicious.

But they ceased from heeding her soon enough, they'd a hundred things to plan and discuss, there in the fire-glow, they lit no lamp, Chris listened with her head down-bent as he told her he couldn't marry he'd no more than a hundred pounds saved up, they'd have to wait. And she told him she had three hundred pounds, no credit to her, it was her father's saving, but if she and Ewan married fair soon he could take over Blawearie's lease, they could stay where they were, and that would be fine, no need for you any day then to go back through the parks to Upperhill. He kissed her again at that, hurting her lips, but she didn't heed, it was fine to be hurt like that; but she wouldn't kiss back till he'd put him his Highland pride in his pouch and muttered All right.

 

They'd planned to be married in December and as they'd planned so the thing worked out without any hitch at all. In November Ewan found and fee'd a substitute foreman for Upperhill, a quite-like childe James Leslie; and though old Gordon was none so pleased he couldn't well afford to fall out with so near a neighbour as the new Blawearie. Chris went into Stonehaven again with Ewan and saw the man Semple, he was fair suspicious, at first, but she argued him soon from that, and he got the lease changed to Ewan's name, and well-feathered his own nest in the changing, no doubt.

By then the news was no news, Kinraddie knew all, and when they came from the station that night they met in with Ellison down from the Mains, he'd been waiting them there to go by and he wouldn't have it but that they go up to the house and drink their own healths in a dram. Mistress Ellison was gentry and nice, more gentry than nice, poor thing, she was still no more than a servant quean and fleered and arched to make Chris and Ewan blush, she managed with Ewan. But Chris kept cool as ice, and nearly as friendly, she didn't see that a joke was less dirty if a neighbour spoke it. She and Ewan fair quarrelled over that when they left the Mains, it was their first quarrel and she wouldn't let him touch her, she said If you like foul stories, I don't, and he said, prigging at her, Oh, don't be a fool, Chris quean, and she said There's no need for you marry a fool, then, and the Highland temper quite went with him then, he flared up like a whin with a match at it, Don't be feared, I've no such intention! and off he went, up over the hill through the evening parks.

Chris walked on prim and cold and quick, it was near to sunset, she turned her head, she couldn't but help it, to see if he wasn't looking back, he wasn't; and that was too much, she stopped and cried Ewan! and he wheeled like a shot and came running to her, she was crying in earnest by then, she cried up against his coat while he held her and panted and swore at himself, Oh, Chris, I didn't mean to hurt you! And she sniffed You didn't, it was myself; and they made it all up again. She walked home subdued-like that night, it wouldn't be always plain sailing, they'd awful tempers, both of them. Then she saw the light of Blawearie shine steadfast across the parks and her heart kindled to a queer, quiet warmth at that.

They'd arranged to be married on New Year's Eve, most folk would be free to come that day. For three evenings they sat in Blawearie parlour and wrote their invitations to folk they knew and some they didn't, nearly every soul in Kinraddie was asked, they couldn't well miss out one of them. And to Auntie and Uncle and Dod and Alec they wrote, and to Ewan's friend, McIvor, a Highlandman out of Ross. He hadn't any near relatives, Ewan, and faith! they were feint the loss.

Chris knew that some would be sore affronted she should marry so close to her father's death, and with all the stir they intended, too. But Ewan said Damn it, you're only married once as a general rule, and it won't hurt the old man in Kinraddie kirkyard. So when Uncle wrote down from Auchterless that he'd think black, burning shame to attend such a marriage, Ewan said he could blacken and burn till he was more like a cinder heap than a man, for all they need care.

Chris was sorry they wouldn't let her brothers come, but it couldn't be helped, she wasn't to weep for that. So they planned out a wedding they'd mind on when they grew old, ordering food enough to feed the French, as the saying went. Mistress Melon near burst her meikle face with amaze as the packages came pouring in; and she spread the story of Chris's extravagance out through the Howe, she'd soon see the end of old Guthrie's silver. Folk shook their heads when they heard of that, it was plain that the quean wouldn't store the kiln long.

When Ewan went over to see to the banns the Reverend Gibbon tried to read him a lecture about such a display so close to John Guthrie's death. But he gave it up quick enough when Ewan began to spit like a cat and say the service he wanted was a wedding, not a sermon. Syne it grew plain they couldn't meet so often, Ewan would have to bide at the Upperhill all the day before the marriage. Chris kissed him good-bye that evening and told him to look after himself, and herself looked after him, troubled, knowing the kind of coarse things they might try him with in the bothy. And try they did, but Ewan couped one of them into the midden and threw young Gordon into the horse-trough when that brute was trying the same on Ewan himself; so they let him be, dour devils to handle, those Highlandmen.

And down in Blawearie next day, what with cooking and chaving and tending to beasts, and wrestling with the worry of the barn, it wasn't half spruced for the dance, Chris might well have gone off her head if Chae and Long Rob of the Mill hadn't come dandering up the road in the afternoon, shy-like, bringing their presents. And Rob's was fine, two great biscuit barrels in oak and silver; and Chae's was from him and Kirsty, sheets and pillows, kind of Mistress Strachan, that, when you minded how the two of you'd fallen out over father ill.

And when they heard of the barn they cast off their coats, Leave it to us, Chris lass, just tell's what you want; and they set to with ladders and tow and fancy frills and worked till near it was dark, redding up the place, it looked fine as a fairy-palace in a picture-book when they finished. Chae said And who's your musician? Chris nearly dropped through the floor with shock, she and Ewan had fair forgot about music. But Chae said it didn't matter, he'd bring his melodeon and Long Rob his fiddle; and faith! if that didn't content the folk they were looking for a church parade of the Gordons, not a wedding.

Syne they bade good night to Chris, and they laughed at her, kind-like, and said This time the morn you'll be a married woman, Chris, not a quean. Sleep sound to-night! And she laughed back and said Oh, fine that; but she blushed when Long Rob began to glint his grey eyes at her, he'd have to think of getting married himself, he said, fine it must be to sleep with a slim bit the like of herself those coldrife winter nights. And Chae said Away, Rob, feint the much sleep you'd give her!

And then they cried their good nights again and went off, leaving Chris with such lonesome feeling as she'd seldom had, all had been done that could be done, she wanted to sleep but couldn't sleep; and she wandered from room to room till Mistress Melon was fair upset and cried For God's sake gang to your bed, lass, I'll tend to the rest; if you don't lie down you'll look more like a bull for the butcher's than a bride the morn. And Chris laughed, she heard her laugh funny and faint-like, and said she supposed so, and went off to her room, but not to bed. She sat by the window, it was a night that was rimed with a frost of stars, rime in the sky and rime on the earth, the Milky Way shone clear and hard and the black trees of Blawearie waved their leafless boughs up against the window, sparkling white with the hoar; and far across the countryside for hours she watched the winking of the paraffin-lights in the farmhouses, till they sank and went out, and she was left in a world that might well have been dead but that she lived.

Strange and eerie it was, sitting there, she couldn't move from the frozen flow of thoughts that came to her then, daft things she'd no need to think on her marriage eve . . . that this marriage of hers was nothing, that it would pass on and forward into days that had long forgotten it, her life and Ewan's, and they pass also, and the face of the land change and change again in the coming of the seasons and centuries till the last lights sank away from it and the sea came flooding up the Howe, all her love and tears for Ewan not even a ripple on that flood of water far in the times to be. And then she found herself cold as an icicle and got to her feet and at last began to get from her clothes--strange to think that to-morrow and all the to-morrows Ewan would share her room and her bed with her.

She thought that cool and unwarmed, still in the grip of the strange white dreaming that had been hers, looking down at herself naked as though she looked at some other than herself, a statue like that of the folk of olden time that they set in the picture galleries. And she saw the light white on the satin of her smooth skin then, and the long, smooth lines that lay from waist to thigh, thigh to knee, and was glad her legs were long from the knee to the ankle, that made legs seem stumbling and stumpy, shortness there. And still impersonally she bent to see if that dimple still hid there under her left breast, it did, it was deep as ever. Then she straightened and took down her hair and brushed it, standing so, silly to stand without her night-gown, but that was the mood she was in, somehow it seemed that never again would she be herself, have this body that was hers and her own, those fine lines that curved from thigh to knee hers, that dimple she'd loved when a child--oh, years before!

And then a clock began to strike, it struck two, and suddenly she was in a panic to be bedded and snug and herself again; and was in between the sheets in an instant, cuddling herself to some warmth and counting how many hours it would be till morning. And oh! it was still so long!

It came in snow that morning; she looked out from her window and saw it sheeting across the countryside, all silent; but still the daft peewits wheeped and wheeled against the hills, looking for the nests they'd lost in the harvest and couldn't forget. In the race and whip of the great broad flakes the leafless trees stood shivering; but down below Mistress Melon was already at work, Chris heard the clatter of the breakfast things, it was time she herself was into her clothes, there were hundreds of things to do.

Then she took out of the chest of drawers her underthings, there was no need to wait to change them, and looked at them, the silken vest, awful price it had been, and knickers and petticoat, vest, knickers and petticoat all of a shade, blue, with white ribbon; and they looked lovely and they smelt fine, she buried her face in them, so lovely they were and the queer feeling they brought her. And she changed her mind, she couldn't wear anything now she'd be wearing when she was married, she put on her old things and her old skirt and went down the stairs; and there was Mistress Melon smiling at her, How do you feel on your marriage-morn, Chris?

And Chris said Fine, and Mistress Melon said that was a good job, too, she'd known creatures of queans come down fair hysterical, others that just shook with fright, still others that spoke so undecent you knew fine a man's bed was no unco place for them. She hoped Chris would be awful happy, no fear of that, and soon have a two-three bairns keep her out of longer. And Chris said You never know, and she ate her porridge and Mistress Melon hers, and they cleared the table and scrubbed the kitchen and then Chris went out and tended the beasts, the very horses seemed to guess there was unco thing on the go, Bess nozzled up against her shoulder; and there in the barn when she peeked in it, right in the middle of the floor, were two great rats, sitting up on their tails, sniffing at each other's mouths, maybe kissing, and that was so funny, she tried not to laugh, but gave a choked gurgle and flirt! the rats were out of sight and into their holes.

In the cornyard the hens came tearing about her, mad with hunger, she gave them meat hot from the pot and then a bushel of corn, they liked that fine. But first the little bit Wyandotte got up on the cartshaft and gave a great crow that might have been heard in the Upperhill; and he cocked a bright eye on her, first one eye and then the other, and Chris laughed again.

She didn't feel hurried after that, then the postman came, fell dry, they gave him a dram and he licked his lips and said Here's to you, Chris! as blithe to drink to her health as to blacken her character. He'd brought him two parcels, one was a lovely bedspread from Mistress Gibbon of the Manse, nice of the quiet-voiced English thing, and the other from the Gordons of Upperhill, a canteen of cutlery, full enough of knives and forks and things to keep you cleaning them a week on end and not be finished, said Mistress Melon.

Then up the road came the wife of the grave-digger, Garthmore, him that had buried father. Sore made as always she was, poor thing, they'd asked her to come and lend them a hand more out of pity than anything else; and when the three sat down to dinner she said Eh, me! it's fine to be young and be married, and maybe he'll treat you all right, but mine, my first man, him that's now dead, God! he was a fair bull of a man and not only the first night, either. He was aye at it, near deaved me to death he would if he hadn't fallen over the edge of a quarry on the road from the feeing-market some nine-ten years come Martinmas. But Mistress Melon said, Havers, are you trying to frighten the lass? She'll be fine, her lad's both blithe and kind; and Chris loved her for that, she'd never seemed to see and know Mistress Melon before, thinking her just a hard-working, hard-gossiping old body, now she saw the kindliness of her shine out, her gossiping no more than the dreams she aye dreamt and must tell to others. And then Mistress Melon cried Away and get into your dress now, Chris, before the folk come up.

It had left off snowing, Chris, dressing, saw from her window, a sunless day; and a great patching of clouds was upon the sky, the light below bright and sharp, flung by the snow itself; and the smoke rose straight in the air. Far over the braes by Upperhill where Ewan would be getting set in his clothes--unless he'd done that long before in the morning--the sheep were baaing in their winter buchts. Then Chris took off her clothes, and stood white again, and put on the wedding things, mother'd have like to see them, mother lying dead and forgotten in Kinraddie kirkyard with the twins beside her. She found herself weep then, slowly, hardly, lost and desolate a moment without mother on her marriage-day. And then she shook her head, Oh, don't be a fool, do you want to look a fright before Ewan and the folk?

She peered at her face in the glass, then, fine! her eyes were bright, the crying had helped them. Pretty in a way, not only good-looking, she saw herself, dour cheek-bones softened for the hour in their chilled bronze setting. And she combed out her hair, it came far past her middle, thick and soft and sweet-smelling and rusty and tarnished gold. Then last was her dress, blue also, but darker than her underclothes because so short was the time since father had died, she threaded the neck with a narrow black ribbon but round her own neck put nothing, her skin was the guerdon there.

So, ready, she turned herself round a minute, and held back the skirt from her ankles and liked them, they were neat and round, she had comely bones, her feet looked long and lithe in the black silk stockings and shoes. She found herself a hanky, last, and sprinkled some scent in that, only a little; and hid it away in her breast and went down the stairs just as she heard the first gig drive up.

That was the Strachans from Peesie's Knapp, Mistress Strachan fell long in the face at first. But Chae soon kindled her up with a dram, he whispered to Chris that he'd look after the drink; and Mistress Melon said it was aye best to have a man body at that end of the stir. And before they could say much more there come a fair stream of traffic up from the turnpike, all Kinraddie seemed on the move to Blawearie: except the old folk from Netherhill, and they sent their kind wishes and two clucking hens for Chris's nests.

The hens broke the ice, you might say, for they got themselves loose from the gig of the Netherhill folk and started a wild flutter and chirawk everywhere, anywhere out of Blawearie. Long Rob of the Mill was coming up the road at that minute, in his Sunday best, and he met the first hen and heard the cry-out that followed her, and he cried himself, Shoo, you bitch! The hen dodged into the ditch, but Rob was after her, grabbing her, she squawked fair piercing as he carried her up to the house, his fine Sunday coat was lathered with snow; and he said that such-like work would have been nothing to Chae, who had chased the bit ostriches out in the Transvaal, but he'd had no training himself. Syne he took up the dram that Chae had poured him and cried Here's to the bonniest maid Kircaddie will mind for many a year!

That was kind of him, Chris had been cool and quiet enough until then, but she blushed at that, seeing Rob stand like a viking out of the picture books with the iron-grey glint in his eyes. Mistress Munro, though, was right sore jealous as usual, she poked her nose in the air and said, and not over-low, The great fool might wait for the tea before he starts his speechifying; she was maybe mad that nobody had ever said she was bonny; or if anybody ever had, he was an uncommon liar.

Then the Bridge End folk came up, then Ellison and his wife and their daughter, and then the Gordons, and then the minister, riding on his bicycle, it looked as though he'd had a fall or two and he wasn't in the best of temper, he wouldn't have a dram, No, thank you, Chae, he said, real stiff-like. And when Rob gave him a sly bit look, You've been communing with Mother Earth, I see, Mr. Gibbon, he just turned his back and made out he didn't hear, and folk looked fair uncomfortable, all except Long Rob himself and Chae, they winked one at the other, and then at Chris.

She thought the Minister a fusionless fool, and went to the door to see who else was coming; and there, would you believe it, was poor old Pooty toiling up through the drifts with a great parcel under his oxter, his old face was white with snow and he shivered and hoasted as he came in, peeking out below his old, worn brows for Chris. Where's the bit llllass! he cried, and then saw her and put the parcel in her hands, and she opened it then, as the custom was, and in it lay a fine pair of shoes he had made for her, shoes of glistening leather with gay green soles, and a pair of slippers, soft-lined with wool, there wouldn't be a grander pair in Kinraddie. And she said Oh, thank you, and she knew that wasn't enough, he stood peering up at her like an old hen peers, she didn't know why she did it but she put her arms round him and kissed him, folk laughed at that, all but the two of them, Pooty blinked and stuttered till Long Rob reached out a hand and pulled him into a chair and cried Wet your whistle with this, Pooty man, you've hardly a minute ere the wedding begins.

And he was right, for up the road came walking the last two, Ewan and his best man, the Highlander McIvor, near six feet six, red-headed, red-faced, a red Highlandman that bowed so low to Chris that she felt a fool; and presented his present, and it was a ram's horn shod with silver, real bonny and unco, like all Highland things. But Ewan took never a look at Chris, they made out they didn't see one the other, and Mistress Melon whispered to her to go tidy her hair, and when she came down again all the place was quiet, there was hardly a murmur. She stopped at the foot of the stairs with the heart beating so against her skin it was like to burst from her breast; and there was Chae Strachan waiting her, he held out his arm and patted her hand, when she laid it on his arm, and he whispered Ready then, Chris?

Then he opened the parlour door, the place was crowded, there were all the folk sitting in chairs, solemn as a kirk congregation, and over by the window stood the Reverend Gibbon, very stern and more like a curly bull than ever; and in front of him waited Ewan and his best man, McIvor. Chris had for bridesmaids the little Ellison girl and Maggie Jean Gordon, they joined with her, she couldn't see clear for a minute then, or maybe too clear, she didn't seem to be seeing with her own eyes at all. And then Chae had loosed her hand from his arm and she and Ewan stood side by side, he was wearing a new suit, tweed it was, and smelt lovely, his dark face was solemn and frightened and white, he stood close to her, she knew him more frightened than she was herself. Something of her own fear went from her then, she stood listening to the Reverend Gibbon and the words he was reading, words that she'd never heard before, this was the first marriage she'd ever been at.

And then she heard Chae whisper behind her and listened more carefully still, and heard Ewan say I will, in a desperate kind of voice, and then said it herself, her voice was as happy and clear as well you'd have wished, she smiled up at Ewan, the white went from his face and the red came in spate. The Red Highlander behind slipped something forward, she saw it was the ring, and then Ewan fitted it over her finger, his fingers were hot and unsteady, and Mr. Gibbon closed his eyes and said, Let us pray.

And Chris held on to Ewan's hand and bent her head and listened to him, the minister; and he asked God to bless their union, to give them courage and strength for the difficulties that the years might bring to them, to make fruitful their marriage and their love as pure and enduring in its fulfilment as in its conception. They were lovely words, words like the marching of a bronze-leafed beech on the lips of a summer sky. So Chris thought, her head down-bent and her hand in Ewan's, then she lost the thread that the words were strung on, because of that hand of Ewan's that still held hers; and she curbed her little finger into his palm, it was hard and rough there and she tickled the skin secretly, and his hand quivered and she took the littlest keep at his face. There was that smile of his, fliting like a startled cat; and then his hand closed firm and warm and sure on hers, and hers lay quiet in his, and the minister had finished and was shaking their hands.

He hesitated a minute and then bent to kiss Chris; close to hers she saw his face older far than when he came to Kinraddie, there were pouches under his eyes, and a weary look in his eyes, and his kiss she didn't like. Ewan's was a peck, but Chae's was fine, it was hearty and kind though he reeked of the awful tobacco he smoked, and then Long Rob's, it was clean and sweet and dry, like a whiff from the Mill itself; and then it seemed every soul in Kinraddie was kissing her, except only Tony, the daftie, he'd been left at home. Everybody was speaking and laughing and slapping Ewan on the back and coming to kiss her, those that knew her well and some that didn't. And last it was Mistress Melon, her eyes were over bright but careful still, she nearly smothered Chris and then whispered Up to your room and tidy yourself, they've messed your hair.

She escaped them then, the folk trooped out to the kitchen where the fire was roaring, Chae passed round the drams again, there was port for the women if they wanted it and raspberry drinks for the children. Soon's the parlour was clear Mistress Melon and Mistress Garthmore had the chairs whisked aside, the tables put forward and the cloths spread; and there came a loud tinkling as they spread the supper, barely past three though it was. But Chris knew it fell likely that few had eaten much at their dinners in Kinraddie that day, there wouldn't have been much sense with a marriage in prospect: and as soon as they'd something solid in their bellies to foundation the drink, as a man might say, the better it would be.

In her room that wouldn't be her room for long Chris brushed her hair and settled her dress and looked at her flushed, fair face, it was nearly the same, hard to believe though you thought it. And then something felt queer about her, the ring on her hand it was, she stood and stared at the thing till a soft whispering drew her eyes to the window, the snow had come on again, a scurry and a blinding drive from down the hills; and below in the house they were crying The bride, where is she?

So down she went, folk had trooped back in the parlour by then and were sitting them round the tables, the minister at the head of one, Long Rob at the head of another, in the centre one the wedding cake stood tall on its stand with the Highland dirk beside it that Ewan had gotten from McIvor to do the cutting. The wind had risen storming without as Chris stood to cut, there in her blue frock with the long, loose sleeves, there came a great whoom in the chimney and some looked out at the window and said that the drifts would be a fell feet deep by the morn. And then the cake was cut and Chris sat down, Ewan beside her, and found she wasn't hungry at all, about the only soul in the place that wasn't, everybody else was taking a fair hearty meal.

The minister had thawed away by then, he was laughing real friendly-like in his bull-like boom of a voice, telling of other weddings he'd made in his time, they'd all been gey funny and queer-like weddings, things that you laughed at, not fine like this. And Chris listened and glowed with pride that everything at hers was just and right; and then again as so often that qualm of doubt came down on her, separating her away from these kindly folk of the farms--kind, and aye ready to believe the worst of others they heard, unbelieving that others could think the same of themselves. So maybe the minister no more than buttered her, she looked at him with the dark, cool doubt in her face, next instant forgot him in a glow of remembrance that blinded all else: she was married to Ewan.

Beside her: he whispered Oh, eat something, Chris, you'll fair go famished, and she tried some ham and a bit of the dumpling, sugared and fine, that Mistress Melon had made. And everybody praised it, as well they might, and cried for more helpings, and more cups of tea, and there were scones and pancakes and soda-cakes and cakes made with honey that everybody ate; and little Wat Strachan stopped eating of a sudden and cried Mother, I'm not right in the belly! everybody laughed at that but Kirsty, she jumped to her feet and hurried him out, and came back with him with his face real frightened. But faith! It didn't put a stop to the bairn, he started in again as hungry as ever, and Chae cried out Well, well, let him be, maybe it tasted as fine coming up as it did going down!

Some laughed at that, others reddened and looked real affronted, Chris herself didn't care. Cuddiestoun and his wife sat opposite her, it was like watching a meikle collie and a futret at meat, him gulping down everything that came his way and a lot that didn't, he would rax for that; and his ugly face, poor stock, fair shone and glimmered with the exercise. But Mistress Munro snapped down at her plate with sharp, quick teeth, her head never still a minute, just like a futret with a dog nearby. They were saying hardly anything, so busied they were, but Ellison next to them had plenty to say, he'd taken a dram over much already and was crying things across the table to Chris, Mistress Tavendale he called her at every turn; and he said that she and Mistress Ellison must get better acquaint. Maybe he'd regret that the morn, if he minded his promise: and that wasn't likely.

Next to him was Kirsty and the boys and next to that the minister's table with Alec Mutch and his folk and young Gordon; a real minister's man was Alec, awful chief-like the two of them were, but Mistress Mutch sat lazy as ever, now and then she cast a bit look at Chris out of the lazy, gley eyes of her, maybe there was a funniness in the look that hadn't to do with the squint.

Up at Rob's table an argument rose, Chris hoped that it wasn't religion, she saw Mr. Gordon's wee face pecked up to counter Rob. But Rob was just saying what a shame it was that folk should be shamed nowadays to speak Scotch--or they called it Scots if they did, the split-tongued sourocks! Every damned little narrow dowped rat that you met put on the English if he thought he'd impress you--as though Scotch wasn't good enough now, it had words in it that the thin bit scrachs of the English could never come at. And Rob said You can tell me, man, what's the English for sotter, or greip, or smore, or pleiter, gloaming or glanching or well-henspeckled? And if you said gloaming was sunset you'd fair be a liar; and you're hardly that, Mr. Gordon.

But Gordon was real decent and reasonable, You can't help it, Rob. If folk are to get on in the world nowadays, away from the ploughshafts and out of the pleiter, they must use the English, orra though it be. And Chae cried out that was right enough, and God! who could you blame? And a fair bit breeze got up about it all, every soul in the parlour seemed speaking at once; and as aye when they spoke of the thing they agreed that the land was a coarse, coarse life, you'd do better at almost anything else, folks that could send their lads to learn a trade were right wise, no doubt of that, there was nothing on the land but work, work, work, and chave, chave, chave, from the blink of day till the fall of night, no thanks from the soss and sotter, and hardly a living to be made.

Syne Cuddiestoun said that he'd heard of a childe up Laurencekirk way, a banker's son from the town he was, and he'd come to do farming in a scientific way. So he'd said at first, had the childe, but God! by now you could hardly get into the place for the clutter of machines that lay in the yard; and he wouldn't store the kiln long. But Chae wouldn't have that, he swore Damn't, no, the machine's the best friend of man, or it would be so in a socialist state. It's coming and the chaving'll end, you'll see, the machine'll do all the dirty work. And Long Rob called out that he'd like right well to see the damned machine that would muck you a pigsty even though they all turned socialist to-morrow. And they all took a bit laugh at that, Chris and Ewan were fair forgotten for a while, they looked at each other and smiled, Ewan reached down and squeezed her hand and Chris wished every soul but themselves a hundred miles from Blawearie.

But then Chae cried Fill up your glasses, folk, the best man has a toast. And the red Highlander, McIvor, got up to his feet and bowed his red head to Chris, and began to speak; he spoke fine, though funny with that Highland twist, he said he'd never seen a sweeter quean than the bride or known a better friend than the groom; and he wished them long and lovely days, a marriage in the winter had the best of it. For was not the Spring to come and the seed-time springing of their love, and the bonny days of the summer, flowering it, and autumn with the harvest of their days? And when they passed to that other winter together they would know that was not the end of it, it was but a sleep that in another life would burgeon fresh from another earth. He could never believe but that two so young and fair as his friend and his friend's wife, once made one flesh would be one in the spirit as well; and have their days built of happiness and their nights of the music of the stars.

And he lifted his glass and cried The bride! looking at Chris with his queer bright eyes, the daft Highland poet, they were all like that, the red Highlanders. And everybody cried Good luck to her! and they all drank up and Chris felt herself blush from head to foot under all the blue things she wore.

And then Long Rob of the Mill was making a speech, different from McIvor's as well it might be. He said he'd never married himself because he'd over-much respect for those kittle folk, women; but if he'd been ten years younger he was damned if his respect would have kept him from having a try for Chris Guthrie, and beating that Highland childe, Ewan, at his own fell game. That was just Ewan's luck, he thought, not his judgment, and Chris was clean thrown away on her husband, as she'd have been on any husband at all: but himself. Ah well, no doubt she'd train him up well, and he advised Ewan now, from the little that he knew of marriage, never to counter his wife; not that he thought she wasn't well able to look after herself, but just that Ewan mightn't find himself worsted though he thought himself winner.

Marriage, he took it, was like yoking together two two-year-olds, they were kittle and brisk on the first bit rig--unless they'd fallen out as soon as they were yoked and near kicked themselves and their harness to bits--but the second rig was the testing time, it was then you knew when one was pulling and one held back, the one that hard sheer sweirty--and that was a word for Mr. Gordon to put into English--in its bones, and the one with a stout bit heart and a good guts. Well, he wouldn't say more about horses, though faith! it was a fascinating topic, he'd just come back to marriage and say they all wished the best to Chris, so sweet and trig, and to Ewan, the Highland cateran, and long might they live and grow healthy, wealthy, and well content.

Then they all drank up again, and God knows who mightn't have made the next speech if Chae then hadn't stood up and cried The night's near on us. Who's game for a daylight dance at Chris's wedding?

So out they all went to the kitchen, it was cold enough there from the heat of the room, but nothing to the cold rife air of the barn when the first of them had crossed the close and stood in the door. But Mistress Melon had kindled a brazier with coal, it crackled fine, well away from the straw, Rob tuned up his fiddle, Chae squeaked on his melodeon, it began to feel brisk and warm even while you stood and near shivered your sark off. Chris was there with the men, of course, and the children and Mistress Gordon and Mistress Mutch and Mistress Strachan were there, Mistress Munro had stayed behind to help clear the tables, she said, and some whispered it was more than likely she'd clear most of the clearings down her own throat, by God she couldn't have eaten a mouthful since Candlemas.

But then Chae cried Strip the Willow, and they all lined up, and the melodeon played bonnily in Chae's hands, and Long Rob's fiddle-bow was darting and glimmering, and in two minutes in the whirl and go of Strip the Willow, there wasn't a cold soul in Blawearie barn, or a cold sole either. Then here, soon's they'd finished, was Mistress Melon with a great jar of hot toddy to drink, she set it on a bench between Chae and Long Rob. And whoever wanted to drink had just to go there, few were bashful in the going, too; and another dance started, it was a schottische, and Chris found herself in the arms of the minister, he could dance like a daft young lad. And as he swung her round and around he opened his mouth and cried Hooch! and so did the red Highlander, McIvor, Hooch! careering by with fat Kirsty Strachan, real scared-like she looked, clipped round the waist.

Then Chae and Long Rob hardly gave them a breather, they were at it dance on dance; and every time they stopped for a panting second Chae would dip in the jar and give Rob a wink and cry Here's to you, man! and Rob would dip, solemn-like as well, and say Same to you! and off the fiddle and melodeon would go again, faster than ever. Ewan danced the schottische with prim Mistress Gordon, but for waltzing he found a quean from the Mains, a red-faced, daft-like limmer, she screamed with excitement and everybody laughed, Chris laughed as well. Some were watching to see if she did, she knew, and she heard a whisper she'd have all her work cut out looking after him, coarse among the queans he was, Ewan Tavendale. But she didn't care, she knew it a lie, Ewan was hers and hers only; but she wished he would dance with her for a change.

And here at the Petronella he was, he anyway hadn't been drinking, in the noise of the dance as they swayed up and down the barn he whispered Well, Chris? and she whispered back Fine, and he said You're the bonniest thing ever seen in Kinraddie, Long Rob was right. And she said she liked him to think so, and he called her back in the darkness away from the dancers, and kissed her quickly and slowly, she didn't hurry either, it was blithe and glad to stand there kissing, each strained to hear when they'd be discovered.

And then they were, Chae crying Where's the bride and the groom? Damn't it, they're lost! and out they'd to come. Chae cried was there anyone else could play the melodeon? and young Jock Gordon cried back to him Ay, fine that, and came stitering across the floor and sat himself down by the toddy jar, and played loud and clear and fine.

Then Chae caught Chris, he said to Ewan Away, you greedy brute, wait a while till she's yours forever and aye, and he danced right neatly, you didn't expect it from Chae, with his grey eyes laughing down at you. And as he danced he said suddenly, grave like, Never doubt your Ewan, Chris, or never let him know that you do. That's the hell of a married life. Praise him up and tell him he's fine, that there's not a soul in the Howe can stand beside him, and he'll want to cuddle you till the day he dies; and he'll blush at the sight of you fifty years on as much as he does the day. She said I'll try, and Thank you, Chae, and he said Och, it must be the whisky speaking, and surrendered her up to Ellison, and took the melodeon from Gordon again, but staggered and leant back against the sack that hung as a draught-shield behind the musician's place. Down came the sack and there among the hay was the minister and the maid from the Mains that had scraiched so loud, she'd her arms round him and the big curly bull was kissing the quean like a dog lapping up its porridge.

Chris's heart near stopped, but Chae snatched up the sack, hooked it back on its hook again, nobody saw the sight except himself and Chris and maybe Long Rob. But you couldn't be sure about Rob, he looked as solemn as five owls all in one, and was playing as though, said Chae, he was paid by piece-work and not by time.

Between eight and nine Mistress Melon came out to the barn and cried them to supper, the storm had left off, all but a flake that sailed down now and then like a sailing gull in the beam from the barn door. On the ground the snow crinkled under their feet, frost had set in, the folk stood and breathed in the open air, and laughed, and cried one to the other, Man, I'll have aching joints the morn! The women ran first to the house, to tidy their hair, Ewan saw everybody in, except Munro of the Cuddiestoun, he was nowhere to be seen.

And then Ewan heard a funny bit breathing as he passed by the stable; and he stopped and opened the door and struck a match, and there was Munro, all in his Sunday-best, lying in the stall beside Clyde the horse, and his arms were round the beast's neck, and faith! the beast looked real disgusted. Ewan shook him and cried Munro, you can't sleep here, but Munro just blinked the eyes in his face, daft-like, and grumbled Why not? Syne Alec Mutch turned back from the house to see what all the stir was about, and both he and Ewan had another go at the prostrate Munro, but damn the move would he make, Alec cried To hell with him, leave him there with the mare, she's maybe a damned sight kinder a bed-mate then ever was that futret of a wife of his.

So they closed the door of the stable and went into their supper, everybody ate near as well as at tea-time, fair starved they were with the dancing and drink. Chris had thought she herself was tired till she ate some supper, and then she felt as fresh ever, and backed up Long Rob, who looked twice as sober as any of the men and had drunk about twice as much as any three of them, when he cried Who's for a dance again? Mistress Melon had the toddy-jar filled fresh full and they carried that out, everybody came to the barn this time except Mistress Munro, No, no, I'll clear the table.

And young Elsie Ellison, wondering for why the creature should stay behind, stayed herself and took a bit keek round the corner of the door: and there was Mistress Munro, with a paper bag in her hand, stuffing it with scones and biscuits and cake, and twisting her head this side and that, like the head of a futret. So Elsie, fair scared, ran off to the barn and caught at her father's tails and cried The Cuddiestoun wife's away home with the pieces, and Ellison, he was whisked up to high tune by then, cried Let her run to hell and be damned to her.

Syne he started a tale about how once she insulted him, the dirty Scotch bitch. But Long Rob and Chae were striking up a dance again and Chris heard no more of the Ellison story, dancing a waltz with young Jock Gordon, it was like flying, Jock's face was white with excitement. The fourth dance Alec Mutch, the fool, began to stiter the floor, backwards and forwards, he was a real nuisance till he passed Long Rob and then Rob cried Hoots, Alec, man, your feet are all wrong! and thrust out a foot among Alec's and couped him down and Chae shoved him aside to the straw with a foot and a hand, and played on with the other foot and hand, or maybe with a foot and his teeth, a skilly man, Chae.

Mistress Mutch said nothing, just standing and laughing and smoking at her cigarette. There were more men than women in the barn, though, even when the men made do with a little quean, and soon Chris found herself dancing with Mistress Mutch, the great, easy-going slummock, she spoke slow and easy as though she'd just wakened up from her sleep. Chris couldn't tell what way she looked with that gleying eye, but what she spoke was Take things easy in married life, Chris, but not over-easy, that's been MY ruin. Though God knows it'll make not a difference in a hundred years' time and we're dead. Don't let Ewan saddle you with a birn full of bairns, Chris, it kills you and eats your heart away, forbye the unease and the dirt of it. Don't let him, Chris, they're all the same, men; and you won't well steer clear of the first or the second. But you belong to yourself, mind that.

Chris went hot and cold and then wanted to ask something of Mistress Mutch and looked at her and found she couldn't, she'd just have to find the thing out for herself. Long Rob came down to dance with her next, he'd left the fiddle to old Gordon, and he asked what that meikle slummock had been saying to her? And Chris said Oh, just stite, and Rob said Mind, don't let any of those damned women fear you, Chris; it's been the curse of the human race, listening to advice. And Chris said But I'm listening to yours, Rob, now, amn't I? He nodded to her, solemn, and said, Oh, you've your head screwed on and you'll manage fine. But mind, if there's ever a thing you want with a friend, not to speak it abroad all over Kinraddie, I'll aye be there at the Mill to help you. Chris thought that a daft-like speak for Rob, kind maybe he meant it, but she'd have Ewan, who else could she want?

And then the fun slackened off, the barn was warm, folk sat or lay on the benches or straw, Chris looked round and saw nothing of the minister then, maybe he'd gone. She whispered to Chae about that, but he said Damn the fears, he's out to be sick, can't you hear him like a cat with a fish-bone in its throat? And hear him they could, but Chris had been right after all, he didn't come back. Maybe he was shamed and maybe he just lost his way, for next noon there were folk who swore they'd seen the marks of great feet that walked round and round in a circle, circle after circle, all across the parks from Blawearie to the Manse; and if these weren't the minister's feet they must have been the devil's, you could choose whichever you liked.

No sooner was the dancing done than there were cries Rob, what about a song now, man? And Rob said Och, ay, I'll manage that fine, and he off with his coat and loosened his collar and sang them Ladies of Spain; and then he turned round to where Chris stood beside her Ewan and sang The Lass that Made the Bed to Me:

 

Her hair was like the link o' gowd,
Her teeth were like the ivorie,
Her cheeks like lilies dipt in wine,
The lass that made the bed to me.

Her bosom was the driven snaw,
Two drifted heaps sae fair to see,
Her limbs, the polished marble stane,
The lass that made the bed to me.

I kissed her owre and owre again,
And aye she wist na what to say,
I laid her between me and the wa',
The lassie thought na long till day.

 

Folk stared and nodded at Chris while Rob was singing and Ewan looked at first as though he'd like to brain him; and then he blushed; but Chris just listened and didn't care, she thought the song fine and the lass lovely, she hoped she herself would seem as lovely this night--or as much of it as their dancing would leave. So she clapped Rob and syne it was Ellison's turn, he stood up with his meikle belly a-wag and sang them a song they didn't know:

 

Roses and lilies her cheeks disclose,
But her red lips are sweeter than those,
Kiss her, caress her,
With blisses her kisses,
Dissolve us in pleasure and soft repose.

 

and then another, an English one and awful sad, about a young childe called Villikins and a quean called Dinah, and it finished:

 

For a cup of cold pizen lay there on the ground

* * * * * *

With a tooril-i-ooril-i-oorily-i-ay.

 

Chae cried that was hardly the kind of thing that they wanted, woeful as that; and they'd better give Chris a rest about her roses an lips and limbs, she had them all in safe-keeping and would know how to use them; and what about a seasonable song? And he sang so that all joined in seasonable enough, for the snow had come on again in spite of the frost:

 

Up in the morning's no for me,
Up in the morning early,
When a' the hills are covered wi' snaw
I'm sure it's winter fairly!

 

Then Mistress Mutch sang, that was hardly expected, and folk tittered a bit; but she had as good a voice as most and better than some, she sang The Bonnie House o' Airlie, and then the Auld Robin Grey that eye brought Chris near to weeping, and did now, and not her alone, with Rob's fiddle whispering it out, the sadness and the soreness of it, though it was long, long syne:

 

When the sheep are in the fauld, and the kye are a' at hame
And a' the weary world to its rest has gane,
The tears o' my sorrow fa' in shooers frae my e'e
And Auld Robin Gray he lies sound by me.

 

and all the tale of young Jamie who went to sea and was thought to be drownded in an awful storm; and his lass married Auld Robin Gray, and syne Jamie came back but couldn't win his lass away from the auld man, though near brokenhearted she was:

 

I gang like a ghaist, and I carena' to spin,
I daurna' think o' Jamie, for that wad be a sin,
But I'll try aye my best a guid wife to be,
For Auld Robin Gray he is kind to me.

 

Old Pooty was sleeping in a corner; he woke up then, fell keen to recite his TIMROUS BEASTIE; but they pulled him down and cried on the bride herself for a song. And all she could think of was that south country woman crying in the night by the side of her good man, the world asleep and grey without; and she whispered the song to Rob and he tuned his fiddle and she sang, facing them, young and earnest, and she saw Ewan looking at her solemn and proud, The Flowers of the Forest:

 

I've heard them lilting at our ewe-milking,
Lasses a' lilting before dawn o' day;
But now they are moaning on ilka green loaning,
The Flooers o' the Forest are a' wede away.

Dool and wae for the order sent oor lads tae the Border!
The English for ance, by guile wan the day,
The Flooers o' the Forest, that fought aye the foremost,
The pride o' oor land lie cauld in the clay.

 

Chae jumped up when she finished, he said Damn't, folk, we'll all have the whimsies if we listen to any more woesome songs! Have none of you a cheerful one? And the folk in the barn laughed at him and shook their heads, it came on Chris how strange was the sadness of Scotland's singing, made for the sadness of the land and sky in dark autumn evenings, the crying of men and women of the land who had seen their lives and loves sink away in the years, things wept for beside the sheep-ouchts, remembered at night and in twilight. The gladness and kindness had passed, lived and forgotten, it was Scotland of the mist and rain and the crying sea that made the songs--And Chae cried Let's have another dance, then, it's nearly a quarter to twelve, we must all be off soon as midnight chaps.

And they all minded what midnight would bring, and Chae and Rob had the melodeon and fiddle in hand again, and struck up an eightsome, and everybody grabbed him a partner, it didn't matter who was who, McIvor had Chris and danced with her as though he would like to squeeze her to death, he danced light as thistle-down, the great red Highlander; and no sooner was one dance finished than Rob and Chae swept forward into another, they played like mad and the lights whipped and jumped as the couples spun round and round; and the music went out across the snowing night; and then Chae pulled out his great silver watch, and laid it beside him, playing on.

And suddenly it was the New Year, the dancing stopped and folk all shook hands, coming to shake Chris's and Ewan's; and Long Rob struck up the sugary surge of Auld Lang Syne and they all joined hands and stood in a circle to sing it, and Chris thought of Will far over the seas in Argentine, under the hot night there. Then the singing finished, they all found themselves tired, somebody began to take down the barn lights, there was half an hour's scramble of folk getting themselves into coats and getting their shivering sholts from out the empty stalls in the byre. Then Chris and Ewan were handshook again, Chris's arm began to ache, and then the last woof-woof of wheels on snow thick-carpeted came up the Blawearie road to them, it was fell uncanny that silence in the place after all the noise and fun of the long, lit hours. And there was Mistress Melon in the kitchen-door, yawning fit to swallow a horse, she whispered to Chris I'm taking your room now, don't forget, and cried them Good night, and a sound sleep, both! and was up the stairs and left them alone.

He hardly seemed tired even then, though, Ewan, prowling locking the doors like a great quiet cat till Chris called to him softly Oh, sit by me! So he came to the chair she sat in and picked her out of it, so strong he was, and himself sat down, still holding her. They watched the fire a long time and then Chris's head dropped down, she didn't know she had been asleep till she woke to find Ewan shaking her, Chris, Chris, you're fair done, come on to bed. The fire was dying then and the paraffin had run low in the lamp, the flame swithered and went out with a plop! as Ewan blew on it; and then they were in the dark, going up the stairs together, past the room that had been Chris's and where Mistress Melon slept for a night ere she went back to Stonehaven.

And to Chris going up that stair holding the hand of her man there came a memory of one with awful eyes and jutting beard, lying in that room they came to, lying there and whispering and cursing her. But she put the memory away, it had never happened, sad and daft to remember that, she was tired. Then, with her hand on the door, Ewan kissed her there in the dark, sweet and wild his kiss, she had not thought he could kiss her like that, not as though he wanted her as a man might do in that hour and place, but as though he minded the song he had heard her sing. She put up her face to the kiss, forgetting tiredness, suddenly she was wakeful as never she had been, the sleep went out of her head and body and the chill with it, Ewan's hand came over hers and opened the door.

A fire burned bright in the fireplace, they had thought the place would be black and cold, but Mistress Melon had seen to that. And there was the bridal bed, pulled out from the wall, all in white it was, with sheet and blanket turned back, the window curtains were drawn, and in the moment they stood breathing from their climb of the stairs Chris heard the sound of the snow that stroked the window, with quiet, soft fingers, as though writing there.

Then she forgot it, standing by the fire getting out of her blue things, one by one. She found it sweet to do that, so slowly, and to have Ewan kiss her at last when there was no bar to his kisses, lying with him then, with the light put out and the radiance of the fire on the walls and ceiling. And she turned towards him at last, whispering and tender for him, We're daft, we'll catch cold without anything on! and then she saw his face beside her, solemn and strange, yet not strange at all. And he put his left hand below her neck, and he took her close to him, and they were one flesh, one and together; and far into the morning she woke, and was not cold at all, him holding her so, and then she heard again the hand of winter write on the window, and listened a moment, happy, happy, and fell fast asleep till morning brought Mistress Melon and two great cups of tea to waken Ewan and herself.

 

So that was her marriage, not like wakening from a dream was marrying, but like going into one, rather, she wasn't sure, not for days, what things they had dreamt and what actually done--she and this farmer of Blawearie who would stir of a morning at the jangle of the clock and creep from bed, the great cat, and be down the stairs to light the fire and put on the kettle. She'd never be far behind him, though, she loved even the bitterness of those frozen mornings, and a bitter winter it was, every crack and joint of the old house played a spray of cold wind across the rooms. He'd be gone to the byre and stable as she came down and sought out the porridge meal and put it to boil, Blawearie's own meal, fine rounded stuff that Ewan so liked. She'd leave it to hotter there on the fire and then bring the pails from the dairy and open the kitchen door on the close and gasp in the bite of the wind, seeing a grey world on the edge of morning, the bare stubble of the ley riding quick on the close, peering between the shapes of the stacks, the lights of the lanterns shining in byre and stable and barn as Ewan feeded and mucked and tended horses and kye.

And the byre would hang heavy with the breaths of the kye, they'd have finished their turnips as she came in, and Ewan would come swinging after her with a great armful of straw to spread them in front, he'd tickle her neck as she sat to milk and she'd cry Your hand's freezing! and he'd say Away, woman, you're still asleep. Up in the morning's the thing! and go whistling out to the stable, Clyde and Bess stamping there, getting fell cornfilled and frolicsome, they more than wanted exercise. She would carry the milk back herself most mornings and make the breakfast, but sometimes Ewan would come with her, so young and daft they were, folk would have laughed to see them at that, both making breakfast and sitting them close to eat it.

Then Ewan would light his pipe when he'd done and sit and smoke while she finished more slowly; and then he'd say that he'd meat the hens, and she'd tell him not to haver, she'd do that herself, and he'd argue, maybe sulk, till she kissed him back to his senses again. Then he'd laugh and get up and get down John Guthrie's gun, and be out and up in the moors till eleven, sometimes he'd bring a great bag and Chris would sell the spare rabbits to the grocer that came on Tuesdays.

There was little to be done, such weather on Blawearie. Ewan tidied the barn they'd danced in, it seemed years ago since that night, and got ready plough and sock and coulter for the time when the weather would break. And then he found the bruised corn running low in the great kist there, that was his first out-going from the place since his marriage, Chris watched him go, sitting in the front of the box-cart, Clyde in the shafts, the cart loaded down with corn for the Mill, and Ewan turning to wave to her from the foot of Blawearie brae. And all that afternoon he was away she fretted from room to room, oh! she was a fool, there was nothing could happen to him! And when at last he came back she ran out to him, fair scared he was at the way she looked, and thought her ill, and when she cried she had missed him so he went white and then blushed, just a boy still, and forgot to unyoke Clyde left in the cold, he was kissing Chris instead. And faith! for the bairns of farmers both they might well have had more sense.

But, and it crept into her mind that night and came often in the morning and days that followed, somehow that going of Ewan's to the Mill had ended the foolishness that shut them in fast from Kinraddie and all the world, they two alone, with all the gladness that was theirs alone and her kisses the most that Ewan'd ever seek and his kisses ending days and nights, and almost life itself for her. Kinraddie came in again, something of her own cool reliance came back, the winter wore on to its close, and mid-February brought the sun, weather that might well have come out of a May.

Looking out from her window as every morning still she did, Chris saw the steam of the lands below the house, it was as though the earth had swung round the fields of Kinraddie into the maw of the sun, a great furnace, and left them there to dry. The hills marched their great banners of steam into the face of each sunrise and through the whisper and wakening and shrouding of the morning came presently the moan of the foghorn at Todhead, a dreadful bellow, like a sore-sick calf, it went on and on, long after the mist had cleared, it rose and faded into the sun-dazzle overhead as great clouds of gulls came wheeling in from the sea. They knew what was toward on Kinraddie's land, Chris heard the call of them as she went about the day's work, and looked out on the ley field then, there was Ewan with the horses, ploughing his first rig, bent over the shafts, one foot in the drill, one the rig side, the ploughshare, sharp and crude and new, cleaving the red-black clay. The earth wound back like a ribbon and curved and lay; and the cloud of gulls cawed and screamed and pecked on the rig and followed at Ewan's heels again.

All over Kinraddie there were horse-pairs out, though none so early as Ewan's, it seemed, folk had stayed undecided about the weather, they'd other things to do, they'd say, than just wait about to show off like that young Blawearie. But, when the day rose and at nine Chris set her a jug of tea in a basket, and set by it scones well buttered and jammed, and carried out the basket to Ewan wishing up the face of the rig, Chae Strachan, far away and below, was a-bend above his plough-shafts at the tail of his team, Upperhill had two pairs in the great park that loitered up to the larch-wood, and there was Cuddiestoun's pair, you guessed it him and his horses, though they never came full in sight, their heads and backs just skimmed the verge of the wood and hill.

Spring had come and was singing and rilling all over the fields, you listened and heard, it was like listening to the land new wake, to the burst and flow of a dozen burns in this ditch and that; and when you turned out the cattle for their first spring dander, in case they went off the legs, they near went off the face of the earth instead, daft and delighted, they ran and scampered and slid, Chris was feared that the kye would break their legs. She tried driving them down to the old hayfield, but the steers broke loose and held down the road, and Ewan saw them and left his plough and chased them across the parks, swearing blue murder at them as he ran; and faith! if it hadn't been for the postman meeting them and turning them at the end of the road they might well have been running still.

Chris had known then mazes of things to do in that bright coming of the weather, the house was all wrong, it was foul and feckless, Ewan unyoking at midday would come in and make hardly his way through the kitchen, heaped high with the gear of some room, Chris saw her long hands grow sore and red with the scrubbing she did on the sour old walls. Ewan said she was daft, the place was fine, what more did she want? And she said Less dirt; and that maybe he liked dirt, she didn't; and he laughed Well, maybe I do, I like you right well! and put his arm round her shoulders and they stood and kissed in the mid of the heaped and littered kitchen--awful to be like that, said Chris, they could hardly be sane.

 

In March the weather broke, the rain came down in plashing pelts, you could hardly see a hand's-length in front of your face if you ran through the close. Ewan sat in the barn, winnowing corn or tying ropes, or just smoking and swearing out at the rain. Chae Strachan came up for a talk on the second day, all in oilskins he came; and he sat in the barn with Ewan and said he'd seen it rain like this in Alaska, and the mountains move when the snows were melting. And Ewan said he didn't care a damn though Alaska moved under the sea the morn, when would it clear on Blawearie? Munro came next, then Mutch of Bridge End, they'd nothing on their hands but watch the rain and shake their heads and swear they were all fair ruined.

But at last it went, the unending rain of a fortnight went, and that morning they woke and found it fine, Ewan took him a look at the land from the bedroom window and prompt lay back in the bed again. Damn Blawearie and all that's on't, let's have a holiday the day, Chris quean. She said I can't, I'm cleaning the garret, and Ewan got angered, she'd never seen him angry like that before, Highland and foreign then, spitting like a cat. Are you to spend all your days cleaning damned rooms? You'll be old and wizened and a second Mistress Munro before you're well twenty. Off on a holiday we're going to-day.

And, secretly glad, she lay back, lying with her hands under her head, lazy, and looking at him, thinking how different he was from that lad she'd tramped to Dunnottar with, so close she knew him now, the way he thought and the things he liked and his kindness and slowness to take offence, and the bitter offence, how it rankled in him, once it was there! Like and not like what she'd thought and wanted in those days before they had married. Spite of their closest moments together, Ewan could still blush at a look or a touch of hers; she touched him then to make sure, and he did! He said Hold off! you're a shameless limmer, for sure, and not nineteen yet. Come on, let's get out and get off.

So they raced through the morning's work and by nine were down at the Peesie's Knapp, and borrowed Chae's gig and heard Chae promise to milk and take in Blawearie's kye. Then out they drove and swung left through Kinraddie, into the Laurencekirk road, the sun shining and the peewits calling, there were snipe in a loch they passed, the North Sea was gloom-away by Bervie as the sholtie trotted south. You could see then as the land rose higher the low parks that sloped to the woods and steeple of Drumlithie, beyond that the hills of Barras, the Reisk in its hollow among its larch-woods. West of that rose Arbuthnott, a fair jumble of bent and brae, Fordoun came marching up the horizon in front of them then, and they were soon going through it. Ewan said if he bided in Fordoun he'd lay his neck on the railway line and invite the Flying Scotsman to run over it, so tired he'd be of biding in a place that looked like a barn painted by a man with nothing but thumbs and a squint in both eyes.

But Chris liked the little place, she'd never seen it before and the farms that lay about it, big and rich, with fine black loam for soil, different from the clay of bleak Blawearie. Ewan said To hell with them and their fine land too, they're not farmers, them, only lazy muckers that sit and make silver out of their cotters; and he said he'd rather bide in a town and wear a damned apron than work in this countryside. And then they were near Laurencekirk, the best of weather the day held still, Laurencekirk looked brave in the forenoon stir, with its cattle mart and its printing office where they printed weekly the Kincardineshire Observer, folk called it The Squeaker for short. It had aye had a hate for Stonehaven, Laurencekirk, and some said that it should be the county capital, but others said God help the capital that was entrusted to it; and would speak a bit verse that Thomas the Rhymour had made, how ere Rome--

 

became a great imperial city,
Twas peopled first, as we are told,
By pirates, robbers, thieves, banditti;
Quoth Tammas: 'Then the day may come
When Laurencekirk shall equal Rome.'

 

And when Laurencekirk folk heard that they would laugh, not nearly cry as they did in Drumlithie when you mocked at their steeple, or smile sick and genteel as they did in Stonehaven when you spoke of the poverty toffs. Ewan said it was a fine town, he liked Laurencekirk, and they'd stop and have dinner there.

So they did, it was fine to eat food that another had cooked. Then they looked at the day and saw how it wore and planned to drive over to Edzell Castle--There's nothing to see there but a ruckle of stones, said Ewan, but you'll like them fine, no doubt.

So they did as they'd planned, the afternoon flew, it was golden and green. Under Drumtochty Hill they passed, Ewan told that in summer it came deeper with the purple of heather than any other hill in Scotland; but it hung dark and asleep like a great cloud scraping the earth as they trotted past. There was never a soul at the castle but themselves, they climbed and clambered about in the ruins, stone on stone they were crumbling away, there were little dark chambers in the angle walls that had sheltered the bowmen long syne. Ewan said they must fair have been fusionless folk, the bowmen, to live in places like that; and Chris laughed and looked at him, queer and sorry, and glimpsed the remoteness that her books had made.

She was glad to be out in the sun again, though, clouds were racing it up from the North and Ewan said they'd not need to loiter long. In the garden of the castle they wandered from wall to wall, looking at the pictures crumbling there, balls and roses and rings and callipers, and wild heraldic beasts without number, Ewan said he was glad that they'd all been killed. But Chris didn't laugh at him, she knew right well that such beasts had never been, but she felt fey that day, even out here she grew chill where the long grasses stood in the sun, the dead garden about them with its dead stone beasts of an ill-stomached fancy.

Folk rich and brave, and blithe and young as themselves, had once walked and talked and taken their pleasure here, and their play was done and they were gone, they had no name or remembered place, even in the lands of death they were maybe forgotten, for maybe the dead died once again, and again went on. And, daft-like, she tried to tell Ewan that whimsy, and he stared at her, pushing his cap from his brow, and looked puzzled and said Ay, half-heartedly; he didn't know what she blithered about. She laughed then and turned away from him, angry at herself and her daftness; but once she'd thought there wouldn't be a thing they wouldn't understand together.

And the rain that had held away all the day came down at last and caught them on their way back home, overtaking them near to Laurencekirk, in a blinding surge that they watched come hissing across the fields, the sholtie bent its head to the storm and trotted on cannily, it grew dark all of a moment and Ewan found there was never a lamp on Chae's bit gig. He swore at Chae and then drove in silence, and the wind began to rise as they came on the long, bare road past Fordoun, near lifting the sholt from its feet; and out in the darkness they heard the foghorn moaning by Todhead lighthouse. They were a pair of drookéd rats when they turned the gig into the close at Peesie's Knapp, and Chae cried to them to come in and dry, but they wouldn't, they ran all the way to Blawearie and the wet trees were creaking in the wind as they reached to their door.

Now that was the last wet day of the Spring and to Chris the weeks began to slip by like posts you glimpse from the fleeing window of a railway train in a day of summer--light and shade and marled wood, light and shade, and the whoom of the train, life itself seemed to fly like that up through the Spring, Ewan had the corn land all ploughed and sown himself almost early as was the Mains; only in the yavil did Chris go out and carry the corn for him.

And that she liked fine, not a chave and a weariness as it was with father, Ewan brisk and cheerful with the smoulder gone from his eyes, they had settled to a clear, slow shining, it seemed to Chris, now he had his own home and wife. Then in the days of the harrowing Chris drove the harrows while he carted manure to the turnip-land, she was glad that she hadn't that work, glad to tramp behind the horses instead, with kilted skirts, a switch in her hand and the reins there and the horses plod-plodding steadily, they knew her fine, and she spoiled them with bits of loaf and jam so that Ewan, coming to drive them himself, cried vexedly, Hold up your head from my pockets, Clyde! What the hell are you sniff-sniff-sniffing for?

Then he went down to Stonehaven and bought a new sower and sowed the turnips; and the night he finished and unloosed and came back to the biggings for his supper, he couldn't find Chris though he called and called. She heard him calling and didn't answer, herself lying out in the garden under the beeches, brave and green and rustling their new Spring leaves, whispering without cease over her head that was buried in the grass while she lay and thought. A little insect ran over her hand and she hated it, but it mightn't disturb her for this time at the least, nothing might do that, she lay so certain and still because of this thing that had come to her.

 

She felt neither gladness nor pain, only dazed, as though running in the fields with Ewan she had struck against a great stone, body and legs and arms, and lay stunned and bruised, the running and the fine crying in the sweet air still on about her, Ewan running free and careless still not knowing or heeding the thing she had met. The days of love and holidaying and the foolishness of kisses--they might be for him yet but never the same for her, dreams were fulfilled and their days put by, the hills climbed still to sunset but her heart might climb with them never again and long for to-morrow, the night still her own. No night would she ever be her own again, in her body the seed of that pleasure she had sown with Ewan burgeoning and growing, dark, in the warmth below her heart. And Chris Guthrie crept out from the place below the beech trees where Chris Tavendale lay and went wandering off into the waiting quiet of the afternoon, Chris Tavendale heard her go, and she came back to Blawearie never again.

But she did not tell Ewan, not that night nor the week that followed, nor the weeks after that, watching her own body with a secret care and fluttering eyes for the marks and stigmata of this thing that had come to her. And she saw her breast nipples change and harden and grow soft again, the breasts that Ewan had kissed and thought the wonder of God, a maid's breasts a maid's no longer, changing in slow rhythm of purpose with the sway and measure of each note in the rhythm, her belly rounding to plumpness below the navel, she looked in the glass and saw also her eyes changed, deeper and most strange, with red lights and veinings set in them.

And in the silences of the night, when the whit-owl had quieted out by the barn, once something moved there under her heart, moved and stirred drowsily, a sleeper from dreams; and she gasped and cried and then lay still, not wakening Ewan, for this was her rig and furrow, she had brought him the unsown field and the tending and reaping was hers, even as with herself when she lay in her own mother's body. And she thought of that, queer it seemed then how unclearly she had thought of that aforetime, shamed, indecent and coarse for a quean to think of such things--that her mother had once carried her as seed and fruit and dark movingness of flesh hid away within her.

And she wakened more fully at that, lying thinking while Ewan slept at her side, turned away from him, thinking of mother, not as her mother at all, just as Jean Murdoch, another woman who had faced this terror-daze in the night. They went sleepless in the long, dark hours for the fruitage of love that the sower slept all unaware, they were the plants that stood dark and quiet in the night, unmoving, immobile, the bee hummed home and away, drowsy with treasure, and another to-morrow for the hunting his.

So was the way of things, there was the wall and the prison that you couldn't break down, there was nothing to be done--nothing, though your heart stirred from its daze and suddenly the frozenness melted from you and still you might not sleep. . . . But now it was because of that babble of words that went round and around in your mind, soundless and scared of your lips, a babble of hours in the hills and loitering by lochs and the splendour of books and sleeping secure--babble of a world that still marched and cried beyond the prison walls, fair and unutterable its loveliness still outside the doors of Blawearie house, mocked by its ghost, a crying in the night for things that were lost and foregone and ended.

It quietened away then, morning came tapping at the window, she turned and slept, sleeping exhausted, rising with white face and slow steps so that she was long in the kitchen. And Ewan came hasting in, hurried that morning, the first of the turnips were pushing their thin, sweet blades of grass above the drills, he wanted to be out to them. Damn't, Chris, are you still asleep? he cried, half-laughing, half-angry, and Chris said nothing, going back to the dairy, Ewan stared and then moved uneasily and followed her with hesitant feet, What's wrong? What's up?

Turning to look at him, suddenly Chris knew that she hated him, standing there with the health in his face, clear of eyes--every day they grew clearer here in the parks he loved and thought of noon, morning and night; that, and the tending to beasts and the grooming of horses, herself to warm him at night and set him his meat by day. What are you glowering for? he asked, and she spoke then at last, calmly and thinly, For God's sake don't deave me. Must you aye be an old wife and come trailing after me wherever I go?

He flinched like a horse with the lash on its back, his eyes kindled their smoky glow, but he swung round and away from her. You're out of bed the wrong side this morning, and out he went. She was sorry then, wanted to cry to him, dropped the pails to run after him, when he spoilt it all, crying from the middle of the close: And I'd like my breakfast before the night comes down.

It was as though she were dry whin and his speech a fire to it, she ran out and overtook him there in the close, catching his shoulder and whirling him round, so surprised he was that he almost fell. Speak to me like that? she cried, Do you think I'm your servant? You're mine, mind that, living off my meat and my milk, you Highland pauper! . . . More than that she said, so she knew, no memory of the words abided with her, it was a blur of rage out of which she came with Ewan holding her shoulders and shaking her: You damned bitch, you'd say that to me? To me? . . . he was glaring like a beast, then he seemed to crumple, his hands fell from her. Och, you're ill, you should be in your bed!

He left her in the close then, striding to the barn, she stood like a fool with the tears of rage and remorse blinding her eyes. And as she went back to the kitchen and came out with the pails Ewan went striding away over the fields, his hoe on his shoulder, it was barely yet light, he was going to the parks without his breakfast. Milking the kye she hurried, her anger dying away, hurrying to be finished and have the breakfast ready, for he'd sure to be back again soon.

So she planned; but Ewan didn't come back. The porridge hottered to a thick, tough mess, beyond the raised blind the day broke thick and evilly red, hot like a pouring steam across the hills; the tea grew cold. Herself half-desperate with hunger she waited, couldn't sit, wandering from fire to door and door to table; and then she caught sight on the dresser of the whistle that had lain by father while he lay in paralysis in bed, and snatched it down, and all in a moment had run over the close to the lithe of the corn ricks.

Shading her eyes she saw Ewan then, down in the turnip-park, swinging steady and quick in lunge and recovery, Kinraddie's best hoer. Then she whistled to him loud and clear down through the morning, half Kinraddie must have heard the blast, but he took no notice. Then she went desperate in a way, she stopped from whistling and screamed to him, Ewan, Ewan! and at her first scream he looked up and dropped his hoe--he'd heard her whistling all right, the thrawn swine! She screamed again, he was running by then over the parks to the close; him not ten yards away she screamed a third time, hurting her throat, but she did it calmly, anger boiled in her, yet in a way she was cool enough.

And Ewan cried God, Chris, have you gone clean daft? What are you screaming for, what do you want? He towered up above her, angry, amazed, it was then that she knew for sure, she gathered up all the force in her voice and body for the reply that sprang to her lips and the thing that followed it. That! she said, and struck him across the face with her arm's full force, her fingers cried agony and then went numb, on Ewan's face a great red mark sprang up, the clap of the blow went echoing around the Blawearie biggings.

So she saw and heard, only a moment, next minute he was at her himself like a cat, her head rang and dirled as he struck her twice, she tried to keep her footing and failed and fell back, against the rick-side, clutching at the thing, staring feared at Ewan, the madness on his face, his fists coming up again. Get up, get up! he cried, Damn you, get up! and she knew he would strike her again, and rising shielded her face with her arm, trying to cram back the sobs in her throat, too late for that. Dizzy, she saw him in front of her swaying and moving, she couldn't see him but she cried No, no! and turned then and ran stumbling up through the close, up the hill to the moor. Twice he called as she ran, the second time so that nearly she stopped, Chris, Chris, come back! in a voice that was breaking as her own had been. But she couldn't stop running, a hare that the snare had whipped. Never again, never again, the loch, the loch! she sobbed as she ran and panted, the Standing Stones wheeling up from the whins to peer with quiet faces then in her face.

 

A quarter of an hour, half an hour, how long had she lain and dozed? Still morning in the air, she was soaked with dew. She turned and half-rose, heard the whistling of the broom and sank down again.

It was Ewan by the moor-gate, searching, he'd stopped to stare at the loch, thinking the thing she had thought, not seeing her yet. She sighed. She felt tired as though she had worked a great day in the sweat of the land, but Ewan would see to her, Ewan would take heed.

So she raised her voice and called to him and he came.

 

 

IV

HARVEST

 

It seemed to her that but hardly could she have left the place since that May-day more than six years ago when Ewan had come seeking her through the red, evil weather. She closed her eyes and put out a hand against the greatest of the Standing Stones, the coarse texture of the stone leapt cold to her hand, for a shivering wind blew down the hills. She started at thought of another thing then, opening her eyes to look round; but there he was, still and safe as he stood and looked at her. She cried Stay by me, Ewan! and he came running to her side; and she caught his hand and closed her eyes again, praying in a wild compassion of pity for that Ewan whose hand lay far from hers.

Six years: Spring rains and seeding, harvests and winters and springs again since that day that Ewan had come seeking her here with his white, chill face that kindled to warmth and well-being when she called him at last. She'd cried in his arms then, tired and tired, as he carried her down the hill; and the rage was quite gone from him, he bore her into the house and up to their bed, and patted her hand, and said Bide you quiet! and went off down the hill at a run.

So she learned he had run, and to Peesie's Knapp, but she didn't know then, she sank and sank away into sleep, and awakened long after with Ewan and still another man come in the room, it was Meldrum from Bervie, the doctor. He peeled off his gloves from his long white hands, and peered at her like a hen with his gley, sharp eye. What's this you've been doing, Chris Guthrie?

He didn't wait a reply but caught up her hand and wrist and listened, still like a hen, head on one side while Ewan stared at him greyly. Then he said Well, well, that's fine, let's see a bit more of you, young Mistress Tavendale.

While he listened with the funny things at his ears and the end of it on her chest, she closed her eyes, ill no longer though drowsy still, and peeked sideways at Ewan, smiling at him. And then the doctor moved his stethoscope further down, it tickled her bared skin there and she knew he knew, and he straightened up And you tell me you didn't know what the thing was, Chris Tavendale?

She said Oh, yes, and he said But not Ewan? and she shook her head and they both laughed at Ewan standing there staring from one to the other, black hair unbrushed, she had gone near to killing him that morning. And then Dr. Meldrum shook him by the arm, You're going to be a father, Blawearie man, what think you of that? Away and make me a cup of tea while Chris and I go into more intimate details--you needn't bide, she's safe enough with an old man, bonny though she be.

All that he said as canny as ordering a jug of milk, Ewan gasped, and made to speak, and couldn't but his face was blithe as he turned and ran down the stairs. They heard him singing below and old Meldrum cocked his head to the side and listened, Damned easy for him to sing, eh, Chris? But you'll sing yourself when this bairn of yours comes into the world. Let's see if everything's right.

It was. He put his hand on her shoulder when he finished and gave her a shake. A body as fine and natural and comely as a cow or a rose, Chris Guthrie. You'll have no trouble and you needn't fret. But look after yourself, eat vegetables, and be still as kind to Ewan as the wear of the months will let you be. Good for him and good for you. She nodded to that, understanding, and he gave her another shake and went down to Ewan, and drank the tea that Ewan had made, if tea it was, which you doubted later when you smelt the cups.

Ewan knowing, Meldrum knowing, it was as though a bank had gone down behind which she had dreamt a torrent and a storm would burst and blind and whelm her. But there was nothing there but the corn growing and the peewits calling, summer coming, marching up each morning with unbraided hair, the dew rising in whorling mists from the urgent corn that carpeted Ewan's trim fields. Nothing to fear and much to do, most of all to tell Ewan not to fret, she wasn't a doll, she'd be safe as a cow though she hoped to God she didn't quite look like one. And Ewan said You look fine, bonnier than ever, saying it solemnly, meaning it, and she was glad, peeking at herself in the long mirror when she was alone, seeing gradually that smooth rounding of belly and hips below her frock--lucky she had never that ugliness that some poor folk have to bear, awful for them.

She took pleasure in being herself, in being as before, not making a difference, cooking and baking and running to the parks with the early morning piece for Ewan, he'd cry Don't run! and she'd cry Don't blether! and reach beside him, and sink down beside him midway the long potato rows he was hoeing, growing low and broad and well-branched, the shaws, it was set a fine year for potatoes. And as he sat and ate she'd gather his coat below her head for a pillow, and lean back with her arms outspread in the sun, and make of that few minutes her resting-time, listening to Ewan on the crops and the weather that was so good folk didn't believe it could last, there must soon be a break of the fine interplay of the last two months.

That was late in June he said that, and all the dour Howe watched the sky darkly, certain some trick was on up there. For the rain that was needed came in the night, just enough, not more, as though cannily sprinkled, and the day would be fine with sun, you couldn't want better; but it wasn't in the nature of things it would last. And Chris said, dreamily, Maybe things are changing for the better all round, and Ewan said Damn the fears! his gaze far off and dark and intent, the crops and the earth in his bones and blood, and she'd look in his face and find content, not jealous or curious or caring though she herself found in his eyes a place with the crops and land. And she'd close her eyes in the sun-dazzle then, in the smell, green, pungent, strong and fine, of the coming potato shaws, and sometimes she'd doze and waken sun-weary, Ewan working a little bit off, not clattering his hoe lest she wake.

She made up her mind she'd have the baby born in the room that had once been her own. So she rubbed it and scrubbed it till it shone again and brought out the bed mattress and hung it to air, in the garden, between the beeches, all in leaf they were, so thick. You could hardly see the sky looking up in that malachite, whispering dome; and by as she looked came Long Rob of the Mill to settle his bills with Ewan, he saw Chris then and came to lean on the hedge, hatless, and long as ever, with the great moustaches and the iron blue eyes.

And he picked a sprig of the honeysuckle and bit it between his teeth. This'll be for the son, eh, Chris? And when are you having him born? She said Late September or early October, I think, and Rob shook his head, it wasn't the best time for bairns, though feint the fear for hers. And he laughed as he leaned there, minding something, and he told Chris of the thing, his own mother it was, the wife of a crofter down in the Reisk. She'd had her twelve children in sixteen years, nine of them died, Rob was the oldest and only a lad and he'd seen the youngest of his brothers born. Seen? I helped, think of that, Chris quean! And think she did and she shivered, and Rob said That was daft, the telling of that. But things are fair right with you, then, Chris?

So maybe, going home, he told of Blawearie's news; soon Kinraddie knew more than did Chris herself. Folk began to trail in about in the quiet of an evening, out of ill-fashionce, and nothing much more, they'd gley sidewise at Chris as they'd argue with Ewan, syne home they would go and tell it was true, Ay, there'll soon be a family Blawearie way, Chris must have fair have taken at the first bit sett. But others knew better, Mutch and Munro, and the speak went round that the taking was well ere the marriage, Ewan had married the quean when she threatened him with law. Kinraddie mouthed that over, it was toothsome and tasty, and the speak came creeping up to Blawearie, Chris never knew how she heard it. But she did, Ewan did, and he swore to go out and kick the backsides of Mutch and Munro till they'd dream of sitting as a pleasure and a passion. And off he'd have set in the rage of the moment but Chris caught him and held him, that would only be daft, folk would think it the truer, the scandal; and if it made them the happier to think as they did, let them think!

 

And then it seemed to Chris that her world up Blawearie brae began to draw in, in and about her and the life she carried, that moved now often and often, turning slow under her heart in the early days, but jerking with suddenness, a moment at a stretch now, sometimes, so that she would sit and gasp with closed eyes. In, nearer and nearer round herself and the house the days seemed to creep, Will in Argentine was somebody she'd met in a dream of the night, Aberdeenshire far away, nothing living or moving but shadows in sunlight or night outside the circle of the hills and woods she saw from Blawearie's biggings. Then fancies came on her and passed, but were daft and straining and strange while they lasted, she couldn't break herself of the things, they'd to wear and fade at their own bit gait.

One night it was that she couldn't touch kye, Ewan had to do the milking himself, sore puzzled and handless he was but she couldn't help that, though next morning she laughed at herself, what was there to fear in the milking of kye? Then came the day when they drove Chae Strachan's sheep to the buchts and the libbing of the lambs went on till it nearly drove her mad, the thin young baaing that rose an unending plaint, the folk with their pipes and knives and the blood that ran in the sunlight. All in a picture it rose to her on the sound of that baaing, and she hid in the dairy at last, the only place that shut out the sound.

But another fad, and the one that lasted the longest, was fear that all sounds would go, fear of the night when it might be so nearly still, Ewan sleeping with his head in his arm as he sometimes did, soundless, till she'd think him dead and shake him to a sleepy wakefulness; and he'd ask What's wrong? Have I been stealing the blankets from you? and she'd say Yes, ashamed to let him know of that fear of hers.

So she found the days blithe enough then, the scraich and scratch of hens in the close, the sound of the mower that Ewan drove up and down the rigs of the hay, the mooing of the calves wild-plagued with flies. Clyde's neighing to a passing stallion. Only night was the time to be feared, if she woke and there was that stillness; but even the quietest night if she listened hard she'd hear the wisp-wisp of the beech leaves near to the window, quietening her, comforting her, she never knew why, as though the sap that swelled in branch and twig were one with the blood that swelled the new life below her navel, that coming day in the months to be a thing she'd share with that whisperer out in the darkness.

And oh, but the time was long! She could almost have wished that she and Ewan had bedded unblessed as Mutch said they had, the baby would have been here by now and not still to come, still waiting harvest and stooking and the gathering of stooks. But it lay with her, warm and shielded, and saw with her the growth and ripening of that autumn's corn, yellow and great, and the harvest moons that came so soon in that year, red moons a-slant and a-tilt on the rim of the earth they saw as they went to bed, you felt it another land and another world that hung there in the quietness of the sky.

One night, the mid-days of August as they sat at meat, the door burst open and in strode Chae Strachan, a paper in his hand, and was fell excited, Chris listened and didn't, a war was on, Britain was to war with Germany. But Chris didn't care and Ewan didn't either, he was thinking of his close that the weather might ruin; so Chae took himself off with his paper again, and after that, though she minded it sometimes, Chris paid no heed to the war, there were aye daft devils fighting about something or other, as Ewan had said; and God! they could fight till they were black and blue for all that he cared if only the ley field would come on a bit faster, it was near fit for cutting but the straw so short it fair broke your heart.

And out he'd go in the evening light, down to the ley park and poke about there, rig to rig, as though coaxing the straw to grow and grow in the night for his delight in the morning. A bairn with a toy, Chris thought, laughing as she watched him then; and then came that movement in her body as she watched Ewan still--a mother with his child he was, the corn his as this seed of his hers, burgeoning and ripening, growing to harvest.

The corn was first. Up and down the rigs on his brave new binder, Clyde and Bess each aside the pole, rode Ewan; and the corn bent and was smitten on the flyboard, and gathered up on the forking teeth and wound and bound and ejected. Up and down went the whirling arms, and fine harvest weather came then in Kinraddie, though it rained in Dee, folk said, and down in Forfar the year was wet. Park by park Ewan rode it down, Chris still could carry him a piece as he worked, but she walked slow now, careful and slow, and he'd jump from the binder and come running and meet her, and down he would sit her in the lithe of a stook while he stood and ate, his gaze as ever on the fields and sky, there was still the harvest to finish.

But finished it was, September's end, and there came a blatter of rain next day, Chris saw the coming of the rain and the bright summer went as the stook stood laden and tall in the fields. And Chris found herself sick, a great pain came and gripped at her breast, at her thighs, she cried Ewan! and nearly fell and he ran to her. They stared in each other's faces, hearing the rain, and then again the pain drove through and through Chris like a heated sword, and she set her teeth and shook Ewan free, she knew the things she'd to do. It'll maybe be a long time yet, but get Chae to drive for the doctor and nurse. He'll bring the nurse back from Bervie, Chae.

Ewan stood and stared and his face was working, she smiled at him then though the pain of the sword was as nothing now, iron hooks were tearing in her body instead, rusty and dragging and blunt. She held up her face to be kissed and kept her teeth fast and said Hurry, though I'm fine! and syne watched him run down the road to the Knapp. Then, white, in a daze of pain, she began to walk backwards and forwards on the kitchen floor, as she knew she must do to bring on the birth quick, everything else was ready and waiting in the room upstairs. And after a while the pain waned and went, but she knew it would soon be back.

So she filled her a hot-water bottle and almost ran up the stairs to put it in the bed, almost running lest the pain come midway and catch her unaware. But it held off still, she smoothed out the sheets, brought out the rubber one she'd had bought, and tied that down, firm and strong, and set the great basin on the rug by the window and wondered what else there might be. Then she saw her face in the glass, it was flushed and bright and her eyes all hot; and suddenly she thought how strange it would be if she died, like the many women who died in childbed, she felt well and strong, they had felt the same, strange to think that her face might be dead and still in another day, that face that she looked at now, it couldn't be hers, it was still the face of a quean.

From the window she saw Ewan running back and as she reached to the foot of the stairs to meet him the pain came on her again, she had to sit down. But that was daft, it would make it last longer, she struggled to her feet and walked in the kitchen again, Ewan was in the doorway, a white blur of a face and nothing else unless she looked at him hard and hard. He kept saying Chris, go and lie down! and she opened her mouth and gasped and meant to tell him she was fine; and instead found herself swearing and swearing, terrible words she hadn't known she knew, they were wrung from her lips as she went stumbling to and fro, better than screaming, women screamed, but she wouldn't.

And then came relief again, the kitchen straightened and she sat down, Ewan emerged from his blur and made her tea. Something kept worrying her--what was he to have for his dinner? She couldn't remember the thing she'd intended, and gave it up, her tormentors were nearby again. Boil yourself an egg, Ewan! she gasped, and he didn't understand, he thought it something she wanted--Boil what? And at that a frenzy of irritation came on her, Oh, boil your head if you like! and she dragged herself to her feet, the clock on the mantelshelf was expanding and contracting, its dial blurred and brightened as she stood. And then she was sure, she cried Ewan, help me up to the room, for she knew that her time had come.

What happened then she didn't know, there came a clear patch and she found herself nude, all but a stocking, it wouldn't come off, she sat on the bedside and tried, Ewan tried, it was so funny she giggled in spite of the pain. And then she saw Ewan's face, it had grown to the face of an old man, now, she must lie and get him out of the room. She cried Mind the fire, Ewan, there's no wood there, run and hack some, and when he was out of the room she could heed to herself and her agony at last; and she bit the sheets, she rolled herself tight in a ball, the pain seemed to go for a moment, maybe she had smothered the baby, she didn't care, she couldn't abide it, not through hours and hours and days and days, for weeks it had gone on now, she had seen the room darken and lighten and night come, tormented by Ewan and father her body, and Will was dead, they had tortured him first.

She cried Will! then and opened her eyes from an hour-long sleep. In the room was the doctor and the nurse from Bervie, he came over to her side, old Meldrum, Well Chris lass, how do you feel? Fine to send for us in such a stour, and here we coming tearing up to find you sleeping like a lamb! This is Mrs. Ogilvie, you've heard of her.

Chris tried to speak, and managed, her body was a furnace, but she managed to speak, she didn't get it clear and she tried again. And Mrs. Ogilvie patted her and said Don't bother with that. Do you feel you're getting on fine? Dr. Meldrum came back then, Well, let's see; and Chris poised herself on the rim of a glistening cup of pain while they looked at and felt at and straightened something alien and white, it was her own body she remembered. Meldrum said Fine, fine, it shouldn't be long, I'll wait below, and went out and closed the door, he hated confinements. Mrs. Ogilvie sat down and next minute jumped to her feet again, Don't do that, Mrs. Tavendale, don't grip yourself up! Slacken and its easy, wish it to come, there's a brave girl!

Chris tried: it was torment: the beast moved away from her breasts, scrabbled and tore and returned again, it wasn't a beast, red-hot pincers were riving her apart. Riven and riven she bit at her lips, the blood on her tongue, she couldn't bite more, she heard herself scream then, twice. And then there were feet on the stairs, the room rose and fell, hands on her everywhere, holding her, tormenting her, she cried out again, ringingly, deep, a cry that ebbed to a sigh, the cry and the sigh with which young Ewan Tavendale came into the world in the farm-house of Blawearie.

 

So quick as all that, she was lucky, folk said, bringing a birth in a forenoon, just; it was twelve when Ewan was born. Some folk, Mrs. Ogilvie told, had to thresh from dawn to dusk and through another night to another day, and Chris lay and nodded and said Yes, I know, and fell fast asleep, she didn't dream at all. And, waking, she found herself washed and dried, a new nightgown put on her and Mrs. Ogilvie knitting by the side of the bed, nothing else, oh! she couldn't have dreamt and not known it. She whispered, scared, My baby? and Mrs. Ogilvie whispered Beside you, don't crush him, and Chris turned round her head and saw then beside her a face as small as though carved from an apple, near, perfect and small, with a fluff of black hair and a blue tinge on long eyelids, and a mouth that was Ewan's and a nose her own and she nearly cried out Oh, my baby!

So she lay and wondered, near cried again, and put out her hand, it felt strong and quick, only heavy, and her fingers passed up and along, under its swathings, a body as small and warm as a cat's, with a heart that beat steady and assured. And the baby opened his eyes and fluttered them at her and yawned and she saw a tongue like a little red fish in the little red mouth; and the blue-shaded eyelids went down again and young Ewan Tavendale slept.

Sweet to lie beside him in the hours that went by, sleeping herself now and then and wakening to watch him, not ugly as she'd thought he'd be, lovely and perfect. And then he moved and whimpered, unrestful, and was picked from the bed in Mrs. Ogilvie's hands, and fluttered his eyelids at her, Chris saw, and opened his mouth and weeked like a kitten. And Mrs. Ogilvie said He's hungry now, Chris found him in her arms at last, and hugged him, just once, and held him to her breast.

The blind little mouth came kissing and lapping, he wailed his disappointment, his little hands clawing at her. Then his lips found her nipple, it hurt and it didn't, it was as though he were draining the life from her body, there was nothing better than to die that way, he was hers close and closer than his father had been, closer than again could any child be. And she wondered above him and kissed his black hair, damp still from the travail of birth; and looked at the eyes that stared so unwinkingly as the hungry lips clung to her breast. So at last he was finished, then Ewan came up, he'd come while she slept before and he bent and kissed her and she cried Mind the baby! and he said By God, am I like to forget? And he wiped his forehead, poor Ewan!

In a week Mrs. Ogilvie was gone and Chris felt so well she was up and about, it was daft to lie wearied and feckless when she felt so fine. So down to the kitchen and the shining of the October sun she came, she and her baby, into the whisper and murmur of that war that had so excited Chae Strachan.

For it was on, not a haver only, every soul that came up to look at young Ewan began to speak of it sooner or later. Chae came and looked at young Ewan and tickled his toes and said Ay, man! And he told them they'd brought out a fine bit bairn between them, every man might yet have to fight for bairn and wife ere this war was over; and he said that the Germans had broken loose, fair devils, and were raping women and braining bairns all over Belgium, it was hell let loose. And Ewan said Who'll win, then? and Chae said if the Germans did there'd be an end of both peace and progress forever, there wouldn't be safety in the world again till the Prussians--and they were a kind of German, with meikle spiked helmets, awful brutes, and the very worst--were beaten back to the hell they came from. But Ewan just yawned and said Oh, to hell with them and their hell both, Chae! Are you going to the mart the morn?

For he didn't care, Ewan; but the mart was as bad, nobody spoke of anything but war, Munro of the Cuddiestoun was there, and Mutch, they'd a fair drink in their bellies, both, and swore they'd 'list the morn were they younger, by God. That was just the drink speaking, no doubt, but the very next day the Upperhill foreman, James Leslie he was that had taken Ewan's place, went into Aberdeen and joined in the Gordons, he was the first man to go from Kinraddie and was killed fell early. But folk thought him fair daft, showing off and looking for a holiday, just, there was no use coming to such stir as that when the war would so soon be over. For the papers all said that it would, right fierce they were, Man, some of those editors are right rough creatures, God pity the Germans if they'd their hands on them! And folk shook their heads, and agreed that the newspaper billies were ill to run counter.

But the Germans didn't care--maybe they didn't read the papers, said Long Rob of the Mill; they just went on with their raping of women and their gutting of bairns, till Chae Strachan came up to Blawearie one night with a paper in his hand and a blaze on his face, and he cried that he for one was off to enlist, old Sinclair could heed to the Knapp and to Kirsty. And Ewan cried after him, You're havering, man, you don't mean it! but Chae cried back Damn't ay, that I do! And sure as death he did and went off, by Saturday a letter came to Peesie's Knapp that told he had joined the North Highlanders and been sent to Perth.

So there was such speak and stir as Kinraddie hadn't known for long, sugar was awful up in price and Chris got as much as she could from the grocer and stored it away in the barn. Then Ewan heard funny things about the sermon that the Reverend Gibbon had preached the Sunday before, and though he couldn't bear with a kirk he broke his habit and put on his best suit and went down to the service next Sabbath.

There was a fell crowd there, more than Ewan had heard of the last week's sermon, and the place was all on edge to hear what the Reverend Gibbon would say. He looked bigger and more like a bull than ever, Ewan thought, as he mounted the pulpit, there was nothing unusual as he gave out the hymn and the prayer. But then he took a text, Ewan couldn't mind which, about Babylon's corruptions, they'd been right coarse there. And he said that God was sending the Germans for a curse and a plague on the world because of its sins, it had grown wicked and lustful, God's anger was loosed as in the days of Attila. How long it would rage, to what deeps of pain their punishments would go, only God and His Anger might know. But from the chastisement by blood and fire the nations might rise anew, Scotland not the least in its ancient health and humility, to tread again the path to grace.

And just as he got there, up rose old Sinclair of the Netherhill, all the kirk watched him, and he put on his hat and he turned his back and went step-stepping slow down the aisle, he wouldn't listen to this brute defending the German tinks and some friend that he called Attila. Hardly had he risen when Mutch rose too, syne Cuddiestoun, and they too clapped on their hats; and Ellison half made to rise but his wife pulled him down, he looked daft as a half-throttled turkey then, Ella White wasn't to have him make himself a fool for any damned war they waged. But the minister turned red and then white and he stuttered when he saw folk leaving; and his sermon quietened down, he finished off early and rattled off the blessing as though it was a cursing. Outside in the kirkyard some young folk gathered to clout him in the lug as he came from the kirk, but the elders were there and they edged them away, and Mr. Gibbon threaded the throngs like a futret with kittle, and made for the Manse, and padlocked the gate.

But Ewan didn't care one way or the other, as he told to Chris. The minister might be right or be wrong with his Babylons and whores and might slobber Attila every night of the week, Blawearie had its crop all in and that was what mattered. And Chris said Yes, what a blither about a war, isn't it, Ewan? and tickled young Ewan as he lay on her lap. And he laughed and kicked and his father sat down and looked at him, solemn, and said it was fair wonderful, Did you see him look up at me then, Chris quean?

So they were douce and safe and blithe in Blawearie though Kinraddie was unco with Chae Strachan gone. Kirsty came up on a visit and cried when she sat in the kitchen beside the crib, Chris made her tea but she wouldn't take comfort. She said she knew well enough Chae'd never come back, he was in such a rage with the Germans he'd just run forward in his bit of the front and kill and kill till he'd fair lost himself. Chris said And they're maybe not such bad folk as the papers make out, and at that Kirsty Strachan jumped up So, you're another damned pro-German as well, are you? There's over-many of your kind in Kinraddie. Chris stared clean amazed, but out Kirsty Strachan went running, still crying, and that was the last they saw of her in many a week, maybe she was ashamed of her outburst.

Whether or not she was, there could be never a doubt about the Reverend Gibbon. For the next Sabbath day, when another great crowd came down to the kirk to hear him preach, they got all the patriotism they could wish, the minister said that the Kaiser was the Antichrist, and that until this foul evil had been swept from the earth there could be neither peace nor progress again. And he gave out a hymn then, Onward, Christian Soldiers it was, and his own great bull's voice led the singing, he had fair become a patriot and it seemed likely he thought the Germans real bad. But Long Rob of the Mill, when he heard the story, said it was a sight more likely that he thought the chance of losing his kirk and collections a damned sight worse than any German that was ever yet clecked.

For, and it grew a fair scandal all through the Howe, you could hardly believe it, it was funny enough, Long Rob of the Mill didn't hold with the war. He said it was a lot of damned nonsense, those that wanted to fight, the M.P.s and bankers and editors and muckers, should all be locked up in a pleiter of a park and made to gut each other with graips: there'd be no great loss to the world and a fine bit sight it would make for decent folk to look on at. But for folk with sense to take part in the soss and yammer about King and country was just plain hysteria; and as for Belgium invaded, it got what it needed, what about the Congo and your Belgians there? Not that the Germans weren't as bad, they were all tarred with the same black brush.

But, though folk weren't patriots as daft as Chae Strachan, that didn't look when he was being laughed at, they knew right well that Long Rob couldn't lie like that, the long, rangy childe, without being pro-German, as the papers called it. For all the papers were full of pro-Germans then, British folk that thought that the German rascals were right; and in England folk went and smashed in their windows, such a rage they were in with the pro-Germans for being so coarse. There was little danger that they'd smash Rob's windows, there were few that cared to tackle the childe except Chae Strachan that was training in Perth.

So the whole stour might well have blown over, Rob was a well-liked billy and you needn't heed his blithers, if the Reverend Gibbon hadn't taken to the business and preached a sermon about tinks and traitors and a lot he preached about a jade called Jael, fell uncanny she'd been, right holy, though, and she'd killed a childe Sisera that she couldn't thole, because he was coarse to the Jews. And the Reverend Gibbon boomed out she was fine, a patriot and a light unto Israel she'd been, and we in like manner must act the same, right here in our midst were traitors that sided with the Antichrist, shame on Kinraddie that it should be so!

Folk listened to the sermon and fair got excited, and after dinner that Sabbath a horde of billies, some came from Kinraddie though most did not, but Upperhill's new foreman was there, and an awful patriot childe just like Gordon himself, they went down to the Mill, and there was Long Rob sitting out by his door, smoking at his pipe and reading in a book, coarse stite about God and God knows what. And the Upper-hill foreman cried out Here's the Kaiser's crony, let's duck the mucker! and the lot made a run at Rob and got him gripped in their hands, Rob thought it some joke and he laughed at them, setting by his bit book. But they soon let him know they were serious enough, they were clean worked up about the sermon and Long Rob the Antichrist's friend, and they started to haul Rob over to the mill-course then, where the water was sparkling and raging from a good bit spate in the hills.

Syne at last Rob knew they meant what they said, folk told that he gave a great cry that wasn't a curse and wasn't a shout, it was both together; and as they dragged him he lifted his foot, real coarse-like, and he kicked the foreman at the Upperhill right in the tender parts then, and the foreman at the Upperhill he screamed like a fell stuck pig; and God! folk laughed right well when they heard about that. Well, the next thing that happened was that Rob got a hand free then, and he took a childe near him, a meikle man from the Mains, a clout in the ear that stretched him flat; and then Rob was free and he ran, all the rest at his heels, for the house. But he could run right well, could Rob and fair outdistanced the pack, and he leapt inside and he barred the door.

So they threw some stones and rammed at the door with their shoulders, half-shamed by then at the stour they were raising, and maybe they knew they'd feel fools by Monday; and they might have gone home in another minute if it hadn't been that the meikle Mains man, him that Rob had couped on the ground with a clout in the ear, crawled up to his feet and picked up a great stone; and crack! through the kitchen window it went with a bang and a splinter inside!

Next minute the door flung open, they turned and looked and there was Long Rob, a gun in his hand and his face fair grey with rage. Some cried Take care, man, now, put down that gun! but they edged away back for all that. And Rob cried out Smash in my window you would, then, would you, you scum? and he swung the gun at the nearest billy and let drive at him. The pellets sang past the billy's head and he'd had enough of the war, he turned and ran like a rabbit; and the others scattered and ran as well, and Long Rob ran after them, and his gun went bang! again and again, you could hear it all over Kinraddie.

Folk ran to their doors, they thought the Germans had landed and were looting the Mearns; Chris, who had run across the Blawearie cornyard, shaded her eyes and looked over the country and at last she saw them, the running figures, like beetles in the distance, they fanned out and ran from the Mill as focus. And behind ran another that stopped now and then, and a puff of smoke went up at each stopping, and there came the bang of the gun. Mist was coming down and it blinded the battlefield, and through it the attacking army ran in an awful rout, Chris saw them vanish into its coming and Long Rob, still shooting, go scudding in chase.

So that was the result of the Reverend Gibbon's sermon, Kinraddie fair seethed with the news next day, all about the attack on the Mill and how Rob had chased the childes that came up against him, some could hardly sit down for a week after that, so full were their backsides with pellets. And some said that Long Rob was a coarse tink brute, if he was willing to fight like that at the Mill it was him that should go out to France and fight; but others, though they weren't so many, Chris and Ewan were among them, liked Long Rob and sided with him, and said it was a damn poor show for Scotland if her patriots aye ran as they had at the Mill. That had been the Sunday, but on Wednesday was another happening, and God knows what mightn't have come of it but for the interfering of the daftie Tony, him that bided at Cuddiestoun.

He'd been stitering along the Denburn road, had Tony, when he rounded a bend and there, on the road outside the Mill, was the Reverend Gibbon, his bicycle was lying in the stour and Long Rob had him gripped by the collar, and if he wasn't in danger of a bash in the face appearances were sore deceptive. For Long Rob had seen the minister come riding in the distance and knew his black coat and stopped the Mill and ran down to the road to ask what the hell the Reverend had meant by saying he was friends with the Antichrist. And the Reverend Gibbon turned red with rage and cried Stand out of my way there, Rob, and Rob cried Stand still you first, my man, for we've a bit bone to pick! and as the minister tried to ride him down Rob caught the handles and twisted them sore, and off the minister came, like a sack of corn, right flump in Rob's hands.

And Rob gave him a bit shake and asked Who's pro-German? and the minister swore himself blue and made at Rob, and Rob shook him like a futret a rabbit, and syne stood back and looked close at his face, and made up his mind that he'd smash in the minister's bit nose right then, he'd seen that kind of thing done before and it fair sossed up a pretty man, you just struck and struck till the bone gave way.

So Rob was just starting to mash up the minister childe when round the bend with a funny bit screech came the daftie Tony, he scraiched like a hen with a seed in its throat and ran and caught at Rob's arm. He's only a half-witted cleric, Rob, you'll dirty your hands on him, he cried, and both Rob and minister, sore astounded, stopped from their fighting and stared at the creature, the impudence of him with his wee red beard, and him only a daftie, like. But he nodded to the minister Get while the going's good and your hide's still intact, he said, and if you'd believe it the minister louped on his bicycle without a word, and off he rode; and Long Rob turned and asked the daftie where he'd hidden his sense all the time they'd known him, but Tony stood still like a stock of rags, a daft-like look on his face. And when Rob spoke to him again he just smiled like a gowk, and went shuffling away through the stour.

Some said that if all things were true that wouldn't be a lie, but Rob swore to it, he wasn't boasting what he'd done to the minister, he said, he was just so astonished at Tony he'd to tell them the story to make Tony's part plain. Cuddiestoun swore 'twas a lie from beginning to end, the thing you'd expect from a darned pro-German, like; but he didn't say that to Long Rob, he was over coarse in the feet, Munro, to run as fleet as the other billies had when Rob got in action. But he stopped his trade with Long Rob and he carted his corn for crushing and bruising over to the mill at Mondynes, syne Mutch of Bridge End did the same. Ah well, they might do that if they liked, folk as a rule were hardly so daft as leave the best miller for miles around just because of his saying that all the Germans could hardly be tinks. Maybe, you know, there was something in what the man said, coarse devils though most of the Germans were.

 

But Chris didn't care, sitting there at Blawearie with young Ewan at her breast, her man beside her, Blawearie theirs and the grain a fine price, forbye that the stirks sold well in the marts. Maybe there was war and bloodshed and that was awful, but far off also, you'd hear it like the North Sea cry in a morning, a crying and a thunder that became unending as the weeks went by, part of life's plan, fringing the horizon of your days with its pelt and uproar. So the new year came in and Chris watched young Ewan change and grow there at her breast, he was quick of temper like his father, good like his mother, she told Ewan; and Ewan laughed God, maybe you're right! You could hardly be wrong in a thing after bringing a bairn like that in the world. And she laughed at him But you helped a little! and he blushed as red as he always did, they seemed daft as ever in their love as the days wore on.

It was still as strange and as kind to lie with him, live with him, watch the sweat on his forehead when he came from tramping a day in the parks at the heels of his horses; still miracle to hear beside her his soundless breathing in the dark of the night when their pleasure was past and he slept so soon. But she didn't herself, those nights as the Winter wore to March, into Spring: she'd lie and listen to that hushed breathing of his one side of her, the boy's quicker breath in his cradle out by--content, content, what more could she have or want than the two of them, body and blood and breath? And morning would bring her out of her bed to tend young Ewan and make the breakfast and clean out the byre and the stable singing: she worked never knowing she tired and Long Rob of the Mill came on her one morning as she cleaned the manure from the stable and he cried The Spring of life, eh, Chris quean. Sing it and cherish it 'twill never come again!

Different from the old Rob he looked, she thought, but thought that carelessly, hurried to be in to young Ewan. But she stopped and watched him swing down the rigs to Ewan by the side of his horses, Ewan with his horses halted on the side of the brae and the breath of them rising up like a steam. And she heard Ewan call Ay, man, Rob, and Rob call Ay, man, Ewan, and they called the truth, they seemed fine men both against the horizon of Spring, their feet deep laired in the wet clay ground, brown and great, with their feet on the earth and the sky that waited behind. And Chris looked at them over-long, they glimmered to her eyes as though they had ceased to be there, mirages of men dreamt by a land grown desolate against its changing sky. And the Chris that had ruled those other two selves of herself, content, unquestioning these many months now, shook her head and called herself daft.

That year's harvest fell sharp away, but the price of corn made up for it, other prices might rise but farming folk did well. So it went in the winter and into the next year too, Ewan took in a drove of Irish steers to eat up the lush green grass of nineteen-sixteen. They grew fat and round in the shortest while, Chris proud to see them, so many beasts had Blawearie. You'd hardly believe 'twas here father had chaved and fought for a living the way he did; but that was before the War.

For it still went on, rumbling its rumours like the thunder of summer beyond the hills. But nobody knew now when it would finish, not even Chae Strachan come home, a soldier all the way from the front, as they called it; in the orra-looking khaki he came, with two stripes sewn on his arm, he said they had made him a corporal. He came up to Blawearie the night he got home and scraped his feet on the scraper outside and came dandering into the kitchen as aye he had done, not knocking but crying through the door, Ay, folk, are you in?

So there was Chae, Chris gave a loud gasp to see him, Chae himself, so altered you'd hardly believe it, Chae himself, thin, his fine eyes queered and strained somehow. Even his laugh seemed different, hearty as it was, and he cried God, Chris, I'm not a ghost yet! and syne Chris and Ewan were shaking his hands and sitting him down and pouring him a dram and another after that. And young Ewan came running to see and cried soldier! and Chae caught him and swung him up from the floor and cried Chris's bairn--God, it can't be, I mind the day he was born, just yesterday it was!

Young Ewan took little to strangers, most, not frightened but keep-your-distance he was, but he made no try to keep distant from Chae, he sat on his knee as Chris spread them supper and Chae spoke up about things in the War, it wasn't so bad if it wasn't the lice. He said they were awful, but Chris needn't be feared, he'd been made to stand out in the close by Kirsty and strip off everything he had on, and fling the clothes in a tub and syne get into another himself. So he was fell clean, and God! he found it a change not trying to reach up his shoulders to get at some devil fair sucking and sucking the life from his skin.

And he gave a great laugh when he told them that, his old laugh queerly crippled it was. And Ewan asked what he thought of the Germans, were they truly coarse? And Chae said he was damned if he knew, he'd hardly seen one alive, though a body or so you saw now and then, gey green and feuch! there's a supper on the table! Well, out there you hardly did fighting at all, you just lay about in those damned bit trenches and had a keek at the soil they were made of. And man, it was funny land, clay and a kind of black marl, but the French were no good as farmers at all, they just pleitered and pottered in little bit parks that you'd hardly use as a hanky to wipe your neb. Chae didn't like the French at all, he said they were damned poor folk you'd to fight for, them, meaner than dirt and not half so sweet.

And Ewan listened and said So you don't think that I should join up, Chae? and Chris stared at him, Chae stared at him, young Ewan stared, and they all three stared till Chae snorted There are fools enough in the fighting as it is. Chris felt something holding her throat, she'd to cough and cough, trying to speak, and couldn't, and Ewan looked at her shamed-like and blushed and said Och, I was asking, only.

Chae went round all Kinraddie on his leave that time and found changes enough to open his eyes, maybe he was fell wearied with the front, folk thought, there was nothing on there but their pleitering and fighting. And the first change he saw the first morning, did Chae, lying down on his bed for the pleasure of it and Kirsty at the making of his breakfast. And Chae sat up in his bed to reach for his pipe when he looked from the window and he gave a great roar; and he louped from his bed in his sark so that Kirsty came running and crying What is't? Is't a wound?

But she found Chae standing by the window then, cursing himself black in the face he was, and he asked how long had this been going? So Mistress Strachan looked out the way he looked and she saw it was only the long bit wood that ran by the Peesie's Knapp that vexed him, it was nearly down the whole stretch of it, now. It made a gey difference to the look-out faith! but fine for Kinraddie the woodmen had been, they'd lodged at the Knapp and paid high for their board. But Chae cried out To hell with their board, the bastards, they're ruining my land, do you hear! And he pulled on his trousers and boots and would fair have run over the park and been at them; but Kirsty caught at his sark and held him back and cried Have you fair gone mad with the killing of Germans?

And he asked her hadn't she got eyes in her head, the fool, not telling him before that the wood was cut? It would lay the whole Knapp open to the north-east now, and was fair the end of a living here. And Mistress Strachan answered up that she wasn't a fool, and they'd be no worse than the other folk, would they? all the woods in Kinraddie were due to come down. Chae shouted What, others? and went out to look; and when he came back he didn't shout at all, he said he'd often minded of them out there in France, the woods, so bonny they were, and thick and grave, fine shelter and lithe for the cattle. Nor more than that would he say, it seemed then to Kirsty that he quietened down, and was quiet and queer all his leave, it was daft to let a bit wood go vex him like that.

But the last night of his leave he climbed to Blawearie and he said there was nothing but the woods and their fate that could draw his eyes. For over by the Mains he'd come on the woodmen, teams and teams of them hard at work on the long bit forest that ran up the high brae, sparing nothing they were but the yews of the Manse. And up above Upperhill they had cut down the larch, and the wood was down that lay back of old Pooty's.

Folk had told him the trustees had sold it well, they got awful high prices, the trustees did, it was wanted for aeroplanes and such-like things. And over at the office he had found the factor and the creature had peeked at Chae through his horn-rimmed glasses and said that the Government would replant all the trees when the War was won. And Chae had said that would console him a bloody lot, sure, if he'd the chance of living two hundred years and seeing the woods grow up as some shelter for beast and man: but he doubted he'd not last so long. Then the factor said they must all do their bit at a sacrifice, and Chae asked And what sacrifices have you made, tell me, you scrawny wee mucker?

That wasn't fair to the factor, maybe, who was a decent childe and not fit to fight, but Chae was so mad he hardly knew what he said, and didn't much care. So when he fell in with old Ellison things were no better. For Ellison'd grown fair big in the mind and the pouch, folk said he was making silver like a dung-heap sourocks; and he'd bought him a car and another piano; and he said Ow, it's you, Charles lad! Are you home for long? and he said And I'll bet you want back to the front line, eh? And Chae said that he'd be wrong in the betting, faith ay! Did you ever hear tell of a body of a woman that wanted a new bairn put back in her womb? And Ellison gowked and said No. And Chae said And neither have I, you gowk-eyed gomeril, and left him at that; and it was hardly a kindly remark, you would say.

But it seemed the same wherever he went in Kinraddie, except at the Mill and his father-in-law's; every soul made money and didn't care a damn though the War outlasted their lives; they didn't care though the land was shaved of its timber till the whole bit place would soon be a waste with the wind a-blow over heath and heather where once the corn came green. At Cuddiestoun he came on the Munro pair, they were rearing up hundreds of chickens that year and they sold them at great bit prices to the Aberdeen hospitals. So busy they were with their incubators they'd but hardly time to take notice of him, Mistress Munro snapped and tweeted at him, still like a futret, and the creature wrinkled its long thin neb: Ah well, we'll have to get on with our work. Fine being you and a soldier, Chae, with your holidays and all. But poor folk aye have to work. Munro himself looked shamed at that and coloured all over his ugly face, poor stock, but he'd hardly time to give Chae a dram, so anxious he was with a new brood of hens.

So Chae left him fell quick, the place got on his stomach and syne as he held through the parks he came bang on Tony, standing right mid-way the turnip-field. And his eyes were fixed on the ground and God! he might well have stood there for days by the look of him. Chae cried out to him, Ay, then, Tony man not expecting any reply, but Tony looked up and aside, Ah, Chae, so the mills of God still grind?

And Chae went on, and he thought of that, a real daft-like speak he thought it at first, but further up the brae as he held by Upprums, he scratched his head, was the thing so daft? He stopped and looked back, and there, far below, was the Tony childe, standing, glued to the ground. And Chae shivered in a way, and went on.

So Chae wandered his round of Kinraddie, a strange place and desolate with its crash of trees and its missing faces. And not that alone, for the folk seemed different, into their bones the War had eaten, they were money-mad or mad with grief for somebody killed or somebody wounded--like Mistress Gordon of the Upperhill, all her pride gone now because of the Jock she had loved and aye called John. But it was Jock she called him when Chae sat with her in the parlour then, and she told him the news of her blinded son in the hospital in England.

He wouldn't ever see again, it wasn't just a nervous trouble or anything like that, he'd drawn back the bandages when she went to see him and shown her the great red holes in his head; and syne he'd laughed at her, demented like, and cried: What think you of your son now, old wife?--the son you wanted to make a name for you with his bravery in Kinraddie? Be proud, be proud, I'll be home right soon to crawl round the park and I'll show these holes to every bitch in the Mearns that's looking for a hero. He'd fair screamed the words at his mother and a nurse had come running and soothed him down, she said he didn't know what he said, but Mistress Gordon had never a doubt about that. And she told Chae about it and wept uncovered, her braveness and her Englishness all fair gone; and when Gordon came into the room he looked different too, shrivelled up he was, he'd taken to drink, folk said.

So Chae went out across the parks to the Bridge End then and half-wished that he'd missed the Upperhill. But across the nethermost park below the larch wood he ran into young Maggie Jean, her that Andy the daftie had near mischieved, grown a gey lass, and he hardly knew her. But she knew him fine and smiled at him, blithe and open. It's Chae Strachan! You look fine as a soldier, Chae! And please can I have a button? So he cut off a button from his tunic for her and they smiled at each other, and he went out across the fields with a lighter heart then, she was sweet as a sprig of Blawearie 'suckle.

Bridge End he found with Alec away, he'd gone selling sheep in Stonehaven. But Mistress Mutch was there and she sat and smoked at a cigarette and told him that Alec was still a fell patriot, he'd enrolled in the volunteers of Glenbervie and every other night went down to Drumlithie for drill, a sight for sore eyes, the gowks, prancing about like dogs with diarrhœa, that's what they minded her of.

And she asked Chae when the War was to end, and Chae said God only knows and she asked And you still believe in Him? And Chae was real shocked, a man might have doubts and his disbelief, you expected a woman to be different, they needed more support in the world. But now that he thought of God for himself he just couldn't say, there was more of his Enemy over in France, that minded him now he must give the Reverend Gibbon a look up at the Manse. But Mistress Mutch said Haven't you heard, then? Mr. Gibbon's gone, he's a Colonel-chaplain in Edinburgh now, or something like that; and he wears a right brave uniform with a black hanky across the neck of it. His father's come down to take his place, an old bit stock that drinks German blood by the gill with his porridge, by the way he preaches.

At Pooty's Chae knocked and knocked and got feint the answer. And folk were to tell him that wasn't surprising, old Pooty had taken to locking himself in nowadays, he got queerer and queerer, he said every night he heard men tramping the roads in the dark, chill hours, and they crept off the roads and slithered and slipped by the hedges and fields, and he knew who they were, they were Germans, the German dead from out of the earth that had come to work ill on Scotland. And even in the daytime if you but looked quick, right sharp and sudden between the bending of a bough or the bar of a gate, you'd see a white German face, distorted still in the last red pain, haunting the Scottish fields. And that was queer fancying well you might say.

But Chae knew nothing of the business, he near knocked in the door of the little house ere he gave it up and went ben the road to Long Rob's. And Rob saw him coming and turned off the Mill and ran to meet him, and they sat and argued the rest of the day, Rob brought out his bottle and they had a bit dram; and then Rob made them their supper and they'd another long dram, and they argued far to the wee, small hours. And Chae swore that he still believed the War would bring a good thing to the world, it would end the armies and fighting forever, the day of socialism at last would dawn, the common folk had seen what their guns could do and right soon they'd use them when once they came back.

And Rob said Havers, havers. The common folk when they aren't sheep are swine, Chae man; you're an exception, being a goat.

Well, it was fine enough that long arguing with Rob, but out in the dark by the side of Chae as they walked along the road together Rob cried Oh man, I'd go back with you the morn if only--and the words fair seemed to stick in his throat. And Chae asked If only, what, man? and Rob said If only I wanted to be easy--easy and a liar. But I've never gone that gait yet and I' m damned if I'll begin for any bit war!

And what he meant by that Chae didn't know, he left him then and held over the moor land towards the Knapp under the rising moon. And it was there that a strange thing happened to him, maybe he'd drunk over much of Long Rob's whisky, though his head was steady enough as a rule for thrice the amount he'd drunk.

Ah well, the thing was this, that as he went over an open space of the vanished Standing Stones he saw right in front of him a halted cart; and a man had got out of the cart and knelt by the axle and looked at it. And Chae thought it some carter billy from the Netherhill taking the near cut through the moor, and steered out to go by and cried Good night, then. But there wasn't an answer, so he looked again, and no cart was there, the shingly stones shone white and deserted under the light of the moon, the peewits were crying away in the distance. And Chae's hackles fair stood up on end, for it came on him that it was no cart of the countryside he had seen, it was a thing of light wood or basket-work, battered and bent, low behind, with a pole and two ponies yoked to it; and the childe that knelt by the axle had been in strange gear, hardly clad at all, and something had flashed on his head, like a helmet maybe.

And Chae stood and swore, his blood running cold, and near jumping from his skin when a pheasant started under his feet with a screech and a whirr and shot away into the dimness. And maybe it was one of the men of old time that he saw there, a Calgacus' man from the Graupius battle when they fought the Romans up from the south; or maybe it had only been the power of Long Rob's Glenlivet.

 

So that was Chae's round of the countryside, in a blink his leave was gone and Chae had gone with it, folk said he was still the same old Chae, he blithered still about Rich and Poor, you'd have thought the Army would have taught him better. But Chris stuck up for him, Chae was fine, not that she herself cared for the Rich and Poor, she was neither one nor the other herself. That year the crops came so thick Ewan said they must hire some help, and that they did, an oldist stock from Bervie he was, gey handless at first, John Brigson his name. But he soon got into the set of Blawearie, sleeping in the room that had once been Chris's, and making rare friends with young Ewan, it was lucky they had him. And the harvest came fine and Chris thought it near time that another baby should come to Blawearie. They'd been careful as blithe in the thing so far, but now it was different. Ewan'd love to have another.

And one night went on and then another and she whispered to herself In the Spring I'll tell him; and the New Year went by; and then news came up to Blawearie in a wave of gossip from all over the Howe. For the Parliament had passed the Conscription Act that meant you'd to go out and fight whatever you said, they'd shoot you down if you didn't. And sure as death Ewan soon had his papers sent to him, he'd to go up to Aberdeen and be there examined, he'd been excused before as a farmer childe. Long Rob got his papers on the very same day and he laughed and said Fine, I'll like a bit jaunt.

And into Aberdeen they all went, a fair crowd of them then, all in one carriage; and the ploughmen all swore that they didn't care a button were they taken or not; and Ewan knew right well that they wouldn't take him, they didn't take folk that farmed their own land; and Long Rob said nothing, just sat and smoked. So they came to Aberdeen and went to the place and sat in a long, bare room. And a soldier stood near the door of the room and cried out their names one after the other; and Long Rob sat still and smoked his pipe. So they finished at last with the ploughmen childes, the whole jing-bang were passed as soldiers. And they called Long Rob, but he just sat still and smoked his pipe, he wouldn't stir out of his jacket, even. So there was a great bit stir at that, they danced around him and swore at him, but he blew his smoke up in their faces, calm like a man unvexed by midges met on a summer day.

They gave up the try, they did nothing to him then, he came back to the Howe and sat down at the Mill. But next he was called to appear at Stonehaven, the Exemption Board sat there for the cases; and Rob rode down on his bicycle, smoking his pipe. So they called out his name and in he went and the Chairman, a wee grocer man that worked night and day to send other folk out to fight the Germans, he asked Long Rob how he liked the idea that folk called him a coward? And Long Rob said Fine, man, fine. I'd rather any day be a coward than a corpse. And they told him he couldn't have exemption and Long Rob lit up his pipe and said that was sad.

Home to the Mill he came again, and that night folk saw him on the round of his parks, standing and smoking and looking at his land and sky, the long rangy childe. Ewan went by fell late that evening and saw him and cried Ay, Rob! but the miller said never a word, Ewan went home to Blawearie vexed about that. But Chris said it was just that Long Rob was thinking of the morn, he'd been ordered to report to the Aberdeen barracks.

And the next day passed and all Kinraddie watched from its steadings the ingoings and outgoings of Rob at the Mill; and damn the move all the day long did he make to set out as they'd ordered him. The next day came, the policeman came with it, he rode up to the Mill on his bicycle and bided at the Mill a good two hours and syne rode out again. And folk told later that he'd spent all that time arguing and prigging at Rob to set out. But Rob said If you want me, carry me! and faith! the policeman couldn't very well do that, angered though he was, it would look fair daft wheeling Rob along the roads on his bicycle tail.

So the policeman went off to Stonehaven and out from it late in the evening there drove a gig, the policeman again, and two home-time soldiers, it needed all three to take Rob of the Mill away to the war. He wouldn't move even then, though he made no struggle, he just sat still and smoked at his pipe, and they'd to carry him out and put him in the gig. And off they drove, that was how Long Rob went off to the War, and what happened to him next there rose this rumour and that, some said he was in jail, some said he'd given in, some said he'd escaped and was hiding in the hills: but nobody knew for sure.

 

And to Chris it seemed then, Chae gone, Rob gone, that their best friends were out of Kinraddie now, friends close and fine, but they had themselves, Ewan and her and young Ewan. And she held close to them both, working for them, tending them, seeing young Ewan grow straight and strong, with that slim white body of his, like his father's just; and it made a strange, sweet dizziness go singing in her heart as she bathed him, he stood so strong and white, she would mind that agony that had been hers at the birth of this body, it had been worth it and more. And now she wanted another bairn, Spring was coming, fast and fast, the land smelt of it, the caller sea winds came fresh with the tang that only in Spring they brought, it was nineteen-seventeen. And Chris said in her heart that in April their baby would be conceived.

So she planned and went singing those days about the kitchen of Blawearie toun, busy with this plot, she planned fresh linen and fresh clothes for herself, she grew young and wayward as before she married, and she looked at Ewan with secret eyes. And old John Brigson would cry Faith, mistress, you're light of heart!

But Ewan said nothing, strange enough that. She knew then that something troubled him, maybe he was ill and would say nothing about it, sitting so silent at meat and after, it grew worse as the days went on. And when he looked at her no longer was the old look there, but a blank, dark one, and he'd turn his face from her slowly. She was vexed and then frightened and out in the close one morning, over the stillness of the hen's chirawk, she heard his voice raised in cursing at Brigson, it was shameful for him to do that and not like Ewan at all to do it. Then he came back from the steading with quick stepping feet, as he passed through the kitchen Chris cried What's wrong? He muttered back Nothing, and went up the stairs, and he took no notice of young Ewan that ran after him, bairn-like, to show him some picture in a book he had.

Chris heard him rummage in their room, and then he came down, he was fully dressed, his dark face heavy and stranger than ever, Chris stared at him Where are you going? and he snapped To Aberdeen, if you'd like to know, and off he went. He had never spoken to her like that--he was EWAN, hers! . . . She stood at the window, dazed, looking after him, so strange she must then have looked that little Ewan ran to her, Mother, mother! and she picked him up and soothed him and the two of them stood and watched Ewan Tavendale out of sight on the bright spring road.

It seemed to Chris he had hated her that minute when he looked at her in the kitchen, she went through the day with a twist of sickness about her heart. Told Brigson, shamed for her man, she said that Ewan had been worried with his business and that, he'd been out of his temper that morning and had gone to Aberdeen for the day. And John Brigson said cheerily Never heed, mistress. He'll be right as rain when he's back the night, and he helped her wash up the supper things, and they had a fine long talk. Syne off he went to tend to the beasts, and Chris grew anxious, looking at the clock, till she minded that there was a later train still, the ten o'clock train. So she bedded young Ewan and milked the kye, and came back to the kitchen, and waited. John Brigson had gone to his bed, Blawearie was quiet, she went out and walked down to the road to meet Ewan in the fresh-fallen dew of the night--so young the year and so sweet, she'd make it this night, the night with Ewan that she'd planned!

By Peesie's Knapp a snipe was sounding, she stood and listened to the bird, and saw in the starlight the skeleton timbers of the great wood that once fronted the north wind there. A hare scuttled over the road, the ditches were running and trilling, hidden, filled with the waters of Spring, she smelt the turned grass of the ploughlands and shivered in the blow of the wind, Ewan was long on the road. At the turnpike bend she stopped and listened for the sound of his feet, and minded a thing out of childhood then, if you put your ear to the ground you'd hear far off steps long ere you'd hear them when standing and upright. And she laughed to herself, remembering that, and knelt on the ground, agile and fleet, as the Guthries were, and put close her ear to the road, it was cold and crumbly with little stones. She heard a flock of little sounds going home to their buchts, far and near, each sound went home, but never the sound of a footstep.

And then, Stonehaven way, a great car came flashing down through the night, its headlights leaping from brae to brae, Chris stood back and aside and she saw it go by, there were soldiers in it, one bent on the wheel, she saw the floating ends of his Glengarry bonnet, the car whirled past and was gone in the night. She stared after it, dazed and dreaming, and shivered again. Ewan must have held over the hills and was already at Blawearie, it was daft to be here, he'd be anxious about her and go out seeking her!

So she ran back to Blawearie and she got there panting. But her heart was light, she'd play a trick on Ewan, creep in on him quiet as quiet, come up behind him sudden in the kitchen and make him jump. And she padded softly across the close to the kitchen door and looked in, and the lamp stood lit on the table, and the place was quiet in its glow. She went up the stairs to their room, there was no sign of Ewan, young Ewan lay sleeping with his face in the pillow, she righted him away from that and went down to the kitchen again. She sat in a chair there, waiting, and her heart froze and froze with the fears that came up in it, she saw Ewan run over by a car in the streets, and why hadn't they sent her a telegram?

But maybe she was wrong, maybe he missed the last train and taken one out to Stonehaven instead and was tramping from there in the darkness now. She piled new logs on the fire and sat and waited, and the night went on, she fell fast asleep and waking found the lamp gone out, in the sky between bar and blind was a sharp, dead whiteness like the hand of a corpse. And as she stretched herself, chilled and queer, up in John Brigson's room the alarum clock went. It was half-past five, the night had gone, and still Ewan had not come back.

Nor came he back that day, nor many a day beyond that. For the postman at noon brought Chris a letter, it was from Ewan and she sat in the kitchen and read it, and didn't understand, and her lip hurt, and she put up the back of her hand to wipe it and looked at the hand and saw blood on it. Young Ewan came playing about her, he took the letter out of her hand and ran off with it, screaming with laughter in his young, shrill voice, she sat and did not look after him and he came back and laughed in her face, surprised that she did not play. And she took him in her arms and asked for the letter again, and again she tried to read it. And what Ewan wrote was he'd grown sick of it all, folk laughing and sneering at him for a coward, Mutch and Munro aye girding at him. He was off to the War, he had joined the North Highlanders that day, he would let her know where they sent him, she wasn't to worry; and I am yours truly Ewan.

When John Brigson came in at dinner-time he found Chris looking white as a ghost, but she wasn't dazed any longer, it just couldn't be helped, Ewan was gone but maybe the war would be over before he had finished with his training. And John Brigson said Of course it will, I see the Germans are retreating on all the fronts, they're fair scared white, they say, when our men take to the bayonet. Little Ewan wanted to know what a bayonet was and why the Germans were scared of them, and John Brigson told him and Chris was sick, she'd to run out to be sick, for if you've ever gutted a rabbit or a hen you can guess what is inside a man, and she'd seen a bayonet going into Ewan there. And John Brigson was awful sorry, he said he hadn't thought, and she wasn't to worry, Ewan would be fine.

 

Oh, but that Spring was long! Out in the parks in the day-time she'd go to help John Brigson and ease her weariness, she took little Ewan with her then and a plaid to wrap him in for sleep, under the lithe of a hedge or a whin, when he grew over-tired. And the fields were a comfort, the crumble of the fine earth under your feet, swinging a graip as you walked, breaking dung, the larks above, the horses plodding by with snorting breath, old Brigson a-bend above the shafts. He made fair poor drills, they were better than none, and he aye was pleasant and canty, a fine old stock, he did lots of the things that Ewan had done and asked no more pay for the doing of them. That was as well, he wouldn't have got it, the weather was bitter, corn spoiled in the planting.

Early in the year, about May that was, the rain came down and it seemed it never would end, there was nothing to be done out of doors, the rain came down from the north-east across Kinraddie and Chris wasn't the only one that noted its difference from other years. In Peesie's Knapp there was Mistress Strachan vexing herself in trying to make out the change; and then she minded what Chae had said would happen when the woods came down, once the place had been sheltered and lithe, it poised now upon the brae in whatever storm might come. The woodmen had all finished by then, they'd left a country that looked as though it had been shelled by a German army. Looking out on those storms that May Chris could hardly believe that this was the place she and Will had watched from the window that first morning they came to Blawearie.

And then the very next day as she made the butter, young Ewan was up the stairs with his blocks and books, John Brigson had gone to Mondynes with a load of corn, Chris heard a step in the close, somebody running in a hurry from the rain. Then the door burst open and a soldier came in, panting, in the queerest uniform, a hat with gold lacing and red breeches and leggings, Chris stared at the hat and then at the face. And the soldier cried Oh, Chris, I believe you don't know me! and she cried then, Will! and her arms went round him, they cuddled one the other like children, Chris crying, Will near to crying himself, patting her shoulder and saying Oh, Chris!

Then she pushed him away and looked at him and they cuddled each other again and Will danced her all round the kitchen, and little Ewan up the stairs heard the stir and came tearing down and when he saw a strange man holding his mother in his arms he made at Will and whacked his legs and cried, Away, man! Will cried Good God, what's this you've got, Chris? and swung Ewan high and stared in his face and shook his head You're a fine lad, ay, but you're over much of your father in you ever to be as bonny as your mother!

That wasn't true but fine to hear, Chris could hardly get any work done or a meal made ready, so many the things they'd to take through hand, Will sat and smoked and every now and then they'd look one at the other and Will would give a great laugh Oh Chris, mind this . . . mind that. . .! and his laughter had tears in it, they were daft, the pair of them. And when old John Brigson came home, they heard the noise of the wheels in the close and Will went out to lend him a hand, the old stock jumped off the cart and made for a fork that was lying to hand, he thought Will a German in that strange bit uniform. But he laughed right heartily when Will said who he was, and the two of them came in for dinner and Will sat at the table's head, in Ewan's place. And as he ate he told them how he came in the uniform, and all the chances and wanderings that were his and Mollie's when they went from Scotland.

And faith! he'd had more than enough of both, for in Argentine, as he'd told Chris already by letter, he'd left his first work after a while he and Mollie had both learned up the Spanish, and he took a job with a Frenchman there, an awful fine stock. He liked Will well and Will liked him, and he gave Will half of his house to bide in, it was a great ranch out in the parks of that meikle country. So there they had lived and were happy and blithe till the Frenchman had to go to the War. Will had thought of going himself more than once but the Frenchman had told him he'd be a fair fool, he might well be glad there wasn't British conscription; besides, some body or other had to look to the ranch.

But in less than two years the Frenchman came back, sore wounded he'd been, and soon as he came Will told him it was his turn now, he'd see some of this War for himself. And the Frenchman told him he was fair a fool, but he'd get him a job with the French. So he did after cables and cables to Paris, and Will said good-bye to Mollie and the Frenchman and the Frenchman's wife, and sailed from Buenos Ayres to Cherbourg; and in Paris they knew all about him, he found himself listed as a sergeant-major in the French Foreign Legion, an interpreter he was, for he knew three languages fine. Then they'd given him a fortnight's leave and here he was.

And when he was alone with Chris that evening and she told him about Ewan down training in Lanark, he said Ewan was either soft or daft or both. Why did you marry the dour devil, Chris? Did he make you or were you going to have a bairn? And Chris didn't feel affronted, it was Will that asked, he'd treat her just the same if she owned up to a fatherless bairn once a year, or twice, if it came to that. So she shook her head, It was just because he was to me as Mollie to you, and Will nodded to that, Ah, well, we can't help when it gets that way. Mind when you wanted to know . . .?

And they stood and laughed in the evening, remembering that, and they walked arm in arm up and down the road and Chris forgot all her worries remembering the days when she and Will were bairns together, and the dourness and the loveliness then, and Will asked Do you mind when we slept together--that last time we did it when the old man had near killed me up in the barn? And his face grew dark, he still couldn't forgive, he said that folk who ill-treated their children deserved to be shot, father had tormented and spoiled him out of sheer cruelty when he was young. But Chris said nothing to that, remembering the day of father's funeral and how she had wept by his grave in Kinraddie kirkyard.

But she knew she could never tell Will of that, he'd never understand, and they spoke of other things, Will of the Argentine and the life out there, and the smell of the sun and the warm weather and the fruit and flowers and flame of life below the Southern Cross. Chris said But you'll come back, you and Mollie, to bide in Scotland again? and Will laughed, he seemed still a mere lad in spite of his foreign French uniform, Havers, who'd want to come back to this country? It's dead or it's dying--and a damned good job!

And, daftly, Chris felt a sudden thrust of anger through her heart at that; and then she looked round Kinraddie in the evening light, seeing it so quiet and secure and still, thinking of the seeds that pushed up their shoots from a thousand earthy mouths. Daft of Will to say that: Scotland lived, she could never die, the land would outlast them all, their wars and their Argentines, and the winds come sailing over the Grampians still with their storms and rain and the dew that ripened the crops--long and long after all their little vexings in the evening light were dead and done. And her thoughts went back to the kirkyard, she asked Will would he like to come to the kirk next day, she hadn't been there herself for a year.

He looked surprised and then laughed You're not getting religious, are you? as though she had taken to drink. And Chris said No, and then thought about that, time to think for once in the pother of the days with Blawearie so quiet above them, young Ewan and old Brigson asleep. And she said I don't believe they were ever religious, the Scots folk. Will--not really religious like Irish or French or all the rest in the history books. They've never BELIEVED. It's just been a place to collect and argue, the kirk, and criticise God. And Will yawned, he said maybe, he didn't care one way or the other himself, Mollie in the Argentine had taken up with the Catholics, and faith! she was welcome if she got any fun.

So next day they set out for the kirk, the weather had cleared, blowing wet and sunny in a blink, there were teeth of rainbows out over Kinraddie, Chris said it was Will's uniform that messed up the sky. But she was proud of him for all that, how folk stared as the two of them went down the aisle! Chris was in her blue, with her new short skirt and long boots, and Will in his blue and red trousers and leggings, and his jacket with the gold lace on it and the high collar and the soft fine hat with the shiny peak. Old Gibbon, him that preached for his son, near fell down the stairs of the pulpit at sight of Will. But he recovered fell soon and preached them one of the sermons that had made such stir throughout the Howe a year or so back, he told how the German beasts now boiled the corpses of their own dead men and fed the leavings to pigs. And he ground his teeth at the Germans, they were so coarse; and he said that GUD would assuredly smite them.

But folk had grown sick of him and his ragings, there was only a small attendance to hear him and when they came out in the end Will said It's good to be out of that creature's stink! Syne Ellison recognised Will and came swaggering over, redder than ever and fatter than ever, and he cried If it ain't Will Guthrie! How are you? and Will said Fine. Most of the folk seemed pleased to see him, even Mutch and Munro, excepting the Munro wife herself, she snapped, And what would you be, then Will? They've a man at the picture palace in Stonehaven that wears breeks just like that. And Will said Faith, Mistress Munro, you're an authority on breeks. I hear you still wear them at the Cuddiestoun. Folk standing round gave a snicker at that, real fine for the futret, she'd met her match.

And Will's leave went by like a shot, he was all over the Howe in the first few days, up in Fordoun and down in Drumlithie, and everywhere folk made much of him. But after that he bided nearly all the time by Chris, he helped her or Brigson in old clothes of Ewan's she'd raked out for him. He went shooting with father's gun fell often, up in the moor it was blithe to hear him and his singing, young Ewan would go wandering up to meet him. And when it came to the end and the last day, young Ewan in bed and they sat by the fire and the June night came softly down without, Chris didn't fear at all for Will, he was clean and happy and quick, things went well with him. And next morning only young Ewan cried at the parting, and off he went, it seemed then at Blawearie that more than Will had gone out of their lives, it was a happy voice that had sung for itself a chamber in their hearts those weeks he had been with them.

 

But the hills flowed up and down, day after day, in their dark and sunshine, and even those weeks were covered and laid past, and Chris saw the harvest near, so near, a good harvest again in spite of the weather; and still the War went on. Sometimes she'd a note or postcard from Ewan in Lanark, sometimes she wouldn't hear for week on week till she grew fair alarmed. But he just said it was that he never could write, he didn't know how, they were awfully busy and she wasn't to worry.

And then through Kinraddie a motor came driving one day, it turned at the cross-roads and drove down by the Denburn. It stopped at the Mill and folk ran to their doors and wondered who it could be, the place was locked up and deserted-like. And when the motor stopped a man got out, and another came after, slow, and he took the arm of the first one, and they went step-stepping at snail's pace up to the Mill-house and folk could see no more. But soon the story of it was known all over the place, it was Long Rob himself come back, he had never given in, they had put him in prison and ill-used him awful; but he wouldn't give in whatever they did, he laughed in their faces, Fine, man, fine. Last he went on the hunger-strike, that was when you just starved to death to spite them, and grew weaker and weaker. So they took him from prison to a doctor childe and the doctor said it was useless to keep him, he'd never be of use to his King and country.

So home at last he had come, folk told he was fairly a wreck, he could hardly stand up and walk or make his own meat, God knows how he ever got into his clothes. And Mutch and Munro wouldn't go near him, neither would Gordon, they said that it served him right, the coarse pro-German. And when Chris heard that there came a stinging pain in her eyes and she called old John Brigson to yoke a cart and put corn in it, as though taking it to Rob for bruising; and Chris got into the cart as well and took young Ewan on her knee, and off they set from Blawearie. Outside the Mill-house Chris cried on Brigson to stop, and found the basket she'd laid on the bottom of the cart and ran through the close to the kitchen door. It stood half-open, the place was dark with hardly a glimmer from the fire, but she saw someone sitting, she stopped and stared, an old man it seemed with a white, drawn face, his hands fumbling at the lighting of a pipe.

She called Rob! and he looked up and she saw his eyes, they were filled with awful things, he cried Chris! God is't Chris Guthrie? She was shaking his hand and his shoulder then, minding things about him, not looking at him, minding the fine neighbour he'd been to her and Ewan in the days they married. And she asked What are you sitting here for! You should be in your bed, and Rob said I'm damned if I should, I've had over much of bed. I was waiting about for the grocer childe, but he didn't stop, though he knows I'm home. I suppose he's still an ill-will at pro-Germans, like.

Chris told him never to mind the grocer, and she spoke to him roughly, in case she should weep at the sight of him; and she told him to go out and see John Brigson. Then, soon as he'd hirpled out with his stick she looked round the place and started to clean it, and made a fine fire and a meal with fresh eggs and butter, and oat-cakes and scones and jam, she'd brought the lot from Blawearie. So when Rob came in from his speak with Brigson, there it was waiting for him on the table, he blinked and sat down and said in a whisper, You shouldn't have done this, Chris quean. But Chris said nothing, just sat him down at the table and sat there herself and saw that he ate; and when young Ewan came in with old Brigson she fed them as well; and syne Brigson set off for the farm at Auchenblae where Rob's horse and sholtie were housed.

When he'd gone Chris set to work on the place and opened the windows to the air and cleaned out the rooms and dragged off the dirty linen from the bed and made it up in a bundle to take back with her. Syne she baked oat-cakes for Rob and told him that each day he'd get him a pail of milk from the Netherhill, till time came when he'd kye of his own again, she'd arranged for that. And when John Brigson came back in the evening with horse and sholtie Long Rob was fast asleep in his chair, they didn't rouse him but spread him his supper, and set him his breakfast as well, and left a lamp low-burning and clear beside him, and a hot-water bottle in his bed. Syne they left him and rode them back to Blawearie, all three were tired, young Ewan asleep in the arms of Chris, dear to hold him so with his dark head sleeping against her breast and old Brigson's shoulder seen as a dark quiet bulking against the night.

Next morning they looked out from Blawearie and saw Rob's horse and sholtie at graze in a park of the Mill, and Long Rob himself, a dot in the sunlight, making slow way to the moor land he'd wrought at so long. And as they looked they heard, thin and remote, the sound of a song Kinraddie had missed for many a day. It was Ladies of Spain.

 

Soon maybe the War would end, Chris had dreamt as she listened to that singing, and they all be back in Kinraddie as once they had been, Chae and Long Rob and her dark lad, Ewan himself. So she'd dreamt that morning, she'd never grow out from long dreaming in autumn dawns like those. And fruition of dream came soon enough, it was a telegram boy that came riding his bicycle up to Blawearie. Chris read the telegram, it was Ewan that had sent it, Home on leave to-night before going to France. She stared at it and the lad that had brought it, and he asked, Any reply? and she said Any what? and he asked her again, and she said No, and ran into the kitchen and stared at the writing in the telegram. He was going to France.

It lingered at the back of her mind, dark, like a black cat creeping at the back of a hedge, she saw the fluff of its fur or the peek of its eyes, a wild and sinister thing in the sunlight; but you would not look often or see those eyes, how they glared at you. He was going out there, where the sky was a troubled nightmare and the earth shook night and day, into the lands of the coarse French folk, her Ewan, her lad with his dark, dear face and that quick, blithe blush. And suddenly she was filled with a weeping pity in her heart for him, a pity that brought no tears to her eyes, he must never see her shed tears all the time he was with her, he'd go out to the dark, far land with memories of her and Blawearie that were shining and brave and kind.

So all the forenoon she fled and bustled from room to room, brightening the place, she brought out fresh sheets and pillows for the bed she had found so lonely, she sent out young Ewan to gather roses and honeysuckle to set in a jar on the ledge above the bed. And she hung new curtains there and brought out Ewan's clothes and brushed them, he'd want to get out of his uniform, they were sick of the khaki the men that came back. Then she made a great baking against his coming, so much that she'd hardly time to make dinner for young Ewan and Brigson, but they didn't care, they were both excited as herself. She knew the train he would come by, the half-past five, and she swept and dusted the kitchen and set his tea, and punched a great cushion ready for his chair, and dressed herself in the blue he liked and young Ewan in his brave brown cords. John Brigson cried This is hardly the place for me with your man come home, I'll away to Bervie then for the night.

Off he set, Chris waved to the old, kind childe as he bicycled down Blawearie brae. And then she ran back, ben to the parlour to look at herself in the mirror again, in the long glass her figure seemed blithe and slim even still, she'd be fine to sleep with yet, she supposed--oh, Ewan! Her face hadn't changed, it was flushed and fair, the eyes maybe older, but shining and bright. And she finished with that looking and went over the close to stand by the side of young Ewan, looking down the hill for his father coming up. The sun flung the long shadows of Blawearie and the beeches far in the east, and across the Den, high in the fields of Upperhill, a lost sheep baaed in the whins.

 

She had hardly been able to believe it him lying awake after he slept, he slept with a snoring breath and fuddled mumblings, bulging out against her so that she had but little of the bed and less of the blankets. She closed her eyes and pressed her knuckles against her teeth that the pain might waken her, that she might know Ewan hadn't come home, was still the same Ewan she'd dreamt of in the silence of the night and her own lonely bed. But he moved, flinging out an arm that struck her across the face, she lay still below it, then it wabbled away. She took her knuckles from her mouth and lay quiet then, no need for her to hurt herself now.

Drunk he had come from the station and more than two hours late. Standing at last in the kitchen in his kilts he'd looked round and sneered Hell, Chris, what a bloody place! as she ran to him. And he'd flung his pack one way and his hat the other and kissed her as though she were a tink, his hands on her as quickly as that, hot and questing and wise as his hands had never been. She saw the hot smoulder fire in his eyes then, but no blush on his face, it was red with other things. But she smothered her horror and laughed, and kissed him and struggled from him, and cried Ewan, who's this!

Young Ewan held back, shy-like, staring, and just said It's father. At that the strange, swaying figure in the tartan kilts laughed, coarse-like, Well, we'll hope so, eh Chris? Any supper left--unless you're too bloody stand-offish even to have that?

She couldn't believe her own ears. Stand-offish? Oh, Ewan! and ran to him again, but he shook her away, Och, all right, I'm wearied. For God's sake let a man sit down. He staggered to the chair she'd made ready for him, a picture-book of young Ewan's lay there, he picked the thing up and flung it to the other side of the room, and slumped down into the chair. Hell, what a blasted climb to a blasted place. Here, give us some tea.

She sat beside him to serve him, she knew her face had gone white. But she poured the tea and spread the fine supper she'd been proud to make, it might hardly have been there for the notice he paid it, drinking cup after cup of the tea like a beast at a trough. She saw him clearer then, the coarse hair that sprang like short bristles all over his head, the neck with its red and angry circle about the collar of the khaki jacket, a great half-healed scar across the back of his hand glinted putrescent blue. Suddenly his eyes came on her, Well, damn't, is that all you've to say to me now I've come home? I'd have done better to spend the night with a tart in the town.

She didn't say anything, she couldn't, the tears were choking in her throat and smarting and biting at her eyelids, pressing to come, the tears that she'd sworn she'd never shed all the time he was home on leave. And she didn't dare look at him lest he should see, but he saw and pushed back his chair and got up in a rage, Good God, what are you snivelling about now? You always were snivelling, I mind. And out he went, young Ewan ran to her side and flung his arms round her, Mother, don't cry, I don't like him, he's a tink, that soldier! She'd pressed back the tears then, Whist, Ewan, never say that again; and got up and cleared off the supper things and went out to the close and cried gently Ewan!

He cried back All right, all right! still angrily; and at that some anger kindled within herself, she didn't wait for him to come back but turned and took young Ewan in her arms and climbed the stairs and put him to bed, he was vexed and troubled about her, kissing her as he lay there. Sleep with me to-night, mother. She laughed at him, she was sleeping with his father to-night, he must be good and sleep himself, quick and quick, there'd be such fun with father the morn. He said I'll try, and closed his eyes and she went down the stairs, it was dark there getting on for eight. She thought Ewan was still outside but as she made for the lamp something stirred in the chair, she thought it a cat, it was Ewan. He caught her and pulled her on to his knees and said Be stand-offish now if you can, what the devil do you think I've come home for?

It had been like struggling with someone deep in a nightmare, when the blankets are over your head and you can barely breathe, awful she should come to think that of Ewan. But it wasn't Ewan, her Ewan, someone coarse and strange and strong had come back in his body to torment her. He laughed as he fought her there in the chair and held her tight and began to tell stories--oh, he was drunk and didn't know what he said, terrible and sickening things, he'd had women when he pleased in Lanark, he said. And he whispered of them to her, his breath was hot on her face, she saw the gleam of his teeth, he told her how he'd lain with them and the things he'd done. Sickened and shamed she had felt and then worse than that, stopping from struggling, a shameful, searing desire come on her. And he knew, he knew at once, he said Well, now that you know you can get!

She had picked herself up from the floor and in a dream went out to milk the kye, leaving him there. When she came back he had gone from the kitchen, she was slow to finish sieving and skimming the milk and go up to the room she'd made ready that morning, singing she had made it ready. And up there he waited her, lying in the bed, he'd carried up a lamp from the kitchen, they who'd always gone to bed in the darkness and thought it fine to lie in each other's arms in the night-glimmer from the window. But now he grumbled For God's sake hurry up! and when she made to put out the light--I'll do that, come on! And she lay beside him and he took her.

She remembered that now, lying in the darkness the while he slept, why he had left the lamp alight; and at memory of that foulness something cold and vile turned and turned like a wheeling mirror inside her brain. For it had been other things than his beast-like mauling that had made her whisper in agony, Oh Ewan, put out the light! The horror of his eyes upon her she would never forget, they burned and danced on that mirror that wheeled and wheeled in her brain.

 

So that was Ewan's homecoming on leave and the days that went by were the same as that first night foreshadowed. He had gone away Ewan Tavendale, he came back a man so coarse and cruel that in place of love hate came singing in the heart of Chris--hate that never found speech, that but slowly found lodgement secure and unshaken. For often it seemed to her that a tortured, tormented thing looked out from Ewan's eyes while he told them his foulest tale, ill-used old Brigson and jeered at him, came drunken back to Blawearie night after night--that tortured thing that was the lost lad she had married. But the fancy wilted and vanished as the days went by. He stayed five days, had his breakfast in bed, and never got up till dinner-time; he never looked at the parks or stock or took notice of young Ewan; he dressed in his khaki and kilts alone, and to Chris's suggestion that he wear a suit--What, me, dress up like bloody conchy? I'll leave that to your friend, Rob Duncan.

Every day he went swaggering down the road and was off to Drumlithie or Stonehaven or Fordoun, drinking there. Before he went he'd ask for money, Chris gave him all that he asked, not saying a word, but he'd fancy a reluctance and sneer at her. Wasn't he entitled to what was his own? Did she think him still the young fool he had been, content to slave and slave at Blawearie--without as much as a dram to savour the soss, or a quean or so at night to waken your blood--nothing but a wife you hardly dared touch in case you put her in the family way, eh, Chris?

He would say this at dinner-time, sneering and boasting, old Brigson would colour and look down at his plate and young Ewan stare and stare at his father till Ewan would say God, what a damned glower! Eyes like your mother and a nature the same; and he'd swear at the bairn, it was shameful to hear that. He'd made friends with Mutch, him that once he could hardly abide, and with him he went driving each night on their drunken sprees. As he went to bed John Brigson would look at Chris with trouble in his kind old eyes, but she didn't dare say a thing to him, he'd go stamping slow up above her head the while she sat down to await Ewan's return and have the hirpling note of the clock stamp each second in her heart, hating him home, wanting him home.

For after that first night he had ceased to touch her, she would lie beside him, quivering and waiting. And he'd lie quiet, she knew him awake and knew that he knew what she waited; and it was as though he were a cat that played with a mouse, he would laugh out after a while and then go to sleep, she herself to lie tortured in the hours thereafter. The last night she refused the torment, she got up near three o'clock and kindled a fire and made herself tea and watched the morning come down the hill passes--a fine summer morning, yellow and grey and lovely with its chirping of birds in the beeches. And suddenly then, as always these changes took her, she was calm and secure, putting Ewan from her heart, locking it up that he never could vex her again, she was finished with him, either loving or hating. And at that release she rose and went slow about her work, a great load had gone from her then, John Brigson coming down in the morning heard her sing and was cheery himself, cheery with relief, but she sang her release.

At nine o'clock Ewan cried down from his room When the hell are you bringing some breakfast? She took no notice of that, but she sent young Ewan out to play and then went on with her work. And at last she heard a clatter on the stairs, and there he stood at the kitchen entrance, glaring at her, Have you gone clean deaf? She answered him then, raising her head and looking at him, If you're in need of a breakfast--get it.

He said You bitch! and he made to strike her. But she caught up a knife from the table, she had it waiting there nearby, he swore and drew back. She nodded and smiled at that, calm, and put the knife down and went on with her work.

So he made his own tea, grumbling and swearing, a fine send-off this for a man that was going to France to do his bit. And Chris listened to the catch-phrase, contempt in her heart, she looked at him with curling lip, and he saw her look and swore at her, but was frightened for all that, always now she knew she had known him the frightened one. And a queer, cold curiosity came on to her then that so she should have slaved to tend him and love him and give him the best, body and mind and soul she had given, for a gift to the body of a drunken lout from the plough-stilts.

And now that body she saw with a cold repulsion him wash and shave and dress, she could hardly bear to look at him and went out and worked in the close, cleaning pots there in the shining weather, young Ewan played douce and content with his toys, it was hay-time all down the Howe and the hens came pecking around her. She heard Ewan stamp about in the kitchen, he wanted that she should look, go running and fetch him his things. And she smiled again, cold and secure and serene, and heard him come out and bang the door; and without raising her head she saw him then. He was all in his gear, the Glengarry on his head, his pack on his shoulder, his kilts a-swing, and he went past her jauntily, but she knew he expected her to stop him, to run after him and throw her arms about him: she saw in his eyes as he went by the fear that she'd pay no heed.

And none she paid, she did not speak, she did not unbend, young Ewan stopped from his playing and looked after his father incuriously, as at a strange alien that went from the place. At the gate of the close, as he banged it behind him, Ewan stooped to sort up his garters, red in the face, not looking at her still. And she paid him no heed.

He swung the pack on his shoulders then and went slow down the road to the turnpike bend, she saw that from the kitchen window, knew he believed she would cry to him at the last. And she smiled, cold and sure, that she knew him so, every action and thought, and why he stood there at last, not trying to look back. He fumbled for matches and lighted his pipe as she watched; and a cloud came over the sun and went on with Ewan, the two of them went down the turnpike then together, out of her sight in the shadow and flame of the bright sun weather, it was strange and impossibly strange. She stood long staring down at that point where he'd vanished, sharp under her breast, tearing her body, her heart was breaking, and she did not care! She was outside and away from its travail and agony, he had done all to her that he ever could now, he who had tramped down the road in that shadow that fled from the sun.

And then it was she found no salvation at all may endure for ever, or beyond the pitch that the heart may bear it, she was weeping and weeping, her arms flung over the kitchen table, weeping for that Ewan who had never come back, for the shamed, tormented boy with the swagger airs she had let go from Blawearie without a kiss or a parting word. Ewan, Ewan! her heart cried then, breaking and breaking, Oh, Ewan, I didn't mean it! Ewan--he was hers, hers still in spite of all he had done and said, he had lived more closely in her body than the heart that broke now, young Ewan was his, Oh God, she had never let him go like that! And in her desolation of weeping she began to pray, she had known it useless, but she prayed and prayed for him to come back, to kiss her and hold her in kindness just once before he went down that road. She ran wild-eyed and weeping to the close and there was John Brigson, he stared dumbfounded as she cried Oh, don't let him go, run after him, John!

And syne he said he didn't understand, if she meant her man, it was more than an hour since Ewan had gone down the road, he'd heard long syne the whistle of his train out across the hills.

 

It was a month before she heard from him, and then only a scrape and a score on a thing they called a field postcard written somewhere in France; and it said no more than that he was well. No more than a whisper out of the dark cave of days into which he had gone, it yet salved her mind from the searing agony that tormented the early weeks. They would never be the same again, but some day he would come back to her, their madness forgotten, back to her and young Ewan and Blawearie when the War was done, they'd forget and forget, busy themselves in new hours and seasons, there would never be fire and gladness between them again but still undying the labour of the fields in which she now buried her days.

For she sank herself in that, the way to forget, she was hardly indoors from dawn to dusk, in all the range of the harvest weather, running down the bouts behind the binder that John Brigson drove, little Ewan running and laughing beside her. He thought it a fun and a play she made, stooking and stooking so quickly then, her hands became as machines, tireless and quick and ceaseless through the long hours, she stooked so quickly that with an extra hour each evening, old Brigson helping her, she was close to the uncut rigs again. Corn and the shining hollow stalks of the straw, they wove a pattern about her life, her nights and days, she would creep to bed and dream of the endless rigs and her hands in the night would waken her, all pins and needles they would be. Once she went ben to the parlour to look in the glass and saw then why pity came often in old Brigson's eyes, she was thinner than ever she'd been, her face was thin, it seemed to her some gloss had gone from her hair, her eyes grown dull and patient and pupil-less; like the eyes of a cow.

So, hurt and dazed, she turned to the land, close to it and the smell of it, kind and kind it was, it didn't rise up and torment your heart, you could keep at peace with the land if you gave it your heart and hands, tended it and slaved for it, it was wild and a tyrant, but it was not cruel. And often, in the night-stooking with old John Brigson near, a ghost of gladness would come to her then, working under the coming of the moon before the evening dew came pringling over Kinraddie, night-birds whistling over the fields, so quiet, so quiet, stilling away the pain in her body, the pain in her heart that this reaping and harvesting had brought.

And then Long Rob of the Mill came up to Blawearie. He came one morning as they started the yavil, he came through the close and into the kitchen, long and as rangy as ever he was, his face filled out and his eyes the same, and he cried How's Chris? Bonny as ever! And he caught young Ewan up on his shoulder and Ewan looked down at him, dark and grave, and smiled, and thought him fine.

Rob had come over to help, he'd no cutting to do; and when Chris said nay, he mustn't leave the Mill, he twinkled his eyes and shook his head. And Chris knew he'd have little loss, folk changed and were changing again, not a soul had driven his corn cart to the Mill since Long Rob came back. He'd had nothing to do but pleiter about from park to park and look out on the road for the custom that never came; and if any came now it could damn well wait, he'd come up to stook Blawearie.

So the two went down to the park, young Ewan went with them, and they stooked it together, the best of the crop, Rob cheery as ever it seemed to Chris. But sometimes his eyes would wander up to the hills, like a man seeking a thing he had never desired, and into the iron-blue eyes a shadow like a dark, quiet question would creep. Maybe he minded the jail and its torments then, he spoke never of that, and never a word of the War, nor Chris, all the stooking of the yavil park. Strange she had hardly known him before, Long Rob of the Mill, unco and atheist; he'd been only the miller with the twinkling eyes, his singings by morn and his whistlings by night, his stories of horses till your head fair reeled. Now it seemed she had known him always, closely and queerly, she felt queer, as though shy, when she sat by his side at the supper table and he spoke to old Brigson that night. The pallor of the jail came out in the lamp-light, under the brown that the sun had brought, and she saw his hand by the side of her hand, thin and strong, the miller's horse-taming hand.

He bedded young Ewan that night, for a play, and sung him to sleep, Chris and old Brigson heard the singing as they sat in the kitchen below, Ladies of Spain and There was a Young Farmer and A' the Blue Bonnets are Over the Border. Hardly anybody left in Kinraddie sang these songs, it was full of other tunes from the bothy windows now, Tipperary and squawling English things, like the squeak of a rat that is bedded in syrup, the Long, Long Trail and the like. It was queer and eerie, listening to Rob, like listening to an echo from far in the years at the mouth of a long lost glen.

And she never knew when and how in the days that followed, it came on her silently, secretly, out of the earth itself, maybe, the knowledge she was Rob's to do with as he willed, she willed. She wanted more than the clap of his hand on her shoulder as they finished the bout at evening and up through the shadows took their slow way, by parkside and dyke, to the close that hung drenched with honeysuckle smell. She wanted more than his iron-blue eye turned on her, warm and clean and kind though she felt her skin colour below that gaze, she wanted those things that now all her life she came to know she had never known--a man to love her, not such a boy as the Ewan that had been or the poor demented beast he'd become.

And if old John Brigson guessed of those things that whispered so shamelessly there in her heart he gave never a sign, wise and canny and kind. And no sign that he knew did Rob give either, swinging by her side in the harvest that drew to its end. And in Chris as she bent and straightened and stooked the last day was a prayer to the earth and fields, a praying that this harvest might never end, that she and Long Rob would tramp it forever. But the binder flashed its blades at the head of the last, long bout, and Long Rob had his hand on her shoulder, He's finished, Chris quean, and it's clyak!

That evening she went out with him to the gate of the close, and he swung his coat on his shoulder, Well, well, Chris lass, I've liked this fine. And then, not looking at her, he added I'm away to Aberdeen to enlist the morn.

For a moment she was stupefied and stared at him silently, but she had no place in his thoughts, he was staring across Kinraddie's stooked fields. And then he began to tell her, he'd resolved on this days before, he couldn't stay out of it longer, all the world had gone daft and well he might go with the rest, there was neither trade nor trust for him here, or rest ever again till this War was over, if it ever ended at all. So I'm giving in at last, I suppose they'll say. And this is ta-ta, Chris; mind on me kindly some times.

She held to his hand in the gloaming light and so he looked down at last, she was biting her lips to keep down the tears, but he saw them shine brimming then in her eyes. And his own changed, changed and were kind and then something else, he cried Why, lass! and his hand on her shoulder drew her close, she was close and against him, held tight so that she felt the slow beat of his heart, she wanted to rest there, safe and safe in these corded arms. And then she minded that to-morrow he'd be gone, it cried through the evening in every cry of the lapwings, So near, so near!

So this also ended as everything else, every thing she had ever loved and desired went out to the madness beyond the hills on that ill road that flung its evil white ribbon down the dusk. And it was her arms then that went round his neck, drawing down his head and kissing him, queer and awful to kiss a man so, kissing him till she heard his breath come quick, and he gripped her, pleading with her, We're daft, Chris quean, we mustn't! But she knew then she had won, she wound her arms about him, she whispered The haystacks! and he carried her there, the smell of the clover rose crushed and pungent and sweet from under her head; and lying so in the dark, held to him, kissing him, she sought with lips and limbs and blood to die with him then.

But that dark, hot cloud went by, she found herself still lying there, Rob was there, and she drew his head to her breast, lying so with him, seeing out below the rounded breasts of the haystacks the dusky red of the harvest night, this harvest gathered to herself at last, reaped and garnered and hers in her heart and body. So they were for hours, John Brigson never called out to them; and then she stood beside Rob at the head of the road again, drowsy and quiet and content. They made no promises, kissing for last, she knew already he was growing remote from her, his eyes already remote to that madness that beckoned beyond the hills. So it was that he went from her next, she heard him go step-stepping slow with that swinging stride of his down through the darkness, and she never saw him again, was never to see him again.

 

It had burned up as a fire in a whin-bush, that thing in her life, and it burned out again and was finished. She went about the Blawearie biggings next day singing under breath to herself, quiet and unvexed, tending to hens and kye, seeing to young Ewan's sleep in the day and the setting of old Brigson's supper ere he came at night. She felt shamed not at all, all the vexing fears had gone from her, she made no try to turn from the eyes in the glass that looked out at her, wakened and living again. She was glad she'd gone out with Long Rob, glad and content, they were one and the same now, Ewan and her.

So the telegram boy that came riding to Blawearie found her singing there in the close, mending young Ewan's clothes. She heard the click of the gate and he took the telegram out of his wallet and gave it to her and she stared at him and then at her hands. They were quivering like the leaves of the beech in the forecoming of rain, they quivered in a little mist below her eyes. Then she opened the envelope and read the words and she said there was no reply, the boy swung on his bicycle again and rode out, riding and leaning he clicked the gate behind him; and laughed back at her for the cleverness of that.

She stood up then, she put down her work on the hackstock and read again in the telegram, and began to speak to herself till that frightened her and she stopped. But she forgot to be frightened, in a minute she was speaking again, the chirawking hens in the close stopped and came near and turned up bright eyes to her loud and toneless whispering, What do I do--oh, what do I do?

She was vexed and startled by that--what was it she did! Did she go out to France and up to the front line, maybe, into a room where they'd show her Ewan lying dead, quiet and dead, white and bloodless, sweat on his hair, killed in action? She went out to the front door and waved to the harvesters, Brigson, young Ewan, and a tink they'd hired, they saw her and stared till she waved again and then John Brigson abandoned the half-loaded cart and came waddling up the park, so slow he was, Did you cry me, Chris?

Sweat on his hair as sweat on Ewan's. She stared at that and held out the telegram, he wiped slow hands and took it and read it, while she clung to the door-post and whispered and whispered What is it I do now, John? Have I to go out to France? And at last he looked up, his face was grizzled and hot and old, he wiped the sweat from it slow. God, mistress, this is sore news, but he's died like a man out there, your Ewan's died fine.

But she wouldn't listen to that, wanting to know the thing she must do; and not till he told her that she did nothing, they could never take all the widows to France and Ewan must already be buried, did she stop from that twisting of her hands and ceaseless whisper. Then anger came, Why didn't you tell me before? Oh, damn you, you liked tormenting me! and she turned from him into the house and ran up the stairs to the bed, the bed that was hers and Ewan's, and lay on it, and put her hands over her ears trying not to hear a cry of agony in a lost French field, not to think that the body that had lain by hers, frank and free and kind and young, was torn and dead and unmoving flesh, blood twisted upon it, not Ewan at all, riven and terrible, still and dead when the harvest stood out in Blawearie's land and the snipe were calling up on the loch and the beech trees whispered and rustled. And SHE KNEW THAT IT WAS A LIE!

He wasn't dead, he could never have died or been killed for nothing at all, far away from her over the sea, what matter to him their War and their fighting, their King and their country? Kinraddie was his land, Blawearie his, he was never dead for those things of no concern, he'd the crops to put in and the loch to drain and her to come back to. It had nothing to do with Ewan this telegram. They were only tormenting her, cowards and liars and bloody men, the English generals and their like down there in London. But she wouldn't bear it, she'd have the law on them, cowards and liars as she knew them to be!

It was only then that she knew she was moaning, dreadful to hear; and they heard it outside, John Brigson heard it and nearly went daft, he caught up young Ewan and ran with him into the kitchen and then to the foot of the stairs; and told him to go up to his mother, she wanted him. And young Ewan came, it was his hand tugging at her skirts that brought her out of that moaning coma, and he wasn't crying, fearsome the sounds though she made, his face was white and resolute, Mother, mother! She picked him up then and held him close, rocking in an agony of despair because of that look on his face, that lost look and the smouldering eyes he had. Oh Ewan, your father's dead! she told him the lie that the world believed. And she wept at last, blindly, freeingly, for a little, old Brigson was to say it was the boy that had saved her from going mad.

 

But throughout Kinraddie the news went underbreath that mad she'd gone, the death of her man had fair unhinged her. For still she swore it was a lie, that Ewan wasn't dead, he could never have died for nothing. Kirsty Strachan and Mistress Munro came up to see her, they shook their heads and said he'd died fine, for his country and his King he'd died, young Ewan would grow up to be proud of his father. They said that sitting at tea, with long faces on them, and then Chris laughed, they quivered away from her at that laugh.

Country and King? You're havering, havering! What have they to do with my Ewan, what was the King to him, what their damned country? Blawearie's his land, it's not his wight that others fight wars!

She went fair daft with rage then, seeing the pity in their faces. And also it was then, and then only, staring through an angry haze at them, that she knew at last she was living a dream in a world gone mad. Ewan was dead, they knew it and she knew it herself; and he'd died for nothing, for nothing, hurt and murdered and crying for her, maybe, killed for nothing: and those bitches sat and spoke of their King and country. . . .

They ran out of the house and down the brae, and, panting, she stood and screamed after them. It was fair the speak of Kinraddie next day the way she'd behaved, and nobody else came up to see her. But she'd finished with screaming, she went quiet and cold. Mornings came up, and she saw them come, she minded that morning she'd sent him away, and she might not cry him back. Noons with their sun and rain came over the Howe and she saw the cruelty and pain of life as crimson rainbows that spanned the horizons of the wheeling hours. Nights came soft and grey and quiet across Kinraddie's fields, they brought neither terror nor hope to her now. Behind the walls of a sanity cold and high, locked in from the lie of life, she would live, from the world that had murdered her man for nothing, for a madman's gibberish heard in the night behind the hills.

 

And then Chae Strachan came home at last on leave, he came home and came swift to Blawearie. She met him out by the kitchen door, a sergeant by then, grown thinner and taller, and he stopped and looked in her frozen face. Then, as her hand dropped down from his, he went past her with swinging kilts, into the kitchen, and sat him down and took off his bonnet. Chris, I've come to tell you of Ewan.

She stared at him, waking, a hope like a fluttering bird in her breast. Ewan? Chae--Chae's he's not living? And then, as he shook his head, the frozen wall came down on her heart again. Ewan's dead, don't vex yourself hoping else. They can't hurt him more, even this can't hurt him, though I swore I'd tell you nothing about it. But I know right well you should know it, Chris. Ewan was shot as a coward and deserter out there in France.

* * * * * *

Chae had lain in a camp near by and had heard of the thing by chance, he'd read Ewan's name in some list of papers that was posted up. And he'd gone the night before Ewan was shot, and they'd let him see Ewan, and he'd heard it all, the story he was telling her now--better always to know what truth's in a thing, for lies come creeping home to roost on unco rees, Chris quean. You're young yet, you've hardly begun to live, and I swore to myself that I'd tell you it all, that you'd never be vexed with some twisted bit in the years to come. Ewan was shot as a deserter, it was fair enough, he'd deserted from the front line trenches.

He had deserted in a blink of fine weather between the rains that splashed the glutted rat-runs of the front. He had done it quickly and easily, he told to Chae, he had just turned and walked back. And other soldiers that met him had thought him a messenger, or wounded, or maybe on leave, none had questioned him, he'd set out at ten o'clock in the morning and by afternoon, taking to the fields, was ten miles or more from the front. Then the military policemen came on him and took him, he was marched back and court-martialled and found to be guilty.

And Chae said to him, they sat together in the hut where he waited the coming of the morning, But why did you do it, Ewan? You might well have known you'd never get free. And Ewan looked at him and shook his head, It was that wind that came with the sun, I minded Blawearie, I seemed to waken up smelling that smell. And I couldn't believe it was me that stood in the trench, it was just daft to be there. So I turned and got out of it.

In a flash it had come on him, he had wakened up, he was daft and a fool to be there; and, like somebody minding things done in a coarse wild dream there had flashed on him memory of Chris at Blawearie and his last days there, mad and mad he had been, he had treated her as a devil might, he had tried to hurt her and maul her, trying in the nightmare to waken, to make her waken him up; and now in the blink of sun he saw her face as last he'd seen it while she quivered away from his taunts. He knew he had lost her, she'd never be his again, he'd known it in that moment he clambered back from the trenches; but he knew that he'd be a coward if he didn't try though all hope was past.

So out he had gone for that, remembering Chris, wanting to reach her, knowing as he tramped mile on mile that he never would. But he'd made her that promise that he'd never fail her, long syne he had made it that night when he'd held her so bonny and sweet and a quean in his arms, young and desirous and kind. So mile on mile on the laired French roads: she was lost to him, but that didn't help, he'd try to win to her side again, to see her again, to tell her nothing he'd said was his saying, it was the foulness dripping from the dream that devoured him. And young Ewan came into his thoughts, he'd so much to tell her of him, so much he'd to say and do if only he might win to Blawearie. . . .

Then the military policemen had taken him and he'd listened to them and others in the days that followed, listening and not listening at all, wearied and quiet. Oh, wearied and wakened at last, Chae, and I haven't cared, they can take me out fine and shoot me to-morrow, I'll be glad for the rest of it, Chris lost to me through my own coarse daftness. She didn't even come to give me a kiss at good-bye, Chae, we never said good-bye; but I mind the bonny head of her down-bent there in the close. She'll never know, my dear quean, and that's best--they tell lies about folk they shoot and she'll think I just died like the rest; you're not to tell her.

Then he'd been silent long, and Chae'd had nothing to say, he knew it was useless to make try for reprieve, he was only a sergeant and had no business even in the hut with the prisoner. And then Ewan said, sudden-like, it clean took Chae by surprise, Mind the smell of dung in the parks on an April morning, Chae? And the peewits over the rigs? Bonny they're flying this night in Kinraddie, and Chris sleeping there, and all the Howe happed in mist. Chae said that he mustn't mind about that, he was feared that the dawn was close, and Ewan should be thinking of other things now, had he seen a minister? And Ewan said that an old bit billy had come and blethered, an officer creature, but he'd paid no heed, it had nothing to do with him. Even as he spoke there rose a great clamour of guns far up in the front, it was four miles off, not more; and Chae thought of the hurried watches climbing to their posts and the blash and flare of the Verey lights, the machine-gun crackle from pits in the mud, things he himself mightn't hear for long: Ewan'd never hear it at all beyond this night.

And not feared at all he looked, Chae saw, he sat there in his kilt and shirt-sleeves, and he looked no more than a young lad still, his head between his hands, he didn't seem to be thinking at all of the morning so close. For he started to speak of Blawearie then and the parks that he would have drained, though he thought the land would go fair to hell without the woods to shelter it. And Chae said that he thought the same, there were sore changes waiting them when they went back; and then he minded that Ewan would never go back, and could near have bitten his tongue in half, but Ewan hadn't noticed, he'd been speaking of the horses he'd had, Clyde and old Bess, fine beasts, fine beasts--did Chae mind that night of lightning when they found Chris wandering the fields with those two horses? That was the night he had known she liked him well--nothing more than that, so quick and fierce she was, Chae man, she guarded herself like a queen in a palace, there was nothing between her and me till the night we married. Mind that--and the singing there was, Chae? What was it that Chris sang then?

And neither could remember that, it had vexed Ewan a while, and then he forgot it, sitting quiet in that hut on the edge of morning. Then at last he'd stood up and gone to the window and said There's bare a quarter of an hour now, Chae, you'll need to be getting back.

And they'd shaken hands, the sentry opened the door for Chae, and he tried to say all he could for comfort, the foreshadowing of the morning in Ewan's young eyes was strange and terrible, he couldn't take out his hand from that grip. And all that Ewan said was Oh man, mind me when next you hear the peewits over Blawearie--look at my lass for me when you see her again, close and close, for that kiss that I'll never give her. So he'd turned back into the hut, he wasn't feared or crying, he went quiet and calm; and Chae went down through the hut lines grouped about that place, a farm-place it had been, he'd got to the lorry that waited him, he was cursing and weeping then and the driver thought him daft, he hadn't known himself how he'd been. So they'd driven off, the wet morning had come crawling across the laired fields, and Chae had never seen Ewan again, they killed him that morning.

* * * * * *

This was the story Chae told to Chris, sitting the two of them in the kitchen of Blawearie. Then he moved and got up and she did the same, and like one coming from a far, dark country, she saw his face now, he'd been all that time but a voice in the dark. And at last she found speech herself Never vex for me or the telling me this, it was best, it was best!

She crept up the stairs to their room when he'd gone, she opened the press where Ewan's clothes were, and kissed them and held them close, those clothes that had once been his near as ever he'd come to her now. And she whispered then in the stillness, with only the beech for a listener, Oh, Ewan, Ewan, sleep quiet and sound now, lad, I understand! You did it for me, and I'm proud and proud, for me and Blawearie, my dear, my dear--sleep quiet and brave, for I've understood!

The beech listened and whispered, whispered and listened, on and on. And a strange impulse and urge came on Chris Tavendale as she too listened. She ran down the stairs and found young Ewan and kissed him, Let's go a jaunt up to the hill.

 

Below them, Kinraddie; above, the hill; the loch shimmering and sleeping in the autumn sun; young Ewan at her feet; the peewits crying down the Howe.

She gave a long sigh and withdrew her hand from the face of the Standing Stone. The mist of memories fell away and the aching urge came back--for what, for what? Sun and sky and the loneliness of the hills, they had cried her up here--for what?

And then something made her raise her eyes, she stood awful and rigid, fronting him, coming up the path through the broom. Laired with glaur was his uniform, his face was white and the great hole sagged and opened, sagged and opened, red-glazed and black, at every upwards step he took. Up through the broom: she saw the grass wave with no press below his feet, her lad, the light in his eyes that aye she could bring.

The snipe stilled their calling, a cloud came over the sun. He was close to her now and she held out her hands to him, blind with tears and bright her eyes, the bright weather in their faces, her voice shaping a question that she heard him answer in the rustle of the loch-side rushes as closer his soundless feet carried him to her lips and hands.

Oh lassie, I've come home! he said, and went into the heart that was his forever.

 

 

EPILUDE

THE UNFURROWED FIELD

 

Folk said that winter that the War had done feint the much good to Mutch of Bridge End. In spite of his blowing and boasting, his silver he might as well have flung into a midden as poured in his belly, though faith! there wasn't much difference in destination. He'd gone in for the Irish cattle, had Mutch, quick you bought them and quick you sold and reaped a fine profit with prices so brave. More especially you did that if you crammed the beasts up with hay and water the morning before they were driven to the mart, they'd fairly seem to bulge with beef. But sometimes old Aitken of Bervie, a sly old brute, would give a bit stirk a wallop in the wame and it would belch like a bellows, and Aitken would say, Ay, Mutch, the wind still bloweth as it listeth, I see, he was aye quoting his bits of poetry, Aitken.

But he'd made silver for all that, Mutch, and many an awful feed had his great red lugs overhung, there in the Bridge End while the War went on. For that was how it struck him and his family, they'd gorge from morn till night, the grocer would stop three times a week and out to him Alec and his mistress would come, the bairns racing at the heels of them, and they'd buy up ham and biscuits and cheese and sausage, and tins of this and tins of that, enough to feed the German army, folk told--it that was said to be so hungry it was eating up its own bit corpses, feuch!

Though faith! it was little more than eating their own corpses they did at Bridge End. And what little they left uneaten they turned to drink, by the end of the War he'd got him a car, had Alec, it was only a Ford but it clattered up and down the road to Drumlithie every day of the week, and back it would bump to the Bridge End place with beer in crates and whisky in bottles wagging drunken-like over the hinder end. But Alec would blow and boast as much as ever, he'd say the Bridge End was a fine bit place and could easily stand him a dram--it's the knack of farming you want, that's all.

Mutch had just got up and come out blear-eyed that day when the postman handed him the letter from Kinraddie House. So he had one read of it and then another, syne he cried to his wife Nine hundred pounds--have YOU got nine hundred pounds, you? And she answered him back, canty and cool, No, I've seen neither silver nor sense since I married you. Why do you need nine hundred pounds? So Alec showed her the letter, 'twas long and dreich and went on and on; but the gist of it was the Trustees were to sell up Kinraddie at last; and the farmers that wanted them could buy their own places; and if Mutch of Bridge End still wanted his the price was nine hundred pounds.

So that was how the Mutches left Kinraddie, they said never a word about buying the place, Alec sold off his stock fell quietly and they did a moonlight flit; some said they heard the Ford that night go rattling up by Laurencekirk, others swore that Mutch had gone north to Aberdeen and had got him a fine bit job in a public-house there. North or south, feint the thing more folk saw of him; and before the New Year was out old Gordon of Upperhill had bought up the Bridge End forbye his own place, he said he would farm the fields with a tractor. But damn the tractor ever appeared, he put sheep on the place instead, and sometimes the shepherd would wander into the kitchen where that gley-eyed wife of Mutch had sat to smoke her bit cigarettes; and he said that the smell of the damned things lingered there still, they'd been as unco at changing their skirts, the Mutches, as ever old Pooty had been.

What with his Germans and ghosts and dirt, he'd fair been in a way, had old Pooty. Long ere the War had finished he'd have nothing to do with the mending of boots, he wouldn't let the grocer up to the door, but would scraich at him to leave the messages out by the road. And at last he clean went over the gate, as a man might say, he took in his cuddy to live with him there in the kitchen, and the farmer lads going by on their bicycles of a Saturday night would hear the two of them speaking together, old Pooty they'd hear, thinking himself back at some concert or other in the olden days, reciting his TIMROUS BEASTIE, stuttering and stammering at the head of his voice. And then he'd be heard to give the donkey a bit clout, and Damn you! Clap, you creature! he'd cry; and it was a fair entertainment.

But at last it grew overmuch to bear, that was just about the month when the letters went out from the Trustee childes, and folk said that fell awful sounds were heard coming from the Pooty place, the creature was clean demented. Not a body would do a thing till at last old Gordon did, he roaded off with his foreman, they went in old Gordon's car, it was night, and the nearer they came to Pooty's the more awful came the sounds. The cuddy was braying and braying in an awful stamash, they tried to look through the window, but there was a thick leather blind there and feint the thing could they see. So the foreman tried the door and it wouldn't budge, but the braying of the cuddy grew worse and worse; and the foreman was a big bit childe and he took a great run at the door and open it flew and the sight he saw would have scunnered a sow from its supper, the coarse old creature was tormenting the donkey this way and that with a red-hot poker, he scraiched the beast was a German, and they had to tie him up.

So the foreman went back for his gun and to send a message to bring the police; and when the police came down next day the donkey was shot, and some said old Pooty should have been instead. But they took the old creature away to the madhouse, fair a good riddance to Kinraddie it was. For a while after that there was speak of the Upperhill's foreman biding at Pooty's, he wanted to marry and it would be fine and close for his work. And the foreman said the place was fine if you thought of breeding a family of swine; but he was neither a boar himself nor was his quean a bit sow.

So the place began to moulder away, soon the roof went all agley and half fell in, it was fit for neither man nor beast, the thistles and weeds were all over the close, right they'd have pleased old Pooty's cuddy if he'd lived to see them. It looked a dreich, cold place as you rode by at night, near as lonesome as the old Mill was, and not near so handy. For the Mill was a place you could take your quean to, you'd lean your bicycles up by the wall and take a peek through the kitchen window; syne off you'd go, your two selves, and sit inside the old Mill itself; and your quean would say Don't! and smooth her short skirts, and she'd tell you you would be lucky if you got two dances at the Fordoun ball, John Edwards was to take her there in his side-car, mind.

For Long Rob had never come back to the Mill. It had fair been a wonder him joining the soldiers and going off to the War the way he did--after swearing black was blue that he'd never fight, that the one was as bad as the other, Scotch or German. Some said it was just plain daft he had gone, with no need for him to enlist; but when Munro of the Cuddiestoun told that to Chris Tavendale up at Blawearie she said there had been more sweetness and sense in Rob's little finger that in all the Munro carcases clecked since the Flood. Ill to say that to a man of an age with your father, it showed you the kind of creature Chris Tavendale was, folk shook their heads, minding how she'd gone near mad when her man was killed; as if he'd been the only one! And there was her brother, Will was his name, that had come from the War in a queer bit uniform, French he had said that it was; but them that were fine acquainted with uniforms weren't so sure, the Uhlans had worn uniforms just like that.

They had been the German horse-billies away back at the War's beginning, you minded, and syne shook your head over that, and turned to thinking of Long Rob again, him that was killed in the April of the last year's fighting. He'd been one of the soldiers they'd rushed to France in such hurry when it seemed that the German childes were fair over us, and he'd never come back to Kinraddie again, just notice of his death came through and syne a bit in the paper about him. You could hardly believe your eyes when you read it, him such a fell pacifist, too, he'd been killed in a bit retreat, that they made, him and two-three more billies had stood up to the Germans right well and held them back while the Scots retreated; they'd held on long after the others had gone, and Rob had been given a medal for that. Not that he got it, faith! he was dead, they came on his corpse long after, the British, but just as a mark of respect.

And you minded Long Rob right well, the long rangy childe, with his twinkling eyes and his great bit mouser and those stories of his that he'd deave you with, horses and horses, damn't! he had horses on the brain. There'd been his coarse speak about religion, too, fair a scandal once in the Howe, but for all that he'd been a fine stock, had Rob, you minded him singing out there in the morning, he'd sung--And you couldn't mind what the song had been till maybe a bairn would up and tell you, they'd heard it often on the way to school, and Ay, it was Ladies of Spain. You heard feint the meikle of those old songs now, they were daft and old-fashioned, there were fine new ones in their places, right from America, folk said, and all about the queer blue babies that were born there, they were clever brutes, the Americans.

Well, that was the Mill, all its trade was gone, old Gordon bought up its land for a two-three pounds, and joined the lot on to Upperhill. Jock Gordon came blinded back from the War, they said he'd been near demented at first when he lost the use of his eyes. But old Gordon was making silver like dirt, he coddled up Jock like a pig with a tit, and he'd settled down fell content, as well the creature might be, with all he could smoke or drink at his elbow, and his mother near ready to lick his boots. Fell gentry and all they were now, the Gordons, you couldn't get within a mile of the Upperhill without you'd hear a blast of the English, so fine and genteel; and the ploughmen grew fair mad when they dropped in for a dram at Drumlithie Hotel and some billy would up and ask, Is't true they dish you out white dickies at Upperhill now and you've all to go to the Academy?

He was one of the folk that broke up the ploughmen's Union, old Gordon, right proud he was of it, too; and faith, the man was but right, whoever heard tell of such nonsense, a Union for ploughmen? But he didn't get off scot-free, faith, no! For what should happen in the General Election but that the secretary of the Farm Servants' Union put up as a candidate for the Mearns; and from far and near over Scotland a drove of those socialist creatures came riding to help him, dressed up in specs and baggy breeks and stockings with meikle checks.

Now, one of them was a doctor childe and up to the Upperhill he came on a canvass, like, when old Gordon and the wife had driven off to lend help to the Coalition. The door was opened by Maggie Jean, she'd grown up bonny as a flower in spring, a fine quean, sweet and kind, with no English airs. And damn't if they didn't take up, the doctor and her, all in a minute, the doctor forgot about the bothy he'd come to canvass and Maggie Jean had him in to tea, and they spoke on politics for hours and hours, the servant quean told, she said it was nothing but politics; and there have been greater miracles.

Well, the next thing was that old Gordon found his men being harried to vote for the Labour man, harried by his own lass Maggie Jean, it sent him fair wild and the blind son too. But Maggie Jean didn't care a fig, the doctor childe had turned her head; and when the election was over and the Labour man beaten she told her father she wasn't going on to the college any longer, she was set on marrying her Labour doctor. Gordon said he'd soon put his foot on that, she wasn't of age and he'd stop the marriage. But Maggie Jean put her arms round his neck, I know, but you wouldn't like people to point at you and say 'Have you heard of old Gordon's illegitimate grandchild?' And at that they say old Gordon fair caved in, Oh, my lass, my Maggie Jean, you haven't done that! For answer Maggie Jean just stood and laughed, shaky-like, though, till ben came Mistress Gordon herself and heard the news, and started in on the lass. Syne Maggie Jean grew cool as ice, Very well, then, mother, I hear there's a good bed in Stonehaven Workhouse where women can have their babies.

So she won in the end, you may well be sure, the Gordons fair rushed the marriage, and every now and then the doctor and Maggie Jean would take a bit look at each other and laugh out loud, they weren't a bit ashamed or decent. And when the wedding was over Mistress Gordon said It's glad I am that you're off from Kinraddie to Edinburgh, where the shame of your half-named bairn won't aye be cast in my face. And Maggie Jean said What bairn, mother? I'm not to have a baby yet, you know, unless George and I get over-enthusiastic to-night. Fair dumbfoundered was Mistress Gordon, she gasped, But you said that you were with a bairn! and Maggie Jean just shook her head and laughed. Oh, no, I just asked father if he'd like to grandfather one. And I don't suppose that he would. I won't have time for babies for years yet, mother, I'm to help ORGANIZING THE FARM SERVANTS!

Ah well, folk said there was damned little chance of Nellie, the other bit daughter, ever having anything legitimate or illegitimate, she was growing up as sour and wizened as an old potato, for all her English she'd sleep cold and unhandled, an old maid all her days. But faith! you're sure of nothing in this world, or whoever would have guessed that Sarah Sinclair, the daft old skate, would go marrying? It all came through the War and the stir at the Netherhill when old Sinclair bought up the Knapp and his own bit place all at one whip. Soon's she heard of that Sarah went to him and said You did plenty for Kirsty and she'll not be needing the Knapp any more, you can bravely settle me there!

Old Sinclair, he was nearly ninety and blind, he stared at her like a stirk at a water-jump, and then cried for his wife. And Sarah told them she meant what she said, Dave Brown, the Gourdon childe, would marry her the morn if they'd Peesie's Knapp to sit down in.

And she got her way, but she didn't get the land, old Sinclair pastured his sheep on it, and Dave stayed on as a Netherhill ploughman. So Sarah was married off at last and taken to bed in the house that had been her sister's. She soon had her man well in hand, had Sarah, folk said she'd to take him to bed by the lug the first night, but there are aye coarse brutes to say things like that. And damn it, if before a twelvemonth was up she didn't have a bairn, a peely-wally girl, but a bairn for all that. It wasn't much, but still it was something, and when old Sinclair heard the news he got it all mixed, he was in bed by then and sinking fast, he thought it was Kirsty's first bairn that they told of, and all the time he kept whispering Chae! he wanted his good-son, Chae, that had married Kirsty long syne.

But Chae had been gone long ere that, he was killed in the first fighting of Armistice Day, an hour before the guns grew quiet. You minded him well and the arguings he'd have with Long Rob of the Mill; he'd have been keen for the Labour candidate, for Rich and Poor were as far off being Equal as ever they'd been, poor Chae. Ay, it struck you strange that he'd gone, fine childe he had been though a bit of a fool that you laughed at behind his back.

In his last bit leave folk said he'd been awful quiet, maybe he knew right well he would never come back, he tramped the parks most of the time, muttering of the woods they'd cut and the land that would never get over it. And when he said good-bye to Kirsty it wasn't just the usual slap on the shoulder and Well, I'm away! He held her and kissed her, folk saw it at the station, and he said Be good to the bairns, lass. And Kirsty, the meikle sumph, had stood there crying as the train went out, you'd have thought she'd have had more sense with all the folk glowering at her. And that was the last of Chae, you'd say, except that in the November of nineteen-eighteen they sent home his pocket-book and hankies and things; and they'd been well washed, but blood lay still in the pouch of the pocket-book, cold and black, and when Kirsty saw it she screamed and fainted away.

Women had little guts, except, one or two, said Munro of the Cuddiestoun, as though he himself had been killing a German for breakfast every day of the War. And maybe that's what he'd liked to think as he chased the hens and thrawed their necks for the hospital trade, or swore at the daftie, Tony, over this or that. Feint the much heed paid Tony, though, he'd just stand about the same as ever, staring at the ground and driving Mistress Munro fair out of her senses when she'd sent him to lower the heat in one incubator or raise it up in another. For it was more than likely the creature would do clean the opposite of what he'd been told, and syne stand and glower at the ground a whole afternoon till somebody came out to look for him and would find every damned egg hard-boiled or stone cold, as the case might be. Some said he wasn't so daft, he did it for spite, but you'd hardly believe that a daftie would have the sense for that.

But nobody could deny the Munros had got on, they'd clean stopped from farming every park except one to grow their potatoes in, all the rest were covered with runs and rees for the hens, they'd made a fair fortune with their poultry and all. You'd never hear such a scraich in your life as when night-time came and they closed up the Cuddiestoun rees, it was then that Mistress Munro would nip out a cockerel here and an old hen there and thraw the creature's neck as quick as you'd blink and syne sit up half the night in the plucking of the birds. They'd hardly ever a well-cooked meal in the house themselves, but if their stomachs had little in them their bank books knew no lack, maybe one more than consoled for the other. But Ellison said that they made him sick, the only mean Scotch he'd ever met, and be damned if they didn't make up for all the free ones.

Though that was only the kind of speak you'd expect from an Irish creature, he still spoke like one, fell fat he'd grown, his belly wabbled down right near to his knees and his breeks were meikle in girth. When the Trustees sent out their notice to buy, folk wondered what he'd do, there'd be an end to Ellison now, they said. But sore mistaken they found themselves, he bought up the Mains, stock and all, he bought up the ruins of Kinraddie House, and he bought Blawearie when there were no bids, he got it for less than two hundred pounds. And where had he got all that money except that he stole it?

Fair Kinraddie's big man he thought himself, faith! folk laughed at him and called him the waiter-laird, Cospatric that killed the gryphon would have looked at him sore surprised. He spoke fell big about tractors for ploughing, but then the slump came down and his blowing with it, he bought up sheep for Blawearie instead. And that was the way things went in the end on the old bit place up there on the brae, sheep baaed and scrunched where once the parks flowed thick with corn, no corn would come at all, they said, since the woods went down. And the new minister when he preached his incoming sermon cried They have made a desert and they call it peace; and some had no liking of the creature for that, but God! there was truth in his speak.

For the Gibbons had gone clean out of Kinraddie, there'd be far more room and far less smell, folk said, Stuart Gibbon had never come back from the War to stand in the pulpit his father had held. Not that he'd been killed, no, no, you might well depend that the great, curled steer had more sense in him than that. But the gentry liked him in Edinburgh right well in his Chaplain's uniform, and syne he fell in with some American creatures that controlled a kirk in New York. And they asked him if he'd like to have that kirk, all the well-off Scots went to it; and he took the offer like a shot and was off to America before you could wink, him and that thin bit English wife of his and their young bit daughter. Well, well, he'd done well for himself, it was plain to see; no doubt the Americans would like him fine, they could stand near anything out in America, their stomachs were awful tough with all the coarse things that they ate out of tins.

As for the father, the old man that had had such an ill-will for the Germans, he'd grown over-frail to preach and had to retire; and faith! if the British armies had killed half the Germans with their guns that he did with his mouth it would have been a clean deserted Germany long ere the end of the War. But off he went at last and only two ministers made try for the pulpit, both of them young, the one just a bit student from Aberdeen, the other new out of the Army. There seemed little to choose between the pair, they'd no pulpit voices, either of them, but folk thought it only fair to give the soldier billy the chance.

And it was only after he headed the leat, Colquohoun was his name, that the story went round he was son to that old minister from Banff that made try for Kinraddie before the War and was fair out-preached by the Reverend Gibbon. You minded him, surely?--he'd preached about beasts and the Golden Age, that the dragons still lived but sometime they'd die and the Golden Age come back. Feuch ah! no sermon at all, you might say. Well, that was him and this was the son, thin and tall, with a clean-shaven face, and he lectured on this and he wrote on that and he made himself fair objectionable before he'd been there a month. For he chummed up with ploughmen, he drove his own coal, he never wore a collar that fastened at the back, and when folk called him the Reverend he pulled them up sharp--reverent, I am, no more, my friend. And he whistled when he went on a Sunday walk and he stormed at farmers for the pay they paid and he helped the ploughman's Union; and he'd preach just rank sedition about it, and speak as though Christ had meant Kinraddie, and folk would grow fair uncomfortable.

You couldn't well call him pro-German, like, for he'd been a plain soldier all through the War. Folk felt clean lost without a bit name to hit at him with, till Ellison said he was a Bolshevik, one of those awful creatures, coarse tinks, that had made such a spleiter in Russia. They'd shot their king-creature, the Tsar they called him, and they bedded all over the place, folk said, a man would go home and find his wife commandeered any bit night and Lenin and Trotsky lying with her. And Ellison said that the same would come in Kinraddie if Mr. Colquohoun had his way; maybe he was feared for his mistress, was Ellison, though God knows there'd be little danger of her being commandeered, even Lenin and Trotsky would fair be desperate before they would go to that length.

Well, that was your new minister, then; and next there came scandalous stories that he'd taken up with young Chris Tavendale. Nearly every evening of the week he'd ride up to Blawearie, and bide there all the hours of the night, or so folk said. And what could he want with a common bit quean like the Tavendale widow? Ministers took up with ladies if they meant no jookery-packery. But when Munro said that to old Brigson the creature fair flew into a rage; and he said that many a decent thing had gone out of Kinraddie with the War but that only one had come in, and that was the new minister.

Well, well, it might be so and it mightn't; but one night Dave Brown climbed up the hill from the Knapp, to see old Brigson about buying a horse, and he heard folk speaking inside the kitchen and he took a bit keek round the door. And there near the fire stood Chris herself, and the Reverend Colquohoun was before her, she was looking up into the minister's face and he'd both her hands in his. And Oh, my dear, maybe the second Chris, maybe the third, but Ewan has the first for ever! she was saying, whatever she meant by that; and syne as Dave Brown still looked the minister bent down and kissed her, the fool.

Folk said that fair proved the stories were true, but the very next Sunday the minister stood up in the pulpit, and, calm as ever, read out the banns of Upperhill's foreman and his quean from Fordoun, and syne the banns of Robert Colquohoun, bachelor of this parish, and Christine Tavendale, widow, also of this same parish.

You could near have heard a pin drop then, so quiet it was in the kirk, folk sat fair stunned. And there'd never been such a claik in Kinraddie as when the service was over and the congregation got out--ay, Chris Tavendale had feathered her nest right well, the sleeked creature, who'd have thought it of her?

And that made the minister no more well-liked with Kinraddie's new gentry, you may well be sure. But worse than that came; he'd been handed the money, the minister, to raise a memorial for Kinraddie's bit men that the War had killed. Folk thought he'd have a fine stone angel, with a night-gown on, raised up at Kinraddie cross-roads. But he sent for a mason instead and had the old stone circle by Blawearie loch raised up and cleaned and set all in place, real heathen-like, and a paling put round it. And after reading out his banns on that Sunday the minister read out that next Saturday the Kinraddie Memorial would be unveiled on Blawearie brae, and that he expected a fine attendance, whatever the weather--they'd to attend in ill weather, the folk that fell.

 

Fine weather for January that Saturday brought, sunny, yet caller, you could see the clouds come sailing down from the north and over the sun and off again. But there was rain not far, the seagulls had come sooning inland; for once the snipe were still. Nearly every soul in Kinraddie seemed climbing Blawearie brae as the afternoon wore on, a fair bit stir there was in the close, the place was empty of horses and stock, Chris would be leaving there at the term. Soon she'd be down at the Manse instead, and a proud-like creature no doubt she'd be.

Well, up on the brae through the road in the broom there drew a fell concourse of folk, Ellison was there, and his mistress, and the Gordons and gentry generally, forbye a reischle of ploughmen and queans, lying round on the grass and sniggering. There was the old circle of the Standing Stones, the middle one draped with a clout, you wondered what could be under it and how much the mason had charged. It was high, there, you saw as you sat in the grass and looked round, you could see all Kinraddie and near half the Howe shine under your feet in the sun, Out of the World and into Blawearie as the old speak went. And faith! the land looked unco and woe with its woods all gone, even in the thin-sun-glimmer there came a cold shiver up over the parks of the Knapp and Blawearie folk said that the land had gone cold and wet right up to the very Mains.

Snow was shining in the Grampians, far in the coarse hills there, and it wouldn't be long ere the dark came. Syne at last the minister was seen coming up, he'd on the bit robes that he hardly ever wore, Chris Tavendale walked by the side of him and behind was a third childe that nobody knew, a Highlander in kilts and with pipes on his shoulder, great and red-headed, who could he be? And then Ellison minded, he said the man had been friend to young Ewan Tavendale, he'd been the best man at Ewan's marriage, McIvor his name was.

The minister held open the gate for Chris and through it she came, all clad in her black, young Ewan's hand held fast in hers, he'd grown fair like his father, the bairn, dark-like and solemn he was. Chris's face was white and solemn as well except when she looked at the minister as he held the gate open, it was hardly decent the look that she gave him, they might keep their courting till the two were alone. Folk cried Ay, minister! and he cried back cheerily and went striding to the midst of the old stone circle, John Brigson was standing there with his hands on the strings that held the bit clout.

The minister said, Let us pray, and folk took off their hats, it smote cold on your pow. The sun was fleering up in the clouds, it was quiet on the hill, you saw young Chris stand looking down on Kinraddie with her bairn's hand in hers. And then the Lord's Prayer was finished, the minister was speaking just ordinary, he said they had come to honour the folk whom the War had taken, and that the clearing of this ancient site was maybe the memory that best they'd have liked. And he gave a nod to old Brigson and the strings were pulled and off came the clout and there on the Standing Stone the words shone out in their dark grey lettering, plain and short:

 

FOR : THE : MEMORY : OF : CHA
RLES  : STRACHAN  :  JAMES  :
LESLIE  : ROBERT  : DUNCAN  :
EWAN  :  TAVENDALE  :  WHO  :
WERE: OF : THIS : LAND : AND:
FELL: IN : THE : GREAT : WAR:
IN  : FRANCE  :  REVELATION :
II CH : 28 VERSE

 

And then, with the night waiting out by on Blawearie brae, and the sun just verging the coarse hills, the minister began to speak again, his short hair blowing in the wind that had come, his voice not decent and a kirk-like bumble, but ringing out over the loch:

 

FOR I WILL GIVE YOU THE MORNING STAR

In the sunset of an age and an epoch we may write that for epitaph of the men who were of it. They went quiet and brave from the lands they loved, though seldom of that love might they speak, it was not in them to tell in words of the earth that moved and lived and abided, their life and enduring love. And who knows at the last what memories of it were with them, the springs and the winters of this land and all the sounds and scents of it that had once been theirs, deep, and a passion of their blood and spirit, those four who died in France? With them we may say there died a thing older than themselves, these were the Last of the Peasants, the last of the Old Scots folk. A new generation comes up that will know them not, except as a memory in a song, they passed with the things that seemed good to them with loves and desires that grow dim and alien in the days to be. It was the old Scotland that perished then, and we may believe that never again will the old speech and the old songs, the old curses and the old benedictions, rise but with alien effort to our lips.

The last of the peasants, those four that you knew, took that with them to the darkness and the quietness of the places where they sleep. And the land changes, their parks and their steadings are a desolation where the sheep are pastured, we are told that great machines come soon to till the land, and the great herds come to feed on it, the crofter has gone, the man with the house and the steading of his own and the land closer to his heart than the flesh of his body. Nothing, it has been said, is true but change, nothing abides, and here in Kinraddie where we watch the building of those little prides and those little fortunes on the ruins of the little farms we must give heed that these also do not abide, that a new spirit shall come to the land with the greater herd and the great machines. For greed of place and possession and great estate those four had little head, the kindness of friends and the warmth of toil and the peace of rest--they asked no more from God or man, and no less would they endure.

So, lest we shame them, let us believe that the new oppressions and foolish greeds are no more than mists that pass. They died for a world that is past, these men, but they did not die for this that we seem to inherit. Beyond it and us there shines a greater hope and a newer world, undreamt when these four died. But need we doubt which side the battle they would range themselves did they live to-day, need we doubt the answer they cry to us even now, the four of them, from the places of the sunset?

 

And then, as folk stood dumbfounded, this was just sheer politics, plain what he meant, the Highland man McIvor tuned up his pipes and began to step slow round the stone circle by Blawearie Loch, slow and quiet, and folk watched him, the dark was near, it lifted your hair and was eerie and uncanny, the Flowers of the Forest as he played it:

 

music (130K)

 

It rose and rose and wept and cried, that crying for the men that fell in battle, and there was Kirsty Strachan weeping quietly and others with her, and the young ploughmen they stood with glum, white faces, they'd no understanding or caring, it was something that vexed and tore at them, it belonged to times they had no knowing of.

He fair could play, the piper, he tore at your heart marching there with the tune leaping up the moor and echoing across the loch, folk said that Chris Tavendale alone shed never a tear, she stood quiet, holding her boy by the hand, looking down on Blawearie's fields till the playing was over. And syne folk saw that the dark had come and began to stream down the hill, leaving her there, some were uncertain and looked them back. But they saw the minister was standing behind her, waiting for her, they'd the last of the light with them up there, and maybe they didn't need it or heed it, you can do without the day if you've a lamp quiet-lighted and kind in your heart.

 

THE END OF SUNSET SONG

 

 

 

 

CLOUD HOWE

 

 

 

To

GEORGE MALCOLM THOMSON

 

 

 

CONTENTS


Proem

I Cirrus

II Cumulus

III Stratus

IV Nimbus

 

 

NOTE

Colquohoun is pronounced Ca-hoon,
and
Segget as with one hard g.

 

 

PROEM

 

The borough of Segget stands under the Mounth, on the southern side, in the Mearns Howe, Fordoun lies near and Drumlithie nearer, you can see the Laurencekirk lights of a night glimmer and glow as the mists come down. If you climb the foothills to the ruined Kaimes, that was builded when Segget was no more than a place where the folk of old time had raised up a camp with earthen walls and with freestone dykes, and had died and had left their camp to wither under the spread of the grass and the whins--if you climbed up the Kaimes of a winter morn and looked to the east and you held your breath, you would maybe hear the sough of the sea, sighing and listening up through the dawn, or see a shower of sparks as a train came skirling through the woods from Stonehaven, stopping seldom enough at Segget, the drivers would clear their throats and would spit, and the guards would grin: as though 'twere a joke.

But God alone knows what you'd want on the Kaimes, others had been there and had dug for treasure, nothing they'd found but some rusted swords, tint most like in the wars once waged in the days when the wife of the Sheriff of Mearns, Finella she was, laid trap for the King, King Kenneth the Third, as he came on a hunting jaunt through the land. For Kenneth had done her own son to death, and she swore that she'd even that score up yet; and he hunted slow through the forested Howe, it was winter, they tell, and in that far time the roads were winding puddles of glaur, the horses splashed to their long-tailed rumps. And the men of Finella heard of his coming, as that dreich clerk Wyntoun has told in his tale:

 

As through the Mernys on a day
The kyng was rydand hys hey way
Off hys awyne curt al suddanly
Agayne hym ras a cumpany
In to the towne of Fethyrkerne
To fecht wyth hym thai ware sa yherne
And he agayne thame faucht sa fast,
Bot he thare slayne was at the last.

 

So Kenneth was dead and there followed wars, Finella's carles builded the Kaimes, a long line of battlements under the hills, midway a tower that was older still, a broch from the days of the Pictish men; there they lay and long months withstood the folk that came to avenge the death of Kenneth; and the darkness comes down on their waiting and fighting and all the ill things that they suffered and did.

The Kaimes was left bare and ruined with walls, as Iohannes de Fordun tells in his time, a Fourdoun childe him and had he had sense he'd have hidden the fact, not spread it abroad. Some kind of a cleric he was in those days, just after the Bruce drove out the English, maybe Fordoun then had less of a smell ere Iohannes tacked on the toun to his name. Well, the Kaimes lay there in Iohannes' time, he tells that the Scots folk halted there going north one night to the battle of Bara; and one man with the Scots, a Lombard he was, looked out that morn as the army roused and the bugles blew out under the hills, and he saw the mists that went sailing by below his feet, the sun came quick down either slope of a brae to a place where a streamlet ran by a ruined camp. And it moved his heart, and he thought it an omen, in his own far land there were camps like that; and he swore that if he should survive the battle he'd come back to this place and claim grant of its land.

Hew Monte Alto was the Lombard's name and he fought right well at the Bara fight, and when it was over and the Bruce made King, he asked of the Bruce the lands that lay under the Kaimes in the windy Howe. These lands had been held by the Mathers folk, but they had made peace with Edward the First and given him shelter and welcome the night he halted in Mearns as he toured the north. So the Bruce he took their lands from the Mathers and gave them to Hew, that was well content, though vexed that he came of no gentle blood. So he sent a carle to the Mathers lord to ask if he had a daughter of age for wedding and bedding; and he sent an old carle that he well could spare, in case the Mathers should flay him alive.

For the Mathers were proud as though God had made their flesh of another manure from men; but by then they had come to a right sore pass in the mouldering old castle by Fettercairn, where hung the helmet of good King Grig, who first had 'stablished the Mathers there, and made of the first of them Merniae Decurio, Captain-chief of the Mearns lands. So the old lord left Hew's carle unskinned, and sent back the message he had more than one daughter, and the Lombard could come and choose which he liked. And Hew rode there and he made his choice, and was wedded and bedded to a Mathers quean.

But short was the time that he had for his pleasure, the English again had come north to war. The Scots men gathered under the Bruce at a narrow place where a black burn ran, the pass of the Bannock burn it was. And Hew was a well-skinned man in the wars, he rode his horse lathered into the camp, and King Robert called him to make the pits and set the spiked calthrops covered with earth, traps for the charge of the English horse. So he did, and the next day came, and the English, they charged right brave and were whelmed in the pits. But Hew was slain by an English arrow as he rode unhelmed to peer at his pits.

Before he rode south he had builded a castle within the walls of the old-time Kaimes, and brought far off from his Lombard land a pickle of weavers, folk of his blood. They builded their houses down under the Kaimes in the green-walled circle of the ancient camp, they tore down the walls of that heathen place, and set their streets by the Segget burn, and drove their looms, and were well-content, though foreign and foolish and but ill-received by the dour, dark Pictish folk of the Mearns. Yet that passed in time, as the breeds grew mixed, and the toun called Segget was made a borough for sake of the Hew that fell at the Burn.

So the Monte Altos came to be Mowat, and interbred with the Mathers folk, and the next of whom any story is told is he who befriended the Mathers who joined with other three lairds against the Lord Melville. For he pressed them right sore, the Sheriff of Mearns, and the four complained and complained to the King; and the King was right vexed, and he pulled at his beard--Sorrow gin the Sheriff were sodden--sodden and supped in his brew! He said the words in a moment of rage, unthinking, and then they passed from his mind; but the lairds remembered, and took horse for the Howe.

There, as they'd planned, the four of them did, the Sheriff went hunting with the four fierce lairds, Arbuthnott, Pitarrow, Lauriston, Mathers; and they took him and bound him and carried him up Garvock, between two stones a great cauldron was hung; and they stripped him bare and threw him within, in the water that was just beginning to boil; and they watched while he slowly ceased to scraich, he howled like a wolf in the warming water, then like a bairn smored in plague, and his body bloated red as the clay, till the flesh loosed off from his seething bones; and the four lairds took their horn spoons from their belts and supped the broth that the Sheriff made, and fulfilled the words that the King had said.

They were hunted sore by the law and the kirk, the Mathers fled to the Kaimes to hide, his kinsman Mowat closed up the gates and defied the men of the King that came. So they laid a siege to the castle of Kaimes; but the burghers of Segget sent meat to the castle by a secret way that led round the hills; and a pardon came for the Mathers at last, the army withdrew and the Mathers came out, and he swore if ever again in his life he supped of broth or lodged between walls, so might any man do to himself as he had done to the Sheriff Melville.

And for long the tale of Segget grows dim till there came the years of the Killing Time, and the Burneses, James and Peter they were--were taken to Edinburgh and put to the question that they might forswear the Covenant and God. And Peter was old, in the torment he weakened, and by him his son James lay on the rack, and even when the thummikins bit right sore and Peter opened his mouth to forswear, his son was before him singing a psalm so loud that he drowned the voice of Peter; and the old man died, but James was more slow, they threw him into a cell at last, his body broken in many places, the rats ate him there while he still was alive; and maybe there were better folk far in Segget, but few enough with smeddum like his.

His son was no more than a loon when he died, he'd a little farm on the Mowat's land. But he moved to Glenbervie and there took a place, and his folk had the ups and downs of all flesh till the father of Robert Burnes grew up, and grew sick of the place, and went off to Ayr; and there the poet Robert was born, him that lay with nearly as many women as Solomon did, though not all at one time.

But some of the Burneses still bade in Segget. In the first few years of King William's reign it was one of them, Simon, that led the feud the folk of Segget had with the Mowats. For they still owned most of Segget, the Mowats, a thrawn old wife the lady was then, her sons all dead in the wars with the French; and her wits were half gone, it was seldom she washed, she was mean as dirt and she smelt to match. And Simon Burnes and the Segget minister, they prigged on the folk of Segget against her, the weaver folk wouldn't pay their rent, they made no bow when they met the old dame ride out in her carriage with her long Mowat nose.

And at last one night folk far from Segget saw a sudden light spring up in the hills; it waved and shook there all through the dark, and from far and near as the dawn drew nigh, there were parties of folk set out on the roads to see what their fairely was in the hills. And the thing they saw was the smoking Kaimes, a great bit fire had risen in the night and burned the old castle down to its roots, of the stones there stood hardly one on the other, the Segget folk swore they'd all slept so sound the thing was over afore they awoke. And that might be so, but for many a year, before the Old Queen was took to her end and the weaving entirely ceased to pay and folk went drifting away from the Mearns, there were miekle great clocks in this house and that, great coverlets on beds that lay neist the floor; and the bell that rung the weavers awake had once been a great handbell from the hall of the Mowats up on the Kaimes high hill.

A Mowat cousin was the heritor of Kaimes, he looked at the ruin and saw it was done, and left it there to the wind and the rain; and builded a house lower down the slope, Segget below, yew-trees about, and had bloodhounds brought to roam the purviews, he took no chances of innocent sparks floating up in the night from Segget. But the weavers were turning to other things now, smithying and joinering and keeping wee shops for the folk of the farms that lay round about. And the Mowats looked at the Segget burn, washing west to the Bervie flow, and were ill-content that it should go waste.

But it didn't for long, the jute trade boomed, the railway came, the two jute mills came, standing out from the station a bit, south of the toun, with the burn for power. The Segget folk wouldn't look at things, the Mowats had to go to Bervie for spinners, and a tink-like lot of creatures came and crowded the place, and danced and fought, raised hell's delight, and Segget looked on as a man would look on a swarm of lice; and folk of the olden breed moved out, and builded them houses up and down the East Wynd, and called it New Toun and spoke of the dirt that swarmed in Old Toun, round about the West Wynd.

The spinners' coming brought trade to the toun, but the rest of Segget still tried to make out that the spinners were only there by their leave, the ill-spoken tinks, with their mufflers and shawls; the women were as bad as the men, if not worse, with their jeering and fleering in Segget Square; and if they should meet with a farmer's bit wife as she drove into Segget to go to the shops, and looked neat and trig and maybe a bit proud, they'd scraich Away home, you country cow!

But the Mowats were making money like dirt. They built a new kirk when the old one fell, sonsy and broad, though it hadn't a steeple; and they lived and they died and they went to their place; and you'd hear the pound of the mills at work down through the years that brought the Great War; and that went by and still Segget endured, outlasting all in spite of the rhyme that some coarse-like tink of a spinner had made:

 

Oh, Segget it's a dirty hole,
A kirk without a steeple,
A midden-heap at ilka door,
And damned uncivil people.

 

 

 

I

CIRRUS

 

Segget was wakening as Chris Colquohoun came down the shingle path from the Manse. Here the yews stood thick, in a starlings' murmur, a drowsy cheep on the edge of the dawn; but down the dark, as you reached the door, you saw already lights twink here and there, in the houses of Segget, the spinners' wynds, a smell in the air of hippens and porridge. But she'd little heed for these, had Chris, she went quick as she looked at the eastern sky, the May air warm in her face as she turned, north, and went up the Meiklebogs road. So rutted it was and sossed with the carts that there was a saying in Segget toun: There's a road to heaven and a road to hell, but damn the road to the Meiklebogs.

But that didn't matter, she wasn't going there, in a while she turned by a path that wound, dark, a burn was hidden in the grass, over a stile to the hills beyond. And now, as she climbed swift up the slope, queer and sudden a memory took her--of the hills above the farm in Kinraddie, how sometimes she'd climb to the old Druid stones and stand and remember the world below, and the things that were done and the days put by, the fun and fear of the days put by. Was that why the Kaimes had so filled her sky the twenty-four hours she had been in Segget?

Now she was up on the lowermost ledge, it lay dark about, the old castle of Kaimes, no more than a litter of ruined walls, the earth piled high up over the stones that once were halls and men-shielded rooms. There were yews growing low in a corner outbye, they waved and moved as they heard Chris come. But she wasn't feared, she was country-bred, she wandered a little, disappointed, then laughed, at herself, to herself, and the place grew still. Maybe it thought, as did Robert Colquohoun, that her laugh was a thing worth listening for.

She felt her face redden, faint, at that, and she thought how over her face the slow blood would now be creeping, she'd once or twice watched it, bronzed and high in the cheek-bones her face, and a kindly smoulder of grey-gold eyes, she minded how once she had wished they were blue! She put up her hand to her hair, it was wet, with the dew she supposed from the dark Manse trees, it was coiled over either ear in the way she had worn it now for over two years.

She turned round then and looked down at Segget, pricked in the paraffin lights of dawn. They were going out one by one as the east grew wanly blind in the van of the sun, behind, in the hills, a curlew shrilled--dreaming up here while the world woke, Robert turning in his bed down there in the Manse, and maybe out-reaching a hand to touch her as he'd done that first morning two years ago, it had felt as though he wakened her up from the dead . . .

 

So strange it had seemed a long minute she'd lain, half feared, with his hand that touched her so. Then he'd moved, quick breathing, deep in his sleep, and the hand went away, she reached out in the dark and sought it again and held to it, shy. It was winter that morning, they both had slept late from their marriage night; and, as the winter light seeped grey into the best bedroom of Kinraddie Manse, Chris Colquohoun, who had once been married to Ewan, and before that time was Chris Guthrie, just, had lain and thought and straightened things out, like a bairn rubbing its eyes from sleep. . . . This was new, she had finished with that life that had been, all the love she had given to her Ewan, dead, lost and forgotten far off in France: her father out in the old kirkyard: that wild, strange happening that had come to her the last Harvest but one there was of the War, when she and another--but she'd not think of that, part of the old, sad dream that was done. Had that other remembered the happening at all, his last hour of all in a Flanders trench?

And she thought that maybe he had not at all, you did this and that and you went down in hell to bring the fruit of your body to birth, it was nothing to the child that came from your womb, you gave to men the love of your heart, and they'd wring it dry to the last red drop, kind, dreadful and dear, and deep in their souls, whatever the pretence they played with you, they knew it a play and Life waiting outbye.

So she lay and thought, and then wriggled a little--to think these things on her marriage-morn, the hand she held now never held so before! And she peered in his face in the light that came, his hair lay fair on the pillow's fringe, fair almost to whiteness, his skin ivory-white, she saw his brows set dark in a dream, and the mouth came set in a straight line below, she liked his mouth and his chin as well, and his ears that were small and lay flat back, so, and the hand that had tightened again in his sleep--oh! more than that, you liked all of him well, with his kisses in the night that had only just gone, his kisses, the twinkle-scowl in his eyes: And now it's to bed, but I don't think to sleep. She had laughed as well, feeling only half-shy. An awful speak, Robert, for Kinraddie's minister! and he said Don't ministers do things like that? and she'd looked at him swift, and looked quick away. Maybe, we'll see; and so they had seen.

She stretched then, softly, remembering that, warm under the quilt her own body felt queer, strange and alive as though newly blessed, and she smiled at that thought, in a way it had been, one flesh she was made with a kirk minister! Funny to think she had married a minister, that this was the Manse, that she was its mistress--oh! life was a flurry like a hen-roost at night, the doors were banging, you flew here and there, were your portion the ree or the corner of a midden you could not foretell from one night to the next.

She got from bed then and into her clothes, agile and quick, and not looking back, if ministers ate as well as they loved, Robert would be hungry enough when he woke. Down in the kitchen she came on Else Queen, ganting as wide as a stable-door, she stopped from that, the Manse's new maid, a handsome quean, and she said Hello! Chris felt the blood in the tips of her ears, she saw plain the thing in the great lump's mind. You call me Mrs. Colquohoun, you know, Else. And you get up smart in the morning as well, else we'll need another maid at the Manse.

Else went dirt-white and closed up her mouth. Yes--Mem, I'm sorry, and Chris felt a fool, but she didn't show it, and this kind of thing had just to be settled one way or the other. My name's not Mem, it's just Mrs. Colquohoun. Get the water boiling and we'll make the breakfast. What kind of a range is this that we've got?

 

That was that, and she had no trouble at all with meikle Else Queen in Kinraddie Manse, though the speak went out and about the parish that Chris Tavendale, the new minister's new wife, had grown that proud that she made her maid cry Mem! every time they met on the stairs, a fair dog's life had that poor Else Queen, it just showed you the kind of thing that happened when a creature got up a bit step in the world. And who was she to put on her airs--the daughter of a little bit farmer, just, and the wife of another, killed in the War. Ay, them that were fond of their men didn't marry as close as that on the death of the first, the Manse and the minister's silver the things that the new Mrs. Colquohoun had had in her mind.

Chris heard those stories in the weeks that went, if you bade in Kinraddie and any ill tale were told about you--and you fair had to be an angel in breeks if that weren't done and even then, faith! they'd have said there were unco things under your breeks--the very trees rose and sniggered it to you, the kye lowed the news from every bit gate. But she paid no heed, she was blithe and glad, happed in her Robert and the nearness of him, young Ewan as well, a third by the fire as they sat of a night and the storms came malagarousing the trees down the length and breadth of the shrilling Howe. Behind and far up you would hear the hills quake, Robert would raise up his head and laugh, the twinkle-scowl in his deep-set eyes--The feet of the Lord on the hills, Christine!

Ewan would look up, staring and still, Who's the Lord? and Robert would drop his great book and stare in the fire, That's a tough one, Ewan. But He's Something and sure, our Father and Mother, our End and Beginning.

Ewan's eyes would open wider at that. My mother's here and my father's dead. Robert would laugh and upset his chair. A natural sceptic--come out of that chair, there's over many of your kind already squatting their hams in the thrones of the mighty!

So the two of them would crawl round the floor and would growl, play tigers and beasts of like gurring breeds, Ewan with his coolness and graveness forgot, Robert worse than a bairn, Chris sitting and watching, a book in her hand or darning and knitting, but not often those. Robert got angered when she sat and darned. What, waste your life when you'll soon be dead? You're not going to slave for me, my girl! And she'd say But you won't like holes in your socks? and he'd laugh When they're holed we'll buy a new pair. Come out for a tramp, the storm's gone down.

And out they would tramp, young Ewan in bed, the night black under their feet as cold pitch, about them the whistle and moan of the trees till they cleared the Manse and went up by the Mains, with the smell of the dung from its hot cattle-court, and the smell of the burning wood in its lums. You'd see and hear little about you by then, just the two of you swinging up the hill in the dark, till the blow of the wind would catch in your throats as you gained by the cambered edge of the brae.

Around them, dry, the whistle of the whins, strange shapes that rose and were lost in the dark, Robert would stop and would fuss at her collar, pretending he did it to keep out the cold. But she'd grown to know him, the thing that he'd want, she'd put up her arms round close by his throat, and hug him, half-shy, she was still half-shy. He'd told her that once and Chris had been vexed, lying in his arms, for a sudden moment she had touched him with lips fierce and sudden with a flame that came up out of her heart, up out of the years when she still was unwed: and he'd gasped, and she'd laughed Do you call that shy? Then she'd been half-ashamed and yet glad as well, and fell fast asleep till the morning came, and they both woke up and looked at each other, and he said that she blushed and she hid her face and said that one or the other was a fool.

But best she minded of those night-time walks the first that took them up to the hills, a rousting night in December's close. They came at last on Blawearie's brae, and panting, looked down on the windy Mearns, the lights of Bervie a lowe in the east, the Laurencekirk gleams like a scattering of faggots, Segget's that shone as the blurring of stars, these were the lights of the jute mills there. So they stood a long while and looked down the brae, Kinraddie below them happed in its sleep; and Robert fell into a dreaming muse, as he often did, with his mind far off. Chris said nothing, content though she froze, after one peek at his stillness beside her. Queer with him here on Blawearie brae, that once was hers, if they walked down over that shoulder there they'd come to the loch and the Standing Stones to which she had fled for safety, compassion, so often and oft when she was a quean. . . .

She could smell the winter smell of the land and the sheep they pastured now on Blawearie, in the parks that once came rich with corn that Ewan had sown and they both had reaped, where the horses had pastured, their kye and their stock. And she minded the nights in the years of the War, nights such as this when she'd lain in her bed and thought of the times that would come yet again--Ewan come back and things as before, how they'd work for young Ewan and grow old together, and buy Blawearie and be happy forever.

And now she stood by a stranger's side, she slept in his bed, he loved her, she him, nearer to his mind than ever she had been to that of the body that lay mouldering in France, quiet and unmoving that had moved to her kisses, that had stirred and been glad in her arms, in her sight, that had known the stinging of rain in his face as he ploughed the steep rigs of Blawearie brae, and come striding from his work with that smile on his face, and his clumsy hands and his tongue that was shy of the things that his eyes could whisper so blithe. Dead, still and quiet, not even a body, powder and dust he with whom she had planned her life and her days in the times to be.

In a ten years' time what things might have been? She might stand on this hill, she might rot in a grave, it would matter nothing, the world would go on, young Ewan dead as his father was dead, or hither and borne, far from Kinraddie: oh, once she had seen in these parks, she remembered, the truth, and the only truth that there was, that only the sky and the seasons endured, slow in their change, the cry of the rain, the whistle of the whins on a winter night under the sailing edge of the moon--

And suddenly, daft-like, she found herself weep, quiet, she thought that she made no noise, but Robert knew, and his arm came round her.

It was Ewan? Oh, Chris, he won't grudge you me!

Ewan? It was Time himself she had seen, haunting their tracks with unstaying feet.

 

But the Spring was coming. You looked from the Manse at the hills as they moved and changed with each day, the glaur and the winter dark near gone, the green came quick and far on the peaks, the blink of the white snow-bonnets grew less, swallows were wheeling about the Manse trees, down in the fields of the Mains you could hear the click and spit of a tractor at work, far up by Upperhill parks rise the baa of the sheep they pastured now at Bridge End. It seemed to Chris when those first days came that she'd weary to death with a house and naught else, not to have fields that awaited her help, help in the seeding, the spreading of dung, the turning out of the kye at dawn, hens chirawking mad for their meat, the bustle and hurry of Blawearie's close. But now as she looked on the land so strange, with its tractors and sheep, she half-longed to be gone. It had finished with her, that life that had been, and this was her's now: books, and her Robert, young Ewan to teach, and set a smooth cloth on the Manse's table, hide in the little back room at the top and darn his socks when Robert didn't see.

He was out and about on the work of the parish, marrying this soul and burying that, christening the hopeful souls new-come to pass in their time to marriage and burial. He'd come back dead tired from a day of his work, Chris would hear him fling his stick in the hall and cry out Else, will you run me a bath? And because of those strange, dark moods she had met, Chris seldom met him now on the stairs, she'd wait till he changed and was Robert again, he'd come searching her out and tell her the news, and snatch the book from young Ewan's hand as Ewan squatted in the window-seat, reading. A prig, a bookworm! Robert would cry as he flung the book the other side of the room; and Ewan would smile in his slow, dark way, and then give a yell and they'd scuffle a while, while Chris went down and brought up the tea.

From that room you could see all Kinraddie by day and the lights of Kinraddie shine as night came, Robert would heave a great sigh as he sat and looked from Chris to Kinraddie below. Wearied? she'd ask, and he'd say, Lord, yes, and frown and then laugh: Looks everywhere that would sour the milk! But my job's to minister and minister I will though Kinraddie's kirk grows toom as its head. And would think a while, It's near that already.

 

Faith! so it was, nothing unco in that, there was hardly a kirk in the Mearns that wasn't, the War had finished your fondness for kirks, you knew as much as any minister. Why the hell should you waste your time in a kirk when you were young, you were young only once, there was the cinema down in Dundon, or a dance or so, or this racket or that; and your quean to meet and hear her complain she's not been ta'en to the Fordoun ball. You'd chirk to your horses and give a bit smile as you saw the minister swoop by on his bike, with his coat-tails flying and his wee, flat hat; and at night in the bothy some billy or other would mock the way that he spoke or moved. To hell with ministers and toffs of his kind, they were aye the friends of the farmers, you knew.

All the farmers now of Kinraddie were big, but they had as little liking as the bothy for the Reverend Colquohoun and the things he said, Would a man go up to the kirk of a Sabbath to sit down and hear himself insulted? You went to kirk to hear a bit sermon about Paul and the things he wrote the Corinthians, all of them folk that were safely dead; but Kinraddie's minister would try to make out that you yourself, that was born in Fordoun of honest folk, were a kind of Corinthian, oppressing the needy, he meant those lazy muckers the ploughmen. No, no, you were hardly so daft as take that, you would take the mistress a jaunt instead, next Sunday like or maybe the next, up the Howe to her cousin in Brechin that hadn't yet seen the new car you had bought; or maybe you'd just lie happed in your bed, and have breakfast, and read all about the divorces the English had from their wives--damn't, man! they fair had a time, those English tinks! You wouldn't bother your head on the kirk, to hell with ministers of the kind of Colquohoun, they were aye the friends of the ploughmen, you knew.

 

And Chris would stand in the choir and sing, and sometimes look at the page in her hand and think of the days when she at Blawearie had never thought of the kirk at all, over-busied living the life that was now to bother at all on the life to come. Others of the choir that had missed a service would say to her with a shy-like smile, I'm so sorry, Mrs. Colquohoun, I was late; and Chris would say that they needn't fash, if she said it in Scots the woman would think, Isn't that a common-like bitch at the Manse? If she said it in English the speak would spread round the minister's wife was putting on airs.

Robert's stipend was just three hundred pounds, when he'd first told Chris she had thought it a lot, and felt deep in her a prick of resentment that he got so much, when the folk on the land that did all the work that really was work--they got not a third, with a family thrice bigger. But soon she was finding the money went nowhere, a maid to keep and themselves forbye, this and that charity that folk expected the minister should not only help but head. And they didn't in vain, he'd have given the sark from his back, would Robert, if Chris hadn't stopped him, and syne given his vest. When he heard of a cottar that was needy or ill he'd wheel out his old bike and swoop down the roads, he rode with old brakes and they sometimes gave way, and then he would brake with a foot on the wheel, his thoughts far off as he flew through the stour, if he hadn't a broken neck it was luck. That was his way and Chris liked him for it, though she herself would as soon have thought of biking that way as of falling off the old tower by the kirk, and lippening to chance she would land on her feet.

Well, so, and most likely sparked up with glaur, he'd come to the house where the ill man lay, and knock and cry Well, are you in? and go in. And sit him down by the bed of the man, and tell him a story to make him laugh, never mention God unless he was asked, and that was seldom enough, as you knew, a man just blushed if you mentioned God. So Robert would talk of the crops and fees, and Where is your daughter fee'd to now? and The wife look fine, and I'll need to be off. And syne as he went he'd slip a pound note into the hand of the sick bit man; and he'd take it and redden up, dour, and say Thank you; and after Robert went they'd say, What's a pound? Him that gets paid as much as he does.

Chris knew that they said that kind of thing, Else told her the news as they worked in the kitchen; and she knew as well how the news went out from the Manse of every bit thing that was there--Ewan, her son, how he dressed, what he said; and the things they said and the things they sang and how much they ate and what they might drink; when they went to bed and when they got up; and how the minister would kiss his wife, without any shame, in the sight of the maid--Oh, Chris knew most and she guessed the rest, all Kinraddie knew better than she did herself how much she and Robert might cuddle in bed, and watched with a sneer for sign of a son. . . . And somehow, just once, you would hate them for that.

You knew these things, it was daft to get angry, you couldn't take a maid and expect her a saint, especially a lass from a cottar house, and Else was no worse than many another. So in time you grew used to knowing what you did--if you put your hair different or spoke sharp to Ewan or went up of an evening to change your frock--would soon be known to the whole of Kinraddie, with additional bits tacked on for a taste. And if you felt sick, once in a blue moon, faith! but the news went winged in the Howe, a bairn was coming, all knew the date, they would eye you keen as you stood in the choir, and see you'd fair filled out this last week; and they'd mouth the news on the edge of their teeth, and worry it to death as a dog with a bone.

But Chris cooked and cleaned with Else Queen to help, and grew to like her in spite of her claik, she'd tried no airs since that very first time, instead she was over-anxious to Mem! Chris couldn't be bothered in a while to stop her, knowing well as she did that in many a way she was a sore disappointment to Else.

 

In other bit places where a quean would fee, with the long-teethed gentry up and down the Howe or the poverty put-ons of windy Stonehive, the mistress would aye be glad of a news, hear this and that that was happening outbye, you'd got it direct from so and so's maid. But Mrs. Colquohoun would just listen and nod, maybe, polite enough in a way, but with hardly a yea or a nay for answer. And at first a lassie had thought the creature was acting up gentry, the minister's wife: but syne you saw that she just didn't care, not a button she cared about this place and that, and the things that were happening, the marryings and dyings, the kissings and cuddlings, the kickings and cursings, the lads that had gone and the farmers that broke; and what this cottar had said to his wife and what the wife had thrown at the cottar. And it fair was a shock, the thing wasn't natural, you made up your mind to give in your notice and go to a place where you wouldn't be lonesome.

So you'd have done if it hadn't been Ewan, the laddie that came from her first bit marriage, so quiet and so funny, but a fine little lad, he'd sometimes come down and sit in the kitchen and watch as you peeled the potatoes for dinner, and tell you things he had read in his books, and ask, What's a virgin princess like--like you, Else? And when you laughed and said Oh, but bonnier a lot, he would screw up his brows, I don't mean that, is she like you under your clothes, I mean?

You blushed at that, I suppose she is, and he looked at you calm as could be. Well, that's very nice, I am sure--so polite you wanted to give him a cuddle, and did, and he stood stock still and let you, not moving, syne turned and went out and suddenly went mad in the way that he would, whistling and thundering like a horse up the stairs, with a din and a racket to deafen a body, but fine for all that, you liked a place with a bairn at play; though not aye making a damned row, either.

So you stayed at the Manse as the summer wore on, and you liked it better, and sometimes you'd stop--when outbye or gone up home for a day--in the telling of this or that at the Manse, and be sorry you ever had started the tale. And your father would growl Ay, and what then? and you'd say, Oh, nothing, and look like a fool, and whoever was listening would be sore disappointed. But you'd minded sudden the face of the mistress, or young Ewan, polite, who thought you looked nice; and it didn't seem fair to tell stories of them.

And then, in the August, you were ill as could be, and they didn't send you off home to Segget, as most others would, to the care of your folk. Faith! you half thought as the mistress came in and dosed you with medicine and punched up your pillows and brought you your breakfast and dinner and tea, that she was well pleased to do all the work, you heard her singing washing the stairs, the minister himself went to help in the kitchen, you heard of that through the half-open door, then laugh as the mistress threw water at him and the scamper of feet as he chased her for that. When next dinner came the minister himself came in with the tray and his shirt-sleeves up, you blushed, and tried to cover your nightie, he cried, All safe, Else, you needn't be shy. I'm old and I'm married, though you're pretty enough.

And somehow you just didn't tell that outbye, folk would have said that he slept with you next. So you lay in your bed and had a fine rest but that they tormented you to read books and brought great piles to put by your bed, and themselves were so keen that you fair were fashed, they would read you out bits, the mistress or minister, sometimes them both, and you never had had patience with books in your life. You could never get in them or past the long words, some thing there was that stood fast between, though you knit up your brows and tried ever so hard.

And you'd drop the damn book when a minute was past and listen instead to the birds in the trees, as the evening drew in and they chirped in their sleep, and the low of the kye in the parks of the Mains, and see through the swinging of the casement window the light of the burning whins on the hills, smell--you smelled with your body entire--the tingle and move of the harvesting land. And then you'd be wearied and lie half asleep, wondering what Charlie was doing to-night, had he taken some other quean out to the pictures, or was sitting about at some bothy fire? And would he come to see you as he'd written he'd come?

He came that Sunday, and the mistress herself it was brought him up, he stood with his cap in his hands and he blushed, and you did the same, but the mistress didn't. Now sit down and talk and I'll bring you both tea. And off then she went, and you thought then, as often, she was bonny in a way, in a dour, queer way, with her hair dark-red and so coiled, and the eyes so clear, and the mouth like a man's, but shaped to a better shape than a man's, you stared at the door even after she'd gone, till Charlie whispered, Do you think she'll come back? And you said, No, you gowk, and peeked at him quiet, and he looked round about as slow as a sow and then cuddled you quick, and that was fair fine, and you wanted a minute to cry in his arms, because you were ill and weak and half-witted. You told yourself that and pushed him away, and he smoothed his hair and said, You're right bonny, and you said, Don't haver, and he said, Well, I don't.

The mistress and Ewan brought up the tea, then left you enough together alone for the two of you to have wedded and bedded, as you thought in a peek of a thought that came. And you looked at Charlie, he was sitting there douce, telling of his place, and the hard work there was, he'd as soon have thought ill as of dancing a jig. Like a fool you felt only half-pleased to know that, of course you didn't want anything to happen, but at least he should try to make out that he did, it was only nature a man should want that, especially if you looked as bonny as he said. So you were fell short with him in the end, and he took his leave and the mistress came up. And you suddenly felt a fool altogether, you were weeping and weeping, with her arm about you, safe you felt there and sleepy and tired. She said, It's all right, Else, sleep, you'll be fine. You're tired now and you've talked so long with your lad.

But you knew from her look she knew more than that, she knew the thing you yourself had thought; and you said to yourself when she left you that night, If I ever hear any speak ill of the Colquohouns, I'll--I'll--and afore you'd decided whether you'd blacken their eyes, or their character, or both, you fell fast asleep.

 

Sometimes a black, queer mood came on Robert, he would lock himself up long hours in his room, hate God and Chris and himself and all men, know his Faith a fantastic dream; and see the fleshless grin of the skull and the eyeless sockets at the back of life. He would pass by Chris on the stairs if they met, with remote, cold eyes and a twisted face, or ask in a voice that cut like a knife, Can't you leave me alone, must you always follow?

The first time it happened her heart had near stopped, she went on with her work in a daze of amaze. But Robert came from his mood and came seeking her, sorry and sad for the queer, black beast that rode his mind in those haunted hours. He said that the thing was a physical remembrance, only that just and Chris not to worry; and she found out that near the end of the War he'd been gassed by an awful gas that they made, and months had gone by ere he breathed well again, and the fumes of that drifting Fear were gone. And sometimes the shadows of that time came back, though his lungs were well enough now, he was sure, though 'twas in the months of his agony he'd known, conviction, terrible and keen as his pain, that there was a God Who lived and endured, the Tortured God in the soul of men, Who yet might upbuild the City of God through the hearts and hands of men of good faith.

But also Chris found it coming on Robert that here he could never do good or do ill, in a countryside that was dying or dead. One night he looked at Chris and said, Lord! But for you, Christine, I was daft to come here. I'll try for a kirk in some other place, there's work enough to be done in the towns. And thought for a while, his fair head in his hands. Would you like a town?

Chris said, Oh fine, and smiled reassurance, but she bit at her lips and he saw, and he knew. Well, then, not a town. I'll try to find something betwixt and between.

So he did ere a month was out, news came from Segget its minister was dead, Robert brought the news home: I'm to try for his kirk. And Chris said, Segget? and Robert said Yes, and Chris quoted the bit of poetry there was, somebody they said in Segget had made it:

 

Oh, Segget it's a dirty hole,
A kirk without a steeple,
A midden-heap at ilka door
And damned uncivil people.

 

Robert laughed, We'll make them both civil and clean. Chris said, But you haven't yet gotten the kirk, and he said, Just wait, for I very soon will.

Three Sundays later they set out for Segget, Robert to preach there and Chris to listen, it was April, quiet and brown in the fields, drowsy under a blanket of mist that cleared as the sun rose, leaving the hills corona'd in feathery wispings of clouds, Chris asked their name, and Robert said, Cirrus. They bring fine weather and they're standing still. There's little wind on the heights today.

And Chris on her bicycle suddenly felt young, younger far than she'd felt for years, Robert beside her on his awful bike, it made a noise like a threshing machine, collies came barking from this close and that, but Robert ground on and paid them no heed, scowling, deep in his sermon, no doubt. But once he swung round. Am I going too fast? and Chris said, Fast? It's liker a funeral, and he came from the deeps of his thoughts and laughed. Oh, Chris, never change and grow English-polite! Not even in Segget, when we settle in its Manse!

Syne he said of a sudden, a minute or so later, they were past Mondynes and Segget in sight: Do you mind how Christ was tempted of the devil? And so was I till you spoke just now, I'd made up my mind I'd butter them up, in the sermon I preached--just for the chance of getting out of Kinraddie, settled in Segget, and on with some work. Well, I won't. . . . By God, I'll give them a sermon!

 

The old minister had died of drink, fair sozzled he was, folk said, at the end; and his last words were, so the story went, And what might the feare's prices be today? No doubt that was just a bit lie that they told, but faith! he'd been greedy enough for his screw, with his long grey face and his bleary eyes and his way that he had of speaking to a man, met out in the street ordown by the Arms, as though he were booming from the pulpit itself: Why didn't I see you in the kirk last Sabbath? And a billy would redden and give a bit laugh, and look this way and that, were he one of New Toun. But more than likely, were he one of the spinners, he'd answer: Maybe because I wasn't there! in the awful twang that the creatures spoke; and go off and leave old Greig sore vexed, he'd never got over the fact that the spinners cared hardly a hoot for kirk session or kirk.

Ah well, he was a dead and a two-three came to try for his pulpit, more likely his stipend, two old men came, each buttered up Segget, you'd have thought by the way the creatures blethered the Archangel Michael could have come to Segget, and bought a shop, and felt at home as he sat at the back and sanded the sugar. Folk took that stite with a dosing of salts, then the third man came and some stories with him, 'twas the Reverend Robert Colquohoun of Kinraddie, he'd been down there only a bare two years, and half his congregation had gone, they'd go anywhere but listen to him, he was aye interfering and preaching at folk that had done him no harm, couldn't he leave them a-be? Forbye that he'd married a quean of the parish, and if there's a worse thing a minister can do than marry a woman that knows the kirk folk, it's only to suck sweeties under the pulpit in the time he's supposed to be in silent prayer.

Well, Mr. Colquohoun, he didn't suck sweets, but he did near everything else, folk said, and most of Segget, though it thronged to hear him, had no notion to vote for the creature at all.

But when he was seen stride up to the pulpit, and he leaned from the pulpit rails and he preached, the elders were first of all ta'en with his way, and the old folk next with the thing that he preached, not the mealy stuff that you'd now hear often, but meaty and strong and preached with some fire--and man! he fairly could tell a bit tale!

For he took his text from a chapter in Judges, his sermon on Gath and the things that that Jew childe Samson did, how at last the giant was bound to a pillar but he woke from the stupor and looked round about, and cried that the Philistines free him his bonds; and they laughed and they feasted, paying him no heed, sunk in their swing-like glaurs of vice. Their gods were idols of brass and of gold, they lived on the sweat and the blood of men, crying one to the other, Behold, we are great, we endure, and not earth itself is more sure. Pleasure is ours, and the taste of lust, wine in our mouths and power in our hands; and the lash was heard on the bowed slave's back, they had mercy on neither their kith nor their kin.

And Samson woke and looked round again, he was shorn of his hair, bound naked there, in the lights of the torches, tormented and chained. And then sudden the Philistines felt the walls rock and they looked them about and saw the flames wave, low and sharp in a little wind; and again about them the great hall groaned, and Samson tore down the pillars of the roof, and the roof fell in and slew him and them. . . . And Samson was rising again in our sight, threatening destruction unless we should change, and free both him and the prisoners chained in the littered halls of our secret hearts.

And maybe it was because it was Spring, new-come, the sun a long, drowsy blink in the kirk, and folk heard the voice of the Reverend Colquohoun like the wind they'd hear up under the hills, fine and safe as they listened below, and who could be mean by Samson but them, ground down by the rents they'd to pay the Mowats? Maybe it was that and maybe it was because folk aye had prided themselves in Segget in taking no heed of what others said, that they licked up the sermon like calves at a cog; and a fair bit crowd watched Robert Colquohoun, him and his wife, she seemed decent and quiet, mount on their bikes and ride home to Kinraddie.

 

Robert said to Chris, That's the end of my chance. But I'm glad I preached what I felt and thought. But Chris had a clearer vision than his, They liked the sermon and I think they liked you. They hadn't a notion what the sermon meant--themselves the Philistines and someone else Samson.

Robert stared. But I made it plain as plain. Chris laughed, To yourself; anyhow, we'll see. And they rode to Kinraddie, and the days went by, Robert didn't believe he would head the leet. But he found out, for fun, all he could about Segget, from papers and Else and lists and old books, there was less than a thousand souls in Segget, and most of them lost, if you trusted Else.

Half of the Segget folk worked at the mills--the spinners, as the rest of Segget called them; the others kept shops or were joiners or smiths, folk who worked on the railway, the land, the roads, and the gardens of Segget House. Robert found an old map of the place and renewed it, playing as a boy with a toy town.

Chris leaned on his chair and looked over his shoulder, his fingers nimble in limning New Toun (where the folk had gone when the spinners came), Old Toun and its winding jumble of lanes that bunched and clustered around the West Wynd. South was the Arms, in the Segget Square, the East Wynd dotted with a joiner's, a school, a tailor's shop, a grocery, a sutor's--and the Lord knows what, Robert said as his pen swopped down the Wynd to the Segget Square. Then it wheeled about and went up The Close to the post-office-grocery-shop combined, dotted the Segget smiddy beyond, and syne lost itself in the Segget slums. . . . Chris saw on the northern outskirts of Segget two dots for the Manse and the steepleless kirk, and over to the west another one still, Segget House, where the Mowats lived, the old mill-owner, new-dead, said Else, and his son, young Stephen at an English college.

And Robert would whistle as he looked at his map--What mightn't a minister do in Segget, with the help of young Mowat or the folk of the schools? And sutors are atheists, bound to have brains, and extremely religious, all atheists are. One could do great things with a village League. . . .

Then he would laugh, Just playing with bricks! Ewan, where are those toys you've outgrown?

The news that he'd topped the leet at the poll was brought to Robert by an elder of Segget, it was Else who opened the door for the creature, she knew him well, but she didn't let on. It was wee Peter Peat, the tailor of Segget, his shop stood mid-way the wind of Easy Wynd, with his house behind it, he thought it a castle. And he spoke right fierce, and he'd tell a man, before you were well in the lithe of his door, that he made a fine neighbour to those that were good, the best of friends to his friends, he was, but God pity the man that fell out with him, he'd never forgive an injury, never. And he was the biggest Tory in Segget, the head of the Segget Conservative branch, and an awful patriot, keen for blood; but he'd loup in his shoes as he heard his wife, Meg Peat that was slow and sonsy to look at, come into the shop, she'd cry Peter, I'm away. Mind the fire and have tea set ready; and he'd quaver, Ay, Meg, like an ill-kicked cur. But soon's she was gone he'd look fierce as ever, ready to kill you and eat you forbye, and running his tape up and down your bit stomach as though he were gutting you and enjoying it.

Well, here he was standing, fierce as a futret. Is the Reverend Mr. Colquohoun indoors? And Else said, I'll see; what name shall I tell him? And he said Gang and tell him Peter Peat's here.

Else went and found the minister in his study, and the minister said Peat? and looked at the mistress; and the mistress smiled in the quiet way she had, and shook her head, and the minister shook his. Still, kindling or peat, I suppose I'd best see him!

Else went down the stairs to where Peter stood. Come in, and wipe your feet on the mat. He looked as though he'd have liked to wipe them on her, but he came in, fierce in his five feet two, the minister was waiting and rose when he came. I've come from Segget, Else heard the thing say, and the minister answer as she closed the door, Oh, yes? Well, won't you sit down, Mr. Peat?

And then, half an hour or so after that, Chris heard the closing of the Manse front door and syne the scamper of feet on the stairs, she thought it was Ewan come in from his play. But instead it was Robert, he burst into the room, his face was flushed and he caught her arms, and plucked her up from the chair she sat in, and danced her half round the great-windowed room. She gasped, What is't? and he said What, that? Peter Peat, the tailor of Segget, of course. Then he dropped in the chair from which he had plucked her, and sat there panting, still holding her hands. Christine, you're now looking at Segget's minister. And he's promised that never as long as he lives he'll pray for All-but the Prince of Wales!

 

He told the story he'd gotten from Peter, and Chris heard it later amended by Else, a warning that folk in a pulpit speak plain. He was fell religious, wee Peter Peat, an elder of the kirk and twice every Sunday he'd nip up and down the pews with the bag; and look at you sharp to see what you put in. And once he cried out to Dalziel of Meiklebogs, that was stinking with silver but fair was right canny. No, no, I'll not have a button from you! And Meiklebogs reddened like a pig with rash, and dropped a half-crown in the bag by mistake, he was so took aback and affronted-like. That was back a good while, in the days of old Nichols, the last minister but one, he was, as proud and stuck-up as a hubbley-jock, English, and he never learned to speak right; and his prayers at first had fair maddened Peat. For when he came to the bit about Royalty, and he'd pray for the birn with might and with main, he'd finish up And all but the Prince of Wales!

Now Peat he was Tory and fond of the Prince, he went home to his wife in a fair bit stew, What the hell ails him at the Prince of Wales that he blesses all but him, I would like to know? And at last he tackled old Nichols on the matter, and the creature gave a bit sniftering laugh, and said to Scotch ears he supposed that All-but was how it sounded when he said Albert. And he spoke this slow, in a sneering bit way, as though he thought Scotch ears were damn poor ears, mostly bad in the need of a clean--when manners were being given out he hadn't even the manners to stay and receive his, Peter Peat said.

 

Chris woke on the morning of the move to Segget with a start of fear she had over-slept. It was May, and the light came round about five, red and gold and a flow of silver down the parks that she knew so well, she got from bed at the very first blink. Robert yawned and sat up and remembered the day, and dived for his clothes, no bath this morning she told him as each struggled into clothes. He said, Ah well, I'm not very foul, and she thought that funny, and giggled and tangled her hair with her dress; and he said, Let me help, and his help was a hinder, it was only an excuse to take her and kiss her, this day of all!

She pushed him away at last and he went, whistling, two steps at a time down the stair, Chris heard Else moving already in the kitchen and when she got down found breakfast near ready, and Else all excitement, and young Ewan up, his knickers pulled on the wrong way in his hurry. She'd to alter that and try answer his questions, and run to help Robert with the very last kist, full up to the brim with books and suchlike; and he swore at the thing and Chris sat on the top, and Ewan came running and jumped there as well, and it closed with a bang, and they all of them cheered.

They sat down to breakfast, famished already. Suddenly Else came running in--Mem, it's started to rain! with her face as though it were raining ink, and thick ink forbye. So Chris had to quiet her, and see Ewan ate, and Robert forbye, excited as Else. Then they heard down the road the burr of a lorry, and Else came again: It's Melvin from Segget.

So it was, they'd hired him to do the Manse flitting, and had heard his character redd up by Else. He kept the only hotel in Segget, the Segget Arms that stood in the Square, the other inn down at the foot of West Wynd had been closed when the local option came. Will Melvin had been right well pleased over that, he said if this was their Prohibition, then he for one was all for the thing. He'd a face like a cat, broad at the eyes, and he'd spit like a cat whenever he spoke; he aye wore a dickey and a high, stiff collar and a leather waistcoat, and leggings and breeks, and he drove the two cars on hire in Segget, and carted folks' coals and attended the bar when Jim the potman, that folk called The Sourock, was down with the awful pains in his wame.

Will Melvin had married fell late in life, an Aberdeen woman, right thin and right north, she kept a quick eye on the bar and the till. And if she heard a billy give a bit curse, as a spinner or a cottar might do from outbye, knowing no better, they weren't Segget folk, she'd cry out sharp in the thin Aberdeen: None of your Blasting and Blaspheming in here. So folk called her the Blaster and Blasphemer for short, and if thoughts could have burned she'd have needed to go and take out a life insurance for fire.

Well, here was Will Melvin, he sat in the kitchen, but got to his feet when Chris came in. Good morning, Mem, and Chris said Good morning, and he asked, Will I start then to load her up? meaning the lorry, Chris saw, not herself. And he said he had Muir, the gravedigger, to help, and Chris called in Robert, and he came and scowled because he was thinking of some other thing. But he said, Hello, then, are we all ready? Would you like a dram before we begin? Will Melvin said, genteel, Just a drop, and would have sat and waited for the dram by himself but that Chris asked, Isn't there another with you?

So John Muir was brought in from his seat in the lorry, he was big and cheery and buirdly, John Muir, a roadman of Segget, and the two had their dram, and John Muir as he drank began to tell them of the awful time he'd once had with a grave. He'd aye a horror of premature burial, a fell few there were that were buried like that, when you dug up the coffins of folk of old time and the boards fell agley you would sometimes see, through the shrouds, the bones all bulging and twisted, the creatures had struggled down there in the earth, not dead at all, gasping for breath. . . .

Well, he'd been thinking of that one night as he went to dig a new grave by the kirk, it was windy weather on the winter's edge. He'd only finished digging the hole, and turned about, and straightened his back, when the earth gave way and his feet as well. Next minute his head went over his heels and flat in a puddle of red earth he went, right down at the bottom of the grave he had dug, his head half-jammed in under his shoulder. He nearly fainted with the awful shock, syne cried for help as loud as he could. But he heard long nothing, it was winter time, the light was waning up on the hills, he looked up and knew before long he'd be dead. And he cried again and as luck would have it the old minister heard his bit yowl, and came canny and slow down through the graves, and looked in the hole where John Muir was lying. And he said: Who is't? and John Muir was sore vexed. Oh, we've been introduced, he cried back, so stand on no ceremony--damn't, get a ladder!

Maybe that was why he still gleyed that way and went with a kind of twist to his shoulder, Chris thought; but Robert just laughed and looked at his watch. Well, this is a flitting, not yet a funeral. John Muir set down his glass and gleyed cheery. Ah, well, it'll end in that, come time, you'd have thought he had something wrong with his stomach. But he gleyed at Chris cheery as a cock on a ree, and fell to with a will, him and Will Melvin, and carried out tables and presses and chairs, and kists and beds and boxes of dishes, and piled them up till the lorry groaned. Will Melvin near did the same at the sound and went spitting around like a startled cat. Then they drove off, Robert went with them to help, Else went as well in the back of the lorry, clasping the best tea-set to herself, and giving young Ewan a wave as she went.

The rain had cleared and Chris watched the lorry lurch down by the Mains in the flare of the sun, they'd got a fine day after all for the flitting. She liked John Muir, if not Melvin much; but then it was daft to judge folk at first sight. Young Ewan came running and asked for a piece, they sat together in the half-tirred rooms, and ate some biscuits and looked at each other, with the bizz of a fly on the stripped window-panes. Ewan asked why they were moving to Segget. Chris tried to tell him, and he listened, polite, and then went out and drowsed in the grass till he heard the lorry returning from Segget.

They loaded up the last of the stuff, John Muir climbed gleying up in its midst, and Chris locked the door and left the key for the folk of the Mains to come up and get, hid in a little hole in the wall. Then she went to the lorry where Melvin was waiting, young Ewan beside him, and climbed in as well; and the lorry wound out through the bending of yews where long, long ago the knight Wallace had hidden as the English were looking for him in the wars.

They saw not a soul as they passed the Mains, then they swung out into the road that led south; and so as they went Chris turned and looked back, at Kinraddie, that last time there in the sun, the moors that smoothed to the upland parks Chae Strachan had ploughed in the days gone by, the Knapp with no woods to shelter it now, Upperhill set high in a shimmer of heat, Cuddiestoun, Netherhill--last of them all, high and still in the hill-clear weather, Blawearie up on its ancient brae, silent and left and ended for you; and suddenly, daft, you couldn't see a thing.

 

But that went by, Chris glad to be gone; and the lorry switched from the main road's ribbon up by the old thatched toun of Culdyce, and she saw the Howe, spread out like a map, there was Drumlithie down in its hollow, a second Segget, but steepled enough. Mondynes that stood by the Bervie Water, Fettercairn, where the soldiers of the widow Finella had lain in wait to mischieve King Kenneth. All the parks were set with their hoeing squads, four, five, at a time they swung by the drills, here and there the hindmost man would stop, and straighten up slow, a hand at his back, to look at the lorry--who's could it be? And all the long line would straighten up, slow, and catch a glimpse of Chris, in her blue, and young Ewan in his, with his straight, black hair.

And there, as they swung by the Meiklebogs farm, the hills to the right, at last lay Segget, a cluster and crawl of houses white-washed, the jute-mills smoking by Segget Water, the kirk with no steeple that rose through the trees, the houses of the spinners down low on the left, though Chris didn't know that these were their houses. Then the lorry puffed up to the old kirk Manse, on the fringe of Segget, and Chris saw the lawn piled in a fair hysteria of furniture. She jumped down and stood a minute at gaze, in the shadows, the shadows the new yews flung, the grass seemed blue in the blaze of the heat.

Then as Melvin backed back the lorry and Ewan went running out over the lawn to the door, Robert came out and saw Chris and waved, and was pleased as though they'd been parted a year. He dropped the end of the press he'd picked up, near dropped it down on the toes of Muir (who gleyed as cheery as though 'twas a coffin) and cried to Chris, Come and see the new study. And nothing could content him but up she must go, leaving Melvin below to glower after the gowks.

Then two men came taiking up the Manse drive, Dalziel of the Meiklebogs and one of his men, Robert went down to see who they were. Dalziel said, Ay, you'll be the minister? and smiled, he was bad in the need of a shave, of middle height though he looked a lot less, so broad in the shoulders, hands like hams; and he smiled slow and shy with his red, creased face, and he said that he'd seen the lorries go by, and he knew right well the sore job it was to do a flitting without much help. And all the time he was smiling there, shy, he looked to Chris like a Highland bull, with his hair and his horns and maybe other things: there was something in his shyness that made her shiver. Beside him Robert seemed like a boy from school, thin and tall with his slim, thin face; and back of Robert was Else as she looked, not slim at all but big and well-made, her head flung back in that way she had and a look on her face as much as to say, Good Lord, what's this that has come to us now?

Then they all fell to carrying in the Manse gear, and Chris fled here and there in the house, a great toom place that shambled all ways, there were stairs that started and suddenly finished and steps that crumbled away into gloom, down to old cellars that never were used. And sometimes you'd think you would come to a room, and you didn't, you came slap-bang on another, the windows fast-closed and stiff with the heat. Chris told where and how to place all the things, and Meiklebogs and Else carried up the beds, and set them together, Chris heard Else give orders and Meiklebogs answer, canny and shy, You'll be the new minister's bit maidie? Else said, There's damn the MAIDIE about me; and Chris didn't hear more, but she guessed a bit.

John Muir came to her and asked where to put a press and a bed and some other things she'd brought from Blawearie the first flit she made. And she didn't know, in that crowding of rooms, till he said, Would you maybe like the gear altogether? and she said, Just that, in a small-like room. So he carried the bed up and back through the Manse, to a high-built room, it was three stairs up. The place was so lost that the cleaners had missed it, there were cobwebs looped from the walls like twine. But through the window, when you swung it out wide, you saw sudden hills rise up in your face, with below you the roll of long, grass-grown mounds. John Muir let down the bed with a bang, the great heavy bed that had once been her father's. Chris asked him what were the ruins up there, and he said, You've heard of the Kaimes of Segget?

Chris leaned from the window and looked to the west. And what's that to the left, that hiddle of houses?--Where the spinners bide, he told her, she stared, she had thought them abandoned byres or pig-sties. But Muir just gleyed and said they were fine--good enough for the dirt that's in them. If you gave good houses to rubbish like them, they'd have them pig-rees in a damn short while. They're not Segget folk, the spinners, at all.

Chris said Oh! and looked at him, quiet, then they went down to bring up the rest; and there was Meiklebogs met on the stair, smiling shy at that sumph of a maid. And John Muir thought, You'd think he'd have quieted by now. A man that can't keep off the women by the time he's reaching to sixty or so should be libbed and tethered in a cattle-court.

Near twelve they'd the most of the furniture in, all but a long table brought from the north, from the Manse of Robert Colquohoun's old father, solid and oak and a hell of a weight. And then Else called that the dinner was ready, Chris said they all must stay and have dinner. Robert said Let's eat it out on this table.

So Else served them the dinner in the shade of the yews, and sat down herself when she'd finished with that, Meiklebogs waiting to see where she sat, and sitting down next with a shy-like smile. Robert came out, getting into his coat, and stood at the end of the table a minute and bent his head, fair in the sunny weather, and said the grace, the grace of a bairn; and they bent and listened, all but young Ewan:

 

God bless our food,
And make us good.
And pardon all our sins,
For Jesus Christ's sake.

 

Then they all ate up, Muir, Melvin, and Meiklebogs, and the fee'd man that blushed and was shy, not just looked it. Chris liked him best, with that sudden compassion that always came on her as she looked at one of his kind--that conviction that he and his like were the REAL, they were the salt and savour of earth. She heard him, shy-like, say Ay, I've a spoon, as Else was asking, and knew by the way that he mouthed the spoon that he came from the North, as she did herself. And faith! so he did, like her 'twas from Echt, and he knew fine the place where once she had bidden. Cairndhu in the Barmekin's lithe. And he fair buckled up and he lost his shyness, Ay, then, you're a Guthrie? and she said that she was, and he said that they minded him long up in Echt, John Guthrie, her father, the trig way he farmed: and Chris felt herself colour up with sheer pleasure, her father could farm other folk off the earth!

Then she fell in a dream as she heard them talk, the rooks were cawing up in the yews, and you thought how they'd fringed your pattern of life--birds, and the waving leafage of trees: peewits over the lands of Echt when you were a bairn with your brother Will, and the spruce stood dark in the little woods that climbed up the slopes to the Barmekin bend; snipe sounding low on Blawearie loch as you turned in unease by the side of Ewan, and listened and heard the whisp of the beech out by the hedge in the quiet of the night; and here now rooks and the yews that stood to peer in the twisty rooms of the Manse. How often would you know them, hear them and see them, with what things in your heart in what hours of the dark and what hours of the day, in all the hours lying beyond this hour when the sun stood high and the yew-trees drowsed?

But she shook herself and came out of her dream, back to the table and the sun on the lawn, daft to go prowling those copses of night where the sad things done were stored with the moon. Here was the sun, and here was her son, Ewan, and Robert, the comrade of God, and those folk of Segget she had yet to know, and all the tomorrows that waited her here.

 

But that night she had slept in fits and in starts, waking early in that strange, quiet room, by the side of Robert, sleeping so sound. Then it was the notion had suddenly arisen, to come up to the Kaimes, as here she was now, watching the east grow pale in the dawn.

Pale and so pale: but now it was flushed, barred sudden with red and corona'd with red, as though they were there, the folk who had died, and the sun came washed from the sea of their blood, the million Christs who had died in France, as once she had heard Robert preach in a sermon. Then she shook her head and that whimsy passed, and she thought of Robert--his dream just a dream? Was there a new time coming to the earth, when nowhere a bairn would cry in the night, or a woman go bowed as her mother had done, or a man turn into a tormented beast, as her father, or into a bullet-torn corpse, as had Ewan? A time when those folk down there in Segget might be what Robert said all men might be, companions with God on a terrible adventure? Segget: John Muir, Will Melvin, Else Queen; the folk of the grisly rees of West Wynd--

Suddenly, far down and beyond the toun there came a screech as the morning grew, a screech like an hungered beast in pain. The hooters were blowing in the Segget Mills.

 

 

II

CUMULUS

 

Crossing the steep of the brae in the dark, by the winding path from the Manse to the Kaimes, Chris bent her head to the seep of the rain, the wet November drizzle of Segget. Then she minded a wall of the Kaimes still stood, and ran quick up the path to stand in its lee. That gained, she stood and panted a while, six months since she'd been up here in the Kaimes--only six months, she could hardly believe it!

It felt like years--long and long years--since she'd worked as a farmer's wife in Kinraddie. Years since she'd felt the beat of the rain in her face as she moiled at work in the parks. How much had she gained, how much had she lost?--apart from her breath, she had almost lost that!

She felt the wall and then leant against it, wrapped in her ulster, looking at Segget, in its drowse of oil-lamps under the rain. Safe anyhow to go home this time. . . . And she smiled as she minded last time she had climbed to the Kaimes, and Segget had seen her go home--by the tale they told all Segget had seen her and stared astounded, a scandalled amaze--

 

But indeed, it was only Ag Moultrie that morning, as ill-luck would have it, who saw her go home. She had gone out early to the school to redd up, she went heavy with sleep and her great mouth a-agant, as you well might believe, though he didn't tell that. Folk knew her fine, all the Moultries forbye. Rob Moultrie had once been the saddler of Segget, his shop lay down by the edge of the Square. And as coarse an old brute as you'd meet, was Rob Moultrie, though a seventy years old and nearing his grave. 'Twas only a saddler's shop in name now, the trade had clean gone this many a year. There was still a britchen or so in the shop, and a fine bit bridle Rob Moultrie had made in the days long syne when he still would work. But his trade had gone, and his sweirty had come, he was never a popular man in the toun; he couldn't abide the sight of the gentry, or the smell of the creatures either, he said, and that was why he was Radical still.

And if he went on a dander somewhere, along the road and he'd hear a car, toot-tooting behind him, would he get off the road? Not him, he'd walk on bang in the middle, dare any damn motorist try run him down. So sometimes he'd come back to Segget from a walk, step-stepping cannily along the bit road, with a two-three motorists hard at his heels, toot-tooting like mad, and the shovers red-faced. Mrs. Moultrie would be looking from the window and see, and cry as he came, Losh, Rob, you'll be killed! And he'd stop and glower at her with his pocked old face, and his eyes like the twinkling red eyes of a weasel, and sneer, the old creature, shameful to hear. Ay, that would be fine--no doubt you'd get up to your old bit capers. Get out of my way! And he'd lift his stick, maybe more than do that, syne hirple over to his armchair, and sit there and stare in the heart of the fire or turn to the reading of his old bit Bible.

For he'd never forgiven Jess Moultrie, the fact that more than a forty years before, when he'd met her and married her, she'd been with a bairn. She told how it was before she would marry, and he'd glowered at her dour: More fool that I am. But I'm willing to take you and your shame as well. And he took her, and the bairn was born, young Ag, no others came and maybe that was why he still kept up the sneer at his wife. But she would say nothing she was patient and bowed, little, with a face like a brown, still pool; and she'd say not a word, getting on with her work, making ready the supper for Ag when she came.

She cleaned out the school and the hall and such places, did Ag, and in winter made the school broth, as nasty a schlorich as ever you'd taste. She looked like a horse ta'en out of a plough, and her voice was a neigh like a horse's as well, and she'd try to stand up for her mother with old Rob. Don't speak that way to my mother! she would cry, and he'd look at her dour, Ay, ay, no doubt she's precious in your sight. You had only one mother, though three or four fathers; and Ag more than likely would start to greet then, she wasn't a match for the thrawn old brute, though a good enough one for most other folk. And faith! she'd a tongue for news that was awful. Ake Ogilvie called her the Segget Dispatch, she knew everything that happened in Segget, and a lot that didn't, but she liked best to tell of births and funerals and such-like things; and how the daughter of this or that corpse no sooner looked on the dead than broke down--and fair roared and grat when she saw him there. So folk called her the Roarer and Greeter for short.

Well, then, it was her, to get on with the tale, as she blinked her way in that morning in May, saw a woman come down the hill from the Kaimes, and stopped dumbfoundered: Who could she be?

Ag was real shocked, for the Kaimes was the place where spinners and tinks of that kind would go, of a Sabbeth evening, and lie on the grass and giggle and smoke and do worse than that--Ay, things that would leave them smoking in hell, as the old minister said that they would. So no decent folk went up there at night, this creature of a woman was surely a tink. And Ag gave a sniff, but was curious forbye, and crept canny along in the lithe of the dyke that hemmed in the lassies' playground from the lads'. So she waited there till the woman went by, hurrying bare-headed, with a stride and a swing and a country-like gait. And then Ag Moultrie near fainted with joy, though she didn't tell you that when she told you the story, she saw that the woman was Mrs. Colquohoun, the wife of the new minister of Segget.

Well, afore the day was well started all Segget had heard that the wife of the new minister had been seen by Ag Moultrie up on the Kaimes, she'd been out all night with a spinner up there, Ag had seen them cuddling and sossing in the grass. Folk said, By God, she's wasted no time; and who would the spinner have been, would you say? Old Leslie heard the story in the smiddy and he said the thing was Infernal, just. Now, he minded when he was a loon up in Garvock--And the sweat dripped off him, pointing a coulter, and he habbered from nine until loosening-time, near, some story about some minister he'd known; but wherever that was and why it had been, and what the hell happened, if anything ever had, you couldn't make head nor tail if you listened; and you only did that if you couldn't get away.

Old Leslie was maybe a fair good smith: he was sure the biggest old claik in Segget. He'd blether from the moment you entered his smiddy, he'd ask how the wife and the bairns all were, and your brother Jock that was down in Dundon, and your sister Jean that was in a sore way, and your father that was down with the colic or the like, and your grandfather, dead this last fifty years.

And syne he'd start on your cousins, how they were, and your uncles and aunts and their stirks and their stots, their maids and all that were in their gates: till your hair would be grey and your head fair dizzy at the thought you'd so many relations at all. And his face would sweat like a dripping tap as he hammered at the iron and habbered at you and then he'd start some story of the things he'd done or seen or smelt when a loon up in Garvock, and the day would draw in, the night would come on, and the stars come out, he'd have shod all your horses and set all the coulters and you near were dead for lack of some meat; but that damned story wouldn't have finished, it would be going on still with no sign of an end, he'd start it the next time he saw you or heard you, though you were at the far side of a ten-acre field--as you took to your heels and run.

Well, about the only soul that couldn't do that was his son, Sim Leslie, the policeman of Segget. He had joined the police and had been sent back to Segget, and still bade with his father, he was used to the blether: and folk said if he listened with a lot of care, for a twenty years or so at a stretch, he at least might find out what really had happened that time when his father was a loon up on Garvock. Folk called him Feet, Sim Leslie the bobby, he'd feet so big he could hardly coup, there was once he was shoeing a horse in the smiddy, an ill-natured brute from the Meiklebogs; and the creature lashed out at him fair and square and caught him such a clour on the chest as would fair have flattened any ordinary man. But young Sim Leslie just rocked a wee bit, his feet had fair a sure grip on Scotland.

Well, Feet heard the story of Mrs. Colquohoun, from his father, as the two of them sat at dinner. And he kittled up rare, there was something in this, and maybe a chance of promotion at last. So he went and got hold of Ag Moultrie, the sumph, and pulled out his notebook with his meikle red fingers, and asked was she sure 'twas the minister's wife? And Ag said Ay, and Feet made a bit note; and then he seemed stuck, and he said, You're sure? And Ag said Ay, I'm as sure as death. Feet made another note, and scratched at his head, and swayed a bit in his meikle black boots. It fair was her? And Ag said Ay, and by then it seemed just about dawning on Feet it really was her and nobody else.

But Ag was real vexed, as she told to folk, she hadn't wanted to miscall a soul, God knows I'm not a body to claik; and she said when she'd finished with Feet and his questions she went home and sat down and just Roared and Grat, so sorry she was for the new minister. And she'd tell you some more how the woman had looked, her face red-flushed, with a springy walk; and if you were married you well could guess why all of that was--damn't man, 'twas fairly a tasty bit news!

That night Feet went up and prowled round the Manse, with his bull's-eye held in his hand and his feet like the clopping of a Clydesdale heard on the ground. He didn't know very well what he was there for, or what he would say if Mrs. Colquohoun saw him; but he was awful keen on promotion. And he said he was fine at detective-work, like, and if honest merit were given its reward they'd make him a real detective ere long. And Ake Ogilvie said in his tink-like way A defective, you mean? God, ay, and certificated!

Well, Feet had prowled round to the back of the Manse, and had stopped to give his head a bit scratch; when sudden the window above him opened and afore he could move there came a bit splash and a pailful of water was slung down his back. He spluttered and hoasted and his lamp went out, when he came to himself he was shaking and shivering, but the Manse was silent and still as the grave. He thought for a while of arresting the lot--ay, he would in the morning, by God; and turned and went home, running home stretches to change his bit sark, in case he might catch a cold from his wetting.

And, would you believe it, next day as he sat in his office writing up his reports, his mother said, Here's a woman to see you. And Feet looked up and he knew the quean, Else Queen, the maid at the Manse it was; 'twas said she'd been brought up as a lassie in Segget, though her father had moved to Fordoun since then, now she was fair a great brute of a woman, with red eyes and hair, and cheeks of like tint. And she said, Are you Feet? and Feet reddened a bit. I'm Simon Leslie the policeman of Segget.--Well, I'm the person that half-drowned you last night; and I've come to tell you when you want the same, just prowl round the Manse at such a like hour.

And she didn't stop only at Feet then, either. She made for Ag Moultrie and told her the same, she would have her sacked from her job at the school; and Ag broke down and just Roared and Grat, she said he'd never said an ill word of any, but what was the minister's wife doing on the Kaimes? Looking at the hills and the sunrise, you fool. Did you never hear yet of folk that did that? And Ag said she hadn't; and who ever had? Folk shook their heads when they heard that tale, if the woman at the Manse wasn't fair just a bitch, damn't! you could only suppose she was daft.

 

Dite Peat heard the story and fair mocked at Feet. What, you that were once in the barracks? he said, and lived in Dundon, and can't manage a woman? And he told a story, 'twas down in the Arms, about how once when he was living in London he'd come here, he said, on a leave from the Front, he hired a bit lodging near Waterloo.--And old Leslie that was standing by said Eh? Would that be the place the battle was at? and Dite Peat said, Oh, away to hell, a coarse way to speak to an old bit man.--Well, Dite had put up in his London room, he saw the landlady was a gey bit quean, fair young and fair sonsy, her man at the Front. And he tried this way and that to get round her, keen for a woman but not a damn fool like some that come back on leave from the Front, they'd spend all their silver on whores, but not Dite, he wanted a gratis cuddle and squeeze.

Well, he waited and waited about for a bit, and half-thought of getting the woman at night, she was only English and they're tinks by nature, it wasn't as though she was decent and Scotch. But she locked up her door and went early to bed till there came one night that he heard her scraich, and he louped from his bed and he went to the door, and there she was standing down in the hall, in her night-gown, the tink, and white as a sheet. She'd a telegram held in her hands as she stood, and was gowking and gobbling at the thing like a cow, choked on the shaws of a Mearns swede. And Dite called down What's wrong with you, then? and she laughed and laughed as she looked up at him, she was young, with a face like a bairn, a fool, white, with no guts; like the English queans. And she said Oh, it's just that my husband's dead, and laughed and laughed, and Dite licked his lips, it fair was a chance, he saw it and took it.

Well, she wasn't so bad, but far over-thin; and God! she was fair a scunner with her laughing, every now and then she would laugh like an idiot, he supposed that the English did that in their pleasure. So he took her a clour or so in the lug, to learn her manners, and that quietened her down. Oh ay, she was tasty enough in her way.

Some folk in the Arms asked what happened next, did he bide there long? Dite said Damn the fears, I nipped out next morning, afore she awoke. She might have tried on to get me to marry her. And he went on to tell what tinks were the English, they'd rob right and left if you gave them the chance. He gave them damn few, but once out in France--

That fair was a sickener, you put down your glass, or finished the dram and rose up and went out; and Will Melvin looked mad as he well could look, Dite sitting and telling a story like that, sickening customers away from their drinks. But you couldn't do much with a billy like Dite, a dangerous devil when he got in a rage. He looked a tink though he kept a shop, he and his brother, wee Peter the tailor hadn't spoken for years, though they lived next door. His father had lived with Dite till he died, Dite saw to that dying, some said helped it on.

The old man had been one of the roadmender childes, he worked with old Smithie and that fool John Muir, he'd come back with his wages at the end of the week and maybe he'd have spent a shilling on tobacco. And soon's he saw that Dite Peat would fly up and take him a belt in the face, most like, and send him to bed without any meat; and as he lay dying the old man cried to see his other son, wee Peter, the tailor. But Dite snapped Be quiet, damn you and your wants. You'll see him in hell soon enough with yourself.

That was hardly the way to speak to your father, him dying and all; and some folk stopped then going to his shop, spinners and the like, they said Dite should be shot; and collected below his windows one night and spoke of taking him out for a belting. But Feet, the policeman, came up and cried Now, you'll need to be moving if you're standing about here; and the spinners forgot the thing they'd come on, and took to tormenting the bobby instead, they carried him down the Drumlithie road and took off his breeks and filled him with whisky; and left the poor childe lying drunk in the ditch; and went back and fairly raised hell in the Arms, the Blaster and Blasphemer near scraiched herself hoarse, the spinners had new got a rise in their pay.

Ah well, that was how Dite Peat had escaped, spinners and their like wouldn't trade with him now, though most other folk weren't foolish as that. You went on as before and waited the time when he and Ake Ogilvie would yet get to grips, Ake hated Dite Peat as a dog hates a rat.

 

Chris found it took nearly a fortnight to settle, the whole of the Manse wanted scrubbing and cleaning, she and Else Queen were at it all hours, Robert laughed and locked himself in his room. But he came out to help rig the curtains on rods, both he and Else were handy and tall, they spent the most of one long afternoon tacked up to the walls like flies in glue; and Chris handed up rods and curtains and pictures, and this and that, and hammers and nails; and Else and Robert would cling to the walls, by their eyebrows sometimes, or so it would seem, and push and tug and hammer and pant. Else was willing and strong and enjoyed it, she'd poise on the edge of a mantel and cry Will that do, Mem? and near twist her neck from her shoulders to catch a look at some picture or other. Chris would cry Mind! and Else: Och, I'm fine! and nearly capsize from her ledge, and young Ewan, watching below, give a yell of delight.

But at last all things were trig and set neat. That evening, with Ewan bathed and to bed, Chris found Else yawning wide as a door, and sent her off to her bed as well. Chris felt she was almost too tired to rest as she sat in a chair in Robert's room; and Robert knew and came and made love; and that was nice, and she felt a lot better. In the quiet and hush of the evening below you could see the touns drift blue with their smoke, as though it was they that moved, not the smoke. Robert sat in his shirt-sleeves, smoking his pipe, planning his campaign to conquer Segget, as Chris supposed, but she closed her eyes. In a minute she'd get up and go to her bed.

But Robert jumped up sudden and picked up his coat. I know! Let's go and see Segget at night.

Chris thought If it wasn't that I am in love--Goodness, how far I could tell him to go! But she said not a word of that, but went down, and he groped in the dark and found her coat, and she his, and next they were out on the shingle, it crunch-crunched under the tread of their feet, the moon had come and was sailing a sky lilac, so bright that the Manse stood clear as they turned and looked back, the yews etched in ink, beyond them the kirk that hadn't a steeple, set round with its row upon row of quiet graves, the withered grass kindled afresh to green, in long, shadowy tufts that whispered like ghosts. An owlet hooted up on the hill and through the quiet of the night round about there came a thing like a murmur unended, unbegun, continuous, the hum of the touns--and that was queer, most folk were in bed! Chris thought a thought and put it from her mind--an awful woman to have wedded a minister!

Then she slipped her arm in Robert's, beside him, Segget stood splashed in the light of the moon like a hiddle of houses a bairn would build. Their feet were quiet on the unpaved street, they smelt the reek of the burning wood, and Robert said sudden, his voice not a whisper, It's like walking a town of the dead, forgotten, a ruined place in the light of the moon. Can you think that folk'll do that sometime, far off some night in the times to be, maybe a lad and his lass, as we are, and wonder about Segget and the things they did and said and believed in those little houses? And the moon the same and the hills to watch.

Chris thought it most likely they would find these enough, the hills and the moon, and not bother about Segget, that lad and that lass in the times to be. So they passed quiet down through the wind of East Wynd, over to the right the hiddling of lanes where the spinners bade, nearer the road and black in the moon the school and the schoolhouse set round with dykes. They passed a joiner's shop to the left, Chris peered at the name and saw ALEC OGILVIE, then came to a place with shops all around, a grocer's shop with D. PEAT on the sill, fat lettering over a shoemaker's--HOGG; and a narrow little front that barked PETER PEAT. Beyond, to the right, a lane wound down to the post-office kept by Macdougall Brown, so Chris had been told, she hadn't been there.

East Wynd to the left was now bare of houses, beyond its dyke was the garden of Grant. And once they heard through the night a crying, some bairn frightened or waked in the dark, and a voice that called it back to its sleep, all in a drowsy hush through the night. There's honeysuckle somewhere, said Chris, and stopped to smell, as they came to the Square, over here by the saddler's shop.

But Robert was giving no need to smells, he had stopped and he said My God, what a slummock! And Chris saw the thing that had now ta'en his eyes, the War Memorial of Segget toun, an angel set on a block of stone, decent and sonsy in its stone night-gown, goggling genteel away from the Arms, as though it wouldn't, for any sum you named, ever condescend to believe there were folk that took a nip to keep out the chill. . . .

Chris thought it was fine, a pretty young lass. But then as she looked at it there came doubts, it stood there in memory of men who had died, folk of this Segget but much the same still, she supposed, as the folk she had known in Kinraddie, folk who had slept and waked and had sworn, and had lain with women and had lain with pain, and walked in the whistle of the storms from the Mounth and been glad, been mad, and done dark, mad things, been bitter for failure, and tender and kind, with the kindness deep in the dour Scots blood. Folk of her own, those folk who had died, out in the dark, strange places of earth and they set up THIS to commemorate THEM--this, this quean like a constipated calf!

Robert said May God forgive them this horror! And look at the star on its pantomime wand. But still it's a star; not a bundle of grapes. Folk'll think it a joke when we've altered things, this trumpery flummery they put up in stone!

His dream again he could alter things here! But what kind of change, Robert, what can you do? Things go on the same as ever they were, folk neither are better nor worse for the War. They gossip and claik and are good and bad, and both together, mixed up and down. This League of the willing folk of Segget--who'll join it or know what you want or you mean?

He leaned by the Angel, looked down at her, smiled, cool and sure of his vision tonight. Chris, if ever we've a child, you and I, and when it grows up, it finds that that's true--what you've said--then I hope it'll come here with Ewan, and a host of others of their own generation, and smash this Memorial into smithereens for the way that we failed them and left God out. Change? It's just that men must change, or perish here in Segget, as all over the earth. Necessity's the drive, the policeman that's coming to end the squabbling stupidities of old--

Then he laughed. What, sleepy as that? Let's go back.

 

He fair had plenty on his hands that summer, Feet, the policeman, as the days wore to Autumn. First, 'twas the trouble in the roadman's place, old Smithie and the hay he nicked from coles and carted home at night to his kye. His house stood side by side with John Muir's, both under the lee of the kirk and the Manse, their back doors opened out on the land that stretched east under the scowl of the hills to the lands that were farmed by Meiklebogs. Muir kept no stock and he bought his milk, but old Smith on the chap of dawn would be out, up out of his bed and round to the byre, where his cows, and his two young calves were housed, none knew where he bought the fodder to feed them; and that wasn't surprising, he stole the damned lot.

He'd look this way and that, he'd a face like a tyke, thin, and ill-made, with a bushy moustache; and then, as swack as you like he would loup, canny and careful in over a fence, and made up a birn of somebody's hay; and be back and breaking his stones as before when the next bit motor appeared on the road. Syne at night he would load the lot on his bike and pedal canny without any light, and nip up through Segget as the Arms bar opened and folk had gone in for a bit of a nip, none out to see; and syne he was home, and the cows, as hungry as hawks, would low, old Smithie would give a bit low as well, and stuff them with hay and pat at their shoulders, daft-like, he near was crack about kye, he liked the breath of the creatures, he said.

Folk said that the cows couldn't be so particular, else they'd fair get a scunner at his bit breath. For he liked a dram and he took what he liked, he'd no more than peek round the door of an evening (though the house was his and all the gear in it) than his daughter would cry Here's the old devil home! and her bairns, the bairns of Bruce the porter, would laugh and call him ill names as they liked. And he'd smile and stand there and mumble a while, though he wasn't a fool in the ordinary way; and syne he'd go down to the Arms in a rage and swear that before another night came he'd have Bruce and his birn flung out of his doors, he was damned if he'd stand their insultings longer.

Well, damned he was, for he kept them on, folk would once kittle up with excitement when they heard old Smithie get wild and say that, they'd 'gree with him solemn and say 'twas a shame for a man of Segget to stand what he did; and they'd follow him home when the Arms closed down and stand by the door to hear the din. But all that they'd hear would be Ellen his daughter, fat as a cow at the calving time, cry Feuch, you old brute, and where have you been? And Smithie would just mumble and gang to his bed.

He'd another daughter as well as his Ellen, he'd slaved to give her an education; and faith! so he'd done, and made her a teacher. She lived in Dundon and never came south. And the only thing Smithie said that he'd gotten, for all his pains and his chaving for her, was one cigarette: and that wouldn't light.

Well, that Saturday afternoon in July, old Smithie was wearied with chapping at stones, and instead of stealing some hay outbye and rowing it home strapped over his bike, he got on the bike and pedalled near home, till he came to the new-coled hay of Meiklebogs. And old Smithie got off and lighted his pipe and made on he'd got off for nothing but that. There wasn't a soul to be seen round about, the park was hidden, and old Smithie was quick, he nipped in over and pinched some hay, and was back with the stuff strapped on to his bike--so quick that you'd fair have thought it a wonder that his corduroy trousers didn't take fire. But no sooner was he gone than Dalziel jumped up, he'd been hiding all the while in the lee of a cole; and he ran to the close and got his own bike, and followed old Smithie and shadowed him home. Then he went down the toun and collected Feet, and they came on old Smithie as he entered the byre, the bundle of stolen hay in his hands.

And Feet cried out Mr. Smith, I want you; and old Smithie looked round and near dropped the birn. Ay, do you so? he quavered, and syne the old whiskered creature fairly went daft, he threw the birn in Meiklebogs' face. Take your damned stuff. I wouldn't poison my kye with such dirt!

Feet said, Well, I doubt this'll be a case, but old Smithie was dafter than ever by then. He said, Make it two, and to hell with you both! and went striding into his house as he hadn't, striding that way, gone in for years.

His daughter, that sumph that was Mistress Bruce, fair jumped as she heard the bang of the door, she cried: You nasty old wretch, what's the din? Old Smithie was fairly boiling by then, he said, Do you know who you're speaking to, Ellen? and she said, Ay, fine, you disgrace to Segget; and at that old Smithie had her over his knee, afore she could blink, she was stunned with surprise. She gave a bit scraich and she tried to wriggle, but she'd grown over fat and old Smithie was strong. And damn't! if he didn't take down her bit things and scone her so sore she grat like a bairn, her own bairns made at old Smithie and kicked him, but he never let on, just leathered his quean till his hand was sore, not so sore as her dowp. That's a lesson for you, you bap-faced bitch, he said, and left her greeting on the floor, and went down to the Arms, and near the first man that he met there was Bruce, old Smithie by then like a fighting cock.

Bruce was a dark and a sour-like childe, but he looked near twice as sour in a minute when old Smithie took him a crack in the jaw. What's that for? Bruce cried, and Smithie said Lip, and came at him again, the daft-like old tyke. Well, you couldn't expect but that Bruce would be raised, he was knocking Smithie all over the bar when Mistress Melvin came tearing in. She cried in her thin Aberdeen, What's this? Stop your Blasting and Blaspheming in here. Bruce said, I haven't sworn a damn word, she said That's enough, take your tink fights out, sossing up the place with blood and the like. If you've any quarrel to settle with your relations, go out and settle it where folk can't see.

And Bruce said Right; and took old Smithie out, and gey near settled him entire you would say. It just showed you what happened to a billy that stole, there's a difference between nicking a thing here and there, and being found out and made look a fair fool.

 

And next Sabbath MacDougall Brown, the postmaster, came down to the Square and preached on stealing, right godly-like, and you'd never have thought that him and his wife stayed up of a night sanding the sugar and watering the paraffin--or so folk said, but they tell such lies. He was maybe a fifty years old, MacDougall, a singer as well as a preacher, i'faith! though some said his voice was the kind of a thing better suited to slicing a cheese. During the War he had fair been a patriot, he hadn't fought, but losh! how he'd sung! In the first bit concert held in the War he sang Tipperary to the Segget folk, with his face all shining like a ham on the fry, and he sang it right well till he got to the bit where the song has to say that his heart's right there. And faith, MacDougall got things a bit mixed, he clapped down his hand the wrong side of his wame: and Ake Ogilvie that sat in the front of the hall gave a coarse snicker and syne everybody laughed; and MacDougall had never forgiven Ake that.

But he got on well with his post-office place, Johnnie his son was a bit of a fool and MacDougall sent him to take round the letters, it cost him little with a son that was daft and MacDougall kept the cash for himself. Forbye young Jock he'd two daughters as well, the eldest, Cis, was bonny and trig, with a grave, douce face, she went to the College but she wasn't proud, a fine bit quean, and all Segget liked her.

Well, MacDougall had a special religion of his own, he wasn't Old Kirk and he wasn't of the Frees, he wasn't even an Episcopalian, but Salvation Army, or as near as damn it. He went on a Sabbath morn to the Square and preached there under the lee of the angel, that the road to heaven was the way he said. He'd made two-three converts in his years in Segget, they'd stand up and say what the Lord had done, how before they'd met Him they were lost, ruined souls; but now God had made them into new men. And faith! you would think, if that was the case, the Lord's handiwork was failing, like everything else.

Well, that Sunday after the row at Smithie's, he was there at his stance where the angel stood, MacDougall himself with his flat, bald head, and beside him his mistress, a meikle great sumph, she came from the south and she mouthed her words broad as an elephant's behind, said Ake Ogilvie. She thought little of Cis, that was clever and bonny, but a lot of her youngest, the quean called Mabel--by all but her mother, she called her Maybull. Well, they both were there, and the daftie Jock, gleying and slavering up at the angel, and a two-three more, the gardener Grant and Newlands the stationy, them and their wives; with the angel above with her night-gown drawn back, right handy-like, in case it might rap against the bald pow of MacDougall Brown. Mistress Brown opened up the harmonica they'd brought, it groaned and spluttered and gave a bit hoast, syne they started the singing of their unco hymns, Newlands burring away in his boots and MacDougall slicing the words like cheese.

 

Syne MacDougall started to preach about stealing, with a verse from Leviticus for the text, though the case of old Smithie had supplied the cause; and they started singing another bit hymn, all about being washed in the Blood of the Lamb, the Lamb being Jesus Christ, said MacDougall, he was awful fond of hymns full of blood, though he'd turned as white as a sheet the time Dite Peat had come over to kill his pig and asked MacDougall to hold the beast down.

Well, they were getting on fine and bloody, and having fairly a splash in the gore, when MacDougall noticed there was something wrong, the words all to hell, he couldn't make it out. Syne his mistress noticed and screwed round her head, and she said What is't? and saw MacDougall, red as rhubarb, he'd stopped his singing. The rest of them had to do the same, for a drove of the spinners had come in about, with that tink Jock Cronin at their head, as usual, they were singing up fast and fair drowning MacDougall, a coarse-like mocking at MacDougall's hymn:

 

WHITER than--the whitewash on the wall!
WHITER than--the whitewash on the wall!
Oh--WASH me in the water
Where you washed your dirty daughter.
And I shall be whiter than the whitewash on the wall!

 

MacDougall waited until they had stopped, then he cried to Cronin Have you no respect?--you, John Cronin--for the Lord's Day at all? And the tink said, Damn the bit; nor have you. And MacDougall nearly burst to hear that, he'd lived by the Bible all his life. And John Cronin said You believe all that's in it? and MacDougall Brown said, Ay, I have faith. But Cronin had fairly got him trapped now, he said Well, it says in the Bible that if you've got faith you can move a mountain. That'll be proof. Move back the Mounth there in front of our eyes!

The spinners with him, a lot of tink brutes, all brayed up then, Ay, come on, MacDougall! Move a mountain--you're used to move sand! MacDougall habbered redder than ever, then he cried We'll now sing Rock of Ages. Jock Cronin cried Where's the rock of your faith? and as soon as MacDougall and his converts began the spinners sang up their song as before, about being whiter than the whitewash on the wall, and about MacDougall's dirty daughter; and such a noise was never heard before in the Sabbath Square of Segget.

Old Leslie came by and he heard the noise, and he knew MacDougall and was right sorry for him. But when he came over and tried to interfere, Jock Cronin cried God, here's Ananias! And old Leslie walked away, fair in a rage, and went up to the Manse to complain about them.

He arrived there just after the morning service, the minister new back, and dinner-time done. And old Leslie said 'twas Infernal, just, the way that they treated a man nowadays. In his young days if a loon like that Cronin had miscalled a man he'd have been ta'en out and libbed. Ay, he minded when he was a loon up in Garvock--

But the new minister rose up and said Well, I'll hear that again, I've no time to waste, with a look as black as though he could kill you. And afore old Leslie knew well what had happened he was out on the doorstep and heard the door bang.

 

Chris heard the door bang and she saw old Leslie, he was turning slow to go down the walk, crunching the shingle under his feet; and suddenly you saw the old man that he was, his back crooked into that queer-like shape, cruel and a shame to get rid of him so, suddenly you wanted to weep, but you didn't, biting your lips as you watched him go. Only a tiring old fool, as you knew, and he'd come on Robert in that mad, black mood. And yet--

Things like that caught you again and again, with a tightening heart, when you had no thought--Robert in weariness half an hour back, his head in his hands, as he said What's the use? Robert's head as he prayed to that God of his that you couldn't believe in, though you hid that away, what need to hurt Robert with something that never he or you could alter though you lived forever?

So, in the strangest of moments it would come, in a flame and a flash, a glimpse into depths that wrung your heart, you'd see the body of Else as she bent, a curve of pleasure that would curve yet in pain. You'd see--frightening the things if you cared to think in the dark of the night in the quiet of Segget, the hush of the yews out there on the lawn--the hopeless folly of all striving, all hope. Sudden, in a Segget shop, maybe, you'd glimpse a face like your father's, near, alive and keen with its bearded lips, and you'd think of your father, long ago dead, bones rotted from flesh in Kinraddie kirkyard--what had life availed him and all his long years when he hoped for this and he strove for that? He died a coarse farmer in a little coarse house, hid in the earth and forgot by men, as forgot as your pains and your tears by God, that God that you knew could never exist. . . .

Only with Ewan you'd never these glimpses into the shifting sands of life, bairn though he was there was something within him hard and shining and unbreaking as rock, something like a sliver of granite within him. Strange that his body had once come from yours in the days when you were a quean unthinking, so close to the earth and its smell and its feel that nearly he came from the earth itself!

From that we all came, you had heard Robert say, but wilder and stranger you knew it by far, from the earth's beginning you yourself had been here, a blowing of motes in the world's prime, earth, roots and the wings of an insect long syne in the days when the dragons still ranged the world--every atom here in your body now, that was here, that was you, that beat in your heart, that shaped your body to whiteness and strength, the speed of your legs and the love of your breasts when you turned to the kiss of your Robert at night--these had been there, there was nothing but a change, in a form, the stroke and the beat of a song.

And you thought how long, long ago with Will, your brother, that time he came home from France, before he went back and was killed in France you'd said that the Scots were never religious, had never BELIEVED as other folks did; and that was fell true, and not only for you, MacDougall that brayed by the angel in the square, the folk that came to the kirk on a Sunday, Robert himself--even Robert himself!

There was something lacking or something added, something that was bred in your bones in this land--oh, Something: maybe that Something was GOD--that made folk take with a smile and a gley the tales of the gods and the heavens and the hells, the afterlives and the lives before, heaven on earth and the chances of change, the hope and belief in salvation for men--as a fairy-tale in a play that they'd play, but they knew the whole time they were only players, no Scots bodies died but they knew that fine, deep and real in their hearts they knew that here they faced up to the REAL at last, neither heaven nor hell but the earth that was red, the cling of the clay where you'd alter and turn, back to the earth and the times to be, to a spraying of motes on a raging wind when the Howe was happed in its winter storms, to a spray of dust as some childe went by with his plough and his horse in a morning in Spring, to the peck and tweet of the birds in the trees, to trees themselves in a burgeoning Spring.

You knew, and you knew that they knew--even Robert, holding to God in his blackest hour, this God he believed was the father of men, pitiful. He was Pity and a Friend, helpless even in a way as men, but Kind and Hero, and He'd conquer yet with all the legions of hell to battle.

So Robert believed: but now, as you heard his feet coming down the stairs in haste, out of his mood and happy again, you knew that he knew he followed a dream, with the black mood REAL, and his hopes but mists.

 

Chris remembered that dream of her own--she'd been daft! she thought as she fled about next week's work. There was jam to make and she thought it fun, and so did Else, they'd boil pot on pot and fill all the jars, and forget about dinner. And Robert would come sweating in from the garden and cry Losh, Christine, where have you been? I thought you promised to come out and help. What's wrong--nothing wrong with you, is there, my dear? Chris would say Only hunger, and he'd say Not love? and the two would be fools for a moment till they heard the stamp of Else bringing in the tray. Syne they'd each slip into a chair and look solemn but once Else caught them and said to the minister Faith, I don't wonder! and looked at Chris; and Chris thought that the nicest thing ever looked about her.

Ewan ran wild, Chris seldom saw him all the length of the summer days, he was out in Segget, exploring the streets, Chris at first had been feared for him--that he'd fall in front of a horse, or a car, or one of the buses that went by to Dundon. She tried to tell him to be careful, then stopped, he'd take his chances with the rest of the world.

On the Saturday she and Robert looked up from their work in the garden, and stood and watched Ewan, hands in his pockets, no cap on his head, go sauntering out through the gates of the Manse, his black hair almost blue in the sun, and turn by the Meiklebogs, going to the Kaimes, Chris wondered what he could want up there?

Robert said He's seeking the High Places already, and laughed, and went on with his digging, Chris the same, sweet and forgotten the smell of the earth, you thrust with your spade, the full throw of your body, so, and the drill built up as you dug. Then the rooks came cawing and wheeling in by, and they both looked up from Segget to the Mounth, rain drumming upon it far in the heuchs, cattle, tail-switching, dots on the heath. Chris asked what the clouds were, up there by Trusta, they piled up dome on dome in the sky, like the roofs of a city in the land of cloud. Robert said Cumulus; just summer rain; and a minute later--Look, here it comes!

Chris saw it come wheeling like a flying of rooks, dipping and pelting down from the heights, she looked left and saw it through a smother of smoke, the smoke stilled for a minute as it waited the rain, all Segget turning to look at the rain. Then Robert was running and Chris ran as well, under the shelter of the pattering yews. There they stood and panted and watched the water, whirling in and over the drills, the potato-shaws a bend in the pelt, the patter like hail and then like a shoom, like the sea on a morning heard from Kinraddie, the empty garden blind with rain. And then it was gone and the sun bright out, and Chris heard, far, clear, as though it never had stopped; a snipe that was sounding up in the hills.

By noon they saw a drooked figure approaching. Chris heard Else cry Are you soaked! and Ewan answer I was; but I dried, he'd some thing in his hand. Turning it over he came up to Robert. Look, I found this up on the Kaimes.

Chris stopped as well to look at the thing, the three of them stood in the bright, wet weather, Robert turning the implement over in his hands, it was rusted and broken, the blade of a spear. Did they use it for ploughing? Ewan wanted to know, and Robert said No, they used it for killing, it's a spear, Ewan man, from the daft old days.

Then Else came crying them in for their dinner, and in they all went, as hungry as hawks. Ewan wanted to know a lot more about spears, 'twas a wonder he managed to ask all he did, him eating as well, but he managed both fine; he'd a question-mark for a brain, Robert said!

But the most of his questions he kept until night, when Chris bathed him and took him up to his room. Why did the stairs wind? Why weren't they straight? Would it be long till he was a man? Where was Christ now, and had Robert met Him? That's an owl, why don't owls fly in the day? Why don't you go to sleep when I do? Does Else like Dalziel of the Meiklebogs much? I like the smiddy of old Mr. Leslie, he says that when he was a loon up on Garvock he was never let gang anywhere near a smiddy, his mammy would have smacked his dowp; didn't she like it? I saw Mr. Hogg, he said 'What's your name?' Why is there hair growing out of his nose? Mrs. Hogg is fat, is she going to have a calf? Does she take off her clothes to have it, mother? Mother, have you got a navel like mine? I'll show you mine, look, there it is, isn't it funny--I'm not sleepy, let's sing a while. Why--

He was sleeping at last, in the evening quiet, the Saturday quiet, the sun not yet gone. Chris went down to the garden and took out a chair, and leaned back in it with her arms behind her, drowsy, watching the gloaming come. Robert was up in his room with his sermon, he wrote the thing out when he'd thought of a theme--he would think of a theme of a sudden and swear because he hadn't a note-book at hand.

This afternoon it had come on him suddenly. I know! That spear-blade that Ewan brought--where the devil has he hidden the thing?

At half-past ten next morning, the Sunday, Chris heard John Muir and looked out and saw him, his shoulder a-skeugh in his Sunday suit, come stepping up the path from the kirk There's a fair concourse of the folk the day; and how are you keeping then, mistress, yourself?

Chris said she was fine, and he gleyed at her cheery. Faith, so you look, you take well with Segget. Well, well, if the minister hasn't any orders I'll taik away back and tug at the bell.

Chris heard that bell in a minute or so beat and clang through the quiet of the air. It was time that she herself had got ready, she sought out her hymn-book and hanky and Bible, and inspected Ewan, and straightened his collar. Then the two of them hurried through the blow of the garden, and out of the little door let in the dyke, and into the little room back of the kirk. There the sound of the bell was a deafening clamour. Chris brushed Ewan down and went into the kirk, and put Ewan into a pew and herself went ben to the pews where the kirk choir sat, Mrs. Geddes, the schoolmaster's wife, there already, smiling and oozing with eau-de-Cologne, whispered right low and right holy-like, Morning. A grand day, isn't it, and such a pity so few have come up to hear the Lord's word.

Chris said, Oh, yes, and sat down beside her, and looked round as the folk came stepping in, slow. Hairy Hogg, the Provost, and his mistress, Jean, they plumped in their seats and Hairy looked round and closed his eyes like a grass-filled cow. Then the wife and queans of John Muir came in, Chris had heard a lot about them from Else. Else said she could swear there were times when Muir wished he'd stayed where he was when he fell in that grave.

His wife was one of the Milton lot that farmed down under Glenbervie brae, she deaved John Muir from morning till night to get out of his job, a common bit roadman, and get on in the world and show up her sister, Marget Ann, that had married a farmer. But John Muir would say Damn't, we all come to the same--a hole and a stink and worms at the end and his mistress would snap, Ay, maybe we do, but there's ways of getting there decent and undecent. And as for stinking, speak of yourself. And, real vexed, she'd clout Tooje one in the ear. Tooje was her eldest, fairly a gawk, and then clout little Ted when she started to greet because she saw her sister Tooje greeting; and John Muir would get up and say not a word but go dig a grave as a bit of a change.

Then Chris saw Bruce, the porter, come in, with the mark on his jaw where his godfather hit him, then Leslie, the smith, paiching and sweating, he dropped his stick with an awful clatter. Then she saw Geddes, the Segget headmaster, sitting grim in a pew midway, his rimless specs set close on his nose, looking wearied to death, as he was. Robert had thought to make him an ally, but he'd said to Robert, Don't be a fool, leave the swine to stew in their juice--by swine he meant his fellow-folk of Segget. He would stand hymn-singing with his hand in his pocket, and rattle his keys and yawn at the roof.

Then Moultrie came in, a slow tap-tap, with his stick and his glare, and stopped half-way, his wife, Jess Moultrie, waiting behind, her hand on his arm, gentle and quiet. But when he moved on he shook her away. Chris had heard the story of him and of her and how he had never forgiven her her daughter, Ag, whom they called the Roarer and Greeter.

Then others came in, all in a birn, Chris didn't know some and of some was uncertain, she thought that one was Ake Ogilvie the joiner; and a trickle of folk from the farms outbye, a spinner or so, but they were fell few, and Dalziel of the Meiklebogs, red-faced and shy, funny how one couldn't abide him at all.

Syne John Muir finished with the ringing of the bell and came with his feet splayed out as he walked and his shoulder agley, down the length of the kirk; and went into the little room at the back. Robert would be there and Muir help him to robe. Syne the door opened and John Muir came out, and swayed and gleyed cheerful up to the pulpit, and opened the door and stood back and waited. And Robert went up, with his hair fresh-brushed, and his eyes remote, and sat down and prayed, silent, and all the kirk silent as well, for a minute, while Chris looked down at her hands.

Then Robert stood up in the pulpit and said, in his clear, strong voice that hadn't a mumble, that called God GOD and never just GAWD. We will begin the worship of God by the singing of hymn one hundred and forty. 'Our shield and defender, the Ancient of Days, pavilioned in splendour and girded with praise.' Hymn one hundred and forty.

Folk rustled the leaves and here and there a man glowered helpless while his wife found the page; and the organ started with a moan and a grind and the kirk was a rustle with Sunday braws, folk standing and singing, all straight and decent, except young Ewan, a-lean in his pew and Geddes the Dominie, hand in his pouch.

Chris liked his hymn near as much as did Robert, most folk stuck fast when they came to pavilioned, Robert's bass came in, Chris's tenor to help, Mrs. Geddes' contralto a wail at their heels. Then down they all sat; Robert said Let us pray.

Chris wondered what Robert was to preach today, his text was no clue when he gave it out. Folk shuffled in their seats, and hoasted genteel, and put up their hankies to slip sweeties in their mouths; sometimes Chris wished she could do the same, but she couldn't very well, the minister's wife. And all Segget lifted its eyes to Robert, he flung back the shoulders of his robe and began, slow and careful, reading from his notes; and then pushed them aside and began a sermon on that bit of a spear young Ewan Tavendale had found on the Kaimes. He'd brought the thing up in the pulpit with him, folk stopped in their sucking of sweeties and gaped.

And Robert told of the uses the thing had once had, in the hands of the carles of the ruined Kaimes; and the siege and the fighting and the man who had held it, desperate at last in the burning lowe as King Kenneth's men came into the castle: and the blood that ran on this ruined blade for things that the men of that time believed would endure and be true till the world died; they thought they were fighting for things that would last, they'd be classed as heroes and victors forever. And now they were gone, they were not even names, their lives and their deaths we know to be foolish, a clamour and babble on little things.

So might the men of the future look back, on this Segget here, not of antique times, and see the life of our mean-like streets an ape-like chatter as the dark came down. For change, imperative, awaited the world, as never before men could make it anew, men of good will and a steadfast faith. All history had been no more than the gabble of a horde of apes that was trapped in a pit. Let us see that we clean our pit-corner in Segget, there is hatred here, and fear, and malaise, the squabbling of drunken louts in the streets, poor schools, worse houses--we can alter all these, we can alter them NOW, not waiting the world.

Robert had launched his campaign on Segget.

 

That sermon fair raised a speak in the toun, as soon's they got out Peter Peat said Faith! they'd fair made a mistake in getting this childe. You wanted a sermon with some body in it, with the hell that awaited the folk that were sinners, and lay on the Kaimes with their unwed queans, and were slow in paying their bills to a man. And what did he mean that Segget was foul? A clean little toun as ever there was, no, no, folk wanted no changes here.

Old Leslie said 'Twas Infernal, just, he minded when he was a loon up on Garvock--

Rob Moultrie said Well, what d'you expect? He's gentry and dirt with his flat-patted hair; and speaking to God as though he were speaking to a man next door--and a poorman at that. Ay, a Tory mucker, I may well warrant, that would interfere in our houses and streets.

Will Melvin said Did you hear him preach against folk taking a dram now and then? And if he himself wasn't drunk then I'm daft, with his spears and his stars and his apes and his stite.

That fairly got Hairy Hogg on the go. He cried Ay, what was all yon about apes? And him glaring at me like a thrown cat. If he comes from the monkeys himself let him say it, not sneer at folk of a better blood.

Folk took a bit snicker at that as they went--damn't, the minister had got one in there! And afore night had come the story had spread, the minister had said--you'd as good as heard him--that Hairy Hogg was a monkey, just.

Well, it made you laugh, though an ill getted thing to say that of old Hairy Hogg, the Provost. Faith, he fair had a face like a monkey, the sutor of Segget and its Provost forbye. He'd been Provost for years, not a soul knew why, or how he'd ever got on for the job; or what was the council, or what it might do, apart from listening to Hairy on Burns. For he claimed descent from the Burneses, Hairy, and you'd have thought by the way he spoke that Rabbie had rocked him to sleep in his youth. His wife had once been at Glenbervie House, a parlourmaid there and awful genteel; but a thirty years or so in old Hogg's bed had fair rubbed gentility off of the creature, she was common and rough as a whin bush now, and would hoast out loud in the kirk at prayers till the bairns all giggled and old Hogg would say, loud enough for the pulpit to hear, Wheest, wheest, redd your thrapple afore you come here.

She would make him regret that when they got home, she'd little time for any palavers, her daughter Jean that was nurse in London, or Alec her son that clerked down in Edinburgh. Old Hogg he would blow like a windy bellows about Jean and the things she'd done as a nurse. For when the bit King took ill with a cough she was one of the twenty-four nurses or so that went prancing round the bit royalty's bed, she carried a hanky, maybe, or such-like. But to hear old Hairy speak on the business you'd have thought she cured the King's illness herself, and been handed a two-three thousand for doing it. Yet damn the penny but her wages she got, said Mrs. Hogg; what could you expect? The gentry were aye as mean as is dirt and wasn't the King a German forbye?

Young Hogg was at home now, on holiday like, he meant to attend the Segget Show. You had seen the creature, wearing plus-fours, east-windy, west-endy as well as could be, forbye that he said he had joined the Fascists. Folk asked what they were, and he said they were fine, Conservatives, like, but a lot more than that; they meant to make Britain the same as was Italy. And old Hogg was real vexed, he cried But goodsakes! You're not going to leave your fine job, now, are you, and take to the selling of ice-cream sliders? And Alec said Father, please don't be silly; and old Hogg fair flamed: Give's less of your lip. What could man think but that you were set, you and your breeks and your Fashers and all, with being a damned ice-creamer yourself?

Alex said nothing, just looked at his quean, and she and him sniffed, she was real superior, a clerk like Alec himself down in Edinburgh. He'd brought her up on holiday to Segget, he called her his feeungsay, not just his lass; she wouldn't be able to stay for the Show, and if any soul thought that a cause for regret, he'd managed to keep a good grip on himself. The first time they sat down to tea in Hogg's house Alec finished his cup and looked round the table. Where's the slop-basin, mother? he asked, to show his quean he was real genteel. But his mother was wearied with him and his airs. Slop it in your guts! she snapped as she rose, and less of your Edinburgh touches here!

Segget Show was held in a park that was loaned to the toun by Dalziel of the Meiklebogs. He blushed and looked shy, Oh ay, you can have it, when Hairy Hogg went out there and asked him. 'Twas a great ley park with a fringe of trees, the hills up above, the Kaimes to the left; and early on the evening afore Segget Show there were folk down there marking out this and that, the lines of the tents and the marquees and such, the circle where the bairns would run their bit races and folk that thought they could throw the hammer could stand and show what their muscles were made of. Folk came to Segget Show far and about, from Fordoun and Laurencekirk, Skite and Arbuthnott, early on the Saturday Segget awoke to the rattle of farm carts up through East Wynd, down past the Manse, and so to the park, carts loaded with kail and cabbage and cakes, and hens and ducks in their clean straw rees, and birns of bannocks and scones for show, and the Lord knows what that folk wouldn't bring to try for a prize at the Segget Show.

It was wet in the morning, folk looked out and swore, but by noon the rain had cleared off and soon, as the lines of folk held out from Segget, there came a blistering waft of the heat, men loosed their waistcoats, some took off their collars and paid their shillings and went in at the gates, all except a crowd of the spinners. They suddenly appeared near the big marquee, and Sim Leslie, him that the folk called Feet, went over and looked at the bunch fell stern, he hadn't seen them pay at the gate. But he wasn't keen on starting a row, just looked at them stern: and the spinners all laughed.

There fair was a crush as the judges began, Hairy Hogg was one, the minister another, Dalziel of the Meiklebogs the third. They started in on the hens to begin with, a lot from MacDougall Brown's of the post-office. MacDougall stood by, looking proud as dirt, he'd won first prize for his Leghorns for years. So he fell near fainted when he got a green ticket, the second prize only and not the red first; and he said to whoever stood by to listen that it was that minister had done this to him, he was scared at the way that MacDougall drew folk away from the Auld Kirk's preaching and lies. But faith! his Leghorns looked none so well, he'd been mixing lime in their feed and the birds had a look as though they'd like to lie down and burst. But they daren't, with MacDougall's eye upon them, they stood and chirawked, as though of kind discouraged when they saw that they'd ta'en only second prize.

By then the judges were through with the hens, the ducks as well, a childe from a farm out near by Mondynes had ta'en every prize there was to be took. Syne the judges turned into the big marquee, to judge the baked stuff and the flowers and the like. The minister was speaking as they went inside; Hairy Hogg turned round to hear what he said; and prompt his elbow knocked over the dish that was set with cakes of Mistress Melvin. The landlady of the Arms looked at the Provost as though she'd like to bash in his head, with a bottle, and syne carve him up slow with its splinters; but she daren't say anything, seeing it was him, and he'd given the Melvins the catering to do.

So the Blaster and Blasphemer just smiled, genteel, and got down and picked up her cakes from the grass, the minister got down and helped her; and smiled; (what was the creature laughing about?) But Hairy Hogg said, for the marquee to hear, I want stuff set out plain and decent, not pushed right under my nose when I judge. He spoke as though he were the Lord God Almighty, and the bannocks sinners on the Judgement Day.

They couldn't make up their minds on the pancakes, there were two fine lots, one rounded and cut, neat-shaped and fine as ever you saw, the other lot not of much shape at all, but bonnily fired, and the judges stopped, and each ate a bit, of the well-cut at first, they weren't so bad, but looked better than they tasted. Syne the judges bit at the ill-cut cakes, they fairly melted in a body's mouth, the minister had eaten up one in a minute, and Meiklebogs nodded, and Hairy Hogg nodded, and the Reverend Mr. Colquohoun gave a nod.

So old Jess Moultrie had the first prize, faith! that was fairly a whack in the face for that Mistress Geddes with her fine-shaped cakes, and her blethering of lectures at the W.R.I. She was daft on the W.R.I., Mrs. Geddes, she said that folk in a village like Segget wanted taking out of themselves. So she and some others started the thing, they'd collect at all hours, the women of the place, and speak about baking and minding the bairns, and how to make pipes from the legs of old sofas; and hear lantern-lectures on Climbing the Alps. Well, damn't! she'd have to do a bit of climbing herself ere she learned to bake cakes like the Moultrie wife.

By three nearly everything there had been judged, most of the folk had scattered by then, to see the games in the ring that Ake Ogilvie had set up for nothing, the previous night. And well so he might, damn seldom he worked, you couldn't get near to his joiner's shop for the clutter of carts, half-made and half-broken, lying about, and the half of a chum, a hen-coop or so and Heaven knows what--all left outside in the rain and sun while Ogilvie sat on a bench inside and wrote his ill bits of poetry and stite--he thought himself maybe a second Robert Burns.

He was broad and big, a fell buirdly childe, and it seemed fell queer that a man like that couldn't settle down to the making of money, and him the last joiner left in the place. But he'd tell you instead some rhyme or another, coarse dirt that was vulgar, not couthy and fine. He was jealous as hell of the real folk that wrote, Annie S. Swan and that David Lyall: you could read and enjoy every bit that they wrote, it was fine clean stuff, not sickening you, like, with dirt about women having bairns and screaming or old men dying in the hills at night or the fear of a sheep as the butcher came. That was the stuff that Ake Ogilvie wrote, and who wanted to know about stuff like that? You did a bit reading to get away from life.

Well, Ake Ogilvie, him and his poetry and dirt, there he was, on the edge of the ring. And inside the ring, round about the hammer, were a pickle of those that would try a bit throw. And Feet cried Back, keep out of the way, and went shooing bairns at the ring's far side; and folk clustered around fair thick to look on, old Leslie and Melvin the judges here.

The first to throw was a man from Catcraig, Charlie Something-or-other his name, and he swung himself slow and steady on his feet and syne took a great breath and leaped in the air, and swung, and syne as his feet came down his arms let go and the hammer flew out; and flashed in the air and spun and then fell--ay, a gey throw, folk cheered him a bit. But one of his galluses had split with the throw and he blushed to the eyes and put on his coat.

Syne another childe threw, a farmer he was, the hammer went skittering out from his hand, he laughed in an off-hand way as to say he was just taking part to encourage the others. Syne folk saw that the third was that tink Jock Cronin, one of the spinner breed, he picked up the hammer and waited and swung, and louped, and the thing went a good foot beyond any of the earlier throws that were made. 'Twould be a sore business if the Cronin should win. His friends all shouted, That's the stuff, Jock! they were fair delighted with their champion's throw, with their rattling watch-chains and their dirty jokings, the average spinner knew as much of politeness as a polecat knows of the absence of smell.

The worst of the lot, folk said, were the Cronins, they bade in West Wynd, a fair tribe of the wretches, old Cronin had once been a foreman spinner till he got his bit hand mashed up in machinery. He'd fair gone bitter with that, they told, and took to the reading of the daftest-like books, about Labour, Socialism, and such-like stite. Where would you be if it wasn't for Capital? you'd ask old Cronin, and he'd say On the street--where the capitalists themselves would be, you poor fool. It's the capitalists that we are out to abolish, and the capital that we intend to make ours. And he'd organized a union for spinners and if ever you heard of a row at the mills you might bet your boots a Cronin was in it, trying to make out that the spinners had rights, and ought to be treated like gentry, b'God!

The worst of the breed was that young Jock Cronin, him that had just now thrown the hammer. The only one that wasn't a spinner, he worked as a porter down at the station, folk said that the stationmaster, Newlands, would have sacked him right soon if only he'd dared, him and his socialism and the coarse way he had of making jokes on the Virgin Birth; and sneering at Jonah in the belly of the whale; and saying that the best way to deal with a Tory was to kick him in the dowp and you'd brain him there. But Jock Cronin worked as well as he blethered, the sly, coarse devil, and he couldn't be sacked; and there he stood with a look on his face as much as to say That's a socialist's throw!

It was Newlands, the stationmaster, himself that came next, you hoped he'd beat the throw of the porter. But faith, he didn't, he was getting fell slow, maybe it was that or he wasted his breath singing at the meetings of MacDougall Brown, the hammer just wobbled and fell with a plop, if they didn't do better at the second round and third it was Cronin the porter would grab the first prize.

But syne folk started to cheer, and all looked, 'twas the Reverend Mr. Colquohoun himself, being pushed inside the ring by his wife. Ay, that was well-intended of him, now, you gave a bit clap and syne waited and watched. And the minister took off his coat and his hat and smiled at the childe that held out the hammer, and took it and swung, and there rose a gasp, he'd flung it nearly as far as the Cronin's.

The second bout he landed well over Jock Cronin's, plain it was between the spinner and him, the spinners stopped laughing, crying, Come on, then, Jock! You're not going to let a mucking preacher beat you? The Reverend Colquohoun looked at them and laughed, and syne spoke to Cronin, and he laughed as well, not decent and low as a man would do that spoke to a minister, but loud out and vulgar, he wished folk to think that he was as good as any minister that ever was clecked. Then the childe with the galluses threw once again, but he'd never got over the blush or the galluses, he landed fell short and went off the field, and Else Queen, the maid at the Manse, was his lass, and she laughed out loud; and that was ill-done.

Syne Ake Ogilvie threw--ay, not a bad throw, but shorter than Cronin's, Ake did it with a sneer. Syne Cronin again, and the hammer was flung with the whole of his weight and his strength and it fell, crack! a bare foot short of his very first throw. And as the minister stood up, arms bared, you knew well enough that he couldn't beat that; and then everybody knew that he wasn't going to try, he maybe thought it not decent for a minister to win, he swung the hammer to give it a good throw, but safe and not as far as Jock Cronin's.

But the spinners had broken into the ring, a birn of them down at the farther end; and as the Reverend picked up the hammer and got ready to swing, one of them cried, you couldn't tell which, Jesus is getting a bit weak in the guts.

The minister gave a kind of a start, you thought for a minute that he wouldn't throw. But instead he suddenly whirled him about, and spun and swung and had flung the hammer, so quickly you hardly saw what he did. And the hammer swished and twirled through the air, like a catapult stone or a pheasant in flight, and landed a good three feet or more beyond the furthest throw of the Cronin: and struck on a great meikle stone that lay there, and stotted and swung, the handle swung first, into the middle of the spleiter of spinners.

They jumped and ran and the hammer lay still, and there rose such a yell from the folk that watched, your lugs near burst in the cheering and din. The minister's face had reddened with blood, the veins were like cords all over his face; and then he went white as ever again, and put on his coat and went out of the ring, folk cried, That was a fine throw, minister, but he didn't say a word, just went off with his wife.

Chris said, What's wrong? Then she saw his hanky as he took it away from his lips; it was red. He said Oh, nothing. Gassed lungs, I suppose. Serves me right for trying to show off.

Chris said, You didn't; I thought you were fine. Robert said, I'm afraid not, only a fool. There, I'm all right, don't worry, Christine. Come on, we've to watch Ewan running his race.

The bairns' races were the next things set. Ewan Chris watched line up with the others, Geddes the schoolmaster in charge of the lot, disgusted as ever he looked with the job. They'd marked out a track through the middle of the ring, John Muir stood down at the further end, the bairns had to run to him and then back. Chris watched Ewan, he was eating a sweetie, calm as you please, his back mop blue in the sun, his eyes on the Dominie, he didn't care a fig. But as soon as Geddes cried Run! he was off, he went like a deer, his short legs flying, the other bairns tailed off behind, and Ewan was first to reach Muir and go round him, swinging round gripping at John Muir's trousers; and as he went by the place where Chris stood, he looked at her and grinned calmly as ever, and shifted the sweetie to the other side of his mouth, and looked back, and slowed down, no need to race. He was up at the Dominie first, at a trot, folk round about asked who he was, as black as all that, he was surely foreign?

Then somebody knew and saw Chris stand near, and cried out Wheest! but Chris didn't care; she watched Ewan take the prize and say Thanks, calm still, and put the shilling in his pocket, and come walking back to look for her, and stand grave in front of her as she smoothed down his collar. Robert gave him a shake and he smiled at that (the smile that so sometimes caught your heart, the smile you had known on the lips of his father). Then Robert said, Well, since we've won all the prizes, let's go and look for tea in the tent.

And the three of them set out across the short grass, through the groupings and gatherings of folk here and there, the show was fairly a place for a claik, one gossip would now meet in with another she hadn't seen since the last Segget Show, and would cry Well, now, it's Mistress MacTavish! And Mistress MacTavish would cry back her name, and they'd shake hands and waggle their heads and be at it, hammer and tongs, a twelve months' gossip, the Howe's reputation put in through a mangle and its face danced on when it came through the rollers.

There was a great crush in the tent they entered, but Melvin came running and found then a table, the gabble of the folk rose all round about, they nodded to the minister and minded their manners, and reddened when they thought that he looked at them, and took a sly keek at the clothes Chris wore--faith! awful short skirts for a minister's wife. Mrs. Hogg was sitting at a table with her son, him that she'd told to slop slop in his guts, his quean had gone back, and folk saw the damned creature trying to catch the minister's eye. But the Reverend Mr. Colquohoun didn't see you were torn two ways with scorn of the Manse for being so proud, and with sheer delight at seeing the Hoggs get a smack in the face.

Then it was time for the band to begin, folk trooped out to see in the best of spirits, well filled with biscuits and baps and tea; but weren't such fools as go over close to the board where John Muir and Smithie were standing, crying, Come on folk, now, will you dance? Behind them the Segget band played up. Ake Ogilvie there at the head of it, fair thinking himself of importance, like, with Jim that served in the bar of the Arms and folk called the Sourock because of his face, tooting on his flute like a duck half-choked, and Newlands the stationy cuddling his fiddle a damn sight closer than ever his mistress, or else she'd have had a bairn ere this--not that you blamed him, she'd a face like a greip, and an ill greip at that, though you don't cuddle faces. And Feet was there, he was playing the bassoon, he sat well back to have room for his boots and looked as red as a cock with convulsions. God ay! it was worth going up to the board if only to take a laugh at the band.

But not a childe or a quean would venture up on the thing till at last Jock Cronin, that tink of a porter that came of the spinners, was seen going up and pulling up a quean. She laughed, and turned her face round at last, and folk fair had a shock, it was Miss Jeannie Grant, she was one of the teachers, what was she doing with a porter, eh?--and a tink at that, that called himself a socialist, and said that folk should aye vote for labour, God knew you got plenty without voting for't.

Socialists with queans--well, you knew what they did, they didn't believe in homes or in bairns, they'd have had all the bairns locked up in poor houses; and the coarse brutes said that marriage was daft--that fair made a body right wild to read that, what was coarse about marriage you would like to know? . . . And you'd stop from your reading and say to the wife, For Heaven's sake, woman, keep the bairns quiet. Do you think I want to live in a menagerie? And she'd answer you back, By your face I aye thought that was where you came from, and start off again about her having no peace, she couldn't be sweir like a man, take a rest; and whenever were your wages going to be raised? And you'd get in a rage and stride out of the house, and finish the paper down at the Arms, reading about the dirt that so miscalled marriage--why shouldn't they have to get married as well?

Well, there were Jock Cronin and Miss Jeannie Grant, they stood and laughed and looked down at the folk. Syne some spinners went up, as brazen as you like, giggling, and then a ploughman or so, syne Alec Hogg that was son of the Provost, he had up Cis Brown that went to the College, thin and sweet, a fell bonny lass, she looked gey shy and a treat to cuddle. So there were enough at last for a dance, and Ake waved his arms, and they struck up a polka. There was fair a crowd when the second dance came, you felt your back buttons to see were they holding, and took a keek round for a lass for the dance: and the queans all giggled and looked at you haughty, till you asked one, bold, and then she'd say Ay.

Charlie, the childe from Catcraig, went to Else, the maid from the Manse, and said Will you dance? and she said Can you? and he blushed and said Fine. Else was keen for a dance and she left Meiklebogs, he looked after her shy, like a shy-like stot, as she swung on the board, a fair pretty woman. God, you hardly saw her like nowadays, queans grown all as thin as the handles of forks, and as hard forbye, no grip to the creatures; and how the devil they expected to get married and be ta'en with bairns you just couldn't guess, what man in his senses would want to bed with a rickle of bones and some powder, like?

Well, Else was up with the Catcraig childe, it was Drops of Brandy and the folk lined up, Else saw the minister, he smiled like a lad with the mistress herself further down the line. Ake waved his arms and you all were off, slow in the pace and the glide, then the whirl, till the brandy drops were spattering the sky the board kittled up and the band as well, and you all went like mad; and Else's time when she did the line she found the minister the daftest of the lot, he swung her an extra turn right round, and he cried out Hooch! and folk all laughed--ay, fairly a billy the new minister, though already he'd started interfering with folk, and he'd preached so unco, a Sunday back, that old Hairy Hogg was descended from monkeys. . . . Had he said that, then? Ay, so he had, old Hogg himself had told you the speak, it was hardly the thing to have said of the Provost, fair monkey-like though the creature was. . . .

And just at the head of the dance as Else flew round in the arms of her Catcraig childe, he gave a kind of a gasp and his hand flew up to his waistcoat and Else cried What? And the childe let go and grabbed at his breeks, his other bit gallus had fair given way, he lipped from the board with his face all red, and went home fell early that evening alone, not daring to stay and take Else Queen home.

The teas were all finished and Melvin had opened up one of the tents for the selling of drams, folk took a bit dander up to the counter, had a dram, and spoke of the Show and looked out--at the board, the gloaming was green on the hills, purple on the acre-wide blow of heather. There was a little wind coming down, blowing in the hot, red faces of the dancers, you finished up your dram and felt fair kittled up; and went out and made for the board like a hare, damn't! you might be old, but you still could dance, you hoped the mistress had already gone home.

There was old Smithie, well whiskied by now. He cried each dance till he got to the Schottische, he stuck fast on that and shished so long you thought the old fool never would stop, his whiskers sticking from his face in a fuzz, like one of the birns of hay he would steal. And just as he paused to take a bit breath his eyes lit down on his goodson, Bruce, and he stopped and said What the devil's wrong with you, you coarse tink, that lives in my house, on my meal, and snickers like a cuddy when a man tries to speak?

Bruce glunched up, dour, Be quiet, you old fool, and that fair roused the dander of Smithie to hear. Who's a fool? By God, if I come down to you--and he made a bit step, just threatening-like, but he was over-near the edge of the board to be threatening, even, next minute he was off, on top of Ed Bruce, folk were fair scandalised and crowded about, snickering with delight to see the daft fools, old Smithie and Bruce, leathering round in the grass. But down came the minister and pushed folk aside, angry as could be, and folk stared at him. Get up there, confound you, the two of you! he cried, and in a jiffy had old Smithie up in one hand and Bruce in the other, and shook them both. Haven't you more sense than behave like a couple of bairns! Shake hands and shut up!

And so they did, but before the night was well done the speak was all over the Howe of the Mearns that the new minister of Segget had come down and bashed Ed Bruce in the face and syne Smithie, and cursed at them both for ten minutes without stopping. And a great lot of folk went to kirk next Sunday that never went afore, and never went again, for no other purpose than to stare at the minister, and see if he'd be shamed of the coarse way he'd cursed.

Well, that was the Segget Show and Games, by eight and nine the older folk were crying ta-ta and taiking away home, the farmers in their gigs spanked down by Meiklebogs, the Segget folk dandered homes low in the light, it lay like the foam of the sea on the land, soft, in a kind of blue, trembling half-mist, a half-moon, quiet, came over the hills and looked down on the board where the young still danced. Else sought out the mistress--should she take Ewan home? But the mistress shook her head, I'll do that. Dance while you're young, but don't be too late; and she smiled at Else the fine way she had, she looked bonny with that dour, sweet, sulky face, the great plaits of her hair wound round her head, rusty and dark and changing to gold, Else thought If I were a man myself I'd maybe be worse than the minister is--I'd want to cuddle her every damned minute!

Young Ewan was beside her, he stood eating chocolate, he had eaten enough to make a dog sick, as Else knew well, but he looked cool as ever, the funny bit creature, and said Ta-ta, Else. Will Mr. Meiklebogs squeeze you under my window? Else felt herself flushing up like a fire, Maybe, if I let him, and Ewan said Oh, do, and would maybe have said more, for bairns are awful, but that the minister had hold of his arm--Come on, or I'll squeeze YOU, Ta-ta, Else.

So the three went home through the night-quiet park, Robert and Chris the last of the elders to leave. It came sudden on Chris, with her feet in the grass, her hand in Ewan's, that that's what they were--old, she who was not yet thirty years old! Old, and still how you'd like to dance, out under the brightening coming of the moon, drop away from you all the things that clung close, Robert and Ewan and the Manse--even Chris--be young and be young and be held in men's arms, and seem bonny to them and look at them sly, not know next hour who would take you home, and not know who would kiss you or what they would do. . . . Young as you never yet had been young, you'd been caught and ground in the wheels of the days, in this dour little Howe and its moil and toil, the things you had missed, the things you had missed! The things that the folk had aye in the books--being daft, with the winds of young years in your hair, night for a dream and the world for a song. Young; and you NEVER could be young now.

Like a sea you had never seen plain in your life, you heard the thunder and foam of the breakers, once or twice, far off, dark-green and salt, you had seen them play, spouting and high on a drift of the wind, crying in the sun with their crested laughters, hurrying south on the questing tides. Youth, to be young--

High up and over the Kaimes two birds were sailing into the western night, lonely, together, into the night Chris watched them fade to dots in the sky.

 

The whispers went round the minister had gone, the ploughmen and spinners gave a bit laugh and took a bit squeeze at the queans they held; and some of the folk that were hot with their collars pulled the damned things off and threw them in the hedge. In Will Melvin's bar was a roaring trade, old Hairy Hogg's son and Dite Peat were there, the both of them telling the tale, you may guess, Alec Hogg of the things he had seen in Edinburgh, Dite Peat of the things he had done in London. God! 'twas a pity they'd ever come back. Meiklebogs came talking into the bar, near nine that was, folk cried: Will you drink? and he answered back canny, Oh, ay; maybe one; and had two or three, and looked shyer than ever. Dite Peat roared With that down under your waistcoat, you'll be able to soss up the Manse quean fine. Meiklebogs looked a wee bit shyer than before, and gave a bit laugh, and said, Fegs, ay.

Else had danced every dance since the dancing began. When Charlie from Catcraig, the fool, disappeared, Alec Hogg had taken her up for a while, and half Else liked him and half she didn't, he felt like a man though he spoke like a toff. He asked in his clipped-like way, You're Miss Queen? as though he thought it should be mistake. Else answered careless, Oh, ay, so I've heard. You're the son of old Hairy Hogg, the Provost? He grinned like a cat. So my mother says, and Else was fair shocked, a man shouldn't make jokes about his own mother. So after a while she got rid of the creature, and the next dance she had was with Ogilvie the joiner, he'd left the band for Feet to conduct, he swung her round and round in a waltz, his own eyes half-closed near all that time. If he thought your face such a scunner to look at, why did he ask you up for a dance?

Then Feet cried The last, and there was John Muir he'd grabbed Else afore any other could get near, and he danced right well, Else warmed up beside him, he cried out, Hooch! and she did the same, if he dug graves as well as he danced, John Muir, he should have had a job in a public cemetery. As Else whirled she saw the blue reek of Segget, and the dusk creep in, it was warm and blue, and the smell of the hay rose up in her face; there was the moon, who was taking her home?

She was over big and scared off the shargars; but one or two childes she knew keen enough for a slow-like stroll up to Segget Manse. But they looked at Dalziel, that was waiting by, and turned away and left Else alone. And the old fool said, with his shy-like smile, Ay then, will I see you home, Else lass?

Else said You may, since you've feared all the rest! but he smiled as canny as ever and said Ay, he didn't seem to mind that she was in a rage. The dances were ended and the folk were going, streaming from the park as the night came down, the band with their instruments packed in their cases, and their queans beside them, them that had queans, them that had wives had the creatures at home, waiting up with a cup of tea to slocken the throats of the men that had played so well for Segget that afternoon. Here and there in the park a bit fight broke out, but folk paid little heed, they just gave a smile, that was the way that the Show aye ended, you'd think it queer in a way if you didn't see a childe or so with his nose bashed in, dripping blood like a pig new knived.

Jock Cronin and his spinners had started a quarrel with the three fee'd men at the Meiklebogs. Jock Cronin said ploughmen should be black ashamed, they that once had a union like any other folk, but had been too soft in the guts to stick by it, they'd been feared by the farmers into leaving their union, the damned half-witted joskins they were. George Sand was the foreman at the Meiklebogs, a great meikle childe with a long moustache and a head on him like a Clydesdale horse. He said And what the hell better are the spinners? They've done a damn lot with their union and all? I sit down to good meat when the dirt are starving, and another Meiklebogs man cried the same. Ay, or a porter down at the station? What the hell has your union done for you? I've more money in my pouch right the now, let me tell you, than ever you had in your life, my birkie. I could show you right now a five and a ten and a twenty pound note.

Jock Cronin said sneering-like, Could you so? Could you show me five shillings? and the childe turned red, he hadn't even that on him at the time, it had been no more than an empty speak, and he felt real mad to be shown up so. So he took John Cronin a crack on the jaw, by God it sounded like the crack of doom. Jock Cronin went staggering back among the spinners, and then the spinners and ploughmen were at it, in a minute as bonny a fight on as ever you saw in your life at Segget Show. You'd be moving off the Show-ground quiet with your quean, till you saw it start and then you'd run forward, and ask what was up, and not stop to listen, for it fair looked tempting; so you'd take a kick at the nearest backside, hard as you liked, and next minute some brute would be bashing in your face, and you bashing his, and others coming running and joining; and somebody trotting to Melvin's tent and bringing out Feet to stop the fight.

He was well loaded up with drink by then, Feet, and he'd only a bit of his uniform on. But he ran to the fighters and he cried Hold on! What's all this jookery-packery now? Stop your fighting and get away home.

But the coarse brutes turned on poor Feet instead, it was late that night when he crawled from the ditch and blinked his eyes and felt his head, the moon high up in a cloudless sky, the field deserted and a curlew crying.

 

All the folk had gone long ere that, even the youngest and daftest of them gone, home from the Segget Show in their pairs, there were folk at that minute on the Laurencekirk road, a lad and his lass on their whirring bikes, the peesies wheeping about in the moon, the childe with his arm around the quean's shoulder, the whir of the wheels below their feet, the quean with her cheek against the hand that rested shy on her shoulder, so, home, before them but still far off; and the dark came down and they went into it, into their years and tomorrows, they'd had that.

Some went further in business, if less in mileage. Near Skite a farmer went out to his barn, early next morning, and what did he see? Two childes and two lasses asleep in his hay. And he was sore shocked and went back for his wife, and she came and looked and was shocked as well, and if they'd had a camera they'd have taken photographs, they were so delighted and shocked to see two queans that they knew in such a like way, they'd be able to tell the story about them all the years that they lived on earth; and make it a tit-bit in hell forbye.

Cis Brown had asked her father MacDougall if she could stay on late at the dance; and he'd said that she might, his favourite was Cis; and so she had done and at the dance end she had looked round about and had blushed as she wondered would anyone ask her to walk home to Segget? She was over young, she supposed, for all that, a college quean with her lessons and career, and not to waste her time on a loon. And she wished that she wasn't, and then looked up and saw a spinner, a boy beside her, about the same age as herself, she thought. He was tall like a calf, and shy and thin, he looked at her and he didn't look--Are you going up home?

She said she was and she thought as she said it, What an awful twang those spinners speak! She was half-ashamed to walk home with one. But so they got clear of the stamash of the fighting, saying never a word as they went through the grass. Then the boy gave a cough, Are you in a hurry? and Cis said No, not a very great hurry, and he said Let's go down by the Meiklebogs corn and home through the moor to the Segget road.

So she went with him, quiet, by the side of the park, the path so narrow that he went on ahead, the moon was behind them up in the Mounth, below them stirred the smell of the stalks, bitter and strange to a quean from Segget, she bent and plucked up one in the dark, and nibbled at it and looked at the boy. Behind them the noise of the Show grew faint: only for sound the swish of the corn.

Then the path grew broader and they walked abreast, he said sudden, but quiet, You're Cis Brown from MacDougall's shop aren't you? Cis said Yes, not asking his name, he could tell her if he liked, but she wasn't to ask. But he didn't tell, just loped by her side, long-legged, like a deer or a calf, she thought, leggy and quick and quiet. They heard as they passed in that cool, quiet hour the scratch of the partridges up in the moor, once a dim shape started away from a fence with a thunderous clop of hooves in the dark, a Meiklebogs horse that their footsteps had feared.

Syne they came to the edge of the moor, it was dark, here the moon shone through the branched horns of the broom, the whins tickled your legs and Cis for a while couldn't find her way till the boy said Wait. I know this place, I often come here. And his hand found hers and she felt in his palm the callouses worn by the spindles there, he'd some smell of the jute about him as well, as had all the spinner folk of the mills.

Water gleamed under the moon in a pool. Cis stopped to breathe and the boy did the same, she saw him half turn round in the moonlight and felt suddenly frightened of all kinds of things--only a minute, frightened and curious, quick-strung all at once, what would he do?

But he did not a thing but again take her hand, still saying nothing, and they went through the moor, the low smoulder of Segget was suddenly below them, and below their feet sudden the ring of the road. She took her hand out of his then. So they went past the Memorial up through The Close to the door of the house of MacDougall Brown; and Cis stopped and the boy did the same, and she knew him, remembered him, his name was Dod Cronin. And he looked at her, and looked away again; and again, as on the moor, queer and sweet, something troubled her, she had never felt it before for a soul--compassion and an urgent shyness commingled, sixteen herself and he about the same, daft and silly to feel anything like this! He slipped his hand slow up her bare arm, shy himself, he said something, she didn't know what. She saw him flush as she didn't answer, he was feared, the leggy deer of a loon!

And she knew at once the thing he had asked. She put up her hand to the hand on her arm, and next minute she found she was being kissed with lips as shy, unaccustomed as hers. And a minute after she was inside the door of MacDougall's shop, and had the door closed, and stood quivering and quivering alone in the dark, wanting to laugh and wanting to cry, and wanting this minute to last forever.

 

Else Queen of the Manse had held home with Dalziel. As they gained the road he turned round and said, with a canny glance back to where folk were fighting: Would you like to come ben the way for some tea? Else was still in a rage, she didn't know why, or with whom, or how it began, so she snapped: No, I wouldn't, then. Do you know what the hour is? Meiklebogs looked shy-like--she knew that he did, she could guess the soft-like look on his face, she felt half inclined to take it a clout--and said: Oh ay, but I thought that maybe you would like to slocken up after the dancing about.

She might as well do as the old fool said, even though there'd be no one else at Meiklebogs. Oh ay, she had heard the gossip of Segget, about Dalziel and his various housekeepers, though he did his own cooking now, as folk knew: It was said that two hadn't bidden a night, two others had come to the Meiklebogs alone and left in their due time, each with a bairn, a little bit present from the shy Meiklebogs. Well, that didn't vex Else, the stories were lies, old Meiklebogs--he was over shy ever to find out what a woman was like, unless it was out of a picture book, maybe: and even then it was like he would blush the few remaining hairs from his head. And even were there something in the Segget gossip she'd like to see the creature alive that would take advantage of her--just let him.

So she nodded, All right, I'll come for a cup. Meiklebogs said Grand, and the two went on, the moon was behind them, in front was the smell from the coles out still in the hayfield, tall, they'd had a fine crop that year of the hay. As they came near the house there rose a great barking and, Meiklebogs' meikle collie came out, Meiklebogs cried Heel! and the beast drew in, wurring and sniffing as they passed through the close. In the kitchen 'twas dark and close as a cave, the window fast-snecked, the fire a low glow. Meiklebogs lit a candle, Sit dozen, will you, Else? I'll blow up the fire and put on the kettle.

So he did, and Else took off her hat, and sat down and looked at the dusty old kitchen, with its floor of cement and its eight-day clock, ticking with a hirpling tick by the wall; and the photo of Lord Kitchener that everyone had heard of, over the fireplace, a dour-looking childe. 'Twas back in the War-years that Meiklebogs had got it, he'd cycled a Sunday over to Banchory, to a cousin of his there, an old woman-body; and she'd had the photo new-bought at a shop. Well, Meiklebogs had fair admired the fine thing, he thought it right bonny and said that so often that the woman-body cousin said at last he could have it. But it was over-big to be carried in his pouch, and the evening had come down with a spleiter of rain. But that didn't bog Meiklebogs, faith, no! He took off his jacket and tied the damn thing over his shoulder with a length of tow; and syne he put on his jacket above it. And the cousin looked on, and nodded her head: Ay, the old devil's been in a pickle queer places. But I'm thinking that's the queerest he's ever been in.

The dresser was as thick with dust as a desert, Else bent in the light of the candle above it, and wrote her name there, and Dalziel smiled shy. Will you get down two cups from the hooks up there?

Else did, and brought saucers as well, he gleyed at them: Faith, I don't use them. I'm not gentry, like. Else said: Oh, aren't you? Well I am.

He poured the tea out and sat down to drink it. And faith! he found a good use for his saucer, he poured the tea in it and drank that way, every now and then casting a sly look at Else as though he were a mouse and she was the cheese. But she didn't care, leaning back in her chair, she was tired and she wondered why she'd come here, with this silly old mucker and his silly looks; and why Charlie had made such a fool of himself. Meiklebogs took another bit look at her than, she watched him, and then he looked at the window, and then he put out a hand, canny, on to her knee.

It was more than the hand, a minute after that, he louped on her as a crawly beast loups, something all hair and scales from the wall; or a black old monkey; she bashed him hard, right in the eye, just once, then he had her. She had thought she was strong, but she wasn't, in a minute they had struggled half-way to the great box bed. She saw once his face in the light of the candle, and that made her near sick and she loosed her grip, he looked just as ever, canny and shy, though his hands upon her were like iron clamps. She cried You're tearing my frock, he half-loosed her, he looked shy as ever, but he breathed like a beast.

Ah well, we'll take the bit thing off, Else.

 

Robert had gone to moil at his sermon: Chris heard the bang of the door upstairs. Ewan was in bed and already asleep, hours yet she supposed ere Robert came down. The kitchen gleamed in the light of the moon, bright clean and polished, with the stove a glow, she looked at that and looked at herself, and felt what she hoped wasn't plain to be seen, sticky and warm with the Segget Show. She'd have a bath ere she went to bed.

The stove's red eye winked as she opened the flue, and raked in the embers and set in fresh sticks; and on these piled coals and closed up the flue. In a little she heard the crack of the sticks, and went up the stairs to her room and Robert's, and took off her dress and took off her shoes, not lighting a light; the moon was enough. The mahogany furniture rose-red around, coloured in the moonlight, the bed a white sea, she sat on the edge and looked out at Segget, a ghostly place, quiet, except now and again with a bray of laughter borne on the wind as the door of the Arms opened and closed. Far down in the west, pale in the moon, there kindled a star that she did not know.

She stood up and went over and looked in the glass, and suddenly shivered, cold after the dancing; and drew the curtains and lighted the lamp, and took off her clothes in front of that other who watched and moved in the mirror's mere. She saw herself tall, taller than of old, lithe and slim still with the brown V-shape down to the place between her breasts, she could follow the lines of the V with her finger. And she saw her face, high cheek-boned and bronze, quiet and still with the mask of the years, her mouth too wide but she liked her teeth, she saw them now as she smiled at the thought her mouth was too wide! She loosed the pins in her hair and it fell, down to her knees, tickling her shoulders, faith! it was worse than a mane, a blanket, she'd cut it one day, if Robert would let her. She caught it aside and suddenly remembered a thing she'd forgot, forgotten for years, and looked for the dimple she once had had, and found it, there still, and saw her face flush faint as she minded, now that she thought of the thing at all, she'd been told that first night two years ago that the dimple was there--

Funny and queer that you were with a man! You did this and that and you lay in his bed, there wasn't a thing of you he might not know, or you of him, from the first to the last. And you could speak of these things with him, and be glad, glad to be alive and be his, and sleep with your head in his shoulder's nook, tickling his chin, you supposed, with your hair--you could do all that and blush at the memory of a daft thing said on your wedding night!

Then she remembered she'd wanted a bath. She seemed to have stood there dreaming for hours, and found her dressing-gown and her slippers, and went down the stairs and turned on the taps. The water came gurgling out with a steam, she saw her face in the shaving-glass, and stared at it--something happening tonight?

She splashed for a little thinking of that, the water about her stung quick at first; she saw herself fore-shortened and fragile, but fair enough still, so she supposed--yes, she would think that if she were a man! She lifted an arm and the water ran down it, little pellets, they nested under her cheek; and 'twas then she thought of the thing she would do. Yes, she would do it this very night! . . . And because that wouldn't bear thinking about, here, she splashed herself and got out, Robert's mirror blinded in a cloud of steam. She opened the bathroom door and listened, there was no one to hear or see for this once, she caught up her gear and ran quick up the stairs, in the moving pattern of splashed moonlight high from the window set in the gable, and gave a gasp as she felt a hand on her shoulder, the arm came tight, she was kissed. Robert coming down had seen the light splash as she opened the bathroom door.

She struggled away, I've no clothes on!

He said that he'd half suspected that, teasing her a minute, then let her go. Then he said he'd go down and get ready their supper, and went lightly down the stairs as a lad, it was Chris who now stood still and looked down, high in her breast her heart beating fast. She would, and this very night she would, in spite of what he had told her and taught her!

She dressed and went down through the quiet of the Manse, Robert popped his fair pow round the edge of the door, Supper in the kitchen, or shall we be grand? She said she would like the kitchen as well and pushed him into a chair as she spoke, and took off Else's apron he'd draped on his trousers, and set to the making of supper herself. He sighed and stretched out and lighted his pipe, and drew at it, looking out of the window. There's something in the night--or is it in you? He stood up and walked to the window and peered, and came back and looked at Chris for a while; and put out a finger upon her forearm. Funny to think that was once monkey-hair!

She said that it wasn't, whatever his ancestors had been, hers were decent, like Hairy Hogg's, hers (they'd both heard the story). Robert chuckled over that as he sat down again, the only result of his sermon so far to drop a blot on the Provost's escutcheon. Hopeless, the Provost, and most of the others, Geddes, poor chap, had mislaid his guts; but he'd form that Segget League even yet, wait till this young Stephen Mowat came home!

Chris asked when that was but Robert didn't know, he thought very soon, then grew puzzled again. Funny, there really Is something about, and Chris said, Maybe, and keeked at him sly, as he sat there and puzzled, and restrained herself from suddenly and daftly cuddling him tight. When she opened the kitchen window wide there came a faint scent on the tide of the wind, from the garden, the jonquils and marigolds glowed faint and pale in the light of the moon.

Then Chris set the table and they both sat down, it was fine to work in her kitchen untrammelled, good though Else was as a general rule, if it wasn't for the fact that the Manse was so big they could have done well without a maid here. She said that to Robert, he said Yes, I know, I feel that way myself--for tonight! As though I could turn our Segget myself into Augustine's City of Gold. . . . Something in the night that's making us like this, and stopped and stared, Why, Chris, you look different!

She said he was silly--or 'twas maybe the bath! Then she felt herself colour with his eyes upon her. He shook his head, An unusual bath!--A mental one? They're uncommon in Segget.

He said That's the first time I've ever heard you bitter, and she said she didn't feel bitter, she was fine; and they washed up and dried in the moonlight quiet, together and content and yet more than that, once he brushed her shoulder as he went to and fro, carrying the dishes over to the dresser; and he stopped and scowled, sore-puzzled upon her, It must be that monkey-hair that's electric!

And then they had finished and a mood came on Chris. Let's go out in the garden. And they both went out in the honey-dark shadows that the hedgerow threw, warm, a little mist crept up from Segget, under the nets in the strawberry patches the berries were bending their heads full ripe, Chris knelt by a bed and found one that was big, and ate half herself, Robert the other, seeing it waiting there on her lips. And, as he laughed and kissed her for that, something caught them both to a silence, foolish and quiet by the strawberry beds. The rooks chirped drowsily up in the yews as they passed beneath to the sheltered wall where love-in-a-mist and forget-me-nots bloomed blue and soft even now in the night, under the wall that led to the kirkyard, just low enough for Chris to look over.

And so for a little she stopped and looked, that third Chris holding her body a while, how strange it was she stood here by Robert, so close that the warmth of his body warmed hers--when in such a short time she would die down there on a bit of land as deserted and left. They were gone, they were quiet, and the tears that were shed and the folk that came and the words that were said, were scattered and gone and they left in peace, finished and ended and all put by, the smell for them of forget-me-nots and the taste of a strawberry eaten at night and the kiss of lips that were hard and kind, and the thoughts of men that had held them in love and wondered upon them and believed in God.

All that had gone by, now under the gold of the moon the grass rose from those bodies that mouldered in Segget, the curlews were calling up in the Kaimes, the hay lay in scented swathes in the parks, night wheeled to morning in a thousand rooms where the blood that they'd passed to other bodies circled in sleep, unknowing its debt. Nothing else they had left, they had come from the dark as the dustmotes come, sailing and golden in a shaft of the sun, they went by like the sailing motes to the dark; and the thing had ended, and you knew it was so, that so it would be with you in the end. And yet--and yet--you couldn't believe it!

Robert teased. Choosing a place for your coffin? and Chris said Just that, but don't plant me deep, and he said with a queer sudden fear in his voice, he startled Chris and she turned to look, Lord God, how I'd hate to be 'planted' myself! If I die before you, Christine, see to that, that I'm sent for burning to a crematorium. I'd hate to be remembered once I am dead. Chris thought in a flash how Segget would take it, should he die and she get him a funeral like that, They'd say, most likely, that I'd poisoned you, Robert, and were trying to get rid of the evidence, you know. He laughed, So they would! and then laughed again, a second laugh that was dreary, Chris thought. My God, were there ever folk like the Scots! Not only THEM--you and I are as bad. Murderous gossip passed on as sheer gospel, though liars and listeners both know it is a lie. Lairds, ladies, or plain Jock Muck at the Mains--they'd gossip the heart from Christ if He came, and impute a dodge for popularising timber when He was crucified again on His cross!

Chris said That's true, and yet it is not. They would feed Christ hungry and attend to His hurts with no thought of reward their attendance might bring. Kind, they're so kind.. . . And the lies they would tell about how He came by those hurts of His--

And yet you don't believe in a God. I've never asked you, but do you, Chris?

She bent her head as she answered, No, not looking at him; but his laugh was kind. You will sometime, however you find Him.

Then he looked at his watch, it was nearly midnight; and suddenly Chris forgot the sad things. She ran away from him and he came after, playing hide and seek, daft bairns both, in the play and wisp of the moonlight's flow, till Chris lost breath and he caught her up: and she suddenly yawned and he said, Bedtime. And Chris minded now the thing she had planned, and lingered a minute behind his step, shy as a bride to go with him.

The room was in shadow, for the moon had veered, Robert moved about quiet and lighted the lamp, his close-cropped hair lay smooth on his head till his clothes ruffled it up as he pulled them off. He looked over at Chris, I'm not sleepy at all. And said in that voice that he sometimes used You look very sweet, Christine, tonight. Did you know?

She reached up then and put out the light, and changed in the dark though he laughed and asked why. She answered nothing, slipping in beside him between the cool sheets; and lying so, still, she heard her heart hammer.

He lay quiet as well, then the curtain flapped and bellied in the breeze and you saw like a shadow the smile on his face, it was turned to you and you turned to him; and he said in a minute, Why, Christine! solemn, and his hands came firmly under your chin to hold you so and to kiss you, stern. And you knew that you stood on the brink of that sea that was neither charted nor plumbed by men, that sea-shore only women had known, dark with its sailing red lights of storms, where only the feet of women had trod, hearing the thunder of the sea in their ears as they gathered the fruit on that waste, wild shore. . . .

So: and his lips were in yours, and they altered, and you were gladder than you'd been for years, your arm went round his bared shoulder quick . . . and suddenly you were lying as rigid as death. Robert said, Tired out, after all, Christine?

For months after that she remembered that moment, her voice hadn't come from her lips for a minute; then she said, Just a bit, and heard him draw breath, and she said again, soft Not TOO tired, Robert, and had set her teeth fast after that, for an age, the thunder of that sea cut off by a wall, as she herself was, by a wall of fire; but she said not a word of either of these, stroked his hair where it clung to his brow; and he put his head on her breast and slept, after a while: and the house grew still.

She'd sleep soon herself, she'd put that damn dream by, the dream of a bairn fathered by Robert--not now, maybe never, but she could not tonight, not with memory of that scar that was torn across the shoulder of this living body beside her, the scar that a fragment of shrapnel had torn--but a little lower it would have torn his body, grunting, into a mesh of blood, with broken bones and with spouting blood, an animal mouthing in mindless torment. And she'd set herself to conceive a child--for the next War that came, to be torn like that, made blood and pulp as they'd made of Ewan--Oh, Ewan, Ewan, that was once my lad, that lay where this stranger's lying the night, I haven't forgotten, I haven't forgotten, you've a Chris that lies with you there in France, and she shan't bring to birth from her womb any bairn to die as you for a madman's gab. . . .

Quiet, oh, quiet, greet soft lest he wake, who's so kind and dear, who's so far from you now. But you'll never have a bairn of his for torment, to be mocked by memorials, the gabblings of clowns, when they that remained at home go out to praise the dead on Armistice Day.

 

Faith, when it came there was more to remember in Segget that year than Armistice only. There was better kittle in the story of what happened to Jim the Sourock on Armistice Eve. He was aye sore troubled with his stomach, Jim, he'd twist his face as he'd hand you a dram, and a man would nearly lose nerve as he looked--had you given the creature a bad shilling, or what? But syne he would rub his hand slow on his wame, It's the pains in my breast that I've gotten again; and he said that they fairly were awful sometimes, like a meikle worm moving and wriggling in there. Folk said he fair did his best to drown it, and God! that was true, the foul brute would go home, near every night as drunk as a toff, and fall in the bed by the side of his wife, she'd say You coarse brute, you've come drunken again; but he'd only groan, with his hand at his stomach, the worm on the wriggle like a damned sea-serpent.

Well, the Sourock and his mistress kept a pig, and the night of November the tenth Dite Peat closed up his shop and came over to kill it. He fair was a hand at a killing, was Dite, and the pig looked over its ree as he came, and knew fine what the knife and axe were for. So it started to scraich, and Dite grinned at the brute, Wait a minute, my mannie, I'll let that scraich out. And the Sourock's wife, that was standing by, felt queer as she saw that look on his face, she thought him a tink, but he fair could kill, not useless entirely like that gawpus Jim.

So she asked Dite in for a dram ere he started, and down he sat with his dram and his cake, and he drank down the one like a calf with its milk and ate up the cake like a famished dog. Syne he said it was over late tonight to cut up the beast out there in the ree, he'd come over the morn and see to that, Armistice Day would be a fine time to do a bit cutting about among flesh--Fegs, mistress, I've seen humans carved up like pigs, like bits of beef in a butcher's shop, and it fair looked fine, as I often thought, you couldn't wonder at those cannibal childes--

The Sourock's wife asked if he'd like to see her sick, Dite said, Be sick as you like, I won't mind; you've an uneasy stomach for a potman's wife. And she broke down and grat then and said what a fool she had been to marry a creature like Jim, her that was a decent bit parlourmaid once, with her wages her own and her fine new clothes, Jim had sworn in those days he was fair tee-tee, now he drank like a drain and stank like one, too, he wouldn't care a fig though he came of a night and found her lying dead in her bed. Dite thought, B'God, if he'd sense he'd dance! but he didn't say that, he didn't care a damn for the Sourock's wife or the Sourock's troubles, why should you care about any man's troubles, there were damn the few that had cared for yours--not that you'd asked them, you could manage them fine.

So he rose up and said, Well then, I'll go out and have a bit play with that beast in the ree.

She asked if he'd manage the thing by himself, she was off for the night to her sister in Fordoun, soon's she'd laid his supper for the Sourock, not that she supposed the sot would eat it, he'd come home and just stiter to his bed, as usual. Dite said he would manage fine on his own, and went out, and the Sourock's wife a bit later heard the grunt of the pig turn into a scream, nasty to hear, and then it came shrill, and she put on her hat and took her bit bag and went out and down by the ree as she went, not wanting to look and see Dite at his work of killing her pig for the winter dinners. But something drew her eyes in over the ree, there was Dite Peat, he was covered with sharn, he'd tripped in a rush he had made at the pig, now he'd cornered it up at the back of the ree. Its mouth was open and its bristles on end, and it whistled through its open jaws like the sound of the steam from an engine in Segget station.

So she didn't look longer, went hurrying on, it has been a fine beast, the pig, she remembered, would stand on its trough with a pleased-like grumph as she scratched the bristles on its back and lugs, fair a couthy beast, though scared at the rats, it had once near tripped her as she stood in its ree, she thought the creature was aiming at her: but instead it had caught a glimpse of a rat and was trying to get behind her for safety. So she turned the corner by Moultrie's shop and heard up in Segget the pig scream again, and she found herself hoast, like a fool of a bairn, with water in the nose--where was her hanky? And she suddenly thought of Dite Peat as a rat, a great rat with its underhung jaw and cruel eyes, creeping on the pig that was frightened at rats and had run once frightened to hide behind her--och, she was daft or soft or just both, and damn it! she couldn't get at her hanky.

But Dite had cornered Jim's pig at last, as it swithered its head he saw it set fine, and swung the bit axe, the blade of it up, the pig screamed again and fell at his feet with a trickle of blood from its snout and its trotters scraping and tearing at the sharn of the ree. So Dite turned the brute over, slow, with his axe, and took out his knife and cut its throat, slow, and held the throat open to let it bleed well. Syne he slung it on his shoulder and took it to the kitchen, and hung it on a hook and left it to drip.

It was fell dark then, as he slung the brute up, its flesh was still warm, and it minded him well of the bits of folk that a shell would fling Feuch! in your face with a smell of sharn, out in the War--He had liked it fine; there was something in blood and a howling of fear that kittled up a man as nothing else could. So he left the pig to drip in the dark and it moved quick once, when the sinews relaxed, and Dite gave a laugh and gave it a slap.

'Twas near to ten when he took a bit dander back again to the Sourock's house, a blatter of rain was dinging on Segget, sweeping and seeping up over the Howe, lying at night on the winter's edge with its harvests in, potato-crops with dripping shaws in the rigs of red clay. Dite pulled down his cap and lifted the sneck and went into the house of Jim the Sourock. He cracked a match and looked at the pig, it was getting on fine, had near finished to drip, he would leave it now till the morn's night. And then--he was aye a coarse brute, was Dite Peat, though you couldn't but laugh when you heard the tale--a grand idea came into his head, and he sat down and thought it all out and syne laughed, and took down the pig he had killed from its hook and slung it over his shoulder and went, ben to the bed the Sourocks slept in, a great box-bed that was half-covered in.

Dite threw back the blankets and put the pig down, the near the side of the bed where Sourock's wife slept--all the wives of Segget slept at the front, a woman aye sleeps at the front of the bed where she can get quicker out than a man, that's sense, for the lighting of the morning fire or getting up in the dark to be sick, as a woman will, when she's carrying a bairn, and not disturbing her man from his rest.

So Dite dumped down the pig in the bed, and covered it up, careful and canny. And he took a bit dander up through Segget, to freshen himself, as he said, for the night; and syne he went home, for he was fell tired.

'Twas an hour or so later ere the Sourock came home, he'd had to clear up the bar in the Arms, and lock the doors and hand over the silver, and stoke up a fire for a traveller childe that was spending the night in the Arms' best room. What with one thing and another that night, the drinks he had ta'en and the heat of the Arms, Jim came through Segget with a head fair spinning. As he crossed the Square he keeked at the angel, and damn't! there were two of the things up there, he stared at them fairely stern for a while; not decent for angels to cuddle like that. But then he decided he was fell drunk, and shook his head, two angels still there, and went slithering up through the lurching East Wynd.

Well, he got home at last through the drift of the rain, there was hardly a light to be seen in Segget, it cuddled up close in its beds and slept, with its goodmen turned to the wall and its wives wearied with a day of bairns and of claik, the bairns lying three-four in a bed, though five or six among the tink spinners, they bred like lice and they slept like them, too, Ake Ogilvie said--an ill bit speak, a man couldn't help the bairns that came, sometimes a woman was just of the kind that would take if you gave her no more than a squeeze, the next was cannier: you just couldn't tell.

Well, Jim the Sourock had been lucky so far, a fell good thing, one Sourock enough; but he wasn't thinking that or aught else, for a while he couldn't lay hands on his sneck. But he got it at last and let himself in, and sat down on the chair that stood by the door, and gave a great paich and rubbed at his middle.

Syne he loosened his boots, not bothering with a lamp, he knew better than that, he might fire the damned house; so he got his boots off and left them lie there, and made for the bedroom, holding to the wall, he would know the way in his sleep by now. Then the first thing happened that jaggered his night, his knees went bang 'gainst the side of a tub; he tumbled half-way into the tub, the bottom was full of some sticky soss, the Sourock swore and lurched up to his feet and wiped his hands on the seat of his breeks, he supposed that the wife had been washing fell late--the careless bitch to leave the tub there!

Well, he edged round about it and got to the door, and stitered inside and grumbled out loud, Do you know you've near broken my neck, eh, woman?

His wife said nothing, that wasn't surprising, considering that she was a five miles off. But the Sourock had forgotten all about that, he went shoggling and stitering about the room, pulling off his breeks and his socks, nothing else, he aye slept in his drawers and kept fine and warm. Syne he made for the bed and went in by the foot, his left hand on the hump he took for his wife. So he pushed back the blankets and got in below, and felt about with his feet a while to lay them on his wife and get himself warm. But damn the warmth could he find the night, so he reached out to give the creature a joggle--Jean, are you wake?

Well, the hump said nothing and the Sourock by then had his head a bit cleared through the fall in the tub. And he felt in a rage--Here, answer me, can't you? What's wrong with the like of you, eh, the night? And he put his hand under the blankets to feel her, so he did, and nearly shot out of the bed. Jean--God, Jean, but you're awful cold!

She said nothing at all and he sudden felt ill. He put out his hand, she was cold as a stone--worse than that, the hair frozen hard on her skin, the Sourick was dribbling and yammering by then. Jean, Jean, waken up; you're near frozen stiff! And at last he could bear the thing no longer, and got from his bed and found a match and lighted it up and pulled back the blanket. And he saw a great gaping throat in the light, and the spunk went out, his yell maybe blew it.

That was the story he'd tell to folk. For the rest, you gathered he pulled himself together, and went out to get some body go for the doctor: he was maybe a bit fuddled, but he knew what he wanted and was keeping quite calm, or so he would swear. That maybe was so and maybe it wasn't, 'twas strange anyway if he felt like that, that when Peter Peat heard a bellow and yammer and somebody beat on the door of his house like the angel of God on the Judgement Day--and Peter got from his bed and looked out, there was no angel but Jim the Sourock, in his sark, with no boots or breeks on either, his face and neck all covered with blood. And he yammered in the light of Peter Peat's candle--Let's in, Peter Peat. Oh, God, let me in!

But Peter wasn't near such a fool as do that. Go home to your bed, he said, and keep quiet. Is this a time to disturb decent folk? Go home and sleep by your good-wife's side--And he couldn't say more, the creature of a Sourock was fairly daft, he decided, for he yelped like a dog hard-kicked, and vanished from the range of Peter Peat's eyes; and Peter closed down the window and went back, canty, to sleep by his meikle wife's side, like a calf cuddling up to a haystack, folk said.

The Sourock was fair demented by then, he tried the house of old Hairy Hogg, and the Provost came down and keeked through the slit that was set in the door for letters, fair gentry. And the Sourock cried Let me in, oh, I'm feared. And old Hogg said In? To your sty, you drunkard! You're a fair disgrace to Scotland and Segget. Go home like a decent man to your wife. The Sourock vanished so quickly at that that the Provost was fair convinced he'd obeyed--ay, there still were folk had the power to rule, them that came of the Burns' blood.

Well, where do you think that Jim ended up? Down in the house of MacDougall Brown. MacDougall let him in and heard his bit story. Cis got from her bed and came down to hear. MacDougall cried on her to go back, but she wouldn't, she said All right, I won't look--not decent for a lassie to look on a man when he hadn't on breeks, or not at least till she'd married one herself, syne she'd think, said Ake Ogilvie, his breeks fair the best bit of the bargain, and the Scythian childe that invented the things the greatest benefactor of the human race.

Well, Cis boiled some water to wash the Sourock, and MacDougall, it fair must have been a sore wrench, made tea for the creature and he drank it up, and his stomach for once didn't turn at the taste. And he felt a bit better and washed his foul neck, telling how his wife lay with her throat cut out. MacDougall said, Ay, she has met the Lord, as you yourself one day must do. Repent and come to the arms of Jesus--that's what he'd planned from the first, you gathered. Well, the Sourock said that he would, by God, he'd fair be tee-tee from that minute, he would; and MacDougall was pleased as punch and near kissed him, he was awful fond of bringing souls to God, was MacDougall, and threatening the souls with the pains of hell if they traded at any other shop but his.

So he loaned a pair of his breeks to the Sourock, and out the pair of them went together, and went canny up to the Sourock's house and ben to the room where the red corpse lay, MacDougall carrying the lantern he'd lit. And he lifted the lantern and glowered at the thing that was lying there in the Sourock's bed, and cried Hoots, man, this is no the mistress and pulled back the blankets and showed Jim the pig. And the Sourock glowered at it, Well, then, I'm damned. Man, but it fair looked her image to me.

 

They were into Armistice Day by then, though neither MacDougall nor the Sourock cared, they shifted the pig and went to their beds, the rain held on through the night, and morning came soaking laired across the clay parks, the parks that begirdle Segget in red, in a wheep of gulls driven in from the coast, if you drove into Segget that day you'd have seen enough glaur around to make you believe the tale that they never took a good wash in Segget till the harvest was over and the bills all paid. That was no more than a speak, you knew, but it made a fine hit at the Segget folk, them so damned proud of their Burgh and Kaimes, and their new bit kirk that hadn't a steeple, not so proud of their mills and the spinners that made up the most of their population. And faith, by the time Armistice was out, it was less proud than ever of its spinners, Segget.

The day had cleared by eleven o'clock, and folk came taiking in round the angel that stood so bonny in Segget Square. Ay, fairly a gey bit gathering, impressive--except for the smell, Ake Ogilvie said. But he aye was sneering something like that, the coarse brute, why couldn't he let folk a-be? And you saw him there in the midst of the lave, with his medals pinned on his waistcoat flap, and his hands in his pockets, looking at the angel as though he wouldn't sleep with the lass though she tried to come down and crawl into his bed.

Sim Leslie, the bobby, that folk called Feet, tried to form a half-circle here, the Provost to the right, all hair and horns, with his popping bit eyes and his ancestor Burns, he was telling how Burns was a patriot childe, aye ready to shed his blood for the land. Ake Ogilvie said Ay. He slew a fell lot of the French--with his mouth. He was better at raping a servant quean than facing the enemy with a musket. And Hairy Hogg said that was a foul slander, Ogilvie mad with jealousy, just, because the dirt that he wrote himself was worse than dirt, compared with the Bard; and Ake said he'd rather be just plain dirt than slush on a dung-heap, disguised as a flower; and young Alec Hogg, that was home from Edinburgh, cried Cannot you leave my father alone?

Ake looked him up and down with a long, cold stare. I never touch dung except with a fork, but give's none of your lip, or I'll break my rule. Alec Hogg cried Try it! and maybe in a minute there would have been a fine bit fight on the go, right there by the angel in Segget Square, folk round about looking shocked as could be and edging nearer for a better look, when they saw the minister coming from East Wynd, and the choir coming with him; and folk cried, Wheest!

'Twas him, the minister, that had started the thing and had you all out in the Square today, old Greig, that filled the pulpit afore him, hadn't bothered to hold any service at all, he'd over-much sense to catch cold in the Square. But the Reverend Mr. Colquohoun was fell keen, he'd badgered folk to close up their shops and gotten the mills to close down as well, he fair was a go-ahead billy, like, though some folk said he was more than that, he'd barely started interfering yet. 'Twas said he'd already the kirk session against him, with his preaching for this and that daft-like reform; and he'd badgered Hairy Hogg near from his wits--or what little wits were left the old Provost--about the town council and where it might meet, and what it could do, and who were the members, and why didn't they light Segget at night, did they know the drains in West Wynd were bad, when were the mills inspected and how? . . . Folk said the next thing you'd find him keen on would be shifting the Kaimes for a seat in his yard, ay, if the creature went on at this rate he'd soon have all Segget on his hands to fight.

A raw wind blew down the Howe through the Square and fluttered the minister's robes as he prayed, his thin white face down-bent as he prayed, his prayer just said in an ordinary voice. It made a man kind of uneasy to hear the way that he spoke to God like that--not as any other ministers would do, as though they'd only half-swallowed their dinners and had the remainder still in their throats.

No, no, the Reverend Colquohoun spoke plain, some liked it that way, you were damned if you did: and he asked the mercy of God on a world unawakened yet from a night that was past. And he said that God had made neither night nor day in human history, He'd left it in the hands of Man to make both, God was but Helper, was but Man himself, like men he also struggled against evil, God's wounds had bled, God also had died in the holocaust in the fields of France. But He rose anew, Man rose anew, he was as undying as God was undying--if he had the will and the way to live, on this planet given to him by God. A pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night--they had hung in the sky since the coming of men, set there by God for the standards of men, clouds and the shining standards of rain, the hosts of heaven for our standard by night . . . A trumpet had cried and unsealed our ears; would it need the lightning to unseal our eyes?

And after a bit you stopped listening to that, you didn't know much about preaching and the like, but was that the way a minister should speak? You were damned if you thought so: fair heathen it sounded. And you took a canny bit keek round about, at the throng of the Segget folk that were there--hardly a spinner, where were the dirt? There was Mrs. Colquohoun, anyway, bonny in a way, with a sulky-like face, a common bit quean the minister had wifed, folk that had known her well in Kinraddie said she had once been as blithe as bonny, but now she was altered out of all manner, if they met her and spoke to her and cried, Chris! she would smile and speak and be friends enough, but different somehow--ay, she'd grown damned proud.

Well, there she was, and her son as well, the son of her first bit man you had heard, with a cool, dark face, but not a bad bairn. Nearby was the Provost and next him his son, the Fasher, rigged out in his baggy breeks. MacDougall Brown was well to the fore, not that he'd fought in the War, but he'd sung; and Peter Peat, the tailor, a terrible patriot; and Dite, the foul tink; and Dominie Geddes, and the three women teachers; and the porters and stationy, Smithie and Ake. Will Melvin you could see near the Station folk, John Muir and Bruce and a birn of the like. Syne the minister held up his hand for quiet, and you knew that it was eleven o'clock.

And faith! The quiet would have been fell solemn, but for a great car that came swishing up, from the south, and turned, and went up East Wynd. Folk had stood still like stooks of rags, but they moved then and stared at the thing go by--all but the minister, he stood like a stone. Then he said, low and clear, We will now sing the hymn 'Our God, our help in ages past.'

You cleared your throat and looked right and left, felt shy to be such a fool as stand there and sing without a bit organ to help; and the first few words were a kind of growl till you heard the minister himself sing up. And just as folk were getting in the swing, the dirt of spinners came down to the Square.

They came marching down through the Close from West Wynd, a twenty or thirty of the ill-getted creatures, with their mufflers on, not in decent collars, their washy faces crinkled with grins, marching along there four by four. In front of the lot was that tink John Cronin, and over his shoulder he carried a red flag, and the spinners behind him were laughing and joking, two-three of them women, the shameful slummocks. Well, your mouth fell open, as it damn well might, you had never yet seen such a sight in Segget; and you stopped your singing, and so did some more, and some after that, till the only folk left were the Reverend Colquohoun, and his wife, and Cis Brown, and that gawpus Else Queen. And then Ake Ogilvie that hadn't yet sung took a look round about and started to sing, as loud as could be, as though he'd new-wakened; he did it to be different from others as usual.

But afore folk could pipe up again to the thing the spinners were close and Jock Cronin cried Halt! And they swung round about him and stood in a circle, and next minute they'd started singing themselves, loud as could be and fair drowning the hymn, a song about shrouding their dead in red, and about their bit limbs being stiff and cold; and God alone knows what kind of stite.

Well, that fairly finished the Memorial Service. The minister had turned as white as a sheet, he finished his singing and so did his wife, here and there a man in the crowd cried out, Have you no manners?--speaking to the spinners. And Feet, the policeman, went over to them, Now then, you're causing a disturbance, he said, he was awful proud of that word, was Feet, that he'd got in a book on how bobbies should speak. But they took no notice, just stood round and sang, till he pushed through the ring round that tink John Cronin; then they stopped and Cronin said Well, Feet, what's up?

Feet was fair roused, a patriot-like childe, he hadn't been out to the War himself, they wouldn't let him go with feet like that in case he might block up the trenches, folk said. But he'd fair been a one for the War all the same, and he wasn't to see its memory insulted by a pack of tink brutes that didn't wear collars--them and their song about flinching and sneering from a scarlet standard and God knows what. Who ever heard of a scarlet standard?--Just a tink way of calling their betters bloody. . . . So he said to Jock Cronin, Aren't you black ashamed to break in on the War Memorial service? And Jock Cronin said No, we're not, you see, Feet, we all had a taste of the War ourselves. Take a keek at our chests now, Feet my lad, and then have a look at your own and see if there's anything on it the like of on ours!

And then you saw plain what he meant, he himself, and all of the spinners that had marched to the Square, had War-medals pinned on their jackets or waistcoats, they were all of them men who had been to the War: except the three women, and they wore medals sent on to them after their folk were dead. Well, that fair staggered Feet, and you felt sorry for him, especially as you had no medal yourself, you hadn't been able to get to the War, you'd been over-busy with the shop those years, or keeping the trade going brisk in the Arms, or serving at Segget as the new stationmaster. And well you might warrant if the King had known the kind of dirt that those spinners were he wouldn't have lashed out as he'd done with his medals.

But Jock Cronin pushed his way past Feet, and jumped on the pedestal under the angel, and cried out Comrades--not only mill folk, but others as well that I see down there: WE went to the war, we know what it was, we went to lice and dirt and damnation: and what have we got at the end of it all? Starvation wages, no homes for heroes, the capitalists fast on our necks as before. They're sacking men at the mills just now and leaving them on the bureau to starve--that's our reward, and maybe it's yours, that's the thing we must mind today. Not to come here and remember the dead, they've a place that's theirs, and we'll share it some time, they're maybe the better compared with some that live here in Segget worse-fed than beasts. It's the living that's our concern, you chaps. Come over and join us, the Labour Party. You first, Mr. Colquohoun, you were out there, you've sense.

And as the impudent brute ended up he waved his hand to the Reverend Colquohoun, and for a minute after that there was such a quiet you could near have cut it and eaten it in chunks, it was that damned solid, while all the folk stared. Syne the minister just turned his back and said, cool, I think we'll go home, Chris, to his wife; and she nodded and said nothing, they were both cool and calm. It made a man boil to see them so meek, damn't! if you had been a minister, would you let yourself be insulted like that? No, you wouldn't; and neither would any minister in the days before the coming of the War, the War had fair been a ruination, letting tinks like the Cronins find out that their betters ate and smelt just the same as themselves.

Well, next there was near a fight broke out. Ake Ogilvie cried to Jock Cronin, Oh ay, and where the hell did YOU serve in the War? And Jock Cronin said Up in the front, my lad, not scrounging behind with the Royal Engineers.--No, you hadn't enough brain for them you poor fool, Ake Ogilvie said, and would maybe have said more, if the minister hadn't turned round and cried, Ogilvie! And Ake went off, and the spinners all laughed. Some folk stayed near to hear what they'd say, most decent bodies went over to the Arms and spoke of the things they'd have done to the spinners if they'd stayed behind in Segget Square.

Chris ran nearly all the way from the Square, Mr. Geddes and his teachers were coming for lunch (as they called it, but they ate it just as a dinner); and the meat was cooking in the Manse's oven. Else you could see flying on in front, as anxious as you, you'd left Robert behind, he'd laughed and slowed down and lighted his pipe. But you ran up under the drip of the yews, through the Manse front door and through to the kitchen, and there was Else with her face like a fire, leaning panting up by the kitchen back door, and a burning smell from the open oven. Else cried Well, I was just in time! and pointed to the chicken out in its ashet, it had just begun to burn at the top. And you said That was fine, you're a blessing, Else. Sit and rest a minute. Else took a look at herself in the glass, I've a face like that flag the spinners were carrying. Did you ever see such nasty brutes?

Chris said they hadn't much manners, she thought. But she'd never before seen men with that flag, or heard them singing the song about it--hirpling and sad, but it caught you somehow, there was something in it that you knew was half-true, true with a truth that drew your mind back to Chae Strachan far in your younger days, who had said the mission of the common folk was to die and give life with their deaths forever. . . . Like Robert's God, in a way, you supposed.

And maybe that was Robert's own thought, Chris came on him in the sitting-room, standing and staring queerly at Segget, harsh-blue, rain-driven, in its clouded noon. Chris put up a hand on his shoulder. Not vexed? The service was fine, and I liked what you said. Robert squeezed her hand, My vanity's vexed. That's all, I suppose, and those spinner chaps--a perfect devil if they're right, Christine. Chris said How right? and he said Their beliefs--a war of the classes to bring fruit to the War. Remember the Samson I preached that day I tried for the kirk of Segget, Christine? I suppose we saw him in the Square today, with a muffler on and a thin, starved look. If his betters won't mend the world, HE may!

Then his gaze drew in, Lord, here they come. His betters--well, well. They're just at the door.

Chris herself went and opened the door, Mrs. Geddes came gushing in over the mat, Miss M'Askill behind, sharp as a needle, the second teacher at Segget school. She eyed Chris up and down as a ferret might, How d'you do, Mrs. Colquohoun? Disgraceful exhibition down in the Square! Chris had heard of Miss M'Askill from Else, straight as a pole and nearly as bare, and she wore her hair in two great plaits, low down on her brow, and it gave her a look like a stirk with its head in a birn of hay; and whenever she saw a new man in the toun she'd stare at him till the man would blush, up and down in the line of her stare; and she'd give a bit sniff (or so said Else), as much as to say What, marriage with you?

But damn the soul had offered that yet, not even for a night at the furthest gait, Ake Ogilvie had said he would rather sleep with a Highland steer in the lee of a whin. Chris tried hard not to remember that, she would laugh if she did: and so she did not, but shook hands instead with Miss Ferguson next, her that they called The Blusher in Segget. And she started to blush as though someone had couped a jar of red ink on her head at that minute, the blush came thicker and thicker each second, till Chris felt so sorry she blushed as well. Then Miss Jeannie Grant, dapper and trig, with a fresh, fair face, Hello, Mrs. Colquohoun! What did you think of the fun in the Square? Last, Mr. Geddes, he looked at you bitter, as though he thought you poor stuff like the most of mankind, and shook your hand limp, and trailed after the others, his hands in his pockets, till he tripped on a toy of Ewan's in the hall, a wooden horse, and it fell with a clatter and Ewan came running out to see why.

Mr. Geddes had nearly fallen with the thing. Now he picked it up, a great splinter of wood torn out of its side. Ewan said What a fool, man, why didn't you look? and Chris cried Ewan! Mr. Geddes grinned. He's right enough, I suppose I'm a fool. I'm sorry, young man. Ewan said So am I.

Chris wanted to giggle, but again did not, instead looked solemn as a funeral, near--or two funerals if you counted one of John Muir's; and separated the Dominie and Ewan ere worse came; and shooed Mr. Geddes in after his wife.

Robert was there, he'd greeted them all, and was standing by with the sherry decanter. Mr. Geddes had lost the smile plucked out for Ewan, like a last swede plucked from a frozen field, he said bitter as ever, A drop, Colquohoun, and sat down and looked round the room as though he thought damn little of any thing in it.

And then Ewan started to sing outside, in the moment when folk were sipping their sherry; and Miss M'Askill near dropped her glass. Chris got to her feet and felt herself blush, silly to do that, and she called out Ewan! and he cried back Yes? and opened the door. And Chris felt a fool, the whole room looking at her. Why were you singing that song just now?

Ewan said, polite, I like it, mother. I think it's a bloody fine song, don't you?

Else saved the situation, as usual. They heard her feet in the hall, Ewan vanished, and the door was snibbed with a sudden click. Miss M'Askill said it was dreadful, dreadful, those spinners corrupting even the children. Didn't Mrs. Colquohoun think the authorities ought to take steps to putting it down?

Miss Jeanie Grant was sitting by Robert, showing a fine length of leg, nice leg, she said What's 'it'? Put a stop to singing the Red Flag do you mean? And Miss M'Askill said, Yes, that for one thing, there are plenty of others--the ongoings in general of those paid agitators. And Miss Jeannie Grant said, Well, I'm an agitator, but I get no pay. Where do the others get theirs? I'd like to apply! And Miss M'Askill looked at her so awful, 'twas a wonder she didn't shrivel up there and then. But instead she just winked blithe at Chris, and drank up her sherry and had some more.

Syne they were all speaking of the scene in the Square, Geddes said bitter that the spinners had behaved as you would expect such cattle to do, neither better nor worse than other Scotch folk. All Scots were the same, the beastliest race ever let loose on the earth. Oh no, he wasn't bitter, he'd got over that, he'd got over living amongst them, even: their gossip that was fouler than the seepings of a drain, there was hardly a soul in a village like Segget but was a murderer ten times over in word--they hadn't enough courage to be it in deed. Spinners were no worse than the rest, or not much. As for this business of a Segget League, well, he voted Tory himself every time, and no league could remain non-political long. His advice: Colquohoun leave the lot alone, if there's anything a hog hates it's cleaning its sty.

Robert asked Miss Ferguson what she might think, Miss Ferguson blushed till Chris feared for her vest, her underthings would sure be on fire in a minute, she stammered that she didn't know, for sure, some of the spinners' children were cruel, they'd get a girl in the playground and tease her, or worse than that--and Miss Ferguson blushed some more, a torrent, till Chris in pity looked away, and thought herself of her own schooldays and those things that were WORSE in the reek of the playground, hot and still on a summer day and a crowd of loons round about you, laughing, with bright, hot eyes and their short, fair hair, and cruel, eager fingers . . . but she hadn't much minded, she'd been able even then to look after herself, it needed a sudden twist of her mind to think, appalled, that Ewan might do that, might stand by some girl and pry beastly in things--

She switched to listening to the talk again, Mrs. Geddes was having all the say now, the three teachers had no other course, very plain, but listen to the Dominie's wife with attention. And Mrs. Geddes said what was really wrong, with the whole of Segget, not only the spinners, was Refusal to Co-operate in Fellowship. But the W.R.I. was to combat that, and she really didn't think that this League was needed. The W.R.I. was to organize socials, and teach the mothers all kinds of fresh things--basket work, now, that was very interesting. . . . And she shone and wobbled like a jelly from a mould, and Geddes' look of contempt grew deeper.

Miss Jeannie Grant put her sherry-glass down. I don't see anything your League can do. But the Labour Party can here in Segget, if only we make the branch strong enough; and she looked as sweet as an apple as she said it, and young and earnest, and Chris half liked her, as though she stood on a hill and looked down on her own youth only beginning to climb, half-liking its confidence, pitying its blindness. But she thought for that matter, again and again (and more than ever since their coming to Segget) that she was older than most she met, older even than Robert himself--older than all but her own son Ewan!

Then they heard Else stamping out in the hall, and she rang the bell and they went through to dinner, Mrs. Geddes calling it lunch, of course, she was so genteel Chris thought it a wonder she should ever open her mouth for food. But she fair put away a good plateful and more, for the chicken was golden and cooked to a turn, Robert sat and carved when he'd said the grace, the grace that Chris thought so childlike and kind:

 

God bless our food,
And make us good,
And pardon all our sins,
For Jesus Christ's sake.

 

Syne Miss M'Askill was asking Chris, sharp, Are you fond of social work, Mrs. Colquohoun? and Chris said Not much, if you mean by that going round and visiting the kirk congregation. Miss M'Askill raised up her brows like a chicken considering a something lying on the ground, not sure if it was just a plain empty husk, or an interesting bit of nastiness, like. Mrs. Geddes said she was very disappointed, she'd hoped they'd have Mrs. Colquohoun to help--with the work of the W.R.I., she meant; and why didn't Mrs. Colquohoun like visiting?

And suddenly Chris understood her and hated her--she minded the type, oh, well, well enough! So she smiled sweet at her and said Oh, you see, I wasn't always a minister's wife. I was brought up on a croft and married on one, and I mind what a nuisance we thought some folk, visiting and prying and blithering about socials, doing everything to help us, or so they would think--except to get out and get on with the work!

Robert's face went queer, a half-laugh, a half-scowl, but Miss Jeannie Grant was delighted, she said And get off your backs, you could surely have added! You're a socialist the same as I am, you know. Chris shook her head, she knew nothing about it, sorry already she had spoken like that, Mrs. Geddes had gone quite white for a minute, Chris knew she had made an enemy in Segget. The Dominie stared at his plate with a sneer; Miss M'Askill looked at Robert, brows up; Miss Ferguson looked at her plate and blushed; only Ewan ate on, as calm as ever, except when he said, Can I go now, please?

Chris caught Miss M'Askill's eye when he'd gone, it said, plain as plain, A very spoilt child. And you supposed that it really was true, the truth as she'd see it, who'd never had a child, who didn't know the things that bound you to Ewan, as though his birth-cord still bound you together, he tugged at your body, your heart, at your womb, in some moments of pity it was sheer, sick pain that tore at you as you comforted him. But THAT you could never explain to a woman who'd never had a bairn, had never, you supposed, yet lain with a man, known all the shame and all the red splendour and all the dull ache and resentment of marriage that led to the agony and wonder of looking on the face, sweet and blind as the eyes of love, of a child new-born from your body's harbour. . . . And Chris roused herself, Mr. Geddes--pudding?

Robert was trying to keep the talk going, but some thing had spoiled the talk at the table--herself, Chris supposed, with telling the truth. And she thought They're just servant-queans, after all, with a little more education and a little less sense--these, the folk Robert had thought could save Segget! It was hardly likely he thought so now; what would he do with his League and his plans? Still wait for young Stephen Mowat to come home?

Suddenly in the midst and mid of them all--the words she now used, the thoughts she thought, the clothes she wore and the things she ate--Chris would see her father's face from long syne, the jutting beard and the curling lip--Come out of that, quean, with your dirt of gentry! And because she knew in a way it was true, the gentry that or but little more, sometimes she'd stop in the middle of a talk, in the middle of a walk, in the middle of a meal, and stare for so long that Robert would say, We've lost her again! Ewan, bring back your mother!

That feeling came over her later that day, when it brought Stephen Mowat to tea at the Manse. Though none of them guessed the fact at the time, it had been his car that passed the service at eleven o'clock in Segget Square; but ere well the car had reached Segget House the news had spread all around the toun, young Stephan Mowat had come home at last, from wandering about in foreign parts after leaving his English university. And his shover told as they passed the Square young Mowat has looked and seen the angel, and had groaned aloud, Oh God, even here--another bitch in a flannel shift! The shover said they'd seen birns of the statues as they motored up from England that week, lasses in bronze and marble and granite, dancing about on pedestal tops, he'd thought them bonny, Mr. Stephen hadn't, he said that Britain had gone harlot-mad, and stuck up those effigies all over the place, in memory no doubt of the Red Lamps of France.

And the shover said he should know about queans, young Mowat, considering the number he'd had since he'd left the college a six months back. No doubt he'd soon have them at Segget House, he intended to bide there and fee a big staff, and bring back the good old days to the toun. He was going to look after the mills for himself, the estate as well, and the Lord knows what.

Chris heard all this when the school-folk had gone, from Else, when she went to the kitchen to help. But Else needed no help, she'd a visitor there, Dalziel of Meiklebogs it was. He smiled shy and rose when he saw Chris come in, and she told him to sit, and Else poured out the news. Chris didn't feel excited, but she thought Robert might. Well, that'll be fine, no doubt, for Segget. Oh, have we made any cakes for tea?

Else said they hadn't but they damned soon would. Out of the way, there, Meiklebogs, now! and pushed him into a chair, he sat canny, his cap in his hands, and watched while she baked. Chris went back to Robert and told him the news.

He said Mowat home? It's an answer to prayer. And just as I heard the black dog come barking! Let's celebrate! And he caught Chris, daft, and twirled about the room in a dance. So they didn't hear the knocking at the door, Else did, and went and brought Stephen Mowat in. They came to the door of the sitting-room and watched, till Chris saw them and stopped, and Robert did the same. And Else said, Mr. Mowat, Mem, and vanished.

He'd a face that minded her of a frog's, he was younger than herself by a good few years, with horn-rimmed spectacles astride a broad nose, and eyes that twinkled, and a way of speaking that in a few days was to stagger Segget. His brow went back to a cluster of curls, he was charming, you supposed, as a prince should be, and very likely damn seldom is; and he said he was pleased to be back in Segget, looking at Chris as though she were the reason, Chris had never met in with his like before and stood and looked at him, cool in surprise, taller than he was, he was to say later he felt he was stared at by Scotland herself.

And once, when drunk, he was to say to the Provost that she couldn't get over her blood and breed, she was proud as all the damned clodhoppers were, still thought in her heart they were the earth's salt, and thought the descendant of a long line of lairds on the level with the descendants of a long line of lice. And he said by God, had it been a four hundred years back he'd have tamed that look quick enough in his bed, maybe she lost something of her sulkiness there. And Provost Hogg boasted and said Not a doubt; and started to tell of his ancestor, Burns. And Mowat said, Who? Oh, Robbie Burns? A hell of a pity he couldn't write poetry, and the Provost was vexed, but then, 'twas the laird, just joking-like; and he was the laird.

Chris heard of that later, she'd have needed second sight to know of the gossip that would be in the future: she said she was glad to see him, she wasn't, neither glad nor sad, a funny little thing, was this what Robert depended upon? Funny that the like of him for so long had lived on the rent of folk like hers. Syne she went to the kitchen to see how the cakes came, they were brown and steaming, set on the table, and Meiklebogs, shy, like a big, sly steer, was sitting and eating one by the sink. And because she just couldn't thole him at all, he made her want to go change her vest, Chris smiled at him and was extra polite, and hoped that he'd stay to tea with Else, and helped Else pile the things on a tray; and they carried it through and found Robert and the laird already deep in the talk that was planned by Robert himself when he first saw Segget.

Mr. Mowat's English bray sounded so funny that Else gave a giggle and near dropped the tray. Is the creature foreign? and Chris said No; and Else said no more, but went solemnly in, and took only a keek or so at the creature, a little bit thing in baggy plus-fours. And he said Oh, thenks! and I say! and How Jahly! Else nearly giggled again, but she didn't, till she got to the kitchen and there was Meiklebogs, and she gave him a poke, I say, how Jahly! You old devil, I've a good mind to make up to the laird. What would you do then, eh, would you say?

Meiklebogs smiled canny and said he would manage, and Else stared at him and wondered again why she'd ever allowed the old brute to come near her since she'd wept in his bed that night of the Show, she supposed she was still in a kind of a daze at finding the old brute as coarse as they'd said.

Chris sat in the sitting-room and listened to Mowat, and handed him tea, he said he'd come back to look after the mills and Segget in general, the curse of the age was its absentee landlords, not social conditions or unrest or suchlike. He was Jahly well sure he could buck up the village--didn't Mrs. Colquohoun approve of that, now? he'd want her approval ever so much. And he flashed her a long, bright, toothy smile, he'd fine teeth and knew it; and Chris said, I don't know. I'll wait and see what the bucking consists of. My father was a crofter and he used to say you should trust a laird just as far as you can throw him.

Stephen Mowat said he thought Mrs. Colquohoun's father Jahly, and glinted charming, and Chris gave him up, and cleared off the tea things and came back and listened. By then, so it seemed, Robert had told of his plans, and was sitting now harkening to Mowat's reply. And the reply was: The thing that was needed everywhere was Discipline, hwaw? and order, and what not. The hand of the master--all the Jahly old things. He had been down in Italy the last few months and had seen things there, Rahly amazing, the country awakening, regaining its soul, its old leaders back--with a new one or so. Discipline, order, hierarchy--all that. And why only Italy; why not Scotland? He'd met other men, down from 'varsity of late, who were doing as he did, going back to their estates. Scotland a nation--that was the goal, with its old-time civilization and culture. Hwaw? Didn't Mr. Colquohoun agree?

But Chris had been listening, and now she must speak, she'd been trying to think as well as to listen, it was hard enough, but words suddenly came: they both turned round with a start as she spoke. And what's going to happen when you and your kind rule us, again as of old, Mr. Mowat? Was there ever the kind of Scotland you preach?--Happy, at ease, the folk on the land well-fed, the folk in the pulpits well-feared, the gentry doing great deeds? It's just a gab and a tale, no more, I haven't read history since I was at school, but I mind well enough what that Scotland was. I've been to Dunnottar Castle and seen there the ways that the gentry once liked to keep order. If it came to the push between you and the spinners I think I would give the spinners my vote.

Mowat said Rahly? staring at Chris, Robert stared as well at her down-bent face--suddenly she'd seen so much she didn't say, all the pageant of history since history began up here in the windy Mearns Howe: the ancient rites of blood and atonement where the Standing Stones stood up as dead kings; the clownings and cruelties of leaders and chiefs; and the folk--her folk--who kept such alive--dying frozen at night in their eirdes, earth-houses, chaving from the blink of day for a meal, serfs and land-workers whom the Mowats rode down, whom the armies harried and the kings spat on, the folk who rose in the Covenant times and were tortured and broken by the gentry's men, the rule and the way of life that had left them the pitiful gossiping clowns that they were, an obscene humour engraffed on their fears, the kindly souls of them twisted awry and veiled from men with a dirty jest; and this snippet of a fop with an English voice would bring back worse, and ask her to help!

And then that went by, she was suddenly cool. It was only a speak, a daft blether of words, whatever else happened to Segget, to Scotland--and there were strange things waiting to happen--there would never come back that old darkness again to torment the simple folk of her blood. Robert was speaking, he knocked out his pipe.

I'm afraid my wife and I think the same--as all folk worth their salt in Scotland must think. There are changes coming--they are imminent on us--and I once thought the folk of some teaching would help. Well, it seems they won't--the middle class folk and the upper class folk, and all the poor devils that hang by their tails; they think we can last as we are--or go back--and they know all the while they are thinking a lie. But God doesn't wait, or His instruments; and if in Segget are the folk of the mills, then, whatever their creed, I'm on their side.

 

Chris started and moved, she nearly had frozen, leaning up here while the night went on, she thought to be down in her bed, she supposed. The rain had cleared and the stars had come out, frost was coming--there, bright down in Segget, was a mantling of grey where the hoar was set, sprinkled like salt on the cant of the roofs. Beyond them there rose a red, quiet lowe, from the furnaces stacked for the night in the mills.

She stamped her feet and drew up her collar, watching that coming of the frost below. This impulse to seek the dark by herself! She had left Robert up in his study at work, Ewan in bed, young Mowat gone, and herself gone out for a walk through the rain that was closing in the end of Remembrance Day, wet and dank, as she'd seen it come. And it might be an age ere she came here again, too busied with living to stand looking at life, with Ewan at school and the campaign of Robert to conquer Segget for God and his dream.

A pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.

She raised her eyes and looked where the frost lay bright in the west, where the evening star wheeled down to midnight to lead her feet home.

 

 

III

STRATUS

 

It was funny to think, this forenoon in June, how long it had been since she climbed the Kaimes, here rose the walls, in their mantle of heather, a blackbird was whistling up in the yews, as she turned around slow she saw the light flow up and down the hill as though it were liquid, Segget below lying buried in a sea, as once all the Howe had lain, Ewan said. Still weak, Chris halted and sat on the wall, her hands below her, and looked at Segget; and drew out her hands and looked at those so thin that almost she could see through them, so thin her face when she put up her hand that the cheekbones that once curved smooth under flesh now felt like twin jagged crags of rock--a long time ere she'd look comely again!

She leant her head in her hand a moment and waited for the hill below to cease reeling--maybe she'd come out too early from bed, this walk, Else had said she mustn't go far. But the Kaimes had called her after those weeks of the smell of medicines, close fires, and the pain that ran up and down her and played hide and seek with every sinew and bone that she had. So up she had come, the sun was up here, she was out of it for an hour or so, out of the winking flash of the days, to sit and look from the high places here, as Christ once had done with the devil for guide.

Idly she minded that and smiled--it came of being a minister's wife. What had the devil said to Christ then? Maybe Just rest. Rest and have peace. Don't let them tear you to bits with their hates, their cares and their loves, your angers for them. Leave them and rest!

Yes, He'd said that, there wasn't a doubt, just as He stood by her saying it now, telling her to rest for the first time in years since that night when she last had climbed up the Kaimes, telling her to rest and leave them a-be, her cares for Robert, for that other who came and yet never came--for that third, that stranger whom slow through the years she had grown to half-know as a traveller half-knows the face of another on a lone road at night, in the summer light of a falling star. . . . How Segget would snigger if they heard her say that that stranger desired was her own son Ewan!

 

Being young Ewan Tavendale wasn't all fun, you'd to get up as early as half-past six in the little room that looked down on Segget. But it was a good room, the best in the Manse, you could look of a night right into the trees when the rooks came nesting, they had a great time, fighting and mating and playing the devil. Once you nearly fell out when two rooks were at it--mating, you'd wanted to know how it was done. But that was a long time ago, when a kid, you knew all about it now, humans or rooks, mother or Robert, and there wasn't much in it, though the spinner kids of West Wynd thought so. Charlie Cronin drew pictures in the lavatories at school, the silly ass couldn't draw at all. So you drew some yourself to show how things were, he turned red-faced when you drew IT so well. Ewan, that's dirty! What was dirty about it?

You would lie and mind these things of a morning and stare at the ceiling and hark to the rooks--moving and chattering and swearing in the cold--how they did swear as the daylight grew! Sometimes you'd wanted to swear yourself, and you'd tried once or twice when you were a kid, but it sounded half-witted, so you gave it up. You couldn't see sense in rubbish like swearing, any more than in speaking in Scotch, not English as mother did sometimes, and so did Robert, and so did Else (but she couldn't help it). Scotch was rubbish, all ee's and wee's, you didn't even speak it in the school playground. And the other kids had mocked you at first, but they didn't long, with a bashing or so.

Chris (and once Else) rigged you out of a morning, now you did it yourself, nearly twelve years old. The clock went birr as you looked at its face and you got out of bed and out of your pyjamas, Charlie Cronin slept in his shirt, he said only gentry wore things like pyjamas. You were glad you were gentry, then, shirts got sticky. Then you'd hear the clock going off down below, where the new girl slept, she was shy and said Eh? A perfect fool, she near fainted one morning, in summer it was, when she first came here. You'd thought you'd go down and get a bath first before either Robert or Chris should be at it. So you'd nipped down the stairs without anything on, and as you came back she came from her room, and gave a screech like a frightened hen, as though she'd never seen folk without clothes. Charlie Cronin said that his father, old George, would take off his clothes slow bit by bit, the top bits first, and cover himself up, and then the lower, and he'd cover that--you'd supposed that Maidie herself was like that, a fool, maybe frightened to look at herself.

So after that you had promised Chris that you'd wear some clothes when outside your room, she'd said that she herself didn't care--and you said Yes, mother, I know that you don't. I once saw you with nothing on coming up the stairs--a night long ago when I was a kid. I think it was the night of a Segget Show.

She'd blushed, as though nearly as bad as the others, but she wasn't: you were glad that your mother was Chris. She didn't know that you called her that, to yourself, not aloud, aloud you said Mother. But Robert, just Robert, he wasn't your father. Robert was fun when he wasn't at work, with the kirk or the spinners or his Labour plans--summers he took you and Chris on your bikes out on far jaunts up and down the Howe, to Edzell, to Brechin, to Garvock Hill where they boiled the sheriff but not Leslie the smith--you asked Robert what he meant by that say, and he and Chris laughed like a couple of fools.

But out on picnics he changed and was young, and would teach you to throw and do the high jump, he could jump like anything, Robert, and box. Everybody knew that in Segget now, they hadn't at first, especially the spinners, and had mocked at Robert till he taught them manners. Charlie Cronin had been jealous of him and of you, that was at first when you first went to school, the first day he came swaggering up and said Oh, you're the dirt from the Manse, are you? And you said I'm not dirt, I'm Ewan Tavendale, and he mocked at you till you hit him a bash, right on the nose, and he bled and bled, though it was only a baby bash, you were both of you just babies yourselves. But you won that fight all the same, Mr. Geddes had watched it all from a window; and he went to the Manse and told Chris about it; and she asked that night Did he hurt you, Ewan? and you said Ay, all the kids had said Ay; and Chris said Ok, Ewan, that was real like your father! Father had been killed by the Germans in France.

Time for breakfast: and there was Robert, busy with letters, and Chris, looking sweet. But she always did that, even when she was angry, she could do nearly anything, answer you anything, she couldn't run maybe as fast as you could and she was a perfect fool about flints, but she always told the truth about things, most grown-up people told lies half the time. You didn't yourself, it wasn't worth the bother, explaining and trying to straighten things later.

And Chris would say It's nearly schooltime, and you'd look at the clock, and see that it was, and Robert would say, He's dreaming about flints! But you hadn't been dreaming, you'd been thinking of Chris, she'd looked different of late in a puzzling way. Now, if it had been any other woman in Segget, you'd have known--but not Chris! It made a cold water come in your mouth, as though you were going to be sick, that thought. And Chris said What's wrong? That's a funny-loon stare. And you said Oh, nothing. I'll need to be going.

You kissed Chris every morning, one kiss a day; kisses were sloppy except for that one--like the taste of honey up on a hill, clear, with the wind in the summer south. Robert cried Ta-ta! and you did the same, and were out in the hall, where Maidie would be, tweetering about and worrying again, wondering if breakfast were over yet. You hardly ever took notice of her, not since she'd screeched that time on the stairs. She'd call Master Ewan, is the breakfast done? and you'd say I don't know and leave her to twitter--who wanted to be mastered like a kid in a book?

Out from the Manse and down through the shingle, giving it a kick and a plough as you went, under the ferny tops of the yews, the rooks all wakened and screeching, or off--all but the young ones, pecking, gaping. If it was summer you passed under quick, they dropped dirt down when you least expected, they dropped it once on the Provost of Segget when he came to see Robert and he walked back home with it white on his hat and everyone laughed, and he nearly had a fit when he found out about it.

He was frightened to be laughed at, most people were, you didn't care a button one way or another, they might laugh themselves blue in the face at you, you were yourself--and what did it matter?

And there was the land and there were the touns, Segget half-blue in its early smoke, you started early and with time to spare to go round the toun and back up to the school. So you'd stop and pull up your stockings to your knees, in shorts, and the shirt and tie that Chris tied, you couldn't get the knack of the thing, she would say Oh, Ewan, you've forgotten to tie it at all! and you'd say I forgot, and she'd ruffle your hair, Thinking about flints again, I suppose? She and Robert were always joking about flints, and calling them wrong names, and thinking that funny.

Down by Meiklebogs the curlews were calling, you heard them above the shoom of the Mills, Robert said something about that once--Twin daughters of the Voice of God. You hadn't bothered to find out what he meant, though you bothered about most things right to the end, sense to find out why this went like this, and that was so, and the wheels went round, and some stars twinkled and a lot did not, why people were ashamed to be seen without clothes and didn't like girls to go out late at night, and hated capitalists, if they were spinners, and hated spinners if they were New Toun.

The curlew called and you stopped and listened, Else would hear it at the Meiklebogs, you'd liked Else a lot, though not all the time. Once she'd come to your room late in the night, harvest, and was sloppy and kissed you about, you hated slop and threw a book at her, it hit her, she stared, you were sorry a bit.

There was a seagull up on that post, try a stone at it--nearly its tail!--and there was Ake Ogilvie's shop beyond. Most mornings you loitered about at Ake's, he'd lean from the door with his compass in hand and cry Well, then, have you learned your Burns? 'twas a joke between you, the poetry of Burns, silly Scotch muck about cottars and women and, love and dove and rot of that sort. Ake would recite you some of his own, his green eyes twinkling and his eyebrows twinkling, with a coating of sawdust sprayed on the hairs, and his long moustache going up and down, so, and you'd stare at him and listen a while, it was good enough, better than Burns's rot. Poetry was rot, why not say it plain, when a man kissed a woman or a woman had a baby?

Down past the house of Jimmy the Sourock, the road had a dip and a hollow for years, the rain would gather, deep, in a pool, you used to march through it, you feet close together, and watch the water soak in at the eyelets, and feel it trickling betwixt your toes: that was when you were only a kid. Then Mrs. Sourock would look out and see, and cry she would tell the Mem at the Manse, that was Chris she meant, and you didn't care. It was no business of hers to get mad because you liked to wade in the water, especially as she herself was so proud that her husband, the Sourock, drank nothing but water, since he got that fright with the pig in his bed. And every Sunday he went down to the Square, to the service-meeting of MacDougall Brown, and sang about blood, and you thought that funny, he'd been so frightened at the blood of the pig. You'd once played truant from the kirk to go down and watch MacDougall Brown as he prayed, he opened his mouth and looked as though blind, with his eyes like glass and his teeth all black, perhaps he was frightened to go to the dentist.

A dentist came twice a week now to Segget, he hired a room at the back of Dite Peat's: and the first time he came Charlie Cronin was there, hiding and listening under the window to hear the howls when the teeth came out. And the first to come was old Mrs. Hogg, she had a wart on her nose like Cromwell and hair growing out of the wart as well, and she groaned like anything, Charlie told. Then she said to the dentist How much will that be? and he said Half a crown: and Mrs. Hogg said What? Half a crown for that, just putting out a tooth? Why, old Leslie the smith down there at the smiddy used to pull me all over the place with his tongs and never would ask a meck for it, either.

But you liked Mrs. Hogg, she would cry as you passed, Hello, Ewan lad, is there anything fresh? And you'd show her the latest flints that you'd got, and she wouldn't just laugh or blither about Druids, as everyone else in Segget would do but would ask what the hunters had done with the things, and she'd say that that was amazing, just, what a thing it was to be learned and young. She'd sense, Mrs. Hogg, more sense than her son, who sometimes came home on a holiday; he spoke bad English and wore bad breeks, and patted your head and said Little man, or tried to pat you, you just stepped aside.

Sometimes you'd look into Peter Peat's shop, where he sat on a table making a suit, he'd frown and motion you to get off, he came every Sunday and listened to Robert and hated his sermons and Robert as well. You'd heard him one Sunday say to the Provost the minister was nothing but a Bolshevik, just as bad as that tink John Cronin, the porter. Bolsheviks lived in Russia, you knew, they'd closed all the kirks and they all worked together and they hadn't a king; and it sounded sense.

By now you'd got to the end of East Wynd, to the Square where the War Memorial stood, the angel that looked like Miss M'Askill, Miss M'Askill had eyes that would lift up that way when she found something dirty drawn on a slate. In lower East Wynd of a winter morning half the lane was frozen to a slide, you took a long run from Peter Peat's shop and shot down the Wynd on the frozen slide that came from the leaking drains of Segget. By the Moultrie shop you'd to plan your turn, else you'd batter yourself on the wall of their house, as you'd done your second winter in Segget, the whole of Segget seemed fallen upon you, and your face had shifted, you sat on the ground and thought you had lost it and felt it all over, it still was there, grown bigger than ever, growing bigger and bigger every moment, it seemed.

It was while you were sitting there, licking the blood, it trickled from your lips and tasted salt, that old Mrs. Moultrie came out and found you, she'd heard the bang as you struck the wall, she said to Chris when she took you home she thought that it was a cart and horse. But you liked her in spite of clyping to Chris, her face, brown, old, and tired and quiet as she bathed you and whished as though you were a baby, till you sat up and said I'm fine. Many thanks. Old Moultrie was sitting in his corner, glaring, reading a Bible, and you said Good day.

He'd taken no notice at all before that, he glared some more, but you didn't mind, you saw he really was awfully shy underneath all the hair and the horns, so you said, while Mrs. Moultrie went out for a towel, Do you like the Bible? There's a lot of rot in it. He stood up, shaking all over, funny, and asked, And you're the minister's bairn? And you shook your head, Oh no, I'm not. Robert's only my stepfather, didn't you know? My father was a crofter down in Kinraddie. Much better than being a minister, I think.

Funny, he was friendly enough after that, and started telling you stories of Segget, when there weren't so many of the gentry dirt crossing about with their motor-cars. And you listened, polite, because he was old, a pity besides that he was so shy. But Mrs. Moultrie said to Chris that you were the only soul in Segget he'd treated to a civil word for years.

There was the Arms, not worth looking at, you threw a stone at a cat in the Square and watched the dog up against the angel, funny that dogs were so fond of that. They really couldn't want to, so often. Every day that dog of Newlands came down, as you turned in the Square to go up the Close, and did that against the Memorial stone, you'd once told Robert, and he'd laughed and laughed and said that the dog was a pacifist, maybe. But one morning you stood and watched for the dog and sure as anything along it came, and stopped, and relieved itself by the angel; and the door of the Arms opposite opened, and Mrs. Melvin came out and said that you were a dirty little brute to stand and look at a dog doing that--Weren't you black burning ashamed of yourself? She was soft in the head, why should you be ashamed? Maybe she was drunk, but you didn't say anything, just looked her all over, from top to toe, to see if she'd fallen while she was drunk, and then raised your cap and went on to school.

Round by here you could see the Mills, in the big glass windows across the field the whirr of the wheels as they caught the sun, the spinners at work in the dust and the smell; but you liked the Mills, you'd been down there twice, with Charlie, he said the folk in New Toun were daft to speak of the folk in the Mills as only spinners, there were foremen and weavers, and a lot more besides; but they all looked like spinners.

To the right, in the Spring and most of the year, as you passed up The Close you would see in the park the donkey that was kept by MacDougall Brown. If you whistled one note, high up in your throat, you'd found that the donkey would bray every time. So nearly every day as you passed you whistled that note and the donkey brayed, and you laughed, and he'd bray some more and come trotting and push his long nose through the fence and snuffle, but he never bit you as once Mabel Brown. Mrs. Brown spoke funny, and she called her May-bull, and had a long story how the donkey once bat May-bull when she went to play in the park.

There was the smiddy and it once was great fun, when you were a kid, to lean up by the door and look at old Leslie blowing the bellows, he'd turn round and sweat, Ay man, is that you? He called you man, but he blithered a lot, you would hardly heed at all what he said--about Chris, was she ill-like of late, would you say? and The minister'll be gey fond of her, eh? and D'ye mind your own father that was killed out in France? And you said you didn't know to all of these questions, because you couldn't be bothered with them, and he said, Eh man, when my father died I just roared and howled--ay, loon, I'd a heart. And you said Like the Roarer and Greeter, Miss Moultrie? And he stopped and stared with his mouth fallen open, and muttered that you were an impudent get.

You'd take the West Wynd through the Old Toun then, with its crumbling white houses and its washing to dry, there was always washing to dry, never dried. You knew a lot of the kids in West Wynd, they'd be finishing porridge and pulling on boots, and they'd cry Wait, Ewan! but you'd never wait, except for young Cronin, he'd come slouching out and say Ay, Ewan, and you'd say Hello, Charlie, and go on together not saying a thing till he'd ask, as always, Have you done your sums? Then you'd know that he hadn't done his and would bring out your book so that he might copy.

Funny that he couldn't do things like sums, you could nearly do them with both eyes shut, and lean back and go off on a think on flints while the other scholars were finishing theirs; and Miss M'Askill would cry out, Ewan! Have you finished already? Show me your sums. And you'd show them to her, she'd stand over close, with an arm around your shoulder, like so; and you'd move away, though as slow as you could; and she wrote in your report to the Manse that you were brilliant, but you hadn't enthusiasm; you supposed because you hadn't enthusiasm for cuddling.

It had been different in the first two years, the youngest room with Miss Jeannie Grant, Miss Grant was pretty and laughed at you, and at everyone else, and kept her cuddles for Charlie's brother, or so you supposed. She was going to be married some time to him, Jock Cronin, that was only a railway porter, Chris said that job was as good as another. But you didn't think much of John Cronin, yourself, he didn't believe what he himself said, he just said things and then tried to believe them--you knew that well while you watched him sit, with Robert, up in a room at the Manse, and talk of Segget and socialism coming;--it was all a fairy-tale, and he knew it, why didn't he say the things that he thought?

You said that to Chris and she took your two shoulders, and shook her head and looked at you, strange, Oh Ewan, you're hard and cool as--grey granite! When you too grow up you'll find facts over much--you'll need something to follow that's far from the facts. And she said something else, about a pillar of cloud, and was suddenly angry, Don't stare at me so! And you said I'm sorry, and she shook you again. So am I, Ewan--but oh, you're so cool!

Well, you saw nothing to make you excited, except now and then a broad-flake flint. It was worth reading history to get at these people, the makers of flints and their lives long ago. Though most of the histories were dull as ditchwater, with their kings and their battles and their dates and such muck, you wondered how the people had lived in those times. But especially before the history-book times you wanted to know how men had lived then and had read all the books you could find in the Manse, and got money from Chris to send and buy others, the lives of the people ere history began, before the Venricones came to the Mearns. And young Cronin would listen and say What's the use? Father says that the only things we should learn are how to fight the caPITalists. You didn't know about them, you asked who they were, and Charlie said Folk like that mucker Mowat.

Mr. Mowat lived sometimes in Segget House, but most of the time he was down in London, sleeping with whores, Charlie Cronin said. You asked what whores were and he told you about them, what they did, how they slept for money with men. You said that you didn't see why they shouldn't, and Charlie said you'd a dirty mind, and would soon be doing the same as Mowat. That was rot, you hadn't any use for girls, they could only giggle and drift along roads, with their arms twined, and screech about nothing. Or they played soft games in their own playground, once you'd run through there for a cricket-ball and the bigger girls were playing a game, When will my true love come from the sea; and the silly fools pulled you in the middle and kissed and slobbered you one after the other, you stood it as long as you could, then pushed out, you didn't want to hurt the fools and you didn't; but you had felt almost sick in their hands.

You told Chris that when she heard about it, she laughed and said All lasses aren't fools, and they think you a good-looking lad, I believe. So you said that you didn't care about that, could you have a piece now and go up to the Kaimes?

You went often up there to seek round for flints, when they dug the Kaimes they must have dug deep, in a squatting-place of the ancient men, and mixed the flints with the building-earth. You had nearly thirty specimens already, properly labelled in a press in your room, and each described on a ticket near. And you had a catalogue, fairly complete, with diagrams of the ripples, hinge-fractures, the ovates and such, and a drawing of the best, a tortoise-core from the Leachie bends. Most of the stuff was late Bronze Age, when the hunters in Scotland had still only flints.

Dinner-times you went home by the near way, quick, stopping to throw up a stone at the rooks. Robert would sometimes be there at the table, and sometimes was out and about the Mearns, trying to raise his fund for the miners, and raising little but temper, he said. Chris never went with him at the dinner-hour, she would stay at home and help Maidie at work, Maidie couldn't cook a dinner for toffee.

Sometimes Chris would be out at night when you came back from the school for tea. So Maidie would give you your tea, like a mouse, and you'd have it and help her to clear and she'd say, Oh, Master Ewan, I'll do it myself, but you took no notice, just went on and helped, not heeding her blether you should do your lessons, any fool could do the lessons in ten minutes. Then you'd climb to your room and look in your press, and dust here and there that tortoise-core, and a fabricator-cone you had gotten near Brechin, and take them out and turn them with care, the light waning and dying in from the window as the day waned west from the slopes of the Howe. And sometimes you'd raise your head and look up, when the sun grew still on the peaks of the Mounth, by the glens and the haughs you had searched for flints, and think of the men of ancient times who had made those things and hunted those haughs, running naked and swift by the sunlit slopes, fun to live then and talk with those people. Robert said that they hadn't been savage at all, but golden hunters of the Golden Age.

And once Chris came up as you stood and looked at a new ripple-flake you had newly found, a summer night ere you went to bed, you'd taken everything off, to be cool, and stood by the window and traced out the whorls on the red and yellow of the antique axe. Chris opened the door, you felt the air waft, and turned and looked at her, her standing so still. You asked was anything wrong, she said No, giving a laugh, as though wakening up. Only you looked like a hunter yourself, strayed and lost from the Golden Age!

And Else went by, and looked through the door, and suddenly flushed and ran up the stairs, that was just a week ere she went from the Manse.

 

Faith, that had fairly set folk agog, when that coarse quean Else was sacked from the Manse. It just showed you the way that the world was going, dirty spinners that gave you their lip, worked hard to get, so many sweir--and ministers that couldn't look after their queans. Folk said they'd been at it a year and a half, her and Dalziel of the Meiklebogs, afore that Sabbath night in July when Mr. Colquohoun came in on the pair, right bang in the Manse's own kitchen it was, Meiklebogs in the way you'd expect a man in, Else Queen in a way that no quean should be in, with a two-three bits of her rig laid by. The minister had said This won't do, Else, fair mad with rage at old Meiklebogs, for he himself had slept with his maid, and was over-mean to share the lass out.

Some said that that was all a damned lie, the minister had nothing to do with the quean, she'd left the Manse of her own free will. The Reverend Mr. Robert Colquohoun wouldn't bed with an angel sent down from heaven, let alone a red-faced maid in his house, he was over decent and fond of his wife. But you shook your head when you heard that, faith! it clean took the guts from a fine bit tale. If he wasn't the kind to go to bed with any bit quean could you tell a man why he was chief with the Cronin dirt, socialists that said you might lie where you liked and didn't believe in morals or marriage?

And if some childe said that THAT wasn't true, you knew right well that he was a liar, you'd seen it all in the People's Journal, what the coarse tinks did in Russia with women--man, they fair had a time with the women, would you say 'twould be easy to get a job there?

Well, whatever the thing that took place at the Manse, and well you might wyte it wasn't just prayer--with that scowling brute, the minister himself, and his wife with her proud don't-touch-me face, and that meikle red-haired bitch of an Else--whatever happened Else left the Manse and took a fee at the Meiklebogs. And what the two of them did when alone, with the night in about and the blinds pulled down, you well might guess, though you didn't ask. All but Dite Peat, and he said one night, when Dalziel came taiking into the Arms, with that shy-like smile on his unshaved face, and the yellow boots that he wore for scuddling, Ay, Meiklebogs, you'll sleep warm now. She's a well-happed quean, Else Queen, I should think. Dalziel said nothing, just smiled like a gowk and drank at his dram and syne had another, he hadn't a yea or a nay to say, it showed you the coarse old brute that he was, and you nearly bursting your bladder to know.

Some said they didn't believe it at all, Dalziel of the Meiklebogs a decent-like childe, and an elder of Segget kirk forbye. So he must be, but you knew a man's nature, he needed a woman just now and again-- no, no, you didn't blame him overmuch, but she fairly must be an ill tink, that Else Queen. And you'd look at her hard the next time that you met, not a bit of shame she would show as she passed, just cry Ay, Fusty Face, so it's you? and go swinging by with her meikle hips on the sway like stacks of hay in a gale, well-fleshed and rosy, disgusting, you thought, you'd feel as mad as a mating tyke at Meiklebogs and his shameless sin.

But faith! 'twas the same wherever you looked. There was Mr. Mowat up at the House, folk said he'd come back from a London jaunt with two of the painted jades this time, you'd hear their scraichs all over the House; and once the servant went in of a morning and what do you think he saw in the bed? Young Mr. Mowat with a quean on each side, he'd slept with the two and he fairly looked hashed, the bitches just laughed as the servant gaped, and one slapped Mr. Mowat in a certain place and cried Hi Solomon, here's the head eunuch!

But you couldn't believe all the lies that you heard. Young Mr. Mowat was fairly a gent, and right fine if you met him outbye, and speak civil; and say he Rahly was glad that you'd met. He was maybe a bit daft about Scotland and such, and a lot of dirt about history and culture. But couldn't a gent please himself with his ploys, it kept him from wearying and did no harm? When the Mills closed down for a fortnight once, they had over-much stock already on hand, he said he was Jahly sorry for the spinners--and he couldn't say fairer than that, could he now? So you couldn't believe about the two queans, and even were it true 'twas a different thing--wasn't it?--a gent with his play, and a randy old brute like that Meiklebogs man sossing about with a quean half his age?

 

Them that said Dalziel was an innocent childe fair got a sore shock ere the year was out. Else at her new place worked outdoor and indoor, she'd to kilt her skirts (if they needed kilting--and that was damned little with those short-like frocks) and go out and help at the spreading of dung, and hoeing the turnips and anything else, she was worth her own fee and a joskin's as well.

Well, the harvest came and it came fell heavy, Else helped at the stooking and syne at the leading. That was a windy September day, the other childes were down in the fields, Else and Meiklebogs managed a cart, out in the park Meiklebogs forked sheaves, big and thick, into Else Queen's arms; and she built them round and about the shelvins till they rose four high and syne it was time for Meiklebogs to lead home the horse, Jim, the roan, a canny old beast. So home they would go and the stour would rise under the grind of the iron wheels, up above the Mounth in its mist of blue, Dalziel would look back now and again and see that the corn was biding in place, and see Else as well, lying flat on the top, with her eyes fast-closed, the meikle sweir wretch.

So he led the roan, Jim, up the Meiklebogs close, and round to the back of the Meiklebogs barn, high in the wall a window was cut, and he planned that this load be forked through the window for early threshing with his new oil mill. He stopped the horse and he backed it canny, the roan was old and he gave it a bit groan, and Dalziel gave the roan a belt in the mouth, the brute of a beast to groan out like that, folk would think that it was ill-treated. The roan looked surprised, as though he'd done nothing; and Dalziel cried to Else Queen, Come on, you'll have to be up and doing some work.

She cried, I'll soon do that, you old mucker, she called him the terriblest names to his face, and all he would do would be to smile shy, and stroke at his chin, neither shaved nor unshaved. So he held, splayfooted, to the front of the barn, and got himself in and climbed to the loft, and keeked from the window, and there was Else Queen, standing atop of the rows of sheaves, her fork in her hand, waiting to fork. She cried You're fair getting old in the bones! and flung in a sheaf that near hit his face, he smiled and said nothing, they both set to work, her working as fast and as fleet as you liked, Dalziel inside was bigging the sheaves, ready for the first bit thresh at the place, the sun a blind fall on the cart outside. And once when Dalziel took a keek out he saw the sweat in a stream from Else, and her eyes looked glazed, it would take down her creash.

Well, there happened near next the kind of a thing that surely Else Queen had expected to happen, unless she were innocent as the Virgin Queen, Ake Ogilvie said: and he doubted that. And even she was hardly that now, with Burns a hundred years in heaven.--Folk said What's that? and Ake looked surprised--they had surely heard of their own Great Poet? Well, the creature died and he went to heaven and knocked like hell on the pearly gates. And St. Peter poked his head from a wicket, and asked Who're you that's making a din? And Burns said I'm Robert Burns, my man, the National Poet of Scotland, that's who. St. Peter took a look at the orders, pinned on the guard-room wall for the day; and he said, I've got a note about you. You must wait outbye for a minute or so.

So Robbie sat there cooling his heels, on the top of the draughty stair to heaven, and waited and waited till he nearly was froze; syne the gates at last opened and he was let in. And Burns was fair in a rage by then. Do you treat distinguished arrivals like this? And St. Peter said No, I wouldn't say that. But then I had special orders about you. I've been hiding the Virgin Queen away--That was a real foul story to tell, it showed you the tink that Ake Ogilvie was, interrupting the real fine newsy tale of the happenings down at the Meiklebogs.

For when they had finished with the forking 'twas told, Dalziel took a bit of a look round the barn and saw he would need a hand to redd up. Get up from the cart and come round, he cried down, I'll need you to lend me a hand in the loft. Else cried back, Havers! Do you think I can't jump? And she put the end of her fork on a stone that stuck out a bit from the wall of the barn, and the prong-end under her arm, so, and next minute sailed through the air like a bird and landed near by Meiklebogs' side. And then she went white and then red of a sudden and Meiklebogs thought of the groan he'd heard, it hadn't been Jim the roan after all, 'twas Else had been groaning afore, as just now. And he stood looking sly as she sat on the sheaves, her face beginning to twist and to sweat, she said I'm not well, send off for the doctor. Then her time came on her and they heard her cry, the fee'd men out in the Meiklebogs fields, and came tearing home to see what was up. But by then the thing was nearly all done, the bairn born out in the barn, and Meiklebogs looking shyer than ever and getting on his bike to go for the doctor.

But faith! that was all he would do in the business. He wouldn't register the bairn his; and when the young doctor, McCormack, came up, and Else was moved to her room in the house, and McCormack said Is the bairn yours? Meiklebogs smiled shy, No, I wouldn't say that. And McCormack said Who's is it, then? And Meiklebogs never let on a word, just looked past the doctor and smiled shy and sly; and the doctor said Huh--immaculate conception. Something in the air of the Meiklebogs. You've had other housekeepers ta'en the same way.

Well, the story was soon all about the place, as scandalous a thing as ever you heard, Ag Moultrie, the Roarer and Greeter of Segget, knew every damned thing that had happened in the barn, more than an unmarried woman should know, she said the bairn was Meiklebogs' image, with his eyes and his nose--and Ake Ogilvie said Ay, faith! and his whiskers as well I could warrant. So Ag told him if he couldn't be civil and listen she wouldn't bother to give him the news; and Ake said D'you think I'll suffer for that?--not a neighbourly way to speak to a woman that was trying to cheer you up with some news.

Soon Else was up and about the place, and the bairn, a loon, tried to get its own back on its father Dalziel, if father he was. Its howl was near fit to lift off the roof, Else let it howl and worked in the parks; as the season wore on, were the weather fine, she'd take the creature out to the parks, and when it came to its feeding-time suckle the thing on a heap of shaws. When the fee'd men blushed and looked bashful at that, she'd cry What the devil are you reddening for? You sucked the same drink before you met beer, fair vulgar and coarse she'd turned to the bone, you'd never have thought she'd worked in a Manse. Dalziel would hark, with his shy, sleekèd smile, saying neither yea nor nay to her fleers, she would tongue him up hill and down dale when she liked, and call him the foulest names you could hear. But the foreman said she still went to his bed, or he to hers--ay, a queer carry-on!

Till the business of Jim the roan put an end.

 

That came with the second winter's close, when Meiklebogs carted his grain to the station, he'd sold the stuff for a stiff-like price, and put a young fee'd loon, Sinclair his name, on to the carting with the old roan, Jim. He fair was a willing old brute, the roan, he'd pant up a brae till an oncoming body might think from the other side, out of sight, that a steam-mill and thresher was coming that way. But he never would stop, would just shoggle on, with his great wide haunches shambling and swinging, he'd a free-like way of flinging his feet, but he wasn't cleekèd; and he fair could pull.

Ah well, it came white weather of frost, the ground as hard and as cold as iron, ribbed with a veining of frost each morning, folk that you met seemed most to be nose, and red nose at that when it wasn't blue-veined, Melvin at the Arms did a roaring trade, the water-pipes were frozen in the Manse, and the horses of all the farmers out about were brought to the smiddy to have their shoes cogged.

But Meiklebogs was over busy for that, on the Monday morning, the worst of the lot, he sent off Sinclair with the last load of corn; and afore he had gone very far the loon was all in a sweat and a bother with his job, old Jim the roan on the slide all the time, and the weighted cart going showding and banging. Sinclair tried to lead the old horse by the grass that grew stiff-withered by the side of the road; and that for a little while eased up the beast, till they turned into Segget at the top of East Wynd. There was devil a speck of grass grew there, and near Ake Ogilvie's the ground was like glass, and young Ewan Tavendale that came from the Manse had been sliding there a half hour that morning.

So when Jim the roan came on that with the cart he did the same as the Manse loon had done--took a run and a slide, and cart, horse, and all shot down past Ake's like a falling star--so Ake Ogilvie said, a daft-like speak. The lot fetched up near the Sourock's house, the roan fell shaken, but he didn't coup; and nothing of the harness by a miracle broke. Young Sinclair had fairly got a fell fright and he leathered old Jim round about the head with the reins and kicked him hard in the belly, to make the old brute more careful in future.

Peter Peat looked out and he nodded, That's it, nothing like discipline for horses and men; and he looked fierce enough to eat up old Jim, that was bending under the ding of the blows his patient old head--ay, a fierce man, Peter. And Sinclair, that was only a loon and a fool, said, I'll teach the old mucker to go sliding about, and gave the old roan another bit kick, to steady him up, and got on the cart, and sat him down on a bag of corn and cried to the roan Come on, you old Bee!

So old Jim went on and he fair went careful, flinging his great meikle feet down canny, the loaded cart swinging and showding behind, the road below like a sheet of glass. And he went fell well till the East Wynd sloped, down and round by the Moultrie shop, and there they found it--a slide once again! all the lasses and lads of Segget had been there, the night before, with their sleds and skates, and whooped and scraiched and dirled down the wynd, on their feet sometimes, on their backsides next, near braining themselves by the Moultrie wall, young Ewan Tavendale the worst of them all--he fair could slide, that nickum of a loon, with his black-blue hair and his calm, cool eyes, he'd led the lot and could wheel like a bird just in time to miss the bit wall that was waiting there to dash out his brains.

Well, young Tavendale might, but old Jim mightn't, no sooner did his great bare feet come down on the slide than the same thing happened as before. He started to slip and the cart went with him, it half wheeled round with the weight of its load, and reeled by the wall of the gardener Grant and stotted from that and the roan was down, braking with its feet, that did little good. Sinclair jumped off and fell on all fours. As he picked himself up he heard the crash, and the scream that rose with the breaking shafts, and he scrambled erect and looked down the lane; and the sight was sickener, old Jim the roan had run full tilt in the Moultrie wall, and one of the shafts of the cart had snapped and swung back right in the horse's belly, as though the old brute were a rat on a stake. He lay crumpled up, the cart broken behind him, young Sinclair started to greet at the sight: and the noise of the crash brought folk on the run.

Afore you could speak a fell concourse was round, old Moultrie came hirpling out with his stick, and cried What do you mean, malagarousing my house? and Jess Moultrie peeped, and looked white and sick; and Ag came out and then nipped back quick, no doubt in order to Roar and Greet. Will Melvin took Sinclair over to the Arms and had a drink down him afore you could wink; and young Sinclair stopped sniftering and habbering about it, he was feared he'd be sacked by Dalziel for this. And what can I do in the middle of the season if I lose my job? I'll just have to starve. You can't get a fee for love or money, right in the middle of the winter, you can't. And that old mucker Meiklebogs--But Mrs. Melvin came into the bar and said None of your Blasting and Blaspheming in here. You'll have to go out with your swearing, young man.

So Sinclair went out and gaped like a fool at the folk that had come in around to see Jim. He lay with his eyes half closed and at last he'd stopped from trying to rise from the ground, the end of the shaft was deep in his belly, and there was a smell fit to frighten a spinner; folk took a good look and went canny away, you hadn't time to stand there and stare, you might be asked to help if you did, let Meiklebogs look to his old horse himself. Sim Leslie, the policeman that folk called Feet, came down and took his bit note-book out and asked young Sinclair how it all happened; and wrote it all down and looked at old Jim, and frowned at him stern; and then wrote some more--no doubt the old roan's criminal record. Syne he said he'd ride over and tell Meiklebogs, and he did, and when Meiklebogs heard of the news he smiled canny and shy, and got on his bike, and came riding to Segget to see the soss.

By the time he did it was nearly noon. Ake Ogilvie down with his gun at the place, a crowd had gathered to see the brute shot; but Dalziel wouldn't have it, No, bide you a wee. If the beast be shot there would be no insurance. Ake Ogilvie said Can't you see it's in hell, with the shaft of the cart driving into its guts? But Meiklebogs just smiled shy and said nothing, except to Feet--that the horse was his property, and he lippened to him it wasn't destroyed. And Feet said Ay. D'you hear, Mr. Ogilvie? You'd better take home that gun of yours. And Ake Ogilvie stood and cursed at them both, and folk were shocked at the words he used, calling Meiklebogs a dirty mucker when the man was only seeking his insurance.

Well, there the roan lay all that afternoon, sossing up the road, and it wouldn't die. Folk came from far and near for a look at old Jim the roan as he lay on his side, as the afternoon waned he turned a wee, and the blood began to freeze round the shaft that was stuck so deep in his riven belly. But what with the folk that came in such crowds, a birn of the spinners down from the Mills, and the bairns as they left the school at four, the roan was splashed an inch deep with glaur and hardly twitching or moving by then. Meiklebogs had sent off a wire to Stonehive, to ask about the insurance, like: but no answer came, and he didn't expect one, he'd the corn loaded on another bit cart and went off home to the Meiklebogs, attending to his work with his shy, sleekèd smile, the insurance his if the horse died natural.

Once or twice Jess Moultrie came out to the beast and held a pail for it to drink out of, it slobbered at the warm water and treacle, syne would leave its head lying heavy in the pail, till Jess lifted the head and put it away; and all the while her face was like death, the fool was near greeting over the horse, if she couldn't stand the sight of the soss, why did she ever go near the beast?

It looked like a hillock of dirt by dark, and then Ake Ogilvie that half the day had been seeking the minister, that was off down the Howe, found him at last and told him the tale. And folk said that the Reverend Colquohoun swore awful--The bloody swine, the BLOODY swine!--a strange-like thing to say of a horse. But Ake Ogilvie said it wasn't the horse but the folk of Segget the minister meant. And that was just daft, if Ake spoke true--that Mr. Colquohoun could mean it of folk, real coarse of him to speak that way of decent people that had done him no harm. It just showed you the kind of a tink that he was, him and his Labour and socialism and all.

And he said to Ake Ogilvie Get out your gun, and Ake got it again, and the two came down, the roan lay still in its puddle of glaur, the cart behind and the night now close. And the circle of folk drew off a wee bit, and the roan seemed to know the thing that Ake meant, for it lifted its head and gave a great groan. The minister looked white as a drift of snow, he cried Stand back there--damn you, stand back! Ake, aim canny. And Ake said nothing, but went up to the roan, and folk looked away as they heard the bang.

Soon as Meiklebogs himself had heard of what happened, and he did that in less than the space of an hour, he was over at the Manse to see the minister, with the shy, sly smile on his half-shaved face. And he said They tell me, Mr. Colquohoun, that you've had my horse shotdown in East Wynd. The minister said Do they? Then they tell you the truth. So Meiklebogs said he would sue him for that, and the minister said he could sue and be damned--And I'll tell you a thing that I am to do--report you for cruelty by the very first post. You're the kind of scoundrel over-common in Scotland. And Meiklebogs for once lost his shy-like smile. Say of me again what you said of me now! Mind, there's a witness to hear us, minister. The Maidie was near in the hall, he meant her, but Mr. Colquohoun was blazing with rage. He said Get out or I'll throw you out, and made at Dalziel, and he shambled out, not such a fool as face up to a madman, a creature that fair went mad on a horse.

Nor was that the end of his troubles that day, for when he got home the news had reached Else, she was waiting in the kitchen when Meiklebogs came. He smiled at her shy, Have you nothing to do but stand about there and be idle, then? Get my supper ready, or I'll need a new housekeeper. The foreman had come in at the tail of Meiklebogs, and he heard every word that the two of them spoke. Else said Is this true that I hear of the roan? and Meiklebogs said Ay; will you give me my supper? and Else said No, but I'll give you my notice. I've stuck queer things at your hands, Meiklebogs. I've been crazed or daft that I've stuck them so long. But I wouldn't bide another night in your house. And Meiklebogs smiled sleekèd and shy. Ah well, just gang--with your fatherless bairn. And Else said she'd do that, but the bairn had a father, God pity the littl'un, the father it had.

She was greeting by then, she'd been fond of the roan. She hardly looked the Else that the foreman knew well, raging and red-haired and foul with her tongue, she stared at Meiklebogs as a body new waked out of the horror of an ill-dreamt dream; and she packed her things and wrapped up her bairn.

The foreman met her out in the close and asked her where she would spend the night, and he made a bit try to give her a cuddle, maybe he hoped that she'd spend it with him, her a tink-like quean, him buirdly and brave. But instead she banged her case at his legs, near couped him down in the sharn of the close, and held up through Segget and down to the station, and took the late train to her father's in Fordoun--the ill-gettèd bitch that she was, folk said, to leave Meiklebogs without warning like that, her and her blethering over a horse.

 

There wouldn't have been half the steer and stour if Mr. Colquohoun had kept to himself. He'd need to leave other folk a-be and need to his own concerns, him, that tink-cool stepson of his, for one--wasn't he the loon what had led the others in making the slide that mischieved the horse? He led most of the bairns in ill-gettèd ploys, folk told after that, though you hadn't heard even a whisper before. 'Twas said he would sneak in the lassies' playground, and cuddle and kiss them when they were at games, the ill-gettèd wretch, and at his age too. Ay, Mr. Colquohoun was more in need of trying to reform young Ewan Tavendale than interfering with a good, quiet childe like old Dalziel of the Meiklebogs.

Old Leslie said Ay--it was down at the Arms--or getting that proud-looking wife with a bairn--damn't! is that an example to show, none of a family and married five years? Now, when I was a loon up in Garvock . . . and folk began to hem and talk loud, and look up at the roof and hoast in their throats, and you couldn't hear more, and that was a blessing, the old fool could deave a dog into dysentery. But still there was something in what he was saying, other folk had bairns, they came with the seasons, there was no escape were you wedded and bedded.

But Dite Peat said Isn't there, now? Let me tell you--and he told about shops in that lousy hole, London, where things were for sale that a man could use, right handy-like, and what happened then? You never fathered a family, not you, you could sin as much as you liked and pay nothing. And Dite said forbye it was his belief that's what that couple did up at the Manse, that was why Mrs Colquohoun went about like a quean, with a skin like cream and a figure like that, hardly a chest on the creature at all; instead of the broadening out and about, looking sappy and squash like a woman of her age. Damn't, what was a woman in the world for, eh?--but to make your porridge and lie in your bed and bring as many bairns into the world as would help a man that was getting old? Not that the London things weren't fine for a childe when he went on a holiday, like. But if he himself were tied up, b'God, he'd take care he'd his wife in the family way--ay, every year, with a good bit scraich when it came to her time, that fair was a thing to jake a man up.

That was a dirty enough speak, if you liked. Folk looked here and there and Jim the Sourock, that had gotten religion, cast up his eyes, he had grown so holy with MacDougall's crush that he called the watery the W.C, and wouldn't have it that women had bodies at all more than an inch below the neck-bone. But Hairy Hogg had come in and sat down, folk cried, Ay, Provost, and what would you say? And Hairy said he thought Scotland was fair in a way, and if Burns came back he would think the same; and the worst thing yet they had done in Segget was to vote the Reverend Colquohoun to the pulpit--him and his Labour and sneering at folk, damn't! he had said we were monkeys, not men.

Some folk in the bar took a snicker at that, the story was growing whiskers in Segget, but the Provost had never forgiven the minister. And Hairy said it was his opinion, from studying folk a good fifty year--and mind you, he was no fool at the job--the minister took up with some other woman. They said that the father of Else Queen's bairn was old Dalziel of the Meiklebogs, but he, Hairy Hogg, had his doubts of that. Had the minister ever cast out with the quean? No, when he'd meet her out and about he'd cry to her cheery, as though nothing had happened. If he couldn't give a bairn to his mistress, the minister, it was maybe because he was hashed other ways.

Damn't, that was a tasty bit story, now, queer you yourself hadn't thought of that. But long ere another day was done the news was spread through the Segget wynds that the Reverend Mr. Colquohoun, the minister, had fathered the bairn of that quean, Else Queen, the Provost had seen the two of them together, him making ardent love to the lass.

Ake Ogilvie heard the tale from the tailor, and Ake said: Blethers, and even if it's true what has the business to do with old Hogg? He himself, it seems, has done a bit more than just lie down by the side of his wife--or that gawpus he has for a son's not his.

That was just like Ake Ogilvie to speak coarse like that, trying to blacken the character of a man that wasn't there to defend himself. Peter Peat said Well, I'm a friend to my friends, but a man that's once got himself wrong with me--and he looked fierce enough to frighten a shark; but Ake Ogilvie laughed, And what's Colquohoun done? And Peter said Him? A disgrace to Segget, that should be a good Conservative. What is he instead?--why, a Labour tink. But Ake Ogilvie just said To hell with their politics, I don't care though he's trying to bring back the Pretender, same as that snippet, Jahly young Mowat.

But Peter wouldn't hear the gentry miscalled, and he said that Jahly would come to himself, and take his rightful place, you would see--at the head of the Segget Conservative branch. Ake said He can take his place on a midden, if he likes--and he'll find they've much the same smell. Peter asked what had much the same smell and Ake said Tories and middens, of course, and Peter Peat looked at him fierce, and left; that would learn the ill-getted joiner, that would.

Well, the news reached Cronin, the old tink in West Wynd, him that was aye preaching his socialist stite; and he said that he thought the whole thing a damned lie, an attempt to discredit the socialists in Segget. Jock Cronin at the station heard it and said He's all right, Colquohoun, in an off-hand way, to let you know he and the Manse were fell thick and slobbered their brose from the very same bowl.

Ag Moultrie, the Roarer and Greeter (for short), took the news to the servants at Segget House; and it spread about there, and when young Mr. Mowat came home from a trip he had gone to Dundon, he laughed out aloud. Some have all the luck. But if Mrs. Colquohoun's in need of a bairn I'll give half a year's profits to provide her with one.

And you couldn't but laugh at the joke of the gent.

 

Robert was away that New Year's Eve, into Aberdeen, he wouldn't say why; but Chris could guess and had laughed at him. Mind, nothing expensive. And he'd said What, in drinks? I'm going to squat in a pub and swizzle confusion to all the dour sourocks in Segget! Chris wished that it wasn't a joke, and he would; he kissed her and went striding away down the shingle, turning about to wave from the yews, his kiss still pressed on her lips as she stood, and tingling a bit, like a bee on a flower.

It was frosty weather as the day wore on, the sky and the earth sharp-rimed with steel, no sun came, only a smoulder of grey, Chris cooked the dinner with Maidie to help, and remembered Else, she'd have been more use. Maidie still Memmed like a frightened mouse, and once when up and above their heads there came a crash like a falling wall, she nearly jumped from her skin with fright. Chris said It's just Ewan, he's moving his press, and Maidie said, Oh, I got such a fright! and looked as though it had lifted her liver. Chris left her and went up to Ewan's room, and knocked at the door, he bade her come in, the place was a still, grey haze with dust. She saw Ewan through it by the window ledge, he'd stooped to look in the press he'd moved, it was filled with his precious array of flints.

Chris asked what he was moving today? He said Everything and set to on the bed, she sat down and didn't offer to help. His hair fell over his eyes as he tugged, funny to look at, funny to think he had been your baby, been yours, been you, been less than that even--now sturdy and slim, with his firm round shoulders and that dun gold skin he got from yourself, and his father's hair. He stopped in a minute and came where she sat: I think that'll do, I'll dust after dinner.

So the two of them went down and had dinner alone, Ewan said he'd have everything moved in his rooms ere the New Year came and Chris asked why. He said Oh, I like a new angle on things, and then he said Mother, you wanted to laugh. What about? and Chris said You, I suppose! You sounded so grown-up like for a lad.

He said nothing to that, but went on with his meat, they didn't say grace when Robert wasn't there, that was funny when you came to think of the thing, Robert knew and knew that you knew he knew. But he was too sure to vex about that, sure of himself and his God and belief, except when the angry black moments came--seldom enough in this last three years. Once he'd raved Religion--A Scot know religion? Half of them think of God as a Scot with brosy morals and a penchant for Burns. And the other half are over damned mean to allow the Almighty even existence. You know which half you belong to, I think. Hate and fury in his face as he said it, the day after the killing of Meiklebogs' horse. Chris had looked at him cool and remotely then, as she'd learned with the years, and he'd banged from the room, to return in an hour or so recovered. What a ranter and raver I am, Christine! I think you'll outlast me a thousand years!

And now, on a sudden impulse, she said, Do you ever think of religion, Ewan?

He never said What? or said your last word the way other boys of his age would do; he looked up and shook his head, Not now. She asked when he had and he said, long ago, when he was a kid and hadn't much sense, he used to be worried when Robert was preaching. Chris said But he never tried to fear you, and Ewan shook his head. Oh no, it wasn't that. But I hated the notion God was there, prying into every minute of my life. I wanted to belong to myself, and I do; it doesn't matter a bit to me now. She understood well enough what he meant, how like her he sometimes was, how unlike! So you think God doesn't matter, then, Ewan? and he said, I don't think He's worth bothering about. He can't make any difference to the world--or I should think He'd have made it by now.

The evening came down before it was four, up in the Mounth the snow came thick, sheeting hill on hill as it passed on the wings of the howling wind from the haughs. But the storm passed north of Segget, lying lithe, Chris in the kitchen looked out at it pass, she was making cakes and pies for the morn, Maidie tweetering about like a bird Eh, Mem, but that's RICH, that'll be a fine one!

Chris said Then be sure you eat a good share, you're still thin enough since you came to the Manse. Are you sure you are well? And Maidie said Fine. She blushed and stood like a thin little bird, Chris looked at her quiet, a thin little lass--what did she think, what did she do in her moments alone, had she a lad, had she ever been kissed--or more than that, as they said in Segget? Not half the life in her that poor Else had; what would Else Queen be doing today?

Dark. As they took their tea together, Ewan and Chris, they left the blinds drawn and could see the night coming stark outbye, growing strangely light as the daylight waned and the frost, white-plumed, walked swift over Segget. Ewan sat on the rug by the fire and read, his blue head down-bent over his book, Chris stared in the fire and tired of that and finished her tea, and wandered about and went to the window and looked at the night. Then she looked at the clock. She would go and meet Robert.

She turned to the door and Ewan jumped up, she said not to bother, she was going a walk. He said absent-mindedly, See you keep warm, and his eyes went back again to his book.

Outside, she went hatless, with her coat collar up, she found at the door of the Manse a wind, bright, keen, and edged like a razor-blade, the world sleeping on the winter's edge, about her, dim-pathed, wound the garden of summer, she passed up its aisles, the hoar crackled below her, all Segget seemed held in the hand-grip of frost. A queer thought and memory came to her then and she turned about from going to the gate, and went back instead by the side of the Manse, up through the garden where the strawberry beds lay covered deep in manure and straw, to the wall that girded the kirkyard of Segget.

Here the wind was still, in the Manse's lithe, she put out a hand on the hoar of the dyke, it felt soft as salt and as cold as steel; and idly, standing, she wrote her name, though she couldn't see it by then in the dark, CHRISTINE COLQUOHOUN in great capital letters. And she minded how once she had stood here before, four years or more, after Segget Show; and she and Robert were there together and she'd thought of the vanished folk in the yard, and planned to add to those that supplanted. And the war-time wound that was seared on Robert had seared that plan from her mind as with fire. . . .

It seemed this night remote from her life as the things she'd dreamt as a quean in Blawearie, when she was a maid and knew nothing of men, the kind of play that a bairn would play: for her who stood here with life in her again, unexpected, certain, Robert's baby and hers.

And she found it strange in that icy hush, leaning there warm, her hair bare to the cold, to think how remote was that life from her now, even bairn for the thing that lay under her heart was a word that she'd hardly used a long time, thinking of it as a baby, in English--that from her books and her life in a Manse. She seemed to stand here by the kirkyard's edge looking back on the stones that marked the years where so many Chrises had died and lay buried--back and back, as the graveyard grew dim, far over those smothered hopes and delights, to that other Chris that had been with child, a child herself or so little more, and had know such terror and delight in that, young and raw and queer and sweet, you thought her now, that Chris that had been--the Chris far off in that vanished year who had lain in terror as nights came down with knowledge of the thing that moved in herself, the fruit of her love for the boy she had wed, Ewan sleeping so quiet and so sound in her bed. Remote and far to think she was YOU!

Quiet in the dark she wrote with her finger another name across that of her own, on the kirkyard dyke, and heard as she wrote far up in the Kaimes a peesie wheep--maybe a lost memory from those years in Kinraddie, a peesie that had known that other Chris! She heard a long scuffling through the long grass, silver beyond the rim of the dyke, some rabbit or hare, though it made her heart jump; and slowly she felt her finger rub out the name she had written in hoar on the dyke--ill-luck to have done that, she minded folk said.

A month ago since she'd known for sure, had puzzled for days with the second no-go. Robert would frown, What on earth's gone wrong? You're dreaming, Christine! and smile, and she'd smile, and puzzle again when he'd left her alone. So it came on her in the strangest places, she stood in MacDougall Brown's to shop, and MacDougall asked thrice what thing she might want--Now, Mem--and she said--Did I want it at all? and then came to herself at his cod-like stare. So she gave her order and went out and home, she supposed MacDougall would manage to make out that was another proof of her pride!--all Segget for some reason thought her proud, maybe because she had taken to thinking, not stayed as still as a quean in a book or a quean in a bothy from year unto year.

And when once Stephen Mowat came down to see Robert, and she gave them supper and sat by to listen, Mowat broke off the talk to say Rahly, Mrs. Colquohoun, do tell us the joke! She said What joke? And he said The one that's making you smile in that charming way. She said Oh, I suppose I am full up of supper! And he'd said he thought that a Jahly untruth, joking, polished as a mart-day pig.

So at last she had known and woke one day sure; and lay and dreamt and Robert got up--Feeling all right?--and she had said Fine. Robert, we're going to have a baby. He stared--We?--the thing had staggered him, she lay and watched, something moved in her heart, laughter for him, a queer pity for him--oh, men were funny and just boys to be pitied. Well, I am, she'd said, but you had a share.

He was standing half-dressed, with his fair hair on end, he sat on the bed and stared and then smiled, slowly, with that crinkling about the eyes she had loved near the very first time she met him. Really and honest-to-God that we are? And she'd said it was real enough, how did it happen? And he'd said he hadn't the least idea, and that struck them as funny, they giggled like children; and after 'twas Robert that went into long dreams. She'd say What again? and he'd say But Christine! A baby--Good Lord, I hope it's a girl! What does it feel like being as you are--a nuisance, just, or tremendous and terrible? And Chris had said that it made you feel sick, now and then, and Robert had laughed at that, he wasn't so easily cheated as Mowat. Oh Chris Caledonia, I've married a nation!

Now, standing beside the dyke in the dark, she minded that, it was true enough, somehow you did hide away the things, Scots folk had always done that, you supposed--in case they'd go blind in their naked shrine, like a soul in the presence of Robert's great God--God he followed unfaltering still, and was getting Him deeper in dislike than ever, with his preaching in Segget the cause of the Miners. These were the folk that were going on strike, in May, unless their wages were raised. Robert said their case was a testing case, the triumph of greed or the triumph of God.

Chris herself had hardly a thought in the matter because of that nameless doubt that was hers--doubt of the men and method that came to change the world that was waiting change--all the mixed, strange world of the Segget touns, with its failing trade and its Mills often idle. The folk of the Mills would hang round the room where their dole was paid by a little clerk, they'd laze there and snicker at the women that passed, and yawn, with weariness stamped on each face; and smoke, and whistle, and yawn some more. Once she'd passed and heard some of them quarrelling out loud, she had thought it must surely be over politics; but instead 'twas the chances of a football match! She'd told Robert that and he'd laughed and said Demos!--didn't you know that the chap was like that? But we'll alter these things forever in May.

May: and the baby wouldn't come till July, a good enough month for a baby to be born, though Robert said if they had planned it at all they would surely have planned it better than that. July might be far too hot for comfort. But he didn't fuss round her, stood back and aside, he knew it her work and that he'd little help--oh, different as could be from the Ewan long ago, the frightened boy who had so fussed about her--how they'd quarrelled, how wept, how laughed in that time of the coming of that baby that was now in the Manse--a boy, grown up, remote from it all, remote enough with his books and his flints, far enough off from being a baby, rather like a flint himself in some ways, but of a better shape and grain, grey granite down to the core, young Ewan, with its flinty shine and its cool grey skin and the lights and the flashing strands in it. Different from that, Robert's baby and hers--

She stamped her feet and woke from her dreaming as down through the dark she heard on the shingle the coming footsteps of Robert himself.

 

And next morning he said, Let's go out a walk, up in the hills somewhere--are you keen? Chris said she was and well before eight they were off, they met with Ewan in the hall as they went, he said nothing at all about going out with them, he always knew when he wasn't much wanted. Chris kissed him and said they'd be back for dinner; syne she and Robert went up by the Kaimes, and Ewan stood and looked after them--you could hardly believe that Chris was so old.

Underfoot the frost held hard and firm in the rising sun of the New Year's Day, that sun a red smoulder down in the Howe, the hoar was a blanching on post and hedge, riming the dykes, far up in the Mounth the veilings of mists were draping the hills, except that now and then they blew off and you saw the coarse country deep in the haughs, remote with a flicker of red on the roofs of some shepherd's sheiling high in the heath. Robert was walking so fast that Chris for a while could hardly keep up with his stride, then she fell into that and found it easy, the Kaimes was past and above it the path opened out through the ragged fringe of the moor that came peering and sniffling down at Segget as a draggled cat at a dish out of doors, all the countryside begirdled with hills and their companions the moors that crept and slept and yawned in the sun, watching the Howe at its work below.

They passed a tarn that was frozen and shone, Chris tried the edge with her stick and it broke, and she saw herself for a minute then, with the looped-up hair and the short-cut skirts and the leather jacket tight at her waist, high in the collar; and the blown bronze of her cheeks and hair and the stick in her hands and the fur-backed gloves, she smiled at herself for this Chris that she'd grown. Robert stopped and looked back and was puzzled and came and stood by her side and looked down at that Chris that smiled remote in the broken ice. Yes, not at all bad. See the childe by her shoulder? Do you think the two can be decently married?

Chris said that she thought not, they'd something in their eyes--and Robert kissed her then, iron, his hard, quick kiss, the kiss of a man with other passions than kissing: but wonderful and daft a moment to stand, on the frozen moor, her head back on his shoulder, and so be kissed, and at last released, Robert panting a little, and they both looked away; and then they went on, swinging hand in hand for a while till they tired and needed their sticks.

Robert went first, bare-headed, black-coated, he was whistling Over the Sea to Skye, clear and bright as they still went on, up through the wind of a sheep-track here where the Grampians pushed out their ramparts in fence against the coming of life from below.

By eleven they were high in the Culdyce moor, winding the twist of its slopes in the broom that hung thick-rimed with unshaken frost for the sun had died away in a smoulder, the Howe lay grey in a haze below, as they climbed that haze betook itself from the heights to the haughs, Leachie towered high, its crag-head swathed with a silk-web mutch. Trusta's ten hundred feet cowered west as if bending away from the blow of the wind, the moors a ragged shawl on her shoulders, crouching and seated since the haughs were born, watching the haze in the Howe below, the flicker of the little folk that came and builded and loved and hated and died, and were not, a crying and swarm of midges warmed by the sun to a glow and a dance. And the Trusta heights drew closer their cloaks, year by year, at the snip of the shears, as coulter and crofter moiled up the haughs.

Once Chris and Robert came to a place, out in the open, here the wind blew and the ground was thick with the droppings of sheep, where a line of the ancient stones stood ringed, as they stood in Kinraddie far west and below, left by the men of antique time, memorial these of a dream long lost, the hopes and fears of fantastic eld.

Robert said that they came from the East, those fears, long ago, ere Pytheas came sailing the sounding coasts to Thule. Before that the hunters had roamed these hills, naked and bright, in a Golden Age, without fear or hope or hate or love, living high in the race of the wind and the race of life, mating as simple as beasts or birds, dying with a like keen simpleness, the hunting weapons of those ancient folk Ewan would find in his search of the moors. Chris sat on a fallen stone and heard him, about her the gleams of the wintry day, the sailing cloud-shapes over the Howe; and she asked how long ago that had been? And Robert said Less than four thousand years, and it sounded long enough to Chris--four thousand years of kings and of Gods, all the dark, mad hopes that had haunted men since they left the caves and the hunting of deer, and the splendour of life like a song, like the wind.

And she thought then, looking on the shadowed Howe with its stratus mists and its pillars of spume, driving west by the Leachie bents, that men had followed these pillars of cloud like lost men lost in the high, dreich hills, they followed and fought and toiled in the wake of each whirling pillar that rose from the heights, clouds by day to darken men's minds--loyalty and fealty, patriotism, love, the mumbling chants of the dead old gods that once were worshipped in the circles of stones, Christianity, socialism, nationalism--all--Clouds that swept through the Howe of the world, with men that took them for gods: just clouds, they passed and finished, dissolved and were done, nothing endured but the Seeker himself, him and the everlasting Hills.

Then she came from that thought, Robert shaking her arm. Chris, you'll be frozen. Let's climb to the camp. He had once been here with Ewan, she hadn't; the moor shelved smoothly up to its top, as they climbed in view Chris saw two lines of fencing climbing each slope of the hill, new-driven and stapled, the fences, they met and joined and ended up on the crest. But before that meeting and joining they plunged through the circles of the ancient camp that had been, the turf and the stones had been flung aside, Robert told that the hill had been recently sold and the lands on either side as well, and two different landowners bought the hill and set up those fences to show their rights--what were dirt like the old heathen forts to them? Symbols of our age and its rulers, these clowns, Robert said, and the new culture struggling to birth--when it came it would first have to scavenge the world!

Then he started talking of the Miners, of Labour, of the coming struggle in the month of May, he hoped and believed that that was beginning of the era of Man made free at last, Man who was God, Man splendid again. Christ meant and intended no more when He said that He was the Son of Man, when He preached the Kingdom of Heaven--He meant it on earth. Christ was no godlet, but a leader and hero--

He forgot Chris, striding up and down the slope, excitement kindled in his harsh, kind eyes. And Chris watched him, standing, her stick behind her, her arms looped about it, saying nothing to him but hearing and seeing, him and the hills and the song that both made. And suddenly she felt quite feared, it was daft--as she looked at the scaling heights high up, the chasms below, and her Robert against them.

She put out her hand and caught him, he turned, something in her face stopped questions, all else, the pity and fear that had been in her eyes. He didn't kiss her now, his arms round about her, they were quiet a long moment as they looked in each other, they had never done that that Chris could remember, seeing herself globed earnest, half-smiling, and with trembling lips there in the deep grey pools that hid away Robert--never hers for long if ever at all, unceasing the Hunter of clouds by day. The men of the earth that had been, that she'd known, who kept to the earth and their eyes upon it--the hunters of clouds that were such as was Robert: how much was each wrong and how much each right, and was there maybe a third way to Life, unguessed, unhailed, never dreamed of yet?

Then he said Now we surely know each other, and she came from her mood to meet his with a laugh, If we don't we've surely done shameful things! And they sat in the lithe of the heath-grown dyke and ate chocolate Robert had brought in his pocket, and Chris fell fast asleep as she sat, and awoke with Robert sitting still lest he wake her, one hand around her and under her heart, but far away from her in his thoughts, his eyes on the sailing winter below and his thoughts with the new year that waited their coming down through the hills in the Segget wynds.

 

Chris watched the coming of that Spring in Segget with her interests strange-twisted back on themselves, as though she re-lived that Chris of long syne, far from the one that had taken her place, that Chris of kirks and Robert of books--they sank from sight in the growing of the spring, quick on the hills, on the upland parks, you saw the fields of Meiklebogs change as you looked from the window of that room in the Manse that John Muir had set with Blawearie gear. It was there you intended the baby be born, the only sign of insanity yet, said Robert, laughing, and helping you change.

He seemed to have altered too with the Spring, the black mood came seldom or never now, nor that red, queer cough that companioned it. You'd hear him of a morning go whistling away under the yews, on some kirk concern, blithe as though the world had been born anew. It wasn't only the coming of the baby that had altered him so and kindled his eyes, all the air of the country was filled with its rumour, that thing awaited the country in May, when the Miners and others had threatened to strike. Robert said that more than a strike would come, the leaders had planned to seize power in May.

The red-ploughed lands steamed hot in the sun as Meiklebogs' men drove slow their great teams in the steam of the waiting world of Spring, the rooks behind them, Chris stood still and watched, and remembered, and put her hand up to her heart, and then lower, by belly and thigh: and slow, under her hand, that shape would turn, May close and July coming closer now, she felt fit and well, contented, at peace.

Ewan knew now, he had stared one morning; and then asked if she was going to have a baby. Chris had said Yes, do you mind very much? and he had said No, but hadn't kissed her that morning, she watched him go with a catch of breath. But by night he seemed to have got the thing over, he put cushions behind her when she sat at tea, grave, and with care, and Robert winked at her. Ewan saw the wink and flashed his cool smile; and they all sat silent in front of the fire, with its smouldering glow, they had no need to speak.

Then Maidie knew, as she watched Chris at work, and tweetered the news to some quean outbye, and the quean gasped Never! and told Ag Moultrie, the Roarer and Greeter, met in the street. And Ag had nearly a fit with delight, and before that night came down in Segget there was hardly a soul in both touns but knew the minister's wife had taken at last--ay, and must be fell on with it, too, by her look, so the lassie Moultrie had said. Had Ag seen her? you'd ask, and they'd tell you Ay, she'd fairly done that, and Mrs. Colquohoun had told the bit news to Ag Moultrie herself; and syne broke down and just Roared and Grat on Ag's shoulder.

Old Leslie said 'twas Infernal, just, you'd have thought a minister would have more sense. He never had thought it decent in a minister to show plain to his parish he did that kind of thing; and he minded when he was a loon up in Garvock--Those nearest the door of the smiddy nipped out, Ake Ogilvie near was killed in the rush, and he found Old Leslie habbering to himself, hammering at a horseshoe, and far off in Garvock. What's up then, Leslie? Ake Ogilvie asked, and Leslie said What, have you not heard the news? and told of the thing that was on at the Manse, and might well have begun to tell of Garvock, but that Ake, the coarse brute, said Well, what of it? Didn't your own father lie with your mother--the poor, misguided devil of a childe?

Syne out he went swaggering and met with John Muir, and asked if he'd heard what the scandal-skunks said? Muir gleyed and said Ay, and it made him half-sick, and Ake said the same, they were both of them fools, and cared nothing at all for a tasty bit news.

John Muir went home, never told his wife, she found out herself nearly three days late; and fair flew into a rage at that, to be so far behind with the news. Did you know the news of Mrs. Colquohoun? she speired of John and he gleyed and said Ay. And she asked could he never tell her a thing, her that had to bide at home and cook, and wash and sew and mend all the time, with himself and two meikle trollops of daughters, working her hands to the very bone? And John said Well, it's nothing to me if Mrs. Colquohoun has been ta'en with a bairn--I'm not the father, as far as I know.

Mrs. Muir reddened up. Think shame of yourself speaking that way in front of the lassies. Tooje was standing with her meikle mouth open, drinking it up, afore she could close it her mother took her a crack in the gape. Tooje started to greet and Ted in the garden heard the greeting, as aye she would do, and came tearing in, and started to greet to keep Tooje company; and John Muir got up with his pipe and his paper and went out to the graveyard and sat on a stone, and had a fine read: decent folk, the dead.

In the Arms Dite Peat said Wait till it comes. She's the kind that takes ill with having a bairn--over narrow she is, she'll fair have a time. I warrent the doctor'll need his bit knives. Folk thought that an unco-like speak to make, he'd a mind as foul as a midden, Dite Peat: but for all that you went to the kirk the next Sabbath and took a gey keek at Mrs. Colquohoun--ay, God! she fairly was narrow round there, more like a quean than a grown-up woman, with her sulky, proud face and her well-brushed hair, she'd look not so bonny when it came to her time.

Then Hairy Hogg heard it and minded the story of what Mr. Mowat had said he would give--to take the minister's wife with a bairn. You well may depend that was more than a speak. Folk had forgotten it but now they all minded, it was said in Segget it was ten to one the bairn wasn't the minister's at all, young Mr. Mowat had been heard to say he'd given half of a whole year's profits for lying with that proud-like Mrs. Colquohoun. MacDougall Brown said 'twas a black, black sin, and he preached a sermon in the Square next Sabbath, about scarlet priesthoods living in shame; and everybody knew what he meant by that, his son Jock wabbled his eyes all around, and Mrs. Brown shook like a dollop of fat; only Cis looked away and turned red and shy, and thought of Dod Cronin and his hands and lips.

The spinners didn't care when the news reached them, though an unco birn came now to the kirk that had never attended a kirk before, the older men mostly, disjaskèd, ill-dressed, with their white, spinner faces and ill-shaved chins, like raddled old loons, and they brought their wives with them--the minister was fairly a favourite with them. So might he be, aye siding with the dirt and the Labour stite that the Cronins preached; and twice he had interfered at the Mills and forced Mr. Mowat to clean out his sheds. But the younger spinners went to no kirk, just hung about of a Sabbath day, and snickered as a decent body went by, or took their lasses up to the Kaimes as soon as the Spring sun dried the grass.

Most of the gossip Chris heard of or knew, and cared little or nothing, folk were like that, she thought if you'd neither books nor God nor music nor love nor hate as stand-bys, no pillar of cloud to lead your feet, you turned as the folk of farm and toun--to telling scandal of your nearest neighbours, making of them devils and heroes and saints, to brighten your days and give you a thrill. And God knew they were welcome to get one from her, she found herself liking them as never before, kindled to new interest in every known face, seized again and again in the Segget wynds--looking at the rat-like little Peter Peat, at MacDougall's bald head, at the lizard-like Mowat--with the startling thought, He was once a bairn! It nearly put you off having one sometimes; and then again you'd be filled with such a queer pity, as you passed, that Hairy Hogg would go in and say to his wife--That Mrs. Colquohoun she goes by me and SNICKERS! and his wife would say Well damn't, do you want her to go by you and greet?

So April was here, with its steaming drills and the reek of dung in the Meiklebogs parks; and in Segget backyards a scraich and chirawk as the broods of the winter gobbled their corn, you could hear the ring of the smiddy hammer across the still air right to the Manse--above it, continuous, the drum of the Mills. Young Mr. Mowat had new orders on hand and most of the spinners were at work again. But early that week that he put them on Stephen Mowat came down to the Manse, with a paper in his hand and a list of names. He wanted Robert to join the list, the O.M.S., a volunteer army, that was being prepared all over the country to feed the country in the Miners' strike. And he said that they didn't always see eye to eye, him and Colquohoun, but that this was serious: you Jahly well couldn't let a push like the miners dictate to the country what it should do. And he said that Rahly Robert must join, and Mrs. Colquohoun as well, if she would; and he smiled at her charming, and showed all his teeth.

Robert said Well, Christine, what do you say? and Chris didn't much care for she didn't much hope. Then she looked at Mowat, elegant, neat, in his London clothes, with his tended hair and his charming look; and the saggy pouches under his eyes. And it seemed she was looking at more than Mowat, the class that had made of the folk of Segget the dirt-hungry folk that they had been and were--made them so in sheer greed and sheer brag. You had little hope what the Miners could do, them or the Labour leaders of Robert, but they couldn't though they tried make a much worse mess than Mowat and his kind had done, you knew. So you just said No; Robert smiled at Mowat. That's Chris's answer, a trifle abrupt. And I can't help the O.M.S. myself--you see, I've another plan afoot. Mowat said that was Jahly, what was the plan? And Robert said Why, do all that I can to hinder the O.M.S. or such skunks as try to interfere with the Strike.

Chris had never admired Stephen Mowat so much, he kept his temper, charming, polite, she and Robert watched him stride from the door, down under the yews, and they later heard he had gone to the Provost and gotten his help, and the same from Geddes, and the same from Melvin that kept the Arms. Near everybody that counted would help, except the spinners, the Manse, and Ake Ogilvie--Ake had told Mr Mowat they could hamstring each other, strikers and Government, for all that he cared. And neither would MacDougall Brown give his name, he said his living depended on spinners: and if all the world renounced its sin the cares of the world would be ended tomorrow.

And all the time he was saying this he was mixing sawdust under the counter, canny-like, in a bag of meal.

Chris put the whole thing out of her mind, busied in making the baby's clothes, busied in going long walks by herself, the last day in April she took Ewan with her, across by Mondynes, till they saw far off, crowning the hills, the roofs of Kinraddie. You were born over there twelve years ago, she thought aloud as they sat to rest, Ewan with his head cupped up in his hands, his arms on his knees, his blue-black hair rumpled, untidily tailed, in the glow of the sun. He said, Yes, I know, and then looked at her sudden--but I say! I never really thought of that . . . Or anyway, never as I thought just now. She asked how was that, and he looked down the Howe. Well, that I once was a part of you; though, of course, I know all about how babies come.

And for almost the first time in years he seemed troubled, her boy, the fruit of herself, so cool, so kind and sure and so stony-clear, troubled to a sudden, queer brittle pity. Mother! And he looked at her, then away, then came and cuddled her tight for a moment, his arms round her throat Chris nearly was stifled: but she didn't move, didn't say a word at that strange embracing on the part of Ewan.

And May and tomorrow waited their feet as they turned back quiet up the Segget road.

 

Ewan in his bed; in the May-time dark Chris wandered the sitting-room of the Manse, looking again and again from the window at the mist that had come and grew thicker each minute. Beyond her vision the yews, the hedge: she could see but a little space from the window, a space translit by a misty star, the lights far up in Segget House.

What had happened to Robert--had he been in time?

And at last she could bear it no longer, went out, into the hall and put on her coat, and opened the door and went down through the path, through the slimy, slow crunch of the shingle, mist-wet. A light gleamed faint in the house of John Muir and a dog barked loud from old Smithie's shed as he heard her footsteps pass in the mist, it came draping its cobwebs across her face, she put up her hand and wiped off the globes, from her lashes, and stopped and listened on the road. Nothing to be heard, the mist like a blanket, had Robert come up with the spinners in time?

They had gone to blow up the High Segget brig, a birn of the spinners and one of the porters, the news had been brought to the Manse by John Cronin, panting--They've gone to blow up the brig and prevent the trains that the blacklegs are running reaching beyond this, or south from Dundon. Robert had jumped up--When did they go? and Cronin had said Ten minutes ago, I heard of it only now in Old Toun, this'll mean the police and arrest for us all. Robert had said Oh, damn the fools and their half-witted ploys--blowing up brigs! Right, I'll be with you, and hadn't waited his coat, had told Chris not to worry and kissed her, and ran, long-striding down through the shingle, Cronin at his heels and the mist coming down.

Where were they now, what had happened at the brig?

She pressed on again, that fear for an urge--a fool to be out, maybe Robert would miss her. The mist was so thick she could hardly see a thing on the other side of the Wynd, she kept the leftward wall and held down, past the locked-up shop of little Peter Peat, the shop of the Provost locked up as well, and Dite Peat's as well, all three of them specials enrolled by Mowat to help Simon Leslie. But the station folk and the spinners were out, so Robert had told her, and here in Segget, as all over the country, the Strike held firm.

Had he and Cronin reached the brig in time?

Now she was down in the Square, so she knew, the lights of the Arms seeped up through the mist, the Arms crowded with spinners as usual, few of them knew of the thing at the brig, John Cronin had said the folk who had gone to blow up the place were no more than boys, and daft at that, with their blasting-powder gotten or thieved from the quarry at Quarles.

As Chris crossed the Square she met in the mist two men who were holding up to East Wynd, Sim Leslie was one, and a man with a brassard, one of the specials, she thought it Dite Peat. They peered in her face and Sim Leslie coughed, and the man with the brassard laughed a foul laugh. Chris felt her blood go cold at that laugh, she heard them engage in a mutter of talk as she hurried down the road to the station.

There were lights down there, but still as the grave, she stood and looked down, her heart beating fast. And so, as she stood, slowly, quietly, under her heart her baby moved. She gasped a little, she must go more slow, she shouldn't be out in the mist at all. Robert and Cronin must have reached them in time.

But even yet she could not go back. She stood and listened in the mist and heard the fall of it on the grass, on the hedge, beyond the wall where she stood and leaned--soft, in a feathery falling of wet, blanketing sound away from her ears. She ought to go home, but how could she, unsure?

In that minute, far to the south the mist suddenly broke and flamed: she stared: the flame split up through the mirk from the ground. Then there came to her ears the crack and crinkle of such explosion as she'd heard before up in the Mounthside Quarles quarry. She knew what it meant; and started to run.

Beyond the railway lines was the path that wound by the lines till it reached Segget Brig. Here the hawthorns brushed her face and the grass whipped wetly about her legs as she ran, not thinking, trying hard not to think, to run fleetly, and gain the Brig, as she must--Robert was there.

Oh, and those fools!

The second explosion laid hand on the night and shook the mist as a great hand might. Then it died, and Chris found the true dark had come, it had seeped through the mist like spilt ink through paper, and she couldn't run now, but walked and stumbled, and heard no more for it seemed an hour.

Till far behind her there rose a whistle, a long-drawn blast remote in the night.

She stopped at that and turned about, a whin-bush lashed her face as she turned and then stood listening and looking beside her. And far away north up the side of the Mounth a line of lights twinkled suddenly bright, and moved and slowed and came to a stop.

Clenched hand at her throat, for that seemed to help, she gasped and stared at the cluster at halt--some Dundon train that had halted at Carmont, in five minutes more it would be in Segget, and the brig was down, and it wouldn't know--

Running again she felt that change, slow and dreadful and sick in her body, her arms held out as she kept the path; and she cried to the thing unborn in her womb, Not now, not now; and it moved again. Then up the line she heard the skirl of the starting train, its windows flashed, it purred from sight as it climbed through the woods--she never could do it, try though she might!

Yet, so at last, running, she did; and gained the road with the station below. Down there was a flurry and scurry of lights, behind on the road a scurry of feet. She turned at that sound, saw a drift of men, she seemed to know one: and cried out Robert!

The night quietened away in a mist of faces and a kindled lantern and Robert's voice. So later Chris minded, and then the next hours closed suddenly up as a telescope closes. One minute she was standing, her teeth in her lip, harkening Robert tell how he'd gained the brig, just in time, they'd done no more than test off the powder, he and Cronin had stopped them at that; and the next she was up in the Manse with Robert, as she stood in the hall and he closed the door the hall rose up and spun twice round her head, she stared at the grandfather clock in the hall, for a minute she couldn't breathe, couldn't move. Something suddenly flooded her mouth, she sopped the stuff with her handkerchief--red, and saw as last thing Robert's startled scowl as he leapt to catch her; and then he quite vanished.

She opened her eyes in bed the next time, sick and weak with the May light high and pouring into the room in a flood, somebody she didn't know near the bed. Then the somebody turned and looked and Chris knew her, she whispered It's Else! and Else said Shish! You mustn't move, Mem, and crinkled her face as though she would cry. Chris would have laughed if she hadn't been weak, so she closed her eyes for another rest, maybe another day, maybe a minute, and woke, and the dark was close outbye, the first thing she heard as she came from the dark the rake and tweet of the rooks in the yews.

She looked round about and saw Robert and Ewan, Robert was over by the window, hunched, with his shoulders and head black-carved in the light, Ewan was sitting by the side of her bed, a hand on his knee, his head down-bent, looking at a little flint in his hand. She coughed: and both of them turned at the sound, and she coughed again and saw with surprise the stuff that spilt from her mouth on the sheet, not red it was brown, and she suddenly saw, vividly clear and distinct, it was awful, horror and horror in Robert's face.

* * * * *

Night, with a setting of stars, all alone, in the May-time dark, she knew it still May. There was a hiss of rain on the roof, light rain, and all the house set in silence but for that whisper of the falling rain. She lay and suddenly knew the Thing close, a finish to the hearing of rain on the roof, a finish to knowing of that hearing at all, the world cut off, she felt free and light, strung to a quivering point of impatience as she waited and waited and the night went by--ready and ready she waited, near cried, because the Thing didn't come after all. And grew tired and slept; and the Thing drew back.

 

Lord, Chris, you've given us a devil of a time!

She lay and looked at him and suddenly she knew, wakened wide, she said And what happened to my baby? Robert said You mustn't worry about that. Get well, my dear--he was thin as a rake, and near as ungroomed, his hair up on end, she asked if Maidie had been doing the cooking, for him and Ewan--and where was Ewan? He said that Ewan was at school today, seeing the doctor had found her much better. As for Maidie, she'd proved no use at all, and he'd sent for Else, Else had done fine. . . .

So it hadn't been a dream Chris lay and knew as the hours went by, and Robert went out and Else came in; and later the doctor and all fussed about her; below the sheets her body felt flat, ground down and flat, with an empty ache; and her breasts hurt and hurt till they saw to them, she hadn't cried at all when she knew what had happened, till it came for them to see her breasts, for a minute she nearly was desperate then. But that was just daft, she'd given plenty of trouble, said the Chris that survived all things that came to her. So she gave in quietly and they finished at last, and she slept till Ewan came back from the school, and came up after tea, and looked in and smiled.

Hello, mother, better?

He came to the bedside and suddenly cuddled her; for a minute she was hurt with the weight of his head on her breast, though she put up her arms about him. Then something hot trickled on her breast, and she knew what--Ewan to cry! that was dreadful. But he did it only a minute while she held him, then drew away and took out his handkerchief and wiped his eyes, and sat down, calm, but she didn't care, reaching out and touching his hand as he sat. Funny she should ever have feared she would lose him, that already she'd done so, him no longer a baby, remote from her thoughts or from thought of her. How nearer he was than any there were! She said You must tell me Ewan, what happened. When was the baby born, was it dead?

So he told her the baby was born that morning after the spinners were to blow up the brig. Robert had gone for the doctor and Ewan had stayed at home and tried to look after her, though he didn't know much of the things he should do: as for Maidie, the girl was a perfect fool. At last the doctor and Robert arrived, Robert sent off a wire to Else at Fordoun, and they put Ewan out of the room--he was glad, even though it was Chris, he'd a beast of a headache. The baby had been born then, it wasn't born dead, though it died soon after, or so Ewan heard. Else said that it was a boy, like Robert, but Ewan hadn't seen it: that was days ago, two or three days before the Strike ended.

Chris remembered: What, is it ended, then? Who won? and Ewan said the Government, Robert raved the leaders had betrayed the Strike, they'd been feared that they would be jailed, the leaders, they had sold the Strike to save their skins. Robert hadn't believed the news when it came, that was the morning that Chris was so bad and the two of them had sat in her room--

Chris lay still and said Thank you, Ewan, with a little ghost of a laugh inside to know that he called her Chris in his thoughts, as she'd thought he did; and soon, wearied still, she slept again, sleeping till supper-time, it brought Else up with a tray and hot bottle and all things needed, she cried, right pleased, You're fine again, Mem? and Chris said she was, she had to thank Else with others for that.

Else said Devil a thanks--if you'll pardon a body mentioning Meiklebogs' cousin in a Manse. I liked fine to come 'stead of biding in Fordoun, with the old man glunching at me and my bairn. Chris asked how the baby was, and Else kindled, Fine, Mem, and fegs you should see how he grows. And then suddenly stopped and punched up the pillows, and set Chris up rough, and began to chatter, like a gramophone suddenly gone quite mad, with her ears very red and her face turned away.

Chris knew why she did it, she'd thought of that baby she'd carried out dead from this room a while back, she was feared that Chris might take ill again were anything said to mind her of babies. But Chris had never felt further from weeping, appalled at the happening to Robert, not her.

Else told how the Strike had ended in Segget, folk said that the spinners who went out that night and tried to blow up the brig would be jailed. But there was no proof, only rumours and scandal, and the burnt grass in the lee of the brig. Sim Leslie, him that the folk called Feet, had come up to the Manse like a sow seeking scrunch, but the minister had dealt with him short and sharp and he taiked away home like an ill-kicked cur.

The spinners and station folk wouldn't believe it when the news came through that the Strike was ended, they said the news was just a damned lie, John Cronin said it, and they wouldn't go back, he and the minister kept them from that till they got more telegrams up from London. And Mr. Colquohoun and Ake Ogilvie the joiner, John Muir and some spinners had organised pickets to keep Mr. Mowat's folk from getting to the Mills. Syne they heard how the leaders had been feared of the jail, and the whole things just fell to smithereens in Segget. Some spinners that night went down the West Wynd and bashed in the windows of the Cronin house, and set out in a birn to come to the Manse, they said the minister had egged them on, him safe and sound in his own damned job, and they'd do to the Manse as they'd done to the Cronins.

But coming up the Wynd they met in with Ake Ogilvie, folk said that he cursed them black and blue; and told them how Chris was lying ill and wouldn't it have been a damned sight easier for Mr. Colquohoun to have kept in with the gentry, instead of risking his neck for the spinners? The spinners all sneered and jeered at Ake, but he stood fast there in the middle of the road, and wouldn't let them up, and they turned and tailed off. A third were on to the Bureau again, and Jock Cronin sacked from his job at the station, and Miss Jeannie Grant hadn't gone to the school, though all the nine days she'd been helping the spinners: and when she went back Mr. Geddes said No, and folk told that she would get the sack, too.

Chris said So it ended like that? Else--was my baby born dead, and was it a boy? Else went white and wept a little at that, Chris lay and watched and Else peeked at her, scared, she looked strangely un-ill with that foam of bronze hair, and the dour face thin, but still sweet and sure. Else said that it wasn't, it lived half an hour, the minister came up and baptized it Michael, a bonny bairn, tiny and quiet, it yawned and blinked its eyes just a minute--oh, Mem, I shouldn't be telling you this!

Chris said But you should. Where is it buried? and Else said 'twas out in the old kirkyard, there were only the minister and Muir and herself, the minister carried the coffin in there, and read the service, bonny he did it, if it wasn't for that fool John Muir that stood by, like a trumpet, near, blowing his nose. And when the minister came to the bit about Resurrection--I don't mind the words--

Chris said I do, and heard her own voice tell them with Else near weeping again: I am the Resurrection and the Life. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.

Else gulped and nodded. And after he said that--he didn't know what he was saying, Mem, with his bairn new dead and his Strike as well--he said AND WHO SHALL BELIEVE? quiet and queer. . . . I shouldn't be telling you this, but oh! you'll have to hurry and get well for him!

Coming out of those memories given to the years, Chris moved and looked at the waiting Segget, quiet in the lazy spray of June sun, the same land and sun that Hew Monte Alto had looked on that morning before Bara battle. You were waiting yourself in a halt before battle: all haltings were that, you thought, or would think if you weren't too wearied to think now at all.

But that would pass soon, you'd to get better quick--quick and quick for the sake of Robert. Better, and take him out of himself, Ewan would help, maybe Segget even yet--

She rose slow to her feet and smiled at herself, for that weakness that followed her when she stood up, with the drowse of the June day a moment a haze of little floating specks in her eyes. Then that cleared, and a cold little wind came by, she looked up and saw a thickening of clouds, rain-nimbus driving down upon Segget.

 

 

IV

NIMBUS

 

Now, with the coming of the morning, the stars shone bright and brittle on the Segget roofs, the rime of the frost Chris saw rise up, an uneasy carpet that shook in the wind, the icy wind from the sea and Kinneff. Under her feet the dark ground cracked, as though she were treading on the crackle of grass, and as she passed through the Kaimes' last gate--far up, in the dimming light of the stars, there fell a long flash from the arc of the sky, rending that brittle white glow for a moment, its light for a second death-white on the hills. Then she saw the sky darken, and the corpse-light went: behind the darkness the morning was coming.

So, walking quick to keep her feet warm, and because she'd but little time left for this ploy, she gained the Kaimes and halted and looked--not at them, but up at the heights of the hills, sleeping there on the verge of dawn. Nothing cried or moved, too early as yet, but a peewit far in the hidden hollow, she minded how it was here she had come--almost at this very hour she had come--the very first night she had lain in Segget. And here she climbed from those ten full years, still the same Chris in her heart of hearts, nothing altered but space and time and the things she had once believed everlasting and sure--believed that they made her life, they made her! But they hadn't, there was something beyond that endured, some thing she had never yet garbed in a name.

She put up her hand to her dew-touched hair, she'd climbed bareheaded up to the Kaimes, she had seen a grey hair here and there last night. But it felt the same hair as she felt the same self, its essence unchanged whatever its look. Queer and terrible to think of that now--that all things passed as your life went on, but the little things you had given no heed.

The wind goeth towards the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth aloud continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.

That was Ecclesiastes, she thought; stilled; the dawn pallid on her [illegible word], bronze hair.

In Segget below a cock crew shrill, she turned and looked down at the shining of frost, remotely, and saw it gleam and transmute, change and transmute as though Time turned back, back through the green and grey of the years till that last time here when she'd climbed the Kaimes, her baby new dead and herself a live ache--

 

She had shown as little of the ache as she might, in spite of the waste, she had hated that. So she told to Robert and he laughed and said You sound like a woman in an Aberdeen joke, his eyes with the beast of the black mood in them. Waste? Good God, do you think that is all?

He flung away from her and walked to the window, beyond it the smell and blow of the hay in the sleeping parks of Dalziel of Meiklebogs. Then suddenly he turned--Christine, I'm sorry. But I'm weary as well, let's not speak of it more.

And she left it at that, he'd drawn into himself, lonely, he sat for hours in his room with impatience for either her pity or help. So she buried herself in the work of the house, and sought in her pride a salve for the sting of the knowledge she counted for little with Robert, compared with his cloudy hopings and God. She could be strange and remote as he could. . . .

And it came with hardly an effort at all, they were hurrying nods that met on the stairs and went to bed at uneven hours; yet sometimes a hand seemed to twist in her heart as she watched him sit at his meat in silence, or at night when she woke and he lay asleep, with it seemed the tug of lips on her breasts and the ghostly ache of her empty womb--silent the yews in the listening dark.

 

Segget crowded the kirk the first Sunday in May after the General Strike collapsed, to hear what that cocky billy Colquohoun would say of his tink-like socialists now. But he never mentioned the creatures at all, he preached a sermon that maddened you, just, he said there was nothing new under the sun: and that showed you the kind of twister he was. Hairy Hogg, the Provost, came out of the kirk, and said that the man was insulting them, sly, trying to make out that the work they had done to beat the coarse Labour tinks was a nothing. Instead, now the Strike was ended so fine, you'd mighty soon see a gey change for the good, no more unions to cripple folks' trade, and peace and prosperity returning again: and maybe a tariff on those foreign-made boots.

But damn the sign of either you saw as that year went on and the next come in, there was little prosperity down at the Mills, they were working whiles, and whiles they were not, young Mr. Mowat went off to London and syne from there he went off on a cruise, as a young gent should; but he fair was real kind. For he wrote that he'd soon be back home again, and would see about pushing the Segget trade, that would mean more men--but no union men.

It wasn't his wyte that he had no work, in spite of the spinners and their ill-ta'en grumblings. For they grumbled still, though their union was finished--faith! that was funny, for you'd got from the papers that the men would be fine if it wasn't the unions--the Tory childes nearly broke down and wept on the way the unions oppressed the workers. The Cronins had all been sacked from the Mills and no more of a Sunday you'd hear them preach about socialism coming, and coarse dirt like that. Jock Cronin, that had once been a railway porter, was down now in Glasgow, tinking about, it fairly was fine to be rid of the brute. Folk said that that Miss Jeannie Grant had gone with him, some childe had seen her, down there at a mart, all painted and powdered, she'd ta'en to the streets, and kept Jock Cronin, he lived off her earnings. Ay, just the kind of thing you'd expect from socialists and dirt that spoke ill of their betters, and yet powdered and fornicated like gentry.

But young Dod Cronin, that was a mere loon, he heard the news, he worked out at Fordoun, and he went to the smiddy and tackled old Leslie, with the sweat dripping down from his wrinkled old chops. And Dod said What's this you've been saying of my brother? and old Leslie said What? And who are you, lad? And Dod said You know damn well who I am. And if ever I hear you spreading your claik about my brother or Miss Jeannie Grant, I'll bash in your old face with one of your hammers.

Old Leslie backed nippy behind the anvil and said Take care, take care what you say! I'm not a man you must rouse, let me tell you. And he told later on that never in his life had he heard such impudence--'twas Infernal, just, he'd a might sore job to keep himself back from taking that Cronin loon a good clout. Now, when himself was a loon up in Garvock--And you didn't hear more, for you looked at your watch, and said you must go, and went at a lick; and left him habbering and chapping and sweating.

Young Dod was as mad as could be on the thing, he went up to the Manse and clyped the Colquohoun; and Else Queen, that was back there again as the maid, told that the minister said he was sorry, but what could he do? Young Cronin shouldn't worry, you could only expect a smell from a drain.

Else said the minister was referring to Leslie: and folk when they heard that speak were real mad. Who was he, a damned creature that sat in a Manse, to say that an honest man was a drain? There was nothing wrong with old Leslie, not him, he'd aye paid his way, a cheery old soul, though he could sicken a cow into colic with his long, dreich tales and his habberings of gossip.

He'd aye been good to his guts, the old smith, and faith, he grew better the longer he lived. At New Year he took a bit taik down the toun, into the shop of MacDougall Brown; it was late at night and what could Brown do but ask the old smith to come ben for a drink--not of whisky, you wouldn't find that at MacDougall's, but of some orange wine or such a like drink, awful genteel, though it had a bit taste as though a stray pig had eased himself in it. Well, Leslie went ben, and there sat the creash, MacDougall's wife, and Cis, the fine lass, and the other bit quean that folk teased and called Maybull. Mrs. Brown was right kind and poured out the wine, syne she went and took out a cake from the press, there was more than half of the cake on the plate, and Mistress Brown cut off a thin slice, genteel, and held out the plate to the smith.

And what did he do but take up the cake, not the slice, and sit with it there in his hand, habbering and sweating like a hungered old bull, and tearing into MacDougall's cake, MacDougall watching him boiling with rage--faith! speak about washing in the blood of the Lamb, he looked as though he'd like a real bath in the smith's.

Well, old Leslie finished his bit of repast, and got up, though he hadn't near finished his story, about Garvock, but he never yet had done that, though you'd known him fine this last fifty years. But it was getting fell late-like by then and he thought he'd better go take a taik home, Mrs. Brown had gone to her bed, and Maybull, and the fine lass Cis had gone as well. MacDougall showed him out to the door, and cried goodnight, and banged it behind him; and old Leslie was standing sucking at a crumb that was jooking about in an old hollow tooth, when what did he see round the end of the dyke that sloped to the back of MacDougall's shop, but a body slipping over in the dark.

Old Leslie wondered who it could be, and stepped soft in the dark down the lithe of the dyke. Near to the end he stooped and stopped, and heard the whisp-whisp of some folk close by. And he knew one voice, but not the other, 'twas the voice of Cis Brown and he heard her say Not tonight--Mabel is sleeping with me. The voice that the smith couldn't put a name to said Damn her, why doesn't she sleep with the cuddy? Cis laughed and sighed and syne Leslie heard the sound of a kiss, disgusting-like, he himself had never all his married life so much as pecked at his old wife's face: and once when she saw him without his sark, he'd been changing it, careless-like by the fire, she nearly had fainted, and so near had he, they'd never been so coarse as look at each other, shameless and bare, in their own bit skins. . . .

Well, where was he now with this story of Cis?--Ay, her slobbering her lad by the dyke. In a little bit while they were whispering again, and the smith tried hard to hear what they said, they spoke over low, the tinks that they were, to make an old man near strain off his neck from his hard-worked shoulders to hear what they said. Syne that finished and Leslie heard footsteps coming and dodged in the shadow of the post-office door. And who should loup over the wall and go by but that tink Dod Cronin, that had so miscalled him, him it had been that was kissing Cis Brown!

But folk said that that was just a damned lie, Cis Brown was as douce and sweet a quean as you'd find in the whole of Segget, they said--old Leslie telling the tale in the Arms was nearly brained by Dite Peat himself. Dite said he liked a bit lie fell well, just as he liked to soss with a woman, especially a woman he'd no right to, but he wasn't to hear that kind of a speak of Cis Brown, he was fairly damned if he was. And others cried Ay, that's right, that's right! and Feet, the policeman, said to his father You'd better away home. Off the old smith went, the coarse old brute; still habbering his lies and swearing he'd seen Dod Cronin and that fine quean Cis together.

Chris heard the tale, but she paid it no heed, with long months of resting her strength had come back, she was out in the garden of the Manse each dawn, digging and hoeing as the Spring came in. Funny to think 'twas nearly a year since she'd walked this garden, her child in her body, and stood over there and looked in the kirkyard, and thought of the folk that had once been bairns, and died, and nothing of them endured. And now she herself walked free and young, slim as of old, if her face was thinner, but warm and kind, warm blood in her body, she could see it rise blue if she looked at her hands loosen their grip from the shaft of the graip, and her hair was alive, that had gone a while dead, and crackled its fire as she combed it at night, long hair that still came near to her knees. And the baby she'd brought in the world last year--

But she'd not think of that, not here in the sun, the rooks a long caw out over the yews, sailing, sun-winking, dots in the sun, the clouds went wind-laden down through the Howe, all the Howe wakening below them to hear the trill and shrill of the springs of Spring. So busied Chris was as the days grew warm, she'd found in a garden what once in the fields, years before, on the windy rigs of Blawearie, ease and rest and the kindness of toil, that she saw but little or nothing of Robert--no loss to him, with his bittered face, and no loss to her now, they went their own ways.

Ewan was shooting straight as a larch, narrow and dark, with a cool, quiet gaze, and a sudden smile that came seldom enough, but still, when it did--Else said she could warm her hands at that smile. He was out all hours of the day, was Ewan, still at his flints, he'd raked half the Howe, he'd been down by Brechin and Forfar for flints. He was known in places Chris never had seen, the dark-faced loon from the Manse of Segget, that would ask if he might take a look at your fields, and would show the arrows and such-like of old that the creatures of hunters had used in their hunts. And the farmers would say, Faith, look if you like, and Ewan would thank them. Charming and cool, a queer-like loon, not right in the head, folk that were wice weren't near so polite.

Sometimes, as the light of the Spring days waned he'd come back from school and find bread and milk, and bring them out to the garden to eat, and set them down by a bed or a drill and take the hoe or the fork from Chris, and start to work with quick, even strokes, the down of a soft fine hair on his cheeks, Chris would sit with her knees hand-clasped, and watch him, the ripple of his smooth dark skin, he'd long lashes as well, that were curled and dark, he worked with a cool and deliberate intent at digging the garden as he did at all else. Once Chris asked him, one of those evenings in April, what he would do when he had grown up.

He stopped at the turn of a drill and looked at her, he was leaving school and going to Dundon, up to the college in the summer term. He said I'd like to be an archæologist, but I don't suppose that I'll ever be that. Chris asked Why not? and he said that he thought it unlikely you could be that without lots of money. He would just have to face up to things as they were, jobs scarce, and all the world in a mess.

Chris wondered what were his thoughts on the mess, he had read nearly every book in the Manse, had he read the books on Socialism yet? She asked him that and he said that he had, indifferently saying it, one of the books--by a Ramsay MacDonald, all blither and blah. Charlie Cronin, who had now left the school was a socialist, the same as MacDonald, they were both very muddled, they had no proofs and they hadn't a plan, it was spite or else rage: OR BECAUSE THEY WERE FEARED.

Chris looked at the fairy featherings of clouds that went south on the hurrying wind of the Howe, the green of the hedges trilled low in its blow, you could feel in your body the stir of the blood as the sap stirred sweet in the hedge, you supposed. Spring and the time of young folk and dreams, following cloud-pillars as they sailed the Howe! . . . And maybe Ewan was doing no more in that he refused all clouds and all dreams!

She said What are YOU going to do with the mess? and he put down his cup and said Oh, nothing, and started to weed in the strawberry patch: Unless I just must, and he whistled to himself, calm and cool, with his dark, cool face, he whistled and hoed in the evening light. And Chris felt for him a tenderness, queer, not as though she were only his mother but as though he were all young life in an evening of Spring--thinking the world would dare hardly intrude in their lives and years, but would stand back and bow, and slip to one side to let them go by. . . . She held out a hand--Help me up, son, I'm stiff. Growing old, I suppose; he stopped and looked at her, his gravity suddenly drowned in that smile. I thought just now you looked like a girl. There are some at school who look older than you.

But he gave her his hand and she jumped to her feet, light enough still, and they looked at each other; and Chris put up her hand to his throat, making on that the button there needed re-sewing, it didn't, but she wanted to touch that cool throat. He let her, standing there quiet and alert, like the deer she had seen come down from the haughs, with brindled pelts, in the winter-time--not feared and not shy, cool, quick and alive, under her fingers a little vein beat as she fastened his collar, and Ewan said Thanks, and went on with his weeding, Chris went to the house and looked at the clock and made tea for Robert.

 

He was off at Stonehaven, a meeting of ministers, called together to discuss the reason why every kirk in the Howe grew toom, a minister would sometimes rise of a Sunday and preach to a congregation of ten, in a bigging builded to hold two hundred. So Robert told Chris as he wheeled out his bike, that morning, under the peep of the sun; and Chris had said Well, they surely know why? Do they need a meeting to find out that?

Robert had looked at her withdrawn, remote, the brooding anger not far from his eyes. Do YOU know the reason? Chris had said Yes, the reason's just that the times have changed.

His unchancy temper quite went with him then, By God, he sneered, isn't that profound? Chris flushed, with an angry retort on her lips; but she bit it back, as so often she did, and turned indoors as he wheeled down the Wynd--what a fool she had been to say what she'd said! Like telling an angry blind man he was blind. . . . She would keep to herself, she was nobody's serf.

But sometimes she ached for kind eyes and kind hands. One night she had turned to him, kissing him then, and he'd shrugged away from her--Not now, Chris, not now. She had said in her hurt, And maybe not again--when YOU would again, and had turned her back and pretended to sleep, but had wept a little instead, like a fool. Spring was here, she supposed it was that, daft to desire what no one could give except with a flame of desire in the giving.

So she waited this evening, with pancakes new baked, they might live poor friends, with love and lust by, but she still ate his meat and she owed him for that. Else had the day off to go down to Fordoun, her baby bade there in its grandmother's care. In the cool of the kitchen Chris stood for a while and watched Ewan kneel to a thrawn-like weed, and saw him twist it up ruthlessly, sure; she sighed with a smile at herself for that sigh. Were she sure of herself as Ewan of himself, she might go her own way and not heed to any, have men to lie with her when she desired them (and faith, that would sure be seldom enough!), do and say all the things that came crying her to do, go hide long days in the haughs of the Mounth--up in the silence and the hill-bird's cry, no soul to vex, and to watch the clouds sailing and passing out over the Howe, unending over the Howe of the World; that--or sing and be glad by a fire; or wash and toil and be tired with her toil as once she had been in her days on a croft--a million things, Chris-alone, Chris-herself, with Chris Guthrie, Chris Tavendale, Chris Colquohoun dead!

She lighted the lamp as she heard Robert come and carried it through to the hall for him to see to hang up his coat and his hat. He said You look very sweet, Christine, there with the lamp, and held her a moment, lamp and all, Chris felt her heart turn, with gladness--then, queerly, she felt half-sick. . . .

He loosed her and followed her into the room, soft happed in shadow in the loglight's glow, she put down the lamp and looked at him again. There was something about him that wasn't him at all--a filthy something, she thought, and shivered. He said Not cold? and smiled at her kind--ROBERT with eyes like a kind milch cow!

She went in a daze and brought in the tea, they sat and ate by the open window, the world all quiet out and about, except, sharp-soft in the fading light, the click and scrape of the tools of Ewan as he redded and bedded by the kirkyard wall. And again, as she looked at Robert, Chris shivered--What's ta'en you Robert--Robert what is it?

He raised up his head and she saw his eyes smile. Just something you'll think is quite mad when you hear. . . .

And he told her then of the thing that had come as he rode from the minister's meeting at Stonehaven grinding his bike through Dunnottar's woods, he had looked once or twice from the road to the woods and saw them green in the April quiet, the sunset behind him--very quiet, Chris. He had ridden up there till the way grew steep, the old bike was near on its last wheels now: and just as he gained the neard edge of the woods he got from his bike and looked back at Stonehaven, in that corridor of trees the light fell dim, a hidden place, no sun came there. And, as he stood there and breathed in the quiet, he saw the Figure come slow down the road.

He came so quiet by the side of the road that Robert hadn't heard His coming or passing, till he raised his head and saw Him quite close, tired, with a white strange look on His face, no ghost, for the hair blew out from His head and he put up His hand to brush back the hair. And Robert saw the hand and the pierced palm, he stood frozen there as the Figure went on, down through the quiet of Dunnottar's woods, unresting, into the sunset's quiet, a wood-pigeon crooned in a far-off tree, Robert heard the sound of a train in Stonehaven, he stood and stared and then leant on his bike, trembling, suddenly weeping in his hands.

 

Outside, the next day broke quick with wind, a grey quick drive that was bending the trees, blowing its blow in the face of the sun, Chris went to her room and dressed in short skirts, the rig she'd once worn--it seemed years before--that day she and Robert climbed up the Mounth. She'd no fancy at all for that walk today, she found a stick and went down through the shingle, and looked back as she passed in the whisp of the yews. Ewan in his room, he stood near the window, some everlasting flint in his hands. She waved to him, but he didn't see, then at the turn of the dyke the wind caught at her breath and her skirts and her hair.

Ake Ogilvie looked from his shop as she passed, and gave her a wave and bent over his desk, his poetry maybe, Robert said it was awful, the angry sneering of a poet born blind. . . . But Chris hurried on from the thought of Robert, swinging her stick, the wind in her face, the Sourock's wife looked out as she passed, and stared after the creature, that Mrs. Colquohoun, like a slip of a quean she was, not decent, her that had had her two bairns, one dead, the other upgrowing and nearly a man. She said later on she was black-affronted as Mrs. Colquohoun reached the bend of the Wynd, the wind blew up the creature's short skirts, all about her, and instead of giving a bit scraich and blushing to the soles of her feet as she should, she just brushed them back and went hastening on--what was her hurry, no hat on her head, and her fine silk breeks and nought else below?

(And folk said What, had she nothing else below? and the Sourock's wife said Not a damned stitch, fair tempting the childes, half-naked like that, not to mention tempting her death with cold.)

Past the shop of Dite Peat and Hairy Hogg's front, Alec, the son of the Provost, stood there, he had lost his job in Edinburgh, Alec, Chris liked him better than when she first met him, she cried How are you? and he raised his cap; and Chris sped on, Alec said that night when he looked in on Else, that Mrs. Colquohoun looked more of a boy than a grown-up woman who had a fine son. Else said She both looks them, and makes them, my lad, whatever she meant by that, if she knew; but she kept him at sparring distance, did Else.

Down at the edge of the Moultrie shop, where Jim the roan had had such an ill end, Chris found herself in the lithe of the dyke that shielded the plots of the gardener Grant. It was here she nearly ran into Cis Brown, running, with sober face and blown hair, Chris held her and laughed and they steadied themselves, Chris asked And how are things at the college? Cis coloured up sweet, she said they were fine. She loitered a moment and Chris looked in her face and caught there the glimpse of a desperate trouble.

Something (what Chris of them all?) made her say I'm off for a long walk down through the Howe, I'm restless today, would you like to come?

 

At noon that day they stopped at a place, a little farm high in the Reisk, over-topped by the wave of its three beech trees, standing up squat in the blow of the wind that came in a shoom from the Bervie braes. They were given milk there, and new-baked cakes, and rested a while, Chris glad of the rest, Cis lying back in her chair with her face flushed to colour from the walk they had come. They had come down the Howe from the Segget haughs, past Catcraig, out on the Fordoun road, Fordoun a brown, dull lour to the north, and so swung on down past Mondynes, Kinraddie to the left, and then reached the brig, Chris stopped and peered in the water below and minded how once she'd done that, long before, in a summer, and seen the school-bairns plash, naked and dripping, in the shadowed shallows. Now the water flowed under, free and unvexed, east, to twine to the Bervie mouths, Cis leaned beside Chris and stared down as well, and then said There is something I want to tell you.

And Chris had said, gently, I think I know what. Cis flushed up a moment and bit at her lip, she wasn't afraid, only troubled, Chris saw. And she said We'll go on, to the right, I think; and so they had done, and climbed up the brae to the Geyrie's moor, and looked back from there and saw all around the steaming teams a-plod in the parks, shoring the long red drills of clay. Up in the hills the mists had come down, as they watched they saw a rain-cloud wheel out, down from the Mounth on the roofs of Drumlithie, white-shining there on the road to the South. Back and still back, line on line, rose the hills, the guardian wall of the Mearns Howe, it came on Chris as she stood and looked she'd never been beyond that wall since a bairn. The peewits were flying in the parks outbye, in the wind that came racing up from the east was the smell, a tingle that tickled your nose, of the jungle masses of whins that rose, dark as a forest, on the Geyrie's moor.

Chris said that she thought they might take that way, Cis said Is it safe? she had heard it was nearly impassable with bog holes in the earth where a cart could lair, they sat on a gate and looked into its stretch, dark brown and green in the hand of Spring. And Cis's shyness and constraint had gone, she was calm and young, they smiled one at the other, and Chris said suddenly, Oh, we're such fools--women, don't you think that we are now, Cis? To worry so much about men and their ploys, the things that they do and the things that they think!

Cis said But what else is there to do? They count for so much--and sat and thought, grave, shy and sweet as a wing-poised bird. Or maybe they don't as much as they think, but there wouldn't be children without them, would there? Chris laughed at that and jumped down from the gate. I suppose there wouldn't, but still--we might try! Let's go through the moor: and so they had done.

There they saw the cup of the Howe rise up to the Barras slopes that led to Kinneff, on their right, dark-mantled, lost in its tees, Arbuthnott slept on the Bervie banks, clusters of trees, with the sudden gleam in the wind and the sun of the polished gear, bridles and haimes, on the straining shoulders of the labouring teams. Like going back into your youth, Chris thought, and sighed at that thought and Cis asked why, and Chris said Because I am getting so old, and Cis said That's silly, I sometimes think you're the youngest of all the folk in Segget. And was shy, Please don't ever cut your hair, though I've had mine cut: it's lovely, your hair.

Chris said that she thought it wasn't so bad, and they came to a little bare patch in the moor, where the whins drew aside their skirts and stood quiet, and right in the middle a great stone lay, maybe a thing from the antique times, and Chris sat on it and clasped her knees, and Cis looked at her and then sat at her feet, Chris with her gold eyes closed in the sun, the run and wheep of the wind in her hair, the sun on her face: she could listen to it now, aloof and sure and untroubled by things. And she said to Cis Is the boy Dod Cronin?

So she'd heard it all as she sat knee-clasped, there, in the play of the wind and the sun, a tale so old--oh, old as the Howe, everlasting near as the granite hills, this thing that brought men and women together, to bring new life, to seek new birth, on and on since the world had begun. And it seemed to Chris it was not Cis alone, her tale--but all tales that she harkened to then, kisses and kindness and the pain of love, sharp and sweet, terrible, dark, and the wild, queer beauty of the hands of men, and their lips, and the sleeps of desire fulfilled, and the dark, strange movements of awareness alone, when it came on women what thing they carried, darkling, coming to life within them, new life to replenish the earth again, to come to being in the windy Howe where the cloud-ships sailed to the unseen south. She fell in a dream that went far from Cis, looking up and across the slow-peopled parks at the scaurs of the Mounth and its flying mists, beyond these the moving world of men, and back again to those clouds that marched, terrible, tenebrous, their pillars still south. A pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.

She said I must think, I'll get Robert to help; and Cis said The minister? and looked still more troubled. Oh, Mrs. Colquohoun, what have men to do with it, it's not their concern, they don't understand. Dod doesn't--he's frightened--for me or himself, but he doesn't know this, how queer it all is, and sickening, and fine--maybe I'm sickening myself to say that?

Chris said she thought she was sweet to say it, and put her arm round the shoulders of Cis, and the girl looked up, and her lips came to Chris's; and Chris thought at that moment that no men could kiss--not as they should, they'd no notion of kissing. . . . Oh men, they were clumsy from the day they were breeked to the day they took off their breeks the last time!

The wind was coming in great gusts now, driving the riven boughs of the broom, in times it rose to a scraich round about and the moor seemed to cower in its trumpet-cry. Cloud Howe of the winds and the rains and the sun! All the earth that, Chris thought at that moment, it made little difference one way or the other where you slept or ate or had made your bed, in all the howes of the little earth, a vexing puzzle to the howes were men, passing and passing as the clouds themselves passed: but the REAL was below, unstirred and untouched, surely if that were not also a dream.

Robert with his dream of the night before, that Face and that Figure he had seen in the woods. Chris had listened to him with her head bent low, knowing she listened to a madman's dream. And Robert to dream it! Robert who once followed a dream that at least had the wind in its hair, not this creep into fear and the fancies of old. But she'd seen then, clear and clear as he spoke, the Fear that had haunted his life since the War, Fear he'd be left with no cloud to follow, Fear he'd be left in the day alone, and stand and look at his naked self. And with every hoping and plan that failed, he turned to another, to hide from that fear, draping his dreams on the face of life as now this dream of the sorrowing Face . . . And she'd shivered again at the filth of the thing, not looking as she heard that crack in his voice, he was saying he could almost have touched the Figure--God, Chris, it was HIM, whom I've never believed! I've thought Him only a Leader, a man, but Chris--I've looked on the face of God. . . .

She'd sat and said nothing till that was impossible, so to sit silent, and raised up her eyes, misty with pity, yet repulsion as well. Robert had said quiet, And you don't believe? And she said I don't know, I don't know--oh, I'll try! And gripped his hand tight that he mightn't ask more--

She jumped up then from that seat in the moor--Come on, I'm so hungry! and the two of them went on through the whins with the scud of the clouds overhead, that parched their faces in the sharp sun-fall, a snipe was sounding up by the Wairds as they came to the shaven lands of the Reisk, shaven and shorn in the greed of the War. So, as they climbed they came on the farm, with the three beech trees, and, beyond the horizon, poised and glistening, the tumbling sea.

And when they had finished with drinking their milk and eating their cakes Chris offered to pay. But the farmer's wife shook her head, she'd not have it, she'd heard of Chris from her son, she said, he lived in London and wrote horrible books: but he and Chris were at college together. Chris couldn't mind much of the son at all, she supposed they'd met some time or another, but she didn't say that, she and Cis cried their thanks, and went on down the road, it was afternoon then, the sun had wheeled round and was on the west slant.

Down in Arbuthnott they found a bus and with that were carried down the road to Bervie, where the old brig hung by the lazy drifts of smoke from the Mills that lay in the hollow--mills half-idle, as were those of Segget, Bervie above them, a rickle and clutter. They got from the bus and looked at the shops, then went down to the sea by a straggling lane, the sea was pounding into the bay where no boats came because of the rocks--it frothed and spumed like a well-beaten egg, out east a fisher boat went by, into the mist and the Gourdon smell. Chris sat on a rock and looked at the sea, very wakeful, but Cis went to sleep in the sun, till Chris waked her up and they went back again, and found a new bus to take them to Stonehaven, where they'd get yet another to take them back, up the long roads, to Spring-green Segget.

And so, by the fall of night, they came back; and Chris was tired, but her mind made up. Not even for Robert could she change and pretend, though she'd not say a thing that would hurt, could she help. She had found in the moors and the sun and the sea her surety unshaken, lost maybe herself, but she followed no cloud, be it named or unnamed.

 

Next Sabbath the minister stood up in the pulpit and preached from the Sermon on the Mount of Segget, he said that the Christ still walked the earth, bringing the only message that endured--though all else faded, that was undying, they must search out the Christ, each soul by himself, and find in himself what the world denied, the love of God and the fellowship of men.

Folk listened and thought the man a fair scunner, damn't! you wanted a minister with spunk, whatever had come over this childe Colquohoun, bleating there soft as a new-libbed sheep? Once he'd glowered as though he would like to gut you, and thundered his politics, and you'd felt kittled up, though you didn't believe a word that he'd said. But this Sunday he blethered away in the clouds, folk came out and went home and were real disappointed, minding the time when he'd said from the pulpit, right out, that Hairy Hogg was a monkey--damn't! he'd fair fallen away since then.

And some of the spinners that came to the kirk, they were few enough now, remembered the name they had called the minister a long time back, they said that Creeping Jesus was back, he'd got feared at the gentry, the same as some others. Old Cronin himself it was that said that, and by others he meant his own son Jock that had led the Strike but a two years back, and had aye been a right coarse brute, folk thought, though fair the apple of his father's eye. But Jock had gotten on well in Glasgow, where he'd lived in sin with Miss Jeannie Grant, he'd gotten a job on a union there and went lecturing here and went blethering there, in a fine new suit and a bowler hat, and spats, right trig, and brave yellow boots. And he'd married Miss Grant, a three weeks back, and they had a fine house on the Glasgow hills; and wherever he went Jock Cronin would preach alliance between all employers and employed and say to the folk that came to hear him that they shouldn't strike, but depend on their leaders--like himself; and take a smug look at his spats.

When news of that came up to old Cronin, he cursed his son in a sickening way, and he said he'd never guessed he had fathered a Judas that could sell out the workers for that--not even for silver or a hungered guts, but spats, and a house on the Glasgow hills, and a craze for a white-legged quean in his bed.

Folk took a good laugh when they heard the news, Jock Cronin was showing some sense, they said, he fair had changed since the days when he'd go and break up the meetings of MacDougall Brown. Next MacDougall himself got a sore stammy-gaster, and so did the whole of Segget; it gasped. That tale of old Leslie's had had the truth in it, though you'd hardly believe it again when you heard it--it was all a damned lie and Cis a fine quean.

But then, when you met with her out in the street, and looked, and heard the news from the Manse, she and Dod Cronin to be wed in a week--your throat went dry, you went into the Arms and had a bit dram and swore at the bitch, all the folk said she was a foul creature, but they said it with something catching their throats, they'd been proud of Cis, all Segget had been, and here she was showing herself in that way, no better than that tink Else Queen at the Manse.

Ake Ogilvie said it was only nature, Cis or Else or the whole jing-bang, what ailed the folk of Segget, he said, was that they'd seen Cis as they might have been--clean--and they'd liked her for what they had lost. He spoke that speak to John Muir, the roadman, Muir gleyed and skeuched and chewed the thing over, it didn't make sense, Ake seldom did.

He went out to dig a bit grave after supper, the moon far up out over the Mounth, the sunset still far, though the lines lay long, in long slants across the hayfields of summer, and smoke drowsed low on the Segget roofs. In the kirkyard the grasses lay scythed as he'd left them, and he walked through that grass, there was some of it clover, bonnily scented with dead men's manure. So he came to the kirkyard corner and stopped, and lighted his pipe and spat on his hands, and started in to dig the bit grave, for one of the old spinner wives of West Wynd.

All the land here about was thick with old graves, he'd soon have to stop or start carting the bones to a pit and bury them out and apart, to leave room for the rest of Segget down there, eating and sleeping and having its play, all coming to stour and a stink at the end. And Muir gleyed down at the grave and dug, and minded of Cis and the speak there was, Dod Cronin had been found a job in Dundon and he and the lass were moving up there, the best they could do to get out of their shame. God knew there wasn't much shame in the thing, a lot overrated, this bedding with a quean--you worked yourself up and you got damned little, and where did it end then, all said and all done? Down here with the clay and the grass up above, be you rich, be you poor, unwedded like Cis, or as bonny as Mrs. Colquohoun was bonny, or a shameless limmer like one of the queans that young Mr. Mowat would bring to the House.

 

He fair was a devil among women, young Mowat, gents were like that, Peter Peat said; but he'd time yet to settle down bravely in Segget and take his natural place at its head: and that was the Segget Conservative branch. Maybe he had had more queans than he should, but he'd settle down bravely yet, you would see. Ake Ogilvie said, No doubt--in his sharns, a tink-like speak, just what you expected, he was jealous as hell of the gentry, Ake, nearly as bad as that creature Moultrie that was now over stiff to crawl out at all.

One of the Mills had been idle for months, though young Mr. Mowat had come back from his sail. He was no sooner back than a birn of the spinners went up to the House in a deputation. But when the deputation got there, and the servant had shown them into the hall, and they stood there twisting their caps, fell shy, they heard the crackle of a falling bottle and a hooting and laughing as though lunatics were loose; and out of a side-door a quean came running, without a stitch on, nothing but a giggle, she looked back and laughed at young Mowat behind her, running and laughing with his wee frog face; and up the stairs the two of them went.

Well, the deputation blushed from head to heel; syne one of them, the oldest operative there, said That's where the cash goes we make in the Mills, and they looked from one to the other, old, hungry, and some of them were gey bitter, most on the dole, on starvation's edge; and they stood in the rich, warm hall and looked round, at the log-wood fire and the gleam of deers' heads, and the patterned walls and the thick, soft rugs. But the rest said nothing to the speak of the first, they knew it was useless trying to complain or to start that kind of socialist stuff that the Cronins of old had preached in the mills, you'd seen the end of that with the Strike, young Mowat was the only hope of the Mills.

He came down at last and was charming, polite, and said it was Jahly to see them again. And he stood with his back to the fire and said Hwaw? and read them a lecture on the awful times, he said that taxation was killing the country, all they could hope at the coming election was that the Conservative folk would get back, stronger than ever in position and power, and reduce taxation on men like himself. Then perhaps he would manage to open the Mill. And he smiled at them, charming, with his horn-rimmed eyes, but he offered no drink, instead rang a bell, and the servant childe came and ushered them out; and young Mr. Mowat said it had been Jahly; and that showed that he had a real good heart.

Now, that was the first Peter Peat had heard about young Mr. Mowat and the wishes he had that the Tory Party should get back again, they'd been holding office but a bare five years and hadn't yet had time to set things right, being busied with breaking strikes and the like, and freeing the working men from their unions, and seeing that we had a real strong navy, and trying to get the coarse foreign tinks to reduce their armies, a danger to Europe. . . . Peter Peat had these facts at his fingertips and went up to the House to see Mr. Mowat, and ask a subscription for the Segget branch. And Mr. Mowat said it was Jahly to see him, Rahly Jahly, and sipped at his wine, and the quean did the same, exploding a giggle, sitting bare-legged on the back of his chair.

Yes, he believed in Devolution for Scotland, but not this mad nationalism now rampant, only the Unionist Party would see that Scotland got her just dues in the end. And he told Peter more of the coarse new Nationalists, not the flower of the country's gentry, as once, Scotland had lost her chance once again, the new leaders a pack of socialists and catholics, long-haired poets, a fellow called Grieve, and Mackenzie and Gunn, hysterical Highlandmen. Well, he had Jahly soon finished with them, and would be glad to give a donation some time to the branch of the Unionist Party in Segget.

And Peter Peat was fell happy at that--ay, the old blood flowed in the gentry's veins.

 

The Autumn came, the Election's results, and Segget was fair stammy-gastered at them, the Labour tinks had gotten in power, led by that coarse brute Ramsay MacDonald. You minded him and the things he had said, long before, when the War was on?--that we shouldn't be fighting the Germans, no, no, but leave them a-be, they were much too strong. Ay, that's what he'd said and here he was now, at the head of the country, lording it about, and not even maybe saying Sir to the King. But others said the creature would fairly swank now, and get the King to make him a lord, or a duke or something: and Ake Ogilvie said he'd heard the title was Lord Loon of Lossie.

But that was just one of his ill-natured speaks, damn't! was he against this Government as well?--after going to all that stour to vote Liberal, instead of decent and Tory like others. Hardly any of the spinners had voted at all, they just hung about and smoked their bit fags, or dug in their gardens back of the wynds, or stared at the Mills with their hungry eyes. But Ake Ogilvie had said he was voting Liberal, and had canvassed Segget for the Liberal childe, doing him a sight more harm than good, he said there was good in none of the parties, Labour or Tory or Liberal or any: but the Tory name fair stank in your throat, it was built on the purses and pride of the kind of half-witted loon that mismanaged the Mills; the Liberals were damn little better, he knew, but they had a great name that was worthy a vote.

Hardly a soul paid heed to his blethers, just smiled at him canny and said Well, we'll see; and got ready for the polling day to come to ride to Laurencekirk in the Tory cars. Ake Ogilvie borrowed a Liberal car, and its driver, and waited in Segget Square; and the Tory cars piled black with folk, getting off to vote for the gentry childes that had promised them reischles and reischles of tariffs; but not a damn soul looked near Alec Ogilvie, sitting with a sneering look in his car. And then the door of the Moultrie shop was flung wide open and who should come out, hoasting and hirpling slow on his stick, but that thrawn old billy, Rob Moultrie himself, leaning on a stick and his old wife's shoulder, he hobbled and hirpled over to the car, near bent down double, Jess Moultrie beside him. Ake jumped from his seat and helped the two in, and stood back with a queer-like grin on his face--were these all who championed Liberty Mere?

But there was a fourth; Ake had grown tired and was crying to the shover that they might as well go, when he heard a hail and looked over his shoulder. And there was Mrs. Colquohoun of the Manse, crossing the Square, running like a lad, with a spray of blood on her dark, soft skin. Sorry I'm late, Ake, she said, and jumped in; and Ake got in himself and could nearly have cuddled her.

But the Liberal man got a mighty few votes, the Tory got in, as you knew he would do, if the rest of the country had done half as well, where would these tinks of socialists have been? Selling spunks in the London streets, or that coarse brute Ramsay MacDonald tracts. And the Provost said in the Segget Arms 'twas an ill day this for our Scottish land. What was it the poet Robert Burns had written?--an ancestor, like, of the Hoggs, Rabbie Burns. A man's a man for a' that, he wrote, and by that he meant that poor folk of their kind should steer well clear of the gentry and such, not try to imitate them at all, and leave them to manage the country's affairs.

 

Deeper and deeper as that year slipped by, Robert slipped from the life of his parish, he hadn't bothered to vote at all, he locked himself up long hours in his room, dreaming or reading or just sitting still--alien to Chris as that Figure he dreamt he'd met in the dark at Dunnottar woods.

Nor was that meeting the only one, there were others haunting the paths of his feet, times when he'd know that Presence in his room, once in the midst of a sermon he stopped, not staring or wild, but all the kirk watched him, and he watched the door, and his eyes moved slow as though following a figure that came down the aisle; and folk turned round and stared where he stared, and saw nothing at all but the winter gleam of the cold kirk floor, and beyond that the glass of the far, stained window that looked on the tossing boughs of the trees. Chris half-rose from her seat in that silence, she saw the sweat bright on Robert's still face. Then his eyes left the aisle and he wiped his forehead, and went on in an even voice with his sermon.

For outside these moments he was quiet and kind, with a kindness Chris hated--for it was not his. It was something borrowed from his unclean dream, not Robert at all, a mask and a pose, a kindness he followed with Fear for an urge. And a dreadful loneliness came upon Chris, and a shivering hate for that cloud he followed, that sad-faced Figure out of the past, who had led such legions of men to such ends up and down the haughs and hills of the earth. Christ? So maybe indeed He had lived, and died, a follower of clouds Himself.

That Figure she minded from school-time days, and even then it had not moved her, it seemed a sad story, in mad, sad years, it was over and done: and it left her untouched. And it left her so still, it was only a dream that could alter nothing the ways of the world. . . . Oh, why wasn't Robert like other ministers?--easy and pleased and hearty and glib, with no religious nonsense about them, they led hearty lives and ate well at table and took the days as they found them come, and didn't leave their wives to think daft thoughts, and cry here, quiet, in the dark, like a child, sometimes with the fear of a child for the dark.

But she just had to meet it: and her life was still hers. So she worked through that autumn tending the garden, till almost the earth rebelled from her touch, she thought with a smile, and welcomed the winter. New Year's Eve came in a bluster on Segget, in snow and a breaking of sleet for sharp hours, there were spinners starving down in Old Toun John Muir told Chris as he came in on Sunday. And he said that another twenty were sacked, it was likely the second Mill would close down.

Robert heard that story as well, and listened, and said not a word, who once would have flamed into curses and anger on the cruelty of men. But now he stood up in the pulpit and preached, his text the saying of Christ, Feed my lambs. And Chris sat and listened to the gentle voice, and shivered as though at a filthy thing. And she looked round quiet at the people he preached to--the Provost Hogg with his heavy face, John Muir, with his skeugh and his puzzled eyes, Peter Peat the tailor, red-eyed, like a rat, and the mean, close face of the publican, Melvin. What hope in appealing to them for help?--were there but a flicker he had sold his soul to that fancy and Figure for something at least. But they heeded as little the whine of his Christ as the angry threat of his Struggling God.

And that New Year's night as she lay by Robert, in the quiet and the dark, she knew fear again, fear for the new year come to birth, for the man who lay so quiet in his sleep, beside her, turned away from her touch, low in the grate the coals were drooping, in a little red glow, she watched them sink and fade and grow grey as the dawn came dim over a world that was wrapped in white; and out in the yews the frozen rooks stirred: and down in the kitchen Else Queen did the same.

 

That year brought plenty of changes to Else, before it began there were rumours about her, Ag Moultrie one morning was going by the Manse when she saw the door of the kitchen open, and out, as quiet as an ill-getted cat who should come stepping but that loon Alec Hogg? And he turned and gave a bit nod of his head, and Else Queen looked out and nearly saw Ag, but she dropped down smart in the lithe of a bush and watched the two part, and was fairly ashamed--to think that the son of a man like the Provost should have taken up with a harlot, just. And the more Ag thought of it, the more she was shamed, till she just broke down and fair Roared and Grat.

Well, she passed the news on in a neighbour-like way, and folk were fair shocked, and snickered at the Provost--ay, that was a nasty smack in the face for old Hairy Hogg: had he heard the news yet? And when it came out that he hadn't, just yet, there were half a dozen that took him the news, you yourself were nearly killed in the rush, there was never such a birn of boots needing mending, Dite Peat went in with a pair, and his brother, and Bruce the roadman, and syne Will Melvin. And old Hairy sat like a monkey and blew on how well he could sutor, and Dite Peat said Ay, and we hear you'll be sutoring soon for a marriage. Or is it a christening? And they all took a sly bit look at the Provost; and he habbered and said What? and so he was told.

Well, he couldn't believe that speak about Alec, the loon might be a bit of a fool and had lost his work in the Edinburgh office, the place had closed down, that wasn't his wyte: but he wasn't such a fool as take up with a quean that once warmed the bed for that wastrel Dalziel. And as soon as young Alec came home that day from some gardening work he had gotten outbye the Provost cried out, Come into the shop, and told him the coarse-like speak in Segget. Alec Hogg said, Well, then, there's something in it. I like Else well and I mean to marry her. When he heard him say that old Hairy near burst, and he asked Alec Hogg did he want to bring them, respectable folk, in shame to the grave? And Alec said No, he didn't think so, he only wanted to bring Else to tea. And the Provost said 'twould be over his dead body if he did.

When that got around folk fair took a laugh--faith, man! that would fair be a funny-like sight, Else Queen stepping over old Hairy Hogg's corpse, and the old ape, dead or alive, you could swear, taking an upward keek as she passed. Else and Alec were watched fell close after that, and once, when they took a walk up the Kaimes, that Spring, a windy Sunday in March, and sat in the lithe to have a bit crack, there was nearly a dozen that kept on their track, and Ag Moultrie, the Roarer and Greeter of Segget, was up in the Schoolhouse watching the pair with a spy-glass she'd borrowed at racing speed. And the childes that had crept up the Kaimes to watch near froze to death, for they didn't dare move, and Alec and Else did not a damn thing, they didn't even kiss all the time they were there; and you well could warrant if they didn't kiss then, it was only because they had come to a pass when neither kisses nor cuddles contented.

Well, Alec couldn't marry, he hadn't a meck, Else's wages went to the keep of her bairn, Dalziel of the Meiklebogs wouldn't pay a penny. When Else had written and asked him for that he had just smiled sly, and torn up the letter. So things might well have stood as they were but for the tink row that broke out in the house of Smithie, the whiskered old roadman of Segget.

He hardly had seemed to alter at all, except that his whiskers looked more and more still like the birns of hay he would pinch from the parks. He still bade on with his daughter and goodson, Bruce, folk said he had hell for a life, though the house was his and all the gear in it, the kye in the byres and the kirns in the creamery. But he'd come home still of an evening from work and get no friendly greeting from any unless 'twas the kye, and only from them if he brought them their meat: otherwise, they would sulk. In his house his daughter would say, Oh, it's you? Then clean your nasty big feet on the mat. And old Smithie would glower at her sore, but say nothing, it was years since the old bit creature broke out.

But one Saturday afternoon in April, just as old Smithie had stopped from his chapping out on the road that led to Stonehive, and had wiped his long whiskers and took a keek round, a lorry came down the road and went skeugh, and nearly went into the west-side ditch. Well, the lorry-driver swore like a tink, which wasn't surprising, he probably was one, and cried on old Smithie to give him a shove. And he shoved, and old Smithie, they shoved and they heaved, and swore at the lorry, and chaved a good hour, 'twas a lorry-load of crates of whisky and beer going north to Dundon, the lorry-man told. And he said that he hoped that their guts would rot, them that would drink but a drop of the stuff.

Well, at last they got the wheel from the ditch, and the lorry-driver said he was bloody obliged. He looked at his watch and said he must go, but syne he reached back in a small bit crate. Here, I pinched two bottles of this for myself, but you try one, it's a fine-like drink. And he said some more and syne he drove off, leaving the bottle in old Smithie's hands.

Old Smithie took a bit keek at the thing, a fattish bit bottle of an unco-like shape; and he took off the cork and gave it a lick. That tasted as unco as the bottle looked, sugary and sweet, and old Smithie thought, Well, damn it, he surely thinks I'm a bairn, it's a lemonade drink this Benny Dick Tine.

So he held the bottle to his mouth for a suck, and down the stuff gurgled, and old Smithie paiched, and wiped his long whiskers and curled up his nose--feuch! it was sickening; but he fairly was dry. So he drank down a half of the lemonade stuff, and corked the bottle and put it in his pouch, and got on his bike and rode home to Segget.

God knows what happened atween there and Segget, he rode through the Square at the awfullest lick, and nearly killed Melvin opposite the Arms. He was singing that his heart was in the Highlands, not here, Will Melvin sore vexed to see him like that, if the coarse old creature wanted to get drunk why couldn't he come down and get drunk at the Arms? Will Melvin cried Hi! and louped like a goat, and Smithie cried back That'll teach you, I hope, to bide out of my way, you whiskied old wife! Syne he wheeled round and up the East Wynd like the wind and narrowly missed running into the dyke, and swung the bike over to the other bit side, and nearly killed a lone chicken there; and vanished through Segget in a shower of stour, with Will Melvin and the angel gaping together.

Ake Ogilvie told that he saw him go by, like a Valkyr riding the wings of the storm--whatever that fool of a joiner meant. But the next thing that happened for sure was the Smithie got off at the door of his house and went in. His goodson Bruce sat canny by the fire and hardly looked up as he heard Smithie's step. Then Smithie said Just a minute, you, the sweir swine there, and I'll deal with you! and Bruce looked round and there was old Smithie, with a bottle upended, sucking like mad. And then he had finished and flung off his coat, the daft old tyke, and let drive at Bruce, and near knocked him head first into the dinner that was hottering slow on the swey by the fire. Well, Bruce got up, he would soon settle this, and his wife, old Smithie's daughter, cried out Crack up his jaw--don't spare the old tink!

But God! she nearly died at what followed. Old Smithie had fair gone mad of a sudden, he didn't heed the bashings of Bruce, not a bit, but took him a belt in the face that near floored him, syne kicked him right coarse, and Bruce gave a groan and caught at himself, and as he doubled up old Smithie took him a clout in the face with a tacketty boot, and for weeks after that it looked more like a mess in a butcher's shop, than a face, that thing that the childe Bruce wore. Bruce was blinded with blood, he cried Stop--I can't see! But old Smithie had gone clean skite, what with his wrongs and the Benny Dick Tine. Oh, can't you? Well then, you can damn well feel! And he took Bruce and swung him out through the door, and kicked him sore in the dowp as he went, and threw a chair at him, and Bruce had enough, he ran like a hare, half-blind though he was, and the Muirs all stood next door and gaped, Mrs. Muir and Tooje and Ted, all but John, he sat indoors and gleyed quiet up the lum.

The next thing the Muirs saw was Mrs. Bruce herself, kicked out like her man and running like him, and syne the bairns, and syne they heard sounds inside the house like a wild beast mad. Then old Smithie started to throw out the things that belonged to his daughter and his goodson Bruce, a sewing machine and their kists and clothes, a heap in the stour outside the door. Bruce had cleared his eyes by then and come back, but old Smithie saw him and chased him away, with a bread-knife, and came back and danced on the gear, he looked like the devil himself, said Ake, who had come up to see what the row was about--if you could imagine the devil in whiskers raising worse hell than was usual in Segget.

Well, he closed the door next and after a while some folk went over and chapped at the door, but they got not a cheep, and waited for Bruce, he'd gone to the smiddy to borrow an axe. He came back with a fair-like crowd at his heels, Feet the bobby came with him as well, and just as they started in on the door Ake Ogilvie cried No, damn't! that won't do. And he said to Bruce Is this your house, or his? Bruce told him to mind his own mucking business, and was raising his axe to let fly at the door when Ake Ogilvie said, All right, then, all right. It's up to you, Feet. You're supposed to defend the law here in Segget. Here's a man that has locked himself up in his house, and you're standing by and aiding and abetting a burglar trying to get into the place.

That hadn't struck folk afore, now it did, they cried, Ay, that's right, and Bruce glared around; and Feet scratched at his head and took out his note-book. And he said to Bruce that he'd maybe best wait, he himself would call on old Smithie for a change, to open the door in the name of the Law. But all that they heard after Feet had cried that were the snores of old Smithie asleep on his bed.

He wasn't seen in Segget till the Sunday noon, when he crawled out to give some meat to his kye. But he never left the house but he locked up the door, the Bruces got tired of trying to dodge in, they said they couldn't bear the old brute, anyhow, him and his stink, and they flitted to Fordoun, and Bruce got a job on the railway there; and old Smithie at last had his house to himself, thanks to the lorry-man's Benny Dick Tine.

And what all this clishmaclaver led to was Alec Hogg getting the job on the road that had once been Bruce's, and the seat by the fire in old Smithie's house that was Bruce's as well. For young Alec Hogg was a skilly-like childe, right ready and swack and no longer polite, he called a graip by its given name. As for looking around for slop-basins these days, he'd have eaten tea-leaves like a damn tame rabbit, and munched them up with contentment, too.

And he said to old Smithie as they mended the roads there was nothing like a damn good taste of starvation to make you take ill with ideas you'd held, he had starved down south when he lost his job, and near starved when he managed to get back to Segget, his father, the old mucker, would glunch and glare at every bit mouthful he saw his son eat--his hands had never held idleceit's bread. He'd sneer at the table, the monkey-like mucker. And what have your fine friends, the Fashers, done for you? And it was but the truth, they had done not a thing; as for Fascism's fancies on Scotland and Youth--well, starvation's grip in your belly taught better. Scotland and its young could both go to hell and frizzle there in ink for all that he cared.

And old Smithie thought that a fell wice speak, and so did John Muir, and they'd sit and crack, the three of them by the side of the road, and watch the traffic go by to Dundon, the cars with gentry, the buses with folk. And John Muir would gley Ay, God, and that's sense. I was once myself a bit troubled about thing--fair Labour I was, but to hell with them all. Poor folk just live and die as they did, we all come to black flesh and a stink at the end. . . . And like fools we still go on with the soss, bringing grave-fodder into the world. For I hear that you're courting Else Queen, are you, Alec?

Alec reddened up a bit and said maybe he was; and John Muir said Well, and he might do worse, since women there were you'd to bed them sometime. And he asked when Else and Alec were to marry, and Alec said Christ, I haven't an idea--we've no place to bide though we married tomorrow.

And 'twas then that old Smithie said Have you no? You're a decent-like childe and I like you well. Let you and your wife come bide in with me.

 

Else came to Chris and told her the news. Chris said she was glad--and I know you'll be happy. Else tossed her head, God knows about that. There are worse folk than Alec--at least, so I hear. And as for being happy--och, nobody is!

Chris laughed at that and said it wasn't true, but she wondered about it in the fresh-coming Spring, maybe it was Else had the sense of the thing--not looking for happiness, madness, delight--she had left these behind in the bed of Dalziel; only looking to work and to living her life, eating and sleeping and rising each dawn, not thinking, tiring by night-time and dark--as Chris did herself in the yard of the Manse. And Chris raised her head as she thought that thought, and heard the trill of a blackbird, shrill, and saw the spirt of its wings as it flew, black sheen of beauty, across the long grass: and the ripple and stilly wave of the light, blue sunlight near on the Manse wall. And she thought that these were the only glad things--happiness, these, if you found the key. She had lost it herself, unlonely in that, most of the world had mislaid it as well.

She minded then as she worked at that tree, an apple tree, and set smooth the earth, and reached her hands in the cling of the mould, that saying of Robert's, long, long ago, the day he unveiled the new-hallowed Stones up by the loch on Blawearie brae--that we'd seen the sunset come on the land and this was the end of the peasants' age. But she thought, as often, we saw more than that--the end forever of creeds and of faiths, hopes and beliefs men followed and loved: religion and God, socialism, nationalism--Clouds that sailed darkling into the night. Others might arise but these went, by, folk saw them but clouds and knew them at last, and turned to the Howe from the splendid hills--folk were doing so all over the world, she thought, back to the sheltered places and ease, to sloth or toil or the lees of lust, from the shining splendour of the cloudy hills and those hopes that had followed and believed everlasting. She herself did neither, watching, unsure: was there nothing between the Clouds and the Howe?

This life she lived now could never endure, she knew that well as she looked about her, however it ended it could not go on; she was halted here, in these Segget years, waiting the sound of unhasting feet, waiting a Something unnamed, but it came. And then--

She stopped in her work and looked down at herself, at her breast, where the brown of her skin went white at the edge of the thin brown dress she wore, white rose the hollow between her breasts, except where it was blue-veined with blood; funny to think that twice in her life a baby had grown to life in her body and herself changed so to await that growth, and still she looked like a quean, she thought, breast, hips, and legs, and she liked her legs, even yet, as she looked at them with a smile, at the line of herself as she squatted to weed, nice still to cuddle spite her sulky face!

Had she lived in the time of the golden men who hunted the hills by the Trusta bents there would have been cuddles enough, she supposed, fun and pain and the sting of the wind, long nights of sleep in a heath-hid cave, morns shining over the slopes of the hills as you stirred by your man and peered in his face, lying naked beside you, naked yourself, with below the Howe just clearing its mists as the sun came up from an alien sea--the Howe unnamed and shaggy with heath, with stone-oak forests where the red deer belled as the morning grew and the Bervie shone; and far over the slopes of the Howe you could see the smoke rise straight from another cave, and know your nearest friends a day off; and you'd not have a care or a coin in the world, only life, swift, sharp, and sleepy and still and an arm about you, life like a song, and a death at the end that was swift as well--an hour of agony, or only a day, what woman feared death who had borne a child? And many enough you'd have borne in the haughs and been glad enough of their coming in that day, undreaming the dark tomorrows of the Howe that came with the sailing ships from the south. . . .

And, kneeling and cutting at a wallflower clump that had grown over-large for its portion of earth, Chris smiled as she thought of her talk with Else on this matter of humankind itself growing over-large for its clump of earth. Else had stood and listened with red-tinted ears, and stammered and blushed, it was funny and sad, Chris knew how she felt, she had once felt the same. Else said Oh, Mem, but I couldn't do that--it wouldn't be right to do anything like that! Chris said It's surely better to do that than have the bairns that you can't bring up? Else shook her head, They'll just come, and we'll manage. But I couldn't do things to myself like that.

Robert had overheard Chris as she talked, he had heard the talk through the kitchen door, coming down the stairs in his silent way. And when he and Chris were alone together, he said You shouldn't have said that, Christine, gentle and quiet and even of speech. Chris had shivered a little and drawn further away. Why not? she asked, and he said Because we have no rights in these matters at all. We have meddled too much with our lives as it is; they are God's concern, the children who come.

For a minute Chris hardly believed what she heard, she had stared at him, at his masked face; they themselves had done this thing he denounced. . . .

 

All the next afternoon, as it seemed to Chris, she heard the rumour and hum of the wedding, down in the hall of the Segget Arms. It had turned to a day sunblown and clear, the earth was hard as she weeded the beds, clumps of begonias under the dykes, back of the Manse the chickens of Muir were deep in a drowsy scraiching, well-fed. Chris went and looked over the wall and watched, and laughed a little at the courting play of an over-small cock with a haughty, shamed look, as though it thought mating a nasty thing, but yet was right eager to make half a try. There were lots of folk who had minds like his!

Robert and Ewan were both at the wedding, Robert returned as soon as he might, Chris heard him climb up the stairs to his room. The noise went on far into the night, stirring in sleep towards the Sunday morning Chris heard the light step of Ewan go by. Next morning he wasn't stirring as usual, and she carried a cup of tea to his room, and knocked and went in and he still slept fast, lying straight, his dark hair thick as a mop, she stood and looked at him and tickled his arm, and he woke up lightly, as he always woke. Oh, it's you, Chris! and stared a moment: I'm sorry, Mother!

She said Oh, I'm Chris as well, I suppose, and sat on the side of the bed while he drank, the morning growing in the yews outside, promise of another day of summer yellow on the ivied walls of the Manse. She asked how the wedding had gone, and he yawned, so grown-up, and stretched while she caught the cup; and he said that the wedding had gone off fine, except that folk were afraid of Robert, he'd changed so much, with never a laugh. Ewan had heard Dite Peat say of Robert--

Chris said Yes, what did he say of Robert? and Ewan lay and looked at her, calm and cool. He said that Robert had lain with Else, he knew bed-shame in a man when he saw it.

Chris said You didn't believe that, did you? Ewan yawned again, I don't know; he might. Though I shouldn't think it likely, he has you to sleep with; and you must be very nice, I should think.

Chris felt the blood come swift in her cheeks, and a moment the wildest feeling of fear; and then that went by, she'd be honest as him. She said Oh, I think I am nice to sleep with. You've to be terribly in love with someone for that--it makes all the difference, as you'll know some time.

He said, politely, Yes, I suppose so, he hadn't much interest in the matter at all; and told some more of the fun at the wedding, the Provost and MacDougall Brown had both sung, the Provost banking and braeing, bass, MacDougall strong on the Blood of the Lamb. There had been lots to eat and lots of dancing, Ewan had danced with most of the women, rather fun, though most were too fat round the hips, the hips were the things that counted, he'd found. He'd told Else that and she'd said she was shocked, but he didn't suppose that she was, very much.

And then Alec Ogilvie and Dite Peat had quarrelled, it seems they had hated each other for years, and kept away from each other for years, neither one nor the other sure that he'd win. It was round about seven o'clock that it happened; they went out to the back of the Arms to fight, Ewan didn't hear till the fight was near done and went out and saw Dite Peat on the grass, his eyes closed up and rather a mess, Ake Ogilvie being helped into his coat and wiping a trickle of blood from his nose. And Ewan had felt a bit sorry for Dite--goodness knew why, the dirtiest rat.

Chris asked what time he'd reached home and he said Not till this morning some time, nearly two. I took a friend of Else's to Frellin, the servant-maid at the Manse up there. Chris asked was she nice and Ewan gave a shrug. I thought her rather a boring young beast, she wanted me to make love to her--up to a point, I suppose, I don't know. Chris asked And did you? and Ewan said No, but I thought I would try to teach her a lesson. You know I've got strong wrists?--I get them from you--so I held her with one hand and smacked her with the other, and patted her all neat and nice again, and put her in through the Frellin Manse gate, and came home to my bed: I felt a bit tired.

 

Folk said he fair was a nickum, that loon, young Ewan Tavendale that came from the Manse, and went to the college at Dundon each day, cool and calm you'd see him swing by, no hat on his head be it sun, be it sleet, folk said he was proud as dirt: and for why? He was only the son of a crofter, just, killed in the War, and only his luck his mother had married into a Manse. He never went by with a loon-like slouch, or reddened up, loon-like, over the lugs, if he met with a covey of queans in the Square--damn't, there was something unnatural about him, a sly young brute, you could well believe. And what though they said he did well at college? No doubt his stepfather, the minister Colquohoun, did all his lessons and he got the credit.

Then the speak got about from the Frellin Manse that he'd taken a lass from the wedding of Else, the lass that idle young thing Jeannie Ray, and she'd thought to have a bit play with the loon--she often would play about with the loons and get them sore in a way to have her, syne leave them looking and habbering like fools. But she'd got a sore stammy-gaster with Ewan, the coarse young brute assaulted the quean, and left her greeting on the Manse door-mat. And she told the news to a crony in Frellin, and the crony giggled and passed it on, and it reached Ag Moultrie, the Roarer and Greeter, and she nearly exploded with shame and delight. And next time she met in with Ewan she cried, Ay, Ewan, what's this that I hear about you and that lass Jeannie Ray down at Frellin Manse? And the loon said I'm sorry I don't know what you've heard, Miss Moultrie, but no doubt Segget soon will. Good morning. And he smiled, polite, and passed on, not a bit ashamed, and left Ag to gape. And not only that, she felt a bit feared, it was fair uncanny, a loon like that.

And a queerer thing followed, her father was dying, Rob Moultrie that said he wasn't her father, the coarse old brute still tormented his wife with the speak that Ag was no daughter of his. Well, he was down and fast sinking at last, about time that he was, the snarling old sinner. And near to the last, when he'd got gey low, he said that he'd like to see the young man, Ewan Something his name was, up at the Manse, he'd like to see him and nobody else. Ag sat by his bed and she heard the bit blither, and she said to him, soothing, You're wandering a bit. He doesn't know you, the young man at the Manse. And Rob Moultrie said Go get him at once, you goggle-eyed gowk, with your claiking tongue. He's more kin of mine that you'll ever be, you with your half-dozen fathers or more.

So Jess Moultrie trudged away up through Segget, and gave in the message, and young Ewan came down, and went in and sat by the bed of old Moultrie, not feared as a loon at the breath of death, but cool and calm, as though it were nothing. Folk sat outbye and couldn't make out the words that the two spoke one to the other, except that they heard Ewan Tavendale say Yes, I've noticed that, and Yes, that's worth knowing. And he shook hands with Rob when at last he stood up, and didn't make on, as any other would, that old Rob would soon be up and about, instead he shook hands and wished him Goodbye, and went out as calm as he had come in--ay, a heartless young mucker if ever there was one, whatever could Moultrie have wanted with him?

Rob wouldn't hear of the minister coming, and died without a prayer in the house, and that was queer in a childe like him, fell religious and fond of his Bible. Ag cried that her father had died unblessed; and when he was dead she just Roared and Grat.

They buried the old tyke on a hot, quiet day, Mr. Colquohoun thinner and quieter than ever: but he had a fine voice as he read out the words, lower than once it had been, more genteel, he fairly had quietened down, had Colquohoun. Once on a time at a burial service folk said the minister would speak out as though he fair meant that the dead would rise up some day, and live once again, and it made your hair crawl--it was all in the Bible, no doubt, and right fine, but you knew the whole thing just a stuttering of stite. But now the minister spoke earnest and low, with a kind of a whine that you heard undisturbed as they lowered old Moultrie down in the clay, with his ill-led life and his ill-getted ways, his hatred of gentry, his ill-treating of Jess. Well, that was his end, and you felt undisturbed, all but John Muir, as he told to Ake later.

For it came on him when the folk had gone, and he worked there alone in the stilled graveyard, and watched the figure of Colquohoun move off, that something was finished and ended in Segget, more than old Moultrie, older than him. And a queer qualm came in the pit of his wame, he stopped in the sun to gley in a dream, 'twas as though they were shadows in the sunblaze he saw, nothing enduring and with substance at all, kirk and minister, and stones all around graved with their promised hopes for the dead, the ways and beliefs of all olden time--no more than the whimsies a bairn would build from the changing patterns that painted the hills.

 

And faith, there were more than enough of those changes, folk woke to the fact of ill changes in Segget, you'd to count your silver now ere you spent it, there wasn't a soul but was hit some way, prices so high and the spinners, the dirt, with hardly a meck to spend in shops. Whiles one of the Mowat mills still joggled along, as it wore to Autumn you'd see its smoke like a lazy snake uprise in the air. But it joggled half-hearted, there was fell little traffic, the stationy, Newlands, said so little jute came in he wondered the Mill kept going: and he tried to get spinners to do what he did, bawl for the Blood of MacDougall's Lamb; and no doubt he fair was a pious childe, though you thought yourself that praying for blood was hardly the way to start a jute mill.

The Segget wynds were crowded with spinners, lolling about in the sun, the dirt, you turned one moment from cursing the brutes for their sweirty and living off the like of yourself, and the next you had nearly moaned your head off that there wasn't a thing they now bought in your shops. Dite Peat was the first to feel the bit nip, he'd never done well with the spinners, Dite, since that time long back he'd mishandled his father. But up until late he'd managed to live, with trade from the rest of Segget New Toun, though most from the countryside out around. Well, he found that the farms were failing him now, cottar folk got their meat from the vans on the roads, and all the farmers had gotten them cars and went into Stonehaven or even Dundon: in the end Dite Peat was rouped from his door. It lent a bit of excitement, that, Dite's stuff sold up while he stood and looked on, still bearing the marks of the knocks he had got in that tink-like fight with the joiner of Segget.

Folk wondered what would become of him now, it was said he hadn't a meck of his own: and though when it seemed he owned a bit shop folk bore with him and his dirty jokes, they weren't such fools as to do that now and cold-shouldered him everywhere that he went. And down in the Segget Arms one night when he started in with his dirty tales, Alec Hogg was there and he said You shut up, we're sick of you and the things you can do--though you can't keep your shop-roof over your head. Dite bared his rotten brown teeth like a dog, but other folk were crying That's right, and he didn't dare make a set at young Hogg. That was near the end of the brute in Segget, he went to Meiklebogs and asked for a fee, folk told that Dalziel had ta'en him on cheap--Dalziel whose new housekeeper was in the old way; faith! with Dite Peat at the Meiklebogs as well, the question of fatherhoods in the future would be more of a complication than ever.

For bairns came thick as ever they'd come, folk cut their costs in all things but cradles, down in Old Toun they squawked into life, the bairns, in rooms that were packed out already. The less the work the more of the creatures, they bred fair disgusting old Leslie would say, and it showed you the kind of dirt that they were, living crowded like that, four-five in a room, in houses that were not fit for pig-rees. 'Twas Infernal, just: the men should be libbed: now, when he himself was a loon up in Garvock--

But his trade at the smiddy was failing as well, though he habbered and blethered as much as ever, you'd fell often hear the anvil at rest and look in and see old Leslie sit there, sitting and staring down at his pipe, it gave you an unco-like feeling to see him. There were fell few jobs came down from the Mills and a mighty few from the farms outbye, with their new-like ploughs that needed no coulters, if they broke a bit they looked in a book and sent away to the makers for't. Not like the days of the crofter childes, when in and about from Kinraddie, Arbuthnott, and half the hill-land betwixt Segget and Fordoun, the folk of the lost little farms would ride with plenty of trade in a small-like way.

The only creature that seemed to flourish as the harvest brought a dour end to the weather and the clouds rolled slower over the Howe was Will Melvin that kept the Segget Arms, him and that sharp-tongued besom his wife, the spinners would go down to the Arms and get drunk, instead of biding at home in their misery and cutting their throats, as decent folk would.

Mr. Mowat came suddenly home to Segget and sacked every servant he met in the House; he said that he Jahly well must, he'd no choice, he was taxed to death by those Labour chaps. Then he went to the kirk, the first time in years, and sat and listened to a dreich-like discourse--God! there was something queer with Colquohoun. But he kept his eyes, Mr. Mowat, folk told, on Mrs. Colquohoun and not the minister, as she sat in the choir with her sulky-proud face, and her swathings of hair, ay, she'd fairly fine hair, herself looking up at the pulpit as though she didn't know Mr. Mowat looked at her--and didn't know as everybody else did in Segget, that he'd been the father of that bairn of hers that died away a three-four years back.

Mr. Mowat never went near the Manse now, he hadn't done that since the days of the Strike, nor the Geddeses either since Mrs. Colquohoun had raised a row at the W.R.I. And what do you think that row was about? A socialist creature had offered to come down from Dundon and lecture on birth-control: and all the folk were against it at once, except the tink bitch the minister had wed. . . . And what might IT be? you asked, and folk told you: just murdering your bairns afore they were born, most likely that was what she herself did.

She did her own work in the Manse nowadays, they had had to draw in their horns as well, no other maid took the place of Else. And the Sourock's wife was fairly delighted, she said getting down on the floors to scrub would be an ill-like ploy, she would warrant, for the brave silk knickers that Mrs. Colquohoun wore. For the Sourock's wife had never forgiven the minister's wife her bit under-things, and the way she voted at the General Election.

But syne news came that fair raised a stir, the Labour Government thrown out at last, and that fine-like childe, Ramsay MacDonald, was in with the Tories, and said they were fine. And them that had wireless sets listened in, and Ramsay came on with his holy-like voice and maaed like a sheep, but a holy-like sheep, that the country could yet be saved: and he'd do it. Ay, he'd grown a fine chap and had got back his guts, you were pleased to hear as the maa went on, now he had jumped to the gentry's side. And no doubt you would see fine changes in Segget.

But Chris watched that and the life in Segget with a queer apprehension holding her heart. One evening she climbed up to Ewan's back room, where he sat at a little desk he had there, reading a text-book, his head in his hands. He jumped up when she came and found her a seat, polite and kind, though remote with his book till she asked him what the book was about. So he told her the stuff was geology, he was studying the strata of the last Ice Age that came in Scotland long years ago, when the bergs came drifting down by Dundon and folk looked out from their mountain eyries and saw the peaks and the glaciers come. Chris sat and listened, hands clasped round her knees, looking at Ewan's head in the light, smooth and dark and yet shot with gold, the pallor of the lamplight upon his hair--grey granite below as grey granite above.

Then her mind switched away to what he was saying, she thought And the thing is happening again--all over the world the Ice was coming, not the ice-time that ended the Golden Age, but the Ice of want and fear and fright, its glacier peaks on the sky by day, its frozen gleam on the sky by night, and men looked out bewildered to see it, cold and dank, and a dark wind blew, and there was neither direction, salvation, nothing but the storming black lour of the Clouds as the frosts and the fog of this winter came. . . .

Ewan had twisted around, he said Mother! sharp, and jumped to his feet and shook her. Chris came to herself with a start, and stared. What's wrong? she asked, and he said You looked--fey.

She seldom heard a Scots word from Ewan, he brushed them aside as old, blunted tools, but the word had come on his lips as though sudden he'd sought in English and English had failed. She laughed and said Did I? and ruffled his hair, and he grinned at her, quiet, he'd been quick, but not feared--he'd do strange things yet in the world, Ewan, who hadn't a God and hadn't a faith and took not a thing on the earth for granted. And she thought as she held him (he endured that, polite) he was one of the few who might save the times, watching the Ice and the winter come, unflustered, unfrightened, with quiet, cold eyes.

And she smiled at that and her prideful dreamings for the child of her womb, an idle woman's pride: and bade Ewan good-night and went down to the kitchen to leave it neat for the morning's work. 'Twas then that there came a knock at the door and Else Queen that was now Else Hogg stamped in, with the washing she did each week for the Manse, she cried Well, Mem, have you heard the news?

Chris asked What news? and Else sat down and gasped, I fair had to run to tell you. It's about Mr. Mowat--but surely you've heard?

The story, she said, was all over Segget, Mr. Mowat was ruined and hadn't a penny, the whole of Segget mortgaged to the hilt. The last time he came back from London he'd tried to raise a bit loan at any damn price; and he'd gone to his Dundon bankers and tried, and they'd said they must see the jute in his mills. So they sent a man down, Mr. Mowat met him and dined him and wined him up at the House, it minded old Sinclair, the last of the servants, of the good old days when young Jahly Mowat would come back with a half-dozen whores in his car. Ah, well, the banker childe was fell canny, he drank but little, and that with suspicion; but Mr. Mowat soaked like a drouthy fish, and then said Right O, we'll go down to the mills.

There were two main storage sheds at the Mill, one was near empty, said young Mr. Mowat, the other well filled with new bales of jute. And Mr. Mowat showed the first of the sheds, there was only a bale or so in the place, but when they came to the other bit shed, and the sliding doors slid back in their slots, there were the bales packed up to the roof, so tight they nearly bulged through the door. You see, we've a Jahly good stock at the Mill, said Mr. Mowat, and the bank man agreed.

So the bank childe went back to Dundon and reported, and they loaned Mr. Mowat a five hundred pounds. And the creature vanished, none knew where he'd gone; and this last week or so the bank grew suspicious. It sent a man down to Segget yestreen, and he went to the Mills and what did he find, down there at the shed that had seemed so packed? That there was no more than a curtain of bales, stacked up to the roof at the shed's near end, the rest of the shed was as toom as your hat, Mr. Mowat had swindled the bank to the end: and now the bank had ta'en over the Mills.

Chris asked what that meant and Else didn't know, except that all the folk left at the Mills had been sacked that evening and the Mills closed down. And folk were saying they never would open, it wouldn't be worth it, with trade so bad; and nobody knew what the spinners would do that had waited for years for their jobs to come back.

And the winter was coming. Down in Old Toun a weary indifference lay on the wynds, they paid no heed to the new Election, Chris herself didn't bother to vote--were the liars and cheats called Labour or Tory they'd feather their own nests and lie to the end.

Rain held the sky at November's end, she saw the streaming parks of Dalziel lift and move under the freezing haze that sailed and swam by the base of the Mounth, the curlews had ceased to cry on the Kaimes and of nights the sounds the trains came blurred, those nights that the great lighted buses would lighten, suddenly, firing the walls of the room where she lay by the side of Robert unsleeping, him sleeping so sound that he sometimes seemed dead. How to sleep, how to sleep, when your mind took hold, in the dark, of the plight of the Segget wynds?

They had brought in a thing they called the Means Test, spinners who had had the dole over-long were told that their relatives must keep them in future. Chris had stopped by the door of Ake Ogilvie's shop, and he told her that things were black in Old Toun, the Wilsons had been cut off the dole altogether because their old grannie had the Old Age Pension--the three of them to live on ten shillings a week. How could they pay their rent on that?

Since the Mowat creditors took over the place they were forcing the payments right through the nose, they'd already had Feet up at the eviction of a two-three families out of their houses, if houses you could call them--they smelt like pig-rees. Old Cronin had been cut off the Bureau as well because young Charlie was fee'd up at Frellin, and stayed at home to look after his father: and how could they live on the pay of a loon? And there were worse cases than these, far worse, God damn't! you had never much liked the spinners, but the things that were happening near turned you sick, it was kicking in the faces of the poor for no more than delight in hearing the scrunch of their bones.

Chris said They won't stand it, there'll be revolution, and Ake sneered Revolution? They'll starve and say nothing. Or 'Come walk on my face and I'll give you a vote!'

Then the news went round that old Cronin was dead, found dead in his bed by his young son Chae, Chae blubbered the old man had no firewood for days, and nothing but a pot of potatoes to eat. Folk wouldn't believe that blither at all, it couldn't be true, for it made you shiver--no, no, 'twas only another damned lie, that kind of thing never happened in Segget. Would you find that news in the Mearns Chief?--you wouldn't, so you knew that it couldn't be true, the Chief said week by week we were fine, and Scotland still the backbone of Britain, and the Gordon Highlanders right gay childes, not caring a hoot though their pay was down, and Progressives just the scum of the earth that planned to take bairns out of the slums and rear them up in Godless communes, and a woman Naomi Mitchison coarse, for she said not a word about Christ in her book. . . . Ay, the Mearns Chief was aye up-to-date, and showed you a photo of Mrs. MacTavish winning the haggis at a Hogmanay dance.

That son of old Cronin's, Jock was his name (you surely minded when he was in Segget?) had done right well for himself, folk said. He was now a National Labour supporter, one of Ramsay's new men down in Glasgow, and would likely get into the Parliament soon: and he was starting on a lecture tour--The Country First, Parties Must Wait. By that, of course, he meant the political parties, not the kind he would hold in his Glasgow house--he spoke and acted the gent to the life.

But Charlie said his old father had seemed to shrivel up when he heard of the tour; and the last time Charlie had been to his father he hardly had spoken a sensible word, just muttered over one of his socialist books, by Ramsay MacDonald, till the light grew dim, so faint that he couldn't have seen to read.

He told that to Ewan when he came to the Manse to arrange the burial in Segget kirkyard, he and Ewan hadn't met for a long time past, chief enough though they'd been at the school together. And Charlie was shy and he said to Ewan, I hear, Mr. Ewan, you're clever at college, and stood and shuffled his great glaured boots, and his hands were heavy and calloused and cold, holding the clumsy cap in his hand. Ewan said I'm all right. Sit down. Like some tea? and went ben to the kitchen where Chris made a cake. It's young Charlie Cronin, and mother, he's hungry. Chris said she'd bring some food on a tray, but Ewan said No, you see he would guess I knew he was hungry and that would offend him. I'll take in some and we'll eat it together.

So he did, though he'd only new-finished his dinner, Chris peeped at the two of them, sitting and talking, with a tinge of pride and wonder for Ewan, and a twist of pity in her heart for his friend, with his shy red face and his clumsy hands. Then she went back to her work, and they ate; and when Charlie Cronin at last went away she heard Ewan make a dive for the bathroom and be suddenly, exceedingly, very sick there. She took him a glass of water to drink, and he smiled and drank and said that was better: white-faced and black-haired, but still cool enough. Chris thought at the time 'twas because of the food he'd eaten to keep the Cronin lad company; but she wasn't sure later, for she found out that Charlie had told him black tales of the things in Old Toun.

And that night she went up to his room and found Ewan, staring out at the fall of sleet, a pelt and a hiss in the moving dark, his head in his hands, not reading as usual. She touched him, quiet, and he started a little.

Oh, nothing, he said, I'm fine, don't worry, I was trying to remember old Cronin's face.

He was turning to look in the face of Life.

 

That was the Sunday; on Monday folk woke to a blinding pelt of rain-sheets on Segget and down and across the steaming Howe where the churned earth lay with its quagmired pools, the hills corona'ed dark with their clouds. Robert went early up to his room and Chris was making the dinner in the kitchen when she found John Muir at the kitchen door. He looked stranger than ever she had seen him look, John Muir, and forgot to call her Mem. He said a gey thing had happened last night: and gleyed at her queer and gave a queer cough.

Chris said, What's happened? Sit down, you look queer. And he sat and told her the unco-like tale.

 

She had heard of the Kindnesses? Well, they were folk that bided down in Segget Old Toun. At least they had done till a three days back, Kindness himself was an ill-doing childe, and weeks behind with his rent, folk said. His wife was a lass from Kinraddie way, she'd a bairn only a three weeks old, and had near gone daft when the landlord's folk came down to the house to turn them out. Sim Leslie had gone to see it was done and thought nothing of it, he was used to that now.

Well, out they'd been turned, their bit gear in the streets, you minded that Saturday streamed with sleet, and the house they'd been in was at Segget's tail end, and few folk saw the thing that went on, or cared to be out in weather like that, and Kindness himself was a surly brute. He got sacks and happed up the most of his gear, and prowled Segget for hours to look for a place. But he wasn't well known and he wasn't well liked, so he came back at last somewhere about midnight, and broke in a window and put his wife in, she had stood in the lithe all those hours in the sleet with her bairn in her arms and must near have been dead. She sat in the kitchen the rest of the night, Kindness himself had brought in a chair, then he prowled some more, for he couldn't sleep.

But worse was to come with the Sunday morning; the policeman, Sim Leslie, that folk called Feet, came on them early and miscalled them for tinks, and took Kindness's name in his little note-book, as though the fool didn't know it by now, and said there would be a court-case about this. Syne he turned them out and boarded the window, and went off and left them, and a neighbour nearby took in the wife and bairn for a while. But she hadn't an inch of space to spare, and at last, as the night came, Kindness came back and said he'd gotten a place where they'd bide, he didn't say more, a surly bit brute.

Well, his wife went with him through the pelt of the sleet, and got to the end of Old Toun to the place, and that was an old deserted pig-ree, from the time when folk in Segget bred pigs, long ere the Mills or the spinners came. You could get inside if you got down and crawled, Kindness had taken a mattress in there and a stump of a candle and some of their things. Mrs. Kindness was feared at the dark and the sounds that the old ree made as the night wore on, but they put out the light at last, fell tired, and went to sleep in the sound of the rain.

It must have been somewhere near morning they woke, Mrs. Kindness woke up with her bairn screaming, not just the cry of a bairn in unease but a shrill, wild cry that near feared her to death. She tried all she could to comfort its wail, then the light began to peek in the pigsty and they saw the reason for the bairn's screams, the rats in the night had gnawed off its thumb.

 

John Muir cried Mistress, don't take on like that! and caught Chris's arm and put her in a chair. And then as he straightened up from that he saw the minister stand in the door, he'd come quietly down as he came these days, and he looked like Chris, he had heard it all. But he only said John, where are they now?

Muir skeughed and said that he didn't well know, he'd heard that folk had ta'en meat to the ree, and Kindness was off for a doctor, 'twas said, walking all the way to Stonehive. Robert said Walking?--his face looked queer--WALKING? Chris, I'll go for those folk. Will you get a room ready before I come back?

She worked as quick as she could when he'd gone out into the shining pelt of the rain. But it nearly was noon ere Robert came back, the woman looked only a slip of a quean, Robert carried the bairn, it had ceased to cry, whimpering and weeking soft like a kitten. The woman stopped and looked at Chris with the shamed, strange eyes of a frightened beast, Chris squeezed her hands for a moment, just, and was rough, and told her where her room was, and was rough that she mightn't break down and weep. And she took the bairn and bathed the torn thumb, though it nearly turned her sick as she worked; and the bairn weeked like kitten hurt. Then she carried it up to its mother, waiting, in the spare bedroom with the blazing fire.

She left them there and came down to find John Muir come back with the Kindness gear. He told her the minister was off to Stonehaven, on his bike, to try and overtake Kindness, the minister himself would hold on for the doctor.

Kindness reached back to the Manse about three, and an hour or so later Robert and McCormack, Robert soaked and shivering from his ride in the rain. The doctor went up and bade a long time and then came down to the hall and Chris. He shook his head and snibbed up his bag.

I came over-late. Poison and shock. The woman didn't know it though she had it beside her. The baby's been dead this last hour or more.

 

In the dead of the night three nights after that, Chris woke, she was sharply and suddenly awake. Robert beside her coughing and coughing. She got up and padded to his side of the bed, and he had not known that her warmth had gone, all his body was in such a heat; but he saw her against the light from the windows. He said I'm all right, go back to your bed and instantly fell to his coughing again.

Chris put on a dressing-gown and went down, and made and brought up a hot lemon drink, he drank it and thanked her, she put out the light, his body still burned as she lay by his side. But presently the cough died away and she slept, and didn't awake till the morning came, Robert's cough awoke her, that and the sound of the wind as it swept the snow down on Segget, piled up on the edge of another New Year.

With the coming of the day the wind rose and rose and rattled at the window-hasps of the house, the skirl of it in the old roof-tops and wailing down the long, winding chimneys. Robert kept to his bed, Chris had made him do that, almost by force, he had suddenly smiled--smiled so that her bowels had seemed turned to water, with that flare of the hot old love that was gone. If I was a man again, I'd hold YOU, you wretch of a woman to bully me like this! Chris said You'll be welcome to hold me as you like--when that cough's better, not until then. He stroked her arm, the flame in his eyes: Strong and comely still--I've neglected you, Chris! Then he coughed for a while and when he came to, lay quiet, listening to the day go on.

The Kindnesses had gone to friends in Dundon, and left no relic but a snow-happed grave, and this cough that Robert had got in his throat, and that memory that woke you, sick in the night, of the rats that fed on a baby's flesh. And men had believed in a God and a Christ, men had believed in the kindness of men, men had believed that this order endured because of its truth and its justice to men. . . . Robert was sound beside you in sleep, but once he moved and muttered in dreams. He said Ok, I can't, I can't--oh, my God! Chris happed him close and again sought sleep, and the next day came, and he woke to that coughing, and Chris saw a spray of blood on the pillow.

She said I must send for a doctor, Robert, fear in her heart, though none in her voice. But he shook his head, his eyes grown remote. I'll be all right, I'll look after myself. And after he'd eaten a slice of toast and had drunk some tea, he didn't cough more, and asked for a pad of paper and pencil, he wished to write out his tomorrow's sermon.

Chris knew he wouldn't be able to speak it, a week at least ere he'd rise from his bed; but she took him the paper and pencil to quiet him, and stood by a while till at last he looked up--Yes, Christine? his eyes far from her again. So she turned to her work with a daft, dull pain, daft ever to think that THAT could come back.

Ewan helped her that morning, scrubbing the hall, bringing in coal, the wind still raged, a steely drive that was edged with sleet; as the day wore on it froze up again. When she went up that afternoon to Robert's room the door wouldn't open a while though she pushed, then it did, and the stinging air smote her face, the window wide open, the room ice-cold, Robert lying half-naked asleep in his bed. He woke as he heard the sound of her come, his face was flushed in spite of the cold, he said that he'd tried to sleep and couldn't, he'd felt choked and opened the window and slept. Where had the pad for his sermon gone?

Chris went down to Ewan to wire for the doctor. When he came in the evening he sounded Robert's lungs, Robert lying quiet, his eyes far away; and the doctor was puzzled, though he chatted and joked. But later, downstairs, he said to Chris, There's something queer in Mr. Colquohoun's lungs--oh no, this cold's not on to them yet. Was he ever gassed in the War, do you know? There's the strangest contraction in both upper lungs. I'll be back fell early the morn's morning, keep him in bed and keep him warm.

Ewan went up about six and came back and said that Robert was sleeping again, but there was blood on his pillow, fresh. Chris got up to change it, she ached in each limb, but Ewan said that he'd done that already, and Robert wasn't waked up from his sleep. Sit down and rest, and he forced her to sit, and they sat a long time looking into the fire, hearing the blast of the wind over Segget. But near eight or nine when they went to their beds the wind seemed to die in the cry of the yews, Ewan went to the window and called Chris to look. So she did, and stood by his side in the dark, and looked on a sky that was burnished in steel, rimed with a pringling frost of stars, nothing moved or lived, the yews stood black, the garden hedges rose up in the silence as if to listen to the void star-glow. . . . Ewan said You'll catch cold, and blinded the window, and above their heads they heard Robert cough.

 

Next morning John Muir came early to the Manse, he said that he'd tell the congregation there wouldn't be a service; and Chris agreed. But then, as they stood together in the hall they heard the sound of an opening door, and looked up, and Chris gave a gasp and cried, Robert! He was coming down slowly, his hand on the rails, he said I'm all right; I MUST take the service. He'd a handkerchief up to his mouth, saying that, and stopped and coughed, and Chris wrung her hands. Robert, go back to your bed--you must.

He shook his head, he was fully dressed, even shaved, I'll take the service as usual. There's nothing in a cough to stop me, is there? AND I HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY TO THE FOLK.

Chris had stood enough, now she knew at last if she didn't win now she never would win. She said Robert, for me. I've never asked much--for me, and I'll never ask another thing: Will you please go back?

Ewan had come out of his room and looked down, and he saw Robert's face for a moment twist, as if in pain, then it altered again, back to the dark, dreaming look that they knew. It's you or the kirk, Chris, and I'm the kirk's man.

For a second it seemed to Chris she'd b