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- A Daughter of Fife - 3/35 -
The next morning was a very stormy one; there was an iron-gray sky above a black tumbling sea; and the rain, driven by a mad wind, smote the face like a blow from a passionate hand. The boats were all at anchor, with no prospect of a fishing that day; and the fishermen, gathered in little groups, were muttering over the bad weather. But their talk was not bitter, like the complaints which landsmen make over leveled crops. Regarding every thing that happened as the result of righteous decree, why should they rail at disappointment or misfortune? Some went slowly to a shed where boats were being built; others sat down within the doors of their cottages and began to knit their nets, or to mend such as were out of order.
David could take a landward route to Kinkell, among the shore rocks; for though the path was often a mere footing, it was well known to him; and as for the stormy weather, it seemed only a part of the darker and fiercer tempest in his own soul. He left Maggie early. She watched him climbing with bent head the misty heights, until a projecting rock hid him from view; then she went back to her household duties.
The first one was to prepare the room she had rented for its strange guest and it gave her many a pang to fold away the "kirk clothes" of her father and brothers and lock them from sight in the big "kist" that was the family wardrobe. For clothing has a woeful individuality, when we put it away forever; and the shoes of the dead men had a personality that almost terrified her. How pitiful, how forsaken, how almost sentient they looked! Blind with tears, she hid them from sight, and then turned, as the Bereaved must ever turn, back to the toil and need of daily life.
There was but one window in the room, a little one opening on hinges, and glazed with small diamond-shaped bits of glass. The driving storm had washed it clean, she hung a white curtain before it, and brought from the living room a pot of scarlet geranium, and a great sea shell, from whose mouth hung a luxuriant musk plant. Its cool fragrance filled the room, and gave an almost dainty feeling to the spotlessness of the deal furniture and the homespun linen. Before the turf fire there was a square of rag carpet, and the bits of blue and scarlet in it were pretty contrasts to the white wood of the chairs and table.
The stranger was to have come about noon, but it was the middle of the afternoon when he arrived. The storm was then nearly over, and there was a glint of watery sunshine athwart the cold; green, tossing sea. Maggie had grown anxious at his delay, and then a little cross. At two o'clock she gave a final peep into the room and said to herself,--"I'll just get on wi' my wark, let him come, or let him bide awa'. I canna waste my time waiting for folk that dinna ken the worth o' time."
So when her lodger stood at her door she was at her baking board, and patting the cakes so hard, that she did not hear him, until he said, "Good afternoon, Miss Promoter."
Then she turned sharply around, and answered, "Maggie Promoter, if it please you, sir."
"Very well," he said gravely, "good afternoon, Maggie. Is your brother at home?"
"No, sir; he's awa' to Kinkell. Your room is ready for you, sir." As she spoke she was rubbing the meal from her hands, and he stood watching her with delight. He had wondered if her beauty would bear the test of daylight, or if it needed the broad shadows, and the dull glow of the burning turf and the oil cruisie. But she stood directly in the band of sunshine, and was only the more brilliantly fair for it. He was not in love with her, he was sure of that, but he was interested by a life so vivid, so full of splendid color, grace, and vitality.
With a little pride she opened the door of his room, and stirred up the glowing peats, and put the big rush chair before them,--"And you can just call me, sir, when you want aught," she said, "I'll go ben noo, and finish my cake baking."
"Maggie, this room is exactly what I wanted; so clean and quiet! I'm much obliged to you for allowing me to use it." "You pay siller, sir, and there's nae call to say thank you!" With the words she closed the door, and was gone. And somehow, the tone of reserve and the positive click of the latch made him feel that there would be limits he could not pass.
In a couple of hours he heard the little stir of David's return, and the preparation for tea. Maggie brought his table to the fireside and covered it with a square of linen, and set upon it his cup and plate. He had a book in his hand and he pretended to be absorbed in it; but he did not lose a movement that she made.
"Your tea is a' ready, sir."
He lifted his eyes then, and again her clear candid gaze was caught by his own. Both were this time distinctly conscious of the meeting, and both were for the moment embarrassed.
"It looks good, Maggie, and I am hungry. Is your brother back?"
"David is hame, sir. It was a hard walk he had. He's tired, I'm thinking."
The last words were said more to herself than to her lodger. She was somewhat troubled by Davie's face and manner. He had scarcely spoken to her since his return, but had sat thinking with his head in his hands. She longed to know what Dr. Balmuto had said to him, but she knew David Would resent questioning, and likely punish her curiosity by restraining confidence with her for a day or two. So she spoke only of the storm, and of the things which had come into her life or knowledge during his absence.
"Kirsty Wilson has got a sweetheart, David, and her no sixteen yet."
"Kirsty aye thocht a lad was parfect salvation. You shallna be mair than civil to her. She has heard tell o' the man staying wi' us. It wad be that brought her here nae doot."
"She was not here at a'. Maggie Johnson telled me. Maggie cam' to borrow a cup o' sugar. She said Cupar's boat tried to win out o' harbor after the storm. It could not manage though."
"It was wrang to try it. Folks shouldna tempt Providence."
"The cakes baked weel to-day."
"Ay, they are gude eating."
Then she could think of nothing more to say, and she washed the cups, and watched the dark, sad man bending over the fire. A vulgar woman, a selfish woman, would have interrupted that solemn session at her hearth. She would have turned Inquisitor, and tortured him with questions. "What's the matter?" "Is there anything wrong?" "Are you sick?" etc., etc. But when Maggie saw that her brother was not inclined to talk to her, she left him alone to follow out the drift of his own thoughts. He seemed unconscious of her presence, and when her active house duties were over, she quietly pulled her big wheel forward, and began to spin.
The turfs burned red, the cruisie burned low, the wheel "hummed" monotonously, and Maggie stepped lightly to-and-fro before it. In an hour the silence became oppressive, she was sleepy, she wished Davie would speak to her. She laid her fingers on the broad wooden band and was just going to move, when the inner door was opened, and the stranger stood at it. His pause was but a momentary one, but the room was all picture to him, especially the tall fair woman with her hand upon the big wheel, and her face, sensitive and questioning, turned toward her brother.
"Ay, sir." He moved slowly like a man awakening from a sleep, but very quickly shook off the intense personality of his mood, and turned to the stranger with a shy and yet keen alertness.
"I dinna ken your name, sir, or I wad call you by it."
"My name is Allan Campbell."
"Sit down, sir. You are vera welcome. Can I do aught to pleasure you?"
"I want my trunk from Largo. Yesterday the sea was too heavy to bring it. Can you get it for me to-morrow?"
"An' the sea be willing, sir."
"There is a box of books also, but they are very heavy."
"Books! We'll try and bring them ony way."
"You love books then?"
"Better than bread."
"What have you read?"
"I have read my Bible, and The Institutes, and the Scot's Worthies, and pairt o' the Pilgrim's Progress. But I didna approve o' John Bunyan's doctrine. It's rank Armenianism."
"I have just finished a volume of Scott's poems. Have you read any of them?"
"Na, na; I hae nae skill o' poetry, sir, an' it be na the Psalms o' David."
"Let me read you a stanza, that I think you will enjoy."
He went for his book and drew a chair beside the little light, and read with a great deal of fire and feeling some passages from "The Lay of the Last Minstrel." He was soon sensible that he was gradually stirring in these two untutored souls, feelings of which they had hitherto been unconscious. He put more and more passion into the words, finally he threw down the book, and standing erect, recited them with outstretched arms and uplifted face. When he ceased, David was listening like one entranced; and Maggie's knitting had fallen to the floor: for she had unconsciously risen, and was gazing at the speaker with a face that reflected every change of his own. It was as if the strings of a harp had snapped, and left the souls of the listeners in mid-air. With an effort the enthusiasm was put aside, and after a minute's pause, David said, "I ne'er heard words like them words. Mony thanks to you, sir. I'm right glad it was a Scot wrote them," and he murmured softly--
"O Caledonia stern and wild! Land of brown heath and shaggy wood, Land of the mountain and the flood."
Still it was Maggie's shy, tremulous glance and luminous face, that Thanked and pleased Campbell most, and he lifted the book and went away, almost as much under the spell of the poet, as the two simple souls who had heard his music for the first time. There was a moment or two in which
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