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- Malcolm - 4/113 -


of a well of fresh water which lay in a sort of basin in the rock: on a bedded stone beside it sat the laird, with his head in his hands, his elbows on his knees, and his hump upheaved above his head, like Mount Sinai over the head of Christian in the Pilgrim's Progress.

As his hands were still pressed on his ears, he heard nothing of Phemy's approach, and she stood for a while staring at him in the vague glimmer, apparently with no anxiety as to what was to come next.

Weary at length--for the forlorn man continued movelessly sunk in his own thoughts, or what he had for such--the eyes of the child began to wander about the darkness, to which they had already got so far accustomed as to make the most of the scanty light. Presently she fancied she saw something glitter, away in the darkness--two things: they must be eyes!--the eyes of an otter or of a polecat, in which creatures the caves along the shore abounded. Seized with sudden fright, she ran to the laird and laid her hand on his shoulder, crying,

"Leuk, laird, leuk!"

He started to his feet and gazed bewildered at the child, rubbing his eyes once and again. She stood between the well and the entrance, so that all the light there was, gathered upon her pale face.

"Whaur do ye come frae?" he cried.

"I cam frae the auld boat," she answered.

"What do ye want wi' me?"

"Naething, sir; I only cam to see hoo ye was gettin' on. I wadna hae disturbit ye, sir, but I saw the twa een o' a wullcat, or sic like, glowerin' awa yonner i' the mirk, an' they fleyt me 'at I grippit ye."

"Weel, weel; sit ye doon, bairnie," said the mad laird in a soothing voice; "the wullcat sanna touch ye. Ye're no fleyt at me, are ye?"

"Na!" answered the child. "What for sud I be fleyt at you, sir? I'm Phemy Mair."

"Eh, bairnie! it's you, is't?" he returned in tones of satisfaction, for he had not hitherto recognised her. "Sit ye doon, sit ye doon, an' we'll see about it a'."

Phemy obeyed, and seated herself on the nearest projection.

The laird placed himself beside her, and once more buried his face, but not his ears, in his hands. Nothing entered them, however, but the sound of the rising tide, for Phemy sat by him in the faintly glimmering dusk, as without fear felt, so without word spoken.

The evening crept on, and the night came down, but all the effect of the growing darkness was that the child drew gradually nearer to her uncouth companion, until at length her hand stole into his, her head sank upon his shoulder, his arm went round her to hold her safe, and thus she fell fast asleep. After a while, the laird gently roused her and took her home, on their way warning her, in strange yet to her comprehensible utterance, to say nothing of where she had found him, for if she exposed his place of refuge, wicked people would take him, and he should never see her again.

CHAPTER V: LADY FLORIMEL

All the coast to the east of the little harbour was rock, bold and high, of a grey and brown hard stone, which after a mighty sweep, shot out northward, and closed in the bay on that side with a second great promontory. The long curved strip of sand on the west, reaching to the promontory of Scaurnose, was the only open portion of the coast for miles. Here the coasting vessel gliding past gained a pleasant peep of open fields, belts of wood and farm houses, with now and then a glimpse of a great house amidst its trees. In the distance one or two bare solitary hills, imposing in aspect only from their desolation, for their form gave no effect to their altitude, rose to the height of over a thousand feet.

On this comparatively level part of the shore, parallel with its line, and at some distance beyond the usual high water mark, the waves of ten thousand northern storms had cast up a long dune or bank of sand, terminating towards the west within a few yards of a huge solitary rock of the ugly kind called conglomerate, which must have been separated from the roots of the promontory by the rush of waters at unusually high tides, for in winter they still sometimes rounded the rock, and running down behind the dune, turned it into a long island. The sand on the inland side of the dune, covered with short sweet grass, browsed on by sheep, and with the largest and reddest of daisies, was thus occasionally swept by wild salt waves, and at times, when the northern wind blew straight as an arrow and keen as a sword from the regions of endless snow, lay under a sheet of gleaming ice.

The sun had been up for some time in a cloudless sky. The wind had changed to the south, and wafted soft country odours to the shore, in place of sweeping to inland farms the scents of seaweed and broken salt waters, mingled with a suspicion of icebergs. From what was called the Seaton, or seatown, of Portlossie, a crowd of cottages occupied entirely by fisherfolk, a solitary figure was walking westward along this grass at the back of the dune, singing. On his left hand the ground rose to the high road; on his right was the dune, interlaced and bound together by the long clasping roots of the coarse bent, without which its sands would have been but the sport of every wind that blew. It shut out from him all sight of the sea, but the moan and rush of the rising tide sounded close behind it. At his back rose the town of Portlossie, high above the harbour and the Seaton, with its houses of grey and brown stone, roofed with blue slates and red tiles. It was no highland town --scarce one within it could speak the highland tongue, yet down from its high streets on the fitful air of the morning now floated intermittently the sound of bagpipes--borne winding from street to street, and loud blown to wake the sleeping inhabitants and let them know that it was now six of the clock.

He was a youth of about twenty, with a long, swinging, heavy footed stride, which took in the ground rapidly--a movement unlike that of the other men of the place, who always walked slowly, and never but on dire compulsion ran. He was rather tall, and large limbed. His dress was like that of a fisherman, consisting of blue serge trowsers, a shirt striped blue and white, and a Guernsey frock, which he carried flung across his shoulder. On his head he wore a round blue bonnet, with a tuft of scarlet in the centre.

His face was more than handsome--with large features, not finely cut, and a look of mingled nobility and ingenuousness--the latter amounting to simplicity, or even innocence; while the clear outlook from his full and well opened hazel eyes indicated both courage and promptitude. His dark brown hair came in large curling masses from under his bonnet. It was such a form and face as would have drawn every eye in a crowded thoroughfare.

About the middle of the long sandhill, a sort of wide embrasure was cut in its top, in which stood an old fashioned brass swivel gun: when the lad reached the place, he sprang up the sloping side of the dune, seated himself on the gun, drew from his trowsers a large silver watch, regarded it steadily for a few minutes, replaced it, and took from his pocket a flint and steel, wherewith he kindled a bit of touch paper, which, rising, he applied to the vent of the swivel. Followed a great roar.

It echoes had nearly died away, when a startled little cry reached his keen ear, and looking along the shore to discover whence it came, he spied a woman on a low rock that ran a little way out into the water. She had half risen from a sitting posture, and apparently her cry was the result of the discovery that the rising tide had overreached and surrounded her. There was no danger whatever, but the girl might well shrink from plunging into the clear beryl depth in which swayed the seaweed clothing the slippery slopes of the rock. He rushed from the sandhill, crying, as he approached her, "Dinna be in a hurry, mem; bide till I come to ye," and running straight into the water struggled through the deepening tide, the distance being short and the depth almost too shallow for swimming. In a moment he was by her side, scarcely saw the bare feet she had been bathing in the water, heeded as little the motion of the hand which waved him back, caught her in his arms like a baby, and had her safe on the shore ere she could utter a word; nor did he stop until he had carried her to the slope of the sandhill, where he set her gently down, and without a suspicion of the liberty he was taking, and filled only with a passion of service, was proceeding to dry her feet with the frock which he had dropped there as he ran to her assistance.

"Let me alone, pray," cried the girl with a half amused indignation, drawing back her feet and throwing down a book she carried that she might the better hide them with her skirt. But although she shrank from his devotion, she could neither mistake it nor help being pleased with his kindness. Probably she had never before been immediately indebted to such an ill clad individual of the human race, but even in such a costume she could not fail to see he was a fine fellow. Nor was the impression disturbed when he opened his mouth and spoke in the broad dialect of the country, for she had no associations to cause her to misinterpret its homeliness as vulgarity.

"Whaur's yer stockin's, mem?" he said.

"You gave me no time to bring them away, you caught me up so-- rudely," answered the girl half querulously, but in such lovely speech as had never before greeted his Scotish ears.

Before the words were well beyond her lips he was already on his way back to the rock, running, as he walked, with great, heavy footed strides. The abandoned shoes and stockings were in imminent danger of being floated off by the rising water, but he dashed in, swam a few strokes, caught them up, waded back to the shore, and, leaving a wet track all the way behind him but carrying the rescued clothing at arm's length before him, rejoined their owner. Spreading his frock out before her, he laid the shoes and stockings upon it, and, observing that she continued to keep her feet hidden under the skirts of her dress, turned his back and stood.

"Why don't you go away?" said the girl, venturing one set of toes from under their tent, but hesitating to proceed further in the business.

Without word or turn of head he walked away.


Malcolm - 4/113

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