I have aften observed how wisely things are ordered for our welfare, contrary till our ain inclinations at the outset. I had no thocht o' what the day would see the foundation o' when my faither forbade my gaein' amang the stooks when the hair'st was being gathered in. Every autumn afore I had aye had a pairt in the bindin', an' I was for awa out as usual when Mistress Maggie interposed in a masterfu' way that was richt-down vexatious. “Dae ye no think Janet's owre auld to be allowed amang the rigs?“—she asked at my faither. “She's no a wean noo ye ken.”
“Aye”, he said; “I believe ye're in the richt o't, Maggie. The lassie has certainly grown in a wonnerfu' degree o'late; an' as ye say, its no fittin' for the laird's dochter to mix an' mell wi' the harvest folk.”
I protested against this decision as stoutly as I kent how, but his will was like the laws o' the Medes and Persians. “Janet,” he said, “rax doun the Book, an' apply Ephesians, Sixth and First. Ye'll just stop at hame, and help your sister an' the maids at the house-work. It's far mair seemly for ye than to be warslin' in the corn-rigs.”
Then, seein' I was like to greet, he strokit my hair kindly, and said in a mair gentle tone o' voice— page 7 “I ken weel my bonnie Janet will be a guid bairn, an' no vex her faither,'
For a' that, when he was gane I sat me doun an' grat as if my heart wad break. I wanted out so saidy. The morn was fair as fair, wi' the sun shinin' brichtly, in the clear blue lift owre head; an' a saft breeze, sweet wi' the perfume o' heather, an' whins, an' clover-soukies, cam' waftlin doun frae the brae side, an' the lintie and the laverock made it sweeter wi' their blithsome carols. But the troubles o' the young are sune through, an' it wasna lang afore I was flittin frae but to ben wi' a licht step, lilting like the happy birdies themsel's, sae that Meg was fair vexed at me, an' bade me no to be aye dingin' senseless sangs in her lug.
I just laughed at her. “I didna ken it was forbidden to sing,” quo' I. “It's a dour house ye'll be mak'in for Robin when ye're the leddy o' Gowanbraes, if a bit sang'll deave ye.”
I should hae tell't ye that my faither selected the history o' Jepthah an' his dochter for the mornin' portion; an' on the ending o't he enlarged in a maist powerfu' manner on the virtues o' filial obedience, an' the blessings that waited on dutiful children. I kent fine this discourse was for my special benefit, even if Maggie had no dunted me with her elbow at the maist impressive passages. Sae I speered in a pauky way what was the special blessing vouchsafed cill the Hebrew maiden? My faither respondit that her name an' fame had been handed down to posterity and keepit in reverence by a' the generations o' man. page 8 “Aye”, quo' I; “that's a fine thing; but I'm thinkin' I'll prefer to hae my name handed doun by my ain posterity.”
Mistress Maggie made a pretence o' being awfu' shocked by this speech o' mine; but the laird seemed mair amused by it. Weel, weel, Janet,” he answered back; “ye're no that far wrang. It's just pure nature. When Maggie's awa, I, ll hae to find a mon for yersel'. Eh! but it will be unco grievous to pairt wi' baith. A toom house, an' a mirk ingle-neuk will't be when I sit doun my lane. But richt is richt, an' I'll no allow my ain pleasure to stand in the way o' my bairn's manifest destiny.”
“Dinna fash yersel' aboot it, faither,” quo' I. “I'm no in ony haste to gang awa frae Craigielinn.”
But I am rinnin' on an' on, an' I hae no yet specified the remarkable circumstance that cam' to pass on that day. Whiles I fancy I am like a bairn that hauds a tight grip o' his bawbee as long as he can fend off the desire for sweeties. There cam' twa visitors to Craigielinn afore the sun drapped ahint the Carricks that e'en.
Our lands being near the upper end o' Strathlinn, it was no aften that strangers came that way, only a wheen sketcher folk wanting to see the Twasome Linn, as I tell't ye, an' some that had business wi' the laird. Sae when I took the stoups an' the gir'* to fetch water frae the burn. I had nae expectation o' meetin’ ony body out o' the common. My gown was kiited aboon my waist an' I had pit aff my shoon an' stockings for mair comfort. It was late in the day; page 9 the sun was fast westerin', an' the wind had died clean awa'. As I dandered down the way till the burn, the swish o' the reaper's seythes an' the cheerfu' voices o' the lads an' lasses laughin' amang the stooks were the only sounds that reached me, forbye the ripplin' o’ the burn itsel'. The water looked sae cool an' temptin’ that I didna fash mysel' to hasten back, but just stood quietly paidli' in't. Not bein' conscious o' the presence o' onybody, I kilted up my coaties an' steppit out intil the middle o' the stream, eroonin a bit sang a' the while—
“Ca’ the ewes to the knowes,
Ca’ thein whare the heather grows,
Ca’ them whare the burnie rows,
My bonnie dearie!”
Ye'll mind I was little mair than a wean, though sister Maggie wad hae't I was a woman. ‘Deed I had arrived at the happy border-land atween the twa—the brawest and bonniest pairt o' existence. I was still lilting, and was stooping down to till the stoups when someone near by spake—“Gude e'en till ye, lassie.”
I lookit up and saw twa men stannin at the burn-side glowerin' at me. I was sae scairt that I didna wait to speer at them what they sought, but drappin' the stoups in the burn I sped up till the house as fast as my feet could take me. The strangers would be greatly amused nae doubt, to see me fleein' awa’ in siccan a fearsome manner, wi hare legs, an my hair loose aboot my shouthers. My snood cam aff in my flight, an' when next I got it I had nae mair use for't. I burst through the yett and drave in at the door, pechin an out o' breath like ane possessed. Maggie page 10 was in the spence seein' till the ordering o' the supper, an' afore I could let out a word she turned on me wi' anger—” What's wrang wi' ye noo, ye daft hizzie?” she cried.
“Oh! Maggie, Maggie,” I sobbed out, “There's twa ill-faur'd stranger folk down at the burn, an' “—keekin out o' the window—” they are comin' up till the place.”
Maggie looked too, an' sure eneuch the twa men were walkin' up frae the burn an' one o' them had my stoups carryin'. For a moment she seemed amaist as much pit aboot as mysel, but eh! she quickly recovered her dignity. “Tibbie,” she said to ane o' the maids, “There's twa men comin' to see the laird. Ca' them in an' bid them sit down awhile.”
Wi’ that she carried me awa' to make me mair presentable as she said, and pairtly it was sae, for I stood in sair need o' a redding-up. But she didna forget to pit on her ain best gown, and to gie hersel'a general smartenin'. When I asked at her for a ribbon to busk my hair wi', she gave me a maist potential look. “Eh, Janet!” she cried, “a mair ominous and unchancy thing couldna possibly hae happened till ye than to hae tint your snood at sicht o' a man!” An' sic a lecture as she favoured me wi' aboot my behaviour, and the necessity o' beginning to prepare mysel' for takin' her place in the family, could surely only hae come frae the inspiration o' impending matrimony.
I am fain to confess that when I spake o' the visitors as being ill-faur'd, I was guilty o' a libel. They were no that. The elder o' the twa was a fine looking man, apparently aboot forty years auld, or may be a wee page 11 mair, wi' keen grey een that seemed to observe everything. He wore a handsome beard, covering a' the lower pairt o' his face, an' flowin’ down to his breast, which, wi' his weel-browned complexion, gave him quite a patriarchal appearance. It was easy to ken that he wasna frae our pairt o' the country, both by his manner which was mair free an' open than was customary wi' our folk, an' also by his toun-made elaes, though I couldna but observe that these were raither auld and worn. But what maist invited my attention was a peculiar burr in his speech. I was sure I hadna seen him before, and still there was a strange familiar sound in his voice that I could in no way account for. He gave his name as Mr. Renwick, an' said he had come a long way, but didna mention what for.
“Maybe ye'll be wantin' the laird,” quo' Maggie in her maist consequential style o' speech. “He's awa' wi’ the hair'st-folk just noo, but he's aye hame aboot the gloaming.”
“Just sae,” he answered, “I came to see Craigielinn. I suppose ye'll be his daughter. My young friend here tells me there's no a son.”
The “young friend” was Colin Davidson, a callant with whom we were slightly acquent, he being the son o' a sma farmer frae the Shaws at the far end o' the Strath. I hae since learnt to appreciate his mony excellent qualities; but at that time I kent little aboot him only that he had the natue o' bein’ one o' the best hands at the plough in the hail country-side. A the same he was a braw laddie; I couldna but see that, as he sat there sae douce-like and quiet. An' I page 12 confess my een rested wi' pleasure on his comely face, set in a frame o' curly brown locks, and on his buirdly weel-proportioned form. But no thocht had I o' ony personal feelin'. I was fain o' a’ things bonnie, frae the kye in the byre to the paitrick on the brae, and the laverock in the lift; an' what for should I no entertain the same regard for ony ither thing, even though it happened to take the shape o' a strappin' chiel?
Colin an' I left the conversation maist entirely till our elders, as was becoming o' young folk. But indeed, I never had much to say in the presence o' strangers. My eyes and ears were aye owre busy to gie fair play to my tongue. Maggie plied Mr. Renwick wi' mony inquiries, but he wasna very communicative.—” Aiblins ye'll be frae Ayr,” quo she, having the same thocht as mysel' aboot his bein' a far-awa visitor. “Aye, aye; an' a long way ayont. I'll wait,” said he, “for my—I mean I'll bide a wee till Craiglelinn comes hame.”
He said this in a way that plainly expressed his desire no' to be questioned further. Meg bridled up, and putting on her maist matronly air, she said—“Ye'll excuse, me', Sirs, for leavin'ye. I hae the house-wark to min'; but sit ye down till I send ye in re-freshments. Janet'll keep ye company while I'm awa.”
Sae aff she marched, leavin' puir me to do the honours. Tibbie cam wi' what Maggie grandly ca'd “refreshments,” meaning cakes and scones and cheese and butter and honey, an' sie like—no forgettin' the whisky. An' there sat I, no able to find a word, or to say it if I'd gotten't. I was just cogitatin' how to slip page 13 awa, when young Davidson, thinkin' may be to hearten me, says—“I hope we didna gie ye a fright, Miss Janet.”
He couldna hae hit on a mair confusin' theme. A' at ance as he spake a picture came intil my thochts o' the silly appearance I maun hae presented—rinnin’ awa, kilted and bare-legged. I tried hard to answer, but something came intil my throat, an' chocked my power o' speech. I felt I was takin' an awfu' red face, an' the tears were forein' their way intil my een, in spite o' a’ I could do to restrain them. I think Mr. Renwick understood my trouble, for he turned till Davidson, an' bade him seek my faither. “Tell the laird,” he said, “I'm waiting on him.” An' as he walked to the door wi' Colin, I heard him sayin' very saftly—“Could ye no think o' onything pleasanter than yon to say till the lassie?”
Then he came back an' sat down, and takin' a dram in his hand, he began crackin' wi’ me in such a gentle, kindly fashion that my tears ran back till their fountains, an' I found my voice, an' entered freely intil conversation. I was quite at hame wi' him at ance, and afore onybody came to interrupt us, he had gotten out o' me a' aboot my faither, an' the mailin, an' the neighbours, an' the linn, an' the birken-shaw, an' I dinna ken what a'. When my faither an' Colin came in I was in the full swing o' pleasant converse. I canna richtly say if it was the presence o' the laird or that o' young Davidson that daunted me; but frae the time they entered my tongue stoppit waggin', and I wadna say anither word mair than just “Aye,” or “No.” Now I come to think o't. I incline to the page 14 opinion that Colin was the cause o' my silence. Ilka time I caught the glance o' his blue een, that weary picture o' me fleein' frae the burn would come up afore me. When I had been alane wi' Mr. Renwick I never once took thocht o' it. Ye ken he was by comparison an auld man, which makes a' the differ till a young lassie.
* “The stoops and the gir'”—The buckets and hoop (girdle).