"Ye'll come in and say a word to mother, Steenie?" said Kirsty, as they came near the door of the house.

It was a long, low building, with a narrow paving in front from end to end, of stones cast up by the plough. Its walls, but one story high, rough-cast and whitewashed, shone dim in the twilight. Under a thick projecting thatch the door stood wide open, and from the kitchen, whose door was also open, came the light of a peat-fire and a fish-oil-lamp. Throughout the summer Steenie was seldom in the house an hour out of the twenty-four, and now he hesitated to enter. In the winter he would keep about it a good part of the day, and was generally indoors the greater part of the night, but by no means always.

While he hesitated, his mother appeared in the doorway of the kitchen. She was a tall, fine-looking woman, with soft gray eyes, and an expression of form and features which left Kirsty accounted for.

"Come awa in by, Steenie, my man! " she said, in a tone that seemed to wrap its object in fold upon fold of tenderness, enough to make the peat-smoke that pervaded the kitchen seem the very atmosphere of the heavenly countries. "Come and hae a drappy o' new-milkit milk, and a piece (piece of bread)."


Steenie stood smiling and undecided on the slab in front of the door-step.

"Dreid naething, Steenie," his mother went on. "There's no ane to interfere wi' yer wull, whatever it be. The hoose is yer ain to come and gang as ye see fit. Ye ken that, and Kirsty kens that, as weel's yer father and mysel."

"Mother, I ken what ye say to be the trowth, and I hae a gran' pooer o' believin the trowth. A'body believes their ain mither : that's i' the order o' things as they were first startit! Still I wud raither no come in the nicht. I wud raither haud awa and no tribble ye wi' mair o' the sicht o' me nor I canna help — that is, till the cheenge come, and things be set richt. I dinna aye ken what I'm aboot, but I aye ken 'at I'm a kin' o' a disgrace to ye, though I canna tell hoo I'm to blame for't. Sae I'll jist bide theroot wi' the bonny stars 'at's aye theroot, and kens a' aboot it, and disna think nane the waur o' me."

"Laddie! laddie! wha on the face o' God's yerth thinks the waur o' ye for a wrang dune ye? — though wha has the wyte o' that same I daurna think, weel kennin 'at a' thing's aither ordeent or allooed, makin muckle the same. Come winter, come summer, come richt, come wrang, come life, come deith, what are ye, what can ye be, but my ain, ain laddie!"

Steenie stepped across the threshold and followed his mother into the kitchen, where the pot was already on the fire for the evening's porridge. To hide her emotion she went straight to it, and lifted the lid to look whether boiling point had arrived. The same instant the stalwart form of her husband


appeared in the doorway, and there stood for a single moment, arrested.

He was a good deal older than his wife, as his long gray hair, among other witnesses, testified. He was six feet in height, and very erect, with a rather stiff, military carriage. His face wore an expression of stern good- will, as if he had been sent to do his best for everybody, and knew it.

Steenie caught sight of him ere he had taken a step into the kitchen. He rushed to him, threw his arms round him, and hid his face on his bosom.

"Bonny, bonny man!" he murmured, then turned away and went back to the fire.

His mother was casting the first handful of meal into the pot. Steenie fetched a three-leggit creepie and sat down by her, looking as if he had sat there every night since first he was able to sit.

The farmer came forward, and drew a chair to the fire beside his son. Steenie laid his head on his father's knee, and the father laid his big hand on Steenie's head. Not a word was uttered. The mother might have found them in her way had she been inclined, but the thought did not come to her, and she went on making the porridge in great contentment, while Kirsty laid the cloth. The night was as still in the house as in the world, save for the bursting of the big blobs of the porridge. The peat fire made no noise.

The mother at length took the heavy pot from the fire, and, with what to one inexpert might have seemed wonderful skill, poured the porridge into a huge wooden bowl on the table. Having then scraped the pot carefully that nothing should be lost,


she poured some water into it, and setting it on the fire again, went to a hole in the wall, took thence two eggs, and placed them gently in it.

She went next to the dairy, and came back with a jug of the richest milk, which she set beside the porridge; whereupon they drew their seats to the table — all but Steenie.

"Come, Steenie," said his mother, "here's yer supper."

"I dinna care aboot ony supper the nicht, mother," answered Steenie.

"Guidsake, laddie, I kenna hoo ye live!" she returned in an accent almost of despair.

"I'm thinkin I dinna need sae muckle as ither fowk," rejoined Steenie, whose white face bore testimony that he took far from nourishment enough. "Ye see I'm no a' there," he added with a smile, " sae I canna need sae muckle!"

"There's eneuch o' ye there to fill my hert unco fou," answered his mother with a deep sigh. "Come awa, Steenie, my bairn!" she went on coaxingly. "Yer father winna ate a moufu' gien ye dinna: ye'll see that! — Eh, Steenie," she broke out, "gien ye wud but tak yer supper and gang to yer bed like the lave o' 's! It gars my hert swall as gien't wud burst like a blob to think o' ye oot i' the mirk nicht! Wha's to tell what michtna be happenin ye! Oor herts are whiles that sair, yer father's and mine, i' oor beds, 'at we daurna say a word for fear the tane set the tither greetin."

"I'll bide in, gien that be yer wull," replied Steenie; "but eh, gien ye kent the differ to me, ye wudna wuss't. I seldom sleep at nicht as ye ken, and i'


the hoose it's jist as gien the darkness wan inside o' me, and was chokin me."

"It's as dark theroot as i' the hoose — whiles, onygait!"

"Na, mother; it's never sae dark theroot but there's licht eneuch to ken I'm theroot and no i' the hoose. I can aye draw a guid full breath oot i' the open."

"Lat the laddie gang his ain gait, 'uman," interposed David. "The thing born in 'im 's better for him nor the thing born in anither. A man maun gang as God made him."

"Ay, whether he be man or dog!" assented Steenie solemnly.

He drew his stool close to his father where he sat at the table, and again laid his head on his knee. The mother sighed but said nothing. She looked nowise hurt, only very sad. In a minute, Steenie spoke again:

"I'm thinkin nane o' ye kens," he said, "what it's like whan a' the hill-side's gien up to the ither anes!"

"What ither anes?" asked his mother. "There can be nane there but yer ain lane sel!"

"Ay, there's a' the lave o' 's," he rejoined, with a wan smile.

The mother looked at him with something almost of fear in her eyes of love.

"Steenie has company we ken little aboot," said Kirsty. "I whiles think I wud gie him my wits for his company."

"Ay, the Bonny Man!" murmured Steenie. "I maun be gauin!"

But he did not rise, did not even lift his head from


his father's knee: it would be rude to go before the supper was over — the ruder that he was not partaking of it!

David had eaten his porridge, and now came the almost nightly difference about the eggs. Marion had been "the perfect spy o' the time" in taking them from the pot, but when she would as usual have her husband eat them, he as usual declared he neither needed nor wanted them. This night, however, he did not insist, but at once proceeded to prepare one, with which, as soon as it was nicely mixed with salt, he began to feed Steenie. The boy had been longer used to being thus fed than most children, and now took the first mouthful instinctively, and then moved his head, but without raising it from his knee, so that his father could feed him more comfortably. In this position he took every spoonful given him, and so ate both the eggs, greatly to the delight of all the rest of the company.

A moment more and Steenie got up. His father rose also.

"I'll convoy ye a bit, my man," he said.

"Eh, na! ye needna that, father! It's nearhan' yer bedtime! I hae naegait to be convoyt. I'll jist be aboot i' the nicht, maybe a stanes-cast frae the door, maybe the tither side o' the Horn. Here or there I'm never frae ye. I think whiles I'm jist like ane o' them 'at ye ca' deid: I'm no awa; I'm only deid!"

So saying, he went. He never on any occasion wished them good-night: that would be to leave them, and he was not leaving them! he was with them all the time!

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