The region was like a waste place in the troubled land of dreams—a spot so waste that the dreamer struggles to rouse himself from his dream, finding it too dreary to dream on. I have heard it likened to "the ill place, wi' the fire oot;" but it did not so impress me when first, after long desire, I saw it. There was nothing to suggest the silence of once-roaring flame, no half-molten rocks, no huge, honey-combed scoriae, no depths within depths glooming mystery and ancient horror. It was the more desolate that it moved no active sense of dismay. What I saw was a wide stretch of damp-looking level, mostly of undetermined or of low-toned color, with here and there a black spot, or, on the margin, the brighter green of a patch of some growing crop. Flat and wide, the eye found it difficult to rest upon it and not sweep hurriedly from border to border for lack of self-asserted object on which to alight. It looked low, but indeed lay high; the bases of the hills surrounding it were far above the sea. These hills at this season, a ring of dull-brown high-heaved hummocks, appeared to make of it a huge circular basin, miles in diameter, over the rim of which peered the tops and peaks of mountains more distant. Up the side of the Horn, which was the loftiest in the ring, 14 ran a stone wall, in the language of the country, a dry-stane-dyke, of considerable size, climbing to the very top — an ugly thing which the eye could not avoid. There was nothing but the grouse to have rendered it worth the proprietor's while to erect such a boundary to his neighbor's property, plentiful as were the stones ready for that poorest use of stones — division.

The farms that border the hollow, running each a little way up the side of the basin, are, some of them at least, as well cultivated as any in Scotland, but Winter claims there the paramountcy, and yields to Summer so few of his rights that the place must look forbidding, if not repulsive, to such as do not live in it. To love it, I think one must have been born there. In the summer, it is true, it has the character of bracing, but can be such, I imagine, only to those who are pretty well braced already; the delicate of certain sorts, I think it must soon brace with the bands of death.

The region is in constant danger of famine. If the snow come but a little earlier than usual, the crops lie green under it, and no store of meal can be laid up in the cottages. Then, if the snow lie deep, the difficulty of conveying supplies of the poor fare which their hardihood counts sufficient, will cause the dwellers there no little suffering. Of course they are but few. A white cottage may be seen here and there on the southerly slopes of the basin, but hardly one in its bottom.

It was now summer, and in a month or two the landscape would look more cheerful; the heather that covered the hills would no longer be dry and 15 brown and in places black with fire, but a blaze of red purple, a rich mantle of bloom. Even now, early in July, the sun had a little power. I cannot say it would have been warm had there been the least motion in the air, for seldom indeed could one there from the south grant that the wind had no keen edge to it; but on this morning there was absolute stillness, and although it was not easy for Kirsty to imagine any summer air other than warm, yet the wind's absence had not a little to do with the sense of luxurious life that now filled her heart. She sat on her favorite grassy slope near the foot of the cone-shaped Horn, looking over the level miles before her, and knitting away at a ribbed stocking of dark blue whose toe she had nearly finished, glad in the thought, not of rest from her labor, but of beginning the yet more important fellow-stocking. She had no need to look close at her work to keep the loops right; but she was so careful and precise that, if she lived to be old and blind, she would knit better then than now. It was to her the perfect glory of a summer day; and I imagine her delight in the divine luxury greater than that of many a poet dwelling in softer climes.

The spot where she sat was close by the turf-hut which I have already described. At every shifting of a needle she would send a new glance all over her world, a glance to remind one somehow of the sweep of a broad ray of sunlight across earth and sea, when, on a morning of upper wind, the broken clouds take endless liberties with shadow and shine. What she saw I cannot tell; I know she saw far more than a stranger would have seen, for she knew her home.


His eyes would, I believe, have been drawn chiefly to those intense spots of live white, opaque yet brilliant, the heads of the cotton-grass here and there in thin patches on the dark ground. For nearly the whole of the level was a peat-moss. Miles and miles of peat, differing in quality and varying in depth, lay between those hills, the only fuel almost of the region. In some spots it was very wet, water lying beneath and all through its substance; in others, dark spots, the sides of holes whence it had been dug, showed where it was drier. His eyes would rest for a moment also on those black spaces on the hills where the old heather had been burned that its roots might shoot afresh, and feed the grouse with soft young sprouts, their chief support: they looked now like neglected spots where men cast stones and shards, but by and by would be covered with a tenderer green than the rest of the hill-side. He would not see the moorland birds that Kirsty saw; he would only hear their cries, with now and then perhaps the bark of a sheep-dog.

My reader will probably conclude the prospect altogether uninteresting, even ugly; but certainly Christina Barclay did not think it such. The girl was more than well satisfied with the world-shell in which she found herself; she was at the moment basking, both bodily and spiritually, in a full sense of the world's bliss. Her soul was bathed in its own content, calling none of its feelings to account. The sun, the air, the wide expanse; the hill-tops' nearness to the heavens which yet they could not invade; the little breaths which every now and then awoke to assert their existence by immediately ceasing; 17 less also the knowledge that her stocking was nearly done, that her father and mother were but a mile or so away, that she knew where Steenie was, and that a cry would bring him to her feet; — all these things bore each a part in making Kirsty quiet with satisfaction. That there was, all the time, a depeer cause of her peace Kirsty knew well — the same that is the root of life itself; and if it was not at this moment or at that filled with conscious gratitude, her heart was yet like a bird ever on the point of springing up to soar, and often soaring high indeed. Whether it came of something special in her constitution that happiness always made her quiet, as nothing but sorrow will some, I do not presume to say. I only know that, had her bliss changed suddenly to sadness, Kirsty would have been quiet still. Whatever came to Kirsty seemed right, for there it was!

She was now a girl of sixteen. The only sign she showed of interest in her person, appeared in her hair and the covering of her neck. Of one of the many middle shades of brown, with a rippling tendency to curl in it, her hair was parted with nicety, and drawn back from her face into a net of its own color, while her neckerchief was of blue silk. It covered a very white skin, leaving bare a brown throat. She wore a blue print wrapper, nowise differing from that of a peasant woman, and a blue winsey petticoat, beyond which appeared her bare feet, lovely in shape, and brown of hue. Her dress was nowise trim, and suggested neither tidiness nor disorder. The hem of the petticoat was in truth a little rent, but not more than might seem admissible where the rough wear was considered to which the garment was necessarily 18 exposed: when a little worse it would receive the proper attention, and be brought back to respectability! Kirsty grudged the time spent on her garments. She looked down on them as the moon might on the clouds around her. She made or mended them to wear them, not think about them.

Her forehead was wide and rather low, with straight eyebrows. Her eyes were of a gentle hazel, not the hazel that looks black at night. Her nose was strong, a little irregular, with plenty of substance, and sensitive nostrils. A decided and well-shaped chin dominated a neck by no means slender, and seemed to assert the superiority of the face over the whole beautiful body. Its chief expression was of a strong repose, a sweet, powerful peace, requiring but occasion to pass into determination. The sensitiveness of the nostrils, with the firmness in the meeting of the closed lips, suggested a faculty of indignation unsparing toward injustice; while the clearness of the heaven of the forehead gave confidence that such indignation would never show itself save for another.

I wish, presumptuous wish! that I could see the mind of a woman grow as she sits spinning or weaving: it would reveal the process next highest to creation. The only hope of ever understanding such things lies in growing one's self. There is the still growth of the moonlit night of reverie; cloudy, with wind, and a little rain, comes the morning of thought, when the mind grows faster and the heart more slowly; then wakes the storm in the forest of human relation, tempest and lightning abroad, the soul enlarging by great bursts of vision and leaps of understanding and resolve; then floats up the mystic 19 twilight eagerness, not unmingled with the dismay of compelled progress, when, bidding farewell to that which is behind, the soul is driven toward that which is before, grasping at it with all the hunger of the new birth. The story of God's universe lies in the growth of the individual soul. Kirsty's growth had been as yet quiet and steady.

Once more as she shifted her needle, her glance went flitting over the waste before her. This time there was more life in sight. Far away Kirsty descried something of the nature of man upon horse: to say how far, would have been as difficult for one unused to the flat moor as for a landsman to reckon distances at sea. Of the people of the place hardly another, even under the direction of Kirsty, could have contrived to see it. At length, after she had looked many times, she could clearly distinguish a youth on a strong, handsome hill-pony, and remained no longer in the slightest doubt as to who he was.

He came steadily over the dark surface of the moor, and it was clear that his pony must know the nature of the ground well; for now he galloped along as fast as he could go, now made a succession of short jumps, and now half-halted, and began slowly picking his way.

Kirsty watched his approach with gentle interest, while his every movement indicated eagerness. Gordon had seen her on the hillside, probably long before she saw him, had been coming to her in as straight a line as the ground would permit, and at length was out of the boggy level, and ascending the slope of the hill-foot to where she sat. When he was within about twenty yards of her she gave him a 20 little nod, and then fixed her eyes on her knitting. He held on till within a few feet of her, then pulled up and threw himself from his pony's back. The creature, covered with foam, stood a minute panting, then fell to work on the short grass.

Francis had grown considerably, and looked almost a young man. He was a little older than Kirsty, but did not appear so, his expression being considerably younger than hers. Whether self-indulgence or aspiration was to come out of his evident joy in life, seemed yet undetermined. His countenance indicated nothing bad. He might well have represented one at the point before having to choose whether to go up or down hill. He was dressed a little showily in a short coat of dark tartan and a highland bonnet with a brooch and feather, and carried a lady's riding-whip — his mother's, no doubt — its top set with stones — so that his appearance was altogether a contrast to that of the girl. She was a peasant, he a gentleman! Her bare head and yet more her bare feet emphasized the contrast. But which was by nature and in fact the superior, no one with the least insight could have doubted.

He stood and looked at her, but neither spoke. She cast at length a glance upward, and said,


Francis did not open his mouth. He seemed irresolute. Nothing in Kirsty's look or carriage or in the tone of her one word gave sign of consciousness that she was treating him, or he her, strangely. With complete self-possession she left the initiative to the one who had sought the interview: let him say why he had come!


In his face began to appear indication of growing displeasure. Two or three times he turned half away with a movement instantly checked which seemed to say that in a moment more, if there came no change, he would mount and ride: was this all his welcome?

At last she appeared to think she must take mercy on him: he used to say thirty words to her one!

"That's a bonny powny ye hae," she remarked, with a look at the creature as he fed.

"It's a' that," he answered dryly.

"Whaur did ye get it?" she asked.

"My mither coft (bought) it agen my hame-comin," he replied.

He prided himself on being able to speak the broadest of the dialect.

"She maun hae a straught e'e for a guid beast!" returned Kirsty, with a second glance at the pony.

"He's a bonny cratur and a willin," answered the youth. "He'll gang skelp throuw onything — watter onygait; — I'm no sae sure aboot fire."

A long silence followed, broken this time by the youth,

"Winna ye gie me luik nor word, and me ridden like mad to hae a sicht o' ye?" he said.

She glanced up at him.

"Weel ye hae that!" she answered, with a smile that showed her lovely white teeth: "ye're a' dubs (all bemired)! What for sud ye be in sic a hurry? Ye saw me no three days gane!"

"Ay, I saw ye, it's true; but I didna get a word o'ye!"

"Ye was free to say what ye likit! There was nane by but my mither!"


"Wud ye hae me say a'thing afore yer mither jist as I wud til ye yer lane (alone)?" he asked.

"Ay wud I," she returned. "Syne she would ken, 'ithoot my haein to tell her sic a geese as ye was!"

Had he not seen the sunny smile that accompanied her words he might well have taken offence.

"I wuss ye war anither sic-like!" he answered simply.

"Syne there wud be twa o' 's!" she returned, leaving him to interpret.

Silence again fell.

"Weel, what wud ye hae, Francie?" said Kirsty at length.

"I wud hae ye promise to merry me, Kirsty, come the time," he answered; "and that ye ken as weel as I dee mysel!"

"That's straucht oot ony gait!" rejoined Kirsty. "But ye see, Francie," she went on, "yer father, whan he left ye a kin' o' a legacy, as ye may ca' 't, to mine, hed no intention that I was to be left oot; neither had my father whan he acceppit o' 't!"

"I dinna unerstan ye ae styme (one atom)!" interrupted Gordon.

"Haud yer tongue and hearken," returned Kirsty. "What I'm meanin's this: what lies to my father's han' lies to mine as weel; and I'll never hae't kenned or said that, whan my father pu't (pulled) ae gait, I pu't anither!"

"Sakes, lassie! what are ye haverin at? Wud it be pu'in agen yer father to merry me?"

"It would be that."

"I dinna see hoo ye can mak it oot! I dinna see 23 hoo, bein' sic a frien' o' my father's, he sud objeck to my father's son!"

"Eh, but laddies ir gowks!" cried Kirsty. "My father was your father's frien' for his sake, no for his ain! He thinks o' what wud be guid for you, no for himsel!"

"Weel, but," persisted Gordon, "it wud be mair for my guid nor onything ither he could wuss for, to hae you for my wife!"

Kirsty's nostrils began to quiver, and her lip rose in a curve of scorn.

"A bonnie wife ye wud hae, Francie Gordon, wha, kennin her father doin ilka mortal thing for the love o' his auld maister an comrade, tuik the fine chance to mak her ain o' 't, and haud her grip o' the callan til hersel! — Think ye aither o' the auld men ever mintit at sic a thing as fatherin baith? That my father had a lass-bairn o' 's ain shawed mair nor onything the trust your father pat in 'im! Francie, the verra grave wud cast me oot for shame 'at I sud ance hae thoucht o' sic a thing! Man, it wud maist drive yer leddy-mither dementit!"

"It's my business, Kirsty, wha I merry!"

"And I houp yer grace 'll alloo it's pairt my business wha ye sail not marry — and that's me, Francie!"

Gordon sprang to his feet with such a look of wrath and despair as for a moment frightened Kirsty who was not easily frightened. She thought of the terrible bog-holes on the way her lover had come, sprang also to her feet, and caught him by the arm where, his foot already in the stirrup, he stood in the act of mounting.

"Francie! Francie!" she cried, "hearken to riz- 24 rizon! There's no a body, man or wuman, I like better nor yersel to do ye ony guid or turn o' guid — cep' my father, of coorse, and my mither, and my ain Steenie!"

"And hoo mony mair, gien I had the wull to hear the lang bible chapter o' them, and see mysel' comin in at the tail o' them a', like the hin'most sheep, takin his bite as he cam? Na, na! it's time I was hame, and had my slip on, and was astride o' a stick! Gien ye had a score o' idiot brithers ye wud care mair for ilk ane o' them nor for me! I canna bide to think o' 't."

"It's true a' the same, whether ye can bide to think o' 't or no, Francie!" returned the girl, her face, which had been very pale, now rosy with indignation. "My Steenie's mair to me nor a' the Gordons thegither, Bow-o'-meal or Jock-and-Tam as ye like!"

She drew back, sat down again to the stocking she was knitting for Steenie, and left her lover to mount and ride, which he did without another word.

"There's mair nor ae kin' o' idiot," she said to herself, "and Steenie's no the kin' that oucht to be ca'd ane. There's mair in Steenie nor in sax Francie Gordons!"

If ever Kirsty came to love a man, it would be just nothing to her to die for him; but then it never would have been anything to her to die for her father or her mother or Steenie!

Gordon galloped off at a wild pace, as if he would drive his pony straight athwart the terrible moss, taking hag and well-eye as it came. Glancing behind and seeing that Kirsty was not looking after him, he turned the creature's head in a safer direction, and left the moss at his back.

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