When she had told all, Kirsty rose, and laying aside the stocking, said,

"I maun awa to Weelset, mother. I promised the bairn I would lat Francie ken whaur she was, and gie him the chance o' sayin his say til her."

"Verra weel, lassie! ye ken what ye're aboot, and I s' no interfere wi' ye. But, eh, ye'u be tired afore ye win to yer bed!"

"I'll no tramp it, mother; Til tak the gray mear."

"She's gey and fresh, lassie; ye maun be on yer guaird."

"A' the better! " returned Kirsty.— "To hear ye, mother, a body wud think I cudna ride!"

"Forbid it, bairn! Yer father says, man or wuman, there's no ane i' the countryside like ye upo' beastback."

"They tak to me, the craturs! It was themsels learnt me to ride!" answered Kirsty, as she took a riding whip from the wall, and went out of the kitchen.

The mare looked round when she entered the stable, and whinnied. Kirsty petted and stroked her, gave her two or three handsful of oats, and while she was eating, strapped a cloth on her back: there was no side-saddle about the farm. Kirsty could ride well 133 enough sideways on a man's, but she liked the way her father had taught her far better. Utterly fearless, she had, in his training from childhood until he could do no more for her, grown to be a horsewoman such as few.

The moment the mare had finished her oats she bridled her, led her out, and sprang on her back; where sitting as on a pillion, she rode quietly out of the farm-close. The moment she was beyond the gate, she leaned back, and throwing her right foot over the mare's crest, rode like an Amazon, at ease, and with mastery. The same moment the mare was away, up hill and down dale, almost at racing speed. Had the coming moon been above the horizon, the Amazon farm-girl would have been worth meeting! So perfectly did she yield her lithe, strong body to every motion of the mare, abrupt or undulant, that neither ever felt a jar, and their movements seemed the outcome of a vital force common to the two. Kirsty never thought whether she was riding well or ill, gracefully or otherwise, but the mare knew that all was right between them. Kirsty never touched the bridle except to moderate the mare's pace when she was too much excited to heed what she said to her.

Doubtless, to many eyes, she would have looked better in a riding-habit, but she would have felt like an eagle in a nightgown. She wore a full winsey petticoat, which she managed perfectly, and stockings of the same color. On her head she had nothing but the silk net at that time and in that quarter much worn by young unmarried women. In the rush of the gallop it slipped and its contents escaped: she put the net in her pocket, and cast a knot upon her long 134 hair as if it had been a rope. This she did without even slackening her speed, transferring from her hand to her teeth the whip she carried. It was one colonel Gordon had given her father in remembrance of a little adventure they had together, in which a lash from it in the dark night was mistaken for a sword-cut, and did them no small service.

By the time they reached the castle, the moon was above the horizon. Kirsty brought the mare to a walk, and resuming her pillion-seat, remanded her hair to its cage, and readjusted her skirt; then, setting herself as in a side-saddle, she rode gently up to the castle-door.

A man, servant, happening to see her from the hallwindow, saved her having to ring the bell, and greeted her respectfully, for everybody knew Corbyknowe's Kirsty. She said she wanted to see Mr. Gordon, and suggested that perhaps he would be kind enough to speak to her at the door. The man went to find his master, and in a minute or two brought the message that Mr. Gordon would be with her presently. Kirsty drew her mare back into the shadow which, the moon being yet low, a great rock on the crest of the neighboring hill cast upon the approach, and waited.

It was three minutes before Francis came sauntering bare-headed round the corner of the house, his hands in his pockets, and a cigar in his mouth. He gave a glance round, not seeing his visitor at once, and then, with a nod, came toward her, still smoking. His nonchalance, I believe, was forced and meant to cover uneasiness. For all that had passed to make him forget Kirsty, he yet remembered her 135 uncomfortably, and at the present moment could not help regarding her as an angelic bête noir of whom he was more afraid than of any other human being. He approached her in a sort of sidling stroll as if he had no actual business with her, but thought of just asking whether she would sell her horse. He did not speak, but Kirsty sat motionless until he was near enough for a low-voiced conference.

"What are ye aboot wi' Phemy Craig, Francie?" she began, without a word of greeting.

Kirsty was one of the few who practically deny time; with whom what was, is; what is, will be. She spoke to the tall handsome man in the same tone and with the same forms as when they were boy and girl together.

He had meant their conversation to be at arm's length, so to say, but his intention broke down at once, and he answered her in the same style.

"I ken naething aboot her. What for sud I?" he answered.

"I ken ye dinna ken whaur she is, for I div," returned Kirsty. "Ye answer a question I never speired. What are ye aboot wi' Phemy, I challenge ye again! Puir lassie, she has nae brither to say the word!"

"That's a' verra weel; but ye see, Kirsty,"he began — then stopped, and having stared at her a moment in silence, exclaimed, "Lord, what a splendid woman you've grown!" — He had probably been drinking with his mother.

Kirsty sat speechless, motionless, changeless as a soldier on guard. Gordon had to resume and finish his sentence.


"As I was going to say, you can't take the place of a brother to her, Kirsty, else I should know how to answer you! — It's awkward when a lady takes you to task!" he added with a drawl.

"Dinna trouble yer heid aboot that, Francie: hert ye hae little to trouble aboot ony thing." rejoined Kirsty. Then changing to English as he had done, she went on: "I claim no consideration on that score."

Francis Gordon felt very uncomfortable. It was deuced hard to be bullied by a woman!

He stood silent because he had nothing to say.

"Do you mean to marry my Phemy?" asked Kirsty.

"Really, Miss Barclay," Francis began, but Kirsty interrupted him.

"Mr. Gordon," she said sternly, "be a man, and answer me. If you mean to marry her, say so, and go and tell her father — or my father, if you prefer. She is at the Knowe, miserable, poor child! that she did not meet you to-night. That was my doing; she could not help herself."

Goirdon broke into a strained laugh.

"Well, you've got her, and you can keep her!" he said.

"You have not answered my question!"

"Really, Miss Barclay, you must not be too hard on a man! Is a fellow not to speak to a woman but he must say at once whether or not he intends to marry her?"

"Answer my question."

"It is a ridiculous one!"

"You have been trystin' with her almost every 137 night for something like a month!" rejoined Kirsty, "and the question is not at all ridiculous."

"Let it be granted then, and let the proper person ask me the question and I will answer it. You, pardon me, have nothing to do with the matter in hand."

"That is the answer of a coward," returned Kirsty, her cheek flaming at last." You know the guileless nature of your old schoolmaster, and take advantage of it! You know that the poor girl has not a man to look to, and you will not have a woman befriend her! It is cowardly, ungrateful, mean, treacherous! You are a bad man, Francie! You always were a fool, but now you are a wicked fool! If I were her brother — if I were a man, I would thrash you!"

"It's a good thing you're not able, Kirsty! I should be frightened! " said Gordon, with a laugh and shrug, thinking to throw the thing aside as done with.

"I said, if I was a man!" returned Kirsty. "I did not say, if I was able. I am able."

"I don't see why a woman should leave to any man what she's able to do for herself!" said Kirsty, as if communing with her own thoughts. — "Francie, you are no gentleman; you are a scoundrel and a coward!" she immediately added aloud.

"Very well," returned Francis angrily; "since you choose to be treated as a man, and tell me I am no gentleman, I tell you I wouldn't marry the girl if the two of you went on your knees to me! — A common, silly, country-bred flirt! — ready for anything."

Kirsty's whip descended upon him with a merciless lash. The hiss of it, as it cut the air with all the force of her strong arm, startled her mare, and 138 she sprang aside, so that Kirsty, who, leaning forward, had thrown the strength of her whole body into the blow, could not but lose her seat. But it was only to stand upright on her feet, fronting her — call him enemy, antagonist, victim, what you will. Gordon was grasping his head: the blow had for a moment blinded him. She gave him another stinging cut across the hands.

"That's frae yer father! The whip was his, and his swoord never did fairer wark!" she said."— I hae dune for him what I cud!" she added in a low sorrowful voice, and stepped back, as having fulfilled her mission.

He rushed at her with a sudden torrent of evil words. But he was no match for her in agility, as, I am almost certain, he would have proved none in strength had she allowed him to close with her: she avoided him as she had more than once jinkit a charging bull, every now and then dealing him another sharp blow from his father's whip. The treatment began to bring him to his senses.

"For God's sake, Kirsty," he cried, ceasing his attempts to lay hold of her, "behaud, or we'll hae the haill hoose oot, and what'll come o' me than I daurna think! I doobt I'll never hear the last o' 't as 'tis!"

"Am I to trust ye, Francie?"

"I winna lay a finger upo ye, damn ye!" he said in mingled wrath and humiliation.

Throughout, Kirsty had held her mare by the bridle, and she, although behaving as well as she could, had, in the fright the laird's rushes and the sounds of the whip caused her, added not a little to 139 her mistress' difficulties. Just as she sprang on her back, the door opened, and faces looked peering out; whereupon with a cut or two she encouraged a few wild gambols, so that all the trouble seemed to have been with the mare. Then she rode quietly through the gate.

Gordon stood in a motionless fury until he heard the soft thunder of the mare's hoofs on the turf as Kirsty rode home at a fierce gallop; then he turned and went into the house, not to communicate what had taken place, but to lie about it as like truth as he might find possible.

About half-way home, on the side of a hill, across which a low wind, the long death-moan of autumn, blew with a hopeless, undulant, but not intermittent wail among the heather, Kirsty broke into a passionate fit of weeping, but ere she reached home, all traces of her tears had vanished.

Gordon did not go the next day, nor the day after, but he never saw Phemy again. It was a week before he showed himself, and then he was not a beautiful sight. He attributed the one visible wale on his cheek and temple to a blow from a twig as he ran in the dusk through the shrubbery after a strange dog. Even at the castle they did not know exactly when he left it. His luggage was sent after him.

The domestics at least were perplexed as to the wale on his face until the man to whom Kirsty had spoken at the door hazarded a conjecture or two, which being not far from the truth, and as such accepted, the general admiration and respect which already haloed Corbyknowe's Kirsty, were thenceforward mingled with a little wholesome fear.


When Kirsty told her father and mother what she had done at Castle Weelset, neither said a word. Her mother turned her head away, but the light in her father's eyes, had she had any doubt as to how they would take it, would have put her quite at her ease.

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