Without a word, but with disappointment in her heart that Steenie had not answered them, Kirsty obeyed. But she went round through the rick-yard that she might have a moment's thought with herself. Not a hand was laid upon her out of the darkness, no faintest sound came to her ears through the silently falling snow. But as she took her way between two ricks, where was just room for her to pass, she felt — felt, however, without the slightest sense of material opposition that she could not go through. Endeavoring afterward to describe what rather she was aware of than felt, she said the nearest she could come to it, but it was not right, was to say that she seemed to encounter the ghost of solidity. Certainly nothing seemed to touch her. She made no attempt to overcome the resistance, and the moment she turned, knew herself free to move in any other direction. But as the house was still her goal, she tried another space between two of the ricks. There again she found she could not pass. Making a third essay in yet another interval, she was once more stopped in like fashion. With that came the conviction that she was wanted elsewhere, and with it the thought of the Horn. She turned her face from the house and made straight for the hill, only that she took, 220 as she had generally done with Steenie, the easier and rather longer way.

The notion of the presence of Steenie, which had been with her all the time, naturally suggested his house as the spot where she was wanted, and thither she sped. The moment she reached, almost before she entered it, she felt as if it were utterly empty — as if it had not in it even air enough to give her breath.

When a place seems to repel us, when we feel as if we could not live there, what if the cause be that there are no souls in it making it comfortable to the spiritual sense? That the knowledge of such presence would make most people uneasy is no argument against the fancy: truth itself, its intrinsic, essential, necessary trueness unrecognized, must be repellent.

Kirsty did not remain a moment in Steenie's house, but set her face to go home by the shorter and rougher path leading over the earth-house and across the little burn.

The night continued dark, with an occasional thinning of the obscurity when some high current blew the clouds aside from a little nest of stars. Just as Kirsty reached the descent to the burn, the snow ceased, the clouds parted, and a faint worn moon appeared. She looked just like a little old lady too thin and too tired to go on living more than a night longer. Her waning life was yet potent over Kirsty, and her strange, wasted beauty, dying to rise again, made her glad as she went down the hill through the snowcrowned heather. The oppression which came on her in Steenie's house was gone entirely, and in the 221 face of the pale ancient moon her heart grew so light that she broke into a silly song which, while they were yet children, she made for Steenie, who was never tired of listening to it: —

Willy, wally, woo!

Hame comes the coo—

Hummle, buxnmle, moo! —

Widin ower the Bogie,

Hame to fill the cogie!

Bonny hummle coo,

Wi' her baggy fu

O' butter and o' milk.

And cream as saft as silk,

A' gethered frae the gerse

Intil her tassly purse,

To be oors, no hers,

Gudewillie, hummie coo!

Willy, wally, woo!

Moo. Hummlie, moo!

Singing this childish rhyme, dear to the slow-waking soul of Steenie, she had come almost to the bottom of the hill, was just stepping over the top of the weem, when something like a groan startled her. She stopped and sent a keen-searching glance around. It came again, muffled and dull. It must be from the earth-house! Somebody was there! It could not be Steenie, for why should Steenie groan? He might be calling her, and the weem changing the character of the sound! Anyhow she must be wanted. She dived in.

She could scarcely light the candle for the trembling of her hand and the beating of her heart. Slowly the flame grew, and the glimmer began to spread. She stood speechless, and stared. Out of the 222 darkness at her feet grew the form, as it seemed, of Steenie, lying on his face, just as when she found him there a year before. She dropped on her knees beside him.

He was alive at least, for he moved! "Of course," thought Kirsty, "he's alive: he never was anything else!" His face was turned from her, and his arm was under it. The arm next her lay out on the stones, and she took the ice-cold hand in hers: it was not Steenie's! She took the candle, and leaned across to see the face. God in heaven! there was the mark of her whip: it was Francie Gordon! She tried to rouse him. She could not; he was cold as ice, and seemed all but dead. But for the groan she had heard she would have been sure he was dead. She blew out the light, and, swift as her hands could move, took garment after garment off, and laid it, warm from her live heart, over and under him — all save one which she thought too thin to do him any good. Last of all, she drew her stockings over his hands and arms, and, leaving her shoes where Steenie's had lain, darted out of the cave. At the mouth of it she rose erect like one escaped from the tomb, and sped in dim-gleaming whiteness over the snow, scarce to have been seen against it. The moon was but a shred — a withered autumn leaf low fallen toward the dim plain of the west. As she ran she would have seemed to one of Steenie's angels, out that night on the hill, a newly disembodied ghost fleeing home. Swift and shadowless as the thought of her own brave heart, she ran. Her sense of power and speed was glorious. She felt — not thought — herself a human goddess, the daughter of the Eternal. 223 Up height and down hollow she flew, running her race with death, not an open eye, save the eyes of her father and mother, within miles of her in a world of sleep and snow and night. Nor did she slacken her pace as she drew near the house, she only ran more softly. At last she threw the door to the wall, and shot up the steep stair to her room, calling her mother as she went.

VIEWNAME is workSection