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   Chapter 6 PASTORAL

The Half-Hearted By John Buchan Characters: 24680

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


I

A JULY morning had dawned over the Dreichill, and the glen was filled with sunlight, though as yet there seemed no sun. Behind a peak of hill it displayed its chastened morning splendours, but a stray affluence of brightness had sought the nooks of valley in all the wide uplands, courier of the great lord of heat and light and the brown summer. The house of Etterick stands high in a crinkle of hill, with a background of dark pines, and in front a lake, set in shores of rock and heather. When the world grew bright Lewis awoke, for that strange young man had a trick of rising early, and as he rubbed sleep from his eyes at the window he saw the exceeding goodliness of the morning. He roused his companions with awful threats, and then wandered along a corridor till he came to a low verandah, whence a little pier ran into a sheltered bay of the loch. This was his morning bathing-place, and as he ran down the surface of rough moorland stone he heard steps behind him, and George plunged into the cold blue waters scarcely a second after his host.

It was as chill as winter save for the brightness of the morning, which made the loch in open spaces a shining gold. As they raced each other to the far end, now in the dark blue of shade, now in the gold of the open, the hill breeze fanned their hair, and the great woody smell of pines was sweet around them. The house stood dark and silent, for the side before them was the men's quarters, and at that season given up to themselves; but away beyond, the smoke of chimneys curled into the still air. A man was mowing in some field on the hillside, and the cry of sheep came from the valley. By and by they reached the shelving coast of fine hill gravel, and as they turned to swim easily back a sleepy figure staggered down the pier and stumbled rather than plunged into the water.

"Hullo!" gasped George, "there's old John. He'll drown, for I bet you anything he isn't awake. Look!"

But in a second a dark head appeared which shook itself vigorously, and a figure made for the other two with great strokes. He was by so much the best swimmer of the three that he had soon reached them, and though in all honesty he first swam to the farther shore, yet he touched the pier very little behind them. Then came a rush for the house, and in half an hour three fresh-coloured young men came downstairs, whistling for breakfast.

The breakfast-room was a place to refresh a townsman's senses. Long and cool and dark, it was simply Lewis's room, and he preferred to entertain his friends there instead of wandering among unused dining-rooms. It had windows at each end with old-fashioned folding sashes; and the view on one side was to a great hill shoulder, fir-clad and deep in heather, and on the other to the glen below and the shining links of the Avelin. It was panelled in dark oak, and the furniture was a strange medley. The deep arm-chairs by the fire and the many pipes savoured of the smoking-room; the guns, rods, polo sticks, whips, which were stacked or hung everywhere, and the heads of deer on the walls, gave it an atmosphere of sport. The pictures were few but good-two water-colours, a small Raeburn above the fireplace, and half a dozen fine etchings. In a corner were many old school and college groups-the Eton Ramblers, the O.U.A.C., some dining clubs, and one of Lewis on horseback in racing costume, looking deeply miserable. Low bookcases of black oak ran round the walls, and the shelves were crammed with books piled on one another, many in white vellum bindings, which showed pleasantly against the dark wood. Flowers were everywhere-common garden flowers of old-fashioned kinds, for the owner hated exotics, and in a shallow silver bowl in the midst of the snowy table-cloth was a great mass of purple heather-bells.

Three very hungry young men sat down to their morning meal with a hearty goodwill. The host began to rummage among his correspondence, and finally extracted an unstamped note, which he opened. His face brightened as he read, and he laid it down with a broad smile and helped himself to fish.

"Are you people very particular what you do to-day?" he asked.

Arthur said, No. George explained that he was in the hands of his beneficent friend.

"Because my Aunt Egeria down at Glenavelin has got up some sort of a picnic on the moors, and she wants us to meet her at the sheepfolds about twelve."

"Oh," said George meditatively. "Excellent! I shall be charmed." But he looked significantly at Arthur, who returned the glance.

"Who are at Glenavelin?" asked that simple young man with an air of innocence.

"There's a man called Stocks, whom you probably know."

Arthur nodded.

"And there's Bertha Afflint and her sister."

It was George's turn to nod approvingly. The sharp-witted Miss Afflint was a great ally of his.

"And there's a Miss Wishart-Alice Wishart," said Lewis, without a word of comment. "And with my Aunt Egeria that will be all."

The pair got the cue, and resolved to subject the Miss Wishart whose name came last on their host's tongue to a friendly criticism. Meanwhile they held their peace on the matter like wise men.

"What a strange name Egeria is!" said Arthur. "Very," said Lewis; "but you know the story. My respectable aunt's father had a large family of girls, and being of a classical turn of mind he called them after the Muses. The Muses held out for nine, but for the tenth and youngest he found himself in a difficulty. So he tried another tack and called the child after the nymph Egeria. It sounds outlandish, but I prefer it to Terpsichore."

Thereafter they lit pipes, and, with the gravity which is due to a great subject, inspected their friend's rods and guns.

"I see no memorials of your travels, Lewie," said Arthur. "You must have brought back no end of things, and most people like to stick them round as a remembrance."

"I have got a roomful if you want to see them," said the traveller; "but I don't see the point of spoiling a moorland place with foreign odds and ends. I like homely and native things about me when I am in Scotland."

"You're a sentimentalist, old man," said his friend; and George, who heard only the last word, assumed that Arthur had then and there divulged his suspicions, and favoured that gentleman with a wild frown of disapproval.

As Lewis sat on the edge of the Etterick burn and looked over the shining spaces of morning, forgetful of his friends, forgetful of his past, his mind was full of a new turmoil of feeling. Alice Wishart had begun to claim a surprising portion of his thoughts. He told himself a thousand times that he was not in love-that he should never be in love, being destined for other things; that he liked the girl as he liked any fresh young creature in the morning of life, with youth's beauty and the grace of innocence. But insensibly his everyday reflections began to be coloured by her presence. "What would she think of this?" "How that would please her!" were sentences spoken often by the tongue of his fancy. He found charm in her presence after his bachelor solitude; her demure gravity pleased him; but that he should be led bond-slave by love-that was a matter he valiantly denied.

II

THE sheepfolds of Etterick lie in a little fold of glen some two miles from the dwelling, where the heathy tableland, known all over the glen as "The Muirs," relieves the monotony of precipitous hills. On this day it was alert with life. The little paddock was crammed with sheep, and more stood huddling in the pens. Within was the liveliest scene, for there a dozen herds sat on clipping-stools each with a struggling ewe between his knees, and the ground beneath him strewn with creamy folds of fleece. From a thing like a gallows in a corner huge bags were suspended which were slowly filling. A cauldron of pitch bubbled over a fire, and the smoke rose blue in the hot hill air. Every minute a bashful animal was led to be branded with a great E on the left shoulder and then with awkward stumbling let loose to join her naked fellow-sufferers. Dogs slept in the sun and wagged their tails in the rear of the paddock. Small children sat on gates and lent willing feet to drive the flocks. In a corner below a little shed was the clippers' meal of ale and pies, with two glasses of whisky each, laid by under a white cloth. Meantime from all sides rose the continual crying of sheep, the intermittent bark of dogs, and the loud broad converse of the men.

Lewis and his friends jumped a fence, and were greeted heartily in the enclosure. He seemed to know each herd by name or rather nickname, for he had a word for all, and they with all freedom grinned badinage back.

"Where's my stool, Yed?" he cried. "Am I not to have a hand in clipping my own sheep?"

An obedient shepherd rose and fetched one of the triangular seats, while Lewis with great ease caught the ewe, pulled her on her back, and proceeded to call for shears. An old pair was found for him, and with much dexterity he performed the clipping, taking little longer to the business than the expert herd, and giving the shears a professional wipe on the sacking with which he had prudently defended his clothes.

From somewhere in the back two boys came forward-the Tam and Jock of a former day-eager to claim acquaintance. Jock was clearly busy, for his jacket was off and a very ragged shirt was rolled about two stout brown arms. The "human collie" seemed to be a gentleman of some leisure, for he was arrayed in what was for him the pink of fashion in dress. The two immediately lay down on the ground beside Lewis exactly in the manner of faithful dogs.

The men talked cheerfully, mainly on sheep and prices. Now talk would touch on neighbours, and there would be the repetition of some tale or saying. "There was a man in the glen called Rorison. D'ye mind Jock Rorison, Sandy?" And Sandy would reply, "Fine I mind Jock," and then both would proceed to confidences.

"Hullo, Tam," said Lewis at last, realizing his henchman's grandeur. "Why this magnificence of dress?

"I'm gaun to the Sabbath-school treat this afternoon," said that worthy.

"And you, Jock-are you going too?"

"No me! I'm ower auld, and besides, I've cast out wi' the minister."

"How was that?"

"Oh, I had been fechtin'," said Jock airily. "It was Andra Laidlaw. He called me ill names, so I yokit on him and bate him too, but I got my face gey sair bashed. The minister met me next day when I was a' blue and yellow, and, says he, 'John Laverlaw, what have ye been daein'? Ye're a bonny sicht for Christian een. How do ye think a face like yours will look between a pair o' wings in the next warld?' I ken I'm no bonny," added the explanatory Jock; "but ye canna expect a man to thole siccan language as that."

Lewis laughed and, being engaged in clipping his third sheep, forgot the delicacy of his task and let the shears slip. A very ugly little cut on the animal's neck was the result.

"Oh, confound it!" cried the penitent amateur. "Look what I've done, Yed. I'll have to rub in some of that stuff of yours and sew on a bandage. The files will kill the poor thing if we leave the cut bare in this infernal heat."

The old shepherd nodded, and pointed to where the remedies were kept. Jock went for the box, which contained, besides the ointment, some rolls of stout linen and a huge needle and twine. Lewis doctored the wound as best he could, and then proceeded to lay on the cloth and sew it to the fleece. The ewe grew restless with the heat and the pinching of the cut, and Jock was given the task of holding her head.

Clearly Lewis was not meant by Providence for a tailor. He made lamentable work with the needle. It slipped and pricked his fingers, while his unfeeling friends jeered and Tam turned great eyes of sympathy upwards from his Sunday garments.

"Patience, patience, man!" said the old herd. "Ca' cannier and be a wee thing quieter in your langwidge. There's a wheen leddies comin' up the burn."

It was too late. Before Lewis understood the purport of the speech Lady Manorwater and her party were at the folds, and as he made one final effort with the refractory needle a voice in his ear said:

"Please let me do that, Mr. Haystoun. I've often done it before."

He look

ed up and met Alice Wishart's laughing eyes. She stood beside him and deftly finished the bandage till the ewe was turned off the stool. Then, very warm and red, he turned to find a cool figure laughing at his condition.

"I'll have to go and wash my hands, Miss Wishart," he said gravely. "You had better come too." And the pair ran down to a deep brown pool in the burn and cleansed from their fingers the subtle aroma of fleeces.

"Ugh! my clothes smell like a drover's. That's the worst of being a dabbler in most trades. You can never resist the temptation to try your hand."

"But, really, your whole manner was most professional, Mr. Haystoun. Your language-"

"Please, don't," said the penitent; and they returned to the others to find that once cheerful assembly under a cloud. Every several man there was nervously afraid of women and worked feverishly as if under some great Taskmistress's eye. The result was a superfluity of shear-marks and deep, muffled profanity. Lady Manorwater ran here and there asking questions and confusing the workers; while Mr. Stocks, in pursuance of his democratic sentiments, talked in a stilted fashion to the nearest clipper, who called him "Sir" and seemed vastly ill at ease.

Lewis restored some cordiality. Under her nephew's influence Lady Manorwater became natural and pleasing. Jock was ferreted out of some corner and, together with the reluctant Tam, brought up for presentation.

"Tam," said his patron, "I'll give you your choice. Whether will you go to the Sabbath-school treat, or come with us to a real picnic? Jock is coming, and I promise you better fun and better things to eat."

It was no case for hesitation. Tam executed a doglike gambol on the turf, and proceeded to course up the burn ahead of the party, a vision of twinkling bare legs and ill-fitting Sunday clothes. The sedate Jock rolled down his sleeves, rescued a ragged jacket, and stalked in the rear.

III

ONCE on the heathy plateau the party scattered. Mr. Stocks caught the unwilling Arthur and treated him to a disquisition on the characteristics of the people whose votes he was soon to solicit. As his acquaintance with the subject was not phenomenal, the profit to the aggrieved listener was small. George, Lady Manorwater, and the two Miss Afflints sought diligently for a camping-ground, which they finally found by a clear spring of water on the skirts of a great grey rock. Meanwhile, Alice Wishart and Lewis, having an inordinate love of high places, set out for the ridge summit, and reached it to find a wind blowing from the far Gled valley and cooling the hot air.

Alice found a scrap of rock and climbed to the summit, where she sat like a small pixie, surveying a wide landscape and her warm and prostrate companion. Her bright hair and eyes and her entrancing grace of form made the callous Lewis steal many glances upwards from his lowly seat. The two had become excellent friends, for the man had that honest simplicity towards women which is the worst basis for love and the best for friendship. She felt that at any moment he might call her by some one or other of the endearing expressions used between men. He, for his part, was fast drifting from friendship to another feeling, but as yet he gave no sign of it, and kept up the brusque, kindly manners of his common life.

As she looked east and north to the heart of the hill-land, her eyes brightened, and she rose up and strained on tiptoe to scan the farthest horizon. Eagerly she asked the name of this giant and that, of this glint of water-was it loch or burn? Lewis answered without hesitation, as one to whom the country was as well known as his own name.

By and by her curiosity was satisfied and she slipped back into her old posture, and with chin on hand gazed into the remote distances. "And most of that is yours? Do you know, if I had a land like this I should never leave it again. You, in your ingratitude, will go wandering away in a year or two, as if any place on earth could be better than this. You are simply 'sinning away your mercies,' as my grandfather used to say."

"But what would become of the heroic virtues that you adore?" asked the cynical Lewis. "If men were all home-keepers it would be a prosaic world."

"Can you talk of the prosaic and Etterick in the same breath? Besides, it is the old fallacy of man that the domestic excludes the heroic," said Alice, fighting for the privileges of her sex.

"But then, you know, there comes a thing they call the go-fever, which is not amenable to reason. People who have it badly do not care a straw for a place in itself; all they want is to be eternally moving from one spot to another."

"And you?"

"Oh, I am not a sufferer yet, but I walk in fear, for at any moment it may beset me." And, laughing, he climbed up beside her.

It may be true that the last subject of which a man tires is himself, but Lewis Haystoun in this matter must have been distinct from the common run of men. Alice had given him excellent opportunities for egotism, but the blind young man had not taken them. The girl, having been brought up to a very simple and natural conception of talk, thought no more about it, except that she would have liked so great a traveller to speak more generously. No doubt, after all, this reticence was preferable to self-revelation. Mr. Stocks had been her companion that morning in the drive to Etterick, and he had entertained her with a sketch of his future. He had declined, somewhat nervously, to talk of his early life, though the girl, with her innate love of a fighter, would have listened with pleasure. But he had sketched his political creed, hinted at the puissance of his friends, claimed a monopoly of the purer sentiments of life, and rosily augured the future. The girl had been silent-the man had thought her deeply impressed; but now the morning's talk seemed to point a contrast, and Mr. Lewis Haystoun climbed to a higher niche in the temple of her esteem.

Afar off the others were signaling that lunch was ready, but the two on the rock were blind.

"I think you are right to go away," said Alice. "You would be too well off here. One would become a very idle sort of being almost at once."

"And I am glad you agree with me, Miss Wishart. 'Here is the shore, and the far wide world's before me,' as the song says. There is little doing in these uplands, but there's a vast deal astir up and down the earth, and it would be a pity not to have a hand in it."

Then he stopped suddenly, for at that moment the light and colour went out of his picture of the wanderer's life, and he saw instead a homelier scene-a dainty figure moving about the house, sitting at his table's head, growing old with him in the fellowship of years. For a moment he felt the charm of the red hearth and the quiet life. Some such sketch must the Goddess of Home have drawn for Ulysses or the wandering Olaf, and if Swanhild or the true Penelope were as pretty as this lady of the rock there was credit in the renunciation. The man forgot the wide world and thought only of the pin-point of Glenavelin.

Some such fancy too may have crossed the girl's mind. At any rate she cast one glance at the abstracted Lewis and welcomed a courier from the rest of the party. This was no other than the dandified Tam, who had been sent post-haste by George-that true friend having suffered the agonies of starvation and a terrible suspicion as to what rash step his host might be taking. Plainly the young man had not yet made Miss Wishart's acquaintance.

IV

THE sun set in the thick of the dark hills, and a tired and merry party scrambled down the burnside to the highway. They had long outstayed their intention, but care sat lightly there, and Lady Manorwater alone was vexed by thoughts of a dinner untouched and a respectable household in confusion. The sweet-scented dusk was soothing to the senses, and there in the narrow glen, with the wide blue strath and the gleam of the river below, it was hard to find the link of reality and easy to credit fairyland. Arthur and Miss Wishart had gone on in front and were now strayed among boulders. She liked this trim and precise young man, whose courtesy was so grave and elaborate, while he, being a recluse by nature but a humanitarian by profession, was half nervous and half entranced in her cheerful society. They talked of nothing, their hearts being set on the scramble, and when at last they reached the highway and the farm where the Glenavelin traps had been put up, they found themselves a clear ten minutes in advance of the others.

As they sat on the dyke in the soft cool air Alice spoke casually of the place. "Where is Etterick?" she asked; and a light on a hillside farther up the glen was pointed out to her.

"It's a very fresh and pleasant place to stay at," said Arthur. "We're much higher than you are at Glenavelin, and the house is bigger and older. But we simply camp in a corner of it. You can never get Lewie to live like other people. He is the best of men, but his tastes are primeval. He makes us plunge off a verandah into a loch first thing in the morning, you know, and I shall certainly drown some day, for I am never more than half awake, and I always seem to go straight to the bottom. Then he is crazy about long expeditions, and when the Twelfth comes we shall never be off the hill. He is a long way too active for these slack modern days."

Lewie, Lewie! It was Lewie everywhere! thought the girl. What could become of a man who was so hedged about by admirers? He had seemed to court her presence, and her heart had begun to beat faster of late when she saw his face. She dared not confess to herself that she was in love-that she wanted this Lewis to herself, and bated the pretensions of his friends. Instead she flattered herself with a fiction. Her ground was the high one of an interest in character. She liked the young man and was sorry to see him in a way to be spoiled by too much admiration. And the angel who records our innermost thoughts smiled to himself, if such grave beings can smile.

Meantime Lewis was delivered bound and captive to the enemy. All down the burn his companion had been Mr. Stocks, and they had lagged behind the others. That gentleman had not enjoyed the day; he had been bored by the landscape and scorched by the sun; also, as the time of contest approached, he was full of political talk, and he had found no ears to appreciate it. Now he had seized on Lewis, and the younger man had lent him polite attention though inwardly full of ravening and bitterness.

"Your friend Mr. Mordaunt has promised to support my candidature. You, of course, will be in the opposite camp."

Lewis said he did not think so-that he had lost interest in party politics, and would lie low.

Mr. Stocks bowed in acquiescence.

"And what do you think of my chances?"

Lewis replied that he should think about equal betting. "You see the place is Radical in the main, with the mills at Gledfoot and the weavers at Gledsmuir. Up in Glenavelin they are more or less Conservative. Merkland gets in usually by a small majority because he is a local man and has a good deal of property down the Gled. If two strangers fought it the Radical would win; as it is it is pretty much of a toss-up either way."

"But if Sir Robert resigns?"

"Oh, that scare has been raised every time by the other party. I should say that there's no doubt that the old man will keep on for years."

Mr. Stocks looked relieved. "I heard of his resignation as a certainty, and I was afraid that a stronger man might take his place."

So it fell out that the day which began with pastoral closed, like many another day, with politics. Since Lewis refrained from controversy, Mr. Stocks seemed to look upon him as a Gallio from whom no danger need be feared, nay, even as a convert to be fostered. He became confident and talked jocularly of the tricks of his trade. Lewis's boredom was complete by the time they reached the farmhouse and found the Glenavelin party ready to start.

"We want to see Etterick, so we shall come to lunch to-morrow, Lewie," said his aunt. "So be prepared, my dear, and be on your best behaviour."

Then, with his two friends, he turned towards the lights of his home.

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