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What was there to see at Barvas ? Why, nothing but the channels of the brown streams, some pasture-land, and a few huts, then the unfrequented lake, and beyond that some ridges of white sand, standing over the shingly beach of the sea. He would join them at dinner. Mackenzie protested in a mild way; he really wanted to see how the island was to be illustrated by the stranger. There was a greater protest, mingled with compassion and regret, in Sheila's eyes; but the young man was firm. So they let him have his way, and gave him full possession of the common sitting-room, while they set off to visit the school, and the Free-Church manse, and what not in the neighbourhood.
Mackenzie had ordered dinner at eight, to show that he was familiar with the ways of civilized life; and when they returned at that hour, Lavender had two sketches finished.
“Yes, they are very good,” said Ingram, who was seldom enthusiastic about his friend's work.
But old Mackenzie was so vastly pleased with the picture which represented his native place in the brightest of sunshine and colours, that he forgot to assume a critical air. He said nothing against the rainy and desolate version of the scene that had been given to Sheila; it was good enough to please the child. But here was something brilliant, effective, cheerful ; and he alarmed Lavender not a little by proposing to get one of the natives to carry this treasure, then and there, back to Byrvabost. Both sketches were ultimately returned to his book ; and then Sheila helped him to remove his artistic apparatus from the table on which their plain and homely meal was to be placed. As she was about to follow her father and Ingram, who had left the room, she paused for a moment and said to Lavender, with a look of frank gratitude in her eyes
“It is very good of you to have pleased my papa so much. I know when he is pleased, though he does not speak of it, and it is not often he will be so much pleased.”
“And you, Sheila ? " said the young man, unconscious of the familiarity he was using, and only remembering that she had scarcely thanked him for the other sketch.
“Well, there is nothing that will please me so much as to see him pleased,” she said, with a smile.
He was about to open the door for her; but he kept his hand on the handle, and said, earnestly enough
“But that is such a small matter—an hour's work. If you only knew how gladly I would live all my life here if only I could do you some greater service--"
She looked a little surprised, and then, for one brief second, reflected. English was not wholly familiar to her - perhaps she had failed to catch what he really meant. But at all events she said, gravely and simply
“You would soon tire of living here; it is not always a holiday.”
And then, without lifting her eyes to his face, she turned to the door; and he opened it for her, and she was gone.
It was about ten o'clock when they went outside for their evening stroll; and all the world had grown enchanted since they had seen it in the colours of the sunset. There was no night; but a strange clearness over the sky and the earth, and down in the south the moon was rising over the Barvas hills. In the dark green meadows the cattle were still grazing. Voices of children could be heard in the far distance, with the rumble of a cart coming through the silence, and the murmur of the streams flowing down to the loch. The loch itself lay like a line of dusky yellow in a darkened hollow near the sea, having caught on its surface the pale glow of the northern heavens, where the sun had gone down hours before. The air was warm, and yet fresh with the odours of the Atlantic; and there was a scent of Dutch clover coming across from the sandy pastures nearer the coast. The huts of the small hamlet could but faintly be made out beyond the dark and low-lying pastures; but a long, pale line of blue smoke lay in the motionless
air, and the voices of the children told of open doors. Night after night, this same picture, with slight variations of position, had been placed before the stranger who had come to view these solitudes; and night after night it seemed to him to grow more beautiful. He could put down on paper the outlines of an every-day landscape, and give them a dash of brilliant colour to look well on a wall; but how to carry away, except in the memory, any impression of the strange lambent darkness, the tender hues, the loneliness and the pathos of those northern twilights ?
They walked down by the side of one of the streams towards the sea. But Sheila was not his companion on this occasion. Her father had laid hold of him, and was expounding to him the rights of capitalists and various other matters. But, by and by, Lavender drew his companion on to talk of Sheila's mother; and here, at least, Mackenzie was neither tedious nor ridiculous, nor unnecessarily garrulous. It was with a strange interest that the young man heard the elderly man talk of his courtship, his marriage, the character of his wife, and her goodness and beauty. Was it not like looking at a former Sheila ; and would not this Sheila now walking before him go through the same tender experiences, and be admired, and loved, and petted by every body as this other girl had been, who brought with her the charm of winning ways and a gentle nature into these rude wilds? It was the first time he had heard Mackenzie speak of his wife, and it turned out to be the last; but from that moment the older man had something of dignity in the eyes of this younger man, who had merely judged of him by his little foibles and eccentricities, and would have been ready to dismiss him contemptuously as a buffoon. There was something, then, behind that powerful face, with its deep-cut lines, its heavy eyebrows, and piercing and sometimes sad eyes, besides a mere liking for tricks of childish diplomacy ? Lavender began to have some respect for Sheila's father; and made a resolution to guard against
the impertinence of humouring him too ostentatiously.
Was it not hard, though, that Ingram, who was so cold and unimpressionable, who smiled at the notion of marrying, and who was probably enjoying his pipe quite as much as Sheila's familiar talk, should have the girl all to himself on this witching night? They reached the shores of the Atlantic. There was not a breath of wind coming in from the sea ; but the air seemed even sweeter and cooler as they sat down on the great bank of shingle. Here and there birds were calling, and Sheila could distinguish each one of them. As the moon rose, a faint golden light began to tremble here and there on the waves, as if some subterranean caverns were lit up and sending to the surface faint and fitful rays of their splendour. Further along the coast the tall banks of sand grew white in the twilight; and the outlines of the dark pasture-land behind grew more distinct.
But when they rose to go back to Barvas, the moonlight had grown full and clear ; and the long and narrow loch had a pathway of gold across, stretching from the reeds and sedges of the one side to the reeds and sedges of the other. And now Ingram had gone on to join Mackenzie, and Sheila walked behind with Lavender, and her face was pale and beautiful in the moonlight.
“I shall be very sorry when I have to leave Lewis,” he said, as they walked along the path leading through the sand and the clover; and there could be no doubt that he felt the regret expressed in the words.
“But it is no use to speak of leaving us yet," said Sheila, cheerfully; “it is a long time before you will go away from the Lewis.”
“And I fancy I shall always think of the island just as it is now—with the moonlight over there, and a loch near, and you walking through the stillness. We have had so many evening walks like this.”
“You will make us very vain of our island,” said the girl, with a smile, “if you will speak like that always to us,
Is there no moonlight in England? I She looked up with a startled glance have pictures of English scenery that of fear in her eyes, and withdrew her will be far more beautiful than any we hand from him. have here; and if there is the moon “No, don't be frightened," he said, here, it will be there too. Think of the quite gently. “I don't ask you for any pictures of the river Thames that my promise. Sheila, you must know I love papa showed you last night--" you—you must have seen it. Will you
"Oh, but there is nothing like this not let me come to you at some future in the South," said the young man, im- time—a long way off — that you may petuously; “I do not believe there is in tell me then ? Won't you try to do the world anything so beautiful as this that?" Sheila, what would you say if I resolved There was more in the tone of his to come and live here always ? "
voice than in his words. The girl stood “I should like that very much irresolute for a second or two, regarding more than you would like it, perhaps," him with a strange, wistful, earnest look; she said, with a bright laugh.
and then a great gentleness came into “That would please you better than her eyes, and she put out her hand to for you to go always and live in Eng- him, and said, in a low voiceland, would it not ?.”
"Perhaps !” “But that is impossible," she said. But there was something so grave and “My papa would never think of living simple about her manner at this moin England.”
ment that he dared not somehow receive For some time after he was silent. it as a lover receives the first admission The two figures in front of them walked of love from the lips of a maiden. steadily on; an occasional roar of laugh- There had been something of a strange ter from the deep chest of Mackenzie inquiry in her face as she regarded him startling the night air, and telling of for a second or two ; and now that her Ingram's being in a communicative eyes were bent on the ground, it seemed mood. At last Lavender said
to him that she was trying to realize the “It seems to me so great a pity that full effect of the concession she had you should live in this remote place, made. He would not let her think. and have so little amusement and see so He took her hand and raised it respect few people of tastes and education like fully to his lips, and then he led her your own. Your papa is so much occu- forward to the bridge. Not a word was pied-he is so much older than you, spoken between them while they crossed too—that you must be left to yourself the shining space of moonlight to the so much ; whereas, if you had a com- shadow of the house; and as they went panion of your own age, who could indoors he caught but one glimpse of have the right to talk frankly to you, her eyes, and they were friendly and and go about with you, and take care of kind towards him, but evidently you--"
troubled. He saw her no more that By this time they had reached the night. little wooden bridge crossing the stream; So he had asked Sheila to be his and Mackenzie and Ingram had got to wife; and she had given him some timid the inn, where they stood in front of encouragement as to the future. Many the door in the moonlight. Before a time, within these last few days, had ascending the steps of the bridge, La he sketched out an imaginative picture vender, without pausing in his speech, of the scene. He was familiar with the took Sheila's hand and said suddenly passionate rapture of lovers on the stage,
“Now don't let me alarm you, Sheila, in books, and in pictures ; and he had but suppose at some distant day—as far described himself (to himself) as inaway as you please-I came and asked toxicated with joy, anxious to let the you to let me be your companion, then whole world know of his good fortune, and always, wouldn't you try ?” and above all to confide the tidings of
his happiness to his constant friend and companion. But now, as he sat in one corner of the room, he almost feared to be spoken to by the two men who sat at the table with steaming glasses before them. He dared not tell Ingram ; he had no wish to tell him, even if he had got him alone. And as he sat there and recalled the incident that had just occurred by the side of the little bridge, he could not wholly understand its meaning. There had been none of the eagerness, the coyness, the tumult of joy he had expected : all he could remember clearly was the long look that the large, earnest, troubled eyes had fixed upon him, while the girl's face, grown pale in the moonlight, seemed somehow ghostlike and strange.
But in the morning all these idle fancies fled with the life and colour and freshness of a new day. Loch Barvas was ruffled into a dark blue by the westerly wind; and doubtless the sea out there was rushing in, green and cold, to the shore. The sunlight was warm about the house. The trout were leaping in the shallow brown streams; and here and there a white butterfly fluttered across the damp meadows. Was not that Duncan down by the river, accompanied by Ingram ? There was a glimmer of a rod in the sunshine ; the two poachers were after trout for Sheila's breakfast.
Lavender dressed, went outside, and looked about for the nearest way down to the stream. He wished to have a chance of saying a word to his friend before Sheila or her father should appear. And at last he thought he could do no better than go across to the bridge, and so make his way down the banks of the river.
What a fresh morning it was, with all sorts of sweet scents in the air! And here, sure enough, was a pretty picture in the early light-a young girl coming
over the bridge carrying a load of green grass on her back. What would she say if he asked her to stop for a moment that he might sketch her pretty costume ? Her head-dress was a scarlet handkerchief, tied behind ; she wore a tightfitting bodice of cream-white flannel, and petticoats of grey flannel ; while she had a waist-belt and pouch of brilliant blue. Did she know of these harmonies of colour, or of the picturesqueness of her appearance as she came across the bridge in the sunlight ? As she drew near she stared at the stranger with the big, dumb eyes of a wild animal. There was no fear, only a sort of surprised observation in them. And as she passed, she uttered, without a smile, some brief and laconic salutation in Gaelic, which, of course, the young man could not understand. He raised his cap, however, and said “Good morning !" and went on, with a fixed resolve to learn all the Gaelic that Duncan could teach him.
Surely the tall keeper was in excellent spirits this morning. Long before he drew near, Lavender could hear, in the stillness of the morning, that he was telling stories about John the Piper, and of his adventures in such distant parts as Portree, and Oban, and even in Glasgow.
“And it wass Allan M'Gillivray, of Styornoway," Duncan was saying, as he industriously whipped the shallow runs of the stream, “will go to Glasgow with John; and they went through ta Crinan Canal. Wass you through ta Crinan Canal, sir ?”
“Many a time.”
“Ay, jist that. And I hef been told it iss like a river with ta sides o' a house to it; and what would Allan care for a thing like that, when he hass been to America more than twice or four times ? And it wass when he fell into the canal, he was ferry nearly trooned for all that; and when they pulled him to ta shore, he wass a ferry angry man. And this iss what John says that Allan will say when he wass on the side of the canal: Kott,' says he, 'if I wass trooned here, I would show my face in Styornoway no more !' But perhaps it iss not true ; for he will tell many lies, does John the Piper, to hef a laugh at a man."
“ The Crinan Canal is not to be despised, Duncan," said Ingram, who was sitting on the red sand of the bank, “when you are in it.”
“And do you know what John says that Allan will say to him the first time they went ashore at Glasgow ?"
“I am sure I don't.”
“It wass many years ago, before that Allan will be going many times to America, and he will neffer hef seen such fine shops, and ta big houses, and hundreds and hundreds of people, every one with shoes on their feet. And he will say to John, “John, ef I had known in time, I should hef been born here.' But no one will believe it is true; he is such a teffle of a liar, that John; and he will hef some stories about Mr. Mackenzie himself, as I hef been told, that he will tell when he goes to Styornoway. But John is a ferry cunning fellow, and will not tell any such stories in Borva."
“I suppose if he did, Duncan, you would dip him in Loch Roag ?”
“Oh, there iss more than one," said Duncan, with a grim twinkle in his eye, “ there iss more than one that would hef a joke with him, if he wass to tell stories about Mr. Mackenzie.”
Lavender had been standing listening unknown to both. He now went forward, and bade them good morning; and then, having bad a look at the trout that Duncan had caught, pulled Ingram up from the bank, put his arm in his, and walked away with him.
“Ingram,” he said, suddenly, with a laugh and a shrug, "you know I always come to you when I'm in a fix."
“I suppose you do,” said the other, “ and you are always welcome to whatever help I can give you. But sometimes it seems to me you rush into fixes, with the sort of notion that I am responsible for getting you out."
“I can assure you nothing of the kind is the case. I could not be so ungrateful. However—in the meantime—that is,
the fact is, I asked Sheila last night if she would marry me
“The devil you did !”.
Ingram dropped his companion's arm, and stood looking at him.
“Well, I knew you would be angry," said the youngerman, in a tone of apology. “And I know I have been too precipitate ; but I thought of the short time we should be remaining here, and of the difficulty of getting an explanation made at another time, and it was really only to give her a hint as to my own feelings that I spoke. I could not bear to wait any longer- ".
“Never mind about yourself,” said Ingram, somewhat curtly ; “what did Sheila say?".
“Well, nothing definite. What could you expect a girl to say after so short an acquaintance? But this I can tell you, that the proposal is not altogether distasteful to her, and that I have her permission to speak of it at some future time, when we have known each other longer.”
• You have ?”
“There is no mistake about her silence, for example, that might have led you into misinterpreting her wishes altogether ?"
“Nothing of the kind is possible. Of course, I could not ask the girl for any promise, or anything of that sort. All I asked was whether she would allow me at some future time to ask her more definitely; and I am so well satisfied with the reply that I am convinced I shall marry her.”
“And is this the fix you wish me to help you out of?” said Ingram, rather coldly.
“Now, Ingram,” said the younger man, in penitential tones, “don't cut up rough about it. You know what I mean. Perhaps I have been hasty and inconsiderate about it; but of one thing you may be sure, that Sheila will never have to complain of me if she marries me. You say I don't know her yet? but there will be plenty of time before