Tales, not poems, are written upon them now. I hear the voices of "Them Ones," as Irish folk impressively say of the Little People, telling me tales out of the Book Sealed, tales which in the very hearing make a man blush hotly and thrill with hopes mysterious. Such stories as they are! The romances of high young blood, of maidens' winsome purity and frank disdain, of strong men who take their lives in hand and hurl themselves upon the push of pikes. And though I cannot grasp more than a hint of the plot, yet as my feet swish through the dewy swathes of the hyacinths or crisp along the frost-bitten snow, a wild thought quickens within me into a belief, that one day I shall hear them all, and tell these tales for my very own so that the world must listen.
But as the rosy fingers of the morn melt and the broad day fares forth, the vision fades, and I who saw and heard must go and sit down to my plain saltless tale. Once I wrote a book, every word of it, in the open air. It was full of the sweet things of the country, so at least as they seemed to me. I saw the hens nestle sleepily in the holes of the bank-side where the dry dust is, and so I wrote it down. I heard the rain drum on the broad leaves over my head, and I wrote that down also. Day after day I rose and wrote in the dawn, and sometimes I seemed to recapture a leaf or a passing glance of a chapter-heading out of the Book Sealed. It came back to me how the girls were kissed and love was made in the days when the Book Sealed was the Book Open, and when I cared not a jot for anything that was written therein. So as well as I could I wrote these things down in the red dawn. And so till the book was done.
Then the day comes when the book is printed and bound, and when the critics write of it after their kind, things good and things evil. But I that have gathered the fairy gold dare not for my life look again within, lest it should be even as they say, and I should find but withered leaves therein. For the sake of the vision of the breaking day and the incommunicable hope, I shall look no more upon it. But ever with the eternal human expectation, I rise and wait the morning and the final opening of the "Book Sealed."
Then we had the world to ourselves, save for a red farm cart or so. Then there were no motor-cars, no motor-buses, no clappering insolent monocycles! It was in some wise the rider's age of gold. The country still lay waste and sweet and silent about him. The ignoble "toot-toot" and rhinoceros snort of the pursuing monster was unknown—unknown, too, the odors which leave the wayfarer fretful and angry behind them.
"Get out of the way, all you mean little people!" was not yet the commonest of highway sounds. The green hedgerows were not hidden under a gray dust veil. The Trossachs, the Highlands, the English lakes, and our own fair Galloway roads were not splashed with the iridescent fragrance of petrol. Ah, we took Time by the forelock, Sweetheart, you and I, in those old days when the hawthorn was untainted and the wayside honeysuckles still gave forth a good smell. True, Sweetheart (as above stated) sounded a bell. But even she did it with relish, and the trill carried tenderly on the ear, like the mass-bell rung in some great cathedral as the service culminates, each time more thrilling and insistent. And it was good to see the smile of the folk as they stood aside, and the nod which red-cloaked Sweetheart gave them as we glided noiselessly past!
But Wat Gordon could not long remain vexed in spirit in the presence of his cousin Will's wife, Maisie Lennox. Her still, sweet smile killed enmity, even as spring sunshine kills the bite of frost. The little, low-roofed Dutch room, panelled with oak, had its windows open towards the sun-setting, and there in the glow of the west two girls were sitting. At sight of them Walter Gordon stopped suddenly in the doorway as he came bursting in. He had been expecting to see but oneÑhis cousin's young wife, into whose pretty ear of patientest sympathy he might pour his fretful boyish disappointments and much-baffled aspirations.
Mistress Maisie Lennox, now for half a year Will Gordon of Earlstoun's wife (for by her maiden name she was still used to be called, and so she signed herself, since it had not yet become the custom for a women to take among her intimates the style of her husband's surname), sat on a high-backed chair by the oriel window. She had the kind of sunny hair which it is a pleasure to look upon, and the ripples of it made crisp tendrils about her brow. Her face underneath was already sweetening and gaining in reposefulness, with that look of matronhood which comes early to patient, gracious women, who would yet venture much for the man they love. And not once nor yet twice had Maisie Lennox dared all for those whom she lovedÑas has, indeed, elsewhere been told.
But, all unexpected of the hasty visitor, there was yet another fair girl looking up at him there in that quaint, dusky-shadowed room. Seated upon a low chair, and half leaning across the knees of Mistress Maisie, set wide apart on purpose, there reclined a maiden of another temper and mould. Slender and supple she was as willow that sways by the water-edges, yet returning ever to slim, graceful erectness like a tempered blade of Damascus; above, the finest and daintiest head in the world, profiled like Apollo of the Bow, with great eyes that were full of alternate darkness and tenderness, of tears and fire; a perfectly chiselled mouth, a thing which is rarer and more excellent than the utmost beauty of splendid eyesÑand sweeter also; a complexion not milk and rose like that of Maisie Lennox, but of ivory rather, with the dusky crimson of warm blood blushing up delicately through it. Such was Kate McGhie, called Kate of the Dark Lashes, the only daughter of Roger McGhie of Balmaghie, a well-reputed Galloway gentleman in the country of Scotland.