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Chapter 3 The Shadow on the Waters

  • It was not very long before Cousin Edie was queen of West Inch, and we all he_evoted subjects from my father down. She had money and to spare, though non_f us knew how much. When my mother said that four shillings the week woul_over all that she would cost, she fixed on seven shillings and sixpence o_er own free will. The south room, which was the sunniest and had th_oneysuckle round the window, was for her; and it was a marvel to see th_hings that she brought from Berwick to put into it. Twice a week she woul_rive over, and the cart would not do for her, for she hired a gig from Angu_hitehead, whose farm lay over the hill. And it was seldom that she wen_ithout bringing something back for one or other of us. It was a wooden pip_or my father, or a Shetland plaid for my mother, or a book for me, or a bras_ollar for Rob the collie. There was never a woman more free-handed.
  • But the best thing that she gave us was just her own presence. To me i_hanged the whole country-side, and the sun was brighter and the braes greene_nd the air sweeter from the day she came. Our lives were common no longer no_hat we spent them with such a one as she, and the old dull grey house wa_nother place in my eyes since she had set her foot — across the door-mat. I_as not her face, though that was winsome enough, nor her form, though I neve_aw the lass that could match her; but it was her spirit, her queer mockin_ays, her fresh new fashion of talk, her proud whisk of the dress and toss o_he head, which made one feel like the ground beneath her feet, and then th_uick challenge in her eye, and the kindly word that brought one up to he_evel again.
  • But never quite to her level either. To me she was always something above an_eyond. I might brace myself and blame myself, and do what I would, but stil_ could not feel that the same blood ran in our veins, and that she was but _ountry lassie, as I was a country lad. The more I loved her the more frighte_ was at her, and she could see the fright long before she knew the love. _as uneasy to be away from her, and yet when I was with her I was in a shive_ll the time for fear my stumbling talk might weary her or give her offence.
  • Had I known more of the ways of women I might have taken less pains.
  • "You're a deal changed from what you used to be, Jack," said she, looking a_e sideways from under her dark lashes.
  • "You said not when first we met," says I.
  • "Ah! I was speaking of your looks then, and of your ways now. You used to b_o rough to me, and so masterful, and would have your own way, like the littl_an that you were. I can see you now with your touzled brown hair and you_ischievous eyes. And now you are so gentle and quiet and soft-spoken."
  • "One learns to behave," says I.
  • "Ah, but, Jack, I liked you so much better as you were!"
  • Well, when she said that I fairly stared at her, for I had thought that sh_ould never have quite forgiven me for the way I used to carry on. That anyon_ut of a daft house could have liked it was clean beyond my understanding. _hought of how when she was reading by the door I would go up on the moor wit_ hazel switch and fix little clay balls at the end of it, and sling them a_er until I made her cry. And then I thought of how I caught an eel in th_orriemuir burn and chivied her about with it, until she ran screaming unde_y mother's apron half mad with fright, and my father gave me one on the ear- hole with the porridge stick which knocked me and my eel under the kitche_resser. And these were the things that she missed! Well, she must miss them, for my hand would wither before I could do them now. But for the first time _egan to understand the queerness that lies in a woman, and that a man mus_ot reason about one, but just watch and try to learn.
  • We found our level after a time, when she saw that she had just to do what sh_iked and how she liked, and that I was as much at her beck and call as ol_ob was at mine. You 'll think I was a fool to have had my head so turned, an_aybe I was; but then you must think how little I was used to women, and ho_uch we were thrown together. Besides, she was a woman in a million, and I ca_ell you that it was a strong head that would not be turned by her.
  • Why, there was Major Elliott, a man that had buried three wives, and ha_welve pitched battles to his name, Edie could have turned him round he_inger like a damp rag — she, only new from the boarding school. I met hi_obbling from West Inch the first time after she came, with pink in his cheek_nd a shine in his eye that took ten years from him. He was cocking up hi_rey moustaches at either end and curling them into his eyes, and struttin_ut with his sound leg as proud as a piper. What she had said to him the Lor_nows, but it was like old wine in his veins.
  • "I've been up to see you, laddie," said he, "but I must home again now. M_isit has not been wasted, however, as I had an opportunity of seeing la bell_ousine. A most charming and engaging young lady, laddie."
  • He had a formal stiff way of talking, and was fond of jerking in a bit of th_rench, for he had picked some up in the Peninsula. He would have gone o_alking of Cousin Edie, but I saw the corner of a newspaper thrusting out o_is pocket, and I knew that he had come over, as was his way, to give me som_ews, for we heard little enough at West Inch.
  • "What is fresh, major?" I asked.
  • He pulled the paper out with a flourish.
  • "The allies have won a great battle, my lad," says he. "I don't think Nap ca_tand up long against this. The Saxons have thrown him over, and he's bee_adly beat at Leipzig. Wellington is past the Pyrenees, and Graham's folk wil_e at Bayonne before long."
  • I chucked up my hat.
  • "Then the war will come to an end at last," I cried.
  • "Aye, and time too," said he, shaking his head gravely. "It's been a blood_usiness. But it is hardly worth while for me to say now what was in my min_bout you."
  • "What was that?"
  • "Well, laddie, you are doing no good here, and now that my knee is gettin_ore limber I was hoping that I might get on active service again. I wondere_hether maybe you might like to do a little soldiering under me."
  • My heart jumped at the thought.
  • "Aye, would I!" I cried.
  • "But it'll be clear six months before I 'll be fit to pass a board, and it'_ong odds that Boney will be under lock and key before that."
  • "And there's my mother," said I, "I doubt she'd never let me go."
  • "Ah! well, she'll never be asked to now," he answered, and hobbled on upon hi_ay.
  • I sat down among the heather with my chin on my hand, turning the thing ove_n my mind, and watching him in his old brown clothes, with the end of a gre_laid flapping over his shoulder, as he picked his way up the swell of th_ill. It was a poor life this, at West Inch, waiting to fill my father'_hoes, with the same heath, and the same burn, and the same sheep, and th_ame grey house for ever before me. But over there, over the blue sea, ah!
  • there was a life fit for a man. There was the Major, a man past his prime, wounded and spent, and yet planning to get to work again, whilst I, with al_he strength of my youth, was wasting it upon these hillsides. A hot wave o_hame flushed over me, and I sprang up all in a tingle to be off and playing _an's part in the world.
  • For two days I turned it over in my mind, and on the third there cam_omething which first brought all my resolutions to a head, and then blew the_ll to nothing like a puff of smoke in the wind.
  • I had strolled out in the afternoon with Cousin Edie and Rob, until we foun_urselves upon the brow of the slope which dips away down to the beach. It wa_ate in the fall, and the links were all bronzed and faded; but the sun stil_hone warmly, and a south breeze came in little hot pants, rippling the broa_lue sea with white curling lines. I pulled an armful of bracken to make _ouch for Edie, and there she lay in her listless fashion, happy an_ontented; for of all folk that I have ever met, she had the most joy fro_armth and light. I leaned on a tussock of grass, with Rob's head upon m_nee, and there as we sat alone in peace in the wilderness, even there we sa_uddenly thrown upon the waters in front of us the shadow of that great ma_ver yonder, who had scrawled his name in red letters across the map o_urope.
  • There was a ship coming up with the wind, a black sedate old merchantman, bound for Leith as likely as not. Her yards were square and she was runnin_ith all sail set. On the other tack, coming from the north-east, were tw_reat ugly lugger-like craft, with one high mast each, and a big square brow_ail. A prettier sight one would not wish than to see the three craft dippin_long upon so fair a day. But of a sudden there came a spurt of flame and _hirl of blue smoke from one lugger, then the same from the second, and a rap, rap, rap, from the ship. In a twinkling hell had elbowed out heaven, and ther_n the waters was hatred and savagery and the lust for blood.
  • We had sprung to our feet at the outburst, and Edie put her hand all in _remble upon my arm.
  • "They are fighting, jack!" she cried. "What are they? Who are they?"
  • My heart was thudding with the guns, and it was all that I could do to answe_er for the catch of my breath.
  • "It's two French privateers, Edie," said I, "Chasse-marries, they call them, and yon's one of our merchant ships, and they'll take her as sure as death; for the major says they 've always got heavy guns, and are as full of men a_n egg is full of meat. Why doesn't the fool make back for Tweedmouth bar?"
  • But not an inch of canvas did she lower, but floundered on in her stoli_ashion, while a little black ball ran up to her peak, and the rare old fla_treamed suddenly out from the halliard. Then again came the rap, rap, rap, o_er little guns, and the boom, boom of the big carronades in the bows of th_ugger. An instant later the three ships met, and the merchantman staggered o_ike a stag with two wolves hanging to its haunches. The three became but _ark blurr amid the smoke, with the top spars thrusting out in a bristle, an_rom the heart of that cloud came the quick red flashes of flame, and such _evil's racket of big guns and small, cheering and screaming, as was to din i_y head for many a week. For a stricken hour the hell-cloud moved slowl_cross the face of the water, and still with our hearts in our mouths w_atched the flap of the flag, straining to see if it were yet there. And the_uddenly the ship, as proud and black and high as ever, shot on upon her way; and as the smoke cleared we saw one of the luggers squattering like a broken- winged duck upon the water, and the other working hard to get the crew fro_er before she sank.
  • For all that hour I had lived for nothing but the fight. My cap had bee_hisked away by the wind, but I had never given it a thought. Now with m_eart full I turned upon my Cousin Edie, and the sight of her took me back si_ears. There was the vacant staring eye and the parted lips, just as I ha_een them in her girlhood, and her little hands were clenched until th_nuckles gleamed like ivory.
  • "Ah, that captain!" said she, talking to the heath and the whin-bushes. "Ther_s a man so strong, so resolute! What woman would not be proud of a man lik_hat?"
  • "Aye, he did well!" I cried with enthusiasm.
  • She looked at me as if she had forgotten my existence.
  • "I would give a year of my life to meet such a man," said she; "But that i_hat living in the country means. One never sees anybody but just those wh_re fit for nothing better."
  • I do not know that she meant to hurt me, though she was never very backward a_hat; but whatever her intention, her words seemed to strike straight upon _aked nerve.
  • "Very well, Cousin Edie," I said, trying to speak calmly, "that puts the ca_n it. I 'll take the bounty in Berwick to- night."
  • "What, Jack! you be a soldier!"
  • "Yes, if you think that every man that bides in the country must be a coward."
  • "Oh, you'd look so handsome in a red coat, Jack, and it improves you vastl_hen you are in a temper. I wish your eyes would always flash like that, fo_t looks so nice and manly. But I am sure that you are joking about th_oldiering."
  • "I 'll let you see if I am joking."
  • Then and there I set off running over the moor, until I burst into the kitche_here my mother and father were sitting on either side of the ingle.
  • "Mother," I cried, "I'm off for a soldier!"
  • Had I said I was off for a burglar they could not have looked worse over it, for in those days among the decent canny country folks it was mostly the blac_heep that were herded by the sergeant. But, my word, those same black shee_id their country some rare service too. My mother put up her mittens to he_yes, and my father looked as black as a peat hole.
  • "Hoots, Jock, you're daft," says he.
  • "Daft or no, I 'm going."
  • "Then you'll have no blessing from me?"
  • "Then I'll go without."
  • At this my mother gives a screech and throws her arms about my neck. I saw he_and, all hard and worn and knuckly with the work she had done for m_pbringing, and it pleaded with me as words could not have done. My heart wa_oft for her, but my will was as hard as a flint-edge. I put her back in he_hair with a kiss, and then ran to my room to pack my bundle. It was alread_rowing dark, and I had a long walk before me, so I thrust a few thing_ogether and hastened out. As I came through the side door someone touched m_houlder, and there was Edie in the gloaming.
  • "Silly boy," said she, "you are not really going."
  • "Am I not? You'll see."
  • "But your father does not wish it, nor your mother."
  • "I know that."
  • "Then why go?"
  • "You ought to know."
  • "Why, then?"
  • "Because you make me!"
  • "I don't want you to go, Jack."
  • "You said it. You said that the folk in the country were fit for nothin_etter. You always speak like that. You think no more of me than of those doo_n the cot. You think I am nobody at all. I'll show you different."
  • All my troubles came out in hot little spurts of speech. She coloured up as _poke, and looked at me in her queer half-mocking, half-petting fashion.
  • "Oh, I think so little of you as that?" said she. "And that is the reason wh_ou are going away? Well then, Jack, will you stay if I am — if I am kind t_ou?"
  • We were face to face and close together, and in an instant the thing was done.
  • My arms were round her, and I was kissing her, and kissing her, and kissin_er, on her mouth, her cheeks, her eyes, and pressing her to my heart, an_hispering to her that she was all, all, to me, and that I could not b_ithout her. She said nothing, but it was long before she turned her fac_side, and when she pushed me back it was not very hard.
  • "Why, you are quite your rude, old, impudent self!" said she, patting her hai_ith her two hands. "You have tossed me, Jack; I had no idea that you would b_o forward!"
  • But all my fear of her was gone, and a love tenfold hotter than ever wa_oiling in my veins. I took her up again, and kissed her as if it were m_ight.
  • "You are my very own now!" I cried. "I shall not go to Berwick, but I 'll sta_nd marry you."
  • But she laughed when I spoke of marriage.
  • "Silly boy! Silly. boy!" said she, with her forefinger up; and then when _ried to lay hands on her again, she gave a little dainty curtsy, and was of_nto the house.