And then there came those ten weeks which were like a dream, and are so now t_ook back upon. I would weary you were I to tell you what passed between u_ut oh, how earnest and fateful and all-important it was at the time! He_aywardness; her ever-varying moods, now bright, now dark, like a meadow unde_rifting clouds; her causeless angers; her sudden repentances, each in tur_illing me with joy or sorrow: these were my life, and all the rest was bu_mptiness. But ever deep down behind all my other feelings was a vagu_isquiet, a fear that I was like the man who set forth to lay hands upon th_ainbow, and that the real Edie Calder, however near she might seem, was i_ruth for ever beyond my reach.
For she was so hard to understand, or, at least, she was so for a dull-witte_ountry lad like me. For if I would talk to her of my real prospects, and ho_y taking in the whole of Corriemuir we might earn a hundred good pounds ove_he extra rent, and maybe be able to build out the parlour at West Inch, so a_o make it fine for her when we married, she would pout her lips and droop he_yes, as though she scarce had patience to listen to me. But if I would le_er build up dreams about what I might become, how I might find a paper whic_roved me to be the true heir of the laird, or how, without joining the army, which she would by no means hear of, I showed myself to be a great warrio_ntil my name was in all folks' mouths, then she would be as blithe as th_ay. I would keep up the play as well as I could, but soon some luckless wor_ould show that I was only plain Jock Calder of West Inch, and out would com_er lip again in scorn of me. So we moved on, she in the air and I on th_round; and if the rift had not come in one way, it must in another.
It was after Christmas, but the winter had been mild, with just frost enoug_o make it safe walking over the peat bogs. One fresh morning Edie had bee_ut early, and she came back to breakfast with a fleck of colour on he_heeks.
"Has your friend the doctor's son come home, Jack?" says she.
"I heard that he was expected."
"Ah! then it must have been him that I met on the muir."
"What! you met Jim Horscroft?"
"I am sure it must be he. A splendid-looking man — a hero, with curly blac_air, a short, straight nose, and grey eyes. He had shoulders like a statue, and as to height, why I suppose that your head, Jack, would come up to hi_carf-pin."
"Up to his ear, Edie!" said I, indignantly. "That is, if it was Jim. But tel_e. Had he a brown wooden pipe stuck in the corner of his mouth?"
"Yes, he was smoking. He was dressed in grey, and he has a grand deep stron_oice."
"Ho, ho! you spoke to him!" said I.
She coloured a little, as if she had said more than she meant.
"I was going where the ground was a little soft, and he warned me of it," sh_aid.
"Ah it must have been dear old Jim," said I. "He should have been a docto_ears back, if his brains had been as strong as his arm. Why, heart alive, here is the very man himself!"
I had seen him through the kitchen window, and now I rushed out with my half- eaten bannock in my hand to greet him. He ran forward too, with his great han_ut and his eyes shining.
"Ah! Jock," he cried, "it's good to see you again. There are no friends lik_he old ones."
Then suddenly he stuck in his speech, and stared with his mouth open over m_houlder. I turned, and there was; Edie, with such a merry, roguish smile, standing in the door. How proud I felt of her, and of myself too, as I looke_t her!
"This is my cousin, Miss Edie Calder, Jim," said I.
"Do you often take walks before breakfast, Mr. Horscroft?" she asked, stil_ith that roguish smile.
"Yes," said he, staring at her with all his eyes.
"So do I, and generally over yonder," said she. "But you are not ver_ospitable to your friend, Jack. If you do not do the honours, I shall have t_ake your place for the credit of West Inch."
Well, in another minute we were in with the old folk, and Jim had his plate o_orridge ladled out for him; but hardly a word would he speak, but sat wit_is spoon in his hand staring at Cousin Edie. She shot little twinklin_lances across at him all the time, and it seemed to me that she was amused a_is backwardness, and that she tried by what she said to give him heart.
"Jack was telling me that you were studying to be a doctor," said she. "But, oh, how hard it must be, and how long it must take before one can gather s_uch learning as that!"
"It takes me long enough," Jim answered ruefully; "but I 'll beat it yet."
"Ah! but you are brave. You are resolute. You fix your eyes on a point and yo_ove on towards it, and nothing can stop you."
"Indeed, I 've little to boast of," said he.
Many a one who began with me has put up his plate years ago, and here am I bu_ student still."
"That is your modesty, Mr. Horscroft. They say that the bravest are alway_umble. But then, when you have gained your end, what a glorious career — t_arry healing in your hands, to raise up the suffering, to have for one's sol_nd the good of humanity!"
Honest Jim wriggled in his chair at this.
"I'm afraid I have no such very high motives, Miss Calder," said he. "It is t_arn a living, and to take over my father's business, that I do it. If I carr_ealing in one hand, I have the other out for a crown-piece."
"How candid and truthful you are!" she cried; and so they went on, she deckin_im with every virtue, and twisting his words to make him play the part, i_he way that I knew so well. Before he was done I could see that his head wa_uzzing with her beauty and her kindly words. I thrilled with pride to thin_hat he should think so well of my kin.
"Isn't she fine, Jim?" I could not help saying when we stood outside the door, he lighting his pipe before he set off home.
"Fine!" he cried; "I never saw her match!"
"We're going to be married," said I.
The pipe fell out of his mouth, and he stood staring at me. Then he picked i_p and walked off without a word. I thought that he would likely come back, but he never did; and I saw him far off up the brae, with his chin on hi_hest.
But I was not to forget him, for Cousin Edie had a hundred questions to ask m_bout his boyhood, about his strength, about the women that he was likely t_now; there was no satisfying her. And then again, later in the day, I hear_f him, but in a less pleasant fashion.
It was my father who came home in the evening with his mouth full of poor Jim.
He had been deadly drunk since midday, had been down to Westhouse Links t_ight the gipsy champion, and it was not certain that the man would liv_hrough the night. My father had met Jim on the high road, dour as a thunder- cloud, and with an insult in his eye for every man that passed him. "Gui_akes!" said the old man. "He'll make a fine practice for himsel', if breakin_anes will do it."
Cousin Edie laughed at all this, and I laughed because she did; but I was no_o sure that it was funny.
On the third day afterwards, I was going up Corriemuir by the sheep-track, when who should I see striding down but Jim himself. But he was a differen_an from the big, kindly fellow who had supped his porridge with us the other- morning. He had no collar nor tie, his vest was open, his hair matted, and hi_ace mottled, like a man who has drunk heavily overnight. He carried an as_tick, and he slashed at the whin-bushes on either side of the path.
"Why, Jim!" said I.
But he looked at me in the way that I had often seen at school when the devi_as strong in him, and when he knew that he was in the wrong, and yet set hi_ill to brazen it out. Not a word did he say, but he brushed past me on th_arrow path and swaggered on, still brandishing his ashplant and cutting a_he bushes.
Ah well, I was not angry with him. I was sorry, very sorry, and that was all.
Of course, I was not so blind but that I could see how the matter stood. H_as in love with Edie, and he could not bear to think that I should have her.
Poor devil, how could he help it? Maybe I should have been the same. There wa_ time when I should have wondered that a girl could have turned a stron_an's head like that, but I knew more about it now.
For a fortnight I saw nothing of Jim Horscroft, and then came the Thursda_hich was to change the whole current of my life.
I had woke early that day, and with a little thrill of joy which is a rar_hing to feel when a man first opens his eyes. Edie had been kinder than usua_he night before, and I had fallen asleep with the thought that maybe at las_ had caught the rainbow, and that without any imaginings or make-believes sh_as learning to love plain, rough Jock Calder of West Inch. It was thi_hought, stiff at my heart, which had given me that little morning chirrup o_oy. And then I remembered that if I hastened I might be in time for her, fo_t was her custom to go out with the sunrise.
But I was too late. When I came to her door it was half-open and the roo_mpty. Well, thought I, at least I may meet her and have the homeward wal_ith her. From the top of Corriemuir hill you may see all the country round; so, catching up my stick, I swung off in that direction. It was bright, bu_old, and the surf, I remember, was booming loudly, though there had been n_ind in our parts for days. I zigzagged up the steep pathway, breathing in th_hin, keen morning air, and humming a lilt as I went, until I came out, _ittle short of breath, among the whins upon the top. Looking down the lon_lope of the further side, I saw Cousin Edie, as I had expected; and I saw Ji_orscroft walking by her side.
They were not far away, but too taken up with each other to see me. She wa_alking slowly, with the little petulant cock of her dainty head which I kne_o well, casting her eyes away from him, and shooting out a word from time t_ime. He paced along beside her, looking down at her and bending his head i_he eagerness of his talk. Then as he said something, she placed her hand wit_ caress upon his arm, and he, carried off his feet, plucked her up and kisse_er again and again. At the sight I could neither cry out nor move, but stood, with a heart of lead and the face of a dead man, staring down at them. I sa_er hand passed over his shoulder, and that his kisses were as welcome to he_s ever mine had been.
Then he set her down again, and I found that this had been their parting; for, indeed, in another hundred paces they would have come in view of the uppe_indows of the house. She walked slowly away, with a wave back once or twice, and he stood looking after her. I waited until she was some way off, and the_own I came, but so taken up was he, that I was within a hand's-touch of hi_efore he whisked round upon me. He tried to smile as his eye met mine.
"Ah, Jock," says he, "early afoot!"
"I saw you!" I gasped; and my throat had turned so dry that I spoke like a ma_ith a quinsy.
"Did you so?" said he, and gave a little whistle. "Well, on my life, Jock, I'_ot sorry. I was thinking of coming up to West Inch this very day, and havin_t out with you. Maybe it 's better as it is."
"You've been a fine friend!" said I.
"Well now, be reasonable, Jock," said he, sticking his hands in to his pocket_nd rocking to and fro as he stood. "Let me show you how it stands. Look me i_he eye, and you'll see that I don't lie. It's this way. I had met Edi — Mis_alder that is — before I came that morning, and there were things which mad_e look upon her as free; and, thinking that, I let my mind dwell on her. The_ou said she wasn't free, but was promised to you, and that was the wors_nock I've had for a time. It clean put me off, and I made a fool of mysel_or some days, and it's a mercy I 'm not in Berwick gaol. Then by chance I me_er again — on my soul, Jock, it was chance for me, — and when I spoke of yo_he laughed at the thought. It was cousin and cousin, she said; but as for he_ot being free, or you being more to her than a friend, it was fool's talk. S_ou see, Jock, I was not so much to blame, after all: the more so as sh_romised that she would let you see by her conduct that you were mistaken i_hinking that you had any claim upon her. You must have noticed that she ha_ardly had a word for you for these last two weeks."
I laughed bitterly.
"It was only last night," said I, "that she told me that I was the only man i_ll this earth that she could ever bring herself to love."
Jim Horscroft put out a shaking hand and laid it on my shoulder, while h_ushed his face forward to look into my eyes.
"Jock Calder," said he, "I never knew you tell a lie. You are not trying t_core trick against trick, are you? Honest now, between man and man."
"It's God's truth," said I.
He stood looking at me, and his face had set like that of a man who is havin_ hard fight with himself. It was a long two minutes before he spoke.
"See here, Jock!" said he. "This woman is fooling us both. D'you hear, man?
she's fooling us both! She loves you at West Inch, and she loves me on th_raeside; and in her devil's heart she cares a whin-blossom for neither of us.
Let 's join hands, man, and send the hellfire hussy, to the right-about!"
But this was too much. I could not curse her in my own heart, and still les_ould I stand by and hear another man do it; not though it was my oldes_riend.
"Don't you call names!" I cried.
"Ach! you sicken me with your soft talk! I 'll call her what she should b_alled!"
"Will you, though?" said I, lugging off my coat. "Look you here, Ji_orscroft, if you say another word against her, I 'll lick it down you_hroat, if you were as big as Berwick Castle! Try me and see!"
He peeled off his coat down to the elbows, and then he slowly pulled it o_gain.
"Don't be such a fool, Jock!" said he. "Four stone and five inches is mor_han mortal man can give. Two old friends mustn't fall out over such a — well, there, I won't say it. Well, by the Lord, if she hasn't nerve for ten!"
I looked round, and there she was, not twenty yards from us, looking as coo_nd easy and placid as we were hot and fevered.
"I was nearly home," said she, "when I saw you two boys very busy talking, s_ came all the way back to know what it was about."
Horscroft took a run forward and caught her by the wrist. She gave a littl_queal at the sight of his face, but he pulled her towards where I wa_tanding.
"Now, Jock, we 've had tomfoolery enough," said he. "Here she is. Shall w_ake her word as to which she likes? She can't trick us now that we're bot_ogether."
"I am willing," said I.
"And so am I. If she goes for you, I swear I 'll never so much as turn an ey_n her again. Will you do as much for me?"
"Yes, I will."
"Well then, look here, you! We're both honest men, and friends, and we tel_ach other no lies; and so we know your double ways. I know what you said las_ight. Jock knows what you said to-day. D'you see? Now then, fair and square!
Here we are before you; once and have done. Which is it to be, Jock or me?"
You would have thought that the woman would have been overwhelmed with shame, but instead of that her eyes were shining with delight; and I dare wager tha_t was the proudest moment of her life. As she looked from one to the other o_s, with the cold morning sun glittering on her face, I had never seen he_ook so lovely. Jim felt it also, I am sure; for he dropped her wrist, and th_arsh lines were softened upon his face.
"Come, Edie! which is it to be?" he asked.
"Naughty boys, to fall out like this!" she cried. "Cousin Jack, you know ho_ond I am of you."
"Oh, then go to him," said Horscroft.
"But I love nobody but Jim. There is nobody that I love like Jim."
She snuggled up to him, and laid her cheek against his breast.
"You see, Jock!" said he, looking over her shoulder.
I did see; and away I went for West Inch, another man from the time that _eft it.