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viously looked upon me as a poor creature-a Southron.
I told him that I wanted to
go to Hopeton.
"Hopeton, is't?" he answered. "Does the Laird ken ye're comin', for if he kens, what wye did he no' sen' the gig tae meet ye?"
"He doesn't know that I intended coming by this train, though he expects me any day now," I replied, somewhat nettled by this cross-examination.
"Ye wud ha'e dune better tae wire. Ye'd ha'e saved yersel' a heap o' fash—an' me tae, for that maitter. What'll ye dae noo?"
“How far is it to Hopeton?" I asked.
"It's ower five mile if ye gang by the turnpike, but no' muckle mair nor three by the auld Roman Road ower the hills-that's if ye're thinkin' o' walkin'. But ye couldna tak' ony o' thae muckle boaxes wi' ye. The eairrier wud tak' them ower on the railway lorry."
"I think that's the best way, then," I agreed. "It's a lovely evening, and the walk will do me good after a day cramped up in the train."
"Oo aye, it's a braw nicht," he admitted, grudgingly to all appearances. "An' ye'll juist ha'e time tae gang that far afore the gloamin's on tap o' ye."
With that he proceeded to instruct me upon my route, but what with the strangeness of his dialect and my own rather casual attention to his directions, I went off with but
a hazy notion of how I was to reach my destination.
At first, all was clear. Behind the station rose a steep grassy hill, its base clad in trees, amidst which one could see the chimneys and roofs of two or three houses peeping out. My road led me upwards through this wooded zone to a bare whitewashed farm house which lay at the foet of the hill proper. Here I thought it wise to refresh my memory as to my direction.
replied the strapping red-armed girl whom I found by the byre-door. "Oo aye. Ye can gang this wye, but it's a gye rough road. Turn roond tae the left when ye're bye the fairm, an' keep straucht on roond the side o' the hill. The dry-stane dykes 'll keep ye richt. Keep atween them an' ye canna gae wrang."
Having thanked the girl for her courtesy, and received in reply a hearty laugh and a "Havers, man, it's naething!" -I went on my way round the side of the hill.
So this was the old Roman Road!
On either side of me was an ancient dry-stone dyke, broken down by time and sheep into a mere clutter of loose stone. Between lay a deep irregular hollow, filled up with bracken and gnarled gorse. A semblance of a path led through this wilderness, kept open by passing shepherds and as I learnt afterwards-quarrymen wending their way to their work across the hills.
I was enchanted with the
scene beneath me. The road winding round the side of the grassy hill which rose four or five hundred feet above my head, was itself a couple of hundred feet above the waters of the Firth. When I stood by the broken wall and looked down, I saw the blue waters stretched before me, with islands large and small laid out as on a map. I did not know them then as I do now, but there were the two Cumbraes, Big and Little, the Isle of Bute, and, most wonderful of all, Arran, with the sun just set behind the northern end. The whole sky was rich with colour, but on the water the shadows were lengthening each moment, and a gloom began to settle on the land, which made me shiver and hastily pass on my way.
As I proceeded my path became steadily worse. I left the first hill behind, and found myself in the midst of a country dotted with grass-clad knolls, topped with rude cairns of stones. My track kept me well above the level of cultivation,
When I had walked for the best part of an hour I began to have doubts as to my direction. My friend the railway porter had put it at three miles, and I felt sure that I must have walked quite that distance. Dusk was thickening on me too, and there was no sign of human habitation at which I could inquire my way.
I now found myself in a high valley between two small hills set close together. My twinguides, the dykes, had dwindled to one, so that I was no longer
assured that I was still on the old Reman road. Worse still, when I passed these gloomy knolls on which night had already begun to settle, I found in front of me a great dark wood of stunted firs and pines, at which my path forked, one branch leading by a stile through the wood, the other bearing away to the left.
I stopped and scratched my head. The porter had certainly mentioned this wood— "the foax-cover" he had called it—but whether he had bidden me go through it or avoid it was beyond my capacity to remember.
Giving the problem up in despair I tossed for it, and bore off on the path to the left, avoiding the wood. It had now grown so dark that it was with difficulty that I could see the path, though, looking over the countryside, I could still follow the contours of the hills, and distinguish the black masses that represented wooded tracks.
I suppose I must have walked about a mile from the fork in the way, when I saw, in the distance, a light, which I took to be shining from some dwelling-house, possibly Hopeton. Unfortunately the path I followed was leading me away at right angles to this light, to reach which I must leave the track and take to the pastureland that stretched beneath
"Anyhow," I thought, "a cross-country tramp can be little worse than this,"-for, indeed, the path was now almost indiscernible, and I was
continually coming into unpleasant contact with whinbushes, or stumbling over loose boulders which had fallen from the dyke.
The light which I had made up my mind to aim for lay across a valley between two hills, and was a fair way up on the opposite slope. I olambered over the dyke amid a rattle of loose stones, and set off downhill at a good pace, and at considerable risk of a broken ankle, for the closecropped turf was honey combed with rabbit-holes and full of ridges and irregularities of surface.
It was now all but night, and but for the fact that the moon had appeared round the shoulder of the nearest hill, I should have been unable to advance with any hope of reaching my goal. To add to my troubles, the light for which I was aiming suddenly disappeared. Once or twice again I caught a glimpse of it, and then it was gone for good.
Immediately after I had lost sight of the light, the report of a shot-gun reached my ears from somewhere in the gloom ahead. At the same time I thought I could hear a faint distant call of distress, and then once more the silence fell around me.
I stood still and listened intently, but as I heard nothing further, I put the sound down as the startled call of some bird disturbed by the shot.
Then, by the aid of the moonlight, I saw the explanation of the disappearance of the light for which I was aim
ing. Ahead of me lay a long narrow wood, which appeared to me as a black stripe stretching away far up the hill towards which I was advancing. As I descended the slope into the valley, this wood had come between me and the light.
I could see that I must either make a very long detour, or else out right through the wood-no easy job in the darkness. However, as I had no idea how far I might have to walk to get round it, I determined that I would go through, if the undergrowth were not too thick.
I reached the bottom of the valley and stumbled into a little burn that flowed through it. Crossing this, I advanced uphill once more, still over springy, close grass, and each moment I seemed to get nearer to the wood. So quickly did it draw near that it almost seemed to be coming to meet me, and as it came I liked it less and less.
There was something horrid about that wood. All around me I could see the rough outline of the country by the bright light of the moon, but there ahead the moon's rays had no power. The wood was like a great black wall stretched across my track. Its gloom and silence began to have an eerie effect upon me, se much so that as I reached the dyke that bordered the wood I began to hesitate, and wonder if perhaps it would not be wiser to make the detour after all.
Then I pulled myself to
gether and called myself a nervous fool, afraid of the dark. Giving myself no further time for hesitation, I clambered over the wall and dived down into the darkness.
Immediately the whole wood became a pandemonium of sound. For a moment my heart jumped within me in sudden fear; and then I realised that in the tree-tops were the nests of innumerable woodpigeons, whose rest I had disturbed, and the harsh clatter of whose wings had startled
I pushed my way forward, stung and pricked by the sharp pine-needles, which to my highstrung nerves seemed like the swords of dumb sentinels
barring my advance. As I struggled I became conscious of another sound, so distinct that it pierced even the thunderous flapping overhead.
It was a low moaning wail, as of some creature in awful pain or stricken by unutterable sorrow-a sound that, coming to me raw-nerved as I was, brought a cold sweat to my brow and set my limbs a-tremble.
I stumbled on, guarding my head from injury with outstretched arms, and jarring my whole body from time to time as I collided with the trunks of trees. Already it was hopeless to turn back. My sense of direction had deserted me, and there was nothing for it but to struggle on, in the hope that I would blunder out on the opposite side.
As I penetrated farther the
trees seemed to grow wider apart, and patches of moonlight lay here and there, like white sheets spread upon the ground. A clear light shone some way ahead as though an open space lay there, wherein the moonlight could play freely.
But from that direction, too, seemed to come the ever-repeated wail that struck unmanly fear into my heart. I all but turned and fled back into the thicket. Shame drove me forward, however, and soon I had stumbled upon the verge of a small clearing, brilliantly lit by the cold hard light of the moon.
It was here that I found the source of the weird sad ories that had upset my
In the middle of the clearing stood a rough cairn of stones, clean-out in the moonlight. Seated at the base of this cairn was a young man, on whose face there was a look of grief and despair indescribable in words.
Across his knees and supported by his twined arms lay the form of a white - clad woman, from whose closed eyes and set features life appeared to have fled. A great dark stain spread over the bosom of her white dress. Her dark hair hung loose over the arm of the youth who held her.
At first I thought the young man had heard my approach, but his eyes, which looked in my direction, were fixed on vacancy and as I looked his lips parted, and there burst from them again that low long wail.
How long I stood silently looking on this strange scene I cannot say. I might have stood much longer than I did but for a discovery that I made without at first realising its significance. As the young man sat motionless with the body of the woman in his arms, I became conscious of the faint regular rise and fall of her bosom. Everything stood out so clearly in the moonlight that I could not be mistaken. So still and white was her face that I had assumed that life had fled, and the discovery of my mistake came on me so suddenly that I rushed forward, shouting—
"She is alive! She is alive!"
The young man started to his feet, still clasping her to his breast, and I saw his eyes gradually focus upon me, and marked the look of surprise with which he slowly realised my presence.
"Who are you?... What do you want here?" he demanded, but in a hoarse whisper as if afraid of disturbing her whom he carried. "Don't ask questions," I answered hurriedly. "I am a doctor, and the lady is hurt -but alive."
Do you hear? She is alive! Let me see the wound."
I took the woman from his arms and laid her upon the ground. Quickly I opened up the bosom of her dress and found upon her breast, just over the heart, a long raw flesh wound. A short examination convinced me that it was that, and nothing more. She had merely fainted from loss of blood and from shock.
Springing to my feet I tried to convey this good news to the young man, who had stood by meanwhile with a dazed look on his face.
"She is all right!" I explained. "It is merely a flesh wound. Where can we take her in order that I may dress it properly? Have you a home near by?"
Gradually a look of comprehension dawned on his face. "She is alive? Oh, Marie! Thank God!"
He threw himself on the ground beside her and kissed her eyes, her lips, and her hair, and dropped tears upon her upturned face.
"Come, come! I said sternly. "This won't do at all. Pull yourself together, man, and let us get a roof over the lady."
"Yes, yes," he stammered brokenly. "Oh, brokenly. "You are right. It is not far."
"She is shot through the heart!" he murmured. "Oh, God!" And again his ory of anguish filled the air.
"Pall yourself together, together, man," I said abruptly, and seizing his shoulder I shook him roughly. "She is alive!
He lifted her tenderly in his arms, and making a sign to me me to follow, plunged apparently into the depths of the wood. In reality he fol