~CHAPTER VII~ I THINK the feck o' fouk wha are happily mairrit like to look back adoon the years to that eventfu' time in their life-history when, by the glint o' an e'e, or it micht hae been the touch o' a haun', they felt that they had each met for the first time their pairtner for life, and to that particeelar spot where first their story o' love was tell't, and where their troth was plighted. Nane o' the details are missed oot. A' the accompaniments are there, and hoo each wee word and action is cherished, and hoo every association is treasured, only thae wha hae proved each ither's worth in the realities o' this world's fecht can thoroughly understaun' and appreciate. Yin may forget a lot in this life, even a lot which was o' great moment at the time, and which had an important bearin' on their whole efter life, but I'm safe to say that that glint o' the e'e, that touch o' the haun', that tellin' o' the auld yet sweetest story-the story o' a pure whole-herted love-will live within us when a' things else shiver and glimmer and fade away on the glidin' slides o' memory. In tellin' you aboot Grizzy's love story and mine, I feel as if I were openin' a book which should be closed to a', binna her and me, that to put it in words is amaist a sin, and that the subject is so sacred that only Grizzy and me, and God, oor maker, can understaun'. Still, it may be that a story o' a pure and holy love and a tale o' a lang, lang life's devotion and sweet companionship will in a measure gang a faur length to prove that, efter a' that has been said and written to the contrary, the joinin' o' twae leal herts that beat as yin in the holy bonds o' matrimony is yin o' the wisest and safest and maist beneficial institutions that Christianity can boast o', and yin which when entered into in the proper spirit gangs faurer than ony ither to mak' this life what it really should be-a perfect heaven on earth. I was in the last month o' my apprenticeship when first I saw Grizzy. It was a bleak January efternoon, and I was at a gey cauld job, layin' a new step at my maister's, John M'Andra's, wash-house door. I was juist aboot feenished when a shoer o' sleet cam' on, and I gaed roon' the corner o' the hoose into the bield and was flappin' my airms to bring some heat into my haun's when, on lookin' noon, I saw within the open back door the bonniest-faced lassie I had ever seen in my life. She lookit at me for a meenit, and then she asked if I was cauld. I said, "No, no, not at all," and that was pairtly true, for whenever my e'e lichted on her I felt my bluid rinnin' warmer, and I forgot a' aboot my cauld tinglin' fingers. She said nocht mair, and gaed away into the hoose, but in a wee Mrs. M'Andra cam' oot and asked me to come in to the kitchen fire, and I wasna lang there till a cup o' tea and some breed and butter was brocht to me by Mrs. M'Andra hersel'. I thanked her in words, but frae my hert my unspoken thanks gaed oot to the wee bit lass I had seen at the back-kitchen door, a look frae wha's bonnie blue een had turned the cauld o' a January's blast to the warmth and sunshine o' a July efternoon. I kenned she was a niece o' Mrs. M'Andra's, for when I was takin' my tea I heard her caa' in her "Auntie," and I mind o' thinkin' to mysel' that, though what she was talkin' aboot was usual and commonplace, the sweetness and saftness o' her voice raised it to a higher standard and made it by-ordinar. Weel, I gaed oot and feenished my job, and I mind afore I did sae I made a message aince or twice roon' by the back door on the off chance o' seein' her again, but I was disappointed, and I gethered my tools thegither at the darkenin' and gaed away hame wi' a kind o' peculiar pleesant sairness at my hert I had never felt before. And that nicht, sittin' at my supper, I wondered hoo it was my parritch was sae wersh, hoo even queerer lookin' than usual my grandmither was, and hoo drab-coloured and dismal were a' my surroundings. I didna ken at that time, but, of coorse, I ken noo, that my faither's place in my life's plan was filled at last and that noo I had some yin to live up to. I mind efter I had had my supper, insteid o' gaun away oot to stravaig the street, I gaed away ben to my faither's wee back room, and tho' it was cauld I sat there in his ain airm-chair readin' and re-readin', by the licht o' a talla caurnile, oot o' his weel-thoomed volume o' Burns, verses efter verses, which in some wey had a new and clearer meanin' to me. Sittin' there I got aff by hert his "Epistle to Davie," and I fell asleep, turnin' ower and ower in my mind the beauty and truth o' thae lines- "All hail, ye tender feelings dear! The smile of love, the friendly tear, The Sympathetic glow! Long since this world's thorny ways Had numbered out my weary days, Had it not been for you! Fate still has bless'd me with a friend In every care and ill, And oft a more endearing band, A tie more tender still" My orders for the next day were that I had to gang ower to Drumcork to point a gable, but durin' the nicht a fall o' snaw had been followed by a snell frost, and, of coorse, a' ootside wark, particeelarly ootside mason wark, Was at a staun'still. John M'Andra keepit a horse and trap for his ain use in gaun roon' his different jobs, which at times were geyly scattered; and, of coorse, it was the work o' the apprentice to see to the beast and keep the stable and coach-hoose clean and tidy, so haein' nocht else to do after giein' "Dapple" his breakfast I set to to clean the harness. When I was busy daein' this the maister cam' into the stable and tell't me his niece was gaun hame that day to Barjarg, that he intended drivin' her himsel', but as I couldna get on wi' my wark at Drumcork I had better tak' her doon that length in the trap, and to be ready at hauf-past ten. Man, I'll never forget that drive as lang as I live. It was a cauld, cauld day, at least fouk said it was, but I didna feel it sae. Hand frost-crusted snaw covered a' the countryside, and a nippy bitin' wind was blaain' frae the north-east, but, man, the sun was shinin' and there was beside me yin wha's presence sent a glow o' brichtness and gledness through me and made the glistenin' snaw, the leafless trees, and the wintry sky hae a beauty a' their ain. I think the pairish o' Keir is far, far bonnier lyin' under a shrood o' white than under a mantle o' green. I may be wrang, but it appears to me sae, and has aye done since that day in January I drove Grizzy to Barjarg. I hadna much to say to her at first, for as the roads were like gless and the slippy bits pairtly covered wi' poodery snaw I had plenty to do to keep "Dapple" on his feet, but by and by as the sun shone oot the conditions bettered, and when no' watchin' "Dapple's" heid, mony and mony a look did I tak' oot o' the tail o' my e'e at my companion s wee fur bonnet, that tapped her heid o' wavin' yellow hair. And then betimes a remark passed between us, and very sune, by a word here and a word there, she drew me oot, and I tell't her a' aboot my early days, o' my veesit to Edinbro', and what I had seen there. Then efter a wee I tell't her aboot my faither, his illness, and the waygaun o' the dugs. I felt I was speakin' to yin wha understood, and when I had dune tellin' her aboot his death and a' it meant to me, she lookit up at me wi' a glistenin' tear-drap in her e'e, and tell't me she was sorry to ken aboot it a'. Man, the sicht o' that tear-drap touched a chord in my hert and sent a thrill through me-a thrill o' joy at first, and then a pang o' regret. I thocht it mean and unmanly o' me to mak' onyyin, especially a wee bit lass, sair at hert aboot my concerns, and I tell't her I was sorry I had spoken as I had dune, if what I'd said had made her unhappy. But she lookit up at me and smiled, and it was then I saw for the first time that smile and that tear which has often since then glorified and beautified her dean face to me. By and by we talked o' ither concerns, principally connected wi' her ain hame affairs, and I was uncommon prood she did sae, as she, in a wey, gied me confidence for confidence, and put me mair on the footin' o' an acquaintance than that o' a stranger. "Dapple" was o' uncertain age. He had at least lost mark o' mooth, and as a rule needed a wee bit o' whup noo and again, but he needed nane that day. My goodness, hoo he did trot, and, mind ye, I wasna in a hurry. I wanted him to tak' it easy, but no, and he had us at Barjarg when my interest in her and hers was at its heicht. I got oot first, for the step o' the trap was high. For one moment, between the step and the grun', she was in my airms, just for one moment, but in it I felt the warmth o' her breath on my cheek, and in my nostrils the sweet natural perfume o' her golden hair. But the memory I cairrit hame wi' me, and what pleased me best was the smile on her bonnie blythe face and the tear-drap o' sympathy in her kindly blue e'e. Man, it's an awfu' thing to be in love-richt in love, ower heid and ears, as it were; ye ken what I mean. Yin disna wonder at it in a lassie, and the hingin' e'e and the waebegane look is what yin micht expect. But in a great big strong deevil o' a young chap it's-weel, it's lauchable. I've had a' kinds o' seiknesses, includin' sea-seikness, for I was aince at Arran, and I'm bound to say that love-seikness is yin o' the maist weakenin', maist unput-up-able, troubles that ever I had. Dod, man, there were times when I couldna eat-a maist unusual state for me to be in, and yin that showed there was something faur wrang. Then there was the sairness, and waur than the sairness, the itchyness at the hert which was sae provokin', as there was nae gettin' at it, and the alternate feelin' o' certainty and uncertainty, and the doots and tears, and the castles in the air, and the bursted bubbles in the wind. I was happy and meeserable at yin and the same time, and had it no' been that my apprenticeship was oot at this time and that I had serious thochts regairdin' my future to consider, I'm fear't to think hoo daft-like and stupidly silly my behaviour wad hae been. But even wi' sic thochts I was had eneuch, for I took to wanderin' away oot my lane, doon by the Cundy and roon' the Holmhill road to Templand, frae where I could command a grand view o' the Keir. Auld Mrs. Buchan, the witch, thocht it was the road to Paradise; so did I then. I kenned every knowe-heid and every dyke tap in the locality frae which I could see the wuds aboot Barjarg. I mind I bocht a dickie when I had mair need o' a hauf loaf, and I got a pair o' 'lastic-sided buits, twae sizes ower wee for me, and for a week o' Sundays walked in torture to Porteoustoon gate, but nae faurer, a' for nocht, for I never saw her, and hirpled hame wi' a gnawin' corn and a heavy hert. Davie Gracie was a naebody noo, and his whusslin' and mairchin' an abomination. Nicht efter nicht I sat, or walked my lane, thinkin' oot lines o' poetry aboot her, rhymin' "Grizzy " wi' "busy," "dizzy," and "Lizzie," and thoomin' Burns frae beginnin' to end for the groundwark o' a poem I wad write in her praise. Oh, I tell ye, I was in a sair state! By an unconscious and mercifu' intervention on the pairt o' my maister, John M'Andra, an opportunity was gien me, some fower months later, o' meetin' Grizzy face to face on her ain hearthstane, as yin micht say. And it cam' aboot in this wey. In the early spring he had taen some wark at Barndennoch, which he undertook to complete for the incomin' tenant before the May term; but the weather had been sae desperately wintry till werl on into April that little progress had been made. Hooever, when it cleared, he put on a big squad-I wasna yin o' the gang, much to my disgust-and things were weel forrit by the term, wi' the exception o' some alteration in the flues. Noo, this is a department o' my tred that, even in my apprentice days, had a special attraction for me, and I was, as a rule, aye sent to ony job where skill in this line was needed. Ye'll mebbe think that ony mason in moleskins can mak' a fire draw or a lum pu'. If ye do, ye're wrang, for I'll tell ye this, that lum wark is amaist a tred by itsel', and yin which only ae mason here and there properly understaun's. Weel, I was sent doon, efter the lave had been taen off the job, to see to the flues, and I was tell't to tak' lodgin's for the time bein', and if possible get the wark dune for the term day. Man, I tell ye, I was prood o' bein' singled oot for this, nae less for the honour o't than for the fact o' its nearness to Barjarg, and it was wi' a licht hert and an expectant yin that I set oot frae Thornhill that Monday mornin' for the ferm toon o' Barndennoch. That first day I wrocht till the darkenin', but on the Tuesday, haein' things weel within haun', I snoddit mysel' efter supper-time and took a daunner alang the Barjarg road, wi' the hope strong within me that I micht either meet Grizzy or that chance micht lead me to her door. I minded where I had set her doon that cauld January day, and when I reached the place, I lookit up at the hoose, but, sae faur as I could see, there were nae signs o' life aboot it, so I daunnered on, wi' my left side thumpin' like a steam engine. It was something, at onyrate, to hae seen the hoose she steyed in, and this consoled me for a wee; but when I was clear o' the clachan and staunin' at a yett on the roadside, thinks I, dod, "'Faint hert never won fair lady.' I'll gang back and chap at the door and risk it." On sic a short acquaintanceship it micht be considered a cheeky thing to do, but I was gettin' desperate, and felt within mysel' that something had to be dune, and noo was the time. Man, I was juist gaun to turn back when, on lookin' up the road, I saw her comin' alang, and when my e'e lichted on her I was fit to drap. Often since we pairted had I gaen ower in my mind a' that I wad say to her when next we met, and sae often had I repeated it to mysel' that I had it off by hert. But in a moment it a' gaed clean oot o' my heid, and when she cam' up I stood at that white yett juist like a stookie. She was baith surprised and pleased to see me, I could see, and in a wee I was able to tell her hoo I cam' to be her gate, and she in her turn tell't me she had been a message to the village o' Keir, and that she was gled she had got back in time to tak' me alang to see her grandfaither and grandmither, wi' whae she bided. I didna ken till then that baith her faither and mither were deid, and I mind o' lookin' at her and thinkin' that she, like me, wad be a lanely wee sowl, and that we baith stood in need o' each ither's help and sympathy. We stood there talkin' for a wee, then I took a sma' denty hankie oot o' my pooch and asked her if it was hers. She lookit at it and said it was, and I tell't her she had left it in the trap that day I drove her doon, and that I had juist keepit it till I had the chance o' giein' it back to her. I was vexed to pairt wi't, for mony a time I had kissed it for her sake; but she took it frae me wi' a blush, which in some wey compensated me for its loss, and gied me courage and hert to ask her to walk wi' me doon the loanin' leadin' frae the gate, away frae the road and towards the Nith. The sun was sittin' ahint the hills o' Keir, and the valley was lyin' bathed in a saft purple licht, which mellowed and brocht into harmony and tune every ootstaun'in' feature in the landscape before us. A mavis frae a silver bink was singin' a lullaby to the dyin' day, and his rich, full-throated sang was wafted adoon the loanin' till it was lost in the soughin' o' the saughs and the croonin' o' the gurglin' Nith as it lapped and washed the pebbles on its sandy bed. Frae the velvet turf, in which oor feet sank saft, a lark raise, and, quivenin' in the saft nicht licht, it sang to its mate, and to Grizzy and me, its sang o' hope and love. And I walked there beside her, in the hush o' that May month nicht, wi' a sang within me, liltin' to every step and a story simmenin' in my mind for her ear only. I couldna speak o' trivial things, for they seemed oot o' keepin' wi' oor surroundings, and I was silent, and so was she. We cam' to a turn o' the bye-road, ayont which was a yett, where the path cam' to an end, and she turned as if to gang back, but I stood still. "Grizzy," I said, "I've something to tell ye. Will ye listen to me here?" She turned her face away frae me, and she didna answer; but I cam' near her, and there, in the sacred quateness and the mellow gloamin' licht, I tell't her a' that my hert bade me say. I dinna ken what I said, or hoo I said it, but I mind the consciousness cam' to me that I was speakin' in the same tone o' voice, and staunin' before her wi' my heid bowed and uncovered, as my faither's had been when he was speakin' to the lady at the Braid Burn brig, and, strangely eneuch, his presence seemed to be wi' me, and I felt that he, too, was pleadin' my cause. A wee bit sab, as o' a bairn greetin' in the dank, broke the stillness. I put my haun' on hen shooder, and she took a step near me, but she didna speak. And then wi' my airms aroon' her and her face hidden on my breist, she whispered a' I yearned to ken. There we pledged oor troth, and the sang o' the mavis was oor joybell and the croonin' o' Nith oor benediction.