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A short story by S. R. Crockett

Across The March Dyke

Title:     Across The March Dyke
Author: S. R. Crockett [More Titles by Crockett]


Far in the deep of Arden wood it lies;
About it pleasant leaves for ever wave.
Through charmed afternoons we wander on,
And at the sundown reach the seas that lave
The golden isles of blessed Avalon.
When the sweet daylight dies,
Out of the gloom the ferryman doth glide
To take us both into a younger day;
And as the twilight land recedes away,
My lady draweth closer to my side


Thus to a granary for our winter need
We bring these gleanings from the harvest field;
Not the full crop we bring, but only sheaves
At random ta'en from autumn's golden yield--
One handful from a forest's fallen leaves;
Yet shall this grain be seed
Wherewith to sow the furrows year by year--
These wither'd leaves of other springs the pledge,
When thou shalt hear, over our hawthorn hedge
The mavis to his own mate calling clear

"Memory Harvest."

There was the brool of war in the valley of Howpaslet. It was a warlike parish. Its strifes were ecclesiastical mainly, barring those of the ice and the channel-stones. The deep voice of the Reverend Doctor Spence Hutchison, minister of the parish, whose lair was on the broomy knowes of Howpaslet beside its ancient kirk, was answered by the keener, more intense tones of the Reverend William Henry Calvin, of the Seceder kirk, whose manse stood defiantly on an opposite hill, and dared the neighbourhood to come on. But the neighbourhood never came, except only the Kers. In fact, the neighbourhood mostly went to Dr. Hutchison's, for Howpaslet was a great country of the Moderates. Unto whom, as Mr. Calvin said, be peace in this world, for they have small chance of any in the next--at least not to speak of.

Now, ever since the school-board came to Howpaslet its meetings are the great arena of combat. At the first election Dr. Spence Hutchison had the largest number of votes by a very great deal, and carried two colleagues with him to the top of the poll as part of his personal baggage. He did not always remember to consult them, because he knew that they were put there to vote as he wished them, and for no other purpose. And, being honest and modest men, they had no objections. So Dr. Hutchison was chairman of Howpaslet school-board.

But he reigned not without opposition. The forces of revolution had carried the two minority men, and the Doctor knew that at the first meeting of the board he would be met by William Henry Calvin, minister of the Seceder kirk of the Cowdenknowes, and his argumentative elder, Saunders Ker of Howpaslet Mains--one of a family who had laid aside moss-trooping in order to take with the same hereditary birr to psalm-singing and church politics. They were, moreover, great against paraphrases.

That was a great day when the board was formed. There was a word that the Doctor was to move that the meetings of the school-board be private. So the Kers got word of it and sent round the fiery cross. They gathered outside and roosted on the dyke by dozens, all with long faces and cutty pipes. If the proceedings were to be private they would ding down the parish school. So they said, and the parish believed them.

It is moved by the majority farmer, and seconded by the majority publican (whose names do not matter), that the Reverend Dr. Spence Hutchison, minister of the parish, take the chair. It is moved and seconded that the Reverend William Henry Calvin take the chair--moved by Saunders Ker, seconded by himself. So Dr. Hutchison has the casting vote, and he gives it on the way to the chair.

The school-board is constituted.

"Preserve us! what's that?" say the Kers from the windows where they are listening. They think it is some unfair Erastian advantage.

"Nocht ava'--it's juist a word!" explains to them over his shoulder their oracle Saunders, from where he sits by the side of his minister--a small but indomitable phalanx of two in the rear of the farmer and publican. The schoolroom, being that of the old parochial school, is crowded by the supporters of Church and State. These are, however, more especially supporters of the Church, for at the parliamentary elections they mostly vote for "Auld Wullie" in spite of parish politics and Dr. Spence Hutchison.

"Tak' care o' Auld Willie's tickets!" is the cry when in Howpaslet they put the voting-urns into the van to be carried to the county town buildings for enumeration. It was a Ker who drove, and the Tories suspected him of "losing" the tickets of Auld Wullie's opponent by the way. They say that is the way Auld Wullie got in. But nobody really knows, and everybody is aware that a Tory will say anything of a Ker.

So the schoolroom was crowded with "Establishers," for the Kers would not come within such a tainted building as a parochial school--except to a comic nigger minstrel performance, which in Howpaslet levels and composes all differences. So instead they waited at the windows and listened. One prominent and officious stoop of the Kirk tried to shut a window. But he got a Ker's clicky[1] over his head from without, and sat down discouraged.

[Footnote 1: Shepherd's staff.]

"Wull it come to ocht, think ye?" the Kers asked of each other outside.

"I'm rale dootfu'," was the general opinion; "but we maun juist howp for the best."

So the Kers stood without and hoped for the best--which, being interpreted, was that their champions, the Reverend William Calvin and Saunders Ker of the Mains, would get ill-treated by their opponents inside, and that they, the Kers, might then have a chance of clearing out the school. Every Ker had already picked his man. It has never been decided, though often argued, whether in his introductory prayer Mr. Calvin was justified in putting up the petition that peace might reign. The general feeling was against him at the time.

"But there's three things that needs to be considered," said Saunders Ker: "in the first place, it was within his richt as a minister to pit up what petition he liked; and, in the second, he didna mean it leeterally himsel', for we a' kenned it was his intention to be doon the Doctor's throat in five meenits; an', thirdly, it wad be a bonny queer thing gin thirty-three Kers an' Grahams a' earnestly prayin' the contrar', hadna as muckle influence at a throne o' grace, as ae man that didna mean what he said, even though the name o' him was William Henry Calvin."

Saunders expressed the general feeling of the meeting outside, which was frankly belligerent. They had indeed been beaten at the polls as they had expected, but in an honest tulzie with dickies the parish would hear a different tale.

But there was one element in the meeting that the Kers had taken no notice of. There was but one woman there, and she a girl. In the corner of the schoolroom, on the chairman's right hand, sat Grace Hutchison, daughter of the manse. The minister was a widower, and this was his only daughter. She was nineteen. She kept his house, and turned him out like a new pin. But the parish knew little of her. It called her "the minister's shilpit bit lassie."

Her face was indeed pale, and her dark eyes of a still and serene dignity, like one who walks oft at e'en in the Fairy Glen, and sees deeper into the gloaming than other folk.

Grace Hutchison accompanied her father, and sat in the corner knitting. A slim, girlish figure hardly filled to the full curves of maidenhood, she was yet an element that made for peace. The younger men saw that her lips were red and her eyes had the depth of a mountain tarn. But they had as soon thought of trysting with a ghaist from the kirkyaird, or with the Lady of the Big House, as with Grace Hutchison, the minister's daughter.

So it happened that Grace Hutchison had reached the age of nineteen years, without knowing more of love than she gathered from the seventeenth and eighteenth century books in her father's library. And one may get some curious notions out of Laurence Sterne crossed with Rutherfurd's Letters and The Man of Feeling.

"It is moved and seconded that the meetings be opened with prayer."

Objected to by Doctor Hutchison, ostensibly on the ground that they are engaged in a purely practical and parochial business, really because it is proposed by Mr. Calvin and seconded by Saunders Ker. Loyalty to the National Zion forbade agreement. Yet even Dr. Hutchison did not see the drift of the motion, but only had a general impression that some advantage for the opposition was intended. So he objected. Then there was a great discussion, famous through the parish, and even heard of as far as Polmont and Crossraguel. William Henry Calvin put the matter on the highest moral and spiritual grounds, and is generally considered, even by the Government party, to have surpassed himself. His final appeal to the chairman as a professing minister of religion was a masterpiece. Following his minister, Saunders Ker put the matter practically in his broadest and most popular Scots. The rare Howpaslet dialect thrilled to the spinal cord of every man that heard it, as it fell marrowy from the lips of Saunders; and when he reached his conclusion, even the ranks of Tuscany could scarce forbear to cheer.

"Ye are men, ye are faithers, near the halewar o' ye--maist o' ye are marriet. Ye mind what ye learned aboot your mither's knee. Ye mind where ye learned the twenty-third psalm on the quiet Sabbath afternoons. Ye dinna want to hae yer ain bairns grow up regairdless o' a' that's guid. Na, ye want them to learn the guid an' comfortable word in the schule as ye did yoursel's. Ye want them to begin wi' the psalm o' Dawvid an' the bit word o' prayer. Can ye ask a blessin' on the wark o' the schule, that hasna been askit on the wark o' the schule-board? Gin ye do, it'll no be the first time or the last that the bairn's hymn an' the bairn's prayer has put to shame baith elder an' minister."

As he sat down, Grace Hutchison looked at her father. The Doctor was conscious of her look, and withdrew his motion. The meetings were opened with prayer in all time coming.

There was a murmur of rejoicing among the Kers outside, and thighs were quietly slapped with delight at the management of the question by the minister and Saunders. It was, with reason, considered masterly.

"Ye see their drift, dinna ye, man?" said one Ker to another. "What, no?--ye surely maun hae been born on a Sabbath. D'ye no see that ilka time the Doctor is awa, eyther aboot his ain affairs or aboot the concerns o' the General Assembly, or when he's no weel, they'll be obleeged to vote either Saunders or oor minister into the chair--for, of coorse, the ither two can pray nane, bein' elders o' the Establishment? An' the chairman has aye the castin' vote!"

"Dod, man, that's graund--heard ye ever the like o' that!"

The Kers rejoiced in first blood, but they kept their strategical theories to themselves, so as not to interfere with the designs of Saunders and Mr. Calvin.

Little else was done that day. A clerk of school-board was appointed--the lawyer factor of the Laird of Howpaslet and a strong member of the State Church.

Mr. Calvin proposed the young Radical lawyer from the next town, but simply for form's sake, and to lull the other side with the semblance of victory.

"The clerk has nae vote," Saunders explained quietly through the window to the nearest Ker. This satisfied the clan, which was a little inclined to murmur.

It was then decided that a new teacher was to be appointed, and applications were to be advertised for. This was really the crux of the situation. The old parochial dominie had retired on a comfortable allowance. The company inside the school wanted him to get the allowance doubled, because he was precentor in the parish kirk, till they heard that it was to come out of the rates. Then they wanted him to have none at all. He should just have saved his siller like other folk. Who would propose to support them with forty-five pounds a year off the rates when they came to retire?--a fresh strong man, too, and well able for his meat, and said to be looking out for his third wife. The idea of giving him forty-five of their pounds to do nothing at all the rest of his life was a preposterous one. Some said they would have voted for the Seceders if they had known what the minister had in his head. But, in spite of the murmurs, the dominie got the money.

The next meeting was to be held on Tuesday fortnight--public intimation whereof having been made, the meeting was closed with the benediction, pronounced by Dr. Hutchison in a non-committal official way to show the Kers that he was not to be coerced into prayer by them.

Applications for the mastership poured in thick and fast. The members of the school-board were appealed to by letter and by private influence. They were treated at the market and buttonholed on the street--all except Saunders and his minister. These two kept their counsel sternly to themselves, knowing that they had no chance of carrying their man unless some mysterious providence should intervene.

Providence did intervene, and that manifestly, only three days before the meeting. After Sabbath service in the parish church, the Reverend Doctor Hutchison went home to the manse complaining of a violent pain in his breast.

His daughter promptly put on mustard, and sent for the doctor. By so doing she probably saved his life. For when the doctor came, he shook his head, and immediately pronounced it lung inflammation of a virulent type. The Doctor protested furiously that he must go to the meeting on Tuesday. He would go, even if he had to be carried. His daughter said nothing, but locked the door and put the key in her pocket, till she got the chance of conveying away every vestige of his clerical clothing out of his reach, locking it where Marget Lamont, his faithful servant, could not find it. Marget would have brought him a rope to hang himself if the Doctor had called for it. Sometimes in his delirium he made the speeches which he had meant to make at the school-board meeting on Tuesday; and sometimes, but more rarely, he opened the meeting with prayer. Grace sat by the side of the bed and moistened his lips. He said it was ridiculous--that he was quite well, and would certainly go to the meeting. Grace said nothing, and gave him a drink. Then he went babbling on.

The meeting was duly held. As the Kers had foretold, Mr. Calvin was voted into the chair unanimously, owing to a feint of Saunders Ker's, who proposed that the publican majority elder take the chair and open the proceedings with prayer--which so frightened that gentleman that he proposed Mr. Calvin before he knew what he was about. It was "more fitting," he said.

Dr. Hutchison fitted him afterwards for this.

At the close of the prayer, which was somewhat long, the Clerk proposed that, owing to the absence of an important member, they should adjourn the meeting till that day three weeks.

Mr. Calvin looked over at the Clerk, who was a broad, hearty, dogmatic man, accustomed to wrestle successfully with tenants about reductions and improvements.

"Mr. Clerk," he said sharply, "it is your business to advise us as to points of law. How many members of this board does it take to make a quorum?"

"Three," said the solicitor promptly.

"Then," answered Mr. Calvin, with great pith and point, "as we are one more than a quorum, we shall proceed to our business. And yours, Mr. Clerk, is to read the minutes of last meeting, and to take note of the proceedings of this. It will be as well for you to understand soon as syne that you have no locus standi for speech on this board, unless your opinion is asked for by the chair."

This was an early instance of what was afterwards, in affairs imperial, called the closure, a political weapon of some importance. The Kers afterwards observed that they always suspected that "Auld Wullie" (referring to the Prime Minister of the time) studied the reports of the Howpaslet school-board proceedings in the Bordershire Advertiser. Indeed, Saunders Ker was known to post one to him every week. So they all knew where the closure came from.

This is how the strongly Auld Kirk parish of Howpaslet came to have a Dissenting teacher in the person of Duncan Rowallan, a young man of great ability, who had just taken a degree at college after passing through Moray House (an ancient ducal palace where excellent dominies are manufactured), at a time when such a double qualification was much less common than it is now.

Duncan Rowallan was admitted by all to be the best man for the position. It was, indeed, a wonder that one who had been so brilliant at college, should apply for so quiet a place as the mastership of the school of Howpaslet. But it was said that Duncan Rowallan came to Howpaslet to study. And study he did. In one way he was rather a disappointment to the Kers, and even to his proposer and seconder. He was not bellicose and he was not political; but, on the other hand, he did his work soundly and thoroughly, and obtained wondrous reports written in the official hand of H.M. Inspector, and signed with a flourish like the tail of a kite. But he shrank from the more active forms of partisanship, and devoted himself to his books.

Yet even in Howpaslet his life was not to be a peaceful one.

The Reverend Doctor Hutchison arose from his bed of sickness with the most fixed of determinations to make it hot for the new dominie. When he lay near the gate of death he had seen a vision, and heaven had been plain to him. He had observed, among other things, that there was but one establishment there, a uniform government in the church triumphant. He took this as a sign that there should be only one on earth. He understood the secession of the fallen angels referred to by Milton to be a type of the Disruption. He made a note of this upon his cuff at the time, resolving to develop it in a later sermon. Then, on rising, he proceeded at once to act upon it by making the young dominie's life a burden to him.

Duncan Rowallan found himself hampered on every hand. He was refused material for the conduct of his school. The new schoolhouse was only built because the Inspector wrote to the board that the grant would be withheld till the alterations were made.

The militant Doctor could not dismiss Duncan Rowallan openly. That, at the time, would have been going too far; but he could, and did, cut down his salary to starvation point, in the hope that he would resign. But Duncan Rowallan had not come to Howpaslet for salary, and his expenses were so few that he lived as comfortably on his pittance as ever he had done. Porridge night and morning is not costly when you use little milk.

So he continued to wander much about the lanes with a book. In the summer he could be met with at all hours of light and dusk. Howpaslet was a land of honeysuckle and clematis. The tendrils clung to every hedge, and the young man wandered forth to breathe the gracious airs. One day in early June he was abroad. It was a Saturday, his day of days. Somehow he could not read that morning, though he had a book in his pocket, for the stillness of early summer (when the buds come out in such numbers that the elements are stilled with the wonder of watching) had broken up. It was a day of rushing wind and sudden onpelts of volleying rain. The branches creaked, and the young green leaves were shred untimeously from the beeches. All the orchards were dappled with flying showers of rosy snow, as the blossoms of the apple and cherry fled before the swirling gusts of cheerful tempest.

Duncan Rowallan was up on the windy braeface above the kirk of Howpaslet, with one hand to his cloth cap, as he held down his head and bored himself into the eye of the wind. Of a sudden he was amazed to see a straw hat, with a flash of scarlet about it, whirl past him, spinning upon its edge. To turn and pursue was the work of a moment. But he did not catch the run-away till it brought up, blown flat against the kirkyard dyke. He returned with it in his hand. A tall slip of a girl stood on the slope, her hair wind-blown and unfilleted--wind-blown also as to her skirts. Duncan knew her. It was the minister's daughter, the only child of the house of his enemy.

They met--he beneath, she above on the whinny braeface. Her hair, usually so smooth, blew out towards him in love-locks and witch-tangles. For the first time in his life Duncan saw a faint colour in the cheeks of the minister's daughter.

The teacher of the village school found himself apologising, he was not quite sure for what. He held the hat out a little awkwardly.

"I found it," he said, not knowing what else to say.

This description of his undignified progress as he rattled down the face of the hill after the whirling hat amused Grace Hutchison, and she laughed a little, which helped things wonderfully.

"But you have lost your own cap," she said, looking at his cropped blond poll without disapproval.

"It does not matter," said Duncan, rubbing it all over with his hand as though the action would render it waterproof.

Now, Grace Hutchison was accustomed to domineer over her father in household matters, such as the care of his person; so it occurred to her that she ought to order this young man to go and look after his cap. But she did not. On the contrary, she took a handkerchief out of her pocket, disentangling it mysteriously from the recesses of flapping skirts.

"Put that over your head till you get your own," she said.

Sober is not always that which sober looks, and it may be that Grace Hutchison had no objections to a little sedate merriment with this young man. It was serious enough down at the manse, in all conscience; and every young man in the parish stood ten yards off when he spoke to Miss Hutchison. She had not been at a party since she left the Ministers' Daughters' College two years ago, and then all the young men were carefully selected and edited by the lady principal. And Grace Hutchison was nineteen. Think of that, maids of the many invitations!

The young master's attempts to tie the handkerchief were ludicrous in the extreme. One corner kept falling over and flicking into his eye, so that he seemed to be persistently winking at her with that eyelid, a proceeding which would certainly not have been allowed at the parties of the Ministers' Daughters' College with the consent of the authorities--at least not in Grace's time.

"Oh, how stupid you are!" said Grace, putting a pin into her mouth to be ready; "let me do it."

She spoke just as if she had been getting her father ready for church.

She settled the handkerchief about Duncan Rowallan's head with one or two little tugs to the side. Then she took the pin out of her mouth and pinned it beneath his chin, in a way mightily practical, which the youth admired.

"Now, then," she said, stepping back to put on her own hat, fastening it with a dangerous-looking weapon of war shaped like a stiletto, thrust most recklessly in.

The two young people stood in the lee of the plantation on the corner of the glebe, which had been planted by Dr. Hutchison's predecessor, an old bachelor whose part in life had been to plant trees for other people to make love under.

But there was no love made that day--only a little talk on equal terms concerning Edinburgh and Professor Ramage's, where on an eve of tea and philosophy it was conceivable that they might have met. Only, as a matter of fact they did not. But at least there were a great many wonderful things which might have happened. And the time flew.

But in the mid-stream of interest Grace Hutchison recollected herself.

"It is time for my father's lunch. I must go in," she said.

And she went. She had forgotten her duties for more than half an hour.

But even as she went, she turned and said simply, "You may keep the handkerchief till you find your cap."

"Thank you," said Duncan, watching her so soberly that the white cap on his head did not look ridiculous--at least not to Grace.

As soon as she was out of sight he took off the handkerchief carefully, and put it, pin and all, into the leather case in his inner pocket where he had been accustomed to keep his matriculation card.

He looked down at the kirkyard wall over which his cap had flown.

"Oh, hang the cap!" he said; "what's about a cap, any way?"

Now, this was a most senseless observation, for the cap was a good cap and a new cap, and had cost him one shilling and sixpence at the hat-shop up three stairs at the corner of the Bridges.

* * * * *

The next evening Duncan Rowallan stood by his own door. Deaf old Mary Haig, his housekeeper, was clacking the pots together in the kitchen and grumbling steadily to herself. Duncan drew the door to, and went up by the side of his garden, past the straw-built sheds of his bees, a legacy from a former occupant, into the cool breathing twilight of the fields.

He sauntered slowly up the dykeside with his hands behind his back. He was friends with all the world. It was true that the school-board had met that day and his salary had been still further reduced, so that it was now thought that for very pride he would leave. In his interests the Kers had assaulted and battered four fellow-Christians of the contrary opinion, and the Reverend William Henry Calvin had shaken his fist in the stern face of Dr. Hutchison as he defied him at the school-board meeting. But Duncan only smiled and set his lips a little more firmly. He did not mean to let himself be driven out--at least not yet.

Up by the little wood there was a favourite spot from which the whole village could be seen from under the leaves. It was a patch of firs on the edge of the glebe, a useless rocky place let alone even by the cows. Against the rough bark of a fir-tree Duncan had fastened a piece of plank in order to form a rude seat.

As soon as he reached his favourite thinking stance, he forgot all about ecclesiastical politics and the strifes of the Kers with the minister. He stood alone in the wonder of the sunset. It glowed to the zenith. But, as very frequently in his own water-colours, the colour had run down to the horizon and flamed intensest crimson in the Nick of Benarick. Broader and broader mounted the scarlet flame, till he seemed in that still place to hear the sun's corona crackle, as observers think they do when watching a great eclipse. The set of the sun affected him like a still morning--that most mysterious thing in nature. He missed, indeed, the diffused elation of the dawn; but it was infinitely sweet to hear in that still place the softened sounds of the sweet village life--for Howpaslet was a Paradise to those to whom its politics were naught. He saw the blue smoke go up from the supper fires into the windless air in pillars of cloud, then halt, and slowly dissipate into lawny haze.

The cries of the playing children, the belated smith ringing the evening chimes on his anvil in the smithy, the tits chirping among the firs, the crackle of the rough scales on the red boughs of the Scotch fir above him as they cooled--all fed his soul as though Peter's sheet had been let down, and there was nothing common or unclean on all the earth.

"I beg your pardon--will you speak to me?"

The words stole upon him as from another sphere, startling him into dropping his book. Duncan looked round. Some one was standing by the rough stone dyke within a dozen yards of his summer-seat. It was Grace Hutchison.

Duncan went towards the dyke, taking off his cap as he went--a new cap.

So they stood there, the wall of rough hill-stones between them, but looking into one another's eyes.

There was no merriment now in the eyes that met his, no word of the return of handkerchief or any maidenly coquetry. The mood of the day of blowing leaves had passed away. She had a shawl over her head, drawn close about her shoulders. Underneath it her eyes were like night. But her lips showed on her pale face like a geranium growing alone and looking westward in the twilight.

"You will pardon me, Mr. Rowallan," she said, "if I have startled you. I am grieved for what is happening--more sorry than I can say--my father thinks that it is his duty, but--"

Duncan Rowallan did not suffer her to go on.

"Pray do not say a word about the matter, Miss Hutchison; believe that I do not mind at all. I know well the conscientiousness of your father, and he is quite right to carry out his duty."

"He has no quarrel against you," said Grace.

"Only against my office," said Duncan; "poor office! If it were not for the peace of this countryside up here against the skies, I should go at once and be no barrier to the unanimity of the parish."

She seemed to draw a long breath as his words came to her across the stone dyke.

"Ah," she said, "I hope that you will not go; for if Howpaslet did not quarrel about you, it would just be something else. But I am sorry you should be annoyed by our bickerings."

"No one could be less annoyed," said Duncan, smiling; "so perhaps it is to save some more sensitive person from suffering, that I have been sent here."

They were very near to each other, these two young people, though the dyke was between them. They leaned their elbows on it, turning together and looking down the valley. A scent that was not the scent of flowers stole on Duncan Rowallan's senses, quickening his pulses, and making him breathe faster to take it in. He was very near the dark, bird-like head from which the June wind had blown the love-locks. A balmy breath surrounded him like a halo--the witchery of youth's attraction, which is as old as Eden, ambient as the air.

Grace Hutchison may have felt it too, for she shuddered slightly, and drew her shawl closer about her shoulders.

"My father--" she began, and paused.

"Please do not talk of these things," said Duncan, the heart within him thrilling to the hinted womanhood which came to him upon the balmy breath; "I do not care for anything if you are not mine enemy."

"I--your enemy!" she said softly, with a pause between the words; "oh no, not that."

Her hand fell from the folds of her shawl and lay across the dyke. It looked a lonely thing, and Duncan Rowallan was sure that it trembled, so he took it in his. There it fluttered a little and then lay still, as a taken bird that knows it cannot escape. The dyke was between them, but they drew very near to it on either side.

Then at the same moment each drew a deep breath, and one looked at the other as if expecting speech. Yet neither spoke, and after a slow dwelling of questioning eyes, each on each, as if in a kind of reproach they looked suddenly away again.

The sunset glow deepened into rich crimson. The valleys into which they looked down from the high corner of the field were lakes of fathomless sapphire. The light smoky haze on the ridges was infinitely varied in tone, and caused the distance to fall back, crest behind crest, in illimitable perspective.

Still they did not speak, but their hearts beat so loudly that they answered each other. The stone dyke was between. Grace Hutchinson took back her hand.

Opportunity stood on tip-toe. The full tide of Duncan Rowallan's affairs lipped the watershed, the stone dyke only standing between.

He turned towards her. Far away a sheep bleated. The sound came to Duncan scornfully, as though a wicked elf had laughed at his indecision.

He put out his hands across the rough stones to take her hand again. He touched her warm shoulders instead beneath the shawl. He drew her to him. Into the deep eyes luminous with blackness he looked as into the mirror of his fate. Now, what happened just then is a mystery, and I cannot explain it. Neither can Grace nor Duncan. They have gone many times to the very place to find out exactly how it all happened, but without success. Where they have failed, can I succeed?

I can only tell what did happen.

Duncan Rowallan seemed to rise into another world, as in his childhood he had often dreamed of doing, looking up and up into the fleecy waves of the highest cloudlets. Her lips beckoned to him in the gloaming, like a red flower whose petals have fallen a little apart. It came at last.

For the dyke proved too narrow, and in one swift electric touch their old world flew into flinders.

The stone dyke was not any longer between. Duncan Rowallan had overleaped it and stood by the side of Grace Hutchison.

* * * * *

The minister had come home to Howpaslet manse exceedingly elate. At last he had won the battle. The Kers had gone home gnashing their teeth. There was lament in the manse of the Calvins. After long endeavours he had got the farmer and the publican to vote for the dismissal of Duncan Rowallan. He smiled to himself as he came in. He was not a malicious man, but he could not bear being worsted in his own parish. His feeling against Duncan Rowallan was neither here nor there; but, indeed, the Kers were hard to bear.

His daughter met him with a grave face. The determined Hutchison blood ran still and sure in her veins.

"Father," she said, "what I am going to tell you will give you pain: I have promised to marry Duncan Rowallan."

The stern old minister swayed--doubting whether he had heard aright.

"Marry Duncan Rowallan, the dominie!" he said; "the lassie's gane gyte! He's dismissed and a pauper!"

"No," she said; "on the contrary, he has got a mastership at the High School. I have promised to marry him."

The old man said no word. He did not try to hector Grace, as he would have done any one outside the manse. Her household autocracy asserted itself even in that supreme moment. Besides, he knew that it would be so useless, for she was his own child. He put one hand up uncertainly and smoothed his brow vaguely, as though something hurt him and he did not understand.

He sat down in his great chair, and took up a little fire-screen that had stood many years by his chair. Grace had worked it as a sampler when as a little girl she went to the village school and had slept at night in his room in a little trundle-bed. He looked at it strangely.

"Grade," he said, "Gracie--my wee Gracie!"--and then he set the fire-screen down very gently. "I am an old man and full of years," he said. He looked worn and broken.

Grace went quickly and put her arms about his neck.

"No, no, father," she said; "you have only gained a son."

But the old man's passions could not turn so quickly, not having the pliancy of youth and love. He only shook his head sadly.

"Not so," he said; "I am left a lonely man--my house is left unto me desolate."

Yet, nevertheless, Grace was right. He stays with them for a month every Assembly time, and lectures them daily on the relations of Church and State.

[The end]
S. R. Crockett's short story: Across The March Dyke