THE WHITE PEOPLE
By Frances Hodgson Burnett
"The stars come nightly to the sky;
wave unto the sea;
Nor time, nor space, nor deep, nor high
Can keep my own away from me."
THE WHITE PEOPLE
Perhaps the things which happened could only have happened to me. I do not
know. I never heard of things like them happening to any one else. But I
am not sorry they did happen. I am in secret deeply and strangely glad. I
have heard other people say things—and they were not always sad
people, either—which made me feel that if they knew what I know it
would seem to them as though some awesome, heavy load they had always
dragged about with them had fallen from their shoulders. To most people
everything is so uncertain that if they could only see or hear and know
something clear they would drop upon their knees and give thanks. That was
what I felt myself before I found out so strangely, and I was only a girl.
That is why I intend to write this down as well as I can. It will not be
very well done, because I never was clever at all, and always found it
difficult to talk.
I say that perhaps these things could only have happened to me, because,
as I look back over my life, I realize that it has always been a rather
curious one. Even when those who took care of me did not know I was
thinking at all, I had begun to wonder if I were not different from other
children. That was, of course, largely because Muircarrie Castle was in
such a wild and remote part of Scotland that when my few relations felt
they must pay me a visit as a mere matter of duty, their journey from
London, or their pleasant places in the south of England, seemed to them
like a pilgrimage to a sort of savage land; and when a conscientious one
brought a child to play with me, the little civilized creature was as
frightened of me as I was of it. My shyness and fear of its strangeness
made us both dumb. No doubt I seemed like a new breed of inoffensive
little barbarian, knowing no tongue but its own.
A certain clannish etiquette made it seem necessary that a relation should
pay me a visit sometimes, because I was in a way important. The huge,
frowning feudal castle standing upon its battlemented rock was mine; I was
a great heiress, and I was, so to speak, the chieftainess of the clan. But
I was a plain, undersized little child, and had no attraction for any one
but Jean Braidfute, a distant cousin, who took care of me, and Angus
Macayre, who took care of the library, and who was a distant relative
also. They were both like me in the fact that they were not given to
speech; but sometimes we talked to one another, and I knew they were fond
of me, as I was fond of them. They were really all I had.
When I was a little girl I did not, of course, understand that I was an
important person, and I could not have realized the significance of being
an heiress. I had always lived in the castle, and was used to its
hugeness, of which I only knew corners. Until I was seven years old, I
think, I imagined all but very poor people lived in castles and were
saluted by every one they passed. It seemed probable that all little girls
had a piper who strode up and down the terrace and played on the bagpipes
when guests were served in the dining-hall.
My piper's name was Feargus, and in time I found out that the guests from
London could not endure the noise he made when he marched to and fro,
proudly swinging his kilts and treading like a stag on a hillside. It was
an insult to tell him to stop playing, because it was his religion to
believe that The Muircarrie must be piped proudly to; and his ancestors
had been pipers to the head of the clan for five generations. It was his
duty to march round the dining-hall and play while the guests feasted, but
I was obliged in the end to make him believe that he could be heard better
from the terrace—because when he was outside his music was not
spoiled by the sound of talking. It was very difficult, at first. But
because I was his chieftainess, and had learned how to give orders in a
rather proud, stern little voice, he knew he must obey.
Even this kind of thing may show that my life was a peculiar one; but the
strangest part of it was that, while I was at the head of so many people,
I did not really belong to any one, and I did not know that this was
unusual. One of my early memories is that I heard an under-nursemaid say
to another this curious thing: "Both her father and mother were dead when
she was born." I did not even know that was a remarkable thing to say
until I was several years older and Jean Braidfute told me what had been
My father and mother had both been very young and beautiful and wonderful.
It was said that my father was the handsomest chieftain in Scotland, and
that his wife was as beautiful as he was. They came to Muircarrie as soon
as they were married and lived a splendid year there together. Sometimes
they were quite alone, and spent their days fishing or riding or wandering
on the moor together, or reading by the fire in the library the ancient
books Angus Macayre found for them. The library was a marvelous place, and
Macayre knew every volume in it. They used to sit and read like children
among fairy stories, and then they would persuade Macayre to tell them the
ancient tales he knew—of the days when Agricola forced his way in
among the Men of the Woods, who would die any savage death rather than be
conquered. Macayre was a sort of heirloom himself, and he knew and
believed them all.
I don't know how it was that I myself seemed to see my young father and
mother so clearly and to know how radiant and wildly in love they were.
Surely Jean Braidfute had not words to tell me. But I knew. So I
understood, in a way of my own, what happened to my mother one brilliant
late October afternoon when my father was brought home dead—followed
by the guests who had gone out shooting with him. His foot had caught in a
tuft of heather, and his gun in going off had killed him. One moment he
had been the handsomest young chieftain in Scotland, and when he was
brought home they could not have let my mother see his face.
But she never asked to see it. She was on the terrace which juts over the
rock the castle is built on, and which looks out over the purple world of
climbing moor. She saw from there the returning party of shooters and
gillies winding its way slowly through the heather, following a burden
carried on a stretcher of fir boughs. Some of her women guests were with
her, and one of them said afterward that when she first caught sight of
the moving figures she got up slowly and crept to the stone balustrade
with a crouching movement almost like a young leopardess preparing to
spring. But she only watched, making neither sound nor movement until the
cortege was near enough for her to see that every man's head was bowed
upon his breast, and not one was covered.
Then she said, quite slowly, "They—have—taken off—their
bonnets," and fell upon the terrace like a dropped stone.
It was because of this that the girl said that she was dead when I was
born. It must have seemed almost as if she were not a living thing. She
did not open her eyes or make a sound; she lay white and cold. The
celebrated physicians who came from London talked of catalepsy and
afterward wrote scientific articles which tried to explain her condition.
She did not know when I was born. She died a few minutes after I uttered
my first cry.
I know only one thing more, and that Jean Braidfute told me after I grew
up. Jean had been my father's nursery governess when he wore his first
kilts, and she loved my mother fondly.
"I knelt by her bed and held her hand and watched her face for three hours
after they first laid her down," she said. "And my eyes were so near her
every moment that I saw a thing the others did not know her well enough,
or love her well enough, to see.
"The first hour she was like a dead thing—aye, like a dead thing
that had never lived. But when the hand of the clock passed the last
second, and the new hour began, I bent closer to her because I saw a
change stealing over her. It was not color—it was not even a shadow
of a motion. It was something else. If I had spoken what I felt, they
would have said I was light-headed with grief and have sent me away. I
have never told man or woman. It was my secret and hers. I can tell you,
Ysobel. The change I saw was as if she was beginning to listen to
"It was as if to a sound—far, far away at first. But cold and white
as stone she lay content, and listened. In the next hour the far-off sound
had drawn nearer, and it had become something else—something she saw—something
which saw her. First her young marble face had peace in it; then it had
joy. She waited in her young stone body until you were born and she could
break forth. She waited no longer then.
"Ysobel, my bairn, what I knew was that he had not gone far from the body
that had held him when he fell. Perhaps he had felt lost for a bit when he
found himself out of it. But soon he had begun to call to her that was
like his own heart to him. And she had heard. And then, being half away
from earth herself, she had seen him and known he was waiting, and that he
would not leave for any far place without her. She was so still that the
big doctors thought more than once she had passed. But I knew better."
It was long before I was old enough to be told anything like this that I
began to feel that the moor was in secret my companion and friend, that it
was not only the moot to me, but something else. It was like a thing alive—a
huge giant lying spread out in the sun warming itself, or covering itself
with thick, white mist which sometimes writhed and twisted itself into
wraiths. First I noticed and liked it some day, perhaps, when it was
purple and yellow with gorse and heather and broom, and the honey scents
drew bees and butterflies and birds. But soon I saw and was drawn by
How young was I that afternoon when I sat in the deep window and watched
the low, soft whiteness creeping out and hovering over the heather as if
the moor had breathed it? I do not remember. It was such a low little mist
at first; and it crept and crept until its creeping grew into something
heavier and whiter, and it began to hide the heather and the gorse and
broom, and then the low young fir-trees. It mounted and mounted, and
sometimes a breath of wind twisted it into weird shapes, almost like human
creatures. It opened and closed again, and then it dragged and crept and
grew thicker. And as I pressed my face against the window-pane, it mounted
still higher and got hold of the moor and hid it, hanging heavy and white
and waiting. That was what came into my child mind: that it had done what
the moor had told it to do; had hidden things which wanted to be hidden,
and then it waited.
Strangers say that Muircarrie moor is the most beautiful and the most
desolate place in the world, but it never seemed desolate to me. From my
first memory of it I had a vague, half-comforted feeling that there was
some strange life on it one could not exactly see, but was always
conscious of. I know now why I felt this, but I did not know then.
If I had been older when I first began to see what I did see there, I
should no doubt have read things in books which would have given rise in
my mind to doubts and wonders; but I was only a little child who had lived
a life quite apart from the rest of the world. I was too silent by nature
to talk and ask questions, even if I had had others to talk to. I had only
Jean and Angus, and, as I found out years later, they knew what I did not,
and would have put me off with adroit explanations if I had been curious.
But I was not curious. I accepted everything as it came and went.
I only six when Wee Brown Elspeth was brought to me. Jean and Angus were
as fond of each other in their silent way as they were of me, and they
often went together with me when I was taken out for my walks. I was kept
in the open air a great deal, and Angus would walk by the side of my
small, shaggy Shetland pony and lead him over rough or steep places.
Sheltie, the pony, was meant for use when we wished to fare farther than a
child could walk; but I was trained to sturdy marching and climbing even
from my babyhood. Because I so loved the moor, we nearly always rambled
there. Often we set out early in the morning, and some simple food was
carried, so that we need not return to the castle until we chose. I would
ride Sheltie and walk by turns until we found a place I liked; then Jean
and Angus would sit down among the heather, Sheltie would be secured, and
I would wander about and play in my own way. I do not think it was in a
strange way. I think I must have played as almost any lonely little girl
might have played. I used to find a corner among the bushes and pretend it
was my house and that I had little friends who came to play with me. I
only remember one thing which was not like the ordinary playing of
children. It was a habit I had of sitting quite still a long time and
listening. That was what I called it—"listening." I was listening to
hear if the life on the moor made any sound I could understand. I felt as
if it might, if I were very still and listened long enough.
Angus and Jean and I were not afraid of rain and mist and change of
weather. If we had been we could have had little outdoor life. We always
carried plaids enough to keep us warm and dry. So on this day I speak of
we did not turn back when we found ourselves in the midst of a sudden
mist. We sat down in a sheltered place and waited, knowing it would lift
in time. The sun had been shining when we set out.
Angus and Jean were content to sit and guard me while I amused myself.
They knew I would keep near them and run into no danger. I was not an
adventurous child. I was, in fact, in a more than usually quiet mood that
morning. The quiet had come upon me when the mist had begun to creep about
and inclose us. I liked it. I liked the sense of being shut in by the soft
whiteness I had so often watched from my nursery window in the castle.
"People might be walking about," I said to Angus when he lifted me from
"We couldn't see them. They might be walking."
"Nothing that would hurt ye, bairnie," he answered.
"No, they wouldn't hurt me," I said. I had never been afraid that anything
on the moor would hurt me.
I played very little that day. The quiet and the mist held me still. Soon
I sat down and began to "listen." After a while I knew that Jean and Angus
were watching me, but it did not disturb me. They often watched me when
they thought I did not know they were doing it.
I had sat listening for nearly half an hour when I heard the first
muffled, slow trampling of horses' hoofs. I knew what it was even before
it drew near enough for me to be conscious of the other sounds—the
jingling of arms and chains and the creaking of leather one notices as
troopers pass by. Armed and mounted men were coming toward me. That was
what the sounds meant; but they seemed faint and distant, though I knew
they were really quite near. Jean and Angus did not appear to hear them. I
knew that I only heard them because I had been listening.
Out of the mist they rode a company of wild-looking men wearing garments
such as I had never seen before. Most of them were savage and uncouth, and
their clothes were disordered and stained as if with hard travel and
fight. I did not know—or even ask myself—why they did not
frighten me, but they did not. Suddenly I seemed to know that they were
brave men and had been doing some brave, hard thing. Here and there among
them I caught sight of a broken and stained sword, or a dirk with only a
hilt left. They were all pale, but their wild faces were joyous and
triumphant. I saw it as they drew near.
The man who seemed their chieftain was a lean giant who was darker but,
under his darkness, paler than the rest. On his forehead was a queer,
star-shaped scar. He rode a black horse, and before him he held close with
his left arm a pretty little girl dressed in strange, rich clothes. The
big man's hand was pressed against her breast as he held her; but though
it was a large hand, it did not quite cover a dark-red stain on the
embroideries of her dress. Her dress was brown, and she had brown hair and
soft brown eyes like a little doe's. The moment I saw her I loved her.
The black horse stopped before me. The wild troop drew up and waited
behind. The great, lean rider looked at me a moment, and then, lifting the
little girl in his long arms, bent down and set her gently on her feet on
the mossy earth in the mist beside me. I got up to greet her, and we stood
smiling at each other. And in that moment as we stood the black horse
moved forward, the muffled trampling began again, the wild company swept
on its way, and the white mist closed behind it as if it had never passed.
Of course I know how strange this will seem to people who read it, but
that cannot be helped and does not really matter. It was in that way the
thing happened, and it did not even seem strange to me. Anything might
happen on the moor—anything. And there was the fair little girl with
the eyes like a doe's.
I knew she had come to play with me, and we went together to my house
among the bushes of broom and gorse and played happily. But before we
began I saw her stand and look wonderingly at the dark-red stain on the
embroideries on her childish breast. It was as if she were asking herself
how it came there and could not understand. Then she picked a fern and a
bunch of the thick-growing bluebells and put them in her girdle in such a
way that they hid its ugliness.
I did not really know how long she stayed. I only knew that we were happy,
and that, though her way of playing was in some ways different from mine,
I loved it and her. Presently the mist lifted and the sun shone, and we
were deep in a wonderful game of being hidden in a room in a castle
because something strange was going to happen which we were not told
about. She ran behind a big gorse bush and did not come back. When I ran
to look for her she was nowhere. I could not find her, and I went back to
Jean and Angus, feeling puzzled.
"Where did she go?" I asked them, turning my head from side to side.
They were looking at me strangely, and both of them were pale. Jean was
trembling a little.
"Who was she, Ysobel?" she said.
"The little girl the men brought to play with me," I answered, still
looking about me.
"The big one on the black horse put her down—the big one with the
star here." I touched my forehead where the queer scar had been.
For a minute Angus forgot himself. Years later he told me.
"Dark Malcolm of the Glen," he broke out. "Wee Brown Elspeth."
"But she is white—quite white!" I said.
"Where did she go?"
Jean swept me in her warm, shaking arms and hugged me close to her breast.
"She's one of the fair ones," she said, kissing and patting me. "She will
come again. She'll come often, I dare say. But she's gone now and we must
go, too. Get up, Angus, man. We're for the castle."
If we three had been different—if we had ever had the habit of
talking and asking questions—we might surely have asked one another
questions as I rode on Sheltie's back, with Angus leading us. But they
asked me nothing, and I said very little except that I once spoke of the
wild-looking horsemen and their pale, joyous faces.
"They were glad," was all I said.
There was also one brief query from Angus.
"Did she talk to you, bairnie?" he said.
I hesitated and stared at him quite a long time. Then I shook my head and
answered, slowly, "N-no."
Because I realized then, for the first time, that we had said no words at
all. But I had known what she wanted me to understand, and she had known
what I might have said to her if I had spoken—and no words were
needed. And it was better.
They took me home to the castle, and I was given my supper and put to bed.
Jean sat by me until I fell asleep; she was obliged to sit rather a long
time, because I was so happy with my memories of Wee Brown Elspeth and the
certainty that she would come again. It was not Jean's words which had
made me sure. I knew.
She came many times. Through all my childish years I knew that she would
come and play with me every few days—though I never saw the wild
troopers again or the big, lean man with the scar. Children who play
together are not very curious about one another, and I simply accepted her
with delight. Somehow I knew that she lived happily in a place not far
away. She could come and go, it seemed, without trouble. Sometimes I found
her—or she found me upon the moor; and often she appeared in my
nursery in the castle. When we were together Jean Braidfute seemed to
prefer that we should be alone, and was inclined to keep the under-nurse
occupied in other parts of the wing I lived in. I never asked her to do
this, but I was glad that it was done. Wee Elspeth was glad, too. After
our first meeting she was dressed in soft blue or white, and the red stain
was gone; but she was always Wee Brown Elspeth with the doelike eyes and
the fair, transparent face, the very fair little face. As I had noticed
the strange, clear pallor of the rough troopers, so I noticed that she was
curiously fair. And as I occasionally saw other persons with the same sort
of fairness, I thought it was a purity of complexion special to some, but
not to all. I was not fair like that, and neither was any one else I knew.
It was when I was ten years old that Wee Elspeth ceased coming to me, and
though I missed her at first, it was not with a sense of grief or final
loss. She had only gone somewhere.
It was then that Angus Macayre began to be my tutor. He had been a
profound student and had lived among books all his life. He had helped
Jean in her training of me, and I had learned more than is usually taught
to children in their early years. When a grand governess was sent to
Muircarrie by my guardian, she was amazed at the things I was familiar
with, but she abhorred the dark, frowning castle and the loneliness of the
place and would not stay. In fact, no governess would stay, and so Angus
became my tutor and taught me old Gaelic and Latin and Greek, and we read
together and studied the ancient books in the library. It was a strange
education for a girl, and no doubt made me more than ever unlike others.
But my life was the life I loved.
When my guardian decided that I must live with him in London and be
educated as modern girls were, I tried to be obedient and went to him; but
before two months had passed my wretchedness had made me so ill that the
doctor said I should go into a decline and die if I were not sent back to
"It's not only the London air that seems to poison her," he said when Jean
talked to him about me; "it is something else. She will not live, that's
all. Sir Ian must send her home."
As I have said before, I had been an unattractive child and I was a plain,
uninteresting sort of girl. I was shy and could not talk to people, so of
course I bored them. I knew I did not look well when I wore beautiful
clothes. I was little and unimportant and like a reed for thinness.
Because I was rich and a sort of chieftainess I ought to have been tall
and rather stately, or at least I ought to have had a bearing which would
have made it impossible for people to quite overlook me. But; any one
could overlook me—an insignificant, thin girl who slipped in and out
of places and sat and stared and listened to other people instead of
saying things herself; I liked to look on and be forgotten. It interested
me to watch people if they did not notice me.
Of course, my relatives did not really like me. How could they? They were
busy in their big world and did not know what to do with a girl who ought
to have been important and was not. I am sure that in secret they were
relieved when I was sent back to Muircarrie.
After that the life I loved went on quietly. I studied with Angus, and
made the book-walled library my own room. I walked and rode on the moor,
and I knew the people who lived in the cottages and farms on the estate. I
think they liked me, but I am not sure, because I was too shy to seem very
friendly. I was more at home with Feargus, the piper, and with some of the
gardeners than I was with any one else. I think I was lonely without
knowing; but I was never unhappy. Jean and Angus were my nearest and
dearest. Jean was of good blood and a stanch gentlewoman, quite
sufficiently educated to be my companion as she had been my early
It was Jean who told Angus that I was giving myself too entirely to the
study of ancient books and the history of centuries gone by.
"She is living to-day, and she must not pass through this life without
gathering anything from it."
"This life," she put it, as if I had passed through others before, and
might pass through others again. That was always her way of speaking, and
she seemed quite unconscious of any unusualness in it.
"You are a wise woman, Jean," Angus said, looking long at her grave face.
"A wise woman."
He wrote to the London book-shops for the best modern books, and I began
to read them. I felt at first as if they plunged me into a world I did not
understand, and many of them I could not endure. But I persevered, and
studied them as I had studied the old ones, and in time I began to feel as
if perhaps they were true. My chief weariness with them came from the way
they had of referring to the things I was so intimate with as though they
were only the unauthenticated history of a life so long passed by that it
could no longer matter to any one. So often the greatest hours of great
lives were treated as possible legends. I knew why men had died or were
killed or had borne black horror. I knew because I had read old books and
manuscripts and had heard the stories which had come down through
centuries by word of mouth, passed from father to son.
But there was one man who did not write as if he believed the world had
begun and would end with him. He knew he was only one, and part of all the
rest. The name I shall give him is Hector MacNairn. He was a Scotchman,
but he had lived in many a land. The first time I read a book he had
written I caught my breath with joy, again and again. I knew I had found a
friend, even though there was no likelihood that I should ever see his
face. He was a great and famous writer, and all the world honored him;
while I, hidden away in my castle on a rock on the edge of Muircarrie, was
so far from being interesting or clever that even in my grandest evening
dress and tiara of jewels I was as insignificant as a mouse. In fact, I
always felt rather silly when I was obliged to wear my diamonds on state
occasions as custom sometimes demanded.
Mr. MacNairn wrote essays and poems, and marvelous stories which were
always real though they were called fiction. Wheresoever his story was
placed—howsoever remote and unknown the scene—it was a real
place, and the people who lived in it were real, as if he had some magic
power to call up human things to breathe and live and set one's heart
beating. I read everything he wrote. I read every word of his again and
again. I always kept some book of his near enough to be able to touch it
with my hand; and often I sat by the fire in the library holding one open
on my lap for an hour or more, only because it meant a warm, close
companionship. It seemed at those times as if he sat near me in the dim
glow and we understood each other's thoughts without using words, as Wee
Brown Elspeth and I had understood—only this was a deeper thing.
I had felt near him in this way for several years, and every year he had
grown more famous, when it happened that one June my guardian, Sir Ian,
required me to go to London to see my lawyers and sign some important
documents connected with the management of the estate. I was to go to his
house to spend a week or more, attend a Drawing-Room, and show myself at a
few great parties in a proper manner, this being considered my duty toward
my relatives. These, I believe, were secretly afraid that if I were never
seen their world would condemn my guardian for neglect of his charge, or
would decide that I was of unsound mind and intentionally kept hidden away
at Muircarrie. He was an honorable man, and his wife was a well-meaning
woman. I did not wish to do them an injustice, so I paid them yearly
visits and tried to behave as they wished, much as I disliked to be
dressed in fine frocks and to wear diamonds on my little head and round my
It was an odd thing that this time I found I did not dread the visit to
London as much as I usually did. For some unknown reason I became
conscious that I was not really reluctant to go. Usually the thought of
the days before me made me restless and low-spirited. London always seemed
so confused and crowded, and made me feel as if I were being pushed and
jostled by a mob always making a tiresome noise. But this time I felt as
if I should somehow find a clear place to stand in, where I could look on
and listen without being bewildered. It was a curious feeling; I could not
help noticing and wondering about it.
I knew afterward that it came to me because a change was drawing near. I
wish so much that I could tell about it in a better way. But I have only
my own way, which I am afraid seems very like a school-girl's.
Jean Braidfute made the journey with me, as she always did, and it was
like every other journey. Only one incident made it different, and when it
occurred there seemed nothing unusual in it. It was only a bit of sad,
everyday life which touched me. There is nothing new in seeing a poor
woman in deep mourning.
Jean and I had been alone in our railway carriage for a great part of the
journey; but an hour or two before we reached London a man got in and took
a seat in a corner. The train had stopped at a place where there is a
beautiful and well-known cemetery. People bring their friends from long
distances to lay them there. When one passes the station, one nearly
always sees sad faces and people in mourning on the platform.
There was more than one group there that day, and the man who sat in the
corner looked out at them with gentle eyes. He had fine, deep eyes and a
handsome mouth. When the poor woman in mourning almost stumbled into the
carriage, followed by her child, he put out his hand to help her and gave
her his seat. She had stumbled because her eyes were dim with dreadful
crying, and she could scarcely see. It made one's heart stand still to see
the wild grief of her, and her unconsciousness of the world about her. The
world did not matter. There was no world. I think there was nothing left
anywhere but the grave she had just staggered blindly away from. I felt as
if she had been lying sobbing and writhing and beating the new turf on it
with her poor hands, and I somehow knew that it had been a child's grave
she had been to visit and had felt she left to utter loneliness when she
It was because I thought this that I wished she had not seemed so
unconscious of and indifferent to the child who was with her and clung to
her black dress as if it could not bear to let her go. This one was alive
at least, even if she had lost the other one, and its little face was so
wistful! It did not seem fair to forget and ignore it, as if it were not
there. I felt as if she might have left it behind on the platform if it
had not so clung to her skirt that it was almost dragged into the railway
carriage with her. When she sank into her seat she did not even lift the
poor little thing into the place beside her, but left it to scramble up as
best it could. She buried her swollen face in her handkerchief and sobbed
in a smothered way as if she neither saw, heard, nor felt any living thing
How I wished she would remember the poor child and let it comfort her! It
really was trying to do it in its innocent way. It pressed close to her
side, it looked up imploringly, it kissed her arm and her crape veil over
and over again, and tried to attract her attention. It was a little,
lily-fair creature not more than five or six years old and perhaps too
young to express what it wanted to say. It could only cling to her and
kiss her black dress, and seem to beg her to remember that it, at least,
was a living thing. But she was too absorbed in her anguish to know that
it was in the world. She neither looked at nor touched it, and at last it
sat with its cheek against her sleeve, softly stroking her arm, and now
and then kissing it longingly. I was obliged to turn my face away and look
out of the window, because I knew the man with the kind face saw the tears
well up into my eyes.
The poor woman did not travel far with us. She left the train after a few
stations were passed. Our fellow-traveler got out before her to help her
on to the platform. He stood with bared head while he assisted her, but
she scarcely saw him. And even then she seemed to forget the child. The
poor thing was dragged out by her dress as it had been dragged in. I put
out my hand involuntarily as it went through the door, because I was
afraid it might fall. But it did not. It turned its fair little face and
smiled at me. When the kind traveler returned to his place in the carriage
again, and the train left the station, the black-draped woman was walking
slowly down the platform and the child was still clinging to her skirt.
My guardian was a man whose custom it was to give large and dignified
parties. Among his grand and fashionable guests there was nearly always a
sprinkling of the more important members of the literary world. The night
after I arrived there was to be a particularly notable dinner. I had come
prepared to appear at it. Jean had brought fine array for me and a case of
jewels. I knew I must be "dressed up" and look as important as I could.
When I went up-stairs after tea, Jean was in my room laying things out on
"The man you like so much is to dine here to-night, Ysobel," she said.
"Mr. Hector MacNairn."
I believe I even put my hand suddenly to my heart as I stood and looked at
her, I was so startled and so glad.
"You must tell him how much you love his books," she said. She had a
quiet, motherly way.
"There will be so many other people who will want to talk to him," I
answered, and I felt a little breathless with excitement as I said it.
"And I should be too shy to know how to say such things properly."
"Don't be afraid of him," was her advice. "The man will be like his books,
and they're the joy of your life."
She made me look as nice as she could in the new dress she had brought;
she made me wear the Muircarrie diamonds and sent me downstairs. It does
not matter who the guests were; I scarcely remember. I was taken in to
dinner by a stately elderly man who tried to make me talk, and at last was
absorbed by the clever woman on his other side.
I found myself looking between the flowers for a man's face I could
imagine was Hector MacNairn's. I looked up and down and saw none I could
believe belonged to him. There were handsome faces and individual ones,
but at first I saw no Hector MacNairn. Then, on bending forward a little
to glance behind an epergne, I found a face which it surprised and pleased
me to see. It was the face of the traveler who had helped the woman in
mourning out of the railway carriage, baring his head before her grief. I
could not help turning and speaking to my stately elderly partner.
"Do you know who that is—the man at the other side of the table?" I
Old Lord Armour looked across and answered with an amiable smile. "It is
the author the world is talking of most in these days, and the talking is
no new thing. It's Mr. Hector MacNairn."
No one but myself could tell how glad I was. It seemed so right that he
should be the man who had understood the deeps of a poor, passing stranger
woman's woe. I had so loved that quiet baring of his head! All at once I
knew I should not be afraid of him. He would understand that I could not
help being shy, that it was only my nature, and that if I said things
awkwardly my meanings were better than my words. Perhaps I should be able
to tell him something of what his books had been to me. I glanced through
the flowers again—and he was looking at me! I could scarcely believe
it for a second. But he was. His eyes—his wonderful eyes—met
mine. I could not explain why they were wonderful. I think it was the
clearness and understanding in them, and a sort of great interestedness.
People sometimes look at me from curiosity, but they do not look because
they are really interested.
I could scarcely look away, though I knew I must not be guilty of staring.
A footman was presenting a dish at my side. I took something from it
without knowing what it was. Lord Armour began to talk kindly. He was
saying beautiful, admiring things of Mr. MacNairn and his work. I listened
gratefully, and said a few words myself now and then. I was only too glad
to be told of the great people and the small ones who were moved and
uplifted by his thoughts.
"You admire him very much, I can see," the amiable elderly voice said.
I could not help turning and looking up. "It is as if a great, great
genius were one's friend—as if he talked and one listened," I said.
"He is like a splendid dream which has come true."
Old Lord Armour looked at me quite thoughtfully, as if he saw something
new in me.
"That is a good way of putting it, Miss Muircarrie," he answered.
"MacNairn would like that. You must tell him about it yourself."
I did not mean to glance through the flowers again, but I did it
involuntarily. And I met the other eyes—the wonderful, interested
ones just as I had met them before. It almost seemed as if he had been
watching me. It might be, I thought, because he only vaguely remembered
seeing me before and was trying to recall where we had met.
When my guardian brought his men guests to the drawing-room after dinner,
I was looking over some old prints at a quiet, small table. There were a
few minutes of smiling talk, and then Sir Ian crossed the room toward me,
bringing some one with him. It was Hector MacNairn he brought.
"Mr. MacNairn tells me you traveled together this afternoon without
knowing each other," he said. "He has heard something of Muircarrie and
would like to hear more, Ysobel. She lives like a little ghost all alone
in her feudal castle, Mr. MacNairn. We can't persuade her to like London."
I think he left us alone together because he realized that we should get
on better without a companion.
Mr. MacNairn sat down near me and began to talk about Muircarrie. There
were very few places like it, and he knew about each one of them. He knew
the kind of things Angus Macayre knew—the things most people had
either never heard of or had only thought of as legends. He talked as he
wrote, and I scarcely knew when he led me into talking also. Afterward I
realized that he had asked me questions I could not help answering because
his eyes were drawing me on with that quiet, deep interest. It seemed as
if he saw something in my face which made him curious.
I think I saw this expression first when we began to speak of our meeting
in the railway carriage, and I mentioned the poor little fair child my
heart had ached so for.
"It was such a little thing and it did so want to comfort her! Its white
little clinging hands were so pathetic when they stroked and patted her,"
I said. "And she did not even look at it."
He did not start, but he hesitated in a way which almost produced the
effect of a start. Long afterward I remembered it.
"The child!" he said. "Yes. But I was sitting on the other side. And I was
so absorbed in the poor mother that I am afraid I scarcely saw it. Tell me
"It was not six years old, poor mite," I answered. "It was one of those
very fair children one sees now and then. It was not like its mother. She
was not one of the White People."
"The White People?" he repeated quite slowly after me. "You don't mean
that she was not a Caucasian? Perhaps I don't understand."
That made me feel a trifle shy again. Of course he could not know what I
meant. How silly of me to take it for granted that he would!
"I beg pardon. I forgot," I even stammered a little. "It is only my way of
thinking of those fair people one sees, those very fair ones, you know—the
ones whose fairness looks almost transparent. There are not many of them,
of course; but one can't help noticing them when they pass in the street
or come into a room. You must have noticed them, too. I always call them,
to myself, the White People, because they are different from the rest of
us. The poor mother wasn't one, but the child was. Perhaps that was why I
looked at it, at first. It was such a lovely little thing; and the
whiteness made it look delicate, and I could not help thinking—" I
hesitated, because it seemed almost unkind to finish.
"You thought that if she had just lost one child she ought to take more
care of the other," he ended for me. There was a deep thoughtfulness in
his look, as if he were watching me. I wondered why.
"I wish I had paid more attention to the little creature," he said, very
gently. "Did it cry?"
"No," I answered. "It only clung to her and patted her black sleeve and
kissed it, as if it wanted to comfort her. I kept expecting it to cry, but
it didn't. It made me cry because it seemed so sure that it could comfort
her if she would only remember that it was alive and loved her. I wish, I
wish death did not make people feel as if it filled all the world—as
if, when it happens, there is no life left anywhere. The child who was
alive by her side did not seem a living thing to her. It didn't matter."
I had never said as much to any one before, but his watching eyes made me
forget my shy worldlessness.
"What do you feel about it—death?" he asked.
The low gentleness of his voice seemed something I had known always.
"I never saw it," I answered. "I have never even seen any one dangerously
ill. I—It is as if I can't believe it."
"You can't believe it? That is a wonderful thing," he said, even more
quietly than before.
"If none of us believed, how wonderful that would be! Beautiful, too."
"How that poor mother believed it!" I said, remembering her swollen,
distorted, sobbing face. "She believed nothing else; everything else was
"I wonder what would have happened if you had spoken to her about the
child?" he said, slowly, as if he were trying to imagine it.
"I'm a very shy person. I should never have courage to speak to a
stranger," I answered.
"I'm afraid I'm a coward, too. She might have thought me interfering."
"She might not have understood," he murmured.
"It was clinging to her dress when she walked away down the platform," I
went on. "I dare say you noticed it then?"
"Not as you did. I wish I had noticed it more," was his answer. "Poor
little White One!"
That led us into our talk about the White People. He said he did not think
he was exactly an observant person in some respects. Remembering his
books, which seemed to me the work of a man who saw and understood
everything in the world, I could not comprehend his thinking that, and I
told him so. But he replied that what I had said about my White People
made him feel that he must be abstracted sometimes and miss things. He did
not remember having noticed the rare fairness I had seen. He smiled as he
said it, because, of course, it was only a little thing—that he had
not seen that some people were so much fairer than others.
"But it has not been a little thing to you, evidently. That is why I am
even rather curious about it," he explained. "It is a difference definite
enough to make you speak almost as if they were of a different race from
I sat silent a few seconds, thinking it over. Suddenly I realized what I
had never realized before.
"Do you know," I said, as slowly as he himself had spoken, "I did not know
that was true until you put it into words. I am so used to thinking of
them as different, somehow, that I suppose I do feel as if they were
almost like another race, in a way. Perhaps one would feel like that with
a native Indian, or a Japanese."
"I dare say that is a good simile," he reflected. "Are they different when
you know them well?"
"I have never known one but Wee Brown Elspeth," I answered, thinking it
He did start then, in the strangest way.
"What!" he exclaimed. "What did you say?"
I was quite startled myself. Suddenly he looked pale, and his breath
"I said Wee Elspeth, Wee Brown Elspeth. She was only a child who played
with me," I stammered, "when I was little."
He pulled himself together almost instantly, though the color did not come
back to his face at once and his voice was not steady for a few seconds.
But he laughed outright at himself.
"I beg your pardon," he apologized. "I have been ill and am rather
nervous. I thought you said something you could not possibly have said. I
almost frightened you. And you were only speaking of a little playmate.
Please go on."
"I was only going to say that she was fair like that, fairer than any one
I had ever seen; but when we played together she seemed like any other
child. She was the first I ever knew."
I told him about the misty day on the moor, and about the pale troopers
and the big, lean leader who carried Elspeth before him on his saddle. I
had never talked to any one about it before, not even to Jean Braidfute.
But he seemed to be so interested, as if the little story quite fascinated
him. It was only an episode, but it brought in the weirdness of the moor
and my childish fancies about the things hiding in the white mist, and the
castle frowning on its rock, and my baby face pressed against the nursery
window in the tower, and Angus and the library, and Jean and her goodness
and wise ways. It was dreadful to talk so much about oneself. But he
listened so. His eyes never left my face—they watched and held me as
if he were enthralled. Sometimes he asked a question.
"I wonder who they were—the horsemen?" he pondered. "Did you ever
ask Wee Elspeth?"
"We were both too little to care. We only played," I answered him. "And
they came and went so quickly that they were only a sort of dream."
"They seem to have been a strange lot. Wasn't Angus curious about them?"
"Angus never was curious about anything," I said. "Perhaps he knew
something about them and would not tell me. When I was a little thing I
always knew he and Jean had secrets I was too young to hear. They hid sad
and ugly things from me, or things that might frighten a child. They were
"Yes, they were good," he said, thoughtfully.
I think any one would have been pleased to find herself talking quietly to
a great genius—as quietly as if he were quite an ordinary person;
but to me the experience was wonderful. I had thought about him so much
and with such adoring reverence. And he looked at me as if he truly liked
me, even as if I were something new—a sort of discovery which
interested him. I dare say that he had never before seen a girl who had
lived so much alone and in such a remote and wild place.
I believe Sir Ian and his wife were pleased, too, to see that I was
talking. They were glad that their guests should see that I was
intelligent enough to hold the attention even of a clever man. If Hector
MacNairn was interested in me I could not be as silly and dull as I
looked. But on my part I was only full of wonder and happiness. I was a
girl, and he had been my only hero; and it seemed even as if he liked me
and cared about my queer life.
He was not a man who had the air of making confidences or talking about
himself, but before we parted I seemed to know him and his surroundings as
if he had described them. A mere phrase of his would make a picture. Such
a few words made his mother quite clear to me. They loved each other in an
exquisite, intimate way. She was a beautiful person. Artists had always
painted her. He and she were completely happy when they were together.
They lived in a house in the country, and I could not at all tell how I
discovered that it was an old house with beautiful chimneys and a very big
garden with curious high walls with corner towers round it. He only spoke
of it briefly, but I saw it as a picture; and always afterward, when I
thought of his mother, I thought of her as sitting under a great and
ancient apple-tree with the long, late-afternoon shadows stretching on the
thick, green grass. I suppose I saw that just because he said:
"Will you come to tea under the big apple-tree some afternoon when the
late shadows are like velvet on the grass? That is perhaps the loveliest
When we rose to go and join the rest of the party, he stood a moment and
glanced round the room at our fellow-guests.
"Are there any of your White People here to-night?" he said, smiling. "I
shall begin to look for them everywhere."
I glanced over the faces carelessly. "There are none here to-night," I
answered, and then I flushed because he had smiled. "It was only a
childish name I gave them," I hesitated. "I forgot you wouldn't
understand. I dare say it sounds silly."
He looked at me so quickly.
"No! no! no!" he exclaimed. "You mustn't think that! Certainly not silly."
I do not think he knew that he put out his hand and gently touched my arm,
as one might touch a child to make it feel one wanted it to listen.
"You don't know," he said in his low, slow voice, "how glad I am that you
have talked to me. Sir Ian said you were not fond of talking to people,
and I wanted to know you."
"You care about places like Muircarrie. That is why," I answered, feeling
at once how much he understood. "I care for Muircarrie more than for all
the rest of the world. And I suppose you saw it in my face. I dare say
that the people who love that kind of life cannot help seeing it there."
"Yes," he said, "it is in your eyes. It was what I saw and found myself
wondering about when I watched you in the train. It was really the moor
and the mist and the things you think are hidden in it."
"Did you watch me?" I asked. "I could not help watching you a little, when
you were so kind to the poor woman. I was afraid you would see me and
think me rude."
"It was the far look in your face I watched," he said. "If you will come
to tea under the big apple-tree I will tell you more about it."
"Indeed I will come," I answered. "Now we must go and sit among the other
people—those who don't care about Muircarrie at all."
I went to tea under the big apple-tree. It was very big and old and
wonderful. No wonder Mr. MacNairn and his mother loved it. Its great
branches spread out farther than I had ever seen the branches of an
apple-tree spread before. They were gnarled and knotted and beautiful with
age. Their shadows upon the grass were velvet, deep and soft. Such a tree
could only have lived its life in such a garden. At least it seemed so to
me. The high, dim-colored walls, with their curious, low corner towers and
the leafage of the wall fruits spread against their brick, inclosed it
embracingly, as if they were there to take care of it and its beauty. But
the tree itself seemed to have grown there in all its dignified loveliness
of shadow to take care of Mrs. MacNairn, who sat under it. I felt as if it
loved and was proud of her.
I have heard clever literary people speak of Mrs. MacNairn as a "survival
of type." Sometimes clever people bewilder me by the terms they use, but I
thought I understood what they meant in her case. She was quite unlike the
modern elderly woman, and yet she was not in the least old-fashioned or
demodee. She was only exquisitely distinct.
When she rose from her chair under the apple-tree boughs and came forward
to meet me that afternoon, the first things which struck me were her
height and slenderness and her light step. Then I saw that her clear
profile seemed cut out of ivory and that her head was a beautiful shape
and was beautifully set. Its every turn and movement was exquisite. The
mere fact that both her long, ivory hands enfolded mine thrilled me. I
wondered if it were possible that she could be unaware of her loveliness.
Beautiful people are thrilling to me, and Mrs. MacNairn has always seemed
more so than any one else. This is what her son once said of her:
"She is not merely beautiful; she is Beauty—Beauty's very spirit
moving about among us mortals; pure Beauty."
She drew me to a chair under her tree, and we sat down together. I felt as
if she were glad that I had come. The watching look I had seen in her
son's eyes was in hers also. They watched me as we talked, and I found
myself telling her about my home as I had found myself telling him. He had
evidently talked to her about it himself. I had never met any one who
thought of Muircarrie as I did, but it seemed as if they who were
strangers were drawn by its wild, beautiful loneliness as I was.
I was happy. In my secret heart I began to ask myself if it could be true
that they made me feel a little as if I somehow belonged to some one. I
had always seemed so detached from every one. I had not been miserable
about it, and I had not complained to myself; I only accepted the
detachment as part of my kind of life.
Mr. MacNairn came into the garden later and several other people came in
to tea. It was apparently a sort of daily custom—that people who
evidently adored Mrs. MacNairn dropped in to see and talk to her every
afternoon. She talked wonderfully, and her friends' joy in her was
wonderful, too. It evidently made people happy to be near her. All she
said and did was like her light step and the movements of her delicate,
fine head—gracious and soft and arrestingly lovely. She did not let
me drift away and sit in a corner looking on, as I usually did among
strangers. She kept me near her, and in some subtle, gentle way made me a
part of all that was happening—the talk, the charming circle under
the spreading boughs of the apple-tree, the charm of everything. Sometimes
she would put out her exquisite, long-fingered hand and touch me very
lightly, and each time she did it I felt as if she had given me new life.
There was an interesting elderly man who came among the rest of the
guests. I was interested in him even before she spoke to me of him. He had
a handsome, aquiline face which looked very clever. His talk was
brilliantly witty. When he spoke people paused as if they could not bear
to lose a phrase or even a word. But in the midst of the trills of
laughter surrounding him his eyes were unchangingly sad. His face laughed
or smiled, but his eyes never.
"He is the greatest artist in England and the most brilliant man," Mrs.
MacNairn said to me, quietly. "But he is the saddest, too. He had a lovely
daughter who was killed instantly, in his presence, by a fall. They had
been inseparable companions and she was the delight of his life. That
strange, fixed look has been in his eyes ever since. I know you have
We were walking about among the flower-beds after tea, and Mr. MacNairn
was showing me a cloud of blue larkspurs in a corner when I saw something
which made me turn toward him rather quickly.
"There is one!" I said. "Do look at her! Now you see what I mean! The girl
standing with her hand on Mr. Le Breton's arm."
Mr. Le Breton was the brilliant man with the sad eyes. He was standing
looking at a mass of white-and-purple iris at the other side of the
garden. There were two or three people with him, but it seemed as if for a
moment he had forgotten them—had forgotten where he was. I wondered
suddenly if his daughter had been fond of irises. He was looking at them
with such a tender, lost expression. The girl, who was a lovely, fair
thing, was standing quite close to him with her hand in his arm, and she
was smiling, too—such a smile!
"Mr. Le Breton!" Mr. MacNairn said in a rather startled tone. "The girl
with her hand in his arm?"
"Yes. You see how fair she is," I answered.
"And she has that transparent look. It is so lovely. Don't you think so?
SHE is one of the White People."
He stood very still, looking across the flowers at the group. There was a
singular interest and intensity in his expression. He watched the pair
silently for a whole minute, I think.
"Ye-es," he said, slowly, at last, "I do see what you mean—and it IS
lovely. I don't seem to know her well. She must be a new friend of my
mother's. So she is one of the White People?"
"She looks like a white iris herself, doesn't she?" I said. "Now you
"Yes; now I know," he answered.
I asked Mrs. MacNairn later who the girl was, but she didn't seem to
recognize my description of her. Mr. Le Breton had gone away by that time,
and so had the girl herself.
"The tall, very fair one in the misty, pale-gray dress," I said. "She was
near Mr. Le Breton when he was looking at the iris-bed. You were cutting
some roses only a few yards away from her. That VERY fair girl?"
Mrs. MacNairn paused a moment and looked puzzled.
"Mildred Keith is fair," she reflected, "but she was not there then. I
don't recall seeing a girl. I was cutting some buds for Mrs. Anstruther. I—"
She paused again and turned toward her son, who was standing watching us.
I saw their eyes meet in a rather arrested way.
"It was not Mildred Keith," he said. "Miss Muircarrie is inquiring because
this girl was one of those she calls the White People. She was not any one
I had seen here before."
There was a second's silence before Mrs. MacNairn smilingly gave me one of
her light, thrilling touches on my arm.
"Ah! I remember," she said. "Hector told me about the White People. He
rather fancied I might be one."
I am afraid I rather stared at her as I slowly shook my head. You see she
was almost one, but not quite.
"I was so busy with my roses that I did not notice who was standing near
Mr. Le Breton," she said. "Perhaps it was Anabel Mere. She is a more
transparent sort of girl than Mildred, and she is more blond. And you
don't know her, Hector? I dare say it was she."
I remained in London several weeks. I stayed because the MacNairns were so
good to me. I could not have told any one how I loved Mrs. MacNairn, and
how different everything seemed when I was with her. I was never shy when
we were together. There seemed to be no such thing as shyness in the
world. I was not shy with Mr. MacNairn, either. After I had sat under the
big apple-tree boughs in the walled garden a few times I realized that I
had begun to belong to somebody. Those two marvelous people cared for me
in that way—in a way that made me feel as if I were a real girl, not
merely a queer little awkward ghost in a far-away castle which nobody
wanted to visit because it was so dull and desolate and far from London.
They were so clever, and knew all the interesting things in the world, but
their cleverness and experience never bewildered or overwhelmed me.
"You were born a wonderful little creature, and Angus Macayre has filled
your mind with strange, rich furnishings and marvelous color and form,"
Mrs. MacNairn actually said to me one day when we were sitting together
and she was holding my hand and softly, slowly patting it. She had a way
of doing that, and she had also a way of keeping me very near her whenever
she could. She said once that she liked to touch me now and then to make
sure that I was quite real and would not melt away. I did not know then
why she said it, but I understood afterward.
Sometimes we sat under the apple-tree until the long twilight deepened
into shadow, which closed round us, and a nightingale that lived in the
garden began to sing. We all three loved the nightingale, and felt as
though it knew that we were listening to it. It is a wonderful thing to
sit quite still listening to a bird singing in the dark, and to dare to
feel that while it sings it knows how your soul adores it. It is like a
kind of worship.
We had been sitting listening for quite a long time, and the nightingale
had just ceased and left the darkness an exquisite silence which fell
suddenly but softly as the last note dropped, when Mrs. MacNairn began to
talk for the first time of what she called The Fear.
I don't remember just how she began, and for a few minutes I did not quite
understand what she meant. But as she went on, and Mr. MacNairn joined in
the talk, their meaning became a clear thing to me, and I knew that they
were only talking quite simply of something they had often talked of
before. They were not as afraid of The Fear as most people are, because
they had thought of and reasoned about it so much, and always calmly and
with clear and open minds.
By The Fear they meant that mysterious horror most people feel at the
thought of passing out of the world they know into the one they don't know
How quiet, how still it was inside the walls of the old garden, as we
three sat under the boughs and talked about it! And what sweet night
scents of leaves and sleeping flowers were in every breath we drew! And
how one's heart moved and lifted when the nightingale broke out again!
"If one had seen or heard one little thing, if one's mortal being could
catch one glimpse of light in the dark," Mrs. MacNairn's low voice said
out of the shadow near me, "The Fear would be gone forever."
"Perhaps the whole mystery is as simple as this," said her son's voice "as
simple as this: that as there are tones of music too fine to be registered
by the human ear, so there may be vibrations of light not to be seen by
the human eye; form and color as well as sounds; just beyond earthly
perception, and yet as real as ourselves, as formed as ourselves, only
existing in that other dimension."
There was an intenseness which was almost a note of anguish in Mrs.
MacNairn's answer, even though her voice was very low. I involuntarily
turned my head to look at her, though of course it was too dark to see her
face. I felt somehow as if her hands were wrung together in her lap.
"Oh!" she said, "if one only had some shadow of a proof that the mystery
is only that WE cannot see, that WE cannot hear, though they are really
quite near us, with us—the ones who seem to have gone away and whom
we feel we cannot live without. If once we could be sure! There would be
no Fear—there would be none!"
"Dearest"—he often called her "Dearest," and his voice had a
wonderful sound in the darkness; it was caress and strength, and it seemed
to speak to her of things they knew which I did not—"we have vowed
to each other that we WILL believe there is no reason for The Fear. It was
a vow between us."
"Yes! Yes!" she cried, breathlessly, "but sometimes, Hector—sometimes—"
"Miss Muircarrie does not feel it—"
"Please say 'Ysobel'!" I broke in. "Please do."
He went on as quietly as if he had not even paused:
"Ysobel told me the first night we met that it seemed as if she could not
believe in it."
"It never seems real to me at all," I said. "Perhaps that is because I can
never forget what Jean told me about my mother lying still upon her bed,
and listening to some one calling her." (I had told them Jean's story a
few days before.) "I knew it was my father; Jean knew, too."
"How did you know?" Mrs. MacNairn's voice was almost a whisper.
"I could not tell you that. I never asked myself HOW it was. But I KNEW.
We both KNEW. Perhaps"—I hesitated—"it was because in the
Highlands people often believe things like that. One hears so many stories
all one's life that in the end they don't seem strange. I have always
heard them. Those things you know about people who have the second sight.
And about the seals who change themselves into men and come on shore and
fall in love with girls and marry them. They say they go away now and
then, and no one really knows where but it is believed that they go back
to their own people and change into seals again, because they must plunge
and riot about in the sea. Sometimes they come home, but sometimes they do
"A beautiful young stranger, with soft, dark eyes, appeared once not far
from Muircarrie, and he married a boatman's daughter. He was very restless
one night, and got up and left her, and she never saw him again; but a few
days later a splendid dead seal covered with wounds was washed up near his
cottage. The fishers say that his people had wanted to keep him from his
land wife, and they had fought with him and killed him. His wife had a son
with strange, velvet eyes like his father's, and she couldn't keep him
away from the water. When he was old enough to swim he swam out one day,
because he thought he saw some seals and wanted to get near them. He swam
out too far, perhaps. He never came back, and the fishermen said his
father's people had taken him. When one has heard stories like that all
one's life nothing seems very strange."
"Nothing really IS strange," said Hector MacNairn. "Again and again
through all the ages we have been told the secrets of the gods and the
wonders of the Law, and we have revered and echoed but never believed.
When we believe and know all is simple we shall not be afraid. You are not
afraid, Ysobel. Tell my mother you are not."
I turned my face toward her again in the darkness. I felt as if something
was going on between them which he somehow knew I could help them in. It
was as though he were calling on something in my nature which I did not
myself comprehend, but which his profound mind saw and knew was stronger
than I was.
Suddenly I felt as if I might trust to him and to It, and that, without
being troubled or anxious, I would just say the first thing which came
into my mind, because it would be put there for me by some power which
could dictate to me. I never felt younger or less clever than I did at
that moment; I was only Ysobel Muircarrie, who knew almost nothing. But
that did not seem to matter. It was such a simple, almost childish thing I
told her. It was only about The Dream.
"The feeling you call The Fear has never come to me," I said to her. "And
if it had I think it would have melted away because of a dream I once had.
I don't really believe it was a dream, but I call it one. I think I really
went somewhere and came back. I often wonder why I came back. It was only
a short dream, so simple that there is scarcely anything to tell, and
perhaps it will not convey anything to you. But it has been part of my
life—that time when I was Out on the Hillside. That is what I call
The Dream to myself, 'Out on the Hillside,' as if it were a kind of
unearthly poem. But it wasn't. It was more real than anything I have ever
felt. It was real—real! I wish that I could tell it so that you
would know how real it was."
I felt almost piteous in my longing to make her know. I knew she was
afraid of something, and if I could make her know how REAL that one brief
dream had been she would not be afraid any more. And I loved her, I loved
her so much!
"I was asleep one night at Muircarrie," I went on, "and suddenly, without
any preparatory dreaming, I was standing out on a hillside in moonlight
softer and more exquisite than I had ever seen or known before. Perhaps I
was still in my nightgown—I don't know. My feet were bare on the
grass, and I wore something light and white which did not seem to touch
me. If it touched me I did not feel it. My bare feet did not feel the
grass; they only knew it was beneath them.
"It was a low hill I stood on, and I was only on the side of it. And in
spite of the thrilling beauty of the moon, all but the part I stood on
melted into soft, beautiful shadow, all below me and above me. But I did
not turn to look at or ask myself about anything. You see the difficulty
is that there are no earthly words to tell it! All my being was ecstasy—pure,
light ecstasy! Oh, what poor words— But I know no others. If I said
that I was happy—HAPPY!—it would be nothing. I WAS happiness
itself, I WAS pure rapture! I did not look at the beauty of the night, the
sky, the marvelous melting shadow. I was PART of it all, one with it.
Nothing held me nothing! The beauty of the night, the light, the air WERE
what I was, and I was only thrilling ecstasy and wonder at the rapture of
I stopped and covered my face with my hands, and tears wet my fingers.
"Oh, I cannot make it real! I was only there such a short, short time.
Even if you had been with me I could not have found words for it, even
then. It was such a short time. I only stood and lifted my face and felt
the joy of it, the pure marvel of joy. I only heard myself murmuring over
and over again: 'Oh, how beautiful! how beautiful! Oh, how BEAUTIFUL!'
"And then a marvel of new joy swept through me. I said, very softly and
very slowly, as if my voice were trailing away into silence: 'Oh—h!
. . . all—through—the night—under—this—moonlight.
. . . I can sleep—sleep—'
"I began to sink softly down, with the heavenliest feeling of relaxation
and repose, as if there existed only the soul of beautiful rest. I sank so
softly—and just as my cheek almost touched the grass the dream was
"Oh!" cried Mrs. MacNairn. "Did you awaken?"
"No. I came back. In my sleep I suddenly found myself creeping into my bed
again as if I had been away somewhere. I was wondering why I was there,
how I had left the hillside, when I had left it. That part WAS a dream—but
the other was not. I was allowed to go somewhere—outside—and
I caught at her hand in the dark.
"The words are all wrong," I said. "It is because we have no words to
describe that. But have I made you feel it at all? Oh! Mrs. MacNairn, have
I been able to make you know that it was not a dream?"
She lifted my hand and pressed it passionately against her cheek, and her
cheek, too, was wet—wet.
"No, it was not a dream," she said. "You came back. Thank God you came
back, just to tell us that those who do not come back stand awakened in
that ecstasy—in that ecstasy. And The Fear is nothing. It is only
The Dream. The awakening is out on the hillside, out on the hillside!
Listen!" She started as she said it. "Listen! The nightingale is beginning
He sent forth in the dark a fountain—a rising, aspiring fountain—of
golden notes which seemed to reach heaven itself. The night was made
radiant by them. He flung them upward like a shower of stars into the sky.
We sat and listened, almost holding our breath. Oh! the nightingale! the
"He knows," Hector MacNairn's low voice said, "that it was not a dream."
When there was silence again I heard him leave his chair very quietly.
"Good night! good night!" he said, and went away. I felt somehow that he
had left us together for a purpose, but, oh, I did not even remotely dream
what the purpose was! But soon she told me, almost in a whisper.
"We love you very much, Ysobel," she said. "You know that?"
"I love you both, with all my heart," I answered. "Indeed I love you."
"We two have been more to each other than mere mother and son. We have
been sufficient for each other. But he began to love you that first day
when he watched you in the railway carriage. He says it was the far look
in your eyes which drew him."
"I began to love him, too," I said. And I was not at all ashamed or shy in
"We three might have spent our lives together," she went on. "It would
have been a perfect thing. But—but—" She stood up as if she
could not remain seated. Involuntarily I stood up with her. She was
trembling, and she caught and held me in her arms. "He cannot stay,
Ysobel," she ended.
I could scarcely hear my own voice when I echoed the words.
"Oh! the time will come," she said, "when people who love each other will
not be separated, when on this very earth there will be no pain, no grief,
no age, no death—when all the world has learned the Law at last. But
we have not learned it yet. And here we stand! The greatest specialists
have told us. There is some fatal flaw in his heart. At any moment, when
he is talking to us, when he is at his work, when he is asleep, he may—cease.
It will just be ceasing. At any moment. He cannot stay."
My own heart stood still for a second. Then there rose before me slowly,
but clearly, a vision—the vision which was not a dream.
"Out on the hillside," I murmured. "Out on the hillside."
I clung to her with both arms and held her tight. I understood now why
they had talked about The Fear. These two who were almost one soul were
trying to believe that they were not really to be torn apart—not
really. They were trying to heap up for themselves proof that they might
still be near each other. And, above all, his effort was to save her from
the worst, worst woe. And I understood, too, why something wiser and
stronger than myself had led me to tell the dream which was not a dream at
But it was as she said; the world had not learned the Secret yet. And
there we stood. We did not cry or talk, but we clung to each other—we
CLUNG. That is all human creatures can do until the Secret is known. And
as we clung the nightingale broke out again.
"O nightingale! O nightingale!" she said in her low wonder of a voice.
"WHAT are you trying to tell us!"
What I feel sure I know by this time is that all the things we think
happen by chance and accident are only part of the weaving of the scheme
of life. When you begin to suspect this and to watch closely you also
begin to see how trifles connect themselves with one another, and seem in
the end to have led to a reason and a meaning, though we may not be clever
enough to see it clearly. Nothing is an accident. We make everything
happen ourselves: the wrong things because we do not know or care whether
we are wrong or right, the right ones because we unconsciously or
consciously choose the right even in the midst of our ignorance.
I dare say it sounds audacious for an ordinary girl to say such things in
an ordinary way; but perhaps I have said them in spite of myself, because
it is not a bad thing that they should be said by an every-day sort of
person in simple words which other every-day people can understand. I am
only expressing what has gradually grown into belief in my mind through
reading with Angus ancient books and modern ones—books about faiths
and religions, books about philosophies and magics, books about what the
world calls marvels, but which are not marvels at all, but only workings
of the Law most people have not yet reasoned about or even accepted.
Angus had read and studied them all his life before he began to read them
with me, and we talked them over together sitting by the fire in the
library, fascinated and staring at each other, I in one high-backed chair
and he in another on the opposite side of the hearth. Angus is wonderful—wonderful!
He KNOWS there is no such thing as chance. He KNOWS that we ourselves are
the working of the Law—and that we ourselves could work what now are
stupidly called "miracles" if we could only remember always what the Law
What I intended to say at first was merely that it was not by chance that
I climbed to the shelf in the library that afternoon and pushed aside the
books hiding the old manuscript which told the real story of Dark Malcolm
of the Glen and Wee Brown Elspeth. It seemed like chance when it happened,
but it was really the first step toward my finding out the strange,
beautiful thing I knew soon afterward.
From the beginning of my friendship with the MacNairns I had hoped they
would come and stay with me at Muircarrie. When they both seemed to feel
such interest in all I told them of it, and not to mind its wild
remoteness, I took courage and asked them if they would come to me. Most
people are bored by the prospect of life in a feudal castle, howsoever
picturesquely it is set in a place where there are no neighbors to count
on. Its ancient stateliness is too dull. But the MacNairns were more
allured by what Muircarrie offered than they were by other and more
brilliant invitations. So when I went back to the castle I was only to be
alone a week before they followed me.
Jean and Angus were quite happy in their quiet way when I told them who I
was expecting. They knew how glad I was myself. Jean was full of silent
pleasure as she arranged the rooms I had chosen for my guests, rooms which
had the most sweeping view of the moor. Angus knew that Mr. MacNairn would
love the library, and he hovered about consulting his catalogues and
looking over his shelves, taking down volumes here and there, holding them
tenderly in his long, bony old hand as he dipped into them. He made notes
of the manuscripts and books he thought Mr. MacNairn would feel the
deepest interest in. He loved his library with all his being, and I knew
he looked forward to talking to a man who would care for it in the same
He had been going over one of the highest shelves one day and had left his
step-ladder leaning against it when he went elsewhere. It was when I
mounted the steps, as I often did when he left them, that I came upon the
manuscript which related the old story of Dark Malcolm and his child. It
had been pushed behind some volumes, and I took it out because it looked
so old and yellow. And I opened at once at the page where the tale began.
At first I stood reading, and then I sat down on the broad top of the
ladder and forgot everything. It was a savage history of ferocious hate
and barbarous reprisals. It had been a feud waged between two clans for
three generations. The story of Dark Malcolm and Ian Red Hand was only
part of it, but it was a gruesome thing. Pages told of the bloody deeds
they wrought on each other's houses. The one human passion of Dark
Malcolm's life was his love for his little daughter. She had brown eyes
and brown hair, and those who most loved her called her Wee Brown Elspeth.
Ian Red Hand was richer and more powerful than Malcolm of the Glen, and
therefore could more easily work his cruel will. He knew well of Malcolm's
worship of his child, and laid his plans to torture him through her. Dark
Malcolm, coming back to his rude, small castle one night after a raid in
which he had lost followers and weapons and strength, found that Wee Brown
Elspeth had been carried away, and unspeakable taunts and threats left
behind by Ian and his men. With unbound wounds, broken dirks and hacked
swords, Dark Malcolm and the remnant of his troop of fighting clansmen
rushed forth into the night.
"Neither men nor weapons have we to win her back," screamed Dark Malcolm,
raving mad, "but we may die fighting to get near enough to her to drive
dirk into her little breast and save her from worse."
They were a band of madmen in their black despair. How they tore through
the black night; what unguarded weak spot they found in Ian's castle
walls; how they fought their way through it, leaving their dead bodies in
the path, none really ever knew. By what strange chance Dark Malcolm came
upon Wee Brown Elspeth, craftily set to playing hide-and-seek with a child
of Ian's so that she might not cry out and betray her presence; how,
already wounded to his death, he caught at and drove his dirk into her
child heart, the story only offers guesses at. But kill and save her he
did, falling dead with her body held against his breast, her brown hair
streaming over it. Not one living man went back to the small, rude castle
on the Glen—not one.
I sat and read and read until the room grew dark. When I stopped I found
that Angus Macayre was standing in the dimness at the foot of the ladder.
He looked up at me and I down at him. For a few moments we were both quite
"It is the tale of Ian Red Hand and Dark Malcolm you are reading?" he
said, at last.
"And Wee Brown Elspeth, who was fought for and killed," I added, slowly.
Angus nodded his head with a sad face. "It was the only way for a father,"
he said. "A hound of hell was Ian. Such men were savage beasts in those
days, not human."
I touched the manuscript with my hand questioningly. "Did this fall at the
back there by accident," I asked, "or did you hide it?"
"I did," he answered. "It was no tale for a young thing to read. I have
hidden many from you. You were always poking about in corners, Ysobel."
Then I sat and thought over past memories for a while and the shadows in
the room deepened.
"Why," I said, laggingly, after the silence—"why did I call the
child who used to play with me 'Wee Brown Elspeth'?"
"It was your own fancy," was his reply. "I used to wonder myself; but I
made up my mind that you had heard some of the maids talking and the name
had caught your ear. That would be a child's way."
I put my forehead in my hands and thought again. So many years had passed!
I had been little more than a baby; the whole thing seemed like a
half-forgotten dream when I tried to recall it—but I seemed to dimly
remember strange things.
"Who were the wild men who brought her to me first—that day on the
moor?" I said. "I do remember they had pale, savage, exultant faces. And
torn, stained clothes. And broken dirks and swords. But they were glad of
something. Who were they?"
"I did not see them. The mist was too thick," he answered. "They were some
wild hunters, perhaps."
"It gives me such a strange feeling to try to remember, Angus," I said,
lifting my forehead from my hands.
"Don't try," he said. "Give me the manuscript and get down from the
step-ladder. Come and look at the list of books I have made for Mr.
I did as he told me, but I felt as if I were walking in a dream. My mind
seemed to have left my body and gone back to the day when I sat a little
child on the moor and heard the dull sound of horses' feet and the
jingling metal and the creak of leather coming nearer in the thick mist.
I felt as if Angus were in a queer, half-awake mood, too—as if two
sets of thoughts were working at the same time in his mind: one his
thoughts about Hector MacNairn and the books, the other some queer
thoughts which went on in spite of him.
When I was going to leave the library and go up-stairs to dress for dinner
he said a strange thing to me, and he said it slowly and in a heavy voice.
"There is a thing Jean and I have often talked of telling you," he said.
"We have not known what it was best to do. Times we have been troubled
because we could not make up our minds. This Mr. Hector MacNairn is no
common man. He is one who is great and wise enough to decide things plain
people could not be sure of. Jean and I are glad indeed that he and his
mother are coming. Jean can talk to her and I can talk to him, being a man
body. They will tell us whether we have been right or wrong and what we
"They are wise enough to tell you anything," I answered. "It sounds as if
you and Jean had known some big secret all my life. But I am not
frightened. You two would go to your graves hiding it if it would hurt
"Eh, bairn!" he said, suddenly, in a queer, moved way. "Eh, bairn!" And he
took hold of both my hands and kissed them, pressing them quite long and
emotionally to his lips. But he said nothing else, and when he dropped
them I went out of the room.
It was wonderful when Mr. MacNairn and his mother came. It was even more
beautiful than I had thought it would be. They arrived late in the
afternoon, and when I took them out upon the terrace the sun was reddening
the moor, and even the rough, gray towers of the castle were stained
rose-color. There was that lovely evening sound of birds twittering before
they went to sleep in the ivy. The glimpses of gardens below seemed like
glimpses of rich tapestries set with jewels. And there was such stillness!
When we drew our three chairs in a little group together and looked out on
it all, I felt as if we were almost in heaven.
"Yes! yes!" Hector said, looking slowly—round; "it is all here."
"Yes," his mother added, in her lovely, lovely voice. "It is what made you
It was so angelic of them to feel it all in that deep, quiet way, and to
think that it was part of me and I a part of it. The climbing moon was
trembling with beauty. Tender evening airs quivered in the heather and
fern, and the late birds called like spirits.
Ever since the night when Mrs. MacNairn had held me in her arms under the
apple-tree while the nightingale sang I had felt toward her son as if he
were an archangel walking on the earth. Perhaps my thoughts were
exaggerated, but it seemed so marvelous that he should be moving among us,
doing his work, seeing and talking to his friends, and yet that he should
know that at any moment the great change might come and he might awaken
somewhere else, in quite another place. If he had been like other men and
I had been like other girls, I suppose that after that night when I heard
the truth I should have been plunged into the darkest woe and have almost
sobbed myself to death. Why did I not? I do not know except—except
that I felt that no darkness could come between us because no darkness
could touch him. He could never be anything but alive alive. If I could
not see him it would only be because my eyes were not clear and strong
enough. I seemed to be waiting for something. I wanted to keep near him.
I was full of this feeling as we sat together on the terrace and watched
the moon. I could scarcely look away from him. He was rather pale that
evening, but there seemed to be a light behind his pallor, and his eyes
seemed to see so much more than the purple and yellow of the heather and
gorse as they rested on them.
After I had watched him silently for a little while I leaned forward and
pointed to a part of the moor where there was an unbroken blaze of gorse
in full bloom like a big patch of gold.
"That is where I was sitting when Wee Brown Elspeth was first brought to
me," I said.
He sat upright and looked. "Is it?" he answered. "Will you take me there
to-morrow? I have always wanted to see the place."
"Would you like to go early in the morning? The mist is more likely to be
there then, as it was that day. It is so mysterious and beautiful. Would
you like to do that?" I asked him.
"Better than anything else!" he said. "Yes, let us go in the morning."
"Wee Brown Elspeth seems very near me this evening," I said. "I feel as if—"
I broke off and began again. "I have a puzzled feeling about her. This
afternoon I found some manuscript pushed behind a book on a high shelf in
the library. Angus said he had hidden it there because it was a savage
story he did not wish me to read. It was the history of the feud between
Ian Red Hand and Dark Malcolm of the Glen. Dark Malcolm's child was called
Wee Brown Elspeth hundreds of years ago—five hundred, I think. It
makes me feel so bewildered when I remember the one I played with."
"It was a bloody story," he said. "I heard it only a few days before we
met at Sir Ian's house in London."
That made me recall something.
"Was that why you started when I told you about Elspeth?" I asked.
"Yes. Perhaps the one you played with was a little descendant who had
inherited her name," he answered, a trifle hurriedly. "I confess I was
startled for a moment."
I put my hand up to my forehead and rubbed it unconsciously. I could not
help seeing a woesome picture.
"Poor little soul, with the blood pouring from her heart and her brown
hair spread over her dead father's breast!" I stopped, because a faint
memory came back to me. "Mine," I stammered—"mine—how strange!—had
a great stain on the embroideries of her dress. She looked at it—and
looked. She looked as if she didn't like it—as if she didn't
understand how it came there. She covered it with ferns and bluebells."
I felt as if I were being drawn away into a dream. I made a sudden effort
to come back. I ceased rubbing my forehead and dropped my hand, sitting
"I must ask Angus and Jean to tell me about her," I said. "Of course, they
must have known. I wonder why I never thought of asking questions before."
It was a strange look I met when I involuntarily turned toward him—such
an absorbed, strange, tender look!
I knew he sat quite late in the library that night, talking to Angus after
his mother and I went to our rooms. Just as I was falling asleep I
remember there floated through my mind a vague recollection of what Angus
had said to me of asking his advice about something; and I wondered if he
would reach the subject in their talk, or if they would spend all their
time in poring over manuscripts and books together.
The moor wore its most mysterious look when I got up in the early morning.
It had hidden itself in its softest snows of white, swathing mist. Only
here and there dark fir-trees showed themselves above it, and now and then
the whiteness thinned or broke and drifted. It was as I had wanted him to
see it—just as I had wanted to walk through it with him.
We had met in the hall as we had planned, and, wrapped in our plaids
because the early morning air was cold, we tramped away together. No one
but myself could ever realize what it was like. I had never known that
there could be such a feeling of companionship in the world. It would not
have been necessary for us to talk at all if we had felt silent. We should
have been saying things to each other without words. But we did talk as we
walked—in quiet voices which seemed made quieter by the mist, and of
quiet things which such voices seemed to belong to.
We crossed the park to a stile in a hedge where a path led at once on to
the moor. Part of the park itself had once been moorland, and was dark
with slender firs and thick grown with heather and broom. On the moor the
mist grew thicker, and if I had not so well known the path we might have
lost ourselves in it. Also I knew by heart certain little streams that
rushed and made guiding sounds which were sometimes loud whispers and
sometimes singing babbles. The damp, sweet scent of fern and heather was
in our nostrils; as we climbed we breathed its freshness.
"There is a sort of unearthly loveliness in it all," Hector MacNairn said
to me. His voice was rather like his mother's. It always seemed to say so
much more than his words.
"We might be ghosts," I answered. "We might be some of those the mist
hides because they like to be hidden."
"You would not be afraid if you met one of them?" he said.
"No. I think I am sure of that. I should feel that it was only like
myself, and, if I could hear, might tell me things I want to know."
"What do you want to know?" he asked me, very low. "You!"
"Only what everybody wants to know—that it is really AWAKENING free,
ready for wonderful new things, finding oneself in the midst of wonders. I
don't mean angels with harps and crowns, but beauty such as we see now;
only seeing it without burdens of fears before and behind us. And knowing
there is no reason to be afraid. We have all been so afraid. We don't know
how afraid we have been—of everything."
I stopped among the heather and threw my arms out wide. I drew in a great,
joyous morning breath.
"Free like that! It is the freeness, the light, splendid freeness, I think
"The freeness!" he repeated. "Yes, the freeness!"
"As for beauty," I almost whispered, in a sort of reverence for visions I
remembered, "I have stood on this moor a thousand times and seen
loveliness which made me tremble. One's soul could want no more in any
life. But 'Out on the Hillside' I KNEW I was part of it, and it was
ecstasy. That was the freeness."
"Yes—it was the freeness," he answered.
We brushed through the heather and the bracken, and flower-bells shook
showers of radiant drops upon us. The mist wavered and sometimes lifted
before us, and opened up mystic vistas to veil them again a few minutes
later. The sun tried to break through, and sometimes we walked in a golden
We fell into silence. Now and then I glanced sidewise at my companion as
we made our soundless way over the thick moss. He looked so strong and
beautiful. His tall body was so fine, his shoulders so broad and splendid!
How could it be! How could it be! As he tramped beside me he was thinking
deeply, and he knew he need not talk to me. That made me glad—that
he should know me so well and feel me so near. That was what he felt when
he was with his mother, that she understood and that at times neither of
them needed words.
Until we had reached the patch of gorse where we intended to end our walk
we did not speak at all. He was thinking of things which led him far. I
knew that, though I did not know what they were. When we reached the
golden blaze we had seen the evening before it was a flame of gold again,
because—it was only for a few moments—the mist had blown apart
and the sun was shining on it.
As we stood in the midst of it together—Oh! how strange and
beautiful it was!—Mr. MacNairn came back. That was what it seemed to
me—that he came back. He stood quite still a moment and looked about
him, and then he stretched out his arms as I had stretched out mine. But
he did it slowly, and a light came into his face.
"If, after it was over, a man awakened as you said and found himself—the
self he knew, but light, free, splendid—remembering all the ages of
dark, unknowing dread, of horror of some black, aimless plunge, and
suddenly seeing all the childish uselessness of it—how he would
stand and smile! How he would stand and SMILE!"
Never had I understood anything more clearly than I understood then. Yes,
yes! That would be it. Remembering all the waste of fear, how he would
stand and SMILE!
He was smiling himself, the golden gorse about him already losing its
flame in the light returning mist-wraiths closing again over it, when I
heard a sound far away and high up the moor. It sounded like the playing
of a piper. He did not seem to notice it.
"We shall be shut in again," he said. "How mysterious it is, this opening
and closing! I like it more than anything else. Let us sit down, Ysobel."
He spread the plaid we had brought to sit on, and laid on it the little
strapped basket Jean had made ready for us. He shook the mist drops from
our own plaids, and as I was about to sit down I stopped a moment to
"That is a tune I never heard on the pipes before," I said. "What is a
piper doing out on the moor so early?"
He listened also. "It must be far away. I don't hear it," he said.
"Perhaps it is a bird whistling."
"It is far away," I answered, "but it is not a bird. It's the pipes, and
playing such a strange tune. There! It has stopped!"
But it was not silent long; I heard the tune begin again much nearer, and
the piper was plainly coming toward us. I turned my head.
The mist was clearing, and floated about like a thin veil through which
one could see objects. At a short distance above us on the moor I saw
something moving. It was a man who was playing the pipes. It was the
piper, and almost at once I knew him, because it was actually my own
Feargus, stepping proudly through the heather with his step like a stag on
the hills. His head was held high, and his face had a sort of elated
delight in it as if he were enjoying himself and the morning and the music
in a new way. I was so surprised that I rose to my feet and called to him.
"Feargus!" I cried. "What—"
I knew he heard me, because he turned and looked at me with the most
extraordinary smile. He was usually a rather grave-faced man, but this
smile had a kind of startling triumph in it. He certainly heard me, for he
whipped off his bonnet in a salute which was as triumphant as the smile.
But he did not answer, and actually passed in and out of sight in the
When I rose Mr. MacNairn had risen, too. When I turned to speak in my
surprise, he had fixed on me his watchful look.
"Imagine its being Feargus at this hour!" I exclaimed. "And why did he
pass by in such a hurry without answering? He must have been to a wedding
and have been up all night. He looked—" I stopped a second and
"How did he look?" Mr. MacNairn asked.
"Pale! That won't do—though he certainly didn't look ill." I laughed
again. "I'm laughing because he looked almost like one of the White
"Are you sure it was Feargus?" he said.
"Quite sure. No one else is the least like Feargus. Didn't you see him
"I don't know him as well as you do; and there was the mist," was his
answer. "But he certainly was not one of the White People when I saw him
I wondered why he looked as he did when he took my hand and drew me down
to my place on the plaid again. He did not let it go when he sat down by
my side. He held it in his own large, handsome one, looking down on it a
moment or so; and then he bent his head and kissed it long and slowly two
or three times.
"Dear little Ysobel!" he said. "Beloved, strange little Ysobel."
"Am I strange!" I said, softly.
"Yes, thank God!" he answered.
I had known that some day when we were at Muircarrie together he would
tell me what his mother had told me—about what we three might have
been to one another. I trembled with happiness at the thought of hearing
him say it himself. I knew he was going to say it now.
He held my hand and stroked it. "My mother told you, Ysobel—what I
am waiting for?" he said.
"Do you know I love you?" he said, very low.
"Yes. I love you, too. My whole life would have been heaven if we could
always have been together," was my answer.
He drew me up into his arms so that my cheek lay against his breast as I
went on, holding fast to the rough tweed of his jacket and whispering: "I
should have belonged to you two, heart and body and soul. I should never
have been lonely again. I should have known nothing, whatsoever happened,
but tender joy."
"Whatsoever happened?" he murmured.
"Whatsoever happens now, Ysobel, know nothing but tender joy. I think you
CAN. 'Out on the Hillside!' Let us remember."
"Yes, yes," I said; "'Out on the Hillside.'" And our two faces, damp with
the sweet mist, were pressed together.
The mist had floated away, and the moor was drenched with golden sunshine
when we went back to the castle. As we entered the hall I heard the sound
of a dog howling, and spoke of it to one of the men-servants who had
opened the door.
"That sounds like Gelert. Is he shut up somewhere?"
Gelert was a beautiful sheep-dog who belonged to Feargus and was his
heart's friend. I allowed him to be kept in the courtyard.
The man hesitated before he answered me, with a curiously grave face.
"It is Gelert, miss. He is howling for his master. We were obliged to shut
him in the stables."
"But Feargus ought to have reached here by this time," I was beginning.
I was stopped because I found Angus Macayre almost at my elbow. He had
that moment come out of the library. He put his hand on my arm.
"Will ye come with me?" he said, and led me back to the room he had just
left. He kept his hand on my arm when we all stood together inside, Hector
and I looking at him in wondering question. He was going to tell me
something—we both saw that.
"It is a sad thing you have to hear," he said. "He was a fine man,
Feargus, and a most faithful servant. He went to see his mother last night
and came back late across the moor. There was a heavy mist, and he must
have lost his way. A shepherd found his body in a tarn at daybreak. They
took him back to his father's home."
I looked at Hector MacNairn and again at Angus. "But it couldn't be
Feargus," I cried. "I saw him an hour ago. He passed us playing on his
pipes. He was playing a new tune I had never heard before a wonderful,
joyous thing. I both heard and SAW him!"
Angus stood still and watched me. They both stood still and watched me,
and even in my excitement I saw that each of them looked a little pale.
"You said you did not hear him at first, but you surely saw him when he
passed so near," I protested. "I called to him, and he took off his
bonnet, though he did not stop. He was going so quickly that perhaps he
did not hear me call his name."
What strange thing in Hector's look checked me? Who knows?
"You DID see him, didn't you?" I asked of him.
Then he and Angus exchanged glances, as if asking each other to decide
some grave thing. It was Hector MacNairn who decided it.
"No," he answered, very quietly, "I neither saw nor heard him, even when
he passed. But you did."
"I did, quite plainly," I went on, more and more bewildered by the way in
which they kept a sort of tender, awed gaze fixed on me. "You remember I
even noticed that he looked pale. I laughed, you know, when I said he
looked almost like one of the White People—"
Just then my breath caught itself and I stopped. I began to remember
things—hundreds of things.
Angus spoke to me again as quietly as Hector had spoken.
"Neither Jean nor I ever saw Wee Brown Elspeth," he said—"neither
Jean nor I. But you did. You have always seen what the rest of us did not
see, my bairn—always."
I stammered out a few words, half in a whisper. "I have always seen what
you others could not see? WHAT—HAVE—I—SEEN?"
But I was not frightened. I suppose I could never tell any one what
strange, wide, bright places seemed suddenly to open and shine before me.
Not places to shrink back from—oh no! no! One could be sure, then—SURE!
Feargus had lifted his bonnet with that extraordinary triumph in his look—even
Feargus, who had been rather dour.
"You called them the White People," Hector MacNairn said.
Angus and Jean had known all my life. A very old shepherd who had looked
in my face when I was a baby had said I had the eyes which "SAW." It was
only the saying of an old Highlander, and might not have been remembered.
Later the two began to believe I had a sight they had not. The night
before Wee Brown Elspeth had been brought to me Angus had read for the
first time the story of Dark Malcolm, and as they sat near me on the moor
they had been talking about it. That was why he forgot himself when I came
to ask them where the child had gone, and told him of the big, dark man
with the scar on his forehead. After that they were sure.
They had always hidden their knowledge from me because they were afraid it
might frighten me to be told. I had not been a strong child. They kept the
secret from my relatives because they knew they would dislike to hear it
and would not believe, and also would dislike me as a queer, abnormal
creature. Angus had fears of what they might do with doctors and severe
efforts to obliterate from my mind my "nonsense," as they would have been
sure to call it. The two wise souls had shielded me on every side.
"It was better that you should go on thinking it only a simple, natural
thing," Angus said. "And as to natural, what IS natural and what is not?
Man has not learned all the laws of nature yet. Nature's a grand, rich,
endless thing, always unrolling her scroll with writings that seem new on
it. They're not new. They were always written there. But they were not
unrolled. Never a law broken, never a new law, only laws read with
Angus and I had always been very fond of the Bible—the strange old
temple of wonders, full of all the poems and tragedies and histories of
man, his hates and battles and loves and follies, and of the Wisdom of the
universe and the promises of the splendors of it, and which even those of
us who think ourselves the most believing neither wholly believe nor will
understand. We had pored over and talked of it. We had never thought of it
as only a pious thing to do. The book was to us one of the mystic,
awe-inspiring, prophetic marvels of the world.
That was what made me say, half whispering: "I have wondered and wondered
what it meant—that verse in Isaiah: 'Behold the former things are
come to pass and new things do I declare; before they spring forth I tell
you of them.' Perhaps it means only the unrolling of the scroll."
"Aye, aye!" said Angus; "it is full of such deep sayings, and none of us
will listen to them."
"It has taken man eons of time," Hector MacNairn said, thinking it out as
he spoke—"eons of time to reach the point where he is beginning to
know that in every stock and stone in his path may lie hidden some power
he has not yet dreamed of. He has learned that lightning may be commanded,
distance conquered, motion chained and utilized; but he, the one CONSCIOUS
force, has never yet begun to suspect that of all others he may be the one
as yet the least explored. How do we know that there does not lie in each
of us a wholly natural but, so far, dormant power of sight—a power
to see what has been called The Unseen through all the Ages whose
sightlessness has made them Dark? Who knows when the Shadow around us may
begin to clear? Oh, we are a dull lot—we human things—with a
queer, obstinate conceit of ourselves."
"Complete we think we are," Angus murmured half to himself. "Finished
creatures! And look at us! How many of us in a million have beauty and
health and full power? And believing that the law is that we must crumple
and go to pieces hour by hour! Who'd waste the time making a clock that
went wrong as often? Nay, nay! We shall learn better than this as time
goes on. And we'd better be beginning and setting our minds to work on it.
'Tis for us to do—the minds of us. And what's the mind of us but the
Mind that made us? Simple and straight enough it is when once you begin to
think it out. The spirit of you sees clearer than we do, that's all," he
said to me. "When your mother brought you into the world she was listening
to one outside calling to her, and it opened the way for you."
At night Hector MacNairn and his mother and I sat on the terrace under
stars which seemed listening things, and we three drew nearer to one
another, and nearer and nearer.
"When the poor mother stumbled into the train that day," was one of the
things Hector told me, "I was thinking of The Fear and of my own mother.
You looked so slight and small as you sat in your corner that I thought at
first you were almost a child. Then a far look in your eyes made me begin
to watch you. You were so sorry for the poor woman that you could not look
away from her, and something in your face touched and puzzled me. You
leaned forward suddenly and put out your hand protectingly as she stepped
down on to the platform.
"That night when you spoke quite naturally of the child, never doubting
that I had seen it, I suddenly began to suspect. Because of The Fear"—he
hesitated—"I had been reading and thinking many things new to me. I
did not know what I believed. But you spoke so simply, and I knew you were
speaking the truth. Then you spoke just as naturally of Wee Brown Elspeth.
That startled me because not long before I had been told the tale in the
Highlands by a fine old story-teller who is the head of his clan. I saw
you had never heard the story before. And yet you were telling me that you
had played with the child."
"He came home and told me about you," Mrs. MacNairn said. "His fear of The
Fear was more for me than for himself. He knew that if he brought you to
me, you who are more complete than we are, clearer-eyed and nearer,
nearer, I should begin to feel that he was not going—out. I should
begin to feel a reality and nearness myself. Ah, Ysobel! How we have clung
to you and loved you! And then that wonderful afternoon! I saw no girl
with her hand through Mr. Le Breton's arm; Hector saw none. But you saw
her. She was THERE!"
"Yes, she was there," I answered. "She was there, smiling up at him. I
wish he could have known."
What does it matter if this seems a strange story? To some it will mean
something; to some it will mean nothing. To those it has a meaning for it
will open wide windows into the light and lift heavy loads. That would be
quite enough, even if the rest thought it only the weird fancy of a queer
girl who had lived alone and given rein to her silliest imaginings. I
wanted to tell it, howsoever poorly and ineffectively it was done. Since I
KNEW I have dropped the load of ages—the black burden. Out on the
hillside my feet did not even feel the grass, and yet I was standing, not
floating. I had no wings or crown. I was only Ysobel out on the hillside,
This is the way it all ended.
For three weeks that were like heaven we three lived together at
Muircarrie. We saw every beauty and shared every joy of sun and dew and
love and tender understanding.
After one lovely day we had spent on the moor in a quiet dream of joy
almost strange in its perfectness, we came back to the castle; and,
because the sunset was of such unearthly radiance and changing wonder we
sat on the terrace until the last soft touch of gold had died out and left
the pure, still, clear, long summer twilight.
When Mrs. MacNairn and I went in to dress for dinner, Hector lingered a
little behind us because the silent beauty held him.
I came down before his mother did, and I went out upon the terrace again
because I saw he was still sitting there. I went to the stone balustrade
very quietly and leaned against it as I turned to look at him and speak.
Then I stood quite still and looked long—for some reason not
startled, not anguished, not even feeling that he had gone. He was more
beautiful than any human creature I had ever seen before. But It had
happened as they said it would. He had not ceased—but something else
had. Something had ceased.
It was the next evening before I came out on the terrace again. The day
had been more exquisite and the sunset more wonderful than before. Mrs.
MacNairn was sitting by her son's side in the bedroom whose windows looked
over the moor. I am not going to say one word of what had come between the
two sunsets. Mrs. MacNairn and I had clung—and clung. We had
promised never to part from each other. I did not quite know why I went
out on the terrace; perhaps it was because I had always loved to sit or
This evening I stood and leaned upon the balustrade, looking out far, far,
far over the moor. I stood and gazed and gazed. I was thinking about the
Secret and the Hillside. I was very quiet—as quiet as the twilight's
self. And there came back to me the memory of what Hector had said as we
stood on the golden patch of gorse when the mist had for a moment or so
blown aside, what he had said of man's awakening, and, remembering all the
ages of—childish, useless dread, how he would stand— I did not
turn suddenly, but slowly. I was not startled in the faintest degree. He
stood there close to me as he had so often stood.
And he stood—and smiled.
I have seen him many times since. I shall see him many times again. And
when I see him he always stands—and smiles.