Darmowy fragment publikacji:
A. Conan Doyle
The Great Shadow
Polska wersja językowa w tłumaczeniu anonimowego tłumacza (Z.N.) z roku 1909.
Angielska wersja językowa zgodna z wydaniem z roku 1892.
Ilustracja na okładce: cocoparisienne
Wydawnictwo Wymownia, 2017
The Great Shadow
Chapter I: The Night of the Beacons
It is strange to me, Jock Calder of West Inch, to feel that though now, in the very centre of the
nineteenth century, I am but five-and-fifty years of age, and though it is only once in a week
perhaps that my wife can pluck out a little grey bristle from over my ear, yet I have lived in a
time when the thoughts and the ways of men were as different as though it were another
planet from this. For when I walk in my fields I can see, down Berwick way, the little fluffs of
white smoke which tell me of this strange new hundred-legged beast, with coals for food and
a thousand men in its belly, for ever crawling over the border. On a shiny day I can see the
glint of the brass work as it takes the curve near Corriemuir; and then, as I look out to sea,
there is the same beast again, or a dozen of them maybe, leaving a trail of black in the air and
of white in the water, and swimming in the face of the wind as easily as a salmon up the
Tweed. Such a sight as that would have struck my good old father speechless with wrath as
well as surprise; for he was so stricken with the fear of offending the Creator that he was
chary of contradicting Nature, and always held the new thing to be nearly akin to the
blasphemous. As long as God made the horse, and a man down Birmingham way the engine,
my good old dad would have stuck by the saddle and the spurs.
But he would have been still more surprised had he seen the peace and kindliness which
reigns now in the hearts of men, and the talk in the papers and at the meetings that there is to
be no more war -- save, of course, with blacks and such like. For when he died we had been
fighting with scarce a break, save only during two short years, for very nearly a quarter of a
century. Think of it, you who live so quietly and peacefully now! Babies who were born in the
war grew to be bearded men with babies of their own, and still the war continued. Those who
had served and fought in their stalwart prime grew stiff and bent, and yet the ships and the
armies were struggling. it was no wonder that folk came at last to look upon it as the natural
state, and thought how queer it must seem to be at peace. During that long time we fought the
Dutch, we fought the Danes, we fought the Spanish, we fought the Turks, we fought the
Americans, we fought the Monte-Videans, until it seemed that in this universal struggle no
race was too near of kin, or too far away, to be drawn into the quarrel. But most of all it was
the French whom we fought, and the man whom of all others we loathed and feared and
admired was the great Captain who ruled them.
It was very well to draw pictures of him, and sing songs about him, and make as though he
were an impostor; but I can tell you that the fear of that man hung like a black shadow over all
Europe, and that there was a time when the glint of a fire at night upon the coast would set
every woman upon her knees and every man gripping for his musket. He had always won:
that was the terror of it. The Fates seemed to be behind him. And now we knew that he lay
upon the northern coast with a hundred and fifty thousand veterans, and the boats for their
passage. But it is an old story, how a third of the grown folk of our country took up arms, and
how our little one-eyed, one-armed man crushed their fleet. There was still to be a land of free
thinking and free speaking in Europe.
There was a great beacon ready on the hill by Tweedmouth, built up of logs and tar-barrels;
and I can well remember how, night after night, I strained my eyes to see if it were ablaze. I
was only eight at the time, but it is an age when one takes a grief to heart, and I felt as though
the fate of the country hung in some fashion upon me and my vigilance. And then one night as
I looked I suddenly saw a little flicker on the beacon hill -- a single red tongue of flame in the
darkness. I remember how I rubbed my eyes, and pinched myself, and rapped my knuckles
against the stone window-sill, to make sure that I was indeed awake. And then the flame shot
higher, and I saw the red quivering line upon the water between; and I dashed into the kitchen,
screeching to my father that the French had crossed and the Tweedmouth light was aflame.
He had been talking to Mr. Mitchell, the law student from Edinburgh; and I can see him now
as he knocked his pipe out at the side of the fire and looked at me from over the top of his
Are you sure, Jock? says he.
Sure as death! I gasped.
He reached out his hand for the Bible upon the table, and opened it upon his knee as though
he meant to read to us; but he shut it again in silence, and hurried out. We went too, the law
student and I, and followed him down to the gate which opens out upon the highway. From
there we could see the red light of the big beacon, and the glimmer of a smaller one to the
north of us at Ayton. My mother came down with two plaids to keep the chill from us, and we
all stood there until, morning, speaking little to each other, and that little in a whisper. The
road had more folk on it than ever passed along it at night before; for many of the yeomen up
our way had enrolled themselves in the Berwick volunteer regiments, and were riding now as
fast as hoof could carry them for the muster. Some had a stirrup cup or two before parting,
and I cannot forget one who tore past on a huge white horse, brandishing a great rusty sword
in the moonlight. They shouted to us as they passed that the North Berwick Law fire was
blazing, and that it was thought that the alarm had come from Edinburgh Castle. There were a
few who galloped the other way, couriers for Edinburgh, and the laird s son, and Master
Clayton, the deputy sheriff, and such like. And among others there was one a fine built, heavy
man on a roan horse, who pulled up at our, gate and asked some question about the road. He
took off his hat to ease himself, and I saw that he had a kindly long-drawn face, and a great
high brow that shot away up into tufts of sandy hair.
I doubt it s a false alarm, said he. Maybe I d ha done well to bide where I was; but now I
ve come so far, I ll break my fast with the regiment.
He clapped spurs to his horse, and away he went down the brae.
I ken him weel, said our student, nodding after him. He s a lawyer in Edinburgh, and a
braw hand at the stringin of verses. Wattie Scott is his name.
None of us had heard of it then; but it was not long before it was the best known name in
Scotland, and many a time we thought of how he speered his way of us on the night of the
But early in the morning we had our minds set at ease. It was grey and cold, and my mother
had gone up to the house to mask a pot of tea for us, when there came a gig down the road
with Dr. Horscroft of Ayton in it and his son Jim. The collar of the doctor s brown coat came
over his ears, and he looked in a deadly black humour; for Jim, who was but fifteen years of
age, had trooped off to Berwick at the first alarm with his father s new fowling piece. All
night his dad had chased him, and now there he was, a prisoner, with the barrel of the stolen
gun sticking out from behind the seat. He looked as sulky as his father, with his hands thrust
into his sidepockets, his brows drawn down, and his lower lip thrusting out.
It s all a lie! shouted the doctor as he passed. There has been no landing, and all the fools
in Scotland have been gadding about the roads for nothing.
His son Jim snarled something up at him on this, and his father struck him a blow with his
clenched fist on the side of his head, which sent the boy s chin forward upon his breast as
though he had been stunned. My father shook his head, for he had a liking for Jim; but we all
walked up to the house again, nodding and blinking, and hardly able to keep our eyes open
now that we knew that all was safe, but with a thrill of joy at our hearts such as I have only
matched once or twice in my lifetime.
Now all this has little enough to do with what I took my pen up to tell about; but when a man
has a good memory and little skill, he cannot draw one thought from his mind without a dozen
others trailing out behind it. And yet, now that I come to think of it, this had something to do
with it after all; for Jim Horscroft had so deadly a quarrel with his father, that he was packed
off to the Berwick Academy, and as my father had long wished me to go there, he took
advantage of this chance to send me also.
But before I say a word about this school, I shall go back to where I should have begun, and
give you a hint as to who I am; for it may be that these words of mine may be read by some
folk beyond the border country who never heard of the Calders of West Inch.
It has a brave sound, West Inch, but it is not a fine estate with a braw house upon it, but only a
great hard-bitten, wind-swept sheep run, fringing off into links along the sea-shore, where a
frugal man might with hard work just pay his rent and have butter instead of treacle on
Sundays. In the centre there is a grey-stoned slate-roofed house with a byre behind it, and
1703 scrawled in stonework over the lintel of the door. There for more than a hundred years
our folk have lived, until, for all their poverty, they came to take a good place among the
people; for in the country parts the old yeoman is often better thought of than the new laird.
There was one queer thing about the house of West Inch. It has been reckoned by engineers
and other knowing folk that the boundary line between the two countries ran right through the
middle of it, splitting our second-best bedroom into an English half and a Scotch half. Now
the cot in which I always slept was so placed that my head was to the north of the line and my
feet to the south of it. My friends say that if I had chanced to lie the other way my hair might
not have been so sandy, nor my mind of so solemn a cast. This I know, that more than once in
my life, when my Scotch head could see no way out of a danger, my good thick English legs
have come to my help, and carried me clear away. But at school I never heard the end of this,
for they would call me Half-and-half and The Great Britain, and sometimes Union Jack.
When there was a battle between the Scotch and English boys, one side would kick my shins
and the other cuff my ears, and then they would both stop and laugh as though it were
At first I was very miserable at the Berwick Academy. Birtwhistle was the first master, and
Adams the second, and I had no love for either of them. I was shy and backward by nature,
and slow at making a friend either among masters or boys. It was nine miles as the crow flies,
and eleven and a half by road, from Berwick to West Inch, and my heart grew heavy at the
weary distance that separated me from my mother; for, mark you, a lad of that age pretends
that he has no need of his mother s caresses, but ah, how sad he is when he is taken at his
word! At last I could stand it no longer, and I determined to run away from school and make
my way home as fast as I might. At the very last moment, however, I had the good fortune to
win the praise and admiration of every one, from the headmaster downwards, and to find my
school life made very pleasant and easy to me. And all this came of my falling by accident out
of a second-floor window.
This was how it happened. One evening I had been kicked by Ned Barton, who was the bully
of the school; and this injury coming on the top of all my other grievances, caused my little
cup to overflow. I vowed that night, as I buried my tear-stained face beneath the blankets, that
the next morning would either find me at West Inch or well on the way to it. Our dormitory
was on the second floor, but I was a famous climber, and had a fine head for heights. I used to
think little, young as I was, of swinging myself with a rope round my thigh off the West Inch
gable, and that stood three-and-fifty feet above the ground. There was not much fear then but
that I could make my way out of Birtwhistle s dormitory. I waited a weary while until the
coughing and tossing had died away, and there was no sound of wakefulness from the long
line of wooden cots; then I very softly rose, slipped on my clothes, took my shoes in my hand,
and walked tiptoe to the window. I opened the casement and looked out. Underneath me lay
the garden, and close by my hand was the stout branch of a pear tree. An active lad could ask
no better ladder. Once in the garden I had but a five-foot wall to get over, and then there was
nothing but distance between me and home. I took a firm grip of a branch with one hand,
placed my knee upon another one, and was about to swing myself out of the window, when in
a moment I was as silent and as still as though I had been turned to stone.
There was a face looking at me from over the coping of the wall. A chill of fear struck to my
heart at its whiteness and its stillness. The moon shimmered upon it, and the eye-balls moved
slowly from side to side, though I was hid from them behind the screen of the pear tree. Then
in a jerky fashion this white face ascended, until the neck, shoulders, waist, and knees of a
man became visible. He sat himself down on the top of the wall, and with a great heave he
pulled up after him a boy about my own size, who caught his breath from time to time as
though to choke down a sob. The man gave him a shake, with a few-rough whispered words,
and then the two dropped together down into the garden. I was still standing balanced with
one foot upon the bough and one upon the casement, not daring to budge for fear of attracting
their attention, for I could hear them moving stealthily about in the shadow of the house.
Suddenly, from immediately beneath my feet, I heard a low grating noise and the sharp tinkle
of falling glass.
That s done it, said the man s eager whisper. There is room for you.
But the edge is all jagged! cried the other in a weak quaver.
The fellow burst out into an oath that made my skin pringle.
In with you, you cub, he snarled, or ----
I could not see what he did, but there was a short, quick gasp of pain.
I ll go! I ll go! cried the little lad.
But I heard no more, for my head suddenly swam. My heel shot off the branch, I gave a
dreadful yell, and came down, with my ninety-five pounds of weight, right upon the bent back
of the burglar. If you ask me, I can only say that to this day I am not quite certain whether it
was an accident or whether I designed it. It may be that while I was thinking of doing it
Chance settled the matter for me. The fellow was stooping with his head forward thrusting the
boy through a tiny window, when I came down upon him just where the neck joins the spine.
He gave a kind of whistling cry, dropped upon his face, and rolled three times over,
drumming on the grass with his heels. His little companion flashed off in the moonlight, and
was over the wall in a trice. As for me, I sat yelling at the pitch of my lungs and nursing one
of my legs, which felt as if a red-hot ring were welded round it.
It was not long, as may be imagined, before the whole household, from the headmaster to the
stable boy, were out in the garden with lamps and lanterns. The matter was soon cleared: the
man carried off upon a shutter, and I borne in much state and solemnity to a special bedroom,
where the small bone of my leg was set by Surgeon Purdie, the younger of the two brothers of
that name. As to the robber, it was found that his legs were palsied, and the doctors were of
two minds as to whether he would recover the use of them or no; but the Law never gave
them a chance of settling the matter, for he was hanged after Carlyle assizes, some six weeks
later. It was proved that he was the most desperate rogue in the North of England, for he had
done three murders at the least, and there were charges enough against him upon the sheet to
have hanged him ten times over.
Well now, I could not pass over my boyhood without telling you about this, which was the
most important thing that happened to me. But I will go off on no more side tracks; for when I
think of all that is coming, I can see very well that I shall have more than enough to do before
I have finished. For when a man has only his own little private tale to tell, it often takes him
all his time but when he gets mixed up in such great matters as I shall have to speak about,
then it is hard on him, if he has not been brought up to it, to get it all set down to his liking.
But my memory is as good as ever, thank God, and I shall try to get it all straight before I
It was this business of the burglar that first made a friendship between Jim Horscroft, the
doctor s son, and me. He was cock boy of the school from the day he came; for within the
hour he had thrown Barton, who had been cock before him, right through the big black-board
in the class-room. Jim always ran to muscle and bone, and even then he was square and tall,
short of speech and long in the arm, much given to lounging with his broad back against
walls, and his hands deep in his breeches pockets. I can even recall that he had a trick of
keeping a straw in the corner of his mouth, just where he used afterwards to hold his pipe. Jim
was always the same for good and for bad since first I knew him.
Heavens, how we all looked up to him! We were but young savages, and had a savage s
respect for power. There was Tom Carndale of Appleby, who could write alcaics as well as
mere pentameters and hexameters, yet nobody would give a snap for Tom and there was
Willie Earnshaw, who had every date, from the killing of Abel, on the tip of his tongue, so
that the masters themselves would turn to him if they were in doubt, yet he was but a narrow-
chested lad, over long for his breadth; and what did his dates help him when Jack Simons of
the lower third chivied him down the passage with the buckle end of a strap? But you didn t
do things like that with Jim Horscroft. What tales we used to whisper about his strength! How
he put his fist through the oak-panel of the game-room door; how, when Long Merridew was
carrying the ball, he caught up Merridew, ball and all, and ran swiftly past every opponent to
the goal. It did not seem fit to us that such a one as he should trouble his head about spondees
and dactyls, or care to know who signed Magna Charta. When he said in open class that King
Alfred was the man, we little boys all felt that very likely it was so, and that perhaps Jim knew
more about it than the man who wrote the book.
Well, it was this business of the burglar that drew his attention to me; for he patted me on my
head, and said that I was a spunky little devil, which blew me out with pride for a week on
end. For two years we were close friends, for all the gap that the years had made between us,
and though in passion or in want of thought he did many a thing that galled me, yet I loved
him like a brother, and wept as much as would have filled an ink bottle when at last he went
off to Edinburgh to study his father s profession. Five years after that did I bide at
Birtwhistle s, and when I left I had become cock myself, for I was as wiry and as tough as
whalebone, though I never ran to weight and sinew like my great predecessor. It was in
Jubilee Year that I left Birtwhistle s, and then for three years I stayed at home learning the
ways of the cattle; but still the ships and the armies were wrestling, and still the great shadow
of Bonaparte lay across the country. How could I guess that I too should have a hand in lifting
that shadow for ever from our people?
Chapter II: Cousin Edie of Eyemouth
Some years before, when I was still but a lad, there had come over to us upon a five weeks
visit the only daughter of my father s brother. Willie Calder had settled at Eyemouth as a
maker of fishing nets, and he had made more out of twine than ever we were like to do out of
the whin-bushes and sand-links of West Inch. So his daughter, Edie Calder, came over with a
braw red frock and a five-shilling bonnet, and a kist full of things that brought my dear
mother s eyes out like a parten s. It was wonderful to see her so ftee with money, and she but a
slip of a girl, paying the carrier man all that he asked and a whole twopence over, to which he
had no claim. She made no more of drinking ginger-beer than we did of water, and she would
have her sugar in her tea and butter with her bread just as if she had been English.
I took no great stock of girls at that time, for it was hard for me to see what they had been
made for. There were none of us at Birtwhistle s that thought very much of them but the
smallest laddies seemed to have the most sense, for after they began to grow bigger they were
not so sure about it. We little ones were all of one mind: that a creature that couldn t fight and
was aye carrying tales, and couldn t so much as shy a stone without flapping its arm like a rag
in the wind, was no use for anything. And then the airs that they would put on, as if they were
mother and father rolled into one; for ever breaking into a game with Jimmy, your toe s come
through your boot, or Go home, you dirty boy, and clean yourself, until the very sight of
them was weariness.
So when this one came to the steading at West Inch I was not best pleased to see her. I was
twelve at the time (it was in the holidays) and she eleven, a thin, tallish girl with black eyes
and the queerest ways. She was for ever staring out in front of her with her lips parted, as if
she saw something wonderful; but when I came behind her and looked the same way, I could
see nothing but the sheeps trough or the midden, or father s breeches hanging on a clothes-
line. And then if she saw a lump of heather or bracken, or any common stuff of that sort, she
would mope over it, as if it had struck her sick, and cry, How sweet! how perfect! just as
though it had been a painted picture. She didn t like games, but I used to make her play tig
and such like; but it was no fun, for I could always catch her in three jumps, and she could
never catch me, though she would come with as much rustle and flutter as ten boys would
make. When I used to tell her that she was good for nothing, and that her father was a fool to
bring her up like that, she would begin to cry, and say that I was a rude boy, and that she
would go home that very night, and never forgive me as long as she lived. But in five minutes
she had forgot all about it. What was strange was that she liked me a deal better than I did her,
and she would never leave me alone; but she was always watching me and running after me,
and then saying, Oh, here you are! as if it were a surprise.
But soon I found that there was good in her too. She used sometimes to give me pennies, so
that once I had four in my pocket all at the same time; but the best part of her was the stories
that she could tell. She was sore frightened of frogs, so I would bring one to her, and tell her
that I would put it down her neck unless she told a story. That always helped her to begin; but
when once she was started it was wonderful how she would carry on. And the things that had
happened to her, they were enough to take your breath away. There was a Barbary rover that
had been at Eyemouth, and he was coming back in five years in a ship full of gold to make her
his wife; and then there was a wandering knight who had been there also, and he had given
her a ring which he said he would redeem when the time came. She showed me the ring,
which was very like the ones upon my bed curtain; but she said that this one was virgin gold. I
asked her what the knight would do if he met the Barbary rover, and she told me that he
would sweep his head from his shoulders. What they could all see in her was more than I
could think. And then she told me that she had been followed on her way to West Inch by a
disguised prince. I asked her how she knew it was a prince, and she said by his disguise.
Another day she said that her father was preparing a riddle, and that when it was ready it
would be put in the papers, and anyone who guessed it would have half his fortune and his
daughter. I said that I was good at riddles, and that she must send it to me when it was ready.
She said it would be in the Berwick Gazette, and wanted to know what I would do with her
when I won her. I said I would sell her by public roup for what she would fetch; but she
would tell no more stories that evening, for she was very techy about some things.
Jim Horscroft was away when Cousin Edie was with us, but he came back the very week she
went; and I mind how surprised I was that he should ask any questions or take any interest in
a mere lassie. He asked me if she were pretty; and when I said I hadn t noticed, he laughed
and called me a mole, and said my eyes would be opened some day. But very soon he came to
be interested in something else, and I never gave Edie another thought until one day she just
took my life in her hands and twisted it as I could twist this quill.
That was in 1813, after I had left school when I was already eighteen years of age, with a
good forty hairs on my upper lip and every hope of more. I had changed since I left school,
and was not so keen on games as I had been, but found myself instead lying about on the
sunny side of the braes, with my own lips parted and my eyes staring just the same as Cousin
Edie s used to do. It had satisfied me and filled my whole life that I could run faster and jump
higher than my neighbour; but now all that seemed such a little thing, and I yearned, and
yearned, and looked up at the big arching sky, and down at the flat blue sea, and felt that there
was something wanting, but could never lay my tongue to what that something was. And I
became quick of temper too, for my nerves seemed all of a fret, and when my mother would
ask me what ailed me, or my father would speak of my turning my hand to work, I would
break into such sharp bitter answers as I have often grieved over since. Ah! a man may have
more than one wife, and more than one child, and more than one friend; but he can never have
but the one mother, so let him cherish her while he may.
One day when I came in from the sheep, there was my father sitting with a letter in his hands,
which was a very rare thing with us, except when the factor wrote for the rent. Then as I came
nearer to him I saw that he was crying, and I stood staring, for I had always thought that it
was not a thing that a man could do. I can see him now, for he had so deep a crease across his
brown cheek that no tear could pass it, but must trickle away sideways and so down to his ear,
hopping off on to the sheet of paper. My mother sat beside him and stroked his hands like she
did the cat s back when she would soothe it.
Aye, Jeannie, said be, poor Willie is gone. It s from the lawyer, and it was sudden or they d
ha sent word of it. Carbuncle, he says, and a flush o blood to the head.
Ah! well, his trouble s over, said my mother.
My father rubbed his ears with the tablecloth.
He s left a his savings to his lassie, said he, and by gom if she s not changed from what she
promised to be she ll soon gar them flee. You mind what she said of weak tea under this very
roof, and it at seven shillings the pound!
My mother shook her head, and looked up at the flitches of bacon that hung from the ceiling.
He doesn t say how much, but she ll have enough and to spare, he says. And she is to come
and bide with us, for that was his last wish.
To pay for her keep! cried my mother sharply. I was sorry that she should have spoken of
money at that moment, but then if she had not been sharp we would all have been on the
roadside in a twelvemonth.
Aye, she ll pay, and she s coming this very day. Jock lad, I ll want you to drive to Ayton and
meet the evening coach. Your cousin Edie will be in it, and you can fetch her over to West
And so off I started at quarter past five with Souter Johnnie, the long-haired fifteen-year-old,
and our cart with the new-painted tailboard that we only used on great days. The coach was in
just as I came, and I, like a foolish country lad, taking no heed to the years that had passed,
was looking about among the folk at the Inn front for a slip of a girl with her petticoats just
under her knees. And as I slouched past and craned my neck there came a touch to my elbow,
and there was a lady dressed all in black standing by the steps, and I knew that it was my
I knew it. I say, and yet had she not touched me I might have passed her a score of times and
never known it. My word, if Jim Horscroft had asked me then if she were pretty or no, I
should have known how to answer him! She was dark, much darker than is common among
our border lassies, and yet with such a faint blush of pink breaking through her dainty colour,
like the deeper flush at the heart of a sulphur rose. Her lips were red, and kindly, and firm;
and even then, at the first glance, I saw that light of mischief and mockery that danced away
at the back of her great dark eyes. She took me then and there as though I had been her
heritage, put out her hand and plucked me. She was, as I have said, in black, dressed in what
seemed to me to be a wondrous fashion, with a black veil pushed up from her brow.
Ah! Jack, said she, in a mincing English fashion, that she had learned at the boarding
school. No, no, we are rather old for that -- this because I in my awkward fashion was
pushing my foolish brown face forward to kiss her, as I had done when I saw her last. Just
hurry up like a good fellow and give a shilling to the conductor, who has been exceedingly
civil to me during the journey.
I flushed up red to the ears, for I had only a silver fourpenny piece in my pocket. Never had
my lack of pence weighed so heavily upon me as just at that moment. But she read me at a
glance, and there in an instant was a little moleskin purse with a silver clasp thrust into my
hand. I paid the man, and would have given it back, but she still would have me keep it.
You shall be my factor, Jack, said she, laughing. Is this our carriage? How funny it looks!
And where am I to sit?
On the sacking, said I.
And how am I to get there?
Put your foot on the hub, said I. I ll help you.
I sprang up and took her two little gloved hands in my own. As she came over the side her
breath blew in my face, sweet and warm, and all that vagueness and unrest seemed in a
moment to have been shredded away from my soul. I felt as if that instant had taken me out
from myself, and made me one of the race. It took but the time of the flicking of the horse s
tail, and yet something had happened, a barrier had gone down somewhere, and I was leading
a wider and wiser life. I felt it all in a gush, but shy and backward as I was, I could do nothing
but flatten out the sacking for her. Her eyes were after the coach which was rattling away to
Berwick, and suddenly she shook her handkerchief in the air.
He took off his hat, said she. I think he must have been an officer. He was very
distinguished looking. Perhaps you noticed him -- a gentleman on the outside, very handsome,
with a brown overcoat.
I shook my head, with all my flush of joy changed to foolish resentment.
Ah! well, I shall never see him again. Here are all the green braes and the brown winding
road just the same as ever. And you, Jack, I don t see any great change in you either. I hope
your manners are better than they used to be. You won t try to put any frogs down my back,
I crept all over when I thought of such a thing.
We ll do all we can to make you happy at West Inch, said I, playing with the whip.
I m sure it s very kind of you to take a poor lonely girl in, said she.
It s very kind of you to come, Cousin Edie, I stammered. You ll find it very dull, I fear.
I suppose it is a little quiet, Jack, eh? Not many men about, as I remember it.
There is Major Elliott, up at Corriemuir. He comes down of an evening, a real brave old
soldier who had a ball in his knee under Wellington.
Ah, when I speak of men, Jack, I don t mean old folk with balls in their knees. I meant
people of our own age that we could make friends of. By the way, that crabbed old doctor had
a son, had he not?
Oh yes, that s Jim Horscroft, my best friend.
Is he at home?
No. He ll be home soon. He s still at Edinburgh studying.
Ah! then we ll keep each other company until he comes, Jack. And I m very tired and I wish
I was at West Inch.
I made old Souter Johnnie cover the ground as he has never done before or since, and in an
hour she was seated at the supper table, where my mother had laid out not only butter, but a
glass dish of gooseberry jam, which sparkled and looked fine in the candle-light. I could see
that my parents were as overcome as I was at the difference in her, though not in the same
way. My mother was so set back by the feather thing that she had round her neck that she
called her Miss Calder instead of Edie, until my cousin in her pretty flighty way would lift her
forefinger to her whenever she did it. After supper, when she had gone to bed, they could talk
of nothing but her looks and her breeding.
By the way, though, says my father, it does not look as if she were heart-broke about my
brother s death.
And then for the first time I remembered that she had never said a word about the matter since
I had met her.
Chapter III: The Shadow on the Waters
It was not very long before Cousin Edie was queen of West Inch, and we all her devoted
subjects from my father down. She had money and to spare, though none of us knew how
much. When my mother said that four shillings the week would cover all that she would cost,
she fixed on seven shillings and sixpence of her own free will. The south room, which was the
sunniest and had the honeysuckle round the window, was for her; and it was a marvel to see
the things that she brought from Berwick to put into it. Twice a week she would drive over,
and the cart would not do for her, for she hired a gig from Angus Whitehead, whose farm lay
over the hill. And it was seldom that she went without bringing something back for one or
other of us. It was a wooden pipe for my father, or a Shetland plaid for my mother, or a book
for me, or a brass collar for Rob the collie. There was never a woman more free-handed.
But the best thing that she gave us was just her own presence. To me it changed the whole
country-side, and the sun was brighter and the braes greener and the air sweeter from the day
she came. Our lives were common no longer now that we spent them with such a one as she,
and the old dull grey house was another place in my eyes since she had set her foot -- across
the door-mat. It was not her face, though that was winsome enough, nor her form, though I
never saw the lass that could match her; but it was her spirit, her queer mocking ways, her
fresh new fashion of talk, her proud whisk of the dress and toss of the head, which made one
feel like the ground beneath her feet, and then the quick challenge in her eye, and the kindly
word that brought one up to her level again.
But never quite to her level either. To me she was always something above and beyond. I
might brace myself and blame myself, and do what I would, but still I could not feel that the
same blood ran in our veins, and that she was but a country lassie, as I was a country lad. The
more I loved her the more frighted I was at her, and she could see the fright long before she
knew the love. I was uneasy to be away from her, and yet when I was with her I was in a
shiver all the time for fear my stumbling talk might weary her or give her offence. Had I
known more of the ways of women I might have taken less pains.
You re a deal changed from what you used to be, Jack, said she, looking at me sideways
from under her dark lashes.
You said not when first we met, says I.
Ah! I was speaking of your looks then, and of your ways now. You used to be so rough to
me, and so masterful, and would have your own way, like the little man that you were. I can
see you now with your touzled brown hair and your mischievous eyes. And now you are so
gentle and quiet and soft-spoken.
One learns to behave, says I.
Ah, but, Jack, I liked you so much better as you were!
Well, when she said that I fairly stared at her, for I had thought that she could never have
quite forgiven me for the way I used to carry on. That anyone out of a daft house could have
liked it was clean beyond my understanding. I thought of how when she was reading by the
door I would go up on the moor with a hazel switch and fix little clay balls at the end of it,
and sling them at her until I made her cry. And then I thought of how I caught an eel in the
Corriemuir burn and chivied her about with it, until she ran screaming under my mother s
apron half mad with fright, and my father gave me one on the ear-hole with the porridge stick
which knocked me and my eel under the kitchen dresser. And these were the things that she
missed! Well, she must miss them, for my hand would wither before I could do them now.
But for the first time I began to understand the queerness that lies in a woman, and that a man
must not reason about one, but just watch and try to learn.
We found our level after a time, when she saw that she had just to do what she liked and how
she liked, and that I was as much at her beck and call as old Rob was at mine. You ll think I
was a fool to have had my head so turned, and maybe I was; but then you must think how
little I was used to women, and how much we were thrown together. Besides, she was a
woman in a million, and I can tell you that it was a strong head that would not be turned by
Why, there was Major Elliott, a man that had buried three wives, and had twelve pitched
battles to his name, Edie could have turned him round her finger like a damp rag -- she, only
new from the boarding school. I met him hobbling from West Inch the first time after she
came, with pink in his cheeks and a shine in his eye that took ten years from him. He was
cocking up his grey moustaches at either end and curling them into his eyes, and strutting out
with his sound leg as proud as a piper. What she had said to him the Lord knows, but it was
like old wine in his veins.
I ve been up to see you, laddie, said he, but I must home again now. My visit has not been
wasted, however, as I had an opportunity of seeing la belle cousine. A most charming and
engaging young lady, laddie.
He had a formal stiff way of talking, and was fond of jerking in a bit of the French, for he had
picked some up in the Peninsula. He would have gone on talking of Cousin Edie, but I saw
the corner of a newspaper thrusting out of his pocket, and I knew that he had come over, as
was his way, to give me some news, for we heard little enough at West Inch.
What is fresh, major? I asked.
He pulled the paper out with a flourish.
The allies have won a great battle, my lad, says he. I don t think Nap can stand up long
against this. The Saxons have thrown him over, and he s been badly beat at Leipzig.
Wellington is past the Pyrenees, and Graham s folk will be at Bayonne before long.
I chucked up my hat.
Then the war will come to an end at last, I cried.
Aye, and time too, said he, shaking his head gravely. It s been a bloody business. But it is
hardly worth while for me to say now what was in my mind about you.
What was that?
Well, laddie, you are doing no good here, and now that my knee is getting more limber I was
hoping that I might get on active service again. I wondered whether maybe you might like to
do a little soldiering under me.
My heart jumped at the thought.
Aye, would I! I cried.
But it ll be clear six months before I ll be fit to pass a board, and it s long odds that Boney
will be under lock and key before that.
And there s my mother, said I, I doubt she d never let me go.
Ah! well, she ll never be asked to now, he answered, and hobbled on upon his way.
I sat down among the heather with my chin on my hand, turning the thing over in my mind,
and watching him in his old brown clothes, with the end of a grey plaid flapping over his
shoulder, as he picked his way up the swell of the hill. It was a poor life this, at West Inch,
waiting to fill my father s shoes, with the same heath, and the same burn, and the same sheep,
and the same grey house for ever before me. But over there, over the blue sea, ah! there was a
life fit for a man. There was the Major, a man past his prime, wounded and spent, and yet
planning to get to work again, whilst I, with all the strength of my youth, was wasting it upon
these hillsides. A hot wave of shame flushed over me, and I sprang up all in a tingle to be off
and playing a man s part in the world.
For two days I turned it over in my mind, and on the third there came something which first
brought all my resolutions to a head, and then blew them all to nothing like a puff of smoke in
I had strolled out in the afternoon with Cousin Edie and Rob, until we found ourselves upon
the brow of the slope which dips away down to the beach. It was late in the fall, and the links
were all bronzed and faded; but the sun still shone warmly, and a south breeze came in little
hot pants, rippling the broad blue sea with white curling lines. I pulled an armful of bracken to
make a couch for Edie, and there she lay in her listless fashion, happy and contented; for of all
folk that I have ever met, she had the most joy from warmth and light. I leaned on a tussock of
grass, with Rob s head upon my knee, and there as we sat alone in peace in the wilderness,
even there we saw suddenly thrown upon the waters in front of us the shadow of that great
man over yonder, who had scrawled his name in red letters across the map of Europe.
There was a ship coming up with the wind, a black sedate old merchantman, bound for Leith
as likely as not. Her yards were square and she was running with all sail set. On the other
tack, coming from the north-east, were two great ugly lugger-like craft, with one high mast
each, and a big square brown sail. A prettier sight one would not wish than to see the three
craft dipping along upon so fair a day. But of a sudden there came a spurt of flame and a whirl
of blue smoke from one lugger, then the same from the second, and a rap, rap, rap, from the
ship. In a twinkling hell had elbowed out heaven, and there on the waters was hatred and
savagery and the lust for blood.
We had sprung to our feet at the outburst, and Edie put her hand all in a tremble upon my arm.
They are fighting, jack! she cried. What are they? Who are they?
My heart was thudding with the guns, and it was all that I could do to answer her for the catch
of my breath.
It s two French privateers, Edie, said I, Chasse-marries, they call them, and yon s one of
our merchant ships, and they ll take her as sure as death; for the major says they ve always
got heavy guns, and are as full of men as an egg is full of meat. Why doesn t the fool make
back for Tweedmouth bar?
But not an inch of canvas did she lower, but floundered on in her stolid fashion, while a little
black ball ran up to her peak, and the rare old flag streamed suddenly out from the halliard.
Then again came the rap, rap, rap, of her little guns, and the boom, boom of the big
carronades in the bows of the lugger. An instant later the three ships met, and the
merchantman staggered on like a stag with two wolves hanging to its haunches. The three
became but a dark blurr amid the smoke, with the top spars thrusting out in a bristle, and from
the heart of that cloud came the quick red flashes of flame, and such a devil s racket of big
guns and small, cheering and screaming, as was to din in my head for many a week. For a
stricken hour the hell-cloud moved slowly across the face of the water, and still with our
hearts in our mouths we watched the flap of the flag, straining to see if it were yet there. And
then suddenly the ship, as proud and black and high as ever, shot on upon her way; and as the
smoke cleared we saw one of the luggers squattering like a broken-winged duck upon the
water, and the other working hard to get the crew from her before she sank.
For all that hour I had lived for nothing but the fight. My cap had been whisked away by the
wind, but I had never given it a thought. Now with my heart full I turned upon my Cousin
Edie, and the sight of her took me back six years. There was the vacant staring eye and the
parted lips, just as I had seen them in her girlhood, and her little hands were clenched until the
knuckles gleamed like ivory.
Ah, that captain! said she, talking to the heath and the whin-bushes. There is a man so
strong, so resolute! What woman would not be proud of a man like that?
Aye, he did well! I cried with enthusiasm.
She looked at me as if she had forgotten my existence.
Pobierz darmowy fragment