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THE WHITE PEOPLE
BY FRANCES HODGSON BURNETT
"The stars come nightly to the sky;
The tidal 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
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 meant.
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
"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 something--to listen.
"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
"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
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 another thing.
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 Sheltie's back.
"We couldn't see them. They might be
"Nothing that would hurt ye, bairnie," he
"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,
"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,
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
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 Muircarrie.
"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
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 governess.
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
"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
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 thin neck.
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 turned away.
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 near her.
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
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
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 bed.
"The man you like so much is to dine here
to-night, Ysobel," she said. "Mr. Hector
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
"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 asked.
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
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
"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
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 about it."
"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
"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
"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
"What do you feel about it--death?" he
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 gone."
"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
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 ours."
I sat silent a few seconds, thinking it over.
Suddenly I realized what I had never realized
"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
"I have never known one but Wee Brown
Elspeth," I answered, thinking it over.
He did start then, in the strangest way.
"What!" he exclaimed. "What did you
I was quite startled myself. Suddenly he
looked pale, and his breath caught itself.
"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
"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
"They seem to have been a strange lot.
Wasn't Angus curious about them?" he suggested.
"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 very good."
"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 time."
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
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
"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
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 noticed
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
"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
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 know."
"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
"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
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 at all.
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
"Miss Muircarrie does not feel it--"
"Please say `Ysobel'!" I broke in. "Please
He went on as quietly as if he had not even
"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
"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 not.
"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
"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 it."
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:
grass--and--sleep . . . all--through--the
night--under--this--moonlight. . . . I can 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 over!"
"Oh!" cried Mrs. MacNairn. "Did you
"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 come back."
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
"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 again."
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 nightingale!
"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 saying it.
"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