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It was my intent to accompany my father and mother back to Ardarroch in name of an escort, but, in truth, chiefly that I might accept the invitation of the laird of Earlstoun and once more see Mary Gordon, the lass{148} whose image I had carried so long on my heart.
For, strange as it may appear, when she went forth from the kirk that day she left a look behind her which went straight to my heart. It was like a dart thrown at random which sticks and is lost, yet inly rankles and will not let itself be forgotten.
I tried to shut the desire of seeing her again out of my heart. But do what I could this was not to be. It would rise, coming between me and the very paper on which I wrote my sermon, before I began to learn to mandate. When the sun looked over the water in the morning and shone on the globed pearls of dew in the hollow palms of the broad dockleaves on the gracious clover blooms, and on the bending heads of the spiked grasses, I rejoiced to think that he shone also on Earlstoun and the sunny head of a fairer and more graceful flower.
God forgive a sinful man! At these times I ought to have been thinking of something else. But when a man carries such an earthly passion in his heart, all the panoply of heavenly love is impotent to restrain thoughts that fly swift as the light from hilltop to hilltop at the sun-rising.{149}
So I went home for a day or two to Ardarroch, where with a kind of gratitude I stripped my coat and fell to the building of dykes about the home park, and the mending of mangers and corn-chests with hammer and nail, till my mother remonstrated. “Quintin, are ye not ashamed, you with a parish of hungry souls to be knockin’ at hinges and liftin’ muckle stanes on the hillsides o’ Ardarroch?”
But Anna kept close to me all these days, understanding my mood. We had always loved one another, she and I. I had used to say that it was Anna who ought to have been the minister; for her eyes were full of a fair and gracious light, the gentle outshining of a true spirit within. And as for me, after I had been with her awhile, in that silence of sympathy, I was a better and a stronger man—at least, one less unfit for holy office.
Right gladly would I have taken Anna back with me to the manse of Balmaghie, but I knew well that she would not go.
“Quintin,” she was wont to say, “our faither and mither are not so young as they once were. My faither forgets things whiles, and the herd lads are not to trust to. David there is for ever on the trot to this farm-town and{150} that other—to the clachan o’ St. John, to the New Town of Galloway, or to Balmaclellan—’tis all one to him. He cannot bide at home after the horses are out of the collar and the chain drops from the swingle-tree into the furrow.”