The distance is only a day’s walk for an active man, but I started late, and purposed to sleep the night at a cousin’s house by Kirknewton. Often in bright summer days I had travelled the road, when the moors lay yellow in the sun and larks made a cheerful chorus. In such weather it is a pleasant road, with long prospects to cheer the traveller, and kindly ale-houses to rest his legs in. But that day it rained as if the floodgates of heaven had opened. When I crossed Clyde by the bridge at Hyndford the water was swirling up to the key-stone. The ways were a foot deep in mire, and about Carnwath the bog had overflowed and the whole neighbourhood swam in a loch. It was pitiful to see the hay afloat like water-weeds, and the green oats scarcely showing above the black floods. In two minutes after starting I was wet to the skin, and I thanked Providence I had left my little Dutch Horace behind me in the book-box. By three in the afternoon I was as unkempt as any tinker, my hair plastered over my eyes, and every fold of my coat running like a gutter.
Presently the time came for me to leave the road and take the short-cut over the moors; but in the deluge, where the eyes could see no more than a yard or two into a grey wall of rain, I began to misdoubt my knowledge of the way. On the left I saw a stone dovecot and a cluster of trees about a gateway; so, knowing how few and remote were the dwellings on the moorland, I judged it wiser to seek guidance before I strayed too far.
The place was grown up with grass and sore neglected. Weeds made a carpet on the avenue, and the dykes were broke by cattle at a dozen places. Suddenly through the falling water there stood up the gaunt end of a house. It was no cot or farm, but a proud mansion, though badly needing repair. A low stone wall bordered a pleasance, but the garden had fallen out of order, and a dial-stone lay flat on the earth.
My first thought was that the place was tenantless, till I caught sight of a thin spire of smoke struggling against the downpour. I hoped to come on some gardener or groom from whom I could seek direction, so I skirted the pleasance to find the kitchen door. A glow of fire in one of the rooms cried welcome to my shivering bones, and on the far side of the house I found signs of better care. The rank grasses had been mown to make a walk, and in a corner flourished a little group of pot-herbs. But there was no man to be seen, and I was about to retreat and try the farm-town, when out of the doorway stepped a girl.
She was maybe sixteen years old, tall and well-grown, but of her face I could see little, since she was all muffled in a great horseman’s cloak. The hood of it covered her hair, and the wide flaps were folded over her bosom. She sniffed the chill wind, and held her head up to the rain, and all the while, in a clear childish voice, she was singing.
It was a song I had heard, one made by the great Montrose, who had suffered shameful death in Edinburgh thirty years before. It was a man’s song, full of pride and daring, and not for the lips of a young maid. But that hooded girl in the wild weather sang it with a challenge and a fire that no cavalier could have bettered.