“I’ll tell you what it is, Gracie,” said Walter, in his blunt way, as his quick eye detected Grace’s slight surprise that he should have so warmly espoused the cause of her Sunday-scholar. “You know I have seen Geordie a good deal lately. We have had a lot of fishing talk, and all that, and I like the chap—he’s a first-rate fellow. I can’t bear to see a fellow so much better than myself trudging away behind those beasts of Gowrie’s day after day. And, besides, Grace, the fact is I owe him something more than anything I may be able to do for him can ever repay. It isn’t every fellow, I can tell you, who would have had the courage to say to me what he did,” stammered Walter.
“What did he say, Walter?” asked Grace, more astonished than ever. “I thought you hardly knew more of Geordie Baxter than his name. You know he is my favourite scholar. But it is a long time since I have had a quiet talk with him. I well remember the first conversation we had, standing on the stepping-stones near that bend of the river where the birches grow.”
“Ah, yes, I know the place. It’s curious, it was just about that very spot I was going to tell you. I met him there, one day, not long ago, and he happened to say that he had been asking Gowrie to stop sending the cattle to that bit of pasture, because the stepping-stones made it a thoroughfare, and that bull had been getting more savage lately, and he could not always persuade people that it was dangerous to pass near him; but Gowrie had said it was nonsense, and so forth. Well, you see, I’m not very fond of old Gowrie, and when I saw how meekly Geordie submitted to him, I felt provoked, and began to speak a little strongly, as we middies sometimes do—swore, in fact. And if Geordie didn’t make me feel more ashamed of myself than ever I did in my life. You’ve tried your hand on me before now, Gracie, and I’m sure you’ll be glad to hear—well, that I’m going to try to lead a very different life now.” Walter’s voice faltered, and Grace looked at him with glistening eyes.
After a few moments’ silence, she said, “But Walter, dear, you haven’t told me yet what Geordie said.”
“Well, Grace, I hardly think I should like to tell you all he said. But he came, and laying his hand on my shoulder, looked at me with those earnest eyes of his. ‘You’ve been very kind to me, Maister Campbell,’ he began, ‘and it would be ill-done no to min’ ye that ye are giving a sore heart to your best Friend ye have by takin’ his dear name in vain,’ and then he said a little more about it. I was so taken aback, Grace, I could hardly believe my own ears. It must have required a lot of downright courage to speak like that; there isn’t a mid in all our crew who would have ventured to do so. And yet I dare say I’m in for something of the same kind when I go back again to the ship. For you know I must be a ‘good soldier,’ Grace,” added Walter, with a gentle, fearless look in his eyes that carried Grace’s thoughts back to an