The girl outside, listening eagerly to every word, tried to cry out with the pain of all this talk by her parents, but her tongue clove to her parched mouth, and her lips were stiff and dry.
“I’ll never be harsh wi’ a bairn o’ mine, wife,” he replied brokenly. “I liket Mysie owre weel ever to be harsh wi’ her. Oh, if only I could see her afore me this nicht, I wad gie a’ I ever had in the world. To hae her sittin’ here, as she used to sit, her wee heid wi’ its soft hair against my knee, an’ my haun clappin’ it, an’ her bonnie een lookin’ up at me, as if I was something she aye looket up to, as bein’ better than ony living being she ever kenned, wad be mair pleasure for me this minute than if I got a’ the money in the world. I’d swap heaven and my chances o’ salvation, wife, jist to hae her sittin’ here on the fender, as she used to sit. Hunger an’ a’ the rest wad be easy borne for that.”
There was a soft rustling sound at the window as he spoke, and a slow step was heard, which seemed to drag along towards the door, then a fumbling at the sneck, the handle lifted, and the door opened slowly inwards, as if reluctant to reveal its secret.
It was a tense poignant moment for all; for both the father and mother, weak as the former was, rose to their feet expectantly, their eyes searching the slowly opening door, as a thin pale draggled figure entered and staggered forward with a low pitiful cry of “Faither! Mother! I’ve come hame!” and tottering forward, fell at Matthew’s feet, clasping his knees with the thin fragile hands, while the tears of a heart-breaking sorrow flowed from the appealing eyes, upturned to the amazed parents.
“Mysie! Mysie!” he sobbed, clasping her to his thin worn knees, and kissing the bent head, as she sobbed and cried. “Oh, Mysie! Mysie! but you hae been a lang time at the store!”
“Oh my puir wean! My bonnie bairn!” crooned Mrs. Maitland, as she bent over the figure of her daughter who, clinging to Matthew’s knees, was looking up into his face, as he lay back in his chair where he had fallen, when Mysie fell at his feet. “Oh, my puir lamb, you’re wet to the skin, an’ fair done; for God knows its an’ awfu’ mess you hae cam’ hame in.”
“Puir thing,” she wailed and crooned, again breaking out after having kissed and fondled Mysie’s wet face. “We hae lang hungered for you—hungered for you for a gey lang time, an’ noo you hae cam’ hame, near to daith’s door. But we’ll nurse you back. We’ll mak’ you strong and healthy again. Oh, Mysie, my puir lassie. What ails you? Where hae you been? What has happened to you a’ this time? But what am I thinking aboot,” she broke off, “sitting here, when I should be gettin’ some dry claes for you, an’ a bed ready.”
She rose and began to busy herself shaking up a bed and diving into drawers, bringing clean clothes forth and hanging them over a piece of rope which stretched across the fireplace, so as to air and heat them, the tears streaming from her eyes and occasionally a low moan breaking from her as if forced by some inward pain; while Matthew, nearly overcome with excitement, could only lie back in his chair, his eyes closed and his hands stroking tenderly the wet young head that lay against his knee.