In answer to the questions with which I then plied her, the woman, who seemed herself affected by the impression I had received from the poor little creature’s appearance, told me that the child was that of the only daughter of the people who owned the place; that there was “something wrong” about it all, she did not know what—a marriage ill-pleasing to the grandparents perhaps, perhaps even worse than that; but the mother was dead, the family had been abroad for upward of three years, and the child had been left under her charge. This was all she told me, and probably all she knew; and as she ended she wiped the tears from her own eyes, adding, “I’m thinking the puir bairn will no live long itsel’.”
The rain was over and the sun shone, and I got up to go; as I went, the child’s dreary eyes followed me out at the door, and I cried all the way home. Was it possible that my appearance suggested to that tiny soul the image of its young lost mother?
The other incident in my rambles that I wish to record was of a far pleasanter sort. I had gone down to the pier at Newhaven, one blowy, blustering day (the fine Granton Pier Hotel and landing-place did not yet exist), and stood watching the waves taking their mad run and leap over the end of the pier, in a glorious, foaming frenzy that kept me fascinated with the fine uproar, till it suddenly occurred to me that it would be delightful to be out among them (I certainly could have had no recollections of sea-sickness), and I determined to try and get a boat and go out on the frith.
I stopped at a cottage on the outskirts of the fishing town (it was not much more than a village then) of Newhaven, and knocked. Invited to come in, I did so, and there sat a woman, one of the very handsomest I ever saw, in solitary state, leisurely combing a magnificent curtain of fair hair that fell over her ample shoulders and bosom and almost swept the ground. She was seated on a low stool, but looked tall as well as large, and her foam-fresh complexion and gray-green eyes might have become Venus Anadyomene herself, turned into a Scotch fish-wife of five and thirty, or “thereawa.” “Can you tell me of any one who will take me out in a boat for a little while?” quoth I. She looked steadily at me for a minute, and then answered laconically, “Ay, my man and boy shall gang wi’ ye.” A few lusty screams brought her husband and son forth, and at her bidding they got a boat ready, and, with me well covered with sail-cloths, tarpaulins, and rough dreadnaughts of one sort and another, rowed out from the shore into the turmoil of the sea. A very little of the dancing I got now was delight enough for me, and, deadly sick, I besought to be taken home again, when the matronly Brinhilda at the cottage received me with open-throated peals of laughter, and then made me sit down till I had conquered my qualms and was able to walk back to Edinburgh. Before I went, she showed me a heap of her children, too many, it seemed to me, to be counted; but as they lay in an inextricable mass on the floor in an inner room, there may have seemed more arms and legs forming the radii, of which a clump of curly heads was the center, than there really were.