The pine-tree, outside the wall, overhung a rude natural stairway of stony ledge and outcropping root with patches of moss and heath. Down this went Alexander into a cool dimness of fir and oak and birch, watered by a little stream. He kneeled by this, he cooled face and hands in the water, then flung himself beneath a tree and, burying his head in his arms, lay still. The waves within subsided, sank to a long, deep swell, then from that to quiet. The door that wind and tide had beaten open shut again. Alexander lay without thinking, without overmuch feeling. At last, turning, he opened his eyes upon the tree-tops and the August sky. The door was shut upon tales of injury and revenge. Between boy and man, he lay in a yearning stillness, colors and sounds and dim poetic strains his ministers of grace. This lasted for a time, then he rose, first to a sitting posture, then to his feet. Crows flew through the wood; he had a glimpse of yellow fields and purple heath. He set forth upon one of the long rambles which were a prized part of life.
An hour or so later he stopped at a cotter’s, some miles from home. An old man and a woman gave him an oat cake and a drink of home-brewed. He was fond of folk like these—at home with them and they with him. There was no need to make talk, but he sat and looked at the marigolds while the woman moved about and the old man wove rushes into mats. From here he took to the hills and walked awhile with a shepherd numbering his sheep. Finally, in mid-afternoon, he found himself upon a heath, bare of trees, lifted and purple.
He sat down amid the warm bloom; he lay down. Within was youth’s blind tumult and longing, a passioning for he knew not what. “I wish that there were great things in my life. I wish that I were a discoverer, sailing like Columbus. I wish that I had a friend—”
He fell into a day-dream, lapped there in warm purple waves, hearing the bees’ interminable murmur. He faced, across a narrow vale, an abrupt, curiously shaped hill, dark with outstanding granite and with fir-trees. Where at the eastern end it broke away, where at its base the vale widened, shone among the lively green of elms turrets and chimneys of a large house. “Black Hill—Black Hill—Black Hill....”
A youth of about his own age came up the path from the vale. Alexander, lying amid the heath, caught at some distance the whole figure, but as he approached lost him. Then, near at hand, the head rose above the brow of the ridge. It was a handsome head, with a cap and feather, with gold-brown hair lightly clustering, and a countenance of spirit and daring with something subtle rubbed in. Head, shoulders, a supple figure, not so tall nor so largely made as was Glenfernie’s heir, all came upon the purple hilltop.
Alexander raised himself from his couch in the heather.
“Good day!” said the new-comer.