“Father, do you gae on, and let the young gentlemen bide a wee and rest their banes and tell a puir woman wha never gaes onywhere the news!”
“Then do ye sit awhile, laddies, with the womenfolk,” said Jarvis Barrow. “But give me pardon if I go, for I canna keep the kirk waiting.”
He was gone, staff and gray plaid and a collie with him. Jenny, his daughter, appeared in the door.
“Come in, Mr. Alexander, and you, too, sir, and have a crack with us! We’re in the dairy-room, Elspeth and Gilian and me.”
She was a woman of forty, raw-boned but not unhandsome, good-natured, capable, too, but with more heart than head. It was a saying with her that she had brains enough for kirk on the Sabbath and a warm house the week round. Everybody knew Jenny Barrow and liked well enough bread of her baking.
The room to which she led Ian and Alexander had its floor level with the turf without the open door. The sun flooded it. There came from within the sound, up and down, of a churn, and a voice singing:
“O laddie, will ye gie
A ribbon for my fairing?”
It grew that Ian was telling stories of cities—of London and of Paris, for he had been there, and of Rome, for he had been there. He had seen kings and queens, he had seen the Pope—
“Lord save us!” ejaculated Jenny Barrow.
He leaned against the dairy wall and the sun fell over him, and he looked something finer and more golden than often came that way. Young Gilian at the churn stood with parted lips, the long dasher still in her hands. This was as good as stories of elves, pixies, fays, men of peace and all! Elspeth let the milk-pans be and sat beside them on the long bench, and, with hands folded in her lap, looked with brown eyes many a league away. Neither Elspeth nor Gilian was without book learning. Behind them and before them were long visits to scholar kindred in a city in the north and fit schooling there. London and Paris and Rome.... Foreign lands and the great world. And this was a glittering young eagle that had sailed and seen!
Alexander gazed with delight upon Ian spreading triumphant wings. This was his friend. There was nothing finer than continuously to come upon praiseworthiness in your friend!
“And a beautiful lady came by who was the king’s favorite—”
“Gude guide us! The limmer!”
“And she was walking on rose-colored velvet and her slippers had diamonds worked in them. Snow was on the ground outside and poor folk were freezing, but she carried over each arm a garland of roses as though it were June—”
Jenny Barrow raised her hands. “She’ll sit yet in the cauld blast, in the sinner’s shift!”
“And after a time there walked in the king, and the courtiers behind him like the tail of a peacock—”
They had a happy hour in the White Farm dairy. At last Jenny and the girls set for the two cold meat and bannocks and ale. And still at table Ian was the shining one. The sun was at noon and so was his mood.