She stood for a moment hesitating. How could she pass without being seen? The man was blissfully unconscious of her presence, and as he worked he whistled Schubert’s “Wohin,” and whistled it very badly. Then he fell to apostrophizing his tackle, and then he grew irritable. “Somebody come and keep this thing taut,” he cried. “Tam, Jock! where on earth are you?”
The thing in question was lying at Alice’s feet in wavy coils.
“Jock, you fool, where are you?” cried the man, but he never looked round and went on biting and tying. Then an impulse took the girl and she picked up the line. “That’s right,” cried the man, “pull it as tight as you can,” and Alice tugged heroically at the waterproof silk. She felt horribly nervous, and was conscious that she must look a very flushed and untidy young barbarian. Many times she wanted to drop it and run away, but the thought of the menaces against the absent Jock and of her swift discovery deterred her. When he was done with her help he might go on working and never look round. Then she would escape unnoticed down the burn.
But no such luck befell her. With a satisfied tug he pronounced the thing finished and wheeled round to regard his associates. “Now, you young wretches—” and the words froze on his lips, for in the place of two tatterdemalion boys he saw a young girl holding his line limply and smiling with much nervousness.
“Oh,” he cried, and then became dumb and confused. He was shy and unhappy with women, save the few whom he had known from childhood. The girl was no better. She had blushed deeply, and was now minutely scanning the stones in the burn. Then she raised her eyes, met his, and the difficulty was solved by both falling into fits of deep laughter. She was the first to speak.
“I am so sorry I surprised you. I did not see you till I was close to you, and then you were abusing somebody so terribly that to stop such language I had to stop and help you. I saw Tam and Jock at a pool a long way down, so they couldn’t hear you, you know.”
“And I’m very much obliged to you. You held it far better than Tam or Jock would have done. But how did you get up here?”
“I climbed up the burn,” said Alice simply, putting up a hand to confine a wandering tress. The young man saw a small, very simply dressed girl, with a flushed face and bright, deep eyes. The small white hat crowned a great tangle of wonderful reddish gold hair. She held herself with the grace which is born of natural health and no modish training; the strong hazel stick, the scratched shoes, and the wet fringes of her gown showed how she had spent the afternoon. The young man, having received an excellent education, thought of Dryads and Oreads.