“And what did ye dae?” asked a breathless audience.
“I went down after him. I had to, for I was his master, and besides, I was a bit of an athlete then. I cried to him to hang on and not look down. I clambered down the swaying trunk while my people held the ropes at the top, and when I got near the man I saw what bad happened.
“He had twisted his ankles in the fall, and though he had got them out of the ropes, yet they hung loose and quite obviously broken. I got as near him as I could, and leaned over, and I remember seeing through below his armpits the blue of the stream six hundred feet down. It made me rather sick with my job, and when I called him to pull himself up a bit till I could grip him I thought he was helpless with the same fright. But it turned out that I had misjudged him. He bad no power in his arms, simply the dead strength to hang on. I was in a nice fix, for I could lower myself no farther without slipping into space. Then I thought of a dodge. I got a good grip of the rope and let my legs dangle down till they were level with his hands. I told him to try and change his grip and catch my ankles. He did it, somehow or other, and by George! the first shock of his weight nearly ended me, for he was a heavy man. However, I managed to pull myself up a yard or two and then I could reach down and catch his arms. We both got up somehow or other, but it took a devilish time, and when they laid us both on the ground and came round like fools with brandy I thought I should choke and had scarcely strength to swear at them to get out.”
The assembly had listened intently, catching its breath with a sharp risp as all outdoor folks will do when they hear of an escapade which strikes their fancy. One man—a stranger—hammered his empty pipe-bowl on the table in applause.
“Whae was the man, d’ye say?” he asked. “A neeger?”
Lewis laughed. “Not a nigger most certainly, though he had a brown face.”
“And ye risked your life for a black o’ some kind? Man, ye must be awfu’ fond o’ your fellow men. Wad ye dae the same for the likes o’ us?
“Surely. For one of my own folk! But it was really a very small thing.”
“Then I have just ae thing to say,” said the brown-bearded man. “I am what ye cal a Raadical, and yestreen I recorded my vote for yon man Stocks. He crackit a lot about the rights o’ man—as man, and I was wi’ him. But I tell ye that you yoursel’ have a better notion o’ human kindness than ony Stocks, and though ye’re no o’ my party, yet I herewith propose a vote o’ confidence in Maister Lewis Haystoun.”
The health was drunk solemnly yet with gusto, and under cover of it Lewis fled out of doors. His despondency had passed, and a fit of fierce exhilaration had seized him. Men still swore by his name; he was still loved by his own folk; small matter to him if a townsman had defeated him. He was no vain talker, but a doer, a sportsman, an adventurer. This was his true career. Let others have the applause of excited indoor folk or dull visionaries; for him a man’s path, a man’s work, and a man’s commendation.