It was after three nights and three days had passed that they came upon the weak little body, lying stark and still under an overhanging rock, and half buried in the heather. Moss was clutched in her clenched hand, and shreds of moss were on her cold lips; the poor little bairn had hungered for food, and had seized that which first came to hand to satisfy her craving. She was quite dead.
The bereaved mother mourned her darling with a grief that none but a mother can know. But the child had been her father’s special pet of all his little flock.
“His heart,” said Bell, the rising tears witnessing to the sadness of the memories called back by her story, “was well-nigh broke. He burst into tears at the sight of her wee white face, and sobbed like a bairn wi’ the rest of us.”
And poor little Peggy! How touching the story! She never ceased to reproach herself for what she considered her carelessness in losing sight of Jessie on that fatal day. No single creature attached a shadow of blame to her; on the contrary, it was the dearest wish of all to try to console her and assure her of her innocence in that respect. But it was of no avail. Her unceasing grief fretted away her strength, and six months later she was borne to St. Mungo’s ancient burying ground to share Jessie’s grave.
“It’s nigh on sixty years sin’,” said Bell apologetically, as she wiped her streaming eyes with her apron; “but the thocht o’ that time brings the tears up yet.”
“Thus let me live, unseen, unknown,
Thus unlamented let me die;
Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lie.”
(Pope—“Ode to Solitude")
He was an unusually wretched semblance of a man. A tattered coat—some one’s cast-off overcoat—green, greasy, mud-stained, clung round his shaking knees; trousers which might have been of any hue originally, but were now “sad-colored,” flapped about his thin legs and fringed his ankles; shoes, slashed across the front for ease, revealed bare feet beneath; an antique and dirty red woolen muffler swathed his neck almost to the ears. Surmounting these woeful garments appeared a yellow, wrinkled face surrounded by a straggling fringe of gray whisker; gray locks strayed from an old red handkerchief tied round the brows under a dilapidated wide-awake hat. To add to his woe-begone aspect, the poor wretch was streaming with wet, for a Scottish mist had been steadily falling all the morning.
Leaning on his stick, the man slowly shuffled up the central path toward the porch in which I was sitting, striving to get the nearest possible approach to an open-air pipe. Touching his sorry headgear, he looked at me with mild eyes of faded blue, and smiled benignly as he asked:
“Could I see himsel’?”
I had not long come to that part of the country, and I was not thoroughly conversant with the terminology of the people, but it flashed upon me what he meant.