After this we stood awhile, staring past each other into the deepening shadows.
“Peter,” said he at last, “it’s no a vera genteel present tae be makin’ ye, I doot,” and he held up the battered shoes. “They’re unco worn, an’ wi’ a clout here an’ there, ye’ll notice, but the buckles are guid siller, an’ I hae naething else to gi’e ye. Ay, man! but it’s many a weary mile I’ve marched in these at the head o’ the Ninety-Second, an’ it’s mony a stark fecht they’ve been through—Vittoria, Salamanca, Talavera, tae Quatre Bras an’ Waterloo; tak’ ’em, Peter, tak’ ’em—tae mind ye sometimes o’ Donal’ Stuart. An’ now—gi’e us a grup o’ ye hand. Gude keep ye, Peter, man!”
So saying, he thrust the brogues upon me, caught and squeezed my hand, and turning sharp about, strode away through the shadows, his kilt swaying, and tartans streaming gallantly.
And, presently, I went and sat me down upon the bench beside the door, with the war-worn shoes upon my knee. Suddenly, as I sat there, faint and fainter with distance, and unutterably sad, came the slow, sweet music of Donald’s pipes playing the “Wallace Lament.” Softly the melody rose and fell, until it died away in one long-drawn, wailing note.
Now, as it ended, I rose, and uncovered my head, for I knew this was Donald’s last farewell.
Much more I might have told of this strange yet lovable man who was by turns the scarred soldier, full of stirring tales of camp and battlefield; the mischievous child delighting in tricks and rogueries of all sorts; and the stately Hieland gentleman. Many wild legends he told me of his native glens, with strange tales of the “second sight”—but here, perforce, must be no place for such. So here then I leave Donald and hurry on with my narrative.
IN WHICH THIS FIRST BOOK BEGINS TO DRAW TO A CLOSE
“Strike! ding! ding!
Strike! ding! ding!
The iron glows,
And loveth good blows
As fire doth bellows.
Strike! ding! ding!”
Out beyond the smithy door a solitary star twinkles low down in the night sky, like some great jewel; but we have no time for star-gazing, Black George and I, for to-night we are at work on the old church screen, which must be finished to-morrow.
And so the bellows roar hoarsely, the hammers clang, and the sparks fly, while the sooty face of Black George, now in shadow, now illumed by the fire, seems like the face of some Fire-god or Salamander. In the corner, perched securely out of reach of stray sparks, sits the Ancient, snuff-box in hand as usual.
To my mind, a forge is at its best by night, for, in the red, fiery glow, the blackened walls, the shining anvil, and the smith himself, bare-armed and bare of chest, are all magically transfigured, while, in the hush of night, the drone of the bellows sounds more impressive, the stroke of the hammers more sonorous and musical, and the flying sparks mark plainly their individual courses, ere they vanish.