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In the summer we all slept in a large room in the wide sloping roof. It had a dormer window, at no great distance above the eaves. One day there was something doing about the ivy, which covered all the gable and half the front of the house, and the ladder they had been using was left leaning against the back. It reached a little above the eaves, right under the dormer window. That night I could not sleep, as was not unfrequently the case with me. On such occasions I used to go wandering about the upper part of the house. I believe the servants thought I walked in my sleep, but it was not so, for I always knew what I was about well enough. I do not remember whether this began after that dreadful night when I woke in the barn, but I do think the enjoyment it gave me was rooted in the starry loneliness in which I had then found myself. I wonder if I can explain my feelings. The pleasure arose from a sort of sense of protected danger. On that memorable night, I had been as it were naked to all the silence, alone in the vast universe, which kept looking at me full of something it knew but would not speak. Now, when wandering about sleepless, I could gaze as from a nest of safety out upon the beautiful fear. From window to window I would go in the middle of the night, now staring into a blank darkness out of which came, the only signs of its being, the raindrops that bespattered or the hailstones that berattled the panes; now gazing into the deeps of the blue vault, gold-bespangled with its worlds; or, again, into the mysteries of soft clouds, all gathered into an opal tent by the centre-clasp of the moon, thinking out her light over its shining and shadowy folds.
This, I have said, was one of those nights on which I could not sleep. It was the summer after the winter-story of the kelpie, I believe; but the past is confused, and its chronology worthless, to the continuous now of childhood. The night was hot; my little brothers were sleeping loud, as wee Davie called snoring; and a great moth had got within my curtains somewhere, and kept on fluttering and whirring. I got up, and went to the window. It was such a night! The moon was full, but rather low, and looked just as if she were thinking--"Nobody is heeding me: I may as well go to bed." All the top of the sky was covered with mackerel-backed clouds, lying like milky ripples on a blue sea, and through them the stars shot, here and there, sharp little rays like sparkling diamonds. There was no awfulness about it, as on the night when the gulfy sky stood over me, flashing with the heavenly host, and nothing was between me and the farthest world. The clouds were like the veil that hid the terrible light in the Holy of Holies--a curtain of God's love, to dim with loveliness the grandeur of their own being, and make his children able to bear it. My eye fell upon the top rounds of the ladder, which rose above the edge of the roof like an invitation. I opened the window, crept through, and, holding on by the ledge, let myself down over the slates, feeling with my feet for the top of the ladder. In a moment I was upon it. Down I went, and oh, how tender to my bare feet was the cool grass on which I alighted! I looked up. The dark housewall rose above me. I could ascend again when I pleased. There was no hurry. I would walk about a little. I would put my place of refuge yet a little farther off, nibble at the danger, as it were--a danger which existed only in my imagination. I went outside the high holly hedge, and the house was hidden. A grassy field was before me, and just beyond the field rose the farm buildings. Why should not I run across and wake Turkey? I was off like a shot, the expectation of a companion in my delight overcoming all the remnants of lingering apprehension. I knew there was only one bolt, and that a manageable one, between me and Turkey, for he slept in a little wooden chamber partitioned off from a loft in the barn, to which he had to climb a ladder. The only fearful part was the crossing of the barn-floor. But I was man enough for that. I reached and crossed the yard in safety, searched for and found the key of the barn, which was always left in a hole in the wall by the door,--turned it in the lock, and crossed the floor as fast as the darkness would allow me. With outstretched groping hands I found the ladder, ascended, and stood by Turkey's bed.
"Turkey! Turkey! wake up," I cried. "It's such a beautiful night! It's a shame to lie sleeping that way."
Turkey's answer was immediate. He was wide awake and out of bed with all his wits by him in a moment.
"Sh! sh!" he said, "or you'll wake Oscar."
Oscar was a colley (sheep dog) which slept in a kennel in the cornyard. He was not much of a watch-dog, for there was no great occasion for watching, and he knew it, and slept like a human child; but he was the most knowing of dogs. Turkey was proceeding to dress.
"Never mind your clothes, Turkey," I said. "There's nobody up."
Willing enough to spare himself trouble, Turkey followed me in his shirt. But once we were out in the cornyard, instead of finding contentment in the sky and the moon, as I did, he wanted to know what we were going to do.
"It's not a bad sort of night," he said; "what shall we do with it?"
He was always wanting to do something.
"Oh, nothing," I answered; "only look about us a bit."
"You didn't hear robbers, did you?" he asked.
"Oh dear, no! I couldn't sleep, and got down the ladder, and came to wake you--that's all."
"Let's have a walk, then," he said.
Now that I had Turkey, there was scarcely more terror in the night than in the day. I consented at once. That we had no shoes on was not of the least consequence to Scotch boys. I often, and Turkey always, went barefooted in summer.
As we left the barn, Turkey had caught up his little whip. He was never to be seen without either that or his club, as we called the stick he carried when he was herding the cattle. Finding him thus armed, I begged him to give me his club. He ran and fetched it, and, thus equipped, we set out for nowhere in the middle of the night. My fancy was full of fragmentary notions of adventure, in which shadows from The Pilgrim's Progress predominated. I shouldered my club, trying to persuade my imagination that the unchristian weapon had been won from some pagan giant, and therefore was not unfittingly carried. But Turkey was far better armed with his lash of wire than I was with the club. His little whip was like that fearful weapon called the morning star in the hand of some stalwart knight.
We took our way towards the nearest hills, thinking little of where we went so that we were in motion. I guess that the story I have just related must, notwithstanding his unbelief, have been working in Turkey's brain that night, for after we had walked for a mile or more along the road, and had arrived at the foot of a wooded hill, well known to all the children of the neighbourhood for its bilberries, he turned into the hollow of a broken track, which lost itself in a field as yet only half-redeemed from the moorland. It was plain to me now that Turkey had some goal or other in his view; but I followed his leading, and asked no questions. All at once he stopped, and said, pointing a few yards in front of him:
I did look, but the moon was behind the hill, and the night was so dim that I had to keep looking for several moments ere I discovered that he was pointing to the dull gleam of dark water. Very horrible it seemed. I felt my flesh creep the instant I saw it. It lay in a hollow left by the digging out of peats, drained thither from the surrounding bog. My heart sank with fear. The almost black glimmer of its surface was bad enough, but who could tell what lay in its unknown depth? But, as I gazed, almost paralysed, a huge dark figure rose up on the opposite side of the pool. For one moment the scepticism of Turkey seemed to fail him, for he cried out, "The kelpie! The kelpie!" and turned and ran.
I followed as fast as feet utterly unconscious of the ground they trod upon could bear me. We had not gone many yards before a great roar filled the silent air. That moment Turkey slackened his pace, and burst into a fit of laughter.
"It's nothing but Bogbonny's bull, Ranald!" he cried.
Kelpies were unknown creatures to Turkey, but a bull was no more than a dog or a sheep, or any other domestic animal. I, however, did not share his equanimity, and never slackened my pace till I got up with him.
"But he's rather ill-natured," he went on, the instant I joined him, "and we had better make for the hill."
Another roar was a fresh spur to our speed. We could not have been in better trim for running. But it was all uphill, and had it not been that the ground for some distance between us and the animal was boggy, so that he had to go round a good way, one of us at least would have been in evil case.
"He's caught sight of our shirts," said Turkey, panting as he ran, "and he wants to see what they are. But we'll be over the fence before he comes up with us. I wouldn't mind for myself; I could dodge him well enough; but he might go after you, Ranald."
What with fear and exertion I was unable to reply. Another bellow sounded nearer, and by and by we could hear the dull stroke of his hoofs on the soft ground as he galloped after us. But the fence of dry stones, and the larch wood within it, were close at hand.
"Over with you, Ranald!" cried Turkey, as if with his last breath; and turned at bay, for the brute was close behind him.
But I was so spent, I could not climb the wall; and when I saw Turkey turn and face the bull, I turned too. We were now in the shadow of the hill, but I could just see Turkey lift his arm. A short sharp hiss, and a roar followed. The bull tossed his head as in pain, left Turkey, and came towards me. He could not charge at any great speed, for the ground was steep and uneven. I, too, had kept hold of my weapon; and although I was dreadfully frightened, I felt my courage rise at Turkey's success, and lifted my club in the hope that it might prove as good at need as Turkey's whip. It was well for me, however, that Turkey was too quick for the bull. He got between him and me, and a second stinging cut from the brass wire drew a second roar from his throat, and no doubt a second red streamlet from his nose, while my club descended on one of his horns with a bang which jarred my arm to the elbow, and sent the weapon flying over the fence. The animal turned tail for a moment--long enough to place us, enlivened by our success, on the other side of the wall, where we crouched so that he could not see us. Turkey, however, kept looking up at the line of the wall against the sky; and as he looked, over came the nose of the bull, within a yard of his head. Hiss went the little whip, and bellow went the bull.
"Get up among the trees, Ranald, for fear he come over," said Turkey, in a whisper.
I obeyed. But as he could see nothing of his foes, the animal had had enough of it, and we heard no more of him.
After a while, Turkey left his lair and joined me. We rested for a little, and would then have clambered to the top of the hill, but we gave up the attempt as awkward after getting into a furze bush. In our condition, it was too dark. I began to grow sleepy, also, and thought I should like to exchange the hillside for my bed. Turkey made no objection, so we trudged home again; not without sundry starts and quick glances to make sure that the bull was neither after us on the road, nor watching us from behind this bush or that hillock. Turkey never left me till he saw me safe up the ladder; nay, after I was in bed, I spied his face peeping in at the window from the topmost round of it. By this time the east had begun to begin to glow, as Allister, who was painfully exact, would have said; but I was fairly tired now, and, falling asleep at once, never woke until Mrs. Mitchell pulled the clothes off me, an indignity which I keenly felt, but did not yet know how to render impossible for the future.
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