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Scotland than the vale of Inverranna. The hills are neither so grand in outline nor so imposing in height as in many of the more famed tracts of country; but the undulating ranges and wooded knolls have a tender beauty of their own, and there are spots here and there hardly to be surpassed; especially where the Ranna brawls and foams over its rocky channel to meet the great broad winding parent river, thereby giving its name to the district-Inverranna, literally, mouth of Ranna.
The village of that name, nestling upon the north side of the valley and facing south, would be dignified in many places by the name of town—as it boasts a railway station, two banks, divers shops, and at least four distinct “places of worship,” and is a favourite summer resort of health and pleasure-seekers both from the south and from the nearest large county town. The natural terraces were crowned with small villas and lodging-houses in smiling little gardens, presenting a cheerful appearance, especially in the summer, in which our story begins.
The August sun was lighting up the valley with its tenderest evening rays, as a young man ascended the road leading from the station, which stood at the foot of the brae, to oval;
the level of the village itself. He was about twenty-five, well-dressed, and good-looking, with a certain air of good breeding about him which might have made a casual observer set him down at first as of a higher station than that to which he really belonged. Indeed many who knew him said that Edmund Allardyce looked quite a gentleman; though I think it a better compliment to say that he looked a thoroughly good specimen of what he actually was—a clever, well-educated, prosperous farmer's son in business. His face was as much distinguishable for its pleasant open expression as for somewhat exceptional regularity of feature. The forehead was high and smooth, the contour of the face
its healthy, ruddy, bronzed complexion set off by the smooth close-cut brown hair, moustache, and short beard. The eyes, under dark straight brows, were of that shade that often shows dark, but is in reality light hazel grey ; clear, good-tempered, truthful eyes, though with a certain native shrewdness—I cannot call it anything else—in their expression : eyes which, looking you honestly in the face, showed that you were dealing with a man who, if too conscientious to take you in himself, could not on his part be easily taken in. A kind of man to make his way anywhere and in anything that he put his hand to, and to make himself popular at the same time from sheer good-humour and cordiality.
His calling at present was that of district agent for an agricultural company, having its head-quarters in the adjacent large town, and its local depôts at different railway stations throughout the country—the said depôts on this particular line of railway being under the supervision of Mr. Allardyce, who attended them all in turn. Consequently his work tied him very much to the railway ; but as the chief local depôt was at Inverranna, he was principally required at that station, and lived in the village.
His steps slackened before the gate of a bright-looking garden, where arching raspberry and currant bushes disputed the mastery with luxuriant old-fashioned roses and honeysuckle. This garden was attached to a farmhouse which stood near the entrance to the village; a moderately sized but comfortable house, with snug barnyards behind it. Just within the gate, but sheltered from the road by the flowery hedge, a young girl was standing-nominally “pu'ing berries,” but in an indolent sort of way which showed that she had never done a hard day's work in her life, and never meant, if she could help it; and putting quite as many currants into her mouth as into the small basket which she had attached to her apron-string. She was just turned twenty, well grown and active, though small, and with a youthful, plump roundness of outline. She had fair hair, large blue eyes, a clear delicately ruddy complexion ; and if the other features were rather childish and insignificant, they were amply redeemed by the subtle play of expression in the fine eyes and rather wilful little mouth, which seemed at times equally ready to smile or to pout. A pretty girl she would have looked anywhere, and a pretiy picture she made just now, especially in her broad sun-hat with a dash of coquettishness in its muslin trimmings, her light dress and white apron, with her basket full of ripe red currants before her.
“A fine night, Mr. Allardyce," was her demure salutation from behind the gate.
“A fine night,” the equally demure response, as Mr. Allardyce lifted his hat to the young lady, opened the gate, and went in. Then a more cordial greeting passed between them. They were not actually formally engaged, those two, though it amounted to pretty much the same thing. In small country places every one knows his neighbour's affairs, often better than he does himself; and all Inverranna knew that Edmund Allardyce and Christina Cameron had been "keeping company" for a year and more—in fact almost ever since he had come to his present appointment; and few were surprised.
Christina Cameron was a pretty girl, but her face was by no means her sole fortune : she was the only child of wellto-do parents, and it was pretty generally known that her tocher was by no means to be despised. As to the young man, he was considered the handsomest lad on Rannaside, and to be “ doing real weel for himsel'” in his businessbesides his more sterling qualifications. His choice, however, in that quarter was more circumscribed than that of most of his compeers owing to his religion. For though there were plenty of girls who would gladly have accepted him without asking any questions as to his persuasion, Edmund Allardyce was a stanch and consistent Churchman, 6 I'm only
sprung of a good old stock, his family belonging to that side of the country long looked on as the stronghold of Scottish Episcopacy. It was pretty well understood therefore that his wife must either be a Churchwoman born and bred, or ready to become one on her marriage. In this respect Christina was well suited to him, as her parents were loyal members of the Scottish Episcopal Church, and had trained up their child carefully in that faith.
Christina was, if the truth were told, something of a spoilt child. She was also considered a little bit of a flirt, as perhaps it was difficult for a girl of her temperament to avoid being, who was conscious of her advantages, and that she could have as many admirers as she pleased. She had never really cared for any one before Edmund Allardyce courted her; and there were not wanting those who were jealous of the handsome agent's preference for her.
“You're very busy, I see,” was his first remark.
“Not just particularly,” she replied carelessly. just pulling a few currants mother wanted for preserving. Are you going to help me?”
“I'll help you so far," he said, picking out a long string of currants from her basket and putting it into his mouth.
They're fine for clearing the voice. I can't stop though – it's the practice to-night.” “It's aye the practeese,” said Christina.
“ You never have a minute to spare now. It wasn't the practeese last night. You used to come in whiles and have a talk with father o' Friday nights.”
“Yes, I met him, and I would have liked to come, but the train was late—and then I had some accounts to look over for Mr. Wood, which he had asked me to do, just for obligement to him, and it was ower late to call syne. How's Mrs. Cameron keeping?”
“Oh, she's a good bittie better. I know a great difference upon her since Dr. Milne came. He's done her a heap o' good.”
I hear he's considered very clever.” “Oh, ay, he's very clever—and very amusing too. He quite brightens my mother up when he comes. He's not aye in such a hurry as some folks—Dr. Wilson for one.”
"I hope he'll soon have her off the sick-list altogether,"
said Allardyce, with a penetrating glance of his shrewd eyes under Christina's hat; but she laughed a little and answered,
“Thanks. Will ye step in about and see her ?”
“ I'm afraid my time's up. You see I don't like to hold Mr. Wood waiting-he's always there in good time, and they can't get much done wanting me."
“Oh, no, to be sure they can't,” said Christina, with a toss of her pretty head. “ And what would Isie Donald do wanting you to walk home wi' her and carry her music?”
" And what for shouldn't I walk home with her, poor thing, when we've both the same road to go ?”
“What for not? with all my heart,” was Miss Christina's ungrammatical rejoinder. “Some folks likes to be talked about-others doesn't.”
“ Talk about—what is there airthly to talk about ?” objected Mr. Allardyce.
“ Ye know that best yourself. Isie Donald's not a member of the Church, whatever.”
“ I know that. It's no reason she never should be."
“No, of course not. No doubt she'd turn in a minute, just to pleasure you."
“ I'm sure I don't want any one to turn anything to pleasure me,” said Allardyce, in a rather deprecating tone, "and I don't know why you should say so of Isie Donald. All I have to say for her is that she does what she can for the Church-more, perhaps, and with more real heart for it, than many professed members.”
He was speaking quite generally, and without a thought of Christina ; but to his astonishment she flamed up all at once like an angry little turkey cock.
“Thanks, Mr. Allardyce ! Nothing like plain speaking." “ Christina ! I really don't know what ye're meaning
“Don't you? I ken your meaning fine. I've no voice and no ear,—I don't go flying about the country to TonicSol-fas and kyre meetings— I was never learnt the harmonium, so I can't go and play for a set men and loons to sing to,-and so I might as well be a Turk or a Jew for all the good I am to the Church! Dinna hold the kyre waiting any longer for me, pray," she wound up with cheeks as red as her own currants. “ There's plenty 'll never speer whether I'm Church or Kirk, musical or no-musical,” and