By the bank of the Quharity on a summer day I have seen a barefooted girl gaze at the running water until tears filled her eyes. That was the birth of romance. Whether this love be but a beautiful dream I cannot say, but this we see, that it comes to all, and colours the whole future life with gold. Leeby must have dreamt it, but I did not know her then. I have heard of a man who would have taken her far away into a county where the corn is yellow when it is still green with us, but she would not leave her mother, nor was it him she saw in her dream. From her earliest days, when she was still a child staggering round the garden with Jamie in her arms, her duty lay before her, straight as the burying-ground road. Jess had need of her in the little home at the top of the brae, where God, looking down upon her as she scrubbed and gossipped and sat up all night with her ailing mother, and never missed the prayer-meeting, and adored the minister, did not perhaps think her the least of His handmaids. Her years were less than thirty when He took her away, but she had few days that were altogether dark. Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.
The love Leeby bore for Jamie was such that in their younger days it shamed him. Other laddies knew of it, and flung it at him until he dared Leeby to let on in public that he and she were related.
"Hoo is your lass?" they used to cry to him, inventing a new game.
"I saw Leeby lookin' for ye," they would say; "she's wearyin' for ye to gang an' play wi' her."
Then if they were not much bigger boys than himself, Jamie got them against the dyke and hit them hard until they publicly owned to knowing that she was his sister, and that he was not fond of her.
"It distressed him mair than ye could believe, though," Jess has told me; "an' when he came hame he would greet an' say 'at Leeby disgraced him."
Leeby, of course, suffered for her too obvious affection.
"I wonder 'at ye dinna try to control yersel," Jamie would say to her, as he grew bigger.
"Am sure," said Leeby, "I never gie ye a look if there's onybody there."
"A look! You're ay lookin' at me sae fond-like 'at I dinna ken what wy to turn."
"Weel, I canna help it," said Leeby, probably beginning to whimper.
If Jamie was in a very bad temper he left her, after this, to her own reflections; but he was naturally soft-hearted.
"Am no tellin' ye no to care for me," he told her, "but juist to keep it mair to yersel. Naebody would ken frae me 'at am fond o' ye."
"Mebbe yer no?" said Leeby.
"Ay, am I, but I can keep it secret. When we're in the hoose am juist richt fond o' ye."
"Do ye love me, Jamie?"
Jamie waggled his head in irritation.
"Love," he said, "is an awful like word to use when fowk's weel. Ye shouldna speir sic annoyin' queistions."
"But if ye juist say ye love me I'll never let on again afore fowk 'at yer onything to me ava."
"Ay, ye often say that."
"Do ye no believe my word?"
"I believe fine ye mean what ye say, but ye forget yersel when the time comes."
"Juist try me this time."
"Weel, then, I do."
"Do what?" asked the greedy Leeby.
"What ye said."
"I said love."
"Well," said Jamie, "I do't."
"What do ye do? Say the word."
"Na," said Jamie, "I winna say the word. It's no a word to say, but I do't."
That was all she could get out of him, unless he was stricken with remorse, when he even went the length of saying the word.
"Leeby kent perfectly weel," Jess has said, "'at it was a trial to Jamie to tak her ony gait, an' I often used to say to her 'at I wondered at her want o' pride in priggin' wi' him. Ay, but if she could juist get a promise wrung oot o' him, she didna care hoo muckle she had to prig. Syne they quarrelled, an' ane or baith o' them grat (cried) afore they made it up. I mind when Jamie went to the fishin' Leeby was aye terrible keen to get wi' him, but ye see he wouldna be seen gaen through the toon wi' her. 'If ye let me gang,' she said to him, 'I'll no seek to go through the toon wi' ye. Na, I'll gang roond by the Roods an' you can tak the buryin'-ground road, so as we can meet on the hill.' Yes, Leeby was willin' to agree wi' a' that, juist to get gaen wi' him. I've seen lassies makkin' themsels sma' for lads often enough, but I never saw ane 'at prigged so muckle wi' her ain brother. Na, it's other lassies' brothers they like as a rule."
"But though Jamie was terrible reserved aboot it," said Leeby, "he was as fond o' me as ever I was o' him. Ye mind the time I had the measles, mother?"
"Am no likely to forget it, Leeby," said Jess, "an' you blind wi' them for three days. Ay, ay, Jamie was richt taen up aboot ye. I mind he broke open his pirly (money-box), an' bocht a ha'penny worth o' something to ye every day."
"An' ye hinna forgotten the stick?"
"'Deed no, I hinna. Ye see," Jess explained to me, "Leeby was lyin' ben the hoose, an' Jamie wasna allowed to gang near her for fear o' infection. Weel, he gat a lang stick - it was a pea-stick - an' put it aneath the door an' waggled it. Ay, he did that a curran times every day, juist to let her see he was thinkin' o' her."
"Mair than that," said Leeby, "he cried oot 'at he loved me."
"Ay, but juist aince," Jess said, "I dinna mind o't but aince. It was the time the doctor came late, an' Jamie, being waukened by him, thocht ye was deein'. I mind as if it was yesterday hoo he cam runnin' to the door an' cried oot, 'I do love ye, Leeby; I love ye richt.' The doctor got a start when he heard the voice, but he laughed loud when he un'erstood."
"He had nae business, though," said Leeby, "to tell onybody."
"He was a rale clever man, the doctor," Jess explained to me, "ay, he kent me as weel as though he'd gaen through me wi' a lichted candle. It got oot through him, an' the young billies took to sayin' to Jamie, 'Ye do love her, Jamie; ay, ye love her richt.' The only reglar fecht I ever kent Jamie hae was wi' a lad 'at cried that to him. It was Bowlegs Chirsty's laddie. Ay, but when she got better Jamie blamed Leeby."
"He no only blamed me," said Leeby, "but he wanted me to pay him back a' the bawbees he had spent on me."
"Ay, an' I sepad he got them too," said Jess. In time Jamie became a barber in Tilliedrum, trudging many heavy miles there and back twice a day that he might sleep at home, trudging bravely I was to say, but it was what he was born to, and there was hardly an alternative. This was the time I saw most of him, and he and Leeby were often in my thoughts. There is as terrible a bubble in the little kettle as on the cauldron of the world, and some of the scenes between Jamie and Leeby were great tragedies, comedies, what you will, until the kettle was taken off the fire. Hers was the more placid temper; indeed, only in one way could Jamie suddenly rouse her to fury. That was when he hinted that she had a large number of frocks. Leeby knew that there could never be more than a Sabbath frock and an everyday gown for her, both of her mother's making, but Jamie's insinuations were more than she could bear. Then I have seen her seize and shake him. I know from Jess that Leeby cried herself hoarse the day Joey was buried, because her little black frock was not ready for wear.
Until he went to Tilliedrum Jamie had been more a stay-at-home boy than most. The warmth of Jess's love had something to do with keeping his heart aglow, but more, I think, he owed to Leeby. Tilliedrum was his introduction to the world, and for a little it took his head. I was in the house the Sabbath day that he refused to go to church.
He went out in the forenoon to meet the Tilliedrum lads, who were to take him off for a holiday in a cart. Hendry was more wrathful than I remember ever to have seen him, though I have heard how he did with the lodger who broke the Lord's Day. This lodger was a tourist who thought, in folly surely rather than in hardness of heart, to test the religious convictions of an Auld Licht by insisting on paying his bill on a Sabbath morning. He offered the money to Jess, with the warning that if she did not take it now she might never see it. Jess was so kind and good to her lodgers that he could not have known her long who troubled her with this poor trick. She was sorely in need at the time, and entreated the thoughtless man to have some pity on her.
"Now or never," he said, holding out the money.
"Put it on the dresser," said Jess at last, "an' I'll get it the morn."
The few shillings were laid on the dresser, where they remained unfingered until Hendry, with Leeby and Jamie, came in from church.
"What siller's that?" asked Hendry, and then Jess confessed what she had done.
"I wonder at ye, woman," said Hendry, sternly; and lifting the money he climbed up to the attic with it.
He pushed open the door, and confronted the lodger.
"Take back yer siller," he said laying it on the table, "an' leave my hoose. Man, you're a pitiable crittur to tak the chance, when I was oot, o' playin' upon the poverty o' an onweel woman."
It was with such unwonted severity as this that Hendry called upon Jamie to follow him to church; but the boy went off, and did not return till dusk, defiant and miserable. Jess had been so terrified that she forgave him everything for sight of his face, and Hendry prayed for him at family worship with too much unction. But Leeby cried as if her tender heart would break. For a long time Jamie refused to look at her, but at last he broke down.
"If ye go on like that," he said, "I'll gang awa oot an' droon mysel, or be a sojer."
This was no uncommon threat of his, and sometimes, when he went off, banging the door violently, she ran after him and brought him back. This time she only wept the more, and so both went to bed in misery. It was after midnight that Jamie rose and crept to Leeby's bedside. Leeby was shaking the bed in her agony. Jess heard what they said.
"Leeby," said Jamie, "dinna greet, an' I'll never do't again."
He put his arms round her, and she kissed him passionately.
"O, Jamie," she said, "hae ye prayed to God to forgie ye?"
Jamie did not speak.
"If ye was to die this nicht," cried Leeby, "an' you no made it up wi' God, ye wouldna gang to heaven. Jamie, I canna sleep till ye've made it up wi' God."
But Jamie still hung back. Leeby slipped from her bed, and went down on her knees.
"O God, O dear God," she cried, "mak Jamie to pray to you!"
Then Jamie went down on his knees too, and they made it up with God together.
This is a little thing for me to remember all these years, and yet how fresh and sweet it keeps Leeby in my memory.
Away up in the glen, my lonely schoolhouse lying deep, as one might say, in a sea of snow, I had many hours in the years long by for thinking of my friends in Thrums and mapping out the future of Leeby and Jamie. I saw Hendry and Jess taken to the churchyard, and Leeby left alone in the house. I saw Jamie fulfil his promise to his mother, and take Leeby, that stainless young woman, far away to London, where they had a home together. Ah, but these were only the idle dreams of a dominie. The Lord willed it otherwise.