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Homespun
Chapter III. Nanse's Weird


RIGHT up at the west end of the Beild, on the edge of the peat moss, stood a row of five cottages, known as the Whins. They were all inhabited by weavers, and had no crofts, but only "yairds" attached, which yairds sloped down from the back door to the edge of the moss. The windows, however, looked the other way, which was certainly a mistake, for the prospect seen from the yaird was one of great beauty, which changed with every season. The moss was a wide stretch quite three miles across, and was then hemmed in by the first soft, swelling ridges of the Corbie Hills. The wideness and lonely stillness on the moss give it a strange beauty of its own, and in clear, amber evenings the peat-stacks stand out against the sky, their even outlines transfigured into many graceful shapes. There are green spots here and there on the dull brown expanse, and little grassy paths edged with bluebell and colt's-foot and yellow primrose; and then when autumn comes there are patches of glowing purple where the heather grows. Once even I found a patch of white heather, but that is a rare find. You never saw finer sunsets than I have seen on the Beild moss, and I have often thought that if the colours were reproduced on canvas they would at once be pronounced unnatural and exaggerated. Sometimes the crimson has such a touch of flame, and the gold so fiercely burnished, and the ragged edges of the clouds resting on the Corbie crests so vividly outlined, that it has a look of weirdness denied to softer colourings and outlines. And then the beauty of the soft summer mornings on the treeless moss—the exquisite blendings of light and shade on its variegated breast, blendings created nobody knows how—and the great stillness, save for the continuous twitterings of birds, and the wide, wide freshness of the scene ! Oh, Beild folks have a treasure in their moss, and some of them, even dwelling in their humble cottages, appreciate its beauty in every aspect: In wintry weather it is a wild, desolate, uncanny place, with the sea-birds screaming and the curlews calling across the space, and the snow-patches making the dark, rich brown of the bogs seem almost black; the wonder to me has long been that no artist has sought to give its beauty to the world.

Well, in the first Whins cottage there was a little back window in the kitchen, just a tiny opening which four small panes of glass filled, but it was sufficient to give Nanse Wricht the little peep of sunset glory which always reminded her that there was a land beyond those glittering bars where there shall be no more pain. " No more pain "—that was Nanse's idea of heaven; and seeing she had been a helpless and a hopeless invalid for seven-and-twenty years, during which she had never actually known freedom from pain, except under the influence of opiates, the narrowness of her vision can easily be understood. It all happened so suddenly one evening, when she had only been four years a wife. She was standing at the foot of the yaird, with her hand over her eyes, watching her man Andra hurling his barrow full of peats up from the moss; although there was a lessee of the peat moss, certain Beild folks, the Whins cottagers among the rest, had the right to cart and carry away as many as they required. It was the summer-time, and the Wrichts burned nothing but peats, only laying in a ton of coals about Martinmas for winter use. Well, Nanse, a bonnie, comely young woman, was standing watching her tall buirdly husband contentedly wheeling his barrow, when she felt a strange numbness in her limbs which made her feel sick and faint. She had her pink cotton sunbonnet over her arm, and a pink cotton short gown fastened tidily in at her neat waist, and white cotton stockings pure as the driven snow showing under her short wincey skirt—a dapper, comely, dainty wifie as ever stepped, was Nanse Wricht when the blow fell. The numbness crept upon her gradually, and she was hardly able to totter up the little path between the potato rows, with their gay border of marigolds and scented stocks. And when she got into the kitchen she sank into Andra's chair, all white and shuddering, feeling as if she had got a mortal shock.


"she was standing at the foot of the yaird, with her hand over her eyes

It seemed a long, long time before the whir of the barrow wheels fell on her ear, and Andra, suspecting nothing but that Nanse was stirring the porridge or boiling a potato for their supper, stowed away his peats in the shed, and set out for another load. But it occurred to him first to look in just to see what length Nanse was with the supper, and so with his pipe in his mouth he entered the house by the front door. All the Beild houses are built after the same plan—a but and ben, and a passage between front and back doors. The ben held Andra's loom, for weaving was a flourishing trade in the Beild in these earlier days of which I write, and most of the menfolk wrought at it in the long winter evenings. When Andra saw Nanse all huddled together in the chair, his heart leaped to his mouth and his short black pipe fell on the floor.

" Od sake, Nanse, what is't ? "

"Something's happened me, Andra," she said pitifully, and stretched out her hands to him with a little appealing gesture, which just told how she regarded him, as her protector and her hope. If anybody could help her, Andra would. His big, kindly face blanched, and he approached her half-hesitatingly, and put his arm round her in that bashful way common to men who don't often give such outward demonstrations of their feelings.

" Dinna greet, Nanse. Tell me what is't. Are ye pained, or what ? Try an' tell me, lassie."

"I dinna ken, Andra," she said shudder-ingly. "I hinna pain, but I've lost pooer— an' oh ! I think it's daith!"

"Guid forbid 1"

Andra Wricht, who had a heart as gentle and kind and sympathetic as a woman, and whose simple faith in God was as strong as his love for Nanse, rebelled at the thought.

"I'll gang for the doctor, Nanse. Wull I pit ye in your bed first, my dear ? an' wull ye tak' a nip o' whusky ? It'll dae ye guid."

Nanse nodded ; and without further parley Andra lifted her slim, well-nourished body in his arms, and laid her down in-the box bed, the one nearest the little back window. Almost every kitchen in the Beild has two box beds side by side along the wall, there being no room for beds in the place that holds the loom.

" I maun get somebody to bide wi' ye or I come back," he said then, looking down mournfully and wonderingly at his wife's white drawn face lying on the red-and-white chintz cover.

"Marget's drinkin' tea at Shoosan Nicoll's, an' the minister was to be there. Gang for Marget."

"Marget ? " he said doubtfully; for though Marget was an estimable person, she was not a favourite of Andra's, being too brusque of manner and candid of speech.

"Ay, Marget; an' gang quick, like a man. I'm sure it's daith."

Andra, with a cold perspiration standing on his face, ran out of the house up to the head of the Whins and across John Dawson's hayfield, taking the quickest way to Shoosan's. Before he got there he saw Marget approaching. The tea-drinking was over, and she was coming to the Whins on her way home to tell Nanse all about it—how agreeable the minister had been, and how Shoosan had had out all her best things, but had masked the tea in the brown teapot, and the little maid had forgot to transfer it to the china one, and so the effect was spoiled. When she saw Andra running she guessed something had happened, but never for a moment thought of harm to Nanse. And when he incoherently bade her run for her life, and continued his own way hurriedly to summon the doctor, it put her all in a flutter, and made her fear the worst. In three minutes she was by Nanse's bed; and had Andra but seen her gentleness and heard her low, soothing voice, he would have changed his opinion regarding her—and indeed he did before many days were past. Before dark the doctor came, but he did not say very much ; and that was about all he ever did say, he or any of his profession, and many came to see Nanse, for she was an interesting case. It was disease of the spine, and after that summer night poor Nanse Wricht never set foot to the ground again, nor crossed the threshold of her own door by her young husband's side.


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