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At the verge of the flowery pastures that ring the isle of Thrieve, Sholto met Maud Lindesay, wandering alone. At sight of her he leaped from his horse, and, without salutation of spoken speech, walked by her side.
"How came you here alone?" he asked.
Maud made her little pouting movement of the lips, and kicked viciously at a tuft of gra.s.s.
"I forgot," she said hypocritically, "I ought to have asked leave of that n.o.ble knight the Captain of Thrieve. We poor maids must not breathe without his permission--no, nor even walk out to meet him when we are lonesome."
Maud Lindesay lifted her eyes suddenly and shot at Sholto a glance so disabling, that, alarmed for the consequences, she veiled her eyes again circ.u.mspectly by dropping her long lashes upon her cheek.
"Did you really come out to meet me, Maud?" cried Sholto, all the life flooding back into his cheeks, "in this do you speak truth and no mockery?"
"I only said that we maidens were so much in fear of our Castle Governor, that we must not walk out even to meet him!"
At this Sholto let his horse go where it would, and, as they were pa.s.sing at the time through a coppice of hazel, he caught his saucy sweetheart quickly by the wrist.
"Mistress Maud, you shall not play with me!" he said; "you will tell me plainly--do you love me or do you not?"
Maud Lindesay puckered her pretty face as if she had been about to cry.
"You hurt my arm!" she said plaintively, looking up at him with the long pathetic gaze of a gentle helpless animal undeservedly put in pain.
Sholto perforce released the pressure on her arm. She instantly put both hands behind her.
"You did not hurt me at all--hear you that, Master Sholto," she cried, "and I do not love you--not that much, Sir n.o.ble Bully!"
And she snapped her finger and thumb like a flash beneath his nose.
"Not that much!" she repeated viciously, and did it again. Sholto turned away sternly.
"You are nothing but a silly girl, and not worthy that any true man should either love or marry you!" he said, walking off in the direction of the castle.
Maud Lindesay looked after him a moment as if not believing her eyes and ears. Then, so soon as she made sure that he was indeed not coming back, she tripped quickly after him. He was taking long strides, and it required a series of small hops and skips to keep up with him.
"Not really, Sholto?" she said beseechingly, almost running beside him now. He walked so fast.
"Yes, madam, really!" said that young knight, still more sternly.
She took a little run to get a step in front of him, so that she might advantageously look up into his face.
"Then you will not marry me, Sholto?"
Her hands were clasped with the sweetest pet.i.tionary grace.
The monosyllable escaped from his lips with a snort like a puff of steam from under the lid of a boiling pot.
"Not even if I ask you very nicely, Sholto?"
The negative came again, apparently fiercer than before, almost like an explosion indeed. But still there was a hollow sound about it somewhere.
At this the girl stopped suddenly and, drawing a little lace kerchief from her bosom, she sank her head into it in apparent abandonment of grief.
"Oh, what shall I do?" she wailed, "Sholto says he will not marry me, and I have asked him so sweetly. What shall I do? What shall I do? I will e'en go and drown me in the Dee water!"
And with her kerchief still held to her eyes--or at least (to be wholly accurate) to one of them--the despised maiden ran towards the river bank. She did not run very fast, but still she ran.
Now this was more than Sholto had bargained for, and he in turn pursued her light-foot, swifter than he had ever run in his life. He overtook her just as she reached the little ascent of the rocks by the river margin.
His hand fell upon her shoulder and he turned her round. She was still shaking with sobs--or something.
"I will--I will, I _will_ drown myself!" she cried, her kerchief closer to her eyes.
"I will marry you--I will do anything. I love you, Maud!"
"You do not--you cannot!" she cried, pushing him fiercely away, "you said you would not! That I was not fit to marry."
"I did not mean it--I lied! I did not know what I said! I will do whatever you bid me!" Sholto was grovelling now.
"Then you will marry me--if I do not drown myself?"
She spoke with a sort of relenting, delicious and tentative.
"Yes--yes! When you will--to-morrow--now!"
She dropped the kerchief and the laughing eyes of naughty Maud Lindesay looked suddenly out upon Sholto like sunshine in a dark place. They were dry and full of merriment. Not a trace of tears was to be discerned in either of them.
Then she gave another little skip, and, catching him by the arm, forced him to walk with her toward Castle Thrieve.
"Of course you will marry me, silly! You could not help yourself, Sholto--and it shall be when I like too. But now that you have been so stern and crusty with me, I am not sure that I will not take Landless Jock after all!"
This is the end, and yet not the end. For still, say the country folk, when the leaves are greenest by the lakeside, when the white thorn is whitest and the sun drops most gloriously behind the purpling hills of the west, when the children sing like mavises on the clachan greens, you may chance to spy under the Three Thorns of Carlinwark a lady fairer than mortal eye hath seen. She will be sitting gracefully on a white palfrey and hearkening to the bairns singing by the watersides.
And the tears fall down her cheeks as she listens, in the place where in the spring-time of the year young William Douglas first met the Lady Sybilla.