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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesHeather And Snow - Chapter 6. Man-Steenie
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Heather And Snow - Chapter 6. Man-Steenie Post by :workforprofit Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :1790

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Heather And Snow - Chapter 6. Man-Steenie

CHAPTER VI. MAN-STEENIE

The sleeping youth began at length to stir: it was more than an hour before he quite woke up. Then all at once he started to his feet with his eyes wide open, putting back from his forehead the long hair which fell over them, and revealing a face not actually looking old, but strongly suggesting age. His eyes were of a pale blue, with a hazy, mixed, uncertain gleam in them, reminding one of the shifty shudder and shake and start of the northern lights at some heavenly version of the game of Puss in the Corner. His features were more than good; they would have been grand had they been large, but they were peculiarly small. His head itself was very small in proportion to his height, his forehead, again, large in proportion to his head, while his chin was such as we are in the way of calling strong. Although he had been all day acting a dog in charge of sheep, and treating the collie as his natural companion, there was, both in his countenance and its expression, a remarkable absence of the animal. He had a kind of exaltation in his look; he seemed to expect something, not at hand, but sure to come. His eyes rested for a moment, with a love of absolute devotion, on the face of his sister; then he knelt at her feet, and as if to receive her blessing, bowed his head before her. She laid her hand upon it, and in a tone of unutterable tenderness said, 'Man-Steenie!' Instantly he rose to his feet. Kirsty rose also, and they went out of the hut.

The sunlight had not left the west, but had crept round some distance toward the north. Stars were shining faint through the thin shadow of the world. Steenie stretched himself up, threw his arms aloft, and held them raised, as if at once he would grow and reach toward the infinite. Then he looked down on Kirsty, for he was taller than she, and pointed straight up, with the long lean forefinger of one of the long lean arms that had all day been legs to the would-be dog--into the heavens, and smiled. Kirsty looked up, nodded her head, and smiled in return. Then they started in the direction of home, and for some time walked in silence. At length Steenie spoke. His voice was rather feeble, but clear, articulate, and musical.

'My feet's terrible heavy the nicht, Kirsty!' he said. 'Gien it wasna for them, the lave o' me wud be up and awa. It's terrible to be hauden doon by the feet this gait!'

'We're a' hauden doon the same gait, Steenie. Maybe it's some waur for you 'at wud sae fain gang up, nor for the lave o' 's 'at's mair willin to bide a wee; but it 'll be the same at the last whan we're a' up there thegither.'

'I wudna care sae muckle gien he didna grip me by the queets (_ankles_), like! I dinna like to be grippit by the queets! He winna lat me win at the thongs!'

'Whan the richt time comes,' returned Kirsty solemnly, 'the bonny man 'll lowse the thongs himsel.'

'Ay, ay! I ken that weel. It was me 'at tellt ye. He tauld me himsel! I'm thinkin I'll see him the nicht, for I'm sair hauden doon, sair needin a sicht o' 'im. He's whiles lang o' comin!'

'I dinna won'er 'at ye're sae fain to see 'im, Steenie!' 'I _am that; fain, fain!'

'Ye'll see 'im or lang. It's a fine thing to hae patience.'

'Ye come ilka day, Kirsty: what for sudna he come ilka nicht?'

'He has reasons, Steenie. He kens best.'

'Ay, he kens best. I ken naething but him--and you, Kirsty!'

Kirsty said no more. Her heart was too full.

Steenie stood still, and throwing back his head, stared for some moments up into the great heavens over him. Then he said:

'It's a bonny day, the day the bonny man bides in! The ither day--the day the lave o' ye bides in--the day whan I'm no mysel but a sair ooncomfortable collie--that day's ower het--and sometimes ower cauld; but the day he bides in is aye jist what a day sud be! Ay, it's that! it's that!'

He threw himself down, and lay for a minute looking up into the sky. Kirsty stood and regarded him with loving eyes.

'I hae a' the bonny day afore me!' he murmured to himself. 'Eh, but it's better to be a man nor a beast Snootie's a fine beast, and a gran' collie, but I wud raither be mysel--a heap raither--aye at han' to catch a sicht o' the bonny man! Ye maun gang hame to yer bed, Kirsty!-- Is't the bonny man comes til ye i' yer dreams and says, "Gang til him, Kirsty, and be mortal guid til him"? It maun be surely that!'

'Willna ye gang wi' me, Steenie, as far as the door?' rejoined Kirsty, almost beseechingly, and attempting no answer to what he had last said.

It was at times such as this that Kirsty knew sadness. When she had to leave her brother on the hillside all the long night, to look on no human face, hear no human word, but wander in strangest worlds of his own throughout the slow dark hours, the sense of a separation worse than death would wrap her as in a shroud. In his bodily presence, however far away in thought or sleep or dreams his soul might be, she could yet tend him with her love; but when he was out of her sight, and she had to sleep and forget him, where was Steenie, and how was he faring? Then he seemed to her as one forsaken, left alone with his sorrows to an existence companionless and dreary. But in truth Steenie was by no means to be pitied. However much his life was apart from the lives of other men, he did not therefore live alone. Was he not still of more value than many sparrows? And Kirsty's love for him had in it no shadow of despair. Her pain at such times was but the indescribable love-lack of mothers when their sons are far away, and they do not know what they are doing, what they are thinking; or when their daughters seem to have departed from them or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl broken. And yet how few, when the air of this world is clearest, ever come into essential contact with those they love best! But the triumph of Love, while most it seems to delay, is yet ceaselessly rushing hitherward on the wings of the morning.

'Willna ye gang as far as the door wi' me, Steenie?' she said.

'I wull do that, Kirsty. But ye're no feart, are ye?'

'Na, no a grain! What would I be feart for?'

'Ow, naething! At this time there's naething oot and aboot to be feart at. In what ye ca' the daytime, I'm a kin' o' in danger o' knockin mysel again things; I never du that at nicht.'

As he spoke he sprang to his feet, and they walked on. Kirsty's heart seemed to swell with pain; for Steenie was at once more rational and more strange than usual, and she felt the farther away from him. His words were very quiet, but his eyes looked full of stars.

'I canna tell what it is aboot the sun 'at maks a dog o' me!' he said. 'He's hard-like, and hauds me oot, and gars me hing my heid, and feel as gien I wur a kin' o' ashamed, though I ken o' naething. But the bonny nicht comes straucht up to me, and into me, and gangs a' throuw me, and bides i' me; and syne I luik for the bonny man!'

'I wuss ye wud lat me bide oot the nicht wi' ye, Steenie!'

'What for that, Kirsty? Ye maun sleep, and I'm better my lane.'

'That's jist hit!' returned Kirsty, with a deep-drawn sigh. 'I canna bide yer bein yer lane, and yet, do what I like, I canna, whiles, even i' the daytime, win a bit nearer til ye! Gien only ye was as little as ye used to be, whan I cud carry ye aboot a' day, and tak ye intil my ain bed a' nicht! But noo we're jist like the sun and the mune!-whan ye're oot' I'm in; and whan ye're in--well I'm no oot' but my sowl's jist as blear-faced as the mune i' the daylicht to think ye'll be awa again sae sune!--But it _canna gang on like this to a' eternity, and that's a comfort!'

'I ken naething aboot eternity. I'm thinkin it'll a' turn intil a lown starry nicht, wi' the bonny man intil't. I'm sure o' ae thing, and that only--'at something 'ill be putten richt 'at's far frae richt the noo; and syne, Kirsty, ye'll hae yer ain gait wi' me, and I'll be sae far like ither fowk: idiot 'at I am, I wud be sorry to be turnt a'thegither the same as some! Ye see I ken sae muckle they ken naething aboot, or they wudna be as they are! It maybe disna become _me to say't, ony mair nor Gowk Murnock 'at sits o' the pu'pit stair,--but eh the styte (_nonsense_) oor minister dings oot o' his ain heid, as gien it war the stoor oot o' the bible-cushion! It's no possible he's ever seen the bonny man as I hae seen him!'

'We'll a' hae to come ower to you, Steenie, and learn frae ye what ye ken. We'll hae to mak _you the minister, Steenie!'

'Na, na; I ken naething for ither fowk--only for mysel; and that's whiles mair nor I can win roun', no to say gie again!' 'Some nicht ye'll lat me bide oot wi' ye a' nicht? I wud sair like it, Steenie!'

'Ye sail, Kirsty; but it maun be some nicht ye hae sleepit a' day.'

'Eh, but I cudna do that, tried I ever sae hard!'

'Ye cud lie i' yer bed ony gait, and mak the best o' 't! _Ye hae naebody, I ken, to _gar you sleep!'

They went all the rest of the way talking thus, and Kirsty's heart grew lighter, for she seemed to get a little nearer to her brother. He had been her live doll and idol ever since his mother laid him in her arms when she was little more than three years old. For though Steenie was nearly a year older than Kirsty, she was at that time so much bigger that she was able, not indeed to carry him, but to nurse him on her knees. She thought herself the elder of the two until she was about ten, by which time she could not remember any beginning to her carrying of him. About the same time, however, he began to grow much faster, and she found before long that only upon her back could she carry him any distance.

The discovery that he was the elder somehow gave a fresh impulse to her love and devotion, and intensified her pitiful tenderness. Kirsty's was indeed a heart in which the whole unhappy world might have sought and found shelter. She had the notion, notwithstanding, that she was harder-hearted than most, and therefore better able to do things that were right but not pleasant.

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