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A Child of the Glens by Edward Newenham Hoare

Then Mike McAravey approaching through the twilight


Having

proceeded to Larne by train, the party posted along the noble coast road, arriving at the Ballycastle Inn in time for a very late dinner. Next day the younger ladies, having procured two stout ponies and a guide, started for Tor Bay, taking the magnificent Fair Head _en route_. They were determined to find out Elsie for themselves, and to take her by surprise in the midst of her ordinary work. It was one of those glorious spring days that might have belonged to June, were it not for a keenness in the air that surprised you when the sun was for a few seconds over-clouded. There was, too, a clearness in the atmosphere that warm summer days cannot claim, with a suspicion of frost, as you looked towards the sea. And often did the two ladies look in that direction during their ride on the lofty headlands. Rathlin Island lay below them, separated by the few miles of narrow and often impassable sea, but to-day it was but a "silver streak." Far in the horizon the Scotch coast could be seen all along the line, while the Mull of Cantyre looked but a few miles away, the very houses and boundaries being almost distinguishable. Full in front the sun gleamed on Ailsa Craig, as it rose abrupt and lovely from out of the sea. Elsie, though familiar with it, had not been insensible to all this beauty. She had spent almost the entire night at Mrs. McAravey's side, nor did the old woman fall off to sleep till it was almost time to open school. It was a weary morning's work; and when the
children went home to dinner the exhausted girl wandered down to the beach (having seen that Mrs. McAravey still slept) in search of fresh air and quiet before resuming her duties. Since the arrival of Lady Eleanor's last letter she had naturally enough been excited and nervous. She knew that in a few days at latest she should see her mother's friend, and one who promised to be hers. Would she like her? Would the meeting be a disappointment, or otherwise? What should she say? Where would they meet? How should she dress herself? The first meeting with one to whom we are bound by any ties, whom we have long corresponded with, or are likely in the future to be much associated with, is always looked forward to with embarrassment and nervousness. How much was this the case with a poor, simple orphan girl, who had never been five miles from home, called upon to encounter a titled lady, who actually claimed her as her godchild, and to whom she felt bound by so many tender associations? Filled with thoughts of the approaching interview, Elsie wandered, she knew not whither, on the beach. Suddenly a shadow seemed to pass over her, and she became conscious of the bitterness of the north-east wind that blew upon the shore. Drawing her cloak round her, she looked up and found that she had come under the shade of the great cliff that rose at the extremity of Sandy Creek. She stood still a moment, gazing on the dreary scene, and then a sudden flood of recollection came over her. The tide was low, and she stood on the very spot, as it seemed, where, twelve years before, she had caught sight of the strange black mass that was being tossed on the sand amid the tangled sea-weed. She saw herself a trembling, ragged child, alone by the dead body in the fast gathering twilight. And this was the only time that she had seen her mother. The girl was out of spirits, low in health, and very weary, and so, for the only time almost in her life, she gave way to repining thoughts. All the gracious path by which a kindly Providence had led her was obscured, and she thought of herself merely as the orphan child of this poor dead thing that lay upon the sand. The whole history of the past flooded back upon her. She saw little Jim, so eager to escape from the gruesome sight; then Mike McAravey approaching through the twilight, and herself as she ran up against good George Hendrick; then rose up the horrid bewildering scene at the inquest; and finally she seemed to stand in the bleak wind-blown moorland churchyard, and before her was the nameless head-stone, "In Memory of E. D." The sense of loneliness was complete as she stood beneath the overhanging cliff exposed to the biting nor'-east wind. With an effort she aroused herself, and looking up with tear-filled eyes to the pale clear blue sky so far away, she resolutely turned back into the warm sunshine that seemed the more dazzling after its temporary withdrawal. It was almost school-time, and on the far hill-side path Elsie's quick eyes caught sight of two or three tiny little figures, as they trotted down the path towards her cottage-school. In a moment all sadness was banished, and she felt herself again.


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