CHAPTER I.—THE MOOR.
Crimson and gold. As far as one could see across the moor it was one broad expanse of purply heather, kindled into a glowing crimson by the blaze of ruddy sunshine, and lighted here and there by bright patches of the thorny golden rod. Dame Nature had evidently painted out of her summer paint-box, and had not spared her best and brightest colours. Crimson-lake, children; you know what a lovely colour it is, and how fast it goes, for you are very fond of using it, and there is only one cake in each of your boxes. But here was crimson-lake enough to have emptied all the paint-boxes in the world, you might suppose, and the brightest of goldy yellows, and the greenest of soft transparent greens, such as no paint-box ever did, nor ever will, possess; and over all the most azure of blues, flecked with floating masses of soft indescribable white, looking to Elsie like the foamy soapsuds at the top of the tub when mother had been having a rare wash, but to Duncan like lumps of something he had once tasted and never forgotten, called cocoa-nut ice.
It seemed a pity when Dame Nature had spent her colours so lavishly that there should be no one to see her bright handiwork. Yet, sad to tell, there lay the broad sheet of crimson and gold day after day unnoticed and unheeded, till, in despair, it at length began to wither and blacken and die.
For this was a lonely moor, where the heather and gorse bloomed so bravely, so lonely that even along the road which skirted it the number of those who passed by in a day could be counted on the fingers of your hand; and as for the moor itself, it seldom had any visitors but the cows from the little farm which nestled away in one corner; and do you suppose such lazy, cupboard-loving creatures cared whether the heather bloomed or not, so long as they found grass enough to eat?
But the glorious moor had a worse indignity than this to endure, for there was a cottage here and there whose inhabitants frequently crossed by the beaten tracks, and never so much as lifted their eyes as they passed along, to notice the gorgeous dress their moor had put on. They were so used to it. Had she not worn it every year since they could remember? and so they sauntered by, thinking about eating or drinking, or how they would serve their neighbours out, sometimes even quarrelling loudly, and never giving so much as a passing thought to all the beauty God had spread around them, and which we who dwell in towns would give so much to see.
The sun was shining down very hotly, but it had not yet begun to wither the heather and gorse, on the day when I want you to notice two little children going across the moor. I told you there were cottages here and there, and in a pretty little green hollow just beyond a fair-sized hillock was one where lived the MacDougalls. These two children were Elsie and Duncan MacDougall. They very often crossed the moor, for the farm was on the other side of it, and the milk and butter had all to be fetched from it, the milk twice a day, whether the sun blazed, or the chilly Scottish drizzle blotted out the hills in a misty haze, or the north wind swept across it, and shook the gaunt fir-trees to and fro in its noisy wrath....