The Half-Hearted

The Half-Hearted

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CHAPTER I EVENING IN GLENAVELIN

From the heart of a great hill land Glenavelin stretches west and south to the wider Gled valley, where its stream joins with the greater water in its seaward course. Its head is far inland in a place of mountain solitudes, but its mouth is all but on the lip of the sea, and salt breezes fight with the flying winds of the hills. It is a land of green meadows on the brink of heather, of far-stretching fir woods that climb to the edge of the uplands and sink to the fringe of corn. Nowhere is there any march between art and nature, for the place is in the main for sheep, and the single road which threads the glen is little troubled with cart and crop-laden wagon. Midway there is a stretch of wood and garden around the House of Glenavelin, the one great dwelling-place in the vale. But it is a dwelling and a little more, for the home of the real lords of the land is many miles farther up the stream, in the moorland house of Etterick, where the Avelin is a burn, and the hills hang sharply over its source. To a stranger in an afternoon it seems a very vale of content, basking in sun and shadow, green, deep, and silent. But it is also a place of storms, for its name means the "glen of white waters," and mist and snow are commoner in its confines than summer heats.

On a very wet evening in June a young man in a high dogcart was driving up the glen. A deer-stalker's cap was tied down over his ears, and the collar of a great white waterproof defended his neck. A cheerful bronzed face was shadowed by the peak of his cap, and two very keen grey eyes peered out into the mist. He was driving with tight rein, for the mare was fresh and the road had awkward slopes and corners; but none the less he was dreaming, thinking pleasant thoughts, and now and then looking cheerily at the ribs of hill which at times were cleared of mist. His clean-shaven face was wet and shining with the drizzle, pools formed on the floor of the cart, and the mare's flanks were plastered with the weather.

Suddenly he drew up sharp at the sight of a figure by the roadside.

"Hullo, Doctor Gracey," he cried, "where on earth have you come from?Come in and I'll give you a lift."

The figure advanced and scrambled into the vacant seat. It was a little old man in a big topcoat with a quaint-fashioned wide-awake hat on his head. In ill weather all distinctions are swept away. The stranger might have been a statesman or a tramp.

"It is a pleasure to see you, Doctor," and the young man grasped a mittened hand and looked into his companion's face. There was something both kindly and mirthful in his grey eyes.

The old man arranged his seat comfortably, buttoned another button at the neck of the coat, and then scrutinised the driver. "It's four years—four years in October since I last cast eyes on you, Lewie, my boy," he said. "I heard you were coming, so I refused a lift from Haystounslacks and the minister. Haystounslacks was driving from Gledsmuir, and unless the Lord protects him he will be in Avelin water ere he gets home....