A CRY ACROSS THE BLACK WATER

A CRY ACROSS THE BLACK WATER

 by S.R. Crockett. 1895

_With Rosemary for remembrance,

And Rue, sweet Rue, for you_.

 

It was at the waterfoot of the Ken, and the time of the year was June.

"Boat ahoy!"

The loud, bold cry carried far through the still morning air. The rain had washed down all that was in the sky during the night, so that the hail echoed through a world blue and empty.

Gregory Jeffray, a noble figure of a youth, stood leaning on the arch of his mare's neck, quieting the nervous tremors of Eulalie, that very dainty lady. His tall, alert figure, tight-reined and manly, was brought out by his riding-dress. His pose against the neck of the beautiful beast, from which a moment before he had swung himself, was that of Hadrian's young Antinous.

"Boat ahoy!"

Gregory Jeffray, growing a little impatient, made a trumpet of his hands, and sent the powerful voice, with which one day he meant to thrill listening senates, sounding athwart the dancing ripples of the loch.

On the farther shore was a flat white ferry-boat, looking, as it lay motionless in the river, like a white table chained in the water with its legs in the air. The chain along which it moved plunged into the shallows beside him, and he could see it descending till he lost it in the dusky pool across which the ferry plied. To the north, Loch Ken ran in glistening levels and island-studded reaches to the base of Cairnsmuir.

"Boat ahoy!"

A figure, like a white mark of exclamation moving over green paper, came out of the little low whitewashed cottage opposite, and stood a moment looking across the ferry, with one hand resting on its side and the other held level with the eyes. Then the observer disappeared behind a hedge, to be seen immediately coming down the narrow, deep-rutted lane towards the ferry-boat. When the figure came again in sight of Gregory Jeffray, he had no difficulty in distinguishing a slim girl, clad in white, who came sedately towards him.

When she arrived at the white boat which floated so stilly on the morning glitter of the water, only just stirred by a breeze from the south, she stepped at once on board. Gregory could see her as she took from the corner of the flat, where it stood erect along with other boating gear, something which looked like a short iron hoe. With this she walked to the end of the boat nearest him. She laid the hoe end of the instrument against a chain that ran breast-high along one side of the boat and at the stern plunged diagonally into the water. His mare lifted her feet impatiently, as though the shoreward end of the chain had brought a thrill across the loch from the moving ferry-boat. Turning her back to him, the girl bent her slim young body without an effort; and, as though by the gentlest magic, the ferry-boat drew nearer to him. It did not seem to move; yet gradually the space of blue water between it and the shore on which the whitewashed cottage stood spread and widened. He could hear the gentle clatter of the wavelets against the lip of the landing-drop as the boat came nearer. His mare tossed her head and snuffed at this strange four-footed thing that glided towards them.

Gregory, who loved all women, watched with natural interest the sway and poise of the girlish figure. He heard the click and rattle of the chain as she deftly disengaged her gripper-iron at the farther end, and, turning, walked the deck's length towards him.

She seemed but a young thing to move so large a boat. He forgot to be angry at being kept so long waiting, for of all women, he told himself, he most admired tall girls in simple dresses. His exceptional interest arose from the fact that he had never before seen one manage a ferry-boat.

As he stood on the shore, and the great flat boat moved towards him, he saw that the end of it nearest him was pulled up a couple of feet clear of the water. Still the boat moved noiselessly forward, till he heard it first grate and then ground gently, as the graceful pilot bore her weight upon the iron bar to stay its progress. Gregory specially admired the flex of her arms bent outwardly as she did so. Then she went to the end of the boat, and let down the tilted gangway upon the pebbles at his feet.

Gregory Jeffray instinctively took off his hat as he said to this girl, "Good-morning! Can I get to the village of Dullarg by this ferry?"

"This is the way to the Dullarg," said the girl, simply and naturally, leaning as she spoke upon her dripping gripper-iron.

Her eyes did not refuse to take in the goodliness of the youth while his attention was for the moment given to his mare.

"Gently, gently, lass!" he said, patting the neck which arched impatiently as she felt the boards hollow beneath her feet. Yet she came obediently enough on deck, arching her fore-feet high and throwing them out in an uncertain and tentative manner.

Then the girl, with a quiet and matter-of-fact acceptance of her duties, placed her iron once more upon the chain, and bent herself to the task with well-accustomed effort of her slender body.

The heart of the young man was stirred within him. True, he might have beheld fifty field-wenches breaking their backs among the harvest sheaves without a pang. This, however, was very different.

"Let me help you," he said.

"It is better that you stand by your horse," she said.

Gregory Jeffray looked disappointed.

"Is it not too hard work for you?" he queried, humbly and with abased eyes.

"No," said the girl. "Ye see, sir, I live with my mother's two sisters at the boathouse. They are very kind to me. They brought me up, though I had neither father nor mother. And what signifies bringing the boat across the Water a time or two?"

Her ready and easy movements told the tale for her. She needed no pity. She asked for none, for which Gregory was rather sorry. He liked to pity people, and then to right their grievances, if it were not very difficult. Of what use otherwise was it to be, what he was called in Galloway, the "Boy Sheriff"? Besides, he was taking a morning ride from the Great House of the Barr, and upon his return to breakfast he desired to have a tale to tell which would rivet attention upon himself.

"And do you do nothing all day, but only take the boat to and fro across the loch?" he asked.

He saw the way clear now, he thought, to matter for an interesting episode--the basis of which should be the delight of a beautiful girl in spending her life in the carrying of desirable young men, riding upon horses, over the shining morning waters of the Ken. They should all look with eyes of wonder upon her; but she, the cold Dian of the lochside, would never return look for look to any of them, save perhaps to Gregory Jeffray. Gregory went about the world finding pictures and making romances for himself. He meant to be a statesman; and, with this purpose in view, it was wholly necessary for him to study the people, and especially, he might have added, the young women of the people. Hitherto he had done this chiefly in his imagination, but here certainly was material attractive to his hand.

"Do you work at nothing else?" he repeated, for the girl was uncomplimentary intent upon her gripper-iron. How deftly she lifted it just at the right moment, when it was in danger of being caught upon the revolving wheel! How exactly she exerted just the right amount of strength to keep the chain running sweetly upon its cogs! How daintily she stepped back, avoiding the dripping of the water from the linked iron which rose from the bed of the loch, passed under her hand, and dipped diagonally down again into the deeps! Gregory had never seen anything like it, so he told himself.

It was not until he had put his question the third time that the girl answered, "Whiles I take the boat over to the waterfoot when there's a cry across the Black Water."

The young man was mystified.

 "'A cry across the Black Water!' What may that be?" he said.

The girl looked at him directly almost for the first time. Was he making fun of her? She wondered. His face seemed earnest enough, and handsome. It was not possible, she concluded.

"Ye'll be a stranger in these parts?" she answered interrogatively, because she was a Scottish girl, and one question for another is good national barter and exchange.

Gregory Jeffray was about to declare his names, titles, and expectations; but he looked at the girl again, and saw something that withheld him.

"Yes," he said, "I am staying for a week or two over at Barr."

The boat grounded on the pebbles, and the girl went to let down the hinged end. It had seemed a very brief passage to Gregory Jeffray. He stood still by his mare, as though he had much more to say.

The girl placed her cleek in the corner, and moved to leave the boat. It piqued the young man to find her so unresponsive. "Tell me what you mean by 'a cry across the Black Water,'" he said.

The girl pointed to the strip of sullen blackness that lay under the willows upon the southern shore.

"That is the Black Water of Dee," she said simply, "and the green point among the trees is the Rhonefoot. Whiles there's a cry from there. Then I go over in the boat, and set them across."

"Not in this boat?" he said, looking at the upturned deal table swinging upon its iron chain.

She smiled at his ignorance.

"That is the boat that goes across the Black Water of Dee," she said, pointing to a small boat which lay under the bank on the left.

"And do you never go anywhere else?" he asked, wondering how she came by her beauty and her manners.

"Only to the kirk on the Sabbaths," she said, "when I can get some one to watch the boat for me."

"I will watch the boat for you!" he said impulsively.

The girl looked distressed. This gay gentleman was making fun of her, assuredly. She did not answer. Would he never go away?

"That is your way," she said, pointing along the track in front. Indeed, there was but one way, and the information was superfluous.

The end of the white, rose-smothered boathouse was towards them. A tall, bowed woman's figure passed quickly round the gable.

"Is that your aunt?" he asked.

"That is my aunt Annie," said the girl; "my aunt Barbara is confined to her bed."

"And what is your name, if I may ask?"

The girl glanced at him. He was certainly not making fun of her now.

"My name is Grace Allen," she said.

They paced together up the path. The bridle rein slipped from his arm, but his hand instinctively caught it, and Eulalie cropped crisply at the grasses on the bank, unregarded of her master.

They did not shake hands when they parted, but their eyes followed each other a long way.

"Where is the money?" said Aunt Barbara from her bed as Grace Allen came in at the open door.

"Dear me!" said the girl, frightened: "I have forgotten to ask him for it!"

"Did I ever see sic a lassie! Rin after him an' get it; haste ye fast."

But Gregory was far out of reach by the time Grace got to the door. The sound of hoofs came from high up the wooded heights.

Gregory Jeffray reached the Barr in time for late breakfast. There was a large house company. The men were prowling discontentedly about, looking under covers or cutting slices from dishes on the sideboard; but the ladies were brightly curious, and eagerly welcomed Gregory. He at least did not rise with a headache and a bad temper every morning. They desired an account of his morning's ride. But on the way home he had changed his mind about telling of his adventure. He said that he had had a pleasant ride. It had been a beautiful morning.

"But have you nothing whatever to tell us?" they asked; for, indeed, they had a right to expect something.

Gregory said nothing. This was not usual, for at other times when he had nothing to tell, it did not cost him much to invent something interesting.

"You are very dull this morning, Sheriff," said the youngest daughter of the house, who, being the baby and pretty, had grown pettishly privileged in speech.

But deep within him Gregory was saying, "What a blessing that I forgot to pay the ferry!"

When he got outside he said to his host, "Is there such a place hereabouts as the Rhonefoot?"

"Why, yes, there is," said Laird Cunningham of Barr. "But why do you ask? I thought a Sheriff would know everything without asking--even an ornamental one on his way to the Premiership."

"Oh, I heard the name," said Gregory. "It struck me as a curious one."

So that evening there came over the river from the Waterfoot of the Rhone the sound of a voice calling. Grace Allen sat thoughtfully looking out of the rose-hung window of the boathouse. Her face was an oval of perfect curve, crowned with a mass of light brown hair, in which were red lights when the sun shone directly upon it. Her skin was clear, pale as ivory, and even exertion hardly brought the latent under-flush of red to the surface.

"There's somebody at the waterfit. Gang, lassie, an' dinna be lettin' them aff withoot their siller this time!" said her aunt Barbara from her bed. Annie Allen was accustomed to say nothing, and she did it now.

The boat to the Rhonefoot was seldom needed, and the oars were not kept in it. They leaned against the end of the cottage, and Grace Allen took them on her shoulder as she went down. She carried them as easily as another girl might carry a parasol.

Again there came the cry from the Rhonefoot, echoing joyously across the river.

Standing well back in the boat, so as to throw up the bow, she pushed off. The water was deep where the boat lay, and it had been drawn half up on the bank. Where Grace dipped her oars into the silent water, the pool was so black that the blade of the oar was lost in the gloom before it got half-way down. Above there was a light wind moaning and rustling in the trees, but it did not stir even a ripple on the dark surface of the pool where the Black Water of Dee meets the brighter Ken.

Grace bent to her oars with a springing _verve_ and force which made the tubby little boat draw towards the shore, the whispering lapse of water gliding under its sides all the while. Three lines of wake were marked behind--a vague white turbulence in the middle and two lines of bubbles on either side where the oars had dipped, which flashed a moment and then winked themselves out.

When she reached the Waterfoot, and the boat touched the shore, Grace Allen looked up to see Gregory Jeffray standing alone on the little copse-enclosed triangle of grass. He smiled pleasantly. She had not time to be surprised.

"What did you think of me this morning, running away without paying my fare?" he asked.

It seemed very natural now that he should come. She was glad that he had not brought his horse.

"I thought you would come by again," said Grace Allen, standing up, with one oar over the side ready to pull in or push off.

Gregory extended his hand as though to ask for hers to steady him as he came into the boat. Grace was surprised. No one ever did that at the Rhonefoot, but she thought it might be that he was a stranger and did not understand about boats. She held out her hand. Gregory leapt in beside her in a moment, but did not at once release the hand. She tried to pull it away.

"It is too little a hand to do so much hard work," he said.

Instantly Grace became conscious that it was rough and hard with rowing. She had not thought of this before. He stooped and kissed it.

"Now," he said, "let me row across for you, and sit in front of me where I can see you. You made me forget all about everything else this morning, and now I must make up for it."

It was a long way across, and evidently Gregory Jeffray was not a good oarsman, for it was dark when Grace Allen went indoors to her aunts. Her heart was bounding within her. Her bosom rose and fell as she breathed quickly and silently through her parted red lips. There was a new thing in her eye.

Every evening thereafter, through all that glorious height of midsummer, there came a crying at the Waterfoot; and every evening Grace Allen went over to the edge of the Rhone wood to answer it. There the boat lay moored to a stone upon the turf, while Gregory and she walked upon the flowery forest carpet, and the dry leaves watched and clashed and muttered above them as the gloaming fell. These were days of rapture, each a doorway into yet fuller and more perfect joy.

Over at the Waterfoot the copses grew close. The green turf was velvet underfoot. The blackbirds fluted in the hazels there. None of them listened to the voice of Gregory Jeffray, or cared for what he said to Grace Allen when she went nightly to meet him over the Black Water.

She rowed back alone, the simple soul that was in her forwandered and mazed with excess of joy. As she set the boat to the shore and came up the bank bearing the oars which were her wings into the world of love under the green alders, the light in the west, lingering clear and pure and cold, shone upon her and added radiances to her eyes.

But Aunt Annie watched her with silent pain. Barbara from her bed spoke sharp and cruel words which Grace Allen listened to not at all.

For as soon as the morning shone bright over the hills and ran on tip-toe up the sparkling ripples of the loch, she looked across the Black Water to the hidden ways where in the evening her love should meet her.

As she went her daily rounds, and the gripper-iron slipped on the wet chain or grew hot in the sun, as she heard the clack of the wheel and the soft slow grind of the boat's broad lip on the pebbles, Grace Allen said over and over to herself, "It is so long, only so long, till he will come."

So all the days she waited in a sweet content. Barbara reproached her; Aunt Annie periled her soul by lying to shield her; but Grace herself was shut out from shame or fear, from things past or things to come, by faith and joy that at last she had found one whom her soul loved.

And overhead the dry poplar leaves clashed and rustled, telling out to one another that love was a vain thing, and the thrush cried thrice, "Beware." But Grace Allen would not have believed had one risen to her from the dead.

So the great wasteful summer days went by, the glory of the passionate nights of July, the crisper blonde luxuriance of August. Every night there was the calling from the green plot across the Black Water. Every night Aunt Annie wandered, a withered grey ghost, along the hither side of the inky pool, looking for what she could not see and listening for that which she could not hear. Then she would go in to lie gratuitously to Barbara, who told her to her face that she did not believe her.

But in the first chill of mid-September, swift as the dividing of the blue-black thunder-cloud by the winking flame, fell the sword of God, smiting and shattering. It seemed hard that it should fall on the weaker and the more innocent. But then God has plenty of time.

One chilly gloaming there was no calling at the Rhonefoot. Nevertheless Grace rowed over and waited, imagining that all evil had befallen her lover. Within, her aunt Barbara fretted and murmured at her absence, driving her silent sister into involved refuges of lies to shield young Grace Allen, whom her soul loved.

The next day went by as the night had passed, with an awful constriction about her heart, a numbness over all her body; yet Grace did her work as one who dares not stop.

Two serving-men crossed in the ferry-boat, unconcernedly talking over the country news as men do when they meet.

"Did ye hear aboot young Jeffray?" asked the herd from the Mains.

"Whatna Jeffray?" asked, without much show of interest, the ploughman from Drumglass.

"Wi' man, the young lad that the daft folk in Enbra sent here for Sheriff."

 "I didna ken he was hereawa'," said the Mains, with a purely perfunctory surprise.

"Ou ay, he has been a feck ower by at the Barr. They say he's gaun to get marriet to the youngest dochter. She's hae a gye fat stockin'-fit, I'se warrant."

"Ye may say sae, or a lawyer wadna come speerin' her," returned him from Drumglass as the boat reached the farther side.

"Guid-e'en to ye, Grace," said they both as they put their pennies down on the little tin plate in the corner.

"She's an awesome still lassie, that," said the Mains, as he took the road down to Parton Raw, where he had trysted with a maid of another sort. "Did ye notice she never said a word to us, neyther 'Thank ye,' nor yet 'Guid-day'? Her een were fair stelled in her head."

"Na, I didna observe," said Drumglass cotman indifferently.

"Some fowk are like swine. They notice nocht that's no pitten intil the trough afore them!" said the Mains indignantly.

So they parted, each to his own errand.

Day swayed and swirled into a strange night of shooting stars and intense darkness. The soul of Grace Allen wandered in blackest night. Sometimes the earth appeared ready to open and swallow her up. Sometimes she seemed to be wandering by the side of the great pool of the Black Water with her hands full of flowers. There were roses blush-red, like what he had said her cheeks were sometimes. There were velvety pansies, and flowers of strange intoxicating perfume, the like of which she had never seen. But at every few yards she felt that she must fling them all into the black water and fare forth into the darkness to gather more.

Then in her bed she would start up, hearing the hail of a dear voice calling to her from the Rhonefoot. Once she put on her clothes in haste and would have gone forth; but her aunt Annie, waking and startled, a tall, gaunt apparition, came to her.

"Grace Allen," she said, "where are you gangin' at this time o' the nicht?"

"There's somebody at the boat," she said, "waiting. Let me gang, Aunt Annie: they want me; I hear them cry. O Annie, I hear them crying as a bairn cries!"

"Lie doon on yer bed like a clever lass," said her aunt gently. "There's naebody there."

"Or gin there be," said Aunt Barbara from her bed, "e'en let them cry. Is this a time for decent fowk to be gaun play-actin' aboot?"

So the daylight came, and the evening and the morning were the second day. And Grace Allen went about her work with clack of gripper-iron and dip of oar.

Late on in the gloaming of the third day following, Aunt Annie went down to the broad flat boat that lay so still at the water's edge. Something black was knocking dully against it.

Grace had been gone four hours, and it was weary work watching along the shore or going within out of the chill wind to endure Barbara's bitter tongue.

The black thing that knocked was the small boat, broken loose from her moorings and floating helplessly. Annie Allen took a boathook and pulled it to the shore. Except that the boat was half full of flowers, there was nothing and no one inside.

But the world span round and the stars went out when the finder saw the flowers.

When Aunt Annie Allen came to herself, she found the water was rising rapidly. It was up to her ankles. She went indoors and asked for Grace.

"Save us, Ann!" said Barbara; "I thocht she was wi' you. Where hae ye been till this time o' nicht? An' your feet's dreepin' wat. Haud aff the clean floor!"

"But Gracie! Oor lassie Grade! What's come o' Gracie?" wailed the elder woman.

At that instant there came so thrilling a cry from over the dark waters out of the night that the women turned to one another and instinctively caught at each other's hands.

"Leave me, I maun gang," said Aunt Annie. "That's surely Grace."

Her sister gripped her tight.

"Let me gang--let me gang. She's my ain lassie, no yours!" Annie said fiercely, endeavouring to thrust off Barbara's hands as they clutched her like birds' talons from the bed.

"Help me to get up," said Barbara; "I canna be left here. I'll come wi' ye."

So she that had been sick for twelve years arose, like a ghost from the tomb, and with her sister went out to seek for the girl they had lost. They found their way to the boat, reeling together like drunken men. Annie almost lifted her sister in, and then fell herself among the drenched and waterlogged flowers.

With the instinct of old habitude they fell to the oars, Barbara rowing the better and the stronger. They felt the oily swirl of the Dee rising beneath them, and knew that there had been a mighty rain upon the hills.

"The Lord save us!" cried Barbara suddenly. "Look!"

She pointed up the long pool of the Black Water. What she saw no man knows, for Aunt Annie had fainted, and Barbara was never herself after that hour.

Aunt Annie lay like a log across her thwart. But, with the strength of another world, Barbara unshipped the oar of her sister and slipped it upon the thole-pin opposite to her own. Then she turned the head of the boat up the pool of the Black Watery Something white floated dancingly alongside, upborne for a moment on the boiling swirls of the rising water. Barbara dropped her oars, and snatched at it. She held on to some light wet fabric by one hand; with the other she shook her sister.

"Here's oor wee Gracie," she said: "Ann, help me hame wi' her!"

So they brought her home, and laid her all in dripping white upon her white bed. Barbara sat at the bed-head and crooned, having lost her wits. Aunt Annie moved all in a piece, as though she were about to fall headlong.

"White floo'ers for the angels, where Gracie's ga'en to! Annie, woman, dinna ye see them by her body--four great angels, at ilka corner yin?"

Barbara's voice rose and fell, wayward and querulous. There was no other sound in the house, only the water sobbing against the edge of the ferry-boat.

"And the first is like a lion," she went on, in a more even recitative, "and the second is like an ox, and the third has a face like a man, and the fourth is like a flying eagle. An' they're sittin' on ilka bedpost; and they hae sax wings, that meet owre my Gracie, an' they cry without ceasing, 'Holy! holy! holy! Woe unto him that causeth one of these little ones to perish! It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and he were cast into the deeps o' the Black Water!'"

But the neighbours paid no attention to her--for, of course, she was mad.

Then the wise folk came and explained how it had all happened. Here she had been gathering flowers; here she had slipped; and here, again, she had fallen. Nothing could be clearer. There were the flowers. There was the dangerous pool on the Black Water. And there was the body of Grace Allen, a young thing dead in the flower of her days.

"I see them! I see them!" cried Barbara, fixing her eyes on the bed, her voice like a shriek; "they are full of eyes, behind and before, and they see into the heart of man. Their faces are full of anger, and their mouths are open to devour--"

"Wheesh, wheesh, woman! Here's the young Sheriff come doon frae the Barr wi' the Fiscal to tak' evidence."

And Barbara Allen was silent as Gregory Jeffray came in.

To do him justice, when he wrote her the letter that killed—concerning the necessities of his position and career--he had tried to break the parting gently. How should he know all that she knew? It was clearly an ill turn that fate had played him. Indeed, he felt ill-used. So he listened to the Fiscal taking evidence, and in due course departed.

But within an inner pocket he had a letter that was not filed with the documents, but which might have shed clearer light upon when and how Grace Allen slipped and fell, gathering flowers at night above the great pool of the Black Water.

"There is set up a throne in the heavens," chanted mad Barbara Allen as Gregory went out; "and One sits upon it--and my Gracie's there, clothed in white robes, an' a palm in her hand. And you'll be there, young man," she cried after him, "and I'll be there. There's a cry comin' owre the Black Water for you, like the cry that raised me oot o' my bed yestreen.

An' ye'll hear it--ye'll hear it, braw young man; ay--and rise up and answer, too!"

But they paid no heed to her--for, of course, she was mad. Neither did Gregory Jeffray hear aught as he went out, but the water lapping against the little boat that was still half full of flowers.

The days went by, and being added together one at a time, they made the years. And the years grew into one decade, and lengthened out towards another.

Aunt Annie was long dead, a white stone over her; but there was no stone over Grace Allen--only a green mound where daisies grew.

Sir Gregory Jeffray came that way. He was a great law-officer of the Crown, and first heir to the next vacant judgeship. This, however, he was thinking of refusing because of the greatness of his private practice.

He had come to shoot at the Barr, and his baggage was at Barmark station. How strange it would be to see the old places again in the gloom of a September evening!

Gregory still loved a new sensation. All was so long past—the bitterness clean gone out of it. The old boathouse had fallen into other hands, and railways had come to carry the traffic beyond the ferry.

As Sir Gregory Jeffray walked from the late train which set him down at the station, he felt curiously at peace. The times of the Long Ago came back not ungratefully to his mind. There had been much pleasure in them. He even thought kindly of the girl with whom he had walked in the glory of a forgotten summer along the hidden ways of the woods. Her last letter, long since destroyed, was not disagreeable to him when he thought of the secret which had been laid to rest so quietly in the pool of the Black Water.

He came to the water's edge. He sent his voice, stronger now than of yore, but without the old ring of boyish hopefulness, across the loch. A moment's silence, the whisper of the night wind, and then from the gloom of the farther side an answering hail--low, clear, and penetrating.

 "I am in luck to find them out of bed," said Gregory Jeffray to himself.

He waited and listened. The wind blew chill from the south athwart the ferry. He shivered, and drew his fur-lined travelling-coat about him. He could hear the water lapping against the mighty piers of the railway viaduct above, which, with its gaunt iron spans, like bows bent to send arrows into the heavens, dimly towered between him and the skies.

Now, this is all that men definitely know of the fate of Sir Gregory Jeffray. A surfaceman who lived in the new houses above the landing-place saw him standing there, heard him hailing the Waterfoot of the Dee, to which no boat had plied for years. Maliciously he let the stranger call, and abode to see what should happen.

Yet astonishment held him dumb when again across the dark stream came the crying, thrilling him with an unknown terror, till he clutched the door to make sure of his retreat within. Mastering his fear, he stole nearer till he could hear the oars planted in the iron pins, the push off the shore, and then the measured dip of oars coming towards the stranger across the pool of the Black Water.

"How do they know, I wonder, that I want to be taken to the Rhonefoot? They are bringing the small boat," he heard him say.

A skiff shot out of the gloom. It was a woman who was rowing. The boat grounded stern on. The watcher saw the man step in and settle himself on the seat.

"What rubbish is this?" Gregory Jeffray cried angrily as he cleared a great armful of flowers off the seat and threw them among his feet.

The oars dipped, and without sound the boat glided out upon the waves of the loch towards the Black Water, into whose oily depths the blades fall silently, and where the water does not lap about the prow. The night grew suddenly very cold. Somewhere in the darkness over the Black Water the watching surfaceman heard some one call three times the name of Gregory Jeffray. It sounded like a young child's voice. And for very fear he ran in and shut the door, well knowing that for twenty years no boat had plied there.

It was noted as a strange thing that, on the same night on which Sir Gregory Jeffray was lost, the last of the Allens of the old ferry-house died in the Crichton Asylum. Barbara Allen was, without doubt, mad to the end, for the burden of her latest cry was, "He kens noo! he kens noo! The Lord our God is a jealous God! Now let Thy servant depart in peace!"

But Gregory Jeffray was never seen again by water or on shore. He had heard the cry across the Black Water.

From: Bog-Myrtle and Peat

Tales Chiefly Of Galloway Gathered From The Years 1889 To 1895 by S.R. Crockett. 1895

 

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