Among those in the home-straths of Argyll who are now grey, and in the quiet places of whose hearts old memories live green and sweet, there must be some who recall that day when a stranger came into Strath Nair, and spoke of the life eternal.
This man, who was a minister of God, was called James Campbell. He was what is called a good man, by those who measure the soul by inches and extol its vision by the tests of the purblind. He had rectitude of a kind, the cold and bitter thing that is not the sunlit integrity of the spirit. And he had the sternness that is the winter of a frozen life. In his heart, God was made in the image of John Calvin.
With this man the love of love was not even a dream. A poor strong man he was, this granite-clasped soul; and the sunlight faded out of many hearts, and hopes fell away to dust before the blight of the east wind of his spirit.
On the day after his coming to Strath Nair, the new minister went from cottage to cottage. He went to all, even to the hill-bothy of Peter Macnamara the shepherd; to all save one. He did not go to the cottage of Mary Gilchrist, for the woman lived, there alone, with the child that had been born to her. In the eyes of James Campbell she was evil. His ears heard, but not his heart, that no man or woman spoke harshly of her, for she had been betrayed.
On the morning of the Bell, as some of the old folk still call the morrow of the Sabbath, the glory of sunlight came down the Strath. For many days rain had fallen, hours upon hours at a time; or heavy, dropping masses of vapour had hung low upon the mountains, making the peaty uplands sodden, and turning the grey rocks into a wet blackness. By day and by night the wind had moaned among the corries along the high moors. There was one sound more lamentable still: the incessant mèhing of the desolate, soaked sheep. The wind in the corries, on the moors, among the pines and larches; the plaintive cruel sorrow of the wandering ewes; never was any other sound to be heard, save the distant wailing of curlews. Only, below all, as inland near the coast one hears continuously the murmur of the sea, so by night and day the Gorromalt Water made throughout the whole reach of Strath Nair an undertone as of a weary sighing.
But before nightfall on Saturday the rain ceased, and the wet wind of the south suddenly revolved upon itself beyond the spurs of Ben Maiseach. Long before the gloaming had oozed an earth-darkness to meet the falling dark, the mists had lifted. One by one, moist stars revealed hollows of voilet, which, when the moon yellowed the fir-tops, disclosed a vast untravelled waste of blue, wherein slow silent waves of darkness continuously lapsed. The air grew full of loosened fragrances; most poignantly, of the bog-myrtle, the bracken, and the resinous sprays of pine and larch.
Where the road turns at the Linn o’ Gorromalt there is an ancient disarray of granite boulders above the brown rushing water. Masses of wild rose grow in that place. On this June gloaming the multitudinous blooms were like pale wings, as though the fabled birds that live in rainbows, or the frail creatures of the falling dew, had alit there, tremulous, uncertain.
There that evening, the woman, Mary Gilchrist, sat, happy in the silences of the dusk. While she inhaled the fragrance of the wild roses, as it floated above the persistent green odour of the bent and the wet fern, and listened to the noise of Gorromalt Water foaming and surging out of the linn, she heard steps close by her. Glancing sidelong, she saw “the new minister,” a tall, gaunt man, with lank, irongrey hair above his white, stern, angular face.
He looked at her, not knowing who she was.