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THAT night Jock dreamed of water cows, and clans dressed in
kilts, and when Sandy appeared the next morning, his head was
still buzzing with wild schemes of adventure.
"Come awa', Sandy," he said, "let's explore. We'll go up the burn
and see if we can't find out where it begins."
"What'll we do for lunch?" asked Sandy, who was practical. "I
brought a scone with me—but it'll never be enough for two."
"Ho!" said Jock. "If Rob Roy and all his men could live in caves
all the time and take care of themselves, I guess we can do it
for one day. We can fish, and maybe we might find some birds'
eggs. I'm not afraid."
"What about Alan?" asked Jean.
"If he comes to play, tell him to follow us right up the burn and
keep whistling the pewit's call three times over, and if we don't
see him, we'll hear him," said Jock. "There's no danger of not
finding us if he follows the water," and he and Sandy set forth
Jean had finished her work and was wondering what to do with the
long day which stretched before her, when Alan came running up
the hill and burst into the kitchen.
"Look here what I've got, Jean," he said, thumping a parcel down
on the kitchen table and tearing it open. "Eppie put this up for
Jean looked and there was a whole pound of bacon, three big
scones, and a dozen eggs. "Save us!" cried Jean, clasping her
hands in admiration. "What will you do with it all?"
"I'll show you!" said Alan. "Where's Jock?"
"He and Sandy have gone up the burn, exploring," said Jean. "They
said you were to follow, and if you didn't find them, keep
whistling the pewit's call three times till they answered you."
"What is the pewit's call?" asked Alan.
"Michty me!" said Jean. "Think of not knowing that!" She pursed
up her lips and whistled "Pee-wit, pee-wit, pee-wit."
"You see, we don't have them in London;" Alan apologetically
explained, "unless it's in the Zoo; but I say, Jean, aren't you
coming, too? You're as good as a boy any day. Come along!"
"All right," said Jean. "I wanted to dreadfully. I'll get a
basket for the lunch." She went to the closet and brought out a
basket which her father had made out of split willow twigs,
packed the lunch in it, and off they started.
They passed the place where the fish-bones were buried, and the
spot where Alan had fallen into the water the day before, and
then plunged into the deep pine forest which filled the glen and
covered the mountain-sides. The pine-needles lay thick on the
ground, and above them the pine boughs waved in the breeze,
making a soft sighing sound, "like a giant breathing," Jean said.
The silence deepened as they went farther and farther into the
woods. There was only the purring of the water, the occasional
snapping of a twig, or the lonely cry of a bird to break the
stillness. It was dark, too, except where the sunshine, breaking
through the thick branches overhead, made spots of golden light
upon the pine-needles.
"It's almost solemn; isn't it?" said Jean to Alan in a hushed
voice. "I was never so far in the woods before."
"I wonder which side of the burn the boys went. If we should
take the wrong side, we might not find them," said Alan.
"Let's whistle," said Jean. She puckered her lips and gave the
pewit call, but there was no answer.
"Perhaps they didn't hear it because the burn makes such a noise.
It keeps growing louder and louder," said Alan.
Whistling and listening for an answer at every few steps, they
climbed over rocks and fallen trees, keeping as close as possible
to the stream, until suddenly they found themselves gazing up at
a beautiful waterfall which came gushing from a pile of giant
rocks reaching up among the topmost boughs of the pines.
"Oh, it's bonny! but how shall we get up?" cried Jean.
"We must just find a way," said Alan.
"It's a grand place for robbers and
poachers," said Jean, looking fearsomely at the cliffs stretching
far above them. "Angus Niel says the forests are full of them."
"I'd as soon meet a poacher as Angus Niel himself," said Alan,
laughing, "but I'm not afraid as long as you're with me. It's
Angus that's afraid of you, Jock says."
Jean laughed too. "I'm not afraid when I'm in my own kitchen, but
it's different in the woods," she said.
Alan had been nosing around among the rocks as they talked,
getting nearer and nearer to the fall, and now he suddenly
disappeared, and for a few moments Jean was quite alone in the
woods. Soon Alan reappeared from behind the fall itself and
beckoned her to follow him.
Jean was looking at the wall of rock which loomed above them.
"Sal!" she remarked, "we'll be needing wings to get up there, or
we'll smash all the eggs for sure."
For answer Alan popped out of sight again behind the fall, and
Jean, following closely in his wake, was just in time to catch
sight of his legs as he dived into a hole opening into the rocky
wall. The cliff from which the water plunged overhung the rocks
below in such a way that she could pass behind the veil of water
without getting wet at all.
Into this mysterious opening behind the fall Jean followed her
leader, and found herself climbing a narrow dry channel through
which the stream had once forced its way. It was a hard, rough
scramble up a narrow passage worn by the water and through holes
almost too small to squeeze through, but at last she saw Alan's
heels just disappearing over the edge of a jutting rock and knew
they were coming out into daylight again. An instant later Alan's
head appeared in the opening, his hand reached down to help her
up, and with one last effort she came out upon an open ledge and
looked about her.
She could not help an exclamation of delight at what she saw. The
rock was so high that they could look out over the treetops clear
to the slope where the little gray house stood. The waterfall,
plunging from a still higher level, made a barrier on one side of
them, and on the other side the cliff rose, a sheer wall of rock.
Between the wall of water and the wall of rock there was a cave
extending into the solid rock for a distance of about twenty
feet. There was absolutely no way of reaching this fastness
except through the hidden stair, and one might wander for years
through the forest and never see it at all.
"Oh," exclaimed Jean, "it's wonderful! How Jock will love this
place! Don't you believe this very cave was used by Rob Roy and
his men?" and Alan, swelling with pride to think he had found it
all himself, said yes, he was sure of it.
"I tell you what we'll do," cried Alan, a minute later. "We'll
just leave the basket here in the cave, and when we've found the
boys we'll come back and have our lunch here."
They tucked the basket away out of sight on a rocky shelf in the
cave, and found their way down the steep rough stairway to the
bed of the stream again and, making a wide detour, came out above
the fall. They struggled on for nearly a mile farther still
without finding any trace of the boys, and were beginning to be
discouraged, when they saw a break in the trees with glimpses of
blue sky beyond, and a few moments later came out upon the shores
of a tiny mountain lake, shining like a beautiful blue jewel in
the dark setting of the pine trees on its banks.
Beyond the lake the purple peaks of higher mountains made a
ragged outline against the sky. The sun was now almost directly
overhead; the waters of the lake were still, and its lovely
shores were mirrored on the placid surface. A great eagle soared
in stately circles in the deep blue sky. It was so beautiful and
so still that the children stood a moment among the rocks where
the tarn emptied itself into the mountain stream to look at it.
"It's just the place for a water cow, or a horse maybe," Jean
whispered to Alan.
"Sh!" was Alan's only reply. He seized Jean's hand and dragged hear
down behind a rock and pointed toward the south. There, coming out of
the woods, was a beautiful stag. It poised its noble head, and sniffed
the air, as if it suspected there might be human beings about, and
then stepped daintily to the lake-shore and bent to drink. Its lips
had scarcely touched the water when the children were startled by the
loud report of a gun.
"Poachers," gasped Jean, hiding her face and wishing they had
never come. "Oh, where are Jock and Sandy?" Her only thought was
to make herself as small as possible and keep out of sight behind
the rocks, but Alan peered through the screen of bushes which hid
the rock and made violent gestures to Jean to make her look, too.
Jean crawled on her hands and knees to Alan's side, and when she
looked, what she saw made her so angry that she would have sprung
to her feet if Alan had not held her down with a fierce grip. The
stag was lying by the lake-shore, and a man with the muzzle of
his gun still smoking was running toward it from the woods. The
man was Angus Niel!
Jean was so astonished that for an instant she could not believe
her own eyes. The two children flattened themselves out on their
stomachs and watched him pull a boat from its hiding-place among
some bushes on the shore, paddle quietly to the spot where the
dead stag lay, and load it swiftly into the boat. Then he raced
back to the woods again and reappeared, carrying a string of dead
rabbits. These also he crowded into the boat, and then, taking up
the oars, rowed across the lake to a landing-place on the other
side. The children watched him, scarcely breathing in their
excitement, until he had unloaded his game from the boat and
disappeared into the woods, dragging the body of the stag after
him. In a few moments he came back for the rabbits and, having
disposed of them in the same mysterious way, returned to the
Then Jean exploded in a fierce whisper. "The old thief!" she
said, shaking her fist after him. "He's the poacher himself!
That's why he never brings any one before the bailie, though he's
always telling about catching them at it! And he making such a
fuss because Jock chased the rabbit that was eating up our
garden! Oh, oh, oh!"
She clutched Alan and shook him in her boiling indignation. Alan
laughed and shook her back. "I didn't do it, you little
spitfire!" he whispered, and Jean moaned, "Oh, I know it, Alan,
but I can't catch him and I'm so angry I've just got to do
something to somebody."
"Do you know what that old thief does?" said Alan. "He sends
that game down to the city—to Glasgow, or Edinburgh, or even
London, maybe—and gets a lot of money for it! No wonder he tells
big stories to make people afraid to go into the woods."
"I hope he won't meet the boys," moaned Jean. "Jock would be sure
to let his tongue loose, and then maybe he'd shoot him too!"
"Listen," said Alan. He gave the pewit's call and waited. It was
answered from a point so near that they were startled. They
looked in every direction but saw nothing of the boys.
"Maybe it was a real pewit after all," whispered Jean, but just
then a tiny pebble struck Alan's cap, and, looking around in the
direction from which it came, he saw two freckled faces rise up
from behind the rock on the opposite side of the spring.
"There they are," he said, punching Jean and pointing; "they came
up the other side of the burn." Then, making a cup of his hands,
he called across the stream, "Did you see him?" The boys nodded.
"Slip back as fast as you can down that side of the burn," Alan
said, "and we'll meet at the fall. Wait at the foot if you get
there first. We've got something to show you. Whist, and be
quick, for he'll be coming back before long, and this way like as
Jock and Sandy nodded and disappeared, and Alan and Jean,
springing from their hiding-place, hurried as fast as they could
down their side of the stream to the trysting-place.