Read CHAPTER XXXII - THE LITTLE HOUSE ON THE MEADOWS of The Dew of Their Youth , free online book, by S. R. Crockett, on

Irma and I had a great seeking for the little house, great enough for two, with such convenience as, at the time, could be called modern, and yet within reach of our very moderate means. First of all Freddy and I had gone to the Nun’s House to ask for Irma’s box and accoutrement. These made no great burden. Nevertheless, we borrowed a little “hurley,” or handcart, from the baker’s girl opposite, who certainly bore no malice. I had our marriage lines in my pocket, lest any should deny my rights. But though we did not see the Lady Kirkpatrick, the goods were all corded and placed ready behind the door of the porter’s lodge. We had them on the “hurley” in a minute. The Lady Frances passed in as we were carrying out the brass-bound trunk of Irma’s that had been my grandmother’s. She went by as if she had not seen us, her curiously mahogany face more of the punchinello type than ever-yet somehow I could not feel but that most of this anger was assumed. These women had shown Irma no kindness, indeed had never troubled themselves about her existence, all the long time she had stayed at Heathknowes. Why, then, begin so suddenly to play upon the sounding strings of family and long descent?

Indeed, we two thought but little more about the matter. Our minds were fully enough occupied. The wonder of those new days-the unexpected, unforeseen glory of the earth-the sudden sweetness of love, unbelievable, hardly yet realized, overwhelmed and confounded us.

And, more than all, there was the search for a house. The Advocate met me every day with his queer smile, but though he put my salary on a more secure basis, and arranged that in future I should be paid by the printer and not by himself, the sum total of my income was not materially altered.

“What’s enough for one is abundance for two!” was his motto. And the aphorism rang itself out to his tiny rose-coloured nails on the lid of the tortoise-shell snuffbox. Then he added a few leading cases as became one learned in the law.

“I began the same way myself,” he said, “and though I have a bigger house now and serving men in kneebreeks and powder in their hair, I never go by that cottage out by Comely Bank without a ‘pitter-patter’ of my sinful old heart!”

He thought for a while, and then added, “Aye, aye-there’s no way for young folk to start life like being poor and learning to hain on the gowns and the broadcloth! What matter the trimmings, when ye have one another?”

As to the house, it was naturally Irma who did most of the searching. For me, I had to be early at the secretary’s office, and often late at the printer’s. But there was always some time in the day that I had to myself-could I only foresee it before I left home in the morning. “Home” was, so far, at Mrs. Craven’s, where the good Amelia had given us up her chamber, and Freddy rose an hour earlier, so that his wall-press bed might be closed and the “room” made ready for Irma’s breakfast parlour.

All the three begged that we might stay on. We were, they declared with one voice, not putting them to the smallest inconvenience. But I knew different, and besides, I had a constant and consuming desire for a house of mine own, however small.

Ever since I first knew Irma, a dream had haunted me. In days long past it had come, when I was only an awkward laddie gazing after her on the Eden Valley meadows. Often it had returned to me during the tedious silences of three years-when, quite against the proverb, love had grown by feeding upon itself.

And my dream was this.

I was in a great city, harassed by many duties, troubled by enemies open and concealed. There was the drear emptiness of poverty in my pocket, present anxiety in my heart, and little hope in the outlook. But I had work-I did not know in my dream what that work was-only that it sufficed to keep body and soul together, but after it was done I was weak and weary, a kind of unsatisfied despondency gnawing at my heart.

Then I got loose for an hour or so from my unknown tasks. My path lay across a kind of open place into which many narrow streets ran, while some dived away into the lower deeps of the city. People went their ways as I was doing mine, dejected and sad. But always, as I crossed toward the opening of a wide new street, where against the sky were tall scaffoldings and men busy with hod and mortar, I saw Irma coming towards me. She was neat and youthful, but dressed poorly in plain things-homespun, and in my dream, I judged, also home-made.

I saw her afar off, and the heart within me gave a great leap. She came towards me smiling, and lo! I seemed to stand still and worship the lithe carriage and elastic step. The world grew all sweet and gay. The lift above became blue and high. The sun shone no longer grey and brown, but smiling and brilliant-as-as the face of Irma.

Strangely enough she did not greet me nor hold out her hand as acquaintances do. She came straight up to me as if the encounter were the merest matter-of-course, while as I stood there, with the hunger and the wretchedness all gone out of me, the weariness and misery melted in the grace of that radiant smile, she uttered just these words, “I have found the Little House Round the Corner!”

Now I will tell of a strange thing-so strange that I have consulted Irma about it, whether I should write it down here or keep it just for ourselves.

And she said, “It is true-so why not set it down?” Well, this is what happened. One day I had arranged to meet Irma at the corner of the quaint little village of Laurieston, which, as all the world knows, looks down on the saughs of the Meadows and out upon the slopes of Bruntsfield where, among the whins, the city golfers lose their balls.

At that time, as all the world knows, there was undertaken a certain work of opening out that part of the ancient wall which runs westward from Bristo Port at the head of the Potter Row. Some great old houses had gone down, and I mind well that I was greatly attracted by the first view of the Greyfriars Kirk that ever I had from that quarter. (It was soon lost again behind new constructions, but for a time it was worth seeing, with its ancient “through” stones, and the Martyrs’ Monument showing its bossy head over the low wall.)

So much taken up with this was I, that I did not notice the altered aspect of the place. Yet I looked about me like one who is suddenly confronted by something very familiar. There was the wide space. There were the narrow streets I knew so well. Yonder was the Candlemaker Row diving down into the bowels of the earth. Away towards the Greyfriars were the tall “lands” which the masons were pulling down. Nearer were men climbing up ladders with hods on their shoulders. Highest of all, against the blue sky, naked as a new gibbet, stood out the framework of a crane.

It was the very place of my dream. I knew it well enough, indeed, but never until that day it had looked so. And there, coming smiling down the midst, easily as one might down the aisle of an empty church, was Irma herself, as plain and poor in habiliment as my dream, but smiling-ah, with a smile that turned all my heart to water, so dear it was. It was good of God to let us love each other like that-and be poor.

And as she came nearer, she did not hold out her hand, nor greet me-but when she was quite close she said, exactly as in the dream, “I have found the Little House round the Corner!” Yet she had never heard of my dream before.

That this is true, we do solemnly bear witness, each for our own parts, thereof, and hereto append our names-

Duncan MacAlpine.
Irma MacAlpine.

Irma had found it, indeed, but as I judged at the first sight of the house, it was bound to be too expensive for our purses. I immediately decided that something must be wrong somewhere, when I heard that we could have this pleasant cottage with its scrap of garden, long and narrow certainly, but full of shade and song of birds, for the inconsiderable rent of ten pounds a year. We thought of many dangers and inconveniences, but Irma was infinitely relieved when it came out to be only ghosts. Servants, it appeared, could not be got to stay.

“Is that all?” said Irma scornfully. “Well, then, I don’t mean to keep any servants, and as for ghosts, Louis and I have lived in a big house in a wood full of them from cellar to roof-tree! You let ghosts alone, they will let you alone! ’Freits follow them that look for them!”