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The Database of Ornament

JANET BALFOUR had got the dishes washed
and the kitchen tidied up after tea; her mother
was away to the Big House with the sewing they
had just finished that afternoon, and would not
be back till late; and now the evening was her
own for reading and knitting. After a long day’s
sewing, knitting was a relief, if not something of a pastime, for
one could read and knit at the same time. Leaving the door
ajar she made her way down to the foot of the garden, where
there was a seat fashioned from the root of a plane-tree.
Looking at her as she walked, one would have noticed first
the sheen of her ruddy brown hair, and the sweet serenity of
expression that gave character, if not even beauty, to a homely
face. Perhaps it was this light of peaceful happiness that
made her look older than her years, for it seemed to speak of
the sweetness that comes through suffering, of joyousness that
had been tempered in patience and pain. And this suggestion
a second look would certainly have confirmed. There were
lines about the mouth and under the eyes, come before their
time, and in her walk, the slightest suspicion of a limp. ‘A
bit dink,’ the neighbours called it, ‘that ye’d hardly see onless
ye were telled about it’

Sitting down, she unfolded her knitting across her knee, but
appeared to be in no hurry to begin. The book lay unopened
on the eis-wool shawl, and her fingers merely trifled with the
needle and a ball of wool.

It was an evening in June, and the slumbrous air was heavy
with the scent of roses and honeysuckle mingling with the smell
of new-mown hay drying in the field beyond the garden. From
the beeches rising high above the thatch-roofed cottage, and
almost hiding the hill behind them, dame now and again the
flute-like notes of the mavis, while birds hopped about the
berry bushes around her and twittered, talking to one another
in whispers. On the village green girls were playing at

jingo-ring, and their voices, sounding dreamy in the distance,
seemed but to add to the restfulness of the evening.

            ‘Down in yonder meadow
                Where the green grass grows,
            Where Jeanie Fairfull
                She bleaches her clothes;
            She sang, and she sang, and she sang so sweet,
                Come over, come over, across the deep.’

It was a time when one would sit with hands folded and gaze
with wide-open eyes seeing nothing. And so sat Janet. The
lazy smoke curled from the ridge of thatch roofs where the
village straggled along the highway; beyond, fields stretched
to the sleepy loch nestling to the side of the distant hills. But
she felt rather than saw the beauty of all. What she was
seeing was the summers and winters of her own life from that
day twenty years ago when she had fallen over a fence and
hurt her spine. She was only four years old then, but she
remembered it as it had been yesterday. There indeed was
the selfsame fence, not the formidable fence it once was, but
bowed and brought low with age and infirmity. Strange that
a fall from such an insignificant height should have kept her
an invalid so long. Yet now she was thinking not of the many
years of suffering that she had known, but of the love and
happiness that had been hers all through.

She thought of James Bruce, good, kind man, who had come
to see her then, and had been a friend ever since. And James
Bruce was the village grocer and draper, a well-to-do man, not
poor as her mother was. He had brought her grapes and
oranges and nice things which her mother could never have
provided ; and, better than all, he had brought her books,
picture-books and story-books, from which she had slowly, she
hardly knew how, taught herself to read and write. That was
all the schooling Janet had ever had, yet the book now lying

on her knee was a volume of Emerson’s ‘Essays.’ Thinking
much of the kind-hearted old grocer, she thought much more
of his son. She opened the book and read her name on the
fly-leaf, ‘Jan from Alex.’ He always called her ‘Jan,’ as he
had done that first day he came with his father to see her,
bringing a great bag of sweeties and figs. He was only six
years old then, and how often he had come to see her since !
How he had helped her with the difficult words in her books
till they had been able to read together ! Then when at length
she had been allowed to get out it was he who wheeled her to
the fields in the little carriage his father had given her on her
twelfth birthday, and there sat reading to her, or learning his
own lessons. Later still it was he who had taught her to walk
again, leading her, helping her over difficult places, laughing
at her sometimes till she cried, and then carrying her home
and talking nonsense till she laughed with him.

She laid aside the book and the knitting, and began walking
up and down the garden path just for the pleasure of walking
and assuring herself that she hardly limped at all now. It was
all for his sake that she had taken such pains to walk without
limping, and how delighted he would be when no one could
speak of her lameness.

When she sat down again she folded up her knitting. ‘It’s
ower warm for a shawl,’ she explained to herself, ‘an’ ower
bonny for readin’.’ And she began dreaming again.

How happy those days had been for both! She saw again the
old village wives nodding to them and smiling when Alex
helped her out to the fields. ‘It ‘s braw to hae a big brother,
Jenny,’ they used to say.’ ‘Deed it ‘s no mony brothers would
be so kind.’ And she liked to hear them praise Alex; he had
always blushed when they commended ‘his thochtfu’ness.’
‘She taks the place o’ the little ane he canna mind o’,’ she had
heard them moralise often enough. ‘Nature has a way o’ her
ain for fillin’ a’ gaps.’

But the days of their childhood passed, and the time came
Q                                                                                                           121

when Alex went away to an office in the town, and she had
missed him sorely. But he had never forgotten her. Letters
came regularly— long, interesting letters— telling of town life she
did not know, of his work, of the classes he attended, and of
a thousand and one things she had only read of in books. In
her answers she told of all that was doing in the village ; of the
church choir, of the sewing she did for the Big House, of her
garden, of the fields, and in her last, with tears, of the death of
the green linty he had given her in a cage. And better than
letters were the days looked forward to month by month when
he came home and stayed from Saturday to Monday. But best
of all was the summer holiday. That was the fortnight of the
year to Janet. Then the happy days of childhood were renewed.
They walked, and talked, and read together just as they had
done when they were boy and girl. Now he was coming home
again, and this time it was to be better than ever. She took
from her pocket the letter she had got that very morning and
read it again.

‘”My dear Jan.”‘ She said the words over to herself, em-
phasising the first, and blushing to hear them from her own
lips.'” I have been promoted to be cashier now. Isn’t that
good news? But better news still! My holidays begin on
Wednesday, and I shall be home again on Thursday.”

‘To-morrow,’ she whispered,’ to-morrow.’

‘”And now, Jan, I have a great secret to tell you. I might
have told you by letter, but I should much rather tell you when
I see you in the dear old garden with only the roses to hear,
and the birds singing because they are happy with the happiness
that is mine.”

‘The mavises are singing now,’ she said, ‘and their happiness
is the happiness of love.’

She folded the letter and hid it in the bosom of her dress.’ A
secret to tell me?’ She laughed; a little sob of laughter it
seemed.’ And I have a secret to tell Alex.’

Picking up the book she turned the pages, rustling them from

the one hand to the other, but her eyes were towards the loch,
full of reverie. ‘To-morrow,’ she repeated, ‘to-morrow.’

‘To-night,’ said a voice almost at her ear, while a pair of hands
were placed over her eyes.

‘Alex!’ she cried. ‘I know it— I know it.’

He came round and laid himself down on the grass at her feet.
‘I thought I ‘d give you a surprise, Jan ; so I climbed over the
dyke as quiet as pussy and caught you. I got away a day
earlier than I expected. . . . Reading as usual, I see. Am
wha’s the favourite now?’ he asked, dropping into his boyhood
Scots. ‘Emerson nae less!’

She reached and took the book out of his hand. ‘Dinna begin
wi’ books the nicht, Alex,’ she said playfully. ‘I havena read a
word o’t: I ‘d better readin’ than Emerson.’

‘No, Jan; I didna come to speak about books.’ He leaned
back on his elbow and looked up in her face. ‘ An’ what better
had ye than Emerson, Jan ? ‘

‘Only a letter, Alex.’

They sat quiet for a time. A lark rose from the hayfield and
they watched it, listening till it ended its song slanting down
again to the earth.

‘Sit down on the grass, Jan.’ He spoke somewhat nervously,
and was back again into English. ‘It’s perfectly dry and —
I ‘ve something to tell you, you know.’

She came and sat down near him, yet turning her head aside
that he should not see her listening eyes.

‘Can you guess what I’m going to speak about, Jan?’ he
asked ; and then again, ‘ Can you not guess?’

Her hand played nervously with the long silver grasses, and
without turning she answered in a whisper, ‘Yes, Alex ; I think
I know.’

‘I thought you would,’ he hurried on ; ‘and I have been looking
forward to telling you. . . . O Jan, I can’t tell you how happy
I am! Look,’ he said, reaching to place a photograph in her
lap.’ Isn’t she beautiful ? You must tell me what you think

of her, Jan, and you must be the first to congratulate me. You
know I never had a sister but you. We have been like brother
and sister always, and so — O Jan, tell me what you think of

‘It is a sweet andpretty face, Alex.’

What a change was in the voice all at once ! But Alex was too
full of his own affairs to notice.

‘I’m so glad you like her. She is—— But I can’t tell you what
she is. I ‘m sure you will like her. I ‘ve told her all about my
sister, and she is very eager to meet you. And do you know
what she asked me, Jan ? How I had never fallen in love with
you ! How simple she is !’ He smiled happily at the notion.
‘As if a brother and sister should fall in love! We only
got engaged a month ago,’ he rattled on; ‘and now that I
have a good income, I think we should get married as soon as

There was silence for a time. Alex had run himself out, and
Janet sat apparently studying the face of the photograph in her
lap. Gloaming was stealing over them, and a soft wind was
stealing across the fields and rustling the leaves of the berry
bushes. From the green came the girls’ voices in their last
ring before bedtime.

‘You ‘re very quiet, Jan,’ he began again.’ And do you know
you have not congratulated me yet ? Come now, do wish me

She handed him the photograph, turning and smiling wistfully
in his face. ‘ Am I quiet, Alex ? I didn’t know. But you do
know I wish you all happiness.’

‘How formal that is, Janet, and—— What’s wrong, Jan?
You’re as pale as death. Are you ill? What a fool I am, to be
sure — here ‘s this grass thick with dew!’

He sprang to his feet and lifted her up. ‘Your hands are like

‘Yes,’ she said with a shiver. ‘It ‘s a little chilly, isn’t it?’

‘Take my arm,’ he told her as they walked away; ‘I see you’re

limping: badly to-night, Jan. You ‘ve been overworking yourself,
I ‘m certain. But we’ll put all that right this fortnight. Eh ? ‘
At the gate he bent to kiss her cheek in his old brotherly way,
but she gave him her lips and kissed him instead. ‘That’s my
congratulation, Alex,’ she said, with a strange short laugh.
‘ Listen, listen ! Do you remember when you used to wheel me
to hear the girls singing that? —

             ‘Where shall bonny Jenny lie,
                 Jenny lie, Jenny lie ?
             Where shall bonny Jenny lie
                 In the cold nights of Winter?

                                                                                                GABRIEL SETOUN.


MLA citation:

Setoun, Gabriel. “An Evening in June.” The Evergreen: A Northern Seasonal, vol. 1, Spring 1895, pp. 119-125. Evergreen Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2016-2018. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019.