Part I.--His Boyhood
Chapter XXI. The Dragon.

Next day, his foot was so much better that he sent Shargar to Rothieden to buy the string, taking with him Robert's school-bag, in which to carry off his Sunday shoes; for as to those left at Dooble Sanny's, they judged it unsafe to go in quest of them: the soutar could hardly be in a humour fit to be intruded upon.

Having procured the string, Shargar went to Mrs. Falconer's. Anxious not to encounter her, but, if possible, to bag the boots quietly, he opened the door, peeped in, and seeing no one, made his way towards the kitchen. He was arrested, however, as he crossed the passage by the voice of Mrs. Falconer calling, 'Wha's that?' There she was at the parlour door. It paralyzed him. His first impulse was to make a rush and escape. But the boots--he could not go without at least an attempt upon them. So he turned and faced her with inward trembling.

'Wha's that?' repeated the old lady, regarding him fixedly. 'Ow, it's you! What duv ye want? Ye camna to see me, I'm thinkin'! What hae ye i' that bag?'

'I cam to coff (buy) twine for the draigon,' answered Shargar.

'Ye had twine eneuch afore!'

'It bruik. It wasna strang eneuch.'

'Whaur got ye the siller to buy mair? Lat's see 't?'

Shargar took the string from the bag.

'Sic a sicht o' twine! What paid ye for 't?'

'A shillin'.'

'Whaur got ye the shillin'?'

'Mr. Lammie gae 't to Robert.'

'I winna hae ye tak siller frae naebody. It's ill mainners. Hae!' said the old lady, putting her hand in her pocket, and taking out a shilling. 'Hae,' she said. 'Gie Mr. Lammie back his shillin', an' tell 'im 'at I wadna hae ye learn sic ill customs as tak siller. It's eneuch to gang sornin' upon 'im (exacting free quarters) as ye du, ohn beggit for siller. Are they a' weel?'

'Ay, brawly,' answered Shargar, putting the shilling in his pocket.

In another moment Shargar had, without a word of adieu, embezzled the shoes, and escaped from the house without seeing Betty. He went straight to the shop he had just left, and bought another shilling's worth of string.

When he got home, he concealed nothing from Robert, whom he found seated in the barn, with his fiddle, waiting his return.

Robert started to his feet. He could appropriate his grandfather's violin, to which, possibly, he might have shown as good a right as his grandmother--certainly his grandfather would have accorded it him--but her money was sacred.

'Shargar, ye vratch!' he cried, 'fess that shillin' here direckly. Tak the twine wi' ye, and gar them gie ye back the shillin'.'

'They winna brak the bargain,' cried Shargar, beginning almost to whimper, for a savoury smell of dinner was coming across the yard.

'Tell them it's stown siller, and they'll be in het watter aboot it gin they dinna gie ye 't back.'

'I maun hae my denner first,' remonstrated Shargar.

But the spirit of his grandmother was strong in Robert, and in a matter of rectitude there must be no temporizing. Therein he could be as tyrannical as the old lady herself.

'De'il a bite or a sup s' gang ower your thrapple till I see that shillin'.'

There was no help for it. Six hungry miles must be trudged by Shargar ere he got a morsel to eat. Two hours and a half passed before he reappeared. But he brought the shilling. As to how he recovered it, Robert questioned him in vain. Shargar, in his turn, was obstinate.

'She's a some camstairy (unmanageable) wife, that grannie o' yours,' said Mr. Lammie, when Robert returned the shilling with Mrs. Falconer's message, 'but I reckon I maun pit it i' my pooch, for she will hae her ain gait, an' I dinna want to strive wi' her. But gin ony o' ye be in want o' a shillin' ony day, lads, as lang 's I'm abune the yird--this ane 'll be grown twa, or maybe mair, 'gen that time.'

So saying, the farmer put the shilling into his pocket, and buttoned it up.

The dragon flew splendidly now, and its strength was mighty. It was Robert's custom to drive a stake in the ground, slanting against the wind, and thereby tether the animal, as if it were up there grazing in its own natural region. Then he would lie down by the stake and read The Arabian Nights, every now and then casting a glance upward at the creature alone in the waste air, yet all in his power by the string at his side. Somehow the high-flown dragon was a bond between him and the blue; he seemed nearer to the sky while it flew, or at least the heaven seemed less far away and inaccessible. While he lay there gazing, all at once he would find that his soul was up with the dragon, feeling as it felt, tossing about with it in the torrents of the air. Out at his eyes it would go, traverse the dim stairless space, and sport with the wind-blown monster. Sometimes, to aid his aspiration, he would take a bit of paper, make a hole in it, pass the end of the string through the hole, and send the messenger scudding along the line athwart the depth of the wind. If it stuck by the way, he would get a telescope of Mr. Lammie's, and therewith watch its struggles till it broke loose, then follow it careering up to the kite. Away with each successive paper his imagination would fly, and a sense of air, and height, and freedom settled from his play into his very soul, a germ to sprout hereafter, and enrich the forms of his aspirations. And all his after-memories of kite-flying were mingled with pictures of eastern magnificence, for from the airy height of the dragon his eyes always came down upon the enchanted pages of John Hewson's book.

Sometimes, again, he would throw down his book, and sitting up with his back against the stake, lift his bonny leddy from his side, and play as he had never played in Rothieden, playing to the dragon aloft, to keep him strong in his soaring, and fierce in his battling with the winds of heaven. Then he fancied that the monster swooped and swept in arcs, and swayed curving to and fro, in rhythmic response to the music floating up through the wind.

What a full globated symbolism lay then around the heart of the boy in his book, his violin, his kite!