The Moon Endureth
VII. The Riding Of Ninemileburn
Sim bent over the meal ark and plumbed its contents with his fist. Two feet and more
remained: provender--with care--for a month, till he harvested the waterside corn and
ground it at Ashkirk mill. He straightened his back better pleased; and, as he moved, the
fine dust flew into his throat and set him coughing. He choked back the sound till his face
But the mischief was done. A woman's voice, thin and weary, came from the ben-end.
The long man tiptoed awkwardly to her side. "Canny, lass," he crooned. "It's me back
frae the hill. There's a mune and a clear sky, and I'll hae the lave under thack and rape the
morn. Syne I'm for Ninemileburn, and the coo 'ill be i' the byre by Setterday. Things
micht be waur, and we'll warstle through yet. There was mair tint at Flodden."
The last rays of October daylight that filtered through the straw lattice showed a woman's
head on the pillow. The face was white and drawn, and the great black eyes--she had
been an Oliver out of Megget--were fixed in the long stare of pain. Her voice had the
high lilt and the deep undertones of the Forest.
"The bairn 'ill be gone ere ye ken, Sim," she said wearily. "He canna live without milk,
and I've nane to gie him. Get the coo back or lose the son I bore ye. If I were my ordinar'
I wad hae't in the byre, though I had to kindle Ninemileburn ower Wat's heid."
She turned miserably on her pillow and the babe beside her set up a feeble crying. Sim
busied himself with re-lighting the peat fire. He knew too well that he would never see
the milk-cow till he took with him the price of his debt or gave a bond on harvested
crops. He had had a bad lambing, and the wet summer had soured his shallow lands. The
cess to Branksome was due, and he had had no means to pay it. His father's cousin of the
Ninemileburn was a brawling fellow, who never lacked beast in byre or corn in bin, and
to him he had gone for the loan. But Wat was a hard man, and demanded surety; so the
one cow had travelled the six moorland miles and would not return till the bond was
cancelled. As well might he try to get water from stone as move Wat by any tale of a sick
wife and dying child.
The peat smoke got into his throat and brought on a fresh fit of coughing. The wet year
had played havoc with his chest and his lean shoulders shook with the paroxysms. An
anxious look at the bed told him that Marion was drowsing, so he slipped to the door.
Outside, as he had said, the sky was clear. From the plashy hillside came the rumour of
swollen burns. Then he was aware of a man's voice shouting.
"Sim," it cried, "Sim o' the Cleuch ... Sim." A sturdy figure came down through the scrog
of hazel and revealed itself as his neighbour of the Dodhead. Jamie Telfer lived five miles
off in Ettrick, but his was the next house to the Cleuch shieling. Telfer was running, and
his round red face shone with sweat.