This ebook edition has been proofed and corrected and compiled to be read with without errors!
An excerpt from the beginning of CHAPTER XII:
The little town of Austruther stands on the side of the Firth, stretching its lines of grey red-roofed houses closely along the margin of the water. Sailing past its little quiet home-like harbour, you see one or two red sloops peacefully lying at anchor beside the pier. These sloops are always there. If one comes and another goes, the passing spectator knows it not. On that bright clear water, tinged with every tint of the rocky bed below— which, in this glistening autumn day, with only wind enough to ruffle it faintly now and then, looks like some beautiful jasper curiously veined and polished, with streaks of salt sea-green, and sober brown, and brilliant blue, distinct and pure below the sun—these little vessels lie continually, as much a part of the scene as that grey pier itself, or the houses yonder of the twin towns. Twin towns these must be, as you learn from those two churches which elevate their little spires above the congregated roofs. The spires themselves look as if, up to a certain stage of their progress, they had contemplated being towers, but, changing their mind when the square erection had attained the form of a box, suddenly inclined their sides towards each other, and became abrupt little steeples, whispering to you recollections of the Revolution Settlement, and the prosaic days of William and Mary. In one of them—or rather in its predecessor —the gentle James Melvill once preached the Gospel he loved so well; and peacefully for two hundred years have they looked out over the Firth, to hail the boats coming and going to the sea-harvest; peacefully through their small windows the light has fallen on little children, having the name named over them which is above all names; and now with a homely reverence they watch their dead.
A row of houses, straggling here and there into corners, turn their faces to the harbour. This is called the Shore. And when you follow the line of rugged pavement nearly to its end, you come upon boats, in every stage of progress, being mended—here with a great patch in the side —there resplendent in a new coat of pitch, which now is drying in the sun. The boats are well enough, and so are the glistering spoils of the "herring drave;" but quite otherwise is the odour of dried and cured fish which salutes you in modern Anstruther. Let us say no evil of it—it is villainous, but it is the life of the town.
Straggling streets and narrow wynds climb a little brae from the shore. Thrifty are the townsfolk, whose to-morrow, for generations, is but a counterpart of yesterday. Nevertheless, there have been great people here— Maggie Lauder, Professor Tennant, Dr Chalmers. The world has heard of the quiet burghs of East and West Anster.
A mile to the westward, on the same sea margin, lies Pittenweem, another sister of the family. Turn along the high-road there, though you must very soon retrace your steps. Here is this full magnificent Firth, coming softly in with a friendly ripple, over these low, dark, jutting rocks. Were you out in a boat yonder, you would perceive how the folds of its great garment (for in this calm you cannot call them waves) are marked and shaded. But here that shining vestment of sea-water has one wonderful prevailing tint of blue; and between it and the sky, lingers yonder the full snowy sails of a passing ship;—here some red specks of fishing-boats straying down towards the mouth of the Firth, beyond yon high rock—home of sea-mews—the lighthouse Isle of May. Far over, close upon the opposite shore, lies a mass of something grey and shapeless, resting like a great shell upon the water—that is the Bass; and behind it there is a shadow on the coast, which you can dimly see, but cannot define—that is Tantallon, the stronghold of the stout Douglases; and westward rises the abrupt cone of North Berwick Law, with a great calm bay stretching in from its feet, and a fair green country retreats beyond, from the water-side to the horizon line.
Turn now to the other hand, cross the high-road, and take this footpath through the fields. Gentle Kellie Law yonder stands quietly under the sunshine, watching his peaceful dominions. Yellow stubble-fields stretch, bare and dry, over these slopes; for no late acre now yields a handful of ears to be gleaned or garnered. But in other fields the harvest-work goes on. Here is one full of work-people—quieter than the wheat harvest, not less cheery—out of the rich dark fragrant soil gathering the ripe potato, then in a fresh youthful stage of its history, full of health and vigour; and ploughs are pacing through other fields; and on this fresh breeze, slightly chilled with coming winter, although brightened sti