26 DECEMBER 1931, Page 11

Evening Piece

By L. A. G. STRONG. THE afternoon sun, still high in the west, hid for a moment behind a small and fleecy cloud. At once it seemed as if the wide panorama of sea and sand and islands strongly took on its duty, and filled the huge arch of the sky with veil on shimmering veil of light. The sea dazzled ; one could not look upon it ; and its radiance made a haze that softened and dimmed the towering blue peaks of the islands. It was six o'clock. The long heat of the day was spent, but not its splendour.

The little black and white calf ranged restlessly at the limit of his tether that was nearest home. lie had been several hours alone now, on the grassy headland above the point the sun had been hot, the afternoon long, and for • some time there had been nothing to interest him and distract his baby attention from the flies. He gazed mournfully at the roof of the house on the point, and stamped his hind leg two or three times. Surely it was time, and past time, for being unpicketed and taken home.

While he stood gazing, there was a sudden stir in the bracken to the left, and a piercing squeal rang out, followed almost at, once by a savage spitting and snarling. The little calf gave a ridiculous, angular jump, and landed on all four feet, with his head towards the disturbance. The snarling continued, and rose to a yell. Far below in the valley it reached the ears of Shepherd McRory's dog, who was lying idle in the sun. Iie raised his head, replied with a furious outburst of barking, and came racing up across the fields like a shadow.

The calf had heard such snarlings before, and knew that they meant cats. From his outpost on the headland, he had often seen them hunting in the bracken ; the home cat, whom he knew well, for she often shared his byre, and many another. He was not to know that the squeal came from a rabbit, and that the racket he heard con- cerned the ownership of the kill. Every nerve alert, pleasantly alarmed, he stood staring at the bracken, awaiting what should happen next.

But the cats, even in the midst of their fury, had heard the dog. Long experience of their common enemy taught them the only course to pursue, and, half a minute later, the calf saw his friend Christina travelling across the tiny field by the cottage, her belly almost touching the ground. Then a thudding sound made him look upward, and a great, handsome cat with ginger fur bounded across a clearing and disappeared into the bracken beyond.

A few seconds later, the dog arrived, panting, enthusiastic. He dashed about for a while in the bracken, his tail waving gallantly like a feather : he found the dead rabbit : he dashed on excitedly, realized that the cats were gone, came back, barked once or twice at the calf, to satisfy his pride, and returned at a leisurely pace to the valley. Each time the dog barked, the calf gave a little convulsive tremor, but held his ground, and stood for some time watching where the dog had gone.

Then, once more, he became acutely conscious of his loneliness, and of the tormenting flies. He began to whimper ; he ran over to the bracken, and brushed his head hard against it. It was not stiff enough. Baffled, he stood, head down, and the flies buzzed round him in a cloud.

Suddenly a low, clear call floated up to him, a call that he knew well. Bounding at once to the full length of his tether, he looked eagerly downward, and saw a figure climbing towards him from the cottage. The little calf recognized the figure at once as the one for whom he had been waiting. He strained and tugged on his rope, uttering tiny, soft moos of delight.

The girl came swinging up easily through the bracken. She was tall and graceful. Health and careless strength were evident in all her movements. She took the steep slope effortlessly as a gull, leaping lightly over obstacles, humming to herself, and every now and then giving an encouraging, soft call to the baby calf.

" 01w, my darling Oho, my little one ! "

She reached the top of the hill, and stretched out her arms, smiling. The little calf jumped up and down, frantic with pleasure. As soon as she came up to him, he thrust his little wet muzzle into her lap. Stooping over him, saying loving, consoling words, she rubbed his face and neck with her hands and the soft insides of her forearms, smoothing away the irritation of the flies, -which rose resentfully in the air, and buzzed about her head. As she stroked his face, the girl looked across to the sandhills on the far side of the burn. She stayed for some time in this position, longer maybe than she need, though the calf would not mind if the stroking went on for ever. She was looking to see if she might get a glimpse of Willie McFarish going home from his work, Ah. There he was. The top of his head appeared, then half of him. Look, the bold bit of brass, there he was, waving at her openly, for all the world to see. She looked round, biting her short upper lip to hide a smile; then waved quickly back.

" Come, darling. Home."

Stooping, with a swift movement she undid the tether, and ran lightly down the slope, singing, the little calf gambolling and throwing up his behind at her side. . Several times he succeeded in getting in front of her, and she all but fell. When they came to a little sandy path that ran between the bracken, the pair quarrelled playfully for precedence. The girl clapped him on his little dusty buttocks : he frisked, kicked up his heels, and when presently she stopped, breathless, holding her hand to her side, he retaliated by butting her deftly at the back of her knees.

" Oh," she cried, tousling his blunt I ea 1 and ears, " you're a bold little scamp, that's what you are ! Oh, indeed you are."

Another minute and he was trotting demurely beside her across the courtyard of the little croft. Changing hands, the girl pulled at the big wooden bolt of the byre. The door swung open, and the little calf jumped backward, with stiff legs outspread, as the sweet, cool darkness rushed up to engulf him.

" Come on, now. Don't be pretending."

Daintily, almost abstractedly, he picked his way across the byre to where his feed stood ready. It smelt delicious. Still talking to him and chaffing him, the girl tied his halter lightly to the rail over his head. For several seconds the calf stood, defying his old and honourable enemy, the shadow in the corner. Then he relaxed, and, with a happy sigh, began to eat, so engrossed in his pleasure that he did not hear the door shut behind him,