THE LAST OF THE LILAC SUNBONNET
Craig Ronald lies bright in a dreaming day in mid-September. The reapers are once more in the fields. Far away there is a crying of voices. The corn-fields by the bridge are white with a bloomy and mellow whiteness. Some part of the oats is already down. Close into the standing crop there is a series of rhythmic flashes, the scythes swinging like a long wave that curls over here and there. Behind the line of flashing steel the harvesters swarm like ants running hither and thither crosswise, apparently in aimless fashion.
Up through the orchard comes a girl, tall and graceful, but with a touch of something nobler and stiller that does not come to girlhood. It is the seal of the diviner Eden grace which only comes with the after Eden pain.
Winsome Peden carries more than ever of the old grace and beauty; and the eyes of her husband, who has been finishing the proofs of his next volume and at intervals looking over the busy fields to the levels of Loch Grannoch, tell her so as she comes.
But suddenly from opposite sides of the orchard this girl with the gracious something in her eyes is borne down by simultaneous assault. Shrieking with delight, a boy and a girl, dressed in complete defensive armour of daisies, and wielding desperate arms of lath manufactured by Andra Kissock, their slave, rush fiercely upon her. They pull down their quarry after a brisk chase, who sinks helplessly upon the grass under a merciless fire of caresses.
It is a critical moment. A brutal and licentious soldiery are not responsible at such moments. They may carry sack and rapine to unheard of extremities.
‘You young barbarians, be careful of your only mother—unless you have a stock of them!’ calls a voice from the top of the stairs which lead to the study.
‘Father's come out—hurrah! Come on, Allan!’ shouts Field-Marshal Winifred the younger who is leader and commander, to her army whose tottery and chubby youth does not suggest the desperation of a forlorn hope. So the study is carried at the point of the lath, and the banner of the victors—a cross of a sort unknown to heraldry, marked on a white ground with a blue pencil—is planted on the sacred desk itself.
Winsome the matron comes more slowly up the stairs.
‘Can common, uninspired people come in?’ she says, pausing at the top.
She looks about with a motherly eye, and pulls down the blind of the window into which the sun has been streaming all the morning. It is one of the advantages of such a wife that her husband, especially the rare literary variety, may be treated as no more than the eldest but most helpless of the babes. It is also true that Ralph had pulled up the blind in order that he might the better be able to see his wife moving among the reapers. For Winsome was more than ever a woman of affairs.
She stood in the doorway, looking in spite of the autumn sun and the walk up from the corn-field, deliriously cool. She fanned herself with a broad rhubarb-leaf—an impromptu fan plucked by the way. She sat down on the ledge of the upper step of Ralph's study, as she often did when she worked or rested. Ralph was again within, reclining on a window-seat, while the pack of reckless banditti swarmed over him.
‘Have the rhymes been behaving themselves this morning?’ Winsome said, looking across at Ralph as only a wife of some years' standing can look at her husband—with love deepened into understanding, and tempered with a spice of amusement and a wide and generous tolerance—the look of a loving woman to whom her husband and her husband's ways are better than a stage play. Such a look is a certificate of happy home and an ideal life, far more than all heroics. The love of the after-years depends chiefly on the capacity of a wife to be amused by her husband's peculiarities—and not to let him see it.
‘There are three blanks,’ said Ralph, a little wistfully. ‘I have written a good deal, but I dare not read it over, lest it should be nothing worth.’
This was a well-marked stage in Ralph's composition, and it was well that his wife had come.
‘I fear you have been dreaming, instead of working,’ she said, looking at him with a kind of pitying admiration. Ralph, too, had grown handsomer, so his wife thought, since she had him to look after. How, indeed, could it be otherwise?
She rose and went towards him.
‘Run down, now, children, and play on the grass,’ she said. ‘Run, chicks—off with you—shoo!’ and she flirted her apron after them as she did when she scattered the chickens from the dairy door. The pinafored people fled shrieking across the grass, tumbling over each other in riotous heaps.
Then Winsome went over and kissed her husband. He was looking so handsome that he deserved it. And she did not do it too often. She was glad that she had made him wear a beard. She put one of her hands behind his head and the other beneath his chin, tilting his profile with the air of a connoisseur. This can only be done in one position.
‘Well, does it suit your ladyship?’ said Ralph.
She gave him a little box on the ear.
‘I knew,’ he said, ‘that you wanted to come and sit on my knee!’
‘I never did,’ replied Winsome with animation, making a statement almost certainly inaccurate upon the face of it.
‘That's why you sent away the children,’ he went on, pinching her ear.
‘Of all things in this world,’ said Winsome indignantly, ‘commend me to a man for conceit!’
‘And to winsome wives for wily ways!’ said her husband instantly. To do him justice, he did not often do this sort of thing.
‘Keep the alliteration for the poems,’ retorted Winsome. ‘Truth will do for me.’
After a little while she said, without apparent connection:
‘It is very hot.’
‘What are they doing in the hay-field?’ asked Ralph.
‘Jock Forrest was leading and they were cutting down the croft very steadily. I think it looks like sixty bushels to the acre,’ she continued practically; ‘so you shall have a carpet for the study this year, if all goes well.’
‘That will be famous!’ cried Ralph, like a schoolboy, waving his hand. It paused among Winsome's hair.
‘I wish you would not tumble it all down,’ she said; ‘I am too old for that kind of thing now!’
The number of times good women perjure themselves is almost unbelievable.
But the recording angel has, it is said, a deaf side, otherwise he would need an ink-eraser. Ralph knew very well what she really meant, and continued to throw the fine-spun glossy waves over her head, as a miser may toss his gold for the pleasure of the cool, crisp touch.
‘Then,’ continued Winsome, without moving (for, though so unhappy and uncomfortable, she sat still—some women are born with a genius for martyrdom), ‘then I had a long talk with Meg.’
‘And the babe?’ queried Ralph, letting her hair run through his fingers.
‘And the babe,’ said Winsome; ‘she had laid it to sleep under a stock, and when we went to see, it looked so sweet under the narrow arch of the corn! Then it looked up with big wondering eyes. I believe he thought the inside of the stook was as high as a temple.’
‘It is not I that am the poet!’ said Ralph, transferring his attention for a moment from her hair.
‘Meg says Jock Forrest is perfectly good to her, and that she would not change her man for all Greatorix Castle.’
‘Does Jock make a good grieve?’ asked Ralph.
‘The very best; he is a great comfort to me,’ replied his wife. ‘I get far more time to work at the children's things—and also to look after my Ursa Major!’
‘What of Jess?’ asked Ralph; ‘did Meg say?’
‘Jess has taken the Lady Elizabeth to call on My Lord at Bowhill! What do you think of that? And she leads Agnew Greatorix about like a lamb, or rather like a sheep. He gets just one glass of sherry at dinner,’ said Winsome, who loved a spice of gossip—as who does not?
‘There is a letter from my father this morning,’ said Ralph, half turning to pick it off his desk; ‘he is well, but he is in distress, he says, because he got his pocket picked of his handkerchief while standing gazing in at a shop window wherein books were displayed for sale, but John Bairdieson has sewed another in at the time of writing. They had a repeating tune the other day, and the two new licentiates are godly lads, and turning out a credit to the kirk of the Marrow.’
‘And that is more than ever you would have done, Ralph,’ said his wife candidly.
‘Kezia is to be married in October, and there is a young man coming to see little Keren-happuch, but Jemima thinks that the minds of both of her younger sisters are too much set on the frivolous things of this earth. The professor has received a new kind of snuff from Holland which Kezia says is indistinguishable in its effects from pepper—one of his old students brought it to him—and that's all the news,’ said Ralph, closing up the letter and laying it on the table.
‘Has Saunders Moudiewort cast his easy affections on any one this year yet?’ Ralph asked, returning to the consideration of Winsome's hair.
Saunders was harvesting at present at Craig Ronald. The mistress of the farm laughed.
‘I think not,’ she said; ‘Saunders says that his mother is the most' siccar' housekeeper that he kens of, and that after a while ye get to mind her tongue nae mair nor the mill fanners.’
‘That's just the way with me when you scold me,’ said Ralph.
‘Very well, then, I must go to the summer seat and put you out of danger,’ replied Winsome. ‘Since you are so imposed upon, I shall see if the grannymother has done with her second volume. She never gets dangerous, except when she is kept waiting for the third.’
But before they had time to move, the rollicking storm-cloud of younglings again came tumultuously up the stairs—Winifred far in front, Allan toddling doggedly in the rear.
‘See what granny has put on my head!’ cried Mistress Winifred the youngest, whose normal manner of entering a room suggested a revolution.
‘Oo’ said Allan, pointing with his chubby finger, ‘yook, yook! mother's sitting on favver's knee-rock-a-by, favver, rock-a-by!’
But Ralph had no eyes for anything but the old sunbonnet in which, the piquant flower face of Mistress Five-year-old Winifred was all but lost. He stooped and kissed it, and the face under it. It was frayed and faded, and it had lost both strings.
Then he looked up and kissed the wife who was still his sweetheart, for the love the lilac sunbonnet had brought to them so many years ago was still fresh with the dew of their youth.
WINSOME'S LAST TRYST
It was the morn before a wedding, and there had been a constant stir all night all about the farmsteading, for a brand-new world was in the making. Such a marrying had not been for years. The farmers' sons for miles around were coming on their heavy plough-horses, with here and there one of better breed. Long ago in the earliest morning some one had rung the bell of the little kirk of the Dullarg. It came upon the still air a fairy tinkle, and many a cottar and many a shepherd turned over with a comfortable feeling: ‘This is the Sabbath morn; I need not rise so soon today.’ But all their wives remembered, and turned them out with wifely elbow.
It was Winsome Charteris's wedding day. The flower of all the countryside was to wed the young Edinburgh lad who had turned out so great a poet. It was the opinion of the district that her ‘intended’ had unsettled the thrones of all the great writers of the past by his volume of poems, which no one in the parish had read; but the fame of whose success had been wafted down upon the eastern breezes which bore the snell bite of the metropolis upon their front.
‘Tra-la-la-la!’ chanted the cocks of Craig Ronald.
‘Tra-la-la-la-la!’ airily sang the solitary bird which lived up among the pine woods, where, in the cot of Mistress Kissock, Ralph Peden occupied the little bedroom which Meg had got ready for him with such care and honour.
‘Tra-la-la-laa!’ was echoed in the airiest diminuendo from the far-away leader of the harem at the Nether Crae. His challenge crossed the wide gulf of air above Loch Grannoch, from which in the earliest morning the mists were rising.
Ralph Peden heard all three birds. He had a delightfully comfortable bedroom, and the flowers on the little white-covered table have come from the front square of Mistress Kissock's garden. There was a passion-flower on his table, which somehow reminded him of a girl who had put poppies in hair of the raven's wing hue. It had not grown in the garden of the cot.
Yet Ralph was out in the earliest dawn, listening to the sighing of the trees and taking in the odour of the perfume from the pines on the slope.
Ralph did not write any poem this morning, though the Muses were abroad in the stillness of the dawn. His eyes were on a little window once more overclambered by the June roses. His poem was down there, and it was coming to him.
How eagerly he looked, his eyes like telescopes! Then his heart thrilled. In the cool flood of slanting morning sunshine which had just overflowed the eastern gable of the house, some one swiftly crossed the court-yard of the farm. In a moment the sun, winking on a pair of tin pails, told him that Meg Kissock was going to the well. From the barn end some one stepped out by her side and walked to the well. Then, as they returned, it was not the woman who was carrying the winking pails. At the barn end they drew together in the shadow for a long minute, and then again Ralph saw Meg's back as she walked sedately to the kitchen door, the cans flashing rhythmically as she swung them. So high was he above them that he could even notice the mellow dimple of diffused light from the water in the bright pail centring and scattering the morning sunlight as it swayed.
Presently the one half of the blue kitchen door became black. It had been opened. Ralph's heart gave a great bound. Then the black became white and glorified, for framed within it appeared a slender shape like a shaft of light. Ralph's eyes did not leave the figure as it stepped out and came down by the garden edge.
Along the top of the closely-cut hawthorn a dot of light moved. It was but a speck, like the paler centre of the heather bells. Ralph ran swiftly down the great dyke in a manner more natural to a young man than dignified in a poet. In a minute he came to the edge of the glen in which Andra Kissock had guddled the trouts. That flash of lavender must pass this way. It passed and stayed.
So in the cool translucence of morning light the lovers met in this quiet glade, the great heather moors above them once more royally purple, the burnie beneath singing a gentle song, the birds vying with each other in complicated trills of pretended artlessness.
It was purely by chance that Winsome Charteris passed this way. And a kind Providence, supplemented on Ralph's side by some activity and observation, brought him also to the glen of the elders that June morning. Yet there are those who say that there is nothing in coincidence.
When Winsome, moving thoughtfully onward, gently waving a slip of willow in her hand, came in sight of Ralph, she stood and waited. Ralph went towards her, and so on their marriage morn these two lovers met.
It was like that morning on which by the lochside they parted, yet it was not like it.
With that prescience which is a sixth sense to women, Winsome had slipped on the old sprigged gown which had done duty at the blanket-washing so long ago, and her hair, unbound in the sun, shone golden as it flowed from beneath the lilac sunbonnet. As for Ralph, it does not matter how he was dressed. In love, dress does not matter a brass button after the first corner is turned—at least not to the woman.
‘Sweet,’ said Ralph, ‘you are awake?’
Winsome looked up with eyes so glorious and triumphant that a blind man could scarce have doubted the fact.
‘And you love me?’ he continued, reading her eyes. With her old ripple of laughter she lightened the strain of the occasion.
‘You are a silly boy,’ she said; ‘but you'll learn. I have come out to gather flowers,’ she added, ingenuously. ‘I shall expect you to help. No—no—and nothing else.’
Had Ralph been in a fit condition to observe Nature this morning, it might have occurred to him that when girls come out to gather flowers for somewhat extensive decoration, they bring with them at least a basket and generally also their fourth best pair of scissors. Winsome had neither. But he was not in a mood for careful inductions.
The morning lights sprayed upon them as they went hither and thither gathering flowers—dew-drenched hyacinths, elastic wire- strung bluebells the colour of the sky when the dry east wind blows, the first great red bushes of the ling. Now it is a known fact that, in order properly to gather flowers, the collectors must divide and so quarter the ground.
‘But this was not a scientific expedition,’ said Ralph, when the folly of their mode of proceeding was pointed out to him.
It was manifestly impossible that they could gather flowers walking with the palm of Ralph's left hand laid on the inside of Winsome's left arm. The thing cannot be done. At least so Ralph admitted afterwards.
‘No,’ said Ralph, ‘but you made me promise to keep my shoulders back, and I am trying to to do it now.’
And his manner of assisting Winsome to gather her flowers for her wedding bouquet was, when you come to think of it, admirably adapted for keeping the shoulders back.
‘Meg waked me this morning,’ said Winsome suddenly.
‘She did, did she?’ remarked Ralph ineffectively, with a quick envy of Meg. Then it occurred to him that he had no need to envy Meg. And Winsome blushed for no reason at all.
Then she became suddenly practical, as the protective instinct teaches women to be on these occasions.
‘You have not seen your study,’ she said.
‘No,’ said Ralph, ‘but I have heard enough about it. It has occupied sixteen pages in the last three letters.’
Ralph considered the study a good thing, but he had his views upon the composition of love-letters.
‘You are an ungrateful boy,’ said Winsome sternly, ‘and I shall see that you get no more letters—not any more!’
‘I shall never want any, little woman,’ cried Ralph joyously, ‘for I shall have you!’
It was a blessing that at this moment they were passing under the dense shade of the great oaks at the foot of the orchard. Winsome had thought for five minutes that it would happen about there. It happened.
A quarter of an hour later they came out into the cool ocean of leaf shadow which lay blue upon the grass and daisies. Winsome now carried the sunbonnet over her arm, and in the morning sunshine her uncovered head was so bright that Ralph could not gaze at it long. Besides, he wanted to look at the eyes that looked at him, and one cannot do everything at once.
‘This is your study,’ she said, standing back to let him look in. It was a long, low room with an outside stair above the farthermost barn, and Winsome had fitted it up wondrously for Ralph. It opened off the orchard, and the late blossoms scattered into it when the winds blew from the south.
They stood together on the topmost step. There was a desk and one chair, and a low window-seat in each of the deep windows.
‘You will never be disturbed here,’ said Winsome.
‘But I want to be disturbed,’ said Ralph, who was young and did not know any better.
‘Now go in,’ said Winsome, giving him a little push in the way that, without any offence, a proximate wife may. ‘Go in and study a little this morning, and see how you like it.’
Ralph considered this as fair provocation, and turned, with bonds and imprisonment in his mind. But Winsome had vanished.
But from beneath came a clear voice out of the unseen:
‘If you don't like it, you can come round and tell me. It will not be too late till the afternoon. Any time before three!’
A mere man is at a terrible disadvantage in word play of this kind. On this occasion Ralph could think of nothing better than--
‘Winsome Charteris, I shall pay you back for this!’
Then he heard what might either have been a bell ringing for the fairies' breakfast, or a ripple of the merriest earthly laughter very far away.
Then he sat down to study.
It took him quite an hour to arrive at a conclusion; but when reached it was a momentous one. It was, that it is a mistake to be married in summer, for three o'clock in the afternoon is such a long time in coming.
THREADS DRAWN TOGETHER
Winsome took her grandmother out one afternoon into the rich mellow August light, when the lower corn-fields were glimmering with misty green shot underneath with faintest blonde, and the sandy knowes were fast yellowing. The blithe old lady was getting back some of her strength, and it seemed possible that once again she might be able to go round the house without even the assistance of an arm.
‘And what is this I hear,’ said Mistress Skirving, ‘that the daft young laird frae the Castle has rin' aff wi' that cottar's lassie, Jess Kissock, an' marriet her at Gretna Green. It's juist no possible.’
‘But, grandma, it is quite true, for Jock Gordon brought the news. He saw them postin' back from Gretna wi' four horses!’
‘An' what says his mither, the Lady Elizabeth?’
‘They say that she's delighted,’ said Winsome.
‘That's a lee, at ony rate!’ said the mistress of Craig Ronald, without a moment's hesitation. She knew the Lady Elizabeth,
‘They say,’ said Winsome, ‘that Jess can make them do all that she wants at the Castle.’
‘Gin she gars them pit doon new carpets, she'll do wonders,’ said her grandmother, acidly. She came of a good family, and did not like mesalliances, though she had been said to have made one herself.
But there was no misdoubting the fact that Jess had done her sick nursing well, and had possessed herself in honourable and lawful wedlock of the Honourable Agnew Greatorix—and that too, apparently with the consent of the Lady Elizabeth.
‘What took them to Gretna, then?’ said Winsome's grandmother.
‘Well, grandmammy, you see, the Castle folk are Catholic, and would not have a minister; an' Jess, though a queer Christian, as well as maybe to show her power and be romantic, would have no priest or minister either, but must go to Gretna. So they're back again, and Jock Gordon says that she'll comb his hair. He has to be in by seven o'clock now,’ said Winsome, smiling.
‘Wha's ben wi' yer grandfaither?’ after a pause, Mistress Skirving asked irrelevantly.
‘Only Mr. Welsh from the manse,’ said Winsome. ‘I suppose he came to see grandfather about the packet I took to the manse a month ago. Grandmother, why does Mr. Welsh come so seldom to Craig Ronald?’ she asked.
But her grandmother was shaking in a strange way.
‘I have not heard any noise,’ she said. ‘You had better go in and see.’
Winsome stole to the door and looked within. She saw the minister with his head on the swathed knees of her grandfather. The old man had laid his hand upon the grey hair of the kneeling minister. Awed and solemnised, Winsome drew back.
She told her grandmother what she had seen, and the old lady said nothing for the space of a quarter of an hour. At the end of that time she said:
‘Help me ben.’
And Winsome, taking her arm, guided her into the hushed room where her husband sat, still holding his hand on the head of Allan Welsh.
Something in the pose of the kneeling man struck her—a certain helpless inclination forward.
Winsome ran, and, taking Allan Welsh by the shoulders, lifted him up in her strong young arms.
He was dead. He had passed in the act of forgiveness.
Walter Skirving, who had sat rapt and silent through it all as though hardly of this world, now said clearly and sharply:
‘'For if ye forgive men their trespasses, so also shall your heavenly Father forgive you.'’
Walter Skirving did not long survive the man, in hatred of whom he had lived, and in unity with whom he had died. It seemed as though he had only been held to the earth by the necessity that the sun of his life should not go down upon his wrath. This done, like a boat whose moorings are loosed, very gladly he went out that same night upon the ebb tide. The two funerals were held upon the same day. Minister and elder were buried side by side one glorious August day, which was a marvel to many. So the Dullarg kirk was vacant, and there was only Manse Bell to take care of the property. Jonas Shillinglaw came from Cairn Edward and communicated the contents of both Walter Skirving's will and of that of Allan Welsh to those whom it concerned. Jonas had made several journeys of late both to the manse as well as to the steading of Craig Ronald. Walter Skirving left Craig Ronald and all of which he died possessed to Winsome Charteris, subject to the approval of her grandmother as to whom she might marry. There was a recent codicil. ‘I desire to record my great satisfaction that Winifred Charteris or Welsh is likely to marry the son of my old friend Gilbert Peden, minister of the Marrow kirk in Edinburgh; and hearing that the young man contemplates the career of letters, I desire that, if it be possible, in the event of their marriage, they come to abide at Craig Ronald, at least till a better way be opened for them. I commend my wife, ever loving and true, to them both; and in the good hope of a glorious resurrection I commit myself to Him who made me.’
Allan Welsh left all his goods and his property to Ralph Peden, ‘being as mine own son, because he taught me to know true love, and fearlessness and faith unfeigned. Also because one dear to him brought me my hope of forgiveness.’
There was indeed need of Ralph at Craig Ronald. Mistress Skirving cried out incessantly for him. Meg begged Winsome to let her look every day at the little miniature Ralph had sent her from Edinburgh. The Cuif held forth upon the great event every night when he came over to hold the tails of Meg's cows. Jock Forrest still went out, saying nothing, whenever the Cuif came in, which the Cuif took to be a good sign. Only Ebie Fairrish, struck to the heart by the inconstancy of Jess, removed at the November term back again to the ‘laigh end’ of the parish, and there plunged madly into flirtations with several of his old sweethearts. He is reported to have found in numbers the anodyne for the unfaithfulness of one. As for what Winsome thought and longed for, it is better that we should not begin to tell, not having another volume to spare.
Only she went to the hill-top by the side of Loch Ken and looked northward every eventide; and her heart yearned within her.
PURGING AND RESTORATION
It was the Lord's day in Edinburgh town. The silence in the early morning was something which could be felt—not a footstep, not a rolling wheel. Window-blinds were mostly down—on the windows provided with them. Even in Bell's Wynd there was not the noise of the week. Only a tinker family squabbled over the remains of the deep drinking of the night before. But then, what could Bell's Wynd expect—to harbour such?
It was yet early dawn when John Bairdieson, kirk officer to the little company of the faithful to assemble there later in the day, went up the steps and opened the great door with his key. He went all round the church with his hat on. It was a Popish idea to take off the head covering within stone walls, yet John Bairdieson was that morning possessed with the fullest reverence for the house of God and the highest sense of his responsibility as the keeper of it.
He was wont to sing: ‘Rather in My God's house would I keep a door, Than dwell in tents of sin.’
That was the retort which he flung across at Taminas Laidlay, the beadle of the Established Kirk opposite, with all that scorn in the application which was due from one in John Bairdieson's position to one in that of Tammas Laidlay.
But this morning John had no spirit for the encounter. He hurried in and sat down by himself in the minister's vestry. Here he sat for a long season in deep and solemn thought.
‘I'll do it!’ he said at last.
It was near the time when the minister usually came to enter into his vestry, there to prepare himself by meditation and prayer for the services of the sanctuary. John Bairdieson posted himself on the top step of the stairs which led from the street, to wait for him. At last, after a good many passers-by, all single and all in black, walking very fast, had hurried by, John's neck craning after every one, the minister appeared, walking solemnly down the street with his head in the air. His neckcloth was crumpled and soiled—a fact which was not lost on John.
The minister came up the steps and made as though he would pass John by without speaking to him; but that guardian of the sanctuary held out his arms as though he were wearing sheep.
‘Na, na, minister, ye come na into this Kirk this day as minister till ye be lawfully restored. There are nae ministers o' the kirk o' the Marrow the noo; we're a body without a heid. I thocht that the Kirk was at an end, but the Lord has revealed to me that the Marrow Kirk canna end while the world lasts. In the nicht season he telled me what to do.’
The minister stood transfixed. If his faithful serving-man of so many years had turned against him, surely the world was at an end. But it was not so.
John Bairdieson went on, standing with his hat in his hand, and the hairs of his head erect with the excitement of unflinching justice.
‘I see it clear. Ye are no minister o' this kirk. Mr. Welsh is no minister o' the Dullarg. I, John Bairdieson, am the only officer of the seenod left; therefore I stand atween the people and you this day, till ye hae gane intil the seenod hall, that we ca' on ordinary days the vestry, and there, takkin' till ye the elders that remain, ye be solemnly ordainit ower again and set apairt for the office o' the meenistry.’
‘But I am your minister, and need nothing of the sort!’ said Gilbert Peden. ‘I command you to let me pass!’
‘Command me nae commands! John Bairdieson kens better nor that. Ye are naither minister nor ruler; ye are but an elder, like mysel'— equal among your equals; an' ye maun sit amang us this day and help to vote for a teachin' elder, first among his equals, to be set solemnly apairt.’
The minister, logical to the verge of hardness, could not gainsay the admirable and even-handed justice of John Bairdieson's position. More than that, he knew that every man in the congregation of the Marrow Kirk of Bell's Wynd would inevitably take the same view.
Without another word he went into the session-house, where in due time he sat down and opened the Bible.
He had not to wait long, when there joined him Gavin MacFadzean, the cobbler, from the foot of Leith Walk, and Alexander Taylour, carriage-builder, elders in the kirk of the Marrow; these, forewarned by John Bairdieson, took their places in silence. To them entered Allan Welsh. Then, last of all, John Bairdieson came in and took his own place. The five elders of the Marrow kirk were met for the first time on an equal platform. John Bairdieson opened with prayer. Then he stated the case. The two ex-ministers sat calm and silent, as though listening to a chapter in the Acts of the Apostles. It was a strange scene of equality, only possible and actual in Scotland.
‘But mind ye,’ said John Bairdieson, ‘this was dune hastily, and not of set purpose—for ministers are but men—even ministers of the Marrow kirk. Therefore shall we, as elders of the kirk, in full standing, set apairt two of our number as teaching elders, for the fulfilling of ordinances and the edification of them that believe. Have you anything to say? If not, then let us proceed to set apairt and ordain Gilbert Peden and Allan Welsh.’
But before any progress could be made, Allan Welsh rose. John Bairdieson had been afraid of this.
‘The less that's said, the better,’ he said hastily, ‘an' it's gottin' near kirk-time. We maun get it a' by or then.’
‘This only I have to say,’ said Allan Welsh, ‘I recognize the justice of my deposition. I have been a sinful and erring man, and I am not worthy to teach in the pulpit any more. Also, my life is done. I shall soon lay it down and depart to the Father whose word I, hopeless and castaway, have yet tried faithfully to preach.’
Then uprose Gilbert Peden. His voice was husky with emotion. ‘Hasty and ill-advised, and of such a character as to bring dishonour on the only true Kirk in Scotland, has such an action been. I confess myself a hasty man, a man of wrath, and that wrath unto sin. I have sinned the sin of anger and presumption against a brother. Long ere now I would have taken it back, but it is the law of God that deeds once done cannot be undone; though we seek repentance carefully with tears, we cannot put the past away.’
Thus, with the consecration and the humility of confession Gilbert Peden purged himself from the sin of hasty anger.
‘Like Uzzah at the threshing-floor of Nachon,’ he went on, ‘I have sinned the sin of the Israelite who set his hand to the ox-cart to stay the ark of God. It is of the Lord's mercy that I am not consumed, like the men of Beth-shemesh.’
So Gilbert Peden was restored, but Allan Welsh would not accept any restoration.
‘I am not a man accepted of God,’ he said. And even Gilbert Peden said no word.
‘Noo,’ said John Bairdieson, ‘afore this meetin' scales, there is juist yae word that I hae to say. There's nane o' us haes wives, but an' except Alexander Taylour, carriage- maker. Noo, the proceedings this mornin' are never to be jince named in the congregation. If, then, there be ony soond of this in the time to come, mind you Alexander Taylour, that it's you that'll hae to bear the weight o't!’
This was felt to be fair, even by Alexander Taylour, carriage- maker.
The meeting now broke up, and John Bairdieson went to reprove Margate Truepenny for knocking with her crutch on the door of the house of God on the Sabbath morning.
‘D'ye think,’ he said, ‘that the fowk knockit wi' their staves on the door o' the temple in Jerusalem?’
‘Aiblins,’ retorted Margate, ‘they had feller doorkeepers in thae days nor you, John Bairdieson.’
The morning service was past. Gilbert Peden had preached from the text, 'Greater is he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.’
‘Oor minister is yin that looks deep intil the workings o' his ain heart,’ said Margate, as she hirpled homeward.
But when the church was empty and all gone home, in the little vestry two men sat together, and the door was shut. Between them they held a miniature, the picture of a girl with a flush of rose on her cheek and a laughing light in her eyes. There was silence, but for a quick catch in the stronger man's breathing, which sounded like a sob. Gilbert Peden, who had only lost and never won, and Allan Welsh, who had both won and lost, were forever at one. There was silence between them, as they looked with eyes of deathless love at the picture which spoke to them of long ago.
Walter Skirving's message, which Winsome had brought to the manse of Dullarg, had united the hearts estranged for twenty years. Winsome had builded better than she knew.
A TRIANGULAR CONVERSATION
It was the day of the fast before the Communion in the Dullarg. The services of the day were over, and Allan Welsh, the minister of the Marrow kirk, was resting in his study from his labours. Manse Bell came up and knocked, inclining her ear as she did so to catch the minister's low-toned reply.
‘Mistress Winifred Charteris frae the Craig Ronald to see ye, sir.’
Allan Welsh commanded his emotion without difficulty—what of it he felt—as indeed he had done for many years.
He rose, however, with his hand on the table as though for support, as Winsome came in. He received her in silence, bending over her hand with a certain grave reverence.
Winsome sat down. She was a little paler but even lovelier in the minister's eyes than when he had seen her before. The faint violet shadows under her lower lids were deeper, and gave a new depth to her sapphire eyes whose irises were so large that the changeful purple lights in them came and went like summer lightnings.
It was Winsome who first spoke, looking at him with a strange pity and a stirring of her soul that she could not account for. She had come unwillingly on her errand, disliking him as the cause of her lover's absence—one of the last things a woman learns to forgive. But, as she looked on Allan Welsh, so bowed and broken, his eyes fallen in, looking wistfully out of the pain of his life, her heart went out to him, even as she thought that of a truth he was Ralph Peden's enemy.
‘My grandfather,’ she said, and her voice was low, equable, and serious, ‘sent me with a packet to you that he instructed me only to give into your own hands.’
Winsome went over to the minister and gave him a sealed parcel. Allan Welsh took it in his hand and seemed to weigh it.
‘I thank you,’ he said, commanding his voice with some difficulty.
‘And I ask you to thank Walter Skirving for his remembrance of me. It is many years since we were driven apart, but I have not forgotten the kindness of the long ago!’
He opened the parcel. It was sealed with Walter Skirving's great seal ring which he wore on his watch-chain, lying on the table before him as he kept his never-ending vigil. There was a miniature and a parcel of letters within.
It was the face of a fair girl, with the same dark-blue eyes of the girl now before him, and the same golden hair—the face of an earlier but not a fairer Winifred. Allan Welsh set his teeth, and caught at the table to stay his dizzying head. The letters were his own. It was Walter Skirving's stern message to him. From the very tomb his own better self rose in judgment against him. He saw what he might have been—the sorrow he had wrought, and the path of ultimate atonement.
He had tried to part two young lovers who had chosen the straight and honest way. It was true that his duty to the kirk which had been his life, and which he himself was under condemnation according to his own standard, had seemed to him to conflict with the path he had marked out for Ralph.
But his own letters, breaking from their brittle confining band, poured in a cataract of folded paper and close-knit writing which looked like his own self of long ago, upon the table before him. He was condemned out of his own mouth.
Winsome sat with her face turned to the window, from which she could see the heathery back of a hill which heaved its bulk between the manse and the lowlands at the mouth of the Dee. There was a dreamy look in her eyes, land her heart was far away in that Edinburgh town from which she had that day received a message to shake her soul with love and pity.
The minister of the Dullarg looked up.
‘Do you love him?’ he asked, abruptly and harshly.
Winsome looked indignant and surprised. Her love, laid away in the depths of her heart, was sacred, and not thus to be at the mercy of every rude questioner. But as her eye rested on Allan Welsh, the unmistakable accent of sincerity took hold on her—that accent which may ask all things and not be blamed.
‘I do love him,’ she said— ‘with all my heart.’
That answer does not vary while God is in his heaven.
The eye of Allan Welsh fell on the miniature. The woman he had loved so long ago took part in the conversation.
‘That is what you said twenty years ago!’ the unseen Winsome said from the table.
‘And he loves you?’ he asked, without looking up.
‘If I did not believe it, I could not live!’
Allan Welsh glanced with a keen and sudden scrutiny at Winsome Charteris; but the clearness of her eye and the gladness and faith at the bottom of it satisfied him as to his thought.
This Ralph Peden was a better man than he. A sad yearning face looked up at him from the table, and a voice thrilled in his ears across the years--
‘So did not you!’
‘You know,’ said Allan Welsh, again untrue to himself, ‘that it is not for Ralph Peden's good that he should love you.’ The formal part of him was dictating the words.
‘I know you think so, and I am here to ask you why,’ said Winsome fearlessly.
‘And if I persuade you, will you forbid him?’ said Allan Welsh, convinced of his own futility.
Winsome's heart caught the accent of insincerity. It had gone far beyond forbidding love or allowing it with Ralph Peden and herself.
‘I shall try!’ she said, with her own sweet serenity. But across the years a voice was pleading their case. As the black and faded ink of the letters flashed his own sentences across the minister's eye, the soul God had put within him rose in revolt against his own petty and useless preaching.
‘So did not you,’ persisted the voice in his ear. ‘Me you counselled to risk all, and you took me out into the darkness, lighting my way with love. Did ever I complain—father lost, mother lost, home lost, God well nigh lost—all for you; yet did I even regret when you saw me die?’
‘Think of the Marrow kirk,’ said the minister. ‘Her hard service does not permit a probationer, before whom lies the task of doctrine and reproof, to have father or mother, wife or sweetheart.’
‘And what did you,’ said the voice, ‘in that past day, care for the Marrow kirk, when the light shone upon me, and you thought the world, and the Marrow kirk with it, well lost for love's sake and mine?’
Allan Welsh bowed his head yet lower.
Winsome Charteris went over to him. His tears were falling fast on the dulled and yellowing paper.
Winsome put her hands on his shoulder.
‘Is that my mother's picture?’ she said, hardly knowing what she said.
Allan Welsh put his hand greedily about it, he could not let it go.
‘Will you kiss me for your mother's sake?’ he said.
And then, for the first time since her babyhood, Winsome Charteris, whose name was Welsh, kissed her father.
There were tears on her mother's miniature, but through them the face of the dead Winifred seemed to smile well pleased.
‘For my mother's sake!’ said Winsome again, and kissed him of her own accord on the brow.
Thus Walter Skirving's message was delivered.
THE MEETING OF THE SYNOD
With the vestry of the Marrow kirk in Bell's Wynd the synod met, and was constituted with prayer. Sederunt, the Reverend Gilbert Peden, moderator, minister of the true kirk of God in Scotland, commonly called the Marrow Kirk, in which place the synod for the time being was assembled; the Reverend Allan Welsh, minister of the Marrow kirk in Dullarg, clerk of the synod; John Bairdieson, synod's officer. The minutes of the last meeting having been read and approved of, the court proceeded to take up business. Inter alia the trials of Master Ralph Peden, some time student of arts and humanity in the College of Edinburgh, were a remit for this day and date. Accordingly, the synod called upon the Reverend Allan Welsh, its clerk, to make report upon the diligence, humility, and obedience, as well as upon the walk and conversation of the said Ralph Peden, student in divinity, now on trials for license to preach, the gospel.
Allan Welsh read all this gravely and calmly, as if the art of expressing ecclesiastical meaning lay in clothing it in as many overcoats as a city watchman wears in winter.
The moderator sat still, with a grim earnestness in his face. He was the very embodiment of the kirk of the Marrow, and though there were but two ministers with no elders there that day to share the responsibility, what did that matter?
He, Gilbert Peden, successor of all the (faithful) Reformers, was there to do inflexible and impartial justice.
John Bairdieson came in and sat down. The moderator observed his presence, and in his official capacity took notice of it.
‘This sederunt of the synod is private,’ he said. ‘Officer, remove the strangers.’
In his official capacity the officer of the court promptly removed John Bairdieson, who went most unwillingly.
The matter of the examination of probationers comes up immediately after the reading of the minutes in well-regulated church courts, being most important and vital.
‘The clerk will now call for the report upon the life and conduct of the student under trials,’ said the moderator.
The clerk called upon the Reverend Allan Welsh to present his report. Then he sat down gravely, but immediately rose again to give his report. All the while the moderator sat impassive as a statue.
The minister of Dullarg began in a low and constrained voice. He had observed, he said, with great pleasure the diligence and ability of Master Ralph Peden, and considered the same in terms of the remit to him from the synod. He was much pleased with the clearness of the candidate upon the great questions of theology and church government. He had examined him daily in his work, and had confidence in bearing testimony to the able and spiritual tone of all his exercises, both oral and written.
Soon after he began, a surprised look stole over the face of the moderator. As Allan Welsh went on from sentence to sentence, the thin nostrils of the representative of the Reformers dilated. A strange and intense scorn took possession of him. He sat back and looked fixedly at the slight figure of the minister of Dullarg bending under the weight of his message and the frailty of his body. His time was coming.
Allan Welsh sat down, and laid his written report on the table of the synod.
‘And is that all that you have to say?’ queried the moderator, rising.
‘That is all,’ said Allan Welsh.
‘Then,’ said the moderator, ‘I charge it against you that you have either said too much or too little: too much for me to listen to as the father of this young man, if it be true that you extruded him, being my son and a student of the Marrow kirk committed to your care, at midnight from your house, for no stated cause; and too little, far too little to satisfy me as moderator of this synod, when a report not only upon diligence and scholarship, but also upon a walk and conversation becoming the gospel, is demanded.’
‘I have duly given my report according to the terms of the remit,’ said Allan Welsh, simply and quietly.
‘Then,’ said the moderator, ‘I solemnly call you to account as the moderator of this synod of the only true and protesting Kirk of Scotland, for the gravest dereliction of your duty. I summon you to declare the cause why Ralph Peden, student in divinity, left your house at midnight, and, returning to mine, was for that cause denied bed and board at his father's house.’
‘I deny your right, moderator, to ask that question as an officer of this synod. If, at the close, you meet me as man to man, and, as a father, ask me the reasons of my conduct, some particulars of which I do not now seek to defend, I shall be prepared to satisfy you.’
‘We are not here convened,’ said the moderator, ‘to bandy compliments, but to do justice—’
‘And to love mercy,’ interjected John Bairdieson through the keyhole.
‘Officer,’ said the moderator, ‘remove that rude interrupter.’
‘Aye, aye, sir,’ responded the synod officer promptly, and removed the offender as much as six inches.
‘You have no more to say?’ queried the moderator, bending his brows in threatening fashion.
‘I have no more to say,’ returned the clerk as firmly. They were both combative men; and the old spirit of that momentous conflict, in which they had fought so gallantly together, moved them to as great obstinacy now that they were divided.
‘Then,’ said the moderator, ‘there's nothing for't but another split, and the Lord do so, and more also, to him whose sin brings it about!’
‘Amen!’ said Allan Welsh.
‘You will remember,’ said the moderator, addressing the minister of Dullarg directly, ‘that you hold your office under my pleasure. There is that against you in the past which would justify me, as moderator of the kirk of the Marrow, in deposing you summarily from the office of the ministry. This I have in writing under your own hand and confession.’
‘And I,’ said the clerk, rising with the gleaming light of war in his eye, ‘have to set it against these things that you are guilty of art and part in the concealment of that which, had you spoken twenty years ago, would have removed from the kirk of the Marrow an unfaithful minister, and given some one worthier than I to report on the fitness of your son for the ministry. It was you, Gilbert Peden, who made this remit to me, knowing what you know. I shall accept the deposition which you threaten at your hands, but remember that co-ordinately the power of this assembly lies with me—you as moderator, having only a casting, not a deliberative vote; and know you, Gilbert Peden, minister and moderator, that I, Allan Welsh, will depose you also from the office of the ministry, and my deposition will stand as good as yours.’
‘The Lord preserve us! In five meenetes there'll be nae Marrow Kirk’ said John Bairdieson, and flung himself against the door; but the moderator had taken the precaution of locking it and placing the key on his desk.
The two ministers rose simultaneously. Gilbert Peden stood at the head and Allan Welsh at the foot of the little table. They were so near that they could have shaken hands across it. But they had other work to do.
‘Allan Welsh,’ said the moderator, stretching out his hand, ‘minister of the gospel in the parish of Dullarg to the faithful contending remnant, I call upon you to show cause why you should not be deposed for the sins of contumacy and contempt, for sins of person and life, confessed and communicate under your hand.’
‘Gilbert Peden,’ returned the minister of the Dullarg and clerk to the Marrow Synod, looking like a cock-boat athwart the hawse of a leviathan of the deep, ‘I call upon you to show cause why you should not be deposed for unfaithfulness in the discharge of your duty, in so far as you have concealed known sin, and by complicity and compliance have been sharer in the wrong.’
There was a moment's silence. Gilbert Peden knew well that what his opponent said was good Marrow doctrine, for Allan Welsh had confessed to him his willingness to accept deposition twenty years ago.
Then, as with one voice, the two men pronounced against each other the solemn sentence of deposition and deprivation:
‘In the name of God, and by virtue of the law of the Marrow Kirk, I solemnly depose you from the office of the ministry.’
John Bairdieson burst in the door, leaving the lock hanging awry with the despairing force of his charge.
‘Be merciful, oh, be merciful!’ he cried; ‘let not the Philistines rejoice, nor the daughter of the uncircumcised triumph. Let be! let be! Say that ye dinna mean it! Oh, say ye dinna mean it! Tak' it back—tak' it a' back!’
There was the silence of death between the two men, who stood lowering at each other.
John Bairdieson turned and ran down the stairs. He met Ralph and Professor Thriepneuk coming up.
JEMIMA, KEZIA, AND LITTLE KEREN-HAPPUCH
Ralph found the professor out. He was, indeed, engaged in an acrimonious discussion on the Wernerian theory, and at that moment he was developing a remarkable scientific passion, which threatened to sweep his adversaries from the face of the earth in the debris of their heresies.
Within doors, however, Ralph found a very warm welcome from his three cousins—Jemima, Kezia, and Keren-happuch. Jemima was tall and angular, with her hair accurately parted in the middle, and drawn in a great sweep over her ears—a fashion intended by Nature for Keren-happuch, who was round of face, and with a complexion in which there appeared that mealy pink upon the cheeks which is peculiar to the metropolis. Kezia was counted the beauty of the family, and was much looked up to by her elder and younger sisters.
These three girls had always made much of Ralph, ever since he used to play about the many garrets and rooms of their old mansion beneath the castle, before they moved out to the new house at the Sciennes. They had long been in love with him, each in her own way; though they had always left the first place to Kezia, and wove romances in their own heads with Ralph for the central figure. Jemima, especially, had been very jealous of her sisters, who were considerably younger, and had often spoken seriously to them about flirting with Ralph. It was Jemima who came to the door; for, in those days, all except the very grandest persons thought no more of opening the outer than the inner doors of their houses.
‘Ralph Peden, have you actually remembered that there is such a house as the Sciennes?’ said Jemima, holding up her face to receive the cousinly kiss.
Ralph bestowed it chastely. Whereupon followed Kezia and little Keren-happuch, who received slightly varied duplicates.
Then the three looked at one another. They knew that this Ralph had eaten of the tree of knowledge.
‘That is not the way you kissed us before you went away,’ said outspoken Kezia, who had experience in the matter wider than that of the others, looking him straight in the eyes as became a beauty.
For once Ralph was thoroughly taken aback, and blushed richly and long.
Kezia laughed as one who enjoyed his discomfiture.
‘I knew it would come,’ she said. ‘Is she a milkmaid? She's not the minister's daughter, for he is a bachelor, you said!’
Jemima and Keren-happuch actually looked a little relieved, though a good deal excited. They had been standing in the hall while this conversation was running its course.
‘It's all nonsense, Kezia; I am astonished at you!’ said Jemima.
‘Come into the sitting-parlour,’ said Kezia, taking Ralph's hand; ‘we'll not one of us bear any malice if only you tell us all about it.’
Jemima, after severe consideration, at last looked in a curious sidelong way to Ralph.
‘I hope,’ she said, ‘that you have not done anything hasty.’
‘Tuts!’ said Kezia, ‘I hope he has. He was far too slow before he went away. Make love in haste; marry at leisure—that's the right way.’
‘Can I have the essay that you read us last April, on the origin of woman?’ asked Keren-happuch unexpectedly. ‘You won't want it any more, and I should like it.’
Even little Keren-happuch had her feelings.
The three Misses Thriepneuks were a little jealous of one another before, but already they had forgotten this slight feeling, which indeed was no more than the instinct of proprietorship which young women come to feel in one who has never been long out of their house, and with whom they have been brought up.
But in the face of this new interest they lost their jealousy of one another; so that, in place of presenting a united front to the enemy, these three kindly young women, excited at the mere hint of a love-story, vied with one another which should be foremost in interest and sympathy. The blush on Ralph's face spoke its own message, and now, when he was going to speak, his three cousins sat round with eager faces to listen.
‘I have something to tell, girls,’ said Ralph, ‘but I meant to tell it first to my uncle. I have been turned out of the manse of Dullarg, and my father will not allow me to live in his house till after the meeting of the presbytery.’
This was more serious than a love-story, and the bright expression died down into flickering uncertainty in the faces of Jemima, Kezia, and Keren-happuch.
‘It's not anything wrong?’ asked Jemima, anxiously.
‘No, no,’ said Ralph quickly, ‘nothing but what I have reason to be proud enough of. It is only a question of the doctrines and practice of the Marrow kirk—’
‘Oh!’ said all three simultaneously, with an accent of mixed scorn and relief. The whole matter was clear to them now.
‘And of the right of the synod of the Marrow kirk to control my actions,’ continued Ralph.
But the further interest was entirely gone from the question.
‘Tell us about her,’ they said in unison.
‘How do you know it is a 'her'?’ asked Ralph, clumsily trying to put off time, like a man.
Kezia laughed on her own account, Keren-happuch, because Kezia laughed, but Jemima said solemnly:
‘I hope she is of a serious disposition.’
‘Nonsense! I hope she is pretty,’ said Kezia.
‘And I hope she will love me,’ said little Keren-happuch.
Ralph thought a little, and then, as it was growing dark, he sat on the old sofa with his back to the fading day, and told his love-story to these three sweet girls, who, though they had played with him and been all womanhood to him ever since he came out of petticoats, had not a grain of jealousy of the unseen sister who had come suddenly past them and stepped into the primacy of Ralph's life.
When he was half-way through with his tale he suddenly stopped, and said:
‘But I ought to have told all this first to your father, because he may not care to have me in his house. There is only my word for it, after all, and it is the fact that I have not the right to set foot in my own father's house.’
‘We will make our father see it in the right way,’ said Jemima quietly.
‘Yes,’ interposed Kezia, ‘or I would not give sixpence for his peace of mind these next six months.’
‘It is all right if you tell us,’ said little Keren-happuch, who was her father's playmate. Jemima ruled him, Kezia teased him—the privilege of beauty—but it was generally little Keren-happuch who fetched his slippers and sat with her cheek against the back of his hand as he smoked and read in his great wicker chair by the north window.
There was the sound of quick nervous footsteps with an odd halt in their fall on the gravel walk outside. The three girls ran to the door in a tumultuous greeting, even Jemima losing her staidness for the occasion. Ralph could hear only the confused babble of tongues and the expressions, ‘Now you hear, father—’ ‘Now you understand—’ ‘Listen to me, father—’ as one after another took up the tale.
Ralph retold the story that night from the very beginning to the professor, who listened silently, punctuating his thoughts with the puffs of his pipe.
When he had finished, there was an unwonted moisture in the eyes of Professor Thriepneuk—perhaps the memory of a time when he too had gone a-courting.
He stretched the hand which was not occupied with his long pipe to Ralph, who grasped it strongly.
‘You have acted altogether as I could have desired my own son to act; I only wish that I had one like you. Let the Marrow Kirk alone, and come and be my assistant till you see your way a little into the writer's trade. Pens and ink are cheap, and you can take my classes in the summer, and give me quietness to write my book on 'The Abuses of Ut with the Subjunctive.'‘
‘But I must find lodgings—’ interrupted Ralph.
‘You must find nothing—just bide here. It is the house of your nearest kin, and the fittest place for you. Your meat's neither here nor there, and my lasses—’
‘They are the best and kindest in the world,’ said Ralph.
The professor glanced at him with a sharp, quizzical look under his eyebrows. He seemed as if he were about to say something, and then thought better of it and did not. Perhaps he also had had his illusions.
As Ralph was going to his room that night Kezia met him at the head of the stairs. She came like a flash from nowhere in particular.
‘Good-night, Ralph,’ she said; ‘give your Winsome a kiss from me— the new kind—like this!’
Then Kezia vanished, and Ralph was left wondering, with his candle in his hand.
BEFORE THE REFORMER'S CHAIR
‘The Lord save us, Maister Ralph, what's this?’ said John Bairdieson, opening the door of the stair in James's Court. It was a narrow hall that it gave access to, more like a passage than a hall. ‘Hoo hae ye come? An' what for didna Maister Welsh or you write to say ye war comin'? An' whaur's a' the buiks an' the gear?’ continued John Bairdieson.
‘I have walked all the way, John,’ said Ralph. ‘I quarrelled with the minister, and he turned me to the door.’
‘Dear sirce!’ said John anxiously, ‘was't ill-doing or unsound doctrine?’
‘Mr. Welsh said that he could not company with unbelievers.’
‘Then it's doctrine—wae's me, wae's me! I wuss it had been the lasses. What wull his faither say? Gin it had been ill-doin', he micht hae pitten it doon to the sins o' yer youth; but ill- doctrine he canna forgie. O Maister Ralph, gin ye canna tell a lee yersel', wull ye no haud yer tongue—I can lee, for I'm but an elder—an' I'll tell him that at a kirn [harvest festival] ye war persuaded to drink the health o' the laird, an' you no bein' acquant wi' the strength o' Glenlivat—’
‘John, John, indeed I cannot allow it. Besides, you're a sailor- man, an' even in Galloway they do not have kirns till the corn's ripe,’ replied Ralph with a smile.
‘Aweel, can ye no say, or let me say for ye, gin ye be particular, that ye war a wee late oot at nicht seein' a bit lassie—or ocht but the doctrine? It wasna anything concernin' the fundamentals o' the Marrow, Maister Ralph, though, surely,’ continued John Bairdieson, whose elect position did not prevent him from doing his best for the interests of his masters, young and old. Indeed, to start with the acknowledged fact of personal election sometimes gives a man like John Bairdieson an unmistakable advantage. Ralph went to his own room, leaving John Bairdieson listening, as he prayed to be allowed to do, at the door of his father's room.
In a minute or two John Bairdieson came up, with a scared face.
‘Ye're to gang doon, Maister Ralph, an' see yer faither. But, O sir, see that ye speak lown to him. He hasna gotten sleep for twa nichts, an' he's fair pitten by himsel' wi' thae ill-set Conformists—weary fa' them! that he's been in the gall o' bitterness wi'.’
Ralph went down to his father's study. Knocking softly, he entered. His father sat in his desk chair, closed in on every side. It had once been the pulpit of a great Reformer, and each time that Gilbert Peden shut himself into it, he felt that he was without father or mother save and except the only true and proper Covenant-keeping doctrine in broad Scotland, and the honour and well-being of the sorely dwindled Kirk of the Marrow.
Gilbert Peden was a noble make of a man, larger in body though hardly taller than his son. He wore a dark-blue cloth coat with wide flaps, and the immense white neckerchief on which John Bairdieson weekly expended all his sailor laundry craft. His face was like his son's, as clear-cut and statuesque, though larger and broader in frame and mould. There was, however, a coldness about the eye and a downward compression of the lips, which speaks the man of narrow though fervid enthusiasms.
Ralph went forward to his father. As he came, his father stayed him with the palm of his hand, the finger-tips turned upward.
‘Abide, my son, till I know for what cause you have left or been expelled from the house of the man to whom I committed you during your trials for license. Answer me, why have you come away from the house of Allan Welsh like a thief in the night?’
‘Father,’ said Ralph, ‘I cannot tell you everything at present, because the story is not mine to tell. Can you not trust me?’
‘I could trust you with my life and all that I possess,’ said his father; ‘they are yours, and welcome; but this is a matter that affects your standing as a probationer on trials in the kirk of the Marrow, which is of divine institution. The cause is not mine, my son. Tell me that the cause of your quarrel had nothing to do with the Marrow kirk and your future standing in it, and I will ask you no more till you choose to tell me of your own will concerning the matter.’
The Marrow minister looked at his son with a gleam of tenderness forcing its way through the sternness of his words.
But Ralph was silent.
‘It was indeed in my duty to the Marrow kirk that Mr. Welsh considered that I lacked. It was for this cause that he refused to company further with me.’
Then there came a hardness as of grey hill stone upon the minister's face. It was not a pleasant thing to see in a father's face.
‘Then,’ he said slowly, ‘Ralph Peden, this also is a manse of the Marrow kirk, and, though ye are my own son, I cannot receive ye here till your innocence is proven in the presbytery. Ye must stand yer trials.’
Ralph bowed his head. He had not been unprepared for something like this, but the pain he might have felt at another time was made easier by a subtle anodyne. He hardly seemed to feel the smart as a week before he might have done. In some strange way Winsome was helping him to bear it—or her prayers for him were being answered.
John Bairdieson broke into the study, his grey hair standing on end, and the shape of the keyhole cover imprinted on his brow above his left eye. John could see best with his left eye, and hear best with his right ear, which he had some reason to look upon as a special equalization of the gifts of Providence, though not well adapted for being of the greatest service at keyholes.
‘Save us, minister!’ he burst out; ‘the laddie's but a laddie, an' na doot his pranks hae upset guid Maister Welsh a wee. Lads will be lads, ye ken. But Maister Ralph's soond on the fundamentals—I learned him the Shorter Questions mysel', sae I should ken—forbye the hunner an' nineteenth Psalm that he learned on my knee, and how to mak' a Fifer's knot, an' the double reef, an' a heap o' usefu' knowledge forbye; an' noo to tak' it into your heid that yer ain son's no soond in the faith, a' because he has fa'en oot wi' a donnert auld carle—’
‘John,’ said the minister sternly, ‘leave the room! You have no right to speak thus of an honoured servant of the kirk of the Marrow.’
Ralph could see through the window the light fading off the Fife Lomonds, and the long line of the shore darkening under the night into a more ethereal blue.
There came to him in this glimpse of woods and dewy pastures overseas a remembrance of a dearer shore. The steading over the Grannoch Loch stood up clear before him, the blue smoke going straight up, Winsome's lattice standing open with the roses peeping in, and the night airs breathing lovingly through them, airing it out as a bed-chamber for the beloved.
The thought made his heart tender. To his father he said:
‘Father, will you not take my word that there is nothing wicked or disgraceful in what I have done? If it were my own secret, I would gladly tell you at once; but as it is, I must wait until in his own time Mr. Welsh communicates with you.’
The minister, sitting in the Reformer's seat, pulling at his stern upper lip, winced; and perhaps had it not been for the pulpit the human in him might have triumphed. But he only said:
‘I am quite prepared to support you until such time as at a meeting of the presbytery the matter be tried, but I cannot have in a Marrow Manse one living under the fama of expulsion from the house of a brother minister in good standing.’
‘Thank you, father,’ said his son, ‘for your kind offer, but I do not think I shall need to trouble you.’
And so with these words the young man turned and went out proudly from the father's sight, as he had gone from the manse of the other minister of the Marrow kirk.
As he came to the outside of the door, leaving his father sitting stately and stern in the Reformer's pulpit, he said, in the deeps of his heart:
‘God do so to me, and more also, if I ever seek again to enter the Marrow kirk, if so be that, like my father, I must forget my humanity in order worthily to serve it!’
After he had gone out, the Reverend Gilbert Peden took his Bible and read the parable of the prodigal son. He closed the great book, which ever lay open before him, and said, as one who both accuses and excuses himself:
‘But the prodigal son was not under trials for license in the kirk of the Marrow!’
At the door, John Bairdieson, his hair more than ever on end, met Ralph. He held up his hands.
‘It's an awfu'—like thing to be obleegit to tell the hale truth! O man, couldna ye hae tell't a wee bit lee? It wad hae saved an awfu' deal o' fash! But it's ower late now; ye can juist bide i' the spare room up the stair, an' come an' gang by door on the Castle Bank, an' no yin forbye mysel' 'ill be a hair the wiser. I, John Bairdieson, 'll juist fetch up yer meals the same as ordinar'. Ye'll be like a laddie at the mastheid up there; it'll be braw an' quate for the studyin'!’
‘John, I am much obliged to you for your kind thought,’ said Ralph, ‘but I cannot remain in his house against my father's expressed wish, and without his knowledge.’
‘Hear till him! Whaur else should he bide but in the hoose that he was born in, an' his faither afore him? That would be a bonny like story. Na, na, ye'll juist bide, Maister Ralph, an'—’
‘I must go this very night,’ said Ralph. ‘You mean well, John, but it cannot be. I am going down to see my uncle, Professor Thriepneuk.’
‘Leave yer faither's hoose to gang to that o' a weezened auld—’
‘John!’ said Ralph, warningly.
‘He's nae uncle o' yours, onygate, though he married your mother's sister. An' a sair life o't she had wi' him, though I doot na but thae dochters o' his sort him to richts noo.’
So, in spite of John Bairdieson's utmost endeavours, and waiting only to put his clothes together, Ralph took his way over to the Sciennes, where his uncle, the professor, lived in a new house with his three daughters, Jemima, Kezia, and Keren-happuch. The professor had always been very kind to Ralph. He was not a Marrow man, and therefore, according to the faith of his father, an outcast from the commonwealth. But he was a man of the world of affairs, keen for the welfare of his class at the University College—a man crabbed and gnarled on the surface, but within him a strong vein of tenderness of the sort that always seems ashamed of catching its possessor in a kind action.
To him Ralph knew that he could tell the whole story. The Sciennes was on the very edge of the green fields. The corn-fields stretched away from the dyke of the Professor's garden to the south towards the red-roofed village of Echo Bank and the long ridge of Liberton, crowned by the square tower on which a stone dining-room table had been turned up, its four futile legs waving in the air like a beetle overset on its back.
UNDER THE BED HEATHER
So refreshed, Ralph and Jock passed on their way. All the forenoon they plodded steadily forward. From Moniaive they followed the windings of a flashing burn, daching and roaring in a shallow linn, here and there white with foam and fretting, and again dimpling black in some deep and quiet pool. Through the ducal village of Thornhill and so northward along the Nithside towards the valley of the Menick they went. The great overlapping purple folds of the hills drew down about these two as they passed. Jock Gordon continually scoured away to either side like a dog fresh off the leash. Ralph kept steadily before him the hope in his heart that before long the deep cleft would be filled up and that for always.
It so happened that it was night when they reached the high summit of the Leadhills and the village of Wanlockhead gleamed grey beneath them. Ralph proposed to go down and get lodgings there; but Jock had other intentions.
‘What for,’ he argued, ‘what for should ye pay for the breadth of yer back to lie doon on? Jock Gordon wull mak' ye juist as comfortable ablow a heather buss as ever ye war in a bed in the manse. Bide a wee!’
Jock took him into a sheltered little ‘hope,’ where they were shut in from the world of sheep and pit-heads.
With his long, broad-bladed sheath-knife Jock was not long in piling under the sheltered underside of a great rock over which the heather grew, such a heap of heather twigs as Ralph could hardly believe had been cut in so short a time. These he compacted into an excellent mattress, springy and level, with pliable interlacings of broom.
‘Lie ye doon there, an' I'll mak' ye a bonnie plaidie,’ said Jock.
There was a little ‘cole’ or haystack of the smallest sort close at hand. To this Jock went, and, throwing off the top layer as possibly damp, he carried all the rest in his arms and piled it on Ralph till he was covered up to his neck.
‘We'll mak' a' snod again i' the mornin'!’ he said. ‘Noo, we'll theek ye, an' feed ye!’ said Jock comprehensively. So saying, he put other layers of heather, thinner than the mattress underneath, but arranged in the same way, on the top of the hay.
‘Noo ye're braw an' snug, are ye na'? What better wad ye hae been in a three-shillin' bed?’
Then Jock made a fire of broken last year's heather. This he carefully watched to keep it from spreading, and on it he roasted half a dozen plover's eggs which he had picked up during the day in his hillside ranging. On these high moors the moor-fowls go on laying till August. These being served on warmed and buttered scones, and sharpened with a whiff of mordant heather smoke, were most delicious to Ralph, who smiled to himself, well pleased under his warm covering of hay and overthatching of heather.
After each egg was supplied to him piping hot, Jock would say:
‘An' isna that as guid as a half-croon supper?’
Then another pee-wit's egg, delicious and fresh--
‘Luckie Morrine couldna beat that,’ said Jock.
There was a surprising lightness in the evening air, the elastic life of the wide moorland world settling down to rest for a couple of hours, which is all the night there is on these hill-tops in the crown of the year.
Jock Gordon covered himself by no means so elaborately as he had provided for Ralph, saying: ‘I hae covered you for winter, for ye're but a laddie; the like o' me disna need coverin' when the days follow yin anither like sheep jumpin' through a slap.’
Ralph was still asleep when the morning came. But when the young sun looked over the level moors—for they were on the very top of the heathery creation—Jock Gordon made a little hillock of dewy heather to shelter Ralph from the sun. He measured at the same time a hand's breadth in the sky, saying to himself, ‘I'll wakken the lad when he gets to there!’ He was speaking of the sun.
But before the flood of light overtopped the tiny break-water and shot again upon Ralph's face, he sat up bewildered and astonished, casting a look about him upon the moorland and its crying birds.
Jock Gordon was just coming towards him, having scoured the face of the ridge for more plover's eggs.
‘Dinna rise,’ said Jock, ‘till I tak' awa' the beddin'. Ye see,’ continued the expert in camping out on hills, ‘the hay an' the heather gets doon yer neck an' mak's ye yeuk an' fidge a' day. An' at first ye mind that, though after a while gin ye dinna yeuk, ye find it michty oninterestin'!’
Ralph sat up. Something in Jock's bare heel as he sat on the grass attracted his attention.
‘Wi', Jock,’ he said, infinitely astonished, ‘what's that in yer heel?’
‘Ou!’ said Jock, ‘it's nocht but a nail!’
‘A nail!’ said Ralph; ‘what are ye doin' wi' a nail in yer foot?’
‘I gat it in last Martinmas,’ he said.
‘But why do you not get it out? Does it not hurt?’ said Ralph, compassionating.
‘'Deed did it awhile at the first,’ said Jock, ‘but I got used to it. Ye can use wi' a'thing. Man's a wunnerful craitur!’
‘Let me try to pull it out,’ said Ralph, shivering to think of the pain he must have suffered.
‘Na, na, ye ken what ye hae, but ye dinna ken what ye micht get. I ken what I hae to pit up wi', wi' a nail in my fit; but wha kens what it micht be gin I had a muckle hole ye could pit yer finger in? It wadna be bonny to hae the clocks howkin' and the birdies biggin' their nests i' my heel! Na, na, it's a guid lesson to be content wi' yer doon-settin', or ye may get waur!’
It was in the bright morning light that these two took the Edinburgh road, which clambered down over the hillsides by the village of Leadhills into the valley of the Clyde. Through Abingdon and Biggar they made their way, and so admirable were Jock's requisitioning abilities that Winsome's green purse was never once called into action.
When they looked from the last downward step of the Mid-Lothian table-land upon the city of Edinburgh, there was a brisk starting of smoke from many chimneys, for the wives of the burgesses were kindling their supper fires, and their husbands were beginning to come in with the expectant look of mankind about meal-time.
‘Come wi' me, Jock, and I'll show ye Edinburgh, as ye have showed me the hills of heather!’ This was Ralph's invitation.
‘Na,’ said Jock, ‘an' thank ye kindly a' the same. There's muckle loons there that micht snap up a guid-lookin' lad like Jock, an' ship him ontill their nesty ships afore he could cry 'Mulquarchar and Craignell!' Jock Gordon may be a fule, but he kens when he's weel aff. Nae Auld Reekies for him, an' thank ye kindly. When he wants to gang to the gaol he'll steal a horse an' gang daicent! He'll no gang wi' his thoom in his mooth, an' when they say till him, 'What are ye here for?' be obleeged to answer, 'Fegs, an' I dinna ken what for!' Na, na, it wadna be mensefu' like ava'. A' the Gordons that ever was hae gaen to the gaol—but only yince. It's aye been a hangin' maitter, an' Jock's no the man to turn again the rule an' custom o' his forebears. 'Yince gang, yince hang,' is Jock's motto.’
Ralph did not press the point. But he had some unexpected feeling in saying good-bye to Jock. It was not so easy. He tried to put three of Winsome's guineas into his hand, but Jock would have none of them.
‘Me wi' gowden guineas!’ he said. ‘Surely ye maun hae an ill-wull at puir Jock, that wusses ye weel; what wad ony body say gin I poo'ed out sic a lump of gowd? 'There's that loon Jock been breakin' somebody's bank,' an' then 'Fare-ye-weel, Kilaivie,' to Jock's guid name. It's gane, like his last gless o' whusky, never to return.’
‘But you are a long way from home, Jock; how will you get back?’
‘Hoots, haivers, Maister Ralph, gin Jock has providit for you that needs a' things as gin ye war in a graund hoose, dinna be feared for Jock, that can eat a wamefu' o' green heather-taps wi' the dew on them like a bit flafferin' grouse bird. Or Jock can catch the muir-fowl itsel' an' eat it ablow a heather buss as gin he war a tod. Hoot awa' wi' ye! Jock can fend for himsel' brawly. Sillar wad only tak' the edge aff his genius.’
‘Then is there nothing that I can bring you from Edinburgh when I come again?’ said Ralph, with whom the coming again was ever present.
‘'Deed, aye, gin ye are so ceevil—it's richt prood I wad be o' a boxfu' o' Maister Cotton's Dutch sneeshin'—him that's i' the High Street—they say it's terrible graund stuff. Wullie Hulliby gat some when he was up wi' his lambs, an' he said that, after the first snifter, he grat for days. It maun be graund!’
Ralph promised, with gladness to find some way of easing his load of debt to Jock.
‘Noo, Maister Ralph, it's a wanchancy place, this Enbra', an' I'll stap aff an' on till the morrow's e'en here or hereaboots, for sae it micht be that ye took a notion to gang back amang kent fowk, whaur ye wad be safe an' soun'.’
‘But, Jock,’ urged Ralph, ‘ye need not do that. I was born and brought up in Edinburgh!’
‘That's as may be; gin I bena mista'en, there's a byous heap o' things has happened since then. Gang yer ways, but gin ye hae message or word for Jock, juist come cannily oot, an' he'll be here till dark the morn.’
OVER THE HILLS AND FAR AWA'
Winsome came back to a quiet Craig Ronald. The men were in the field. The farmsteading was hushed, Meg not to be seen, the dogs silent, the bedroom blind undrawn when she entered to find the key in the door. She went within instantly and threw herself down upon the bed. Outside, the morning sun strengthened and beat on the shining white of the walls of Craig Ronald, and on Ralph far across the moors.
Winsome must wait. We shall follow Ralph. It is the way of the world at any rate. The woman always must wait and nothing said. With the man are the keen interests of the struggle, the grip of opposition, the clash of arms. With the woman, naught worth speaking of—only the silence, the loneliness, and waiting.
Ralph went northward wearing Winsome's parting kiss on his brow like an insignia of knighthood. It meant much to one who had never gone away before. So simple was he that he did not know that there are all-experiencing young men who love and sail away, clearing as they go the decks of their custom-staled souls for the next action.
He stumbled, this simple knight, blindly into the ruts and pebbly water courses down which the winter rains had rushed, tearing the turf clean from the granite during the November and February rains.
So he journeyed onward, heedless of his going.
To him came Jock Gordon, skipping like a wild goat down the Bennanside.
‘Hey, mon, d'ye want to drive intil Loch Ken? Ye wad mak' braw ged-bait. Haud up the hill, breest to the brae.’
Through his trouble Ralph heard and instinctively obeyed. In a little while he struck the beautiful road which runs north and south along the side of the long loch of Ken. Now there are fairer bowers in the south sunlands. There are Highlands and Alp-lands of sky-piercing beauty. But to Galloway, and specially to the central glens and flanking desolations thereof, one beauty belongs. She is like a plain girl with beautiful eyes. There is no country like her in the world for colour—so delicately fresh in the rain- washed green of her pasture slopes, so keen the viridian of her turnip-fields when the dew is on the broad, fleshy, crushed leaves, so tender and deep the blue in the hollow places. It was small wonder that Ralph had set down in the note-book in which he sketched for future use all that passed under his eye:
‘Hast thou seen the glamour that follows, The falling of summer rain- The mystical blues in the hollows, The purples and greys on the plain?’
It is true that all these things were but the idle garniture of a tale that had lost its meaning to Ralph this morning; but yet in time the sense that the beauty and hope of life lay about him stole soothingly upon his soul. He was glad to breathe the gracious breaths of spraying honeysuckle running its creamy riot of honey-drenched petals over the hedges, and flinging daring reconnaissances even to the tops of the dwarf birches by the wayside.
So quickly Nature eased his smart, that—for such is the nature of the best men, even of the very best—at the moment when Winsome threw herself, dazed and blinded with pain, upon her low white bed in the little darkened chamber over the hill at Craig Ronald, Ralph was once more, even though with the gnaw of emptiness and loss in his heart, looking forward to the future, and planning what the day would bring to him on which he should return.
Even as he thought he began to whistle, and his step went lighter, Jock Gordon moving silently along the heather by his side at a dog's trot. Let no man think hardly of Ralph, for this is the nature of the man. It was not that man loves the less, but that with him in his daring initiative and strenuous endeavour the future lies.
The sooner, then, that he could compass and overpass his difficulties the more swiftly would his face be again set to the south, and the aching emptiness of his soul be filled with a strange and thrilling expectancy. The wind whistled in his face as he rounded the Bennan and got his first glimpse of the Kells range, stretching far away over surge after surge of heather and bent, through which, here and there, the grey teeth of the granite shone. It is no blame to him that, as he passed on from horizon to horizon, each step which took him farther and farther from Craig Ronald seemed to bring him nearer and nearer to Winsome. He was going away, yet with each mile he regained the rebounding spirit of youth, while Winsome lay dazed in her room at Craig Ronald. But let it not be forgotten that he went in order that no more she might so lie with the dry mechanic sobs catching ever and anon in her throat. So the world is not so ill divided, after all. And, being a woman, perhaps Winsome's grief was as dear and natural to her as Ralph's elastic hopefulness.
Soon Ralph and Jock Gordon were striding across the moors towards Moniaive. Ralph wished to breakfast at one of the inns in New Galloway, but this Jock Gordon would not allow. He did not like
that kind o' folk, he said.
‘Gie's tippens, an' that'll serve brawly,’ said Jock.
Ralph drew out Winsome's purse; he looked at it reverently and put it back again. It seemed too early, and too material a use of her love-token.
‘Nae sillar in't?’ queried Jock. ‘How's that? It looks brave and baggy.’
‘I think I will do without for the present,’ said Ralph.
‘Aweel,’ said Jock, ‘ye may, but I'm gaun to hae my breakfast a' the same, sillar or no sillar.’
In twenty minutes he was back by the dykeside, where he had left Ralph sitting, twining Winsome's purse through his fingers, and thinking on the future, and all that was awaiting him in Edinburgh town.
Jock seemed what he had called Winsome's purse—baggy.
Then he undid himself. From under the lower buttons of his long russet ‘sleeved waistcoat’ with the long side flaps which, along with his sailor-man's trousers, he wore for all garment, he drew a barn-door fowl, trussed and cooked, and threw it on the ground. Now came a dozen farles of cake, crisp and toothsome, from the girdle, and three large scones raised with yeast.
Then followed, out of some receptacle not too strictly to be localized, half a pound of butter, wrapped in a cabbage-leaf, and a quart jug of pewter.
Ralph looked on in amazement.
‘Where did you get all these?’ he asked.
‘Get them? Took them!’ said Jock succinctly. ‘I gaed alang to Mistress MacMorrine's, an' says I, 'Guid-mornin' till ye, mistress, an' hoo's a' wi' ye the day?' for I'm a ceevil chiel when folks are ceevil to me.’
‘Nane the better for seein' you, Jock Gordon,' says she, for she's an unceevil wife, wi' nae mair mainners nor gin she had just come ower frae Donnachadee—the ill-mainnered randy.
‘But,' says I, 'maybes ye wad be the better o' kennin' that the kye's eatin' your washin' up on the loan. I saw Provost Weir's muckle Ayreshire halfway through wi' yer best quilt,' says I.
‘She flung up her hands.
‘Save us!' she cries; 'could ye no hae said that at first?'
‘An' wi' that she ran as if Auld Hornie was at her tail, screevin' ower the kintra as though she didna gar the beam kick at twa hunderweicht guid.’
‘But was that true, Jock Gordon?’ asked Ralph, astounded.
‘True!—what for wad it be true? Her washin' is lyin' bleachin', fine an' siccar, but she get a look at it and a braw sweet. A race is guid exercise for ony yin that its as muckle as Luckie MacMorrine.’
‘But the provisions—and the hen?’ asked Ralph, fearing the worst.
‘They were on her back-kitchen table. There they are now,’ said Jock, pointing with his foot, as though that was all there was to say about the matter.
‘But did you pay for them?’ he asked.
‘Pay for them! Does a dowg pay for a sheep's heid when he gangs oot o' the butcher's shop wi' yin atween his teeth, an' a twa-pund wecht playin' dirl on his hench-bane? Pay for't! Weel, I wat no! Didna yer honour tell me that ye had nae sillar, an' sae gaed it in hand to Jock?’
Ralph started up. This might be a very serious matter. He pulled out Winsome's purse again. In the end he tried first there was silver, and in the other five golden guineas in a little silken inner case. One of the guineas Ralph took out, and, handing it to Jock, he bade him gather up all that he had stolen and take his way back with them. Then he was to buy them from Luckie MacMorrine at her own price.
‘Sic a noise aboot a bit trifle!’ said Jock. ‘What's aboot a bit chuckle an' a heftin' o' cake? Haivers!’
But very quickly Ralph prevailed upon him, and Jock took the guinea. At his usual swift wolf's lope he was out of sight over the long stretches of heather and turf so speedily that he arrived at the drying-ground on the hillside before Luckie MacMorrine, handicapped by her twenty stone avoirdupois, had perspired thither.
Jock met her at the gate.
‘Noo, mistress,’ exclaimed Jock, busily smoothing out the wrinkles and creases of a fine linen sheet, with ‘E. M. M.’ on the corner, ‘d'ye see this? I juist gat here in time, and nae mair. Ye see, thae randies o' kye, wi' their birses up, they wad sune hae seen the last o' yer bonny sheets an' blankets, gin I had letten them.’
Mistress MacMorrine did not waste a look on the herd of cows, but proceeded to go over her washing with great care. Jock had just arrived in time to make hay of it, before the owner came puffing up the road. Had she looked at the cows curiously it might have struck her that they were marvellously calm for such ferocious animals. This seemed to strike Jock, for he went after them, throwing stones at them in the manner known as ‘henchin'’, much practised in Galloway, and at which Jock was a remarkable adept. Soon he had them excited enough for anything, and pursued them with many loud outcryings till they were scattered far over the moor.
When he came back he said: ‘Mistress MacMorrine, I ken brawly that ye'll be wushin' to mak' me some sma' recompense for my trouble an' haste. Weel, I'll juist open my errand to ye. Ye see the way o't was this: There is twa gentlemen shooters on the moors, the Laird o' Balbletherum an' the Laird o' Glower-ower-'em-twa respectit an' graund gentlemen. They war wantin' some luncheon, but they were that busy shootin' that they hadna time to come, so they says to me, 'Jock Gordon, do ye ken an honest woman in this neighbourhood that can supply something to eat at a reasonable chairge?' 'Yes,' says I, 'Mistress MacMorrine is sic a woman, an' nae ither.' 'Do ye think she could pit us up for ten days or a fortnight?' says they. 'I doot na', for she's weel plenisht an' providit,' I says. 'Noo, I didna ken but ye micht be a lang time detained wi' the kye (as indeed ye wad hae been, gin I hadna come to help ye), an' as the lairds couldna be keepit, I juist took up the bit luncheon that I saw on your kitchie table, an' here it is, on its way to the wames o' the gentlemen—whilk is an honour till't.'‘
Mistress MacMorrine did not seem to be very well pleased at the unceremonious way in which Jock had dealt with the contents of her larder, but the inducement was too great to be gainsaid.
‘Ye'll mak' it reasonable, nae doot,’ said Jock, ‘sae as to gie the gentlemen a good impression. There's a' thing in a first impression.’
‘Tak' it till them an' welcome—wi' the compliments o' Mrs. MacMorrine o' the Blue Bell, mind an' say till them. Ye may consider it a recognition o' yer ain trouble in the matter o' the kye; but I will let the provost hear o't on the deafest side o' his heid when he ca's for his toddy the nicht.’
‘Thank ye, mistress,’ said Jock, quickly withdrawing with his purchases; ‘there's nocht like obleegements for makin' freends.’
At last Ralph saw Jock coming at full speed over the moor.
He went forward to him anxiously.
‘Is it all right?’ he asked.
‘It's a' richt, an' a' paid for, an' mair, gin ye like to send Jock for't; an' I wasna to forget Mistress MacMorrine's compliments to ye intil the bargain.’
Ralph looked mystified.
‘Ye wadna see the Laird o' Balbletherum? Did ye?’ said Jock, cocking his impudent, elvish head to the side.
‘Who is he?’ asked Ralph.
‘Nor yet the Laird o' Glower—ower—'em?’
‘I have seen nobody from the time you went away,’ said Ralph.
‘Then we'll e'en fa' to. For gin thae twa braw gentlemen arena here to partake o' the guid things o' this life, then there's the mair for you an' Jock Gordon.’
Jock never fully satisfied Ralph's curiosity as to the manner in which he obtained this provender. Luckie Morrine bestowed it upon him for services rendered, he said; which was a true, though somewhat abbreviated and imperfect account of the transaction.
What the feelings of the hostess of the Blue Bell were when night passed without the appearance of the two lairds, for whom she had spread her finest sheets, and looked out her best bottles of wine, we have no means of knowing. Singularly enough, for some considerable time thereafter Jock patronized the ‘Cross Keys’ when he happened to be passing that way. He ‘preferred it to the Blue Bell,’ he said.
the lilac sunbonnet
First serialised in The Christian Leader, 1894.