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.
the lilac sunbonnet
First serialised in The Christian Leader, 1894.