THE MOTHER OF KING LEMUEL
It was not till Ralph Peden had returned to the study of the manse of the Marrow kirk of Dullarg, and the colour induced by exercise had had time to die out of his naturally pale cheeks, that he remembered that he had left his Hebrew Bible and Lexicon, as well as a half-written exegesis on an important subject, underneath the fatal whin bush above the bridge over the Grannoch water. He would have been glad to rise and seek it immediately—a task which, indeed, no longer presented itself in such terrible colours to him. He found himself even anxious to go. It would be a serious thing were he to lose his father's Lexicon and Mr. Welsh's Hebrew Bible. Moreover, he could not bear the thought of leaving the sheets of his exposition of the last chapter of Proverbs to be the sport of the gamesome Galloway winds—or, worse thought, the laughing-stock of gamesome young women who whistled with two fingers in their mouths.
Yet the picture of the maid of the loch which rose before him struck him as no unpleasant one. He remembered for one thing how the sun shone through the tangle of her hair. But he had quite forgotten, on the other hand, at what part of his exegesis he had left off. It was, however, a manifest impossibility for him to slip out again. Besides, he was in mortal terror lest Mr. Welsh should ask for his Hebrew Bible, or offer to revise his chapter of the day with him. All the afternoon he was uneasy, finding no excuse to take himself away to the loch-side in order to find his Bible and Lexicon.
‘I understand you have been studying, with a view to license, the last chapter of the Proverbs of Solomon?’ said Gilbert Welsh, interrogatively, bending his shaggy brows and pouting his underlip at the student.
The Marrow minister was a small man, with a body so dried and twisted (‘shauchelt’ was the local word) that all the nerve stuff of a strong nature had run up to his brain, so that when he walked he seemed always on the point of falling forward, overbalanced by the weight of his cliff-like brow.
‘Ralph, will you ground the argument of the mother of King Lemuel in this chapter? But perhaps you would like to refer to the original Hebrew?’ said the minister.
‘Oh, no,’ interrupted Ralph, aghast at the latter suggestion, ‘I do not need the text—thank you, sir.’
But, in spite of his disclaimer, he devoutly desired to be where the original text and his written comment upon it were at that moment—which, indeed, was a consummation even more devoutly to be wished than he had any suspicion of. The Marrow minister leaned his head on his hand and looked waitingly at the young man.
Ralph recalled himself with an effort. He had to repeat to himself that he was in the manse study, and almost to pinch his knee to convince himself of the reality of his experiences. But this was not necessary a second time, for, as he sat hastily down on one of Allen Welsh's hard-wood chairs, a prickle from the gorse bush which he had brought back with him from Loch Grannoch side was argument sharp enough to convince Bishop Berkeley.
‘Compose yourself to answer my question,’ said the minister, with some slight severity. Ralph wondered silently if even a minister of the Marrow kirk in good standing, could compose himself on one whin prickle for certain, and the probability of several others developing themselves at various angles hereafter.
Ralph ‘grounded’ himself as best as he could, explaining the views of the mother of King Lemuel as to the woman of virtue and faithfulness. He seemed to himself to have a fluency and a fervour in exposition to which he had been a stranger. He began to have new views about the necessity for the creation of Eve. Woman might possibly, after all, be less purely gratuitous than he had supposed.
‘The woman who is above rubies,’ said he, ‘is one who rises early to care for the house, who oversees the handmaids as they cleanse the household stuffs—in a’ (he just saved himself from saying ‘in a black pot’)— ‘in a fitting vessel by the rivers of water.’
‘Well put and correctly mandated,’ said Mr. Welsh, very much pleased. There was unction about this young man. Though a bachelor by profession, he loved to hear the praises of good women; for he had once known one.
‘She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and—’
Here Ralph paused, biting his tongue to keep from describing the picture which rose before him.
‘And what,’ said the minister, tentatively, leaning forward to look into the open face of the young man, ‘what is the distinction or badge of true beauty and favour of countenance, as so well expressed by the mother of King Lemuel?’
‘A LILAC SUNBONNET!’ said Ralph Peden, student in divinity.
the lilac sunbonnet
First serialised in The Christian Leader, 1894.