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