MARGARET, THE PRECENTOR, AND GOD BETWEEN.
Unless Andrew Luke, who went to Canada, be still above ground, I am now the only survivor of the few to whom Lang Tammas told what passed in the manse parlor after the door closed on him and Margaret. With the years the others lost the details, but before I forget them the man who has been struck by lightning will look at his arm without remembering what shrivelled it. There even came a time when the scene seemed more vivid to me than to the precentor, though that was only after he began to break up.
“She was never the kind o’ woman,” Whamond said, “that a body need be nane feared at. You can see she is o’ the timid sort. I couldna hae selected a woman easier to speak bold out to, though I had ha’en my pick o’ them.”
He was a gaunt man, sour and hard, and he often paused in his story with a puzzled look on his forbidding face.
“But, man, she was so michty windy o’ him. If he had wanted to put a knife into her, I believe that woman would just hae telled him to take care no to cut his hands. Ay, and what innocent-like she was! If she had heard enough, afore I saw her, to make her uneasy, I could hae begun at once; but here she was, shaking my hand and smiling to me, so that aye when I tried to speak I gaed through ither. Nobody can despise me for it, I tell you, mair than I despise mysel’.
“I thocht to mysel’, ‘Let her hae her smile out, Tammas Whamond; it’s her hinmost.’ Syne wi’ shame at my cowardliness, I tried to yoke to my duty as chief elder o’ the kirk, and I said to her, as thrawn as I could speak, ‘Dinna thank me; I’ve done nothing for you.’
“‘I ken it wasna for me you did it,’ she said, ‘but for him; but, oh, Mr. Whamond, will that make me think the less o’ you? He’s my all,’ she says, wi’ that smile back in her face, and a look mixed up wi’t that said as plain, ‘and I need no more.’ I thocht o’ saying that some builds their house upon the sand, but — dagont, dominie, it’s a solemn thing the pride mithers has in their laddies. I mind aince my ain mither — what the devil are you glowering at, Andrew Luke? Do you think I’m greeting?
“‘You’ll sit down, Mr. Whamond,’ she says next.
“‘No, I winna,’ I said, angry-like. ‘I didna come here to sit.’
“I could see she thocht I was shy at being in the manse parlor; ay, and I thocht she was pleased at me looking shy. Weel, she took my hat out o’ my hand, and she put it on the chair at the door, whaur there’s aye an auld chair in grand houses for the servant to sit on at family exercise.
“‘You’re a man, Mr. Whamond,’ says she, ‘that the minister delights to honor, and so you’ll oblige me by sitting in his own armchair.’”
Gavin never quite delighted to honor the precentor, of whom he was always a little afraid, and perhaps Margaret knew it. But you must not think less of her for wanting to gratify her son’s chief elder. She thought, too, that he had just done her a service. I never yet knew a good woman who did not enjoy flattering men she liked.
“I saw my chance at that,” Whamond went on, “and I says to her sternly, ‘In worldly position,’ I says, ‘I’m a common man, and it’s no for the like o’ sic to sit in a minister’s chair; but it has been God’s will,’ I says, ‘to wrap around me the mantle o’ chief elder o’ the kirk, and if the minister falls awa frae grace, it becomes my duty to take his place.’
“If she had been looking at me, she maun hae grown feared at that, and syne I could hae gone on though my ilka word was a knockdown blow. But she was picking some things aff the chair to let me down on’t.
“‘It’s a pair o’ mittens I’m working for the minister,’ she says, and she handed them to me. Ay, I tried no to take them, but — Oh, lads, it’s queer to think how saft I was.
“‘He’s no to ken about them till they’re finished,’ she says, terrible fond-like.
“The words came to my mouth, ‘They’ll never be finished,’ and I could hae cursed mysel’ for no saying them. I dinna ken how it was, but there was something pitiful in seeing her take up the mittens and begin working cheerily at one, and me kenning all the time that they would never be finished. I watched her fingers, and I said to mysel’, ‘Another stitch, and that maun be your last.’ I said that to mysel’ till I thocht it was the needle that said it, and I wondered at her no hearing.
“In the tail o’ the day I says, ‘You needna bother; he’ll never wear them,’ and they sounded sic words o’ doom that I rose up off the chair. Ay, but she took me up wrang, and she said, ‘I see you have noticed how careless o’ his ain comforts he is, and that in his zeal he forgets to put on his mittens, though they may be in his pocket a’ the time. Ay,’ says she, confident-like, ‘but he winna forget these mittens, Mr. Whamond, and I’ll tell you the reason: it’s because they’re his mother’s work.’
“I stamped my foot, and she gae me an apologetic look, and she says, ‘I canna help boasting about his being so fond o’ me.’
“Ay, but here was me saying to mysel’, ‘Do your duty, Tammas Whamond; you sluggard, do your duty,’ and without lifting my een frae her fingers I said sternly, ‘The chances are,’ I said, ‘that these mittens will never be worn by the hands they are worked for.’
“‘You mean,’ says she, ‘that he’ll gie them awa to some ill-off body, as he gies near a’ thing he has? Ay, but there’s one thing he never parts wi’, and that’s my work. There’s a young lady in the manse the now,’ says she, ‘that offered to finish the mittens for me, but he would value them less if I let ony other body put a stitch into them.’
“I thocht to mysel’, ‘Tammas Whamond, the Lord has opened a door to you, and you’ll be disgraced forever if you dinna walk straucht in.’ So I rose again, and I says, boldly this time, ‘Whaur’s that young leddy? I hae something to say to her that canna be kept waiting.’
“‘She’s up the stair,’ she says, surprised, ‘but you canna ken her, Mr. Whamond, for she just came last nicht.’
“‘I ken mair o’ her than you think,’ says I; ‘I ken what brocht her here, and ken wha she thinks she is to be married to, and I’ve come to tell her that she’ll never get him.’
“‘How no?’ she said, amazed like.
“‘Because,’ said I, wi’ my teeth thegither, ‘he is already married.’
“Lads, I stood waiting to see her fall, and when she didna fall I just waited langer, thinking she was slow in taking it a’ in.
“‘I see you ken wha she is,’ she said, looking at me, ‘and yet I canna credit your news.’
“‘They’re true,’ I cries.
“‘Even if they are,’ says she, considering, ‘it may be the best thing that could happen to baith o’ them.’
“I sank back in the chair in fair bewilderment, for I didna ken at that time, as we a’ ken now, that she was thinking o’ the earl when I was thinking o’ her son. Dominie, it looked to me as if the Lord had opened a door to me, and syne shut it in my face.
“Syne wi’ me sitting there in a kind o’ awe o’ the woman’s simpleness, she began to tell me what the minister was like when he was a bairn, and I was saying a’ the time to mysel’, ‘You’re chief elder o’ the kirk, Tammas Whamond, and you maun speak out the next time she stops to draw breath.’ They were terrible sma’, common things she telled me, sic as near a’ mithers minds about their bairns, but the kind o’ holy way she said them drove my words down my throat, like as if I was some infidel man trying to break out wi’ blasphemy in a kirk.
“‘I’ll let you see something,’ says she, ‘that I ken will interest you.’ She brocht it out o’ a drawer, and what do you think it was? As sure as death it was no more than some o’ his hair when he was a litlin, and it was tied up sic carefully in paper that you would hae thocht it was some valuable thing.
“‘Mr. Whamond,’ she says solemnly, ‘you’ve come thrice to the manse to keep me frae being uneasy about my son’s absence, and you was the chief instrument under God in bringing him to Thrums, and I’ll gie you a little o’ that hair.’
“Dagont, what did I care about his hair? and yet to see her fondling it! I says to mysel’, ‘Mrs. Dishart,’ I says to mysel’, ‘I was the chief instrument under God in bringing him to Thrums, and I’ve come here to tell you that I’m to be the chief instrument under God in driving him out o’t.’ Ay, but when I focht to bring out these words, my mouth snecked like a box.
“‘Dinna gie me his hair,’ was a’ I could say, and I wouldna take it frae her; but she laid it in my hand, and — and syne what could I do? Ay, it’s easy to speak about thae things now, and to wonder how I could hae so disgraced the position o’ chief elder o’ the kirk, but I tell you I was near greeting for the woman. Call me names, dominie; I deserve them all.”
I did not call Whamond names for being reluctant to break Margaret’s heart. Here is a confession I may make. Sometimes I say my prayers at night in a hurry, going on my knees indeed, but with as little reverence as I take a drink of water before jumping into bed, and for the same reason, because it is my nightly habit. I am only pattering words I have by heart to a chair then, and should be as well employed writing a comic Bible. At such times I pray for the earthly well-being of the precentor, though he has been dead for many years. He crept into my prayers the day he told me this story, and was part of them for so long that when they are only a recitation he is part of them still.
“She said to me,” Whamond continued, “that the women o’ the congregation would be fond to handle the hair. Could I tell her that the women was waur agin him than the men? I shivered to hear her.
“‘Syne when they’re a’ sitting breathless listening to his preaching,’ she says, ‘they’ll be able to picture him as a bairn, just as I often do in the kirk mysel’.’
“Andrew Luke, you’re sneering at me, but I tell you if you had been there and had begun to say, ‘He’ll preach in our kirk no more,’ I would hae struck you. And I’m chief elder o’ the kirk.
“She says, ‘Oh, Mr. Whamond, there’s times in the kirk when he is praying, and the glow on his face is hardly mortal, so that I fall a-shaking, wi’ a mixture o’ fear and pride, me being his mother; and sinful though I am to say it, I canna help thinking at sic times that I ken what the mother o’ Jesus had in her heart when she found Him in the temple.’
“Dominie, it’s sax-and-twenty years since I was made an elder o’ the kirk. I mind the day as if it was yestreen. Mr. Carfrae made me walk hame wi’ him, and he took me into the manse parlor, and he set me in that very chair. It was the first time I was ever in the manse. Ay, he little thocht that day in his earnestness, and I little thocht mysel’ in the pride o’ my lusty youth, that the time was coming when I would swear in that reverenced parlor. I say swear, dominie, for when she had finished I jumped to my feet, and I cried, ‘Hell!’ and I lifted up my hat. And I was chief elder.
“She fell back frae my oath,” he said, “and syne she took my sleeve and speired, ‘What has come ower you, Mr. Whamond? Hae you onything on your mind?’
“‘I’ve sin on it,’ I roared at her. ‘I have neglect o’ duty on it. I am one o’ them that cries “Lord, Lord,” and yet do not the things which He commands. He has pointed out the way to me, and I hinna followed it.’
“‘What is it you hinna done that you should hae done?’ she said. ‘Oh, Mr. Whamond, if you want my help, it’s yours.’
“‘Your son’s a’ the earth to you,’ I cried, ‘but my eldership’s as muckle to me. Sax-and-twenty years hae I been an elder, and now I maun gie it up.’
“‘Wha says that?’ she speirs.
“‘I say it,’ I cried. ‘I’ve shirked my duty. I gie up my eldership now. Tammas Whamond is no langer an elder o’ the kirk;’ ay, and I was chief elder.
“Dominie, I think she began to say that when the minister came hame he wouldna accept my resignation, but I paid no heed to her. You ken what was the sound that keeped my ears frae her words; it was the sound o’ a machine coming yont the Tenements. You ken what was the sicht that made me glare through the window instead o’ looking at her; it was the sicht o’ Mr. Dishart in the machine. I couldna speak, but I got my body atween her and the window, for I heard shouting, and I couldna doubt that it was the folk cursing him.
“But she heard too, she heard too, and she squeezed by me to the window. I couldna look out; I just walked saft-like to the parlor door, but afore I reached it she cried joyously --
“‘It’s my son come back, and see how fond o’ him they are! They are running at the side o’ the machine, and the laddies are tossing their bonnets in the air.’
“‘God help you, woman!’ I said to mysel’, ‘it canna be bonnets — it’s stanes and divits mair likely that they’re flinging at him.’ Syne I creeped out o’ the manse. Dominie, you mind I passed you in the kitchen, and didna say a word?”
Yes, I saw the precentor pass through the kitchen, with such a face on him as no man ever saw him wear again. Since Tammas Whamond died we have had to enlarge the Thrums cemetery twice; so it can matter not at all to him, and but little to me, what you who read think of him. All his life children ran from him. He was the dourest, the most unlovable man in Thrums. But may my right hand wither, and may my tongue be cancer-bitten, and may my mind be gone into a dry rot, before I forget what he did for me and mine that day!
RINTOUL AND BABBIE — BREAKDOWN OF THE DEFENCE OF THE MANSE.
“You dare to look me in the face!”
They were Rintoul’s words. Yet Babbie had only ventured to look up because he was so long in speaking. His voice was low but harsh, like a wheel on which the brake is pressed sharply.
“It seems to be more than the man is capable of,” he added sourly.
“Do you think,” Babbie exclaimed, taking fire, “that he is afraid of you?”
“So it seems; but I will drag him into the light, wherever he is skulking.”
Lord Rintoul strode to the door, and the brake was off his tongue already.
“Go,” said Babbie coldly, “and shout and stamp through the house; you may succeed in frightening the women, who are the only persons in it.”
“Where is he?”
“He has gone to the Spittal to see you.”
“He knew I was on the hill.”
“He lost me in the darkness, and thought you had run away with me in your trap.”
“Ha! So he is off to the Spittal to ask me to give you back to him.”
“To compel you,” corrected Babbie.
“Pooh!” said the earl nervously, “that was but mummery on the hill.”
“It was a marriage.”
“With gypsies for witnesses. Their word would count for less than nothing. Babbie, I am still in time to save you.”
“I don’t want to be saved. The marriage had witnesses no court could discredit.”
“Mr. McKenzie and yourself.”
She heard his teeth meet. When next she looked at him, there were tears in his eyes as well as in her own. It was perhaps the first time these two had ever been in close sympathy. Both were grieving for Rintoul.
“I am so sorry,” Babbie began in a broken voice; then stopped, because they seemed such feeble words.
“If you are sorry,” the earl answered eagerly, “it is not yet too late. McKenzie and I saw nothing. Come away with me, Babbie, if only in pity for yourself.”
“Ah, but I don’t pity myself.”
“Because this man has blinded you.”
“No, he has made me see.”
“This mummery on the hill — —”
“Why do you call it so? I believe God approved of that marriage, as He could never have countenanced yours and mine.”
“God! I never heard the word on your lips before.”
“I know that.”
“It is his teaching, doubtless?”
“And he told you that to do to me as you have done was to be pleasing in God’s sight?”
“No; he knows that it was so evil in God’s sight that I shall suffer for it always.”
“But he has done no wrong, so there is no punishment for him?”
“It is true that he has done no wrong, but his punishment will be worse, probably, than mine.”
“That,” said the earl, scoffing, “is not just.”
“It is just. He has accepted responsibility for my sins by marrying me.”
“And what form is his punishment to take?”
“For marrying me he will be driven from his church and dishonored in all men’s eyes, unless — unless God is more merciful to us than we can expect.”
Her sincerity was so obvious that the earl could no longer meet it with sarcasm.
“It is you I pity now,” he said, looking wonderingly at her. “Do you not see that this man has deceived you? Where was his boasted purity in meeting you by stealth, as he must have been doing, and plotting to take you from me?”
“If you knew him,” Babbie answered, “you would not need to be told that he is incapable of that. He thought me an ordinary gypsy until an hour ago.”
“And you had so little regard for me that you waited until the eve of what was to be our marriage, and then, laughing at my shame, ran off to marry him.”
“I am not so bad as that,” Babbie answered, and told him what had brought her to Thrums. “I had no thought but of returning to you, nor he of keeping me from you. We had said good-by at the mudhouse door — and then we heard your voice.”
“And my voice was so horrible to you that it drove you to this?”
“I — I love him so much.”
What more could Babbie answer? These words told him that, if love commands, home, the friendships of a lifetime, kindnesses incalculable, are at once as naught. Nothing is so cruel as love if a rival challenges it to combat.
“Why could you not love me, Babbie?” said the earl sadly. “I have done so much for you.”
It was little he had done for her that was not selfish. Men are deceived curiously in such matters. When they add a new wing to their house, they do not call the action virtue; but if they give to a fellow-creature for their own gratification, they demand of God a good mark for it. Babbie, however, was in no mood to make light of the earl’s gifts, and at his question she shook her head sorrowfully.
“Is it because I am too — old?”
This was the only time he ever spoke of his age to her.
“Oh no, it is not that,” she replied hastily, “I love Mr. Dishart — because he loves me, I think.”
“Have I not loved you always?”
“Never,” Babbie answered simply. “If you had, perhaps then I should have loved you.”
“Babbie,” he exclaimed, “if ever man loved woman, and showed it by the sacrifices he made for her, I — —”
“No,” Babbie said, “you don’t understand what it is. Ah! I did not mean to hurt you.”
“If I don’t know what it is, what is it?” he asked, almost humbly. “I scarcely know you now.”
“That is it,” said Babbie.
She gave him back his ring, and then he broke down pitifully. Doubtless there was good in him, but I saw him only once; and with nothing to contrast against it, I may not now attempt to breathe life into the dust of his senile passion. These were the last words that passed between him and Babbie:
“There was nothing,” he said wistfully, “in this wide world that you could not have had by asking me for it. Was not that love?”
“No,” she answered. “What right have I to everything I cry for?”
“You should never have had a care had you married me. That is love.”
“It is not. I want to share my husband’s cares, as I expect him to share mine.”
“I would have humored you in everything.”
“You always did: as if a woman’s mind were for laughing at, like a baby’s passions.”
“You had your passions, too, Babbie. Yet did I ever chide you for them? That was love.”
“No, it was contempt. Oh,” she cried passionately, “what have not you men to answer for who talk of love to a woman when her face is all you know of her; and her passions, her aspirations, are for kissing to sleep, her very soul a plaything? I tell you, Lord Rintoul, and it is all the message I send back to the gentlemen at the Spittal who made love to me behind your back, that this is a poor folly, and well calculated to rouse the wrath of God.”
Now, Jean’s ear had been to the parlor keyhole for a time, but some message she had to take to Margaret, and what she risked saying was this:
“It’s Lord Rintoul and a party that has been catched in the rain, and he would be obliged to you if you could gie his bride shelter for the nicht.”
Thus the distracted servant thought to keep Margaret’s mind at rest until Gavin came back.
“Lord Rintoul!” exclaimed Margaret. “What a pity Gavin has missed him. Of course she can stay here. Did you say I had gone to bed? I should not know what to say to a lord. But ask her to come up to me after he has gone — and, Jean, is the parlor looking tidy?”
Lord Rintoul having departed, Jean told Babbie how she had accounted to Margaret for his visit. “And she telled me to gie you dry claethes and her compliments, and would you gang up to the bedroom and see her?”
Very slowly Babbie climbed the stairs. I suppose she is the only person who was ever afraid of Margaret. Her first knock on the bedroom door was so soft that Margaret, who was sitting up in bed, did not hear it. When Babbie entered the room, Margaret’s first thought was that there could be no other so beautiful as this, and her second was that the stranger seemed even more timid than herself. After a few minutes’ talk she laid aside her primness, a weapon she had drawn in self-defence lest this fine lady should not understand the grandeur of a manse, and at a “Call me Babbie, won’t you?” she smiled.
“That is what some other person calls you,” said Margaret archly. “Do you know that he took twenty minutes to say good-night? My dear,” she added hastily, misinterpreting Babbie’s silence, “I should have been sorry had he taken one second less. Every tick of the clock was a gossip, telling me how he loves you.”
In the dim light a face that begged for pity was turned to Margaret.
“He does love you, Babbie?” she asked, suddenly doubtful.
Babbie turned away her face, then shook her head.
“But you love him?”
Again Babbie shook her head.
“Oh, my dear,” cried Margaret, in distress, “if this is so, are you not afraid to marry him?”
She knew now that Babbie was crying, but she did not know why Babbie could not look her in the face.
“There may be times,” Babbie said, most woeful that she had not married Rintoul, “when it is best to marry a man though we do not love him.”
“You are wrong, Babbie,” Margaret answered gravely; “if I know anything at all, it is that.”
“It may be best for others.”
“Do you mean for one other?” Margaret asked, and the girl bowed her head. “Ah, Babbie, you speak like a child.”
“You do not understand.”
“I do not need to be told the circumstances to know this — that if two people love each other, neither has any right to give the other up.”
Babbie turned impulsively to cast herself on the mercy of Gavin’s mother, but no word could she say; a hot tear fell from her eyes upon the coverlet, and then she looked at the door, as if to run away.
“But I have been too inquisitive,” Margaret began; whereupon Babbie cried, “Oh no, no, no: you are very good. I have no one who cares whether I do right or wrong.”
“Your parents — —”
“I have had none since I was a child.”
“It is the more reason why I should be your friend,” Margaret said, taking the girl’s hand.
“You do not know what you are saying. You cannot be my friend.”
“Yes, dear, I love you already. You have a good face, Babbie, as well as a beautiful one.”
Babbie could remain in the room no longer. She bade Margaret good-night and bent forward to kiss her; then drew back, like a Judas ashamed.
“Why did you not kiss me?” Margaret asked in surprise, but poor Babbie walked out of the room without answering.
Of what occurred at the manse on the following day until I reached it, I need tell little more. When Babbie was tending Sam’l Farquharson’s child in the Tenements she learned of the flood in Glen Quharity, and that the greater part of the congregation had set off to the assistance of the farmers; but fearful as this made her for Gavin’s safety, she kept the new anxiety from his mother. Deceived by another story of Jean’s, Margaret was the one happy person in the house.
“I believe you had only a lover’s quarrel with Lord Rintoul last night,” she said to Babbie in the afternoon. “Ah, you see I can guess what is taking you to the window so often. You must not think him long in coming for you. I can assure you that the rain which keeps my son from me must be sufficiently severe to separate even true lovers. Take an old woman’s example, Babbie. If I thought the minister’s absence alarming, I should be in anguish; but as it is, my mind is so much at ease that, see, I can thread my needle.”
It was in less than an hour after Margaret spoke thus tranquilly to Babbie that the precentor got into the manse.
BABBIE AND MARGARET — DEFENCE OF THE MANSE CONTINUED.
The Egyptian was mournful in Windyghoul, up which she had once danced and sung; but you must not think that she still feared Dow. I felt McKenzie’s clutch on my arm for hours after he left me, but she was far braver than I; indeed, dangers at which I should have shut my eyes only made hers gleam, and I suppose it was sheer love of them that first made her play the coquette with Gavin. If she cried now, it was not for herself; it was because she thought she had destroyed him. Could I have gone to her then and said that Gavin wanted to blot out the gypsy wedding, that throbbing little breast would have frozen at once, and the drooping head would have been proud again, and she would have gone away forever without another tear.
What do I say? I am doing a wrong to the love these two bore each other. Babbie would not have taken so base a message from my lips. He would have had to say the words to her himself before she believed them his. What would he want her to do now? was the only question she asked herself. To follow him was useless, for in that rain and darkness two people might have searched for each other all night in a single field. That he would go to the Spittal, thinking her in Rintoul’s dogcart, she did not doubt; and his distress was painful to her to think of. But not knowing that the burns were in flood, she underestimated his danger.
Remembering that the mudhouse was near, she groped her way to it, meaning to pass the night there; but at the gate she turned away hastily, hearing from the door the voice of a man she did not know to be Nanny’s brother. She wandered recklessly a short distance, until the rain began to threaten again, and then, falling on her knees in the broom, she prayed to God for guidance. When she rose she set off for the manse.
The rain that followed the flash of lightning had brought Margaret to the kitchen.
“Jean, did you ever hear such a rain? It is trying to break into the manse.”
“I canna hear you, ma’am; is it the rain you’re feared at?”
“What else could it be?”
Jean did not answer.
“I hope the minister won’t leave the church, Jean, till this is over?”
“Nobody would daur, ma’am. The rain’ll turn the key on them all.”
Jean forced out these words with difficulty, for she knew that the church had been empty and the door locked for over an hour.
“This rain has come as if in answer to the minister’s prayer, Jean.”
“It wasna rain like this they wanted.”
“Jean, you would not attempt to guide the Lord’s hand. The minister will have to reprove the people for thinking too much of him again, for they will say that he induced God to send the rain. To-night’s meeting will be remembered long in Thrums.”
Jean shuddered, and said, “It’s mair like an ordinary rain now, ma’am.”
“But it has put out your fire, and I wanted another heater. Perhaps the one I have is hot enough, though.”
Margaret returned to the parlor, and from the kitchen Jean could hear the heater tilted backward and forward in the box-iron — a pleasant, homely sound when there is happiness in the house. Soon she heard a step outside, however, and it was followed by a rough shaking of the barred door.
“Is it you, Mr. Dishart?” Jean asked nervously.
“It’s me, Tammas Whamond,” the precentor answered. “Unbar the door.”
“What do you want? Speak low.”
“I winna speak low. Let me in. I hae news for the minister’s mother.”
“What news?” demanded Jean.
“Jean Proctor, as chief elder of the kirk I order you to let me do my duty.”
“Whaur’s the minister?”
“He’s a minister no longer. He’s married a gypsy woman and run awa wi’ her.”
“You lie, Tammas Whamond. I believe — —”
“Your belief’s of no consequence. Open the door, and let me in to tell your mistress what I hae seen.”
“She’ll hear it first frae his ain lips if she hears it ava. I winna open the door.”
“Then I’ll burst it open.”
Whamond flung himself at the door, and Jean, her fingers rigid with fear, stood waiting for its fall. But the rain came to her rescue by lashing the precentor until even he was forced to run from it.
“I’ll be back again,” he cried. “Woe to you, Jean Proctor, that hae denied your God this nicht.”
“Who was that speaking to you, Jean?” asked Margaret, re-entering the kitchen. Until the rain abated Jean did not attempt to answer.
“I thought it was the precentor’s voice,” Margaret said.
Jean was a poor hand at lying, and she stuttered in her answer.
“There is nothing wrong, is there?” cried Margaret, in sudden fright. “My son — —”
The words jumped from Jean to save Margaret from falling. Now she could not take them back. “I winna believe it o’ him,” said Jean to herself. “Let them say what they will, I’ll be true to him; and when he comes back he’ll find her as he left her.”
“It was Lang Tammas,” she answered her mistress; “but he just came to say that — —”
“Quick, Jean! what?”
“ —— Mr. Dishart has been called to a sick-bed in the country, ma’am — to the farm o’ Look-About-You; and as it’s sic a rain, he’s to bide there a’ nicht.”
“And Whamond came through that rain to tell me this? How good of him. Was there any other message?”
“Just that the minister hoped you would go straight to your bed, ma’am,” said Jean, thinking to herself, “There can be no great sin in giving her one mair happy nicht; it may be her last.”
The two women talked for a short time, and then read verse about in the parlor from the third chapter of Mark.
“This is the first night we have been left alone in the manse,” Margaret said, as she was retiring to her bedroom, “and we must not grudge the minister to those who have sore need of him. I notice that you have barred the doors.”
“Ay, they’re barred. Nobody can win in the nicht.”
“Nobody will want in, Jean,” Margaret said, smiling.
“I dinna ken about that,” answered Jean below her breath. “Ay, ma’am, may you sleep for baith o’ us this nicht, for I daurna gang to my bed.”
Jean was both right and wrong, for two persons wanted in within the next half-hour, and she opened the door to both of them. The first to come was Babbie.
So long as women sit up of nights listening for a footstep, will they flatten their faces at the window, though all without be black. Jean had not been back in the kitchen for two minutes before she raised the blind. Her eyes were close to the glass, when she saw another face almost meet hers, as you may touch your reflection in a mirror. But this face was not her own. It was white and sad. Jean suppressed a cry, and let the blind fall, as if shutting the lid on some uncanny thing.
“Won’t you let me in?” said a voice that might have been only the sob of a rain-beaten wind; “I am nearly drowned.”
Jean stood like death; but her suppliant would not pass on.
“You are not afraid?” the voice continued. “Raise the blind again, and you will see that no one need fear me.”
At this request Jean’s hands sought each other’s company behind her back.
“Wha are you?” she asked, without stirring. “Are you — the woman?”
“Whaur’s the minister?”
The rain again became wild, but this time it only tore by the manse as if to a conflict beyond.
“Are you aye there? I daurna let you in till I’m sure the mistress is bedded. Gang round to the front, and see if there’s ony licht burning in the high west window.”
“There was a light,” the voice said presently, “but it was turned out as I looked.”
“Then I’ll let you in, and God kens I mean no wrang by it.”
Babbie entered shivering, and Jean rebarred the door. Then she looked long at the woman whom her master loved. Babbie was on her knees at the hearth, holding out her hands to the dead fire.
“What a pity it’s a fause face.”
“Do I look so false?”
“Is it true? You’re no married to him?”
“Yes, it is true.”
“And yet you look as if you was fond o’ him. If you cared for him, how could you do it?”
“That was why I did it.”
“And him could hae had wha he liked.”
“I gave up Lord Rintoul for him.”
“What? Na, na; you’re the Egyptian.”
“You judge me by my dress.”
“And soaking it is. How you’re shivering — what neat fingers — what bonny little feet. I could near believe what you tell me. Aff wi’ these rags, an I’ll gie you on my black frock, if — if you promise me no to gang awa wi’t.”
So Babbie put on some clothes of Jean’s, including the black frock, and stockings and shoes.
“Mr. Dishart cannot be back, Jean,” she said, “before morning, and I don’t want his mother to see me till he comes.”
“I wouldna let you near her the nicht though you gaed on your knees to me. But whaur is he?”
Babbie explained why Gavin had set off for the Spittal; but Jean shook her head incredulously, saying, “I canna believe you’re that grand leddy, and yet ilka time I look at you I could near believe it.”
In another minute Jean had something else to think of, for there came a loud rap upon the front door.
“It’s Tammas Whamond back again,” she moaned; “and if the mistress hears, she’ll tell me to let him in.”
“You shall open to me,” cried a hoarse voice.
“That’s no Tammas’ word,” Jean said in bewilderment.
“It is Lord Rintoul,” Babbie whispered.
“What? Then it’s truth you telled me.”
The knocking continued; a door upstairs opened, and Margaret spoke over the banisters.
“Have you gone to bed, Jean? Some one is knocking at the door, and a minute ago I thought I heard a carriage stop close by. Perhaps the farmer has driven Mr. Dishart home.”
“I’m putting on my things, ma’am,” Jean answered; then whispered to Babbie, “What’s to be done?”
“He won’t go away,” Babbie answered. “You will have to let him into the parlor, Jean. Can she see the door from up there?”
“No; but though he was in the parlor?”
“I shall go to him there.”
“Make haste, Jean,” Margaret called. “If it is any persons wanting shelter, we must give it them on such a night.”
“A minute, ma’am,” Jean answered. To Babbie she whispered, “What shall I say to her?”
“I — I don’t know,” answered Babbie ruefully. “Think of something, Jean. But open the door now. Stop, let me into the parlor first.”
The two women stole into the parlor.
“Tell me what will be the result o’ his coming here,” entreated Jean.
“The result,” Babbie said firmly, “will be that he shall go away and leave me here.”
Margaret heard Jean open the front door and speak to some person or persons whom she showed into the parlor.
HOW BABBIE SPENT THE NIGHT OF AUGUST FOURTH.
How had the Egyptian been spirited here from the Spittal? I did not ask the question. To interest myself in Babbie at that dire hour of Margaret’s life would have been as impossible to me as to sit down to a book. To others, however, it is only an old woman on whom the parlor door of the manse has closed, only a garrulous dominie that is in pain outside it. Your eyes are on the young wife.
When Babbie was plucked off the hill, she thought as little as Gavin that her captor was Rob Dow. Close as he was to her, he was but a shadow until she screamed the second time, when he pressed her to the ground and tied his neckerchief over her mouth. Then, in the moment that power of utterance was taken from her, she saw the face that had startled her at Nanny’s window. Half-carried, she was borne forward rapidly, until some one seemed to rise out of the broom and strike them both. They had only run against the doctor’s trap; and huddling her into it, Dow jumped up beside her. He tied her hands together with a cord. For a time the horse feared the darkness in front more than the lash behind; but when the rains became terrific, it rushed ahead wildly — probably with its eyes shut.
In three minutes Babbie went through all the degrees of fear. In the first she thought Lord Rintoul had kidnapped her; but no sooner had her captor resolved himself into Dow, drunk with the events of the day and night, than in the earl’s hands would have lain safety. Next, Dow was forgotten in the dread of a sudden death which he must share. And lastly, the rain seemed to be driving all other horrors back, that it might have her for its own. Her perils increased to the unbearable as quickly as an iron in the fire passes through the various stages between warmth and white heat. Then she had to do something; and as she could not cry out, she flung herself from the dogcart. She fell heavily in Caddam Wood, but the rain would not let her lie there stunned. It beat her back to consciousness, and she sat up on her knees and listened breathlessly, staring in the direction the trap had taken, as if her eyes could help her ears.
All night, I have said, the rain poured, but those charges only rode down the deluge at intervals, as now and again one wave greater than the others stalks over the sea. In the first lull it appeared to Babbie that the storm had swept by, leaving her to Dow. Now she heard the rubbing of the branches, and felt the torn leaves falling on her gown. She rose to feel her way out of the wood with her bound hands, then sank in terror, for some one had called her name. Next moment she was up again, for the voice was Gavin’s, who was hurrying after her, as he thought, down Windyghoul. He was no farther away than a whisper might have carried on a still night, but she dared not pursue him, for already Dow was coming back. She could not see him, but she heard the horse whinny and the rocking of the dogcart. Dow was now at the brute’s head, and probably it tried to bite him, for he struck it, crying:
“Would you? Stand still till I find her.... I heard her move this minute.”
Babbie crouched upon a big stone and sat motionless while he groped for her. Her breathing might have been tied now, as well as her mouth. She heard him feeling for her, first with his feet and then with his hands, and swearing when his head struck against a tree.
“I ken you’re within hearing,” he muttered, “and I’ll hae you yet. I have a gully-knife in my hand. Listen!”
He severed a whin-stalk with the knife, and Babbie seemed to see the gleam of the blade.
“What do I mean by wanting to kill you?” he said, as if she had asked the question. “Do you no ken wha said to me, ‘Kill this woman?’ It was the Lord. ‘I winna kill her,’ I said, ‘but I’ll cart her out o’ the country.’ ‘Kill her,’ says He; ‘why encumbereth she the ground?’”
He resumed his search, but with new tactics. “I see you now,” he would cry, and rush forward perhaps within a yard of her. Then she must have screamed had she had the power. When he tied that neckerchief round her mouth he prolonged her life.
Then came the second hurricane of rain, so appalling that had Babbie’s hands been free she would have pressed them to her ears. For a full minute she forgot Dow’s presence. A living thing touched her face. The horse had found her. She recoiled from it, but its frightened head pressed heavily on her shoulder. She rose and tried to steal away, but the brute followed, and as the rain suddenly exhausted itself she heard the dragging of the dogcart. She had to halt.
Again she heard Dow’s voice. Perhaps he had been speaking throughout the roar of the rain. If so, it must have made him deaf to his own words. He groped for the horse’s head, and presently his hand touched Babbie’s dress, then jumped from it, so suddenly had he found her. No sound escaped him, and she was beginning to think it possible that he had mistaken her for a bush when his hand went over her face. He was making sure of his discovery.
“The Lord has delivered you into my hands,” he said in a low voice, with some awe in it. Then he pulled her to the ground, and, sitting down beside her, rocked himself backward and forward, his hands round his knees. She would have bartered the world for power to speak to him.
“He wouldna hear o’ my just carting you to some other countryside,” he said confidentially. “‘The devil would just blaw her back again,’ says He, ‘therefore kill her.’ ‘And if I kill her,’ I says, ‘they’ll hang me.’ ‘You can hang yoursel’,’ says He. ‘What wi’?’ I speirs. ‘Wi’ the reins o’ the dogcart,’ says He. ‘They would break,’ says I. ‘Weel, weel,’ says He, ‘though they do hang you, nobody’ll miss you.’ ‘That’s true,’ says I, ‘and You are a just God.’”
He stood up and confronted her.
“Prisoner at the bar,” he said, “hae ye onything to say why sentence of death shouldna be pronounced against you? She doesna answer. She kens death is her deserts.”
By this time he had forgotten probably why his victim was dumb.
“Prisoner at the bar, hand back to me the soul o’ Gavin Dishart. You winna? Did the devil, your master, summon you to him and say, ‘Either that noble man or me maun leave Thrums?’ He did. And did you, or did you no, drag that minister, when under your spell, to the hill, and there marry him ower the tongs? You did. Witnesses, Rob Dow and Tammas Whamond.”
She was moving from him on her knees, meaning when out of arm’s reach to make a dash for life.
“Sit down,” he grumbled, “or how can you expect a fair trial? Prisoner at the bar, you have been found guilty of witchcraft.”
For the first time his voice faltered.
“That’s the difficulty, for witches canna die, except by burning or drowning. There’s no blood in you for my knife, and your neck wouldna twist. Your master has brocht the rain to put out a’ the fires, and we’ll hae to wait till it runs into a pool deep enough to drown you.
“I wonder at You, God. Do You believe her master’ll mak’ the pool for her? He’ll rather stop his rain. Mr. Dishart said You was mair powerful than the devil, but it doesna look like it. If You had the power, how did You no stop this woman working her will on the minister? You kent what she was doing, for You ken a’ things. Mr. Dishart says You ken a’ things. If You do, the mair shame to You. Would a shepherd, that could help it, let dogs worry his sheep? Kill her! It’s fine to cry ‘Kill her,’ but whaur’s the bonfire, whaur’s the pool? You that made the heaven and the earth and all that in them is, can You no set fire to some wet whins, or change this stane into a mill-dam?”
He struck the stone with his fist, and then gave a cry of exultation. He raised the great slab in his arms and flung it from him. In that moment Babbie might have run away, but she fainted. Almost simultaneously with Dow she knew this was the stone which covered the Caddam well. When she came to, Dow was speaking, and his voice had become solemn.
“You said your master was mair powerful than mine, and I said it too, and all the time you was sitting here wi’ the very pool aneath you that I have been praying for. Listen!”
He dropped a stone into the well, and she heard it strike the water.
“What are you shaking at?” he said in reproof. “Was it no yoursel’ that chose the spot? Lassie, say your prayers. Are you saying them?”
He put his hand over her face, to feel if her lips were moving, and tore off the neckerchief.
And then again the rain came between them. In that rain one could not think. Babbie did not know that she had bitten through the string that tied her hands. She planned no escape. But she flung herself at the place where Dow had been standing. He was no longer there, and she fell heavily, and was on her feet again in an instant and running recklessly. Trees intercepted her, and she thought they were Dow, and wrestled with them. By and by she fell into Windyghoul, and there she crouched until all her senses were restored to her, when she remembered that she had been married lately.
How long Dow was in discovering that she had escaped, and whether he searched for her, no one knows. After a time he jumped into the dogcart again, and drove aimlessly through the rain. That wild journey probably lasted two hours, and came to an abrupt end only when a tree fell upon the trap. The horse galloped off, but one of Dow’s legs was beneath the tree, and there he had to lie helpless, for though the leg was little injured, he could not extricate himself. A night and day passed, and he believed that he must die; but even in this plight he did not forget the man he loved. He found a piece of slate, and in the darkness cut these words on it with his knife:
“Me being about to die, I solemnly swear I didna see the minister marrying an Egyptian on the hill this nicht. May I burn in Hell if this is no true.
This document he put in his pocket, and so preserved proof of what he was perjuring himself to deny.
THRUMS DURING THE TWENTY-FOUR HOURS — DEFENCE OF THE MANSE.
Hardly had I crossed the threshold of the mudhouse when such a sickness came over me that I could not have looked up, though Nanny’s voice had suddenly changed to Margaret’s. Vaguely I knew that Nanny had put the kettle on the fire — a woman’s first thought when there is illness in the house — and as I sat with my hands over my face I heard the water dripping from my clothes to the floor.
“Why is that bell ringing?” I asked at last, ignoring all questions and speaking through my fingers. An artist, I suppose, could paint all expression out of a human face. The sickness was having that effect on my voice.
“It’s the Auld Licht bell,” Sanders said; “and it’s almost as fearsome to listen to as last nicht’s rain. I wish I kent what they’re ringing it for.”
“Wish no sic things,” said Nanny nervously. “There’s things it’s best to put off kenning as lang as we can.”
“It’s that ill-cleakit witch, Effie McBean, that makes Nanny speak so doleful,” Sanders told me. “There was to be a prayer-meeting last nicht, but Mr. Dishart never came to ‘t, though they rang till they wraxed their arms; and now Effie says it’ll ring on by itsel’ till he’s brocht hame a corp. The hellicat says the rain’s a dispensation to drown him in for neglect o’ duty. Sal, I would think little o’ the Lord if He needed to create a new sea to drown one man in. Nanny, yon cuttie, that’s no swearing; I defy you to find a single lonely oath in what I’ve said.”
“Never mind Effie McBean,” I interposed. “What are the congregation saying about the minister’s absence?”
“We ken little except what Effie telled us,” Nanny answered. “I was at Tilliedrum yestreen, meeting Sanders as he got out o’ the gaol, and that awfu onding began when we was on the Bellies Braes. We focht our way through it, but not a soul did we meet; and wha would gang out the day that can bide at hame? Ay, but Effie says it’s kent in Thrums that Mr. Dishart has run off wi’ — wi’ an Egyptian.”
“You’re waur than her, Nanny,” Sanders said roughly, “for you hae twa reasons for kenning better. In the first place, has Mr. Dishart no keeped you in siller a’ the time I was awa? and for another, have I no been at the manse?”
My head rose now.
“He gaed to the manse,” Nanny explained, “to thank Mr. Dishart for being so good to me. Ay, but Jean wouldna let him in. I’m thinking that looks gey gray.”
“Whatever was her reason,” Sanders admitted, “Jean wouldna open the door; but I keeked in at the parlor window, and saw Mrs. Dishart in’t looking very cosy-like and lauching; and do you think I would hae seen that if ill had come ower the minister?”
“Not if Margaret knew of it,” I said to myself, and wondered at Whamond’s forbearance.
“She had a skein o’ worsted stretched out on her hands,” Sanders continued, “and a young leddy was winding it. I didna see her richt, but she wasna a Thrums leddy.”
“Effie McBean says she’s his intended, come to call him to account,” Nanny said; but I hardly listened, for I saw that I must hurry to Tammas Whamond’s. Nanny followed me to the gate with her gown pulled over her head, and said excitedly:
“Oh, dominie, I warrant it’s true. It’ll be Babbie. Sanders doesna suspect, because I’ve telled him nothing about her. Oh, what’s to be done? They were baith so good to me.”
I could only tell her to keep what she knew to herself.
“Has Rob Dow come back?” I called out after I had started.
“Whaur frae?” she replied; and then I remembered that all these things had happened while Nanny was at Tilliedrum. In this life some of the seven ages are spread over two decades, and others pass as quickly as a stage play. Though a fifth of a season’s rain had fallen in a night and a day, it had scarcely kept pace with Gavin.
I hurried to the town by the Roods. That brae was as deserted as the country roads, except where children had escaped from their mothers to wade in it. Here and there dams were keeping the water away from one door to send it with greater volume to another, and at points the ground had fallen in. But this I noticed without interest. I did not even realize that I was holding my head painfully to the side where it had been blown by the wind and glued by the rain. I have never held my head straight since that journey.
Only a few looms were going, their pedals in water. I was addressed from several doors and windows, once by Charles Yuill.
“Dinna pretend,” he said, “that you’ve walked in frae the school-house alane. The rain chased me into this house yestreen, and here it has keeped me, though I bide no further awa than Tillyloss.”
“Charles,” I said in a low voice, “why is the Auld Licht bell ringing?”
“Hae you no heard about Mr. Dishart?” he asked. “Oh, man! that’s Lang Tammas in the kirk by himsel’, 318 tearing at the bell to bring the folk thegither to depose the minister.”
Instead of going to Whamond’s house in the school wynd I hastened down the Banker’s close to the kirk, and had almost to turn back, so choked was the close with floating refuse. I could see the bell swaying, but the kirk was locked, and I battered on the door to no purpose. Then, remembering that Hendry Munn lived in Coutt’s trance, I set off for his house. He saw me crossing the square, but would not open his door until I was close to it.
“When I open,” he cried, “squeeze through quick”; but though I did his bidding, a rush of water darted in before me. Hendry reclosed the door by flinging himself against it.
“When I saw you crossing the square,” he said, “it was surprise enough to cure the hiccup.”
“Hendry,” I replied instantly, “why is the Auld Licht bell ringing?”
He put his finger to his lip. “I see,” he said imperturbably, “you’ve met our folk in the glen and heard frae them about the minister.”
“Mair than half the congregation,” he replied, “I started for Glen Quharity twa hours syne to help the farmers. You didna see them?”
“No; they must have been on the other side of the river.” Again that question forced my lips, “Why is the bell ringing?”
“Canny, dominie,” he said, “till we’re up the stair. Mysy Moncur’s lug’s at her keyhole listening to you.”
“You lie, Hendry Munn,” cried an invisible woman. The voice became more plaintive: “I ken a heap, Hendry, so you may as well tell me a’.”
“Lick away at the bone you hae,” the shoemaker replied heartlessly, and conducted me to his room up one of the few inside stairs then in Thrums. Hendry’s oddest furniture was five boxes, fixed to the wall at such a height that children could climb into them from a high stool. In these his bairns slept, and so space was economized. I could never laugh at the arrangement, as I knew that Betty had planned it on her deathbed for her man’s sake. Five little heads bobbed up in their beds as I entered, but more vexing to me was Wearyworld on a stool.
“In by, dominie,” he said sociably. “Sal, you needna fear burning wi’ a’ that water on you. You’re in mair danger o’ coming a-boil.”
“I want to speak to you alone, Hendry,” I said bluntly.
“You winna put me out, Hendry?” the alarmed policeman entreated. “Mind, you said in sic weather you would be friendly to a brute beast. Ay, ay, dominie, what’s your news? It’s welcome, be it good or bad. You would meet the townsfolk in the glen, and they would tell you about Mr. Dishart. What, you hinna heard? Oh, sirs, he’s a lost man. There would hae been a meeting the day to depose him if so many hadna gaen to the glen. But the morn’ll do as weel. The very women is cursing him, and the laddies has begun to gather stanes. He’s married on an Egyp — —”
“Hendry!” I cried, like one giving an order.
“Wearyworld, step!” said Hendry sternly, and then added soft-heartedly: “Here’s a bit news that’ll open Mysy Moncur’s door to you. You can tell her frae me that the bell’s ringing just because I forgot to tie it up last nicht, and the wind’s shaking it, and I winna gang out in the rain to stop it.”
“Ay,” the policeman said, looking at me sulkily, “she may open her door for that, but it’ll no let me in. Tell me mair. Tell me wha the leddy at the manse is.”
“Out you go,” answered Hendry. “Once she opens the door, you can shove your foot in, and syne she’s in your power.” He pushed Wearyworld out, and came back to me, saying, “It was best to tell him the truth, to keep him frae making up lies.”
“But is it the truth? I was told Lang Tammas — —”
“Ay, I ken that story; but Tammas has other work on hand.”
“Then tie up the bell at once, Hendry,” I urged.
“I canna,” he answered gravely. “Tammas took the keys o’ the kirk fram me yestreen, and winna gie them up. He says the bell’s being rung by the hand o’ God.”
“Has he been at the manse? Does Mrs. Dishart know —— ?”
“He’s been at the manse twa or three times, but Jean barred him out. She’ll let nobody in till the minister comes back, and so the mistress kens nothing. But what’s the use o’ keeping it frae her ony langer?”
“Every use,” I said.
“None,” answered Hendry sadly. “Dominie, the minister was married to the Egyptian on the hill last nicht, and Tammas was witness. Not only were they married, but they’ve run aff thegither.”
“You are wrong, Hendry,” I assured him, telling as much as I dared. “I left Mr. Dishart in my house.”
“What! But if that is so, how did he no come back wi’ you?”
“Because he was nearly drowned in the flood.”
“She’ll be wi’ him?”
“He was alone.”
Hendry’s face lit up dimly with joy, and then he shook his head. “Tammas was witness,” he said. “Can you deny the marriage?”
“All I ask of you,” I answered guardedly, “is to suspend judgment until the minister returns.”
“There can be nothing done, at ony rate,” he said, “till the folk themsel’s come back frae the glen; and I needna tell you how glad we would a’ be to be as fond o’ him as ever. But Tammas was witness.”
“Have pity on his mother, man.”
“We’ve done the best for her we could,” he replied. “We prigged wi’ Tammas no to gang to the manse till we was sure the minister was living. ‘For if he has been drowned,’ we said, ‘his mother need never ken what we were thinking o’ doing.’ Ay, and we’re sorry for the young leddy, too.”
“What young lady is this you all talk of?” I asked.
“She’s his intended. Ay, you needna start. She has come a’ the road frae Glasgow to challenge him about the gypsy. The pitiful thing is that Mrs. Dishart lauched awa her fears, and now they’re baith waiting for his return, as happy as ignorance can make them.”
“There is no such lady,” I said.
“But there is,” he answered doggedly, “for she came in a machine late last nicht, and I was ane o’ a dozen that baith heard and saw it through my window. It stopped at the manse near half an hour. What’s mair, the lady hersel’ was at Sam’l Farquharson’s in the Tenements the day for twa hours.”
I listened in bewilderment and fear.
“Sam’l’s bairn’s down wi’ scarlet fever and like to die, and him being a widow-man he has gone useless. You mauna blame the wives in the Tenements for hauding back. They’re fleid to smit their ain litlins; and as it happens, Sam’l’s friends is a’ aff to the glen. Weel, he ran greeting to the manse for Mr. Dishart, and the lady heard him crying to Jean through the door, and what does she do but gang straucht to the Tenements wi’ Sam’l. Her goodness has naturally put the folk on her side against the minister.”
“This does not prove her his intended,” I broke in.
“She was heard saying to Sam’l,” answered the kirk officer, “that the minister being awa, it was her duty to take his place. Yes, and though she little kent it, he was already married.”
“Hendry,” I said, rising, “I must see this lady at once. Is she still at Farquharson’s house?”
“She may be back again by this time. Tammas set off for Sam’l’s as soon as he heard she was there, but he just missed her. I left him there an hour syne. He was waiting for her, determined to tell her all.”
I set off for the Tenements at once, declining Hendry’s company. The wind had fallen, so that the bell no longer rang, but the rain was falling doggedly. The streets were still deserted. I pushed open the precentor’s door in the school wynd, but there was no one in the house. Tibbie Birse saw me, and shouted from her door:
“Hae you heard o’ Mr. Dishart? He’ll never daur show face in Thrums again.”
Without giving her a word I hastened to the Tenements.
“The leddy’s no here,” Sam’l Farquharson told me, “and Tammas is back at the manse again, trying to force his way in.”
From Sam’l, too, I turned, with no more than a groan; but he cried after me, “Perdition on the man that has played that leddy false.”
Had Margaret been at her window she must have seen me, so recklessly did I hurry up the minister’s road, with nothing in me but a passion to take Whamond by the throat. He was not in the garden. The kitchen door was open. Jean was standing at it with her apron to her eyes.
“Tammas Whamond?” I demanded, and my face completed the question.
“You’re ower late,” she wailed. “He’s wi’ her. Oh, dominie, whaur’s the minister?”
“You base woman!” I cried, “why did you unbar the door?”
“It was the mistress,” she answered. “She heard him shaking it, and I had to tell her wha it was. Dominie, it’s a’ my wite! He tried to get in last nicht, and roared threats through the door, and after he had gone awa she speired wha I had been speaking to. I had to tell her, but I said he had come to let her ken that the minister was taking shelter frae the rain in a farmhouse. Ay, I said he was to bide there till the flood gaed down, and that’s how she has been easy a’ day. I acted for the best, but I’m sair punished now; for when she heard Tammas at the door twa or three minutes syne, she ordered me to let him in, so that she could thank him for bringing the news last nicht, despite the rain. They’re in the parlor. Oh, dominie, gang in and stop his mouth.”
This was hard. I dared not go to the parlor. Margaret might have died at sight of me. I turned my face from Jean.
“Jean,” said some one, opening the inner kitchen door, “why did you —— ?”
She stopped, and that was what turned me round. As she spoke I thought it was the young lady; when I looked I saw it was Babbie, though no longer in a gypsy’s dress. Then I knew that the young lady and Babbie were one.
SECOND JOURNEY OF THE DOMINIE TO THRUMS DURING THE TWENTY-FOUR HOURS.
Here was a nauseous draught for me. Having finished my tale, I turned to Gavin for sympathy; and, behold, he had been listening for the cannon instead of to my final words. So, like an old woman at her hearth, we warm our hands at our sorrows and drop in faggots, and each thinks his own fire a sun, in presence of which all other fires should go out. I was soured to see Gavin prove this, and then I could have laughed without mirth, for had not my bitterness proved it too?
“And now,” I said, rising, “whether Margaret is to hold up her head henceforth lies no longer with me, but with you.”
It was not to that he replied.
“You have suffered long, Mr. Ogilvy,” he said. “Father,” he added, wringing my hand. I called him son; but it was only an exchange of musty words that we had found too late. A father is a poor estate to come into at two and twenty.
“I should have been told of this,” he said.
“Your mother did right, sir,” I answered slowly, but he shook his head.
“I think you have misjudged her,” he said. “Doubtless while my fa — , while Adam Dishart lived, she could only think of you with pain; but after his death — —”
“After his death,” I said quietly, “I was still so horrible to her that she left Harvie without letting a soul know whither she was bound. She dreaded my following her.”
“Stranger to me,” he said, after a pause, “than even your story is her being able to keep it from me. I believed no thought ever crossed her mind that she did not let me share.”
“And none, I am sure, ever did,” I answered, “save that, and such thoughts as a woman has with God only. It was my lot to bring disgrace on her. She thought it nothing less, and she has hidden it all these years for your sake, until now it is not burdensome. I suppose she feels that God has taken the weight off her. Now you are to put a heavier burden in its place.”
He faced me boldly, and I admire him for it now.
“I cannot admit,” he said, “that I did wrong in forgetting my mother for that fateful quarter of an hour. Babbie and I loved each other, and I was given the opportunity of making her mine or losing her forever. Have you forgotten that all this tragedy you have told me of only grew out of your own indecision? I took the chance that you let slip by.”
“I had not forgotten,” I replied. “What else made me tell you last night that Babbie was in Nanny’s house?”
“But now you are afraid — now when the deed is done, when for me there can be no turning back. Whatever be the issue, I should be a cur to return to Thrums without my wife. Every minute I feel my strength returning, and before you reach Thrums I will have set out to the Spittal.”
There was nothing to say after that. He came with me in the rain as far as the dike, warning me against telling his people what was not true.
“My first part,” I answered, “will be to send word to your mother that you are in safety. After that I must see Whamond. Much depends on him.”
“You will not go to my mother?”
“Not so long as she has a roof over her head,” I said, “but that may not be for long.”
So, I think, we parted — each soon to forget the other in a woman.
But I had not gone far when I heard something that stopped me as sharply as if it had been McKenzie’s hand once more on my shoulder. For a second the noise appalled me, and then, before the echo began, I knew it must be the Spittal cannon. My only thought was one of thankfulness. Now Gavin must see the wisdom of my reasoning. I would wait for him until he was able to come with me to Thrums. I turned back, and in my haste I ran through water I had gone round before.
I was too late. He was gone, and into the rain I shouted his name in vain. That he had started for the Spittal there could be no doubt; that he would ever reach it was less certain. The earl’s collie was still crouching by the fire, and, thinking it might be a guide to him, I drove the brute to the door, and chased it in the direction he probably had taken. Not until it had run from me did I resume my own journey. I do not need to be told that you who read would follow Gavin now rather than me; but you must bear with the dominie for a little while yet, as I see no other way of making things clear.
In some ways I was not ill-equipped for my attempt. I do not know any one of our hillsides as it is known to the shepherd, to whom every rabbit-hole and glimmer of mica is a landmark; but he, like his flock, has only to cross a dike to find himself in a strange land, while I have been everywhere in the glen.
In the foreground the rain slanted, transparent till it reached the ground, where a mist seemed to blow it along as wind ruffles grass. In the distance all was a driving mist. I have been out for perhaps an hour in rains as wetting, and I have watched floods from my window, but never since have I known the fifth part of a season’s rainfall in eighteen hours; and if there should be the like here again, we shall be found better prepared for it. Men have been lost in the glen in mists so thick that they could plunge their fingers out of sight in it as into a meal girnel; but this mist never came within twenty yards of me. I was surrounded by it, however, as if I was in a round tent; and out of this tent I could not walk, for it advanced with me. On the other side of this screen were horrible noises, at whose cause I could only guess, save now and again when a tongue of water was shot at my feet, or great stones came crashing through the canvas of mist. Then I ran wherever safety prompted, and thus tangled my bearings until I was like that one in the child’s game who is blindfolded and turned round three times that he may not know east from west.
Once I stumbled over a dead sheep and a living lamb; and in a clump of trees which puzzled me — for they were where I thought no trees should be — a wood-pigeon flew to me, but struck my breast with such force that I picked it up dead. I saw no other living thing, though half a dozen times I must have passed within cry of farmhouses. At one time I was in a cornfield, where I had to lift my hands to keep them out of water, and a dread filled me that I had wandered in a circle, and was still on Waster Lunny’s land. I plucked some corn and held it to my eyes to see if it was green; but it was yellow, and so I knew that at last I was out of the glen.
People up here will complain if I do not tell how I found the farmer of Green Brae’s fifty pounds. It is one of the best-remembered incidents of the flood, and happened shortly after I got out of the cornfield. A house rose suddenly before me, and I was hastening to it when as suddenly three of its walls fell. Before my mind could give a meaning to what my eyes told it, the water that had brought down the house had lifted me off my feet and flung me among waves. That would have been the last of the dominie had I not struck against a chest, then halfway on its voyage to the sea. I think the lid gave way under me; but that is surmise, for from the time the house fell till I was on the river in a kist that was like to be my coffin, is almost a blank. After what may have been but a short journey, though I had time in it to say my prayers twice, we stopped, jammed among fallen trees; and seeing a bank within reach, I tried to creep up it. In this there would have been little difficulty had not the contents of the kist caught in my feet and held on to them, like living things afraid of being left behind. I let down my hands to disentangle my feet, but failed; and then, grown desperate, I succeeded in reaching firm ground, dragging I knew not what after me. It proved to be a pillow-slip. Green Brae still shudders when I tell him that my first impulse was to leave the pillow-slip unopened. However, I ripped it up, for to undo the wet strings that had ravelled round my feet would have wearied even a man with a needle to pick open the knots; and among broken gimlets, the head of a grape, and other things no beggar would have stolen, I found a tin canister containing fifty pounds. Waster Lunny says that this should have made a religious man of Green Brae, and it did to this extent, that he called the fall of the cotter’s house providential. Otherwise the cotter, at whose expense it may be said the money was found, remains the more religious man of the two.
At last I came to the Kelpie’s brig, and I could have wept in joy (and might have been better employed), when, like everything I saw on that journey, it broke suddenly through the mist, and seemed to run at me like a living monster. Next moment I ran back, for as I stepped upon the bridge I saw that I had been about to walk into the air. What was left of the Kelpie’s brig ended in mid-stream. Instead of thanking God for the light without which I should have gone abruptly to my death, I sat down miserable and hopeless.
Presently I was up and trudging to the Loups of Malcolm. At the Loups the river runs narrow and deep between cliffs, and the spot is so called because one Malcolm jumped across it when pursued by wolves. Next day he returned boastfully to look at his jump, and gazing at it turned dizzy and fell into the river. Since that time chains have been hung across the Loups to reduce the distance between the farms of Carwhimple and Keep-What-You-Can from a mile to a hundred yards. You must cross the chains on your breast. They were suspended there by Rob Angus, who was also the first to breast them.
But I never was a Rob Angus. When my pupils practise what they call the high jump, two small boys hold a string aloft, and the bigger ones run at it gallantly until they reach it, when they stop meekly and creep beneath. They will repeat this twenty times, and yet never, when they start for the string, seem to know where their courage will fail. Nay, they will even order the small boys to hold the string higher. I have smiled at this, but it was the same courage while the difficulty is far off that took me to the Loups. At sight of them I turned away.
I prayed to God for a little of the mettle of other men, and He heard me, for with my eyes shut I seemed to see Margaret beckoning from across the abyss as if she had need of me. Then I rose calmly and tested the chains, and crossed them on my breast. Many have done it with the same danger, at which they laugh, but without that vision I should have held back.
I was now across the river, and so had left the chance of drowning behind, but I was farther from Thrums than when I left the school-house, and this countryside was almost unknown to me. The mist had begun to clear, so that I no longer wandered into fields; but though I kept to the roads, I could not tell that they led toward Thrums, and in my exhaustion I had often to stand still. Then to make a new start in the mud was like pulling stakes out of the ground. So long as the rain faced me I thought I could not be straying far; but after an hour I lost this guide, for a wind rose that blew it in all directions.
In another hour, when I should have been drawing near Thrums, I found myself in a wood, and here I think my distress was greatest; nor is this to be marvelled at, for instead of being near Thrums, I was listening to the monotonous roar of the sea. I was too spent to reason, but I knew that I must have travelled direct east, and must be close to the German Ocean. I remember putting my back against a tree and shutting my eyes, and listening to the lash of the waves against the beach, and hearing the faint toll of a bell, and wondering listlessly on what lighthouse it was ringing. Doubtless I would have lain down to sleep forever had I not heard another sound near at hand. It was the knock of a hammer on wood, and might have been a fisherman mending his boat. The instinct of self-preservation carried me to it, and presently I was at a little house. A man was standing in the rain, hammering new hinges to the door; and though I did not recognize him, I saw with bewilderment that the woman at his side was Nanny.
“It’s the dominie,” she cried, and her brother added:
“Losh, sir, you hinna the look o’ a living man.”
“Nanny,” I said, in perplexity, “what are you doing here?”
“Whaur else should I be?” she asked.
I pressed my hands over my eyes, crying, “Where am I?”
Nanny shrank from me, but Sanders said, “Has the rain driven you gyte, man? You’re in Thrums.”
“But the sea,” I said, distrusting him. “I hear it. Listen!”
“That’s the wind in Windyghoul,” Sanders answered, looking at me queerly. “Come awa into the house.”
STORY OF THE DOMINIE.
When I spoke next, I was back in the school-house, sitting there with my bonnet on my head, Gavin looking at me. We had forgotten the cannon at last.
In that chair I had anticipated this scene more than once of late. I had seen that a time might come when Gavin would have to be told all, and I had even said the words aloud, as if he were indeed opposite me. So now I was only repeating the tale, and I could tell it without emotion, because it was nigh nineteen years old; and I did not look at Gavin, for I knew that his manner of taking it could bring no change to me.
“Did you never ask your mother,” I said, addressing the fire rather than him, “why you were called Gavin?”
“Yes,” he answered, “it was because she thought Gavin a prettier name than Adam.”
“No,” I said slowly, “it was because Gavin is my name. You were called after your father. Do you not remember my taking you one day to the shore at Harvie to see the fishermen carried to their boats upon their wives’ backs, that they might start dry on their journey?”
“No,” he had to reply. “I remember the women carrying the men through the water to the boats, but I thought it was my father who — I mean — —”
“I know whom you mean,” I said. “That was our last day together, but you were not three years old. Yet you remembered me when you came to Thrums. You shake your head, but it is true. Between the diets of worship that first Sabbath I was introduced to you, and you must have had some shadowy recollection of my face, for you asked, ‘Surely I saw you in church in the forenoon, Mr. Ogilvy?’ I said ‘Yes,’ but I had not been in the church in the forenoon. You have forgotten even that, and yet I treasured it.”
I could hear that he was growing impatient, though so far he had been more indulgent than I had any right to expect.
“It can all be put into a sentence,” I said calmly. “Margaret married Adam Dishart, and afterwards, believing herself a widow, she married me. You were born, and then Adam Dishart came back.”
That is my whole story, and here was I telling it to my son, and not a tear between us. It ended abruptly, and I fell to mending the fire.
“When I knew your mother first,” I went on, after Gavin had said some boyish things that were of no avail to me, “I did not think to end my days as a dominie. I was a student at Aberdeen, with the ministry in my eye, and sometimes on Saturdays I walked forty miles to Harvie to go to church with her. She had another lover, Adam Dishart, a sailor turned fisherman; and while I lingered at corners, wondering if I could dare to meet her and her mother on their way to church, he would walk past with them. He was accompanied always by a lanky black dog, which he had brought from a foreign country. He never signed for any ship without first getting permission to take it with him, and in Harvie they said it did not know the language of the native dogs. I have never known a man and dog so attached to each other.”
“I remember that black dog,” Gavin said. “I have spoken of it to my mother, and she shuddered, as if it had once bitten her.”
“While Adam strutted by with them,” I continued, “I would hang back, raging at his assurance or my own timidity; but I lost my next chance in the same way. In Margaret’s presence something came over me, a kind of dryness in the throat, that made me dumb. I have known divinity students stricken in the same way, just as they were giving out their first text. It is no aid in getting a kirk or wooing a woman.
“If any one in Harvie recalls me now, it is as a hobbledehoy who strode along the cliffs, shouting Homer at the sea-mews. With all my learning, I, who gave Margaret the name of Lalage, understood women less than any fisherman who bandied words with them across a boat. I remember a Yule night when both Adam and I were at her mother’s cottage, and, as we were leaving, he had the audacity to kiss Margaret. She ran out of the room, and Adam swaggered off, and when I recovered from my horror, I apologized for what he had done. I shall never forget how her mother looked at me, and said, ‘Ay, Gavin, I see they dinna teach everything at Aberdeen.’ You will not believe it, but I walked away doubting her meaning. I thought more of scholarship then than I do now. Adam Dishart taught me its proper place.
“Well, that is the dull man I was; and yet, though Adam was always saying and doing the things I was making up my mind to say and do, I think Margaret cared more for me. Nevertheless, there was something about him that all women seemed to find lovable, a dash that made them send him away and then well-nigh run after him. At any rate, I could have got her after her mother’s death if I had been half a man. But I went back to Aberdeen to write a poem about her, and while I was at it Adam married her.”
I opened my desk and took from it a yellow manuscript.
“Here,” I said, “is the poem. You see, I never finished it.”
I was fingering the thing grimly when Gavin’s eye fell on something else in the desk. It was an ungainly clasp-knife, as rusty as if it had spent a winter beneath a hedge.
“I seem to remember that knife,” he said.
“Yes,” I answered, “you should remember it. Well, after three months Adam tired of his wife.”
I stopped again. This was a story in which only the pauses were eloquent.
“Perhaps I have no right to say he tired of her. One day, however, he sauntered away from Harvie whistling, his dog at his heels as ever, and was not seen again for nearly six years. When I heard of his disappearance I packed my books in that kist and went to Harvie, where I opened a school. You see, every one but Margaret believed that Adam had fallen over the cliffs and been drowned.”
“But the dog?” said Gavin.
“We were all sure that, if he had fallen over, it had jumped after him. The fisher-folk said that he could have left his shadow behind as easily as it. Yet Margaret thought for long that he had tired of Harvie merely and gone back to sea, and not until two years had passed would she marry me. We lived in Adam’s house. It was so near the little school that when I opened the window in summer-time she could hear the drone of our voices. During the weeks before you were born I kept that window open all day long, and often I went to it and waved my hand to her.
“Sometimes, when she was washing or baking, I brought you to the school. The only quarrel she and I ever had was about my teaching you the Lord’s Prayer in Greek as soon as you could say father and mother. It was to be a surprise for her on your second birthday. On that day, while she was ironing, you took hold of her gown to steady yourself, and began, ‘Πάτερ ἡμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς’ and to me, behind the door, it was music. But at ἁγιασθἠτω, of which you made two syllables, you cried, and Margaret snatched you up, thinking this was some new ailment. After I had explained to her that it was the Lord’s Prayer in Greek, she would let me take you to the school-house no more.
“Not much longer could I have taken you in any case, for already we are at the day when Adam Dishart came back. It was the 7th of September, and all the week most of the women in Harvie had been setting off at dawn to the harvest fields and straggling home at nights, merry and with yellow corn in their hair. I had sat on in the school-house that day after my pupils were gone. I still meant to be a minister, and I was studying Hebrew, and so absorbed in my book that as the daylight went, I followed it step by step as far as my window, and there I read, without knowing, until I chanced to look up, that I had left my desk. I have not opened that book since.
“From the window I saw you on the waste ground that separated the school from our home. You were coming to me on your hands and feet, and stopping now and again to look back at your mother, who was at the door, laughing and shaking her fist at you. I beckoned to you, and took the book back to my desk to lock it up. While my head was inside the desk I heard the school-house door pushed open, and thinking it was you I smiled, without looking up. Then something touched my hand, and I still thought it was you; but I looked down, and I saw Adam Dishart’s black dog.
“I did not move. It looked up at me and wagged its tail. Then it drew back — I suppose because I had no words for it. I watched it run half-round the room and stop and look at me again. Then it slunk out.
“All that time one of my hands had been holding the desk open. Now the lid fell. I put on my bonnet and went to the door. You were only a few yards away, with flowers in your fist. Margaret was laughing still. I walked round the school and there was no dog visible. Margaret nodded to me, meaning that I should bring you home. You thrust the flowers into my hand, but they fell. I stood there, dazed.
“I think I walked with you some way across the waste ground. Then I dropped your hand and strode back to the school. I went down on my knees, looking for marks of a dog’s paws, and I found them.
“When I came out again your mother was no longer at our door, and you were crying because I had left you. I passed you and walked straight to the house. Margaret was skinning rushes for wicks. There must have been fear in my face, for as soon as she saw it she ran to the door to see if you were still alive. She brought you in with her, and so had strength to cry, ‘What is it? Speak!’
“‘Come away,’ I said, ‘come away,’ and I was drawing her to the door, but she pressed me into a chair. I was up again at once.
“‘Margaret,’ I said, ‘ask no questions. Put on your bonnet, give me the boy, and let us away.’
“I could not take my eyes off the door, and she was walking to it to look out when I barred the way with my arm.
“‘What have you seen?’ she cried; and then, as I only pointed to her bonnet, she turned to you, and you said, ‘Was it the black dog, father?’
“Gavin, then she knew; and I stood helpless and watched my wife grow old. In that moment she lost the sprightliness I loved the more because I had none of it myself, and the bloom went from her face never to return.
“‘He has come back,’ she said.
“I told her what I had seen, and while I spoke she put on her bonnet, and I exulted, thinking — and then she took off her bonnet, and I knew she would not go away with me.
“‘Margaret,’ I cried, ‘I am that bairn’s father.’
“‘Adam’s my man,’ she said, and at that I gave her a look for which God might have struck me dead. But instead of blaming me she put her arms round my neck.
“After that we said very little. We sat at opposite sides of the fire, waiting for him, and you played on the floor. The harvesters trooped by, and there was a fiddle; and when it stopped, long stillness, and then a step. It was not Adam. You fell asleep, and we could hear nothing but the sea. There was a harvest moon.
“Once a dog ran past the door, and we both rose. Margaret pressed her hands on her breast. Sometimes she looked furtively at me, and I knew her thoughts. To me it was only misery that had come, but to her it was shame, so that when you woke and climbed into her lap she shivered at your touch. I could not look at her after that, for there was a horror of me growing in her face.
“Ten o’clock struck, and then again there was no sound but the sea pouring itself out on the beach. It was long after this, when to me there was still no other sound, that Margaret screamed, and you hid behind her. Then I heard it.
“‘Gavin,’ Margaret said to me, ‘be a good man all your life.’
“It was louder now, and then it stopped. Above the wash of the sea we heard another sound — a sharp tap, tap. You said, ‘I know what sound that is; it’s a man knocking the ashes out of his pipe against his boot.’
“Then the dog pushed the door off the latch, and Adam lurched in. He was not drunk, but he brought the smell of drink into the room with him. He was grinning like one bringing rare news, and before she could shrink back or I could strike him he had Margaret in his arms.
“‘Lord, lass,’ he said, with many jovial oaths, ‘to think I’m back again! There, she’s swounded. What folks be women, to be sure.’
“‘We thought you were dead, Adam,” she said, coming to.
“‘Bless your blue eyes,’ he answered gleefully; ‘often I says to myself, “Meggy will be thinking I’m with the fishes,” and then I chuckles.’
“‘Where have you been all this time?’ I demanded sternly.
“‘Gavin,’ he said effusively, ‘your hand. And don’t look so feared, man; I bear no malice for what you’ve done. I heard all about it at the Cross Anchors.’
“‘Where have you been these five years and a half?’ I repeated.
“‘Where have I no been, lad?’ he replied.
“‘At Harvie,’ I said.
“‘Right you are,’ said he good-naturedly. ‘Meggie, I had no intention of leaving you that day, though I was yawning myself to death in Harvie; but I sees a whaler, and I thinks, “That’s a tidy boat, and I’m a tidy man, and if they’ll take me and the dog, off we go.”’
“‘You never wrote to me,’ Margaret said.
“‘I meant to send you some scrapes,’ he answered, ‘but it wasna till I changed ships that I had the chance, and then I minds, “Meggy kens I’m no hand with the pen.” But I swear I often thought of you, lass; and look you here, that’s better than letters, and so is this and every penny of it is yours.’
“He flung two bags of gold upon the table, and the chink brought you out from behind your mother.
“‘Hallo!’ Adam cried.
“‘He is mine,’ I said. ‘Gavin, come here.’ But Margaret held you back.
“‘Here’s a go,’ Adam muttered, and scratched his head. Then he slapped his thigh. ‘Gavin,’ he said, in his friendliest way, ‘we’ll toss for him.’
“He pulled the knife that is now in my desk from his pocket, spat on it, and flung it up. ‘Dry, the kid’s ours, Meggy,’ he explained; ‘wet, he goes to Gavin.’ I clinched my fist to —— But what was the use? He caught the knife, and showed it to me.
“‘Dry,’ he said triumphantly; ‘so he is ours, Meggy. Kiddy, catch the knife. It is yours; and, mind, you have changed dads. And now that we have settled that, Gavin, there’s my hand again.’
“I went away and left them, and I never saw Margaret again until the day you brought her to Thrums. But I saw you once, a few days after Adam came back. I was in the school-house, packing my books, and you were playing on the waste ground. I asked you how your mother was, and you said, ‘She’s fleid to come to the door till you gang awa, and my father’s buying a boat.’
“‘I’m your father,’ I said; but you answered confidently:
“‘You’re no a living man. You’re just a man I dreamed about; and I promised my mother no to dream about you again.’
“‘I am your father,’ I repeated.
“‘My father’s awa buying a fishing-boat,’ you insisted; ‘and when I speir at my mother whaur my first father is, she says I’m havering.’
“‘Gavin Ogilvy is your name,’ I said. ‘No,’ you answered, ‘I have a new name. My mother telled me my name is aye to be Gavin Dishart now. She telled me, too, to fling awa this knife my father gave me, and I’ve flung it awa a lot o’ times, but I aye pick it up again.’
“‘Give it to me,’ I said, with the wicked thoughts of a fool in my head.
“That is how your knife came into my possession. I left Harvie that night in the carrier’s cart, but I had not the heart to return to college. Accident brought me here, and I thought it a fitting place in which to bury myself from Margaret.”
THE GLEN AT BREAK OF DAY.
My first intimation that the burns were in flood came from Waster Lunny, close on the strike of ten o’clock. This was some minutes before they had any rain in Thrums. I was in the school-house, now piecing together the puzzle Lord Rintoul had left with me, and anon starting upright as McKenzie’s hand seemed to tighten on my arm. Waster Lunny had been whistling to me (with his fingers in his mouth) for some time before I heard him and hurried out. I was surprised and pleased, knowing no better, to be met on the threshold by a whisk of rain.
The night was not then so dark but that when I reached the Quharity I could see the farmer take shape on the other side of it. He wanted me to exult with him, I thought, in the end of the drought, and I shouted that I would fling him the stilts.
“It’s yoursel’ that wants them,” he answered excitedly, “if you’re fleid to be left alone in the school-house the nicht. Do you hear me, dominie? There has been frichtsome rain among the hills, and the Bog burn is coming down like a sea. It has carried awa the miller’s brig, and the steading o’ Muckle Pirley is standing three feet in water.”
“You’re dreaming, man,” I roared back, but beside his news he held my doubts of no account.
“The Retery’s in flood,” he went on, “and running wild through Hazel Wood; T’nowdunnie’s tattie field’s out o’ sicht, and at the Kirkton they’re fleid they’ve lost twa kye.”
“There has been no rain here,” I stammered, incredulously.
“It’s coming now,” he replied. “And listen: the story’s out that the Backbone has fallen into the loch. You had better cross, dominie, and thole out the nicht wi’ us.”
The Backbone was a piece of mountain-side overhanging a loch among the hills, and legend said that it would one day fall forward and squirt all the water into the glen. Something of the kind had happened, but I did not believe it then; with little wit I pointed to the shallow Quharity.
“It may come down at any minute,” the farmer answered, “and syne, mind you, you’ll be five miles frae Waster Lunny, for there’ll be no crossing but by the Brig o’ March. If you winna come, I maun awa back. I mauna bide langer on the wrang side o’ the Moss ditch, though it has been as dry this month back as a rabbit’s roady. But if you—” His voice changed. “God’s sake, man,” he cried, “you’re ower late. Look at that! Dinna look — run, run!”
If I had not run before he bade me, I might never have run again on earth. I had seen a great shadowy yellow river come riding down the Quharity. I sprang from it for my life; and when next I looked behind, it was upon a turbulent loch, the further bank lost in darkness. I was about to shout to Waster Lunny, when a monster rose in the torrent between me and the spot where he had stood. It frightened me to silence until it fell, when I knew it was but a tree that had been flung on end by the flood. For a time there was no answer to my cries, and I thought the farmer had been swept away. Then I heard his whistle, and back I ran recklessly through the thickening darkness to the school-house. When I saw the tree rise, I had been on ground hardly wet as yet with the rain; but by the time Waster Lunny sent that reassuring whistle to me I was ankle-deep in water, and the rain was coming down like hail. I saw no lightning.
For the rest of the night I was only out once, when I succeeded in reaching the hen-house and brought all my fowls safely to the kitchen, except a hen which would not rise off her young. Between us we had the kitchen floor, a pool of water; and the rain had put out my fires already, as effectually as if it had been an overturned broth-pot. That I never took off my clothes that night I need not say, though of what was happening in the glen I could only guess. A flutter against my window now and again, when the rain had abated, told me of another bird that had flown there to die; and with Waster Lunny, I kept up communication by waving a light, to which he replied in a similar manner. Before morning, however, he ceased to answer my signals, and I feared some catastrophe had occurred at the farm. As it turned out, the family was fighting with the flood for the year’s shearing of wool, half of which eventually went down the waters, with the wool-shed on top of it.
The school-house stands too high to fear any flood, but there were moments when I thought the rain would master it. Not only the windows and the roof were rattling then, but all the walls, and I was like one in a great drum. When the rain was doing its utmost, I heard no other sound; but when the lull came, there was the wash of a heavy river, or a crack as of artillery that told of landslips, or the plaintive cry of the peesweep as it rose in the air, trying to entice the waters away from its nest.
It was a dreary scene that met my gaze at break of day. Already the Quharity had risen six feet, and in many parts of the glen it was two hundred yards wide. Waster Lunny’s cornfield looked like a bog grown over with rushes, and what had been his turnips had become a lake with small islands in it. No dike stood whole except one that the farmer, unaided, had built in a straight line from the road to the top of Mount Bare, and my own, the further end of which dipped in water. Of the plot of firs planted fifty years earlier to help on Waster Lunny’s crops, only a triangle had withstood the night.
Even with the aid of my field-glass I could not estimate the damage on more distant farms, for the rain, though now thin and soft, as it continued for six days, was still heavy and of a brown color. After breakfast — which was interrupted by my bantam cock’s twice spilling my milk — I saw Waster Lunny and his son, Matthew, running towards the shepherd’s house with ropes in their hands. The house, I thought, must be in the midst beyond; and then I sickened, knowing all at once that it should be on this side of the mist. When I had nerve to look again, I saw that though the roof had fallen in, the shepherd was astride one of the walls, from which he was dragged presently through the water by the help of the ropes. I remember noticing that he returned to his house with the rope still about him, and concluded that he had gone back to save some of his furniture. I was wrong, however. There was too much to be done at the farm to allow this, but Waster Lunny had consented to Duncan’s forcing his way back to the shieling to stop the clock. To both men it seemed horrible to let a clock go on ticking in a deserted house.
Having seen this rescue accomplished, I was letting my glass roam in the opposite direction, when one of its shakes brought into view something on my own side of the river. I looked at it long, and saw it move slightly. Was it a human being? No, it was a dog. No, it was a dog and something else. I hurried out to see more clearly, and after a first glance the glass shook so in my hands that I had to rest it on the dike. For a full minute, I daresay, did I look through the glass without blinking, and then I needed to look no more. That black patch was, indeed, Gavin.
He lay quite near the school-house, but I had to make a circuit of half a mile to reach him. It was pitiful to see the dog doing its best to come to me, and falling every few steps. The poor brute was discolored almost beyond recognition; and when at last it reached me, it lay down at my feet and licked them. I stepped over it and ran on recklessly to Gavin. At first I thought he was dead. If tears rolled down my cheeks, they were not for him.
I was no strong man even in those days, but I carried him to the school-house, the dog crawling after us. Gavin I put upon my bed, and I lay down beside him, holding him close to me, that some of the heat of my body might be taken in by his. When he was able to look at me, however, it was not with understanding, and in vain did my anxiety press him with questions. Only now and again would some word in my speech strike upon his brain and produce at least an echo. To “Did you meet Lord Rintoul’s dogcart?” he sat up, saying quickly:
“Listen, the dogcart!”
“Egyptian” was not that forenoon among the words he knew, and I did not think of mentioning “hill.” At “rain” he shivered; but “Spittal” was what told me most.
“He has taken her back,” he replied at once, from which I learned that Gavin now knew as much of Babbie as I did.
I made him as comfortable as possible, and despairing of learning anything from him in his present state, I let him sleep. Then I went out into the rain, very anxious, and dreading what he might have to tell me when he woke. I waded and jumped my way as near to the farm as I dared go, and Waster Lunny, seeing me, came to the water’s edge. At this part the breadth of the flood was not forty yards, yet for a time our voices could no more cross its roar than one may send a snowball through a stone wall. I know not whether the river then quieted for a space, or if it was only that the ears grow used to dins as the eyes distinguish the objects in a room that is at first black to them; but after a little we were able to shout our remarks across, much as boys fling pebbles, many to fall into the water, but one occasionally to reach the other side. Waster Lunny would have talked of the flood, but I had not come here for that.
“How were you home so early from the prayer-meeting last night?” I bawled.
“No meeting ... I came straucht hame ... but terrible stories ... Mr. Dishart,” was all I caught after Waster Lunny had flung his words across a dozen times.
I could not decide whether it would be wise to tell him that Gavin was in the school-house, and while I hesitated he continued to shout:
“Some woman ... the Session ... Lang Tammas ... God forbid ... maun back to the farm ... byre running like a mill-dam.”
He signed to me that he must be off, but my signals delayed him, and after much trouble he got my question, “Any news about Lord Rintoul?” My curiosity about the earl must have surprised him, but he answered:
“Marriage is to be the day ... cannon.”
I signed that I did not grasp his meaning.
“A cannon is to be fired as soon as they’re man and wife,” he bellowed. “We’ll hear it.”
With that we parted. On my way home, I remember, I stepped on a brood of drowned partridge. I was only out half an hour, but I had to wring my clothes as if they were fresh from the tub.
The day wore on, and I did not disturb the sleeper. A dozen times, I suppose, I had to relight my fire of wet peats and roots; but I had plenty of time to stare out at the window, plenty of time to think. Probably Gavin’s life depended on his sleeping, but that was not what kept my hands off him. Knowing so little of what had happened in Thrums since I left it, I was forced to guess, and my conclusion was that the earl had gone off with his own, and that Gavin in a frenzy had followed them. My wisest course, I thought, was to let him sleep until I heard the cannon, when his struggle for a wife must end. Fifty times at least did I stand regarding him as he slept; and if I did not pity his plight sufficiently, you know the reason. What were Margaret’s sufferings at this moment? Was she wringing her hands for her son lost in the flood, her son in disgrace with the congregation? By one o’clock no cannon had sounded, and my suspense had become intolerable. I shook Gavin awake, and even as I shook him demanded a knowledge of all that had happened since we parted at Nanny’s gate.
“How long ago is that?” he asked, with bewilderment.
“It was last night,” I answered. “This morning I found you senseless on the hillside, and brought you here, to the Glen Quharity school-house. That dog was with you.”
He looked at the dog, but I kept my eyes on him, and I saw intelligence creep back, like a blush, into his face.
“Now I remember,” he said, shuddering. “You have proved yourself my friend, sir, twice in the four and twenty hours.”
“Only once, I fear,” I replied gloomily. “I was no friend when I sent you to the earl’s bride last night.”
“You know who she is?” he cried, clutching me, and finding it agony to move his limbs.
“I know now,” I said, and had to tell him how I knew before he would answer another question. Then I became listener, and you who read know to what alarming story.
“And all that time,” I cried reproachfully, when he had done, “you gave your mother not a thought.”
“Not a thought,” he answered; and I saw that he pronounced a harsher sentence on himself than could have come from me. “All that time!” he repeated, after a moment. “It was only a few minutes, while the ten o’clock bell was ringing.”
“Only a few minutes,” I said, “but they changed the channel of the Quharity, and perhaps they have done not less to you.”
“That may be,” he answered gravely, “but it is of the present I must think just now. Mr. Ogilvy, what assurance have I, while lying here helpless, that the marriage at the Spittal is not going on?”
“None, I hope,” I said to myself, and listened longingly for the cannon. But to him I only pointed out that no woman need go through a form of marriage against her will.
“Rintoul carried her off with no possible purport,” he said, “but to set my marriage at defiance, and she has had a conviction always that to marry me would be to ruin me. It was only in the shiver Lord Rintoul’s voice in the darkness sent through her that she yielded to my wishes. If she thought that marriage last night could be annulled by another to-day, she would consent to the second, I believe, to save me from the effects of the first. You are incredulous, sir; but you do not know of what sacrifices love is capable.”
Something of that I knew, but I did not tell him. I had seen from his manner rather than his words that he doubted the validity of the gypsy marriage, which the king had only consented to celebrate because Babbie was herself an Egyptian. The ceremony had been interrupted in the middle.
“It was no marriage,” I said, with a confidence I was far from feeling.
“In the sight of God,” he replied excitedly, “we took each other for man and wife.”
I had to hold him down in bed.
“You are too weak to stand, man,” I said, “and yet you think you could start off this minute for the Spittal.”
“I must go,” he cried. “She is my wife. That impious marriage may have taken place already.”
“Oh, that it had!” was my prayer. “It has not,” I said to him. “A cannon is to be fired immediately after the ceremony, and all the glen will hear it.”
I spoke on the impulse, thinking to allay his desire to be off; but he said, “Then I may yet be in time.” Somewhat cruelly I let him rise, that he might realize his weakness. Every bone in him cried out at his first step, and he sank into a chair.
“You will go to the Spittal for me?” he implored.
“I will not,” I told him. “You are asking me to fling away my life.”
To prove my words I opened the door, and he saw what the flood was doing. Nevertheless, he rose and tottered several times across the room, trying to revive his strength. Though every bit of him was aching, I saw that he would make the attempt.
“Listen to me,” I said. “Lord Rintoul can maintain with some reason that it was you rather than he who abducted Babbie. Nevertheless, there will not, I am convinced, be any marriage at the Spittal to-day. When he carried her off from the Toad’s-hole, he acted under impulses not dissimilar to those that took you to it. Then, I doubt not, he thought possession was all the law, but that scene on the hill has staggered him by this morning. Even though she thinks to save you by marrying him, he will defer his wedding until he learns the import of yours.”
I did not believe in my own reasoning, but I would have said anything to detain him until that cannon was fired. He seemed to read my purpose, for he pushed my arguments from him with his hands, and continued to walk painfully to and fro.
“To defer the wedding,” he said, “would be to tell all his friends of her gypsy origin, and of me. He will risk much to avoid that.”
“In any case,” I answered, “you must now give some thought to those you have forgotten, your mother and your church.”
“That must come afterwards,” he said firmly. “My first duty is to my wife.”
The door swung to sharply just then, and he started. He thought it was the cannon.
“I wish to God it had been!” I cried, interpreting his thoughts.
“Why do you wish me ill?” he asked.
“Mr. Dishart,” I said solemnly, rising and facing him, and disregarding his question, “if that woman is to be your wife, it will be at a cost you cannot estimate till you return to Thrums. Do you think that if your congregation knew of this gypsy marriage they would have you for their minister for another day? Do you enjoy the prospect of taking one who might be an earl’s wife into poverty — ay, and disgraceful poverty? Do you know your mother so little as to think she could survive your shame? Let me warn you, sir, of what I see. I see another minister in the Auld Licht kirk, I see you and your wife stoned through our wynds, stoned from Thrums, as malefactors have been chased out of it ere now; and as certainly as I see these things I see a hearse standing at the manse door, and stern men denying a son’s right to help to carry his mother’s coffin to it. Go your way, sir; but first count the cost.”
His face quivered before these blows, but all he said was, “I must dree my dreed.”
“God is merciful,” I went on, “and these things need not be. He is more merciful to you, sir, than to some, for the storm that He sent to save you is ruining them. And yet the farmers are to-day thanking Him for every pound of wool, every blade of corn He has left them, while you turn from Him because He would save you, not in your way, but in His. It was His hand that stayed your marriage. He meant Babbie for the earl; and if it is on her part a loveless match, she only suffers for her own sins. Of that scene on the hill no one in Thrums, or in the glen, need ever know. Rintoul will see to it that the gypsies vanish from these parts forever, and you may be sure the Spittal will soon be shut up. He and McKenzie have as much reason as yourself to be silent. You, sir, must go back to your congregation, who have heard as yet only vague rumors that your presence will dispel. Even your mother will remain ignorant of what has happened. Your absence from the prayer-meeting you can leave to me to explain.”
He was so silent that I thought him mine, but his first words undeceived me.
“I thought I had nowhere so keen a friend,” he said; “but, Mr. Ogilvy, it is devil’s work you are pleading. Am I to return to my people to act a living lie before them to the end of my days? Do you really think that God devastated a glen to give me a chance of becoming a villain? No, sir, I am in His hands, and I will do what I think right.”
“You will be dishonored,” I said, “in the sight of God and man.”
“Not in God’s sight,” he replied. “It was a sinless marriage, Mr. Ogilvy, and I do not regret it. God ordained that she and I should love each other, and He put it into my power to save her from that man. I took her as my wife before Him, and in His eyes I am her husband. Knowing that, sir, how could I return to Thrums without her?”
I had no answer ready for him. I knew that in my grief for Margaret I had been advocating an unworthy course, but I would not say so. I went gloomily to the door, and there, presently, his hand fell on my shoulder.
“Your advice came too late, at any rate,” he said. “You forget that the precentor was on the hill and saw everything.”
It was he who had forgotten to tell me this, and to me it was the most direful news of all.
“My God!” I cried. “He will have gone to your mother and told her.” And straightway I began to lace my boots.
“Where are you going?” he asked, staring at me.
“To Thrums,” I answered harshly.
“You said that to venture out into the glen was to court death,” he reminded me.
“What of that?” I said, and hastily put on my coat.
“Mr. Ogilvy,” he cried, “I will not allow you to do this for me.”
“For you?” I said bitterly. “It is not for you.”
I would have gone at once, but he got in front of me, asking, “Did you ever know my mother?”
“Long ago,” I answered shortly, and he said no more, thinking, I suppose, that he knew all. He limped to the door with me, and I had only advanced a few steps when I understood better than before what were the dangers I was to venture into. Since I spoke to Waster Lunny the river had risen several feet, and even the hillocks in his turnip-field were now submerged. The mist was creeping down the hills. But what warned me most sharply that the flood was not satisfied yet was the top of the school-house dike; it was lined with field-mice. I turned back, and Gavin, mistaking my meaning, said I did wisely.
“I have not changed my mind,” I told him, and then had some difficulty in continuing. “I expect,” I said, “to reach Thrums safely, even though I should be caught in the mist, but I shall have to go round by the Kelpie brig in order to get across the river, and it is possible that — that something may befall me.”
I have all my life been something of a coward, and my voice shook when I said this, so that Gavin again entreated me to remain at the school-house, saying that if I did not he would accompany me.
“And so increase my danger tenfold?” I pointed out. “No, no, Mr. Dishart, I go alone; and if I can do nothing with the congregation, I can at least send your mother word that you still live. But if anything should happen to me, I want you — —”
But I could not say what I had come back to say. I had meant to ask him, in the event of my death, to take a hundred pounds which were the savings of my life; but now I saw that this might lead to Margaret’s hearing of me, and so I stayed my words. It was bitter to me this, and yet, after all, a little thing when put beside the rest.
“Good-by, Mr. Dishart,” I said abruptly. I then looked at my desk, which contained some trifles that were once Margaret’s. “Should anything happen to me,” I said, “I want that old desk to be destroyed unopened.”
“Mr. Ogilvy,” he answered gently, “you are venturing this because you loved my mother. If anything does befall you, be assured that I will tell her what you attempted for her sake.”
I believe he thought it was to make some such request that I had turned back.
“You must tell her nothing about me,” I exclaimed, in consternation. “Swear that my name will never cross your lips before her. No, that is not enough. You must forget me utterly, whether I live or die, lest some time you should think of me and she should read your thoughts. Swear, man!”
“Must this be?” he said, gazing at me.
“Yes,” I answered more calmly, “it must be. For nearly a score of years I have been blotted out of your mother’s life, and since she came to Thrums my one care has been to keep my existence from her. I have changed my burying-ground even from Thrums to the glen, lest I should die before her, and she, seeing the hearse go by the Tenements, might ask, ‘Whose funeral is this?’”
In my anxiety to warn him, I had said too much. His face grew haggard, and there was fear to speak on it; and I saw, I knew, that some damnable suspicion of Margaret —--
“She was my wife!” I cried sharply. “We were married by the minister of Harvie. You are my son.”
THE GREAT RAIN.
Gavin passed on through Windyghoul, thinking in his frenzy that he still heard the trap. In a rain that came down like iron rods every other sound was beaten dead. He slipped, and before he could regain his feet the dog bit him. To protect himself from dikes and trees and other horrors of the darkness he held his arm before him, but soon it was driven to his side. Wet whips cut his brow so that he had to protect it with his hands, until it had to bear the lash again, for they would not. Now he had forced up his knees, and would have succumbed but for a dread of being pinned to the earth. This fight between the man and the rain went on all night, and long before it ended the man was past the power of thinking.
In the ringing of the ten o’clock bell Gavin had lived the seventh part of a man’s natural life. Only action was required of him. That accomplished, his mind had begun to work again, when suddenly the loss of Babbie stopped it, as we may put out a fire with a great coal. The last thing he had reflected about was a dogcart in motion, and, consequently, this idea clung to him. His church, his mother, were lost knowledge of, but still he seemed to hear the trap in front.
The rain increased in violence, appalling even those who heard it from under cover. However rain may storm, though it be an army of archers battering roofs and windows, it is only terrifying when the noise swells every instant. In those hours of darkness it again and again grew in force and doubled its fury, and was louder, louder, and louder, until its next attack was to be more than men and women could listen to. They held each other’s hands and stood waiting. Then abruptly it abated, and people could speak. I believe a rain that became heavier every second for ten minutes would drive many listeners mad. Gavin was in it on a night that tried us repeatedly for quite half that time.
By and by even the vision of Babbie in the dogcart was blotted out. If nothing had taken its place, he would not have gone on probably; and had he turned back objectless, his strength would have succumbed to the rain. Now he saw Babbie and Rintoul being married by a minister who was himself, and there was a fair company looking on, and always when he was on the point of shouting to himself, whom he could see clearly, that this woman was already married, the rain obscured his words and the light went out. Presently the ceremony began again, always to stop at the same point. He saw it in the lightning-flash that had startled the hill. It gave him courage to fight his way onward, because he thought he must be heard if he could draw nearer to the company.
A regiment of cavalry began to trouble him. He heard it advancing from the Spittal, but was not dismayed, for it was, as yet, far distant. The horsemen came thundering on, filling the whole glen of Quharity. Now he knew that they had been sent out to ride him down. He paused in dread, until they had swept past him. They came back to look for him, riding more furiously than ever, and always missed him, yet his fears of the next time were not lessened. They were only the rain.
All through the night the dog followed him. He would forget it for a time, and then it would be so close that he could see it dimly. He never heard it bark, but it snapped at him, and a grin had become the expression of its face. He stoned it, he even flung himself at it, he addressed it in caressing tones, and always with the result that it disappeared, to come back presently.
He found himself walking in a lake, and now even the instinct of self-preservation must have been flickering, for he waded on, rejoicing merely in getting rid of the dog. Something in the water rose and struck him. Instead of stupefying him, the blow brought him to his senses, and he struggled for his life. The ground slipped beneath his feet many times, but at last he was out of the water. That he was out in a flood he did not realize; yet he now acted like one in full possession of his faculties. When his feet sank in water, he drew back; and many times he sought shelter behind banks and rocks, first testing their firmness with his hands. Once a torrent of stones, earth, and heather carried him down a hillside until he struck against a tree. He twined his arms round it, and had just done so when it fell with him. After that, when he touched trees growing in water, he fled from them, thus probably saving himself from death.
What he heard now might have been the roll and crack of the thunder. It sounded in his ear like nothing else. But it was really something that swept down the hill in roaring spouts of water, and it passed on both sides of him so that at one moment, had he paused, it would have crashed into him, and at another he was only saved by stopping. He felt that the struggle in the dark was to go on till the crack of doom.
Then he cast himself upon the ground. It moved beneath him like some great animal, and he rose and stole away from it. Several times did this happen. The stones against which his feet struck seemed to acquire life from his touch. So strong had he become, or so weak all other things, that whatever clump he laid hands on by which to pull himself out of the water was at once rooted up.
The daylight would not come. He longed passionately for it. He tried to remember what it was like, and could not; he had been blind so long. It was away in front somewhere, and he was struggling to overtake it. He expected to see it from a dark place, when he would rush forward to bathe his arms in it, and then the elements that were searching the world for him would see him and he would perish. But death did not seem too great a penalty to pay for light.
And at last day did come back, gray and drear. He saw suddenly once more. I think he must have been wandering the glen with his eyes shut, as one does shut them involuntarily against the hidden dangers of black night. How different was daylight from what he had expected! He looked, and then shut his dazed eyes again, for the darkness was less horrible than the day. Had he indeed seen, or only dreamed that he saw? Once more he looked to see what the world was like; and the sight that met his eyes was so mournful that he who had fought through the long night now sank hopeless and helpless among the heather. The dog was not far away, and it, too, lost heart. Gavin held out his hand, and Snap crept timidly toward him. He unloosened his coat, and the dog nestled against him, cowed and shivering, hiding its head from the day. Thus they lay, and the rain beat upon them.
WHILE THE TEN O’CLOCK BELL WAS RINGING.
In the square and wynds — weavers in groups:
“No, no, Davit, Mr. Dishart hadna felt the blow the piper gave him till he ascended the pulpit to conduct the prayer-meeting for rain, and then he fainted awa. Tammas Whamond and Peter Tosh carried him to the Session-house. Ay, an awful scene.”
“How did the minister no come to the meeting? I wonder how you could expect it, Snecky, and his mother taen so suddenly ill; he’s at her bedside, but the doctor has little hope.”
“This is what has occurred, Tailor: Mr. Dishart never got the length of the pulpit. He fell in a swound on the vestry floor. What caused it? Oh, nothing but the heat. Thrums is so dry that one spark would set it in a blaze.”
“I canna get at the richts o’ what keeped him frae the meeting, Femie, but it had something to do wi’ an Egyptian on the hill. Very like he had been trying to stop the gypsy marriage there. I gaed to the manse to speir at Jean what was wrang, but I’m thinking I telled her mair than she could tell me.”
“Man, man, Andrew, the wite o’t lies wi’ Peter Tosh. He thocht we was to hae sic a terrible rain that he implored the minister no to pray for it, and so angry was Mr. Dishart that he ordered the whole Session out o’ the kirk. I saw them in Couthie’s close, and michty dour they looked.”
“Yes, as sure as death, Tammas Whamond locked the kirk-door in Mr. Dishart’s face.”
“I’m a’ shaking! And small wonder, Marget, when I’ve heard this minute that Mr. Dishart’s been struck by lichtning while looking for Rob Dow. He’s no killed, but, woe’s me! they say he’ll never preach again.”
“Nothing o’ the kind. It was Rob that the lichtning struck dead in the doctor’s machine. The horse wasna touched; it came tearing down the Roods wi’ the corpse sitting in the machine like a living man.”
“What are you listening to, woman? Is it to a dog barking? I’ve heard it this while, but it’s far awa.”
In the manse kitchen:
“Jean, did you not hear me ring? I want you to — Why are you staring out at the window, Jean?”
“I — I was just hearkening to the ten o’clock bell, ma’am.”
“I never saw you doing nothing before! Put the heater in the fire, Jean. I want to iron the minister’s neckcloths. The prayer-meeting is long in coming out, is it not?”
“The — the drouth, ma’am, has been so cruel hard.”
“And, to my shame, I am so comfortable that I almost forgot how others are suffering. But my son never forgets, Jean. You are not crying, are you?”
“Bring the iron to the parlor, then. And if the minis — Why did you start, Jean? I only heard a dog barking.”
“I thocht, ma’am — at first I thocht it was Mr. Dishart opening the door. Ay, it’s just a dog; some gypsy dog on the hill, I’m thinking, for sound would carry far the nicht.”
“Even you, Jean, are nervous at nights, I see, if there is no man in the house. We shall hear no more distant dogs barking, I warrant, when the minister comes home.”
“When he comes home, ma’am.”
On the middle of a hill — a man and a woman:
“Courage, beloved; we are nearly there.”
“But, Gavin, I cannot see the encampment.”
“The night is too dark.”
“But the gypsy fires?”
“They are in the Toad’s-hole.”
“Listen to that dog barking.”
“There are several dogs at the encampment, Babbie.”
“There is one behind us. See, there it is!”
“I have driven it away, dear. You are trembling.”
“What we are doing frightens me, Gavin. It is at your heels again!”
“It seems to know you.”
“Oh, Gavin, it is Lord Rintoul’s collie Snap. It will bite you.”
“No, I have driven it back again. Probably the earl is following us.”
“Gavin, I cannot go on with this.”
“Leave me, dear, and save yourself.”
“Lean on me, Babbie.”
“Oh, Gavin, is there no way but this?”
“No sure way.”
“Even though we are married to-night — —”
“We shall be married in five minutes, and then, whatever befall, he cannot have you.”
“I will take you straight to the manse, to my mother.”
“Were it not for that dog, I should think we were alone on the hill.”
“But we are not. See, there are the gypsy fires.”
On the west side of the hill — two figures:
“Tammas, Tammas Whamond, I’ve lost you. Should we gang to the manse down the fields?”
“What are you listening for?”
“I heard a dog barking.”
“Only a gypsy dog, Tammas, barking at the coming storm.”
“The gypsy dogs are all tied up, and this one’s atween us and the Toad’s-hole. What was that?”
“It was nothing but the rubbing of the branches in the cemetery on ane another. It’s said, trees mak’ that fearsome sound when they’re terrified.”
“It was a dog barking at somebody that’s stoning it. I ken that sound, Hendry Munn.”
“May I die the death, Tammas Whamond, if a great drap o’ rain didna strike me the now, and I swear it was warm. I’m for running hame.”
“I’m for seeing who drove awa that dog. Come back wi’ me, Hendry.”
“I winna. There’s no a soul on the hill but you and me and thae daffing and drinking gypsies. How do you no answer me, Tammas? Hie, Tammas Whamond, whaur are you? He’s gone! Ay, then I’ll mak’ tracks hame.”
In the broom — a dogcart:
“Do you see nothing yet, McKenzie?”
“Scarce the broom at my knees, Rintoul. There is not a light on the hill.”
“McKenzie, can that schoolmaster have deceived us?”
“It is probable.”
“Urge on the horse, however. There is a road through the broom, I know. Have we stuck again?”
“Rintoul, she is not here. I promised to help you to bring her back to the Spittal before this escapade became known, but we have failed to find her. If she is to be saved, it must be by herself. I daresay she has returned already. Let me turn the horse’s head. There is a storm brewing.”
“I will search this gypsy encampment first, if it is on the hill. Hark! that was a dog’s bark. Yes, it is Snap; but he would not bark at nothing. Why do you look behind you so often, McKenzie?”
“For some time, Rintoul, it has seemed to me that we are being followed. Listen!”
“I hear nothing. At last, McKenzie, at last, we are out of the broom.”
“And as I live, Rintoul, I see the gypsy lights!”
It might have been a lantern that was flashed across the hill. Then all that part of the world went suddenly on fire. Everything was horribly distinct in that white light. The firs of Caddam were so near that it seemed to have arrested them in a silent march upon the hill. The grass would not hide a pebble. The ground was scored with shadows of men and things. Twice the light flickered and recovered itself. A red serpent shot across it, and then again black night fell.
The hill had been illumined thus for nearly half a minute. During that time not even a dog stirred. The shadows of human beings lay on the ground as motionless as logs. What had been revealed seemed less a gypsy marriage than a picture. Or was it that during the ceremony every person on the hill had been turned into stone? The gypsy king, with his arm upraised, had not had time to let it fall. The men and women behind him had their mouths open, as if struck when on the point of calling out. Lord Rintoul had risen in the dogcart and was leaning forward. One of McKenzie’s feet was on the shaft. The man crouching in the dogcart’s wake had flung up his hands to protect his face. The precentor, his neck outstretched, had a hand on each knee. All eyes were fixed, as in the death glare, on Gavin and Babbie, who stood before the king, their hands clasped over the tongs. Fear was petrified on the woman’s face, determination on the man’s.
They were all released by the crack of the thunder, but for another moment none could have swaggered.
“That was Lord Rintoul in the dogcart,” Babbie whispered, drawing in her breath.
“Yes, dear,” Gavin answered resolutely, “and now is the time for me to have my first and last talk with him. Remain here, Babbie. Do not move till I come back.”
“But, Gavin, he has seen. I fear him still.”
“He cannot touch you now, Babbie. You are my wife.”
In the vivid light Gavin had thought the dogcart much nearer than it was. He called Lord Rintoul’s name, but got no answer. There were shouts behind, gypsies running from the coming rain, dogs whining, but silence in front. The minister moved on some paces. Away to the left he heard voices --
“Who was the man, McKenzie?”
“My lord, I have lost sight of you. This is not the way to the camp.”
“Tell me, McKenzie, that you did not see what I saw.”
“Rintoul, I beseech you to turn back. We are too late.”
“We are not too late.”
Gavin broke through the darkness between them and him, but they were gone. He called to them, and stopped to listen to their feet.
“Is that you, Gavin?” Babbie asked just then.
For reply, the man who had crept up to her clapped his hand upon her mouth. Only the beginning of a scream escaped from her. A strong arm drove her quickly southward.
Gavin heard her cry, and ran back to the encampment. Babbie was gone. None of the gypsies had seen her since the darkness came back. He rushed hither and thither with a torch that only showed his distracted face to others. He flung up his arms in appeal for another moment of light; then he heard Babbie scream again, and this time it was from a distance. He dashed after her; he heard a trap speeding down the green sward through the broom.
Lord Rintoul had kidnapped Babbie. Gavin had no other thought as he ran after the dogcart from which the cry had come. The earl’s dog followed him, snapping at his heels. The rain began.
the little minister
First published serially in Good Words 1891