TALK OF A LITTLE MAID SINCE GROWN TALL.
My scholars have a game they call “The Little Minister,” in which the boys allow the girls as a treat to join. Some of the characters in the real drama are omitted as of no importance — the dominie, for instance — and the two best fighters insist on being Dow and Gavin. I notice that the game is finished when Dow dives from a haystack, and Gavin and the earl are dragged to the top of it by a rope. Though there should be another scene, it is only a marriage, which the girls have, therefore, to go through without the help of the boys. This warns me that I have come to an end of my story for all except my little maid. In the days when she sat on my knee and listened it had no end, for after I told her how her father and mother were married a second time she would say, “And then I came, didn’t I? Oh, tell me about me!” So it happened that when she was no higher than my staff she knew more than I could write in another book, and many a time she solemnly told me what I had told her, as --
“Would you like me to tell you a story? Well, it’s about a minister, and the people wanted to be bad to him, and then there was a flood, and a flood is lochs falling instead of rain, and so of course he was nearly drownded, and he preached to them till they liked him again, and so they let him marry her, and they like her awful too, and, just think! it was my father; and that’s all. Now tell me about grandmother when father came home.”
I told her once again that Margaret never knew how nearly Gavin was driven from his kirk. For Margaret was as one who goes to bed in the daytime and wakes in it, and is not told that there has been a black night while she slept. She had seen her son leave the manse the idol of his people, and she saw them rejoicing as they brought him back. Of what occurred at the Jaws, as the spot where Dow had saved two lives is now called, she learned, but not that these Jaws snatched him and her from an ignominy more terrible than death, for she never knew that the people had meditated driving him from his kirk. This Thrums is bleak and perhaps forbidding, but there is a moment of the day when a setting sun dyes it pink, and the people are like their town. Thrums was never colder in times of snow than were his congregation to their minister when the Great Rain began, but his fortitude rekindled their hearts. He was an obstinate minister, and love had led him a dance, but in the hour of trial he had proved himself a man.
When Gavin reached the manse, and saw not only his mother but Babbie, he would have kissed them both; but Babbie could only say, “She does not know,” and then run away crying. Gavin put his arm round his mother, and drew her into the parlor, where he told her who Babbie was. Now Margaret had begun to love Babbie already, and had prayed to see Gavin happily married; but it was a long time before she went upstairs to look for his wife and kiss her and bring her down. “Why was it a long time?” my little maid would ask, and I had to tell her to wait until she was old, and had a son, when she would find out for herself.
While Gavin and the earl were among the waters, two men were on their way to Mr. Carfrae’s home, to ask him to return with them and preach the Auld Licht kirk of Thrums vacant; and he came, though now so done that he had to be wheeled about in a little coach. He came in sorrow, yet resolved to perform what was asked of him if it seemed God’s will; but, instead of banishing Gavin, all he had to do was to remarry him and kirk him, both of which things he did, sitting in his coach, as many can tell. Lang Tammas spoke no more against Gavin, but he would not go to the marriage, and he insisted on resigning his eldership for a year and a day. I think he only once again spoke to Margaret. She was in the manse garden when he was passing, and she asked him if he would tell her now why he had been so agitated when he visited her on the day of the flood. He answered gruffly, “It’s no business o’ yours.” Dr. McQueen was Gavin’s best man. He died long ago of scarlet fever. So severe was the epidemic that for a week he was never in bed. He attended fifty cases without suffering, but as soon as he had bent over Hendry Munn’s youngest boys, who both had it, he said, “I’m smitted,” and went home to die. You may be sure that Gavin proved a good friend to Micah Dow. I have the piece of slate on which Rob proved himself a good friend to Gavin; it was in his pocket when we found the body. Lord Rintoul returned to his English estates, and never revisited the Spittal. The last thing I heard of him was that he had been offered the Lord-Lieutenantship of a county, and had accepted it in a long letter, in which he began by pointing out his unworthiness. This undid him, for the Queen, or her councillors, thinking from his first page that he had declined the honor, read no further, and appointed another man. Waster Lunny is still alive, but has gone to another farm. Sanders Webster, in his gratitude, wanted Nanny to become an Auld Licht, but she refused, saying, “Mr. Dishart is worth a dozen o’ Mr. Duthie, and I’m terrible fond o’ Mrs. Dishart, but Established I was born and Established I’ll remain till I’m carried out o’ this house feet foremost.”
“But Nanny went to Heaven for all that,” my little maid told me. “Jean says people can go to Heaven though they are not Auld Lichts, but she says it takes them all their time. Would you like me to tell you a story about my mother putting glass on the manse dike? Well, my mother and my father is very fond of each other, and once they was in the garden, and my father kissed my mother, and there was a woman watching them over the dike, and she cried out — something naughty.”
“It was Tibbie Birse,” I said, “and what she cried was, ‘Mercy on us, that’s the third time in half an hour!’ So your mother, who heard her, was annoyed, and put glass on the wall.”
“But it’s me that is telling you the story. You are sure you don’t know it? Well, they asked father to take the glass away, and he wouldn’t; but he once preached at mother for having a white feather in her bonnet, and another time he preached at her for being too fond of him. Jean told me. That’s all.”
No one seeing Babbie going to church demurely on Gavin’s arm could guess her history. Sometimes I wonder whether the desire to be a gypsy again ever comes over her for a mad hour, and whether, if so, Gavin takes such measures to cure her as he threatened in Caddam Wood. I suppose not; but here is another story:
“When I ask mother to tell me about her once being a gypsy she says I am a bad ‘quisitive little girl, and to put on my hat and come with her to the prayer-meeting; and when I asked father to let me see mother’s gypsy frock he made me learn Psalm forty-eight by heart. But once I see’d it, and it was a long time ago, as long as a week ago. Micah Dow gave me rowans to put in my hair, and I like Micah because he calls me Miss, and so I woke in my bed because there was noises, and I ran down to the parlor, and there was my mother in her gypsy frock, and my rowans was in her hair, and my father was kissing her, and when they saw me they jumped; and that’s all.”
“Would you like me to tell you another story? It is about a little girl. Well, there was once a minister and his wife, and they hadn’t no little girls, but just little boys, and God was sorry for them, so He put a little girl in a cabbage in the garden, and when they found her they were glad. Would you like me to tell you who the little girl was? Well, it was me, and, ugh! I was awful cold in the cabbage. Do you like that story?”
“Yes; I like it best of all the stories I know.”
“So do I like it, too. Couldn’t nobody help loving me, ‘cause I’m so nice? Why am I so fearful nice?”
“Because you are like your grandmother.”
“It was clever of my father to know when he found me in the cabbage that my name was Margaret. Are you sorry grandmother is dead?”
“I am glad your mother and father were so good to her and made her so happy.”
“Are you happy?”
“But when I am happy I laugh.”
“I am old, you see, and you are young.”
“I am nearly six. Did you love grandmother? Then why did you never come to see her? Did grandmother know you was here? Why not? Why didn’t I not know about you till after grandmother died?”
“I’ll tell you when you are big.”
“Shall I be big enough when I am six?”
“No, not till your eighteenth birthday.”
“But birthdays comes so slow. Will they come quicker when I am big?”
On her sixth birthday Micah Dow drove my little maid to the school-house in the doctor’s gig, and she crept beneath the table and whispered --
“Father told me to call you that if I liked, and I like,” she said when I had taken her upon my knee. “I know why you kissed me just now. It was because I looked like grandmother. Why do you kiss me when I look like her?”
“Who told you I did that?”
“Nobody didn’t tell me. I just found out. I loved grandmother too. She told me all the stories she knew.”
“Did she ever tell you a story about a black dog?”
“No. Did she know one?”
“Yes, she knew it.”
“Perhaps she had forgotten it?”
“No, she remembered it.”
“Tell it to me.”
“Not till you are eighteen.”
“But will you not be dead when I am eighteen? When you go to Heaven, will you see grandmother?”
“Will she be glad to see you?”
My little maid’s eighteenth birthday has come, and I am still in Thrums, which I love, though it is beautiful to none, perhaps, save to the very done, who lean on their staves and look long at it, having nothing else to do till they die. I have lived to rejoice in the happiness of Gavin and Babbie; and if at times I have suddenly had to turn away my head after looking upon them in their home surrounded by their children, it was but a moment’s envy that I could not help. Margaret never knew of the dominie in the glen. They wanted to tell her of me, but I would not have it. She has been long gone from this world; but sweet memories of her still grow, like honeysuckle, up the white walls of the manse, smiling in at the parlor window and beckoning from the door, and for some filling all the air with fragrance. It was not she who raised the barrier between her and me, but God Himself; and to those who maintain otherwise, I say they do not understand the purity of a woman’s soul. During the years she was lost to me her face ever came between me and ungenerous thoughts; and now I can say, all that is carnal in me is my own, and all that is good I got from her. Only one bitterness remains. When I found Gavin in the rain, when I was fighting my way through the flood, when I saw how the hearts of the people were turned against him — above all, when I found Whamond in the manse — I cried to God, making promises to Him, if He would spare the lad for Margaret’s sake, and he spared him; but these promises I have not kept.
END OF THE TWENTY-FOUR HOURS.
Out of the mist came the voice of Gavin, clear and strong --
“If you hear me, hold up your hands as a sign.”
They heard, and none wondered at his voice crossing the chasm while theirs could not. When the mist cleared, they were seen to have done as he bade them. Many hands remained up for a time because the people did not remember to bring them down, so great was the awe that had fallen on all, as if the Lord was near.
Gavin took his watch from his pocket, and he said --
“I am to fling this to you. You will give it to Mr. Ogilvy, the schoolmaster, as a token of the love I bear him.”
The watch was caught by James Langlands, and handed to Peter Tosh, the chief elder present.
“To Mr. Ogilvy,” Gavin continued, “you will also give the chain. You will take it off my neck when you find the body.
“To each of my elders, and to Hendry Munn, kirk officer, and to my servant Jean, I leave a book, and they will go to my study and choose it for themselves.
“I also leave a book for Nanny Webster, and I charge you, Peter Tosh, to take it to her, though she be not a member of my church.
“The pictorial Bible with ‘To my son on his sixth birthday’ on it, I bequeath to Rob Dow. No, my mother will want to keep that. I give to Rob Dow my Bible with the brass clasp.
“It is my wish that every family in the congregation should have some little thing to remember me by. This you will tell my mother.
“To my successor I leave whatsoever of my papers he may think of any value to him, including all my notes on Revelation, of which I meant to make a book. I hope he will never sing the paraphrases.
“If Mr. Carfrae’s health permits, you will ask him to preach the funeral sermon; but if he be too frail, then you will ask Mr. Trail, under whom I sat in Glasgow. The illustrated ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ on the drawers in my bedroom belongs to Mr. Trail, and you will return it to him with my affection and compliments.
“I owe five shillings to Hendry Munn for mending my boots, and a smaller sum to Baxter, the mason. I have two pounds belonging to Rob Dow, who asked me to take charge of them for him. I owe no other man anything, and this you will bear in mind if Matthew Cargill, the flying stationer, again brings forward a claim for the price of Whiston’s ‘Josephus,’ which I did not buy from him.
“Mr. Moncur, of Aberbrothick, had agreed to assist me at the Sacrament, and will doubtless still lend his services. Mr. Carfrae or Mr. Trail will take my place if my successor is not elected by that time. The Sacrament cups are in the vestry press, of which you will find the key beneath the clock in my parlor. The tokens are in the topmost drawer in my bedroom.
“The weekly prayer-meeting will be held as usual on Thursday at eight o’clock, and the elders will officiate.
“It is my wish that the news of my death be broken to my mother by Mr. Ogilvy, the schoolmaster, and by no other. You will say to him that this is my solemn request, and that I bid him discharge it without faltering and be of good cheer.
“But if Mr. Ogilvy be not now alive, the news of my death will be broken to my mother by my beloved wife. Last night I was married on the hill, over the tongs, but with the sanction of God, to her whom you call the Egyptian, and despite what has happened since then, of which you will soon have knowledge, I here solemnly declare that she is my wife, and you will seek for her at the Spittal or elsewhere till you find her, and you will tell her to go to my mother and remain with her always, for these are the commands of her husband.”
It was then that Gavin paused, for Lord Rintoul had that to say to him which no longer could be kept back. All the women were crying sore, and also some men whose eyes had been dry at the coffining of their children.
“Now I ken,” said Cruickshanks, who had been an atheist, “that it’s only the fool wha’ says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”
Another said, “That’s a man.”
Another said, “That man has a religion to last him all through.”
A fourth said, “Behold, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
A fifth said, “That’s our minister. He’s the minister o’ the Auld Licht Kirk o’ Thrums. Woe is me, we’re to lose him.”
Many cried, “Our hearts was set hard against him. O Lord, are you angry wi’ your servants that you’re taking him frae us just when we ken what he is?”
Gavin did not hear them, and again he spoke:
“My brethren, God is good. I have just learned that my wife is with my dear mother at the manse. I leave them in your care and in His.”
No more he said of Babbie, for the island was become very small.
“The Lord calls me hence. It is only for a little time I have been with you, and now I am going away, and you will know me no more. Too great has been my pride because I was your minister, but He who sent me to labor among you is slow to wrath; and He ever bore in mind that you were my first charge. My people, I must say to you, ‘Farewell.’”
Then, for the first time, his voice faltered, and wanting to go on he could not. “Let us read,” he said, quickly, “in the Word of God in the fourteenth of Matthew, from the twenty-eighth verse.”
He repeated these four verses: --
“‘And Peter answered Him and said, Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee on the water.
“‘And He said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.
“‘But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.
“‘And immediately Jesus stretched forth His hand and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?’”
After this Gavin’s voice was again steady, and he said, “The sand-glass is almost run out. Dearly beloved, with what words shall I bid you good-by?”
Many thought that these were to be the words, for the mist parted, and they saw the island tremble and half of it sink.
“My people,” said the voice behind the mist, “this is the text I leave with you: ‘Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.’ That text I read in the flood, where the hand of God has written it. All the pound-notes in the world would not dam this torrent for a moment, so that we might pass over to you safely. Yet it is but a trickle of water, soon to be dried up. Verily, I say unto you, only a few hours ago the treasures of earth stood between you and this earl, and what are they now compared to this trickle of water? God only can turn rivers into a wilderness, and the water-springs into dry ground. Let His Word be a lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path; may He be your refuge and your strength. Amen.”
This amen he said quickly, thinking death was now come. He was seen to raise his hands, but whether to Heaven or involuntarily to protect his face as he fell none was sure, for the mist again filled the chasm. Then came a clap of stillness. No one breathed.
But the two men were not yet gone, and Gavin spoke once more.
“Let us sing in the twenty-third Psalm.”
He himself raised the tune, and so long as they heard his voice they sang --
“The Lord’s my shepherd, I’ll not want;
He makes me down to lie
In pastures green; He leadeth me
The quiet waters by.
“My soul He doth restore again;
And me to walk doth make
Within the paths of righteousness
Ev’n for His own name’s sake.
“Yea, though I walk in Death’s dark vale,
Yet will I fear none ill;
For Thou art with me; and Thy rod
And staff — —”
But some had lost the power to sing in the first verse, and others at “Death’s dark vale,” and when one man found himself singing alone he stopped abruptly. This was because they no longer heard the minister.
“O Lord!” Peter Tosh cried, “lift the mist, for it’s mair than we can bear.”
The mist rose slowly, and those who had courage to look saw Gavin praying with the earl. Many could not look, and some of them did not even see Rob Dow jump.
For it was Dow, the man with the crushed leg, who saved Gavin’s life, and flung away his own for it. Suddenly he was seen on the edge of the bank, holding one end of the improvised rope in his hand. As Tosh says --
“It all happened in the opening and shutting o’ an eye. It’s a queer thing to say, but though I prayed to God to take awa the mist, when He did raise it I couldna look. I shut my een tight, and held my arm afore my face, like ane feared o’ being struck. Even when I daured to look, my arm was shaking so that I could see Rob both above it and below it. He was on the edge, crouching to leap. I didna see wha had haud o’ the other end o’ the rope. I heard the minister cry, ‘No, Dow, no!’ and it gae through me as quick as a stab that if Rob jumped he would knock them both into the water. But he did jump, and you ken how it was that he didna knock them off.”
It was because he had no thought of saving his own life. He jumped, not at the island, now little bigger than the seat of a chair, but at the edge of it, into the foam, and with his arm outstretched. For a second the hand holding the rope was on the dot of land. Gavin tried to seize the hand; Rintoul clutched the rope. The earl and the minister were dragged together into safety, and both left the water senseless. Gavin was never again able to lift his left hand higher than his head. Dow’s body was found next day near the school-house.
RAIN — MIST — THE JAWS.
To this day we argue in the glen about the sound mistaken by many of us for the firing of the Spittal cannon, some calling it thunder and others the tearing of trees in the torrent. I think it must have been the roll of stones into the Quharity from Silver Hill, of which a corner has been missing since that day. Silver Hill is all stones, as if creation had been riddled there, and in the sun the mica on them shines like many pools of water.
At the roar, as they thought, of the cannon, the farmers looked up from their struggle with the flood to say, “That’s Rintoul married,” as clocks pause simultaneously to strike the hour. Then every one in the glen save Gavin and myself was done with Rintoul. Before the hills had answered the noise, Gavin was on his way to the Spittal. The dog must have been ten minutes in overtaking him, yet he maintained afterward that it was with him from the start. From this we see that the shock he had got carried him some distance before he knew that he had left the school-house. It also gave him a new strength, that happily lasted longer than his daze of mind.
Gavin moved northward quicker than I came south, climbing over or wading through his obstacles, while I went round mine. After a time, too, the dog proved useful, for on discovering that it was going homeward it took the lead, and several times drew him to the right road to the Spittal by refusing to accompany him on the wrong road. Yet in two hours he had walked perhaps nine miles without being four miles nearer the Spittal. In that flood the glen milestones were three miles apart.
For some time he had been following the dog doubtfully, for it seemed to be going too near the river. When they struck a cart-track, however, he concluded rightly that they were nearing a bridge. His faith in his guide was again tested before they had been many minutes on this sloppy road. The dog stopped, whined, looked irresolute, and then ran to the right, disappearing into the mist in an instant. He shouted to it to come back, and was surprised to hear a whistle in reply. This was sufficient to make him dash after the dog, and in less than a minute he stopped abruptly by the side of a shepherd.
“Have you brocht it?” the man cried almost into Gavin’s ear; yet the roar of the water was so tremendous that the words came faintly, as if from a distance. “Wae is me; is it only you, Mr. Dishart?”
“Is it only you!” No one in the glen would have addressed a minister thus except in a matter of life or death, and Gavin knew it.
“He’ll be ower late,” the shepherd exclaimed, rubbing his hands together in distress. “I’m speaking o’ Whinbusses’ grieve. He has run for ropes, but he’ll be ower late.”
“Is there some one in danger?” asked Gavin, who stood, he knew not where, with this man, enveloped in mist.
“Is there no? Look!”
“There is nothing to be seen but mist; where are we?”
“We’re on the high bank o’ the Quharity. Take care, man; you was stepping ower into the roaring water. Lie down and tell me if he’s there yet. Maybe I just think that I see him, for the sicht is painted on my een.”
Gavin lay prone and peered at the river, but the mist came up to his eyes. He only knew that the river was below from the sound.
“Is there a man down there?” he asked, shuddering.
“There was a minute syne; on a bit island.”
“Why does he not speak?”
“He is senseless. Dinna move; the mist’s clearing, and you’ll see if he’s there syne. The mist has been lifting and falling that way ilka minute since me and the grieve saw him.”
The mist did not rise. It only shook like a blanket, and then again remained stationary. But in that movement Gavin had seen twice, first incredulously, and then with conviction.
“Shepherd,” he said, rising, “it is Lord Rintoul.”
“Ay, it’s him; and you saw his feet was in the water. They were dry when the grieve left me. Mr. Dishart, the ground he is on is being washed awa bit by bit. I tell you, the flood’s greedy for him, and it’ll hae him —— Look, did you see him again?”
“Is he living?”
“We saw him move. Hst! Was that a cry?”
It was only the howling of the dog, which had recognized its master and was peering over the bank, the body quivering to jump, but the legs restless with indecision.
“If we were down there,” Gavin said, “we could hold him secure till rescue comes. It is no great jump.”
“How far would you make it? I saw him again!”
“It looked further that time.”
“That’s it! Sometimes the ground he is on looks so near that you think you could almost drop on it, and the next time it’s yards and yards awa. I’ve stood ready for the spring, Mr. Dishart, a dozen times, but I aye sickened. I daurna do it. Look at the dog; just when it’s starting to jump, it pulls itsel’ back.”
As if it had heard the shepherd, the dog jumped at that instant.
“It sprang too far,” Gavin said.
“It didna spring far enough.”
They waited, and presently the mist thinned for a moment, as if it was being drawn out. They saw the earl, but there was no dog.
“Poor brute,” said the shepherd, and looked with awe at Gavin.
“Rintoul is slipping into the water,” Gavin answered. “You won’t jump?”
“No, I’m wae for him, and — —”
“Then I will,” Gavin was about to say, but the shepherd continued, “And him only married twa hours syne.”
That kept the words in Gavin’s mouth for half a minute, and then he spoke them.
“Dinna think o’t,” cried the shepherd, taking him by the coat. “The ground he is on is slippery. I’ve flung a dozen stanes at it, and them that hit it slithered off. Though you landed in the middle o’t, you would slide into the water.”
“He shook himsel’ free o’ me,” the shepherd told afterward, “and I saw him bending down and measuring the distance wi’ his een as cool as if he was calculating a drill o’ tatties. Syne I saw his lips moving in prayer. It wasna spunk he needed to pray for, though. Next minute there was me, my very arms prigging wi’ him to think better o’t, and him standing ready to loup, his knees bent, and not a tremble in them. The mist lifted, and I —— Lads, I couldna gie a look to the earl. Mr. Dishart jumped; I hardly saw him, but I kent, I kent, for I was on the bank alane. What did I do? I flung mysel’ down in a sweat, and if een could bore mist mine would hae done it. I thocht I heard the minister’s death-cry, and may I be struck if I dinna believe now that it was a skirl o’ my ain. After that there was no sound but the jaw o’ the water; and I prayed, but no to God, to the mist to rise, and after an awful time it rose, and I saw the minister was safe; he had pulled the earl into the middle o’ the bit island and was rubbing him back to consciousness. I sweat when I think o’t yet.”
The Little Minister’s jump is always spoken of as a brave act in the glen, but at such times I am silent. This is not because, being timid myself, I am without admiration for courage. My little maid says that three in every four of my poems are to the praise of prowess, and she has not forgotten how I carried her on my shoulder once to Tilliedrum to see a soldier who had won the Victoria Cross, and made her shake hands with him, though he was very drunk. Only last year one of my scholars declared to me that Nelson never said “England expects every man this day to do his duty,” for which I thrashed the boy and sent him to the cooling-stone. But was it brave of Gavin to jump? I have heard some maintain that only misery made him so bold, and others that he jumped because it seemed a fine thing to risk his life for an enemy. But these are really charges of cowardice, and my boy was never a coward. Of the two kinds of courage, however, he did not then show the nobler. I am glad that he was ready for such an act, but he should have remembered Margaret and Babbie. As it was, he may be said to have forced them to jump with him. Not to attempt a gallant deed for which one has the impulse, may be braver than the doing of it.
“Though it seemed as lang time,” the shepherd says, “as I could hae run up a hill in, I dinna suppose it was many minutes afore I saw Rintoul opening and shutting his een. The next glint I had o’ them they were speaking to ane another; ay, and mair than speaking. They were quarrelling. I couldna hear their words, but there was a moment when I thocht they were to grapple. Lads, the memory o’ that’ll hing about my deathbed. There was twa men, edicated to the highest pitch, ane a lord and the other a minister, and the flood was taking awa a mouthful o’ their footing ilka minute, and the jaws o’ destruction was gaping for them, and yet they were near fechting. We ken now it was about a woman. Ay, but does that make it less awful?”
No, that did not make it less awful. It was even awful that Gavin’s first words when Rintoul opened his eyes and closed them hastily were, “Where is she?” The earl did not answer; indeed, for the moment the words had no meaning to him.
“How did I come here?” he asked feebly.
“You should know better than I. Where is my wife?”
“I remember now,” Rintoul repeated several times. “Yes, I had left the Spittal to look for you — you were so long in coming. How did I find you?”
“It was I who found you,” Gavin answered. “You must have been swept away by the flood.”
“And you too?”
In a few words Gavin told how he came to be beside the earl.
“I suppose they will say you have saved my life,” was Rintoul’s commentary.
“It is not saved yet. If help does not come, we shall be dead men in an hour. What have you done with my wife?”
Rintoul ceased to listen to him, and shouted sums of money to the shepherd, who shook his head and bawled an answer that neither Gavin nor the earl heard. Across that thundering water only Gavin’s voice could carry, the most powerful ever heard in a Thrums pulpit, the one voice that could be heard all over the Commonty during the time of the tent-preaching. Yet he never roared, as some preachers do of whom we say, “Ah, if they could hear the Little Minister’s word!”
Gavin caught the gesticulating earl by the sleeve, and said, “Another man has gone for ropes. Now, listen to me; how dared you go through a marriage ceremony with her, knowing her already to be my wife?”
Rintoul did listen this time.
“How do you know I married her?” he asked sharply.
“I heard the cannon.”
Now the earl understood, and the shadow on his face shook and lifted, and his teeth gleamed. His triumph might be short-lived, but he would enjoy it while he could.
“Well,” he answered, picking the pebbles for his sling with care, “you must know that I could not have married her against her will. The frolic on the hill amused her, but she feared you might think it serious, and so pressed me to proceed with her marriage to-day despite the flood.”
This was the point at which the shepherd saw the minister raise his fist. It fell, however, without striking.
“Do you really think that I could doubt her?” Gavin said compassionately, and for the second time in twenty-four hours the earl learned that he did not know what love is.
For a full minute they had forgotten where they were. Now, again, the water seemed to break loose, so that both remembered their danger simultaneously and looked up. The mist parted for long enough to show them that where had only been the shepherd was now a crowd of men, with here and there a woman. Before the mist again came between the minister had recognized many members of his congregation.
In his unsuccessful attempt to reach Whinbusses, the grieve had met the relief party from Thrums. Already the weavers had helped Waster Lunny to stave off ruin, and they were now on their way to Whinbusses, keeping together through fear of mist and water. Every few minutes Snecky Hobart rang his bell to bring in stragglers.
“Follow me,” was all the panting grieve could say at first, but his agitation told half his story. They went with him patiently, only stopping once, and then excitedly, for they come suddenly on Rob Dow. Rob was still lying a prisoner beneath the tree, and the grieve now remembered that he had fallen over this tree, and neither noticed the man under it nor been noticed by the man. Fifty hands released poor Dow, and two men were commissioned to bring him along slowly while the others hurried to the rescue of the earl. They were amazed to learn from the shepherd that Mr. Dishart also was in danger, and after “Is there a woman wi’ him?” some cried, “He’ll get off cheap wi’ drowning,” and “It’s the judgment o’ God.”
The island on which the two men stood was now little bigger than the round tables common in Thrums, and its centre was some feet farther from the bank than when Gavin jumped. A woman, looking down at it, sickened, and would have toppled into the water, had not John Spens clutched her. Others were so stricken with awe that they forgot they had hands.
Peter Tosh, the elder, cast a rope many times, but it would not carry. The one end was then weighted with a heavy stone, and the other tied round the waists of two men. But the force of the river had been underestimated. The stone fell short into the torrent, which rushed off with it so furiously that the men were flung upon their faces and trailed to the verge of the precipice. A score of persons sprang to their rescue, and the rope snapped. There was only one other rope, and its fate was not dissimilar. This time the stone fell into the water beyond the island, and immediately rushed down stream. Gavin seized the rope, but it pressed against his body, and would have pushed him off his feet had not Tosh cut it. The trunk of the tree that had fallen on Rob Dow was next dragged to the bank and an endeavor made to form a sloping bridge of it. The island, however, was now soft and unstable, and, though the trunk was successfully lowered, it only knocked lumps off the island, and finally it had to be let go, as the weavers could not pull it back. It splashed into the water, and was at once whirled out of sight. Some of the party on the bank began hastily to improvise a rope of cravats and the tags of the ropes still left, but the mass stood helpless and hopeless.
“You may wonder that we could have stood still, waiting to see the last o’ them,” Birse, the post, has said to me in the school-house, “but, dominie, I couldna hae moved, magre my neck. I’m a hale man, but if this minute we was to hear the voice o’ the Almighty saying solemnly, ‘Afore the clock strikes again, Birse, the post, will fall down dead of heart disease,’ what do you think you would do? I’ll tell you. You would stand whaur you are, and stare, tongue-tied, at me till I dropped. How do I ken? By the teaching o’ that nicht. Ay, but there’s a mair important thing I dinna ken, and that is whether I would be palsied wi’ fear like the earl, or face death with the calmness o’ the minister.”
Indeed, the contrast between Rintoul and Gavin was now impressive. When Tosh signed that the weavers had done their all and failed, the two men looked in each other’s faces, and Gavin’s face was firm and the earl’s working convulsively. The people had given up attempting to communicate with Gavin save by signs, for though they heard his sonorous voice, when he pitched it at them, they saw that he caught few words of theirs. “He heard our skirls,” Birse said, “but couldna grip the words ony mair than we could hear the earl. And yet we screamed, and the minister didna. I’ve heard o’ Highlandmen wi’ the same gift, so that they could be heard across a glen.”
“We must prepare for death,” Gavin said solemnly to the earl, “and it is for your own sake that I again ask you to tell me the truth. Worldly matters are nothing to either of us now, but I implore you not to carry a lie into your Maker’s presence.”
“I will not give up hope,” was all Rintoul’s answer, and he again tried to pierce the mist with offers of reward. After that he became doggedly silent, fixing his eyes on the ground at his feet. I have a notion that he had made up his mind to confess the truth about Babbie when the water had eaten the island as far as the point at which he was now looking.
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 little minister
First published serially in Good Words 1891