CONTINUED MISBEHAVIOUR OF THE EGYPTIAN WOMAN.
By the following Monday it was known at many looms that something sat heavily on the Auld Licht minister’s mind. On the previous day he had preached his second sermon of warning to susceptible young men, and his first mention of the word “woman” had blown even the sleepy heads upright. Now he had salt fish for breakfast, and on clearing the table Jean noticed that his knife and fork were uncrossed. He was observed walking into a gooseberry bush by Susy Linn, who possessed the pioneer spring-bed of Thrums, and always knew when her man jumped into it by suddenly finding herself shot to the ceiling. Lunan, the tinsmith, and two women, who had the luck to be in the street at the time, saw him stopping at Dr. McQueen’s door, as if about to knock, and then turning smartly away. His hat blew off in the school wynd, where a wind wanders ever, looking for hats, and he chased it so passionately that Lang Tammas went into Allardyce’s smiddy to say
“I dinna like it. Of course he couldna afford to lose his hat, but he should hae run after it mair reverently.”
Gavin, indeed, was troubled. He had avoided speaking of the Egyptian to his mother. He had gone to McQueen’s house to ask the doctor to accompany him to the Kaims, but with the knocker in his hand he changed his mind, and now he was at the place of meeting alone. It was a day of thaw, nothing to be heard from a distance but the swish of curling-stones through water on Rashie-bog, where the match for the eldership was going on. Around him, Gavin saw only dejected firs with drops of water falling listlessly from them, clods of snow, and grass that rustled as if animals were crawling through it. All the roads were slack.
I suppose no young man to whom society has not become a cheap thing can be in Gavin’s position, awaiting the coming of an attractive girl, without giving thought to what he should say to her. When in the pulpit or visiting the sick, words came in a rush to the little minister, but he had to set his teeth to determine what to say to the Egyptian.
This was because he had not yet decided which of two women she was. Hardly had he started on one line of thought when she crossed his vision in a new light, and drew him after her.
Her “Need that make any difference?” sang in his ear like another divit, cast this time at religion itself, and now he spoke aloud, pointing his finger at a fir: “I said at the mud house that I believed you because I knew you. To my shame be it said that I spoke falsely. How dared you bewitch me? In your presence I flung away the precious hours in frivolity; I even forgot the Sabbath. For this I have myself to blame. I am an unworthy preacher of the Word. I sinned far more than you who have been brought up godlessly from your cradle. Nevertheless, whoever you are, I call upon you, before we part never to meet again, to repent of your — —”
And then it was no mocker of the Sabbath he was addressing, but a woman with a child’s face, and there were tears in her eyes. “Do you care?” she was saying, and again he answered, “Yes, I care.” This girl’s name was not Woman, but Babbie.
Now Gavin made an heroic attempt to look upon both these women at once. “Yes, I believe in you,” he said to them, “but henceforth you must send your money to Nanny by another messenger. You are a gypsy and I am a minister; and that must part us. I refuse to see you again. I am not angry with you, but as a minister — —”
It was not the disappearance of one of the women that clipped this argument short; it was Babbie singing --
“It fell on a day, on a bonny summer day,
When the corn grew green and yellow,
That there fell out a great dispute
Between Argyle and Airly.
“The Duke of Montrose has written to Argyle
To come in the morning early,
An’ lead in his men by the back o’ Dunkeld
To plunder the bonny house o’ Airly.”
“Where are you?” cried Gavin in bewilderment.
“I am watching you from my window so high,” answered the Egyptian; and then the minister, looking up, saw her peering at him from a fir.
“How did you get up there?” he asked in amazement.
“On my broomstick,” Babbie replied, and sang on --
“The lady looked o’er her window sae high,
And oh! but she looked weary,
And there she espied the great Argyle
Come to plunder the bonny house o’ Airly.”
“What are you doing there?” Gavin said, wrathfully.
“This is my home,” she answered. “I told you I lived in a tree.”
“Come down at once,” ordered Gavin. To which the singer responded --
“‘Come down, come down, Lady Margaret,’ he says;
‘Come down and kiss me fairly
Or before the morning clear day light
I’ll no leave a standing stane in Airly.’”
“If you do not come down this instant,” Gavin said in a rage, “and give me what I was so foolish as to come for,
I — —”
The Egyptian broke in --
“‘I wouldna kiss thee, great Argyle,
I wouldna kiss thee fairly;
I wouldna kiss thee, great Argyle,
Gin you shouldna leave a standing stane in Airly.’”
“You have deceived Nanny,” Gavin cried, hotly, “and you have brought me here to deride me. I will have no more to do with you.”
He walked away quickly, but she called after him, “I am coming down. I have the money,” and next moment a snowball hit his hat.
“That is for being cross,” she explained, appearing so unexpectedly at his elbow that he was taken aback. “I had to come close up to you before I flung it, or it would have fallen over my shoulder. Why are you so nasty to-day? and, oh, do you know you were speaking to yourself?”
“You are mistaken,” said Gavin, severely. “I was speaking to you.”
“You didn’t see me till I began to sing, did you?”
“Nevertheless I was speaking to you, or rather, I was saying to myself what — —”
“What you had decided to say to me?” said the delighted gypsy. “Do you prepare your talk like sermons? I hope you have prepared something nice for me. If it is very nice I may give you this bunch of holly.”
She was dressed as he had seen her previously, but for a cluster of holly berries at her breast.
“I don’t know that you will think it nice,” the minister answered, slowly, “but my duty — —”
“If it is about duty,” entreated Babbie, “don’t say it. Don’t, and I will give you the berries.”
She took the berries from her dress, smiling triumphantly the while like one who had discovered a cure for duty; and instead of pointing the finger of wrath at her, Gavin stood expectant.
“But no,” he said, remembering who he was, and pushing the gift from him, “I will not be bribed. I must tell
you — —”
“Now,” said the Egyptian, sadly, “I see you are angry with me. Is it because I said I lived in a tree? Do forgive me for that dreadful lie.”
She had gone on her knees before he could stop her, and was gazing imploringly at him, with her hands clasped.
“You are mocking me again,” said Gavin, “but I am not angry with you. Only you must understand — —”
She jumped up and put her fingers to her ears.
“You see I can hear nothing,” she said.
“Listen while I tell you — —”
“I don’t hear a word. Why do you scold me when I have kept my promise? If I dared to take my fingers from my ears I would give you the money for Nanny. And, Mr. Dishart, I must be gone in five minutes.”
“In five minutes!” echoed Gavin, with such a dismal face that Babbie heard the words with her eyes, and dropped her hands.
“Why are you in such haste?” he asked, taking the five pounds mechanically, and forgetting all that he had meant to say.
“Because they require me at home,” she answered, with a sly glance at her fir. “And, remember, when I run away you must not follow me.”
“I won’t,” said Gavin, so promptly that she was piqued.
“Why not?” she asked. “But of course you only came here for the money. Well, you have got it. Good-bye.”
“You know that was not what I meant,” said Gavin, stepping after her. “I have told you already that whatever other people say, I trust you. I believe in you, Babbie.”
“Was that what you were saying to the tree?” asked the Egyptian, demurely. Then, perhaps thinking it wisest not to press this point, she continued irrelevantly, “It seems such a pity that you are a minister.”
“A pity to be a minister!” exclaimed Gavin, indignantly. “Why, why, you — why, Babbie, how have you been brought up?”
“In a curious way,” Babbie answered, shortly, “but I can’t tell you about that just now. Would you like to hear all about me?” Suddenly she seemed to have become confidential.
“Do you really think me a gypsy?” she asked.
“I have tried not to ask myself that question.”
“Because it seems like doubting your word.”
“I don’t see how you can think of me at all without wondering who I am.”
“No, and so I try not to think of you at all.”
“Oh, I don’t know that you need do that.”
“I have not quite succeeded.”
The Egyptian’s pique had vanished, but she may have thought that the conversation was becoming dangerous, for she said abruptly --
“Well, I sometimes think about you.”
“Do you?” said Gavin, absurdly gratified. “What do you think about me?”
“I wonder,” answered the Egyptian, pleasantly, “which of us is the taller.”
Gavin’s fingers twitched with mortification, and not only his fingers but his toes.
“Let us measure,” she said, sweetly, putting her back to his. “You are not stretching your neck, are you?”
But the minister broke away from her.
“There is one subject,” he said, with great dignity, “that I allow no one to speak of in my presence, and that is my — my height.”
His face was as white as his cravat when the surprised Egyptian next looked at him, and he was panting like one who has run a mile. She was ashamed of herself, and said so.
“It is a topic I would rather not speak about,” Gavin answered, dejectedly, “especially to you.”
He meant that he would rather be a tall man in her company than in any other, and possibly she knew this, though all she answered was --
“You wanted to know if I am really a gypsy. Well, I am.”
“An ordinary gypsy?”
“Do you think me ordinary?”
“I wish I knew what to think of you.”
“Ah, well, that is my forbidden topic. But we have a good many ideas in common after all, have we not, though you are only a minis — I mean, though I am only a gypsy?”
There fell between them a silence that gave Babbie time to remember she must go.
“I have already stayed too long,” she said. “Give my love to Nanny, and say that I am coming to see her soon, perhaps on Monday. I don’t suppose you will be there on Monday, Mr. Dishart?”
“I — I cannot say.”
“No, you will be too busy. Are you to take the holly berries?”
“I had better not,” said Gavin, dolefully.
“Oh, if you don’t want them — —”
“Give them to me,” he said, and as he took them his hand shook.
“I know why you are looking so troubled,” said the Egyptian, archly. “You think I am to ask you the colour of my eyes, and you have forgotten again.”
He would have answered, but she checked him.
“Make no pretence,” she said, severely; “I know you think they are blue.”
She came close to him until her face almost touched his.
“Look hard at them,” she said, solemnly, “and after this you may remember that they are black, black, black!”
At each repetition of the word she shook her head in his face. She was adorable. Gavin’s arms — but they met on nothing. She had run away.
When the little minister had gone, a man came from behind a tree and shook his fist in the direction taken by the gypsy. It was Rob Dow, black with passion.
“It’s the Egyptian!” he cried. “You limmer, wha are you that hae got haud o’ the minister?”
He pursued her, but she vanished as from Gavin in Windyghoul.
“A common Egyptian!” he muttered when he had to give up the search. “But take care, you little devil,” he called aloud; “take care; if I catch you playing pranks wi’ that man again I’ll wring your neck like a hen’s!”
THE MINISTER BEWITCHED — SECOND SERMON AGAINST WOMEN.
To Nanny it was a dizzying experience to sit at the head of her own table, and, with assumed calmness, invite the minister not to spare the loaf-bread. Babbie’s prattle, and even Gavin’s answers, were but an indistinct noise to her, to be as little regarded, in the excitement of watching whether Mr. Dishart noticed that there was a knife for the butter, as the music of the river by a man who is catching trout. Every time Gavin’s cup went to his lips Nanny calculated (correctly) how much he had drunk, and yet, when the right moment arrived, she asked in the English voice that is fashionable at ceremonies, “if his cup was toom.”
Perhaps it was well that Nanny had these matters to engross her, for though Gavin spoke freely, he was saying nothing of lasting value, and some of his remarks to the Egyptian, if preserved for the calmer contemplation of the morrow, might have seemed frivolous to himself. Usually his observations were scrambled for, like ha’pence at a wedding, but to-day they were only for one person. Infected by the Egyptian’s high spirits, Gavin had laid aside the minister with his hat, and what was left was only a young man. He who had stamped his feet at thought of a soldier’s cloak now wanted to be reminded of it. The little minister, who used to address himself in terms of scorn every time he wasted an hour, was at present dallying with a teaspoon. He even laughed boisterously, flinging back his head, and little knew that behind Nanny’s smiling face was a terrible dread, because his chair had once given way before.
Even though our thoughts are not with our company, the mention of our name is a bell to which we usually answer. Hearing hers Nanny started.
“You can tell me, Nanny,” the Egyptian had said, with an arch look at the minister. “Oh, Nanny, for shame! How can you expect to follow our conversation when you only listen to Mr. Dishart?”
“She is saying, Nanny,” Gavin broke in, almost gaily for a minister, “that she saw me recently wearing a cloak. You know I have no such thing.”
“Na,” Nanny answered artlessly, “you have just the thin brown coat wi’ the braid round it, forby the ane you have on the now.”
“You see,” Gavin said to Babbie, “I could not have a new neckcloth, not to speak of a cloak, without everybody in Thrums knowing about it. I dare say Nanny knows all about the braid, and even what it cost.”
“Three bawbees the yard at Kyowowy’s shop,” replied Nanny, promptly, “and your mother sewed it on. Sam’l Fairweather has the marrows o’t on his top coat. No that it has the same look on him.”
“Nevertheless,” Babbie persisted, “I am sure the minister has a cloak; but perhaps he is ashamed of it. No doubt it is hidden away in the garret.”
“Na, we would hae kent o’t if it was there,” said Nanny.
“But it may be in a chest, and the chest may be locked,” the Egyptian suggested.
“Ay, but the kist in the garret isna locked,” Nanny answered.
“How do you get to know all these things, Nanny?” asked Gavin, sighing.
“Your congregation tells me. Naebody would lay by news about a minister.”
“But how do they know?”
“I dinna ken. They just find out, because they’re so fond o’ you.”
“I hope they will never become so fond of me as that,” said Babbie. “Still, Nanny, the minister’s cloak is hidden somewhere.”
“Losh, what would make him hod it?” demanded the old woman. “Folk that has cloaks doesna bury them in boxes.”
At the word “bury” Gavin’s hand fell on the table, and he returned to Nanny apprehensively.
“That would depend on how the cloak was got,” said the cruel Egyptian. “If it was not his own — —”
“Lassie,” cried Nanny, “behave yoursel’.”
“Or if he found it in his possession against his will?” suggested Gavin, slyly. “He might have got it from some one who picked it up cheap.”
“From his wife, for instance,” said Babbie, whereupon Gavin suddenly became interested in the floor.
“Ay, ay, the minister was hitting at you there, Babbie,” Nanny explained, “for the way you made off wi’ the captain’s cloak. The Thrums folk wondered less at your taking it than at your no keeping it. It’s said to be michty grand.”
“It was rather like the one the minister’s wife gave him,” said Babbie.
“The minister has neither a wife nor a cloak,” retorted Nanny.
“He isn’t married?” asked Babbie, the picture of incredulity.
Nanny gathered from the minister’s face that he deputed to her the task of enlightening this ignorant girl, so she replied with emphasis, “Na, they hinna got him yet, and I’m cheated if it doesna tak them all their time.”
Thus do the best of women sell their sex for nothing.
“I did wonder,” said the Egyptian, gravely, “at any mere woman’s daring to marry such a minister.”
“Ay,” replied Nanny, spiritedly, “but there’s dauring limmers wherever there’s a single man.”
“So I have often suspected,” said Babbie, duly shocked. “But, Nanny, I was told the minister had a wife, by one who said he saw her.”
“He lied, then,” answered Nanny turning to Gavin for further instructions.
“But, see, the minister does not deny the horrid charge himself.”
“No, and for the reason he didna deny the cloak: because it’s no worth his while. I’ll tell you wha your friend had seen. It would be somebody that would like to be Mrs. Dishart. There’s a hantle o’ that kind. Ay, lassie, but wishing winna land a woman in a manse.”
“It was one of the soldiers,” Babbie said, “who told me about her. He said Mr. Dishart introduced her to him.”
“Sojers!” cried Nanny. “I could never thole the name o’ them. Sanders in his young days hankered after joining them, and so he would, if it hadna been for the fechting. Ay, and now they’ve ta’en him awa to the gaol, and sworn lies about him. Dinna put any faith in sojers, lassie.”
“I was told,” Babbie went on, “that the minister’s wife was rather like me.”
“Heaven forbid!” ejaculated Nanny, so fervently that all three suddenly sat back from the table.
“I’m no meaning,” Nanny continued hurriedly, fearing to offend her benefactress, “but what you’re the bonniest tid I ever saw out o’ an almanack. But you would ken Mr. Dishart’s contempt for bonny faces if you had heard his sermon against them. I didna hear it mysel’, for I’m no Auld Licht, but it did the work o’ the town for an aucht days.”
If Nanny had not taken her eyes off Gavin for the moment she would have known that he was now anxious to change the topic. Babbie saw it, and became suspicious.
“When did he preach against the wiles of women, Nanny?”
“It was long ago,” said Gavin, hastily.
“No so very lang syne,” corrected Nanny. “It was the Sabbath after the sojers was in Thrums; the day you changed your text so hurriedly. Some thocht you wasna weel, but Lang Tammas — —”
“Thomas Whamond is too officious,” Gavin said with dignity. “I forbid you, Nanny, to repeat his story.”
“But what made you change your text?” asked Babbie.
“You see he winna tell,” Nanny said, wistfully. “Ay, I dinna deny but what I would like richt to ken. But the session’s as puzzled as yoursel’, Babbie.”
“Perhaps more puzzled,” answered the Egyptian, with a smile that challenged Gavin’s frowns to combat and overthrow them. “What surprises me, Mr. Dishart, is that such a great man can stoop to see whether women are pretty or not. It was very good of you to remember me to-day. I suppose you recognized me by my frock?”
“By your face,” he replied, boldly; “by your eyes.”
“Nanny,” exclaimed the Egyptian, “did you hear what the minister said?”
“Woe is me,” answered Nanny, “I missed it.”
“He says he would know me anywhere by my eyes.”
“So would I mysel’,” said Nanny.
“Then what colour are they, Mr. Dishart?” demanded Babbie. “Don’t speak, Nanny, for I want to expose him.”
She closed her eyes tightly. Gavin was in a quandary. I suppose he had looked at her eyes too long to know much about them.
“Blue,” he guessed at last.
“Na, they’re black,” said Nanny, who had doubtless known this for an hour. I am always marvelling over the cleverness of women, as every one must see who reads this story.
“No but what they micht be blue in some lichts,” Nanny added, out of respect to the minister.
“Oh, don’t defend him, Nanny,” said Babbie, looking reproachfully at Gavin. “I don’t see that any minister has a right to denounce women when he is so ignorant of his subject. I will say it, Nanny, and you need not kick me beneath the table.”
Was not all this intoxicating to the little minister, who had never till now met a girl on equal terms? At twenty-one a man is a musical instrument given to the other sex, but it is not as instruments learned at school, for when She sits down to it she cannot tell what tune she is about to play. That is because she has no notion of what the instrument is capable. Babbie’s kind-heartedness, her gaiety, her coquetry, her moments of sadness, had been a witch’s fingers, and Gavin was still trembling under their touch. Even in being taken to task by her there was a charm, for every pout of her mouth, every shake of her head, said, “You like me, and therefore you have given me the right to tease you.” Men sign these agreements without reading them. But, indeed, man is a stupid animal at the best, and thinks all his life that he did not propose until he blurted out, “I love you.”
It was later than it should have been when the minister left the mud house, and even then he only put on his hat because Babbie said that she must go.
“But not your way,” she added. “I go into the wood and vanish. You know, Nanny, I live up a tree.”
“Dinna say that,” said Nanny, anxiously, “or I’ll be fleid about the siller.”
“Don’t fear about it. Mr. Dishart will get some of it to-morrow at the Kaims. I would bring it here, but I cannot come so far to-morrow.”
“Then I’ll hae peace to the end o’ my days,” said the old woman, “and, Babbie, I wish the same to you wi’ all my heart.”
“Ah,” Babbie replied, mournfully, “I have read my fortune, Nanny, and there is not much happiness in it.”
“I hope that is not true,” Gavin said, simply.
They were standing at the door, and she was looking toward the hill, perhaps without seeing it. All at once it came to Gavin that this fragile girl might have a history far sadder and more turbulent than his.
“Do you really care?” she asked, without looking at him.
“Yes,” he said stoutly, “I care.”
“Because you do not know me,” she said.
“Because I do know you,” he answered.
Now she did look at him.
“I believe,” she said, making a discovery, “that you misunderstand me less than those who have known me longer.”
This was a perilous confidence, for it at once made Gavin say “Babbie.”
“Ah,” she answered, frankly, “I am glad to hear that. I thought you did not really like me, because you never called me by my name.”
Gavin drew a great breath.
“That was not the reason,” he said.
The reason was now unmistakable.
“I was wrong,” said the Egyptian, a little alarmed; “you do not understand me at all.”
She returned to Nanny, and Gavin set off, holding his head high, his brain in a whirl. Five minutes afterwards, when Nanny was at the fire, the diamond ring on her little finger, he came back, looking like one who had just seen sudden death.
“I had forgotten,” he said, with a fierceness aimed at himself, “that to-morrow is the Sabbath.”
“Need that make any difference?” asked the gypsy.
“At this hour on Monday,” said Gavin, hoarsely, “I will be at the Kaims.”
He went away without another word, and Babbie watched him from the window. Nanny had not looked up from the ring.
“What a pity he is a minister!” the girl said, reflectively. “Nanny, you are not listening.”
The old woman was making the ring flash by the light of the fire.
“Nanny, do you hear me? Did you see Mr. Dishart come back?”
“I heard the door open,” Nanny answered, without taking her greedy eyes off the ring. “Was it him? Whaur did you get this, lassie?”
“Give it me back, Nanny, I am going now.”
But Nanny did not give it back; she put her other hand over it to guard it, and there she crouched, warming herself not at the fire, but at the ring.
“Give it me, Nanny.”
“It winna come off my finger.” She gloated over it, nursed it, kissed it.
“I must have it, Nanny.”
The Egyptian put her hand lightly on the old woman’s shoulder, and Nanny jumped up, pressing the ring to her bosom. Her face had become cunning and ugly; she retreated into a corner.
“Nanny, give me back my ring or I will take it from you.”
The cruel light of the diamond was in Nanny’s eyes for a moment, and then, shuddering, she said, “Tak your ring awa, tak it out o’ my sicht.”
In the meantime Gavin was trudging home gloomily composing his second sermon against women. I have already given the entry in my own diary for that day: this is his:—”Notes on Jonah. Exchanged vol. xliii., ‘European Magazine,’ for Owen’s ‘Justification’ (per flying stationer). Began Second Samuel. Visited Nanny Webster.” There is no mention of the Egyptian.
THE MINISTER DANCES TO THE WOMAN’S PIPING.
Gavin let the doctor’s warnings fall in the grass. In his joy over Nanny’s deliverance he jumped the garden gate, whose hinges were of yarn, and cleverly caught his hat as it was leaving his head in protest. He then re-entered the mud house staidly. Pleasant was the change. Nanny’s home was as a clock that had been run out, and is set going again. Already the old woman was unpacking her box, to increase the distance between herself and the poorhouse. But Gavin only saw her in the background, for the Egyptian, singing at her work, had become the heart of the house. She had flung her shawl over Nanny’s shoulders, and was at the fireplace breaking peats with the leg of a stool. She turned merrily to the minister to ask him to chop up his staff for firewood, and he would have answered wittily but could not. Then, as often, the beauty of the Egyptian surprised him into silence. I could never get used to her face myself in the after-days. It has always held me wondering, like my own Glen Quharity on a summer day, when the sun is lingering and the clouds are on the march, and the glen is never the same for two minutes, but always so beautiful as to make me sad. Never will I attempt to picture the Egyptian as she seemed to Gavin while she bent over Nanny’s fire, never will I describe my glen. Yet a hundred times have I hankered after trying to picture both.
An older minister, believing that Nanny’s anguish was ended, might have gone on his knees and finished the interrupted prayer, but now Gavin was only doing this girl’s bidding.
“Nanny and I are to have a dish of tea, as soon as we have set things to rights,” she told him. “Do you think we should invite the minister, Nanny?”
“We couldna dare,” Nanny answered quickly. “You’ll excuse her, Mr. Dishart, for the presumption?”
“Presumption!” said the Egyptian, making a face.
“Lassie,” Nanny said, fearful to offend her new friend, yet horrified at this affront to the minister, “I ken you mean weel, but Mr. Dishart’ll think you’re putting yoursel’ on an equality wi’ him.” She added in a whisper, “Dinna be so free; he’s the Auld Licht minister.”
The gypsy bowed with mock awe, but Gavin let it pass. He had, indeed, forgotten that he was anybody in particular, and was anxious to stay to tea.
“But there is no water,” he remembered, “and is there any tea?”
“I am going out for them and for some other things,” the Egyptian explained. “But no,” she continued, reflectively, “if I go for the tea, you must go for the water.”
“Lassie,” cried Nanny, “mind wha you’re speaking to. To send a minister to the well!”
“I will go,” said Gavin, recklessly lifting the pitcher. “The well is in the wood, I think?”
“Gie me the pitcher, Mr. Dishart,” said Nanny, in distress. “What a town there would be if you was seen wi’t!”
“Then he must remain here and keep the house till we come back,” said the Egyptian, and thereupon departed, with a friendly wave of her hand to the minister.
“She’s an awfu’ lassie,” Nanny said, apologetically, “but it’ll just be the way she has been brought up.”
“She has been very good to you, Nanny.”
“She has; leastwise, she promises to be. Mr. Dishart, she’s awa’; what if she doesna come back?”
Nanny spoke nervously, and Gavin drew a long face.
“I think she will,” he said faintly. “I am confident of it,” he added in the same voice.
“And has she the siller?”
“I believe in her,” said Gavin, so doggedly that his own words reassured him. “She has an excellent heart.”
“Ay,” said Nanny, to whom the minister’s faith was more than the Egyptian’s promise, “and that’s hardly natural in a gaen-aboot body. Yet a gypsy she maun be, for naebody would pretend to be ane that wasna. Tod, she proved she was an Egyptian by dauring to send you to the well.”
This conclusive argument brought her prospective dower so close to Nanny’s eyes that it hid the poorhouse.
“I suppose she’ll gie you the money,” she said, “and syne you’ll gie me the seven shillings a week?”
“That seems the best plan,” Gavin answered.
“And what will you gie it me in?” Nanny asked, with something on her mind. “I would be terrible obliged if you gae it to me in saxpences.”
“Do the smaller coins go farther?” Gavin asked, curiously.
“Na, it’s no that. But I’ve heard tell o’ folk giving away half-crowns by mistake for twa-shilling bits; ay, and there’s something dizzying in ha’en fower-and-twenty pennies in one piece; it has sic terrible little bulk. Sanders had aince a gold sovereign, and he looked at it so often that it seemed to grow smaller and smaller in his hand till he was feared it micht just be a half after all.”
Her mind relieved on this matter, the old woman set off for the well. A minute afterwards Gavin went to the door to look for the gypsy, and, behold, Nanny was no further than the gate. Have you who read ever been sick near to death, and then so far recovered that you could once again stand at your window? If so, you have not forgotten how the beauty of the world struck you afresh, so that you looked long and said many times, “How fair a world it is!” like one who had made a discovery. It was such a look that Nanny gave to the hill and Caddam while she stood at her garden gate.
Gavin returned to the fire and watched a girl in it in an officer’s cloak playing at hide and seek with soldiers. After a time he sighed, then looked round sharply to see who had sighed, then, absent-mindedly, lifted the empty kettle and placed it on the glowing peats. He was standing glaring at the kettle, his arms folded, when Nanny returned from the well.
“I’ve been thinking,” she said, “o’ something that proves the lassie to be just an Egyptian. Ay, I noticed she wasna nane awed when I said you was the Auld Licht minister. Weel, I’se uphaud that came frae her living ower muckle in the open air. Is there no’ a smell o’ burning in the house?”
“I have noticed it,” Gavin answered, sniffing, “since you came in. I was busy until then, putting on the kettle. The smell is becoming worse.”
Nanny had seen the empty kettle on the fire as he began to speak, and so solved the mystery. Her first thought was to snatch the kettle out of the blaze, but remembering who had put it there, she dared not. She sidled toward the hearth instead, and saying craftily, “Ay, here it is; it’s a clout among the peats,” softly laid the kettle on the earthen floor. It was still red with sparks, however, when the gypsy reappeared.
“Who burned the kettle?” she asked, ignoring Nanny’s signs.
“Lassie,” Nanny said, “it was me;” but Gavin, flushing, confessed his guilt.
“Oh, you stupid!” exclaimed the Egyptian, shaking her two ounces of tea (which then cost six shillings the pound) in his face.
At this Nanny wrung her hands, crying, “That’s waur than swearing.”
“If men,” said the gypsy, severely, “would keep their hands in their pockets all day, the world’s affairs would be more easily managed.”
“Wheesht!” cried Nanny, “if Mr. Dishart cared to set his mind to it, he could make the kettle boil quicker than you or me. But his thochts is on higher things.”
“No higher than this,” retorted the gypsy, holding her hand level with her brow. “Confess, Mr. Dishart, that this is the exact height of what you were thinking about. See, Nanny, he is blushing as if I meant that he had been thinking about me. He cannot answer, Nanny: we have found him out.”
“And kindly of him it is no to answer,” said Nanny, who had been examining the gypsy’s various purchases; “for what could he answer, except that he would need to be sure o’ living a thousand years afore he could spare five minutes on you or me? Of course it would be different if we sat under him.”
“And yet,” said the Egyptian, with great solemnity, “he is to drink tea at that very table. I hope you are sensible of the honour, Nanny.”
“Am I no?” said Nanny, whose education had not included sarcasm. “I’m trying to keep frae thinking o’t till he’s gone, in case I should let the teapot fall.”
“You have nothing to thank me for, Nanny,” said Gavin, “but much for which to thank this — this — —”
“This haggarty-taggarty Egyptian,” suggested the girl. Then, looking at Gavin curiously, she said, “But my name is Babbie.”
“That’s short for Barbara,” said Nanny; “but Babbie what?”
“Yes, Babbie Watt,” replied the gypsy, as if one name were as good as another.
“Weel, then, lift the lid off the kettle, Babbie,” said Nanny, “for it’s boiling ower.”
Gavin looked at Nanny with admiration and envy, for she had said Babbie as coolly as if it was the name of a pepper-box.
Babbie tucked up her sleeves to wash Nanny’s cups and saucers, which even in the most prosperous days of the mud house had only been in use once a week, and Gavin was so eager to help that he bumped his head on the plate-rack.
“Sit there,” said Babbie, authoritatively, pointing, with a cup in her hand, to a stool, “and don’t rise till I give you permission.”
To Nanny’s amazement, he did as he was bid.
“I got the things in the little shop you told me of,” the Egyptian continued, addressing the mistress of the house, “but the horrid man would not give them to me until he had seen my money.”
“Enoch would be suspicious o’ you,” Nanny explained, “you being an Egyptian.”
“Ah,” said Babbie, with a side-glance at the minister, “I am only an Egyptian. Is that why you dislike me, Mr. Dishart?”
Gavin hesitated foolishly over his answer, and the Egyptian, with a towel round her waist, made a pretty gesture of despair.
“He neither likes you nor dislikes you,” Nanny explained; “you forget he’s a minister.”
“That is what I cannot endure,” said Babbie, putting the towel to her eyes, “to be neither liked nor disliked. Please hate me, Mr. Dishart, if you cannot lo — ove me.”
Her face was behind the towel, and Gavin could not decide whether it was the face or the towel that shook with agitation. He gave Nanny a look that asked, “Is she really crying?” and Nanny telegraphed back, “I question it.”
“Come, come,” said the minister, gallantly, “I did not say that I disliked you.”
Even this desperate compliment had not the desired effect, for the gypsy continued to sob behind her screen.
“I can honestly say,” went on Gavin, as solemnly as if he were making a statement in a court of justice, “that I like you.”
Then the Egyptian let drop her towel, and replied with equal solemnity:
“Oh, tank oo! Nanny, the minister says me is a dood ‘ittle dirl.”
“He didna gang that length,” said Nanny, sharply, to cover Gavin’s confusion. “Set the things, Babbie, and I’ll make the tea.”
The Egyptian obeyed demurely, pretending to wipe her eyes every time Gavin looked at her. He frowned at this, and then she affected to be too overcome to go on with her work.
“Tell me, Nanny,” she asked presently, “what sort of man this Enoch is, from whom I bought the things?”
“He is not very regular, I fear,” answered Gavin, who felt that he had sat silent and self-conscious on his stool too long.
“Do you mean that he drinks?” asked Babbie.
“No, I mean regular in his attendance.”
The Egyptian’s face showed no enlightenment.
“His attendance at church,” Gavin explained.
“He’s far frae it,” said Nanny, “and as a body kens, Joe Cruickshanks, the atheist, has the wite o’ that. The scoundrel telled Enoch that the great ministers in Edinbury and London believed in no hell except sic as your ain conscience made for you, and ever since syne Enoch has been careless about the future state.”
“Ah,” said Babbie, waving the Church aside, “what I want to know is whether he is a single man.”
“He is not,” Gavin replied; “but why do you want to know that?”
“Because single men are such gossips. I am sorry he is not single, as I want him to repeat to everybody what I told him.”
“Trust him to tell Susy,” said Nanny, “and Susy to tell the town.”
“His wife is a gossip?”
“Ay, she’s aye tonguing, especially about her teeth. They’re folk wi’ siller, and she has a set o’ false teeth. It’s fair scumfishing to hear her blawing about thae teeth, she’s so fleid we dinna ken that they’re false.”
Nanny had spoken jealously, but suddenly she trembled with apprehension.
“Babbie,” she cried, “you didna speak about the poorhouse to Enoch?”
The Egyptian shook her head, though of the poorhouse she had been forced to speak, for Enoch, having seen the doctor going home alone, insisted on knowing why.
“But I knew,” the gypsy said, “that the Thrums people would be very unhappy until they discovered where you get the money I am to give you, and as that is a secret, I hinted to Enoch that your benefactor is Mr. Dishart.”
“You should not have said that,” interposed Gavin. “I cannot foster such a deception.”
“They will foster it without your help,” the Egyptian said. “Besides, if you choose, you can say you get the money from a friend.”
“Ay, you can say that,” Nanny entreated with such eagerness that Babbie remarked a little bitterly:
“There is no fear of Nanny’s telling any one that the friend is a gypsy girl.”
“Na, na,” agreed Nanny, again losing Babbie’s sarcasm. “I winna let on. It’s so queer to be befriended by an Egyptian.”
“It is scarcely respectable,” Babbie said.
“It’s no,” answered simple Nanny.
I suppose Nanny’s unintentional cruelty did hurt Babbie as much as Gavin thought. She winced, and her face had two expressions, the one cynical, the other pained. Her mouth curled as if to tell the minister that gratitude was nothing to her, but her eyes had to struggle to keep back a tear. Gavin was touched, and she saw it, and for a moment they were two people who understood each other.
“I, at least,” Gavin said in a low voice, “will know who is the benefactress, and think none the worse of her because she is a gypsy.”
At this Babbie smiled gratefully to him, and then both laughed, for they had heard Nanny remarking to the kettle, “But I wouldna hae been nane angry if she had telled Enoch that the minister was to take his tea here. Susy’ll no believe’t though I tell her, as tell her I will.”
To Nanny the table now presented a rich appearance, for besides the teapot there were butter and loaf-bread and cheesies: a biscuit of which only Thrums knows the secret.
“Draw in your chair, Mr. Dishart,” she said, in suppressed excitement.
“Yes,” said Babbie, “you take this chair, Mr. Dishart, and Nanny will have that one, and I can sit humbly on the stool.”
But Nanny held up her hands in horror.
“Keep us a’!” she exclaimed; “the lassie thinks her and me is to sit down wi’ the minister! We’re no to gang that length, Babbie; we’re just to stand and serve him, and syne we’ll sit down when he has risen.”
“Delightful!” said Babbie, clapping her hands. “Nanny, you kneel on that side of him, and I will kneel on this. You will hold the butter and I the biscuits.”
But Gavin, as this girl was always forgetting, was a lord of creation.
“Sit down both of you at once!” he thundered, “I command you.”
Then the two women fell into their seats; Nanny in terror, Babbie affecting it.
SECOND COMING OF THE EGYPTIAN WOMAN.
The gypsy had been passing the house, perhaps on her way to Thrums for gossip, and it was only curiosity, born suddenly of Gavin’s cry, that made her enter. On finding herself in unexpected company she retained hold of the door, and to the amazed minister she seemed for a moment to have stepped into the mud house from his garden. Her eyes danced, however, as they recognised him, and then he hardened. “This is no place for you,” he was saying fiercely, when Nanny, too distraught to think, fell crying at the Egyptian’s feet.
“They are taking me to the poorhouse,” she sobbed; “dinna let them, dinna let them.”
The Egyptian’s arms clasped her, and the Egyptian kissed a sallow cheek that had once been as fair as yours, madam, who may read this story. No one had caressed Nanny for many years, but do you think she was too poor and old to care for these young arms around her neck? There are those who say that women cannot love each other, but it is not true. Woman is not undeveloped man, but something better, and Gavin and the doctor knew it as they saw Nanny clinging to her protector. When the gypsy turned with flashing eyes to the two men she might have been a mother guarding her child.
“How dare you!” she cried, stamping her foot; and they quaked like malefactors.
“You don’t see — —” Gavin began, but her indignation stopped him.
“You coward!” she said.
Even the doctor had been impressed, so that he now addressed the gypsy respectfully.
“This is all very well,” he said, “but a woman’s sympathy — —”
“A woman! — ah, if I could be a man for only five minutes!”
She clenched her little fists, and again turned to Nanny.
“You poor dear,” she said tenderly, “I won’t let them take you away.”
She looked triumphantly at both minister and doctor, as one who had foiled them in their cruel designs.
“Go!” she said, pointing grandly to the door.
“Is this the Egyptian of the riots,” the doctor said in a low voice to Gavin, “or is she a queen? Hoots, man, don’t look so shamefaced. We are not criminals. Say something.”
Then to the Egyptian Gavin said firmly --
“You mean well, but you are doing this poor woman a cruelty in holding out hopes to her that cannot be realised. Sympathy is not meal and bedclothes, and these are what she needs.”
“And you who live in luxury,” retorted the girl, “would send her to the poorhouse for them. I thought better of you!”
“Tuts!” said the doctor, losing patience, “Mr. Dishart gives more than any other man in Thrums to the poor, and he is not to be preached to by a gypsy. We are waiting for you, Nanny.”
“Ay, I’m coming,” said Nanny, leaving the Egyptian. “I’ll hae to gang, lassie. Dinna greet for me.”
But the Egyptian said, “No, you are not going. It is these men who are going. Go, sirs, and leave us.”
“And you will provide for Nanny?” asked the doctor contemptuously.
“And where is the siller to come from?”
“That is my affair, and Nanny’s. Begone, both of you. She shall never want again. See how the very mention of your going brings back life to her face.”
“I won’t begone,” the doctor said roughly, “till I see the colour of your siller.”
“Oh, the money,” said the Egyptian scornfully. She put her hand into her pocket confidently, as if used to well-filled purses, but could only draw out two silver pieces.
“I had forgotten,” she said aloud, though speaking to herself.
“I thought so,” said the cynical doctor. “Come, Nanny.”
“You presume to doubt me!” the Egyptian said, blocking his way to the door.
“How could I presume to believe you?” he answered. “You are a beggar by profession, and yet talk as if —— pooh, nonsense.”
“I would live on terrible little,” Nanny whispered, “and Sanders will be out again in August month.”
“Seven shillings a week,” rapped out the doctor.
“Is that all?” the Egyptian asked. “She shall have it.”
“At once. No, it is not possible to-night, but to-morrow I will bring five pounds; no, I will send it; no, you must come for it.”
“And where, O daughter of Dives, do you reside?” the doctor asked.
No doubt the Egyptian could have found a ready answer had her pity for Nanny been less sincere; as it was, she hesitated, wanting to propitiate the doctor, while holding her secret fast.
“I only asked,” McQueen said, eyeing her curiously, “because when I make an appointment I like to know where it is to be held. But I suppose you are suddenly to rise out of the ground as you have done to-day, and did six weeks ago.”
“Whether I rise out of the ground or not,” the gypsy said, keeping her temper with an effort, “there will be a five-pound note in my hand. You will meet me to-morrow about this hour at — say the Kaims of Cushie?”
“No,” said the doctor after a moment’s pause; “I won’t. Even if I went to the Kaims I should not find you there. Why can you not come to me?”
“Why do you carry a woman’s hair,” replied the Egyptian, “in that locket on your chain?”
Whether she was speaking of what she knew, or this was only a chance shot, I cannot tell, but the doctor stepped back from her hastily, and could not help looking down at the locket.
“Yes,” said the Egyptian calmly, “it is still shut; but why do you sometimes open it at nights?”
“Lassie,” the old doctor cried, “are you a witch?”
“Perhaps,” she said; “but I ask for no answer to my questions. If you have your secrets, why may I not have mine? Now will you meet me at the Kaims?”
“No; I distrust you more than ever. Even if you came, it would be to play with me as you have done already. How can a vagrant have five pounds in her pocket when she does not have five shillings on her back?”
“You are a cruel, hard man,” the Egyptian said, beginning to lose hope. “But, see,” she cried, brightening, “look at this ring. Do you know its value?”
She held up her finger, but the stone would not live in the dull light.
“I see it is gold,” the doctor said cautiously, and she smiled at the ignorance that made him look only at the frame.
“Certainly, it is gold,” said Gavin, equally stupid.
“Mercy on us!” Nanny cried; “I believe it’s what they call a diamond.”
“How did you come by it?” the doctor asked suspiciously.
“I thought we had agreed not to ask each other questions,” the Egyptian answered drily. “But, see, I will give it to you to hold in hostage. If I am not at the Kaims to get it back you can keep it.”
The doctor took the ring in his hand and examined it curiously.
“There is a quirk in this,” he said at last, “that I don’t like. Take back your ring, lassie. Mr. Dishart, give Nanny your arm, and I’ll carry her box to the machine.”
Now all this time Gavin had been in the dire distress of a man possessed of two minds, of which one said, “This is a true woman,” and the other, “Remember the seventeenth of October.” They were at war within him, and he knew that he must take a side, yet no sooner had he cast one out than he invited it back. He did not answer the doctor.
“Unless,” McQueen said, nettled by his hesitation, “you trust this woman’s word.”
Gavin tried honestly to weigh those two minds against each other, but could not prevent impulse jumping into one of the scales.
“You do trust me,” the Egyptian said, with wet eyes; and now that he looked on her again --
“Yes,” he said firmly, “I trust you,” and the words that had been so difficult to say were the right words. He had no more doubt of it.
“Just think a moment first,” the doctor warned him. “I decline to have anything to do with this matter. You will go to the Kaims for the siller?”
“If it is necessary,” said Gavin.
“It is necessary,” the Egyptian said.
“Then I will go.”
Nanny took his hand timidly, and would have kissed it had he been less than a minister.
“You dare not, man,” the doctor said gruffly, “make an appointment with this gypsy. Think of what will be said in Thrums.”
I honour Gavin for the way in which he took this warning. For him, who was watched from the rising of his congregation to their lying down, whose every movement was expected to be a text to Thrums, it was no small thing that he had promised. This he knew, but he only reddened because the doctor had implied an offensive thing in a woman’s presence.
“You forget yourself, doctor,” he said sharply.
“Send some one in your place,” advised the doctor, who liked the little minister.
“He must come himself and alone,” said the Egyptian. “You must both give me your promise not to mention who is Nanny’s friend, and she must promise too.”
“Well,” said the doctor, buttoning up his coat, “I cannot keep my horse freezing any longer. Remember, Mr. Dishart, you take the sole responsibility of this.”
“I do,” said Gavin, “and with the utmost confidence.”
“Give him the ring then, lassie,” said McQueen.
She handed the minister the ring, but he would not take it.
“I have your word,” he said; “that is sufficient.”
Then the Egyptian gave him the first look that he could think of afterwards without misgivings.
“So be it,” said the doctor. “Get the money, and I will say nothing about it, unless I have reason to think that it has been dishonestly come by. Don’t look so frightened at me, Nanny. I hope for your sake that her stocking-foot is full of gold.”
“Surely it’s worth risking,” Nanny said, not very brightly, “when the minister’s on her side.”
“Ay, but on whose side, Nanny?” asked the doctor. “Lassie, I bear you no grudge; will you not tell me who you are?”
“Only a puir gypsy, your honour,” said the girl, becoming mischievous now that she had gained her point; “only a wandering hallen-shaker, and will I tell you your fortune, my pretty gentleman?”
“No, you shan’t,” replied the doctor, plunging his hands so hastily into his pockets that Gavin laughed.
“I don’t need to look at your hand,” said the gypsy, “I can read your fortune in your face.”
She looked at him fixedly, so that he fidgeted.
“I see you,” said the Egyptian in a sepulchral voice, and speaking slowly, “become very frail. Your eyesight has almost gone. You are sitting alone in a cauld room, cooking your ain dinner ower a feeble fire. The soot is falling down the lum. Your bearish manners towards women have driven the servant lassie frae your house, and your wife beats you.”
“Ay, you spoil your prophecy there,” the doctor said, considerably relieved, “for I’m not married; my pipe’s the only wife I ever had.”
“You will be married by that time,” continued the Egyptian, frowning at this interruption, “for I see your wife. She is a shrew. She marries you in your dotage. She lauchs at you in company. She doesna allow you to smoke.”
“Away with you, you jade,” cried the doctor in a fury, and feeling nervously for his pipe. “Mr. Dishart, you had better stay and arrange this matter as you choose, but I want a word with you outside.”
“And you’re no angry wi’ me, doctor, are you?” asked Nanny wistfully. “You’ve been richt good to me, but I canna thole the thocht o’ that place. And, oh, doctor, you winna tell naebody that I was so near taen to it?”
In the garden McQueen said to Gavin: --
“You may be right, Mr. Dishart, in this matter, for there is this in our favour, that the woman can gain nothing by tricking us. She did seem to feel for Nanny. But who can she be? You saw she could put on and off the Scotch tongue as easily as if it were a cap.”
“She is as much a mystery to me as to you,” Gavin answered, “but she will give me the money, and that is all I ask of her.”
“Ay, that remains to be seen. But take care of yourself; a man’s second childhood begins when a woman gets hold of him.”
“Don’t alarm yourself about me, doctor. I daresay she is only one of those gypsies from the South. They are said to be wealthy, many of them, and even, when they like, to have a grand manner. The Thrums people had no doubt but that she was what she seemed to be.”
“Ay, but what does she seem to be? Even that puzzles me. And then there is this mystery about her which she admits herself, though perhaps only to play with us.”
“Perhaps,” said Gavin, “she is only taking precautions against her discovery by the police. You must remember her part in the riots.”
“Yes, but we never learned how she was able to play that part. Besides, there is no fear in her, or she would not have ventured back to Thrums. However, good luck attend you. But be wary. You saw how she kept her feet among her shalls and wills? Never trust a Scotch man or woman who does not come to grief among them.”
The doctor took his seat in the dogcart.
“And, Mr. Dishart,” he called out, “that was all nonsense about the locket.”
TRAGEDY OF A MUD HOUSE.
The dogcart bumped between the trees of Caddam, flinging Gavin and the doctor at each other as a wheel rose on some beech-root or sank for a moment in a pool. I suppose the wood was a pretty sight that day, the pines only white where they had met the snow, as if the numbed painter had left his work unfinished, the brittle twigs snapping overhead, the water as black as tar. But it matters little what the wood was like. Within a squirrel’s leap of it an old woman was standing at the door of a mud house listening for the approach of the trap that was to take her to the poorhouse. Can you think of the beauty of the day now?
Nanny was not crying. She had redd up her house for the last time and put on her black merino. Her mouth was wide open while she listened. If you had addressed her you would have thought her polite and stupid. Look at her. A flabby-faced woman she is now, with a swollen body, and no one has heeded her much these thirty years. I can tell you something; it is almost droll. Nanny Webster was once a gay flirt, and in Airlie Square there is a weaver with an unsteady head who thought all the earth of her. His loom has taken a foot from his stature, and gone are Nanny’s raven locks on which he used to place his adoring hand. Down in Airlie Square he is weaving for his life, and here is Nanny, ripe for the poorhouse, and between them is the hill where they were lovers. That is all the story save that when Nanny heard the dogcart she screamed.
No neighbour was with her. If you think this hard, it is because you do not understand. Perhaps Nanny had never been very lovable except to one man, and him, it is said, she lost through her own vanity; but there was much in her to like. The neighbours, of whom there were two not a hundred yards away, would have been with her now but they feared to hurt her feelings. No heart opens to sympathy without letting in delicacy, and these poor people knew that Nanny would not like them to see her being taken away. For a week they had been aware of what was coming, and they had been most kind to her, but that hideous word, the poorhouse, they had not uttered. Poorhouse is not to be spoken in Thrums, though it is nothing to tell a man that you see death in his face. Did Nanny think they knew where she was going? was a question they whispered to each other, and her suffering eyes cut scars on their hearts. So now that the hour had come they called their children into their houses and pulled down their blinds.
“If you would like to see her by yourself,” the doctor said eagerly to Gavin, as the horse drew up at Nanny’s gate, “I’ll wait with the horse. Not,” he added, hastily, “that I feel sorry for her. We are doing her a kindness.”
They dismounted together, however, and Nanny, who had run from the trap into the house, watched them from her window.
McQueen saw her and said glumly, “I should have come alone, for if you pray she is sure to break down. Mr. Dishart, could you not pray cheerfully?”
“You don’t look very cheerful yourself,” Gavin said sadly.
“Nonsense,” answered the doctor. “I have no patience with this false sentiment. Stand still, Lightning, and be thankful you are not your master to-day.”
The door stood open, and Nanny was crouching against the opposite wall of the room, such a poor, dull kitchen, that you would have thought the furniture had still to be brought into it. The blanket and the piece of old carpet that was Nanny’s coverlet were already packed in her box. The plate rack was empty. Only the round table and the two chairs, and the stools and some pans were being left behind.
“Well, Nanny,” the doctor said, trying to bluster, “I have come, and you see Mr. Dishart is with me.”
Nanny rose bravely. She knew the doctor was good to her, and she wanted to thank him. I have not seen a great deal of the world myself, but often the sweet politeness of the aged poor has struck me as beautiful. Nanny dropped a curtesy, an ungainly one maybe, but it was an old woman giving the best she had.
“Thank you kindly, sirs,” she said; and then two pairs of eyes dropped before hers.
“Please to take a chair,” she added timidly. It is strange to know that at that awful moment, for let none tell me it was less than awful, the old woman was the one who could speak.
Both men sat down, for they would have hurt Nanny by remaining standing. Some ministers would have known the right thing to say to her, but Gavin dared not let himself speak. I have again to remind you that he was only one-and-twenty.
“I’m drouthy, Nanny,” the doctor said, to give her something to do, “and I would be obliged for a drink of water.”
Nanny hastened to the pan that stood behind her door, but stopped before she reached it.
“It’s toom,” she said. “I — I didna think I needed to fill it this morning.” She caught the doctor’s eye, and could only half restrain a sob. “I couldna help that,” she said, apologetically. “I’m richt angry at myself for being so ungrateful like.”
The doctor thought it best that they should depart at once. He rose.
“Oh, no, doctor,” cried Nanny in alarm.
“But you are ready?”
“Ay,” she said, “I have been ready this twa hours, but you micht wait a minute. Hendry Munn and Andrew Allardyce is coming yont the road, and they would see me.”
“Wait, doctor,” Gavin said.
“Thank you kindly, sir,” answered Nanny.
“But Nanny,” the doctor said, “you must remember what I told you about the poo — , about the place you are going to. It is a fine house, and you will be very happy in it.”
“Ay, I’ll be happy in’t,” Nanny faltered, “but, doctor, if I could just hae bidden on here though I wasna happy!”
“Think of the food you will get; broth nearly every day.”
“It — it’ll be terrible enjoyable,” Nanny said.
“And there will be pleasant company for you always,” continued the doctor, “and a nice room to sit in. Why, after you have been there a week, you won’t be the same woman.”
“That’s it!” cried Nanny with sudden passion. “Na, na; I’ll be a woman on the poor’s rates. Oh, mither, mither, you little thocht when you bore me that I would come to this!”
“Nanny,” the doctor said, rising again, “I am ashamed of you.”
“I humbly speir your forgiveness, sir,” she said, “and you micht bide just a wee yet. I’ve been ready to gang these twa hours, but now that the machine is at the gate, I dinna ken how it is, but I’m terrible sweer to come awa’. Oh, Mr. Dishart, it’s richt true what the doctor says about the — the place, but I canna just take it in. I’m — I’m gey auld.”
“You will often get out to see your friends,” was all Gavin could say.
“Na, na, na,” she cried, “dinna say that; I’ll gang, but you mauna bid me ever come out, except in a hearse. Dinna let onybody in Thrums look on my face again.”
“We must go,” said the doctor firmly. “Put on your mutch, Nanny.”
“I dinna need to put on a mutch,” she answered, with a faint flush of pride. “I have a bonnet.”
She took the bonnet from her bed, and put it on slowly.
“Are you sure there’s naebody looking?” she asked.
The doctor glanced at the minister, and Gavin rose.
“Let us pray,” he said, and the three went down on their knees.
It was not the custom of Auld Licht ministers to leave any house without offering up a prayer in it, and to us it always seemed that when Gavin prayed, he was at the knees of God. The little minister pouring himself out in prayer in a humble room, with awed people around him who knew much more of the world than he, his voice at times thick and again a squeal, and his hands clasped not gracefully, may have been only a comic figure, but we were old-fashioned, and he seemed to make us better men. If I only knew the way, I would draw him as he was, and not fear to make him too mean a man for you to read about. He had not been long in Thrums before he knew that we talked much of his prayers, and that doubtless puffed him up a little. Sometimes, I daresay, he rose from his knees feeling that he had prayed well to-day, which is a dreadful charge to bring against any one. But it was not always so, nor was it so now.
I am not speaking harshly of this man, whom I have loved beyond all others, when I say that Nanny came between him and his prayer. Had he been of God’s own image, unstained, he would have forgotten all else in his Maker’s presence, but Nanny was speaking too, and her words choked his. At first she only whispered, but soon what was eating her heart burst out painfully, and she did not know that the minister had stopped.
They were such moans as these that brought him back to earth: --
“I’ll hae to gang.... I’m a base woman no’ to be mair thankfu’ to them that is so good to me.... I dinna like to prig wi’ them to take a roundabout road, and I’m sair fleid a’ the Roods will see me.... If it could just be said to poor Sanders when he comes back that I died hurriedly, syne he would be able to haud up his head.... Oh, mither!... I wish terrible they had come and ta’en me at nicht.... It’s a dogcart, and I was praying it micht be a cart, so that they could cover me wi’ straw.”
“This is more than I can stand,” the doctor cried.
Nanny rose frightened.
“I’ve tried you, sair,” she said, “but, oh, I’m grateful, and I’m ready now.”
They all advanced toward the door without another word, and Nanny even tried to smile. But in the middle of the floor something came over her, and she stood there. Gavin took her hand, and it was cold. She looked from one to the other, her mouth opening and shutting.
“I canna help it,” she said.
“It’s cruel hard,” muttered the doctor. “I knew this woman when she was a lassie.”
The little minister stretched out his hands.
“Have pity on her, O God!” he prayed, with the presumptuousness of youth.
Nanny heard the words.
“Oh, God,” she cried, “you micht!”
God needs no minister to tell Him what to do, but it was His will that the poorhouse should not have this woman. He made use of a strange instrument, no other than the Egyptian, who now opened the mudhouse door.
TELLS IN A WHISPER OF MAN’S FALL DURING THE CURLING SEASON.
No snow could be seen in Thrums by the beginning of the year, though clods of it lay in Waster Lunny’s fields, where his hens wandered all day as if looking for something they had dropped. A black frost had set in, and one walking on the glen road could imagine that through the cracks in it he saw a loch glistening. From my door I could hear the roar of curling stones at Rashie-bog, which is almost four miles nearer Thrums. On the day I am recalling, I see that I only made one entry in my diary, “At last bought Waster Lunny’s bantams.” Well do I remember the transaction, and no wonder, for I had all but bought the bantams every day for a six months.
About noon the doctor’s dogcart was observed by all the Tenements standing at the Auld Licht manse. The various surmises were wrong. Margaret had not been suddenly taken ill; Jean had not swallowed a darning-needle; the minister had not walked out at his study window in a moment of sublime thought. Gavin stepped into the dogcart, which at once drove off in the direction of Rashie-bog, but equally in error were those who said that the doctor was making a curler of him.
There was, however, ground for gossip; for Thrums folk seldom called in a doctor until it was too late to cure them, and McQueen was not the man to pay social visits. Of his skill we knew fearsome stories, as that, by looking at Archie Allardyce, who had come to broken bones on a ladder, he discovered which rung Archie fell from. When he entered a stuffy room he would poke his staff through the window to let in fresh air, and then fling down a shilling to pay for the breakage. He was deaf in the right ear, and therefore usually took the left side of prosy people, thus, as he explained, making a blessing of an affliction. “A pity I don’t hear better?” I have heard him say. “Not at all. If my misfortune, as you call it, were to be removed, you can’t conceive how I should miss my deaf ear.” He was a fine fellow, though brusque, and I never saw him without his pipe until two days before we buried him, which was five-and-twenty years ago come Martinmas.
“We’re all quite weel,” Jean said apprehensively as she answered his knock on the manse door, and she tried to be pleasant, too, for well she knew that, if a doctor willed it, she could have fever in five minutes.
“Ay, Jean, I’ll soon alter that,” he replied ferociously. “Is the master in?”
“He’s at his sermon,” Jean said with importance.
To interrupt the minister at such a moment seemed sacrilege to her, for her up-bringing had been good. Her mother had once fainted in the church, but though the family’s distress was great, they neither bore her out, nor signed to the kirk-officer to bring water. They propped her up in the pew in a respectful attitude, joining in the singing meanwhile, and she recovered in time to look up 2nd Chronicles, 21st and 7th.
“Tell him I want to speak to him at the door,” said the doctor fiercely, “or I’ll bleed you this minute.”
McQueen would not enter, because his horse might have seized the opportunity to return stablewards. At the houses where it was accustomed to stop, it drew up of its own accord, knowing where the Doctor’s “cases” were as well as himself, but it resented new patients.
“You like misery, I think, Mr. Dishart,” McQueen said when Gavin came to him, “at least I am always finding you in the thick of it, and that is why I am here now. I have a rare job for you if you will jump into the machine. You know Nanny Webster, who lives on the edge of Windyghoul? No, you don’t, for she belongs to the other kirk. Well, at all events, you knew her brother, Sanders, the mole-catcher?”
“I remember him. You mean the man who boasted so much about seeing a ball at Lord Rintoul’s place?”
“The same, and, as you may know, his boasting about maltreating policemen whom he never saw led to his being sentenced to nine months in gaol lately.”
“That is the man,” said Gavin. “I never liked him.”
“No, but his sister did,” McQueen answered, drily, “and with reason, for he was her breadwinner, and now she is starving.”
“Anything I can give her — —”
“Would be too little, sir.”
“But the neighbours — —”
“She has few near her, and though the Thrums poor help each other bravely, they are at present nigh as needy as herself. Nanny is coming to the poorhouse, Mr. Dishart.”
“God help her!” exclaimed Gavin.
“Nonsense,” said the doctor, trying to make himself a hard man. “She will be properly looked after there, and — and in time she will like it.”
“Don’t let my mother hear you speaking of taking an old woman to that place,” Gavin said, looking anxiously up the stair. I cannot pretend that Margaret never listened.
“You all speak as if the poorhouse was a gaol,” the doctor said testily. “But so far as Nanny is concerned, everything is arranged. I promised to drive her to the poorhouse to-day, and she is waiting for me now. Don’t look at me as if I was a brute. She is to take some of her things with her to the poorhouse and the rest is to be left until Sanders’s return, when she may rejoin him. At least we said that to her to comfort her.”
“You want me to go with you?”
“Yes, though I warn you it may be a distressing scene; indeed, the truth is that I am loth to face Nanny alone to-day. Mr. Duthie should have accompanied me, for the Websters are Established Kirk; ay, and so he would if Rashie-bog had not been bearing. A terrible snare this curling, Mr. Dishart” — here the doctor sighed—”I have known Mr. Duthie wait until midnight struck on Sabbath and then be off to Rashie-bog with a torch.”
“I will go with you,” Gavin said, putting on his coat.
“Jump in then. You won’t smoke? I never see a respectable man not smoking, sir, but I feel indignant with him for such sheer waste of time.”
Gavin smiled at this, and Snecky Hobart, who happened to be keeking over the manse dyke, bore the news to the Tenements.
“I’ll no sleep the nicht,” Snecky said, “for wondering what made the minister lauch. Ay, it would be no trifle.”
A minister, it is certain, who wore a smile on his face would never have been called to the Auld Licht kirk, for life is a wrestle with the devil, and only the frivolous think to throw him without taking off their coats. Yet, though Gavin’s zeal was what the congregation reverenced, many loved him privately for his boyishness. He could unbend at marriages, of which he had six on the last day of the year, and at every one of them he joked (the same joke) like a layman. Some did not approve of his playing at the teetotum for ten minutes with Kitty Dundas’s invalid son, but the way Kitty boasted about it would have disgusted anybody. At the present day there are probably a score of Gavins in Thrums, all called after the little minister, and there is one Gavinia, whom he hesitated to christen. He made humorous remarks (the same remark) about all these children, and his smile as he patted their heads was for thinking over when one’s work was done for the day.
The doctor’s horse clattered up the Backwynd noisily, as if a minister behind made no difference to it. Instead of climbing the Roods, however, the nearest way to Nanny’s, it went westward, which Gavin, in a reverie, did not notice. The truth must be told. The Egyptian was again in his head.
“Have I fallen deaf in the left ear, too?” said the doctor. “I see your lips moving, but I don’t catch a syllable.”
Gavin started, coloured, and flung the gypsy out of the trap.
“Why are we not going up the Roods?” he asked.
“Well,” said the doctor slowly, “at the top of the Roods there is a stance for circuses, and this old beast of mine won’t pass it. You know, unless you are behind in the clashes and clavers of Thrums, that I bought her from the manager of a travelling show. She was the horse (‘Lightning’ they called her) that galloped round the ring at a mile an hour, and so at the top of the Roods she is still unmanageable. She once dragged me to the scene of her former triumphs, and went revolving round it, dragging the machine after her.”
“If you had not explained that,” said Gavin, “I might have thought that you wanted to pass by Rashie-bog.”
The doctor, indeed, was already standing up to catch a first glimpse of the curlers.
“Well,” he admitted, “I might have managed to pass the circus ring, though what I have told you is true. However, I have not come this way merely to see how the match is going. I want to shame Mr. Duthie for neglecting his duty. It will help me to do mine, for the Lord knows I am finding it hard, with the music of these stones in my ears.”
“I never saw it played before,” Gavin said, standing up in his turn. “What a din they make! McQueen, I believe they are fighting!”
“No, no,” said the excited doctor, “they are just a bit daft. That’s the proper spirit for the game. Look, that’s the baron-bailie near standing on his head, and there’s Mr. Duthie off his head a’ thegither. Yon’s twa weavers and a mason cursing the laird, and the man wi’ the besom is the Master of Crumnathie.”
“A democracy, at all events,” said Gavin.
“By no means,” said the doctor, “it’s an aristocracy of intellect. Gee up, Lightning, or the frost will be gone before we are there.”
“It is my opinion, doctor,” said Gavin, “that you will have bones to set before that game is finished. I can see nothing but legs now.”
“Don’t say a word against curling, sir, to me,” said McQueen, whom the sight of a game in which he must not play had turned crusty. “Dangerous! It’s the best medicine I know of. Look at that man coming across the field. It is Jo Strachan. Well, sir, curling saved Jo’s life after I had given him up. You don’t believe me? Hie, Jo, Jo Strachan, come here and tell the minister how curling put you on your legs again.”
Strachan came forward, a tough, little, wizened man, with red flannel round his ears to keep out the cold.
“It’s gospel what the doctor says, Mr. Dishart,” he declared. “Me and my brither Sandy was baith ill, and in the same bed, and the doctor had hopes o’ Sandy, but nane o’ me. Ay, weel, when I heard that, I thocht I micht as weel die on the ice as in my bed, so I up and on wi’ my claethes. Sandy was mad at me, for he was no curler, and he says, ‘Jo Strachan, if you gang to Rashie-bog you’ll assuredly be brocht hame a corp.’ I didna heed him, though, and off I gaed.”
“And I see you did not die,” said Gavin.
“Not me,” answered the fish cadger, with a grin. “Na, but the joke o’t is, it was Sandy that died.”
“Not the joke, Jo,” corrected the doctor, “the moral.”
“Ay, the moral; I’m aye forgetting the word.”
McQueen, enjoying Gavin’s discomfiture, turned Lightning down the Rashie-bog road, which would be impassable as soon as the thaw came. In summer Rashie-bog is several fields in which a cart does not sink unless it stands still, but in winter it is a loch with here and there a spring where dead men are said to lie. There are no rushes at its east end, and here the dogcart drew up near the curlers, a crowd of men dancing, screaming, shaking their fists and sweeping, while half a hundred onlookers got in their way, gesticulating and advising.
“Hold me tight,” the doctor whispered to Gavin, “or I’ll be leaving you to drive Nanny to the poorhouse by yourself.”
He had no sooner said this than he tried to jump out of the trap.
“You donnert fule, John Robbie,” he shouted to a player, “soop her up, man, soop her up; no, no, dinna, dinna; leave her alane. Bailie, leave her alane, you blazing idiot. Mr. Dishart, let me go; what do you mean, sir, by hanging on to my coat tails? Dang it all, Duthie’s winning. He has it, he has it!”
“You’re to play, doctor?” some cried, running to the dogcart. “We hae missed you sair.”
“Jeames, I — I — . No, I daurna.”
“Then we get our licks. I never saw the minister in sic form. We can do nothing against him.”
“Then,” cried McQueen, “I’ll play. Come what will, I’ll play. Let go my tails, Mr. Dishart, or I’ll cut them off. Duty? Fiddlesticks!”
“Shame on you, sir,” said Gavin; “yes, and on you others who would entice him from his duty.”
“Shame!” the doctor cried. “Look at Mr. Duthie. Is he ashamed? And yet that man has been reproving me for a twelvemonths because I’ve refused to become one of his elders. Duthie,” he shouted, “think shame of yourself for curling this day.”
Mr. Duthie had carefully turned his back to the trap, for Gavin’s presence in it annoyed him. We seldom care to be reminded of our duty by seeing another do it. Now, however, he advanced to the dogcart, taking the far side of Gavin.
“Put on your coat, Mr. Duthie,” said the doctor, “and come with me to Nanny Webster’s. You promised.”
Mr. Duthie looked quizzically at Gavin, and then at the sky.
“The thaw may come at any moment,” he said.
“I think the frost is to hold,” said Gavin.
“It may hold over to-morrow,” Mr. Duthie admitted; “but to-morrow’s the Sabbath, and so a lost day.”
“A what?” exclaimed Gavin, horrified.
“I only mean,” Mr. Duthie answered, colouring, “that we can’t curl on the Lord’s day. As for what it may be like on Monday, no one can say. No, doctor, I won’t risk it. We’re in the middle of a game, man.”
Gavin looked very grave.
“I see what you are thinking, Mr. Dishart,” the old minister said doggedly; “but then, you don’t curl. You are very wise. I have forbidden my sons to curl.”
“Then you openly snap your fingers at your duty, Mr. Duthie?” said the doctor, loftily. (“You can let go my tails now, Mr. Dishart, for the madness has passed.”)
“None of your virtuous airs, McQueen,” said Mr. Duthie, hotly. “What was the name of the doctor that warned women never to have bairns while it was hauding?”
“And what,” retorted McQueen, “was the name of the minister that told his session he would neither preach nor pray while the black frost lasted?”
“Hoots, doctor,” said Duthie, “don’t lose your temper because I’m in such form.”
“Don’t lose yours, Duthie, because I aye beat you.”
“You beat me, McQueen! Go home, sir, and don’t talk havers. Who beat you at — —”
“Who made you sing small at — —”
“Who won — —”
“Who — —”
“Who — —”
“I’ll play you on Monday for whatever you like!” shrieked the doctor.
“If it holds,” cried the minister, “I’ll be here the whole day. Name the stakes yourself. A stone?”
“No,” the doctor said, “but I’ll tell you what we’ll play for. You’ve been dinging me doited about that eldership, and we’ll play for’t. If you win I accept office.”
“Done,” said the minister, recklessly.
The dogcart was now turned toward Windyghoul, its driver once more good-humoured, but Gavin silent.
“You would have been the better of my deaf ear just now, Mr. Dishart,” McQueen said after the loch had been left behind. “Aye, and I’m thinking my pipe would soothe you. But don’t take it so much to heart, man. I’ll lick him easily. He’s a decent man, the minister, but vain of his play, ridiculously vain. However, I think the sight of you, in the place that should have been his, has broken his nerve for this day, and our side may win yet.”
“I believe,” Gavin said, with sudden enlightenment, “that you brought me here for that purpose.”
“Maybe,” chuckled the doctor; “maybe.” Then he changed the subject suddenly. “Mr. Dishart,” he asked, “were you ever in love?”
“Never!” answered Gavin violently.
“Well, well,” said the doctor, “don’t terrify the horse. I have been in love myself. It’s bad, but it’s nothing to curling.”
FIRST SERMON AGAINST WOMEN.
On the afternoon of the following Sabbath, as I have said, something strange happened in the Auld Licht pulpit. The congregation, despite their troubles, turned it over and peered at it for days, but had they seen into the inside of it they would have weaved few webs until the session had sat on the minister. The affair baffled me at the time, and for the Egyptian’s sake I would avoid mentioning it now, were it not one of Gavin’s milestones. It includes the first of his memorable sermons against Woman.
I was not in the Auld Licht church that day, but I heard of the sermon before night, and this, I think, is as good an opportunity as another for showing how the gossip about Gavin reached me up here in the Glen school-house. Since Margaret and her son came to the manse I had kept the vow made to myself and avoided Thrums. Only once had I ventured to the kirk, and then, instead of taking my old seat, the fourth from the pulpit, I sat down near the plate, where I could look at Margaret without her seeing me. To spare her that agony I even stole away as the last word of the benediction was pronounced, and my haste scandalised many, for with Auld Lichts it is not customary to retire quickly from the church after the manner of the godless U. P.’s (and the Free Kirk is little better), who have their hats in their hand when they rise for the benediction, so that they may at once pour out like a burst dam. We resume our seats, look straight before us, clear our throats and stretch out our hands for our womenfolk to put our hats into them. In time we do get out, but I am never sure how.
One may gossip in a glen on Sabbaths, though not in a town, without losing his character, and I used to await the return of my neighbour, the farmer of Waster Lunny, and of Silva Birse, the Glen Quharity post, at the end of the school-house path. Waster Lunny was a man whose care in his leisure hours was to keep from his wife his great pride in her. His horse, Catlaw, on the other hand, he told outright what he thought of it, praising it to its face and blackguarding it as it deserved, and I have seen him when completely baffled by the brute, sit down before it on a stone and thus harangue: “You think you’re clever, Catlaw, my lass, but you’re mista’en. You’re a thrawn limmer, that’s what you are. You think you have blood in you. You hae blood! Gae away, and dinna blether. I tell you what, Catlaw, I met a man yestreen that kent your mither, and he says she was a feikie fushionless besom. What do you say to that?”
As for the post, I will say no more of him than that his bitter topic was the unreasonableness of humanity, which treated him graciously when he had a letter for it, but scowled at him when he had none, “aye implying that I hae a letter, but keep it back.”
On the Sabbath evening after the riot, I stood at the usual place awaiting my friends, and saw before they reached me that they had something untoward to tell. The farmer, his wife and three children, holding each other’s hands, stretched across the road. Birse was a little behind, but a conversation was being kept up by shouting. All were walking the Sabbath pace, and the family having started half a minute in advance, the post had not yet made up on them.
“It’s sitting to snaw,” Waster Lunny said, drawing near, and just as I was to reply, “It is so,” Silva slipped in the words before me.
“You wasna at the kirk,” was Elspeth’s salutation. I had been at the Glen church, but did not contradict her, for it is Established, and so neither here nor there. I was anxious, too, to know what their long faces meant, and so asked at once --
“Was Mr. Dishart on the riot?”
“Forenoon, ay; afternoon, no,” replied Waster Lunny, walking round his wife to get nearer me. “Dominie, a queery thing happened in the kirk this day, sic as — —”
“Waster Lunny,” interrupted Elspeth sharply; “have you on your Sabbath shoon or have you no on your Sabbath shoon?”
“Guid care you took I should hae the dagont oncanny things on,” retorted the farmer.
“Keep out o’ the gutter, then,” said Elspeth, “on the Lord’s day.”
“Him,” said her man, “that is forced by a foolish woman to wear genteel ‘lastic-sided boots canna forget them till he takes them aff. Whaur’s the extra reverence in wearing shoon twa sizes ower sma?”
“It mayna be mair reverent,” suggested Birse, to whom Elspeth’s kitchen was a pleasant place, “but it’s grand, and you canna expect to be baith grand and comfortable.”
I reminded them that they were speaking of Mr. Dishart.
“We was saying,” began the post briskly, “that — —”
“It was me that was saying it,” said Waster Lunny. “So, dominie — —”
“Haud your gabs, baith o’ you,” interrupted Elspeth. “You’ve been roaring the story to ane another till you’re hoarse.”
“In the forenoon,” Waster Lunny went on determinedly, “Mr. Dishart preached on the riot, and fine he was. Oh, dominie, you should hae heard him ladling it on to Lang Tammas, no by name but in sic a way that there was no mistaking wha he was preaching at, Sal! oh losh! Tammas got it strong.”
“But he’s dull in the uptake,” broke in the post, “by what I expected. I spoke to him after the sermon, and I says, just to see if he was properly humbled, ‘Ay, Tammas,’ I says, ‘them that discourse was preached against, winna think themselves seven feet men for a while again.’ ‘Ay, Birse,’ he answers, ‘and glad I am to hear you admit it, for he had you in his eye.’ I was fair scunnered at Tammas the day.”
“Mr. Dishart was preaching at the whole clanjamfray o’ you,” said Elspeth.
“Maybe he was,” said her husband, leering; “but you needna cast it at us, for, my certie, if the men got it frae him in the forenoon, the women got it in the afternoon.”
“He redd them up most michty,” said the post. “Thae was his very words or something like them. ‘Adam,’ says he, ‘was an erring man, but aside Eve he was respectable.’”
“Ay, but it wasna a’ women he meant,” Elspeth explained, “for when he said that, he pointed his finger direct at T’nowhead’s lassie, and I hope it’ll do her good.”
“But I wonder,” I said, “that Mr. Dishart chose such a subject to-day. I thought he would be on the riot at both services.”
“You’ll wonder mair,” said Elspeth, “when you hear what happened afore he began the afternoon sermon. But I canna get in a word wi’ that man o’ mine.”
“We’ve been speaking about it,” said Birse, “ever since we left the kirk door. Tod, we’ve been sawing it like seed a’ alang the glen.”
“And we meant to tell you about it at once,” said Waster Lunny; “but there’s aye so muckle to say about a minister. Dagont, to hae ane keeps a body out o’ langour. Ay, but this breaks the drum. Dominie, either Mr. Dishart wasna weel, or he was in the devil’s grip.”
This startled me, for the farmer was looking serious.
“He was weel eneuch,” said Birse, “for a heap o’ fowk speired at Jean if he had ta’en his porridge as usual, and she admitted he had. But the lassie was skeered hersel’, and said it was a mercy Mrs. Dishart wasna in the kirk.”
“Why was she not there?” I asked anxiously.
“Oh, he winna let her out in sic weather.”
“I wish you would tell me what happened,” I said to Elspeth.
“So I will,” she answered, “if Waster Lunny would haud his wheesht for a minute. You see the afternoon diet began in the ordinary way, and a’ was richt until we came to the sermon. ‘You will find my text,’ he says, in his piercing voice, ‘in the eighth chapter of Ezra.’”
“And at thae words,” said Waster Lunny, “my heart gae a loup, for Ezra is an unca ill book to find; ay, and so is Ruth.”
“I kent the books o’ the Bible by heart,” said Elspeth, scornfully, “when I was a sax year auld.”
“So did I,” said Waster Lunny, “and I ken them yet, except when I’m hurried. When Mr. Dishart gave out Ezra he a sort o’ keeked round the kirk to find out if he had puzzled onybody, and so there was a kind o’ a competition among the congregation wha would lay hand on it first. That was what doited me. Ay, there was Ruth when she wasna wanted, but Ezra, dagont, it looked as if Ezra had jumped clean out o’ the Bible.”
“You wasna the only distressed crittur,” said his wife. “I was ashamed to see Eppie McLaren looking up the order o’ the books at the beginning o’ the Bible.”
“Tibbie Birse was even mair brazen,” said the post, “for the sly cuttie opened at Kings and pretended it was Ezra.”
“None o’ thae things would I do,” said Waster Lunny, “and sal, I dauredna, for Davit Lunan was glowering over my shuther. Ay, you may scrowl at me, Elspeth Proctor, but as far back as I can mind, Ezra has done me. Mony a time afore I start for the kirk I take my Bible to a quiet place and look Ezra up. In the very pew I says canny to mysel’, ‘Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job,’ the which should be a help, but the moment the minister gi’es out that awfu’ book, away goes Ezra like the Egyptian.”
“And you after her,” said Elspeth, “like the weavers that wouldna fecht. You make a windmill of your Bible.”
“Oh, I winna admit I’m beat. Never mind, there’s queer things in the world forby Ezra. How is cripples aye so puffed up mair than other folk? How does flour-bread aye fall on the buttered side?”
“I will mind,” Elspeth said, “for I was terrified the minister would admonish you frae the pulpit.”
“He couldna hae done that, for was he no baffled to find Ezra himsel’?”
“Him no find Ezra!” cried Elspeth. “I hae telled you a dozen times he found it as easy as you could yoke a horse.”
“The thing can be explained in no other way,” said her husband, doggedly, “if he was weel and in sound mind.”
“Maybe the dominie can clear it up,” suggested the post, “him being a scholar.”
“Then tell me what happened,” I asked.
“Godsake, hae we no telled you?” Birse said. “I thocht we had.”
“It was a terrible scene,” said Elspeth, giving her husband a shove. “As I said, Mr. Dishart gave out Ezra eighth. Weel, I turned it up in a jiffy, and syne looked cautiously to see how Eppie McLaren was getting on. Just at that minute I heard a groan frae the pulpit. It didna stop short o’ a groan. Ay, you may be sure I looked quick at the minister, and there I saw a sicht that would hae made the grandest gape. His face was as white as a baker’s, and he had a sort of fallen against the back o’ the pulpit, staring demented-like at his open Bible.”
“And I saw him,” said Birse, “put up his hand atween him and the Book, as if he thocht it was to jump at him.”
“Twice,” said Elspeth, “he tried to speak, and twice he let the words fall.”
“That,” says Waster Lunny, “the whole congregation admits, but I didna see it mysel’, for a’ this time you may picture me hunting savage-like for Ezra. I thocht the minister was waiting till I found it.”
“Hendry Munn,” said Birse, “stood upon one leg, wondering whether he should run to the session-house for a glass of water.”
“But by that time,” said Elspeth, “the fit had left Mr. Dishart, or rather it had ta’en a new turn. He grew red, and it’s gospel that he stamped his foot.”
“He had the face of one using bad words,” said the post. “He didna swear, of course, but that was the face he had on.”
“I missed it,” said Waster Lunny, “for I was in full cry after Ezra, with the sweat running down my face.”
“But the most astounding thing has yet to be telled,” went on Elspeth. “The minister shook himsel’ like one wakening frae a nasty dream, and he cries in a voice of thunder, just as if he was shaking his fist at somebody — —”
“He cries,” Birse interposed, cleverly, “he cries, ‘You will find the text in Genesis, chapter three, verse six.’”
“Yes,” said Elspeth, “first he gave out one text, and then he gave out another, being the most amazing thing to my mind that ever happened in the town of Thrums. What will our children’s children think o’t? I wouldna hae missed it for a pound note.”
“Nor me,” said Waster Lunny, “though I only got the tail o’t. Dominie, no sooner had he said Genesis third and sixth, than I laid my finger on Ezra. Was it no provoking? Onybody can turn up Genesis, but it needs an able-bodied man to find Ezra.”
“He preached on the Fall,” Elspeth said, “for an hour and twenty-five minutes, but powerful though he was I would rather he had telled us what made him gie the go-by to Ezra.”
“All I can say,” said Waster Lunny, “is that I never heard him mair awe-inspiring. Whaur has he got sic a knowledge of women? He riddled them, he fair riddled them, till I was ashamed o’ being married.”
“It’s easy kent whaur he got his knowledge of women,” Birse explained, “it’s a’ in the original Hebrew. You can howk ony mortal thing out o’ the original Hebrew, the which all ministers hae at their finger ends. What else makes them ken to jump a verse now and then when giving out a psalm?”
“It wasna women like me he denounced,” Elspeth insisted, “but young lassies that leads men astray wi’ their abominable wheedling ways.”
“Tod,” said her husband, “if they try their hands on Mr. Dishart they’ll meet their match.”
“They will,” chuckled the post. “The Hebrew’s a grand thing, though teuch, I’m telled, michty teuch.”
“His sublimest burst,” Waster Lunny came back to tell me, “was about the beauty o’ the soul being everything and the beauty o’ the face no worth a snuff. What a scorn he has for bonny faces and toom souls! I dinna deny but what a bonny face fell takes me, but Mr. Dishart wouldna gie a blade o’ grass for’t. Ay, and I used to think that in their foolishness about women there was dagont little differ atween the unlearned and the highly edicated.”
The gossip about Gavin brought hitherto to the school-house had been as bread to me, but this I did not like. For a minister to behave thus was as unsettling to us as a change of Government to Londoners, and I decided to give my scholars a holiday on the morrow and tramp into the town for fuller news. But all through the night it snowed, and next day, and then intermittently for many days, and every fall took the school miles farther away from Thrums. Birse and the crows had now the glen road to themselves, and even Birse had twice or thrice to bed with me. At these times had he not been so interested in describing his progress through the snow, maintaining that the crying want of our glen road was palings for postmen to kick their feet against, he must have wondered why I always turned the talk to the Auld Licht minister.
“Ony explanation o’ his sudden change o’ texts?” Birse said, repeating my question. “Tod, and there is and to spare, for I hear tell there’s saxteen explanations in the Tenements alone. As Tammas Haggart says, that’s a blessing, for if there had just been twa explanations the kirk micht hae split on them.”
“Ay,” he said at another time, “twa or three even dared to question the minister, but I’m thinking they made nothing o’t. The majority agrees that he was just inspired to change his text. But Lang Tammas is dour. Tammas telled the session a queer thing. He says that after the diet o’ worship on that eventful afternoon Mr. Dishart carried the Bible out o’ the pulpit instead o’ leaving that duty as usual to the kirk-officer. Weel, Tammas, being precentor, has a richt, as you ken, to leave the kirk by the session-house door, just like the minister himsel’. He did so that afternoon, and what, think you, did he see? He saw Mr. Dishart tearing a page out o’ the Bible, and flinging it savagely into the session-house fire. You dinna credit it? Weel, it’s staggering, but there’s Hendry Munn’s evidence too. Hendry took his first chance o’ looking up Ezra in the minister’s Bible, and, behold, the page wi’ the eighth chapter was gone. Them that thinks Tammas wasna blind wi’ excitement hauds it had been Ezra eighth that gaed into the fire. Onyway, there’s no doubt about the page’s being missing, for whatever excitement Tammas was in, Hendry was as cool as ever.”
A week later Birse told me that the congregation had decided to regard the incident as adding lustre to their kirk. This was largely, I fear, because it could then be used to belittle the Established minister. That fervent Auld Licht, Snecky Hobart, feeling that Gavin’s action was unsound, had gone on the following Sabbath to the parish kirk and sat under Mr. Duthie. But Mr. Duthie was a close reader, so that Snecky flung himself about in his pew in misery. The minister concluded his sermon with these words: “But on this subject I will say no more at present.” “Because you canna,” Snecky roared, and strutted out of the church. Comparing the two scenes, it is obvious that the Auld Lichts had won a victory. After preaching impromptu for an hour and twenty-five minutes, it could never be said of Gavin that he needed to read. He became more popular than ever. Yet the change of texts was not forgotten. If in the future any other indictments were brought against him, it would certainly be pinned to them.
I marvelled long over Gavin’s jump from Ezra to Genesis, and at this his first philippic against Woman, but I have known the cause for many a year. The Bible was the one that had lain on the summer-seat while the Egyptian hid there. It was the great pulpit Bible which remains in the church as a rule, but Gavin had taken it home the previous day to make some of its loose pages secure with paste. He had studied from it on the day preceding the riot, but had used a small Bible during the rest of the week. When he turned in the pulpit to Ezra, where he had left the large Bible open in the summer-seat, he found this scrawled across chapter eight: --
“I will never tell who flung the clod at Captain Halliwell. But why did you fling it? I will never tell that you allowed me to be called Mrs. Dishart before witnesses. But is not this a Scotch marriage? Signed, Babbie the Egyptian.”
THE WOMAN CONSIDERED IN ABSENCE — ADVENTURES OF A MILITARY CLOAK.
About six o’clock Margaret sat up suddenly in bed, with the conviction that she had slept in. To her this was to ravel the day: a dire thing. The last time it happened Gavin, softened by her distress, had condensed morning worship into a sentence that she might make up on the clock.
Her part on waking was merely to ring her bell, and so rouse Jean, for Margaret had given Gavin a promise to breakfast in bed, and remain there till her fire was lit. Accustomed all her life, however, to early rising, her feet were usually on the floor before she remembered her vow, and then it was but a step to the window to survey the morning. To Margaret, who seldom went out, the weather was not of great moment, while it mattered much to Gavin, yet she always thought of it the first thing, and he not at all until he had to decide whether his companion should be an umbrella or a staff.
On this morning Margaret only noticed that there had been rain since Gavin came in. Forgetting that the water obscuring the outlook was on the other side of the panes, she tried to brush it away with her fist. It was of the soldiers she was thinking. They might have been awaiting her appearance at the window as their signal to depart, for hardly had she raised the blind when they began their march out of Thrums. From the manse she could not see them, but she heard them, and she saw some people at the Tenements run to their houses at sound of the drum. Other persons, less timid, followed the enemy with execrations halfway to Tilliedrum. Margaret, the only person, as it happened, then awake in the manse, stood listening for some time. In the summer-seat of the garden, however, there was another listener protected from her sight by thin spars.
Despite the lateness of the hour Margaret was too soft-hearted to rouse Jean, who had lain down in her clothes, trembling for her father. She went instead into Gavin’s room to look admiringly at him as he slept. Often Gavin woke to find that his mother had slipped in to save him the enormous trouble of opening a drawer for a clean collar, or of pouring the water into the basin with his own hand. Sometimes he caught her in the act of putting thick socks in the place of thin ones, and it must be admitted that her passion for keeping his belongings in boxes, and the boxes in secret places, and the secret places at the back of drawers, occasionally led to their being lost when wanted. “They are safe, at any rate, for I put them away some gait,” was then Margaret’s comfort, but less soothing to Gavin. Yet if he upbraided her in his hurry, it was to repent bitterly his temper the next instant, and to feel its effects more than she, temper being a weapon that we hold by the blade. When he awoke and saw her in his room he would pretend, unless he felt called upon to rage at her for self-neglect, to be still asleep, and then be filled with tenderness for her. A great writer has spoken sadly of the shock it would be to a mother to know her boy as he really is, but I think she often knows him better than he is known to cynical friends. We should be slower to think that the man at his worst is the real man, and certain that the better we are ourselves the less likely is he to be at his worst in our company. Every time he talks away his own character before us he is signifying contempt for ours.
On this morning Margaret only opened Gavin’s door to stand and look, for she was fearful of awakening him after his heavy night. Even before she saw that he still slept she noticed with surprise that, for the first time since he came to Thrums, he had put on his shutters. She concluded that he had done this lest the light should rouse him. He was not sleeping pleasantly, for now he put his open hand before his face, as if to guard himself, and again he frowned and seemed to draw back from something. He pointed his finger sternly to the north, ordering the weavers, his mother thought, to return to their homes, and then he muttered to himself so that she heard the words, “And if thy right hand offend thee cut it off, and cast it from thee, for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.” Then suddenly he bent forward, his eyes open and fixed on the window. Thus he sat, for the space of half a minute, like one listening with painful intentness. When he lay back Margaret slipped away. She knew he was living the night over again, but not of the divit his right hand had cast, nor of the woman in the garden.
Gavin was roused presently by the sound of voices from Margaret’s room, where Jean, who had now gathered much news, was giving it to her mistress. Jean’s cheerfulness would have told him that her father was safe had he not wakened to thoughts of the Egyptian. I suppose he was at the window in an instant, unsnibbing the shutters and looking out as cautiously as a burglar might have looked in. The Egyptian was gone from the summer-seat. He drew a great breath.
But his troubles were not over. He had just lifted his ewer of water when these words from the kitchen capsized it: --
“Ay, an Egyptian. That’s what the auld folk call a gypsy. Weel, Mrs. Dishart, she led police and sojers sic a dance through Thrums as would baffle description, though I kent the fits and fors o’t as I dinna. Ay, but they gripped her in the end, and the queer thing is — —”
Gavin listened to no more. He suddenly sat down. The queer thing, of course, was that she had been caught in his garden. Yes, and doubtless queerer things about this hussy and her “husband” were being bawled from door to door. To the girl’s probable sufferings he gave no heed. What kind of man had he been a few hours ago to yield to the machinations of a woman who was so obviously the devil? Now he saw his folly in the face.
The tray in Jean’s hands clattered against the dresser, and Gavin sprang from his chair. He thought it was his elders at the front door.
In the parlour he found Margaret sorrowing for those whose mates had been torn from them, and Jean with a face flushed by talk. On ordinary occasions the majesty of the minister still cowed Jean, so that she could only gaze at him without shaking when in church, and then because she wore a veil. In the manse he was for taking a glance at sideways and then going away comforted, as a respectable woman may once or twice in a day look at her brooch in the pasteboard box as a means of helping her with her work. But with such a to-do in Thrums, and she the possessor of exclusive information, Jean’s reverence for Gavin only took her to-day as far as the door, where she lingered half in the parlour and half in the lobby, her eyes turned politely from the minister, but her ears his entirely.
“I thought I heard Jean telling you about the capture of the — of an Egyptian woman,” Gavin said to his mother, nervously.
“Did you cry to me?” Jean asked, turning round longingly. “But maybe the mistress will tell you about the Egyptian hersel.”
“Has she been taken to Tilliedrum?” Gavin asked in a hollow voice.
“Sup up your porridge, Gavin,” Margaret said. “I’ll have no speaking about this terrible night till you’ve eaten something.”
“I have no appetite,” the minister replied, pushing his plate from him. “Jean, answer me.”
“‘Deed, then,” said Jean willingly, “they hinna ta’en her to Tilliedrum.”
“For what reason?” asked Gavin, his dread increasing.
“For the reason that they couldna catch her,” Jean answered. “She spirited hersel awa’, the magerful crittur.”
“What! But I heard you say — —”
“Ay, they had her aince, but they couldna keep her. It’s like a witch story. They had her safe in the town-house, and baith shirra and captain guarding her, and syne in a clink she wasna there. A’ nicht they looked for her, but she hadna left so muckle as a foot-print ahint her, and in the tail of the day they had to up wi’ their tap in their lap and march awa without her.”
Gavin’s appetite returned.
“Has she been seen since the soldiers went away?” he asked, laying down his spoon with a new fear. “Where is she now?”
“No human eye has seen her,” Jean answered impressively. “Whaur is she now? Whaur does the flies vanish to in winter? We ken they’re some gait, but whaur?”
“But what are the people saying about her?”
“Daft things,” said Jean. “Old Charles Yuill gangs the length o’ hinting that she’s dead and buried.”
“She could not have buried herself, Jean,” Margaret said, mildly.
“I dinna ken. Charles says she’s even capable o’ that.”
Then Jean retired reluctantly (but leaving the door ajar) and Gavin fell to on his porridge. He was now so cheerful that Margaret wondered.
“If half the stories about this gypsy be true,” she said, “she must be more than a mere woman.”
“Less, you mean, mother,” Gavin said, with conviction. “She is a woman, and a sinful one.”
“Did you see her, Gavin?”
“I saw her. Mother, she flouted me!”
“The daring tawpie!” exclaimed Margaret.
“She is all that,” said the minister.
“Was she dressed just like an ordinary gypsy body? But you don’t notice clothes much, Gavin.”
“I noticed hers,” Gavin said, slowly, “she was in a green and red, I think, and barefooted.”
“Ay,” shouted Jean from the kitchen, startling both of them; “but she had a lang grey-like cloak too. She was seen jouking up closes in’t.”
Gavin rose, considerably annoyed, and shut the parlour door.
“Was she as bonny as folks say?” asked Margaret. “Jean says they speak of her beauty as unearthly.”
“Beauty of her kind,” Gavin explained learnedly, “is neither earthly nor heavenly.” He was seeing things as they are very clearly now. “What,” he said, “is mere physical beauty? Pooh!”
“And yet,” said Margaret, “the soul surely does speak through the face to some extent.”
“Do you really think so, mother?” Gavin asked, a little uneasily.
“I have always noticed it,” Margaret said, and then her son sighed.
“But I would let no face influence me a jot,” he said, recovering.
“Ah, Gavin, I’m thinking I’m the reason you pay so little regard to women’s faces. It’s no natural.”
“You’ve spoilt me, you see, mother, for ever caring for another woman. I would compare her to you, and then where would she be?”
“Sometime,” Margaret said, “you’ll think differently.”
“Never,” answered Gavin, with a violence that ended the conversation.
Soon afterwards he set off for the town, and in passing down the garden walk cast a guilty glance at the summer-seat. Something black was lying in one corner of it. He stopped irresolutely, for his mother was nodding to him from her window. Then he disappeared into the little arbour. What had caught his eye was a Bible. On the previous day, as he now remembered, he had been called away while studying in the garden, and had left his Bible on the summer-seat, a pencil between its pages. Not often probably had the Egyptian passed a night in such company.
But what was this? Gavin had not to ask himself the question. The gypsy’s cloak was lying neatly folded at the other end of the seat. Why had the woman not taken it with her? Hardly had he put this question when another stood in front of it. What was to be done with the cloak? He dared not leave it there for Jean to discover. He could not take it into the manse in daylight. Beneath the seat was a tool-chest without a lid, and into this he crammed the cloak. Then, having turned the box face downwards, he went about his duties. But many a time during the day he shivered to the marrow, reflecting suddenly that at this very moment Jean might be carrying the accursed thing (at arms’ length, like a dog in disgrace) to his mother.
Now let those who think that Gavin has not yet paid toll for taking the road with the Egyptian, follow the adventures of the cloak. Shortly after gloaming fell that night Jean encountered her master in the lobby of the manse. He was carrying something, and when he saw her he slipped it behind his back. Had he passed her openly she would have suspected nothing, but this made her look at him.
“Why do you stare so, Jean?” Gavin asked, conscience-stricken, and he stood with his back to the wall until she had retired in bewilderment.
“I have noticed her watching me sharply all day,” he said to himself, though it was only he who had been watching her.
Gavin carried the cloak to his bedroom, thinking to lock it away in his chest, but it looked so wicked lying there that he seemed to see it after the lid was shut.
The garret was the best place for it. He took it out of the chest and was opening his door gently, when there was Jean again. She had been employed very innocently in his mother’s room, but he said tartly --
“Jean, I really cannot have this,” which sent Jean to the kitchen with her apron at her eyes.
Gavin stowed the cloak beneath the garret bed, and an hour afterwards was engaged on his sermon, when he distinctly heard some one in the garret. He ran up the ladder with a terrible brow for Jean, but it was not Jean; it was Margaret.
“Mother,” he said in alarm, “what are you doing here?”
“I am only tidying up the garret, Gavin.”
“Yes, but — it is too cold for you. Did Jean — did Jean ask you to come up here?”
“Jean? She knows her place better.”
Gavin took Margaret down to the parlour, but his confidence in the garret had gone. He stole up the ladder again, dragged the cloak from its lurking place, and took it into the garden. He very nearly met Jean in the lobby again, but hearing him coming she fled precipitately, which he thought very suspicious.
In the garden he dug a hole, and there buried the cloak, but even now he was not done with it. He was wakened early by a noise of scraping in the garden, and his first thought was “Jean!” But peering from the window, he saw that the resurrectionist was a dog, which already had its teeth in the cloak.
That forenoon Gavin left the manse unostentatiously carrying a brown-paper parcel. He proceeded to the hill, and having dropped the parcel there, retired hurriedly. On his way home, nevertheless, he was over-taken by D. Fittis, who had been cutting down whins. Fittis had seen the parcel fall, and running after Gavin, returned it to him. Gavin thanked D. Fittis, and then sat down gloomily on the cemetery dyke. Half an hour afterwards he flung the parcel into a Tillyloss garden.
In the evening Margaret had news for him, got from Jean.
“Do you remember, Gavin, that the Egyptian every one is still speaking of, wore a long cloak? Well, would you believe it, the cloak was Captain Halliwell’s, and she took it from the town-house when she escaped. She is supposed to have worn it inside out. He did not discover that it was gone until he was leaving Thrums.”
“Mother, is this possible?” Gavin said.
“The policeman, Wearyworld, has told it. He was ordered, it seems, to look for the cloak quietly, and to take any one into custody in whose possession it was found.”
“Has it been found?”
The minister walked out of the parlour, for he could not trust his face. What was to be done now? The cloak was lying in mason Baxter’s garden, and Baxter was therefore, in all probability, within four-and-twenty hours of the Tilliedrum gaol.
“Does Mr. Dishart ever wear a cap at nichts?” Femie Wilkie asked Sam’l Fairweather three hours later.
“Na, na, he has ower muckle respect for his lum 88 hat,” answered Sam’l; “and richtly, for it’s the crowning stone o’ the edifice.”
“Then it couldna hae been him I met at the back o’ Tillyloss the now,” said Femie, “though like him it was. He joukit back when he saw me.”
While Femie was telling her story in the Tenements, mason Baxter, standing at the window which looked into his garden, was shouting, “Wha’s that in my yard?” There was no answer, and Baxter closed his window, under the impression that he had been speaking to a cat. The man in the cap then emerged from the corner where he had been crouching, and stealthily felt for something among the cabbages and pea sticks. It was no longer there, however, and by-and-by he retired empty-handed.
“The Egyptian’s cloak has been found,” Margaret was able to tell Gavin next day. “Mason Baxter found it yesterday afternoon.”
“In his garden?” Gavin asked hurriedly.
“No; in the quarry, he says, but according to Jean he is known not to have been at the quarry to-day. Some seem to think that the gypsy gave him the cloak for helping her to escape, and that he has delivered it up lest he should get into difficulties.”
“Whom has he given it to, mother?” Gavin asked.
“To the policeman.”
“And has Wearyworld sent it back to Halliwell?”
“Yes. He told Jean he sent it off at once, with the information that the masons had found it in the quarry.”
The next day was Sabbath, when a new trial, now to be told, awaited Gavin in the pulpit; but it had nothing to do with the cloak, of which I may here record the end. Wearyworld had not forwarded it to its owner; Meggy, his wife, took care of that. It made its reappearance in Thrums, several months after the riot, as two pairs of Sabbath breeks for her sons, James and Andrew.
3 A.M. — MONSTROUS AUDACITY OF THE WOMAN.
Not till the stroke of three did Gavin turn homeward, with the legs of a ploughman, and eyes rebelling against over-work. Seeking to comfort his dejected people, whose courage lay spilt on the brae, he had been in as many houses as the policemen. The soldiers marching through the wynds came frequently upon him, and found it hard to believe that he was always the same one. They told afterwards that Thrums was remarkable for the ferocity of its women, and the number of its little ministers. The morning was nipping cold, and the streets were deserted, for the people had been ordered within doors. As he crossed the Roods, Gavin saw a gleam of red-coats. In the back wynd he heard a bugle blown. A stir in the Banker’s close spoke of another seizure. At the top of the school wynd two policeman, of whom one was Wearyworld, stopped the minister with the flash of a lantern.
“We dauredna let you pass, sir,” the Tilliedrum man said, “without a good look at you. That’s the orders.”
“I hereby swear,” said Wearyworld, authoritatively, “that this is no the Egyptian. Signed, Peter Spens, policeman, called by the vulgar, Wearyworld. Mr. Dishart, you can pass, unless you’ll bide a wee and gie us your crack.”
“You have not found the gypsy, then?” Gavin asked.
“No,” the other policeman said, “but we ken she’s within cry o’ this very spot, and escape she canna.”
“What mortal man can do,” Wearyworld said, “we’re doing: ay, and mair, but she’s auld wecht, and may find bilbie in queer places. Mr. Dishart, my official opinion is that this Egyptian is fearsomely like my snuff-spoon. I’ve kent me drap that spoon on the fender, and be beat to find it in an hour. And yet, a’ the time I was sure it was there. This is a gey mysterious world, and women’s the uncanniest things in’t. It’s hardly mous to think how uncanny they are.”
“This one deserves to be punished,” Gavin said, firmly; “she incited the people to riot.”
“She did,” agreed Wearyworld, who was supping ravenously on sociability; “ay, she even tried her tricks on me, so that them that kens no better thinks she fooled me. But she’s cracky. To gie her her due, she’s cracky, and as for her being a cuttie, you’ve said yoursel, Mr. Dishart, that we’re all desperately wicked. But we’re sair tried. Has it ever struck you that the trouts bites best on the Sabbath? God’s critturs tempting decent men.”
“Come alang,” cried the Tilliedrum man, impatiently.
“I’m coming, but I maun give Mr. Dishart permission to pass first. Hae you heard, Mr. Dishart,” Wearyworld whispered, “that the Egyptian diddled baith the captain and the shirra? It’s my official opinion that she’s no better than a roasted onion, the which, if you grip it firm, jumps out o’ sicht, leaving its coat in your fingers. Mr. Dishart, you can pass.”
The policeman turned down the school wynd, and Gavin, who had already heard exaggerated accounts of the strange woman’s escape from the town-house, proceeded along the Tenements. He walked in the black shadows of the houses, though across the way there was the morning light.
In talking of the gypsy, the little minister had, as it were, put on the black cap; but now, even though he shook his head angrily with every thought of her, the scene in Windyghoul glimmered before his eyes. Sometimes when he meant to frown he only sighed, and then having sighed he shook himself. He was unpleasantly conscious of his right hand, which had flung the divit. Ah, she was shameless, and it would be a bright day for Thrums that saw the last of her. He hoped the policemen would succeed in —— . It was the gladsomeness of innocence that he had seen dancing in the moonlight. A mere woman could not be like that. How soft —— . And she had derided him; he, the Auld Licht minister of Thrums, had been flouted before his people by a hussy. She was without reverence, she knew no difference between an Auld Licht minister, whose duty it was to speak and hers to listen, and herself. This woman deserved to be —— . And the look she cast behind her as she danced and sang! It was sweet, so wistful; the presence of purity had silenced him. Purity! Who had made him fling that divit? He would think no more of her. Let it suffice that he knew what she was. He would put her from his thoughts. Was it a ring on her finger?
Fifty yards in front of him Gavin saw the road end in a wall of soldiers. They were between him and the manse, and he was still in darkness. No sound reached him, save the echo of his own feet. But was it an echo? He stopped, and turned round sharply. Now he heard nothing, he saw nothing. Yet was not that a human figure standing motionless in the shadow behind?
He walked on, and again heard the sound. Again he looked behind, but this time without stopping. The figure was following him. He stopped. So did it. He turned back, but it did not move. It was the Egyptian!
Gavin knew her, despite the lane of darkness, despite the long cloak that now concealed even her feet, despite the hood over her head. She was looking quite respectable, but he knew her.
He neither advanced to her nor retreated. Could the unhappy girl not see that she was walking into the arms of the soldiers? But doubtless she had been driven from all her hiding-places. For a moment Gavin had it in his heart to warn her. But it was only for a moment. The next a sudden horror shot through him. She was stealing toward him, so softly that he had not seen her start. The woman had designs on him! Gavin turned from her. He walked so quickly that judges would have said he ran.
The soldiers, I have said, stood in the dim light. Gavin had almost reached them, when a little hand touched his arm.
“Stop,” cried the sergeant, hearing some one approaching, and then Gavin stepped out of the darkness with the gypsy on his arm.
“It is you, Mr. Dishart,” said the sergeant, “and your lady?”
“I —— ,” said Gavin.
His lady pinched his arm.
“Yes,” she answered, in an elegant English voice that made Gavin stare at her, “but, indeed, I am sorry I ventured into the streets to-night. I thought I might be able to comfort some of these unhappy people, captain, but I could do little, sadly little.”
“It is no scene for a lady, ma’am, but your husband has —— . Did you speak, Mr. Dishart?”
“Yes, I must inf — —”
“My dear,” said the Egyptian, “I quite agree with you, so we need not detain the captain.”
“I’m only a sergeant, ma’am.”
“Indeed!” said the Egyptian, raising her pretty eyebrows, “and how long are you to remain in Thrums, sergeant?”
“Only for a few hours, Mrs. Dishart. If this gypsy lassie had not given us so much trouble, we might have been gone by now.”
“Ah, yes, I hope you will catch her, sergeant.”
“Sergeant,” said Gavin, firmly, “I must — —”
“You must, indeed, dear,” said the Egyptian, “for you are sadly tired. Good-night, sergeant.”
“Your servant, Mrs. Dishart. Your servant, sir.”
“But —— ,” cried Gavin.
“Come, love,” said the Egyptian, and she walked the distracted minister through the soldiers and up the manse road.
The soldiers left behind, Gavin flung her arm from him, and, standing still, shook his fist in her face.
“You — you — woman!” he said.
This, I think, was the last time he called her a woman.
But she was clapping her hands merrily.
“It was beautiful!” she exclaimed.
“It was iniquitous!” he answered. “And I a minister!”
“You can’t help that,” said the Egyptian, who pitied all ministers heartily.
“No,” Gavin said, misunderstanding her, “I could not help it. No blame attaches to me.”
“I meant that you could not help being a minister. You could have helped saving me, and I thank you so much.”
“Do not dare to thank me. I forbid you to say that I saved you. I did my best to hand you over to the authorities.”
“Then why did you not hand me over?”
“All you had to say,” continued the merciless Egyptian, “was, ‘This is the person you are in search of.’ I did not have my hand over your mouth. Why did you not say it?”
“Forbear!” said Gavin, woefully.
“It must have been,” the gypsy said, “because you really wanted to help me.”
“Then it was against my better judgment,” said Gavin.
“I am glad of that,” said the gypsy. “Mr. Dishart, I do believe you like me all the time.”
“Can a man like a woman against his will?” Gavin blurted out.
“Of course he can,” said the Egyptian, speaking as one who knew. “That is the very nicest way to be liked.”
Seeing how agitated Gavin was, remorse filled her, and she said in a wheedling voice --
“It is all over, and no one will know.”
Passion sat on the minister’s brow, but he said nothing, for the gypsy’s face had changed with her voice, and the audacious woman was become a child.
“I am very sorry,” she said, as if he had caught her stealing jam. The hood had fallen back, and she looked pleadingly at him. She had the appearance of one who was entirely in his hands.
There was a torrent of words in Gavin, but only these trickled forth --
“I don’t understand you.”
“You are not angry any more?” pleaded the Egyptian.
“Angry!” he cried, with the righteous rage of one who when his leg is being sawn off is asked gently if it hurts him.
“I know you are,” she sighed, and the sigh meant that men are strange.
“Have you no respect for law and order?” demanded Gavin.
“Not much,” she answered, honestly.
He looked down the road to where the red-coats were still visible, and his face became hard. She read his thoughts.
“No,” she said, becoming a woman again, “It is not yet too late. Why don’t you shout to them?”
She was holding herself like a queen, but there was no stiffness in her. They might have been a pair of lovers, and she the wronged one. Again she looked timidly at him, and became beautiful in a new way. Her eyes said that he was very cruel, and she was only keeping back her tears till he had gone. More dangerous than her face was her manner, which gave Gavin the privilege of making her unhappy; it permitted him to argue with her; it never implied that though he raged at her he must stand afar off; it called him a bully, but did not end the conversation.
Now (but perhaps I should not tell this) unless she is his wife a man is shot with a thrill of exultation every time a pretty woman allows him to upbraid her.
“I do not understand you,” Gavin repeated weakly, and the gypsy bent her head under this terrible charge.
“Only a few hours ago,” he continued, “you were a gypsy girl in a fantastic dress, barefooted — —”
The Egyptian’s bare foot at once peeped out mischievously from beneath the cloak, then again retired into hiding.
“You spoke as broadly,” complained the minister, somewhat taken aback by this apparition, “as any woman in Thrums, and now you fling a cloak over your shoulders, and immediately become a fine lady. Who are you?”
“Perhaps,” answered the Egyptian, “it is the cloak that has bewitched me.” She slipped out of it. “Ay, ay, ou losh!” she said, as if surprised, “it was just the cloak that did it, for now I’m a puir ignorant bit lassie again. My, certie, but claithes does make a differ to a woman!”
This was sheer levity, and Gavin walked scornfully away from it.
“Yet, if you will not tell me who you are,” he said, looking over his shoulder, “tell me where you got the cloak.”
“Na faags,” replied the gypsy out of the cloak. “Really, Mr. Dishart, you had better not ask,” she added, replacing it over her.
She followed him, meaning to gain the open by the fields to the north of the manse.
“Good-bye,” she said, holding out her hand, “if you are not to give me up.”
“I am not a policeman,” replied Gavin, but he would not take her hand.
“Surely, we part friends, then?” said the Egyptian, sweetly.
“No,” Gavin answered. “I hope never to see your face again.”
“I cannot help,” the Egyptian said, with dignity, “your not liking my face.” Then, with less dignity, she added, “There is a splotch of mud on your own, little minister; it came off the divit you flung at the captain.”
With this parting shot she tripped past him, and Gavin would not let his eyes follow her. It was not the mud on his face that distressed him, nor even the hand that had flung the divit. It was the word “little.” Though even Margaret was not aware of it, Gavin’s shortness had grieved him all his life. There had been times when he tried to keep the secret from himself. In his boyhood he had sought a remedy by getting his larger comrades to stretch him. In the company of tall men he was always self-conscious. In the pulpit he looked darkly at his congregation when he asked them who, by taking thought, could add a cubit to his stature. When standing on a hearthrug his heels were frequently on the fender. In his bedroom he has stood on a footstool and surveyed himself in the mirror. Once he fastened high heels to his boots, being ashamed to ask Hendry Munn to do it for him; but this dishonesty shamed him, and he tore them off. So the Egyptian had put a needle into his pride, and he walked to the manse gloomily.
Margaret was at her window, looking for him, and he saw her though she did not see him. He was stepping into the middle of the road to wave his hand to her, when some sudden weakness made him look towards the fields instead. The Egyptian saw him and nodded thanks for his interest in her, but he scowled and pretended to be studying the sky. Next moment he saw her running back to him.
“There are soldiers at the top of the field,” she cried. “I cannot escape that way.”
“There is no other way,” Gavin answered.
“Will you not help me again?” she entreated.
She should not have said “again.” Gavin shook his head, but pulled her closer to the manse dyke, for his mother was still in sight.
“Why do you do that?” the girl asked, quickly, looking round to see if she were pursued. “Oh, I see,” she said, as her eyes fell on the figure at the window.
“It is my mother,” Gavin said, though he need not have explained, unless he wanted the gypsy to know that he was a bachelor.
“Only your mother?”
“Only! Let me tell you she may suffer more than you for your behaviour to-night!”
“How can she?”
“If you are caught, will it not be discovered that I helped you to escape?”
“But you said you did not.”
“Yes, I helped you,” Gavin admitted. “My God! what would my congregation say if they knew I had let you pass yourself off as — as my wife?”
He struck his brow, and the Egyptian had the propriety to blush.
“It is not the punishment from men I am afraid of,” Gavin said, bitterly, “but from my conscience. No, that is not true. I do fear exposure, but for my mother’s sake. Look at her; she is happy, because she thinks me good and true; she has had such trials as you cannot know of, and now, when at last I seemed able to do something for her, you destroy her happiness. You have her life in your hands.”
The Egyptian turned her back upon him, and one of her feet tapped angrily on the dry ground. Then, child of impulse as she always was, she flashed an indignant glance at him, and walked quickly down the road.
“Where are you going?” he cried.
“To give myself up. You need not be alarmed; I will clear you.”
There was not a shake in her voice, and she spoke without looking back.
“Stop!” Gavin called, but she would not, until his hand touched her shoulder.
“What do you want?” she asked.
“Why—” whispered Gavin, giddily, “why — why do you not hide in the manse garden? — No one will look for you there.”
There were genuine tears in the gypsy’s eyes now.
“You are a good man,” she said; “I like you.”
“Don’t say that,” Gavin cried in horror. “There is a summer-seat in the garden.”
Then he hurried from her, and without looking to see if she took his advice, hastened to the manse. Once inside, he snibbed the door.
HAS THE FOLLY OF LOOKING INTO A WOMAN’S EYES BY WAY OF TEXT.
“This is the woman, captain,” one of the policemen said in triumph; “and, begging your pardon, will you keep a grip of her till the sheriff comes back?”
Halliwell did not turn his head.
“You can leave her here,” he said carelessly. “Three of us are not needed to guard a woman.”
“But she’s a slippery customer.”
“You can go,” said Halliwell; and the policemen withdrew slowly, eyeing their prisoner doubtfully until the door closed. Then the officer wheeled round languidly, expecting to find the Egyptian gaunt and muscular.
“Now then,” he drawled, “why —— By Jove!”
The gallant soldier was as much taken aback as if he had turned to find a pistol at his ear. He took his feet off the table. Yet he only saw the gypsy’s girlish figure in its red and green, for she had covered her face with her hands. She was looking at him intently between her fingers, but he did not know this. All he did want to know just then was what was behind the hands.
Before he spoke again she had perhaps made up her mind about him, for she began to sob bitterly. At the same time she slipped a finger over her ring.
“Why don’t you look at me?” asked Halliwell, selfishly.
“Am I so fearsome?”
“You’re a sojer, and you would shoot me like a craw.”
Halliwell laughed, and taking her wrists in his hands, uncovered her face.
“Oh, by Jove!” he said again, but this time to himself.
As for the Egyptian, she slid the ring into her pocket, and fell back before the officer’s magnificence.
“Oh,” she cried, “is all sojers like you?”
There was such admiration in her eyes that it would have been self-contempt to doubt her. Yet having smiled complacently, Halliwell became uneasy.
“Who on earth are you?” he asked, finding it wise not to look her in the face. “Why do you not answer me more quickly?”
“Dinna be angry at that, captain,” the Egyptian implored. “I promised my mither aye to count twenty afore I spoke, because she thocht I was ower glib. Captain, how is’t that you’re so fleid to look at me?”
Thus put on his mettle, Halliwell again faced her, with the result that his question changed to “Where did you get those eyes?” Then was he indignant with himself.
“What I want to know,” he explained severely, “is how you were able to acquaint the Thrums people with our movements? That you must tell me at once, for the sheriff blames my soldiers. Come now, no counting twenty!”
He was pacing the room now, and she had her face to herself. It said several things, among them that the officer evidently did not like this charge against his men.
“Does the shirra blame the sojers?” exclaimed this quick-witted Egyptian. “Weel, that cows, for he has nane to blame but himsel’.”
“What!” cried Halliwell, delighted. “It was the sheriff who told tales? Answer me. You are counting a hundred this time.”
Perhaps the gypsy had two reasons for withholding her answer. If so, one of them was that as the sheriff had told nothing, she had a story to make up. The other was that she wanted to strike a bargain with the officer.
“If I tell you,” she said eagerly, “will you set me free?”
“I may ask the sheriff to do so.”
“But he mauna see me,” the Egyptian said in distress. “There’s reasons, captain.”
“Why, surely you have not been before him on other occasions,” said Halliwell, surprised.
“No in the way you mean,” muttered the gypsy, and for the moment her eyes twinkled. But the light in them went out when she remembered that the sheriff was near, and she looked desperately at the window as if ready to fling herself from it. She had very good reasons for not wishing to be seen by Riach, though fear that he would put her in gaol was not one of them.
Halliwell thought it was the one cause of her woe, and great was his desire to turn the tables on the sheriff.
“Tell me the truth,” he said, “and I promise to befriend you.”
“Weel, then,” the gypsy said, hoping still to soften his heart, and making up her story as she told it, “yestreen I met the shirra, and he telled me a’ I hae telled the Thrums folk this nicht.”
“You can scarcely expect me to believe that. Where did you meet him?”
“In Glen Quharity. He was riding on a horse.”
“Well, I allow he was there yesterday, and on horseback. He was on his way back to Tilliedrum from Lord Rintoul’s place. But don’t tell me that he took a gypsy girl into his confidence.”
“Ay, he did, without kenning. He was gieing hishorse a drink when I met him, and he let me tell him his fortune. He said he would gaol me for an impostor if I didna tell him true, so I gaed about it cautiously, and after a minute or twa I telled him he was coming to Thrums the nicht to nab the rioters.”
“You are trifling with me,” interposed the indignant soldier. “You promised to tell me not what you said to the sheriff, but how he disclosed our movements to you.”
“And that’s just what I am telling you, only you hinna the rumelgumption to see it. How do you think fortunes is telled? First we get out o’ the man, without his seeing what we’re after, a’ about himsel’, and syne we repeat it to him. That’s what I did wi’ the shirra.”
“You drew the whole thing out of him without his knowing?”
“‘Deed I did, and he rode awa’ saying I was a witch.”
The soldier heard with the delight of a schoolboy.
“Now if the sheriff does not liberate you at my request,” he said, “I will never let him hear the end of this story. He was right; you are a witch. You deceived the sheriff; yes, undoubtedly you are a witch.”
He looked at her with fun in his face, but the fun disappeared, and a wondering admiration took its place.
“By Jove!” he said, “I don’t wonder you bewitched the sheriff. I must take care or you will bewitch the captain, too.”
At this notion he smiled, but he also ceased looking at her. Suddenly the Egyptian again began to cry.
“You’re angry wi’ me,” she sobbed. “I wish I had never set een on you.”
“Why do you wish that?” Halliwell asked.
“Fine you ken,” she answered, and again covered her face with her hands.
He looked at her undecidedly.
“I am not angry with you,” he said, gently. “You are an extraordinary girl.”
Had he really made a conquest of this beautiful creature? Her words said so, but had he? The captain could not make up his mind. He gnawed his moustache in doubt.
There was silence, save for the Egyptian’s sobs. Halliwell’s heart was touched, and he drew nearer her.
“My poor girl — —”
He stopped. Was she crying? Was she not laughing at him rather? He became red.
The gypsy peeped at him between her fingers, and saw that he was of two minds. She let her hands fall from her face, and undoubtedly there were tears on her cheeks.
“If you’re no angry wi’ me,” she said, sadly, “how will you no look at me?”
“I am looking at you now.”
He was very close to her, and staring into her wonderful eyes. I am older than the Captain, and those eyes have dazzled me.
She put her hand in his. His chest rose. He knew she was seeking to beguile him, but he could not take his eyes off hers. He was in a worse plight than a woman listening to the first whisper of love.
Now she was further from him, but the spell held. She reached the door, without taking her eyes from his face. For several seconds he had been as a man mesmerised.
Just in time he came to. It was when she turned from him to find the handle of the door. She was turning it when his hand fell on hers so suddenly that she screamed. He twisted her round.
“Sit down there,” he said hoarsely, pointing to the chair upon which he had flung his cloak. She dared not disobey. Then he leant against the door, his back to her, for just then he wanted no one to see his face. The gypsy sat very still and a little frightened.
Halliwell opened the door presently, and called to the soldier on duty below.
“Davidson, see if you can find the sheriff. I want him. And Davidson — —”
The captain paused.
“Yes,” he muttered, and the old soldier marvelled at his words, “it is better. Davidson, lock this door on the outside.”
Davidson did as he was ordered, and again the Egyptian was left alone with Halliwell.
“Afraid of a woman!” she said, contemptuously, though her heart sank when she heard the key turn in the lock.
“I admit it,” he answered, calmly.
He walked up and down the room, and she sat silently watching him.
“That story of yours about the sheriff was not true,” he said at last.
“I suspect it wasna,” answered the Egyptian coolly. “Hae you been thinking about it a’ this time? Captain, I could tell you what you’re thinking now. You’re wishing it had been true, so that the ane o’ you couldna lauch at the other.”
“Silence!” said the captain, and not another word would he speak until he heard the sheriff coming up the stair. The Egyptian trembled at his step, and rose in desperation.
“Why is the door locked?” cried the sheriff, shaking it.
“All right,” answered Halliwell; “the key is on your side.”
At that moment the Egyptian knocked the lamp off the table, and the room was at once in darkness. The officer sprang at her, and, catching her by the skirt, held on.
“Why are you in darkness?” asked the sheriff, as he entered.
“Shut the door,” cried Halliwell. “Put your back to it.”
“Don’t tell me the woman has escaped?”
“I have her, I have her! She capsized the lamp, the little jade. Shut the door.”
Still keeping firm hold of her, as he thought, the captain relit the lamp with his other hand. It showed an extraordinary scene. The door was shut, and the sheriff was guarding it. Halliwell was clutching the cloth of the bailie’s seat. There was no Egyptian.
A moment passed before either man found his tongue.
“Open the door. After her!” cried Halliwell.
But the door would not open. The Egyptian had fled and locked it behind her.
What the two men said to each other, it would not be fitting to tell. When Davidson, who had been gossiping at the corner of the town-house, released his captain and the sheriff, the gypsy had been gone for some minutes.
“But she shan’t escape us,” Riach cried, and hastened out to assist in the pursuit.
Halliwell was in such a furious temper that he called up Davidson and admonished him for neglect of duty.
the little minister
First published serially in Good Words 1891