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