INTRUSION OF HAGGART INTO THESE PAGES AGAINST THE AUTHOR’S WISH.
Margaret having heard the doctor say that one may catch cold in the back, had decided instantly to line Gavin’s waistcoat with flannel. She was thus engaged, with pins in her mouth and the scissors hiding from her every time she wanted them, when Jean, red and flurried, abruptly entered the room.
“There! I forgot to knock at the door again,” Jean exclaimed, pausing contritely.
“Never mind. Is it Rob Dow wanting the minister?” asked Margaret, who had seen Rob pass the manse dyke.
“Na, he wasna wanting to see the minister.”
“Ah, then, he came to see you, Jean,” said Margaret, archly.
“A widow man!” cried Jean, tossing her head. “But Rob Dow was in no condition to be friendly wi’ onybody the now.”
“Jean, you don’t mean that he has been drinking again?”
“I canna say he was drunk.”
“Then what condition was he in?”
“He was in a — a swearing condition,” Jean answered, guardedly. “But what I want to speir at you is, can I gang down to the Tenements for a minute? I’ll run there and back.”
“Certainly you can go, Jean, but you must not run. You are always running. Did Dow bring you word that you were wanted in the Tenements?”
“No exactly, but I — I want to consult Tammas Haggart about — about something.”
“About Dow, I believe, Jean?”
“Na, but about something he has done. Oh, ma’am, you surely dinna think I would take a widow man?”
It was the day after Gavin’s meeting with the Egyptian at the Kaims, and here is Jean’s real reason for wishing to consult Haggart. Half an hour before she hurried to the parlour she had been at the kitchen door wondering whether she should spread out her washing in the garret or risk hanging it in the courtyard. She had just decided on the garret when she saw Rob Dow morosely regarding her from the gateway.
“Whaur is he?” growled Rob.
“He’s out, but it’s no for me to say whaur he is,” replied Jean, whose weakness was to be considered a church official. “No that I ken,” truthfulness compelled her to add, for she had an ambition to be everything she thought Gavin would like a woman to be.
Rob seized her wrists viciously and glowered into her face.
“You’re ane o’ them,” he said.
“Let me go. Ane o’ what?”
“Ane o’ thae limmers called women.”
“Sal,” retorted Jean with spirit, “you’re ane o’ thae brutes called men. You’re drunk, Rob Dow.”
“In the legs maybe, but no higher. I haud a heap.”
“Drunk again, after all your promises to the minister! And you said yoursel’ that he had pulled you out o’ hell by the root.”
“It’s himsel’ that has flung me back again,” Rob said, wildly. “Jean Baxter, what does it mean when a minister carries flowers in his pouch; ay, and takes them out to look at them ilka minute?”
“How do you ken about the holly?” asked Jean, off her guard.
“You limmer,” said Dow, “you’ve been in his pouches.”
“It’s a lie!” cried the outraged Jean. “I just saw the holly this morning in a jug on his chimley.”
“Carefully put by? Is it hod on the chimley? Does he stand looking at it? Do you tell me he’s fond-like o’t?”
“Mercy me!” Jean exclaimed, beginning to shake; “wha is she, Rob Dow?”
“Let me see it first in its jug,” Rob answered, slyly, “and syne I may tell you.”
This was not the only time Jean had been asked to show the minister’s belongings. Snecky Hobart, among others, had tried on Gavin’s hat in the manse kitchen, and felt queer for some time afterwards. Women had been introduced on tiptoe to examine the handle of his umbrella. But Rob had not come to admire. He snatched the holly from Jean’s hands, and casting it on the ground pounded it with his heavy boots, crying, “Greet as you like, Jean. That’s the end o’ his flowers, and if I had the tawpie he got them frae I would serve her in the same way.”
“I’ll tell him what you’ve done,” said terrified Jean, who had tried to save the berries at the expense of her fingers.
“Tell him,” Dow roared; “and tell him what I said too. Ay, and tell him I was at the Kaims yestreen. Tell him I’m hunting high and low for an Egyptian woman.”
He flung recklessly out of the courtyard, leaving Jean looking blankly at the mud that had been holly lately. Not his act of sacrilege was distressing her, but his news. Were these berries a love token? Had God let Rob Dow say they were a gypsy’s love token, and not slain him?
That Rob spoke of the Egyptian of the riots Jean never doubted. It was known that the minister had 154 met this woman in Nanny Webster’s house, but was it not also known that he had given her such a talking-to as she could never come above? Many could repeat the words in which he had announced to Nanny that his wealthy friends in Glasgow were to give her all she needed. They could also tell how majestic he looked when he turned the Egyptian out of the house. In short, Nanny having kept her promise of secrecy, the people had been forced to construct the scene in the mud house for themselves, and it was only their story that was known to Jean.
She decided that, so far as the gypsy was concerned, Rob had talked trash. He had seen the holly in the minister’s hand, and, being in drink, had mixed it up with the gossip about the Egyptian. But that Gavin had preserved the holly because of the donor was as obvious to Jean as that the vase in her hand was empty. Who could she be? No doubt all the single ladies in Thrums were in love with him, but that, Jean was sure, had not helped them a step forward.
To think was to Jean a waste of time. Discovering that she had been thinking, she was dismayed. There were the wet clothes in the basket looking reproachfully at her. She hastened back to Gavin’s room with the vase, but it too had eyes, and they said, “When the minister misses his holly he will question you.” Now Gavin had already smiled several times to Jean, and once he had marked passages for her in her “Pilgrim’s Progress,” with the result that she prized the marks more even than the passages. To lose his good opinion was terrible to her. In her perplexity she decided to consult wise Tammas Haggart, and hence her appeal to Margaret.
To avoid Chirsty, the humourist’s wife, Jean sought Haggart at his workshop window, which was so small that an old book sufficed for its shutter. Haggart, whom she could see distinctly at his loom, soon guessed from her knocks and signs (for he was strangely quick in the uptake) that she wanted him to open the window.
“I want to speak to you confidentially,” Jean said in a low voice. “If you saw a grand man gey fond o’ a flower, what would you think?”
“I would think, Jean,” Haggart answered, reflectively, “that he had gien siller for’t; ay, I would wonder — —”
“What would you wonder?”
“I would wonder how muckle he paid.”
“But if he was a — a minister, and keepit the flower — say it was a common rose — fond-like on his chimley, what would you think?”
“I would think it was a black-burning disgrace for a minister to be fond o’ flowers.”
“I dinna haud wi’ that.”
“Jean,” said Haggart, “I allow no one to contradict me.”
“It wasna my design. But, Tammas, if a — a minister was fond o’ a particular flower — say a rose — and you destroyed it by an accident, when he wasna looking, what would you do?”
“I would gie him another rose for’t.”
“But if you didna want him to ken you had meddled wi’t on his chimley, what would you do?”
“I would put the new rose on the chimley, and he would never ken the differ.”
“That’s what I’ll do,” muttered Jean, but she said aloud --
“But it micht be that particular rose he liked?”
“Havers, Jean. To a thinking man one rose is identical wi’ another rose. But how are you speiring?”
“Just out o’ curiosity, and I maun be stepping now. Thank you kindly, Tammas, for your humour.”
“You’re welcome,” Haggart answered, and closed his window.
That day Rob Dow spent in misery, but so little were his fears selfish that he scarcely gave a thought to his conduct at the manse. For an hour he sat at his loom with his arms folded. Then he slouched out of the house, cursing little Micah, so that a neighbour cried “You drucken scoundrel!” after him. “He may be a wee drunk,” said Micah in his father’s defence, “but he’s no mortal.” Rob wandered to the Kaims in search of the Egyptian, and returned home no happier. He flung himself upon his bed and dared Micah to light the lamp. About gloaming he rose, unable to keep his mouth shut on his thoughts any longer, and staggered to the Tenements to consult Haggart. He found the humourist’s door ajar, and Wearyworld listening at it. “Out o’ the road!” cried Rob, savagely, and flung the policeman into the gutter.
“That was ill-dune, Rob Dow,” Wearyworld said, picking himself up leisurely.
“I’m thinking it was weel-dune,” snarled Rob.
“Ay,” said Wearyworld, “we needna quarrel about a difference o’ opeenion; but, Rob — —”
Dow, however, had already entered the house and slammed the door.
“Ay, ay,” muttered Wearyworld, departing, “you micht hae stood still, Rob, and argued it out wi’ me.”
In less than an hour after his conversation with Jean at the window it had suddenly struck Haggart that the minister she spoke of must be Mr. Dishart. In two hours he had confided his suspicions to Chirsty. In ten minutes she had filled the house with gossips. Rob arrived to find them in full cry.
“Ay, Rob,” said Chirsty, genially, for gossip levels ranks, “you’re just in time to hear a query about the minister.”
“Rob,” said the Glen Quharity post, from whom I subsequently got the story, “Mr. Dishart has fallen in — in — what do you call the thing, Chirsty?”
Birse knew well what the thing was called, but the word is a staggerer to say in company.
“In love,” answered Chirsty, boldly.
“Now we ken what he was doing in the country yestreen,” said Snecky Hobart, “the which has been bothering us sair.”
“The manse is fu’ o’ the flowers she sends him,” said Tibbie Craik. “Jean’s at her wits’-end to ken whaur to put them a’.”
“Wha is she?”
It was Rob Dow who spoke. All saw he had been drinking, or they might have wondered at his vehemence. As it was, everybody looked at every other body, and then everybody sighed.
“Ay, wha is she?” repeated several.
“I see you ken nothing about her,” said Rob, much relieved; and he then lapsed into silence.
“We ken a’ about her,” said Snecky, “except just wha she is. Ay, that’s what we canna bottom. Maybe you could guess, Tammas?”
“Maybe I could, Sneck,” Haggart replied, cautiously; “but on that point I offer no opinion.”
“If she bides on the Kaims road,” said Tibbie Craik, “she maun be a farmer’s dochter. What say you to Bell Finlay?”
“Na; she’s U. P. But it micht be Loups o’ Malcolm’s sister. She’s promised to Muckle Haws; but no doubt she would gie him the go-by at a word frae the minister.”
“It’s mair likely,” said Chirsty, “to be the factor at the Spittal’s lassie. The factor has a grand garden, and that would account for such basketfuls o’ flowers.”
“Whaever she is,” said Birse, “I’m thinking he could hae done better.”
“I’ll be fine pleased wi’ ony o’ them,” said Tibbie, who had a magenta silk, and so was jealous of no one.
“It hasna been proved,” Haggart pointed out, “that 158 the flowers came frae thae parts. She may be sending them frae Glasgow.”
“I aye understood it was a Glasgow lady,” said Snecky. “He’ll be like the Tilliedrum minister that got a lady to send him to the college on the promise that he would marry her as soon as he got a kirk. She made him sign a paper.”
“The far-seeing limmer,” exclaimed Chirsty. “But if that’s what Mr. Dishart has done, how has he kept it so secret?”
“He wouldna want the women o’ the congregation to ken he was promised till after they had voted for him.”
“I dinna haud wi’ that explanation o’t,” said Haggart, “but I may tell you that I ken for sure she’s a Glasgow leddy. Lads, ministers is near aye bespoke afore they’re licensed. There’s a michty competition for them in the big toons. Ay, the leddies just stand at the college gates, as you may say, and snap them up as they come out.”
“And just as well for the ministers, I’se uphaud,” said Tibbie, “for it saves them a heap o’ persecution when they come to the like o’ Thrums. There was Mr. Meiklejohn, the U. P. minister: he was no sooner placed than every genteel woman in the town was persecuting him. The Miss Dobies was the maist shameless; they fair hunted him.”
“Ay,” said Snecky; “and in the tail o’ the day ane o’ them snacked him up. Billies, did you ever hear o’ a minister being refused?”
“Weel, then, I have; and by a widow woman too. His name was Samson, and if it had been Tamson she would hae ta’en him. Ay, you may look, but it’s true. Her name was Turnbull, and she had another gent after her, name o’ Tibbets. She couldna make up her mind atween them, and for a while she just keeped them dangling on. Ay, but in the end she took Tibbets. And 159 what, think you, was her reason? As you ken, thae grand folk has their initials on their spoons and nichtgowns. Ay, weel, she thocht it would be mair handy to take Tibbets, because if she had ta’en the minister the T’s would have had to be changed to S’s. It was thoctfu’ o’ her.”
“Is Tibbets living?” asked Haggart sharply.
“No; he’s dead.”
“What,” asked Haggart, “was the corp to trade?”
“I dinna ken.”
“I thocht no,” said Haggart, triumphantly. “Weel, I warrant he was a minister too. Ay, catch a woman giving up a minister, except for another minister.”
All were looking on Haggart with admiration, when a voice from the door cried --
“Listen, and I’ll tell you a queerer ane than that.”
“Dagont,” cried Birse, “it’s Wearywarld, and he has been hearkening. Leave him to me.”
When the post returned, the conversation was back at Mr. Dishart.
“Yes, lathies,” Haggart was saying, “daftness about women comes to all, gentle and simple, common and colleged, humourists and no humourists. You say Mr. Dishart has preached ower muckle at women to stoop to marriage, but that makes no differ. Mony a humorous thing hae I said about women, and yet Chirsty has me. It’s the same wi’ ministers. A’ at aince they see a lassie no’ unlike ither lassies, away goes their learning, and they skirl out, ‘You dawtie!’ That’s what comes to all.”
“But it hasna come to Mr. Dishart,” cried Rob Dow, jumping to his feet. He had sought Haggart to tell him all, but now he saw the wisdom of telling nothing. “I’m sick o’ your blathers. Instead o’ the minister’s being sweethearting yesterday, he was just at the Kaims visiting the gamekeeper. I met him in the Wast town-end, and gaed there and back wi’ him.”
“That’s proof it’s a Glasgow leddy,” said Snecky.
“I tell you there’s no leddy ava!” swore Rob.
“Yea, and wha sends the baskets o’ flowers, then?”
“There was only one flower,” said Rob, turning to his host.
“I aye understood,” said Haggart heavily, “that there was only one flower.”
“But though there was just ane,” persisted Chirsty, “what we want to ken is wha gae him it.”
“It was me that gae him it,” said Rob; “it was growing on the roadside, and I plucked it and gae it to him.”
The company dwindled away shamefacedly, yet unconvinced; but Haggart had courage to say slowly --
“Yes, Rob, I had aye a notion that he got it frae you.”
Meanwhile, Gavin, unaware that talk about him and a woman unknown had broken out in Thrums, was gazing, sometimes lovingly and again with scorn, at a little bunch of holly-berries which Jean had gathered from her father’s garden. Once she saw him fling them out of his window, and then she rejoiced. But an hour afterwards she saw him pick them up, and then she mourned. Nevertheless, to her great delight, he preached his third sermon against Woman on the following Sabbath. It was universally acknowledged to be the best of the series. It was also the last.
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 little minister
First published serially in Good Words 1891