Only something terrible, Gavin thought, could have brought Babbie to him at such an hour; yet when he left his mother’s room it was to stand motionless on the stair, waiting for a silence in the manse that would not come. A house is never still in darkness to those who listen intently; there is a whispering in distant chambers, an unearthly hand presses the snib of the window, the latch rises. Ghosts were created when the first man woke in the night.
Now Margaret slept. Two hours earlier, Jean, sitting on the salt-bucket, had read the chapter with which she always sent herself to bed. In honour of the little minister she had begun her Bible afresh when he came to Thrums, and was progressing through it, a chapter at night, sighing, perhaps, on washing days at a long chapter, such as Exodus twelfth, but never making two of it. The kitchen wag-at-the-wall clock was telling every room in the house that she had neglected to shut her door. As Gavin felt his way down the dark stair, awakening it into protest at every step, he had a glimpse of the pendulum’s shadow running back and forward on the hearth; he started back from another shadow on the lobby wall, and then seeing it start too, knew it for his own. He opened the door and passed out unobserved; it was as if the sounds and shadows that filled the manse were too occupied with their game to mind an interloper.
“Is that you?” he said to a bush, for the garden was in semi-darkness. Then the lantern’s flash met him, and he saw the Egyptian in the summer-seat.
“At last!” she said, reproachfully. “Evidently a lantern is a poor door-bell.”
“What is it?” Gavin asked, in suppressed excitement, for the least he expected to hear was that she was again being pursued for her share in the riot. The tremor in his voice surprised her into silence, and he thought she faltered because what she had to tell him was so woeful. So, in the darkness of the summer-seat, he kissed her, and she might have known that with that kiss the little minister was hers forever.
Now Babbie had been kissed before, but never thus, and she turned from Gavin, and would have liked to be alone, for she had begun to know what love was, and the flash that revealed it to her laid bare her own shame, so that her impulse was to hide herself from her lover. But of all this Gavin was unconscious, and he repeated his question. The lantern was swaying in her hand, and when she turned fearfully to him its light fell on his face, and she saw how alarmed he was.
“I am going away back to Nanny’s,” she said suddenly, and rose cowed, but he took her hand and held her.
“Babbie,” he said, huskily, “tell me what has happened to bring you here at this hour.”
She sought to pull her hand from him, but could not.
“How you are trembling!” he whispered. “Babbie,” he cried, “something terrible has happened to you, but do not fear. Tell me what it is, and then — then I will take you to my mother: yes, I will take you now.”
The Egyptian would have given all she had in the world to be able to fly from him then, that he might never know her as she was, but it could not be, and so she spoke out remorselessly. If her voice had become hard, it was a new-born scorn of herself that made it so.
“You are needlessly alarmed,” she said; “I am not at all the kind of person who deserves sympathy or expects it. There is nothing wrong. I am staying with Nanny over-night, and only came to Thrums to amuse myself. I chased your policeman down the Roods with my lantern, and then came here to amuse myself with you. That is all.”
“It was nothing but a love of mischief that brought you here?” Gavin asked, sternly, after an unpleasant pause.
“Nothing,” the Egyptian answered, recklessly.
“I could not have believed this of you,” the minister said; “I am ashamed of you.”
“I thought,” Babbie retorted, trying to speak lightly until she could get away from him, “that you would be glad to see me. Your last words in Caddam seemed to justify that idea.”
“I am very sorry to see you,” he answered, reproachfully.
“Then I will go away at once,” she said, stepping out of the summer-seat.
“Yes,” he replied, “you must go at once.”
“Then I won’t,” she said, turning back defiantly. “I know what you are to say: that the Thrums people would be shocked if they knew I was here; as if I cared what the Thrums people think of me.”
“I care what they think of you,” Gavin said, as if that were decisive, “and I tell you I will not allow you to repeat this freak.”
“You ‘will not allow me,’” echoed Babbie, almost enjoying herself, despite her sudden loss of self-respect.
“I will not,” Gavin said, resolutely. “Henceforth you must do as I think fit.”
“Since when have you taken command of me?” demanded Babbie.
“Since a minute ago,” Gavin replied, “when you let me kiss you.”
“Let you!” exclaimed Babbie, now justly incensed. “You did it yourself. I was very angry.”
“No, you were not.”
“I am not allowed to say that even?” asked the Egyptian. “Tell me something I may say, then, and I will repeat it after you.”
“I have something to say to you,” Gavin told her, after a moment’s reflection; “yes, and there is something I should like to hear you repeat after me, but not to-night.”
“I don’t want to hear what it is,” Babbie said, quickly, but she knew what it was, and even then, despite the new pain at her heart, her bosom swelled with pride because this man still loved her. Now she wanted to run away with his love for her before he could take it from her, and then realising that this parting must be forever, a great desire filled her to hear him put that kiss into words, and she said, faltering:
“You can tell me what it is if you like.”
“Not to-night,” said Gavin.
“To-night, if at all,” the gypsy almost entreated.
“To-morrow, at Nanny’s,” answered Gavin, decisively: and this time he remembered without dismay that the morrow was the Sabbath.
In the fairy tale the beast suddenly drops his skin and is a prince, and I believed it seemed to Babbie that some such change had come over this man, her plaything.
“Your lantern is shining on my mother’s window,” were the words that woke her from this discovery, and then she found herself yielding the lantern to him. She became conscious vaguely that a corresponding change was taking place in herself.
“You spoke of taking me to your mother,” she said, bitterly.
“Yes,” he answered at once, “to-morrow”; but she shook her head, knowing that to-morrow he would be wiser.
“Give me the lantern,” she said, in a low voice, “I am going back to Nanny’s now.”
“Yes,” he said, “we must set out now, but I can carry the lantern.”
“You are not coming with me!” she exclaimed, shaking herself free of his hand.
“I am coming,” he replied, calmly, though he was not calm. “Take my arm, Babbie.”
She made a last effort to free herself from bondage, crying passionately, “I will not let you come.”
“When I say I am coming,” Gavin answered between his teeth, “I mean that I am coming, and so let that be an end of this folly. Take my arm.”
“I think I hate you,” she said, retreating from him.
“Take my arm,” he repeated, and, though her breast was rising rebelliously, she did as he ordered, and so he escorted her from the garden. At the foot of the field she stopped, and thought to frighten him by saying, “What would the people say if they saw you with me now?”
“It does not much matter what they would say,” he answered, still keeping his teeth together as if doubtful of their courage. “As for what they would do, that is certain; they would put me out of my church.”
“And it is dear to you?”
“Dearer than life.”
“You told me long ago that your mother’s heart would break if — —”
“Yes, I am sure it would.”
They had begun to climb the fields, but she stopped him with a jerk.
“Go back, Mr. Dishart,” she implored, clutching his arm with both hands. “You make me very unhappy for no purpose. Oh, why should you risk so much for me?”
“I cannot have you wandering here alone at midnight,” Gavin answered, gently.
“That is nothing to me,” she said, eagerly, but no longer resenting his air of proprietorship.
“You will never do it again if I can prevent it.”
“But you cannot,” she said, sadly. “Oh, yes, you can, Mr. Dishart. If you will turn back now I shall promise never to do anything again without first asking myself whether it would seem right to you. I know I acted very wrongly to-night.”
“Only thoughtlessly,” he said.
“Then have pity on me,” she besought him, “and go back. If I have only been thoughtless, how can you punish me thus? Mr. Dishart,” she entreated, her voice breaking, “if you were to suffer for this folly of mine, do you think I could live?”
“We are in God’s hands, dear,” he answered, firmly, and he again drew her arm to him. So they climbed the first field, and were almost at the hill before either spoke again.
“Stop,” Babbie whispered, crouching as she spoke; “I see some one crossing the hill.”
“I have seen him for some time,” Gavin answered, quietly; “but I am doing no wrong, and I will not hide.”
The Egyptian had to walk on with him, and I suppose she did not think the less of him for that. Yet she said, warningly --
“If he sees you, all Thrums will be in an uproar before morning.”
“I cannot help that,” Gavin replied. “It is the will of God.”
“To ruin you for my sins?”
“If He thinks fit.”
The figure drew nearer, and with every step Babbie’s distress doubled.
“We are walking straight to him,” she whispered. “I implore you to wait here until he passes, if not for your own sake, for your mother’s.”
At that he wavered, and she heard his teeth sliding against each other, as if he could no longer clench them.
“But, no,” he said moving on again, “I will not be a skulker from any man. If it be God’s wish that I should suffer for this, I must suffer.”
“Oh, why,” cried Babbie, beating her hands together in grief, “should you suffer for me?”
“You are mine,” Gavin answered. Babbie gasped. “And if you act foolishly,” he continued, “it is right that I should bear the brunt of it. No, I will not let you go on alone; you are not fit to be alone. You need some one to watch over you and care for you and love you, and, if need be, to suffer with you.”
“Turn back, dear, before he sees us.”
“He has seen us.”
Yes, I had seen them, for the figure on the hill was no other than the dominie of Glen Quharity. The park gate clicked as it swung to, and I looked up and saw Gavin and the Egyptian. My eyes should have found them sooner, but it was to gaze upon Margaret’s home, while no one saw me, that I had trudged into Thrums so late, and by that time, I suppose, my eyes were of little service for seeing through. Yet, when I knew that of these two people suddenly beside me on the hill one was the little minister and the other a strange woman, I fell back from their side with dread before I could step forward and cry “Gavin!”
“I am Mr. Dishart,” he answered, with a composure that would not have served him for another sentence. He was more excited than I, for the “Gavin” fell harmlessly on him, while I had no sooner uttered it than there rushed through me the shame of being false to Margaret. It was the only time in my life that I forgot her in him, though he has ever stood next to her in my regard.
I looked from Gavin to the gypsy woman, and again from her to him, and she began to tell a lie in his interest. But she got no farther than “I met Mr. Dishart accid — —” when she stopped, ashamed. It was reverence for Gavin that checked the lie. Not every man has had such a compliment paid him.
“It is natural,” Gavin said, slowly, “that you, sir, should wonder why I am here with this woman at such an hour, and you may know me so little as to think ill of me for it.”
I did not answer, and he misunderstood my silence.
“No,” he continued, in a harder voice, as if I had asked him a question, “I will explain nothing to you. You are not my judge. If you would do me harm, sir, you have it in your power.”
It was with these cruel words that Gavin addressed me. He did not know how cruel they were. The Egyptian, I think, must have seen that his suspicions hurt me, for she said, softly, with a look of appeal in her eyes --
“You are the schoolmaster in Glen Quharity? Then you will perhaps save Mr. Dishart the trouble of coming farther by showing me the way to old Nanny Webster’s house at Windyghoul?”
“I have to pass the house at any rate,” I answered eagerly, and she came quickly to my side.
I knew, though in the darkness I could see but vaguely, that Gavin was holding his head high and waiting for me to say my worst. I had not told him that I dared think no evil of him, and he still suspected me. Now I would not trust myself to speak lest I should betray Margaret, and yet I wanted him to know that base doubts about him could never find a shelter in me. I am a timid man who long ago lost the glory of my life by it, and I was again timid when I sought to let Gavin see that my faith in him was unshaken. I lifted my bonnet to the gypsy, and asked her to take my arm. It was done clumsily, I cannot doubt, but he read my meaning and held out his hand to me. I had not touched it since he was three years old, and I trembled too much to give it the grasp I owed it. He and I parted without a word, but to the Egyptian he said, “To-morrow, dear, I will see you at Nanny’s,” and he was to kiss her, but I pulled her a step farther from him, and she put her hands over her face, crying, “No, no!”
If I asked her some questions between the hill and Windyghoul you must not blame me, for this was my affair as well as theirs. She did not answer me; I know now that she did not hear me. But at the mud house she looked abruptly into my face, and said --
“You love him, too!”
I trudged to the school house with these words for company, and it was less her discovery than her confession that tortured me. How much I slept that night you may guess.
NIGHT — MARGARET — FLASHING OF A LANTERN.
That evening the little minister sat silently in his parlour. Darkness came, and with it weavers rose heavy-eyed from their looms, sleepy children sought their mothers, and the gate of the field above the manse fell forward to let cows pass to their byre; the great Bible was produced in many homes, and the ten o’clock bell clanged its last word to the night. Margaret had allowed the lamp to burn low. Thinking that her boy slept, she moved softly to his side and spread her shawl over his knees. He had forgotten her. The doctor’s warnings scarcely troubled him. He was Babbie’s lover. The mystery of her was only a veil hiding her from other men, and he was looking through it upon the face of his beloved.
It was a night of long ago, but can you not see my dear Margaret still as she bends over her son? Not twice in many days dared the minister snatch a moment’s sleep from grey morning to midnight, and, when this did happen, he jumped up by-and-by in shame, to revile himself for an idler and ask his mother wrathfully why she had not tumbled him out of his chair? To-night Margaret was divided between a desire to let him sleep and a fear of his self-reproach when he awoke; and so, perhaps, the tear fell that roused him.
“I did not like to waken you,” Margaret said, apprehensively. “You must have been very tired, Gavin?”
“I was not sleeping, mother,” he said, slowly. “I was only thinking.”
“Ah, Gavin, you never rise from your loom. It is hardly fair that your hands should be so full of other people’s troubles.”
“They only fill one hand, mother; I carry the people’s joys in the other hand, and that keeps me erect, like a woman between her pan and pitcher. I think the joys have outweighed the sorrows since we came here.”
“It has been all joy to me, Gavin, for you never tell me of the sorrows. An old woman has no right to be so happy.”
“Old woman, mother!” said Gavin. But his indignation was vain. Margaret was an old woman. I made her old before her time.
“As for these terrible troubles,” he went on, “I forget them the moment I enter the garden and see you at your window. And, maybe, I keep some of the joys from you as well as the troubles.”
Words about Babbie leaped to his mouth, but with an effort he restrained them. He must not tell his mother of her until Babbie of her free will had told him all there was to tell.
“I have been a selfish woman, Gavin.”
“You selfish, mother!” Gavin said, smiling. “Tell me when you did not think of others before yourself?”
“Always, Gavin. Has it not been selfishness to hope that you would never want to bring another mistress to the manse? Do you remember how angry you used to be in Glasgow when I said that you would marry some day?”
“I remember,” Gavin said, sadly.
“Yes; you used to say, ‘Don’t speak of such a thing, mother, for the horrid thought of it is enough to drive all the Hebrew out of my head.’ Was not that lightning just now?”
“I did not see it. What a memory you have, mother, for all the boyish things I said.”
“I can’t deny,” Margaret admitted with a sigh, “that I liked to hear you speak in that way, though I knew you would go back on your word. You see, you have changed already.”
“How, mother?” asked Gavin, surprised.
“You said just now that those were boyish speeches. Gavin, I can’t understand the mothers who are glad to see their sons married; though I had a dozen I believe it would be a wrench to lose one of them. It would be different with daughters. You are laughing, Gavin!”
“Yes, at your reference to daughters. Would you not have preferred me to be a girl?”
“‘Deed I would not,” answered Margaret, with tremendous conviction. “Gavin, every woman on earth, be she rich or poor, good or bad, offers up one prayer about her firstborn, and that is, ‘May he be a boy!’”
“I think you are wrong, mother. The banker’s wife told me that there is nothing for which she thanks the Lord so much as that all her children are girls.”
“May she be forgiven for that, Gavin!” exclaimed Margaret; “though she maybe did right to put the best face on her humiliation. No, no, there are many kinds of women in the world, but there never was one yet that didn’t want to begin with a laddie. You can speculate about a boy so much more than about a girl. Gavin, what is it a woman thinks about the day her son is born? yes, and the day before too? She is picturing him a grown man, and a slip of a lassie taking him from her. Ay, that is where the lassies have their revenge on the mothers. I remember as if it were this morning a Harvie fishwife patting your head and asking who was your sweetheart, and I could never thole the woman again. We were at the door of the cottage, and I mind I gripped you up in my arms. You had on a tartan frock with a sash and diamond socks. When I look back, Gavin, it seems to me that you have shot up from that frock to manhood in a single hour.”
“There are not many mothers like you,” Gavin said, laying his hand fondly on Margaret’s shoulder.
“There are many better mothers, but few such sons. It is easily seen why God could not afford me another. Gavin, I am sure that was lightning.”
“I think it was; but don’t be alarmed, mother.”
“I am never frightened when you are with me.”
“And I always will be with you.”
“Ah, if you were married — —”
“Do you think,” asked Gavin, indignantly, “that it would make any difference to you?”
Margaret did not answer. She knew what a difference it would make.
“Except,” continued Gavin, with a man’s obtuseness, “that you would have a daughter as well as a son to love you and take care of you.”
Margaret could have told him that men give themselves away needlessly who marry for the sake of their mother, but all she said was --
“Gavin, I see you can speak more composedly of marrying now than you spoke a year ago. If I did not know better, I should think a Thrums young lady had got hold of you.”
It was a moment before Gavin replied; then he said, gaily --
“Really, mother, the way the best of women speak of each other is lamentable. You say I should be better married, and then you take for granted that every marriageable woman in the neighbourhood is trying to kidnap me. I am sure you did not take my father by force in that way.”
He did not see that Margaret trembled at the mention of his father. He never knew that she was many times pining to lay her head upon his breast and tell him of me. Yet I cannot but believe that she always shook when Adam Dishart was spoken of between them. I cannot think that the long-cherishing of the secret which was hers and mine kept her face steady when that horror suddenly confronted her as now. Gavin would have suspected much had he ever suspected anything.
“I know,” Margaret said, courageously, “that you would be better married; but when it comes to selecting the woman I grow fearful. O Gavin!” she said, earnestly, “it is an awful thing to marry the wrong man!”
Here in a moment had she revealed much, though far from all, and there must have been many such moments between them. But Gavin was thinking of his own affairs.
“You mean the wrong woman, don’t you, mother?” he said, and she hastened to agree. But it was the wrong man she meant.
“The difficulty, I suppose, is to hit upon the right one?” Gavin said, blithely.
“To know which is the right one in time,” answered Margaret, solemnly. “But I am saying nothing against the young ladies of Thrums, Gavin. Though I have scarcely seen them, I know there are good women among them. Jean says — —”
“I believe, mother,” Gavin interposed, reproachfully, “that you have been questioning Jean about them?”
“Just because I was afraid — I mean because I fancied — you might be taking a liking to one of them.”
“And what is Jean’s verdict?”
“She says every one of them would jump at you, like a bird at a berry.”
“But the berry cannot be divided. How would Miss Pennycuick please you, mother?”
“Gavin!” cried Margaret, in consternation, “you don’t mean to —— But you are laughing at me again.”
“Then there is the banker’s daughter?”
“I can’t thole her.”
“Why, I question if you ever set eyes on her, mother.”
“Perhaps not, Gavin; but I have suspected her ever since she offered to become one of your tract distributors.”
“The doctor,” said Gavin, not ill-pleased, “was saying that either of these ladies would suit me.”
“What business has he,” asked Margaret, vindictively, “to put such thoughts into your head?”
“But he only did as you are doing. Mother, I see you will never be satisfied without selecting the woman for me yourself.”
“Ay, Gavin,” said Margaret, earnestly; “and I question if I should be satisfied even then. But I am sure I should be a better guide to you than Dr. McQueen is.”
“I am convinced of that. But I wonder what sort of woman would content you?”
“Whoever pleased you, Gavin, would content me,” Margaret ventured to maintain. “You would only take to a clever woman.”
“She must be nearly as clever as you, mother.”
“Hoots, Gavin,” said Margaret, smiling, “I’m not to be caught with chaff. I am a stupid, ignorant woman.”
“Then I must look out for a stupid, ignorant woman, for that seems to be the kind I like,” answered Gavin, of whom I may confess here something that has to be told sooner or later. It is this: he never realised that Babbie was a great deal cleverer than himself. Forgive him, you who read, if you have any tolerance for the creature, man.
“She will be terribly learned in languages,” pursued Margaret, “so that she may follow you in your studies, as I have never been able to do.”
“Your face has helped me more than Hebrew, mother,” replied Gavin. “I will give her no marks for languages.”
“At any rate,” Margaret insisted, “she must be a grand housekeeper, and very thrifty.”
“As for that,” Gavin said, faltering a little, “one can’t expect it of a mere girl.”
“I should expect it,” maintained his mother.
“No, no; but she would have you,” said Gavin, happily, “to teach her housekeeping.”
“It would be a pleasant occupation to me, that,” Margaret admitted. “And she would soon learn: she would be so proud of her position as mistress of a manse.”
“Perhaps,” Gavin said, doubtfully. He had no doubt on the subject in his college days.
“And we can take for granted,” continued his mother, “that she is a lassie of fine character.”
“Of course,” said Gavin, holding his head high, as if he thought the doctor might be watching him.
“I have thought,” Margaret went on, “that there was a great deal of wisdom in what you said at that last marriage in the manse, the one where, you remember, the best man and the bridesmaid joined hands instead of the bride and bridegroom.”
“What did I say?” asked the little minister, with misgivings.
“That there was great danger when people married out of their own rank of life.”
“Oh — ah — well, of course, that would depend on circumstances.”
“They were wise words, Gavin. There was the sermon, too, that you preached a month or two ago against marrying into other denominations. Jean told me that it greatly impressed the congregation. It is a sad sight, as you said, to see an Auld Licht lassie changing her faith because her man belongs to the U. P.’s.”
“Did I say that?”
“You did, and it so struck Jean that she told me she would rather be an old maid for life, ‘the which,’ she said, ‘is a dismal prospect,’ than marry out of the Auld Licht kirk.”
“Perhaps that was a rather narrow view I took, mother. After all, the fitting thing is that the wife should go with her husband; especially if it is he that is the Auld Licht.”
“I don’t hold with narrowness myself, Gavin,” Margaret said, with an effort, “and admit that there are many respectable persons in the other denominations. But though a weaver might take a wife from another kirk without much scandal, an Auld Licht minister’s madam must be Auld Licht born and bred. The congregation would expect no less. I doubt if they would be sure of her if she came from some other Auld Licht kirk. ‘Deed, though she came from our own kirk, I’m thinking the session would want to catechise her. Ay, and if all you tell me of Lang Tammas be true (for, as you know, I never spoke to him), I warrant he would catechise the session.”
“I would brook no interference from my session,” said Gavin, knitting his brows, “and I do not consider it necessary that a minister’s wife should have been brought up in his denomination. Of course she would join it. We must make allowance, mother, for the thousands of young women who live in places where there is no Auld Licht kirk.”
“You can pity them, Gavin,” said Margaret, “without marrying them. A minister has his congregation to think of.”
“So the doctor says,” interposed her son.
“Then it was just like his presumption!” cried Margaret. “A minister should marry to please himself.”
“Decidedly he should,” Gavin agreed, eagerly, “and the bounden duty of the congregation is to respect and honour his choice. If they forget that duty, his is to remind them of it.”
“Ah, well, Gavin,” said Margaret, confidently, “your congregation are so fond of you that your choice would doubtless be theirs. Jean tells me that even Lang Tammas, though he is so obstinate, has a love for you passing the love of woman. These were her words. Jean is more sentimental than you might think.”
“I wish he would show his love,” said Gavin, “by contradicting me less frequently.”
“You have Rob Dow to weigh against him.”
“No; I cannot make out what has come over Rob lately. He is drinking heavily again, and avoiding me. The lightning is becoming very vivid.”
“Yes, and I hear no thunder. There is another thing, Gavin. I am one of those that like to sit at home, but if you had a wife she would visit the congregation. A truly religious wife would be a great help to you.”
“Religious,” Gavin repeated slowly. “Yes, but some people are religious without speaking of it. If a woman is good she is religious. A good woman who has been, let us say, foolishly brought up, only needs to be shown the right way to tread it. Mother, I question if any man, minister or layman, ever yet fell in love because the woman was thrifty, or clever, or went to church twice on Sabbath.”
“I believe that is true,” Margaret said, “and I would not have it otherwise. But it is an awful thing, Gavin, as you said from the pulpit two weeks ago, to worship only at a beautiful face.”
“You think too much about what I say in the pulpit, mother,” Gavin said, with a sigh, “though of course a man who fell in love merely with a face would be a contemptible creature. Yet I see that women do not understand how beauty affects a man.”
“Yes, yes, my boy — oh, indeed, they do,” said Margaret, who on some matters knew far more than her son.
Twelve o’clock struck, and she rose to go to bed, alarmed lest she should not waken early in the morning. “But I am afraid I shan’t sleep,” she said, “if that lightning continues.”
“It is harmless,” Gavin answered, going to the window. He started back next moment, and crying, “Don’t look out, mother,” hastily pulled down the blind.
“Why, Gavin,” Margaret said in fear, “you look as if it had struck you.”
“Oh, no,” Gavin answered, with a forced laugh, and he lit her lamp for her.
But it had struck him, though it was not lightning. It was the flashing of a lantern against the window to attract his attention, and the holder of the lantern was Babbie.
“Good-night, Gavin. Don’t sit up any later.”
END OF THE STATE OF INDECISION.
Long before I had any thought of writing this story, I had told it so often to my little maid that she now knows some of it better than I. If you saw me looking up from my paper to ask her, “What was it that Birse said to Jean about the minister’s flowers?” or, “Where was Hendry Munn hidden on the night of the riots?” and heard her confident answers, you would conclude that she had been in the thick of these events, instead of born many years after them. I mention this now because I have reached a point where her memory contradicts mine. She maintains that Rob Dow was told of the meeting in the wood by the two boys whom it disturbed, while my own impression is that he was a witness of it. If she is right, Rob must have succeeded in frightening the boys into telling no other person, for certainly the scandal did not spread in Thrums. After all, however, it is only important to know that Rob did learn of the meeting. Its first effect was to send him sullenly to the drink.
Many a time since these events have I pictured what might have been their upshot had Dow confided their discovery to me. Had I suspected why Rob was grown so dour again, Gavin’s future might have been very different. I was meeting Rob now and again in the glen, asking, with an affected carelessness he did not bottom, for news of the little minister, but what he told me was only the gossip of the town; and what I should have known, that Thrums might never know it, he kept to himself. I suppose he feared to speak to Gavin, who made several efforts to reclaim him, but without avail.
Yet Rob’s heart opened for a moment to one man, or rather was forced open by that man. A few days after the meeting at the well, Rob was bringing the smell of whisky with him down Banker’s Close when he ran against a famous staff, with which the doctor pinned him to the wall.
“Ay,” said the outspoken doctor, looking contemptuously into Rob’s bleary eyes, “so this is what your conversion amounts to? Faugh! Rob Dow, if you were half a man the very thought of what Mr. Dishart has done for you would make you run past the public houses.”
“It’s the thocht o’ him that sends me running to them,” growled Rob, knocking down the staff. “Let me alane.”
“What do you mean by that?” demanded McQueen, hooking him this time.
“Speir at himsel’; speir at the woman.”
“Take your staff out o’ my neck.”
“Not till you tell me why you, of all people, are speaking against the minister.”
Torn by a desire for a confidant and loyalty to Gavin, Rob was already in a fury.
“Say again,” he burst forth, “that I was speaking agin the minister and I’ll practise on you what I’m awid to do to her.”
“Who is she?”
“The woman whom the minister —— ?”
“I said nothing about a woman,” said poor Rob, alarmed for Gavin. “Doctor, I’m ready to swear afore a bailie that I never saw them thegither at the Kaims.”
“The Kaims!” exclaimed the doctor suddenly enlightened. “Pooh! you only mean the Egyptian. Rob, make your mind easy about this. I know why he met her there.”
“Do you ken that she has bewitched him; do you ken I saw him trying to put his arms round her; do you ken they have a trysting-place in Caddam wood?”
This came from Rob in a rush, and he would fain have called it all back.
“I’m drunk, doctor, roaring drunk,” he said, hastily, “and it wasna the minister I saw ava; it was another man.”
Nothing more could the doctor draw from Rob, but he had heard sufficient to smoke some pipes on. Like many who pride themselves on being recluses, McQueen loved the gossip that came to him uninvited; indeed, he opened his mouth to it as greedily as any man in Thrums. He respected Gavin, however, too much to find this new dish palatable, and so his researches to discover whether other Auld Lichts shared Rob’s fears were conducted with caution. “Is there no word of your minister’s getting a wife yet?” he asked several, but only got for answers, “There’s word o’ a Glasgow leddy’s sending him baskets o’ flowers,” or “He has his een open, but he’s taking his time; ay, he’s looking for the blade o’ corn in the stack o’ chaff.”
This convinced McQueen that the congregation knew nothing of the Egyptian, but it did not satisfy him, and he made an opportunity of inviting Gavin into the surgery. It was, to the doctor, the cosiest nook in his house, but to me and many others a room that smelled of hearses. On the top of the pipes and tobacco tins that littered the table there usually lay a death certificate, placed there deliberately by the doctor to scare his sister, who had a passion for putting the surgery to rights.
“By the way,” McQueen said, after he and Gavin had talked a little while, “did I ever advise you to smoke?”
“It is your usual form of salutation,” Gavin answered, laughing. “But I don’t think you ever supplied me with a reason.”
“I daresay not. I am too experienced a doctor to cheapen my prescriptions in that way. However, here is one good reason. I have noticed, sir, that at your age a man is either a slave to a pipe or to a woman. Do you want me to lend you a pipe now?”
“Then I am to understand,” asked Gavin, slyly, “that your locket came into your possession in your pre-smoking days, and that you merely wear it from habit?”
“Tuts!” answered the doctor, buttoning his coat. “I told you there was nothing in the locket. If there is, I have forgotten what it is.”
“You are a hopeless old bachelor, I see,” said Gavin, unaware that the doctor was probing him. He was surprised next moment to find McQueen in the ecstasies of one who has won a rubber.
“Now, then,” cried the jubilant doctor, “as you have confessed so much, tell me all about her. Name and address, please.”
“Confess! What have I confessed?”
“It won’t do, Mr. Dishart, for even your face betrays you. No, no, I am an old bird, but I have not forgotten the ways of the fledgelings. ‘Hopeless bachelor,’ sir, is a sweetmeat in every young man’s mouth until of a sudden he finds it sour, and that means the banns. When is it to be?”
“We must find the lady first,” said the minister, uncomfortably.
“You tell me, in spite of that face, that you have not fixed on her?”
“The difficulty, I suppose, would be to persuade her to fix on me.”
“Not a bit of it. But you admit there is some one?”
“Who would have me?”
“You are wriggling out of it. Is it the banker’s daughter?”
“No,” Gavin cried.
“I hear you have walked up the back wynd with her three times this week. The town is in a ferment about it.”
“She is a great deal in the back wynd.”
“Fiddle-de-dee! I am oftener in the back wynd than you, and I never meet her there.”
“That is curious.”
“No, it isn’t, but never mind. Perhaps you have fallen to Miss Pennycuick’s piano? Did you hear it going as we passed the house?”
“She seems always to be playing on her piano.”
“Not she; but you are supposed to be musical, and so when she sees you from her window she begins to thump. If I am in the school wynd and hear the piano going, I know you will turn the corner immediately. However, I am glad to hear it is not Miss Pennycuick. Then it is the factor at the Spittal’s lassie? Well done, sir. You should arrange to have the wedding at the same time as the old earl’s, which comes off in summer, I believe.”
“One foolish marriage is enough in a day, doctor.”
“Eh? You call him a fool for marrying a young wife? Well, no doubt he is, but he would have been a bigger fool to marry an old one. However, it is not Lord Rintoul we are discussing, but Gavin Dishart. I suppose you know that the factor’s lassie is an heiress?”
“And, therefore, would scorn me.”
“Try her,” said the doctor, drily. “Her father and mother, as I know, married on a ten-pound note. But if I am wrong again, I must adopt the popular view in Thrums. It is a Glasgow lady after all? Man, you needn’t look indignant at hearing that the people are discussing your intended. You can no more stop it than a doctor’s orders could keep Lang Tammas out of church. They have discovered that she sends you flowers twice every week.”
“They never reach me,” answered Gavin, then remembered the holly and winced.
“Some,” persisted the relentless doctor, “even speak of your having been seen together; but of course, if she is a Glasgow lady, that is a mistake.”
“Where did they see us?” asked Gavin, with a sudden trouble in his throat.
“You are shaking,” said the doctor, keenly, “like a medical student at his first operation. But as for the story that you and the lady have been seen together, I can guess how it arose. Do you remember that gypsy girl?”
The doctor had begun by addressing the fire, but he suddenly wheeled round and fired his question in the minister’s face. Gavin, however, did not even blink.
“Why should I have forgotten her?” he replied, coolly.
“Oh, in the stress of other occupations. But it was your getting the money from her at the Kaims for Nanny that I was to speak of. Absurd though it seems, I think some dotard must have seen you and her at the Kaims, and mistaken her for the lady.”
McQueen flung himself back in his chair to enjoy this joke.
“Fancy mistaking that woman for a lady!” he said to Gavin, who had not laughed with him.
“I think Nanny has some justification for considering her a lady,” the minister said, firmly.
“Well, I grant that. But what made me guffaw was a vision of the harum-scarum, devil-may-care little Egyptian mistress of an Auld Licht manse!”
“She is neither harum-scarum nor devil-may-care,” Gavin answered, without heat, for he was no longer a distracted minister. “You don’t understand her as I do.”
“No, I seem to understand her differently.”
“What do you know of her?”
“That is just it,” said the doctor, irritated by Gavin’s coolness. “I know she saved Nanny from the poorhouse, but I don’t know where she got the money. I know she can talk fine English when she chooses, but I don’t know where she learned it. I know she heard that the soldiers were coming to Thrums before they knew of their destination themselves, but I don’t know who told her. You who understand her can doubtless explain these matters?”
“She offered to explain them to me,” Gavin answered, still unmoved, “but I forbade her.”
“It is no business of yours, doctor. Forgive me for saying so.”
“In Thrums,” replied McQueen, “a minister’s business is everybody’s business. I have often wondered who helped her to escape from the soldiers that night. Did she offer to explain that to you?”
“She did not.”
“Perhaps,” said the doctor, sharply, “because it was unnecessary?”
“That was the reason.”
“You helped her to escape?”
“And you are not ashamed of it?”
“I am not.”
“Why were you so anxious to screen her?”
“She saved some of my people from gaol.”
“Which was more than they deserved.”
“I have always understood that you concealed two of them in your own stable.”
“Maybe I did,” the doctor had to allow. “But I took my stick to them next morning. Besides, they were Thrums folk, while you had never set eyes on that imp of mischief before.”
“I cannot sit here, doctor, and hear her called names,” Gavin said, rising, but McQueen gripped him by the shoulder.
“For pity’s sake, sir, don’t let us wrangle like a pair of women. I brought you here to speak my mind to you, and speak it I will. I warn you, Mr. Dishart, that you are being watched. You have been seen meeting this lassie in Caddam as well as at the Kaims.”
“Let the whole town watch, doctor. I have met her openly.”
“And why? Oh, don’t make Nanny your excuse.”
“I won’t. I met her because I love her.”
“Are you mad?” cried McQueen. “You speak as if you would marry her.”
“Yes,” replied Gavin, determinedly, “and I mean to do it.”
The doctor flung up his hands.
“I give you up,” he said, raging. “I give you up. Think of your congregation, man.”
“I have been thinking of them, and as soon as I have a right to do so I shall tell them what I have told you.”
“And until you tell them I will keep your madness to myself, for I warn you that, as soon as they do know, there will be a vacancy in the Auld Licht kirk of Thrums.”
“She is a woman,” said Gavin, hesitating, though preparing to go, “of whom any minister might be proud.”
“She is a woman,” the doctor roared, “that no congregation would stand. Oh, if you will go, there is your hat.”
Perhaps Gavin’s face was whiter as he left the house than when he entered it, but there was no other change. Those who were watching him decided that he was looking much as usual, except that his mouth was shut very firm, from which they concluded that he had been taking the doctor to task for smoking. They also noted that he returned to McQueen’s house within half an hour after leaving it, but remained no time.
Some explained this second visit by saying that the minister had forgotten his cravat, and had gone back for it. What really sent him back, however, was his conscience. He had said to McQueen that he helped Babbie to escape from the soldiers because of her kindness to his people, and he returned to own that it was a lie.
Gavin knocked at the door of the surgery, but entered without waiting for a response. McQueen was no longer stamping through the room, red and furious. He had even laid aside his pipe. He was sitting back in his chair, looking half-mournfully, half-contemptuously, at something in his palm. His hand closed instinctively when he heard the door open, but Gavin had seen that the object was an open locket.
“It was only your reference to the thing,” the detected doctor said, with a grim laugh, “that made me open it. Forty years ago, sir, I —— Phew! it is forty-two years, and I have not got over it yet.” He closed the locket with a snap. “I hope you have come back, Dishart, to speak more rationally?”
Gavin told him why he had come back, and the doctor said he was a fool for his pains.
“Is it useless, Dishart, to make another appeal to you?”
“Quite useless, doctor,” Gavin answered, promptly. “My mind is made up at last.”
CIRCUMSTANCES LEADING TO THE FIRST SERMON IN APPROVAL OF WOMEN.
A young man thinks that he alone of mortals is impervious to love, and so the discovery that he is in it suddenly alters his views of his own mechanism. It is thus not unlike a rap on the funny-bone. Did Gavin make this discovery when the Egyptian left him? Apparently he only came to the brink of it and stood blind. He had driven her from him for ever, and his sense of loss was so acute that his soul cried out for the cure rather than for the name of the malady.
In time he would have realised what had happened, but time was denied him, for just as he was starting for the mud house Babbie saved his dignity by returning to him. It was not her custom to fix her eyes on the ground as she walked, but she was doing so now, and at the same time swinging the empty pans. Doubtless she had come back for more water, in the belief that Gavin had gone. He pronounced her name with a sense of guilt, and she looked up surprised, or seemingly surprised, to find him still there.
“I thought you had gone away long ago,” she said stiffly.
“Otherwise,” asked Gavin the dejected, “you would not have come back to the well?”
“I am very sorry. Had you waited another moment I should have been gone.”
This was said in apology, but the wilful Egyptian chose to change its meaning.
“You have no right to blame me for disturbing you,” she declared with warmth.
“I did not. I only — —”
“You could have been a mile away by this time. Nanny wanted more water.”
Babbie scrutinised the minister sharply as she made this statement. Surely her conscience troubled her, for on his not answering immediately she said, “Do you presume to disbelieve me? What could have made me return except to fill the pans again?”
“Nothing,” Gavin admitted eagerly, “and I assure you — —”
Babbie should have been grateful to his denseness, but it merely set her mind at rest.
“Say anything against me you choose,” she told him. “Say it as brutally as you like, for I won’t listen.”
She stopped to hear his response to that, and she looked so cold that it almost froze on Gavin’s lips.
“I had no right,” he said, dolefully, “to speak to you as I did.”
“You had not,” answered the proud Egyptian. She was looking away from him to show that his repentance was not even interesting to her. However, she had forgotten already not to listen.
“What business is it of mine?” asked Gavin, amazed at his late presumption, “whether you are a gypsy or no?”
“And as for the ring — —”
Here he gave her an opportunity of allowing that his curiosity about the ring was warranted. She declined to help him, however, and so he had to go on.
“The ring is yours,” he said, “and why should you not wear it?”
“I am afraid I have a very bad temper.”
He paused for a contradiction, but she nodded her head in agreement.
“And it is no wonder,” he continued, “that you think me a — a brute.”
“I’m sure it is not.”
“But, Babbie, I want you to know that I despise myself for my base suspicions. No sooner did I see them than I loathed them and myself for harbouring them. Despite this mystery, I look upon you as a noble-hearted girl. I shall always think of you so.”
This time Babbie did not reply.
“That was all I had to say,” concluded Gavin, “except that I hope you will not punish Nanny for my sins. Good-bye.”
“Good-bye,” said the Egyptian, who was looking at the well.
The minister’s legs could not have heard him give the order to march, for they stood waiting.
“I thought,” said the Egyptian, after a moment, “that you said you were going.”
“I was only — brushing my hat,” Gavin answered with dignity. “You want me to go?”
She bowed, and this time he did set off.
“You can go if you like,” she remarked now.
He turned at this.
“But you said — —” he began, diffidently.
“No, I did not,” she answered, with indignation.
He could see her face at last.
“You — you are crying!” he exclaimed, in bewilderment.
“Because you are so unfeeling,” sobbed Babbie.
“What have I said, what have I done?” cried Gavin, in an agony of self-contempt. “Oh, that I had gone away at once!”
“That is cruel.”
“To say that.”
“What did I say?”
“That you wished you had gone away.”
“But surely,” the minister faltered, “you asked me to go.”
“How can you say so?” asked the gypsy, reproachfully.
Gavin was distracted. “On my word,” he said, earnestly, “I thought you did. And now I have made you unhappy. Babbie, I wish I were anybody but myself; I am a hopeless lout.”
“Now you are unjust,” said Babbie, hiding her face.
“Again? To you?”
“No, you stupid,” she said, beaming on him in her most delightful manner, “to yourself!”
She gave him both her hands impetuously, and he did not let them go until she added:
“I am so glad that you are reasonable at last. Men are so much more unreasonable than women, don’t you think?”
“Perhaps we are,” Gavin said, diplomatically.
“Of course you are. Why, every one knows that. Well, I forgive you; only remember, you have admitted that it was all your fault?”
She was pointing her finger at him like a schoolmistress, and Gavin hastened to answer --
“You were not to blame at all.”
“I like to hear you say that,” explained the representative of the more reasonable sex, “because it was really all my fault.”
“Yes, it was; but of course I could not say so until you had asked my pardon. You must understand that?”
The representative of the less reasonable sex could not understand it, but he agreed recklessly, and it seemed so plain to the woman that she continued confidentially --
“I pretended that I did not want to make it up, but I did.”
“Did you?” asked Gavin, elated.
“Yes, but nothing could have induced me to make the first advance. You see why?”
“Because I was so unreasonable?” asked Gavin, doubtfully.
“Yes, and nasty. You admit you were nasty?”
“Undoubtedly, I have an evil temper. It has brought me to shame many times.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” said the Egyptian, charitably. “I like it. I believe I admire bullies.”
“Did I bully you?”
“I never knew such a bully. You quite frightened me.”
Gavin began to be less displeased with himself.
“You are sure,” inquired Babbie, “that you had no right to question me about the ring?”
“Certain,” answered Gavin.
“Then I will tell you all about it,” said Babbie, “for it is natural that you should want to know.”
He looked eagerly at her, and she had become serious and sad.
“I must tell you at the same time,” she said, “who I am, and then — then we shall never see each other any more.”
“Why should you tell me?” cried Gavin, his hand rising to stop her.
“Because you have a right to know,” she replied, now too much in earnest to see that she was yielding a point. “I should prefer not to tell you; yet there is nothing wrong in my secret, and it may make you think of me kindly when I have gone away.”
“Don’t speak in that way, Babbie, after you have forgiven me.”
“Did I hurt you? It was only because I know that you cannot trust me while I remain a mystery. I know 174 you would try to trust me, but doubts would cross your mind. Yes, they would; they are the shadows that mysteries cast. Who can believe a gypsy if the odds are against her?”
“I can,” said Gavin; but she shook her head, and so would he had he remembered three recent sermons of his own preaching.
“I had better tell you all,” she said, with an effort.
“It is my turn now to refuse to listen to you,” exclaimed Gavin, who was only a chivalrous boy. “Babbie, I should like to hear your story, but until you want to tell it to me I will not listen to it. I have faith in your honour, and that is sufficient.”
It was boyish, but I am glad Gavin said it; and now Babbie admired something in him that deserved admiration. His faith, no doubt, made her a better woman.
“I admit that I would rather tell you nothing just now,” she said, gratefully. “You are sure you will never say again that you don’t understand me?”
“Quite sure,” said Gavin, bravely. “And by-and-by you will offer to tell me of your free will?”
“Oh, don’t let us think of the future,” answered Babbie. “Let us be happy for the moment.”
This had been the Egyptian’s philosophy always, but it was ill-suited for Auld Licht ministers, as one of them was presently to discover.
“I want to make one confession, though,” Babbie continued, almost reluctantly. “When you were so nasty a little while ago, I didn’t go back to Nanny’s. I stood watching you from behind a tree, and then, for an excuse to come back, I — I poured out the water. Yes, and I told you another lie. I really came back to admit that it was all my fault, if I could not get you to say that it was yours. I am so glad you gave in first.”
She was very near him, and the tears had not yet dried on her eyes. They were laughing eyes, eyes in 175 distress, imploring eyes. Her pale face, smiling, sad, dimpled, yet entreating forgiveness, was the one prominent thing in the world to him just then. He wanted to kiss her. He would have done it as soon as her eyes rested on his, but she continued without regarding him --
“How mean that sounds! Oh, if I were a man I should wish to be everything that I am not, and nothing that I am. I should scorn to be a liar, I should choose to be open in all things, I should try to fight the world honestly. But I am only a woman, and so — well, that is the kind of man I should like to marry.”
“A minister may be all these things,” said Gavin, breathlessly.
“The man I could love,” Babbie went on, not heeding him, almost forgetting that he was there, “must not spend his days in idleness as the men I know do.”
“I do not.”
“He must be brave, no mere worker among others, but a leader of men.”
“All ministers are.”
“Who makes his influence felt.”
“And takes the side of the weak against the strong, even though the strong be in the right.”
“Always my tendency.”
“A man who has a mind of his own, and having once made it up stands to it in defiance even of — —”
“Of his session.”
“Of the world. He must understand me.”
“And be my master.”
“It is his lawful position in the house.”
“He must not yield to my coaxing or tempers.”
“It would be weakness.”
“But compel me to do his bidding; yes, even thrash me if — —”
“If you won’t listen to reason. Babbie,” cried Gavin, “I am that man!”
Here the inventory abruptly ended, and these two people found themselves staring at each other, as if of a sudden they had heard something dreadful. I do not know how long they stood thus, motionless and horrified. I cannot tell even which stirred first. All I know is that almost simultaneously they turned from each other and hurried out of the wood in opposite directions.
CADDAM — LOVE LEADING TO A RUPTURE.
Gavin told himself not to go near the mud house on the following Monday; but he went. The distance is half a mile, and the time he took was two hours. This was owing to his setting out due west to reach a point due north; yet with the intention of deceiving none save himself. His reason had warned him to avoid the Egyptian, and his desires had consented to be dragged westward because they knew he had started too soon. When the proper time came they knocked reason on the head and carried him straight to Caddam. Here reason came to, and again began to state its case. Desires permitted him to halt, as if to argue the matter out, but were thus tolerant merely because from where he stood he could see Nanny’s doorway. When Babbie emerged from it reason seems to have made one final effort, for Gavin quickly took that side of a tree which is loved of squirrels at the approach of an enemy. He looked round the tree-trunk at her, and then reason discarded him. The gypsy had two empty pans in her hands. For a second she gazed in the minister’s direction, then demurely leaped the ditch of leaves that separated Nanny’s yard from Caddam, and strolled into the wood. Discovering with indignation that he had been skulking behind the tree, Gavin came into the open. How good of the Egyptian, he reflected, to go to the well for water, and thus save the old woman’s arms! Reason shouted from near the manse (he only heard the echo) that he could still make up on it. “Come along,” said his desires, and marched him prisoner to the well.
The path which Babbie took that day is lost in blaeberry leaves now, and my little maid and I lately searched for an hour before we found the well. It was dry, choked with broom and stones, and broken rusty pans, but we sat down where Babbie and Gavin had talked, and I stirred up many memories. Probably two of those pans, that could be broken in the hands to-day like shortbread, were Nanny’s, and almost certainly the stones are fragments from the great slab that used to cover the well. Children like to peer into wells to see what the world is like at the other side, and so this covering was necessary. Rob Angus was the strong man who bore the stone to Caddam, flinging it a yard before him at a time. The well had also a wooden lid with leather hinges, and over this the stone was dragged.
Gavin arrived at the well in time to offer Babbie the loan of his arms. In her struggle she had taken her lips into her mouth, but in vain did she tug at the stone, which refused to do more than turn round on the wood. But for her presence, the minister’s efforts would have been equally futile. Though not strong, however, he had the national horror of being beaten before a spectator, and once at school he had won a fight by telling his big antagonist to come on until the boy was tired of pummelling him. As he fought with the stone now, pains shot through his head, and his arms threatened to come away at the shoulders; but remove it he did.
“How strong you are!” Babbie said with open admiration.
I am sure no words of mine could tell how pleased the minister was; yet he knew he was not strong, and might have known that she had seen him do many things far more worthy of admiration without admiring them. This, indeed, is a sad truth, that we seldom give our love to what is worthiest in its object.
“How curious that we should have met here,” Babbie said, in her dangerously friendly way, as they filled the pans. “Do you know I quite started when your shadow fell suddenly on the stone. Did you happen to be passing through the wood?”
“No,” answered truthful Gavin, “I was looking for you. I thought you saw me from Nanny’s door.”
“Did you? I only saw a man hiding behind a tree, and of course I knew it could not be you.”
Gavin looked at her sharply, but she was not laughing at him.
“It was I,” he admitted; “but I was not exactly hiding behind the tree.”
“You had only stepped behind it for a moment,” suggested the Egyptian.
Her gravity gave way to laughter under Gavin’s suspicious looks, but the laughing ended abruptly. She had heard a noise in the wood, Gavin heard it too, and they both turned round in time to see two ragged boys running from them. When boys are very happy they think they must be doing wrong, and in a wood, of which they are among the natural inhabitants, they always take flight from the enemy, adults, if given time. For my own part, when I see a boy drop from a tree I am as little surprised as if he were an apple or a nut. But Gavin was startled, picturing these spies handing in the new sensation about him at every door, as a district visitor distributes tracts. The gypsy noted his uneasiness and resented it.
“What does it feel like to be afraid?” she asked, eyeing him.
“I am afraid of nothing,” Gavin answered, offended in turn.
“Yes, you are. When you saw me come out of Nanny’s you crept behind a tree; when these boys showed themselves you shook. You are afraid of being seen with me. Go away, then; I don’t want you.”
“Fear,” said Gavin, “is one thing, and prudence is another.”
“Another name for it,” Babbie interposed.
“Not at all; but I owe it to my position to be careful. Unhappily, you do not seem to feel — to recognise — to know — —”
“To know what?”
“Let us avoid the subject.”
“No,” the Egyptian said, petulantly. “I hate not to be told things. Why must you be ‘prudent?’”
“You should see,” Gavin replied, awkwardly, “that there is a — a difference between a minister and a gypsy.”
“But if I am willing to overlook it?” asked Babbie, impertinently.
Gavin beat the brushwood mournfully with his staff.
“I cannot allow you,” he said, “to talk disrespectfully of my calling. It is the highest a man can follow. I wish — —”
He checked himself; but he was wishing she could see him in his pulpit.
“I suppose,” said the gypsy, reflectively, “one must be very clever to be a minister.”
“As for that — —” answered Gavin, waving his hand grandly.
“And it must be nice, too,” continued Babbie, “to be able to speak for a whole hour to people who can neither answer nor go away. Is it true that before you begin to preach you lock the door to keep the congregation in?”
“I must leave you if you talk in that way.”
“I only wanted to know.”
“Oh, Babbie, I am afraid you have little acquaintance with the inside of churches. Do you sit under anybody?”
“Do I sit under anybody?” repeated Babbie, blankly.
Is it any wonder that the minister sighed? “Whom do you sit under?” was his form of salutation to strangers.
“I mean, where do you belong?” he said.
“Wanderers,” Babbie answered, still misunderstanding him, “belong to nowhere in particular.”
“I am only asking you if you ever go to church?”
“Oh, that is what you mean. Yes, I go often.”
“You promised not to ask questions.”
“I only mean what denomination do you belong to?”
“Oh, the — the —— Is there an English church denomination?”
“Well, that is my denomination,” said Babbie, cheerfully. “Some day, though, I am coming to hear you preach. I should like to see how you look in your gown.”
“We don’t wear gowns.”
“What a shame! But I am coming, nevertheless. I used to like going to church in Edinburgh.”
“You have lived in Edinburgh?”
“We gypsies have lived everywhere,” Babbie said, lightly, though she was annoyed at having mentioned Edinburgh.
“But all gypsies don’t speak as you do,” said Gavin, puzzled again. “I don’t understand you.”
“Of course you dinna,” replied Babbie, in broad Scotch. “Maybe, if you did, you would think that it’s mair imprudent in me to stand here cracking clavers wi’ the minister than for the minister to waste his time cracking wi’ me.”
“Then why do it?”
“Because —— Oh, because prudence and I always take different roads.”
“Tell me who you are, Babbie,” the minister entreated; “at least, tell me where your encampment is.”
“You have warned me against imprudence,” she said.
“I want,” Gavin continued, earnestly, “to know your people, your father and mother.”
“Because,” he answered, stoutly, “I like their daughter.”
At that Babbie’s fingers played on one of the pans, and, for the moment, there was no more badinage in her.
“You are a good man,” she said, abruptly; “but you will never know my parents.”
“Are they dead?”
“They may be; I cannot tell.”
“This is all incomprehensible to me.”
“I suppose it is. I never asked any one to understand me.”
“Perhaps not,” said Gavin, excitedly; “but the time has come when I must know everything of you that is to be known.”
Babbie receded from him in quick fear.
“You must never speak to me in that way again,” she said, in a warning voice.
“In what way?”
Gavin knew what way very well, but he thirsted to hear in her words what his own had implied. She did not choose to oblige him, however.
“You never will understand me,” she said. “I daresay I might be more like other people now, if — if I had been brought up differently. Not,” she added, passionately, “that I want to be like others. Do you never feel, when you have been living a humdrum life for months, that you must break out of it, or go crazy?”
Her vehemence alarmed Gavin, who hastened to reply --
“My life is not humdrum. It is full of excitement, anxieties, pleasures, and I am too fond of the pleasures. Perhaps it is because I have more of the luxuries of life than you that I am so content with my lot.”
“Why, what can you know of luxuries?”
“I have eighty pounds a year.”
Babbie laughed. “Are ministers so poor?” she asked, calling back her gravity.
“It is a considerable sum,” said Gavin, a little hurt, for it was the first time he had ever heard any one speak disrespectfully of eighty pounds.
The Egyptian looked down at her ring, and smiled.
“I shall always remember your saying that,” she told him, “after we have quarrelled.”
“We shall not quarrel,” said Gavin, decidedly.
“Oh, yes, we shall.”
“We might have done so once, but we know each other too well now.”
“That is why we are to quarrel.”
“About what?” said the minister. “I have not blamed you for deriding my stipend, though how it can seem small in the eyes of a gypsy — —”
“Who can afford,” broke in Babbie, “to give Nanny seven shillings a week?”
“True,” Gavin said, uncomfortably, while the Egyptian again toyed with her ring. She was too impulsive to be reticent except now and then, and suddenly she said, “You have looked at this ring before now. Do you know that if you had it on your finger you would be more worth robbing than with eighty pounds in each of your pockets?”
“Where did you get it?” demanded Gavin, fiercely.
“I am sorry I told you that,” the gypsy said, regretfully.
“Tell me how you got it,” Gavin insisted, his face now hard.
“Now, you see, we are quarrelling.”
“I must know.”
“Must know! You forget yourself,” she said haughtily.
“No, but I have forgotten myself too long. Where did you get that ring?”
“Good afternoon to you,” said the Egyptian, lifting her pans.
“It is not good afternoon,” he cried, detaining her. “It is good-bye for ever, unless you answer me.”
“As you please,” she said. “I will not tell you where I got my ring. It is no affair of yours.”
“Yes, Babbie, it is.”
She was not, perhaps, greatly grieved to hear him say so, for she made no answer.
“You are no gypsy,” he continued, suspiciously.
“Perhaps not,” she answered, again taking the pans.
“This dress is but a disguise.”
“It may be. Why don’t you go away and leave me?”
“I am going,” he replied, wildly. “I will have no more to do with you. Formerly I pitied you, but — —”
He could not have used a word more calculated to rouse the Egyptian’s ire, and she walked away with her head erect. Only once did she look back, and it was to say --
“This is prudence — now.”
the little minister
First published serially in Good Words 1891