THE GLEN AT BREAK OF DAY.
My first intimation that the burns were in flood came from Waster Lunny, close on the strike of ten o’clock. This was some minutes before they had any rain in Thrums. I was in the school-house, now piecing together the puzzle Lord Rintoul had left with me, and anon starting upright as McKenzie’s hand seemed to tighten on my arm. Waster Lunny had been whistling to me (with his fingers in his mouth) for some time before I heard him and hurried out. I was surprised and pleased, knowing no better, to be met on the threshold by a whisk of rain.
The night was not then so dark but that when I reached the Quharity I could see the farmer take shape on the other side of it. He wanted me to exult with him, I thought, in the end of the drought, and I shouted that I would fling him the stilts.
“It’s yoursel’ that wants them,” he answered excitedly, “if you’re fleid to be left alone in the school-house the nicht. Do you hear me, dominie? There has been frichtsome rain among the hills, and the Bog burn is coming down like a sea. It has carried awa the miller’s brig, and the steading o’ Muckle Pirley is standing three feet in water.”
“You’re dreaming, man,” I roared back, but beside his news he held my doubts of no account.
“The Retery’s in flood,” he went on, “and running wild through Hazel Wood; T’nowdunnie’s tattie field’s out o’ sicht, and at the Kirkton they’re fleid they’ve lost twa kye.”
“There has been no rain here,” I stammered, incredulously.
“It’s coming now,” he replied. “And listen: the story’s out that the Backbone has fallen into the loch. You had better cross, dominie, and thole out the nicht wi’ us.”
The Backbone was a piece of mountain-side overhanging a loch among the hills, and legend said that it would one day fall forward and squirt all the water into the glen. Something of the kind had happened, but I did not believe it then; with little wit I pointed to the shallow Quharity.
“It may come down at any minute,” the farmer answered, “and syne, mind you, you’ll be five miles frae Waster Lunny, for there’ll be no crossing but by the Brig o’ March. If you winna come, I maun awa back. I mauna bide langer on the wrang side o’ the Moss ditch, though it has been as dry this month back as a rabbit’s roady. But if you—” His voice changed. “God’s sake, man,” he cried, “you’re ower late. Look at that! Dinna look — run, run!”
If I had not run before he bade me, I might never have run again on earth. I had seen a great shadowy yellow river come riding down the Quharity. I sprang from it for my life; and when next I looked behind, it was upon a turbulent loch, the further bank lost in darkness. I was about to shout to Waster Lunny, when a monster rose in the torrent between me and the spot where he had stood. It frightened me to silence until it fell, when I knew it was but a tree that had been flung on end by the flood. For a time there was no answer to my cries, and I thought the farmer had been swept away. Then I heard his whistle, and back I ran recklessly through the thickening darkness to the school-house. When I saw the tree rise, I had been on ground hardly wet as yet with the rain; but by the time Waster Lunny sent that reassuring whistle to me I was ankle-deep in water, and the rain was coming down like hail. I saw no lightning.
For the rest of the night I was only out once, when I succeeded in reaching the hen-house and brought all my fowls safely to the kitchen, except a hen which would not rise off her young. Between us we had the kitchen floor, a pool of water; and the rain had put out my fires already, as effectually as if it had been an overturned broth-pot. That I never took off my clothes that night I need not say, though of what was happening in the glen I could only guess. A flutter against my window now and again, when the rain had abated, told me of another bird that had flown there to die; and with Waster Lunny, I kept up communication by waving a light, to which he replied in a similar manner. Before morning, however, he ceased to answer my signals, and I feared some catastrophe had occurred at the farm. As it turned out, the family was fighting with the flood for the year’s shearing of wool, half of which eventually went down the waters, with the wool-shed on top of it.
The school-house stands too high to fear any flood, but there were moments when I thought the rain would master it. Not only the windows and the roof were rattling then, but all the walls, and I was like one in a great drum. When the rain was doing its utmost, I heard no other sound; but when the lull came, there was the wash of a heavy river, or a crack as of artillery that told of landslips, or the plaintive cry of the peesweep as it rose in the air, trying to entice the waters away from its nest.
It was a dreary scene that met my gaze at break of day. Already the Quharity had risen six feet, and in many parts of the glen it was two hundred yards wide. Waster Lunny’s cornfield looked like a bog grown over with rushes, and what had been his turnips had become a lake with small islands in it. No dike stood whole except one that the farmer, unaided, had built in a straight line from the road to the top of Mount Bare, and my own, the further end of which dipped in water. Of the plot of firs planted fifty years earlier to help on Waster Lunny’s crops, only a triangle had withstood the night.
Even with the aid of my field-glass I could not estimate the damage on more distant farms, for the rain, though now thin and soft, as it continued for six days, was still heavy and of a brown color. After breakfast — which was interrupted by my bantam cock’s twice spilling my milk — I saw Waster Lunny and his son, Matthew, running towards the shepherd’s house with ropes in their hands. The house, I thought, must be in the midst beyond; and then I sickened, knowing all at once that it should be on this side of the mist. When I had nerve to look again, I saw that though the roof had fallen in, the shepherd was astride one of the walls, from which he was dragged presently through the water by the help of the ropes. I remember noticing that he returned to his house with the rope still about him, and concluded that he had gone back to save some of his furniture. I was wrong, however. There was too much to be done at the farm to allow this, but Waster Lunny had consented to Duncan’s forcing his way back to the shieling to stop the clock. To both men it seemed horrible to let a clock go on ticking in a deserted house.
Having seen this rescue accomplished, I was letting my glass roam in the opposite direction, when one of its shakes brought into view something on my own side of the river. I looked at it long, and saw it move slightly. Was it a human being? No, it was a dog. No, it was a dog and something else. I hurried out to see more clearly, and after a first glance the glass shook so in my hands that I had to rest it on the dike. For a full minute, I daresay, did I look through the glass without blinking, and then I needed to look no more. That black patch was, indeed, Gavin.
He lay quite near the school-house, but I had to make a circuit of half a mile to reach him. It was pitiful to see the dog doing its best to come to me, and falling every few steps. The poor brute was discolored almost beyond recognition; and when at last it reached me, it lay down at my feet and licked them. I stepped over it and ran on recklessly to Gavin. At first I thought he was dead. If tears rolled down my cheeks, they were not for him.
I was no strong man even in those days, but I carried him to the school-house, the dog crawling after us. Gavin I put upon my bed, and I lay down beside him, holding him close to me, that some of the heat of my body might be taken in by his. When he was able to look at me, however, it was not with understanding, and in vain did my anxiety press him with questions. Only now and again would some word in my speech strike upon his brain and produce at least an echo. To “Did you meet Lord Rintoul’s dogcart?” he sat up, saying quickly:
“Listen, the dogcart!”
“Egyptian” was not that forenoon among the words he knew, and I did not think of mentioning “hill.” At “rain” he shivered; but “Spittal” was what told me most.
“He has taken her back,” he replied at once, from which I learned that Gavin now knew as much of Babbie as I did.
I made him as comfortable as possible, and despairing of learning anything from him in his present state, I let him sleep. Then I went out into the rain, very anxious, and dreading what he might have to tell me when he woke. I waded and jumped my way as near to the farm as I dared go, and Waster Lunny, seeing me, came to the water’s edge. At this part the breadth of the flood was not forty yards, yet for a time our voices could no more cross its roar than one may send a snowball through a stone wall. I know not whether the river then quieted for a space, or if it was only that the ears grow used to dins as the eyes distinguish the objects in a room that is at first black to them; but after a little we were able to shout our remarks across, much as boys fling pebbles, many to fall into the water, but one occasionally to reach the other side. Waster Lunny would have talked of the flood, but I had not come here for that.
“How were you home so early from the prayer-meeting last night?” I bawled.
“No meeting ... I came straucht hame ... but terrible stories ... Mr. Dishart,” was all I caught after Waster Lunny had flung his words across a dozen times.
I could not decide whether it would be wise to tell him that Gavin was in the school-house, and while I hesitated he continued to shout:
“Some woman ... the Session ... Lang Tammas ... God forbid ... maun back to the farm ... byre running like a mill-dam.”
He signed to me that he must be off, but my signals delayed him, and after much trouble he got my question, “Any news about Lord Rintoul?” My curiosity about the earl must have surprised him, but he answered:
“Marriage is to be the day ... cannon.”
I signed that I did not grasp his meaning.
“A cannon is to be fired as soon as they’re man and wife,” he bellowed. “We’ll hear it.”
With that we parted. On my way home, I remember, I stepped on a brood of drowned partridge. I was only out half an hour, but I had to wring my clothes as if they were fresh from the tub.
The day wore on, and I did not disturb the sleeper. A dozen times, I suppose, I had to relight my fire of wet peats and roots; but I had plenty of time to stare out at the window, plenty of time to think. Probably Gavin’s life depended on his sleeping, but that was not what kept my hands off him. Knowing so little of what had happened in Thrums since I left it, I was forced to guess, and my conclusion was that the earl had gone off with his own, and that Gavin in a frenzy had followed them. My wisest course, I thought, was to let him sleep until I heard the cannon, when his struggle for a wife must end. Fifty times at least did I stand regarding him as he slept; and if I did not pity his plight sufficiently, you know the reason. What were Margaret’s sufferings at this moment? Was she wringing her hands for her son lost in the flood, her son in disgrace with the congregation? By one o’clock no cannon had sounded, and my suspense had become intolerable. I shook Gavin awake, and even as I shook him demanded a knowledge of all that had happened since we parted at Nanny’s gate.
“How long ago is that?” he asked, with bewilderment.
“It was last night,” I answered. “This morning I found you senseless on the hillside, and brought you here, to the Glen Quharity school-house. That dog was with you.”
He looked at the dog, but I kept my eyes on him, and I saw intelligence creep back, like a blush, into his face.
“Now I remember,” he said, shuddering. “You have proved yourself my friend, sir, twice in the four and twenty hours.”
“Only once, I fear,” I replied gloomily. “I was no friend when I sent you to the earl’s bride last night.”
“You know who she is?” he cried, clutching me, and finding it agony to move his limbs.
“I know now,” I said, and had to tell him how I knew before he would answer another question. Then I became listener, and you who read know to what alarming story.
“And all that time,” I cried reproachfully, when he had done, “you gave your mother not a thought.”
“Not a thought,” he answered; and I saw that he pronounced a harsher sentence on himself than could have come from me. “All that time!” he repeated, after a moment. “It was only a few minutes, while the ten o’clock bell was ringing.”
“Only a few minutes,” I said, “but they changed the channel of the Quharity, and perhaps they have done not less to you.”
“That may be,” he answered gravely, “but it is of the present I must think just now. Mr. Ogilvy, what assurance have I, while lying here helpless, that the marriage at the Spittal is not going on?”
“None, I hope,” I said to myself, and listened longingly for the cannon. But to him I only pointed out that no woman need go through a form of marriage against her will.
“Rintoul carried her off with no possible purport,” he said, “but to set my marriage at defiance, and she has had a conviction always that to marry me would be to ruin me. It was only in the shiver Lord Rintoul’s voice in the darkness sent through her that she yielded to my wishes. If she thought that marriage last night could be annulled by another to-day, she would consent to the second, I believe, to save me from the effects of the first. You are incredulous, sir; but you do not know of what sacrifices love is capable.”
Something of that I knew, but I did not tell him. I had seen from his manner rather than his words that he doubted the validity of the gypsy marriage, which the king had only consented to celebrate because Babbie was herself an Egyptian. The ceremony had been interrupted in the middle.
“It was no marriage,” I said, with a confidence I was far from feeling.
“In the sight of God,” he replied excitedly, “we took each other for man and wife.”
I had to hold him down in bed.
“You are too weak to stand, man,” I said, “and yet you think you could start off this minute for the Spittal.”
“I must go,” he cried. “She is my wife. That impious marriage may have taken place already.”
“Oh, that it had!” was my prayer. “It has not,” I said to him. “A cannon is to be fired immediately after the ceremony, and all the glen will hear it.”
I spoke on the impulse, thinking to allay his desire to be off; but he said, “Then I may yet be in time.” Somewhat cruelly I let him rise, that he might realize his weakness. Every bone in him cried out at his first step, and he sank into a chair.
“You will go to the Spittal for me?” he implored.
“I will not,” I told him. “You are asking me to fling away my life.”
To prove my words I opened the door, and he saw what the flood was doing. Nevertheless, he rose and tottered several times across the room, trying to revive his strength. Though every bit of him was aching, I saw that he would make the attempt.
“Listen to me,” I said. “Lord Rintoul can maintain with some reason that it was you rather than he who abducted Babbie. Nevertheless, there will not, I am convinced, be any marriage at the Spittal to-day. When he carried her off from the Toad’s-hole, he acted under impulses not dissimilar to those that took you to it. Then, I doubt not, he thought possession was all the law, but that scene on the hill has staggered him by this morning. Even though she thinks to save you by marrying him, he will defer his wedding until he learns the import of yours.”
I did not believe in my own reasoning, but I would have said anything to detain him until that cannon was fired. He seemed to read my purpose, for he pushed my arguments from him with his hands, and continued to walk painfully to and fro.
“To defer the wedding,” he said, “would be to tell all his friends of her gypsy origin, and of me. He will risk much to avoid that.”
“In any case,” I answered, “you must now give some thought to those you have forgotten, your mother and your church.”
“That must come afterwards,” he said firmly. “My first duty is to my wife.”
The door swung to sharply just then, and he started. He thought it was the cannon.
“I wish to God it had been!” I cried, interpreting his thoughts.
“Why do you wish me ill?” he asked.
“Mr. Dishart,” I said solemnly, rising and facing him, and disregarding his question, “if that woman is to be your wife, it will be at a cost you cannot estimate till you return to Thrums. Do you think that if your congregation knew of this gypsy marriage they would have you for their minister for another day? Do you enjoy the prospect of taking one who might be an earl’s wife into poverty — ay, and disgraceful poverty? Do you know your mother so little as to think she could survive your shame? Let me warn you, sir, of what I see. I see another minister in the Auld Licht kirk, I see you and your wife stoned through our wynds, stoned from Thrums, as malefactors have been chased out of it ere now; and as certainly as I see these things I see a hearse standing at the manse door, and stern men denying a son’s right to help to carry his mother’s coffin to it. Go your way, sir; but first count the cost.”
His face quivered before these blows, but all he said was, “I must dree my dreed.”
“God is merciful,” I went on, “and these things need not be. He is more merciful to you, sir, than to some, for the storm that He sent to save you is ruining them. And yet the farmers are to-day thanking Him for every pound of wool, every blade of corn He has left them, while you turn from Him because He would save you, not in your way, but in His. It was His hand that stayed your marriage. He meant Babbie for the earl; and if it is on her part a loveless match, she only suffers for her own sins. Of that scene on the hill no one in Thrums, or in the glen, need ever know. Rintoul will see to it that the gypsies vanish from these parts forever, and you may be sure the Spittal will soon be shut up. He and McKenzie have as much reason as yourself to be silent. You, sir, must go back to your congregation, who have heard as yet only vague rumors that your presence will dispel. Even your mother will remain ignorant of what has happened. Your absence from the prayer-meeting you can leave to me to explain.”
He was so silent that I thought him mine, but his first words undeceived me.
“I thought I had nowhere so keen a friend,” he said; “but, Mr. Ogilvy, it is devil’s work you are pleading. Am I to return to my people to act a living lie before them to the end of my days? Do you really think that God devastated a glen to give me a chance of becoming a villain? No, sir, I am in His hands, and I will do what I think right.”
“You will be dishonored,” I said, “in the sight of God and man.”
“Not in God’s sight,” he replied. “It was a sinless marriage, Mr. Ogilvy, and I do not regret it. God ordained that she and I should love each other, and He put it into my power to save her from that man. I took her as my wife before Him, and in His eyes I am her husband. Knowing that, sir, how could I return to Thrums without her?”
I had no answer ready for him. I knew that in my grief for Margaret I had been advocating an unworthy course, but I would not say so. I went gloomily to the door, and there, presently, his hand fell on my shoulder.
“Your advice came too late, at any rate,” he said. “You forget that the precentor was on the hill and saw everything.”
It was he who had forgotten to tell me this, and to me it was the most direful news of all.
“My God!” I cried. “He will have gone to your mother and told her.” And straightway I began to lace my boots.
“Where are you going?” he asked, staring at me.
“To Thrums,” I answered harshly.
“You said that to venture out into the glen was to court death,” he reminded me.
“What of that?” I said, and hastily put on my coat.
“Mr. Ogilvy,” he cried, “I will not allow you to do this for me.”
“For you?” I said bitterly. “It is not for you.”
I would have gone at once, but he got in front of me, asking, “Did you ever know my mother?”
“Long ago,” I answered shortly, and he said no more, thinking, I suppose, that he knew all. He limped to the door with me, and I had only advanced a few steps when I understood better than before what were the dangers I was to venture into. Since I spoke to Waster Lunny the river had risen several feet, and even the hillocks in his turnip-field were now submerged. The mist was creeping down the hills. But what warned me most sharply that the flood was not satisfied yet was the top of the school-house dike; it was lined with field-mice. I turned back, and Gavin, mistaking my meaning, said I did wisely.
“I have not changed my mind,” I told him, and then had some difficulty in continuing. “I expect,” I said, “to reach Thrums safely, even though I should be caught in the mist, but I shall have to go round by the Kelpie brig in order to get across the river, and it is possible that — that something may befall me.”
I have all my life been something of a coward, and my voice shook when I said this, so that Gavin again entreated me to remain at the school-house, saying that if I did not he would accompany me.
“And so increase my danger tenfold?” I pointed out. “No, no, Mr. Dishart, I go alone; and if I can do nothing with the congregation, I can at least send your mother word that you still live. But if anything should happen to me, I want you — —”
But I could not say what I had come back to say. I had meant to ask him, in the event of my death, to take a hundred pounds which were the savings of my life; but now I saw that this might lead to Margaret’s hearing of me, and so I stayed my words. It was bitter to me this, and yet, after all, a little thing when put beside the rest.
“Good-by, Mr. Dishart,” I said abruptly. I then looked at my desk, which contained some trifles that were once Margaret’s. “Should anything happen to me,” I said, “I want that old desk to be destroyed unopened.”
“Mr. Ogilvy,” he answered gently, “you are venturing this because you loved my mother. If anything does befall you, be assured that I will tell her what you attempted for her sake.”
I believe he thought it was to make some such request that I had turned back.
“You must tell her nothing about me,” I exclaimed, in consternation. “Swear that my name will never cross your lips before her. No, that is not enough. You must forget me utterly, whether I live or die, lest some time you should think of me and she should read your thoughts. Swear, man!”
“Must this be?” he said, gazing at me.
“Yes,” I answered more calmly, “it must be. For nearly a score of years I have been blotted out of your mother’s life, and since she came to Thrums my one care has been to keep my existence from her. I have changed my burying-ground even from Thrums to the glen, lest I should die before her, and she, seeing the hearse go by the Tenements, might ask, ‘Whose funeral is this?’”
In my anxiety to warn him, I had said too much. His face grew haggard, and there was fear to speak on it; and I saw, I knew, that some damnable suspicion of Margaret —--
“She was my wife!” I cried sharply. “We were married by the minister of Harvie. You are my son.”
THE GREAT RAIN.
Gavin passed on through Windyghoul, thinking in his frenzy that he still heard the trap. In a rain that came down like iron rods every other sound was beaten dead. He slipped, and before he could regain his feet the dog bit him. To protect himself from dikes and trees and other horrors of the darkness he held his arm before him, but soon it was driven to his side. Wet whips cut his brow so that he had to protect it with his hands, until it had to bear the lash again, for they would not. Now he had forced up his knees, and would have succumbed but for a dread of being pinned to the earth. This fight between the man and the rain went on all night, and long before it ended the man was past the power of thinking.
In the ringing of the ten o’clock bell Gavin had lived the seventh part of a man’s natural life. Only action was required of him. That accomplished, his mind had begun to work again, when suddenly the loss of Babbie stopped it, as we may put out a fire with a great coal. The last thing he had reflected about was a dogcart in motion, and, consequently, this idea clung to him. His church, his mother, were lost knowledge of, but still he seemed to hear the trap in front.
The rain increased in violence, appalling even those who heard it from under cover. However rain may storm, though it be an army of archers battering roofs and windows, it is only terrifying when the noise swells every instant. In those hours of darkness it again and again grew in force and doubled its fury, and was louder, louder, and louder, until its next attack was to be more than men and women could listen to. They held each other’s hands and stood waiting. Then abruptly it abated, and people could speak. I believe a rain that became heavier every second for ten minutes would drive many listeners mad. Gavin was in it on a night that tried us repeatedly for quite half that time.
By and by even the vision of Babbie in the dogcart was blotted out. If nothing had taken its place, he would not have gone on probably; and had he turned back objectless, his strength would have succumbed to the rain. Now he saw Babbie and Rintoul being married by a minister who was himself, and there was a fair company looking on, and always when he was on the point of shouting to himself, whom he could see clearly, that this woman was already married, the rain obscured his words and the light went out. Presently the ceremony began again, always to stop at the same point. He saw it in the lightning-flash that had startled the hill. It gave him courage to fight his way onward, because he thought he must be heard if he could draw nearer to the company.
A regiment of cavalry began to trouble him. He heard it advancing from the Spittal, but was not dismayed, for it was, as yet, far distant. The horsemen came thundering on, filling the whole glen of Quharity. Now he knew that they had been sent out to ride him down. He paused in dread, until they had swept past him. They came back to look for him, riding more furiously than ever, and always missed him, yet his fears of the next time were not lessened. They were only the rain.
All through the night the dog followed him. He would forget it for a time, and then it would be so close that he could see it dimly. He never heard it bark, but it snapped at him, and a grin had become the expression of its face. He stoned it, he even flung himself at it, he addressed it in caressing tones, and always with the result that it disappeared, to come back presently.
He found himself walking in a lake, and now even the instinct of self-preservation must have been flickering, for he waded on, rejoicing merely in getting rid of the dog. Something in the water rose and struck him. Instead of stupefying him, the blow brought him to his senses, and he struggled for his life. The ground slipped beneath his feet many times, but at last he was out of the water. That he was out in a flood he did not realize; yet he now acted like one in full possession of his faculties. When his feet sank in water, he drew back; and many times he sought shelter behind banks and rocks, first testing their firmness with his hands. Once a torrent of stones, earth, and heather carried him down a hillside until he struck against a tree. He twined his arms round it, and had just done so when it fell with him. After that, when he touched trees growing in water, he fled from them, thus probably saving himself from death.
What he heard now might have been the roll and crack of the thunder. It sounded in his ear like nothing else. But it was really something that swept down the hill in roaring spouts of water, and it passed on both sides of him so that at one moment, had he paused, it would have crashed into him, and at another he was only saved by stopping. He felt that the struggle in the dark was to go on till the crack of doom.
Then he cast himself upon the ground. It moved beneath him like some great animal, and he rose and stole away from it. Several times did this happen. The stones against which his feet struck seemed to acquire life from his touch. So strong had he become, or so weak all other things, that whatever clump he laid hands on by which to pull himself out of the water was at once rooted up.
The daylight would not come. He longed passionately for it. He tried to remember what it was like, and could not; he had been blind so long. It was away in front somewhere, and he was struggling to overtake it. He expected to see it from a dark place, when he would rush forward to bathe his arms in it, and then the elements that were searching the world for him would see him and he would perish. But death did not seem too great a penalty to pay for light.
And at last day did come back, gray and drear. He saw suddenly once more. I think he must have been wandering the glen with his eyes shut, as one does shut them involuntarily against the hidden dangers of black night. How different was daylight from what he had expected! He looked, and then shut his dazed eyes again, for the darkness was less horrible than the day. Had he indeed seen, or only dreamed that he saw? Once more he looked to see what the world was like; and the sight that met his eyes was so mournful that he who had fought through the long night now sank hopeless and helpless among the heather. The dog was not far away, and it, too, lost heart. Gavin held out his hand, and Snap crept timidly toward him. He unloosened his coat, and the dog nestled against him, cowed and shivering, hiding its head from the day. Thus they lay, and the rain beat upon them.
WHILE THE TEN O’CLOCK BELL WAS RINGING.
In the square and wynds — weavers in groups:
“No, no, Davit, Mr. Dishart hadna felt the blow the piper gave him till he ascended the pulpit to conduct the prayer-meeting for rain, and then he fainted awa. Tammas Whamond and Peter Tosh carried him to the Session-house. Ay, an awful scene.”
“How did the minister no come to the meeting? I wonder how you could expect it, Snecky, and his mother taen so suddenly ill; he’s at her bedside, but the doctor has little hope.”
“This is what has occurred, Tailor: Mr. Dishart never got the length of the pulpit. He fell in a swound on the vestry floor. What caused it? Oh, nothing but the heat. Thrums is so dry that one spark would set it in a blaze.”
“I canna get at the richts o’ what keeped him frae the meeting, Femie, but it had something to do wi’ an Egyptian on the hill. Very like he had been trying to stop the gypsy marriage there. I gaed to the manse to speir at Jean what was wrang, but I’m thinking I telled her mair than she could tell me.”
“Man, man, Andrew, the wite o’t lies wi’ Peter Tosh. He thocht we was to hae sic a terrible rain that he implored the minister no to pray for it, and so angry was Mr. Dishart that he ordered the whole Session out o’ the kirk. I saw them in Couthie’s close, and michty dour they looked.”
“Yes, as sure as death, Tammas Whamond locked the kirk-door in Mr. Dishart’s face.”
“I’m a’ shaking! And small wonder, Marget, when I’ve heard this minute that Mr. Dishart’s been struck by lichtning while looking for Rob Dow. He’s no killed, but, woe’s me! they say he’ll never preach again.”
“Nothing o’ the kind. It was Rob that the lichtning struck dead in the doctor’s machine. The horse wasna touched; it came tearing down the Roods wi’ the corpse sitting in the machine like a living man.”
“What are you listening to, woman? Is it to a dog barking? I’ve heard it this while, but it’s far awa.”
In the manse kitchen:
“Jean, did you not hear me ring? I want you to — Why are you staring out at the window, Jean?”
“I — I was just hearkening to the ten o’clock bell, ma’am.”
“I never saw you doing nothing before! Put the heater in the fire, Jean. I want to iron the minister’s neckcloths. The prayer-meeting is long in coming out, is it not?”
“The — the drouth, ma’am, has been so cruel hard.”
“And, to my shame, I am so comfortable that I almost forgot how others are suffering. But my son never forgets, Jean. You are not crying, are you?”
“Bring the iron to the parlor, then. And if the minis — Why did you start, Jean? I only heard a dog barking.”
“I thocht, ma’am — at first I thocht it was Mr. Dishart opening the door. Ay, it’s just a dog; some gypsy dog on the hill, I’m thinking, for sound would carry far the nicht.”
“Even you, Jean, are nervous at nights, I see, if there is no man in the house. We shall hear no more distant dogs barking, I warrant, when the minister comes home.”
“When he comes home, ma’am.”
On the middle of a hill — a man and a woman:
“Courage, beloved; we are nearly there.”
“But, Gavin, I cannot see the encampment.”
“The night is too dark.”
“But the gypsy fires?”
“They are in the Toad’s-hole.”
“Listen to that dog barking.”
“There are several dogs at the encampment, Babbie.”
“There is one behind us. See, there it is!”
“I have driven it away, dear. You are trembling.”
“What we are doing frightens me, Gavin. It is at your heels again!”
“It seems to know you.”
“Oh, Gavin, it is Lord Rintoul’s collie Snap. It will bite you.”
“No, I have driven it back again. Probably the earl is following us.”
“Gavin, I cannot go on with this.”
“Leave me, dear, and save yourself.”
“Lean on me, Babbie.”
“Oh, Gavin, is there no way but this?”
“No sure way.”
“Even though we are married to-night — —”
“We shall be married in five minutes, and then, whatever befall, he cannot have you.”
“I will take you straight to the manse, to my mother.”
“Were it not for that dog, I should think we were alone on the hill.”
“But we are not. See, there are the gypsy fires.”
On the west side of the hill — two figures:
“Tammas, Tammas Whamond, I’ve lost you. Should we gang to the manse down the fields?”
“What are you listening for?”
“I heard a dog barking.”
“Only a gypsy dog, Tammas, barking at the coming storm.”
“The gypsy dogs are all tied up, and this one’s atween us and the Toad’s-hole. What was that?”
“It was nothing but the rubbing of the branches in the cemetery on ane another. It’s said, trees mak’ that fearsome sound when they’re terrified.”
“It was a dog barking at somebody that’s stoning it. I ken that sound, Hendry Munn.”
“May I die the death, Tammas Whamond, if a great drap o’ rain didna strike me the now, and I swear it was warm. I’m for running hame.”
“I’m for seeing who drove awa that dog. Come back wi’ me, Hendry.”
“I winna. There’s no a soul on the hill but you and me and thae daffing and drinking gypsies. How do you no answer me, Tammas? Hie, Tammas Whamond, whaur are you? He’s gone! Ay, then I’ll mak’ tracks hame.”
In the broom — a dogcart:
“Do you see nothing yet, McKenzie?”
“Scarce the broom at my knees, Rintoul. There is not a light on the hill.”
“McKenzie, can that schoolmaster have deceived us?”
“It is probable.”
“Urge on the horse, however. There is a road through the broom, I know. Have we stuck again?”
“Rintoul, she is not here. I promised to help you to bring her back to the Spittal before this escapade became known, but we have failed to find her. If she is to be saved, it must be by herself. I daresay she has returned already. Let me turn the horse’s head. There is a storm brewing.”
“I will search this gypsy encampment first, if it is on the hill. Hark! that was a dog’s bark. Yes, it is Snap; but he would not bark at nothing. Why do you look behind you so often, McKenzie?”
“For some time, Rintoul, it has seemed to me that we are being followed. Listen!”
“I hear nothing. At last, McKenzie, at last, we are out of the broom.”
“And as I live, Rintoul, I see the gypsy lights!”
It might have been a lantern that was flashed across the hill. Then all that part of the world went suddenly on fire. Everything was horribly distinct in that white light. The firs of Caddam were so near that it seemed to have arrested them in a silent march upon the hill. The grass would not hide a pebble. The ground was scored with shadows of men and things. Twice the light flickered and recovered itself. A red serpent shot across it, and then again black night fell.
The hill had been illumined thus for nearly half a minute. During that time not even a dog stirred. The shadows of human beings lay on the ground as motionless as logs. What had been revealed seemed less a gypsy marriage than a picture. Or was it that during the ceremony every person on the hill had been turned into stone? The gypsy king, with his arm upraised, had not had time to let it fall. The men and women behind him had their mouths open, as if struck when on the point of calling out. Lord Rintoul had risen in the dogcart and was leaning forward. One of McKenzie’s feet was on the shaft. The man crouching in the dogcart’s wake had flung up his hands to protect his face. The precentor, his neck outstretched, had a hand on each knee. All eyes were fixed, as in the death glare, on Gavin and Babbie, who stood before the king, their hands clasped over the tongs. Fear was petrified on the woman’s face, determination on the man’s.
They were all released by the crack of the thunder, but for another moment none could have swaggered.
“That was Lord Rintoul in the dogcart,” Babbie whispered, drawing in her breath.
“Yes, dear,” Gavin answered resolutely, “and now is the time for me to have my first and last talk with him. Remain here, Babbie. Do not move till I come back.”
“But, Gavin, he has seen. I fear him still.”
“He cannot touch you now, Babbie. You are my wife.”
In the vivid light Gavin had thought the dogcart much nearer than it was. He called Lord Rintoul’s name, but got no answer. There were shouts behind, gypsies running from the coming rain, dogs whining, but silence in front. The minister moved on some paces. Away to the left he heard voices --
“Who was the man, McKenzie?”
“My lord, I have lost sight of you. This is not the way to the camp.”
“Tell me, McKenzie, that you did not see what I saw.”
“Rintoul, I beseech you to turn back. We are too late.”
“We are not too late.”
Gavin broke through the darkness between them and him, but they were gone. He called to them, and stopped to listen to their feet.
“Is that you, Gavin?” Babbie asked just then.
For reply, the man who had crept up to her clapped his hand upon her mouth. Only the beginning of a scream escaped from her. A strong arm drove her quickly southward.
Gavin heard her cry, and ran back to the encampment. Babbie was gone. None of the gypsies had seen her since the darkness came back. He rushed hither and thither with a torch that only showed his distracted face to others. He flung up his arms in appeal for another moment of light; then he heard Babbie scream again, and this time it was from a distance. He dashed after her; he heard a trap speeding down the green sward through the broom.
Lord Rintoul had kidnapped Babbie. Gavin had no other thought as he ran after the dogcart from which the cry had come. The earl’s dog followed him, snapping at his heels. The rain began.
LEADING SWIFTLY TO THE APPALLING MARRIAGE.
The little minister bowed his head in assent when Babbie’s cry, “Oh, Gavin, do you?” leapt in front of her unselfish wish that he should care for her no more.
“But that matters very little now,” he said.
She was his to do with as he willed; and, perhaps, the joy of knowing herself loved still, begot a wild hope that he would refuse to give her up. If so, these words laid it low, but even the sentence they passed upon her could not kill the self-respect that would be hers henceforth. “That matters very little now,” the man said, but to the woman it seemed to matter more than anything else in the world.
Throughout the remainder of this interview until the end came, Gavin never faltered. His duty and hers lay so plainly before him that there could be no straying from it. Did Babbie think him strangely calm? At the Glen Quharity gathering I once saw Rob Angus lift a boulder with such apparent ease that its weight was discredited, until the cry arose that the effort had dislocated his arm. Perhaps Gavin’s quietness deceived the Egyptian similarly. Had he stamped, she might have understood better what he suffered, standing there on the hot embers of his passion.
“We must try to make amends now,” he said gravely, “for the wrong we have done.”
“The wrong I have done,” she said, correcting him. “You will make it harder for me if you blame yourself. How vile I was in those days!”
“Those days,” she called them, they seemed so far away.
“Do not cry, Babbie,” Gavin replied, gently. “He knew what you were, and why, and He pities you. ‘For His anger endureth but a moment: in His favor is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.’”
“Not to me.”
“Yes, to you,” he answered. “Babbie, you will return to the Spittal now, and tell Lord Rintoul everything.”
“If you wish it.”
“Not because I wish it, but because it is right. He must be told that you do not love him.”
“I never pretended to him that I did,” Babbie said, looking up. “Oh,” she added, with emphasis, “he knows that. He thinks me incapable of caring for any one.”
“And that is why he must be told of me,” Gavin replied. “You are no longer the woman you were, Babbie, and you know it, and I know it, but he does not know it. He shall know it before he decides whether he is to marry you.”
Babbie looked at Gavin, and wondered he did not see that this decision lay with him.
“Nevertheless,” she said, “the wedding will take place to-morrow; if it did not, Lord Rintoul would be the scorn of his friends.”
“If it does,” the minister answered, “he will be the scorn of himself. Babbie, there is a chance.”
“There is no chance,” she told him. “I shall be back at the Spittal without any one’s knowing of my absence, and when I begin to tell him of you, he will tremble, lest it means my refusal to marry him; when he knows it does not, he will wonder only why I told him anything.”
“He will ask you to take time — —”
“No, he will ask me to put on my wedding-dress. You must not think anything else possible.”
“So be it, then,” Gavin said firmly.
“Yes, it will be better so,” Babbie answered, and then, seeing him misunderstand her meaning, exclaimed reproachfully, “I was not thinking of myself. In the time to come, whatever be my lot, I shall have the one consolation, that this is best for you. Think of your mother.”
“She will love you,” Gavin said, “when I tell her of you.”
“Yes,” said Babbie, wringing her hands; “she will almost love me, but for what? For not marrying you. That is the only reason any one in Thrums will have for wishing me well.”
“No others,” Gavin answered, “will ever know why I remained unmarried.”
“Will you never marry?” Babbie asked, exultingly. “Ah!” she cried, ashamed, “but you must.”
Well, many a man and many a woman has made that vow in similar circumstances, and not all have kept it. But shall we who are old smile cynically at the brief and burning passion of the young? “The day,” you say, “will come when—” Good sir, hold your peace. Their agony was great and now is dead, and, maybe, they have forgotten where it lies buried; but dare you answer lightly when I ask you which of these things is saddest?
Babbie believed his “Never,” and, doubtless, thought no worse of him for it; but she saw no way of comforting him save by disparagement of herself.
“You must think of your congregation,” she said. “A minister with a gypsy wife — —”
“Would have knocked them about with a flail,” Gavin interposed, showing his teeth at the thought of the precentor, “until they did her reverence.”
She shook her head, and told him of her meeting with Micah Dow. It silenced him; not, however, on account of its pathos, as she thought, but because it interpreted the riddle of Rob’s behavior.
“Nevertheless,” he said ultimately, “my duty is not to do what is right in my people’s eyes, but what seems right in my own.”
Babbie had not heard him.
“I saw a face at the window just now,” she whispered, drawing closer to him.
“There was no face there; the very thought of Rob Dow raises him before you,” Gavin answered reassuringly, though Rob was nearer at that moment than either of them thought.
“I must go away at once,” she said, still with her eyes on the window. “No, no, you shall not come or stay with me; it is you who are in danger.”
“Do not fear for me.”
“I must, if you will not. Before you came in, did I not hear you speak of a meeting you had to attend to-night?”
“My pray—” His teeth met on the word; so abruptly did it conjure up the forgotten prayer-meeting that before the shock could reach his mind he stood motionless, listening for the bell. For one instant all that had taken place since he last heard it might have happened between two of its tinkles; Babbie passed from before him like a figure in a panorama, and he saw, instead, a congregation in their pews.
“What do you see?” Babbie cried in alarm, for he seemed to be gazing at the window.
“Only you,” he replied, himself again; “I am coming with you.”
“You must let me go alone,” she entreated; “if not for your own safety” — but it was only him she considered—”then for the sake of Lord Rintoul. Were you and I to be seen together now, his name and mine might suffer.”
It was an argument the minister could not answer save by putting his hands over his face; his distress made Babbie strong; she moved to the door, trying to smile.
“Go, Babbie!” Gavin said, controlling his voice, though it had been a smile more pitiful than her tears. “God has you in His keeping; it is not His will to give me this to bear for you.”
They were now in the garden.
“Do not think of me as unhappy,” she said; “it will be happiness to me to try to be all you would have me be.”
He ought to have corrected her. “All that God would have me be,” is what she should have said. But he only replied, “You will be a good woman, and none such can be altogether unhappy; God sees to that.”
He might have kissed her, and perhaps she thought so.
“I am — I am going now, dear,” she said, and came back a step because he did not answer; then she went on, and was out of his sight at three yards’ distance. Neither of them heard the approaching dogcart.
“You see, I am bearing it quite cheerfully,” she said. “I shall have everything a woman loves; do not grieve for me so much.”
Gavin dared not speak nor move. Never had he found life so hard; but he was fighting with the ignoble in himself, and winning. She opened the gate, and it might have been a signal to the dogcart to stop. They both heard a dog barking, and then the voice of Lord Rintoul:
“That is a light in the window. Jump down, McKenzie, and inquire.”
Gavin took one step nearer Babbie and stopped. He did not see how all her courage went from her, so that her knees yielded, and she held out her arms to him, but he heard a great sob and then his name.
“Gavin, I am afraid.”
Gavin understood now, and I say he would have been no man to leave her after that; only a moment was allowed him, and it was their last chance on earth. He took it. His arm went round his beloved, and he drew her away from Nanny’s.
McKenzie found both house and garden empty. “And yet,” he said, “I swear some one passed the window as we sighted it.”
“Waste no more time,” cried the impatient earl. “We must be very near the hill now. You will have to lead the horse, McKenzie, in this darkness; the dog may find the way through the broom for us.”
“The dog has run on,” McKenzie replied, now in an evil temper. “Who knows, it may be with her now? So we must feel our way cautiously; there is no call for capsizing the trap in our haste.” But there was call for haste if they were to reach the gypsy encampment before Gavin and Babbie were made man and wife over the tongs.
The Spittal dogcart rocked as it dragged its way through the broom. Rob Dow followed. The ten o’clock bell began to ring.
the little minister
First published serially in Good Words 1891