TALK OF A LITTLE MAID SINCE GROWN TALL.
My scholars have a game they call “The Little Minister,” in which the boys allow the girls as a treat to join. Some of the characters in the real drama are omitted as of no importance — the dominie, for instance — and the two best fighters insist on being Dow and Gavin. I notice that the game is finished when Dow dives from a haystack, and Gavin and the earl are dragged to the top of it by a rope. Though there should be another scene, it is only a marriage, which the girls have, therefore, to go through without the help of the boys. This warns me that I have come to an end of my story for all except my little maid. In the days when she sat on my knee and listened it had no end, for after I told her how her father and mother were married a second time she would say, “And then I came, didn’t I? Oh, tell me about me!” So it happened that when she was no higher than my staff she knew more than I could write in another book, and many a time she solemnly told me what I had told her, as --
“Would you like me to tell you a story? Well, it’s about a minister, and the people wanted to be bad to him, and then there was a flood, and a flood is lochs falling instead of rain, and so of course he was nearly drownded, and he preached to them till they liked him again, and so they let him marry her, and they like her awful too, and, just think! it was my father; and that’s all. Now tell me about grandmother when father came home.”
I told her once again that Margaret never knew how nearly Gavin was driven from his kirk. For Margaret was as one who goes to bed in the daytime and wakes in it, and is not told that there has been a black night while she slept. She had seen her son leave the manse the idol of his people, and she saw them rejoicing as they brought him back. Of what occurred at the Jaws, as the spot where Dow had saved two lives is now called, she learned, but not that these Jaws snatched him and her from an ignominy more terrible than death, for she never knew that the people had meditated driving him from his kirk. This Thrums is bleak and perhaps forbidding, but there is a moment of the day when a setting sun dyes it pink, and the people are like their town. Thrums was never colder in times of snow than were his congregation to their minister when the Great Rain began, but his fortitude rekindled their hearts. He was an obstinate minister, and love had led him a dance, but in the hour of trial he had proved himself a man.
When Gavin reached the manse, and saw not only his mother but Babbie, he would have kissed them both; but Babbie could only say, “She does not know,” and then run away crying. Gavin put his arm round his mother, and drew her into the parlor, where he told her who Babbie was. Now Margaret had begun to love Babbie already, and had prayed to see Gavin happily married; but it was a long time before she went upstairs to look for his wife and kiss her and bring her down. “Why was it a long time?” my little maid would ask, and I had to tell her to wait until she was old, and had a son, when she would find out for herself.
While Gavin and the earl were among the waters, two men were on their way to Mr. Carfrae’s home, to ask him to return with them and preach the Auld Licht kirk of Thrums vacant; and he came, though now so done that he had to be wheeled about in a little coach. He came in sorrow, yet resolved to perform what was asked of him if it seemed God’s will; but, instead of banishing Gavin, all he had to do was to remarry him and kirk him, both of which things he did, sitting in his coach, as many can tell. Lang Tammas spoke no more against Gavin, but he would not go to the marriage, and he insisted on resigning his eldership for a year and a day. I think he only once again spoke to Margaret. She was in the manse garden when he was passing, and she asked him if he would tell her now why he had been so agitated when he visited her on the day of the flood. He answered gruffly, “It’s no business o’ yours.” Dr. McQueen was Gavin’s best man. He died long ago of scarlet fever. So severe was the epidemic that for a week he was never in bed. He attended fifty cases without suffering, but as soon as he had bent over Hendry Munn’s youngest boys, who both had it, he said, “I’m smitted,” and went home to die. You may be sure that Gavin proved a good friend to Micah Dow. I have the piece of slate on which Rob proved himself a good friend to Gavin; it was in his pocket when we found the body. Lord Rintoul returned to his English estates, and never revisited the Spittal. The last thing I heard of him was that he had been offered the Lord-Lieutenantship of a county, and had accepted it in a long letter, in which he began by pointing out his unworthiness. This undid him, for the Queen, or her councillors, thinking from his first page that he had declined the honor, read no further, and appointed another man. Waster Lunny is still alive, but has gone to another farm. Sanders Webster, in his gratitude, wanted Nanny to become an Auld Licht, but she refused, saying, “Mr. Dishart is worth a dozen o’ Mr. Duthie, and I’m terrible fond o’ Mrs. Dishart, but Established I was born and Established I’ll remain till I’m carried out o’ this house feet foremost.”
“But Nanny went to Heaven for all that,” my little maid told me. “Jean says people can go to Heaven though they are not Auld Lichts, but she says it takes them all their time. Would you like me to tell you a story about my mother putting glass on the manse dike? Well, my mother and my father is very fond of each other, and once they was in the garden, and my father kissed my mother, and there was a woman watching them over the dike, and she cried out — something naughty.”
“It was Tibbie Birse,” I said, “and what she cried was, ‘Mercy on us, that’s the third time in half an hour!’ So your mother, who heard her, was annoyed, and put glass on the wall.”
“But it’s me that is telling you the story. You are sure you don’t know it? Well, they asked father to take the glass away, and he wouldn’t; but he once preached at mother for having a white feather in her bonnet, and another time he preached at her for being too fond of him. Jean told me. That’s all.”
No one seeing Babbie going to church demurely on Gavin’s arm could guess her history. Sometimes I wonder whether the desire to be a gypsy again ever comes over her for a mad hour, and whether, if so, Gavin takes such measures to cure her as he threatened in Caddam Wood. I suppose not; but here is another story:
“When I ask mother to tell me about her once being a gypsy she says I am a bad ‘quisitive little girl, and to put on my hat and come with her to the prayer-meeting; and when I asked father to let me see mother’s gypsy frock he made me learn Psalm forty-eight by heart. But once I see’d it, and it was a long time ago, as long as a week ago. Micah Dow gave me rowans to put in my hair, and I like Micah because he calls me Miss, and so I woke in my bed because there was noises, and I ran down to the parlor, and there was my mother in her gypsy frock, and my rowans was in her hair, and my father was kissing her, and when they saw me they jumped; and that’s all.”
“Would you like me to tell you another story? It is about a little girl. Well, there was once a minister and his wife, and they hadn’t no little girls, but just little boys, and God was sorry for them, so He put a little girl in a cabbage in the garden, and when they found her they were glad. Would you like me to tell you who the little girl was? Well, it was me, and, ugh! I was awful cold in the cabbage. Do you like that story?”
“Yes; I like it best of all the stories I know.”
“So do I like it, too. Couldn’t nobody help loving me, ‘cause I’m so nice? Why am I so fearful nice?”
“Because you are like your grandmother.”
“It was clever of my father to know when he found me in the cabbage that my name was Margaret. Are you sorry grandmother is dead?”
“I am glad your mother and father were so good to her and made her so happy.”
“Are you happy?”
“But when I am happy I laugh.”
“I am old, you see, and you are young.”
“I am nearly six. Did you love grandmother? Then why did you never come to see her? Did grandmother know you was here? Why not? Why didn’t I not know about you till after grandmother died?”
“I’ll tell you when you are big.”
“Shall I be big enough when I am six?”
“No, not till your eighteenth birthday.”
“But birthdays comes so slow. Will they come quicker when I am big?”
On her sixth birthday Micah Dow drove my little maid to the school-house in the doctor’s gig, and she crept beneath the table and whispered --
“Father told me to call you that if I liked, and I like,” she said when I had taken her upon my knee. “I know why you kissed me just now. It was because I looked like grandmother. Why do you kiss me when I look like her?”
“Who told you I did that?”
“Nobody didn’t tell me. I just found out. I loved grandmother too. She told me all the stories she knew.”
“Did she ever tell you a story about a black dog?”
“No. Did she know one?”
“Yes, she knew it.”
“Perhaps she had forgotten it?”
“No, she remembered it.”
“Tell it to me.”
“Not till you are eighteen.”
“But will you not be dead when I am eighteen? When you go to Heaven, will you see grandmother?”
“Will she be glad to see you?”
My little maid’s eighteenth birthday has come, and I am still in Thrums, which I love, though it is beautiful to none, perhaps, save to the very done, who lean on their staves and look long at it, having nothing else to do till they die. I have lived to rejoice in the happiness of Gavin and Babbie; and if at times I have suddenly had to turn away my head after looking upon them in their home surrounded by their children, it was but a moment’s envy that I could not help. Margaret never knew of the dominie in the glen. They wanted to tell her of me, but I would not have it. She has been long gone from this world; but sweet memories of her still grow, like honeysuckle, up the white walls of the manse, smiling in at the parlor window and beckoning from the door, and for some filling all the air with fragrance. It was not she who raised the barrier between her and me, but God Himself; and to those who maintain otherwise, I say they do not understand the purity of a woman’s soul. During the years she was lost to me her face ever came between me and ungenerous thoughts; and now I can say, all that is carnal in me is my own, and all that is good I got from her. Only one bitterness remains. When I found Gavin in the rain, when I was fighting my way through the flood, when I saw how the hearts of the people were turned against him — above all, when I found Whamond in the manse — I cried to God, making promises to Him, if He would spare the lad for Margaret’s sake, and he spared him; but these promises I have not kept.
END OF THE TWENTY-FOUR HOURS.
Out of the mist came the voice of Gavin, clear and strong --
“If you hear me, hold up your hands as a sign.”
They heard, and none wondered at his voice crossing the chasm while theirs could not. When the mist cleared, they were seen to have done as he bade them. Many hands remained up for a time because the people did not remember to bring them down, so great was the awe that had fallen on all, as if the Lord was near.
Gavin took his watch from his pocket, and he said --
“I am to fling this to you. You will give it to Mr. Ogilvy, the schoolmaster, as a token of the love I bear him.”
The watch was caught by James Langlands, and handed to Peter Tosh, the chief elder present.
“To Mr. Ogilvy,” Gavin continued, “you will also give the chain. You will take it off my neck when you find the body.
“To each of my elders, and to Hendry Munn, kirk officer, and to my servant Jean, I leave a book, and they will go to my study and choose it for themselves.
“I also leave a book for Nanny Webster, and I charge you, Peter Tosh, to take it to her, though she be not a member of my church.
“The pictorial Bible with ‘To my son on his sixth birthday’ on it, I bequeath to Rob Dow. No, my mother will want to keep that. I give to Rob Dow my Bible with the brass clasp.
“It is my wish that every family in the congregation should have some little thing to remember me by. This you will tell my mother.
“To my successor I leave whatsoever of my papers he may think of any value to him, including all my notes on Revelation, of which I meant to make a book. I hope he will never sing the paraphrases.
“If Mr. Carfrae’s health permits, you will ask him to preach the funeral sermon; but if he be too frail, then you will ask Mr. Trail, under whom I sat in Glasgow. The illustrated ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ on the drawers in my bedroom belongs to Mr. Trail, and you will return it to him with my affection and compliments.
“I owe five shillings to Hendry Munn for mending my boots, and a smaller sum to Baxter, the mason. I have two pounds belonging to Rob Dow, who asked me to take charge of them for him. I owe no other man anything, and this you will bear in mind if Matthew Cargill, the flying stationer, again brings forward a claim for the price of Whiston’s ‘Josephus,’ which I did not buy from him.
“Mr. Moncur, of Aberbrothick, had agreed to assist me at the Sacrament, and will doubtless still lend his services. Mr. Carfrae or Mr. Trail will take my place if my successor is not elected by that time. The Sacrament cups are in the vestry press, of which you will find the key beneath the clock in my parlor. The tokens are in the topmost drawer in my bedroom.
“The weekly prayer-meeting will be held as usual on Thursday at eight o’clock, and the elders will officiate.
“It is my wish that the news of my death be broken to my mother by Mr. Ogilvy, the schoolmaster, and by no other. You will say to him that this is my solemn request, and that I bid him discharge it without faltering and be of good cheer.
“But if Mr. Ogilvy be not now alive, the news of my death will be broken to my mother by my beloved wife. Last night I was married on the hill, over the tongs, but with the sanction of God, to her whom you call the Egyptian, and despite what has happened since then, of which you will soon have knowledge, I here solemnly declare that she is my wife, and you will seek for her at the Spittal or elsewhere till you find her, and you will tell her to go to my mother and remain with her always, for these are the commands of her husband.”
It was then that Gavin paused, for Lord Rintoul had that to say to him which no longer could be kept back. All the women were crying sore, and also some men whose eyes had been dry at the coffining of their children.
“Now I ken,” said Cruickshanks, who had been an atheist, “that it’s only the fool wha’ says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”
Another said, “That’s a man.”
Another said, “That man has a religion to last him all through.”
A fourth said, “Behold, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
A fifth said, “That’s our minister. He’s the minister o’ the Auld Licht Kirk o’ Thrums. Woe is me, we’re to lose him.”
Many cried, “Our hearts was set hard against him. O Lord, are you angry wi’ your servants that you’re taking him frae us just when we ken what he is?”
Gavin did not hear them, and again he spoke:
“My brethren, God is good. I have just learned that my wife is with my dear mother at the manse. I leave them in your care and in His.”
No more he said of Babbie, for the island was become very small.
“The Lord calls me hence. It is only for a little time I have been with you, and now I am going away, and you will know me no more. Too great has been my pride because I was your minister, but He who sent me to labor among you is slow to wrath; and He ever bore in mind that you were my first charge. My people, I must say to you, ‘Farewell.’”
Then, for the first time, his voice faltered, and wanting to go on he could not. “Let us read,” he said, quickly, “in the Word of God in the fourteenth of Matthew, from the twenty-eighth verse.”
He repeated these four verses: --
“‘And Peter answered Him and said, Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee on the water.
“‘And He said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.
“‘But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.
“‘And immediately Jesus stretched forth His hand and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?’”
After this Gavin’s voice was again steady, and he said, “The sand-glass is almost run out. Dearly beloved, with what words shall I bid you good-by?”
Many thought that these were to be the words, for the mist parted, and they saw the island tremble and half of it sink.
“My people,” said the voice behind the mist, “this is the text I leave with you: ‘Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.’ That text I read in the flood, where the hand of God has written it. All the pound-notes in the world would not dam this torrent for a moment, so that we might pass over to you safely. Yet it is but a trickle of water, soon to be dried up. Verily, I say unto you, only a few hours ago the treasures of earth stood between you and this earl, and what are they now compared to this trickle of water? God only can turn rivers into a wilderness, and the water-springs into dry ground. Let His Word be a lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path; may He be your refuge and your strength. Amen.”
This amen he said quickly, thinking death was now come. He was seen to raise his hands, but whether to Heaven or involuntarily to protect his face as he fell none was sure, for the mist again filled the chasm. Then came a clap of stillness. No one breathed.
But the two men were not yet gone, and Gavin spoke once more.
“Let us sing in the twenty-third Psalm.”
He himself raised the tune, and so long as they heard his voice they sang --
“The Lord’s my shepherd, I’ll not want;
He makes me down to lie
In pastures green; He leadeth me
The quiet waters by.
“My soul He doth restore again;
And me to walk doth make
Within the paths of righteousness
Ev’n for His own name’s sake.
“Yea, though I walk in Death’s dark vale,
Yet will I fear none ill;
For Thou art with me; and Thy rod
And staff — —”
But some had lost the power to sing in the first verse, and others at “Death’s dark vale,” and when one man found himself singing alone he stopped abruptly. This was because they no longer heard the minister.
“O Lord!” Peter Tosh cried, “lift the mist, for it’s mair than we can bear.”
The mist rose slowly, and those who had courage to look saw Gavin praying with the earl. Many could not look, and some of them did not even see Rob Dow jump.
For it was Dow, the man with the crushed leg, who saved Gavin’s life, and flung away his own for it. Suddenly he was seen on the edge of the bank, holding one end of the improvised rope in his hand. As Tosh says --
“It all happened in the opening and shutting o’ an eye. It’s a queer thing to say, but though I prayed to God to take awa the mist, when He did raise it I couldna look. I shut my een tight, and held my arm afore my face, like ane feared o’ being struck. Even when I daured to look, my arm was shaking so that I could see Rob both above it and below it. He was on the edge, crouching to leap. I didna see wha had haud o’ the other end o’ the rope. I heard the minister cry, ‘No, Dow, no!’ and it gae through me as quick as a stab that if Rob jumped he would knock them both into the water. But he did jump, and you ken how it was that he didna knock them off.”
It was because he had no thought of saving his own life. He jumped, not at the island, now little bigger than the seat of a chair, but at the edge of it, into the foam, and with his arm outstretched. For a second the hand holding the rope was on the dot of land. Gavin tried to seize the hand; Rintoul clutched the rope. The earl and the minister were dragged together into safety, and both left the water senseless. Gavin was never again able to lift his left hand higher than his head. Dow’s body was found next day near the school-house.
RAIN — MIST — THE JAWS.
To this day we argue in the glen about the sound mistaken by many of us for the firing of the Spittal cannon, some calling it thunder and others the tearing of trees in the torrent. I think it must have been the roll of stones into the Quharity from Silver Hill, of which a corner has been missing since that day. Silver Hill is all stones, as if creation had been riddled there, and in the sun the mica on them shines like many pools of water.
At the roar, as they thought, of the cannon, the farmers looked up from their struggle with the flood to say, “That’s Rintoul married,” as clocks pause simultaneously to strike the hour. Then every one in the glen save Gavin and myself was done with Rintoul. Before the hills had answered the noise, Gavin was on his way to the Spittal. The dog must have been ten minutes in overtaking him, yet he maintained afterward that it was with him from the start. From this we see that the shock he had got carried him some distance before he knew that he had left the school-house. It also gave him a new strength, that happily lasted longer than his daze of mind.
Gavin moved northward quicker than I came south, climbing over or wading through his obstacles, while I went round mine. After a time, too, the dog proved useful, for on discovering that it was going homeward it took the lead, and several times drew him to the right road to the Spittal by refusing to accompany him on the wrong road. Yet in two hours he had walked perhaps nine miles without being four miles nearer the Spittal. In that flood the glen milestones were three miles apart.
For some time he had been following the dog doubtfully, for it seemed to be going too near the river. When they struck a cart-track, however, he concluded rightly that they were nearing a bridge. His faith in his guide was again tested before they had been many minutes on this sloppy road. The dog stopped, whined, looked irresolute, and then ran to the right, disappearing into the mist in an instant. He shouted to it to come back, and was surprised to hear a whistle in reply. This was sufficient to make him dash after the dog, and in less than a minute he stopped abruptly by the side of a shepherd.
“Have you brocht it?” the man cried almost into Gavin’s ear; yet the roar of the water was so tremendous that the words came faintly, as if from a distance. “Wae is me; is it only you, Mr. Dishart?”
“Is it only you!” No one in the glen would have addressed a minister thus except in a matter of life or death, and Gavin knew it.
“He’ll be ower late,” the shepherd exclaimed, rubbing his hands together in distress. “I’m speaking o’ Whinbusses’ grieve. He has run for ropes, but he’ll be ower late.”
“Is there some one in danger?” asked Gavin, who stood, he knew not where, with this man, enveloped in mist.
“Is there no? Look!”
“There is nothing to be seen but mist; where are we?”
“We’re on the high bank o’ the Quharity. Take care, man; you was stepping ower into the roaring water. Lie down and tell me if he’s there yet. Maybe I just think that I see him, for the sicht is painted on my een.”
Gavin lay prone and peered at the river, but the mist came up to his eyes. He only knew that the river was below from the sound.
“Is there a man down there?” he asked, shuddering.
“There was a minute syne; on a bit island.”
“Why does he not speak?”
“He is senseless. Dinna move; the mist’s clearing, and you’ll see if he’s there syne. The mist has been lifting and falling that way ilka minute since me and the grieve saw him.”
The mist did not rise. It only shook like a blanket, and then again remained stationary. But in that movement Gavin had seen twice, first incredulously, and then with conviction.
“Shepherd,” he said, rising, “it is Lord Rintoul.”
“Ay, it’s him; and you saw his feet was in the water. They were dry when the grieve left me. Mr. Dishart, the ground he is on is being washed awa bit by bit. I tell you, the flood’s greedy for him, and it’ll hae him —— Look, did you see him again?”
“Is he living?”
“We saw him move. Hst! Was that a cry?”
It was only the howling of the dog, which had recognized its master and was peering over the bank, the body quivering to jump, but the legs restless with indecision.
“If we were down there,” Gavin said, “we could hold him secure till rescue comes. It is no great jump.”
“How far would you make it? I saw him again!”
“It looked further that time.”
“That’s it! Sometimes the ground he is on looks so near that you think you could almost drop on it, and the next time it’s yards and yards awa. I’ve stood ready for the spring, Mr. Dishart, a dozen times, but I aye sickened. I daurna do it. Look at the dog; just when it’s starting to jump, it pulls itsel’ back.”
As if it had heard the shepherd, the dog jumped at that instant.
“It sprang too far,” Gavin said.
“It didna spring far enough.”
They waited, and presently the mist thinned for a moment, as if it was being drawn out. They saw the earl, but there was no dog.
“Poor brute,” said the shepherd, and looked with awe at Gavin.
“Rintoul is slipping into the water,” Gavin answered. “You won’t jump?”
“No, I’m wae for him, and — —”
“Then I will,” Gavin was about to say, but the shepherd continued, “And him only married twa hours syne.”
That kept the words in Gavin’s mouth for half a minute, and then he spoke them.
“Dinna think o’t,” cried the shepherd, taking him by the coat. “The ground he is on is slippery. I’ve flung a dozen stanes at it, and them that hit it slithered off. Though you landed in the middle o’t, you would slide into the water.”
“He shook himsel’ free o’ me,” the shepherd told afterward, “and I saw him bending down and measuring the distance wi’ his een as cool as if he was calculating a drill o’ tatties. Syne I saw his lips moving in prayer. It wasna spunk he needed to pray for, though. Next minute there was me, my very arms prigging wi’ him to think better o’t, and him standing ready to loup, his knees bent, and not a tremble in them. The mist lifted, and I —— Lads, I couldna gie a look to the earl. Mr. Dishart jumped; I hardly saw him, but I kent, I kent, for I was on the bank alane. What did I do? I flung mysel’ down in a sweat, and if een could bore mist mine would hae done it. I thocht I heard the minister’s death-cry, and may I be struck if I dinna believe now that it was a skirl o’ my ain. After that there was no sound but the jaw o’ the water; and I prayed, but no to God, to the mist to rise, and after an awful time it rose, and I saw the minister was safe; he had pulled the earl into the middle o’ the bit island and was rubbing him back to consciousness. I sweat when I think o’t yet.”
The Little Minister’s jump is always spoken of as a brave act in the glen, but at such times I am silent. This is not because, being timid myself, I am without admiration for courage. My little maid says that three in every four of my poems are to the praise of prowess, and she has not forgotten how I carried her on my shoulder once to Tilliedrum to see a soldier who had won the Victoria Cross, and made her shake hands with him, though he was very drunk. Only last year one of my scholars declared to me that Nelson never said “England expects every man this day to do his duty,” for which I thrashed the boy and sent him to the cooling-stone. But was it brave of Gavin to jump? I have heard some maintain that only misery made him so bold, and others that he jumped because it seemed a fine thing to risk his life for an enemy. But these are really charges of cowardice, and my boy was never a coward. Of the two kinds of courage, however, he did not then show the nobler. I am glad that he was ready for such an act, but he should have remembered Margaret and Babbie. As it was, he may be said to have forced them to jump with him. Not to attempt a gallant deed for which one has the impulse, may be braver than the doing of it.
“Though it seemed as lang time,” the shepherd says, “as I could hae run up a hill in, I dinna suppose it was many minutes afore I saw Rintoul opening and shutting his een. The next glint I had o’ them they were speaking to ane another; ay, and mair than speaking. They were quarrelling. I couldna hear their words, but there was a moment when I thocht they were to grapple. Lads, the memory o’ that’ll hing about my deathbed. There was twa men, edicated to the highest pitch, ane a lord and the other a minister, and the flood was taking awa a mouthful o’ their footing ilka minute, and the jaws o’ destruction was gaping for them, and yet they were near fechting. We ken now it was about a woman. Ay, but does that make it less awful?”
No, that did not make it less awful. It was even awful that Gavin’s first words when Rintoul opened his eyes and closed them hastily were, “Where is she?” The earl did not answer; indeed, for the moment the words had no meaning to him.
“How did I come here?” he asked feebly.
“You should know better than I. Where is my wife?”
“I remember now,” Rintoul repeated several times. “Yes, I had left the Spittal to look for you — you were so long in coming. How did I find you?”
“It was I who found you,” Gavin answered. “You must have been swept away by the flood.”
“And you too?”
In a few words Gavin told how he came to be beside the earl.
“I suppose they will say you have saved my life,” was Rintoul’s commentary.
“It is not saved yet. If help does not come, we shall be dead men in an hour. What have you done with my wife?”
Rintoul ceased to listen to him, and shouted sums of money to the shepherd, who shook his head and bawled an answer that neither Gavin nor the earl heard. Across that thundering water only Gavin’s voice could carry, the most powerful ever heard in a Thrums pulpit, the one voice that could be heard all over the Commonty during the time of the tent-preaching. Yet he never roared, as some preachers do of whom we say, “Ah, if they could hear the Little Minister’s word!”
Gavin caught the gesticulating earl by the sleeve, and said, “Another man has gone for ropes. Now, listen to me; how dared you go through a marriage ceremony with her, knowing her already to be my wife?”
Rintoul did listen this time.
“How do you know I married her?” he asked sharply.
“I heard the cannon.”
Now the earl understood, and the shadow on his face shook and lifted, and his teeth gleamed. His triumph might be short-lived, but he would enjoy it while he could.
“Well,” he answered, picking the pebbles for his sling with care, “you must know that I could not have married her against her will. The frolic on the hill amused her, but she feared you might think it serious, and so pressed me to proceed with her marriage to-day despite the flood.”
This was the point at which the shepherd saw the minister raise his fist. It fell, however, without striking.
“Do you really think that I could doubt her?” Gavin said compassionately, and for the second time in twenty-four hours the earl learned that he did not know what love is.
For a full minute they had forgotten where they were. Now, again, the water seemed to break loose, so that both remembered their danger simultaneously and looked up. The mist parted for long enough to show them that where had only been the shepherd was now a crowd of men, with here and there a woman. Before the mist again came between the minister had recognized many members of his congregation.
In his unsuccessful attempt to reach Whinbusses, the grieve had met the relief party from Thrums. Already the weavers had helped Waster Lunny to stave off ruin, and they were now on their way to Whinbusses, keeping together through fear of mist and water. Every few minutes Snecky Hobart rang his bell to bring in stragglers.
“Follow me,” was all the panting grieve could say at first, but his agitation told half his story. They went with him patiently, only stopping once, and then excitedly, for they come suddenly on Rob Dow. Rob was still lying a prisoner beneath the tree, and the grieve now remembered that he had fallen over this tree, and neither noticed the man under it nor been noticed by the man. Fifty hands released poor Dow, and two men were commissioned to bring him along slowly while the others hurried to the rescue of the earl. They were amazed to learn from the shepherd that Mr. Dishart also was in danger, and after “Is there a woman wi’ him?” some cried, “He’ll get off cheap wi’ drowning,” and “It’s the judgment o’ God.”
The island on which the two men stood was now little bigger than the round tables common in Thrums, and its centre was some feet farther from the bank than when Gavin jumped. A woman, looking down at it, sickened, and would have toppled into the water, had not John Spens clutched her. Others were so stricken with awe that they forgot they had hands.
Peter Tosh, the elder, cast a rope many times, but it would not carry. The one end was then weighted with a heavy stone, and the other tied round the waists of two men. But the force of the river had been underestimated. The stone fell short into the torrent, which rushed off with it so furiously that the men were flung upon their faces and trailed to the verge of the precipice. A score of persons sprang to their rescue, and the rope snapped. There was only one other rope, and its fate was not dissimilar. This time the stone fell into the water beyond the island, and immediately rushed down stream. Gavin seized the rope, but it pressed against his body, and would have pushed him off his feet had not Tosh cut it. The trunk of the tree that had fallen on Rob Dow was next dragged to the bank and an endeavor made to form a sloping bridge of it. The island, however, was now soft and unstable, and, though the trunk was successfully lowered, it only knocked lumps off the island, and finally it had to be let go, as the weavers could not pull it back. It splashed into the water, and was at once whirled out of sight. Some of the party on the bank began hastily to improvise a rope of cravats and the tags of the ropes still left, but the mass stood helpless and hopeless.
“You may wonder that we could have stood still, waiting to see the last o’ them,” Birse, the post, has said to me in the school-house, “but, dominie, I couldna hae moved, magre my neck. I’m a hale man, but if this minute we was to hear the voice o’ the Almighty saying solemnly, ‘Afore the clock strikes again, Birse, the post, will fall down dead of heart disease,’ what do you think you would do? I’ll tell you. You would stand whaur you are, and stare, tongue-tied, at me till I dropped. How do I ken? By the teaching o’ that nicht. Ay, but there’s a mair important thing I dinna ken, and that is whether I would be palsied wi’ fear like the earl, or face death with the calmness o’ the minister.”
Indeed, the contrast between Rintoul and Gavin was now impressive. When Tosh signed that the weavers had done their all and failed, the two men looked in each other’s faces, and Gavin’s face was firm and the earl’s working convulsively. The people had given up attempting to communicate with Gavin save by signs, for though they heard his sonorous voice, when he pitched it at them, they saw that he caught few words of theirs. “He heard our skirls,” Birse said, “but couldna grip the words ony mair than we could hear the earl. And yet we screamed, and the minister didna. I’ve heard o’ Highlandmen wi’ the same gift, so that they could be heard across a glen.”
“We must prepare for death,” Gavin said solemnly to the earl, “and it is for your own sake that I again ask you to tell me the truth. Worldly matters are nothing to either of us now, but I implore you not to carry a lie into your Maker’s presence.”
“I will not give up hope,” was all Rintoul’s answer, and he again tried to pierce the mist with offers of reward. After that he became doggedly silent, fixing his eyes on the ground at his feet. I have a notion that he had made up his mind to confess the truth about Babbie when the water had eaten the island as far as the point at which he was now looking.
MARGARET, THE PRECENTOR, AND GOD BETWEEN.
Unless Andrew Luke, who went to Canada, be still above ground, I am now the only survivor of the few to whom Lang Tammas told what passed in the manse parlor after the door closed on him and Margaret. With the years the others lost the details, but before I forget them the man who has been struck by lightning will look at his arm without remembering what shrivelled it. There even came a time when the scene seemed more vivid to me than to the precentor, though that was only after he began to break up.
“She was never the kind o’ woman,” Whamond said, “that a body need be nane feared at. You can see she is o’ the timid sort. I couldna hae selected a woman easier to speak bold out to, though I had ha’en my pick o’ them.”
He was a gaunt man, sour and hard, and he often paused in his story with a puzzled look on his forbidding face.
“But, man, she was so michty windy o’ him. If he had wanted to put a knife into her, I believe that woman would just hae telled him to take care no to cut his hands. Ay, and what innocent-like she was! If she had heard enough, afore I saw her, to make her uneasy, I could hae begun at once; but here she was, shaking my hand and smiling to me, so that aye when I tried to speak I gaed through ither. Nobody can despise me for it, I tell you, mair than I despise mysel’.
“I thocht to mysel’, ‘Let her hae her smile out, Tammas Whamond; it’s her hinmost.’ Syne wi’ shame at my cowardliness, I tried to yoke to my duty as chief elder o’ the kirk, and I said to her, as thrawn as I could speak, ‘Dinna thank me; I’ve done nothing for you.’
“‘I ken it wasna for me you did it,’ she said, ‘but for him; but, oh, Mr. Whamond, will that make me think the less o’ you? He’s my all,’ she says, wi’ that smile back in her face, and a look mixed up wi’t that said as plain, ‘and I need no more.’ I thocht o’ saying that some builds their house upon the sand, but — dagont, dominie, it’s a solemn thing the pride mithers has in their laddies. I mind aince my ain mither — what the devil are you glowering at, Andrew Luke? Do you think I’m greeting?
“‘You’ll sit down, Mr. Whamond,’ she says next.
“‘No, I winna,’ I said, angry-like. ‘I didna come here to sit.’
“I could see she thocht I was shy at being in the manse parlor; ay, and I thocht she was pleased at me looking shy. Weel, she took my hat out o’ my hand, and she put it on the chair at the door, whaur there’s aye an auld chair in grand houses for the servant to sit on at family exercise.
“‘You’re a man, Mr. Whamond,’ says she, ‘that the minister delights to honor, and so you’ll oblige me by sitting in his own armchair.’”
Gavin never quite delighted to honor the precentor, of whom he was always a little afraid, and perhaps Margaret knew it. But you must not think less of her for wanting to gratify her son’s chief elder. She thought, too, that he had just done her a service. I never yet knew a good woman who did not enjoy flattering men she liked.
“I saw my chance at that,” Whamond went on, “and I says to her sternly, ‘In worldly position,’ I says, ‘I’m a common man, and it’s no for the like o’ sic to sit in a minister’s chair; but it has been God’s will,’ I says, ‘to wrap around me the mantle o’ chief elder o’ the kirk, and if the minister falls awa frae grace, it becomes my duty to take his place.’
“If she had been looking at me, she maun hae grown feared at that, and syne I could hae gone on though my ilka word was a knockdown blow. But she was picking some things aff the chair to let me down on’t.
“‘It’s a pair o’ mittens I’m working for the minister,’ she says, and she handed them to me. Ay, I tried no to take them, but — Oh, lads, it’s queer to think how saft I was.
“‘He’s no to ken about them till they’re finished,’ she says, terrible fond-like.
“The words came to my mouth, ‘They’ll never be finished,’ and I could hae cursed mysel’ for no saying them. I dinna ken how it was, but there was something pitiful in seeing her take up the mittens and begin working cheerily at one, and me kenning all the time that they would never be finished. I watched her fingers, and I said to mysel’, ‘Another stitch, and that maun be your last.’ I said that to mysel’ till I thocht it was the needle that said it, and I wondered at her no hearing.
“In the tail o’ the day I says, ‘You needna bother; he’ll never wear them,’ and they sounded sic words o’ doom that I rose up off the chair. Ay, but she took me up wrang, and she said, ‘I see you have noticed how careless o’ his ain comforts he is, and that in his zeal he forgets to put on his mittens, though they may be in his pocket a’ the time. Ay,’ says she, confident-like, ‘but he winna forget these mittens, Mr. Whamond, and I’ll tell you the reason: it’s because they’re his mother’s work.’
“I stamped my foot, and she gae me an apologetic look, and she says, ‘I canna help boasting about his being so fond o’ me.’
“Ay, but here was me saying to mysel’, ‘Do your duty, Tammas Whamond; you sluggard, do your duty,’ and without lifting my een frae her fingers I said sternly, ‘The chances are,’ I said, ‘that these mittens will never be worn by the hands they are worked for.’
“‘You mean,’ says she, ‘that he’ll gie them awa to some ill-off body, as he gies near a’ thing he has? Ay, but there’s one thing he never parts wi’, and that’s my work. There’s a young lady in the manse the now,’ says she, ‘that offered to finish the mittens for me, but he would value them less if I let ony other body put a stitch into them.’
“I thocht to mysel’, ‘Tammas Whamond, the Lord has opened a door to you, and you’ll be disgraced forever if you dinna walk straucht in.’ So I rose again, and I says, boldly this time, ‘Whaur’s that young leddy? I hae something to say to her that canna be kept waiting.’
“‘She’s up the stair,’ she says, surprised, ‘but you canna ken her, Mr. Whamond, for she just came last nicht.’
“‘I ken mair o’ her than you think,’ says I; ‘I ken what brocht her here, and ken wha she thinks she is to be married to, and I’ve come to tell her that she’ll never get him.’
“‘How no?’ she said, amazed like.
“‘Because,’ said I, wi’ my teeth thegither, ‘he is already married.’
“Lads, I stood waiting to see her fall, and when she didna fall I just waited langer, thinking she was slow in taking it a’ in.
“‘I see you ken wha she is,’ she said, looking at me, ‘and yet I canna credit your news.’
“‘They’re true,’ I cries.
“‘Even if they are,’ says she, considering, ‘it may be the best thing that could happen to baith o’ them.’
“I sank back in the chair in fair bewilderment, for I didna ken at that time, as we a’ ken now, that she was thinking o’ the earl when I was thinking o’ her son. Dominie, it looked to me as if the Lord had opened a door to me, and syne shut it in my face.
“Syne wi’ me sitting there in a kind o’ awe o’ the woman’s simpleness, she began to tell me what the minister was like when he was a bairn, and I was saying a’ the time to mysel’, ‘You’re chief elder o’ the kirk, Tammas Whamond, and you maun speak out the next time she stops to draw breath.’ They were terrible sma’, common things she telled me, sic as near a’ mithers minds about their bairns, but the kind o’ holy way she said them drove my words down my throat, like as if I was some infidel man trying to break out wi’ blasphemy in a kirk.
“‘I’ll let you see something,’ says she, ‘that I ken will interest you.’ She brocht it out o’ a drawer, and what do you think it was? As sure as death it was no more than some o’ his hair when he was a litlin, and it was tied up sic carefully in paper that you would hae thocht it was some valuable thing.
“‘Mr. Whamond,’ she says solemnly, ‘you’ve come thrice to the manse to keep me frae being uneasy about my son’s absence, and you was the chief instrument under God in bringing him to Thrums, and I’ll gie you a little o’ that hair.’
“Dagont, what did I care about his hair? and yet to see her fondling it! I says to mysel’, ‘Mrs. Dishart,’ I says to mysel’, ‘I was the chief instrument under God in bringing him to Thrums, and I’ve come here to tell you that I’m to be the chief instrument under God in driving him out o’t.’ Ay, but when I focht to bring out these words, my mouth snecked like a box.
“‘Dinna gie me his hair,’ was a’ I could say, and I wouldna take it frae her; but she laid it in my hand, and — and syne what could I do? Ay, it’s easy to speak about thae things now, and to wonder how I could hae so disgraced the position o’ chief elder o’ the kirk, but I tell you I was near greeting for the woman. Call me names, dominie; I deserve them all.”
I did not call Whamond names for being reluctant to break Margaret’s heart. Here is a confession I may make. Sometimes I say my prayers at night in a hurry, going on my knees indeed, but with as little reverence as I take a drink of water before jumping into bed, and for the same reason, because it is my nightly habit. I am only pattering words I have by heart to a chair then, and should be as well employed writing a comic Bible. At such times I pray for the earthly well-being of the precentor, though he has been dead for many years. He crept into my prayers the day he told me this story, and was part of them for so long that when they are only a recitation he is part of them still.
“She said to me,” Whamond continued, “that the women o’ the congregation would be fond to handle the hair. Could I tell her that the women was waur agin him than the men? I shivered to hear her.
“‘Syne when they’re a’ sitting breathless listening to his preaching,’ she says, ‘they’ll be able to picture him as a bairn, just as I often do in the kirk mysel’.’
“Andrew Luke, you’re sneering at me, but I tell you if you had been there and had begun to say, ‘He’ll preach in our kirk no more,’ I would hae struck you. And I’m chief elder o’ the kirk.
“She says, ‘Oh, Mr. Whamond, there’s times in the kirk when he is praying, and the glow on his face is hardly mortal, so that I fall a-shaking, wi’ a mixture o’ fear and pride, me being his mother; and sinful though I am to say it, I canna help thinking at sic times that I ken what the mother o’ Jesus had in her heart when she found Him in the temple.’
“Dominie, it’s sax-and-twenty years since I was made an elder o’ the kirk. I mind the day as if it was yestreen. Mr. Carfrae made me walk hame wi’ him, and he took me into the manse parlor, and he set me in that very chair. It was the first time I was ever in the manse. Ay, he little thocht that day in his earnestness, and I little thocht mysel’ in the pride o’ my lusty youth, that the time was coming when I would swear in that reverenced parlor. I say swear, dominie, for when she had finished I jumped to my feet, and I cried, ‘Hell!’ and I lifted up my hat. And I was chief elder.
“She fell back frae my oath,” he said, “and syne she took my sleeve and speired, ‘What has come ower you, Mr. Whamond? Hae you onything on your mind?’
“‘I’ve sin on it,’ I roared at her. ‘I have neglect o’ duty on it. I am one o’ them that cries “Lord, Lord,” and yet do not the things which He commands. He has pointed out the way to me, and I hinna followed it.’
“‘What is it you hinna done that you should hae done?’ she said. ‘Oh, Mr. Whamond, if you want my help, it’s yours.’
“‘Your son’s a’ the earth to you,’ I cried, ‘but my eldership’s as muckle to me. Sax-and-twenty years hae I been an elder, and now I maun gie it up.’
“‘Wha says that?’ she speirs.
“‘I say it,’ I cried. ‘I’ve shirked my duty. I gie up my eldership now. Tammas Whamond is no langer an elder o’ the kirk;’ ay, and I was chief elder.
“Dominie, I think she began to say that when the minister came hame he wouldna accept my resignation, but I paid no heed to her. You ken what was the sound that keeped my ears frae her words; it was the sound o’ a machine coming yont the Tenements. You ken what was the sicht that made me glare through the window instead o’ looking at her; it was the sicht o’ Mr. Dishart in the machine. I couldna speak, but I got my body atween her and the window, for I heard shouting, and I couldna doubt that it was the folk cursing him.
“But she heard too, she heard too, and she squeezed by me to the window. I couldna look out; I just walked saft-like to the parlor door, but afore I reached it she cried joyously --
“‘It’s my son come back, and see how fond o’ him they are! They are running at the side o’ the machine, and the laddies are tossing their bonnets in the air.’
“‘God help you, woman!’ I said to mysel’, ‘it canna be bonnets — it’s stanes and divits mair likely that they’re flinging at him.’ Syne I creeped out o’ the manse. Dominie, you mind I passed you in the kitchen, and didna say a word?”
Yes, I saw the precentor pass through the kitchen, with such a face on him as no man ever saw him wear again. Since Tammas Whamond died we have had to enlarge the Thrums cemetery twice; so it can matter not at all to him, and but little to me, what you who read think of him. All his life children ran from him. He was the dourest, the most unlovable man in Thrums. But may my right hand wither, and may my tongue be cancer-bitten, and may my mind be gone into a dry rot, before I forget what he did for me and mine that day!
RINTOUL AND BABBIE — BREAKDOWN OF THE DEFENCE OF THE MANSE.
“You dare to look me in the face!”
They were Rintoul’s words. Yet Babbie had only ventured to look up because he was so long in speaking. His voice was low but harsh, like a wheel on which the brake is pressed sharply.
“It seems to be more than the man is capable of,” he added sourly.
“Do you think,” Babbie exclaimed, taking fire, “that he is afraid of you?”
“So it seems; but I will drag him into the light, wherever he is skulking.”
Lord Rintoul strode to the door, and the brake was off his tongue already.
“Go,” said Babbie coldly, “and shout and stamp through the house; you may succeed in frightening the women, who are the only persons in it.”
“Where is he?”
“He has gone to the Spittal to see you.”
“He knew I was on the hill.”
“He lost me in the darkness, and thought you had run away with me in your trap.”
“Ha! So he is off to the Spittal to ask me to give you back to him.”
“To compel you,” corrected Babbie.
“Pooh!” said the earl nervously, “that was but mummery on the hill.”
“It was a marriage.”
“With gypsies for witnesses. Their word would count for less than nothing. Babbie, I am still in time to save you.”
“I don’t want to be saved. The marriage had witnesses no court could discredit.”
“Mr. McKenzie and yourself.”
She heard his teeth meet. When next she looked at him, there were tears in his eyes as well as in her own. It was perhaps the first time these two had ever been in close sympathy. Both were grieving for Rintoul.
“I am so sorry,” Babbie began in a broken voice; then stopped, because they seemed such feeble words.
“If you are sorry,” the earl answered eagerly, “it is not yet too late. McKenzie and I saw nothing. Come away with me, Babbie, if only in pity for yourself.”
“Ah, but I don’t pity myself.”
“Because this man has blinded you.”
“No, he has made me see.”
“This mummery on the hill — —”
“Why do you call it so? I believe God approved of that marriage, as He could never have countenanced yours and mine.”
“God! I never heard the word on your lips before.”
“I know that.”
“It is his teaching, doubtless?”
“And he told you that to do to me as you have done was to be pleasing in God’s sight?”
“No; he knows that it was so evil in God’s sight that I shall suffer for it always.”
“But he has done no wrong, so there is no punishment for him?”
“It is true that he has done no wrong, but his punishment will be worse, probably, than mine.”
“That,” said the earl, scoffing, “is not just.”
“It is just. He has accepted responsibility for my sins by marrying me.”
“And what form is his punishment to take?”
“For marrying me he will be driven from his church and dishonored in all men’s eyes, unless — unless God is more merciful to us than we can expect.”
Her sincerity was so obvious that the earl could no longer meet it with sarcasm.
“It is you I pity now,” he said, looking wonderingly at her. “Do you not see that this man has deceived you? Where was his boasted purity in meeting you by stealth, as he must have been doing, and plotting to take you from me?”
“If you knew him,” Babbie answered, “you would not need to be told that he is incapable of that. He thought me an ordinary gypsy until an hour ago.”
“And you had so little regard for me that you waited until the eve of what was to be our marriage, and then, laughing at my shame, ran off to marry him.”
“I am not so bad as that,” Babbie answered, and told him what had brought her to Thrums. “I had no thought but of returning to you, nor he of keeping me from you. We had said good-by at the mudhouse door — and then we heard your voice.”
“And my voice was so horrible to you that it drove you to this?”
“I — I love him so much.”
What more could Babbie answer? These words told him that, if love commands, home, the friendships of a lifetime, kindnesses incalculable, are at once as naught. Nothing is so cruel as love if a rival challenges it to combat.
“Why could you not love me, Babbie?” said the earl sadly. “I have done so much for you.”
It was little he had done for her that was not selfish. Men are deceived curiously in such matters. When they add a new wing to their house, they do not call the action virtue; but if they give to a fellow-creature for their own gratification, they demand of God a good mark for it. Babbie, however, was in no mood to make light of the earl’s gifts, and at his question she shook her head sorrowfully.
“Is it because I am too — old?”
This was the only time he ever spoke of his age to her.
“Oh no, it is not that,” she replied hastily, “I love Mr. Dishart — because he loves me, I think.”
“Have I not loved you always?”
“Never,” Babbie answered simply. “If you had, perhaps then I should have loved you.”
“Babbie,” he exclaimed, “if ever man loved woman, and showed it by the sacrifices he made for her, I — —”
“No,” Babbie said, “you don’t understand what it is. Ah! I did not mean to hurt you.”
“If I don’t know what it is, what is it?” he asked, almost humbly. “I scarcely know you now.”
“That is it,” said Babbie.
She gave him back his ring, and then he broke down pitifully. Doubtless there was good in him, but I saw him only once; and with nothing to contrast against it, I may not now attempt to breathe life into the dust of his senile passion. These were the last words that passed between him and Babbie:
“There was nothing,” he said wistfully, “in this wide world that you could not have had by asking me for it. Was not that love?”
“No,” she answered. “What right have I to everything I cry for?”
“You should never have had a care had you married me. That is love.”
“It is not. I want to share my husband’s cares, as I expect him to share mine.”
“I would have humored you in everything.”
“You always did: as if a woman’s mind were for laughing at, like a baby’s passions.”
“You had your passions, too, Babbie. Yet did I ever chide you for them? That was love.”
“No, it was contempt. Oh,” she cried passionately, “what have not you men to answer for who talk of love to a woman when her face is all you know of her; and her passions, her aspirations, are for kissing to sleep, her very soul a plaything? I tell you, Lord Rintoul, and it is all the message I send back to the gentlemen at the Spittal who made love to me behind your back, that this is a poor folly, and well calculated to rouse the wrath of God.”
Now, Jean’s ear had been to the parlor keyhole for a time, but some message she had to take to Margaret, and what she risked saying was this:
“It’s Lord Rintoul and a party that has been catched in the rain, and he would be obliged to you if you could gie his bride shelter for the nicht.”
Thus the distracted servant thought to keep Margaret’s mind at rest until Gavin came back.
“Lord Rintoul!” exclaimed Margaret. “What a pity Gavin has missed him. Of course she can stay here. Did you say I had gone to bed? I should not know what to say to a lord. But ask her to come up to me after he has gone — and, Jean, is the parlor looking tidy?”
Lord Rintoul having departed, Jean told Babbie how she had accounted to Margaret for his visit. “And she telled me to gie you dry claethes and her compliments, and would you gang up to the bedroom and see her?”
Very slowly Babbie climbed the stairs. I suppose she is the only person who was ever afraid of Margaret. Her first knock on the bedroom door was so soft that Margaret, who was sitting up in bed, did not hear it. When Babbie entered the room, Margaret’s first thought was that there could be no other so beautiful as this, and her second was that the stranger seemed even more timid than herself. After a few minutes’ talk she laid aside her primness, a weapon she had drawn in self-defence lest this fine lady should not understand the grandeur of a manse, and at a “Call me Babbie, won’t you?” she smiled.
“That is what some other person calls you,” said Margaret archly. “Do you know that he took twenty minutes to say good-night? My dear,” she added hastily, misinterpreting Babbie’s silence, “I should have been sorry had he taken one second less. Every tick of the clock was a gossip, telling me how he loves you.”
In the dim light a face that begged for pity was turned to Margaret.
“He does love you, Babbie?” she asked, suddenly doubtful.
Babbie turned away her face, then shook her head.
“But you love him?”
Again Babbie shook her head.
“Oh, my dear,” cried Margaret, in distress, “if this is so, are you not afraid to marry him?”
She knew now that Babbie was crying, but she did not know why Babbie could not look her in the face.
“There may be times,” Babbie said, most woeful that she had not married Rintoul, “when it is best to marry a man though we do not love him.”
“You are wrong, Babbie,” Margaret answered gravely; “if I know anything at all, it is that.”
“It may be best for others.”
“Do you mean for one other?” Margaret asked, and the girl bowed her head. “Ah, Babbie, you speak like a child.”
“You do not understand.”
“I do not need to be told the circumstances to know this — that if two people love each other, neither has any right to give the other up.”
Babbie turned impulsively to cast herself on the mercy of Gavin’s mother, but no word could she say; a hot tear fell from her eyes upon the coverlet, and then she looked at the door, as if to run away.
“But I have been too inquisitive,” Margaret began; whereupon Babbie cried, “Oh no, no, no: you are very good. I have no one who cares whether I do right or wrong.”
“Your parents — —”
“I have had none since I was a child.”
“It is the more reason why I should be your friend,” Margaret said, taking the girl’s hand.
“You do not know what you are saying. You cannot be my friend.”
“Yes, dear, I love you already. You have a good face, Babbie, as well as a beautiful one.”
Babbie could remain in the room no longer. She bade Margaret good-night and bent forward to kiss her; then drew back, like a Judas ashamed.
“Why did you not kiss me?” Margaret asked in surprise, but poor Babbie walked out of the room without answering.
Of what occurred at the manse on the following day until I reached it, I need tell little more. When Babbie was tending Sam’l Farquharson’s child in the Tenements she learned of the flood in Glen Quharity, and that the greater part of the congregation had set off to the assistance of the farmers; but fearful as this made her for Gavin’s safety, she kept the new anxiety from his mother. Deceived by another story of Jean’s, Margaret was the one happy person in the house.
“I believe you had only a lover’s quarrel with Lord Rintoul last night,” she said to Babbie in the afternoon. “Ah, you see I can guess what is taking you to the window so often. You must not think him long in coming for you. I can assure you that the rain which keeps my son from me must be sufficiently severe to separate even true lovers. Take an old woman’s example, Babbie. If I thought the minister’s absence alarming, I should be in anguish; but as it is, my mind is so much at ease that, see, I can thread my needle.”
It was in less than an hour after Margaret spoke thus tranquilly to Babbie that the precentor got into the manse.
BABBIE AND MARGARET — DEFENCE OF THE MANSE CONTINUED.
The Egyptian was mournful in Windyghoul, up which she had once danced and sung; but you must not think that she still feared Dow. I felt McKenzie’s clutch on my arm for hours after he left me, but she was far braver than I; indeed, dangers at which I should have shut my eyes only made hers gleam, and I suppose it was sheer love of them that first made her play the coquette with Gavin. If she cried now, it was not for herself; it was because she thought she had destroyed him. Could I have gone to her then and said that Gavin wanted to blot out the gypsy wedding, that throbbing little breast would have frozen at once, and the drooping head would have been proud again, and she would have gone away forever without another tear.
What do I say? I am doing a wrong to the love these two bore each other. Babbie would not have taken so base a message from my lips. He would have had to say the words to her himself before she believed them his. What would he want her to do now? was the only question she asked herself. To follow him was useless, for in that rain and darkness two people might have searched for each other all night in a single field. That he would go to the Spittal, thinking her in Rintoul’s dogcart, she did not doubt; and his distress was painful to her to think of. But not knowing that the burns were in flood, she underestimated his danger.
Remembering that the mudhouse was near, she groped her way to it, meaning to pass the night there; but at the gate she turned away hastily, hearing from the door the voice of a man she did not know to be Nanny’s brother. She wandered recklessly a short distance, until the rain began to threaten again, and then, falling on her knees in the broom, she prayed to God for guidance. When she rose she set off for the manse.
The rain that followed the flash of lightning had brought Margaret to the kitchen.
“Jean, did you ever hear such a rain? It is trying to break into the manse.”
“I canna hear you, ma’am; is it the rain you’re feared at?”
“What else could it be?”
Jean did not answer.
“I hope the minister won’t leave the church, Jean, till this is over?”
“Nobody would daur, ma’am. The rain’ll turn the key on them all.”
Jean forced out these words with difficulty, for she knew that the church had been empty and the door locked for over an hour.
“This rain has come as if in answer to the minister’s prayer, Jean.”
“It wasna rain like this they wanted.”
“Jean, you would not attempt to guide the Lord’s hand. The minister will have to reprove the people for thinking too much of him again, for they will say that he induced God to send the rain. To-night’s meeting will be remembered long in Thrums.”
Jean shuddered, and said, “It’s mair like an ordinary rain now, ma’am.”
“But it has put out your fire, and I wanted another heater. Perhaps the one I have is hot enough, though.”
Margaret returned to the parlor, and from the kitchen Jean could hear the heater tilted backward and forward in the box-iron — a pleasant, homely sound when there is happiness in the house. Soon she heard a step outside, however, and it was followed by a rough shaking of the barred door.
“Is it you, Mr. Dishart?” Jean asked nervously.
“It’s me, Tammas Whamond,” the precentor answered. “Unbar the door.”
“What do you want? Speak low.”
“I winna speak low. Let me in. I hae news for the minister’s mother.”
“What news?” demanded Jean.
“Jean Proctor, as chief elder of the kirk I order you to let me do my duty.”
“Whaur’s the minister?”
“He’s a minister no longer. He’s married a gypsy woman and run awa wi’ her.”
“You lie, Tammas Whamond. I believe — —”
“Your belief’s of no consequence. Open the door, and let me in to tell your mistress what I hae seen.”
“She’ll hear it first frae his ain lips if she hears it ava. I winna open the door.”
“Then I’ll burst it open.”
Whamond flung himself at the door, and Jean, her fingers rigid with fear, stood waiting for its fall. But the rain came to her rescue by lashing the precentor until even he was forced to run from it.
“I’ll be back again,” he cried. “Woe to you, Jean Proctor, that hae denied your God this nicht.”
“Who was that speaking to you, Jean?” asked Margaret, re-entering the kitchen. Until the rain abated Jean did not attempt to answer.
“I thought it was the precentor’s voice,” Margaret said.
Jean was a poor hand at lying, and she stuttered in her answer.
“There is nothing wrong, is there?” cried Margaret, in sudden fright. “My son — —”
The words jumped from Jean to save Margaret from falling. Now she could not take them back. “I winna believe it o’ him,” said Jean to herself. “Let them say what they will, I’ll be true to him; and when he comes back he’ll find her as he left her.”
“It was Lang Tammas,” she answered her mistress; “but he just came to say that — —”
“Quick, Jean! what?”
“ —— Mr. Dishart has been called to a sick-bed in the country, ma’am — to the farm o’ Look-About-You; and as it’s sic a rain, he’s to bide there a’ nicht.”
“And Whamond came through that rain to tell me this? How good of him. Was there any other message?”
“Just that the minister hoped you would go straight to your bed, ma’am,” said Jean, thinking to herself, “There can be no great sin in giving her one mair happy nicht; it may be her last.”
The two women talked for a short time, and then read verse about in the parlor from the third chapter of Mark.
“This is the first night we have been left alone in the manse,” Margaret said, as she was retiring to her bedroom, “and we must not grudge the minister to those who have sore need of him. I notice that you have barred the doors.”
“Ay, they’re barred. Nobody can win in the nicht.”
“Nobody will want in, Jean,” Margaret said, smiling.
“I dinna ken about that,” answered Jean below her breath. “Ay, ma’am, may you sleep for baith o’ us this nicht, for I daurna gang to my bed.”
Jean was both right and wrong, for two persons wanted in within the next half-hour, and she opened the door to both of them. The first to come was Babbie.
So long as women sit up of nights listening for a footstep, will they flatten their faces at the window, though all without be black. Jean had not been back in the kitchen for two minutes before she raised the blind. Her eyes were close to the glass, when she saw another face almost meet hers, as you may touch your reflection in a mirror. But this face was not her own. It was white and sad. Jean suppressed a cry, and let the blind fall, as if shutting the lid on some uncanny thing.
“Won’t you let me in?” said a voice that might have been only the sob of a rain-beaten wind; “I am nearly drowned.”
Jean stood like death; but her suppliant would not pass on.
“You are not afraid?” the voice continued. “Raise the blind again, and you will see that no one need fear me.”
At this request Jean’s hands sought each other’s company behind her back.
“Wha are you?” she asked, without stirring. “Are you — the woman?”
“Whaur’s the minister?”
The rain again became wild, but this time it only tore by the manse as if to a conflict beyond.
“Are you aye there? I daurna let you in till I’m sure the mistress is bedded. Gang round to the front, and see if there’s ony licht burning in the high west window.”
“There was a light,” the voice said presently, “but it was turned out as I looked.”
“Then I’ll let you in, and God kens I mean no wrang by it.”
Babbie entered shivering, and Jean rebarred the door. Then she looked long at the woman whom her master loved. Babbie was on her knees at the hearth, holding out her hands to the dead fire.
“What a pity it’s a fause face.”
“Do I look so false?”
“Is it true? You’re no married to him?”
“Yes, it is true.”
“And yet you look as if you was fond o’ him. If you cared for him, how could you do it?”
“That was why I did it.”
“And him could hae had wha he liked.”
“I gave up Lord Rintoul for him.”
“What? Na, na; you’re the Egyptian.”
“You judge me by my dress.”
“And soaking it is. How you’re shivering — what neat fingers — what bonny little feet. I could near believe what you tell me. Aff wi’ these rags, an I’ll gie you on my black frock, if — if you promise me no to gang awa wi’t.”
So Babbie put on some clothes of Jean’s, including the black frock, and stockings and shoes.
“Mr. Dishart cannot be back, Jean,” she said, “before morning, and I don’t want his mother to see me till he comes.”
“I wouldna let you near her the nicht though you gaed on your knees to me. But whaur is he?”
Babbie explained why Gavin had set off for the Spittal; but Jean shook her head incredulously, saying, “I canna believe you’re that grand leddy, and yet ilka time I look at you I could near believe it.”
In another minute Jean had something else to think of, for there came a loud rap upon the front door.
“It’s Tammas Whamond back again,” she moaned; “and if the mistress hears, she’ll tell me to let him in.”
“You shall open to me,” cried a hoarse voice.
“That’s no Tammas’ word,” Jean said in bewilderment.
“It is Lord Rintoul,” Babbie whispered.
“What? Then it’s truth you telled me.”
The knocking continued; a door upstairs opened, and Margaret spoke over the banisters.
“Have you gone to bed, Jean? Some one is knocking at the door, and a minute ago I thought I heard a carriage stop close by. Perhaps the farmer has driven Mr. Dishart home.”
“I’m putting on my things, ma’am,” Jean answered; then whispered to Babbie, “What’s to be done?”
“He won’t go away,” Babbie answered. “You will have to let him into the parlor, Jean. Can she see the door from up there?”
“No; but though he was in the parlor?”
“I shall go to him there.”
“Make haste, Jean,” Margaret called. “If it is any persons wanting shelter, we must give it them on such a night.”
“A minute, ma’am,” Jean answered. To Babbie she whispered, “What shall I say to her?”
“I — I don’t know,” answered Babbie ruefully. “Think of something, Jean. But open the door now. Stop, let me into the parlor first.”
The two women stole into the parlor.
“Tell me what will be the result o’ his coming here,” entreated Jean.
“The result,” Babbie said firmly, “will be that he shall go away and leave me here.”
Margaret heard Jean open the front door and speak to some person or persons whom she showed into the parlor.
the little minister
First published serially in Good Words 1891