THRUMS DURING THE TWENTY-FOUR HOURS — DEFENCE OF THE MANSE.
Hardly had I crossed the threshold of the mudhouse when such a sickness came over me that I could not have looked up, though Nanny’s voice had suddenly changed to Margaret’s. Vaguely I knew that Nanny had put the kettle on the fire — a woman’s first thought when there is illness in the house — and as I sat with my hands over my face I heard the water dripping from my clothes to the floor.
“Why is that bell ringing?” I asked at last, ignoring all questions and speaking through my fingers. An artist, I suppose, could paint all expression out of a human face. The sickness was having that effect on my voice.
“It’s the Auld Licht bell,” Sanders said; “and it’s almost as fearsome to listen to as last nicht’s rain. I wish I kent what they’re ringing it for.”
“Wish no sic things,” said Nanny nervously. “There’s things it’s best to put off kenning as lang as we can.”
“It’s that ill-cleakit witch, Effie McBean, that makes Nanny speak so doleful,” Sanders told me. “There was to be a prayer-meeting last nicht, but Mr. Dishart never came to ‘t, though they rang till they wraxed their arms; and now Effie says it’ll ring on by itsel’ till he’s brocht hame a corp. The hellicat says the rain’s a dispensation to drown him in for neglect o’ duty. Sal, I would think little o’ the Lord if He needed to create a new sea to drown one man in. Nanny, yon cuttie, that’s no swearing; I defy you to find a single lonely oath in what I’ve said.”
“Never mind Effie McBean,” I interposed. “What are the congregation saying about the minister’s absence?”
“We ken little except what Effie telled us,” Nanny answered. “I was at Tilliedrum yestreen, meeting Sanders as he got out o’ the gaol, and that awfu onding began when we was on the Bellies Braes. We focht our way through it, but not a soul did we meet; and wha would gang out the day that can bide at hame? Ay, but Effie says it’s kent in Thrums that Mr. Dishart has run off wi’ — wi’ an Egyptian.”
“You’re waur than her, Nanny,” Sanders said roughly, “for you hae twa reasons for kenning better. In the first place, has Mr. Dishart no keeped you in siller a’ the time I was awa? and for another, have I no been at the manse?”
My head rose now.
“He gaed to the manse,” Nanny explained, “to thank Mr. Dishart for being so good to me. Ay, but Jean wouldna let him in. I’m thinking that looks gey gray.”
“Whatever was her reason,” Sanders admitted, “Jean wouldna open the door; but I keeked in at the parlor window, and saw Mrs. Dishart in’t looking very cosy-like and lauching; and do you think I would hae seen that if ill had come ower the minister?”
“Not if Margaret knew of it,” I said to myself, and wondered at Whamond’s forbearance.
“She had a skein o’ worsted stretched out on her hands,” Sanders continued, “and a young leddy was winding it. I didna see her richt, but she wasna a Thrums leddy.”
“Effie McBean says she’s his intended, come to call him to account,” Nanny said; but I hardly listened, for I saw that I must hurry to Tammas Whamond’s. Nanny followed me to the gate with her gown pulled over her head, and said excitedly:
“Oh, dominie, I warrant it’s true. It’ll be Babbie. Sanders doesna suspect, because I’ve telled him nothing about her. Oh, what’s to be done? They were baith so good to me.”
I could only tell her to keep what she knew to herself.
“Has Rob Dow come back?” I called out after I had started.
“Whaur frae?” she replied; and then I remembered that all these things had happened while Nanny was at Tilliedrum. In this life some of the seven ages are spread over two decades, and others pass as quickly as a stage play. Though a fifth of a season’s rain had fallen in a night and a day, it had scarcely kept pace with Gavin.
I hurried to the town by the Roods. That brae was as deserted as the country roads, except where children had escaped from their mothers to wade in it. Here and there dams were keeping the water away from one door to send it with greater volume to another, and at points the ground had fallen in. But this I noticed without interest. I did not even realize that I was holding my head painfully to the side where it had been blown by the wind and glued by the rain. I have never held my head straight since that journey.
Only a few looms were going, their pedals in water. I was addressed from several doors and windows, once by Charles Yuill.
“Dinna pretend,” he said, “that you’ve walked in frae the school-house alane. The rain chased me into this house yestreen, and here it has keeped me, though I bide no further awa than Tillyloss.”
“Charles,” I said in a low voice, “why is the Auld Licht bell ringing?”
“Hae you no heard about Mr. Dishart?” he asked. “Oh, man! that’s Lang Tammas in the kirk by himsel’, 318 tearing at the bell to bring the folk thegither to depose the minister.”
Instead of going to Whamond’s house in the school wynd I hastened down the Banker’s close to the kirk, and had almost to turn back, so choked was the close with floating refuse. I could see the bell swaying, but the kirk was locked, and I battered on the door to no purpose. Then, remembering that Hendry Munn lived in Coutt’s trance, I set off for his house. He saw me crossing the square, but would not open his door until I was close to it.
“When I open,” he cried, “squeeze through quick”; but though I did his bidding, a rush of water darted in before me. Hendry reclosed the door by flinging himself against it.
“When I saw you crossing the square,” he said, “it was surprise enough to cure the hiccup.”
“Hendry,” I replied instantly, “why is the Auld Licht bell ringing?”
He put his finger to his lip. “I see,” he said imperturbably, “you’ve met our folk in the glen and heard frae them about the minister.”
“Mair than half the congregation,” he replied, “I started for Glen Quharity twa hours syne to help the farmers. You didna see them?”
“No; they must have been on the other side of the river.” Again that question forced my lips, “Why is the bell ringing?”
“Canny, dominie,” he said, “till we’re up the stair. Mysy Moncur’s lug’s at her keyhole listening to you.”
“You lie, Hendry Munn,” cried an invisible woman. The voice became more plaintive: “I ken a heap, Hendry, so you may as well tell me a’.”
“Lick away at the bone you hae,” the shoemaker replied heartlessly, and conducted me to his room up one of the few inside stairs then in Thrums. Hendry’s oddest furniture was five boxes, fixed to the wall at such a height that children could climb into them from a high stool. In these his bairns slept, and so space was economized. I could never laugh at the arrangement, as I knew that Betty had planned it on her deathbed for her man’s sake. Five little heads bobbed up in their beds as I entered, but more vexing to me was Wearyworld on a stool.
“In by, dominie,” he said sociably. “Sal, you needna fear burning wi’ a’ that water on you. You’re in mair danger o’ coming a-boil.”
“I want to speak to you alone, Hendry,” I said bluntly.
“You winna put me out, Hendry?” the alarmed policeman entreated. “Mind, you said in sic weather you would be friendly to a brute beast. Ay, ay, dominie, what’s your news? It’s welcome, be it good or bad. You would meet the townsfolk in the glen, and they would tell you about Mr. Dishart. What, you hinna heard? Oh, sirs, he’s a lost man. There would hae been a meeting the day to depose him if so many hadna gaen to the glen. But the morn’ll do as weel. The very women is cursing him, and the laddies has begun to gather stanes. He’s married on an Egyp — —”
“Hendry!” I cried, like one giving an order.
“Wearyworld, step!” said Hendry sternly, and then added soft-heartedly: “Here’s a bit news that’ll open Mysy Moncur’s door to you. You can tell her frae me that the bell’s ringing just because I forgot to tie it up last nicht, and the wind’s shaking it, and I winna gang out in the rain to stop it.”
“Ay,” the policeman said, looking at me sulkily, “she may open her door for that, but it’ll no let me in. Tell me mair. Tell me wha the leddy at the manse is.”
“Out you go,” answered Hendry. “Once she opens the door, you can shove your foot in, and syne she’s in your power.” He pushed Wearyworld out, and came back to me, saying, “It was best to tell him the truth, to keep him frae making up lies.”
“But is it the truth? I was told Lang Tammas — —”
“Ay, I ken that story; but Tammas has other work on hand.”
“Then tie up the bell at once, Hendry,” I urged.
“I canna,” he answered gravely. “Tammas took the keys o’ the kirk fram me yestreen, and winna gie them up. He says the bell’s being rung by the hand o’ God.”
“Has he been at the manse? Does Mrs. Dishart know —— ?”
“He’s been at the manse twa or three times, but Jean barred him out. She’ll let nobody in till the minister comes back, and so the mistress kens nothing. But what’s the use o’ keeping it frae her ony langer?”
“Every use,” I said.
“None,” answered Hendry sadly. “Dominie, the minister was married to the Egyptian on the hill last nicht, and Tammas was witness. Not only were they married, but they’ve run aff thegither.”
“You are wrong, Hendry,” I assured him, telling as much as I dared. “I left Mr. Dishart in my house.”
“What! But if that is so, how did he no come back wi’ you?”
“Because he was nearly drowned in the flood.”
“She’ll be wi’ him?”
“He was alone.”
Hendry’s face lit up dimly with joy, and then he shook his head. “Tammas was witness,” he said. “Can you deny the marriage?”
“All I ask of you,” I answered guardedly, “is to suspend judgment until the minister returns.”
“There can be nothing done, at ony rate,” he said, “till the folk themsel’s come back frae the glen; and I needna tell you how glad we would a’ be to be as fond o’ him as ever. But Tammas was witness.”
“Have pity on his mother, man.”
“We’ve done the best for her we could,” he replied. “We prigged wi’ Tammas no to gang to the manse till we was sure the minister was living. ‘For if he has been drowned,’ we said, ‘his mother need never ken what we were thinking o’ doing.’ Ay, and we’re sorry for the young leddy, too.”
“What young lady is this you all talk of?” I asked.
“She’s his intended. Ay, you needna start. She has come a’ the road frae Glasgow to challenge him about the gypsy. The pitiful thing is that Mrs. Dishart lauched awa her fears, and now they’re baith waiting for his return, as happy as ignorance can make them.”
“There is no such lady,” I said.
“But there is,” he answered doggedly, “for she came in a machine late last nicht, and I was ane o’ a dozen that baith heard and saw it through my window. It stopped at the manse near half an hour. What’s mair, the lady hersel’ was at Sam’l Farquharson’s in the Tenements the day for twa hours.”
I listened in bewilderment and fear.
“Sam’l’s bairn’s down wi’ scarlet fever and like to die, and him being a widow-man he has gone useless. You mauna blame the wives in the Tenements for hauding back. They’re fleid to smit their ain litlins; and as it happens, Sam’l’s friends is a’ aff to the glen. Weel, he ran greeting to the manse for Mr. Dishart, and the lady heard him crying to Jean through the door, and what does she do but gang straucht to the Tenements wi’ Sam’l. Her goodness has naturally put the folk on her side against the minister.”
“This does not prove her his intended,” I broke in.
“She was heard saying to Sam’l,” answered the kirk officer, “that the minister being awa, it was her duty to take his place. Yes, and though she little kent it, he was already married.”
“Hendry,” I said, rising, “I must see this lady at once. Is she still at Farquharson’s house?”
“She may be back again by this time. Tammas set off for Sam’l’s as soon as he heard she was there, but he just missed her. I left him there an hour syne. He was waiting for her, determined to tell her all.”
I set off for the Tenements at once, declining Hendry’s company. The wind had fallen, so that the bell no longer rang, but the rain was falling doggedly. The streets were still deserted. I pushed open the precentor’s door in the school wynd, but there was no one in the house. Tibbie Birse saw me, and shouted from her door:
“Hae you heard o’ Mr. Dishart? He’ll never daur show face in Thrums again.”
Without giving her a word I hastened to the Tenements.
“The leddy’s no here,” Sam’l Farquharson told me, “and Tammas is back at the manse again, trying to force his way in.”
From Sam’l, too, I turned, with no more than a groan; but he cried after me, “Perdition on the man that has played that leddy false.”
Had Margaret been at her window she must have seen me, so recklessly did I hurry up the minister’s road, with nothing in me but a passion to take Whamond by the throat. He was not in the garden. The kitchen door was open. Jean was standing at it with her apron to her eyes.
“Tammas Whamond?” I demanded, and my face completed the question.
“You’re ower late,” she wailed. “He’s wi’ her. Oh, dominie, whaur’s the minister?”
“You base woman!” I cried, “why did you unbar the door?”
“It was the mistress,” she answered. “She heard him shaking it, and I had to tell her wha it was. Dominie, it’s a’ my wite! He tried to get in last nicht, and roared threats through the door, and after he had gone awa she speired wha I had been speaking to. I had to tell her, but I said he had come to let her ken that the minister was taking shelter frae the rain in a farmhouse. Ay, I said he was to bide there till the flood gaed down, and that’s how she has been easy a’ day. I acted for the best, but I’m sair punished now; for when she heard Tammas at the door twa or three minutes syne, she ordered me to let him in, so that she could thank him for bringing the news last nicht, despite the rain. They’re in the parlor. Oh, dominie, gang in and stop his mouth.”
This was hard. I dared not go to the parlor. Margaret might have died at sight of me. I turned my face from Jean.
“Jean,” said some one, opening the inner kitchen door, “why did you —— ?”
She stopped, and that was what turned me round. As she spoke I thought it was the young lady; when I looked I saw it was Babbie, though no longer in a gypsy’s dress. Then I knew that the young lady and Babbie were one.
SECOND JOURNEY OF THE DOMINIE TO THRUMS DURING THE TWENTY-FOUR HOURS.
Here was a nauseous draught for me. Having finished my tale, I turned to Gavin for sympathy; and, behold, he had been listening for the cannon instead of to my final words. So, like an old woman at her hearth, we warm our hands at our sorrows and drop in faggots, and each thinks his own fire a sun, in presence of which all other fires should go out. I was soured to see Gavin prove this, and then I could have laughed without mirth, for had not my bitterness proved it too?
“And now,” I said, rising, “whether Margaret is to hold up her head henceforth lies no longer with me, but with you.”
It was not to that he replied.
“You have suffered long, Mr. Ogilvy,” he said. “Father,” he added, wringing my hand. I called him son; but it was only an exchange of musty words that we had found too late. A father is a poor estate to come into at two and twenty.
“I should have been told of this,” he said.
“Your mother did right, sir,” I answered slowly, but he shook his head.
“I think you have misjudged her,” he said. “Doubtless while my fa — , while Adam Dishart lived, she could only think of you with pain; but after his death — —”
“After his death,” I said quietly, “I was still so horrible to her that she left Harvie without letting a soul know whither she was bound. She dreaded my following her.”
“Stranger to me,” he said, after a pause, “than even your story is her being able to keep it from me. I believed no thought ever crossed her mind that she did not let me share.”
“And none, I am sure, ever did,” I answered, “save that, and such thoughts as a woman has with God only. It was my lot to bring disgrace on her. She thought it nothing less, and she has hidden it all these years for your sake, until now it is not burdensome. I suppose she feels that God has taken the weight off her. Now you are to put a heavier burden in its place.”
He faced me boldly, and I admire him for it now.
“I cannot admit,” he said, “that I did wrong in forgetting my mother for that fateful quarter of an hour. Babbie and I loved each other, and I was given the opportunity of making her mine or losing her forever. Have you forgotten that all this tragedy you have told me of only grew out of your own indecision? I took the chance that you let slip by.”
“I had not forgotten,” I replied. “What else made me tell you last night that Babbie was in Nanny’s house?”
“But now you are afraid — now when the deed is done, when for me there can be no turning back. Whatever be the issue, I should be a cur to return to Thrums without my wife. Every minute I feel my strength returning, and before you reach Thrums I will have set out to the Spittal.”
There was nothing to say after that. He came with me in the rain as far as the dike, warning me against telling his people what was not true.
“My first part,” I answered, “will be to send word to your mother that you are in safety. After that I must see Whamond. Much depends on him.”
“You will not go to my mother?”
“Not so long as she has a roof over her head,” I said, “but that may not be for long.”
So, I think, we parted — each soon to forget the other in a woman.
But I had not gone far when I heard something that stopped me as sharply as if it had been McKenzie’s hand once more on my shoulder. For a second the noise appalled me, and then, before the echo began, I knew it must be the Spittal cannon. My only thought was one of thankfulness. Now Gavin must see the wisdom of my reasoning. I would wait for him until he was able to come with me to Thrums. I turned back, and in my haste I ran through water I had gone round before.
I was too late. He was gone, and into the rain I shouted his name in vain. That he had started for the Spittal there could be no doubt; that he would ever reach it was less certain. The earl’s collie was still crouching by the fire, and, thinking it might be a guide to him, I drove the brute to the door, and chased it in the direction he probably had taken. Not until it had run from me did I resume my own journey. I do not need to be told that you who read would follow Gavin now rather than me; but you must bear with the dominie for a little while yet, as I see no other way of making things clear.
In some ways I was not ill-equipped for my attempt. I do not know any one of our hillsides as it is known to the shepherd, to whom every rabbit-hole and glimmer of mica is a landmark; but he, like his flock, has only to cross a dike to find himself in a strange land, while I have been everywhere in the glen.
In the foreground the rain slanted, transparent till it reached the ground, where a mist seemed to blow it along as wind ruffles grass. In the distance all was a driving mist. I have been out for perhaps an hour in rains as wetting, and I have watched floods from my window, but never since have I known the fifth part of a season’s rainfall in eighteen hours; and if there should be the like here again, we shall be found better prepared for it. Men have been lost in the glen in mists so thick that they could plunge their fingers out of sight in it as into a meal girnel; but this mist never came within twenty yards of me. I was surrounded by it, however, as if I was in a round tent; and out of this tent I could not walk, for it advanced with me. On the other side of this screen were horrible noises, at whose cause I could only guess, save now and again when a tongue of water was shot at my feet, or great stones came crashing through the canvas of mist. Then I ran wherever safety prompted, and thus tangled my bearings until I was like that one in the child’s game who is blindfolded and turned round three times that he may not know east from west.
Once I stumbled over a dead sheep and a living lamb; and in a clump of trees which puzzled me — for they were where I thought no trees should be — a wood-pigeon flew to me, but struck my breast with such force that I picked it up dead. I saw no other living thing, though half a dozen times I must have passed within cry of farmhouses. At one time I was in a cornfield, where I had to lift my hands to keep them out of water, and a dread filled me that I had wandered in a circle, and was still on Waster Lunny’s land. I plucked some corn and held it to my eyes to see if it was green; but it was yellow, and so I knew that at last I was out of the glen.
People up here will complain if I do not tell how I found the farmer of Green Brae’s fifty pounds. It is one of the best-remembered incidents of the flood, and happened shortly after I got out of the cornfield. A house rose suddenly before me, and I was hastening to it when as suddenly three of its walls fell. Before my mind could give a meaning to what my eyes told it, the water that had brought down the house had lifted me off my feet and flung me among waves. That would have been the last of the dominie had I not struck against a chest, then halfway on its voyage to the sea. I think the lid gave way under me; but that is surmise, for from the time the house fell till I was on the river in a kist that was like to be my coffin, is almost a blank. After what may have been but a short journey, though I had time in it to say my prayers twice, we stopped, jammed among fallen trees; and seeing a bank within reach, I tried to creep up it. In this there would have been little difficulty had not the contents of the kist caught in my feet and held on to them, like living things afraid of being left behind. I let down my hands to disentangle my feet, but failed; and then, grown desperate, I succeeded in reaching firm ground, dragging I knew not what after me. It proved to be a pillow-slip. Green Brae still shudders when I tell him that my first impulse was to leave the pillow-slip unopened. However, I ripped it up, for to undo the wet strings that had ravelled round my feet would have wearied even a man with a needle to pick open the knots; and among broken gimlets, the head of a grape, and other things no beggar would have stolen, I found a tin canister containing fifty pounds. Waster Lunny says that this should have made a religious man of Green Brae, and it did to this extent, that he called the fall of the cotter’s house providential. Otherwise the cotter, at whose expense it may be said the money was found, remains the more religious man of the two.
At last I came to the Kelpie’s brig, and I could have wept in joy (and might have been better employed), when, like everything I saw on that journey, it broke suddenly through the mist, and seemed to run at me like a living monster. Next moment I ran back, for as I stepped upon the bridge I saw that I had been about to walk into the air. What was left of the Kelpie’s brig ended in mid-stream. Instead of thanking God for the light without which I should have gone abruptly to my death, I sat down miserable and hopeless.
Presently I was up and trudging to the Loups of Malcolm. At the Loups the river runs narrow and deep between cliffs, and the spot is so called because one Malcolm jumped across it when pursued by wolves. Next day he returned boastfully to look at his jump, and gazing at it turned dizzy and fell into the river. Since that time chains have been hung across the Loups to reduce the distance between the farms of Carwhimple and Keep-What-You-Can from a mile to a hundred yards. You must cross the chains on your breast. They were suspended there by Rob Angus, who was also the first to breast them.
But I never was a Rob Angus. When my pupils practise what they call the high jump, two small boys hold a string aloft, and the bigger ones run at it gallantly until they reach it, when they stop meekly and creep beneath. They will repeat this twenty times, and yet never, when they start for the string, seem to know where their courage will fail. Nay, they will even order the small boys to hold the string higher. I have smiled at this, but it was the same courage while the difficulty is far off that took me to the Loups. At sight of them I turned away.
I prayed to God for a little of the mettle of other men, and He heard me, for with my eyes shut I seemed to see Margaret beckoning from across the abyss as if she had need of me. Then I rose calmly and tested the chains, and crossed them on my breast. Many have done it with the same danger, at which they laugh, but without that vision I should have held back.
I was now across the river, and so had left the chance of drowning behind, but I was farther from Thrums than when I left the school-house, and this countryside was almost unknown to me. The mist had begun to clear, so that I no longer wandered into fields; but though I kept to the roads, I could not tell that they led toward Thrums, and in my exhaustion I had often to stand still. Then to make a new start in the mud was like pulling stakes out of the ground. So long as the rain faced me I thought I could not be straying far; but after an hour I lost this guide, for a wind rose that blew it in all directions.
In another hour, when I should have been drawing near Thrums, I found myself in a wood, and here I think my distress was greatest; nor is this to be marvelled at, for instead of being near Thrums, I was listening to the monotonous roar of the sea. I was too spent to reason, but I knew that I must have travelled direct east, and must be close to the German Ocean. I remember putting my back against a tree and shutting my eyes, and listening to the lash of the waves against the beach, and hearing the faint toll of a bell, and wondering listlessly on what lighthouse it was ringing. Doubtless I would have lain down to sleep forever had I not heard another sound near at hand. It was the knock of a hammer on wood, and might have been a fisherman mending his boat. The instinct of self-preservation carried me to it, and presently I was at a little house. A man was standing in the rain, hammering new hinges to the door; and though I did not recognize him, I saw with bewilderment that the woman at his side was Nanny.
“It’s the dominie,” she cried, and her brother added:
“Losh, sir, you hinna the look o’ a living man.”
“Nanny,” I said, in perplexity, “what are you doing here?”
“Whaur else should I be?” she asked.
I pressed my hands over my eyes, crying, “Where am I?”
Nanny shrank from me, but Sanders said, “Has the rain driven you gyte, man? You’re in Thrums.”
“But the sea,” I said, distrusting him. “I hear it. Listen!”
“That’s the wind in Windyghoul,” Sanders answered, looking at me queerly. “Come awa into the house.”
STORY OF THE DOMINIE.
When I spoke next, I was back in the school-house, sitting there with my bonnet on my head, Gavin looking at me. We had forgotten the cannon at last.
In that chair I had anticipated this scene more than once of late. I had seen that a time might come when Gavin would have to be told all, and I had even said the words aloud, as if he were indeed opposite me. So now I was only repeating the tale, and I could tell it without emotion, because it was nigh nineteen years old; and I did not look at Gavin, for I knew that his manner of taking it could bring no change to me.
“Did you never ask your mother,” I said, addressing the fire rather than him, “why you were called Gavin?”
“Yes,” he answered, “it was because she thought Gavin a prettier name than Adam.”
“No,” I said slowly, “it was because Gavin is my name. You were called after your father. Do you not remember my taking you one day to the shore at Harvie to see the fishermen carried to their boats upon their wives’ backs, that they might start dry on their journey?”
“No,” he had to reply. “I remember the women carrying the men through the water to the boats, but I thought it was my father who — I mean — —”
“I know whom you mean,” I said. “That was our last day together, but you were not three years old. Yet you remembered me when you came to Thrums. You shake your head, but it is true. Between the diets of worship that first Sabbath I was introduced to you, and you must have had some shadowy recollection of my face, for you asked, ‘Surely I saw you in church in the forenoon, Mr. Ogilvy?’ I said ‘Yes,’ but I had not been in the church in the forenoon. You have forgotten even that, and yet I treasured it.”
I could hear that he was growing impatient, though so far he had been more indulgent than I had any right to expect.
“It can all be put into a sentence,” I said calmly. “Margaret married Adam Dishart, and afterwards, believing herself a widow, she married me. You were born, and then Adam Dishart came back.”
That is my whole story, and here was I telling it to my son, and not a tear between us. It ended abruptly, and I fell to mending the fire.
“When I knew your mother first,” I went on, after Gavin had said some boyish things that were of no avail to me, “I did not think to end my days as a dominie. I was a student at Aberdeen, with the ministry in my eye, and sometimes on Saturdays I walked forty miles to Harvie to go to church with her. She had another lover, Adam Dishart, a sailor turned fisherman; and while I lingered at corners, wondering if I could dare to meet her and her mother on their way to church, he would walk past with them. He was accompanied always by a lanky black dog, which he had brought from a foreign country. He never signed for any ship without first getting permission to take it with him, and in Harvie they said it did not know the language of the native dogs. I have never known a man and dog so attached to each other.”
“I remember that black dog,” Gavin said. “I have spoken of it to my mother, and she shuddered, as if it had once bitten her.”
“While Adam strutted by with them,” I continued, “I would hang back, raging at his assurance or my own timidity; but I lost my next chance in the same way. In Margaret’s presence something came over me, a kind of dryness in the throat, that made me dumb. I have known divinity students stricken in the same way, just as they were giving out their first text. It is no aid in getting a kirk or wooing a woman.
“If any one in Harvie recalls me now, it is as a hobbledehoy who strode along the cliffs, shouting Homer at the sea-mews. With all my learning, I, who gave Margaret the name of Lalage, understood women less than any fisherman who bandied words with them across a boat. I remember a Yule night when both Adam and I were at her mother’s cottage, and, as we were leaving, he had the audacity to kiss Margaret. She ran out of the room, and Adam swaggered off, and when I recovered from my horror, I apologized for what he had done. I shall never forget how her mother looked at me, and said, ‘Ay, Gavin, I see they dinna teach everything at Aberdeen.’ You will not believe it, but I walked away doubting her meaning. I thought more of scholarship then than I do now. Adam Dishart taught me its proper place.
“Well, that is the dull man I was; and yet, though Adam was always saying and doing the things I was making up my mind to say and do, I think Margaret cared more for me. Nevertheless, there was something about him that all women seemed to find lovable, a dash that made them send him away and then well-nigh run after him. At any rate, I could have got her after her mother’s death if I had been half a man. But I went back to Aberdeen to write a poem about her, and while I was at it Adam married her.”
I opened my desk and took from it a yellow manuscript.
“Here,” I said, “is the poem. You see, I never finished it.”
I was fingering the thing grimly when Gavin’s eye fell on something else in the desk. It was an ungainly clasp-knife, as rusty as if it had spent a winter beneath a hedge.
“I seem to remember that knife,” he said.
“Yes,” I answered, “you should remember it. Well, after three months Adam tired of his wife.”
I stopped again. This was a story in which only the pauses were eloquent.
“Perhaps I have no right to say he tired of her. One day, however, he sauntered away from Harvie whistling, his dog at his heels as ever, and was not seen again for nearly six years. When I heard of his disappearance I packed my books in that kist and went to Harvie, where I opened a school. You see, every one but Margaret believed that Adam had fallen over the cliffs and been drowned.”
“But the dog?” said Gavin.
“We were all sure that, if he had fallen over, it had jumped after him. The fisher-folk said that he could have left his shadow behind as easily as it. Yet Margaret thought for long that he had tired of Harvie merely and gone back to sea, and not until two years had passed would she marry me. We lived in Adam’s house. It was so near the little school that when I opened the window in summer-time she could hear the drone of our voices. During the weeks before you were born I kept that window open all day long, and often I went to it and waved my hand to her.
“Sometimes, when she was washing or baking, I brought you to the school. The only quarrel she and I ever had was about my teaching you the Lord’s Prayer in Greek as soon as you could say father and mother. It was to be a surprise for her on your second birthday. On that day, while she was ironing, you took hold of her gown to steady yourself, and began, ‘Πάτερ ἡμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς’ and to me, behind the door, it was music. But at ἁγιασθἠτω, of which you made two syllables, you cried, and Margaret snatched you up, thinking this was some new ailment. After I had explained to her that it was the Lord’s Prayer in Greek, she would let me take you to the school-house no more.
“Not much longer could I have taken you in any case, for already we are at the day when Adam Dishart came back. It was the 7th of September, and all the week most of the women in Harvie had been setting off at dawn to the harvest fields and straggling home at nights, merry and with yellow corn in their hair. I had sat on in the school-house that day after my pupils were gone. I still meant to be a minister, and I was studying Hebrew, and so absorbed in my book that as the daylight went, I followed it step by step as far as my window, and there I read, without knowing, until I chanced to look up, that I had left my desk. I have not opened that book since.
“From the window I saw you on the waste ground that separated the school from our home. You were coming to me on your hands and feet, and stopping now and again to look back at your mother, who was at the door, laughing and shaking her fist at you. I beckoned to you, and took the book back to my desk to lock it up. While my head was inside the desk I heard the school-house door pushed open, and thinking it was you I smiled, without looking up. Then something touched my hand, and I still thought it was you; but I looked down, and I saw Adam Dishart’s black dog.
“I did not move. It looked up at me and wagged its tail. Then it drew back — I suppose because I had no words for it. I watched it run half-round the room and stop and look at me again. Then it slunk out.
“All that time one of my hands had been holding the desk open. Now the lid fell. I put on my bonnet and went to the door. You were only a few yards away, with flowers in your fist. Margaret was laughing still. I walked round the school and there was no dog visible. Margaret nodded to me, meaning that I should bring you home. You thrust the flowers into my hand, but they fell. I stood there, dazed.
“I think I walked with you some way across the waste ground. Then I dropped your hand and strode back to the school. I went down on my knees, looking for marks of a dog’s paws, and I found them.
“When I came out again your mother was no longer at our door, and you were crying because I had left you. I passed you and walked straight to the house. Margaret was skinning rushes for wicks. There must have been fear in my face, for as soon as she saw it she ran to the door to see if you were still alive. She brought you in with her, and so had strength to cry, ‘What is it? Speak!’
“‘Come away,’ I said, ‘come away,’ and I was drawing her to the door, but she pressed me into a chair. I was up again at once.
“‘Margaret,’ I said, ‘ask no questions. Put on your bonnet, give me the boy, and let us away.’
“I could not take my eyes off the door, and she was walking to it to look out when I barred the way with my arm.
“‘What have you seen?’ she cried; and then, as I only pointed to her bonnet, she turned to you, and you said, ‘Was it the black dog, father?’
“Gavin, then she knew; and I stood helpless and watched my wife grow old. In that moment she lost the sprightliness I loved the more because I had none of it myself, and the bloom went from her face never to return.
“‘He has come back,’ she said.
“I told her what I had seen, and while I spoke she put on her bonnet, and I exulted, thinking — and then she took off her bonnet, and I knew she would not go away with me.
“‘Margaret,’ I cried, ‘I am that bairn’s father.’
“‘Adam’s my man,’ she said, and at that I gave her a look for which God might have struck me dead. But instead of blaming me she put her arms round my neck.
“After that we said very little. We sat at opposite sides of the fire, waiting for him, and you played on the floor. The harvesters trooped by, and there was a fiddle; and when it stopped, long stillness, and then a step. It was not Adam. You fell asleep, and we could hear nothing but the sea. There was a harvest moon.
“Once a dog ran past the door, and we both rose. Margaret pressed her hands on her breast. Sometimes she looked furtively at me, and I knew her thoughts. To me it was only misery that had come, but to her it was shame, so that when you woke and climbed into her lap she shivered at your touch. I could not look at her after that, for there was a horror of me growing in her face.
“Ten o’clock struck, and then again there was no sound but the sea pouring itself out on the beach. It was long after this, when to me there was still no other sound, that Margaret screamed, and you hid behind her. Then I heard it.
“‘Gavin,’ Margaret said to me, ‘be a good man all your life.’
“It was louder now, and then it stopped. Above the wash of the sea we heard another sound — a sharp tap, tap. You said, ‘I know what sound that is; it’s a man knocking the ashes out of his pipe against his boot.’
“Then the dog pushed the door off the latch, and Adam lurched in. He was not drunk, but he brought the smell of drink into the room with him. He was grinning like one bringing rare news, and before she could shrink back or I could strike him he had Margaret in his arms.
“‘Lord, lass,’ he said, with many jovial oaths, ‘to think I’m back again! There, she’s swounded. What folks be women, to be sure.’
“‘We thought you were dead, Adam,” she said, coming to.
“‘Bless your blue eyes,’ he answered gleefully; ‘often I says to myself, “Meggy will be thinking I’m with the fishes,” and then I chuckles.’
“‘Where have you been all this time?’ I demanded sternly.
“‘Gavin,’ he said effusively, ‘your hand. And don’t look so feared, man; I bear no malice for what you’ve done. I heard all about it at the Cross Anchors.’
“‘Where have you been these five years and a half?’ I repeated.
“‘Where have I no been, lad?’ he replied.
“‘At Harvie,’ I said.
“‘Right you are,’ said he good-naturedly. ‘Meggie, I had no intention of leaving you that day, though I was yawning myself to death in Harvie; but I sees a whaler, and I thinks, “That’s a tidy boat, and I’m a tidy man, and if they’ll take me and the dog, off we go.”’
“‘You never wrote to me,’ Margaret said.
“‘I meant to send you some scrapes,’ he answered, ‘but it wasna till I changed ships that I had the chance, and then I minds, “Meggy kens I’m no hand with the pen.” But I swear I often thought of you, lass; and look you here, that’s better than letters, and so is this and every penny of it is yours.’
“He flung two bags of gold upon the table, and the chink brought you out from behind your mother.
“‘Hallo!’ Adam cried.
“‘He is mine,’ I said. ‘Gavin, come here.’ But Margaret held you back.
“‘Here’s a go,’ Adam muttered, and scratched his head. Then he slapped his thigh. ‘Gavin,’ he said, in his friendliest way, ‘we’ll toss for him.’
“He pulled the knife that is now in my desk from his pocket, spat on it, and flung it up. ‘Dry, the kid’s ours, Meggy,’ he explained; ‘wet, he goes to Gavin.’ I clinched my fist to —— But what was the use? He caught the knife, and showed it to me.
“‘Dry,’ he said triumphantly; ‘so he is ours, Meggy. Kiddy, catch the knife. It is yours; and, mind, you have changed dads. And now that we have settled that, Gavin, there’s my hand again.’
“I went away and left them, and I never saw Margaret again until the day you brought her to Thrums. But I saw you once, a few days after Adam came back. I was in the school-house, packing my books, and you were playing on the waste ground. I asked you how your mother was, and you said, ‘She’s fleid to come to the door till you gang awa, and my father’s buying a boat.’
“‘I’m your father,’ I said; but you answered confidently:
“‘You’re no a living man. You’re just a man I dreamed about; and I promised my mother no to dream about you again.’
“‘I am your father,’ I repeated.
“‘My father’s awa buying a fishing-boat,’ you insisted; ‘and when I speir at my mother whaur my first father is, she says I’m havering.’
“‘Gavin Ogilvy is your name,’ I said. ‘No,’ you answered, ‘I have a new name. My mother telled me my name is aye to be Gavin Dishart now. She telled me, too, to fling awa this knife my father gave me, and I’ve flung it awa a lot o’ times, but I aye pick it up again.’
“‘Give it to me,’ I said, with the wicked thoughts of a fool in my head.
“That is how your knife came into my possession. I left Harvie that night in the carrier’s cart, but I had not the heart to return to college. Accident brought me here, and I thought it a fitting place in which to bury myself from Margaret.”
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.
VARIOUS BODIES CONVERGING ON THE HILL.
It would be coming on for a quarter-past nine, and a misty night, when I reached the school-house, and I was so weary of mind and body that I sat down without taking off my bonnet. I had left the door open, and I remember listlessly watching the wind making a target of my candle, but never taking a sufficiently big breath to do more than frighten it. From this lethargy I was roused by the sound of wheels.
In the daytime our glen road leads to many parts, but in the night only to the doctor’s. Then the gallop of a horse makes farmers start up in bed and cry, “Who’s ill?” I went to my door and listened to the trap coming swiftly down the lonely glen, but I could not see it, for there was a trailing scarf of mist between the school-house and the road. Presently I heard the swish of the wheels in water, and so learned that they were crossing the ford to come to me. I had been unstrung by the events of the evening, and fear at once pressed thick upon me that this might be a sequel to them, as indeed it was.
While still out of sight the trap stopped, and I heard some one jump from it. Then came this conversation, as distinct as though it had been spoken into my ear:
“Can you see the school-house now, McKenzie?”
“I am groping for it, Rintoul. The mist seems to have made off with the path.”
“Where are you, McKenzie? I have lost sight of you.”
It was but a ribbon of mist, and as these words were spoken McKenzie broke through it. I saw him, though to him I was only a stone at my door.
“I have found the house, Rintoul,” he shouted, “and there is a light in it, so that the fellow has doubtless returned.”
“Then wait a moment for me.”
“Stay where you are, Rintoul, I entreat you, and leave him to me. He may recognize you.”
“No, no, McKenzie, I am sure he never saw me before. I insist on accompanying you.”
“Your excitement, Rintoul, will betray you. Let me go alone. I can question him without rousing his suspicions. Remember, she is only a gypsy to him.”
“He will learn nothing from me. I am quite calm now.”
“Rintoul, I warn you your manner will betray you, and to-morrow it will be roared through the countryside that your bride ran away from the Spittal in a gypsy dress, and had to be brought back by force.”
The altercation may have lasted another minute, but the suddenness with which I learned Babbie’s secret had left my ears incapable of learning more. I daresay the two men started when they found me at my door, but they did not remember, as few do remember who have the noisy day to forget it in, how far the voice carries in the night.
They came as suddenly on me as I on them, for though they had given unintentional notice of their approach, I had lost sight of the speakers in their amazing words. Only a moment did young McKenzie’s anxiety to be spokesman give me to regard Lord Rintoul. I saw that he was a thin man and tall, straight in the figure, but his head began to sink into his shoulders and not very steady on them. His teeth had grip of his under-lip, as if this was a method of controlling his agitation, and he was opening and shutting his hands restlessly. He had a dog with him which I was to meet again.
“Well met, Mr. Ogilvy,” said McKenzie, who knew me slightly, having once acted as judge at a cock-fight in the school-house. “We were afraid we should have to rouse you.”
“You will step inside?” I asked awkwardly, and while I spoke I was wondering how long it would be before the earl’s excitement broke out.
“It is not necessary,” McKenzie answered hurriedly. “My friend and I (this is Mr. McClure) have been caught in the mist without a lamp, and we thought you could perhaps favor us with one.”
“Unfortunately I have nothing of the kind,” I said, and the state of mind I was in is shown by my answering seriously.
“Then we must wish you a good-night and manage as best we can,” he said; and then before he could touch, with affected indifference, on the real object of their visit, the alarmed earl said angrily, “McKenzie, no more of this.”
“No more of this delay, do you mean, McClure?” asked McKenzie, and then, turning to me said, “By the way, Mr. Ogilvy, I think this is our second meeting to-night. I met you on the road a few hours ago with your wife. Or was it your daughter?”
“It was neither, Mr. McKenzie,” I answered, with the calmness of one not yet recovered from a shock. “It was a gypsy girl.”
“Where is she now?” cried Rintoul feverishly; but McKenzie, speaking loudly at the same time, tried to drown his interference as one obliterates writing by writing over it.
“A strange companion for a schoolmaster,” he said. “What became of her?”
“I left her near Caddam Wood,” I replied, “but she is probably not there now.”
“Ah, they are strange creatures, these gypsies!” he said, casting a warning look at the earl. “Now I wonder where she had been bound for.”
“There is a gypsy encampment on the hill,” I answered, though I cannot say why.
“She is there!” exclaimed Rintoul, and was done with me.
“I daresay,” McKenzie said indifferently. “However, it is nothing to us. Good-night, sir.”
The earl had started for the trap, but McKenzie’s salute reminded him of a forgotten courtesy, and, despite his agitation, he came back to apologize. I admired him for this. Then my thoughtlessness must needs mar all.
“Good-night, Mr. McKenzie,” I said. “Good-night, Lord Rintoul.”
I had addressed him by his real name. Never a turnip fell from a bumping, laden cart, and the driver more unconscious of it, than I that I had dropped that word. I re-entered the house, but had not reached my chair when McKenzie’s hand fell roughly on me, and I was swung round.
“Mr. Ogilvy,” he said, the more savagely I doubt not because his passions had been chained so long, “you know more than you would have us think. Beware, sir, of recognising that gypsy should you ever see her again in different attire. I advise you to have forgotten this night when you waken to-morrow morning.”
With a menacing gesture he left me, and I sank into a chair, glad to lose sight of the glowering eyes with which he had pinned me to the wall. I did not hear the trap cross the ford and renew its journey. When I looked out next, the night had fallen very dark, and the glen was so deathly in its drowsiness that I thought not even the cry of murder could tear its eyes open.
The earl and McKenzie would be some distance still from the hill when the office-bearers had scoured it in vain for their minister. The gypsies, now dancing round their fires to music that, on ordinary occasions, Lang Tammas would have stopped by using his fists to the glory of God, had seen no minister, they said, and disbelieved in the existence of the mysterious Egyptian.
“Liars they are to trade,” Spens declared to his companions, “but now and again they speak truth, like a standing clock, and I’m beginning to think the minister’s lassie was invented in the square.”
“Not so,” said the precentor, “for we saw her oursel’s a short year syne, and Hendry Munn there allows there’s townsfolk that hae passed her in the glen mair recently.”
“I only allowed,” Hendry said cautiously, “that some sic talk had shot up sudden-like in the town. Them that pretends they saw her says that she joukit quick out o’ sicht.”
“Ay, and there’s another quirk in that,” responded the suspicious precentor.
“I’se uphaud the minister’s sitting in the manse in his slippers by this time,” Hendry said.
“I’m willing,” replied Whamond, “to gang back and speir, or to search Caddam next; but let the matter drop I winna, though I ken you’re a’ awid to be hame now.”
“And naturally,” retorted Tosh, “for the nicht’s coming on as black as pick, and by the time we’re at Caddam we’ll no even see the trees.”
Toward Caddam, nevertheless, they advanced, hearing nothing but a distant wind and the whish of their legs in the broom.
“Whaur’s John Spens?” Hendry said suddenly.
They turned back and found Spens rooted to the ground, as a boy becomes motionless when he thinks he is within arm’s reach of a nest and the bird sitting on the eggs.
“What do you see, man?” Hendry whispered.
“As sure as death,” answered Spens, awe-struck, “I felt a drap o’ rain.”
“It’s no rain we’re here to look for,” said the precentor.
“Peter Tosh,” cried Spens, “it was a drap! Oh, Peter! how are you looking at me so queer, Peter, when you should be thanking the Lord for the promise that’s in that drap?”
“Come away,” Whamond said, impatiently; but Spens answered, “No till I’ve offered up a prayer for the promise that’s in that drap. Peter Tosh, you’ve forgotten to take off your bonnet.”
“Think twice, John Spens,” gasped Tosh, “afore you pray for rain this nicht.”
The others thought him crazy, but he went on, with a catch in his voice:
“I felt a drap o’ rain mysel’, just afore it came on dark so hurried, and my first impulse was to wish that I could carry that drap about wi’ me and look at it. But, John Spens, when I looked up I saw sic a change running ower the sky that I thocht hell had taen the place o’ heaven, and that there was waterspouts gathering therein for the drowning o’ the world.”
“There’s no water in hell,” the precentor said grimly.
“Genesis ix.,” said Spens, “verses 8 to 17. Ay, but, Peter, you’ve startled me, and I’m thinking we should be stepping hame. Is that a licht?”
“It’ll be in Nanny Webster’s,” Hendry said, after they had all regarded the light.
“I never heard that Nanny needed a candle to licht her to her bed,” the precentor muttered.
“She was awa to meet Sanders the day as he came out o’ the Tilliedrum gaol,” Spens remembered, “and I daresay the licht means they’re hame again.”
“It’s well kent—” began Hendry, and would have recalled his words.
“Hendry Munn,” cried the precentor, “if you hae minded onything that may help us, out wi’t.”
“I was just minding,” the kirk officer answered reluctantly, “that Nanny allows it’s Mr. Dishart that has been keeping her frae the poorhouse. You canna censure him for that, Tammas.”
“Can I no?” retorted Whamond. “What business has he to befriend a woman that belongs to another denomination? I’ll see to the bottom o’ that this nicht. Lads, follow me to Nanny’s, and dinna be surprised if we find baith the minister and the Egyptian there.”
They had not advanced many yards when Spens jumped to the side, crying, “Be wary, that’s no the wind; it’s a machine!”
Immediately the doctor’s dogcart was close to them, with Rob Dow for its only occupant. He was driving slowly, or Whamond could not have escaped the horse’s hoofs.
“Is that you, Rob Dow?” said the precentor sourly. “I tell you, you’ll be gaoled for stealing the doctor’s machine.”
“The Hielandman wasna muckle hurt, Rob,” Hendry said, more good-naturedly.
“I ken that,” replied Rob, scowling at the four of them. “What are you doing here on sic a nicht?”
“Do you see anything strange in the nicht, Rob?” Tosh asked apprehensively.
“It’s setting to rain,” Dow replied. “I dinna see it, but I feel it.”
“Ay,” said Tosh, eagerly, “but will it be a saft, cowdie sweet ding-on?”
“Let the heavens open if they will,” interposed Spens recklessly. “I would swap the drought for rain, though it comes down in a sheet as in the year twelve.”
“And like a sheet it’ll come,” replied Dow, “and the deil’ll blaw it about wi’ his biggest bellowses.”
Tosh shivered, but Whamond shook him roughly, saying --
“Keep your oaths to yoursel’, Rob Dow, and tell me, hae you seen Mr. Dishart?”
“I hinna,” Rob answered curtly, preparing to drive on.
“Nor the lassie they call the Egyptian?”
Rob leaped from the dogcart, crying, “What does that mean?”
“Hands off,” said the precentor, retreating from him. “It means that Mr. Dishart neglected the prayer-meeting this nicht to philander after that heathen woman.”
“We’re no sure o’t, Tammas,” remonstrated the kirk officer. Dow stood quite still. “I believe Rob kens it’s true,” Hendry added sadly, “or he would hae flown at your throat, Tammas Whamond, for saying these words.”
Even this did not rouse Dow.
“Rob doesna worship the minister as he used to do,” said Spens.
“And what for no?” cried the precentor. “Rob Dow, is it because you’ve found out about this woman?”
“You’re a pack o’ liars,” roared Rob, desperately, “and if you say again that ony wandering hussy has haud o’ the minister, I’ll let you see whether I can loup at throats.”
“You’ll swear by the Book,” asked Whamond, relentlessly, “that you’ve seen neither o’ them this nicht, nor them thegither at any time?”
“I so swear by the Book,” answered poor loyal Rob. “But what makes you look for Mr. Dishart here?” he demanded, with an uneasy look at the light in the mudhouse.
“Go hame,” replied the precentor, “and deliver up the machine you stole, and leave this Session to do its duty. John, we maun fathom the meaning o’ that licht.”
Dow started, and was probably at that moment within an ace of felling Whamond.
“I’ll come wi’ you,” he said, hunting in his mind for a better way of helping Gavin.
They were at Nanny’s garden, but in the darkness Whamond could not find the gate. Rob climbed the paling, and was at once lost sight of. Then they saw his head obscure the window. They did not, however, hear the groan that startled Babbie.
“There’s nobody there,” he said, coming back, “but Nanny and Sanders. You’ll mind Sanders was to be freed the day.”
“I’ll go in and see Sanders,” said Hendry, but the precentor pulled him back, saying, “You’ll do nothing o’ the kind, Hendry Munn; you’ll come awa wi’ me now to the manse.”
“It’s mair than me and Peter’ll do, then,” said Spens, who had been consulting with the other farmer. “We’re gaun as straucht hame as the darkness’ll let us.”
With few more words the Session parted, Spens and Tosh setting off for their farms, and Hendry accompanying the precentor. No one will ever know where Dow went. I can fancy him, however, returning to the wood, and there drawing rein. I can fancy his mind made up to watch the mudhouse until Gavin and the gypsy separated, and then pounce upon her. I daresay his whole plot could be condensed into a sentence, “If she’s got rid o’ this nicht, we may cheat the Session yet.” But this is mere surmise. All I know is that he waited near Nanny’s house, and by and by heard another trap coming up Windyghoul. That was just before the ten o’clock bell began to ring.
THE MEETING FOR RAIN.
Meanwhile the Auld Lichts were in church, waiting for their minister, and it was a full meeting, because nearly every well in Thrums had been scooped dry by anxious palms. Yet not all were there to ask God’s rain for themselves. Old Charles Yuill was in his pew, after dreaming thrice that he would break up with the drought; and Bell Christison had come, though her man lay dead at home, and she thought it could matter no more to her how things went in the world.
You, who do not love that little congregation, would have said that they were waiting placidly. But probably so simple a woman as Meggy Rattray could have deceived you into believing that because her eyes were downcast she did not notice who put the three-penny-bit in the plate. A few men were unaware that the bell was working overtime, most of them farmers with their eyes on the windows, but all the women at least were wondering. They knew better, however, than to bring their thoughts to their faces, and none sought to catch another’s eye. The men-folk looked heavily at their hats in the seats in front. Even when Hendry Munn, instead of marching to the pulpit with the big Bible in his hands, came as far as the plate and signed to Peter Tosh, elder, that he was wanted in the vestry, you could not have guessed how every woman there, except Bell Christison, wished she was Peter Tosh. Peter was so taken aback that he merely gaped at Hendry, until suddenly he knew that his five daughters were furious with him, when he dived for his hat and staggered to the vestry with his mouth open. His boots cheeped all the way, but no one looked up.
“I hadna noticed the minister was lang in coming,” Waster Lunny told me afterward, “but Elspeth noticed it, and with a quickness that baffles me she saw I was thinking o’ other things. So she let out her foot at me. I gae a low cough to let her ken I wasna sleeping, but in a minute out goes her foot again. Ay, syne I thocht I micht hae dropped my hanky into Snecky Hobart’s pew, but no, it was in my tails. Yet her hand was on the board, and she was working her fingers in a way that I kent meant she would like to shake me. Next I looked to see if I was sitting on her frock, the which tries a woman sair, but I wasna. ‘Does she want to change Bibles wi’ me?’ I wondered; ‘or is she sliding yont a peppermint to me?’ It was neither, so I edged as far frae her as I could gang. Weel, would you credit it, I saw her body coming nearer me inch by inch, though she was looking straucht afore her, till she was within kick o’ me, and then out again goes her foot. At that, dominie, I lost patience, and I whispered, fierce-like, ‘Keep your foot to yoursel’, you limmer!’ Ay, her intent, you see, was to waken me to what was gaen on, but I couldna be expected to ken that.”
In the vestry Hendry Munn was now holding counsel with three elders, of whom the chief was Lang Tammas.
“The laddie I sent to the manse,” Hendry said, “canna be back this five minutes, and the question is how we’re to fill up that time. I’ll ring no langer, for the bell has been in a passion ever since a quarter-past eight. It’s as sweer to clang past the quarter as a horse to gallop by its stable.”
“You could gang to your box and gie out a psalm, Tammas,” suggested John Spens.
“And would a psalm sung wi’ sic an object,” retorted the precentor, “mount higher, think you, than a bairn’s kite? I’ll insult the Almighty to screen no minister.”
“You’re screening him better by standing whaur you are,” said the imperturbable Hendry; “for as lang as you dinna show your face they’ll think it may be you that’s missing instead o’ Mr. Dishart.”
Indeed, Gavin’s appearance in church without the precentor would have been as surprising as Tammas’s without the minister. As certainly as the shutting of a money-box is followed by the turning of the key, did the precentor walk stiffly from the vestry to his box a toll of the bell in front of the minister. Tammas’s halfpenny rang in the plate as Gavin passed T’nowhead’s pew, and Gavin’s sixpence with the snapping-to of the precentor’s door. The two men might have been connected by a string that tightened at ten yards.
“The congregation ken me ower weel,” Tammas said, “to believe I would keep the Lord waiting.”
“And they are as sure o’ Mr. Dishart,” rejoined Spens, with spirit, though he feared the precentor on Sabbaths and at prayer-meetings. “You’re a hard man.”
“I speak the blunt truth,” Whamond answered.
“Ay,” said Spens, “and to tak’ credit for that may be like blawing that you’re ower honest to wear claethes.”
Hendry, who had gone to the door, returned now with the information that Mr. Dishart had left the manse two hours ago to pay visits, meaning to come to the prayer-meeting before he returned home.
“There’s a quirk in this, Hendry,” said Tosh. “Was it Mistress Dishart the laddie saw?”
“No,” Hendry replied. “It was Jean. She canna get to the meeting because the mistress is nervous in the manse by herself; and Jean didna like to tell her that he’s missing, for fear o’ alarming her. What are we to do now?”
“He’s an unfaithful shepherd,” cried the precentor, while Hendry again went out. “I see it written on the walls.”
“I dinna,” said Spens doggedly.
“Because,” retorted Tammas, “having eyes you see not.”
“Tammas, I aye thocht you was fond o’ Mr. Dishart.”
“If my right eye were to offend me,” answered the precentor, “I would pluck it out. I suppose you think, and baith o’ you farmers too, that there’s no necessity for praying for rain the nicht? You’ll be content, will ye, if Mr. Dishart just drops in to the kirk some day, accidental-like, and offers up a bit prayer?”
“As for the rain,” Spens said, triumphantly, “I wouldna wonder though it’s here afore the minister. You canna deny, Peter Tosh, that there’s been a smell o’ rain in the air this twa hours back.”
“John,” Peter said agitatedly, “dinna speak so confidently. I’ve kent it,” he whispered, “since the day turned; but it wants to tak’ us by surprise, lad, and so I’m no letting on.”
“See that you dinna make an idol o’ the rain,” thundered Whamond. “Your thochts is no wi’ Him, but wi’ the clouds; and whaur your thochts are, there will your prayers stick also.”
“If you saw my lambs,” Tosh began; and then, ashamed of himself, said, looking upward, “He holds the rain in the hollow of His hand.”
“And He’s closing His neive ticht on’t again,” said the precentor solemnly. “Hearken to the wind rising!”
“God help me!” cried Tosh, wringing his hands. “Is it fair, think you,” he said, passionately addressing the sky, “to show your wrath wi’ Mr. Dishart by ruining my neeps?”
“You were richt, Tammas Whamond,” Spens said, growing hard as he listened to the wind, “the sanctuary o’ the Lord has been profaned this nicht by him wha should be the chief pillar o’ the building.”
They were lowering brows that greeted Hendry when he returned to say that Mr. Dishart had been seen last on the hill with the Glen Quharity dominie.
“Some thinks,” said the kirk officer, “that he’s awa hunting for Rob Dow.”
“Nothing’ll excuse him,” replied Spens, “short o’ his having fallen over the quarry.”
Hendry’s was usually a blank face, but it must have looked troubled now, for Tosh was about to say, “Hendry, you’re keeping something back,” when the precentor said it before him.
“Wi’ that story o’ Mr. Dishart’s murder, no many hours auld yet,” the kirk officer replied evasively, “we should be wary o’ trusting gossip.”
“What hae you heard?”
“It’s through the town,” Hendry answered, “that a woman was wi’ the dominie.”
“A woman!” cried Tosh. “The woman there’s been sic talk about in connection wi’ the minister? Whaur are they now?”
“It’s no kent, but — the dominie was seen goin’ hame by himsel’.”
“Leaving the minister and her thegither!” cried the three men at once.
“Hendry Munn,” Tammas said sternly, “there’s mair about this; wha is the woman?”
“They are liars,” Hendry answered, and shut his mouth tight.
“Gie her a name, I say,” the precentor ordered, “or, as chief elder of this kirk, supported by mair than half o’ the Session, I command you to lift your hat and go.”
Hendry gave an appealing look to Tosh and Spens, but the precentor’s solemnity had cowed them.
“They say, then,” he answered sullenly, “that it’s the Egyptian. Yes, and I believe they ken.”
The two farmers drew back from this statement incredulously; but Tammas Whamond jumped at the kirk officer’s throat, and some who were in the church that night say they heard Hendry scream. Then the precentor’s fingers relaxed their grip, and he tottered into the middle of the room.
“Hendry,” he pleaded, holding out his arms pathetically, “tak’ back these words. Oh, man, have pity, and tak’ them back!”
But Hendry would not, and then Lang Tammas’s mouth worked convulsively, and he sobbed, crying, “Nobody kent it, but mair than mortal son, O God, I did love the lad!”
So seldom in a lifetime had any one seen into this man’s heart that Spens said, amazed:
“Tammas, Tammas Whamond, it’s no like you to break down.”
The rusty door of Whamond’s heart swung to.
“Who broke down?” he asked fiercely. “Let no member of this Session dare to break down till his work be done.”
“What work?” Tosh said uneasily. “We canna interfere.”
“I would rather resign,” Spens said, but shook when Whamond hurled these words at him:
“‘And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.’”
“It mayna be true,” Hendry said eagerly.
“We’ll soon see.”
“He would gie her up,” said Tosh.
“Peter Tosh,” answered Whamond sternly, “I call upon you to dismiss the congregation.”
“Should we no rather haud the meeting oursel’s?”
“We have other work afore us,” replied the precentor.
“But what can I say?” Tosh asked nervously. “Should I offer up a prayer?”
“I warn you all,” broke in Hendry, “that though the congregation is sitting there quietly, they’ll be tigers for the meaning o’ this as soon as they’re in the street.”
“Let no ontruth be telled them,” said the precentor. “Peter Tosh, do your duty. John Spens, remain wi’ me.”
The church emptied silently, but a buzz of excitement arose outside. Many persons tried to enter the vestry, but were ordered away, and when Tosh joined his fellow-elders the people were collecting in animated groups in the square, or scattering through the wynds for news.
“And now,” said the precentor, “I call upon the three o’ you to come wi’ me. Hendry Munn, you gang first.”
“I maun bide ahint,” Hendry said, with a sudden fear, “to lock up the kirk.”
“I’ll lock up the kirk,” Whamond answered harshly.
“You maun gie me the keys, though,” entreated the kirk officer.
“I’ll take care o’ the keys,” said Whamond.
“I maun hae them,” Hendry said, “to open the kirk on Sabbath.”
The precentor locked the doors, and buttoned up the keys in his trousers pockets.
“Wha kens,” he said, in a voice of steel, “that the kirk’ll be open next Sabbath?”
“Hae some mercy on him, Tammas,” Spens implored. “He’s no twa-and-twenty.”
“Wha kens,” continued the precentor, “but that the next time this kirk is opened will be to preach it toom?”
“What road do we tak’?”
“The road to the hill, whaur he was seen last.”
STORY OF THE EGYPTIAN.
God gives us more than, were we not overbold, we should dare to ask for, and yet how often (perhaps after saying “Thank God” so curtly that it is only a form of swearing) we are suppliants again within the hour. Gavin was to be satisfied if he were told that no evil had befallen her he loved, and all the way between the school-house and Windyghoul Babbie craved for no more than Gavin’s life. Now they had got their desires; but do you think they were content?
The Egyptian had gone on her knees when she heard Gavin speak of her. It was her way of preventing herself from running to him. Then, when she thought him gone, he opened the door. She rose and shrank back, but first she had stepped toward him with a glad cry. His disappointed arms met on nothing.
“You, too, heard that I was dead?” he said, thinking her strangeness but grief too sharply turned to joy.
There were tears in the word with which she answered him, and he would have kissed her, but she defended her face with her hand.
“Babbie,” he asked, beginning to fear that he had not sounded her deepest woe, “why have you left me all this time? You are not glad to see me now?”
“I was glad,” she answered in a low voice, “to see you from the window, but I prayed to God not to let you see me.”
She even pulled away her hand when he would have taken it. “No, no, I am to tell you everything now, and then — —”
“Say that you love me first,” he broke in, when a sob checked her speaking.
“No,” she said, “I must tell you first what I have done, and then you will not ask me to say that. I am not a gypsy.”
“What of that?” cried Gavin. “It was not because you were a gypsy that I loved you.”
“That is the last time you will say you love me,” said Babbie. “Mr. Dishart, I am to be married to-morrow.”
She stopped, afraid to say more lest he should fall, but except that his arms twitched he did not move.
“I am to be married to Lord Rintoul,” she went on. “Now you know who I am.”
She turned from him, for his piercing eyes frightened her. Never again, she knew, would she see the love-light in them. He plucked himself from the spot where he had stood looking at her and walked to the window. When he wheeled round there was no anger on his face, only a pathetic wonder that he had been deceived so easily. It was at himself that he was smiling grimly rather than at her, and the change pained Babbie as no words could have hurt her. He sat down on a chair and waited for her to go on.
“Don’t look at me,” she said, “and I will tell you everything.” He dropped his eyes listlessly, and had he not asked her a question from time to time, she would have doubted whether he heard her.
“After all,” she said, “a gypsy dress is my birth-right, and so the Thrums people were scarcely wrong in calling me an Egyptian. It is a pity any one insisted on making me something different. I believe I could have been a good gypsy.”
“Who were your parents?” Gavin asked, without looking up.
“You ask that,” she said, “because you have a good mother. It is not a question that would occur to me. My mother — If she was bad, may not that be some excuse for me? Ah, but I have no wish to excuse myself. Have you seen a gypsy cart with a sort of hammock swung beneath it in which gypsy children are carried about the country? If there are no children, the pots and pans are stored in it. Unless the roads are rough it makes a comfortable cradle, and it was the only one I ever knew. Well, one day I suppose the road was rough, for I was capsized. I remember picking myself up after a little and running after the cart, but they did not hear my cries. I sat down by the roadside and stared after the cart until I lost sight of it. That was in England, and I was not three years old.”
“But surely,” Gavin said, “they came back to look for you?”
“So far as I know,” Babbie answered hardly, “they did not come back. I have never seen them since. I think they were drunk. My only recollection of my mother is that she once took me to see the dead body of some gypsy who had been murdered. She told me to dip my hand in the blood, so that I could say I had done so when I became a woman. It was meant as a treat to me, and is the one kindness I am sure I got from her. Curiously enough, I felt the shame of her deserting me for many years afterwards. As a child I cried hysterically at thought of it; it pained me when I was at school in Edinburgh every time I saw the other girls writing home; I cannot think of it without a shudder even now. It is what makes me worse than other women.”
Her voice had altered, and she was speaking passionately.
“Sometimes,” she continued, more gently, “I try to think that my mother did come back for me, and then went away because she heard I was in better hands than hers. It was Lord Rintoul who found me, and I owe everything to him. You will say that he has no need to be proud of me. He took me home on his horse, and paid his gardener’s wife to rear me. She was Scotch, and that is why I can speak two languages. It was he, too, who sent me to school in Edinburgh.”
“He has been very kind to you,” said Gavin, who would have preferred to dislike the earl.
“So kind,” answered Babbie, “that now he is to marry me. But do you know why he has done all this?”
Now again she was agitated, and spoke indignantly.
“It is all because I have a pretty face,” she said, her bosom rising and falling. “Men think of nothing else. He had no pity for the deserted child. I knew that while I was yet on his horse. When he came to the gardener’s afterwards, it was not to give me some one to love, it was only to look upon what was called my beauty; I was merely a picture to him, and even the gardener’s children knew it and sought to terrify me by saying, ‘You are losing your looks; the earl will not care for you any more.’ Sometimes he brought his friends to see me, ‘because I was such a lovely child,’ and if they did not agree with him on that point he left without kissing me. Throughout my whole girlhood I was taught nothing but to please him, and the only way to do that was to be pretty. It was the only virtue worth striving for; the others were never thought of when he asked how I was getting on. Once I had fever and nearly died, yet this knowledge that my face was everything was implanted in me so that my fear lest he should think me ugly when I recovered terrified me into hysterics. I dream still that I am in that fever and all my fears return. He did think me ugly when he saw me next. I remember the incident so well still. I had run to him, and he was lifting me up to kiss me when he saw that my face had changed. ‘What a cruel disappointment,’ he said, and turned his back on me. I had given him a child’s love until then, but from that day I was hard and callous.”
“And when was it you became beautiful again?” Gavin asked, by no means in the mind to pay compliments.
“A year passed,” she continued, “before I saw him again. In that time he had not asked for me once, and the gardener had kept me out of charity. It was by an accident that we met, and at first he did not know me. Then he said, ‘Why, Babbie, I believe you are to be a beauty, after all!’ I hated him for that, and stalked away from him, but he called after me, ‘Bravo! she walks like a queen’; and it was because I walked like a queen that he sent me to an Edinburgh school. He used to come to see me every year, and as I grew up the girls called me Lady Rintoul. He was not fond of me; he is not fond of me now. He would as soon think of looking at the back of a picture as at what I am apart from my face, but he dotes on it, and is to marry it. Is that love? Long before I left school, which was shortly before you came to Thrums, he had told his sister that he was determined to marry me, and she hated me for it, making me as uncomfortable as she could, so that I almost looked forward to the marriage because it would be such a humiliation to her.”
In admitting this she looked shamefacedly at Gavin, and then went on:
“It is humiliating him too. I understand him. He would like not to want to marry me, for he is ashamed of my origin, but he cannot help it. It is this feeling that has brought him here, so that the marriage may take place where my history is not known.”
“The secret has been well kept,” Gavin said, “for they have failed to discover it even in Thrums.”
“Some of the Spittal servants suspect it, nevertheless,” Babbie answered, “though how much they know I cannot say. He has not a servant now, either here or in England, who knew me as a child. The gardener who befriended me was sent away long ago. Lord Rintoul looks upon me as a disgrace to him that he cannot live without.”
“I dare say he cares for you more than you think,” Gavin said gravely.
“He is infatuated about my face, or the pose of my head, or something of that sort,” Babbie said bitterly, “or he would not have endured me so long. I have twice had the wedding postponed, chiefly, I believe, to enrage my natural enemy, his sister, who is as much aggravated by my reluctance to marry him as by his desire to marry me. However, I also felt that imprisonment for life was approaching as the day drew near, and I told him that if he did not defer the wedding I should run away. He knows I am capable of it, for twice I ran away from school. If his sister only knew that!”
For a moment it was the old Babbie Gavin saw; but her glee was short-lived, and she resumed sedately:
“They were kind to me at school, but the life was so dull and prim that I ran off in a gypsy dress of my own making. That is what it is to have gypsy blood in one. I was away for a week the first time, wandering the country alone, telling fortunes, dancing and singing in woods, and sleeping in barns. I am the only woman in the world well brought up who is not afraid of mice or rats. That is my gypsy blood again. After that wild week I went back to the school of my own will, and no one knows of the escapade but my schoolmistress and Lord Rintoul. The second time, however, I was detected singing in the street, and then my future husband was asked to take me away. Yet Miss Feversham cried when I left, and told me that I was the nicest girl she knew, as well as the nastiest. She said she should love me as soon as I was not one of her boarders.”
“And then you came to the Spittal?”
“Yes; and Lord Rintoul wanted me to say I was sorry for what I had done, but I told him I need not say that, for I was sure to do it again. As you know, I have done it several times since then; and though I am a different woman since I knew you, I dare say I shall go on doing it at times all my life. You shake your head because you do not understand. It is not that I make up my mind to break out in that way; I may not have had the least desire to do it for weeks, and then suddenly, when I am out riding, or at dinner, or at a dance, the craving to be a gypsy again is so strong that I never think of resisting it; I would risk my life to gratify it. Yes, whatever my life in the future is to be, I know that must be a part of it. I used to pretend at the Spittal that I had gone to bed, and then escape by the window. I was mad with glee at those times, but I always returned before morning, except once, the last time I saw you, when I was away for nearly twenty-four hours. Lord Rintoul was so glad to see me come back then that he almost forgave me for going away. There is nothing more to tell except that on the night of the riot it was not my gypsy nature that brought me to Thrums, but a desire to save the poor weavers. I had heard Lord Rintoul and the sheriff discussing the contemplated raid. I have hidden nothing from you. In time, perhaps, I shall have suffered sufficiently for all my wickedness.”
Gavin rose weariedly, and walked through the mudhouse looking at her.
“This is the end of it all,” he said harshly, coming to a standstill. “I loved you, Babbie.”
“No,” she answered, shaking her head. “You never knew me until now, and so it was not me you loved. I know what you thought I was, and I will try to be it now.”
“If you had only told me this before,” the minister said sadly, “it might not have been too late.”
the little minister
First published serially in Good Words 1891