chapter thirty nine
HOW BABBIE SPENT THE NIGHT OF AUGUST FOURTH.
How had the Egyptian been spirited here from the Spittal? I did not ask the question. To interest myself in Babbie at that dire hour of Margaret’s life would have been as impossible to me as to sit down to a book. To others, however, it is only an old woman on whom the parlor door of the manse has closed, only a garrulous dominie that is in pain outside it. Your eyes are on the young wife.
When Babbie was plucked off the hill, she thought as little as Gavin that her captor was Rob Dow. Close as he was to her, he was but a shadow until she screamed the second time, when he pressed her to the ground and tied his neckerchief over her mouth. Then, in the moment that power of utterance was taken from her, she saw the face that had startled her at Nanny’s window. Half-carried, she was borne forward rapidly, until some one seemed to rise out of the broom and strike them both. They had only run against the doctor’s trap; and huddling her into it, Dow jumped up beside her. He tied her hands together with a cord. For a time the horse feared the darkness in front more than the lash behind; but when the rains became terrific, it rushed ahead wildly — probably with its eyes shut.
In three minutes Babbie went through all the degrees of fear. In the first she thought Lord Rintoul had kidnapped her; but no sooner had her captor resolved himself into Dow, drunk with the events of the day and night, than in the earl’s hands would have lain safety. Next, Dow was forgotten in the dread of a sudden death which he must share. And lastly, the rain seemed to be driving all other horrors back, that it might have her for its own. Her perils increased to the unbearable as quickly as an iron in the fire passes through the various stages between warmth and white heat. Then she had to do something; and as she could not cry out, she flung herself from the dogcart. She fell heavily in Caddam Wood, but the rain would not let her lie there stunned. It beat her back to consciousness, and she sat up on her knees and listened breathlessly, staring in the direction the trap had taken, as if her eyes could help her ears.
All night, I have said, the rain poured, but those charges only rode down the deluge at intervals, as now and again one wave greater than the others stalks over the sea. In the first lull it appeared to Babbie that the storm had swept by, leaving her to Dow. Now she heard the rubbing of the branches, and felt the torn leaves falling on her gown. She rose to feel her way out of the wood with her bound hands, then sank in terror, for some one had called her name. Next moment she was up again, for the voice was Gavin’s, who was hurrying after her, as he thought, down Windyghoul. He was no farther away than a whisper might have carried on a still night, but she dared not pursue him, for already Dow was coming back. She could not see him, but she heard the horse whinny and the rocking of the dogcart. Dow was now at the brute’s head, and probably it tried to bite him, for he struck it, crying:
“Would you? Stand still till I find her.... I heard her move this minute.”
Babbie crouched upon a big stone and sat motionless while he groped for her. Her breathing might have been tied now, as well as her mouth. She heard him feeling for her, first with his feet and then with his hands, and swearing when his head struck against a tree.
“I ken you’re within hearing,” he muttered, “and I’ll hae you yet. I have a gully-knife in my hand. Listen!”
He severed a whin-stalk with the knife, and Babbie seemed to see the gleam of the blade.
“What do I mean by wanting to kill you?” he said, as if she had asked the question. “Do you no ken wha said to me, ‘Kill this woman?’ It was the Lord. ‘I winna kill her,’ I said, ‘but I’ll cart her out o’ the country.’ ‘Kill her,’ says He; ‘why encumbereth she the ground?’”
He resumed his search, but with new tactics. “I see you now,” he would cry, and rush forward perhaps within a yard of her. Then she must have screamed had she had the power. When he tied that neckerchief round her mouth he prolonged her life.
Then came the second hurricane of rain, so appalling that had Babbie’s hands been free she would have pressed them to her ears. For a full minute she forgot Dow’s presence. A living thing touched her face. The horse had found her. She recoiled from it, but its frightened head pressed heavily on her shoulder. She rose and tried to steal away, but the brute followed, and as the rain suddenly exhausted itself she heard the dragging of the dogcart. She had to halt.
Again she heard Dow’s voice. Perhaps he had been speaking throughout the roar of the rain. If so, it must have made him deaf to his own words. He groped for the horse’s head, and presently his hand touched Babbie’s dress, then jumped from it, so suddenly had he found her. No sound escaped him, and she was beginning to think it possible that he had mistaken her for a bush when his hand went over her face. He was making sure of his discovery.
“The Lord has delivered you into my hands,” he said in a low voice, with some awe in it. Then he pulled her to the ground, and, sitting down beside her, rocked himself backward and forward, his hands round his knees. She would have bartered the world for power to speak to him.
“He wouldna hear o’ my just carting you to some other countryside,” he said confidentially. “‘The devil would just blaw her back again,’ says He, ‘therefore kill her.’ ‘And if I kill her,’ I says, ‘they’ll hang me.’ ‘You can hang yoursel’,’ says He. ‘What wi’?’ I speirs. ‘Wi’ the reins o’ the dogcart,’ says He. ‘They would break,’ says I. ‘Weel, weel,’ says He, ‘though they do hang you, nobody’ll miss you.’ ‘That’s true,’ says I, ‘and You are a just God.’”
He stood up and confronted her.
“Prisoner at the bar,” he said, “hae ye onything to say why sentence of death shouldna be pronounced against you? She doesna answer. She kens death is her deserts.”
By this time he had forgotten probably why his victim was dumb.
“Prisoner at the bar, hand back to me the soul o’ Gavin Dishart. You winna? Did the devil, your master, summon you to him and say, ‘Either that noble man or me maun leave Thrums?’ He did. And did you, or did you no, drag that minister, when under your spell, to the hill, and there marry him ower the tongs? You did. Witnesses, Rob Dow and Tammas Whamond.”
She was moving from him on her knees, meaning when out of arm’s reach to make a dash for life.
“Sit down,” he grumbled, “or how can you expect a fair trial? Prisoner at the bar, you have been found guilty of witchcraft.”
For the first time his voice faltered.
“That’s the difficulty, for witches canna die, except by burning or drowning. There’s no blood in you for my knife, and your neck wouldna twist. Your master has brocht the rain to put out a’ the fires, and we’ll hae to wait till it runs into a pool deep enough to drown you.
“I wonder at You, God. Do You believe her master’ll mak’ the pool for her? He’ll rather stop his rain. Mr. Dishart said You was mair powerful than the devil, but it doesna look like it. If You had the power, how did You no stop this woman working her will on the minister? You kent what she was doing, for You ken a’ things. Mr. Dishart says You ken a’ things. If You do, the mair shame to You. Would a shepherd, that could help it, let dogs worry his sheep? Kill her! It’s fine to cry ‘Kill her,’ but whaur’s the bonfire, whaur’s the pool? You that made the heaven and the earth and all that in them is, can You no set fire to some wet whins, or change this stane into a mill-dam?”
He struck the stone with his fist, and then gave a cry of exultation. He raised the great slab in his arms and flung it from him. In that moment Babbie might have run away, but she fainted. Almost simultaneously with Dow she knew this was the stone which covered the Caddam well. When she came to, Dow was speaking, and his voice had become solemn.
“You said your master was mair powerful than mine, and I said it too, and all the time you was sitting here wi’ the very pool aneath you that I have been praying for. Listen!”
He dropped a stone into the well, and she heard it strike the water.
“What are you shaking at?” he said in reproof. “Was it no yoursel’ that chose the spot? Lassie, say your prayers. Are you saying them?”
He put his hand over her face, to feel if her lips were moving, and tore off the neckerchief.
And then again the rain came between them. In that rain one could not think. Babbie did not know that she had bitten through the string that tied her hands. She planned no escape. But she flung herself at the place where Dow had been standing. He was no longer there, and she fell heavily, and was on her feet again in an instant and running recklessly. Trees intercepted her, and she thought they were Dow, and wrestled with them. By and by she fell into Windyghoul, and there she crouched until all her senses were restored to her, when she remembered that she had been married lately.
How long Dow was in discovering that she had escaped, and whether he searched for her, no one knows. After a time he jumped into the dogcart again, and drove aimlessly through the rain. That wild journey probably lasted two hours, and came to an abrupt end only when a tree fell upon the trap. The horse galloped off, but one of Dow’s legs was beneath the tree, and there he had to lie helpless, for though the leg was little injured, he could not extricate himself. A night and day passed, and he believed that he must die; but even in this plight he did not forget the man he loved. He found a piece of slate, and in the darkness cut these words on it with his knife:
“Me being about to die, I solemnly swear I didna see the minister marrying an Egyptian on the hill this nicht. May I burn in Hell if this is no true.
This document he put in his pocket, and so preserved proof of what he was perjuring himself to deny.
the little minister
First published serially in Good Words 1891