END OF THE TWENTY-FOUR HOURS.
Out of the mist came the voice of Gavin, clear and strong --
“If you hear me, hold up your hands as a sign.”
They heard, and none wondered at his voice crossing the chasm while theirs could not. When the mist cleared, they were seen to have done as he bade them. Many hands remained up for a time because the people did not remember to bring them down, so great was the awe that had fallen on all, as if the Lord was near.
Gavin took his watch from his pocket, and he said --
“I am to fling this to you. You will give it to Mr. Ogilvy, the schoolmaster, as a token of the love I bear him.”
The watch was caught by James Langlands, and handed to Peter Tosh, the chief elder present.
“To Mr. Ogilvy,” Gavin continued, “you will also give the chain. You will take it off my neck when you find the body.
“To each of my elders, and to Hendry Munn, kirk officer, and to my servant Jean, I leave a book, and they will go to my study and choose it for themselves.
“I also leave a book for Nanny Webster, and I charge you, Peter Tosh, to take it to her, though she be not a member of my church.
“The pictorial Bible with ‘To my son on his sixth birthday’ on it, I bequeath to Rob Dow. No, my mother will want to keep that. I give to Rob Dow my Bible with the brass clasp.
“It is my wish that every family in the congregation should have some little thing to remember me by. This you will tell my mother.
“To my successor I leave whatsoever of my papers he may think of any value to him, including all my notes on Revelation, of which I meant to make a book. I hope he will never sing the paraphrases.
“If Mr. Carfrae’s health permits, you will ask him to preach the funeral sermon; but if he be too frail, then you will ask Mr. Trail, under whom I sat in Glasgow. The illustrated ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ on the drawers in my bedroom belongs to Mr. Trail, and you will return it to him with my affection and compliments.
“I owe five shillings to Hendry Munn for mending my boots, and a smaller sum to Baxter, the mason. I have two pounds belonging to Rob Dow, who asked me to take charge of them for him. I owe no other man anything, and this you will bear in mind if Matthew Cargill, the flying stationer, again brings forward a claim for the price of Whiston’s ‘Josephus,’ which I did not buy from him.
“Mr. Moncur, of Aberbrothick, had agreed to assist me at the Sacrament, and will doubtless still lend his services. Mr. Carfrae or Mr. Trail will take my place if my successor is not elected by that time. The Sacrament cups are in the vestry press, of which you will find the key beneath the clock in my parlor. The tokens are in the topmost drawer in my bedroom.
“The weekly prayer-meeting will be held as usual on Thursday at eight o’clock, and the elders will officiate.
“It is my wish that the news of my death be broken to my mother by Mr. Ogilvy, the schoolmaster, and by no other. You will say to him that this is my solemn request, and that I bid him discharge it without faltering and be of good cheer.
“But if Mr. Ogilvy be not now alive, the news of my death will be broken to my mother by my beloved wife. Last night I was married on the hill, over the tongs, but with the sanction of God, to her whom you call the Egyptian, and despite what has happened since then, of which you will soon have knowledge, I here solemnly declare that she is my wife, and you will seek for her at the Spittal or elsewhere till you find her, and you will tell her to go to my mother and remain with her always, for these are the commands of her husband.”
It was then that Gavin paused, for Lord Rintoul had that to say to him which no longer could be kept back. All the women were crying sore, and also some men whose eyes had been dry at the coffining of their children.
“Now I ken,” said Cruickshanks, who had been an atheist, “that it’s only the fool wha’ says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”
Another said, “That’s a man.”
Another said, “That man has a religion to last him all through.”
A fourth said, “Behold, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
A fifth said, “That’s our minister. He’s the minister o’ the Auld Licht Kirk o’ Thrums. Woe is me, we’re to lose him.”
Many cried, “Our hearts was set hard against him. O Lord, are you angry wi’ your servants that you’re taking him frae us just when we ken what he is?”
Gavin did not hear them, and again he spoke:
“My brethren, God is good. I have just learned that my wife is with my dear mother at the manse. I leave them in your care and in His.”
No more he said of Babbie, for the island was become very small.
“The Lord calls me hence. It is only for a little time I have been with you, and now I am going away, and you will know me no more. Too great has been my pride because I was your minister, but He who sent me to labor among you is slow to wrath; and He ever bore in mind that you were my first charge. My people, I must say to you, ‘Farewell.’”
Then, for the first time, his voice faltered, and wanting to go on he could not. “Let us read,” he said, quickly, “in the Word of God in the fourteenth of Matthew, from the twenty-eighth verse.”
He repeated these four verses: --
“‘And Peter answered Him and said, Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee on the water.
“‘And He said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.
“‘But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.
“‘And immediately Jesus stretched forth His hand and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?’”
After this Gavin’s voice was again steady, and he said, “The sand-glass is almost run out. Dearly beloved, with what words shall I bid you good-by?”
Many thought that these were to be the words, for the mist parted, and they saw the island tremble and half of it sink.
“My people,” said the voice behind the mist, “this is the text I leave with you: ‘Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.’ That text I read in the flood, where the hand of God has written it. All the pound-notes in the world would not dam this torrent for a moment, so that we might pass over to you safely. Yet it is but a trickle of water, soon to be dried up. Verily, I say unto you, only a few hours ago the treasures of earth stood between you and this earl, and what are they now compared to this trickle of water? God only can turn rivers into a wilderness, and the water-springs into dry ground. Let His Word be a lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path; may He be your refuge and your strength. Amen.”
This amen he said quickly, thinking death was now come. He was seen to raise his hands, but whether to Heaven or involuntarily to protect his face as he fell none was sure, for the mist again filled the chasm. Then came a clap of stillness. No one breathed.
But the two men were not yet gone, and Gavin spoke once more.
“Let us sing in the twenty-third Psalm.”
He himself raised the tune, and so long as they heard his voice they sang --
“The Lord’s my shepherd, I’ll not want;
He makes me down to lie
In pastures green; He leadeth me
The quiet waters by.
“My soul He doth restore again;
And me to walk doth make
Within the paths of righteousness
Ev’n for His own name’s sake.
“Yea, though I walk in Death’s dark vale,
Yet will I fear none ill;
For Thou art with me; and Thy rod
And staff — —”
But some had lost the power to sing in the first verse, and others at “Death’s dark vale,” and when one man found himself singing alone he stopped abruptly. This was because they no longer heard the minister.
“O Lord!” Peter Tosh cried, “lift the mist, for it’s mair than we can bear.”
The mist rose slowly, and those who had courage to look saw Gavin praying with the earl. Many could not look, and some of them did not even see Rob Dow jump.
For it was Dow, the man with the crushed leg, who saved Gavin’s life, and flung away his own for it. Suddenly he was seen on the edge of the bank, holding one end of the improvised rope in his hand. As Tosh says --
“It all happened in the opening and shutting o’ an eye. It’s a queer thing to say, but though I prayed to God to take awa the mist, when He did raise it I couldna look. I shut my een tight, and held my arm afore my face, like ane feared o’ being struck. Even when I daured to look, my arm was shaking so that I could see Rob both above it and below it. He was on the edge, crouching to leap. I didna see wha had haud o’ the other end o’ the rope. I heard the minister cry, ‘No, Dow, no!’ and it gae through me as quick as a stab that if Rob jumped he would knock them both into the water. But he did jump, and you ken how it was that he didna knock them off.”
It was because he had no thought of saving his own life. He jumped, not at the island, now little bigger than the seat of a chair, but at the edge of it, into the foam, and with his arm outstretched. For a second the hand holding the rope was on the dot of land. Gavin tried to seize the hand; Rintoul clutched the rope. The earl and the minister were dragged together into safety, and both left the water senseless. Gavin was never again able to lift his left hand higher than his head. Dow’s body was found next day near the school-house.
the little minister
First published serially in Good Words 1891