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Chapter 1

THE LOVE-LIGHT.


Long ago, in the days when our caged blackbirds never saw a king's
soldier without whistling impudently, "Come ower the water to
Charlie," a minister of Thrums was to be married, but something
happened, and he remained a bachelor. Then, when he was old, he
passed in our square the lady who was to have been his wife, and
her hair was white, but she, too, was still unmarried. The meeting
had only one witness, a weaver, and he said solemnly afterwards,
"They didna speak, but they just gave one another a look, and I
saw the love-light in their een." No more is remembered of these
two, no being now living ever saw them, but the poetry that was in
the soul of a battered weaver makes them human to us for ever.

It is of another minister I am to tell, but only to those who know
that light when they see it. I am not bidding good-bye to many
readers, for though it is true that some men, of whom Lord Rintoul
was one, live to an old age without knowing love, few of us can
have met them, and of women so incomplete I never heard.

Gavin Dishart was barely twenty-one when he and his mother came to
Thrums, light-hearted like the traveller who knows not what awaits
him at the bend of the road. It was the time of year when the
ground is carpeted beneath the firs with brown needles, when
split-nuts patter all day from the beech, and children lay yellow
corn on the dominie's desk to remind him that now they are needed
in the fields. The day was so silent that carts could be heard
rumbling a mile away. All Thrums was out in its wynds and closes--
a few of the weavers still in knee-breeches--to look at the new
Auld Licht minister. I was there too, the dominie of Glen
Quharity, which is four miles from Thrums; and heavy was my heart
as I stood afar off so that Gavin's mother might not have the pain
of seeing me. I was the only one in the crowd who looked at her
more than at her son.

Eighteen years had passed since we parted. Already her hair had
lost the brightness of its youth, and she seemed to me smaller and
more fragile; and the face that I loved when I was a hobbledehoy,
and loved when I looked once more upon it in Thrums, and always
shall love till I die, was soft and worn. Margaret was an old
woman, and she was only forty-three: and I am the man who made her
old. As Gavin put his eager boyish face out at the carriage
window, many saw that he was holding her hand, but none could be
glad at the sight as the dominie was glad, looking on at a
happiness in which he dared not mingle. Margaret was crying
because she was so proud of her boy. Women do that. Poor sons to
be proud of, good mothers, but I would not have you dry those
tears.

When the little minister looked out at the carriage window, many
of the people drew back humbly, but a little boy in a red frock
with black spots pressed forward and offered him a sticky parly,
which Gavin accepted, though not without a tremor, for children
were more terrible to him then than bearded men. The boy's mother,
trying not to look elated, bore him away, but her face said that
he was made for life. With this little incident Gavin's career in
Thrums began. I remembered it suddenly the other day when wading
across the wynd where it took place. Many scenes in the little
minister's life come back to me in this way. The first time I ever
thought of writing his love story as an old man's gift to a little
maid since grown tall, was one night while I sat alone in the
school-house; on my knees a fiddle that has been my only living
companion since I sold my hens. My mind had drifted back to the
first time I saw Gavin and the Egyptian together, and what set it
wandering to that midnight meeting was my garden gate shaking in
the wind. At a gate on the hill I had first encountered these two.
It rattled in his hand, and I looked up and saw them, and neither
knew why I had such cause to start at the sight. Then the gate
swung to. It had just such a click as mine.

These two figures on the hill are more real to me than things that
happened yesterday, but I do not know that I can make them live to
others. A ghost-show used to come yearly to Thrums on the merry
Muckle Friday, in which the illusion was contrived by hanging a
glass between the onlookers and the stage. I cannot deny that the
comings and goings of the ghost were highly diverting, yet the
farmer of T'nowhead only laughed because he had paid his money at
the hole in the door like the rest of us. T'nowhead sat at the end
of a form where he saw round the glass and so saw no ghost. I fear
my public may be in the same predicament. I see the little
minister as he was at one-and-twenty, and the little girl to whom
this story is to belong sees him, though the things I have to tell
happened before she came into the world. But there are reasons why
she should see; and I do not know that I can provide the glass for
others. If they see round it, they will neither laugh nor cry with
Gavin and Babbie.

When Gavin came to Thrums he was as I am now, for the pages lay
before him on which he was to write his life. Yet he was not quite
as I am. The life of every man is a diary in which he means to
write one story, and writes another; and his humblest hour is when
he compares the volume as it is with what he vowed to make it. But
the biographer sees the last chapter while he is still at the
first, and I have only to write over with ink what Gavin has
written in pencil.

How often is it a phanton woman who draws the man from the way he
meant to go? So was man created, to hunger for the ideal that is
above himself, until one day there is magic in the air, and the
eyes of a girl rest upon him. He does not know that it is he
himself who crowned her, and if the girl is as pure as he, their
love is the one form of idolatry that is not quite ignoble. It is
the joining of two souls on their way to God. But if the woman be
bad, the test of the man is when he wakens from his dream. The
nobler his ideal, the further will he have been hurried down the
wrong way, for those who only run after little things will not go
far. His love may now sink into passion, perhaps only to stain its
wings and rise again, perhaps to drown.

Babbie, what shall I say of you who make me write these things? I
am not your judge. Shall we not laugh at the student who chafes
when between him and his book comes the song of the thrushes, with
whom, on the mad night you danced into Gavin's life, you had more
in common than with Auld Licht ministers? The gladness of living
was in your step, your voice was melody, and he was wondering what
love might be.

You were the daughter of a summer night, born where all the birds
are free, and the moon christened you with her soft light to
dazzle the eyes of man. Not our little minister alone was stricken
by you into his second childhood. To look upon you was to rejoice
that so fair a thing could be; to think of you is still to be
young. Even those who called you a little devil, of whom I have
been one, admitted that in the end you had a soul, though not that
you had been born with one. They said you stole it, and so made a
woman of yourself. But again I say I am not your judge, and when I
picture you as Gavin saw you first, a bare-legged witch dancing up
Windyghoul, rowan berries in your black hair, and on your finger a
jewel the little minister could not have bought with five years of
toil, the shadows on my pages lift, and I cannot wonder that Gavin
loved you.

Often I say to myself that this is to be Gavin's story, not mine.
Yet must it be mine too, in a manner, and of myself I shall
sometimes have to speak; not willingly, for it is time my little
tragedy had died of old age. I have kept it to myself so long that
now I would stand at its grave alone. It is true that when I heard
who was to be the new minister I hoped for a day that the life
broken in Harvie might be mended in Thrums, but two minutes' talk
with Gavin showed me that Margaret had kept from him the secret
which was hers and mine and so knocked the bottom out of my vain
hopes. I did not blame her then, nor do I blame her now, nor shall
anyone who blames her ever be called friend by me; but it was
bitter to look at the white manse among the trees and know that I
must never enter it. For Margaret's sake I had to keep aloof, yet
this new trial came upon me like our parting at Harvie. I thought
that in those eighteen years my passions had burned like a ship
till they sank, but I suffered again as on that awful night when
Adam Dishart came back, nearly killing Margaret and tearing up all
my ambitions by the root in a single hour. I waited in Thrums
until I had looked again on Margaret, who thought me dead, and
Gavin, who had never heard of me, and then I trudged back to the
school-house. Something I heard of them from time to time during
the winter--for in the gossip of Thrums I was well posted--but
much of what is to be told here I only learned afterwards from
those who knew it best. Gavin heard of me at times as the dominie
in the glen who had ceased to attend the Auld Licht kirk, and
Margaret did not even hear of me. It was all I could do for them.

James M. Barrie