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Chapter 20

END OF THE STATE OF INDECISION.


Long before I had any thought of writing this story, I had told it
so often to my little maid that she now knows some of it better
than I. If you saw me looking up from my paper to ask her, "What
was it that Birse said to Jean about the minister's flowers?" or,
"Where was Hendry Munn hidden on the night of the riots?" and
heard her confident answers, you would conclude that she had been
in the thick of these events, instead of born many years after
them. I mention this now because I have reached a point where her
memory contradicts mine. She maintains that Rob Dow was told of
the meeting in the wood by the two boys whom it disturbed, while
my own impression is that he was a witness of it. If she is right,
Rob must have succeeded in frightening the boys into telling no
other person, for certainly the scandal did not spread in Thrums.
After all, however, it is only important to know that Rob did
learn of the meeting. Its first effect was to send him sullenly to
the drink.

Many a time since these events have I pictured what might have
been their upshot had Dow confided their discovery to me. Had I
suspected why Rob was grown so dour again, Gavin's future might
have been very different. I was meeting Rob now and again in the
glen, asking, with an affected carelessness he did not bottom, for
news of the little minister, but what he told me was only the
gossip of the town; and what I should have known, that Thrums
might never know it, he kept to himself. I suppose he feared to
speak to Gavin, who made several efforts to reclaim him, but
without avail.

Yet Rob's heart opened for a moment to one man, or rather was
forced open by that man. A few days after the meeting at the well,
Rob was bringing the smell of whisky with him down Banker's Close
when he ran against a famous staff, with which the doctor pinned
him to the wall.

"Ay," said the outspoken doctor, looking contemptuously into Rob's
bleary eyes, "so this is what your conversion amounts to? Faugh!
Rob Dow, if you, were half a man the very thought of what Mr.
Dishart has done for you would make you run past the public
houses."

"It's the thocht o' him that sends me running to them," growled
Rob, knocking down the staff. "Let me alane."

"What do you mean by that?" demanded McQueen, hooking him this
time.

"Speir at himsel'; speir at the woman."

"What woman?"

"Take your staff out o' my neck."

"Not till you tell me why you, of all people, are speaking against
the minister."

Torn by a desire for a confidant and loyalty to Gavin, Rob was
already in a fury.

"Say again," he burst forth, "that I was speaking agin the
minister and I'll practise on you what I'm awid to do to her."

"Who is she?"

"Wha's wha?"

"The woman whom the minister--"

"I said nothing about a woman," said poor Rob, alarmed for Gavin.
"Doctor, I'm ready to swear afore a bailie that I never saw them
thegither at the Kaims."

"The Kaims!" exclaimed the doctor suddenly enlightened. "Pooh! you
only mean the Egyptian. Rob, make your mind easy about this. I
know why he met her there."

"Do you ken that she has bewitched him; do you ken I saw him
trying to put his arms round her; do you ken they have a trysting-
place in Caddam wood?"

This came from Rob in a rush, and he would fain have called it all
back.

"I'm drunk, doctor, roaring drunk," he said, hastily, "and it
wasna the minister I saw ava; it was another man."

Nothing more could the doctor draw from Rob, but he had heard
sufficient to smoke some pipes on. Like many who pride themselves
on being recluses, McQueen loved the gossip that came to him
uninvited; indeed, he opened his mouth to it as greedily as any
man in Thrums. He respected Gavin, however, too much to find this
new dish palatable, and so his researches to discover whether
other Auld Lichts shared Rob's fears were conducted with caution.
"Is there no word of your minister's getting a wife yet?" he asked
several, but only got for answers, "There's word o' a Glasgow
leddy's sending him baskets o' flowers," or "He has his een open,
but he's taking his time; ay, he's looking for the blade o' corn
in the stack o' chaff."

This convinced McQueen that the congregation knew nothing of the
Egyptian, but it did not satisfy him, and he made an opportunity
of inviting Gavin into the surgery. It was, to the doctor, the
cosiest nook in his house, but to me and many others a room that
smelled of hearses. On the top of the pipes and tobacco tins that
littered the table there usually lay a death certificate, placed
there deliberately by the doctor to scare his sister, who had a
passion for putting the surgery to rights.

"By the way," McQueen said, after he and Gavin had talked a little
while, "did I ever advise you to smoke?"

"It is your usual form of salutation," Gavin answered, laughing.
"But I don't think you ever supplied me with a reason."

"I daresay not. I am too experienced a doctor to cheapen my
prescriptions in that way. However, here is one good reason. I
have noticed, sir, that at your age a man is either a slave to a
pipe or to a woman. Do you want me to lend you a pipe now?"

"Then I am to understand," asked Gavin, slyly, "that your locket
came into your possession in your pre-smoking days, and that you
merely wear it from habit?"

"Tuts!" answered the doctor, buttoning his coat. "I told you there
was nothing in the locket. If there is, I have forgotten what it
is."

"You are a hopeless old bachelor, I see," said Gavin, unaware that
the doctor was probing him. He was surprised next moment to find
McQueen in the ecstasies of one who has won a rubber.

"Now, then," cried the jubilant doctor, "as you have confessed so
much, tell me all about her. Name and address, please."

"Confess! What have I confessed?"

"It won't do, Mr. Dishart, for even your face betrays you. No, no,
I am an old bird, but I have not forgotten the ways of the
fledgelings. 'Hopeless bachelor,' sir, is a sweetmeat in every
young man's mouth until of a sudden he finds it sour, and that
means the banns. When is it to be?"

"We must find the lady first," said the minister, uncomfortably.

"You tell me, in spite of that face, that you have not fixed on
her?"

"The difficulty, I suppose, would be to persuade her to fix on
me."

"Not a bit of it. But you admit there is some one?"

"Who would have me?"

"You are wriggling out of it. Is it the banker's daughter?"

"No," Gavin cried.

"I hear you have walked up the back wynd with her three times this
week. The town is in a ferment about it."

"She is a great deal in the back wynd."

"Fiddle-de-dee! I am oftener in the back wynd than you, and I
never meet her there."


"That is curious."

"No, it isn't, but never mind. Perhaps you have fallen to Miss
Pennycuick's piano? Did you hear it going as we passed the house?"

"She seems always to be playing on her piano."

"Not she; but you are supposed to be musical, and so when she sees
you from her window she begins to thump. If I am in the school
wynd and hear the piano going, I know you will turn the corner
immediately. However, I am glad to hear it is not Miss Pennycuick.
Then it is the factor at the Spittal's lassie? Well done, sir. You
should arrange to have the wedding at the same time as the old
earl's, which comes off in summer, I believe."

"One foolish marriage is enough in a day, doctor."

"Eh? You call him a fool far marrying a young wife? Well, no doubt
he is, but he would have been a bigger fool to marry an old one.
However, it is not Lord Rintoul we are discussing, but Gavin
Dishart. I suppose you know that the factor's lassie is an
heiress?"

"And, therefore, would scorn me."

"Try her," said the doctor, drily. "Her father and mother, as I
know, married on a ten-pound note. But if I am wrong again, I must
adopt the popular view in Thrums. It is a Glasgow lady after all?
Man, you needn't look indignant at hearing that the people are
discussing your intended. You can no more stop it than a doctor's
orders could keep Lang Tammas out of church. They have discovered
that she sends you flowers twice every week."

"They never reach me," answered Gavin, then remembered the holly
and winced.

"Some," persisted the relentless doctor, "even speak of your
having been seen together; but of course, if she is a Glasgow
lady, that is a mistake."

"Where did they see us?" asked Gavin, with a sudden trouble in his
throat.

"You are shaking," said the doctor, keenly, "like a medical
student at his first operation. But as for the story that you and
the lady have been seen together, I can guess how it arose. Do you
remember that gypsy girl?"

The doctor had begun by addressing the fire, but he suddenly
wheeled round and fired his question in the minister's face.
Gavin, however, did not even blink.

"Why should I have forgotten her?" he replied, coolly.

"Oh, in the stress of other occupations. But it was your getting
the money from her at the Kaims for Nanny that I was to speak of.
Absurd though it seems, I think some dotard must have seen you and
her at the Kaims, and mistaken her for the lady."

McQueen flung himself back in his chair to enjoy this joke.

"Fancy mistaking that woman for a lady!" he said to Gavin, who had
not laughed with him.

"I think Nanny has some justification for considering her a lady,"
the minister said, firmly.

"Well, I grant that. But what made me guffaw was a vision of the
harum-scarum, devil-may-care little Egyptian mistress of an Auld
Licht manse!"

"She is neither harum-scarum nor devil-may-care," Gavin answered,
without heat, for he was no longer a distracted minister. "You
don't understand her as I do."

"No, I seem to understand her differently.

"What do you know of her?"

"That is just it," said the doctor, irritated by Gavin's coolness.
"I know she saved Nanny from the poor-house, but I don't know
where she got the money. I know she can talk fine English when she
chooses, but I don't know where she learned it. I know she heard
that the soldiers were coming to Thrums before they knew of their
destination themselves, but I don't know who told her. You who
understand her can doubtless explain these matters?"

"She offered to explain them to me," Gavin answered, still
unmoved, "but I forbade her."

"Why?"

"It is no business of yours, doctor. Forgive me for saying so."

"In Thrums," replied McQueen, "a minister's business is
everybody's business. I have often wondered who helped her to
escape from the soldiers that night. Did she offer to explain that
to you?"

"She did not."

"Perhaps," said the doctor, sharply, "because it was unnecessary?"

"That was the reason."

"You helped her to escape?"

"I did."

"And you are not ashamed of it?"

"I am not."

"Why were you so anxious to screen her?"

"She saved some of my people from gaol."

"Which was more than they deserved."

"I have always understood that you concealed two of them in your
own stable."

"Maybe I did," the doctor had to allow. "But I took my stick to
them next morning. Besides, they were Thrums folk, while you had
never set eyes on that imp of mischief before."

"I cannot sit here, doctor, and hear her called names," Gavin
said, rising, but McQueen gripped him by the shoulder.

"For pity's sake, sir, don't let us wrangle like a pair of women.
I brought you here to speak my mind to you, and speak it I will. I
warn you, Mr. Dishart, that you are being watched. You have been
seen meeting this lassie in Caddam as well as at the Kaims."

"Let the whole town watch, doctor. I have met her openly."

"And why? Oh, don't make Nanny your excuse."

"I won't. I met her because I love her."

"Are you mad?" cried McQueen. "You speak as if you would marry
her."

"Yes," replied Gavin, determinedly, "and I mean to do it."

The doctor flung up his hands.

"I give you up," he said, raging. "I give you up. Think of your
congregation, man."

"I have been thinking of them, and as soon as I have a right to do
so I shall tell them what I have told you."

"And until you tell them I will keep your madness to myself, for I
warn you that, as soon as they do know, there will be a vacancy in
the Auld Licht kirk of Thrums."

"She is a woman," said Gavin, hesitating, though preparing to go,
"of whom any minister might be proud."

"She is a woman," the doctor roared, "that no congregation would
stand. Oh, if you will go, there is your hat."

Perhaps Gavin's face was whiter as he left the house than when he
entered it, but there was no other change. Those who were watching
him decided that he was looking much as usual, except that his
mouth was shut very firm, from which they concluded that he had
been taking the doctor to task for smoking. They also noted that
he returned to McQueen's house within half a hour after leaving
it, but remained no time.

Some explained this second visit by saying that the minister had
forgotten his cravat, and had gone back for it. What really sent
him back, however, was his conscience. He had said to McQueen that
he helped Babbie to escape from the soldiers because of her
kindness to his people, and he returned to own that it was a lie.

Gavin knocked at the door of the surgery, but entered without
waiting for a response. McQueen was no longer stamping through the
room, red and furious. He had even laid aside his pipe. He was
sitting back in his chair, looking half-mournfully, half-
contemptuously, at something in his palm. His hand closed
instinctively when he heard the door open, but Gavin had seen that
the object was an open locket.

"It was only your reference to the thing," the detected doctor
said, with a grim laugh, "that made me open it. Forty fears ago,
sir, I--Phew! it is forty-two years, and I have not got over it
yet." He closed the locket with a snap. "I hope you have come
back, Dishart, to speak more rationally?"

Gavin told him why he had come back, and the doctor said he was a
fool for his pains.

"Is it useless, Dishart, to make another appeal to you?"

"Quite useless, doctor," Gavin answered, promptly. "My mind is
made up at last."

James M. Barrie