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Chapter 23

CONTAINS A BIRTH, WHICH IS SUFFICIENT FOR ONE CHAPTER.


"The kirk bell will soon be ringing," Nanny said on the following
morning, as she placed herself carefully on a stool, one hand
holding her Bible and the other wandering complacently over her
aged merino gown. "Ay, lassie, though you're only an Egyptian I
would hae ta'en you wi' me to hear Mr. Duthie, but it's speiring
ower muckle o' a woman to expect her to gang to the kirk in her
ilka day claethes."

The Babbie of yesterday would have laughed at this, but the new
Babbie sighed.

"I wonder you don't go to Mr. Dishart's church now. Nanny," she
said, gently. "I am sure you prefer him."

"Babbie, Babbie," exclaimed Nanny, with spirit, "may I never be so
far left to mysel' as to change my kirk just because I like
another minister better! It's easy seen, lassie, that you ken
little o' religious questions."

"Very little," Babbie admitted, sadly.

"But dinna ba so waeful about it," the old woman continued,
kindly, "for that's no nane like you. Ay, and if you see muckle
mair o' Mr. Dishart he'll soon cure your ignorance."

"I shall not see much more of him," Babbie answered, with averted
head.

"The like o' you couldna expect it," Nanny said, simply, whereupon
Babbie went to the window. "I had better be stepping," Nanny said,
rising, "for I am aye late unless I'm on the hill by the time the
bell begins. Ay, Babbie, I'm doubting my merino's no sair in the
fashion?"

She looked down at her dress half despondently, and yet with some
pride.

"It was fowerpence the yard, and no less," she went on, fondling
the worn merino, "when we bocht it at Sam'l Curr's. Ay, but it has
been turned sax times since syne."

She sighed, and Babbie came to her and put her arms round her,
saying, "Nanny, you are a dear."

"I'm a gey auld-farrant-looking dear, I doubt," said Nanny,
ruefully.

"Now, Nanny," rejoined Babbie, "you are just wanting me to flatter
you. You know the merino looks very nice."

"It's a guid merino yet," admitted the old woman, "but, oh,
Babbie, what does the material matter if the cut isna fashionable?
It's fine, isn't it, to be in the fashion?"

She spoke so wistfully that, instead of smiling, Babbie kissed
her.

"I am afraid to lay hand on the merino, Nanny, but give me off
your bonnet and I'll make it ten years younger in as many
minutes."

"Could you?" asked Nanny, eagerly, unloosening her bonnet-strings.
"Mercy on me!" she had to add; "to think about altering bonnets on
the Sabbath-day! Lassie, how could you propose sic a thing?"

"Forgive me, Nanny," Babbie replied, so meekly that the old woman
looked at her curiously.

"I dinna understand what has come ower you," she said. "There's an
unca difference in you since last nicht. I used to think you were
mair like a bird than a lassie, but you've lost a' your daft
capers o' singing and lauching, and I take ill wi't. Twa or three
times I've catched you greeting. Babbie, what has come ower you?"

"Nothing, Nanny. I think I hear the bell."

Down in Thrums two kirk-officers had let their bells loose, waking
echoes in Windyghoul as one dog in country parts sets all the
others barking, but Nanny did not hurry off to church. Such a
surprising notion had filled her head suddenly that she even
forgot to hold her dress off the floor.

"Babbie," she cried, in consternation, "dinna tell me you've
gotten ower fond o' Mr. Dishart."

"The like of me, Nanny!" the gypsy answered, with affected
raillery, but there was a tear in her eye.

"It would be a wild, presumptious thing," Nanny said, "and him a
grand minister, but--"

Babbie tried to look her in the face, but failed, and then all at
once there came back to Nanny the days when she and her lover
wandered the hill together.

"Ah, my dawtie," she cried, so tenderly, "what does it matter wha
he is when you canna help it!"

Two frail arms went round the Egyptian, and Babbie rested her head
on the old woman's breast. But do you think it could have happened
had not Nanny loved a weaver two-score years before?

And now Nanny has set off for church and Babbie is alone in the
mud house. Some will pity her not at all, this girl who was a
dozen women in the hour, and all made of impulses that would
scarce stand still to be photographed. To attempt to picture her
at any time until now would have been like chasing a spirit that
changes to something else as your arms clasp it; yet she has
always seemed a pathetic little figure to me. If I understand
Babbie at all, it is, I think, because I loved Margaret, the only
woman I have ever known well, and one whose nature was not, like
the Egyptian's, complex, but most simple, as if God had told her
only to be good. Throughout my life since she came into it she has
been to me a glass in which many things are revealed that I could
not have learned save through her, and something of all womankind,
even of bewildering Babbie, I seem to know because I knew
Margaret.

No woman is so bad but we may rejoice when her heart thrills to
love, for then God has her by the hand. There is no love but this.
She may dream of what love is, but it is only of a sudden that she
knows. Babbie, who was without a guide from her baby days, had
dreamed but little of it, hearing its name given to another thing.
She had been born wild and known no home; no one had touched her
heart except to strike it, she had been educated, but never tamed;
her life had been thrown strangely among those who were great in
the world's possessions, but she was not of them. Her soul was in
such darkness that she had never seen it; she would have danced
away cynically from the belief that there is such a thing, and now
all at once she had passed from disbelief to knowledge. Is not
love God's doing? To Gavin He had given something of Himself, and
the moment she saw it the flash lit her own soul.

It was but little of his Master that was in Gavin, but far smaller
things have changed the current of human lives; the spider's
thread that strikes our brow on a country road may do that. Yet
this I will say, though I have no wish to cast the little minister
on my pages larger than he was, that he had some heroic hours in
Thrums, of which one was when Babbie learned to love him. Until
the moment when he kissed her she had only conceived him a quaint
fellow whose life was a string of Sundays, but behold what she saw
in him now. Evidently to his noble mind her mystery was only some
misfortune, not of her making, and his was to be the part of
leading her away from it into the happiness of the open life. He
did not doubt her, for he loved, and to doubt is to dip love in
the mire. She had been given to him by God, and he was so rich in
her possession that the responsibility attached to the gift was
not grievous. She was his, and no mortal man could part them.
Those who looked askance at her were looking askance at him; in so
far as she was wayward and wild, he was those things; so long as
she remained strange to religion, the blame lay on him.

All this Babbie read in the Gavin of the past night, and to her it
was the book of love. What things she had known, said and done in
that holy name! How shamefully have we all besmirched it! She had
only known it as the most selfish of the passions, a brittle image
that men consulted because it could only answer in the words they
gave it to say. But here was a man to whom love was something
better than his own desires leering on a pedestal. Such love as
Babbie had seen hitherto made strong men weak, but this was a love
that made a weak man strong. All her life, strength had been her
idol, and the weakness that bent to her cajolery her scorn. But
only now was it revealed to her that strength, instead of being
the lusty child of passions, grows by grappling with and throwing
them.

So Babbie loved the little minister for the best that she had ever
seen in man. I shall be told that she thought far more of him than
he deserved, forgetting the mean in the worthy: but who that has
had a glimpse of heaven will care to let his mind dwell henceforth
on earth? Love, it is said, is blind, but love is not blind. It is
an extra eye, which shows us what is most worthy of regard. To see
the best is to see most clearly, and it is the lover's privilege.

Down in the Auld Licht kirk that forenoon Gavin preached a sermon
in praise of Woman, and up in the mudhouse in Windyghoul Babbie
sat alone. But it was the Sabbath day to her: the first Sabbath in
her life. Her discovery had frozen her mind for a time, so that
she could only stare at it with eyes that would not shut; but that
had been in the night. Already her love seemed a thing of years,
for it was as old as herself, as old as the new Babbie. It was
such a dear delight that she clasped it to her, and exulted over
it because it was hers, and then she cried over it because she
must give it up.

For Babbie must only look at this love and then turn from it. My
heart aches for the little Egyptian, but the Promised Land would
have remained invisible to her had she not realized that it was
only for others. That was the condition of her seeing.

James M. Barrie