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Chapter 24

NEW WORLD, AND THE WOMAN WHO MAY NOT DWELL THEREIN.


Up here in the glen school-house after my pupils have straggled
home, there comes to me at times, and so sudden that it may be
while I am infusing my tea, a hot desire to write great books.
Perhaps an hour afterwards I rise, beaten, from my desk, flinging
all I have written into the fire (yet rescuing some of it on
second thought), and curse myself as an ingle-nook man, for I see
that one can only paint what he himself has felt, and in my
passion I wish to have all the vices, even to being an impious
man, that I may describe them better. For this may I be pardoned.
It comes to nothing in the end, save that my tea is brackish.

Yet though my solitary life in the glen is cheating me of many
experiences, more helpful to a writer than to a Christian, it has
not been so tame but that I can understand why Babbie cried when
she went into Nanny's garden and saw the new world. Let no one who
loves be called altogether unhappy. Even love unreturned has its
rainbow, and Babbie knew that Gavin loved her. Yet she stood in
woe among the stiff berry bushes, as one who stretches forth her
hands to Love and sees him looking for her, and knows she must
shrink from the arms she would lie in, and only call to him in a
voice he cannot hear. This is not a love that is always bitter. It
grows sweet with age. But could that dry the tears of the little
Egyptian, who had only been a woman for a day?

Much was still dark to her. Of one obstacle that must keep her and
Gavin ever apart she knew, and he did not; but had it been removed
she would have given herself to him humbly, not in her own
longing, but because he wanted her. "Behold what I am," she could
have said to him then, and left the rest to him, believing that
her unworthiness would not drag him down, it would lose itself so
readily in his strength. That Thrums could rise against such a man
if he defied it, she did not believe; but she was to learn the
truth presently from a child.

To most of us, I suppose, has come some shock that was to make us
different men from that hour, and yet, how many days elapsed
before something of the man we had been leapt up in us? Babbie
thought she had buried her old impulsiveness, and then remembering
that from the top of the field she might see Gavin returning from
church, she hastened to the hill to look upon him from a distance.
Before she reached the gate where I had met her and him, however,
she stopped, distressed at her selfishness, and asked bitterly,
"Why am I so different from other women; why should what is so
easy to them be so hard to me?"

"Gavin, my beloved!" the Egyptian cried in her agony, and the wind
caught her words and flung them in the air, making sport of her.

She wandered westward over the bleak hill, and by-and-by came to a
great slab called the Standing Stone, on which children often sit
and muse until they see gay ladies riding by on palfreys--a kind
of horse--and knights in glittering armour, and goblins, and fiery
dragons, and other wonders now extinct, of which bare-legged
laddies dream, as well as boys in socks. The Standing Stone is in
the dyke that separates the hill from a fir wood, and it is the
fairy-book of Thrums. If you would be a knight yourself, you must
sit on it and whisper to it your desire.

Babbie came to the Standing Stone, and there was a little boy
astride it. His hair stood up through holes in his bonnet, and he
was very ragged and miserable.

"Why are you crying, little boy?" Babbie asked him, gently; but he
did not look up, and the tongue was strange to him.

"How are you greeting so sair?" she asked.

"I'm no greeting very sair," he answered, turning his head from
her that a woman might not see his tears. "I'm no greeting so sair
but what I grat sairer when my mither died."

"When did she die?" Babbie inquired.

"Lang syne," he answered, still with averted face.

"What is your name?"

"Micah is my name. Rob Dow's my father."

"And have you no brothers nor sisters?" asked Babbie, with a
fellow-feeling for him.

"No, juist my father," he said.

"You should be the better laddie to him then. Did your mither no
tell you to be that afore she died?"

"Ay," he answered, "she telled me ay to hide the bottle frae him
when I could get haed o't. She took me into the bed to make me
promise that, and syne she died."

"Does your father drina?"

"He hauds mair than ony other man in Thrums," Micah replied,
almost proudly.

"And he strikes you?" Babbie asked, compassionately.

"That's a lie," retorted the boy, fiercely. "Leastwise, he doesna
strike me except when he's mortal, and syne I can jouk him."

"What are you doing there?"

"I'm wishing. It's a wishing stane."

"You are wishing your father wouldna drink."

"No, I'm no," answered Micah. "There was a lang time he didna
drink, but the woman has sent him to it again. It's about her I'm
wishing. I'm wishing she was in hell."

"What woman is it?" asked Babbie, shuddering.

"I dinna ken," Micah said, "but she's an ill ane."

"Did you never see her at your father's house?"

"Na; if he could get grip o' her he would break her ower his knee.
I hearken to him saying that, when he's wild. He says she should
be burned for a witch."

"But if he hates her," asked Babbie, "how can she have sic power
ower him?"

"It's no him that she has haud o'," replied Micah. still looking
away from her.

"Wha is it then?"

"It's Mr. Dishart."

Babbie was struck as if by an arrow from the wood. It was so
unexpected that she gave a cry, and then for the first time Micah
looked at her.

"How should that send your father to the drink?" she asked, with
an effort.

"Because my father's michty fond o' him," answered Micah, staring
strangely at her; "and when the folk ken about the woman, they'll
stane the minister out o' Thrums."

The wood faded for a moment from the Egyptian's sight. When it
came back, the boy had slid off the Standing Stone and was
stealing away.

"Why do you run frae me?" Babbie asked, pathetically.

"I'm fleid at you," he gasped, coming to a standstill at a safe
distance: "you're the woman!"

Babbie cowered before her little judge, and he drew nearer her
slowly.

"What makes you think that?" she said.

It was a curious time for Babbie's beauty to be paid its most
princely compliment.

"Because you're so bonny," Micah whispered across the dyke. Her
tears gave him courage. "You might gang awa," he entreated. "If
you kent what a differ Mr. Dishart made in my father till you
came, you would maybe gang awa. When lie's roaring fou I have to
sleep in the wood, and it's awful cauld. I'm doubting he'll kill
me, woman, if you dinna gang awa."

Poor Babbie put her hand to her heart, but the innocent lad
continued mercilessly--

"If ony shame comes to the minister, his auld mither'll die. How
have you sic an ill will at the minister?"

Babbie held up her hands like a supplicant.

"I'll gie you my rabbit." Micah said, "if you'll gang awa. I've
juist the ane." She shook her head, and, misunderstanding her, he
cried, with his knuckles in his eye, "I'll gie you them baith,
though I'm michty sweer to part wi' Spotty."

Then at last Babbie found her voice.

"Keep your rabbits, laddie," she said, "and greet no more. I'm
gaen awa."

"And you'll never come back no more a' your life?" pleaded Micah.

"Never no more a' my life," repeated Babbie.

"And ye'll leave the minister alane for ever and ever?"

"For ever and ever."

Micah rubbed his face dry, and said, "Will you let me stand on the
Standing Stane and watch you gaen awa for ever and ever?"

At that a sob broke from Babbie's heart, and looking at her
doubtfully Micah said--

"Maybe you're gey ill for what you've done?"

"Ay," Babbie answered, "I'm gey ill for what I've done."

A minute passed, and in her anguish she did not know that still
she was standing at the dyke. Micah's voice roused her:

"You said you would gang awa, and you're no gaen,"

Then Babbie went away. The boy watched her across the hill. He
climbed the Standing Stone and gazed after her until she was but a
coloured ribbon among the broom. When she disappeared into
Windyghoul he ran home, joyfully, and told his father what a good
day's work he had done. Rob struck him for a fool for taking a
gypsy's word, and warned him against speaking of the woman in
Thrums.

But though Dow believed that Gavin continued to meet the Egyptian
secretly, he was wrong. A sum of money for Nanny was sent to the
minister, but he could guess only from whom it came. In vain did
he search for Babbie. Some months passed and he gave up the
search, persuaded that he should see her no more. He went about
his duties with a drawn face that made many folk uneasy when it
was stern, and pained them when it tried to smile. But to
Margaret, though the effort was terrible, he was as he had ever
been, and so no thought of a woman crossed her loving breast.

James M. Barrie