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Chapter 25

BEGINNING OF THE TWENTY-FOUR HOURS.


I can tell still how the whole of the glen was engaged about the
hour of noon on the fourth of August month; a day to be among the
last forgotten by any of us, though it began as quietly as a
roaring March. At the Spittal, between which and Thrums this is a
halfway house, were gathered two hundred men in kilts, and many
gentry from the neighboring glens, to celebrate the earl's
marriage, which was to take place on the morrow, and thither, too,
had gone many of my pupils to gather gossip, at which girls of six
are trustier hands than boys of twelve. Those of us, however, who
were neither children nor of gentle blood, remained at home, the
farmers more taken up with the want of rain, now become a
calamity, than with an old man's wedding, and their women-folk
wringing their hands for rain also, yet finding time to marvel at
the marriage's taking place at the Spittal instead of in England,
of which the ignorant spoke vaguely as an estate of the bride's.

For my own part I could talk of the disastrous drought with Waster
Lunny as I walked over his parched fields, but I had not such
cause as he to brood upon it by day and night; and the ins and
outs of the earl's marriage were for discussing at a tea-table,
where there were women to help one to conclusions, rather than for
the reflections of a solitary dominie, who had seen neither bride
nor bridegroom. So it must be confessed that when I might have
been regarding the sky moodily, or at the Spittal, where a free
table that day invited all, I was sitting in the school-house,
heeling my left boot, on which I have always been a little hard.

I made small speed, not through lack of craft, but because one can
no more drive in tackets properly than take cities unless he gives
his whole mind to it; and half of mine was at the Auld Licht
manse. Since our meeting six months earlier on the hill I had not
seen Gavin, but I had heard much of him, and of a kind to trouble
me.

"I saw nothing queer about Mr. Dishart," was Waster Lunny's
frequent story, "till I hearkened to Elspeth speaking about it to
the lasses (for I'm the last Elspeth would tell anything to,
though I'm her man), and syne I minded I had been noticing it for
months. Elspeth says," he would go on, for he could no more
forbear quoting his wife than complaining of her, "that the
minister'll listen to you nowadays wi' his een glaring at you as
if he had a perfectly passionate interest in what you were telling
him (though it may be only about a hen wi' the croup), and then,
after all, he hasna heard a sylib. Ay, I listened to Elspeth
saying that, when she thocht I was at the byre, and yet, would you
believe it, when I says to her after lousing times, 'I've been
noticing of late that the minister loses what a body tells him,'
all she answers is 'Havers.' Tod, but women's provoking."

"I allow," Birse said, "that on the first Sabbath o' June month,
and again on the third Sabbath, he poured out the Word grandly,
but I've ta'en note this curran Sabbaths that if he's no michty
magnificent he's michty poor. There's something damming up his
mind, and when he gets by it he's a roaring water, but when he
doesna he's a despizable trickle. The folk thinks it's a woman
that's getting in his way, but dinna tell me that about sic a
scholar; I tell you he would gang ower a toon o' women like a
loaded cart ower new-laid stanes."

Wearyworld hobbled after me up the Roods one day, pelting me with
remarks, though I was doing my best to get away from him. "Even
Rob Dow sees there's something come ower the minister," he bawled,
"for Rob's fou ilka Sabbath now. Ay, but this I will say for Mr.
Dishart, that he aye gies me a civil word," I thought I had left
the policeman behind with this, but next minute he roared, "And
whatever is the matter wi' him it has made him kindlier to me than
ever." He must have taken the short cut through Lunan's close, for
at the top of the Roods his voice again made up on me. "Dagone
you, for a cruel pack to put your fingers to your lugs ilka time I
open my mouth."

As for Waster Lunny's daughter Easie, who got her schooling free
for redding up the school-house and breaking my furniture, she
would never have been off the gossip about the minister, for she
was her mother in miniature, with a tongue that ran like a pump
after the pans are full, not for use but for the mere pleasure of
spilling.

On that awful fourth of August I not only had all this confused
talk in my head but reason for jumping my mind between it and the
Egyptian (as if to catch them together unawares), and I was like
one who, with the mechanism of a watch jumbled in his hand, could
set it going if he had the art.

Of the gypsy I knew nothing save what I had seen that night, yet
what more was there to learn? I was aware that she loved Gavin and
that he loved her. A moment had shown it to me. Now with the Auld
Lichts, I have the smith's acquaintance with his irons, and so I
could not believe that they would suffer their minister to marry a
vagrant. Had it not been for this knowledge, which made me fearful
for Margaret, I would have done nothing to keep these two young
people apart. Some to whom I have said this maintain that the
Egyptian turned my head at our first meeting. Such an argument is
not perhaps worth controverting. I admit that even now I
straighten under the fire of a bright eye, as a pensioner may
salute when he sees a young officer. In the shooting season,
should I chance to be leaning over my dyke while English sportsmen
pass (as is usually the case if I have seen them approaching), I
remember nought of them save that they call me "she," and end
their greetings with "whatever" (which Waster Lunny takes to be a
southron mode of speech), but their ladies dwell pleasantly in my
memory, from their engaging faces to the pretty crumpled thing
dangling on their arms, that is a hat or a basket, I am seldom
sure which. The Egyptian's beauty, therefore, was a gladsome sight
to me, and none the less so that I had come upon it as
unexpectedly as some men step into a bog. Had she been alone when
I met her I cannot deny that I would have been content to look on
her face, without caring what was inside it; but she was with her
lover, and that lover was Gavin, and so her face was to me as
little for admiring as this glen in a thunderstorm, when I know
that some fellow-creature is lost on the hills.

If, however, it was no quick liking for the gypsy that almost
tempted me to leave these two lovers to each other, what was it?
It was the warning of my own life. Adam Dishart had torn my arm
from Margaret's, and I had not recovered the wrench in eighteen
years. Rather than act his part between these two I felt tempted
to tell them, "Deplorable as the result may be, if you who are a
minister marry this vagabond, it will be still more deplorable if
you do not."

But there was Margaret to consider, and at thought of her I cursed
the Egyptian aloud. What could I do to keep Gavin and the woman
apart? I could tell him the secret of his mother's life. Would
that be sufficient? It would if he loved Margaret, as I did not
doubt. Pity for her would make him undergo any torture rather than
she should suffer again. But to divulge our old connection would
entail her discovery of me. and I questioned if even the saving of
Gavin could destroy the bitterness of that.

I might appeal to the Egyptian. I might tell her even what I
shuddered to tell him. She cared for him, I was sure, well enough
to have the courage to give him up. But where was I to find her?

Were she and Gavin meeting still? Perhaps the change which had
come over the little minister meant that they had parted. Yet what
I had heard him say to her on the hill warned me not to trust in
any such solution of the trouble.

Boys play at casting a humming-top into the midst of others on the
ground, and if well aimed it scatters them prettily. I seemed to
be playing such a game with my thoughts, for each new one sent the
others here and there, and so what could I do in the end but fling
my tops aside, and return to the heeling of my boot?

I was thus engaged when the sudden waking of the glen into life
took me to my window. There is seldom silence up here, for if the
wind be not sweeping the heather, the Quharity, that I may not
have heard for days, seems to have crept nearer to the school-
house in the night, and if both wind and water be out of earshot,
there is the crack of a gun, or Waster Lunny's shepherd is on a
stone near at hand whistling, or a lamb is scrambling through a
fence, and kicking foolishly with its hind legs. These sounds I am
unaware of until they stop, when I look up. Such a stillness was
broken now by music.

From my window I saw a string of people walking rapidly down the
glen, and Waster Lunny crossing his potato-field to meet them.
Remembering that, though I was in my stocking soles, the ground
was dry, I hastened to join the farmer, for I like to miss
nothing. I saw a curious sight. In front of the little procession
coming down the glen road, and so much more impressive than his
satellites that they may be put of mind as merely ploughman and
the like following a show, was a Highlander that I knew to be
Lauchlan Campbell, one of the pipers engaged to lend music to the
earl's marriage. He had the name of a thrawn man when sober, but
pretty at the pipes at both times, and he came marching down the
glen blowing gloriously, as if he had the clan of Campbell at his
heels. I know no man who is so capable on occasion of looking like
twenty as a Highland piper, and never have I seen a face in such a
blaze of passion as was Lauchlan Campbell's that day. His
following were keeping out of his reach, jumping back every time
he turned round to shake his fist in the direction of the Spittal.
While this magnificent man was yet some yards from us, I saw
Waster Lunny, who had been in the middle of the road to ask
questions, fall back in fear, and not being a fighting man myself,
I jumped the dyke. Lauchlan gave me a look that sent me farther
into the field, and strutted past, shrieking defiance through his
pipes, until I lost him and his followers in a bend of the road.

"That's a terrifying spectacle," I heard Waster Lunny say when the
music had become but a distant squeal. "You're bonny at louping
dykes, dominie, when there is a wild bull in front o' you. Na, I
canna tell what has happened, but at the least Lauchlan maun hae
dirked the earl. Thae loons cried out to me as they gaed by that
he has been blawing awa' at that tune till he canna halt. What a
wind's in the crittur! I'm thinking there's a hell in ilka
Highlandman."

"Take care then, Waster Lunny, that you dinna licht it," said an
angry voice that made us jump, though it was only Duncan, the
farmer's shepherd, who spoke.

"I had forgotten you was a Highlandman yoursel', Duncan," Waster
Lunny said nervously; but Elspeth, who had come to us unnoticed,
ordered the shepherd to return to the hillside, which he did
haughtily.

"How did you no lay haud on that blast o' wind, Lauchlan
Campbell," asked Elspeth of her husband, "and speir at him what
had happened at the Spittal? A quarrel afore a marriage brings ill
luck."

"I'm thinking," said the farmer, "that Rintoul's making his ain
ill luck by marrying on a young leddy."

"A man's never ower auld to marry," said Elspeth.

"No, nor a woman," rejoined Waster Lunny, "when she gets the
chance. But, Elspeth, I believe I can guess what has fired that
fearsome piper. Depend upon it, somebody has been speaking
disrespectful about the crittur's ancestors."

"His ancestors!" exclaimed Elspeth, scornfully. "I'm thinking mine
could hae bocht them at a crown the dozen."

"Hoots," said the farmer, "you're o' a weaving stock, and dinna
understand about ancestors. Take a stick to a Highland laddie, and
it's no him you hurt, but his ancestors. Likewise it's his
ancestors that stanes you for it. When Duncan stalked awa the now,
what think you he saw? He saw a farmer's wife dauring to order
about his ancestors; and if that's the way wi' a shepherd, what
will it be wi' a piper that has the kilts on him a' day to mind
him o' his ancestors ilka time he looks down?"

Elspeth retired to discuss the probable disturbance at the Spittal
with her family, giving Waster Lunny the opportunity of saying to
me impressively--

"Man, man, has it never crossed you that it's a queer thing the
like o' you and me having no ancestors? Ay, we had them in a
manner o' speaking, no doubt, but they're as completely lost sicht
o' as a flagon lid that's fallen ahint the dresser. Hech, sirs,
but they would need a gey rubbing to get the rust off them now,
I've been thinking that if I was to get my laddies to say their
grandfather's name a curran times ilka day, like the Catechism,
and they were to do the same wi' their bairns, and it was
continued in future generations, we micht raise a fell field o'
ancestors in time. Ay, but Elspeth wouldna hear o't. Nothing
angers her mair than to hear me speak o' planting trees for the
benefit o' them that's to be farmers here after me; and as for
ancestors, she would howk them up as quick as I could plant them.
Losh, dominie, is that a boot in your hand?"

To my mortification I saw that I had run out of the school-house
with the boot on my hand as if it were a glove, and back I went
straightway, blaming myself for a man wanting in dignity. It was
but a minor trouble this, however, even at the time; and to recall
it later in the day was to look back on happiness, for though I
did not know it yet, Lauchlan's playing raised the curtain on the
great act of Gavin's life, and the twenty-four hours had begun, to
which all I have told as yet is no more than the prologue.


James M. Barrie