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Chapter 27

FIRST JOURNEY OF THE DOMINIE TO THRUMS DURING THE TWENTY-FOUR
HOURS.


"How did it happen?" I asked more than once, but the Egyptian was
only with me in the body, and she did not hear. I might have been
talking to some one a mile away whom a telescope had drawn near my
eyes.

When I put on my bonnet, however, she knew that I was going to
Thrums, and she rose and walked to the door, looking behind to see
that I followed.

"You must not come," I said harshly, but her hand started to her
heart as if I had shot her, and I added quickly, "Come." We were
already some distance on our way before I repeated my question.

"What matter how it happened?" she answered piteously, and they
were words of which I felt the force. But when she said a little
later, "I thought you would say it is not true," I took courage,
and forced her to tell me all she knew. She sobbed while she
spoke, if one may sob without tears.

"I heard of it at the Spittal," she said. "The news broke out
suddenly there that the piper had quarrelled with some one in
Thrums, and that in trying to separate them Mr. Dishart was
stabbed. There is no doubt of its truth."

"We should have heard of it here," I said hopefully, "before the
news reached the Spittal. It cannot be true."

"It was brought to the Spittal," she answered, "by the hill road."

Then my spirits sank again, for I knew that this was possible.
There is a path, steep but short, across the hills between Thrums
and the top of the glen, which Mr. Glendinning took frequently
when he had to preach at both places on the same Sabbath. It is
still called the Minister's Road.

"Yet if the earl had believed it he would have sent some one into
Thrums for particulars," I said, grasping at such comfort as I
could make.

"He does believe it," she answered. "He told me of it himself."

You see the Egyptian was careless of her secret now; but what was
that secret to me? An hour ago it would have been much, and
already it was not worth listening to. If she had begun to tell me
why Lord Rintoul took a gypsy girl into his confidence I should
not have heard her.

"I ran quickly," she said. "Even if a messenger was sent he might
be behind me."

Was it her words or the tramp of a horse that made us turn our
heads at that moment? I know not. But far back in a twist of the
road we saw a horseman approaching at such a reckless pace that I
thought he was on a runaway. We stopped instinctively, and waited
for him, and twice he disappeared in hollows of the road, and then
was suddenly tearing down upon us. I recognised in him young Mr.
McKenzie, a relative of Rintoul, and I stretched out my arms to
compel him to draw up. He misunderstood my motive, and was raising
his whip threateningly, when he saw the Egyptian, It is not too
much to say that he swayed in the saddle. The horse galloped on,
though he had lost hold of the reins. He looked behind until he
rounded a corner, and I never saw such amazement mixed with
incredulity on a human face. For some minutes I expected to see
him coming back, but when he did not I said wonderingly to the
Egyptian--

"He knew you."

"Did he?" she answered indifferently, and I think we spoke no more
until we were in Windyghoul. Soon we were barely conscious of each
other's presence. Never since have I walked between the school-
house and Thrums in so short a time, nor seen so little on the
way.

In the Egyptian's eyes, I suppose, was a picture of Gavin lying
dead; but if her grief had killed her thinking faculties, mine,
that was only less keen because I had been struck down once
before, had set all the wheels of my brain in action. For it
seemed to me that the hour had come when I must disclose myself to
Margaret.

I had realised always that if such a necessity did arise it could
only be caused by Gavin's premature death, or by his proving a bad
son to her. Some may wonder that I could have looked calmly thus
far into the possible, but I reply that the night of Adam
Dishart's home-coming had made of me a man whom the future could
not surprise again. Though I saw Gavin and his mother happy in our
Auld Licht manse, that did not prevent my considering the
contingencies which might leave her without a son. In the school-
house I had brooded over them as one may think over moves on a
draught-board. It may have been idle, but it was done that I might
know how to act best for Margaret if any thing untoward occurred.
The time for such action had come. Gavin's death had struck me
hard, but it did not crush me. I was not unprepared. I was going
to Margaret now.

What did I see as I walked quickly along the glen road, with
Babbie silent by my side, and I doubt not pods of the broom
cracking all around us? I saw myself entering the Auld Licht
manse, where Margaret sat weeping over the body of Gavin, and
there was none to break my coming to her, for none but she and I
knew what had been.

I saw my Margaret again, so fragile now, so thin the wrists, her
hair turned grey. No nearer could I go, but stopped at the door,
grieving for her, and at last saying her name aloud.

I saw her raise her face, and look upon me for the first time for
eighteen years. She did not scream at sight of me, for the body of
her son lay between us, and bridged the gulf that Adam Dishart had
made.

I saw myself draw near her reverently and say, "Margaret, he is
dead, and that is why I have come back," and I saw her put her
arms around my neck as she often did long ago.

But it was not to be. Never since that night at Harvie have I
spoken to Margaret.

The Egyptian and I were to come to Windyghoul before I heard her
speak. She was not addressing me. Here Gavin and she had met
first, and she was talking of that meeting to herself.

"It was there," I heard her say softly, as she gazed at the bush
beneath which she had seen him shaking his fist at her on the
night of the riots. A little farther on she stopped where a path
from Windyghoul sets off for the well in the wood. She looked up
it wistfully, and there I left her behind, and pressed on to the
mud-house to ask Nanny Webster if the minister was dead. Nanny's
gate was swinging in the wind, but her door was shut, and for a
moment I stood at it like a coward, afraid to enter and hear the
worst.

The house was empty. I turned from it relieved, as if I had got a
respite, and while I stood in the garden the Egyptian came to me
shuddering, her twitching face asking the question that would not
leave her lips.

"There is no one in the house," I said. "Nanny is perhaps at the
well."

But the gypsy went inside, and pointing to the fire said, "It has
been out for hours. Do you not see? The murder has drawn every one
into Thrums."

So I feared. A dreadful night was to pass before I knew that this
was the day of the release of Sanders Webster, and that frail
Nanny had walked into Tilliedrum to meet him at the prison gate.

Babbie sank upon a stool, so weak that I doubt whether she heard
me tell her to wait there until my return. I hurried into Thrums,
not by the hill, though it is the shorter way, but by the Roods,
for I must hear all before I ventured to approach the manse. From
Windyghoul to the top of the Roods it is a climb and then a steep
descent. The road has no sooner reached its highest point than it
begins to fall in the straight line of houses called the Roods,
and thus I came upon a full view of the street at once. A cart was
laboring up it. There were women sitting on stones at their doors,
and girls playing at palaulays, and out of the house nearest me
came a black figure. My eyes failed me; I was asking so much from
them. They made him tall and short, and spare and stout, so that I
knew it was Gavin, and yet, looking again, feared, but all the
time, I think, I knew it was he.


James M. Barrie