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Chapter 3

THE NIGHT-WATCHERS.


What first struck Margaret in Thrums was the smell of the caddis.
The town smells of caddis no longer, but whiffs of it may be got
even now as one passes the houses of the old, where the lay still
swings at little windows like a great ghost pendulum. To me it is
a homely smell, which I draw in with a great breath, but it was as
strange to Margaret as the weavers themselves, who, in their
colored nightcaps and corduroys streaked with threads, gazed at
her and Gavin. The little minister was trying to look severe and
old, but twenty-one was in his eye.

"Look, mother, at that white house with the green roof. That is
the manse."

The manse stands high, with a sharp eye on all the town. Every
back window in the Tenements has a glint of it, and so the back of
the Tenements is always better behaved than the front. It was in
the front that Jamie Don, a pitiful bachelor all his life because
he thought the women proposed, kept his ferrets, and here, too,
Beattie hanged himself, going straight to the clothes-posts for
another rope when the first one broke, such was his determination.
In the front Sanders Gilruth openly boasted (on Don's potato-pit)
that by having a seat in two churches he could lie in bed on
Sabbath and get the credit of being at one or other. (Gavin made
short work of him.) To the right-minded the Auld Licht manse was
as a family Bible, ever lying open before them, but Beattie spoke
for more than him-self when he said, "Dagone that manse! I never
gie a swear but there it is glowering at me."

The manse looks down on the town from the northeast, and is
reached from the road that leaves Thrums behind it in another
moment by a wide, straight path, so rough that to carry a fraught
of water to the manse without spilling was to be superlatively
good at one thing. Packages in a cart it set leaping like trout in
a fishing-creel. Opposite the opening of the garden wall in the
manse, where for many years there had been an intention of putting
up a gate, were two big stones a yard apart, standing ready for
the winter, when the path was often a rush of yellow water, and
this the only bridge to the glebe dyke, down which the minister
walked to church.

When Margaret entered the manse on Gavin's arm, it was a
whitewashed house of five rooms, with a garret in which the
minister could sleep if he had guests, as during the Fast week. It
stood with its garden within high walls, and the roof awing
southward was carpeted with moss that shone in the sun in a dozen
shades of green and yellow. Three firs guarded the house from west
winds, but blasts from the north often tore down the steep fields
and skirled through the manse, banging all its doors at once. A
beech, growing on the east side, leant over the roof as if to
gossip with the well in the courtyard. The garden was to the
south, and was over full of gooseberry and currant bushes. It
contained a summer seat, where strange things were soon to happen.

Margaret would not even take off her bonnet until she had seen
through the manse and opened all the presses. The parlour and
kitchen were downstairs, and of the three rooms above, the study
was so small that Gavin's predecessor could touch each of its
walls without shifting his position. Every room save Margaret's
had long-lidded beds, which close as if with shutters, but hers
was coff-fronted, or comparatively open, with carving on the wood
like the ornamentation of coffins. Where there were children in a
house they liked to slope the boards of the closed-in bed against
the dresser, and play at sliding down mountains on them.

But for many years there had been no children in the manse. He in
whose ways Gavin was to attempt the heavy task of walking had been
a widower three months after his marriage, a man narrow when he
came to Thrums, but so large-hearted when he left it that I, who
know there is good in all the world because of the lovable souls I
have met in this corner of it, yet cannot hope that many are as
near to God as he. The most gladsome thing in the world is that
few of us fall very low; the saddest that, with such capabilities,
we seldom rise high. Of those who stand perceptibly above their
fellows I have known very few; only Mr. Carfrae and two or three
women.

Gavin only saw a very frail old minister who shook as he walked,
as if his feet were striking against stones. He was to depart on
the morrow to the place of his birth, but he came to the manse to
wish his successor God-speed. Strangers were so formidable to
Margaret that she only saw him from her window.

"May you never lose sight of God, Mr. Dishart," the old man said
in the parlour. Then he added, as if he had asked too much, "May
you never turn from Him as I often did when I was a lad like you."

As this aged minister, with the beautiful face that God gives to
all who love Him and follow His commandments, spoke of his youth,
he looked wistfully around the faded parlour.

"It is like a dream," he said. "The first time I entered this room
the thought passed through me that I would cut down that cherry-
tree, because it kept out the light, but, you see, it outlives me.
I grew old while looking for the axe. Only yesterday I was the
young minister, Mr. Dishart, and to-morrow you will be the old
one, bidding good-bye to your successor."

His eyes came back to Gavin's eager face.

"You are very young, Mr. Dishart?"

"Nearly twenty-one."

"Twenty-one! Ah, my dear sir, you do not know how pathetic that
sounds to me. Twenty-one! We are children for the second time at
twenty-one, and again when we are grey and put all our burden on
the Lord. The young talk generously of relieving the old of their
burdens, but the anxious heart is to the old when they see a load
on the back of the young. Let me tell you, Mr. Dishart, that I
would condone many things in one-and-twenty now that I dealt
hardly with at middle age. God Himself, I think, is very willing
to give one-and-twenty a second chance."

"I am afraid," Gavin said anxiously, "that I look even younger."

"I think," Mr. Carfrae answered, smiling, "that your heart is as
fresh as your face; and that is well. The useless men are those
who never change with the years. Many views that I held to in my
youth and long afterwards are a pain to me now, and I am carrying
away from Thrums memories of errors into which I fell at every
stage of my ministry. When you are older you will know that life
is a long lesson in humility."

He paused.

"I hope," he said nervously, "that you don't sing the
Paraphrases?"

Mr. Carfrae had not grown out of all his prejudices, you see;
indeed, if Gavin had been less bigoted than he on this question
they might have parted stiffly. The old minister would rather have
remained to die in his pulpit than surrender it to one who read
his sermons. Others may blame him for this, but I must say here
plainly that I never hear a minister reading without wishing to
send him back to college.

"I cannot deny," Mr. Carfrae said, "that I broke down more than
once to-day. This forenoon I was in Tillyloss, for the last time,
and it so happens that there is scarcely a house in it in which I
have not had a marriage or prayed over a coffin. Ah, sir, these
are the scenes that make the minister more than all his sermons.
You must join the family, Mr. Dishart, or you are only a minister
once a week. And remember this, if your call is from above, it is
a call to stay. Many such partings in a lifetime as I have had to-
day would be too heartrending."

"And yet," Gavin said, hesitatingly, "they told me in Glasgow that
I had received a call from the mouth of hell."

"Those were cruel words, but they only mean that people who are
seldom more than a day's work in advance of want sometimes rise in
arms for food. Our weavers are passionately religious, and so
independent that they dare any one to help them, but if their
wages were lessened they could not live. And so at talk of
reduction they catch fire. Change of any kind alarms them, and
though they call themselves Whigs, they rose a few years ago over
the paving of the streets and stoned the workmen, who were
strangers, out of the town."

"And though you may have thought the place quiet to-day, Mr.
Dishart, there was an ugly outbreak only two months ago, when the
weavers turned on the manufacturers for reducing the price of the
web, made a bonfire of some of their doors, and terrified one of
them into leaving Thrums. Under the command of some Chartists, the
people next paraded the streets to the music of fife and drum, and
six policemen who drove up from Tilliedrum in a light cart were
sent back tied to the seats."

"No one has been punished?"

"Not yet, but nearly two years ago there was a similar riot, and
the sheriff took no action for months. Then one night the square
suddenly filled with soldiers, and the ringleaders were seized in
their beds, Mr. Dishart, the people are determined not to be
caught in that way again, and ever since the rising a watch has
been kept by night on every road that leads to Thrums. The signal
that the soldiers are coining is to be the blowing of a horn. If
you ever hear that horn, I implore you to hasten to the square."

"The weavers would not fight?"

"You do not know how the Chartists have fired this part of the
country. One misty day, a week ago, I was on the hill; I thought I
had it to myself, when suddenly I heard a voice cry sharply,
'Shoulder arms.' I could see no one, and after a moment I put it
down to a freak of the wind. Then all at once the mist before me
blackened, and a body of men seemed to grow out of it. They were
not shadows; they were Thrums weavers drilling, with pikes in
their hands.

"They broke up," Mr. Carfrae continued, after a pause, "at my
entreaty, but they have met again since then."

"And there were Auld Lichts among them?" Gavin asked. "I should
have thought they would be frightened at our precentor, Lang
Tammas, who seems to watch for backsliding in the congregation as
if he had pleasure in discovering it."

Gavin spoke with feeling, for the precentor had already put him
through his catechism, and it was a stiff ordeal.

"The precentor!" said Mr. Carfrae. "Why, he was one of them."

The old minister, once so brave a figure, tottered as he rose to
go, and reeled in a dizziness until he had walked a few paces.
Gavin went with him to the foot of the manse road; without his
hat, as all Thrums knew before bedtime.

"I begin," Gavin said, as they were parting, "where you leave off,
and my prayer is that I may walk in your ways."

"Ah, Mr. Dishart," the white-haired minister said, with a sigh,
"the world does not progress so quickly as a man grows old. You
only begin where I began."

He left Gavin, and then, as if the little minister's last words
had hurt him, turned and solemnly pointed his staff upward. Such
men are the strong nails that keep the world together.

The twenty-one-years-old minister returned to the manse somewhat
sadly, but when he saw his mother at the window of her bed-room,
his heart leapt at the thought that she was with him and he had
eighty pounds a year. Gaily he waved both his hands to her, and
she answered with a smile, and then, in his boyishness, he jumped
over a gooseberry bush. Immediately afterwards he reddened and
tried to look venerable, for while in the air he had caught sight
of two women and a man watching him from the dyke. He walked
severely to the door, and, again forgetting himself, was bounding
upstairs to Margaret, when Jean, the servant, stood scandalised in
his way.

"I don't think she caught me," was Gavin's reflection, and "The
Lord preserves!" was Jean's.

Gavin found his mother wondering how one should set about getting
a cup of tea in a house that had a servant in it. He boldly rang
the bell, and the willing Jean answered it so promptly (in a rush
and jump) that Margaret was as much startled as Aladdin the first
time he rubbed his lamp.

Manse servants of the most admired kind move softly, as if
constant contact with a minister were goloshes to them; but Jean
was new and raw, only having got her place because her father
might be an elder any day. She had already conceived a romantic
affection for her master; but to say "sir" to him-as she thirsted
to do--would have been as difficult to her as to swallow oysters.
So anxious was she to please that when Gavin rang she fired
herself at the bed-room, but bells were novelties to her as well
as to Margaret, and she cried, excitedly, "What is it?" thinking
the house must be on fire.

"There's a curran folk at the back door," Jean announced later,
"and their respects to you, and would you gie them some water out
o' the well? It has been a drouth this aucht days, and the pumps
is locked. Na," she said, as Gavin made a too liberal offer, "that
would toom the well, and there's jimply enough for oursels. I
should tell you, too, that three o' them is no Auld Lichts."

"Let that make no difference," Gavin said grandly, but Jean
changed his message to: "A bowlful apiece to Auld Lichts; all
other denominations one cupful."

"Ay, ay," said Snecky Hobart, letting down the bucket, "and we'll
include atheists among other denominations." The conversation came
to Gavin and Margaret through the kitchen doorway.

"Dinna class Jo Cruickshanks wi' me," said Sam'l Langlands the U.
P.

"Na, na," said Cruickshanks the atheist, "I'm ower independent to
be religious. I dinna gang to the kirk to cry, 'Oh, Lord, gie,
gie, gie.'"

"Take tent o' yoursel', my man," said Lang Tammas sternly, "or
you'll soon be whaur you would neifer the warld for a cup o' that
cauld water."

"Maybe you've ower keen an interest in the devil, Tammas,"
retorted the atheist; "but, ony way, if it's heaven for climate,
it's hell for company."

"Lads," said Snecky, sitting down on the bucket, "we'll send Mr.
Dishart to Jo. He'll make another Rob Dow o' him."

"Speak mair reverently o' your minister," said the precentor. "He
has the gift."

--I hinna naturally your solemn rasping word, Tammas, but in the
heart I speak in all reverence. Lads, the minister has a word! I
tell you he prays near like one giving orders."

"At first," Snecky continued, "I thocht yon lang candidate was the
earnestest o' them a", and I dinna deny but when I saw him wi' his
head bowed-like in prayer during the singing I says to rnysel',
'Thou art the man.' Ay, but Betsy wraxed up her head, and he wasna
praying. He was combing his hair wi' his fingers on the sly."

"You ken fine, Sneck," said Cruickshanks, "that you said, 'Thou
art the man' to ilka ane o' them, and just voted for Mr. Dishart
because he preached hinmost."

"I didna say it to--Mr. Urquhart, the ane that preached second,"
Sneck said. "That was the lad that gaed through ither."

"Ay," said Susy Tibbits, nicknamed by Haggart "the Timidest Woman"
because she once said she was too young to marry, "but I was fell
sorry for him, just being over anxious. He began bonny, flinging
himself, like ane Inspired, at the pulpit door, but after Hendry
Munn pointed at it and cried out, 'Be cautious, the sneck's
loose,' he a' gaed to bits. What a coolness Hendry has, though I
suppose it was his duty, him being kirk-officer."

"We didna want a man," Lang Tammas said, "that could be put out by
sic a sma' thing as that. Mr. Urquhart was in sic a ravel after it
that when he gies out the first line o' the hunder and nineteenth
psalm for singing, says he, 'And so on to the end.' Ay, that
finished his chance."

"The noblest o' them to look at," said Tibbie Birse, "was that ane
frae Aberdeen, him that had sic a saft side to Jacob."

"Ay," said Snecky, "and I speired at Dr. McQueen if I should vote
for him. 'Looks like a genius, does he?' says the Doctor. 'Weel,
then,' says he, 'dinna vote for him, for my experience is that
there's no folk sic idiots as them that looks like geniuses.'"

"Sal," Susy said, "it's a guid thing we've settled, for I enjoyed
sitting like a judge upon them so muckle that I sair doubt it was
a kind o' sport to me."

"It was no sport to them, Susy, I'se uphaud, but it is a blessing
we've settled, and ondoubtedly we've got the pick o' them. The
only thing Mr. Dishart did that made me oneasy was his saying the
word Caesar as if it began wi' a k."

"He'll startle you mair afore you're done wi' him," the atheist
said maliciously. "I ken the ways o' thae ministers preaching for
kirks. Oh, they're cunning. You was a' pleased that Mr. Dishart
spoke about looms and webs, but, lathies, it was a trick. Ilka ane
o' thae young ministers has a sermon about looms for weaving
congregations, and a second about beating swords into ploughshares
for country places, and another on the great catch of fishes for
fishing villages. That's their stock-in-trade; and just you wait
and see if you dinna get the ploughshares and the fishes afore the
month's out. A minister preaching for a kirk is one thing, but a
minister placed in't may be a very different berry."

"Joseph Cruickshanks," cried the precentor, passionately, "none o'
your d----d blasphemy!"

They all looked at Whamond, and he dug his teeth into his lips in
shame.

"Wha's swearing now?" said the atheist.

But Whamond was quick.

"Matthew, twelve and thirty-one," he said.

"Dagont, Tammas," exclaimed the baffled Cruickshanks, "you're aye
quoting Scripture. How do you no quote Feargus O'Connor?"

"Lads," said Snecky, "Jo hasna heard Mr. Dishart's sermons. Ay, we
get it scalding when he comes to the sermon. I canna thole a
minister that preaches as if heaven was round the corner."

"If you're hitting at our minister, Snecky," said James Cochrane,
"let me tell you he's a better man than yours."

"A better curler, I dare say."

"A better prayer."

"Ay, he can pray for a black frost as if it was ane o' the Royal
Family. I ken his prayers, 'O Lord, let it haud for anither day,
and keep the snaw awa'.' Will you pretend, Jeames, that Mr. Duthie
could make onything o' Rob Dow?"

"I admit that Rob's awakening was an extraordinary thing, and
sufficient to gie Mr. Dishart a name. But Mr. Carfrae was baffled
wi' Rob too."

"Jeames, if you had been in our kirk that day Mr. Dishart preached
for't you would be wearying the now for Sabbath, to be back in't
again. As you ken, that wicked man there, Jo Cruickshanks, got Rob
Dow, drucken, cursing, poaching--Rob Dow, to come to the kirk to
annoy the minister. Ay, he hadna been at that work for ten minutes
when Mr. Dishart stopped in his first prayer and ga'e Rob a look.
I couldna see the look, being in the precentor's box, but as sure
as death I felt it boring through me. Rob is hard wood, though,
and soon he was at his tricks again. Weel, the minister stopped a
second time in the sermon, and so awful was the silence that a
heap o' the congregation couldna keep their seats. I heard Rob
breathing quick and strong. Mr. Dishart had his arm pointed at him
a' this time, and at last he says sternly, 'Come forward.' Listen,
Joseph Cruickshanks, and tremble. Rob gripped the board to keep
himsel' frae obeying, and again Mr. Dishart says, 'Come forward,'
and syne Rob rose shaking, and tottered to the pulpit stair like a
man suddenly shot into the Day of Judgment. 'You hulking man of
sin,' cries Mr. Dishart, not a tick fleid, though Rob's as big as
three o' him, 'sit down on the stair and attend to me, or I'll
step doun frae the pulpit and run you out of the house of God,'"

"And since that day," said Hobart, "Rob has worshipped Mr. Dishart
as a man that has stepped out o' the Bible. When the carriage
passed this day we was discussing the minister, and Sam'l Dickie
wasna sure but what Mr. Dishart wore his hat rather far back on
his head. You should have seen Rob. 'My certie,' he roars,
'there's the shine frae Heaven on that little minister's face, and
them as says there's no has me to fecht.'"

"Ay, weel," said the U. P., rising, "we'll see how Rob wears--and
how your minister wears too. I wouldna like to sit in a kirk whaur
they daurna sing a paraphrase."

"The Psalms of David," retorted Whamond, "mount straight to
heaven, but your paraphrases sticks to the ceiling o' the kirk."

"You're a bigoted set, Tammas Whamond, but I tell you this, and
it's my last words to you the nicht, the day'll come when you'll
hae Mr. Duthie, ay, and even the U. P. minister, preaching in the
Auld Licht kirk."

"And let this be my last words to you," replied the precentor,
furiously; "that rather than see a U. P. preaching in the Auld
Licht kirk I would burn in hell fire for ever!"

This gossip increased Gavin's knowledge of the grim men with whom
he had now to deal. But as he sat beside Margaret after she had
gone to bed, their talk was pleasant.

"You remember, mother," Gavin said, "how I almost prayed for the
manse that was to give you an egg every morning. I have been
telling Jean never to forget the egg."

"Ah, Gavin, things have come about so much as we wanted that I'm a
kind o' troubled. It's hardly natural, and I hope nothing terrible
is to happen now."

Gavin arranged her pillows as she liked them, and when he next
stole into the room in his stocking soles to look at her, he
thought she was asleep. But she was not. I dare say she saw at
that moment Gavin in his first frock, and Gavin in knickerbockers,
and Gavin as he used to walk into the Glasgow room from college,
all still as real to her as the Gavin who had a kirk.

The little minister took away the lamp to his own room, shaking
his fist at himself for allowing his mother's door to creak. He
pulled up his blind. The town lay as still as salt. But a steady
light showed in the south, and on pressing his face against the
window he saw another in the west. Mr. Carfrae's words about the
night-watch came back to him. Perhaps it had been on such a silent
night as this that the soldiers marched into Thrums. Would they
come again?

James M. Barrie