My first intimation that the burns were in flood came from Waster
Lunny, close on the strike of ten o'clock. This was some minutes
before they had any rain in Thrums. I was in the school-house, now
piecing together the puzzle Lord Rintoul had left with me, and
anon starting upright as McKenzie's hand seemed to tighten on my
arm. Waster Lunny had been whistling to me (with his fingers in
his mouth) for some time before I heard him and hurried out. I was
surprised and pleased, knowing no better, to be met on the
threshold by a whisk of rain.
The night was not then so dark but that when I reached the
Quharity I could see the farmer take shape on the other side of
it. He wanted me to exult with him, I thought, in the end of the
drought, and I shouted that I would fling him the stilts.
"It's yoursel' that wants them," he answered excitedly, "if you're
fleid to be left alone in the school-house the nicht. Do you hear
me, dominie? There has been frichtsome rain among the hills, and
the Bog burn is coming down like a sea. It has carried awa the
miller's brig, and the steading o' Muckle Pirley is standing three
feet in water."
"You're dreaming, man," I roared back, but beside his news he held
my doubts of no account.
"The Retery's in flood," he went on, "and running wild through
Hazel Wood; T'nowdunnie's tattie field's out o' sicht, and at the
Kirkton they're fleid they've lost twa kye."
"There has been no rain here," I stammered, incredulously.
"It's coming now." he replied. "And listen: the story's out that
the Backbone has fallen into the loch. You had better cross,
dominie, and thole out the nicht wi' us."
The Backbone was a piece of mountain-side overhanging a loch among
the hills, and legend said that it would one day fall forward and
squirt all the water into the glen. Something of the kind had
happened, but I did not believe it then; with little wit I pointed
to the shallow Quharity.
"It may come down at any minute," the farmer answered, "and syne,
mind you, you'll be five miles frae Waster Lunny, for there'll be
no crossing but by the Brig o' March. If you winna come, I maun
awa back. I mauna bide langer on the wrang side o' the Moss ditch,
though it has been as dry this month back as a tabbit's roady. But
if you--" His voice changed. "God's sake, man," he cried, "you're
ower late. Look at that! Dinna look--run, run!"
If I had not run before he bade me, I might never have run again
on earth. I had seen a great shadowy yellow river come riding down
the Quharity. I sprang from it for my life; and when next I looked
behind, it was upon a turbulent loch, the further bank lost in
darkness. I was about to shout to Waster Lunny, when a monster
rose in the torrent between me and the spot where he had stood. It
frightened me to silence until it fell, when I knew it was but a
tree that had been flung on end by the flood. For a time there was
no answer to my cries, and I thought the farmer had been swept
away. Then I heard his whistle, and back I ran recklessly through
the thickening darkness to the school-house. When I saw the tree
rise, I had been on ground hardly wet as yet with the rain; but by
the time Waster Lunny sent that reassuring whistle to me I was
ankle-deep in water, and the rain was coming down like hail. I saw
For the rest of the night I was only out once, when I succeeded in
reaching the hen-house and brought all my fowls safely to the
kitchen, except a hen which would not rise off her young. Between
us we had the kitchen floor, a pool of water; and the rain had put
out my fires already, as effectually as if it had been an
overturned broth-pot. That I never took off my clothes that night
I need not say, though of what was happening in the glen I could
only guess. A flutter against my window now and again, when the
rain had abated, told me of another bird that had flown there to
die; and with Waster Lunny, I kept up communication by waving a
light, to which he replied in a similar manner. Before morning,
however, he ceased to answer my signals, and I feared some
catastrophe had occurred at the farm. As it turned out, the family
was fighting with the flood for the year's shearing of wool, half
of which eventually went down the waters, with the wool-shed on
top of it.
The school-house stands too high to fear any flood, but there were
moments when I thought the rain would master it. Not only the
windows and the roof were rattling then, but all the walls, and I
was like one in a great drum. When the rain was doing its utmost,
I heard no other sound; but when the lull came, there was the wash
of a heavy river, or a crack as of artillery that told of
landslips, or the plaintive cry of the peesweep as it rose in the
air, trying to entice the waters away from its nest.
It was a dreary scene that met my gaze at break of day. Already
the Quharity had risen six feet, and in many parts of the glen it
was two hundred yards wide. Waster Lunny's corn-field looked like
a bog grown over with rushes, and what had been his turnips had
become a lake with small islands in it. No dike stood whole except
one that the farmer, unaided, had built in a straight line from
the road to the top of Mount Bare, and my own, the further end of
which dipped in water. Of the plot of firs planted fifty years
earlier to help on Waster Lunny's crops, only a triangle had
withstood the night.
Even with the aid of my field-glass I could not estimate the
damage on more distant farms, for the rain, though now thin and
soft, as it continued for six days, was still heavy and of a brown
color. After breakfast--which was interrupted by my bantam cock's
twice spilling my milk--saw Waster Lunny and his son, Matthew,
running towards the shepherd's house with ropes in their hands.
The house, I thought, must be in the midst beyond; and then I
sickened, knowing all at once that it should be on this side of
the mist. When I had nerve to look again, I saw that though the
roof had fallen in, the shepherd was astride one of the walls,
from which he was dragged presently through the water by the help
of the ropes. I remember noticing that he returned to his house
with the rope still about him. and concluded that he had gone back
to save some of his furniture. I was wrong, however. There was too
much to be done at the farm to allow this, but Waster Lunny had
consented to Duncan's forcing his way back to the shieling to stop
the clock. To both men it seemed horrible to let a clock go on
ticking in a deserted house.
Having seen this rescue accomplished, I was letting my glass roam
in the opposite direction, when one of its shakes brought into
view something on my own side of the river. I looked at it long,
and saw it move slightly. Was it a human being? No, it was a dog.
No, it was a dog and something else. I hurried out to see more
clearly, and after a first glance the glass shook so in my hands
that I had to rest it on the dike. For a full minute, I daresay,
did I look through the glass without blinking, and then I needed
to look no more, That black patch was, indeed, Gavin.
He lay quite near the school-house, but I had to make a circuit of
half a mile to reach him. It was pitiful to see the dog doing its
best to come to me, and falling every few steps. The poor brute
was discolored almost beyond recognition; and when at last it
reached me, it lay down at my feet and licked them. I stepped over
it and ran on recklessly to Gavin. At first I thought he was dead.
If tears rolled down my cheeks, they were not for him.
I was no strong man even in those days, but I carried him to the
school-house, the dog crawling after us. Gavin I put upon my bed,
and I lay down beside him, holding him close to me, that some of
the heat of my body might be taken in by his. When he was able to
look at me, however, it was not with understanding, and in vain
did my anxiety press him with questions. Only now and again would
some word in my speech strike upon his brain and produce at least
an echo. To "Did you meet Lord Rintoul's dogcart?" he sat up,
"Listen, the dogcart!"
"Egyptian" was not that forenoon among the words he knew, and I
did not think of mentioning "hill." At "rain" he shivered; but
"Spittal" was what told me most.
"He has taken her back," he replied at once, from which I learned
that Gavin now knew as much of Babbie as I did.
I made him as comfortable as possible, and despairing of learning
anything from him in his present state, I let him sleep. Then I
went out into the rain, very anxious, and dreading what he might
have to tell me when he woke. I waded and jumped my way as near to
the farm as I dared go, and Waster Lunny, seeing me, came to the
water's edge. At this part the breadth of the flood was not forty
yards, yet for a time our voices could no more cross its roar than
one may send a snowball through a stone wall. I know not whether
the river then quieted for a space, or if it was only that the
ears grow used to dins as the eyes distinguish the objects in a
room that is at first black to them; but after a little we were
able to shout our remarks across, much as boys fling pebbles, many
to fall into the water, but one occasionally to reach the other
side. Waster Lunny would have talked of the flood, but I had not
come here for that.
"How were you home so early from the prayer-meeting last night?" I
"No meeting ... I came straucht hame ... but terrible stories ...
Mr. Dishart," was all I caught after Waster Lunny had flung his
words across a dozen times.
I could not decide whether it would be wise to tell him that Gavin
was in the school-house, and while I hesitated he continued to
"Some woman ... the Session ... Lang Tammas ... God forbid ...
maun back to the farm ... byre running like a mill-dam."
He signed to me that he must be off, but my signals delayed him,
and after much trouble he got my question, "Any news about Lord
Rintoul?" My curiosity about the earl must have surprised him, but
"Marriage is to be the day ... cannon."
I signed that I did not grasp his meaning.
"A cannon is to be fired as soon as they're man and wife," he
bellowed. "We'll hear it."
With that we parted. On my way home, I remember, I stepped on a
brood of drowned partridge. I was only out half an hour, but I had
to wring my clothes as if they were fresh from the tub.
The day wore on, and I did not disturb the sleeper. A dozen times,
I suppose, I had to relight my fire of wet peats and roots; but I
had plenty of time to stare out at the window, plenty of time to
think. Probably Gavin's life depended on his sleeping, but that
was not what kept my hands off him. Knowing so little of what had
happened in Thrums since I left it, I was forced to guess, and my
conclusion was that the earl had gone off with his own, and that
Gavin in a frenzy had followed them. My wisest course, I thought,
was to let him sleep until I heard the cannon, when his struggle
for a wife must end. Fifty times at least did I stand regarding
him as he slept; and if I did not pity his plight sufficiently,
you know the reason. What were Margaret's sufferings at this
moment? Was she wringing her hands for her son lost in the flood,
her son in disgrace with the congregation? By one o'clock no
cannon had sounded, and my suspense had become intolerable. I
shook Gavin awake, and even as I shook him demanded a knowledge of
all that had happened since we parted at Nanny's gate.
"How long ago is that?" he asked, with bewilderment.
"It was last night," I answered. "This morning I found you
senseless on the hillside, and brought you here, to the Glen
Quharity school-house. That dog was with you."
He looked at the dog, but I kept my eyes on him, and I saw
intelligence creep back, like a blush, into his face.
"Now I remember," he said, shuddering. "You have proved yourself
my friend, sir, twice in the four and twenty hours."
"Only once, I fear," I replied gloomily. "I was no friend when I
sent you to the earl's bride last night."
"You know who she is?" he cried, clutching me, and finding it
agony to move his limbs.
"I know now," I said, and had to tell him how I knew before he
would answer another question. Then I became listener, and you who
read know to what alarming story.
"And all that time," I cried reproachfully, when he had done, "you
gave your mother not a thought."
"Not a thought," he answered; and I saw that he pronounced a
harsher sentence on himself than could have come from me. "All
that time!" he repeated, after a moment. "It was only a few
minutes, while the ten o'clock bell was ringing."
"Only a few minutes," I said, "but they changed the channel of the
Quharity, and perhaps they have done not less to you."
"That may be," he answered gravely, "but it is of the present I
must think just now. Mr. Ogilvy, what assurance have I, while
lying here helpless, that the marriage at the Spittal is not going
"None, I hope," I said to myself, and listened longingly for the
cannon. But to him I only pointed out that no woman need go
through a form of marriage against her will.
"Rintoul carried her off with no possible purport," he said, "but
to set my marriage at defiance, and she has had a conviction
always that to marry me would be to ruin me. It was only in the
shiver Lord Rintoul's voice in the darkness sent through her that
she yielded to my wishes. If she thought that marriage last night
could be annulled by another to-day, she would consent to the
second, I believe, to save me from the effects of the first. You
are incredulous, sir; but you do not know of what sacrifices love
Something of that I knew, but I did not tell him. I had seen from
his manner rather than his words that he doubted the validity of
the gypsy marriage, which the king had only consented to celebrate
because Babbie was herself an Egyptian. The ceremony had been
interrupted in the middle.
"It was no marriage," I said, with a confidence I was far from
"In the sight of God," he replied excitedly, "we took each other
for man and wife."
I had to hold him down in bed.
"You are too weak to stand, man," I said, "and yet you think you
could start off this minute for the Spittal."
"I must go," he cried. "She is my wife. That impious marriage may
have taken place already."
"Oh, that it had!" was my prayer. "It has not," I said to him. "A
cannon is to be fired immediately after the ceremony, and all the
glen will hear it." I spoke on the impulse, thinking to allay his
desire to be off; but he said, "Then I may yet be in time."
Somewhat cruelly I let him rise, that he might realize his
weakness. Every bone in him cried out at his first step, and he
sank into a chair.
"You will go to the Spittal for me?" he implored.
"I will not," I told him. "You are asking me to fling away my
To prove my words I opened the door, and he saw what the flood was
doing. Nevertheless, he rose and tottered several times across the
room, trying to revive his strength. Though every bit of him was
aching, I saw that he would make the attempt.
"Listen to me," I said. "Lord Rintoul can maintain with some
reason that it was you rather than he who abducted Babbie.
Nevertheless, there will not, I am convinced, be any marriage at
the Spittal to-day, When he carried her off from the Toad's-hole,
he acted under impulses not dissimilar to those that took you to
it. Then, I doubt not, he thought possession was all the law, but
that scene on the hill has staggered him by this morning. Even
though she thinks to save you by marrying him, he will defer his
wedding until he learns the import of yours."
I did not believe in my own reasoning, but I would have said
anything to detain him until that cannon was fired. He seemed to
read my purpose, for he pushed my arguments from him with his
hands, and continued to walk painfully to and fro.
"To defer the wedding," he said, "would be to tell all his friends
of her gypsy origin, and of me. He will risk much to avoid that."
"In any case," I answered, "you must now give some thought to
those you have forgotten, your mother and your church."
"That must come afterwards," he said firmly. "My first duty is to
The door swung to sharply just then, and he started. He thought it
was the cannon.
"I wish to God it had been!" I cried, interpreting his thoughts.
"Why do you wish me ill?" he asked.
"Mr. Dishart," I said solemnly, rising and facing him, and
disregarding his question, "if that woman is to be your wife, it
will be at a cost you cannot estimate till you return to Thrums.
Do you think that if your congregation knew of this gypsy marriage
they would have you for their minister for another day? Do you
enjoy the prospect of taking one who might be an earl's wife into
poverty--ay, and disgraceful poverty? Do you know your mother so
little as to think she could survive your shame? Let me warn you,
sir, of what I see. I see another minister in the Auld Licht kirk,
I see you and your wife stoned through our wynds, stoned from
Thrums, as malefactors have--been chased out of it ere now; and as
certainly as I see these things I see a hearse standing at the
manse door, and stern men denying a son's right to help to carry
his mother's coffin to it. Go your way, sir; but first count the
His face quivered before these blows, but all he said was, "I must
dree my dreed."
"God is merciful," I went on, "and these things need not be. He is
more merciful to you, sir, than to some, for the storm that He
sent to save you is ruining them. And yet the farmers are to-day
thanking Him for every pound of wool, every blade of corn He has
left them, while you turn from Him because He would save you, not
in your way, but in His. It was His hand that stayed your
marriage. He meant Babbie for the earl; and if it is on her part a
loveless match, she only suffers for her own sins. Of that scene
on the hill no one in. Thrums, or in the glen, need ever know.
Rintoul will see to it that the gypsies vanish from these parts
forever, and you may be sure the Spittal will soon be shut up. He
and McKenzie have as much reason as yourself to be silent. You,
sir, must go back to your congregation, who have heard as yet only
vague rumors that your presence will dispel. Even your mother will
remain ignorant of what has happened. Your absence from the
prayer-meeting you can leave to me to explain."
He was so silent that I thought him mine, but his first words
"I thought I had nowhere so keen a friend," he said; "but, Mr.
Ogilvy, it is devil's work you are pleading. Am I to return to my
people to act a living lie before them to the end of my days? Do
you really think that God devastated a glen to give me a chance of
becoming a villain? No, sir, I am in His hands, and I will do what
I think right."
"You will be dishonored," I said, "in the sight of God and man."
"Not in God's sight," he replied. "It was a sinless marriage, Mr.
Ogilvy, and I do not regret it. God ordained that she and I should
love each other, and He put it into my power to save her from that
man. I took her as my wife before Him, and in His eyes I am her
husband. Knowing that, sir, how could I return to Thrums without
I had no answer ready for him. I knew that in my grief for
Margaret I had been advocating an unworthy course, but I would not
say so. I went gloomily to the door, and there, presently, his
hand fell on my shoulder.
"Your advice came too late, at any rate," he said. "You forget
that the precentor was on the hill and saw everything."
It was he who had forgotten to tell me this, and to me it was the
most direful news of all.
"My God!" I cried. "He will have gone to your mother and told
her." And straightway I began to lace my boots.
"Where are you going?" he asked, staring at me.
"To Thrums," I answered harshly.
"You said that to venture out into the glen was to court death,"
he reminded me.
"What of that?" I said, and hastily put on my coat.
"Mr. Ogilvy," he cried, "I will not allow you to do this for me."
"For you?" I said bitterly. "It is not for you."
I would have gone at once, but he got in front of me, asking, "Did
you ever know my mother?"
"Long ago," I answered shortly, and he said no more, thinking, I
suppose, that he knew all. He limped to the door with me, and I
had only advanced a few steps when I understood better than before
what were the dangers I was to venture into. Since I spoke to
Waster Lunny the river had risen several feet, and even the
hillocks in his turnip-field were now submerged. The mist was
creeping down the hills. But what warned me most sharply that the
flood was not satisfied yet was the top of the school-house dike;
it was lined with field-mice. I turned back, and Gavin, mistaking
my meaning, said I did wisely.
"I have not changed my mind," I told him, and then had some
difficulty in continuing. "I expect," I said, "to reach Thrums
safely, even though I should be caught in the mist, but I shall
have to go round by the Kelpie brig in order to get across the
river, and it is possible that--that something may befall me."
I have all my life been something of a coward, and my voice shook
when I said this, so that Gavin again entreated me to remain at
the school-house, saying that if I did not he would accompany me.
"And so increase my danger tenfold?" I pointed out. "No, no, Mr.
Dishart, I go alone; and if I can do nothing with the
congregation, I can at least send your mother word that you still
live. But if anything should happen to me, I want you--"
But I could not say what I had come back to say. I had meant to
ask him, in the event of my death, to take a hundred pounds which
were the savings of my life; but now I saw that this might lead to
Margaret's hearing of me, and so I stayed my words. It was bitter
to me this, and yet, after all, a little thing when put beside the
"Good-by, Mr. Dishart," I said abruptly. I then looked at my desk,
which contained some trifles that were once Margaret's. "Should
anything happen to me," I said, "I want that old desk to be
"Mr. Ogilvy," he answered gently, "you are venturing this because
you loved my mother. If anything does befall you, be assured that
I will tell her what you attempted for her sake."
I believe he thought it was to make some such request that I had
"You must tell her nothing about me," I exclaimed, in
consternation. "Swear that my name will never cross your lips
before her. No, that is not enough. You must forget me utterly,
whether I live or die, lest some time you should think of me and
she should read your thoughts. Swear, man!"
"Must this be?" he said, gazing at me.
"Yes," I answered more calmly, "it must be. For nearly a score of
years I have been blotted out of your mother's life, and since she
came to Thrums my one care has been to keep my existence from her.
I have changed my burying-ground even from Thrums to the glen,
lest I should die before her, and she, seeing the hearse go by the
Tenements, might ask, 'Whose funeral is this?'"
In my anxiety to warn him, I had said too much. His face grew
haggard, and there was fear to speak on it; and I saw, I knew,
that some damnable suspicion of Margaret---
"She was my wife!" I cried sharply. "We were married by the
minister of Harvie. You are my son."
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