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Chapter 36

STORY OF THE DOMINIE.


When I spoke next, I was back in the school-house, sitting there
with my bonnet on my head, Gavin looking at me. We had forgotten
the cannon at last.

In that chair I had anticipated this scene more than once of late.
I had seen that a time might come when Gavin would have to be told
all, and I had even said the words aloud, as if he were indeed
opposite me. So now I was only repeating the tale, and I could
tell it without emotion, because it was nigh nineteen years old;
and I did not look at Gavin, for I knew that his manner of taking
it could bring no change to me.

"Did you never ask your mother," I said, addressing the fire
rather than him, "why you were called Gavin?"

"Yes," he answered, "it was because she thought Gavin a prettier
name than Adam."

"No," I said slowly, "it was because Gavin is my name. You were
called after your father. Do you not remember my taking you one
day to the shore at Harvie to see the fishermen carried to their
boats upon their wives' backs, that they might start dry on their
journey?"

"No," he had to reply. "I remember the women carrying the men
through the water to the boats, but I thought it was my father
who--I mean---"

"I know whom you mean," I said. "That was our last day together,
but you were not three years old. Yet you remembered me when you
came to Thrums. You shake your head, but it is true. Between the
diets of worship that first Sabbath I was introduced to you, and
you must have had some shadowy recollection of my face, for you
asked, 'Surely I saw you in church in the forenoon, Mr. Ogilvy?' I
said 'Yes,' but I had not been in the church in the forenoon. You
have forgotten even that, and yet I treasured it."

I could hear that he was growing impatient, though so far he had
been more indulgent than I had any right to expect.

"It can all be put into a sentence," I said calmly. "Margaret
married Adam Dishart, and afterwards, believing herself a widow,
she married me. You were born, and then Adam Dishart came back."

That is my whole story, and here was I telling it to my son, and
not a tear between us. It ended abruptly, and I fell to mending
the fire.

"When I knew your mother first," I went on, after Gavin had said
some boyish things that were of no avail to me, "I did not think
to end my days as a dominie. I was a student at Aberdeen, with the
ministry in my eye, and sometimes on Saturdays I walked forty
miles to Harvie to go to church with her. She had another lover,
Adam Dishart, a sailor turned fisherman; and while I lingered at
corners, wondering if I could dare to meet her and her mother on
their way to church, he would walk past with them. He was
accompanied always by a lanky black dog, which he had brought from
a foreign country. He never signed for any ship without first
getting permission to take it with him, and in Harvie they said it
did not know the language of the native dogs. I have never known a
man and dog so attached to each other."

"I remember that black dog," Gavin said. "I have spoken of it to
my mother, and she shuddered, as if it had once bitten her."

"While Adam strutted by with them," I continued. "I would hang
back, raging at his assurance or my own timidity; but I lost my
next chance in the same way. In Margaret's presence something came
over me, a kind of dryness in the throat, that made me dumb. I
have known divinity students stricken in the same way, just as
they were giving out their first text. It is no aid in getting a
kirk or wooing a woman.

"If any one in Harvie recalls me now, it is as a hobbledehoy who
strode along the cliffs, shouting Homer at the sea-mews. With all
my learning, I, who gave Margaret the name of Lalage, understood
women less than any fisherman who bandied words with them across a
boat. I remember a Yule night when both Adam and I were at her
mother's cottage, and, as we were leaving, he had the audacity to
kiss Margaret. She ran out of the room, and Adam swaggered off,
and when I recovered from my horror, I apologized for what he had
done. I shall never forget how her mother looked at me, and said,
'Ay, Gavin, I see they dinna teach everything at Aberdeen.' You
will not believe it, but I walked away doubting her meaning. I
thought more of scholarship then than I do now. Adam Dishart
taught me its proper place.

"Well, that is the dull man I was; and yet, though Adam was always
saying and doing the things I was making up my mind to say and do,
I think Margaret cared more for me. Nevertheless, there was
something about him that all women seemed to find lovable, a dash
that made them send him away and then well-nigh run after him. At
any rate, I could have got her after her mother's death if I had
been half a man. But I went back to Aberdeen to write a poem about
her, and while I was at it Adam married her."

I opened my desk and took from it a yellow manuscript.

"Here," I said, "is the poem. You see, I never finished it."

I was fingering the thing grimly when Gavin's eye fell on
something else in the desk. It was an ungainly clasp-knife, as
rusty as if it had spent a winter beneath a hedge.

"I seem to remember that knife," he said.

"Yes," I answered, "you should remember it. Well, after three
months Adam tired of his wife."

I stopped again. This was a story in which only the pauses were
eloquent.

"Perhaps I have no right to say he tired of her. One day, however,
he sauntered away from Harvie whistling, his dog at his heels as
ever, and was not seen again for nearly six years. When I heard of
his disappearance I packed my books in that kist and went to
Harvie, where I opened a school. You see, every one but Margaret
believed that Adam had fallen over the cliffs and been drowned."

"But the dog?" said Gavin.

"We were all sure that, if he had fallen over, it had jumped after
him. The fisher-folk said that he could have left his shadow
behind as easily as it. Yet Margaret thought for long that he had
tired of Harvie merely and gone back to sea, and not until two
years had passed would she marry me. We lived in Adam's house. It
was so near the little school that when I opened the window in
summer-time she could hear the drone of our voices. During the
weeks before you were born I kept that window open all day long,
and often I went to it and waved my hand to her.

"Sometimes, when she was washing or baking, I brought you to the
school. The only quarrel she and I ever had was about my teaching
you the Lord's Prayer in Greek as soon as you could say father and
mother. It was to be a surprise for her on your second birthday.
On that day, while she was ironing, you took hold of her gown to
steady yourself, and began, 'IIater haemon ho en tois ohuranois,'
and to me, behind the door, it was music. But at agiasthaeto, of
which you made two syllables, you cried, and Margaret snatched you
up, thinking this was some new ailment. After I had explained to
her that it was the Lord's Prayer in Greek, she would let me take
you to the school-house no more.

"Not much longer could I have taken you in any case, for already
we are at the day when Adam Dishart came back. It was the 7th of
September, and all the week most of the women in Harvie had been
setting off at dawn to the harvest fields and straggling home at
nights, merry and with yellow corn in their hair. I had sat on in
the school-house that day after my pupils were gone. I still meant
to be a minister, and I was studying Hebrew, and so absorbed in my
book that as the daylight went, I followed it step by step as far
as my window, and there I read, without knowing, until I chanced
to look up, that I had left my desk. I have not opened that book
since.

"From the window I saw you on the waste ground that separated the
school from our home. You were coming to me on your hands and
feet, and stopping now and again to look back at your mother, who
was at the door, laughing and shaking her fist at you. I beckoned
to you, and took the book back to my desk to lock it up. While my
head was inside the desk I heard the school-house door pushed
open, and thinking it was you I smiled, without looking up. Then
something touched my hand, and I still thought it was you; but I
looked down, and I saw Adam Dishart's black dog.

"I did not move. It looked up at me and wagged its tail. Then it
drew back--I suppose because I had no words for it. I watched it
run half-round the room and stop and look at me again. Then it
slunk out.

"All that time one of my hands had been holding the desk open. Now
the lid fell. I put on my bonnet and went to the door. You were
only a few yards away, with flowers in your fist. Margaret was
laughing still. I walked round the school and there was no dog
visible. Margaret nodded to me, meaning that I should bring you
home. You thrust the flowers into my hand, but they fell. I stood
there, dazed.

"I think I walked with you some way across the waste ground. Then
I dropped your hand and strode back to the school. I went down on
my knees, looking for marks of a dog's paws, and I found them.

"When I came out again your mother was no longer at our door, and
you were crying because I had left you. I passed you and walked
straight to the house. Margaret was skinning rushes for wicks.
There must have been fear in my face, for as soon as she saw it
she ran to the door to see if you were still alive. She brought
you in with her, and so had strength to cry, 'What is it? Speak!'

"'Come away,' I said, 'come away,' and I was drawing her to the
door, but she pressed me into a chair. I was up again at once.

"'Margaret,' I said, 'ask no questions. Put on your bonnet, give
me the boy, and let us away.'

"I could not take my eyes off the door, and she was walking to it
to look out when I barred the way with my arm.

"'What have you seen?' she cried; and then, as I only pointed to
her bonnet, she turned to you, and you said, 'Was it the black
dog, father?'

"Gavin, then she knew; and I stood helpless and Watched my wife
grow old. In that moment she lost the sprightliness I loved the
more because I had none of it myself, and the bloom went from her
face never to return.

"'He has come back,' she said.

"I told her what I had seen, and while I spoke she put on her
bonnet, and I exulted, thinking--and then she took off her bonnet,
and I knew she would not go away with me.

"'Margaret,' I cried, 'I am that bairn's father.'

"'Adam's my man,' she said, and at that I gave her a look for
which God might have struck me dead. But instead of blaming me she
put her arms round my neck.

"After that we said very little. We sat at opposite sides of the
fire, waiting for him, and you played on the floor. The harvesters
trooped by, and there was a fiddle; and when it stopped, long
stillness, and then a step. It was not Adam. You fell asleep, and
we could hear nothing but the sea. There was a harvest moon.

"Once a dog ran past the door, and we both rose. Margaret pressed
her hands on her breast. Sometimes she looked furtively at me, and
I knew her thoughts. To me it was only misery that had come, but
to her it was shame, so that when you woke and climbed into her
lap she shivered at your touch. I could not look at her after
that, for there was a horror of me growing in her face.

"Ten o'clock struck, and then again there was no sound but the sea
pouring itself out on the beach. It was long after this, when to
me there was still no other sound, that Margaret screamed, and you
hid behind her. Then I heard it.

"'Gavin,' Margaret said to me, 'be a good man all your life.'

"It was louder now, and then it stopped. Above the wash of the sea
we heard another sound--a sharp tap, tap. You said, 'I know what
sound that is; it's a man knocking the ashes out of his pipe
against his boot.'

"Then the dog pushed the door off the latch, and Adam lurched in.
He was not drunk, but he brought the smell of drink into the room
with him. He was grinning like one bringing rare news, and before
she could shrink back or I could strike him he had Margaret in his
arms.

"'Lord, lass,' he said, with many jovial oaths, 'to think I'm back
again! There, she's swounded. What folks be women, to be sure.'

"'We thought you were dead, Adam," she said, coming to.

'"Bless your blue eyes," he answered gleefully; 'often I says to
myself, "Meggy will be thinking I'm with the fishes," and then I
chuckles.'

"'Where have you been all this time?' I demanded sternly.

"'Gavin,' he said effusively, 'your hand. And don't look so
feared, man; I bear no malice for what you've done. I heard all
about it at the Cross Anchors.'

"'Where have you been these five years and a half?' I repeated.

"'Where have I no been, lad?' he replied.

"'At Harvie,' I said.

"'Right you are,' said he good-naturedly. 'Meggie, I had no
intention of leaving you that day, though I was yawning myself to
death in Harvie; but I sees a whaler, and I thinks, "That's a tidy
boat, and I'm a tidy man, and if they'll take me and the dog, off
we go."'

"'You never wrote to me,' Margaret said."

'"I meant to send you some scrapes,' he answered, 'but it wasna
till I changed ships that I had the chance, and then I minds,
"Meggy kens I'm no hand with the pen." But I swear I often thought
of you, lass; and look you here, that's better than letters, and
so is that, and every penny of it is yours.'"

"He flung two bags of gold upon the table, and their chink brought
you out from behind your mother.

"'Hallo!' Adam cried.

"'He is mine,' I said. 'Gavin, come here.' But Margaret held you
back.

"'Here's a go,' Adam muttered, and scratched his head. Then he
slapped his thigh. 'Gavin,' he said, in his friendliest way,
'we'll toss for him.'

"He pulled the knife that is now in my desk from his pocket, spat
on it, and flung it up. 'Dry, the kid's ours, Meggy,' he
explained; 'wet, he goes to Gavin,' I clinched my fist to---But
what was the use? He caught the knife, and showed it to me.

"'Dry,' he said triumphantly; 'so he is ours, Meggy. Kiddy, catch
the knife. It is yours; and, mind, you have changed dads. And now
that we have settled that, Gavin, there's my hand again.'

"I went away and left them, and I never saw Margaret again until
the day you brought her to Thrums. But I saw you once, a few days
after Adam came back. I was in the school-house, packing my books,
and you were playing on the waste ground. I asked you how your
mother was, and you said, 'She's fleid to come to the door till
you gang awa, and my father's buying a boat.'

"'I'm your father,' I said; but you answered confidently:

"'You're no a living man. You're just a man I dreamed about; and I
promised my mother no to dream about you again.'

"'I am your father,' I repeated.

"'My father's awa buying a fishing-boat,' you insisted; 'and when
I speir at my mother whaur my first father is, she says I'm
havering.'

"'Gavin Ogilvy is your name,' I said. 'No,' you answered, 'I have
a new name. My mother telled me my name is aye to be Gavin Dishart
now. She telled me, too, to fling awa this knife my father gave
me, and I've flung it awa a lot o' times, but I aye pick it up
again.'

"'Give it to me,' I said, with the wicked thoughts of a fool in my
head.

"That is how your knife came into my possession. I left Harvie
that night in the carrier's cart, but I had not the heart to
return to college. Accident brought me here, and I thought it a
fitting place in which to bury myself from Margaret."

James M. Barrie