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Chapter 43

RAIN--MIST--THE JAWS.


To this day we argue in the glen about the sound mistaken by many
of us for the firing of the Spittal cannon, some calling it
thunder and others the tearing of trees in the torrent. I think it
must have been the roll of stones into the Quharity from Silver
Hill, of which a corner has been missing since that day. Silver
Hill is all stones, as if creation had been riddled there, and in
the sun the mica on them shines like many pools of water.

At the roar, as they thought, of the cannon, the farmers looked up
from their struggle with the flood to say, "That's Rintoul
married," as clocks pause simultaneously to strike the hour. Then
every one in the glen save Gavin and myself was done with Rintoul.
Before the hills had answered the noise, Gavin was on his way to
the Spittal. The dog must have been ten minutes in overtaking him,
yet he maintained afterward that it was with him from the start.
From this we see that the shock he had got carried him some
distance before he knew that he had left the school-house. It also
gave him a new strength, that happily lasted longer than his daze
of mind.

Gavin moved northward quicker than I came south, climbing over or
wading through his obstacles, while I went round mine. After a
time, too, the dog proved useful, for on discovering that it was
going homeward it took the lead, and several times drew him to the
right road to the Spittal by refusing to accompany him on the
wrong road. Yet in two hours he had walked perhaps nine miles
without being four miles nearer the Spittal. In that flood the
glen milestones were three miles apart.

For some time he had been following the dog doubtfully, for it
seemed to be going too near the river. When they struck a cart-
track, however, he concluded rightly that they were nearing a
bridge. His faith in his guide was again tested before they had
been many minutes on this sloppy road. The dog stopped, whined,
looked irresolute, and then ran to the right, disappearing into
the mist in an instant. He shouted to it to come back, and was
surprised to hear a whistle in reply. This was sufficient to make
him dash after the dog, and in less than a minute he stopped
abruptly by the side of a shepherd.

"Have you brocht it?" the man cried almost into Gavin's ear; yet
the roar of the water was so tremendous that the words came
faintly, as if from a distance. "Wae is me; is it only you, Mr.
Dishart?"

"Is it only you!" No one in the glen would have addressed a
minister thus except in a matter of life of death, and Gavin knew
it.

"He'll be ower late," the shepherd exclaimed, rubbing his hands
together in distress. "I'm speaking o' Whinbusses' grieve. He has
run for ropes, but he'll be ower late."

"Is there some one in danger?" asked Gavin, who stood, he knew not
where, with this man, enveloped in mist.

"Is there no? Look!"

"There is nothing to be seen but mist; where are we?"

"We're on the high bank o' the Quharity. Take care, man; you was
stepping ower into the roaring water. Lie down and tell me if he's
there yet. Maybe I just think that I see him, for the sicht is
painted on my een."

Gavin lay prone and peered at the river, but the mist came up to
his eyes. He only knew that the river was below from the sound.

"Is there a man down there?" he asked, shuddering.

"There was a minute syne; on a bit island."

"Why does he not speak?"

"He is senseless. Dinna move; the mist's clearing, and you'll see
if he's there syne. The mist has been lifting and falling that way
ilka minute since me and the grieve saw him."

The mist did not rise. It only shook like a blanket, and then
again remained stationary. But in that movement Gavin had seen
twice, first incredulously. and then with conviction.

"Shepherd," he said, rising, "it is Lord Rintoul."

"Ay, it's him; and you saw his feet was in the water. They were
dry when the grieve left me. Mr. Dishart, the ground he is on is
being washed awa bit by bit. I tell you, the flood's greedy for
him, and it'll hae him---Look, did you see him again?"

"Is he living?"

"We saw him move. Hst! Was that a cry?"

It was only the howling of the dog, which had recognized its
master and was peering over the bank, the body quivering to jump,
but the legs restless with indecision.

"If we were down there," Gavin said, "we could hold him secure
till rescue comes. It is no great jump."

"How far would you make it? I saw him again!"

"It looked further that time."

"That's it! Sometimes the ground he is on looks so near that you
think you could almost drop on it, and the next time it's yards
and yards awa. I've stood ready for the spring, Mr. Dishart, a
dozen times, but I aye sickened. I daurna do it. Look at the dog;
just when it's starting to jump, it pulls itsel' back."

As if it had heard the shepherd, the dog jumped at that instant.

"It sprang too far," Gavin said.

"It didna spring far enough."

They waited, and presently the mist thinned for a moment, as if it
was being drawn out. They saw the earl, but there was no dog.

"Poor brute," said the shepherd, and looked with awe at Gavin.

"Rintotil is slipping into the water," Gavin answered. "You won't
jump?"

"No, I'm wae for him, and--"

"Then I will," Gavin was about to say, but the shepherd continued,
"And him only married twa hours syne."

That kept the words in Gavin's mouth for half a minute, and then
he spoke them.

"Dinna think o't," cried the shepherd, taking him by the coat.
"The ground he is on is slippery. I've flung a dozen stanes at it,
and them that hit it slithered off. Though you landed in the
middle o't, you would slide into the water."

"He shook himsel' free o' me," the shepherd told afterward, "and I
saw him bending down and measuring the distance wi' his een as
cool as if he was calculating a drill o' tatties. Syne I saw his
lips moving in prayer. It wasna spunk he needed to pray for,
though. Next minute there was me, my very arms prigging wi' him to
think better o't, and him standing ready to loup, has knees bent,
and not a tremble in them. The mist lifted, and I---Lads, I
couldna gie a look to the earl. Mr. Dishart jumped; I hardly saw
him, but I kent, I kent, for I was on the bank alane. What did I
do? I flung mysel' down in a sweat, and if een could bore mist
mine would hae done it. I thocht I heard the minister's death-cry,
and may I be struck if I dinna believe now that it was a skirl o'
my ain. After that there was no sound but the jaw o' the water;
and I prayed, but no to God, to the mist to rise, and after an
awful time it rose, and I saw the minister was safe; he had pulled
the earl into the middle o' the bit island and was rubbing him
back to consciousness. I sweat when I think o't yet."

The Little Minister's jump is always spoken of as a brave act in
the glen, but at such times I am silent. This is not because,
being timid myself, I am without admiration for courage. My little
maid says that three in every four of my poems are to the praise
of prowess, and she has not forgotten how I carried her on my
shoulder once to Tilliedrum to see a soldier who had won the
Victoria Cross, and made her shake hands with him, though he was
very drunk. Only last year one of my scholars declared to me that
Nelson never said "England expects every man this day to do his
duty," for which I thrashed the boy and sent him to the cooling-
stone. But was it brave of Gavin to jump? I have heard some
maintain that only misery made him so bold, and others that he
jumped because it seemed a fine thing to risk his life for an
enemy. But these are really charges of cowardice, and my boy was
never a coward. Of the two kinds of courage, however, he did not
then show the nobler. I am glad that he was ready for such an act,
but he should have remembered Margaret and Babbie. As it was, he
may be said to have forced them to jump with him. Not to attempt a
gallant deed for which one has the impulse, may be braver than the
doing of it.

"Though it seemed as lang time," the shepherd says, "as I could
hae run up a hill in, I dinna suppose it was many minutes afore I
saw Rintoul opening and shutting his een. The next glint I had o'
them they were speaking to ane another; ay, and mair than
speaking. They were quarrelling. I couldna hear their words, but
there was a moment when I thocht they were to grapple. Lads, the
memory o' that'll hing about deathbed. There was twa men, edicated
to the highest pitch, ane a lord and the other a minister, and the
flood was taking awa a mouthful o' their footing ilka minute, and
the jaws o' destruction was gaping for them, and yet they were
near fechting. We ken now it was about a woman. Ay, but does that
make it less awful?"

No, that did not make it less awful. It was even awful that
Gavin's first words when Rintoul opened his eyes and closed them
hastily were, "Where is she?" The earl did not answer; indeed, for
the moment the words had no meaning to him.

"How did I come here?" he asked feebly.

"You should know better than I. Where is my wife?"

"I remember now," Rintoul repeated several times. "Yes, I had left
the Spittal to look for you--you were so long in coming. How did I
find you?"

"It was I who found you," Gavin answered. "You must have been
swept away by the flood."

"And you too?"

In a few words Gavin told how he came to be beside the earl.

"I suppose they will say you have saved my life," was Rintoul's
commentary.

"It is not saved yet. If help does not come, we shall be dead men
in an hour. What have you done with my wife?"

Rintoul ceased to listen to him, and shouted sums of money to the
shepherd, who shook his head and bawled an answer that neither
Gavin nor the earl heard. Across that thundering water only
Gavin's voice could carry, the most powerful ever heard in a
Thrums pulpit, the one voice that could be heard all over the
Commonty during the time of the tent-preaching. Yet he never
roared, as some preachers do of whom we say, "Ah, if they could
hear the Little Minister's word!"

Gavin caught the gesticulating earl by the sleeve. and said,
"Another man has gone for ropes. Now, listen to me; how dared you
go through a marriage ceremony with her, knowing her already to be
my wife?"

Rintoul did listen this time.

"How do you know I married her?" he asked sharply,

"I heard the cannon."

Now the earl understood, and the shadow on his face shook and
lifted, and his teeth gleamed. His triumph might be short-lived,
but he would enjoy it while he could.

"Well," he answered, picking the pebbles for his sling with care,
"you must know that I could not have married her against her will.
The frolic on the hill amused her, but she feared you might think
it serious, and so pressed me to proceed with her marriage to-day
despite the flood."

This was the point at which the shepherd saw the minister raise
his fist. It fell, however, without striking.

"Do you really think that I could doubt her?" Gavin, said
compassionately, and for the second time in twenty-four hours the
earl learned that he did not know what love is.

For a full minute they had forgotten where they were. Now, again,
the water seemed to break loose, so that both remembered their
danger simultaneously and looked up. The mist parted for long
enough to show them that where had only been the shepherd was now
a crowd of men, with here and there a woman. Before the mist again
came between the minister had recognized many members of his
congregation.

In his unsuccessful attempt to reach Whinbusses. the grieve had
met the relief party from Thrums. Already the weavers had helped
Waster Lunny to stave off ruin, and they were now on their way to
Whinbusses, keeping together through fear of mist and water. Every
few minutes Snecky Hobart rang his bell to bring in stragglers.

"Follow me," was all the panting grieve could say at first, but
his agitation told half his story. They went with turn patiently,
only stopping once, and then excitedly, for they come suddenly on
Rob Dow. Rob was still lying a prisoner beneath the tree, and the
grieve now remembered that he had fallen over this tree, and
neither noticed the man under it nor been noticed by the man.
Fifty hands released poor Dow, and two men were commissioned to
bring him along slowly while the others hurried to the rescue of
the earl. They were amazed to learn from the shepherd that Mr.
Dishart also was in danger, and after" Is there a woman wi' him?"
some cried," He'll get off cheap wi' drowning," and "It's the
judgment o' God."

The island on which the two men stood was now little bigger than
the round tables common in Thrums, and its centre was some feet
farther from the bank than when Gavin jumped. A woman, looking
down at it, sickened, and would have toppled into the water, had
not John Spens clutched her. Others were so stricken with awe that
they forgot they had hands.

Peter Tosh, the elder, cast a rope many times, but it would not
carry. The one end was then weighted with a heavy stone, and the
other tied round the waists of two men. But the force of the river
had been underestimated. The stone fell short into the torrent,
which rushed off with it so furiously that the men were flung upon
their faces and trailed to the verge of the precipice. A score of
persons sprang to their rescue, and the rope snapped. There was
only one other rope, and its fate was not dissimilar. This time
the stone fell into the water beyond the island, and immediately
rushed down stream. Gavin seized the rope, but it pressed against
his body, and would have pushed him off his feet had not Tosh cut
it. The trunk of the tree that had fallen on Rob Dow was next
dragged to the bank and an endeavor made to form a sloping bridge
of it. The island, however, was now soft and unstable, and, though
the trunk was successfully lowered, it only knocked lumps off the
island, and finally it had to be let go, as the weavers could not
pull it back. It splashed into the water, and was at once whirled
out of sight. Some of the party on the bank began hastily to
improvise a rope of cravats and the tags of the ropes still left,
but the mass stood helpless and hopeless.

"You may wonder that we could have stood still, waiting to see the
last o' them," Birse, the post, has said to me in the school-
house, "but, dominie, I couldna hae moved, magre my neck. I'm a
hale man, but if this minute we was to hear the voice o' the
Almighty saying solemnly, 'Afore the clock strikes again, Birse,
the post, will fall down dead of heart disease,' what do you think
you would do? I'll tell you. You would stand whaur you are, and
stare, tongue-tied, at me till I dropped. How do I ken? By the
teaching o' that nicht. Ay, but there's a mair important thing I
dinna ken, and that is whether I would be palsied wi' fear like
the earl, or face death with the calmness o' the minister."

Indeed, the contrast between Rintoul and Gavin was now impressive.
When Tosh signed that the weavers had done their all and failed,
the two men looked in each other's faces, and Gavin's face was
firm and the earl's working convulsively. The people had given up
attempting to communicate with Gavin save by signs, for though
they heard his sonorous voice, when he pitched it at them, they
saw that he caught few words of theirs. "He heard our skirls,"
Birse said, "but couldna grip the words ony mair than we could
hear the earl. And yet we screamed, and the minister didna. I've
heard o' Highlandmen wi' the same gift, so that they could be
heard across a glen."

"We must prepare for death," Gavin said solemnly to the earl, "and
it is for your own sake that I again ask you to tell me the truth.
Worldly matters are nothing to either of us now, but I implore you
not to carry a lie into your Maker's presence."

"I will not give up hope," was all Rintoul's answer, and he again
tried to pierce the mist with offers of reward. After that he
became doggedly silent, fixing his eyes on the ground at his feet.
I have a notion that he had made up his mind to confess the truth
about Babbie when the water had eaten the island as far as the
point at which he was now looking.

James M. Barrie