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Chapter 5

A WARLIKE CHAPTER, CULMINATING IN THE FLOUTING OF THE MINISTER BY
THE WOMAN.


"Mr. DISHART!"

Jean had clutched at Gavin in Bank Street. Her hair was streaming,
and her wrapper but half buttoned.

"Oh, Mr. Dishart, look at the mistress! I couldna keep her in the
manse."

Gavin saw his mother beside him, bare-headed, trembling.

"How could I sit still, Gavin, and the town full o' the skirls of
women and bairns? Oh, Gavin, what can I do for them? They will
suffer most this night."

As Gavin took her hand he knew that Margaret felt for the people
more than he.

"But you must go home, mother," he said, "and leave me to do my
duty. I will take you myself if you will not go with Jean. Be
careful of her, Jean."

"Ay, will I," Jean answered, then burst into tears. "Mr.
Dishart,"' she cried, "if they take my father they'd best take my
mither too."

The two women went back to the manse, where Jean re-lit the fire,
having nothing else to do, and boiled the kettle, while Margaret
wandered in anguish from room to room.

Men nearly naked ran past Gavin, seeking to escape from Thrums by
the fields he had descended. When he shouted to them they only ran
faster. A Tillyloss weaver whom he tried to stop struck him
savagely and sped past to the square. In Bank Street, which was
full move. He had heard the horn. Thrice it sounded, and thrice it
struck him to the heart. He looked again and saw a shadow stealing
along the Tenements, then, another, then half-a-dozen. He
remembered Mr. Carfrae's words, "If you ever hear that horn, I
implore you to hasten to the square," and in another minute he had
reached the Tenements.

Now again he saw the gypsy. She ran past him, half-a-score of men,
armed with staves and pikes, at her heels. At first he thought
they were chasing her. but they were following her as a leader.
Her eyes sparkled as she waved them to the square with her arms.

"The soldiers, the soldiers!" was the universal cry.

"Who is that woman?" demanded Gavin, catching hold of a frightened
old man.

"Curse the Egyptian limmer," the man answered, "she's egging my
laddie on to fecht."

"Bless her rather," the son cried, "for warning us that the sojers
is coming. Put your ear to the ground, Mr. Dishart, and you'll
hear the dirl o' their feet."

The young man rushed away to the square, flinging his father from
him. Gavin followed. As he turned into the school wynd, the town
drum began to beat, windows were thrown open, and sullen men ran
out of closes where women were screaming and trying to hold them
back. At the foot of the wynd Gavin passed Sanders Webster.

"Mr. Dishart," the mole-catcher cried, "hae you seen that
Egyptian? May I be struck dead if it's no' her little leddyship."

But Gavin did not hear him. thing in the world to him. Only while
she passed did he see her as a gleam of colour, a gypsy elf poorly
clad, her bare feet flashing beneath a short green skirt, a twig
of rowan berries stuck carelessly into her black hair. Her face
was pale. She had an angel's loveliness. Gavin shook.

Still she danced onwards, but she was very human, for when she
came to muddy water she let her feet linger in it, and flung up
her arms, dancing more wantonly than before. A diamond on her
finger shot a thread of fire over the pool. Undoubtedly she was
the devil.

Gavin leaped into the avenue, and she heard him and looked behind.
He tried to cry "Woman!" sternly, but lost the word, for now she
saw him, and laughed with her shoulders, and beckoned to him, so
that he shook his fist at her. She tripped on, but often turning
her head beckoned and mocked him, and he forgot his dignity and
his pulpit and all other things, and ran after her. Up Windyghoul
did he pursue her, and it was well that the precentor was not
there to see. She reached the mouth of the avenue, and kissing her
hand to Gavin, so that the ring gleamed again, was gone.

The minister's one thought was to find her, but he searched in
vain. She might be crossing the hill on her way to Thrums, or
perhaps she was still laughing at him from behind a tree. After a
longer time than he was aware of, Gavin realised that his boots
were chirping and his trousers streaked with mud. Then he
abandoned the search and hastened homewards in a rage.

From the hill to the manse the nearest way is down two fields, and
the little minister descended them rapidly. Thrums, which is red
in daylight, was grey and still as the cemetery. He had glimpses
of several of its deserted streets. To the south the watch-light
showed brightly, but no other was visible. So it seemed to Gavin,
and then--suddenly--he lost the power to of people at one moment
and empty the next, the minister stumbled over old Charles Yuill,

"Take me and welcome," Yuill cried, mistaking Gavin for the enemy.
He had only one arm through the sleeve of his jacket, and his feet
were bare.

"I am Mr. Dishart. Are the soldiers already in the square, Yuill?"

"They'll be there in a minute."

The man was so weak that Gavin had to hold him.

"Be a man, Charles. You have nothing to fear. It is not such as
you the soldiers have come for. If need be, I can swear that you
had not the strength, even if you had the will, to join in the
weavers' riot."

"For Godsake, Mr. Dishart," Yuill cried, his hands chattering on
Gavin's coat, "dinna swear that. My laddie was in the thick o' the
riot; and if he's ta'en there's the poor's-house gaping for Kitty
and me, for I couldna weave half a web a week. If there's a
warrant agin onybody o' the name of Yuill, swear it's me; swear
I'm a desperate character, swear I'm michty strong for all I look
palsied; and if when they take me, my courage breaks down, swear
the mair, swear I confessed my guilt to you on the Book."

As Yuill spoke the quick rub-a-dub of a drum was heard.

"The soldiers!" Gavin let go his hold of the old man, who hastened
away to give himself up.

"That's no the sojers," said a woman; "it's the folk gathering in
the square. This'll be a watery Sabbath In Thrums."

"Rob Dow," shouted Gavin, as Dow flung past with a scythe in his
hand, "lay down that scythe."

"To hell wi' religion!" Rob retorted, fiercely; "it spoils a'
thing."

"Lay down that scythe; I command you."

Rob stopped undecidedly, then cast the scythe from him, but its
rattle on the stones was more than he could bear.

"I winna," he cried, and, picking it up, ran to the square.

An upper window in Bank Street opened, and Dr. McQueen put out his
head. He was smoking as usual.

"Mr. Dishart," he said, "you will return home at once if you are a
wise man; or, better still, come in here. You can do nothing with
these people to-night."

"I can stop their fighting."

"You will only make black blood between them and you."

"Dinna heed him, Mr. Dishart," cried some women.

"You had better heed him," cried a man.

"I will not desert my people," Gavin said.

"Listen, then, to my prescription," the doctor replied. "Drive
that gypsy lassie out of the town before the soldiers reach it.
She is firing the men to a red-heat through sheer devilry."

"She brocht the news, or we would have been nipped in our beds,"
some people cried.

"Does any one know who she is?" Gavin demanded, but all shook
their heads. The Egyptian, as they called her, had never been seen
in these parts before.

"Has any other person seen the soldiers?" he asked. "Perhaps this
is a false alarm."

"Several have seen them within the last few minutes," the doctor
answered. "They came from Tilliedrum, and were advancing on us
from the south, but when they heard that we had got the alarm they
stopped at the top of the brae, near T'nowhead's farm. Man, you
would take these things more coolly if you smoked."

"Show me this woman," Gavin said sternly to those who had been
listening. Then a stream of people carried him into the square.

The square has altered little, even in these days of enterprise,
when Tillyloss has become Newton Bank. and the Craft Head Croft
Terrace, with enamelled labels on them for the guidance of slow
people, who forget their address and have to run to the end of the
street and look up every time they write a letter. The stones on
which the butter-wives sat have disappeared, and with them the
clay walls and the outside stairs. Gone, too, is the stair of the
town-house, from the top of which the drummer roared the gossip of
the week on Sabbaths to country folk, to the scandal of all who
knew that the proper thing on that day is to keep your blinds
down; but the townhouse itself, round and red, still makes exit to
the south troublesome. Wherever streets meet the square there is a
house in the centre of them, and thus the heart of Thrums is a
box, in which the stranger finds himself suddenly, wondering at
first how he is to get out, and presently how he got in.

To Gavin, who never before had seen a score of people in the
square at once, here was a sight strange and terrible. Andrew
Struthers, an old soldier, stood on the outside stair of the town-
house, shouting words of command to some fifty weavers, many of
them scantily clad, but all armed with pikes and poles. Most were
known to the little minister, but they wore faces that were new to
him. Newcomers joined the body every moment. If the drill was
clumsy the men were fierce. Hundreds of people gathered around,
some screaming, some shaking their fists at the old soldier, many
trying to pluck their relatives out of danger. Gavin could not see
the Egyptian. Women and old men, fighting for the possession of
his ear, implored him to disperse the armed band. He ran up the
town-house stair, and in a moment it had become a pulpit.

"Dinna dare to interfere, Mr. Dishart," Struthers said savagely.

"Andrew Struthers," said Gavin solemnly, "in the name of God I
order you to leave me alone. If you don't," he added ferociously,
"I'll fling you over the stair."

"Dinna heed him, Andrew," some one shouted and another cried, "He
canna understand our sufferings; he has dinner ilka day."

Struthers faltered, however, and Gavin cast his eye over the armed
men.

"Rob Dow," he said, "William Carmichael, Thomas Whamond, William
Munn, Alexander Hobart, Henders Haggart, step forward."

These were Auld Lichts, and when they found that the minister
would not take his eyes off them, they obeyed, all save Rob Dow.

"Never mind him, Rob," said the atheist, Cruickshanks, "it's
better playing cards in hell than singing psalms in heaven."

"Joseph Cruickshanks," responded Gavin grimly, "you will find no
cards down there."

Then Rob also came to the foot of the stair. There was some angry
muttering from the crowd, and young Charles Yuill exclaimed,
"Curse you, would you lord it ower us on week-days as weel as on
Sabbaths?"

"Lay down your weapons," Gavin said to the six men.

They looked at each other. Hobart slipped his pike behind his
back.

"I hae no weapon," he said slily.

"Let me hae my fling this nicht," Dow entreated, "and I'll promise
to bide sober for a twelvemonth."

"Oh, Rob, Rob!" the minister said bitterly, "are you the man I
prayed with a few hours ago?"

The scythe fell from Rob's hands.

"Down wi' your pikes," he roared to his companions, "or I'll brain
you wi' them."

"Ay, lay them down," the precentor whispered, "but keep your feet
on them."

Then the minister, who was shaking with excitement, though he did
not know it, stretched forth his arms for silence, and it came so
suddenly as to frighten the people in the neighboring streets.

"If he prays we're done for," cried young Charles Yuill. but even
in that hour many of the people were unbonneted.

"Oh, Thou who art the Lord of hosts," Gavin prayed, "we are in Thy
hands this night. These are Thy people, and they have sinned; but
Thou art a merciful God, and they were sore tried, and knew not
what they did. To Thee, our God, we turn for deliverance, for
without Thee we are lost."

The little minister's prayer was heard all round the square, and
many weapons were dropped as an Amen to it.

"If you fight," cried Gavin, brightening as he heard the clatter
of the iron on the stones, "your wives and children may be shot in
the streets. These soldiers have come for a dozen of you; will you
be benefited if they take away a hundred?"

"Oh, hearken to him," cried many women.

"I winna," answered a man, "for I'm ane o' the dozen. Whaur's the
Egyptian?"

"Here."

Gavin saw the crowd open, and the woman of Windy ghoul come out of
it, and, while he should have denounced her, he only blinked, for
once more her loveliness struck him full in the eyes. She was
beside him on the stair before he became a minister again.

"How dare you, woman?" he cried; but she flung a rowan berry at
him.

"If I were a man," she exclaimed, addressing the people, "I
wouldna let myself be catched like a mouse in a trap."

"We winna," some answered.

"What kind o' women are you," cried the Egyptian, her face
gleaming as she turned to her own sex, "that bid your men folk
gang to gaol when a bold front would lead them to safety? Do you
want to be husbandless and hameless?"

"Disperse, I command you!" cried Gavin. "This abandoned woman is
inciting you to riot."

"Dinna heed this little man," the Egyptian retorted.

It is curious to know that even at that anxious moment Gavin
winced because she called him little.

"She has the face of a mischief-maker," he shouted, "and her words
are evil."

"You men and women o' Thrums," she responded, "ken that I wish you
weel by the service I hae done you this nicht. Wha telled you the
sojers was coming?"

"It was you; it was you!"

"Ay, and mony a mile I ran to bring the news, Listen, and I'll
tell you mair."

"She has a false tongue," Gavin cried; "listen not to the brazen
woman."

"What I have to tell," she said, "is as true as what I've telled
already, and how true that is you a' ken. You're wondering how the
sojers has come to a stop at the tap o' the brae instead o'
marching on the town. Here's the reason. They agreed to march
straucht to the square if the alarm wasna given, but if it was
they were to break into small bodies and surround the town so that
you couldna get out. That's what they're doing now."

At this the screams were redoubled, and many men lifted the
weapons they had dropped.

"Believe her not," cried Gavin. "How could a wandering gypsy know
all this?"

"Ay, how can you ken?" some demanded.

"It's enough that I do ken," the Egyptian answered. "And this mair
I ken, that the captain of the soldiers is confident he'll nab
every one o' you that's wanted anless you do one thing."

"What is 't?"

"If you a' run different ways you're lost, but if you keep
thegither you'll be able to force a road into the country, whaur
you can scatter. That's what he's fleid you'll do."

"Then it's what we will do."

"It is what you will not do," Gavin said passionately. "The truth
is not in this wicked woman."

But scarcely had he spoken when he knew that startling news had
reached the square. A murmur arose on the skirts of the mob, and
swept with the roar of the sea towards the town-house. A
detachment of the soldiers were marching down the Roods from the
north.

"There's some coming frae the east-town end," was the next
intelligence; "and they've gripped Sanders Webster, and auld
Charles Yuill has given himsel' up."

"You see, you see," the gypsy said, flashing triumph at Gavin.

"Lay down your weapons," Gavin cried, but his power over the
people had gone.

"The Egyptian spoke true," they shouted; "dinna heed the
minister."

Gavin tried to seize the gypsy by the shoulders, but she slipped
past him down the stair, and crying "Follow me!" ran round the
town-house and down the brae.

"Woman!" he shouted after her, but she only waved her arms
scornfully. The people followed her, many of the men still
grasping their weapons, but all in disorder. Within a minute after
Gavin saw the gleam of the ring on her finger, as she waved her
hands, he and Dow were alone in the square.

"She's an awfu' woman that," Rob said." I saw her lauching."

Gavin ground his teeth.

"Rob Dow," he said, slowly, "if I had not found Christ I would
have throttled that woman. You saw how she flouted me?"

James M. Barrie