The Little Minister

Джеймс Барри
The Little Minister

Chapter Eighteen.

Gavin told himself not to go near the mud house on the following Monday; but he went. The distance is half a mile, and the time he took was two hours. This was owing to his setting out due west to reach a point due north; yet with the intention of deceiving none save himself. His reason had warned him to avoid the Egyptian, and his desires had consented to be dragged westward because they knew he had started too soon. When the proper time came they knocked reason on the head and carried him straight to Caddam. Here reason came to, and again began to state its case. Desires permitted him to halt, as if to argue the matter out, but were thus tolerant merely because from where he stood he could see Nanny’s doorway. When Babbie emerged from it reason seems to have made one final effort, for Gavin quickly took that side of a tree which is loved of squirrels at the approach of an enemy. He looked round the tree-trunk at her, and then reason discarded him. The gypsy had two empty pans in her hands. For a second she gazed in the minister’s direction, then demurely leaped the ditch of leaves that separated Nanny’s yard from Caddam, and strolled into the wood. Discovering with indignation that he had been skulking behind the tree, Gavin came into the open. How good of the Egyptian, he reflected, to go to the well for water, and thus save the old woman’s arms! Reason shouted from near the manse (he only heard the echo) that he could still make up on it. “Come along,” 162 said his desires, and marched him prisoner to the well.

The path which Babbie took that day is lost in blaeberry leaves now, and my little maid and I lately searched for an hour before we found the well. It was dry, choked with broom and stones, and broken rusty pans, but we sat down where Babbie and Gavin had talked, and I stirred up many memories. Probably two of those pans, that could be broken in the hands to-day like shortbread, were Nanny’s, and almost certainly the stones are fragments from the great slab that used to cover the well. Children like to peer into wells to see what the world is like at the other side, and so this covering was necessary. Rob Angus was the strong man who bore the stone to Caddam, flinging it a yard before him at a time. The well had also a wooden lid with leather hinges, and over this the stone was dragged.

Gavin arrived at the well in time to offer Babbie the loan of his arms. In her struggle she had taken her lips into her mouth, but in vain did she tug at the stone, which refused to do more than turn round on the wood. But for her presence, the minister’s efforts would have been equally futile. Though not strong, however, he had the national horror of being beaten before a spectator, and once at school he had won a fight by telling his big antagonist to come on until the boy was tired of pummelling him. As he fought with the stone now, pains shot through his head, and his arms threatened to come away at the shoulders; but remove it he did.

“How strong you are!” Babbie said with open admiration.

I am sure no words of mine could tell how pleased the minister was; yet he knew he was not strong, and might have known that she had seen him do many things far more worthy of admiration without admiring them. This, indeed, is a sad truth, that we seldom give our love to what is worthiest in its object.

“How curious that we should have met here,” Babbie said, in her dangerously friendly way, as they filled the pans. “Do you know I quite started when your shadow fell suddenly on the stone. Did you happen to be passing through the wood?”

“No,” answered truthful Gavin, “I was looking for you. I thought you saw me from Nanny’s door.”

“Did you? I only saw a man hiding behind a tree, and of course I knew it could not be you.”

Gavin looked at her sharply, but she was not laughing at him.

“It was I,” he admitted; “but I was not exactly hiding behind the tree.”

“You had only stepped behind it for a moment,” suggested the Egyptian.

Her gravity gave way to laughter under Gavin’s suspicious looks, but the laughing ended abruptly. She had heard a noise in the wood, Gavin heard it too, and they both turned round in time to see two ragged boys running from them. When boys are very happy they think they must be doing wrong, and in a wood, of which they are among the natural inhabitants, they always take flight from the enemy, adults, if given time. For my own part, when I see a boy drop from a tree I am as little surprised as if he were an apple or a nut. But Gavin was startled, picturing these spies handing in the new sensation about him at every door, as a district visitor distributes tracts. The gypsy noted his uneasiness and resented it.

“What does it feel like to be afraid?” she asked, eyeing him.

“I am afraid of nothing,” Gavin answered, offended in turn.

“Yes, you are. When you saw me come out of Nanny’s you crept behind a tree; when these boys showed themselves you shook. You are afraid of being seen with me. Go away, then; I don’t want you.”

“Fear,” said Gavin, “is one thing, and prudence is another.”

“Another name for it,” Babbie interposed.

“Not at all; but I owe it to my position to be careful. Unhappily, you do not seem to feel – to recognise – to know – ”

“To know what?”

“Let us avoid the subject.”

“No,” the Egyptian said, petulantly. “I hate not to be told things. Why must you be ‘prudent?’”

“You should see,” Gavin replied, awkwardly, “that there is a – a difference between a minister and a gypsy.”

“But if I am willing to overlook it?” asked Babbie, impertinently.

Gavin beat the brushwood mournfully with his staff.

“I cannot allow you,” he said, “to talk disrespectfully of my calling. It is the highest a man can follow. I wish – ”

He checked himself; but he was wishing she could see him in his pulpit.

“I suppose,” said the gypsy, reflectively, “one must be very clever to be a minister.”

“As for that – ” answered Gavin, waving his hand grandly.

“And it must be nice, too,” continued Babbie, “to be able to speak for a whole hour to people who can neither answer nor go away. Is it true that before you begin to preach you lock the door to keep the congregation in?”

“I must leave you if you talk in that way.”

“I only wanted to know.”

“Oh, Babbie, I am afraid you have little acquaintance with the inside of churches. Do you sit under anybody?”

“Do I sit under anybody?” repeated Babbie, blankly.

Is it any wonder that the minister sighed? “Whom 165 do you sit under?” was his form of salutation to strangers.

“I mean, where do you belong?” he said.

“Wanderers,” Babbie answered, still misunderstanding him, “belong to nowhere in particular.”

“I am only asking you if you ever go to church?”

“Oh, that is what you mean. Yes, I go often.”

“What church?”

“You promised not to ask questions.”

“I only mean what denomination do you belong to?”

“Oh, the – the – Is there an English church denomination?”

Gavin groaned.

“Well, that is my denomination,” said Babbie, cheerfully. “Some day, though, I am coming to hear you preach. I should like to see how you look in your gown.”

“We don’t wear gowns.”

“What a shame! But I am coming, nevertheless. I used to like going to church in Edinburgh.”

“You have lived in Edinburgh?”

“We gypsies have lived everywhere,” Babbie said, lightly, though she was annoyed at having mentioned Edinburgh.

“But all gypsies don’t speak as you do,” said Gavin, puzzled again. “I don’t understand you.”

“Of course you dinna,” replied Babbie, in broad Scotch. “Maybe, if you did, you would think that it’s mair imprudent in me to stand here cracking clavers wi’ the minister than for the minister to waste his time cracking wi’ me.”

“Then why do it?”

“Because – Oh, because prudence and I always take different roads.”

“Tell me who you are, Babbie,” the minister entreated; “at least, tell me where your encampment is.”

“You have warned me against imprudence,” she said.

“I want,” Gavin continued, earnestly, “to know your people, your father and mother.”


“Because,” he answered, stoutly, “I like their daughter.”

At that Babbie’s fingers played on one of the pans, and, for the moment, there was no more badinage in her.

“You are a good man,” she said, abruptly; “but you will never know my parents.”

“Are they dead?”

“They may be; I cannot tell.”

“This is all incomprehensible to me.”

“I suppose it is. I never asked any one to understand me.”

“Perhaps not,” said Gavin, excitedly; “but the time has come when I must know everything of you that is to be known.”

Babbie receded from him in quick fear.

“You must never speak to me in that way again,” she said, in a warning voice.

“In what way?”

Gavin knew what way very well, but he thirsted to hear in her words what his own had implied. She did not choose to oblige him, however.

“You never will understand me,” she said. “I daresay I might be more like other people now, if – if I had been brought up differently. Not,” she added, passionately, “that I want to be like others. Do you never feel, when you have been living a humdrum life for months, that you must break out of it, or go crazy?”

Her vehemence alarmed Gavin, who hastened to reply —

“My life is not humdrum. It is full of excitement, anxieties, pleasures, and I am too fond of the pleasures. Perhaps it is because I have more of the luxuries of life than you that I am so content with my lot.”

“Why, what can you know of luxuries?”

“I have eighty pounds a year.”


Babbie laughed. “Are ministers so poor?” she asked, calling back her gravity.

“It is a considerable sum,” said Gavin, a little hurt, for it was the first time he had ever heard any one speak disrespectfully of eighty pounds.

The Egyptian looked down at her ring, and smiled.

“I shall always remember your saying that,” she told him, “after we have quarrelled.”

“We shall not quarrel,” said Gavin, decidedly.

“Oh, yes, we shall.”

“We might have done so once, but we know each other too well now.”

“That is why we are to quarrel.”

“About what?” said the minister. “I have not blamed you for deriding my stipend, though how it can seem small in the eyes of a gypsy – ”

“Who can afford,” broke in Babbie, “to give Nanny seven shillings a week?”

“True,” Gavin said, uncomfortably, while the Egyptian again toyed with her ring. She was too impulsive to be reticent except now and then, and suddenly she said, “You have looked at this ring before now. Do you know that if you had it on your finger you would be more worth robbing than with eighty pounds in each of your pockets?”

“Where did you get it?” demanded Gavin, fiercely.

“I am sorry I told you that,” the gypsy said, regretfully.

“Tell me how you got it,” Gavin insisted, his face now hard.

“Now, you see, we are quarrelling.”

“I must know.”

“Must know! You forget yourself,” she said haughtily.

“No, but I have forgotten myself too long. Where did you get that ring?”

“Good afternoon to you,” said the Egyptian, lifting her pans.

“It is not good afternoon,” he cried, detaining her. “It is good-bye for ever, unless you answer me.”

“As you please,” she said. “I will not tell you where I got my ring. It is no affair of yours.”

“Yes, Babbie, it is.”

She was not, perhaps, greatly grieved to hear him say so, for she made no answer.

“You are no gypsy,” he continued, suspiciously.

“Perhaps not,” she answered, again taking the pans.

“This dress is but a disguise.”

“It may be. Why don’t you go away and leave me?”

“I am going,” he replied, wildly. “I will have no more to do with you. Formerly I pitied you, but – ”

He could not have used a word more calculated to rouse the Egyptian’s ire, and she walked away with her head erect. Only once did she look back, and it was to say —

“This is prudence – now.”

Chapter Nineteen.

A young man thinks that he alone of mortals is impervious to love, and so the discovery that he is in it suddenly alters his views of his own mechanism. It is thus not unlike a rap on the funny-bone. Did Gavin make this discovery when the Egyptian left him? Apparently he only came to the brink of it and stood blind. He had driven her from him for ever, and his sense of loss was so acute that his soul cried out for the cure rather than for the name of the malady.

In time he would have realised what had happened, but time was denied him, for just as he was starting for the mud house Babbie saved his dignity by returning to him. It was not her custom to fix her eyes on the ground as she walked, but she was doing so now, and at the same time swinging the empty pans. Doubtless she had come back for more water, in the belief that Gavin had gone. He pronounced her name with a sense of guilt, and she looked up surprised, or seemingly surprised, to find him still there.

“I thought you had gone away long ago,” she said stiffly.

“Otherwise,” asked Gavin the dejected, “you would not have come back to the well?”

“Certainly not.”

“I am very sorry. Had you waited another moment I should have been gone.”

This was said in apology, but the wilful Egyptian chose to change its meaning.

“You have no right to blame me for disturbing you,” she declared with warmth.

“I did not. I only – ”

“You could have been a mile away by this time. Nanny wanted more water.”

Babbie scrutinised the minister sharply as she made this statement. Surely her conscience troubled her, for on his not answering immediately she said, “Do you presume to disbelieve me? What could have made me return except to fill the pans again?”

“Nothing,” Gavin admitted eagerly, “and I assure you – ”

Babbie should have been grateful to his denseness, but it merely set her mind at rest.

“Say anything against me you choose,” she told him. “Say it as brutally as you like, for I won’t listen.”

She stopped to hear his response to that, and she looked so cold that it almost froze on Gavin’s lips.

“I had no right,” he said, dolefully, “to speak to you as I did.”

“You had not,” answered the proud Egyptian. She was looking away from him to show that his repentance was not even interesting to her. However, she had forgotten already not to listen.

“What business is it of mine?” asked Gavin, amazed at his late presumption, “whether you are a gypsy or no?”

“None whatever.”

“And as for the ring – ”

Here he gave her an opportunity of allowing that his curiosity about the ring was warranted. She declined to help him, however, and so he had to go on.

“The ring is yours,” he said, “and why should you not wear it?”

“Why, indeed?”

“I am afraid I have a very bad temper.”

He paused for a contradiction, but she nodded her head in agreement.

“And it is no wonder,” he continued, “that you think me a – a brute.”

“I’m sure it is not.”

“But, Babbie, I want you to know that I despise myself for my base suspicions. No sooner did I see them than I loathed them and myself for harbouring them. Despite this mystery, I look upon you as a noble-hearted girl. I shall always think of you so.”

This time Babbie did not reply.

“That was all I had to say,” concluded Gavin, “except that I hope you will not punish Nanny for my sins. Good-bye.”

“Good-bye,” said the Egyptian, who was looking at the well.

The minister’s legs could not have heard him give the order to march, for they stood waiting.

“I thought,” said the Egyptian, after a moment, “that you said you were going.”

“I was only – brushing my hat,” Gavin answered with dignity. “You want me to go?”

She bowed, and this time he did set off.

“You can go if you like,” she remarked now.

He turned at this.

“But you said – ” he began, diffidently.

“No, I did not,” she answered, with indignation.

He could see her face at last.

“You – you are crying!” he exclaimed, in bewilderment.

“Because you are so unfeeling,” sobbed Babbie.

“What have I said, what have I done?” cried Gavin, in an agony of self-contempt. “Oh, that I had gone away at once!”

“That is cruel.”

“What is?”

“To say that.”

“What did I say?”

“That you wished you had gone away.”

“But surely,” the minister faltered, “you asked me to go.”

“How can you say so?” asked the gypsy, reproachfully.

Gavin was distracted. “On my word,” he said, earnestly, “I thought you did. And now I have made you unhappy. Babbie, I wish I were anybody but myself; I am a hopeless lout.”

“Now you are unjust,” said Babbie, hiding her face.

“Again? To you?”

“No, you stupid,” she said, beaming on him in her most delightful manner, “to yourself!”

She gave him both her hands impetuously, and he did not let them go until she added:

“I am so glad that you are reasonable at last. Men are so much more unreasonable than women, don’t you think?”

“Perhaps we are,” Gavin said, diplomatically.

“Of course you are. Why, every one knows that. Well, I forgive you; only remember, you have admitted that it was all your fault?”

She was pointing her finger at him like a schoolmistress, and Gavin hastened to answer —

“You were not to blame at all.”

“I like to hear you say that,” explained the representative of the more reasonable sex, “because it was really all my fault.”

“No, no.”

“Yes, it was; but of course I could not say so until you had asked my pardon. You must understand that?”

The representative of the less reasonable sex could not understand it, but he agreed recklessly, and it seemed so plain to the woman that she continued confidentially —

“I pretended that I did not want to make it up, but I did.”

“Did you?” asked Gavin, elated.

“Yes, but nothing could have induced me to make the first advance. You see why?”

“Because I was so unreasonable?” asked Gavin, doubtfully.

“Yes, and nasty. You admit you were nasty?”

“Undoubtedly, I have an evil temper. It has brought me to shame many times.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” said the Egyptian, charitably. “I like it. I believe I admire bullies.”

“Did I bully you?”

“I never knew such a bully. You quite frightened me.”

Gavin began to be less displeased with himself.

“You are sure,” inquired Babbie, “that you had no right to question me about the ring?”

“Certain,” answered Gavin.

“Then I will tell you all about it,” said Babbie, “for it is natural that you should want to know.”

He looked eagerly at her, and she had become serious and sad.

“I must tell you at the same time,” she said, “who I am, and then – then we shall never see each other any more.”

“Why should you tell me?” cried Gavin, his hand rising to stop her.

“Because you have a right to know,” she replied, now too much in earnest to see that she was yielding a point. “I should prefer not to tell you; yet there is nothing wrong in my secret, and it may make you think of me kindly when I have gone away.”

“Don’t speak in that way, Babbie, after you have forgiven me.”

“Did I hurt you? It was only because I know that you cannot trust me while I remain a mystery. I know 174 you would try to trust me, but doubts would cross your mind. Yes, they would; they are the shadows that mysteries cast. Who can believe a gypsy if the odds are against her?”

“I can,” said Gavin; but she shook her head, and so would he had he remembered three recent sermons of his own preaching.

“I had better tell you all,” she said, with an effort.

“It is my turn now to refuse to listen to you,” exclaimed Gavin, who was only a chivalrous boy. “Babbie, I should like to hear your story, but until you want to tell it to me I will not listen to it. I have faith in your honour, and that is sufficient.”

It was boyish, but I am glad Gavin said it; and now Babbie admired something in him that deserved admiration. His faith, no doubt, made her a better woman.

“I admit that I would rather tell you nothing just now,” she said, gratefully. “You are sure you will never say again that you don’t understand me?”

“Quite sure,” said Gavin, bravely. “And by-and-by you will offer to tell me of your free will?”

“Oh, don’t let us think of the future,” answered Babbie. “Let us be happy for the moment.”

This had been the Egyptian’s philosophy always, but it was ill-suited for Auld Licht ministers, as one of them was presently to discover.

“I want to make one confession, though,” Babbie continued, almost reluctantly. “When you were so nasty a little while ago, I didn’t go back to Nanny’s. I stood watching you from behind a tree, and then, for an excuse to come back, I – I poured out the water. Yes, and I told you another lie. I really came back to admit that it was all my fault, if I could not get you to say that it was yours. I am so glad you gave in first.”

She was very near him, and the tears had not yet dried on her eyes. They were laughing eyes, eyes in 175 distress, imploring eyes. Her pale face, smiling, sad, dimpled, yet entreating forgiveness, was the one prominent thing in the world to him just then. He wanted to kiss her. He would have done it as soon as her eyes rested on his, but she continued without regarding him —

“How mean that sounds! Oh, if I were a man I should wish to be everything that I am not, and nothing that I am. I should scorn to be a liar, I should choose to be open in all things, I should try to fight the world honestly. But I am only a woman, and so – well, that is the kind of man I should like to marry.”

“A minister may be all these things,” said Gavin, breathlessly.

“The man I could love,” Babbie went on, not heeding him, almost forgetting that he was there, “must not spend his days in idleness as the men I know do.”

“I do not.”

“He must be brave, no mere worker among others, but a leader of men.”

“All ministers are.”

“Who makes his influence felt.”



“And takes the side of the weak against the strong, even though the strong be in the right.”

“Always my tendency.”

“A man who has a mind of his own, and having once made it up stands to it in defiance even of – ”

“Of his session.”

“Of the world. He must understand me.”

“I do.”

“And be my master.”

“It is his lawful position in the house.”

“He must not yield to my coaxing or tempers.”

“It would be weakness.”

“But compel me to do his bidding; yes, even thrash me if – ”

“If you won’t listen to reason. Babbie,” cried Gavin, “I am that man!”

Here the inventory abruptly ended, and these two people found themselves staring at each other, as if of a sudden they had heard something dreadful. I do not know how long they stood thus, motionless and horrified. I cannot tell even which stirred first. All I know is that almost simultaneously they turned from each other and hurried out of the wood in opposite directions.

1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24