The little minister bowed his head in assent when Babbie’s cry, “Oh, Gavin, do you?” leapt in front of her unselfish wish that he should care for her no more.
“But that matters very little now,” he said.
She was his to do with as he willed; and, perhaps, the joy of knowing herself loved still, begot a wild hope that he would refuse to give her up. If so, these words laid it low, but even the sentence they passed upon her could not kill the self-respect that would be hers henceforth. “That matters very little now,” the man said, but to the woman it seemed to matter more than anything else in the world.
Throughout the remainder of this interview until the end came, Gavin never faltered. His duty and hers lay so plainly before him that there could be no straying from it. Did Babbie think him strangely calm? At the Glen Quharity gathering I once saw Rob Angus lift a boulder with such apparent ease that its weight was discredited, until the cry arose that the effort had dislocated his arm. Perhaps Gavin’s quietness deceived the Egyptian similarly. Had he stamped, she might have understood better what he suffered, standing there on the hot embers of his passion.
“We must try to make amends now,” he said gravely, “for the wrong we have done.”
“The wrong I have done,” she said, correcting him. “You will make it harder for me if you blame yourself. How vile I was in those days!”
“Those days,” she called them, they seemed so far away.
“Do not cry, Babbie,” Gavin replied, gently. “He knew what you were, and why, and He pities you. ‘For His anger endureth but a moment: in His favor is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.’”
“Not to me.”
“Yes, to you,” he answered. “Babbie, you will return to the Spittal now, and tell Lord Rintoul everything.”
“If you wish it.”
“Not because I wish it, but because it is right. He must be told that you do not love him.”
“I never pretended to him that I did,” Babbie said, looking up. “Oh,” she added, with emphasis, “he knows that. He thinks me incapable of caring for any one.”
“And that is why he must be told of me,” Gavin replied. “You are no longer the woman you were, Babbie, and you know it, and I know it, but he does not know it. He shall know it before he decides whether he is to marry you.”
Babbie looked at Gavin, and wondered he did not see that this decision lay with him.
“Nevertheless,” she said, “the wedding will take place to-morrow; if it did not, Lord Rintoul would be the scorn of his friends.”
“If it does,” the minister answered, “he will be the scorn of himself. Babbie, there is a chance.”
“There is no chance,” she told him. “I shall be back at the Spittal without any one’s knowing of my absence, and when I begin to tell him of you, he will tremble, lest it means my refusal to marry him; when he knows it does not, he will wonder only why I told him anything.”
“He will ask you to take time – ”
“No, he will ask me to put on my wedding-dress. You must not think anything else possible.”
“So be it, then,” Gavin said firmly.
“Yes, it will be better so,” Babbie answered, and then, seeing him misunderstand her meaning, exclaimed reproachfully, “I was not thinking of myself. In the time to come, whatever be my lot, I shall have the one consolation, that this is best for you. Think of your mother.”
“She will love you,” Gavin said, “when I tell her of you.”
“Yes,” said Babbie, wringing her hands; “she will almost love me, but for what? For not marrying you. That is the only reason any one in Thrums will have for wishing me well.”
“No others,” Gavin answered, “will ever know why I remained unmarried.”
“Will you never marry?” Babbie asked, exultingly. “Ah!” she cried, ashamed, “but you must.”
Well, many a man and many a woman has made that vow in similar circumstances, and not all have kept it. But shall we who are old smile cynically at the brief and burning passion of the young? “The day,” you say, “will come when – ” Good sir, hold your peace. Their agony was great and now is dead, and, maybe, they have forgotten where it lies buried; but dare you answer lightly when I ask you which of these things is saddest?
Babbie believed his “Never,” and, doubtless, thought no worse of him for it; but she saw no way of comforting him save by disparagement of herself.
“You must think of your congregation,” she said. “A minister with a gypsy wife – ”
“Would have knocked them about with a flail,” Gavin interposed, showing his teeth at the thought of the precentor, “until they did her reverence.”
She shook her head, and told him of her meeting with Micah Dow. It silenced him; not, however, on account of its pathos, as she thought, but because it interpreted the riddle of Rob’s behavior.
“Nevertheless,” he said ultimately, “my duty is not to do what is right in my people’s eyes, but what seems right in my own.”
Babbie had not heard him.
“I saw a face at the window just now,” she whispered, drawing closer to him.
“There was no face there; the very thought of Rob Dow raises him before you,” Gavin answered reassuringly, though Rob was nearer at that moment than either of them thought.
“I must go away at once,” she said, still with her eyes on the window. “No, no, you shall not come or stay with me; it is you who are in danger.”
“Do not fear for me.”
“I must, if you will not. Before you came in, did I not hear you speak of a meeting you had to attend to-night?”
“My pray – ” His teeth met on the word; so abruptly did it conjure up the forgotten prayer-meeting that before the shock could reach his mind he stood motionless, listening for the bell. For one instant all that had taken place since he last heard it might have happened between two of its tinkles; Babbie passed from before him like a figure in a panorama, and he saw, instead, a congregation in their pews.
“What do you see?” Babbie cried in alarm, for he seemed to be gazing at the window.
“Only you,” he replied, himself again; “I am coming with you.”
“You must let me go alone,” she entreated; “if not for your own safety” – but it was only him she considered – “then for the sake of Lord Rintoul. Were you 272 and I to be seen together now, his name and mine might suffer.”
It was an argument the minister could not answer save by putting his hands over his face; his distress made Babbie strong; she moved to the door, trying to smile.
“Go, Babbie!” Gavin said, controlling his voice, though it had been a smile more pitiful than her tears. “God has you in His keeping; it is not His will to give me this to bear for you.”
They were now in the garden.
“Do not think of me as unhappy,” she said; “it will be happiness to me to try to be all you would have me be.”
He ought to have corrected her. “All that God would have me be,” is what she should have said. But he only replied, “You will be a good woman, and none such can be altogether unhappy; God sees to that.”
He might have kissed her, and perhaps she thought so.
“I am – I am going now, dear,” she said, and came back a step because he did not answer; then she went on, and was out of his sight at three yards’ distance. Neither of them heard the approaching dogcart.
“You see, I am bearing it quite cheerfully,” she said. “I shall have everything a woman loves; do not grieve for me so much.”
Gavin dared not speak nor move. Never had he found life so hard; but he was fighting with the ignoble in himself, and winning. She opened the gate, and it might have been a signal to the dogcart to stop. They both heard a dog barking, and then the voice of Lord Rintoul:
“That is a light in the window. Jump down, McKenzie, and inquire.”
Gavin took one step nearer Babbie and stopped. He did not see how all her courage went from her, so 273 that her knees yielded, and she held out her arms to him, but he heard a great sob and then his name.
“Gavin, I am afraid.”
Gavin understood now, and I say he would have been no man to leave her after that; only a moment was allowed him, and it was their last chance on earth. He took it. His arm went round his beloved, and he drew her away from Nanny’s.
McKenzie found both house and garden empty. “And yet,” he said, “I swear some one passed the window as we sighted it.”
“Waste no more time,” cried the impatient earl. “We must be very near the hill now. You will have to lead the horse, McKenzie, in this darkness; the dog may find the way through the broom for us.”
“The dog has run on,” McKenzie replied, now in an evil temper. “Who knows, it may be with her now? So we must feel our way cautiously; there is no call for capsizing the trap in our haste.” But there was call for haste if they were to reach the gypsy encampment before Gavin and Babbie were made man and wife over the tongs.
The Spittal dogcart rocked as it dragged its way through the broom. Rob Dow followed. The ten o’clock bell began to ring.
“No, no, Davit, Mr. Dishart hadna felt the blow the piper gave him till he ascended the pulpit to conduct the prayer-meeting for rain, and then he fainted awa. Tammas Whamond and Peter Tosh carried him to the Session-house. Ay, an awful scene.”
“How did the minister no come to the meeting? I wonder how you could expect it, Snecky, and his mother taen so suddenly ill; he’s at her bedside, but the doctor has little hope.”
“This is what has occurred, Tailor: Mr. Dishart never got the length of the pulpit. He fell in a swound on the vestry floor. What caused it? Oh, nothing but the heat. Thrums is so dry that one spark would set it in a blaze.”
“I canna get at the richts o’ what keeped him frae the meeting, Femie, but it had something to do wi’ an Egyptian on the hill. Very like he had been trying to stop the gypsy marriage there. I gaed to the manse to speir at Jean what was wrang, but I’m thinking I telled her mair than she could tell me.”
“Man, man, Andrew, the wite o’t lies wi’ Peter Tosh. He thocht we was to hae sic a terrible rain that he implored the minister no to pray for it, and so angry was Mr. Dishart that he ordered the whole Session out o’ the kirk. I saw them in Couthie’s close, and michty dour they looked.”
“Yes, as sure as death, Tammas Whamond locked the kirk-door in Mr. Dishart’s face.”
“I’m a’ shaking! And small wonder, Marget, when I’ve heard this minute that Mr. Dishart’s been struck by lichtning while looking for Rob Dow. He’s no killed, but, woe’s me! they say he’ll never preach again.”
“Nothing o’ the kind. It was Rob that the lichtning struck dead in the doctor’s machine. The horse wasna touched; it came tearing down the Roods wi’ the corpse sitting in the machine like a living man.”
“What are you listening to, woman? Is it to a dog barking? I’ve heard it this while, but it’s far awa.”
“Jean, did you not hear me ring? I want you to – Why are you staring out at the window, Jean?”
“I – I was just hearkening to the ten o’clock bell, ma’am.”
“I never saw you doing nothing before! Put the heater in the fire, Jean. I want to iron the minister’s neckcloths. The prayer-meeting is long in coming out, is it not?”
“The – the drouth, ma’am, has been so cruel hard.”
“And, to my shame, I am so comfortable that I almost forgot how others are suffering. But my son never forgets, Jean. You are not crying, are you?”
“Bring the iron to the parlor, then. And if the minis – Why did you start, Jean? I only heard a dog barking.”
“I thocht, ma’am – at first I thocht it was Mr. Dishart opening the door. Ay, it’s just a dog; some gypsy dog on the hill, I’m thinking, for sound would carry far the nicht.”
“Even you, Jean, are nervous at nights, I see, if 276 there is no man in the house. We shall hear no more distant dogs barking, I warrant, when the minister comes home.”
“When he comes home, ma’am.”
“Courage, beloved; we are nearly there.”
“But, Gavin, I cannot see the encampment.”
“The night is too dark.”
“But the gypsy fires?”
“They are in the Toad’s-hole.”
“Listen to that dog barking.”
“There are several dogs at the encampment, Babbie.”
“There is one behind us. See, there it is!”
“I have driven it away, dear. You are trembling.”
“What we are doing frightens me, Gavin. It is at your heels again!”
“It seems to know you.”
“Oh, Gavin, it is Lord Rintoul’s collie Snap. It will bite you.”
“No, I have driven it back again. Probably the earl is following us.”
“Gavin, I cannot go on with this.”
“Leave me, dear, and save yourself.”
“Lean on me, Babbie.”
“Oh, Gavin, is there no way but this?”
“No sure way.”
“Even though we are married to-night – ”
“We shall be married in five minutes, and then, whatever befall, he cannot have you.”
“I will take you straight to the manse, to my mother.”
“Were it not for that dog, I should think we were alone on the hill.”
“But we are not. See, there are the gypsy fires.”
“Tammas, Tammas Whamond, I’ve lost you. Should we gang to the manse down the fields?”
“What are you listening for?”
“I heard a dog barking.”
“Only a gypsy dog, Tammas, barking at the coming storm.”
“The gypsy dogs are all tied up, and this one’s atween us and the Toad’s-hole. What was that?”
“It was nothing but the rubbing of the branches in the cemetery on ane another. It’s said, trees mak’ that fearsome sound when they’re terrified.”
“It was a dog barking at somebody that’s stoning it. I ken that sound, Hendry Munn.”
“May I die the death, Tammas Whamond, if a great drap o’ rain didna strike me the now, and I swear it was warm. I’m for running hame.”
“I’m for seeing who drove awa that dog. Come back wi’ me, Hendry.”
“I winna. There’s no a soul on the hill but you and me and thae daffing and drinking gypsies. How do you no answer me, Tammas? Hie, Tammas Whamond, whaur are you? He’s gone! Ay, then I’ll mak’ tracks hame.”
“Do you see nothing yet, McKenzie?”
“Scarce the broom at my knees, Rintoul. There is not a light on the hill.”
“McKenzie, can that schoolmaster have deceived us?”
“It is probable.”
“Urge on the horse, however. There is a road through the broom, I know. Have we stuck again?”
“Rintoul, she is not here. I promised to help you to bring her back to the Spittal before this escapade became known, but we have failed to find her. If she is to be saved, it must be by herself. I daresay she has returned already. Let me turn the horse’s head. There is a storm brewing.”
“I will search this gypsy encampment first, if it is on the hill. Hark! that was a dog’s bark. Yes, it is Snap; but he would not bark at nothing. Why do you look behind you so often, McKenzie?”
“For some time, Rintoul, it has seemed to me that we are being followed. Listen!”
“I hear nothing. At last, McKenzie, at last, we are out of the broom.”
“And as I live, Rintoul, I see the gypsy lights!”
It might have been a lantern that was flashed across the hill. Then all that part of the world went suddenly on fire. Everything was horribly distinct in that white light. The firs of Caddam were so near that it seemed to have arrested them in a silent march upon the hill. The grass would not hide a pebble. The ground was scored with shadows of men and things. Twice the light flickered and recovered itself. A red serpent shot across it, and then again black night fell.
The hill had been illumined thus for nearly half a minute. During that time not even a dog stirred. The shadows of human beings lay on the ground as motionless as logs. What had been revealed seemed less a gypsy marriage than a picture. Or was it that during the ceremony every person on the hill had been turned into stone? The gypsy king, with his arm upraised, had not had time to let it fall. The men and women behind him had their mouths open, as if struck when on the point of calling out. Lord Rintoul had risen in the dogcart and was leaning forward. One of McKenzie’s feet was on the shaft. The man crouching 279 in the dogcart’s wake had flung up his hands to protect his face. The precentor, his neck outstretched, had a hand on each knee. All eyes were fixed, as in the death glare, on Gavin and Babbie, who stood before the king, their hands clasped over the tongs. Fear was petrified on the woman’s face, determination on the man’s.
They were all released by the crack of the thunder, but for another moment none could have swaggered.
“That was Lord Rintoul in the dogcart,” Babbie whispered, drawing in her breath.
“Yes, dear,” Gavin answered resolutely, “and now is the time for me to have my first and last talk with him. Remain here, Babbie. Do not move till I come back.”
“But, Gavin, he has seen. I fear him still.”
“He cannot touch you now, Babbie. You are my wife.”
In the vivid light Gavin had thought the dogcart much nearer than it was. He called Lord Rintoul’s name, but got no answer. There were shouts behind, gypsies running from the coming rain, dogs whining, but silence in front. The minister moved on some paces. Away to the left he heard voices —
“Who was the man, McKenzie?”
“My lord, I have lost sight of you. This is not the way to the camp.”
“Tell me, McKenzie, that you did not see what I saw.”
“Rintoul, I beseech you to turn back. We are too late.”
“We are not too late.”
Gavin broke through the darkness between them and him, but they were gone. He called to them, and stopped to listen to their feet.
“Is that you, Gavin?” Babbie asked just then.
For reply, the man who had crept up to her clapped his hand upon her mouth. Only the beginning of a scream escaped from her. A strong arm drove her quickly southward.
Gavin heard her cry, and ran back to the encampment. Babbie was gone. None of the gypsies had seen her since the darkness came back. He rushed hither and thither with a torch that only showed his distracted face to others. He flung up his arms in appeal for another moment of light; then he heard Babbie scream again, and this time it was from a distance. He dashed after her; he heard a trap speeding down the green sward through the broom.
Lord Rintoul had kidnapped Babbie. Gavin had no other thought as he ran after the dogcart from which the cry had come. The earl’s dog followed him, snapping at his heels. The rain began.
Gavin passed on through Windyghoul, thinking in his frenzy that he still heard the trap. In a rain that came down like iron rods every other sound was beaten dead. He slipped, and before he could regain his feet the dog bit him. To protect himself from dikes and trees and other horrors of the darkness he held his arm before him, but soon it was driven to his side. Wet whips cut his brow so that he had to protect it with his hands, until it had to bear the lash again, for they would not. Now he had forced up his knees, and would have succumbed but for a dread of being pinned to the earth. This fight between the man and the rain went on all night, and long before it ended the man was past the power of thinking.
In the ringing of the ten o’clock bell Gavin had lived the seventh part of a man’s natural life. Only action was required of him. That accomplished, his mind had begun to work again, when suddenly the loss of Babbie stopped it, as we may put out a fire with a great coal. The last thing he had reflected about was a dogcart in motion, and, consequently, this idea clung to him. His church, his mother, were lost knowledge of, but still he seemed to hear the trap in front.
The rain increased in violence, appalling even those who heard it from under cover. However rain may storm, though it be an army of archers battering roofs and windows, it is only terrifying when the noise swells every instant. In those hours of darkness it again and 282 again grew in force and doubled its fury, and was louder, louder, and louder, until its next attack was to be more than men and women could listen to. They held each other’s hands and stood waiting. Then abruptly it abated, and people could speak. I believe a rain that became heavier every second for ten minutes would drive many listeners mad. Gavin was in it on a night that tried us repeatedly for quite half that time.
By and by even the vision of Babbie in the dogcart was blotted out. If nothing had taken its place, he would not have gone on probably; and had he turned back objectless, his strength would have succumbed to the rain. Now he saw Babbie and Rintoul being married by a minister who was himself, and there was a fair company looking on, and always when he was on the point of shouting to himself, whom he could see clearly, that this woman was already married, the rain obscured his words and the light went out. Presently the ceremony began again, always to stop at the same point. He saw it in the lightning-flash that had startled the hill. It gave him courage to fight his way onward, because he thought he must be heard if he could draw nearer to the company.
A regiment of cavalry began to trouble him. He heard it advancing from the Spittal, but was not dismayed, for it was, as yet, far distant. The horsemen came thundering on, filling the whole glen of Quharity. Now he knew that they had been sent out to ride him down. He paused in dread, until they had swept past him. They came back to look for him, riding more furiously than ever, and always missed him, yet his fears of the next time were not lessened. They were only the rain.
All through the night the dog followed him. He would forget it for a time, and then it would be so close that he could see it dimly. He never heard it bark, but it snapped at him, and a grin had become the expression 283 of its face. He stoned it, he even flung himself at it, he addressed it in caressing tones, and always with the result that it disappeared, to come back presently.
He found himself walking in a lake, and now even the instinct of self-preservation must have been flickering, for he waded on, rejoicing merely in getting rid of the dog. Something in the water rose and struck him. Instead of stupefying him, the blow brought him to his senses, and he struggled for his life. The ground slipped beneath his feet many times, but at last he was out of the water. That he was out in a flood he did not realize; yet he now acted like one in full possession of his faculties. When his feet sank in water, he drew back; and many times he sought shelter behind banks and rocks, first testing their firmness with his hands. Once a torrent of stones, earth, and heather carried him down a hillside until he struck against a tree. He twined his arms round it, and had just done so when it fell with him. After that, when he touched trees growing in water, he fled from them, thus probably saving himself from death.
What he heard now might have been the roll and crack of the thunder. It sounded in his ear like nothing else. But it was really something that swept down the hill in roaring spouts of water, and it passed on both sides of him so that at one moment, had he paused, it would have crashed into him, and at another he was only saved by stopping. He felt that the struggle in the dark was to go on till the crack of doom.
Then he cast himself upon the ground. It moved beneath him like some great animal, and he rose and stole away from it. Several times did this happen. The stones against which his feet struck seemed to acquire life from his touch. So strong had he become, or so weak all other things, that whatever clump he laid hands on by which to pull himself out of the water was at once rooted up.
The daylight would not come. He longed passionately for it. He tried to remember what it was like, and could not; he had been blind so long. It was away in front somewhere, and he was struggling to overtake it. He expected to see it from a dark place, when he would rush forward to bathe his arms in it, and then the elements that were searching the world for him would see him and he would perish. But death did not seem too great a penalty to pay for light.
And at last day did come back, gray and drear. He saw suddenly once more. I think he must have been wandering the glen with his eyes shut, as one does shut them involuntarily against the hidden dangers of black night. How different was daylight from what he had expected! He looked, and then shut his dazed eyes again, for the darkness was less horrible than the day. Had he indeed seen, or only dreamed that he saw? Once more he looked to see what the world was like; and the sight that met his eyes was so mournful that he who had fought through the long night now sank hopeless and helpless among the heather. The dog was not far away, and it, too, lost heart. Gavin held out his hand, and Snap crept timidly toward him. He unloosened his coat, and the dog nestled against him, cowed and shivering, hiding its head from the day. Thus they lay, and the rain beat upon them.