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CHAPTER IV

Next morning the household in the Glebe Cottage found itself solaced and comforted from the excitement of the night. To Jean Campbell the incident was commonplace; ‘No a thing to make a work about,’ she acknowledged frankly; while even Isabel, except for a certain sense of excitement and giddiness as she settled down to ordinary things, comforted herself, like a child, that the matter was over, and that she should hear no more of it.{25}

When Mr. Lothian paid her his usual afternoon visit, he found the sick girl, as usual, in her invalid chair, with her knitting in her hands. Isabel had left the room only as he became visible on the road, and her work lay in a little heap on the table. He cast a hasty look at it, even at the moment when he greeted the other sister. That evidence of an abrupt departure was of more consequence than it ought to have been to the minister. He shook his head as he sat down by the abandoned work.

‘She need not have run away when she saw me coming,’ he said, with a little sigh. ‘I could have said nothing to anger her, here.’

‘She did not mean it,’ said Margaret. ‘She is hasty, like a bairn. I am afraid sometimes I have made too much a bairn of her. I have grown so old myself, and she is so bonnie and young.’

‘Too bonnie and young,’ said the poor minister; and then he roused himself to a sense of justice; ‘but not younger—nor bonnier either for that matter—than you, my poor Margaret. It is your illness that makes you feel a difference. I remember two years ago——’

‘I would rather forget that,’ said Margaret, with a faint blush. ‘It is not illness, but death, that makes the difference, and sometimes I wonder what will become of her when I’m gone. I feel as if I should always want to take care of Bell, even in Heaven.’

‘It may be so permitted for aught we know,’ said Mr. Lothian.

He put out his hand, and took her wasted hand into his. The first fret that had crossed it for years was on poor Margaret’s brow. To think of her sister as happy eventually, when her own grave was green, was sweet to the dying girl. But the conflict in Isabel’s mind now, of happiness and self-sacrifice, was the hardest burden that had ever fallen on her delicate spirit. It seemed to introduce an alien note in the soft concords of the ending life.

‘Yes, whether or no,’ said Margaret, with a faint smile; ‘and I wish you would preach to me now. I never get to the kirk with other folk. I am growing a law to myself, I fear, instead of minding the true law. Speak to me, for I’m wearied and cannot speak to myself.’

‘It is you that have taught me many a day,’ said the minister; and then he paused, and that pang of pity with which the strong sometimes look on the weak thrilled through him.

‘Margaret,’ he said, ‘you know I cannot speak to you as many can; your sickness comes from the hand of{26} God, and you have never repined against Him. What comes from the clash and contradiction of human feelings is a different burden to bear. It seems a feature in our life that we must go against each other daily, whether we will or no. There is no happiness but has trouble in its train. What is joy to her is grief to you. What would be comfort to you, would sicken me and—aye, I will be just to him—one other, with disappointment and pain. The lassie that was married in the village yesterday made her mother’s heart bleed; but her own would have suffered as sorely, and so would the lad’s if she had not married. What can we say? It is not trouble of God’s sending, but the complications of human nature. He looks down from Heaven and beholds and tries the children of men, as says the Scripture. It is the one that bears the heat and the cold, the long calm and the fierce tempest, that is Christ’s soldier; but the cold and the heat, and the calm and the storm, are all natural—not punishments of God, but necessities of the world. We have to brace our minds up to them. It’s a cross world, and its conditions must be borne—I do not say because God sends them of first purpose and will—but always for Christ’s sake.’

In the silence that followed, and which Mr. Lothian made no attempt to disturb, sounds from without made themselves heard by degrees. There came an echo of steps on the road, and voices at the door. Margaret gave no heed, being absorbed in her own thoughts. But the minister, more used to the popular commotion, roused himself, and listened anxiously. Then there was a little parley outside. Mr. Lothian hurried out, to stay, if possible, the visit which he had foreseen. The group at the door was as great a contrast as could be imagined to the calm of the scene he had just left. Isabel stood, with flushed cheeks and clasped hands, before the parlour-door, half barring the entrance, half showing the way. Jean Campbell stood at the door of the kitchen, holding up her hands in excitement, and partial terror. ‘Eh, if it could be—if it could but be!’ she cried. ‘Our Margaret, that was ay a child of God! Oh, Ailie woman, think weel before you disturb her. I’ll no have her disturbed!—but if it was the will of God——’

‘It’s the will of God that brings me here,’ said the young prophetess of Loch Diarmid. She was scarcely older than the patient to whom she came. She stood on the threshold of the house, in simple, ordinary dress a fair Lowland beauty, with abundant light locks, a delicate, half-hectic colour, and blue eyes à fleur de{27} tête, which, in her excitement, seemed absolutely to project from her face. They were the visionary, translucent eyes, not giving out, but absorbing, the light, which so often reveal the character of a mystic and enthusiast. She was no deceiver, it was evident, but believed in her own mission with a fervour which, to some degree, overcame the incredulity of every sympathetic spectator. She moved forward, with that strange directness which only primitive nature or passion ever shows, to the door of the room in which Margaret was. She took no notice of Isabel who stood in the way. ‘It’s in the name of the Lord,’ said the inspired creature. Even the minister, who stood there ready to defend the repose of his friend against all comers, gave way before her with a strange thrill of something like faith. It might be—it was possible—God had employed such messengers before now. A creature spotless, and perfect, and young, in the first glow of love, and energy, and enthusiasm, could any human thing be nearer the angels? And the angels were God’s messengers. Mr. Lothian stood back subdued—his own convictions and strong sense standing him in no stead against the excitement of the moment. Had he opposed her he would have felt guilty. He stood back against the wall and let her pass. ‘If it is of God,’ he said to himself. And she went in as Miriam might have gone with her timbrels—like a figure in a triumphant procession, going on to miracle and wonder in the name of the lord.

Behind her, however, came one who roused no such sentiments in the mind of the minister. This was a man evidently not of Ailie’s rank, nor in any way resembling her, except in the flush of excitement which in him might have gone to any length of fanaticism. His mouth was closely shut; the lines of his face were rigid and strained; his eyes burned with a cloudy fire. Passion, which might almost be insanity, was in his look. The pair were as unlike as if one had been an errant angel astray from Heaven, and the other one of the rebels who fell from them with Lucifer. The minister started and grew red, and put up his hand to oppose the further progress of this unexpected visitor; although it was already very well known that ‘Saul was among the prophets,’ and ‘Mr. John,’ heretofore of a very different character, had entered their ranks.

‘Mr. John, this is no place for you,’ said Mr. Lothian. ‘You have no need that I should tell you that. This is no place for you.’

‘Wherever God’s work is to be done is the place for me,’ was the answer; and the speaker pressed on. He{28} was a powerful man, and a s