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CHAPTER VI
‘I am saying nothing against Ailie,’ said Jean Campbell, ‘no a word. Our Margaret upholds her as a God-fearing lass; but maybe she was going beyond her tether when she came praying over our Margaret. No, it was of nae avail. I never expected it for my part.’

‘It maun have been want of faith,’ said one of the eager spiritual gossips who had flocked around Jean to hear the news. ‘Human nature is so full o’ short-comings. We’ve a’ looked up to her for her godly life; but the Lord will not put up with our idols. You’ve made an idol o’ Margaret Diarmid, asking her prayers; but now she’s weighed and found wanting. It’s been lack of faith.{38}’

‘I dinna see how that can be,’ said another. ‘She’s won us a’ blessings morning and night. I’ve seen Heaven written plain in her face if ever it was written in a face in this world. Na; it must have been that they were lukewarm in their prayers.’

‘Hoots! they canna ay win,’ said a third neighbour; ‘if a’ the world was to be full of miracles where would us living folk be?’

‘But it’ll be a sair discouragement to the spread of the truth,’ said Mary White of the Mill, who had spoken first. ‘The enemy will cry out sore, like as if it was a triumph. And it’s ill for them of feeble minds to hear that Margaret Diarmid hasn’t faith to be saved, or Ailie Macfarlane lost her power.’

‘I would like to see the one that has more faith than our Margaret,’ said Jean Campbell, wounded in her tenderest point. ‘As for Ailie she’s a wonderful lass, but she’s upsetting with her prophet’s ways. If it had been the Lord’s will, would He have bided for Ailie to ask Him? Would He no have done it for our Margret that has kent Him longer and followed Him better? I’m no pretending to ken mysel—but if ever there was a saint of God it’s our Margret; and naebody need say onything else to me.’

‘There’s naebody in our parish would try,’ cried Jenny Spence, who was a connection. ‘As for Ailie Macfarlane she canna be said rightly to belong to the parish. It’s weel kent she was brought up in the Rue, and a’ her friends bide down by the Loch-end. I canna see ony reason for following after her, and thinking licht of our ain.’

‘Did you never hear, ye silly women,’ said a voice over their heads, ‘that a prophet has nae honour in his ain country? Bring in the new light, and cast out the wisdom that dwells among us: that’s ay been the world’s opinion since lang before it was divided into parishes. As for this poor lassie you make such a work about, she’s hysterical, and that’s the explanation of her cure and her prophesying; no that the creature means ill. She’s an innocent creature, so far as I can see the noo; but how lang her innocence will last if this goes on——’

‘Nae doubt you’re a fine authority, Maister Galbraith,’ said Mary, with a toss of her head; ‘you that believe in naething, neither spirit nor deevil, like the auld Sadducees. It’s grand to come and get lessons from you.’

‘I believe in more than you believe in, Mary, my woman,’ said the schoolmaster, who had interrupted the talk; ‘but I’ll no go into controversy. Jean Campbell, I’m wanting a word with you, if you’ll come inbye as you’re passing, after a’ this important business is done; you were ay good at settling the affairs of the parish{39}—but if I were you I would leave the other world in peace till you win there.’

‘It’s much he kens about the ither world,’ said Mary White as the schoolmaster passed on. ‘Poor auld haverel, with his Latin and his poetry, that never could get a kirk, even in the auld Moderate times.’

The gossip thus came to an abrupt termination, and Jean Campbell went on her way without further pause to the schoolhouse door.

‘Weel, Jean, my woman,’ said the maister, ‘how’s a’ with ye? It’s a bonnie day.’

‘After a’ the saft weather we’ve had,’ said Jean, making the conventional answer which was expected of her. ‘And we’re a’ very weel but Margret, who’s no long for this world, Maister Galbraith, though it’s sair news to tell.’

‘No a word about that,’ said the maister, hastily, ‘and a’ the fools in the country-side living and thriving! I will not speak of what I cannot understand. It’s no about her I’m wanting you, but about bonnie Isabel.’

‘About Isabel?’ said Jean, wondering: and to herself she added, ‘Eh, if the auld fuil’s head should be turned like the lave with that bit lassie!’ a mental exclamation which was unexpectedly brought to light, as it were, by one of the Dominie’s broad sudden smiles.

‘I might be her grandfather,’ he said; ‘and whiles I feel as if I was grandfather to a’ these heedless things. You’ve had your ain ado, Jean, my woman, with the Captain’s family. Before ever you married Duncan, you mind what I said.’

‘I’m no complaining,’ said Jean, with intense and lofty pride.

‘No,’ said the maister, ‘you’re no the one to complain. You’re too spirity for that, and too proud. And Margaret for one knows what you’ve done; but as for me, that have ay taken an interest in them, I’m wanting you to do more than ever, and I know you’ll no be asked in vain.’

‘You had ay a skilfu’ tongue, maister.’ said Jean: ‘you were ay one to while the bird off the tree, when you liket to try. What is’t that’s coming noo?’

Upon which the maister laughed softly, for it was a point upon which he was susceptible to flattery.

‘It’s no laughing matter,’ he said; ‘you’ll give me your best attention, Jean. You and me are not the folk to meddle with love and lovers in their wooings and nonsense; but there are times when the like of us must interfere. Bonnie Isabel is but a bairn. I know she is Margaret’s twin, but there’s a wonderful difference between them for all that; and yon English lad at the{40} Manse will beguile the lass if we do not take the better heed, you and me.’

‘Beguile our Isabel!’ said Jean, scornfully. ‘You ken heaps of things, maister, but no the heart of the like of her. If it was a lass out of the village, I wouldna say: but our Isabel’s a lady born.’

‘I stand corrected,’ said the maister; ‘you’re a woman of sense, Jean Campbell, and know better than me. I cannot express myself like you, but this was what I meant—that if we did not take heed, you and me, bonnie Isabel would be led further than she means to go; and the world, that is always an ill-thinking world, would make out a case of appearances against her. I’ve seen her with yon lad upon the hill——’

‘And what’s about that?’ said Jean; ‘is a lass never to speak to a lad but afore witnesses? And what’s the use of being young if you come to that? The lads have maist of the good things in this world; if a bonnie lass is no to have the upper hand o’ them and gie their heartstrings a bit wring when she has the power to do it. Na, na, maister, if you want her to let the lad be——’

‘She’s ta’en a good grip of some other heartstrings I know,’ said the maister, ‘more’s the pity. You’ve no bowels, you women. If it was but his heart that was in question, I do not say I would make much moan; but it is her credit, which is more to the purpose. Do not fire up at me; he was near running off with her the other night. You ask me how I know? Is not every secret word of your mouth or thought of your heart proclaimed on the housetops? If she were to go a step with him, it would be a sore heart for Margaret, and long would Isabel rue the day.’

‘I’ll not believe it,’ said Jean. ‘She’s prouder than the Marchioness, if you come to that. Her give way to a lad! I wouldna believe it if it was sworn to by a’ the Loch. She has mair spirit than that.’

‘Love’s blind,’ said the maister, with a melting tone in his harsh old voice; ‘it thinks no evil. He swears to her he means her well, and I would not say he did not mean well; but the day she’s that lad’s wife will be an ill day for Isabel, and all the more if she runs off with him. Whisht! and hear me out. They have quarrelled to-day, but to-morrow they will be ‘greed again—and she has no mother. I trust her, Jean Campbell, to you.’

‘I dinna believe it, no a word,’ said Jean, rising from her chair: but I ay do my best. No but Isabel is a sair handful, with her pride and her hasty ways. It’s the flower of a’ that the Lord winna spare. Eh, maister, it’s mair than I can understand.{41}’

‘No a word of that,’ said the Dominie, ‘or you and me will criticise our Maker, and that mustna be. He must have some reason. Thae birds’ eggs are your Jamie’s, Jean. He’s a strange callant, awfu’ slow at his lessons, and awfu’ gleg on the hill.’

‘The hill will do him little good, maister,’ said Jean, discontented, ‘if you would but make him mind his book! It would be a terrible cross to me if he didna get on with his education, and him the Captain’s son.’

‘He’ll never mind his book,’ said the Dominie, promptly, ‘no more than his father before him. Make him a sodger if you please, like Duncan. If ye insist on schools and college, he’ll never be wiser than a stickit minister, like me.’

‘Eh, but it’s ower muckle learning with you!’ cried Jean, bewildered by the smile with which the maister described his condition. She had so described him herself, not without a touch of contempt. But at the present moment her mortification about her boy was swallowed up in reverential terror for the man who thus appreciated his own misfortunes. ‘It’s because my Jamie’s ower useful with the birds’ eggs, and the trash o’ flowers they are ay gathering,’ Jean said to herself, as she went home; ‘but I’ll send him where he’ll be well kept to his book, if the maister speaks like that to his mother again.’


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