|« Prev||CHAPTER XXV||Next »|
There was great concern, and not a little alarm at Stonecross because of the disappearance of Isy. But James continued so ill, that his parents were unable to take much thought about anybody else. At last, however, the fever left him, and he began to recover, but lay still and silent, seeming to take no interest in anything, and remembered nothing he had said, or even that he had seen Isy. At the same time his wakened conscience was still at work in him, and had more to do with his enfeebled condition than the prolonged fever. At length his parents were convinced that he had something on his mind that interfered with his recovery, and his mother was confident that it had to do with "that deceitful creature, Isy." To learn that she was safe, might have given Marion some satisfaction, had she not known her refuge so near the manse; and having once heard where she was, she had never asked another question about her. Her husband, however, having overheard certain of the words that fell from Isy when she thought herself alone, was intently though quietly waiting for what must follow.
"I'm misdoobtin sair, Peter," began Marion one morning, after a long talk with the cottar's wife, who had been telling her of Isy's having taken up her abode with the soutar, "I'm sair misdoobtin whether that hizzie hadna mair to dee nor we hae been jaloosin, wi Jamie's attack, than the mere scare he got. It seems to me he's lang been broodin ower something we ken noucht aboot."
"That would be nae ferlie, woman! Whan was it ever we kent onything gaein on i' that mysterious laddie! Na, but his had need be a guid conscience, for did ever onybody ken eneuch aboot it or him to say richt or wrang til 'im! But gien ye hae a thoucht he's ever wranged that lassie, I s' hae the trowth o' 't, gien it cost him a greitin! He'll never come to health o' body or min' till he's confest, and God has forgien him. He maun confess! He maun confess!"
"Hoot, Peter, dinna be sae suspicious o' yer ain. It's no like ye to be sae maisterfu' and owerbeirin. I wad na lat ae ill thoucht o' puir Jeemie inside this auld heid o' mine! It's the lassie, I'll tak my aith, it's that Isy's at the bothom o' 't!"
"Ye're some ready wi' yer aith, Mirran, to what ye ken naething aboot! I say again, gien he's dene ony wrang to that bonnie cratur—and it wudna tak ower muckle proof to convince me o' the same, he s' tak his stan', minister or no minister, upo the stele o' repentance!"
"Daur ye to speyk that gait aboot yer ain son—ay, and mine the mair gien ye disown him, Peter Bletherwick!—and the Lord's ain ordeent minister forbye!" cried Marion, driven almost to her wits' end, but more by the persistent haunting of her own suspicion, which she could not repress, than the terror of her husband's threat. "Besides, dinna ye see," she added cunningly, "that that would be to affront the lass as weel?—He wadna be the first to fa' intil the snare o' a designin wuman, and wad it be for his ain father to expose him to public contemp? Your pairt sud be to cover up his sin—gien it were a multitude, and no ae solitary bit faut!"
"Daur ye speyk o' a thing like that as a bit faut?—Ca' ye leein and hypocrisy a bit faut? I alloo the sin itsel mayna be jist damnable, but to what bouk mayna it come wi ither and waur sins upo the back o' 't?—Wi leein, and haudin aff o' himsel, a man may grow a cratur no fit to be taen up wi the taings! Eh me, but my pride i' the laddie! It 'ill be sma' pride for me gien this fearsome thing turn oot to be true!"
"And wha daur say it's true?" rejoined Marion almost fiercely.
"Nane but himsel; and gien it be sae, and he disna confess, the rod laid upon him 'ill be the rod o' iron, 'at smashes a man like a muckle crock.—I maun tak Jamie throuw han' (to task)!"
"Noo jist tak ye care, Peter, 'at ye dinna quench the smokin flax."
"I'm mair likly to get the bruised reed intil my nakit loof (palm)!" returned Peter. "But I s' say naething till he's a wee better, for we maunna drive him to despair!—Eh gien he would only repent! What is there I wadna dee to clear him—that is, to ken him innocent o' ony wrang til her! I wad dee wi thanksgivin!"
"Weel, I kenna that we're jist called upon sae far as that!" said Marion.
"A lass is aye able to tak care o' hersel!"
"I wud! I wud!—God hae mercy upo' the twa o' them!"
In the afternoon James was a good deal better. When his father went in to see him, his first words were—
"I doobt, father, I'm no likly to preach ony mair: I've come to see 'at I never was fit for the wark, neither had I ever ony ca' til't."
"It may be sae, Jeemie," answered his father; "but we'll haud awa frae conclusions till ye're better, and able to jeedge wi'oot the bias o' ony thrawin distemper."
"Oh father," James went on, and to his delight Peter saw, for the first time since he was the merest child, tears running down his cheeks, now thin and wan; "Oh father, I hae been a terrible hypocreet! But my een's come open at last! I see mysel as I am!"
"Weel, there's God hard by, to tak ye by the han' like Enoch! Tell me," Peter went on, "hae ye onything upo yer min', laddie, 'at ye wud like to confess and be eased o'? There's nae papistry in confessin to yer ain auld father!"
James lay still for a few moments; then he said, almost inaudibly—
"I think I could tell my mother better nor you, father."
"It'll be a' ane whilk o' 's ye tell. The forgiein and the forgettin 'ill be ae deed—by the twa o' 's at ance! I s' gang and cry doon the stair til yer mother to come up and hear ye." For Peter knew by experience that good motions must be taken advantage of in their first ripeness. "We maunna try the speerit wi ony delays!" he added, as he went to the head of the stair, where he called aloud to his wife. Then returning to the bedside, he resumed his seat, saying, "I'll jist bide a minute till she comes."
He was loath to let in any risk between his going and her coming, for he knew how quickly minds may change; but the moment she appeared, he left the room, gently closing the door behind him.
Then the trembling, convicted soul plucked up what courage his so long stubborn and yet cringing heart was capable of, and began.
"Mother, there was a lass I cam to ken in Edinburgh, whan I was a divinity student there, and—"
"Ay, ay, I ken a' aboot it!" interrupted his mother, eager to spare him; "—an ill-faured, designin limmer, 'at micht ha kent better nor come ower the son o' a respectable wuman that gait!—Sic like, I doobtna, wad deceive the vera elec'!"
"Na, na, mother, she was nane o' that sort! She was baith bonny and guid, and pleasant to the hert as to the sicht: she wad hae saved me gien I had been true til her! She was ane o' the Lord's makin, as he has made but feow!"
"Whatfor didna she haud frae ye till ye had merried her than? Dinna tell me she didna lay hersel oot to mak a prey o' ye!"
"Mother, i' that sayin ye hae sclandert yersel!—I'll no say a word mair!"
"I'm sure neither yer father nor mysel wud hae stede i' yer gait!" said
Marion, retreating from the false position she had taken.
She did not know herself, or how bitter would have been her opposition; for she had set her mind on a distinguished match for her Jamie!
"God knows how I wish I had keepit a haud o' mysel! Syne I micht hae steppit oot o' the dirt o' my hypocrisy, i'stead o' gaein ower the heid intil't! I was aye a hypocrite, but she would maybe hae fun' me oot, and garred me luik at mysel!"
He did not know the probability that, if he had not fallen, he would have but sunk the deeper in the worst bog of all, self-satisfaction, and none the less have played her false, and left her to break her heart.
If any reader of this tale should argue it better then to do wrong and repent, than to resist the devil, I warn him, that in such case he will not repent until the sorrows of death and the pains of hell itself lay hold upon him. An overtaking fault may be beaten with few stripes, but a wilful wrong shall be beaten with many stripes. The door of the latter must share, not with Judas, for he did repent, although too late, but with such as have taken from themselves the power of repentance.
"Was there no mark left o' her disgrace?" asked his mother. "Wasna there a bairn to mak it manifest?"
"Nane I ever heard tell o'."
"In that case she's no muckle the waur, and ye needna gang lamentin: she 'll no be the ane to tell! and ye maunna, for her sake! Sae tak ye comfort ower what's gane and dune wi', and canna come back, and maunna happen again.—Eh, but it's a' God's-mercy there was nae bairn!"
Thus had the mother herself become an evil councillor, crying Peace! peace! when there was no peace, and tempting her son to go on and become a devil! But one thing yet rose up for the truth in his miserable heart—his reviving and growing love for Isy. It had seemed smothered in selfishness, but was alive and operative: God knows how—perhaps through feverish, incoherent, forgotten dreams.
He had expected his mother to aid his repentance, and uphold his walk in the way of righteousness, even should the way be that of social disgrace. He knew well that reparation must go hand in hand with repentance where the All-wise was judge, and selfish Society dared not urge one despicable pretence for painting hidden shame in the hues of honour. James had been the cowering slave of a false reputation; but his illness and the assaults of his conscience had roused him, set repentance before him, brought confession within sight, and purity within reach of prayer.
"I maun gang til her," he cried, "the meenute I'm able to be up!—Whaur is she, mother?"
"Upo nae accoont see her, Jamie! It wad be but to fa' again intil her snare!" answered his mother, with decision in her look and tone. "We're to abstain frae a' appearance o' evil—as ye ken better nor I can tell ye."
"But Isy's no an appearance o' evil, mother!"
"Ye say weel there, I confess! Na, she's no an appearance; she's the vera thing! Haud frae her, as ye wad frae the ill ane himsel."
"Did she never lat on what there had been atween 's?"
"Na, never. She kenned weel what would come o' that!"
"The ootside o' the door."
"Think ye she ever tauld onybody?"
"Mony ane, I doobtna."
"Weel, I dinna believe 't, I hae nae fear but she's been dumb as deith!"
"Hoo ken ye that?—What for said she never ae word aboot ye til yer ain mither?"
"'Cause she was set on haudin her tongue. Was she to bring an owre true tale o' me to the vera hoose I was born in? As lang as I haud til my tongue, she'll never wag hers!—Eh, but she's a true ane! She's ane to lippen til!"
"Weel, I alloo, she's deen as a wuman sud—the faut bein a' her ain!"
"The faut bein' a' mine, mother, she wouldna tell what would disgrace me!"
"She micht hae kenned her secret would be safe wi' me!"
"I micht hae said the same, but for the w'y ye spak o' her this vera meenut!—Whaur is she, mother? Whaur's Isy?"
"'Deed, she's made a munelicht flittin o' 't!"
"I telled ye she would never tell upo me!—Hed she ony siller?"
"Hoo can I tell?"
"Did ye pey her ony wages?"
"She gae me no time!—But she's no likly to tell noo; for, hearin her tale, wha wad tak her in?"
"Eh, mother, but ye are hard-hertit!"
"I ken a harder, Jamie!"
"That's me!—and ye're richt, mother! But, eh, gien ye wad hae me loe ye frae this meenut to the end o' my days, be but a wee fair to Isy: I hae been a damnt scoon'rel til her!"
"Jamie; Jamie! ye're provokin the Lord to anger—sweirin like that in his vera face—and you a minister!"
"I provokit him a heap waur whan I left Isy to dree her shame! Divna ye min' hoo the apostle Peter cursed, whan he said to Simon, 'Gang to hell wi' yer siller!'"
"She's telt the soutar, onygait!"
"What! has he gotten a hand o' her?"
"Ay, has he!—And dinna ye think it'll be a' ower the toon lang or this!"
"And hoo will ye meet it, mother?"
"We maun tell yer father, and get him to quaiet the soutar!—For her, we maun jist stap her mou wi' a bunch o' bank-notts!"
"That wad jist mak it 'maist impossible for even her to forgie you or me aither ony langer!"
"And wha's she to speyk o' forgivin!"
The door opened, and Peter entered. He strode up to his wife, and stood over her like an angel of vengeance. His very lips were white with wrath.
"Efter thirty years o' merried life, noo first to ken the wife o' my boasom for a messenger o' Sawtan!" he panted. "Gang oot o' my sicht, wuman!"
She fell on her knees, and held up her two hands to him.
"Think o' Jamie, Peter!" she pleaded. "I wad tyne my sowl for Jamie!"
"Ay, and tyne his as weel!" he returned. "Tyne what's yer ain to tyne, wuman—and that's no your sowl, nor yet Jamie's! He's no yours to save, but ye're deein a' ye can to destroy him—and aiblins ye'll succeed! for ye wad sen' him straucht awa to hell for the sake o' a guid name—a lee! a hypocrisy!—Oot upo ye for a Christian mither, Mirran!—Jamie, I'm awa to the toon, upo my twa feet, for the mere's cripple: the vera deil's i' the hoose and the stable and a', it would seem!—I'm awa to fess Isy hame! And, Jamie, ye'll jist tell her afore me and yer mother, that as sene 's ye're able to crawl to the kirk wi' her, ye'll merry her afore the warl', and tak her hame to the manse wi' ye!"
"Hoot, Peter! Wad ye disgrace him afore a' the beggars o' Tiltowie?"
"Ay, and afore God, that kens a'thing ohn onybody tellt him! Han's and hert
I s' be clear o' this abomination!"
"Merry a wuman 'at was ta'en wi' a wat finger!—a maiden that never said na!—Merry a lass that's nae maiden, nor ever will be!—Hoots!"
"And wha's to blame for that?"
"Jeemie! Jist Jeemie!—I'm fair scunnert at ye, Mirran!—Oot o' my sicht, I tell ye!—Lord, I kenna hoo I'm to win ower 't!—No to a' eternity, I doobt!"
He turned from her with a tearing groan, and went feeling for the open door, like one struck blind.
"Oh, father, father!" cried James, "forgie my mither afore ye gang, or my hert 'ill brak. It's the awfu'est thing o' ony to see you twa striven!"
"She's no sorry, no ae bit sorry!" said Peter.
"I am, I am, Peter!" cried Marion, breaking down at once, and utterly. "Dee what ye wull, and I'll dee the same—only lat it be dene quaietly, 'ithoot din or proclamation! What for sud a'body ken a'thing! Wha has the richt to see intil ither fowk's herts and lives? The wail' could ill gang on gien that war the gait o' 't!"
"Father," said James, "I thank God that noo ye ken a'! Eh, sic a weicht as it taks aff o' me! I'll be hale and weel noo in ae day!—I think I'll gang wi' ye to Isy, mysel!—But I'm a wee bit sorry ye cam in jist that minute! I wuss ye had harkit a wee langer! For I wasna giein-in to my mother; I was but thinkin hoo to say oot what was in me, ohn vext her waur nor couldna be helpit. Believe me, father, gien ye can; though I doobt sair ye winna be able!"
"I believe ye, my bairn; and I thank God I hae that muckle pooer o' belief left in me! I confess I was in ower great a hurry, and I'm sure ye war takin the richt gait wi' yer puir mither.—Ye see she loed ye sae weel that she could think o' nae thing or body but yersel! That's the w'y o' mithers, Jamie, gien ye only kenned it! She was nigh sinnin an awfu sin for your sake, man!"
Here he turned again to his wife. "That's what comes o' lovin the praise o' men, Mirran! Easy it passes intil the fear o' men, and disregaird o' the Holy!—I s' awa doon to the soutar, and tell him the cheenge that's come ower us a': he'll no be a hair surprised!"
"I'm ready, father—or will be in ae minute!" said James, making as if to spring out of bed.
"Na, na; ye're no fit!" interposed his father. "I would hae to be takin ye upo my back afore we wis at the fut o' the brae!—Bide ye at hame, and keep yer mither company."
"Ay, bide, Jamie; and I winna come near ye," sobbed his mother.
"Onything to please ye, mother!—but I'm fitter nor my father thinks," said
James as he settled down again in bed.
So Peter went, leaving mother and son silent together.
At last the mother spoke.
"It's the shame o' 't, Jamie!" she said.
"The shame was i' the thing itsel, mother, and in hidin frae that shame!" he answered. "Noo, I hae but the dregs to drink, and them I maun glog ower wi' patience, for I hae weel deserved to drink them!—But, eh, my bonnie Isy, she maun hae suffert sair!—I daur hardly think what she maun hae come throuw!"
"Her mither couldna hae broucht her up richt! The first o' the faut lay i' the upbringin!"
"There's anither whause upbringin wasna to blame: my upbringin was a' it oucht to hae been—and see hoo ill I turnt oot!"
"It wasna what it oucht! I see 't a' plain the noo! I was aye ower feart o' garrin ye hate me!—Oh, Isy, Isy, I hae dene ye wrang! I ken ye cud never hae laid yersel oot to snare him—it wasna in ye to dee 't!"
"Thank ye, mother! It was, railly and truly, a' my wyte! And noo my life sail gang to mak up til her!"
"And I maun see to the manse!" rejoined his mother. "—And first in order o' a', that Jinse o' yours 'ill hae to gang!"
"As ye like, mother. But for the manse, I maun clear oot o' that! I'll speak nae mair frae that poopit! I hae hypocreesit in 't ower lang! The vera thoucht o' 't scunners me!"
"Speyk na like that o' the poopit, Jamie, whaur sae mony holy men hae stede up and spoken the word o' God! It frichts me to hear ye! Ye'll be a burnin and a shinin licht i' that poopit for mony a lang day efter we're deid and hame!"
"The mair holy men that hae there witnessed, the less daur ony livin lee stan' there braggin and blazin i' the face o' God and man! It's shame o' mysel that gars me hate the place, mother! Ance and no more wull I stan' there, making o' 't my stele o' repentance; and syne doon the steps and awa, like Adam frae the gairden!"
"And what's to come o' Eve? Are ye gaein, like him, to say, 'The wuman thoo giedest til me—it was a' her wyte'?"
"Ye ken weel I'm takin a' the wyte upo mysel!"
"But hoo can ye tak it a', or even ony fair share o' 't, gien up there ye stan' and confess? Ye maun hae some care o' the lass—that is, gien efter and a' ye're gaein to mak o' her yer wife, as ye profess.—And what are ye gaein to turn yer han' til neist, seem ye hae a'ready laid it til the pleuch and turnt back?"
"To the pleuch again, mother—the rael pleuch this time! Frae the kirk door
I'll come hame like the prodigal to my father's hoose, and say til him,
'Set me to the pleuch, father. See gien I canna be something like a son
to ye, efter a''!"
So wrought in him that mighty power, mysterious in its origin as marvellous in its result, which had been at work in him all the time he lay whelmed under feverish phantasms.
His repentance was true; he had been dead, and was alive again! God and the man had met at last! As to how God turned the man's heart, Thou God, knowest. To understand that, we should have to go down below the foundations themselves, underneath creation, and there see God send out from himself man, the spirit, distinguished yet never divided from God, the spirit, for ever dependent upon and growing in Him, never completed and never ended, his origin, his very life being infinite; never outside of God, because in him only he lives and moves and grows, and has his being. Brothers, let us not linger to ask! let us obey, and, obeying, ask what we will! thus only shall we become all we are capable of being; thus only shall we learn all we are capable of knowing! The pure in heart shall see God; and to see him is to know all things.
Something like this was the meditation of the soutar, as he saw the farmer stride away into the dusk of the gathering twilight, going home with glad heart to his wife and son.
Peter had told the soutar that his son was sorely troubled because of a sin of his youth and its long concealment: now he was bent on all the reparation he could make. "Mr. Robertson," said Peter, "broucht the lass to oor hoose, never mentionin Jamie, for he didna ken they war onything til ane anither; and for her, she never said ae word aboot him to Mirran or me."
The soutar went to the door, and called Isy. She came, and stood humbly before her old master.
"Weel, Isy," said the farmer kindly, "ye gied 's a clever slip yon morning and a gey fricht forbye! What possessed ye, lass, to dee sic a thing?"
She stood distressed, and made no answer.
"Hoot, lassie, tell me!" insisted Peter; "I haena been an ill maister til ye, have I?"
"Sir, ye hae been like the maister o' a' til me! But I canna—that is, I maunna—or raither, I'm determined no to explain the thing til onybody."
"Thoucht ye my wife was feart the minister micht fa' in love wi ye?"
"Weel, sir, there micht hae been something like that intil 't! But I wantit sair to win at my bairn again; for i' that trance I lay in sae lang, I saw or h'ard something I took for an intimation that he was alive, and no that far awa.—And—wad ye believe't, sir?—i' this vera hoose I fand him, and here I hae him, and I'm jist as happy the noo as I was meeserable afore! Is 't ill o' me at I canna be sorry ony mair?"
"Na, na," interposed the soutar: "whan the Lord wad lift the burden, it wad be baith senseless and thankless to grup at it! In His name lat it gang, lass!"
"And noo," said Mr. Blatherwick, again taking up his probe, "ye hae but ae thing left to confess—and that's wha's the father o' 'im!"
"Na, I canna dee that, sir; it's enough that I have disgracet myself! You wouldn't have me disgrace another as well! What good would that be?"
"It wad help ye beir the disgrace."
"Na, no a hair, sir; he cudna stan' the disgrace half sae weel 's me! I reckon the man the waiker vessel, sir; the woman has her bairn to fend for, and that taks her aff o' the shame!"
"Ye dinna tell me he gies ye noucht to mainteen the cratur upo?"
"I tell ye naething, sir. He never even kenned there was a bairn!"
"Hoot, toot! ye canna be sae semple! It's no poassible ye never loot him ken!"
"'Deed no; I was ower sair ashamit! Ye see it was a' my wyte!—and it was naebody's business! My auntie said gien I wouldna tell, I micht put the door atween 's; and I took her at her word; for I kenned weel she couldna keep a secret, and I wasna gaein to hae his name mixed up wi' a lass like mysel! And, sir, ye maunna try to gar me tell, for I hae no richt, and surely ye canna hae the hert to gar me!—But that ye sanna, ony gait!"
"I dinna blame ye, Isy! but there's jist ae thing I'm determined upo—and that is that the rascal sail merry ye!"
Isy's face flushed; she was taken too much at unawares to hide her pleasure at such a word from his mouth. But the flush faded, and presently Mr. Blatherwick saw that she was fighting with herself, and getting the better of that self. The shadow of a pawky smile flitted across her face as she answered—
"Surely ye wouldna merry me upon a rascal, sir! Ill as I hae behaved til ye, I can hardly hae deservit that at yer han'!"
"That's what he'll hae to dee though—jist merry ye aff han'! I s' gar him."
"I winna hae him garred! It's me that has the richt ower him, and no anither, man nor wuman! He sanna be garred! What wad ye hae o' me—thinkin I would tak a man 'at was garred! Na, na; there s' be nae garrin!—And ye canna gar him merry me gien I winna hae him! The day's by for that!—A garred man! My certy!—Na, I thank ye!"
"Weel, my bonny leddy," said Peter, "gien I had a prence to my son,— providit he was worth yer takin—I wad say to ye, 'Hae, my leddy!'"
"And I would say to you, sir, 'No—gien he bena willin,'" answered Isy, and ran from the room.
"Weel, what think ye o' the lass by this time, Mr. Bletherwick?" said the soutar, with a flash in his eye.
"I think jist what I thoucht afore," answered Peter: "she's ane amo' a million!"
"I'm no that sure aboot the proportion!" returned MacLear. "I doobt ye micht come upo twa afore ye wan throw the million!—A million's a heap o' women!"
"All I care to say is, that gien Jeemie binna ready to lea' father and mother and kirk and steeple, and cleave to that wuman and her only, he's no a mere gomeril, but jist a meeserable, wickit fule! and I s' never speyk word til 'im again, wi my wull, gien I live to the age o' auld Methuselah!"
"Tak tent what ye say, or mint at sayin, to persuaud him:—Isy 'ill be upo ye!" said the soutar laughing. "—But hearken to me, Mr. Bletherwick, and sayna a word to the minister aboot the bairnie."
"Na, na; it'll be best to lat him fin' that oot for himsel.—And noo I maun be gaein, for I hae my wallet fu'!"
He strode to the door, holding his head high, and with never a word more, went out. The soutar closed the door and returned to his work, saying aloud as he went, "Lord, lat me ever and aye see thy face, and noucht mair will I desire—excep that the haill warl, O Lord, may behold it likewise. The prayers o' the soutar are endit!"
Peter Blatherwick went home joyous at heart. His son was his son, and no villain!—only a poor creature, as is every man until he turns to the Lord, and leaves behind him every ambition, and all care about the judgment of men. He rejoiced that the girl he and Marion had befriended would be a strength to his son: she whom his wife would have rejected had proved herself indeed right noble! And he praised the father of men, that the very backslidings of those he loved had brought about their repentance and uplifting.
"Here I am!" he cried as he entered the house. "I hae seen the lassie ance mair, and she's better and bonnier nor ever!"
"Ow ay; ye're jist like a' the men I ever cam across!" rejoined Marion smiling; "—easy taen wi' the skin-side!"
"Doobtless: the Makker has taen a heap o' pains wi the skin!—Ony gait, yon lassie's ane amang ten thoosan! Jeemie sud be on his k-nees til her this vera moment—no sitting there glowerin as gien his twa een war twa bullets —fired aff, but never won oot o' their barrels!"
"Hoot! wad ye hae him gang on his k-nees til ony but the Ane!"
"Aye wad I—til ony ane that's nearer His likness nor himsel—and that ane's oor Isy!—I wadna won'er, Jeemie, gien ye war fit for a drive the morn! In that case, I s' caw ye doon to the toon, and lat ye say yer ain say til her."
James did not sleep much that night, and nevertheless was greatly better the next day—indeed almost well.
Before noon they were at the soutar's door. The soutar opened it himself, and took the minister straight to the ben-end of the house, where Isy sat alone. She rose, and with downcast eyes went to meet him.
"Isy," he faltered, "can ye forgie me? And wull ye merry me as sene's ever we can be cried?—I'm as ashamed o' mysel as even ye would hae me!"
"Ye haena sae muckle to be ashamet o' as I hae, sir: it was a' my wyte!"
"And syne no to haud my face til't!—Isy, I hae been a scoonrel til ye! I'm that disgustit at mysel 'at I canna luik ye i' the face!"
"Ye didna ken whaur I was! I ran awa that naebody micht ken."
"What rizzon was there for onybody to ken? I'm sure ye never tellt!"
Isy went to the door and called Maggie. James stared after her, bewildered.
"There was this rizzon," she said, re-entering with the child, and laying him in James's arms.
He gasped with astonishment, almost consternation.
"Is this mine?" he stammered.
"Yours and mine, sir," she replied. "Wasna God a heap better til me nor I deserved?—Sic a bonnie bairn! No a mark, no a spot upon him frae heid to fut to tell that he had no business to be here!—Gie the bonnie wee man a kiss, Mr. Blatherwick. Haud him close to ye, sir, and he'll tak the pain oot o' yer heart: aften has he taen 't oot o' mine—only it aye cam again!—He's yer ain son, sir! He cam to me bringin the Lord's forgiveness, lang or ever I had the hert to speir for 't. Eh, but we maun dee oor best to mak up til God's bairn for the wrang we did him afore he was born! But he'll be like his great Father, and forgie us baith!"
As soon as Maggie had given the child to his mother, she went to her father, and sat down beside him, crying softly. He turned on his leather stool, and looked at her.
"Canna ye rejice wi' them that rejice, noo that ye hae nane to greit wi', Maggie, my doo?" he said. "Ye haena lost ane, and ye hae gaint twa! Haudna the glaidness back that's sae fain to come to the licht i' yer grudgin hert, Maggie! God himsel 's glaid, and the Shepherd's glaid, and the angels are a' makin sic a flut-flutter wi' their muckle wings 'at I can 'maist see nor hear for them!"
Maggie rose, and stood a moment wiping her eyes. The same instant the door opened, and James entered with the little one in his arms. He laid him with a smile in Maggie's.
"Thank you, sir!" said the girl humbly, and clasped the child to her bosom; nor, after that, was ever a cloud of jealousy to be seen on her face. I will not say she never longed or even wept after the little one, whom she still regarded as her very own, even when he was long gone away with his father and mother; indeed she mourned for him then like a mother from whom death has taken away her first-born and only son; neither did she see much difference between the two forms of loss; for Maggie felt in her heart that life nor death could destroy the relation that already existed between them: she could not be her father's daughter and not understand that! Therefore, like a bereaved mother, she only gave herself the more to her father.
I will not dwell on the delight of James and Isobel, thus restored to each other, the one from a sea of sadness, the other from a gulf of perdition. The one had deserved many stripes, the other but a few: needful measure had been measured to each; and repentance had brought them together.
Before James left the house, the soutar took him aside, and said—
"Daur I offer ye a word o' advice, sir?"
"'Deed that ye may!" answered the young man with humility: "and I dinna see hoo it can be possible for me to hand frae deein as ye tell me; for you and my father and Isy atween ye, hae jist saved my vera sowl!"
"Weel, what I wad beg o' ye is, that ye tak no further step o' ony consequence, afore ye see Maister Robertson, and mak him acquant wi the haill affair."
"I'm vera willin," answered James; "and I doobtna Isy 'ill be content."
"Ye may be vera certain, sir, that she'll be naething but pleased: she has a gran' opingon, and weel she may, o' Maister Robertson. Ye see, sir, I want ye to put yersels i' the han's o' a man that kens ye baith, and the half o' yer story a'ready—ane, that is, wha'll jeedge ye truly and mercifully, and no condemn ye affhan'. Syne tak his advice what ye oucht to dee neist."
"I will—and thank you, Mr. MacLear! Ae thing only I houp—that naither you, sir, nor he will ever seek to pursuaud me to gang on preachin. Ae thing I'm set upon, and that is, to deliver my sowl frae hypocrisy, and walk softly a' the rest o' my days! Happy man wad I hae been, had they set me frae the first to caw the pleuch, and cut the corn, and gether the stooks intil the barn—i'stead o' creepin intil a leaky boat to fish for men wi' a foul and tangled net! I'm affrontit and jist scunnert at mysel! —Eh, the presumption o' the thing! But I hae been weel and richteously punished! The Father drew his han' oot o' mine, and loot me try to gang my lane; sae doon I cam, for I was fit for naething but to fa': naething less could hae broucht me to mysel—and it took a lang time! I houp Mr. Robertson will see the thing as I dee mysel!—Wull I write and speir him oot to Stanecross to advise wi my father aboot Isy? That would bring him! There never was man readier to help!—But it's surely my pairt to gang to him, and mak my confession, and boo til his judgment!—Only I maun tell Isy first!"
Isy was not only willing, but eager that Mr. and Mrs. Robertson should know everything.
"But be sure," she added, "that you let them know you come of yourself, and I never asked you."
Peter said he could not let him go alone, but must himself go with him, for he was but weakly yet—and they must not put it off a single day, lest anything should transpire and be misrepresented.
The news which father and son carried them, filled the Robertsons with more than pleasure; and if their reception of him made James feel the repentant prodigal he was, it was by its heartiness, and their jubilation over Isy.
The next Sunday, Mr. Robertson preached in James's pulpit, and published the banns of marriage between James Blatherwick and Isobel Rose. The two following Sundays he repeated his visit to Tiltowie for the same purpose; and on the Monday married them at Stonecross. Then was also the little one baptized, by the name of Peter, in his father's arms—amid much gladness, not unmingled with shame. The soutar and his Maggie were the only friends present besides the Robertsons.
Before the gathering broke up, the farmer put the big Bible in the hands of the soutar, with the request that he would lead their prayers; and this was very nearly what he said:—"O God, to whom we belang, hert and soul, body and blude and banes, hoo great art thou, and hoo close to us, to hand the richt ower us o' sic a gran' and fair, sic a just and true ownership! We bless thee hertily, rejicin in what thoo hast made us, and still mair in what thoo art thysel! Tak to thy hert, and hand them there, these thy twa repentant sinners, and thy ain little ane and theirs, wha's innocent as thoo hast made him. Gie them sic grace to bring him up, that he be nane the waur for the wrang they did him afore he was born; and lat the knowledge o' his parents' faut haud him safe frae onything siclike! and may they baith be the better for their fa', and live a heap the mair to the glory o' their Father by cause o' that slip! And gien ever the minister should again preach thy word, may it be wi' the better comprehension, and the mair fervour; and to that en' gie him to un'erstan' the hicht and deepth and breid and len'th o' thy forgivin love. Thy name be gloryfeed! Amen!"
"Na, na, I'll never preach again!" whispered James to the soutar, as they rose from their knees.
"I winna be a'thegither sure o' that!" returned the soutar. "Doobtless ye'll dee as the Spirit shaws ye!"
James made no answer, and neither spoke again that night.
The next morning, James sent to the clerk of the synod his resignation of his parish and office.
No sooner had Marion, repentant under her husband's terrible rebuke, set herself to resist her rampant pride, than the indwelling goodness swelled up in her like a reviving spring, and she began to be herself again, her old and lovely self. Little Peter, with his beauty and his winsome ways, melted and scattered the last lingering rack of her fog-like ambition for her son. Twenty times in a morning would she drop her work to catch up and caress her grandchild, overwhelming him with endearments; while over the return of his mother, her second Isy, now her daughter indeed, she soon became jubilant.
From the first publication of the banns, she had begun cleaning and setting to rights the parlour, meaning to make it over entirely to Isy and James; but the moment Isy discovered her intent, she protested obstinately: it should not, could not, must not be! The very morning after the wedding she was down in the kitchen, and had put the water on the fire for the porridge before her husband was awake. Before her new mother was down, or her father-in-law come in from his last preparations for the harvest, it was already boiling, and the table laid for breakfast.
"I ken weel," she said to her mother, "that I hae no richt to contre ye; but ye was glaid o' my help whan first I cam to be yer servan-lass; and what for shouldna things be jist the same noo? I ken a' the w'ys o' the place, and that they'll lea' me plenty o' time for the bairnie: ye maun jist lat me step again intil my ain auld place! and gien onybody comes, it winna tak me a minute to mak mysel tidy as becomes the minister's wife!— Only he says that's to be a' ower noo, and there'll be no need!"
With that she broke into a little song, and went on with her work, singing.
At breakfast, James made request to his father that he might turn a certain unused loft into a room for Isy and himself and little Peter. His father making no objection, he set about the scheme at once, but was interrupted by the speedy advent of an exceptionally plentiful harvest.
The very day the cutting of the oats began, James appeared on the field with the other scythe-men, prepared to do his best. When his father came, however, he interfered, and compelled him to take the thing easier, because, unfit by habit and recent illness, it would be even dangerous for him to emulate the others. But what delighted his father even more than his good-will, was the way he talked with the men and women in the field: every show of superiority had vanished from his bearing and speech, and he was simply himself, behaving like the others, only with greater courtesy.
When the hour for the noonday meal arrived, Isy appeared with her mother- in-law and old Eppie, carrying their food for the labourers, and leading little Peter in her hand. For a while the whole company was enlivened by the child's merriment; after which he was laid with his bottle in the shadow of an overarching stook, and went to sleep, his mother watching him, while she took her first lesson in gathering and binding the sheaves. When he woke, his grandfather sent the whole family home for the rest of the day.
"Hoots, Isy, my dauty," he said, when she would fain have continued her work, "wad ye mak a slave-driver o' me, and bring disgrace upo the name o' father?"
Then at once she obeyed, and went with her husband, both of them tired indeed, but happier than ever in their lives before.
|« Prev||CHAPTER XXV||Next »|
►Proofing disabled for this book
► Printer-friendly version