was seven-and-twenty years ago. Just think what it was for a young, blithe,
happy woman, to whom the joy of living was very great, and whose simple
duties were daily so carefully and gladly performed, to be thus laid aside,
set apart for a fierce baptism of pain and a course of renunciation from
which a stronger heart might have shrunk. She was old in suffering before I
saw her and learned the many lessons she could teach, and once, marvelling
greatly at the Lord's dealing with one so simple-hearted and so truly good,
I ventured to question His goodness after the hot way of youth. She reproved
me gently, yet with a sweetness which made her words memorable: "When it is
the Lord's wull, it is sweet even to lie still."
little time after Nanse's seizure a great lady in the neighbourhood, the
Lady Christian Muir, was similarly afflicted, though not so helplessly at
first; and as long as she was able to be driven in a carriage she came from
time to time to see Nanse, and to com-30 pare experiences. Melancholy
picture, with a touch of indescribable pathos, to see the great lady sitting
by the bed of her humbler sister, while they talked of the sad journey which
could have no ending but the grave ! And as the years went by, and the
disease progressed in both, they calculated that Nanse would probably be
taken first. But it was not so. After Lady Christian was also confined to
her room, she still communicated with Nanse by means of a deputy, until at
last she was taken away by a sudden sharp inflammation, after seventeen
years of invalid life.
when Nanse was laid aside it seemed imperative that somebody must be got to
look after the house and the comfort of Andra—who had been so well
ministered unto by the willing hands of his dear wife, that he most acutely
felt the change. But Andra, though listening respectfully to every
suggestion, followed none. His mind was made up, had been made up from the
first, that if Nanse needed somebody to wait on her, he and he alone should
did for seven-and-twenty long years; and what a source of rich gratification
it was to both that he was able ! For they could thus shut the door on the "
fremd " as they called it, and be alone with their awful sorrow. Andra had
always been a good man and a kind husband; his nature, though deep and
quiet, had unprobed depths of kindliness in it; but now he developed a
wealth of tenderness which made his ministrations marvellous in the eyes of
everything for her—made her bed, prepared her meals, swept in the hearth,
and even at nights after the door was locked washed the clothes; and he
would be up betimes and have them out on the lines before a neighbour was
astir, and it was all done with a patience so unassailable and so abounding
that it made folks wonder and keep silence. His task at first with Nanse was
no easy one. It is not to be thought that a young woman should all at once
give up everything and allow no murmur to cross her lips. She has since told
me, with tears of shame in her meek, sweet eyes, that for weeks, ay, and
months at first, she cried night and day, reproaching the Lord for His
hardness to her and hers, the wherefore of which she could not understand. I
found it difficult, looking upon her present serenity, to believe it, and
yet it was true. But that all passed as the weary years went by; rebellion
was followed by silent acquiescence, out of which grew at length a quiet and
gracious waiting upon the Lord.
spare time Andra worked assiduously at his loom; and, oh, who shall say what
glory of self-sacrifice, what wonder of silent heroism, was woven into those
webs during these many lonely hours ! Nanse, lying in her bed or sitting in
her big chair by the little window, listened to the rattling of the loom,
thinking it heavenly music, and praying, praying always for a blessing on
her Andra, who was such a king among men. One day in the month Andra had to
leave her, to carry his finished web to
and bring back material for another one.
days Marget Broon always came from the east end of the town to abide by
Nanse, and though Nanse enjoyed the change for a little, she was always glad
when night and Andra came. Nanse had been a by-ordinary fastidious and
particular housewife, and it was not to tie expected that Andra could keep
things in a similar state of perfection. He would not have had the time,
even had he known how. And when Marget Broon came, with her bustling ways
and loud cheery voice announcing her intention of giving the place a good "redd
up," Nanse became painfully conscious of the unsatisfactory state of her
abode, and was generally that day either morose and silent, or fretful and
genuinely attached to Marget, however they being a kind of far-off cousins,
as almost all the Beild folks were sib to each other.
closeness of relationship makes it awkward for the stranger, and I have
myself more than once been in a tight place through too much candour of
speech about one to another. A stranger in the Beild is wise to hold his
peace till he understands all the connections, and I doubt life would be too
short for such an accomplishment.
and Leezbeth Broon had been early left orphans, with a good deal of gear in
addition to the croft and the house. Soon after their father's death
Leezbeth married Big Sandy Morison, which was not a change for the better;
but Marget continued in single blessedness through all the years of young
womanhood, and declared her intention of so remaining aye.
sure, she was not very well faured, being big and uncouth to a degree, and
having a greenish-grey eye with a decided squint, which gave her in her
angry moments a very evil look. But she had siller and gear, and several had
made an unsuccessful bid for such a comfortable " doon sittin'."
fifty-one she still abode in single blessedness, but finally took the plunge
in a most unexpected way. Nanse was sitting in her big chair one evening,
her eyes alternately fixed on the pages of the Bible which had been one of
Lady Christian's many gifts to her, and on the little back window across
which the red glow of the sunset lay bonnily, making a bright bit of colour
in a melancholy place.
now a sad spectacle to behold, especially to eyes not used to the sight. Her
poor frame was all swollen and twisted and distorted, and her frail white
hands with thin knotted fingers were only able to support the lightest
burden. She was not able to knit or sew now—a great deprivation ; but all
the deprivations had come gradually, and she had been able to give things up
one by one with scarcely a pang.
" I'm a
useless block noo—quate useless," she would say, with her sweet, melancholy
smile. " The Lord'll sune be dune wi' me. He'll no let me be ower lang a
cumberer of the ground." Then I would say to her that that could never be so
long as she had me, and such as me, to teach lessons in humility and
patience, and cheerful waiting on the will of God.
at the loom as usual, their tea being over, the hearth tidily swept in, and
the little table set close by Nanse's chair, with her books and her clean
handker chief folded above them, and a broker!, tumbler with a red rose and
a sprig of mignonette making a sweet scent all over the little place.
Presently, when Nanse's hand had grown a little weary with holding the Book,
there fell athwart the front window the big shadow of Marget Broon; and
Nanse saw it with surprise, for it was neither Sunday night nor Wednesday
night, which were her kinswoman's regular periods of visitation.
seemed to her that Marget lifted the sneck of the door with a somewhat hasty
hand, and shut it too with more than her usual vigour.
Marget," she said, looking round in mild surprise, " what is't, my 'ooman ?
I hope ye're no noweel."
bounced down in Andra's chair; her face was very red, and she flung back her
bonnet strings, and exhibited other signs of perturbation, but never spoke a
Andra ? " she asked finally.
" At the
loom. Did ye no hear it as ye cam' by ? He's gettin' on fell fast wi' the
richt. He canna hear, can he ? '
Marget, leaning somewhat forward in her chair, and fixing her eyes on
what ? " asked Nanse in some bewilderment, for she could not understand this
manner of Marget's, who, though boisterous as a rule, was always entirely
us—what we say, I mean ? "
" Fine ye
ken he canna, Mag ; even if he were as gleg in the hearin' as he was, the
loom mak's ower muckle din. But what way d'ye speir ? "
I've something awfu' to tell ye, Nanse. What d'ye think ? "
hasna left Leezbeth, I houp ? " said Nanse with a great start, that being a
scandal occasionally threatened in the family, and greatly dreaded by the
more peaceable members of it.
no; Sandy'll never dae that, Nanse; it's a cry an' nae 'oo wi' him, an' he
kens when he's weel aff," said Marget indifferently. " It's me that's in't
this time, Nanse. I'm gaun to tak' a man 1"
gave a sudden lurch forward in her surprise, which caused a sharper pain
than usual to shoot through her, blanching her very lips.
nodded primly, and fanned her hot face with her mauve bonnet strings, and
her look was comical to see.
Marget Broon 1 I dinna believed-"
true; ye'll say waur when ye ken what it is, but it's my business an* it's
me that has to live wi' the cratur," said Marget a trifle aggressively, thus
betraying a secret shame of her choice.
" No Jeem
Tamson ? " queried Nanse, almost wistfully, for she had often thought,
conning in her solitude the loneliness and sorrows of others, that if Marget
and Jeems, both so good-hearted though so differently disposed, could see
their way to forgather, what a fine thing it would be for both.
shook her head, and sat up with the boldest look of defiance on her face.
never guess—so I'll tell ye, as I cam' to dae't. It's Dod Aitken."
" Eh ?
Guid sakes ! "
the nearest approach to irreverent language Nanse had ever uttered, but she
was so genuinely appalled that she could not help it.
cratur! It's no true, Mag. If it is, ye're no wise."
Marget had expected surprise, but this seemed rather strong, and she
immediately resented it.
what for am I no wise ? What's the maitter wi' the man ? He's a God-forsaken
cratur that's true, but that's no his wyte. He has naebody to look after
him, or to care whether he minds hissel' or no."
a' true, Marget, but—but-"
really say no more. Dod Aitken was the butt and byword of the Beild, a
creature whom some few pitied and all despised, and to hear Marget Broon,
her own kinswoman, a person of substance and standing in the place, calmly
announce her intention of marrying him, was beyond everything.
a' true, wummin," she repeated helplessly. " But ye're no wise.