women were silent a few moments, regarding each other steadfastly.
ails ye at Dod, Nanse? Ye dinna ken onything aboot him 'cepin what ye hear,
an' that's lees—Beild lees tae, the warst that's gaun, a'body kens that."
sufficient truth in this to make Nanse think a moment, which she did, her
face looking very anxious and white under the goffered border of her mutch.
She did not really know much about Dod, had not even seen him for twenty
years and more; and the Beild
was a leein' place, she could not deny that.
but, Mag, he has naething—a cratur without gear or siller, no even a loom
till hissel'—an orra man workin' to onybody for twa shillin's a day. It wad
be an unco doon-come for you, my 'ooman."
" But I
hae enough for twa," said Marget. " I'll no say that Dod hasna fauts, but
they're fauts that'll mend. D'ye think he'd
spend as muckle time in Bawbie's if the Morisons didna
fleg him? I canna bidethae Morisons; they're an ill crew."
" Hoots 1
Marget, Leeb's man's no that ill—I ken naething aboot the young ane. An' are
ye gaun to mak' a new man oot o' Dod, Mag ? Weel, it'll be a ploy for ye."
be impossible to describe the peculiar happy gleam of sly humour in Nanse's
eye as she uttered this. Her long sufferings had not robbed her of her
faculty for seeing the queer side of things, and now that the shock of the
announcement was over, the idea of Marget Broon marrying Dod Aitken seemed
the funniest thing she had ever heard of.
when, Marget, was this a' settled, micht I speir ? "
nicht," responded Marget promptly. " I was sittin' at the fireside efter
nine, thinkin' on gaun to my bed, when he cam'."
speirt ye ? "
" He had
a guid face, but I maun haud my tongue. What does Leezbeth say ? "
gave a kind of snort, and crushed the mauve ribbons in her hand. " D'ye
think I've telt her ? No me ! I hinna telt onybody 'cep' yersel', Nanse, an'
I'm no gaunna."
ye'll hae to tell somebody," said Nanse perplexedly. "When is't gaun to be?"
hairst. We needna wait."
suppose he'll jist stap in to your fireside, Marget?"
became silent. She could think of nothing else to say ; nor could she bring
her mind to utter any explanations. She had not indeed heard anything that
so vexed her for many a day.
staund by me, Nanse, through the clash o' the place ? It's Leeb an' Shoosan
Nicoll I'm feart for. Fegs 1 ye'd think Shoosan was gentry since she had a
son gaed to the college. They'll maybe no hae their sorrows to seek wi' him
yet; an' there's a something in Jeanie Morison's e'e the noo I dinna like.
Tam Pitbladdie says he hasna cairret a letter frae Erskine till Jeanie for a
month an' mair. If he breaks that dear lassie's heart, the Lord'll surely
set a judgment on him, student or no student. It fairly skunners me to think
on the Nicolls, a' but Dauvit."
wheesht, Mag, there's naething wrang wi' the Nicolls. Dauvit's as fine a man
as ever he was, an' Shoosan's no ill. Let them abe."
Marget would not be silenced. She had an old grudge at Susan since the days
when they had been girls together, and David Nicoll had been the catch in
the Beild. He was a little laird, owning his own hundred acres, and Marget
had once thought to be mistress of the Binns.
" If ye'd
been at that tea-pairty at Christmas ye wad hae been skunnert yersel' to see
Shoosan sittin' wi' a silk goon on and red ribbons in her mutch, and ringin'
the bell for Beaton's Ann to bring in the tea, and tryin' to look as if she
had aye been used to it. It was like to gar me throw. An' speakin' English
afore the minister, and biddin' Dauvit no drink his tea oot o' his saucer,
till the puir cheild brunt his tongue an' had to let a moothfu' on the
tablecloth ! I'm vext for Dauvit."
silently laughed. She had long been removed from such petty gossip and
jealousies, and it seemed a great wonder to her now that anybody should
concern their heads with it for a moment, when life was so full of graver
birkie, Mag, an' if Dod gets a guid doon sittin', he'll hae to ca' canny
for't. Ye're very near as sharp in the tongue as Leeb."
but, Nanse, ye dinna ken a'. Shoosan affronted me that nicht afore Mr.
Booman, an' ca't me an auld maid—as if I couldna hae been mairret a dizzen
times fu her aince 1 I vera near telt her that mysel'. But I had my chance
at supper-time. She had a muckle pie bakit in a milk basin, an' the paste!
ye could hae ridden a peat cairt owert athoot breakin't; an' so I jist said,
' We'd be the better o' a chisel an' a hammer.' She grew red at that, but
what for should she ca' me an auld maid?"
smiled that sweet slight smile which always seemed to say that such things
were not worth troubling about.
ye'll be even wi' her noo, Marget. Can I tell Andra?"
" I'm no
heedin'. Andra's a sensible man, Nanse; there's few like him," said Marget
truthfully, as she began to tie her mauve ribbons into a neat bow. "Weel, I
maun awa' up by. I'm awn Dauvit Nicoll for seed taties, an' I may as weel
kill twa dougs wi' ae stane."
looked at her as she had often done, thinking her a fine big sonsy woman,
full of common sense and kindliness too, and again wondered that she should
contemplate such a step as marriage with a wastrel like Dod Aitken.
sirce, sic a clash i' the Beild it'll be as never was."
it'll keep them frae leein' for a while aboot ither folk," said Marget
grimly. " Guid-nicht, Nanse; I'll fesh Dod to see ye some nicht efter it's
" Ay, dae
that, Marget. Guid-nicht; I wush ye weel, my 'ooman, ye ken that."
offered her poor frail hand to her kinswoman, who grasped it warmly, feeling
for the moment an unaccustomed sensation which made her " like to greet."
And to hide this queer feeling, of which she was quite ashamed, she suddenly
banged out of the door and stalked by the kitchen window, as if she had some
great and important object in view.
mind was now entirely diverted from her study of the Book, and she was fain
to chap on the table for Andra to come ben, but restrained herself, knowing
he would come at nine o'clock to stir the meal into the porridge.
very tall and erect and aggressive, marched on, holding up her skirts to the
top of her elastic boots, and crossed the road in a slanting direction to
the Binns, which was an unpretending domicile, surrounded by a rather
scattered and dilapidated steading, Dauvit being a trifle near and never
spending a penny unless absolutely necessary. As Marget entered the little
courtyard, which was separated from the road by a dry stone dyke, she heard
the clatter of milk-pails, and presently Beaton's Annie appeared with her
skirts kilted and two full pails in her hands.
in, Annie ? " queried Marget.
he's no hame frae the Kirklands; but
she no gang to the byre noo ava, Annie ? "
" No her
; my mither comes ower at milkin' time," replied the maid, and a significant
glance passed between the two, as Marget, without knock or other warning, as
was common in the Beild, walked into the Binns kitchen. But there was nobody
there, except the cat blinking before the warm fire, and the shaggy old
collie, who gave his tail a feeble wag of recognition.
" Are ye
there, Shoosan ? " Marget called out, and proceeded without further ceremony
along the little passage to the parlour, where she found the mistress
sitting before the table with a letter spread out before her, which she
evidently found some difficulty in making out.
it's you, Marget; sit doon," said the mistress affably, but with a certain
shade of condescension quite apparent to her visitor, who inwardly resented
it. Shoosan did not rise, but sat round in her chair, with a complacent
smile on her little wizened face, and smoothed her black alpaca apron, which
had given place to the wise-like white linen one that had offended the taste
of the now fastidious Erskine. Shoosan had but the one son, and her later
years were made a burden to her trying to live up to him, to ape a gentility
of which she knew nothing, and to make plain things, good and pleasant in
their way, seem other than they were. It had given her wee, wizened face a
weary look, and her bright black eyes a restless gleam. At Erskine's
suggestion she had abandoned, with her white apron, many of the household
duties in which her soul really delighted, and instead of bustling about in
her short-gown at milking times, she now sat in the parlour with a black
gown on and white linen cuffs with a lace edge, fretting her soul out lest
Mrs. Beaton and Annie should not be particular with the strippings, and
trying to convince herself that she was the lady Erskine so ardently desired
his mother to be. She stood in slavish fear of the boy she had borne, and
was not so happy as she had been in the days when he had run a bare-foot
callant in moleskin breeks to the Beild school.
a' the day east the toon ? " she inquired rather absently. " This is a
letter frae Erskine. He'll be hame frae the college neist month, but he's
gaun to spend a week first wi' ane o' the Professors, at his hoose at the
said Marget grimly. " I houp he'll be muckle the better o' it."
writes a fell fine letter, but it's no very easy to read, an' he's seekin'
siller. Dauvit's gey an' near, Marget," said Shoosan, in a most unusual
burst of confidence. " He'll be as thrawn ower sendin' a pound or twa to the
laddie as if he had a dizzen to weart on."
them as has gentlemen sons maun pay for them," said Marget flatly.
" I hae a
bit by me, if Dauvit should be mair thrawn than ordinar'. There's nae use
makin' a fule o' the laddie. An' naebody kens what micht come o' him gaun to
vusit the Professor. It micht mak' his fortin, but Dauvit says it wad set
him a bonnie sicht better to come hame an' how the neeps. He hasna a soul
above neeps, Erskine says, an' he's no faur wrang."
Erskine'll never be as guid a man as his faither, Shoosan," said Marget
bluntly. " An' you're a puir silly body to encourage him to mak' a fule o'
reddened, and the black bugles in her headdress jingled ominously.
" I didna
ask your opeenion on Erskine that I'm aware o', Marget. Ye can keep it or
you're speirt for't," she said with great dignity. " What, micht I ask, gied
me the honour o' a ca' the nicht ? "
" Oh, it
wasna you I wantit. I cam' to pay the seed I got; but as Binns is no in,
I'll see him again," said Marget. " But there's wan thing I maun say afore I
bid ye guid-nicht, Mistress Nicoll, an' that is, if it's you that's settin'
Erskine, puir silly cratur, against my niece, Jeanie Morison, neither you
nor him'll get aff wi't."
which ominous threat Marget carried herself off with a great deal of
dignity, her head high in the air, and wrath blazing in her soul. Thus was
war declared between the east and west of the Beild.