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Homespun
Chapter V. Taking Counsel


THE two women were silent a few moments, regarding each other steadfastly.

"What 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."

There was 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.

" Weel 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 39 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."

It would 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.

"An' when, Marget, was this a' settled, micht I speir ? "

" Last nicht," responded Marget promptly. " I was sittin' at the fireside efter nine, thinkin' on gaun to my bed, when he cam'."

" An' speirt ye ? "

Marget nodded.

" He had a guid face, but I maun haud my tongue. What does Leezbeth say ? "

Marget 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."

" But ye'll hae to tell somebody," said Nanse perplexedly. "When is't gaun to be?"

" Afore hairst. We needna wait."

"An' I suppose he'll jist stap in to your fireside, Marget?"

" Jist that."

" Imphm."

Nanse 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.

" Ye'll 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."

"Eh 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."

But 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."

Nanse 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 matters.

"Ye're a 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."

"Weel 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?"

Nanse smiled that sweet slight smile which always seemed to say that such things were not worth troubling about.

"A' weel, 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."

Nanse 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.

" Eh, sirce, sic a clash i' the Beild it'll be as never was."

"Weel, 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 dark."

" Ay, dae that, Marget. Guid-nicht; I wush ye weel, my 'ooman, ye ken that."

She 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.

Nanse's 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.

Marget, 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.

" Maister in, Annie ? " queried Marget.

" No, he's no hame frae the Kirklands; but she's in."

" Does 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.

" Oh, 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.

" Hoo's 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 seaside."

" Imphm," said Marget grimly. " I houp he'll be muckle the better o' it."

" He 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."

"A' weel, 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' his faither."

Shoosan 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."

With 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.


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