was but a stone's throw from the schoolhouse, standing in a roomy garden
which had a back door to the moss. The schoolhouse bounded its east side,
the Whins the west. The kirk itself was a most unpretentious building, more
resembling a barn than a place of worship. It had been built for a mission
hall, to accommodate the needs of a scattered population, removed three
miles from any parish church, and had at length been converted into a
quoad sacra parish, of which the Reverend Hugh
Bowman had been the first and only minister. He also was a bachelor. The
Beild was a byword indeed for bachelor men, and it was a common saying in
other parishes that the Beild was the only safe place for men who did not
want to marry. The Reverend Hugh Bowman, however, had his reasons, the best
of their kind, for his celibacy, which was to him a matter of simple duty.
He was the eldest of a large family of sons, and his mother was a widow. He
was licensed when his father, the manager of a shipyard down at the coast,
died suddenly; and there being nothing left, the chief burden of his young
brothers' education had fallen on him.
twenty years ago, and though comparatively speaking still a young man, the
minister was as far from marrying as ever, seeing he had still to contribute
largely to the support of his mother, and furthermore assist certain
ne'er-do-weels among his brothers, who sponged oif him as mercilessly as
leeches. He was a man of good parts, though by no means brilliant; he had
been "hauden doon a' his days," as Beild folk said, and a man constantly
under the heel of sordid care of the most grinding sort finds it difficult
to soar to ideal heights. He had the mind and the tastes of a scholar, but
none of the gifts of the popular preacher, and he had therefore never
succeeded in getting a better charge than the Beild, though for the sake of
his family he had sometimes tried. In his own soul he was fairly content
with his lot. If the people were simple and many of them ignorant, they were
unexacting and very kind to him after a fashion of their own, which he now
understood, though his first twelve months in the Beild had been a crucial
experience upon which he could now look back with amusement, though it had
been a very genuine discipline at the time. He had a Beild woman, also an
old maid, for a housekeeper—a decent body devoted to his interests and a
great deal more saving of his substance than he was himself. This person's
name was Isabel Blyth ; everybody called her " the minister's Easy."
minister's Easy knew the schoolmaster's rap, and just opened the door about
six inches when he knocked that night.
canna come in the nicht, Bruce Rymer," she said, with extraordinary
sharpness. " It's the back o' nine, an' he's no at 'thirdly' yet. His
supper's set, but he winna stir to eat it. Ye'd better wait or the morn's
right, don't snap off my head, Easy," said Bruce good-humouredly, but at
that moment the study door opened and the minister came out.
Bruce, come in. Fetch ben the coffee, Easy, and a cup for Mr. Rymer."
says you're not at ' thirdly' yet, Mr. Bowman," said the schoolmaster, with
a merry twinkle in his eye, as he glanced after the retreating form of Easy.
" It's only a joke I came to tell you, but it'll keep."
do me good, and make the coffee more stimulating. Come in, Bruce."
hung up his hat and followed the minister to the parlour door, which they
entered together; and it was then you might have seen what a big, powerful
frame the minister had, for though Bruce was by no means a small-man, he
looked so beside his
friend. Hugh Bowman was forty-seven, and looked his years to the full.
His hair was grey, as were the slight whiskers
which somewhat softened the long strong outline of his face. To live in such
a healthy place as the Beild he looked sallow and out of health; he suffered
indeed perpetually from biliousness, which perhaps made him look more
melancholy than he felt.
these two a strong friendship existed, born of interest on the one hand and
fervent gratitude on the other. Rymer often said that to Mr. Bowman he owed
all he was or could ever hope to become. As for the minister, the
companionship of such a young, bright, ardent soul, which knew not the
meaning of impossible or unattainable, had made his lonely existence in that
remote parish a more tolerable thing, and there was nothing of which he did
not believe his friend and
going to be a marriage in the Beild, Mr. Bowman;
and if you guess the contracting parties I'll make you a present of my
quarter's salary, though it's half mortgaged already for books."
marriage!" said the minister, as he stretched his long legs on the hard
horsehair sofa. " Faith, that's news. Guessing is always a disastrous
business for the unimaginative. Who's going to be married —not Erskine
Nicoll, surely, and Jeanie Morison?"
" No; I
haven't heard that
yet—have you ? "
I don't expect to. What a fool the laddie is! I saw him in Edinburgh on
Wednesday, and he minded me on nothing but that bantam cock that jumps about
Lockhart's door. But he'll come to his bit. Well, who is it?"
Broon for one. Now who do you think she'd wale in the Beild ? " " Marget
minister positively started, not crediting what he heard.
Broon! and who in the world is she going to marry ? "
you think of anybody ? " " James Thompson ? " Curiously enough the same
thought occurred to him as had often dwelt with Nanse Wricht.
You'll never guess, so I'll tell you— Dod Aitken."
Bruce, you never turned over a bigger Beild lee than that," said the
" It's no
a lee. Dod came to me in distress about half an hour ago," said Bruce, and
rapidly told the tale, finishing up with Dod's threat to " gang ower to the
" So you
think you've sent him to make it up ? " said the minister, when the laugh
was over. " Certes, ye've taken a responsibility on yourself which would
make me nervous. What a stir there'll be in the place if such a thing should
be! Man, women are queer creatures. Fancy a well-conditioned, independent
woman like Marget deigning to look at such a creature as Dod Aitken. It's
past finding out. I've gotten very ill news from Pithorn to-night, Bruce."
minister said these words, drawing at the same time a letter from his
pocket, an extraordinary change passed over his face, making it the face of
an old and careworn man.
" From my
mother, anent my brother Willie, the youngest at home. What do you think has
happened there ? "
shook his head. So many domestic worries had happened to the minister, and
so much ill news came from Pithorn, that it seemed impossible to think of
he's married, Bruce, secretly married, been for eight months and more, to a
bit servant lassie that was with my mother last summer; and he'll be a
father or he is twenty, and earning seventeen shillings a week. Is that not
enough to turn anybody's hair grey, Bruce Rymer, and put marriage out of the
fashion ? "
it is," said Bruce; but though he spoke so quietly his eye showed his
sympathy, which was not without its touch of comfort for the minister.
awful," said Bruce again—"awful. Your mother will be in a terrible way over
is—and coming so soon after Bob's affair. Oh ! Bruce, the mother of
fatherless boys is to be pitied; her sorrows ' come not single spies, but in
" But she
has aye you, Mr. Bowman, and that makes up for a lot."
tried to be a good son to her, but I'm whiles weary of it all, Bruce; the
poor woman has become fretful and complaining, her head half turned, I
believe, with her troubles. And Willie wants to bring his wife home to the
cottage, and my mother can't bide the thought, as is natural. I'll just have
to set them up with the few pounds I had laid by for something else."
up and took a stride across the floor. He was young and somewhat impatient,
after the manner of youth.
enough to make a man use bad language, Mr. Bowman, and were I you I'd leave
Willie to fight his own battle. You've done a sight too much for him
already, if you'll excuse me saying so, and I'd leave them all, except your
mother of course, to find their own level. I've heard you say yourself there
isn't a bit of gratitude in them."
there isn't much," saidMr. Bowman, with a slow, uncertain smile hovering
about his sad mouth. " Look at John, for instance; he has three hundred a
year up in Bradford, and married a wife with a thousand pounds, and all he
sends to my mother is a pound at New Year."
tell me any more, Mr. Bowman, or I will ' sweer,' as wee Jock Howie said in
the school one day. Upon my word, it's shameful, and I don't know where the
justice of Heaven is, for there isn't any on earth."
minister did not hear what his young friend was saying, for his heart was
wrung all in a moment by a painful vision of what, in happier circumstances,
might have been. He had given Bruce a very full confidence, but there was
one thing he had not told him, and would not yet.
not be in a hurry to answer this letter," he said. " My mother wants me to
go down to Pithorn on Monday, but I don't feel that I can. I might say
something to Willie that might better be left unsaid; all the talking in the
world won't make it any better now."
not, but all the same I'd pitch into him, if I were you, just to do yourself
good," said Bruce, but laughed as he said it at the idea of Mr. Bowman
pitching into anybody.
" He has
married her, Bruce; there's always something to be thankful for," he said. "
But, lad, I've no business to sadden you with my vexations. I daresay you
have your own to bear."
with one of his characteristic gestures, gripped him by the shoulder with
one hand, and with the other dashed something suspicious from his own eyes.
Mr. Bowman. Who made all my troubles light ? who's done everything for me?
who made me? I wish I had a hundred thousand pounds or were the Prime
Minister, that I could give you what you deserve."
worth something, Bruce," said the minister, as he gripped him fervently by
the hand. " Whatever I've done for you, and that's but little, you've repaid
me a thousandfold. Now let's talk of something brighter. So Dod's going over
to the Frees, is he ? What next ? "