Bruce noted the undertone of sadness in Mr. Bowman's sermon next day. He
preached from Job, and the words were singularly appropriate : " He shall
deliver thee in six troubles : yea, in seven there shall no evil touch
in the precentor's desk, where he led the singing, and he observed that
there were fewer nodding heads and a less drowsy atmosphere than usual in
the little kirk. Dod Aitken was absent, but Marget Broon sat in her own pew
behind her sister, wearing a new summer bonnet with big yellow strings and a
perfect flower garden of yellow roses on top, also a new shape of garment
never before seen in the Beild, and which greatly exercised the female
portion of the congregation. It was the first specimen of the dolman, not
long introduced by fashion.
Bowman could not refrain from a slight smile as he beheld this startling
vision, and he wondered whether Marget had donned her bridal clothes
beforehand. Bruce always dined at the Manse on Sunday, and as a rule they
spent the day together, taking a long walk in the evening sometimes to an
outlying clachan, where Mr. Bowman would hold a cottage meeting, at which
Bruce led the singing. It was a simple life, full of usefulness, and there
were few things these two did not discuss. Mr. Bowman, a man of large
culture himself, had carefully guided the taste of his young friend, and now
had in him a congenial companion as widely read as himself, and possessed of
a brilliant and daring imagination, which gave a peculiar zest to his
conversation. There were few better classical scholars in the Howe of Drum
indeed than the minister and the schoolmaster of the Beild.
their simple dinner that afternoon, they were sitting on the bench in the
Manse garden enjoying a lazy pipe, when Easy came to the back door.
a laddie frae Strathairn, Mr. Booman. Ye're to gang ower, he says, as shune
as ye can."
for, Easy ? Did he say what's the matter?"
" No him;
it's Eck Doogal frae the Airn smiddy, an' he's gotten a new dug wi' him on a
string—steelt it, I believe; but he says the Miss sent 'im for ye."
" Is he
away ? "
" Oo ay;
an' I jist stappit oot to see what he was up till, an' it was as I thocht;
nae shuner was he by the skule than he let the brute bang amang Jess
Lockhart's hens. My certy, if Jess catches him Eck'll wish he had tried some
other ploy for Sunday efter-nune."
thus delivered herself, Easy withdrew, and the minister took out his pouch
for another fill.
" It's a
long walk on a warm afternoon, Bruce. I wonder what can be up ? "
Mrs. Dempster has been better lately—at least, there's been no news of her
in the Beild," Bruce answered carelessly, not feeling any special interest
in the two ladies who abode alone in the old house of Strathairn.
" She has
been much better lately," said the minister. " Miss Dempster hoped it might
be the last attack. I hope it is not another, but I confess I was anxious
when I saw their pew empty this morning."
didn't notice they were absent; but you see everybody. Shall I walk with you
" I'll be
glad of your company across the moss, if you don't mind coming back alone."
don't, though I might go up to the Airn schoolhouse and wait for you there,
if you like."
" I think
not. I may be detained a while," replied the minister, and gave no other
reason, though the true one was that after a visit to Strathairn he was not
likely to be good company for anybody.
right," Bruce replied. " I'll cross the moss. Just let me go for Birse,"
Birse being the schoolmaster's dog, a poor specimen of a Scotch terrier, but
as wise as most human beings in the Beild—a
wiser, Bruce always said, than some of them. Between Birse and Raef, the
Manse collie, there was a kind of armed neutrality, which caused their
behaviour to each other to be marked by a great deal of dignity.
a powerful animal, who could very nearly have felled Birse with his paw; but
what the terrier lacked in size and strength he made up by his impudence,
which was colossal. He adored his master, however, and obeyed his every
walked leisurely across the green . and brown stretches of the moss under a
sky almost Italian in its blue softness, and somehow they had less to say
than usual. The dogs ran on ahead, Birse setting up his yelp at the seamews
which swooped gracefully overhead, their motions somewhat resembling those
of the swallow. At the far side of the moss they parted, the minister
continuing his way round the base of the East Corbie, while Bruce took a
book from his pocket, and, throwing himself on the soft, dry, heathery bank,
gave himself up to an hour's real lazy enjoyment.
followed the minister; and Birse, after sundry investigations of rabbit
holes, lay down too, with his white feet curled up under him and his eyes
blinking, half open and half shut.
minister had two miles farther to walk till he came to the Airn village— a
mere handful of houses, much more picturesquely scattered than the Beild.
The view from the Airn was really magnificent,
commanding the entire prospect of the fertile Howe of Drum, with its rich
farm lands, bonnie woods, and limpid streams. Mr. Bowman did not go through
the village, but taking a detour by the back of the smiddy, the home of the
impish Eck, entered a little wood, which had a short cut through to the
grounds of Strathairn. Strathairn was an old family house, which had
belonged for generations to the Dempsters—lairds in the Howe since the early
days of Scotch history, though the turmoil of the Covenanting times had
considerably reduced their patrimony. The house, however, though it had once
been in possession of Claverhouse's lawless dragoons, hunting for Dempster
of Strathairn and Hackstoun of Rathillet, supposed to be in hiding in the
neighbourhood, had not suffered at all, and was a picture of dignity and
beauty and repose. It had a wide lawn before its curious old doorway, and
its little diamond-paned latticed windows were wreathed in ivy of many
centuries' growth. The place was well kept and looked an ideal home, in
which happy and blameless lives might dritt to a peaceful close. It was very
familiar to the Beild minister, he being a frequent visitor to the ladies,
who, though not his parishioners, preferred his ministrations to the
slumbrous discourses of their own parish priest.
man-servant dozing in an armchair in the hall woke up when he heard the
minister's foot on the gravel, and came forward trying to hide his yawn.
Meldrum, how are you to-day ? " said the minister kindly. " I hope your
mistress is not ill again ?"
is she, sir," replied Meldrum sadly, for he had grown grey in the service of
the house, and its sorrows were his own. " A hantle waur than she's been for
a twelmonth, an' Miss Dempster's sair putten aboot."
" How did
she get it, Meldrum ? " asked the minister as he hung up his hat. " It's
long since Miss Dempster told me Strathairn cellars were empty."
" So they
are; there hasna been as muckle in them as wet a dry whustle sin' last
Mair-temas," replied Meldrum ruefully. Get it! Maister Booman, them that's
set on't can get it, Guid kens whaur. I whiles say to Elspet that they maun
be like Moses wi' the water in the wulderness—chap on the rock an' oot it
flees. Stap in, an' I'll tell the Miss ye are here."
held open the door of the library, and the minister stepped in. It was a
large, low-ceiled, pleasant room, walls panelled in carved oak, and the
furniture such as would have sent a lover of the antique into raptures over
the grace of the spindle-legged chairs and the wonderful carving of the
spoonbacks—to say nothing of the many-legged table in the middle of the
room, and the cabinet, a gem of the Sheraton period, standing against the
minister was left some time to his meditations, which were of a character
strangely mixed. He was glad of the little interval to recover himself from
the heat and fatigue of his long walk, and was still sitting with his arms
folded and his eyes closed when the door was gently opened and a lady came
in. Then he hastily rose, and there appeared on his face a curious
expression, an indescribable mingling of yearning and stern restraint which
almost amounted to pain. It had something of a reflex in the lady's face,
though she was entirely self-possessed, and greeted him with the quiet
courtesy habitual to her. She was no longer in her first youth, but looked
her eight-and-thirty years to the full. She had a tall, slender, and spare
figure, robed in a simple black gown; a grave, somewhat large-featured, but
attractive face, the eyes large, grey, and expressive, indicating both soul
and individuality ; her brown hair, which had a natural wave in it, was
dressed becomingly, and was worthy of admiration. Euphame Dempster looked
what she was—a gentlewoman, natural in appearance and manners, and who owed
nothing whatever to the charm of art.
afraid you have had a very long, weary walk, Mr. Bowman," she said, and her
voice was singularly sweet. " I hope you will forgive me having sent so
unceremoniously for you ; but I felt that I could no longer bear it alone."
minister deprecatingly waved his hand.
Dempster, say no more. It is a great deal to me that you should have thought
of me in your trouble," he said, a trifle formally, to hide the real emotion
which surged within his breast. " When did this unhappy outbreak take place
not immediately answer, but walked slowly to and fro the room, and he
observed that her hands were extremely nervous in their movements, and that
her strong mouth trembled more than once. Watching her, at once so womanly
in her pain, and yet so brave to endure what had been a lifelong humiliation
and sorrow to her, the minister's expression changed to one of tenderness,
so marked and unmistakable that, had she but glanced at him, the secret of
his inmost being must have been laid bare to her at once and for ever.