myself entirely," she said at length. " She has been well so many months
that I was thrown quite off my guard. Last Tuesday I went to Wester Cairn to
inquire after Lady Leslie, who has been so ill, and when I returned I found
that my mother had ordered the carriage. Meldrum said she had gone to make a
call at Fordoun. That I thought quite unlikely, it being nearly two years
since we had any friendly intercourse there. My mother never forgave the
Colonel, you know, for having told her bluntly one day that she should be
regarded as an irresponsible person and placed under restraint. As the
evening wore on I got frightfully anxious, as you may know, and sent Meldrum
to Fordoun. As I expected, she had never been there. You can imagine my
state of mind, as I did not know what direction to go in search of her.
Between ten and eleven o'clock at night the carriage returned ; they had
never been farther than the Blackwater Inn, Mr. Bowman, at the west side of
the Corbie. The rest you can guess."
colour painfully rose. Long experience of a bitter curse had not lessened
its sting. Euphame Dempster was a proud woman, and this was a genuine
martyrdom to her.
explanation did the groom give ? Could he not have come home sooner ? "
couldn't; he is quite young, and of course when his mistress ordered could
only* obey. If Meldrum had been at home the carriage would not have been
taken out, but he was at the Airn making some garden arrangements with
Dougall; and of course after my mother got a certain amount she lost her
self-control, and nobody dared touch her till she fell asleep. Then they
lifted her in of course, and drove home. I feel very bitter at the landlord
of the Black-water. Our sorrow has been the gossip of the country-side too
long for him to plead ignorance. It is a shameful affair altogether, and I
sometimes feel that I cannot bear it much longer, Mr. Bowman. I have not the
patience I should like to have with my mother, and I wished to ask you
whether you think I ought to take the advice so many friends have given, and
place her under restraint."
minister perceived that her long patience and tenderness, at which many had
marvelled, had been more sorely tried than usual, and he was hard put to it
to keep his sympathy within due bounds.
" What is
her condition now ? " he asked, evading her question at the moment.
Prostrate. Doctor Cumming was here this morning, and he says she is very ill
indeed. Although it grieves me to see her apparently so spent, anything is
preferable to the scenes we have witnessed this week. You have seen her in
delirium before, Mr. Bowman, but she has never been so bad. Both the doctor
and I were convinced that she must be getting secret supplies, and we at
last found out that the new kitchen-maid —an Airn girl too, Mr. Bowman—had
been fetching it to her. Of course she left the house the moment we
discovered it. Oh, what a curse it is! It has changed my mother's very
nature. You cannot remember her as I do, when I was a young girl, before my
father died. No one who did would recognise her now."
appeared to find relief in talking ; the shadow on her brow grew less dark,
the stern strain of the mouth less marked.
you like to come up ? I wish you would. It is a part of my grief that my
mother can scarcely suffer me in the room ; she regards me as her enemy. Of
course I know it is but the frenzy of a disordered brain, but it is at times
hard to bear."
a step to the door and opened it, the minister following her silently. His
lips were sealed; words of commonplace sympathy seemed out of place—anything
else he dared not utter. Never had he felt the hardness of his position so
keenly; and he told himself bitterly, as he followed her upstairs, her soft
skirts brushing him at every step, that it would have been better to have
disregarded the summons or sent an excuse. He could not offer the ordinary
pastoral comfort, or even the sympathy of a friend, when his heart was full
to overflowing of something else, which threatened to sweep him before it
like a great flood.
thoughts were interrupted by their entrance into Mrs. Dempster's bedroom,
which, directly above the library, corresponded with it in size. The bed, a
large four-poster, stood out towards the middle of the room, and propped
high among her pillows reclined the old lady, looking worn and spent indeed,
though her black eyes were more restless in their movements than those of a
weasel. A scowl of indescribable dislike contracted her brows when her
daughter entered the room, but when she saw the minister behind it passed,
and a silly simper, like the bridling of a bashful school-girl, took its
place. She had always been a vain woman, coquettish by nature, and in her
unlovely age had not outlived her weakness.
me, Mr. Bowman," she said shrilly, " that I should have to receive you here
is far from what I should like, but that is how I am treated in my own house
by the limmer I have borne. She shows gentlemen in upon me without ceremony,
without so much as asking whether I want a clean bedgown or mutch."
embarrassing. Euphame shut the door, and went into the adjoining
dressing-room. Mr. Bowman approached the bedside and sat down. Thinking her
daughter out of hearing, Mrs. Dempster raised herself on her elbow and
became extraordinarily confidential in her manner.
" It's a
wonder she let you up. She's an awful woman, Euphame Dempster—a perfect deil
in petticoats. She keeps a blue deil there in the wardrobe to torment me,
and lets him oot in the night-time to bite me an' nip me. I'm a puir auld
woman no long for this world, an' she'll gie me no peace. Could you no gie
her a word, Mr. Bowman ? She's fell fond o' the men. She might keep the blue
deil shut up if you telt her."
Bowman heard at this moment the quick shutting of a door, and felt relieved
to think that Miss Dempster had gone out of hearing. He sat a minute in
awkward silence, feeling how vain it was for him to say anything rational to
a creature evidently so distraught.
daughter is your best friend, Mrs. Dempster," he did say at length. "When
you are well again you'll be the first to say it."
gotten roond you too wi' her witch ways," she said fretfully. " Naebody'll
believe how she ill-treats me. She's put away Janet Bogie, a kind-hearted
Airn lassie, the only cratur in the hoose that wad do a hand's turn for me.
I say, Mr. Bowman, would ye do something to save an immortal soul, an' keep
a puir decent body frae the blue deevils ? Jist bring me a moothfu'—a
teaspoonfu' would do. My very inside's torn for want o't. Oh, dear Mr.
Bowman, bonnie Mr. Bowman, jist a drap to save my life—an' half the revenues
o' Strathairn will be yours. I can mak' anither will an' leave it a' past
Euphame, an' if she dinna treat me better I will."
minister was again at a loss what to say, and felt how useless was his
presence, almost worse than useless, since it gave Mrs. Dempster an
opportunity to rail against the daughter who had given up her life to watch
and tend her. When the old woman saw that nothing was to be got from the
minister she relapsed into sulky silence, relieving the monotony by making
grimaces and tearing the trimming of her nightdress to shreds. Though her
mind was painfully active her body was evidently far spent, her face being
absolutely colourless and her lips blue and pinched-looking. The minister,
who had sat by many death-beds, thought her end could not be far off. She
made no response to his kind words of farewell, and he went down the stairs
sadly, scarcely knowing what words of comfort he could take to the riven
heart of the woman below. She awaited him in the library, where Meldrum had
carried the tea-tray, and placed it on the table in the window.
said Miss Dempster, regarding him with a mournful, steadfast look as he
entered. " You have seen a pitiful change in my poor mother, Mr. Bowman ? "
" I have
; she appears to me like a person mortally stricken. Yours is a sore grief,
Dempster. I can only commend you to consolation higher than any to be found
It was a
speech common to his cloth, but it fell with deeper meaning from his lips,
which were singularly free from such set phrases. It was a case, however,
beyond human help, and he spoke from the sincerity of his heart. One tear
rolled down Euphame Dempster's cheek, and her strong hands trembled as they
busied themselves about the tea-tray.
very hard, Mr. Bowman," she said. " I—I am afraid I have lost my hold of the
consolation you speak of—at least, it seems to be too far off and shadowy to
be of any use to me in my trouble."
were sad words, yet were they re-echoed by the heart of the man who heard
them. How often had he, even while striving to administer the consolations
of religion to those in trouble, felt that his own extremity was almost
beyond them! That very morning, in his own pulpit, had he not preached a
strength and courage in which his own soul lacked sadly, and for which even
yet his conscience smote him ?
" I can
re-echo your words, Miss Dempster, being in sore trouble of my own," he
said, wondering if it would comfort her to know how fully he could enter
into her deep depression of soul. She turned round slightly, pausing in her
womanly occupation, and said with a gentle interest,—
trouble, Mr. Bowman ? I am sad to hear that. I should have thought that you
in the Beild Manse lived the quietest and least troubled of lives; is it not
at once, without let or hindrance, and with a deal of quiet passion which
carried them both like a flood, he poured out his troubles to her, beginning
at the very beginning, from the old college days when money had been so
scarce, and his father grudged him every penny for his clothing and his
keep. It was a moving tale to which Euphame Dempster listened, her woman's
heart melting within her for very pity of this noble soul, upon which the
load of human circumstance had pressed so heavily and long, until it was
forgotten myself sadly, I fear, Miss Dempster," he said, catching himself up
at last with a faint melancholy smile. " I ask your pardon. Seeing your
heroic bearing of a great sorrow made me mindful of my own, and I was fain
to unburden my mind. Pray forget it."
should I forget it ?" she asked, with a curious thrill in her voice. " It
has helped me already; 'it will help me, and make me ashamed of my own
fretful lack of patience. Now I understand many things, Mr. Bowman, and I
honour you as I have never honoured you yet."
the red flush to the minister's brow, and his eyes grew luminous with the
light of the passion in his soul. Suddenly he rose to his feet, for he felt
that if he remained a moment longer in the presence of this dear woman, he
must destroy his own peace of mind, and perhaps hers, for ever.
such haste ?" she asked in mild surprise, and, lifting her head, looked him
full in the face, he returning that look as fully. Then he turned about
quite silently, and went his way without a word of goodbye ; nor did she
seek to detain him. Only when he had clean gone away out of the house she
laid her head, so tired with long vigils and much weary thought, down upon
the table, and her tears fell. Why she wept she knew not, since in her heart
there was also a secret joy.
that long look the man's heart had not been hid from her. What the issue
might be she knew not; but to Euphame Dempster, from that golden Sabbath
evening, the world became a new place, whose dark shadows were illumined by
a light which Death itself cannot quench, even the light of Love.