NICOLL had been at home a week and had not been east the Beild—in other
words, he and Jeanie Morison had never met. The Professor with whom he was
on such good terms had a house at the coast about three miles from Pithorn,
and in a week he had been there three times. When Saturday night came a
minister from Edinburgh arrived at the Manse, which meant that Mr. Bowman
would not be at home for another week at least.
after milking time on the Saturday night, Mrs. Nicoll was electrified to
behold Leeb Morison, Big Sandy's wife, coming up the front garden at Binns.
She went to open the front door to her, feeling inwardly somewhat perturbed,
though she was too diplomatic to show it. Leezbeth was dressed in her best,
and, so far as the mistress could judge by her face, did not seem to be in
an ill key, which she quite expected, believing she had come to interview
ing Jeanie. But Leeb had had too much to occupy her that week to think as
much about Jeanie as she might otherwise have done. Leezbeth was the same
figure of a woman as her sister Marget, only better-looking, and could look
you straight in the face, which Marget couldn't, on account of the cast in
Guid-e'en, Shoosan; I houp you're a' weel," she said, in neighbourly enough
fashion, which relieved the mistress so much that her manner became quite
fine, thank guidness; hoo's a' wi' yoursel's, Leezbeth ? " she said affably.
' Come in
to the ben end ; the kitchen's aye ower thrang at this time."
" I cam'
roon' expeckin' to find ye in the byre, Shoosan ; but Beaton's Annie tells
me ye dinna milk noo. D'ye lippen her an' her mither to measure and strain
the milk an' a' ? "
I've had my day o' the byre, Leeb, an' I'm takin' my idle-set noo, which
Erskine says I've airnt."
though some o's that's airnt it disna get it taen," said Leeb drily. " Losh
1 Shoosan, whaur's the bed ? I never heard ye'd potten't awa'. Whaur do you
an' Dauvit sleep noo ? "
" Up the
stair," replied Mrs. Nicoll, looking round with great pride on the space
formerly occupied by the box bed, and which now contained a mahogany
cheffonier with a glass back.
certy, you're braw," said Leezbeth rather drily, yet not with that extreme
acerbity which Marget must have exhibited at such a sight.
did ye get this michty fine business ? The news is no east the Beild yet."
" It only
cam' the day. Erskine bocht it in the Kirklands. He said it wasna fittin'
that we shouldna hae a room in the hoose withoot a bed in't."
" Um! how
does Binns like to see a muckle-lookin' gless whaur his bed was ? " inquired
Leezbeth interestedly. " There's no the like o' this nearer than Strathairn,
I could wager ; the very minister hasna a gless back till his sidebrod. Eh,
Shoosan, ye're an unco 'ooman, an' if ye heard a' they say i' the Beild ye'd
be mad, but I never meddles wi' business that's no mine. I'm aye tellin' Mag
that; but, certes, she's gotten her hands fou noo. Ye've heerd the news, I
suppose ? "
" No ;
whatten news ? "
Mag's gaun to be mairret. That's what I'm here for the nicht—to bid ye, you
an' Binns an' Erskine, on Thursday aicht days at aicht o'clock."
till what ? " inquired Mrs. Nicoll, in a dumfounded voice, by no means
comprehending her neighbour's meaning.
Mag's waddin'. Her an' Dod Aitken's gaun to mak' a match o't, an' it's to be
in oor hoose Thursday aicht days—that is if the minister's hame, no onless."
save's a', Leeb; it's lees you're tellin'."
lees? I wush it was," said Leezbeth, with some bitterness. " I said till her
she has lookit lang an' liftit little. I wadna pick the cratur up wi' the
taings; but Mag's set on him, an' mairret they're gaun to be."
Nicoll was not that taken up with her own affairs that she could not feel a
lively interest in this exciting piece of news, which had been so well kept
by the parties concerned that Leezbeth's bidding was the first inkling
anybody had of it. And Mrs. Nicoll was the first to hear it, Leeb having
come direct to her out of compliment to Dauvit's standing in the place.
There is a good deal of etiquette of a kind in the Beild, especially
regarding such family events as death, birth, or marriage, and any breach of
the same is immediately resented, and not quickly forgiven. I could tell you
some queer tales anent that, but must get on with my story.
Jeanie's to be the best maid, and Mirren Tosh's makin' her a book-muslin
frock wi' a pink sash. Naething'll ser' Mag but a new drab silk made in the
Kirklands. But the titbit o'd a's aboot Dod. Ye'll no guess it, Shoosan, so
ye needna try."
" Tell me
it then, if I canna guess. I hinna muckle to say, Leezbeth, for I'm fair
dumfoondered. Marget and Dod Aitken ! Certy, I never heard the like o'd."
say'd. Aweel, last Sawbath nicht, the same nicht Erskine preached— an' fell
weel he did it, Shoosan, I'll say that for him, though there's a heap o'
lees gaun through the Beild aboot his sermon— weel, that nicht, after
darkenin', Dod slips ower to Mag. It was a' settled atween the twa some
afore this of coorse, an' he has his stockin'-fit wi' him—you've heard that
among the clashes afore noo, Shoosan —an' in the stockin'-fit hoo muckle,
" Eh ? I
dinna ken ! " cried the mistress, leaning forward panting in her eagerness.
hunder an' thirty-twa pounds, seeven-teen shillin's, an' aichtpence !" said
Leezbeth with exultation, for this fact, which she now announced for the
first time, by her sister's permission, redeemed the bridegroom from the
reproach of being a complete wastrel, and had been the sole means of
reconciling Leezbeth herself to the wedding.
" An' Mag
says she wadna wunner but there's mair. Wad ye 'a' thocht it, Shoosan ? "
" 'Deed I
wad not. Ye wadna gie tippence for Dod as he stands, even in his Sawbath
claes. Weel, weel, this is news, an' nae mistak'! Surely no mony folk ken,
or Beaton's Annie wad hae heard it in the milk-hoose or aboot the doors ? "
" I tell
ye naebody kens. Ye're the first I've telt an' the first I've speirt. I'm
gaun doon to Andra Wricht's noo. Eh, wummin, I wish Nanse could 'a' gane,
puir body 1 D'ye mind hoo blithely she danced when you an' Binns were
mairret ? No that'll it'll be news till them, for Mag telt Nanse afore me."
" Ay, ay;
sit a wee, wummin; it's no often ye gie's a look in," said the mistress
pressingly. " I'll bring the cheese an' the scones, an' a bit o' Erskine's
Edinburgh shortbread. He's no a bad laddie; he aye minds his mither."
weel he micht," said Leezbeth fervently. " I wadna mind a nip o' the
short-breid an' a drink o' milk. No, thank ye, I'm no for whusky. I've ower
mony hooses to gang till. I say, Shoosan, d'ye think that I maun bid the
" 'Deed I
dinna, for if Mr. Booman bides till his tea or supper, or whatever it is
you're goin' to hae, it's no to be expeckit he shuld like to eat wi' Easy;
she's but a servant when a's dune, Leezbeth."
hae to think ower't. But you an' Binns an' Erskine'll come, I houp?"
Dauvit an' me'll come," said the mistress, as she opened a drawer and
carefully unrolled the shortbread from one of Dauvit's red-and-white
handkerchiefs. " But I dinna ken aboot Erskine; he's awfu' thrang wi' the
Morgans—Professor Morgan, ye ken, o' the university; he's there the day."
aboot that ? I'm faur frae believin' what they say aboot Erskine—that he's
chock fu' o' pride, an' looks doon on the Beild. Jeanie wadna think it a
ploy at a' withoot Erskine."
which showed that Leezbeth still believed absolutely in Erskine, and thought
he and Jeanie as chief as ever. It was a kind of painful moment for the
mistress, and she was some glad to go to the milk-house for a jug of milk
for her neighbour, and when she returned they began to talk of something
drunk a good tumbler of milk, and praised the shortbread as much as was
necessary, she departed over to Andra's, leaving Mistress Nicoll in a mixed
frame of mind.
she had never spoken Jeanie's name to Erskine, she saw quite well that he
was very lukewarm concerning her, never having noticed even her absence from
the kirk. And as Shoosan Nicoll was a woman who could not brook any
uncertainty of mind, she determined to get his views that very night when he
should return. Leezbeth's urbanity did not in the least deceive her, and she
feared to think of what might happen when the angry mother should be
compelled to see the slight offered to her bairn.
herself of these uncomfortable thoughts, she went out to seek Binns, who, as
usual, being a very strict master, was superintending the suppering of the
horses; and having found him, electrified him with the invitation she had
a man of few words at all times, unless when roused, when he could command a
choice of language quite startling. His only comment was a slow grin, which
overspread his unshaven face and gave it a very comical look. Binns, like
most other Beild men, the minister and Bruce excepted, regarded shaving as a
duty incumbent only on Sabbath Days. By Saturday night he presented a very
shaggy appearance, and was not an object beautiful to behold.
very well there would not be much opportunity for private talk after Binns
and all the men and Beaton's Annie should be indoors, the mistress put a
little shawl over her head and went a bit over the fields to see if she
could meet Erskine coming from the Kirklands. She had to go a good way
before she saw through the gloaming his long black figure striding up the
end riggs of Greig Watson's potato-field. It being Saturday night and
midsummer, the last train from east the coast was of course a good few
minutes late. Erskine walked swinging his arms, his soft, round, clerical
hat drawn over his brows, and his eyes fixed on the ground, as if in deep
meditation. He never saw his mother until she was quite close to him, at the
slap in the hedge through which he had to crawl into the road.
mother, did you think I was lost, or is anything up ? The train was
twenty-five minutes late at Pithorn station. It'll be near midnight before
it gets to Edinburgh."
Saturday nicht. No, I didna think ye were lost; but I want to speak to ye,
Erskine. Leeb Morison was ower the nicht, biddin' us to Mag's mairrage; an'
wha d'ye think she's gan to mairry but that wastrel Dod Aitken ? At her time
o' life too 1 She micht think shame. It's on Thursday aicht days at Leeb
Morison's, an' she wants us a' to come."
did not at once reply, and an expression of faint contempt crossed his face.
By contrast with the home he had left, how vulgar and coarse seemed
everything belonging to the Beild, even his mother, though she was dressed
as best she knew how to imitate a lady, because he desired it.
Erskine 1 he did not know that that feeling of contempt for what was genuine
and simple marked him off from the roll of gentlemen for evermore. He was
but a silly laddie, without experience of life, and unable to distinguish
between the false and the true gentlehood.
should be stopped by Act of Parliament," he said crossly. " Surely you won't
" No gang
! What for no ? I wadna missed for onything; it'll be the grandest ploy.
There's something I want to ask you, Erskine. Are ye off or on wi' Jeanie
Morison ? "
reddened, and flung up his head with a slightly defiant air. " What do you
mean, mother ? "
" Eh ?
fine ye ken what I mean," she replied, more sharply than she had spoken to
him for a long time. "Ye were thrang aince. Did ye ever say mairrage till
Jeanie ? That's what I want to be at."
" If I
did, it was but in fun, and when I was too young to know my own mind," said
Erskine gloomily. " A man ought not to be held to such silly speech before
he has had any experience of life."
you've changed your mind aboot Jeanie, an' dinna think she's the wife for ye
noo ? " said his mother shrewdly, wishing to come directly to the point.
" Do you
think yourself, mother, that she'd be a suitable wife for me ? Of course
she's a very nice girl. I have no fault to find with Jeanie, but the Beild's
the place for her."
" I'll no
say ye're wrang, Erskine. But, megstie me 1 if ye pit a slicht on Jeanie
Morison, there'll be nae livin' in the Beild. But I say, Erskine, I'll stick
to ye through it if ye'll tell me the truth. Are ye thinkin' on ony o' the
Miss Morgans ? "
Nicoll said this in rather an awe-stricken voice, regarding the Professor
and his daughters much the same as she regarded the Queen on the throne.
hesitated a moment, looked sheepish, and finally told a big lee. " Yes, I am
; I believe I've but to ask Lily Morgan an' she'd say aye. Would I not be
worse than a fool to let such a chance slip by me ? Why, if she were my
wife, my fortune would be made, and I'd soon be in a professor's chair
" It wad
be fair fleein' in the face o' Providence," she assented eagerly. " But,
mercy me! ye ken what the Morisons are ; as weel hae a regiment o' savages
on yer tap as them."
" I wish
you'd find out how Jeanie is disposed, mother; perhaps she won't really
weel, my man; I'll dae that. Meantime, were I you, I wad be some friendly at
the east end, an' no jist gie them a fricht a' at aince. Leave the rest wi'