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Chapter VI. Dod Cries Off

DOD AITKEN had had a good dram before he paid his visit to Marget Broon, and a glass out of her special bottle had further elevated him ; but he was by no means " fou," and when he left her house he knew that he had offered himself and been accepted. He regarded it, however, entirely in the light of a joke, and was some surprised to find no trace of his comrades, whom he had left waiting outside. Having heard the terrible news from Wee Sandy, Big Sandy Morison had slunk away home afraid to think of the consequences. Leezbeth had a flighting ready for him as usual, but he paid no attention to it; and even his daughter Jeanie could not rouse him out of the deep depression which had laid hold on him. How a couple so uncouth and so ill-assorted as Sandy and Leezbeth Morison could have had such a sweet bairn as Jeanie was a problem which might have puzzled a psychologist, had there been such a being in the Beild. She was indeed a bonnie sweet bairn, 48 comely to look at and having a lovely disposition. But for her the cottage would have been a miserable pandemonium, for the mother's temper was truly awful.

It was getting into the gloaming, and Jeanie was setting the lamp ready to light on the kitchen table, when her Aunt Marget came in hot and tired with her walk from the Binns.

"Whaur's yer mither, lassie?" was her question.

" In the gairden. We've been at the berries a' day, Auntie Mag. My! what a heap there is ! "

" But they're no ripe—at least, mine's no."

" They're ready for jam, mither says. I'll tell her you're here."

" Bide a wee or I get my breath," said Aunt Marget, dropping into a chair.

" You're tired, auntie ; wad ye like ony-thing ? Ye've surely been a faur gate," said the girl, with that kindly way peculiar to her.

" No me, only wast the toon at Nanse Wricht's an' the Binns, but I was washin' a' forenune," replied Marget, eyeing her niece keenly and with no small measure of affection. She was a pleasant bairn to look at, neatly clad, and with a colour on her cheek as pink and soft as a new-blown rose; her bright brown hair had a natural curl in it, and crept slily over her white brow, sometimes near to her bonnie clear grey eyes.

" I say, Jeanie," said Marget then, with more abruptness than usual, "when did ye hae a letter frae Erskine Nicoll ? "

Jeanie blushed deeply, and her fingers trembled slightly as she put the globe on the lamp.

" No for a long time, auntie; but he's very busy at the college I ken, an' he'll be hame sune."

"Ay," said Marget drily, and pursed up her lips. These signs in a young maiden indicating that the matter lay at Jeanie's heart sore angered Marget Broon, and she could hardly hold her peace.

" Dinna build yoursel', lassie, on men, for they're as fickle as the weathercock the wund blaws a' ways," she said wisely. " Weel, I'll awa'. Ye hinna heard ony-thing oot o' the common the day, hae ye ? "

Jeanie looked surprised.

" Naething partic'ler, Auntie Mag. What way are ye speirin' ? "

"Oh, naething. Ye'll maybe hear something sune. Come ower wi' your stockin' at nicht, Jeanie, an' you an' me'll hae a crack."

Somewhat surprised at her aunt's demeanour, Jeanie accompanied her to the door. At that moment Sandy, pipe in mouth, sauntered round the end of the house, and he gave such a start at the sight of his sister-in-law that his pipe fell to the ground.

" Guid sakes! hae ye never seen me afore, Sandy ?" she inquired with good-natured scorn. " I doot ye've gotten an attack o' the nerves."

Somewhat reassured, Sandy stooped down and stuck his pipe in his mouth.

" I hope you're weel, Marget. What's new wi' ye ? "

" Naething; at least, no muckle that's ony-body's business. Leezbeth's at the berries, Jeanie says. Daur a body speak till her ? "

" I wadna risk it; she's gotten a thorn in her thoomb an' an extra ane in her tongue," said Sandy slily, and laughing silently Marget took herself off. She had walked the whole length of the Beild, even loitering a little on the way, in the hope of seeing Dod; but had been disappointed. She now hastened home, making no doubt that he would be round to see her after dark, slipping in by the back way across Weelum Da'rymple's yaird. But Dod had no such intention, and that night passed, and some more nights, without bringing the renegade suitor to the back door. Marget began to wonder a good deal at this, and to fret a little; but it was not till Saturday night that she had an opportunity of asking an explanation. It was just at the darkening, and she had been round at Tam Pitbladdo's for her Sunday's tea and sugar and bit of cheese, which she was carrying in a little basket, when she came face to face at a corner with Dod, who was dressed rather better than usual, as if he had something out of the common to do.

" I suppose ye're comin' roond, Dod ? " she said graciously, and without any exhibition of coyness or shyness. " Ye've been gey an' lang aboot it."

Dod looked sheepish, but slightly determined, as he gave his jacket a curious hitch on to his shoulders.

" No, I'm 110 gaun roond, so ye're wrang."

" Ye're no vera ceevil, Dod, an' there's a heap to crack ower. Ye'd better come," she said calmly.

" I'll no. What for should I come ? " he demanded, now fairly roused.

Marget was by no means sweet-tempered herself, and she had a right to be angry; but she tried to speak calmly.

" Weel, Dod, efter a thing's settled I suppose a man does tak' it coolly, but I must say you cow the cuddie," she said good-humouredly. " Ye'd better tak' care, for fear I tak' the rue."

It was impossible to misunderstand her, and Dod, summoning all his effrontery, determined to be off with the woman there and then.

" Look here, Marget; it was only a ploy. Ye micht 'a' kent that. They beat me a hauf-soverin' in Bawbie's I wadna speir ye, an' I did. Ye'd better say nae mair aboot it."

Marget looked dazed, not taking it all in, and Dod was about to take advantage of her silence to make himself scarce, when she gripped him by the arm, her comely face transfigured by the passion of a woman scorned.

" I'd better say nae mair aboot it, had I ? We'll see aboot that. I'll hae the law o' ye, Dod Aitken, an' learn ye to mak' a fule o' me in Bawbie Windrum's."

"Ye can gang an' flyte them that's sib to ye, Mag," said Dod coarsely. "It was the Morisons did it; it was only a bit fun, ye gomeril, an' the quater ye keep the better."

Marget here released him as suddenly as she had gripped him, and stalked away. Dod cast a nervous glance at her over his shoulder, not liking her sudden collapse into silence. When he saw her enter her own house and shut the door he continued his way west, and his countenance wore a distinctly troubled air. For a wonder he passed by Bawbie's, and also Tarn Pitbladdo's, which was the post office and the village grocery store, and a great place for clashes of an evening. As he came up to the schoolhouse he saw Bruce Rymer, the schoolmaster, leaning up against his doorpost smoking a pipe, and watching his flowers, which he had finished watering. Bruce Rymer was a Beild laddie in one sense, having been sent a pauper child of two from Edinburgh to the care of a widow woman in the Beild, now dead. He had always been a sharp laddie, and had risen step by step till he was now master of the Beild school; nor did his ambition end there, though he kept his own counsel. He had not the Beild cast of features, which was a little inclined to coarseness and heaviness ; but was a slim youth, though well built, and his head was of that shape which warranted his ambition, for if ever brow and face gave evidence of intellect Bruce Rymer's did. He was a well-conditioned young fellow, simple in his tastes and happy in his manners ; the Beild folks were all fond of him, and proud of him too, though perhaps just a trifle more familiar than he always liked. It required all his skill and dignity to command his position among the bairns in the Beild school. Having no relatives in the world so far as he was aware, he elected to abide by himself, and Jess Lock-hart, a neighbour woman, did for him. He gave Dod a nod, and was some surprised when that worthy opened the gate and came up to the door.

"I want a word o' ye, maister. Can I come in by ? "

" Oh, certainly," the schoolmaster replied, and ushered him into the kitchen, which was also his living room, and very comfortable quarters too for a bachelor to inhabit.

" I've gotten mysel' into a scrape, Bruce —a wild scrape, wi' a wummin tae, deil tak' her," he began dolefully, scratching his head. " D'ye ken onything aboot the law, Bruce ? I'm in a bonnie fix."

Restraining his desire to laugh, Rymer sat down on the table and answered seriously,—

" I know a little. A scrape with a woman, Dod ! Man, I thought you were past all that."

" It was only a joke, but it's daith to play a joke wi' a wummin, especially on the mairry-in' question," said Dod forlornly, and thereupon related the tale of his woes, which sent Bruce into a roar of laughter, in spite of his effort to keep sober.

" She hasn't got any claim on you, Dod, I assure you—none at all," he said confidently. "So you needn't trouble your head about that. But I say, why don't you take the chance ? It's not every day a man gets the offer of such a comfortable home. Upon my word, Dod, if I was ten years older I'd go in for it myself. It's the very thing for you."

Dod shook his head.

" Are ye quite sure ? I was gaun up by to the minister, when I saw you. If ye're no sure I'll gang up yet, an' I've got my mind made up if he says I'm to mairry her —I'll gang ower to the Frees."

" Ye needna fash, Dod. Mr. Bowman couldna say other than I've said ; but you take my advice, and jump at the chance. Just think, if you have another illness like you had last winter, what a different thing to be nursed by your wife than to lie in the misery you did. Just go home, Dod, and think it over."

" But she has an ill tongue, they say, an' she's gey nippet wi' the bawbees—an' she'd pit the peter on me gaun to Bawbie's," said Dod, still scratching his head.

" She might do worse than that; you don't get any good at Bawbie's, Dod, and if she gives you your drappie at your own fireside, think how much better it would be."

" If she'd dae that. She keeps guid stuff tae, real Glenlivet, faur better than the best Brig. There's nae vitrol in her bottle," said Dod wistfully.

" Just try it, Dod; go straight back to Marget and make it up, and I'll be your best man," said Rymer, entering into the spirit of the thing, and wondering how it would end.

" A' weel, I'll see. You're sure she canna tak' the law o' me," he repeated, as he got up to go.

" Certain; and anyhow, you can't take the breeks off a Hielandman, Dod, unless it's true about that stocking-foot!"

Dod, however, was not to be drawn on this point, and with a rather grumpy goodnight he took himself off.

Rymer was sufficiently interested in this curious romance to take the trouble to follow Dod a bit down the Beild, far enough to see him slip round his own lane and across Marget Broon's back yard. Then, laughing silently to himself, he made tracks for the Manse, to tell the joke to Mr. Bowman.

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