Tuesday morning Jess Lockhart, cleaning the windows of the school-house,
beheld the Binns gig with the piebald pony drive down to the Manse gate, and
there stand in waiting for somebody. She instantly suspended operations to
go and interview Peter Christie, the Binns halflin, who was in charge
thereof, wearing his Sabbath jacket over his moleskin waistcoat.
are ye for, Pate ? " she inquired anxiously. " Is the minister gaun frae
to tak' him till the twal train at Kirklands, an' it'll be ane or I get hame
to my denner." __
" Is he
for Pithorn, d'ye think ? " inquired Jess, wiping the point of her nose with
her duster, which being saturated with whiting wrought a change in her
" I dinna
ken, Jess. Ye can bide or he comes oot an' speir," said Peter, who had no
manners to speak of, and never made any unnecessary display.
minister's Easy gey close, Pate.
I saw her
at the well no an hoor ago, an' she never said Minister. It's no neeborly."
folks waur for clashes than ithers, Jess," said Pate suggestively, and at
that moment Easy appeared carrying a by-ordinary large portmanteau, whereat
Jess positively glowered. Being offended with Easy, however, she stepped
back to the schoolhouse dyke, against which she leaned with her arms folded
across her ample bosom, ready to take an inventory of the entire
not to be thought that so rare an occurrence as a hurried jaunt of Mr.
Bowman should be allowed to pass unnoticed, and presently the schoolhouse
dyke had its row of interested watchers speculating on the affair after the
manner of their kind. Easy, with a lofty look of unconcern, pushed the
portmanteau in at the back of the gig, and then brought out a plaid strapped
up together with a stick and an umbrella.
there's his lum hat-box," said Jess excitedly. " It's a flittin'; mebbe he's
g'wa to be mairret 1"
goods and chattels being stowed away, the minister came out last, said a few
words to his housekeeper, with whom he shook hands, putting something into
her palm as he did so, and jumped into the gig, just as the children swarmed
out of the schoolroom door for their " leave." Bruce, observing the gig, had
let them out ten minutes earlier than usual, to say good-bye to Mr. Bowman,
and he strode across the playground and over the road to do so.
not occupy long, and though the ladies ranged along the dyke strained their
ears they could not hear their talk, and presently Pate Christie said " Gee
up!" to the piebald, and the little gig rumbled off, the minister waving his
soft hat amiably to his interested neighbours.
expected, he was waylaid by Jess and her friends.
minister's for jauntin' the day, surely. Whaur's he aff till ? an' wull he
be hame for Sawbath Day ? "
won't," replied Bruce. "He's away to France."
a laugh he escaped into the schoolhouse. Before one o'clock it was through
the Beild that the minister was away to France, and it was the unanimous
opinion that he had no business to take such a serious step without due
announcement and provision. It was astonishing the sudden concern for their
spiritual welfare which sprang up in the Beild now that they were without a
spiritual adviser, and Tam Pitbladdo, the postman, who was the ruling elder,
threw out sundry dark hints about the bar of the Assembly, which were only
partially understood by the most of those who heard them, and were therefore
received with awe. The only person who knew where Mr. Bowman had really gone
was Bruce, and he was not likely to let on; it gave him a kind of inward
satisfaction to see the Beild dashers nonplussed for once.
week wore on the unjustifiable absence of the minister was somewhat lost
sight of in the middle of another tremendous excitement which sprang up
about Friday, that Erskine Nicoll was to preach in the Beild kirk on the
Sabbath Day. This, in the eyes of Tam Pitbladdo at least, was the crown to
the week's wrong, and it was as good as a ploy to hear him in his own shop
on Saturday night, as he weighed out his butter and cheese and tea, never
too absorbed to let the scales balance a hair's breadth too much —Tam being
notorious for his jimp weight, but having a monopoly of trade in the place
could laugh at complaints.
Erskine Nicoll thinks I'm gaun to tak* up the Buik till him, an' staun or he
swaggers up into the poopit, he's mista'en," he said firmly. " I'll bide in
my bed wi' a sair heid first; but I'll no dae't."
there's plenty'll be betherell on Sawbath, Tam, jist for the fun o' the
thing," said Big Sandy Morison, who, attracted by the crowd in Tarn's shop,
looked in, though he was on his way to Bawbie's. He was standing at the very
outside of the door, but, being so tall, could look right over and down on
the bald head of Tam, as he stood in his grimy, dirty apron and sleeves
behind the counter. Tam was a bachelor man likewise, and abode with his
mother, who was too old to redd things up, so that the shop was an eyesore
to sundry housewives, and they would have removed their custom had there
been anywhere else to take it.
look weel yoursel', Sandy," cried somebody. " Wull ye tak' Tarn's place if
he dinna turn up ? "
" Oo ay.
I'm no a kirk-ganger, but I'm gaun to hear Erskine. I'm thinkin', Tam, ye'll
need to bring ower the skule furms ; there'll be sic a crood."
fear o' that, man," said Tam sourly. " Wha's gaun to listen till an
im-pident gowk like Erskine Nicoll ? Wha's he, I shuld like to ken, that he
shuld preach till his betters ? "
same, Big Sandy was right. There never had been such a crush in the Beild
kirk even on the induction Sunday, and though the school forms were not
requisitioned, every pew was crammed to its utmost capacity. In spite of his
protestations, Tam was present in his Sunday broadcloth, now growing a
trifle green, with the kist creases in the breeks and across the back of the
coat as usual. Every Beild cratur that could walk or hirple, except Binns
himself, was in the kirk that bonnie summer morning. No, stay; somebody else
was absent; and the first thing Bruce noticed when he sat down in the
precentor's box was that Jeanie Morison was not in her accustomed place. In
the second back seat on the right-hand side, just before the minister's
Easy, sat Mrs. Nicoll, with a stiff black silk gown on, a yellow straw
bonnet with magenta velvet ties, and lavender kid gloves, which was
considered a most indecent exhibition on a Sabbath Day. While Binns at home
was smoking unlimited pipes of black tobacco, and expectorating through
nervousness to such an extent that the fire nearly went out with the deluge,
his wife, serene and ineffable in her conscious pride and belief in her son,
sat bolt upright in her seat, except when she gave her gown a bit rustle for
the benefit of those near at hand, and flourished her scented hanky above
her magenta strings—the proudest mother and happiest woman in all the Beild
kirk. She felt when she looked round on the crowded kirk that it was worth
all she had suffered at the hands of the unsympathetic Binns, and that she
had nothing else left to wish for in this world.
jingling bell rang in, and though it was customary for Tam Pitbladdo to
bring up the Book before the last twang, the vestry door never opened, and a
visible excitement trembled over the entire congregation.
reason of the delay was a war of words between Tam and the young
probationer, because Tam had laid out the minister's old pulpit gown instead
of the new one, and Erskine had flatly declined to wear it. It ended in
victory for Erskine, and presently, three minutes behind time, and looking
very hot and excited, Tam opened the vestry door and marched out with the
Book, which he laid down on the cushion with a bang which made the dust rise
quite distinctly, and caused sundry nudgings, while Big Sandy audibly
requested Leeb to observe how Tam's birse was up. I fear there was but small
reverence abroad in the congregation, to whom the sight of Erskine Nicoll in
the Beild pulpit was more of a ploy than a religious exercise. Had Mr.
Bowman realised the feeling of the place regarding
it is certain he would not have allowed him to fill his pulpit.
down the stairs slowly, and stood back in the passage, which was most
unusual. It was evident he did not intend to shut the pulpit door on
Erskine; as he remarked afterwards, " he had to draw the line some gait."
But Erskine was quite equal to shutting the door on himself, or doing
anything else, and he emerged out of the vestry door, looking well, even his
enemies were obliged to admit, in the flowing robes which were so becoming
to their own minister. Erskine was big and well made, and had a ruddy, open
countenance, an abundance of yellow hair, and a light blue eye which gave
him a particularly innocent and childish look. Standing directly above Bruce
Rymer, the contrast between them was distinctly marked, and there could be
no doubt where the intellect lay, if outward appearances are to be trusted.
But Erskine was beyond doubt " a bonnie man," as they said in the Beild; his
skin was like milk and roses, and he had a fine, loud, ringing voice, which
filled the kirk.
Nicoll, wee, wizened body that she was, not given to exhibitions of emotion,
felt her eyes growing wet as he stood up to give out the psalm, and felt
angry with herself, for it was no occasion for tears, and she feared the
neighbours would see them. Although the circumstances were admittedly
trying, Erskine did not betray the smallest nervousness, either in voice or
look. He gave out the psalm and read it calmly, in a straight, even voice,
in which Bruce listened in vain for some sympathetic modulation— and so
throughout the service. Everything was done decently and in order, and with
the sermon nobody could find fault. It was well expressed and well
delivered, none of the heads or points forgotten ; but it did not contain a
single original thought, or a word which could thrill or touch the heart. He
delivered it in the same high, clear, even tone from start to finish, and
long before " thirdly " half the heads were down on the board and the
familiar smell of Tam Pit-bladdo's extra-strong peppermints pervaded the
drowsy air. After all, the show had been a trifle disappointing. Erskine did
nothing exciting, did not even advance a single doctrinal point on which Tam
and the Session could meet to discuss.
Nicoll was a trifle disappointed at the extreme haste with which the
congregation dispersed, as she had pictured herself holding a kind of
congratulatory levee at the kirk door. It was a grievance of Mr. Bowman's
that the congregation dispersed with too much haste. It was a common sight
to see the lads, with one leg outside the seat, standing with hat in hand
while the Benediction was being said, and before Amen they were out the
door. Long before Erskine had got into his long black coat, which he thought
became him mightily, the entire congregation had dispersed, and only his
mother waited for him, though some looked back as they went down the road,
had her nose glued on to her kitchen window. Bruce, who had a kindly,
generous vein in him, went up to Mrs. Nicoll as she stood at the door, and
said to her pleasantly,—
be a proud woman to-day, Mrs. Nicoll. Erskine did well, and he wasna
nervous. Had I been in his shoes, I couldn't have been so calm."
can dae needna be nervish, Bruce," she said with
dignity. " Yes, Erskine did well, an' I wish his gowk o' a faither had but
heard him. Ye'll tell him what a fine discoorse we had, Bruce, for he winna
believe me ? "
I'll tell him ; an' so will many more, I make no doubt."
then Erskine came round from the side door, followed at a dour distance by
Tam, with his nose in the air.
smiled, and offered his hand to his old friend, determined not to let any
spirit of rivalry make him act dog in the manger.
Erskine, you've got your trial over, and finely too. Man, how did you feel ?
I was a bit nervous myself, till I heard you speak."
was there to make anybody nervous ?" queried Erskine loftily, as he shook
hands but limply. " I didn't do justice to my subject. You see, in a place
like this, one always has the feeling of preaching over the people's heads."
just the sort of speech to make Bruce put up his back, which he immediately
was a wheen o' them sleepin', onyway," he said, in his broadest Scotch. " I
gied a bit nod mysel' when I lost the thread o' your discourse. I never fand
it again, though I tried hard ; but that was maybe my faut, as I'm a Beild
body like the lave."
did not like sarcasm, and never knew how to reply to it.
mother, and let's home," he said imperiously, and turned his back on Bruce,
which did not put him much about, as he went laughing in at the schoolhouse