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Chapter XVI. The Marrying of Dod Aitken

THE Beild was in a ferment. Long before eight o'clock all the bairns in the place, big and wee, congregated in the road before the Morisons' door; also sundry grown folk, chiefly women, who for reasons it would take too long to explain had not been bidden to the wedding. They were on the outlook for everything, though the bride was of course the principal object of attraction. She, however, having a good inkling of what it would be, had gone over to her sister's early in the day; and while they stood in a state of expectancy awaiting her arrival, she was being put into her new silk gown by her niece and bride-maiden Jeanie, assisted by two other lassies sib to the family. And it was no very easy job, for the Kirklands dressmaker, anxious to do credit to herself and the figure of her customer, had made it on the jimp side, and they were all red in the face before they got the waist buttons in. But after it was on, and Marget had taken a long breath and assured them "it wasna the least ticht," they could not but admire the effect, and say she was the brawest bride the Beild had ever seen. She had a broad lace collar round her neck, and a long gold chain, from which she had detached her father's silver turnip, lest it would make a baggy place in her bodice ; and there was a bunch of pink cabbage roses for her neck and another one for her hair, which, when arranged by Jeanie, gave her quite a young and festive appearance.

By half-past seven she was quite ready, white gloves and all, and sat down with her lace-bordered handkerchief neatly arranged in her hand, entirely satisfied with herself. Jeanie looked as sweet as one of the new-blown roses at her belt, and the whole Morison household was in a complacent frame of mind. Leezbeth, who had been a bit touchy in the earlier part of the day, when in the thick of preparations for the supper, was now mollified, and came in, dressed herself in her wedding gown, a white rustling silk with a lilac stripe, which had been newly, done up for the occasion, and looked truly imposing.

" Are ye a' ready ? Ye're face's a thocht reid, Mag. I hope your body'll no burst ower your supper. Yes, it's very nate, but gie me room. The table's set; ye'd better come an' see't afore they begin to come. There's naebody here yet."

They all trooped down the stair at this, Marget holding her silk skirt and her white petticoat high in the air, revealing a bran-new pair of elastic-sided boots, with patent toes, adorned by a pattern of white stitching. The supper-table, set out in the kitchen as being the largest place, was a sight to see. At one end was a huge sirloin of beef, roasted to a turn ; at the other the beefsteak pie in its common Beild resting-place, a sonsy milk basin, whose brown outside Jeanie had ingeniously hidden by an arrangement of pink tissue paper. Then there was a ham and at least half a dozen fowls, to say nothing of a big duck, such as the dwellers in towns seldom eat or see. The dishes were chiefly willow-plate pattern, and the cutlery was some mixed; but of food there was enough and to spare.

" Beaton's Annie's to bile the tatties in the washin' hoose, an' they'll be ready on the chap o' half-past aicht," said Leezbeth. " I houp the minister'll no be late. There's somebody at the door, an' they're cryin' 'Poor oot.' I'll lay ye it's Dod."

" Let me up the stair afore ye open it," cried Marget distractedly, and flew off with more alacrity than might have been expected.

It was not Dod, however—only Bruce Rymer and his fiddle, both welcome guests at every Beild gathering ; and as his eye fell on the winsome face of Jeanie, he could hardly muster the smile necessary for the occasion. Never had she looked so sweet and bonnie, and as he thought on Erskine Nicoll he ground his teeth.

And now the guests began to come in one after the other, till the whole company, thirty-six in all, were assembled in the ben end, where it was a tight fit, even though sundry articles of furniture had been shifted to accommodate them. Mrs. Nicoll of the Binns was undoubtedly the grandest. She had on a black silk brocade with purple flowers which could have stood itself, and a white lace cap, such a thing as had never been seen in the Beild ; also black silk mittens on her hands, through which shone sundry rings. Binns himself, out of pure thrawnness, had elected to come in his market suit of hodden-grey, with a blue-checked shirt and an old necktie ; nor had he shaved since the Sabbath Day. Erskine, however, in all his glory, made up for his father's shortcomings, wearing his long-tailed coat and his white choker, also his hair parted in a new pattern up the middle. He had shaved off such slight pretensions to a moustache as he had possessed, and now tried to look as severely clerical as possible.

His demeanour towards the entire company was civil, but distant, as befitted one who was on intimate terms with a professor. But it had the opposite effect on the Beild folk from what was imagined or intended. It did nothing but raise their birse, every man and woman of them. They were not to be taken in by Erskine Nicoll, or anybody like him.

Punctually on the chap of eight the minister arrived ; and Dod, looking wonderful spruced-up-like in his new shepherd's tartan breeks, clean white shirt, and black coat, stood up on the hearthrug before the minister, Wee Sandy Morison, his best man, with a queer grin on his face, beside him. Amidst a dead silence the bride entered, in her sonsy grandeur quite eclipsing little Dod; nor was she too agitated to look calmly round her, observing the bunch of purple lilac in Shoosan Nicoll's cap.

Then the simple marriage service of the Scots Kirk began. Mr. Bowman was considered very fine at a wedding, and it was agreed that he surpassed himself that night. In about ten minutes it was all over. Marget was Mrs. Dod Aitken, and Dod was Marget Broon's man—the latter likely to be his appellation now to the end of his days. The signing of the register was a terrible business for the two, who were no scholars; and in the midst of it Bruce began to enliven the proceedings by playing a wedding march of his own composition, a kind of cross between a psalm tune and a Scotch reel, and the fiddle made them all lively. The whisky and bride cake were being handed round, and pretty soon the proceedings began to liven up, and sundry jokes were passed, some of them just on the broad side.

According to strict Beild custom, the bride and bridegroom did not take the slightest notice of each other, and received congratulations in a very off-hand manner, as if marrying were an every-day occurrence with them, and not a thing worth speaking about. Mr. Bowman unfortunately could not remain to supper, as a sick-bed required his attention, but promised to look in a little later. It was felt to be a kind of relief when he went away, for he always kept a check on the bottle ; and if Dod Aitken's marrying was not to be made an occasion for real, downright jollification, then nothing in the Beild was worthy of it.

Man and wife of course sat together at the table, and both made a hearty good meal. The supper was a grand success. To be sure, there was a shortness of plates and of knives and forks; but the folk waited with the greatest good-humour while Beaton's Annie washed them up in the back scullery, handing them in through the doorway as she dried them, and enjoying herself as well as any of them. When everybody had eaten, though not drunken, as much as they could hold, Bruce got up to propose the health of the newly wedded pair. He had a great gift of adaptability, and made himself peculiarly happy and acceptable always at Beild social gatherings. You see, he knew the folk well, and could handle them just as they required handling. In raw hands they were kittle cattle to deal with. His speech rather surprised Erskine Nicoll, both by its happy phrasing and its wit, which was quite genuine and made everybody laugh. Erskine put up his one eye-glass, and surveyed Bruce while he was speaking in a slightly supercilious way, which invariably put mischief into Bruce, and he could not resist a wipe at him before he sat down.

" Before I sit down, and apologising to Mr. and Mrs. Aitken for taking any name but theirs on my tongue on this great occasion," he said, with a twinkle in his eye, " I cannot refrain from expressing, what I am sure is the opinion of one and all, our gratification at having in our midst a distinguished student, who, in spite of all his honours, is but a Beild laddie like ourselves; and though we who live day in and day out in our quiet village, which is some remote from the centres of learning and culture in which he is at home, we are fain to believe that the eye-glass, with which we are not familiar, and whose purpose we do not fully understand, hides a gleam of kindly feeling for Beild folk and Beild ways. Friends, I give you the health of Mr. Erskine Nicoll, student of divinity, and may he live to sit in a professor's chair, and be an honour to the Beild for ever and a day."

It was outrageous of Bruce of course; he had no call to give any such toast, but the deil had entered into him for the nonce; and it being perfectly plain he was taking Erskine off, the whole table went into a roar.

Erskine made haste to push his eye-glass into his pocket, and got up to his feet, very red in the face.

" I'm very much obliged to Mr. Bruce Rymer for his speech concerning me, and I'll have a word with him by-and-by, if he likes, outside, when I'll ask him what he means by his impudence."

At this, foreseeing some unpleasantness, Leezbeth spoke up :—

" Noo, lads, I'm for nae words here. Dinna be a gowk, Erskine Nicoll. It's only Bruce's fun. Tak' up the fiddle, Bruce, set the young folk a-dancin', an' let's hae nae mair o' this."

Bruce, a trifle sorry that he had thus pilloried Erskine before the company, did as he was bid at once, and an adjournment was made to the ben end, where the strains of "The Dear Meal's Cheap Again" soon made young feet and happy voices dance in tune. But Erskine remained as sulky as a big bear beside the old folk, who never moved from the bottle all night. Jeanie Morison was rather quiet and disheartened-looking; and after dancing one set of the reels and watching another out, she came slipping back to the kitchen and spoke to Erskine.

"Come on ben, an' tak' a turn, Erskine," she whispered. " Wha'd be cross wi' Bruce —a body kens his fun. Come on."

"No, I'm not coming; but if you'll come out to the garden with me," he answered, in a low voice which nobody could hear, " I want to speak to you."

Jeanie blushed a lovely red, and gave her head a little nod. Erskine understood, and followed her out to the back garden, which was a spacious place, in which there were plenty quiet corners. Erskine was going to do a very cruel thing, but was just in the mood for it. He meant to be off with Jeanie, and he kept saying to himself that it was the only manly and right course for him to pursue, since he had changed towards her.

" What did you think of yon at the table, Jeanie ?" he began. " I'll be even with Bruce for it yet, confound him ! What business has he to meddle with me? I leave him alone. But what can you expect from a mere pauper, a fellow without any people ? "

This nettled Jeanie, and she spoke up rather sharply for her.

" When you speak like that, Erskine, I think you deserve a' you get. Naebody in the Beild likes sic airs as you put on ; and if Bruce was a puirs-hoose bairn, he's as guid, maybe better, than some that's no."

This was Erskine's opportunity, which he was not slow to grasp.

" So that's how the land lies. Bruce has put out my eye, Jeanie. Well, it's maybe better for us both. It was a mistake, that boy-and-girl nonsense, and I'm glad you are thinking no more about it. My future is likely to lie far enough away from the Beild, and I should never be able to make you happy. I wish you and Bruce luck, Jeanie, and for your sake I'll think no more of his rudeness to me to-night."

It was a bold stroke, but it had not quite the effect Erskine expected. It was too dark of course to see Jeanie's face, but it grew rather white, and a look came upon it so full of contempt that it was a pity he did not get the benefit of it. It was some seconds before she said anything, but when she did speak she left him in no doubt as to her opinion of him. She was a gentle thing, but by no means characterless; in fact, she had a keener vision and a nicer perception than most.

"Ye think yersel' a gentleman, Erskine, an' try to look like ane," she said quietly and coldly; " but ye'll never be that, though ye live a' your days. Fine ye ken there's naething atween me and Bruce, but ye need an excuse o' some kind. But ye needna fash. I'm no daft aboot ye; an' I'll tell you what I think—Bruce Rymer has mair in his wee finger than you hae in your hale heid, muckle though it be; an' them 'at lives longest'll see maist."

She turned about quite quickly, and vanished from his side, her white skirts making a light spot in the darkness till she had gone within the house. Somewhat relieved, though smarting under her rather strong words, Erskine took a cigarette from his pocket, and thereby sought to soothe his ruffled feelings.

" The little spit-fire ! Who'd have thought she had as much in her?" he said to himself. " I'm well rid of her. Now for Lily Morgan and success."

His dreams as he sauntered up and down the garden were all roseate, as those of youth are apt to be before experience disillusions.

Dreams they were, and so far as Erskine Nicoll was concerned, dreams they were ■destined to remain.

Jeanie was more of a seer than she imagined, and the day came when Erskine thought with bitterness of her prophetic words.

Meantime, however, though her heart was secretly sore over the shattering of a girlish dream, she danced to the strains of Bruce's fiddle as if she had not a care in the world. And when somebody relieved him, and he asked her for a dance, she gave him a smile which set his heart beating madly. Erskine saw this through the parlour window; and, considering that he had of his own free will relinquished her to Bruce, the sight made him rather savage. And when his mother, missing him from the company, began to look about for him, he was nowhere to be found, having indeed gone back in the sulks to the Binns. So little was he missed that nobody even said, "Where's Erskine Nicoll?"

The fun grew fast and furious in the ben end, and in the kitchen the bottles became sadly reduced, the transfer of their contents having sundry effects on those who partook so generously.

In the midst of it all Dod and Marget slipped quietly away to their own home, and were never missed. So ended the marrying of Dod Aitken.

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