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Chapter XVII. Love's Young Dream

AFTER all these terrible excitements, the Beild settled down into a period of placid dulness, unbroken by anything more stirring than the harvest, which was early, owing to the fine dry spring and warm early summer. During the holiday months Erskine Nicoll was at home but little, visiting much with his friends the Morgans, through whose agency he obtained a holiday engagement to travel with the young son of a Perthshire laird through Holland. This engagement was not fully understood by Binns and his wife themselves, let alone the Beild ; but Shoosan was convinced that it was a terrible grand thing, and Binns suffered it because Erskine had not asked him for any money to go. Otherwise he said he did not think muckle of it, as folks are apt to do when they don't know.

The next upheaval in the place was the resignation of Bruce Rymer, which came upon the Board like a thunder-clap the week before the school closed in July.

These were the early days of the School Board, of which Binns was the chairman. Had it not been that he and Mr. Bowman kept the Beild right, there would have been queer ongauns in that Board, which was composed of ten members, very few of whom had any interest in the Beild, or who knew much about education. In spite of his nearness and his gruff ways, however, Binns was a most intelligent man, a terrible reader, and one who liked to understand what he took in hand. But he did not bother himself to study any question in which he had not a special interest, and that is why he never got to understand the ins and outs of Erskine's tutorship. As the lad had elected to cut himself off from the Binns, and did not disguise his contempt for the place, his father had washed his hands of him. Even poor Shoosan, feeling the gulf daily widening between them and Erskine, began to doubt the glory of having a gentleman son. But she would rather have died than admit as much.

Since the marrying of Dod Aitken and Marget Broon, a dryness had sprung up between the east and west end of the Beild—on Erskine's account of course, though Jeanie appeared as blithe as ever, and did not seem to suffer because it was all broken off. She had given her own version to her mother. It was secretly sore on Leezbeth, and she just left off going to the Binns, confiding to Nanse Wricht one night that it was "just as weel she shouldna get her tongue about Shoosan Nicoll's lugs."

The newly wedded pair, Dod and Mag, settled down doucely, and Dod speedily became a highly respectable member of society, attending the kirk every Sabbath Day, and eschewing Bawbie's at nights. Nor did he suffer thereby. Marget, being a wise woman, gave him his " drappie "—some reduced in quantity maybe, but of prime quality—at his own fireside; and Dod and she lived very cantily together, just as if they had done so all their days.

Bruce Rymer also took a holiday engagement of a less pretentious sort, money being precious to him; and in the second week of October he came back to bid good-bye to the Beild, previous to entering on his medical study at Edinburgh University. The new teacher, a married man, was by this time installed in the Beild—a grave, solemn-faced person, who as yet managed the Beild bairns in but a middling way. To fully master the intricacies of the Beild character, old or young, you have to be brought up in the place ; no stranger has half a chance.

Bruce was made welcome by his friend Mr. Bowman at the Manse for the two days he proposed to abide in the Beild, and blithe were the two to find themselves cracking together again by the familiar fireside. The minister, since his love affair, as yet undreamed of by the Beild (that would be an excitement for them, if you like), had become a new man. He looked years younger; his step was blithe and buoyant, his eye bright and happy, his whole bearing that of a man to whom the world is a place worth living in. Even the Pithorn troubles, by no means over, sat but lightly on him. Love, with touch of healing and of divine hope, had laid her finger on his sore heart, and lifted him to her celestial heights for ever. They were middle-aged people, and therefore not foolish; but they leaned upon each other with a great, quiet, trustful affection, which had made the desert blossom to them like a rose. The two friends sat far into the night, talking chiefly of Bruce's concerns, in which Mr. Bowman had a brother's interest.

" You'll do, Bruce; there's nothing you can't achieve in my estimation, and in you I see revived the ambitions of my own far-away youth. If only you keep your health you'll do—ay, you'll do, and finely too."

Bruce had no lack of enthusiasm in his own soul; still, it was honey sweet to him to hear such words of cheer from the lips of the friend he loved best on earth.

" Now, I say, we've talked about me and my concerns for three mortal hours, and never a cheep about you," he said. " Dare I ask when the wedding's going to be ? "

"You may; but I don't know it myself, nor am I troubling my head greatly about that. By-the-bye, I'll be over the last week of the month. The case is to come on then in the Court of Session."

" Is it though ?" asked Bruce, with intense interest. " Do you think there's any chance of the will being broken, and Miss Dempster getting her own ? "

" Sir Ludo thinks so," answered Mr.

Bowman, with a smile at the memory of some of Sir Ludo's outbursts. "And I hear that Gavin Dempster is some doubtful, but means to fight to the bitter end. I'm not caring much how the thing goes, and truly I think Miss Dempster is of the same mind."

" I'm glad you've got Sir Ludo to fight for you then," said Bruce. " I never saw two such folk; there is not a worldly thought in your heads 1"

" Oh ay, a few, now and then," replied the minister, as he watched, in unutterable content, the blue wreath curling upward from the new pipe Bruce had brought him.

"This is a grand pipe, Bruce, and so is the tobacco. Man, what a difference it makes to life! I hope you'll find it out for yourself some day."

" I've smoked many a good pipe in my time," said Bruce, with a twinkle in his eye, wilfully taking him up amiss.

" I daresay; but it's the other I mean," said Mr. Bowman placidly, not in the least put out. "When you meet with the woman who believes in you, and who out of love is willing to give herself to you without a question or a doubt, that's what'll rouse all that's best and heavenliest in you. I believe myself it's the means of grace God tries with most men,—through mother love first, then the wife; after that there's only the love of bairns, and if that fails to make a good man out of a middling one or a bad one, the devil's got him, that's what I think."

Bruce was silent, listening to his friend's speech as to a gospel, which indeed it was to him. But it was a theme upon which he felt shyly, and could not pass an opinion.

The early part of the next day Bruce occupied in making calls at the west end, giving Nanse Wricht a goodly portion of his time, and also crying in at the Binns, though not stopping long, as the Nicolls did not approve his new venture, Shoosan regarding it as presumptuous, and Binns as very risky, seeing he had a fixed income in the Beild and a roof-tree to himself. Then, after an early dinner at the Manse, the two strode over the moss in the fine, clear October weather, Raef and Birse couthie as of yore (the latter having found a temporary home at the Manse), fleeing on in front after the paitricks, and an odd grouse which had survived the August slaughter.

They were for Strathairn, where Miss Dempster was looking for them to tea. Though Bruce, shy as a school-girl over a love affair, almost feared to look at the pair, he could not help seeing the perfect and beautiful understanding which was between them, the peace and the happiness in their eyes as they regarded each other, and it made his lonely heart ache. Euphame Dempster had always been an attractive and eident gentlewoman; but there was something about her now, a sweet womanliness, which made Bruce feel that he could almost worship her.

The bitterness of that sad summer-time was now past, and she was blithely happy,

ready with her joke even over the im-' pending law-suit—interested, too, most deeply in all Bruce's plans, which he found himself over the teacups discussing with as much freedom as at the Manse fireside.

By-and-by Mr. Bowman left them a few minutes, to see one of his people in the Airn village, and Bruce did not feel at all embarrassed to find himself so left.

" Mr. Bowman will miss you very much this winter, Mr. Rymer," said Miss Dempster. " He is always saying to me he will be lost without you."

Bruce was sometimes blunt of speech, and out it came before he knew where he was.

" Will you not be going to the Manse yourself before the winter's out, Miss Dempster ? "

Her delicate cheek flushed a little, and she laughed.

" Maybe; it all depends on the law-suit. Did you think it a terrible foolish step for two such old folk, Mr. Rymer ?"

" I—no—I think it just—just splendid," cried Bruce hotly. " I thought, maybe, just at first, that Mr. Bowman might not be my friend any more, like he has been. Oh, he has been everything to me, Miss Dempster, since I was a bairn !"

" But you don't think I will rob you of your friend now ? "

" No, I don't, because you're so awfully kind to me too, and—and I don't know what I'm saying, I believe; only there's some things a fellow feels, and when he tries to say them it's all up with him."

There was a tear in Euphame Dempster's eye, and with a gesture of infinite grace she stretched out her hand to him.

" I understand you quite. If ever I go to the Beild Manse, Bruce, there'll be a double welcome for you instead of a single one— that'll be all the difference."

From that day the woman who loved his friend and whom his friend loved was enshrined in Bruce Rymer's heart among his sacred things, to be cherished to his death.

It was early evening—"forenicht," as Beild folk called it—when they got back; and leaving Mr. Bowman to go to the Manse alone, Bruce went on to the east end to see some more folk. He said " folk," but he only thought of one, and went straight to Sandy Morison's house. Sandy, to whom Dod now set such an excellent example, was sitting in the chimney corner reading tit-bits from the People's Journal to his wife and daughter, who were cutting rags into strips for a new rag-mat. They were all blithe to see him ; and Bruce, though he almost feared to look, thought there was a bit flush on Jeanie's cheek, as she shyly rose to greet him.

" We heard yestreen ye were comin', Bruce," said Leezbeth, " an' was wonderin' if the vera thocht o' the college was gaun to spile anither Beild laddie."

" Which means that you thought I wouldn't come to see you, eh, Mrs. Morison ? I don't think I've done anything yet to deserve that."

" No ; but ye had a shinin' example wast the toon," replied Leezbeth. " Bring ben the bottle, Jeanie."

" Not for me, Mrs. Morison. I'm beginning where I mean to end : the less I see of the bottle the next four years, it'll be the better for me."

" Fower year's a lang time," said Sandy reflectively. " Ye'll be nane the waur o' wan nip. Rin, Jeanie."

" Eh, Bruce, the Beild skule's no what it was, I hear them a' sayin'," said Leezbeth regretfully. " Ye'll maybe mak' mair siller, but ye'll never be mair liket than ye was here."

" I believe that, Mrs. Morison, and I'll never forget the Beild as long as I live," said Bruce quietly.

" We'll hope no, for the Beild'll no forget you in a hurry. That's a wummin, Jeanie. There's shortbreid in the tap drawer. Fesh'd when ye're at it."

Over the shortbread and the whisky, which Bruce merely touched with his lips out of respect to the " Here's to ye " with which his friends charged their glasses, they had a very friendly chat; and it was nearly ten o'clock when Bruce jumped up saying he must go, having still to look in on Marget Aitken, and some others, if they should not be a-bed.

All this time Jeanie had been gey quiet, working at her clipping, with her bonnie eyes downbent, but listening—ay, never losing a single word. As they stood up to bid him good-night and God-speed, he looked straightly at her, and before her parents said bravely,—

"Will you come to the door with me, Jeanie ? I have just one word to say to you."

Sandy took another nip and a prodigious pinch of snuff; Leezbeth smiled, not ill-pleased, and wrung the young man's hand again.

" Guid-bye, an' Guid keep ye, Bruce. Come back till's as ye are, an' blithe'll be yer welcome."

" I will, Mrs. Morison," replied Bruce fervently, and made haste to the door, where Jeanie, trembling a wee, already waited him. He drew to the door; but within the porch, about which the autumn-tinted creepers still hung, though but sadly, they were free from observation.

" Jeanie," said Bruce, with all the earnestness he felt, "maybe it is soon to speak, but I cannot go away without asking you not to forget me, without knowing whether there is any hope for me ?"

Jeanie was silent, but could he but have seen her face his heart had leaped within him.

" Fower year's a long time, as faither says, Bruce; an' maybe—I'm no sayin' ye will, but if the college should gar ye look down on the Beild like Erskine Nicoll, what wad I dae then ? "

" Is there no difference then in your eyes between Erskine and me ? " said Bruce, some bitterly.

" Ye are not like Erskine now, Bruce; but oh, I'm feared. It's hard on a lassie to be slichtit aince, let alane twice."

" God forbid that I should do that, Jeanie, when I love you so dearly! Won't you trust me a little, my, my dear ?"

Then she crept to him, sobbing, and laid her head on his breast.

" I've aye liket you best, Bruce, I think, even when I thocht I liket Erskine; an' if ye dinna change your mind, at the end of fower year you'll find Jeanie Morison waitin' for ye."

So one more hope, the loveliest that can illumine a young man's life, was given to Bruce Rymer; and on the morrow he went forth to his new life, rendered strong through a maiden's love and trust, to make it the noble thing such life can be, and is intended to be made by Him who gives us all that is worth the winning here.

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