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- A Daughter of Fife - 2/35 -
"extr'onar' wise-like and unwardly in a' his ways." In fact there had been an intention of breaking through the family traditions and sending him to the University of Aberdeen. Latterly old Promoter had smoked his pipe very often to the ambitious hope of a minister in his family. David's brothers and sister had also learned to look upon the lad as destined by Providence to bring holy honors upon the household. No thought of jealousy had marred their intended self-denial in their younger brother's behalf. Their stern Calvinism taught them that Jacob's and Jesse's families were not likely to be the only ones in which the younger sons should be chosen for vessels of honor; and Will Promoter, the eldest of the brothers, spoke for all, when he said, "Send Davie to Aberdeen, fayther; gladly we will a' of us help wi' the fees; and may be we shall live to see a great minister come oot o' the fishing boats."
But though the intended sacrifice had been a sincerely pure and unselfish one, it had nevertheless been refused. Why it had been refused, was the question filling David's heart with doubt and despair, as he sat with his head in his hands, gazing into the fire that March afternoon. Maggie was watching him, though he did not perceive it, and by an almost unconscious mental act was comparing him with his dead brothers. They had been simply strong fair fishers, with that open air look men get who continually set their faces to the winds and waves. David was different altogether. He was exceedingly tall, and until years filled in his huge framework of bone and muscle, would very likely be called "gawky." But he had the face of a mediaeval ecclesiastic; spare, and sallow, and pointed at the chin. His hair, black and exceeding fine, hung naturally in long, straggling masses; his mouth was straight and perhaps a little cruel; his black, deep set eyes had the glow in them of a passionate and mystical soul. Such a man, if he had not been reared in the straitest sect of Calvinism, would have adopted it--for it was his soul's native air.
That he should go to the university and become a minister seemed to David as proper as that an apple tree should bear an apple. As soon as it was suggested, he felt himself in the moderator's chair of the general assembly. "Why had such generous and holy hopes been destroyed?" Maggie knew the drift of his thoughts, and she hastened her preparations for tea; for though it is a humiliating thing to admit, the most sacred of our griefs are not independent of mere physical comforts. David's and Maggie's sorrow was a deep and poignant one, but the refreshing tea and cake and fish were at least the vehicle of consolation. As they ate they talked to one another, and David's brooding despair was for the hour dissipated.
During the days of alternating hope and disappointment following the storm in which the Promoters perished, they had not permitted themselves to think, much less to speak of a future which did not include those who might yet return. But hope was over. When Promoter's mates beached his boat, both David and Maggie understood the rite to be a funeral one. It was not customary for women to go to funerals, but Maggie, standing afar off, amid the gray thick fog, had watched the men drag the unfortunate craft "where a boat ought never to be;" and when they had gone away, had stood by the lonely degraded thing, and felt as sad and hopeless, as if it had been the stone at a grave's mouth.
All the past was past; they had to begin a life set to new methods and motives: "and the sooner the better," thought Maggie, "if fayther were here, he wad say that."
"Is the tea gude? And the fish, and the cake?"
"Ay, they're gude. I didna think I was sae hungry. I'm maist 'shamed to enjoy them sae hearty."
"Life's wark wants life's food; and we canna sit wi' idle hands anither seven days. You were saying you had news, what will it be?"
"Ay, I had forgotten. Willie Johnson's Willie has brought back wi' him a young man. He wants a quiet room to himsel', and there's naebody in Pittenloch can gie him ane, if it be na us, or the Widow Thompson. He's offered a crown a week for ane."
"You should hae said instanter we'd be thankfu'. My certie! A crown a week, that's a fair godsend, Davie."
"The widow has the first right to the godsend; if she canna tak' it, she'll send it our way, Maggie."
"Davie, there is £50 in Largo Bank."
"I ken that."
"You'll tak' it. It will gie you a' the start you need at Aberdeen. Fayther said £30 a year wad do, wi' a carefu' hand to guide it. You'll be Helping yoursel' wi' a bit teaching afore it is a' gane."
"I'll no touch it. What are you talking aboot? Oor fayther saved it for his auld age and his burying."
"And he'll ne'er be auld now, Davie! and God has found him a grave that only He kens o'! I can spin, and weave, and sew, and the lasses roun' aboot have keepit my needle aye busy. Why not? I served my time in Largo, and I can cut a skirt or josey, and mak' a kirk gown, better than any one nearer."
"You'll be wanting to marry ere lang, Maggie. Angus Raith thinks much o' you; and £50 wad buy his share in Cupar's boat. I sall hae the cottage, and the £50 is to be for your wedding and plenishing."
"This is na a time to talk o' wedding, Davie; and there is na any promise made to Angus Raith! Go into Kinkell the morn and speak wi' the minister; he is a wise man, and we will baith o' us do the thing he says."
After this, the conversation drifted hither and thither, until the meal Was finished. Then while Maggie tidied up the room, David opened the door And stood thoughtfully within its shadow. "There's a voice in the sea to-night," he said mournfully, "and when the tide turns back, the wind will have its way."
"Can you see aught?"
"Naething. There's a heavy mist and a thick smur--but I hear steps on the shingle. I'm thinking it will be Johnson wi' the stranger I spoke o'."
"Ay, weel, I hae gotten my feet dressed," and she looked down with approval at her ribbed gray stockings, and low shoes, the brass clasps of which she had just latched.
David did not answer her, for he was bidding his visitors welcome. Then Maggie turned round with the freshly lit "cruisie" in her hand, and her eyes were caught by two other eyes, and held as if by a spell. She was conscious, as she stood blushing, that the stranger had been astonished at her appearance, but she certainly did not dream that it was her great beauty which had for one moment made him incapable of controlling his sense of it. It was only one moment, in the next he turned to David, and offered to pay him two shillings a day for the use of his vacant room, and a share of his simple fare.
The interview lasted but a very short time. Maggie said, she could have the room ready for him by noon of the following day, and as soon as the matter was settled, he went.
He had not sat down, and so every one else had remained standing; but at the open door he caught Maggie's eyes once more, and with a slight movement of adieu to her, he disappeared. She trembled, and turned hot and cold, and felt as if she must cry. It was with difficulty she hid her emotion from her brother, who looked queerly at her as he said, "I ne'er saw any man look like that man."
"He had a bonnie braidcloth cloak on."
"Sae handsome and sae stately; and if kings hae any grander way, there's nae wonder folks bow down to them. I aye thocht that Dr. Balmuto had the maist compelling look wi' him; but I think yonder man wouldna fear him, e'en though the doctor had on his Geneva bands and his silk gown."
"What's his name, Davie?"
"I dinna ken. I never thocht to ask him."
Then a singular sadness, one quite distinct from the shadow of their known sorrow, settled upon both brother and sister. Was it a sorrow of apprehension? one of those divinations which we call presentiments. Neither David nor Maggie questioned it; they were not given to analyzing Their feelings, indeed they were totally unacquainted with this most useless of mental processes.
But nevertheless, the stranger had left an influence, and for half an hour they sat silently musing. Maggie was the first to break its spell. In a low voice, as she bent lower to the dying fire, she began to talk of the dead for whom "God had found graves;" and to recall little incidents of their hard unselfish lives, which particularly touched David's and her own experience.
"If they were here to-night, Davie--oot on the dark sea--tossed up and down--pulling in the nets or lines wi' freezing hands--hungry, anxious, fearfu' o' death--wad we wish it?"
"Na, na, na, Maggie! Where they are noo, the light doesna fade, and the heart doesna fail, and the full cup never breaks. Come, let us ask o' the Book thegither. I dinna doot, but we sall get just the word we are needing."
Maggie rose and took it from its place on the broad shelf by the window, and laid it down upon the table. David lifted the light and stood beside her. Then with a reverent upward glance, he opened the well-used leaves:--
"Maggie, what need we mair? Listen to the word o' the Lord;" and with a voice tender and triumphant he read aloud--
"_Then are they glad because they be quiet: so He bringeth them unto their desired haven_."
THE UNKNOWN GUEST.
"She was a form of life and light, That seen, became a part of sight, And rose where'er I turned mine eye, The Morning Star of Memory."
"Thou art more than all the shrines that hold thee."
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