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- Beside the Bonnie Brier Bush - 4/34 -
judges knew their business.
IN MARGET'S GARDEN
The cart track to Whinnie Knowe was commanded by a gable window, and Whinnie boasted that Marget had never been taken unawares. Tramps, finding every door locked, and no sign of life anywhere, used to express their mind in the "close," and return by the way they came, while ladies from Kildrummie, fearful lest they should put Mrs. Howe out, were met at the garden gate by Marget in her Sabbath dress, and brought into a set tea as if they had been invited weeks before.
Whinnie gloried most in the discomfiture of the Tory agent, who had vainly hoped to coerce him in the stack yard without Marget's presence, as her intellectual contempt for the Conservative party knew no bounds.
"Sall she saw him slip aff the road afore the last stile, and wheep roond the fit o' the gairden wa' like a tod (fox) aifter the chickens.
"'It's a het day, Maister Anderson,' says Marget frae the gairden, lookin' doon on him as calm as ye like. 'Yir surely no gaein' to pass oor hoose without a gless o' milk?'
"Wud ye believe it, he wes that upset he left withoot sayin' 'vote,' and Drumsheugh telt me next market that his langidge aifterwards cudna be printed."
When George came home for the last time, Marget went back and forward all afternoon from his bedroom to the window, and hid herself beneath the laburnum to see his face as the cart stood before the stile. It told her plain what she had feared, and Marget passed through her Gethsemane with the gold blossoms falling on her face. When their eyes met, and before she helped him down, mother and son understood.
"Ye mind what I told ye, o' the Greek mothers, the day I left. Weel, I wud hae liked to have carried my shield, but it wasna to be, so I've come home on it." As they went slowly up the garden walk, "I've got my degree, a double first, mathematics and classics."
"Ye've been a gude soldier, George, and faithfu'."
"Unto death, a'm dootin, mother."
"Na," said Marget, "unto life."
Drumtochty was not a heartening place in sickness, and Marget, who did not think our thoughts, endured much consolation at her neighbour's hands. It is said that in cities visitors congratulate a patient on his good looks, and deluge his family with instances of recovery. This would have seemed to us shallow and unfeeling, besides being a "temptin' o' Providence," which might not have intended to go to extremities, but on a challenge of this kind had no alternative. Sickness was regarded as a distinction tempered with judgment, and favoured people found it difficult to be humble. I always thought more of Peter MacIntosh when the mysterious "tribble" that needed the Perth doctor made no difference in his manner, and he passed his snuff box across the seat before the long prayer as usual, but in this indifference to privileges Peter was exceptional.
You could never meet Kirsty Stewart on equal terms, although she was quite affable to any one who knew his place.
"Ay," she said, on my respectful allusion to her experience, "a've seen mair than most. It doesna become me to boast, but tho' I say it as sudna, I hae buried a' my ain fouk."
Kirsty had a "way" in sick visiting, consisting in a certain cadence of the voice and arrangement of the face, which was felt to be soothing and complimentary.
"Yir aboot again, a'm glad to see," to me after my accident, "but yir no dune wi' that leg; na, na, Jeems, that was ma second son, scrapit his shin aince, tho' no so bad as ye've dune a'm hearing (for I had denied Kirsty the courtesy of an inspection). It's sax year syne noo, and he got up and wes traivellin' fell hearty like yersel. But he begood to dwam (sicken) in the end of the year, and soughed awa' in the spring. Ay, ay, when tribble comes ye never ken hoo it 'ill end. A' thocht I wud come up and speir for ye. A body needs comfort gin he's sober (ill)."
When I found George wrapped in his plaid beside the brier bush whose roses were no whiter than his cheeks, Kirsty was already installed as comforter in the parlour, and her drone came through the open window.
"Ay, ay, Marget, sae it's come to this. Weel, we daurna complain, ye ken. Be thankfu' ye haena lost your man and five sons, besides twa sisters and a brither, no to mention cousins. That wud be something to speak aboot, and Losh keep's, there's nae saying but he micht hang on a whilie. Ay, ay, it's a sair blow aifter a' that wes in the papers. I wes feared when I heard o' the papers; 'Lat weel alane,' says I to the Dominie; 'ye 'ill bring a judgment on the laddie wi' yir blawing.' But ye micht as weel hae spoken to the hills. Domsie's a thraun body at the best, and he was clean infatuat' wi' George. Ay, ay, it's an awfu' lesson, Marget, no to mak' idols o' our bairns, for that's naethin' else than provokin' the Almichty."
It was at this point that Marget gave way and scandalized Drumtochty, which held that obtrusive prosperity was an irresistible provocation to the higher powers, and that a skilful depreciation of our children was a policy of safety.
"Did ye say the Almichty? I'm thinkin' that's ower grand a name for your God, Kirsty. What wud ye think o' a faither that brocht hame some bonnie thing frae the fair for ane o' his bairns, and when the puir bairn wes pleased wi' it tore it oot o' his hand and flung it into the fire? Eh, woman, he wud be a meeserable cankered jealous body. Kirsty, wumman, when the Almichty sees a mither bound up in her laddie, I tell ye He is sair pleased in His heaven, for mind ye hoo He loved His ain Son. Besides, a'm judgin' that nane o' us can love anither withoot lovin' Him, or hurt anither withoot hurtin' Him.
"Oh, I ken weel that George is gaein' to leave us; but it's no because the Almichty is jealous o' him or me, no likely. It cam' to me last nicht that He needs my laddie for some grand wark in the ither world, and that's hoo George has his bukes brocht oot tae the garden and studies a' the day. He wants to be ready for his kingdom, just as he trachled in the bit schule o' Drumtochty for Edinboro'. I hoped he wud hae been a minister o' Christ's Gospel here, but he 'ill be judge over many cities yonder. A'm no denyin', Kirsty, that it's a trial, but I hae licht on it, and naethin' but gude thochts o' the Almichty."
Drumtochty understood that Kirsty had dealt faithfully with Marget for pride and presumption, but all we heard was, "Losh keep us a'."
When Marget came out and sat down beside her son, her face was shining. Then she saw the open window.
"I didna ken."
"Never mind, mither, there's nae secrets atween us, and it gar'd my heart leap to hear ye speak up like yon for God, and to know yir content. Div ye mind the nicht I called for ye, mother, and ye gave me the Gospel aboot God?"
Marget slipped her hand into George's, and he let his head rest on her shoulder. The likeness flashed upon me in that moment, the earnest deep-set grey eyes, the clean-cut firm jaw, and the tender mobile lips, that blend of apparent austerity and underlying romance that make the pathos of a Scottish face.
"There had been a Revival man, here," George explained to me, "and he was preaching on hell. As it grew dark a candle was lighted, and I can still see his face as in a picture, a hard-visaged man. He looked down at us laddies in the front, and asked us if we knew what like hell was. By this time we were that terrified none of us could speak, but I whispered 'No.'
"Then he rolled up a piece of paper and held it in the flame, and we saw it burn and glow and shrivel up and fall in black dust.
"'Think,' said he, and he leaned over the desk, and spoke in a gruesome whisper which made the cold run down our backs, 'that yon paper was your finger, one finger only of your hand, and it burned like that for ever and ever, and think of your hand and your arm and your whole body all on fire, never to go out.' We shuddered that you might have heard the form creak. 'That is hell, and that is where ony laddie will go who does not repent and believe.'
"It was like Dante's Inferno, and I dared not take my eyes off his face. He blew out the candle, and we crept to the door trembling, not able to say one word.
"That night I could not sleep, for I thought I might be in the fire before morning. It was harvest time, and the moon was filling the room with cold clear light. From my bed I could see the stooks standing in rows upon the field, and it seemed like the judgment day.
"I was only a wee laddie, and I did what we all do in trouble, I cried for my mother.
"Ye hae na forgotten, mither, the fricht that was on me that nicht."
"Never," said Marget, "and never can; it's hard wark for me to keep frae hating that man, dead or alive. Geordie gripped me wi' baith his wee airms round my neck, and he cries over and over and over again, 'Is yon God?'"
"Ay, and ye kissed me, mither, and ye said (it's like yesterday), 'Yir safe with me,' and ye telt me that God micht punish me to mak me better if I was bad, but that he wud never torture ony puir soul, for that cud dae nae guid, and was the Devil's wark. Ye asked me:
"'Am I a guid mother tae ye?' and when I could dae naethin' but hold, ye said, 'Be sure God maun be a hantle kinder.'
"The truth came to me as with a flicker, and I cuddled down into my bed, and fell asleep in His love as in my mother's arms.
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