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- The Underworld - 30/49 -
A STIR IN LOWWOOD
"My! Div you ken what has happened?" asked Mrs. Johnstone, bursting in upon Mrs. Sinclair one day about two weeks later. "My, it's awfu'!" she continued in breathless excitement, her head wagging and nodding with every word, as if to emphasize it, her eyes almost jumping out with excitement, and her whole appearance showing that she had got hold of a piece of information which was of the first importance. "My, it's awfu'," she repeated again lifting her hands up to a level with her breast, and then letting them fall again, "Mysie Maitland has ran away frae her place, an' naebidy kens where she has gane to. An' Mrs. Rundell, mind you, has been that guid to her too, givin' her her caps an' aprons, an' whiles buyin' her a bit dress length forby, an' she gi'ed her boots and slippers, an' a whole lot o' ither things to tak' hame for the bairns--things that were owre wee for the weans at Rundell Hoose but were quite guid to wear. My, it's awfu'! Isn't it?"
"Mysie Maitland!" exclaimed Mrs. Sinclair in astonishment. "When did this happen? Where has she gane? Are you sure you hinna made a mistake?" and Mrs. Sinclair was all excitement, hanging in breathless anxiety upon the tidings her neighbor brought.
"I hae made nae mistake, Nellie Sinclair," returned Leezie, "for it was her ain mother wha telt me the noo. I was at the store, an' when I was comin' hame I met Jenny hersel' gaun awa' tae Rundell Hoose. She was greetin' an' I couldna' get oot o' spierin' at her what was wrang, an' she telt me her ain self."
"You dinna mean tae tell me that Mysie Maitland has disappeared? In the name o' a' that's guid, what has happened to bring aboot sic news?"
"Aye, it's true, Nellie," replied Mrs. Johnstone, feeling very important now that she knew Mrs. Sinclair had not heard the news.
"When did this happen?" asked the latter, still incredulous. "Are you sure that's true? Dear me! I dinna ken what the world's comin' to at a'!"
"Ay, it's awfu'! But it's true. You never ken what thae quate kin' o' modest folk will dae. They look that bashfu' that butter wadna' melt in their mouths; an' a' the time they are just as like to gang wrang as ither folk."
"But wha said Mysie Maitland has gang wrang?" enquired Mrs. Sinclair, flaring up in Mysie's defense. "I wadna' believe it, though you went down on your bended knees to tell me. A modester, weel-doin' lassie never lived in this place!"
"Weel, I dinna ken whether she has gane wrang or not; but she has ran awa', an' it is gey suspeecious conduct that for ony lassie that is weel-doin'. She is jist like the rest of folk."
"It canna' be true," said Mrs. Sinclair, still unable to believe the news. "I canna' take it in."
"Ay, but it is true," persisted her neighbor with assurance. "For I tell you, it was her ain mother what telt me hersel'. It seems she has been missing since the day afore yesterday. She gaed awa' in the afternoon to see her mither, an' as she hadna been keepin' very weel for a day or two an' no comin' back that night, Mrs. Rundell jist thought that Jenny had keepit her at home for a holiday. But she didna turn up yesterday, an' thinkin' maybe that the lassie had turned worse, Mrs. Rundell sent owre word jist the noo, to ask how she was keepin'; an' Jenny was fair thunder-struck when the man came to the door to ask. Puir body! Jenny's awfu' puttin' aboot owre the matter. I hope," she added, with the first show of sympathy, "that naething has happened to the lassie. That wad be awfu'!"
"Dear keep us!" exclaimed Nellie. "I hope nothing has happened to her."
"God knows!" replied Mrs. Johnstone piously, for want of something else to say. "It's awfu'!"
"Do they ken naething at a' aboot her at Rundells'?" again enquired Mrs. Sinclair.
"No' a thing they ken, ony mair than you or me. She left her bits o' claes, jist as if she meant to come back. Her new frock was in her drawer jist as she had put it by efter tryin' it on. An' a braw frock it is. She has nothing except what she was wearin' at the time she gaed oot. Her guid boots jist yince on her feet are in her room, a' cleaned jist as she took them off the last time she had them on. I canna' believe it yet. My! it's awfu'! It'll be a sair, sair heart her faither'll hae when he hears about it. He had aye an' awfu' wark wi' Mysie, an' thought the world o' her. If he got Mysie richt he ay seemed to think that a' else was richt. I hope nae harm has come to her. I dinna ken what the world's comin' to at a', I'm sure? My, it's awfu', isn't it?" and Mrs. Johnstone went out to spread the news, leaving Mrs. Sinclair more mystified and astonished than ever she had been in her life.
Mysie missing! She could not understand it, and always she tried to crush back the suggestion which was plainly evident in Leezie's statement that Mysie had "gang wrang." It could not be that, for Mysie was never known to have dealings with anyone likely to betray her like that. It was a hopeless puzzle altogether, and she could not account for it.
It was nearing "lousing time" and Mrs. Sinclair was busy getting the dinner ready, and water boiled to wash the men coming in from the pit, and she wondered how Robert would take the news.
She knew, having guessed, as most mothers do guess, that Mysie held a sacred corner in Robert's heart; though noticing the silence during the last two weeks, and his renewed attention to books and study, she wondered if anything had come between Mysie and himself. Had he at last spoken to her and been discouraged? She could hardly harbor that thought, for she felt also that Mysie's heart enshrined but one man, and that was Robert. Yet what could be the meaning of all this mystery?
It was true Mysie and Robert had never walked out as young men and women of their class do; but she knew in their hearts each regarded the other with very warm affection, and thinking thus she worked about the house preparing things and running occasionally over to Maitland's house, to see that the dinner was cooking all right, and giving little attentions wherever they were needed, in Mrs. Maitland's absence.
She did not mention the news to Robert when he came in, but she watched him furtively as she worked about the house getting the water into the tub for him to wash, before placing the dinner on the table; but she guessed from his face that he must have already heard of it on his way home.
He was silent as he pulled off his rough blue flannel shirt and stooping over the well-filled tub of hot water, he began to lave the water over his arms, and the upper part of his body.
At last, Mrs. Sinclair could hold herself in no longer, and looking keenly at the half-naked young man as he straightened himself, having washed the coal-dust from his hands and arms, he began to rub his breast and as much of his back as he could reach, she said, "Did you hear aboot Mysie, Rob?"
"Ay," he returned simply, trying to hide his agitation and his blanching face. "I heard that she had disappeared frae her place, an' that nae news o' her could be got. Is it true, mither?"
"Ay, it's true, Rob," she replied. "But I hinna got ony richt waye o' it yet. Jenny's awa' owre to Rundell Hoose, an' we'll no' ken onything till she comes back. It's an awfu' business, an' will pit her faither an' mither a guid lot aboot. I wonder what'll hae ta'en her."
"It's hard to ken," he replied in a non-committal voice. "Hae you ony idea, mither, as to what has brought this aboot?"
"No, Rob, I canna' say; but folks' tongues will soon be busy, I hae nae doot, an' there will be a lot o' clip-clash, an' everybody kennin' nothing, will ken the right way o't, an' every yin will hae a different story to tell."
"Ay, I hae nae doot," he said, again stooping over the tub flinging some water over his head, and beginning to rub the soap into a fine lather upon his hair. "Everybody will ken the right wye o' it, and will claver and gossip, when they wad 'a be better to mind their ain affairs, an' let ither folk alane."
His mother did not speak for a little, but went on with her work. There was something on her mind about which she wanted to speak, and she bustled about and washed, and clattered the dishes; and every plate and spoon, as they were laid dripping from the basin of warm water, plainly indicated that something troubled her.
Finally, when the last steaming dish had been laid upon the table, and she had begun to wipe them dry, she cleared her throat, and in a somewhat strained sort of voice asked, "Dae you ken, Rob, onything aboot Mysie?"
"No, mither," he replied at once, as he ceased rubbing the white foaming lather on his hair, and again straightened himself up to look at her, as she spoke; his head looking as if a three inch fall of snow had settled upon it, giving the black dirty face and the clean eyes shining through the dust, a weird strange appearance. "What makes you ask that?"
"Oh, I dinna ken, Rob, but jist thought you micht hae kent something," she answered evasively.
"No, I dinna ken onything at all aboot her, mither," he said. "If I had kent onything, dae you think I'd hae kept quiet?"
"Oh, I dinna mean that, Rob," she replied with relief in her voice, "but I thought that you might hae heard something. That Leezie Johnstone was in here the day, an' you ken hoo she talks. She was makin' oot that Mysie had gane wrang, and had ran awa' tae hide it."
"Leezie Johnstone had little to do sayin' onything o' the kind," he said with some heat in his voice. "There never was a dirty coo in the byre but it liket a neighbor. I suppose she'll be thinkin' that a' lasses were like her. These kind of folk hae dam'd strange ideas aboot things. They get it into their heads it is wrang to do certain things when folk are no married, but the cloak of marriage flung aboot them mak's the same things richt. They hinna the brains o' a sewer rat in their noddles, the dam'd hypocrites that they are!"
"Dinna swear, Rob!" said Mrs. Sinclair, interrupting him. "Do you ken," she went on, her astonishment plainly evident in her face and voice,
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