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HOME > Classical Novels > The Little Minister > Chapter Eight. 3 A.M.—MONSTROUS AUDACITY OF THE WOMAN.
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 Not till the stroke of three did Gavin turn homeward, with the legs of a ploughman, and eyes rebelling against over-work. Seeking to comfort his dejected people, whose courage lay spilt on the brae, he had been in as many houses as the policemen. The soldiers marching through the wynds came frequently upon him, and found it hard to believe that he was always the same one. They told afterwards that Thrums was remarkable1 for the ferocity of its women, and the number of its little ministers. The morning was nipping cold, and the streets were deserted2, for the people had been ordered within doors. As he crossed the Roods, Gavin saw a gleam of red-coats. In the back wynd he heard a bugle3 blown. A stir in the Banker’s close spoke4 of another seizure5. At the top of the school wynd two policeman, of whom one was Wearyworld, stopped the minister with the flash of a lantern.  
“We dauredna let you pass, sir,” the Tilliedrum man said, “without a good look at you. That’s the orders.”
“I hereby swear,” said Wearyworld, authoritatively6, “that this is no the Egyptian. Signed, Peter Spens, policeman, called by the vulgar, Wearyworld. Mr. Dishart, you can pass, unless you’ll bide7 a wee and gie us your crack.”
“You have not found the gypsy, then?” Gavin asked.
“No,” the other policeman said, “but we ken8 she’s within cry o’ this very spot, and escape she canna.”
“What mortal man can do,” Wearyworld said, “we’re 70 doing: ay, and mair, but she’s auld9 wecht, and may find bilbie in queer places. Mr. Dishart, my official opinion is that this Egyptian is fearsomely like my snuff-spoon. I’ve kent me drap that spoon on the fender, and be beat to find it in an hour. And yet, a’ the time I was sure it was there. This is a gey mysterious world, and women’s the uncanniest things in’t. It’s hardly mous to think how uncanny they are.”
“This one deserves to be punished,” Gavin said, firmly; “she incited10 the people to riot.”
“She did,” agreed Wearyworld, who was supping ravenously11 on sociability12; “ay, she even tried her tricks on me, so that them that kens13 no better thinks she fooled me. But she’s cracky. To gie her her due, she’s cracky, and as for her being a cuttie, you’ve said yoursel, Mr. Dishart, that we’re all desperately14 wicked. But we’re sair tried. Has it ever struck you that the trouts bites best on the Sabbath? God’s critturs tempting15 decent men.”
“Come alang,” cried the Tilliedrum man, impatiently.
“I’m coming, but I maun give Mr. Dishart permission to pass first. Hae you heard, Mr. Dishart,” Wearyworld whispered, “that the Egyptian diddled baith the captain and the shirra? It’s my official opinion that she’s no better than a roasted onion, the which, if you grip it firm, jumps out o’ sicht, leaving its coat in your fingers. Mr. Dishart, you can pass.”
The policeman turned down the school wynd, and Gavin, who had already heard exaggerated accounts of the strange woman’s escape from the town-house, proceeded along the Tenements16. He walked in the black shadows of the houses, though across the way there was the morning light.
In talking of the gypsy, the little minister had, as it were, put on the black cap; but now, even though he shook his head angrily with every thought of her, the scene in Windyghoul glimmered17 before his eyes. 71 Sometimes when he meant to frown he only sighed, and then having sighed he shook himself. He was unpleasantly conscious of his right hand, which had flung the divit. Ah, she was shameless, and it would be a bright day for Thrums that saw the last of her. He hoped the policemen would succeed in——. It was the gladsomeness of innocence19 that he had seen dancing in the moonlight. A mere18 woman could not be like that. How soft——. And she had derided20 him; he, the Auld Licht minister of Thrums, had been flouted21 before his people by a hussy. She was without reverence22, she knew no difference between an Auld Licht minister, whose duty it was to speak and hers to listen, and herself. This woman deserved to be——. And the look she cast behind her as she danced and sang! It was sweet, so wistful; the presence of purity had silenced him. Purity! Who had made him fling that divit? He would think no more of her. Let it suffice that he knew what she was. He would put her from his thoughts. Was it a ring on her finger?
Fifty yards in front of him Gavin saw the road end in a wall of soldiers. They were between him and the manse, and he was still in darkness. No sound reached him, save the echo of his own feet. But was it an echo? He stopped, and turned round sharply. Now he heard nothing, he saw nothing. Yet was not that a human figure standing23 motionless in the shadow behind?
He walked on, and again heard the sound. Again he looked behind, but this time without stopping. The figure was following him. He stopped. So did it. He turned back, but it did not move. It was the Egyptian!
Gavin knew her, despite the lane of darkness, despite the long cloak that now concealed24 even her feet, despite the hood25 over her head. She was looking quite respectable, but he knew her.
He neither advanced to her nor retreated. Could 72 the unhappy girl not see that she was walking into the arms of the soldiers? But doubtless she had been driven from all her hiding-places. For a moment Gavin had it in his heart to warn her. But it was only for a moment. The next a sudden horror shot through him. She was stealing toward him, so softly that he had not seen her start. The woman had designs on him! Gavin turned from her. He walked so quickly that judges would have said he ran.
The soldiers, I have said, stood in the dim light. Gavin had almost reached them, when a little hand touched his arm.
“Stop,” cried the sergeant26, hearing some one approaching, and then Gavin stepped out of the darkness with the gypsy on his arm.
“It is you, Mr. Dishart,” said the sergeant, “and your lady?”
“I——,” said Gavin.
His lady pinched his arm.
“Yes,” she answered, in an elegant English voice that made Gavin stare at her, “but, indeed, I am sorry I ventured into the streets to-night. I thought I might be able to comfort some of these unhappy people, captain, but I could do little, sadly little.”
“It is no scene for a lady, ma’am, but your husband has——. Did you speak, Mr. Dishart?”
“Yes, I must inf——”
“My dear,” said the Egyptian, “I quite agree with you, so we need not detain the captain.”
“I’m only a sergeant, ma’am.”
“Indeed!” said the Egyptian, raising her pretty eyebrows27, “and how long are you to remain in Thrums, sergeant?”
“Only for a few hours, Mrs. Dishart. If this gypsy lassie had not given us so much trouble, we might have been gone by now.”
“Ah, yes, I hope you will catch her, sergeant.”
“Sergeant,” said Gavin, firmly, “I must——”
“You must, indeed, dear,” said the Egyptian, “for you are sadly tired. Good-night, sergeant.”
“Your servant, Mrs. Dishart. Your servant, sir.”
“But——,” cried Gavin.
“Come, love,” said the Egyptian, and she walked the distracted minister through the soldiers and up the manse road.
The soldiers left behind, Gavin flung her arm from him, and, standing still, shook his fist in her face.
“You—you—woman!” he said.
This, I think, was the last time he called her a woman.
But she was clapping her hands merrily.
“It was beautiful!” she exclaimed.
“It was iniquitous28!” he answered. “And I a minister!”
“You can’t help that,” said the Egyptian, who pitied all ministers heartily29.
“No,” Gavin said, misunderstanding her, “I could not help it. No blame attaches to me.”
“I meant that you could not help being a minister. You could have helped saving me, and I thank you so much.”
“Do not dare to thank me. I forbid you to say that I saved you. I did my best to hand you over to the authorities.&rdquo............
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