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HOME > Classical Novels > The Little Minister > Chapter Eleven. TELLS IN A WHISPER OF MAN’S FALL DURING THE CURLING SEASON.
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 No snow could be seen in Thrums by the beginning of the year, though clods of it lay in Waster Lunny’s fields, where his hens wandered all day as if looking for something they had dropped. A black frost had set in, and one walking on the glen road could imagine that through the cracks in it he saw a loch glistening1. From my door I could hear the roar of curling stones at Rashie-bog, which is almost four miles nearer Thrums. On the day I am recalling, I see that I only made one entry in my diary, “At last bought Waster Lunny’s bantams.” Well do I remember the transaction, and no wonder, for I had all but bought the bantams every day for a six months.  
About noon the doctor’s dogcart was observed by all the Tenements2 standing3 at the Auld5 Licht manse. The various surmises6 were wrong. Margaret had not been suddenly taken ill; Jean had not swallowed a darning-needle; the minister had not walked out at his study window in a moment of sublime7 thought. Gavin stepped into the dogcart, which at once drove off in the direction of Rashie-bog, but equally in error were those who said that the doctor was making a curler of him.
There was, however, ground for gossip; for Thrums folk seldom called in a doctor until it was too late to cure them, and McQueen was not the man to pay social visits. Of his skill we knew fearsome stories, as that, by looking at Archie Allardyce, who had come to 101 broken bones on a ladder, he discovered which rung Archie fell from. When he entered a stuffy8 room he would poke9 his staff through the window to let in fresh air, and then fling down a shilling to pay for the breakage. He was deaf in the right ear, and therefore usually took the left side of prosy people, thus, as he explained, making a blessing10 of an affliction. “A pity I don’t hear better?” I have heard him say. “Not at all. If my misfortune, as you call it, were to be removed, you can’t conceive how I should miss my deaf ear.” He was a fine fellow, though brusque, and I never saw him without his pipe until two days before we buried him, which was five-and-twenty years ago come Martinmas.
“We’re all quite weel,” Jean said apprehensively11 as she answered his knock on the manse door, and she tried to be pleasant, too, for well she knew that, if a doctor willed it, she could have fever in five minutes.
“Ay, Jean, I’ll soon alter that,” he replied ferociously12. “Is the master in?”
“He’s at his sermon,” Jean said with importance.
To interrupt the minister at such a moment seemed sacrilege to her, for her up-bringing had been good. Her mother had once fainted in the church, but though the family’s distress13 was great, they neither bore her out, nor signed to the kirk-officer to bring water. They propped14 her up in the pew in a respectful attitude, joining in the singing meanwhile, and she recovered in time to look up 2nd Chronicles, 21st and 7th.
“Tell him I want to speak to him at the door,” said the doctor fiercely, “or I’ll bleed you this minute.”
McQueen would not enter, because his horse might have seized the opportunity to return stablewards. At the houses where it was accustomed to stop, it drew up of its own accord, knowing where the Doctor’s “cases” were as well as himself, but it resented new patients.
“You like misery15, I think, Mr. Dishart,” McQueen said when Gavin came to him, “at least I am always 102 finding you in the thick of it, and that is why I am here now. I have a rare job for you if you will jump into the machine. You know Nanny Webster, who lives on the edge of Windyghoul? No, you don’t, for she belongs to the other kirk. Well, at all events, you knew her brother, Sanders, the mole-catcher?”
“I remember him. You mean the man who boasted so much about seeing a ball at Lord Rintoul’s place?”
“The same, and, as you may know, his boasting about maltreating policemen whom he never saw led to his being sentenced to nine months in gaol16 lately.”
“That is the man,” said Gavin. “I never liked him.”
“No, but his sister did,” McQueen answered, drily, “and with reason, for he was her breadwinner, and now she is starving.”
“Anything I can give her——”
“Would be too little, sir.”
“But the neighbours——”
“She has few near her, and though the Thrums poor help each other bravely, they are at present nigh as needy17 as herself. Nanny is coming to the poorhouse, Mr. Dishart.”
“God help her!” exclaimed Gavin.
“Nonsense,” said the doctor, trying to make himself a hard man. “She will be properly looked after there, and—and in time she will like it.”
“Don’t let my mother hear you speaking of taking an old woman to that place,” Gavin said, looking anxiously up the stair. I cannot pretend that Margaret never listened.
“You all speak as if the poorhouse was a gaol,” the doctor said testily18. “But so far as Nanny is concerned, everything is arranged. I promised to drive her to the poorhouse to-day, and she is waiting for me now. Don’t look at me as if I was a brute19. She is to take some of her things with her to the poorhouse and the 103 rest is to be left until Sanders’s return, when she may rejoin him. At least we said that to her to comfort her.”
“You want me to go with you?”
“Yes, though I warn you it may be a distressing20 scene; indeed, the truth is that I am loth to face Nanny alone to-day. Mr. Duthie should have accompanied me, for the Websters are Established Kirk; ay, and so he would if Rashie-bog had not been bearing. A terrible snare21 this curling, Mr. Dishart”—here the doctor sighed—“I have known Mr. Duthie wait until midnight struck on Sabbath and then be off to Rashie-bog with a torch.”
“I will go with you,” Gavin said, putting on his coat.
“Jump in then. You won’t smoke? I never see a respectable man not smoking, sir, but I feel indignant with him for such sheer waste of time.”
Gavin smiled at this, and Snecky Hobart, who happened to be keeking over the manse dyke22, bore the news to the Tenements.
“I’ll no sleep the nicht,” Snecky said, “for wondering what made the minister lauch. Ay, it would be no trifle.”
A minister, it is certain, who wore a smile on his face would never have been called to the Auld Licht kirk, for life is a wrestle23 with the devil, and only the frivolous24 think to throw him without taking off their coats. Yet, though Gavin’s zeal25 was what the congregation reverenced26, many loved him privately27 for his boyishness. He could unbend at marriages, of which he had six on the last day of the year, and at every one of them he joked (the same joke) like a layman28. Some did not approve of his playing at the teetotum for ten minutes with Kitty Dundas’s invalid29 son, but the way Kitty boasted about it would have disgusted anybody. At the present day there are probably a score of Gavins in Thrums, all called after the little minister, and there is one Gavinia, whom he hesitated to christen. He 104 made humorous remarks (the same remark) about all these children, and his smile as he patted their heads was for thinking over when one’s work was done for the day.
The doctor’s horse clattered30 up the Backwynd noisily, as if a minister behind made no difference to it. Instead of climbing the Roods, however, the nearest way to Nanny’s, it went westward31, which Gavin, in a reverie, did not notice. The truth must be told. The Egyptian was again in his head.
“Have I fallen deaf in the left ear, too?” said the doctor. “I see your lips moving, but I don’t catch a syllable32.”
Gavin started, coloured, and flung the gypsy out of the trap.
“Why are we not going up the Roods?” he asked.
“Well,” said the............
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