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HOME > Classical Novels > The Little Minister > Chapter Twenty. END OF THE STATE OF INDECISION.
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 Long before I had any thought of writing this story, I had told it so often to my little maid that she now knows some of it better than I. If you saw me looking up from my paper to ask her, “What was it that Birse said to Jean about the minister’s flowers?” or, “Where was Hendry Munn hidden on the night of the riots?” and heard her confident answers, you would conclude that she had been in the thick of these events, instead of born many years after them. I mention this now because I have reached a point where her memory contradicts mine. She maintains that Rob Dow was told of the meeting in the wood by the two boys whom it disturbed, while my own impression is that he was a witness of it. If she is right, Rob must have succeeded in frightening the boys into telling no other person, for certainly the scandal did not spread in Thrums. After all, however, it is only important to know that Rob did learn of the meeting. Its first effect was to send him sullenly2 to the drink.  
Many a time since these events have I pictured what might have been their upshot had Dow confided3 their discovery to me. Had I suspected why Rob was grown so dour4 again, Gavin’s future might have been very different. I was meeting Rob now and again in the glen, asking, with an affected5 carelessness he did not bottom, for news of the little minister, but what he told me was only the gossip of the town; and what I should have known, that Thrums might never know it, he kept 178 to himself. I suppose he feared to speak to Gavin, who made several efforts to reclaim6 him, but without avail.
Yet Rob’s heart opened for a moment to one man, or rather was forced open by that man. A few days after the meeting at the well, Rob was bringing the smell of whisky with him down Banker’s Close when he ran against a famous staff, with which the doctor pinned him to the wall.
“Ay,” said the outspoken7 doctor, looking contemptuously into Rob’s bleary eyes, “so this is what your conversion9 amounts to? Faugh! Rob Dow, if you were half a man the very thought of what Mr. Dishart has done for you would make you run past the public houses.”
“It’s the thocht o’ him that sends me running to them,” growled10 Rob, knocking down the staff. “Let me alane.”
“What do you mean by that?” demanded McQueen, hooking him this time.
“Speir at himsel’; speir at the woman.”
“What woman?”
“Take your staff out o’ my neck.”
“Not till you tell me why you, of all people, are speaking against the minister.”
Torn by a desire for a confidant and loyalty11 to Gavin, Rob was already in a fury.
“Say again,” he burst forth12, “that I was speaking agin the minister and I’ll practise on you what I’m awid to do to her.”
“Who is she?”
“Wha’s wha?”
“The woman whom the minister——?”
“I said nothing about a woman,” said poor Rob, alarmed for Gavin. “Doctor, I’m ready to swear afore a bailie that I never saw them thegither at the Kaims.”
“The Kaims!” exclaimed the doctor suddenly enlightened. “Pooh! you only mean the Egyptian. 179 Rob, make your mind easy about this. I know why he met her there.”
“Do you ken8 that she has bewitched him; do you ken I saw him trying to put his arms round her; do you ken they have a trysting-place in Caddam wood?”
This came from Rob in a rush, and he would fain have called it all back.
“I’m drunk, doctor, roaring drunk,” he said, hastily, “and it wasna the minister I saw ava; it was another man.”
Nothing more could the doctor draw from Rob, but he had heard sufficient to smoke some pipes on. Like many who pride themselves on being recluses13, McQueen loved the gossip that came to him uninvited; indeed, he opened his mouth to it as greedily as any man in Thrums. He respected Gavin, however, too much to find this new dish palatable14, and so his researches to discover whether other Auld15 Lichts shared Rob’s fears were conducted with caution. “Is there no word of your minister’s getting a wife yet?” he asked several, but only got for answers, “There’s word o’ a Glasgow leddy’s sending him baskets o’ flowers,” or “He has his een open, but he’s taking his time; ay, he’s looking for the blade o’ corn in the stack o’ chaff16.”
This convinced McQueen that the congregation knew nothing of the Egyptian, but it did not satisfy him, and he made an opportunity of inviting17 Gavin into the surgery. It was, to the doctor, the cosiest18 nook in his house, but to me and many others a room that smelled of hearses. On the top of the pipes and tobacco tins that littered the table there usually lay a death certificate, placed there deliberately19 by the doctor to scare his sister, who had a passion for putting the surgery to rights.
“By the way,” McQueen said, after he and Gavin had talked a little while, “did I ever advise you to smoke?”
“It is your usual form of salutation,” Gavin answered, laughing. “But I don’t think you ever supplied me with a reason.”
“I daresay not. I am too experienced a doctor to cheapen my prescriptions20 in that way. However, here is one good reason. I have noticed, sir, that at your age a man is either a slave to a pipe or to a woman. Do you want me to lend you a pipe now?”
“Then I am to understand,” asked Gavin, slyly, “that your locket came into your possession in your pre-smoking days, and that you merely wear it from habit?”
“Tuts!” answered the doctor, buttoning his coat. “I told you there was nothing in the locket. If there is, I have forgotten what it is.”
“You are a hopeless old bachelor, I see,” said Gavin, unaware21 that the doctor was probing him. He was surprised next moment to find McQueen in the ecstasies22 of one who has won a rubber.
“Now, then,” cried the jubilant doctor, “as you have confessed so much, tell me all about her. Name and address, please.”
“Confess! What have I confessed?”
“It won’t do, Mr. Dishart, for even your face betrays you. No, no, I am an old bird, but I have not forgotten the ways of the fledgelings. ‘Hopeless bachelor,’ sir, is a sweetmeat in every young man’s mouth until of a sudden he finds it sour, and that means the banns. When is it to be?”
“We must find the lady first,” said the minister, uncomfortably.
“You tell me, in spite of that face, that you have not fixed23 on her?”
“The difficulty, I suppose, would be to persuade her to fix on me.”
“Not a bit of it. But you admit there is some one?”
“Who would have me?”
“You are wriggling24 out of it. Is it the banker’s daughter?”
“No,” Gavin cried.
“I hear you have walked up the back wynd with her three times this week. The town is in a ferment25 about it.”
“She is a great deal in the back wynd.”
“Fiddle-de-dee! I am oftener in the back wynd than you, and I never meet her there.”
“That is curious.”
“No, it isn’t, but never mind. Perhaps you have fallen to Miss Pennycuick’s piano? Did you hear it going as we passed the house?”
“She seems always to be playing on her piano.”
“Not she; but you are supposed to............
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