ST. Ives

Page 118

But she soon opened my eyes. In the roots of the Scottish character there are knots and contortions that not only no stranger can understand, but no stranger can follow; he walks among explosives; and his best course is to throw himself upon their mercy--'Just as I am, without one plea,' a citation from one of the lady's favourite hymns.

The sound she made was unmistakable in meaning, though it was impossible to be written down; and I at once executed the manoeuvre I have recommended.

'You must remember I am a perfect stranger in your city,' said I. 'If I have done wrong, it was in mere ignorance, my dear lady; and this afternoon, if you will be so good as to take me, I shall accompany YOU.'

But she was not to be pacified at the moment, and departed to her own quarters murmuring.

'Well, Rowley,' said I; 'and have you been to church?'

'If you please, sir,' he said.

'Well, you have not been any less unlucky than I have,' I returned. 'And how did you get on with the Scottish form?'

'Well, sir, it was pretty 'ard, the form was, and reether narrow,' he replied. 'I don't know w'y it is, but it seems to me like as if things were a good bit changed since William Wallace! That was a main queer church she took me to, Mr. Anne! I don't know as I could have sat it out, if she 'adn't 'a' give me peppermints. She ain't a bad one at bottom, the old girl; she do pounce a bit, and she do worry, but, law bless you, Mr. Anne, it ain't nothink really--she don't MEAN it. W'y, she was down on me like a 'undredweight of bricks this morning. You see, last night she 'ad me in to supper, and, I beg your pardon, sir, but I took the freedom of playing her a chune or two. She didn't mind a bit; so this morning I began to play to myself, and she flounced in, and flew up, and carried on no end about Sunday!'

'You see, Rowley,' said I, 'they're all mad up here, and you have to humour them. See and don't quarrel with Mrs. McRankine; and, above all, don't argue with her, or you'll get the worst of it. Whatever she says, touch your forelock and say, "If you please!" or "I beg pardon, ma'am." And let me tell you one thing: I am sorry, but you have to go to church with her again this afternoon. That's duty, my boy!'

As I had foreseen, the bells had scarce begun before Mrs. McRankine presented herself to be our escort, upon which I sprang up with readiness and offered her my arm. Rowley followed behind. I was beginning to grow accustomed to the risks of my stay in Edinburgh, and it even amused me to confront a new churchful. I confess the amusement did not last until the end; for if Dr. Gray were long, Mr. McCraw was not only longer, but more incoherent, and the matter of his sermon (which was a direct attack, apparently, on all the Churches of the world, my own among the number), where it had not the tonic quality of personal insult, rather inclined me to slumber. But I braced myself for my life, kept up Rowley with the end of a pin, and came through it awake, but no more.

Bethiah was quite conquered by this 'mark of grace,' though, I am afraid, she was also moved by more worldly considerations. The first is, the lady had not the least objection to go to church on the arm of an elegantly dressed young gentleman, and be followed by a spruce servant with a cockade in his hat. I could see it by the way she took possession of us, found us the places in the Bible, whispered to me the name of the minister, passed us lozenges, which I (for my part) handed on to Rowley, and at each fresh attention stole a little glance about the church to make sure she was observed. Rowley was a pretty boy; you will pardon me if I also remembered that I was a favourable-looking young man. When we grow elderly, how the room brightens, and begins to look as it ought to look, on the entrance of youth, grace, health, and comeliness! You do not want them for yourself, perhaps not even for your son, but you look on smiling; and when you recall their images--again, it is with a smile.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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