Read CHAPTER VII - THE DOCTOR’S ADVENT of The Dew of Their Youth , free online book, by S. R. Crockett, on ReadCentral.com.

The firm of lawyers in Dumfries, the agents for the Maitland properties, did not seem to be taking any measures to dispossess Miss Irma and young Sir Louis. Perhaps they, too, had private information. Perhaps those who had brought the children to Marnhoul may have been in the confidence of that notable firm of Smart, Poole & Smart in the High Street. At any rate they made no move towards ejection. They may also have argued that any one who could dispossess the ghosts and make Marnhoul once more a habitable mansion, was welcome to the tenancy.

It was the Reverend Doctor Gillespie who, first of all the distinguished men of the parish, received in some slight degree the confidence of Miss Irma. Grandmother knew more, of course, and perhaps, also, Agnes Anne. But, with the feeling of women towards those whom they approve, they became Irma’s accomplices. Women are like that. When you tell them a secret, if they don’t like you, they become traitors. If they do, they are at once confederates. But the Doctor visited Marnhoul as a deputation, officially, and also for the purpose of setting the minds of the genteel at rest.

The Doctor’s lady gave him no peace till he did his duty. The General’s womenfolk at the Bungalow were clamorous. It was not seemly. Something must be done, and since the action of Mr. Shepstone Oglethorpe on the occasion of the assault on the house had put him out of the question, and as the General flatly refused to have anything to do with the affair, it was obvious that the duty must fall to the Doctor.

Nor could a better choice have been made. Eden Valley has known many preachers, but never another such pastor-never a shepherd of the sheep like the Doctor. I can see him yet walking down the manse avenue-it had been just “the Loaning” in the days before the advent of the second Mrs. Doctor Gillespie-a silver-headed cane in his hand, everything about him carefully groomed, and his very port breathing a peculiarly grave and sober dignity. Grey locks, still plentiful, clustered about his head. His cocked hat (of the antique pattern which, early in his ministry, he had imported by the dozen from Versailles) never altered in pattern. Buckles of unpolished silver shone dully at his knee and bent across his square-toed shoes.

Above all spread his neckcloth, spotless, enveloping, cumbrous, reverence-compelling, a cravat worthy of a Moderator. And indeed the Doctor-our Doctor, parish minister of Eden Valley, had “passed the Chair” of the General Assembly. We were all proud of the fact, even top-lofty Cameronians like my grandmother secretly delighting in the thought of the Doctor in his robes of office.

“There would be few like him away there in Edinburgh,” she would say. “The Doctor’s a braw man, and does us credit afore the great of the land-for a’ that he’s a Moderate!”

And had he been the chief of all the Moderates, the most volcanic and aggressive of Moderates, my grandmother would have found some good thing to say of a fellow-countryman of so noble a presence-“so personable,” and “such a credit to the neighbourhood.”

Wisdom, grave and patient, was in every line of his kindly face. Something boyish and innocent told that the shades of the prison-house had never wholly closed about him. It was good to lift the hat to Dr. Gillespie as he went along-hat a little tip-tilted off the broadly-furrowed brow. In the city he is very likely to stop and regard the most various wares-children’s dolls or ladies’ underpinnings. But think not that the divine is interested in such things. His mind is absent-in communion with things very far away. Lift your hat and salute him. He will not see you, but-it will do you good!

William Gillespie was the son of a good ministerial house. His father had occupied the same pulpit. He himself had been born in his own manse-which is to say, in all the purple of which our grey Puritan land can boast. We were proud of the Doctor, and had good reason therefor. I have said that even my field-preaching grandmother looked upon the Erastian with a moisture quasi-maternal in her eyes, and as for us who “sat under him and listened to his speech,” we came well-nigh to worship him.

Yet “the Doctor” was self-effacing beyond many, and only our proper respect for the “Lady of the Manse” kept the parishioners in their places. Discourses which he had preached in the callow days of his youth on the “Book of the Revelation” had brought hearers from many distant parishes, and at that time the Doctor had had several “calls” and “offers” to proceed to other spheres on account of their fame. But he had always refused to repeat any of them.

“I have changed my mind about many things since then,” he would say; “young men are apt to be hasty! The greatest of all hérésies is dogmatism.”

But among the older saints of the parish that “series of expositions” was not forgotten. “It was” (they averred) “like the licht o’ anither world to look on his face-just heeven itsel’ to listen to him. Sirce me, there are no such discourses to be heard now-a-days-not even from himsel’!”

And be it remembered that our dear Doctor could unbend-that is, in fitting time and place. From the seats of the mighty, from Holyrood and the Moderator’s chair our Cincinnatus returned to shepherd his quiet flock among the bosky silences of Eden Valley. He wore his learning, all his weight of honour lightly-with a smile, even with a slight shrug of the shoulder. The smile, even the jest, rose continually to his lips, especially when his wife was not present. But at all times he remembered his office, and often halted with the ancient maxim at the sight of some intruder, “Let us be sober-yonder comes a fool!” And many of his visitors noticed this sudden sobriety without once suspecting its cause.

Even the Cameronians agreed that there was “unction” in the Doctor. For his brave word’s sake they forgave the hérésies of his church about the Civil Magistrate, and said freely among themselves that if in every parish there was such a minister as Dr. Gillespie, the civil magistrate would be compelled to take a very back seat indeed. But it was on Communion Sabbath days that the Doctor became, as it were, transfigured, the face of him shining, though he wist not of it.

Something of the spirit of the Crucified was poured forth that day upon men and women humbly bowing their heads over the consecrated memorials of His love.

A silence of a rare and peculiar sanctity filled the little bare, deep-windowed kirk. The odour of the flowering lilacs came in like Nature’s own incense, and the plain folk of Eden Valley got a foretaste, faint and dim, but sufficient, of the Land where the tables shall never be withdrawn.

Better preachers than the Doctor?-We grant it you, though there are many in the Valley who will not agree, but not one more fitted to break the bread of communion before the white-spread tables.

It was Agnes Anne who opened the door of Marnhoul, and stood a moment astonished at the sight of the Doctor all in black and silver-hat, coat, knee-breeches, silken hose and leathern shoes of the first, locks, studs, knee-buckles, shoe-buckles all of the second.

But our Agnes Anne was truly of the race of Mary Lyon, so in a moment she said, “Pray come in, sir!” with the self-respect of the daughter of a good house, as well as the dutifulness which she owed to one so reverend and so revered.

The Doctor was not surprised. He smiled as he recognized the school-master’s daughter. But he betrayed nothing. He laid his hand as usual on her smooth locks by way of a blessing, and inquired if Miss Maitland and Sir Louis were at home.

“They are in the school-room,” said Agnes Anne, in the most business-like tone in the world; “come this way, sir.”

It was a very different house-that which Agnes Anne showed the Doctor-from the cobweb-draped, dust-strewn, deserted mansion of a few weeks ago. Simply considering them as caretakers, the Dumfries lawyers ought to have welcomed their new tenants. So far as cleanliness went, Miss Irma had done a great deal-so much, indeed, as to earn the praise of that severest of critics, my grandmother.

But there was much that no girl could do alone. Chair-seats and sofa-cushions had been beaten till no speck of dust was left. This had had to be carefully gone about. For though, apparently, no thieves had broken through to steal, it was evident that the house had last been occupied by people of excessively careless habits, who had put muddy boots on chairs and trampled regardlessly everywhere. But the other half of the text held good. Moth and rust had certainly corrupted.

However, Agnes Anne was handy with her needle, in spite of her father and his class on Ovid. There was always a good deal to do in our house, and since mother made no great effort, and was generally tired, it fell to Agnes Anne to do it.

She it was who had re-covered the worn old drawing-room chairs with brocade found in the deep, cedar-wood lined cupboards, along with wealth of ancient court dresses, provision of household linen, and all that had belonged to the Maitlands on the day when, after the falling of the head of their house upon Tower Hill, the great old mansion had been shut up.

The Doctor had been strictly enjoined to take good heed to write everything down on his mental tablets, and to give careful account to his lady. He found the two young Maitlands seated at a table from which the cloth had been lifted at one corner to make room for copybooks, ink, pens and reading-books. Evidently Miss Irma was instructing her brother.

Now, Louis, they heard her say as they came in, remember the destiny to which you are called, and that now is the time-

“The Doctor to call upon you!” Agnes Anne announced in a tone of awe befitting the occasion.

Then the stately apparition in black and silver which followed her into the room came slowly forward, smiling with outstretched hand. Miss Irma was not in the least put out. She rose and swept a curtsey with bowed head. Little Sir Louis, evidently awed by the sedate grandeur which sat so well upon the visitor, paused a moment as if uncertain how he ought to behave.

He was a little behind his sister, and completely out of the range of her vision, so he felt himself safe in sucking the ink from the side of his second finger, and rubbing the wet place hard on his black velvet breeches. Then, as Miss Irma glanced round, he fell also to his manners and bowed gravely-unconsciously imitating the grand manner of the Doctor himself.

The room used for lessons was a wide, pleasant place, rather low in the roof, plainly panelled and wainscotted in dark oak, with a single line of dull gold beading running about it high up. There was a large fireplace, with a seat all the way round, and a stout iron basket to hold the fire of sea-coal, when such was used. Brass and irons stood at the side, convenient for faggots. A huge crane and many S-shaped pot-hooks discovered the fact that at some time this place had been occupied as a kitchen, perhaps in the straitened days of the last “attainted” Maitlands.

But now the chamber was pleasant and warm, the windows open to the air and the song of the birds. Dimity curtains hung on the great poles by the windows and stirred in the breeze, as if they had been lying for half a century in dusky cupboards. Agnes Anne looked carefully to see if the darning showed, and decided that not even her grandmother could spy it out-how much less, then, the Doctor.

She was, however, annoyed that the tall, brass-faced clock in the corner, dated “Kilmaurs, 1695,” could not be made to go. But she had a promise from Boyd Connoway that he would “take a look at her” as soon as he had attended to three gardens and docked the tails of a litter of promising puppies.

The Doctor bowed graciously over the hand of Miss Irma, and shook hands gravely with Sir Louis, who a second time had rubbed his finger on his black velvet suit, just to make assurance doubly sure.

The conversation followed a high plane of social commonplace.

“Yes,” said Miss Irma, “it is true that our family has been a long time absent from the neighbourhood, but you are right in supposing that we mean to settle down here for some time.”

Then she deigned to enter into particulars. She had her brother to bring up according to his rank, for, since there was no one else to undertake the charge, it fell to her lot. Luckily she had received a good education up to the time when she had the misfortune-

“Ah,” said the Doctor quickly, “I understand.”

He said nothing further in words, but his sympathetic silence conveyed a great deal, and was more eloquent and consolatory than most people’s speech.

“And where were you educated?” asked the Doctor gently.

“My father sent me to the Ursuline Sisters in Paris,” said Miss Irma calmly.

The Doctor was secretly astonished and much disappointed, but his face expressed nothing beyond his habitual good nature. He replied, “Then your father has had you brought up a Catholic, Miss Maitland?”

“Indeed, no,” answered Miss Irma, “only he had often occasion to be away on his affairs, and to keep me out of mischief he left me with the Ursulines and my aunt the Abbess. At my father’s death I might have stayed on with the good sisters, but I left because I was not allowed to see my brother.”

“Then am I right in thinking that-that-in fact-you are a Presbyterian?” said the Doctor, playing with the inlaid snuffbox which he carried in his hand. The amount of time he occupied in tapping the lid and the invisibility of the pinches he had ever been seen to take were alike marvels in the district.

“I have no religious prejudices,” said Miss Irma to the Doctor, in a calm, well-bred manner which must have secretly amused that distinguished theologian, fresh from editing the works of Manton.

“I did not speak of prejudices, dear young lady” (he spoke gently, yet with the thrill in his voice which showed how deeply he was moved), “but of belief, of religion, of principles of thought and action.”

Miss Irma opened her eyes very wide. The sound of the Doctor’s words came to her ears like the accents of an unknown tongue.

The sisters were very good people, she said at last; they give themselves a great deal of trouble-

“What kind of trouble?” said the Doctor.

“Kneeling and scrubbing floors for one thing,” said Miss Irma; “getting up at all hours, doing good works, praying, and burning candles to the Virgin.”

“I should advise you,” said the Doctor, with his most gentle accent, “to say as little as possible about that part of your experience here in Eden Valley.”

Miss Irma looked exceedingly surprised.

“I thought I told you they were exceedingly good people. They were very kind to me, though they looked on me as a lost heretic. I am sure they said prayers for me many times a day!”

The Doctor looked more hopeful. He was thinking that after all he might make something of his strange parishioner, when the young lady recalled him by a repetition of her former declaration, “As I said, I have no religious prejudices!”

“No,” said the Doctor a little sharply-for him, “but still each one of us ought to be fully persuaded in his own mind.”

“And that means,” Miss Irma answered, quick as a flash, “that most of us are fully persuaded according to our father and mother’s mind, and the way they have brought us up. But then, you see, I never was brought up. I know very well that my family were Presbyterians. Once I read about their sufferings in two great volumes by a Mr. Wodrow, or some such name. But then my grandfather lost most of his estates fighting for the King-

“For the Popish Pretender,” said the Doctor, who could speak no smooth things when it was a matter of the Revolution Settlement and the government of King George.

For the man he believed to be king, while others stayed snugly at home, persisted Miss Irma. Then my mother was a Catholic, and my father too busy to care-

“My poor young maid,” said the Doctor, “it is wonderful to see you as you are!”

And secretly the excellent man was planning out a campaign to lead this lamb into the fold of that Kirk of Scotland, for the purity of whose doctrine and intact spiritual independence her forefathers had shed their blood.

“At any rate,” said he, rising and bending again over the girl’s hand with old-fashioned politeness, “you will remember that your family pew is in the front of our laft-I mean in the gallery of the parish kirk of Eden Valley.”

And the Doctor took his leave without ever remembering that he had failed in the principal part of his mission, having quite forgotten to find out by what means these two young things came to find themselves alone in the Great House of Marnhoul.