This romance first appeared serially in Good Words in 1891, and was issued the same year in book form. It was dramatized by its author in 1897, and was received with great favor both in England and the United States. The scene of the tale is the market-town of Kirriemuir, Forfarshire, Scotland, about sixty miles north of Edinburgh, and designated as Thrums in the novel, much attention being paid to local coloring. The major part of the action of the novel covers a period of about ten months, but in the drama it is condensed within less than a fortnight.
AT twenty-one, Gavin Dishart was settled as minister of the Auld Licht parish in Thrums, a congregation composed mainly of weavers and their families. His mother, Margaret Dishart, was the widow of Adam Dishart, a fisherman of Harire, on the east coast, and at his death, when her son was but four years old, she removed to Glasgow, where the two remained until Gavin got his call to Thrums.
When Margaret was a young girl she was beloved by Gavin Ogilvy, later the dominie, or schoolmaster, of Glen Quharity, the supposed narrator of the story. A shy, timid man, he was soon distanced in his courtship by Dishart, for he says: “I went back to Aberdeen to write a poem about her, and while I was at it Adam married her.”
Three months after the wedding Adam disappeared, most people supposing he had fallen over the cliff into the sea, and after two years Margaret married Ogilvy, who kept the school at Harvie. Nearly six years had elapsed when Adam came back, claimed Margaret as his wife, and pitched a coin in order to determine whose child the four-year-old boy should be, with the result that the lad fell to him. The dominie left home that same day and never saw Margaret again till seventeen years afterward, when she came to Thrums with her son, “the little minister,” as he soon came to be known by reason of his short stature. Margaret, however, knew nothing of the dominie’s whereabouts after he left Harvie, and Ogilvy determined she never should see him in Thrums.
Once established in the manse with his mother and the serving-maid, Jean, “in eight days Gavin’s figure was more familiar in Thrums than many that had grown bent in it. Though short of stature he cast a great shadow. He was so full of his duties, Jean said, that though he pulled the door to as he left the manse, he had passed the currant-bushes before it `snecked.’ He darted into courts, and invented ways into awkward houses. If you did not look up quickly he was ’round the corner.”
A few months before Gavin’s call to Thrums, the turbulent weavers of the town had made riotous demonstrations toward the manufacturers who had reduced the price of the web; and since then a watch had been kept by the weavers lest the sheriff should suddenly bring a force of soldiery to overawe the neighborhood. The blowing of a horn was to be a signal to Thrums that the soldiers had arrived and that the persons who had led the riot should make haste to flee. The possibility of the coming of the soldiers was the principal topic of discussion in Thrums save the settlement of the Auld Licht minister. Rob Dow, a drunken weaver, who came to kirk to annoy the minister, was unaccountably turned from his design and be-came one of Gavin’s stanch supporters.
“My certie,” he roared, “there’s the shine frae Heaven on that little minister’s face, and them as says there’s no has me to fecht.”
On one evening the minister visited Dow, who lived in the neighboring hamlet of New Zealand, and after praying with him and encouraging him in his resolution to keep sober, went on to visit a gipsy family called the Wild Lindsays. Not finding them, he was coming through a patch of woodland by moonlight when he saw a dancing figure before him that he fancied might be the embodiment of a maiden said to haunt the place. Presently she sang, and when she saw him she kissed her hand to him and fled. Under the spell of the moment, he pursued her, but in vain; and soon after he heard the signal horn. Hastening now to the public square of Thrums he saw the figure of the gipsy again, this time as the leader of a dozen men with staves and pikes. In a few moments the square was filled with a turbulent throng, but “the Egyptian,” as he had heard the gipsy girl called, was not visible. The minister endeavored to pacify the excited people, but the Egyptian, who now appeared, opposed his counsel, saying:
“This mair I ken, that the captain of the soldiers is confident he’ll nab every one o’ you that’s wanted unless you do one thing.”
“If you a’ run different ways you’re lost, but if you keep the gither you’ll be able to force a road into the country whaur you can scatter.”
Intelligence now arrived that the soldiers were approaching from the north; and crying “Follow me!” the gipsy girl ran past the town house, with the crowd after her, and Gavin and Rob Dow were left alone in the square. Dow, bidden by the minister, escaped to the eastward, and Gavin hastened to the spot where the weavers were contending with the soldiers, commanded by Captain Halliwell. Stones and clods were cast at the soldiers; and, unnoticed by anyone, the Egyptian pressed a clod into Gavin’s hand, whispering “Hit him!” Ere he knew what he was about, Gavin flung the clod and hit the captain on the head. He was horror-stricken at having done so, but when he turned to reproach’ the girl she had vanished.
It was not long ere the town house was full of prisoned weavers, and the sheriff and Captain Halliwell in its round room were discussing the evening’s tumult. It presently developed that the Egyptian had cleverly induced the Thrums policeman, nicknamed “Weary-world,” to blow the horn; and at that moment of revelation she was brought to the round room. There was much questioning on the part of sheriff and captain, but with small result; and presently the girl, adroitly up-setting the lamp, fled in the darkness, after locking the door behind her and thus imprisoning the sheriff and Halliwell.
At three o’clock in the morning, Gavin was returning home after trying to comfort the families whose heads had been captured, when he saw a file of soldiers in front of him, and also perceived the gipsy in a long cloak approaching him. To his dismay she grasped his arm, and the soldiers, now recognizing him, inferred that his companion must be his wife. Quickly forestalling his remonstrance, she caught at the occasion thus offered, and, in a brief conversation with the sergeant commanding the soldiers, sustained the role of the minister’s wife with entire success. To Gavin’s subsequent reproaches she was alternately penitent and audacious, speaking freely in “broad Scots” and good English by turns. They parted, but she quickly returned, not being able to escape in the way she had hoped, and, distracted by contradictory emotions, he bade her hide in the manse garden.
On the Sunday after the riot Gavin was announcing his text to be in the eighth chapter of Ezra, when, to the amazement of his hearers, he came to a full stop, and then, showing much agitation, announced a text from Genesis, chapter three, verse six, and preached a long extemporaneous sermon against women. The pulpit Bible had been used by him in the summer-house of the manse garden, and as he was giving out the text from Ezra his eyes had rested on a scrap of writing on the sacred page:
“I will never tell who flung the clod at Captain Halliwell. But why did you fling it? I will never tell that you allowed me to be called Mrs. Dishart before witnesses. But is not this a Scotch marriage? Signed, Babble the Egyptian.”
Sanders Webster, the mole-catcher, whose bragging about maltreating policemen he never saw led to his being sent to jail for nine months, had a sister Nanny with whom he lived, and his imprisonment left her alone and starving. Early in January Gavin and Dr. McQueen visited her in order to reconcile her to the necessary removal to the poorhouse. The old woman was most unhappy at the thought of leaving her home, and while Gavin was praying with her the Egyptian entered Nanny’s hut. Reproaching the two men for their proposed disposition of Nanny, the gipsy promised that she would herself pay the needful seven shillings weekly for the old woman’s support till Sanders Webster should be let out of jail in the following August. She added that if the minister would meet her at a specified place on the Monday, she would hand him a five-pound note for Nanny’s behoof. The minister promised, and the doctor then drove away. Babbie now absented herself for a short time in order to get some tea and other necessaries for Nanny, and presently the three sat at tea in very sociable fashion; Gavin in love with Babbie, but as yet unaware of it, and now and again bewildered by her coquetry and rapidly changing moods.
Gavin made no mention of the Egyptian to his mother, but on Monday he met Babbie at the place appointed, the Kaims, where a much longer conversation ensued than was strictly required to accomplish the errand of each; but when Gavin stretched out his arms toward the mysterious girl, she ran away.
When the little minister had gone, a man came from be-hind a tree. It was Rob Dow, black with passion.
“It’s the Egyptian!” he cried. “You limmer, wha are you that hae got haud o’ the minister?”
The next meeting of Babbie and Gavin was near Nanny’s hut, and this time Gavin was quite sure of the nature of the feeling he had for her. Meanwhile, Thrums folk were suspicious that their clergyman was in love with someone, but Rob Dow was the only person who knew of Babbie in this connection; and he feared that Gavin was being led astray. Dr. McQueen, however, surprised the secret from Rob, who would fain have called it all back. “I’m roaring drunk, doctor,” he said, “and it wasna the minister I saw ava’; it was another man.” At the first opportunity McQueen taxed Gavin with his interest in Babbie, whereupon the minister owned his love for the girl and his intention to marry her.
Late that night Gavin saw the flash of a lantern from his window, and going to the garden he found Babbie and kissed her as she sat in the summer-seat. He insisted on accompanying her back to old Nanny’s in spite of the risk incurred should anyone meet them thus together; and they very shortly encountered the dominie, Mr. Ogilvy.
“It is natural,” Gavin said, “that you, sir, should wonder why I am here with this woman at such an hour, and you may know me so little as to think ill of me for it. But I will explain nothing. You are not my judge. If you would do me harm, sir, you have it in your power.”
The Egyptian must have seen that his suspicions hurt Mr. Ogilvy, for she said softly:
“You are the schoolmaster in Glen Quharity? Then you will perhaps save Mr. Dishart the trouble of coming farther by showing me the way to old Nanny Webster’s.”
“I have to pass the house,” he answered.
At the house she looked abruptly into the dominie’s face and said, “You love him, too.”
On the morrow following, Babbie encountered, on a bleak hill near Thrums, Rob Dow’s small son, Micah, weeping upon the wishing-stone there. Her questions elicited the information that he was wishing that the woman who had driven his father to drink was in hell. Her identity was unknown to him, and his father had said she should be burned for a witch. It was Mr. Dishart that she had power over, the boy added. ” My father’s michty fond o’ him, and when the folk ken about the woman they’ll stane the minister out o’ Thrums.”
Presently Micah said with conviction :
“You’re the woman! You nicht gang awa’. If ony shame comes to the minister his auld mither’ll die. I’ll gie you my rabbit if you’ll gang awa’.”
Babbie promised to go away and never return. Months elapsed, and Gavin at last gave up the search for her, convinced that he should never see her again.
On the 5th of August the old Lord Rintoul was to be married to a young bride at the Spittal, between Thrums and Glen Quharity, and on the day previous many persons were gathered to celebrate the occasion. Ogilvy from his window saw Lauchlan Campbell, a Highland piper, rushing down the highway playing his pipes and now and again shaking his fist in the direction of the Spittal, the immediate cause of his wrath being a command to play an air abhorrent to the Campbells. Some hours later, Babbie entered the dominie’s house, crying out that Gavin had been killed by the angry piper. This, however, was a mistake. The piper, in an altercation with Dow, had been stunned by a blow from the other; Gavin, trying to intercept the blow, had fallen, and the report had gone out that he was killed. Ogilvy, having left Babbie at old Nanny’s, went onward to Thrums and there learned the truth from Gavin himself, who then accompanied the dominie back to Nanny’s and so discovered Babbie.
Ogilvy left them together, and Babble, confessing that she was to be married to Lord Rintoul, told him of her gipsy origin and how Rintoul had found and educated her in order some day to marry her. But it was Gavin who had taught her what love was, she said. A meeting at the kirk to pray for rain was to be held that same evening, but Gavin did not appear, and the congregation dispersed in mingled anger and sorrow to search for their minister. Lord Rintoul was already searching in his dog-cart for the promised bride, who had fled from him at the last moment, and, knowing this, Gavin and Babbie went on to the gipsy camp and were there married, gipsy fashion, over the tongs.
A drought of many weeks was broken that night by a deluge of rain, preceded by lightning flashes, in one of which Gavin and Babbie were revealed to Rintoul with hands clasped over the tongs. The ceremony had barely taken place when Babbie was snatched from her husband in the darknessby Rintoul, as Gavin then thought. The storm now increased in violence, and the countryside was soon under water. In the morning Dominie Ogilvy found his schoolhouse surrounded by water, and not far away he discovered Gavin lying exhausted on the hillside. Taking the minister to the schoolhouse, the dominie allowed him to sleep many hours.
When Gavin awoke, fully determined to prevent Babble’s marriage to Rintoul, the dominie, in hopes to change his resolution, revealed the story of their relation to each other, but Gavin remained resolute and set off for the Spittal while Ogilvy departed for Thrums in order to send word to Margaret that her son was safe. The fog was now very dense, and only by great hazard could Ogilvy make his way through the flooded region, and by long detours reach Thrums where, to his great surprise, he found Babbie at the manse.
Her captor at the gipsy camp was not Rintoul but Rob Dow, who, in his insane regard for Gavin, meant to kill Babble for having led the minister astray, as he explained to her in frenzied language. She managed to escape from him in the darkness, but his own progress was stopped soon after by a falling tree which pinned one of his legs to the ground. Babbie made her way at length to the manse, where Jean admitted her, and later Rintoul sought her there and begged her to return with him, but she refused. He then departed, and Margaret, who knew nothing of Gavin’s love for Babbie, fancied that only a lover’s quarrel was now dividing Babbie from Lord Rintoul.
A cannon-shot was to have been the signal that Rintoul’s marriage had taken place, and the roar of falling rocks loosened by the rain was mistaken for the signal by Gavin and others. The minister, on his way to the Spittal, narrowly escaped falling into the foaming Quharity in the mist through the warning of a shepherd; and as the fog lifted slightly they saw Rintoul lying on a fast-vanishing island below. The minister leaped boldly into the torrent, drew the Earl out of the water and tried to restore him to consciousness. In this he succeeded, but so rapidly was the island disappearing that unless help could reach them they would have been drowned in another hour. The Earl shouted out rewards, but his voice could not reach the shepherds and others on the high bank. Then the minis-ter called out the items of his will, concluding by singing the Twenty-third Psalm. All attempts to throw ropes to the two men had failed, when Rob Dow, who had been released from under the tree, with his crushed leg now leaped into the water, holding a rope whose end was caught by the Earl, who, with Gavin, was then drawn to shore in safety, while Rob, whom Gavin tried to grasp, was swept on with the torrent.
Margaret never knew how nearly Gavin came to being turned out of his kirk, but his fortitude won back his people’s hearts. “He was an obstinate minister and love had led him a dance, but in the hour of trial he had proven himself a man.”
Gavin and Babbie were married by Gavin’s predecessor in the manse, while Lord Rintoul returned to his English estates and never came again to the Spittal. As for little Micah Dow, he had always the best of friends in the little minister. Of the dominie in the glen, by his own desire, Margaret never heard.