Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 4 The Choosing of Jim

  • And then there came those ten weeks which were like a dream, and are so now t_ook back upon. I would weary you were I to tell you what passed between u_ut oh, how earnest and fateful and all-important it was at the time! He_aywardness; her ever-varying moods, now bright, now dark, like a meadow unde_rifting clouds; her causeless angers; her sudden repentances, each in tur_illing me with joy or sorrow: these were my life, and all the rest was bu_mptiness. But ever deep down behind all my other feelings was a vagu_isquiet, a fear that I was like the man who set forth to lay hands upon th_ainbow, and that the real Edie Calder, however near she might seem, was i_ruth for ever beyond my reach.
  • For she was so hard to understand, or, at least, she was so for a dull-witte_ountry lad like me. For if I would talk to her of my real prospects, and ho_y taking in the whole of Corriemuir we might earn a hundred good pounds ove_he extra rent, and maybe be able to build out the parlour at West Inch, so a_o make it fine for her when we married, she would pout her lips and droop he_yes, as though she scarce had patience to listen to me. But if I would le_er build up dreams about what I might become, how I might find a paper whic_roved me to be the true heir of the laird, or how, without joining the army, which she would by no means hear of, I showed myself to be a great warrio_ntil my name was in all folks' mouths, then she would be as blithe as th_ay. I would keep up the play as well as I could, but soon some luckless wor_ould show that I was only plain Jock Calder of West Inch, and out would com_er lip again in scorn of me. So we moved on, she in the air and I on th_round; and if the rift had not come in one way, it must in another.
  • It was after Christmas, but the winter had been mild, with just frost enoug_o make it safe walking over the peat bogs. One fresh morning Edie had bee_ut early, and she came back to breakfast with a fleck of colour on he_heeks.
  • "Has your friend the doctor's son come home, Jack?" says she.
  • "I heard that he was expected."
  • "Ah! then it must have been him that I met on the muir."
  • "What! you met Jim Horscroft?"
  • "I am sure it must be he. A splendid-looking man — a hero, with curly blac_air, a short, straight nose, and grey eyes. He had shoulders like a statue, and as to height, why I suppose that your head, Jack, would come up to hi_carf-pin."
  • "Up to his ear, Edie!" said I, indignantly. "That is, if it was Jim. But tel_e. Had he a brown wooden pipe stuck in the corner of his mouth?"
  • "Yes, he was smoking. He was dressed in grey, and he has a grand deep stron_oice."
  • "Ho, ho! you spoke to him!" said I.
  • She coloured a little, as if she had said more than she meant.
  • "I was going where the ground was a little soft, and he warned me of it," sh_aid.
  • "Ah it must have been dear old Jim," said I. "He should have been a docto_ears back, if his brains had been as strong as his arm. Why, heart alive, here is the very man himself!"
  • I had seen him through the kitchen window, and now I rushed out with my half- eaten bannock in my hand to greet him. He ran forward too, with his great han_ut and his eyes shining.
  • "Ah! Jock," he cried, "it's good to see you again. There are no friends lik_he old ones."
  • Then suddenly he stuck in his speech, and stared with his mouth open over m_houlder. I turned, and there was; Edie, with such a merry, roguish smile, standing in the door. How proud I felt of her, and of myself too, as I looke_t her!
  • "This is my cousin, Miss Edie Calder, Jim," said I.
  • "Do you often take walks before breakfast, Mr. Horscroft?" she asked, stil_ith that roguish smile.
  • "Yes," said he, staring at her with all his eyes.
  • "So do I, and generally over yonder," said she. "But you are not ver_ospitable to your friend, Jack. If you do not do the honours, I shall have t_ake your place for the credit of West Inch."
  • Well, in another minute we were in with the old folk, and Jim had his plate o_orridge ladled out for him; but hardly a word would he speak, but sat wit_is spoon in his hand staring at Cousin Edie. She shot little twinklin_lances across at him all the time, and it seemed to me that she was amused a_is backwardness, and that she tried by what she said to give him heart.
  • "Jack was telling me that you were studying to be a doctor," said she. "But, oh, how hard it must be, and how long it must take before one can gather s_uch learning as that!"
  • "It takes me long enough," Jim answered ruefully; "but I 'll beat it yet."
  • "Ah! but you are brave. You are resolute. You fix your eyes on a point and yo_ove on towards it, and nothing can stop you."
  • "Indeed, I 've little to boast of," said he.
  • Many a one who began with me has put up his plate years ago, and here am I bu_ student still."
  • "That is your modesty, Mr. Horscroft. They say that the bravest are alway_umble. But then, when you have gained your end, what a glorious career — t_arry healing in your hands, to raise up the suffering, to have for one's sol_nd the good of humanity!"
  • Honest Jim wriggled in his chair at this.
  • "I'm afraid I have no such very high motives, Miss Calder," said he. "It is t_arn a living, and to take over my father's business, that I do it. If I carr_ealing in one hand, I have the other out for a crown-piece."
  • "How candid and truthful you are!" she cried; and so they went on, she deckin_im with every virtue, and twisting his words to make him play the part, i_he way that I knew so well. Before he was done I could see that his head wa_uzzing with her beauty and her kindly words. I thrilled with pride to thin_hat he should think so well of my kin.
  • "Isn't she fine, Jim?" I could not help saying when we stood outside the door, he lighting his pipe before he set off home.
  • "Fine!" he cried; "I never saw her match!"
  • "We're going to be married," said I.
  • The pipe fell out of his mouth, and he stood staring at me. Then he picked i_p and walked off without a word. I thought that he would likely come back, but he never did; and I saw him far off up the brae, with his chin on hi_hest.
  • But I was not to forget him, for Cousin Edie had a hundred questions to ask m_bout his boyhood, about his strength, about the women that he was likely t_now; there was no satisfying her. And then again, later in the day, I hear_f him, but in a less pleasant fashion.
  • It was my father who came home in the evening with his mouth full of poor Jim.
  • He had been deadly drunk since midday, had been down to Westhouse Links t_ight the gipsy champion, and it was not certain that the man would liv_hrough the night. My father had met Jim on the high road, dour as a thunder- cloud, and with an insult in his eye for every man that passed him. "Gui_akes!" said the old man. "He'll make a fine practice for himsel', if breakin_anes will do it."
  • Cousin Edie laughed at all this, and I laughed because she did; but I was no_o sure that it was funny.
  • On the third day afterwards, I was going up Corriemuir by the sheep-track, when who should I see striding down but Jim himself. But he was a differen_an from the big, kindly fellow who had supped his porridge with us the other- morning. He had no collar nor tie, his vest was open, his hair matted, and hi_ace mottled, like a man who has drunk heavily overnight. He carried an as_tick, and he slashed at the whin-bushes on either side of the path.
  • "Why, Jim!" said I.
  • But he looked at me in the way that I had often seen at school when the devi_as strong in him, and when he knew that he was in the wrong, and yet set hi_ill to brazen it out. Not a word did he say, but he brushed past me on th_arrow path and swaggered on, still brandishing his ashplant and cutting a_he bushes.
  • Ah well, I was not angry with him. I was sorry, very sorry, and that was all.
  • Of course, I was not so blind but that I could see how the matter stood. H_as in love with Edie, and he could not bear to think that I should have her.
  • Poor devil, how could he help it? Maybe I should have been the same. There wa_ time when I should have wondered that a girl could have turned a stron_an's head like that, but I knew more about it now.
  • For a fortnight I saw nothing of Jim Horscroft, and then came the Thursda_hich was to change the whole current of my life.
  • I had woke early that day, and with a little thrill of joy which is a rar_hing to feel when a man first opens his eyes. Edie had been kinder than usua_he night before, and I had fallen asleep with the thought that maybe at las_ had caught the rainbow, and that without any imaginings or make-believes sh_as learning to love plain, rough Jock Calder of West Inch. It was thi_hought, stiff at my heart, which had given me that little morning chirrup o_oy. And then I remembered that if I hastened I might be in time for her, fo_t was her custom to go out with the sunrise.
  • But I was too late. When I came to her door it was half-open and the roo_mpty. Well, thought I, at least I may meet her and have the homeward wal_ith her. From the top of Corriemuir hill you may see all the country round; so, catching up my stick, I swung off in that direction. It was bright, bu_old, and the surf, I remember, was booming loudly, though there had been n_ind in our parts for days. I zigzagged up the steep pathway, breathing in th_hin, keen morning air, and humming a lilt as I went, until I came out, _ittle short of breath, among the whins upon the top. Looking down the lon_lope of the further side, I saw Cousin Edie, as I had expected; and I saw Ji_orscroft walking by her side.
  • They were not far away, but too taken up with each other to see me. She wa_alking slowly, with the little petulant cock of her dainty head which I kne_o well, casting her eyes away from him, and shooting out a word from time t_ime. He paced along beside her, looking down at her and bending his head i_he eagerness of his talk. Then as he said something, she placed her hand wit_ caress upon his arm, and he, carried off his feet, plucked her up and kisse_er again and again. At the sight I could neither cry out nor move, but stood, with a heart of lead and the face of a dead man, staring down at them. I sa_er hand passed over his shoulder, and that his kisses were as welcome to he_s ever mine had been.
  • Then he set her down again, and I found that this had been their parting; for, indeed, in another hundred paces they would have come in view of the uppe_indows of the house. She walked slowly away, with a wave back once or twice, and he stood looking after her. I waited until she was some way off, and the_own I came, but so taken up was he, that I was within a hand's-touch of hi_efore he whisked round upon me. He tried to smile as his eye met mine.
  • "Ah, Jock," says he, "early afoot!"
  • "I saw you!" I gasped; and my throat had turned so dry that I spoke like a ma_ith a quinsy.
  • "Did you so?" said he, and gave a little whistle. "Well, on my life, Jock, I'_ot sorry. I was thinking of coming up to West Inch this very day, and havin_t out with you. Maybe it 's better as it is."
  • "You've been a fine friend!" said I.
  • "Well now, be reasonable, Jock," said he, sticking his hands in to his pocket_nd rocking to and fro as he stood. "Let me show you how it stands. Look me i_he eye, and you'll see that I don't lie. It's this way. I had met Edi — Mis_alder that is — before I came that morning, and there were things which mad_e look upon her as free; and, thinking that, I let my mind dwell on her. The_ou said she wasn't free, but was promised to you, and that was the wors_nock I've had for a time. It clean put me off, and I made a fool of mysel_or some days, and it's a mercy I 'm not in Berwick gaol. Then by chance I me_er again — on my soul, Jock, it was chance for me, — and when I spoke of yo_he laughed at the thought. It was cousin and cousin, she said; but as for he_ot being free, or you being more to her than a friend, it was fool's talk. S_ou see, Jock, I was not so much to blame, after all: the more so as sh_romised that she would let you see by her conduct that you were mistaken i_hinking that you had any claim upon her. You must have noticed that she ha_ardly had a word for you for these last two weeks."
  • I laughed bitterly.
  • "It was only last night," said I, "that she told me that I was the only man i_ll this earth that she could ever bring herself to love."
  • Jim Horscroft put out a shaking hand and laid it on my shoulder, while h_ushed his face forward to look into my eyes.
  • "Jock Calder," said he, "I never knew you tell a lie. You are not trying t_core trick against trick, are you? Honest now, between man and man."
  • "It's God's truth," said I.
  • He stood looking at me, and his face had set like that of a man who is havin_ hard fight with himself. It was a long two minutes before he spoke.
  • "See here, Jock!" said he. "This woman is fooling us both. D'you hear, man?
  • she's fooling us both! She loves you at West Inch, and she loves me on th_raeside; and in her devil's heart she cares a whin-blossom for neither of us.
  • Let 's join hands, man, and send the hellfire hussy, to the right-about!"
  • But this was too much. I could not curse her in my own heart, and still les_ould I stand by and hear another man do it; not though it was my oldes_riend.
  • "Don't you call names!" I cried.
  • "Ach! you sicken me with your soft talk! I 'll call her what she should b_alled!"
  • "Will you, though?" said I, lugging off my coat. "Look you here, Ji_orscroft, if you say another word against her, I 'll lick it down you_hroat, if you were as big as Berwick Castle! Try me and see!"
  • He peeled off his coat down to the elbows, and then he slowly pulled it o_gain.
  • "Don't be such a fool, Jock!" said he. "Four stone and five inches is mor_han mortal man can give. Two old friends mustn't fall out over such a — well, there, I won't say it. Well, by the Lord, if she hasn't nerve for ten!"
  • I looked round, and there she was, not twenty yards from us, looking as coo_nd easy and placid as we were hot and fevered.
  • "I was nearly home," said she, "when I saw you two boys very busy talking, s_ came all the way back to know what it was about."
  • Horscroft took a run forward and caught her by the wrist. She gave a littl_queal at the sight of his face, but he pulled her towards where I wa_tanding.
  • "Now, Jock, we 've had tomfoolery enough," said he. "Here she is. Shall w_ake her word as to which she likes? She can't trick us now that we're bot_ogether."
  • "I am willing," said I.
  • "And so am I. If she goes for you, I swear I 'll never so much as turn an ey_n her again. Will you do as much for me?"
  • "Yes, I will."
  • "Well then, look here, you! We're both honest men, and friends, and we tel_ach other no lies; and so we know your double ways. I know what you said las_ight. Jock knows what you said to-day. D'you see? Now then, fair and square!
  • Here we are before you; once and have done. Which is it to be, Jock or me?"
  • You would have thought that the woman would have been overwhelmed with shame, but instead of that her eyes were shining with delight; and I dare wager tha_t was the proudest moment of her life. As she looked from one to the other o_s, with the cold morning sun glittering on her face, I had never seen he_ook so lovely. Jim felt it also, I am sure; for he dropped her wrist, and th_arsh lines were softened upon his face.
  • "Come, Edie! which is it to be?" he asked.
  • "Naughty boys, to fall out like this!" she cried. "Cousin Jack, you know ho_ond I am of you."
  • "Oh, then go to him," said Horscroft.
  • "But I love nobody but Jim. There is nobody that I love like Jim."
  • She snuggled up to him, and laid her cheek against his breast.
  • "You see, Jock!" said he, looking over her shoulder.
  • I did see; and away I went for West Inch, another man from the time that _eft it.