What Can She Do by Edward Payson Roe
Chapter XXIV. Scorn and Kindness
Though her strength hardly seemed equal to it, she determined to go and see Malcom, for she felt very grateful to him. And yet the little time she had been in the village made her fear to speak to him or any one again, and she almost felt that she would like to shrink into some hidden place and die.
Quiet, respectable Pushton had been dreadfully scandalized by Zell's elopement with a man who by one brief visit had gained such bad notoriety. Those who had stood aloof, surmised, and doubted about the Allens before, now said, triumphantly, "I told you so." Good, kind, Christian people were deeply pained that such a thing could have happened; and it came to be the general opinion that the Allens were anything but an acquisition to the neighborhood.
"If they are going to bring that style of men here, the sooner they move away the better," was a frequent remark. All save the "baser sort" shrank from having much to do with them, and again Edith was insulted by the bold advances of some brazen clerks and shop-boys as she passed along. She also saw significant glances and whisperings, and once or twice detected a pointing finger.
With cheeks burning with shame and knees trembling with weakness, she reached Malcom's gate, to which she clung panting for a moment, and then passed in. The little man had his coat off, and, stooping in his strawberry-bed, he did look very small indeed. Edith approached quite near before he noticed her. He suddenly straightened himself up almost as a jumping-jack might, and gave her a sharp, surprised look. He had heard the gossip in several distorted forms, but what hurt him most was that she did not come or send to him. But when he saw her standing before him with her head bent down like a moss-rosebud wilting in the sun, when he met her timid, deprecating glance, his soft heart relented instantly, and coming toward her he said:
"An' ha' ye coom to see ould Malcom at last? What ha' I dune that I suld be sae forgotten?"
"You were not forgotten, Mr. McTrump. God knows that I have too few friends to forget the best of them," answered Edith, in a voice of tremulous pathos.
After that Malcom was wax in her hands, and with moistened eyes he stood gazing at her in undisguised admiration.
"I have been through deep trouble, Mr. McTrump," continued she, "and perhaps you, like so many others, may think me not fit to speak to you any more. Besides, I have been very sick, and really ought not to be out to-day. Indeed I feel very weak. Isn't there some place where I could sit down?"
"Now God forgie me for an uncoo Highlander," cried Malcom, springing forward, "to think that I suld let ye ston there, like a tall, white, swayin' calla lily, in the rough wind. Take me arm till I support ye to the best room o' me house."
Edith did take and cling to it with the feeling of one ready to fall.
"Oh, Mr. McTrump, you are too kind," she murmured.
"Why suld I not be kind?" he said, heartily, "when I see ye nipt by the wourld's unkindness? Why suld I not be kind? Is the rose there to blame because a weed has grown alongside? Ye could na help it that the wild bird flitted, and I heerd how ye roon like a brave lassie to stop her. But the evil wourld is quick to see the bad and slow to see the gude." And Malcom escorted her like a "leddy o' high degree" to his little parlor, and there she told him and his wife all her trouble, and Malcom seemed afflicted with a sudden cold in his head. Then Mrs. McTrump bustled in and out in a breezy eagerness to make her comfortable.
"Ye're a stranger in our toon," she said, "and sae I was once mysel, an' I ken how ye feel."
"An' the Gude Book, which I hope ye read," added the gallant Malcom, "says hoo in entertainin' a stranger ye may ha' an angel aroond."
"Oh, Mr. McTrump," said Edith, with peony-like face, "Hannibal is the only one who calls me that, and he doesn't know any better."
"Why suld he know ony better?" responded Malcom quickly. "I ha' never seen an angel, na mair than I ha' seen a goolden harp, but I'm a thinkin' a modest bonny lassie like yoursel cooms as near to ane as anything can in this world."
"But, Mr. McTrump," said Edith, with a half-pathetic, half-comic face, "I am in such deep trouble that I shall soon grow old and wrinkled, so I shall not be an angel long."
"Na, na, dinna say that," said Malcom earnestly. "An ye will, ye may keepit the angel a-growin' within ye alway, though ye live as old as Methuselah. D'ye see this wee brown seed? There's a mornin'-glory vine hidden in it, as would daze your een at the peep o' day wi' its gay blossoms. An' ye see my ould gudewife there? Ah, she will daze the een o' the greatest o' the earth in the bright springtime o' the Resurrection; and though I'm a little mon here, it may be I'll see o'er the heads of soom up there."
"An ye had true humeelity ye'd be a-hopin' to get there, instead of expectin' to speir o'er the heads o' yer betters," said his wife in a rebuking tone.
"'A-hopin' to get there'!" said Malcom with some warmth. "Why suld I hope when 'I know that my Redeemer liveth'?"
Edith's eyes filled with wistful tears, for the quaint talk of these old people suggested a hope and faith that she knew nothing of. But, in a low voice, she said, "Why does God let his creatures suffer so much?"
"Bless your heart, puir child, He suffered mair than ony on us," said Malcom tenderly. "But ye'll learn it a' soon. He who fed the famishin' would bid ye eat noo. But wait a bit till ye see what I'll bring ye."
In a moment he was back with a dainty basket of Triomphe de Gand strawberries, and Edith uttered an exclamation of delight as she inhaled their delicious aroma.
"They are the first ripe the season, an' noo see what the gudewife will do with them."
Soon their hulls were off, and, swimming in a saucer of cream, they were added to the dainty little lunch that Mrs. McTrump had prepared.
"Oh!" exclaimed Edith, drawing a long breath, "you can't know how you ease my poor sore heart. I began to think all the world was against me."
At this Malcom beat such a precipitate retreat that he half stumbled over a chair, but outside the door he ventured to say:
"An ye coom out I'll cut ye a posy before ye go." But Edith saw him rub his rough sleeve across his eyes as he passed the window. His wife said, in a grave gentle tone:
"Would ye might learn to know Him who said, 'Be of good cheer, I have overcome the wourld.'"
Edith shook her head sadly, and said, "I don't understand Him, and He seems far off."
"It's only seemin', me dear," said the old woman kindly, "but, as Malcom says, ye'll learn it a' by and by."
Mrs. McTrump was one of those simple souls who never presume to "talk religion" to any one. "I can ony venture what I hope'll be a 'word in season' noo and then, as the Maister gies me a chance," she would say to her husband.
Though she did not know it, she had spread before Edith a Gospel feast, and her genuine, hearty sympathy was teaching more than eloquent sermons could have done, and already the grateful girl was questioning:
"What makes these people differ so from others?"
With some dismay she saw how late it was growing, and hastened out to Malcom, who had cut an exquisite little bouquet for her, and had another basket of berries for her to take to her mother.
"Mr. McTrump," said Edith, "it's time we had a settlement; your kindness I never can repay, but I am able now to carry out my agreement."
"Don't bother me wi' that noo," said Malcom, rather testily. "I ha' no time to make oot your account in the height o' the season. Let it ston till I ha' time. An' ye might help me soomtimes make up posies far the grand folk at the hotel. But how does your garden sin ye dismissed ould Malcom?"
"Oh, Mr. McTrump," said Edith, slyly, "do you know you almost scared old Hannibal out of his wits by the wonders you wrought last night or this morning in that same garden you inquire about so innocently. How can you work so fast and hard?"
"The woonders I wrought! Indeed I've not been near the garden sin ye told me not to coom. Ye could hardly expect otherwise of a Scotchman."
"Who, then, could it be?" said Edith, a little startled herself now, and she explained the mystery of the garden.
He was as nonplussed as herself, but, scratching his bushy head, he said, with a canny look, "I wud be glad if Hannibal's 'spook,' as he ca's it, would eoom doon and hoe a bit for me," and Edith was so cheered and refreshed that she could even join him in the laugh.
They sent her away enveloped in the fragrance of strawberries and roses from the little basket she carried. But the more grateful aroma of human sympathy seemed to create a buoyant atmosphere around her; and she passed back through the village strengthened and armed against the cold or scornful looks of those who, knowing her to be "wounded," had not even the grace to pass by indifferently "on the other side."