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Silk Both Sides
By LORNA. MOON
ND two and a half yards o' four-inch black-satin ribbon." Jessie MacLean added this last fatal item with an upward jerk of her head lest Mistress MacKenty, at the other side of the counter, should think she was ashamed of her purchase. But Mistress MacKenty had a nose for news rather than an instinct for tragedy, and by the suppressed eagerness in her voice as she asked, "And ye 'll want it silk on both sides I'll warrant?" you could see that she was already half-way down the road to the smithy to spread the news that "Jessie MacLean had lost heart, and would be out in a bonnet in the morn, so help her Davey."
"Aye, silk both sides," Jessie answered, letting her eyes range the shelves carelessly to prove that there was nothing momentous in her buying bonnet-strings.
Silk both sides proved it. A satinA satinfaced ribbon might have many uses, but silk on both sides was a bonnetstring by all the laws of millinery known to Drumorty.
In Drumorty a bonnet with strings tied below the chin means that youth is over. About the time the second baby is born the gooodwife abandons her hat forever and appears in a bonnet with ties. She may be of any age from eighteen to twenty-five, for matrimony and motherhood and age come early in Drumorty. The spinster clings longer to her hat, for while she wears it, any bachelor may take heart and "speer" her, and if she be "keeping company," she may cling to her hat until she be thirty "and bittock"; but after that, if she would hold the respect of her community, she must cease to "gallivant" about “wi' a hat” and dress like a decent woman in a bonnet with ties.
And Jessie MacLean was six and thirty, as Baldie Tocher could tell you, for did he no have the pleasure of burying the exciseman the very morning that Jessie first saw the light of day, and was it no the very next year that Nancy MacFarland's cow got mired in the moss?
Drumorty had been very lenient with
Telling about it five minutes later, Jessie. Many a goodwife thought it Mistress MacKenty said:
"I might hae been wrang when she bought the silk geraniums, and I may has been over-hasty when she said 'half a yard o' black lace,' but silk both sides is as good as swearing it on the Bible."
was high time that Jessie laid aside her hat, but always she held her peace, remembering her bridal gown and the care with which Jessie had made it; for Jessie was the village seamstress, and it was a secret, whispered, that Jessie charged only half-price for making
wedding-gowns, because she liked to make them so much.
Another reason for their lenience was Jock Sclessor. For fifteen years Jock had "kept company" with Jessie; not one Sunday morning had he missed "crying by" for Jessie to go to morning service. He would come round the bend of the road from Skilly's farm just as the sexton gave the bell that first introductory ring which meant, "Bide a wee till I get her goin' full swing, and then bide at hame frae the kirk if ye dare"; and Jessie would come out of her door and mince down the sanded walk between the rows of boxwood to the gate, and affect surprise at seeing Jock, just as if she had not been watching for him behind her windowcurtain the last five minutes.
Jock was the cotter on Skilly's farm. Every year he intended to speer Jessie when threshing was over. Tammas, his dog, might tell you how many times he had been on the very point of asking Jessie the very next day; but always the question of adding another room came up, and not for the life of him could he decide whether to level the rowan-tree and build it on the east, or to move the peats and build it on the west, and by the time he had made up his mind to cart the peats down behind the byre and build it on the west, lambing was round again, and he let it go by for another year.
And every year Jessie was in a flutter as threshing was nearing the finish. One year she had been so sure that he would speer her that she bought a new scraper; for Jock could make your very heart stand still, he was that careless about scraping the mud off his boots. Often, when Jessie was alone, she would practise ways of telling Jock that he must clean his boots before he came in.
"Goodman, hae ye forgotten the scraper?" was abandoned because it was n't strictly honest, for Jessie knew full well that he always forgot the scraper. "Gang back and clean your feet," was set aside also, because it was too commanding, and "Dinna forget the scraper" was also discarded because it is n't good to nag a man before he has set foot in the door. But none of the expressions had been tried out yet, for when Jock dropped in with her after service, Jessie hurried him by the scraper as if it might shout at him, "She expects you to speer her!" and so put her to shame.
But now threshing had been over for weeks, and every Sunday since then Jessie had looked for the white gowan in Jock's coat; for what swain "worth his ears full of cold water" ever asked the question without that emblem of courage in his buttonhole? It is a signal to the world that he means to propose, that he is going in cold blood to do it, and forever after his goodwife can remind him of that, should he suggest that he was inveigled into it by some female wile.
Last Sunday, on their way to church, Jessie cleared her throat nervously and grasped her New Testament, bracing herself as she asked in a thin voice that was much too offhand: "Would your peats no be better sheltered in the lea o' the byre?" and Jock replied: "Na, na; they are better where they
meaning Drumorty-knew that Jessie's tombstone would not read "Beloved wife of-"
In Jessie's cottage the blinds were drawn on Saturday evening, and you who have suffered will not ask me to pull them aside and show you how a faded spinster looks when she weeps, or how her fingers tremble when she sews upon bonnet-strings; but let me tell you how bravely she stepped out next morning wearing her bonnet, with never a look through the curtain to see if Jock was on his way, or a glance to see if the neighbors were watching. Her step was just as firm upon the sanded path, and her head just as high. Perhaps she grasped her Testament more tightly than usual, but what soul on the rack would not do that?
Jock came round the bend as she reached the gate. She clung to the
latch to keep herself from tearing the bonnet from her head. O Fate, that sits high and laughs, have you the heart to laugh now? Jock was wear
ing a white gowan. It was just a dozen steps or so back to the house and a hat and happiness; but the world knew that she had bought bonnetstrings, and was that not Mistress MacKenty watching from behind her curtain? Go forward, Jessie! There is no turning back; and go proudly! Open the latch and answer his "guidmorning" and smile; and don't let your hands tremble, or he will guess!
Look your fill from behind the curtain, Mistress MacKenty! You cannot see a heartache when it is hidden by a black alpaca gown and when the heart belongs to Jessie MacLean.
Jock Sclessor, your one chance of happiness is now. Lead her back into the house and take the bonnet from her head! No, laggard and fool that you
are, you are wondering if she has noticed the gowan! Has she not! She has watched for it for fifteen years. Speak, you fool! Don't keep staring at her bonnet! You dullard, Jessie must come to your rescue; and she does.
"Is the sexton no late this morning?" Jessie turned out of the gate as she spoke, snapping the latch with the right amount of care.
"Aye, later than usual," Jock agreed. The sexton was never late in his life, and at that moment the bell rang out to give Jock the lie. But Jock was so dazed he would have agreed if she had said, "Let us choke the minister." As they walked to the church, he meditated:
"Evidently she never expected me to speer her, and she 's never so much as glimpsed the gowan. I'll slip it out I'll slip it out when we kneel in the kirk. But maybe I better sound her out first. It's gey and lonesome for a man biding by himself."
They were just turning round by the town hall, where the rowan-trees are red, when he said:
long years. But you have gone too far, Jessie; he needs help.
"I-oh-I thought I'd build a shed for peats."
Thud! That was Jessie's heart you heard, and that queer, thin voice is Jessie's, saying:
"I thought-ye were minded to leave the peats the other side o' the house."
"Aye, I am minded to leave them there, but a body can na hae too many peats."
And as they knelt in kirk he slipped the gowan out, and Jessie did not need to widen her eyes to hold the tears this time. That sorrow was past; she would never weep over it again.
At home she brewed her tea, looking round at her rag rugs and white tidies with pleasure. The tidy on the big chair was as white and smooth as when she pinned it there in the morning, and there was no mud to be carefully washed off the rug by the door. There was a certain contentment in knowing that it would never be, a certain exhila
"I had been thinkin' o' levelin' my ration in knowing that next Sunday rowan-tree."
Jessie's heart thumped. Here it came! That was why he would n't move the peats. But she would n't help him a foot of the road; she had waited too long. He must come every step himself.
"Oh, that would be a pity! It's a bonnie tree," she answered.
she could not be disappointed, because next Sunday she would not hope. She sipped her tea peacefully, and smiled at the bonnet sitting restful-like on the dresser, and at the tidy on the big chair, spotless and smooth, and thought:
"Jock Sclessor would have been a mussy man to have about a house.
Not much help here, but he would I 'm thinkin' his mother was overtry again. lenient when she brought him up.'
"I was thinking o' building." "Building? My certies! What could ye be building so near the house?" This with some malice for all the fifteen
And Jock, at Skilly's, was thinking: "I would na had time to build it, anyway. Lambing is here, and that is too bonnie a tree to be cut down."