(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

The Wylies, like most Scotsmen, were a clannish lot. They had built up their business, a granite quarry, on the spot where their father once worked as a stonemason. They called it Wylie and Sons. Alick Wylie wanted it called Wylie Brothers, but David, his brother James, and their sister Maggie all insisted that first credit for the business should go to Alick, their father.

Maggie, who kept house for her father and two brothers, was their only problem, for she had reached twenty-seven years, an age when a woman must marry or be regarded as an old maid, and they were considerably downcast because their latest prospect, the minister at Galashiels, had married another woman. There was no question but that Maggie was plain, a fact of which she herself was only too conscious, and the brothers realized that if their sister were to find a husband they would have to do everything in their power to help her.

The opportunity came while the Wylies were at the dambrod board, their favorite pastime on Saturday evenings. Maggie was seated in a chair in the corner knitting, and the brothers were trying to get her off to bed so that they could be on the lookout for a burglar they thought they had seen prowling about the house the night before. At last the burglar appeared, but to their astonishment they discovered the intruder was young John Shand, a neighbor, who confessed that his purpose in entering the house was to read. He was a student preparing for the ministry, but since he was too poor to buy books he had to choose that method of study. David was impressed at such earnestness. After a brief conference with his brother he made the boy an offer. He promised to pay up to three hundred pounds for John Shand’s education if, at the end of five years, he would marry Maggie, providing she were at that time still unmarried and wanted him. After some quibbling to decide whether the full three hundred pounds would be deposited in his name at the bank immediately, John Shand agreed to the transaction. Maggie, wanting him to go into the deal with his eyes open, admitted that she had never had an offer of marriage, and that she was five years older than he. But those matters meant little to ambitious young John Shand, who left the house content that he was free to browse in the Wylie library without being mistaken for a burglar.

Six years later, having in the meantime abandoned his ambitions for the ministry, John Shand was standing for Parliament. His great hour had come, the hour for which he and Maggie had waited. She might have forced him to marry her one year before, but they both agreed to wait for his triumph. Maggie was almost frantic between hope and anxiety. At one time, certain that John had lost, she promised herself that she and John would begin another six years of waiting that...

(The entire section is 1147 words.)