“ Come ooto' the gutter, ye nickum! ” cried, in harsh, half-masculine voice, a woman standing on the curbstone of a short, narrow, dirty lane, at right angles to an important thoroughfare, itself none of the widest or cleanest. She was dressed in dark petticoat and print wrapper. One of her shoes was down at the heel, and discovered a great hole in her stocking. Had her black hair been brushed and displayed, it would have revealed a thready glitter of grey, but all that was now visible of it was only two or three untidy tresses that dropped from under a cap of black net and green ribbons, which looked as if she had slept in it. Her face must have been handsome when it was young and fresh; but was now beginning to look tattooed, though whether the colour was from without or from within, it would have been hard to determine. Her black eyes looked resolute, almost fierce, above her straight, well-formed nose. Yet evidently circumstance clave fast to her. She had never risen above it, and was now plainly subjected to it.
About thirty yards from her, on the farther side of the main street, and just opposite the mouth of the lane, a child, apparently about six, but in reality about eight, was down on his knees raking with both hands in the grey dirt of the kennel. At the woman's cry he lifted his head, ceased his search, raised himself, but without getting up, and looked at her. They were notable eyes out of which he looked -- of such a deep blue were they, and having such long lashes; but more notable far from their expression, the nature of which, although a certain witchery of confidence was at once discoverable, was not to be determined without the help of the whole face, whose diffused meaning seemed in them to deepen almost to speech. Whatever was at the heart of that expression, it was something that enticed question and might want investigation. The face as well as the eyes was lovely -- not very clean, and not too regular for hope of a fine development, but chiefly remarkable from a general effect of something I can only call luminosity. The hair, which stuck out from his head in every direction, like a round fur cap, would have been of the red-gold kind, had it not been sunburned into a sort of human hay. An odd creature altogether the child appeared, as, shaking the gutter-drops from his little dirty hands, he gazed from his bare knees on the curbstone at the woman of rebuke. It was but for a moment. The next he was down, raking in the gutter again.
The woman looked angry, and took a step forward; but the sound of a sharp imperative little bell behind her, made her turn at once, and re-enter the shop from which she had just issued, following a man whose pushing the door wider had set the bell ringing. Above the door was a small board, nearly square, upon which was painted in lead-colour on a black ground the words, “ Licensed to sell beer, spirits, and tobacco to be drunk on the premises. ” There was no other sign. “ Them` at likes my whusky` ill no aye be speerin' my name, ” said Mistress Croale. As the day went on she would have more and more customers, and in the evening on to midnight, her parlour would be well filled. Then she would be always at hand, and the spring of the bell would be turned aside from the impact of the opening door. Now the bell was needful to recall her from house affairs.
“ The likin'` at craturs his for clean dirt! He's been at it this hale half-hoor! ” she murmured to herself as she poured from a black bottle into a pewter measure a gill of whisky for the pale-faced toper who stood on the other side of the counter: far gone in consumption, he could not get through the forenoon without his morning. “ I wad like, ” she went on, as she replaced the bottle without having spoken a word to her customer, whose departure was now announced with the same boisterous alacrity as his arrival by the shrill-toned bell -- “ I wad like, for's father's sake, honest man! to thraw Gibbie's lug. That likin' for dirt I canna fathom nor bide. ”
Meantime the boys attention seemed entirely absorbed in the gutter. Whatever vehicle passed before him, whatever footsteps behind, he never lifted his head, but went creeping slowly on his knees along the curb still searching down the flow of the sluggish, nearly motionless current.
It was a grey morning towards the close of autumn. The days began and ended with a fog, but often between, as golden a sunshine glorified the streets of the grey city as any that ripened purple grapes. To-day the mist had lasted longer than usual -- had risen instead of dispersing; but now it was thinning, and at length, like a slow blossoming of the sky-flower, the sun came melting through the cloud. Between the gables of two houses, a ray fell upon the pavement and the gutter. It lay there a very type of purity, so pure that, rest where it might, it destroyed every shadow of defilement that sought to mingle with it. Suddenly the boy made a dart upon all fours, and pounced like a creature of prey upon something in the kennel. He had found what he had been looking for so long. He sprang to his feet and bounded with it into the sun, rubbing it as he ran upon what he had for trousers, of which there was nothing below the knees but a few streamers, and nothing above the knees but the body of the garment, which had been -- I will not say made for, but last worn by a boy three times his size. His feet, of course, were bare as well as his knees and legs. But though they were dirty, red, and rough, they were nicely shaped little legs, and the feet were dainty.
The sunbeams he sought came down through the smoky air like a Jacob's ladder, and he stood at the foot of it like a little prodigal angel that wanted to go home again, but feared it was too much inclined for him to manage the ascent in the present condition of his wings. But all he did want was to see in the light of heaven what the gutter had yielded him. He held up his find in the radiance and regarded it admiringly. It was a little earring of amethyst-coloured glass, and in the sun looked lovely. The boy was in an ecstasy over it. He rubbed it on his sleeve, sucked it to clear it from the last of the gutter, and held it up once more in the sun, where, for a few blissful moments, he contemplated it speechless. He then caused it to disappear somewhere about his garments -- I will not venture to say in a pocket -- and ran off, his little bare feet sounding thud, thud, thud on the pavement, and the collar of his jacket sticking halfway up the back of his head, and threatening to rub it bare as he ran. Through street after street he sped -- all built of granite, all with flagged footways, and all paved with granite blocks -- a hard, severe city, not beautiful or stately with its thick, grey, sparkling walls, for the houses were not high, and the windows were small, yet in the better parts, nevertheless, handsome as well as massive and strong.
To the boy the great city was but a house of many rooms, all for his use, his sport, his life. He did not know much of what lay within the houses; but that only added the joy of mystery to possession: they were jewel-closets, treasure-caves, indeed, with secret fountains of life; and every street was a channel into which they overflowed.
It was in one of quite a third-rate sort that the urchin at length ceased his trot, and drew up at the door of a baker's shop -- a divided door, opening in the middle by a latch of bright brass. But the child did not lift the latch -- only raised himself on tiptoe by the help of its handle, to look through the upper half of the door, which was of glass, into the beautiful shop. The floor was of flags, fresh sanded; the counter was of deal, scrubbed as white almost as flour; on the shelves were heaped the loaves of the morning's baking, along with a large store of scones and rolls and baps -- the last, the best bread in the world -- biscuits hard and soft, and those brown discs of delicate flaky piecrust, known as buns. And the smell that came through the very glass, it seemed to the child, was as that of the tree of life in the Paradise of which he had never heard. But most enticing of all to the eyes of the little wanderer of the street were the penny-loaves, hot smoking from the oven -- which fact is our first window into the ordered nature of the child. For the main point which made them more attractive than all the rest to him was, that sometimes he did have a penny, and that a penny loaf was the largest thing that could be had for a penny in the shop. So that, lawless as he looked, the desires of the child were moderate, and his imagination wrought within the bounds of reason. But no one who has never been blessed with only a penny to spend and a mighty hunger behind it, can understand the interest with which he stood there and through the glass watched the bread, having no penny and only the hunger. There is at least one powerful bond, though it may not always awake sympathy, between mudlark and monarch -- that of hunger. No one has yet written the poetry of hunger -- has built up in verse its stairs of grand ascent -- from such hunger as Gibbie's for a penny-loaf up -- no, no, not to an alderman's feast; that is the way down the mouldy cellar-stair -- but up the white marble scale to the hunger after righteousness whose very longings are bliss.
Behind the counter sat the baker's wife, a stout, fresh-coloured woman, looking rather dull, but simple and honest. She was knitting, and if not dreaming, at least dozing over her work, for she never saw the forehead and eyes which, like a young ascending moon, gazed at her over the horizon of the opaque half of her door. There was no greed in those eyes -- only much quiet interest. He did not want to get in; had to wait, and while waiting beguiled the time by beholding. He knew that Mysie, the baker's daughter, was at school, and that she would be home within half an hour. He had seen her with tear-filled eyes as she went, had learned from her the cause, and had in consequence unwittingly roused Mrs. Croale's anger, and braved it when aroused. But though he was waiting for her, such was the absorbing power of the spectacle before him that he never heard her approaching footsteps.
“ Lat me in, ” said Mysie, with conscious dignity and a touch of indignation at being impeded on the very threshold of her father's shop.
The boy started and turned, but instead of moving out of the way, began searching in some mysterious receptacle hid in the recesses of his rags.A look of anxiety once appeared, but the same moment it vanished, and he held out in his hand the little drop of amethystine splendour. Mysie's face changed, and she clutched it eagerly.
“ That's rale guido' ye, wee Gibbie! ” she cried. “ Whaur did ye get it? ”
He pointed to the kennel, and drew back from the door.
“ I thank ye, ” she said heartily, and pressing down the thumbstall of the latch, went in.
“ Wha's that ye're colloguin' wi', Mysie? ” asked her mother, somewhat severely, but without lifting her eyes from her wires. “ Ye maunna be speykin' to loonsi' the street. ”
“ It's only wee Gibbie, mither, ” answered the girl in a tone of confidence.
“ Ou weel! ” returned the mother, “ he's no like the laveo' loons. ”
“ But what had ye to say till him? ” she resumed, as if afraid her leniency might be taken advantage of. “ He's no fit company for the likeso' you,` at his a father an' mither, an' a chop -LRB- shop -RRB-. Ye maun hae little to say to sic rintheroot laddies. ”
“ Gibbie has a father, though they say he never hid nae mither, ” said the child.
“ Troth, a fine father! ” rejoined the mother, with a small scornful laugh. “ Na, but he's something to mak mentiono'! Sic a father, lassie, as it wad be tellin' him he had nane! What said ye till` im? ”
“ I bit thankit` im,'cause I tint my drop as I gaed to the schuili' the mornin', an' he fan't till me, an' was at the chopdoor waitin' to gie me't back. They say he's aye fin` in' things. ”
“ He's a guid-hertit cratur! ” said the mother, -- “ for ane, that is,` at's been sae ill broucht up. ”
She rose, took from the shelf a large piece of bread, composed of many adhering penny-loaves, detached one, and went to the door.
“ Here, Gibbie! ” she cried as she opened it; “ here's a fine piece to ye. ”
But no Gibbie was there. Up and down the street not a child was to be seen.A sandboy with a donkey cart was the sole human arrangement in it. The baker's wife drew back, shut the door and resumed her knitting.
The sun was hot for an hour or two in the middle of the day, but even then in the shadow dwelt a cold breath -- of the winter, or of death -- of something that humanity felt unfriendly. To Gibbie, however, bare-legged, bare-footed, almost bare-bodied as he was, sun or shadow made small difference, except as one of the musical intervals of life that make the melody of existence. His bare feet knew the difference on the flags, and his heart recognized unconsciously the secret as it were of a meaning and a symbol, in the change from the one to the other, but he was almost as happy in the dull as in the bright day. Hardy through hardship, he knew nothing better than a constant good-humoured sparring with nature and circumstance for the privilege of being, enjoyed what came to him thoroughly, never mourned over what he had not, and, like the animals, was at peace. For the bliss of the animals lies in this, that, on their lower level, they shadow the bliss of those -- few at any moment on the earth -- who do not “ look before and after, and pine for what is not, ” but live in the holy carelessness of the eternal now. Gibbie by no means belonged to the higher order, was as yet, indeed, not much better than a very blessed little animal.
To him the city was all a show. He knew many of the people -- some of them who thought no small things of themselves -- better than they would have chosen he or any one else should know them. He knew all the peripatetic vendors, most of the bakers, most of the small grocers and tradespeople. Animal as he was, he was laying in a great stock for the time when he would be something more, for the time of reflection, whenever that might come. Chiefly, his experience was a wonderful provision for the future perception of character; for now he knew to a nicety how any one of his large acquaintance would behave to him in circumstances within the scope of that experience. If any such little vagabond rises in the scale of creation, he carries with him from the street an amount of material serving to the knowledge of human nature, human need, human aims, human relations in the business of life, such as hardly another can possess. Even the poet, greatly wise in virtue of his sympathy, will scarcely understand a given human condition so well as the man whose vital tentacles have been in contact with it for years.
When Gibbie was not looking in at a shop-window, or turning on one heel to take in all at a sweep, he was oftenest seen trotting. Seldom he walked.A gentle trot was one of his natural modes of being. And though this day he had been on the trot all the sunshine through, nevertheless, when the sun was going down there was wee Gibbie upon the trot in the chilling and darkening streets. He had not had much to eat. He had been very near having a penny loaf. Half a cookie, which a stormy child had thrown away to ease his temper, had done further and perhaps better service in easing Gibbie's hunger. The green-grocer woman at the entrance of the court where his father lived, a good way down the same street in which he had found the lost earring, had given him a small yellow turnip -- to Gibbie nearly as welcome as an apple.A fishwife from Finstone with a creel on her back, had given him all his hands could hold of the sea-weed called dulse, presumably not from its sweetness, although it is good eating. She had added to the gift a small crab, but that he had carried to the seashore and set free, because it was alive. These, the half-cookie, the turnip, and the dulse, with the smell of the baker's bread, was all he had had. It had been rather one of his meagre days. But it is wonderful upon how little those rare natures capable of making the most of things will live and thrive. There is a great deal more to be got out of things than is generally got out of them, whether the thing be a chapter of the Bible or a yellow turnip, and the marvel is that those who use the most material should so often be those that show the least result in strength or character.A superstitious priest-ridden Catholic may, in the kingdom of heaven, be high beyond sight of one who counts himself the broadest of English churchmen. Truly Gibbie got no fat out of his food, but he got what was far better. What he carried -- I can hardly say under or in, but along with those rags of his, was all muscle -- small, but hard, and healthy, and knotting up like whipcord. There are all degrees of health in poverty as well as in riches, and Gibbie's health was splendid. His senses also were marvellously acute. I have already hinted at his gift for finding things. His eyes were sharp, quick, and roving, and then they went near the ground, he was such a little fellow. His success, however, not all these considerations could well account for, and he was regarded as born with a special luck in finding. I doubt if sufficient weight was given to the fact that, even when he was not so turning his mind it strayed in that direction, whence, if any object cast its reflected rays on his retina, those rays never failed to reach his mind also. On one occasion he picked up the pocket-book a gentleman had just dropped, and, in mingled fun and delight, was trying to put it in its owner's pocket unseen, when he collared him, and, had it not been for the testimony of a young woman who, coming behind, had seen the whole, would have handed him over to the police. After all, he remained in doubt, the thing seemed so incredible. He did give him a penny, however, which Gibbie at once spent upon a loaf.
It was not from any notions of honesty -- he knew nothing about it -- that he always did what he could to restore the things he found; the habit came from quite another cause. When he had no clue to the owner, he carried the thing found to his father, who generally let it lie a while, and at length, if it was of nature convertible, turned it into drink.
While Gibbie thus lived in the streets like a townsparrow -- as like a human bird without storehouse or barn as boy could well be -- the human father of him would all day be sitting in a certain dark court, as hard at work as an aching head and a bloodless system would afford. The said court was off the narrowest part of a long, poverty-stricken street, bearing a name of evil omen, for it was called the Widdiehill -- the place of the gallows. It was entered by a low archway in the middle of an old house, around which yet clung a musty fame of departed grandeur and ancient note. In the court, against a wing of the same house, rose an outside stair, leading to the first floor; under the stair was a rickety wooden shed; and in the shed sat the father of Gibbie, and cobbled boots and shoes as long as, at this time of the year, the light lasted. Up that stair, and two more inside the house, he went to his lodging, for he slept in the garret. But when or how he got to bed, George Galbraith never knew, for then, invariably, he was drunk. In the morning, however, he always found himself in it -- generally with an aching head, and always with a mingled disgust at and desire for drink. During the day, alas! the disgust departed, while the desire remained, and strengthened with the approach of evening. All day he worked with might and main, such might and main as he had -- worked as if for his life, and all to procure the means of death. No one ever sought to treat him, and from no one would he accept drink. He was a man of such inborn honesty, that the usurping demon of a vile thirst had not even yet, at the age of forty, been able to cast it out. The last little glory-cloud of his origin was trailing behind him -- but yet it trailed. Doubtless it needs but time to make of a drunkard a thief, but not yet, even when longing was at the highest, would he have stolen a forgotten glass of whisky; and still, often in spite of sickness and aches innumerable, George laboured that he might have wherewith to make himself drunk honestly. Strange honesty! Wee Gibbie was his only child, but about him or his well-being he gave himself almost as little trouble as Gibbie caused him! Not that he was hard-hearted; if he had seen the child in want, he would, at the drunkest, have shared his whisky with him; if he had fancied him cold, he would have put his last garment upon him; but to his whisky-dimmed eyes the child scarcely seemed to want anything, and the thought never entered his mind that, while Gibbie always looked smiling and contented, his father did so little to make him so. He had at the same time a very low opinion of himself and his deservings, and justly, for his consciousness had dwindled into little more than a live thirst. He did not do well for himself, neither did men praise him; and he shamefully neglected his child; but in one respect, and that a most important one, he did well by his neighbours: he gave the best of work, and made the lowest of charges. In no other way was he for much good. And yet I would rather be that drunken cobbler than many a “ fair professor, ” as Bunyan calls him.A grasping merchant ranks infinitely lower than such a drunken cobbler. Thank God, the Son of Man is the judge, and to him will we plead the cause of such -- yea, and of worse than they -- for He will do right. It may be well for drunkards that they are social outcasts, but is there no intercession to be made for them -- no excuse to be pleaded? Alas! the poor wretches would storm the kingdom of peace by the inspiration of the enemy. Let us try to understand George Galbraith. His very existence the sense of a sunless, dreary, cold-winded desert, he was evermore confronted, in all his resolves after betterment, by the knowledge that with the first eager mouthful of the strange element, a rosy dawn would begin to flush the sky, a mist of green to cover the arid waste, a wind of song to ripple the air, and at length the misery of the day would vanish utterly, and the night throb with dreams. For George was by nature no common man. At heart he was a poet -- weak enough, but capable of endless delight. The time had been when now and then he read a good book and dreamed noble dreams. Even yet the stuff of which such dreams are made, fluttered in particoloured rags about his life; and colour is colour even on a scarecrow.
He had had a good mother, and his father was a man of some character, both intellectually and socially. Now and then, it is too true, he had terrible bouts of drinking; but all the time between he was perfectly sober. He had given his son more than a fair education; and George, for his part, had trotted through the curriculum of Elphinstone College not altogether without distinction. But beyond this his father had entirely neglected his future, not even revealing to him the fact -- of which, indeed, he was himself but dimly aware -- that from wilful oversight on his part and design on that of others, his property had all but entirely slipped from his possession.
While his father was yet alive, George married the daughter of a small laird in a neighbouring county -- a woman of some education, and great natural refinement. He took her home to the ancient family house in the city -- the same in which he now occupied a garret, and under whose outer stair he now cobbled shoes. There, during his father's life, they lived in peace and tolerable comfort, though in a poor enough way. It was all, even then, that the wife could do to make both ends meet; nor would her relations, whom she had grievously offended by her marriage, afford her the smallest assistance. Even then, too, her husband was on the slippery incline; but as long as she lived she managed to keep him within the bounds of what is called respectability. She died, however, soon after Gibbie was born; and then George began to lose himself altogether. The next year his father died, and creditors appeared who claimed everything. Mortgaged land and houses, with all upon and in them, were sold, and George left without a penny or any means of winning a livelihood, while already he had lost the reputation that might have introduced him to employment. For heavy work he was altogether unfit; and had it not been for a bottle companion -- a merry, hard-drinking shoemaker -- he would have died of starvation or sunk into beggary.
This man taught him his trade, and George was glad enough to work at it, both to deaden the stings of conscience and memory, and to procure the means of deadening them still further. But even here was something in the way of improvement, for hitherto he had applied himself to nothing, his being one of those dreamful natures capable of busy exertion for a time, but ready to collapse into disgust with every kind of effort.
How Gibbie had got thus far alive was a puzzle not a creature could have solved. It must have been by charity and ministration of more than one humble woman, but no one now claimed any particular interest in him -- except Mrs. Croale, and hers was not very tender. It was a sad sight to some eyes to see him roving the streets, but an infinitely sadder sight was his father, even when bent over his work, with his hands and arms and knees going as if for very salvation. What thoughts might then be visiting his poor worn-out brain I can not tell; but he looked the pale picture of misery. Doing his best to restore to service the nearly shapeless boots of carter or beggar, he was himself fast losing the very idea of his making, consumed heart and soul with a hellish thirst. For the thirst of the drunkard is even more of the soul than of the body. When the poor fellow sat with his drinking companions in Mistress Croale's parlour, seldom a flash broke from the reverie in which he seemed sunk, to show in what region of fancy his spirit wandered, or to lighten the dulness that would not unfrequently invade that forecourt of hell. For even the damned must at times become aware of what they are, and then surely a terrible though momentary hush must fall upon the forsaken region. Yet those drinking companions would have missed George Galbraith, silent as he was, and but poorly responsive to the wit and humour of the rest; for he was always courteous, always ready to share what he had, never looking beyond the present tumbler -- altogether a genial, kindly, honest nature. Sometimes, when two or three of them happened to meet elsewhere, they would fall to wondering why the silent man sought their company, seeing he both contributed so little to the hilarity of the evening, and seemed to derive so little enjoyment from it. But I believe their company was necessary as well as the drink to enable him to elude his conscience and feast with his imagination. Was it that he knew they also fought misery by investments in her bonds -- that they also were of those who by Beelzebub would cast out Beelzebub -- therefore felt at home, and with his own?
The house at which they met had yet not a little character remaining. Mistress Croale had come in for a derived worthiness, in the memory, yet lingering about the place, of a worthy aunt deceased, and always encouraged in herself a vague idea of obligation to live up to it. Hence she had made it a rule to supply drink only so long as her customers kept decent -- that is, so long as they did not quarrel aloud, and put her in danger of a visit from the police; tell such tales as offended her modesty; utter oaths of any peculiarly atrocious quality; or defame the Sabbath Day, the Kirk, or the Bible. On these terms, and so long as they paid for what they had, they might get as drunk as they pleased, without the smallest offence to Mistress Croale. But if the least unquestionable infringement of her rules occurred, she would pounce upon the shameless one with sudden and sharp reproof. I doubt not that, so doing, she cherished a hope of recommending herself above, and making deposits in view of a coming balance-sheet. The result for this life so far was, that, by these claims to respectability, she had gathered a clientele of douce, well-disposed drunkards, who rarely gave her any trouble so long as they were in the house though sometimes she had reason to be anxious about the fate of individuals of them after they left it.
Another peculiarity in her government was that she would rarely give drink to a woman. “ Na, na, ” she would say, “ what has a wuman to dee wi' strong drink! Lat the men dee as they like, we canna help them. ” She made exception in behalf of her personal friends; and, for herself, was in the way of sipping -- only sipping, privately, on account of her “ trouble, ” she said -- by which she meant some complaint, speaking of it as if it were generally known, although of the nature of it nobody had an idea. The truth was that, like her customers, she also was going down the hill, justifying to herself every step of her descent. Until lately, she had been in the way of going regularly to church, and she did go occasionally yet, and always took the yearly sacrament; but the only result seemed to be that she abounded the more in finding justifications, or, where they were not to be had, excuses, for all she did. Probably the stirring of her conscience made this the more necessary to her peace.
If the Lord were to appear in person amongst us, how much would the sight of him do for the sinners of our day? I am not sure that many like Mistress Croale would not go to him. She was not a bad woman, but slowly and surely growing worse.
That morning, as soon as the customer whose entrance had withdrawn her from her descent on Gibbie, had gulped down his dram, wiped his mouth with his blue cotton handkerchief, settled his face into the expression of a drink of water, gone demurely out, and crossed to the other side of the street, she would have returned to the charge, but was prevented by the immediately following entrance of the Rev. Clement Sclater -- the minister of her parish, recently appointed. He was a man between young and middle-aged, an honest fellow, zealous to perform the duties of his office, but with notions of religion very beggarly. How could it be otherwise when he knew far more of what he called the Divine decrees than he did of his own heart, or the needs and miseries of human nature? At the moment, Mistress Croale was standing with her back to the door, reaching up to replace the black bottle on its shelf, and did not see the man she heard enter.
“ What's yer wull? ” she said indifferently.
Mr. Sclater made no answer, waiting for her to turn and face him, which she did the sooner for his silence. Then she saw a man unknown to her, evidently, from his white neckcloth and funereal garments, a minister, standing solemn, with wide-spread legs, and round eyes of displeasure, expecting her attention.
“ What's yer wull, sir? ” she repeated, with more respect, but less cordiality than at first.
“ If you ask my will, ” he replied, with some pomposity, for who that has just gained an object of ambition can be humble? -- “ it is that you shut up this whisky shop, and betake yourself to a more decent way of life in my parish. ”
“ My certie! but ye're no blate -LRB- over-modest -RRB- to craw sae loodi' my hoose, an' that's a nearer fit nor a perris! ” she cried, flaring up in wrath both at the nature and rudeness of the address. “ Alloo me to tell ye, sir, ye're the first` at ever daured threep my hoose was no a dacent ane. ”
“ I said nothing about your house. It was your shop I spoke of, ” said the minister, not guiltless of subterfuge.
“ An' what's my chop but my hoose? Haith! my hoose wad beo' fell sma' consideration wantin' the chop. Tak ye heedo' beirin' fause witness, sir. ”
“ I said nothing, and know nothing, against yours more than any other shop for the sale of drink in my parish. ”
“ The Lord's my shepherd! Wad ye even -LRB- compare -RRB- my hoose to Jock Thamson's or Jeemie Deuk's, baithi' this perris? ”
“ My good woman, -- ”
“ Naither better nor waur nor my neepers, ” interrupted Mistress Croale, forgetting what she had just implied: “ a body maun live. ”
“ There are limits even to that most generally accepted of all principles, ” returned Mr. Sclater; “ and I give you fair warning that I mean to do what I can to shut up all such houses as yours in my parish. I tell you of it, not from the least hope that you will anticipate me by closing, but merely that no one may say I did anything in an underhand fashion. ”
The calmness with which he uttered the threat alarmed Mistress Croale. He might rouse unmerited suspicion, and cause her much trouble by vexatious complaint, even to the peril of her license. She must take heed, and not irritate her enemy. Instantly, therefore, she changed her tone to one of expostulation.
“ It's a sair peety, doobtless, ” she said, ”` at there sud be sae mony drouthie thrapplesi' the kingdom, sir; but drouth maun drink, an' ye ken, sir, gien it war hauden frae them, they wad but see deils an' cut their throts. ”
“ They're like to see deils ony gait er' lang, ” retorted the minister, relapsing into the vernacular for a moment.
“ Ow, deed maybe, sir! bute` en the deils themsels war justifeedi' their objection to bein' committed to their ain company afore their time. ”
Mr. Sclater could not help smiling at the woman's readiness, and that was a point gained by her. An acquaintance with Scripture goes far with a Scotch ecclesiastic. Besides, the man had a redeeming sense of humour, though he did not know how to prize it, not believing it a gift of God.
“ It's true, my woman, ” he answered. “ Ay! it said something for them, deils` at they war,` at they preferred the swine. But even the swine cudna bide them! ”
Encouraged by the condescension of the remark, but disinclined to follow the path of reflection it indicated, Mistress Croale ventured a little farther upon her own.
“ Ye see, sir, ” she said, “ as lang's there's whusky, it wull tak the throt-ro'd. It's the naitralw'yo'`t, ye see, to rin doon, an' it's no mainnero' use gangin' again natur. Sae, allooin' the thing maun be, ye'll hae till alloo likewise, an' it's a trouth I'm tellin' ye, sir,` at it'so' nae sma' consequence to the toon` at the drucken craturs sud fill themsels wi' dacency -- an' that's what I see till. Gang na to the magistrate, sir; but as sune's ye hae gotten testimony -- guid testimony though, sir --` at there's been disorder or immorawlityi' my hoose, come ye to me, an' I'll gie ye my han' to paperon't this meenute,` at I'll gie up my chop, an' lea' yer perris -- an' may ye sune get a betteri' my place. Sir, I'm like a mither to the puir bodies! An' gin ye drive them to Jock Thamson's, or Jeemie Deuk's, it'll be just like -- savin' the word, I dinna inten”t for sweirin', guid kens! -- I say it'll just be dammin' them afore their time, like the puir deils. Hech! but it'll come sune eneuch, an' they're muckle to be peetied! ”
“ And when those victims of your vile ministrations, ” said the clergyman, again mounting his wooden horse, and setting it rocking, “ find themselves where there will be no whisky to refresh them, where do you think you will be, Mistress Croale? ”
“ Whaur the Lord wulls, ” answered the woman. “ Whaur that may be, I confess I'm whiles laith to think. Only gien I was you, Maister Sclater, I wad think twise afore I made ill waur. ”
“ But hear me, Mistress Croale: it's not your besotted customers only I have to care for. Your soul is as precious in my sight as any of which I shall have to render an account. ”
“ As Mistress Bonniman's, for enstance? ” suggested Mrs. Croale, interrogatively, and with just the least trace of pawkiness in the tone.
The city, large as it was, was yet not large enough to prevent a portion of the private affairs of individuals from coming to be treated as public property, and Mrs. Bonniman was a handsome and rich young widow, the rumour of whose acceptableness to Mr. Sclater had reached Mistress Croale's ear before ever she had seen the minister himself. An unmistakable shadow of confusion crossed his countenance; whereupon with consideration both for herself and him, the woman made haste to go on, as if she had but chosen her instance at merest random.
“ Na, na, sir! what my sowl may be in the eyeso' my Maker, I hae ill tellin', ” she said, “ but dinna ye threip upo' me` at it'so' the same vailuei' your eyes as the sowlo' sic a fine bonny, winsome leddy as yon. In trouth, ” she added, and shook her head mournfully, “ I haena had sae mony preevileeges; an' maybe it'll be seen till, an' me passed ower a wheen easier nor some fowk. ”
“ I wouldn't have you build too much upon that, Mistress Croale, ” said Mr. Sclater, glad to follow the talk down another turning, but considerably more afraid of rousing the woman than he had been before.
The remark drove her behind the categorical stockade of her religious merits.
“ I pey myw`y, ” she said, with modest firmness. “ I put my penny, and whiles my saxpence, intil the plate at the door when I gang to the kirk -- an' I was jist thinkin' I wad win there the morn's nicht at farest, whan I turnt an' saw ye stan` in there, sir; an' little I thoucht -- but that's neither here nor there, I'm thinkin'. I tell as feow lees as I can; I never sweir, nor tak the nameo' the Lord in vain, anger me` at likes; I sell naething but the best whusky; I never hae but broth to my denner upo' the Lord's day, an' broth canna brak the Sawbath, simmerin' awa' upo' the baro' the grate, an' haudin' no lass frae the kirk; I confess, gien ye wull be speirin',` at I dinna read my buik sae aften as maybe I sud; but,` deed, sir, tho' I says't` at sud haud my tongue, ye hae waur folki' yer perris nor Benjie Croale's widow; an' gien ye wunna hae a drap to weet yer ain whustle for the holy wark ye hae afore ye the morn's mornin', I maun gang an' mak my bed, for the lass is laid up wi' a bealt thoom, an' I maunna lat a' thing gang to dirt an' green bree; though I'm sure it's rale kin'o' ye to come to luik efter me, an' that's mair nor Maister Rennie, honest gentleman, ever did me the fawvouro', a' the time he ministered the perris. I haena an ill name wi' them` at kens me, sir; that I can say wi' a clean conscience; an' ye may ken me weel gien ye wull. An' there's jist ae thing mair, sir: I gie ye my Bible-word,` at never, gien I saw signo' repentance or turnin' upo' aneo' them` at pits their legs` aneth my table -- Wad ye luik intil the parlour, sir? No! -- as I was sayin', never did I, sin' I keepit hoose, an' never wad I set mysel' to quench the smokin' flax; I wad hae no man's deith, sowl or body, lie at my door. ”
“ Well, well, Mistress Croale, ” said the minister, somewhat dazed by the cataract he had brought upon his brain, and rather perplexed what to say in reply with any hope of reaching her, “ I don't doubt a word of what you tell me; but you know works can not save us; our best righteousness is but as filthy rags. ”
“ It's weel I ken that, Mr. Sclater. An' I'm sure I'll be glaid to see ye, sir, ony time ye wad dee me the fawvour to luik in as ye're passin' by. It'll be none to yer shame, sir, for mine's an honest hoose. ”
“ I'll do that, Mistress Croale, ” answered the minister, glad to escape. “ But mind, ” he added, “ I don't give up my point for all that; and I hope you will think over what I have been saying to you -- and that seriously. ”
With these words he left the shop rather hurriedly, in evident dread of a reply.
Mistress Croale turned to the shelves behind her, took again the bottle she had replaced, poured out a large half-glass of whisky, and tossed it off. She had been compelled to think and talk of things unpleasant, and it had put her, as she said, a' in a trim` le. She was but one of the many who get the fuel of their life in at the wrong door, their comfort from the world-side of the universe. I can not tell whether Mr. Sclater or she was the farther from the central heat. The woman had the advantage in this, that she had to expend all her force on mere self-justification, and had no energy left for vain-glory. It was with a sad sigh she set about the work of the house. Nor would it have comforted her much to assure her that hers was a better defence than any distiller in the country could make. Even the whisky itself gave her little relief; it seemed to scald both stomach and conscience, and she vowed never to take it again. But alas! this time is never the time for self-denial; it is always the next time. Abstinence is so much more pleasant to contemplate upon the other side of indulgence! Yet the struggles after betterment that many a drunkard has made in vain, would, had his aim been high enough, have saved his soul from death, and turned the charnel of his life into a temple. Abject as he is, foiled and despised, such a one may not yet be half so contemptible as many a so-counted respectable member of society, who looks down on him from a height too lofty even for scorn. It is not the first and the last only, of whom many will have to change places; but those as well that come everywhere between.
The day went on, and went out, its short autumnal brightness quenched in a chilly fog. All along the Widdiehill, the gas was alight in the low-browed dingy shops. To the well-to-do citizen hastening home to the topmost business of the day, his dinner, these looked the abodes of unlovely poverty and mean struggle. Even to those behind their counters, in their back parlours, and in their rooms above, everything about them looked common, to most of them, save the owners, wearisome. But to yon pale-faced student, gliding in the glow of his red gown, through the grey mist back to his lodging, and peeping in at every open door as he passes, they are so full of mystery, that gladly would he yield all he has gathered from books, for one genuine glance of insight into the vital movement of the hearts and households of which those open shops are the sole outward and visible signs. Each house is to him a nest of human birds, over which brood the eternal wings of love and purpose. Only such different birds are hatched from the same nest! And what a nest was then the city itself! -- with its university, its schools, its churches, its hospitals, its missions; its homes, its lodging-houses, its hotels, its drinking shops, its houses viler still; its factories, its ships, its great steamers; and the same humanity busy in all! -- here the sickly lady walking in the panoply of love unharmed through the horrors of vicious suffering; there the strong mother cursing her own child along half a street with an intensity and vileness of execration unheard elsewhere! The will of the brooding spirit must be a grand one, indeed, to enclose so much of what can not be its will, and turn all to its purpose of eternal good! Our knowledge of humanity, how much more our knowledge of the Father of it, is moving as yet but in the first elements.
In his shed under the stair it had been dark for some time -- too dark for work, that is, and George Galbraith had lighted a candle: he never felt at liberty to leave off so long as a man was recognizable in the street by daylight. But now at last, with a sigh of relief, he rose. The hour of his redemption was come, the moment of it at hand. Outwardly calm, he was within eager as a lover to reach Lucky Croale's back parlour. His hand trembled with expectation as he laid from it the awl, took from between his knees the great boot on the toe of which he had been stitching a patch, lifted the yoke of his leather apron over his head, and threw it aside. With one hasty glance around, as if he feared some enemy lurking near to prevent his escape, he caught up a hat which looked as if it had been brushed with grease, pulled it on his head with both hands, stepped out quickly, closed the door behind him, turned the key, left it in the lock, and made straight for his earthly paradise -- but with chastened step. All Mistress Croale's customers made a point of looking decent in the street -- strove, in their very consciousness, to carry the expression of being on their way to their tea, not their toddy -- or if their toddy, then not that they desired it, but merely that it was their custom always of an afternoon: man had no choice -- he must fill space, he must occupy himself; and if so, why not Mistress Croale's the place, and the consumption of whisky the occupation? But alas for their would-be seeming indifference! Everybody in the lane, almost in the Widdiehill, knew every one of them, and knew him for what he was; knew that every drop of toddy he drank was to him as to a miser his counted sovereign; knew that, as the hart for the water-brooks, so thirsted his soul ever after another tumbler; that he made haste to swallow the last drops of the present, that he might behold the plenitude of the next steaming before him; that, like the miser, he always understated the amount of the treasure he had secured, because the less he acknowledged, the more he thought he could claim.
George was a tall man, of good figure, loosened and bowed. His face was well favoured, but not a little wronged by the beard and dirt of a week, through which it gloomed haggard and white. Beneath his projecting black brows, his eyes gleamed doubtful, as a wood-fire where white ash dims the glow. He looked neither to right nor left, but walked on with moveless dull gaze, noting nothing.
“ Yon's his ain warst enemy, ” said the kindly grocer-wife, as he passed her door.
“ Ay, ” responded her customer, who kept a shop near by for old furniture, or anything that had been already once possessed -- “ ay, I daursay. But eh! to see that puir negleckit bairno' his rin scoorin' aboot the toon yon gait -- wi' littleo' a jacket but the collar, an' naethingo' the breeks but the doup -- eh, wuman! it maks a mither's hert sair to luik upo'` t. It's a providence` at his mither's weel awa' an' canna see`t; it wad gar her turn in her grave. ”
George was the first arrival at Mistress Croale's that night. He opened the door of the shop like a thief, and glided softly into the dim parlour, where the candles were not yet lit. There was light enough, however, from the busy little fire in the grate to show the clean sanded floor which it crossed with flickering shadows, the coloured prints and cases of stuffed birds on the walls, the full-rigged barque suspended from the centre of the ceiling, and, chief of all shows of heaven or earth, the black bottle on the table, with the tumblers, each holding its ladle, and its wine glass turned bottom upwards. Nor must I omit a part without which the rest could not have been a whole -- the kettle of water that sat on the hob, softly crooning. Compared with the place where George had been at work all day, this was indeed an earthly paradise. Nor was the presence and appearance of Mistress Croale an insignificant element in the paradisial character of the place. She was now in a clean white cap with blue ribbons. Her hair was neatly divided, and drawn back from her forehead. Every trace of dirt and untidiness had disappeared from her person, which was one of importance both in size and in bearing. She wore a gown of some dark stuff with bright flowers on it, and a black silk apron. Her face was composed, almost to sadness, and throughout the evening, during which she waited in person upon her customers, she comported herself with such dignity, that her slow step and stately carriage seemed rather to belong to the assistant at some religious ceremony than to one who ministered at the orgies of a few drunken tradespeople.
She was seated on the horsehair sofa in the fire-twilight, waiting for customers, when the face of Galbraith came peering round the door-cheek.
“ Come awa' ben, ” she said, hospitably, and rose. But as she did so, she added with a little change of tone, “ But I'm thinkin' ye maun hae forgotten, Sir George. This is Setterday nicht, ye ken; an' gien it war to be Sunday mornin' afore ye wan to yer bed, it wadna be the first time, an' ye michtna be up ear eneuch to get yersel shaved afore kirk time. ”
She knew as well as George himself that never by any chance did he go to church; but it was her custom, as I fancy it is that of some other bulwarks of society and pillars of the church, “ for the sake of example, ” I presume, to make not unfrequent allusion to certain observances, moral, religious, or sanatory as if they were laws that everybody kept.
Galbraith lifted his hand, black, and embossed with cobbler's wax, and rubbed it thoughtfully over his chin: he accepted the fiction offered him; it was but the well-known prologue to a hebdomadal passage between them. What if he did not intend going to church the next day? Was that any reason why he should not look a little tidier when his hard week's- work was over, and his nightly habit was turned into the comparatively harmless indulgence of a Saturday, in sure hope of the day of rest behind.
“ Troth, I didna min'` at it was Setterday, ” he answered. “ I wuss I had pitten on a clean sark, an' washen my face. But Is' jist gang ower to the barber's an' get a scrape, an' maybe someo' them` ill be here or I come back. ”
Mistress Croale knew perfectly that there was no clean shirt in George's garret. She knew also that the shirt he then wore, which probably, in consideration of her maid's festered hand, she would wash for him herself, was one of her late husband's which she had given him. But George's speech was one of those forms of sound words held fast by all who frequented Mistress Croale's parlour, and by herself estimated at more than their worth.
The woman had a genuine regard for Galbraith. Neither the character nor fate of one of the rest gave her a moment's trouble; but in her secret mind she deplored that George should drink so inordinately, and so utterly neglect his child as to let him spend his life in the streets. She comforted herself, however, with the reflection, that seeing he would drink, he drank with no bad companions -- drank at all events where what natural wickedness might be in them, was suppressed by the sternness of her rule. Were he to leave her fold -- for a fold in very truth, and not a sty, it appeared to her -- and wander away to Jock Thamson's or Jeemie Deuk's, he would be drawn into loud and indecorous talk, probably into quarrel and uproar.
In a few minutes George returned, an odd contrast visible between the upper and lower halves of his face. Hearing his approach she met him at the door.
“ Noo, Sir George, ” she said, “ jist gang up to my room an' hae a wash, an' pit on the sark ye'll see lyin' upo' the bed; syne come doon an' hae yer tum` ler comfortable. ”
George's whole soul was bent upon his drink, but he obeyed as if she had been twice his mother. By the time he had finished his toilet, the usual company was assembled, and he appeared amongst them in all the respectability of a clean shirt and what purity besides the general adhesiveness of his trade-material would yield to a single ablution long delayed. They welcomed him all, with nod, or grin, or merry word, in individual fashion, as each sat measuring out his whisky, or pounding at the slow-dissolving sugar, or tasting the mixture with critical soul seated between tongue and palate.
The conversation was for some time very dull, with a strong tendency to the censorious. For in their circle, not only were the claims of respectability silently admitted, but the conduct of this and that man of their acquaintance, or of public note, was pronounced upon with understood reference to those claims -- now with smile of incredulity or pity, now with headshake regretful or condemnatory -- and this all the time that each was doing his best to reduce himself to a condition in which the word conduct could no longer have meaning in reference to him.
All of them, as did their hostess, addressed Galbraith as Sir George, and he accepted the title with a certain unassuming dignity. For, if it was not universally known in the city, it was known to the best lawyers in it, that he was a baronet by direct derivation from the hand of King James the Sixth.
The fire burned cheerfully, and the kettle making many journeys between it and the table, things gradually grew more lively. Stories were told, often without any point, but not therefore without effect; reminiscences, sorely pulpy and broken at the edges, were offered and accepted with a laughter in which sober ears might have detected a strangely alien sound; and adventures were related in which truth was no necessary element to reception. In the case of the postman, for instance, who had been dismissed for losing a bag of letters the week before, not one of those present believed a word he said; yet as he happened to be endowed with a small stock of genuine humour, his stories were regarded with much the same favour as if they had been authentic. But the revival scarcely reached Sir George. He said little or nothing, but, between his slow gulps of toddy, sat looking vacantly into his glass. It is true he smiled absently now and then when the others laughed, but that was only for manners. Doubtless he was seeing somewhere the saddest of all visions -- the things that might have been. The wretched craving of the lower organs stilled, and something spared for his brain, I believe the chief joy his drink gave him lay in the power once more to feel himself a gentleman. The washed hands, the shaven face, the clean shirt, had something to do with it, no doubt, but the necromantic whisky had far more.
What faded ghosts of ancestral dignity and worth and story the evil potion called up in the mind of Sir George! -- who himself hung ready to fall, the last, or all but the last, mildewed fruit of the tree of Galbraith! Ah! if this one and that of his ancestors had but lived to his conscience, and with some thought of those that were to come after him, he would not have transmitted to poor Sir George, in horrible addition to moral weakness, that physical proclivity which had now grown to such a hideous craving. To the miserable wretch himself it seemed that he could no more keep from drinking whisky than he could from breathing air.
I am not sure that his father's neglect was not on the whole better for Gibbie than would have been the kindness of such a father persistently embodying itself. But the picture of Sir George, by the help of whisky and the mild hatching oven of Mistress Croale's parlour, softly breaking from the shell of the cobbler, and floating a mild gentleman in the air of his lukewarm imagination, and poor wee Gibbie trotting outside in the frosty dark of the autumn night, through which the moon keeps staring down, vague and disconsolate, is hardly therefore the less pathetic. Under the window of the parlour where the light of revel shone radiant through a red curtain, he would stand listening for a moment, then, darting off a few yards suddenly and swiftly like a scared bird, fall at once into his own steady trot -- up the lane and down, till he reached the window again, where again he would stand and listen. Whether he made this departure and return twenty or a hundred times in a night, he nor any one else could have told. Sometimes he would for a change extend his trot along the Widdiehill, sometimes along the parallel Vennel, but never far from Jink Lane and its glowing window. Never moth haunted lamp so persistently. Ever as he ran, up this pavement and down that, on the soft-sounding soles of his bare feet, the smile on the boy's face grew more and more sleepy, but still he smiled and still he trotted, still paused at the window, and still started afresh.
He was not so much to be pitied as my reader may think. Never in his life had he yet pitied himself. The thought of hardship or wrong had not occurred to him. It would have been difficult -- impossible, I believe -- to get the idea into his head that existence bore to him any other shape than it ought. Things were with him as they had always been, and whence was he to take a fresh start, and question what had been from the beginning? Had any authority interfered, with a decree that Gibbie should no more scour the midnight streets, no more pass and repass that far-shining splendour of red, then indeed would bitter, though inarticulate, complaint have burst from his bosom. But there was no evil power to issue such a command, and Gibbie's peace was not invaded.
It was now late, and those streets were empty; neither carriage nor cart, wheelbarrow nor truck, went any more bumping and clattering over their stones. They were well lighted with gas, but most of the bordering houses were dark. Now and then a single foot-farer passed with loud, hollow-sounding boots along the pavement; or two girls would come laughing along, their merriment echoing rude in the wide stillness.A cold wind, a small, forsaken, solitary wind, moist with a thin fog, seemed, as well as wee Gibbie, to be roaming the night, for it met him at various corners, and from all directions. But it had nothing to do, and nowhere to go, and there it was not like Gibbie, the business of whose life was even now upon him, the mightiest hope of whose conscious being was now awake.
All he expected, or ever desired to discover, by listening at the window, was simply whether there were yet signs of the company's breaking up; and his conclusions on that point were never mistaken: how he arrived at them it would be hard to say. Seldom had he there heard the voice of his father, still seldomer anything beyond its tone. This night, however, as the time drew near when they must go, lest the Sabbath should be broken in Mistress Croale's decent house, and Gibbie stood once more on tiptoe, with his head just on the level of the windowsill, he heard his father utter two words: “ Up Daurside ” came to him through the window, in the voice he loved, plain and distinct. The words conveyed to him nothing at all; the mere hearing of them made them memorable. For the time, however, he forgot them, for, by indications best known to himself, he perceived that the company was on the point of separating, and from that moment did not take his eyes off the door until he heard the first sounds of its opening. As, however, it was always hard for Gibbie to stand still, and especially hard on a midnight so cold that his feet threatened to grow indistinguishable from the slabs of the pavement, he was driven, in order not to lose sight of it, to practise the art, already cultivated by him to a crab-like perfection, of running first backwards, then forwards with scarcely superior speed. But it was not long ere the much expected sound of Mistress Croale's voice heralded the hour for patience to blossom into possession. The voice was neither loud nor harsh, but clear and firm; the noise that followed was both loud and strident. Voices had a part in it, but the movement of chairs and feet and the sudden contact of different portions of the body with walls and tables, had a larger. The guests were obeying the voice of their hostess all in one like a flock of sheep, but it was poor shepherd-work to turn them out of the fold at midnight. Gibbie bounded up and stood still as a statue at the very door-cheek, until he heard Mistress Croale's hand upon the lock, when he bolted, trembling with eagerness, into the entry of a court a few houses nearer to the Widdiehill.
One after one the pitiable company issued from its paradise, and each stumbled away, too far gone for leave-taking. Most of them passed Gibbie where he stood, but he took no heed; his father was always the last -- and the least capable. But, often as he left her door, never did it close behind him until with her own eyes Mistress Croale had seen Gibbie dart like an imp out of the court -- to take him in charge, and, all the weary way home, hover, not very like a guardian angel, but not the less one in truth, around the unstable equilibrium of his father's tall and swaying form. And thereupon commenced a series of marvellous gymnastics on the part of wee Gibbie. Imagine a small boy with a gigantic top, which, six times his own size, he keeps erect on its peg, not by whipping it round, but by running round it himself, unfailingly applying, at the very spot and at the very moment, the precise measure of impact necessary to counterbalance its perpetual tendency to fall in one direction or another, so that the two have all the air of a single invention -- such an invention as one might meet with in an ancient clock, contrived when men had time to mingle play with earnest -- and you will have in your mind's eye a real likeness of Sir George attended, any midnight in the week, by his son Gilbert. Home the big one staggered, reeled, gyrated, and tumbled; round and round him went the little one, now behind, now before, now on this side, now on that, his feet never more than touching the ground but dancing about like those of a prize-fighter, his little arms up and his hands well forward, like flying buttresses. And such indeed they were -- buttresses which flew and flew all about a universally leaning tower. They propped it here, they propped it there; with wonderful judgment and skill and graduation of force they applied themselves, and with perfect success. Not once, for the last year and a half, during which time wee Gibbie had been the nightly guide of Sir George's homeward steps, had the self-disabled mass fallen prostrate in the gutter, there to snore out the night.
The first special difficulty, that of turning the corner of Jink Lane and the Widdiehill, successfully overcome, the twain went reeling and revolving along the street, much like a whirlwind that had half forgotten the laws of gyration, until at length it spun into the court, and up to the foot of the outside stair over the baronet's workshop. Then commenced the real struggle of the evening for Gibbie -- and for his father too, though the latter was aware of it only in the momentary and evanescent flashes of such enlightenment as made him just capable of yielding to the pushes and pulls of the former. All up the outside and the two inside stairs, his waking and sleeping were as the alternate tictac of a pendulum; but Gibbie stuck to his business like a man, and his resolution and perseverance were at length, as always, crowned with victory.
The house in which lords and ladies had often reposed was now filled with very humble folk, who were all asleep when Gibbie and his father entered; but the noise they made in ascending caused no great disturbance of their rest; for, if any of them were roused for a moment, it was but to recognize at once the cause of the tumult, and with the remark, “ It's only wee Gibbie luggin' hame Sir George, ” to turn on the other side and fall asleep again.
Arrived at last at the garret door, which stood wide open, Gibbie had small need of light in the nearly pitch darkness of the place, for there was positively nothing to stumble over or against between the door and the ancient four-post bed, which was all of his father's house that remained to Sir George. With heavy shuffling feet the drunkard lumbered laboriously bedward; and the bare posts and crazy frame groaned and creaked as he fell upon the oat-chaff that lay waiting him in place of the vanished luxury of feathers. Wee Gibbie flew at his legs, nor rested until, the one after the other, he had got them on the bed; if then they were not very comfortably deposited, he knew that, in his first turn, their owner would get them all right.
And now rose the culmen of Gibbie's day! its cycle, rounded through regions of banishment, returned to its nodus of bliss. In triumph he spread over his sleeping father his dead mother's old plaid of Gordon tartan, all the bedding they had, and without a moment's further delay -- no shoes even to put off -- crept under it, and nestled close upon the bosom of his unconscious parent.A victory more! another day ended with success! his father safe, and all his own! the canopy of the darkness and the plaid over them, as if they were the one only two in the universe! his father unable to leave him -- his for whole dark hours to come! It was Gibbie's paradise now! His heaven was his father's bosom, to which he clung as no infant yet ever clung to his mother's. He never thought to pity himself that the embrace was all on his side, that no answering pressure came back from the prostrate form. He never said to himself, “ My father is a drunkard, but I must make the best of it; he is all I have! ” He clung to his one possession -- only clung: this was his father -- all in all to him. What must be the bliss of such a heart -- of any heart, when it comes to know that there is a father of fathers, yea, a father of fatherhood! a father who never slumbers nor sleeps, but holds all the sleeping in his ever waking bosom -- a bosom whose wakefulness is the sole fountain of their slumber!
The conscious bliss of the child was of short duration, for in a few minutes he was fast asleep; but for the gain of those few minutes only, the day had been well spent.
Such were the events of every night, and such had they been since Gibbie first assumed this office of guardian -- a time so long in proportion to his life that it seemed to him as one of the laws of existence that fathers got drunk and Gibbies took care of them. But Saturday night was always one of special bliss; for then the joy to come spread its arms beneath and around the present delight: all Sunday his father would be his. On that happiest day of all the week, he never set his foot out of doors, except to run twice to Mistress Croale's, once to fetch the dinner which she supplied from her own table, and for which Sir George regularly paid in advance on Saturday before commencing his potations.
But indeed the streets were not attractive to the child on Sundays: there were no shops open, and the people in their Sunday clothes, many of them with their faces studiously settled into masks intended to express righteousness, were far less interesting, because less alive, than the same people in their work-day attire, in their shops, or seated at their stalls, or driving their carts, and looking thoroughly human. As to going to church himself, such an idea had never entered his head. He had not once for a moment imagined that anybody would like him to go to church, that such as he ever went to church, that church was at all a place to which Gibbies with fathers to look after should have any desire to go. As to what church going meant, he had not the vaguest idea; it had not even waked the glimmer of a question in his mind. All he knew was that people went to church on Sundays. It was another of the laws of existence, the reason of which he knew no more than why his father went every night to Jink Lane and got drunk. George, however, although he had taught his son nothing, was not without religion, and had notions of duty in respect of the Sabbath. Not even with the prize of whisky in view, would he have consented to earn a sovereign on that day by the lightest of work.
Gibbie was awake some time before his father, and lay revelling in love's bliss of proximity. At length Sir George, the merest bubble of nature, awoke, and pushed him from him.
The child got up at once, but only to stand by the bed-side. He said no word, did not even think an impatient thought, yet his father seemed to feel that he was waiting for him. After two or three huge yawns, he spread out his arms, but, unable to stretch himself, yawned again, rolled himself off the bed, and crept feebly across the room to an empty chest that stood under the skylight. There he seated himself, and for half an hour sat motionless, a perfect type of dilapidation, moral and physical, while a little way off stood Gibbie, looking on, like one awaiting a resurrection. At length he seemed to come to himself -- the expected sign of which was that he reached down his hand towards the meeting of roof and floor, and took up a tiny last with a half-made boot upon it. At sight of it in his father's hands, Gibbie clapped his with delight -- an old delight, renewed every Sunday since he could remember. That boot was for him! and this being the second, the pair would be finished before night! By slow degrees of revival, with many pauses between, George got to work. He wanted no breakfast, and made no inquiry of Gibbie whether he had had any. But what cared Gibbie about breakfast! With his father all to himself, and that father working away at a new boot for him -- for him who had never had a pair of any sort upon his feet since the woollen ones he wore in his mother's lap, breakfast or no breakfast was much the same to him. It could never have occurred to him that it was his father's part to provide him with breakfast. If he was to have none, it was Sunday that was to blame: there was no use in going to look for any when the shops were all shut, and everybody either at church, or closed in domestic penetralia, or out for a walk. More than contented, therefore, while busily his father wedded welt and sole with stitches infrangible, Gibbie sat on the floor, preparing waxed ends, carefully sticking in the hog's bristle, and rolling the combination, with quite professional aptitude, between the flat of his hand and what of trouser-leg he had left, gazing eagerly between at the advancing masterpiece. Occasionally the triumph of expectation would exceed his control, when he would spring from the floor, and caper and strut about like a pigeon -- soft as a shadow, for he knew his father could not bear noise in the morning -- or behind his back execute a pantomimic dumb show of delight, in which he seemed with difficulty to restrain himself from jumping upon him, and hugging him in his ecstasy. Oh, best of parents! working thus even on a Sunday for his Gibbie, when everybody else was at church enjoying himself! But Gibbie never dared hug his father except when he was drunk -- why, he could hardly have told. Relieved by his dumb show, he would return, quite as an aged grimalkin, and again deposit himself on the floor near his father where he could see his busy hands.
All this time Sir George never spoke a word. Incredible as it may seem, however, he was continually, off and on, trying his hardest to think of some Sunday lesson to give his child. Many of those that knew the boy, regarded him as a sort of idiot, drawing the conclusion from Gibbie's practical honesty and his too evident love for his kind: it was incredible that a child should be poor, unselfish, loving, and not deficient in intellect! His father knew him better, yet he often quieted his conscience in regard to his education, with the reflection that not much could be done for him. Still, every now and then he would think perhaps he ought to do something: who could tell but the child might be damned for not understanding the plan of salvation? and brooding over the matter this morning, as well as his headache would permit, he came to the resolution, as he had often done before, to buy a Shorter Catechism; the boy could not learn it, but he would keep reading it to him, and something might stick. Even now perhaps he could begin the course by recalling some of the questions and answers that had been the plague of his life every Saturday at school. He set his recollection to work, therefore, in the lumber-room of his memory, and again and again sent it back to the task, but could find nothing belonging to the catechism except the first question with its answer, and a few incoherent fragments of others. Moreover, he found his mind so confused and incapable of continuous or concentrated effort, that he could not even keep “ man's chief end ” and the rosined end between his fingers from twisting up together in the most extraordinary manner. Yet if the child but “ had the question, ” he might get some good of it. The hour might come when he would say, “ My father taught me that! ” -- who could tell? And he knew he had the words correct, wherever he had dropped their meaning. For the sake of Gibbie's immortal part, therefore, he would repeat the answer to that first, most momentous of questions, over and over as he worked, in the hope of insinuating something -- he could not say what -- into the small mental pocket of the innocent. The first, therefore, and almost the only words which Gibbie heard from his father's lips that morning, were these, dozens of times repeated -- “ Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever. ” But so far was Gibbie from perceiving in them any meaning, that even with his father's pronunciation of chief end as chifenn, they roused in his mind no sense or suspicion of obscurity. The word stuck there, notwithstanding; but Gibbie was years a man before he found out what a chifenn was. Where was the great matter? How many who have learned their catechism and deplore the ignorance of others, make the least effort to place their chief end even in the direction of that of their creation? Is it not the constant thwarting of their aims, the rendering of their desires futile, and their ends a mockery, that alone prevents them and their lives from proving an absolute failure? Sir George, with his inveterate, consuming thirst for whisky, was but the type of all who would gain their bliss after the scheme of their own fancies, instead of the scheme of their existence; who would build their house after their own childish wilfulness instead of the ground-plan of their being. How was Sir George to glorify the God whom he could honestly thank for nothing but whisky, the sole of his gifts that he prized? Over and over that day he repeated the words, “ Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever, ” and all the time his imagination, his desire, his hope, were centred on the bottle, which with his very back he felt where it stood behind him, away on the floor at the head of his bed. Nevertheless when he had gone over them a score of times or so, and Gibbie had begun, by a merry look and nodding of his head, to manifest that he knew what was coming next, the father felt more content with himself than for years past; and when he was satisfied that Gibbie knew all the words, though, indeed, they were hardly more than sounds to him, he sent him, with a great sense of relief, to fetch the broth and beef and potatoes from Mistress Croale's.
Eating a real dinner in his father's house, though without a table to set it upon, Gibbie felt himself a most privileged person. The only thing that troubled him was that his father ate so little. Not until the twilight began to show did Sir George really begin to revive, but the darker it grew without, the brighter his spirit burned. For, amongst not a few others, there was this strange remnant of righteousness in the man, that he never would taste drink before it was dark in winter, or in summer before the regular hour for ceasing work had arrived; and to this rule he kept, and that under far greater difficulties, on the Sunday as well. For Mistress Croale would not sell a drop of drink, not even on the sly, on the Sabbath-day: she would fain have some stake in the hidden kingdom; and George, who had not a Sunday stomach he could assume for the day any more than a Sunday coat, was thereby driven to provide his whisky and that day drink it at home; when, with the bottle so near him, and the sense that he had not to go out to find his relief, his resolution was indeed sorely tried; but he felt that to yield would be to cut his last cable and be swept on the lee-shore of utter ruin.
Breathless with eager interest, Gibbie watched his father's hands, and just as the darkness closed in, the boot was finished. His father rose, and Gibbie, glowing with delight, sprang upon the seat he had left, while his father knelt upon the floor to try upon the unaccustomed foot the result from which he had just drawn the last. Ah, pity! pity! But even Gibbie might by this time have learned to foresee it! three times already had the same thing happened: the boot would not go on the foot. The real cause of the failure it were useless to inquire. Sir George said that, Sunday being the only day he could give to the boots, before he could finish them, Gibbie's feet had always outgrown the measure. But it may be Sir George was not so good a maker as cobbler. That he meant honestly by the boy I am sure, and not the less sure for the confession I am forced to make, that on each occasion when he thus failed to fit him, he sold the boots the next day at a fair price to a ready-made shop, and drank the proceeds.A stranger thing still was, that, although Gibbie had never yet worn boot or shoe, his father's conscience was greatly relieved by the knowledge that he spent his Sundays in making boots for him. Had he been an ordinary child, and given him trouble, he would possibly have hated him; as it was, he had a great though sadly inoperative affection for the boy, which was an endless good to them both.
After many bootless trials, bootless the feet must remain, and George, laying the failure down in despair, rose from his knees, and left Gibbie seated on the chest more like a king discrowned, than a beggar unshod. And like a king the little beggar bore his pain. He heaved one sigh, and a slow moisture gathered in his eyes, but it did not overflow. One minute only he sat and hugged his desolation -- then, missing his father, jumped off the box to find him.
He sat on the edge of the bed, looking infinitely more disconsolate than Gibbie felt, his head and hands hanging down, a picture of utter dejection. Gibbie bounded to him, climbed on the bed, and nearly strangled him in the sharp embrace of his little arms. Sir George took him on his knees and kissed him, and the tears rose in his dull eyes. He got up with him, carried him to the box, placed him on it once more, and fetched a piece of brown paper from under the bed. From this he tore carefully several slips, with which he then proceeded to take a most thoughtful measurement of the baffling foot. He was far more to be pitied than Gibbie, who would not have worn the boots an hour had they been the best fit in shoedom. The soles of his feet were very nearly equal in resistance to leather, and at least until the snow and hard frost came, he was better without boots.
But now the darkness had fallen, and his joy was at the door. But he was always too much ashamed to begin to drink before the child: he hated to uncork the bottle before him. What followed was in regular Sunday routine.
“ Gang ower to Mistress Croale's, Gibbie, ” he said, “ wi' my compliments. ”
Away ran Gibbie, nothing loath, and at his knock was admitted. Mistress Croale sat in the parlour, taking her tea, and expecting him. She was always kind to the child. She could not help feeling that no small part of what ought to be spent on him came to her; and on Sundays, therefore, partly for his sake, partly for her own, she always gave him his tea -- nominally tea, really blue city-milk -- with as much dry bread as he could eat, and a bit of buttered toast from her plate to finish off with. As he ate, he stood at the other side of the table; he looked so miserable in her eyes that, even before her servant, she was ashamed to have him sit with her; but Gibbie was quite content, never thought of sitting, and ate in gladness, every now and then looking up with loving, grateful eyes, which must have gone right to the woman's heart, had it not been for a vague sense she had of being all the time his enemy -- and that although she spent much time in persuading herself that she did her best both for his father and him.
When he returned, greatly refreshed, and the boots all but forgotten, he found his father, as he knew he would, already started on the business of the evening. He had drawn the chest, the only seat in the room, to the side of the bed, against which he leaned his back.A penny candle was burning in a stone blacking bottle on the chimney piece, and on the floor beside the chest stood the bottle of whisky, a jug of water, a stoneware mug, and a wineglass.
There was no fire and no kettle, whence his drinking was sad, as became the Scotch Sabbath in distinction from the Jewish. There, however, was the drink, and thereby his soul could live -- yea, expand her mouldy wings! Gibbie was far from shocked; it was all right, all in the order of things, and he went up to his father with radiant countenance. Sir George put forth his hands and took him between his knees. An evil wind now swelled his sails, but the cargo of the crazy human hull was not therefore evil.
“ Gibbie, ” he said, solemnly, “ never ye drink a drapo' whusky. Never ye rax oot the han' to the boatle. Never ye drink anything but watter, caller watter, my man. ”
As he said the words, he stretched out his own hand to the mug, lifted it to his lips, and swallowed a great gulp.
“ Dinna do`t, I tell ye, Gibbie, ” he repeated.
Gibbie shook his head with positive repudiation.
“ That's richt, my man, ” responded his father with satisfaction. “ Gien ever I see ye pree -LRB- taste -RRB- the boatle, I'll warstle frae my grave an' fleg ye ooto' the sma' wuts ye hae, my man. ”
Here followed another gulp from the mug.
The threat had conveyed nothing to Gibbie. Even had he understood, it would have carried anything but terror to his father-worshipping heart.
“ Gibbie, ” resumed Sir George, after a brief pause, “ div ye ken what fowk'll ca' ye whan I'm deid? ”
Gibbie again shook his head -- with expression this time of mere ignorance.
“ They'll ca' ye Sir Gibbie Galbraith, my man, ” said his father, “ an' richtly, for it'll be no nickname, though some may lauch'cause yer father was a sutor, an' mair` at, for a' that, ye haena a shee to yer fut yersel', puir fallow! Heedna ye what they say, Gibbie. Min'` at ye're Sir Gibbie, an' hae the honouro' the faimily to haud up, my man -- an' that ye can not dee an' drink. This cursit drink's been the ruino' a' the Galbraiths as far back as I ken.` Maist the only thing I can min'o' my gran` father -- a big bonny man, wi' lang white hair -- twise as big's me, Gibbie -- is seein' him deid drunki' the guttero' the pump. He drank` maist a' thing there was, Gibbie -- lan's an' lordship, till there was hardly an accre left upo' haill Daurside to come to my father --` maist naething but a wheen sma' hooses. He was a guid man, my father; but his father learnt him to drink afore he was` maist ooto''s coaties, an' gae him nae schuilin'; an' gien he red himsel'o' a'` at was left, it was sma' won` er -- only, ye see, Gibbie, what was to comeo' me? I pit it till ye, Gibbie -- what was to comeo' me? -- Gien a kin' neiper,` at kent what it was to drink, an' sae had a fallow-feelin', hadna ta'en an' learnt me my trade, the Lord kens what wad hae comeo' you an' me, Gibbie, my man! -- Gang to yer bed, noo, an' lea' me to my ain thouchts; no'` at they're aye the besto' company, laddie. -- But whiles they're no that ill, ” he concluded, with a weak smile, as some reflex of himself not quite unsatisfactory gloomed faintly in the besmeared mirror of his uncertain consciousness.
Gibbie obeyed, and getting under the Gordon tartan, lay and looked out, like a weasel from its hole, at his father's back. For half an hour or so Sir George went on drinking. All at once he started to his feet, and turning towards the bed a white face distorted with agony, kneeled down on the box and groaned out:
“O God, the painso' hell hae gotten haud upo' me.O Lord, I'mi' the grupo' Sawtan. The deevilo' drink has me by the hause. I doobt,O Lord, ye're gauin' to damn me dreidfu'. What guid that'll do ye,O Lord, I dinna ken, but I doobtna ye'll dee what's richt, only I wuss I hed never crossed yei' yer wull. I kenna what I'm to dee, or what's to be deene wi' me, or whaur ony help's to come frae. I hae tried an' tried to maister the drink, but I was aye whumled. For ye see, Lord, kennin' a' thing as ye dee,` at until I hae a drapi' my skin, I canna even think; I canna min' the sangs I used to sing, or the prayers my mither learnt me sittin' upo' her lap. Till I hae swallowed a mou` fu' or twa, things luik sae awfu'- like` at I'm fit to cut my thro`t; an' syne ance I'm begun, there's nae mair thouchto' endeevourin' to behaud -LRB- withhold -RRB- till I canna drink a drap mair.O God, what garred ye mak things` at wad mak whusky, whan ye kenned it wad mak sic a beasto' me? ”
He paused, stretched down his hand to the floor, lifted the mug, and drank a huge mouthful; then with a cough that sounded apologetic, set it down, and recommenced:
“O Lord, I doobt there's nae houp for me, for the verra rivero' the wattero' life wadna be guid to me wantin' a drap frae the boatle intil` t. It's thew'y wi' a' hiz` at drinks. It's no` at we're drunkards, Lord -- ow na! it's no that, Lord; it's only` at we canna dee wantin' the drink. We're sair drinkers, I maun confess, but no jist drunkards, Lord. I'm no drunk the noo; I ken what I'm sayin', an' it's sair trowth, but I cudna hae prayt a word to yer lordship gien I hadna had a jooggy or twa first.O Lord, deliver me frae the pooero' Sawtan. --O Lord!O Lord! I canna help mysel'. Dinna sen' me to the ill place. Ye loot the deils gang intil the swine, lat me tee. ”
With this frightful petition, his utterance began to grow indistinct. Then he fell forward upon the bed, groaning, and his voice died gradually away. Gibbie had listened to all he said, but the awe of hearing his father talk to one unseen, made his soul very still, and when he ceased he fell asleep.
Alas for the human soul inhabiting a drink-fouled brain! It is a human soul still, and wretched in the midst of all that whisky can do for it. From the pit of hell it cries out. So long as there is that which can sin, it is a man. And the prayer of misery carries its own justification, when the sober petitions of the self-righteous and the unkind are rejected. He who forgives not is not forgiven, and the prayer of the Pharisee is as the weary beating of the surf of hell, while the cry of a soul out of its fire sets the heart-strings of love trembling. There are sins which men must leave behind them, and sins which they must carry with them. Society scouts the drunkard because he is loathsome, and it matters nothing whether society be right or wrong, while it cherishes in its very bosom vices which are, to the God-born thing we call the soul, yet worse poisons. Drunkards and sinners, hard as it may be for them to enter into the kingdom of heaven, must yet be easier to save than the man whose position, reputation, money, engross his heart and his care, who seeks the praise of men and not the praise of God. When I am more of a Christian, I shall have learnt to be sorrier for the man whose end is money or social standing than for the drunkard. But now my heart, recoiling from the one, is sore for the other -- for the agony, the helplessness, the degradation, the nightmare struggle, the wrongs and cruelties committed, the duties neglected, the sickening ruin of mind and heart. So often, too, the drunkard is originally a style of man immeasurably nobler than the money-maker! Compare a Coleridge, Samuel Taylor or Hartley, with -- no; that man has not yet passed to his account. God has in his universe furnaces for the refining of gold, as well as for the burning of chaff and tares and fruitless branches; and, however they may have offended, it is the elder brother who is the judge of all the younger ones.
Gibbie slept some time. When he woke, it was pitch dark, and he was not lying on his father's bosom, He felt about with his hands till he found his father's head. Then he got up and tried to rouse him, and failing to get him on to the bed. But in that too he was sadly unsuccessful: what with the darkness and the weight of him, the result of the boy's best endeavour was, that Sir George half slipped, half rolled down upon the box, and from that to the floor. Assured then of his own helplessness, wee Gibbie dragged the miserable bolster from the bed, and got it under his father's head; then covered him with the plaid, and creeping under it, laid himself on his father's bosom, where soon he slept again.
He woke very cold, and getting up, turned heels-over-head several times to warm himself, but quietly, for his father was still asleep. The room was no longer dark, for the moon was shining through the skylight. When he had got himself a little warmer, he turned to have a look at his father. The pale light shone full upon his face, and it was that, Gibbie thought, which made him look so strange. He darted to him, and stared aghast: he had never seen him look like that before, even when most drunk! He threw himself upon him: his face was dreadfully cold. He pulled and shook him in fear -- he could not have told of what, but he would not wake. He was gone to see what God could do for him there, for whom nothing more could be done here.
But Gibbie did not know anything about death, and went on trying to wake him. At last he observed that, although his mouth was wide open, the breath did not come from it. Thereupon his heart began to fail him. But when he lifted an eyelid, and saw what was under it, the house rang with the despairing shriek of the little orphan.
“ This, too, will pass, ” is a Persian word: I should like it better if it were “ This, too, shall pass. ”
Gibbie's agony passed, for God is not the God of the dead but of the living. Through the immortal essence in him, life became again life, and he ran about the streets as before. Some may think that wee Sir Gibbie -- as many now called him, some knowing the truth, and others in kindly mockery -- would get on all the better for the loss of such a father; but it was not so. In his father he had lost his Paradise, and was now a creature expelled. He was not so much to be pitied as many a child dismissed by sudden decree from a home to a school; but the streets and the people and the shops, the horses and the dogs, even the penny-loaves though he was hungry, had lost half their precious delight, when his father was no longer in the accessible background, the heart of the blissful city. As to food and clothing, he did neither much better nor any worse than before: people were kind as usual, and kindness was to Gibbie the very milk of mother Nature. Whose the hand that proffered it, or what the form it took, he cared no more than a stray kitten cares whether the milk set down to it be in a blue saucer or a white. But he always made the right return. The first thing a kindness deserves is acceptance, the next is transmission: Gibbie gave both, without thinking much about either. For he never had taken, and indeed never learned to take, a thought about what he should eat or what he should drink, or wherewithal he should be clothed -- a fault rendering him, in the eyes of the economist of this world, utterly unworthy of a place in it. There is a world, however, and one pretty closely mixed up with this, though it never shows itself to one who has no place in it, the birds of whose air have neither storehouse nor barn, but are just such thoughtless cherubs -- thoughtless for themselves, that is -- as wee Sir Gibbie. It would be useless to attempt convincing the mere economist that this great city was a little better, a little happier, a little merrier, for the presence in it of the child, because he would not, even if convinced of the fact, recognize the gain; but I venture the assertion to him, that the conduct of not one of its inhabitants was the worse for the example of Gibbie's apparent idleness; and that not one of the poor women who now and then presented the small baronet with a penny, or a bit of bread, or a scrap of meat, or a pair of old trousers -- shoes nobody gave him, and he neither desired nor needed any -- ever felt the poorer for the gift, or complained that she should be so taxed.
Positively or negatively, then, everybody was good to him, and Gibbie felt it; but what could make up for the loss of his Paradise, the bosom of a father? Drunken father as he was, I know of nothing that can or ought to make up for such a loss, except that which can restore it -- the bosom of the Father of fathers.
He roamed the streets, as all his life before, the whole of the day, and part of the night; he took what was given him, and picked up what he found. There were some who would gladly have brought him within the bounds of an ordered life; he soon drove them to despair, however, for the streets had been his nursery, and nothing could keep him out of them. But the sparrow and the rook are just as respectable in reality, though not in the eyes of the hen-wife, as the egg-laying fowl, or the dirt-gobbling duck; and, however Gibbie's habits might shock the ladies of Mr. Sclater's congregation who sought to civilize him, the boy was no more about mischief in the streets at midnight, than they were in their beds. They collected enough for his behoof to board him for a year with an old woman who kept a school, and they did get him to sleep one night in her house. But in the morning, when she would not let him run out, brought him into the school-room, her kitchen, and began to teach him to write, Gibbie failed to see the good of it. He must have space, change, adventure, air, or life was not worth the name to him. Above all he must see friendly faces, and that of the old dame was not such. But he desired to be friendly with her, and once, as she leaned over him, put up his hand -- not a very clean one, I am bound to give her the advantage of my confessing -- to stroke her cheek: she pushed him roughly away, rose in indignation upon her crutch, and lifted her cane to chastise him for the insult.A class of urchins, to Gibbie's eyes at least looking unhappy, were at the moment blundering through the twenty-third psalm. Ever after, even when now Sir Gilbert more than understood the great song, the words, “ thy rod and thy staff, ” like the spell of a necromancer would still call up the figure of the dame irate, in her horn spectacles and her black-ribboned cap, leaning with one arm on her crutch, and with the other uplifting what was with her no mere symbol of authority. Like a shell from a mortar, he departed from the house. She hobbled to the door after him, but his diminutive figure many yards away, his little bare legs misty with swiftness as he ran, was the last she ever saw of him, and her pupils had a bad time of it the rest of the day. He never even entered the street again in which she lived. Thus, after one night's brief interval of respectability, he was again a rover of the city, a flitting insect that lighted here and there, and spread wings of departure the moment a fresh desire awoke.
It would be difficult to say where he slept. In summer anywhere; in winter where he could find warmth. Like animals better clad than he, yet like him able to endure cold, he revelled in mere heat when he could come by it. Sometimes he stood at the back of a baker's oven, for he knew all the haunts of heat about the city; sometimes he buried himself in the sids -LRB- husks of oats -RRB- lying ready to feed the kiln of a meal-mill; sometimes he lay by the furnace of the steam-engine of the water-works. One man employed there, when his time was at night, always made a bed for Gibbie: he had lost his own only child, and this one of nobody's was a comfort to him.
Even those who looked upon wandering as wicked, only scolded into the sweet upturned face, pouring gall into a cup of wine too full to receive a drop of it -- and did not hand him over to the police. Useless verily that would have been, for the police would as soon have thought of taking up a town sparrow as Gibbie, and would only have laughed at the idea. They knew Gibbie's merits better than any of those good people imagined his faults. It requires either wisdom or large experience to know that a child is not necessarily wicked even if born and brought up in a far viler entourage than was Gibbie.
The merits the police recognized in him were mainly two -- neither of small consequence in their eyes; the first, the negative, yet more important one, that of utter harmlessness; the second, and positive one -- a passion and power for rendering help, taking notable shape chiefly in two ways, upon both of which I have already more than touched. The first was the peculiar faculty now pretty generally known -- his great gift, some, his great luck, others called it -- for finding things lost. It was no wonder the town crier had sought his acquaintance, and when secured, had cultivated it -- neither a difficult task; for the boy, ever since he could remember, had been in the habit, as often as he saw the crier, or heard his tuck of drum in the distance, of joining him and following, until he had acquainted himself with all particulars concerning everything proclaimed as missing. The moment he had mastered the facts announced, he would dart away to search, and not unfrequently to return with the thing sought. But it was not by any means only things sought that he found. He continued to come upon things of which he had no simulacrum in his phantasy. These, having no longer a father to carry them to, he now, their owners unknown, took to the crier, who always pretended to receive them with a suspicion which Gibbie understood as little as the other really felt, and at once advertised them by drum and cry. What became of them after that, Gibbie never knew. If they did not find their owners, neither did they find their way back to Gibbie; if their owners were found, the crier never communicated with him on the subject. Plainly he regarded Gibbie as the favoured jackal, whose privilege it was to hunt for the crier, the royal lion of the city forest. But he spoke kindly to him, as well he might, and now and then gave him a penny.
The second of the positive merits by which Gibbie found acceptance in the eyes of the police, was a yet more peculiar one, growing out of his love for his father, and his experience in the exercise of that love. It was, however, unintelligible to them, and so remained, except on the theory commonly adopted with regard to Gibbie, namely, that he wasna a' there. Not the less was it to them a satisfactory whim of his, seeing it mitigated their trouble as guardians of the nightly peace and safety. It was indeed the main cause of his being, like themselves, so much in the street at night: seldom did Gibbie seek his lair -- I can not call it couch -- before the lengthening hours of the morning. If the finding of things was a gift, this other peculiarity was a passion -- and a right human passion -- absolutely possessing the child: it was, to play the guardian angel to drunk folk. If such a distressed human craft hove in sight, he would instantly bear down upon and hover about him, until resolved as to his real condition. If he was in such distress as to require assistance, he never left him till he saw him safe within his own door. The police asserted that wee Sir Gibbie not only knew every drunkard in the city, and where he lived, but where he generally got drunk as well. That one was in no danger of taking the wrong turning, upon whom Gibbie was in attendance, to determine, by a shove on this side or that, the direction in which the hesitating, uncertain mass of stultified humanity was to go. He seemed a visible embodiment of that special providence which is said to watch over drunk people and children, only here a child was the guardian of the drunkard, and in this branch of his mission, was well known to all who, without qualifying themselves for coming under his cherubic cognizance, were in the habit of now and then returning home late. He was least known to those to whom he rendered most assistance. Rarely had he thanks for it, never halfpence, but not unfrequently blows and abuse. For the last he cared nothing; the former, owing to his great agility, seldom visited him with any directness.A certain reporter of humorous scandal, after his third tumbler, would occasionally give a graphic description of what, coming from a supper-party, he once saw about two o'clock in the morning. In the great street of the city, he overhauled a huge galleon, which proved, he declared, to be the provost himself, not exactly water-logged, and yet not very buoyant, but carrying a good deal of sail. He might possibly have escaped very particular notice, he said, but for the assiduous attendance upon him of an absurd little cock-boat, in the person of wee Gibbie -- the two reminding him right ludicrously of the story of the Spanish Armada. Round and round the bulky provost gyrated the tiny baronet, like a little hero of the ring, pitching into him, only with open-handed pushes, not with blows, now on this side and now on that -- not after such fashion of sustentation as might have sufficed with a man of ordinary size, but throwing all his force now against the provost's bulging bows, now against his over-leaning quarter, encountering him now as he lurched, now as he heeled, until at length he landed him high, though certainly not dry, on the top of his own steps. The moment the butler opened the door, and the heavy hulk rolled into dock, Gibbie darted off as if he had been the wicked one tormenting the righteous, and in danger of being caught by a pair of holy tongs. Whether the tale was true or not, I do not know: with after-dinner humourists there is reason for caution. Gibbie was not offered the post of henchman to the provost, and rarely could have had the chance of claiming salvage for so distinguished a vessel, seeing he generally cruised in waters where such craft seldom sailed. Though almost nothing could now have induced him to go down Jink Lane, yet about the time the company at Mistress Croale's would be breaking up, he would on most nights be lying in wait a short distance down the Widdiehill, ready to minister to that one of his father's old comrades who might prove most in need of his assistance; and if he showed him no gratitude, Gibbie had not been trained in a school where he was taught to expect or even to wish for any.
I could now give a whole chapter to the setting forth of the pleasures the summer brought him, city summer as it was, but I must content myself with saying that first of these, and not least, was the mere absence of the cold of the other seasons, bringing with it many privileges. He could lie down anywhere and sleep when he would; or spend, if he pleased, whole nights awake, in a churchyard, or on the deck of some vessel discharging her cargo at the quay, or running about the still, sleeping streets. Thus he got to know the shapes of some of the constellations, and not a few of the aspects of the heavens. But even then he never felt alone, for he gazed at the vista from the midst of a cityful of his fellows. Then there were the scents of the laylocks and the roses and the carnations and the sweet-peas, that came floating out from the gardens, contending sometimes with those of the grocers' and chemists' shops. Now and then too he came in for a small feed of strawberries, which were very plentiful in their season. Sitting then on a hospitable doorstep, with the feet and faces of friends passing him in both directions, and love embodied in the warmth of summer all about him, he would eat his strawberries, and inherit the earth.
No one was so sorry for the death of Sir George, or had so many kind words to say in memory of him, as Mistress Croale. Neither was her sorrow only because she had lost so good a customer, or even because she had liked the man: I believe it was much enhanced by a vague doubt that after all she was to blame for his death. In vain she said to herself, and said truly, that it would have been far worse for him, and Gibbie too, had he gone elsewhere for his drink; she could not get the account settled with her conscience. She tried to relieve herself by being kinder than before to the boy; but she was greatly hindered in this by the fact that, after his father's death, she could not get him inside her door. That his father was not there -- would not be there at night, made the place dreadful to him. This addition to the trouble of mind she already had on account of the nature of her business, was the cause, I believe, why, after Sir George's death, she went down the hill with accelerated speed. She sipped more frequently from her own bottle, soon came to “ tasting with ” her customers, and after that her descent was rapid. She no longer refused drink to women, though for a time she always gave it under protest; she winked at card-playing; she grew generally more lax in her administration; and by degrees a mist of evil fame began to gather about her house. Thereupon her enemy, as she considered him, the Rev. Clement Sclater, felt himself justified in moving more energetically for the withdrawal of her license, which, with the support of outraged neighbours, he found no difficulty in effecting. She therefore flitted to another parish, and opened a worse house in a worse region of the city -- on the river-bank, namely, some little distance above the quay, not too far to be within easy range of sailors, and the people employed about the vessels loading or discharging cargo. It pretended to be only a lodging-house, and had no license for the sale of strong drink, but nevertheless, one way and another, a great deal was drunk in the house, and, as always card-playing, and sometimes worse things were going on, getting more vigorous ever as the daylight waned, frequent quarrels and occasional bloodshed was the consequence. For some time, however, nothing very serious brought the place immediately within the conscious ken of the magistrates.
In the second winter after his father's death, Gibbie, wandering everywhere about the city, encountered Lucky Croale in the neighbourhood of her new abode; down there she was Mistress no longer, but, with a familiarity scarcely removed from contempt, was both mentioned and addressed as Lucky Croale. The repugnance which had hitherto kept Gibbie from her having been altogether to her place and not to herself, he at once accompanied her home, and after that went often to the house. He was considerably surprised when first he heard words from her mouth for using which she had formerly been in the habit of severely reproving her guests; but he always took things as he found them, and when ere long he had to hear such occasionally addressed to himself, when she happened to be more out of temper than usual, he never therefore questioned her friendship. What more than anything else attracted him to her house, however, was the jolly manners and open-hearted kindness of most of the sailors who frequented it, with almost all of whom he was a favourite; and it soon came about that, when his ministrations to the incapable were over, he would spend the rest of the night more frequently there than anywhere else; until at last he gave up, in a great measure, his guardianship of the drunk in the streets for that of those who were certainly in much more danger of mishap at Lucky Croale's. Scarcely a night passed when he was not present at one or more of the quarrels of which the place was a hot-bed; and as he never by any chance took a part, or favoured one side more than another, but confined himself to an impartial distribution of such peace-making blandishments as the ever-springing fountain of his affection took instinctive shape in, the wee baronet came to be regarded, by the better sort of the rough fellows, almost as the very identical sweet little cherub, sitting perched up aloft, whose department in the saving business of the universe it was, to take care of the life of poor Jack. I do not say that he was always successful in his endeavours at atonement, but beyond a doubt Lucky Croale's house was a good deal less of a hell through the haunting presence of the child. He was not shocked by the things he saw, even when he liked them least. He regarded the doing of them much as he had looked upon his father's drunkenness -- as a pitiful necessity that overtook men -- one from which there was no escape, and which caused a great need for Gibbies. Evil language and coarse behaviour alike passed over him, without leaving the smallest stain upon heart or conscience, desire or will. No one could doubt it who considered the clarity of his face and eyes, in which the occasional but not frequent expression of keenness and promptitude scarcely even ruffled the prevailing look of unclouded heavenly babyhood.
If any one thinks I am unfaithful to human fact, and overcharge the description of this child, I on my side doubt the extent of the experience of that man or woman. I admit the child a rarity, but a rarity in the right direction, and therefore a being with whom humanity has the greater need to be made acquainted. I admit that the best things are the commonest, but the highest types and the best combinations of them are the rarest. There is more love in the world than anything else, for instance; but the best love and the individual in whom love is supreme are the rarest of all things. That for which humanity has the strongest claim upon its workmen, is the representation of its own best; but the loudest demand of the present day is for the representation of that grade of humanity of which men see the most -- that type of things which could never have been but that it might pass. The demand marks the commonness, narrowness, low-levelled satisfaction of the age. It loves its own -- not that which might be, and ought to be its own -- not its better self, infinitely higher than its present, for the sake of whose approach it exists. I do not think that the age is worse in this respect than those which have preceded it, but that vulgarity, and a certain vile contentment swelling to self-admiration, have become more vocal than hitherto; just as unbelief, which I think in reality less prevailing than in former ages, has become largely more articulate, and thereby more loud and peremptory. But whatever the demand of the age, I insist that that which ought to be presented to its beholding, is the common good uncommonly developed, and that not because of its rarity, but because it is truer to humanity. Shall I admit those conditions, those facts, to be true exponents of humanity, which, except they be changed, purified, or abandoned, must soon cause that humanity to cease from its very name, must destroy its very being? To make the admission would be to assert that a house may be divided against itself, and yet stand. It is the noble, not the failure from the noble, that is the true human; and if I must show the failure, let it ever be with an eye to the final possible, yea, imperative, success. But in our day, a man who will accept any oddity of idiosyncratic development in manners, tastes, or habits, will refuse, not only as improbable, but as inconsistent with human nature, the representation of a man trying to be merely as noble as is absolutely essential to his being -- except, indeed, he be at the same time represented as failing utterly in the attempt, and compelled to fall back upon the imperfections of humanity, and acknowledge them as its laws. Its improbability, judged by the experience of most men I admit; its unreality in fact I deny; and its absolute unity with the true idea of humanity, I believe and assert.
It is hardly necessary for me now to remark, seeing my narrative must already have suggested it, that what kept Gibbie pure and honest was the rarely-developed, ever-active love of his kind. The human face was the one attraction to him in the universe. In deep fact, it is so to everyone; I state but the commonest reality in creation; only in Gibbie the fact had come to the surface; the common thing was his in uncommon degree and potency. Gibbie knew no music except the voice of man and woman; at least no other had as yet affected him. To be sure he had never heard much. Drunken sea-songs he heard every night almost; and now and then on Sundays he ran through a zone of psalm-singing; but neither of those could well be called music. There hung a caged bird here and there at a door in the poorer streets; but Gibbie's love embraced the lower creation also, and too tenderly for the enjoyment of its melody. The human bird loved liberty too dearly to gather anything but pain from the song of the little feathered brother who had lost it, and to whom he could not minister as to the drunkard. In general he ran from the presence of such a prisoner. But sometimes he would stop and try to comfort the naked little Freedom, disrobed of its space; and on one occasion was caught in the very act of delivering a canary that hung outside a little shop. Any other than wee Gibbie would have been heartily cuffed for the offence, but the owner of the bird only smiled at the would-be liberator, and hung the cage a couple of feet higher on the wall. With such a passion of affection, then, finding vent in constant action, is it any wonder Gibbie's heart and hands should be too full for evil to occupy them even a little?
One night in the spring, entering Lucky Croale's common room, he saw there for the first time a negro sailor, whom the rest called Sambo, and was at once taken with his big, dark, radiant eyes, and his white teeth continually uncovering themselves in good-humoured smiles. Sambo had left the vessel in which he had arrived, was waiting for another, and had taken up his quarters at Lucky Croale's. Gibbie's advances he met instantly, and in a few days a strong mutual affection had sprung up between them. To Gibbie Sambo speedily became absolutely loving and tender, and Gibbie made him full return of devotion.
The negro was a man of immense muscular power, like not a few of his race, and, like most of them, not easily provoked, inheriting not a little of their hard-learned long-suffering. He bore even with those who treated him with far worse than the ordinary superciliousness of white to black; and when the rudest of city boys mocked him, only showed his teeth by way of smile. The ill-conditioned among Lucky Croale's customers and lodgers were constantly taking advantage of his good nature, and presuming upon his forbearance; but so long as they confined themselves to mere insolence, or even bare-faced cheating, he endured with marvellous temper. It was possible, however, to go too far even with him.
One night Sambo was looking on at a game of cards, in which all the rest in the room were engaged. Happening to laugh at some turn it took, one of them, a Malay, who was losing, was offended, and abused him. Others objected to his having fun without risking money, and required him to join in the game. This for some reason or other he declined, and when the whole party at length insisted, positively refused. Thereupon they all took umbrage, nor did most of them make many steps of the ascent from displeasure to indignation, wrath, revenge; and then ensued a row. Gibbie had been sitting all the time on his friend's knee, every now and then stroking his black face, in which, as insult followed insult, the sunny blood kept slowly rising, making the balls of his eyes and his teeth look still whiter. At length a savage from Greenock threw a tumbler at him. Sambo, quick as a lizard, covered his face with his arm. The tumbler falling from it, struck Gibbie on the head -- not severely, but hard enough to make him utter a little cry. At that sound, the latent fierceness came wide awake in Sambo. Gently as a nursing mother he set Gibbie down in a corner behind him, then with one rush sent every Jack of the company sprawling on the floor, with the table and bottles and glasses atop of them. At the vision of their plight his good humour instantly returned, he burst into a great hearty laugh, and proceeded at once to lift the table from off them. That effected, he caught up Gibbie in his arms, and carried him with him to bed.
In the middle of the night Gibbie half woke, and, finding himself alone, sought his father's bosom; then, in the confusion between sleeping and waking, imagined his father's death come again. Presently he remembered it was in Sambo's arms he fell asleep, but where he was now he could not tell: certainly he was not in bed. Groping, he pushed a door, and a glimmer of light came in. He was in a closet of the room in which Sambo slept -- and something was to do about his bed. He rose softly and peeped out, There stood several men, and a struggle was going on -- nearly noiseless. Gibbie was half-dazed, and could not understand; but he had little anxiety about Sambo, in whose prowess he had a triumphant confidence. Suddenly came the sound of a great gush, and the group parted from the bed and vanished. Gibbie darted towards it. The words, “O Lord Jesus! ” came to his ears, and he heard no more: they were poor Sambo's last in this world. The light of a street lamp fell upon the bed: the blood was welling, in great thick throbs, out of his huge black throat. They had bent his head back, and the gash gaped wide.
For some moments Gibbie stood in ghastly terror. No sound except a low gurgle came to his ears, and the horror of the stillness overmastered him. He never could recall what came next. When he knew himself again, he was in the street, running like the wind, he knew not whither. It was not that he dreaded any hurt to himself; horror, not fear, was behind him.
His next recollection of himself was in the first of the morning, on the lofty chain-bridge over the river Daur. Before him lay he knew not what, only escape from what was behind. His faith in men seemed ruined. The city, his home, was frightful to him. Quarrels and curses and blows he had been used to, and amidst them life could be lived. If he did not consciously weave them into his theories, he unconsciously wrapped them up in his confidence, and was at peace. But the last night had revealed something unknown before. It was as if the darkness had been cloven, and through the cleft he saw into hell.A thing had been done that could not be undone, and he thought it must be what people called murder. And Sambo was such a good man! He was almost as good a man as Gibbie's father, and now he would not breathe any more! Was he gone where Gibbie's father was gone? Was it the good men that stopped breathing and grew cold? But it was those wicked men that had deaded Sambo! And with that his first vague perception of evil and wrong in the world began to dawn.
He lifted his head from gazing down on the dark river.A man was approaching the bridge. He came from the awful city! Perhaps he wanted him! He fled along the bridge like a low-flying water-bird. If another man had appeared at the other end, he would have got through between the rods, and thrown himself into the river. But there was no one to oppose his escape; and after following the road a little way up the river, he turned aside into a thicket of shrubs on the nearly precipitous bank, and sat down to recover the breath he had lost more from dismay than exertion.
The light grew. All at once he descried, far down the river, the steeples of the city. Alas! alas! there lay poor black Sambo, so dear to wee Sir Gibbie, motionless and covered with blood! He had two red mouths now, but was not able to speak a word with either! They would carry him to a churchyard and lay him in a hole to lie there for ever and ever. Would all the good people be laid into holes and leave Gibbie quite alone? Sitting and brooding thus, he fell into a dreamy state, in which, brokenly, from here and there, pictures of his former life grew out upon his memory. Suddenly, plainer than all the rest, came the last time he stood under Mistress Croale's window, waiting to help his father home. The same instant, back to the ear of his mind came his father's two words, as he had heard them through the window -- “ Up Daurside. ”
“ Up Daurside! ” -- Here he was upon Daurside -- a little way up too: he would go farther up. He rose and went on, while the great river kept flowing the other way, dark and terrible, down to the very door inside which lay Sambo with the huge gape in his big throat.
Meantime the murder came to the knowledge of the police, Mistress Croale herself giving the information, and all in the house were arrested. In the course of their examination, it came out that wee Sir Gibbie had gone to bed with the murdered man, and was now nowhere to be found. Either they had murdered him too, or carried him off. The news spread, and the whole city was in commotion about his fate. It was credible enough that persons capable of committing such a crime on such an inoffensive person as the testimony showed poor Sambo, would be capable also of throwing the life of a child after that of the man to protect their own. The city was searched from end to end, from side to side, and from cellar to garret. Not a trace of him was to be found -- but indeed Gibbie had always been easier to find than to trace, for he had no belongings of any sort to betray him. No one dreamed of his having fled straight to the country, and search was confined to the city.
The murderers were at length discovered, tried, and executed. They protested their innocence with regard to the child, and therein nothing appeared against them beyond the fact that he was missing. The result, so far as concerned Gibbie, was, that the talk of the city, where almost everyone knew him, was turned, in his absence, upon his history; and from the confused mass of hearsay that reached him, Mr. Sclater set himself to discover and verify the facts. For this purpose he burrowed about in the neighbourhoods Gibbie had chiefly frequented, and was so far successful as to satisfy himself that Gibbie, if he was alive, was Sir Gilbert Galbraith, Baronet; but his own lawyer was able to assure him that not an inch of property remained anywhere attached to the title. There were indeed relations of the boy's mother, who were of some small consequence in a neighbouring county, also one in business in Glasgow, or its neighbourhood, reported wealthy; but these had entirely disowned her because of her marriage. All Mr. Sclater discovered besides was, in a lumber-room next the garret in which Sir George died, a box of papers -- a glance at whose contents showed that they must at least prove a great deal of which he was already certain from other sources.A few of them had to do with the house in which they were found, still known as the Auld Hooseo' Galbraith; but most of them referred to property in land, and many were of ancient date. If the property were in the hands of descendants of the original stock, the papers would be of value in their eyes; and, in any case, it would be well to see to their safety. Mr. Sclater therefore had the chest removed to the garret of the manse, where it stood thereafter, little regarded, but able to answer for more than itself.
Gibbie was now without a home. He had had a whole city for his dwelling, every street of which had been to him as another hall in his own house, every lane as a passage from one set of rooms to another, every court as a closet, every house as a safe, guarding the only possessions he had, the only possessions he knew how to value -- his fellow-mortals, radiant with faces, and friendly with hands and tongues. Great as was his delight in freedom, a delight he revelled in from morning to night, and sometimes from night to morning, he had never had a notion of it that reached beyond the city, he never longed for larger space, for wider outlook. Space and outlook he had skyward -- and seaward when he would, but even into these regions he had never yet desired to go. His world was the world of men; the presence of many was his greater room; his people themselves were his world. He had no idea of freedom in dissociation with human faces and voices and eyes. But now he had left all these, and as he ran from them a red pall seemed settling down behind him, wrapping up and hiding away his country, his home. For the first time in his life, the fatherless, motherless, brotherless, sisterless stray of the streets felt himself alone. The sensation was an awful one. He had lost so many, and had not one left! That gash in Sambo's black throat had slain “ a whole cityful. ” His loneliness grew upon him, until again he darted aside from the road into the bush, this time to hide from the Spectre of the Desert -- the No Man. Deprived of human countenances, the face of creation was a mask without eyes, and liberty a mere negation. Not that Gibbie had ever thought about liberty; he had only enjoyed: not that he had ever thought about human faces; he had only loved them, and lived upon their smiles. “ Gibbie wadna need to gang toh` aven, ” said Mysie, the baker's daughter, to her mother, one night, as they walked home from a merry-making. “ What for that, lassie? ” returned her mother. “ Cause he wad be meeserable whaur there was nae drunk fowk, ” answered Mysie. And now it seemed to the poor, shocked, heart-wounded creature, as if the human face were just the one thing he could no more look upon. One haunted him, the black one, with the white, staring eyes, the mouth in its throat, and the white grinning teeth.
It was a cold, fresh morning, cloudy and changeful, towards the end of April. It had rained, and would rain again; it might snow. Heavy undefined clouds, with saffron breaks and borders, hung about the east, but what was going to happen there -- at least he did not think; he did not know east from west, and I doubt whether, although he had often seen the sun set, he had ever seen him rise. Yet even to him, city-creature as he was, it was plain something was going to happen there. And happen it did presently, and that with a splendour that for a moment blinded Gibbie. For just at the horizon there was a long horizontal slip of blue sky, and through that crack the topmost arc of the rising sun shot suddenly a thousand arrows of radiance into the brain of the boy. But the too-much light scorched there a blackness instantly; and to the soul of Gibbie it was the blackness of the room from which he had fled, and upon it out came the white eyeballs and the brilliant teeth of his dead Sambo, and the red burst from his throat that answered the knife of the Malay. He shrieked, and struck with his hands against the sun from which came the terrible vision. Had he been a common child, his reason would have given way; but one result of the overflow of his love was, that he had never yet known fear for himself. His sweet confident face, innocent eyes, and caressing ways, had almost always drawn a response more or less in kind; and that certain some should not repel him, was a fuller response from them than gifts from others. Except now and then, rarely, a street boy a little bigger than himself, no one had ever hurt him, and the hurt upon these occasions had not gone very deep, for the child was brave and hardy. So now it was not fear, but the loss of old confidence, a sickness coming over the heart and brain of his love, that unnerved him. It was not the horrid cruelty to his friend, and his own grievous loss thereby, but the recoil of his loving endeavour that, jarring him out of every groove of thought, every socket of habit, every joint of action, cast him from the city, and made of him a wanderer indeed, not a wanderer in a strange country, but a wanderer in a strange world.
To no traveller could one land well be so different from another, as to Gibbie the country was from the town. He had seen bushes and trees before, but only over garden walls, or in one or two of the churchyards. He had looked from the quay across to the bare shore on the other side, with its sandy hills, and its tall lighthouse on the top of the great rocks that bordered the sea; but, so looking, he had beheld space as one looking from this world into the face of the moon, as a child looks upon vastness and possible dangers from his nurse's arms where it can not come near him; for houses backed the quay all along; the city was behind him, and spread forth her protecting arms. He had, once or twice, run out along the pier, which shot far into the immensity of the sea, like a causeway to another world -- a stormy thread of granite, beaten upon both sides by the waves of the German Ocean; but it was with the sea and not the country he then made the small acquaintance -- and that not without terror. The sea was as different from the city as the air into which he had looked up at night -- too different to compare against it and feel the contrast; on neither could he set foot; in neither could he be required to live and act -- as now in this waste of enterable and pervious extent.
Its own horror drove the vision away, and Gibbie saw the world again -- saw, but did not love it. The sun seemed but to have looked up to mock him and go down again, for he had crossed the crack, and was behind a thick mass of cloud; a cold damp wind, spotted with sparkles of rain, blew fitfully from the east; the low bushes among which he sat, sent forth a chill sighing all about him, as they sifted the wind into sound; the smell of the damp earth was strange to him -- he did not know the freshness, the new birth of which it breathed; below him the gloomy river, here deep, smooth, moody, sullen, there puckered with the grey ripples of a shallow laughter under the cold breeze, went flowing heedless to the city. There only was -- or had been, friendliness, comfort, home! This was emptiness -- the abode of things, not beings. Yet never once did Gibbie think of returning to the city. He rose and wandered up the wide road along the river bank, farther and farther from it -- his only guide the words of his father, “ Up Daurside; ” his sole comfort the feeling of having once more to do with his father so long departed, some relation still with the paradise of his old world. Along cultivated fields and copses on the one side, and on the other a steep descent to the river, covered here and there with trees, but mostly with rough grass and bushes and stones, he followed the king's highway. There were buttercups and plenty of daisies within his sight -- primroses, too, on the slope beneath; but he did not know flowers, and his was not now the mood for discovering what they were. The exercise revived him, and he began to be hungry. But how could there be anything to eat in the desert, inhospitable succession of trees and fields and hedges, through which the road wound endlessly along, like a dead street, having neither houses nor paving stones? Hunger, however, was far less enfeebling to Gibbie than to one accustomed to regular meals, and he was in no anxiety about either when or what he should eat.
The morning advanced, and by-and-by he began to meet a fellow-creature now and then upon the road; but at sight of everyone a feeling rose in him such as he had never had towards human being before: they seemed somehow of a different kind from those in the town, and they did not look friendly as they passed. He did not know that he presented to them a very different countenance from that which his fellow-citizens had always seen him wear; for the mingled and conflicting emotions of his spirit had sent out upon it an expression which, accompanied by the misery of his garments, might well, to the superficial or inexperienced observer, convey the idea that he was a fugitive and guilty. He was so uncomfortable at length from the way the people he met scrutinized him that, when he saw anyone coming, he would instantly turn aside and take the covert of thicket, or hedge, or stone wall, until the bearer of eyes had passed. His accustomed trot, which he kept up for several hours, made him look the more suspicious; but his feet, hardened from very infancy as they were, soon found the difference between the smooth flags and the sharp stones of the road, and before noon he was walking at quite a sober, although still active, pace. Doubtless it slackened the sooner that he knew no goal, no end to his wandering. Up Daurside was the one vague notion he had of his calling, his destiny, and with his short, quick step, his progress was considerable; he passed house after house, farm after farm; but, never in the way of asking for anything, though as little in the way of refusing, he went nearer none of them than the road led him. Besides, the houses were very unlike those in the city, and not at all attractive to him. He came at length to a field, sloping to the road, which was covered with leaves like some he had often seen in the market. They drew him; and as there was but a low and imperfect hedge between, he got over, and found it was a crop of small yellow turnips. He gathered as many as he could carry, and ate them as he went along. Happily no agricultural person encountered him for some distance, though Gibbie knew no special cause to congratulate himself upon that, having not the slightest conscience of offence in what he did. His notions of property were all associated with well-known visible or neighbouring owners, and in the city he would never have dreamed of touching anything that was not given him, except it lay plainly a lost thing. But here, where everything was so different, and he saw none of the signs of ownership to which he was accustomed, the idea of property did not come to him; here everything looked lost, or on the same category with the chips and parings and crusts that were thrown out in the city, and became common property. Besides, the love which had hitherto rendered covetousness impossible, had here no object whose presence might have suggested a doubt, to supply in a measure the lack of knowledge; hunger, instead, was busy in his world. I trust there were few farmers along the road who would have found fault with him for taking one or two; but none, I suspect, would have liked to see him with all the turnips he could carry, eating them like a very rabbit: they were too near a city to look upon such a spectacle with indifference. Gibbie made no attempt to hide his spoil; whatever could have given birth to the sense that caution would be necessary, would have prevented him from taking it. While yet busy he came upon a little girl feeding a cow by the roadside. She saw how he ate the turnips, and offered him a bit of oatmeal bannock. He received it gladly, and with beaming eyes offered her a turnip. She refused it with some indignation. Gibbie, disappointed, but not ungrateful, resumed his tramp, eating his bannock. He came soon after to a little stream that ran into the great river. For a few moments he eyed it very doubtfully, thinking it must, like the kennels along the sides of the streets, be far too dirty to drink of; but the way it sparkled and sang -- most unscientific reasons -- soon satisfied him, and he drank and was refreshed. He had still two turnips left, but, after the bannock, he did not seem to want them, and stowed them in the ends of the sleeves of his jacket, folded back into great cuffs.
All day the cold spring weather continued, with more of the past winter in it than of the coming summer. The sun would shine out for a few moments, with a grey, weary, old light, then retreat as if he had tried, but really could not. Once came a slight fall of snow, which, however, melted the moment it touched the earth. The wind kept blowing cheerlessly by fits, and the world seemed growing tired of the same thing over again so often. At length the air began to grow dusk: then, first, fears of the darkness, to Gibbie utterly unknown before, and only born of the preceding night, began to make him aware of their existence in the human world. They seemed to rise up from his lonely heart; they seemed to descend upon him out of the thickening air; they seemed to catch at his breath, and gather behind him as he went. But, happily, before it was quite dark, and while yet he could distinguish between objects, he came to the gate of a farmyard; it waked in him the hope of finding some place where he could sleep warmer than in the road, and he clambered over it. Nearest of the buildings to the gate, stood an open shed, and he could see the shafts of carts projecting from it: perhaps in one of those carts, or under it, he might find a place that would serve him to sleep in: he did not yet know what facilities for repose the country affords. But just as he entered the shed, he spied at the farther corner of it, outside, a wooden structure, like a small house, and through the arched door of it saw the floor covered with nice-looking straw. He suspected it to be a dog's kennel; and presently the chain lying beside it, with a collar at the end, satisfied him it was. The dog was absent, and it looked altogether enticing! He crept in, got under as much of the straw as he could heap over him, and fell fast asleep.
In a few minutes, as it seemed to him, he was roused by the great voice of a dog in conversation with a boy: the boy seemed, by the sound of the chain, to be fastening the collar on the dog's neck, and presently left him. The dog, which had been on the rampage the whole afternoon, immediately turned to creep in and rest till supper time, presenting to Gibbie, who had drawn himself up at the back of the kennel, the intelligent countenance of a large Newfoundland. Now Gibbie had been honoured with the acquaintance of many dogs, and the friendship of most of them, for a lover of humanity can hardly fail to be a lover of caninity. Even among dogs, however, there are ungracious individuals, and Gibbie had once or twice been bitten by quadrupedal worshippers of the respectable. Hence, with the sight of the owner of the dwelling, it dawned upon him that he must be startled to find a stranger in his house, and might, regarding him as an intruder rather than a guest, worry him before he had time to explain himself. He darted forward therefore to get out, but had scarcely reached the door, when the dog put in his nose, ready to follow with all he was and had. Gibbie, thereupon, began a loud barking, as much as to say -- “ Here I am: please do nothing without reflection. ” The dog started back in extreme astonishment, his ears erect, and a keen look of question on his sagacious visage: what strange animal, speaking like, and yet so unlike, an orthodox dog, could have got into his very chamber? Gibbie, amused at the dog's fright, and assured by his looks that he was both a good-natured and reasonable animal, burst into a fit of merry laughter as loud as his previous barking, and a good deal more musical. The dog evidently liked it better, and took it as a challenge to play: after a series of sharp bursts of barking, his eyes flashing straight in at the door, and his ears lifted up like two plumes on the top of them, he darted into the kennel, and began poking his nose into his visitor. Gibbie fell to patting and kissing and hugging him as if he had been a human -- as who can tell but he was? -- glad of any companion that belonged to the region of the light; and they were friends at once. Mankind had disappointed him, but here was a dog! Gibbie was not the one to refuse mercies which yet he would not have been content to pray for. Both were tired, however, for both had been active that day, and a few minutes of mingled wrestling and endearment, to which, perhaps, the narrowness of their play-ground gave a speedier conclusion, contented both, after which they lay side by side in peace, Gibbie with his head on the dog's back, and the dog every now and then turning his head over his shoulder to lick Gibbie's face.
Again he was waked by approaching steps, and the same moment the dog darted from under him, and with much rattle out of the kennel, in front of which he stood and whined expectant. It was not quite dark, for the clouds had drifted away, and the stars were shining, so that, when he put out his head, he was able to see the dim form of a woman setting down something before the dog -- into which he instantly plunged his nose, and began gobbling. The sound stirred up all the latent hunger in Gibbie, and he leaped out, eager to have a share.A large wooden bowl was on the ground, and the half of its contents of porridge and milk was already gone; for the poor dog had not yet had experience enough to be perfect in hospitality, and had forgotten his guest's wants in his own: it was plain that, if Gibbie was to have any, he must lose no time in considering the means. Had he had a long nose and mouth all in one like him, he would have plunged them in beside the dog's; but the flatness of his mouth causing the necessity, in the case of such an attempt, of bringing the whole of his face into contact with the food, there was not room in the dish for the two to feed together after the same fashion, so that he was driven to the sole other possible expedient, that of making a spoon of his hand. The dog neither growled nor pushed away the spoon, but instantly began to gobble twice as fast as before, and presently was licking the bottom of the dish. Gibbie's hand, therefore, made but few journeys to his mouth, but what it carried him was good food -- better than any he had had that day. When all was gone he crept again into the kennel; the dog followed, and soon they were both fast asleep in each other's arms and legs.
Gibbie woke at sunrise and went out. His host came after him, and stood wagging his tail and looking wistfully up in his face. Gibbie understood him, and, as the sole return he could make for his hospitality, undid his collar. Instantly he rushed off, his back going like a serpent, cleared the gate at a bound, and scouring madly across a field, vanished from his sight; whereupon Gibbie too set out to continue his journey up Daurside.
This day was warmer; the spring had come a step nearer; the dog had been a comforter to him, and the horror had begun to assuage; he began to grow aware of the things about him, and to open his eyes to them. Once he saw a primrose in a little dell, and left the road to look at it. But as he went, he set his foot in the water of a chalybeate spring, which was trickling through the grass, and dyeing the ground red about it: filled with horror he fled, and for some time dared never go near a primrose. And still upon his right hand was the great river, flowing down towards the home he had left; now through low meadows, now through upshouldered fields of wheat and oats, now through rocky heights covered with the graceful silver-barked birch, the mountain ash, and the fir. Every time Gibbie, having lost sight of it by some turn of the road or some interposing eminence, caught its gleam afresh, his first feeling was that it was hurrying to the city, where the dead man lay, to tell where Gibbie was. Why he, who had from infancy done just as he pleased, should now have begun to dread interference with his liberty, he could not himself have told. Perhaps the fear was but the shadow of his new-born aversion to the place where he had seen those best-loved countenances change so suddenly and terribly -- cease to smile, but not cease to stare.
That second day he fared better, too, than the first; for he came on a family of mongrel gipsies, who fed him well out of their kettle, and, taken with his looks, thought to keep him for begging purposes. But now that Gibbie's confidence in human nature had been so rudely shaken, he had already begun, with analysis unconscious, to read the human countenance, questioning it; and he thought he saw something that would hurt, in the eyes of two of the men and one of the women. Therefore, in the middle of the night, he slipped silently out of the tent of rags, in which he had lain down with the gipsy children, and ere the mothers woke, was a mile up the river.
But I must not attempt the detail of this part of his journey. It is enough that he got through it. He met with some adventures, and suffered a good deal from hunger and cold. Had he not been hardy as well as fearless he must have died. But, now from this quarter, now from that, he got all that was needful for one of God's birds. Once he found in a hedge the nest of an errant and secretive hen, and recognizing the eggs as food authorized by the shop windows and market of the city, soon qualified himself to have an opinion of their worth. Another time he came upon a girl milking a cow in a shed, and his astonishment at the marvels of the process was such, that he forgot even the hunger that was rendering him faint. He had often seen cows in the city, but had never suspected what they were capable of. When the girl caught sight of him, staring with open mouth, she was taken with such a fit of laughter, that the cow, which was ill-tempered, kicked out, and overturned the pail. Now because of her troublesomeness this cow was not milked beside the rest, and the shed where she stood was used for farm-implements only. The floor of it was the earth, beaten hard, and worn into hollows. When the milk settled in one of these, Gibbie saw that it was lost to the girl, and found to him: undeterred by the astounding nature of the spring from which he had just seen it flow, he threw himself down, and drank like a calf. Her laughter ended, the girl was troubled: she would be scolded for her clumsiness in allowing Hawkie to kick over the pail, but the eagerness of the boy after the milk troubled her more. She told him to wait, and running to the house, returned with two large pieces of oatcake, which she gave him.
Thus, one way and another, food came to Gibbie. Drink was to be had in almost any hollow. Sleep was scattered everywhere over the world. For warmth, only motion and a seasoned skin were necessary: the latter Gibbie had; the former, already a habit learned in the streets, had now become almost a passion.
By this time Gibbie had got well up towards the roots of the hills of Gormgarnet, and the river had dwindled greatly. He was no longer afraid of it, but would lie for hours listening to its murmurs over its pebbly bed, and sometimes even sleep in the hollows of its banks, or below the willows that overhung it. Every here and there, a brown rivulet from some peat-bog on a hill -- brown and clear, like smoke-crystals molten together, flowed into it, and when he had lost it, guided him back to his guide. Farm after farm he passed, here one widely bordering a valley stream, there another stretching its skirts up the hillsides till they were lost in mere heather, where the sheep wandered about, cropping what stray grass-blades and other eatables they could find. Lower down he had passed through small towns and large villages: here farms and cottages, with an occasional country-seat and little village of low thatched houses, made up the abodes of men. By this time he had become greatly reconciled to the loneliness of Nature, and no more was afraid in her solitary presence.
At the same time his heart had begun to ache and long after the communion of his kind. For not once since he set out -- and that seemed months where it was only weeks, had he had an opportunity of doing anything for anybody -- except, indeed, unfastening the dog's collar; and not to be able to help was to Gibbie like being dead. Everybody, down to the dogs, had been doing for him, and what was to become of him! It was a state altogether of servitude into which he had fallen.
May had now set in, but up here among the hills she was May by courtesy only: or if she was May, she would never be Might. She was, indeed, only April, with her showers and sunshine, her tearful, childish laughter, and again the frown, and the despair irremediable. Nay, as if she still kept up a secret correspondence with her cousin March, banished for his rudeness, she would not very seldom shake from her skirts a snow storm, and oftener the dancing hail. Then out would come the sun behind her, and laugh, and say -- “ I could not help that; but here I am all the same, coming to you as fast as I can! ” The green crops were growing darker, and the trees were all getting out their nets to catch carbon. The lambs were frolicking, and in sheltered places the flowers were turning the earth into a firmament. And now a mere daisy was enough to delight the heart of Gibbie. His joy in humanity so suddenly checked, and his thirst for it left unslaked, he had begun to see the human look in the face of the commonest flowers, to love the trusting stare of the daisy, that gold-hearted boy, and the gentle despondency of the girl harebell, dreaming of her mother, the azure. The wind, of which he had scarce thought as he met it roaming the streets like himself, was now a friend of his solitude, bringing him sweet odours, alive with the souls of bees, and cooling with bliss the heat of the long walk. Even when it blew cold along the waste moss, waving the heads of the cotton-grass, the only live thing visible, it was a lover, and kissed him on the forehead. Not that Gibbie knew what a kiss was, any more than he knew about the souls of bees. He did not remember ever having been kissed. In that granite city, the women were not much given to kissing children, even their own, but if they had been, who of them would have thought of kissing Gibbie! The baker's wife, kind as she always was to him, would have thought it defilement to press her lips to those of the beggar child. And how is any child to thrive without kisses! The first caresses Gibbie ever knew as such, were given him by Mother Nature herself. It was only, however, by degrees, though indeed rapid degrees, that he became capable of them. In the first part of his journey he was stunned, stupid, lost in change, distracted between a suddenly vanished past, and a future slow dawning in the present. He felt little beyond hunger, and that vague urging up Daurside, with occasional shoots of pleasure from kindness, mostly of woman and dog. He was less shy of the country people by this time, but he did not care to seek them. He thought them not nearly so friendly and good as the town-people, forgetting that these knew him and those did not. To Gibbie an introduction was the last thing necessary for any one who wore a face, and he could not understand why they looked at him so.
Whatever is capable of aspiring, must be troubled that it may wake and aspire -- then troubled still, that it may hold fast, be itself, and aspire still.
One evening his path vanished between twilight and moonrise, and just as it became dark he found himself at a rough gate, through which he saw a field. There was a pretty tall hedge on each side of the gate, and he was now a sufficiently experienced traveller to conclude that he was not far from some human abode. He climbed the gate and found himself in a field of clover. It was a splendid big bed, and even had the night not been warm, he would not have hesitated to sleep in it. He had never had a cold, and had as little fear for his health as for his life. He was hungry, it is true; but although food was doubtless more delicious to such hunger as his -- that of the whole body, than it can be to the mere palate and culinary imagination of an epicure, it was not so necessary to him that he could not go to sleep without it. So down he lay in the clover, and was at once unconscious.
When he woke, the moon was high in the heavens, and had melted the veil of the darkness from the scene of still, well-ordered comfort.A short distance from his couch, stood a little army of ricks, between twenty and thirty of them, constructed perfectly -- smooth and upright and round and large, each with its conical top netted in with straw-rope, and finished off with what the herd-boy called a toupican -- a neatly tied and trim tuft of the straw with which it was thatched, answering to the stone-ball on the top of a gable. Like triangles their summits stood out against the pale blue, moon-diluted air. They were treasure-caves, hollowed out of space, and stored with the best of ammunition against the armies of hunger and want; but Gibbie, though he had seen many of them, did not know what they were. He had seen straw used for the bedding of cattle and horses, and supposed that the chief end of such ricks. Nor had he any clear idea that the cattle themselves were kept for any other object than to make them comfortable and happy. He had stood behind their houses in the dark, and heard them munching and grinding away even in the night. Probably the country was for the cattle, as the towns for the men; and that would explain why the country-people were so inferior. While he stood gazing, a wind arose behind the hills, and came blowing down some glen that opened northwards; Gibbie felt it cold, and sought the shelter of the ricks.
Great and solemn they looked as he drew nigh -- near each other, yet enough apart for plenty of air to flow and eddy between. Over a low wall of unmortared stones, he entered their ranks: above him, as he looked up from their broad base, they ascended huge as pyramids, and peopled the waste air with giant forms. How warm it was in the round-winding paths amongst the fruitful piles -- tombs these, no cenotaphs! He wandered about them, now in a dusky yellow gloom, and now in the cold blue moonlight, which they seemed to warm. At length he discovered that the huge things were flanked on one side by a long low house, in which there was a door, horizontally divided into two parts. Gibbie would fain have got in, to try whether the place was good for sleep; but he found both halves fast. In the lower half, however, he spied a hole, which, though not so large, reminded him of the entrance to the kennel of his dog host; but alas! it had a door too, shut from the inside. There might be some way of opening it. He felt about, and soon discovered that it was a sliding valve, which he could push to either side. It was, in fact, the cat's door, specially constructed for her convenience of entrance and exit. For the cat is the guardian of the barn; the grain which tempts the rats and mice is no temptation to her; the rats and mice themselves are; upon them she executes justice, and remains herself an incorruptible, because untempted, therefore a respectable member of the farm-community -- only the dairy door must be kept shut; that has no cat-wicket in it.
The hole was a small one, but tempting to the wee baronet; he might perhaps be able to squeeze himself through. He tried and succeeded, though with some little difficulty. The moon was there before him, shining through a pane or two of glass over the door, and by her light on the hard brown clay floor, Gibbie saw where he was, though if he had been told he was in the barn, he would neither have felt nor been at all the wiser. It was a very old-fashioned barn. About a third of it was floored with wood -- dark with age -- almost as brown as the clay -- for threshing upon with flails. At that labour two men had been busy during the most of the preceding day, and that was how, in the same end of the barn, rose a great heap of oat-straw, showing in the light of the moon like a mound of pale gold. Had Gibbie had any education in the marvellous, he might now, in the midnight and moonlight, have well imagined himself in some treasure-house of the gnomes. What he saw in the other corner was still liker gold, and was indeed greater than gold, for it was life -- the heap, namely, of corn threshed from the straw: Gibbie recognized this as what he had seen given to horses. But now the temptation to sleep, with such facilities presented, was overpowering, and took from him all desire to examine further: he shot into the middle of the loose heap of straw, and vanished from the glimpses of the moon, burrowing like a mole. In the heart of the golden warmth, he lay so dry and comfortable that, notwithstanding his hunger had waked with him, he was presently in a faster sleep than before. And indeed what more luxurious bed, or what bed conducive to softer slumber was there in the world to find!
“ The moving moon went down the sky, ” the cold wind softened and grew still; the stars swelled out larger; the rats came, and then came puss, and the rats went with a scuffle and patter; the pagan grey came in like a sleep-walker, and made the barn dreary as a dull dream; then the horses began to fidget with their big feet, the cattle to low with their great trombone throats, and the cocks to crow as if to give warning for the last time against the devil, the world, and the flesh; the men in the adjoining chamber woke, yawned, stretched themselves mightily, and rose; the god-like sun rose after them, and, entering the barn with them, drove out the grey; and through it all the orphan lay warm in God's keeping and his nest of straw, like the butterfly of a huge chrysalis.
When at length Gibbie became once more aware of existence, it was through a stormy invasion of the still realm of sleep; the blows of two flails fell persistent and quick-following, first on the thick head of the sheaf of oats untied and cast down before them, then grew louder and more deafening as the oats flew and the chaff fluttered, and the straw flattened and broke and thinned and spread -- until at last they thundered in great hard blows on the wooden floor. It was the first of these last blows that shook Gibbie awake. What they were or indicated he could not tell. He wormed himself softly round in the straw to look out and see.
Now whether it was that sleep was yet heavy upon him, and bewildered his eyes, or that his imagination had in dreams been busy with foregone horrors, I can not tell; but, as he peered through the meshes of the crossing and blinding straws, what he seemed to see was the body of an old man with dishevelled hair, whom, prostrate on the ground, they were beating to death with great sticks. His tongue clave to the roof of his mouth, not a sound could he utter, not a finger could he move; he had no choice but to lie still, and witness the fierce enormity. But it is good that we are compelled to see some things, life amongst the rest, to what we call the end of them. By degrees Gibbie's sight cleared; the old man faded away; and what was left of him he could see to be only an armful of straw. The next sheaf they threw down, he perceived, under their blows, the corn flying out of it, and began to understand a little. When it was finished, the corn that had flown dancing from its home, like hail from its cloud, was swept aside to the common heap, and the straw tossed up on the mound that harboured Gibbie. It was well that the man with the pitchfork did not spy his eyes peering out from the midst of the straw: he might have taken him for some wild creature, and driven the prongs into him. As it was, Gibbie did not altogether like the look of him, and lay still as a stone. Then another sheaf was unbound and cast on the floor, and the blows of the flails began again. It went on thus for an hour and a half, and Gibbie although he dropped asleep several times, was nearly stupid with the noise. The men at length, however, swept up the corn and tossed up the straw for the last time, and went out. Gibbie, judging by his own desires, thought they must have gone to eat, but did not follow them, having generally been ordered away the moment he was seen in a farmyard. He crept out, however, and began to look about him -- first of all for something he could eat. The oats looked the most likely, and he took a mouthful for a trial. He ground at them severely, but, hungry as he was, he failed to find oats good for food. Their hard husks, their dryness, their instability, all slipping past each other at every attempt to crush them with his teeth, together foiled him utterly. He must search farther. Looking round him afresh, he saw an open loft, and climbing on the heap in which he had slept, managed to reach it. It was at the height of the walls, and the couples of the roof rose immediately from it. At the farther end was a heap of hay, which he took for another kind of straw. Then he spied something he knew; a row of cheeses lay on a shelf suspended from the rafters, ripening. Gibbie knew them well from the shop windows -- knew they were cheeses, and good to eat, though whence and how they came he did not know, his impression being that they grew in the fields like the turnips. He had still the notion uncorrected, that things in the country belonged to nobody in particular, and were mostly for the use of animals, with which, since he became a wanderer, he had almost come to class himself. He was very hungry. He pounced upon a cheese and lifted it between his two hands; it smelled good, but felt very hard. That was no matter: what else were teeth made strong and sharp for? He tried them on one of the round edges, and, nibbling actively, soon got through to the softer body of the cheese. But he had not got much farther when he heard the men returning, and desisted, afraid of being discovered by the noise he made. The readiest way to conceal himself was to lie down flat on the loft, and he did so just where he could see the threshing-floor over the edge of it by lifting his head. This, however, he scarcely ventured to do; and all he could see as he lay was the tip of the swing-bar of one of the flails, ever as it reached the highest point of its ascent. But to watch for it very soon ceased to be interesting; and although he had eaten so little of the cheese, it had yet been enough to make him dreadfully thirsty, therefore he greatly desired to get away. But he dared not go down: with their sticks those men might knock him over in a moment! So he lay there thinking of the poor little hedgehog he had seen on the road as he came; how he stood watching it, and wishing he had a suit made all of great pins, which he could set up when he pleased; and how the driver of a cart, catching sight of him at the foot of the hedge, gave him a blow with his whip, and, poor fellow! notwithstanding his clothes of pins, that one blow of a whip was too much for him! There seemed nothing in the world but killing!
At length he could, unoccupied with something else, bear his thirst no longer, and, squirming round on the floor, crept softly towards the other end of the loft, to see what was to be seen there.
He found that the heap of hay was not in the loft at all. It filled a small chamber in the stable, in fact; and when Gibbie clambered upon it, what should he see below him on the other side, but a beautiful white horse, eating some of the same sort of stuff he was now lying upon! Beyond he could see the backs of more horses, but they were very different -- big and clumsy, and not white. They were all eating, and this was their food on which he lay! He wished he too could eat it -- and tried, but found it even less satisfactory than the oats, for it nearly choked him, and set him coughing so that he was in considerable danger of betraying his presence to the men in the barn. How did the horses manage to get such dry stuff down their throats? But the cheese was dry too, and he could eat that! No doubt the cheese, as well as the fine straw, was there for the horses! He would like to see the beautiful white creature down there eat a bit of it; but with all his big teeth he did not think he could manage a whole cheese, and how to get a piece broken off for him, with those men there, he could not devise. It would want a long-handled hammer like those with which he had seen men breaking stones on the road.
A door opened beyond, and a man came in and led two of the horses out, leaving the door open. Gibbie clambered down from the top of the hay into the stall beside the white horse, and ran out. He was almost in the fields, had not even a fence to cross.
He cast a glance around, and went straight for a neighbouring hollow, where, taught by experience, he hoped to find water.
Once away, Gibbie had no thought of returning. Up Daurside was the sole propulsive force whose existence he recognized. But when he lifted his head from drinking at the stream, which was one of some size, and, greatly refreshed, looked up its channel, a longing seized him to know whence came the water of life which had thus restored him to bliss -- how a burn first appears upon the earth. He thought it might come from the foot of a great conical mountain which seemed but a little way off. He would follow it up and see. So away he went, yielding at once, as was his wont, to the first desire that came. He had not trotted far along the bank, however, before, at a sharp turn it took, he saw that its course was a much longer one than he had imagined, for it turned from the mountain, and led up among the roots of other hills; while here in front of him, direct from the mountain, as it seemed, came down a smaller stream, and tumbled noisily into this. The larger burn would lead him too far from the Daur; he would follow the smaller one. He found a wide shallow place, crossed the larger, and went up the side of the smaller.
Doubly free after his imprisonment of the morning, Gibbie sped joyously along. Already nature, her largeness, her openness, her loveliness, her changefulness, her oneness in change, had begun to heal the child's heart, and comfort him in his disappointment with his kind. The stream he was now ascending ran along a claw of the mountain, which claw was covered with almost a forest of pine, protecting little colonies of less hardy timber. Its heavy green was varied with the pale delicate fringes of the fresh foliage of the larches, filling the air with aromatic breath. In the midst of their soft tufts, each tuft buttoned with a brown spot, hung the rich brown knobs and tassels of last year's cones. But the trees were all on the opposite side of the stream, and appeared to be mostly on the other side of a wall. Where Gibbie was, the mountain-root was chiefly of rock, interspersed with heather.
A little way up the stream, he came to a bridge over it, closed at the farther end by iron gates between pillars, each surmounted by a wolf's head in stone. Over the gate on each side leaned a rowan-tree, with trunk and branches aged and gnarled amidst their fresh foliage. He crossed the burn to look through the gate, and pressed his face between the bars to get a better sight of a tame rabbit that had got out of its hutch. It sat, like a Druid white with age, in the midst of a gravel drive, much overgrown with moss, that led through a young larch wood, with here and there an ancient tree, lonely amidst the youth of its companions. Suddenly from the wood a large spaniel came bounding upon the rabbit. Gibbie gave a shriek, and the rabbit made one white flash into the wood, with the dog after him. He turned away sad at heart.
“ Ilka cratur` at can, ” he said to himself, “ ates ilka cratur` at canna! ”
It was his first generalization, but not many years passed before he supplemented it with a conclusion:
“ But the man` at wad be a man, he maunna. ”
Resuming his journey of investigation, he trotted along the bank of the burn, farther and farther up, until he could trot no more, but must go clambering over great stones, or sinking to the knees in bog, patches of it red with iron, from which he would turn away with a shudder. Sometimes he walked in the water, along the bed of the burn itself; sometimes he had to scramble up its steep side, to pass one of the many little cataracts of its descent. Here and there a small silver birch, or a mountain-ash, or a stunted fir-tree, looking like a wizard child, hung over the stream. Its banks were mainly of rock and heather, but now and then a small patch of cultivation intervened. Gibbie had no thought that he was gradually leaving the abodes of men behind him; he knew no reason why in ascending things should change, and be no longer as in plainer ways. For what he knew, there might be farm after farm, up and up for ever, to the gates of heaven. But it would no longer have troubled him greatly to leave all houses behind him for a season.A great purple foxglove could do much now -- just at this phase of his story, to make him forget -- not the human face divine, but the loss of it.A lark aloft in the blue, from whose heart, as from a fountain whose roots were lost in the air, its natural source, issued, not a stream, but an ever spreading lake of song, was now more to him than the memory of any human voice he had ever heard, except his father's and Sambo's. But he was not yet quite out and away from the dwellings of his kind.
I may as well now make the attempt to give some idea of Gibbie's appearance, as he showed after so long wandering. Of dress he had hardly enough left to carry the name. Shoes, of course, he had none. Of the shape of trousers there remained nothing, except the division before and behind in the short petticoat to which they were reduced; and those rudimentary divisions were lost in the multitude of rents of equal apparent significance. He had never, so far as he knew, had a shirt upon his body; and his sole other garment was a jacket, so much too large for him, that to retain the use of his hands he had folded back the sleeves quite to his elbows. Thus reversed they became pockets, the only ones he had, and in them he stowed whatever provisions were given him of which he could not make immediate use -- porridge and sowens and mashed potatoes included: they served him, in fact, like the first of the stomachs of those animals which have more than one -- concerning which animals, by the way, I should much like to know what they were in “ Pythagoras' time. ” His head had plentiful protection in his own natural crop -- had never either had or required any other. That would have been of the gold order, had not a great part of its colour been sunburnt, rained, and frozen out of it. All ways it pointed, as if surcharged with electric fluid, crowning him with a wildness which was in amusing contrast with the placidity of his countenance. Perhaps the resulting queerness in the expression of the little vagrant, a look as if he had been hunted till his body and soul were nearly ruffled asunder, and had already parted company in aim and interest, might have been the first thing to strike a careless observer. But if the heart was not a careless one, the eye would look again and discover a stronger stillness than mere placidity -- a sort of live peace abiding in that weather-beaten little face under its wild crown of human herbage. The features of it were well-shaped, and not smaller than proportioned to the small whole of his person. His eyes -- partly, perhaps, because there was so little flesh upon his bones -- were large, and in repose had much of a soft animal expression: there was not in them the look of You and I know. Frequently, too, when occasion roused the needful instinct, they had a sharp expression of outlook and readiness, which, without a trace of fierceness or greed, was yet equally animal. Only all the time there was present something else, beyond characterization: behind them something seemed to lie asleep. His hands and feet were small and childishly dainty, his whole body well-shaped and well put together -- of which the style of his dress rather quashed the evidence.
Such was Gibbie to the eye, as he rose from Daurside to the last cultivated ground on the borders of the burn, and the highest dwelling on the mountain. It was the abode of a cottar, and was a dependency of the farm he had just left. The cottar was an old man of seventy; his wife was nearly sixty. They had reared stalwart sons and shapely daughters, now at service here and there in the valleys below -- all ready to see God in nature, and recognize Him in providence. They belong to a class now, I fear, extinct, but once, if my love prejudice not my judgment too far, the glory and strength of Scotland: their little acres are now swallowed up in the larger farms.
It was a very humble dwelling, built of turf upon a foundation of stones, and roofed with turf and straw -- warm, and nearly impervious to the searching airs of the mountain-side. One little window of a foot and a half square looked out on the universe. At one end stood a stack of peat, half as big as the cottage itself, All around it were huge rocks, some of them peaks whose masses went down to the very central fires, others only fragments that had rolled from above. Here and there a thin crop was growing in patches amongst them, the red grey stone lifting its baldness in spots numberless through the soft waving green.A few of the commonest flowers grew about the door, but there was no garden. The door-step was live rock, and a huge projecting rock behind formed the back and a portion of one of the end walls. This latter rock had been the attraction to the site, because of a hollow in it, which now served as a dairy. For up there with them lived the last cow of the valley -- the cow that breathed the loftiest air on all Daurside -- a good cow, and gifted in feeding well upon little. Facing the broad south, and leaning against the hill, as against the bosom of God, sheltering it from the north and east, the cottage looked so high-humble, so still, so confident, that it drew Gibbie with the spell of heart-likeness. He knocked at the old, weather-beaten, shrunk and rent, but well patched door.A voice, alive with the soft vibrations of thought and feeling, answered,
“ Come yer wa's in, whae'er ye be. ”
Gibbie pulled the string that came through a hole in the door, so lifting the latch, and entered.
A woman sat on a creepie, her face turned over her shoulder to see who came. It was a grey face, with good simple features and clear grey eyes. The plentiful hair that grew low on her forehead, was half grey, mostly covered by a white cap with frills.A clean wrapper and apron, both of blue print, over a blue winsey petticoat, blue stockings, and strong shoes completed her dress.A book lay on her lap: always when she had finished her morning's work, and made her house tidy, she sat down to have her comfort, as she called it. The moment she saw Gibbie she rose. Had he been the angel Gabriel, come to tell her she was wanted at the throne, her attention could not have been more immediate or thorough. She was rather a little woman, and carried herself straight and light.
“ Eh, ye puir ootcast! ” she said, in the pitying voice of a mother, “ hoo cam ye here sic a hicht? Cratur, ye hae left the warl' ahin' ye. What wad ye hae here? I hae naething. ”
Receiving no answer but one of the child's betwitching smiles, she stood for a moment regarding him, not in mere silence, but with a look of dumbness. She was a mother. One who is mother only to her own children is not a mother; she is only a woman who has borne children. But here was one of God's mothers.
Loneliness and silence, and constant homely familiarity with the vast simplicities of nature, assist much in the development of the deeper and more wonderful faculties of perception. The perceptions themselves may take this or that shape according to the education -- may even embody themselves fantastically, yet be no less perceptions. Now the very moment before Gibbie entered, she had been reading the words of the Lord: “ Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me ”; and with her heart full of them, she lifted her eyes and saw Gibbie. For one moment, with the quick flashing response of the childlike imagination of the Celt, she fancied she saw the Lord himself. Another woman might have made a more serious mistake, and seen there only a child. Often had Janet pondered, as she sat alone on the great mountain, while Robert was with the sheep, or she lay awake by his side at night, with the wind howling about the cottage, whether the Lord might not sometimes take a lonely walk to look after such solitary sheep of his flock as they, and let them know he had not lost sight of them, for all the ups and downs of the hills. There stood the child, and whether he was the Lord or not, he was evidently hungry. Ah! who could tell but the Lord was actually hungry in every one of his hungering little ones!
In the mean time -- only it was but thought-time, not clock-time -- Gibbie stood motionless in the middle of the floor, smiling his innocent smile, asking for nothing, hinting at nothing, but resting his wild calm eyes, with a sense of safety and mother-presence, upon the grey thoughtful face of the gazing woman. Her awe deepened; it seemed to descend upon her and fold her in as with a mantle. Involuntarily she bowed her head, and stepping to him took him by the hand, and led him to the stool she had left. There she made him sit, while she brought forward her table, white with scrubbing, took from a hole in the wall and set upon it a platter of oatcakes, carried a wooden bowl to her dairy in the rock through a whitewashed door, and bringing it back filled, half with cream half with milk, set that also on the table. Then she placed a chair before it, and said --
“ Sit ye doon, an' tak. Gin ye war the Lord himsel', my bonny man, an' ye may be for oucht I ken, for ye luik puir an' despised eneuch, I cud gie nae better, for it's a' I hae to offer ye --` cep it micht be an egg, ” she added, correcting herself, and turned and went out.
Presently she came back with a look of success, carrying two eggs, which, having raked out a quantity, she buried in the hot ashes of the peats, and left in front of the hearth to roast, while Gibbie went on eating the thick oatcake, sweet and substantial, and drinking such milk as the wildest imagination of town-boy could never suggest. It was indeed angels' food -- food such as would have pleased the Lord himself after a hard day with axe and saw and plane, so good and simple and strong was it. Janet resumed her seat on the low three-legged stool, and took her knitting that he might feel neither that he was watched as he ate, nor that she was waiting for him to finish. Every other moment she gave a glance at the stranger she had taken in; but never a word he spoke, and the sense of mystery grew upon her.
Presently came a great bounce and scramble; the latch jumped up, the door flew open, and after a moment's pause, in came a sheep dog -- a splendid thorough-bred collie, carrying in his mouth a tiny, long-legged lamb, which he dropped half dead in the woman's lap. It was a late lamb, born of a mother which had been sold from the hill, but had found her way back from a great distance, in order that her coming young one might have the privilege of being yeaned on the same spot where she had herself awaked to existence. Another moment, and her mba-a was heard approaching the door. She trotted in, and going up to Janet, stood contemplating the consequences of her maternal ambition. Her udder was full, but the lamb was too weak to suck. Janet rose, and going to the side of the room, opened the door of what might have seemed an old press, but was a bed. Folding back the counterpane, she laid the lamb in the bed, and covered it over. Then she got a caup, a wooden dish like a large saucer, and into it milked the ewe. Next she carried the caup to the bed; but what means she there used to enable the lamb to drink, the boy could not see, though his busy eyes and loving heart would gladly have taken in all.
In the mean time the collie, having done his duty by the lamb, and perhaps forgotten it, sat on his tail, and stared with his two brave trusting eyes at the little beggar that sat in the master's chair, and ate of the fat of the land. Oscar was a gentleman, and had never gone to school, therefore neither fancied nor had been taught that rags make an essential distinction, and ought to be barked at. Gibbie was a stranger, and therefore as a stranger Oscar gave him welcome -- now and then stooping to lick the little brown feet that had wandered so far.
Like all wild creatures, Gibbie ate fast, and had finished everything set before him ere the woman had done feeding the lamb. Without a notion of the rudeness of it, his heart full of gentle gratitude, he rose and left the cottage. When Janet turned from her shepherding, there sat Oscar looking up at the empty chair.
“ What's comeo' the laddie? ” she said to the dog, who answered with a low whine, half-regretful, half-interrogative. It may be he was only asking, like Esau, if there was no residuum of blessing for him also; but perhaps he too was puzzled what to conclude about the boy. Janet hastened to the door, but already Gibbie's nimble feet refreshed to the point of every toe with the food he had just swallowed, had borne him far up the hill, behind the cottage, so that she could not get a glimpse of him. Thoughtfully she returned, and thoughtfully removed the remnants of the meal. She would then have resumed her Bible, but her hospitality had rendered it necessary that she should put on her girdle -- not a cincture of leather upon her body, but a disc of iron on the fire, to bake thereon cakes ere her husband's return. It was a simple enough process, for the oat-meal wanted nothing but water and fire; but her joints had not yet got rid of the winter's rheumatism, and the labour of the baking was the hardest part of the sacrifice of her hospitality. To many it is easy to give what they have, but the offering of weariness and pain is never easy. They are indeed a true salt to salt sacrifices withal. That it was the last of her meal till her youngest boy should bring her a bag on his back from the mill the next Saturday, made no point in her trouble.
When at last she had done, and put the things away, and swept up the hearth, she milked the ewe, sent her out to nibble, took her Bible, and sat down once more to read. The lamb lay at her feet, with his little head projecting from the folds of her new flannel petticoat; and every time her eye fell from the book upon the lamb, she felt as if somehow the lamb was the boy that had eaten of her bread and drunk of her milk. After she had read a while, there came a change, and the lamb seemed the Lord himself, both lamb and shepherd, who had come to claim her hospitality. Then, divinely invaded with the dread lest in the fancy she should forget the reality, she kneeled down and prayed to the friend of Martha and Mary and Lazarus, to come as he had said, and sup with her indeed.
Not for years and years had Janet been to church; she had long been unable to walk so far; and having no book but the best, and no help to understand it but the highest, her faith was simple, strong, real, all-pervading. Day by day she pored over the great gospel -- I mean just the good news according to Matthew and Mark and Luke and John -- until she had grown to be one of the noble ladies of the kingdom of heaven -- one of those who inherit the earth, and are ripening to see God. For the Master, and his mind in hers, was her teacher. She had little or no theology save what he taught her, or rather, what he is. And of any other than that, the less the better; for no theology, except the Theou logos, -LCB- compilers note: spelled in Greek: Theta, Epsilon, Omicron, Upsilon; Lambda, Omicron with stress, Gamma, Omicron, Sigma -RCB- is worth the learning, no other being true. To know him is to know God. And he only who obeys him, does or can know him; he who obeys him can not fail to know him. To Janet, Jesus Christ was no object of so-called theological speculation, but a living man, who somehow or other heard her when she called to him, and sent her the help she needed.
Up and up the hill went Gibbie. The path ceased altogether; but when up is the word in one's mind -- and up had grown almost a fixed idea with Gibbie -- he can seldom be in doubt whether he is going right, even where there is no track. Indeed in all more arduous ways, men leave no track behind them, no finger-post -- there is always but the steepness. He climbed and climbed. The mountain grew steeper and barer as he went, and he became absorbed in his climbing. All at once he discovered that he had lost the stream, where or when he could not tell. All below and around him was red granite rock, scattered over with the chips and splinters detached by air and wind, water and stream, light and heat and cold. Glashgar was only about three thousand feet in height, but it was the steepest of its group -- a huge rock that, even in the midst of masses, suggested solidity.
Not once while he ascended had the idea come to him that by and by he should be able to climb no farther. For aught he knew there were oat-cakes and milk and sheep and collie dogs ever higher and higher still. Not until he actually stood upon the peak did he know that there was the earthly hitherto -- the final obstacle of unobstancy, the everywhere which, from excess of perviousness, was to human foot impervious. The sun was about two hours towards the west, when Gibbie, his little legs almost as active as ever, surmounted the final slope. Running up like a child that would scale heaven he stood on the bare round, the head of the mountain, and saw, with an invading shock of amazement, and at first of disappointment, that there was no going higher: in every direction the slope was downward. He had never been on the top of anything before. He had always been in the hollows of things. Now the whole world lay beneath him. It was cold; in some of the shadows lay snow -- weary exile from both the sky and the sea and the ways of them -- captive in the fetters of the cold -- prisoner to the mountain top; but Gibbie felt no cold. In a glow with the climb, which at the last had been hard, his lungs filled with the heavenly air, and his soul with the feeling that he was above everything that was, uplifted on the very crown of the earth, he stood in his rags, a fluttering scarecrow, the conqueror of height, the discoverer of immensity, the monarch of space. Nobody knew of such marvel but him! Gibbie had never even heard the word poetry, but none the less was he the very stuff out of which poems grow, and now all the latent poetry in him was set a swaying and heaving -- an ocean inarticulate because unobstructed -- a might that could make no music, no thunder of waves, because it had no shore, no rocks of thought against which to break in speech. He sat down on the topmost point; and slowly, in the silence and the loneliness, from the unknown fountains of the eternal consciousness, the heart of the child filled. Above him towered infinitude, immensity, potent on his mind through shape to his eye in a soaring dome of blue -- the one visible symbol informed and insouled of the eternal, to reveal itself thereby. In it, centre and life, lorded the great sun, beginning to cast shadows to the south and east from the endless heaps of the world, that lifted themselves in all directions. Down their sides ran the streams, down busily, hasting away through every valley to the Daur, which bore them back to the ocean-heart -- through woods and meadows, park and waste, rocks and willowy marsh. Behind the valleys rose mountains; and behind the mountains, other mountains, more and more, each swathed in its own mystery; and beyond all hung the curtain-depth of the sky-gulf. Gibbie sat and gazed, and dreamed and gazed. The mighty city that had been to him the universe, was dropped and lost, like a thing that was now nobody's, in far indistinguishable distance; and he who had lost it had climbed upon the throne of the world. The air was still; when a breath awoke, it but touched his cheek like the down of a feather, and the stillness was there again. The stillness grew great, and slowly descended upon him. It deepened and deepened. Surely it would deepen to a voice! -- it was about to speak! It was as if a great single thought was the substance of the silence, and was all over and around him, and closer to him than his clothes, than his body, than his hands. I am describing the indescribable, and compelled to make it too definite for belief. In colder speech, an experience had come to the child; a link in the chain of his development glided over the windlass of his uplifting; a change passed upon him. In after years, when Gibbie had the idea of God, when he had learned to think about him, to desire his presence, to believe that a will of love enveloped his will, as the brooding hen spreads her wings over her eggs -- as often as the thought of God came to him, it came in the shape of the silence on the top of Glashgar.
As he sat, with his eyes on the peak he had just chosen from the rest as the loftiest of all within his sight, he saw a cloud begin to grow upon it. The cloud grew, and gathered, and descended, covering its sides as it went, until the whole was hidden. Then swiftly, as he gazed, the cloud opened as it were a round window in the heart of it, and through that he saw the peak again. The next moment a flash of blue lightning darted across the opening, and whether Gibbie really saw what follows, he never could be sure, but always after, as often as the vision returned, in the flash he saw a rock rolling down the peak. The clouds swept together, and the window closed. The next thing which in after years he remembered was, that the earth, mountains, meadows, and streams, had vanished; everything was gone from his sight, except a few yards around him of the rock upon which he sat, and the cloud that hid world and heaven. Then again burst forth the lightning. He saw no flash, but an intense cloud-illumination, accompanied by the deafening crack, and followed by the appalling roar and roll of the thunder. Nor was it noise alone that surrounded him, for, as if he were in the heart and nest of the storm, the very wind-waves that made the thunder rushed in driven bellowing over him, and had nearly swept him away. He clung to the rock with hands and feet. The cloud writhed and wrought and billowed and eddied, with all the shapes of the wind, and seemed itself to be the furnace-womb in which the thunder was created. Was this then the voice into which the silence had been all the time deepening? -- had the Presence thus taken form and declared itself? Gibbie had yet to learn that there is a deeper voice still into which such a silence may grow -- and the silence not be broken. He was not dismayed. He had no conscience of wrong, and scarcely knew fear. It was an awful delight that filled his spirit. Mount Sinai was not to him a terror. To him there was no wrath in the thunder any more than in the greeting of the dog that found him in his kennel. To him there was no being in the sky so righteous as to be more displeased than pitiful over the wrongness of the children whom he had not yet got taught their childhood. Gibbie sat calm, awe-ful, but, I imagine, with a clear forehead and smile-haunted mouth, while the storm roared and beat and flashed and ran about him. It was the very fountain of tempest. From the bare crest of the mountain the water poured down its sides, as if its springs were in the rock itself, and not in the bosom of the cloud above. The tumult at last seized Gibbie like an intoxication; he jumped to his feet, and danced and flung his arms about, as if he himself were the storm. But the uproar did not last long. Almost suddenly it was gone, as if, like a bird that had been flapping the ground in agony, it had at last recovered itself, and taken to its great wings and flown. The sun shone out clear, and in all the blue abyss not a cloud was to be seen, except far away to leeward, where one was spread like a banner in the lonely air, fleeting away, the ensign of the charging storm -- bearing for its device a segment of the many-coloured bow.
And now that its fierceness was over, the jubilation in the softer voices of the storm became audible. As the soul gives thanks for the sufferings that are overpast, offering the love and faith and hope which the pain has stung into fresh life, so from the sides of the mountain ascended the noise of the waters the cloud had left behind. The sun had kept on his journey; the storm had been no disaster to him; and now he was a long way down the west, and Twilight, in her grey cloak, would soon be tracking him from the east, like sorrow dogging delight. Gibbie, wet and cold, began to think of the cottage where he had been so kindly received, of the friendly face of its mistress, and her care of the lamb. It was not that he wanted to eat. He did not even imagine more eating, for never in his life had he eaten twice of the same charity in the same day. What he wanted was to find some dry hole in the mountain, and sleep as near the cottage as he could. So he rose and set out. But he lost his way; came upon one precipice after another, down which only a creeping thing could have gone; was repeatedly turned aside by torrents and swampy places; and when the twilight came, was still wandering upon the mountain. At length he found, as he thought, the burn along whose bank he had ascended in the morning, and followed it towards the valley, looking out for the friendly cottage. But the first indication of abode he saw, was the wall of the grounds of the house through whose gate he had looked in the morning. He was then a long way from the cottage, and not far from the farm; and the best thing he could do was to find again the barn where he had slept so well the night before. This was not very difficult even in the dusky night. He skirted the wall, came to his first guide, found and crossed the valley-stream, and descended it until he thought he recognized the slope of clover down which he had run in the morning. He ran up the brae, and there were the solemn cones of the corn-ricks between him and the sky!A minute more and he had crept through the cat-hole, and was feeling about in the dark barn. Happily the heap of straw was not yet removed. Gibbie shot into it like a mole, and burrowed to the very centre, there coiled himself up, and imagined himself lying in the heart of the rock on which he sat during the storm, and listening to the thunder winds over his head. The fancy enticed the sleep which before was ready enough to come, and he was soon far stiller than Ariel in the cloven pine of Sycorax.
He might have slept longer the next morning, for there was no threshing to wake him, in spite of the cocks in the yard that made it their business to rouse sleepers to their work, had it not been for another kind of cock inside him, which bore the same relation to food that the others bore to light. He peeped first, then crept out. All was still except the voices of those same prophet cocks, crying in the wilderness of the yet sunless world; a moo now and then from the byres; and the occasional stamp of a great hoof in the stable. Gibbie clambered up into the loft, and turning the cheeses about until he came upon the one he had gnawed before, again attacked it, and enlarged considerably the hole he had already made in it. Rather dangerous food it was, perhaps, eaten in that unmitigated way, for it was made of skimmed milk, and was very dry and hard; but Gibbie was a powerful little animal, all bones and sinews, small hard muscle, and faultless digestion. The next idea naturally rising was the burn; he tumbled down over the straw heap to the floor of the barn, and made for the cat-hole. But the moment he put his head out, he saw the legs of a man: the farmer was walking through his ricks, speculating on the money they held. He drew back, and looked round to see where best he could betake himself should he come in. He spied thereupon a ladder leaning against the end-wall of the barn, opposite the loft and the stables, and near it in the wall a wooden shutter, like the door of a little cupboard. He got up the ladder, and opening the shutter, which was fastened only with a button, found a hole in the wall, through which popping his head too carelessly, he knocked from a shelf some piece of pottery, which fell with a great crash on a paved floor. Looking after it, Gibbie beheld below him a rich prospect of yellow-white pools ranged in order on shelves. They reminded him of milk, but were of a different colour. As he gazed, a door opened hastily, with sharp clicking latch, and a woman entered, ejaculating, “ Care what set that cat! ” Gibbie drew back, lest in her search for the cat she might find the culprit. She looked all round, muttering such truncated imprecations as befitted the mouth of a Scotchwoman; but as none of her milk was touched, her wrath gradually abated: she picked up the fragments and withdrew.
Thereupon Gibbie ventured to reconnoitre a little farther, and popping in his head again, saw that the dairy was open to the roof, but the door was in a partition which did not run so high. The place from which the woman entered, was ceiled, and the ceiling rested on the partition between it and the dairy; so that, from a shelf level with the hole, he could easily enough get on the top of the ceiling. This, urged by the instinct of the homeless to understand their surroundings, he presently effected, by creeping like a cat along the top shelf.
The ceiling was that of the kitchen, and was merely of boards, which, being old and shrunken, had here and there a considerable crack between two, and Gibbie, peeping through one after another of these cracks, soon saw several things he did not understand. Of such was a barrel-churn, which he took for a barrel-organ, and welcomed as a sign of civilization. The woman was sweeping the room towards the hearth, where the peat fire was already burning, with a great pot hanging over it, covered with a wooden lid. When the water in it was hot, she poured it into a large wooden dish, in which she began to wash other dishes, thus giving the observant Gibbie his first notion of housekeeping. Then she scoured the deal table, dusted the bench and the chairs, arranged the dishes on shelves and rack, except a few which she placed on the table, put more water on the fire, and disappeared in the dairy. Thence presently she returned, carrying a great jar, which, to Gibbie's astonishment, having lifted a lid in the top of the churn, she emptied into it; he was not, therefore, any farther astonished, when she began to turn the handle vigorously, that no music issued. As to what else might be expected, Gibbie had not even a mistaken idea. But the butter came quickly that morning, and then he did have another astonishment, for he saw a great mass of something half-solid tumbled out where he had seen a liquid poured in -- nor that alone, for the liquid came out again too! But when at length he saw the mass, after being well washed, moulded into certain shapes, he recognized it as butter, such as he had seen in the shops, and had now and then tasted on the piece given him by some more than usually generous housekeeper. Surely he had wandered into a region of plenty! Only now, when he saw the woman busy and careful, the idea of things in the country being a sort of common property began to fade from his mind, and the perception to wake that they were as the things in the shops, which must not be touched without first paying money for them over a counter.
The butter-making, brought to a successful close, the woman proceeded to make porridge for the men's breakfast, and with hungry eyes Gibbie watched that process next. The water in the great pot boiling like a wild volcano, she took handful after handful of meal from a great wooden dish, called a bossie, and threw it into the pot, stirring as she threw, until the mess was presently so thick that she could no more move the spurtle in it; and scarcely had she emptied it into another great wooden bowl, called a bicker, when Gibbie heard the heavy tramp of the men crossing the yard to consume it.
For the last few minutes, Gibbie's nostrils -- alas! not Gibbie -- had been regaled with the delicious odour of the boiling meal; and now his eyes had their turn -- but still, alas, not Gibbie! Prostrate on the ceiling he lay and watched the splendid spoonfuls tumble out of sight into the capacious throats of four men; all took their spoonfuls from the same dish, but each dipped his spoonful into his private caup of milk, ere he carried it to his mouth.A little apart sat a boy, whom the woman seemed to favour, having provided him with a plateful of porridge by himself, but the fact was, four were as many as could bicker comfortably, or with any chance of fair play. The boy's countenance greatly attracted Gibbie. It was a long, solemn face, but the eyes were bright-blue and sparkling; and when he smiled, which was not very often, it was a good and meaningful smile.
When the meal was over, and he saw the little that was left, with all the drops of milk from the caups, tumbled into a common receptacle, to be kept, he thought, for the next meal, poor Gibbie felt very empty and forsaken. He crawled away sad at heart, with nothing before him except a drink of water at the burn. He might have gone to the door of the house, in the hope of a bit of cake, but now that he had seen something of the doings in the house and of the people who lived in it -- as soon, that is, as he had looked embodied ownership in the face -- he began to be aware of its claims, and the cheese he had eaten to lie heavy upon his spiritual stomach; he had done that which he would not have done before leaving the city. Carefully he crept across the ceiling, his head hanging, like a dog scolded of his master, carefully along the shelf of the dairy, and through the opening in the wall, quickly down the ladder, and through the cat-hole in the barn door. There was no one in the corn-yard now, and he wandered about among the ricks looking, with little hope, for something to eat. Turning a corner he came upon a hen-house -- and there was a crowd of hens and half-grown chickens about the very dish into which he had seen the remnants of the breakfast thrown, all pecking billfuls out of it. As I may have said before, he always felt at liberty to share with the animals, partly, I suppose, because he saw they had no scrupulosity or ceremony amongst themselves; so he dipped his hand into the dish: why should not the bird of the air now and then peck with the more respectable of the barn-door, if only to learn his inferiority? Greatly refreshed, he got up from among the hens, scrambled over the dry stone-wall, and trotted away to the burn.
It was now time he should resume his journey up Daurside, and he set out to follow the burn that he might regain the river. It led him into a fine meadow, where a number of cattle were feeding. The meadow was not fenced -- little more than marked off, indeed, upon one side, from a field of growing corn, by a low wall of earth, covered with moss and grass and flowers. The cattle were therefore herded by a boy, whom Gibbie recognized even in the distance as him by whose countenance he had been so much attracted when, like an old deity on a cloud, he lay spying through the crack in the ceiling. The boy was reading a book, from which every now and then he lifted his eyes to glance around him, and see whether any of the cows or heifers or stirks were wandering beyond their pasture of rye-grass and clover. Having them all before him, therefore no occasion to look behind, he did not see Gibbie approaching. But as soon as he seemed thoroughly occupied, a certain black cow, with short sharp horns and a wicked look, which had been gradually, as was her wont, edging nearer and nearer to the corn, turned suddenly and ran for it, jumped the dyke, and plunging into a mad revelry of greed, tore and devoured with all the haste not merely of one insecure, but of one that knew she was stealing. Now Gibbie had been observant enough during his travels to learn that this was against the law and custom of the country -- that it was not permitted to a cow to go into a field where there were no others -- and like a shot he was after the black marauder. The same instant the herd boy too, lifting his eyes from his book, saw her, and springing to his feet, caught up his great stick, and ran also: he had more than one reason to run, for he understood only too well the dangerous temper of the cow, and saw that Gibbie was a mere child, and unarmed -- an object most provocative of attack to Hornie -- so named, indeed, because of her readiness to use the weapons with which Nature had provided her. She was in fact a malicious cow, and but that she was a splendid milker, would have been long ago fatted up and sent to the butcher. The boy as he ran full speed to the rescue, kept shouting to warn Gibbie from his purpose, but Gibbie was too intent to understand the sounds he uttered, and supposed them addressed to the cow. With the fearless service that belonged to his very being, he ran straight at Hornie, and, having nothing to strike her with, flung himself against her with a great shove towards the dyke. Hornie, absorbed in her delicious robbery, neither heard nor saw before she felt him, and, startled by the sudden attack, turned tail. It was but for a moment. In turning, she caught sight of her ruler, sceptre in hand, at some little distance, and turned again, either to have another mouthful, or in the mere instinct to escape him. Then she caught sight of the insignificant object that had scared her, and in contemptuous indignation lowered her head between her forefeet, and was just making a rush at Gibbie, when a stone struck her on a horn, and the next moment the herd came up, and with a storm of fiercest blows, delivered with the full might of his arm, drove her in absolute rout back into the meadow. Drawing himself up in the unconscious majesty of success, Donal Grant looked down upon Gibbie, but with eyes of admiration.
“ Haith, cratur! ” he said, “ ye're mairo' a man nor ye'll luik this saven year! What garred ye rin upo' the deevil's verra horns that gait? ”
Gibbie stood smiling.
“ Gien't hadna been for my club we wad baith be owre the mune` gain this time. What ca' they ye, man? ”
Still Gibbie only smiled.
“ Whaur come ye frae? -- Wha's yer fowk? -- Whaur div ye bide? -- Haena ye a tonguei' yer heid, ye rascal? ”
Gibbie burst out laughing, and his eyes sparkled and shone: he was delighted with the herd-boy, and it was so long since he had heard human speech addressed to himself!
“ The cratur's feel -LRB- foolish -RRB-! ” concluded Donal to himself pityingly. “ Puir thing! puir thing! ” he added aloud, and laid his hand on Gibbie's head.
It was but the second touch of kindness Gibbie had received since he was the dog's guest: had he been acquainted with the bastard emotion of self-pity, he would have wept; as he was unaware of hardship in his lot, discontent in his heart, or discord in his feeling, his emotion was one of unmingled delight, and embodied itself in a perfect smile.
“ Come, cratur, an' I'll gie ye a piece: ye'll aiblins un` erstan' that! ” said Donal, as he turned to leave the corn for the grass, where Hornie was eating with the rest like the most innocent of hum` le -LRB- hornless -RRB- animals. Gibbie obeyed, and followed, as, with slow step and downbent face, Donal led the way. For he had tucked his club under his arm, and already his greedy eyes were fixed on the book he had carried all the time, nor did he take them from it until, followed in full and patient content by Gibbie, he had almost reached the middle of the field, some distance from Hornie and her companions, when, stopping abruptly short, he began without lifting his head to cast glances on this side and that.
“ I houp naneo' them's swallowed my nepkin! ” he said musingly. “ I'm no sure whaur I was sittin'. I hae my placei' the beuk, but I doobt I hae tint my placei' the gerse. ”
Long before he had ended, for he spoke with utter deliberation, Gibbie was yards away, flitting hither and thither like a butterfly.A minute more and Donal saw him pounce upon his bundle, which he brought to him in triumph.
“ Fegs! ye're no the gowk I took ye for, ” said Donal meditatively.
Whether Gibbie took the remark for a compliment, or merely was gratified that Donal was pleased, the result was a merry laugh.
The bundle had in it a piece of hard cheese, such as Gibbie had already made acquaintance with, and a few quarters of cakes. One of these Donal broke in two, gave Gibbie the half, replaced the other, and sat down again to his book -- this time with his back against the fell-dyke dividing the grass from the corn. Gibbie seated himself, like a Turk, with his bare legs crossed under him, a few yards off, where, in silence and absolute content, he ate his piece, and gravely regarded him. His human soul had of late been starved, even more than his body -- and that from no fastidiousness; and it was paradise again to be in such company. Never since his father's death had he looked on a face that drew him as Donal's. It was fair of complexion by nature, but the sun had burned it brown, and it was covered with freckles. Its forehead was high, with a mass of foxy hair over it, and under it two keen hazel eyes, in which the green predominated over the brown. Its nose was long and solemn, over his well-made mouth, which rarely smiled, but not unfrequently trembled with emotion -- over his book. For age, Donal was getting towards fifteen, and was strongly built, and well grown.A general look of honesty, and an attractive expression of reposeful friendliness pervaded his whole appearance. Conscientious in regard to his work, he was yet in danger of forgetting his duty for minutes together in his book. The chief evil that resulted from it was such an occasional inroad on the corn as had that morning taken place; and many were Donal's self-reproaches ere he got to sleep when that had fallen out during the day. He knew his master would threaten him with dismissal if he came upon him reading in the field, but he knew also his master was well aware that he did read, and that it was possible to read and yet herd well. It was easy enough in this same meadow: on one side ran the Lorrie; on another was a stone wall; and on the third a ditch; only the cornfield lay virtually unprotected, and there he had to be himself the boundary. And now he sat leaning against the dyke, as if he held so a position of special defence; but he knew well enough that the dullest calf could outflank him, and invade, for a few moments at the least, the forbidden pleasure-ground. He had gained an ally, however, whose faculty and faithfulness he little knew yet. For Gibbie had begun to comprehend the situation. He could not comprehend why or how anyone should be absorbed in a book, for all he knew of books was from his one morning of dame-schooling; but he could comprehend that, if one's attention were so occupied, it must be a great vex to be interrupted continually by the ever-waking desires of his charge after dainties. Therefore, as Donal watched his book, Gibbie for Donal's sake watched the herd, and, as he did so, gently possessed himself of Donal's club. Nor had many minutes passed before Donal, raising his head to look, saw the curst cow again in the green corn, and Gibbie manfully encountering her with the club, hitting her hard upon head and horns, and deftly avoiding every rush she made at him.
“ Gie her't upo' the nose, ” Donal shouted in terror, as he ran full speed to his aid, abusing Hornie in terms of fiercest vituperation.
But he needed not have been so apprehensive. Gibbie heard and obeyed, and the next moment Hornie had turned tail and was fleeing back to the safety of the lawful meadow.
“ Hech, cratur! but ye maun be comeo' fechtin' fowk! ” said Donal, regarding him with fresh admiration.
Gibbie laughed; but he had been sorely put to it, and the big drops were coursing fast down his sweet face. Donal took the club from him, and rushing at Hornie, belaboured her well, and drove her quite to the other side of the field. He then returned and resumed his book, while Gibbie again sat down near by, and watched both Donal and his charge -- the keeper of both herd and cattle. Surely Gibbie had at last found his vocation on Daurside, with both man and beast for his special care!
By and by Donal raised his head once more, but this time it was to regard Gibbie and not the nowt. It had gradually sunk into him that the appearance and character of the cratur were peculiar. He had regarded him as a little tramp, whose people were not far off, and who would soon get tired of herding and rejoin his companions; but while he read, a strange feeling of the presence of the boy had, in spite of the witchery of his book, been growing upon him. He seemed to feel his eyes without seeing them; and when Gibbie rose to look how the cattle were distributed, he became vaguely uneasy lest the boy should be going away. For already he had begun to feel him a humble kind of guardian angel. He had already that day, through him, enjoyed a longer spell of his book, than any day since he had been herd at the Mains of Glashruach. And now the desire had come to regard him more closely.
For a minute or two he sat and gazed at him. Gibbie gazed at him in return, and in his eyes the herd-boy looked the very type of power and gentleness. How he admired even his suit of small-ribbed, greenish-coloured corduroy, the ribs much rubbed and obliterated! Then his jacket had round brass buttons! his trousers had patches instead of holes at the knees! their short legs revealed warm woollen stockings! and his shoes had their soles full of great broad-headed iron tacks! while on his head he had a small round blue bonnet with a red tuft! The little outcast, on the other hand, with his loving face and pure clear eyes, bidding fair to be naked altogether before long, woke in Donal a divine pity, a tenderness like that nestling at the heart of womanhood. The neglected creature could surely have no mother to shield him from frost and wind and rain. But a strange thing was, that out of this pitiful tenderness seemed to grow, like its blossom, another unlike feeling -- namely, that he was in the presence of a being of some order superior to his own, one to whom he would have to listen if he spoke, who knew more than he would tell. But then Donal was a Celt, and might be a poet, and the sweet stillness of the child's atmosphere made things bud in his imagination.
My reader must think how vastly, in all his poverty, Donal was Gibbie's superior in the social scale. He earned his own food and shelter, and nearly four pounds a year besides; lived as well as he could wish, dressed warm, was able for his work, and imagined it no hardship. Then he had a father and mother whom he went to see every Saturday, and of whom he was as proud as son could be -- a father who was the priest of the family, and fed sheep; a mother who was the prophetess, and kept the house ever an open refuge for her children. Poor Gibbie earned nothing -- never had earned more than a penny at a time in his life, and had never dreamed of having a claim to such penny. Nobody seemed to care for him, give him anything, do anything for him. Yet there he sat before Donal's eyes, full of service, of smiles, of contentment.
Donal took up his book, but laid it down again and gazed at Gibbie. Several times he tried to return to his reading, but as often resumed his contemplation of the boy. At length it struck him as something more than shyness would account for, that he had not yet heard a word from the lips of the child, even when running after the cows. He must watch him more closely.
By this it was his dinner time. Again he untied his handkerchief, and gave Gibbie what he judged a fair share for his bulk -- namely about a third of the whole. Philosopher as he was, however, he could not help sighing a little when he got to the end of his diminished portion. But he was better than comforted when Gibbie offered him all that yet remained to him; and the smile with which he refused it made Gibbie as happy as a prince would like to be. What a day it had been for Gibbie!A whole human being, and some five and twenty four-legged creatures besides, to take care of!
After their dinner, Donal gravitated to his book, and Gibbie resumed the executive. Some time had passed when Donal, glancing up, saw Gibbie lying flat on his chest, staring at something in the grass. He slid himself quietly nearer, and discovered it was a daisy -- one by itself alone; there were not many in the field. Like a mother leaning over her child, he was gazing at it. The daisy was not a cold white one, neither was it a red one; it was just a perfect daisy: it looked as if some gentle hand had taken it, while it slept and its star points were all folded together, and dipped them -- just a tiny touchy dip, in a molten ruby, so that, when it opened again, there was its crown of silver pointed with rubies all about its golden sun-heart.
“ He's been readin' Burns! ” said Donal. He forgot that the daisies were before Burns, and that he himself had loved them before ever he heard of him. Now, he had not heard of Chaucer, who made love to the daisies four hundred years before Burns. -- God only knows what gospellers they have been on his middle-earth. All its days his daisies have been coming and going, and they are not old yet, nor have worn out yet their lovely garments, though they patch and darn just as little as they toil and spin.
“ Can ye read, cratur? ” asked Donal.
Gibbie shook his head.
“ Canna ye speyk, man? ”
Again Gibbie shook his head.
“ Can ye hear? ”
Gibbie burst out laughing. He knew that he heard better than other people.
“ Hearken till this than, ” said Donal.
He took his book from the grass, and read, in a chant, or rather in a lilt, the Danish ballad of Chyld Dyring, as translated by Sir Walter Scott. Gibbie's eyes grew wider and wider as he listened; their pupils dilated, and his lips parted: it seemed as if his soul were looking out of door and windows at once -- but a puzzled soul that understood nothing of what it saw. Yet plainly, either the sounds, or the thought-matter vaguely operative beyond the line where intelligence begins, or, it may be, the sparkle of individual word or phrase islanded in a chaos of rhythmic motion, wrought somehow upon him, for his attention was fixed as by a spell. When Donal ceased, he remained open-mouthed and motionless for a time; then, drawing himself slidingly over the grass to Donal's feet, he raised his head and peeped above his knees at the book.A moment only he gazed, and drew back with a hungry sigh: he had seen nothing in the book like what Donal had been drawing from it -- as if one should look into the well of which he had just drunk, and see there nothing but dry pebbles and sand! The wind blew gentle, the sun shone bright, all nature closed softly round the two, and the soul whose children they were was nearer than the one to the other, nearer than sun or wind or daisy or Chyld Dyring. To his amazement, Donal saw the tears gathering in Gibbie's eyes. He was as one who gazes into the abyss of God's will -- sees only the abyss, can not see the will, and weeps. The child in whom neither cold nor hunger nor nakedness nor loneliness could move a throb of self-pity, was moved to tears that a loveliness, to him strange and unintelligible, had passed away, and he had no power to call it back.
“ Wad ye like to hear't again? ” asked Donal, more than half understanding him instinctively.
Gibbie's face answered with a flash, and Donal read the poem again, and Gibbie's delight returned greater than before, for now something like a dawn began to appear among the cloudy words. Donal read it a third time, and closed the book, for it was almost the hour for driving the cattle home. He had never yet seen, and perhaps never again did see, such a look of thankful devotion on human countenance as met his lifted eyes.
How much Gibbie even then understood of the lovely eerie old ballad, it is impossible for me to say. Had he a glimmer of the return of the buried mother? Did he think of his own? I doubt if he had ever thought that he had a mother; but he may have associated the tale with his father, and the boots he was always making for him. Certainly it was the beginning of much. But the waking up of a human soul to know itself in the mirror of its thoughts and feelings, its loves and delights, oppresses me with so heavy a sense of marvel and inexplicable mystery, that when I imagine myself such as Gibbie then was, I can not imagine myself coming awake. I can hardly believe that, from being such as Gibbie was the hour before he heard the ballad, I should ever have come awake. Yet here I am, capable of pleasure unspeakable from that and many another ballad, old and new! somehow, at one time or another, or at many times in one, I have at last come awake! When, by slow filmy unveilings, life grew clearer to Gibbie, and he not only knew, but knew that he knew, his thoughts always went back to that day in the meadow with Donal Grant as the beginning of his knowledge of beautiful things in the world of man. Then first he saw nature reflected, Narcissus-like, in the mirror of her humanity, her highest self. But when or how the change in him began, the turn of the balance, the first push towards life of the evermore invisible germ -- of that he remained, much as he wondered, often as he searched his consciousness, as ignorant to the last as I am now. Sometimes he was inclined to think the glory of the new experience must have struck him dazed, and that was why he could not recall what went on in him at the time.
Donal rose and went driving the cattle home, and Gibbie lay where he had again thrown himself upon the grass. When he lifted his head, Donal and the cows had vanished.
Donal had looked all round as he left the meadow, and seeing the boy nowhere, had concluded he had gone to his people. The impression he had made upon him faded a little during the evening. For when he reached home, and had watered them, he had to tie up the animals, each in its stall, and make it comfortable for the night; next, eat his own supper; then learn a proposition of Euclid, and go to bed.
Hungering minds come of peasant people as often as of any, and have appeared in Scotland as often, I fancy, as in any nation; not every Scotsman, therefore, who may not himself have known one like Donal, will refuse to believe in such a herd-laddie. Besides, there are still those in Scotland, as well as in other nations, to whom the simple and noble, not the commonplace and selfish, is the true type of humanity. Of such as Donal, whether English or Scotch, is the class coming up to preserve the honour and truth of our Britain, to be the oil of the lamp of her life, when those who place her glory in knowledge, or in riches, shall have passed from her history as the smoke from her chimneys.
Cheap as education then was in Scotland, the parents of Donal Grant had never dreamed of sending a son to college. It was difficult for them to save even the few quarterly shillings that paid the fees of the parish schoolmaster: for Donal, indeed, they would have failed even in this, but for the help his brothers and sisters afforded. After he left school, however, and got a place as herd, he fared better than any of the rest, for at the Mains he found a friend and helper in Fergus Duff, his master's second son, who was then at home from college, which he had now attended two winters. Partly that he was delicate in health, partly that he was something of a fine gentleman, he took no share with his father and elder brother in the work of the farm, although he was at the Mains from the beginning of April to the end of October. He was a human kind of soul notwithstanding, and would have been much more of a man if he had thought less of being a gentleman. He had taken a liking to Donal, and having found in him a strong desire after every kind of knowledge of which he himself had any share, had sought to enliven the tedium of an existence rendered not a little flabby from want of sufficient work, by imparting to him of the treasures he had gathered. They were not great, and he could never have carried him far, for he was himself only a respectable student, not a little lacking in perseverance, and given to dreaming dreams of which he was himself the hero. Happily, however, Donal was of another sort, and from the first needed but to have the outermost shell of a thing broken for him, and that Fergus could do: by and by Donal would break a shell for himself.
But perhaps the best thing Fergus did for him was the lending him books. Donal had an altogether unappeasable hunger after every form of literature with which he had as yet made acquaintance, and this hunger Fergus fed with the books of the house, and many besides of such as he purchased or borrowed for his own reading -- these last chiefly poetry. But Fergus Duff, while he revelled in the writings of certain of the poets of the age, was incapable of finding poetry for himself in the things around him: Donal Grant, on the other hand, while he seized on the poems Fergus lent him, with an avidity even greater than his, received from the nature around him influences similar to those which exhaled from the words of the poet. In some sense, then, Donal was original; that is, he received at first hand what Fergus required to have “ put on ” him, to quote Celia, in As you like it, “ as pigeons feed their young. ” Therefore, fiercely as it would have harrowed the pride of Fergus to be informed of the fact, he was in the kingdom of art only as one who ate of what fell from the table, while his father's herd-boy was one of the family. This was as far from Donal's thought, however, as from that of Fergus; the condescension, therefore, of the latter did not impair the gratitude for which the former had such large reason; and Donal looked up to Fergus as to one of the lords of the world.
To find himself now in the reversed relation of superior and teacher to the little outcast, whose whole worldly having might be summed in the statement that he was not absolutely naked, woke in Donal an altogether new and strange feeling; yet gratitude to his master had but turned itself round, and become tenderness to his pupil.
After Donal left him in the field, and while he was ministering, first to his beasts and then to himself, Gibbie lay on the grass, as happy as child could well be.A loving hand laid on his feet or legs would have found them like ice; but where was the matter so long as he never thought of them? He could have supped a huge bicker of sowens, and eaten a dozen potatoes; but of what mighty consequence is hunger, so long as it neither absorbs the thought, nor causes faintness? The sun, however, was going down behind a great mountain, and its huge shadow, made of darkness, and haunted with cold, came sliding across the river, and over valley and field, nothing staying its silent wave, until it covered Gibbie with the blanket of the dark, under which he could not long forget that he was in a body to which cold is unfriendly. At the first breath of the night-wind that came after the shadow, he shivered, and starting to his feet, began to trot, increasing his speed until he was scudding up and down the field like a wild thing of the night, whose time was at hand, waiting until the world should lie open to him. Suddenly he perceived that the daisies, which all day long had been full-facing the sun, like true souls confessing to the father of them, had folded their petals together to points, and held them like spear-heads tipped with threatening crimson, against the onset of the night and her shadows, while within its white cone each folded in the golden heart of its life, until the great father should return, and, shaking the wicked out of the folds of the night, render the world once more safe with another glorious day. Gibbie gazed and wondered; and while he gazed -- slowly, glidingly, back to his mind came the ghost-mother of the ballad, and in every daisy he saw her folding her neglected orphans to her bosom, while the darkness and the misery rolled by defeated. He wished he knew a ghost that would put her arms round him. He must have had a mother once, he supposed, but he could not remember her, and of course she must have forgotten him. He did not know that about him were folded the everlasting arms of the great, the one Ghost, which is the Death of death -- the life and soul of all things and all thoughts. The Presence, indeed, was with him, and he felt it, but he knew it only as the wind and shadow, the sky and closed daisies: in all these things and the rest it took shape that it might come near him. Yea, the Presence was in his very soul, else he could never have rejoiced in friend, or desired ghost to mother him: still he knew not the Presence. But it was drawing nearer and nearer to his knowledge -- even in sun and air and night and cloud, in beast and flower and herd-boy, until at last it would reveal itself to him, in him, as Life Himself. Then the man would know that in which the child had rejoiced. The stars came out, to Gibbie the heavenly herd, feeding at night, and gathering gold in the blue pastures. He saw them, looking up from the grass where he had thrown himself to gaze more closely at the daisies; and the sleep that pressed down his eyelids seemed to descend from the spaces between the stars. But it was too cold that night to sleep in the fields, when he knew where to find warmth. Like a fox into his hole, the child would creep into the corner where God had stored sleep for him: back he went to the barn, gently trotting, and wormed himself through the cat-hole.
The straw was gone! But he remembered the hay. And happily, for he was tired, there stood the ladder against the loft. Up he went, nor turned aside to the cheese; but sleep was common property still. He groped his way forward through the dark loft until he found the hay, when at once he burrowed into it like a sand-fish into the wet sand. All night the white horse, a glory vanished in the dark, would be close to him, behind the thin partition of boards. He could hear his very breath as he slept, and to the music of it, audible sign of companionship, he fell fast asleep, and slept until the waking horses woke him.
He scrambled out on the top of the hay, and looked down on the beautiful creature below him, dawning radiant again with the morning, as it issued undimmed from the black bosom of the night. He was not, perhaps, just so well groomed as white steed might be; it was not a stable where they kept a blue-bag for their grey horses; but to Gibbie's eyes he was so pure, that he began, for the first time in his life, to doubt whether he was himself quite as clean as he ought to be. He did not know, but he would make an experiment for information when he got down to the burn. Meantime was there nothing he could do for the splendid creature? From above, leaning over, he filled his rack with hay; but he had eaten so much grass the night before, that he would not look at it, and Gibbie was disappointed. What should he do next? The thing he would like best would be to look through the ceiling again, and watch the woman at her work. Then, too, he would again smell the boiling porridge, and the burning of the little sprinkles of meal that fell into the fire. He dragged, therefore, the ladder to the opposite end of the barn, and gradually, with no little effort, raised it against the wall. Carefully he crept through the hole, and softly round the shelf, the dangerous part of the pass, and so on to the ceiling, whence he peeped once more down into the kitchen. His precautions had been so far unnecessary, for as yet it lay unvisited, as witnessed by its disorder. Suddenly came to Gibbie the thought that here was a chance for him -- here a path back to the world. Rendered daring by the eagerness of his hope, he got again upon the shelf, and with every precaution lest he should even touch a milkpan, descended by the lower shelves to the floor. There finding the door only latched, he entered the kitchen, and proceeded to do everything he had seen the woman do, as nearly in her style as he could. He swept the floor, and dusted the seats, the window sill, the table, with an apron he found left on a chair, then arranged everything tidily, roused the rested fire, and had just concluded that the only way to get the great pot full of water upon it, would be to hang first the pot on the chain, and then fill it with the water, when his sharp ears caught sounds and then heard approaching feet. He darted into the dairy, and in a few seconds, for he was getting used to the thing now, had clambered upon the ceiling, and was lying flat across the joists, with his eyes to the most commanding crack he had discovered: he was anxious to know how his service would be received. When Jean Mavor -- she was the farmer's half-sister -- opened the door, she stopped short and stared; the kitchen was not as she had left it the night before! She concluded she must be mistaken, for who could have touched it? and entered. Then it became plain beyond dispute that the floor had been swept, the table wiped, the place redd up, and the fire roused.
“ Hoot! I maun hae been walkin'i' my sleep! ” said Jean to herself aloud. “ Or maybe that guid laddie Donal Grant's been wullin' to gie me a helpin' han' for's mither's sake, honest wuman! The laddie's guid eneuch for onything! -- ay, gien` twar to mak' a ministero'! ”
Eagerly, greedily, Gibbie now watched her every motion, and, bent upon learning, nothing escaped him: he would do much better next morning! -- At length the men came in to breakfast, and he thought to enjoy the sight; but, alas! it wrought so with his hunger as to make him feel sick, and he crept away to the barn. He would gladly have lain down in the hay for a while, but that would require the ladder, and he did not now feel able to move it. On the floor of the barn he was not safe, and he got out of it into the cornyard, where he sought the henhouse. But there was no food there yet, and he must not linger near; for, if he were discovered, they would drive him away, and he would lose Donal Grant. He had not seen him at breakfast, for indeed he seldom, during the summer, had a meal except supper in the house. Gibbie, therefore, as he could not eat, ran to the burn and drank -- but had no heart that morning for his projected inquiry into the state of his person. He must go to Donal. The sight of him would help him to bear his hunger.
The first indication Donal had of his proximity was the rush of Hornie past him in flight out of the corn. Gibbie was pursuing her with stones for lack of a stick. Thoroughly ashamed of himself, Donal threw his book from him, and ran to meet Gibbie.
“ Ye maunna fling stanes, cratur, ” he said. “ Haith! it's no for me to fin' fau`t, though, ” he added, “ sittin' readin' buiks like a gowk` at I am, an' lattin' the beasts rin wull amo' the corn,` at's weel peyed to haud them ooto'`t! I'm clean affrontit wi' mysel', cratur. ”
Gibbie's response was to set off at full speed for the place where Donal had been sitting. He was back in a moment with the book, which he pressed into Donal's hand, while from the other he withdrew his club. This he brandished aloft once or twice, then starting at a steady trot, speedily circled the herd, and returned to his adopted master -- only to start again, however, and attack Hornie, whom he drove from the corn-side of the meadow right over to the other: she was already afraid of him. After watching him for a time, Donal came to the conclusion that he could not do more than the cratur if he had as many eyes as Argus, and gave not even one of them to his book. He therefore left all to Gibbie, and did not once look up for a whole hour. Everything went just as it should; and not once, all that day, did Hornie again get a mouthful of the grain. It was rather a heavy morning for Gibbie, though, who had eaten nothing, and every time he came near Donal, saw the handkerchief bulging in the grass, which a little girl had brought and left for him. But he was a rare one both at waiting and at going without.
At last, however, Donal either grew hungry of himself, or was moved by certain understood relations between the sun and the necessities of his mortal frame; for he laid down his book, called out to Gibbie, “ Cratur, it's denner-time, ” and took his bundle. Gibbie drew near with sparkling eyes. There was no selfishness in his hunger, for, at the worst pass he had ever reached, he would have shared what he had with another, but he looked so eager, that Donal, who himself knew nothing of want, perceived that he was ravenous, and made haste to undo the knots of the handkerchief, which Mistress Jean appeared that day to have tied with more than ordinary vigour, ere she intrusted the bundle to the foreman's daughter. When the last knot yielded, he gazed with astonishment at the amount and variety of provision disclosed.
“ Losh! ” he exclaimed, “ the mistress maun hae kenned there was twoo''s. ”
He little thought that what she had given him beyond the usual supply was an acknowledgment of services rendered by those same hands into which he now delivered a share, on the ground of other service altogether. It is not always, even where there is no mistake as to the person who has deserved it, that the reward reaches the doer so directly.
Before the day was over, Donal gave his helper more and other pay for his service. Choosing a fit time, when the cattle were well together and in good position, Hornie away at the stone dyke, he took from his pocket a somewhat wasted volume of ballads -- ballants, he called them -- and said, “ Sit ye doon, cratur. Never min' the nowt. I'm gaein' to read till ye. ”
Gibbie dropped on his crossed legs like a lark to the ground, and sat motionless. Donal, after deliberate search, began to read, and Gibbie to listen; and it would be hard to determine which found the more pleasure in his part. For Donal had seldom had a listener -- and never one so utterly absorbed.
When the hour came for the cattle to go home, Gibbie again remained behind, waiting until all should be still at the farm. He lay on the dyke, brooding over what he had heard, and wondering how it was that Donal got all those strange beautiful words and sounds and stories out of the book.
I must not linger over degrees and phases. Every morning, Gibbie got into the kitchen in good time; and not only did more and more of the work, but did it more and more to the satisfaction of Jean, until, short of the actual making of the porridge, he did everything antecedent to the men's breakfast. When Jean came in, she had but to take the lid from the pot, put in the salt, assume the spurtle, and, grasping the first handful of the meal, which stood ready waiting in the bossie on the stone cheek of the fire, throw it in, thus commencing the simple cookery of the best of all dishes to a true-hearted and healthy Scotsman. Without further question she attributed all the aid she received to the goodness, “ enough for anything, ” of Donal Grant, and continued to make acknowledgment of the same in both sort and quantity of victuals, whence, as has been shown, the real labourer received his due reward.
Until he had thoroughly mastered his work, Gibbie persisted in regarding matters economic “ from his loophole in the ceiling; ” and having at length learned the art of making butter, soon arrived at some degree of perfection in it. But when at last one morning he not only churned, but washed and made it up entirely to Jean's satisfaction, she did begin to wonder how a mere boy could both have such perseverance, and be so clever at a woman's work. For now she entered the kitchen every morning without a question of finding the fire burning, the water boiling, the place clean and tidy, the supper dishes well washed and disposed on shelf and rack: her own part was merely to see that proper cloths were handy to so thorough a user of them. She took no one into her confidence on the matter: it was enough, she judged, that she and Donal understood each other.
And now if Gibbie had contented himself with rendering this house-service in return for the shelter of the barn and its hay, he might have enjoyed both longer; but from the position of his night-quarters, he came gradually to understand the work of the stable also; and before long, the men, who were quite ignorant of anything similar taking place in the house, began to observe, more to their wonder than satisfaction, that one or other of their horses was generally groomed before his man came to him; that often there was hay in their racks which they had not given them; and that the master's white horse every morning showed signs of having had some attention paid him that could not be accounted for. The result was much talk and speculation, suspicion and offence; for all were jealous of their rights, their duty, and their dignity, in relation to their horses: no man was at liberty to do a thing to or for any but his own pair. Even the brightening of the harness-brass, in which Gibbie sometimes indulged, was an offence; for did it not imply a reproach? Many were the useless traps laid for the offender, many the futile attempts to surprise him: as Gibbie never did anything except for half an hour or so while the men were sound asleep or at breakfast, he escaped discovery.
But he could not hold continued intercourse with the splendour of the white horse, and neglect carrying out the experiment on which he had resolved with regard to the effect of water upon his own skin; and having found the result a little surprising, he soon got into the habit of daily and thorough ablution. But many animals that never wash are yet cleaner than some that do; and, what with the scantiness of his clothing, his constant exposure to the atmosphere, and his generally lying in a fresh lair, Gibbie had always been comparatively clean. Besides, being nice in his mind, he was naturally nice in his body.
The new personal regard thus roused by the presence of Snowball, had its development greatly assisted by the scrupulosity with which most things in the kitchen, and chief of all in this respect, the churn, were kept. It required much effort to come up to the nicety considered by Jean indispensable in the churn; and the croucher on the ceiling, when he saw the long nose advance to prosecute inquiry into its condition, mentally trembled lest the next movement should condemn his endeavour as a failure. With his clothes he could do nothing, alas! but he bathed every night in the Lorrie as soon as Donal had gone home with the cattle. Once he got into a deep hole, but managed to get out again, and so learned that he could swim.
All day he was with Donal, and took from him by much the greater part of his labour: Donal had never had such time for reading. In return he gave him his dinner, and Gibbie could do very well upon one meal a day. He paid him also in poetry. It never came into his head, seeing he never spoke, to teach him to read. He soon gave up attempting to learn anything from him as to his place or people or history, for to all questions in that direction Gibbie only looked grave and shook his head. As often, on the other hand, as he tried to learn where he spent the night, he received for answer only one of his merriest laughs.
Nor was larger time for reading the sole benefit Gibbie conferred upon Donal. Such was the avidity and growing intelligence with which the little naked town-savage listened to what Donal read to him, that his presence was just so much added to Donal's own live soul of thought and feeling. From listening to his own lips through Gibbie's ears, he not only understood many things better, but, perceiving what things must puzzle Gibbie, came sometimes, rather to his astonishment, to see that in fact he did not understand them himself. Thus the bond between the boy and the child grew closer -- far closer, indeed than Donal imagined; for, although still, now and then, he had a return of the fancy that Gibbie might be a creature of some speechless race other than human, of whom he was never to know whence he came or whither he went -- a messenger, perhaps, come to unveil to him the depths of his own spirit, and make up for the human teaching denied him, this was only in his more poetic moods, and his ordinary mental position towards him was one of kind condescension.
It was not all fine weather up there among the mountains in the beginning of summer. In the first week of June even, there was sleet and snow in the wind -- the tears of the vanquished Winter, blown, as he fled, across the sea, from Norway or Iceland. Then would Donal's heart be sore for Gibbie, when he saw his poor rags blown about like streamers in the wind, and the white spots melting on his bare skin. His own condition would then to many have appeared pitiful enough, but such an idea Donal would have laughed to scorn, and justly. Then most, perhaps then only, does the truly generous nature feel poverty, when he sees another in need and can do little or nothing to help him. Donal had neither greatcoat, plaid, nor umbrella, wherewith to shield Gibbie's looped and windowed raggedness. Once, in great pity, he pulled off his jacket, and threw it on Gibbie's shoulders. But the shout of laughter that burst from the boy, as he flung the jacket from him, and rushed away into the middle of the feeding herd, a shout that came from no cave of rudeness, but from the very depths of delight, stirred by the loving kindness of the act, startled Donal out of his pity into brief anger, and he rushed after him in indignation, with full purpose to teach him proper behaviour by a box on each ear. But Gibbie dived under the belly of a favourite cow, and peering out sideways from under her neck and between her forelegs, his arms grasping each a leg, while the cow went on twisting her long tongue round the grass and plucking it undisturbed, showed such an innocent countenance of holy merriment, that the pride of Donal's hurt benevolence melted away, and his laughter emulated Gibbie's. That sort of day was in truth drearier for Donal than for Gibbie, for the books he had were not his own, and he dared not expose them to the rain; some of them indeed came from Glashruach -- the Muckle Hoose, they generally called it! When he left him, it was to wander disconsolately about the field; while Gibbie, sheltered under a whole cow, defied the chill and the sleet, and had no books of which to miss the use. He could not, it is true, shield his legs from the insidious attacks of such sneaking blasts as will always find out the undefended spots; but his great heart was so well-to-do in the inside of him, that, unlike Touchstone, his spirits not being weary, he cared not for his legs. The worst storm in the world could not have made that heart quail. For, think! there had just been the strong, the well-dressed, the learned, the wise, the altogether mighty and considerable Donal, the cowherd, actually desiring him, wee Sir Gibbie Galbraith, the cinder of the city furnace, the naked, and generally the hungry little tramp, to wear his jacket to cover him from the storm! The idea was one of eternal triumph; and Gibbie, exulting in the unheard-of devotion and condescension of the thing, kept on laughing like a blessed cherub under the cow's belly. Nor was there in his delight the smallest admixture of pride that he should have drawn forth such kindness; it was simple glorying in the beauteous fact. As to the cold and the sleet, so far as he knew they never hurt anybody. They were not altogether pleasant creatures, but they could not help themselves, and would soon give over their teasing. By to-morrow they would have wandered away into other fields, and left the sun free to come back to Donal and the cattle, when Gibbie, at present shielded like any lord by the friendliest of cows, would come in for a share of the light and the warmth. Gibbie was so confident with the animals, that they were already even more friendly with him than with Donal -- all except Hornie, who, being of a low spirit, therefore incapable of obedience, was friendliest with the one who gave her the hardest blows.
Things had gone on in this way for several weeks -- if Gibbie had not been such a small creature, I hardly see how they could for so long -- when one morning the men came in to breakfast all out of temper together, complaining loudly of the person unknown who would persist in interfering with their work. They were the louder that their suspicions fluttered about Fergus, who was rather overbearing with them, and therefore not a favourite. He was in reality not at all a likely person to bend back or defile hands over such labour, and their pitching upon him for the object of their suspicion, showed how much at a loss they were. Their only ground for suspecting him, beyond the fact that there was no other whom by any violence of imagination they could suspect, was, that, whatever else was done or left undone in the stable, Snowball, whom Fergus was fond of, and rode almost every day, was, as already mentioned, sure to have something done for him. Had he been in good odour with them, they would have thought no harm of most of the things they thought he did, especially as they eased their work; but he carried himself high, they said, doing nothing but ride over the farm and pick out every fault he could find -- to show how sharp he was, and look as if he could do better than any of them; and they fancied that he carried their evil report to his father, and that this underhand work in the stable must be part of some sly scheme for bringing them into disgrace. And now at last had come the worst thing of all: Gibbie had discovered the corn-bin, and having no notion but that everything in the stable was for the delectation of the horses, had been feeding them largely with oats -- a delicacy with which, in the plenty of other provisions, they were very sparingly supplied; and the consequences had begun to show themselves in the increased unruliness of the more wayward amongst them. Gibbie had long given up resorting to the ceiling, and remained in utter ignorance of the storm that was brewing because of him.
The same day brought things nearly to a crisis; for the overfed Snowball, proving too much for Fergus's horsemanship, came rushing home at a fierce gallop without him, having indeed left him in a ditch by the roadside. The remark thereupon made by the men in his hearing, that it was his own fault, led him to ask questions, when he came gradually to know what they attributed to him, and was indignant at the imputation of such an employment of his mornings to one who had his studies to attend to -- scarcely a wise line of defence where the truth would have been more credible as well as convincing -- namely, that at the time when those works of supererogation could alone be effected, he lay as lost a creature as ever sleep could make of a man.
In the evening, Jean sought a word with Donal, and expressed her surprise that he should be able to do everybody's work about the place, warning him it would be said he did it at the expense of his own. But what could he mean, she said, by wasting the good corn to put devilry into the horses? Donal stared in utter bewilderment. He knew perfectly that to the men suspicion of him was as impossible as of one of themselves. Did he not sleep in the same chamber with them? Could it be allusion to the way he spent his time when out with the cattle that Mistress Jean intended? He was so confused, looked so guilty as well as astray, and answered so far from any point in Jean's mind, that she at last became altogether bewildered also, out of which chaos of common void gradually dawned on her mind the conviction that she had been wasting both thanks and material recognition of service, where she was under no obligation. Her first feeling thereupon was, not unnaturally however unreasonably, one of resentment -- as if Donal, in not doing her the kindness her fancy had been attributing to him, had all the time been doing her an injury; but the boy's honest bearing and her own good sense made her, almost at once, dismiss the absurdity.
Then came anew the question, utterly unanswerable now -- who could it be that did not only all her morning work, but, with a passion for labour insatiable, part of that of the men also? She knew her nephew better than to imagine for a moment, with the men, it could be he.A good enough lad she judged him, but not good enough for that. He was too fond of his own comfort to dream of helping other people! But now, having betrayed herself to Donal, she wisely went farther, and secured herself by placing full confidence in him. She laid open the whole matter, confessing that she had imagined her ministering angel to be Donal himself: now she had not even a conjecture to throw at random after the person of her secret servant. Donal, being a Celt, and a poet, would have been a brute if he had failed of being a gentleman, and answered that he was ashamed it should be another and not himself who had been her servant and gained her commendation; but he feared, if he had made any such attempt, he would but have fared like the husband in the old ballad who insisted that his wife's work was much easier to do than his own. But as he spoke, he saw a sudden change come over Jean's countenance. Was it fear? or what was it? She gazed with big eyes fixed on his face, heeding neither him nor his words, and Donal, struck silent, gazed in return. At length, after a pause of strange import, her soul seemed to return into her deep-set grey eyes, and in a broken voice, low, and solemn, and fraught with mystery, she said,
“ Donal, it's the broonie! ”
Donal's mouth opened wide at the word, but the tenor of his thought it would have been hard for him to determine. Celtic in kindred and education, he had listened in his time to a multitude of strange tales, both indigenous and exotic, and, Celtic in blood, had been inclined to believe every one of them for which he could find the least raison d'être. But at school he had been taught that such stories deserved nothing better than mockery, that to believe them was contrary to religion, and a mark of such weakness as involved blame. Nevertheless, when he heard the word broonie issue from a face with such an expression as Jean's then wore, his heart seemed to give a gape in his bosom, and it rushed back upon his memory how he had heard certain old people talk of the brownie that used, when their mothers and grandmothers were young, to haunt the Mains of Glashruach. His mother did not believe such things, but she believed nothing but her New Testament! -- and what if there should be something in them? The idea of service rendered by the hand of a being too clumsy, awkward, ugly, to consent to be seen by the more finished race of his fellow-creatures, whom yet he surpassed in strength and endurance and longevity, had at least in it for Donal the attraction of a certain grotesque yet homely poetic element. He remembered too the honour such a type of creature had had in being lapt around for ever in the airy folds of L'Allegro. And to think that Mistress Jean, for whom everybody had such a respect, should speak of the creature in such a tone! -- it sent a thrill of horrific wonder and delight through the whole frame of the boy: might, could there be such creatures? And thereupon began to open to his imagination vista after vista into the realms of might-be possibility -- where dwelt whole clans and kins of creatures, differing from us and our kin, yet occasionally, at the cross-roads of creation, coming into contact with us, and influencing us not greatly, perhaps, yet strangely and notably. Not once did the real brownie occur to him -- the small, naked Gibbie, far more marvellous and admirable than any brownie of legendary fable or fact, whether celebrated in rude old Scots ballad for his taeless feet, or designated in noble English poem of perfect art, as lubber fiend of hairy length.
Jean Mavor came from a valley far withdrawn in the folds of the Gormgarnet mountains, where in her youth she had heard yet stranger tales than had ever come to Donal's ears, of which some had perhaps kept their hold the more firmly that she had never heard them even alluded to since she left her home. Her brother, a hard-headed highlander, as canny as any lowland Scot, would have laughed to scorn the most passing reference to such an existence; and Fergus, who had had a lowland mother -- and nowhere is there less of so-called superstition than in most parts of the lowlands of Scotland -- would have joined heartily in his mockery. For the cowherd, however, as I say, the idea had no small attraction, and his stare was the reflection of Mistress Jean's own -- for the soul is a live mirror, at once receiving into its centre, and reflecting from its surface.
“ Div ye railly think it, mem? ” said Donal at last.
“ Think what? ” retorted Jean, sharply, jealous instantly of being compromised, and perhaps not certain that she had spoken aloud.
“ Div ye railly think` at there is sic craturs as broonies, Mistress Jean? ” said Donal.
“ Wha kens what there is an' what there isna? ” returned Jean: she was not going to commit herself either way. Even had she imagined herself above believing such things, she would not have dared to say so; for there was a time still near in her memory, though unknown to any now upon the farm except her brother, when the Mains of Glashruach was the talk of Daurside because of certain inexplicable nightly disorders that fell out there; the slang rows, or the Scotch remishs -LRB- a form of the English romage -RRB-, would perhaps come nearest to a designation of them, consisting as they did of confused noises, rumblings, ejaculations; and the fact itself was a reason for silence, seeing a word might bring the place again into men's mouths in like fashion, and seriously affect the service of the farm; such a rumour would certainly be made in the market a ground for demanding more wages to fee to the Mains. “ Ye haud yer tongue, laddie, ” she went on; “ it's the least ye can efter a'` at's come an' gane; an' least said's sunest mendit, Gang to yer wark. ”
But either Mistress Jean's influx of caution came too late, and someone had overheard her suggestion, or the idea was already abroad in the mind bucolic and georgic, for that very night it began to be reported upon the nearer farms, that the Mains of Glashruach was haunted by a brownie who did all the work for both men and maids -- a circumstance productive of different opinions with regard to the desirableness of a situation there, some asserting they would not fee to it for any amount of wages, and others averring they could desire nothing better than a place where the work was all done for them.
Quick at disappearing as Gibbie was, a very little cunning on the part of Jean might soon have entrapped the brownie; but a considerable touch of fear was now added to her other motives for continuing to spend a couple of hours longer in bed than had formerly been her custom. So that for yet a few days things went on much as usual; Gibbie saw no sign that his presence was suspected, or that his doings were offensive; and life being to him a constant present, he never troubled himself about anything before it was there to answer for itself.
One morning the long thick mane of Snowball was found carefully plaited up in innumerable locks. This was properly elf-work, but no fairies had been heard of on Daurside for many a long year. The brownie, on the other hand, was already in every one's mouth -- only a stray one, probably, that had wandered from some old valley away in the mountains, where they were still believed in -- but not the less a brownie; and if it was not the brownie who plaited Snowball's mane, who or what was it?A phenomenon must be accounted for, and he who will not accept a theory offered, or even a word applied, is indebted in a full explanation. The rumour spread in long slow ripples, till at last one of them struck the membrana tympani of the laird, where he sat at luncheon in the House of Glashruach.
Thomas Galbraith was by birth Thomas Durrant, but had married an heiress by whom he came into possession of Glashruach, and had, according to previous agreement, taken her name. When she died he mourned her loss as well as he could, but was consoled by feeling himself now first master of both position and possession, when the ladder by which he had attained them was removed. It was not that she had ever given him occasion to feel that marriage and not inheritance was the source of his distinction in the land, but that having a soul as keenly sensitive to small material rights as it was obtuse to great spiritual ones, he never felt the property quite his own until his wife was no longer within sight. Had he been a little more sensitive still, he would have felt that the property was then his daughter's, and his only through her; but this he failed to consider.
Mrs. Galbraith was a gentle sweet woman, who loved her husband, but was capable of loving a greater man better. Had she lived long enough to allow of their opinions confronting in the matter of their child's education, serious differences would probably have arisen between them; as it was, they had never quarrelled except about the name she should bear. The father, having for her sake -- so he said to himself -- sacrificed his patronymic, was anxious that in order to her retaining some rudimentary trace of himself in the ears of men, she should be overshadowed with his Christian name, and called Thomasina. But the mother was herein all the mother, and obdurate for her daughter's future; and, as was right between the two, she had her way, and her child a pretty name. Being more sentimental than artistic, however, she did not perceive how imperfectly the sweet Italian Ginevra concorded with the strong Scotch Galbraith. Her father hated the name, therefore invariably abbreviated it after such fashion as rendered it inoffensive to the most conservative of Scotish ears; and for his own part, at length, never said Ginny, without seeing and hearing and meaning Jenny. As Jenny, indeed, he addressed her in the one or two letters which were all he ever wrote to her; and thus he perpetuated the one matrimonial difference across the grave.
Having no natural bent to literature, but having in his youth studied for and practised at the Scotish bar, he had brought with him into the country a taste for certain kinds of dry reading, judged pre-eminently respectable, and for its indulgence had brought also a not insufficient store of such provender as his soul mildly hungered after, in the shape of books bound mostly in yellow-calf -- books of law, history, and divinity. What the books of law were, I would not foolhardily add to my many risks of blundering by presuming to recall; the history was mostly Scotish, or connected with Scotish affairs; the theology was entirely of the New England type of corrupted Calvinism, with which in Scotland they saddle the memory of great-souled, hard-hearted Calvin himself. Thoroughly respectable, and a little devout, Mr. Galbraith was a good deal more of a Scotchman than a Christian; growth was a doctrine unembodied in his creed; he turned from everything new, no matter how harmonious with the old, in freezing disapprobation; he recognized no element in God or nature which could not be reasoned about after the forms of the Scotch philosophy. He would not have said an Episcopalian could not be saved, for at the bar he had known more than one good lawyer of the episcopal party; but to say a Roman Catholic would not necessarily be damned, would to his judgment have revealed at once the impending fate of the rash asserter. In religion he regarded everything not only as settled but as understood; but seemed aware of no call in relation to truth, but to bark at anyone who showed the least anxiety to discover it. What truth he held himself, he held as a sack holds corn -- not even as a worm holds earth.
To his servants and tenants he was what he thought just -- never condescending to talk over a thing with any of the former but the game-keeper, and never making any allowance to the latter for misfortune. In general expression he looked displeased, but meant to look dignified. No one had ever seen him wrathful; nor did he care enough for his fellow-mortals ever to be greatly vexed -- at least he never manifested vexation otherwise than by a silence that showed more of contempt than suffering.
In person, he was very tall and very thin, with a head much too small for his height; a narrow forehead, above which the brown hair looked like a wig; pale-blue, ill-set eyes, that seemed too large for their sockets, consequently tumbled about a little, and were never at once brought to focus; a large, but soft-looking nose; a loose-lipped mouth, and very little chin. He always looked as if consciously trying to keep himself together. He wore his shirt-collar unusually high, yet out of it far shot his long neck, notwithstanding the smallness of which, his words always seemed to come from a throat much too big for them. He had greatly the look of a hen, proud of her maternal experiences, and silent from conceit of what she could say if she would. So much better would he have done as an underling than as a ruler -- as a journeyman even, than a master, that to know him was almost to disbelieve in the good of what is generally called education. His learning seemed to have taken the wrong fermentation, and turned to folly instead of wisdom. But he did not do much harm, for he had a great respect for his respectability. Perhaps if he had been a craftsman, he might even have done more harm -- making rickety wheelbarrows, asthmatic pumps, ill-fitting window-frames, or boots with a lurking divorce in each welt. He had no turn for farming, and therefore let all his land, yet liked to interfere, and as much as possible kept a personal jurisdiction.
There was one thing, however, which, if it did not throw the laird into a passion -- nothing, as I have said, did that -- brought him nearer to the outer verge of displeasure than any other, and that was, anything whatever to which he could affix the name of superstition. The indignation of better men than the laird with even a confessedly harmless superstition, is sometimes very amusing; and it was a point of Mr. Galbraith's poverty-stricken religion to denounce all superstitions, however diverse in character, with equal severity. To believe in the second sight, for instance, or in any form of life as having the slightest relation to this world, except that of men, that of animals, and that of vegetables, was with him wicked, antagonistic to the Church of Scotland, and inconsistent with her perfect doctrine. The very word ghost would bring upon his face an expression he meant for withering scorn, and indeed it withered his face, rendering it yet more unpleasant to behold. Coming to the benighted country, then, with all the gathered wisdom of Edinburgh in his gallinaceous cranium, and what he counted a vast experience of worldly affairs besides, he brought with him also the firm resolve to be the death of superstition, at least upon his own property. He was not only unaware, but incapable of becoming aware, that he professed to believe a number of things, any one of which was infinitely more hostile to the truth of the universe, than all the fancies and fables of a countryside, handed down from grandmother to grandchild. When, therefore, within a year of his settling at Glashruach, there arose a loud talk of the Mains, his best farm, as haunted by presences making all kinds of tumultuous noises, and even throwing utensils bodily about, he was nearer the borders of a rage, although he kept, as became a gentleman, a calm exterior, than ever he had been in his life. For were not ignorant clodhoppers asserting as facts what he knew never could take place! At once he set himself, with all his experience as a lawyer to aid him, to discover the buffooning authors of the mischief; where there were deeds there were doers, and where there were doers they were discoverable. But his endeavours, uninterrmitted for the space of three weeks, after which the disturbances ceased, proved so utterly without result, that he could never bear the smallest allusion to the hateful business. For he had not only been unhorsed, but by his dearest hobby.
He was seated with a game pie in front of him, over the top of which Ginevra was visible. The girl never sat nearer her father at meals than the whole length of the table, where she occupied her mother's place. She was a solemn-looking child, of eight or nine, dressed in a brown merino frock of the plainest description. Her hair, which was nearly of the same colour as her frock, was done up in two triple plaits, which hung down her back, and were tied at the tips with black ribbon. To the first glance she did not look a very interesting or attractive child; but looked at twice, she was sure to draw the eyes a third time. She was undeniably like her father, and that was much against her at first sight; but it required only a little acquaintance with her face to remove the prejudice; for in its composed, almost resigned expression, every feature of her father's seemed comparatively finished, and settled into harmony with the rest; its chaos was subdued, and not a little of the original underlying design brought out. The nose was firm, the mouth modelled, the chin larger, the eyes a little smaller, and full of life and feeling. The longer it was regarded by any seeing eye, the child's countenance showed fuller of promise, or at least of hope. Gradually the look would appear in it of a latent sensitive anxiety -- then would dawn a glimmer of longing question; and then, all at once, it would slip back into the original ordinary look, which, without seeming attractive, had yet attracted. Her father was never harsh to her, yet she looked rather frightened at him; but then he was cold, very cold, and most children would rather be struck and kissed alternately than neither. And the bond can not be very close between father and child, when the father has forsaken his childhood. The bond between any two is the one in the other; it is the father in the child, and the child in the father, that reach to each other eternal hands. It troubled Ginevra greatly that, when she asked herself whether she loved her father better than anybody else, as she believed she ought, she became immediately doubtful whether she loved him at all.
She was eating porridge and milk: with spoon arrested in mid-passage, she stopped suddenly, and said: --
“ Papa, what's a broonie? ”
“ I have told you, Jenny, that you are never to talk broad Scotch in my presence, ” returned her father. “ I would lay severer commands upon you, were it not that I fear tempting you to disobey me, but I will have no vulgarity in the dining-room. ”
His words came out slowly, and sounded as if each was a bullet wrapped round with cotton wool to make it fit the barrel. Ginevra looked perplexed for a moment.
“ Should I say brownie, papa? ” she asked.
“ How can I tell you what you should call a creature that has no existence? ” rejoined her father.
“ If it be a creature, papa, it must have a name! ” retorted the little logician, with great solemnity.
Mr. Galbraith was not pleased, for although the logic was good, it was against him.
“ What foolish person has been insinuating such contemptible superstition into your silly head? ” he asked. “ Tell me, child, ” he continued, “ that I may put a stop to it at once. ”
He was rising to ring the bell, that he might give the orders consequent on the information he expected: he would have asked Mammon to dinner in black clothes and a white tie, but on Superstition in the loveliest garb would have loosed all the dogs of Glashruach, to hunt her from the property. Her next words, however, arrested him, and just as she ended, the butler came in with fresh toast.
“ They say, ” said Ginevra, anxious to avoid the forbidden Scotch, therefore stumbling sadly in her utterance, “ there's a broonie -- brownie -- at the Mains, who dis a' -- does all the work. ”
“ What is the meaning of this, Joseph? ” said Mr. Galbraith, turning from her to the butler, with the air of rebuke, which was almost habitual to him, a good deal heightened.
“ The meanin'o' what, sir? ” returned Joseph, nowise abashed, for to him his master was not the greatest man in the world, or even in the highlands. “ He's no a Galbraith, ” he used to say, when more than commonly provoked with him.
“ I ask you, Joseph, ” answered the laird, “ what this -- this outbreak of superstition imports? You must be aware that nothing in the world could annoy me more than that Miss Galbraith should learn folly in her father's house. That staid servants, such as I had supposed mine to be, should use their tongues as if their heads had no more in them than so many bells hung in a steeple, is to me a mortifying reflection. ”
“ Tongues as weel's clappers was made to wag, sir; an, wag they wull, sir, sae lang's the tow -LRB- string -RRB- hings oot at baith lugs, ” answered Joseph. The forms of speech he employed were not unfrequently obscure to his master, and in that obscurity lay more of Joseph's impunity than he knew. “ Forby -LRB- besides -RRB-, sir, ” he went on, “ gien tongues didna wag, whatw'y wad you,` at has to set a' thing richt, come to ken what was wrang? ”
“ That is not a bad remark, Joseph, ” replied the laird, with woolly condescension. “ Pray acquaint me with the whole matter. ”
“ I hae naething till acquaint yer honour wi', sir, but the ting-a-lingo' tongues, ” replied Joseph; “ an' ye'll hae till arreenge't like, till yer ain settisfaction. ”
Therewith he proceeded to report what he had heard reported, which was in the main the truth, considerably exaggerated -- that the work of the house was done over night by invisible hands -- and the work of the stables, too; but that in the latter, cantrips were played as well; that some of the men talked of leaving the place; and that Mr. Duff's own horse, Snowball, was nearly out of his mind with fear.
The laird clenched his teeth, and for a whole minute said nothing. Here were either his old enemies again, or some who had heard the old story, and in their turn were beating the drum of consternation in the ears of superstition.
“ It is one of the men themselves, ” he said at last, with outward frigidity. “ Or some ill-designed neighbour, ” he added. “ But I shall soon be at the bottom of it. Go to the Mains at once, Joseph, and ask young Fergus Duff to be so good as step over, as soon as he conveniently can. ”
Fergus was pleased enough to be sent for by the laird, and soon told him all he knew from his aunt and the men, confessing that he had himself been too lazy of a morning to take any steps towards personal acquaintance with the facts, but adding that, as Mr. Galbraith took an interest in the matter, “ he would be only too happy to carry out any suggestion he might think proper to make on the subject.
“ Fergus, ” returned the laird, “ do you imagine things inanimate can of themselves change their relations in space? In other words, are the utensils in your kitchen endowed with powers of locomotion? Can they take to themselves wings and fly? Or to use a figure more to the point, are they provided with members necessary to the washing of their own -- persons, shall I say? Answer me those points, Fergus. ”
“ Certainly not, sir, ” answered Fergus solemnly, for the laird's face was solemn, and his speech was very solemn.
“ Then, Fergus, let me assure you, that to discover by what agency these apparent wonders are effected, you have merely to watch. If you fail, I will myself come to your assistance. Depend upon it, the thing when explained will prove simplicity itself. ”
Fergus at once undertook to watch, but went home not quite so comfortable as he had gone; for he did not altogether, notwithstanding his unbelief in the so-called supernatural, relish the approaching situation. Belief and unbelief are not always quite plainly distinguishable from each other, and Fear is not always certain which of them is his mother. He was not the less resolved, however, to carry out what he had undertaken -- that was, to sit up all night, if necessary, in order to have an interview with the extravagant and erring -- spirit, surely, whether embodied or not, that dared thus wrong “ domestic awe, night-rest, and neighbourhood, ” by doing people's work for them unbidden. Not even to himself did he confess that he felt frightened, for he was a youth of nearly eighteen; but he could not quite hide from himself the fact that he anticipated no pleasure in the duty which lay before him.
For more reasons than one, Fergus judged it prudent to tell not even auntie Jean of his intention; but, waiting until the house was quiet, stole softly from his room and repaired to the kitchen -- at the other end of the long straggling house, where he sat down, and taking his book, an annual of the beginning of the century, began to read the story of Kathed and Eurelia. Having finished it, he read another. He read and read, but no brownie came. His candle burned into the socket. He lighted another, and read again. Still no brownie appeared, and, hard and straight as was the wooden chair on which he sat, he began to doze. Presently he started wide awake, fancying he heard a noise; but nothing was there. He raised his book once more, and read until he had finished the stories in it: for the verse he had no inclination that night. As soon as they were all consumed, he began to feel very eerie: his courage had been sheltering itself behind his thoughts, which the tales he had been reading had kept turned away from the object of dread. Still deeper and deeper grew the night around him, until the bare, soulless waste of it came at last, when a brave man might welcome any ghost for the life it would bring. And ever as it came, the tide of fear flowed more rapidly, until at last it rose over his heart, and threatened to stifle him. The direst foe of courage is the fear itself, not the object of it; and the man who can overcome his own terror is a hero and more. In this Fergus had not yet deserved to be successful. That kind of victory comes only of faith. Still, he did not fly the field; he was no coward. At the same time, prizing courage, scorning fear, and indeed disbelieving in every nocturnal object of terror except robbers, he came at last to such an all but abandonment of dread, that he dared not look over his shoulder, lest he should see the brownie standing at his back; he would rather be seized from behind and strangled in his hairy grasp, than turn and die of the seeing. The night was dark -- no moon and many clouds. Not a sound came from the close. The cattle, the horses, the pigs, the cocks and hens, the very cats and rats seemed asleep. There was not a rustle in the thatch, a creak in the couples. It was well, for the slightest noise would have brought his heart into his mouth, and he would have been in great danger of scaring the household, and for ever disgracing himself, with a shriek. Yet he longed to hear something stir. Oh! for the stamp of a horse from the stable or the low of a cow from the byre! But they were all under the brownie's spell, and he was coming -- toeless feet, and thumbed but fingerless hands! as if he was made with stockings, and hum` le mittens! Was it the want of toes that made him able to come and go so quietly? -- Another hour crept by; when lo, a mighty sun-trumpet blew in the throat of the black cock! Fergus sprang to his feet with the start it gave him -- but the next moment gladness rushed up in his heart: the morning was on its way! and, foe to superstition as he was, and much as he had mocked at Donal for what he counted some of his tendencies in that direction, he began instantly to comfort himself with the old belief that all things of the darkness flee from the crowing of the cock. The same moment his courage began to return, and the next he was laughing at his terrors, more foolish than when he felt them, seeing he was the same man of fear as before, and the same circumstances would wrap him in the same garment of dire apprehension. In his folly he imagined himself quite ready to watch the next night without even repugnance -- for it was the morning, not the night, that came first!
When the grey of the dawn appeared, he said to himself he would lie down on the bench a while, he was so tired of sitting; he would not sleep. He lay down, and in a moment was asleep. The light grew and grew, and the brownie came -- a different brownie indeed from the one he had pictured -- with the daintiest-shaped hands and feet coming out of the midst of rags, and with no hair except roughly parted curls over the face of a cherub -- for the combing of Snowball's mane and tail had taught Gibbie to use the same comb upon his own thatch. But as soon as he opened the door of the dairy, he was warned by the loud breathing of the sleeper, and looking about, espied him on the bench behind the table, and swiftly retreated. The same instant Fergus woke, stretched himself, saw it was broad daylight, and, with his brain muddled by fatigue and sleep combined, crawled shivering to bed. Then in came the brownie again; and when Jean Mavor entered, there was her work done as usual.
Fergus was hours late for breakfast, and when he went into the common room, found his aunt alone there.
“ Weel, auntie. ” he said, “ I think I fleggit yer broonie! ”
“ Did ye that, man? Ay! -- An' syne ye set tee, an' did the wark yersel to save yer auntie Jean's auld banes? ”
“ Na, na! I was o'er tiret for that. Sae wad ye hae been yersel', gien ye had sitten up a' nicht. ”
“ Wha did it, than? ”
“ Ow, jist yersel', I'm thinkin', auntie. ”
“ Never a fingero' mine was laid till`t, Fergus. Gien ye fleggit ae broonie, anither cam; for there's the wark done, the same's ever. ”
“ Damn the cratur! ” cried Fergus.
“ Whisht, whisht, laddie! he's maybe hearin' ye this meenute. An' gien he binna, there's ane` at is, an' likesna sweirin'. ”
“ I beg yer pardon, auntie, but it's jist provokin'! ” returned Fergus, and therewith recounted the tale of his night's watch, omitting mention only of his feelings throughout the vigil.
As soon as he had had his breakfast, he went to carry his report to Glashruach.
The laird was vexed, and told him he must sleep well before night, and watch to better purpose.
The next night, Fergus's terror returned in full force; but he watched thoroughly notwithstanding, and when his aunt entered, she found him there, and her kitchen in a mess. He had caught no brownie, it was true, but neither had a stroke of her work been done. The floor was unswept; not a dish had been washed; it was churning-day, but the cream stood in the jar in the dairy, not the butter in the pan on the kitchen-dresser. Jean could not quite see the good or the gain of it. She had begun to feel like a lady, she said to herself, and now she must tuck up her sleeves and set to work as before. It was a come-down in the world, and she did not like it. She conned her nephew little thanks, and not being in the habit of dissembling, let him feel the same. He crept to bed rather mortified. When he woke from a long sleep, he found no meal waiting him, and had to content himself with cakes -LSB-1 -RSB- and milk before setting out for “ the Muckle Hoose. ”
“ You must add cunning to courage, my young friend, ” said Mr. Galbraith; and the result of their conference was that Fergus went home resolved on yet another attempt.
He felt much inclined to associate Donal with him in his watch this time, but was too desirous of proving his courage both to himself and to the world, to yield to the suggestion of his fear. He went to bed with a book immediately after the noon-day meal and rose in time for supper.
There was a large wooden press in the kitchen, standing out from the wall; this with the next wall made a little recess, in which there was just room for a chair; and in that recess Fergus seated himself, in the easiest chair he could get into it. He then opened wide the door of the press, and it covered him entirely.
This night would have been the dreariest of all for him, the laird having insisted that he should watch in the dark, had he not speedily fallen fast asleep, and slept all night -- so well that he woke at the first noise Gibbie made.
It was broad clear morning, but his heart beat so loud and fast with apprehension and curiosity mingled, that for a few moments Fergus dare not stir, but sat listening breathless to the movement beside him, none the less appalling that it was so quiet. Recovering himself a little he cautiously moved the door of the press, and peeped out.
He saw nothing so frightful as he had, in spite of himself, anticipated, but was not therefore, perhaps, the less astonished. The dread brownie of his idea shrunk to a tiny ragged urchin, with a wonderful head of hair, azure eyes, and deft hands, noiselessly bustling about on bare feet. He watched him at his leisure, watched him keenly, assured that any moment he could spring upon him.
As he watched, his wonder sank, and he grew disappointed at the collapsing of the lubber-fiend into a poor half-naked child upon whom both his courage and his fear had been wasted. As he continued to watch, an evil cloud of anger at the presumption of the unknown minimus began to gather in his mental atmosphere, and was probably the cause of some movement by which his chair gave a loud creak. Without even looking round, Gibbie darted into the dairy, and shut the door. Instantly Fergus was after him, but only in time to see the vanishing of his last heel through the hole in the wall, and that way Fergus was much too large to follow him. He rushed from the house, and across the corner of the yard to the barn-door. Gibbie, who did not believe he had been seen, stood laughing on the floor, when suddenly he heard the key entering the lock. He bolted through the cat-hole -- but again just one moment too late, leaving behind him on Fergus's retina the light from the soles of two bare feet. The key of the door to the rick-yard was inside, and Fergus was after him in a moment, but the ricks came close to the barn-door, and the next he saw of him was the fluttering of his rags in the wind, and the flashing of his white skin in the sun, as he fled across the clover field; and before Fergus was over the wall, Gibbie was a good way ahead towards the Lorrie. Gibbie was a better runner for his size than Fergus, and in better training too; but, alas! Fergus's legs were nearly twice as long as Gibbie's. The little one reached the Lorrie, first, and dashing across it, ran up the side of the Glashburn, with a vague idea of Glashgar in his head. Fergus behind him was growing more and more angry as he gained upon him but felt his breath failing him. Just at the bridge to the iron gate to Glashruach, he caught him at last, and sunk on the parapet exhausted. The smile with which Gibbie, too much out of breath to laugh, confessed himself vanquished, would have disarmed one harder-hearted than Fergus, had he not lost his temper in the dread of losing his labour; and the answer Gibbie received to his smile was a box on the ear that bewildered him. He looked pitifully in his captor's face, the smile not yet faded from his, only to receive a box on the other ear, which, though a contrary and similar both at once, was not a cure, and the water gathered in his eyes. Fergus, a little eased in his temper by the infliction, and in his breath by the wall of the bridge, began to ply him with questions; but no answer following, his wrath rose again, and again he boxed both his ears -- without better result.
Then came the question what was he to do with the redoubted brownie, now that he had him. He was ashamed to show himself as the captor of such a miserable culprit, but the little rascal deserved punishment, and the laird would require him at his hands. He turned upon his prisoner and told him he was an impudent rascal. Gibbie had recovered again, and was able once more to smile a little. He had been guilty of burglary, said Fergus; and Gibbie smiled. He could be sent to prison for it, said Fergus; and Gibbie smiled -- but this time a very grave smile. Fergus took him by the collar, which amounted to nearly a third part of the jacket, and shook him till he had half torn that third from the other two; then opened the gate, and, holding him by the back of the neck, walked him up the drive, every now and then giving him a fierce shake that jarred his teeth. Thus, over the old gravel, mossy and damp and grassy, and cool to his little bare feet, between rowan and birk and pine and larch, like a malefactor, and looking every inch the outcast he was, did Sir Gilbert Galbraith approach the house of his ancestors for the first time. Individually, wee Gibbie was anything but a prodigal; it had never been possible to him to be one; but none the less was he the type and result and representative of his prodigal race, in him now once more looking upon the house they had lost by their vices and weaknesses, and in him now beginning to reap the benefits of punishment. But of vice and loss, of house and fathers and punishment, Gibbie had no smallest cognition. His history was about him and in him, yet of it all he suspected nothing. It would have made little difference to him if he had known it all; he would none the less have accepted everything that came, just as part of the story in which he found himself.
The house he was approaching, had a little the look of a prison. Of the more ancient portion the windows were very small, and every corner had a turret with a conical cap-roof. That part was all rough-cast, therefore grey, as if with age. The more modern part was built of all kinds of hard stone, roughly cloven or blasted from the mountain and its boulders. Granite red and grey, blue whinstone, yellow ironstone, were all mingled anyhow, fitness of size and shape alone regarded in their conjunctions; but the result as to colour was rather pleasing than otherwise, and Gibbie regarded it with some admiration. Nor, although he had received from Fergus such convincing proof that he was regarded as a culprit, had he any dread of evil awaiting him. The highest embodiment of the law with which he had acquaintance was the police, and from not one of them in all the city had he ever had a harsh word; his conscience was as void of offence as ever it had been, and the law consequently, notwithstanding the threats of Fergus, had for him no terrors.
The laird was an early riser, and therefore regarded the mere getting up early as a virtue, altogether irrespective of how the time, thus redeemed, as he called it, was spent. This morning, as it turned out, it would have been better spent in sleep. He was talking to his gamekeeper, a heavy-browed man, by the coach-house door, when Fergus appeared holding the dwindled brownie by the huge collar of his tatters.A more innocent-looking malefactor sure never appeared before awful Justice! Only he was in rags, and there are others besides dogs whose judgments go by appearance. Mr. Galbraith was one of them, and smiled a grim, an ugly smile.
“ So this is your vaunted brownie, Mr. Duff! ” he said, and stood looking down upon Gibbie, as if in his small person he saw superstition at the point of death, mocked thither by the arrows of his contemptuous wit.
“ It's all the brownie I could lay hands on, sir, ” answered Fergus. “ I took him in the act. ”
“ Boy, ” said the laird, rolling his eyes, more unsteady than usual with indignation, in the direction of Gibbie, “ what have you to say for yourself? ”
Gibbie had no say -- and nothing to say that his questioner could either have understood or believed; the truth from his lips would but have presented him a lying hypocrite to the wisdom of his judge. As it was, he smiled, looking up fearless in the face of the magistrate, so awful in his own esteem.
“ What is your name? ” asked the laird, speaking yet more sternly.
Gibbie still smiled and was silent, looking straight in his questioner's eyes. He dreaded nothing from the laird. Fergus had beaten him, but Fergus he classed with the bigger boys who had occasionally treated him roughly; this was a man, and men, except they were foreign sailors, or drunk, were never unkind. He had no idea of his silence causing annoyance. Everybody in the city had known he could not answer; and now when Fergus and the laird persisted in questioning him, he thought they were making kindly game of him, and smiled the more. Nor was there much about Mr. Galbraith to rouse a suspicion of the contrary; for he made a great virtue of keeping his temper when most he caused other people to lose theirs.
“ I see the young vagabond is as impertinent as he is vicious, ” he said at last, finding that to no interrogation could he draw forth any other response than a smile. “ Here Angus, ” -- and he turned to the gamekeeper -- “ take him into the coach-house, and teach him a little behaviour.A touch or two of the whip will find his tongue for him. ”
Angus seized the little gentleman by the neck, as if he had been a polecat, and at arm's length walked him unresistingly into the coach-house. There, with one vigorous tug, he tore the jacket from his back, and his only other garment, dependent thereupon by some device known only to Gibbie, fell from him, and he stood in helpless nakedness, smiling still: he had never done anything shameful, therefore had no acquaintance with shame. But when the scowling keeper, to whom poverty was first cousin to poaching, and who hated tramps as he hated vermin, approached him with a heavy cart whip in his hand, he cast his eyes down at his white sides, very white between his brown arms and brown legs, and then lifted them in a mute appeal, which somehow looked as if it were for somebody else, against what he could no longer fail to perceive the man's intent. But he had no notion of what the thing threatened amounted to. He had had few hard blows in his time, and had never felt a whip.
“ Ye deil's glaur! ” cried the fellow, clenching the cruel teeth of one who loved not his brother, “ Is' lat ye ken what comeso' brakin' into honest hooses, an' takin' what's no yer ain! ”
A vision of the gnawed cheese, which he had never touched since the idea of its being property awoke in him, rose before Gibbie's mental eyes, and inwardly he bowed to the punishment. But the look he had fixed on Angus was not without effect, for the man was a father, though a severe one, and was not all a brute: he turned and changed the cart whip for a gig one with a broken shaft, which lay near. It was well for himself that he did so, for the other would probably have killed Gibbie. When the blow fell the child shivered all over, his face turned white, and without uttering even a moan, he doubled up and dropped senseless.A swollen cincture, like a red snake, had risen all round his waist, and from one spot in it the blood was oozing. It looked as if the lash had cut him in two.
The blow had stung his heart and it had ceased to beat. But the gamekeeper understood vagrants! the young blackguard was only shamming!
“ Up wi' ye, ye deevil! or Is' gar ye, ” he said from between his teeth, lifting the whip for a second blow.
Just as the stroke fell, marking him from the nape all down the spine, so that he now bore upon his back in red the sign the ass carries in black, a piercing shriek assailed Angus's ears, and his arm, which had mechanically raised itself for a third blow, hung arrested.
The same moment, in at the coach-house door shot Ginevra, as white as Gibbie. She darted to where he lay, and there stood over him, arms rigid and hands clenched hard, shivering as he had shivered, and sending from her body shriek after shriek, as if her very soul were the breath of which her cries were fashioned. It was as if the woman's heart in her felt its roots torn from their home in the bosom of God, and quivering in agony, and confronted by the stare of an eternal impossibility, shrieked against Satan.
“ Gang awa, missie, ” cried Angus, who had respect to this child, though he had not yet learned to respect childhood; “ he's a coorse cratur, an' maun hae's whups. ”
But Ginevra was deaf to his evil charming. She stopped her cries, however, to help Gibbie up, and took one of his hands to raise him. But his arm hung limp and motionless; she let it go; it dropped like a stick, and again she began to shriek. Angus laid his hand on her shoulder. She turned on him, and opening her mouth wide, screamed at him like a wild animal, with all the hatred of mingled love and fear; then threw herself on the boy, and covered his body with her own. Angus, stooping to remove her, saw Gibbie's face, and became uncomfortable.
“ He's deid! he's deid! Ye've killt him, Angus! Ye're an ill man! ” she cried fiercely. “ I hate ye. I'll tell on ye. I'll tell my papa. ”
“ Hoot! whisht, missie! ” said Angus. “ It was by yer papa's ain orders I gae him the whup, an' he weel deserved it forby. An' gien ye dinna gang awa, an' be a guid yoong leddy, I'll gie` im mair yet. ”
“ I'll tell God, ” shrieked Ginevra with fresh energy of defensive love and wrath.
Again he sought to remove her, but she clung so, with both legs and arms, to the insensible Gibbie, that he could but lift both together, and had to leave her alone.
“ Gien ye daur to touch` im again, Angus, I'll bite ye -- bite ye -- BITE YE, ” she screamed, in a passage wildly crescendo.
The laird and Fergus had walked away together, perhaps neither of them quite comfortable at the orders given, but the one too self-sufficient to recall them, and the other too submissive to interfere. They heard the cries, nevertheless, and had they known them for Ginevra's, would have rushed to the spot; but fierce emotion had so utterly changed her voice -- and indeed she had never in her life cried out before -- that they took them for Gibbie's and supposed the whip had had the desired effect and loosed his tongue. As to the rest of the household, which would by this time have been all gathered in the coach-house, the laird had taken his stand where he could intercept them: he would not have the execution of the decrees of justice interfered with.
But Ginevra's shrieks brought Gibbie to himself. Faintly he opened his eyes, and stared, stupid with growing pain, at the tear-blurred face beside him. In the confusion of his thoughts he fancied the pain he felt was Ginevra's, not his, and sought to comfort her, stroking her cheek with feeble hand, and putting up his mouth to kiss her. But Angus, utterly scandalized at the proceeding, and restored to energy by seeing that the boy was alive, caught her up suddenly and carried her off -- struggling, writhing, and scratching like a cat. Indeed she bit his arm, and that severely, but the man never even told his wife. Little Missie was a queen, and little Gibbie was a vermin, but he was ashamed to let the mother of his children know that the former had bitten him for the sake of the latter.
The moment she thus disappeared, Gibbie began to apprehend that she was suffering for him, not he for her. His whole body bore testimony to frightful abuse. This was some horrible place inhabited by men such as those that killed Sambo! He must fly. But would they hurt the little girl? He thought not -- she was at home. He started to spring to his feet, but fell back almost powerless; then tried more cautiously and got up wearily, for the pain and the terrible shock seemed to have taken the strength out of every limb. Once on his feet, he could scarcely stoop to pick up his remnant of trowsers without again falling, and the effort made him groan with distress. He was in the act of trying in vain to stand on one foot, so as to get the other into the garment, when he fancied he heard the step of his executioner, returning doubtless to resume his torture. He dropped the rag, and darted out of the door, forgetting aches and stiffness and agony. All naked as he was, he fled like the wind, unseen, or at least unrecognized, of any eye. Fergus did catch a glimpse of something white that flashed across a vista through the neighbouring wood, but he took it for a white peacock, of which there were two or three about the place. The three men were disgusted with the little wretch when they found that he had actually fled into the open day without his clothes. Poor Gibbie! it was such a small difference! It needed as little change to make a savage as an angel of him. All depended on the eyes that saw him.
He ran he knew not whither, feeling nothing but the desire first to get into some covert, and then to run farther. His first rush was for the shubbery, his next across the little park to the wood beyond. He did not feel the wind of his running on his bare skin. He did not feel the hunger that had made him so unable to bear the lash. On and on he ran, fancying ever he heard the cruel Angus behind him. If a dry twig snapped, he thought it was the crack of the whip; and a small wind that rose suddenly in the top of a pine, seemed the hiss with which it was about to descend upon him. He ran and ran, but still there seemed nothing between him and his persecutors. He felt no safety. At length he came where a high wall joining some water, formed a boundary. The water was a brook from the mountain, here widened and deepened into a still pool. He had been once out of his depth before: he threw himself in, and swam straight across: ever after that, swimming seemed to him as natural as walking.
Then first awoke a faint sense of safety; for on the other side he was knee deep in heather. He was on the wild hill, with miles on miles of cover! Here the unman could not catch him. It must be the same that Donal pointed out to him one day at a distance; he had a gun, and Donal said he had once shot a poacher and killed him. He did not know what a poacher was: perhaps he was one himself, and the man would shoot him. They could see him quite well from the other side! he must cross the knoll first, and then he might lie down and rest. He would get right into the heather, and lie with it all around and over him till the night came. Where he would go then, he did not know. But it was all one; he could go anywhere. Donal must mind his cows, and the men must mind the horses, and Mistress Jean must mind her kitchen, but Sir Gibbie could go where he pleased. He would go up Daurside; but he would not go just at once; that man might be on the outlook for him, and he wouldn't like to be shot. People who were shot lay still, and were put into holes in the earth, and covered up, and he would not like that.
Thus he communed with himself as he went over the knoll. On the other side he chose a tall patch of heather, and crept under. How nice and warm and kind the heather felt, though it did hurt the weals dreadfully sometimes. If he only had something to cover just them! There seemed to be one down his back as well as round his waist!
And now Sir Gibbie, though not much poorer than he had been, really possessed nothing separable, except his hair and his nails -- nothing therefore that he could call his, as distinguished from him. His sole other possession was a negative quantity -- his hunger, namely, for he had not even a meal in his body: he had eaten nothing since the preceding noon. I am wrong -- he had one possession besides, though hardly a separable one -- a ballad about a fair lady and her page, which Donal had taught him. That he now began to repeat to himself, but was disappointed to find it a good deal withered. He was not nearly reduced to extremity yet though -- this little heir of the world: in his body he had splendid health, in his heart a great courage, and in his soul an ever-throbbing love. It was his love to the very image of man, that made the horror of the treatment he had received. Angus was and was not a man! After all, Gibbie was still one to be regarded with holy envy.
Poor Ginny was sent to bed for interfering with her father's orders; and what with rage and horror and pity, an inexplicable feeling of hopelessness took possession of her, while her affection for her father was greatly, perhaps for this world irretrievably, injured by that morning's experience; a something remained that never passed from her, and that something, as often as it stirred, rose between him and her.
Fergus told his aunt what had taken place, and made much game of her brownie. But the more Jean thought about the affair, the less she liked it. It was she upon whom it all came! What did it matter who or what her brownie was? And what had they whipped the creature for? What harm had he done? If indeed he was a little ragged urchin, the thing was only the more inexplicable! He had taken nothing! She had never missed so much as a barley scon! The cream had always brought her the right quantity of butter! Not even a bannock, so far as she knew, was ever gone from the press, or an egg from the bossie where they lay heaped! There was more in it than she could understand! Her nephew's mighty feat, so far from explaining anything, had only sealed up the mystery. She could not help cherishing a shadowy hope that, when things had grown quiet, he would again reveal his presence by his work, if not by his visible person. It was mortifying to think that he had gone as he came, and she had never set eyes upon him. But Fergus's account of his disappearance had also, in her judgment, a decided element of the marvellous in it. She was strongly inclined to believe that the brownie had cast a glamour over him and the laird and Angus, all three, and had been making game of them for his own amusement. Indeed Daurside generally refused the explanation of the brownie presented for its acceptance, and the laird scored nothing against the arch-enemy Superstition.
Donal Grant, missing his “ cratur ” that day for the first time, heard enough when he came home to satisfy him that he had been acting the brownie in the house and the stable as well as in the field, incredible as it might well appear that such a child should have had even mere strength for what he did. Then first also, after he had thus lost him, he began to understand his worth, and to see how much he owed him. While he had imagined himself kind to the urchin, the urchin had been laying him under endless obligation. For he left him with ever so much more in his brains than when he came. This book and that, through his aid, he had read thoroughly; and a score or so of propositions had been added to his stock in Euclid. His first feeling about the child revived as he pondered -- namely, that he was not of this world. But even then Donal did not know the best Gibbie had done for him. He did not know of what far deeper and better things he had, through his gentleness, his trust, his loving service, his absolute unselfishness, sown the seeds in his mind. On the other hand, Donal had in return done more for Gibbie than he knew, though what he had done for him, namely, shared his dinners with him, had been less of a gift than he thought, and Donal had rather been sharing in Gibbie's dinner, than Gibbie in Donal's.
It was a lovely Saturday evening on Glashgar. The few flowers about the small turf cottage scented the air in the hot western sun. The heather was not in bloom yet, and there were no trees; but there were rocks, and stones, and a brawling burn that half surrounded a little field of oats, one of potatoes, and a small spot with a few stocks of cabbage and kail, on the borders of which grew some bushes of double daisies, and primroses, and carnations. These Janet tended as part of her household, while her husband saw to the oats and potatoes. Robert had charge of the few sheep on the mountain which belonged to the farmer at the Mains, and for his trouble had the cottage and the land, most of which he had himself reclaimed. He had also a certain allowance of meal, which was paid in portions, as corn went from the farm to the mill. If they happened to fall short, the miller would always advance them as much as they needed, repaying himself -- and not very strictly -- the next time the corn was sent from the Mains. They were never in any want, and never had any money, except what their children brought them out of their small wages. But that was plenty for their every need, nor had they the faintest feeling that they were persons to be pitied. It was very cold up there in winter, to be sure, and they both suffered from rheumatism; but they had no debt, no fear, much love, and between them, this being mostly Janet's, a large hope for what lay on the other side of death: as to the rheumatism, that was necessary, Janet said, to teach them patience, for they had no other trouble. They were indeed growing old, but neither had begun to feel age a burden yet, and when it should prove such, they had a daughter prepared to give up service and go home to help them. Their thoughts about themselves were nearly lost in their thoughts about each other, their children, and their friends. Janet's main care was her old man, and Robert turned to Janet as the one stay of his life, next to the God in whom he trusted. He did not think so much about God as she: he was not able; nor did he read so much of his Bible; but she often read to him; and when any of his children were there of an evening, he always “ took the book. ” While Janet prayed at home, his closet was the mountain-side, where he would kneel in the heather, and pray to Him who saw unseen, the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God. The sheep took no heed of him, but sometimes when he rose from his knees and saw Oscar gazing at him with deepest regard, he would feel a little as if he had not quite entered enough into his closet, and would wonder what the dog was thinking. All day, from the mountain and sky and preaching burns, from the sheep and his dog, from winter storms, spring sun and winds, or summer warmth and glow, but more than all, when he went home, from the presence and influence of his wife, came to him somehow -- who can explain how! -- spiritual nourishment and vital growth. One great thing in it was, that he kept growing wiser and better without knowing it. If St. Paul had to give up judging his own self, perhaps Robert Grant might get through without ever beginning it. He loved life, but if he had been asked why, he might not have found a ready answer. He loved his wife -- just because she was Janet. Blithely he left his cottage in the morning, deep breathing the mountain air, as if it were his first in the blissful world; and all day the essential bliss of being was his; but the immediate hope of his heart was not the heavenly city; it was his home and his old woman, and her talk of what she had found in her Bible that day. Strangely mingled -- mingled even to confusion with his faith in God, was his absolute trust in his wife -- a confidence not very different in kind from the faith which so many Christians place in the mother of our Lord. To Robert, Janet was one who knew -- one who was far ben ??? with the Father of lights. She perceived his intentions, understood his words, did his will, dwelt in the secret place of the Most High. When Janet entered into the kingdom of her Father, she would see that he was not left outside. He was as sure of her love to himself, as he was of God's love to her, and was certain she could never be content without her old man. He was himself a dull soul, he thought, and could not expect the great God to take much notice of him, but he would allow Janet to look after him. He had a vague conviction that he would not be very hard to save, for he knew himself ready to do whatever was required of him. None of all this was plain to his consciousness, however, or I daresay he would have begun at once to combat the feeling.
His sole anxiety, on the other hand, was neither about life nor death, about this world nor the next, but that his children should be honest and honourable, fear God and keep his commandments. Around them, all and each, the thoughts of father and mother were constantly hovering -- as if to watch them, and ward off evil.
Almost from the day, now many years ago, when, because of distance and difficulty, she ceased to go to church, Janet had taken to her New Testament in a new fashion.
She possessed an instinctive power of discriminating character, which had its root and growth in the simplicity of her own; she had always been a student of those phases of humanity that came within her ken; she had a large share of that interest in her fellows and their affairs which is the very bloom upon ripe humanity: with these qualifications, and the interpretative light afforded by her own calm practical way of living, she came to understand men and their actions, especially where the latter differed from what might ordinarily have been expected, in a marvellous way: her faculty amounted almost to sympathetic contact with the very humanity. When, therefore, she found herself in this remote spot, where she could see so little of her kind, she began, she hardly knew by what initiation, to turn her study upon the story of our Lord's life. Nor was it long before it possessed her utterly, so that she concentrated upon it all the light and power of vision she had gathered from her experience of humanity. It ought not therefore to be wonderful how much she now understood of the true humanity -- with what simple directness she knew what many of the words of the Son of Man meant, and perceived many of the germs of his individual actions. Hence it followed naturally that the thought of him, and the hope of one day seeing him, became her one informing idea. She was now such another as those women who ministered to him on the earth.
A certain gentle indifference she allowed to things considered important, the neighbours attributed to weakness of character, and called softness; while the honesty, energy, and directness with which she acted upon insights they did not possess, they attributed to intellectual derangement. She was “ ower easy, ” they said, when the talk had been of prudence or worldly prospect; she was “ ower hard, ” they said, when the question had been of right and wrong.
The same afternoon, a neighbour, on her way over the shoulder of the hill to the next village, had called upon her and found her brushing the rafters of her cottage with a broom at the end of a long stick.
“ Save's a', Janet! what are ye efter? I never saw sic a thing! ” she exclaimed.
“ I kenna hoo I never thouchto' sic a thing afore, ” answered Janet, leaning her broom against the wall, and dusting a chair for her visitor; “ but this mornin', whan my man an' me was sittin' at oor brakfast, there cam' sic a clapo' thunner,` at it jist garred the bit hoosie trim` le; an' doon fell a snoto' soot intil the very spune` at my man was cairryin' till's honest moo. That cudna be as things war inten` it, ye ken; sae what was to be said but set them richt? ”
“ Ow, weel! but ye micht hae waitit till Donal cam' hame; he wad hae dune't in half the time, an' no raxed his jints. ”
“ I cudna pit it aff, ” answered Janet. “ Wha kenned whan the Lord micht come? -- He canna come at cock-crawin' the day, but he may be here afore nicht. ”
“ Weel, I's awa, ” said her visitor rising. “ I'm gauin' ower to the toon to buy a feow hankso' worset to weyve a pairo' stockins to my man. Guid day to ye, Janet. -- What neist, I won` er? ” she added to herself as she left the house. “ The wuman's clean dementit! ”
The moment she was gone, Janet caught up her broom again, and went spying about over the roof -- ceiling there was none -- after long tangles of agglomerated cobweb and smoke.
“ Ay! ” she said to herself, “ wha kens whan he may be at the door? an' I wadna like to hear him say --` Janet, ye micht hae had yer hoose a bit cleaner, whan ye kenned I micht be at han'!' ”
With all the cleaning she could give it, her cottage would have looked but a place of misery to many a benevolent woman, who, if she had lived there, would not have been so benevolent as Janet, or have kept the place half so clean. For her soul was alive and rich, and out of her soul, not education or habit, came the smallest of her virtues. -- Having finished at last, she took her besom to the door, and beat it against a stone. That done, she stood looking along the path down the hill. It was that by which her sons and daughters, every Saturday, came climbing, one after the other, to her bosom, from their various labours in the valley below, through the sunset, through the long twilight, through the moonlight, each urged by a heart eager to look again upon father and mother.
The sun was now far down his western arc, and nearly on a level with her eyes; and as she gazed into the darkness of the too much light, suddenly emerged from it, rose upward, staggered towards her -- was it an angel? was it a spectre? Did her old eyes deceive her? or was the second sight born in her now first in her old age? -- It seemed a child -- reeling, and spreading out hands that groped. She covered her eyes for a moment, for it might be a vision in the sun, not on the earth -- and looked again. It was indeed a naked child! and -- was she still so dazzled by the red sun as to see red where red was none? -- or were those indeed blood-red streaks on his white skin? Straight now, though slow, he came towards her. It was the same child who had come and gone so strangely before! He held out his hands to her, and fell on his face at her feet like one dead. Then, with a horror of pitiful amazement, she saw a great cross marked in two cruel stripes on his back; and the thoughts that thereupon went coursing through her loving imagination, it would be hard to set forth. Could it be that the Lord was still, child and man, suffering for his race, to deliver his brothers and sisters from their sins? -- wandering, enduring, beaten, blessing still? accepting the evil, slaying it, and returning none? his patience the one rock where the evil word finds no echo; his heart the one gulf into which the dead-sea wave rushes with no recoil -- from which ever flows back only purest water, sweet and cool; the one abyss of destroying love, into which all wrong tumbles, and finding no reaction, is lost, ceases for evermore? there, in its own cradle, the primal order is still nursed, still restored; thence is still sent forth afresh, to leaven with new life the world ever ageing! Shadowy and vague they were -- but vaguely shadowed were thoughts like these in Janet's mind, as she stood half-stunned, regarding for one moment motionless the prostrate child and his wrongs. The next she lifted him in her arms, and holding him tenderly to her mother-heart, carried him into the house, murmuring over him dove-like sounds of pity and endearment mingled with indignation. There she laid him on his side in her bed, covered him gently over, and hastened to the little byre at the end of the cottage, to get him some warm milk. When she returned, he had already lifted his heavy eyelids, and was looking wearily about the place. But when he saw her, did ever so bright a sun shine as that smile of his! Eyes and mouth and whole face flashed upon Janet! She set down the milk, and went to the bedside. Gibbie put up his arms, threw them round her neck, and clung to her as if she had been his mother. And from that moment she was his mother: her heart was big enough to mother all the children of humanity. She was like Charity herself, with her babes innumerable.
“ What have they done to ye, my bairn? ” she said, in tones pitiful with the pity of the Shepherd of the sheep himself.
No reply came back -- only another heavenly smile, a smile of absolute content. For what were stripes and nakedness and hunger to Gibbie, now that he had a woman to love! Gibbie's necessity was to love; but here was more; here was Love offering herself to him! Except in black Sambo he had scarcely caught a good sight of her before. He had never before been kissed by that might of God's grace, a true woman. She was an old woman who kissed him; but none who have drunk of the old wine of love, straightway desire the new, for they know that the old is better. Match such as hers with thy love, maiden of twenty, and where wilt thou find the man I say not worthy, but fit to mate with thee? For hers was love indeed -- not the love of love -- but the love of Life. Already Gibbie's faintness was gone -- and all his ills with it. She raised him with one arm, and held the bowl to his mouth, and he drank; but all the time he drank, his eyes were fixed upon hers. When she laid him down again, he turned on his side, off his scored back, and in a moment was fast asleep. She stood gazing at him. So still was he, that she began to fear he was dead, and laid her hand on his heart. It was beating steadily, and she left him, to make some gruel for him against his waking. Her soul was glad, for she was ministering to her Master, not the less in his own self, that it was in the person of one of his little ones. Gruel, as such a one makes it, is no common fare, but delicate enough for a queen. She set it down by the fire, and proceeded to lay the supper for her expected children. The clean yellow-white table of soft smooth fir, needed no cloth -- only horn spoons and wooden caups.
At length a hand came to the latch, and mother and daughter greeted as mother and daughter only can; then came a son, and mother and son greeted as mother and son only can. They kept on arriving singly to the number of six -- two daughters and four sons, the youngest some little time after the rest. Each, as he or she came, Janet took to the bed, and showed her seventh child where he slept. Each time she showed him, to secure like pity with her own, she turned down the bedclothes, and revealed the little back, smitten with the eternal memorial of the divine perfection. The women wept. The young men were furious, each after his fashion.
“ God damn the rascal` at did it! ” cried one of them, clenching his teeth, and forgetting himself quite in the rage of the moment.
“ Laddie, tak back the word, ” said his mother calmly. “ Gien ye dinna forgie yer enemies, ye'll no be forgi'en yersel'. ”
“ That's some hard, mither, ” answered the offender, with an attempted smile.
“ Hard! ” she echoed; “ it may weel be hard, for it canna be helpit. What wad be the useo' forgiein' ye, or hoo cud it win at ye, or what wad ye care for`t, or mako`t, cairryin' a hello' hatei' yer verra hert? For gien God be love, hell maun be hate. My bairn, them` at winna forgie their enemies, cairries sic a nesto' deevilryi' their ain boasoms,` at the verra speerito' God himsel' canna win in till't for bein' scomfished wi' smell an' reik. Muckle guid wad ony pardon dee to sic! But ance lat them un` erstan'` at he canna forgie them, an' maybe they'll be fleyt, an' turn again' the Sawtan` at'si' them. ”
“ Weel, but he's no my enemy, ” said the youth.
“ No your enemy! ” returned his mother; ” -- no your enemy, an' sair -LRB- serve -RRB- a bairn like that! My certy! but he's the enemyo' the haill raceo' mankin'. He trespasses unco sair against me, I'm weel sureo' that! An' I'm glaido'` t. I'm glaid` at he has me for aneo''s enemies, for I forgie him for ane; an' wuss him sae affrontit wi' himsel' er' a' be dune,` at he wad fain hide his heid in a midden. ”
“ Noo, noo, mither! ” said the eldest son, who had not yet spoken, but whose countenance had been showing a mighty indignation, “ that's surely as sair a bannin' as yon` at Jock said. ”
“ What, laddie! Wad ye hae a fellow-cratur live to a' eternity ohn been ashamedo' sic a thing's that? Wad that be to wuss him weel? Kenna ye` at the mair shame the mair grace? My word was the best beginnin'o' better` at I cud wuss him. Na, na, laddie! frae my verra hert, I wuss he may be that affrontit wi' himsel'` at he canna sae muckle as lift up's een toh` aven, but maun smite upo''s breist an' say,` God be mercifu' to me a sinner!' That's my curse upo' him, for I wadna hae` im a deevil. Whan he comes to think that shameo' himsel', I'll tak him to my hert, as I tak the bairn he misguidit. Only I doobt I'll be lang awa afore that, for it taks time to fess a man like that till's holy senses. ”
The sixth of the family now entered, and his mother led him up to the bed.
“ The Lord preserve's! ” cried Donal Grant, “ it's the cratur! -- An' is that the gait they hae guidit him! The quaietest cratur an' the willin` est! ”
Donal began to choke.
“ Ye ken him than, laddie? ” said his mother.
“ Weel that, ” answered Donal. “ He's been wi' me an' the nowt ilka day for weeks till the day. ”
With that he hurried into the story of his acquaintance with Gibbie; and the fable of the brownie would soon have disappeared from Daurside, had it not been that Janet desired them to say nothing about the boy, but let him be forgotten by his enemies, till he grew able to take care of himself. Besides, she said, their father might get into trouble with the master and the laird, if it were known they had him.
Donal vowed to himself, that, if Fergus had had a hand in the abuse, he would never speak civil word to him again.
He turned towards the bed, and there were Gibbie's azure eyes wide open and fixed upon him.
“ Eh, ye cratur! ” he cried; and darting to the bed, he took Gibbie's face between his hands, and said, in a voice to which pity and sympathy gave a tone like his mother's,
“ Whaten a deevil was't` at lickit ye like that? Eh! I wuss I had the trimmin'o' him! ”
“ Has the ill-guideship ta'en the tongue frae` im, think ye? ” asked the mother.
“ Na, na, ” answered Donal; “ he's been like that sin' ever I kenned him. I neverh` ard word frae the moo'o'` im. ”
“ He'll be aneo' the deif an' dumb, ” said Janet.
“ He's no deif, mither; that I ken weel; but dumb he maun be, I'm thinkin'. -- Cratur, ” he continued, stooping over the boy, “ gien ye hear what I'm sayin', tak haudo' my nose. ”
Thereupon, with a laugh like that of an amused infant, Gibbie raised his hand, and with thumb and forefinger gently pinched Donal's large nose, at which they all burst out laughing with joy. It was as if they had found an angel's baby in the bushes, and been afraid he was an idiot, but were now relieved. Away went Janet, and brought him his gruel. It was with no small difficulty and not without a moan or two, that Gibbie sat up in the bed to take it. There was something very pathetic in the full content with which he sat there in his nakedness, and looked smiling at them all. It was more than content -- it was bliss that shone in his countenance. He took the wooden bowl, and began to eat; and the look he cast on Janet seemed to say he had never tasted such delicious food. Indeed he never had; and the poor cottage, where once more he was a stranger and taken in, appeared to Gibbie a place of wondrous wealth. And so it was -- not only in the best treasures, those of loving kindness, but in all homely plenty as well for the needs of the body -- a very temple of the God of simplicity and comfort -- rich in warmth and rest and food.
Janet went to her kist, whence she brought out a garment of her own, and aired it at the fire. It had no lace at the neck or cuffs, no embroidery down the front; but when she put it on him, amid the tearful laughter of the women, and had tied it round his waist with a piece of list that had served as a garter, it made a dress most becoming in their eyes, and gave Gibbie indescribable pleasure from its whiteness, and its coolness to his inflamed skin.
They had just finished clothing him thus, when the goodman came home, and the mother's narration had to be given afresh, with Donal's notes explanatory and completive. As the latter reported the doings of the imagined brownie, and the commotion they had caused at the Mains and along Daurside, Gibbie's countenance flashed with pleasure and fun; and at last he broke into such a peal of laughter as had never, for pure merriment, been heard before so high on Glashgar. All joined involuntarily in the laugh -- even the old man, who had been listening with his grey eyebrows knit, and hanging like bosky precipices over the tarns of his deepset eyes, taking in every word, but uttering not one. When at last his wife showed him the child's back, he lifted his two hands, and moved them slowly up and down, as in pitiful appeal for man against man to the sire of the race. But still he said not a word. As to utterance of what lay in the deep soul of him, the old man, except sometimes to his wife, was nearly as dumb as Gibbie himself.
They sat down to their homely meal. Simplest things will carry the result of honest attention as plainly as more elaborate dishes; and, which it might be well to consider, they will carry no more than they are worth: of Janet's supper it is enough to say that it was such as became her heart. In the judgment of all her guests, the porridge was such as none could make but mother, the milk such as none but mother's cow could yield, the cakes such as she only could bake.
Gibbie sat in the bed like a king on his throne, gazing on his kingdom. For he that loves has, as no one else has. It is the divine possession. Picture the delight of the child, in his passion for his kind, looking out upon this company of true hearts, honest faces, human forms -- all strong and healthy, loving each other and generous to the taking in of the world's outcast! Gibbie could not, at that period of his history, have invented a heaven more to his mind, and as often as one of them turned eyes towards the bed, his face shone up with love and merry gratitude, like a better sun.
It was now almost time for the sons and daughters to go down the hill again, and leave the cottage and the blessed old parents and the harboured child to the night, the mountain-silence, and the living God. The sun had long been down; but far away in the north, the faint thin fringe of his light-garment was still visible, moving with the unseen body of his glory softly eastward, dreaming along the horizon, growing fainter and fainter as it went, but at the faintest then beginning to revive and grow. Of the northern lands in summer, it may be said, as of the heaven of heavens, that there is no night there. And by and by the moon also would attend the steps of the returning children of labour.
“ Noo, lads an' lasses, afore we hae worship, rin, ilk aneo' ye, ” said the mother, “ an' pu' heather to mak a bed to the wee man --i' the neuk there, at the heido' oors. He'll sleep there bonny, an' no ill` ill come near` im. ”
She was obeyed instantly. The heather was pulled, and set together upright as it grew, only much closer, so that the tops made a dense surface, and the many stalks, each weak, a strong upbearing whole. They boxed them in below with a board or two for the purpose, and bound them together above with a blanket over the top, and a white sheet over that -- a linen sheet it was, and large enough to be doubled, and receive Gibbie between its folds. Then another blanket was added, and the bed, a perfect one, was ready. The eldest of the daughters took Gibbie in her arms, and, tenderly careful over his hurts, lifted him from the old folks' bed, and placed him in his own -- one more luxurious, for heather makes a still better stratum for repose than oat-chaff -- and Gibbie sank into it with a sigh that was but a smile grown vocal.
Then Donal, as the youngest, got down the big Bible, and having laid it before his father, lighted the rush-pith-wick projecting from the beak of the little iron lamp that hung against the wall, its shape descended from Roman times. The old man put on his spectacles, took the book, and found the passage that fell, in continuous process, to that evening.
Now he was not a very good reader, and, what with blindness and spectacles, and poor light, would sometimes lose his place. But it never troubled him, for he always knew the sense of what was coming, and being no idolater of the letter, used the word that first suggested itself, and so recovered his place without pausing. It reminded his sons and daughters of the time when he used to tell them Bible stories as they crowded about his knees; and sounding therefore merely like the substitution of a more familiar word to assist their comprehension, woke no surprise. And even now, the word supplied, being in the vernacular, was rather to the benefit than the disadvantage of his hearers. The word of Christ is spirit and life, and where the heart is aglow, the tongue will follow that spirit and life fearlessly, and will not err.
On this occasion he was reading of our Lord's cure of the leper; and having read, “ put forth his hand, ” lost his place, and went straight on without it, from his memory of the facts.
“ He put forth his han' -- an' grippit him, and said, Aw wull -- be clean. ”
After the reading followed a prayer, very solemn and devout. It was then only, when before God, with his wife by his side, and his family around him, that the old man became articulate. He would scarcely have been so then, and would have floundered greatly in the marshes of his mental chaos, but for the stepping-stones of certain theological forms and phrases, which were of endless service to him in that they helped him to utter what in him was far better, and so realise more to himself his own feelings. Those forms and phrases would have shocked any devout Christian who had not been brought up in the same school; but they did him little harm, for he saw only the good that was in them, and indeed did not understand them save in so far as they worded that lifting up of the heart after which he was ever striving.
By the time the prayer was over, Gibbie was fast asleep again. What it all meant he had not an idea; and the sound lulled him -- a service often so rendered in lieu of that intended. When he woke next, from the aching of his stripes, the cottage was dark. The old people were fast asleep.A hairy thing lay by his side, which, without the least fear, he examined by palpation, and found to be a dog, whereupon he fell fast asleep again, if possible happier than ever. And while the cottage was thus quiet, the brothers and sisters were still tramping along the moonlight paths of Daurside. They had all set out together, but at one point after another there had been a parting, and now they were on six different roads, each drawing nearer to the labour of the new week.
The first opportunity Donal had, he questioned Fergus as to his share in the ill-usage of Gibbie. Fergus treated the inquiry as an impertinent interference, and mounted his high horse at once. What right had his father's herd-boy to question him as to his conduct? He put it so to him and in nearly just as many words. Thereupon answered Donal --
“ It's this, ye see, Fergus: ye hae been unco guid to me, an' I'm mair obligatit till ye nor I can say. But it wad be a scunnerfu' thing to tak the len'o' buiks frae ye, an' spier quest` ons at ye` at I canna mak oot mysel', an' syne gang awa despisin' yei' my hert for cruelty an' wrang. What was the cratur punished for? Tell me that. Accordin' till yer aunt's ain accoont, he had taen naething, an' had dune naething but guid. ”
“ Why didn't he speak up then, and defend himself, and not be so damned obstinate? ” returned Fergus. “ He wouldn't open his mouth to tell his name, or where he came from even. I couldn't get him to utter a single word. As for his punishment, it was by the laird's orders that Angus Mac Pholp took the whip to him. I had nothing to do with it. -- ” Fergus did not consider the punishment he had himself given him as worth mentioning -- as indeed, except for honesty's sake, it was not, beside the other.
“ Weel, I'll be a man some day, an' Angus'll hae to sattle wi' me! ” said Donal through his clenched teeth. “ Man, Fergus! the cratur's as dumb's a worum. I dinna believe` at ever he spak a word in's life. ”
This cut Fergus to the heart, for he was far from being without generosity or pity. How many things a man who is not awake to side strenuously with the good in him against the evil, who is not on his guard lest himself should mislead himself, may do, of which he will one day be bitterly ashamed! -- a trite remark, it may be, but, reader, that will make the thing itself no easier to bear, should you ever come to know you have done a thing of the sort. I fear, however, from what I know of Fergus afterwards, that he now, instead of seeking about to make some amends, turned the strength that should have gone in that direction, to the justifying of himself to himself in what he had done. Anyhow, he was far too proud to confess to Donal that he had done wrong -- too much offended at being rebuked by one he counted so immeasurably his inferior, to do the right thing his rebuke set before him. What did the mighty business matter! The little rascal was nothing but a tramp; and if he didn't deserve his punishment this time, he had deserved it a hundred times without having it, and would ten thousand times again. So reasoned Fergus, while the feeling grew upon Donal that the cratur was of some superior race -- came from some other and nobler world. I would remind my reader that Donal was a Celt, with a nature open to every fancy of love or awe -- one of the same breed with the foolish Galatians, and like them ready to be bewitched; but bearing a heart that welcomed the light with glad rebound -- loved the lovely, nor loved it only, but turned towards it with desire to become like it. Fergus too was a Celt in the main, but was spoiled by the paltry ambition of being distinguished. He was not in love with loveliness, but in love with praise. He saw not a little of what was good and noble, and would fain be such, but mainly that men might regard him for his goodness and nobility; hence his practical notion of the good was weak, and of the noble, paltry. His one desire in doing anything, was to be approved of or admired in the same -- approved of in the opinions he held, in the plans he pursued, in the doctrines he taught; admired in the poems in which he went halting after Byron, and in the eloquence with which he meant one day to astonish great congregations. There was nothing original as yet discoverable in him; nothing to deliver him from the poor imitative apery in which he imagined himself a poet. He did possess one invaluable gift -- that of perceiving and admiring more than a little, certain forms of the beautiful; but it was rendered merely ridiculous by being conjoined with the miserable ambition -- poor as that of any mountebank emperor -- to be himself admired for that admiration. He mistook also sensibility for faculty, nor perceived that it was at best but a probable sign that he might be able to do something or other with pleasure, perhaps with success. If any one judge it hard that men should be made with ambitions to whose objects they can never attain, I answer, ambition is but the evil shadow of aspiration; and no man ever followed the truth, which is the one path of aspiration, and in the end complained that he had been made this way or that. Man is made to be that which he is made most capable of desiring -- but it goes without saying that he must desire the thing itself and not its shadow. Man is of the truth, and while he follows a lie, no indication his nature yields will hold, except the fear, the discontent, the sickness of soul, that tell him he is wrong. If he say, “ I care not for what you call the substance -- it is to me the shadow; I want what you call the shadow, ” the only answer is, that, to all eternity, he can never have it: a shadow can never be had.
Ginevra was hardly the same child after the experience of that terrible morning. At no time very much at home with her father, something had now come between them, to remove which all her struggles to love him as before were unavailing. The father was too stupid, too unsympathetic, to take note of the look of fear that crossed her face if ever he addressed her suddenly; and when she was absorbed in fighting the thoughts that would come, he took her constraint for sullenness.
With a cold spot in his heart where once had dwelt some genuine regard for Donal, Fergus went back to college. Donal went on herding the cattle, cudgeling Hornie, and reading what books he could lay his hands on: there was no supply through Fergus any more, alas! The year before, ere he took his leave, he had been careful to see Donal provided with at least books for study; but this time he left him to shift for himself. He was small because he was proud, spiteful because he was conceited. He would let Donal know what it was to have lost his favour! But Donal did not suffer much, except in the loss of the friendship itself. He managed to get the loan of a copy of Burns -- better meat for a strong spirit than the poetry of Byron or even Scott. An innate cleanliness of soul rendered the occasional coarseness to him harmless, and the mighty torrent of the man's life, broken by occasional pools reflecting the stars; its headlong hatred of hypocrisy and false religion; its generosity, and struggling conscientiousness; its failures and its repentances, roused much in the heart of Donal. Happily the copy he had borrowed, had in it a tolerable biography; and that, read along with the man's work, enabled him, young as he was, to see something of where and how he had failed, and to shadow out to himself, not altogether vaguely, the perils to which the greatest must be exposed who can not rule his own spirit, but, like a mere child, reels from one mood into another -- at the will of -- what?
From reading Burns, Donal learned also not a little of the capabilities of his own language; for, Celt as he was by birth and country and mental character, he could not speak the Gaelic: that language, soft as the speech of streams from rugged mountains, and wild as that of the wind in the tops of fir-trees, the language at once of bards and fighting men, had so far ebbed from the region, lingering only here and there in the hollow pools of old memories, that Donal had never learned it; and the lowland Scotch, an ancient branch of English, dry and gnarled, but still flourishing in its old age, had become instead, his mother-tongue; and the man who loves the antique speech, or even the mere patois, of his childhood, and knows how to use it, possesses therein a certain kind of power over the hearts of men, which the most refined and perfect of languages can not give, inasmuch as it has travelled farther from the original sources of laughter and tears. But the old Scotish itself is, alas! rapidly vanishing before a poor, shabby imitation of modern English -- itself a weaker language in sound, however enriched in words, since the days of Shakspere, when it was far more like Scotch in its utterance than it is now.
My mother-tongue, how sweet thy tone! How near to good allied! Were even my heart of steel or stone, Thou wouldst drive out the pride.
So sings Klaus Groth, in and concerning his own Plattdeutsch -- so nearly akin to the English.
To a poet especially is it an inestimable advantage to be able to employ such a language for his purposes. Not only was it the speech of his childhood, when he saw everything with fresh, true eyes, but it is itself a child-speech; and the child way of saying must always lie nearer the child way of seeing, which is the poetic way. Therefore, as the poetic faculty was now slowly asserting itself in Donal, it was of vast importance that he should know what the genius of Scotland had been able to do with his homely mother-tongue, for through that tongue alone, could what poetry he had in him have thoroughly fair play, and in turn do its best towards his development -- which is the first and greatest use of poetry. It is a ruinous misjudgment -- too contemptible to be asserted, but not too contemptible to be acted upon, that the end of poetry is publication. Its true end is to help first the man who makes it along the path to the truth: help for other people may or may not be in it; that, if it become a question at all, must be an after one. To the man who has it, the gift is invaluable; and, in proportion as it helps him to be a better man, it is of value to the whole world; but it may, in itself, be so nearly worthless, that the publishing of it would be more for harm than good. Ask any one who has had to perform the unenviable duty of editor to a magazine: he will corroborate what I say -- that the quantity of verse good enough to be its own reward, but without the smallest claim to be uttered to the world, is enormous.
Not yet, however, had Donal written a single stanza.A line, or at most two, would now and then come into his head with a buzz, like a wandering honey-bee that had mistaken its hive -- generally in the shape of a humorous malediction on Hornie -- but that was all.
In the mean time Gibbie slept and waked and slept again, night after night -- with the loveliest days between, at the cottage on Glashgar. The morning after his arrival, the first thing he was aware of was Janet's face beaming over him, with a look in its eyes more like worship then benevolence. Her husband was gone, and she was about to milk the cow, and was anxious lest, while she was away, he should disappear as before. But the light that rushed into his eyes was in full response to that which kindled the light in hers, and her misgiving vanished; he could not love her like that and leave her. She gave him his breakfast of porridge and milk, and went to her cow.
When she came back, she found everything tidy in the cottage, the floor swept, every dish washed and set aside; and Gibbie was examining an old shoe of Robert's, to see whether he could not mend it. Janet, having therefore leisure, proceeded at once with joy to the construction of a garment she had been devising for him. The design was simple, and its execution easy. Taking a blue winsey petticoat of her own, drawing it in round his waist, and tying it over the chemise which was his only garment, she found, as she had expected, that its hem reached his feet: she partly divided it up the middle, before and behind, and had but to backstitch two short seams, and there was a pair of sailor-like trousers, as tidy as comfortable! Gibbie was delighted with them. True, they had no pockets, but then he had nothing to put in pockets, and one might come to think of that as an advantage. Gibbie indeed had never had pockets, for the pockets of the garments he had had were always worn out before they reached him. Then Janet thought about a cap; but considering him a moment critically, and seeing how his hair stood out like thatch-eaves round his head, she concluded with herself “ There maun be some men as weel's women fowk, I'm thinkin', whause hair's gien them for a coverin', ” and betook herself instead to her New Testament.
Gibbie stood by as she read in silence, gazing with delight, for he thought it must be a book of ballads like Donal's that she was reading. But Janet found his presence, his unresting attitude, and his gaze, discomposing. To worship freely, one must be alone, or else with fellow-worshippers. And reading and worshipping were often so mingled with Janet, as to form but one mental consciousness. She looked up therefore from her book, and said --
“ Can ye read, laddie? ”
Gibbie shook his head.
“ Sit ye doon than, an' Is' read till ye. ”
Gibbie obeyed more than willingly, expecting to hear some ancient Scots tale of love or chivalry. Instead, it was one of those love-awful, glory-sad chapters in the end of the Gospel of John, over which hangs the darkest cloud of human sorrow, shot through and through with the radiance of light eternal, essential, invincible. Whether it was the uncertain response to Janet's tone merely, or to truth too loud to be heard, save as a thrill, of some chord in his own spirit, having its one end indeed twisted around an earthly peg, but the other looped to a tail-piece far in the unknown -- I can not tell; it may have been that the name now and then recurring brought to his mind the last words of poor Sambo; anyhow, when Janet looked up, she saw the tears rolling down the child's face. At the same time, from the expression of his countenance, she judged that his understanding had grasped nothing. She turned therefore to the parable of the prodigal son, and read it. Even that had not a few words and phrases unknown to Gibbie, but he did not fail to catch the drift of the perfect story. For had not Gibbie himself had a father, to whose bosom he went home every night? Let but love be the interpreter, and what most wretched type will not serve the turn for the carriage of profoundest truth! The prodigal's lowest degradation, Gibbie did not understand; but Janet saw the expression of the boy's face alter with every tone of the tale, through all the gamut between the swine's trough and the arms of the father. Then at last he burst -- not into tears -- Gibbie was not much acquainted with weeping -- but into a laugh of loud triumph. He clapped his hands, and in a shiver of ecstasy, stood like a stork upon one leg, as if so much of him was all that could be spared for this lower world, and screwed himself together.
Janet was well satisfied with her experiment. Most Scotch women, and more than most Scotch men, would have rebuked him for laughing, but Janet knew in herself a certain tension of delight which nothing served to relieve but a wild laughter of holiest gladness; and never in tears of deepest emotion did her heart appeal more directly to its God. It is the heart that is not yet sure of its God, that is afraid to laugh in his presence.
Thus had Gibbie his first lesson in the only thing worth learning, in that which, to be learned at all, demands the united energy of heart and soul and strength and mind; and from that day he went on learning it. I can not tell how, or what were the slow stages by which his mind budded and swelled until it burst into the flower of humanity, the knowledge of God. I can not tell the shape of the door by which the Lord entered into that house, and took everlasting possession of it. I can not even tell in what shape he appeared himself in Gibbie's thoughts -- for the Lord can take any shape that is human. I only know it was not any unhuman shape of earthly theology that he bore to Gibbie, when he saw him with “ that inward eye, which is the bliss of solitude. ” For happily Janet never suspected how utter was Gibbie's ignorance. She never dreamed that he did not know what was generally said about Jesus Christ. She thought he must know as well as she the outlines of his story, and the purpose of his life and death, as commonly taught, and therefore never attempted explanations for the sake of which she would probably have found herself driven to use terms and phrases which merely substitute that which is intelligible because it appeals to what in us is low, and is itself both low and false, for that which, if unintelligible, is so because of its grandeur and truth. Gibbie's ideas of God he got all from the mouth of Theology himself, the Word of God; and to the theologian who will not be content with his teaching, the disciple of Jesus must just turn his back, that his face may be to his Master.
So, teaching him only that which she loved, not that which she had been taught, Janet read to Gibbie of Jesus, talked to him of Jesus, dreamed to him about Jesus; until at length -- Gibbie did not think to watch, and knew nothing of the process by which it came about -- his whole soul was full of the man, of his doings, of his words, of his thoughts, of his life. Jesus Christ was in him -- he was possessed by him. Almost before he knew, he was trying to fashion his life after that of his Master.
Between the two, it was a sweet teaching, a sweet learning. Under Janet, Gibbie was saved the thousand agonies that befall the conscientious disciple, from the forcing upon him, as the thoughts and will of the eternal Father of our spirits, of the ill expressed and worse understood experiences, the crude conjectures, the vulgar imaginations of would-be teachers of the multitude. Containing truth enough to save those of sufficiently low development to receive such teaching without disgust, it contains falsehood enough, but for the Spirit of God, to ruin all nobler -- I mean all childlike natures, utterly; and many such it has gone far to ruin, driving them even to a madness in which they have died. Jesus alone knows the Father, and can reveal him. Janet studied only Jesus, and as a man knows his friend, so she, only infinitely better, knew her more than friend -- her Lord and her God. Do I speak of a poor Scotch peasant woman too largely for the reader whose test of truth is the notion of probability he draws from his own experience? Let me put one question to make the real probability clearer. Should it be any wonder, if Christ be indeed the natural Lord of every man, woman, and child, that a simple, capable nature, laying itself entirely open to him and his influences, should understand him? How should he be the Lord of that nature if such a thing were not possible, or were at all improbable -- nay, if such a thing did not necessarily follow? Among women, was it not always to peasant women that heavenly messages came? See revelation culminate in Elizabeth and Mary, the mothers of John the Baptist and Jesus. Think how much fitter that it should be so; -- that they to whom the word of God comes should be women bred in the dignity of a natural life, and familiarity with the large ways of the earth; women of simple and few wants, without distraction, and with time for reflection -- compelled to reflection, indeed, from the enduring presence of an unsullied consciousness: for wherever there is a humble, thoughtful nature, into that nature the divine consciousness, that is, the Spirit of God, presses as into its own place. Holy women are to be found everywhere, but the prophetess is not so likely to be found in the city as in the hill-country.
Whatever Janet, then, might, perhaps -- I do not know -- have imagined it her duty to say to Gibbie had she surmised his ignorance, having long ceased to trouble her own head, she had now no inclination to trouble Gibbie's heart with what men call the plan of salvation. It was enough to her to find that he followed her Master. Being in the light she understood the light, and had no need of system, either true or false, to explain it to her. She lived by the word proceeding out of the mouth of God. When life begins to speculate upon itself, I suspect it has begun to die. And seldom has there been a fitter soul, one clearer from evil, from folly, from human device -- a purer cistern for such water of life as rose in the heart of Janet Grant to pour itself into, than the soul of Sir Gibbie. But I must not call any true soul a cistern: wherever the water of life is received, it sinks and softens and hollows, until it reaches, far down, the springs of life there also, that come straight from the eternal hills, and thenceforth there is in that soul a well of water springing up into everlasting life.
From that very next day, then, after he was received into the cottage on Glashgar, Gibbie, as a matter of course, took upon him the work his hand could find to do, and Janet averred to her husband that never had any of her daughters been more useful to her. At the same time, however, she insisted that Robert should take the boy out with him. She would not have him do woman's work, especially work for which she was herself perfectly able. She had not come to her years, she said, to learn idleset; and the boy would save Robert many a weary step among the hills.
“ He canna speyk to the dog, ” objected Robert, giving utterance to the first difficulty that suggested itself.
“ The dog canna speyk himsel', ” returned Janet, “ an' the won` er is he can un` erstan': wha kens but he may come full nigher ane` at's speechless like himsel'! Ye gie the cratur the chance, an' Is' warran' he'll mak himsel' plain to the dog. Ye jist try` im. Tell ye him to tell the dog sae and sae, an' see what'll comeo'` t. ”
Robert made the experiment, and it proved satisfactory. As soon as he had received Robert's orders, Gibbie claimed Oscar's attention. The dog looked up in his face, noted every glance and gesture, and, partly from sympathetic instinct, that gift lying so near the very essence of life, partly from observation of the state of affairs in respect of the sheep, divined with certainty what the duty required of him was, and was off like a shot.
“ The twa dumb craturs un` erstan' ane anither better nor I un` erstan' aithero' them, ” said Robert to his wife when they came home.
And now indeed it was a blessed time for Gibbie. It had been pleasant down in the valley, with the cattle and Donal, and foul weather sometimes; but now it was the full glow of summer; the sweet keen air of the mountain bathed him as he ran, entered into him, filled him with life like the new wine of the kingdom of God, and the whole world rose in its glory around him. Surely it is not the outspread sea, however the sight of its storms and its labouring ships may enhance the sense of safety to the onlooker, but the outspread land of peace and plenty, with its nestling houses, its well-stocked yards, its cattle feeding in the meadows, and its men and horses at labour in the fields, that gives the deepest delight to the heart of the poet! Gibbie was one of the meek, and inherited the earth. Throned on the mountain, he beheld the multiform “ goings on of life, ” and in love possessed the whole. He was of the poet-kind also, and now that he was a shepherd, saw everything with shepherd-eyes. One moment, to his fancy, the great sun above played the shepherd to the world, the winds were the dogs, and the men and women the sheep. The next, in higher mood, he would remember the good shepherd of whom Janet had read to him, and pat the head of the collie that lay beside him: Oscar too was a shepherd and no hireling; he fed the sheep; he turned them from danger and barrenness; and he barked well.
“ I'm the dumb dog! ” said Gibbie to himself, not knowing that he was really a copy in small of the good shepherd; “ but maybe there may be mair nor ae gaito' barkin'. ”
Then what a joy it was to the heaven-born obedience of the child, to hearken to every word, watch every look, divine every wish of the old man! Child Hercules could not have waited on mighty old Saturn as Gibbie waited on Robert. For he was to him the embodiment of all that was reverend and worthy, a very gulf of wisdom, a mountain of rectitude. Gibbie was one of those few elect natures to whom obedience is a delight -- a creature so different from the vulgar that they have but one tentacle they can reach such with -- that of contempt.
“ I jist lo'e the bairn as the verra aippleo' my ee. ” said Robert. “ I can scarce consaive a wuss, but there's the cratur wi' a gripo'`t! He seems to ken what's risin'i' my min', an' in a moment he's up like the dog to be ready, an' luiks at me waitin'. ”
Nor was it long before the town-bred child grew to love the heavens almost as dearly as the earth. He would gaze and gaze at the clouds as they came and went, and watching them and the wind, weighing the heat and the cold, and marking many indications, known some of them perhaps only to himself, understood the signs of the earthly times at length nearly as well as an insect or a swallow, and far better than long-experienced old Robert. The mountain was Gibbie's very home; yet to see him far up on it, in the red glow of the setting sun, with his dog, as obedient as himself, hanging upon his every signal, one could have fancied him a shepherd boy come down from the plains of heaven to look after a lost lamb. Often, when the two old people were in bed and asleep, Gibbie would be out watching the moon rise -- seated, still as ruined god of Egypt, on a stone of the mountain-side, islanded in space, nothing alive and visible near him, perhaps not even a solitary night-wind blowing and ceasing like the breath of a man's life, and the awfully silent moon sliding up from the hollow of a valley below. If there be indeed a one spirit, ever awake and aware, should it be hard to believe that that spirit should then hold common thought with a little spirit of its own? If the nightly mountain was the prayer-closet of him who said he would be with his disciples to the end of the world, can it be folly to think he would hold talk with such a child, alone under the heaven, in the presence of the father of both? Gibbie never thought about himself, therefore was there wide room for the entrance of the spirit. Does the questioning thought arise to any reader: How could a man be conscious of bliss without the thought of himself? I answer the doubt: When a man turns to look at himself, that moment the glow of the loftiest bliss begins to fade; the pulsing fire-flies throb paler in the passionate night; an unseen vapour steams up from the marsh and dims the star-crowded sky and the azure sea; and the next moment the very bliss itself looks as if it had never been more than a phosphorescent gleam -- the summer lightning of the brain. For then the man sees himself but in his own dim mirror, whereas ere he turned to look in that, he knew himself in the absolute clarity of God's present thought out-bodying him. The shoots of glad consciousness that come to the obedient man, surpass in bliss whole days and years of such ravined rapture as he gains whose weariness is ever spurring the sides of his intent towards the ever retreating goal of his desires. I am a traitor even to myself if I would live without my life.
But I withhold my pen; for vain were the fancy, by treatise or sermon or poem or tale, to persuade a man to forget himself. He can not if he would. Sooner will he forget the presence of a raging tooth. There is no forgetting of ourselves but in the finding of our deeper, our true self -- God's idea of us when he devised us -- the Christ in us. Nothing but that self can displace the false, greedy, whining self, of which, most of us are so fond and proud. And that self no man can find for himself; seeing of himself he does not even know what to search for. “ But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God. ”
Then there was the delight, fresh every week, of the Saturday gathering of the brothers and sisters, whom Gibbie could hardly have loved more, had they been of his own immediate kin. Dearest of all was Donal, whose greeting -- “ Weel, cratur, ” was heavenly in Gibbie's ears. Donal would have had him go down and spend a day, every now and then, with him and the nowt, as in old times -- so soon the times grow old to the young! -- but Janet would not hear of it, until the foolish tale of the brownie should have quite blown over.
“ Eh, but I wuss, ” she added, as she said so, “ I cud win at something aboot his fowk, or aiven whaur he cam frae, or what they ca'd him! Never ae word has the cratur spoken! ”
“ Ye sud learn him to read, mither, ” said Donal.
“ Hoo wad I du that, laddie? I wad hae to learn him to speyk first, ” returned Janet.
“ Lat him come doon to me, an' I'll try my han', ” said Donal.
Janet, notwithstanding, persisted in her refusal -- for the present. By Donal's words set thinking of the matter, however, she now pondered the question day after day, how she might teach him to read; and at last the idea dawned upon her to substitute writing for speech.
She took the Shorter Catechism, which, in those days, had always an alphabet as janitor to the gates of its mysteries -- who, with the catechism as a consequence even dimly foreboded, would even have learned it? -- and showed Gibbie the letters, naming each several times, and going over them repeatedly. Then she gave him Donal's school-slate, with a sklet-pike, and said, “ Noo, mak a muckleA, cratur. ”
Gibbie did so, and well too: she found that already he knew about half the letters.
“ He's no fule! ” she said to herself in triumph.
The other half soon followed; and she then began to show him words -- not in the Catechism, but in the New Testament. Having told him what any word was, and led him to consider the letters composing it, she would desire him to make it on the slate, and he would do so with tolerable accuracy: she was not very severe about the spelling, if only it was plain he knew the word. Ere long he began to devise short ways of making the letters, and soon wrote with remarkable facility in a character modified from the printed letters. When at length Janet saw him take the book by himself, and sit pondering over it, she had not a doubt he was understanding it, and her heart leapt for joy. He had to ask her a good many words at first, and often the meaning of one and another; but he seldom asked a question twice; and as his understanding was far ahead of his reading, he was able to test a conjectured meaning by the sense or nonsense it made of the passage.
One day she turned him to the paraphrases. -LSB-2 -RSB- At once, to his astonishment, he found there, all silent, yet still the same delight which Donal used to divide to him from the book of ballants. His joy was unbounded. He jumped from his seat; he danced, and laughed, and finally stood upon one leg: no other mode of expression but this, the expression of utter failure to express, was of avail to the relief of his feeling.
One day, a few weeks after Gibbie had begun to read by himself, Janet became aware that he was sitting on his stool, in what had come to be called the cratur's corner, more than usually absorbed in some attempt with slate and pencil -- now ceasing, lost in thought, and now commencing anew. She went near and peeped over his shoulder. At the top of the slate he had written the word give, then the word giving, and below them, gib, then gibing; upon these followed gib again, and he was now plainly meditating something further. Suddenly he seemed to find what he wanted, for in haste, almost as if he feared it might escape him, he added ay, making the word giby -- then first lifted his head, and looked round, evidently seeking her. She laid her hand on his head. He jumped up with one of his most radiant smiles, and holding out the slate to her, pointed with his pencil to the word he had just completed. She did not know it for a word, but sounded it as it seemed to stand, making theg soft, as I daresay some of my readers, not recognizing in Gibbie the diminutive of Gilbert, may have treated its more accurate form. He shook his head sharply, and laid the point of his pencil upon theg of the give written above. Janet had been his teacher too long not to see what he meant, and immediately pronounced the word as he would have it. Upon this he began a wild dance, but sobering suddenly, sat down, and was instantly again absorbed in further attempt. It lasted so long that Janet resumed her previous household occupation. At length he rose, and with thoughtful, doubtful contemplation of what he had done, brought her the slate. There, under the fore-gone success, he had written the words galatians and breath, and under them, galbreath. She read them all, and at the last, which, witnessing to his success, she pronounced to his satisfaction, he began another dance, which again he ended abruptly, to draw her attention once more to the slate. He pointed to the giby first, and the galbreath next, and she read them together. This time he did not dance, but seemed waiting some result. Upon Janet the idea was dawning that he meant himself, but she was thrown out by the cognomen's correspondence with that of the laird, which suggested that the boy had been merely attempting the name of the great man of the district. With this in her mind, and doubtfully feeling her way, she essayed the tentative of setting him right in the Christian name, and said: “ Thomas -- Thomas Galbraith. ” Gibbie shook his head as before, and again resumed his seat. Presently he brought her the slate, with all the rest rubbed out, and these words standing alone -- sir giby galbreath. Janet read them aloud, whereupon Gibbie began stabbing his forehead with the point of his slate-pencil, and dancing once more in triumph: he had, he hoped, for the first time in his life, conveyed a fact through words.
“ That's what they ca' ye, is`t? ” said Janet, looking motherly at him: ” -- Sir Gibbie Galbraith? ”
Gibbie nodded vehemently.
“ It'll be some nickname the bairns hae gien him, ” said Janet to herself, but continued to gaze at him, in questioning doubt of her own solution. She could not recall having ever heard of a Sir in the family; but ghosts of things forgotten kept rising formless and thin in the sky of her memory: had she never heard of a Sir Somebody Galbraith somewhere? And still she stared at the child, trying to grasp what she could not even see. By this time Gibbie was standing quite still, staring at her in return: he could not think what made her stare so at him.
“ Wha ca'd ye that? ” said Janet at length, pointing to the slate.
Gibbie took the slate, dropped upon his seat, and after considerable cogitation and effort, brought her the words, gibyse fapher. Janet for a moment was puzzled, but when she thought of correcting thep with at, Gibbie entirely approved.
“ What was yer father, cratur? ” she asked.
Gibbie, after a longer pause, and more evident labour than hitherto, brought her the enigmatical word, asootr, which, the Sir running about in her head, quite defeated Janet. Perceiving his failure, he jumped upon a chair, and reaching after one of Robert's Sunday shoes on the crapo' the wa', the natural shelf running all round the cottage, formed by the top of the wall where the rafters rested, caught hold of it, tumbled with it upon his creepie, took it between his knees, and began a pantomime of the making or mending of the same with such verisimilitude of imitation, that it was clear to Janet he must have been familiar with the processes collectively called shoemaking; and therewith she recognized the word on the slate -- a sutor. She smiled to herself at the association of name and trade, and concluded that the Sir at least was a nickname. And yet -- and yet -- whether from the presence of some rudiment of an old memory, or from something about the boy that belonged to a higher style than his present showing, her mind kept swaying in an uncertainty whose very object eluded her.
“ What is't yer wull` at we ca' ye, than, cratur? ” she asked, anxious to meet the child's own idea of himself.
He pointed to the giby.
“ Weel, Gibbie, ” responded Janet, -- and at the word, now for the first time addressed by her to himself, he began dancing more wildly than ever, and ended with standing motionless on one leg: now first and at last he was fully recognized for what he was! -- “ Weel, Gibbie, Is' ca' ye what ye think fit, ” said Janet. “ An' noo gang yer wa's, Gibbie, an' see` at Crummie's no ower far ooto' sicht. ”
From that hour Gibbie had his name from the whole family -- his Christian name only, however, Robert and Janet having agreed it would be wise to avoid whatever might possibly bring the boy again under the notice of the laird. The latter half of his name they laid aside for him, as parents do a dangerous or over-valuable gift to a child.
Almost from the first moment of his being domiciled on Glashgar, what with the good food, the fine exercise, the exquisite air, and his great happiness, Gibbie began to grow; and he took to growing so fast that his legs soon shot far out of his winsey garment. But, of all places, that was a small matter in Gormgarnet, where the kilt was as common as trowsers. His wiry limbs grew larger without losing their firmness or elasticity; his chest, the effort in running up hill constantly alternated with the relief of running, down, rapidly expanded, and his lungs grew hardy as well as powerful; till he became at length such in wind and muscle, that he could run down a wayward sheep almost as well as Oscar. And his nerve grew also with his body and strength, till his coolness and courage were splendid. Never, when the tide of his affairs ran most in the shallows, had Gibbie had much acquaintance with fears, but now he had forgotten the taste of them, and would have encountered a wild highland bull alone on the mountain, as readily as tie Crummie up in her byre.
One afternoon, Donal, having got a half-holiday, by the help of a friend and the favour of Mistress Jean, came home to see his mother, and having greeted her, set out to find Gibbie. He had gone a long way, looking and calling without success, and had come in sight of a certain tiny loch, or tarn, that filled a hollow of the mountain. It was called the Deid Pot; and the old awe, amounting nearly to terror, with which in his childhood he had regarded it, returned upon him, the moment he saw the dark gleam of it, nearly as strong as ever -- an awe indescribable, arising from mingled feelings of depth, and darkness, and lateral recesses, and unknown serpent-like fishes. The pot, though small in surface, was truly of unknown depth, and had elements of dread about it telling upon far less active imaginations than Donal's. While he stood gazing at it, almost afraid to go nearer, a great splash that echoed from the steep rocks surrounding it, brought his heart into his mouth, and immediately followed a loud barking, in which he recognized the voice of Oscar. Before he had well begun to think what it could mean, Gibbie appeared on the opposite side of the loch, high above its level, on the top of the rocks forming its basin. He began instantly a rapid descent towards the water, where the rocks were so steep, and the footing so precarious, that Oscar wisely remained at the top, nor attempted to follow him. Presently the dog caught sight of Donal, where he stood on a lower level, whence the water was comparatively easy of access, and starting off at full speed, joined him, with much demonstration of welcome. But he received little notice from Donal, whose gaze was fixed, with much wonder and more fear, on the descending Gibbie. Some twenty feet from the surface of the loch, he reached a point whence clearly, in Donal's judgment, there was no possibility of farther descent. But Donal was never more mistaken; for that instant Gibbie flashed from the face of the rock head foremost, like a fishing bird, into the lake. Donal gave a cry, and ran to the edge of the water, accompanied by Oscar, who, all the time, had showed no anxiety, but had stood wagging his tail, and uttering now and then a little half-disappointed whine; neither now were his motions as he ran other than those of frolic and expectancy. When they reached the loch, there was Gibbie already but a few yards from the only possible landing-place, swimming with one hand, while in the other arm he held a baby lamb, its head lying quite still on his shoulder: it had been stunned by the fall, but might come round again. Then first Donal began to perceive that the cratur was growing an athlete. When he landed, he gave Donal a merry laugh of welcome, but without stopping flew up the hill to take the lamb to its mother. Fresh from the icy water, he ran so fast that it was all Donal could do to keep up with him.
The Deid Pot, then, taught Gibbie what swimming it could, which was not much, and what diving it could, which was more; but the nights of the following summer, when everybody on mountain and valley were asleep, and the moon shone, he would often go down to the Daur, and throwing himself into its deepest reaches, spend hours in lonely sport with water and wind and moon. He had by that time learned things knowing which a man can never be lonesome.
The few goats on the mountain were for a time very inimical to him. So often did they butt him over, causing him sometimes severe bruises, that at last he resolved to try conclusions with them; and when next a goat made a rush at him, he seized him by the horns and wrestled with him mightily. This exercise once begun, he provoked engagements, until his strength and aptitude were such and so well known, that not a billy-goat on Glashgar would have to do with him. But when he saw that every one of them ran at his approach, Gibbie, who could not bear to be in discord with any creature, changed his behaviour towards them, and took equal pains to reconcile them to him -- nor rested before he had entirely succeeded.
Every time Donal came home, he would bring some book of verse with him, and, leading Gibbie to some hollow, shady or sheltered as the time required, would there read to him ballads, or songs, or verse more stately, as mood or provision might suggest. The music, the melody and the cadence and the harmony, the tone and the rhythm and the time and the rhyme, instead of growing common to him, rejoiced Gibbie more and more every feast, and with ever-growing reverence he looked up to Donal as a mighty master-magician. But if Donal could have looked down into Gibbie's bosom, he would have seen something there beyond his comprehension. For Gibbie was already in the kingdom of heaven, and Donal would have to suffer, before he would begin even to look about for the door by which a man may enter into it.
I wonder how much Gibbie was indebted to his constrained silence during all these years. That he lost by it, no one will doubt; that he gained also, a few will admit: though I should find it hard to say what and how great, I can not doubt it bore an important part in the fostering of such thoughts and feelings and actions as were beyond the vision of Donal, poet as he was growing to be. While Donal read, rejoicing in the music both of sound and sense, Gibbie was doing something besides: he was listening with the same ears, and trying to see with the same eyes, which he brought to bear upon the things Janet taught him out of the book. Already those first weekly issues, lately commenced, of a popular literature had penetrated into the mountains of Gormgarnet; but whether Donal read Blind Harry from a thumbed old modern edition, or some new tale or neat poem from the Edinburgh press, Gibbie was always placing what he heard by the side, as it were, of what he knew; asking himself, in this case and that, what Jesus Christ would have done, or what he would require of a disciple. There must be one right way, he argued. Sometimes his innocence failed to see that no disciple of the Son of Man could, save by fearful failure, be in such circumstances as the tale or ballad represented. But, whether successful or not in the individual inquiry, the boy's mind and heart and spirit, in this silent, unembarrassed brooding, as energetic as it was peaceful, expanded upwards when it failed to widen, and the widening would come after. Gifted, from the first of his being, with such a rare drawing to his kind, he saw his utmost affection dwarfed by the words and deeds of Jesus -- beheld more and more grand the requirements made of a man who would love his fellows as Christ loved them. When he sank foiled from any endeavour to understand how a man was to behave in certain circumstances, these or those, he always took refuge in doing something -- and doing it better than before; leaped the more eagerly if Robert called him, spoke the more gently to Oscar, turned the sheep more careful not to scare them -- as if by instinct he perceived that the only hope of understanding lies in doing. He would cleave to the skirt when the hand seemed withdrawn; he would run to do the thing he had learned yesterday, when as yet he could find no answer to the question of to-day. Thus, as the weeks of solitude and love and thought and obedience glided by, the reality of Christ grew upon him, till he saw the very rocks and heather and the faces of the sheep like him, and felt his presence everywhere, and ever coming nearer. Nor did his imagination aid only a little in the growth of his being. He would dream waking dreams about Jesus, gloriously childlike. He fancied he came down every now and then to see how things were going in the lower part of his kingdom; and that when he did so, he made use of Glashgar and its rocks for his stair, coming down its granite scale in the morning, and again, when he had ended his visit, going up in the evening by the same steps. Then high and fast would his heart beat at the thought that some day he might come upon his path just when he had passed, see the heather lifting its head from the trail of his garment, or more slowly out of the prints left by his feet, as he walked up the stairs of heaven, going back to his Father. Sometimes, when a sheep stopped feeding and looked up suddenly, he would fancy that Jesus had laid his hand on its head, and was now telling it that it must not mind being killed; for he had been killed, and it was all right.
Although he could read the New Testament for himself now, he always preferred making acquaintance with any new portion of it first from the mouth of Janet. Her voice made the word more of a word to him. But the next time he read, it was sure to be what she had then read. She was his priestess; the opening of her Bible was the opening of a window in heaven; her cottage was the porter's lodge to the temple; his very sheep were feeding on the temple-stairs. Smile at such fancies if you will, but think also whether they may not be within sight of the greatest of facts. Of all teachings that which presents a far distant God is the nearest to absurdity. Either there is none, or he is nearer to every one of us than our nearest consciousness of self. An unapproachable divinity is the veriest of monsters, the most horrible of human imaginations.
When the winter came, with its frost and snow, Gibbie saved Robert much suffering. At first Robert was unwilling to let him go out alone in stormy weather; but Janet believed that the child doing the old man's work would be specially protected. All through the hard time, therefore, Gibbie went and came, and no evil befell him. Neither did he suffer from the cold; for, a sheep having died towards the end of the first autumn, Robert, in view of Gibbie's coming necessity, had begged of his master the skin, and dressed it with the wool upon it; and of this, between the three of them, they made a coat for him; so that he roamed the hill like a savage, in a garment of skin.
It became, of course, before very long, well known about the country that Mr. Duff's crofters upon Glashgar had taken in and were bringing up a foundling -- some said an innocent, some said a wild boy -- who helped Robert with his sheep, and Janet with her cow, but could not speak a word of either Gaelic or English. By and by, strange stories came to be told of his exploits, representing him as gifted with bodily powers as much surpassing the common, as his mental faculties were assumed to be under the ordinary standard. The rumour concerning him swelled as well as spread, mainly from the love of the marvellous common in the region, I suppose, until, towards the end of his second year on Glashgar, the notion of Gibbie in the imaginations of the children of Daurside, was that of an almost supernatural being, who had dwelt upon, or rather who had haunted, Glashgar from time immemorial, and of whom they had been hearing all their lives; and, although they had never heard anything bad of him -- that he was wild, that he wore a hairy skin, that he could do more than any other boy dared attempt, that he was dumb, and that yet -LRB- for this also was said -RRB- sheep and dogs and cattle, and even the wild creatures of the mountain, could understand him perfectly -- these statements were more than enough, acting on the suspicion and fear belonging to the savage in their own bosoms, to envelope the idea of him in a mist of dread, deepening to such horror in the case of the more timid and imaginative of them, that when the twilight began to gather about the cottages and farmhouses, the very mention of “ the beast-loono' Glashgar ” was enough, and that for miles up and down the river, to send many of the children scouring like startled hares into the house. Gibbie, in his atmosphere of human grace and tenderness, little thought what clouds of foolish fancies, rising from the valleys below, had, by their distorting vapours, made of him an object of terror to those whom at the very first sight he would have loved and served. Amongst these, perhaps the most afraid of him were the children of the gamekeeper, for they lived on the very foot of the haunted hill, near the bridge and gate of Glashruach; and the laird himself happened one day to be witness of their fear. He inquired the cause, and yet again was his enlightened soul vexed by the persistency with which the shadows of superstition still hung about his lands. Had he been half as philosophical as he fancied himself, he might have seen that there was not necessarily a single film of superstition involved in the belief that a savage roamed a mountain -- which was all that Mistress Mac Pholp, depriving the rumour of its richer colouring, ventured to impart as the cause of her children's perturbation; but anything a hair's- breadth out of the common, was a thing hated of Thomas Galbraith's soul, and whatever another believed which he did not choose to believe, he set down at once as superstition. He held therefore immediate communication with his gamekeeper on the subject, who in his turn was scandalized that his children should have thus proved themselves unworthy of the privileges of their position, and given annoyance to the liberal soul of their master, and took care that both they and his wife should suffer in consequence. The expression of the man's face as he listened to the laird's complaint, would not have been a pleasant sight to any lover of Gibbie; but it had not occurred either to master or man that the offensive being whose doubtful existence caused the scandal, was the same towards whom they had once been guilty of such brutality; nor would their knowledge of the fact have been favourable to Gibbie. The same afternoon, the laird questioned his tenant of the Mains concerning his cottars; and was assured that better or more respectable people were not in all the region of Gormgarnet.
When Robert became aware, chiefly through the representations of his wife and Donal, of Gibbie's gifts of other kinds than those revealed to himself by his good shepherding, he began to turn it over in his mind, and by and by referred the question to his wife whether they ought not to send the boy to school, that he might learn the things he was so much more than ordinarily capable of learning. Janet would give no immediate opinion. She must think, she said; and she took three days to turn the matter over in her mind. Her questioning cogitation was to this effect: “ What need has a man to know anything but what the New Testament teaches him? Life was little to me before I began to understand its good news; now it is more than good -- it is grand. But then, man is to live by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God; and everything came out of his mouth, when he said, Let there be this, and Let there be that. Whatever is true is his making, and the more we know of it the better. Besides, how much less of the New Testament would I understand now, if it were not for things I had gone through and learned before! ”
“ Ay, Robert, ” she answered, without preface, the third day, “ I'm thinkin' there's a heapo' things, gien I hed them,` at wad help me to ken what the Maister spak till. It wad be a sin no to lat the laddie learn. But wha'll tak the trible needfu' to the learnin'o' a puir dummie? ”
“ Lat him gang doon to the Mains, an' herd wi' Donal, ” answered Robert. “ He kens a hantle mair nor you or me or Gibbie aither; an' whan he's learnt a'` at Donal can shaw him it'll be time to think what neist. ”
“ Weel, ” answered Janet, “ nane can say but that's sense, Robert; an' though I'm laith, for your sake mair nor my ain, to lat the laddie gang, let him gang to Donal. I houp, atween the twa, they winna lat the nowt amo' the corn. ”
“ The corn's` maist cuttit noo, ” replied Robert; “ an' for the maittero' that, twa guid consciences winna blaw ane anither oot. -- But he needna gang ilka day. He can gie ae day to the learnin', an' the neist to thinkin' aboot it amo' the sheep. An' ony day` at ye want to keep him, ye can keep him; for it winna be as gien he gaed to the schuil. ”
Gibbie was delighted with the proposal.
“ Only, ” said Robert, in final warning, “ dinna ye lat them tak ye, Gibbie, an' score yer back again, my cratur; an' dinna ye answer naebody, whan they speir what ye're ca'd, onything mair nor jist Gibbie. ”
The boy laughed and nodded, and, as Janet said, the bairn's nick was guid's the best man's word.
Now came a happy time for the two boys. Donal began at once to teach Gibbie Euclid and arithmetic. When they had had enough of that for a day, he read Scotish history to him; and when they had done what seemed their duty by that, then came the best of the feast -- whatever tales or poetry Donal had laid his hands upon.
Somewhere about this time it was that he first got hold of a copy of the Paradise Lost. He found that he could not make much of it. But he found also that, as before with the ballads, when he read from it aloud to Gibbie, his mere listening presence sent back a spiritual echo that helped him to the meaning; and when neither of them understood it, the grand organ roll of it, losing nothing in the Scotch voweling, delighted them both.
Once they were startled by seeing the gamekeeper enter the field. The moment he saw him, Gibbie laid himself flat on the ground, but ready to spring to his feet and run. The man, however, did not come near them.
The second winter came, and with the first frost Gibbie resumed his sheepskin coat and the brogues and leggings which he had made for himself of deer-hide tanned with the hair. It pleased the two old people to see him so warmly clad. It pleased them also that, thus dressed, he always reminded them of some sacred personage undetermined -- Jacob, or John the Baptist, or the man who went to meet the lion and be killed by him -- in Robert's big Bible, that is, in one or other of the woodcuts of the same. Very soon the stories about him were all stirred up afresh, and new rumours added. This one and that of the children declared they had caught sight of the beast-loon, running about the rocks like a goat; and one day a boy of Angus's own, who had been a good way up the mountain, came home nearly dead with terror, saying the beast-loon had chased him a long way. He did not add that he had been throwing stones at the sheep, not perceiving any one in charge of them. So, one fine morning in December, having nothing particular to attend to, Angus shouldered his double-barrelled gun, and set out for a walk over Glashgar, in the hope of coming upon the savage that terrified the children. He must be off. That was settled. Where Angus was in authority, the outlandish was not to be suffered. The sun shone bright, and a keen wind was blowing.
About noon he came in sight of a few sheep, in a sheltered spot, where were little patches of coarse grass among the heather. On a stone, a few yards above them, sat Gibbie, not reading, as he would be half the time now, but busied with a Pan's- pipes -- which, under Donal's direction, he had made for himself -- drawing from them experimental sounds, and feeling after the possibility of a melody. He was so much occupied that he did not see Angus approach, who now stood for a moment or two regarding him. He was hirsute as Esau, his head crowned with its own plentiful crop -- even in winter he wore no cap -- his body covered with the wool of the sheep, and his legs and feet with the hide of the deer -- the hair, as in nature, outward. The deer-skin Angus knew for what it was from afar, and concluding it the spoil of the only crime of which he recognized the enormity, whereas it was in truth part of a skin he had himself sold to a saddler in the next village, to make sporrans of, boiled over with wrath, and strode nearer, grinding his teeth. Gibbie looked up, knew him, and starting to his feet, turned to the hill. Angus, levelling his gun, shouted to him to stop, but Gibbie only ran the harder, nor once looked round. Idiotic with rage, Angus fired. One of his barrels was loaded with shot, the other with ball: meaning to use the shot barrel, he pulled the wrong trigger, and liberated the bullet. It went through the calf of Gibbie's right leg, and he fell. It had, however, passed between two muscles without injuring either greatly, and had severed no artery. The next moment he was on his feet again and running, nor did he yet feel pain. Happily he was not very far from home, and he made for it as fast as he could -- preceded by Oscar, who, having once by accident been shot himself, had a mortal terror of guns. Maimed as Gibbie was, he could yet run a good deal faster up hill than the rascal who followed him. But long before he reached the cottage, the pain had arrived, and the nearer he got to it the worse it grew. In spite of the anguish, however, he held on with determination; to be seized by Angus and dragged down to Glashruach, would be far worse.
Robert Grant was at home that day, suffering from rheumatism. He was seated in the ingle-neuk, with his pipe in his mouth, and Janet was just taking the potatoes for their dinner off the fire, when the door flew open, and in stumbled Gibbie, and fell on the floor. The old man threw his pipe from him, and rose trembling, but Janet was before him. She dropt down on her knees beside the boy, and put her arm under his head. He was white and motionless.
“ Eh, Robert Grant! ” she cried, “ he's bleedin'. ”
The same moment they heard quick yet heavy steps approaching. At once Robert divined the truth, and a great wrath banished rheumatism and age together. Like a boy he sprang to the crapo' the wa', whence his yet powerful hand came back armed with a huge rusty old broad-sword that had seen service in its day. Two or three fierce tugs at the hilt proving the blade immovable in the sheath, and the steps being now almost at the door, he clubbed the weapon, grasping it by the sheathed blade, and holding it with the edge downward, so that the blow he meant to deal should fall from the round of the basket hilt. As he heaved it aloft, the gray old shepherd seemed inspired by the god of battles; the rage of a hundred ancestors was welling up in his peaceful breast. His red eye flashed, and the few hairs that were left him stood erect on his head like the mane of a roused lion. Ere Angus had his second foot over the threshold, down came the helmet-like hilt with a dull crash on his head, and he staggered against the wall.
“ Tak ye that, Angus Mac Pholp! ” panted Robert through his clenched teeth, following the blow with another from his fist, that prostrated the enemy. Again he heaved his weapon, and standing over him where he lay, more than half-stunned, said in a hoarse voice,
“ By the great God my maker, Angus Mac Pholp, gien ye seek to rise, I'll come doon on ye again as ye lie! -- Here, Oscar! -- He's no ane to haud ony fair play wi', mair nor a brute beast. -- Watch him, Oscar, and tak him by the thro't gien he muv a finger. ”
The gun had dropped from Angus's hand, and Robert, keeping his eye on him, secured it.
“ She's lodd, ” muttered Angus.
“ Lie still than, ” returned Robert, pointing the weapon at his head.
“ It'll be murder, ” said Angus, and made a movement to lay hold of the barrel.
“ Haud him doon, Oscar, ” cried Robert. The dog's paws were instantly on his chest, and his teeth grinning within an inch of his face. Angus vowed in his heart he would kill the beast on the first chance. “ It wad be but blude for blude, Angus Mac Pholp, ” he went on. “ Yer hoor's come, my man. That bairn's is no the first bludeo' man ye hae shed, an' it's time the Scripture was fulfillt, an' the han'o' man shed yours. ”
“ Ye're no gauin to kill me, Rob Grant? ” growled the fellow in growing fright.
“ I'm gauin to see whether the shirra winna be perswaudit to hang ye, ” answered the shepherd. “ This maun be putten a stap till. -- Quaiet! or I'll brain ye, an' save him the trouble. -- Here, Janet, fess yer poto' pitawtas. I'm gauin to toom the man's gun. Gien he daur to muv, jist gie him the haill bilin', bree an a',i' the ill faceo''m; gien ye lat him up he'll kill's a'; only tak care an' haud affo' the dog, puir fallow! -- I wad lay the stocko' yer murderin' guni' the fire gien` twarna` at I reckon it's the laird's an' no yours. Ye're no fit to be trustit wi' a gun. Ye're waur nor a weyver. ”
So saying he carried the weapon to the door, and, in terror lest he might, through wrath or the pressure of dire necessity, use it against his foe, emptied its second barrel into the earth, and leaned it up against the wall outside.
Janet obeyed her husband so far as to stand over Angus with the potato-pot: how far she would have carried her obedience had he attempted to rise may remain a question. Doubtless a brave man doing his duty would have scorned to yield himself thus; but right and wrong had met face to face, and the wrong had a righteous traitor in his citadel.
When Robert returned and relieved her guard, Janet went back to Gibbie, whom she had drawn towards the fire. He lay almost insensible, but in vain Janet attempted to get a teaspoonful of whisky between his lips. For as he grew older, his horror of it increased; and now, even when he was faint and but half conscious, his physical nature seemed to recoil from contact with it. It was with signs of disgust, rubbing his mouth with the back of each hand alternately, that he first showed returning vitality. In a minute or two more he was able to crawl to his bed in the corner, and then Janet proceeded to examine his wound.
By this time his leg was much swollen, but the wound had almost stopped bleeding, and it was plain there was no bullet in it, for there were the two orifices. She washed it carefully and bound it up. Then Gibbie raised his head and looked somewhat anxiously round the room.
“ Ye're luikin' efter Angus? ” said Janet; “ he's yon` er upo' the flure, a twa yairds frae ye. Dinna be fleyt; yer father an' Oscar has him safe eneuch, Is' warran'. ”
“ Here, Janet! ” cried her husband; “ gien ye be throu' wi' the bairn, I maun be gauin'. ”
“ Hoot, Robert! ye're no surely gauin' to lea' me an' puir Gibbie,` at maunna stir,i' the hoose oor lanes wi' the murderin' man! ” returned Janet.
”` Deed am I, lass! Jist rin and fess the bit tow` at ye hing yer duds upo' at the washin', an' we'll bin' the feet an' the han'so'` im. ”
Janet obeyed and went. Angus, who had been quiet enough for the last ten minutes, meditating and watching, began to swear furiously, but Robert paid no more heed than if he had not heard him -- stood calm and grim at his head, with the clubbed sword heaved over his shoulder. When she came back, by her husband's directions, she passed the rope repeatedly round the keeper's ankles, then several times between them, drawing the bouts tightly together, so that, instead of the two sharing one ring, each ankle had now, as it were, a close-fitting one for itself. Again and again, as she tied it, did Angus meditate a sudden spring, but the determined look of Robert, and his feeling memory of the blows he had so unsparingly delivered upon him, as well as the weakening effect of that he had received on his head, caused him to hesitate until it was altogether too late. When they began to bind his hands, however, he turned desperate, and struck at both, cursing and raging.
“ Gien ye binna quaiet, yes' taste the dog's teeth, ” said Robert. -- Angus reflected that he would have a better chance when he was left alone with Janet, and yielded. -- “ Troth! ” Robert went on, as he continued his task, “ I hae no pity left for ye, Angus Mac Pholp; an' gien ye tyauve ony mair, I'll lat at ye. I wad care no more to caw oot yer harns nor I wad to kill a tod -LRB- fox -RRB-. To be hangt for`t, I wad be but prood. It's a fine thing to be hangt for a guid cause, but ye'll be hangt for an ill ane. -- Noo, Janet, fess a bun` leo' brackens frae the byre, an' lay aneth's heid. We maunna be sairer upo' him, nor the needcessity laid upo' hiz. Is' jist trail him affo' the door, an' a bit on to the fire, for he'll be cauld whan he's quaitet doon, an' syne I'll awa' an' get wordo' the shirra'. Scotlan's come till a pretty pass, whan they shot men wi' guns, as gien they war wull craturs to be peelt an' aiten. Care what set him! He may weel be a keepero' ghem, for he's as ill a keepero''s brither as auld Cain himsel'. But, ” he concluded, tying the last knot hard, “ we'lle` en dee what we can to keep the keeper. ”
It was seldom Robert spoke at such length, but the provocation, the wrath, the conflict, and the victory, had sent the blood rushing through his brain, and loosed his tongue like strong drink.
“ Ye'll tak yer denner afore ye gang, Robert, ” said his wife.
“ Na, I can ait naething; I'll tak a bannocki' my pooch. Ye can gie my denner to Angus: he'll want hertenin' for the wuddie -LRB- gallows -RRB-. ”
So saying he put the bannock in his pocket, flung his broad blue bonnet upon his head, took his stick, and ordering Oscar to remain at home and watch the prisoner, set out for a walk of five miles, as if he had never known such a thing as rheumatism. He must find another magistrate than the laird; he would not trust him where his own gamekeeper, Angus Mac Pholp, was concerned.
“ Keep yer ee upon him, Janet, ” he said, turning in the doorway. “ Dinna lowse sichto' him afore I come back wi' the constable. Dinna lippen. Is' be back in three hoors like. ”
With these words he turned finally, and disappeared.
The mortification of Angus as he lay thus trapped in the den of the beast-loon, at being taken and bound by an old man, a woman, and a collie dog, was extreme. He went over the whole affair again and again in his mind, ever with a fresh burst of fury. It was in vain he excused himself on the ground that the attack had been so sudden and treacherous, and the precautions taken so complete. He had proved himself an ass, and the whole country would ring with mockery of him! He had sense enough, too, to know that he was in a serious as well as ludicrous predicament: he had scarcely courage enough to contemplate the possible result. If he could but get his hands free, it would be easy to kill Oscar and disable Janet. For the idiot, he counted him nothing. He had better wait, however, until there should be no boiling liquid ready to her hand.
Janet set out the dinner, peeled some potatoes, and approaching Angus, would have fed him. In place of accepting her ministration, he fell to abusing her with the worst language he could find. She withdrew without a word, and sat down to her own dinner; but, finding the torrent of vituperation kept flowing, rose again, and going to the door, fetched a great jug of cold water from the pail that always stood there, and coming behind her prisoner, emptied it over his face. He gave a horrid yell taking the douche for a boiling one.
“ Ye needna cry oot like that at guid cauld watter, ” said Janet. “ But ye'll jist absteen frae ony mair sic wordsi' my hearin', or yes' get the like ilka time ye brak oot. ” As she spoke, she knelt, and wiped his face and head with her apron.
A fresh oath rushed to Angus's lips, but the fear of a second jugful made him suppress it, and Janet sat down again to her dinner. She could scarcely eat a mouthful, however, for pity of the rascal beside her, at whom she kept looking wistfully without daring again to offer him anything.
While she sat thus, she caught a swift investigating look he cast on the cords that bound his hands, and then at the fire. She perceived at once what was passing in his mind. Rising, she went quickly to the byre, and returned immediately with a chain they used for tethering the cow. The end of it she slipt deftly round his neck, and made it fast, putting the little bar through a link.
“ Ir ye gauin' to hang me, ye she-deevil? ” he cried, making a futile attempt to grasp the chain with his bound hands.
“ Ye'll be wantin' a drappy mair cauld watter, I'm thinkin', ” said Janet.
She stretched the chain to its length, and with a great stone drove the sharp iron stake at the other end of it, into the clay-floor. Fearing next that, bound as his hands were, he might get a hold of the chain and drag out the stake, or might even contrive to remove the rope from his feet with them, or that he might indeed with his teeth undo the knot that confined his hands themselves -- she got a piece of rope, and made a loop at the end of it, then watching her opportunity passed the loop between his hands, noosed the other end through it, and drew the noose tight. The free end of the rope she put through the staple that received the bolt of the cottage-door, and gradually, as he grew weary in pulling against her, tightened the rope until she had his arms at their stretch beyond his head. Not quite satisfied yet, she lastly contrived, in part by setting Oscar to occupy his attention, to do the same with his feet, securing them to a heavy chest in the corner opposite the door, upon which chest she heaped a pile of stones. If it pleased the Lord to deliver them from this man, she would have her honest part in the salvation! And now at last she believed she had him safe.
Gibbie had fallen asleep, but he now woke and she gave him his dinner; then redd up, and took her Bible. Gibbie had lain down again, and she thought he was asleep.
Angus grew more and more uncomfortable, both in body and in mind. He knew he was hated throughout the country, and had hitherto rather enjoyed the knowledge; but now he judged that the popular feeling, by no means a mere prejudice, would tell against him committed for trial. He knew also that the magistrate to whom Robert had betaken himself, was not over friendly with his master, and certainly would not listen to any intercession from him. At length, what with pain, hunger, and fear, his pride began to yield, and, after an hour had passed in utter silence, he condescended to parley.
“ Janet Grant, ” he said, “ lat me gang, an' I'll trouble you or yours no more. ”
“ Wadna ye think me some fule to hearken till ye? ” suggested Janet.
“ I'll sweir ony lawfu' aith` at ye like to lay upo' me, ” protested Angus, ”` at I'll dee whatever ye please to requireo' me. ”
“ I dinna doobt ye wad sweir; but what neist? ” said Janet.
“ What neist but ye'll lowse my han's? ” rejoined Angus.
“ It's no mainnero' use mentionin'`t, ” replied Janet; “ for, as ye ken, I'm un` er authority, an' yersel'h` ard my man tell me to tak unco percaution no to lat ye gang; for verily, Angus, ye hae conduckit yersel' this day more like ane possessed wi' a legion, than the douce faimily man` at ye're supposit by the laird, yer maister, to be. ”
“ Was ever man, ” protested Angus “ made sic a fuleo', an' sae misguidit, by a pairo' auld cottars like you an' Robert Grant! ”
“ Wi' the helpo' the Lord, by meanso' the dog, ” supplemented Janet. “ I wuss frae my hert I hed the great reid draigoni' yer place, an' I wad watch him bonny, I can tell ye, Angus Mac Pholp. I wadna be clear aboot giein him his denner, Angus. ”
“ Let me gang, wuman, wi' yer reid draigons! I'll hairm naebody. The puir idiot's no muckle the waur, an' I'll tak mair tent whan I fire anither time. ”
“ Wiser fowk nor me maun see to that, ” answered Janet.
“ Hoots, wuman! it was naething but an accident. ”
“ I kenna; but it'll be seen what Gibbie says. ”
“ Awva! his word's guid for naething. ”
“ For a penny, or a thoosan' poun'. ”
“ My wife'll be ooto' her wuts, ” pleaded Angus.
“ Wad ye like a drinko' milk? ” asked Janet, rising.
“ I wad that, ” he answered.
She filled her little teapot with milk, and he drank it from the spout, hoping she was on the point of giving way.
“ Noo, ” she said, when he had finished his draught, “ ye maun jist mak the besto' it, Angus. Ony gait, it's a guid lesson in patience to ye, an' that ye haena had ower aften, I'm thinkin' -- Robert'll be here er lang. ”
With these words she set down the teapot, and went out: it was time to milk her cow.
In a little while Gibbie rose, tried to walk, but failed, and getting down on his hands and knees, crawled out after her. Angus caught a glimpse of his face as he crept past him, and then first recognized the boy he had lashed. Not compunction, but an occasional pang of dread lest he should have been the cause of his death, and might come upon his body in one of his walks, had served so to fix his face in his memory, that, now he had a near view of him, pale with suffering and loss of blood and therefore more like his former self, he knew him beyond a doubt. With a great shoot of terror he concluded that the idiot had been lying there silently gloating over his revenge, waiting only till Janet should be out of sight, and was now gone after some instrument wherewith to take it. He pulled and tugged at his bonds, but only to find escape absolutely hopeless. In gathering horror, he lay moveless at last, but strained his hearing towards every sound.
Not only did Janet often pray with Gibbie, but sometimes as she read, her heart would grow so full, her soul be so pervaded with the conviction, perhaps the consciousness, of the presence of the man who had said he would be always with his friends, that, sitting there on her stool, she would begin talking to him out of the very depth of her life, just as if she saw him in Robert's chair in the ingle-neuk, at home in her cottage as in the house where Mary sat at his feet and heard his word. Then would Gibbie listen indeed, awed by very gladness. He never doubted that Jesus was there, or that Janet saw him all the time although he could not.
This custom of praying aloud, she had grown into so long before Gibbie came to her, and he was so much and such a child, that his presence was no check upon the habit. It came in part from the intense reality of her belief, and was in part a willed fostering of its intensity. She never imagined that words were necessary; she believed that God knew her every thought, and that the moment she lifted up her heart, it entered into communion with him; but the very sound of the words she spoke seemed to make her feel nearer to the man who, being the eternal Son of the Father, yet had ears to hear and lips to speak, like herself. To talk to him aloud, also kept her thoughts together, helped her to feel the fact of the things she contemplated, as well as the reality of his presence.
Now the byre was just on the other side of the turf wall against which was the head of Gibbie's bed, and through the wall Gibbie had heard her voice, with that something in the tone of it which let him understand she was not talking to Crummie, but to Crummie's maker; and it was therefore he had got up and gone after her. For there was no reason, so far as he knew or imagined, why he should not hear, as so many times before, what she was saying to the Master. He supposed that as she could not well speak to him in the presence of a man like Angus, she had gone out to the byre to have her talk with him there. He crawled to the end of the cottage so silently that she heard no sound of his approach. He would not go into the byre, for that might disturb her, for she would have to look up to know that it was only Gibbie; he would listen at the door. He found it wide open, and peeping in, saw Crummie chewing away, and Janet on her knees with her forehead leaning against the cow and her hands thrown up over her shoulder. She spoke in such a voice of troubled entreaty as he had never heard from her before, but which yet woke a strange vibration of memory in his deepest heart. -- Yes, it was his father's voice it reminded him of! So had he cried in prayer the last time he ever heard him speak. What she said was nearly this:
“O Lord, gin ye wad but say what ye wad hae deen! Whan a body disna ken yer wull, she's jist driven to distraction. Thoo knows, my Maister, as weel's I can tell ye,` at gien ye said till me,` That man's gauin' to cut yer thro`t: tak the tows frae him, an' lat him up,' I wad rin to dee` t. It's no revenge, Lord; it's jist` at I dinna ken. The man's dune me no ill,` cep' as he's sair hurtit yer bonnie Gibbie. It's Gibbie` at has to forgie` im an' syne me. But my man tellt me no to lat him up, an' hoo am I to be a wife sic as ye wad hae,O Lord, gien I dinna dee as my man tellt me! It wad ill befit me to lat my auld Robert gang sae far wantin' his denner, a' for naething. What wad he think whan he cam hame! Of coorse, Lord, gien ye tellt me, that wad mak a' the differ, for ye're Robert's maister as weel's mine, an' your wull wad saitisfee him jist as weel's me. I wad fain lat him gang, puir chiel! but I daurna. Lord, convert him to the trowth. Lord, lat him ken what hate is. -- But eh, Lord! I wuss ye wad tell me what to du. Thy wull's the beginnin' an' mids an' en'o' a' thing to me. I'm wullin' eneuch to lat him gang, but he's Robert's pris` ner an' Gibbie's enemy; he's no my pris` ner an' no my enemy, an' I dinna think I hae the richt. An' wha kens but he micht gang shottin' mair fowk yet,'cause I loot him gang! -- But he canna shot a hare wantin' thy wull,O Jesus, the Saviouro' man an' beast; an' ill wad I like to hae a han'i' the hangin'o''m. He may deserve`t, Lord, I dinna ken; but I'm thinkin' ye made him no sae weel tempered -- as my Robert, for enstance. ”
Here her voice ceased, and she fell a moaning.
Her trouble was echoed in dim pain from Gibbie's soul. That the prophetess who knew everything, the priestess who was at home in the very treasure-house of the great king, should be thus abandoned to dire perplexity, was a dreadful, a bewildering fact. But now first he understood the real state of the affair in the purport of the old man's absence; also how he was himself potently concerned in the business: if the offence had been committed against Gibbie, then with Gibbie lay the power, therefore the duty of forgiveness. But verily Gibbie's merit and his grace were in inverse ratio. Few things were easier to him than to love his enemies, and his merit in obeying the commandment was small indeed. No enemy had as yet done him, in his immediate person, the wrong he could even imagine it hard to forgive. No sooner had Janet ceased than he was on his way back to the cottage: on its floor lay one who had to be waited upon with forgiveness.
Wearied with futile struggles, Angus found himself compelled to abide his fate, and was lying quite still when Gibbie re-entered. The boy thought he was asleep, but on the contrary he was watching his every motion, full of dread. Gibbie went hopping upon one foot to the hole in the wall where Janet kept the only knife she had. It was not there. He glanced round, but could not see it. There was no time to lose. Robert's returning steps might be heard any moment, and poor Angus might be hanged -- only for shooting Gibbie! He hopped up to him and examined the knots that tied his hands: they were drawn so tight -- in great measure by his own struggles -- and so difficult to reach from their position, that he saw it would take him a long time to undo them. Angus thought, with fresh horror, he was examining them to make sure they would hold, and was so absorbed in watching his movements that he even forgot to curse, which was the only thing left him. Gibbie looked round again for a moment, as if in doubt, then darted upon the tongs -- there was no poker -- and thrust them into the fire, caught up the asthmatic old bellows, and began to blow the peats. Angus saw the first action, heard the second, and a hideous dismay clutched his very heart: the savage fool was about to take his revenge in pinches with the red hot tongs! He looked for no mercy -- perhaps felt that he deserved none. Manhood held him silent until he saw him take the implement of torture from the fire, glowing, not red but white hot, when he uttered such a terrific yell, that Gibbie dropped the tongs -- happily not the hot ends -- on his own bare foot, but caught them up again instantly, and made a great hop to Angus: if Janet had heard that yell and came in, all would be spoilt. But the faithless keeper began to struggle so fiercely, writhing with every contortion, and kicking with every inch, left possible to him, that Gibbie hardly dared attempt anything for dread of burning him, while he sent yell after yell “ as fast as mill-wheels strike. ” With a sudden thought Gibbie sprang to the door and locked it, so that Janet should not get in, and Angus, hearing the bolt, was the more convinced that his purpose was cruel, and struggled and yelled, with his eyes fixed on the glowing tongs, now fast cooling in Gibbie's hand. If instead of glowering at the tongs, he had but lent one steadfast regard to the face of the boy whom he took for a demoniacal idiot, he would have seen his supposed devil smile the sweetest of human, troubled, pitiful smiles. Even then, I suspect, however, his eye being evil, he would have beheld in the smile only the joy of malice in the near prospect of a glut of revenge.
In the mean time Janet, in her perplexity, had, quite forgetful of the poor cow's necessities, abandoned Crummie, and wandered down the path as far as the shoulder her husband must cross ascending from the other side: thither, a great rock intervening, so little of Angus's cries reached, that she heard nothing through the deafness of her absorbing appeal for direction to her shepherd, the master of men.
Gibbie thrust the tongs again into the fire, and while blowing it, bethought him that it might give Angus confidence if he removed the chain from his neck. He laid down the bellows, and did so. But to Angus the action seemed only preparatory to taking him by the throat with the horrible implement. In his agony and wild endeavour to frustrate the supposed intent, he struggled harder than ever. But now Gibbie was undoing the rope fastened round the chest. This Angus did not perceive, and when it came suddenly loose in the midst of one of his fierce straining contortions, the result was that he threw his body right over his head, and lay on his face for a moment confused. Gibbie saw his advantage. He snatched his clumsy tool out of the fire, seated himself on the corresponding part of Angus's person, and seizing with the tongs the rope between his feet, held on to both, in spite of his heaves and kicks. In the few moments that passed while Gibbie burned through a round of the rope, Angus imagined a considerable number of pangs; but when Gibbie rose and hopped away, he discovered that his feet were at liberty, and scrambled up, his head dizzy, and his body reeling. But such was then the sunshine of delight in Gibbie's countenance that even Angus stared at him for a moment -- only, however, with a vague reflection on the inconsequentiality of idiots, to which succeeded the impulse to take vengeance upon him for his sufferings. But Gibbie still had the tongs, and Angus's hands were still tied. He held them out to him. Gibbie pounced upon the knots with hands and teeth. They occupied him some little time, during which Angus was almost compelled to take better cognizance of the face of the savage; and dull as he was to the good things of human nature, he was yet in a measure subdued by what he there looked upon rather than perceive; while he could scarcely mistake the hearty ministration of his teeth and nails! The moment his hands were free, Gibbie looked up at him with a smile, and Angus did not even box his ears. Holding by the wall, Gibbie limped to the door and opened it. With a nod meant for thanks, the gamekeeper stepped out, took up his gun from where it leaned against the wall, and hurried away down the hill.A moment sooner and he would have met Janet; but she had just entered the byre again to milk poor Crummie.
When she came into the cottage, she stared with astonishment to see no Angus on the floor. Gibbie, who had lain down again in much pain, made signs that he had let him go: whereupon such a look of relief came over her countenance that he was filled with fresh gladness, and was if possible more satisfied still with what he had done.
It was late before Robert returned -- alone, weary, and disappointed. The magistrate was from home; he had waited for him as long as he dared; but at length, both because of his wife's unpleasant position, and the danger to himself if he longer delayed his journey across the mountain, seeing it threatened a storm, and there was no moon, he set out. That he too was relieved to find no Angus there, he did not attempt to conceal. The next day he went to see him, and told him that, to please Gibbie, he had consented to say nothing more about the affair. Angus could not help being sullen, but he judged it wise to behave as well as he could, kept his temper therefore, and said he was sorry he had been so hasty, but that Robert had punished him pretty well, for it would be weeks before he recovered the blow on the head he had given him. So they parted on tolerable terms, and there was no further persecution of Gibbie from that quarter.
It was some time before he was able to be out again, but no hour spent with Janet was lost.
That winter the old people were greatly tried with rheumatism; for not only were the frosts severe, but there was much rain between. Their children did all in their power to minister to their wants, and Gibbie was nurse as well as shepherd. He who when a child had sought his place in the live universe by attending on drunk people and helping them home through the midnight streets, might have felt himself promoted considerably in having the necessities of such as Robert and Janet to minister to, but he never thought of that. It made him a little mournful sometimes to think that he could not read to them. Janet, however, was generally able to read aloud. Robert, being also asthmatic, suffered more than she, and was at times a little impatient.
Gibbie still occupied his heather-bed on the floor, and it was part of his business, as nurse, to keep up a good fire on the hearth: peats, happily, were plentiful. Awake for this cause, he heard in the middle of one night, the following dialogue between the husband and wife.
“ I'm growin' terrible auld, Janet, ” said Robert. “ It's a sair thing this auld age, an' I canna bring mysel' content wi'` t. Ye see I haena been used till` t. ”
“ That's true, Robert, ” answered Janet. “ Gien we had been born auld, we micht by this time hae been at hame wi`t. But syne what wad hae comeo' the gran' delichto' seein' auld age rin hirplin awa' frae the faceo' the Aunciento' Days? ”
“ I wad fain be contentit wi' my lot, thouch, ” persisted Robert; “ but whan I fin' mysel' sae helpless like, I canna get it ooto' my heid` at the Lord has forsaken me, an' left me to mak an ill besto”t wantin' him. ”
“ I wadna lat sic a thoucht come intil my heid, Robert, sae lang as I kenned I cudna draw breath nor wag tongue wantin' him, for in him we leeve an' muv an' hae oor bein'. Gien he be the lifeo' me, what for sud I trible mysel' aboot that life? ”
“ Ay, lass! but gien ye hed this ashmy, makin' a' yer breist as gien` twar lined wi' the san' paper` at they hed been lichtin' a thoosan' or twa lucifer spunks upo' -- ye micht be driven to forget` at the Lord was yer life -- for I can tell ye it's no like haein his breithi' yer nostrils. ”
“ Eh, my bonny laad! ” returned Janet with infinite tenderness, “ I micht weel forget it! I doobt I wadna be half sae patient as yersel'; but jist to help to haud ye up, Is' tell ye what I think I wad ettle efter. I wad say to mysel' Gien he be the lifeo' me, I hae no business wi' ony mairo”t nor he gies me. I hae but to tak ae breath, be't hard, be't easy, ane at a time, an' lat him see to the neist himsel'. Here I am, an' here's him; an'` at he winna lat's ain wark come to ill, that I'm weel sureo'. An' ye micht jist think to yersel', Robert,` at as ye are born intil the warl', an' here ye are auld intil`t -- ye may jist think, I say,` at hoo ye're jist new-born an auld man, an' beginnin' to grow yoong, an'` at that's yer business. For naither you nor me can be that far frae hame, Robert, an' whan we win there we'll be yoong eneuch, I'm thinkin'; an' no ower yoong, for we'll hae what they say ye canna get doon here -- a pairo' auld heids upo' yoong shoothers. ”
“ Eh! but I wuss I may hae ye there, Janet, for I kenna what I wad do wantin' ye. I wad be unco stray up yon` er, gien I had to gang my lane, an' no you to refar till,` at kens thew` yso' the place. ”
“ I ken no more about thew` yso' the place nor yersel', Robert, though I'm thinkin' they'll be unco quaiet an' sensible, seein'` at a' there maun be gentle fowk. It's eneuch to me` at I'll bei' the hooseo' my Maister's father; an' my Maister was weel content to gang to that hoose; an' it maun be something by ordinar'` at was fit for him. But puir simple fowk like oorsel's` ill hae no need to hing down the heid an' luik like gowks` at disna ken mainners. Bairns are no expeckit to ken a' thew` yso' a muckle hoose` at they hae never been intili' their lives afore. ”
“ It's no that a` thegither` at tribles me, Janet; it's mair` at I'll be expeckit to sing an' luik pleased-like, an' I div not ken hoo it'll be poassible, an' you naegait` ithin my sicht or my cry, or the hearin'o' my ears. ”
“ Div ye believe this, Robert' -- at we're a' ane, jist ane, in Christ Jesus? ”
“ I canna weel say. I'm no denyin' naething` at the buik tells me; ye ken me better nor that, Janet; but there's mony a thing it says` at I dinna ken whether I believe't` at my ain han', or whether it be only at a' thing` at ye believe, Janet,'s jist to me as gien I believet it mysel'; an' that's a sair thought, for a man canna be savete` en by the proxyo''s ain wife. ”
“ Weel, ye're just muckle whaur I fin' mysel' whiles, Robert; an' I comfort mysel' wi' the houp` at we'll ken the thing there,` at maybe we're but tryin' to believe here. But ony gait ye hae pruv't weel` at you an' me's ane, Robert. Noo we ken frae Scriptur'` at the Maister cam to mak aye aneo' them` at was at twa; an' we ken also` at he conquered Deith; sae he wad never lat Deith mak the ane` at he had made ane, intil twa again: it's no rizon to think it. For oucht I ken, what luiks like a gangin' awa may be a comin' nearer. An' there may bew` yso' comin' nearer till ane anither up yon` er` at we ken naething aboot doon here. There's that laddie, Gibbie: I canna but think` at gien he hed the tongue to speyk, or aiven gien he cud mak' ony soon' wi' sense intil`t, like singin', say, he wad fin' himsel' nearer till's nor he cani' the noo. Wha kens but them` at's singin' up there afore the throne, may sing so bonny,` at,i' the pooero' their braw thouchts, their verra sangs may be like laidders for them to come doon upo', an' hing aboot them` at they hae left ahin' them, till the time comes for them to gang an' jine themi' the green pasturs aboot the treeo' life. ”
More of like talk followed, but these words concerning appropinquation in song, although their meaning was not very clear, took such a hold of Gibbie that he heard nothing after, but fell asleep thinking about them.
In the middle of the following night, Janet woke her husband.
“ Robert! Robert! ” she whispered in his ear, “ hearken. I'm thinkin' yon maun be some wee angel come doon to say,' I ken ye, puir fowk.' ”
Robert, scarce daring to draw his breath listened with his heart in his mouth. From somewhere, apparently within the four walls of the cottage, came a low lovely sweet song -- something like the piping of a big bird, something like a small human voice.
“ It canna be an angel, ” said Robert at length, “ for it's singin'` My Nannie's Awa'.' ”
“ An' what for no an angel? ” returned Janet. “ Isna that jist what ye micht be singin' yersel', efter what ye was sayin' last nicht? I'm thinkin' there maun be a heapo' yoong angels up there, new deid, singin',` My Nannie's Awa'.' ”
“ Hoot, Janet! ye ken there's naither merryin' nor giein' in merriage there. ”
“ Wha was sayin' onything aboot merryin' or giein' in merriage, Robert? Is that to say` at you an' me's to be no more to ane anither nor ither fowk? Nor it's no to say` at,'cause merriage is no thew'yo' the country,` at there's to be naething betteri' the placeo'` t. ”
“ What garred the Maister say onything aboot it than? ”
“ Jist'cause they plaguit him wi' speirin'. He wad never hae opened his moo' anent it -- it wasna aneo' his subjec's -- gien it hadna been` at a wheen pride-prankit beuk-fowk` at didna believe there was ony angels, or speeritso' ony kin', but said` at a man ance deid was aye an' a` thegither deid, an' yet preten` it to believe in God himsel' for a' that, thoucht to bleck -LRB- nonplus -RRB- the Maister wi' speirin' whilko' saiven a puir body` at had been garred merry them a', wad be the wifeo' whan they gat up again. ”
“A body micht think it wad be left to hersel' to say, ” suggested Robert. “ She had come throu' eneuch to hae some claim to be considert. ”
“ She maun hae been a richt guid ane, ” said Janet, “ gien ilk aneo' the saiven wad be wantin' her again. But Is' warran' she kenned weel eneuch whilko' them was her ain. But, Robert, man, this is jokin' -- no` at it's your wyte -LRB- blame -RRB- -- an' it's no becomin', I doobt, upo' sic a sarious subjec'. An' I'm feart -- ay! there! -- I thoucht as muckle! -- the wee sangie's drappit itsel' a` thegither, jist as gien the laverock had fa` ntit intil` ts nest. I doobt we'll hear nae mairo'` t. ”
As soon as he could hear what they were saying, Gibbie had stopped to listen; and now they had stopped also, and there was an end.
For weeks he had been picking out tunes on his Pan's- pipes, also, he had lately discovered that, although he could not articulate, he could produce tones, and had taught himself to imitate the pipes. Now, to his delight, he had found that the noises he made were recognized as song by his father and mother. From that time he was often heard crooning to himself. Before long he began to look about the heavens for airs -- to suit this or that song he came upon, or heard from Donal.
Change, meantime, was in progress elsewhere, and as well upon the foot as high on the side of Glashgar -- change which seemed all important to those who felt the grind of the glacier as it slipped. Thomas Galbraith, of Glashruach, Esquire, whom no more than any other could negation save, was not enfranchised from folly, or lifted above belief in a lie, by his hatred to what he called superstition: he had long fallen into what will ultimately prove the most degrading superstition of all -- the worship of Mammon, and was rapidly sinking from deep to lower deep. First of all, this was the superstition of placing hope and trust in that which, from age to age, and on the testimony of all sorts of persons who have tried it, has been proved to fail utterly; next, such was the folly of the man whose wisdom was indignant with the harmless imagination of simple people for daring flutter its wings upon his land, that he risked what he loved best in the world, even better than Mammon, the approbation of fellow worshippers, by investing in Welsh gold mines.
The property of Glashruach was a good one, but not nearly so large as it had been, and he was anxious to restore it to its former dimensions. The rents were low, and it could but tardily widen its own borders, while of money he had little and no will to mortgage. To increase his money, that he might increase his property, he took to speculation, but had never had much success until that same year, when he disposed of certain shares at a large profit -- nothing troubled by the conviction that the man who bought them -- in ignorance of many a fact which the laird knew -- must in all probability be ruined by them. He counted this success, and it gave him confidence to speculate further. In the mean time, with what he had thus secured, he reannexed to the property a small farm which had been for some time in the market, but whose sale he had managed to delay. The purchase gave him particular pleasure, because the farm not only marched with his home-grounds, but filled up a great notch in the map of the property between Glashruach and the Mains, with which also it marched. It was good land, and he let it at once, on his own terms, to Mr. Duff.
In the spring, affairs looked rather bad for him, and in the month of May, he considered himself compelled to go to London: he had a faith in his own business-faculty quite as foolish as any superstition in Gormgarnet. There he fell into the hands of a certain man, whose true place would have been in the swell mob, and not in the House of Commons -- a fellow who used his influence and facilities as member of Parliament in promoting bubble companies. He was intimate with an elder brother of the laird, himself member for a not unimportant borough -- a man, likewise, of principles that love the shade; and between them they had no difficulty in making a tool of Thomas Galbraith, as chairman of a certain aggregate of iniquity, whose designation will not, in some families, be forgotten for a century or so. During the summer, therefore, the laird was from home, working up the company, hoping much from it, and trying hard to believe in it -- whipping up its cream, and perhaps himself taking the froth, certainly doing his best to make others take it, for an increase of genuine substance. He devoted the chamber of his imagination to the service of Mammon, and the brownie he kept there played him fine pranks.
A smaller change, though of really greater importance in the end, was, that in the course of the winter, one of Donal's sisters was engaged by the housekeeper at Glashruach, chiefly to wait upon Miss Galbraith. Ginevra was still a silent, simple, unconsciously retiring, and therewith dignified girl, in whom childhood and womanhood had begun to interchange hues, as it were with the play of colours in a dove's neck. Happy they in whom neither has a final victory! Happy also all who have such women to love! At one moment Ginevra would draw herself up -- bridle her grandmother would have called it -- with involuntary recoil from doubtful approach; the next, Ginny would burst out in a merry laugh at something in which only a child could have perceived the mirth-causing element; then again the woman would seem suddenly to re-enter and rebuke the child, for the sparkle would fade from her eyes, and she would look solemn, and even a little sad. The people about the place loved her, but from the stillness on the general surface of her behaviour, the far away feeling she gave them, and the impossibility of divining how she was thinking except she chose to unbosom herself, they were all a little afraid of her as well. They did not acknowledge, even to themselves, that her evident conscientiousness bore no small part in causing that slight uneasiness of which they were aware in her presence. Possibly it roused in some of them such a dissatisfaction with themselves as gave the initiative to dislike of her.
In the mind of her new maid, however, there was no strife, therefore no tendency to dislike. She was thoroughly well-meaning, like the rest of her family, and finding her little mistress dwell in the same atmosphere, the desire to be acceptable to her awoke at once, and grew rapidly in her heart. She was the youngest of Janet's girls, about four years older than Donal, not clever, but as sweet as honest, and full of divine service. Always ready to think others better than herself, the moment she saw the still face of Ginevra, she took her for a little saint, and accepted her as a queen, whose will to her should be law. Ginevra, on her part, was taken with the healthy hue and honest eyes of the girl, and neither felt any dislike to her touching her hair, nor lost her temper when she was awkward and pulled it. Before the winter was over, the bond between them was strong.
One principal duty required of Nicie -- her parents had named her after the mother of St. Paul's Timothy -- was to accompany her mistress every fine day to the manse, a mile and a half from Glashruach. For some time Ginevra had been under the care of Miss Machar, the daughter of the parish clergyman, an old gentleman of sober aspirations, to whom the last century was the Augustan age of English literature. He was genial, gentle, and a lover of his race, with much reverence for, and some faith in, a Scotch God, whose nature was summed up in a series of words beginning with omni. Partly that the living was a poor one, and her father old and infirm, Miss Marchar, herself middle-aged, had undertaken the instruction of the little heiress, never doubting herself mistress of all it was necessary a lady should know. By nature she was romantic, but her romance had faded a good deal. Possibly had she read the new poets of her age, the vital flame of wonder and hope might have kept not a little of its original brightness in her heart; but under her father's guidance, she had never got beyond the Night Thoughts, and the Course of Time. Both intellectually and emotionally, therefore, Miss Machar had withered instead of ripening. As to her spiritual carriage, she thought too much about being a lady to be thoroughly one. The utter graciousness of the ideal lady would blush to regard itself. She was both gentle and dignified; but would have done a nature inferior to Ginevra's injury by the way she talked of things right and wrong as becoming or not becoming in a lady of position such as Ginevra would one day find herself. What lessons she taught her she taught her well. Her music was old-fashioned, of course; but I have a fancy that perhaps the older the music one learns first, the better; for the deeper is thereby the rooting of that which will have the atmosphere of the age to blossom in. But then to every lover of the truth, a true thing is dearer because it is old-fashioned, and dearer because it is new-fashioned: and true music, like true love, like all truth, laughs at the god Fashion, because it knows him to be but an ape.
Every day, then, except Saturday and Sunday, Miss Machar had for two years been in the habit of walking or driving to Glashruach, and there spending the morning hours; but of late her father had been ailing, and as he was so old that she could not without anxiety leave him when suffering from the smallest indisposition, she had found herself compelled either to give up teaching Ginevra, or to ask Mr. Galbraith to allow her to go, when such occasion should render it necessary, to the manse. She did the latter; the laird had consented; and thence arose the duty required of Nicie. Mr. Machar's health did not improve as the spring advanced, and by the time Mr. Galbraith left for London, he was confined to his room, and Ginevra's walk to the manse for lessons had settled into a custom.
One morning they found, on reaching the manse, that the minister was very unwell, and that in consequence Miss Machar could not attend to Ginevra; they turned, therefore, to walk home again. Now the manse, upon another root of Glashgar, was nearer than Glashruach to Nicie's home, and many a time as she went and came, did she lift longing eyes to the ridge that hid it from her view. This morning, Ginevra observed that, every other moment, Nicie was looking up the side of the mountain, as if she saw something unusual upon it -- occasionally, indeed, when the winding of the road turned their backs to it, stopping and turning round to gaze.
“ What is the matter with you, Nicie? ” she asked. “ What are you looking at up there? ”
“ I'm won` erin' what my mother'll be deein', ” answered Nicie: “ she's up there. ”
“ Up there! ” exclaimed Ginny, and, turning, stared at the mountain too, expecting to perceive Nicie's mother somewhere upon the face of it.
“ Na, na, missie! ye canna see her, ” said the girl; “ she's no in sicht. She's ower ayont there. Only gien we war up whaur ye see yon twa three sheep again' the lift -LRB- sky -RRB-, we cud see the bit hoosie whaur her an' my father bides. ”
“ How I should like to see your father and mother, Nicie! ” exclaimed Ginevra.
“ Weel, I'm sure they wad be richt glaid to see yersel', missie, ony time` at ye likit to gang an' see them. ”
“ Why shouldn't we go now, Nicie? It's not a dangerous place, is it? ”
“ No, missie. Glashgar's as quaiet an' weel-behaved a hill as ony in a' the cweentry, ” answered Nicie, laughing. “ She's some puir, like the laveo''s, an' hasna muckle to spare, but the sheep get a feow nibbles upon her, here an' there; an' my mither manages to keep a coo, an' get plentyo' milk frae her tee. ”
“ Come, then, Nicie. We have plenty of time. Nobody wants either you or me, and we shall get home before any one misses us. ”
Nicie was glad enough to consent; they turned at once to the hill, and began climbing. But Nicie did not know this part of it nearly so well as that which lay between Glashruach and the cottage, and after they had climbed some distance, often stopping and turning to look down on the valley below, the prospect of which, with its streams and river, kept still widening and changing as they ascended, they arrived at a place where the path grew very doubtful, and she could not tell in which of two directions they ought to go.
“ I'll take this way, and you take that, Nicie, ” said Ginevra, “ and if I find there is no path my way, I will come back to yours; and if you find there is no path your way, you will come back to mine. ”
It was a childish proposal, and one to which Nicie should not have consented, but she was little more than a child herself. Advancing a short distance in doubt, and the path re-appearing quite plainly, she sat down, expecting her little mistress to return directly. No thought of anxiety crossed her mind: how should one, in broad sunlight, on a mountain-side, in the first of summer, and with the long day before them? So, there sitting in peace, Nicie fell into a maidenly reverie, and so there Nicie sat for a long time, half dreaming in the great light, without once really thinking about anything. All at once she came to herself: some latent fear had exploded in her heart: yes! what could have become of her little mistress? She jumped to her feet, and shouted “ Missie! Missie Galbraith! Ginny! ” but no answer came back. The mountain was as still as at midnight. She ran to the spot where they had parted, and along the other path: it was plainer than that where she had been so idly forgetting herself. She hurried on, wildly calling as she ran.
In the mean time Ginevra, having found the path indubitable, and imagining it led straight to the door of Nicie's mother's cottage, and that Nicie would be after her in a moment, thinking also to have a bit of fun with her, set off dancing and running so fast, that by the time Nicie came to herself, she was a good mile from her. What a delight it was to be thus alone upon the grand mountain! with the earth banished so far