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Title: Ranald Bannerman's Boyhood
Author: MacDonald, George
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Ranald Bannerman's Boyhood" ***

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RANALD BANNERMAN’S BOYHOOD

By

George MacDonald



1871


CONTENTS

Chap.

I. INTRODUCTORY

II. THE GLIMMER OF TWILIGHT

III. MY FATHER

IV. KIRSTY

V. I BEGIN LIFE

VI. NO FATHER

VII. MRS. MITCHELL IS DEFEATED

VIII. A NEW SCHOOLMISTRESS

IX. WE LEARN OTHER THINGS

X. SIR WORM WYMBLE

XI. THE KELPIE

XII. ANOTHER KELPIE

XIII. WANDERING WILLIE

XIV. ELSIE DUFF

XV. A NEW COMPANION

XVI. I GO DOWN HILL

XVII. THE TROUBLE GROWS

XVIII. LIGHT OUT OF DARKNESS

XIX. FORGIVENESS

XX. I HAVE A FALL AND A DREAM

XXI. THE BEES’ NEST

XXII. VAIN INTERCESSION

XXIII. KNIGHT-ERRANTRY

XXIV. FAILURE

XXV. TURKEY PLOTS

XXVI. OLD JOHN JAMIESON

XXVII. TURKEY’S TRICK

XXVIII. I SCHEME TOO

XXIX. A DOUBLE EXPOSURE

XXX. TRIBULATION

XXXI. A WINTER’S RIDE

XXXII. THE PEAT-STACK

XXXIII. A SOLITARY CHAPTER

XXXIV. AN EVENING VISIT

XXXV. A BREAK IN MY STORY

XXXVI. I LEARN THAT I AM NOT A MAN



COLOURED PLATES


THE BILBERRY PICKERS

THE BABY BROTHER

THE DRESSING OF LITTLE DAVIE

MY ESCAPE

TURKEY LIGHTS A FIRE

I GO INTO THE FIELDS

MAKING THE SNOWBALL

READING TO ELSIE AND TURKEY

A SUDDEN STOP

HELPING ELSIE

A READING LESSON

I RETURN HOME


_Coloured Illustrations by A.V. Wheelhouse: and Other 36
Black-and-White Illustrations by Arthur Hughes_.



CHAPTER I

Introductory


I do not intend to carry my story one month beyond the hour when I saw
that my boyhood was gone and my youth arrived; a period determined to
some by the first tail-coat, to me by a different sign. My reason for
wishing to tell this first portion of my history is, that when I look
back upon it, it seems to me not only so pleasant, but so full of
meaning, that, if I can only tell it right, it must prove rather
pleasant and not quite unmeaning to those who will read it. It will
prove a very poor story to such as care only for stirring adventures,
and like them all the better for a pretty strong infusion of the
impossible; but those to whom their own history is interesting--to
whom, young as they may be, it is a pleasant thing to be in the
world--will not, I think, find the experience of a boy born in a very
different position from that of most of them, yet as much a boy as any
of them, wearisome because ordinary.

If I did not mention that I, Ranald Bannerman, am a Scotchman, I
should be found out before long by the kind of thing I have to tell;
for although England and Scotland are in all essentials one, there are
such differences between them that one could tell at once, on opening
his eyes, if he had been carried out of the one into the other during
the night. I do not mean he might not be puzzled, but except there was
an intention to puzzle him by a skilful selection of place, the very
air, the very colours would tell him; or if he kept his eyes shut, his
ears would tell him without his eyes. But I will not offend fastidious
ears with any syllable of my rougher tongue. I will tell my story in
English, and neither part of the country will like it the worse for
that.

I will clear the way for it by mentioning that my father was the
clergyman of a country parish in the north of Scotland--a humble
position, involving plain living and plain ways altogether. There was
a glebe or church-farm attached to the manse or clergyman’s house, and
my father rented a small farm besides, for he needed all he could make
by farming to supplement the smallness of the living. My mother was an
invalid as far back as I can remember. We were four boys, and had no
sister. But I must begin at the beginning, that is, as far back as it
is possible for me to begin.



CHAPTER II

The Glimmer of Twilight


I cannot tell any better than most of my readers how and when I began
to come awake, or what it was that wakened me. I mean, I cannot
remember when I began to remember, or what first got set down in my
memory as worth remembering. Sometimes I fancy it must have been a
tremendous flood that first made me wonder, and so made me begin to
remember. At all events, I do remember one flood that seems about as
far off as anything--the rain pouring so thick that I put out my hand
in front of me to try whether I could see it through the veil of the
falling water. The river, which in general was to be seen only in
glimpses from the house--for it ran at the bottom of a hollow--was
outspread like a sea in front, and stretched away far on either
hand. It was a little stream, but it fills so much of my memory with
its regular recurrence of autumnal floods, that I can have no
confidence that one of these is in reality the oldest thing I
remember. Indeed, I have a suspicion that my oldest memories are of
dreams,--where or when dreamed, the good One who made me only knows.
They are very vague to me now, but were almost all made up of bright
things. One only I can recall, and it I will relate, or more properly
describe, for there was hardly anything done in it. I dreamed it
often. It was of the room I slept in, only it was narrower in the
dream, and loftier, and the window was gone. But the ceiling was a
ceiling indeed; for the sun, moon, and stars lived there. The sun was
not a scientific sun at all, but one such as you see in penny
picture-books--a round, jolly, jocund man’s face, with flashes of
yellow frilling it all about, just what a grand sunflower would look
if you set a countenance where the black seeds are. And the moon was
just such a one as you may see the cow jumping over in the pictured
nursery rhyme. She was a crescent, of course, that she might have a
face drawn in the hollow, and turned towards the sun, who seemed to be
her husband. He looked merrily at her, and she looked trustfully at
him, and I knew that they got on very well together. The stars were
their children, of course, and they seemed to run about the ceiling
just as they pleased; but the sun and the moon had regular
motions--rose and set at the proper times, for they were steady old
folks. I do not, however, remember ever seeing them rise or set; they
were always up and near the centre before the dream dawned on me. It
would always come in one way: I thought I awoke in the middle of the
night, and lo! there was the room with the sun and the moon and the
stars at their pranks and revels in the ceiling--Mr. Sun nodding and
smiling across the intervening space to Mrs. Moon, and she nodding
back to him with a knowing look, and the corners of her mouth drawn
down. I have vague memories of having heard them talk. At times I feel
as if I could yet recall something of what they said, but it vanishes
the moment I try to catch it. It was very queer talk, indeed--about
me, I fancied--but a thread of strong sense ran through it all. When
the dream had been very vivid, I would sometimes think of it in the
middle of the next day, and look up to the sun, saying to myself: He’s
up there now, busy enough. I wonder what he is seeing to talk to his
wife about when he comes down at night? I think it sometimes made me a
little more careful of my conduct. When the sun set, I thought he was
going in the back way; and when the moon rose, I thought she was going
out for a little stroll until I should go to sleep, when they might
come and talk about me again. It was odd that, although I never
fancied it of the sun, I thought I could make the moon follow me as I
pleased. I remember once my eldest brother giving me great offence by
bursting into laughter, when I offered, in all seriousness, to bring
her to the other side of the house where they wanted light to go on
with something they were about. But I must return to my dream; for the
most remarkable thing in it I have not yet told you. In one corner of
the ceiling there was a hole, and through that hole came down a ladder
of sun-rays--very bright and lovely. Where it came from I never
thought, but of course it could not come from the sun, because there
he was, with his bright coat off, playing the father of his family in
the most homely Old-English-gentleman fashion possible. That it was a
ladder of rays there could, however, be no doubt: if only I could
climb upon it! I often tried, but fast as I lifted my feet to climb,
down they came again upon the boards of the floor. At length I did
succeed, but this time the dream had a setting.

[Illustration]

I have said that we were four boys; but at this time we were
five--there was a little baby. He was very ill, however, and I knew he
was not expected to live. I remember looking out of my bed one night
and seeing my mother bending over him in her lap;--it is one of the
few things in which I do remember my mother. I fell asleep, but by and
by woke and looked out again. No one was there. Not only were mother
and baby gone, but the cradle was gone too. I knew that my little
brother was dead. I did not cry: I was too young and ignorant to cry
about it. I went to sleep again, and seemed to wake once more; but it
was into my dream this time. There were the sun and the moon and the
stars. But the sun and the moon had got close together and were
talking very earnestly, and all the stars had gathered round them. I
could not hear a word they said, but I concluded that they were
talking about my little brother. “I suppose I ought to be sorry,” I
said to myself; and I tried hard, but I could not feel sorry. Meantime
I observed a curious motion in the heavenly host. They kept looking at
me, and then at the corner where the ladder stood, and talking on, for
I saw their lips moving very fast; and I thought by the motion of them
that they were saying something about the ladder. I got out of bed and
went to it. If I could only get up it! I would try once more. To my
delight I found it would bear me. I climbed and climbed, and the sun
and the moon and the stars looked more and more pleased as I got up
nearer to them, till at last the sun’s face was in a broad smile. But
they did not move from their places, and my head rose above them, and
got out at the hole where the ladder came in. What I saw there, I
cannot tell. I only know that a wind such as had never blown upon me
in my waking hours, blew upon me now. I did not care much for kisses
then, for I had not learned how good they are; but somehow I fancied
afterwards that the wind was made of my baby brother’s kisses, and I
began to love the little man who had lived only long enough to be our
brother and get up above the sun and the moon and the stars by the
ladder of sun-rays. But this, I say, I thought afterwards. Now all
that I can remember of my dream is that I began to weep for very
delight of something I have forgotten, and that I fell down the ladder
into the room again and awoke, as one always does with a fall in a
dream. Sun, moon, and stars were gone; the ladder of light had
vanished; and I lay sobbing on my pillow.

I have taken up a great deal of room with this story of a dream, but
it clung to me, and would often return. And then the time of life to
which this chapter refers is all so like one, that a dream comes in
well enough in it. There is a twilight of the mind, when all things
are strange, and when the memory is only beginning to know that it has
got a notebook, and must put things down in it.

It was not long after this before my mother died, and I was sorrier
for my father than for myself--he looked so sad. I have said that as
far back as I can remember, she was an invalid. Hence she was unable
to be much with us. She is very beautiful in my memory, but during the
last months of her life we seldom saw her, and the desire to keep the
house quiet for her sake must have been the beginning of that freedom
which we enjoyed during the whole of our boyhood. So we were out every
day and all day long, finding our meals when we pleased, and that, as
I shall explain, without going home for them. I remember her death
clearly, but I will not dwell upon that. It is too sad to write much
about, though she was happy, and the least troubled of us all. Her
sole concern was at leaving her husband and children. But the will of
God was a better thing to her than to live with them. My sorrow at
least was soon over, for God makes children so that grief cannot
cleave to them. They must not begin life with a burden of loss. He
knows it is only for a time. When I see my mother again, she will not
reproach me that my tears were so soon dried. “Little one,” I think I
hear her saying, “how could you go on crying for your poor mother when
God was mothering you all the time, and breathing life into you, and
making the world a blessed place for you? You will tell me all about
it some day.” Yes, and we shall tell our mothers--shall we not?--how
sorry we are that we ever gave them any trouble. Sometimes we were
very naughty, and sometimes we did not know better. My mother was very
good, but I cannot remember a single one of the many kisses she must
have given me. I remember her holding my head to her bosom when she
was dying--that is all.



CHAPTER III

My Father


My father was a tall, staid, solemn man, who walked slowly with long
strides. He spoke very little, and generally looked as if he were
pondering next Sunday’s sermon. His head was grey, and a little bent,
as if he were gathering truth from the ground. Once I came upon him in
the garden, standing with his face up to heaven, and I thought he was
seeing something in the clouds; but when I came nearer, I saw that his
eyes were closed, and it made me feel very solemn. I crept away as if
I had been peeping where I ought not. He did not talk much to us. What
he said was very gentle, and it seemed to me it was his solemnity that
made him gentle. I have seen him look very angry. He used to walk much
about his fields, especially of a summer morning before the sun was
up. This was after my mother’s death. I presume he felt nearer to her
in the fields than in the house. There was a kind of grandeur about
him, I am sure; for I never saw one of his parishioners salute him in
the road, without a look of my father himself passing like a solemn
cloud over the face of the man or woman. For us, we feared and loved
him both at once. I do not remember ever being punished by him, but
Kirsty (of whom I shall have to speak by and by) has told me that he
did punish us when we were very small children. Neither did he teach
us much himself, except on the occasions I am about to mention; and I
cannot say that I learned much from his sermons. These gave entire
satisfaction to those of his parishioners whom I happened to hear
speak of them; but, although I loved the sound of his voice, and liked
to look at his face as he stood up there in the ancient pulpit clad in
his gown and bands, I never cared much about what he said. Of course
it was all right, and a better sermon than any other clergyman
whatever could have preached, but what it was all about was of no
consequence to me. I may as well confess at once that I never had the
least doubt that my father was the best man in the world. Nay, to this
very hour I am of the same opinion, notwithstanding that the son of
the village tailor once gave me a tremendous thrashing for saying so,
on the ground that I was altogether wrong, seeing _his_ father was the
best man in the world--at least I have learned to modify the assertion
only to this extent--that my father was the best man I have ever
known.

The church was a very old one--had seen candles burning, heard the
little bell ringing, and smelt the incense of the old Catholic
service. It was so old, that it seemed settling down again into the
earth, especially on one side, where great buttresses had been built
to keep it up. It leaned against them like a weary old thing that
wanted to go to sleep. It had a short square tower, like so many of
the churches in England; and although there was but one old cracked
bell in it, although there was no organ to give out its glorious
sounds, although there was neither chanting nor responses, I assure my
English readers that the awe and reverence which fell upon me as I
crossed its worn threshold were nowise inferior, as far as I can
judge, to the awe and respect they feel when they enter the more
beautiful churches of their country. There was a hush in it which
demanded a refraining of the foot, a treading softly as upon holy
ground; and the church was inseparably associated with my father.

The pew we sat in was a square one, with a table in the middle of it
for our books. My brother David generally used it for laying his head
upon, that he might go to sleep comfortably. My brother Tom put his
feet on the cross-bar of it, leaned back in his corner--for you see we
had a corner apiece--put his hands in his trousers pockets, and stared
hard at my father--for Tom’s corner was well in front of the pulpit.
My brother Allister, whose back was to the pulpit, used to learn the
_paraphrases_ all the time of the sermon. I, happiest of all in my
position, could look up at my father, if I pleased, a little sideways;
or, if I preferred, which I confess I often did, study--a rare sight
in Scotch churches--the figure of an armed knight, carved in stone,
which lay on the top of the tomb of Sir Worm Wymble--at least that is
the nearest I can come to the spelling of the name they gave him. The
tomb was close by the side of the pew, with only a flagged passage
between. It stood in a hollow in the wall, and the knight lay under
the arch of the recess, so silent, so patient, with folded palms, as
if praying for some help which he could not name. From the presence of
this labour of the sculptor came a certain element into the feeling of
the place, which it could not otherwise have possessed: organ and
chant were not altogether needful while that carved knight lay there
with face upturned, as if looking to heaven.

[Illustration]

But from gazing at the knight I began to regard the wall about him,
and the arch over him; and from the arch my eye would seek the roof,
and descending, rest on the pillars, or wander about the windows,
searching the building of the place, discovering the points of its
strength, and how it was upheld. So that while my father was talking
of the church as a company of believers, and describing how it was
held together by faith, I was trying to understand how the stone and
lime of the old place was kept from falling asunder, and thus
beginning to follow what has become my profession since; for I am an
architect.

But the church has led me away from my father. He always spoke in
rather a low voice, but so earnestly that every eye, as it seemed to
me, but mine and those of two of my brothers, was fixed upon him. I
think, however, that it was in part the fault of certain teaching of
his own, better fitted for our understanding, that we paid so little
heed. Even Tom, with all his staring, knew as little about the sermon
as any of us. But my father did not question us much concerning it; he
did what was far better. On Sunday afternoons, in the warm, peaceful
sunlight of summer, with the honeysuckle filling the air of the little
arbour in which we sat, and his one glass of wine set on the table in
the middle, he would sit for an hour talking away to us in his gentle,
slow, deep voice, telling us story after story out of the New
Testament, and explaining them in a way I have seldom heard equalled.
Or, in the cold winter nights, he would come into the room where I and
my two younger brothers slept--the nursery it was--and, sitting down
with Tom by his side before the fire that burned bright in the frosty
air, would open the great family Bible on the table, turn his face
towards the two beds where we three lay wide awake, and tell us story
after story out of the Old Testament, sometimes reading a few verses,
sometimes turning the bare facts into an expanded and illustrated
narrative of his own, which, in Shakspere fashion, he presented after
the modes and ways of our own country and time. I shall never forget
Joseph in Egypt hearing the pattering of the asses’ hoofs in the
street, and throwing up the window, and looking out, and seeing all
his own brothers coming riding towards him; or the grand rush of the
sea waves over the bewildered hosts of the Egyptians. We lay and
listened with all the more enjoyment, that while the fire was burning
so brightly, and the presence of my father filling the room with
safety and peace, the wind was howling outside, and the snow drifting
up against the window. Sometimes I passed into the land of sleep with
his voice in my ears and his love in my heart; perhaps into the land
of visions--once certainly into a dream of the sun and moon and stars
making obeisance to the too-favoured son of Jacob.



CHAPTER IV

Kirsty


My father had a housekeeper, a trusty woman, he considered her. We
thought her _very_ old. I suppose she was about forty. She was not
pleasant, for she was grim-faced and censorious, with a very straight
back, and a very long upper lip. Indeed the distance from her nose to
her mouth was greater than the length of her nose. When I think of her
first, it is always as making some complaint to my father against
us. Perhaps she meant to speak the truth, or rather, perhaps took it
for granted that she always did speak the truth; but certainly she
would exaggerate things, and give them quite another look. The bones
of her story might be true, but she would put a skin over it after her
own fashion, which was not one of mildness and charity. The
consequence was that the older we grew, the more our minds were
alienated from her, and the more we came to regard her as our enemy.
If she really meant to be our friend after the best fashion she knew,
it was at least an uncomely kind of friendship, that showed itself in
constant opposition, fault-finding, and complaint. The real mistake
was that we were boys. There was something in her altogether
antagonistic to the boy-nature. You would have thought that to be a
boy was in her eyes to be something wrong to begin with; that boys
ought never to have been made; that they must always, by their very
nature, be about something amiss. I have occasionally wondered how she
would have behaved to a girl. On reflection, I think a little better;
but the girl would have been worse off, because she could not have
escaped from her as we did. My father would hear her complaints to the
end without putting in a word, except it were to ask her a question,
and when she had finished, would turn again to his book or his sermon,
saying--

“Very well, Mrs. Mitchell; I will speak to them about it.”

My impression is that he did not believe the half she told him. At all
events, when he had sent for us, he would ask our version of the
affair, and listen to that as he had listened to hers. Then he would
set forth to us where we had been wrong, if we were wrong, and send us
away with an injunction not to provoke Mrs. Mitchell, who couldn’t
help being short in her temper, poor thing! Somehow or other we got it
into our heads that the shortness of her temper was mysteriously
associated with the shortness of her nose.

She was saving even to stinginess. She would do her best to provide
what my father liked, but for us she thought almost anything good
enough. She would, for instance, give us the thinnest of milk--we said
she skimmed it three times before she thought it blue enough for us.
My two younger brothers did not mind it so much as I did, for I was
always rather delicate, and if I took a dislike to anything, would
rather go without than eat or drink of it. But I have told you enough
about her to make it plain that she could be no favourite with us; and
enough likewise to serve as a background to my description of Kirsty.

Kirsty was a Highland woman who had the charge of the house in which
the farm servants lived. She was a cheerful, gracious, kind woman--a
woman of God’s making, one would say, were it not that, however
mysterious it may look, we cannot deny that he made Mrs. Mitchell too.
It is very puzzling, I confess. I remember once that my youngest
brother Davie, a very little fellow then, for he could not speak
plainly, came running in great distress to Kirsty, crying, “Fee, fee!”
 by which he meant to indicate that a flea was rendering his life
miserable. Kirsty at once undressed him and entered on the pursuit.
After a successful search, while she was putting on his garments
again, little Davie, who had been looking very solemn and thoughtful
for some time, said, not in a questioning, but in a concluding tone--

“God didn’t make the fees, Kirsty!”

“Oh yes, Davie! God made everything. God did make the fleas,” said
Kirsty.

Davie was silent for a while. Then he opened his mouth and spake like
a discontented prophet of old:

“Why doesn’t he give them something else to eat, then?”

“You must ask himself that,” said Kirsty, with a wisdom I have since
learned to comprehend, though I remember it shocked me a little at the
time.

All this set me thinking. Before the dressing of little Davie was
over, I had _my_ question to put to Kirsty. It was, in fact, the same
question, only with a more important object in the eye of it.

“_Then_ I suppose God made Mrs. Mitchell, as well as you and the rest
of us, Kirsty?” I said.

“Certainly, Ranald,” returned Kirsty.

“Well, I wish he hadn’t,” was my remark, in which I only imitated my
baby brother, who was always much cleverer than I.

“Oh! she’s not a bad sort,” said Kirsty; “though I must say, if I was
her, I would try to be a little more agreeable.”

To return to Kirsty: she was our constant resort. The farmhouse was a
furlong or so from the manse, but with the blood pouring from a cut
finger, the feet would of themselves devour that furlong rather than
apply to Mrs. Mitchell. Oh! she was dear, and good, and kind, our
Kirsty!

In person she was short and slender, with keen blue eyes and dark
hair; an uncommonly small foot, which she claimed for all Highland
folk; a light step, a sweet voice, and a most bounteous hand--but
there I come into the moral nature of her, for it is the mind that
makes the hand bountiful. For her face, I think that was rather queer,
but in truth I can hardly tell, so entirely was it the sign of good to
me and my brothers; in short, I loved her so much that I do not know
now, even as I did not care then, whether she was nice-looking or not.
She was quite as old as Mrs. Mitchell, but we never thought of _her_
being old. She was our refuge in all time of trouble and necessity. It
was she who gave us something to eat as often and as much as we
wanted.  She used to say it was no cheating of the minister to feed
the minister’s boys.

And then her stories! There was nothing like them in all that
countryside. It was rather a dreary country in outward aspect, having
many bleak moorland hills, that lay about like slow-stiffened waves,
of no great height but of much desolation; and as far as the
imagination was concerned, it would seem that the minds of former
generations had been as bleak as the country, they had left such small
store of legends of any sort. But Kirsty had come from a region where
the hills were hills indeed--hills with mighty skeletons of stone
inside them; hills that looked as if they had been heaped over huge
monsters which were ever trying to get up--a country where every
cliff, and rock, and well had its story--and Kirsty’s head was full of
such. It was delight indeed to sit by her fire and listen to them.
That would be after the men had had their supper, early of a winter
night, and had gone, two of them to the village, and the other to
attend to the horses. Then we and the herd, as we called the boy who
attended to the cattle, whose work was over for the night, would sit
by the fire, and Kirsty would tell us stories, and we were in our
heaven.



CHAPTER V

I Begin Life


I began life, and that after no pleasant fashion, as near as I can
guess, about the age of six years. One glorious morning in early
summer I found myself led by the ungentle hand of Mrs. Mitchell
towards a little school on the outside of the village, kept by an old
woman called Mrs. Shand. In an English village I think she would have
been called Dame Shand: we called her Luckie Shand. Half dragged along
the road by Mrs. Mitchell, from whose rough grasp I attempted in vain
to extricate my hand, I looked around at the shining fields and up at
the blue sky, where a lark was singing as if he had just found out
that he could sing, with something like the despair of a man going to
the gallows and bidding farewell to the world. We had to cross a
little stream, and when we reached the middle of the foot-bridge, I
tugged yet again at my imprisoned hand, with a half-formed intention
of throwing myself into the brook. But my efforts were still
unavailing.  Over a half-mile or so, rendered weary by unwillingness,
I was led to the cottage door--no such cottage as some of my readers
will picture, with roses and honeysuckle hiding its walls, but a
dreary little house with nothing green to cover the brown stones of
which it was built, and having an open ditch in front of it with a
stone slab over it for a bridge. Did I say there was nothing on the
walls? This morning there was the loveliest sunshine, and that I was
going to leave behind. It was very bitter, especially as I had
expected to go with my elder brother to spend the day at a
neighbouring farm.

Mrs. Mitchell opened the door, and led me in. It was an awful
experience.  Dame Shand stood at her table ironing. She was as tall as
Mrs. Mitchell, and that was enough to prejudice me against her at
once.  She wore a close-fitting widow’s cap, with a black ribbon round
it. Her hair was grey, and her face was as grey as her hair, and her
skin was gathered in wrinkles about her mouth, where they twitched and
twitched, as if she were constantly meditating something unpleasant.
She looked up inquiringly.

“I’ve brought you a new scholar,” said Mrs. Mitchell.

“Well. Very well,” said the dame, in a dubious tone. “I hope he’s a
good boy, for he must be good if he comes here.”

“Well, he’s just middling. His father spares the rod, Mrs. Shand, and
we know what comes of that.”

They went on with their talk, which, as far as I can recall it, was
complimentary to none but the two women themselves. Meantime I was
making what observations my terror would allow. About a dozen children
were seated on forms along the walls, looking over the tops of their
spelling-books at the newcomer. In the farther corner two were kicking
at each other as opportunity offered, looking very angry, but not
daring to cry. My next discovery was terribly disconcerting. Some
movement drew my eyes to the floor; there I saw a boy of my own age on
all-fours, fastened by a string to a leg of the table at which the
dame was ironing, while--horrible to relate!--a dog, not very big but
very ugly, and big enough to be frightened at, lay under the table
watching him. I gazed in utter dismay.

“Ah, you may look!” said the dame. “If you’re not a good boy, that is
how you shall be served. The dog shall have you to look after.”

I trembled, and was speechless. After some further confabulation,
Mrs. Mitchell took her leave, saying--

“I’ll come back for him at one o’clock, and if I don’t come, just keep
him till I do come.”

The dame accompanied her to the door, and then I discovered that she
was lame, and hobbled very much. A resolution arose full-formed in my
brain.

I sat down on the form near the door, and kept very quiet. Had it not
been for the intention I cherished, I am sure I should have cried.
When the dame returned, she resumed her box-iron, in which the heater
went rattling about, as, standing on one leg--the other was so much
shorter--she moved it to and fro over the garment on the table. Then
she called me to her by name in a would-be pompous manner. I obeyed,
trembling.

“Can you say your letters?” she asked.

Now, although I could not read, I could repeat the alphabet; how I had
learned it I do not know. I did repeat it.

“How many questions of your catechism can you say?” she asked next.

Not knowing with certainty what she meant, I was silent.

“No sulking!” said the dame; and opening a drawer in the table, she
took out a catechism. Turning back the cover she put it in my hand,
and told me to learn the first question. She had not even inquired
whether I could read. I took the catechism, and stood as before.

“Go to your seat,” she said.

I obeyed, and with the book before me pondered my plan.

Everything depended on whether I could open the door before she could
reach me. Once out of the house, I was sure of running faster than she
could follow. And soon I had my first experience of how those are
helped who will help themselves.

The ironing of course required a fire to make the irons hot, and as
the morning went on, the sunshine on the walls, conspiring with the
fire on the hearth, made the place too hot for the comfort of the old
dame. She went and set the door wide open. I was instantly on the
alert, watching for an opportunity. One soon occurred.

A class of some five or six was reading, if reading it could be
called, out of the Bible. At length it came to the turn of one who
blundered dreadfully. It was the same boy who had been tied under the
table, but he had been released for his lesson. The dame hobbled to
him, and found he had his book upside down; whereupon she turned in
wrath to the table, and took from the drawer a long leather strap,
with which she proceeded to chastise him. As his first cry reached my
ears I was halfway to the door. On the threshold I stumbled and fell.

“The new boy’s running away!” shrieked some little sycophant inside.

I heard with horror, but I was up and off in a moment. I had not,
however, got many yards from the cottage before I heard the voice of
the dame screaming after me to return. I took no heed--only sped the
faster. But what was my horror to find her command enforced by the
pursuing bark of her prime minister. This paralysed me. I turned, and
there was the fiendish-looking dog close on my heels. I could run no
longer. For one moment I felt as if I should sink to the earth for
sheer terror. The next moment a wholesome rage sent the blood to my
brain. From abject cowardice to wild attack--I cannot call it
courage--was the change of an instant. I rushed towards the little
wretch. I did not know how to fight him, but in desperation I threw
myself upon him, and dug my nails into him. They had fortunately found
their way to his eyes. He was the veriest coward of his species. He
yelped and howled, and struggling from my grasp ran with his tail
merged in his person back to his mistress, who was hobbling after me.
But with the renewed strength of triumph I turned again for home, and
ran as I had never run before. When or where the dame gave in, I do
not know; I never turned my head until I laid it on Kirsty’s bosom,
and there I burst out sobbing and crying. It was all the utterance I
had left.

As soon as Kirsty had succeeded in calming me, I told her the whole
story. She said very little, but I could see she was very angry. No
doubt she was pondering what could be done. She got me some milk--half
cream I do believe, it was so nice--and some oatcake, and went on with
her work.

While I ate I reflected that any moment Mrs. Mitchell might appear to
drag me back in disgrace to that horrible den. I knew that Kirsty’s
authority was not equal to hers, and that she would be compelled to
give me up. So I watched an opportunity to escape once more and hide
myself, so that Kirsty might be able to say she did not know where I
was.

When I had finished, and Kirsty had left the kitchen for a moment, I
sped noiselessly to the door, and looked out into the farmyard. There
was no one to be seen. Dark and brown and cool the door of the barn
stood open, as if inviting me to shelter and safety; for I knew that
in the darkest end of it lay a great heap of oat-straw. I sped across
the intervening sunshine into the darkness, and began burrowing in the
straw like a wild animal, drawing out handfuls and laying them
carefully aside, so that no disorder should betray my retreat. When I
had made a hole large enough to hold me, I got in, but kept drawing
out the straw behind me, and filling the hole in front. This I
continued until I had not only stopped up the entrance, but placed a
good thickness of straw between me and the outside. By the time I had
burrowed as far as I thought necessary, I was tired, and lay down at
full length in my hole, delighting in such a sense of safety as I had
never before experienced. I was soon fast asleep.



CHAPTER VI

No Father


[Illustration]

I woke, and creeping out of my lair, and peeping from the door of the
barn, which looked into the cornyard, found that the sun was going
down. I had already discovered that I was getting hungry. I went out
at the other door into the close or farmyard, and ran across to the
house. No one was there. Something moved me to climb on the form and
look out of a little window, from which I could see the manse and the
road from it. To my dismay, there was Mrs. Mitchell coming towards the
farm. I possessed my wits sufficiently to run first to Kirsty’s press
and secure a good supply of oatcake, with which I then sped like a
hunted hare to her form. I had soon drawn the stopper of straw into
the mouth of the hole, where, hearing no one approach, I began to eat
my oatcake, and fell asleep again before I had finished.

And as I slept I dreamed my dream. The sun was looking very grave, and
the moon reflected his concern. They were not satisfied with me. At
length the sun shook his head; that is, his whole self oscillated on
an axis, and the moon thereupon shook herself in response. Then they
nodded to each other as much as to say, “That is entirely my own
opinion.” At last they began to talk; not as men converse, but both at
once, yet each listening while each spoke. I heard no word, but their
lips moved most busily; their eyebrows went up and down; their eyelids
winked and winked, and their cheeks puckered and relaxed incessantly.
There was an absolute storm of expression upon their faces; their very
noses twisted and curled. It seemed as if, in the agony of their talk,
their countenances would go to pieces. For the stars, they darted
about hither and thither, gathered into groups, dispersed, and formed
new groups, and having no faces yet, but being a sort of celestial
tadpoles, indicated by their motions alone that they took an active
interest in the questions agitating their parents. Some of them kept
darting up and down the ladder of rays, like phosphorescent sparks in
the sea foam.

I could bear it no longer, and awoke. I was in darkness, but not in my
own bed. When I proceeded to turn, I found myself hemmed in on all
sides. I could not stretch my arms, and there was hardly room for my
body between my feet and my head. I was dreadfully frightened at
first, and felt as if I were being slowly stifled. As my brain awoke,
I recalled the horrible school, the horrible schoolmistress, and the
most horrible dog, over whose defeat, however, I rejoiced with the
pride of a dragon-slayer. Next I thought it would be well to look
abroad and reconnoitre once more. I drew away the straw from the
entrance to my lair; but what was my dismay to find that even when my
hand went out into space no light came through the opening. What could
it mean? Surely I had not grown blind while I lay asleep. Hurriedly I
shot out the remainder of the stopper of straw, and crept from the
hole. In the great barn there was but the dullest glimmer of light; I
had almost said the clumsiest reduction of darkness. I tumbled at one
of the doors rather than ran to it. I found it fast, but this one I
knew was fastened on the inside by a wooden bolt or bar, which I could
draw back. The open door revealed the dark night. Before me was the
cornyard, as we called it, full of ricks. Huge and very positive
although dim, they rose betwixt me and the sky. Between their tops I
saw only stars and darkness. I turned and looked back into the barn.
It appeared a horrible cave filled with darkness. I remembered there
were rats in it. I dared not enter it again, even to go out at the
opposite door: I forgot how soundly and peacefully I had slept in it.
I stepped out into the night with the grass of the corn-yard under my
feet, the awful vault of heaven over my head, and those shadowy ricks
around me. It was a relief to lay my hand on one of them, and feel
that it was solid. I half groped my way through them, and got out into
the open field, by creeping through between the stems of what had once
been a hawthorn hedge, but had in the course of a hundred years grown
into the grimmest, largest, most grotesque trees I have ever seen of
the kind. I had always been a little afraid of them, even in the
daytime, but they did me no hurt, and I stood in the vast hall of the
silent night--alone: there lay the awfulness of it. I had never before
known what the night was. The real sting of its fear lay in this--that
there was nobody else in it. Everybody besides me was asleep all over
the world, and had abandoned me to my fate, whatever might come out of
the darkness to seize me. When I got round the edge of the stone wall,
which on another side bounded the corn-yard, there was the
moon--crescent, as I saw her in my dream, but low down towards the
horizon, and lying almost upon her rounded back. She looked very
disconsolate and dim. Even she would take no heed of me, abandoned
child! The stars were high up, away in the heavens. They did not look
like the children of the sun and moon at all, and _they_ took no heed
of me. Yet there was a grandeur in my desolation that would have
elevated my heart but for the fear. If I had had one living creature
nigh me--if only the stupid calf, whose dull sleepy low startled me so
dreadfully as I stood staring about me! It was not dark out here in
the open field, for at this season of the year it is not dark there
all night long, when the sky is unclouded. Away in the north was the
Great Bear. I knew that constellation, for by it one of the men had
taught me to find the pole-star. Nearly under it was the light of the
sun, creeping round by the north towards the spot in the east where he
would rise again. But I learned only afterwards to understand this. I
gazed at that pale faded light, and all at once I remembered that God
was near me. But I did not know what God is then as I know now, and
when I thought about him then, which was neither much nor often, my
idea of him was not like him; it was merely a confused mixture of
other people’s fancies about him and my own. I had not learned how
beautiful God is; I had only learned that he is strong. I had been
told that he was angry with those that did wrong; I had not understood
that he loved them all the time, although he was displeased with them,
and must punish them to make them good. When I thought of him now in
the silent starry night, a yet greater terror seized me, and I ran
stumbling over the uneven field.

Does my reader wonder whither I fled? Whither should I fly but home?
True, Mrs. Mitchell was there, but there was another there as well.
Even Kirsty would not do in this terror. Home was the only refuge, for
my father was there. I sped for the manse.

But as I approached it a new apprehension laid hold of my trembling
heart. I was not sure, but I thought the door was always locked at
night. I drew nearer. The place of possible refuge rose before me. I
stood on the grass-plot in front of it. There was no light in its
eyes. Its mouth was closed. It was silent as one of the ricks. Above
it shone the speechless stars. Nothing was alive. Nothing would
speak. I went up the few rough-hewn granite steps that led to the
door. I laid my hand on the handle, and gently turned it. Joy of joys!
the door opened. I entered the hall. Ah! it was more silent than the
night. No footsteps echoed; no voices were there. I closed the door
behind me, and, almost sick with the misery of a being where no other
being was to comfort it, I groped my way to my father’s room. When I
once had my hand on his door, the warm tide of courage began again to
flow from my heart. I opened this door too very quietly, for was not
the dragon asleep down below?

“Papa! papa!” I cried, in an eager whisper. “Are you awake, papa?”

No voice came in reply, and the place was yet more silent than the
night or the hall. He must be asleep. I was afraid to call louder. I
crept nearer to the bed. I stretched out my hands to feel for him. He
must be at the farther side. I climbed up on the bed. I felt all
across it. Utter desertion seized my soul--my father was not there!
Was it a horrible dream? Should I ever awake? My heart sank totally
within me. I could bear no more. I fell down on the bed weeping
bitterly, and wept myself asleep.

Years after, when I was a young man, I read Jean Paul’s terrible dream
that there was no God, and the desolation of this night was my key to
that dream.

Once more I awoke to a sense of misery, and stretched out my arms,
crying, “Papa! papa!” The same moment I found my father’s arms around
me; he folded me close to him, and said--

“Hush, Ranald, my boy! Here I am! You are quite safe.”

I nestled as close to him as I could go, and wept for blessedness.

“Oh, papa!” I sobbed, “I thought I had lost you.”

“And I thought I had lost you, my boy. Tell me all about it.”

Between my narrative and my replies to his questionings he had soon
gathered the whole story, and I in my turn learned the dismay of the
household when I did not appear. Kirsty told what she knew. They
searched everywhere, but could not find me; and great as my misery had
been, my father’s had been greater than mine. While I stood forsaken
and desolate in the field, they had been searching along the banks of
the river. But the herd had had an idea, and although they had already
searched the barn and every place they could think of, he left them
and ran back for a further search about the farm. Guided by the
scattered straw, he soon came upon my deserted lair, and sped back to
the riverside with the news, when my father returned, and after
failing to find me in my own bed, to his infinite relief found me fast
asleep on his; so fast, that he undressed me and laid me in the bed
without my once opening my eyes--the more strange, as I had already
slept so long. But sorrow is very sleepy.

Having thus felt the awfulness and majesty of the heavens at night, it
was a very long time before I again dreamed my childish dream.



CHAPTER VII

Mrs. Mitchell is Defeated


After this talk with my father I fell into a sleep of perfect
contentment, and never thought of what might be on the morrow till the
morrow came. Then I grew aware of the danger I was in of being carried
off once more to school. Indeed, except my father interfered, the
thing was almost inevitable. I thought he would protect me, but I had
no assurance. He was gone again, for, as I have mentioned already, he
was given to going out early in the mornings. It was not early now,
however; I had slept much longer than usual. I got up at once,
intending to find him; but, to my horror, before I was half dressed,
my enemy, Mrs. Mitchell, came into the room, looking triumphant and
revengeful.

“I’m glad to see you’re getting up,” she said; “it’s nearly
school-time.”

The tone, and the emphasis she laid on the word _school_, would have
sufficed to reveal the state of her mind, even if her eyes had not
been fierce with suppressed indignation.

“I haven’t had my porridge,” I said.

“Your porridge is waiting you--as cold as a stone,” she answered. “If
boys will lie in bed so late, what can they expect?”

“Nothing from you,” I muttered, with more hardihood than I had yet
shown her.

“What’s that you’re saying?” she asked angrily.

I was silent.

“Make haste,” she went on, “and don’t keep me waiting all day.”

“You needn’t wait, Mrs. Mitchell. I am dressing as fast as I can. Is
papa in his study yet?”

“No. And you needn’t think to see him. He’s angry enough with you,
I’ll warrant”

She little knew what had passed between my father and me already. She
could not imagine what a talk we had had.

“You needn’t think to run away as you did yesterday. I know all about
it Mrs. Shand told me all about it I shouldn’t wonder if your papa’s
gone to see her now, and tell her how sorry he is you were so
naughty.”

“I’m not going, to school.”

“We’ll see about that”

“I tell you I won’t go.”

“And I tell you we’ll see about it”

“I won’t go till I’ve seen papa. If he says I’m to go, I will of
course; but I won’t go for you.”

“You _will_, and you _won’t_!” she repeated, standing staring at me,
as I leisurely, but with hands trembling partly with fear, partly with
rage, was fastening my nether garments to my waistcoat. “That’s all
very fine, but I know something a good deal finer. Now wash your
face.”

“I won’t, so long as you stand there,” I said, and sat down on the
floor. She advanced towards me.

“If you touch me, I’ll scream,” I cried.

She stopped, thought for a moment, and bounced out of the room. But I
heard her turn the key of the door.

I proceeded with my dressing as fast as I could then; and the moment I
was ready, opened the window, which was only a few feet from the
ground, scrambled out, and dropped. I hurt myself a little, but not
much, and fled for the harbour of Kirsty’s arms. But as I turned the
corner of the house I ran right into Mrs. Mitchell’s, who received me
with no soft embrace. In fact I was rather severely scratched with
a. pin in the bosom of her dress.

“There! that serves you right,” she cried. “That’s a judgment on you
for trying to run away again. After all the trouble you gave us
yesterday too! You are a bad boy.”

“Why am I a bad boy?” I retorted.

“It’s bad not to do what you are told.”

“I will do what my papa tells me.”

“Your papa! There are more people than your papa in the world.”

“I’m to be a bad boy if I don’t do what anybody like you chooses to
tell me, am I?”

“None of your impudence!”

This was accompanied by a box on the ear. She was now dragging me into
the kitchen. There she set my porridge before me, which I declined to
eat.

“Well, if you won’t eat good food, you shall go to school without it.”

“I tell you I won’t go to school.”

She caught me up in her arms. She was very strong, and I could not
prevent her carrying me out of the house. If I had been the bad boy
she said I was, I could by biting and scratching have soon compelled
her to set me down; but I felt that I must not do that, for then I
should be ashamed before my father. I therefore yielded for the time,
and fell to planning. Nor was I long in coming to a resolution. I drew
the pin that had scratched me from her dress. I believed she would not
carry me very far; but if she did not set me down soon, I resolved to
make her glad to do so. Further I resolved, that when we came to the
foot-bridge, which had but one rail to it, I would run the pin into
her and make her let me go, when I would instantly throw myself into
the river, for I would run the risk of being drowned rather than go to
that school. Were all my griefs of yesterday, overcome and on the
point of being forgotten, to be frustrated in this fashion? My whole
blood was boiling. I was convinced my father did not want me to go. He
could not have been so kind to me during the night, and then send me
to such a place in the morning. But happily for the general peace,
things did not arrive at such a desperate pass. Before we were out of
the gate, my heart leaped with joy, for I heard my father calling,
“Mrs. Mitchell! Mrs. Mitchell!” I looked round, and seeing him coming
after us with his long slow strides, I fell to struggling so violently
in the strength of hope that she was glad to set me down. I broke from
her, ran to my father, and burst out crying.

“Papa! papa!” I sobbed, “don’t send me to that horrid school. I can
learn to read without that old woman to teach me.”

“Really, Mrs. Mitchell,” said my father, taking me by the hand and
leading me towards her, where she stood visibly flaming with rage and
annoyance, “really, Mrs. Mitchell, you are taking too much upon you! I
never said the child was to go to that woman’s school. In fact I don’t
approve of what I hear of her, and I have thought of consulting some
of my brethren in the presbytery on the matter before taking steps
myself. I won’t have the young people in my parish oppressed in such a
fashion. Terrified with dogs too! It is shameful.”

“She’s a very decent woman, Mistress Shand,” said the housekeeper.

[Illustration]

“I don’t dispute her decency, Mrs. Mitchell; but I doubt very much
whether she is fit to have the charge of children; and as she is a
friend of yours, you will be doing her a kindness to give her a hint
to that effect. It _may_ save the necessity for my taking further and
more unpleasant steps.”

“Indeed, sir, by your leave, it would be hard lines to take the bread
out of the mouth of a lone widow woman, and bring her upon the parish
with a bad name to boot. She’s supported herself for years with her
school, and been a trouble to nobody.”

“Except the lambs of the flock, Mrs. Mitchell.--I like you for
standing up for your friend; but is a woman, because she is lone and a
widow, to make a Moloch of herself, and have the children sacrificed
to her in that way? It’s enough to make idiots of some of them. She
had better see to it. You tell her that--from me, if you like. And
don’t you meddle with school affairs. I’ll take my young men,” he
added with a smile, “to school when I see fit.”

“I’m sure, sir,” said Mrs. Mitchell, putting her blue striped apron to
her eyes, “I asked your opinion before I took him.”

“I believe I did say something about its being time he were able to
read, but I recollect nothing more.--You must have misunderstood me,”
 he added, willing to ease her descent to the valley of her
humiliation.

She walked away without another word, sniffing the air as she went,
and carrying her hands folded under her apron. From that hour I
believe she hated me.

My father looked after her with a smile, and then looked down on me,
saying--

“She’s short in the temper, poor woman! and we mustn’t provoke her.”

I was too well satisfied to urge my victory by further complaint. I
could afford to let well alone, for I had been delivered as from the
fiery furnace, and the earth and the sky were laughing around me. Oh!
what a sunshine filled the world! How glad the larks, which are the
praisers amongst the birds, were that blessed morning! The demon of
oppression had hidden her head ashamed, and fled to her den!



CHAPTER VIII

A New Schoolmistress


“But, Ranald,” my father continued, “what are we to do about the
reading? I fear I have let you go too long. I didn’t want to make
learning a burden to you, and I don’t approve of children learning to
read too soon; but really, at your age, you know, it is time you were
beginning. I have time to teach you some things, but I can’t teach you
everything. I have got to read a great deal and think a great deal,
and go about my parish a good deal. And your brother Tom has heavy
lessons to learn at school, and I have to help him. So what’s to be
done, Ranald, my boy? You can’t go to the parish school before you’ve
learned your letters.”

“There’s Kirsty, papa,” I suggested.

“Yes; there’s Kirsty,” he returned with a sly smile. “Kirsty can do
everything, can’t she?”

“She can speak Gaelic,” I said with a tone of triumph, bringing her
rarest accomplishment to the forefront.

“I wish you could speak Gaelic,” said my father, thinking of his wife,
I believe, whose mother tongue it was. “But that is not what you want
most to learn. Do you think Kirsty could teach you to read English?”

“Yes, I do.”

My father again meditated.

“Let us go and ask her,” he said at length, taking my hand.

I capered with delight, nor ceased my capering till we stood on
Kirsty’s earthen floor. I think I see her now, dusting one of her deal
chairs, as white as soap and sand could make it, for the minister to
sit on. She never called him _the master_, but always _the minister_.
She was a great favourite with my father, and he always behaved as a
visitor in her house.

“Well, Kirsty,” he said, after the first salutations were over, “have
you any objection to turn schoolmistress?”

“I should make a poor hand at that,” she answered, with a smile to me
which showed she guessed what my father wanted. “But if it were to
teach Master Ranald there, I should like dearly to try what I could
do.”

She never omitted the _Master_ to our names; Mrs. Mitchell by no
chance prefixed it. The natural manners of the Celt and Saxon are
almost diametrically opposed in Scotland. And had Kirsty’s speech been
in the coarse dialect of Mrs. Mitchell, I am confident my father would
not have allowed her to teach me. But Kirsty did not speak a word of
Scotch, and although her English was a little broken and odd, being
formed somewhat after Gaelic idioms, her tone was pure and her phrases
were refined. The matter was very speedily settled between them.

“And if you want to beat him, Kirsty, you can beat him in Gaelic, and
then he won’t feel it,” said my father, trying after a joke, which was
no common occurrence with him, whereupon Kirsty and I laughed in great
contentment.

The fact was, Kirsty had come to the manse with my mother, and my
father was attached to her for the sake of his wife as well as for her
own, and Kirsty would have died for the minister or any one of his
boys. All the devotion a Highland woman has for the chief of her clan,
Kirsty had for my father, not to mention the reverence due to the
minister.

After a little chat about the cows and the calves, my father rose,
saying--

“Then I’ll just make him over to you, Kirsty. Do you think you can
manage without letting it interfere with your work, though?”

“Oh yes, sir--well that! I shall soon have him reading to me while I’m
busy about. If he doesn’t know the word, he can spell it, and then I
shall know it--at least if it’s not longer than Hawkie’s tail.”

Hawkie was a fine milker, with a bad temper, and a comically short
tail. It had got chopped off by some accident when she was a calf.

“There’s something else short about Hawkie--isn’t there, Kirsty?” said
my father.

“And Mrs. Mitchell,” I suggested, thinking to help Kirsty to my
father’s meaning.

“Come, come, young gentleman! We don’t want your remarks,” said my
father pleasantly.

“Why, papa, you told me so yourself, just before we came up.”

“Yes, I did; but I did not mean you to repeat it. What if Kirsty were
to go and tell Mrs. Mitchell?”

Kirsty made no attempt at protestation. She knew well enough that my
father knew there was no danger. She only laughed, and I, seeing
Kirsty satisfied, was satisfied also, and joined in the laugh.

The result was that before many weeks were over, Allister and wee
Davie were Kirsty’s pupils also, Allister learning to read, and wee
Davie to sit still, which was the hardest task within his capacity.
They were free to come or keep away, but not to go: if they did come,
Kirsty insisted on their staying out the lesson. It soon became a
regular thing. Every morning in summer we might be seen perched on a
form, under one of the tiny windows, in that delicious brown light
which you seldom find but in an old clay-floored cottage. In a
fir-wood I think you have it; and I have seen it in an old castle; but
best of all in the house of mourning in an Arab cemetery. In the
winter, we seated ourselves round the fire--as near it as Kirsty’s
cooking operations, which were simple enough, admitted. It was
delightful to us boys, and would have been amusing to anyone, to see
how Kirsty behaved when Mrs. Mitchell found occasion to pay her a
visit during lesson hours. She knew her step and darted to the door.
Not once did she permit her to enter. She was like a hen with her
chickens.

“No, you’ll not come in just now, Mrs. Mitchell,” she would say, as
the housekeeper attempted to pass. “You know we’re busy.”

“I want to hear how they’re getting on.”

“You can try them at home,” Kirsty would answer.

We always laughed at the idea of our reading to her. Once I believe
she heard the laugh, for she instantly walked away, and I do not
remember that she ever came again.



CHAPTER IX

We Learn Other Things


We were more than ever at the farm now. During the summer, from the
time we got up till the time we went to bed, we seldom approached the
manse. I have heard it hinted that my father neglected us. But that
can hardly be, seeing that then his word was law to us, and now I
regard his memory as the symbol of the love unspeakable. My elder
brother Tom always had his meals with him, and sat at his lessons in
the study. But my father did not mind the younger ones running wild,
so long as there was a Kirsty for them to run to; and indeed the men
also were not only friendly to us, but careful over us. No doubt we
were rather savage, very different in our appearance from town-bred
children, who are washed and dressed every time they go out for a
walk: that we should have considered not merely a hardship, but an
indignity. To be free was all our notion of a perfect existence. But
my father’s rebuke was awful indeed, if he found even the youngest
guilty of untruth, or cruelty, or injustice. At all kinds of
escapades, not involving disobedience, he smiled, except indeed there
were too much danger, when he would warn and limit.

A town boy may wonder what we could find to amuse us all day long; but
the fact is almost everything was an amusement, seeing that when we
could not take a natural share in what was going on, we generally
managed to invent some collateral employment fictitiously related to
it. But he must not think of our farm as at all like some great farm
he may happen to know in England; for there was nothing done by
machinery on the place. There may be great pleasure in watching
machine-operations, but surely none to equal the pleasure we had. If
there had been a steam engine to plough my father’s fields, how could
we have ridden home on its back in the evening? To ride the
horses home from the plough was a triumph. Had there been a
thrashing-machine, could its pleasures have been comparable to that of
lying in the straw and watching the grain dance from the sheaves under
the skilful flails of the two strong men who belaboured them? There was
a winnowing-machine, but quite a tame one, for its wheel I could drive
myself--the handle now high as my head, now low as my knee--and watch at
the same time the storm of chaff driven like drifting snowflakes from
its wide mouth. Meantime the oat-grain was flowing in a silent slow
stream from the shelving hole in the other side, and the wind, rushing
through the opposite doors, aided the winnower by catching at the
expelled chaff, and carrying it yet farther apart. I think I see old
Eppie now, filling her sack with what the wind blew her; not with the
grain: Eppie did not covet that; she only wanted her bed filled with
fresh springy chaff, on which she would sleep as sound as her rheumatism
would let her, and as warm and dry and comfortable as any duchess in the
land that happened to have the rheumatism too. For comfort is inside
more than outside; and eider down, delicious as it is, has less to do
with it than some people fancy. How I wish all the poor people in the
great cities could have good chaff beds to lie upon! Let me see: what
more machines are there now? More than I can tell. I saw one going in
the fields the other day, at the use of which I could only guess.
Strange, wild-looking, mad-like machines, as the Scotch would call them,
are growling and snapping, and clinking and clattering over our fields,
so that it seems to an old boy as if all the sweet poetic twilight of
things were vanishing from the country; but he reminds himself that God
is not going to sleep, for, as one of the greatest poets that ever lived
says, _he slumbereth not nor sleepeth_; and the children of the earth
are his, and he will see that their imaginations and feelings have food
enough and to spare. It is his business this--not ours. So the work must
be done as well as it can. Then, indeed, there will be no fear of the
poetry.

I have just alluded to the pleasure of riding the horses, that is, the
work-horses: upon them Allister and I began to ride, as far as I can
remember, this same summer--not from the plough, for the ploughing was
in the end of the year and the spring. First of all we were allowed to
take them at watering-time, watched by one of the men, from the stable
to the long trough that stood under the pump. There, going hurriedly
and stopping suddenly, they would drop head and neck and shoulders
like a certain toy-bird, causing the young riders a vague fear of
falling over the height no longer defended by the uplifted crest; and
then drink and drink till the riders’ legs felt the horses’ bodies
swelling under them; then up and away with quick refreshed stride or
trot towards the paradise of their stalls. But for us came first the
somewhat fearful pass of the stable door, for they never stopped, like
better educated horses, to let their riders dismount, but walked right
in, and there was just room, by stooping low, to clear the top of the
door. As we improved in equitation, we would go afield, to ride them
home from the pasture, where they were fastened by chains to short
stakes of iron driven into the earth. There was more of adventure
here, for not only was the ride longer, but the horses were more
frisky, and would sometimes set off at the gallop. Then the chief
danger was again the door, lest they should dash in, and knock knees
against posts and heads against lintels, for we had only halters to
hold them with. But after I had once been thrown from back to neck,
and from neck to ground in a clumsy but wild gallop extemporized by
Dobbin, I was raised to the dignity of a bridle, which I always
carried with me when we went to fetch them. It was my father’s express
desire that until we could sit well on the bare back we should not be
allowed a saddle. It was a whole year before I was permitted to mount
his little black riding mare, called Missy. She was old, it is
true--nobody quite knew how old she was--but if she felt a light
weight on her back, either the spirit of youth was contagious, or she
fancied herself as young as when she thought nothing of twelve stone,
and would dart off like the wind. In after years I got so found of
her, that I would stand by her side flacking the flies from her as she
grazed; and when I tired of that, would clamber upon her back, and lie
there reading my book, while she plucked on and ground and mashed away
at the grass as if nobody were near her.

Then there was the choice, if nothing else were found more attractive,
of going to the field where the cattle were grazing. Oh! the rich hot
summer afternoons among the grass and the clover, the little
lamb-daisies, and the big horse-daisies, with the cattle feeding
solemnly, but one and another straying now to the corn, now to the
turnips, and recalled by stern shouts, or, if that were unavailing, by
vigorous pursuit and even blows! If I had been able to think of a
mother at home, I should have been perfectly happy. Not that I missed
her then; I had lost her too young for that. I mean that the memory of
the time wants but that to render it perfect in bliss. Even in the
cold days of spring, when, after being shut up all the winter, the
cattle were allowed to revel again in the springing grass and the
venturesome daisies, there was pleasure enough in the company and
devices of the cowherd, a freckle-faced, white-haired, weak-eyed boy
of ten, named--I forget his real name: we always called him Turkey,
because his nose was the colour of a turkey’s egg. Who but Turkey knew
mushrooms from toadstools? Who but Turkey could detect earth-nuts--and
that with the certainty of a truffle-hunting dog? Who but Turkey knew
the note and the form and the nest and the eggs of every bird in the
country? Who but Turkey, with his little whip and its lash of brass
wire, would encounter the angriest bull in Christendom, provided he
carried, like the bulls of Scotland, his most sensitive part, the
nose, foremost? In our eyes Turkey was a hero. Who but Turkey could
discover the nests of hens whose maternal anxiety had eluded the
_finesse_ of Kirsty? and who so well as he could roast the egg with
which she always rewarded such a discovery? Words are feeble before
the delight we experienced on such an occasion, when Turkey,
proceeding to light a fire against one of the earthen walls which
divided the fields, would send us abroad to gather sticks and straws
and whatever outcast combustibles we could find, of which there was a
great scarcity, there being no woods or hedges within reach. Who like
Turkey could rob a wild bee’s nest? And who could be more just than he
in distributing the luscious prize? In fine, his accomplishments were
innumerable. Short of flying, we believed him capable of everything
imaginable.

What rendered him yet dearer to us, was that there was enmity between
him and Mrs. Mitchell. It came about in this way. Although a good
milker, and therefore of necessity a good feeder, Hawkie was yet upon
temptation subject to the inroads of an unnatural appetite. When she
found a piece of an old shoe in the field, she would, if not compelled
to drop the delicious mouthful, go on, the whole morning or afternoon,
in the impossibility of a final deglutition, chewing and chewing at
the savoury morsel. Should this have happened, it was in vain for
Turkey to hope escape from the discovery of his inattention, for the
milk-pail would that same evening or next morning reveal the fact to
Kirsty’s watchful eyes. But fortunately for us, in so far as it was
well to have an ally against our only enemy, Hawkie’s morbid craving
was not confined to old shoes. One day when the cattle were feeding
close by the manse, she found on the holly-hedge which surrounded it,
Mrs. Mitchell’s best cap, laid out to bleach in the sun. It was a
tempting morsel--more susceptible of mastication than shoe-leather.
Mrs. Mitchell, who had gone for another freight of the linen with
which she was sprinkling the hedge, arrived only in time to see the
end of one of its long strings gradually disappearing into Hawkie’s
mouth on its way after the rest of the cap, which had gone the length
of the string farther. With a wild cry of despair she flew at Hawkie,
so intent on the stolen delicacy as to be more open to a surprise than
usual, and laying hold of the string, drew from her throat the
deplorable mass of pulp to which she had reduced the valued gaud. The
same moment Turkey, who had come running at her cry, received full in
his face the slimy and sloppy extract. Nor was this all, for Mrs.
Mitchell flew at him in her fury, and with an outburst of abuse boxed
his ears soundly, before he could recover his senses sufficiently to
run for it. The degradation of this treatment had converted Turkey
into an enemy before ever he knew that we also had good grounds for
disliking her. His opinion concerning her was freely expressed to us
if to no one else, generally in the same terms. He said she was as bad
as she was ugly, and always spoke of her as _the old witch_.

But what brought Turkey and us together more than anything else, was
that he was as fond of Kirsty’s stories as we were; and in the winter
especially we would sit together in the evening, as I have already
said, round her fire and the great pot upon it full of the most
delicious potatoes, while Kirsty knitted away vigorously at her blue
broad-ribbed stockings, and kept a sort of time to her story with the
sound of her needles. When the story flagged, the needles went slower;
in the more animated passages they would become invisible for
swiftness, save for a certain shimmering flash that hovered about her
fingers like a dim electric play; but as the story approached some
crisis, their motion would at one time become perfectly frantic, at
another cease altogether, as finding the subject beyond their power of
accompanying expression. When they ceased, we knew that something
awful indeed was at hand.

[Illustration]

In my next chapter I will give a specimen of her stories, choosing one
which bears a little upon an after adventure.



CHAPTER X

Sir Worm Wymble


It was a snowy evening in the depth of winter. Kirsty had promised to
tell us the tale of the armed knight who lay in stone upon the tomb in
the church; but the snow was so deep, that Mrs. Mitchell, always glad
when nature put it in her power to exercise her authority in a way
disagreeable to us, had refused to let the little ones go out all day.
Therefore Turkey and I, when the darkness began to grow thick enough,
went prowling and watching about the manse until we found an
opportunity when she was out of the way. The moment this occurred we
darted into the nursery, which was on the ground floor, and catching
up my two brothers, I wee Davie, he Allister, we hoisted them on our
backs and rushed from the house. It was snowing. It came down in huge
flakes, but although it was only half-past four o’clock, they did not
show any whiteness, for there was no light to shine upon them. You
might have thought there had been mud in the cloud they came from,
which had turned them all a dark grey. How the little ones did enjoy
it, spurring their horses with suppressed laughter, and urging us on
lest the old witch should hear and overtake us! But it was hard work
for one of the horses, and that was myself. Turkey scudded away with
his load, and made nothing of it; but wee Davie pulled so hard with
his little arms round my neck, especially when he was bobbing up and
down to urge me on, half in delight, half in terror, that he nearly
choked me; while if I went one foot off the scarcely beaten path, I
sunk deep in the fresh snow.

“Doe on, doe on, Yanal!” cried Davie; and Yanal did his very best, but
was only halfway to the farm, when Turkey came bounding back to take
Davie from him. In a few moments we had shaken the snow off our shoes
and off Davie’s back, and stood around Kirsty’s “booful baze”, as
Davie called the fire. Kirsty seated herself on one side with Davie on
her lap, and we three got our chairs as near her as we could, with
Turkey, as the valiant man of the party, farthest from the centre of
safety, namely Kirsty, who was at the same time to be the source of
all the delightful horror. I may as well say that I do not believe
Kirsty’s tale had the remotest historical connection with Sir Worm
Wymble, if that was anything like the name of the dead knight. It was
an old Highland legend, which she adorned with the flowers of her own
Celtic fancy, and swathed around the form so familiar to us all.

“There is a pot in the Highlands,” began Kirsty, “not far from our
house, at the bottom of a little glen. It is not very big, but
fearfully deep; so deep that they do say there is no bottom to it.”

“An iron pot, Kirsty?” asked Allister.

“No, goosey,” answered Kirsty. “A pot means a great hole full of
water--black, black, and deep, deep.”

“Oh!” remarked Allister, and was silent.

“Well, in this pot there lived a kelpie.”

“What’s a kelpie, Kirsty?” again interposed Allister, who in general
asked all the necessary questions and at least as many unnecessary.

“A kelpie is an awful creature that eats people.”

“But what is it like, Kirsty?”

“It’s something like a horse, with a head like a cow.”

“How big is it? As big as Hawkie?”

“Bigger than Hawkie; bigger than the biggest ox you ever saw.”

“Has it a great mouth?”

“Yes, a terrible mouth.”

“With teeth?”

“Not many, but dreadfully big ones.”

“Oh!”

“Well, there was a shepherd many years ago, who lived not far from the
pot. He was a knowing man, and understood all about kelpies and
brownies and fairies. And he put a branch of the rowan-tree
(_mountain-ash_), with the red berries in it, over the door of his
cottage, so that the kelpie could never come in.

“Now, the shepherd had a very beautiful daughter--so beautiful that
the kelpie wanted very much to eat her. I suppose he had lifted up his
head out of the pot some day and seen her go past, but he could not
come out of the pot except after the sun was down.”

“Why?” asked Allister.

“I don’t know. It was the nature of the beast. His eyes couldn’t bear
the light, I suppose; but he could see in the dark quite well.--One
night the girl woke suddenly, and saw his great head looking in at her
window.”

“But how could she see him when it was dark?” said Allister.

“His eyes were flashing so that they lighted up all his head,”
 answered Kirsty.

“But he couldn’t get in!”

“No; he couldn’t get in. He was only looking in, and thinking how he
_should_ like to eat her. So in the morning she told her father. And
her father was very frightened, and told her she must never be out one
moment after the sun was down. And for a long time the girl was very
careful. And she had need to be; for the creature never made any
noise, but came up as quiet as a shadow. One afternoon, however, she
had gone to meet her lover a little way down the glen; and they
stopped talking so long, about one thing and another, that the sun was
almost set before she bethought herself. She said good-night at once,
and ran for home. Now she could not reach home without passing the
pot, and just as she passed the pot, she saw the last sparkle of the
sun as he went down.”

“I should think she ran!” remarked our mouthpiece, Allister.

“She did run,” said Kirsty, “and had just got past the awful black
pot, which was terrible enough day or night without such a beast in
it, when--”

“But there _was_ the beast in it,” said Allister.

“When,” Kirsty went on without heeding him, “she heard a great _whish_
of water behind her. That was the water tumbling off the beast’s back
as he came up from the bottom. If she ran before, she flew now. And
the worst of it was that she couldn’t hear him behind her, so as to
tell whereabouts he was. He might be just opening his mouth to take
her every moment. At last she reached the door, which her father, who
had gone out to look for her, had set wide open that she might run in
at once; but all the breath was out of her body, and she fell down
flat just as she got inside.”

[Illustration]

Here Allister jumped from his seat, clapping his hands and crying--

“Then the kelpie didn’t eat her!--Kirsty! Kirsty!”

“No. But as she fell, one foot was left outside the threshold, so that
the rowan branch could not take care of it. And the beast laid hold of
the foot with his great mouth, to drag her out of the cottage and eat
her at his leisure.”

Here Allister’s face was a picture to behold! His hair was almost
standing on end, his mouth was open, and his face as white as my
paper.

“Make haste, Kirsty,” said Turkey, “or Allister will go in a fit.”

“But her shoe came off in his mouth, and she drew in her foot and was
safe.”

Allister’s hair subsided. He drew a deep breath, and sat down
again. But Turkey must have been a very wise or a very unimaginative
Turkey, for here he broke in with--

“I don’t believe a word of it, Kirsty.”

“What!” said Kirsty--“don’t believe it!”

“No. She lost her shoe in the mud. It was some wild duck she heard in
the pot, and there was no beast after her. She never saw it, you
know.”

“She saw it look in at her window.”

“Yes, yes. That was in the middle of the night. I’ve seen as much
myself when I waked up in the middle of the night. I took a rat for a
tiger once.”

Kirsty was looking angry, and her needles were going even faster than
when she approached the climax of the shoe.

“Hold your tongue, Turkey,” I said, “and let us hear the rest of the
story.”

But Kirsty kept her eyes on her knitting, and did not resume.

“Is that all, Kirsty?” said Allister.

Still Kirsty returned no answer. She needed all her force to overcome
the anger she was busy stifling. For it would never do for one in her
position to lose her temper because of the unbelieving criticism of a
herd-boy. It was a curious instance of the electricity flashed out in
the confluence of unlike things--the Celtic faith and the Saxon
works. For anger is just the electric flash of the mind, and requires
to have its conductor of common sense ready at hand. After a few
moments she began again as if she had never stopped and no remarks had
been made, only her voice trembled a little at first.

“Her father came home soon after, in great distress, and there he
found her lying just within the door. He saw at once how it was, and
his anger was kindled against her lover more than the beast. Not that
he had any objection to her going to meet him; for although he was a
gentleman and his daughter only a shepherd’s daughter, they were both
of the blood of the MacLeods.”

This was Kirsty’s own clan. And indeed I have since discovered that
the original legend on which her story was founded belongs to the
island of Rasay, from which she came.

“But why was he angry with the gentleman?” asked Allister.

“Because he liked her company better than he loved herself,” said
Kirsty. “At least that was what the shepherd said, and that he ought
to have seen her safe home. But he didn’t know that MacLeod’s father
had threatened to kill him if ever he spoke to the girl again.”

“But,” said Allister, “I thought it was about Sir Worm Wymble--not
Mr. MacLeod.”

“Sure, boy, and am I not going to tell you how he got the new name of
him?” returned Kirsty, with an eagerness that showed her fear lest the
spirit of inquiry should spread. “He wasn’t Sir Worm Wymble then. His
name was--”

Here she paused a moment, and looked full at Allister.

“His name was Allister--Allister MacLeod.”

“Allister!” exclaimed my brother, repeating the name as an incredible
coincidence.

“Yes, Allister,” said Kirsty. “There’s been many an Allister, and not
all of them MacLeods, that did what they ought to do, and didn’t know
what fear was. And you’ll be another, my bonnie Allister, I hope,” she
added, stroking the boy’s hair.

Allister’s face flushed with pleasure. It was long before he asked
another question.

“Well, as I say,” resumed Kirsty, “the father of her was very angry,
and said she should never go and meet Allister again. But the girl
said she ought to go once and let him know why she could not come any
more; for she had no complaint to make of Allister; and she had agreed
to meet him on a certain day the week after; and there was no
post-office in those parts. And so she did meet him, and told him all
about it. And Allister said nothing much then. But next day he came
striding up to the cottage, at dinner-time, with his claymore
(_gladius major_) at one side, his dirk at the other, and his little
skene dubh (_black knife_) in his stocking. And he was grand to
see--such a big strong gentleman I And he came striding up to the
cottage where the shepherd was sitting at his dinner.

“‘Angus MacQueen,’ says he, ‘I understand the kelpie in the pot has
been rude to your Nellie. I am going to kill him.’ ‘How will you do
that, sir?’ said Angus, quite short, for he was the girl’s father.
‘Here’s a claymore I could put in a peck,’ said Allister, meaning it
was such good steel that he could bend it round till the hilt met the
point without breaking; ‘and here’s a shield made out of the hide of
old Rasay’s black bull; and here’s a dirk made of a foot and a half of
an old Andrew Ferrara; and here’s a skene dubh that I’ll drive through
your door, Mr. Angus. And so we’re fitted, I hope.’ ‘Not at all,’ said
Angus, who as I told you was a wise man and a knowing; ‘not one bit,’
said Angus. ‘The kelpie’s hide is thicker than three bull-hides, and
none of your weapons would do more than mark it.’  ‘What am I to do
then, Angus, for kill him I will somehow?’ ‘I’ll tell you what to do;
but it needs a brave man to do that.’ ‘And do you think I’m not brave
enough for that, Angus?’ ‘I know one thing you are not brave enough
for.’ ‘And what’s that?’ said Allister, and his face grew red, only he
did not want to anger Nelly’s father. ‘You’re not brave enough to
marry my girl in the face of the clan,’ said Angus. ‘But you shan’t go
on this way. If my Nelly’s good enough to talk to in the glen, she’s
good enough to lead into the hall before the ladies and gentlemen.’

“Then Allister’s face grew redder still, but not with anger, and he
held down his head before the old man, but only for a few moments.
When he lifted it again, it was pale, not with fear but with
resolution, for he had made up his mind like a gentleman. ‘Mr. Angus
MacQueen,’ he said, ‘will you give me your daughter to be my wife?’
‘If you kill the kelpie, I will,’ answered Angus; for he knew that the
man who could do that would be worthy of his Nelly.”

“But what if the kelpie ate him?” suggested Allister.

“Then he’d have to go without the girl,” said Kirsty, coolly. “But,”
 she resumed, “there’s always some way of doing a difficult thing; and
Allister, the gentleman, had Angus, the shepherd, to teach him.

“So Angus took Allister down to the pot, and there they began. They
tumbled great stones together, and set them up in two rows at a little
distance from each other, making a lane between the rows big enough
for the kelpie to walk in. If the kelpie heard them, he could not see
them, and they took care to get into the cottage before it was dark,
for they could not finish their preparations in one day. And they sat
up all night, and saw the huge head of the beast looking in now at one
window, now at another, all night long. As soon as the sun was up,
they set to work again, and finished the two rows of stones all the
way from the pot to the top of the little hill on which the cottage
stood. Then they tied a cross of rowan-tree twigs on every stone, so
that once the beast was in the avenue of stones he could only get out
at the end. And this was Nelly’s part of the job. Next they gathered a
quantity of furze and brushwood and peat, and piled it in the end of
the avenue next the cottage. Then Angus went and killed a little pig,
and dressed it ready for cooking.

“‘Now you go down to my brother Hamish,’ he said to Mr. MacLeod; ‘he’s
a carpenter, you know,--and ask him to lend you his longest wimble.’”

“What’s a wimble?” asked little Allister.

[Illustration]

“A wimble is a long tool, like a great gimlet, with a cross handle,
with which you turn it like a screw. And Allister ran and fetched it,
and got back only half an hour before the sun went down. Then they put
Nelly into the cottage, and shut the door. But I ought to have told
you that they had built up a great heap of stones behind the
brushwood, and now they lighted the brushwood, and put down the pig to
roast by the fire, and laid the wimble in the fire halfway up to the
handle. Then they laid themselves down behind the heap of stones and
waited.

“By the time the sun was out of sight, the smell of the roasting pig
had got down the avenue to the side of the pot, just where the kelpie
always got out. He smelt it the moment he put up his head, and he
thought it smelt so nice that he would go and see where it was. The
moment he got out he was between the stones, but he never thought of
that, for it was the straight way to the pig. So up the avenue he
came, and as it was dark, and his big soft web feet made no noise, the
men could not see him until he came into the light of the fire. ‘There
he is!’ said Allister. ‘Hush!’ said Angus, ‘he can hear well enough.’
So the beast came on. Now Angus had meant that he should be busy with
the pig before Allister should attack him; but Allister thought it was
a pity he should have the pig, and he put out his hand and got hold of
the wimble, and drew it gently out of the fire. And the wimble was so
hot that it was as white as the whitest moon you ever saw. The pig was
so hot also that the brute was afraid to touch it, and before ever he
put his nose to it Allister had thrust the wimble into his hide,
behind the left shoulder, and was boring away with all his might. The
kelpie gave a hideous roar, and turned away to run from the wimble.
But he could not get over the row of crossed stones, and he had to
turn right round in the narrow space before he could run.  Allister,
however, could run as well as the kelpie, and he hung on to the handle
of the wimble, giving it another turn at every chance as the beast
went floundering on; so that before he reached his pot the wimble had
reached his heart, and the kelpie fell dead on the edge of the
pot. Then they went home, and when the pig was properly done they had
it for supper. And Angus gave Nelly to Allister, and they were
married, and lived happily ever after.”

“But didn’t Allister’s father kill him?”

“No. He thought better of it, and didn’t. He was very angry for a
while, but he got over it in time. And Allister became a great man,
and because of what he had done, he was called Allister MacLeod no
more, but Sir Worm Wymble. And when he died,” concluded Kirsty, “he
was buried under the tomb in your father’s church. And if you look
close enough, you’ll find a wimble carved on the stone, but I’m afraid
it’s worn out by this time.”



CHAPTER XI

The Kelpie


Silence followed the close of Kirsty’s tale. Wee Davie had taken no
harm, for he was fast asleep with his head on her bosom. Allister was
staring into the fire, fancying he saw the whorls of the wimble
heating in it. Turkey was cutting at his stick with a blunt
pocket-knife, and a silent whistle on his puckered lips. I was sorry
the story was over, and was growing stupid under the reaction from its
excitement. I was, however, meditating a strict search for the wimble
carved on the knight’s tomb. All at once came the sound of a latch
lifted in vain, followed by a thundering at the outer door, which
Kirsty had prudently locked. Allister, Turkey, and I started to our
feet, Allister with a cry of dismay, Turkey grasping his stick.

“It’s the kelpie!” cried Allister.

But the harsh voice of the old witch followed, something deadened by
the intervening door.

“Kirsty! Kirsty!” it cried; “open the door directly.”

“No, no, Kirsty!” I objected. “She’ll shake wee Davie to bits, and
haul Allister through the snow. She’s afraid to touch me.”

Turkey thrust the poker in the fire; but Kirsty snatched it out, threw
it down, and boxed his ears, which rough proceeding he took with the
pleasantest laugh in the world. Kirsty could do what she pleased, for
she was no tyrant. She turned to us.

“Hush!” she said, hurriedly, with a twinkle in her eyes that showed
the spirit of fun was predominant--“Hush!--Don’t speak, wee Davie,”
 she continued, as she rose and carried him from the kitchen into the
passage between it and the outer door. He was scarcely awake.

Now, in that passage, which was wide, and indeed more like a hall in
proportion to the cottage, had stood on its end from time immemorial a
huge barrel, which Kirsty, with some housewifely intent or other, had
lately cleaned out. Setting Davie down, she and Turkey lifted first me
and popped me into it, and then Allister, for we caught the design at
once. Finally she took up wee Davie, and telling him to lie as still
as a mouse, dropped him into our arms. I happened to find the open
bung-hole near my eye, and peeped out. The knocking continued.

“Wait a bit, Mrs. Mitchell,” screamed Kirsty; “wait till I get my
potatoes off the fire.”

As she spoke, she took the great bow-pot in one hand and carried it to
the door, to pour away the water. When she unlocked and opened the
door, I saw through the bung-hole a lovely sight; for the moon was
shining, and the snow was falling thick. In the midst of it stood
Mrs. Mitchell, one mass of whiteness. She would have rushed in, but
Kirsty’s advance with the pot made her give way, and from behind
Kirsty Turkey slipped out and round the corner without being seen.
There he stood watching, but busy at the same time kneading snowballs.

“And what may you please to want to-night, Mrs. Mitchell?” said
Kirsty, with great civility.

“What should I want but my poor children? They ought to have been in
bed an hour ago. Really, Kirsty, you ought to have more sense at your
years than to encourage any such goings on.”

“At my years!” returned Kirsty, and was about to give a sharp retort,
but checked herself, saying, “Aren’t they in bed then, Mrs. Mitchell?”

“You know well enough they are not.”

“Poor things! I would recommend you to put them to bed at once.”

“So I will. Where are they?”

“Find them yourself, Mrs. Mitchell. You had better ask a civil tongue
to help you. I’m not going to do it.”

They were standing just inside the door. Mrs. Mitchell advanced. I
trembled. It seemed impossible she should not see me as well as I saw
her. I had a vague impression that by looking at her I should draw her
eyes upon me; but I could not withdraw mine from the bung-hole. I was
fascinated; and the nearer she came, the less could I keep from
watching her. When she turned into the kitchen, it was a great relief;
but it did not last long, for she came out again in a moment,
searching like a hound. She was taller than Kirsty, and by standing on
her tiptoes could have looked right down into the barrel. She was
approaching it with that intent--those eyes were about to overshadow
us with their baleful light. Already her apron hid all other vision
from my one eye, when a whizz, a dull blow, and a shriek from Mrs.
Mitchell came to my ears together. The next moment, the field of my
vision was open, and I saw Mrs. Mitchell holding her head with both
hands, and the face of Turkey grinning round the corner of the open
door. Evidently he wanted to entice her to follow him; but she had
been too much astonished by the snowball in the back of her neck even
to look in the direction whence the blow had come. So Turkey stepped
out, and was just poising himself in the delivery of a second missile,
when she turned sharp round.

The snowball missed her, and came with a great bang against the
barrel.  Wee Davie gave a cry of alarm, but there was no danger now,
for Mrs. Mitchell was off after Turkey. In a moment, Kirsty lowered
the barrel on its side, and we all crept out. I had wee Davie on my
back instantly, while Kirsty caught up Allister, and we were off for
the manse. As soon as we were out of the yard, however, we met Turkey,
breathless. He had given Mrs. Mitchell the slip, and left her
searching the barn for him. He took Allister from Kirsty, and we sped
away, for it was all downhill now. When Mrs. Mitchell got back to the
farmhouse, Kirsty was busy as if nothing had happened, and when, after
a fruitless search, she returned to the manse, we were all snug in
bed, with the door locked. After what had passed about the school,
Mrs. Mitchell did not dare make any disturbance.

From that night she always went by the name of _the Kelpie_.



CHAPTER XII

Another Kelpie


In the summer we all slept in a large room in the wide sloping roof.
It had a dormer window, at no great distance above the eaves. One day
there was something doing about the ivy, which covered all the gable
and half the front of the house, and the ladder they had been using
was left leaning against the back. It reached a little above the
eaves, right under the dormer window. That night I could not sleep, as
was not unfrequently the case with me. On such occasions I used to go
wandering about the upper part of the house. I believe the servants
thought I walked in my sleep, but it was not so, for I always knew
what I was about well enough. I do not remember whether this began
after that dreadful night when I woke in the barn, but I do think the
enjoyment it gave me was rooted in the starry loneliness in which I
had then found myself. I wonder if I can explain my feelings.  The
pleasure arose from a sort of sense of protected danger. On that
memorable night, I had been as it were naked to all the silence, alone
in the vast universe, which kept looking at me full of something it
knew but would not speak. Now, when wandering about sleepless, I could
gaze as from a nest of safety out upon the beautiful fear. From window
to window I would go in the middle of the night, now staring into a
blank darkness out of which came, the only signs of its being, the
raindrops that bespattered or the hailstones that berattled the panes;
now gazing into the deeps of the blue vault, gold-bespangled with its
worlds; or, again, into the mysteries of soft clouds, all gathered
into an opal tent by the centre-clasp of the moon, thinking out her
light over its shining and shadowy folds.

This, I have said, was one of those nights on which I could not sleep.
It was the summer after the winter-story of the kelpie, I believe; but
the past is confused, and its chronology worthless, to the continuous
_now_ of childhood. The night was hot; my little brothers were
sleeping loud, as wee Davie called _snoring_; and a great moth had got
within my curtains somewhere, and kept on fluttering and whirring. I
got up, and went to the window. It was such a night! The moon was
full, but rather low, and looked just as if she were thinking--“Nobody
is heeding me: I may as well go to bed.” All the top of the sky was
covered with mackerel-backed clouds, lying like milky ripples on a
blue sea, and through them the stars shot, here and there, sharp
little rays like sparkling diamonds. There was no awfulness about it,
as on the night when the gulfy sky stood over me, flashing with the
heavenly host, and nothing was between me and the farthest world. The
clouds were like the veil that hid the terrible light in the Holy of
Holies--a curtain of God’s love, to dim with loveliness the grandeur
of their own being, and make his children able to bear it. My eye fell
upon the top rounds of the ladder, which rose above the edge of the
roof like an invitation. I opened the window, crept through, and,
holding on by the ledge, let myself down over the slates, feeling with
my feet for the top of the ladder. In a moment I was upon it. Down I
went, and oh, how tender to my bare feet was the cool grass on which I
alighted! I looked up. The dark housewall rose above me. I could
ascend again when I pleased. There was no hurry. I would walk about a
little. I would put my place of refuge yet a little farther off,
nibble at the danger, as it were--a danger which existed only in my
imagination. I went outside the high holly hedge, and the house was
hidden. A grassy field was before me, and just beyond the field rose
the farm buildings. Why should not I run across and wake Turkey? I was
off like a shot, the expectation of a companion in my delight
overcoming all the remnants of lingering apprehension. I knew there
was only one bolt, and that a manageable one, between me and Turkey,
for he slept in a little wooden chamber partitioned off from a loft in
the barn, to which he had to climb a ladder. The only fearful part was
the crossing of the barn-floor. But I was man enough for that. I
reached and crossed the yard in safety, searched for and found the key
of the barn, which was always left in a hole in the wall by the
door,--turned it in the lock, and crossed the floor as fast as the
darkness would allow me. With outstretched groping hands I found the
ladder, ascended, and stood by Turkey’s bed.

“Turkey! Turkey! wake up,” I cried. “It’s such a beautiful night! It’s
a shame to lie sleeping that way.”

Turkey’s answer was immediate. He was wide awake and out of bed with
all his wits by him in a moment.

“Sh! sh!” he said, “or you’ll wake Oscar.”

Oscar was a colley (_sheep dog_) which slept in a kennel in the
cornyard. He was not much of a watch-dog, for there was no great
occasion for watching, and he knew it, and slept like a human child;
but he was the most knowing of dogs. Turkey was proceeding to dress.

“Never mind your clothes, Turkey,” I said. “There’s nobody up.”

Willing enough to spare himself trouble, Turkey followed me in his
shirt. But once we were out in the cornyard, instead of finding
contentment in the sky and the moon, as I did, he wanted to know what
we were going to do.

“It’s not a bad sort of night,” he said; “what shall we do with it?”

He was always wanting to do something.

“Oh, nothing,” I answered; “only look about us a bit.”

“You didn’t hear robbers, did you?” he asked.

“Oh dear, no! I couldn’t sleep, and got down the ladder, and came to
wake you--that’s all.”

“Let’s have a walk, then,” he said.

Now that I had Turkey, there was scarcely more terror in the night
than in the day. I consented at once. That we had no shoes on was not
of the least consequence to Scotch boys. I often, and Turkey always,
went barefooted in summer.

As we left the barn, Turkey had caught up his little whip. He was
never to be seen without either that or his club, as we called the
stick he carried when he was herding the cattle. Finding him thus
armed, I begged him to give me his club. He ran and fetched it, and,
thus equipped, we set out for nowhere in the middle of the night. My
fancy was full of fragmentary notions of adventure, in which shadows
from The Pilgrim’s Progress predominated. I shouldered my club, trying
to persuade my imagination that the unchristian weapon had been won
from some pagan giant, and therefore was not unfittingly carried. But
Turkey was far better armed with his lash of wire than I was with the
club. His little whip was like that fearful weapon called the morning
star in the hand of some stalwart knight.

We took our way towards the nearest hills, thinking little of where we
went so that we were in motion. I guess that the story I have just
related must, notwithstanding his unbelief, have been working in
Turkey’s brain that night, for after we had walked for a mile or more
along the road, and had arrived at the foot of a wooded hill, well
known to all the children of the neighbourhood for its bilberries, he
turned into the hollow of a broken track, which lost itself in a field
as yet only half-redeemed from the moorland. It was plain to me now
that Turkey had some goal or other in his view; but I followed his
leading, and asked no questions. All at once he stopped, and said,
pointing a few yards in front of him:

“Look, Ranald!”

I did look, but the moon was behind the hill, and the night was so dim
that I had to keep looking for several moments ere I discovered that
he was pointing to the dull gleam of dark water. Very horrible it
seemed. I felt my flesh creep the instant I saw it. It lay in a hollow
left by the digging out of peats, drained thither from the surrounding
bog. My heart sank with fear. The almost black glimmer of its surface
was bad enough, but who could tell what lay in its unknown depth? But,
as I gazed, almost paralysed, a huge dark figure rose up on the
opposite side of the pool. For one moment the scepticism of Turkey
seemed to fail him, for he cried out, “The kelpie! The kelpie!” and
turned and ran.

I followed as fast as feet utterly unconscious of the ground they trod
upon could bear me. We had not gone many yards before a great roar
filled the silent air. That moment Turkey slackened his pace, and
burst into a fit of laughter.

“It’s nothing but Bogbonny’s bull, Ranald!” he cried.

Kelpies were unknown creatures to Turkey, but a bull was no more than
a dog or a sheep, or any other domestic animal. I, however, did not
share his equanimity, and never slackened my pace till I got up with
him.

“But he’s rather ill-natured,” he went on, the instant I joined him,
“and we had better make for the hill.”

Another roar was a fresh spur to our speed. We could not have been in
better trim for running. But it was all uphill, and had it not been
that the ground for some distance between us and the animal was boggy,
so that he had to go round a good way, one of us at least would have
been in evil case.

“He’s caught sight of our shirts,” said Turkey, panting as he ran,
“and he wants to see what they are. But we’ll be over the fence before
he comes up with us. I wouldn’t mind for myself; I could dodge him
well enough; but he might go after you, Ranald.”

What with fear and exertion I was unable to reply. Another bellow
sounded nearer, and by and by we could hear the dull stroke of his
hoofs on the soft ground as he galloped after us. But the fence of dry
stones, and the larch wood within it, were close at hand.

“Over with you, Ranald!” cried Turkey, as if with his last breath; and
turned at bay, for the brute was close behind him.

But I was so spent, I could not climb the wall; and when I saw Turkey
turn and face the bull, I turned too. We were now in the shadow of the
hill, but I could just see Turkey lift his arm. A short sharp hiss,
and a roar followed. The bull tossed his head as in pain, left Turkey,
and came towards me. He could not charge at any great speed, for the
ground was steep and uneven. I, too, had kept hold of my weapon; and
although I was dreadfully frightened, I felt my courage rise at
Turkey’s success, and lifted my club in the hope that it might prove
as good at need as Turkey’s whip. It was well for me, however, that
Turkey was too quick for the bull. He got between him and me, and a
second stinging cut from the brass wire drew a second roar from his
throat, and no doubt a second red streamlet from his nose, while my
club descended on one of his horns with a bang which jarred my arm to
the elbow, and sent the weapon flying over the fence. The animal
turned tail for a moment--long enough to place us, enlivened by our
success, on the other side of the wall, where we crouched so that he
could not see us. Turkey, however, kept looking up at the line of the
wall against the sky; and as he looked, over came the nose of the
bull, within a yard of his head. Hiss went the little whip, and bellow
went the bull.

“Get up among the trees, Ranald, for fear he come over,” said Turkey,
in a whisper.

I obeyed. But as he could see nothing of his foes, the animal had had
enough of it, and we heard no more of him.

After a while, Turkey left his lair and joined me. We rested for a
little, and would then have clambered to the top of the hill, but we
gave up the attempt as awkward after getting into a furze bush. In our
condition, it was too dark. I began to grow sleepy, also, and thought
I should like to exchange the hillside for my bed. Turkey made no
objection, so we trudged home again; not without sundry starts and
quick glances to make sure that the bull was neither after us on the
road, nor watching us from behind this bush or that hillock. Turkey
never left me till he saw me safe up the ladder; nay, after I was in
bed, I spied his face peeping in at the window from the topmost round
of it. By this time the east had begun to begin to glow, as Allister,
who was painfully exact, would have said; but I was fairly tired now,
and, falling asleep at once, never woke until Mrs. Mitchell pulled the
clothes off me, an indignity which I keenly felt, but did not yet know
how to render impossible for the future.



CHAPTER XIII

Wandering Willie


[illustration]

At that time there were a good many beggars going about the country,
who lived upon the alms of the charitable. Among these were some
half-witted persons, who, although not to be relied upon, were seldom
to any extent mischievous. We were not much afraid of them, for the
home-neighbourhood is a charmed spot round which has been drawn a
magic circle of safety, and we seldom roamed far beyond it. There was,
however, one occasional visitor of this class, of whom we stood in
some degree of awe. He was commonly styled Foolish Willie. His
approach to the manse was always announced by a wailful strain upon
the bagpipes, a set of which he had inherited from his father, who had
been piper to some Highland nobleman: at least so it was said. Willie
never went without his pipes, and was more attached to them than to
any living creature. He played them well, too, though in what corner
he kept the amount of intellect necessary to the mastery of them was a
puzzle. The probability seemed that his wits had not decayed until
after he had become in a measure proficient in the use of the chanter,
as they call that pipe by means of whose perforations the notes are
regulated. However this may be, Willie could certainly play the pipes,
and was a great favourite because of it--with children especially,
notwithstanding the mixture of fear which his presence always
occasioned them. Whether it was from our Highland blood or from
Kirsty’s stories, I do not know, but we were always delighted when the
far-off sound of his pipes reached us: little Davie would dance and
shout with glee. Even the Kelpie, Mrs. Mitchell that is, was
benignantly inclined towards Wandering Willie, as some people called
him after the old song; so much so that Turkey, who always tried to
account for things, declared his conviction that Willie must be Mrs.
Mitchell’s brother, only she was ashamed and wouldn’t own him. I do
not believe he had the smallest atom of corroboration for the
conjecture, which therefore was bold and worthy of the inventor. One
thing we all knew, that she would ostentatiously fill the canvas bag
which he carried by his side, with any broken scraps she could gather,
would give him as much milk to drink as he pleased, and would speak
kind, almost coaxing, words to the poor _natural_--words which sounded
the stranger in our ears, that they were quite unused to like sounds
from the lips of the Kelpie.

It is impossible to describe Willie’s dress: the agglomeration of
ill-supplied necessity and superfluous whim was never exceeded. His
pleasure was to pin on his person whatever gay-coloured cotton
handkerchiefs he could get hold of; so that, with one of these behind
and one before, spread out across back and chest, he always looked
like an ancient herald come with a message from knight or nobleman. So
incongruous was his costume that I could never tell whether kilt or
trousers was the original foundation upon which it had been
constructed. To his tatters add the bits of old ribbon, list, and
coloured rag which he attached to his pipes wherever there was room,
and you will see that he looked all flags and pennons--a moving grove
of raggery, out of which came the screaming chant and drone of his
instrument. When he danced, he was like a whirlwind that had caught up
the contents of an old-clothes-shop. It is no wonder that he should
have produced in our minds an indescribable mixture of awe and
delight--awe, because no one could tell what he might do next, and
delight because of his oddity, agility, and music. The first sensation
was always a slight fear, which gradually wore off as we became anew
accustomed to the strangeness of the apparition. Before the visit was
over, wee Davie would be playing with the dangles of his pipes, and
laying his ear to the bag out of which he thought the music came
ready-made. And Willie was particularly fond of Davie, and tried to
make himself agreeable to him after a hundred grotesque fashions. The
awe, however, was constantly renewed in his absence, partly by the
threats of the Kelpie, that, if so and so, she would give this one or
that to Foolish Willie to take away with him--a threat which now fell
almost powerless upon me, but still told upon Allister and Davie.

One day, in early summer--it was after I had begun to go to school--I
came home as usual at five o’clock, to find the manse in great
commotion. Wee Davie had disappeared. They were looking for him
everywhere without avail. Already all the farmhouses had been
thoroughly searched. An awful horror fell upon me, and the most
frightful ideas of Davie’s fate arose in my mind. I remember giving a
howl of dismay the moment I heard of the catastrophe, for which I
received a sound box on the ear from Mrs. Mitchell. I was too
miserable, however, to show any active resentment, and only sat down
upon the grass and cried. In a few minutes, my father, who had been
away visiting some of his parishioners, rode up on his little black
mare. Mrs. Mitchell hurried to meet him, wringing her hands, and
crying--

“Oh, sir! oh, sir! Davie’s away with Foolish Willie!”

This was the first I had heard of Willie in connection with the
affair. My father turned pale, but kept perfectly quiet.

“Which way did he go?” he asked.

Nobody knew.

“How long is it ago?”

“About an hour and a half, I think,” said Mrs. Mitchell.

To me the news was some relief. Now I could at least do something. I
left the group, and hurried away to find Turkey. Except my father, I
trusted more in Turkey than in anyone. I got on a rising ground near
the manse, and looked all about until I found where the cattle were
feeding that afternoon, and then darted off at full speed. They were
at some distance from home, and I found that Turkey had heard nothing
of the mishap. When I had succeeded in conveying the dreadful news, he
shouldered his club, and said--

“The cows must look after themselves, Ranald!”

With the words he set off at a good swinging trot in the direction of
a little rocky knoll in a hollow about half a mile away, which he knew
to be a favourite haunt of Wandering Willie, as often as he came into
the neighbourhood. On this knoll grew some stunted trees, gnarled and
old, with very mossy stems. There was moss on the stones too, and
between them grew lovely harebells, and at the foot of the knoll there
were always in the season tall foxgloves, which had imparted a certain
fear to the spot in my fancy. For there they call them _Dead Man’s
Bells_, and I thought there was a murdered man buried somewhere
thereabout. I should not have liked to be there alone even in the
broad daylight. But with Turkey I would have gone at any hour, even
without the impulse which now urged me to follow him at my best
speed. There was some marshy ground between us and the knoll, but we
floundered through it; and then Turkey, who was some distance ahead of
me, dropped into a walk, and began to reconnoitre the knoll with some
caution. I soon got up with him.

“He’s there, Ranald!” he said.

“Who? Davie?”

“I don’t know about Davie; but Willie’s there.”

“How do you know?”

“I heard his bagpipes grunt. Perhaps Davie sat down upon them.”

“Oh, run, Turkey!” I said, eagerly.

“No hurry,” he returned. “If Willie has him, he won’t hurt him, but it
mayn’t be easy to get him away. We must creep up and see what can be
done.”

Half dead as some of the trees were, there was foliage enough upon
them to hide Willie, and Turkey hoped it would help to hide our
approach. He went down on his hands and knees, and thus crept towards
the knoll, skirting it partly, because a little way round it was
steeper. I followed his example, and found I was his match at crawling
in four-footed fashion. When we reached the steep side, we lay still
and listened.

“He’s there!” I cried in a whisper.

“Sh!” said Turkey; “I hear him. It’s all right. We’ll soon have a
hold of him.”

A weary whimper as of a child worn out with hopeless crying had
reached our ears. Turkey immediately began to climb the side of the
knoll.

“Stay where you are, Ranald,” he said. “I can go up quieter than you.”

I obeyed. Cautious as a deer-stalker, he ascended, still on his hands
and knees. I strained my eyes after his every motion. But when he was
near the top he lay perfectly quiet, and continued so till I could
bear it no longer, and crept up after him. When I came behind him, he
looked round angrily, and made a most emphatic contortion of his face;
after which I dared not climb to a level with him, but lay trembling
with expectation. The next moment I heard him call in a low whisper:

“Davie! Davie! wee Davie!”

But there was no reply. He called a little louder, evidently trying to
reach by degrees just the pitch that would pierce to Davie’s ears and
not arrive at Wandering Willie’s, who I rightly presumed was farther
off. His tones grew louder and louder--but had not yet risen above a
sharp whisper, when at length a small trembling voice cried “Turkey!
Turkey!” in prolonged accents of mingled hope and pain. There was a
sound in the bushes above me--a louder sound and a rush. Turkey sprang
to his feet and vanished. I followed. Before I reached the top, there
came a despairing cry from Davie, and a shout and a gabble from
Willie.  Then followed a louder shout and a louder gabble, mixed with
a scream from the bagpipes, and an exulting laugh from Turkey. All
this passed in the moment I spent in getting to the top, the last step
of which was difficult. There was Davie alone in the thicket, Turkey
scudding down the opposite slope with the bagpipes under his arm, and
Wandering Willie pursuing him in a foaming fury. I caught Davie in my
arms from where he lay sobbing and crying “Yanal!  Yanal!” and stood
for a moment not knowing what to do, but resolved to fight with teeth
and nails before Willie should take him again. Meantime Turkey led
Willie towards the deepest of the boggy ground, in which both were
very soon floundering, only Turkey, being the lighter, had the
advantage. When I saw that, I resolved to make for home. I got Davie
on my back, and slid down the farther side to skirt the bog, for I
knew I should stick in it with Davie’s weight added to my own. I had
not gone far, however, before a howl from Willie made me aware that he
had caught sight of us; and looking round, I saw him turn from Turkey
and come after us. Presently, however, he hesitated, then stopped, and
began looking this way and that from the one to the other of his
treasures, both in evil hands. Doubtless his indecision would have
been very ludicrous to anyone who had not such a stake in the turn of
the scale. As it was, he made up his mind far too soon, for he chose
to follow Davie. I ran my best in the very strength of despair for
some distance, but, seeing very soon that I had no chance, I set Davie
down, telling him to keep behind me, and prepared, like the Knight of
the Red Cross, “sad battle to darrayne”. Willie came on in fury, his
rags fluttering like ten scarecrows, and he waving his arms in the
air, with wild gestures and grimaces and cries and curses. He was more
terrible than the bull, and Turkey was behind him. I was just, like a
negro, preparing to run my head into the pit of his stomach, and so
upset him if I could, when I saw Turkey running towards us at full
speed, blowing into the bagpipes as he ran. How he found breath for
both I cannot understand. At length, he put the bag under his arm, and
forth issued such a combination of screeching and grunting and
howling, that Wandering Willie, in the full career of his rage, turned
at the cries of his companion. Then came Turkey’s masterpiece. He
dashed the bagpipes on the ground, and commenced kicking them before
him like a football, and the pipes cried out at every kick. If
Turkey’s first object had been their utter demolition, he could not
have treated them more unmercifully. It was no time for gentle
measures: my life hung in the balance. But this was more than Willie
could bear. He turned from us, and once again pursued his pipes. When
he had nearly overtaken him, Turkey gave them a last masterly kick,
which sent them flying through the air, caught them as they fell, and
again sought the bog, while I, hoisting Davie on my back, hurried,
with more haste than speed, towards the manse.

[Illustration]

What took place after I left them, I have only from Turkey’s report,
for I never looked behind me till I reached the little green before
the house, where, setting Davie down, I threw myself on the grass. I
remember nothing more till I came to myself in bed.

When Turkey reached the bog, and had got Wandering Willie well into
the middle of it, he threw the bagpipes as far beyond him as he could,
and then made his way out. Willie followed the pipes, took them, held
them up between him and the sky as if appealing to heaven against the
cruelty, then sat down in the middle of the bog upon a solitary hump,
and cried like a child. Turkey stood and watched him, at first with
feelings of triumph, which by slow degrees cooled down until at length
they passed over into compassion, and he grew heartily sorry for the
poor fellow, although there was no room for repentance. After Willie
had cried for a while, he took the instrument as if it had been the
mangled corpse of his son, and proceeded to examine it. Turkey
declared his certainty that none of the pipes were broken; but when at
length Willie put the mouthpiece to his lips, and began to blow into
the bag, alas! it would hold no wind. He flung it from him in anger
and cried again. Turkey left him crying in the middle of the bog. He
said it was a pitiful sight.

It was long before Willie appeared in that part of the country again;
but, about six months after, some neighbours who had been to a fair
twenty miles off, told my father that they had seen him looking much
as usual, and playing his pipes with more energy than ever. This was a
great relief to my father, who could not bear the idea of the poor
fellow’s loneliness without his pipes, and had wanted very much to get
them repaired for him. But ever after my father showed a great regard
for Turkey. I heard him say once that, if he had had the chance,
Turkey would have made a great general. That he should be judged
capable of so much, was not surprising to me; yet he became in
consequence a still greater being in my eyes.

When I set Davie down, and fell myself on the grass, there was nobody
near. Everyone was engaged in a new search for Davie. My father had
rode off at once without dismounting, to inquire at the neighbouring
toll-gate whether Willie had passed through. It was not very likely,
for such wanderers seldom take to the hard high road; but he could
think of nothing else, and it was better to do something. Having
failed there, he had returned and ridden along the country road which
passed the farm towards the hills, leaving Willie and Davie far behind
him. It was twilight before he returned. How long, therefore, I lay
upon the grass, I do not know. When I came to myself, I found a sharp
pain in my side. Turn how I would, there it was, and I could draw but
a very short breath for it. I was in my father’s bed, and there was no
one in the room. I lay for some time in increasing pain; but in a
little while my father came in, and then I felt that all was as it
should be. Seeing me awake, he approached with an anxious face.

“Is Davie all right, father?” I asked.

“He is quite well, Ranald, my boy. How do you feel yourself now?”

“I’ve been asleep, father?”

“Yes; we found you on the grass, with Davie pulling at you and trying
to wake you, crying, ‘Yanal won’t peak to me. Yanal! Yanal!’ I am
afraid you had a terrible run with him. Turkey, as you call him, told
me all about it. He’s a fine lad Turkey!”

“Indeed he is, father!” I cried with a gasp which betrayed my
suffering.

“What is the matter, my boy?” he asked.

“Lift me up a little, please,” I said, “I have _such_ a pain in my
side!”

“Ah!” he said, “it catches your breath. We must send for the old
doctor.”

The old doctor was a sort of demigod in the place. Everybody believed
and trusted in him; and nobody could die in peace without him any more
than without my father. I was delighted at the thought of being his
patient. I think I see him now standing with his back to the fire, and
taking his lancet from his pocket, while preparations were being made
for bleeding me at the arm, which was a far commoner operation then
than it is now.

That night I was delirious, and haunted with bagpipes. Wandering
Willie was nowhere, but the atmosphere was full of bagpipes. It was an
unremitting storm of bagpipes--silent, but assailing me bodily from
all quarters--now small as motes in the sun, and hailing upon me; now
large as feather-beds, and ready to bang us about, only they never
touched us; now huge as Mount Ætna, and threatening to smother us
beneath their ponderous bulk; for all the time I was toiling on with
little Davie on my back. Next day I was a little better, but very
weak, and it was many days before I was able to get out of bed. My
father soon found that it would not do to let Mrs. Mitchell attend
upon me, for I was always worse after she had been in the room for any
time; so he got another woman to take Kirsty’s duties, and set her to
nurse me, after which illness became almost a luxury. With Kirsty
near, nothing could go wrong. And the growing better was pure
enjoyment.

Once, when Kirsty was absent for a little while, Mrs. Mitchell brought
me some gruel.

“The gruel’s not nice,” I said.

“It’s perfectly good, Ranald, and there’s no merit in complaining when
everybody’s trying to make you as comfortable as they can,” said the
Kelpie.

“Let me taste it,” said Kirsty, who that moment entered the
room.--“It’s not fit for anybody to eat,” she said, and carried it
away, Mrs. Mitchell following her with her nose horizontal.

Kirsty brought the basin back full of delicious gruel, well boiled,
and supplemented with cream. I am sure the way in which she
transformed that basin of gruel has been a lesson to me ever since as
to the quality of the work I did. No boy or girl can have a much
better lesson than--to do what must be done as well as it can be
done. Everything, the commonest, well done, is something for the
progress of the world; that is, lessens, if by the smallest
hair’s-breadth, the distance between it and God.

Oh, what a delight was that first glowing summer afternoon upon which
I was carried out to the field where Turkey was herding the cattle! I
could not yet walk. That very morning, as I was being dressed by
Kirsty, I had insisted that I could walk quite well, and Kirsty had
been over-persuaded into letting me try. Not feeling steady on my
legs, I set off running, but tumbled on my knees by the first chair I
came near. I was so light from the wasting of my illness, that Kirsty
herself, little woman as she was, was able to carry me. I remember
well how I saw everything double that day, and found it at first very
amusing. Kirsty set me down on a plaid in the grass, and the next
moment, Turkey, looking awfully big, and portentously healthy, stood
by my side. I wish I might give the conversation in the dialect of my
native country, for it loses much in translation; but I have promised,
and I will keep my promise.

“Eh, Ranald!” said Turkey, “it’s not yourself?”

“It’s me, Turkey,” I said, nearly crying with pleasure.

“Never mind, Ranald,” he returned, as if consoling me in some
disappointment; “we’ll have rare fun yet.”

“I’m frightened at the cows, Turkey. Don’t let them come near me.”

“No, that I won’t,” answered Turkey, brandishing his club to give me
confidence, “_I_‘ll give it them, if they look at you from between
their ugly horns.”

“Turkey,” I said, for I had often pondered the matter during my
illness, “how did Hawkie behave while you were away with me--that day,
you know?”

“She ate about half a rick of green corn,” answered Turkey, coolly.
“But she had the worst of it. They had to make a hole in her side, or
she would have died. There she is off to the turnips!”

He was after her with shout and flourish. Hawkie heard and obeyed,
turning round on her hind-legs with a sudden start, for she knew from
his voice that he was in a dangerously energetic mood.

“You’ll be all right again soon,” he said, coming quietly back to
me. Kirsty had gone to the farmhouse, leaving me with injunctions to
Turkey concerning me.

“Oh yes, I’m nearly well now; only I can’t walk yet.”

“Will you come on my back?” he said.

When Kirsty returned to take me home, there was I following the cows
on Turkey’s back, riding him about wherever I chose; for my horse was
obedient as only a dog, or a horse, or a servant from love can
be. From that day I recovered very rapidly.



CHAPTER XIV

Elsie Duff


How all the boys and girls stared at me, as timidly, yet with a sense
of importance derived from the distinction of having been so ill, I
entered the parish school one morning, about ten o’clock! For as I
said before, I had gone to school for some months before I was taken
ill. It was a very different affair from Dame Shand’s tyrannical
little kingdom. Here were boys of all ages, and girls likewise, ruled
over by an energetic young man, with a touch of genius, manifested
chiefly in an enthusiasm for teaching. He had spoken to me kindly the
first day I went, and had so secured my attachment that it never
wavered, not even when, once, supposing me guilty of a certain breach
of orders committed by my next neighbour, he called me up, and, with
more severity than usual, ordered me to hold up my hand. The lash
stung me dreadfully, but I was able to smile in his face
notwithstanding. I could not have done that had I been guilty. He
dropped his hand, already lifted for the second blow, and sent me back
to my seat. I suppose either his heart interfered, or he saw that I
was not in need of more punishment. The greatest good he did me, one
for which I shall be ever grateful, was the rousing in me of a love
for English literature, especially poetry. But I cannot linger upon
this at present, tempting although it be. I have led a busy life in
the world since, but it has been one of my greatest comforts when the
work of the day was over--dry work if it had not been that I had it to
do--to return to my books, and live in the company of those who were
greater than myself, and had had a higher work in life than mine. The
master used to say that a man was fit company for any man whom he
could understand, and therefore I hope often that some day, in some
future condition of existence, I may look upon the faces of Milton and
Bacon and Shakspere, whose writings have given me so much strength and
hope throughout my life here.

The moment he saw me, the master came up to me and took me by the
hand, saying he was glad to see me able to come to school again.

“You must not try to do too much at first,” he added.

This set me on my mettle, and I worked hard and with some success. But
before the morning was over I grew very tired, and fell fast asleep
with my head on the desk. I was informed afterwards that the master
had interfered when one of my class-fellows was trying to wake me, and
told him to let me sleep.

When one o’clock came, I was roused by the noise of dismissal for the
two hours for dinner. I staggered out, still stupid with sleep, and
whom should I find watching for me by the door-post but Turkey!

“Turkey!” I exclaimed; “you here!”

“Yes, Ranald,” he said; “I’ve put the cows up for an hour or two, for
it was very hot; and Kirsty said I might come and carry you home.”

So saying he stooped before me, and took me on his strong back. As
soon as I was well settled, he turned his head, and said:

“Ranald, I should like to go and have a look at my mother. Will you
come? There’s plenty of time.”

“Yes, please, Turkey,” I answered. “I’ve never seen your mother.”

He set off at a slow easy trot, and bore me through street and lane
until we arrived at a two-storey house, in the roof of which his
mother lived. She was a widow, and had only Turkey. What a curious
place her little garret was! The roof sloped down on one side to the
very floor, and there was a little window in it, from which I could
see away to the manse, a mile off, and far beyond it. Her bed stood in
one corner, with a check curtain hung from a rafter in front of it. In
another was a chest, which contained all their spare clothes,
including Turkey’s best garments, which he went home to put on every
Sunday morning. In the little grate smouldered a fire of oak-bark,
from which all the astringent virtue had been extracted in the pits at
the lanyard, and which was given to the poor for nothing.

Turkey’s mother was sitting near the little window, spinning. She was
a spare, thin, sad-looking woman, with loving eyes and slow speech.

“Johnnie!” she exclaimed, “what brings you here? and who’s this
you’ve brought with you?”

Instead of stopping her work as she spoke, she made her wheel go
faster than before; and I gazed with admiration at her deft fingering
of the wool, from which the thread flowed in a continuous line, as if
it had been something plastic, towards the revolving spool.

“It’s Ranald Bannerman,” said Turkey quietly. “I’m his horse. I’m
taking him home from the school. This is the first time he’s been
there since he was ill.”

Hearing this, she relaxed her labour, and the hooks which had been
revolving so fast that they were invisible in a mist of motion, began
to dawn into form, until at length they revealed their shape, and at
last stood quite still. She rose, and said:

“Come, Master Ranald, and sit down. You’ll be tired of riding such a
rough horse as that.”

“No, indeed,” I said; “Turkey is not a rough horse; he’s the best
horse in the world.”

“He always calls me Turkey, mother, because of my nose,” said Turkey,
laughing.

“And what brings you here?” asked his mother. “This is not on the road
to the manse.”

“I wanted to see if you were better, mother.”

“But what becomes of the cows?”

“Oh! they’re all safe enough. They know I’m here.”

“Well, sit down and rest you both,” she said, resuming her own place
at the wheel. “I’m glad to see you, Johnnie, so be your work is not
neglected. I must go on with mine.”

Thereupon Turkey, who had stood waiting his mother’s will, deposited
me upon her bed, and sat down beside me.

“And how’s your papa, the good man?” she said to me.

I told her he was quite well.

“All the better that you’re restored from the grave, I don’t doubt,”
 she said.

I had never known before that I had been in any danger.

“It’s been a sore time for him and you too,” she added. “You must be a
good son to him, Ranald, for he was in a great way about you, they
tell me.”

Turkey said nothing, and I was too much surprised to know what to say;
for as often as my father had come into my room, he had always looked
cheerful, and I had had no idea that he was uneasy about me.

After a little more talk, Turkey rose, and said we must be going.

“Well, Ranald,” said his mother, “you must come and see me any time
when you’re tired at the school, and you can lie down and rest
yourself a bit. Be a good lad, Johnnie, and mind your work.”

“Yes, mother, I’ll try,” answered Turkey cheerfully, as he hoisted me
once more upon his back. “Good day, mother,” he added, and left the
room.

I mention this little incident because it led to other things
afterwards. I rode home upon Turkey’s back; and with my father’s
leave, instead of returning to school that day, spent the afternoon in
the fields with Turkey.

In the middle of the field where the cattle were that day, there was a
large circular mound. I have often thought since that it must have
been a barrow, with dead men’s bones in the heart of it, but no such
suspicion had then crossed my mind. Its sides were rather steep, and
covered with lovely grass. On the side farthest from the manse, and
without one human dwelling in sight, Turkey and I lay that afternoon,
in a bliss enhanced to me, I am afraid, by the contrasted thought of
the close, hot, dusty schoolroom, where my class-fellows were talking,
laughing, and wrangling, or perhaps trying to work in spite of the
difficulties of after-dinner disinclination. A fitful little breeze,
as if itself subject to the influence of the heat, would wake up for a
few moments, wave a few heads of horse-daisies, waft a few strains of
odour from the blossoms of the white clover, and then die away
fatigued with the effort. Turkey took out his Jews’ harp, and
discoursed soothing if not eloquent strains.

At our feet, a few yards from the mound, ran a babbling brook, which
divided our farm from the next. Those of my readers whose ears are
open to the music of Nature, must have observed how different are the
songs sung by different brooks. Some are a mere tinkling, others are
sweet as silver bells, with a tone besides which no bell ever had.
Some sing in a careless, defiant tone. This one sung in a veiled
voice, a contralto muffled in the hollows of overhanging banks, with a
low, deep, musical gurgle in some of the stony eddies, in which a
straw would float for days and nights till a flood came, borne round
and round in a funnel-hearted whirlpool. The brook was deep for its
size, and had a good deal to say in a solemn tone for such a small
stream. We lay on the side of the hillock, I say, and Turkey’s Jews’
harp mingled its sounds with those of the brook. After a while he laid
it aside, and we were both silent for a time.

At length Turkey spoke.

“You’ve seen my mother, Ranald.”

“Yes, Turkey.”

“She’s all I’ve got to look after.”

“I haven’t got any mother to look after, Turkey.”

“No. You’ve a father to look after you. I must do it, you know. My
father wasn’t over good to my mother. He used to get drunk sometimes,
and then he was very rough with her. I must make it up to her as well
as I can. She’s not well off, Ranald.”

“Isn’t she, Turkey?”

“No. She works very hard at her spinning, and no one spins better than
my mother. How could they? But it’s very poor pay, you know, and
she’ll be getting old by and by.”

“Not to-morrow, Turkey.”

“No, not to-morrow, nor the day after,” said Turkey, looking up with
some surprise to see what I meant by the remark.

He then discovered that my eyes had led my thoughts astray, and that
what he had been saying about his mother had got no farther than into
my ears. For on the opposite side of the stream, on the grass, like a
shepherdess in an old picture, sat a young girl, about my own age, in
the midst of a crowded colony of daisies and white clover, knitting so
that her needles went as fast as Kirsty’s, and were nearly as
invisible as the thing with the hooked teeth in it that looked so
dangerous and ran itself out of sight upon Turkey’s mother’s
spinning-wheel. A little way from her was a fine cow feeding, with a
long iron chain dragging after her. The girl was too far off for me to
see her face very distinctly; but something in her shape, her posture,
and the hang of her head, I do not know what, had attracted me.

“Oh! there’s Elsie Duff,” said Turkey, himself forgetting his mother
in the sight--“with her granny’s cow! I didn’t know she was coming
here to-day.”

[Illustration]

“How is it,” I asked, “that she is feeding her on old James Joss’s
land?”

“Oh! they’re very good to Elsie, you see. Nobody cares much about her
grandmother; but Elsie’s not her grandmother, and although the cow
belongs to the old woman, yet for Elsie’s sake, this one here and that
one there gives her a bite for it--that’s a day’s feed generally. If
you look at the cow, you’ll see she’s not like one that feeds by the
roadsides. She’s as plump as needful, and has a good udderful of milk
besides.”

“I’ll run down and tell her she may bring the cow into this field
to-morrow,” I said, rising.

“I would if it were _mine_” said Turkey, in a marked tone, which I
understood.

“Oh! I see, Turkey,” I said. “You mean I ought to ask my father.”

“Yes, to be sure, I do mean that,” answered Turkey.

“Then it’s as good as done,” I returned. “I will ask him to-night.”

“She’s a good girl, Elsie,” was all Turkey’s reply.

How it happened I cannot now remember, but I know that, after all, I
did not ask my father, and Granny Gregson’s cow had no bite either off
the glebe or the farm. And Turkey’s reflections concerning the mother
he had to take care of having been interrupted, the end to which they
were moving remained for the present unuttered.

I soon grew quite strong again, and had neither plea nor desire for
exemption from school labours. My father also had begun to take me in
hand as well as my brother Tom; and what with arithmetic and Latin
together, not to mention geography and history, I had quite enough to
do, and quite as much also as was good for me.



CHAPTER XV

A New Companion

[Illustration]

During this summer, I made the acquaintance at school of a boy called
Peter Mason. Peter was a clever boy, from whose merry eye a sparkle
was always ready to break. He seldom knew his lesson well, but, when
_kept in_ for not knowing it, had always learned it before any of the
rest had got more than half through. Amongst those of his own standing
he was the acknowledged leader in the playground, and was besides
often invited to take a share in the amusements of the older boys, by
whom he was petted because of his cleverness and obliging
disposition. Beyond school hours, he spent his time in all manner of
pranks. In the hot summer weather he would bathe twenty times a day,
and was as much at home in the water as any dabchick. And that was how
I came to be more with him than was good for me.

There was a small river not far from my father’s house, which at a
certain point was dammed back by a weir of large stones to turn part
of it aside into a mill-race. The mill stood a little way down, under
a steep bank. It was almost surrounded with trees, willows by the
water’s edge, and birches and larches up the bank. Above the dam was a
fine spot for bathing, for you could get any depth you liked--from two
feet to five or six; and here it was that most of the boys of the
village bathed, and I with them. I cannot recall the memory of those
summer days without a gush of delight gurgling over my heart, just as
the water used to gurgle over the stones of the dam. It was a quiet
place, particularly on the side to which my father’s farm went down,
where it was sheltered by the same little wood which farther on
surrounded the mill. The field which bordered the river was kept in
natural grass, thick and short and fine, for here on the bank it grew
well, although such grass was not at all common in that part of the
country: upon other parts of the same farm, the grass was sown every
year along with the corn. Oh the summer days, with the hot sun drawing
the odours from the feathery larches and the white-stemmed birches,
when, getting out of the water, I would lie in the warm soft grass,
where now and then the tenderest little breeze would creep over my
skin, until the sun baking me more than was pleasant, I would rouse
myself with an effort, and running down to the fringe of rushes that
bordered the full-brimmed river, plunge again headlong into the quiet
brown water, and dabble and swim till I was once more weary! For
innocent animal delight, I know of nothing to match those days--so
warm, yet so pure-aired--so clean, so glad. I often think how God must
love his little children to have invented for them such delights!
For, of course, if he did not love the children and delight in their
pleasure, he would not have invented the two and brought them
together. Yes, my child, I know what you would say,--“How many there
are who have no such pleasures!” I grant it sorrowfully; but you must
remember that God has not done with them yet; and, besides, that there
are more pleasures in the world than you or I know anything about.
And if we had it _all_ pleasure, I know I should not care so much
about what is better, and I would rather be made good than have any
other pleasure in the world; and so would you, though perhaps you do
not know it yet.

One day, a good many of us were at the water together. I was somebody
amongst them in my own estimation because I bathed off my father’s
ground, while they were all on a piece of bank on the other side which
was regarded as common to the village. Suddenly upon the latter spot,
when they were all undressed, and some already in the water, appeared
a man who had lately rented the property of which that was part,
accompanied by a dog, with a flesh-coloured nose and a villainous
look--a mongrel in which the bull predominated. He ordered everyone
off his premises. Invaded with terror, all, except a big boy who
trusted that the dog would be more frightened at his naked figure than
he was at the dog, plunged into the river, and swam or waded from the
inhospitable shore. Once in the embrace of the stream, some of them
thoughtlessly turned and mocked the enemy, forgetting how much they
were still in his power. Indignant at the tyrant, I stood up in the
“limpid wave”, and assured the aquatic company of a welcome to the
opposite bank. So far all was very well. But their clothes! They,
alas! were upon the bank they had left!

The spirit of a host was upon me, for now I regarded them all as my
guests.

“You come ashore when you like,” I said; “I will see what can be done
about your clothes.”

I knew that just below the dam lay a little boat built by the miller’s
sons. It was clumsy enough, but in my eyes a marvel of engineering
art. On the opposite side stood the big boy braving the low-bred cur
which barked and growled at him with its ugly head stretched out like
a serpent’s; while his owner, who was probably not so unkind as we
thought him, stood enjoying the fun of it all. Reckoning upon the big
boy’s assistance, I scrambled out of the water, and sped, like
Achilles of the swift foot, for the boat. I jumped in and seized the
oars, intending to row across, and get the big boy to throw the
clothes of the party into the boat. But I had never handled an oar in
my life, and in the middle passage--how it happened I cannot tell--I
found myself floundering in the water.

Now, although you might expect that the water being dammed back just
here, it would be shallow below the dam, it was just the opposite. Had
the bottom been hard, it would have been shallow; but as the bottom
was soft and muddy, the rush of the water over the dam in the
winter-floods had here made a great hollow. There was besides another
weir a very little way below which again dammed the water back; so
that the depth was greater here than in almost any other part within
the ken of the village boys. Indeed there were horrors afloat
concerning its depth. I was but a poor swimmer, for swimming is a
natural gift, and is not equally distributed to all. I might have done
better, however, but for those stories of the awful gulf beneath me.
I was struggling and floundering, half-blind, and quite deaf, with a
sense of the water constantly getting up and stopping me, whatever I
wanted to do, when I felt myself laid hold of by the leg, dragged
under water, and a moment after landed safe on the bank. Almost the
same moment I heard a plunge, and getting up, staggering and
bewildered, saw, as through the haze of a dream, a boy swimming after
the boat, which had gone down with the slow current. I saw him
overtake it, scramble into it in midstream, and handle the oars as to
the manner born. When he had brought it back to the spot where I
stood, I knew that Peter Mason was my deliverer. Quite recovered by
this time from my slight attack of drowning, I got again into the
boat, and leaving the oars to Peter, was rowed across and landed.
There was no further difficulty. The man, alarmed, I suppose, at the
danger I had run, recalled his dog; we bundled in the clothes; Peter
rowed them across; Rory, the big boy, took the water after the boat,
and I plunged in again above the dam. For the whole of that summer and
part of the following winter, Peter was my hero, to the forgetting
even of my friend Turkey. I took every opportunity of joining him in
his games, partly from gratitude, partly from admiration, but more
than either from the simple human attraction of the boy. It was some
time before he led me into any real mischief, but it came at last.



CHAPTER XVI

I Go Down Hill


It came in the following winter.

My father had now begun to teach me as well as Tom, but I confess I
did not then value the privilege. I had got much too fond of the
society of Peter Mason, and all the time I could command I spent with
him. Always full of questionable frolic, the spirit of mischief
gathered in him as the dark nights drew on. The sun, and the wind, and
the green fields, and the flowing waters of summer kept him within
bounds; but when the ice and the snow came, when the sky was grey with
one cloud, when the wind was full of needle-points of frost and the
ground was hard as a stone, when the evenings were dark, and the sun
at noon shone low down and far away in the south, then the demon of
mischief awoke in the bosom of Peter Mason, and, this winter, I am
ashamed to say, drew me also into the net.

Nothing very bad was the result before the incident I am about to
relate. There must have been, however, a gradual declension towards
it, although the pain which followed upon this has almost obliterated
the recollection of preceding follies. Nobody does anything bad all at
once. Wickedness needs an apprenticeship as well as more difficult
trades.

It was in January, not long after the shortest day, the sun setting
about half-past three o’clock. At three school was over, and just as
we were coming out, Peter whispered to me, with one of his merriest
twinkles in his eyes:

“Come across after dark, Ranald, and we’ll have some fun.”

I promised, and we arranged when and where to meet. It was Friday, and
I had no Latin to prepare for Saturday, therefore my father did not
want me. I remember feeling very jolly as I went home to dinner, and
made the sun set ten times at least, by running up and down the
earthen wall which parted the fields from the road; for as often as I
ran up I saw him again over the shoulder of the hill, behind which he
was going down. When I had had my dinner, I was so impatient to join
Peter Mason that I could not rest, and from very idleness began to
tease wee Davie. A great deal of that nasty teasing, so common among
boys, comes of idleness. Poor Davie began to cry at last, and I,
getting more and more wicked, went on teasing him, until at length he
burst into a howl of wrath and misery, whereupon the Kelpie, who had
some tenderness for him, burst into the room, and boxed my ears
soundly. I was in a fury of rage and revenge, and had I been near
anything I could have caught up, something serious would have been the
result. In spite of my resistance, she pushed me out of the room and
locked the door. I would have complained to my father, but I was
perfectly aware that, although _she_ had no right to strike me, I had
deserved chastisement for my behaviour to my brother. I was still
boiling with anger when I set off for the village to join Mason. I
mention all this to show that I was in a bad state of mind, and thus
prepared for the wickedness which followed. I repeat, a boy never
disgraces himself all at once. He does not tumble from the top to the
bottom of the cellar stair. He goes down the steps himself till he
comes to the broken one, and then he goes to the bottom with a
rush. It will also serve to show that the enmity between Mrs. Mitchell
and me had in nowise abated, and that however excusable she might be
in the case just mentioned, she remained an evil element in the
household.

When I reached the village, I found very few people about. The night
was very cold, for there was a black frost. There had been a thaw the
day before which had carried away the most of the snow, but in the
corners lay remnants of dirty heaps which had been swept up there. I
was waiting near one of these, which happened to be at the spot where
Peter had arranged to meet me, when from a little shop near a girl
came out and walked quickly down the street. I yielded to the
temptation arising in a mind which had grown a darkness with slimy
things crawling in it. I kicked a hole in the frozen crust of the
heap, scraped out a handful of dirty snow, kneaded it into a snowball,
and sent it after the girl. It struck her on the back of the head. She
gave a cry and ran away, with her hand to her forehead.  Brute that I
was, I actually laughed. I think I must have been nearer the devil
then than I have been since. At least I hope so. For you see it was
not with me as with worse-trained boys. I knew quite well that I was
doing wrong, and refused to think about it. I felt bad inside. Peter
might have done the same thing without being half as wicked as I
was. He did not feel the wickedness of that kind of thing as I did. He
would have laughed over it merrily. But the vile dregs of my wrath
with the Kelpie were fermenting in my bosom, and the horrid pleasure I
found in annoying an innocent girl because the wicked Kelpie had made
me angry, could never have been expressed in a merry laugh like
Mason’s. The fact is, I was more displeased with myself than with
anybody else, though I did not allow it, and would not take the
trouble to repent and do the right thing. If I had even said to wee
Davie that I was sorry, I do not think I should have done the other
wicked things that followed; for this was not all by any means. In a
little while Peter joined me. He laughed, of course, when I told him
how the girl had run like a frighted hare, but that was poor fun in
his eyes.

“Look here, Ranald,” he said, holding out something like a piece of
wood.

“What is it, Peter?” I asked.

“It’s the stalk of a cabbage,” he answered. “I’ve scooped out the
inside and filled it with tow. We’ll set fire to one end, and blow the
smoke through the keyhole.”

“Whose keyhole, Peter?”

“An old witch’s that I know of. She’ll be in such a rage! It’ll be fun
to hear her cursing and swearing. We’d serve the same to every house
in the row, but that would be more than we could get off with. Come
along. Here’s a rope to tie her door with first.”

I followed him, not without inward misgivings, which I kept down as
well as I could. I argued with myself, “_I_ am not doing it; I am only
going with Peter: what business is that of anybody’s so long as I
don’t touch the thing myself?” Only a few minutes more, and I was
helping Peter to tie the rope to the latch-handle of a poor little
cottage, saying now to myself, “This doesn’t matter. This won’t do her
any harm. This isn’t smoke. And after all, smoke won’t hurt the nasty
old thing. It’ll only make her angry. It may do her cough good: I dare
say she’s got a cough.” I knew all I was saying was false, and yet I
acted on it. Was not that as wicked as wickedness could be? One moment
more, and Peter was blowing through the hollow cabbage stalk in at the
keyhole with all his might. Catching a breath of the stifling smoke
himself, however, he began to cough violently, and passed the wicked
instrument to me. I put my mouth to it, and blew with all my might. I
believe now that there was some far more objectionable stuff mingled
with the tow. In a few moments we heard the old woman begin to
cough. Peter, who was peeping in at the window, whispered--

“She’s rising. Now we’ll catch it, Ranald!”

Coughing as she came, I heard her with shuffling steps approach the
door, thinking to open it for air. When she failed in opening it, and
found besides where the smoke was coming from, she broke into a
torrent of fierce and vengeful reproaches, mingled with epithets by no
means flattering. She did not curse and swear as Peter had led me to
expect, although her language was certainly far enough from refined;
but therein I, being, in a great measure, the guilty cause, was more
to blame than she. I laughed because I would not be unworthy of my
companion, who was genuinely amused; but I was, in reality, shocked at
the tempest I had raised. I stopped blowing, aghast at what I had
done; but Peter caught the tube from my hand and recommenced the
assault with fresh vigour, whispering through the keyhole, every now
and then between the blasts, provoking, irritating, even insulting
remarks on the old woman’s personal appearance and supposed ways of
living. This threw her into paroxysms of rage and of coughing, both
increasing in violence; and the war of words grew, she tugging at the
door as she screamed, he answering merrily, and with pretended
sympathy for her sufferings, until I lost all remaining delicacy in
the humour of the wicked game, and laughed loud and heartily.

[Illustration]

Of a sudden the scolding and coughing ceased. A strange sound and
again silence followed. Then came a shrill, suppressed scream; and we
heard the voice of a girl, crying:

“Grannie! grannie! What’s the matter with you? Can’t you speak to me,
grannie? They’ve smothered my grannie!”

Sobs and moans were all we heard now. Peter had taken fright at last,
and was busy undoing the rope. Suddenly he flung the door wide and
fled, leaving me exposed to the full gaze of the girl. To my horror it
was Elsie Duff! She was just approaching the door, her eyes streaming
with tears, and her sweet face white with agony. I stood unable to
move or speak. She turned away without a word, and began again to busy
herself with the old woman, who lay on the ground not two yards from
the door. I heard a heavy step approaching. Guilt awoke fear and
restored my powers of motion. I fled at full speed, not to find Mason,
but to leave everything behind me.

When I reached the manse, it stood alone in the starry blue night.
Somehow I could not help thinking of the time when I came home after
waking up in the barn. That, too, was a time of misery, but, oh!  how
different from this! Then I had only been cruelly treated myself; now
I had actually committed cruelty. Then I sought my father’s bosom as
the one refuge; now I dreaded the very sight of my father, for I could
not look him in the face. He was my father, but I was not his son. A
hurried glance at my late life revealed that I had been behaving very
badly, growing worse and worse. I became more and more miserable as I
stood, but what to do I could not tell. The cold at length drove me
into the house. I generally sat with my father in his study of a
winter night now, but I dared not go near it. I crept to the nursery,
where I found a bright fire burning, and Allister reading by the
blaze, while Davie lay in bed at the other side of the room. I sat
down and warmed myself, but the warmth could not reach the lump of ice
at my heart. I sat and stared at the fire. Allister was too much
occupied with his book to take any heed of me. All at once I felt a
pair of little arms about my neck, and Davie was trying to climb upon
my knees. Instead of being comforted, however, I spoke very crossly,
and sent him back to his bed whimpering. You see I was only miserable;
I was not repentant. I was eating the husks with the swine, and did
not relish them; but I had not said, “I will arise and go to my
father”.

How I got through the rest of that evening I hardly know. I tried to
read, but could not. I was rather fond of arithmetic; so I got my
slate and tried to work a sum; but in a few moments I was sick of it.
At family prayers I never lifted my head to look at my father, and
when they were over, and I had said good night to him, I felt that I
was sneaking out of the room. But I had some small sense of protection
and safety when once in bed beside little Davie, who was sound asleep,
and looked as innocent as little Samuel when the voice of God was
going to call him. I put my arm round him, hugged him close to me, and
began to cry, and the crying brought me sleep.

It was a very long time now since I had dreamt my old childish dream;
but this night it returned. The old sunny-faced sun looked down upon
me very solemnly. There was no smile on his big mouth, no twinkle
about the corners of his little eyes. He looked at Mrs. Moon as much
as to say, “What is to be done? The boy has been going the wrong way:
must we disown him?” The moon neither shook her head nor moved her
lips, but turned as on a pivot, and stood with her back to her
husband, looking very miserable. Not one of the star-children moved
from its place. They shone sickly and small. In a little while they
faded out; then the moon paled and paled until she too vanished
without ever turning her face to her husband; and last the sun himself
began to change, only instead of paling he drew in all his beams, and
shrunk smaller and smaller, until no bigger than a candle-flame. Then
I found that I was staring at a candle on the table; and that Tom was
kneeling by the side of the other bed, saying his prayers.



CHAPTER XVII

The Trouble Grows


When I woke in the morning, I tried to persuade myself that I had made
a great deal too much of the whole business; that if not a dignified
thing to do, it was at worst but a boy’s trick; only I would have no
more to say to Peter Mason, who had betrayed me at the last moment
without even the temptation of any benefit to himself. I went to
school as usual. It was the day for the Shorter Catechism. None failed
but Peter and me; and we two were kept in alone, and left in the
schoolroom together. I seated myself as far from him as I could. In
half an hour he had learned his task, while I had not mastered the
half of mine. Thereupon he proceeded, regardless of my entreaties, to
prevent me learning it. I begged, and prayed, and appealed to his
pity, but he would pull the book away from me, gabble bits of ballads
in my ear as I was struggling with _Effectual Calling_, tip up the
form on which I was seated, and, in short, annoy me in twenty
different ways. At last I began to cry, for Mason was a bigger and
stronger boy than I, and I could not help myself against him. Lifting
my head after the first vexation was over, I thought I saw a shadow
pass from the window. Although I could not positively say I saw it, I
had a conviction it was Turkey, and my heart began to turn again
towards him. Emboldened by the fancied proximity, I attempted my
lesson once more, but that moment Peter was down upon me like a
spider. At last, however, growing suddenly weary of the sport, he
desisted, and said:

“Ran, you can stay if you like. I’ve learned my catechism, and I don’t
see why I should wait _his_ time.”

As he spoke he drew a picklock from his pocket--his father was an
ironmonger--deliberately opened the schoolroom door, slipped out, and
locked it behind him. Then he came to one of the windows, and began
making faces at me. But vengeance was nigher than he knew. A deeper
shadow darkened my page, and when I looked up, there was Turkey
towering over Mason, with his hand on his collar, and his whip lifted.
The whip did not look formidable. Mason received the threat as a joke,
and laughed in Turkey’s face. Perceiving, however, that Turkey looked
dangerous, with a sudden wriggle, at which he was an adept, he broke
free, and, trusting to his tried speed of foot, turned his head and
made a grimace as he took to his heels. Before, however, he could
widen the space between them sufficiently, Turkey’s whip came down
upon him. With a howl of pain Peter doubled himself up, and Turkey
fell upon him, and, heedless of his yells and cries, pommelled him
severely. Although they were now at some distance, too great for the
distinguishing of words, I could hear that Turkey mingled admonition
with punishment. A little longer, and Peter crept past the window, a
miserable mass of collapsed and unstrung impudence, his face bleared
with crying, and his knuckles dug into his eyes. And this was the boy
I had chosen for my leader! He had been false to me, I said to myself;
and the noble Turkey, seeing his behaviour through the window, had
watched to give him his deserts. My heart was full of gratitude.

Once more Turkey drew near the window. What was my dismay and
indignation to hear him utter the following words:

“If you weren’t your father’s son, Ranald, and my own old friend, I
would serve you just the same.”

Wrath and pride arose in me at the idea of Turkey, who used to call
himself my horse, behaving to me after this fashion; and, my evil ways
having half made a sneak of me, I cried out:

“I’ll tell my father, Turkey.”

“I only wish you would, and then I should be no tell-tale if he asked
me why, and I told him all about it. You young blackguard! You’re no
gentleman! To sneak about the streets and hit girls with snowballs!  I
scorn you!”

“You must have been watching, then, Turkey, and you had no business to
do that,” I said, plunging at any defence.

“I was not watching you. But if I had been, it would have been just as
right as watching Hawkie. You ill-behaved creature! You’re a true
minister’s son.”

“It’s a mean thing to do, Turkey,” I persisted, seeking to stir up my
own anger and blow up my self-approval.

“I tell you I did not do it. I met Elsie Duff crying in the street
because you had hit her with a dirty snowball. And then to go and
smoke her and her poor grannie, till the old woman fell down in a
faint or a fit, I don’t know which! You deserve a good pommelling
yourself, I can tell you, Ranald. I’m ashamed of you.”

He turned to go away.

“Turkey, Turkey,” I cried, “isn’t the old woman better?”

“I don’t know. I’m going to see,” he answered.

“Come back and tell me, Turkey,” I shouted, as he disappeared from the
field of my vision.

“Indeed I won’t. I don’t choose to keep company with such as you. But
if ever I hear of you touching them again, you shall have more of me
than you’ll like, and you may tell your father so when you please.”

I had indeed sunk low when Turkey, who had been such a friend, would
have nothing to say to me more. In a few minutes the master returned,
and finding me crying, was touched with compassion. He sent me home at
once, which was well for me, as I could not have repeated a single
question. He thought Peter had crept through one of the panes that
opened for ventilation, and did not interrogate me about his
disappearance.

The whole of the rest of that day was miserable enough. I even
hazarded one attempt at making friends with Mrs. Mitchell, but she
repelled me so rudely that I did not try again. I could not bear the
company of either Allister or Davie. I would have gone and told
Kirsty, but I said to myself that Turkey must have already prejudiced
her against me. I went to bed the moment prayers were over, and slept
a troubled sleep. I dreamed that Turkey had gone and told my father,
and that he had turned me out of the house.



CHAPTER XVIII

Light out of Darkness


I woke early on the Sunday morning, and a most dreary morning it
was. I could not lie in bed, and, although no one was up yet, rose and
dressed myself. The house was as waste as a sepulchre. I opened the
front door and went out. The world itself was no better. The day had
hardly begun to dawn. The dark dead frost held it in chains of iron.
The sky was dull and leaden, and cindery flakes of snow were thinly
falling. Everywhere life looked utterly dreary and hopeless. What was
there worth living for? I went out on the road, and the ice in the
ruts crackled under my feet like the bones of dead things. I wandered
away from the house, and the keen wind cut me to the bone, for I had
not put on plaid or cloak. I turned into a field, and stumbled along
over its uneven surface, swollen into hard frozen lumps, so that it
was like walking upon stones. The summer was gone and the winter was
here, and my heart was colder and more miserable than any winter in
the world. I found myself at length at the hillock where Turkey and I
had lain on that lovely afternoon the year before. The stream below
was dumb with frost. The wind blew wearily but sharply across the bare
field. There was no Elsie Duff, with head drooping over her knitting,
seated in the summer grass on the other side of a singing brook. Her
head was aching on her pillow because I had struck her with that vile
lump; and instead of the odour of white clover she was breathing the
dregs of the hateful smoke with which I had filled the cottage. I sat
down, cold as it was, on the frozen hillock, and buried my face in my
hands. Then my dream returned upon me. This was how I sat in my dream
when my father had turned me out-of-doors. Oh how dreadful it would
be! I should just have to lie down and die.

I could not sit long for the cold. Mechanically I rose and paced
about. But I grew so wretched in body that it made me forget for a
while the trouble of my mind, and I wandered home again. The house was
just stirring. I crept to the nursery, undressed, and lay down beside
little Davie, who cried out in his sleep when my cold feet touched
him. But I did not sleep again, although I lay till all the rest had
gone to the parlour. I found them seated round a blazing fire waiting
for my father. He came in soon after, and we had our breakfast, and
Davie gave his crumbs as usual to the robins and sparrows which came
hopping on the window-sill. I fancied my father’s eyes were often
turned in my direction, but I could not lift mine to make sure. I had
never before known what misery was.

Only Tom and I went to church that day: it was so cold. My father
preached from the text, “Be sure your sin shall find you out”. I
thought with myself that he had found out my sin, and was preparing to
punish me for it, and I was filled with terror as well as dismay. I
could scarcely keep my seat, so wretched was I. But when after many
instances in which punishment had come upon evil-doers when they least
expected it, and in spite of every precaution to fortify themselves
against it, he proceeded to say that a man’s sin might find him out
long before the punishment of it overtook him, and drew a picture of
the misery of the wicked man who fled when none pursued him, and
trembled at the rustling of a leaf, then I was certain that he knew
what I had done, or had seen through my face into my conscience. When
at last we went home, I kept waiting the whole of the day for the
storm to break, expecting every moment to be called to his study. I
did not enjoy a mouthful of my food, for I felt his eyes upon me, and
they tortured me. I was like a shy creature of the woods whose hole
had been stopped up: I had no place of refuge--nowhere to hide my
head; and I felt so naked!

My very soul was naked. After tea I slunk away to the nursery, and sat
staring into the fire. Mrs. Mitchell came in several times and scolded
me for sitting there, instead of with Tom and the rest in the parlour,
but I was too miserable even to answer her. At length she brought
Davie, and put him to bed; and a few minutes after, I heard my father
coming down the stair with Allister, who was chatting away to him. I
wondered how he could. My father came in with the big Bible under his
arm, as was his custom on Sunday nights, drew a chair to the table,
rang for candles, and with Allister by his side and me seated opposite
to him, began to find a place from which to read to us. To my yet
stronger conviction, he began and read through without a word of
remark the parable of the Prodigal Son. When he came to the father’s
delight at having him back, the robe, and the shoes, and the ring, I
could not repress my tears. “If I could only go back,” I thought, “and
set it all right! but then I’ve never gone away.” It was a foolish
thought, instantly followed by a longing impulse to tell my father all
about it. How could it be that I had not thought of this before? I had
been waiting all this time for my sin to find me out; why should I not
frustrate my sin, and find my father first?

As soon as he had done reading, and before he had opened his mouth to
make any remark, I crept round the table to his side, and whispered in
his ear,--

“Papa, I want to speak to you.”

“Very well, Ranald,” he said, more solemnly, I thought, than usual;
“come up to the study.”

[Illustration]

He rose and led the way, and I followed. A whimper of disappointment
came from Davie’s bed. My father went and kissed him, and said he
would soon be back, whereupon Davie nestled down satisfied.

When we reached the study, he closed the door, sat down by the fire,
and drew me towards him.

I burst out crying, and could not speak for sobs. He encouraged me
most kindly. He said--

“Have you been doing anything wrong, my boy?”

“Yes, papa, very wrong,” I sobbed. “I’m disgusted with myself.”

“I am glad to hear it, my dear,” he returned. “There is some hope of
you, then.”

“Oh! I don’t know that,” I rejoined. “Even Turkey despises me.”

“That’s very serious,” said my father. “He’s a fine fellow, Turkey. I
should not like him to despise me. But tell me all about it.”

It was with great difficulty I could begin, but with the help of
questioning me, my father at length understood the whole matter. He
paused for a while plunged in thought; then rose, saying,--

“It’s a serious affair, my dear boy; but now you have told me, I shall
be able to help you.”

“But you knew about it before, didn’t you, papa? Surely you did!”

“Not a word of it, Ranald. You fancied so because your sin had found
you out. I must go and see how the poor woman is. I don’t want to
reproach you at all, now you are sorry, but I should like you just to
think that you have been helping to make that poor old woman wicked.
She is naturally of a sour disposition, and you have made it sourer
still, and no doubt made her hate everybody more than she was already
inclined to do. You have been working against God in this parish.”

I burst into fresh tears. It was too dreadful.

“What _am_ I to do?” I cried.

“Of course you must beg Mrs. Gregson’s pardon, and tell her that you
are both sorry and ashamed.”

“Yes, yes, papa. Do let me go with you.”

“It’s too late to find her up, I’m afraid; but we can just go and
see. We’ve done a wrong, a very grievous wrong, my boy, and I cannot
rest till I at least know the consequences of it.”

He put on his long greatcoat and muffler in haste, and having seen
that I too was properly wrapped up, he opened the door and stepped
out. But remembering the promise he had made to Davie, he turned and
went down to the nursery to speak to him again, while I awaited him on
the doorsteps. It would have been quite dark but for the stars, and
there was no snow to give back any of their shine. The earth swallowed
all their rays, and was no brighter for it. But oh, what a change to
me from the frightful morning! When my father returned, I put my hand
in his almost as fearlessly as Allister or wee Davie might have done,
and away we walked together.

“Papa,” I said, “why did you say _we_ have done a wrong? You did not
do it.”

“My dear boy, persons who are so near each other as we are, must not
only bear the consequences together of any wrong done by one of them,
but must, in a sense, bear each other’s iniquities even. If I sin, you
must suffer; if you sin, you being my own boy, I must suffer. But this
is not all: it lies upon both of us to do what we can to get rid of
the wrong done; and thus we have to bear each other’s sin. I am
accountable to make amends as far as I can; and also to do what I can
to get you to be sorry and make amends as far as you can.”

“But, papa, isn’t that hard?” I asked.

“Do you think I should like to leave you to get out of your sin as you
best could, or sink deeper and deeper into it? Should I grudge
anything to take the weight of the sin, or the wrong to others, off
you? Do you think I should want not to be troubled about it? Or if I
were to do anything wrong, would you think it very hard that you had
to help me to be good, and set things right? Even if people looked
down upon you because of me, would you say it was hard? Would you not
rather say, ‘I’m glad to bear anything for my father: I’ll share with
him’?”

“Yes, indeed, papa. I would rather share with you than not, whatever
it was.”

“Then you see, my boy, how kind God is in tying us up in one bundle
that way. It is a grand and beautiful thing that the fathers should
suffer for the children, and the children for the fathers. Come
along. We must step out, or I fear we shall not be able to make our
apology to-night. When we’ve got over this, Ranald, we must be a good
deal more careful what company we keep.”

“Oh, papa,” I answered, “if Turkey would only forgive me!”

“There’s no fear. Turkey is sure to forgive you when you’ve done what
you can to make amends. He’s a fine fellow, Turkey. I have a high
opinion of Turkey--as you call him.”

“If he would, papa, I should not wish for any other company than his.”

“A boy wants various kinds of companions, Ranald, but I fear you have
been neglecting Turkey. You owe him much.”

“Yes, indeed I do, papa,” I answered; “and I have been neglecting
him. If I had kept with Turkey, I should never have got into such a
dreadful scrape as this.”

“That is too light a word to use for it, my boy. Don’t call a
wickedness a scrape; for a wickedness it certainly was, though I am
only too willing to believe you had no adequate idea at the time _how_
wicked it was.”

“I won’t again, papa. But I am so relieved already.”

“Perhaps poor old Mrs. Gregson is not relieved, though. You ought not
to forget her.”

Thus talking, we hurried on until we arrived at the cottage. A dim
light was visible through the window. My father knocked, and Elsie
Duff opened the door.



CHAPTER XIX

Forgiveness


When we entered, there sat the old woman on the farther side of the
hearth, rocking herself to and fro. I hardly dared look up. Elsie’s
face was composed and sweet. She gave me a shy tremulous smile, which
went to my heart and humbled me dreadfully. My father took the stool
on which Elsie had been sitting. When he had lowered himself upon it,
his face was nearly on a level with that of the old woman, who took no
notice of him, but kept rocking herself to and fro and moaning. He
laid his hand on hers, which, old and withered and not very clean, lay
on her knee.

“How do you find yourself to-night, Mrs. Gregson?” he asked.

“I’m an ill-used woman,” she replied with a groan, behaving as if it
was my father who had maltreated her, and whose duty it was to make an
apology for it.

“I am aware of what you mean, Mrs. Gregson. That is what brought me to
inquire after you. I hope you are not seriously the worse for it.”

“I’m an ill-used woman,” she repeated. “Every man’s hand’s against
me.”

“Well, I hardly think that,” said my father in a cheerful tone. “_My_
hand’s not against you now.”

“If you bring up your sons, Mr. Bannerman, to mock at the poor, and
find their amusement in driving the aged and infirm to death’s door,
you can’t say your hand’s not against a poor lone woman like me.”

“But I don’t bring up my sons to do so. If I did I shouldn’t be here
now. I am willing to bear my part of the blame, Mrs. Gregson, but to
say I bring my sons up to that kind of wickedness, is to lay on me
more than my share, a good deal.--Come here, Ranald.”

I obeyed with bowed head and shame-stricken heart, for I saw what
wrong I had done my father, and that although few would be so unjust
to him as this old woman, many would yet blame the best man in the
world for the wrongs of his children. When I stood by my father’s
side, the old woman just lifted her head once to cast on me a scowling
look, and then went on again rocking herself.

“Now, my boy,” said my father, “tell Mrs. Gregson why you have come
here to-night.”

I had to use a dreadful effort to make myself speak. It was like
resisting a dumb spirit and forcing the words from my lips. But I did
not hesitate a moment. In fact, I dared not hesitate, for I felt that
hesitation would be defeat.

“I came, papa----” I began.

“No no, my man,” said my father; “you must speak to Mrs. Gregson, not
to me.”

Thereupon I had to make a fresh effort. When at this day I see a child
who will not say the words required of him, I feel again just as I
felt then, and think how difficult it is for him to do what he is
told; but oh, how I wish he would do it, that he might be a conqueror
I for I know that if he will not make the effort, it will grow more
and more difficult for him to make any effort. I cannot be too
thankful that I was able to overcome now.

“I came, Mrs. Gregson,” I faltered, “to tell you that I am very sorry
I behaved so ill to you.”

“Yes, indeed,” she returned. “How would you like anyone to come and
serve you so in your grand house? But a poor lone widow woman like me
is nothing to be thought of. Oh no! not at all.”

“I am ashamed of myself,” I said, almost forcing my confession upon
her.

“So you ought to be all the days of your life. You deserve to be
drummed out of the town for a minister’s son that you are! Hoo!”

“I’ll never do it again, Mrs. Gregson.”

“You’d better not, or you shall hear of it, if there’s a sheriff in
the county. To insult honest people after that fashion!”

I drew back, more than ever conscious of the wrong I had done in
rousing such unforgiving fierceness in the heart of a woman. My father
spoke now.

“Shall I tell you, Mrs. Gregson, what made the boy sorry, and made him
willing to come and tell you all about it?”

“Oh, I’ve got friends after all. The young prodigal!”

“You are coming pretty near it, Mrs. Gregson,” said my father; “but
you haven’t touched it quite. It was a friend of yours that spoke to
my boy and made him very unhappy about what he had done, telling him
over and over again what a shame it was, and how wicked of him. Do you
know what friend it was?”

“Perhaps I do, and perhaps I don’t. I can guess.”

“I fear you don’t guess quite correctly. It was the best friend you
ever had or ever will have. It was God himself talking in my poor
boy’s heart. He would not heed what he said all day, but in the
evening we were reading how the prodigal son went back to his father,
and how the father forgave him; and he couldn’t stand it any longer,
and came and told me all about it.”

“It wasn’t you he had to go to. It wasn’t you he smoked to death--was
it now? It was easy enough to go to you.”

“Not so easy perhaps. But he has come to you now.”

“Come when you made him!”

“I didn’t make him. He came gladly. He saw it was all he could do to
make up for the wrong he had done.”

“A poor amends!” I heard her grumble; but my father took no notice.

“And you know, Mrs. Gregson,” he went on, “when the prodigal son did
go back to his father, his father forgave him at once.”

“Easy enough! He was his father, and fathers always side with their
sons.”

I saw my father thinking for a moment.

“Yes; that is true,” he said. “And what he does himself, he always
wants his sons and daughters to do. So he tells us that if we don’t
forgive one another, he will not forgive us. And as we all want to be
forgiven, we had better mind what we’re told. If you don’t forgive
this boy, who has done you a great wrong, but is sorry for it, God
will not forgive you--and that’s a serious affair.”

“He’s never begged my pardon yet,” said the old woman, whose dignity
required the utter humiliation of the offender.

“I beg your pardon, Mrs. Gregson,” I said. “I shall never be rude to
you again.”

“Very well,” she answered, a little mollified at last.

“Keep your promise, and we’ll say no more about it. It’s for your
father’s sake, mind, that I forgive you.”

I saw a smile trembling about my father’s lips, but he suppressed it,
saying,

“Won’t you shake hands with him, Mrs. Gregson?”

She held out a poor shrivelled hand, which I took very gladly; but it
felt so strange in mine that I was frightened at it: it was like
something half dead. But at the same moment, from behind me another
hand, a rough little hand, but warm and firm and all alive, slipped
into my left hand. I knew it was Elsie Duff’s, and the thought of how
I had behaved to her rushed in upon me with a cold misery of shame. I
would have knelt at her feet, but I could not speak my sorrow before
witnesses. Therefore I kept hold of her hand and led her by it to the
other end of the cottage, for there was a friendly gloom, the only
light in the place coming from the glow--not flame--of a fire of peat
and bark. She came readily, whispering before I had time to open my
mouth--

I’m sorry grannie’s so hard to make it up.”

“I deserve it,” I said. “Elsie, I’m a brute. I could knock my head on
the wall. Please forgive me.”

“It’s not me,” she answered. “You didn’t hurt me. I didn’t mind it.”

“Oh, Elsie! I struck you with that horrid snowball.”

“It was only on the back of my neck. It didn’t hurt me much. It only
frightened me.”

“I didn’t know it was you. If I had known, I am sure I shouldn’t have
done it. But it was wicked and contemptible anyhow, to any girl.”

I broke down again, half from shame, half from the happiness of having
cast my sin from me by confessing it. Elsie held my hand now.

“Never mind; never mind,” she said; “you won’t do it again.”

“I would rather be hanged,” I sobbed.

That moment a pair of strong hands caught hold of mine, and the next I
found myself being hoisted on somebody’s back, by a succession of
heaves and pitches, which did not cease until I was firmly seated.
Then a voice said--

“I’m his horse again, Elsie, and I’ll carry him home this very night.”

Elsie gave a pleased little laugh; and Turkey bore me to the fireside,
where my father was talking away in a low tone to the old woman. I
believe he had now turned the tables upon her, and was trying to
convince her of her unkind and grumbling ways. But he did not let us
hear a word of the reproof.

“Eh! Turkey, my lad! is that you? I didn’t know you were there,” he
said.

I had never before heard my father address him as Turkey.

“What are you doing with that great boy upon your back?” he continued.

“I’m going to carry him home, sir.”

“Nonsense! He can walk well enough.”

Half ashamed, I began to struggle to get down, but Turkey held me
tight.

“But you see, sir,” said Turkey, “we’re friends now. _He’s_ done what
he could, and _I_ want to do what I can.”

“Very well,” returned my father, rising; “come along; it’s time we
were going.”

When he bade her good night, the old woman actually rose and held out
her hand to both of us.

“Good night, Grannie,” said Turkey. “Good night, Elsie.” And away we
went.

Never conqueror on his triumphal entry was happier than I, as through
the starry night I rode home on Turkey’s back. The very stars seemed
rejoicing over my head. When I think of it now, the words always come
with it, “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one
sinner that repenteth,” and I cannot but believe they rejoiced then,
for if ever I repented in my life I repented then. When at length I
was down in bed beside Davie, it seemed as if there could be nobody in
the world so blessed as I was: I had been forgiven. When I woke in the
morning, I was as it were new born into a new world. Before getting up
I had a rare game with Davie, whose shrieks of laughter at length
brought Mrs. Mitchell with angry face; but I found myself kindly
disposed even towards her. The weather was much the same; but its
dreariness had vanished. There was a glowing spot in my heart which
drove out the cold, and glorified the black frost that bound the
earth. When I went out before breakfast, and saw the red face of the
sun looking through the mist like a bright copper kettle, he seemed to
know all about it, and to be friends with me as he had never been
before; and I was quite as well satisfied as if the sun of my dream
had given me a friendly nod of forgiveness.

[Illustration]



CHAPTER XX

I Have a Fall and a Dream


Elsie Duff’s father was a farm-labourer, with a large family. He was
what is called a cottar in Scotland, which name implies that of the
large farm upon which he worked for yearly wages he had a little bit
of land to cultivate for his own use. His wife’s mother was Grannie
Gregson. She was so old that she needed someone to look after her, but
she had a cottage of her own in the village, and would not go and live
with her daughter, and, indeed, they were not anxious to have her, for
she was not by any means a pleasant person. So there was no help for
it: Elsie must go and be her companion. It was a great trial to her at
first, for her home was a happy one, her mother being very unlike her
grandmother; and, besides, she greatly preferred the open fields to
the streets of the village. She did not grumble, however, for where is
the good of grumbling where duty is plain, or even when a thing cannot
be helped? She found it very lonely though, especially when her
grannie was in one of her gloomy moods. Then she would not answer a
question, but leave the poor girl to do what she thought best, and
complain of it afterwards. This was partly the reason why her parents,
towards the close of the spring, sent a little brother, who was too
delicate to be of much use at home, to spend some months with his
grannie, and go to school. The intention had been that Elsie herself
should go to school, but what with the cow and her grandmother
together she had not been able to begin. Of course grannie grumbled at
the proposal, but, as Turkey, my informant on these points, explained,
she was afraid lest, if she objected, they should take Elsie away and
send a younger sister in her place. So little Jamie Duff came to the
school.

He was a poor little white-haired, red-eyed boy, who found himself
very much out of his element there. Some of the bigger boys imagined
it good fun to tease him; but on the whole he was rather a favourite,
for he looked so pitiful, and took everything so patiently. For my
part, I was delighted at the chance of showing Elsie Duff some
kindness through her brother. The girl’s sweetness clung to me, and
not only rendered it impossible for me to be rude to any girl, but
kept me awake to the occurrence of any opportunity of doing something
for her sake. Perceiving one day, before the master arrived, that
Jamie was shivering with cold, I made way for him where I stood by the
fire; and then found that he had next to nothing upon his little body,
and that the soles of his shoes were hanging half off. This in the
month of March in the north of Scotland was bad enough, even if he had
not had a cough. I told my father when I went home, and he sent me to
tell Mrs. Mitchell to look out some old garments of Allister’s for
him; but she declared there were none. When I told Turkey this he
looked very grave, but said nothing. When I told my father, he desired
me to take the boy to the tailor and shoemaker, and get warm and
strong clothes and shoes made for him. I was proud enough of the
commission, and if I did act the grand benefactor a little, I have not
yet finished the penance of it, for it never comes into my mind
without bringing its shame with it. Of how many people shall I not
have to beg the precious forgiveness when I meet them in the other
world! For the sake of this penal shame, I confess I let the little
fellow walk behind me, as I took him through the streets. Perhaps I
may say this for myself, that I never thought of demanding any service
of him in return for mine: I was not so bad as that. And I was true in
heart to him notwithstanding my pride, for I had a real affection for
him. I had not seen his sister--to speak to I mean--since that Sunday
night.

One Saturday afternoon, as we were having a game something like hare
and hounds, I was running very hard through the village, when I set my
foot on a loose stone, and had a violent fall. When I got up, I saw
Jamie Duff standing by my side, with a face of utter consternation. I
discovered afterwards that he was in the way of following me about.
Finding the blood streaming down my face, and remarking when I came to
myself a little that I was very near the house where Turkey’s mother
lived, I crawled thither, and up the stairs to her garret, Jamie
following in silence. I found her busy as usual at her wheel, and
Elsie Duff stood talking to her, as if she had just run in for a
moment and must not sit down. Elsie gave a little cry when she saw the
state I was in, and Turkey’s mother got up and made me take her chair
while she hastened to get some water. I grew faint, and lost my
consciousness. When I came to myself I was leaning against Elsie,
whose face was as white as a sheet with dismay. I took a little water
and soon began to revive.

When Turkey’s mother had tied up my head, I rose to go home, but she
persuaded me to lie down a while. I was not unwilling to comply. What
a sense of blissful repose pervaded me, weary with running, and
perhaps faint with loss of blood, when I stretched myself on the bed,
whose patchwork counterpane, let me say for Turkey’s mother, was as
clean as any down quilt in chambers of the rich. I remember so well
how a single ray of sunlight fell on the floor from the little window
in the roof, just on the foot that kept turning the spinning-wheel.
Its hum sounded sleepy in my ears. I gazed at the sloping ray of
light, in which the ceaseless rotation of the swift wheel kept the
motes dancing most busily, until at length to my half-closed eyes it
became a huge Jacob’s ladder, crowded with an innumerable company of
ascending and descending angels, and I thought it must be the same
ladder I used to see in my dream. The drowsy delight which follows on
the loss of blood possessed me, and the little garret with the
slanting roof, and its sloping sun-ray, and the whirr of the wheel,
and the form of the patient woman that span, had begun to gather about
them the hues of Paradise to my slowly fading senses, when I heard a
voice that sounded miles away, and yet close to my ear:

“Elsie, sing a little song, will you?”

I heard no reply. A pause followed, and then a voice, clear and
melodious as a brook, began to sing, and before it ceased, I was
indeed in a kind of paradise.

[Illustration]

But here I must pause. Shall I be breaking my promise of not a word of
Scotch in my story, if I give the song? True it is not a part of the
story exactly, but it is in it. If my reader would like the song, he
must have it in Scotch or not at all. I am not going to spoil it by
turning it out of its own natural clothes into finer garments to which
it was not born--I mean by translating it from Scotch into English.
The best way will be this: I give the song as something extra--call it
a footnote slipped into the middle of the page. Nobody needs read a
word of it to understand the story; and being in smaller type and a
shape of its own, it can be passed over without the least trouble.

                     SONG

Oh! the bonny, bonny dell, whaur the yorlin[1] sings,
Wi’ a clip o’ the sunshine atween his wings;
Whaur the birks[2] are a’ straikit wi’ fair munelicht,
And the broom hings its lamps by day and by nicht;
Whaur the burnie comes trottin’ ower shingle and stane,
Liltin’ [3] bonny havers[4] til ‘tsel alane;
And the sliddery[5] troot, wi’ ae soop o’ its tail,
Is awa’ ‘neath the green weed’s swingin’ veil!
Oh! the bonny, bonny dell, whaur I sang as I saw
The yorlin, the broom, an’ the burnie, an’ a’!

Oh! the bonny, bonny dell, whaur the primroses wonn,
Luikin’ oot o’ their leaves like wee sons o’ the sun;
Whaur the wild roses hing like flickers o’ flame,
And fa’ at the touch wi’ a dainty shame;
Whaur the bee swings ower the white clovery sod,
And the butterfly flits like a stray thoucht o’ God;
Whaur, like arrow shot frae life’s unseen bow,
The dragon-fly burns the sunlicht throu’!
Oh! the bonny, bonny dell, whaur I sang to see
The rose and the primrose, the draigon and bee!

Oh! the bonny, bonny dell, whaur the mune luiks doon,
As gin she war hearin’ a soundless tune,
Whan the flowers an’ the birds are a’ asleep,
And the verra burnie gangs creepy-creep;
Whaur the corn-craik craiks in the lang lang rye,
And the nicht is the safter for his rouch cry;
Whaur the wind wad fain lie doon on the slope,
And the verra darkness owerflows wi’ hope!
Oh! the bonny, bonny dell, whaur, silent, I felt
The mune an’ the darkness baith into me melt.

Oh! the bonny, bonny dell, whaur the sun luiks in,
Sayin’, Here awa’, there awa’, baud awa’, sin!
Wi’ the licht o’ God in his flashin’ ee,
Sayin’, Darkness and sorrow a’ work for me!
Whaur the lark springs up on his ain sang borne,
Wi’ bird-shout and jubilee hailin’ the morn;
For his hert is fu’ o’ the hert o’ the licht,
An’, come darkness or winter, a’ maun be richt!
Oh! the bonny, bonny dell, whaur the sun luikit in,
Sayin’, Here awa’, there awa’, hand awa’, sin.

Oh! the bonny, bonny dell, whaur I used to lie
Wi’ Jeanie aside me, sae sweet and sae shy!
Whaur the wee white gowan wi’ reid reid tips,
Was as white as her cheek and as reid as her lips.
Oh, her ee had a licht cam frae far ‘yont the sun,
And her tears cam frae deeper than salt seas run!
O’ the sunlicht and munelicht she was the queen,
For baith war but middlin’ withoot my Jean.
Oh! the bonny, bonny dell, whaur I used to lie
Wi’ Jeanie aside me, sae sweet and sae shy!

Oh! the bonny, bonny dell, whaur the kirkyard lies,
A’ day and a’ nicht, luikin’ up to the skies;
Whaur the sheep wauk up i’ the summer nicht,
Tak a bite, and lie doon, and await the licht;
Whaur the psalms roll ower the grassy heaps,
And the wind comes and moans, and the rain comes and
weeps!

But Jeanie, my Jeanie--she’s no lyin’ there,
For she’s up and awa’ up the angels’ stair.
Oh! the bonny, bonny dell, whaur the kirkyard lies,
And the stars luik doon, and the nicht-wind sighs!

[Footnote 1: The Yellow-hammer.]

[Footnote 2: Birch-trees.]

[Footnote 3: Singing.]

[Footnote 4: Nonsense.]

[Footnote 5: Slippery.]

Elsie’s voice went through every corner of my brain: there was singing
in all its chambers. I could not hear the words of the song well
enough to understand them quite; but Turkey gave me a copy of them
afterwards. They were the schoolmaster’s work. All the winter, Turkey
had been going to the evening school, and the master had been greatly
pleased with him, and had done his best to get him on in various ways.
A friendship sprung up between them; and one night he showed Turkey
these verses. Where the air came from, I do not know: Elsie’s brain
was full of tunes. I repeated them to my father once, and he was
greatly pleased with them.

On this first acquaintance, however, they put me to sleep; and little
Jamie Duff was sent over to tell my father what had happened. Jamie
gave the message to Mrs. Mitchell, and she, full of her own
importance, must needs set out to see how much was the matter.

I was dreaming an unutterably delicious dream. It was a summer
evening. The sun was of a tremendous size, and of a splendid
rose-colour. He was resting with his lower edge on the horizon, and
dared go no farther, because all the flowers would sing instead of
giving out their proper scents, and if he left them, he feared utter
anarchy in his kingdom before he got back in the morning. I woke and
saw the ugly face of Mrs. Mitchell bending over me. She was pushing
me, and calling to me to wake up. The moment I saw her I shut my eyes
tight, turned away, and pretended to be fast asleep again, in the hope
that she would go away and leave me with my friends.

“Do let him have his sleep out, Mrs. Mitchell,” said Turkey’s mother.

“You’ve let him sleep too long already,” she returned, ungraciously.
“He’ll do all he can, waking or sleeping, to make himself troublesome.
He’s a ne’er-do-well, Ranald. Little good’ll ever come of him. It’s a
mercy his mother is under the mould, for he would have broken her
heart.”

I had come to myself quite by this time, but I was not in the least
more inclined to acknowledge it to Mrs. Mitchell.

“You’re wrong there, Mrs. Mitchell,” said Elsie Duff; and my reader
must remember it required a good deal of courage to stand up against a
woman so much older than herself, and occupying the important position
of housekeeper to the minister. “Ranald is a good boy. I’m sure he
is.”

“How dare you say so, when he served your poor old grandmother such a
wicked trick? It’s little the children care for their parents
nowadays.  Don’t speak to me.”

“No, don’t, Elsie,” said another voice, accompanied by a creaking of
the door and a heavy step. “Don’t speak to her, Elsie, or you’ll have
the worst of it. Leave her to me.--If Ranald did what you say, Mrs.
Mitchell, and I don’t deny it, he was at least very sorry for it
afterwards, and begged grannie’s pardon; and that’s a sort of thing
_you_ never did in your life.”

“I never had any occasion, Turkey; so you hold your tongue.”

“Now don’t you call me _Turkey_. I won’t stand it. I was christened as
well as you.”

“And what are _you_ to speak to me like that? Go home to your cows. I
dare say they’re standing supperless in their stalls while you’re
gadding about. I’ll call you _Turkey_ as long as I please.”

“Very well, Kelpie--that’s the name you’re known by, though perhaps no
one has been polite enough to use it to your face, for you’re a great
woman, no doubt--I give you warning that I know you. When you’re found
out, don’t say I didn’t give you a chance beforehand.”

“You impudent beggar!” cried Mrs. Mitchell, in a rage. “And you’re all
one pack,” she added, looking round on the two others. “Get up,
Ranald, and come home with me directly. What are you lying shamming
there for?”

As she spoke, she approached the bed; but Turkey was too quick for
her, and got in front of it. As he was now a great strong lad, she
dared not lay hands upon him, so she turned in a rage and stalked out
of the room, saying,

“Mr. Bannerman shall hear of this.”

“Then it’ll be both sides of it, Mrs. Mitchell,” I cried from the bed;
but she vanished, vouchsafing me no reply.

Once more Turkey got me on his back and carried me home. I told my
father the whole occurrence. He examined the cut and plastered it up
for me, saying he would go and thank Turkey’s mother at once. I
confess I thought more of Elsie Duff and her wonderful singing, which
had put me to sleep, and given me the strange lovely dream from which
the rough hands and harsh voice of the Kelpie had waked me too soon.

After this, although I never dared go near her grandmother’s house
alone, I yet, by loitering and watching, got many a peep of Elsie.
Sometimes I went with Turkey to his mother’s of an evening, to which
my father had no objection, and somehow or other Elsie was sure to be
there, and we spent a very happy hour or two together. Sometimes she
would sing, and sometimes I would read to them out of Milton--I read
the whole of Comus to them by degrees in this way; and although there
was much I could not at all understand, I am perfectly certain it had
an ennobling effect upon every one of us. It is not necessary that the
intellect should define and separate before the heart and soul derive
nourishment. As well say that a bee can get nothing out of a flower,
because she does not understand botany. The very music of the stately
words of such a poem is enough to generate a better mood, to make one
feel the air of higher regions, and wish to rise “above the smoke and
stir of this dim spot”. The best influences which bear upon us are of
this vague sort--powerful upon the heart and conscience, although
undefined to the intellect.

But I find I have been forgetting that those for whom I write are
young--too young to understand this. Let it remain, however, for those
older persons who at an odd moment, while waiting for dinner, or
before going to bed, may take up a little one’s book, and turn over a
few of its leaves. Some such readers, in virtue of their hearts being
young and old both at once, discern more in the children’s books than
the children themselves.



CHAPTER XXI

The Bees’ Nest


It was twelve o’clock on a delicious Saturday in the height of summer.
We poured out of school with the gladness of a holiday in our hearts.
I sauntered home full of the summer sun, and the summer wind, and the
summer scents which filled the air. I do not know how often I sat down
in perfect bliss upon the earthen walls which divided the fields from
the road, and basked in the heat. These walls were covered with grass
and moss. The odour of a certain yellow feathery flower, which grew on
them rather plentifully, used to give me special delight. Great
humble-bees haunted the walls, and were poking about in them
constantly. Butterflies also found them pleasant places, and I
delighted in butterflies, though I seldom succeeded in catching one. I
do not remember that I ever killed one. Heart and conscience both were
against that. I had got the loan of Mrs. Trimmer’s story of the family
of Robins, and was every now and then reading a page of it with
unspeakable delight. We had very few books for children in those days
and in that far out-of-the-way place, and those we did get were the
more dearly prized. It was almost dinner-time before I reached home.
Somehow in this grand weather, welcome as dinner always was, it did
not possess the same amount of interest as in the cold bitter winter.
This day I almost hurried over mine to get out again into the broad
sunlight. Oh, how stately the hollyhocks towered on the borders of the
shrubbery! The guelder-roses hung like balls of snow in their
wilderness of green leaves; and here and there the damask roses, dark
almost to blackness, and with a soft velvety surface, enriched the
sunny air with their colour and their scent. I never see these roses
now. And the little bushes of polyanthus gemmed the dark earth between
with their varied hues. We did not know anything about flowers except
the delight they gave us, and I dare say I am putting some together
which would not be out at the same time, but that is how the picture
comes back to my memory.

I was leaning in utter idleness over the gate that separated the
little lawn and its surroundings from the road, when a troop of
children passed, with little baskets and tin pails in their hands; and
amongst them Jamie Duff. It was not in the least necessary to ask him
where he was going.

Not very far, about a mile or so from our house, rose a certain hill
famed in the country round for its store of bilberries. It was the
same to which Turkey and I had fled for refuge from the bull. It was
called the Ba’ Hill, and a tradition lingered in the neighbourhood
that many years ago there had been a battle there, and that after the
battle the conquerors played at football with the heads of the
vanquished slain, and hence the name of the hill; but who fought or
which conquered, there was not a shadow of a record. It had been a
wild country, and conflicting clans had often wrought wild work in
it. In summer the hill was of course the haunt of children gathering
its bilberries. Jamie shyly suggested whether I would not join them,
but they were all too much younger than myself; and besides I felt
drawn to seek Turkey in the field with the cattle--that is, when I
should get quite tired of doing nothing. So the little troop streamed
on, and I remained leaning over the gate.

I suppose I had sunk into a dreamy state, for I was suddenly startled
by a sound beside me, and looking about, saw an old woman, bent nearly
double within an old grey cloak, notwithstanding the heat. She leaned
on a stick, and carried a bag like a pillow-case in her hand. It was
one of the poor people of the village, going her rounds for her weekly
dole of a handful of oatmeal. I knew her very well by sight and by
name--she was old Eppie--and a kindly greeting passed between us. I
thank God that the frightful poor-laws had not invaded Scotland when I
was a boy. There was no degradation in honest poverty then, and it was
no burden to those who supplied its wants; while every person was
known, and kindly feelings were nourished on both sides. If I
understand anything of human nature now, it comes partly of having
known and respected the poor of my father’s parish. She passed in at
the gate and went as usual to the kitchen door, while I stood drowsily
contemplating the green expanse of growing crops in the valley before
me. The day had grown as sleepy as myself. There were no noises except
the hum of the unseen insects, and the distant rush of the water over
the dams at our bathing-place. In a few minutes the old woman
approached me again. She was an honest and worthy soul, and very civil
in her manners. Therefore I was surprised to hear her muttering to
herself. Turning, I saw she was very angry. She ceased her muttering
when she descried me observing her, and walked on in silence--was even
about to pass through the little wicket at the side of the larger gate
without any further salutation. Something had vexed her, and
instinctively I put my hand in my pocket, and pulled out a halfpenny
my father had given me that morning--very few of which came in my
way--and offered it to her. She took it with a half-ashamed glance, an
attempt at a courtesy, and a murmured blessing. Then for a moment she
looked as if about to say something, but changing her mind, she only
added another grateful word, and hobbled away. I pondered in a feeble
fashion for a moment, came to the conclusion that the Kelpie had been
rude to her, forgot her, and fell a-dreaming again. Growing at length
tired of doing nothing, I roused myself, and set out to seek Turkey.

I have lingered almost foolishly over this day. But when I recall my
childhood, this day always comes back as a type of the best of it.

I remember I visited Kirsty, to find out where Turkey was. Kirsty
welcomed me as usual, for she was always loving and kind to us; and
although I did not visit her so often now, she knew it was because I
was more with my father, and had lessons to learn in which she could
not assist me. Having nothing else to talk about, I told her of Eppie,
and her altered looks when she came out of the house. Kirsty
compressed her lips, nodded her head, looked serious, and made me no
reply. Thinking this was strange, I resolved to tell Turkey, which
otherwise I might not have done. I did not pursue the matter with
Kirsty, for I knew her well enough to know that her manner indicated a
mood out of which nothing could be drawn. Having learned where he was,
I set out to find him--close by the scene of our adventure with
Wandering Willie. I soon came in sight of the cattle feeding, but did
not see Turkey.

When I came near the mound, I caught a glimpse of the head of old
Mrs. Gregson’s cow quietly feeding off the top of the wall from the
other side, like an outcast Gentile; while my father’s cows, like the
favoured and greedy Jews, were busy in the short clover inside.
Grannie’s cow managed to live notwithstanding, and I dare say gave as
good milk, though not perhaps quite so much of it, as ill-tempered
Hawkie. Mrs. Gregson’s granddaughter, however, who did not eat grass,
was inside the wall, seated on a stone which Turkey had no doubt
dragged there for her. Trust both her and Turkey, the cow should not
have a mouthful without leave of my father. Elsie was as usual busy
with her knitting. And now I caught sight of Turkey, running from a
neighbouring cottage with a spade over his shoulder. Elsie had been
minding the cows for him.

“What’s ado, Turkey?” I cried, running to meet him.

“Such a wild bees’ nest!” answered Turkey. “I’m so glad you’re come! I
was just thinking whether I wouldn’t run and fetch you. Elsie and I
have been watching them going out and in for the last half-hour.--Such
lots of bees! There’s a store of honey _there_.”

“But isn’t it too soon to take it, Turkey? There’ll be a great deal
more in a few weeks.--Not that I know anything about bees,” I added
deferentially.

“You’re quite right, Ranald,” answered Turkey; “but there are several
things to be considered. In the first place, the nest is by the
roadside, and somebody else might find it. Next, Elsie has never
tasted honey all her life, and it _is_ so nice, and here she is, all
ready to eat some. Thirdly, and lastly, as your father says--though
not very often,” added Turkey slyly, meaning that the _lastly_ seldom
came with the _thirdly_,--“if we take the honey now, the bees will
have plenty of time to gather enough for the winter before the flowers
are gone, whereas if we leave it too long they will starve.”

I was satisfied with this reasoning, and made no further objection.

“You must keep a sharp look-out though, Ranald,” he said; “for they’ll
be mad enough, and you must keep them off with your cap.”

He took off his own, and gave it to Elsie, saying: “Here, Elsie: you
must look out, and keep off the bees. I can tell you a sting is no
joke. I’ve had three myself.”

“But what are _you_ to do, Turkey?” asked Elsie, with an anxious face.

“Oh, Ranald will keep them off me and himself too. I shan’t heed them.
I must dig away, and get at the honey.”

All things being thus arranged, Turkey manfully approached the _dyke_,
as they call any kind of wall-fence there. In the midst of the grass
and moss was one little hole, through which the bees kept going and
coming very busily. Turkey put in his finger and felt in what
direction the hole went, and thence judging the position of the hoard,
struck his spade with firm foot into the dyke. What bees were in came
rushing out in fear and rage, and I had quite enough to do to keep
them off our bare heads with my cap. Those who were returning, laden
as they were, joined in the defence, but I did my best, and with
tolerable success. Elsie being at a little distance, and comparatively
still, was less the object of their resentment. In a few moments
Turkey had reached the store. Then he began to dig about it carefully
to keep from spoiling the honey. First he took out a quantity of cells
with nothing in them but grub-like things--the cradles of the young
bees they were. He threw them away, and went on digging as coolly as
if he had been gardening. All the defence he left to me, and I assure
you I had enough of it, and thought mine the harder work of the two:
hand or eye had no rest, and my mind was on the stretch of anxiety all
the time.

But now Turkey stooped to the nest, cleared away the earth about it
with his hands, and with much care drew out a great piece of
honeycomb, just as well put together as the comb of any educated bees
in a garden-hive, who know that they are working for critics. Its
surface was even and yellow, showing that the cells were full to the
brim of the rich store. I think I see Turkey weighing it in his hand,
and turning it over to pick away some bits of adhering mould ere he
presented it to Elsie. She sat on her stone like a patient, contented
queen, waiting for what her subjects would bring her.

[Illustration]

“Oh, Turkey! what a piece!” she said as she took it, and opened her
pretty mouth and white teeth to have a bite of the treasure.

“Now, Ranald,” said Turkey, “we must finish the job before we have any
ourselves.”

He went on carefully removing the honey, and piling it on the bank.
There was not a great deal, because it was so early in the year, and
there was not another comb to equal that he had given Elsie. But when
he had got it all out--

“They’ll soon find another nest,” he said. “I don’t think it’s any use
leaving this open for them. It spoils the dyke too.”

As he spoke he began to fill up the hole, and beat the earth down
hard. Last of all, he put in the sod first dug away, with the grass
and flowers still growing upon it. This done, he proceeded to divide
what remained of the honey.

“There’s a piece for Allister and Davie,” he said; “and here’s a piece
for you, and this for me, and Elsie can take the rest home for herself
and Jamie.”

Elsie protested, but we both insisted. Turkey got some nice clover,
and laid the bits of honeycomb in it. Then we sat and ate our shares,
and chatted away for a long time, Turkey and I getting up every now
and then to look after the cattle, and Elsie too having sometimes to
follow her cow, when she threatened an inroad upon some neighbouring
field while we were away. But there was plenty of time between, and
Elsie sung us two or three songs at our earnest request, and Turkey
told us one or two stories out of history books he had been reading,
and I pulled out my story of the Robins and read to them. And so the
hot sun went down the glowing west, and threw longer and longer
shadows eastward. A great shapeless blot of darkness, with legs to it,
accompanied every cow, and calf, and bullock wherever it went. There
was a new shadow crop in the grass, and a huge patch with long
tree-shapes at the end of it, stretched away from the foot of the
hillock. The weathercock on the top of the church was glistening such
a bright gold, that the wonder was how it could keep from breaking out
into a crow that would rouse all the cocks of the neighbourhood, even
although they were beginning to get sleepy, and thinking of going to
roost. It was time for the cattle, Elsie’s cow included, to go home;
for, although the latter had not had such plenty to eat from as the
rest, she had been at it all day, and had come upon several very nice
little patches of clover, that had overflowed the edges of the fields
into the levels and the now dry ditches on the sides of the road. But
just as we rose to break up the assembly, we spied a little girl come
flying across the field, as if winged with news. As she came nearer we
recognized her. She lived near Mrs. Gregson’s cottage, and was one of
the little troop whom I had seen pass the manse on their way to gather
bilberries.

“Elsie! Elsie!” she cried, “John Adam has taken Jamie. Jamie fell, and
John got him.”

Elsie looked frightened, but Turkey laughed, saying: “Never mind,
Elsie. John is better than he looks. He won’t do him the least harm.
He must mind his business, you know.”

The Ba’ Hill was covered with a young plantation of firs, which, hardy
as they were, had yet in a measure to be coaxed into growing in that
inclement region. It was amongst their small stems that the coveted
bilberries grew, in company with cranberries and crowberries, and
dwarf junipers. The children of the village thus attracted to the
place were no doubt careless of the young trees, and might sometimes
even amuse themselves with doing them damage. Hence the keeper, John
Adam, whose business it was to look after them, found it his duty to
wage war upon the annual hordes of these invaders; and in their eyes
Adam was a terrible man. He was very long and very lean, with a
flattish yet Roman nose, and rather ill-tempered mouth, while his face
was dead-white and much pitted with the small-pox. He wore corduroy
breeches, a blue coat, and a nightcap striped horizontally with black
and red. The youngsters pretended to determine, by the direction in
which the tassel of it hung, what mood its owner was in; nor is it for
me to deny that their inductions may have led them to conclusions
quite as correct as those of some other scientific observers. At all
events the tassel was a warning, a terror, and a hope. He could not
run very fast, fortunately, for the lean legs within those ribbed grey
stockings were subject to rheumatism, and could take only long not
rapid strides; and if the children had a tolerable start, and had not
the misfortune to choose in their terror an impassable direction, they
were pretty sure to get off. Jamie Duff, the most harmless and
conscientious creature, who would not have injured a young fir upon
any temptation, did take a wrong direction, caught his foot in a hole,
fell into a furze bush, and, nearly paralysed with terror, was seized
by the long fingers of Adam, and ignominiously lifted by a portion of
his garments into the vast aërial space between the ground and the
white, pock-pitted face of the keeper. Too frightened to scream, too
conscious of trespass to make any resistance, he was borne off as a
warning to the rest of the very improbable fate which awaited them.

But the character of Adam was not by any means so frightful in the
eyes of Turkey; and he soon succeeded in partially composing the
trepidation of Elsie, assuring her that as soon as he had put up the
cattle, he would walk over to Adam’s house and try to get Jamie off,
whereupon Elsie set off home with her cow, disconsolate but hopeful. I
think I see her yet--for I recall every picture of that lovely day
clear as the light of that red sunset--walking slowly with her head
bent half in trouble, half in attention to her knitting, after her
solemn cow, which seemed to take twice as long to get over the ground
because she had two pairs of legs instead of one to shuffle across it,
dragging her long iron chain with the short stake at the end after her
with a gentle clatter over the hard dry road. I accompanied Turkey,
helped him to fasten up and bed the cows, went in with him and shared
his hasty supper of potatoes and oatcake and milk, and then set out
refreshed, and nowise apprehensive in his company, to seek the abode
of the redoubtable ogre, John Adam.



CHAPTER XXII

Vain Intercession


He had a small farm of his own at the foot of the hill of which he had
the charge. It was a poor little place, with a very low thatched
cottage for the dwelling. A sister kept house for him. When we
approached it there was no one to be seen. We advanced to the door
along a rough pavement of round stones, which parted the house from
the dunghill. I peeped in at the little window as we passed. There, to
my astonishment, I saw Jamie Duff, as I thought, looking very happy,
and in the act of lifting a spoon to his mouth. A moment after,
however, I concluded that I must have been mistaken, for, when Turkey
lifted the latch and we walked in, there were the awful John and his
long sister seated at the table, while poor Jamie was in a corner,
with no basin in his hand, and a face that looked dismal and dreary
enough. I fancied I caught a glimpse of Turkey laughing in his sleeve,
and felt mildly indignant with him--for Elsie’s sake more, I confess,
than for Jamie’s.

“Come in,” said Adam, rising; but, seeing who it was, he seated
himself again, adding, “Oh, it’s you, Turkey!”--Everybody called him
Turkey. “Come in and take a spoon.”

“No, thank you,” said Turkey; “I have had my supper. I only came to
inquire after that young rascal there.”

“Ah! you see him! There he is!” said Adam, looking towards me with an
awful expression in his dead brown eyes. “Starving. No home and no
supper for him! He’ll have to sleep in the hay-loft with the rats and
mice, and a stray cat or two.”

Jamie put his cuffs, the perennial handkerchief of our poor little
brothers, to his eyes. His fate was full of horrors. But again I
thought I saw Turkey laughing in his sleeve.

“His sister is very anxious about him, Mr. Adam,” he said. “Couldn’t
you let him off this once?”

“On no account. I am here in trust, and I must do my duty. The duke
gives the forest in charge to me. I have got to look after it.”

I could not help thinking what a poor thing it was for a forest. All I
knew of forests was from story-books, and there they were full of ever
such grand trees. Adam went on--

“And if wicked boys will break down the trees--”

“I only pulled the bilberries,” interposed Jamie, in a whine which
went off in a howl.

“James Duff!” said Adam, with awful authority, “I saw you myself
tumble over a young larch tree, not two feet high.”

“The worse for me!” sobbed Jamie.

“Tut! tut! Mr. Adam! the larch tree wasn’t a baby,” said Turkey. “Let
Jamie go. He couldn’t help it, you see.”

“It _was_ a baby, and it _is_ a baby,” said Adam, with a solitary
twinkle in the determined dead brown of his eyes. “And I’ll have no
intercession here. Transgressors must be prosecuted, as the board
says. And prosecuted he shall be. He sha’n’t get out of this before
school-time to-morrow morning. He shall be late, too, and I hope the
master will give it him well. We must make some examples, you see,
Turkey. It’s no use your saying anything. I don’t say Jamie’s a worse
boy than the rest, but he’s just as bad, else how did he come to be
there tumbling over my babies? Answer me that, Master Bannerman.”

He turned and fixed his eyes upon me. There was question in his mouth,
but neither question nor speculation in his eyes. I could not meet the
awful changeless gaze. My eyes sank before his.

“Example, Master Bannerman, is everything. If you serve my trees as
this young man has done--”

The idea of James Duff being a young man!

“--I’ll serve you the same as I serve him--and that’s no sweet
service, I’ll warrant.”

As the keeper ended, he brought down his fist on the table with such a
bang, that poor Jamie almost fell off the stool on which he sat in the
corner.

“But let him off just this once,” pleaded Turkey, “and I’ll be surety
for him that he’ll never do it again.”

“Oh, as to him, I’m not afraid of him,” returned the keeper; “but will
you be surety for the fifty boys that’ll only make game of me if I
don’t make an example of him? I’m in luck to have caught him. No, no,
Turkey; it won’t do, my man. I’m sorry for his father and his mother,
and his sister Elsie, for they’re all very good people; but I must
make an example of him.”

At mention of his relatives Jamie burst into another suppressed howl.

“Well, you won’t be over hard upon him anyhow: will you now?” said
Turkey.

“I won’t pull his skin _quite_ over his ears,” said Adam; “and that’s
all the promise you’ll get out of me.”

The tall thin grim sister had sat all the time as if she had no right
to be aware of anything that was going on, but her nose, which was
more hooked than her brother’s, and larger, looked as if, in the
absence of eyes and ears, it was taking cognizance of everything, and
would inform the rest of the senses afterwards.

I had a suspicion that the keeper’s ferocity was assumed for the
occasion, and that he was not such an ogre as I had considered him.
Still, the prospect of poor little Jamie spending the night alone in
the loft amongst the cats and rats was sufficiently dreadful when I
thought of my midnight awaking in the barn. There seemed to be no
help, however, especially when Turkey rose to say good night.

I felt disconsolate, and was not well pleased with Turkey’s
coolness. I thought he had not done his best.

When we got into the road--

“Poor Elsie!” I said; “she’ll be miserable about Jamie.”

“Oh no,” returned Turkey. “I’ll go straight over and tell her. No harm
will come to Jamie. John Adam’s bark is a good deal worse than his
bite. Only I should have liked to take him home if I could.”

It was now twilight, and through the glimmering dusk we walked back to
the manse. Turkey left me at the gate and strode on towards the
village; while I turned in, revolving a new scheme which had arisen in
my brain, and for the first time a sense of rivalry with Turkey awoke
in my bosom. He did everything for Elsie Duff, and I did nothing. For
her he had robbed the bees’ nest that very day, and I had but partaken
of the spoil. Nay, he had been stung in her service; for, with all my
care--and I think that on the whole I had done my best--he had
received what threatened to be a bad sting on the back of his neck.
Now he was going to comfort her about her brother whom he had failed
to rescue; but what if I should succeed where he had failed, and carry
the poor boy home in triumph!

As we left the keeper’s farm, Turkey had pointed out to me, across the
yard, where a small rick or two were standing, the loft in which Jamie
would have to sleep. It was over the cart-shed, and its approach was a
ladder. But for the reported rats, it would have been no hardship to
sleep there in weather like this, especially for one who had been
brought up as Jamie had been. But I knew that he was a very timid boy,
and that I myself would have lain in horror all the night. Therefore I
had all the way been turning over in my mind what I could do to
release him. But whatever I did must be unaided, for I could not
reckon upon Turkey, nor indeed was it in my heart to share with him
the honour of the enterprise that opened before me.



CHAPTER XXIII

Knight-Errantry


I must mention that my father never objected now to my riding his
little mare Missy, as we called her. Indeed, I had great liberty with
regard to her, and took her out for a trot and a gallop as often as I
pleased. Sometimes when there was a press of work she would have to go
in a cart or drag a harrow, for she was so handy they could do
anything with her; but this did not happen often, and her condition at
all seasons of the year testified that she knew little of hard work.
My father was very fond of her, and used to tell wonderful stories of
her judgment and skill. I believe he was never quite without a hope
that somehow or other he should find her again in the next world. At
all events I am certain that it was hard for him to believe that so
much wise affection should have been created to be again uncreated. I
cannot say that I ever heard him give utterance to anything of the
sort; but whence else should I have had such a firm conviction, dating
from a period farther back than my memory can reach, that whatever
might become of the other horses, Missy was sure to go to heaven? I
had a kind of notion that, being the bearer of my father upon all his
missions of doctrine and mercy, she belonged to the clergy, and,
sharing in their privileges, must have a chance before other animals
of her kind. I believe this was a right instinct glad of a foolish
reason. I am wiser now, and extend the hope to the rest of the horses,
for I cannot believe that the God who does nothing in vain ever
creates in order to destroy.

I made haste to learn my lessons for the Monday, although it was but
after a fashion, my mind was so full of the adventure before me. As
soon as prayers and supper were over--that is, about ten o’clock--I
crept out of the house and away to the stable. It was a lovely night.
A kind of grey peace filled earth and air and sky. It was not dark,
although rather cloudy; only a dim dusk, like a vapour of darkness,
floated around everything. I was fond of being out at night, but I had
never before contemplated going so far alone. I should not, however,
feel alone with Missy under me, for she and I were on the best of
terms, although sometimes she would take a fit of obstinacy, and
refuse to go in any other than the direction she pleased. Of late,
however, she had asserted herself less frequently in this manner. I
suppose she was aware that I grew stronger and more determined.

I soon managed to open the door of the stable, for I knew where the
key lay. It was very dark, but I felt my way through, talking all the
time that the horses might not be startled if I came upon one of them
unexpectedly, for the stable was narrow, and they sometimes lay a good
bit out of their stalls. I took care, however, to speak in a low tone
that the man who slept with only a wooden partition between him and
the stable might not hear. I soon had the bridle upon Missy, but would
not lose time in putting on the saddle. I led her out, got on her back
with the help of a stone at the stable door, and rode away. She had
scarcely been out all day, and was rather in the mood for a ride. The
voice of Andrew, whom the noise of her feet had aroused, came after
me, calling to know who it was. I called out in reply, for I feared he
might rouse the place; and he went back composed, if not contented. It
was no use, at all events, to follow me.

I had not gone far before the extreme stillness of the night began to
sink into my soul and make me quiet. Everything seemed thinking about
me, but nothing would tell me what it thought. Not feeling, however,
that I was doing wrong, I was only awed not frightened by the
stillness. I made Missy slacken her speed, and rode on more gently, in
better harmony with the night. Not a sound broke the silence except
the rough cry of the land-rail from the fields and the clatter of
Missy’s feet. I did not like the noise she made, and got upon the
grass, for here there was no fence. But the moment she felt the soft
grass, off she went at a sudden gallop. Her head was out before I had
the least warning of her intention. She tore away over the field in
quite another direction from that in which I had been taking her, and
the gallop quickened until she was going at her utmost speed. The
rapidity of the motion and the darkness together--for it seemed
darkness now--I confess made me frightened. I pulled hard at the
reins, but without avail. In a minute I had lost my reckoning, and
could not tell where I was in the field, which was a pretty large one;
but soon finding that we were galloping down a hill so steep that I
had trouble in retaining my seat, I began, not at all to my comfort,
to surmise in what direction the mare was carrying me. We were
approaching the place where we had sat that same afternoon, close by
the mound with the trees upon it, the scene of my adventure with
Wandering Willie, and of the fancied murder. I had scarcely thought of
either until the shadows had begun to fall long, and now in the night,
when all was shadow, both reflections made it horrible. Besides, if
Missy should get into the bog! But she knew better than that, wild as
her mood was. She avoided it, and galloped past, but bore me to a far
more frightful goal, suddenly dropping into a canter, and then
standing stock-still.

It was a cottage half in ruins, occupied by an old woman whom I dimly
recollected having once gone with my father to see--a good many years
ago, as it appeared to me now. She was still alive, however, very old,
and bedridden. I recollected that from the top of her wooden bed hung
a rope for her to pull herself up by when she wanted to turn, for she
was very rheumatic, and this rope for some cause or other had filled
me with horror. But there was more of the same sort. The cottage had
once been a smithy, and the bellows had been left in its place. Now
there is nothing particularly frightful about a pair of bellows,
however large it may be, and yet the recollection of that huge
structure of leather and wood, with the great iron nose projecting
from the contracting cheeks of it, at the head of the old woman’s bed,
so capable yet so useless, did return upon me with terror in the dusk
of that lonely night. It was mingled with a vague suspicion that the
old woman was a bit of a witch, and a very doubtful memory that she
had been seen on one occasion by some night-farer, when a frightful
storm was raging, blowing away at that very bellows as hard as her
skinny arms and lean body could work the lever, so that there was
almost as great a storm of wind in her little room as there was
outside of it. If there was any truth in the story, it is easily
accounted for by the fact that the poor old woman had been a little
out of her mind for many years,--and no wonder, for she was nearly a
hundred, they said. Neither is it any wonder that when Missy stopped
almost suddenly, with her fore-feet and her neck stretched forward,
and her nose pointed straight for the door of the cottage at a few
yards’ distance, I should have felt very queer indeed. Whether my hair
stood on end or not I do not know, but I certainly did feel my skin
creep all over me. An ancient elder-tree grew at one end of the
cottage, and I heard the lonely sigh of a little breeze wander through
its branches. The next instant a frightful sound from within the
cottage broke the night air into what seemed a universal shriek. Missy
gave a plunge, turned round on her hind-legs, and tore from the place.
I very nearly lost my seat, but terror made me cling the faster to my
only companion, as _ventre-à-terre_ she flew home. It did not take her
a minute to reach the stable-door. There she had to stop, for I had
shut it when I brought her out. It was mortifying to find myself there
instead of under John Adam’s hayloft, the rescuer of Jamie Duff. But I
did not think of that for a while. Shaken with terror, and afraid to
dismount and be next the ground, I called upon Andrew as well as my
fear would permit; but my voice was nearly unmanageable, and I could
do little more than howl with it.

In a few minutes, to me a time of awful duration--for who could tell
what might be following me up from the hollow?--Andrew appeared
half-dressed, and not in the best of tempers, remarking it was an odd
thing to go out riding when honest people were in their beds, except,
he added, I meant to take to the highway. Thereupon, rendered more
communicative by the trial I had gone through, I told him the whole
story, what I had intended and how I had been frustrated. He listened,
scratched his head, and saying someone ought to see if anything was
the matter with the old woman, turned in to put on the rest of his
clothes.

“You had better go home to bed, Ranald,” he said.

“Won’t you be frightened, Andrew?” I asked.

“Frightened? What should I be frightened at? It’s all waste to be
frightened before you know whether the thing is worth it.”

My courage had been reviving fast in the warm presence of a human
being. I was still seated on Missy. To go home having done nothing for
Jamie, and therefore nothing for Elsie, after all my grand ideas of
rescue and restoration, was too mortifying. I should feel so small
when I woke in the morning! And yet suppose the something which gave
that fearful cry in the cottage should be out roaming the fields and
looking for mel I had courage enough, however, to remain where I was
till Andrew came out again, and as I sat still on the mare’s back, my
courage gradually rose. Nothing increases terror so much as running
away. When he reappeared, I asked him:

“What do you think it could be, Andrew?”

“How should I tell?” returned Andrew. “The old woman has a very queer
cock, I know, that always roosts on the top of her bed, and crows like
no cock I ever heard crow. Or it might be Wandering Willie--he goes to
see her sometimes, and the demented creature might strike up his pipes
at any unearthly hour.”

I was not satisfied with either suggestion; but the sound I had heard
had already grown so indistinct in my memory, that for anything I
could tell it might have been either. The terror which it woke in my
mind had rendered me incapable of making any observations or setting
down any facts with regard to it. I could only remember that I had
heard a frightful noise, but as to what it was like I could scarcely
bear the smallest testimony.

I begged Andrew to put the saddle on for me, as I should then have
more command of Missy. He went and got it, appearing, I thought, not
at all over-anxious about old Betty; and I meantime buckled on an old
rusty spur which lay in the stable window, the leathers of it
crumbling off in flakes. Thus armed, and mounted with my feet in the
stirrups, and therefore a good pull on Missy’s mouth, I found my
courage once more equal to the task before me. Andrew and I parted at
right angles; he across the field to old Betty’s cottage, and I along
the road once more in the direction of John Adam’s farm.



CHAPTER XXIV

Failure


It must have been now about eleven o’clock. The clouds had cleared
off, and the night had changed from brown and grey to blue sparkling
with gold. I could see much better, and fancied I could hear better
too. But neither advantage did much for me. I had not ridden far from
the stable, before I again found myself very much alone and
unprotected, with only the wide, silent fields about me, and the wider
and more silent sky over my head. The fear began to return. I fancied
something strange creeping along every ditch--something shapeless, but
with a terrible cry in it. Next I thought I saw a scarcely visible
form--now like a creature on all-fours, now like a man, far off, but
coming rapidly towards me across the nearest field. It always
vanished, however, before it came close. The worst of it was, that the
faster I rode, the more frightened I became; for my speed seemed to
draw the terrors the faster after me. Having discovered this, I
changed my plan, and when I felt more frightened, drew rein and went
slower. This was to throw a sort of defiance to the fear; and
certainly as often as I did so it abated. Fear is a worse thing than
danger.

I had to pass very nigh the pool to which Turkey and I had gone the
night of our adventure with Bogbonny’s bull. That story was now far
off in the past, but I did not relish the dull shine of the water in
the hollow, notwithstanding. In fact I owed the greater part of the
courage I possessed--and it was little enough for my needs--to Missy.
I dared not have gone on my own two legs. It was not that I could so
easily run away with four instead, but that somehow I was lifted above
the ordinary level of fear by being upon her back. I think many men
draw their courage out of their horses.

At length I came in sight of the keeper’s farm; and just at that
moment the moon peeped from behind a hill, throwing as long shadows as
the setting sun, but in the other direction. The shadows were very
different too. Somehow they were liker to the light that made them
than the sun-shadows are to the sunlight. Both the light and the
shadows of the moon were strange and fearful to me. The sunlight and
its shadows are all so strong and so real and so friendly, you seem to
know all about them; they belong to your house, and they sweep all
fear and dismay out of honest people’s hearts. But with the moon and
its shadows it is very different indeed. The fact is, the moon is
trying to do what she cannot do. She is trying to dispel a great
sun-shadow--for the night is just the gathering into one mass of all
the shadows of the sun. She is not able for this, for her light is not
her own; it is second-hand from the sun himself; and her shadows
therefore also are second-hand shadows, pieces cut out of the great
sun-shadow, and coloured a little with the moon’s yellowness. If I
were writing for grown people I should tell them that those who
understand things because they think about them, and ask God to teach
them, walk in the sunlight; and others, who take things because other
people tell them so, are always walking in the strange moonlight, and
are subject to no end of stumbles and terrors, for they hardly know
light from darkness. Well, at first, the moon frightened me a
little--she looked so knowing, and yet all she said round about me was
so strange. But I rode quietly up to the back of the yard where the
ricks stood, got off Missy and fastened the bridle to the gate, and
walked across to the cart-shed, where the moon was shining upon the
ladder leading up to the loft. I climbed the ladder, and after several
failures succeeded in finding how the door was fastened. When I opened
it, the moonlight got in before me, and poured all at once upon a heap
of straw in the farthest corner, where Jamie was lying asleep with a
rug over him. I crossed the floor, knelt down by him, and tried to
wake him. This was not so easy. He was far too sound asleep to be
troubled by the rats; for sleep is an armour--yes, a castle--against
many enemies. I got hold of one of his hands, and in lifting it to
pull him up found a cord tied to his wrist. I was indignant: they had
actually manacled him like a thief! I gave the cord a great tug of
anger, pulled out my knife, and cut it; then, hauling Jamie up, got
him half-awake at last. He stared with fright first, and then began to
cry. As soon as he was awake enough to know me, he stopped crying but
not staring, and his eyes seemed to have nothing better than moonlight
in them.

“Come along, Jamie,” I said. “I’m come to take you home.”

“I don’t want to go home,” said Jamie. “I want to go to sleep again.”

“That’s very ungrateful of you, Jamie,” I said, full of my own
importance, “when I’ve come so far, and all at night too, to set you
free.”

“I’m free enough,” said Jamie. “I had a better supper a great deal
than I should have had at home. I don’t want to go before the
morning.”

And he began to whimper again.

“Do you call this free?” I said, holding up his wrist where the
remnant of the cord was hanging.

“Oh!” said Jamie, “that’s only--”

But ere he got farther the moonlight in the loft was darkened. I
looked hurriedly towards the door. There stood the strangest figure,
with the moon behind it. I thought at first it was the Kelpie come
after me, for it was a tall woman. My heart gave a great jump up, but
I swallowed it down. I would not disgrace myself before Jamie. It was
not the Kelpie, however, but the keeper’s sister, the great, grim,
gaunt woman I had seen at the table at supper. I will not attempt to
describe her appearance. It was peculiar enough, for she had just got
out of bed and thrown an old shawl about her. She was not pleasant to
look at. I had myself raised the apparition, for, as Jamie explained
to me afterwards, the cord which was tied to his wrist, instead of
being meant to keep him a prisoner, was a device of her kindness to
keep him from being too frightened. The other end had been tied to her
wrist, that if anything happened he might pull her, and then she would
come to him.

[Illustration]

“What’s the matter, Jamie Duff?” she said in a gruff voice as she
advanced along the stream of moonlight.

I stood up as bravely as I could.

“It’s only me, Miss Adam,” I said.

“And who are you?” she returned.

“Ranald Bannerman,” I answered.

“Oh!” she said in a puzzled tone. “What are you doing here at this
time of the night?”

“I came to take Jamie home, but he won’t go.”

“You’re a silly boy to think my brother John would do him any harm,”
 she returned. “You’re comfortable enough, aren’t you, Jamie Duff?”

“Yes, thank you, ma’am, quite comfortable,” said Jamie, who was now
wide-awake. “But, please ma’am, Ranald didn’t mean any harm.”

“He’s a housebreaker, though,” she rejoined with a grim chuckle; “and
he’d better go home again as fast as he can. If John Adam should come
out, I don’t exactly know what might happen. Or perhaps he’d like to
stop and keep you company.”

“No, thank you, Miss Adam,” I said. “I will go home.”

“Come along, then, and let me shut the door after you.”

Somewhat nettled with Jamie Duff’s indifference to my well-meant
exertions on his behalf, I followed her without even bidding him good
night.

“Oh, you’ve got Missy, have you?” she said, spying her where she
stood. “Would you like a drink of milk or a piece of oatcake before
you go?”

“No, thank you,” I said. “I shall be glad to go to bed.”

“I should think so,” she answered. “Jamie is quite comfortable, I
assure you; and I’ll take care he’s in time for school in the
morning. There’s no harm in _him_, poor thing!”

She undid the bridle for me, helped me to mount in the kindest way,
bade me good night, and stood looking after me till I was some
distance off. I went home at a good gallop, took off the saddle and
bridle and laid them in a cart in the shed, turned Missy loose into
the stable, shut the door, and ran across the field to the manse,
desiring nothing but bed.

When I came near the house from the back, I saw a figure entering the
gate from the front. It was in the full light of the moon, which was
now up a good way. Before it had reached the door I had got behind the
next corner, and peeping round saw that my first impression was
correct: it was the Kelpie. She entered, and closed the door behind
her very softly. Afraid of being locked out, a danger which had
scarcely occurred to me before, I hastened after her; but finding the
door already fast, I called through the keyhole. She gave a cry of
alarm, but presently opened the door, looking pale and frightened.

“What are you doing out of doors this time of the night?” she asked,
but without quite her usual arrogance, for, although she tried to put
it on, her voice trembled too much.

I retorted the question.

“What were you doing out yourself?” I said.

“Looking after you, of course.”

“That’s why you locked the door, I suppose--to keep me out.”

She had no answer ready, but looked as if she would have struck me.

“I shall let your father know of your goings on,” she said, recovering
herself a little.

“You need not take the trouble. I shall tell him myself at breakfast
to-morrow morning. I have nothing to hide. You had better tell him
too.”

I said this not that I did not believe she had been out to look for
me, but because I thought she had locked the door to annoy me, and I
wanted to take my revenge in rudeness. For doors were seldom locked in
the summer nights in that part of the country. She made me no reply,
but turned and left me, not even shutting the door. I closed it, and
went to bed weary enough.



CHAPTER XXV

Turkey Plots


The next day, at breakfast, I told my father all the previous day’s
adventures. Never since he had so kindly rescued me from the misery of
wickedness had I concealed anything from him. He, on his part, while
he gave us every freedom, expected us to speak frankly concerning our
doings. To have been unwilling to let him know any of our proceedings
would have simply argued that they were already disapproved of by
ourselves, and no second instance of this had yet occurred with me.
Hence it came that still as I grew older I seemed to come nearer to my
father. He was to us like a wiser and more beautiful self over us,--a
more enlightened conscience, as it were, ever lifting us up towards
its own higher level.

This was Sunday; but he was not so strict in his ideas concerning the
day as most of his parishioners. So long as we were sedate and
orderly, and neither talked nor laughed too loud, he seldom interfered
with our behaviour, or sought to alter the current of our
conversation.  I believe he did not, like some people, require or
expect us to care about religious things as much as he did: we could
not yet know as he did what they really were. But when any of the
doings of the week were referred to on the Sunday, he was more strict,
I think, than on other days, in bringing them, if they involved the
smallest question, to the standard of right, to be judged, and
approved or condemned thereby. I believe he thought that to order our
ways was our best preparation for receiving higher instruction
afterwards. For one thing, we should then, upon failure, feel the
burden of it the more, and be the more ready to repent and seek the
forgiveness of God, and that best help of his which at length makes a
man good within himself.

He listened attentively to my story, seemed puzzled at the cry I had
heard from the cottage, said nothing could have gone very wrong, or we
should have heard of it, especially as Andrew had been to inquire,
laughed over the apparition of Miss Adam, and my failure in rescuing
Jamie Duff. He said, however, that I had no right to interefere with
constituted authority--that Adam was put there to protect the trees,
and if he had got hold of a harmless person, yet Jamie was certainly
trespassing, and I ought to have been satisfied with Turkey’s way of
looking at the matter.

I saw that my father was right, and a little further reflection
convinced me that, although my conduct had a root in my regard for
Jamie Duff, it had a deeper root in my regard for his sister, and one
yet deeper in my regard for myself--for had I not longed to show off
in her eyes? I suspect almost all silly actions have their root in
selfishness, whether it take the form of vanity, of conceit, of greed,
or of ambition.

While I was telling my tale, Mrs. Mitchell kept coming into the room
oftener, and lingering longer, than usual. I did not think of this
till afterwards. I said nothing about her, for I saw no occasion; but
I do not doubt she was afraid I would, and wished to be at hand to
defend herself. She was a little more friendly to me in church that
day: she always sat beside little Davie.

When we came out, I saw Andrew, and hurried after him to hear how he
had sped the night before. He told me he had found all perfectly quiet
at the cottage, except the old woman’s cough, which was troublesome,
and gave proof that she was alive, and probably as well as usual. He
suggested now that the noise was all a fancy of mine--at which I was
duly indignant, and desired to know if it was also Missy’s fancy that
made her go off like a mad creature. He then returned to his former
idea of the cock, and as this did not insult my dignity, I let it
pass, leaning however myself to the notion of Wandering Willie’s
pipes.

[Illustration]

On the following Wednesday we had a half holiday, and before dinner I
went to find Turkey at the farm. He met me in the yard, and took me
into the barn.

“I want to speak to you, Ranald,” he said.

I remember so well how the barn looked that day. The upper half of one
of the doors had a hole in it, and a long pencil of sunlight streamed
in, and fell like a pool of glory upon a heap of yellow straw. So
golden grew the straw beneath it, that the spot looked as if it were
the source of the shine, and sent the slanting ray up and out of the
hole in the door. We sat down beside it, I wondering why Turkey looked
so serious and important, for it was not his wont.

“Ranald,” said Turkey, “I can’t bear that the master should have bad
people about him.”

“What do you mean, Turkey?” I rejoined.

“I mean the Kelpie.”

“She’s a nasty thing, I know,” I answered. “But my father considers
her a faithful servant.”

“That’s just where it is. She is not faithful. I’ve suspected her for
a long time. She’s so rough and ill-tempered that she looks honest;
but I shall be able to show her up yet. You wouldn’t call it honest to
cheat the poor, would you?”

“I should think not. But what do you mean?”

“There must have been something to put old Eppie in such an ill-temper
on Saturday, don’t you think?”

“I suppose she had had a sting from the Kelpie’s tongue.”

“No, Ranald, that’s not it. I had heard whispers going about; and last
Saturday, after we came home from John Adam’s, and after I had told
Elsie about Jamie, I ran up the street to old Eppie. You would have
got nothing out of her, for she would not have liked to tell you; but
she told me all about it.”

“What a creature you are, Turkey! Everybody tells you everything.”

“No, Ranald; I don’t think I am such a gossip as that. But when you
have a chance, you ought to set right whatever you can. Right’s the
only thing, Ranald.”

“But aren’t you afraid they’ll call you a meddler, Turkey? Not that
_I_ think so, for I’m sure if you do anything _against_ anybody, it’s
_for_ some other body.”

“That would be no justification if I wasn’t in the right,” said
Turkey. “But if I am, I’m willing to bear any blame that comes of
it. And I wouldn’t meddle for anybody that could take care of
himself. But neither old Eppie nor your father can do that: the one’s
too poor, and the other too good.”

“I _was_ wondering what you meant by saying my father couldn’t take
care of himself.”

“He’s too good; he’s too good, Ranald. He believes in everybody. _I_
wouldn’t have kept that Kelpie in _my_ house half the time.”

“Did you ever say anything to Kirsty about her?”

“I did once; but she told me to mind my own business. Kirsty snubs me
because I laugh at her stories. But Kirsty is as good as gold, and I
wouldn’t mind if she boxed my ears--as indeed she’s done--many’s the
time.”

“But what’s the Kelpie been doing to old Eppie?”

“First of all, Eppie has been playing her a trick.”

“Then she mustn’t complain.”

“Eppie’s was a lawful trick, though. The old women have been laying
their old heads together--but to begin at the beginning: there has
been for some time a growing conviction amongst the poor folk that the
Kelpie never gives them an honest handful of meal when they go their
rounds. But this was very hard to prove, and although they all
suspected it, few of them were absolutely certain about it. So they
resolved that some of them should go with empty bags. Every one of
those found a full handful at the bottom. Still they were not
satisfied. They said she was the one to take care what she was about.
Thereupon old Eppie resolved to go with something at the bottom of her
bag to look like a good quantity of meal already gathered. The moment
the door was closed behind her--that was last Saturday--she peeped
into the bag. Not one grain of meal was to be discovered. That was why
she passed you muttering to herself and looking so angry. Now it will
never do that the manse, of all places, should be the one where the
poor people are cheated of their dues. But we roust have yet better
proof than this before we can say anything.”

“Well, what do you mean to do, Turkey?” I asked. “Why does she do it,
do you suppose? It’s not for the sake of saving my father’s meal, I
should think.”

“No, she does something with it, and, I suppose, flatters herself she
is not stealing--only saving it off the poor, and so making a right to
it for herself. I can’t help thinking that her being out that same
night had something to do with it. Did you ever know her go to see old
Betty?”

“No, she doesn’t like her. I know that.”

“I’m not so sure. She pretends perhaps. But we’ll have a try. I think
I can outwit her. She’s fair game, you know.”

“How? What? Do tell me, Turkey,” I cried, right eagerly.

“Not to-day. I will tell you by and by.”

He got up and went about his work.



CHAPTER XXVI

Old John Jamieson


As I returned to the house I met my father.

“Well, Ranald, what are you about?” he said, in his usual gentle tone.

“Nothing in particular, father,” I answered.

“Well, I’m going to see an old man--John Jamieson--I don’t think you
know him: he has not been able to come to church for a long time. They
tell me he is dying. Would you like to go with me?”

“Yes, father. But won’t you take Missy?”

“Not if you will walk with me. It’s only about three miles.”

“Very well, father. I should like to go with you.”

My father talked about various things on the way. I remember in
particular some remarks he made about reading Virgil, for I had just
begun the Æneid. For one thing, he told me I must scan every line
until I could make it sound like poetry, else I should neither enjoy
it properly, nor be fair to the author. Then he repeated some lines
from Milton, saying them first just as if they were prose, and after
that the same lines as they ought to be sounded, making me mark the
difference. Next he did the same with a few of the opening lines of
Virgil’s great poem, and made me feel the difference there.

“The sound is the shape of it, you know, Ranald,” he said, “for a poem
is all for the ear and not for the eye. The eye sees only the sense of
it; the ear sees the shape of it. To judge poetry without heeding the
sound of it, is nearly as bad as to judge a rose by smelling it with
your eyes shut. The sound, besides being a beautiful thing in itself,
has a sense in it which helps the other out. A psalm tune, if it’s the
right one, helps you to see how beautiful the psalm is. Every poem
carries its own tune in its own heart, and to read it aloud is the
only way to bring out its tune.”

I liked Virgil ever so much better after this, and always tried to get
at the tune of it, and of every other poem I read.

“The right way of anything,” said my father, “may be called the tune of
it. We have to find out the tune of our own lives. Some people don’t
seem ever to find it out, and so their lives are a broken and
uncomfortable thing to them--full of ups and downs and disappointments,
and never going as it was meant to go.”

“But what is the right tune of a body’s life, father?”

“The will of God, my boy.”

“But how is a person to know that, father?”

“By trying to do what he knows of it already. Everybody has a
different kind of tune in his life, and no one can find out another’s
tune for him, though he _may_ help him to find it for himself.”

“But aren’t we to read the Bible, father?”

“Yes, if it’s in order to obey it. To read the Bible thinking to
please God by the mere reading of it, is to think like a heathen.”

“And aren’t we to say our prayers, father?”

“We are to ask God for what we want. If we don’t want a thing, we are
only acting like pagans to speak as if we did, and call it prayer, and
think we are pleasing him.”

I was silent. My father resumed.

“I fancy the old man we are going to see found out the tune of _his_
life long ago.”

“Is he a very wise man then, father?”

“That depends on what you mean by _wise_. _I_ should call him a wise
man, for to find out that tune is the truest wisdom. But he’s not a
learned man at all. I doubt if he ever read a book but the Bible,
except perhaps the Pilgrim’s Progress. I believe he has always been
very fond of that. _You_ like that--don’t you, Ranald?”

“I’ve read it a good many times, father. But I was a little tired of
it before I got through it last time.”

“But you did read it through--did you--the last time, I mean?”

“Oh yes, father. I never like to leave the loose end of a thing
hanging about.”

“That’s right, my boy; that’s right. Well, I think you’d better not
open the book again for a long time--say twenty years at least. It’s a
great deal too good a book to let yourself get tired of. By that time
I trust you will be able to understand it a great deal better than you
can at present.”

I felt a little sorry that I was not to look at the Pilgrim’s Progress
for twenty years; but I am very glad of it now.

“We must not spoil good books by reading them too much,” my father
added. “It is often better to think about them than to read them; and
it is best never to do either when we are tired of them. We should get
tired of the sunlight itself, beautiful as it is, if God did not send
it away every night. We’re not even fit to have moonlight always. The
moon is buried in the darkness every month. And because we can bear
nothing for any length of time together, we are sent to sleep every
night, that we may begin fresh again in the morning.”

“I see, father, I see,” I answered.

We talked on until we came in sight of John Jamieson’s cottage.

What a poor little place it was to look at--built of clay, which had
hardened in the sun till it was just one brick! But it was a better
place to live in than it looked, for no wind could come through the
walls, although there was plenty of wind about. Three little windows
looked eastward to the rising sun, and one to the south: it had no
more. It stood on the side of a heathy hill, which rose up steep
behind it, and bending round sheltered it from the north. A low wall
of loose stones enclosed a small garden, reclaimed from the hill,
where grew some greens and cabbages and potatoes, with a flower here
and there between. In summer it was pleasant enough, for the warm sun
makes any place pleasant. But in winter it must have been a cold
dreary place indeed. There was no other house within sight of it. A
little brook went cantering down the hill close to the end of the
cottage, singing merrily.

“It is a long way to the sea, but by its very nature the water will
find it at last,” said my father, pointing to the stream as we crossed
it by the single stone that was its bridge.

He had to bend his head low to enter the cottage. An old woman, the
sick man’s wife, rose from the side of the chimney to greet us. My
father asked how John was.

“Wearing away,” was her answer. “But he’ll be glad to see you.”

We turned in the direction in which her eyes guided us. The first
thing I saw was a small withered-looking head, and the next a
withered-looking hand, large and bony. The old man lay in a bed closed
in with boards, so that very little light fell upon him; but his hair
glistened silvery through the gloom. My father drew a chair beside
him. John looked up, and seeing who it was, feebly held out his
hand. My father took it and stroked it, and said:

“Well, John, my man, you’ve had a hard life of it.”

“No harder than I could bear,” said John.

“It’s a grand thing to be able to say that,” said my father.

“Oh sir! for that matter, I would go through it all again, if it was
_his_ will, and willingly. I have no will but his, sir.”

“Well, John, I wish we could all say the same. When a man comes to
that, the Lord lets him have what he wants. What do you want now,
John?”

“To depart and be with the Lord. It wouldn’t be true, sir, to say that
I wasn’t weary. It seems to me, if it’s the Lord’s will, I’ve had
enough of this life. Even if death be a long sleep, as some people
say, till the judgment, I think I would rather sleep, for I’m very
weary. Only there’s the old woman there! I don’t like leaving her.”

“But you can trust God for her too, can’t you?”

“It would be a poor thing if I couldn’t, sir.”

“Were you ever hungry, John--dreadfully hungry, I mean?”

“Never longer than I could bear,” he answered. “When you think it’s
the will of God, hunger doesn’t get much hold of you, sir.”

“You must excuse me, John, for asking so many questions. You know God
better than I do, and I want my young man here to know how strong the
will of God makes a man, old or young. He needn’t care about anything
else, need he?”

“There’s nothing else to care about, sir. If only the will of God be
done, everything’s all right, you know. I do believe, sir, God cares
more for me than my old woman herself does, and she’s been as good a
wife to me as ever was. Young gentleman, you know who says that God
numbers the very hairs of our heads? There’s not many of mine left to
number,” he added with a faint smile, “but there’s plenty of
yours. You mind the will of God, and he’ll look after you. That’s the
way he divides the business of life.”

I saw now that my father’s talk as we came, had been with a view to
prepare me for what John Jamieson would say. I cannot pretend,
however, to have understood the old man at the time, but his words
have often come back to me since, and helped me through trials pretty
severe, although, like the old man, I have never found any of them too
hard to bear.

“Have you no child to come and help your wife to wait upon you?” my
father asked.

“I have had ten, sir, but only three are left alive. There’ll be
plenty to welcome me home when I go. One of the three’s in Canada, and
can’t come. Another’s in Australia, and he can’t come. But Maggie’s
not far off, and she’s got leave from her mistress to come for a
week--only we don’t want her to come till I’m nearer my end. I should
like her to see the last of her old father, for I shall be young again
by the next time she sees me, please God, sir. He’s all in all--isn’t
he, sir?”

“True, John. If we have God, we have all things; for all things are
his and we are his. But we mustn’t weary you too much. Thank you for
your good advice.”

“I beg your pardon, sir; I had no intention of speaking like that. I
never could give advice in all my life. I always found it was as much
as I could do to take the good advice that was given to me. I should
like to be prayed for in the church next Sunday, sir, if you please.”

“But can’t you pray for yourself, John?”

“Yes, sir; but I would like to have some spiritual gift because my
friends asked it for me. Let them pray for more faith for me. I want
more and more of that. The more you have, the more you want. Don’t
you, sir? And I mightn’t ask enough for myself, now I’m so old and so
tired. I sleep a great deal, sir.”

“Then don’t you think God will take care to give you enough, even if
you shouldn’t ask for enough?” said my father.

“No doubt of that. But you see I am able to think of it now, and so I
must put things in a train for the time when I shan’t be able to think
of it.”

Something like this was what John said; and although I could not
understand it then, my father spoke to me several times about it
afterwards, and I came to see how the old man wanted to provide
against the evil time by starting prayers heavenward beforehand, as it
were.

My father prayed by his bedside, pulled a parcel or two from his
pocket for his wife, and then we walked home together in silence. My
father was not the man to heap words upon words and so smother the
thought that lay in them. He had taken me for the sake of the lesson I
might receive, and he left it to strike root in my mind, which he
judged more likely if it remained undisturbed.



CHAPTER XXVII

Turkey’s Trick


When we came to the farm on our way home, we looked in to see Kirsty,
but found the key in the door, indicating that she had gone out. As we
left the yard, we saw a strange-looking woman, to all appearance a
beggar, approaching. She had a wallet over her shoulder, and walked
stooping with her eyes on the ground, nor lifted them to greet
us--behaviour which rarely showed itself in our parish. My father took
no notice, but I could not help turning to look after the woman. To my
surprise she stood looking after us, but the moment I turned, she
turned also and walked on. When I looked again she had vanished. Of
course she must have gone into the farm-yard. Not liking the look of
her, and remembering that Kirsty was out, I asked my father whether I
had not better see if any of the men were about the stable. He
approved, and I ran back to the house. The door was still locked. I
called Turkey, and heard his voice in reply from one of the farthest
of the cow-houses. When I had reached it and told him my story, he
asked if my father knew I had come back. When he heard that he did
know, he threw down his pitchfork, and hastened with me. We searched
every house about the place, but could find no sign whatever of the
woman.

“Are you sure it wasn’t all a fancy of your own, Ranald?” said Turkey.

“Quite sure. Ask my father. She passed as near us as you are to me
now.”

Turkey hurried away to search the hayloft once more, but without
success; and at last I heard my father calling me.

I ran to him, and told him there was no woman to be seen.

“That’s odd,” he said. “She must have passed straight through the yard
and got out at the other side before you went in. While you were
looking for her, she was plodding away out of sight. Come along, and
let us have our tea.”

I could not feel quite satisfied about it, but, as there was no other
explanation, I persuaded myself that my father was right.

The next Saturday evening I was in the nursery with my brothers. It
was growing dusk, when I heard a knocking. Mrs. Mitchell did not seem
to hear it, so I went and opened the door. There was the same beggar
woman. Rather frightened, I called aloud, and Mrs. Mitchell came. When
she saw it was a beggar, she went back and reappeared with a wooden
basin filled with meal, from which she took a handful as she came in
apparent preparation for dropping it, in the customary way, into the
woman’s bag. The woman never spoke, but closed the mouth of her
wallet, and turned away. Curiosity gave me courage to follow her. She
walked with long strides in the direction of the farm, and I kept at a
little distance behind her. She made for the yard. She should not
escape me this time. As soon as she entered it, I ran as fast as I
could, and just caught sight of her back as she went into one of the
cow-houses. I darted after her. She turned round upon me--fiercely, I
thought, but judge my surprise when she held out the open mouth of the
bag towards me, and said--

“Not one grain, Ranald! Put in your hand and feel.”

It was Turkey.

I stared in amazement, unable for a time to get rid of the apparition
and see the reality. Turkey burst out laughing at my perplexed
countenance.

“Why didn’t you tell me before, Turkey?” I asked, able at length to
join in the laugh.

“Because then you would have had to tell your father, and I did not
want him to be troubled about it, at least before we had got things
clear. I always _did_ wonder how he could keep such a creature about
him.”

“He doesn’t know her as we do, Turkey.”

“No. She never gives him the chance. But now, Ranald, couldn’t you
manage to find out whether she makes any store of the meal she
pretends to give away?”

A thought struck me.

“I heard Davie the other day asking her why she had two meal-tubs:
perhaps that has something to do with it.”

“You must find out. Don’t ask Davie.”

For the first time it occurred to me that the Kelpie had upon that
night of terror been out on business of her own, and had not been
looking for me at all.

“Then she was down at old Betty’s cottage,” said Turkey, when I
communicated the suspicion, “and Wandering Willie was there too, and
Andrew was right about the pipes. Willie hasn’t been once to the house
ever since he took Davie, but she has gone to meet him at Betty’s.
Depend on it, Ranald, he’s her brother, or nephew, or something, as I
used to say. I do believe she gives him the meal to take home to her
family somewhere. Did you ever hear anything about her friends?”

“I never heard her speak of any.”

“Then I don’t believe they’re respectable. I don’t, Ranald. But it
will be a great trouble to the minister to have to turn her away. I
wonder if we couldn’t contrive to make her go of herself. I wish we
could scare her out of the country. It’s not nice either for a woman
like that to have to do with such innocents as Allister and Davie.”

“She’s very fond of Davie.”

“So she is. That’s the only good thing I know of her. But hold your
tongue, Ranald, till we find out more.”

Acting on the hint Davie had given me, I soon discovered the second
meal-tub. It was small, and carefully stowed away. It was now nearly
full, and every day I watched in the hope that when she emptied it, I
should be able to find out what she did with the meal. But Turkey’s
suggestion about frightening her away kept working in my brain.



CHAPTER XXVIII

I Scheme Too


I began a series of persecutions of the Kelpie on my own account. I
was doubtful whether Turkey would approve of them, so I did not tell
him for some time; but I was ambitious of showing him that I could do
something without him. I doubt whether it is worth while to relate the
silly tricks I played her--my father made me sorry enough for them
afterwards. My only excuse for them is, that I hoped by them to drive
the Kelpie away.

There was a closet in the hall, the floor of which was directly over
the Kelpie’s bed, with no ceiling between. With a gimlet I bored a
hole in the floor, through which I passed a piece of string. I had
already got a bit of black cloth, and sewed and stuffed it into
something of the shape of a rat. Watching an opportunity, I tied this
to the end of the string by the head, and hid it under her bolster.
When she was going to bed, I went into the closet, and, laying my
mouth to the floor, began squeaking like a rat, and scratching with my
nails. Knowing by the exclamation she made that I had attracted her
attention, I tugged at the string; this lifted the bolster a little,
and of course out came my rat. I heard her scream, and open her door.
I pulled the rat up tight to the ceiling. Then the door of the
nursery, where we slept only in the winter, opened and shut, and I
concluded she had gone to bed there to avoid the rat. I could hardly
sleep for pleasure at my success.

As she waited on us at breakfast next morning, she told my father that
she had seen in her bed the biggest rat she ever saw in her life, and
had not had a wink of sleep in consequence.

“Well,” said my father, “that comes of not liking cats. You should get
a pussy to take care of you.”

She grumbled something and retired.

She removed her quarters to the nursery. But there it was yet easier
for me to plague her. Having observed in which bed she lay, I passed
the string with the rat at the end of it over the middle of a bar that
ran across just above her head, then took the string along the top of
the other bed, and through a little hole in the door. As soon as I
judged her safe in bed, I dropped the rat with a plump. It must have
fallen on or very near her face. I heard her give a loud cry, but
before she could reach the door, I had fastened the string to a nail
and got out of the way.

It was not so easy in those days to get a light, for the earliest form
of lucifer match was only just making its appearance in that part of
the country, and was very dear: she had to go to the kitchen, where
the fire never went out summer or winter. Afraid lest on her return
she should search the bed, find my harmless animal suspended by the
neck, and descend upon me with all the wrath generated of needless
terror, I crept into the room, got down my rat, pulled away the
string, and escaped. The next morning she said nothing about the rat,
but went to a neighbour’s and brought home a fine cat. I laughed in my
sleeve, thinking how little her cat could protect her from my rat.

Once more, however, she changed her quarters, and went into a sort of
inferior spare room in the upper part of the house, which suited my
operations still better, for from my own bed I could now manage to
drop and pull up the rat, drawing it away beyond the danger of
discovery. The next night she took the cat into the room with her, and
for that one I judged it prudent to leave her alone, but the next,
having secured Kirsty’s cat, I turned him into the room after she was
in bed: the result was a frightful explosion of feline wrath.

I now thought I might boast of my successes to Turkey, but he was not
pleased.

“She is sure to find you out, Ranald,” he said, “and then whatever
else we do will be a failure. Leave her alone till we have her quite.”

I do not care to linger over this part of my story. I am a little
ashamed of it.

We found at length that her private reservoir was quite full of meal.
I kept close watch still, and finding one night that she was not in
the house, discovered also that the meal-tub was now empty. I ran to
Turkey, and together we hurried to Betty’s cottage.

It was a cloudy night with glimpses of moonlight. When we reached the
place, we heard voices talking, and were satisfied that both the
Kelpie and Wandering Willie were there.

“We must wait till she comes out,” said Turkey. “We must be able to
say we saw her.”

There was a great stone standing out of the ground not far from the
door, just opposite the elder-tree, and the path lay between them.

“You get behind that tree--no, you are the smaller object--you get
behind that stone, and I’ll get behind the tree,” said Turkey; “and
when the Kelpie comes out, you make a noise like a beast, and rush at
her on all-fours.”

“I’m good at a pig, Turkey,” I said. “Will a pig do?”

“Yes, well enough.”

“But what if she should know me, and catch me, Turkey?”

“She will start away from you to my side; I shall rush out like a mad
dog, and then she’ll run for it.”

We waited a long time--a very long time, it seemed to me. It was well
it was summer. We talked a little across, and that helped to beguile
the weary time; but at last I said in a whisper:

“Let’s go home, Turkey, and lock the doors, and keep her out.”

“You go home then, Ranald, and I’ll wait. I don’t mind if it be till
to-morrow morning. It is not enough to be sure ourselves; we must be
able to make other people sure.”

“I’ll wait as long as you do, Turkey; only I’m very sleepy, and she
might come out when I was asleep.”

“Oh, I shall keep you awake!” replied Turkey; and we settled down
again for a while.

At the long last the latch of the door was lifted. I was just falling
asleep, but the sound brought me wide awake at once. I peeped from
behind my shelter. It was the Kelpie, with an empty bag--a
pillow-case, I believe--in her hand. Behind her came Wandering Willie,
but did not follow her from the door. The moment was favourable, for
the moon was under a thick cloud. Just as she reached the stone, I
rushed out on hands and knees, grunting and squeaking like a very wild
pig indeed. As Turkey had foretold, she darted aside, and I retreated
behind my stone. The same instant Turkey rushed at her with such
canine fury, that the imitation startled even me, who had expected
it. You would have thought the animal was ready to tear a whole army
to pieces, with such a complication of fierce growls and barks and
squeals did he dart on the unfortunate culprit. She took to her heels
at once, not daring to make for the cottage, because the enemy was
behind her. But I had hardly ensconced myself behind the stone,
repressing my laughter with all my might, when I was seized from
behind by Wandering Willie, who had no fear either of pig or dog. He
began pommelling me.

[Illustration]

“Turkey! Turkey!” I cried.

The cry stopped his barking pursuit of the Kelpie. He rose to his
feet and rushed to my aid. But when he saw the state of affairs, he
turned at once for the cottage, crying:

“Now for a kick at the bagpipes!”

Wandering Willie was not too much a fool to remember and understand.
He left me instantly, and made for the cottage. Turkey drew back and
let him enter, then closed the door, and held it.

“Get away a bit, Ranald. I can run faster than Willie. You’ll be out
of sight in a few yards.”

But instead of coming after us, Wandering Willie began playing a most
triumphant tune upon his darling bagpipes. How the poor old woman
enjoyed it, I do not know. Perhaps she liked it. For us, we set off to
outstrip the Kelpie. It did not matter to Turkey, but she might lock
me out again. I was almost in bed before I heard her come in. She went
straight to her own room.



CHAPTER XXIX

A Double Exposure


Whether the Kelpie had recognized us I could not tell, but not much of
the next morning passed before my doubt was over. When she had set our
porridge on the table, she stood up, and, with her fists in her sides,
addressed my father:

“I’m very sorry, sir, to have to make complaints. It’s a thing I don’t
like, and I’m not given to. I’m sure I try to do my duty by Master
Ranald as well as everyone else in this house.”

I felt a little confused, for I now saw clearly enough that my father
could not approve of our proceedings. I whispered to Allister--

“Run and fetch Turkey. Tell him to come directly.”

Allister always did whatever I asked him. He set off at once. The
Kelpie looked suspicious as he left the room, but she had no pretext
for interference. I allowed her to tell her tale without interruption.
After relating exactly how we had served her the night before, when
she had gone on a visit of mercy, as she represented it, she accused
me of all my former tricks--that of the cat having, I presume,
enlightened her as to the others; and ended by saying that if she were
not protected against me and Turkey, she must leave the place.

“Let her go, father,” I said. “None of us like her.”

“I like her,” whimpered little Davie.

“Silence, sir!” said my father, very sternly. “Are these things true?”

“Yes, father,” I answered. “But please hear what _I_‘ve got to say.
She’s only told you _her_ side of it.”

“You have confessed to the truth of what she alleges,” said my
father. “I did think,” he went on, more in sorrow than in anger,
though a good deal in both, “that you had turned from your bad
ways. To think of my taking you with me to the death-bed of a holy
man, and then finding you so soon after playing such tricks!--more
like the mischievousness of a monkey than of a human being!”

“I don’t say it was right, father; and I’m very sorry if I have
offended you.”

“You _have_ offended me, and very deeply. You have been unkind and
indeed cruel to a good woman who has done her best for you for many
years!”

I was not too much abashed to take notice that the Kelpie bridled at
this.

“I can’t say I’m sorry for what I’ve done to her,” I said.

“Really, Ranald, you are impertinent. I would send you out of the room
at once, but you must beg Mrs. Mitchell’s pardon first, and after that
there will be something more to say, I fear.”

“But, father, you have not heard my story yet.”

“Well--go on. It is fair, I suppose, to hear both sides. But nothing
can justify such conduct.”

I began with trembling voice. I had gone over in my mind the night
before all I would say, knowing it better to tell the tale from the
beginning circumstantially. Before I had ended, Turkey made his
appearance, ushered in by Allister. Both were out of breath with
running.

My father stopped me, and ordered Turkey away until I should have
finished. I ventured to look up at the Kelpie once or twice. She had
grown white, and grew whiter. When Turkey left the room, she would
have gone too. But my father told her she must stay and hear me to the
end. Several times she broke out, accusing me of telling a pack of
wicked lies, but my father told her she should have an opportunity of
defending herself, and she must not interrupt me. When I had done, he
called Turkey, and made him tell the story. I need hardly say that,
although he questioned us closely, he found no discrepancy between our
accounts. He turned at last to Mrs. Mitchell, who, but for her rage,
would have been in an abject condition.

“Now, Mrs. Mitchell!” he said.

She had nothing to reply beyond asserting that Turkey and I had always
hated and persecuted her, and had now told a pack of lies which we had
agreed upon, to ruin her, a poor lone woman, with no friends to take
her part.

“I do not think it likely they could be so wicked,” said my father.

“So I’m to be the only wicked person in the world! Very well, sir! I
will leave the house this very day.”

“No, no, Mrs. Mitchell; that won’t do. One party or the other _is_
very wicked--that is clear; and it is of the greatest consequence to
me to find out which. If you go, I shall know it is you, and have you
taken up and tried for stealing. Meantime I shall go the round of the
parish. I do not think all the poor people will have combined to lie
against you.”

“They all hate me,” said the Kelpie.

“And why?” asked my father.

She made no answer.

“I must get at the truth of it,” said my father. “You can go now.”

She left the room without another word, and my father turned to
Turkey.

“I am surprised at you, Turkey, lending yourself to such silly
pranks. Why did you not come and tell me.”

“I am very sorry, sir. I was afraid you would be troubled at finding
how wicked she was, and I thought we might frighten her away somehow.
But Ranald began his tricks without letting me know, and then I saw
that mine could be of no use, for she would suspect them after his.
Mine would have been better, sir.”

“I have no doubt of it, but equally unjustifiable. And you as well as
he acted the part of a four-footed animal last night.”

“I confess I yielded to temptation then, for I knew it could do no
good. It was all for the pleasure of frightening her. It was very
foolish of me, and I beg your pardon, sir.”

“Well, Turkey, I confess you have vexed me, not by trying to find out
the wrong she was doing me and the whole parish, but by taking the
whole thing into your own hands. It is worse of you, inasmuch as you
are older and far wiser than Ranald. It is worse of Ranald because I
was his father. I will try to show you the wrong you have done.--Had
you told me without doing anything yourselves, then I might have
succeeded in bringing Mrs. Mitchell to repentance. I could have
reasoned with her on the matter, and shown her that she was not merely
a thief, but a thief of the worst kind, a Judas who robbed the poor,
and so robbed God. I could have shown her how cruel she was--”

“Please, sir,” interrupted Turkey, “I don’t think after all she did it
for herself. I do believe,” he went on, and my father listened, “that
Wandering Willie is some relation of hers. He is the only poor person,
almost the only person except Davie, I ever saw her behave kindly to.
He was there last night, and also, I fancy, that other time, when
Ranald got such a fright. She has poor relations somewhere, and sends
the meal to them by Willie. You remember, sir, there were no old
clothes of Allister’s to be found when you wanted them for Jamie
Duff.”

“You may be right, Turkey--I dare say you are right. I hope you are,
for though bad enough, that would not be quite so bad as doing it for
herself.”

“I am very sorry, father,” I said; “I beg your pardon.”

“I hope it will be a lesson to you, my boy. After what you have done,
rousing every bad and angry passion in her, I fear it will be of no
use to try to make her be sorry and repent. It is to her, not to me,
you have done the wrong. I have nothing to complain of for
myself--quite the contrary. But it is a very dreadful thing to throw
difficulties in the way of repentance and turning from evil works.”

“What can I do to make up for it?” I sobbed.

“I don’t see at this moment what you can do. I will turn it over in my
mind. You may go now.”

Thereupon Turkey and I walked away, I to school, he to his cattle. The
lecture my father had given us was not to be forgotten. Turkey looked
sad, and I felt subdued and concerned.

Everything my father heard confirmed the tale we had told him. But the
Kelpie frustrated whatever he may have resolved upon with regard to
her: before he returned she had disappeared. How she managed to get
her chest away, I cannot tell. I think she must have hid it in some
outhouse, and fetched it the next night. Many little things were
missed from the house afterwards, but nothing of great value, and
neither she nor Wandering Willie ever appeared again. We were all
satisfied that poor old Betty knew nothing of her conduct. It was easy
enough to deceive her, for she was alone in her cottage, only waited
upon by a neighbour who visited her at certain times of the day.

My father, I heard afterwards, gave five shillings out of his own
pocket to every one of the poor people whom the Kelpie had defrauded.
Her place in the house was, to our endless happiness, taken by Kirsty,
and faithfully she carried out my father’s instructions that, along
with the sacred handful of meal, a penny should be given to every one
of the parish poor from that time forward, so long as he lived at the
manse.

Not even little Davie cried when he found that Mrs. Mitchell was
really gone. It was more his own affection than her kindness that had
attached him to her.

Thus were we at last delivered from our Kelpie.



CHAPTER XXX

Tribulation


[Illustration]

After the expulsion of the Kelpie, and the accession of Kirsty, things
went on so peaceably, that the whole time rests in my memory like a
summer evening after sundown. I have therefore little more to say
concerning our home-life.

There were two schools in the little town--the first, the parish
school, the master of which was appointed by the presbytery; the
second, one chiefly upheld by the dissenters of the place, the master
of which was appointed by the parents of the scholars. This
difference, however, indicated very little of the distinction and
separation which it would have involved in England. The masters of
both were licentiates of the established church, an order having a
vague resemblance to that of deacons in the English church; there were
at both of them scholars whose fees were paid by the parish, while
others at both were preparing for the University; there were many
pupils at the second school whose parents took them to the established
church on Sundays, and both were yearly examined by the
presbytery--that is, the clergymen of a certain district; while my
father was on friendly terms with all the parents, some of whom did
not come to his church because they thought the expenses of religion
should be met by the offerings of those who prized its ministrations,
while others regarded the unity of the nation, and thought that
religion, like any other of its necessities, ought to be the care of
its chosen government. I do not think the second school would ever
have come into existence at all except for the requirements of the
population, one school being insufficient. There was little real
schism in the matter, except between the boys themselves. They made
far more of it than their parents, and an occasional outbreak was the
consequence.

At this time there was at the second school a certain very rough lad,
the least developed beyond the brute, perhaps, of all the scholars of
the village. It is more amazing to see how close to the brute a man
may remain than it is to see how far he may leave the brute behind.
How it began I cannot recall; but this youth, a lad of seventeen,
whether moved by dislike or the mere fascination of injury, was in the
habit of teasing me beyond the verge of endurance as often as he had
the chance. I did not like to complain to my father, though that would
have been better than to hate him as I did. I was ashamed of my own
impotence for self-defence; but therein I was little to blame, for I
was not more than half his size, and certainly had not half his
strength. My pride forbidding flight, the probability was, when we met
in an out-of-the-way quarter, that he would block my path for half an
hour at least, pull my hair, pinch my cheeks, and do everything to
annoy me, short of leaving marks of violence upon me. If we met in a
street, or other people were in sight, he would pass me with a wink
and a grin, as much as to say--_Wait_.

One of the short but fierce wars between the rival schools broke
out. What originated the individual quarrel I cannot tell. I doubt if
anyone knew. It had not endured a day, however, before it came to a
pitched battle after school hours. The second school was considerably
the smaller, but it had the advantage of being perched on the top of
the low, steep hill at the bottom of which lay ours. Our battles
always began with missiles; and I wonder, as often as I recall the
fact, that so few serious accidents were the consequence. From the
disadvantages of the ground, we had little chance against the
stone-showers which descended upon us like hail, except we charged
right up the hill, in the face of the inferior but well-posted enemy.
When this was not in favour at the moment, I employed myself in
collecting stones and supplying them to my companions, for it seemed
to me that every boy, down to the smallest in either school, was
skilful in throwing them, except myself: I could not throw halfway up
the hill. On this occasion, however, I began to fancy it an unworthy
exercise of my fighting powers, and made my first attempt at
organizing a troop for an up-hill charge. I was now a tall boy, and of
some influence amongst those about my own age. Whether the enemy saw
our intent and proceeded to forestall it, I cannot say, but certainly
that charge never took place.

A house of some importance was then building, just on the top of the
hill, and a sort of hand-wagon, or lorry on low wheels, was in use for
moving the large stones employed, the chips from the dressing of which
were then for us most formidable missiles. Our adversaries laid hold
of this chariot, and turned it into an engine of war. They dragged it
to the top of the hill, jumped upon it, as many as it would hold, and,
drawn by their own weight, came thundering down upon our troops. Vain
was the storm of stones which assailed their advance: they could not
have stopped if they would. My company had to open and make way for
the advancing prodigy, conspicuous upon which towered my personal
enemy Scroggie.

“Now,” I called to my men, “as soon as the thing stops, rush in and
seize them: they’re not half our number. It will be an endless
disgrace to let them go.”

Whether we should have had the courage to carry out the design had not
fortune favoured us, I cannot tell. But as soon as the chariot reached
a part of the hill where the slope was less, it turned a little to one
side, and Scroggie fell off, drawing half of the load after him. My
men rushed in with shouts of defiant onset, but were arrested by the
non-resistance of the foe. I sprung to seize Scroggie. He tried to get
up, but fell back with a groan. The moment I saw his face, my mood
changed. My hatred, without will or wish or effort of mine, turned all
at once into pity or something better. In a moment I was down on my
knees beside him. His face was white, and drops stood upon his
forehead. He lay half upon his side, and with one hand he scooped
handfuls of dirt from the road and threw them down again. His leg was
broken. I got him to lean his head against me, and tried to make him
lie more comfortably; but the moment I sought to move the leg he
shrieked out. I sent one of our swiftest runners for the doctor, and
in the meantime did the best I could for him. He took it as a matter
of course, and did not even thank me. When the doctor came, we got a
mattress from a neighbouring house, laid it on the wagon, lifted
Scroggie on the top, and dragged him up the hill and home to his
mother.

I have said a little, but only a little, concerning our master, Mr.
Wilson. At the last examination I had, in compliance with the request
of one of the clergymen, read aloud a metrical composition of my own,
sent in by way of essay on the given subject, _Patriotism_, and after
this he had shown me a great increase of favour. Perhaps he recognized
in me some germ of a literary faculty--I cannot tell: it has never
come to much if he did, and he must be greatly disappointed in me,
seeing I labour not in living words, but in dead stones. I am certain,
though, that whether I build good or bad houses, I should have built
worse had I not had the insight he gave me into literature and the
nature of literary utterance. I read Virgil and Horace with him, and
scanned every doubtful line we came across. I sometimes think now,
that what certain successful men want to make them real artists, is
simply a knowledge of the literature--which is the essence of the
possible art--of the country.

My brother Tom had left the school, and gone to the county town, to
receive some final preparation for the University; consequently, so
far as the school was concerned, I was no longer in the position of a
younger brother. Also Mr. Wilson had discovered that I had some
faculty for imparting what knowledge I possessed, and had begun to
make use of me in teaching the others. A good deal was done in this
way in the Scotch schools. Not that there was the least attempt at
system in it: the master, at any moment, would choose the one he
thought fit, and set him to teach a class, while he attended to
individuals, or taught another class himself. Nothing can be better
for the verification of knowledge, or for the discovery of ignorance,
than the attempt to teach. In my case it led to other and unforeseen
results as well.

The increasing trust the master reposed in me, and the increasing
favour which openly accompanied it, so stimulated the growth of my
natural vanity, that at length it appeared in the form of presumption,
and, I have little doubt, although I was unaware of it at the time,
influenced my whole behaviour to my school-fellows. Hence arose the
complaint that I was a favourite with the master, and the accusation
that I used underhand means to recommend myself to him, of which I am
not yet aware that I was ever guilty. My presumption I confess, and
wonder that the master did not take earlier measures to check it. When
teaching a class, I would not unfrequently, if Mr. Wilson had vacated
his chair, climb into it, and sit there as if I were the master of the
school. I even went so far as to deposit some of my books in the
master’s desk, instead of in my own recess. But I had not the least
suspicion of the indignation I was thus rousing against me.

One afternoon I had a class of history. They read very badly, with
what seemed wilful blundering; but when it came to the questioning on
the subject of the lesson, I soon saw there had been a conspiracy. The
answers they gave were invariably wrong, generally absurd, sometimes
utterly grotesque. I ought to except those of a few girls, who did
their best, and apparently knew nothing of the design of the others.
One or two girls, however, infected with the spirit of the game, soon
outdid the whole class in the wildness of their replies. This at last
got the better of me; I lost my temper, threw down my book, and
retired to my seat, leaving the class where it stood. The master
called me and asked the reason. I told him the truth of the matter. He
got very angry, and called out several of the bigger boys and punished
them severely. Whether these supposed that I had mentioned them in
particular, as I had not, I do not know; but I could read in their
faces that they vowed vengeance in their hearts. When the school broke
up, I lingered to the last, in the hope they would all go home as
usual; but when I came out with the master, and saw the silent waiting
groups, it was evident there was more thunder in the moral atmosphere
than would admit of easy discharge. The master had come to the same
conclusion, for instead of turning towards his own house, he walked
with me part of the way home, without alluding however to the reason.
Allister was with us, and I led Davie by the hand: it was his first
week of school life. When we had got about half the distance,
believing me now quite safe, he turned into a footpath and went
through the fields back towards the town; while we, delivered from all
immediate apprehension, jogged homewards.

When we had gone some distance farther, I happened to look about--why,
I could not tell. A crowd was following us at full speed. As soon as
they saw that we had discovered them, they broke the silence with a
shout, which was followed by the patter of their many footsteps.

“Run, Allister!” I cried; and kneeling, I caught up Davie on my back,
and ran with the feet of fear. Burdened thus, Allister was soon far
ahead of me.

“Bring Turkey!” I cried after him. “Run to the farm as hard as you can
pelt, and bring Turkey to meet us.”

“Yes, yes, Ranald,” shouted Allister, and ran yet faster.

They were not getting up with us quite so fast as they wished; they
began therefore to pick up stones as they ran, and we soon heard them
hailing on the road behind us. A little farther, and the stones began
to go bounding past us, so that I dared no longer carry Davie on my
back. I had to stop, which lost us time, and to shift him into my
arms, which made running much harder. Davie kept calling, “Run,
Ranald!--here they come!” and jumping so, half in fear, half in
pleasure, that I found it very hard work indeed.

Their taunting voices reached me at length, loaded with all sorts of
taunting and opprobrious words--some of them, I dare say, deserved,
but not all. Next a stone struck me, but not in a dangerous place,
though it crippled my running still more. The bridge was now in sight,
however, and there I could get rid of Davie and turn at bay, for it
was a small wooden bridge, with rails and a narrow gate at the end to
keep horsemen from riding over it. The foremost of our pursuers were
within a few yards of my heels, when, with a last effort, I bounded on
it; and I had just time to set Davie down and turn and bar their way
by shutting the gate, before they reached it. I had no breath left but
just enough to cry, “Run, Davie!” Davie, however, had no notion of the
state of affairs, and did not run, but stood behind me staring. So I
was not much better off yet. If he had only run, and I had seen him
far enough on the way home, I would have taken to the water, which was
here pretty deep, before I would have run any further risk of their
getting hold of me. If I could have reached the mill on the opposite
bank, a shout would have brought the miller to my aid. But so long as
I could prevent them from opening the gate, I thought I could hold the
position. There was only a latch to secure it, but I pulled a thin
knife from my pocket, and just as I received a blow in the face from
the first arrival which knocked me backwards, I had jammed it over the
latch through the iron staple in which it worked. Before the first
attempt to open it had been followed by the discovery of the obstacle,
I was up, and the next moment, with a well-directed kick, disabled a
few of the fingers which were fumbling to remove it. To protect the
latch was now my main object, but my efforts would have been quite
useless, for twenty of them would have been over the top in an
instant.  Help, however, although unrecognized as such, was making its
way through the ranks of the enemy.

They parted asunder, and Scroggie, still lame, strode heavily up to
the gate. Recalling nothing but his old enmity, I turned once more and
implored Davie. “Do run, Davie, dear! it’s all up,” I said; but my
entreaties were lost upon Davie. Turning again in despair, I saw the
lame leg being hoisted over the gate. A shudder ran through me: I
could _not_ kick that leg; but I sprang up and hit Scroggie hard in
the face. I might as well have hit a block of granite. He swore at me,
caught hold of my hand, and turning to the assailants said:

“Now, you be off! This is my little business. I’ll do for him!”

Although they were far enough from obeying his orders, they were not
willing to turn him into an enemy, and so hung back expectant.
Meantime the lame leg was on one side of the gate, the splints of
which were sharpened at the points, and the sound leg was upon the
other. I, on the one side--for he had let go my hand in order to
support himself--retreated a little, and stood upon the defensive,
trembling, I must confess; while my enemies on the other side could
not reach me so long as Scroggie was upon the top of the gate.

The lame leg went searching gently about, but could find no rest for
the sole of its foot, for there was no projecting cross bar upon this
side; the repose upon the top was anything but perfect, and the leg
suspended behind was useless. The long and the short, both in legs and
results, was, that there Scroggie stuck; and so long as he stuck, I
was safe. As soon as I saw this, I turned and caught up Davie,
thinking to make for home once more. But that very instant there was a
rush at the gate; Scroggie was hoisted over, the knife was taken out,
and on poured the assailants, before I had quite reached the other end
of the bridge.

“At them, Oscar!” cried a voice.

The dog rushed past me on to the bridge, followed by Turkey. I set
Davie down, and, holding his hand, breathed again. There was a scurry
and a rush, a splash or two in the water, and then back came Oscar
with his innocent tongue hanging out like a blood-red banner of
victory. He was followed by Scroggie, who was exploding with laughter.

[Illustration]

Oscar came up wagging his tail, and looking as pleased as if he had
restored obedience to a flock of unruly sheep. I shrank back from
Scroggie, wishing Turkey, who was still at the other end of the
bridge, would make haste.

“Wasn’t it fun, Ranald?” said Scroggie. “You don’t think I was so lame
that I couldn’t get over that gate? I stuck on purpose.”

Turkey joined us with an inquiring look, for he knew how Scroggie had
been in the habit of treating me.

“It’s all right, Turkey,” I said. “Scroggie stuck on the gate on
purpose.”

“A good thing for you, Ranald!” said Turkey. “Didn’t you see Peter
Mason amongst them?”

“No. He left the school last year.”

“He was there, though, and I don’t suppose _he_ meant to be
agreeable.”

“I tell you what,” said Scroggie: “if you like, I’ll leave my school
and come to yours. My mother lets me do as I like.”

I thanked him, but said I did not think there would be more of it. It
would blow over.

Allister told my father as much as he knew of the affair; and when he
questioned me, I told him as much as I knew.

The next morning, just as we were all settling to work, my father
entered the school. The hush that followed was intense. The place
might have been absolutely empty for any sound I could hear for some
seconds. The ringleaders of my enemies held down their heads, as
anticipating an outbreak of vengeance. But after a few moments’
conversation with Mr. Wilson, my father departed. There was a mystery
about the proceeding, an unknown possibility of result, which had a
very sedative effect the whole of the morning. When we broke up for
dinner, Mr. Wilson detained me, and told me that my father thought it
better that, for some time at least, I should not occupy such a
prominent position as before. He was very sorry, he said, for I had
been a great help to him; and if I did not object, he would ask my
father to allow me to assist him in the evening-school during the
winter. I was delighted at the prospect, sank back into my natural
position, and met with no more annoyance. After a while I was able to
assure my former foes that I had had no voice in bringing punishment
upon them in particular, and the enmity was, I believe, quite
extinguished.

When winter came, and the evening-school was opened, Mr. Wilson called
at the manse, and my father very willingly assented to the proposed
arrangement. The scholars were mostly young men from neighbouring
farms, or from workshops in the village, with whom, although I was so
much younger than they, there was no danger of jealousy. The
additional assistance they would thus receive, and their respect for
superior knowledge, in which, with my advantages, I had no credit over
them, would prevent any false shame because of my inferiority in
years.

There were a few girls at the school as well--among the rest, Elsie
Duff. Although her grandmother was very feeble, Elsie was now able to
have a little more of her own way, and there was no real reason why
the old woman should not be left for an hour or two in the evening. I
need hardly say that Turkey was a regular attendant. He always, and I
often, saw Elsie home.

My chief pleasure lay in helping her with her lessons. I did my best
to assist all who wanted my aid, but offered unsolicited attention to
her. She was not quick, but would never be satisfied until she
understood, and that is more than any superiority of gifts. Hence, if
her progress was slow, it was unintermitting. Turkey was far before me
in trigonometry, but I was able to help him in grammar and geography,
and when he commenced Latin, which he did the same winter, I assisted
him a good deal.

Sometimes Mr. Wilson would ask me to go home with him after school,
and take supper. This made me late, but my father did not mind it, for
he liked me to be with Mr. Wilson. I learned a good deal from him at
such times. He had an excellent little library, and would take down
his favourite books and read me passages. It is wonderful how things
which, in reading for ourselves, we might pass over in a half-blind
manner, gain their true power and influence through the voice of one
who sees and feels what is in them. If a man in whom you have
confidence merely lays his finger on a paragraph and says to you,
“Read that,” you will probably discover three times as much in it as
you would if you had only chanced upon it in the course of your
reading. In such case the mind gathers itself up, and is all eyes and
ears.

But Mr. Wilson would sometimes read me a few verses of his own; and
this was a delight such as I have rarely experienced. My reader may
wonder that a full-grown man and a good scholar should condescend to
treat a boy like me as so much of an equal; but sympathy is precious
even from a child, and Mr. Wilson had no companions of his own
standing. I believe he read more to Turkey than to me, however.

As I have once apologized already for the introduction of a few of his
verses with Scotch words in them, I will venture to try whether the
same apology will not cover a second offence of the same sort.

        JEANIE BRAW[1]

I like ye weel upo’ Sundays, Jeanie,
  In yer goon an’ yer ribbons gay;
But I like ye better on Mondays, Jeanie,
  And I like ye better the day.[2]

[Footnote 1: Brave; well dressed.].
[Footnote 2: To-day.]

For it _will_ come into my heid, Jeanie,
  O’ yer braws[1] ye are thinkin’ a wee;
No’ a’ o’ the Bible-seed, Jeanie,
  Nor the minister nor me.

[Footnote 1: Bravery; finery.]

And hame across the green, Jeanie,
  Ye gang wi’ a toss o’ yer chin:
Us twa there’s a shadow atween, Jeanie,
  Though yer hand my airm lies in.

But noo, whan I see ye gang, Jeanie,
  Busy wi’ what’s to be dune,
Liltin’ a haveless[2] sang, Jeanie,
  I could kiss yer verra shune.

[Footnote 2: Careless.]

Wi’ yer silken net on yer hair, Jeanie,
  In yer bonny blue petticoat,
Wi’ yer kindly airms a’ bare, Jeanie,
  On yer verra shadow I doat.

For oh! but ye’re eident[3] and free, Jeanie,
  Airy o’ hert and o’ fit[4];
There’s a licht shines oot o’ yer ee, Jeanie;
  O’ yersel’ ye thinkna a bit.

[Footnote 3: Diligent.]
[Footnote 4: Foot.]

Turnin’ or steppin’ alang, Jeanie,
  Liftin’ an’ layin’ doon,
Settin’ richt what’s aye gaein’ wrang, Jeanie,
  Yer motion’s baith dance an’ tune.

Fillin’ the cogue frae the coo, Jeanie,
  Skimmin’ the yallow cream,
Poorin’ awa’ the het broo, Jeanie,
  Lichtin’ the lampie’s leme[5]--

[Footnote 5: Flame.]

I’ the hoose ye’re a licht an’ a law, Jeanie,
  A servant like him that’s abune:
Oh! a woman’s bonniest o’ a’, Jeanie,
  Whan she’s doin’ what _maun_ be dune.

Sae, dressed in yer Sunday claes, Jeanie,
  Fair kythe[1] ye amang the fair;
But dressed in yer ilka-day’s[2], Jeanie,
  Yer beauty’s beyond compare.

[Footnote 1: Appear.]

[Footnote 2: Everyday clothes.]



CHAPTER XXXI

A Winter’s Ride


In this winter, the stormiest I can recollect, occurred the chief
adventure of my boyhood--indeed, the event most worthy to be called an
adventure I have ever encountered.

There had been a tremendous fall of snow, which a furious wind,
lasting two days and the night between, had drifted into great mounds,
so that the shape of the country was much altered with new heights and
hollows. Even those who were best acquainted with them could only
guess at the direction of some of the roads, and it was the easiest
thing in the world to lose the right track, even in broad daylight. As
soon as the storm was over, however, and the frost was found likely to
continue, they had begun to cut passages through some of the deeper
wreaths, as they called the snow-mounds; while over the tops of
others, and along the general line of the more frequented roads,
footpaths were soon trodden. It was many days, however, before
vehicles could pass, and coach-communication be resumed between the
towns. All the short day, the sun, though low, was brilliant, and the
whole country shone with dazzling whiteness; but after sunset, which
took place between three and four o’clock, anything more dreary can
hardly be imagined, especially when the keenest of winds rushed in
gusts from the north-east, and lifting the snow-powder from untrodden
shadows, blew it, like so many stings, in the face of the freezing
traveller.

Early one afternoon, just as I came home from school, which in winter
was always over at three o’clock, my father received a message that a
certain laird, or _squire_ as he would be called in England--whose
house lay three or four miles off amongst the hills, was at the point
of death, and very anxious to see him: a groom on horseback had
brought the message. The old man had led a life of indifferent repute,
and that probably made him the more anxious to see my father, who
proceeded at once to get ready for the uninviting journey.

Since my brother Tom’s departure, I had become yet more of a companion
to my father; and now when I saw him preparing to set out, I begged to
be allowed to go with him. His little black mare had a daughter, not
unused to the saddle. She was almost twice her mother’s size, and none
the less clumsy that she was chiefly employed upon the farm. Still she
had a touch of the roadster in her, and if not capable of elegant
motion, could get over the ground well enough, with a sort of speedy
slouch, while, as was of far more consequence on an expedition like
the present, she was of great strength, and could go through the
wreaths, Andrew said, like a red-hot iron. My father hesitated, looked
out at the sky, and hesitated still.

“I hardly know what to say, Ranald. If I were sure of the weather--but
I am very doubtful. However, if it should break up, we can stay there
all night. Yes.--Here, Allister; run and tell Andrew to saddle both
the mares, and bring them down directly.--Make haste with your dinner,
Ranald.”

Delighted at the prospect, I did make haste; the meal was soon over,
and Kirsty expended her utmost care in clothing me for the journey,
which would certainly be a much longer one in regard of time than of
space. In half an hour we were all mounted and on our way--the groom,
who had so lately traversed the road, a few yards in front.

I have already said, perhaps more than once, that my father took
comparatively little notice of us as children, beyond teaching us of a
Sunday, and sometimes of a week-evening in winter, generally after we
were in bed. He rarely fondled us, or did anything to supply in that
manner the loss of our mother. I believe his thoughts were tenderness
itself towards us, but they did not show themselves in ordinary shape:
some connecting link was absent. It seems to me now sometimes, that
perhaps he was wisely retentive of his feelings, and waited a better
time to let them flow. For, ever as we grew older, we drew nearer to
my father, or, more properly, my father drew us nearer to him,
dropping, by degrees, that reticence which, perhaps, too many parents
of character keep up until their children are full grown; and by this
time he would converse with me most freely. I presume he had found, or
believed he had found me trustworthy, and incapable of repeating
unwisely any remarks he made. But much as he hated certain kinds of
gossip, he believed that indifference to your neighbour and his
affairs was worse. He said everything depended on the spirit in which
men spoke of each other; that much of what was called gossip was only
a natural love of biography, and, if kindly, was better than
blameless; that the greater part of it was objectionable, simply
because it was not loving, only curious; while a portion was amongst
the wickedest things on earth, because it had for its object to
believe and make others believe the worst. I mention these opinions of
my father, lest anyone should misjudge the fact of his talking to me
as he did.

Our horses made very slow progress. It was almost nowhere possible to
trot, and we had to plod on, step by step. This made it more easy to
converse.

“The country looks dreary, doesn’t it, Ranald?” he said.

“Just like as if everything was dead, father,” I replied.

“If the sun were to cease shining altogether, what do you think would
happen?”

[Illustration]

I thought a bit, but was not prepared to answer, when my father spoke
again.

“What makes the seeds grow, Ranald--the oats, and the wheat, and the
barley?”

“The rain, father,” I said, with half-knowledge.

“Well, if there were no sun, the vapours would not rise to make
clouds.  What rain there was already in the sky would come down in
snow or lumps of ice. The earth would grow colder and colder, and
harder and harder, until at last it went sweeping through the air, one
frozen mass, as hard as stone, without a green leaf or a living
creature upon it.”

“How dreadful to think of, father!” I said. “That would be frightful.”

“Yes, my boy. It is the sun that is the life of the world. Not only
does he make the rain rise to fall on the seeds in the earth, but even
that would be useless, if he did not make them warm as well--and do
something else to them besides which we cannot understand. Farther
down into the earth than any of the rays of light can reach, he sends
other rays we cannot see, which go searching about in it, like long
fingers; and wherever they find and touch a seed, the life that is in
that seed begins to talk to itself, as it were, and straightway begins
to grow. Out of the dark earth he thus brings all the lovely green
things of the spring, and clothes the world with beauty, and sets the
waters running, and the birds singing, and the lambs bleating, and the
children gathering daisies and butter-cups, and the gladness
overflowing in all hearts--very different from what we see now--isn’t
it, Ranald?”

“Yes, father; a body can hardly believe, to look at it now, that the
world will ever be like that again.”

“But, for as cold and wretched as it looks, the sun has not forsaken
it. He has only drawn away from it a little, for good reasons, one of
which is that we may learn that we cannot do without him. If he were
to go, not one breath more could one of us draw. Horses and men, we
should drop down frozen lumps, as hard as stones. Who is the sun’s
father, Ranald?”

“He hasn’t got a father,” I replied, hoping for some answer as to a
riddle.

“Yes, he has, Ranald: I can prove that. You remember whom the apostle
James calls the Father of Lights?”

“Oh yes, of course, father. But doesn’t that mean another kind of
lights?”

“Yes. But they couldn’t be called lights if they were not like the
sun. All kinds of lights must come from the Father of Lights. Now the
Father of the sun must be like the sun, and, indeed of all material
things, the sun is likest to God. We pray to God to shine upon us and
give us light. If God did not shine into our hearts, they would be
dead lumps of cold. We shouldn’t care for anything whatever.”

“Then, father, God never stops shining upon us. He wouldn’t be like
the sun if he did. For even in winter the sun shines enough to keep us
alive.”

“True, my boy. I am very glad you understand me. In all my experience
I have never yet known a man in whose heart I could not find proofs of
the shining of the great Sun. It might be a very feeble wintry shine,
but still he was there. For a human heart though, it is very dreadful
to have a cold, white winter like this inside it, instead of a summer
of colour and warmth and light. There’s the poor old man we are going
to see. They talk of the winter of age: that’s all very well, but the
heart is not made for winter. A man may have the snow on his roof, and
merry children about his hearth; he may have grey hairs on his head,
and the very gladness of summer in his bosom. But this old man, I am
afraid, feels wintry cold within.”

“Then why doesn’t the Father of Lights shine more on him and make him
warmer?”

“The sun is shining as much on the earth in the winter as in the
summer: why is the earth no warmer?”

“Because,” I answered, calling up what little astronomy I knew, “that
part of it is turned away from the sun.”

“Just so. Then if a man turns himself away from the Father of
Lights--the great Sun--how can he be warmed?”

“But the earth can’t help it, father.”

“But the man can, Ranald. He feels the cold, and he knows he can turn
to the light. Even this poor old man knows it now. God is shining on
him--a wintry way--or he would not feel the cold at all; he would be
only a lump of ice, a part of the very winter itself. The good of what
warmth God gives him is, that he feels cold. If he were all cold, he
couldn’t feel cold.”

“Does he want to turn to the Sun, then, father?”

“I do not know. I only know that he is miserable because he has not
turned to the Sun.”

“What will you say to him, father?”

“I cannot tell, my boy. It depends on what I find him thinking. Of all
things, my boy, keep your face to the Sun. You can’t shine of
yourself, you can’t be good of yourself, but God has made you able to
turn to the Sun whence all goodness and all shining comes. God’s
children may be very naughty, but they must be able to turn towards
him. The Father of Lights is the Father of every weakest little baby
of a good thought in us, as well as of the highest devotion of
martyrdom. If you turn your face to the Sun, my boy, your soul will,
when you come to die, feel like an autumn, with the golden fruits of
the earth hanging in rich clusters ready to be gathered--not like a
winter. You may feel ever so worn, but you will not feel withered. You
will die in peace, hoping for the spring--and such a spring!”

Thus talking, in the course of two hours or so we arrived at the
dwelling of the old laird.



CHAPTER XXXII

The Peat-Stack


How dreary the old house looked as we approached it through the
gathering darkness! All the light appeared to come from the snow which
rested wherever it could lie--on roofs and window ledges and turrets.
Even on the windward walls, every little roughness sustained its own
frozen patch, so that their grey was spotted all over with whiteness.
Not a glimmer shone from the windows.

“Nobody lives _there_, father,” I said,--“surely?”

“It does not look very lively,” he answered.

The house stood upon a bare knoll. There was not a tree within sight.
Rugged hills arose on all sides of it. Not a sound was heard but the
moan of an occasional gust of wind. There was a brook, but it lay
frozen beneath yards of snow. For miles in any direction those gusts
might wander without shaking door or window, or carrying with them a
puff of smoke from any hearth. We were crossing the yard at the back
of the house, towards the kitchen-door, for the front door had not
been opened for months, when we recognized the first sign of life.
That was only the low of a bullock. As we dismounted on a few feet of
rough pavement which had been swept clear, an old woman came to the
door, and led us into a dreary parlour without even a fire to welcome
us.

I learned afterwards that the laird, from being a spendthrift in his
youth, had become a miser in his age, and that every household
arrangement was on the narrowest scale. From wasting righteous pounds,
he had come to scraping unrighteous farthings.

After we had remained standing for some time, the housekeeper
returned, and invited my father to go to the laird’s room. As they
went, he requested her to take me to the kitchen, which, after
conducting him, she did. The sight of the fire, although it was of the
smallest, was most welcome. She laid a few more peats upon it, and
encouraged them to a blaze, remarking, with a sidelong look: “We
daren’t do this, you see, sir, if the laird was about. The honest man
would call it waste.”

“Is he dying?” I asked, for the sake of saying something; but she only
shook her head for reply, and, going to a press at the other end of
the large, vault-like kitchen, brought me some milk in a basin, and
some oatcake upon a platter, saying,

“It’s not my house, you see, or I would have something better to set
before the minister’s son.”

I was glad of any food however, and it was well for me that I ate
heartily. I had got quite warm also before my father stepped into the
kitchen, very solemn, and stood up with his back to the fire. The old
woman set him a chair, but he neither sat down nor accepted the
refreshment which she humbly offered him.

“We must be going,” he objected, “for it looks stormy, and the sooner
we set out the better.”

“I’m sorry I can’t ask you to stop the night,” she said, “for I
couldn’t make you comfortable. There’s nothing fit to offer you in the
house, and there’s not a bed that’s been slept in for I don’t know how
long.”

“Never mind,” said my father cheerfully. “The moon is up already, and
we shall get home I trust before the snow begins to fall. Will you
tell the man to get the horses out?”

When she returned from taking the message, she came up to my father
and said, in a loud whisper,

“Is he in a bad way, sir?”

“He is dying,” answered my father.

[Illustration]

“I know that,” she returned. “He’ll be gone before the morning. But
that’s not what I meant. Is he in a bad way for the other world?
That’s what I meant, sir.”

“Well, my good woman, after a life like his, we are only too glad to
remember what our Lord told us--not to judge. I do think he is ashamed
and sorry for his past life. But it’s not the wrong he has done in
former time that stands half so much in his way as his present
fondness for what he counts his own. It seems like to break his heart
to leave all his little bits of property--particularly the money he
has saved; and yet he has some hope that Jesus Christ will be kind
enough to pardon him. I am afraid he will find himself very miserable
though, when he has not one scrap left to call his own--not a
pocket-knife even.”

“It’s dreadful to think of him flying through the air on a night like
this,” said she.

“My good woman,” returned my father, “we know nothing about where or
how the departed spirit exists after it has left the body. But it
seems to me just as dreadful to be without God in the world, as to be
without him anywhere else. Let us pray for him that God may be with
him wherever he is.”

So saying, my father knelt down, and we beside him, and he prayed
earnestly to God for the old man. Then we rose, mounted our horses,
and rode away.

We were only about halfway home, when the clouds began to cover the
moon, and the snow began to fall. Hitherto we had got on pretty well,
for there was light enough to see the track, feeble as it was. Now,
however, we had to keep a careful lookout. We pressed our horses, and
they went bravely, but it was slow work at the best. It got darker and
darker, for the clouds went on gathering, and the snow was coming down
in huge dull flakes. Faster and thicker they came, until at length we
could see nothing of the road before us, and were compelled to leave
all to the wisdom of our horses. My father, having great confidence in
his own little mare, which had carried him through many a doubtful and
difficult place, rode first. I followed close behind. He kept on
talking to me very cheerfully--I have thought since--to prevent me
from getting frightened. But I had not a thought of fear. To be with
my father was to me perfect safety. He was in the act of telling me
how, on more occasions than one, Missy had got him through places
where the road was impassable, by walking on the tops of the walls,
when all at once both our horses plunged into a gulf of snow. The more
my mare struggled, the deeper we sank in it. For a moment I thought it
was closing over my head.

“Father! father!” I shouted.

“Don’t be frightened, my boy,” cried my father, his voice seeming to
come from far away. “We are in God’s hands. I can’t help you now, but
as soon as Missy has got quieter, I shall come to you. I think I know
whereabouts we are. We’ve dropped right off the road. You’re not hurt,
are you?”

“Not in the least,” I answered. “I was only frightened.”

A few moments more, and my mare lay or rather stuck quiet, with her
neck and head thrown back, and her body deep in the snow. I put up my
hands to feel. It rose above my head farther than I could reach. I got
clear of the stirrups and scrambled up, first on my knees, and then on
my feet. Standing thus upon the saddle, again I stretched my hands
above my head, but still the broken wall of snow ascended above my
reach. I could see nothing of my father, but I heard him talking to
Missy. My mare soon began floundering again, so that I tumbled about
against the sides of the hole, and grew terrified lest I should bring
the snow down. I therefore cowered upon the mare’s back until she was
quiet again. “Woa! Quiet, my lass!” I heard my father saying, and it
seemed his Missy was more frightened than mine.

My fear was now quite gone, and I felt much inclined to laugh at the
fun of the misadventure. I had as yet no idea of how serious a thing
it might be. Still I had sense enough to see that something must be
done--but what? I saw no way of getting out of the hole except by
trampling down the snow upon the back of my poor mare, and that I
could not think of; while I doubted much whether my father even could
tell in what direction to turn for help or shelter.

[Illustration]

Finding our way home, even if we got free, seemed out of the question.
Again my mare began plunging violently, and this time I found myself
thrown against some hard substance. I thrust my hand through the snow,
and felt what I thought the stones of one of the dry walls common to
the country. I might clear away enough of the snow to climb upon that;
but then what next--it was so dark?

“Ranald!” cried my father; “how do you get on?”

“Much the same, father,” I answered.

“I’m out of the wreath,” he returned. “We’ve come through on the other
side. You are better where you are I suspect, however. The snow is
warmer than the air. It is beginning to blow. Pull your feet out and
get right upon the mare’s back.”

“That’s just where I am, father--lying on her back, and pretty
comfortable,” I rejoined.

All this time the snow was falling thick. If it went on like this, I
should be buried before morning, and the fact that the wind was rising
added to the danger of it. We were at the wrong end of the night too.

“I’m in a kind of ditch, I think, father,” I cried--the place we fell
off on one side and a stone wall on the other.”

“That can hardly be, or I shouldn’t have got out,” he returned. “But
now I’ve got Missy quiet, I’ll come to you. I must get you out, I see,
or you will be snowed up. Woa, Missy! Good mare! Stand still.”

The next moment he gave a joyous exclamation.

“What is it, father?” I cried.

“It’s not a stone wall; it’s a peat-stack. That _is_ good.”

“I don’t see what good it is. We can’t light a fire.”

“No, my boy; but where there’s a peat-stack, there’s probably a
house.”

He began uttering a series of shouts at the top of his voice,
listening between for a response. This lasted a good while. I began to
get very cold.

“I’m nearly frozen, father,” I said, “and what’s to become of the poor
mare--she’s got no clothes on?”

“I’ll get you out, my boy; and then at least you will be able to move
about a little.”

I heard him shovelling at the snow with his hands and feet.

“I have got to the corner of the stack, and as well as I can judge you
must be just round it,” he said.

“Your voice is close to me,” I answered.

“I’ve got a hold of one of the mare’s ears,” he said next. “I won’t
try to get her out until I get you off her.”

I put out my hand, and felt along the mare’s neck. What a joy it was
to catch my father’s hand through the darkness and the snow! He
grasped mine and drew me towards him, then got me by the arm and began
dragging me through the snow. The mare began plunging again, and by
her struggles rather assisted my father. In a few moments he had me in
his arms.

“Thank God!” he said, as he set me down against the peat-stack. “Stand
there. A little farther. Keep well off for fear she hurt you. She must
fight her way out now.”

He went back to the mare, and went on clearing away the snow. Then I
could hear him patting and encouraging her. Next I heard a great
blowing and scrambling, and at last a snort and the thunder of hoofs.

“Woa! woa! Gently! gently!--She’s off!” cried my father.

Her mother gave one snort, and away she went, thundering after
her. But their sounds were soon quenched in the snow.

“There’s a business!” said my father. “I’m afraid the poor things will
only go farther to fare the worse. We are as well without them,
however; and if they should find their way home, so much the better
for us. They might have kept us a little warmer though. We must fight
the cold as we best can for the rest of the night, for it would only
be folly to leave the spot before it is light enough to see where we
are going.”

It came into my mind suddenly how I had burrowed in the straw to hide
myself after running from Dame Shand’s. But whether that or the
thought of burrowing in the peat-stack came first, I cannot tell. I
turned and felt whether I could draw out a peat. With a little
loosening I succeeded.

“Father,” I said, “couldn’t we make a hole in the peat-stalk, and
build ourselves in?”

“A capital idea, my boy!” he answered, with a gladness in his voice
which I venture to attribute in part to his satisfaction at finding
that I had some practical sense in me. “We’ll try it at once.”

“I’ve got two or three out already,” I said, for I had gone on
pulling, and it was easy enough after one had been started.

“We must take care we don’t bring down the whole stack though,” said
my father.

“Even then,” I returned, “we could build ourselves up in them, and
that would be something.”

“Right, Ranald! It would be only making houses to our own shape,
instead of big enough to move about in--turning crustaceous animals,
you know.”

“It would be a peat-greatcoat at least,” I remarked, pulling away.

“Here,” he said, “I will put my stick in under the top row. That will
be a sort of lintel to support those above.”

He always carried his walking-stick whether he rode or walked.

We worked with a will, piling up the peats a little in front that we
might with them build up the door of our cave after we were inside. We
got quite merry over it.

“We shall be brought before the magistrates for destruction of
property,” said my father.

“You’ll have to send Andrew to build up the stack again--that’s all.”

“But I wonder how it is that nobody hears us. How can they have a
peat-stack so far from the house?”

“I can’t imagine,” I said; “except it be to prevent them from burning
too many peats. It is more like a trick of the poor laird than anybody
else.”

Every now and then a few would come down with a rush, and before long
we had made a large hole. We left a good thick floor to sit upon.

Creeping in, we commenced building up the entrance. We had not
proceeded far, however, before we found that our cave was too small,
and that as we should have to remain in it for hours, we must find it
very cramped. Therefore, instead of using any more of the peats
already pulled out, we finished building up the wall with others fresh
drawn from the inside. When at length we had, to the best of our
ability, completed our immuring, we sat down to wait for the
morning--my father as calm as if he had been seated in his
study-chair, and I in a state of condensed delight; for was not this a
grand adventure--with my father to share it, and keep it from going
too far? He sat with his back leaning against the side of the hole,
and I sat between his knees, and leaned against him. His arms were
folded round me; and could ever boy be more blessed than I was then?
The sense of outside danger; the knowledge that if the wind rose, we
might be walled up in snow before the morning; the assurance of
present safety and good hope--all made such an impression upon my mind
that ever since when any trouble has threatened me, I have invariably
turned first in thought to the memory of that harbour of refuge from
the storm. There I sat for long hours secure in my father’s arms, and
knew that the soundless snow was falling thick around us, and marked
occasionally the threatening wail of the wind like the cry of a wild
beast scenting us from afar.

“This is grand, father,” I said.

“You would like better to be at home in bed, wouldn’t you?” he asked,
trying me.

“No, indeed, I should not,” I answered, with more than honesty; for I
felt exuberantly happy.

“If only we can keep warm,” said my father. “If you should get very
cold indeed, you must not lose heart, my man, but think how pleasant
it will be when we get home to a good fire and a hot breakfast.”

“I think I can bear it all right. I have often been cold enough at
school.”

“This may be worse. But we need not anticipate evil: that is to send
out for the suffering. It is well to be prepared for it, but it is ill
to brood over a fancied future of evil. In all my life, my boy--and I
should like you to remember what I say--I have never found any trial
go beyond what I could bear. In the worst cases of suffering, I think
there is help given which those who look on cannot understand, but
which enables the sufferer to endure. The last help of that kind is
death, which I think is always a blessing, though few people can
regard it as such.”

I listened with some wonder. Without being able to see that what he
said was true, I could yet accept it after a vague fashion.

“This nest which we have made to shelter us,” he resumed, “brings to
my mind what the Psalmist says about dwelling in the secret place of
the Most High. Everyone who will, may there, like the swallow, make
himself a nest.”

“This can’t be very like that, though, surely, father,” I ventured to
object.

“Why not, my boy?”

“It’s not safe enough, for one thing.”

“You are right there. Still it is like. It is our place of refuge.”

“The cold does get through it, father.”

“But it keeps our minds at peace. Even the refuge in God does not
always secure us from external suffering. The heart may be quite happy
and strong when the hands are benumbed with cold. Yes, the heart even
may grow cold with coming death, while the man himself retreats the
farther into the secret place of the Most High, growing more calm and
hopeful as the last cold invades the house of his body. I believe that
all troubles come to drive us into that refuge--that secret place
where alone we can be safe. You will, when you go out into the world,
my boy, find that most men not only do not believe this, but do not
believe that you believe it. They regard it at best as a fantastic
weakness, fit only for sickly people. But watch how the strength of
such people, their calmness and common sense, fares when the grasp of
suffering lays hold upon them. It was a sad sight--that abject
hopeless misery I saw this afternoon. If his mind had been an
indication of the reality, one must have said that there was no
God--no God at least that would have anything to do with him. The
universe as reflected in the tarnished mirror of his soul, was a chill
misty void, through which blew the moaning wind of an unknown fate. As
near as ever I saw it, that man was without God and without hope in
the world. All who have done the mightiest things--I do not mean the
showiest things--all that are like William of Orange--the great
William, I mean, not our King William--or John Milton, or William
Penn, or any other of the cloud of witnesses spoken of in the Epistle
to the Hebrews--all the men I say who have done the mightiest things,
have not only believed that there was this refuge in God, but have
themselves more or less entered into the secret place of the Most
High. There only could they have found strength to do their mighty
deeds. They were able to do them because they knew God wanted them to
do them, that he was on their side, or rather they were on his side,
and therefore safe, surrounded by God on every side. My boy, do the
will of God--that is, what you know or believe to be right, and fear
nothing.”

I never forgot the lesson. But my readers must not think that my
father often talked like this. He was not at all favourable to much
talk about religion. He used to say that much talk prevented much
thought, and talk without thought was bad. Therefore it was for the
most part only upon extraordinary occasions, of which this is an
example, that he spoke of the deep simplicities of that faith in God
which was the very root of his conscious life.

He was silent after this utterance, which lasted longer than I have
represented, although unbroken, I believe, by any remark of mine. Full
of inward repose, I fell asleep in his arms.

When I awoke I found myself very cold. Then I became aware that my
father was asleep, and for the first time began to be uneasy. It was
not because of the cold: that was not at all unendurable; it was that
while the night lay awful in white silence about me, while the wind
was moaning outside, and blowing long thin currents through the peat
walls around me, while our warm home lay far away, and I could not
tell how many hours of cold darkness had yet to pass before we could
set out to find it,--it was not all these things together, but that,
in the midst of all these, I was awake and my father slept. I could
easily have waked him, but I was not selfish enough for that: I sat
still and shivered and felt very dreary. Then the last words of my
father began to return upon me, and, with a throb of relief, the
thought awoke in my mind that although my father was asleep, the great
Father of us both, he in whose heart lay that secret place of refuge,
neither slumbered nor slept. And now I was able to wait in patience,
with an idea, if not a sense of the present care of God, such as I had
never had before. When, after some years, my father was taken from us,
the thought of this night came again and again, and I would say in my
heart: “My father sleeps that I may know the better that The Father
wakes.”

At length he stirred. The first sign of his awaking was, that he
closed again the arms about me which had dropped by his sides as he
slept.

“I’m so glad you’re awake, father,” I said, speaking first.

“Have _you_ been long awake then?”

“Not so very long, but I felt lonely without you.”

“Are you very cold? _I_ feel rather chilly.”

So we chatted away for a while.

“I wonder if it is nearly day yet. I do not in the least know how long
we have slept. I wonder if my watch is going. I forgot to wind it up
last night. If it has stopped I shall know it is near daylight.”

He held his watch to his ear: alas! it was ticking vigorously. He felt
for the keyhole, and wound it up. After that we employed ourselves in
repeating as many of the metrical psalms and paraphrases of Scripture
as we could recollect, and this helped away a good part of the weary
time.

But it went very slowly, and I was growing so cold that I could hardly
bear it.

“I’m afraid you feel very cold, Ranald,” said my father, folding me
closer in his arms. “You must try not to go to sleep again, for that
would be dangerous now. I feel more cramped than cold.”

As he said this, he extended his legs and threw his head back, to get
rid of the uneasiness by stretching himself. The same moment, down
came a shower of peats upon our heads and bodies, and when I tried to
move, I found myself fixed. I could not help laughing.

“Father,” I cried, as soon as I could speak, “you’re like Samson:
you’ve brought down the house upon us.”

“So I have, my boy. It was very thoughtless of me. I don’t know what
we _are_ to do now.”

“Can you move, father? _I_ can’t,” I said.

“I can move my legs, but I’m afraid to move even a toe in my boot for
fear of bringing down another avalanche of peats. But no--there’s not
much danger of that: they are all down already, for I feel the snow on
my face.”

With hands and feet my father struggled, but could not do much, for I
lay against him under a great heap. His struggles made an opening
sideways however.

“Father! father! shout,” I cried. “I see a light somewhere; and I
think it is moving.”

We shouted as loud as we could, and then lay listening. My heart beat
so that I was afraid I should not hear any reply that might come. But
the next moment it rang through the frosty air.

“It’s Turkey! That’s Turkey, father!” I cried. “I know his shout. He
makes it go farther than anybody else.--Turkey! Turkey!” I shrieked,
almost weeping with delight.

Again Turkey’s cry rang through the darkness, and the light drew
wavering nearer.

“Mind how you step, Turkey,” cried my father. “There’s a hole you may
tumble into.”

“It wouldn’t hurt him much in the snow,” I said.

“Perhaps not, but he would probably lose his light, and that we can
hardly afford.”

“Shout again,” cried Turkey. “I can’t make out where you are.”

My father shouted.

“Am I coming nearer to you now?”

“I can hardly say. I cannot see well. Are you going along the road?”

“Yes. Can’t you come to me?”

“Not yet. We can’t get out. We’re upon your right hand, in a
peat-stack.”

“Oh! I know the peat-stack. I’ll be with you in a moment.”

He did not however find it so easily as he had expected, the peats
being covered with snow. My father gave up trying to free himself and
took to laughing instead at the ridiculous situation in which we were
about to be discovered. He kept directing Turkey, however, who at
length after some disappearances which made us very anxious about the
lantern, caught sight of the stack, and walked straight towards it.
Now first we saw that he was not alone, but accompanied by the silent
Andrew.

“Where are you, sir?” asked Turkey, throwing the light of the lantern
over the ruin.

“Buried in the peats,” answered my father, laughing. “Come and get us
out.”

Turkey strode up to the heap, and turning the light down into it said,

“I didn’t know it had been raining peats, sir.”

“The peats didn’t fall quite so far as the snow, Turkey, or they would
have made a worse job of it,” answered my father.

Meantime Andrew and Turkey were both busy; and in a few moments we
stood upon our feet, stiff with cold and cramped with confinement, but
merry enough at heart.

“What brought you out to look for us?” asked my father.

“I heard Missy whinnying at the stable-door,” said Andrew. “When I saw
she was alone, I knew something had happened, and waked Turkey. We
only stopped to run to the manse for a drop of whisky to bring with
us, and set out at once.”

“What o’clock is it now?” asked my father.

“About one o’clock,” answered Andrew.

“One o’clock!” thought I. “What a time we should have had to wait!”

“Have you been long in finding us?”

“Only about an hour.”

“Then the little mare must have had great trouble in getting home. You
say the other was not with her?”

“No, sir. She’s not made her appearance.”

“Then if we don’t find her, she will be dead before morning. But what
shall we do with you, Ranald? Turkey had better go home with you
first.”

“Please let me go too,” I said.

“Are you able to walk?”

“Quite--or at least I shall be, after my legs come to themselves a
bit.”

Turkey produced a bottle of milk which he had brought for me, and
Andrew produced the little flask of whisky which Kirsty had sent; and
my father having taken a little of the latter, while I emptied my
bottle, we set out to look for young Missy.

“Where are we?” asked my father.

Turkey told him.

“How comes it that nobody heard our shouting, then?”

“You know, sir,” answered Turkey, “the old man is as deaf as a post,
and I dare say his people were all fast asleep.”

The snow was falling only in a few large flakes now, which sank
through the air like the moultings of some lovely bird of heaven. The
moon had come out again, and the white world lay around us in lovely
light. A good deal of snow had fallen while we lay in the peats, but
we could yet trace the track of the two horses. We followed it a long
way through the little valley into which we had dropped from the side
of the road. We came to more places than one where they had been
floundering together in a snow-wreath, but at length reached the spot
where one had parted from the other. When we had traced one of the
tracks to the road, we concluded it was Missy’s, and returned to the
other. But we had not followed it very far before we came upon the
poor mare lying upon her back in a deep runnel, in which the snow was
very soft. She had put her forefeet in it as she galloped heedlessly
along, and tumbled right over. The snow had yielded enough to let the
banks get a hold of her, and she lay helpless. Turkey and Andrew,
however, had had the foresight to bring spades with them and a rope,
and they set to work at once, my father taking a turn now and then,
and I holding the lantern, which was all but useless now in the
moonlight. It took more than an hour to get the poor thing on her legs
again, but when she was up, it was all they could do to hold her. She
was so wild with cold, and with delight at feeling her legs under her
once more, that she would have broken loose again, and galloped off as
recklessly as ever. They set me on her back, and with my father on one
side and Turkey on the other, and Andrew at her head, I rode home in
great comfort. It was another good hour before we arrived, and right
glad were we to see through the curtains of the parlour the glow of
the great fire which Kirsty had kept up for us. She burst out crying
when we made our appearance.



CHAPTER XXXIII

A Solitary Chapter


During all that winter I attended the evening school and assisted the
master. I confess, however, it was not by any means so much for the
master as to be near Elsie Duff, of whom I now thought many times an
hour. Her sweet face grew more and more dear to me. When I pointed out
an error in her work, or suggested a better mode of working, it would
flush like the heart of a white rose, and eagerly she would set
herself to rectification or improvement, her whole manner a dumb
apology for what could be a fault in no eyes but her own. It was this
sweetness that gained upon me: at length her face was almost a part of
my consciousness. I suppose my condition was what people would call
being in love with her; but I never thought of that; I only thought of
her. Nor did I ever dream of saying a word to her on the subject. I
wished nothing other than as it was. To think about her all day, so
gently that it never disturbed Euclid or Livy; to see her at night,
and get near her now and then, sitting on the same form with her as I
explained something to her on the slate or in her book; to hear her
voice, and look into her tender eyes, was all that I desired. It never
occurred to me that things could not go on so; that a change must
come; that as life cannot linger in the bud, but is compelled by the
sunshine and air into the flower, so life would go on and on, and
things would change, and the time blossom into something else, and my
love find itself set out-of-doors in the midst of strange plants and a
new order of things.

When school was over, I walked home with her--not alone, for Turkey
was always on the other side. I had not a suspicion that Turkey’s
admiration of Elsie could ever come into collision with mine. We
joined in praising her, but my admiration ever found more words than
Turkey’s, and I thought my love to her was greater than his.

We seldom went into her grandmother’s cottage, for she did not make us
welcome. After we had taken her home we generally repaired to Turkey’s
mother, with whom we were sure of a kind reception. She was a patient
diligent woman, who looked as if she had nearly done with life, and
had only to gather up the crumbs of it. I have often wondered since,
what was her deepest thought--whether she was content to be unhappy,
or whether she lived in hope of some blessedness beyond. It is
marvellous with how little happiness some people can get through the
world. Surely they are inwardly sustained with something even better
than joy.

“Did you ever hear my mother sing?” asked Turkey, as we sat together
over her little fire, on one of these occasions.

“No. I should like very much,” I answered.

The room was lighted only by a little oil-lamp, for there was no flame
to the fire of peats and dried oak-bark.

“She sings such queer ballads as you never heard,” said Turkey. “Give
us one, mother; do.”

She yielded, and, in a low chanting voice, sang something like this:--

Up cam’ the waves o’ the tide wi’ a whush,
  And back gaed the pebbles wi’ a whurr,
Whan the king’s ae son cam’ walking i’ the hush,
  To hear the sea murmur and murr.

The half mune was risin’ the waves abune,
  An’ a glimmer o’ cauld weet licht
Cam’ ower the water straucht frae the mune,
  Like a path across the nicht.

[Illustration]

What’s that, an’ that, far oot i’ the grey
  Atwixt the mune and the land?
It’s the bonny sea-maidens at their play--
  Haud awa’, king’s son, frae the strand.

Ae rock stud up wi’ a shadow at its foot:
  The king’s son stepped behind:
The merry sea-maidens cam’ gambolling oot,
  Combin’ their hair i’ the wind.

O merry their laugh when they felt the land
  Under their light cool feet!
Each laid her comb on the yellow sand,
  And the gladsome dance grew fleet.

But the fairest she laid her comb by itsel’
  On the rock where the king’s son lay.
He stole about, and the carven shell
  He hid in his bosom away.

And he watched the dance till the clouds did gloom,
  And the wind blew an angry tune:
One after one she caught up her comb,
  To the sea went dancin’ doon.

But the fairest, wi’ hair like the mune in a clud,
  She sought till she was the last.
He creepin’ went and watchin’ stud,
  And he thought to hold her fast.

She dropped at his feet without motion or heed;
  He took her, and home he sped.--
All day she lay like a withered seaweed,
  On a purple and gowden bed.

But at night whan the wind frae the watery bars
  Blew into the dusky room,
She opened her een like twa settin’ stars,
  And back came her twilight bloom.

The king’s son knelt beside her bed:
  She was his ere a month had passed;
And the cold sea-maiden he had wed
  Grew a tender wife at last.

And all went well till her baby was born,
  And then she couldna sleep;
She would rise and wander till breakin’ morn,
  Hark-harkin’ the sound o’ the deep.

One night when the wind was wailing about,
  And the sea was speckled wi’ foam,
From room to room she went in and out
  And she came on her carven comb.

She twisted her hair with eager hands,
  She put in the comb with glee:
She’s out and she’s over the glittering sands,
  And away to the moaning sea.

One cry came back from far away:
  He woke, and was all alone.
Her night robe lay on the marble grey,
  And the cold sea-maiden was gone.

Ever and aye frae first peep o’ the moon,
  Whan the wind blew aff o’ the sea,
The desert shore still up and doon
  Heavy at heart paced he.

But never more came the maidens to play
  From the merry cold-hearted sea;
He heard their laughter far out and away,
  But heavy at heart paced he.

I have modernized the ballad--indeed spoiled it altogether, for I have
made up this version from the memory of it--with only, I fear, just a
touch here and there of the original expression.

“That’s what comes of taking what you have no right to,” said Turkey,
in whom the practical had ever the upper hand of the imaginative.

As we walked home together I resumed the subject.

“I think you’re too hard on the king’s son,” I said. “He couldn’t help
falling in love with the mermaid.”

“He had no business to steal her comb, and then run away with
herself,” said Turkey.

“She was none the worse for it,” said I.

“Who told you that?” he retorted. “I don’t think the girl herself
would have said so. It’s not every girl that would care to marry a
king’s son. She might have had a lover of her own down in the sea. At
all events the prince was none the better for it.”

“But the song says she made a tender wife,” I objected.

“She couldn’t help herself. She made the best of it. I dare say he
wasn’t a bad sort of a fellow, but he was no gentleman.”

“Turkey!” I exclaimed. “He was a prince!”

“I know that.”

“Then he must have been a gentleman.”

“I don’t know that. I’ve read of a good many princes who did things I
should be ashamed to do.”

“But you’re not a prince, Turkey,” I returned, in the low endeavour to
bolster up the wrong with my silly logic.

“No. Therefore if I were to do what was rude and dishonest, people
would say: ‘What could you expect of a ploughboy?’ A prince ought to
be just so much better bred than a ploughboy. I would scorn to do what
that prince did. What’s wrong in a ploughboy can’t be right in a
prince, Ranald. Or else right is only right sometimes; so that right
may be wrong and wrong may be right, which is as much as to say there
is no right and wrong; and if there’s no right and wrong, the world’s
an awful mess, and there can’t be any God, for a God would never have
made it like that.”

“Well, Turkey, you know best. I can’t help thinking the prince was not
so much to blame, though.”

“You see what came of it--misery.”

“Perhaps he would rather have had the misery and all together than
none of it.”

“That’s for him to settle. But he must have seen he was wrong, before
he had done wandering by the sea like that.”

“Well now, Turkey, what would you have done yourself, suppose the
beautifulest of them all had laid her comb down within an inch of
where you were standing--and never saw you, you know?”

Turkey thought for a moment before answering.

“I’m supposing you fell in love with her at first sight, you know,” I
added.

“Well, I’m sure I should not have kept the comb, even if I had taken
it just to get a chance of speaking to her. And I can’t help fancying
if he had behaved like a gentleman, and let her go without touching
her the first time, she might have come again; and if he had married
her at last of her own free will, she would not have run away from
him, let the sea have kept calling her ever so much.”

[Illustration]

The next evening, I looked for Elsie as usual, but did not see her.
How blank and dull the schoolroom seemed! Still she might arrive any
moment. But she did not come. I went through my duties wearily, hoping
ever for the hour of release. I could see well enough that Turkey was
anxious too. The moment school was over, we hurried away, almost
without a word, to the cottage. There we found her weeping. Her
grandmother had died suddenly. She clung to Turkey, and seemed almost
to forget my presence. But I thought nothing of that. Had the case
been mine, I too should have clung to Turkey from faith in his help
and superior wisdom.

There were two or three old women in the place. Turkey went and spoke
to them, and then took Elsie home to his mother. Jamie was asleep, and
they would not wake him.

How it was arranged, I forget, but both Elsie and Jamie lived for the
rest of the winter with Turkey’s mother. The cottage was let, and the
cow taken home by their father. Before summer Jamie had got a place in
a shop in the village, and then Elsie went back to her mother.



CHAPTER XXXIV

An Evening Visit


I now saw much less of Elsie; but I went with Turkey, as often as I
could, to visit her at her father’s cottage. The evenings we spent
there are amongst the happiest hours in my memory. One evening in
particular appears to stand out as a type of the whole. I remember
every point in the visit. I think it must have been almost the last.
We set out as the sun was going down on an evening in the end of
April, when the nightly frosts had not yet vanished. The hail was
dancing about us as we started; the sun was disappearing in a bank of
tawny orange cloud; the night would be cold and dark and stormy; but
we cared nothing for that: a conflict with the elements always added
to the pleasure of any undertaking then. It was in the midst of
another shower of hail, driven on the blasts of a keen wind, that we
arrived at the little cottage. It had been built by Duff himself to
receive his bride, and although since enlarged, was still a very
little house. It had a foundation of stone, but the walls were of
turf. He had lined it with boards, however, and so made it warmer and
more comfortable than most of the labourers’ dwellings. When we
entered, a glowing fire of peat was on the hearth, and the pot with
the supper hung over it. Mrs. Duff was spinning, and Elsie, by the
light of a little oil lamp suspended against the wall, was teaching
her youngest brother to read. Whatever she did, she always seemed in
my eyes to do it better than anyone else; and to see her under the
lamp, with one arm round the little fellow who stood leaning against
her, while the other hand pointed with a knitting-needle to the
letters of the spelling-book which lay on her knee, was to see a
lovely picture. The mother did not rise from her spinning, but spoke a
kindly welcome, while Elsie got up, and without approaching us, or
saying more than a word or two, set chairs for us by the fire, and
took the little fellow away to put him to bed.

“It’s a cold night,” said Mrs. Duff. “The wind seems to blow through
me as I sit at my wheel. I wish my husband would come home.”

“He’ll be suppering his horses,” said Turkey. “I’ll just run across
and give him a hand, and that’ll bring him in the sooner.”

“Thank you, Turkey,” said Mrs. Duff as he vanished.

“He’s a fine lad,” she remarked, much in the same phrase my father
used when speaking of him.

“There’s nobody like Turkey,” I said.

“Indeed, I think you’re right there, Ranald. A better-behaved lad
doesn’t step. He’ll do something to distinguish himself some day. I
shouldn’t wonder if he went to college, and wagged his head in a
pulpit yet.”

The idea of Turkey wagging his head in a pulpit made me laugh.

“Wait till you see,” resumed Mrs. Duff, somewhat offended at my
reception of her prophecy. “Folk will hear of him yet.”

“I didn’t mean he couldn’t be a minister, Mrs. Duff. But I don’t think
he will take to that.”

Here Elsie came back, and lifting the lid of the pot, examined the
state of its contents. I got hold of her hand, but for the first time
she withdrew it. I did not feel hurt, for she did it very gently. Then
she began to set the white deal table in the middle of the floor, and
by the time she had put the plates and spoons upon it, the water in
the pot was boiling, and she began to make the porridge, at which she
was judged to be first-rate--in my mind, equal to our Kirsty. By the
time it was ready, her father and Turkey came in. James Duff said
grace, and we sat down to our supper. The wind was blowing hard
outside, and every now and then the hail came in deafening rattles
against the little windows, and, descending the wide chimney, danced
on the floor about the hearth; but not a thought of the long, stormy
way between us and home interfered with the enjoyment of the hour.

After supper, which was enlivened by simple chat about the crops and
the doings on the farm, James turned to me, and said:

“Haven’t you got a song or a ballad to give us, Ranald? I know you’re
always getting hold of such things.”

I had expected this; for, every time I went, I tried to have something
to repeat to them. As I could not sing, this was the nearest way in
which I might contribute to the evening’s entertainment. Elsie was
very fond of ballads, and I could hardly please her better than by
bringing a new one with me. But in default of that, an old one or a
story would be welcomed. My reader must remember that there were very
few books to be had then in that part of the country, and therefore
any mode of literature was precious. The schoolmaster was the chief
source from which I derived my provision of this sort. On the present
occasion, I was prepared with a ballad of his. I remember every word
of it now, and will give it to my readers, reminding them once more
how easy it is to skip it, if they do not care for that kind of thing.

“Bonny lassie, rosy lassie,
  Ken ye what is care?
Had ye ever a thought, lassie,
  Made yer hertie sair?”

Johnnie said it, Johnnie luikin’
  Into Jeannie’s face;
Seekin’ in the garden hedge
  For an open place.

“Na,” said Jeannie, saftly smilin’,
  “Nought o’ care ken I;
For they say the carlin’
  Is better passit by.”

“Licht o’ hert ye are, Jeannie,
  As o’ foot and ban’!
Lang be yours sic answer
  To ony spierin’ man.”

“I ken what ye wad hae, sir,
  Though yer words are few;
Ye wad hae me aye as careless,
  Till I care for you.”

“Dinna mock me, Jeannie, lassie,
  Wi’ yer lauchin’ ee;
For ye hae nae notion
  What gaes on in me.”

“No more I hae a notion
  O’ what’s in yonder cairn;
I’m no sae pryin’, Johnnie,
  It’s none o’ my concern.”

“Well, there’s ae thing, Jeannie,
  Ye canna help, my doo--
Ye canna help me carin’
  Wi’ a’ my hert for you.”

Johnnie turned and left her,
  Listed for the war;
In a year cam’ limpin’
  Hame wi’ mony a scar.

Wha was that was sittin’
  Wan and worn wi’ care?
Could it be his Jeannie
  Aged and alter’d sair?

Her goon was black, her eelids
  Reid wi’ sorrow’s dew:
Could she in a twalmonth
  Be wife and widow too?

Jeannie’s hert gaed wallop,
  Ken ‘t him whan he spak’:
“I thocht that ye was deid, Johnnie:
  Is’t yersel’ come back?”

“O Jeannie, are ye, tell me,
  Wife or widow or baith?
To see ye lost as I am,
  I wad be verra laith,”

“I canna be a widow
  That wife was never nane;
But gin ye will hae me,
  Noo I will be ane.”

His crutch he flang it frae him,
  Forgetful o’ war’s harms;
But couldna stan’ withoot it,
  And fell in Jeannie’s arms.

“That’s not a bad ballad,” said James Duff. “Have you a tune it would
go to, Elsie?”

Elsie thought a little, and asked me to repeat the first verse. Then
she sung it out clear and fair to a tune I had never heard before.

“That will do splendidly, Elsie,” I said. “I will write it out for
you, and then you will be able to sing it all the next time I come.”

She made me no answer. She and Turkey were looking at each other, and
did not hear me. James Duff began to talk to me. Elsie was putting
away the supper-things. In a few minutes I missed her and Turkey, and
they were absent for some time. They did not return together, but
first Turkey, and Elsie some minutes after. As the night was now
getting quite stormy, James Duff counselled our return, and we
obeyed. But little either Turkey or I cared for wind or hail.

I saw Elsie at church most Sundays; but she was far too attentive and
modest ever to give me even a look. Sometimes I had a word with her
when we came out, but my father expected us to walk home with him; and
I generally saw Turkey walk away with her.

[Illustration]



CHAPTER XXXV

A Break in my Story


I am now rapidly approaching the moment at which I said I should bring
this history to an end--the moment, namely, when I became aware that
my boyhood was behind me.

I left home this summer for the first time, and followed my brother
Tom to the grammar school in the county-town, in order afterwards to
follow him to the University. There was so much of novelty and
expectation in the change, that I did not feel the separation from my
father and the rest of my family much at first. That came afterwards.
For the time, the pleasure of a long ride on the top of the
mail-coach, with a bright sun and a pleasant breeze, the various
incidents connected with changing horses and starting afresh, and then
the outlook for the first peep of the sea, occupied my attention too
thoroughly.

I do not care to dwell on my experience at the grammar school. I
worked fairly, and got on; but whether I should gain a scholarship
remained doubtful enough. Before the time for the examination arrived,
I went to spend a week at home. It was a great disappointment to me
that I had to return again without seeing Elsie. But it could not be
helped. The only Sunday I had there was a stormy day, late in October,
and Elsie had a bad cold, as Turkey informed me, and could not be out;
while my father had made so many engagements for me, that, with one
thing and another, I was not able to go and see her.

Turkey was now doing a man’s work on the farm, and stood as high as
ever in the estimation of my father and everyone who knew him. He was
as great a favourite with Allister and Davie as with myself, and took
very much the same place with the former as he had taken with me. I
had lost nothing of my regard for him, and he talked to me with the
same familiarity as before, urging me to diligence and thoroughness in
my studies, pressing upon me that no one had ever done lasting work,
“that is,” Turkey would say--“work that goes to the making of the
world,” without being in earnest as to the _what_ and conscientious as
to the _how_.

“I don’t want you to try to be a great man,” he said once. “You might
succeed, and then find out you had failed altogether.”

“How could that be, Turkey?” I objected. “A body can’t succeed and
fail both at once.”

“A body might succeed,” he replied, “in doing what he wanted to do,
and then find out that it was not in the least what he had thought
it.”

“What rule are you to follow, then, Turkey?” I asked.

“Just the rule of duty,” he replied. “What you ought to do, that you
must do. Then when a choice comes, not involving duty, you know,
choose what you like best.”

This is the substance of what he said. If anyone thinks it pedantic, I
can only say, he would not have thought so if he had heard it as it
was uttered--in the homely forms and sounds of the Scottish tongue.

“Aren’t you fit for something better than farm-work yourself, Turkey?”
 I ventured to suggest, foolishly impelled, I suppose, to try whether I
could not give advice too.

“It’s _my_ work,” said Turkey, in a decisive tone, which left me no
room for rejoinder.

This conversation took place in the barn, where Turkey happened to be
thrashing alone that morning. In turning the sheaf, or in laying a
fresh one, there was always a moment’s pause in the din, and then only
we talked, so that our conversation was a good deal broken. I had
buried myself in the straw, as in days of old, to keep myself warm,
and there I lay and looked at Turkey while he thrashed, and thought
with myself that his face had grown much more solemn than it used to
be. But when he smiled, which was seldom, all the old merry sweetness
dawned again. This was the last long talk I ever had with him. The
next day I returned for the examination, was happy enough to gain a
small scholarship, and entered on my first winter at college.

My father wrote to me once a week or so, and occasionally I had a
letter with more ink than matter in it from one of my younger
brothers. Tom was now in Edinburgh, in a lawyer’s office. I had no
correspondence with Turkey. Mr. Wilson wrote to me sometimes, and
along with good advice would occasionally send me some verses, but he
told me little or nothing of what was going on.



CHAPTER XXXVI

I Learn that I am not a Man


It was a Saturday morning, very early in April, when I climbed the
mail-coach to return to my home for the summer; for so the university
year is divided in Scotland. The sky was bright, with great fleecy
clouds sailing over it, from which now and then fell a shower in large
drops. The wind was keen, and I had to wrap myself well in my cloak.
But my heart was light, and full of the pleasure of ended and
successful labour, of home-going, and the signs which sun and sky gave
that the summer was at hand.

Five months had gone by since I last left home, and it had seemed such
an age to Davie, that he burst out crying when he saw me. My father
received me with a certain still tenderness, which seemed to grow upon
him. Kirsty followed Davie’s example, and Allister, without saying
much, haunted me like my shadow. I saw nothing of Turkey that evening.

In the morning we went to church, of course, and I sat beside the
reclining stone warrior, from whose face age had nearly worn the
features away. I gazed at him all the time of the singing of the first
psalm, and there grew upon me a strange solemnity, a sense of the
passing away of earthly things, and a stronger conviction than I had
ever had of the need of something that could not pass. This feeling
lasted all the time of the service, and increased while I lingered in
the church almost alone until my father should come out of the vestry.

I stood in the passage, leaning against the tomb. A cloud came over
the sun, and the whole church grew dark as a December day--gloomy and
cheerless. I heard for some time, almost without hearing them, two old
women talking together close by me. The pulpit was between them and
me, but when I became thoroughly aware of their presence, I peeped
round and saw them.

“And when did it happen, said you?” asked one of them, whose head
moved with an incessant capricious motion from palsy.

“About two o’clock this morning,” answered the other, who leaned on a
stick, almost bent double with rheumatism. “I saw their next-door
neighbour this morning, and he had seen Jamie, who goes home of a
Saturday night, you know; but William being a Seceder, nobody’s been
to tell the minister, and I’m just waiting to let him know; for she
was a great favourite of his, and he’s been to see her often. They’re
much to be pitied--poor people! Nobody thought it would come so sudden
like. When I saw her mother last, there was no such notion in her
head.”

Before I could ask of whom they were talking, my father came up the
aisle from the vestry, and stopped to speak to the old women.

“Elsie Duff’s gone, poor thing!” said the rheumatic one.

I grew stupid. What followed I have forgotten. A sound was in my ears,
and my body seemed to believe it, though my soul could not comprehend
it. When I came to myself I was alone in the church. They had gone
away without seeing me. I was standing beside the monument, leaning on
the carved Crusader. The sun was again shining, and the old church was
full of light. But the sunshine had changed to me, and I felt very
mournful. I should see the sweet face, hear the lovely voice, no more
in this world. I endeavoured to realize the thought, but could not,
and I left the church hardly conscious of anything but a dull sense of
loss.

I found my father very grave. He spoke tenderly of Elsie; but he did
not know how I had loved her, and I could not make much response. I
think, too, that he said less than he otherwise would, from the fear
of calling back to my mind too vivid a memory of how ill I had once
behaved to her. It was, indeed, my first thought the moment he uttered
her name, but it soon passed, for much had come between.

In the evening I went up to the farm to look for Turkey, who had not
been at church morning or afternoon. He was the only one I could talk
to about Elsie. I found him in one of the cow-houses, bedding the
cows. His back was towards me when I entered.

“Turkey,” I said.

He looked round with a slow mechanical motion, as if with a conscious
effort of the will. His face was so white, and wore such a look of
loss, that it almost terrified me like the presence of something
awful. I stood speechless. He looked at me for a moment, and then
came slowly up to me, and laid his hand on my shoulder.

“Ranald,” he said, “we were to have been married next year.”

Before the grief of the man, mighty in its silence, my whole being was
humbled. I knew my love was not so great as his. It grew in my eyes a
pale and feeble thing; and I felt worthless in the presence of her
dead, whom alive I had loved with peaceful gladness. Elsie belonged to
Turkey, and he had lost her, and his heart was breaking. I threw my
arms round him, and wept for him, not for myself. It was thus I ceased
to be a boy.

Here, therefore, my story ends. Before I returned to the university,
Turkey had enlisted and left the place.

[Illustration]

My father’s half-prophecy concerning him is now fulfilled. He is a
general. I will not tell his name. For some reason or other he had
taken his mother’s, and by that he is well known. I have never seen
him, or heard from him, since he left my father’s service; but I am
confident that if ever we meet, it will be as old and true friends.





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