Beside the Bonnie Brier Bush
Part 1 out of 4
This eBook was produced by Anne Folland, Charles Franks
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
BESIDE THE BONNIE BRIER BUSH
By IAN MACLAREN
TO MY WIFE
'There grows a bonnie brier bush in our kail-yard,
And white are the blossoms on't in our kail-yard.'
1. A LAD O' PAIRTS,
2. HOW WE CARRIED THE NEWS TO WHINNIE KNOWE
3. IN MARGET'S GARDEN
4. A SCHOLAR'S FUNERAL
II. A HIGHLAND MYSTIC.
1. WHAT EYE HATH NOT SEEN,
2. AGAINST PRINCIPALITIES AND POWERS,
III. HIS MOTHER'S SERMON,
IV. THE TRANSFORMATION OF LACHLAN CAMPBELL.
1. A GRAND INQUISITOR,
2. HIS BITTER SHAME,
3. LIKE AS A FATHER,
4. AS A LITTLE CHILD,
V. THE CUNNING SPEECH OF DRUMTOCHTY
VI. A WISE WOMAN.
1. OUR SERMON TASTER
2. THE COLLAPSE OF MRS. MACFADYEN
VII. A DOCTOR OF THE OLD SCHOOL
1. A GENERAL PRACTITIONER
2. THROUGH THE FLOOD
3. A FIGHT WITH DEATH
4. THE DOCTOR'S LAST JOURNEY
5. THE MOURNING OF THE GLEN
A LAD O' PAIRTS
The Revolution reached our parish years ago, and Drumtochty has a
School Board, with a chairman and a clerk, besides a treasurer and
an officer. Young Hillocks, who had two years in a lawyer's office,
is clerk, and summons meetings by post, although he sees every
member at the market or the kirk. Minutes are read with much
solemnity, and motions to expend ten shillings upon a coal-cellar
door passed, on the motion of Hillocks, seconded by Drumsheugh, who
are both severely prompted for the occasion, and move uneasily
Drumsheugh was at first greatly exalted by his poll, and referred
freely on market days to his "plumpers," but as time went on the
irony of the situation laid hold upon him.
"Think o' you and me, Hillocks, veesitin' the schule and sittin' wi'
bukes in oor hands watchin' the Inspector. Keep's a', it's eneuch to
mak' the auld Dominie turn in his grave. Twa meenisters cam' in his
time, and Domsie put Geordie Hoo or some ither gleg laddie, that was
makin' for college, thro' his facin's, and maybe some bit lassie
brocht her copybuke. Syne they had their dinner, and Domsie tae, wi'
the Doctor. Man, a've often thocht it was the prospeck o' the Schule
Board and its weary bit rules that feenished Domsie. He wasna maybe
sae shairp at the elements as this pirjinct body we hae noo, but
a'body kent he was a terrible scholar and a credit tae the parish.
Drumtochty was a name in thae days wi' the lads he sent tae college.
It was maybe juist as weel he slippit awa' when he did, for he wud
hae taen ill with thae new fikes, and nae college lad to warm his
The present school-house stands in an open place beside the main
road to Muirtown, treeless and comfortless, built of red, staring
stone, with a playground for the boys and another for the girls, and
a trim, smug-looking teacher's house, all very neat and symmetrical,
and well regulated. The local paper had a paragraph headed
"Drumtochty," written by the Muirtown architect, describing the
whole premises in technical language that seemed to compensate the
ratepayers for the cost, mentioning the contractor's name, and
concluding that "this handsome building of the Scoto-Grecian style
was one of the finest works that had ever come from the accomplished
architect's hands." It has pitch-pine benches and map-cases, and a
thermometer to be kept at not less than 58° and not more than 62°,
and ventilators which the Inspector is careful to examine. When I
stumbled in last week the teacher was drilling the children in Tonic
Sol-fa with a little harmonium, and I left on tiptoe.
It is difficult to live up to this kind of thing, and my thoughts
drift to the auld schule-house and Domsie. Some one with the love of
God in his heart had built it long ago, and chose a site for the
bairns in the sweet pine-woods at the foot of the cart road to
Whinnie Knowe and the upland farms. It stood in a clearing with the
tall Scotch firs round three sides, and on the fourth a brake of
gorse and bramble bushes, through which there was an opening to the
road. The clearing was the playground, and in summer the bairns
annexed as much wood as they liked, playing tig among the trees, or
sitting down at dinner-time on the soft, dry spines that made an
elastic carpet everywhere. Domsie used to say there were two
pleasant sights for his old eyes every day. One was to stand in the
open at dinner-time and see the flitting forms of the healthy, rosy
sonsie bairns in the wood, and from the door in the afternoon to
watch the schule skail till each group was lost in the kindly shadow,
and the merry shouts died away in this quiet place. Then the Dominie
took a pinch of snuff and locked the door, and went to his house
beside the school. One evening I came on him listening bare-headed
to the voices, and he showed so kindly that I shall take him as he
stands. A man of middle height, but stooping below it, with sandy
hair turning to grey, and bushy eye-brow covering keen, shrewd
grey eyes. You will notice that his linen is coarse but spotless,
and that, though his clothes are worn almost threadbare, they are
well brushed and orderly. But you will be chiefly arrested by the
Dominie's coat, for the like of it was not in the parish. It was a
black dress coat, and no man knew when it had begun its history; in
its origin and its continuance it resembled Melchisedek. Many were
the myths that gathered round that coat, but on this all were agreed,
that without it we could not have realised the Dominie, and it
became to us the sign and trappings of learning. He had taken a
high place at the University, and won a good degree, and I've heard
the Doctor say that he had a career before him. But something
happened in his life, and Domsie buried himself among the woods with
the bairns of Drumtochty. No one knew the story, but after he died I
found a locket on his breast, with a proud, beautiful face within,
and I have fancied it was a tragedy. It may have been in substitution
that he gave all his love to the children, and nearly all his money
too, helping lads to college, and affording an inexhaustible store
of peppermints for the little ones.
Perhaps one ought to have been ashamed of that school-house, but yet
it had its own distinction, for scholars were born there, and now
and then to this day some famous man will come and stand in the
deserted playground for a space. The door was at one end, and stood
open in summer, so that the boys saw the rabbits come out from their
holes on the edge of the wood, and birds sometimes flew in unheeded.
The fireplace was at the other end, and was fed in winter with the
sticks and peats brought by the scholars. On one side Domsie sat
with the half-dozen lads he hoped to send to college, to whom he
grudged no labour, and on the other gathered the very little ones,
who used to warm their bare feet at the fire, while down the sides
of the room the other scholars sat at their rough old desks, working
sums and copying. Now and then a class came up and did some task,
and at times a boy got the tawse for his negligence, but never a
girl. He kept the girls in as their punishment, with a brother to
take them home, and both had tea in Domsie's house, with a bit of
his best honey, departing much torn between an honest wish to please
Domsie and a pardonable longing for another tea.
"Domsie," as we called the schoolmaster, behind his back in
Drumtochty, because we loved him, was true to the tradition of his
kind, and had an unerring scent for "pairts" in his laddies. He
could detect a scholar in the egg, and prophesied Latinity from a
boy that seemed fit only to be a cowherd. It was believed that he
had never made a mistake in judgment, and it was not his blame if
the embryo scholar did not come to birth. "Five and thirty years
have I been minister at Drumtochty," the Doctor used to say at
school examinations, "and we have never wanted a student at the
University, and while Dominie Jamieson lives we never shall."
Whereupon Domsie took snuff, and assigned his share of credit to the
Doctor, "who gave the finish in Greek to every lad of them, without
money and without price, to make no mention of the higher mathematics."
Seven ministers, four schoolmasters, four doctors, one professor,
and three civil service men had been sent out by the auld schule
in Domsie's time, besides many that "had given themselves to
He had a leaning to classics and the professions, but Domsie was
catholic in his recognition of "pairts," and when the son of
Hillocks' foreman made a collection of the insects of Drumtochty,
there was a council at the manse. "Bumbee Willie," as he had been
pleasantly called by his companions, was rescued from ridicule and
encouraged to fulfil his bent. Once a year a long letter came to Mr.
Patrick Jamieson, M.A., Schoolmaster, Drumtochty, N.B., and the
address within was the British Museum. When Domsie read this letter
to the school, he was always careful to explain that "Dr. Graham is
the greatest living authority on beetles," and, generally speaking,
if any clever lad did not care for Latin, he had the alternative of
But it was Latin Domsie hunted for as for fine gold, and when he
found the smack of it in a lad he rejoiced openly. He counted it a
day in his life when he knew certainly that he had hit on another
scholar, and the whole school saw the identification of George Howe.
For a winter Domsie had been "at point," racing George through
Caesar, stalking him behind irregular verbs, baiting traps with
tit-bits of Virgil. During these exercises Domsie surveyed George
from above his spectacles with a hope that grew every day in assurance,
and came to its height over a bit of Latin prose. Domsie tasted it
visibly, and read it again in the shadow of the firs at meal-time,
slapping his leg twice.
"He'll dae! he'll dae!" cried Domsie aloud, ladling in the snuff.
"George, ma mannie, tell yir father that I am comin' up to Whinnie
Knowe the nicht on a bit o' business."
Then the "schule" knew that Geordie Hoo was marked for college, and
pelted him with fir cones in great gladness of heart.
"Whinnie" was full of curiosity over the Dominie's visit, and vexed
Marget sorely, to whom Geordie had told wondrous things in the
milk-house. "It canna be coals 'at he's wantin' frae the station,
for there's a fell puckle left."
"And it'll no be seed taties," she said, pursuing the principle of
exhaustion, "for he hes some Perthshire reds himsel'. I doot it's
somethin' wrang with Geordie," and Whinnie started on a new track.
"He's been playin' truant maybe. A' mind gettin' ma paiks for
birdnestin' masel. I'll wager that's the verra thing."
"Weel, yir wrang, Weelum," broke in Marget, Whinnie's wife, a tall,
silent woman, with a speaking face; "it's naither the ae thing nor
the ither, but something I've been prayin' for since Geordie was a
wee bairn. Clean yirsel and meet Domsie on the road, for nae man
deserves more honour in Drumtochty, naither laird nor farmer."
Conversation with us was a leisurely game, with slow movements and
many pauses, and it was our custom to handle all the pawns before we
brought the queen into action.
Domsie and Whinnie discussed the weather with much detail before
they came in sight of George, but it was clear that Domsie was
charged with something weighty, and even Whinnie felt that his own
treatment of the turnip crop was wanting in repose.
At last Domsie cleared his throat and looked at Marget, who had been
in and out, but ever within hearing.
"George is a fine laddie, Mrs. Howe."
An ordinary Drumtochty mother, although bursting with pride, would
have responded, "He's weel eneuch, if he hed grace in his heart," in
a tone that implied it was extremely unlikely, and that her laddie
led the reprobates of the parish. As it was, Marget's face
lightened, and she waited.
"What do you think of making him?" and the Dominie dropped the words
slowly, for this was a moment in Drumtochty.
There was just a single ambition in those humble homes, to have one
of its members at college, and if Domsie approved a lad, then his
brothers and sisters would give their wages, and the family would
live on skim milk and oat cake, to let him have his chance.
Whinnie glanced at his wife and turned to Domsie.
"Marget's set on seein' Geordie a minister, Dominie."
"If he's worthy o't, no otherwise. We haena the means though; the
farm is highly rented, and there's barely a penny over at the end o'
"But you are willing George should go and see what he can do. If he
disappoint you, then I dinna know a lad o' pairts when I see him,
and the Doctor is with me."
"Maister Jamieson," said Marget, with great solemnity, "ma hert's
desire is to see George a minister, and if the Almichty spared me to
hear ma only bairn open his mooth in the Evangel, I wud hae naething
mair to ask ... but I doot sair it canna be managed."
Domsie had got all he asked, and he rose in his strength.
"If George Howe disna get to college, then he's the first scholar
I've lost in Drumtochty ... ye 'ill manage his keep and sic like?"
"Nae fear o' that," for Whinnie was warming, "tho' I haena a steek
(stitch) o' new claithes for four years. But what aboot his fees and
"There's ae man in the parish can pay George's fees without missing
a penny, and I'll warrant he 'ill dae it."
"Are ye meanin' Drumsheugh?" said Whinnie, "for ye 'ill never get a
penny piece oot o' him. Did ye no hear hoo the Frees wiled him intae
their kirk, Sabbath past a week, when Netherton's sister's son frae
Edinboro' wes preaching the missionary sermon, expectin' a note, and
if he didna change a shillin' at the public-hoose and pit in a
penny. Sall, he's a lad Drumsheugh; a'm thinking ye may save yir
But Marget looked away from her into the past, and her eyes had a
tender light. "He hed the best hert in the pairish aince."
Domsie found Drumsheugh inclined for company, and assisted at an
exhaustive and caustic treatment of local affairs. When the conduct
of Piggie Walker, who bought Drumsheugh's potatoes and went into
bankruptcy without paying for a single tuber, had been characterized
in language that left nothing to be desired, Drumsheugh began to
soften and show signs of reciprocity.
"Hoo's yir laddies, Dominie?" whom the farmers regarded as a risky
turnip crop in a stiff clay that Domsie had "to fecht awa in." "Are
ony o' them shaping weel?"
Drumsheugh had given himself away, and Domsie laid his first
parallel with a glowing account of George Howe's Latinity, which was
"Weel, I'm gled tae hear sic accoonts o' Marget Hoo's son; there's
naething in Whinnie but what the spune puts in."
But at the next move Drumsheugh scented danger and stood at guard.
"Na, na, Dominie, I see what yir aifter fine; ye mind hoo ye got
three notes oot o' me at Perth market Martinmas a year past for ane
o' yir college laddies. Five punds for four years; my word, yir no
blate (modest). And what for sud I educat Marget Hoo's bairn? If ye
kent a' ye wudna ask me; it's no reasonable, Dominie. So there's an
Domsie was only a pedantic old parish schoolmaster, and he knew
little beyond his craft, but the spirit of the Humanists awoke
within him, and he smote with all his might, bidding goodbye to his
English as one flings away the scabbard of a sword.
"Ye think that a'm asking a great thing when I plead for a pickle
notes to give a puir laddie a college education. I tell ye, man, a'm
honourin' ye and givin' ye the fairest chance ye'll ever hae o'
winning wealth. Gin ye store the money ye hae scrapit by mony a hard
bargain, some heir ye never saw 'ill gar it flee in chambering and
wantonness. Gin ye hed the heart to spend it on a lad o' pairts like
Geordie Hoo, ye wud hae twa rewards nae man could tak fra ye. Ane
wud be the honest gratitude o' a laddie whose desire for knowledge
ye hed sateesfied, and the second wud be this--anither scholar in
the land; and a'm thinking with auld John Knox that ilka scholar is
something added to the riches of the commonwealth. And what 'ill it
cost ye? Little mair than the price o' a cattle beast. Man, Drumsheugh,
ye poverty-stricken cratur, I've naethin' in this world but a handfu'
o' books and a ten-pund note for my funeral, and yet, if it wasna I
have all my brither's bairns tae keep, I wud pay every penny mysel'.
But I'll no see Geordie sent to the plough, tho' I gang frae door
to door. Na, na, the grass 'ill no grow on the road atween the
college and the schule-hoose o' Drumtochty till they lay me in the
"Sall, Domsie was roosed," Drumsheugh explained in the Muirtown inn
next market. "'Miserly wratch' was the ceevilest word on his tongue.
He wud naither sit nor taste, and was half way doon the yaird afore
I cud quiet him. An' a'm no sayin' he hed na reason if I'd been
meanin' a' I said. It wud be a scan'al to the pairish if a likely
lad cudna win tae college for the want o' siller. Na, na, neeburs,
we hae oor faults, but we're no sae dune mean as that in
As it was, when Domsie did depart he could only grip Drumsheugh's
hand, and say Maecenas, and was so intoxicated, but not with strong
drink, that he explained to Hillocks on the way home that Drumsheugh
would be a credit to Drumtochty, and that his Latin style reminded
him of Cicero. He added as an afterthought that Whinnie Knowe had
promised to pay Drumsheugh's fees for four years at the University
HOW WE CARRIED THE NEWS TO WHINNIE KNOWE
Domsie was an artist, and prepared the way for George's University
achievement with much cunning. Once every Sabbath in the kirk-yard,
where he laid down the law beneath an old elm tree, and twice
between Sabbaths, at the post-office and by the wayside, he adjured
us not to expect beyond measure, and gave us reasons.
"Ye see, he has a natural talent for learning, and took to Latin
like a duck to water. What could be done in Drumtochty was done for
him, and he's working night and day, but he'll have a sore fight
with the lads from the town schools. Na, na, neighbours," said the
Dominie, lapsing into dialect, "we daurna luik for a prize. No the
first year, at ony rate."
"Man, Dominie. A'm clean astonished at ye," Drumsheugh used to break
in, who, since he had given to George's support, outran us all in
his faith, and had no patience with Domsie's devices, "a' tell ye if
Geordie disna get a first in every class he's entered for, the
judges 'ill be a puir lot," with a fine confusion of circumstances.
"Losh, Drumsheugh, be quiet, or ye'll dae the laddie an injury,"
said Domsie, with genuine alarm. "We maunna mention prizes, and
first is fair madness, A certificate of honour now, that will be
aboot it, may be next to the prizemen."
Coming home from market he might open his heart. "George 'ill be
amang the first sax, or my name is no Jamieson," but generally he
prophesied a moderate success. There were times when he affected
indifference, and talked cattle. We then regarded him with awe,
because this was more than mortal.
It was my luck to carry the bulletin to Domsie, and I learned what
he had been enduring. It was good manners in Drumtochty to feign
amazement at the sight of a letter, and to insist that it must be
intended for some other person. When it was finally forced upon one,
you examined the handwriting at various angles and speculated about
the writer. Some felt emboldened, after these precautions, to open
the letter, but this haste was considered indecent. When Posty
handed Drumsheugh the factor's letter, with the answer to his offer
for the farm, he only remarked, "It'll be frae the factor," and
harked back to a polled Angus bull he had seen at the show. "Sall,"
said Posty in the kirkyard with keen relish, "ye'll never flurry
Drumsheugh." Ordinary letters were read in leisurely retirement,
and, in case of urgency, answered within the week.
Domsie clutched the letter, and would have torn off the envelope.
But he could not; his hand was shaking like an aspen. He could only
look, and I read:
"Dear Mr. Jamieson,--The class honour lists are just out, and you
will be pleased to know that I have got the medal both in the
Humanity and the Greek."
There was something about telling his mother, and his gratitude to
his schoolmaster, but Domsie heard no more. He tried to speak and
could not, for a rain of tears was on his hard old face. Domsie was
far more a pagan than a saint, but somehow he seemed to me that day
as Simeon, who had at last seen his heart's desire, and was
When the school had dispersed with a joyful shout, and disappeared
in the pine woods, he said, "Ye'll come too," and I knew he was
going to Whinnie Knowe. He did not speak one word upon the way, but
twice he stood and read the letter which he held fast in his hand.
His face was set as he climbed the cart track. I saw it set again as
we came down that road one day, but it was well that we could not
pierce beyond the present.
Whinnie left his plough in the furrow, and came to meet us, taking
two drills at a stride, and shouting remarks on the weather yards
Domsie only lifted the letter. "Frae George."
"Ay, ay, and what's he gotten noo?"
Domsie solemnly unfolded the letter, and brought down his spectacles.
"Edinburgh, April 7th." Then he looked at Whinnie, and closed his
"We'll tell it first to his mither."
"Yer richt, Dominie. She weel deserves it. A'm thinking she's seen
us by this time." So we fell into a procession, Dominie leading by
two yards; and then a strange thing happened. For the first and last
time in his life Domsie whistled, and the tune was "A hundred pipers
and a' and a'," and as he whistled he seemed to dilate before our
eyes, and he struck down thistles with his stick--a thistle at every
"Domsie's fair carried," whispered Whinnie, "it cowes a'."
Marget met us at the end of the house beside the brier bush, where
George was to sit on summer afternoons before he died, and a flash
passed between Domsie and the lad's mother. Then she knew that it
was well, and fixed her eyes on the letter, but Whinnie, his thumbs
in his armholes, watched the wife.
Domsie now essayed to read the news, but between the shaking of his
hands and his voice he could not.
"It's nae use," he cried, "he's first in the Humanity oot o' a
hundred and seeventy lads, first o' them a', and he's first in the
Greek too; the like o' this is hardly known, and it has na been seen
in Drumtochty since there was a schule. That's the word he's sent,
and he bade me tell his mother without delay, and I am here as fast
as my old feet could carry me."
I glanced round, although I did not myself see very clearly.
Marget was silent for the space of five seconds; she was a good
woman, and I knew that better afterwards. She took the Dominie's
hand, and said to him, "Under God this was your doing, Maister
Jamieson, and for your reward ye'ill get naither silver nor gold,
but ye hae a mither's gratitude."
Whinnie gave a hoarse chuckle and said to his wife, "It was frae
you, Marget, he got it a'."
When we settled in the parlour Domsie's tongue was loosed, and he
lifted up his voice and sang the victory of Geordie Hoo.
"It's ten years ago at the brak up o' the winter ye brought him down
to me, Mrs. Hoo, and ye said at the schule-hoose door, 'Dinna be
hard on him, Maister Jamieson, he's my only bairn, and a wee thingie
quiet.' Div ye mind what I said, 'There's something ahint that
face,' and my heart warmed to George that hour. Two years after the
Doctor examined the schule, and he looks at George. 'That's a likely
lad, Dominie. What think ye?' And he was only eight years auld, and
no big for his size. 'Doctor, I daurna prophesy till we turn him
into the Latin, but a've my thoughts.' So I had a' the time, but I
never boasted, na, na, that's dangerous. Didna I say, 'Ye hev a
promisin' laddie, Whinnie,' ae day in the market?"
"It's a fac'," said Whinnie, "it wes the day I bocht the white coo."
But Domsie swept on.
"The first year o' Latin was enough for me. He juist nippet up his
verbs. Cæsar could na keep him going; he wes into Virgil afore he
wes eleven, and the Latin prose, man, as sure as a'm living, it
tasted o' Cicero frae the beginning."
Whinnie wagged his head in amazement.
"It was the verra nicht o' the Latin prose I cam up to speak aboot
the college, and ye thocht Geordie hed been playing truant."
Whinnie laughed uproariously, but Domsie heeded not.
"It was awfu' work the next twa years, but the Doctor stood in weel
wi' the Greek. Ye mind hoo Geordie tramped ower the muir to the
manse thro' the weet an' the snaw, and there wes aye dry stockings
for him in the kitchen afore he had his Greek in the Doctor's
"And a warm drink tae," put in Marget, "and that's the window I pit the
licht in to guide him hame in the dark winter nichts, and mony a time
when the sleet played swish on the glass I wes near wishin'--" Domsie
waved his hand.
"But that's dune wi' noo, and he was worth a' the toil and trouble.
First in the Humanity and first in the Greek, sweepit the field,
Lord preserve us. A' can hardly believe it. Eh, I was feared o' thae
High School lads. They had terrible advantages. Maisters frae
England, and tutors, and whatna', but Drumtochty carried aff the
croon. It'll be fine reading in the papers--
_Humanity_.--First Prize (and Medal), George Howe, Drumtochty,
_Greek_.--First Prize (and Medal), George Howe, Drumtochty,
"It'll be michty," cried Whinnie, now fairly on fire.
"And Philosophy and Mathematics to come. Geordie's no bad at Euclid,
I'll wager he'll be first there too. When he gets his hand in
there's naething he's no fit for wi' time. My ain laddie--and the
Doctor's--we maunna forget him--it's his classics he hes, every book
o' them. The Doctor 'ill be lifted when he comes back on Saturday.
A'm thinkin' we'll hear o't on Sabbath. And Drumsheugh, he'll be
naither to had nor bind in the kirk-yard. As for me, I wad na change
places wi' the Duke o' Athole," and Domsie shook the table to its
Then he awoke, as from a dream, and the shame of boasting that shuts
the mouths of self-respecting Scots descended upon him.
"But this is fair nonsense. Ye'll no mind the havers o' an auld
He fell back on a recent roup, and would not again break away,
although sorely tempted by certain of Whinnie's speculations.
When I saw him last, his coat-tails were waving victoriously as he
leaped a dyke on his way to tell our Drumtochty Maecenas that the
judges knew their business.
IN MARGET'S GARDEN
The cart track to Whinnie Knowe was commanded by a gable window, and
Whinnie boasted that Marget had never been taken unawares. Tramps,
finding every door locked, and no sign of life anywhere, used to
express their mind in the "close," and return by the way they came,
while ladies from Kildrummie, fearful lest they should put Mrs. Howe
out, were met at the garden gate by Marget in her Sabbath dress, and
brought into a set tea as if they had been invited weeks before.
Whinnie gloried most in the discomfiture of the Tory agent, who had
vainly hoped to coerce him in the stack yard without Marget's
presence, as her intellectual contempt for the Conservative party
knew no bounds.
"Sall she saw him slip aff the road afore the last stile, and wheep
roond the fit o' the gairden wa' like a tod (fox) aifter the
"'It's a het day, Maister Anderson,' says Marget frae the gairden,
lookin' doon on him as calm as ye like. 'Yir surely no gaein' to
pass oor hoose without a gless o' milk?'
"Wud ye believe it, he wes that upset he left withoot sayin' 'vote,'
and Drumsheugh telt me next market that his langidge aifterwards
cudna be printed."
When George came home for the last time, Marget went back and
forward all afternoon from his bedroom to the window, and hid
herself beneath the laburnum to see his face as the cart stood
before the stile. It told her plain what she had feared, and Marget
passed through her Gethsemane with the gold blossoms falling on her
face. When their eyes met, and before she helped him down, mother
and son understood.
"Ye mind what I told ye, o' the Greek mothers, the day I left. Weel,
I wud hae liked to have carried my shield, but it wasna to be, so
I've come home on it." As they went slowly up the garden walk, "I've
got my degree, a double first, mathematics and classics."
"Ye've been a gude soldier, George, and faithfu'."
"Unto death, a'm dootin, mother."
"Na," said Marget, "unto life."
Drumtochty was not a heartening place in sickness, and Marget, who
did not think our thoughts, endured much consolation at her
neighbour's hands. It is said that in cities visitors congratulate a
patient on his good looks, and deluge his family with instances of
recovery. This would have seemed to us shallow and unfeeling,
besides being a "temptin' o' Providence," which might not have
intended to go to extremities, but on a challenge of this kind had
no alternative. Sickness was regarded as a distinction tempered with
judgment, and favoured people found it difficult to be humble. I
always thought more of Peter MacIntosh when the mysterious "tribble"
that needed the Perth doctor made no difference in his manner, and
he passed his snuff box across the seat before the long prayer as
usual, but in this indifference to privileges Peter was exceptional.
You could never meet Kirsty Stewart on equal terms, although she was
quite affable to any one who knew his place.
"Ay," she said, on my respectful allusion to her experience, "a've
seen mair than most. It doesna become me to boast, but tho' I say it
as sudna, I hae buried a' my ain fouk."
Kirsty had a "way" in sick visiting, consisting in a certain cadence
of the voice and arrangement of the face, which was felt to be
soothing and complimentary.
"Yir aboot again, a'm glad to see," to me after my accident, "but
yir no dune wi' that leg; na, na, Jeems, that was ma second son,
scrapit his shin aince, tho' no so bad as ye've dune a'm hearing
(for I had denied Kirsty the courtesy of an inspection). It's sax
year syne noo, and he got up and wes traivellin' fell hearty like
yersel. But he begood to dwam (sicken) in the end of the year, and
soughed awa' in the spring. Ay, ay, when tribble comes ye never ken
hoo it 'ill end. A' thocht I wud come up and speir for ye. A body
needs comfort gin he's sober (ill)."
When I found George wrapped in his plaid beside the brier bush whose
roses were no whiter than his cheeks, Kirsty was already installed
as comforter in the parlour, and her drone came through the open
"Ay, ay, Marget, sae it's come to this. Weel, we daurna complain, ye
ken. Be thankfu' ye haena lost your man and five sons, besides twa
sisters and a brither, no to mention cousins. That wud be something
to speak aboot, and Losh keep's, there's nae saying but he micht
hang on a whilie. Ay, ay, it's a sair blow aifter a' that wes in the
papers. I wes feared when I heard o' the papers; 'Lat weel alane,'
says I to the Dominie; 'ye 'ill bring a judgment on the laddie wi'
yir blawing.' But ye micht as weel hae spoken to the hills. Domsie's
a thraun body at the best, and he was clean infatuat' wi' George.
Ay, ay, it's an awfu' lesson, Marget, no to mak' idols o' our
bairns, for that's naethin' else than provokin' the Almichty."
It was at this point that Marget gave way and scandalized
Drumtochty, which held that obtrusive prosperity was an irresistible
provocation to the higher powers, and that a skilful depreciation of
our children was a policy of safety.
"Did ye say the Almichty? I'm thinkin' that's ower grand a name for
your God, Kirsty. What wud ye think o' a faither that brocht hame
some bonnie thing frae the fair for ane o' his bairns, and when the
puir bairn wes pleased wi' it tore it oot o' his hand and flung it
into the fire? Eh, woman, he wud be a meeserable cankered jealous
body. Kirsty, wumman, when the Almichty sees a mither bound up in
her laddie, I tell ye He is sair pleased in His heaven, for mind ye
hoo He loved His ain Son. Besides, a'm judgin' that nane o' us can
love anither withoot lovin' Him, or hurt anither withoot hurtin'
"Oh, I ken weel that George is gaein' to leave us; but it's no
because the Almichty is jealous o' him or me, no likely. It cam' to
me last nicht that He needs my laddie for some grand wark in the
ither world, and that's hoo George has his bukes brocht oot tae the
garden and studies a' the day. He wants to be ready for his kingdom,
just as he trachled in the bit schule o' Drumtochty for Edinboro'. I
hoped he wud hae been a minister o' Christ's Gospel here, but he
'ill be judge over many cities yonder. A'm no denyin', Kirsty, that
it's a trial, but I hae licht on it, and naethin' but gude thochts
o' the Almichty."
Drumtochty understood that Kirsty had dealt faithfully with Marget
for pride and presumption, but all we heard was, "Losh keep us a'."
When Marget came out and sat down beside her son, her face was
shining. Then she saw the open window.
"I didna ken."
"Never mind, mither, there's nae secrets atween us, and it gar'd my
heart leap to hear ye speak up like yon for God, and to know yir
content. Div ye mind the nicht I called for ye, mother, and ye gave
me the Gospel aboot God?"
Marget slipped her hand into George's, and he let his head rest on
her shoulder. The likeness flashed upon me in that moment, the
earnest deep-set grey eyes, the clean-cut firm jaw, and the tender
mobile lips, that blend of apparent austerity and underlying romance
that make the pathos of a Scottish face.
"There had been a Revival man, here," George explained to me, "and
he was preaching on hell. As it grew dark a candle was lighted, and
I can still see his face as in a picture, a hard-visaged man. He
looked down at us laddies in the front, and asked us if we knew what
like hell was. By this time we were that terrified none of us could
speak, but I whispered 'No.'
"Then he rolled up a piece of paper and held it in the flame, and we
saw it burn and glow and shrivel up and fall in black dust.
"'Think,' said he, and he leaned over the desk, and spoke in a
gruesome whisper which made the cold run down our backs, 'that yon
paper was your finger, one finger only of your hand, and it burned
like that for ever and ever, and think of your hand and your arm and
your whole body all on fire, never to go out.' We shuddered that you
might have heard the form creak. 'That is hell, and that is where
ony laddie will go who does not repent and believe.'
"It was like Dante's Inferno, and I dared not take my eyes off his
face. He blew out the candle, and we crept to the door trembling,
not able to say one word.
"That night I could not sleep, for I thought I might be in the fire
before morning. It was harvest time, and the moon was filling the
room with cold clear light. From my bed I could see the stooks
standing in rows upon the field, and it seemed like the judgment
"I was only a wee laddie, and I did what we all do in trouble, I
cried for my mother.
"Ye hae na forgotten, mither, the fricht that was on me that nicht."
"Never," said Marget, "and never can; it's hard wark for me to keep
frae hating that man, dead or alive. Geordie gripped me wi' baith
his wee airms round my neck, and he cries over and over and over
again, 'Is yon God?'"
"Ay, and ye kissed me, mither, and ye said (it's like yesterday),
'Yir safe with me,' and ye telt me that God micht punish me to mak
me better if I was bad, but that he wud never torture ony puir soul,
for that cud dae nae guid, and was the Devil's wark. Ye asked me:
"'Am I a guid mother tae ye?' and when I could dae naethin' but
hold, ye said, 'Be sure God maun be a hantle kinder.'
"The truth came to me as with a flicker, and I cuddled down into my
bed, and fell asleep in His love as in my mother's arms.
"Mither," and George lifted up his head, "that was my conversion,
and, mither dear, I hae longed a' thro' thae college studies for the
day when ma mooth wud be opened wi' this evangel."
Marget's was an old-fashioned garden, with pinks and daisies and
forget-me-nots, with sweet-scented wall-flower and thyme and moss
roses, where nature had her way, and gracious thoughts could visit
one without any jarring note. As George's voice softened to the
close, I caught her saying, "His servants shall see His face," and
the peace of Paradise fell upon us in the shadow of death.
The night before the end George was carried out to his corner, and
Domsie, whose heart was nigh unto the breaking, sat with him the
afternoon. They used to fight the College battles over again, with
their favourite classics beside them, but this time none of them
spoke of books. Marget was moving about the garden, and she told me
that George looked at Domsie wistfully, as if he had something to
say and knew not how to do it.
After a while he took a book from below his pillow, and began, like
one thinking over his words:
"Maister Jamieson, ye hae been a gude freend tae me, the best I ever
hed aifter my mither and faither. Wull ye tak this buik for a
keepsake o' yir grateful scholar? It's a Latin 'Imitation' Dominie,
and it's bonnie printin'. Ye mind hoo ye gave me yir ain Virgil, and
said he was a kind o' Pagan sanct. Noo here is my sanct, and div ye
ken I've often thocht Virgil saw His day afar off, and was glad.
Wull ye read it, Dominie, for my sake, and maybe ye 'ill come to
see--" and George could not find words for more.
But Domsie understood. "Ma laddie, ma laddie, that I luve better
than onythin' on earth, I'll read it till I die, and, George, I'll
tell ye what livin' man does na ken. When I was your verra age I had
a cruel trial, and ma heart was turned frae faith. The classics hae
been my bible, though I said naethin' to ony man against Christ. He
aye seemed beyond man, and noo the veesion o' Him has come to me in
this gairden. Laddie, ye hae dune far mair for me than I ever did
for you. Wull ye mak a prayer for yir auld dominie afore we pairt?"
There was a thrush singing in the birches and a sound of bees in the
air, when George prayed in a low, soft voice, with a little break in
"Lord Jesus, remember my dear maister, for he's been a kind freend
to me and mony a puir laddie in Drumtochty. Bind up his sair heart
and give him licht at eventide, and may the maister and his scholars
meet some mornin' where the schule never skails, in the kingdom o'
Twice Domsie said Amen, and it seemed as the voice of another man,
and then he kissed George upon the forehead; but what they said
Marget did not wish to hear.
When he passed out at the garden gate, the westering sun was shining
golden, and the face of Domsie was like unto that of a little child.
A SCHOLAR'S FUNERAL
Drumtochty never acquitted itself with credit at a marriage, having
no natural aptitude for gaiety, and being haunted with anxiety lest
any "hicht" should end in a "howe," but the parish had a genius for
funerals. It was long mentioned with a just sense of merit that an
English undertaker, chancing on a "beerial" with us, had no limits
to his admiration. He had been disheartened to despair all his life
by the ghastly efforts of chirpy little Southerners to look solemn
on occasion, but his dreams were satisfied at the sight of men like
Drumsheugh and Hillocks in their Sabbath blacks. Nature lent an
initial advantage in face, but it was an instinct in the blood that
brought our manner to perfection, and nothing could be more awful
than a group of those austere figures, each man gazing into vacancy
without a trace of expression, and refusing to recognise his nearest
neighbour by word or look. Drumtochty gave itself to a "beerial"
with chastened satisfaction, partly because it lay near to the
sorrow of things, and partly because there was nothing of speculation
in it. "Ye can hae little rael pleesure in a merrige," explained our
gravedigger, in whom the serious side had been perhaps abnormally
developed, "for ye never ken hoo it will end; but there's nae risk
about a 'beerial.'"
It came with a shock upon townsmen that the ceremony began with a
"service o' speerits," and that an attempt of the Free Kirk minister
to replace this by the reading of Scripture was resisted as an
"innovation." Yet every one admitted that the seriousness of
Drumtochty pervaded and sanctified this function. A tray of glasses
was placed on a table with great solemnity by the "wricht," who made
no sign and invited none. You might have supposed that the
circumstance had escaped the notice of the company, so abstracted
and unconscious was their manner, had it not been that two graven
images a minute later are standing at the table.
"Ye 'ill taste, Tammas," with settled melancholy.
"Na, na; I've nae incleenation the day; it's an awfu' dispensation
this, Jeems. She wud be barely saxty."
"Ay, ay, but we maun keep up the body sae lang as we're here,
"Weel, puttin' it that way, a'm not sayin' but yir richt," yielding
unwillingly to the force of circumstance.
"We're here the day and there the morn, Tammas. She wes a fine
wumman--Mistress Stirton--a weel-livin' wumman; this 'ill be a
blend, a'm thinkin'."
"She slippit aff sudden in the end; a'm judgin' it's frae the
Muirtown grocer; but a body canna discreeminate on a day like this."
Before the glasses are empty all idea of drinking is dissipated, and
one has a vague impression that he is at church.
It was George Howe's funeral that broke the custom and closed the
"service." When I came into the garden where the neighbours were
gathered, the "wricht" was removing his tray, and not a glass had
been touched. Then I knew that Drumtochty had a sense of the fitness
of things, and was stirred to its depths.
"Ye saw the wricht carry in his tray," said Drumsheugh, as we went
home from the kirkyard. "Weel, yon's the last sicht o't ye 'ill get,
or a'm no Drumsheugh. I've nae objection ma'sel to a nee'bur tastin'
at a funeral, a' the mair if he's come frae the upper end o' the
pairish, and ye ken I dinna hold wi' thae teetotal fouk. A'm ower
auld in the horn to change noo. But there's times and seasons, as
the gude Buik says, and it wud hae been an awfu' like business tae
luik at a gless in Marget's gairden, and puir Domsie standing in
ahent the brier bush as if he cud never lift his heid again. Ye may
get shairper fouk in the uptak', but ye 'ill no get a pairish with
better feelin's. It 'ill be a kind o' sateesfaction tae Marget when
she hears o't. She was aye against tastin', and a'm judgin' her
tribble has ended it at beerials."
"Man, it was hard on some o' yon lads the day, but there wesna ane
o' them made a mudge. I keepit my eye on Posty, but he never lookit
the way it wes. He's a drouthy body, but he hes his feelin's, hes
Before the Doctor began the prayer, Whinnie took me up to the room.
"There's twa o' Geordie's College freends with Marget, grand
scholars a'm telt, and there's anither I canna weel mak oot. He's
terrible cast doon, and Marget speaks as if she kent him."
It was a low-roofed room, with a box bed and some pieces of humble
furniture, fit only for a labouring man. But the choice treasures of
Greece and Rome lay on the table, and on a shelf beside the bed
College prizes and medals, while everywhere were the roses he loved.
His peasant mother stood beside the body of her scholar son, whose
hopes and thoughts she had shared, and through the window came the
bleating of distant sheep. It was the idyll of Scottish University
George's friends were characteristic men, each of his own type, and
could only have met in the commonwealth of letters. One was of an
ancient Scottish house which had fought for Mary against the Lords
of the Congregation, followed Prince Charlie to Culloden, and were
High Church and Tory to the last drop of their blood. Ludovic Gordon
left Harrow with the reputation of a classic, and had expected to be
first at Edinboro'. It was Gordon, in fact, that Domsie feared in
the great war, but he proved second to Marget's son, and being of
the breed of Prince Jonathan, which is the same the world over, he
came to love our David as his own soul. The other, a dark little
man, with a quick, fiery eye, was a Western Celt, who had worried
his way from a fishing croft in Barra to be an easy first in
Philosophy at Edinboro', and George and Ronald Maclean were as
brothers because there is nothing so different as Scottish and
"Maister Gordon," said Marget, "this is George's Homer, and he bade
me tell you that he coonted yir freendship ain o' the gifts o' God."
For a brief space Gordon was silent, and, when he spoke, his voice
sounded strange in that room.
"Your son was the finest scholar of my time, and a very perfect
gentleman. He was also my true friend, and I pray God to console his
mother." And Ludovic Gordon bowed low over Marget's worn hand as if
she had been a queen.
Marget lifted Plato, and it seemed to me that day as if the dignity
of our Lady of Sorrows had fallen upon her.
"This is the buik George chose for you, Maister Maclean, for he aye
said to me ye hed been a prophet and shown him mony deep things."
The tears sprang to the Celt's eyes.
"It wass like him to make all other men better than himself," with
the soft, sad Highland accent; "and a proud woman you are to hef
been his mother."
The third man waited at the window till the scholars left, and then
I saw he was none of that kind, but one who had been a slave of sin
and now was free.
"Andra Chaumers, George wished ye tae hev his Bible, and he expecks
ye tae keep the tryst."
"God helping me, I will," said Chalmers, hoarsely; and from the
garden ascended a voice, "O God, who art a very present help in
The Doctor's funeral prayer was one of the glories of the parish,
compelling even the Free Kirk to reluctant admiration, although they
hinted that its excellence was rather of the letter than the spirit,
and regarded its indiscriminate charity with suspicion. It opened
with a series of extracts from the Psalms, relieved by two excursions
into the minor prophets, and led up to a sonorous recitation of the
problem of immortality from Job, with its triumphant solution in the
peroration of the fifteenth chapter of I Corinthians. Drumtochty men
held their breath till the Doctor reached the crest of the hill
(Hillocks disgraced himself once by dropping his staff at the very
moment when the Doctor was passing from Job to Paul), and then we
relaxed while the Doctor descended to local detail. It was understood
that it took twenty years to bring the body of this prayer to perfection,
and any change would have been detected and resented.
The Doctor made a good start, and had already sighted Job, when he
was carried out of his course by a sudden current, and began to
speak to God about Marget and her son, after a very simple fashion
that brought a lump to the throat, till at last, as I imagine, the
sight of the laddie working at his Greek in the study of a winter
night came up before him, and the remnants of the great prayer
melted like an iceberg in the Gulf Stream.
"Lord, hae peety upon us, for we a' luved him, and we were a' prood
After the Doctor said "Amen" with majesty, one used to look at his
neighbour, and the other would shut his eyes and shake his head,
meaning, "There's no use asking me, for it simply can't be better
done by living man." This time no one remembered his neighbour,
because every eye was fixed on the Doctor. Drumtochty was
identifying its new minister.
"It may be that I hef judged him hardly," said Lachlan Campbell, one
of the Free Kirk Highlanders, and our St. Dominic. "I shall never
again deny that the root of the matter is in the man, although much
choked with the tares of worldliness and Arminianism."
"He is a goot man, Lachlan," replied Donald Menzies, another Celt,
and he was our St. Francis, for "every one that loveth is born of
There was no hearse in Drumtochty, and we carried our dead by relays
of four, who waded every stream unless more than knee deep, the rest
following in straggling, picturesque procession over the moor and
across the stepping stones. Before we started, Marget came out and
arranged George's white silken hood upon the coffin with roses in
She swept us into one brief flush of gratitude, from Domsie to
"Neeburs, ye were a' his freends, and he wanted ye tae ken hoo yir
trust wes mickle help tae him in his battle."
There was a stir within us, and it came to birth in Drumsheugh of
"Marget Hoo, this is no the day for mony words, but there's juist ae
heart in Drumtochty, and it's sair."
No one spoke to Domsie as we went down the cart track, with the ripe
corn standing on either side, but he beckoned Chalmers to walk with
"Ye hae heard him speak o' me, then, Maister Jamieson?"
"Ay, oftentimes, and he said once that ye were hard driven, but that
ye had trampled Satan under yir feet."
"He didna tell ye all, for if it hadna been for George Howe I wudna
been worth callin' a man this day. One night when he was workin'
hard for his honours examination and his disease was heavy upon him,
puir fellow, he sought me oot where I was, and wouldna leave till I
cam' wi him.
"'Go home,' I said, 'Howe; it's death for ye to be oot in this sleet
and cold. Why not leave me to lie in the bed I hae made?'
"He took me by the arm into a passage. I see the gaslicht on his
white face, and the shining o' his eyes.
"'Because I have a mother...'
"Dominie, he pulled me oot o' hell."
"Me tae, Andra, but no your hell. Ye mind the Roman Triumph, when a
general cam' hame wi' his spoils. Laddie, we're the captives that go
with his chariot up the Capitol."
Donald Menzies was a man of moods, and the Doctor's prayer had
loosed his imagination so that he saw visions.
"Look," said he, as we stood on a ridge, "I hef seen it before in
the book of Joshua."
Below the bearers had crossed a burn on foot, and were ascending the
slope where an open space of deep green was fringed with purple
"The ark hass gone over Jordan, and George will have come into the
Land of Promise."
The September sunshine glinted on the white silk George won with his
blood, and fell like a benediction on the two figures that climbed
the hard ascent close after the man they loved.
Strangers do not touch our dead in Drumtochty, but the eight of
nearest blood lower the body into the grave. The order of precedence
is keenly calculated, and the loss of a merited cord can never be
forgiven. Marget had arranged everything with Whinnie, and all saw
the fitness. His father took the head, and the feet (next in honour)
he gave to Domsie.
"Ye maun dae it. Marget said ye were o' his ain bluid."
On the right side the cords were handed to the Doctor, Gordon, and
myself; and on the left to Drumsheugh, Maclean, and Chalmers. Domsie
lifted the hood for Marget, but the roses he gently placed on
George's name. Then with bent, uncovered heads, and in unbroken
silence, we buried all that remained of our scholar.
We always waited till the grave was filled and the turf laid down, a
trying quarter of an hour. Ah me! the thud of the spade on your
mother's grave! None gave any sign of what he felt save Drumsheugh,
whose sordid slough had slipped off from a tender heart, and
Chalmers, who went behind a tombstone and sobbed aloud. Not even
Posty asked the reason so much as by a look, and Drumtochty, as it
passed, made as though it did not see. But I marked that the Dominie
took Chalmers home, and walked all the way with him to Kildrummie
station next morning. His friends erected a granite cross over
George's grave, and it was left to Domsie to choose the inscription.
There was a day when it would have been "Whom the gods love die
young." Since then Domsie had seen the kingdom of God, and this is
graven where the roses bloomed fresh every summer for twenty years
till Marget was laid with her son:
GEORGE HOWE, M.A., Died September 22nd, 1869, Aged 21.
"They shall bring the glory and honour of the nations into it."
It was a late November day when I went to see George's memorial, and
the immortal hope was burning low in my heart; but as I stood before
that cross, the sun struggled from behind a black watery bank of
cloud, and picked out every letter of the Apocalypse in gold.
A HIGHLAND MYSTIC
WHAT EYE HATH NOT SEEN
Strange ministers who came to assist at the Free Kirk Sacrament were
much impressed with the elders, and never forgot the transfiguration
of Donald Menzies, which used to begin about the middle of the
"action" sermon, and was completed at the singing of the last Psalm.
Once there was no glory, because the minister, being still young,
expounded a new theory of the atonement of German manufacture, and
Donald's face was piteous to behold. It haunted the minister for
months, and brought to confusion a promising course of sermons on
the contribution of Hegel to Christian thought. Donald never laid
the blame of such calamities on the preacher, but accepted them as a
just judgment on his blindness of heart.
"We hef had the open vision," Donald explained to his friend Lachlan
Campbell, who distributed the responsibility in another fashion,
"and we would not see--so the veil hass fallen."
Donald sat before the pulpit and filled the hearts of nervous
probationers with dismay, not because his face was critical, but
because it seemed non-conducting, upon which their best passages
would break like spray against a rock. It was by nature the dullest
you ever saw, with hair descending low upon the forehead, and
preposterous whiskers dominating everything that remained, except a
heavy mouth and brown, lack-lustre eyes. For a while Donald crouched
in the corner of the pew, his head sunk on his breast, a very
picture of utter hopelessness. But as the Evangel began to play
round his heart, he would fix the preacher with rapid, wistful
glances, as of one who had awaked but hardly dared believe such
things could be true. Suddenly a sigh pervaded six pews, a kind of
gentle breath of penitence, faith, love, and hope mingled together
like the incense of the sanctuary, and Donald lifted up his head.
His eyes are now aflame, and those sullen lips are refining into
curves of tenderness. From the manse pew I watched keenly, for at
any moment a wonderful sight may be seen. A radiant smile will pass
from his lips to his eyes and spread over his face, as when the sun
shines on a fallow field and the rough furrows melt into warmth and
beauty. Donald's gaze is now fixed on a window above the preacher's
head, for on these great days that window is to him as the gate of
heaven. All I could see would be a bit of blue, and the fretted
sunlight through the swaying branches of an old plane tree. But
Donald has seen his Lord hanging upon the Cross for him, and the New
Jerusalem descending like a bride adorned for her husband more
plainly than if Perugino's great Crucifixion, with the kneeling
saints, and Angelico's Outer Court of Heaven, with the dancing
angels, had been hung in our little Free Kirk. When he went down the
aisle with the flagon in the Sacrament, he walked as one in a dream,
and wist not that his face shone.
There was an interval after the Sacrament, when the stranger was
sent to his room with light refreshments, to prepare himself for the
evening, and the elders dined with the minister. Before the
introduction of the Highlanders conversation had an easy play within
recognized limits, and was always opened by Burnbrae, who had come
out in '43, and was understood to have read the Confession of Faith.
"Ye gave us a grawnd discoorse this mornin', sir, baith instructive
and edifyin'; we were juist sayin' comin' up the gairden that ye
were never heard to mair advantage."
The minister was much relieved, because he had not been hopeful
during the week, and was still dissatisfied, as he explained at
length, with the passage on the Colossian heresy.
When these doubts had been cleared up, Burnbrae did his best by the
minister up stairs, who had submitted himself to the severe test of
"Yon were verra suitable words at the second table; he's a
speeritually minded man, Maister Cosh, and has the richt sough."
Or at the worst, when Burnbrae's courage had failed:
"Maister McKittrick had a fine text afore the table. I aye like tae
see a man gang tae the Song o' Solomon on the Sacrament Sabbath. A'
mind Dr. Guthrie on that verra subject twenty years syne."
Having paid its religious dues, conversation was now allowed some
freedom, and it was wonderful how many things could be touched on,
always from a sacramental standpoint.
"We've been awfu' favoured wi' weather the day, and ought to be
thankfu'. Gin it hads on like this I wudna say but th'ill be a gude
hairst. That's a fine pucklie aits ye hae in the laigh park,
"A've seen waur; they're fillin' no that bad. I wes juist thinkin'
as I cam to the Kirk that there wes aits in that field the Sacrament
after the Disruption."
"Did ye notice that Rachel Skene sat in her seat through the tables?
Says I, 'Are ye no gain forrit, Mistress Skene, or hae ye lost yir
token?' 'Na, na,' says she, 'ma token's safe in ma handkerchief; but
I cudna get to Kirk yesterday, and I never went forrit withoot ma
Saiturday yet, and I'm no to begin noo.'"
"She was aye a richt-thinkin' woman, Rachel, there's nae mistake o'
that; a' wonder hoo her son is gettin' on wi' that fairm he's
takin'; a' doot it's rack-rented."
It was an honest, satisfying conversation, and reminded one of the
parish of Drumtochty, being both _quoad sacra_ and _quoad
When the Highlanders came in, Burnbrae was deposed after one
encounter, and the minister was reduced to a state of timid
suggestion. There were days when they would not speak one word, and
were understood to be lost in meditation; on others they broke in on
any conversation that was going from levels beyond the imagination
of Drumtochty. Had this happened in the Auld Manse, Drumsheugh would
have taken for granted that Donald was "feeling sober" (ill), and
recommended the bottle which cured him of "a hoast" (cough) in the
fifties. But the Free Kirk had been taught that the Highlanders were
unapproachable in spiritual attainments, and even Burnbrae took his
"It wes a mercy the mune changed last week, Maister Menzies, or a'm
thinkin' it hed been a weet sacrament."
Donald came out of a maze, where he had been wandering in great
"I wass not hearing that the moon had anything to do in the matter.
Oh no, but he wass bound hand and foot by a mighty man."
"Wha was bund? A'm no juist followin' ye, Maister Menzies."
"The Prince of the power of the air. Oh yes, and he shall not be
loosed till the occasion be over. I hef had a sign." After which
conversation on the weather languished.
Perhaps the minister fared worse in an attempt to extract a
certificate of efficiency from Lachlan Campbell in favour of a
rhetorical young preacher.
"A fery nice speaker, and well pleased with himself. But I would be
thinking, when he wass giving his images. Oh yes, I would be
thinking. There was a laddie feeshing in the burn before my house,
and a fery pretty laddie he wass. He had a rod and a string, and he
threw his line peautiful. It wass a great peety he had no hook, for
it iss a want, and you do not catch many fish without a hook. But I
shall be glad that you are pleased, sir, and all the elders."
These were only passing incidents, and left no trace, but the rebuke
Donald gave to Burnbrae will be told while an elder lives. One of
the last of the old mystical school, which trace their descent from
Samuel Rutherford, had described the great mystery of our Faith with
such insight and pathos, that Donald had stood by the table weeping
gently, and found himself afterwards in the manse, he knew not how.
The silence was more than could be borne, and his former
responsibility fell on Burnbrae.
"It wes wonnerful, and I canna mind hearing the like o' yon at the
tables; but I wes sorry to see the Doctor sae failed. He wes bent
twa fad; a' doot it's a titch o' rheumatism, or maybe lumbago."
Johannine men are subject to sudden flashes of anger, and Donald
"Bent down with rheumatism, iss that what you say? Oh yes, it will
be rheumatism. Hass the sight of your eyes left you, and hef you no
discernment? Did ye not see that he was bowed to the very table with
the power of the Word? for it was a fire in his bones, and he was
baptised with the Holy Ghost."
When the elders gathered in the vestry, the minister asked what time
the preacher might have for his evening sermon, and Donald again
"I am told that in towns the Gospel goes by minutes, like the trains
at the stations; but there iss no time-table here, for we shall wait
till the sun goes down to hear all things God will be sending by His
Good memories differ about the text that Sacrament evening, and the
length of the sermon, but all hold as a treasure for ever what
happened when the book was closed. The people were hushed into a
quiet that might be felt, and the old man, swayed by the spirit of
the Prophets, began to repeat the blessings and curses in the Bible
between Genesis and Revelation, and after each pair he cried with
heart-piercing voice, "Choose this day which ye will take," till
Donald could contain himself no longer.
"Here iss the man who hass deserved all the curses, and here iss the
man who chooses all the blessings."
Our fathers had no turn for sensation, but they had an unerring
sense of a spiritual situation. The preacher paused for five
seconds, while no man could breathe, and then lifting up his hand to
Heaven he said, with an indescribable authority and tenderness, "The
Lord fulfil the desire of your heart both in this world and in that
which is to come."
Then the congregation sang, after the ancient custom of our parts,
"Now blessed be the Lord our God,
The God of Israel,"
and Donald's face was one glory, because he saw in the soft evening
light of the upper window the angels of God ascending and descending
upon the Son of man.
It was after this that the Free Kirk minister occupied six months in
proving that Moses did not write Deuteronomy, and Lachlan was trying
for the same period to have the minister removed from Drumtochty.
Donald, deprived by one stroke of both his friends, fell back on me,
and told me many things I loved to hear, although they were beyond
"It wass not always so with me as it iss this day, for I once had no
ear for God's voice, and my eyes were holden that I saw not the
spiritual world. But sore sickness came upon me, and I wass nigh
unto death, and my soul awoke within me and began to cry like a
child for its mother. All my days I had lived on Loch Tay, and now I
thought of the other country into which I would hef to be going,
where I had no nest, and my soul would be driven to and fro in the
darkness as a bird on the moor of Rannoch.
"Janet sent for the minister, and he wass fery kind, and he spoke
about my sickness and my farm, and I said nothing. For I wass hoping
he would tell me what I wass to do for my soul. But he began upon
the sheep market at Amulree, and I knew he wass also in the dark.
After he left I turned my face to the wall and wept.
"Next morning wass the Sabbath, and I said to Janet:
"'Wrap me in my plaid, and put me in a cart, and take me to
Aberfeldy.' 'And what will ye be doing at Aberfeldy? and you will
die on the road.' 'There iss,' said I, 'a man there who knows the
way of the soul, and it iss better to die with my face to the
"They set me in a corner of the church where I wass thinking no man
could see me, and I cried in my heart without ceasing, 'Lord, send
me--send me a word from Thy mouth.'
"When the minister came into the pulpit he gave me a strange look,
and this wass his text, 'Loose him and let him go.'
"As he preached I knew I wass Lazurus, with the darkness of the
grave around me, and my soul straitly bound. I could do nothing, but
I wass longing with all my strength.
"Then the minister stopped, and he said:
"There iss a man in this church, and he will know himself who it
iss. When I came in this morning I saw a shadow on his face, and I
knew not whether it was the wing of the Angel of Life or the Angel
of Death passing over him, but the Lord has made it plain to me, and
I see the silver feathers of the Angel of the Covenant, and this
shall be a sign unto that man, 'Loose him and let him go.'"
"While he wass still speaking I felt my soul carried out into the
light of God's face, and my grave clothes were taken off one by one
as Janet would unwind my plaid, and I stood a living man before
"It wass a sweet June day as we drove home, and I lay in sunshine,
and every bird that sang, and the burnies by the roadside, and the
rustling of the birch leaves in the wind--oh yes, and the sound of
the horse's feet were saying, 'Loose him and let him go.'
"Loch Tay looked black angry as we came by its side in the morning,
and I said to Janet:
"'It iss the Dead Sea, and I shall be as Sodom and Gomorrah;' but in
the evening it wass as a sea of glass mingled with fire, and I heard
the song of Moses and the Lamb sweeping over the Loch, but this wass
still the sweetest word to me, 'Loose him and let him go.'"
AGAINST PRINCIPALITIES AND POWERS
The powers of darkness had been making a dead set upon Donald all
winter, and towards spring he began to lose hope. He came to the
Cottage once a week with news from the seat of war, and I could
distinguish three zones of depression. Within the first he bewailed
his inveterate attachment to this world, and his absolute
indifference to spiritual things, and was content to describe
himself as Achan. The sign that he had entered the second was a
recurring reference to apostacy, and then you had the melancholy
satisfaction of meeting the living representative of Simon Peter.
When he passed into the last zone of the Purgatorio, Donald was
beyond speech, and simply allowed one to gather from allusions to
thirty pieces of silver that he was Judas Iscariot.
So long as it was only Achan or Simon Peter that came to sit with
me, one was not gravely concerned, but Judas Iscariot meant that
Donald had entered the Valley of the Shadow.
He made a spirited rally at the Winter Sacrament, and distinguished
himself greatly on the evening of the Fast day. Being asked to pray,
as a recognition of comparative cheerfulness, Donald continued for
five and twenty minutes, and unfolded the works of the Devil in such
minute and vivid detail that Burnbrae talks about it to this day,
and Lachlan Campbell, although an expert in this department,
confessed astonishment. It was a mighty wrestle, and it was perhaps
natural that Donald should groan heavily at regular intervals, and
acquaint the meeting how the conflict went, but the younger people
were much shaken, and the edification even of the serious was not
While Donald still lingered on the field of battle to gather the
spoils and guard against any sudden return of the enemy, the elders
had a hurried consultation in the vestry, and Burnbrae put the
position with admirable force.
"Naebody can deny that it wes a maist extraordinary prayer, and it
passes me hoo he kens sae muckle aboot the Deevil. In fac' it's a
preevilege tae hae sic an experienced hand among us, and I wudna
offend Donald Menzies for onything. But yon groanin' wes a wee
thingie discomposin', and when he said, kind o' confidential, 'He's
losing his grup,' ma ain fouk cudna keep their coontenance. Weel, I
wes thinkin' that the best plan wud be for Maister Campbell juist
tae give a bit advice and tell Donald that we're thankfu' to hear
him at the meeting, and michty lifted wi' his peteetions, but it wud
be an obleegation gin he wud leave oot the groans and tell us
aifterwards what wes gaein' on, maybe in the Session."
Lachlan accepted his commission with quite unusual diffidence, and
offered a very free translation on the way home.
"It wass a mercy to hef you at the meeting this night, Donald
Menzies, for I saw that Satan had come in great strength, and it iss
not every man that can withstand him. But you will not be ignorant
of his devices; oh no, you will be knowing them fery well. Satan had
not much to say before the prayer wass done, and I will not be
expecting to see him again at this occasion. It wass the elders
said, 'Donald Menzies hass trampled Satan under foot.' Oh yes, and
fery glad men they were, for it iss not given to them. But I would
be thinking iss it good to let the Devil hear you groaning in the
battle, and I would be wishing that you had kept all your groans and
given them to me on the road."
"Iss it the groans you are not liking?" retorted Donald, stung by
this unexpected criticism. "And what iss wrong with groaning? But I
hef the Scripture, and I will not be caring what you say, Lachlan
"If you hef a warrant for groaning, it iss this man that will be
glad to hear it, for I am not remembering that passage."
"Maybe you hef not read 'Maketh intercession with groanings,' but it
iss a fery good Scripture, and it iss in my Bible."
"All Scripture iss good, Donald Menzies, but it iss not lawful to
divide Scripture, and it will read in my Bible, 'groanings which
cannot be uttered,' and I wass saying this would be the best way
with your groans."
Donald came in to tell me how his companion in arms had treated him,
and was still sore.
"He iss in the bondage of the letter these days, for he will be
always talking about Moses with the minister, and I am not hearing
that iss good for the soul."
If even Lachlan could not attain to Donald, it was perhaps no
discredit that the Drumtochty mind was at times hopelessly
"He's a gude cratur and terrible gifted in prayer," Netherton
explained to Burnbrae after a prayer-meeting, when Donald had
temporarily abandoned Satan and given himself to autobiography, "but
yon wesna a verra ceevil way to speak aboot his faither and mither."
"A' doot yir imaginin', Netherton. Donald never mentioned his fouk
the nicht, and it's no likely he wud in the prayer-meeting."
"There's nae imaginin' aboot it; a' heard him wi' ma ain ears say
twice, 'My father was an Amorite, and my mother a Hittite.' I'll
take my aith on it. Noo, a' dinna ken Donald's forbears masel, for
he's frae Tayside, but supposin' they were as bad as bad cud be,
it's no for him to blacken his ain blood, and him an Elder."
"Toots, Netherton, yir aff it a' thegither. Div ye no see yon's
Bible langidge oot o' a Prophet, or maybe Kings, and Donald wes
usin't in a feegurative capaucity?"
"Feegurative or no feegurative, Burnbrae, it disna maitter; it's a
peetifu' job howking (digging) thro' the Bible for ill words tae
misca yir fouk wi' afore the public."
Burnbrae gave up the contest in despair, feeling himself that Old
Testament allusions were risky, and that Donald's quotation was less
Donald's prayers were not known outside the Free Kirk circle, but
his encounters with the evil one were public property, and caused a
general shudder. Drumtochty was never sure who might not be
listening, and considered that it was safer not to meddle with
certain nameless people. But Donald waged an open warfare in every
corner of the parish, in the Kirk, by the wayside, in his house, on
the road to market, and was ready to give any one the benefit of his
"Donald Menzies is in yonder," said Hillocks, pointing to the
smithy, whose fire sent fitful gleams across the dark road, "and
he's carryin' on maist fearsome. Ye wud think tae hear him speak
that auld Hornie wes gaein' louse in the parish; it sent a grue
(shiver) doon ma back. Faigs, it's no cannie to be muckle wi' the
body, for the Deil and Donald seem never separate. Hear him noo,
"Oh yes," said Donald, addressing the smith and two horror-stricken
ploughmen, "I hef seen him, and he hass withstood me on the road. It
wass late, and I wass thinking on the shepherd and the sheep, and
Satan will come out from the wood below Hillocks' farm-house ('Gude
preserve us,' from Hillocks) and say, 'That word is not for you,
Donald Menzies,' But I wass strong that night, and I said, 'Neither
shall any pluck them out of my hand,' and he will not wait long
after that, oh no, and I did not follow him into the wood."
The smith, released by the conclusion of the tale, blew a mighty
blast, and the fire burst into a red blaze, throwing into relief the
black figure of the smith and the white faces of the ploughmen;
glancing from the teeth of harrows, and the blades of scythes, and
the cruel knives of reaping machines, and from instruments with
triple prongs; and lighting up with a hideous glare the black sooty
recesses of the smithy.
"Keep's a'," whispered Hillocks, clutching my arm, "it's little
better than the ill place. I wish to gudeness I wes safe in ma ain
These were only indecisive skirmishes, for one evening Donald came
to my den with despair written on every feature, and I knew that
fighting had begun at the centre, and that he was worsted.
It was half an hour before he became articulate, during which time
he sighed as if the end of all things had come, and I caught the
word scapegoat twice, but at last he told me that he had resigned
his eldership, and would absent himself in future from the Free
"It hass been a weary winter when minister and people hef gone into
captivity, and on Sabbath the word wass taken altogether from the
minister's mouth, and he spake a language which we understood not
[it was the first of three sermons on the Hexateuch, and had treated
of the Jehovistic and Elohistic documents with much learning], and I
will be asking all the way back, 'Iss it I?' 'Iss it I?'
"Oh yes, and when I opened my Bible this iss the word I will see,
'That thou doest do quickly,' and I knew it wass my sins that had
brought great judgments on the people, and turned the minister into
a man of stammering lips and another tongue.
"It wass a mercy that the roof did not fall and bury all the people
with me; but we will not be tempting the Almighty, for I hef gone
outside, and now there will be peace and blessing."
When we left the lighted room and stood on the doorstep, Donald
pointed to the darkness. "There iss no star, and you will be
remembering what John saw when the door opened and Judas went out.
'It wass night'--oh yes, it iss night for me, but it will be light
As weeks went past, and Donald was seen neither at Kirk nor market,
my heart went out to the lonely man in his soul conflict, and,
although there was no help in me, I went to ask how it fared with
him. After the footpath disentangled itself from the pine woods and
crossed the burn by two fir trees nailed together, it climbed a
steep ascent to Donald's house, but I had barely touched the foot,
when I saw him descending, his head in the air, and his face
shining. Before any words passed, I knew that the battle had been
fought and won.
"It wass last night, and I will be coming to tell you. Satan hass
gone like darkness when the sun ariseth, and I hef been delivered."
There are stories one cannot hear sitting, and so we paced the
meadow below, rich in primroses, with a sloping bank of gorse behind
us, and the pines before us, and the water breaking over the stones
at our feet.
"It is three weeks since I saw you, and all that time I hef been
wandering on the hill by day, and lying in the barn at night, for it
wass not good to be with people, and Satan wass always saying to me,
Judas went to 'his own place.' My dog will lay his head on my knee,
and be sorry for me, and the dumb animals will be looking at me out
of their great eyes, and be moaning.
"The lads are good singers, and there wass always a sound of Psalms
on the farm, oh yes, and it was pleasant to come from the market and
hear the Psalms at the foot of the hill. It wass like going up to
Jerusalem. But there would be no Psalms these days, for the lads
could not sing when their father's soul wass going down into the
"Oh no, and there wass no prayer last night, but I told the lads to
go to bed, and I lay down before the fire to wrestle once more
before I perished.
"Janet will offer this word and the other, and I will be trying them
all, but Satan wass tearing them away as quick as I could speak, and
he always said, 'his own place.'
"'There iss no hope for me,' I cried, 'but it iss a mercy that you
and the lads will be safe in the City, and maybe the Lord will let
me see you all through the gate.' And that wass lifting me, but then
I will hear 'his own place,' 'his own place,' and my heart began to
fail, and I wass nigh to despair.
"Then I heard a voice, oh yes, as plain as you are hearing me, 'The
blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin.' It wass
like a gleam from the Mercy-seat, but I would be waiting to see
whether Satan had any answer, and my heart was standing still. But
there wass no word from him, not one word. Then I leaped to my feet
and cried, 'Get thee behind me, Satan,' and I will look round, and
there wass no one to be seen but Janet in her chair, with the tears
on her cheeks, and she wass saying, 'Thanks be to God, which giveth
us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.'
"The lads were not sleeping fery sound when their father was
fighting for his life, oh no, and I am not saying but maybe they
would be praying. It wass not fery long before they came down, and
Hamish will be looking at my face, and then he will get the books,
and this is the Psalm we sang?
"I love the Lord, because my voice
And prayers He did hear.
I, while I live, will call on Him,
Who bowed to me His ear.
* * * * *
God merciful and righteous is,
Yea, gracious is our Lord;
God saves the meek; I was brought low,
He did me help afford."
This was the victory of Donald Menzies, and on reaching home I
marked that the early roses were beginning to bloom over the door
through which Donald had gone out into the darkness.
HIS MOTHER'S SERMON
HIS MOTHER'S SERMON
He was an ingenuous lad, with the callow simplicity of a theological
college still untouched, and had arrived on the preceding Monday at
the Free Kirk manse with four cartloads of furniture and a maiden
aunt. For three days he roamed from room to room in the excitement
of householding, and made suggestions which were received with
hilarious contempt; then he shut himself up in his study to prepare
the great sermon, and his aunt went about on tiptoe. During meals on
Friday he explained casually that his own wish was to preach a
simple sermon, and that he would have done so had he been a private
individual, but as he had held the MacWhammel scholarship a
deliverance was expected by the country. He would be careful and say
nothing rash, but it was due to himself to state the present
position of theological thought, and he might have to quote once or
twice from Ewald.
His aunt was a saint, with that firm grasp of truth, and tender
mysticism, whose combination is the charm of Scottish piety, and her
face was troubled. While the minister was speaking in his boyish
complacency, her thoughts were in a room where they had both stood,
five years before, by the death-bed of his mother.
He was broken that day, and his sobs shook the bed, for he was his
mother's only son and fatherless, and his mother, brave and faithful
to the last, was bidding him farewell.
"Dinna greet like that, John, nor break yir hert, for it's the will
o' God, and that's aye best."
"Here's my watch and chain," placing them beside her son, who could
not touch them, nor would lift his head, "and when ye feel the chain
about yir neck it will mind ye o' yir mother's arms."
"Ye 'ill no forget me, John, I ken that weel, and I'll never forget
you. I've loved ye here and I'll love ye yonder. Th'ill no be an
'oor when I'll no pray for ye, and I'll ken better what to ask than
I did here, sae dinna be comfortless."
Then she felt for his head and stroked it once more, but he could
not look nor speak.
"Ye 'ill follow Christ, and gin He offers ye His cross, ye 'ill no
refuse it, for He aye carries the heavy end Himsel'. He's guided yir
mother a' thae years, and been as gude as a husband since yir
father's death, and He 'ill hold me fast tae the end. He 'ill keep
ye too, and, John, I'll be watchin' for ye. Ye 'ill no fail me," and
her poor cold hand that had tended him all his days tightened on his
But he could not speak, and her voice was failing fast.
"I canna see ye noo, John, but I know yir there, and I've just one
other wish. If God calls ye to the ministry, ye 'ill no refuse, an'
the first day ye preach in yir ain kirk, speak a gude word for Jesus
Christ, an,' John, I'll hear ye that day, though ye 'ill no see me,
and I'll be satisfied."
A minute after she whispered, "Pray for me," and he cried, "My
mother, my mother."
It was a full prayer, and left nothing unasked of Mary's Son.
"John," said his aunt, "your mother is with the Lord," and he saw
death for the first time, but it was beautiful with the peace that
passeth all understanding.
Five years had passed, crowded with thought and work, and his aunt
wondered whether he remembered that last request, or indeed had
heard it in his sorrow.
"What are you thinking about, aunt? Are you afraid of my theology?"
"No, John, it's no that, laddie, for I ken ye 'ill say what ye
believe to be true withoot fear o' man," and she hesitated.
"Come, out with it, auntie: you're my only mother now, you know,"
and the minister put his arm round her, "as well as the kindest,
bonniest, goodest auntie ever man had."
Below his student self-conceit he was a good lad, and sound of
"Shame on you, John, to make a fule o' an auld dune body, but ye'll
no come round me with yir flattery. I ken ye ower weel," and as she
caught the likeness in his face, her eyes filled suddenly.
"What's the matter, auntie? Will ye no tell me?"
"Dinna be angry wi' me, John, but a'm concerned aboot Sabbath, for
a've been praying ever syne ye were called to Drumtochty that it
micht be a great day, and that I micht see ye comin' tae yir people,
laddie, wi' the beauty o' the Lord upon ye, according tae the auld
prophecy: 'How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that
bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace,'" and again she
"Go on, auntie, go on," he whispered; "say all that's in yir mind."
"It's no for me tae advise ye, who am only a simple auld woman, who
ken's naethin' but her Bible and the Catechism, and it's no that a'm
feared for the new views, or aboot yir faith, for I aye mind that
there's mony things the Speerit hes still tae teach us, and I ken
weel the man that follows Christ will never lose his way in ony
thicket. But it's the fouk, John, a'm anxious aboot, the flock o'
sheep the Lord hes given ye tae feed for Him."
She could not see his face, but she felt him gently press her hand,
and took courage.
"Ye maun mind, laddie, that they're no clever and learned like what
ye are, but juist plain country fouk, ilka ane wi' his ain
temptation, an' a' sair trachled wi' mony cares o' this world. They
'ill need a clear word tae comfort their herts and show them the way
everlasting. Ye 'ill say what's richt, nae doot o' that, and a'body
'ill be pleased wi' ye, but, oh, laddie, be sure ye say a gude word
for Jesus Christ."
The minister's face whitened, and his arm relaxed. He rose hastily
and went to the door, but in going out he gave his aunt an
understanding look, such as passes between people who have stood
together in a sorrow. The son had not forgotten his mother's
The manse garden lies toward the west, and as the minister paced its
little square of turf, sheltered by fir hedges, the sun was going
down behind the Grampians. Black massy clouds had begun to gather in
the evening, and threatened to obscure the sunset, which was the
finest sight a Drumtochty man was ever likely to see, and a means of
grace to every sensible heart in the glen. But the sun had beat back
the clouds on either side, and shot them through with glory and now
between piled billows of light he went along a shining pathway into
the Gates of the West. The minister stood still before that
spectacle, his face bathed in the golden glory, and then before his
eyes the gold deepened into an awful red, and the red passed into
shades of violet and green, beyond painter's hand or the imagination
of man. It seemed to him as if a victorious saint had entered
through the gates into the city, washed in the blood of the Lamb,
and the after glow of his mother's life fell solemnly on his soul.
The last trace of sunset had faded from the hills when the minister
came in, and his face was of one who had seen a vision. He asked his
aunt to have worship with the servant, for he must be alone in his
It was a cheerful room in the daytime, with its southern window,
through which the minister saw the roses touching the very glass and
dwarf apple trees lining the garden walks; there was also a western
window that he might watch each day close. It was a pleasant room
now, when the curtains were drawn, and the light of the lamp fell on
the books he loved, and which bade him welcome. One by one he had
arranged the hard-bought treasures of student days in the little
book-case, and had planned for himself that sweetest of pleasures,
an evening of desultory reading. But his books went out of mind as
he looked at the sermon shining beneath the glare of the lamp, and
demanding judgment. He had finished its last page with honest pride
that afternoon, and had declaimed it, facing the southern window,
with a success that amazed himself. His hope was that he might be
kept humble, and not called to Edinburgh for at least two years; and
now he lifted the sheets with fear. The brilliant opening, with its
historical parallel, this review of modern thought reinforced by
telling quotations, that trenchant criticism of old-fashioned views,
would not deliver. For the audience had vanished, and left one
careworn, but ever beautiful face, whose gentle eyes were waiting
with a yearning look. Twice he crushed the sermon in his hands, and
turned to the fire his aunt's care had kindled, and twice he
repented and smoothed it out. What else could he say now to the
people? and then in the stillness of the room he heard a voice,
"Speak a gude word for Jesus Christ."
Next minute he was kneeling on the hearth, and pressing the
_magnum opus_, that was to shake Drumtochty, into the heart of
the red fire, and he saw, half-smiling and half-weeping, the
impressive words, "Semitic environment," shrivel up and disappear.
As the last black flake fluttered out of sight, the face looked at
him again, but this time the sweet brown eyes were full of peace.
It was no masterpiece, but only the crude production of a lad who
knew little of letters and nothing of the world. Very likely it
would have done neither harm nor good, but it was his best, and he
gave it for love's sake, and I suppose that there is nothing in a
human life so precious to God, neither clever words nor famous
deeds, as the sacrifices of love.
The moon flooded his bedroom with silver light, and he felt the
presence of his mother. His bed stood ghostly with its white
curtains, and he remembered how every night his mother knelt by its
side in prayer for him. He is a boy once more, and repeats the
Lord's Prayer, then he cries again, "My mother! my mother!" and an
indescribable contentment fills his heart.
His prayer next morning was very short, but afterwards he stood at
the window for a space, and when he turned, his aunt said:
"Ye will get yir sermon, and it will be worth hearing."
"How did ye know?"
But she only smiled, "I heard you pray."
When he shut himself into the study that Saturday morning, his aunt
went into her room above, and he knew she had gone to intercede for
An hour afterwards he was pacing the garden in such anxious thought
that he crushed with his foot a rose lying on the path, and then she
saw his face suddenly lighten, and he hurried to the house, but
first he plucked a bunch of forget-me-nots. In the evening she found
them on his sermon.
Two hours later--for still she prayed and watched in faithfulness to
mother and son--she observed him come out and wander round the
garden in great joy. He lifted up the soiled rose and put it in his
coat; he released a butterfly caught in some mesh; he buried his
face in fragrant honeysuckle. Then she understood that his heart was
full of love, and was sure that it would be well on the morrow.
When the bell began to ring, the minister rose from his knees and
went to his aunt's room to be robed, for this was a covenant between
His gown was spread out in its black silken glory, but he sat down
"Auntie, whatever shall we do, for I've forgotten the bands?"
"But I've not forgot them, John, and here are six pair wrought with
my own hands, and now sit still and I'll tie them round my laddie's
When she had given the last touch, and he was ready to go, a sudden
seriousness fell upon them.
"Kiss me, auntie."
"For your mother, and her God be with you," and then he went through
the garden and underneath the honeysuckle and into the kirk, where
every Free Churchman in Drumtochty that could get out of bed, and
half the Established Kirk, were waiting in expectation.
I sat with his aunt in the minister's pew, and shall always be glad
that I was at that service. When winter lies heavy upon the glen I
go upon my travels, and in my time have seen many religious
functions. I have been in Mr. Spurgeon's Tabernacle, where the
people wept one minute and laughed the next; have heard Canon Liddon
in St. Paul's, and the sound of that high, clear voice is still with
me, "Awake, awake, put on thy strength, O Zion;" have seen High Mass
in St. Peter's, and stood in the dusk of the Duomo at Florence when
Padre Agostino thundered against the evils of the day. But I never
realised the unseen world as I did that day in the Free Kirk of
It is impossible to analyse a spiritual effect, because it is largely
an atmosphere, but certain circumstances assisted. One was instantly
prepossessed in favour of a young minister who gave out the second
paraphrase at his first service, for it declared his filial reverence
and won for him the blessing of a cloud of witnesses. No Scottish man
can ever sing,
"God of our fathers, be the God
Of their succeeding race."
with a dry heart. It satisfied me at once that the minister was of a
fine temper when, after a brave attempt to join, he hid his face and
was silent. We thought none the worse of him that he was nervous, and
two or three old people who had suspected self-sufficiency took him to
their hearts when the minister concluded the Lord's prayer hurriedly,
having omitted two petitions. But we knew it was not nervousness which
made him pause for ten seconds after praying for widows and orphans,
and in the silence which fell upon us the Divine Spirit had free access.
His youth commended him, since he was also modest, for every mother had
come with an inarticulate prayer that the "puir laddie wud dae weel on
his first day, and him only twenty-four." Texts I can never remember,
nor, for that matter, the words of sermons; but the subject was Jesus
Christ, and before he had spoken five minutes I was convinced, who am
outside dogmas and churches, that Christ was present. The preacher
faded from before one's eyes, and there rose the figure of the Nazarene,
best lover of every human soul, with a face of tender patience such as
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