Ranald Bannerman's Boyhood
Part 2 out of 4
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:
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
"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.
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
"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.
"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.
"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
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
"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
"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.
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
"What is the matter, my boy?" he asked.
"Lift me up a little, please," I said, "I have _such_ a pain in my
"Ah!" he said, "it catches your breath. We must send for the old
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 Ętna, 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
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
"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,
"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.
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,
"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,"
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
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
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."
"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
"How is it," I asked, "that she is feeding her on old James Joss's
"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
"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
"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.
A New Companion
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
"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.
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
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
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
"Look here, Ranald," he said, holding out something like a piece of
"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.
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
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.
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
"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
"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
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.
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
"Papa, I want to speak to you."
"Very well, Ranald," he said, more solemnly, I thought, than usual;
"come up to the study."
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
"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
"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
"Yes, indeed, papa. I would rather share with you than not, whatever
"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.
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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
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
"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,
"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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
Oh! the bonny, bonny dell, whaur the yorlin sings,
Wi' a clip o' the sunshine atween his wings;
Whaur the birks 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' bonny havers til 'tsel alane;
And the sliddery 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
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
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