Ranald Bannerman's Boyhood
Part 3 out of 4
tight, turned away, and pretended to be fast asleep again, in the hope
that she would go away and leave me with my friends.
"Do let him have his sleep out, Mrs. Mitchell," said Turkey's mother.
"You've let him sleep too long already," she returned, ungraciously.
"He'll do all he can, waking or sleeping, to make himself troublesome.
He's a ne'er-do-well, Ranald. Little good'll ever come of him. It's a
mercy his mother is under the mould, for he would have broken her
I had come to myself quite by this time, but I was not in the least
more inclined to acknowledge it to Mrs. Mitchell.
"You're wrong there, Mrs. Mitchell," said Elsie Duff; and my reader
must remember it required a good deal of courage to stand up against a
woman so much older than herself, and occupying the important position
of housekeeper to the minister. "Ranald is a good boy. I'm sure he
"How dare you say so, when he served your poor old grandmother such a
wicked trick? It's little the children care for their parents
nowadays. Don't speak to me."
"No, don't, Elsie," said another voice, accompanied by a creaking of
the door and a heavy step. "Don't speak to her, Elsie, or you'll have
the worst of it. Leave her to me.--If Ranald did what you say, Mrs.
Mitchell, and I don't deny it, he was at least very sorry for it
afterwards, and begged grannie's pardon; and that's a sort of thing
_you_ never did in your life."
"I never had any occasion, Turkey; so you hold your tongue."
"Now don't you call me _Turkey_. I won't stand it. I was christened as
well as you."
"And what are _you_ to speak to me like that? Go home to your cows. I
dare say they're standing supperless in their stalls while you're
gadding about. I'll call you _Turkey_ as long as I please."
"Very well, Kelpie--that's the name you're known by, though perhaps no
one has been polite enough to use it to your face, for you're a great
woman, no doubt--I give you warning that I know you. When you're found
out, don't say I didn't give you a chance beforehand."
"You impudent beggar!" cried Mrs. Mitchell, in a rage. "And you're all
one pack," she added, looking round on the two others. "Get up,
Ranald, and come home with me directly. What are you lying shamming
As she spoke, she approached the bed; but Turkey was too quick for
her, and got in front of it. As he was now a great strong lad, she
dared not lay hands upon him, so she turned in a rage and stalked out
of the room, saying,
"Mr. Bannerman shall hear of this."
"Then it'll be both sides of it, Mrs. Mitchell," I cried from the bed;
but she vanished, vouchsafing me no reply.
Once more Turkey got me on his back and carried me home. I told my
father the whole occurrence. He examined the cut and plastered it up
for me, saying he would go and thank Turkey's mother at once. I
confess I thought more of Elsie Duff and her wonderful singing, which
had put me to sleep, and given me the strange lovely dream from which
the rough hands and harsh voice of the Kelpie had waked me too soon.
After this, although I never dared go near her grandmother's house
alone, I yet, by loitering and watching, got many a peep of Elsie.
Sometimes I went with Turkey to his mother's of an evening, to which
my father had no objection, and somehow or other Elsie was sure to be
there, and we spent a very happy hour or two together. Sometimes she
would sing, and sometimes I would read to them out of Milton--I read
the whole of Comus to them by degrees in this way; and although there
was much I could not at all understand, I am perfectly certain it had
an ennobling effect upon every one of us. It is not necessary that the
intellect should define and separate before the heart and soul derive
nourishment. As well say that a bee can get nothing out of a flower,
because she does not understand botany. The very music of the stately
words of such a poem is enough to generate a better mood, to make one
feel the air of higher regions, and wish to rise "above the smoke and
stir of this dim spot". The best influences which bear upon us are of
this vague sort--powerful upon the heart and conscience, although
undefined to the intellect.
But I find I have been forgetting that those for whom I write are
young--too young to understand this. Let it remain, however, for those
older persons who at an odd moment, while waiting for dinner, or
before going to bed, may take up a little one's book, and turn over a
few of its leaves. Some such readers, in virtue of their hearts being
young and old both at once, discern more in the children's books than
the children themselves.
The Bees' Nest
It was twelve o'clock on a delicious Saturday in the height of summer.
We poured out of school with the gladness of a holiday in our hearts.
I sauntered home full of the summer sun, and the summer wind, and the
summer scents which filled the air. I do not know how often I sat down
in perfect bliss upon the earthen walls which divided the fields from
the road, and basked in the heat. These walls were covered with grass
and moss. The odour of a certain yellow feathery flower, which grew on
them rather plentifully, used to give me special delight. Great
humble-bees haunted the walls, and were poking about in them
constantly. Butterflies also found them pleasant places, and I
delighted in butterflies, though I seldom succeeded in catching one. I
do not remember that I ever killed one. Heart and conscience both were
against that. I had got the loan of Mrs. Trimmer's story of the family
of Robins, and was every now and then reading a page of it with
unspeakable delight. We had very few books for children in those days
and in that far out-of-the-way place, and those we did get were the
more dearly prized. It was almost dinner-time before I reached home.
Somehow in this grand weather, welcome as dinner always was, it did
not possess the same amount of interest as in the cold bitter winter.
This day I almost hurried over mine to get out again into the broad
sunlight. Oh, how stately the hollyhocks towered on the borders of the
shrubbery! The guelder-roses hung like balls of snow in their
wilderness of green leaves; and here and there the damask roses, dark
almost to blackness, and with a soft velvety surface, enriched the
sunny air with their colour and their scent. I never see these roses
now. And the little bushes of polyanthus gemmed the dark earth between
with their varied hues. We did not know anything about flowers except
the delight they gave us, and I dare say I am putting some together
which would not be out at the same time, but that is how the picture
comes back to my memory.
I was leaning in utter idleness over the gate that separated the
little lawn and its surroundings from the road, when a troop of
children passed, with little baskets and tin pails in their hands; and
amongst them Jamie Duff. It was not in the least necessary to ask him
where he was going.
Not very far, about a mile or so from our house, rose a certain hill
famed in the country round for its store of bilberries. It was the
same to which Turkey and I had fled for refuge from the bull. It was
called the Ba' Hill, and a tradition lingered in the neighbourhood
that many years ago there had been a battle there, and that after the
battle the conquerors played at football with the heads of the
vanquished slain, and hence the name of the hill; but who fought or
which conquered, there was not a shadow of a record. It had been a
wild country, and conflicting clans had often wrought wild work in
it. In summer the hill was of course the haunt of children gathering
its bilberries. Jamie shyly suggested whether I would not join them,
but they were all too much younger than myself; and besides I felt
drawn to seek Turkey in the field with the cattle--that is, when I
should get quite tired of doing nothing. So the little troop streamed
on, and I remained leaning over the gate.
I suppose I had sunk into a dreamy state, for I was suddenly startled
by a sound beside me, and looking about, saw an old woman, bent nearly
double within an old grey cloak, notwithstanding the heat. She leaned
on a stick, and carried a bag like a pillow-case in her hand. It was
one of the poor people of the village, going her rounds for her weekly
dole of a handful of oatmeal. I knew her very well by sight and by
name--she was old Eppie--and a kindly greeting passed between us. I
thank God that the frightful poor-laws had not invaded Scotland when I
was a boy. There was no degradation in honest poverty then, and it was
no burden to those who supplied its wants; while every person was
known, and kindly feelings were nourished on both sides. If I
understand anything of human nature now, it comes partly of having
known and respected the poor of my father's parish. She passed in at
the gate and went as usual to the kitchen door, while I stood drowsily
contemplating the green expanse of growing crops in the valley before
me. The day had grown as sleepy as myself. There were no noises except
the hum of the unseen insects, and the distant rush of the water over
the dams at our bathing-place. In a few minutes the old woman
approached me again. She was an honest and worthy soul, and very civil
in her manners. Therefore I was surprised to hear her muttering to
herself. Turning, I saw she was very angry. She ceased her muttering
when she descried me observing her, and walked on in silence--was even
about to pass through the little wicket at the side of the larger gate
without any further salutation. Something had vexed her, and
instinctively I put my hand in my pocket, and pulled out a halfpenny
my father had given me that morning--very few of which came in my
way--and offered it to her. She took it with a half-ashamed glance, an
attempt at a courtesy, and a murmured blessing. Then for a moment she
looked as if about to say something, but changing her mind, she only
added another grateful word, and hobbled away. I pondered in a feeble
fashion for a moment, came to the conclusion that the Kelpie had been
rude to her, forgot her, and fell a-dreaming again. Growing at length
tired of doing nothing, I roused myself, and set out to seek Turkey.
I have lingered almost foolishly over this day. But when I recall my
childhood, this day always comes back as a type of the best of it.
I remember I visited Kirsty, to find out where Turkey was. Kirsty
welcomed me as usual, for she was always loving and kind to us; and
although I did not visit her so often now, she knew it was because I
was more with my father, and had lessons to learn in which she could
not assist me. Having nothing else to talk about, I told her of Eppie,
and her altered looks when she came out of the house. Kirsty
compressed her lips, nodded her head, looked serious, and made me no
reply. Thinking this was strange, I resolved to tell Turkey, which
otherwise I might not have done. I did not pursue the matter with
Kirsty, for I knew her well enough to know that her manner indicated a
mood out of which nothing could be drawn. Having learned where he was,
I set out to find him--close by the scene of our adventure with
Wandering Willie. I soon came in sight of the cattle feeding, but did
not see Turkey.
When I came near the mound, I caught a glimpse of the head of old
Mrs. Gregson's cow quietly feeding off the top of the wall from the
other side, like an outcast Gentile; while my father's cows, like the
favoured and greedy Jews, were busy in the short clover inside.
Grannie's cow managed to live notwithstanding, and I dare say gave as
good milk, though not perhaps quite so much of it, as ill-tempered
Hawkie. Mrs. Gregson's granddaughter, however, who did not eat grass,
was inside the wall, seated on a stone which Turkey had no doubt
dragged there for her. Trust both her and Turkey, the cow should not
have a mouthful without leave of my father. Elsie was as usual busy
with her knitting. And now I caught sight of Turkey, running from a
neighbouring cottage with a spade over his shoulder. Elsie had been
minding the cows for him.
"What's ado, Turkey?" I cried, running to meet him.
"Such a wild bees' nest!" answered Turkey. "I'm so glad you're come! I
was just thinking whether I wouldn't run and fetch you. Elsie and I
have been watching them going out and in for the last half-hour.--Such
lots of bees! There's a store of honey _there_."
"But isn't it too soon to take it, Turkey? There'll be a great deal
more in a few weeks.--Not that I know anything about bees," I added
"You're quite right, Ranald," answered Turkey; "but there are several
things to be considered. In the first place, the nest is by the
roadside, and somebody else might find it. Next, Elsie has never
tasted honey all her life, and it _is_ so nice, and here she is, all
ready to eat some. Thirdly, and lastly, as your father says--though
not very often," added Turkey slyly, meaning that the _lastly_ seldom
came with the _thirdly_,--"if we take the honey now, the bees will
have plenty of time to gather enough for the winter before the flowers
are gone, whereas if we leave it too long they will starve."
I was satisfied with this reasoning, and made no further objection.
"You must keep a sharp look-out though, Ranald," he said; "for they'll
be mad enough, and you must keep them off with your cap."
He took off his own, and gave it to Elsie, saying: "Here, Elsie: you
must look out, and keep off the bees. I can tell you a sting is no
joke. I've had three myself."
"But what are _you_ to do, Turkey?" asked Elsie, with an anxious face.
"Oh, Ranald will keep them off me and himself too. I shan't heed them.
I must dig away, and get at the honey."
All things being thus arranged, Turkey manfully approached the _dyke_,
as they call any kind of wall-fence there. In the midst of the grass
and moss was one little hole, through which the bees kept going and
coming very busily. Turkey put in his finger and felt in what
direction the hole went, and thence judging the position of the hoard,
struck his spade with firm foot into the dyke. What bees were in came
rushing out in fear and rage, and I had quite enough to do to keep
them off our bare heads with my cap. Those who were returning, laden
as they were, joined in the defence, but I did my best, and with
tolerable success. Elsie being at a little distance, and comparatively
still, was less the object of their resentment. In a few moments
Turkey had reached the store. Then he began to dig about it carefully
to keep from spoiling the honey. First he took out a quantity of cells
with nothing in them but grub-like things--the cradles of the young
bees they were. He threw them away, and went on digging as coolly as
if he had been gardening. All the defence he left to me, and I assure
you I had enough of it, and thought mine the harder work of the two:
hand or eye had no rest, and my mind was on the stretch of anxiety all
But now Turkey stooped to the nest, cleared away the earth about it
with his hands, and with much care drew out a great piece of
honeycomb, just as well put together as the comb of any educated bees
in a garden-hive, who know that they are working for critics. Its
surface was even and yellow, showing that the cells were full to the
brim of the rich store. I think I see Turkey weighing it in his hand,
and turning it over to pick away some bits of adhering mould ere he
presented it to Elsie. She sat on her stone like a patient, contented
queen, waiting for what her subjects would bring her.
"Oh, Turkey! what a piece!" she said as she took it, and opened her
pretty mouth and white teeth to have a bite of the treasure.
"Now, Ranald," said Turkey, "we must finish the job before we have any
He went on carefully removing the honey, and piling it on the bank.
There was not a great deal, because it was so early in the year, and
there was not another comb to equal that he had given Elsie. But when
he had got it all out--
"They'll soon find another nest," he said. "I don't think it's any use
leaving this open for them. It spoils the dyke too."
As he spoke he began to fill up the hole, and beat the earth down
hard. Last of all, he put in the sod first dug away, with the grass
and flowers still growing upon it. This done, he proceeded to divide
what remained of the honey.
"There's a piece for Allister and Davie," he said; "and here's a piece
for you, and this for me, and Elsie can take the rest home for herself
Elsie protested, but we both insisted. Turkey got some nice clover,
and laid the bits of honeycomb in it. Then we sat and ate our shares,
and chatted away for a long time, Turkey and I getting up every now
and then to look after the cattle, and Elsie too having sometimes to
follow her cow, when she threatened an inroad upon some neighbouring
field while we were away. But there was plenty of time between, and
Elsie sung us two or three songs at our earnest request, and Turkey
told us one or two stories out of history books he had been reading,
and I pulled out my story of the Robins and read to them. And so the
hot sun went down the glowing west, and threw longer and longer
shadows eastward. A great shapeless blot of darkness, with legs to it,
accompanied every cow, and calf, and bullock wherever it went. There
was a new shadow crop in the grass, and a huge patch with long
tree-shapes at the end of it, stretched away from the foot of the
hillock. The weathercock on the top of the church was glistening such
a bright gold, that the wonder was how it could keep from breaking out
into a crow that would rouse all the cocks of the neighbourhood, even
although they were beginning to get sleepy, and thinking of going to
roost. It was time for the cattle, Elsie's cow included, to go home;
for, although the latter had not had such plenty to eat from as the
rest, she had been at it all day, and had come upon several very nice
little patches of clover, that had overflowed the edges of the fields
into the levels and the now dry ditches on the sides of the road. But
just as we rose to break up the assembly, we spied a little girl come
flying across the field, as if winged with news. As she came nearer we
recognized her. She lived near Mrs. Gregson's cottage, and was one of
the little troop whom I had seen pass the manse on their way to gather
"Elsie! Elsie!" she cried, "John Adam has taken Jamie. Jamie fell, and
John got him."
Elsie looked frightened, but Turkey laughed, saying: "Never mind,
Elsie. John is better than he looks. He won't do him the least harm.
He must mind his business, you know."
The Ba' Hill was covered with a young plantation of firs, which, hardy
as they were, had yet in a measure to be coaxed into growing in that
inclement region. It was amongst their small stems that the coveted
bilberries grew, in company with cranberries and crowberries, and
dwarf junipers. The children of the village thus attracted to the
place were no doubt careless of the young trees, and might sometimes
even amuse themselves with doing them damage. Hence the keeper, John
Adam, whose business it was to look after them, found it his duty to
wage war upon the annual hordes of these invaders; and in their eyes
Adam was a terrible man. He was very long and very lean, with a
flattish yet Roman nose, and rather ill-tempered mouth, while his face
was dead-white and much pitted with the small-pox. He wore corduroy
breeches, a blue coat, and a nightcap striped horizontally with black
and red. The youngsters pretended to determine, by the direction in
which the tassel of it hung, what mood its owner was in; nor is it for
me to deny that their inductions may have led them to conclusions
quite as correct as those of some other scientific observers. At all
events the tassel was a warning, a terror, and a hope. He could not
run very fast, fortunately, for the lean legs within those ribbed grey
stockings were subject to rheumatism, and could take only long not
rapid strides; and if the children had a tolerable start, and had not
the misfortune to choose in their terror an impassable direction, they
were pretty sure to get off. Jamie Duff, the most harmless and
conscientious creature, who would not have injured a young fir upon
any temptation, did take a wrong direction, caught his foot in a hole,
fell into a furze bush, and, nearly paralysed with terror, was seized
by the long fingers of Adam, and ignominiously lifted by a portion of
his garments into the vast aŽrial space between the ground and the
white, pock-pitted face of the keeper. Too frightened to scream, too
conscious of trespass to make any resistance, he was borne off as a
warning to the rest of the very improbable fate which awaited them.
But the character of Adam was not by any means so frightful in the
eyes of Turkey; and he soon succeeded in partially composing the
trepidation of Elsie, assuring her that as soon as he had put up the
cattle, he would walk over to Adam's house and try to get Jamie off,
whereupon Elsie set off home with her cow, disconsolate but hopeful. I
think I see her yet--for I recall every picture of that lovely day
clear as the light of that red sunset--walking slowly with her head
bent half in trouble, half in attention to her knitting, after her
solemn cow, which seemed to take twice as long to get over the ground
because she had two pairs of legs instead of one to shuffle across it,
dragging her long iron chain with the short stake at the end after her
with a gentle clatter over the hard dry road. I accompanied Turkey,
helped him to fasten up and bed the cows, went in with him and shared
his hasty supper of potatoes and oatcake and milk, and then set out
refreshed, and nowise apprehensive in his company, to seek the abode
of the redoubtable ogre, John Adam.
He had a small farm of his own at the foot of the hill of which he had
the charge. It was a poor little place, with a very low thatched
cottage for the dwelling. A sister kept house for him. When we
approached it there was no one to be seen. We advanced to the door
along a rough pavement of round stones, which parted the house from
the dunghill. I peeped in at the little window as we passed. There, to
my astonishment, I saw Jamie Duff, as I thought, looking very happy,
and in the act of lifting a spoon to his mouth. A moment after,
however, I concluded that I must have been mistaken, for, when Turkey
lifted the latch and we walked in, there were the awful John and his
long sister seated at the table, while poor Jamie was in a corner,
with no basin in his hand, and a face that looked dismal and dreary
enough. I fancied I caught a glimpse of Turkey laughing in his sleeve,
and felt mildly indignant with him--for Elsie's sake more, I confess,
than for Jamie's.
"Come in," said Adam, rising; but, seeing who it was, he seated
himself again, adding, "Oh, it's you, Turkey!"--Everybody called him
Turkey. "Come in and take a spoon."
"No, thank you," said Turkey; "I have had my supper. I only came to
inquire after that young rascal there."
"Ah! you see him! There he is!" said Adam, looking towards me with an
awful expression in his dead brown eyes. "Starving. No home and no
supper for him! He'll have to sleep in the hay-loft with the rats and
mice, and a stray cat or two."
Jamie put his cuffs, the perennial handkerchief of our poor little
brothers, to his eyes. His fate was full of horrors. But again I
thought I saw Turkey laughing in his sleeve.
"His sister is very anxious about him, Mr. Adam," he said. "Couldn't
you let him off this once?"
"On no account. I am here in trust, and I must do my duty. The duke
gives the forest in charge to me. I have got to look after it."
I could not help thinking what a poor thing it was for a forest. All I
knew of forests was from story-books, and there they were full of ever
such grand trees. Adam went on--
"And if wicked boys will break down the trees--"
"I only pulled the bilberries," interposed Jamie, in a whine which
went off in a howl.
"James Duff!" said Adam, with awful authority, "I saw you myself
tumble over a young larch tree, not two feet high."
"The worse for me!" sobbed Jamie.
"Tut! tut! Mr. Adam! the larch tree wasn't a baby," said Turkey. "Let
Jamie go. He couldn't help it, you see."
"It _was_ a baby, and it _is_ a baby," said Adam, with a solitary
twinkle in the determined dead brown of his eyes. "And I'll have no
intercession here. Transgressors must be prosecuted, as the board
says. And prosecuted he shall be. He sha'n't get out of this before
school-time to-morrow morning. He shall be late, too, and I hope the
master will give it him well. We must make some examples, you see,
Turkey. It's no use your saying anything. I don't say Jamie's a worse
boy than the rest, but he's just as bad, else how did he come to be
there tumbling over my babies? Answer me that, Master Bannerman."
He turned and fixed his eyes upon me. There was question in his mouth,
but neither question nor speculation in his eyes. I could not meet the
awful changeless gaze. My eyes sank before his.
"Example, Master Bannerman, is everything. If you serve my trees as
this young man has done--"
The idea of James Duff being a young man!
"--I'll serve you the same as I serve him--and that's no sweet
service, I'll warrant."
As the keeper ended, he brought down his fist on the table with such a
bang, that poor Jamie almost fell off the stool on which he sat in the
"But let him off just this once," pleaded Turkey, "and I'll be surety
for him that he'll never do it again."
"Oh, as to him, I'm not afraid of him," returned the keeper; "but will
you be surety for the fifty boys that'll only make game of me if I
don't make an example of him? I'm in luck to have caught him. No, no,
Turkey; it won't do, my man. I'm sorry for his father and his mother,
and his sister Elsie, for they're all very good people; but I must
make an example of him."
At mention of his relatives Jamie burst into another suppressed howl.
"Well, you won't be over hard upon him anyhow: will you now?" said
"I won't pull his skin _quite_ over his ears," said Adam; "and that's
all the promise you'll get out of me."
The tall thin grim sister had sat all the time as if she had no right
to be aware of anything that was going on, but her nose, which was
more hooked than her brother's, and larger, looked as if, in the
absence of eyes and ears, it was taking cognizance of everything, and
would inform the rest of the senses afterwards.
I had a suspicion that the keeper's ferocity was assumed for the
occasion, and that he was not such an ogre as I had considered him.
Still, the prospect of poor little Jamie spending the night alone in
the loft amongst the cats and rats was sufficiently dreadful when I
thought of my midnight awaking in the barn. There seemed to be no
help, however, especially when Turkey rose to say good night.
I felt disconsolate, and was not well pleased with Turkey's
coolness. I thought he had not done his best.
When we got into the road--
"Poor Elsie!" I said; "she'll be miserable about Jamie."
"Oh no," returned Turkey. "I'll go straight over and tell her. No harm
will come to Jamie. John Adam's bark is a good deal worse than his
bite. Only I should have liked to take him home if I could."
It was now twilight, and through the glimmering dusk we walked back to
the manse. Turkey left me at the gate and strode on towards the
village; while I turned in, revolving a new scheme which had arisen in
my brain, and for the first time a sense of rivalry with Turkey awoke
in my bosom. He did everything for Elsie Duff, and I did nothing. For
her he had robbed the bees' nest that very day, and I had but partaken
of the spoil. Nay, he had been stung in her service; for, with all my
care--and I think that on the whole I had done my best--he had
received what threatened to be a bad sting on the back of his neck.
Now he was going to comfort her about her brother whom he had failed
to rescue; but what if I should succeed where he had failed, and carry
the poor boy home in triumph!
As we left the keeper's farm, Turkey had pointed out to me, across the
yard, where a small rick or two were standing, the loft in which Jamie
would have to sleep. It was over the cart-shed, and its approach was a
ladder. But for the reported rats, it would have been no hardship to
sleep there in weather like this, especially for one who had been
brought up as Jamie had been. But I knew that he was a very timid boy,
and that I myself would have lain in horror all the night. Therefore I
had all the way been turning over in my mind what I could do to
release him. But whatever I did must be unaided, for I could not
reckon upon Turkey, nor indeed was it in my heart to share with him
the honour of the enterprise that opened before me.
I must mention that my father never objected now to my riding his
little mare Missy, as we called her. Indeed, I had great liberty with
regard to her, and took her out for a trot and a gallop as often as I
pleased. Sometimes when there was a press of work she would have to go
in a cart or drag a harrow, for she was so handy they could do
anything with her; but this did not happen often, and her condition at
all seasons of the year testified that she knew little of hard work.
My father was very fond of her, and used to tell wonderful stories of
her judgment and skill. I believe he was never quite without a hope
that somehow or other he should find her again in the next world. At
all events I am certain that it was hard for him to believe that so
much wise affection should have been created to be again uncreated. I
cannot say that I ever heard him give utterance to anything of the
sort; but whence else should I have had such a firm conviction, dating
from a period farther back than my memory can reach, that whatever
might become of the other horses, Missy was sure to go to heaven? I
had a kind of notion that, being the bearer of my father upon all his
missions of doctrine and mercy, she belonged to the clergy, and,
sharing in their privileges, must have a chance before other animals
of her kind. I believe this was a right instinct glad of a foolish
reason. I am wiser now, and extend the hope to the rest of the horses,
for I cannot believe that the God who does nothing in vain ever
creates in order to destroy.
I made haste to learn my lessons for the Monday, although it was but
after a fashion, my mind was so full of the adventure before me. As
soon as prayers and supper were over--that is, about ten o'clock--I
crept out of the house and away to the stable. It was a lovely night.
A kind of grey peace filled earth and air and sky. It was not dark,
although rather cloudy; only a dim dusk, like a vapour of darkness,
floated around everything. I was fond of being out at night, but I had
never before contemplated going so far alone. I should not, however,
feel alone with Missy under me, for she and I were on the best of
terms, although sometimes she would take a fit of obstinacy, and
refuse to go in any other than the direction she pleased. Of late,
however, she had asserted herself less frequently in this manner. I
suppose she was aware that I grew stronger and more determined.
I soon managed to open the door of the stable, for I knew where the
key lay. It was very dark, but I felt my way through, talking all the
time that the horses might not be startled if I came upon one of them
unexpectedly, for the stable was narrow, and they sometimes lay a good
bit out of their stalls. I took care, however, to speak in a low tone
that the man who slept with only a wooden partition between him and
the stable might not hear. I soon had the bridle upon Missy, but would
not lose time in putting on the saddle. I led her out, got on her back
with the help of a stone at the stable door, and rode away. She had
scarcely been out all day, and was rather in the mood for a ride. The
voice of Andrew, whom the noise of her feet had aroused, came after
me, calling to know who it was. I called out in reply, for I feared he
might rouse the place; and he went back composed, if not contented. It
was no use, at all events, to follow me.
I had not gone far before the extreme stillness of the night began to
sink into my soul and make me quiet. Everything seemed thinking about
me, but nothing would tell me what it thought. Not feeling, however,
that I was doing wrong, I was only awed not frightened by the
stillness. I made Missy slacken her speed, and rode on more gently, in
better harmony with the night. Not a sound broke the silence except
the rough cry of the land-rail from the fields and the clatter of
Missy's feet. I did not like the noise she made, and got upon the
grass, for here there was no fence. But the moment she felt the soft
grass, off she went at a sudden gallop. Her head was out before I had
the least warning of her intention. She tore away over the field in
quite another direction from that in which I had been taking her, and
the gallop quickened until she was going at her utmost speed. The
rapidity of the motion and the darkness together--for it seemed
darkness now--I confess made me frightened. I pulled hard at the
reins, but without avail. In a minute I had lost my reckoning, and
could not tell where I was in the field, which was a pretty large one;
but soon finding that we were galloping down a hill so steep that I
had trouble in retaining my seat, I began, not at all to my comfort,
to surmise in what direction the mare was carrying me. We were
approaching the place where we had sat that same afternoon, close by
the mound with the trees upon it, the scene of my adventure with
Wandering Willie, and of the fancied murder. I had scarcely thought of
either until the shadows had begun to fall long, and now in the night,
when all was shadow, both reflections made it horrible. Besides, if
Missy should get into the bog! But she knew better than that, wild as
her mood was. She avoided it, and galloped past, but bore me to a far
more frightful goal, suddenly dropping into a canter, and then
It was a cottage half in ruins, occupied by an old woman whom I dimly
recollected having once gone with my father to see--a good many years
ago, as it appeared to me now. She was still alive, however, very old,
and bedridden. I recollected that from the top of her wooden bed hung
a rope for her to pull herself up by when she wanted to turn, for she
was very rheumatic, and this rope for some cause or other had filled
me with horror. But there was more of the same sort. The cottage had
once been a smithy, and the bellows had been left in its place. Now
there is nothing particularly frightful about a pair of bellows,
however large it may be, and yet the recollection of that huge
structure of leather and wood, with the great iron nose projecting
from the contracting cheeks of it, at the head of the old woman's bed,
so capable yet so useless, did return upon me with terror in the dusk
of that lonely night. It was mingled with a vague suspicion that the
old woman was a bit of a witch, and a very doubtful memory that she
had been seen on one occasion by some night-farer, when a frightful
storm was raging, blowing away at that very bellows as hard as her
skinny arms and lean body could work the lever, so that there was
almost as great a storm of wind in her little room as there was
outside of it. If there was any truth in the story, it is easily
accounted for by the fact that the poor old woman had been a little
out of her mind for many years,--and no wonder, for she was nearly a
hundred, they said. Neither is it any wonder that when Missy stopped
almost suddenly, with her fore-feet and her neck stretched forward,
and her nose pointed straight for the door of the cottage at a few
yards' distance, I should have felt very queer indeed. Whether my hair
stood on end or not I do not know, but I certainly did feel my skin
creep all over me. An ancient elder-tree grew at one end of the
cottage, and I heard the lonely sigh of a little breeze wander through
its branches. The next instant a frightful sound from within the
cottage broke the night air into what seemed a universal shriek. Missy
gave a plunge, turned round on her hind-legs, and tore from the place.
I very nearly lost my seat, but terror made me cling the faster to my
only companion, as _ventre-ŗ-terre_ she flew home. It did not take her
a minute to reach the stable-door. There she had to stop, for I had
shut it when I brought her out. It was mortifying to find myself there
instead of under John Adam's hayloft, the rescuer of Jamie Duff. But I
did not think of that for a while. Shaken with terror, and afraid to
dismount and be next the ground, I called upon Andrew as well as my
fear would permit; but my voice was nearly unmanageable, and I could
do little more than howl with it.
In a few minutes, to me a time of awful duration--for who could tell
what might be following me up from the hollow?--Andrew appeared
half-dressed, and not in the best of tempers, remarking it was an odd
thing to go out riding when honest people were in their beds, except,
he added, I meant to take to the highway. Thereupon, rendered more
communicative by the trial I had gone through, I told him the whole
story, what I had intended and how I had been frustrated. He listened,
scratched his head, and saying someone ought to see if anything was
the matter with the old woman, turned in to put on the rest of his
"You had better go home to bed, Ranald," he said.
"Won't you be frightened, Andrew?" I asked.
"Frightened? What should I be frightened at? It's all waste to be
frightened before you know whether the thing is worth it."
My courage had been reviving fast in the warm presence of a human
being. I was still seated on Missy. To go home having done nothing for
Jamie, and therefore nothing for Elsie, after all my grand ideas of
rescue and restoration, was too mortifying. I should feel so small
when I woke in the morning! And yet suppose the something which gave
that fearful cry in the cottage should be out roaming the fields and
looking for mel I had courage enough, however, to remain where I was
till Andrew came out again, and as I sat still on the mare's back, my
courage gradually rose. Nothing increases terror so much as running
away. When he reappeared, I asked him:
"What do you think it could be, Andrew?"
"How should I tell?" returned Andrew. "The old woman has a very queer
cock, I know, that always roosts on the top of her bed, and crows like
no cock I ever heard crow. Or it might be Wandering Willie--he goes to
see her sometimes, and the demented creature might strike up his pipes
at any unearthly hour."
I was not satisfied with either suggestion; but the sound I had heard
had already grown so indistinct in my memory, that for anything I
could tell it might have been either. The terror which it woke in my
mind had rendered me incapable of making any observations or setting
down any facts with regard to it. I could only remember that I had
heard a frightful noise, but as to what it was like I could scarcely
bear the smallest testimony.
I begged Andrew to put the saddle on for me, as I should then have
more command of Missy. He went and got it, appearing, I thought, not
at all over-anxious about old Betty; and I meantime buckled on an old
rusty spur which lay in the stable window, the leathers of it
crumbling off in flakes. Thus armed, and mounted with my feet in the
stirrups, and therefore a good pull on Missy's mouth, I found my
courage once more equal to the task before me. Andrew and I parted at
right angles; he across the field to old Betty's cottage, and I along
the road once more in the direction of John Adam's farm.
It must have been now about eleven o'clock. The clouds had cleared
off, and the night had changed from brown and grey to blue sparkling
with gold. I could see much better, and fancied I could hear better
too. But neither advantage did much for me. I had not ridden far from
the stable, before I again found myself very much alone and
unprotected, with only the wide, silent fields about me, and the wider
and more silent sky over my head. The fear began to return. I fancied
something strange creeping along every ditch--something shapeless, but
with a terrible cry in it. Next I thought I saw a scarcely visible
form--now like a creature on all-fours, now like a man, far off, but
coming rapidly towards me across the nearest field. It always
vanished, however, before it came close. The worst of it was, that the
faster I rode, the more frightened I became; for my speed seemed to
draw the terrors the faster after me. Having discovered this, I
changed my plan, and when I felt more frightened, drew rein and went
slower. This was to throw a sort of defiance to the fear; and
certainly as often as I did so it abated. Fear is a worse thing than
I had to pass very nigh the pool to which Turkey and I had gone the
night of our adventure with Bogbonny's bull. That story was now far
off in the past, but I did not relish the dull shine of the water in
the hollow, notwithstanding. In fact I owed the greater part of the
courage I possessed--and it was little enough for my needs--to Missy.
I dared not have gone on my own two legs. It was not that I could so
easily run away with four instead, but that somehow I was lifted above
the ordinary level of fear by being upon her back. I think many men
draw their courage out of their horses.
At length I came in sight of the keeper's farm; and just at that
moment the moon peeped from behind a hill, throwing as long shadows as
the setting sun, but in the other direction. The shadows were very
different too. Somehow they were liker to the light that made them
than the sun-shadows are to the sunlight. Both the light and the
shadows of the moon were strange and fearful to me. The sunlight and
its shadows are all so strong and so real and so friendly, you seem to
know all about them; they belong to your house, and they sweep all
fear and dismay out of honest people's hearts. But with the moon and
its shadows it is very different indeed. The fact is, the moon is
trying to do what she cannot do. She is trying to dispel a great
sun-shadow--for the night is just the gathering into one mass of all
the shadows of the sun. She is not able for this, for her light is not
her own; it is second-hand from the sun himself; and her shadows
therefore also are second-hand shadows, pieces cut out of the great
sun-shadow, and coloured a little with the moon's yellowness. If I
were writing for grown people I should tell them that those who
understand things because they think about them, and ask God to teach
them, walk in the sunlight; and others, who take things because other
people tell them so, are always walking in the strange moonlight, and
are subject to no end of stumbles and terrors, for they hardly know
light from darkness. Well, at first, the moon frightened me a
little--she looked so knowing, and yet all she said round about me was
so strange. But I rode quietly up to the back of the yard where the
ricks stood, got off Missy and fastened the bridle to the gate, and
walked across to the cart-shed, where the moon was shining upon the
ladder leading up to the loft. I climbed the ladder, and after several
failures succeeded in finding how the door was fastened. When I opened
it, the moonlight got in before me, and poured all at once upon a heap
of straw in the farthest corner, where Jamie was lying asleep with a
rug over him. I crossed the floor, knelt down by him, and tried to
wake him. This was not so easy. He was far too sound asleep to be
troubled by the rats; for sleep is an armour--yes, a castle--against
many enemies. I got hold of one of his hands, and in lifting it to
pull him up found a cord tied to his wrist. I was indignant: they had
actually manacled him like a thief! I gave the cord a great tug of
anger, pulled out my knife, and cut it; then, hauling Jamie up, got
him half-awake at last. He stared with fright first, and then began to
cry. As soon as he was awake enough to know me, he stopped crying but
not staring, and his eyes seemed to have nothing better than moonlight
"Come along, Jamie," I said. "I'm come to take you home."
"I don't want to go home," said Jamie. "I want to go to sleep again."
"That's very ungrateful of you, Jamie," I said, full of my own
importance, "when I've come so far, and all at night too, to set you
"I'm free enough," said Jamie. "I had a better supper a great deal
than I should have had at home. I don't want to go before the
And he began to whimper again.
"Do you call this free?" I said, holding up his wrist where the
remnant of the cord was hanging.
"Oh!" said Jamie, "that's only--"
But ere he got farther the moonlight in the loft was darkened. I
looked hurriedly towards the door. There stood the strangest figure,
with the moon behind it. I thought at first it was the Kelpie come
after me, for it was a tall woman. My heart gave a great jump up, but
I swallowed it down. I would not disgrace myself before Jamie. It was
not the Kelpie, however, but the keeper's sister, the great, grim,
gaunt woman I had seen at the table at supper. I will not attempt to
describe her appearance. It was peculiar enough, for she had just got
out of bed and thrown an old shawl about her. She was not pleasant to
look at. I had myself raised the apparition, for, as Jamie explained
to me afterwards, the cord which was tied to his wrist, instead of
being meant to keep him a prisoner, was a device of her kindness to
keep him from being too frightened. The other end had been tied to her
wrist, that if anything happened he might pull her, and then she would
come to him.
"What's the matter, Jamie Duff?" she said in a gruff voice as she
advanced along the stream of moonlight.
I stood up as bravely as I could.
"It's only me, Miss Adam," I said.
"And who are you?" she returned.
"Ranald Bannerman," I answered.
"Oh!" she said in a puzzled tone. "What are you doing here at this
time of the night?"
"I came to take Jamie home, but he won't go."
"You're a silly boy to think my brother John would do him any harm,"
she returned. "You're comfortable enough, aren't you, Jamie Duff?"
"Yes, thank you, ma'am, quite comfortable," said Jamie, who was now
wide-awake. "But, please ma'am, Ranald didn't mean any harm."
"He's a housebreaker, though," she rejoined with a grim chuckle; "and
he'd better go home again as fast as he can. If John Adam should come
out, I don't exactly know what might happen. Or perhaps he'd like to
stop and keep you company."
"No, thank you, Miss Adam," I said. "I will go home."
"Come along, then, and let me shut the door after you."
Somewhat nettled with Jamie Duff's indifference to my well-meant
exertions on his behalf, I followed her without even bidding him good
"Oh, you've got Missy, have you?" she said, spying her where she
stood. "Would you like a drink of milk or a piece of oatcake before
"No, thank you," I said. "I shall be glad to go to bed."
"I should think so," she answered. "Jamie is quite comfortable, I
assure you; and I'll take care he's in time for school in the
morning. There's no harm in _him_, poor thing!"
She undid the bridle for me, helped me to mount in the kindest way,
bade me good night, and stood looking after me till I was some
distance off. I went home at a good gallop, took off the saddle and
bridle and laid them in a cart in the shed, turned Missy loose into
the stable, shut the door, and ran across the field to the manse,
desiring nothing but bed.
When I came near the house from the back, I saw a figure entering the
gate from the front. It was in the full light of the moon, which was
now up a good way. Before it had reached the door I had got behind the
next corner, and peeping round saw that my first impression was
correct: it was the Kelpie. She entered, and closed the door behind
her very softly. Afraid of being locked out, a danger which had
scarcely occurred to me before, I hastened after her; but finding the
door already fast, I called through the keyhole. She gave a cry of
alarm, but presently opened the door, looking pale and frightened.
"What are you doing out of doors this time of the night?" she asked,
but without quite her usual arrogance, for, although she tried to put
it on, her voice trembled too much.
I retorted the question.
"What were you doing out yourself?" I said.
"Looking after you, of course."
"That's why you locked the door, I suppose--to keep me out."
She had no answer ready, but looked as if she would have struck me.
"I shall let your father know of your goings on," she said, recovering
herself a little.
"You need not take the trouble. I shall tell him myself at breakfast
to-morrow morning. I have nothing to hide. You had better tell him
I said this not that I did not believe she had been out to look for
me, but because I thought she had locked the door to annoy me, and I
wanted to take my revenge in rudeness. For doors were seldom locked in
the summer nights in that part of the country. She made me no reply,
but turned and left me, not even shutting the door. I closed it, and
went to bed weary enough.
The next day, at breakfast, I told my father all the previous day's
adventures. Never since he had so kindly rescued me from the misery of
wickedness had I concealed anything from him. He, on his part, while
he gave us every freedom, expected us to speak frankly concerning our
doings. To have been unwilling to let him know any of our proceedings
would have simply argued that they were already disapproved of by
ourselves, and no second instance of this had yet occurred with me.
Hence it came that still as I grew older I seemed to come nearer to my
father. He was to us like a wiser and more beautiful self over us,--a
more enlightened conscience, as it were, ever lifting us up towards
its own higher level.
This was Sunday; but he was not so strict in his ideas concerning the
day as most of his parishioners. So long as we were sedate and
orderly, and neither talked nor laughed too loud, he seldom interfered
with our behaviour, or sought to alter the current of our
conversation. I believe he did not, like some people, require or
expect us to care about religious things as much as he did: we could
not yet know as he did what they really were. But when any of the
doings of the week were referred to on the Sunday, he was more strict,
I think, than on other days, in bringing them, if they involved the
smallest question, to the standard of right, to be judged, and
approved or condemned thereby. I believe he thought that to order our
ways was our best preparation for receiving higher instruction
afterwards. For one thing, we should then, upon failure, feel the
burden of it the more, and be the more ready to repent and seek the
forgiveness of God, and that best help of his which at length makes a
man good within himself.
He listened attentively to my story, seemed puzzled at the cry I had
heard from the cottage, said nothing could have gone very wrong, or we
should have heard of it, especially as Andrew had been to inquire,
laughed over the apparition of Miss Adam, and my failure in rescuing
Jamie Duff. He said, however, that I had no right to interefere with
constituted authority--that Adam was put there to protect the trees,
and if he had got hold of a harmless person, yet Jamie was certainly
trespassing, and I ought to have been satisfied with Turkey's way of
looking at the matter.
I saw that my father was right, and a little further reflection
convinced me that, although my conduct had a root in my regard for
Jamie Duff, it had a deeper root in my regard for his sister, and one
yet deeper in my regard for myself--for had I not longed to show off
in her eyes? I suspect almost all silly actions have their root in
selfishness, whether it take the form of vanity, of conceit, of greed,
or of ambition.
While I was telling my tale, Mrs. Mitchell kept coming into the room
oftener, and lingering longer, than usual. I did not think of this
till afterwards. I said nothing about her, for I saw no occasion; but
I do not doubt she was afraid I would, and wished to be at hand to
defend herself. She was a little more friendly to me in church that
day: she always sat beside little Davie.
When we came out, I saw Andrew, and hurried after him to hear how he
had sped the night before. He told me he had found all perfectly quiet
at the cottage, except the old woman's cough, which was troublesome,
and gave proof that she was alive, and probably as well as usual. He
suggested now that the noise was all a fancy of mine--at which I was
duly indignant, and desired to know if it was also Missy's fancy that
made her go off like a mad creature. He then returned to his former
idea of the cock, and as this did not insult my dignity, I let it
pass, leaning however myself to the notion of Wandering Willie's
On the following Wednesday we had a half holiday, and before dinner I
went to find Turkey at the farm. He met me in the yard, and took me
into the barn.
"I want to speak to you, Ranald," he said.
I remember so well how the barn looked that day. The upper half of one
of the doors had a hole in it, and a long pencil of sunlight streamed
in, and fell like a pool of glory upon a heap of yellow straw. So
golden grew the straw beneath it, that the spot looked as if it were
the source of the shine, and sent the slanting ray up and out of the
hole in the door. We sat down beside it, I wondering why Turkey looked
so serious and important, for it was not his wont.
"Ranald," said Turkey, "I can't bear that the master should have bad
people about him."
"What do you mean, Turkey?" I rejoined.
"I mean the Kelpie."
"She's a nasty thing, I know," I answered. "But my father considers
her a faithful servant."
"That's just where it is. She is not faithful. I've suspected her for
a long time. She's so rough and ill-tempered that she looks honest;
but I shall be able to show her up yet. You wouldn't call it honest to
cheat the poor, would you?"
"I should think not. But what do you mean?"
"There must have been something to put old Eppie in such an ill-temper
on Saturday, don't you think?"
"I suppose she had had a sting from the Kelpie's tongue."
"No, Ranald, that's not it. I had heard whispers going about; and last
Saturday, after we came home from John Adam's, and after I had told
Elsie about Jamie, I ran up the street to old Eppie. You would have
got nothing out of her, for she would not have liked to tell you; but
she told me all about it."
"What a creature you are, Turkey! Everybody tells you everything."
"No, Ranald; I don't think I am such a gossip as that. But when you
have a chance, you ought to set right whatever you can. Right's the
only thing, Ranald."
"But aren't you afraid they'll call you a meddler, Turkey? Not that
_I_ think so, for I'm sure if you do anything _against_ anybody, it's
_for_ some other body."
"That would be no justification if I wasn't in the right," said
Turkey. "But if I am, I'm willing to bear any blame that comes of
it. And I wouldn't meddle for anybody that could take care of
himself. But neither old Eppie nor your father can do that: the one's
too poor, and the other too good."
"I _was_ wondering what you meant by saying my father couldn't take
care of himself."
"He's too good; he's too good, Ranald. He believes in everybody. _I_
wouldn't have kept that Kelpie in _my_ house half the time."
"Did you ever say anything to Kirsty about her?"
"I did once; but she told me to mind my own business. Kirsty snubs me
because I laugh at her stories. But Kirsty is as good as gold, and I
wouldn't mind if she boxed my ears--as indeed she's done--many's the
"But what's the Kelpie been doing to old Eppie?"
"First of all, Eppie has been playing her a trick."
"Then she mustn't complain."
"Eppie's was a lawful trick, though. The old women have been laying
their old heads together--but to begin at the beginning: there has
been for some time a growing conviction amongst the poor folk that the
Kelpie never gives them an honest handful of meal when they go their
rounds. But this was very hard to prove, and although they all
suspected it, few of them were absolutely certain about it. So they
resolved that some of them should go with empty bags. Every one of
those found a full handful at the bottom. Still they were not
satisfied. They said she was the one to take care what she was about.
Thereupon old Eppie resolved to go with something at the bottom of her
bag to look like a good quantity of meal already gathered. The moment
the door was closed behind her--that was last Saturday--she peeped
into the bag. Not one grain of meal was to be discovered. That was why
she passed you muttering to herself and looking so angry. Now it will
never do that the manse, of all places, should be the one where the
poor people are cheated of their dues. But we roust have yet better
proof than this before we can say anything."
"Well, what do you mean to do, Turkey?" I asked. "Why does she do it,
do you suppose? It's not for the sake of saving my father's meal, I
"No, she does something with it, and, I suppose, flatters herself she
is not stealing--only saving it off the poor, and so making a right to
it for herself. I can't help thinking that her being out that same
night had something to do with it. Did you ever know her go to see old
"No, she doesn't like her. I know that."
"I'm not so sure. She pretends perhaps. But we'll have a try. I think
I can outwit her. She's fair game, you know."
"How? What? Do tell me, Turkey," I cried, right eagerly.
"Not to-day. I will tell you by and by."
He got up and went about his work.
Old John Jamieson
As I returned to the house I met my father.
"Well, Ranald, what are you about?" he said, in his usual gentle tone.
"Nothing in particular, father," I answered.
"Well, I'm going to see an old man--John Jamieson--I don't think you
know him: he has not been able to come to church for a long time. They
tell me he is dying. Would you like to go with me?"
"Yes, father. But won't you take Missy?"
"Not if you will walk with me. It's only about three miles."
"Very well, father. I should like to go with you."
My father talked about various things on the way. I remember in
particular some remarks he made about reading Virgil, for I had just
begun the ∆neid. For one thing, he told me I must scan every line
until I could make it sound like poetry, else I should neither enjoy
it properly, nor be fair to the author. Then he repeated some lines
from Milton, saying them first just as if they were prose, and after
that the same lines as they ought to be sounded, making me mark the
difference. Next he did the same with a few of the opening lines of
Virgil's great poem, and made me feel the difference there.
"The sound is the shape of it, you know, Ranald," he said, "for a poem
is all for the ear and not for the eye. The eye sees only the sense of
it; the ear sees the shape of it. To judge poetry without heeding the
sound of it, is nearly as bad as to judge a rose by smelling it with
your eyes shut. The sound, besides being a beautiful thing in itself,
has a sense in it which helps the other out. A psalm tune, if it's the
right one, helps you to see how beautiful the psalm is. Every poem
carries its own tune in its own heart, and to read it aloud is the
only way to bring out its tune."
I liked Virgil ever so much better after this, and always tried to get
at the tune of it, and of every other poem I read.
"The right way of anything," said my father, "may be called the tune of
it. We have to find out the tune of our own lives. Some people don't
seem ever to find it out, and so their lives are a broken and
uncomfortable thing to them--full of ups and downs and disappointments,
and never going as it was meant to go."
"But what is the right tune of a body's life, father?"
"The will of God, my boy."
"But how is a person to know that, father?"
"By trying to do what he knows of it already. Everybody has a
different kind of tune in his life, and no one can find out another's
tune for him, though he _may_ help him to find it for himself."
"But aren't we to read the Bible, father?"
"Yes, if it's in order to obey it. To read the Bible thinking to
please God by the mere reading of it, is to think like a heathen."
"And aren't we to say our prayers, father?"
"We are to ask God for what we want. If we don't want a thing, we are
only acting like pagans to speak as if we did, and call it prayer, and
think we are pleasing him."
I was silent. My father resumed.
"I fancy the old man we are going to see found out the tune of _his_
life long ago."
"Is he a very wise man then, father?"
"That depends on what you mean by _wise_. _I_ should call him a wise
man, for to find out that tune is the truest wisdom. But he's not a
learned man at all. I doubt if he ever read a book but the Bible,
except perhaps the Pilgrim's Progress. I believe he has always been
very fond of that. _You_ like that--don't you, Ranald?"
"I've read it a good many times, father. But I was a little tired of
it before I got through it last time."
"But you did read it through--did you--the last time, I mean?"
"Oh yes, father. I never like to leave the loose end of a thing
"That's right, my boy; that's right. Well, I think you'd better not
open the book again for a long time--say twenty years at least. It's a
great deal too good a book to let yourself get tired of. By that time
I trust you will be able to understand it a great deal better than you
can at present."
I felt a little sorry that I was not to look at the Pilgrim's Progress
for twenty years; but I am very glad of it now.
"We must not spoil good books by reading them too much," my father
added. "It is often better to think about them than to read them; and
it is best never to do either when we are tired of them. We should get
tired of the sunlight itself, beautiful as it is, if God did not send
it away every night. We're not even fit to have moonlight always. The
moon is buried in the darkness every month. And because we can bear
nothing for any length of time together, we are sent to sleep every
night, that we may begin fresh again in the morning."
"I see, father, I see," I answered.
We talked on until we came in sight of John Jamieson's cottage.
What a poor little place it was to look at--built of clay, which had
hardened in the sun till it was just one brick! But it was a better
place to live in than it looked, for no wind could come through the
walls, although there was plenty of wind about. Three little windows
looked eastward to the rising sun, and one to the south: it had no
more. It stood on the side of a heathy hill, which rose up steep
behind it, and bending round sheltered it from the north. A low wall
of loose stones enclosed a small garden, reclaimed from the hill,
where grew some greens and cabbages and potatoes, with a flower here
and there between. In summer it was pleasant enough, for the warm sun
makes any place pleasant. But in winter it must have been a cold
dreary place indeed. There was no other house within sight of it. A
little brook went cantering down the hill close to the end of the
cottage, singing merrily.
"It is a long way to the sea, but by its very nature the water will
find it at last," said my father, pointing to the stream as we crossed
it by the single stone that was its bridge.
He had to bend his head low to enter the cottage. An old woman, the
sick man's wife, rose from the side of the chimney to greet us. My
father asked how John was.
"Wearing away," was her answer. "But he'll be glad to see you."
We turned in the direction in which her eyes guided us. The first
thing I saw was a small withered-looking head, and the next a
withered-looking hand, large and bony. The old man lay in a bed closed
in with boards, so that very little light fell upon him; but his hair
glistened silvery through the gloom. My father drew a chair beside
him. John looked up, and seeing who it was, feebly held out his
hand. My father took it and stroked it, and said:
"Well, John, my man, you've had a hard life of it."
"No harder than I could bear," said John.
"It's a grand thing to be able to say that," said my father.
"Oh sir! for that matter, I would go through it all again, if it was
_his_ will, and willingly. I have no will but his, sir."
"Well, John, I wish we could all say the same. When a man comes to
that, the Lord lets him have what he wants. What do you want now,
"To depart and be with the Lord. It wouldn't be true, sir, to say that
I wasn't weary. It seems to me, if it's the Lord's will, I've had
enough of this life. Even if death be a long sleep, as some people
say, till the judgment, I think I would rather sleep, for I'm very
weary. Only there's the old woman there! I don't like leaving her."
"But you can trust God for her too, can't you?"
"It would be a poor thing if I couldn't, sir."
"Were you ever hungry, John--dreadfully hungry, I mean?"
"Never longer than I could bear," he answered. "When you think it's
the will of God, hunger doesn't get much hold of you, sir."
"You must excuse me, John, for asking so many questions. You know God
better than I do, and I want my young man here to know how strong the
will of God makes a man, old or young. He needn't care about anything
else, need he?"
"There's nothing else to care about, sir. If only the will of God be
done, everything's all right, you know. I do believe, sir, God cares
more for me than my old woman herself does, and she's been as good a
wife to me as ever was. Young gentleman, you know who says that God
numbers the very hairs of our heads? There's not many of mine left to
number," he added with a faint smile, "but there's plenty of
yours. You mind the will of God, and he'll look after you. That's the
way he divides the business of life."
I saw now that my father's talk as we came, had been with a view to
prepare me for what John Jamieson would say. I cannot pretend,
however, to have understood the old man at the time, but his words
have often come back to me since, and helped me through trials pretty
severe, although, like the old man, I have never found any of them too
hard to bear.
"Have you no child to come and help your wife to wait upon you?" my
"I have had ten, sir, but only three are left alive. There'll be
plenty to welcome me home when I go. One of the three's in Canada, and
can't come. Another's in Australia, and he can't come. But Maggie's
not far off, and she's got leave from her mistress to come for a
week--only we don't want her to come till I'm nearer my end. I should
like her to see the last of her old father, for I shall be young again
by the next time she sees me, please God, sir. He's all in all--isn't
"True, John. If we have God, we have all things; for all things are
his and we are his. But we mustn't weary you too much. Thank you for
your good advice."
"I beg your pardon, sir; I had no intention of speaking like that. I
never could give advice in all my life. I always found it was as much
as I could do to take the good advice that was given to me. I should
like to be prayed for in the church next Sunday, sir, if you please."
"But can't you pray for yourself, John?"
"Yes, sir; but I would like to have some spiritual gift because my
friends asked it for me. Let them pray for more faith for me. I want
more and more of that. The more you have, the more you want. Don't
you, sir? And I mightn't ask enough for myself, now I'm so old and so
tired. I sleep a great deal, sir."
"Then don't you think God will take care to give you enough, even if
you shouldn't ask for enough?" said my father.
"No doubt of that. But you see I am able to think of it now, and so I
must put things in a train for the time when I shan't be able to think
Something like this was what John said; and although I could not
understand it then, my father spoke to me several times about it
afterwards, and I came to see how the old man wanted to provide
against the evil time by starting prayers heavenward beforehand, as it
My father prayed by his bedside, pulled a parcel or two from his
pocket for his wife, and then we walked home together in silence. My
father was not the man to heap words upon words and so smother the
thought that lay in them. He had taken me for the sake of the lesson I
might receive, and he left it to strike root in my mind, which he
judged more likely if it remained undisturbed.
When we came to the farm on our way home, we looked in to see Kirsty,
but found the key in the door, indicating that she had gone out. As we
left the yard, we saw a strange-looking woman, to all appearance a
beggar, approaching. She had a wallet over her shoulder, and walked
stooping with her eyes on the ground, nor lifted them to greet
us--behaviour which rarely showed itself in our parish. My father took
no notice, but I could not help turning to look after the woman. To my
surprise she stood looking after us, but the moment I turned, she
turned also and walked on. When I looked again she had vanished. Of
course she must have gone into the farm-yard. Not liking the look of
her, and remembering that Kirsty was out, I asked my father whether I
had not better see if any of the men were about the stable. He
approved, and I ran back to the house. The door was still locked. I
called Turkey, and heard his voice in reply from one of the farthest
of the cow-houses. When I had reached it and told him my story, he
asked if my father knew I had come back. When he heard that he did
know, he threw down his pitchfork, and hastened with me. We searched
every house about the place, but could find no sign whatever of the
"Are you sure it wasn't all a fancy of your own, Ranald?" said Turkey.
"Quite sure. Ask my father. She passed as near us as you are to me
Turkey hurried away to search the hayloft once more, but without
success; and at last I heard my father calling me.
I ran to him, and told him there was no woman to be seen.
"That's odd," he said. "She must have passed straight through the yard
and got out at the other side before you went in. While you were
looking for her, she was plodding away out of sight. Come along, and
let us have our tea."
I could not feel quite satisfied about it, but, as there was no other
explanation, I persuaded myself that my father was right.
The next Saturday evening I was in the nursery with my brothers. It
was growing dusk, when I heard a knocking. Mrs. Mitchell did not seem
to hear it, so I went and opened the door. There was the same beggar
woman. Rather frightened, I called aloud, and Mrs. Mitchell came. When
she saw it was a beggar, she went back and reappeared with a wooden
basin filled with meal, from which she took a handful as she came in
apparent preparation for dropping it, in the customary way, into the
woman's bag. The woman never spoke, but closed the mouth of her
wallet, and turned away. Curiosity gave me courage to follow her. She
walked with long strides in the direction of the farm, and I kept at a
little distance behind her. She made for the yard. She should not
escape me this time. As soon as she entered it, I ran as fast as I
could, and just caught sight of her back as she went into one of the
cow-houses. I darted after her. She turned round upon me--fiercely, I
thought, but judge my surprise when she held out the open mouth of the
bag towards me, and said--
"Not one grain, Ranald! Put in your hand and feel."
It was Turkey.
I stared in amazement, unable for a time to get rid of the apparition
and see the reality. Turkey burst out laughing at my perplexed
"Why didn't you tell me before, Turkey?" I asked, able at length to
join in the laugh.
"Because then you would have had to tell your father, and I did not
want him to be troubled about it, at least before we had got things
clear. I always _did_ wonder how he could keep such a creature about
"He doesn't know her as we do, Turkey."
"No. She never gives him the chance. But now, Ranald, couldn't you
manage to find out whether she makes any store of the meal she
pretends to give away?"
A thought struck me.
"I heard Davie the other day asking her why she had two meal-tubs:
perhaps that has something to do with it."
"You must find out. Don't ask Davie."
For the first time it occurred to me that the Kelpie had upon that
night of terror been out on business of her own, and had not been
looking for me at all.
"Then she was down at old Betty's cottage," said Turkey, when I
communicated the suspicion, "and Wandering Willie was there too, and
Andrew was right about the pipes. Willie hasn't been once to the house
ever since he took Davie, but she has gone to meet him at Betty's.
Depend on it, Ranald, he's her brother, or nephew, or something, as I
used to say. I do believe she gives him the meal to take home to her
family somewhere. Did you ever hear anything about her friends?"
"I never heard her speak of any."
"Then I don't believe they're respectable. I don't, Ranald. But it
will be a great trouble to the minister to have to turn her away. I
wonder if we couldn't contrive to make her go of herself. I wish we
could scare her out of the country. It's not nice either for a woman
like that to have to do with such innocents as Allister and Davie."
"She's very fond of Davie."
"So she is. That's the only good thing I know of her. But hold your
tongue, Ranald, till we find out more."
Acting on the hint Davie had given me, I soon discovered the second
meal-tub. It was small, and carefully stowed away. It was now nearly
full, and every day I watched in the hope that when she emptied it, I
should be able to find out what she did with the meal. But Turkey's
suggestion about frightening her away kept working in my brain.
I Scheme Too
I began a series of persecutions of the Kelpie on my own account. I
was doubtful whether Turkey would approve of them, so I did not tell
him for some time; but I was ambitious of showing him that I could do
something without him. I doubt whether it is worth while to relate the
silly tricks I played her--my father made me sorry enough for them
afterwards. My only excuse for them is, that I hoped by them to drive
the Kelpie away.
There was a closet in the hall, the floor of which was directly over
the Kelpie's bed, with no ceiling between. With a gimlet I bored a
hole in the floor, through which I passed a piece of string. I had
already got a bit of black cloth, and sewed and stuffed it into
something of the shape of a rat. Watching an opportunity, I tied this
to the end of the string by the head, and hid it under her bolster.
When she was going to bed, I went into the closet, and, laying my
mouth to the floor, began squeaking like a rat, and scratching with my
nails. Knowing by the exclamation she made that I had attracted her
attention, I tugged at the string; this lifted the bolster a little,
and of course out came my rat. I heard her scream, and open her door.
I pulled the rat up tight to the ceiling. Then the door of the
nursery, where we slept only in the winter, opened and shut, and I
concluded she had gone to bed there to avoid the rat. I could hardly
sleep for pleasure at my success.
As she waited on us at breakfast next morning, she told my father that
she had seen in her bed the biggest rat she ever saw in her life, and
had not had a wink of sleep in consequence.
"Well," said my father, "that comes of not liking cats. You should get
a pussy to take care of you."
She grumbled something and retired.
She removed her quarters to the nursery. But there it was yet easier
for me to plague her. Having observed in which bed she lay, I passed
the string with the rat at the end of it over the middle of a bar that
ran across just above her head, then took the string along the top of
the other bed, and through a little hole in the door. As soon as I
judged her safe in bed, I dropped the rat with a plump. It must have
fallen on or very near her face. I heard her give a loud cry, but
before she could reach the door, I had fastened the string to a nail
and got out of the way.
It was not so easy in those days to get a light, for the earliest form
of lucifer match was only just making its appearance in that part of
the country, and was very dear: she had to go to the kitchen, where
the fire never went out summer or winter. Afraid lest on her return
she should search the bed, find my harmless animal suspended by the
neck, and descend upon me with all the wrath generated of needless
terror, I crept into the room, got down my rat, pulled away the
string, and escaped. The next morning she said nothing about the rat,
but went to a neighbour's and brought home a fine cat. I laughed in my
sleeve, thinking how little her cat could protect her from my rat.
Once more, however, she changed her quarters, and went into a sort of
inferior spare room in the upper part of the house, which suited my
operations still better, for from my own bed I could now manage to
drop and pull up the rat, drawing it away beyond the danger of
discovery. The next night she took the cat into the room with her, and
for that one I judged it prudent to leave her alone, but the next,
having secured Kirsty's cat, I turned him into the room after she was
in bed: the result was a frightful explosion of feline wrath.
I now thought I might boast of my successes to Turkey, but he was not
"She is sure to find you out, Ranald," he said, "and then whatever
else we do will be a failure. Leave her alone till we have her quite."
I do not care to linger over this part of my story. I am a little
ashamed of it.
We found at length that her private reservoir was quite full of meal.
I kept close watch still, and finding one night that she was not in
the house, discovered also that the meal-tub was now empty. I ran to
Turkey, and together we hurried to Betty's cottage.
It was a cloudy night with glimpses of moonlight. When we reached the
place, we heard voices talking, and were satisfied that both the
Kelpie and Wandering Willie were there.
"We must wait till she comes out," said Turkey. "We must be able to
say we saw her."
There was a great stone standing out of the ground not far from the
door, just opposite the elder-tree, and the path lay between them.
"You get behind that tree--no, you are the smaller object--you get
behind that stone, and I'll get behind the tree," said Turkey; "and
when the Kelpie comes out, you make a noise like a beast, and rush at
her on all-fours."
"I'm good at a pig, Turkey," I said. "Will a pig do?"
"Yes, well enough."
"But what if she should know me, and catch me, Turkey?"
"She will start away from you to my side; I shall rush out like a mad
dog, and then she'll run for it."
We waited a long time--a very long time, it seemed to me. It was well
it was summer. We talked a little across, and that helped to beguile
the weary time; but at last I said in a whisper:
"Let's go home, Turkey, and lock the doors, and keep her out."
"You go home then, Ranald, and I'll wait. I don't mind if it be till
to-morrow morning. It is not enough to be sure ourselves; we must be
able to make other people sure."
"I'll wait as long as you do, Turkey; only I'm very sleepy, and she
might come out when I was asleep."
"Oh, I shall keep you awake!" replied Turkey; and we settled down
again for a while.
At the long last the latch of the door was lifted. I was just falling
asleep, but the sound brought me wide awake at once. I peeped from
behind my shelter. It was the Kelpie, with an empty bag--a
pillow-case, I believe--in her hand. Behind her came Wandering Willie,
but did not follow her from the door. The moment was favourable, for
the moon was under a thick cloud. Just as she reached the stone, I
rushed out on hands and knees, grunting and squeaking like a very wild
pig indeed. As Turkey had foretold, she darted aside, and I retreated
behind my stone. The same instant Turkey rushed at her with such
canine fury, that the imitation startled even me, who had expected
it. You would have thought the animal was ready to tear a whole army
to pieces, with such a complication of fierce growls and barks and
squeals did he dart on the unfortunate culprit. She took to her heels
at once, not daring to make for the cottage, because the enemy was
behind her. But I had hardly ensconced myself behind the stone,
repressing my laughter with all my might, when I was seized from
behind by Wandering Willie, who had no fear either of pig or dog. He
began pommelling me.
"Turkey! Turkey!" I cried.
The cry stopped his barking pursuit of the Kelpie. He rose to his
feet and rushed to my aid. But when he saw the state of affairs, he
turned at once for the cottage, crying:
"Now for a kick at the bagpipes!"
Wandering Willie was not too much a fool to remember and understand.
He left me instantly, and made for the cottage. Turkey drew back and
let him enter, then closed the door, and held it.
"Get away a bit, Ranald. I can run faster than Willie. You'll be out
of sight in a few yards."
But instead of coming after us, Wandering Willie began playing a most
triumphant tune upon his darling bagpipes. How the poor old woman
enjoyed it, I do not know. Perhaps she liked it. For us, we set off to
outstrip the Kelpie. It did not matter to Turkey, but she might lock
me out again. I was almost in bed before I heard her come in. She went
straight to her own room.
A Double Exposure
Whether the Kelpie had recognized us I could not tell, but not much of
the next morning passed before my doubt was over. When she had set our
porridge on the table, she stood up, and, with her fists in her sides,
addressed my father:
"I'm very sorry, sir, to have to make complaints. It's a thing I don't
like, and I'm not given to. I'm sure I try to do my duty by Master
Ranald as well as everyone else in this house."
I felt a little confused, for I now saw clearly enough that my father
could not approve of our proceedings. I whispered to Allister--
"Run and fetch Turkey. Tell him to come directly."
Allister always did whatever I asked him. He set off at once. The
Kelpie looked suspicious as he left the room, but she had no pretext
for interference. I allowed her to tell her tale without interruption.
After relating exactly how we had served her the night before, when
she had gone on a visit of mercy, as she represented it, she accused
me of all my former tricks--that of the cat having, I presume,
enlightened her as to the others; and ended by saying that if she were
not protected against me and Turkey, she must leave the place.
"Let her go, father," I said. "None of us like her."
"I like her," whimpered little Davie.
"Silence, sir!" said my father, very sternly. "Are these things true?"
"Yes, father," I answered. "But please hear what _I_'ve got to say.
She's only told you _her_ side of it."
"You have confessed to the truth of what she alleges," said my
father. "I did think," he went on, more in sorrow than in anger,
though a good deal in both, "that you had turned from your bad
ways. To think of my taking you with me to the death-bed of a holy
man, and then finding you so soon after playing such tricks!--more
like the mischievousness of a monkey than of a human being!"
"I don't say it was right, father; and I'm very sorry if I have
"You _have_ offended me, and very deeply. You have been unkind and
indeed cruel to a good woman who has done her best for you for many
I was not too much abashed to take notice that the Kelpie bridled at
"I can't say I'm sorry for what I've done to her," I said.
"Really, Ranald, you are impertinent. I would send you out of the room
at once, but you must beg Mrs. Mitchell's pardon first, and after that
there will be something more to say, I fear."
"But, father, you have not heard my story yet."
"Well--go on. It is fair, I suppose, to hear both sides. But nothing
can justify such conduct."
I began with trembling voice. I had gone over in my mind the night
before all I would say, knowing it better to tell the tale from the
beginning circumstantially. Before I had ended, Turkey made his
appearance, ushered in by Allister. Both were out of breath with
My father stopped me, and ordered Turkey away until I should have
finished. I ventured to look up at the Kelpie once or twice. She had
grown white, and grew whiter. When Turkey left the room, she would
have gone too. But my father told her she must stay and hear me to the
end. Several times she broke out, accusing me of telling a pack of
wicked lies, but my father told her she should have an opportunity of
defending herself, and she must not interrupt me. When I had done, he
called Turkey, and made him tell the story. I need hardly say that,
although he questioned us closely, he found no discrepancy between our
accounts. He turned at last to Mrs. Mitchell, who, but for her rage,
would have been in an abject condition.
"Now, Mrs. Mitchell!" he said.
She had nothing to reply beyond asserting that Turkey and I had always
hated and persecuted her, and had now told a pack of lies which we had
agreed upon, to ruin her, a poor lone woman, with no friends to take
"I do not think it likely they could be so wicked," said my father.
"So I'm to be the only wicked person in the world! Very well, sir! I
will leave the house this very day."
"No, no, Mrs. Mitchell; that won't do. One party or the other _is_
very wicked--that is clear; and it is of the greatest consequence to
me to find out which. If you go, I shall know it is you, and have you
taken up and tried for stealing. Meantime I shall go the round of the
parish. I do not think all the poor people will have combined to lie
"They all hate me," said the Kelpie.
"And why?" asked my father.
She made no answer.
"I must get at the truth of it," said my father. "You can go now."
She left the room without another word, and my father turned to
"I am surprised at you, Turkey, lending yourself to such silly
pranks. Why did you not come and tell me."
"I am very sorry, sir. I was afraid you would be troubled at finding
how wicked she was, and I thought we might frighten her away somehow.
But Ranald began his tricks without letting me know, and then I saw
that mine could be of no use, for she would suspect them after his.
Mine would have been better, sir."
"I have no doubt of it, but equally unjustifiable. And you as well as
he acted the part of a four-footed animal last night."
"I confess I yielded to temptation then, for I knew it could do no
good. It was all for the pleasure of frightening her. It was very
foolish of me, and I beg your pardon, sir."
"Well, Turkey, I confess you have vexed me, not by trying to find out
the wrong she was doing me and the whole parish, but by taking the
whole thing into your own hands. It is worse of you, inasmuch as you
are older and far wiser than Ranald. It is worse of Ranald because I
was his father. I will try to show you the wrong you have done.--Had
you told me without doing anything yourselves, then I might have
succeeded in bringing Mrs. Mitchell to repentance. I could have
reasoned with her on the matter, and shown her that she was not merely
a thief, but a thief of the worst kind, a Judas who robbed the poor,
and so robbed God. I could have shown her how cruel she was--"
"Please, sir," interrupted Turkey, "I don't think after all she did it
for herself. I do believe," he went on, and my father listened, "that
Wandering Willie is some relation of hers. He is the only poor person,
almost the only person except Davie, I ever saw her behave kindly to.
He was there last night, and also, I fancy, that other time, when
Ranald got such a fright. She has poor relations somewhere, and sends
the meal to them by Willie. You remember, sir, there were no old
clothes of Allister's to be found when you wanted them for Jamie
"You may be right, Turkey--I dare say you are right. I hope you are,
for though bad enough, that would not be quite so bad as doing it for
"I am very sorry, father," I said; "I beg your pardon."
"I hope it will be a lesson to you, my boy. After what you have done,
rousing every bad and angry passion in her, I fear it will be of no
use to try to make her be sorry and repent. It is to her, not to me,
you have done the wrong. I have nothing to complain of for
myself--quite the contrary. But it is a very dreadful thing to throw
difficulties in the way of repentance and turning from evil works."
"What can I do to make up for it?" I sobbed.
"I don't see at this moment what you can do. I will turn it over in my
mind. You may go now."
Thereupon Turkey and I walked away, I to school, he to his cattle. The
lecture my father had given us was not to be forgotten. Turkey looked
sad, and I felt subdued and concerned.
Everything my father heard confirmed the tale we had told him. But the
Kelpie frustrated whatever he may have resolved upon with regard to
her: before he returned she had disappeared. How she managed to get
her chest away, I cannot tell. I think she must have hid it in some
outhouse, and fetched it the next night. Many little things were
missed from the house afterwards, but nothing of great value, and
neither she nor Wandering Willie ever appeared again. We were all
satisfied that poor old Betty knew nothing of her conduct. It was easy
enough to deceive her, for she was alone in her cottage, only waited
upon by a neighbour who visited her at certain times of the day.
My father, I heard afterwards, gave five shillings out of his own
pocket to every one of the poor people whom the Kelpie had defrauded.
Her place in the house was, to our endless happiness, taken by Kirsty,
and faithfully she carried out my father's instructions that, along
with the sacred handful of meal, a penny should be given to every one
of the parish poor from that time forward, so long as he lived at the
Not even little Davie cried when he found that Mrs. Mitchell was
really gone. It was more his own affection than her kindness that had
attached him to her.
Thus were we at last delivered from our Kelpie.
After the expulsion of the Kelpie, and the accession of Kirsty, things
went on so peaceably, that the whole time rests in my memory like a
summer evening after sundown. I have therefore little more to say
concerning our home-life.
There were two schools in the little town--the first, the parish
school, the master of which was appointed by the presbytery; the
second, one chiefly upheld by the dissenters of the place, the master
of which was appointed by the parents of the scholars. This
difference, however, indicated very little of the distinction and
separation which it would have involved in England. The masters of
both were licentiates of the established church, an order having a
vague resemblance to that of deacons in the English church; there were
at both of them scholars whose fees were paid by the parish, while
others at both were preparing for the University; there were many
pupils at the second school whose parents took them to the established
church on Sundays, and both were yearly examined by the
presbytery--that is, the clergymen of a certain district; while my
father was on friendly terms with all the parents, some of whom did
not come to his church because they thought the expenses of religion
should be met by the offerings of those who prized its ministrations,
while others regarded the unity of the nation, and thought that
religion, like any other of its necessities, ought to be the care of
its chosen government. I do not think the second school would ever
have come into existence at all except for the requirements of the
population, one school being insufficient. There was little real
schism in the matter, except between the boys themselves. They made
far more of it than their parents, and an occasional outbreak was the
At this time there was at the second school a certain very rough lad,
the least developed beyond the brute, perhaps, of all the scholars of
the village. It is more amazing to see how close to the brute a man
may remain than it is to see how far he may leave the brute behind.
How it began I cannot recall; but this youth, a lad of seventeen,
whether moved by dislike or the mere fascination of injury, was in the
habit of teasing me beyond the verge of endurance as often as he had
the chance. I did not like to complain to my father, though that would
have been better than to hate him as I did. I was ashamed of my own
impotence for self-defence; but therein I was little to blame, for I
was not more than half his size, and certainly had not half his
strength. My pride forbidding flight, the probability was, when we met
in an out-of-the-way quarter, that he would block my path for half an
hour at least, pull my hair, pinch my cheeks, and do everything to
annoy me, short of leaving marks of violence upon me. If we met in a
street, or other people were in sight, he would pass me with a wink
and a grin, as much as to say--_Wait_.
One of the short but fierce wars between the rival schools broke
out. What originated the individual quarrel I cannot tell. I doubt if
anyone knew. It had not endured a day, however, before it came to a
pitched battle after school hours. The second school was considerably
the smaller, but it had the advantage of being perched on the top of
the low, steep hill at the bottom of which lay ours. Our battles
always began with missiles; and I wonder, as often as I recall the
fact, that so few serious accidents were the consequence. From the
disadvantages of the ground, we had little chance against the
stone-showers which descended upon us like hail, except we charged
right up the hill, in the face of the inferior but well-posted enemy.
When this was not in favour at the moment, I employed myself in
collecting stones and supplying them to my companions, for it seemed
to me that every boy, down to the smallest in either school, was
skilful in throwing them, except myself: I could not throw halfway up
the hill. On this occasion, however, I began to fancy it an unworthy
exercise of my fighting powers, and made my first attempt at
organizing a troop for an up-hill charge. I was now a tall boy, and of
some influence amongst those about my own age. Whether the enemy saw
our intent and proceeded to forestall it, I cannot say, but certainly
that charge never took place.
A house of some importance was then building, just on the top of the
hill, and a sort of hand-wagon, or lorry on low wheels, was in use for
moving the large stones employed, the chips from the dressing of which
were then for us most formidable missiles. Our adversaries laid hold
of this chariot, and turned it into an engine of war. They dragged it
to the top of the hill, jumped upon it, as many as it would hold, and,
drawn by their own weight, came thundering down upon our troops. Vain
was the storm of stones which assailed their advance: they could not
have stopped if they would. My company had to open and make way for
the advancing prodigy, conspicuous upon which towered my personal
"Now," I called to my men, "as soon as the thing stops, rush in and
seize them: they're not half our number. It will be an endless
disgrace to let them go."
Whether we should have had the courage to carry out the design had not
fortune favoured us, I cannot tell. But as soon as the chariot reached
a part of the hill where the slope was less, it turned a little to one
side, and Scroggie fell off, drawing half of the load after him. My
men rushed in with shouts of defiant onset, but were arrested by the
non-resistance of the foe. I sprung to seize Scroggie. He tried to get
up, but fell back with a groan. The moment I saw his face, my mood
changed. My hatred, without will or wish or effort of mine, turned all
at once into pity or something better. In a moment I was down on my
knees beside him. His face was white, and drops stood upon his
forehead. He lay half upon his side, and with one hand he scooped
handfuls of dirt from the road and threw them down again. His leg was
broken. I got him to lean his head against me, and tried to make him
lie more comfortably; but the moment I sought to move the leg he
shrieked out. I sent one of our swiftest runners for the doctor, and
in the meantime did the best I could for him. He took it as a matter
of course, and did not even thank me. When the doctor came, we got a
mattress from a neighbouring house, laid it on the wagon, lifted
Scroggie on the top, and dragged him up the hill and home to his
I have said a little, but only a little, concerning our master, Mr.
Wilson. At the last examination I had, in compliance with the request
of one of the clergymen, read aloud a metrical composition of my own,
sent in by way of essay on the given subject, _Patriotism_, and after
this he had shown me a great increase of favour. Perhaps he recognized
in me some germ of a literary faculty--I cannot tell: it has never
come to much if he did, and he must be greatly disappointed in me,
seeing I labour not in living words, but in dead stones. I am certain,
though, that whether I build good or bad houses, I should have built
worse had I not had the insight he gave me into literature and the
nature of literary utterance. I read Virgil and Horace with him, and
scanned every doubtful line we came across. I sometimes think now,
that what certain successful men want to make them real artists, is
simply a knowledge of the literature--which is the essence of the
possible art--of the country.
My brother Tom had left the school, and gone to the county town, to
receive some final preparation for the University; consequently, so
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