Ranald Bannerman's Boyhood
Part 4 out of 4
far as the school was concerned, I was no longer in the position of a
younger brother. Also Mr. Wilson had discovered that I had some
faculty for imparting what knowledge I possessed, and had begun to
make use of me in teaching the others. A good deal was done in this
way in the Scotch schools. Not that there was the least attempt at
system in it: the master, at any moment, would choose the one he
thought fit, and set him to teach a class, while he attended to
individuals, or taught another class himself. Nothing can be better
for the verification of knowledge, or for the discovery of ignorance,
than the attempt to teach. In my case it led to other and unforeseen
results as well.
The increasing trust the master reposed in me, and the increasing
favour which openly accompanied it, so stimulated the growth of my
natural vanity, that at length it appeared in the form of presumption,
and, I have little doubt, although I was unaware of it at the time,
influenced my whole behaviour to my school-fellows. Hence arose the
complaint that I was a favourite with the master, and the accusation
that I used underhand means to recommend myself to him, of which I am
not yet aware that I was ever guilty. My presumption I confess, and
wonder that the master did not take earlier measures to check it. When
teaching a class, I would not unfrequently, if Mr. Wilson had vacated
his chair, climb into it, and sit there as if I were the master of the
school. I even went so far as to deposit some of my books in the
master's desk, instead of in my own recess. But I had not the least
suspicion of the indignation I was thus rousing against me.
One afternoon I had a class of history. They read very badly, with
what seemed wilful blundering; but when it came to the questioning on
the subject of the lesson, I soon saw there had been a conspiracy. The
answers they gave were invariably wrong, generally absurd, sometimes
utterly grotesque. I ought to except those of a few girls, who did
their best, and apparently knew nothing of the design of the others.
One or two girls, however, infected with the spirit of the game, soon
outdid the whole class in the wildness of their replies. This at last
got the better of me; I lost my temper, threw down my book, and
retired to my seat, leaving the class where it stood. The master
called me and asked the reason. I told him the truth of the matter. He
got very angry, and called out several of the bigger boys and punished
them severely. Whether these supposed that I had mentioned them in
particular, as I had not, I do not know; but I could read in their
faces that they vowed vengeance in their hearts. When the school broke
up, I lingered to the last, in the hope they would all go home as
usual; but when I came out with the master, and saw the silent waiting
groups, it was evident there was more thunder in the moral atmosphere
than would admit of easy discharge. The master had come to the same
conclusion, for instead of turning towards his own house, he walked
with me part of the way home, without alluding however to the reason.
Allister was with us, and I led Davie by the hand: it was his first
week of school life. When we had got about half the distance,
believing me now quite safe, he turned into a footpath and went
through the fields back towards the town; while we, delivered from all
immediate apprehension, jogged homewards.
When we had gone some distance farther, I happened to look about--why,
I could not tell. A crowd was following us at full speed. As soon as
they saw that we had discovered them, they broke the silence with a
shout, which was followed by the patter of their many footsteps.
"Run, Allister!" I cried; and kneeling, I caught up Davie on my back,
and ran with the feet of fear. Burdened thus, Allister was soon far
ahead of me.
"Bring Turkey!" I cried after him. "Run to the farm as hard as you can
pelt, and bring Turkey to meet us."
"Yes, yes, Ranald," shouted Allister, and ran yet faster.
They were not getting up with us quite so fast as they wished; they
began therefore to pick up stones as they ran, and we soon heard them
hailing on the road behind us. A little farther, and the stones began
to go bounding past us, so that I dared no longer carry Davie on my
back. I had to stop, which lost us time, and to shift him into my
arms, which made running much harder. Davie kept calling, "Run,
Ranald!--here they come!" and jumping so, half in fear, half in
pleasure, that I found it very hard work indeed.
Their taunting voices reached me at length, loaded with all sorts of
taunting and opprobrious words--some of them, I dare say, deserved,
but not all. Next a stone struck me, but not in a dangerous place,
though it crippled my running still more. The bridge was now in sight,
however, and there I could get rid of Davie and turn at bay, for it
was a small wooden bridge, with rails and a narrow gate at the end to
keep horsemen from riding over it. The foremost of our pursuers were
within a few yards of my heels, when, with a last effort, I bounded on
it; and I had just time to set Davie down and turn and bar their way
by shutting the gate, before they reached it. I had no breath left but
just enough to cry, "Run, Davie!" Davie, however, had no notion of the
state of affairs, and did not run, but stood behind me staring. So I
was not much better off yet. If he had only run, and I had seen him
far enough on the way home, I would have taken to the water, which was
here pretty deep, before I would have run any further risk of their
getting hold of me. If I could have reached the mill on the opposite
bank, a shout would have brought the miller to my aid. But so long as
I could prevent them from opening the gate, I thought I could hold the
position. There was only a latch to secure it, but I pulled a thin
knife from my pocket, and just as I received a blow in the face from
the first arrival which knocked me backwards, I had jammed it over the
latch through the iron staple in which it worked. Before the first
attempt to open it had been followed by the discovery of the obstacle,
I was up, and the next moment, with a well-directed kick, disabled a
few of the fingers which were fumbling to remove it. To protect the
latch was now my main object, but my efforts would have been quite
useless, for twenty of them would have been over the top in an
instant. Help, however, although unrecognized as such, was making its
way through the ranks of the enemy.
They parted asunder, and Scroggie, still lame, strode heavily up to
the gate. Recalling nothing but his old enmity, I turned once more and
implored Davie. "Do run, Davie, dear! it's all up," I said; but my
entreaties were lost upon Davie. Turning again in despair, I saw the
lame leg being hoisted over the gate. A shudder ran through me: I
could _not_ kick that leg; but I sprang up and hit Scroggie hard in
the face. I might as well have hit a block of granite. He swore at me,
caught hold of my hand, and turning to the assailants said:
"Now, you be off! This is my little business. I'll do for him!"
Although they were far enough from obeying his orders, they were not
willing to turn him into an enemy, and so hung back expectant.
Meantime the lame leg was on one side of the gate, the splints of
which were sharpened at the points, and the sound leg was upon the
other. I, on the one side--for he had let go my hand in order to
support himself--retreated a little, and stood upon the defensive,
trembling, I must confess; while my enemies on the other side could
not reach me so long as Scroggie was upon the top of the gate.
The lame leg went searching gently about, but could find no rest for
the sole of its foot, for there was no projecting cross bar upon this
side; the repose upon the top was anything but perfect, and the leg
suspended behind was useless. The long and the short, both in legs and
results, was, that there Scroggie stuck; and so long as he stuck, I
was safe. As soon as I saw this, I turned and caught up Davie,
thinking to make for home once more. But that very instant there was a
rush at the gate; Scroggie was hoisted over, the knife was taken out,
and on poured the assailants, before I had quite reached the other end
of the bridge.
"At them, Oscar!" cried a voice.
The dog rushed past me on to the bridge, followed by Turkey. I set
Davie down, and, holding his hand, breathed again. There was a scurry
and a rush, a splash or two in the water, and then back came Oscar
with his innocent tongue hanging out like a blood-red banner of
victory. He was followed by Scroggie, who was exploding with laughter.
Oscar came up wagging his tail, and looking as pleased as if he had
restored obedience to a flock of unruly sheep. I shrank back from
Scroggie, wishing Turkey, who was still at the other end of the
bridge, would make haste.
"Wasn't it fun, Ranald?" said Scroggie. "You don't think I was so lame
that I couldn't get over that gate? I stuck on purpose."
Turkey joined us with an inquiring look, for he knew how Scroggie had
been in the habit of treating me.
"It's all right, Turkey," I said. "Scroggie stuck on the gate on
"A good thing for you, Ranald!" said Turkey. "Didn't you see Peter
Mason amongst them?"
"No. He left the school last year."
"He was there, though, and I don't suppose _he_ meant to be
"I tell you what," said Scroggie: "if you like, I'll leave my school
and come to yours. My mother lets me do as I like."
I thanked him, but said I did not think there would be more of it. It
would blow over.
Allister told my father as much as he knew of the affair; and when he
questioned me, I told him as much as I knew.
The next morning, just as we were all settling to work, my father
entered the school. The hush that followed was intense. The place
might have been absolutely empty for any sound I could hear for some
seconds. The ringleaders of my enemies held down their heads, as
anticipating an outbreak of vengeance. But after a few moments'
conversation with Mr. Wilson, my father departed. There was a mystery
about the proceeding, an unknown possibility of result, which had a
very sedative effect the whole of the morning. When we broke up for
dinner, Mr. Wilson detained me, and told me that my father thought it
better that, for some time at least, I should not occupy such a
prominent position as before. He was very sorry, he said, for I had
been a great help to him; and if I did not object, he would ask my
father to allow me to assist him in the evening-school during the
winter. I was delighted at the prospect, sank back into my natural
position, and met with no more annoyance. After a while I was able to
assure my former foes that I had had no voice in bringing punishment
upon them in particular, and the enmity was, I believe, quite
When winter came, and the evening-school was opened, Mr. Wilson called
at the manse, and my father very willingly assented to the proposed
arrangement. The scholars were mostly young men from neighbouring
farms, or from workshops in the village, with whom, although I was so
much younger than they, there was no danger of jealousy. The
additional assistance they would thus receive, and their respect for
superior knowledge, in which, with my advantages, I had no credit over
them, would prevent any false shame because of my inferiority in
There were a few girls at the school as well--among the rest, Elsie
Duff. Although her grandmother was very feeble, Elsie was now able to
have a little more of her own way, and there was no real reason why
the old woman should not be left for an hour or two in the evening. I
need hardly say that Turkey was a regular attendant. He always, and I
often, saw Elsie home.
My chief pleasure lay in helping her with her lessons. I did my best
to assist all who wanted my aid, but offered unsolicited attention to
her. She was not quick, but would never be satisfied until she
understood, and that is more than any superiority of gifts. Hence, if
her progress was slow, it was unintermitting. Turkey was far before me
in trigonometry, but I was able to help him in grammar and geography,
and when he commenced Latin, which he did the same winter, I assisted
him a good deal.
Sometimes Mr. Wilson would ask me to go home with him after school,
and take supper. This made me late, but my father did not mind it, for
he liked me to be with Mr. Wilson. I learned a good deal from him at
such times. He had an excellent little library, and would take down
his favourite books and read me passages. It is wonderful how things
which, in reading for ourselves, we might pass over in a half-blind
manner, gain their true power and influence through the voice of one
who sees and feels what is in them. If a man in whom you have
confidence merely lays his finger on a paragraph and says to you,
"Read that," you will probably discover three times as much in it as
you would if you had only chanced upon it in the course of your
reading. In such case the mind gathers itself up, and is all eyes and
But Mr. Wilson would sometimes read me a few verses of his own; and
this was a delight such as I have rarely experienced. My reader may
wonder that a full-grown man and a good scholar should condescend to
treat a boy like me as so much of an equal; but sympathy is precious
even from a child, and Mr. Wilson had no companions of his own
standing. I believe he read more to Turkey than to me, however.
As I have once apologized already for the introduction of a few of his
verses with Scotch words in them, I will venture to try whether the
same apology will not cover a second offence of the same sort.
I like ye weel upo' Sundays, Jeanie,
In yer goon an' yer ribbons gay;
But I like ye better on Mondays, Jeanie,
And I like ye better the day.
[Footnote 1: Brave; well dressed.].
[Footnote 2: To-day.]
For it _will_ come into my heid, Jeanie,
O' yer braws ye are thinkin' a wee;
No' a' o' the Bible-seed, Jeanie,
Nor the minister nor me.
[Footnote 1: Bravery; finery.]
And hame across the green, Jeanie,
Ye gang wi' a toss o' yer chin:
Us twa there's a shadow atween, Jeanie,
Though yer hand my airm lies in.
But noo, whan I see ye gang, Jeanie,
Busy wi' what's to be dune,
Liltin' a haveless sang, Jeanie,
I could kiss yer verra shune.
[Footnote 2: Careless.]
Wi' yer silken net on yer hair, Jeanie,
In yer bonny blue petticoat,
Wi' yer kindly airms a' bare, Jeanie,
On yer verra shadow I doat.
For oh! but ye're eident and free, Jeanie,
Airy o' hert and o' fit;
There's a licht shines oot o' yer ee, Jeanie;
O' yersel' ye thinkna a bit.
[Footnote 3: Diligent.]
[Footnote 4: Foot.]
Turnin' or steppin' alang, Jeanie,
Liftin' an' layin' doon,
Settin' richt what's aye gaein' wrang, Jeanie,
Yer motion's baith dance an' tune.
Fillin' the cogue frae the coo, Jeanie,
Skimmin' the yallow cream,
Poorin' awa' the het broo, Jeanie,
Lichtin' the lampie's leme--
[Footnote 5: Flame.]
I' the hoose ye're a licht an' a law, Jeanie,
A servant like him that's abune:
Oh! a woman's bonniest o' a', Jeanie,
Whan she's doin' what _maun_ be dune.
Sae, dressed in yer Sunday claes, Jeanie,
Fair kythe ye amang the fair;
But dressed in yer ilka-day's, Jeanie,
Yer beauty's beyond compare.
[Footnote 1: Appear.]
[Footnote 2: Everyday clothes.]
A Winter's Ride
In this winter, the stormiest I can recollect, occurred the chief
adventure of my boyhood--indeed, the event most worthy to be called an
adventure I have ever encountered.
There had been a tremendous fall of snow, which a furious wind,
lasting two days and the night between, had drifted into great mounds,
so that the shape of the country was much altered with new heights and
hollows. Even those who were best acquainted with them could only
guess at the direction of some of the roads, and it was the easiest
thing in the world to lose the right track, even in broad daylight. As
soon as the storm was over, however, and the frost was found likely to
continue, they had begun to cut passages through some of the deeper
wreaths, as they called the snow-mounds; while over the tops of
others, and along the general line of the more frequented roads,
footpaths were soon trodden. It was many days, however, before
vehicles could pass, and coach-communication be resumed between the
towns. All the short day, the sun, though low, was brilliant, and the
whole country shone with dazzling whiteness; but after sunset, which
took place between three and four o'clock, anything more dreary can
hardly be imagined, especially when the keenest of winds rushed in
gusts from the north-east, and lifting the snow-powder from untrodden
shadows, blew it, like so many stings, in the face of the freezing
Early one afternoon, just as I came home from school, which in winter
was always over at three o'clock, my father received a message that a
certain laird, or _squire_ as he would be called in England--whose
house lay three or four miles off amongst the hills, was at the point
of death, and very anxious to see him: a groom on horseback had
brought the message. The old man had led a life of indifferent repute,
and that probably made him the more anxious to see my father, who
proceeded at once to get ready for the uninviting journey.
Since my brother Tom's departure, I had become yet more of a companion
to my father; and now when I saw him preparing to set out, I begged to
be allowed to go with him. His little black mare had a daughter, not
unused to the saddle. She was almost twice her mother's size, and none
the less clumsy that she was chiefly employed upon the farm. Still she
had a touch of the roadster in her, and if not capable of elegant
motion, could get over the ground well enough, with a sort of speedy
slouch, while, as was of far more consequence on an expedition like
the present, she was of great strength, and could go through the
wreaths, Andrew said, like a red-hot iron. My father hesitated, looked
out at the sky, and hesitated still.
"I hardly know what to say, Ranald. If I were sure of the weather--but
I am very doubtful. However, if it should break up, we can stay there
all night. Yes.--Here, Allister; run and tell Andrew to saddle both
the mares, and bring them down directly.--Make haste with your dinner,
Delighted at the prospect, I did make haste; the meal was soon over,
and Kirsty expended her utmost care in clothing me for the journey,
which would certainly be a much longer one in regard of time than of
space. In half an hour we were all mounted and on our way--the groom,
who had so lately traversed the road, a few yards in front.
I have already said, perhaps more than once, that my father took
comparatively little notice of us as children, beyond teaching us of a
Sunday, and sometimes of a week-evening in winter, generally after we
were in bed. He rarely fondled us, or did anything to supply in that
manner the loss of our mother. I believe his thoughts were tenderness
itself towards us, but they did not show themselves in ordinary shape:
some connecting link was absent. It seems to me now sometimes, that
perhaps he was wisely retentive of his feelings, and waited a better
time to let them flow. For, ever as we grew older, we drew nearer to
my father, or, more properly, my father drew us nearer to him,
dropping, by degrees, that reticence which, perhaps, too many parents
of character keep up until their children are full grown; and by this
time he would converse with me most freely. I presume he had found, or
believed he had found me trustworthy, and incapable of repeating
unwisely any remarks he made. But much as he hated certain kinds of
gossip, he believed that indifference to your neighbour and his
affairs was worse. He said everything depended on the spirit in which
men spoke of each other; that much of what was called gossip was only
a natural love of biography, and, if kindly, was better than
blameless; that the greater part of it was objectionable, simply
because it was not loving, only curious; while a portion was amongst
the wickedest things on earth, because it had for its object to
believe and make others believe the worst. I mention these opinions of
my father, lest anyone should misjudge the fact of his talking to me
as he did.
Our horses made very slow progress. It was almost nowhere possible to
trot, and we had to plod on, step by step. This made it more easy to
"The country looks dreary, doesn't it, Ranald?" he said.
"Just like as if everything was dead, father," I replied.
"If the sun were to cease shining altogether, what do you think would
I thought a bit, but was not prepared to answer, when my father spoke
"What makes the seeds grow, Ranald--the oats, and the wheat, and the
"The rain, father," I said, with half-knowledge.
"Well, if there were no sun, the vapours would not rise to make
clouds. What rain there was already in the sky would come down in
snow or lumps of ice. The earth would grow colder and colder, and
harder and harder, until at last it went sweeping through the air, one
frozen mass, as hard as stone, without a green leaf or a living
creature upon it."
"How dreadful to think of, father!" I said. "That would be frightful."
"Yes, my boy. It is the sun that is the life of the world. Not only
does he make the rain rise to fall on the seeds in the earth, but even
that would be useless, if he did not make them warm as well--and do
something else to them besides which we cannot understand. Farther
down into the earth than any of the rays of light can reach, he sends
other rays we cannot see, which go searching about in it, like long
fingers; and wherever they find and touch a seed, the life that is in
that seed begins to talk to itself, as it were, and straightway begins
to grow. Out of the dark earth he thus brings all the lovely green
things of the spring, and clothes the world with beauty, and sets the
waters running, and the birds singing, and the lambs bleating, and the
children gathering daisies and butter-cups, and the gladness
overflowing in all hearts--very different from what we see now--isn't
"Yes, father; a body can hardly believe, to look at it now, that the
world will ever be like that again."
"But, for as cold and wretched as it looks, the sun has not forsaken
it. He has only drawn away from it a little, for good reasons, one of
which is that we may learn that we cannot do without him. If he were
to go, not one breath more could one of us draw. Horses and men, we
should drop down frozen lumps, as hard as stones. Who is the sun's
"He hasn't got a father," I replied, hoping for some answer as to a
"Yes, he has, Ranald: I can prove that. You remember whom the apostle
James calls the Father of Lights?"
"Oh yes, of course, father. But doesn't that mean another kind of
"Yes. But they couldn't be called lights if they were not like the
sun. All kinds of lights must come from the Father of Lights. Now the
Father of the sun must be like the sun, and, indeed of all material
things, the sun is likest to God. We pray to God to shine upon us and
give us light. If God did not shine into our hearts, they would be
dead lumps of cold. We shouldn't care for anything whatever."
"Then, father, God never stops shining upon us. He wouldn't be like
the sun if he did. For even in winter the sun shines enough to keep us
"True, my boy. I am very glad you understand me. In all my experience
I have never yet known a man in whose heart I could not find proofs of
the shining of the great Sun. It might be a very feeble wintry shine,
but still he was there. For a human heart though, it is very dreadful
to have a cold, white winter like this inside it, instead of a summer
of colour and warmth and light. There's the poor old man we are going
to see. They talk of the winter of age: that's all very well, but the
heart is not made for winter. A man may have the snow on his roof, and
merry children about his hearth; he may have grey hairs on his head,
and the very gladness of summer in his bosom. But this old man, I am
afraid, feels wintry cold within."
"Then why doesn't the Father of Lights shine more on him and make him
"The sun is shining as much on the earth in the winter as in the
summer: why is the earth no warmer?"
"Because," I answered, calling up what little astronomy I knew, "that
part of it is turned away from the sun."
"Just so. Then if a man turns himself away from the Father of
Lights--the great Sun--how can he be warmed?"
"But the earth can't help it, father."
"But the man can, Ranald. He feels the cold, and he knows he can turn
to the light. Even this poor old man knows it now. God is shining on
him--a wintry way--or he would not feel the cold at all; he would be
only a lump of ice, a part of the very winter itself. The good of what
warmth God gives him is, that he feels cold. If he were all cold, he
couldn't feel cold."
"Does he want to turn to the Sun, then, father?"
"I do not know. I only know that he is miserable because he has not
turned to the Sun."
"What will you say to him, father?"
"I cannot tell, my boy. It depends on what I find him thinking. Of all
things, my boy, keep your face to the Sun. You can't shine of
yourself, you can't be good of yourself, but God has made you able to
turn to the Sun whence all goodness and all shining comes. God's
children may be very naughty, but they must be able to turn towards
him. The Father of Lights is the Father of every weakest little baby
of a good thought in us, as well as of the highest devotion of
martyrdom. If you turn your face to the Sun, my boy, your soul will,
when you come to die, feel like an autumn, with the golden fruits of
the earth hanging in rich clusters ready to be gathered--not like a
winter. You may feel ever so worn, but you will not feel withered. You
will die in peace, hoping for the spring--and such a spring!"
Thus talking, in the course of two hours or so we arrived at the
dwelling of the old laird.
How dreary the old house looked as we approached it through the
gathering darkness! All the light appeared to come from the snow which
rested wherever it could lie--on roofs and window ledges and turrets.
Even on the windward walls, every little roughness sustained its own
frozen patch, so that their grey was spotted all over with whiteness.
Not a glimmer shone from the windows.
"Nobody lives _there_, father," I said,--"surely?"
"It does not look very lively," he answered.
The house stood upon a bare knoll. There was not a tree within sight.
Rugged hills arose on all sides of it. Not a sound was heard but the
moan of an occasional gust of wind. There was a brook, but it lay
frozen beneath yards of snow. For miles in any direction those gusts
might wander without shaking door or window, or carrying with them a
puff of smoke from any hearth. We were crossing the yard at the back
of the house, towards the kitchen-door, for the front door had not
been opened for months, when we recognized the first sign of life.
That was only the low of a bullock. As we dismounted on a few feet of
rough pavement which had been swept clear, an old woman came to the
door, and led us into a dreary parlour without even a fire to welcome
I learned afterwards that the laird, from being a spendthrift in his
youth, had become a miser in his age, and that every household
arrangement was on the narrowest scale. From wasting righteous pounds,
he had come to scraping unrighteous farthings.
After we had remained standing for some time, the housekeeper
returned, and invited my father to go to the laird's room. As they
went, he requested her to take me to the kitchen, which, after
conducting him, she did. The sight of the fire, although it was of the
smallest, was most welcome. She laid a few more peats upon it, and
encouraged them to a blaze, remarking, with a sidelong look: "We
daren't do this, you see, sir, if the laird was about. The honest man
would call it waste."
"Is he dying?" I asked, for the sake of saying something; but she only
shook her head for reply, and, going to a press at the other end of
the large, vault-like kitchen, brought me some milk in a basin, and
some oatcake upon a platter, saying,
"It's not my house, you see, or I would have something better to set
before the minister's son."
I was glad of any food however, and it was well for me that I ate
heartily. I had got quite warm also before my father stepped into the
kitchen, very solemn, and stood up with his back to the fire. The old
woman set him a chair, but he neither sat down nor accepted the
refreshment which she humbly offered him.
"We must be going," he objected, "for it looks stormy, and the sooner
we set out the better."
"I'm sorry I can't ask you to stop the night," she said, "for I
couldn't make you comfortable. There's nothing fit to offer you in the
house, and there's not a bed that's been slept in for I don't know how
"Never mind," said my father cheerfully. "The moon is up already, and
we shall get home I trust before the snow begins to fall. Will you
tell the man to get the horses out?"
When she returned from taking the message, she came up to my father
and said, in a loud whisper,
"Is he in a bad way, sir?"
"He is dying," answered my father.
"I know that," she returned. "He'll be gone before the morning. But
that's not what I meant. Is he in a bad way for the other world?
That's what I meant, sir."
"Well, my good woman, after a life like his, we are only too glad to
remember what our Lord told us--not to judge. I do think he is ashamed
and sorry for his past life. But it's not the wrong he has done in
former time that stands half so much in his way as his present
fondness for what he counts his own. It seems like to break his heart
to leave all his little bits of property--particularly the money he
has saved; and yet he has some hope that Jesus Christ will be kind
enough to pardon him. I am afraid he will find himself very miserable
though, when he has not one scrap left to call his own--not a
"It's dreadful to think of him flying through the air on a night like
this," said she.
"My good woman," returned my father, "we know nothing about where or
how the departed spirit exists after it has left the body. But it
seems to me just as dreadful to be without God in the world, as to be
without him anywhere else. Let us pray for him that God may be with
him wherever he is."
So saying, my father knelt down, and we beside him, and he prayed
earnestly to God for the old man. Then we rose, mounted our horses,
and rode away.
We were only about halfway home, when the clouds began to cover the
moon, and the snow began to fall. Hitherto we had got on pretty well,
for there was light enough to see the track, feeble as it was. Now,
however, we had to keep a careful lookout. We pressed our horses, and
they went bravely, but it was slow work at the best. It got darker and
darker, for the clouds went on gathering, and the snow was coming down
in huge dull flakes. Faster and thicker they came, until at length we
could see nothing of the road before us, and were compelled to leave
all to the wisdom of our horses. My father, having great confidence in
his own little mare, which had carried him through many a doubtful and
difficult place, rode first. I followed close behind. He kept on
talking to me very cheerfully--I have thought since--to prevent me
from getting frightened. But I had not a thought of fear. To be with
my father was to me perfect safety. He was in the act of telling me
how, on more occasions than one, Missy had got him through places
where the road was impassable, by walking on the tops of the walls,
when all at once both our horses plunged into a gulf of snow. The more
my mare struggled, the deeper we sank in it. For a moment I thought it
was closing over my head.
"Father! father!" I shouted.
"Don't be frightened, my boy," cried my father, his voice seeming to
come from far away. "We are in God's hands. I can't help you now, but
as soon as Missy has got quieter, I shall come to you. I think I know
whereabouts we are. We've dropped right off the road. You're not hurt,
"Not in the least," I answered. "I was only frightened."
A few moments more, and my mare lay or rather stuck quiet, with her
neck and head thrown back, and her body deep in the snow. I put up my
hands to feel. It rose above my head farther than I could reach. I got
clear of the stirrups and scrambled up, first on my knees, and then on
my feet. Standing thus upon the saddle, again I stretched my hands
above my head, but still the broken wall of snow ascended above my
reach. I could see nothing of my father, but I heard him talking to
Missy. My mare soon began floundering again, so that I tumbled about
against the sides of the hole, and grew terrified lest I should bring
the snow down. I therefore cowered upon the mare's back until she was
quiet again. "Woa! Quiet, my lass!" I heard my father saying, and it
seemed his Missy was more frightened than mine.
My fear was now quite gone, and I felt much inclined to laugh at the
fun of the misadventure. I had as yet no idea of how serious a thing
it might be. Still I had sense enough to see that something must be
done--but what? I saw no way of getting out of the hole except by
trampling down the snow upon the back of my poor mare, and that I
could not think of; while I doubted much whether my father even could
tell in what direction to turn for help or shelter.
Finding our way home, even if we got free, seemed out of the question.
Again my mare began plunging violently, and this time I found myself
thrown against some hard substance. I thrust my hand through the snow,
and felt what I thought the stones of one of the dry walls common to
the country. I might clear away enough of the snow to climb upon that;
but then what next--it was so dark?
"Ranald!" cried my father; "how do you get on?"
"Much the same, father," I answered.
"I'm out of the wreath," he returned. "We've come through on the other
side. You are better where you are I suspect, however. The snow is
warmer than the air. It is beginning to blow. Pull your feet out and
get right upon the mare's back."
"That's just where I am, father--lying on her back, and pretty
comfortable," I rejoined.
All this time the snow was falling thick. If it went on like this, I
should be buried before morning, and the fact that the wind was rising
added to the danger of it. We were at the wrong end of the night too.
"I'm in a kind of ditch, I think, father," I cried--the place we fell
off on one side and a stone wall on the other."
"That can hardly be, or I shouldn't have got out," he returned. "But
now I've got Missy quiet, I'll come to you. I must get you out, I see,
or you will be snowed up. Woa, Missy! Good mare! Stand still."
The next moment he gave a joyous exclamation.
"What is it, father?" I cried.
"It's not a stone wall; it's a peat-stack. That _is_ good."
"I don't see what good it is. We can't light a fire."
"No, my boy; but where there's a peat-stack, there's probably a
He began uttering a series of shouts at the top of his voice,
listening between for a response. This lasted a good while. I began to
get very cold.
"I'm nearly frozen, father," I said, "and what's to become of the poor
mare--she's got no clothes on?"
"I'll get you out, my boy; and then at least you will be able to move
about a little."
I heard him shovelling at the snow with his hands and feet.
"I have got to the corner of the stack, and as well as I can judge you
must be just round it," he said.
"Your voice is close to me," I answered.
"I've got a hold of one of the mare's ears," he said next. "I won't
try to get her out until I get you off her."
I put out my hand, and felt along the mare's neck. What a joy it was
to catch my father's hand through the darkness and the snow! He
grasped mine and drew me towards him, then got me by the arm and began
dragging me through the snow. The mare began plunging again, and by
her struggles rather assisted my father. In a few moments he had me in
"Thank God!" he said, as he set me down against the peat-stack. "Stand
there. A little farther. Keep well off for fear she hurt you. She must
fight her way out now."
He went back to the mare, and went on clearing away the snow. Then I
could hear him patting and encouraging her. Next I heard a great
blowing and scrambling, and at last a snort and the thunder of hoofs.
"Woa! woa! Gently! gently!--She's off!" cried my father.
Her mother gave one snort, and away she went, thundering after
her. But their sounds were soon quenched in the snow.
"There's a business!" said my father. "I'm afraid the poor things will
only go farther to fare the worse. We are as well without them,
however; and if they should find their way home, so much the better
for us. They might have kept us a little warmer though. We must fight
the cold as we best can for the rest of the night, for it would only
be folly to leave the spot before it is light enough to see where we
It came into my mind suddenly how I had burrowed in the straw to hide
myself after running from Dame Shand's. But whether that or the
thought of burrowing in the peat-stack came first, I cannot tell. I
turned and felt whether I could draw out a peat. With a little
loosening I succeeded.
"Father," I said, "couldn't we make a hole in the peat-stalk, and
build ourselves in?"
"A capital idea, my boy!" he answered, with a gladness in his voice
which I venture to attribute in part to his satisfaction at finding
that I had some practical sense in me. "We'll try it at once."
"I've got two or three out already," I said, for I had gone on
pulling, and it was easy enough after one had been started.
"We must take care we don't bring down the whole stack though," said
"Even then," I returned, "we could build ourselves up in them, and
that would be something."
"Right, Ranald! It would be only making houses to our own shape,
instead of big enough to move about in--turning crustaceous animals,
"It would be a peat-greatcoat at least," I remarked, pulling away.
"Here," he said, "I will put my stick in under the top row. That will
be a sort of lintel to support those above."
He always carried his walking-stick whether he rode or walked.
We worked with a will, piling up the peats a little in front that we
might with them build up the door of our cave after we were inside. We
got quite merry over it.
"We shall be brought before the magistrates for destruction of
property," said my father.
"You'll have to send Andrew to build up the stack again--that's all."
"But I wonder how it is that nobody hears us. How can they have a
peat-stack so far from the house?"
"I can't imagine," I said; "except it be to prevent them from burning
too many peats. It is more like a trick of the poor laird than anybody
Every now and then a few would come down with a rush, and before long
we had made a large hole. We left a good thick floor to sit upon.
Creeping in, we commenced building up the entrance. We had not
proceeded far, however, before we found that our cave was too small,
and that as we should have to remain in it for hours, we must find it
very cramped. Therefore, instead of using any more of the peats
already pulled out, we finished building up the wall with others fresh
drawn from the inside. When at length we had, to the best of our
ability, completed our immuring, we sat down to wait for the
morning--my father as calm as if he had been seated in his
study-chair, and I in a state of condensed delight; for was not this a
grand adventure--with my father to share it, and keep it from going
too far? He sat with his back leaning against the side of the hole,
and I sat between his knees, and leaned against him. His arms were
folded round me; and could ever boy be more blessed than I was then?
The sense of outside danger; the knowledge that if the wind rose, we
might be walled up in snow before the morning; the assurance of
present safety and good hope--all made such an impression upon my mind
that ever since when any trouble has threatened me, I have invariably
turned first in thought to the memory of that harbour of refuge from
the storm. There I sat for long hours secure in my father's arms, and
knew that the soundless snow was falling thick around us, and marked
occasionally the threatening wail of the wind like the cry of a wild
beast scenting us from afar.
"This is grand, father," I said.
"You would like better to be at home in bed, wouldn't you?" he asked,
"No, indeed, I should not," I answered, with more than honesty; for I
felt exuberantly happy.
"If only we can keep warm," said my father. "If you should get very
cold indeed, you must not lose heart, my man, but think how pleasant
it will be when we get home to a good fire and a hot breakfast."
"I think I can bear it all right. I have often been cold enough at
"This may be worse. But we need not anticipate evil: that is to send
out for the suffering. It is well to be prepared for it, but it is ill
to brood over a fancied future of evil. In all my life, my boy--and I
should like you to remember what I say--I have never found any trial
go beyond what I could bear. In the worst cases of suffering, I think
there is help given which those who look on cannot understand, but
which enables the sufferer to endure. The last help of that kind is
death, which I think is always a blessing, though few people can
regard it as such."
I listened with some wonder. Without being able to see that what he
said was true, I could yet accept it after a vague fashion.
"This nest which we have made to shelter us," he resumed, "brings to
my mind what the Psalmist says about dwelling in the secret place of
the Most High. Everyone who will, may there, like the swallow, make
himself a nest."
"This can't be very like that, though, surely, father," I ventured to
"Why not, my boy?"
"It's not safe enough, for one thing."
"You are right there. Still it is like. It is our place of refuge."
"The cold does get through it, father."
"But it keeps our minds at peace. Even the refuge in God does not
always secure us from external suffering. The heart may be quite happy
and strong when the hands are benumbed with cold. Yes, the heart even
may grow cold with coming death, while the man himself retreats the
farther into the secret place of the Most High, growing more calm and
hopeful as the last cold invades the house of his body. I believe that
all troubles come to drive us into that refuge--that secret place
where alone we can be safe. You will, when you go out into the world,
my boy, find that most men not only do not believe this, but do not
believe that you believe it. They regard it at best as a fantastic
weakness, fit only for sickly people. But watch how the strength of
such people, their calmness and common sense, fares when the grasp of
suffering lays hold upon them. It was a sad sight--that abject
hopeless misery I saw this afternoon. If his mind had been an
indication of the reality, one must have said that there was no
God--no God at least that would have anything to do with him. The
universe as reflected in the tarnished mirror of his soul, was a chill
misty void, through which blew the moaning wind of an unknown fate. As
near as ever I saw it, that man was without God and without hope in
the world. All who have done the mightiest things--I do not mean the
showiest things--all that are like William of Orange--the great
William, I mean, not our King William--or John Milton, or William
Penn, or any other of the cloud of witnesses spoken of in the Epistle
to the Hebrews--all the men I say who have done the mightiest things,
have not only believed that there was this refuge in God, but have
themselves more or less entered into the secret place of the Most
High. There only could they have found strength to do their mighty
deeds. They were able to do them because they knew God wanted them to
do them, that he was on their side, or rather they were on his side,
and therefore safe, surrounded by God on every side. My boy, do the
will of God--that is, what you know or believe to be right, and fear
I never forgot the lesson. But my readers must not think that my
father often talked like this. He was not at all favourable to much
talk about religion. He used to say that much talk prevented much
thought, and talk without thought was bad. Therefore it was for the
most part only upon extraordinary occasions, of which this is an
example, that he spoke of the deep simplicities of that faith in God
which was the very root of his conscious life.
He was silent after this utterance, which lasted longer than I have
represented, although unbroken, I believe, by any remark of mine. Full
of inward repose, I fell asleep in his arms.
When I awoke I found myself very cold. Then I became aware that my
father was asleep, and for the first time began to be uneasy. It was
not because of the cold: that was not at all unendurable; it was that
while the night lay awful in white silence about me, while the wind
was moaning outside, and blowing long thin currents through the peat
walls around me, while our warm home lay far away, and I could not
tell how many hours of cold darkness had yet to pass before we could
set out to find it,--it was not all these things together, but that,
in the midst of all these, I was awake and my father slept. I could
easily have waked him, but I was not selfish enough for that: I sat
still and shivered and felt very dreary. Then the last words of my
father began to return upon me, and, with a throb of relief, the
thought awoke in my mind that although my father was asleep, the great
Father of us both, he in whose heart lay that secret place of refuge,
neither slumbered nor slept. And now I was able to wait in patience,
with an idea, if not a sense of the present care of God, such as I had
never had before. When, after some years, my father was taken from us,
the thought of this night came again and again, and I would say in my
heart: "My father sleeps that I may know the better that The Father
At length he stirred. The first sign of his awaking was, that he
closed again the arms about me which had dropped by his sides as he
"I'm so glad you're awake, father," I said, speaking first.
"Have _you_ been long awake then?"
"Not so very long, but I felt lonely without you."
"Are you very cold? _I_ feel rather chilly."
So we chatted away for a while.
"I wonder if it is nearly day yet. I do not in the least know how long
we have slept. I wonder if my watch is going. I forgot to wind it up
last night. If it has stopped I shall know it is near daylight."
He held his watch to his ear: alas! it was ticking vigorously. He felt
for the keyhole, and wound it up. After that we employed ourselves in
repeating as many of the metrical psalms and paraphrases of Scripture
as we could recollect, and this helped away a good part of the weary
But it went very slowly, and I was growing so cold that I could hardly
"I'm afraid you feel very cold, Ranald," said my father, folding me
closer in his arms. "You must try not to go to sleep again, for that
would be dangerous now. I feel more cramped than cold."
As he said this, he extended his legs and threw his head back, to get
rid of the uneasiness by stretching himself. The same moment, down
came a shower of peats upon our heads and bodies, and when I tried to
move, I found myself fixed. I could not help laughing.
"Father," I cried, as soon as I could speak, "you're like Samson:
you've brought down the house upon us."
"So I have, my boy. It was very thoughtless of me. I don't know what
we _are_ to do now."
"Can you move, father? _I_ can't," I said.
"I can move my legs, but I'm afraid to move even a toe in my boot for
fear of bringing down another avalanche of peats. But no--there's not
much danger of that: they are all down already, for I feel the snow on
With hands and feet my father struggled, but could not do much, for I
lay against him under a great heap. His struggles made an opening
"Father! father! shout," I cried. "I see a light somewhere; and I
think it is moving."
We shouted as loud as we could, and then lay listening. My heart beat
so that I was afraid I should not hear any reply that might come. But
the next moment it rang through the frosty air.
"It's Turkey! That's Turkey, father!" I cried. "I know his shout. He
makes it go farther than anybody else.--Turkey! Turkey!" I shrieked,
almost weeping with delight.
Again Turkey's cry rang through the darkness, and the light drew
"Mind how you step, Turkey," cried my father. "There's a hole you may
"It wouldn't hurt him much in the snow," I said.
"Perhaps not, but he would probably lose his light, and that we can
"Shout again," cried Turkey. "I can't make out where you are."
My father shouted.
"Am I coming nearer to you now?"
"I can hardly say. I cannot see well. Are you going along the road?"
"Yes. Can't you come to me?"
"Not yet. We can't get out. We're upon your right hand, in a
"Oh! I know the peat-stack. I'll be with you in a moment."
He did not however find it so easily as he had expected, the peats
being covered with snow. My father gave up trying to free himself and
took to laughing instead at the ridiculous situation in which we were
about to be discovered. He kept directing Turkey, however, who at
length after some disappearances which made us very anxious about the
lantern, caught sight of the stack, and walked straight towards it.
Now first we saw that he was not alone, but accompanied by the silent
"Where are you, sir?" asked Turkey, throwing the light of the lantern
over the ruin.
"Buried in the peats," answered my father, laughing. "Come and get us
Turkey strode up to the heap, and turning the light down into it said,
"I didn't know it had been raining peats, sir."
"The peats didn't fall quite so far as the snow, Turkey, or they would
have made a worse job of it," answered my father.
Meantime Andrew and Turkey were both busy; and in a few moments we
stood upon our feet, stiff with cold and cramped with confinement, but
merry enough at heart.
"What brought you out to look for us?" asked my father.
"I heard Missy whinnying at the stable-door," said Andrew. "When I saw
she was alone, I knew something had happened, and waked Turkey. We
only stopped to run to the manse for a drop of whisky to bring with
us, and set out at once."
"What o'clock is it now?" asked my father.
"About one o'clock," answered Andrew.
"One o'clock!" thought I. "What a time we should have had to wait!"
"Have you been long in finding us?"
"Only about an hour."
"Then the little mare must have had great trouble in getting home. You
say the other was not with her?"
"No, sir. She's not made her appearance."
"Then if we don't find her, she will be dead before morning. But what
shall we do with you, Ranald? Turkey had better go home with you
"Please let me go too," I said.
"Are you able to walk?"
"Quite--or at least I shall be, after my legs come to themselves a
Turkey produced a bottle of milk which he had brought for me, and
Andrew produced the little flask of whisky which Kirsty had sent; and
my father having taken a little of the latter, while I emptied my
bottle, we set out to look for young Missy.
"Where are we?" asked my father.
Turkey told him.
"How comes it that nobody heard our shouting, then?"
"You know, sir," answered Turkey, "the old man is as deaf as a post,
and I dare say his people were all fast asleep."
The snow was falling only in a few large flakes now, which sank
through the air like the moultings of some lovely bird of heaven. The
moon had come out again, and the white world lay around us in lovely
light. A good deal of snow had fallen while we lay in the peats, but
we could yet trace the track of the two horses. We followed it a long
way through the little valley into which we had dropped from the side
of the road. We came to more places than one where they had been
floundering together in a snow-wreath, but at length reached the spot
where one had parted from the other. When we had traced one of the
tracks to the road, we concluded it was Missy's, and returned to the
other. But we had not followed it very far before we came upon the
poor mare lying upon her back in a deep runnel, in which the snow was
very soft. She had put her forefeet in it as she galloped heedlessly
along, and tumbled right over. The snow had yielded enough to let the
banks get a hold of her, and she lay helpless. Turkey and Andrew,
however, had had the foresight to bring spades with them and a rope,
and they set to work at once, my father taking a turn now and then,
and I holding the lantern, which was all but useless now in the
moonlight. It took more than an hour to get the poor thing on her legs
again, but when she was up, it was all they could do to hold her. She
was so wild with cold, and with delight at feeling her legs under her
once more, that she would have broken loose again, and galloped off as
recklessly as ever. They set me on her back, and with my father on one
side and Turkey on the other, and Andrew at her head, I rode home in
great comfort. It was another good hour before we arrived, and right
glad were we to see through the curtains of the parlour the glow of
the great fire which Kirsty had kept up for us. She burst out crying
when we made our appearance.
A Solitary Chapter
During all that winter I attended the evening school and assisted the
master. I confess, however, it was not by any means so much for the
master as to be near Elsie Duff, of whom I now thought many times an
hour. Her sweet face grew more and more dear to me. When I pointed out
an error in her work, or suggested a better mode of working, it would
flush like the heart of a white rose, and eagerly she would set
herself to rectification or improvement, her whole manner a dumb
apology for what could be a fault in no eyes but her own. It was this
sweetness that gained upon me: at length her face was almost a part of
my consciousness. I suppose my condition was what people would call
being in love with her; but I never thought of that; I only thought of
her. Nor did I ever dream of saying a word to her on the subject. I
wished nothing other than as it was. To think about her all day, so
gently that it never disturbed Euclid or Livy; to see her at night,
and get near her now and then, sitting on the same form with her as I
explained something to her on the slate or in her book; to hear her
voice, and look into her tender eyes, was all that I desired. It never
occurred to me that things could not go on so; that a change must
come; that as life cannot linger in the bud, but is compelled by the
sunshine and air into the flower, so life would go on and on, and
things would change, and the time blossom into something else, and my
love find itself set out-of-doors in the midst of strange plants and a
new order of things.
When school was over, I walked home with her--not alone, for Turkey
was always on the other side. I had not a suspicion that Turkey's
admiration of Elsie could ever come into collision with mine. We
joined in praising her, but my admiration ever found more words than
Turkey's, and I thought my love to her was greater than his.
We seldom went into her grandmother's cottage, for she did not make us
welcome. After we had taken her home we generally repaired to Turkey's
mother, with whom we were sure of a kind reception. She was a patient
diligent woman, who looked as if she had nearly done with life, and
had only to gather up the crumbs of it. I have often wondered since,
what was her deepest thought--whether she was content to be unhappy,
or whether she lived in hope of some blessedness beyond. It is
marvellous with how little happiness some people can get through the
world. Surely they are inwardly sustained with something even better
"Did you ever hear my mother sing?" asked Turkey, as we sat together
over her little fire, on one of these occasions.
"No. I should like very much," I answered.
The room was lighted only by a little oil-lamp, for there was no flame
to the fire of peats and dried oak-bark.
"She sings such queer ballads as you never heard," said Turkey. "Give
us one, mother; do."
She yielded, and, in a low chanting voice, sang something like this:--
Up cam' the waves o' the tide wi' a whush,
And back gaed the pebbles wi' a whurr,
Whan the king's ae son cam' walking i' the hush,
To hear the sea murmur and murr.
The half mune was risin' the waves abune,
An' a glimmer o' cauld weet licht
Cam' ower the water straucht frae the mune,
Like a path across the nicht.
What's that, an' that, far oot i' the grey
Atwixt the mune and the land?
It's the bonny sea-maidens at their play--
Haud awa', king's son, frae the strand.
Ae rock stud up wi' a shadow at its foot:
The king's son stepped behind:
The merry sea-maidens cam' gambolling oot,
Combin' their hair i' the wind.
O merry their laugh when they felt the land
Under their light cool feet!
Each laid her comb on the yellow sand,
And the gladsome dance grew fleet.
But the fairest she laid her comb by itsel'
On the rock where the king's son lay.
He stole about, and the carven shell
He hid in his bosom away.
And he watched the dance till the clouds did gloom,
And the wind blew an angry tune:
One after one she caught up her comb,
To the sea went dancin' doon.
But the fairest, wi' hair like the mune in a clud,
She sought till she was the last.
He creepin' went and watchin' stud,
And he thought to hold her fast.
She dropped at his feet without motion or heed;
He took her, and home he sped.--
All day she lay like a withered seaweed,
On a purple and gowden bed.
But at night whan the wind frae the watery bars
Blew into the dusky room,
She opened her een like twa settin' stars,
And back came her twilight bloom.
The king's son knelt beside her bed:
She was his ere a month had passed;
And the cold sea-maiden he had wed
Grew a tender wife at last.
And all went well till her baby was born,
And then she couldna sleep;
She would rise and wander till breakin' morn,
Hark-harkin' the sound o' the deep.
One night when the wind was wailing about,
And the sea was speckled wi' foam,
From room to room she went in and out
And she came on her carven comb.
She twisted her hair with eager hands,
She put in the comb with glee:
She's out and she's over the glittering sands,
And away to the moaning sea.
One cry came back from far away:
He woke, and was all alone.
Her night robe lay on the marble grey,
And the cold sea-maiden was gone.
Ever and aye frae first peep o' the moon,
Whan the wind blew aff o' the sea,
The desert shore still up and doon
Heavy at heart paced he.
But never more came the maidens to play
From the merry cold-hearted sea;
He heard their laughter far out and away,
But heavy at heart paced he.
I have modernized the ballad--indeed spoiled it altogether, for I have
made up this version from the memory of it--with only, I fear, just a
touch here and there of the original expression.
"That's what comes of taking what you have no right to," said Turkey,
in whom the practical had ever the upper hand of the imaginative.
As we walked home together I resumed the subject.
"I think you're too hard on the king's son," I said. "He couldn't help
falling in love with the mermaid."
"He had no business to steal her comb, and then run away with
herself," said Turkey.
"She was none the worse for it," said I.
"Who told you that?" he retorted. "I don't think the girl herself
would have said so. It's not every girl that would care to marry a
king's son. She might have had a lover of her own down in the sea. At
all events the prince was none the better for it."
"But the song says she made a tender wife," I objected.
"She couldn't help herself. She made the best of it. I dare say he
wasn't a bad sort of a fellow, but he was no gentleman."
"Turkey!" I exclaimed. "He was a prince!"
"I know that."
"Then he must have been a gentleman."
"I don't know that. I've read of a good many princes who did things I
should be ashamed to do."
"But you're not a prince, Turkey," I returned, in the low endeavour to
bolster up the wrong with my silly logic.
"No. Therefore if I were to do what was rude and dishonest, people
would say: 'What could you expect of a ploughboy?' A prince ought to
be just so much better bred than a ploughboy. I would scorn to do what
that prince did. What's wrong in a ploughboy can't be right in a
prince, Ranald. Or else right is only right sometimes; so that right
may be wrong and wrong may be right, which is as much as to say there
is no right and wrong; and if there's no right and wrong, the world's
an awful mess, and there can't be any God, for a God would never have
made it like that."
"Well, Turkey, you know best. I can't help thinking the prince was not
so much to blame, though."
"You see what came of it--misery."
"Perhaps he would rather have had the misery and all together than
none of it."
"That's for him to settle. But he must have seen he was wrong, before
he had done wandering by the sea like that."
"Well now, Turkey, what would you have done yourself, suppose the
beautifulest of them all had laid her comb down within an inch of
where you were standing--and never saw you, you know?"
Turkey thought for a moment before answering.
"I'm supposing you fell in love with her at first sight, you know," I
"Well, I'm sure I should not have kept the comb, even if I had taken
it just to get a chance of speaking to her. And I can't help fancying
if he had behaved like a gentleman, and let her go without touching
her the first time, she might have come again; and if he had married
her at last of her own free will, she would not have run away from
him, let the sea have kept calling her ever so much."
The next evening, I looked for Elsie as usual, but did not see her.
How blank and dull the schoolroom seemed! Still she might arrive any
moment. But she did not come. I went through my duties wearily, hoping
ever for the hour of release. I could see well enough that Turkey was
anxious too. The moment school was over, we hurried away, almost
without a word, to the cottage. There we found her weeping. Her
grandmother had died suddenly. She clung to Turkey, and seemed almost
to forget my presence. But I thought nothing of that. Had the case
been mine, I too should have clung to Turkey from faith in his help
and superior wisdom.
There were two or three old women in the place. Turkey went and spoke
to them, and then took Elsie home to his mother. Jamie was asleep, and
they would not wake him.
How it was arranged, I forget, but both Elsie and Jamie lived for the
rest of the winter with Turkey's mother. The cottage was let, and the
cow taken home by their father. Before summer Jamie had got a place in
a shop in the village, and then Elsie went back to her mother.
An Evening Visit
I now saw much less of Elsie; but I went with Turkey, as often as I
could, to visit her at her father's cottage. The evenings we spent
there are amongst the happiest hours in my memory. One evening in
particular appears to stand out as a type of the whole. I remember
every point in the visit. I think it must have been almost the last.
We set out as the sun was going down on an evening in the end of
April, when the nightly frosts had not yet vanished. The hail was
dancing about us as we started; the sun was disappearing in a bank of
tawny orange cloud; the night would be cold and dark and stormy; but
we cared nothing for that: a conflict with the elements always added
to the pleasure of any undertaking then. It was in the midst of
another shower of hail, driven on the blasts of a keen wind, that we
arrived at the little cottage. It had been built by Duff himself to
receive his bride, and although since enlarged, was still a very
little house. It had a foundation of stone, but the walls were of
turf. He had lined it with boards, however, and so made it warmer and
more comfortable than most of the labourers' dwellings. When we
entered, a glowing fire of peat was on the hearth, and the pot with
the supper hung over it. Mrs. Duff was spinning, and Elsie, by the
light of a little oil lamp suspended against the wall, was teaching
her youngest brother to read. Whatever she did, she always seemed in
my eyes to do it better than anyone else; and to see her under the
lamp, with one arm round the little fellow who stood leaning against
her, while the other hand pointed with a knitting-needle to the
letters of the spelling-book which lay on her knee, was to see a
lovely picture. The mother did not rise from her spinning, but spoke a
kindly welcome, while Elsie got up, and without approaching us, or
saying more than a word or two, set chairs for us by the fire, and
took the little fellow away to put him to bed.
"It's a cold night," said Mrs. Duff. "The wind seems to blow through
me as I sit at my wheel. I wish my husband would come home."
"He'll be suppering his horses," said Turkey. "I'll just run across
and give him a hand, and that'll bring him in the sooner."
"Thank you, Turkey," said Mrs. Duff as he vanished.
"He's a fine lad," she remarked, much in the same phrase my father
used when speaking of him.
"There's nobody like Turkey," I said.
"Indeed, I think you're right there, Ranald. A better-behaved lad
doesn't step. He'll do something to distinguish himself some day. I
shouldn't wonder if he went to college, and wagged his head in a
The idea of Turkey wagging his head in a pulpit made me laugh.
"Wait till you see," resumed Mrs. Duff, somewhat offended at my
reception of her prophecy. "Folk will hear of him yet."
"I didn't mean he couldn't be a minister, Mrs. Duff. But I don't think
he will take to that."
Here Elsie came back, and lifting the lid of the pot, examined the
state of its contents. I got hold of her hand, but for the first time
she withdrew it. I did not feel hurt, for she did it very gently. Then
she began to set the white deal table in the middle of the floor, and
by the time she had put the plates and spoons upon it, the water in
the pot was boiling, and she began to make the porridge, at which she
was judged to be first-rate--in my mind, equal to our Kirsty. By the
time it was ready, her father and Turkey came in. James Duff said
grace, and we sat down to our supper. The wind was blowing hard
outside, and every now and then the hail came in deafening rattles
against the little windows, and, descending the wide chimney, danced
on the floor about the hearth; but not a thought of the long, stormy
way between us and home interfered with the enjoyment of the hour.
After supper, which was enlivened by simple chat about the crops and
the doings on the farm, James turned to me, and said:
"Haven't you got a song or a ballad to give us, Ranald? I know you're
always getting hold of such things."
I had expected this; for, every time I went, I tried to have something
to repeat to them. As I could not sing, this was the nearest way in
which I might contribute to the evening's entertainment. Elsie was
very fond of ballads, and I could hardly please her better than by
bringing a new one with me. But in default of that, an old one or a
story would be welcomed. My reader must remember that there were very
few books to be had then in that part of the country, and therefore
any mode of literature was precious. The schoolmaster was the chief
source from which I derived my provision of this sort. On the present
occasion, I was prepared with a ballad of his. I remember every word
of it now, and will give it to my readers, reminding them once more
how easy it is to skip it, if they do not care for that kind of thing.
"Bonny lassie, rosy lassie,
Ken ye what is care?
Had ye ever a thought, lassie,
Made yer hertie sair?"
Johnnie said it, Johnnie luikin'
Into Jeannie's face;
Seekin' in the garden hedge
For an open place.
"Na," said Jeannie, saftly smilin',
"Nought o' care ken I;
For they say the carlin'
Is better passit by."
"Licht o' hert ye are, Jeannie,
As o' foot and ban'!
Lang be yours sic answer
To ony spierin' man."
"I ken what ye wad hae, sir,
Though yer words are few;
Ye wad hae me aye as careless,
Till I care for you."
"Dinna mock me, Jeannie, lassie,
Wi' yer lauchin' ee;
For ye hae nae notion
What gaes on in me."
"No more I hae a notion
O' what's in yonder cairn;
I'm no sae pryin', Johnnie,
It's none o' my concern."
"Well, there's ae thing, Jeannie,
Ye canna help, my doo--
Ye canna help me carin'
Wi' a' my hert for you."
Johnnie turned and left her,
Listed for the war;
In a year cam' limpin'
Hame wi' mony a scar.
Wha was that was sittin'
Wan and worn wi' care?
Could it be his Jeannie
Aged and alter'd sair?
Her goon was black, her eelids
Reid wi' sorrow's dew:
Could she in a twalmonth
Be wife and widow too?
Jeannie's hert gaed wallop,
Ken 't him whan he spak':
"I thocht that ye was deid, Johnnie:
Is't yersel' come back?"
"O Jeannie, are ye, tell me,
Wife or widow or baith?
To see ye lost as I am,
I wad be verra laith,"
"I canna be a widow
That wife was never nane;
But gin ye will hae me,
Noo I will be ane."
His crutch he flang it frae him,
Forgetful o' war's harms;
But couldna stan' withoot it,
And fell in Jeannie's arms.
"That's not a bad ballad," said James Duff. "Have you a tune it would
go to, Elsie?"
Elsie thought a little, and asked me to repeat the first verse. Then
she sung it out clear and fair to a tune I had never heard before.
"That will do splendidly, Elsie," I said. "I will write it out for
you, and then you will be able to sing it all the next time I come."
She made me no answer. She and Turkey were looking at each other, and
did not hear me. James Duff began to talk to me. Elsie was putting
away the supper-things. In a few minutes I missed her and Turkey, and
they were absent for some time. They did not return together, but
first Turkey, and Elsie some minutes after. As the night was now
getting quite stormy, James Duff counselled our return, and we
obeyed. But little either Turkey or I cared for wind or hail.
I saw Elsie at church most Sundays; but she was far too attentive and
modest ever to give me even a look. Sometimes I had a word with her
when we came out, but my father expected us to walk home with him; and
I generally saw Turkey walk away with her.
A Break in my Story
I am now rapidly approaching the moment at which I said I should bring
this history to an end--the moment, namely, when I became aware that
my boyhood was behind me.
I left home this summer for the first time, and followed my brother
Tom to the grammar school in the county-town, in order afterwards to
follow him to the University. There was so much of novelty and
expectation in the change, that I did not feel the separation from my
father and the rest of my family much at first. That came afterwards.
For the time, the pleasure of a long ride on the top of the
mail-coach, with a bright sun and a pleasant breeze, the various
incidents connected with changing horses and starting afresh, and then
the outlook for the first peep of the sea, occupied my attention too
I do not care to dwell on my experience at the grammar school. I
worked fairly, and got on; but whether I should gain a scholarship
remained doubtful enough. Before the time for the examination arrived,
I went to spend a week at home. It was a great disappointment to me
that I had to return again without seeing Elsie. But it could not be
helped. The only Sunday I had there was a stormy day, late in October,
and Elsie had a bad cold, as Turkey informed me, and could not be out;
while my father had made so many engagements for me, that, with one
thing and another, I was not able to go and see her.
Turkey was now doing a man's work on the farm, and stood as high as
ever in the estimation of my father and everyone who knew him. He was
as great a favourite with Allister and Davie as with myself, and took
very much the same place with the former as he had taken with me. I
had lost nothing of my regard for him, and he talked to me with the
same familiarity as before, urging me to diligence and thoroughness in
my studies, pressing upon me that no one had ever done lasting work,
"that is," Turkey would say--"work that goes to the making of the
world," without being in earnest as to the _what_ and conscientious as
to the _how_.
"I don't want you to try to be a great man," he said once. "You might
succeed, and then find out you had failed altogether."
"How could that be, Turkey?" I objected. "A body can't succeed and
fail both at once."
"A body might succeed," he replied, "in doing what he wanted to do,
and then find out that it was not in the least what he had thought
"What rule are you to follow, then, Turkey?" I asked.
"Just the rule of duty," he replied. "What you ought to do, that you
must do. Then when a choice comes, not involving duty, you know,
choose what you like best."
This is the substance of what he said. If anyone thinks it pedantic, I
can only say, he would not have thought so if he had heard it as it
was uttered--in the homely forms and sounds of the Scottish tongue.
"Aren't you fit for something better than farm-work yourself, Turkey?"
I ventured to suggest, foolishly impelled, I suppose, to try whether I
could not give advice too.
"It's _my_ work," said Turkey, in a decisive tone, which left me no
room for rejoinder.
This conversation took place in the barn, where Turkey happened to be
thrashing alone that morning. In turning the sheaf, or in laying a
fresh one, there was always a moment's pause in the din, and then only
we talked, so that our conversation was a good deal broken. I had
buried myself in the straw, as in days of old, to keep myself warm,
and there I lay and looked at Turkey while he thrashed, and thought
with myself that his face had grown much more solemn than it used to
be. But when he smiled, which was seldom, all the old merry sweetness
dawned again. This was the last long talk I ever had with him. The
next day I returned for the examination, was happy enough to gain a
small scholarship, and entered on my first winter at college.
My father wrote to me once a week or so, and occasionally I had a
letter with more ink than matter in it from one of my younger
brothers. Tom was now in Edinburgh, in a lawyer's office. I had no
correspondence with Turkey. Mr. Wilson wrote to me sometimes, and
along with good advice would occasionally send me some verses, but he
told me little or nothing of what was going on.
I Learn that I am not a Man
It was a Saturday morning, very early in April, when I climbed the
mail-coach to return to my home for the summer; for so the university
year is divided in Scotland. The sky was bright, with great fleecy
clouds sailing over it, from which now and then fell a shower in large
drops. The wind was keen, and I had to wrap myself well in my cloak.
But my heart was light, and full of the pleasure of ended and
successful labour, of home-going, and the signs which sun and sky gave
that the summer was at hand.
Five months had gone by since I last left home, and it had seemed such
an age to Davie, that he burst out crying when he saw me. My father
received me with a certain still tenderness, which seemed to grow upon
him. Kirsty followed Davie's example, and Allister, without saying
much, haunted me like my shadow. I saw nothing of Turkey that evening.
In the morning we went to church, of course, and I sat beside the
reclining stone warrior, from whose face age had nearly worn the
features away. I gazed at him all the time of the singing of the first
psalm, and there grew upon me a strange solemnity, a sense of the
passing away of earthly things, and a stronger conviction than I had
ever had of the need of something that could not pass. This feeling
lasted all the time of the service, and increased while I lingered in
the church almost alone until my father should come out of the vestry.
I stood in the passage, leaning against the tomb. A cloud came over
the sun, and the whole church grew dark as a December day--gloomy and
cheerless. I heard for some time, almost without hearing them, two old
women talking together close by me. The pulpit was between them and
me, but when I became thoroughly aware of their presence, I peeped
round and saw them.
"And when did it happen, said you?" asked one of them, whose head
moved with an incessant capricious motion from palsy.
"About two o'clock this morning," answered the other, who leaned on a
stick, almost bent double with rheumatism. "I saw their next-door
neighbour this morning, and he had seen Jamie, who goes home of a
Saturday night, you know; but William being a Seceder, nobody's been
to tell the minister, and I'm just waiting to let him know; for she
was a great favourite of his, and he's been to see her often. They're
much to be pitied--poor people! Nobody thought it would come so sudden
like. When I saw her mother last, there was no such notion in her
Before I could ask of whom they were talking, my father came up the
aisle from the vestry, and stopped to speak to the old women.
"Elsie Duff's gone, poor thing!" said the rheumatic one.
I grew stupid. What followed I have forgotten. A sound was in my ears,
and my body seemed to believe it, though my soul could not comprehend
it. When I came to myself I was alone in the church. They had gone
away without seeing me. I was standing beside the monument, leaning on
the carved Crusader. The sun was again shining, and the old church was
full of light. But the sunshine had changed to me, and I felt very
mournful. I should see the sweet face, hear the lovely voice, no more
in this world. I endeavoured to realize the thought, but could not,
and I left the church hardly conscious of anything but a dull sense of
I found my father very grave. He spoke tenderly of Elsie; but he did
not know how I had loved her, and I could not make much response. I
think, too, that he said less than he otherwise would, from the fear
of calling back to my mind too vivid a memory of how ill I had once
behaved to her. It was, indeed, my first thought the moment he uttered
her name, but it soon passed, for much had come between.
In the evening I went up to the farm to look for Turkey, who had not
been at church morning or afternoon. He was the only one I could talk
to about Elsie. I found him in one of the cow-houses, bedding the
cows. His back was towards me when I entered.
"Turkey," I said.
He looked round with a slow mechanical motion, as if with a conscious
effort of the will. His face was so white, and wore such a look of
loss, that it almost terrified me like the presence of something
awful. I stood speechless. He looked at me for a moment, and then
came slowly up to me, and laid his hand on my shoulder.
"Ranald," he said, "we were to have been married next year."
Before the grief of the man, mighty in its silence, my whole being was
humbled. I knew my love was not so great as his. It grew in my eyes a
pale and feeble thing; and I felt worthless in the presence of her
dead, whom alive I had loved with peaceful gladness. Elsie belonged to
Turkey, and he had lost her, and his heart was breaking. I threw my
arms round him, and wept for him, not for myself. It was thus I ceased
to be a boy.
Here, therefore, my story ends. Before I returned to the university,
Turkey had enlisted and left the place.
My father's half-prophecy concerning him is now fulfilled. He is a
general. I will not tell his name. For some reason or other he had
taken his mother's, and by that he is well known. I have never seen
him, or heard from him, since he left my father's service; but I am
confident that if ever we meet, it will be as old and true friends.
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