Part 4 out of 10
that it was at best but a probable sign that he might be able to do
something or other with pleasure, perhaps with success. If any one
judge it hard that men should be made with ambitions to whose
objects they can never attain, I answer, ambition is but the evil
shadow of aspiration; and no man ever followed the truth, which is
the one path of aspiration, and in the end complained that he had
been made this way or that. Man is made to be that which he is made
most capable of desiring -- but it goes without saying that he must
desire the thing itself and not its shadow. Man is of the truth,
and while he follows a lie, no indication his nature yields will
hold, except the fear, the discontent, the sickness of soul, that
tell him he is wrong. If he say, "I care not for what you call the
substance -- it is to me the shadow; I want what you call the shadow,"
the only answer is, that, to all eternity, he can never have it: a
shadow can never be had.
Ginevra was hardly the same child after the experience of that
terrible morning. At no time very much at home with her father,
something had now come between them, to remove which all her
struggles to love him as before were unavailing. The father was too
stupid, too unsympathetic, to take note of the look of fear that
crossed her face if ever he addressed her suddenly; and when she was
absorbed in fighting the thoughts that would come, he took her
constraint for sullenness.
With a cold spot in his heart where once had dwelt some genuine
regard for Donal, Fergus went back to college. Donal went on
herding the cattle, cudgeling Hornie, and reading what books he
could lay his hands on: there was no supply through Fergus any more,
alas! The year before, ere he took his leave, he had been careful
to see Donal provided with at least books for study; but this time
he left him to shift for himself. He was small because he was
proud, spiteful because he was conceited. He would let Donal know
what it was to have lost his favour! But Donal did not suffer much,
except in the loss of the friendship itself. He managed to get the
loan of a copy of Burns -- better meat for a strong spirit than the
poetry of Byron or even Scott. An innate cleanliness of soul
rendered the occasional coarseness to him harmless, and the mighty
torrent of the man's life, broken by occasional pools reflecting the
stars; its headlong hatred of hypocrisy and false religion; its
generosity, and struggling conscientiousness; its failures and its
repentances, roused much in the heart of Donal. Happily the copy he
had borrowed, had in it a tolerable biography; and that, read along
with the man's work, enabled him, young as he was, to see something
of where and how he had failed, and to shadow out to himself, not
altogether vaguely, the perils to which the greatest must be exposed
who cannot rule his own spirit, but, like a mere child, reels from
one mood into another -- at the will of -- what?
From reading Burns, Donal learned also not a little of the
capabilities of his own language; for, Celt as he was by birth and
country and mental character, he could not speak the Gaelic: that
language, soft as the speech of streams from rugged mountains, and
wild as that of the wind in the tops of fir-trees, the language at
once of bards and fighting men, had so far ebbed from the region,
lingering only here and there in the hollow pools of old memories,
that Donal had never learned it; and the lowland Scotch, an ancient
branch of English, dry and gnarled, but still flourishing in its old
age, had become instead, his mother-tongue; and the man who loves
the antique speech, or even the mere patois, of his childhood, and
knows how to use it, possesses therein a certain kind of power over
the hearts of men, which the most refined and perfect of languages
cannot give, inasmuch as it has travelled farther from the original
sources of laughter and tears. But the old Scotish itself is, alas!
rapidly vanishing before a poor, shabby imitation of modern
English -- itself a weaker language in sound, however enriched in
words, since the days of Shakspere, when it was far more like Scotch
in its utterance than it is now.
My mother-tongue, how sweet thy tone!
How near to good allied!
Were even my heart of steel or stone,
Thou wouldst drive out the pride.
So sings Klaus Groth, in and concerning his own Plattdeutsch -- so
nearly akin to the English.
To a poet especially is it an inestimable advantage to be able to
employ such a language for his purposes. Not only was it the speech
of his childhood, when he saw everything with fresh, true eyes, but
it is itself a child-speech; and the child way of saying must always
lie nearer the child way of seeing, which is the poetic way.
Therefore, as the poetic faculty was now slowly asserting itself in
Donal, it was of vast importance that he should know what the genius
of Scotland had been able to do with his homely mother-tongue, for
through that tongue alone, could what poetry he had in him have
thoroughly fair play, and in turn do its best towards his
development -- which is the first and greatest use of poetry. It is a
ruinous misjudgment -- too contemptible to be asserted, but not too
contemptible to be acted upon, that the end of poetry is
publication. Its true end is to help first the man who makes it
along the path to the truth: help for other people may or may not be
in it; that, if it become a question at all, must be an after one.
To the man who has it, the gift is invaluable; and, in proportion
as it helps him to be a better man, it is of value to the whole
world; but it may, in itself, be so nearly worthless, that the
publishing of it would be more for harm than good. Ask any one who
has had to perform the unenviable duty of editor to a magazine: he
will corroborate what I say -- that the quantity of verse good enough
to be its own reward, but without the smallest claim to be uttered
to the world, is enormous.
Not yet, however, had Donal written a single stanza. A line, or at
most two, would now and then come into his head with a buzz, like a
wandering honey-bee that had mistaken its hive -- generally in the
shape of a humorous malediction on Hornie -- but that was all.
In the mean time Gibbie slept and waked and slept again, night after
night -- with the loveliest days between, at the cottage on Glashgar.
The morning after his arrival, the first thing he was aware of was
Janet's face beaming over him, with a look in its eyes more like
worship then benevolence. Her husband was gone, and she was about
to milk the cow, and was anxious lest, while she was away, he should
disappear as before. But the light that rushed into his eyes was in
full response to that which kindled the light in hers, and her
misgiving vanished; he could not love her like that and leave her.
She gave him his breakfast of porridge and milk, and went to her
When she came back, she found everything tidy in the cottage, the
floor swept, every dish washed and set aside; and Gibbie was
examining an old shoe of Robert's, to see whether he could not mend
it. Janet, having therefore leisure, proceeded at once with joy to
the construction of a garment she had been devising for him. The
design was simple, and its execution easy. Taking a blue winsey
petticoat of her own, drawing it in round his waist, and tying it
over the chemise which was his only garment, she found, as she had
expected, that its hem reached his feet: she partly divided it up
the middle, before and behind, and had but to backstitch two short
seams, and there was a pair of sailor-like trousers, as tidy as
comfortable! Gibbie was delighted with them. True, they had no
pockets, but then he had nothing to put in pockets, and one might
come to think of that as an advantage. Gibbie indeed had never had
pockets, for the pockets of the garments he had had were always worn
out before they reached him. Then Janet thought about a cap; but
considering him a moment critically, and seeing how his hair stood
out like thatch-eaves round his head, she concluded with herself
"There maun be some men as weel's women fowk, I'm thinkin', whause
hair's gien them for a coverin'," and betook herself instead to her
Gibbie stood by as she read in silence, gazing with delight, for he
thought it must be a book of ballads like Donal's that she was
reading. But Janet found his presence, his unresting attitude, and
his gaze, discomposing. To worship freely, one must be alone, or
else with fellow-worshippers. And reading and worshipping were
often so mingled with Janet, as to form but one mental
consciousness. She looked up therefore from her book, and said --
"Can ye read, laddie?"
Gibbie shook his head.
"Sit ye doon than, an' I s' read till ye."
Gibbie obeyed more than willingly, expecting to hear some ancient
Scots tale of love or chivalry. Instead, it was one of those
love-awful, glory-sad chapters in the end of the Gospel of John,
over which hangs the darkest cloud of human sorrow, shot through and
through with the radiance of light eternal, essential, invincible.
Whether it was the uncertain response to Janet's tone merely, or to
truth too loud to be heard, save as a thrill, of some chord in his
own spirit, having its one end indeed twisted around an earthly peg,
but the other looped to a tail-piece far in the unknown -- I cannot
tell; it may have been that the name now and then recurring brought
to his mind the last words of poor Sambo; anyhow, when Janet looked
up, she saw the tears rolling down the child's face. At the same
time, from the expression of his countenance, she judged that his
understanding had grasped nothing. She turned therefore to the
parable of the prodigal son, and read it. Even that had not a few
words and phrases unknown to Gibbie, but he did not fail to catch
the drift of the perfect story. For had not Gibbie himself had a
father, to whose bosom he went home every night? Let but love be
the interpreter, and what most wretched type will not serve the turn
for the carriage of profoundest truth! The prodigal's lowest
degradation, Gibbie did not understand; but Janet saw the expression
of the boy's face alter with every tone of the tale, through all the
gamut between the swine's trough and the arms of the father. Then
at last he burst -- not into tears -- Gibbie was not much acquainted
with weeping -- but into a laugh of loud triumph. He clapped his
hands, and in a shiver of ecstasy, stood like a stork upon one leg,
as if so much of him was all that could be spared for this lower
world, and screwed himself together.
Janet was well satisfied with her experiment. Most Scotch women,
and more than most Scotch men, would have rebuked him for laughing,
but Janet knew in herself a certain tension of delight which nothing
served to relieve but a wild laughter of holiest gladness; and never
in tears of deepest emotion did her heart appeal more directly to
its God. It is the heart that is not yet sure of its God, that is
afraid to laugh in his presence.
Thus had Gibbie his first lesson in the only thing worth learning,
in that which, to be learned at all, demands the united energy of
heart and soul and strength and mind; and from that day he went on
learning it. I cannot tell how, or what were the slow stages by
which his mind budded and swelled until it burst into the flower of
humanity, the knowledge of God. I cannot tell the shape of the door
by which the Lord entered into that house, and took everlasting
possession of it. I cannot even tell in what shape he appeared
himself in Gibbie's thoughts -- for the Lord can take any shape that
is human. I only know it was not any unhuman shape of earthly
theology that he bore to Gibbie, when he saw him with "that inward
eye, which is the bliss of solitude." For happily Janet never
suspected how utter was Gibbie's ignorance. She never dreamed that
he did not know what was generally said about Jesus Christ. She
thought he must know as well as she the outlines of his story, and
the purpose of his life and death, as commonly taught, and therefore
never attempted explanations for the sake of which she would
probably have found herself driven to use terms and phrases which
merely substitute that which is intelligible because it appeals to
what in us is low, and is itself both low and false, for that which,
if unintelligible, is so because of its grandeur and truth.
Gibbie's ideas of God he got all from the mouth of Theology
himself, the Word of God; and to the theologian who will not be
content with his teaching, the disciple of Jesus must just turn his
back, that his face may be to his Master.
So, teaching him only that which she loved, not that which she had
been taught, Janet read to Gibbie of Jesus, talked to him of Jesus,
dreamed to him about Jesus; until at length -- Gibbie did not think to
watch, and knew nothing of the process by which it came about -- his
whole soul was full of the man, of his doings, of his words, of his
thoughts, of his life. Jesus Christ was in him -- he was possessed by
him. Almost before he knew, he was trying to fashion his life after
that of his Master.
Between the two, it was a sweet teaching, a sweet learning. Under
Janet, Gibbie was saved the thousand agonies that befall the
conscientious disciple, from the forcing upon him, as the thoughts
and will of the eternal Father of our spirits, of the ill expressed
and worse understood experiences, the crude conjectures, the vulgar
imaginations of would-be teachers of the multitude. Containing
truth enough to save those of sufficiently low development to
receive such teaching without disgust, it contains falsehood enough,
but for the Spirit of God, to ruin all nobler -- I mean all childlike
natures, utterly; and many such it has gone far to ruin, driving
them even to a madness in which they have died. Jesus alone knows
the Father, and can reveal him. Janet studied only Jesus, and as a
man knows his friend, so she, only infinitely better, knew her more
than friend -- her Lord and her God. Do I speak of a poor Scotch
peasant woman too largely for the reader whose test of truth is the
notion of probability he draws from his own experience? Let me put
one question to make the real probability clearer. Should it be any
wonder, if Christ be indeed the natural Lord of every man, woman,
and child, that a simple, capable nature, laying itself entirely
open to him and his influences, should understand him? How should
he be the Lord of that nature if such a thing were not possible, or
were at all improbable -- nay, if such a thing did not necessarily
follow? Among women, was it not always to peasant women that
heavenly messages came? See revelation culminate in Elizabeth and
Mary, the mothers of John the Baptist and Jesus. Think how much
fitter that it should be so; -- that they to whom the word of God
comes should be women bred in the dignity of a natural life, and
familiarity with the large ways of the earth; women of simple and
few wants, without distraction, and with time for
reflection -- compelled to reflection, indeed, from the enduring
presence of an unsullied consciousness: for wherever there is a
humble, thoughtful nature, into that nature the divine
consciousness, that is, the Spirit of God, presses as into its own
place. Holy women are to be found everywhere, but the prophetess is
not so likely to be found in the city as in the hill-country.
Whatever Janet, then, might, perhaps -- I do not know -- have imagined
it her duty to say to Gibbie had she surmised his ignorance, having
long ceased to trouble her own head, she had now no inclination to
trouble Gibbie's heart with what men call the plan of salvation. It
was enough to her to find that he followed her Master. Being in the
light she understood the light, and had no need of system, either
true or false, to explain it to her. She lived by the word
proceeding out of the mouth of God. When life begins to speculate
upon itself, I suspect it has begun to die. And seldom has there
been a fitter soul, one clearer from evil, from folly, from human
device -- a purer cistern for such water of life as rose in the heart
of Janet Grant to pour itself into, than the soul of Sir Gibbie.
But I must not call any true soul a cistern: wherever the water of
life is received, it sinks and softens and hollows, until it
reaches, far down, the springs of life there also, that come
straight from the eternal hills, and thenceforth there is in that
soul a well of water springing up into everlasting life.
From that very next day, then, after he was received into the
cottage on Glashgar, Gibbie, as a matter of course, took upon him
the work his hand could find to do, and Janet averred to her husband
that never had any of her daughters been more useful to her. At the
same time, however, she insisted that Robert should take the boy out
with him. She would not have him do woman's work, especially work
for which she was herself perfectly able. She had not come to her
years, she said, to learn idleset; and the boy would save Robert
many a weary step among the hills.
"He canna speyk to the dog," objected Robert, giving utterance to
the first difficulty that suggested itself.
"The dog canna speyk himsel'," returned Janet, "an' the won'er is he
can un'erstan': wha kens but he may come full nigher ane 'at's
speechless like himsel'! Ye gie the cratur the chance, an' I s'
warran' he'll mak himsel' plain to the dog. Ye jist try 'im. Tell
ye him to tell the dog sae and sae, an' see what 'll come o' 't."
Robert made the experiment, and it proved satisfactory. As soon as
he had received Robert's orders, Gibbie claimed Oscar's attention.
The dog looked up in his face, noted every glance and gesture, and,
partly from sympathetic instinct, that gift lying so near the very
essence of life, partly from observation of the state of affairs in
respect of the sheep, divined with certainty what the duty required
of him was, and was off like a shot.
"The twa dumb craturs un'erstan' ane anither better nor I un'erstan'
aither o' them," said Robert to his wife when they came home.
And now indeed it was a blessed time for Gibbie. It had been
pleasant down in the valley, with the cattle and Donal, and foul
weather sometimes; but now it was the full glow of summer; the sweet
keen air of the mountain bathed him as he ran, entered into him,
filled him with life like the new wine of the kingdom of God, and
the whole world rose in its glory around him. Surely it is not the
outspread sea, however the sight of its storms and its labouring
ships may enhance the sense of safety to the onlooker, but the
outspread land of peace and plenty, with its nestling houses, its
well-stocked yards, its cattle feeding in the meadows, and its men
and horses at labour in the fields, that gives the deepest delight
to the heart of the poet! Gibbie was one of the meek, and inherited
the earth. Throned on the mountain, he beheld the multiform "goings
on of life," and in love possessed the whole. He was of the
poet-kind also, and now that he was a shepherd, saw everything with
shepherd-eyes. One moment, to his fancy, the great sun above played
the shepherd to the world, the winds were the dogs, and the men and
women the sheep. The next, in higher mood, he would remember the
good shepherd of whom Janet had read to him, and pat the head of the
collie that lay beside him: Oscar too was a shepherd and no
hireling; he fed the sheep; he turned them from danger and
barrenness; and he barked well.
"I'm the dumb dog!" said Gibbie to himself, not knowing that he was
really a copy in small of the good shepherd; "but maybe there may be
mair nor ae gait o' barkin'."
Then what a joy it was to the heaven-born obedience of the child, to
hearken to every word, watch every look, divine every wish of the
old man! Child Hercules could not have waited on mighty old Saturn
as Gibbie waited on Robert. For he was to him the embodiment of all
that was reverend and worthy, a very gulf of wisdom, a mountain of
rectitude. Gibbie was one of those few elect natures to whom
obedience is a delight -- a creature so different from the vulgar that
they have but one tentacle they can reach such with -- that of
"I jist lo'e the bairn as the verra aipple o' my ee." said Robert.
"I can scarce consaive a wuss, but there's the cratur wi' a grip o'
't! He seems to ken what's risin' i' my min', an' in a moment he's
up like the dog to be ready, an' luiks at me waitin'."
Nor was it long before the town-bred child grew to love the heavens
almost as dearly as the earth. He would gaze and gaze at the clouds
as they came and went, and watching them and the wind, weighing the
heat and the cold, and marking many indications, known some of them
perhaps only to himself, understood the signs of the earthly times
at length nearly as well as an insect or a swallow, and far better
than long-experienced old Robert. The mountain was Gibbie's very
home; yet to see him far up on it, in the red glow of the setting
sun, with his dog, as obedient as himself, hanging upon his every
signal, one could have fancied him a shepherd boy come down from the
plains of heaven to look after a lost lamb. Often, when the two old
people were in bed and asleep, Gibbie would be out watching the moon
rise -- seated, still as ruined god of Egypt, on a stone of the
mountain-side, islanded in space, nothing alive and visible near
him, perhaps not even a solitary night-wind blowing and ceasing like
the breath of a man's life, and the awfully silent moon sliding up
from the hollow of a valley below. If there be indeed a one spirit,
ever awake and aware, should it be hard to believe that that spirit
should then hold common thought with a little spirit of its own? If
the nightly mountain was the prayer-closet of him who said he would
be with his disciples to the end of the world, can it be folly to
think he would hold talk with such a child, alone under the heaven,
in the presence of the father of both? Gibbie never thought about
himself, therefore was there wide room for the entrance of the
spirit. Does the questioning thought arise to any reader: How could
a man be conscious of bliss without the thought of himself? I
answer the doubt: When a man turns to look at himself, that moment
the glow of the loftiest bliss begins to fade; the pulsing
fire-flies throb paler in the passionate night; an unseen vapour
steams up from the marsh and dims the star-crowded sky and the azure
sea; and the next moment the very bliss itself looks as if it had
never been more than a phosphorescent gleam -- the summer lightning of
the brain. For then the man sees himself but in his own dim mirror,
whereas ere he turned to look in that, he knew himself in the
absolute clarity of God's present thought out-bodying him. The
shoots of glad consciousness that come to the obedient man, surpass
in bliss whole days and years of such ravined rapture as he gains
whose weariness is ever spurring the sides of his intent towards the
ever retreating goal of his desires. I am a traitor even to myself
if I would live without my life.
But I withhold my pen; for vain were the fancy, by treatise or
sermon or poem or tale, to persuade a man to forget himself. He
cannot if he would. Sooner will he forget the presence of a raging
tooth. There is no forgetting of ourselves but in the finding of
our deeper, our true self -- God's idea of us when he devised us -- the
Christ in us. Nothing but that self can displace the false, greedy,
whining self, of which, most of us are so fond and proud. And that
self no man can find for himself; seeing of himself he does not even
know what to search for. "But as many as received him, to them gave
he power to become the sons of God."
Then there was the delight, fresh every week, of the Saturday
gathering of the brothers and sisters, whom Gibbie could hardly have
loved more, had they been of his own immediate kin. Dearest of all
was Donal, whose greeting -- "Weel, cratur," was heavenly in Gibbie's
ears. Donal would have had him go down and spend a day, every now
and then, with him and the nowt, as in old times -- so soon the times
grow old to the young! -- but Janet would not hear of it, until the
foolish tale of the brownie should have quite blown over.
"Eh, but I wuss," she added, as she said so, "I cud win at something
aboot his fowk, or aiven whaur he cam frae, or what they ca'd him!
Never ae word has the cratur spoken!"
"Ye sud learn him to read, mither," said Donal.
"Hoo wad I du that, laddie? I wad hae to learn him to speyk first,"
"Lat him come doon to me, an' I'll try my han'," said Donal.
Janet, notwithstanding, persisted in her refusal -- for the present.
By Donal's words set thinking of the matter, however, she now
pondered the question day after day, how she might teach him to
read; and at last the idea dawned upon her to substitute writing for
She took the Shorter Catechism, which, in those days, had always an
alphabet as janitor to the gates of its mysteries -- who, with the
catechism as a consequence even dimly foreboded, would even have
learned it? -- and showed Gibbie the letters, naming each several
times, and going over them repeatedly. Then she gave him Donal's
school-slate, with a sklet-pike, and said, "Noo, mak a muckle A,
Gibbie did so, and well too: she found that already he knew about
half the letters.
"He 's no fule!" she said to herself in triumph.
The other half soon followed; and she then began to show him
words -- not in the Catechism, but in the New Testament. Having told
him what any word was, and led him to consider the letters composing
it, she would desire him to make it on the slate, and he would do so
with tolerable accuracy: she was not very severe about the spelling,
if only it was plain he knew the word. Ere long he began to devise
short ways of making the letters, and soon wrote with remarkable
facility in a character modified from the printed letters. When at
length Janet saw him take the book by himself, and sit pondering
over it, she had not a doubt he was understanding it, and her heart
leapt for joy. He had to ask her a good many words at first, and
often the meaning of one and another; but he seldom asked a question
twice; and as his understanding was far ahead of his reading, he was
able to test a conjectured meaning by the sense or nonsense it made
of the passage.
One day she turned him to the paraphrases.2 At once, to his
astonishment, he found there, all silent, yet still the same delight
which Donal used to divide to him from the book of ballants. His
joy was unbounded. He jumped from his seat; he danced, and laughed,
and finally stood upon one leg: no other mode of expression but
this, the expression of utter failure to express, was of avail to
the relief of his feeling.
One day, a few weeks after Gibbie had begun to read by himself,
Janet became aware that he was sitting on his stool, in what had
come to be called the cratur's corner, more than usually absorbed in
some attempt with slate and pencil -- now ceasing, lost in thought,
and now commencing anew. She went near and peeped over his
shoulder. At the top of the slate he had written the word give,
then the word giving, and below them, gib, then gibing; upon these
followed gib again, and he was now plainly meditating something
further. Suddenly he seemed to find what he wanted, for in haste,
almost as if he feared it might escape him, he added a y, making the
word giby -- then first lifted his head, and looked round, evidently
seeking her. She laid her hand on his head. He jumped up with one
of his most radiant smiles, and holding out the slate to her,
pointed with his pencil to the word he had just completed. She did
not know it for a word, but sounded it as it seemed to stand, making
the g soft, as I daresay some of my readers, not recognizing in
Gibbie the diminutive of Gilbert, may have treated its more accurate
form. He shook his head sharply, and laid the point of his pencil
upon the g of the give written above. Janet had been his teacher
too long not to see what he meant, and immediately pronounced the
word as he would have it. Upon this he began a wild dance, but
sobering suddenly, sat down, and was instantly again absorbed in
further attempt. It lasted so long that Janet resumed her previous
household occupation. At length he rose, and with thoughtful,
doubtful contemplation of what he had done, brought her the slate.
There, under the fore-gone success, he had written the words
galatians and breath, and under them, galbreath. She read them all,
and at the last, which, witnessing to his success, she pronounced to
his satisfaction, he began another dance, which again he ended
abruptly, to draw her attention once more to the slate. He pointed
to the giby first, and the galbreath next, and she read them
together. This time he did not dance, but seemed waiting some
result. Upon Janet the idea was dawning that he meant himself, but
she was thrown out by the cognomen's correspondence with that of the
laird, which suggested that the boy had been merely attempting the
name of the great man of the district. With this in her mind, and
doubtfully feeling her way, she essayed the tentative of setting him
right in the Christian name, and said: "Thomas -- Thomas Galbraith."
Gibbie shook his head as before, and again resumed his seat.
Presently he brought her the slate, with all the rest rubbed out,
and these words standing alone -- sir giby galbreath. Janet read them
aloud, whereupon Gibbie began stabbing his forehead with the point
of his slate-pencil, and dancing once more in triumph: he had, he
hoped, for the first time in his life, conveyed a fact through
"That's what they ca' ye, is't?" said Janet, looking motherly at
him: " -- Sir Gibbie Galbraith?"
Gibbie nodded vehemently.
"It'll be some nickname the bairns hae gien him," said Janet to
herself, but continued to gaze at him, in questioning doubt of her
own solution. She could not recall having ever heard of a Sir in
the family; but ghosts of things forgotten kept rising formless and
thin in the sky of her memory: had she never heard of a Sir Somebody
Galbraith somewhere? And still she stared at the child, trying to
grasp what she could not even see. By this time Gibbie was standing
quite still, staring at her in return: he could not think what made
her stare so at him.
"Wha ca'd ye that?" said Janet at length, pointing to the slate.
Gibbie took the slate, dropped upon his seat, and after considerable
cogitation and effort, brought her the words, gibyse fapher. Janet
for a moment was puzzled, but when she thought of correcting the p
with a t, Gibbie entirely approved.
"What was yer father, cratur?" she asked.
Gibbie, after a longer pause, and more evident labour than hitherto,
brought her the enigmatical word, asootr, which, the Sir running
about in her head, quite defeated Janet. Perceiving his failure, he
jumped upon a chair, and reaching after one of Robert's Sunday shoes
on the crap o' the wa', the natural shelf running all round the
cottage, formed by the top of the wall where the rafters rested,
caught hold of it, tumbled with it upon his creepie, took it between
his knees, and began a pantomime of the making or mending of the
same with such verisimilitude of imitation, that it was clear to
Janet he must have been familiar with the processes collectively
called shoemaking; and therewith she recognized the word on the
slate -- a sutor. She smiled to herself at the association of name
and trade, and concluded that the Sir at least was a nickname. And
yet -- and yet -- whether from the presence of some rudiment of an old
memory, or from something about the boy that belonged to a higher
style than his present showing, her mind kept swaying in an
uncertainty whose very object eluded her.
"What is 't yer wull 'at we ca' ye, than, cratur?" she asked,
anxious to meet the child's own idea of himself.
He pointed to the giby.
"Weel, Gibbie," responded Janet, -- and at the word, now for the first
time addressed by her to himself, he began dancing more wildly than
ever, and ended with standing motionless on one leg: now first and
at last he was fully recognized for what he was! -- "Weel, Gibbie, I
s' ca' ye what ye think fit," said Janet. "An' noo gang yer wa's,
Gibbie, an' see 'at Crummie's no ower far oot o' sicht."
From that hour Gibbie had his name from the whole family -- his
Christian name only, however, Robert and Janet having agreed it
would be wise to avoid whatever might possibly bring the boy again
under the notice of the laird. The latter half of his name they
laid aside for him, as parents do a dangerous or over-valuable gift
to a child.
Almost from the first moment of his being domiciled on Glashgar,
what with the good food, the fine exercise, the exquisite air, and
his great happiness, Gibbie began to grow; and he took to growing so
fast that his legs soon shot far out of his winsey garment. But, of
all places, that was a small matter in Gormgarnet, where the kilt
was as common as trowsers. His wiry limbs grew larger without
losing their firmness or elasticity; his chest, the effort in
running up hill constantly alternated with the relief of running,
down, rapidly expanded, and his lungs grew hardy as well as
powerful; till he became at length such in wind and muscle, that he
could run down a wayward sheep almost as well as Oscar. And his
nerve grew also with his body and strength, till his coolness and
courage were splendid. Never, when the tide of his affairs ran most
in the shallows, had Gibbie had much acquaintance with fears, but
now he had forgotten the taste of them, and would have encountered a
wild highland bull alone on the mountain, as readily as tie Crummie
up in her byre.
One afternoon, Donal, having got a half-holiday, by the help of a
friend and the favour of Mistress Jean, came home to see his mother,
and having greeted her, set out to find Gibbie. He had gone a long
way, looking and calling without success, and had come in sight of a
certain tiny loch, or tarn, that filled a hollow of the mountain.
It was called the Deid Pot; and the old awe, amounting nearly to
terror, with which in his childhood he had regarded it, returned
upon him, the moment he saw the dark gleam of it, nearly as strong
as ever -- an awe indescribable, arising from mingled feelings of
depth, and darkness, and lateral recesses, and unknown serpent-like
fishes. The pot, though small in surface, was truly of unknown
depth, and had elements of dread about it telling upon far less
active imaginations than Donal's. While he stood gazing at it,
almost afraid to go nearer, a great splash that echoed from the
steep rocks surrounding it, brought his heart into his mouth, and
immediately followed a loud barking, in which he recognized the
voice of Oscar. Before he had well begun to think what it could
mean, Gibbie appeared on the opposite side of the loch, high above
its level, on the top of the rocks forming its basin. He began
instantly a rapid descent towards the water, where the rocks were so
steep, and the footing so precarious, that Oscar wisely remained at
the top, nor attempted to follow him. Presently the dog caught
sight of Donal, where he stood on a lower level, whence the water
was comparatively easy of access, and starting off at full speed,
joined him, with much demonstration of welcome. But he received
little notice from Donal, whose gaze was fixed, with much wonder and
more fear, on the descending Gibbie. Some twenty feet from the
surface of the loch, he reached a point whence clearly, in Donal's
judgment, there was no possibility of farther descent. But Donal
was never more mistaken; for that instant Gibbie flashed from the
face of the rock head foremost, like a fishing bird, into the lake.
Donal gave a cry, and ran to the edge of the water, accompanied by
Oscar, who, all the time, had showed no anxiety, but had stood
wagging his tail, and uttering now and then a little
half-disappointed whine; neither now were his motions as he ran
other than those of frolic and expectancy. When they reached the
loch, there was Gibbie already but a few yards from the only
possible landing-place, swimming with one hand, while in the other
arm he held a baby lamb, its head lying quite still on his shoulder:
it had been stunned by the fall, but might come round again. Then
first Donal began to perceive that the cratur was growing an
athlete. When he landed, he gave Donal a merry laugh of welcome,
but without stopping flew up the hill to take the lamb to its
mother. Fresh from the icy water, he ran so fast that it was all
Donal could do to keep up with him.
The Deid Pot, then, taught Gibbie what swimming it could, which was
not much, and what diving it could, which was more; but the nights
of the following summer, when everybody on mountain and valley were
asleep, and the moon shone, he would often go down to the Daur, and
throwing himself into its deepest reaches, spend hours in lonely
sport with water and wind and moon. He had by that time learned
things knowing which a man can never be lonesome.
The few goats on the mountain were for a time very inimical to him.
So often did they butt him over, causing him sometimes severe
bruises, that at last he resolved to try conclusions with them; and
when next a goat made a rush at him, he seized him by the horns and
wrestled with him mightily. This exercise once begun, he provoked
engagements, until his strength and aptitude were such and so well
known, that not a billy-goat on Glashgar would have to do with him.
But when he saw that every one of them ran at his approach, Gibbie,
who could not bear to be in discord with any creature, changed his
behaviour towards them, and took equal pains to reconcile them to
him -- nor rested before he had entirely succeeded.
Every time Donal came home, he would bring some book of verse with
him, and, leading Gibbie to some hollow, shady or sheltered as the
time required, would there read to him ballads, or songs, or verse
more stately, as mood or provision might suggest. The music, the
melody and the cadence and the harmony, the tone and the rhythm and
the time and the rhyme, instead of growing common to him, rejoiced
Gibbie more and more every feast, and with ever-growing reverence he
looked up to Donal as a mighty master-magician. But if Donal could
have looked down into Gibbie's bosom, he would have seen something
there beyond his comprehension. For Gibbie was already in the
kingdom of heaven, and Donal would have to suffer, before he would
begin even to look about for the door by which a man may enter into
I wonder how much Gibbie was indebted to his constrained silence
during all these years. That he lost by it, no one will doubt; that
he gained also, a few will admit: though I should find it hard to
say what and how great, I cannot doubt it bore an important part in
the fostering of such thoughts and feelings and actions as were
beyond the vision of Donal, poet as he was growing to be. While
Donal read, rejoicing in the music both of sound and sense, Gibbie
was doing something besides: he was listening with the same ears,
and trying to see with the same eyes, which he brought to bear upon
the things Janet taught him out of the book. Already those first
weekly issues, lately commenced, of a popular literature had
penetrated into the mountains of Gormgarnet; but whether Donal read
Blind Harry from a thumbed old modern edition, or some new tale or
neat poem from the Edinburgh press, Gibbie was always placing what
he heard by the side, as it were, of what he knew; asking himself,
in this case and that, what Jesus Christ would have done, or what he
would require of a disciple. There must be one right way, he
argued. Sometimes his innocence failed to see that no disciple of
the Son of Man could, save by fearful failure, be in such
circumstances as the tale or ballad represented. But, whether
successful or not in the individual inquiry, the boy's mind and
heart and spirit, in this silent, unembarrassed brooding, as
energetic as it was peaceful, expanded upwards when it failed to
widen, and the widening would come after. Gifted, from the first of
his being, with such a rare drawing to his kind, he saw his utmost
affection dwarfed by the words and deeds of Jesus -- beheld more and
more grand the requirements made of a man who would love his fellows
as Christ loved them. When he sank foiled from any endeavour to
understand how a man was to behave in certain circumstances, these
or those, he always took refuge in doing something -- and doing it
better than before; leaped the more eagerly if Robert called him,
spoke the more gently to Oscar, turned the sheep more careful not to
scare them -- as if by instinct he perceived that the only hope of
understanding lies in doing. He would cleave to the skirt when the
hand seemed withdrawn; he would run to do the thing he had learned
yesterday, when as yet he could find no answer to the question of
to-day. Thus, as the weeks of solitude and love and thought and
obedience glided by, the reality of Christ grew upon him, till he
saw the very rocks and heather and the faces of the sheep like him,
and felt his presence everywhere, and ever coming nearer. Nor did
his imagination aid only a little in the growth of his being. He
would dream waking dreams about Jesus, gloriously childlike. He
fancied he came down every now and then to see how things were going
in the lower part of his kingdom; and that when he did so, he made
use of Glashgar and its rocks for his stair, coming down its granite
scale in the morning, and again, when he had ended his visit, going
up in the evening by the same steps. Then high and fast would his
heart beat at the thought that some day he might come upon his path
just when he had passed, see the heather lifting its head from the
trail of his garment, or more slowly out of the prints left by his
feet, as he walked up the stairs of heaven, going back to his
Father. Sometimes, when a sheep stopped feeding and looked up
suddenly, he would fancy that Jesus had laid his hand on its head,
and was now telling it that it must not mind being killed; for he
had been killed, and it was all right.
Although he could read the New Testament for himself now, he always
preferred making acquaintance with any new portion of it first from
the mouth of Janet. Her voice made the word more of a word to him.
But the next time he read, it was sure to be what she had then
read. She was his priestess; the opening of her Bible was the
opening of a window in heaven; her cottage was the porter's lodge to
the temple; his very sheep were feeding on the temple-stairs. Smile
at such fancies if you will, but think also whether they may not be
within sight of the greatest of facts. Of all teachings that which
presents a far distant God is the nearest to absurdity. Either
there is none, or he is nearer to every one of us than our nearest
consciousness of self. An unapproachable divinity is the veriest of
monsters, the most horrible of human imaginations.
When the winter came, with its frost and snow, Gibbie saved Robert
much suffering. At first Robert was unwilling to let him go out
alone in stormy weather; but Janet believed that the child doing the
old man's work would be specially protected. All through the hard
time, therefore, Gibbie went and came, and no evil befell him.
Neither did he suffer from the cold; for, a sheep having died
towards the end of the first autumn, Robert, in view of Gibbie's
coming necessity, had begged of his master the skin, and dressed it
with the wool upon it; and of this, between the three of them, they
made a coat for him; so that he roamed the hill like a savage, in a
garment of skin.
It became, of course, before very long, well known about the country
that Mr. Duff's crofters upon Glashgar had taken in and were
bringing up a foundling -- some said an innocent, some said a wild
boy -- who helped Robert with his sheep, and Janet with her cow, but
could not speak a word of either Gaelic or English. By and by,
strange stories came to be told of his exploits, representing him as
gifted with bodily powers as much surpassing the common, as his
mental faculties were assumed to be under the ordinary standard.
The rumour concerning him swelled as well as spread, mainly from
the love of the marvellous common in the region, I suppose, until,
towards the end of his second year on Glashgar, the notion of Gibbie
in the imaginations of the children of Daurside, was that of an
almost supernatural being, who had dwelt upon, or rather who had
haunted, Glashgar from time immemorial, and of whom they had been
hearing all their lives; and, although they had never heard anything
bad of him -- that he was wild, that he wore a hairy skin, that he
could do more than any other boy dared attempt, that he was dumb,
and that yet (for this also was said) sheep and dogs and cattle, and
even the wild creatures of the mountain, could understand him
perfectly -- these statements were more than enough, acting on the
suspicion and fear belonging to the savage in their own bosoms, to
envelope the idea of him in a mist of dread, deepening to such
horror in the case of the more timid and imaginative of them, that
when the twilight began to gather about the cottages and farmhouses,
the very mention of "the beast-loon o' Glashgar" was enough, and
that for miles up and down the river, to send many of the children
scouring like startled hares into the house. Gibbie, in his
atmosphere of human grace and tenderness, little thought what clouds
of foolish fancies, rising from the valleys below, had, by their
distorting vapours, made of him an object of terror to those whom at
the very first sight he would have loved and served. Amongst these,
perhaps the most afraid of him were the children of the gamekeeper,
for they lived on the very foot of the haunted hill, near the bridge
and gate of Glashruach; and the laird himself happened one day to be
witness of their fear. He inquired the cause, and yet again was his
enlightened soul vexed by the persistency with which the shadows of
superstition still hung about his lands. Had he been half as
philosophical as he fancied himself, he might have seen that there
was not necessarily a single film of superstition involved in the
belief that a savage roamed a mountain -- which was all that Mistress
Mac Pholp, depriving the rumour of its richer colouring, ventured to
impart as the cause of her children's perturbation; but anything a
hair's-breadth out of the common, was a thing hated of Thomas
Galbraith's soul, and whatever another believed which he did not
choose to believe, he set down at once as superstition. He held
therefore immediate communication with his gamekeeper on the
subject, who in his turn was scandalized that his children should
have thus proved themselves unworthy of the privileges of their
position, and given annoyance to the liberal soul of their master,
and took care that both they and his wife should suffer in
consequence. The expression of the man's face as he listened to the
laird's complaint, would not have been a pleasant sight to any lover
of Gibbie; but it had not occurred either to master or man that the
offensive being whose doubtful existence caused the scandal, was the
same towards whom they had once been guilty of such brutality; nor
would their knowledge of the fact have been favourable to Gibbie.
The same afternoon, the laird questioned his tenant of the Mains
concerning his cottars; and was assured that better or more
respectable people were not in all the region of Gormgarnet.
When Robert became aware, chiefly through the representations of his
wife and Donal, of Gibbie's gifts of other kinds than those revealed
to himself by his good shepherding, he began to turn it over in his
mind, and by and by referred the question to his wife whether they
ought not to send the boy to school, that he might learn the things
he was so much more than ordinarily capable of learning. Janet would
give no immediate opinion. She must think, she said; and she took
three days to turn the matter over in her mind. Her questioning
cogitation was to this effect: "What need has a man to know anything
but what the New Testament teaches him? Life was little to me
before I began to understand its good news; now it is more than
good -- it is grand. But then, man is to live by every word that
proceedeth out of the mouth of God; and everything came out of his
mouth, when he said, Let there be this, and Let there be that.
Whatever is true is his making, and the more we know of it the
better. Besides, how much less of the New Testament would I
understand now, if it were not for things I had gone through and
"Ay, Robert," she answered, without preface, the third day, "I'm
thinkin' there's a heap o' things, gien I hed them, 'at wad help me
to ken what the Maister spak till. It wad be a sin no to lat the
laddie learn. But wha'll tak the trible needfu' to the learnin' o'
a puir dummie?"
"Lat him gang doon to the Mains, an' herd wi' Donal," answered
Robert. "He kens a hantle mair nor you or me or Gibbie aither; an'
whan he's learnt a' 'at Donal can shaw him it'll be time to think
"Weel," answered Janet, "nane can say but that's sense, Robert; an'
though I'm laith, for your sake mair nor my ain, to lat the laddie
gang, let him gang to Donal. I houp, atween the twa, they winna lat
the nowt amo' the corn."
"The corn's 'maist cuttit noo," replied Robert; "an' for the maitter
o' that, twa guid consciences winna blaw ane anither oot. -- But he
needna gang ilka day. He can gie ae day to the learnin', an' the
neist to thinkin' aboot it amo' the sheep. An' ony day 'at ye want
to keep him, ye can keep him; for it winna be as gien he gaed to the
Gibbie was delighted with the proposal.
"Only," said Robert, in final warning, "dinna ye lat them tak ye,
Gibbie, an' score yer back again, my cratur; an' dinna ye answer
naebody, whan they speir what ye're ca'd, onything mair nor jist
The boy laughed and nodded, and, as Janet said, the bairn's nick was
guid 's the best man's word.
Now came a happy time for the two boys. Donal began at once to
teach Gibbie Euclid and arithmetic. When they had had enough of
that for a day, he read Scotish history to him; and when they had
done what seemed their duty by that, then came the best of the
feast -- whatever tales or poetry Donal had laid his hands upon.
Somewhere about this time it was that he first got hold of a copy of
the Paradise Lost. He found that he could not make much of it. But
he found also that, as before with the ballads, when he read from it
aloud to Gibbie, his mere listening presence sent back a spiritual
echo that helped him to the meaning; and when neither of them
understood it, the grand organ roll of it, losing nothing in the
Scotch voweling, delighted them both.
Once they were startled by seeing the gamekeeper enter the field.
The moment he saw him, Gibbie laid himself flat on the ground, but
ready to spring to his feet and run. The man, however, did not come
The second winter came, and with the first frost Gibbie resumed his
sheepskin coat and the brogues and leggings which he had made for
himself of deer-hide tanned with the hair. It pleased the two old
people to see him so warmly clad. It pleased them also that, thus
dressed, he always reminded them of some sacred personage
undetermined -- Jacob, or John the Baptist, or the man who went to
meet the lion and be killed by him -- in Robert's big Bible, that is,
in one or other of the woodcuts of the same. Very soon the stories
about him were all stirred up afresh, and new rumours added. This
one and that of the children declared they had caught sight of the
beast-loon, running about the rocks like a goat; and one day a boy
of Angus's own, who had been a good way up the mountain, came home
nearly dead with terror, saying the beast-loon had chased him a long
way. He did not add that he had been throwing stones at the sheep,
not perceiving any one in charge of them. So, one fine morning in
December, having nothing particular to attend to, Angus shouldered
his double-barrelled gun, and set out for a walk over Glashgar, in
the hope of coming upon the savage that terrified the children. He
must be off. That was settled. Where Angus was in authority, the
outlandish was not to be suffered. The sun shone bright, and a keen
wind was blowing.
About noon he came in sight of a few sheep, in a sheltered spot,
where were little patches of coarse grass among the heather. On a
stone, a few yards above them, sat Gibbie, not reading, as he would
be half the time now, but busied with a Pan's-pipes -- which, under
Donal's direction, he had made for himself -- drawing from them
experimental sounds, and feeling after the possibility of a melody.
He was so much occupied that he did not see Angus approach, who now
stood for a moment or two regarding him. He was hirsute as Esau,
his head crowned with its own plentiful crop -- even in winter he wore
no cap -- his body covered with the wool of the sheep, and his legs
and feet with the hide of the deer -- the hair, as in nature, outward.
The deer-skin Angus knew for what it was from afar, and concluding
it the spoil of the only crime of which he recognized the enormity,
whereas it was in truth part of a skin he had himself sold to a
saddler in the next village, to make sporrans of, boiled over with
wrath, and strode nearer, grinding his teeth. Gibbie looked up,
knew him, and starting to his feet, turned to the hill. Angus,
levelling his gun, shouted to him to stop, but Gibbie only ran the
harder, nor once looked round. Idiotic with rage, Angus fired. One
of his barrels was loaded with shot, the other with ball: meaning to
use the shot barrel, he pulled the wrong trigger, and liberated the
bullet. It went through the calf of Gibbie's right leg, and he
fell. It had, however, passed between two muscles without injuring
either greatly, and had severed no artery. The next moment he was
on his feet again and running, nor did he yet feel pain. Happily he
was not very far from home, and he made for it as fast as he
could -- preceded by Oscar, who, having once by accident been shot
himself, had a mortal terror of guns. Maimed as Gibbie was, he
could yet run a good deal faster up hill than the rascal who
followed him. But long before he reached the cottage, the pain had
arrived, and the nearer he got to it the worse it grew. In spite of
the anguish, however, he held on with determination; to be seized by
Angus and dragged down to Glashruach, would be far worse.
Robert Grant was at home that day, suffering from rheumatism. He
was seated in the ingle-neuk, with his pipe in his mouth, and Janet
was just taking the potatoes for their dinner off the fire, when the
door flew open, and in stumbled Gibbie, and fell on the floor. The
old man threw his pipe from him, and rose trembling, but Janet was
before him. She dropt down on her knees beside the boy, and put her
arm under his head. He was white and motionless.
"Eh, Robert Grant!" she cried, "he's bleedin'."
The same moment they heard quick yet heavy steps approaching. At
once Robert divined the truth, and a great wrath banished rheumatism
and age together. Like a boy he sprang to the crap o' the wa',
whence his yet powerful hand came back armed with a huge rusty old
broad-sword that had seen service in its day. Two or three fierce
tugs at the hilt proving the blade immovable in the sheath, and the
steps being now almost at the door, he clubbed the weapon, grasping
it by the sheathed blade, and holding it with the edge downward, so
that the blow he meant to deal should fall from the round of the
basket hilt. As he heaved it aloft, the gray old shepherd seemed
inspired by the god of battles; the rage of a hundred ancestors was
welling up in his peaceful breast. His red eye flashed, and the few
hairs that were left him stood erect on his head like the mane of a
roused lion. Ere Angus had his second foot over the threshold, down
came the helmet-like hilt with a dull crash on his head, and he
staggered against the wall.
"Tak ye that, Angus Mac Pholp!" panted Robert through his clenched
teeth, following the blow with another from his fist, that
prostrated the enemy. Again he heaved his weapon, and standing over
him where he lay, more than half-stunned, said in a hoarse voice,
"By the great God my maker, Angus Mac Pholp, gien ye seek to rise,
I'll come doon on ye again as ye lie! -- Here, Oscar! -- He's no ane to
haud ony fair play wi', mair nor a brute beast. -- Watch him, Oscar,
and tak him by the thro't gien he muv a finger."
The gun had dropped from Angus's hand, and Robert, keeping his eye
on him, secured it.
"She's lodd," muttered Angus.
"Lie still than," returned Robert, pointing the weapon at his head.
"It'll be murder," said Angus, and made a movement to lay hold of
"Haud him doon, Oscar," cried Robert. The dog's paws were instantly
on his chest, and his teeth grinning within an inch of his face.
Angus vowed in his heart he would kill the beast on the first
chance. "It wad be but blude for blude, Angus Mac Pholp," he went
on. "Yer hoor's come, my man. That bairn's is no the first blude o'
man ye hae shed, an' it's time the Scripture was fulfillt, an' the
han' o' man shed yours."
"Ye're no gauin to kill me, Rob Grant?" growled the fellow in
"I'm gauin to see whether the shirra winna be perswaudit to hang
ye," answered the shepherd. "This maun be putten a stap
till. -- Quaiet! or I'll brain ye, an' save him the trouble. -- Here,
Janet, fess yer pot o' pitawtas. I'm gauin to toom the man's gun.
Gien he daur to muv, jist gie him the haill bilin', bree an a', i'
the ill face o' 'm; gien ye lat him up he'll kill's a'; only tak
care an' haud aff o' the dog, puir fallow! -- I wad lay the stock o'
yer murderin' gun i' the fire gien 'twarna 'at I reckon it's the
laird's an' no yours. Ye're no fit to be trustit wi' a gun. Ye're
waur nor a weyver."
So saying he carried the weapon to the door, and, in terror lest he
might, through wrath or the pressure of dire necessity, use it
against his foe, emptied its second barrel into the earth, and
leaned it up against the wall outside.
Janet obeyed her husband so far as to stand over Angus with the
potato-pot: how far she would have carried her obedience had he
attempted to rise may remain a question. Doubtless a brave man
doing his duty would have scorned to yield himself thus; but right
and wrong had met face to face, and the wrong had a righteous
traitor in his citadel.
When Robert returned and relieved her guard, Janet went back to
Gibbie, whom she had drawn towards the fire. He lay almost
insensible, but in vain Janet attempted to get a teaspoonful of
whisky between his lips. For as he grew older, his horror of it
increased; and now, even when he was faint and but half conscious,
his physical nature seemed to recoil from contact with it. It was
with signs of disgust, rubbing his mouth with the back of each hand
alternately, that he first showed returning vitality. In a minute
or two more he was able to crawl to his bed in the corner, and then
Janet proceeded to examine his wound.
By this time his leg was much swollen, but the wound had almost
stopped bleeding, and it was plain there was no bullet in it, for
there were the two orifices. She washed it carefully and bound it
up. Then Gibbie raised his head and looked somewhat anxiously round
"Ye're luikin' efter Angus?" said Janet; "he's yon'er upo' the
flure, a twa yairds frae ye. Dinna be fleyt; yer father an' Oscar
has him safe eneuch, I s' warran'."
"Here, Janet!" cried her husband; "gien ye be throu' wi' the bairn,
I maun be gauin'."
"Hoot, Robert! ye're no surely gauin' to lea' me an' puir Gibbie,
'at maunna stir, i' the hoose oor lanes wi' the murderin' man!"
"'Deed am I, lass! Jist rin and fess the bit tow 'at ye hing yer
duds upo' at the washin', an' we'll bin' the feet an' the han's o'
Janet obeyed and went. Angus, who had been quiet enough for the
last ten minutes, meditating and watching, began to swear furiously,
but Robert paid no more heed than if he had not heard him -- stood
calm and grim at his head, with the clubbed sword heaved over his
shoulder. When she came back, by her husband's directions, she
passed the rope repeatedly round the keeper's ankles, then several
times between them, drawing the bouts tightly together, so that,
instead of the two sharing one ring, each ankle had now, as it were,
a close-fitting one for itself. Again and again, as she tied it,
did Angus meditate a sudden spring, but the determined look of
Robert, and his feeling memory of the blows he had so unsparingly
delivered upon him, as well as the weakening effect of that he had
received on his head, caused him to hesitate until it was altogether
too late. When they began to bind his hands, however, he turned
desperate, and struck at both, cursing and raging.
"Gien ye binna quaiet, ye s' taste the dog's teeth," said
Robert. -- Angus reflected that he would have a better chance when he
was left alone with Janet, and yielded. -- "Troth!" Robert went on,
as he continued his task, "I hae no pity left for ye, Angus Mac
Pholp; an' gien ye tyauve ony mair, I'll lat at ye. I wad care no
more to caw oot yer harns nor I wad to kill a tod (fox). To be
hangt for't, I wad be but prood. It's a fine thing to be hangt for
a guid cause, but ye'll be hangt for an ill ane. -- Noo, Janet, fess a
bun'le o' brackens frae the byre, an' lay aneth's heid. We maunna
be sairer upo' him, nor the needcessity laid upo' hiz. I s' jist
trail him aff o' the door, an' a bit on to the fire, for he'll be
cauld whan he's quaitet doon, an' syne I'll awa' an' get word o' the
shirra'. Scotlan's come till a pretty pass, whan they shot men wi'
guns, as gien they war wull craturs to be peelt an' aiten. Care
what set him! He may weel be a keeper o' ghem, for he's as ill a
keeper o' 's brither as auld Cain himsel'. But," he concluded,
tying the last knot hard, "we'll e'en dee what we can to keep the
It was seldom Robert spoke at such length, but the provocation, the
wrath, the conflict, and the victory, had sent the blood rushing
through his brain, and loosed his tongue like strong drink.
"Ye'll tak yer denner afore ye gang, Robert," said his wife.
"Na, I can ait naething; I'll tak a bannock i' my pooch. Ye can gie
my denner to Angus: he'll want hertenin' for the wuddie (gallows)."
So saying he put the bannock in his pocket, flung his broad blue
bonnet upon his head, took his stick, and ordering Oscar to remain
at home and watch the prisoner, set out for a walk of five miles, as
if he had never known such a thing as rheumatism. He must find
another magistrate than the laird; he would not trust him where his
own gamekeeper, Angus Mac Pholp, was concerned.
"Keep yer ee upon him, Janet," he said, turning in the doorway.
"Dinna lowse sicht o' him afore I come back wi' the constable.
Dinna lippen. I s' be back in three hoors like."
With these words he turned finally, and disappeared.
The mortification of Angus as he lay thus trapped in the den of the
beast-loon, at being taken and bound by an old man, a woman, and a
collie dog, was extreme. He went over the whole affair again and
again in his mind, ever with a fresh burst of fury. It was in vain
he excused himself on the ground that the attack had been so sudden
and treacherous, and the precautions taken so complete. He had
proved himself an ass, and the whole country would ring with mockery
of him! He had sense enough, too, to know that he was in a serious
as well as ludicrous predicament: he had scarcely courage enough to
contemplate the possible result. If he could but get his hands
free, it would be easy to kill Oscar and disable Janet. For the
idiot, he counted him nothing. He had better wait, however, until
there should be no boiling liquid ready to her hand.
Janet set out the dinner, peeled some potatoes, and approaching
Angus, would have fed him. In place of accepting her ministration,
he fell to abusing her with the worst language he could find. She
withdrew without a word, and sat down to her own dinner; but,
finding the torrent of vituperation kept flowing, rose again, and
going to the door, fetched a great jug of cold water from the pail
that always stood there, and coming behind her prisoner, emptied it
over his face. He gave a horrid yell taking the douche for a
"Ye needna cry oot like that at guid cauld watter," said Janet. "But
ye'll jist absteen frae ony mair sic words i' my hearin', or ye s'
get the like ilka time ye brak oot." As she spoke, she knelt, and
wiped his face and head with her apron.
A fresh oath rushed to Angus's lips, but the fear of a second jugful
made him suppress it, and Janet sat down again to her dinner. She
could scarcely eat a mouthful, however, for pity of the rascal
beside her, at whom she kept looking wistfully without daring again
to offer him anything.
While she sat thus, she caught a swift investigating look he cast on
the cords that bound his hands, and then at the fire. She perceived
at once what was passing in his mind. Rising, she went quickly to
the byre, and returned immediately with a chain they used for
tethering the cow. The end of it she slipt deftly round his neck,
and made it fast, putting the little bar through a link.
"Ir ye gauin' to hang me, ye she-deevil?" he cried, making a futile
attempt to grasp the chain with his bound hands.
"Ye'll be wantin' a drappy mair cauld watter, I'm thinkin'," said
She stretched the chain to its length, and with a great stone drove
the sharp iron stake at the other end of it, into the clay-floor.
Fearing next that, bound as his hands were, he might get a hold of
the chain and drag out the stake, or might even contrive to remove
the rope from his feet with them, or that he might indeed with his
teeth undo the knot that confined his hands themselves -- she got a
piece of rope, and made a loop at the end of it, then watching her
opportunity passed the loop between his hands, noosed the other end
through it, and drew the noose tight. The free end of the rope she
put through the staple that received the bolt of the cottage-door,
and gradually, as he grew weary in pulling against her, tightened
the rope until she had his arms at their stretch beyond his head.
Not quite satisfied yet, she lastly contrived, in part by setting
Oscar to occupy his attention, to do the same with his feet,
securing them to a heavy chest in the corner opposite the door, upon
which chest she heaped a pile of stones. If it pleased the Lord to
deliver them from this man, she would have her honest part in the
salvation! And now at last she believed she had him safe.
Gibbie had fallen asleep, but he now woke and she gave him his
dinner; then redd up, and took her Bible. Gibbie had lain down
again, and she thought he was asleep.
Angus grew more and more uncomfortable, both in body and in mind.
He knew he was hated throughout the country, and had hitherto
rather enjoyed the knowledge; but now he judged that the popular
feeling, by no means a mere prejudice, would tell against him
committed for trial. He knew also that the magistrate to whom
Robert had betaken himself, was not over friendly with his master,
and certainly would not listen to any intercession from him. At
length, what with pain, hunger, and fear, his pride began to yield,
and, after an hour had passed in utter silence, he condescended to
"Janet Grant," he said, "lat me gang, an' I'll trouble you or yours
"Wadna ye think me some fule to hearken till ye?" suggested Janet.
"I'll sweir ony lawfu' aith 'at ye like to lay upo' me," protested
Angus, "'at I'll dee whatever ye please to require o' me."
"I dinna doobt ye wad sweir; but what neist?" said Janet.
"What neist but ye'll lowse my han's?" rejoined Angus.
"It's no mainner o' use mentionin' 't," replied Janet; "for, as ye
ken, I'm un'er authority, an' yersel' h'ard my man tell me to tak
unco percaution no to lat ye gang; for verily, Angus, ye hae
conduckit yersel' this day more like ane possessed wi' a legion,
than the douce faimily man 'at ye're supposit by the laird, yer
maister, to be."
"Was ever man," protested Angus "made sic a fule o', an' sae
misguidit, by a pair o' auld cottars like you an' Robert Grant!"
"Wi' the help o' the Lord, by means o' the dog," supplemented Janet.
"I wuss frae my hert I hed the great reid draigon i' yer place, an'
I wad watch him bonny, I can tell ye, Angus Mac Pholp. I wadna be
clear aboot giein him his denner, Angus."
"Let me gang, wuman, wi' yer reid draigons! I'll hairm naebody.
The puir idiot's no muckle the waur, an' I'll tak mair tent whan I
fire anither time."
"Wiser fowk nor me maun see to that," answered Janet.
"Hoots, wuman! it was naething but an accident."
"I kenna; but it'll be seen what Gibbie says."
"Awva! his word's guid for naething."
"For a penny, or a thoosan' poun'."
"My wife 'll be oot o' her wuts," pleaded Angus.
"Wad ye like a drink o' milk?" asked Janet, rising.
"I wad that," he answered.
She filled her little teapot with milk, and he drank it from the
spout, hoping she was on the point of giving way.
"Noo," she said, when he had finished his draught, "ye maun jist mak
the best o' it, Angus. Ony gait, it's a guid lesson in patience to
ye, an' that ye haena had ower aften, I'm thinkin' -- Robert'll be
here er lang."
With these words she set down the teapot, and went out: it was time
to milk her cow.
In a little while Gibbie rose, tried to walk, but failed, and
getting down on his hands and knees, crawled out after her. Angus
caught a glimpse of his face as he crept past him, and then first
recognized the boy he had lashed. Not compunction, but an
occasional pang of dread lest he should have been the cause of his
death, and might come upon his body in one of his walks, had served
so to fix his face in his memory, that, now he had a near view of
him, pale with suffering and loss of blood and therefore more like
his former self, he knew him beyond a doubt. With a great shoot of
terror he concluded that the idiot had been lying there silently
gloating over his revenge, waiting only till Janet should be out of
sight, and was now gone after some instrument wherewith to take it.
He pulled and tugged at his bonds, but only to find escape
absolutely hopeless. In gathering horror, he lay moveless at last,
but strained his hearing towards every sound.
Not only did Janet often pray with Gibbie, but sometimes as she
read, her heart would grow so full, her soul be so pervaded with the
conviction, perhaps the consciousness, of the presence of the man
who had said he would be always with his friends, that, sitting
there on her stool, she would begin talking to him out of the very
depth of her life, just as if she saw him in Robert's chair in the
ingle-neuk, at home in her cottage as in the house where Mary sat at
his feet and heard his word. Then would Gibbie listen indeed, awed
by very gladness. He never doubted that Jesus was there, or that
Janet saw him all the time although he could not.
This custom of praying aloud, she had grown into so long before
Gibbie came to her, and he was so much and such a child, that his
presence was no check upon the habit. It came in part from the
intense reality of her belief, and was in part a willed fostering of
its intensity. She never imagined that words were necessary; she
believed that God knew her every thought, and that the moment she
lifted up her heart, it entered into communion with him; but the
very sound of the words she spoke seemed to make her feel nearer to
the man who, being the eternal Son of the Father, yet had ears to
hear and lips to speak, like herself. To talk to him aloud, also
kept her thoughts together, helped her to feel the fact of the
things she contemplated, as well as the reality of his presence.
Now the byre was just on the other side of the turf wall against
which was the head of Gibbie's bed, and through the wall Gibbie had
heard her voice, with that something in the tone of it which let him
understand she was not talking to Crummie, but to Crummie's maker;
and it was therefore he had got up and gone after her. For there
was no reason, so far as he knew or imagined, why he should not
hear, as so many times before, what she was saying to the Master.
He supposed that as she could not well speak to him in the presence
of a man like Angus, she had gone out to the byre to have her talk
with him there. He crawled to the end of the cottage so silently
that she heard no sound of his approach. He would not go into the
byre, for that might disturb her, for she would have to look up to
know that it was only Gibbie; he would listen at the door. He found
it wide open, and peeping in, saw Crummie chewing away, and Janet on
her knees with her forehead leaning against the cow and her hands
thrown up over her shoulder. She spoke in such a voice of troubled
entreaty as he had never heard from her before, but which yet woke a
strange vibration of memory in his deepest heart. -- Yes, it was his
father's voice it reminded him of! So had he cried in prayer the
last time he ever heard him speak. What she said was nearly this:
"O Lord, gin ye wad but say what ye wad hae deen! Whan a body disna
ken yer wull, she's jist driven to distraction. Thoo knows, my
Maister, as weel's I can tell ye, 'at gien ye said till me, 'That
man's gauin' to cut yer thro't: tak the tows frae him, an' lat him
up,' I wad rin to dee't. It's no revenge, Lord; it's jist 'at I
dinna ken. The man's dune me no ill, 'cep' as he's sair hurtit yer
bonnie Gibbie. It's Gibbie 'at has to forgie 'im an' syne me. But
my man tellt me no to lat him up, an' hoo am I to be a wife sic as
ye wad hae, O Lord, gien I dinna dee as my man tellt me! It wad ill
befit me to lat my auld Robert gang sae far wantin' his denner, a'
for naething. What wad he think whan he cam hame! Of coorse, Lord,
gien ye tellt me, that wad mak a' the differ, for ye're Robert's
maister as weel's mine, an' your wull wad saitisfee him jist as
weel's me. I wad fain lat him gang, puir chiel! but I daurna.
Lord, convert him to the trowth. Lord, lat him ken what hate
is. -- But eh, Lord! I wuss ye wad tell me what to du. Thy wull's
the beginnin' an' mids an' en' o' a' thing to me. I'm wullin'
eneuch to lat him gang, but he's Robert's pris'ner an' Gibbie's
enemy; he's no my pris'ner an' no my enemy, an' I dinna think I hae
the richt. An' wha kens but he micht gang shottin' mair fowk yet,
'cause I loot him gang! -- But he canna shot a hare wantin' thy wull,
O Jesus, the Saviour o' man an' beast; an' ill wad I like to hae a
han' i' the hangin' o' 'm. He may deserve 't, Lord, I dinna ken;
but I'm thinkin' ye made him no sae weel tempered -- as my Robert, for
Here her voice ceased, and she fell a moaning.
Her trouble was echoed in dim pain from Gibbie's soul. That the
prophetess who knew everything, the priestess who was at home in the
very treasure-house of the great king, should be thus abandoned to
dire perplexity, was a dreadful, a bewildering fact. But now first
he understood the real state of the affair in the purport of the old
man's absence; also how he was himself potently concerned in the
business: if the offence had been committed against Gibbie, then
with Gibbie lay the power, therefore the duty of forgiveness. But
verily Gibbie's merit and his grace were in inverse ratio. Few
things were easier to him than to love his enemies, and his merit in
obeying the commandment was small indeed. No enemy had as yet done
him, in his immediate person, the wrong he could even imagine it
hard to forgive. No sooner had Janet ceased than he was on his way
back to the cottage: on its floor lay one who had to be waited upon
Wearied with futile struggles, Angus found himself compelled to
abide his fate, and was lying quite still when Gibbie re-entered.
The boy thought he was asleep, but on the contrary he was watching
his every motion, full of dread. Gibbie went hopping upon one foot
to the hole in the wall where Janet kept the only knife she had. It
was not there. He glanced round, but could not see it. There was
no time to lose. Robert's returning steps might be heard any
moment, and poor Angus might be hanged -- only for shooting Gibbie!
He hopped up to him and examined the knots that tied his hands:
they were drawn so tight -- in great measure by his own struggles -- and
so difficult to reach from their position, that he saw it would take
him a long time to undo them. Angus thought, with fresh horror, he
was examining them to make sure they would hold, and was so absorbed
in watching his movements that he even forgot to curse, which was
the only thing left him. Gibbie looked round again for a moment, as
if in doubt, then darted upon the tongs -- there was no poker -- and
thrust them into the fire, caught up the asthmatic old bellows, and
began to blow the peats. Angus saw the first action, heard the
second, and a hideous dismay clutched his very heart: the savage
fool was about to take his revenge in pinches with the red hot
tongs! He looked for no mercy -- perhaps felt that he deserved none.
Manhood held him silent until he saw him take the implement of
torture from the fire, glowing, not red but white hot, when he
uttered such a terrific yell, that Gibbie dropped the tongs -- happily
not the hot ends -- on his own bare foot, but caught them up again
instantly, and made a great hop to Angus: if Janet had heard that
yell and came in, all would be spoilt. But the faithless keeper
began to struggle so fiercely, writhing with every contortion, and
kicking with every inch, left possible to him, that Gibbie hardly
dared attempt anything for dread of burning him, while he sent yell
after yell "as fast as mill-wheels strike." With a sudden thought
Gibbie sprang to the door and locked it, so that Janet should not
get in, and Angus, hearing the bolt, was the more convinced that his
purpose was cruel, and struggled and yelled, with his eyes fixed on
the glowing tongs, now fast cooling in Gibbie's hand. If instead of
glowering at the tongs, he had but lent one steadfast regard to the
face of the boy whom he took for a demoniacal idiot, he would have
seen his supposed devil smile the sweetest of human, troubled,
pitiful smiles. Even then, I suspect, however, his eye being evil,
he would have beheld in the smile only the joy of malice in the near
prospect of a glut of revenge.
In the mean time Janet, in her perplexity, had, quite forgetful of
the poor cow's necessities, abandoned Crummie, and wandered down the
path as far as the shoulder her husband must cross ascending from
the other side: thither, a great rock intervening, so little of
Angus's cries reached, that she heard nothing through the deafness
of her absorbing appeal for direction to her shepherd, the master of
Gibbie thrust the tongs again into the fire, and while blowing it,
bethought him that it might give Angus confidence if he removed the
chain from his neck. He laid down the bellows, and did so. But to
Angus the action seemed only preparatory to taking him by the throat
with the horrible implement. In his agony and wild endeavour to
frustrate the supposed intent, he struggled harder than ever. But
now Gibbie was undoing the rope fastened round the chest. This
Angus did not perceive, and when it came suddenly loose in the midst
of one of his fierce straining contortions, the result was that he
threw his body right over his head, and lay on his face for a moment
confused. Gibbie saw his advantage. He snatched his clumsy tool
out of the fire, seated himself on the corresponding part of Angus's
person, and seizing with the tongs the rope between his feet, held
on to both, in spite of his heaves and kicks. In the few moments
that passed while Gibbie burned through a round of the rope, Angus
imagined a considerable number of pangs; but when Gibbie rose and
hopped away, he discovered that his feet were at liberty, and
scrambled up, his head dizzy, and his body reeling. But such was
then the sunshine of delight in Gibbie's countenance that even Angus
stared at him for a moment -- only, however, with a vague reflection
on the inconsequentiality of idiots, to which succeeded the impulse
to take vengeance upon him for his sufferings. But Gibbie still had
the tongs, and Angus's hands were still tied. He held them out to
him. Gibbie pounced upon the knots with hands and teeth. They
occupied him some little time, during which Angus was almost
compelled to take better cognizance of the face of the savage; and
dull as he was to the good things of human nature, he was yet in a
measure subdued by what he there looked upon rather than perceive;
while he could scarcely mistake the hearty ministration of his teeth
and nails! The moment his hands were free, Gibbie looked up at him
with a smile, and Angus did not even box his ears. Holding by the
wall, Gibbie limped to the door and opened it. With a nod meant for
thanks, the gamekeeper stepped out, took up his gun from where it
leaned against the wall, and hurried away down the hill. A moment
sooner and he would have met Janet; but she had just entered the
byre again to milk poor Crummie.
When she came into the cottage, she stared with astonishment to see
no Angus on the floor. Gibbie, who had lain down again in much
pain, made signs that he had let him go: whereupon such a look of
relief came over her countenance that he was filled with fresh
gladness, and was if possible more satisfied still with what he had
It was late before Robert returned -- alone, weary, and disappointed.
The magistrate was from home; he had waited for him as long as he
dared; but at length, both because of his wife's unpleasant
position, and the danger to himself if he longer delayed his journey
across the mountain, seeing it threatened a storm, and there was no
moon, he set out. That he too was relieved to find no Angus there,
he did not attempt to conceal. The next day he went to see him, and
told him that, to please Gibbie, he had consented to say nothing
more about the affair. Angus could not help being sullen, but he
judged it wise to behave as well as he could, kept his temper
therefore, and said he was sorry he had been so hasty, but that
Robert had punished him pretty well, for it would be weeks before he
recovered the blow on the head he had given him. So they parted on
tolerable terms, and there was no further persecution of Gibbie from
It was some time before he was able to be out again, but no hour
spent with Janet was lost.
That winter the old people were greatly tried with rheumatism; for
not only were the frosts severe, but there was much rain between.
Their children did all in their power to minister to their wants,
and Gibbie was nurse as well as shepherd. He who when a child had
sought his place in the live universe by attending on drunk people
and helping them home through the midnight streets, might have felt
himself promoted considerably in having the necessities of such as
Robert and Janet to minister to, but he never thought of that. It
made him a little mournful sometimes to think that he could not read
to them. Janet, however, was generally able to read aloud. Robert,
being also asthmatic, suffered more than she, and was at times a
Gibbie still occupied his heather-bed on the floor, and it was part
of his business, as nurse, to keep up a good fire on the hearth:
peats, happily, were plentiful. Awake for this cause, he heard in
the middle of one night, the following dialogue between the husband
"I'm growin' terrible auld, Janet," said Robert. "It's a sair thing
this auld age, an' I canna bring mysel' content wi' 't. Ye see I
haena been used till't."
"That's true, Robert," answered Janet. "Gien we had been born auld,
we micht by this time hae been at hame wi't. But syne what wad hae
come o' the gran' delicht o' seein' auld age rin hirplin awa' frae
the face o' the Auncient o' Days?"
"I wad fain be contentit wi' my lot, thouch," persisted Robert; "but
whan I fin' mysel' sae helpless like, I canna get it oot o' my heid
'at the Lord has forsaken me, an' left me to mak an ill best o' 't
"I wadna lat sic a thoucht come intil my heid, Robert, sae lang as I
kenned I cudna draw breath nor wag tongue wantin' him, for in him we
leeve an' muv an' hae oor bein'. Gien he be the life o' me, what
for sud I trible mysel' aboot that life?"
"Ay, lass! but gien ye hed this ashmy, makin' a' yer breist as gien
'twar lined wi' the san' paper 'at they hed been lichtin' a thoosan'
or twa lucifer spunks upo' -- ye micht be driven to forget 'at the
Lord was yer life -- for I can tell ye it's no like haein his breith
i' yer nostrils."
"Eh, my bonny laad!" returned Janet with infinite tenderness, "I
micht weel forget it! I doobt I wadna be half sae patient as
yersel'; but jist to help to haud ye up, I s' tell ye what I think I
wad ettle efter. I wad say to mysel' Gien he be the life o' me, I
hae no business wi' ony mair o' 't nor he gies me. I hae but to tak
ae breath, be 't hard, be 't easy, ane at a time, an' lat him see to
the neist himsel'. Here I am, an' here's him; an' 'at he winna
lat's ain wark come to ill, that I'm weel sure o'. An' ye micht
jist think to yersel', Robert, 'at as ye are born intil the warl',
an' here ye are auld intil't -- ye may jist think, I say, 'at hoo
ye're jist new-born an auld man, an' beginnin' to grow yoong, an'
'at that's yer business. For naither you nor me can be that far
frae hame, Robert, an' whan we win there we'll be yoong eneuch, I'm
thinkin'; an' no ower yoong, for we'll hae what they say ye canna
get doon here -- a pair o' auld heids upo' yoong shoothers."
"Eh! but I wuss I may hae ye there, Janet, for I kenna what I wad do
wantin' ye. I wad be unco stray up yon'er, gien I had to gang my
lane, an' no you to refar till, 'at kens the w'ys o' the place."
"I ken no more about the w'ys o' the place nor yersel', Robert,
though I'm thinkin' they'll be unco quaiet an' sensible, seein' 'at
a' there maun be gentle fowk. It's eneuch to me 'at I'll be i' the
hoose o' my Maister's father; an' my Maister was weel content to
gang to that hoose; an' it maun be something by ordinar' 'at was fit
for him. But puir simple fowk like oorsel's 'ill hae no need to
hing down the heid an' luik like gowks 'at disna ken mainners.
Bairns are no expeckit to ken a' the w'ys o' a muckle hoose 'at
they hae never been intil i' their lives afore."
"It's no that a'thegither 'at tribles me, Janet; it's mair 'at I'll
be expeckit to sing an' luik pleased-like, an' I div not ken hoo
it'll be poassible, an' you naegait 'ithin my sicht or my cry, or
the hearin' o' my ears."
"Div ye believe this, Robert' -- at we're a' ane, jist ane, in Christ
"I canna weel say. I'm no denyin' naething 'at the buik tells me;
ye ken me better nor that, Janet; but there's mony a thing it says
'at I dinna ken whether I believe't 'at my ain han', or whether it
be only at a' thing 'at ye believe, Janet, 's jist to me as gien I
believet it mysel'; an' that's a sair thought, for a man canna be
savet e'en by the proxy o' 's ain wife."
"Weel, ye're just muckle whaur I fin' mysel' whiles, Robert; an' I
comfort mysel' wi' the houp 'at we'll ken the thing there, 'at maybe
we're but tryin' to believe here. But ony gait ye hae pruv't weel
'at you an' me's ane, Robert. Noo we ken frae Scriptur' 'at the
Maister cam to mak aye ane o' them 'at was at twa; an' we ken also
'at he conquered Deith; sae he wad never lat Deith mak the ane 'at
he had made ane, intil twa again: it's no rizon to think it. For
oucht I ken, what luiks like a gangin' awa may be a comin' nearer.
An' there may be w'ys o' comin' nearer till ane anither up yon'er
'at we ken naething aboot doon here. There's that laddie, Gibbie: I
canna but think 'at gien he hed the tongue to speyk, or aiven gien
he cud mak' ony soon' wi' sense intil't, like singin', say, he wad
fin' himsel' nearer till's nor he can i' the noo. Wha kens but them
'at's singin' up there afore the throne, may sing so bonny, 'at, i'
the pooer o' their braw thouchts, their verra sangs may be like
laidders for them to come doon upo', an' hing aboot them 'at they
hae left ahin' them, till the time comes for them to gang an' jine
them i' the green pasturs aboot the tree o' life."
More of like talk followed, but these words concerning
appropinquation in song, although their meaning was not very clear,
took such a hold of Gibbie that he heard nothing after, but fell
asleep thinking about them.
In the middle of the following night, Janet woke her husband.
"Robert! Robert!" she whispered in his ear, "hearken. I'm thinkin'
yon maun be some wee angel come doon to say, 'I ken ye, puir fowk.'"
Robert, scarce daring to draw his breath listened with his heart in
his mouth. From somewhere, apparently within the four walls of the
cottage, came a low lovely sweet song -- something like the piping of
a big bird, something like a small human voice.
"It canna be an angel," said Robert at length, "for it's singin' 'My
"An' what for no an angel?" returned Janet. "Isna that jist what ye
micht be singin' yersel', efter what ye was sayin' last nicht? I'm
thinkin' there maun be a heap o' yoong angels up there, new deid,
singin', 'My Nannie's Awa'.'"
"Hoot, Janet! ye ken there's naither merryin' nor giein' in merriage
"Wha was sayin' onything aboot merryin' or giein' in merriage,
Robert? Is that to say 'at you an' me's to be no more to ane
anither nor ither fowk? Nor it's no to say 'at, 'cause merriage is
no the w'y o' the country, 'at there's to be naething better i' the
place o' 't."
"What garred the Maister say onything aboot it than?"
"Jist 'cause they plaguit him wi' speirin'. He wad never hae opened
his moo' anent it -- it wasna ane o' his subjec's -- gien it hadna been
'at a wheen pride-prankit beuk-fowk 'at didna believe there was ony
angels, or speerits o' ony kin', but said 'at a man ance deid was
aye an' a'thegither deid, an' yet preten'it to believe in God
himsel' for a' that, thoucht to bleck (nonplus) the Maister wi'
speirin' whilk o' saiven a puir body 'at had been garred merry them
a', wad be the wife o' whan they gat up again."
"A body micht think it wad be left to hersel' to say," suggested
Robert. "She had come throu' eneuch to hae some claim to be
"She maun hae been a richt guid ane," said Janet, "gien ilk ane o'
the saiven wad be wantin' her again. But I s' warran' she kenned
weel eneuch whilk o' them was her ain. But, Robert, man, this is
jokin' -- no 'at it's your wyte (blame) -- an' it's no becomin', I
doobt, upo' sic a sarious subjec'. An' I'm feart -- ay! there! -- I
thoucht as muckle! -- the wee sangie's drappit itsel' a'thegither,
jist as gien the laverock had fa'ntit intil 'ts nest. I doobt we'll
hear nae mair o' 't."
As soon as he could hear what they were saying, Gibbie had stopped
to listen; and now they had stopped also, and there was an end.
For weeks he had been picking out tunes on his Pan's-pipes, also, he
had lately discovered that, although he could not articulate, he
could produce tones, and had taught himself to imitate the pipes.
Now, to his delight, he had found that the noises he made were
recognized as song by his father and mother. From that time he was
often heard crooning to himself. Before long he began to look about
the heavens for airs -- to suit this or that song he came upon, or
heard from Donal.
THE WISDOM OF THE WISE.
Change, meantime, was in progress elsewhere, and as well upon the
foot as high on the side of Glashgar -- change which seemed all
important to those who felt the grind of the glacier as it slipped.
Thomas Galbraith, of Glashruach, Esquire, whom no more than any
other could negation save, was not enfranchised from folly, or
lifted above belief in a lie, by his hatred to what he called
superstition: he had long fallen into what will ultimately prove the
most degrading superstition of all -- the worship of Mammon, and was
rapidly sinking from deep to lower deep. First of all, this was the
superstition of placing hope and trust in that which, from age to
age, and on the testimony of all sorts of persons who have tried it,
has been proved to fail utterly; next, such was the folly of the man
whose wisdom was indignant with the harmless imagination of simple
people for daring flutter its wings upon his land, that he risked
what he loved best in the world, even better than Mammon, the
approbation of fellow worshippers, by investing in Welsh gold mines.
The property of Glashruach was a good one, but not nearly so large
as it had been, and he was anxious to restore it to its former
dimensions. The rents were low, and it could but tardily widen its
own borders, while of money he had little and no will to mortgage.
To increase his money, that he might increase his property, he took
to speculation, but had never had much success until that same year,
when he disposed of certain shares at a large profit -- nothing
troubled by the conviction that the man who bought them -- in
ignorance of many a fact which the laird knew -- must in all
probability be ruined by them. He counted this success, and it gave
him confidence to speculate further. In the mean time, with what he
had thus secured, he reannexed to the property a small farm which
had been for some time in the market, but whose sale he had managed
to delay. The purchase gave him particular pleasure, because the
farm not only marched with his home-grounds, but filled up a great
notch in the map of the property between Glashruach and the Mains,
with which also it marched. It was good land, and he let it at
once, on his own terms, to Mr. Duff.
In the spring, affairs looked rather bad for him, and in the month
of May, he considered himself compelled to go to London: he had a
faith in his own business-faculty quite as foolish as any
superstition in Gormgarnet. There he fell into the hands of a
certain man, whose true place would have been in the swell mob, and
not in the House of Commons -- a fellow who used his influence and
facilities as member of Parliament in promoting bubble companies.
He was intimate with an elder brother of the laird, himself member
for a not unimportant borough -- a man, likewise, of principles that
love the shade; and between them they had no difficulty in making a
tool of Thomas Galbraith, as chairman of a certain aggregate of
iniquity, whose designation will not, in some families, be forgotten
for a century or so. During the summer, therefore, the laird was
from home, working up the company, hoping much from it, and trying
hard to believe in it -- whipping up its cream, and perhaps himself
taking the froth, certainly doing his best to make others take it,
for an increase of genuine substance. He devoted the chamber of his
imagination to the service of Mammon, and the brownie he kept there
played him fine pranks.
A smaller change, though of really greater importance in the end,
was, that in the course of the winter, one of Donal's sisters was
engaged by the housekeeper at Glashruach, chiefly to wait upon Miss
Galbraith. Ginevra was still a silent, simple, unconsciously
retiring, and therewith dignified girl, in whom childhood and
womanhood had begun to interchange hues, as it were with the play of
colours in a dove's neck. Happy they in whom neither has a final
victory! Happy also all who have such women to love! At one moment
Ginevra would draw herself up -- bridle her grandmother would have
called it -- with involuntary recoil from doubtful approach; the next,
Ginny would burst out in a merry laugh at something in which only a
child could have perceived the mirth-causing element; then again the
woman would seem suddenly to re-enter and rebuke the child, for the
sparkle would fade from her eyes, and she would look solemn, and
even a little sad. The people about the place loved her, but from
the stillness on the general surface of her behaviour, the far away
feeling she gave them, and the impossibility of divining how she was
thinking except she chose to unbosom herself, they were all a little
afraid of her as well. They did not acknowledge, even to
themselves, that her evident conscientiousness bore no small part in
causing that slight uneasiness of which they were aware in her
presence. Possibly it roused in some of them such a dissatisfaction
with themselves as gave the initiative to dislike of her.
In the mind of her new maid, however, there was no strife, therefore
no tendency to dislike. She was thoroughly well-meaning, like the
rest of her family, and finding her little mistress dwell in the
same atmosphere, the desire to be acceptable to her awoke at once,
and grew rapidly in her heart. She was the youngest of Janet's
girls, about four years older than Donal, not clever, but as sweet
as honest, and full of divine service. Always ready to think others
better than herself, the moment she saw the still face of Ginevra,
she took her for a little saint, and accepted her as a queen, whose
will to her should be law. Ginevra, on her part, was taken with the
healthy hue and honest eyes of the girl, and neither felt any
dislike to her touching her hair, nor lost her temper when she was
awkward and pulled it. Before the winter was over, the bond between
them was strong.
One principal duty required of Nicie -- her parents had named her
after the mother of St. Paul's Timothy -- was to accompany her
mistress every fine day to the manse, a mile and a half from
Glashruach. For some time Ginevra had been under the care of Miss
Machar, the daughter of the parish clergyman, an old gentleman of
sober aspirations, to whom the last century was the Augustan age of
English literature. He was genial, gentle, and a lover of his race,
with much reverence for, and some faith in, a Scotch God, whose
nature was summed up in a series of words beginning with omni.
Partly that the living was a poor one, and her father old and
infirm, Miss Marchar, herself middle-aged, had undertaken the
instruction of the little heiress, never doubting herself mistress
of all it was necessary a lady should know. By nature she was
romantic, but her romance had faded a good deal. Possibly had she
read the new poets of her age, the vital flame of wonder and hope
might have kept not a little of its original brightness in her
heart; but under her father's guidance, she had never got beyond the
Night Thoughts, and the Course of Time. Both intellectually and
emotionally, therefore, Miss Machar had withered instead of
ripening. As to her spiritual carriage, she thought too much about
being a lady to be thoroughly one. The utter graciousness of the
ideal lady would blush to regard itself. She was both gentle and
dignified; but would have done a nature inferior to Ginevra's injury
by the way she talked of things right and wrong as becoming or not
becoming in a lady of position such as Ginevra would one day find
herself. What lessons she taught her she taught her well. Her
music was old-fashioned, of course; but I have a fancy that perhaps
the older the music one learns first, the better; for the deeper is
thereby the rooting of that which will have the atmosphere of the
age to blossom in. But then to every lover of the truth, a true
thing is dearer because it is old-fashioned, and dearer because it
is new-fashioned: and true music, like true love, like all truth,
laughs at the god Fashion, because it knows him to be but an ape.
Every day, then, except Saturday and Sunday, Miss Machar had for two
years been in the habit of walking or driving to Glashruach, and
there spending the morning hours; but of late her father had been
ailing, and as he was so old that she could not without anxiety
leave him when suffering from the smallest indisposition, she had
found herself compelled either to give up teaching Ginevra, or to
ask Mr. Galbraith to allow her to go, when such occasion should
render it necessary, to the manse. She did the latter; the laird
had consented; and thence arose the duty required of Nicie. Mr.
Machar's health did not improve as the spring advanced, and by the
time Mr. Galbraith left for London, he was confined to his room, and
Ginevra's walk to the manse for lessons had settled into a custom.
One morning they found, on reaching the manse, that the minister was
very unwell, and that in consequence Miss Machar could not attend to
Ginevra; they turned, therefore, to walk home again. Now the manse,
upon another root of Glashgar, was nearer than Glashruach to Nicie's
home, and many a time as she went and came, did she lift longing
eyes to the ridge that hid it from her view. This morning, Ginevra
observed that, every other moment, Nicie was looking up the side of
the mountain, as if she saw something unusual upon it -- occasionally,
indeed, when the winding of the road turned their backs to it,
stopping and turning round to gaze.
"What is the matter with you, Nicie?" she asked. "What are you
looking at up there?"
"I'm won'erin' what my mother'll be deein'," answered Nicie: "she's
"Up there!" exclaimed Ginny, and, turning, stared at the mountain
too, expecting to perceive Nicie's mother somewhere upon the face of
"Na, na, missie! ye canna see her," said the girl; "she's no in
sicht. She's ower ayont there. Only gien we war up whaur ye see
yon twa three sheep again' the lift (sky), we cud see the bit hoosie
whaur her an' my father bides."
"How I should like to see your father and mother, Nicie!" exclaimed
"Weel, I'm sure they wad be richt glaid to see yersel', missie, ony
time 'at ye likit to gang an' see them."
"Why shouldn't we go now, Nicie? It's not a dangerous place, is
"No, missie. Glashgar's as quaiet an' weel-behaved a hill as ony in
a' the cweentry," answered Nicie, laughing. "She's some puir, like
the lave o' 's, an' hasna muckle to spare, but the sheep get a feow
nibbles upon her, here an' there; an' my mither manages to keep a
coo, an' get plenty o' milk frae her tee."
"Come, then, Nicie. We have plenty of time. Nobody wants either
you or me, and we shall get home before any one misses us."
Nicie was glad enough to consent; they turned at once to the hill,
and began climbing. But Nicie did not know this part of it nearly
so well as that which lay between Glashruach and the cottage, and
after they had climbed some distance, often stopping and turning to
look down on the valley below, the prospect of which, with its
streams and river, kept still widening and changing as they
ascended, they arrived at a place where the path grew very doubtful,
and she could not tell in which of two directions they ought to go.
"I'll take this way, and you take that, Nicie," said Ginevra, "and
if I find there is no path my way, I will come back to yours; and if
you find there is no path your way, you will come back to mine."
It was a childish proposal, and one to which Nicie should not have
consented, but she was little more than a child herself. Advancing
a short distance in doubt, and the path re-appearing quite plainly,
she sat down, expecting her little mistress to return directly. No
thought of anxiety crossed her mind: how should one, in broad
sunlight, on a mountain-side, in the first of summer, and with the
long day before them? So, there sitting in peace, Nicie fell into a
maidenly reverie, and so there Nicie sat for a long time, half
dreaming in the great light, without once really thinking about
anything. All at once she came to herself: some latent fear had
exploded in her heart: yes! what could have become of her little
mistress? She jumped to her feet, and shouted "Missie! Missie
Galbraith! Ginny!" but no answer came back. The mountain was as
still as at midnight. She ran to the spot where they had parted,
and along the other path: it was plainer than that where she had
been so idly forgetting herself. She hurried on, wildly calling as
In the mean time Ginevra, having found the path indubitable, and
imagining it led straight to the door of Nicie's mother's cottage,
and that Nicie would be after her in a moment, thinking also to have
a bit of fun with her, set off dancing and running so fast, that by
the time Nicie came to herself, she was a good mile from her. What
a delight it was to be thus alone upon the grand mountain! with the
earth banished so far below, and the great rocky heap climbing and
leading and climbing up and up towards the sky!
Ginny was not in the way of thinking much about God. Little had been
taught her concerning him, and nothing almost that was pleasant to
meditate upon -- nothing that she could hide in her heart, and be
dreadfully glad about when she lay alone in her little bed,
listening to the sound of the burn that ran under her window. But
there was in her soul a large wilderness ready for the voice that
should come crying to prepare the way of the king.
The path was after all a mere sheep-track, and led her at length
into a lonely hollow in the hill-side, with a swampy peat-bog at the
bottom of it. She stopped. The place looked unpleasant, reminding
her of how she always felt when she came unexpectedly upon Angus Mac
Pholp. She would go no further alone; she would wait till Nicie
overtook her. It must have been just in such places that the people
possessed with devils -- only Miss Machar always made her read the
word, demons -- ran about! As she thought thus, a lone-hearted bird
uttered a single, wailing cry, strange to her ear. The cry remained
solitary, unanswered, and then first suddenly she felt that there
was nobody there but herself, and the feeling had in it a pang of
uneasiness. But she was a brave child; nothing frightened her much
except her father; she turned and went slowly back to the edge of
the hollow: Nicie must by this time be visible.
In her haste and anxiety, however, Nicie had struck into another
sheep-track, and was now higher up the hill; so that Ginny could see
no living thing nearer than in the valley below: far down there -- and
it was some comfort, in the desolation that now began to invade
her -- she saw upon the road, so distant that it seemed motionless, a
cart with a man in it, drawn by a white horse. Never in her life
before had she felt that she was alone. She had often felt lonely,
but she had always known where to find the bodily presence of
somebody. Now she might cry and scream the whole day, and nobody
answer! Her heart swelled into her throat, then sank away, leaving
a wide hollow. It was so eerie! But Nicie would soon come, and
then all would be well.
She sat down on a stone, where she could see the path she had come a
long way back. But "never and never" did any Nicie appear. At last
she began to cry. This process with Ginny was a very slow one, and
never brought her much relief. The tears would mount into her eyes,
and remain there, little pools of Baca, a long time before the
crying went any further. But with time the pools would grow deeper,
and swell larger, and at last, when they had become two huge little
lakes, the larger from the slowness of their gathering, two mighty
tears would tumble over the edges of their embankments, and roll
down her white mournful cheeks. This time many more followed, and
her eyes were fast becoming fountains, when all at once a verse she
had heard the Sunday before at church seemed to come of itself into
her head: "Call upon me in the time of trouble and I will answer
thee." It must mean that she was to ask God to help her: was that
the same as saying prayers? But she wasn't good, and he wouldn't
hear anybody that wasn't good. Then, if he was only the God of the
good people, what was to become of the rest when they were lost on
mountains? She had better try; it could not do much harm. Even if
he would not hear her, he would not surely be angry with her for
calling upon him when she was in such trouble. So thinking, she
began to pray to what dim distorted reflection of God there was in
her mind. They alone pray to the real God, the maker of the heart
that prays, who know his son Jesus. If our prayers were heard only
in accordance with the idea of God to which we seem to ourselves to
pray, how miserably would our infinite wants be met! But every
honest cry, even if sent into the deaf ear of an idol, passes on to
the ears of the unknown God, the heart of the unknown Father.
"O God, help me home again," cried Ginevra, and stood up in her
great loneliness to return.
The same instant she spied, seated upon a stone, a little way off,
but close to her path, the beast-boy. There could be no mistake.
He was just as she had heard him described by the children at the
gamekeeper's cottage. That was his hair sticking all out from his
head, though the sun in it made it look like a crown of gold or a
shining mist. Those were his bare arms, and that was dreadful
indeed! Bare legs and feet she was used to; but bare arms! Worst
of all, making it absolutely certain he was the beast-boy, he was
playing upon a curious kind of whistling thing, making dreadfully
sweet music to entice her nearer that he might catch her and tear
her to pieces! Was this the answer God sent to the prayer she had
offered in her sore need -- the beast-boy? She asked him for
protection and deliverance, and here was the beast-boy! She asked
him to help her home, and there, right in the middle of her path,
sat the beast-boy, waiting for her! Well, it was just like what
they said about him on Sundays in the churches, and in the books
Miss Machar made her read! But the horrid creature's music should
not have any power over her! She would rather run down to the black
water, glooming in those holes, and be drowned, than the beast-boy
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