Part 7 out of 10
To Mrs. Sclater, it was at first rather depressing, and for a time
grew more and more painful, to have a live silence by her side. But
when she came into rapport with the natural utterance of the boy,
his presence grew more like a constant speech, and that which was
best in her was not unfrequently able to say for the boy what he
would have said could he have spoken: the nobler part of her nature
was in secret alliance with the thoughts and feelings of Gibbie.
But this relation between them, though perceptible, did not become
at all plain to her until after she had established more definite
means of communication. Gibbie, for his part, full of the holy
simplicities of the cottage, had a good many things to meet which
disappointed, perplexed, and shocked him. Middling good people are
shocked at the wickedness of the wicked; Gibbie, who knew both so
well, and what ought to be expected, was shocked only at the
wickedness of the righteous. He never came quite to understand Mr.
Sclater: the inconsistent never can be understood. That only which
has absolute reason in it can be understood of man. There is a
bewilderment about the very nature of evil which only he who made us
capable of evil that we might be good, can comprehend.
Donal had not accompanied Mr. Sclater and his ward, as he generally
styled him, to the city, but continued at the Mains until another
herd-boy should be found to take his place. All were sorry to part
with him, but no one desired to stand in the way of his good fortune
by claiming his service to the end of his half-year. It was about a
fortnight after Gibbie's departure when he found himself free. His
last night he spent with his parents on Glashgar, and the next
morning set out in the moonlight to join the coach, with some cakes
and a bit of fresh butter tied up in a cotton handkerchief. He wept
at leaving them, nor was too much excited with the prospect before
him to lay up his mother's parting words in his heart. For it is
not every son that will not learn of his mother. He who will not
goes to the school of Gideon. Those last words of Janet to her
Donal were, "Noo, min' yer no a win'le strae (a straw dried on its
root), but a growin' stalk 'at maun luik till 'ts corn."
When he reached the spot appointed, there already was the cart from
the Mains, with his kist containing all his earthly possessions.
They did not half fill it, and would have tumbled about in the
great chest, had not the bounty of Mistress Jean complemented its
space with provision -- a cheese, a bag of oatmeal, some oatcakes, and
a pound or two of the best butter in the world; for now that he was
leaving them, a herd-boy no more, but a colliginer, and going to be
a gentleman, it was right to be liberal. The box, whose ponderosity
was unintelligible to its owner, having been hoisted, amid the
smiles of the passengers, to the mid region of the roof of the
coach, Donal clambered after it, and took, for the first time in his
life, his place behind four horses -- to go softly rushing through the
air towards endless liberty. It was to the young poet an hour of
glorious birth -- in which there seemed nothing too strange, nothing
but what should have come. I fancy, when they die, many will find
themselves more at home than ever they were in this world. But
Donal is not the subject of my story, and I must not spend upon him.
I will only say that his feelings on this grand occasion were the
less satisfactory to himself, that, not being poet merely, but
philosopher as well, he sought to understand them: the mere poet,
the man-bird, would have been content with them in themselves. But
if he who is both does not rise above both by learning obedience, he
will have a fine time of it between them.
The streets of the city at length received them with noise and echo.
At the coach-office Mr. Sclater stood waiting, welcomed him with
dignity rather than kindness, hired a porter with his truck whom he
told where to take the chest, said Sir Gilbert would doubtless call
on him the next day, and left him with the porter.
It was a cold afternoon, the air half mist, half twilight. Donal
followed the rattling, bumping truck over the stones, walking close
behind it, almost in the gutter. They made one turning, went a long
way through the narrow, sometimes crowded, Widdiehill, and stopped.
The man opened a door, returned to the truck, and began to pull the
box from it. Donal gave him effective assistance, and they entered
with it between them. There was just light enough from a tallow
candle with a wick like a red-hot mushroom, to see that they were in
what appeared to Donal a house in most appalling disorder, but was
in fact a furniture shop. The porter led the way up a dark stair,
and Donal followed with his end of the trunk. At the top was a
large room, into which the last of the day glimmered through windows
covered with the smoke and dust of years, showing this also full of
furniture, chiefly old. A lane through the furniture led along the
room to a door at the other end. To Donal's eyes it looked a dreary
place; but when the porter opened the other door, he saw a neat
little room with a curtained bed, a carpeted floor, a fire burning
in the grate, a kettle on the hob, and the table laid for tea: this
was like a bit of a palace, for he had never in his life even looked
into such a chamber. The porter set down his end of the chest, said
"Guid nicht to ye," and walked out, leaving the door open.
Knowing nothing about towns and the ways of them, Donal was yet a
little surprised that there was nobody to receive him. He
approached the fire, and sat down to warm himself, taking care not
to set his hobnailed shoes on the grandeur of the little hearthrug.
A few moments and he was startled by a slight noise, as of
suppressed laughter. He jumped up. One of the curtains of his bed
was strangely agitated. Out leaped Gibbie from behind it, and threw
his arms about him.
"Eh, cratur! ye gae me sic a fleg!" said Donal. "But, losh! they hae
made a gentleman o' ye a'ready!" he added, holding him at arms
length, and regarding him with wonder and admiration.
A notable change had indeed passed upon Gibbie, mere externals
considered, in that fortnight. He was certainly not so picturesque
as before, yet the alteration was entirely delightful to Donal.
Perhaps he felt it gave a good hope for the future of his own
person. Mrs. Sclater had had his hair cut; his shirt was of the
whitest of linen, his necktie of the richest of black silk, his
clothes were of the newest cut and best possible fit, and his boots
perfect: the result was altogether even to her satisfaction. In one
thing only was she foiled: she could not get him to wear gloves. He
had put on a pair, but found them so miserably uncomfortable that,
in merry wrath, he pulled them off on the way home, and threw
them -- "The best kid!" exclaimed Mrs. Sclater -- over the Pearl Bridge.
Prudently fearful of over-straining her influence, she yielded for
the present, and let him go without.
Mr. Sclater also had hitherto exercised prudence in his demands upon
Gibbie -- not that he desired anything less than unlimited authority
with him, but, knowing it would be hard to enforce, he sought to
establish it by a gradual tightening of the rein, a slow
encroachment of law upon the realms of disordered license. He had
never yet refused to do anything he required of him, had executed
entirely the tasks he set him, was more than respectful, and always
ready; yet somehow Mr. Sclater could never feel that the lad was
exactly obeying him. He thought it over, but could not understand
it, and did not like it, for he was fond of authority. Gibbie in
fact did whatever was required of him from his own delight in
meeting the wish expressed, not from any sense of duty or of
obligation to obedience. The minister had no perception of what the
boy was, and but a very small capacity for appreciating what was
best in him, and had a foreboding suspicion that the time would come
when they would differ.
He had not told him that he was going to meet the coach, but Gibbie
was glad to learn from Mrs. Sclater that such was his intention, for
he preferred meeting Donal at his lodging. He had recognized the
place at once from the minister's mention of it to his wife, having
known the shop and its owner since ever he could remember himself.
He loitered near until he saw Donal arrive, then crept after him
and the porter up the stair, and when Donal sat down by the fire,
got into the room and behind the curtain.
The boys had then a jolly time of it. They made their tea, for
which everything was present, and ate as boys know how, Donal
enjoying the rarity of the white bread of the city, Gibbie, who had
not tasted oatmeal since he came, devouring "mother's cakes." When
they had done, Gibbie, who had learned much since he came, looked
about the room till he found a bell-rope, and pulled it, whereupon
the oddest-looking old woman, not a hair altered from what Gibbie
remembered her, entered, and, with friendly chatter, proceeded to
remove the tray. Suddenly something arrested her, and she began to
regard Gibbie with curious looks; in a moment she was sure of him,
and a torrent of exclamations and reminiscences and appeals
followed, which lasted, the two lads now laughing, now all but
crying for nearly an hour, while, all the time, the old woman kept
doing and undoing about the hearth and the tea table. Donal asked
many questions about his friend, and she answered freely, except as
often as one approached his family, when she would fall silent, and
bustle about as if she had not heard. Then Gibbie would look
thoughtful and strange and a little sad, and a far-away gaze would
come into his eyes, as if he were searching for his father in the
When the good woman at length left them, they uncorded Donal's kist,
discovered the cause of its portentous weight, took out everything,
put the provisions in a cupboard, arranged the few books, and then
sat down by the fire for "a read" together.
The hours slipped away; it was night; and still they sat and read.
It must have been after ten o' clock when they heard footsteps
coming through the adjoining room; the door opened swiftly; in
walked Mr. Sclater, and closed it behind him. His look was
angry -- severe enough for boys caught card-playing, or drinking, or
reading something that was not divinity on a Sunday. Gibbie had
absented himself without permission, had stayed away for hours, had
not returned even when the hour of worship arrived; and these were
sins against the respectability of his house which no minister like
Mr. Sclater could pass by. It mattered nothing what they were
doing! it was all one when it got to midnight! then it became
revelling, and was sinful and dangerous, vulgar and ungentlemanly,
giving the worst possible example to those beneath them! What could
their landlady think? -- the very first night? -- and a lodger whom he
had recommended? Such was the sort of thing with which Mr. Sclater
overwhelmed the two boys. Donal would have pleaded in
justification, or at least excuse, but he silenced him peremptorily.
I suspect there had been some difference between Mrs. Sclater and
him just before he left: how otherwise could he have so entirely
forgotten his wise resolves anent Gibbie's gradual subjugation?
When first he entered, Gibbie rose with his usual smile of greeting,
and got him a chair. But he waved aside the attention with
indignant indifference, and went on with his foolish
reproof -- unworthy of record except for Gibbie's following behaviour.
Beaten down by the suddenness of the storm, Donal had never risen
from his chair, but sat glowering into the fire. He was annoyed,
vexed, half-ashamed; with that readiness of the poetic nature to fit
itself to any position, especially one suggested by an unjust
judgment, he felt, with the worthy parson thus storming at him,
almost as if guilty in everything laid to their joint charge.
Gibbie on his feet looked the minister straight in the face. His
smile of welcome, which had suddenly mingled itself with
bewilderment, gradually faded into one of concern, then of pity, and
by degrees died away altogether, leaving in its place a look of
question. More and more settled his countenance grew, while all the
time he never took his eyes off Mr. Sclater's, until its expression
at length was that of pitiful unconscious reproof, mingled with
sympathetic shame. He had never met anything like this before.
Nothing low like this -- for all injustice, and especially all that
sort of thing which Janet called "dingin' the motes wi' the beam,"
is eternally low -- had Gibbie seen in the holy temple of Glashgar!
He had no way of understanding or interpreting it save by calling
to his aid the sad knowledge of evil, gathered in his earliest
years. Except in the laird and Fergus and the gamekeeper, he had
not, since fleeing from Lucky Croale's houff, seen a trace of
unreasonable anger in any one he knew. Robert or Janet had never
scolded him. He might go and come as he pleased. The night was
sacred as the day in that dear house. His father, even when most
overcome by the wicked thing, had never scolded him!
The boys remaining absolutely silent, the minister had it all his
own way. But before he had begun to draw to a close, across the
blinding mists of his fog-breeding wrath he began to be aware of the
shining of two heavenly lights, the eyes, namely, of the dumb boy
fixed upon him. They jarred him a little in his onward course; they
shook him as if with a doubt; the feeling undefined slowly grew to a
notion, first obscure, then plain: they were eyes of reproof that
were fastened upon his! At the first suspicion, his anger flared up
more fierce than ever; but it was a flare of a doomed flame; slowly
the rebuke told, was telling; the self-satisfied in-the-rightness -- a
very different thing from righteousness -- of the man was sinking
before the innocent difference of the boy; he began to feel awkward,
he hesitated, he ceased: for the moment Gibbie, unconsciously, had
conquered; without knowing it, he was the superior of the two, and
Mr. Sclater had begun to learn that he could never exercise
authority over him. But the wordly-wise man will not seem to be
defeated even where he knows he is. If he do give in, he will make
it look as if it came of the proper motion of his own goodness.
After a slight pause, the minister spoke again, but with the
changed tone of one who has had an apology made to him, whose anger
is appeased, and who therefore acts the Neptune over the billows of
his own sea. That was the way he would slide out of it.
"Donal Grant," he said, "you had better go to bed at once, and get
fit for your work to-morrow. I will go with you to call upon the
principal. Take care you are not out of the way when I come for
you. -- Get your cap, Sir Gilbert, and come. Mrs. Sclater was already
very uneasy about you when I left her."
Gibbie took from his pocket the little ivory tablets Mrs. Sclater
had given him, wrote the following words, and handed them to the
"Dear sir, I am going to slepe this night with Donal. The bed is
bigg enuf for 2. Good night, sir."
For a moment the minister's wrath seethed again. Like a volcano,
however, that has sent out a puff of steam, but holds back its lava,
he thought better of it: here was a chance of retiring with
grace -- in well-conducted retreat, instead of headlong rout.
"Then be sure you are home by lesson-time," he said. "Donal can come
with you. Good night. Mind you don't keep each other awake."
Donal said "Good night, sir," and Gibbie gave him a serious and
respectful nod. He left the room, and the boys turned and looked at
each other. Donal's countenance expressed an indignant sense of
wrong, but Gibbie's revealed a more profound concern. He stood
motionless, intent on the receding steps of the minister. The
moment the sound of them ceased, he darted soundless after him.
Donal, who from Mr. Sclater's reply had understood what Gibbie had
written, was astonished, and starting to his feet followed him. By
the time he reached the door, Gibbie was past the second lamp, his
shadow describing a huge half-circle around him, as he stole from
lamp to lamp after the minister, keeping always a lamp-post still
between them. When the minister turned a corner, Gibbie made a
soundless dart to it, and peeped round, lingered a moment looking,
then followed again. On and on went Mr. Sclater, and on and on went
Gibbie, careful constantly not to be seen by him; and on and on went
Donal, careful to be seen of neither. They went a long way as he
thought, for to the country boy distance between houses seemed much
greater than between dykes or hedges. At last the minister went up
the steps of a handsome house, took a key from his pocket, and
opened the door. From some impulse or other, as he stepped in, he
turned sharp round, and saw Gibbie.
"Come in," he said, in a loud authoritative tone, probably taking
the boy's appearance for the effect of repentance and a desire to
return to his own bed.
Gibbie lifted his cap, and walked quietly on towards the other end
of Daur-street. Donal dared not follow, for Mr. Sclater stood
between, looking out. Presently however the door shut with a great
bang, and Donal was after Gibbie like a hound. But Gibbie had
turned a corner, and was gone from his sight. Donal turned a corner
too, but it was a wrong corner. Concluding that Gibbie had turned
another corner ahead of him, he ran on and on, in the vanishing hope
of catching sight of him again; but he was soon satisfied he had
lost him, -- nor him only, but himself as well, for he had not the
smallest idea how to return, even as far as the minister's house.
It rendered the matter considerably worse that, having never heard
the name of the street where he lodged but once -- when the minister
gave direction to the porter, he had utterly forgotten it. So there
he was, out in the night, astray in the streets of a city of many
tens of thousands, in which he had never till that day set
foot -- never before having been in any larger abode of men than a
scattered village of thatched roofs. But he was not tired, and so
long as a man is not tired, he can do well, even in pain. But a
city is a dreary place at night, even to one who knows his way in
it -- much drearier to one lost -- in some respects drearier than a
heath -- except there be old mine-shafts in it.
"It's as gien a' the birds o' a country had creepit intil their bit
eggs again, an' the day was left bare o' sang!" said the poet to
himself as he walked. Night amongst houses was a new thing to him.
Night on the hillsides and in the fields he knew well; but this was
like a place of tombs -- what else, when all were dead for the night?
The night is the world's graveyard, and the cities are its
catacombs. He repeated to himself all his own few ballads, then
repeated them aloud as he walked, indulging the fancy that he had a
long audience on each side of him; but he dropped into silence the
moment any night-wanderer appeared. Presently he found himself on
the shore of the river, and tried to get to the edge of the water;
but it was low tide, the lamps did not throw much light so far, the
moon was clouded, he got among logs and mud, and regained the street
bemired, and beginning to feel weary. He was saying to himself what
ever was he to do all the night long, when round a corner a little
way off came a woman. It was no use asking counsel of her, however,
or of anyone, he thought, so long as he did not know even the name
of the street he wanted -- a street which as he walked along it had
seemed interminable. The woman drew near. She was rather tall,
erect in the back, but bowed in the shoulders, with fierce black
eyes, which were all that he could see of her face, for she had a
little tartan shawl over her head, which she held together with one
hand, while in the other she carried a basket. But those eyes were
enough to make him fancy he must have seen her before. They were
just passing each other, under a lamp, when she looked hard at him,
"Man," she said, "I hae set e'en upo' your face afore!"
"Gien that be the case," answered Donal, "ye set e'en upo' 't
"Whaur come ye frae?" she asked.
"That's what I wad fain speir mysel'," he replied. "But, wuman," he
went on, "I fancy I hae set e'en upo' your e'en afore -- I canna weel
say for yer face. Whaur come ye frae?"
"Ken ye a place they ca' -- Daurside?" she rejoined.
"Daurside's a gey lang place," answered Donal; "an' this maun be
aboot the tae en' o' 't, I'm thinkin'."
"Ye're no far wrang there," she returned; "an' ye hae a gey gleg
tongue i' yer heid for a laad frae Daurside."
"I never h'ard 'at tongues war cuttit shorter there nor ither
gaits," said Donal;" but I didna mean ye ony offence."
"There's nane ta'en, nor like to be," answered the woman. -- "Ken ye a
place they ca' Mains o' Glashruach?"
As she spoke she let go her shawl, and it opened from her face like
"Lord! it's the witch-wife!" cried Donal, retreating a pace in his
The woman burst into a great laugh, a hard, unmusical, but not
"Ay!" she said, "was that hoo the fowk wad hae't o' me?"
"It wasna muckle won'er, efter ye cam wydin' throu' watter yairds
deep, an' syne gaed doon the spate on a bran'er."
"Weel, it was the maddest thing!" she returned, with another laugh
which stopped abruptly. " -- I wadna dee the like again to save my
life. But the Michty cairried me throu'. -- An' hoo's wee Sir
Gibbie? -- Come in -- I dinna ken yer name -- but we're jist at the door
o' my bit garret. Come quaiet up the stair, an' tell me a' aboot
"Weel, I wadna be sorry to rist a bit, for I hae tint mysel
a'thegither, an' I'm some tiret," answered Donal. "I but left the
"Come in an' walcome; an whan ye're ristit, an' I'm rid o' my
basket, I'll sune pit ye i' the gait o' hame."
Donal was too tired, and too glad to be once more in the company of
a human being, to pursue further explanation at present. He
followed her, as quietly as he could, up the dark stair. When she
struck a light, he saw a little garret-room -- better than decently
furnished, it seemed to the youth from the hills, though his mother
would have thought it far from tidy. The moment the woman got a
candle lighted, she went to a cupboard, and brought thence a bottle
and a glass. When Donal declined the whisky she poured out, she
seemed disappointed, and setting down the glass, let it stand. But
when she had seated herself, and begun to relate her adventures in
quest of Gibbie, she drew it towards her, and sipped as she talked.
Some day she would tell him, she said, the whole story of her
voyage on the brander, which would make him laugh; it made her
laugh, even now, when it came back to her in her bed at night,
though she was far enough from laughing at the time. Then she told
him a great deal about Gibbie and his father.
"An' noo," remarked Donal, "he'll be thinkin' 't a' ower again, as
he rins aboot the toon this verra meenute, luikin' for me!"
"Dinna ye trible yersel' aboot him," said the woman. "He kens the
toon as weel's ony rottan kens the drains o' 't. -- But whaur div ye
pit up?" she added, "for it's time dacent fowk was gauin' to their
Donal explainned that he knew neither the name of the street nor of
the people where he was lodging.
"Tell me this or that -- something -- onything aboot the hoose or the
fowk, or what they're like, an' it may be 'at I'll ken them," she
But scarcely had he begun his description of the house when she
"Hoot, man! it's at Lucky Murkison's ye are, i' the Wuddiehill.
Come awa', an' I s' tak ye hame in a jiffey."
So saying, she rose, took the candle, showed him down the stair, and
It was past midnight, and the moon was down, but the street-lamps
were not yet extinguished, and they walked along without anything to
interrupt their conversation -- chiefly about Sir Gibbie and Sir
George. But perhaps if Donal had known the cause of Gibbie's escape
from the city, and that the dread thing had taken place in this
woman's house, he would not have walked quite so close to her.
Poor Mistress Croale, however, had been nowise to blame for that,
and the shock it gave her had even done something to check the rate
of her downhill progress. It let her see, with a lightning flash
from the pit, how wide the rent now yawned between her and her
former respectability. She continued, as we know, to drink whisky,
and was not unfrequently overcome by it; but in her following life
as peddler, she measured her madness more; and, much in the open air
and walking a great deal, with a basket sometimes heavy, her
indulgence did her less physical harm; her temper recovered a
little, she regained a portion of her self-command; and at the close
of those years of wandering, she was less of a ruin, both mentally
and spiritually, than at their commencement.
When she received her hundred pounds for the finding of Sir Gibbie,
she rented a little shop in the gallery of the market, where she
sold such things as she had carried about the country, adding to her
stock, upon the likelihood of demand, without respect to unity
either conventional or real, in the character of the wares she
associated. The interest and respectability of this new start in
life, made a little fresh opposition to the inroads of her besetting
sin; so that now she did not consume as much whisky in three days as
she did in one when she had her houff on the shore. Some people
seem to have been drinking all their lives, of necessity getting
more and more into the power of the enemy, but without succumbing at
a rapid rate, having even their times of uplifting and betterment.
Mistress Croale's complexion was a little clearer; her eyes were
less fierce; her expression was more composed; some of the women who
like her had shops in the market, had grown a little friendly with
her; and, which was of more valuable significance, she had come to
be not a little regarded by the poor women of the lower parts behind
the market, who were in the way of dealing with her. For the moment
a customer of this class, and she had but few of any other, appeared
at her shop, or covered stall, rather, she seemed in spirit to go
outside the counter and buy with her, giving her the best counsel
she had, now advising the cheaper, now the dearer of two articles;
while now and then one could tell of having been sent by her to
another shop, where, in the particular case, she could do better. A
love of affairs, no doubt, bore a part in this peculiarity, but
there is all the difference between the two ways of embodying
activity -- to one's own advantage only, and -- to the advantage of
one's neighbour as well. For my part, if I knew a woman behaved to
her neighbours as Mistress Croale did to hers, were she the worst of
drunkards in between, I could not help both respecting and loving
her. Alas that such virtue is so portentously scarce! There are so
many that are sober for one that is honest! Deep are the depths of
social degradation to which the clean, purifying light yet reaches,
and lofty are the heights of social honour where yet the light is
nothing but darkness. Any thoughtful person who knew Mistress
Croale's history, would have feared much for her, and hoped a
little: her so-called fate was still undecided. In the mean time
she made a living, did not get into debt, spent an inordinate
portion of her profits in drink, but had regained and was keeping up
a kind and measure of respectability.
Before they reached the Widdiehill, Donal, with the open heart of
the poet, was full of friendliness to her, and rejoiced in the
mischance that had led him to make her acquaintance.
"Ye ken, of coorse," he happened to say, "'at Gibbie's wi' Maister
"Weel eneuch," she answered. "I hae seen him tee; but he's a gran'
gentleman grown, an' I wadna like to be affrontit layin' claim
till's acquaintance, -- walcome as he ance was to my hoose!"
She had more reason for the doubt and hesitation she thus expressed
than Donal knew. But his answer was none the less the true one as
regarded his friend.
"Ye little ken Gibbie," he said "gien ye think that gait o' 'im!
Gang ye to the minister's door and speir for 'im! He'll be doon
the stair like a shot. -- But 'deed maybe he's come back, an' 's i' my
chaumer the noo! Ye'll come up the stair an' see?"
"Na, I wunna dee that," said Mistress Croale, who did not wish to
face Mistress Murkison, well known to her in the days of her
She pointed out the door to him, but herself stood on the other side
of the way till she saw it opened by her old friend in her
night-cap, and heard her make jubilee over his return.
Gibbie had come home and gone out again to look for him, she said.
"Weel," remarked Donal, "there wad be sma' guid in my gaein' to luik
for him. It wad be but the sheep gaein' to luik for the shepherd."
"Ye're richt there," said his landlady. "A tint bairn sud aye sit
doon an' sit still."
"Weel, ye gang till yer bed, mem," returned Donal. "Lat me see hoo
yer door works, an' I'll lat him in whan he comes."
Gibbie came within an hour, and all was well. They made their
communication, of which Donal's was far the more interesting, had
their laugh over the affair, and went to bed.
THE MINISTER'S DEFEAT.
The minister's wrath, when he found he had been followed home by
Gibbie who yet would not enter the house, instantly rose in
redoubled strength. He was ashamed to report the affair to Mrs.
Sclater just as it had passed. He was but a married old bachelor,
and fancied he must keep up his dignity in the eyes of his wife, not
having yet learned that, if a man be true, his friends and lovers
will see to his dignity. So his anger went on smouldering all night
long, and all through his sleep, without a touch of cool
assuagement, and in the morning he rose with his temper very
feverish. During breakfast he was gloomy, but would confess to no
inward annoyance. What added to his unrest was, that, although he
felt insulted, he did not know what precisely the nature of the
insult was. Even in his wrath he could scarcely set down Gibbie's
following of him to a glorying mockery of his defeat. Doubtless,
for a man accustomed to deal with affairs, to rule over a
parish -- for one who generally had his way in the kirk-session, and
to whom his wife showed becoming respect, it was scarcely fitting
that the rude behaviour of an ignorant country dummy should affect
him so much: he ought to have been above such injury. But the lad
whom he so regarded, had first with his mere looks lowered him in
his own eyes, then showed himself beyond the reach of his reproof by
calmly refusing to obey him, and then become unintelligible by
following him like a creature over whom surveillance was needful!
The more he thought of this last, the more inexplicable it seemed
to become, except on the notion of deliberate insult. And the worst
was, that henceforth he could expect to have no power at all over
the boy! If it was like this already, how would it be in the time
to come? If, on the other hand, he were to re-establish his
authority at the cost of making the boy hate him, then, the moment
he was of age, his behaviour would be that of a liberated enemy: he
would go straight to the dogs, and his money with him! -- The man of
influence and scheme did well to be annoyed.
Gibbie made his appearance at ten o'clock, and went straight to the
study, where at that hour the minister was always waiting him. He
entered with his own smile, bending his head in morning salutation.
The minister said "Good morning," but gruffly, and without raising
his eyes from the last publication of the Spalding Club. Gibbie
seated himself in his usual place, arranged his book and slate, and
was ready to commence -- when the minister, having now summoned
resolution, lifted his head, fixed his eyes on him, and said
"Sir Gilbert, what was your meaning in following me, after refusing
to accompany me?"
Gibbie's face flushed. Mr. Sclater believed he saw him for the
first time ashamed of himself; his hope rose; his courage grew; he
augured victory and a re-established throne: he gathered himself up
in dignity, prepared to overwhelm him. But Gibbie showed no
hesitation; he took his slate instantly, found his pencil, wrote,
and handed the slate to the minister. There stood these words:
"I thougt you was drunnk."
Mr. Sclater started to his feet, the hand which held the offending
document uplifted, his eyes flaming, his checks white with passion,
and with the flat of the slate came down a great blow on the top of
Gibbie's head. Happily the latter was the harder of the two, and
the former broke, flying mostly out of the frame. It took Gibbie
terribly by surprise. Half-stunned, he started to his feet, and for
one moment the wild beast which was in him, as it is in everybody,
rushed to the front of its cage. It would have gone ill then with
the minister, had not as sudden a change followed; the very same
instant, it was as if an invisible veil, woven of gracious air and
odour and dew, had descended upon him; the flame of his wrath went
out, quenched utterly; a smile of benignest compassion overspread
his countenance; in his offender he saw only a brother. But Mr.
Sclater saw no brother before him, for when Gibbie rose he drew back
to better his position, and so doing made it an awkard one indeed.
For it happened occasionally that, the study being a warm room,
Mrs. Sclater, on a winter evening, sat there with her husband,
whence it came that on the floor squatted a low foot-stool, subject
to not unfrequent clerical imprecation: when he stepped back, he
trod on the edge of it, stumbled, and fell. Gibbie darted forward.
A part of the minister's body rested upon the stool, and its
elevation, made the first movement necessary to rising rather
difficult, so that he could not at once get off his back.
What followed was the strangest act for a Scotch boy, but it must be
kept in mind how limited were his means of expression. He jumped
over the prostrate minister, who the next moment seeing his face
bent over him from behind, and seized, like the gamekeeper, with
suspicion born of his violence, raised his hands to defend himself,
and made a blow at him. Gibbie avoided it, laid hold of his arms
inside each elbow, clamped them to the floor, kissed him on forehead
and cheek, and began to help him up like a child.
Having regained his legs, the minister stood for a moment, confused
and half-blinded. The first thing he saw was a drop of blood
stealing down Gibbie's forehead. He was shocked at what he had
done. In truth he had been frightfully provoked, but it was not for
a clergyman so to avenge an insult, and as mere chastisement it was
brutal. What would Mrs. Sclater say to it? The rascal was sure to
make his complaint to her! And there too was his friend, the
herd-lad, in the drawing-room with her!
"Go and wash your face," he said, "and come back again directly."
Gibbie put his hand to his face, and feeling something wet, looked,
and burst into a merry laugh.
"I am sorry I have hurt you," said the minister, not a little
relieved at the sound; "but how dared you write such a -- such an
insolence? A clergyman never gets drunk."
Gibbie picked up the frame which the minister had dropped in his
fall: a piece of the slate was still sticking in one side, and he
wrote upon it:
I will kno better the next time. I thout it was alwais whisky that
made peeple like that. I begg your pardon, sir.
He handed him the fragment, ran to his own room, returned presently,
looking all right, and when Mr. Sclater would have attended to his
wound, would not let him even look at it, laughing at the idea.
Still further relieved to find there was nothing to attract
observation to the injury, and yet more ashamed of himself, the
minister made haste to the refuge of their work; but it did not
require the gleam of the paper substituted for the slate, to keep
him that morning in remembrance of what he had done; indeed it
hovered about him long after the gray of the new slate had passed
into a dark blue.
From that time, after luncheon, which followed immediately upon
lessons, Gibbie went and came as he pleased. Mrs. Sclater begged he
would never be out after ten o'clock without having let them know
that he meant to stay all night with his friend: not once did he
neglect this request, and they soon came to have perfect confidence
not only in any individual promise he might make, but in his general
punctuality. Mrs. Sclater never came to know anything of his
wounded head, and it gave the minister a sharp sting of compunction,
as well as increased his sense of moral inferiority, when he saw
that for a fortnight or so he never took his favourite place at her
feet, evidently that she should not look down on his head.
The same evening they had friends to dinner. Already Gibbie was so
far civilized, as they called it, that he might have sat at any
dining-table without attracting the least attention, but that
evening he attracted a great deal. For he could scarcely eat his
own dinner for watching the needs of those at the table with him,
ready to spring from his chair and supply the least lack. This
behaviour naturally harassed the hostess, and at last, upon one of
those occasions, the servants happening to be out of the room, she
called him to her side, and said,
"You were quite right to do that now, Gilbert, but please never do
such a thing when the servants are in the room. It confuses them,
and makes us all uncomfortable."
Gibbie heard with obedient ear, but took the words as containing
express permission to wait upon the company in the absence of other
ministration. When therefore the servants finally disappeared, as
was the custom there in small households, immediately after placing
the dessert, Gibbie got up, and, much to the amusement of the
guests, waited on them as quite a matter of course. But they would
have wondered could they have looked into the heart of the boy, and
beheld the spirit in which the thing was done, the soil in which was
hid the root of the service; for to him the whole thing was sacred
as an altar-rite to the priest who ministers. Round and round the
table, deft and noiseless, he went, altogether aware of the pleasure
of the thing, not at all of its oddity -- which, however, had he
understood it perfectly, he would not in the least have minded.
All this may, both in Gibbie and the narrative, seem trifling, but I
more than doubt whether, until our small services are sweet with
divine affection, our great ones, if such we are capable of, will
ever have the true Christian flavour about them. And then such
eagerness to pounce upon every smallest opportunity of doing the
will of the Master, could not fail to further proficiency in the
Presently the ladies rose, and when they had left the room, the host
asked Gibbie to ring the bell. He obeyed with alacrity, and a
servant appeared. She placed the utensils for making and drinking
toddy, after Scotch custom, upon the table. A shadow fell upon the
soul of Gibbie: for the first time since he ran from the city, he
saw the well-known appointments of midnight orgy, associated in his
mind with all the horrors from which he had fled. The memory of old
nights in the street, as he watched for his father, and then helped
him home; of his father's last prayer, drinking and imploring; of
his white, motionless face the next morning; of the row at Lucky
Croale's, and poor black Sambo's gaping throat -- all these terrible
things came back upon him, as he stood staring at the tumblers and
the wine glasses and the steaming kettle.
"What is the girl thinking of!" exclaimed the minister, who had been
talking to his next neighbour, when he heard the door close behind
the servant. "She has actually forgotten the whisky! -- Sir Gilbert,"
he went on, with a glance at the boy, "as you are so good, will you
oblige me by bringing the bottle from the sideboard?"
Gibbie started at the sound of his name, but did not move from the
place. After a moment, the minister, who had resumed the
conversation, thinking he had not heard him, looked up. There,
between the foot of the table and the sideboard, stood Gibbie as if
fixed to the floor gazing out of his blue eyes at the
minister -- those eyes filmy with gathering tears, the smile utterly
faded from his countenance. -- Would the Master have drunk out of that
bottle? he was thinking with himself. Imagining some chance remark
had hurt the boy's pride, and not altogether sorry -- it gave hope of
the gentleman he wanted to make him -- Mr. Sclater spoke again:
"It's just behind you, Sir Gilbert -- the whisky bottle -- that purple
one with the silver top."
Gibbie never moved, but his eyes began to run over. A fearful
remembrance of the blow he had given him on the head rushed back on
Mr. Sclater: could it be the consequence of that? Was the boy
paralyzed? He was on the point of hurrying to him, but restrained
himself, and rising with deliberation, approached the sideboard. A
nearer sight of the boy's face reassured him.
"I beg your pardon, Sir Gilbert," he said; "I thought you would not
mind waiting on us as well as on the ladies. It is your own fault,
you know. -- There," he added, pointing to the table; "take your
place, and have a little toddy. It won't hurt you."
The eyes of all the guests were by this time fixed on Gibbie. What
could be the matter with the curious creature? they wondered. His
gentle merriment and quiet delight in waiting upon them, had given a
pleasant concussion to the spirits of the party, which had at first
threatened to be rather a stiff and dull one; and there now was the
boy all at once looking as if he had received a blow, or some
cutting insult which he did not know how to resent!
Between the agony of refusing to serve, and the impossibility of
putting his hand to unclean ministration, Gibbie had stood as if
spell-bound. He would have thought little of such horrors in Lucky
Croale's houff, but the sight of the things here terrified him. He
felt as a Corinthian Christian must, catching a sight of one of the
elders of the church feasting in a temple. But the last words of
the minister broke the painful charm. He burst into tears, and
darting from the room, not a little to his guardian's relief,
hurried to his own.
The guests stared bewildered.
"He'll be gone to the ladies," said their host. "He's an odd
creature. Mrs. Sclater understands him better than I do. He's more
at home with her."
Therewith he proceeded to tell them his history, and whence the
interest he had in him, not bringing down his narrative beyond the
afternoon of the preceding day.
The next morning, Mrs. Sclater had a talk with him concerning his
whim of waiting at table, telling him he must not do so again; it
was not the custom for gentlemen to do the things that servants were
paid to do; it was not fair to the servants, and so on -- happening to
end with an utterance of mild wonder at his fancy for such a
peculiarity. This exclamation Gibbie took for a question, or at
least the expression of a desire to understand the reason of the
thing. He went to a side-table, and having stood there a moment or
two, returned with a New Testament, in which he pointed out the
words, "But I am among you as he that serveth." Giving her just
time to read them, he took the book again, and in addition presented
the words, "The disciple is not above his master, but every one that
is perfect shall be as his master."
Mrs. Sclater was as much put out as if he had been guilty of another
and worse indiscretion. The idea of anybody ordering his common
doings, not to say his oddities, by principles drawn from a source
far too sacred to be practically regarded, was too preposterous to
have ever become even a notion to her. Henceforth, however, it was
a mote to trouble her mind's eye, a mote she did not get rid of
until it began to turn to a glimmer of light. I need hardly add
that Gibbie waited at her dinner-table no more.
No man can order his life, for it comes flowing over him from
behind. But if it lay before us, and we could watch its current
approaching from a long distance, what could we do with it before it
had reached the now? In like wise a man thinks foolishly who
imagines he could have done this and that with his own character and
development, if he had but known this and that in time. Were he as
good as he thinks himself wise he could but at best have produced a
fine cameo in very low relief: with a work in the round, which he is
meant to be, he could have done nothing. The one secret of life and
development, is not to devise and plan, but to fall in with the
forces at work -- to do every moment's duty aright -- that being the
part in the process allotted to us; and let come -- not what will, for
there is no such thing -- but what the eternal Thought wills for each
of us, has intended in each of us from the first. If men would but
believe that they are in process of creation, and consent to be
made -- let the maker handle them as the potter his clay, yielding
themselves in respondent motion and submissive hopeful action with
the turning of his wheel, they would ere long find themselves able
to welcome every pressure of that hand upon them, even when it was
felt in pain, and sometimes not only to believe but to recognize the
divine end in view, the bringing of a son into glory; whereas,
behaving like children who struggle and scream while their mother
washes and dresses them, they find they have to be washed and
dressed, notwithstanding, and with the more discomfort: they may
even have to find themselves set half naked and but half dried in a
corner, to come to their right minds, and ask to be finished.
At this time neither Gibbie nor Donal strove against his
creation -- what the wise of this world call their fate. In truth
Gibbie never did; and for Donal, the process was at present in a
stage much too agreeable to rouse any inclination to resist. He
enjoyed his new phase of life immensely. If he did not distinguish
himself as a scholar, it was not because he neglected his work, but
because he was at the same time doing that by which alone the water
could ever rise in the well he was digging: he was himself growing.
Far too eager after knowledge to indulge in emulation, he gained no
prizes: what had he to do with how much or how little those around
him could eat as compared with himself? No work noble or lastingly
good can come of emulation any more than of greed: I think the
motives are spiritually the same. To excite it is worthy only of
the commonplace vulgar schoolmaster, whose ambition is to show what
fine scholars he can turn out, that he may get the more pupils.
Emulation is the devil-shadow of aspiration. The set of the
current in the schools is at present towards a boundless swamp, but
the wise among the scholars see it, and wisdom is the tortoise which
shall win the race. In the mean time how many, with the legs and
the brain of the hare, will think they are gaining it, while they
are losing things whose loss will make any prize unprized! The
result of Donal's work appeared but very partially in his
examinations, which were honest and honourable to him; it was hidden
in his thoughts, his aspirations, his growth, and his verse -- all
which may be seen should I one day tell Donal's story. For Gibbie,
the minister had not been long teaching him, before he began to
desire to make a scholar of him. Partly from being compelled to
spend some labour upon it, the boy was gradually developing an
unusual facility in expression. His teacher, compact of
conventionalities, would have modelled the result upon some writer
imagined by him a master of style; but the hurtful folly never got
any hold of Gibbie: all he ever cared about was to say what he
meant, and avoid saying something else; to know when he had not said
what he meant, and to set the words right. It resulted that, when
people did not understand what he meant, the cause generally lay
with them not with him; and that, if they sometimes smiled over his
mode, it was because it lay closer to nature than theirs: they would
have found it a hard task to improve it.
What the fault with his organs of speech was, I cannot tell. His
guardian lost no time in having them examined by a surgeon in high
repute, a professor of the university, but Dr. Skinner's opinion put
an end to question and hope together. Gibbie was not in the least
disappointed. He had got on very well as yet without speech. It
was not like sight or hearing. The only voice he could not hear was
his own, and that was just the one he had neither occasion nor
desire to hear. As to his friends, those who had known him the
longest minded his dumbness the least. But the moment the defect
was understood to be irreparable, Mrs. Sclater very wisely proceeded
to learn the finger-speech; and as she learned it, she taught it to
As to his manners, which had been and continued to be her chief
care, a certain disappoinment followed her first rapid success: she
never could get them to take on the case-hardening needful for what
she counted the final polish. They always retained a certain
simplicity which she called childishness. It came in fact of
childlikeness, but the lady was not child enough to distinguish the
difference -- as great as that between the back and the front of a
head. As, then, the minister found him incapable of forming a
style, though time soon proved him capable of producing one, so the
minister's wife found him as incapable of putting on company manners
of any sort, as most people are incapable of putting them
off -- without being rude. It was disappointing to Mrs. Sclater, but
Gibbie was just as content to appear what he was, as he was
unwilling to remain what he was. Being dumb, she would say to
herself he would pass in any society; but if he had had his speech,
she never could have succeeded in making him a thorough gentleman:
he would have always been saying the right thing in the wrong place.
By the wrong place she meant the place where alone the thing could
have any pertinence. In after years, however, Gibbie's manners
were, whether pronounced such or not, almost universally felt to be
charming. But Gibbie knew nothing of his manners any more than of
the style in which he wrote.
One night on their way home from an evening party, the minister and
his wife had a small difference, probably about something of as
little real consequence to them as the knowledge of it is to us, but
by the time they reached home, they had got to the very summit of
politeness with each other. Gibbie was in the drawing-room, as it
happened, waiting their return. At the first sound of their voices,
he knew, before a syllable reached him that something was wrong.
When they entered, they were too much engrossed in difference to
heed his presence, and went on disputing -- with the utmost external
propriety of words and demeanour, but with both injury and a sense
of injury in every tone. Had they looked at Gibbie, I cannot think
they would have been silenced; but while neither of them dared turn
eyes the way of him, neither had moral strength sufficient to check
the words that rose to the lips. A discreet, socially wise boy
would have left the room, but how could Gibbie abandon his friends
to the fiery darts of the wicked one! He ran to the side-table
before mentioned. With a vague presentiment of what was coming,
Mrs. Sclater, feeling rather than seeing him move across the room
like a shadow, sat in dread expectation; and presently her fear
arrived, in the shape of a large New Testament, and a face of loving
sadness, and keen discomfort, such as she had never before seen
Gibbie wear. He held out the book to her, pointing with a finger to
the words -- she could not refuse to let her eyes fall upon
them -- "Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another."
What Gibbie made of the salt, I do not know; and whether he
understood it or not was of little consequence, seeing he had it;
but the rest of the sentence he understood so well that he would
fain have the writhing yoke-fellows think of it.
The lady's cheeks had been red before, but now they were redder.
She rose, cast an angry look at the dumb prophet, a look which
seemed to say "How dare you suggest such a thing?" and left the
"What have you got there?" asked the minister, turning sharply upon
him. Gibbie showed him the passage.
"What have you got to do with it?" he retorted, throwing the book on
the table. "Go to bed."
"A detestable prig!" you say, reader? -- That is just what Mr. and
Mrs. Sclater thought him that night, but they never quarrelled again
before him. In truth, they were not given to quarrelling. Many
couples who love each other more, quarrel more, and with less
politeness. For Gibbie, he went to bed -- puzzled, and afraid there
must be a beam in his eye.
The very first time Donal and he could manage it, they set out
together to find Mistress Croale. Donal thought he had nothing to
do but walk straight from Mistress Murkison's door to hers, but, to
his own annoyance, and the disappointment of both, he soon found he
had not a notion left as to how the place lay, except that it was by
the river. So, as it was already rather late, they put off their
visit to another time, and took a walk instead.
But Mistress Croale, haunted by old memories, most of them far from
pleasant, grew more and more desirous of looking upon the object of
perhaps the least disagreeable amongst them: she summoned resolution
at last, went to the market a little better dressed than usual, and
when business there was over, and she had shut up her little box of
a shop, walked to Daur-street to the minister's house.
"He's aften eneuch crossed my door," she said to herself, speaking
of Mr. Sclater; "an' though, weel I wat, the sicht o' 'im never
bodit me onything but ill, I never loot him ken he was less nor
walcome; an' gien bein' a minister gies the freedom o' puir fowk's
hooses, it oucht in the niffer (exchange) to gie them the freedom o'
Therewith encouraging herself, she walked up the steps and rang the
bell. It was a cold, frosty winter evening and as she stood waiting
for the door to be opened, much the poor woman longed for her own
fireside and a dram. Her period of expectation was drawn out not a
little through the fact that the servant whose duty it was to answer
the bell was just then waiting at table: because of a public
engagement, the minister had to dine earlier than usual. They were
in the middle of their soup -- cockie-leekie, nice and hot, when the
maid informed her master that a woman was at the door, wanting to
see Sir Gilbert.
Gibbie looked up, put down his spoon, and was rising to go, when the
minister, laying his hand on his arm, pressed him gently back to his
chair, and Gibbie yielded, waiting.
"What sort of a woman?" he asked the girl.
"A decent-lookin' workin'-like body," she answered. "I couldna see
her verra weel, it's sae foggy the nicht aboot the door."
"Tell her we're at dinner; she may call again in an hour. Or if she
likes to leave a message -- Stay: tell her to come again to-morrow
morning. -- I wonder who she is," he added, turning, he thought, to
But Gibbie was gone. He had passed behind his chair, and all he saw
of him was his back as he followed the girl from the room. In his
eagerness he left the door open, and they saw him dart to the
visitor, shake hands with her in evident delight, and begin pulling
her towards the room.
Now Mistress Croale, though nowise inclined to quail before the
minister, would not willingly have intruded herself upon him,
especially while he sat at dinner with his rather formidable lady;
but she fancied, for she stood where she could not see into the
dining-room, that Gibbie was taking her where they might have a
quiet news together, and, occupied with her bonnet or some other
source of feminine disquiet, remained thus mistaken until she stood
on the threshold, when, looking up, she started, stopped, made an
obedience to the minister, and another to the minister's lady, and
stood doubtful, if not a little abashed.
"Not here! my good woman," said Mr. Sclater, rising. " -- Oh, it's
you, Mistress Croale! -- I will speak to you in the hall."
Mrs. Croale's face flushed, and she drew back a step. But Gibbie
still held her, and with a look to Mr. Sclater that should have sent
straight to his heart the fact that she was dear to his soul, kept
drawing her into the room; he wanted her to take his chair at the
table. It passed swiftly through her mind that one who had been so
intimate both with Sir George and Sir Gibbie in the old time, and
had given the latter his tea every Sunday night for so long, might
surely, even in such changed circumstances, be allowed to enter the
same room with him, however grand it might be; and involuntarily
almost she yielded half a doubtful step, while Mr. Sclater, afraid
of offending Sir Gilbert, hesitated on the advance to prevent her.
How friendly the warm air felt! how consoling the crimson walls
with the soft flicker of the great fire upon them! how delicious the
odour of the cockie-leekie! She could give up whisky a good deal
more easily, she thought, if she had the comforts of a minister to
fall back upon! And this was the same minister who had once told
her that her soul was as precious to him as that of any other in his
parish -- and then driven her from respectable Jink Lane to the
disreputable Daurfoot! It all passed through her mind in a flash,
while yet Gibbie pulled and she resisted.
"Gilbert, come here," called Mrs. Sclater.
He went to her side, obedient and trusting as a child.
"Really, Gilbert, you must not," she said, rather loud for a
whisper. "It won't do to turn things upside down this way. If you
are to be a gentleman, and an inmate of my house, you must behave
like other people. I cannot have a woman like that sitting at my
table. -- Do you know what sort of a person she is?"
Gibbie's face shone up. He raised his hands. He was already able
to talk a little.
"Is she a sinner?" he asked on his fingers.
Mrs. Sclater nodded.
Gibbie wheeled round, and sprang back to the hall, whither the
minister had, coming down upon her, bows on, like a sea-shouldering
whale, in a manner ejected Mistress Croale, and where he was now
talking to her with an air of confidential condescension, willing to
wipe out any feeling of injury she might perhaps be inclined to
cherish at not being made more welcome: to his consternation, Gibbie
threw his arms round her neck, and gave her a great hug.
"Sir Gilbert!" he exclaimed, very angry, and the more angry that he
knew he was in the right, "leave Mistress Croale alone, and go back
to your dinner immediately. -- Jane, open the door."
Jane opened the door, Gibbie let her go, and Mrs. Croale went. But
on the threshold she turned.
"Weel, sir," she said, with more severity than pique, and a certain
sad injury not unmingled with dignity, "ye hae stappit ower my
door-sill mony's the time, an' that wi' sairer words i' yer moo' nor
I ever mintit at peyin' ye back; an' I never said to ye gang. Sae
first ye turnt me oot o' my ain hoose, an' noo ye turn me oot o'
yours; an' what's left ye to turn me oot o' but the hoose o' the
Lord? An', 'deed, sir, ye need never won'er gien the likes o' me
disna care aboot gangin' to hear a preacht gospel: we wad fain see a
practeesed ane! Gien ye had said to me noo the nicht, 'Come awa'
ben, Mistress Croale, an' tak a plet o' cockie-leekie wi' 's; it's a
cauld nicht;' it's mysel' wad hae been sae upliftit wi' yer
kin'ness, 'at I wad hae gane hame an' ta'en -- I dinna ken -- aiblins a
read at my Bible, an' been to be seen at the kirk upo' Sunday I
wad -- o' that ye may be sure; for it's a heap easier to gang to the
kirk nor to read the buik yer lane, whaur ye canna help thinkin'
upo' what it says to ye. But noo, as 'tis, I'm awa' hame to the
whusky boatle, an' the sin o' 't, gien there be ony in sic a nicht
o' cauld an' fog, 'ill jist lie at your door."
"You shall have a plate of soup, and welcome, Mistress Croale!" said
the minister, in a rather stagey tone of hospitality " -- Jane, take
Mistress Croale to the kitchen with you, and -- "
"The deil's tail i' yer soup! -- 'At I sud say 't!" cried Mistress
Croale, drawing herself up suddenly, with a snort of anger: "whan
turnt I beggar? I wad fain be informt! Was't yer soup or yer grace
I soucht till, sir? The Lord be atween you an' me! There's first
'at 'll be last, an' last 'at 'll be first. But the tane's no me,
an' the tither's no you, sir."
With that she turned and walked down the steps, holding her head
"Really, Sir Gilbert," said the minister, going back into the
dining-room -- but no Gibbie was there! -- nobody but his wife, sitting
in solitary discomposure at the head of her dinner-table. The same
instant, he heard a clatter of feet down the steps, and turned
quickly into the hall again, where Jane was in the act of shutting
"Sir Gilbert's run oot efter the wuman, sir!" she said.
"Hoot!" grunted the minister, greatly displeased, and went back to
"Take Sir Gilbert's plate away," said Mrs. Sclater to the servant.
"That's his New Testament again!" she went on, when the girl had
left the room.
"My dear! my dear! take care," said her husband. He had not much
notion of obedience to God, but he had some idea of respect to
religion. He was just an idolater of a Christian shade.
"Really, Mr. Sclater," his wife continued, "I had no idea what I was
undertaking. But you gave me no choice. The creature is
incorrigible. But of course he must prefer the society of women
like that. They are the sort he was accustomed to when he received
his first impressions, and how could it be otherwise? You knew how
he had been brought up, and what you had to expect!"
"Brought up!" cried the minister, and caused his spoonful of
cockie-leekie to rush into his mouth with the noise of the German
schlrfen, then burst into a loud laugh. "You should have seen him
about the streets! -- with his trowsers -- "
"Mister Sclater! Then you ought to have known better!" said his
wife, and laying down her spoon, sat back into the embrace of her
But in reality she was not the least sorry he had undertaken the
charge. She could not help loving the boy, and her words were
merely the foam of vexation, mingled with not a little jealousy,
that he had left her, and his nice hot dinner, to go with the woman.
Had she been a fine lady like herself, I doubt if she would have
liked it much better; but she specially recoiled from coming into
rivalry with one in whose house a horrible murder had been
committed, and who had been before the magistrates in consequence.
Nothing further was said until the second course was on the table.
Then the lady spoke again:
"You really must, Mr. Sclater, teach him the absurdity of attempting
to fit every point of his behaviour to -- to -- words which were of
course quite suitable to the time when they were spoken, but which
it is impossible to take literally now-a-days -- as impossible as to
go about the streets with a great horn on your head and a veil
hanging across it. -- Why!" -- Here she laughed -- a laugh the less
lady-like that, although it was both low and musical, it was
scornful, and a little shaken by doubt. -- "You saw him throw his arms
round the horrid creature's neck! -- Well, he had just asked me if she
was a sinner. I made no doubt she was. Off with the word goes my
gentleman to embrace her!"
Here they laughed together.
Dinner over, they went to a missionary meeting, where the one stood
and made a speech and the other sat and listened, while Gibbie was
having tea with Mistress Croale.
From that day Gibbie's mind was much exercised as to what he could
do for Mistress Croale, and now first he began to wish he had his
money. As fast as he learned the finger-alphabet he had taught it
to Donal, and, as already they had a good many symbols in use
between them, so many indeed that Donal would often instead of
speaking make use of signs, they had now the means of intercourse
almost as free as if they had had between them two tongues instead
of one. It was easy therefore for Gibbie to impart to Donal his
anxiety concerning her, and his strong desire to help her, and doing
so, he lamented in a gentle way his present inability. This
communication Donal judged it wise to impart in his turn to Mistress
"Ye see, mem," he said in conclusion, "he's some w'y or anither
gotten 't intil's heid 'at ye're jist a wheen ower free wi' the
boatle. I kenna. Ye'll be the best jeedge o' that yersel'!"
Mistress Croale was silent for a whole minute by the clock. From
the moment when Gibbie forsook his dinner and his grand new friends
to go with her, the woman's heart had begun to grow to the boy, and
her old memories fed the new crop of affection.
"Weel," she replied at length, with no little honesty, " -- I mayna be
sae ill 's he thinks me, for he had aye his puir father afore 's
e'en; but the bairn's richt i' the main, an' we maun luik till't,
an' see what can be dune; for eh! I wad be laith to disappint the
bonnie laad! -- Maister Grant, gien ever there wis a Christi-an sowl
upo' the face o' this wickit warl', that Christi-an sowl's wee Sir
Gibbie! -- an' wha cud hae thoucht it! But it's the Lord's doin', an'
mervellous in oor eyes! -- Ow! ye needna luik like that; I ken my
Bible no that ill!" she added, catching a glimmer of surprise on
Donal's countenance. "But for that Maister Scletter -- dod! I wadna
be sair upon 'im -- but gien he be fit to caw a nail here an' a nail
there, an fix a sklet or twa, creepin' upo' the riggin' o' the kirk,
I'm weel sure he's nae wise maister-builder fit to lay ony
fundation. -- Ay! I tellt ye I kent my beuk no that ill!" she added
with some triumph; then resumed: "What the waur wad he or she or Sir
Gibbie hae been though they hed inveetit me, as I was there, to sit
me doon, an' tak' a plet o' their cockie-leekie wi' them? There was
ane 'at thoucht them 'at was far waur nor me, guid eneuch company
for him; an' maybe I may sit doon wi' him efter a', wi' the help o'
my bonnie wee Sir Gibbie. -- I canna help ca'in' him wee Sir
Gibbie -- a' the toon ca'd 'im that, though haith! he'll be a big man
or he behaud. An' for 's teetle, I was aye ane to gie honour whaur
honour was due, an' never ance, weel as I kenned him, did I ca' his
honest father, for gien ever there was an honest man yon was
him! -- never did I ca' him onything but Sir George, naither mair nor
less, an' that though he vroucht at the hardest at the cobblin' a'
the ook, an' upo' Setterdays was pleased to hae a guid wash i' my
ain bedroom, an' pit on a clean sark o' my deid man's, rist his
sowl! -- no 'at I'm a papist, Maister Grant, an' aye kent better nor
think it was ony eese prayin' for them 'at's gane; for wha is there
to pey ony heed to sic haithenish prayers as that wad be? Na! we
maun pray for the livin' 'at it may dee some guid till, an' no for
them 'at its a' ower wi' -- the Lord hae mercy upo' them!"
My readers may suspect, one for one reason another for another, that
she had already, before Donal came that evening been holding
communion with the idol in the three-cornerd temple of her cupboard;
and I confess that it was so. But it is equally true that before
the next year was gone, she was a shade better -- and that not without
considerable struggle, and more failures than successes.
Upon one occasion -- let those who analyze the workings of the human
mind as they would the entrails of an eight-day clock, explain the
phenomenon I am about to relate, or decline to believe it, as they
choose -- she became suddenly aware that she was getting perilously
near the brink of actual drunkenness.
"I'll tak but this ae mou'fu' mair," she said to herself; "it's but
a mou'fu', an' it's the last i' the boatle, an' it wad be a peety
naebody to get the guid o' 't."
She poured it out. It was nearly half a glass. She took it in one
large mouthful. But while she held it in her mouth to make the most
of it, even while it was between her teeth, something smote her with
the sudden sense that this very moment was the crisis of her fate,
that now the axe was laid to the root of her tree. She dropped on
her knees -- not to pray like poor Sir George -- but to spout the
mouthful of whisky into the fire. In roaring flame it rushed up the
chimney. She started back.
"Eh!" she cried; "guid God! sic a deevil's I maun be, to cairry the
like o' that i' my inside! -- Lord! I'm a perfec' byke o' deevils!
My name it maun be Legion. What is to become o' my puir sowl!"
It was a week before she drank another drop -- and then she took her
devils with circumspection, and the firm resolve to let no more of
them enter into her than she could manage to keep in order.
Mr. and Mrs. Sclater got over their annoyance as well as they could,
and agreed that in this case no notice should be taken of Gibbie's
It had come to be the custom that Gibbie should go to Donal every
Friday afternoon about four o'clock, and remain with him till the
same time on Saturday, which was a holiday with both. One Friday,
just after he was gone, the temptation seized Mrs. Sclater to follow
him, and, paying the lads an unexpected visit, see what they were
It was a bright cold afternoon; and in fur tippet and muff, amidst
the snow that lay everywhere on roofs and window-sills and
pavements, and the wind that blew cold as it blows in few places
besides, she looked, with her bright colour and shining eyes, like
life itself laughing at death. But not many of those she met
carried the like victory in their countenances, for the cold was
bitter. As she approached the Widdiehill, she reflected that she
had followed Gibbie so quickly, and walked so fast, that the boys
could hardly have had time to settle to anything, and resolved
therefore to make a little round and spend a few more minutes upon
the way. But as, through a neighbouring street, she was again
approaching the Widdiehill, she caught sight of something which, as
she was passing a certain shop, that of a baker known to her as one
of her husband's parishioners, made her stop and look in through the
glass which formed the upper half of the door. There she saw
Gibbie, seated on the counter, dangling his legs, eating a penny
loaf, and looking as comfortable as possible. -- "So soon after
luncheon, too!" said Mrs. Sclater to herself with indignation,
reading through the spectacles of her anger a reflection on her
housekeeping. But a second look revealed, as she had dreaded, far
weightier cause for displeasure: a very pretty girl stood behind the
counter, with whose company Gibbie was evidently much pleased. She
was fair of hue, with eyes of gray and green, and red lips whose
smile showed teeth whiter than the whitest of flour. At the moment
she was laughing merrily, and talking gaily to Gibbie. Clearly they
were on the best of terms, and the boy's bright countenance,
laughter, and eager motions, were making full response to the girl's
Gibbie had been in the shop two or three times before, but this was
the first time he had seen his old friend, Mysie, of the amethyst
ear-ring. And now one of them had reminded the other of that
episode in which their histories had run together; from that Mysie
had gone on to other reminiscences of her childhood in which wee
Gibbie bore a part, and he had, as well as he could, replied with
others, of his, in which she was concerned. Mysie was a simple,
well-behaved girl, and the entrance of neither father nor mother
would have made the least difference in her behaviour to Sir
Gilbert, though doubtless she was more pleased to have a chat with
him than with her father's apprentice, who could speak indeed, but
looked dull as the dough he worked in, whereas Gibbie, although
dumb, was radiant. But the faces of people talking often look more
meaningful to one outside the talk-circle than they really are, and
Mrs. Sclater, gazing through the glass, found, she imagined, large
justification of displeasure. She opened the door sharply, and
stepped in. Gibbie jumped from his seat on the counter, and, with a
smile of playful roguery, offered it to her; a vivid blush
overspread Mysie's fair countenance.
"I thought you had gone to see Donal," said Mrs. Sclater, in the
tone of one deceived, and took no notice of the girl.
Gibbie gave her to understand that Donal would arrive presently, and
they were then going to the point of the pier, that Donal might
learn what the sea was like in a nor'-easter.
"But why did you make your appointment here?" asked the lady.
"Because Mysie and I are old friends," answered the boy on his
Then first Mrs. Sclater turned to the girl: having got over her
first indignation, she spoke gently and with a frankness natural to
"Sir Gilbert tells me you are old friends," she said.
Thereupon Mysie told her the story of the ear-ring, which had
introduced their present conversation, and added several other
little recollections, in one of which she was drawn into a
description, half pathetic, half humorous, of the forlorn appearance
of wee Gibbie, as he ran about in his truncated trousers. Mrs.
Slater was more annoyed, however, than interested, for, in view of
the young baronet's future, she would have had all such things
forgotten; but Gibbie was full of delight in the vivid recollections
thus brought him of some of the less painful portions of his past,
and appreciated every graphic word that fell from the girl's pretty
Mrs. Sclater took good care not to leave until Donal came. Then the
boys, having asked her if she would not go with them, which
invitation she declined with smiling thanks, took their departure
and went to pay their visit to the German Ocean, leaving her with
Mysie -- which they certainly would not have done, could they have
foreseen how the well-meaning lady -- nine-tenths of the mischiefs in
the world are well-meant -- would hurt the feelings of the
gentle-conditioned girl. For a long time after, as often as Gibbie
entered the shop, Mysie left it and her mother came -- a result
altogether as Mrs. Sclater would have had it. But hardly anybody
was ever in less danger of falling in love than Gibbie; and the
thing would not have been worth recording, but for the new direction
it caused in Mrs. Sclater's thoughts: measures, she judged, must be
Gladly as she would have centred Gibbie's boyish affections in
herself, she was too conscientious and experienced not to regard the
danger of any special effort in that direction, and began therefore
to cast about in her mind what could be done to protect him from one
at least of the natural consequences of his early familiarity with
things unseemly -- exposure, namely, to the risk of forming low
alliances -- the more imminent that it was much too late to attempt
any restriction of his liberty, so as to keep him from roaming the
city at his pleasure. Recalling what her husband had told her of
the odd meeting between the boy and a young lady at Miss Kimble's
school -- some relation, she thought he had said -- also the desire to
see her again which Gibbie, on more than one occasion, had shown,
she thought whether she could turn the acquaintance to account. She
did not much like Miss Kimble, chiefly because of her
affectations -- which, by the way, were caricatures of her own; but
she knew her very well, and there was no reason why she should not
ask her to come and spend the evening, and bring two or three of the
elder girls with her: a little familiarity with the looks, manners,
and dress of refined girls of his own age, would be the best
antidote to his taste for low society, from that of bakers'
It was Mrs. Sclater's own doing that Gibbie had not again spoken to
Ginevra. Nowise abashed at the thought of the grenadier or her
array of doves, he would have gone, the very next day after meeting
them in the street, to call upon her: it was some good, he thought,
of being a rich instead of a poor boy, that, having lost thereby
those whom he loved best, he had come where he could at least see
Miss Galbraith; but Mrs. Sclater had pretended not to understand
where he wanted to go, and used other artifices besides -- well-meant,
of course -- to keep him to herself until she should better understand
him. After that he had seen Ginevra more than once at church, but
had had no chance of speaking to her. For, in the sudden dispersion
of its agglomerate particles, a Scotch congregation is -- or was in
Gibbie's time -- very like the well-known vitreous drop called a
Prince Rupert's tear, in which the mutually repellent particles are
held together by a strongly contracted homogeneous layer -- to
separate with explosion the instant the tough skin is broken and
vibration introduced; and as Mrs. Sclater generally sat in her
dignity to the last, and Gibbie sat with her, only once was he out
in time to catch a glimpse of the ultimate rank of the retreating
girls. He was just starting to pursue them, when Mrs. Sclater,
perceiving his intention, detained him by requesting the support of
his arm -- a way she had, pretending to be weary, or to have given her
ankle a twist, when she wanted to keep him by her side. Another
time he had followed them close enough to see which turn they took
out of Daur-street; but that was all he had learned, and when the
severity of the winter arrived, and the snow lay deep, sometimes for
weeks together, the chances of meeting them were few. The first
time the boys went out together, that when they failed to find
Mistress Croale's garret, they made an excursion in search of the
girls' school, but had been equally unsuccessful in that; and
although they never after went for a walk without contriving to pass
through some part of the region in which they thought it must lie,
they had never yet even discovered a house upon which they could
agree as presenting probabilities.
Mr. Galbraith did not take Miss Kimble into his confidence with
respect to his reasons for so hurriedly placing his daughter under
her care: he was far too reticent, too proud, and too much hurt for
that. Hence, when Mrs. Sclater's invitation arrived, the
schoolmistress was aware of no reason why Miss Galbraith should not
be one of the girls to go with her, especially as there was her
cousin, Sir Gilbert, whom she herself would like to meet again, in
the hope of removing the bad impression which, in the discharge of
her duty, she feared she must have made upon him.
One day, then, at luncheon, Mrs. Sclater told Gibbie that some
ladies were coming to tea, and they were going to have supper
instead of dinner. He must put on his best clothes, she said. He
did as she desired, was duly inspected, approved on the whole, and
finished off by a few deft fingers at his necktie, and a gentle push
or two from the loveliest of hands against his hair-thatch, and was
seated in the drawing-room with Mrs. Sclater when the ladies
arrived. Ginevra and he shook hands, she with the sweetest of
rose-flushes, he with the radiance of delighted surprise. But, a
moment after, when Mrs. Sclater and her guests had seated
themselves, Gibbie, their only gentleman, for Mr. Sclater had not
yet made his appearance, had vanished from the room. Tea was not
brought until some time after, when Mr. Sclater came home, and then
Mrs. Sclater sent Jane to find Sir Gilbert; but she returned to say
he was not in the house. The lady's heart sank, her countenance
fell, and all was gloom: her project had miscarried! he was gone!
who could tell whither? -- perhaps to the baker's daughter, or to the
horrid woman Croale!
The case was however very much otherwise. The moment Gibbie ended
his greetings, he had darted off to tell Donal: it was not his
custom to enjoy alone anything sharable.
The news that Ginevra was at that moment seated in Mrs. Sclater's
house, at that moment, as his eagerness had misunderstood Gibbie's,
expecting his arrival, raised such a commotion in Donal's
atmosphere, that for a time it was but a huddle of small whirlwinds.
His heart was beating like the trample of a trotting horse. He
never thought of inquiring whether Gibbie had been commissioned by
Mrs. Sclater to invite him, or reflected that his studies were not
half over for the night. An instant before the arrival of the
blessed fact, he had been absorbed in a rather abstruse
metaphysico-mathematical question; now not the metaphysics of the
universe would have appeared to him worth a moment's meditation. He
went pacing up and down the room, and seemed lost to everything.
Gibbie shook him at length, and told him, by two signs, that he
must put on his Sunday clothes. Then first shyness, like the shroud
of northern myth that lies in wait in a man's path, leaped up, and
wrapped itself around him. It was very well to receive ladies in a
meadow, quite another thing to walk into their company in a grand
room, such as, before entering Mrs. Sclater's, he had never beheld
even in Fairyland or the Arabian Nights. He knew the ways of the
one, and not the ways of the other. Chairs ornate were doubtless
poor things to daisied banks, yet the other day he had hardly
brought himself to sit on one of Mrs. Sclater's! It was a moment of
awful seeming. But what would he not face to see once more the
lovely lady-girl! He bethought himself that he was no longer a
cowherd but a student, and that such feelings were unworthy of one
who would walk level with his fellows. He rushed to the labours of
his toilette, performed severe ablutions, endued his best
shirt -- coarse, but sweet from the fresh breezes of Glashgar, a pair
of trousers of buff-coloured fustian stamped over with a black
pattern, an olive-green waistcoat, a blue tailcoat with lappets
behind, and a pair of well-polished shoes, the soles of which in
honour of Sunday were studded with small instead of large knobs of
iron, set a tall beaver hat, which no brushing would make smooth, on
the back of his head, stuffed a silk hankerchief, crimson and
yellow, in his pocket, and declared himself ready.
Now Gibbie, although he would not have looked so well in his woolly
coat in Mrs. Sclater's drawing-room as on the rocks of Glashgar,
would have looked better in almost any other than the evening dress,
now, alas! nearly European. Mr. Sclater, on the other hand, would
have looked worse in any other because being less commonplace, it
would have been less like himself; and so long as the commonplace
conventional so greatly outnumber the simply individual, it is
perhaps well the present fashion should hold. But Donal could
hardly have put on any clothes that would have made him look worse,
either in respect of himself or of the surroundings of social life,
than those he now wore. Neither of the boys, however, had begun to
think about dress in relation either to custom or to fitness, and it
was with complete satisfaction that Gibbie carried off Donal to
present to the guest of his guardians.
Donal's preparations had taken a long time, and before they reached
the house, tea was over and gone. They had had some music; and Mrs.
Sclater was now talking kindly to two of the school-girls, who,
seated erect on the sofa, were looking upon her elegance with awe
and envy. Ginevra, was looking at the pictures of an annual. Mr.
Sclater was making Miss Kimble agreeable to herself. He had a
certain gift of talk -- depending in a great measure on the assurance
of being listened to, an assurance which is, alas! nowise the less
hurtful to many a clergyman out of the pulpit, that he may be
equally aware no one heeds him in it.
The door was opened. Donal spent fully a minute rubbing his shoes
on the mat, as diligently as if he had just come out of the
cattle-yard, and then Gibbie led him in triumph up the stair to the
drawing-room. Donal entered in that loose-jointed way which comes
of the brains being as yet all in the head, and stood, resisting
Gibbie's pull on his arm, his keen hazel eyes looking gently round
upon the company, until he caught sight of the face he sought, when,
with the stride of a sower of corn, he walked across the room to
Ginevra. Mrs. Sclater rose; Mr. Sclater threw himself back and
stared; the latter astounded at the presumption of the youths, the
former uneasy at the possible results of their ignorance. To the
astonishment of the company, Ginevra rose, respect and modesty in
every feature, as the youth, clownish rather than awkward,
approached her, and almost timidly held out her hand to him. He
took it in his horny palm, shook it hither and thither sideways,
like a leaf in a doubtful air, then held it like a precious thing he
was at once afraid of crushing by too tight a grasp, and of dropping
from too loose a hold, until Ginevra took charge of it herself
again. Gibbie danced about behind him, all but standing on one leg,
but, for Mrs. Sclater's sake, restraining himself. Ginevra sat
down, and Donal, feeling very large and clumsy, and wanting to "be
naught a while," looked about him for a chair, and then first
espying Mrs. Sclater, went up to her with the same rolling, clamping
stride, but without embarrassment, and said, holding out his hand,
"Hoo are ye the nicht, mem? I sawna yer bonnie face whan I cam in.
A gran' hoose, like this o' yours -- an' I'm sure, mem, it cudna be
ower gran' to fit yersel', but it's jist some perplexin' to plain
fowk like me, 'at's been used to mair room, an' less intill't."
Donal was thinking of the meadow on the Lorrie bank.
"I was sure of it!" remarked Mrs. Sclater to herself. "One of
nature's gentlemen! He would soon be taught."
She was right; but he was more than a gentleman, and could have
taught her what she could have taught nobody in turn.
"You will soon get accustomed to our town ways, Mr. Grant. But many
of the things we gather about us are far more trouble than use," she
replied, in her sweetest tones, and with a gentle pressure of the
hand, which went a long way to set him at his ease. "I am glad to
see you have friends here," she added.
"Only ane, mem. Gibbie an' me -- "
"Excuse me, Mr. Grant, but would you oblige me -- of course with me it
is of no consequence, but just for habit's sake, would you oblige me
by calling Gilbert by his own name -- Sir Gilbert, please. I wish him
to get used to it."
"Yer wull be't, mem. -- Weel, as I was sayin', Sir Gibbie -- Sir
Gilbert, that is, mem -- an mysel', we hae kenned Miss Galbraith this
lang time, bein' o' the laird's ain fowk, as I may say."
"Will you take a seat beside her, then," said Mrs. Sclater, and
rising, herself placed a chair for him near Ginevra, wondering how
any Scotch laird, the father of such a little lady as she, could
have allowed her such an acquaintance.
To most of the company he must have looked very queer. Gibbie,
indeed, was the only one who saw the real Donal. Miss Kimble and
her pupils stared at the distorted reflexion of him in the
spoon-bowl of their own elongated narrowness; Mrs. Sclater saw the
possible gentleman through the loop-hole of a compliment he had paid
her; and Mr. Sclater beheld only the minimum which the reversed
telescope of his own enlarged importance, he having himself come of
sufficiently humble origin, made of him; while Ginevra looked up to
him more as one who marvelled at the grandly unintelligible, than
one who understood the relations and proportions of what she beheld.
Nor was it possible she could help feeling that he was a more
harmonious object to the eye both of body and mind when dressed in
his corduroys and blue bonnet, walking the green fields, with cattle
about him, his club under his arm, and a book in his hand. So seen,
his natural dignity was evident; now he looked undeniably odd. A
poet needs a fine house rather than a fine dress to set him off, and
Mrs. Sclater's drawing-room was neither large nor beautiful enough
to frame this one, especially with his Sunday clothes to get the
better of. To the school ladies, mistress and pupils, he was simply
a clodhopper, and from their report became a treasure of
poverty-stricken amusement to the school. Often did Ginevra's cheek
burn with indignation at the small insolences of her fellow-pupils.
At first she attempted to make them understand something of what
Donal really was, but finding them unworthy of the confidence, was
driven to betake herself to such a silence as put a stop to their
offensive remarks in her presence.
"I thank ye, mem," said Donal, as he took the chair; "ye're verra
condescendin'." Then turning to Ginevra, and trying to cross one
knee over the other, but failing from the tightness of certain
garments, which, like David with Saul's not similarly faulty armour,
he had not hitherto proved, "Weel, mem," he said, "ye haena
forgotten Hornie, I houp."
The other girls must be pardoned for tittering, offensive as is the
habit so common to their class, for the only being they knew by that
name was one to whom the merest reference sets pit and gallery in a
roar. Miss Kimble was shocked -- disgusted, she said afterwards;
and until she learned that the clown was there uninvited, cherished
a grudge against Mrs. Sclater.
Ginevra smiled him a satisfactory negative.
"I never read the ballant aboot the worm lingelt roun' the tree,"
said Donal, making rather a long link in the chain of association,
"ohn thoucht upo' that day, mem, whan first ye cam doon the brae wi'
my sister Nicie, an' I cam ower the burn till ye, an' ye garred me
lauch aboot weetin' o' my feet! Eh, mem! wi' you afore me there, I
see the blew lift again, an' the gerse jist lowin' (flaming) green,
an' the nowt at their busiest, the win' asleep, an' the burn sayin',
'Ye need nane o' ye speyk: I'm here, an' it's my business.' Eh,
mem! whan I think upo' 't a', it seems to me 'at the human hert
closed i' the mids o' sic a coffer o' cunnin' workmanship, maun be a
terrible precious-like thing."
Gibbie, behind Donal's chair, seemed pulsing light at every pore,
but the rest of the company, understanding his words perfectly, yet
not comprehending a single sentence he uttered, began to wonder
whether he was out of his mind, and were perplexed to see Ginevra
listening to him with such respect. They saw a human offence where
she knew a poet. A word is a word, but its interpretations are
many, and the understanding of a man's words depends both on what
the hearer is, and on what is his idea of the speaker. As to the
pure all things are pure, because only purity can enter, so to the
vulgar all things are vulgar, because only the vulgar can enter.
Wherein then is the commonplace man to be blamed, for as he is, so
must he think? In this, that he consents to be commonplace, willing
to live after his own idea of himself, and not after God's idea of
him -- the real idea, which, every now and then stirring in him, makes
him uneasy with silent rebuke.
Ginevra said little in reply. She had not much to say. In her
world the streams were still, not vocal. But Donal meant to hold a
little communication with her which none of them, except indeed
Gibbie -- he did not mind Gibbie -- should understand.
"I hed sic a queer dream the ither nicht, mem," he said, "an' I'll
jist tell ye't. -- I thoucht I was doon in an awfu' kin' o' a weet
bog, wi' dry graivelly-like hills a' aboot it, an' naething upo'
them but a wheen short hunger-like gerse. An' oot o' the mids o'
the bog there grew jist ae tree -- a saugh, I think it was, but unco
auld -- 'maist past kennin' wi' age; -- an' roun' the rouch gnerlet
trunk o' 't was twistit three faulds o' the oogliest, ill-fauredest
cratur o' a serpent 'at ever was seen. It was jist laithly to luik
upo'. I cud describe it till ye, mem, but it wad only gar ye runkle
yer bonny broo, an' luik as I wadna hae ye luik, mem, 'cause ye
wadna luik freely sae bonny as ye div noo whan ye luik jist yersel'.
But ae queer thing was, 'at atween hit an' the tree it grippit a
buik, an' I kent it for the buik o' ballants. An' I gaed nearer,
luikin' an' luikin', an' some frichtit. But I wadna stan' for that,
for that wad be to be caitiff vile, an' no true man: I gaed nearer
an' nearer, till I had gotten within a yaird o' the tree, whan a' at
ance, wi' a swing an' a swirl, I was three-fauld aboot the tree, an'
the laithly worm was me mesel'; an' I was the laithly worm. The
verra hert gaed frae me for hoarible dreid, an' scunner at mysel'!
Sae there I was! But I wasna lang there i' my meesery, afore I
saw, oot o' my ain serpent e'en, maist blin't wi' greitin', ower the
tap o' the brae afore me, 'atween me an' the lift, as gien it reacht
up to the verra stars, for it wasna day but nicht by this time aboot
me, as weel it micht be, -- I saw the bonny sicht come up o' a knicht
in airmour, helmet an' shield an' iron sheen an' a'; but somehoo I
kent by the gang an' the stan' an' the sway o' the bonny boady o'
the knicht, 'at it was nae man, but a wuman. -- Ye see, mem, sin I cam
frae Daurside, I hae been able to get a grip o' buiks 'at I cudna
get up there; an' I hed been readin' Spenser's Fairy Queen the nicht
afore, a' yon aboot the lady 'at pat on the airmour o' a man, an'
foucht like a guid ane for the richt an' the trowth -- an' that hed
putten 't i' my heid maybe; only whan I saw her, I kent her, an' her
name wasna Britomart. She had a twistit brainch o' blew berries
aboot her helmet, an' they ca'd her Juniper: wasna that queer, noo?
An' she cam doon the hill wi' bonny big strides, no ower big for a
stately wuman, but eh, sae different frae the nipperty mincin'
stippety-stap o' the leddies ye see upo' the streets here! An' sae
she cam doon the brae. An' I soucht sair to cry oot -- first o' a' to
tell her gien she didna luik till her feet, she wad he lairt i' the
bog, an' syne to beg o' her for mercy's sake to draw her swoord, an'
caw the oogly heid aff o' me, an' lat me dee. Noo I maun confess
'at the ballant o' Kemp Owen was rinnin' i' the worm-heid o' me, an'
I cudna help thinkin' what, notwithstan'in' the cheenge o' han's i'
the story, lay still to the pairt o' the knicht; but hoo was ony
man, no to say a mere ugsome serpent, to mint at sic a thing till a
leddy, whether she was in steel beets an' spurs or in lang train an'
silver slippers? An' haith! I sune fan' 'at I cudna hae spoken the
word, gien I had daured ever sae stoot. For whan I opened my moo'
to cry till her, I cud dee naething but shot oot a forkit tongue,
an' cry sss. Mem, it was dreidfu'! Sae I had jist to tak in my
tongue again, an' say naething, for fear o' fleggin' awa' my bonny
leddy i' the steel claes. An' she cam an' cam, doon an' doon, an'
on to the bog; an' for a' the weicht o' her airmour she sankna a fit
intill 't. An' she cam, an' she stude, an' she luikit at me; an' I
hed seen her afore, an' kenned her weel. An' she luikit at me, an'
aye luikit; an' I winna say what was i' the puir worm's hert. But
at the last she gae a gret sich, an' a sab, like, an' stude jist as
gien she was tryin' sair, but could not mak up her bonny min' to yon
'at was i' the ballant. An' eh! hoo I grippit the buik atween me
an' the tree -- for there it was -- a' as I saw 't afore! An' sae at
last she gae a kin' o' a cry, an' turnt an' gaed awa', wi' her heid
hingin' doon, an' her swoord trailin', an' never turnt to luik ahint
her, but up the brae, an' ower the tap o' the hill, an' doon an'
awa'; an' the brainch wi' the blew berries was the last I saw o' her
gaein' doon like the meen ahint the hill. An' jist wi' the fell
greitin' I cam to mysel', an' my hert was gaein' like a pump 'at wad
fain pit oot a fire. -- Noo wasna that a queer-like dream? -- I'll no
say, mem, but I hae curriet an' kaimbt it up a wee, to gar't tell
Ginevra had from the first been absorbed in listening, and her brown
eyes seemed to keep growing larger and larger as he went on. Even
the girls listened and were silent, looking as if they saw a
peacock's feather in a turkey's tail. When he ended, the tears
rushed from Ginevra's eyes -- for bare sympathy -- she had no perception
of personal intent in the parable; it was long before she saw into
the name of the lady-knight, for she had never been told the English
of Ginevra; she was the simplest, sweetest of girls, and too young
to suspect anything in the heart of a man.
"O Donal!" she said, "I am very sorry for the poor worm; but it was
naughty of you to dream such a dream."
"Hoo's that, mem?" returned Donal, a little frightened.
"It was not fair of you," she replied, "to dream a knight of a lady,
and then dream her doing such an unknightly thing. I am sure if
ladies went out in that way, they would do quite as well, on the
whole, as gentlemen."
"I mak nae doobt o' 't, mem: h'aven forbid!" cried Donal; "but ye
see dreams is sic senseless things 'at they winna be helpit; -- an'
that was hoo I dreemt it."
"Well, well, Donal!" broke in the harsh pompous voice of Mr.
Sclater, who, unknown to the poet, had been standing behind him
almost the whole time, "you have given the ladies quite enough of
your romancing. That sort of thing, you know, my man, may do very
well round the fire in the farm kitchen, but it's not the sort of
thing for a drawing-room. Besides, the ladies don't understand your
word of mouth; they don't understand such broad Scotch. -- Come with
me, and I'll show you something you would like to see."
He thought Donal was boring his guests, and at the same time
preventing Gibbie from having the pleasure in their society for the
sake of which they had been invited.
Donal rose, replying,
"Think ye sae, sir? I thoucht I was in auld Scotlan' still -- here as
weel's upo' Glashgar. But may be my jography buik's some
auld-fashioned. -- Didna ye un'erstan' me, mem?" he added, turning to
"Every word, Donal," she answered.
Donal followed his host contented.
Gibbie took his place, and began to teach Ginevra the finger
alphabet. The other girls found him far more amusing than
Donal -- first of all because he could not speak, which was much less
objectionable than speaking like Donal -- and funny too, though not so
funny as Donal's clothes. And then he had such a romantic history!
and was a baronet!
In a few minutes Ginevra knew the letters, and presently she and
Gibbie were having a little continuous talk together, a thing they
had never had before. It was so slow, however, as to be rather
tiring. It was mainly about Donal. But Mrs. Sclater opened the
piano, and made a diversion. She played something brilliant, and
then sang an Italian song in strillaceous style, revealing to
Donal's clownish ignorance a thorough mastery of caterwauling. Then
she asked Miss Kimble to play something, who declined, without
mentioning that she had neither voice nor ear nor love of music, but
said Miss Galbraith should sing -- "for once in a way, as a
treat. -- That little Scotch song you sing now and then, my dear," she
Ginevra rose timidly, but without hesitation, and going to the
piano, sang, to a simple old Scotch air, to which they had been
written, the following verses. Before she ended, the minister, the
late herd-boy, and the dumb baronet were grouped crescent-wise
behind the music-stool.
I dinna ken what's come ower me!
There's a how whaur ance was a hert; (hollow)
I never luik oot afore me,
An' a cry winna gar me stert;
There's naething nae mair to come ower me,
Blaw the win' frae ony airt. (quarter)
For i' yon kirkyaird there's a hillock,
A hert whaur ance was a how;
An' o' joy there's no left a mealock -- (crumb)
Deid aiss whaur ance was a low; (ashes)(flame)
For i' you kirkyaird, i' the hillock,
Lies a seed 'at winna grow.
It's my hert 'at hauds up the wee hillie --
That's hoo there's a how i' my breist;
It's awa' doon there wi' my Willie,
Gaed wi' him whan he was releast;
It's doon i' the green-grown hillie,
But I s' be efter it neist.
Come awa', nichts and mornin's,
Come ooks, years, a' time's clan;
Ye're walcome ayont a' scornin':
Tak me till him as fest as ye can.
Come awa', nichts an' mornin's,
Ye are wings o' a michty span!
For I ken he's luikin' an' waitin',
Luikin' aye doon as I clim':
Wad I hae him see me sit greitin',
I'stead o' gaein' to him?
I'll step oot like ane sure o' a meetin',
I'll traivel an' rin to him.
Three of them knew that the verses were Donal's. If the poet went
home feeling more like a fellow in blue coat and fustian trowsers,
or a winged genius of the tomb, I leave my reader to judge. Anyhow,
he felt he had had enough for one evening, and was able to encounter
his work again. Perhaps also, when supper was announced, he
reflected that his reception had hardly been such as to justify him
in partaking of their food, and that his mother's hospitality to Mr.
Sclater had not been in expectation of return. As they went down
the stair, he came last and alone, behind the two whispering
school-girls; and when they passed on into the dining-room, he spilt
out of the house, and ran home to the furniture-shop and his books.
When the ladies took their leave, Gibbie walked with them. And now
at last he learned where to find Ginevra.
A LESSON OF WISDOM.
In obedience to the suggestion of his wife, Mr. Sclater did what he
could to show Sir Gilbert how mistaken he was in imagining he could
fit his actions to the words of our Lord. Shocked as even he would
probably have been at such a characterization of his attempt, it
amounted practically to this: Do not waste your powers in the
endeavour to keep the commandments of our Lord, for it cannot be
done, and he knew it could not be done, and never meant it should be
done. He pointed out to him, not altogether unfairly, the
difficulties, and the causes of mistake, with regard to his words;
but said nothing to reveal the spirit and the life of them. Showing
more of them to be figures than at first appeared, he made out the
meanings of them to be less, not more than the figures, his pictures
to be greater than their subjects, his parables larger and more
lovely than the truths they represented. In the whole of his
lecture, through which ran from beginning to end a tone of reproof,
there was not one flash of enthusiasm for our Lord, not a sign that,
to his so-called minister, he was a refuge, or a delight -- that he
who is the joy of his Father's heart, the essential bliss of the
universe, was anything to the soul of his creature, who besides had
taken upon him to preach his good news, more than a name to call
himself by -- that the story of the Son of God was to him anything
better than the soap and water wherewith to blow theological bubbles
with the tobacco-pipe of his speculative understanding. The
tendency of it was simply to the quelling of all true effort after
the knowing of him through obedience, the quenching of all devotion
to the central good. Doubtless Gibbie, as well as many a wiser man,
might now and then make a mistake in the embodiment of his
obedience, but even where the action misses the command, it may yet
be obedience to him who gave the command, and by obeying one learns
how to obey. I hardly know, however, where Gibbie blundered, except
it was in failing to recognize the animals before whom he ought not
to cast his pearls -- in taking it for granted that, because his
guardian was a minister, and his wife a minister's wife, they must
therefore be the disciples of the Jewish carpenter, the eternal Son
of the Father of us all. Had he had more of the wisdom of the
serpent, he would not have carried them the New Testament as an
ending of strife, the words of the Lord as an enlightening law; he
would perhaps have known that to try too hard to make people good,
is one way to make them worse; that the only way to make them good
is to be good -- remembering well the beam and the mote; that the time
for speaking comes rarely, the time for being never departs.
But in talking thus to Gibbie, the minister but rippled the air:
Gibbie was all the time pondering with himself where he had met the
same kind of thing, the same sort of person before. Nothing he said
had the slightest effect upon him. He was too familiar with truth
to take the yeasty bunghole of a working barrel for a fountain of
its waters. The unseen Lord and his reported words were to Gibbie
realities, compared with which the very visible Mr. Sclater and his
assured utterance were as the merest seemings of a phantom mood. He
had never resolved to keep the words of the Lord: he just kept them;
but he knew amongst the rest the Lord's words about the keeping of
his words, and about being ashamed of him before men, and it was
with a pitiful indignation he heard the minister's wisdom drivel
past his ears. What he would have said, and withheld himself from
saying, had he been able to speak, I cannot tell; I only know that
in such circumstances the less said the better, for what can be more
unprofitable than a discussion where but one of the disputants
understands the question, and the other has all the knowledge? It
would have been the eloquence of the wise and the prudent against
the perfected praise of the suckling.
The effect of it all upon Gibbie was to send him to his room to his
prayers, more eager than ever to keep the commandments of him who
had said, If ye love me. Comforted then and strengthened, he came
down to go to Donal -- not to tell him, for to none but Janet could he
have made such a communication. But in the middle of his descent he
remembered suddenly of what and whom Mr. Sclater had all along been
reminding him, and turned aside to Mrs. Sclater to ask her to lend
him the Pilgrim's Progress. This, as a matter almost of course, was
one of the few books in the cottage on Glashgar -- a book beloved of
Janet's soul -- and he had read it again and again. Mrs. Sclater told
him where in her room to find a copy, and presently he had satisfied
himself that it was indeed Mr. Worldly Wiseman whom his imagination
had, in cloudy fashion, been placing side by side with the talking
Finding his return delayed, Mrs. Sclater went after him, fearing he
might be indulging his curiosity amongst her personal possessions.
Peeping in, she saw him seated on the floor beside her little
bookcase, lost in reading: she stole behind, and found that what so
absorbed him was the conversation between Christian and Worldly -- I
beg his pardon, he is nothing without his Mr. -- between Christian and
Mr. Worldly Wiseman.
In the evening, when her husband was telling her what he had said to
"the young Pharisee" in the morning, the picture of Gibbie on the
floor, with the Pilgrim's Progress and Mr. Worldly Wiseman, flashed
back on her mind, and she told him the thing. It stung him, not
that Gibbie should perhaps have so paralleled him, but that his wife
should so interpret Gibbie. To her, however, he said nothing. Had
he been a better man, he would have been convinced by the lesson; as
it was, he was only convicted, and instead of repenting was offended
grievously. For several days he kept expecting the religious gadfly
to come buzzing about him with his sting, that is, his forefinger,
stuck in the Pilgrim's Progress, and had a swashing blow ready for
him; but Gibbie was beginning to learn a lesson or two, and if he
was not yet so wise as some serpents, he had always been more
harmless than some doves.
That he had gained nothing for the world was pretty evident to the
minister the following Sunday -- from the lofty watchtower of the
pulpit where he sat throned, while the first psalm was being sung.
His own pew was near one of the side doors, and at that door some
who were late kept coming in. Amongst them were a stranger or two,
who were at once shown to seats. Before the psalm ended, an old man
came in and stood by the door -- a poor man in mean garments, with the
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