Part 5 out of 13
'I dinna ken.'
'Where did he die?'
'I dinna ken.'
'Do you remember it?'
'Well, if you will come to my room, you shall practise there. I
shall be down-stairs with my aunt. But perhaps I may look up now
and then, to see how you are getting on. I will leave the door
unlocked, so that you can come in when you like. If I don't want
you, I will lock the door. You understand? You mustn't be handling
things, you know.'
''Deed, mem, ye may lippen (trust) to me. But I'm jist feared to
lat ye hear me lay a finger upo' the piana, for it's little I cud do
wi' my fiddle, an', for the piana! I'm feart I'll jist scunner
'If you really want to learn, there will be no fear of that,'
returned Miss St. John, guessing at the meaning of the word scunner.
'I don't think I am doing anything wrong,' she added, half to
herself, in a somewhat doubtful tone.
''Deed no, mem. Ye're jist an angel unawares. For I maist think
sometimes that my grannie 'll drive me wud (mad); for there's
naething to read but guid buiks, an' naething to sing but psalms;
an' there's nae fun aboot the hoose but Betty; an' puir Shargar's
nearhan' dementit wi' 't. An' we maun pray till her whether we will
or no. An' there's no comfort i' the place but plenty to ate; an'
that canna be guid for onybody. She likes flooers, though, an' wad
like me to gar them grow; but I dinna care aboot it: they tak sic a
time afore they come to onything.'
Then Miss St. John inquired about Shargar, and began to feel rather
differently towards the old lady when she had heard the story. But
how she laughed at the tale, and how light-hearted Robert went home,
are neither to be told.
The next Sunday, the first time for many years, Dooble Sanny was at
church with his wife, though how much good he got by going would be
a serious question to discuss.
THE GATES OF PARADISE.
Robert had his first lesson the next Saturday afternoon. Eager and
undismayed by the presence of Mrs, Forsyth, good-natured and
contemptuous--for had he not a protecting angel by him?--he
hearkened for every word of Miss St. John, combated every fault, and
undermined every awkwardness with earnest patience. Nothing
delighted Robert so much as to give himself up to one greater. His
mistress was thoroughly pleased, and even Mrs. Forsyth gave him two
of her soft finger tips to do something or other with--Robert did
not know what, and let them go.
About eight o'clock that same evening, his heart beating like a
captured bird's, he crept from grannie's parlour, past the kitchen,
and up the low stair to the mysterious door. He had been trying for
an hour to summon up courage to rise, feeling as if his grandmother
must suspect where he was going. Arrived at the barrier, twice his
courage failed him; twice he turned and sped back to the parlour. A
third time he made the essay, a third time stood at the wondrous
door--so long as blank as a wall to his careless eyes, now like the
door of the magic Sesame that led to the treasure-cave of Ali Baba.
He laid his hand on the knob, withdrew it, thought he heard some one
in the transe, rushed up the garret stair, and stood listening,
hastened down, and with a sudden influx of determination opened the
door, saw that the trap was raised, closed the door behind him, and
standing with his head on the level of the floor, gazed into the
paradise of Miss St. John's room. To have one peep into such a room
was a kind of salvation to the half-starved nature of the boy. All
before him was elegance, richness, mystery. Womanhood radiated from
everything. A fire blazed in the chimney. A rug of long white wool
lay before it. A little way off stood the piano. Ornaments
sparkled and shone upon the dressing-table. The door of a wardrobe
had swung a little open, and discovered the sombre shimmer of a
black silk dress. Something gorgeously red, a China crape shawl,
hung glowing beyond it. He dared not gaze any longer. He had
already been guilty of an immodesty. He hastened to ascend, and
seated himself at the piano.
Let my reader aid me for a moment with his imagination--reflecting
what it was to a boy like Robert, and in Robert's misery, to open a
door in his own meagre dwelling and gaze into such a room--free to
him. If he will aid me so, then let him aid himself by thinking
that the house of his own soul has such a door into the infinite
beauty, whether he has yet found it or not.
'Just think,' Robert said to himself, 'o' me in sic a place! It's a
pailace. It's a fairy pailace. And that angel o' a leddy bides
here, and sleeps there! I wonner gin she ever dreams aboot onything
as bonny 's hersel'!'
Then his thoughts took another turn.
'I wonner gin the room was onything like this whan my mamma sleepit
in 't? I cudna hae been born in sic a gran' place. But my mamma
micht hae weel lien here.'
The face of the miniature, and the sad words written below the hymn,
came back upon him, and he bowed his head upon his hands. He was
sitting thus when Miss St. John came behind him, and heard him
murmur the one word Mamma! She laid her hand on his shoulder. He
started and rose.
'I beg yer pardon, mem. I hae no business to be here, excep' to
play. But I cudna help thinkin' aboot my mother; for I was born in
this room, mem. Will I gang awa' again?'
He turned towards the door.
'No, no,' said Miss St. John. 'I only came to see if you were here.
I cannot stop now; but to-morrow you must tell me about your
mother. Sit down, and don't lose any more time. Your grandmother
will miss you. And then what would come of it?'
Thus was this rough diamond of a Scotch boy, rude in speech, but
full of delicate thought, gathered under the modelling influences of
the finished, refined, tender, sweet-tongued, and sweet-thoughted
Englishwoman, who, if she had been less of a woman, would have been
repelled by his uncouthness; if she had been less of a lady, would
have mistaken his commonness for vulgarity. But she was just, like
the type of womankind, a virgin-mother. She saw the nobility of his
nature through its homely garments, and had been, indeed, sent to
carry on the work from which his mother had been too early taken
'There's jist ae thing mem, that vexes me a wee, an' I dinna ken
what to think aboot it,' said Robert, as Miss St. John was leaving
the room. 'Maybe ye cud bide ae minute till I tell ye.'
'Yes, I can. What is it?'
'I'm nearhan' sure that whan I lea' the parlour, grannie 'ill think
I'm awa' to my prayers; and sae she'll think better o' me nor I
deserve. An' I canna bide that.'
'What should make you suppose that she will think so?'
'Fowk kens what ane anither's aboot, ye ken, mem.'
'Then she'll know you are not at your prayers.'
'Na. For sometimes I div gang to my prayers for a whilie like, but
nae for lang, for I'm nae like ane o' them 'at he wad care to hear
sayin' a lang screed o' a prayer till 'im. I hae but ae thing to
'And what's that, Robert?'
One of his silences had seized him. He looked confused, and turned
'Never mind,' said Miss St. John, anxious to relieve him, and
establish a comfortable relation between them; 'you will tell me
'I doobt no, mem,' answered Robert, with what most people would
think an excess of honesty.
But Miss St. John made a better conjecture as to his apparent
'At all events,' she said, 'don't mind what your grannie may think,
so long as you have no wish to make her think it. Good-night.'
Had she been indeed an angel from heaven, Robert could not have
worshipped her more. And why should he? Was she less God's
messenger that she had beautiful arms instead of less beautiful
He practised his scales till his unaccustomed fingers were stiff,
then shut the piano with reverence, and departed, carefully peeping
into the disenchanted region without the gates to see that no enemy
lay in wait for him as he passed beyond them. He closed the door
gently; and in one moment the rich lovely room and the beautiful
lady were behind him, and before him the bare stair between two
white-washed walls, and the long flagged transe that led to his
silent grandmother seated in her arm-chair, gazing into the red
coals--for somehow grannie's fire always glowed, and never
blazed--with her round-toed shoes pointed at them from the top of
her little wooden stool. He traversed the stair and the transe,
entered the parlour, and sat down to his open book as though nothing
had happened. But his grandmother saw the light in his face, and
did think he had just come from his prayers. And she blessed God
that he had put it into her heart to burn the fiddle.
The next night Robert took with him the miniature of his mother, and
showed it to Miss St. John, who saw at once that, whatever might be
his present surroundings, his mother must have been a lady. A
certain fancied resemblance in it to her own mother likewise drew
her heart to the boy. Then Robert took from his pocket the gold
thimble, and said,
'This thimmel was my mamma's. Will ye tak it, mem, for ye ken it's
o' nae use to me.'
Miss St. John hesitated for a moment.
'I will keep it for you, if you like,' she said, for she could not
bear to refuse it.
'Na, mem; I want ye to keep it to yersel'; for I'm sure my mamma wad
hae likit you to hae 't better nor ony ither body.'
'Well, I will use it sometimes for your sake. But mind, I will not
take it from you; I will only keep it for you.'
'Weel, weel, mem; gin ye'll keep it till I speir for 't, that'll du
weel eneuch,' answered Robert, with a smile.
He laboured diligently; and his progress corresponded to his labour.
It was more than intellect that guided him: Falconer had genius for
whatever he cared for.
Meantime the love he bore his teacher, and the influence of her
beauty, began to mould him, in his kind and degree, after her
likeness, so that he grew nice in his person and dress, and smoothed
the roughness and moderated the broadness of his speech with the
amenities of the English which she made so sweet upon her tongue.
He became still more obedient to his grandmother, and more diligent
at school; gathered to himself golden opinions without knowing it,
and was gradually developing into a rustic gentleman.
Nor did the piano absorb all his faculties. Every divine influence
tends to the rounded perfection of the whole. His love of Nature
grew more rapidly. Hitherto it was only in summer that he had felt
the presence of a power in her and yet above her: in winter, now,
the sky was true and deep, though the world was waste and sad; and
the tones of the wind that roared at night about the goddess-haunted
house, and moaned in the chimneys of the lowly dwelling that nestled
against it, woke harmonies within him which already he tried to
spell out falteringly. Miss St. John began to find that he put
expressions of his own into the simple things she gave him to play,
and even dreamed a little at his own will when alone with the
passive instrument. Little did Mrs. Falconer think into what a
seventh heaven of accursed music she had driven her boy.
But not yet did he tell his friend, much as he loved and much as he
trusted her, the little he knew of his mother's sorrows and his
father's sins, or whose the hand that had struck him when she found
him lying in the waste factory.
For a time almost all his trouble about God went from him. Nor do I
think that this was only because he rarely thought of him at all:
God gave him of himself in Miss St. John. But words dropped now and
then from off the shelves where his old difficulties lay, and they
fell like seeds upon the heart of Miss St. John, took root, and rose
in thoughts: in the heart of a true woman the talk of a child even
will take life.
One evening Robert rose from the table, not unwatched of his
grandmother, and sped swiftly and silently through the dark, as was
his custom, to enter the chamber of enchantment. Never before had
his hand failed to alight, sure as a lark on its nest, upon the
brass handle of the door that admitted him to his paradise. It
missed it now, and fell on something damp, and rough, and repellent
instead. Horrible, but true suspicion! While he was at school that
day, his grandmother, moved by what doubt or by what certainty she
never revealed, had had the doorway walled up. He felt the place
all over. It was to his hands the living tomb of his mother's vicar
He returned to his book, pale as death, but said never a word. The
next day the stones were plastered over.
Thus the door of bliss vanished from the earth. And neither the boy
nor his grandmother ever said that it had been.
PART II.--HIS YOUTH.
ROBERT KNOCKS--AND THE DOOR IS NOT OPENED.
The remainder of that winter was dreary indeed. Every time Robert
went up the stair to his garret, he passed the door of a tomb. With
that gray mortar Mary St. John was walled up, like the nun he had
read of in the Marmion she had lent him. He might have rung the
bell at the street door, and been admitted into the temple of his
goddess, but a certain vague terror of his grannie, combined with
equally vague qualms of conscience for having deceived her, and the
approach in the far distance of a ghastly suspicion that violins,
pianos, moonlight, and lovely women were distasteful to the
over-ruling Fate, and obnoxious to the vengeance stored in the gray
cloud of his providence, drove him from the awful entrance of the
temple of his Isis.
Nor did Miss St. John dare to make any advances to the dreadful old
lady. She would wait. For Mrs. Forsyth, she cared nothing about
the whole affair. It only gave her fresh opportunity for smiling
condescensions about 'poor Mrs. Falconer.' So Paradise was over and
But though the loss of Miss St. John and the piano was the last
blow, his sorrow did not rest there, but returned to brood over his
bonny lady. She was scattered to the winds. Would any of her ashes
ever rise in the corn, and moan in the ripening wind of autumn?
Might not some atoms of the bonny leddy creep into the pines on the
hill, whose 'soft and soul-like sounds' had taught him to play the
Flowers of the Forest on those strings which, like the nerves of an
amputated limb, yet thrilled through his being? Or might not some
particle find its way by winds and waters to sycamore forest of
Italy, there creep up through the channels of its life to some
finely-rounded curve of noble tree, on the side that ever looks
sunwards, and be chosen once again by the violin-hunter, to be
wrought into a new and fame-gathering instrument?
Could it be that his bonny lady had learned her wondrous music in
those forests, from the shine of the sun, and the sighing of the
winds through the sycamores and pines? For Robert knew that the
broad-leaved sycamore, and the sharp, needle-leaved pine, had each
its share in the violin. Only as the wild innocence of human
nature, uncorrupted by wrong, untaught by suffering, is to that
nature struggling out of darkness into light, such and so different
is the living wood, with its sweetest tones of obedient impulse,
answering only to the wind which bloweth where it listeth, to that
wood, chosen, separated, individualized, tortured into strange,
almost vital shape, after a law to us nearly unknown, strung with
strings from animal organizations, and put into the hands of man to
utter the feelings of a soul that has passed through a like history.
This Robert could not yet think, and had to grow able to think it
by being himself made an instrument of God's music.
What he could think was that the glorious mystery of his bonny leddy
was gone for ever--and alas! she had no soul. Here was an eternal
sorrow. He could never meet her again. His affections, which must
live for ever, were set upon that which had passed away. But the
child that weeps because his mutilated doll will not rise from the
dead, shall yet find relief from his sorrow, a true relief, both
human and divine. He shall know that that which in the doll made
him love the doll, has not passed away. And Robert must yet be
comforted for the loss of his bonny leddy. If she had had a soul,
nothing but her own self could ever satisfy him. As she had no
soul, another body might take her place, nor occasion reproach of
But, in the meantime, the shears of Fate having cut the string of
the sky-soaring kite of his imagination, had left him with the stick
in his hand. And thus the rest of that winter was dreary enough.
The glow was out of his heart; the glow was out of the world. The
bleak, kindless wind was hissing through those pines that clothed
the hill above Bodyfauld, and over the dead garden, where in the
summer time the rose had looked down so lovingly on the heartsease.
If he had stood once more at gloaming in that barley-stubble, not
even the wail of Flodden-field would have found him there, but a
keen sense of personal misery and hopeless cold. Was the summer a
Not so. The winter restrains, that the summer may have the needful
time to do its work well; for the winter is but the sleep of summer.
Now in the winter of his discontent, and in Nature finding no help,
Robert was driven inwards--into his garret, into his soul. There,
the door of his paradise being walled up, he began, vaguely,
blindly, to knock against other doors--sometimes against stone-walls
and rocks, taking them for doors--as travel-worn, and hence
brain-sick men have done in a desert of mountains. A door, out or
in, he must find, or perish.
It fell, too, that Miss St. John went to visit some friends who
lived in a coast town twenty miles off; and a season of heavy snow
followed by frost setting in, she was absent for six weeks, during
which time, without a single care to trouble him from without,
Robert was in the very desert of desolation. His spirits sank
fearfully. He would pass his old music-master in the street with
scarce a recognition, as if the bond of their relation had been
utterly broken, had vanished in the smoke of the martyred violin,
and all their affection had gone into the dust-heap of the past.
Dooble Sanny's character did not improve. He took more and more
whisky, his bouts of drinking alternating as before with fits of
hopeless repentance. His work was more neglected than ever, and his
wife having no money to spend even upon necessaries, applied in
desperation to her husband's bottle for comfort. This comfort, to
do him justice, he never grudged her; and sometimes before midday
they would both be drunk--a condition expedited by the lack of food.
When they began to recover, they would quarrel fiercely; and at
last they became a nuisance to the whole street. Little did the
whisky-hating old lady know to what god she had really offered up
that violin--if the consequences of the holocaust can be admitted as
indicating the power which had accepted it.
But now began to appear in Robert the first signs of a practical
outcome of such truth as his grandmother had taught him, operating
upon the necessities of a simple and earnest nature. Reality,
however lapt in vanity, or even in falsehood, cannot lose its power.
It is--the other is not. She had taught him to look up--that there
was a God. He would put it to the test. Not that he doubted it yet:
he only doubted whether there was a hearing God. But was not that
worse? It was, I think. For it is of far more consequence what
kind of a God, than whether a God or no. Let not my reader suppose
I think it possible there could be other than a perfect
God--perfect--even to the vision of his creatures, the faith that
supplies the lack of vision being yet faithful to that vision. I
speak from Robert's point of outlook. But, indeed, whether better
or worse is no great matter, so long as he would see it or what
there was. He had no comfort, and, without reasoning about it, he
felt that life ought to have comfort--from which point he began to
conclude that the only thing left was to try whether the God in whom
his grandmother believed might not help him. If the God would but
hear him, it was all he had yet learned to require of his Godhood.
And that must ever be the first thing to require. More demands
would come, and greater answers he would find. But now--if God
would but hear him! If he spoke to him but one kind word, it would
be the very soul of comfort; he could no more be lonely. A fountain
of glad imaginations gushed up in his heart at the thought. What
if, from the cold winter of his life, he had but to open the door of
his garret-room, and, kneeling by the bare bedstead, enter into the
summer of God's presence! What if God spoke to him face to face!
He had so spoken to Moses. He sought him from no fear of the
future, but from present desolation; and if God came near to him, it
would not be with storm and tempest, but with the voice of a friend.
And surely, if there was a God at all, that is, not a power greater
than man, but a power by whose power man was, he must hear the voice
of the creature whom he had made, a voice that came crying out of
the very need which he had created. Younger people than Robert are
capable of such divine metaphysics. Hence he continued to disappear
from his grandmother's parlour at much the same hour as before. In
the cold, desolate garret, he knelt and cried out into that which
lay beyond the thought that cried, the unknowable infinite, after
the God that may be known as surely as a little child knows his
mysterious mother. And from behind him, the pale-blue, star-crowded
sky shone upon his head, through the window that looked upwards
Mrs. Falconer saw that he still went away as he had been wont, and
instituted observations, the result of which was the knowledge that
he went to his own room. Her heart smote her, and she saw that the
boy looked sad and troubled. There was scarce room in her heart for
increase of love, but much for increase of kindness, and she did
increase it. In truth, he needed the smallest crumb of comfort that
might drop from the table of God's 'feastful friends.'
Night after night he returned to the parlour cold to the very heart.
God was not to be found, he said then. He said afterwards that
even then 'God was with him though he knew it not.'
For the very first night, the moment that he knelt and cried, 'O
Father in heaven, hear me, and let thy face shine upon me'--like a
flash of burning fire the words shot from the door of his heart: 'I
dinna care for him to love me, gin he doesna love ilka body;' and no
more prayer went from the desolate boy that night, although he knelt
an hour of agony in the freezing dark. Loyal to what he had been
taught, he struggled hard to reduce his rebellious will to what he
supposed to be the will of God. It was all in vain. Ever a voice
within him--surely the voice of that God who he thought was not
hearing--told him that what he wanted was the love belonging to his
human nature, his human needs--not the preference of a
court-favourite. He had a dim consciousness that he would be a
traitor to his race if he accepted a love, even from God, given him
as an exception from his kind. But he did not care to have such a
love. It was not what his heart yearned for. It was not love. He
could not love such a love. Yet he strove against it all--fought
for religion against right as he could; struggled to reduce his
rebellious feelings, to love that which was unlovely, to choose that
which was abhorrent, until nature almost gave way under the effort.
Often would he sink moaning on the floor, or stretch himself like a
corpse, save that it was face downwards, on the boards of the
bedstead. Night after night he returned to the battle, but with no
permanent success. What a success that would have been! Night
after night he came pale and worn from the conflict, found his
grandmother and Shargar composed, and in the quietness of despair
sat down beside them to his Latin version.
He little thought, that every night, at the moment when he stirred
to leave the upper room, a pale-faced, red-eyed figure rose from its
seat on the top of the stair by the door, and sped with long-legged
noiselessness to resume its seat by the grandmother before he should
enter. Shargar saw that Robert was unhappy, and the nearest he
could come to the sharing of his unhappiness was to take his place
outside the door within which he had retreated. Little, too, did
Shargar, on his part, think that Robert, without knowing it, was
pleading for him inside--pleading for him and for all his race in
the weeping that would not be comforted.
Robert had not the vaguest fancy that God was with him--the spirit
of the Father groaning with the spirit of the boy in intercession
that could not be uttered. If God had come to him then and
comforted him with the assurance of individual favour--but the very
supposition is a taking of his name in vain--had Robert found
comfort in the fancied assurance that God was his friend in
especial, that some private favour was granted to his prayers, that,
indeed, would have been to be left to his own inventions, to bring
forth not fruits meet for repentance, but fruits for which
repentance alone is meet. But God was with him, and was indeed
victorious in the boy when he rose from his knees, for the last
time, as he thought, saying, 'I cannot yield--I will pray no
more.'--With a burst of bitter tears he sat down on the bedside till
the loudest of the storm was over, then dried his dull eyes, in
which the old outlook had withered away, and trod unknowingly in the
silent footsteps of Shargar, who was ever one corner in advance of
him, down to the dreary lessons and unheeded prayers; but, thank
God, not to the sleepless night, for some griefs bring sleep the
My reader must not mistake my use of the words especial and private,
or suppose that I do not believe in an individual relation between
every man and God, yes, a peculiar relation, differing from the
relation between every other man and God! But this very
individuality and peculiarity can only be founded on the broadest
truths of the Godhood and the manhood.
Mrs. Falconer, ere she went to sleep, gave thanks that the boys had
been at their prayers together. And so, in a very deep sense, they
And well they might have been; for Shargar was nearly as desolate as
Robert, and would certainly, had his mother claimed him now, have
gone on the tramp with her again. Wherein could this civilized life
show itself to him better than that to which he had been born? For
clothing he cared little, and he had always managed to kill his
hunger or thirst, if at longer intervals, then with greater
satisfaction. Wherein is the life of that man who merely does his
eating and drinking and clothing after a civilized fashion better
than that of the gipsy or tramp? If the civilized man is honest to
boot, and gives good work in return for the bread or turtle on which
he dines, and the gipsy, on the other hand, steals his dinner, I
recognize the importance of the difference; but if the rich man
plunders the community by exorbitant profits, or speculation with
other people's money, while the gipsy adds a fowl or two to the
produce of his tinkering; or, once again, if the gipsy is as honest
as the honest citizen, which is not so rare a case by any means as
people imagine, I return to my question: Wherein, I say, is the warm
house, the windows hung with purple, and the table covered with fine
linen, more divine than the tent or the blue sky, and the dipping in
the dish? Why should not Shargar prefer a life with the mother God
had given him to a life with Mrs. Falconer? Why should he prefer
geography to rambling, or Latin to Romany? His purposelessness and
his love for Robert alone kept him where he was.
The next evening, having given up his praying, Robert sat with his
Sallust before him. But the fount of tears began to swell, and the
more he tried to keep it down, the more it went on swelling till his
throat was filled with a lump of pain. He rose and left the room.
But he could not go near the garret. That door too was closed. He
opened the house door instead, and went out into the street. There,
nothing was to be seen but faint blue air full of moonlight, solid
houses, and shining snow. Bareheaded he wandered round the corner
of the house to the window whence first he had heard the sweet
sounds of the pianoforte. The fire within lighted up the crimson
curtains, but no voice of music came forth. The window was as dumb
as the pale, faintly befogged moon overhead, itself seeming but a
skylight through which shone the sickly light of the passionless
world of the dead. Not a form was in the street. The eyes of the
houses gleamed here and there upon the snow. He leaned his elbow on
the window-sill behind which stood that sealed fountain of lovely
sound, looked up at the moon, careless of her or of aught else in
heaven or on earth, and sunk into a reverie, in which nothing was
consciously present but a stream of fog-smoke that flowed slowly,
listlessly across the face of the moon, like the ghost of a dead
cataract. All at once a wailful sound arose in his head. He did
not think for some time whether it was born in his brain, or entered
it from without. At length he recognized the Flowers of the Forest,
played as only the soutar could play it. But alas! the cry
responsive to his bow came only from the auld wife--no more from the
bonny leddy! Then he remembered that there had been a humble
wedding that morning on the opposite side of the way; in the street
department of the jollity of which Shargar had taken a small share
by firing a brass cannon, subsequently confiscated by Mrs. Falconer.
But this was a strange tune to play at a wedding! The soutar
half-way to his goal of drunkenness, had begun to repent for the
fiftieth time that year, had with his repentance mingled the memory
of the bonny leddy ruthlessly tortured to death for his wrong, and
had glided from a strathspey into that sorrowful moaning. The
lament interpreted itself to his disconsolate pupil as he had never
understood it before, not even in the stubble-field; for it now
spoke his own feelings of waste misery, forsaken loneliness. Indeed
Robert learned more of music in those few minutes of the foggy
winter night and open street, shut out of all doors, with the tones
of an ancient grief and lamentation floating through the blotted
moonlight over his ever-present sorrow, than he could have learned
from many lessons even of Miss St. John. He was cold to the heart,
yet went in a little comforted.
Things had gone ill with him. Outside of Paradise, deserted of his
angel, in the frost and the snow, the voice of the despised violin
once more the source of a sad comfort! But there is no better
discipline than an occasional descent from what we count well-being,
to a former despised or less happy condition. One of the results of
this taste of damnation in Robert was, that when he was in bed that
night, his heart began to turn gently towards his old master. How
much did he not owe him, after all! Had he not acted ill and
ungratefully in deserting him? His own vessel filled to the brim
with grief, had he not let the waters of its bitterness overflow
into the heart of the soutar? The wail of that violin echoed now in
Robert's heart, not for Flodden, not for himself, but for the
debased nature that drew forth the plaint. Comrades in misery, why
should they part? What right had he to forsake an old friend and
benefactor because he himself was unhappy? He would go and see him
the very next night. And he would make friends once more with the
much 'suffering instrument' he had so wrongfully despised.
The following night, he left his books on the table, and the house
itself behind him, and sped like a grayhound to Dooble Sanny's shop,
lifted the latch, and entered.
By the light of a single dip set on a chair, he saw the shoemaker
seated on his stool, one hand lying on the lap of his leathern
apron, his other hand hanging down by his side, and the fiddle on
the ground at his feet. His wife stood behind him, wiping her eyes
with her blue apron. Through all its accumulated dirt, the face of
the soutar looked ghastly, and they were eyes of despair that he
lifted to the face of the youth as he stood holding the latch in his
hand. Mrs. Alexander moved towards Robert, drew him in, and gently
closed the door behind him, resuming her station like a sculptured
mourner behind her motionless husband.
'What on airth's the maitter wi' ye, Sandy?' said Robert.
'Eh, Robert!' returned the shoemaker, and a tone of affection tinged
the mournfulness with which he uttered the strange words--'eh,
Robert! the Almichty will gang his ain gait, and I'm in his grup
'He's had a stroke,' said his wife, without removing her apron from
'I hae gotten my pecks (blows),' resumed the soutar, in a despairing
voice, which gave yet more effect to the fantastic eccentricity of
conscience which from the midst of so many grave faults chose such a
one as especially bringing the divine displeasure upon him: 'I hae
gotten my pecks for cryin' doon my ain auld wife to set up your
bonny leddy. The tane's gane a' to aise an' stew (ashes and dust),
an' frae the tither,' he went on, looking down on the violin at his
feet as if it had been something dead in its youth--'an' frae the
tither I canna draw a cheep, for my richt han' has forgotten her
cunnin' Man, Robert, I canna lift it frae my side.'
'Ye maun gang to yer bed,' said Robert, greatly concerned.
'Ow, ay, I maun gang to my bed, and syne to the kirkyaird, and syne
to hell, I ken that weel eneuch. Robert, I lea my fiddle to you.
Be guid to the auld wife, man--better nor I hae been. An auld
wife's better nor nae fiddle.'
He stooped, lifted the violin with his left hand, gave it to Robert,
rose, and made for the door. They helped him up the creaking stair,
got him half-undressed, and laid him in his bed. Robert put the
violin on the top of a press within sight of the sufferer, left him
groaning, and ran for the doctor. Having seen him set out for the
patient's dwelling, he ran home to his grandmother.
Now while Robert was absent, occasion had arisen to look for him:
unusual occurrence, a visitor had appeared, no less a person than
Mr. Innes, the school-master. Shargar had been banished in
consequence from the parlour, and had seated himself outside
Robert's room, never doubting that Robert was inside. Presently he
heard the bell ring, and then Betty came up the stair, and said
Robert was wanted. Thereupon Shargar knocked at the door, and as
there was neither voice nor hearing, opened it, and found, with a
well-known horror, that he had been watching an empty room. He made
no haste to communicate the fact. Robert might return in a moment,
and his absence from the house not be discovered. He sat down on
the bedstead and waited. But Betty came up again, and before
Shargar could prevent her, walked into the room with her candle in
her hand. In vain did Shargar intreat her to go and say that Robert
was coming. Betty would not risk the danger of discovery in
connivance, and descended to open afresh the fountain of the old
lady's anxiety. She did not, however, betray her disquietude to Mr.
She had asked the school-master to visit her, in order that she
might consult him about Robert's future. Mr. Innes expressed a high
opinion of the boy's faculties and attainments, and strongly urged
that he should be sent to college. Mrs. Falconer inwardly shuddered
at the temptations to which this course would expose him; but he
must leave home or be apprentice to some trade. She would have
chosen the latter, I believe, but for religion towards the boy's
parents, who would never have thought of other than a profession for
him. While the school-master was dwelling on the argument that he
was pretty sure to gain a good bursary, and she would thus be
relieved for four years, probably for ever, from further expense on
his account, Robert entered.
'Whaur hae ye been, Robert?' asked Mrs. Falconer.
'At Dooble Sanny's,' answered the boy.
'What hae ye been at there?'
'Helpin' him till 's bed.'
'What's come ower him?'
'That's what comes o' playin' the fiddle.'
'I never heard o' a stroke comin' frae a fiddle, grannie. It comes
oot o' a clood whiles. Gin he had hauden till 's fiddle, he wad hae
been playin' her the nicht, in place o' 's airm lyin' at 's side
like a lang lingel (ligneul--shoemaker's thread).'
'Hm!' said his grandmother, concealing her indignation at this
freedom of speech, 'ye dinna believe in God's judgments!'
'Nae upo' fiddles,' returned Robert.
Mr. Innes sat and said nothing, with difficulty concealing his
amusement at this passage of arms.
It was but within the last few days that Robert had become capable
of speaking thus. His nature had at length arrived at the point of
so far casting off the incubus of his grandmother's authority as to
assert some measure of freedom and act openly. His very
hopelessness of a hearing in heaven had made him indifferent to
things on earth, and therefore bolder. Thus, strange as it may
seem, the blessing of God descended on him in the despair which
enabled him to speak out and free his soul from the weight of
concealment. But it was not despair alone that gave him strength.
On his way home from the shoemaker's he had been thinking what he
could do for him; and had resolved, come of it what might, that he
would visit him every evening, and try whether he could not comfort
him a little by playing upon his violin. So that it was
loving-kindness towards man, as well as despair towards God, that
gave him strength to resolve that between him and his grandmother
all should be above-board from henceforth.
'Nae upo' fiddles,' Robert had said.
'But upo' them 'at plays them,' returned his grandmother.
'Na; nor upo' them 'at burns them,' retorted Robert--impudently it
must be confessed; for every man is open to commit the fault of
which he is least capable.
But Mrs. Falconer had too much regard to her own dignity to indulge
her feelings. Possibly too her sense of justice, which Falconer
always said was stronger than that of any other woman he had ever
known, as well as some movement of her conscience interfered. She
was silent, and Robert rushed into the breach which his last
discharge had effected.
'An' I want to tell ye, grannie, that I mean to gang an' play the
fiddle to puir Sanny ilka nicht for the best pairt o' an hoor; an'
excep' ye lock the door an' hide the key, I will gang. The puir
sinner sanna be desertit by God an' man baith.'
He scarcely knew what he was saying before it was out of his mouth;
and as if to cover it up, he hurried on.
'An' there's mair in 't.--Dr. Anderson gae Shargar an' me a
sovereign the piece. An' Dooble Sanny s' hae them, to haud him ohn
deid o' hunger an' cauld.'
'What for didna ye tell me 'at Dr. Anderson had gien ye sic a sicht
o' siller? It was ill-faured o' ye--an' him as weel.'
''Cause ye wad hae sent it back till 'im; an' Shargar and me we
thocht we wad raither keep it.'
'Considerin' 'at I'm at sae muckle expense wi' ye baith, it wadna
hae been ill-contrived to hae brocht the siller to me, an' latten me
du wi' 't as I thocht fit.--Gang na awa', laddie,' she added, as she
saw Robert about to leave the room.
'I'll be back in a minute, grannie,' returned Robert.
'He's a fine lad, that!' said Mr. Innes; 'an' guid 'll come o' 'm,
and that 'll be heard tell o'.'
'Gin he had but the grace o' God, there wadna be muckle to compleen
o',' acquiesced his grandmother.
'There's time eneuch for that, Mrs. Faukner. Ye canna get auld
heids upo' young shoothers, ye ken.'
''Deed for that maitter, ye may get mony an auld heid upo' auld
shoothers, and nae a spark o' grace in 't to lat it see hoo to lay
itsel' doon i' the grave.'
Robert returned before Mr. Innes had made up his mind as to whether
the old lady intended a personal rebuke.
'Hae, grannie,' he said, going up to her, and putting the two
sovereigns in her white palm.
He had found some difficulty in making Shargar give up his, else he
would have returned sooner.
'What's this o' 't, laddie?' said Mrs. Falconer. 'Hoots! I'm nae
gaein' to tak yer siller. Lat the puir soutar-craturs hae 't. But
dinna gie them mair nor a shillin' or twa at ance--jist to haud them
in life. They deserve nae mair. But they maunna sterve. And jist
ye tell them, laddie, at gin they spen' ae saxpence o' 't upo'
whusky, they s' get nae mair.'
'Ay, ay, grannie,' responded Robert, with a glimmer of gladness in
his heart. 'And what aboot the fiddlin', grannie?' he added, half
playfully, hoping for some kind concession therein as well.
But he had gone too far. She vouchsafed no reply, and her face grew
stern with offence. It was one thing to give bread to eat, another
to give music and gladness. No music but that which sprung from
effectual calling and the perseverance of the saints could be lawful
in a world that was under the wrath and curse of God. Robert waited
in vain for a reply.
'Gang yer wa's,' she said at length. 'Mr. Innes and me has some
business to mak an en' o', an' we want nae assistance.'
Robert rejoined Shargar, who was still bemoaning the loss of his
sovereign. His face brightened when he saw its well-known yellow
shine once more, but darkened again as soon as Robert told him to
what service it was now devoted.
'It's my ain,' he said, with a suppressed expostulatory growl.
Robert threw the coin on the floor.
'Tak yer filthy lucre!' he exclaimed with contempt, and turned to
leave Shargar alone in the garret with his sovereign.
'Bob!' Shargar almost screamed, 'tak it, or I'll cut my throat.'
This was his constant threat when he was thoroughly in earnest.
'Cut it, an' hae dune wi' 't,' said Robert cruelly.
Shargar burst out crying.
'Len' me yer knife, than, Bob,' he sobbed, holding out his hand.
Robert burst into a roar of laughter, caught up the sovereign from
the floor, sped with it to the baker's, who refused to change it
because he had no knowledge of anything representing the sum of
twenty shillings except a pound-note, succeeded in getting silver
for it at the bank, and then ran to the soutar's.
After he left the parlour, the discussion of his fate was resumed
and finally settled between his grandmother and the school-master.
The former, in regard of the boy's determination to befriend the
shoemaker in the matter of music as well as of money, would now have
sent him at once to the grammar-school in Old Aberdeen, to prepare
for the competition in the month of November; but the latter
persuaded her that if the boy gave his whole attention to Latin till
the next summer, and then went to the grammar-school for three
months or so, he would have an excellent chance of success. As to
the violin, the school-master said, wisely enough:
'He that will to Cupar maun to Cupar; and gin ye kep (intercept) him
upo' the shore-road, he'll tak to the hill-road; an' I s' warran' a
braw lad like Robert 'll get mony a ane in Ebberdeen 'll be ready
eneuch to gie him a lift wi' the fiddle, and maybe tak him into waur
company nor the puir bed-ridden soutar; an' wi' you an' me to hing
on to the tail o' 'im like, he canna gang ower the scar (cliff)
afore he learns wit.'
'Hm!' was the old lady's comprehensive response.
It was further arranged that Robert should be informed of their
conclusion, and so roused to effort in anticipation of the trial
upon which his course in life must depend.
Nothing could have been better for Robert than the prospect of a
college education. But his first thought at the news was not of the
delights of learning nor of the honourable course that would ensue,
but of Eric Ericson, the poverty-stricken, friendless descendant of
yarls and sea-rovers. He would see him--the only man that
understood him! Not until the passion of this thought had abated,
did he begin to perceive the other advantages before him. But so
practical and thorough was he in all his proposals and means, that
ere half-an-hour was gone, he had begun to go over his Rudiments
again. He now wrote a version, or translation from English into
Latin, five times a week, and read Caeser, Virgil, or Tacitus, every
day. He gained permission from his grandmother to remove his bed to
his own garret, and there, from the bedstead at which he no longer
kneeled, he would often rise at four in the morning, even when the
snow lay a foot thick on the skylight, kindle his lamp by means of a
tinder-box and a splinter of wood dipped in sulphur, and sitting
down in the keen cold, turn half a page of Addison into something as
near Ciceronian Latin as he could effect. This would take him from
an hour and a half to two hours, when he would tumble again into
bed, blue and stiff, and sleep till it was time to get up and go to
the morning school before breakfast. His health was excellent, else
it could never have stood such treatment.
'THE END CROWNS ALL'.
His sole relaxation almost lay in the visit he paid every evening to
the soutar and his wife. Their home was a wretched place; but
notwithstanding the poverty in which they were now sunk, Robert soon
began to see a change, like the dawning of light, an alba, as the
Italians call the dawn, in the appearance of something white here
and there about the room. Robert's visits had set the poor woman
trying to make the place look decent. It soon became at least
clean, and there is a very real sense in which cleanliness is next
to godliness. If the people who want to do good among the poor
would give up patronizing them, would cease from trying to convert
them before they have gained the smallest personal influence with
them, would visit them as those who have just as good a right to be
here as they have, it would be all the better for both, perhaps
chiefly for themselves.
For the first week or so, Alexander, unable either to work or play,
and deprived of his usual consolation of drink, was very testy and
unmanageable. If Robert, who strove to do his best, in the hope of
alleviating the poor fellow's sufferings--chiefly those of the
mind--happened to mistake the time or to draw a false note from the
violin, Sandy would swear as if he had been the Grand Turk and
Robert one of his slaves. But Robert was too vexed with himself,
when he gave occasion to such an outburst, to mind the outburst
itself. And invariably when such had taken place, the shoemaker
would ask forgiveness before he went. Holding out his left hand,
from which nothing could efface the stains of rosin and lamp-black
and heel-ball, save the sweet cleansing of mother-earth, he would
'Robert, ye'll jist pit the sweirin' doon wi' the lave (rest), an'
score 't oot a'thegither. I'm an ill-tongued vratch, an' I'm
beginnin' to see 't. But, man, ye're jist behavin' to me like God
himsel', an' gin it warna for you, I wad jist lie here roarin' an'
greitin' an' damnin' frae mornin' to nicht.--Ye will be in the
morn's night--willna ye?' he would always end by asking with some
'Of coorse I will,' Robert would answer.
'Gude nicht, than, gude nicht.--I'll try and get a sicht o' my sins
ance mair,' he added, one evening. 'Gin I could only be a wee bit
sorry for them, I reckon he wad forgie me. Dinna ye think he wad,
'Nae doobt, nae doobt,' answered Robert hurriedly. 'They a' say 'at
gin a man repents the richt gait, he'll forgie him.'
He could not say more than 'They say,' for his own horizon was all
dark, and even in saying this much he felt like a hypocrite. A
terrible waste, heaped thick with the potsherds of hope, lay outside
that door of prayer which he had, as he thought, nailed up for ever.
'An' what is the richt gait?' asked the soutar.
''Deed, that's mair nor I ken, Sandy,' answered Robert mournfully.
'Weel, gin ye dinna ken, what's to come o' me?' said Alexander
'Ye maun speir at himsel',' returned Robert, 'an' jist tell him 'at
ye dinna ken, but ye'll do onything 'at he likes.'
With these words he took his leave hurriedly, somewhat amazed to
find that he had given the soutar the strange advice to try just
what he had tried so unavailingly himself. And stranger still, he
found himself, before he reached home, praying once more in his
heart--both for Dooble Sanny and for himself. From that hour a
faint hope was within him that some day he might try again, though
he dared not yet encounter such effort and agony.
All this time he had never doubted that there was God; nor had he
ventured to say within himself that perhaps God was not good; he had
simply come to the conclusion that for him there was no approach to
the fountain of his being.
In the course of a fortnight or so, when his system had covered over
its craving after whisky, the irritability of the shoemaker almost
vanished. It might have been feared that his conscience would then
likewise relax its activity; but it was not so: it grew yet more
tender. He now began to give Robert some praise, and make
allowances for his faults, and Robert dared more in consequence, and
played with more spirit. I do not say that his style could have
grown fine under such a master, but at least he learned the
difference between slovenliness and accuracy, and between accuracy
and expression, which last is all of original that the best mere
performer can claim.
One evening he was scraping away at Tullochgorum when Mr. Maccleary
walked in. Robert ceased. The minister gave him one searching
glance, and sat down by the bedside. Robert would have left the
'Dinna gang, Robert,' said Sandy, and Robert remained.
The clergyman talked very faithfully as far as the shoemaker was
concerned; though whether he was equally faithful towards God might
be questioned. He was one of those prudent men, who are afraid of
dealing out the truth freely lest it should fall on thorns or stony
places. Hence of course the good ground came in for a scanty share
too. Believing that a certain precise condition of mind was
necessary for its proper reception, he would endeavour to bring
about that condition first. He did not know that the truth makes
its own nest in the ready heart, and that the heart may be ready for
it before the priest can perceive the fact, seeing that the
imposition of hands confers, now-a-days at least, neither love nor
common-sense. He therefore dwelt upon the sins of the soutar,
magnifying them and making them hideous, in the idea that thus he
magnified the law, and made it honourable, while of the special
tenderness of God to the sinner he said not a word. Robert was
offended, he scarcely knew why, with the minister's mode of treating
his friend; and after Mr. Maccleary had taken a far kinder leave of
them than God could approve, if he resembled his representation,
Robert sat still, oppressed with darkness.
'It's a' true,' said the soutar; 'but, man Robert, dinna ye think
the minister was some sair upo' me?'
'I duv think it,' answered Robert.
'Something beirs 't in upo' me 'at he wadna be sae sair upo' me
himsel'. There's something i' the New Testament, some gait, 'at's
pitten 't into my heid; though, faith, I dinna ken whaur to luik for
't. Canna ye help me oot wi' 't, man?'
Robert could think of nothing but the parable of the prodigal son.
Mrs. Alexander got him the New Testament, and he read it. She sat
at the foot of the bed listening.
'There!' cried the soutar, triumphantly, 'I telled ye sae! Not ae
word aboot the puir lad's sins! It was a' a hurry an' a scurry to
get the new shune upo' 'im, an' win at the calfie an' the fiddlin'
an' the dancin'.--O Lord,' he broke out, 'I'm comin' hame as fest 's
I can; but my sins are jist like muckle bauchles (shoes down at
heel) upo' my feet and winna lat me. I expec' nae ring and nae
robe, but I wad fain hae a fiddle i' my grup when the neist prodigal
comes hame; an' gin I dinna fiddle weel, it s' no be my wyte.--Eh,
man! but that is what I ca' gude, an' a' the minister said--honest
man--'s jist blether till 't.--O Lord, I sweir gin ever I win up
again, I'll put in ilka steek (stitch) as gin the shune war for the
feet o' the prodigal himsel'. It sall be gude wark, O Lord. An'
I'll never lat taste o' whusky intil my mou'--nor smell o' whusky
intil my nose, gin sae be 'at I can help it--I sweir 't, O Lord. An'
gin I binna raised up again--'
Here his voice trembled and ceased, and silence endured for a short
minute. Then he called his wife.
'Come here, Bell. Gie me a kiss, my bonny lass. I hae been an ill
man to you.'
'Na, na, Sandy. Ye hae aye been gude to me--better nor I deserved.
Ye hae been naebody's enemy but yer ain.'
'Haud yer tongue. Ye're speykin' waur blethers nor the minister,
honest man! I tell ye I hae been a damned scoon'rel to ye. I haena
even hauden my han's aff o' ye. And eh! ye war a bonny lass whan I
merried ye. I hae blaudit (spoiled) ye a'thegither. But gin I war
up, see gin I wadna gie ye a new goon, an' that wad be something to
make ye like yersel' again. I'm affrontet wi' mysel' 'at I had been
sic a brute o' a man to ye. But ye maun forgie me noo, for I do
believe i' my hert 'at the Lord's forgien me. Gie me anither kiss,
lass. God be praised, and mony thanks to you! Ye micht hae run
awa' frae me lang or noo, an' a'body wad hae said ye did
richt.--Robert, play a spring.'
Absorbed in his own thoughts, Robert began to play The Ewie wi' the
'Hoots! hoots!' cried Sandy angrily. 'What are ye aboot? Nae mair
o' that. I hae dune wi' that. What's i' the heid o' ye, man?'
'What'll I play than, Sandy?' asked Robert meekly.
'Play The Lan' o' the Leal, or My Nannie's awa,', or something o'
that kin'. I'll be leal to ye noo, Bell. An' we winna pree o' the
whusky nae mair, lass.'
'I canna bide the smell o' 't,' cried Bell, sobbing.
Robert struck in with The Lan' o' the Leal. When he had played it
over two or three times, he laid the fiddle in its place, and
departed--able just to see, by the light of the neglected candle,
that Bell sat on the bedside stroking the rosiny hand of her
husband, the rhinoceros-hide of which was yet delicate enough to let
the love through to his heart.
After this the soutar never called his fiddle his auld wife.
Robert walked home with his head sunk on his breast. Dooble Sanny,
the drinking, ranting, swearing soutar, was inside the wicket-gate;
and he was left outside for all his prayers, with the arrows from
the castle of Beelzebub sticking in his back. He would have another
try some day--but not yet--he dared not yet.
Henceforth Robert had more to do in reading the New Testament than
in the fiddle to the soutar, though they never parted without an air
or two. Sandy continued hopeful and generally cheerful, with
alternations which the reading generally fixed on the right side for
the night. Robert never attempted any comments, but left him to
take from the word what nourishment he could. There was no return
of strength to the helpless arm, and his constitution was gradually
The rumour got abroad that he was a 'changed character,'--how is not
far to seek, for Mr. Maccleary fancied himself the honoured
instrument of his conversion, whereas paralysis and the New
Testament were the chief agents, and even the violin had more share
in it than the minister. For the spirit of God lies all about the
spirit of man like a mighty sea, ready to rush in at the smallest
chink in the walls that shut him out from his own--walls which even
the tone of a violin afloat on the wind of that spirit is sometimes
enough to rend from battlement to base, as the blast of the rams'
horns rent the walls of Jericho. And now to the day of his death,
the shoemaker had need of nothing. Food, wine, and delicacies were
sent him by many who, while they considered him outside of the
kingdom, would have troubled themselves in no way about him. What
with visits of condolence and flattery, inquiries into his
experience, and long prayers by his bedside, they now did their best
to send him back among the swine. The soutar's humour, however,
aided by his violin, was a strong antidote against these evil
'I doobt I'm gaein' to dee, Robert,' he said at length one evening
as the lad sat by his bedside.
'Weel, that winna do ye nae ill,' answered Robert, adding with just
a touch of bitterness--'ye needna care aboot that.'
'I do not care aboot the deein' o' 't. But I jist want to live lang
eneuch to lat the Lord ken 'at I'm in doonricht earnest aboot it. I
hae nae chance o' drinkin' as lang's I'm lyin' here.'
'Never ye fash yer heid aboot that. Ye can lippen (trust) that to
him, for it's his ain business. He'll see 'at ye're a' richt.
Dinna ye think 'at he'll lat ye aff.'
'The Lord forbid,' responded the soutar earnestly. 'It maun be a'
pitten richt. It wad be dreidfu' to be latten aff. I wadna hae him
content wi' cobbler's wark.--I hae 't,' he resumed, after a few
minutes' pause; 'the Lord's easy pleased, but ill to saitisfee. I'm
sair pleased wi' your playin', Robert, but it's naething like the
richt thing yet. It does me gude to hear ye, though, for a' that.'
The very next night he found him evidently sinking fast. Robert
took the violin, and was about to play, but the soutar stretched out
his one left hand, and took it from him, laid it across his chest
and his arm over it, for a few moments, as if he were bidding it
farewell, then held it out to Robert, saying,
'Hae, Robert. She's yours.--Death's a sair divorce.--Maybe they 'll
hae an orra3 fiddle whaur I'm gaein', though. Think o' a Rothieden
soutar playin' afore his grace!'
Robert saw that his mind was wandering, and mingled the paltry
honours of earth with the grand simplicities of heaven. He began to
play The Land o' the Leal. For a little while Sandy seemed to follow
and comprehend the tones, but by slow degrees the light departed
from his face. At length his jaw fell, and with a sigh, the body
parted from Dooble Sanny, and he went to God.
His wife closed mouth and eyes without a word, laid the two arms,
equally powerless now, straight by his sides, then seating herself
on the edge of the bed, said,
'Dinna bide, Robert. It's a' ower noo. He's gang hame. Gin I war
only wi' 'im wharever he is!'
She burst into tears, but dried her eyes a moment after, and seeing
that Robert still lingered, said,
'Gang, Robert, an' sen' Mistress Downie to me. Dinna greit--there's
a gude lad; but tak yer fiddle an' gang. Ye can be no more use.'
Robert obeyed. With his violin in his hand, he went home; and, with
his violin still in his hand, walked into his grandmother's parlour.
'Hoo daur ye bring sic a thing into my hoose?' she said, roused by
the apparent defiance of her grandson. 'Hoo daur ye, efter what's
come an' gane?'
''Cause Dooble Sanny's come and gane, grannie, and left naething but
this ahint him. And this ane's mine, whase ever the ither micht be.
His wife's left wi'oot a plack, an' I s' warran' the gude fowk o'
Rothieden winna mak sae muckle o' her noo 'at her man's awa'; for
she never was sic a randy as he was, an' the triumph o' grace in her
's but sma', therefore. Sae I maun mak the best 'at I can o' the
fiddle for her. An' ye maunna touch this ane, grannie; for though
ye way think it richt to burn fiddles, ither fowk disna; and this
has to do wi' ither fowk, grannie; it's no atween you an' me, ye
ken,' Robert went on, fearful lest she might consider herself
divinely commissioned to extirpate the whole race of stringed
instruments,--'for I maun sell 't for her.'
'Tak it oot o' my sicht,' said Mrs. Falconer, and said no more.
He carried the instrument up to his room, laid it on his bed, locked
his door, put the key in his pocket, and descended to the parlour.
'He's deid, is he?' said his grandmother, as he re-entered.
'Ay is he, grannie,' answered Robert. 'He deid a repentant man.'
'An' a believin'?' asked Mrs. Falconer.
'Weel, grannie, I canna say 'at he believed a' thing 'at ever was,
for a body michtna ken a' thing.'
'Toots, laddie! Was 't savin' faith?'
'I dinna richtly ken what ye mean by that; but I'm thinkin' it was
muckle the same kin' o' faith 'at the prodigal had; for they baith
rase an' gaed hame.'
''Deed, maybe ye're richt, laddie,' returned Mrs. Falconer, after a
moment's thought. 'We'll houp the best.'
All the remainder of the evening she sat motionless, with her eyes
fixed on the rug before her, thinking, no doubt, of the repentance
and salvation of the fiddler, and what hope there might yet be for
her own lost son.
The next day being Saturday, Robert set out for Bodyfauld, taking
the violin with him. He went alone, for he was in no mood for
Shargar's company. It was a fine spring day, the woods were
budding, and the fragrance of the larches floated across his way.
There was a lovely sadness in the sky, and in the motions of the
air, and in the scent of the earth--as if they all knew that fine
things were at hand which never could be so beautiful as those that
had gone away. And Robert wondered how it was that everything
should look so different. Even Bodyfauld seemed to have lost its
enchantment, though his friends were as kind as ever. Mr. Lammie
went into a rage at the story of the lost violin, and Miss Lammie
cried from sympathy with Robert's distress at the fate of his bonny
leddy. Then he came to the occasion of his visit, which was to beg
Mr. Lammie, when next he went to Aberdeen, to take the soutar's
fiddle, and get what he could for it, to help his widow.
'Poor Sanny!' said Robert, 'it never cam' intil 's heid to sell her,
nae mair nor gin she had been the auld wife 'at he ca'd her.'
Mr. Lammie undertook the commission; and the next time he saw
Robert, handed him ten pounds as the result of the negotiation. It
was all Robert could do, however, to get the poor woman to take the
money. She looked at it with repugnance, almost as if it had been
the price of blood. But Robert having succeeded in overcoming her
scruples, she did take it, and therewith provide a store of
sweeties, and reels of cotton, and tobacco, for sale in Sanny's
workshop. She certainly did not make money by her merchandise, for
her anxiety to be honest rose to the absurd; but she contrived to
live without being reduced to prey upon her own gingerbread and
THE ABERDEEN GARRET.
Miss St. John had long since returned from her visit, but having
heard how much Robert was taken up with his dying friend, she judged
it better to leave her intended proposal of renewing her lessons
alone for the present. Meeting him, however, soon after Alexander's
death, she introduced the subject, and Robert was enraptured at the
prospect of the re-opening of the gates of his paradise. If he did
not inform his grandmother of the fact, neither did he attempt to
conceal it; but she took no notice, thinking probably that the whole
affair would be effectually disposed of by his departure. Till that
period arrived, he had a lesson almost every evening, and Miss St.
John was surprised to find how the boy had grown since the door was
built up. Robert's gratitude grew into a kind of worship.
The evening before his departure for Bodyfauld--whence his
grandmother had arranged that he should start for Aberdeen, in order
that he might have the company of Mr. Lammie, whom business drew
thither about the same time--as he was having his last lesson, Mrs.
Forsyth left the room. Thereupon Robert, who had been dejected all
day at the thought of the separation from Miss St. John, found his
heart beating so violently that he could hardly breathe. Probably
she saw his emotion, for she put her hand on the keys, as if to
cover it by showing him how some movement was to be better effected.
He seized her hand and lifted it to his lips. But when he found
that instead of snatching it away, she yielded it, nay gently
pressed it to his face, he burst into tears, and dropped on his
knees, as if before a goddess.
'Hush, Robert! Don't be foolish,' she said, quietly and tenderly.
'Here is my aunt coming.'
The same moment he was at the piano again, playing My Bonny Lady
Ann, so as to astonish Miss St. John, and himself as well. Then he
rose, bade her a hasty good-night, and hurried away.
A strange conflict arose in his mind at the prospect of leaving the
old place, on every house of whose streets, on every swell of whose
surrounding hills he left the clinging shadows of thought and
feeling. A faintly purpled mist arose, and enwrapped all the past,
changing even his grayest troubles into tales of fairyland, and his
deepest griefs into songs of a sad music. Then he thought of
Shargar, and what was to become of him after he was gone. The lad
was paler and his eyes were redder than ever, for he had been
weeping in secret. He went to his grandmother and begged that
Shargar might accompany him to Bodyfauld.
'He maun bide at hame an' min' his beuks,' she answered; 'for he
winna hae them that muckle langer. He maun be doin' something for
So the next morning the boys parted--Shargar to school, and Robert
to Bodyfauld--Shargar left behind with his desolation, his sun gone
down in a west that was not even stormy, only gray and hopeless, and
Robert moving towards an east which reflected, like a faint
prophecy, the west behind him tinged with love, death, and music,
but mingled the colours with its own saffron of coming dawn.
When he reached Bodyfauld he marvelled to find that all its glory
had returned. He found Miss Lammie busy among the rich yellow pools
in her dairy, and went out into the garden, now in the height of its
summer. Great cabbage roses hung heavy-headed splendours towards
purple-black heartseases, and thin-filmed silvery pods of honesty;
tall white lilies mingled with the blossoms of currant bushes, and
at their feet the narcissi of old classic legend pressed their
warm-hearted paleness into the plebeian thicket of the many-striped
gardener's garters. It was a lovely type of a commonwealth indeed,
of the garden and kingdom of God. His whole mind was flooded with a
sense of sunny wealth. The farmer's neglected garden blossomed into
higher glory in his soul. The bloom and the richness and the use
were all there; but instead of each flower was a delicate ethereal
sense or feeling about that flower. Of these how gladly would he
have gathered a posy to offer Miss St. John! but, alas! he was no
poet; or rather he had but the half of the poet's inheritance--he
could see: he could not say. But even if he had been full of poetic
speech, he would yet have found that the half of his posy remained
ungathered, for although we have speech enough now to be 'cousin to
the deed,' as Chaucer says it must always be, we have not yet enough
speech to cousin the tenth part of our feelings. Let him who doubts
recall one of his own vain attempts to convey that which made the
oddest of dreams entrancing in loveliness--to convey that aroma of
thought, the conscious absence of which made him a fool in his own
eyes when he spoke such silly words as alone presented themselves
for the service. I can no more describe the emotion aroused in my
mind by a gray cloud parting over a gray stone, by the smell of a
sweetpea, by the sight of one of those long upright pennons of
striped grass with the homely name, than I can tell what the glory
of God is who made these things. The man whose poetry is like
nature in this, that it produces individual, incommunicable moods
and conditions of mind--a sense of elevated, tender, marvellous, and
evanescent existence, must be a poet indeed. Every dawn of such a
feeling is a light-brushed bubble rendering visible for a moment the
dark unknown sea of our being which lies beyond the lights of our
consciousness, and is the stuff and region of our eternal growth.
But think what language must become before it will tell
dreams!--before it will convey the delicate shades of fancy that
come and go in the brain of a child!--before it will let a man know
wherein one face differeth from another face in glory! I suspect,
however, that for such purposes it is rather music than articulation
that is needful--that, with a hope of these finer results, the
language must rather be turned into music than logically extended.
The next morning he awoke at early dawn, hearing the birds at his
window. He rose and went out. The air was clear and fresh as a
new-made soul. Bars of mottled cloud were bent across the eastern
quarter of the sky, which lay like a great ethereal ocean ready for
the launch of the ship of glory that was now gliding towards its
edge. Everything was waiting to conduct him across the far horizon
to the south, where lay the stored-up wonder of his coming life.
The lark sang of something greater than he could tell; the wind got
up, whispered at it, and lay down to sleep again; the sun was at
hand to bathe the world in the light and gladness alone fit to
typify the radiance of Robert's thoughts. The clouds that formed
the shore of the upper sea were already burning from saffron into
gold. A moment more and the first insupportable sting of light
would shoot from behind the edge of that low blue hill, and the
first day of his new life would be begun. He watched, and it came.
The well-spring of day, fresh and exuberant as if now first from
the holy will of the Father of Lights, gushed into the basin of the
world, and the world was more glad than tongue or pen can tell. The
supernal light alone, dawning upon the human heart, can exceed the
marvel of such a sunrise.
And shall life itself be less beautiful than one of its days? Do
not believe it, young brother. Men call the shadow, thrown upon the
universe where their own dusky souls come between it and the eternal
sun, life, and then mourn that it should be less bright than the
hopes of their childhood. Keep thou thy soul translucent, that thou
mayest never see its shadow; at least never abuse thyself with the
philosophy which calls that shadow life. Or, rather would I say,
become thou pure in heart, and thou shalt see God, whose vision
alone is life.
Just as the sun rushed across the horizon he heard the tramp of a
heavy horse in the yard, passing from the stable to the cart that
was to carry his trunk to the turnpike road, three miles off, where
the coach would pass. Then Miss Lammie came and called him to
breakfast, and there sat the farmer in his Sunday suit of black,
already busy. Robert was almost too happy to eat; yet he had not
swallowed two mouthfuls before the sun rose unheeded, the lark sang
unheeded, and the roses sparkled with the dew that bowed yet lower
their heavy heads, all unheeded. By the time they had finished, Mr.
Lammie's gig was at the door, and they mounted and followed the
cart. Not even the recurring doubt and fear that hollowness was at
the heart of it all, for that God could not mean such reinless
gladness, prevented the truth of the present joy from sinking deep
into the lad's heart. In his mind he saw a boat moored to a rock,
with no one on board, heaving on the waters of a rising tide, and
waiting to bear him out on the sea of the unknown. The picture
arose of itself: there was no paradise of the west in his
imagination, as in that of a boy of the sixteenth century, to
authorize its appearance. It rose again and again; the dew
glittered as if the light were its own; the sun shone as he had
never seen him shine before; the very mare that sped them along held
up her head and stepped out as if she felt it the finest of
mornings. Had she also a future, poor old mare? Might there not be
a paradise somewhere? and if in the furthest star instead of
next-door America, why, so much the more might the Atlantis of the
nineteenth century surpass Manoa the golden of the seventeenth!
The gig and the cart reached the road together. One of the men who
had accompanied the cart took the gig; and they were left on the
road-side with Robert's trunk and box--the latter a present from
Their places had been secured, and the guard knew where he had to
take them up. Long before the coach appeared, the notes of his
horn, as like the colour of his red coat as the blindest of men
could imagine, came echoing from the side of the heathery, stony
hill under which they stood, so that Robert turned wondering, as if
the chariot of his desires had been coming over the top of
Drumsnaig, to carry him into a heaven where all labour was delight.
But round the corner in front came the four-in-hand red mail
instead. She pulled up gallantly; the wheelers lay on their hind
quarters, and the leaders parted theirs from the pole; the boxes
were hoisted up; Mr. Lammie climbed, and Robert scrambled to his
seat; the horn blew; the coachman spake oracularly; the horses
obeyed; and away went the gorgeous symbol of sovereignty careering
through the submissive region. Nor did Robert's delight abate
during the journey--certainly not when he saw the blue line of the
sea in the distance, a marvel and yet a fact.
Mrs. Falconer had consulted the Misses Napier, who had many
acquaintances in Aberdeen, as to a place proper for Robert, and
suitable to her means. Upon this point Miss Letty, not without a
certain touch of design, as may appear in the course of my story,
had been able to satisfy her. In a small house of two floors and a
garret, in the old town, Mr. Lammie took leave of Robert.
It was from a garret window still, but a storm-window now that
Robert looked--eastward across fields and sand-hills, to the blue
expanse of waters--not blue like southern seas, but slaty blue, like
the eyes of northmen. It was rather dreary; the sun was shining
from overhead now, casting short shadows and much heat; the dew was
gone up, and the lark had come down; he was alone; the end of his
journey was come, and was not anything very remarkable. His
landlady interrupted his gaze to know what he would have for dinner,
but he declined to use any discretion in the matter. When she left
the room he did not return to the window, but sat down upon his box.
His eye fell upon the other, a big wooden cube. Of its contents he
knew nothing. He would amuse himself by making inquisition. It was
nailed up. He borrowed a screwdriver and opened it. At the top lay
a linen bag full of oatmeal; underneath that was a thick layer of
oat-cake; underneath that two cheeses, a pound of butter, and six
pots of jam, which ought to have tasted of roses, for it came from
the old garden where the roses lived in such sweet companionship
with the currant bushes; underneath that, &c.; and underneath, &c.,
a box which strangely recalled Shargar's garret, and one of the
closets therein. With beating heart he opened it, and lo, to his
marvel, and the restoration of all the fair day, there was the
violin which Dooble Sanny had left him when he forsook her for--some
one or other of the queer instruments of Fra Angelico's angels?
In a flutter of delight he sat down on his trunk again and played
the most mournful of tunes. Two white pigeons, which had been
talking to each other in the heat on the roof, came one on each side
of the window and peeped into the room; and out between them, as he
played, Robert saw the sea, and the blue sky above it. Is it any
wonder that, instead of turning to the lying pages and contorted
sentences of the Livy which he had already unpacked from his box, he
forgot all about school, and college, and bursary, and went on
playing till his landlady brought up his dinner, which he swallowed
hastily that he might return to the spells of his enchantress!
I could linger with gladness even over this part of my hero's
history. If the school work, was dry it was thorough. If that
academy had no sweetly shadowing trees; if it did stand within a
parallelogram of low stone walls, containing a roughly-gravelled
court; if all the region about suggested hot stones and sand--beyond
still was the sea and the sky; and that court, morning and
afternoon, was filled with the shouts of eager boys, kicking the
football with mad rushings to and fro, and sometimes with wounds and
faintings--fit symbol of the equally resultless ambition with which
many of them would follow the game of life in the years to come.
Shock-headed Highland colts, and rough Lowland steers as many of
them were, out of that group, out of the roughest of them, would
emerge in time a few gentlemen--not of the type of your trim,
self-contained, clerical exquisite--but large-hearted, courteous
gentlemen, for whom a man may thank God. And if the master was stern
and hard, he was true; if the pupils feared him, they yet cared to
please him; if there might be found not a few more widely-read
scholars than he, it would be hard to find a better teacher.
Robert leaned to the collar and laboured, not greatly moved by
ambition, but much by the hope of the bursary and the college life
in the near distance. Not unfrequently he would rush into the thick
of the football game, fight like a maniac for one short burst, and
then retire and look on. He oftener regarded than mingled. He
seldom joined his fellows after school hours, for his work lay both
upon his conscience and his hopes; but if he formed no very deep
friendships amongst them, at least he made no enemies, for he was
not selfish, and in virtue of the Celtic blood in him was invariably
courteous. His habits were in some things altogether irregular. He
never went out for a walk; but sometimes, looking up from his Virgil
or his Latin version, and seeing the blue expanse in the distance
breaking into white under the viewless wing of the summer wind, he
would fling down his dictionary or his pen, rush from his garret,
and fly in a straight line, like a sea-gull weary of lake and river,
down to the waste shore of the great deep. This was all that stood
for the Arabian Nights of moon-blossomed marvel; all the rest was
Aberdeen days of Latin and labour.
Slowly the hours went, and yet the dreaded, hoped-for day came
quickly. The quadrangle of the stone-crowned college grew more
awful in its silence and emptiness every time Robert passed it; and
the professors' houses looked like the sentry-boxes of the angels of
learning, soon to come forth and judge the feeble mortals who dared
present a claim to their recognition. October faded softly by, with
its keen fresh mornings, and cold memorial green-horizoned evenings,
whose stars fell like the stray blossoms of a more heavenly world,
from some ghostly wind of space that had caught them up on its awful
shoreless sweep. November came, 'chill and drear,' with its
heartless, hopeless nothingness; but as if to mock the poor
competitors, rose, after three days of Scotch mist, in a lovely
'halcyon day' of 'St. Martin's summer,' through whose long shadows
anxious young faces gathered in the quadrangle, or under the arcade,
each with his Ainsworth's Dictionary, the sole book allowed, under
his arm. But when the sacrist appeared and unlocked the public
school, and the black-gowned professors walked into the room, and
the door was left open for the candidates to follow, then indeed a
great awe fell upon the assembly, and the lads crept into their
seats as if to a trial for life before a bench of the incorruptible.
They took their places; a portion of Robertson's History of
Scotland was given them to turn into Latin; and soon there was
nothing to be heard in the assembly but the turning of the leaves of
dictionaries, and the scratching of pens constructing the first
rough copy of the Latinized theme.
It was done. Four weary hours, nearly five, one or two of which
passed like minutes, the others as if each minute had been an hour,
went by, and Robert, in a kind of desperation, after a final reading
of the Latin, gave in his paper, and left the room. When he got
home, he asked his landlady to get him some tea. Till it was ready
he would take his violin. But even the violin had grown dull, and
would not speak freely. He returned to the torture--took out his
first copy, and went over it once more. Horror of horrors! a
maxie!--that is a maximus error. Mary Queen of Scots had been left
so far behind in the beginning of the paper, that she forgot the
rights of her sex in the middle of it, and in the accusative of a
future participle passive--I do not know if more modern grammarians
have a different name for the growth--had submitted to be dum, and
her rightful dam was henceforth and for ever debarred.
He rose, rushed out of the house, down through the garden, across
two fields and a wide road, across the links, and so to the moaning
lip of the sea--for it was moaning that night. From the last
bulwark of the sandhills he dropped upon the wet sands, and there he
paced up and down--how long, God only, who was watching him,
knew--with the low limitless form of the murmuring lip lying out and
out into the sinking sky like the life that lay low and hopeless
before him, for the want at most of twenty pounds a year (that was
the highest bursary then) to lift him into a region of possible
well-being. Suddenly a strange phenomenon appeared within him. The
subject hitherto became the object to a new birth of consciousness.
He began to look at himself. 'There's a sair bit in there,' he
said, as if his own bosom had been that of another mortal. 'What's
to be dune wi' 't? I doobt it maun bide it. Weel, the crater had
better bide it quaietly, and no cry oot. Lie doon, an' hand yer
tongue. Soror tua haud meretrix est, ye brute!' He burst out
laughing, after a doubtful and ululant fashion, I dare say; but he
went home, took up his auld wife, and played 'Tullochgorum' some
fifty times over, with extemporized variations.
The next day he had to translate a passage from Tacitus; after
executing which somewhat heartlessly, he did not open a Latin book
for a whole week. The very sight of one was disgusting to him. He
wandered about the New Town, along Union Street, and up and down the
stairs that led to the lower parts, haunted the quay, watched the
vessels, learned their forms, their parts and capacities, made
friends with a certain Dutch captain whom he heard playing the
violin in his cabin, and on the whole, notwithstanding the wretched
prospect before him, contrived to spend the week with considerable
enjoyment. Nor does an occasional episode of lounging hurt a life
with any true claims to the epic form.
The day of decision at length arrived. Again the black-robed powers
assembled, and again the hoping, fearing lads--some of them not
lads, men, and mere boys--gathered to hear their fate. Name after
name was called out;--a twenty pound bursary to the first, one of
seventeen to the next, three or four of fifteen and fourteen, and so
on, for about twenty, and still no Robert Falconer. At last,
lagging wearily in the rear, he heard his name, went up listlessly,
and was awarded five pounds. He crept home, wrote to his
grandmother, and awaited her reply. It was not long in coming; for
although the carrier was generally the medium of communication, Miss
Letty had contrived to send the answer by coach. It was to the
effect that his grandmother was sorry that he had not been more
successful, but that Mr. Innes thought it would be quite worth while
to try again, and he must therefore come home for another year.
This was mortifying enough, though not so bad as it might have been.
Robert began to pack his box. But before he had finished it he
shut the lid and sat upon it. To meet Miss St. John thus disgraced,
was more than he could bear. If he remained, he had a chance of
winning prizes at the end of the session, and that would more than
repair his honour. The five pound bursars were privileged in paying
half fees; and if he could only get some teaching, he could manage.
But who would employ a bejan when a magistrand might be had for
next to nothing? Besides, who would recommend him? The thought of
Dr. Anderson flashed into his mind, and he rushed from the house
without even knowing where he lived.
DR. ANDERSON AGAIN.
At the Post-office he procured the desired information at once. Dr.
Anderson lived in Union Street, towards the western end of it.
Away went Robert to find the house. That was easy. What a grand
house of smooth granite and wide approach it was! The great door
was opened by a man-servant, who looked at the country boy from head
'Is the doctor in?' asked Robert.
'I wad like to see him.'
'Wha will I say wants him?'
'Say the laddie he saw at Bodyfauld.'
The man left Robert in the hall, which was spread with tiger and
leopard skins, and had a bright fire burning in a large stove.
Returning presently, he led him through noiseless swing-doors
covered with cloth into a large library. Never had Robert conceived
such luxury. What with Turkey carpet, crimson curtains,
easy-chairs, grandly-bound books and morocco-covered writing-table,
it seemed the very ideal of comfort. But Robert liked the grandeur
too much to be abashed by it.
'Sit ye doon there,' said the servant, 'and the doctor 'ill be wi'
ye in ae minute.'
He was hardly out of the room before a door opened in the middle of
the books, and the doctor appeared in a long dressing-gown. He
looked inquiringly at Robert for one moment, then made two long
strides like a pair of eager compasses, holding out his hand.
'I'm Robert Faukner,' said the boy. 'Ye'll min', maybe, doctor, 'at
ye war verra kin' to me ance, and tellt me lots o' stories--at
Bodyfauld, ye ken.'
'I'm very glad to see you, Robert,' said Dr. Anderson. 'Of course I
remember you perfectly; but my servant did not bring your name, and
I did not know but it might be the other boy--I forget his name.'
'Ye mean Shargar, sir. It's no him.'
'I can see that,' said the doctor, laughing, 'although you are
altered. You have grown quite a man! I am very glad to see you,'
he repeated, shaking hands with him again. 'When did you come to
'I hae been at the grammer school i' the auld toon for the last
three months,' said Robert.
'Three months!' exclaimed Dr. Anderson. 'And never came to see me
till now! That was too bad of you, Robert.'
'Weel, ye see, sir, I didna ken better. An' I had a heap to do, an'
a' for naething, efter a'. But gin I had kent 'at ye wad like to
see me, I wad hae likit weel to come to ye.'
'I have been away most of the summer,' said the doctor; 'but I have
been at home for the last month. You haven't had your dinner, have
'Weel, I dinna exackly ken what to say, sir. Ye see, I wasna that
sharp-set the day, sae I had jist a mou'fu' o' breid and cheese.
I'm turnin' hungry, noo, I maun confess.'
The doctor rang the bell.
'You must stop and dine with me.--Johnston,' he continued, as his
servant entered, 'tell the cook that I have a gentleman to dinner
with me to-day, and she must be liberal.'
'Guidsake, sir!' said Robert, 'dinna set the woman agen me.'
He had no intention of saying anything humorous, but Dr. Anderson
'Come into my room till dinner-time,' he said, opening the door by
which he had entered.
To Robert's astonishment, he found himself in a room bare as that of
the poorest cottage. A small square window, small as the window in
John Hewson's, looked out upon a garden neatly kept, but now 'having
no adorning but cleanliness.' The place was just the benn end of a
cottage. The walls were whitewashed, the ceiling was of bare
boards, and the floor was sprinkled with a little white sand. The
table and chairs were of common deal, white and clean, save that the
former was spotted with ink. A greater contrast to the soft, large,
richly-coloured room they had left could hardly be imagined. A few
bookshelves on the wall were filled with old books. A fire blazed
cheerily in the little grate. A bed with snow-white coverlet stood
in a recess.
'This is the nicest room in the house, Robert,' said the doctor.
'When I was a student like you--'
Robert shook his head,
'I'm nae student yet,' he said; but the doctor went on:
'I had the benn end of my father's cottage to study in, for he
treated me like a stranger-gentleman when I came home from college.
The father respected the son for whose advantage he was working
like a slave from morning till night. My heart is sometimes sore
with the gratitude I feel to him. Though he's been dead for thirty
years--would you believe it, Robert?--well, I can't talk more about
him now. I made this room as like my father's benn end as I could,
and I am happier here than anywhere in the world.'
By this time Robert was perfectly at home. Before the dinner was
ready he had not only told Dr. Anderson his present difficulty, but
his whole story as far back as he could remember. The good man
listened eagerly, gazed at the boy with more and more of interest,
which deepened till his eyes glistened as he gazed, and when a
ludicrous passage intervened, welcomed the laughter as an excuse for
wiping them. When dinner was announced, he rose without a word and
led the way to the dining-room. Robert followed, and they sat down
to a meal simple enough for such a house, but which to Robert seemed
a feast followed by a banquet. For after they had done eating--on
the doctor's part a very meagre performance--they retired to his
room again, and then Robert found the table covered with a snowy
cloth, and wine and fruits arranged upon it.
It was far into the night before he rose to go home. As he passed
through a thick rain of pin-point drops, he felt that although those
cold granite houses, with glimmering dead face, stood like rows of
sepulchres, he was in reality walking through an avenue of homes.
Wet to the skin long before he reached Mrs. Fyvie's in the auld
toon, he was notwithstanding as warm as the under side of a bird's
wing. For he had to sit down and write to his grandmother informing
her that Dr. Anderson had employed him to copy for the printers a
book of his upon the Medical Boards of India, and that as he was
going to pay him for that and other work at a rate which would
secure him ten shillings a week, it would be a pity to lose a year
for the chance of getting a bursary next winter.
The doctor did want the manuscript copied; and he knew that the only
chance of getting Mrs. Falconer's consent to Robert's receiving any
assistance from him, was to make some business arrangement of the
sort. He wrote to her the same night, and after mentioning the
unexpected pleasure of Robert's visit, not only explained the
advantage to himself of the arrangement he had proposed, but set
forth the greater advantage to Robert, inasmuch as he would thus be
able in some measure to keep a hold of him. He judged that although
Mrs. Falconer had no great opinion of his religion, she would yet
consider his influence rather on the side of good than otherwise in
the case of a boy else abandoned to his own resources.
The end of it all was that his grandmother yielded, and Robert was
straightway a Bejan, or Yellow-beak.
Three days had he been clothed in the red gown of the Aberdeen
student, and had attended the Humanity and Greek class-rooms. On
the evening of the third day he was seated at his table preparing
his Virgil for the next, when he found himself growing very weary,
and no wonder, for, except the walk of a few hundred yards to and
from the college, he had had no open air for those three days. It
was raining in a persistent November fashion, and he thought of the
sea, away through the dark and the rain, tossing uneasily. Should
he pay it a visit? He sat for a moment,
This way and that dividing the swift mind,4
when his eye fell on his violin. He had been so full of his new
position and its requirements, that he had not touched it since the
session opened. Now it was just what he wanted. He caught it up
eagerly, and began to play. The power of the music seized upon him,
and he went on playing, forgetful of everything else, till a string
broke. It was all too short for further use. Regardless of the
rain or the depth of darkness to be traversed before he could find a
music-shop, he caught up his cap, and went to rush from the house.
His door opened immediately on the top step of the stair, without
any landing. There was a door opposite, to which likewise a few
steps led immediately up. The stairs from the two doors united a
little below. So near were the doors that one might stride across
the fork. The opposite door was open, and in it stood Eric Ericson.
Robert sprang across the dividing chasm, clasped Ericson's hand in
both of his, looked up into his face, and stood speechless. Ericson
returned the salute with a still kindness--tender and still. His
face was like a gray morning sky of summer from whose level
cloud-fields rain will fall before noon.
'So it was you,' he said, 'playing the violin so well?'
'I was doin' my best,' answered Robert. 'But eh! Mr. Ericson, I wad
hae dune better gin I had kent ye was hearkenin'.'
'You couldn't do better than your best,' returned Eric, smiling.
'Ay, but yer best micht aye grow better, ye ken,' persisted Robert.
'Come into my room,' said Ericson. 'This is Friday night, and there
is nothing but chapel to-morrow. So we'll have talk instead of
In another moment they were seated by a tiny coal fire in a room one
side of which was the slope of the roof, with a large, low skylight
in it looking seawards. The sound of the distant waves, unheard in
Robert's room, beat upon the drum of the skylight, through all the
world of mist that lay between it and them--dimly, vaguely--but ever
and again with a swell of gathered force, that made the distant
tumult doubtful no more.
'I am sorry I have nothing to offer you,' said Ericson.
'You remind me of Peter and John at the Beautiful Gate of the
temple,' returned Robert, attempting to speak English like the
Northerner, but breaking down as his heart got the better of him.
'Eh! Mr. Ericson, gin ye kent what it is to me to see the face o'
ye, ye wadna speyk like that. Jist lat me sit an' leuk at ye. I
want nae mair.'
A smile broke up the cold, sad, gray light of the young eagle-face.
Stern at once and gentle when in repose, its smile was as the
summer of some lovely land where neither the heat nor the sun shall
smite them. The youth laid his hand upon the boy's head, then
withdrew it hastily, and the smile vanished like the sun behind a
cloud. Robert saw it, and as if he had been David before Saul, rose
instinctively and said,
'I'll gang for my fiddle.--Hoots! I hae broken ane o' the strings.
We maun bide till the morn. But I want nae fiddle mysel' whan I
hear the great water oot there.'
'You're young yet, my boy, or you might hear voices in that water--!
I've lived in the sound of it all my days. When I can't rest at
night, I hear a moaning and crying in the dark, and I lie and listen
till I can't tell whether I'm a man or some God-forsaken sea in the
'Sometimes I believe in naething but my fiddle,' answered Robert.
'Yes, yes. But when it comes into you, my boy! You won't hear much
music in the cry of the sea after that. As long as you've got it at
arm's length, it's all very well. It's interesting then, and you
can talk to your fiddle about it, and make poetry about it,' said
Ericson, with a smile of self-contempt. 'But as soon as the real
earnest comes that is all over. The sea-moan is the cry of a
tortured world then. Its hollow bed is the cup of the world's pain,
ever rolling from side to side and dashing over its lip. Of all
that might be, ought to be, nothing to be had!--I could get music
out of it once. Look here. I could trifle like that once.'
He half rose, then dropped on his chair. But Robert's believing
eyes justified confidence, and Ericson had never had any one to talk
to. He rose again, opened a cupboard at his side, took out some
papers, threw them on the table, and, taking his hat, walked towards
'Which of your strings is broken?' he asked.
'The third,' answered Robert.
'I will get you one,' said Ericson; and before Robert could reply he
was down the stair. Robert heard him cough, then the door shut, and
he was gone in the rain and fog.
Bewildered, unhappy, ready to fly after him, yet irresolute, Robert
almost mechanically turned over the papers upon the little deal
table. He was soon arrested by the following verses, headed
A NOONDAY MELODY.
Everything goes to its rest;
The hills are asleep in the noon;
And life is as still in its nest
As the moon when she looks on a moon
In the depths of a calm river's breast
As it steals through a midnight in June.
The streams have forgotten the sea
In the dream of their musical sound;
The sunlight is thick on the tree,
And the shadows lie warm on the ground--
So still, you may watch them and see
Every breath that awakens around.
The churchyard lies still in the heat,
With its handful of mouldering bone;
As still as the long stalk of wheat
In the shadow that sits by the stone,
As still as the grass at my feet
When I walk in the meadows alone.
The waves are asleep on the main,
And the ships are asleep on the wave;
And the thoughts are as still in my brain
As the echo that sleeps in the cave;
All rest from their labour and pain--
Then why should not I in my grave?
His heart ready to burst with a sorrow, admiration, and devotion,
which no criticism interfered to qualify, Robert rushed out into the
darkness, and sped, fleet-footed, along the only path which Ericson
could have taken. He could not bear to be left in the house while
his friend was out in the rain.
He was sure of joining him before he reached the new town, for he
was fleet-footed, and there was a path only on one side of the way,
so that there was no danger of passing him in the dark. As he ran
he heard the moaning of the sea. There must be a storm somewhere,
away in the deep spaces of its dark bosom, and its lips muttered of
its far unrest. When the sun rose it would be seen misty and gray,
tossing about under the one rain cloud that like a thinner ocean
overspread the heavens--tossing like an animal that would fain lie
down and be at peace but could not compose its unwieldy strength.
Suddenly Robert slackened his speed, ceased running, stood, gazed
through the darkness at a figure a few yards before him.
An old wall, bowed out with age and the weight behind it, flanked
the road in this part. Doors in this wall, with a few steps in
front of them and more behind, led up into gardens upon a slope, at
the top of which stood the houses to which they belonged. Against
one of these doors the figure stood with its head bowed upon its
hands. When Robert was within a few feet, it descended and went on.
'Mr. Ericson!' exclaimed Robert. 'Ye'll get yer deith gin ye stan'
that gait i' the weet.'
'Amen,' said Ericson, turning with a smile that glimmered wan
through the misty night. Then changing his tone, he went on: 'What
are you after, Robert?'
'You,' answered Robert. 'I cudna bide to be left my lane whan I
micht be wi' ye a' the time--gin ye wad lat me. Ye war oot o' the
hoose afore I weel kent what ye was aboot. It's no a fit nicht for
ye to be oot at a', mair by token 'at ye're no the ablest to stan'
cauld an' weet.'
'I've stood a great deal of both in my time,' returned Ericson; 'but
come along. We'll go and get that fiddle-string.'
'Dinna ye think it wad be fully better to gang hame?' Robert
ventured to suggest.
'What would be the use? I'm in no mood for Plato to-night,' he
answered, trying hard to keep from shivering.
'Ye hae an ill cauld upo' ye,' persisted Robert; 'an' ye maun be as
weet 's a dishcloot.'
Ericson laughed--a strange, hollow laugh.
'Come along,' he said. 'A walk will do me good. We'll get the
string, and then you shall play to me. That will do me more good
Robert ceased opposing him, and they walked together to the new
town. Robert bought the string, and they set out, as he thought, to