Part 7 out of 13
'Tak care o' 't, sir; tak care o' 't. William Walker said there was
a jar o' drained hinney i' the basket; an' the bairns wad miss 't
sair gin 't war spult.'
'I will take good care of it,' responded the doctor.
He delivered the basket, returned to the carriage, and told the
coachman to drive home.
'Whaur are ye takin' me till?' exclaimed Shargar. 'Willie hasna
payed me for the parcel.'
'Never mind Willie. I'll pay you,' said the doctor.
'But Robert wadna like me to tak siller whaur I did nae wark for
't,' objected Shargar. 'He's some pernickety (precise)--Robert. But
I'll jist say 'at ye garred me, doctor. Maybe that 'll saitisfee
him. An' faith! I'm queer aboot my left fin here.'
'We'll soon set it all right,' said the doctor.
When they reached his house he led the way to his surgery, and there
put the broken limb in splints. He then told Johnston to help the
patient to bed.
'I maun gang hame,' objected Shargar. 'What wad Robert think?'
'I will tell him all about it,' said the doctor.
'Yersel, sir?' stipulated Shargar.
'Directly,' answered the doctor, and Shargar yielded.
'But what will Robert say?' were his last words, as he fell asleep,
appreciating, no doubt, the superiority of the bed to his usual lair
upon the hearthrug.
Robert was delighted to hear how well Shargar had acquitted himself.
Followed a small consultation about him; for the accident had
ripened the doctor's intentions concerning the outcast.
'As soon as his arm is sound again, he shall go to the
grammar-school,' he said.
'An' the college?' asked Robert.
'I hope so,' answered the doctor. 'Do you think he will do well? He
has plenty of courage, at all events, and that is a fine thing.'
'Ow ay,' answered Robert; 'he's no ill aff for smeddum
(spirit)--that is, gin it be for ony ither body. He wad never lift
a han' for himsel'; an' that's what garred me tak till him sae
muckle. He's a fine crater. He canna gang him lane, but he'll gang
wi' onybody--and haud up wi' him.'
'What do you think him fit for, then?'
Now Robert had been building castles for Shargar out of the hopes
which the doctor's friendliness had given him. Therefore he was
ready with his answer.
'Gin ye cud ensure him no bein' made a general o', he wad mak a
gran' sojer. Set's face foret, and say "quick mairch," an' he'll ca
his bagonet throu auld Hornie. But lay nae consequences upo' him,
for he cudna stan' unner them.'
Dr. Anderson laughed, but thought none the less, and went home to
see how his patient was getting on.
Meantime Ericson grew better. A space of hard, clear weather, in
which everything sparkled with frost and sunshine, did him good.
But not yet could he use his brain. He turned with dislike even
from his friend Plato. He would sit in bed or on his chair by the
fireside for hours, with his hands folded before him, and his
eyelids drooping, and let his thoughts flow, for he could not think.
And that these thoughts flowed not always with other than sweet
sounds over the stones of question, the curves of his lip would
testify to the friendly, furtive glance of the watchful Robert.
None but the troubled mind knows its own consolations; and I
believe the saddest life has its own presence--however it may be
unrecognized as such--of the upholding Deity. Doth God care for the
hairs that perish from our heads? To a mind like Ericson's the
remembered scent, the recurring vision of a flower loved in
childhood, is enough to sustain anxiety with beauty, for the lovely
is itself healing and hope-giving, because it is the form and
presence of the true. To have such a presence is to be; and while a
mind exists in any high consciousness, the intellectual trouble that
springs from the desire to know its own life, to be assured of its
rounded law and security, ceases, for the desire itself falls into
But although Ericson was so weak, he was always able and ready to
help Robert in any difficulty not unfrequently springing from his
imperfect preparation in Greek; for while Mr. Innes was an excellent
Latin scholar, his knowledge of Greek was too limited either to
compel learning or inspire enthusiasm, And with the keen instinct he
possessed in everything immediate between man and man, Robert would
sometimes search for a difficulty in order to request its solution;
for then Ericson would rouse himself to explain as few men could
have explained: where a clear view was to be had of anything,
Ericson either had it or knew that he had it not. Hence Robert's
progress was good; for one word from a wise helper will clear off a
whole atmosphere of obstructions.
At length one day when Robert came home he found him seated at the
table, with his slate, working away at the Differential Calculus.
After this he recovered more rapidly, and ere another week was over
began to attend one class a day. He had been so far in advance
before, that though he could not expect prizes, there was no fear of
One morning, Robert, coming out from a lecture, saw Ericson in the
quadrangle talking to an elderly gentleman. When they met in the
afternoon Ericson told him that that was Mr. Lindsay, and that he
had asked them both to spend the evening at his house. Robert would
go anywhere to be with his friend.
He got out his Sunday clothes, and dressed himself with anxiety: he
had visited scarcely at all, and was shy and doubtful. He then sat
down to his books, till Ericson came to his door--dressed, and hence
in Robert's eyes ceremonial--a stately, graceful gentleman. Renewed
awe came upon him at the sight, and renewed gratitude. There was a
flush on Ericson's cheek, and a fire in his eye. Robert had never
seen him look so grand. But there was a something about him that
rendered him uneasy--a look that made Ericson seem strange, as if
his life lay in some far-off region.
'I want you to take your violin with you, Robert,' he said.
'Hoots!' returned Robert, 'hoo can I do that? To tak her wi' me the
first time I gang to a strange hoose, as gin I thocht a'body wad
think as muckle o' my auld wife as I do mysel'! That wadna be
mainners--wad it noo, Mr. Ericson?'
'But I told Mr. Lindsay that you could play well. The old gentleman
is fond of Scotch tunes, and you will please him if you take it.'
'That maks a' the differ,' answered Robert.
'Thank you,' said Ericson, as Robert went towards his instrument;
and, turning, would have walked from the house without any
'Whaur are ye gaein' that gait, Mr. Ericson? Tak yer plaid, or
ye'll be laid up again, as sure's ye live.'
'I'm warm enough,' returned Ericson.
'That's naething. The cauld 's jist lyin' i' the street like a
verra deevil to get a grup o' ye. Gin ye dinna pit on yer plaid, I
winna tak my fiddle.'
Ericson yielded; and they set out together.
I will account for Ericson's request about the violin.
He went to the episcopal church on Sundays, and sat where he could
see Mysie--sat longing and thirsting ever till the music returned.
Yet the music he never heard; he watched only its transmutation
into form, never taking his eyes off Mysie's face. Reflected thence
in a metamorphosed echo, he followed all its changes. Never was one
powerless to produce it more strangely responsive to its influence.
She had no voice; she had never been taught the use of any
instrument. A world of musical feeling was pent up in her, and
music raised the suddener storms in her mobile nature, that she was
unable to give that feeling utterance. The waves of her soul dashed
the more wildly against their shores, inasmuch as those shores were
precipitous, and yielded no outlet to the swelling waters. It was
that his soul might hover like a bird of Paradise over the lovely
changes of her countenance, changes more lovely and frequent than
those of an English May, that Ericson persuaded Robert to take his
The last of the sunlight was departing, and a large full moon was
growing through the fog on the horizon. The sky was almost clear of
clouds, and the air was cold and penetrating. Robert drew Eric's
plaid closer over his chest. Eric thanked him lightly, but his
voice sounded eager; and it was with a long hasty stride that he
went up the hill through the gathering of the light frosty mist. He
stopped at the stair upon which Robert had found him that memorable
night. They went up. The door had been left on the latch for their
entrance. They went up more steps between rocky walls. When in
after years he read the Purgatorio, as often as he came to one of
its ascents, Robert saw this stair with his inward eye. At the top
of the stair was the garden, still ascending, and at the top of the
garden shone the glow of Mr. Lindsay's parlour through the
red-curtained window. To Robert it shone a refuge for Ericson from
the night air; to Ericson it shone the casket of the richest jewel
of the universe. Well might the ruddy glow stream forth to meet
him! Only in glowing red could such beauty be rightly closed. With
trembling hand he knocked at the door.
They were shown at once into the parlour. Mysie was putting away
her book as they entered, and her back was towards them. When she
turned, it seemed even to Robert as if all the light in the room
came only from her eyes. But that light had been all gathered out
of the novel she had just laid down. She held out her hand to Eric,
and her sweet voice was yet more gentle than wont, for he had been
ill. His face flushed at the tone. But although she spoke kindly,
he could hardly have fancied that she showed him special favour.
Robert stood with his violin under his arm, feeling as awkward as if
he had never handled anything more delicate than a pitchfork. But
Mysie sat down to the table, and began to pour out the tea, and he
came to himself again. Presently her father entered. His greeting
was warm and mild and sleepy. He had come from poring over
Spotiswood, in search of some Will o' the wisp or other, and had
grown stupid from want of success. But he revived after a cup of
tea, and began to talk about northern genealogies; and Ericson did
his best to listen. Robert wondered at the knowledge he displayed:
he had been tutor the foregoing summer in one of the oldest and
poorest, and therefore proudest families in Caithness. But all the
time his host talked Ericson's eyes hovered about Mysie, who sat
gazing before her with look distraught, with wide eyes and
scarce-moving eyelids, beholding something neither on sea or shore;
and Mr. Lindsay would now and then correct Ericson in some egregious
blunder; while Mysie would now and then start awake and ask Robert
or Ericson to take another cup of tea. Before the sentence was
finished, however, she would let it die away, speaking the last
words mechanically, as her consciousness relapsed into dreamland.
Had not Robert been with Ericson, he would have found it wearisome
enough; and except things took a turn, Ericson could hardly be
satisfied with the pleasure of the evening. Things did take a turn.
'Robert has brought his fiddle,' said Ericson, as the tea was
'I hope he will be kind enough to play something,' said Mr. Lindsay.
'I'll do that,' answered Robert, with alacrity. 'But ye maunna
expec' ower muckle, for I'm but a prentice-han',' he added, as he
got the instrument ready.
Before he had drawn the bow once across it, attention awoke in
Mysie's eyes; and before he had finished playing, Ericson must have
had quite as much of the 'beauty born of murmuring sound' as was
good for him. Little did Mysie think of the sky of love, alive with
silent thoughts, that arched over her. The earth teems with love
that is unloved. The universe itself is one sea of infinite love,
from whose consort of harmonies if a stray note steal across the
sense, it starts bewildered.
Robert played better than usual. His touch grew intense, and put on
all its delicacy, till it was like that of the spider, which, as
Pope so admirably says,
Feels at each thread, and lives along the line.
And while Ericson watched its shadows, the music must have taken
hold of him too; for when Robert ceased, he sang a wild ballad of
the northern sea, to a tune strange as itself. It was the only time
Robert ever heard him sing. Mysie's eyes grew wider and wider as
she listened. When it was over,
'Did ye write that sang yersel', Mr. Ericson?' asked Robert.
'No,' answered Ericson. 'An old shepherd up in our parts used to say
it to me when I was a boy.'
'Didna he sing 't?' Robert questioned further.
'No, he didn't. But I heard an old woman crooning it to a child in
a solitary cottage on the shore of Stroma, near the Swalchie
whirlpool, and that was the tune she sang it to, if singing it could
'I don't quite understand it, Mr. Ericson,' said Mysie. 'What does
'There was once a beautiful woman lived there-away,' began
Ericson.--But I have not room to give the story as he told it,
embellishing it, no doubt, as with such a mere tale was lawful
enough, from his own imagination. The substance was that a young
man fell in love with a beautiful witch, who let him go on loving
her till he cared for nothing but her, and then began to kill him by
laughing at him. For no witch can fall in love herself, however
much she may like to be loved. She mocked him till he drowned
himself in a pool on the seashore. Now the witch did not know that;
but as she walked along the shore, looking for things, she saw his
hand lying over the edge of a rocky basin. Nothing is more useful
to a witch than the hand of a man, so she went to pick it up. When
she found it fast to an arm, she would have chopped it off, but
seeing whose it was, she would, for some reason or other best known
to a witch, draw off his ring first. For it was an enchanted ring
which she had given him to bewitch his love, and now she wanted both
it and the hand to draw to herself the lover of a young maiden whom
she hated. But the dead hand closed its fingers upon hers, and her
power was powerless against the dead. And the tide came rushing up,
and the dead hand held her till she was drowned. She lies with her
lover to this day at the bottom of the Swalchie whirlpool; and when
a storm is at hand, strange moanings rise from the pool, for the
youth is praying the witch lady for her love, and she is praying him
to let go her hand.
While Ericson told the story the room still glimmered about Robert
as if all its light came from Mysie's face, upon which the
flickering firelight alone played. Mr. Lindsay sat a little back
from the rest, with an amused expression: legends of such sort did
not come within the scope of his antiquarian reach, though he was
ready enough to believe whatever tempted his own taste, let it be as
destitute of likelihood as the story of the dead hand. When Ericson
ceased, Mysie gave a deep sigh, and looked full of thought, though I
daresay it was only feeling. Mr. Lindsay followed with an old tale
of the Sinclairs, of which he said Ericson's reminded him, though
the sole association was that the foregoing was a Caithness story,
and the Sinclairs are a Caithness family. As soon as it was over,
Mysie, who could not hide all her impatience during its lingering
progress, asked Robert to play again. He took up his violin, and
with great expression gave the air of Ericson's ballad two or three
times over, and then laid down the instrument. He saw indeed that
it was too much for Mysie, affecting her more, thus presented after
the story, than the singing of the ballad itself. Thereupon
Ericson, whose spirits had risen greatly at finding that he could
himself secure Mysie's attention, and produce the play of soul in
feature which he so much delighted to watch, offered another story;
and the distant rush of the sea, borne occasionally into the
'grateful gloom' upon the cold sweep of a February wind, mingled
with one tale after another, with which he entranced two of his
audience, while the third listened mildly content.
The last of the tales Ericson told was as follows:--
'One evening-twilight in spring, a young English student, who had
wandered northwards as far as the outlying fragments of Scotland
called the Orkney and Shetland islands, found himself on a small
island of the latter group, caught in a storm of wind and hail,
which had come on suddenly. It was in vain to look about for any
shelter; for not only did the storm entirely obscure the landscape,
but there was nothing around him save a desert moss.
'At length, however, as he walked on for mere walking's sake, he
found himself on the verge of a cliff, and saw, over the brow of it,
a few feet below him, a ledge of rock, where he might find some
shelter from the blast, which blew from behind. Letting himself
down by his hands, he alighted upon something that crunched beneath
his tread, and found the bones of many small animals scattered about
in front of a little cave in the rock, offering the refuge he
sought, He went in, and sat upon a stone. The storm increased in
violence, and as the darkness grew he became uneasy, for he did not
relish the thought of spending the night in the cave. He had parted
from his companions on the opposite side of the island, and it added
to his uneasiness that they must be full of apprehension about him.
At last there came a lull in the storm, and the same instant he
heard a footfall, stealthy and light as that of a wild beast, upon
the bones at the mouth of the cave. He started up in some fear,
though the least thought might have satisfied him that there could
be no very dangerous animals upon the island. Before he had time to
think, however, the face of a woman appeared in the opening.
Eagerly the wanderer spoke. She started at the sound of his voice.
He could not see her well, because she was turned towards the
darkness of the cave.
'"Will you tell me how to find my way across the moor to Shielness?"
'"You cannot find it to-night," she answered, in a sweet tone, and
with a smile that bewitched him, revealing the whitest of teeth.
'"What am I to do, then?" he asked.
'"My mother will give you shelter, but that is all she has to
'"And that is far more than I expected a minute ago," he replied. "I
shall be most grateful."
'She turned in silence and left the cave. The youth followed.
'She was barefooted, and her pretty brown feet went catlike over the
sharp stones, as she led the way down a rocky path to the shore.
Her garments were scanty and torn, and her hair blew tangled in the
wind. She seemed about five-and-twenty, lithe and small. Her long
fingers kept clutching and pulling nervously at her skirts as she
went. Her face was very gray in complexion, and very worn, but
delicately formed, and smooth-skinned. Her thin nostrils were
tremulous as eyelids, and her lips, whose curves were faultless, had
no colour to give sign of indwelling blood. What her eyes were like
he could not see, for she had never lifted the delicate films of her
'At the foot of the cliff they came upon a little hut leaning
against it, and having for its inner apartment a natural hollow
within it. Smoke was spreading over the face of the rock, and the
grateful odour of food gave hope to the hungry student. His guide
opened the door of the cottage; he followed her in, and saw a woman
bending over a fire in the middle of the floor. On the fire lay a
large fish boiling. The daughter spoke a few words, and the mother
turned and welcomed the stranger. She had an old and very wrinkled,
but honest face, and looked troubled. She dusted the only chair in
the cottage, and placed it for him by the side of the fire, opposite
the one window, whence he saw a little patch of yellow sand over
which the spent waves spread themselves out listlessly. Under this
window was a bench, upon which the daughter threw herself in an
unusual posture, resting her chin upon her hand. A moment after the
youth caught the first glimpse of her blue eyes. They were fixed
upon him with a strange look of greed, amounting to craving, but as
if aware that they belied or betrayed her, she dropped them
instantly. The moment she veiled them, her face, notwithstanding
its colourless complexion, was almost beautiful.
'When the fish was ready the old woman wiped the deal table,
steadied it upon the uneven floor, and covered it with a piece of
fine table-linen. She then laid the fish on a wooden platter, and
invited the guest to help himself. Seeing no other provision, he
pulled from his pocket a hunting-knife, and divided a portion from
the fish, offering it to the mother first.
'"Come, my lamb," said the old woman; and the daughter approached
the table. But her nostrils and mouth quivered with disgust.
'The next moment she turned and hurried from the hut.
'"She doesn't like fish," said the old woman, "and I haven't
anything else to give her."
'"She does not seem in good health," he rejoined.
'The woman answered only with a sigh, and they ate their fish with
the help of a little rye-bread. As they finished their supper, the
youth heard the sound as of the pattering of a dog's feet upon the
sand close to the door; but ere he had time to look out of the
window, the door opened and the young woman entered. She looked
better, perhaps from having just washed her face. She drew a stool
to the corner of the fire opposite him. But as she sat down, to his
bewilderment, and even horror, the student spied a single drop of
blood on her white skin within her torn dress. The woman brought
out a jar of whisky, put a rusty old kettle on the fire, and took
her place in front of it. As soon as the water boiled, she
proceeded to make some toddy in a wooden bowl.
'Meantime the youth could not take his eyes off the young woman, so
that at length he found himself fascinated, or rather bewitched.
She kept her eyes for the most part veiled with the loveliest
eyelids fringed with darkest lashes, and he gazed entranced; for the
red glow of the little oil-lamp covered all the strangeness of her
complexion. But as soon as he met a stolen glance out of those eyes
unveiled, his soul shuddered within him. Lovely face and craving
eyes alternated fascination and repulsion.
'The mother placed the bowl in his hands. He drank sparingly, and
passed it to the girl. She lifted it to her lips, and as she
tasted--only tasted it--looked at him. He thought the drink must
have been drugged and have affected his brain. Her hair smoothed
itself back, and drew her forehead backwards with it; while the
lower part of her face projected towards the bowl, revealing, ere
she sipped, her dazzling teeth in strange prominence. But the same
moment the vision vanished; she returned the vessel to her mother,
and rising, hurried out of the cottage.
'Then, the old woman pointed to a bed of heather in one corner with
a murmured apology; and the student, wearied both with the fatigues
of the day and the strangeness of the night, threw himself upon it,
wrapped in his cloak. The moment he lay down, the storm began
afresh, and the wind blew so keenly through the crannies of the hut,
that it was only by drawing his cloak over his head that he could
protect himself from its currents. Unable to sleep, he lay
listening to the uproar which grew in violence, till the spray was
dashing against the window. At length the door opened, and the
young woman came in, made up the fire, drew the bench before it, and
lay down in the same strange posture, with her chin propped on her
hand and elbow, and her face turned towards the youth. He moved a
little; she dropped her head, and lay on her face, with her arms
crossed beneath her forehead. The mother had disappeared.
'Drowsiness crept over him. A movement of the bench roused him, and
he fancied he saw some four-footed creature as tall as a large dog
trot quietly out of the door. He was sure he felt a rush of cold
wind. Gazing fixedly through the darkness, he thought he saw the
eyes of the damsel encountering his, but a glow from the falling
together of the remnants of the fire, revealed clearly enough that
the bench was vacant. Wondering what could have made her go out in
such a storm, he fell fast asleep.
'In the middle of the night he felt a pain in his shoulder, came
broad awake, and saw the gleaming eyes and grinning teeth of some
animal close to his face. Its claws were in his shoulder, and its
mouth was in the act of seeking his throat. Before it had fixed its
fangs, however, he had its throat in one hand, and sought his knife
with the other. A terrible struggle followed; but regardless of the
tearing claws, he found and opened his knife. He had made one
futile stab, and was drawing it for a surer, when, with a spring of
the whole body, and one wildly-contorted effort, the creature
twisted its neck from his hold, and with something betwixt a scream
and a howl, darted from him. Again he heard the door open; again
the wind blew in upon him, and it continued blowing; a sheet of
spray dashed across the floor, and over his face. He sprung from
his couch and bounded to the door.
'It was a wild night--dark, but for the flash of whiteness from the
waves as they broke within a few yards of the cottage; the wind was
raving, and the rain pouring down the air. A gruesome sound as of
mingled weeping and howling came from somewhere in the dark. He
turned again into the hut and closed the door, but could find no way
of securing it.
'The lamp was nearly out, and he could not be certain whether the
form of the young woman was upon the bench or not. Overcoming a
strong repugnance, he approached it, and put out his hands--there
was nothing there. He sat down and waited for the daylight: he
dared not sleep any more.
'When the day dawned at length, he went out yet again, and looked
around. The morning was dim and gusty and gray. The wind had
fallen, but the waves were tossing wildly. He wandered up and down
the little strand, longing for more light.
'At length he heard a movement in the cottage. By and by the voice
of the old woman called to him from the door.
'"You're up early, sir. I doubt you didn't sleep well."
'"Not very well," he answered. "But where is your daughter?"
'"She's not awake yet," said the mother. "I'm afraid I have but a
poor breakfast for you. But you'll take a dram and a bit of fish.
It's all I've got."
'Unwilling to hurt her, though hardly in good appetite, he sat down
at the table. While they were eating the daughter came in, but
turned her face away and went to the further end of the hut. When
she came forward after a minute or two, the youth saw that her hair
was drenched, and her face whiter than before. She looked ill and
faint, and when she raised her eyes, all their fierceness had
vanished, and sadness had taken its place. Her neck was now covered
with a cotton handkerchief. She was modestly attentive to him, and
no longer shunned his gaze. He was gradually yielding to the
temptation of braving another night in the hut, and seeing what
would follow, when the old woman spoke.
'"The weather will be broken all day, sir," she said. "You had
better be going, or your friends will leave without you."
'Ere he could answer, he saw such a beseeching glance on the face of
the girl, that he hesitated, confused. Glancing at the mother, he
saw the flash of wrath in her face. She rose and approached her
daughter, with her hand lifted to strike her. The young woman
stooped her head with a cry. He darted round the table to interpose
between them. But the mother had caught hold of her; the
handkerchief had fallen from her neck; and the youth saw five blue
bruises on her lovely throat--the marks of the four fingers and the
thumb of a left hand. With a cry of horror he rushed from the
house, but as he reached the door he turned. His hostess was lying
motionless on the floor, and a huge gray wolf came bounding after
An involuntary cry from Mysie interrupted the story-teller. He
changed his tone at once.
'I beg your pardon, Miss Lindsay, for telling you such a horrid
tale. Do forgive me. I didn't mean to frighten you more than a
'Only a case of lycanthropia,' remarked Mr. Lindsay, as coolly as if
that settled everything about it and lycanthropia, horror and all,
'Do tell us the rest,' pleaded Mysie, and Ericson resumed.
'There was no weapon at hand; and if there had been, his inborn
chivalry would never have allowed him to harm a woman even under the
guise of a wolf. Instinctively, he set himself firm, leaning a
little forward, with half outstretched arms, and hands curved ready
to clutch again at the throat upon which he had left those pitiful
marks. But the creature as she sprang eluded his grasp, and just as
he expected to feel her fangs, he found a woman weeping on his
bosom, with her arms around his neck. The next instant, the gray
wolf broke from him, and bounded howling up the cliff. Recovering
himself as he best might, the youth followed, for it was the only
way to the moor above, across which he must now make his way to find
'All at once he heard the sound of a crunching of bones--not as if a
creature was eating them, but as if they were ground by the teeth of
rage and disappointment: looking up, he saw close above him the
mouth of the little cavern in which he had taken refuge the day
before. Summoning all his resolution, he passed it slowly and
softly. From within came the sounds of a mingled moaning and
'Having reached the top, he ran at full speed for some distance
across the moor before venturing to look behind him. When at length
he did so he saw, against the sky, the girl standing on the edge of
the cliff, wringing her hands. One solitary wail crossed the space
between. She made no attempt to follow him, and he reached the
opposite shore in safety.'
Mysie tried to laugh, but succeeded badly. Robert took his violin,
and its tones had soon swept all the fear from her face, leaving in
its stead a trouble that has no name--the trouble of wanting one
knows not what--or how to seek it.
It was now time to go home. Mysie gave each an equally warm
good-night and thanks, Mr. Lindsay accompanied them to the door, and
the students stepped into the moonlight. Across the links the sound
of the sea came with a swell.
As they went down the garden, Ericson stopped. Robert thought he
was looking back to the house, and went on. When Ericson joined
him, he was pale as death.
'What is the maitter wi' ye, Mr. Ericson?' he asked in terror.
'Look there!' said Ericson, pointing, not to the house, but to the
Robert looked up. Close about the moon were a few white clouds.
Upon these white clouds, right over the moon, and near as the
eyebrow to an eye, hung part of an opalescent halo, bent into the
rude, but unavoidable suggestion of an eyebrow; while, close around
the edge of the moon, clung another, a pale storm-halo. To this
pale iris and faint-hued eyebrow the full moon itself formed the
white pupil: the whole was a perfect eye of ghastly death, staring
out of the winter heaven. The vision may never have been before,
may never have been again, but this Ericson and Robert saw that
THE LAST OF THE COALS.
The next Sunday Robert went with Ericson to the episcopal chapel,
and for the first time in his life heard the epic music of the
organ. It was a new starting-point in his life. The worshipping
instrument flooded his soul with sound, and he stooped beneath it as
a bather on the shore stoops beneath the broad wave rushing up the
land. But I will not linger over this portion of his history. It
is enough to say that he sought the friendship of the organist, was
admitted to the instrument; touched, trembled, exulted; grew
dissatisfied, fastidious, despairing; gathered hope and tried again,
and yet again; till at last, with constantly-recurring fits of
self-despite, he could not leave the grand creature alone. It
became a rival even to his violin. And once before the end of
March, when the organist was ill, and another was not to be had, he
ventured to occupy his place both at morning and evening service.
Dr. Anderson kept George Moray in bed for a few days, after which he
went about for a while with his arm in a sling. But the season of
bearing material burdens was over for him now. Dr. Anderson had an
interview with the master of the grammar-school; a class was
assigned to Moray, and with a delight, resting chiefly on his social
approximation to Robert, which in one week elevated the whole
character of his person and countenance and bearing, George Moray
bent himself to the task of mental growth. Having good helpers at
home, and his late-developed energy turning itself entirely into the
new channel, he got on admirably. As there was no other room to be
had in Mrs. Fyvie's house, he continued for the rest of the session
to sleep upon the rug, for he would not hear of going to another
house. The doctor had advised Robert to drop the nickname as much
as possible; but the first time he called him Moray, Shargar
threatened to cut his throat, and so between the two the name
I presume that by this time Doctor Anderson had made up his mind to
leave his money to Robert, but thought it better to say nothing
about it, and let the boy mature his independence. He had him often
to his house. Ericson frequently accompanied him; and as there was
a good deal of original similarity between the doctor and Ericson,
the latter soon felt his obligation no longer a burden. Shargar
likewise, though more occasionally, made one of the party, and soon
began, in his new circumstances, to develop the manners of a
gentleman. I say develop advisedly, for Shargar had a deep humanity
in him, as abundantly testified by his devotion to Robert, and
humanity is the body of which true manners is the skin and ordinary
manifestation: true manners are the polish which lets the internal
humanity shine through, just as the polish on marble reveals its
veined beauty. Many talks did the elderly man hold with the three
youths, and his experience of life taught Ericson and Robert much,
especially what he told them about his Brahmin friend in India.
Moray, on the other hand, was chiefly interested in his tales of
adventure when on service in the Indian army, or engaged in the
field sports of that region so prolific in monsters. His gipsy
blood and lawless childhood, spent in wandering familiarity with
houseless nature, rendered him more responsive to these than the
others, and his kindled eye and pertinent remarks raised in the
doctor's mind an early question whether a commission in India might
not be his best start in life.
Between Ericson and Robert, as the former recovered his health,
communication from the deeper strata of human need became less
frequent. Ericson had to work hard to recover something of his
leeway; Robert had to work hard that prizes might witness for him to
his grandmother and Miss St. John. To the latter especially, as I
think I have said before, he was anxious to show well, wiping out
the blot, as he considered it, of his all but failure in the matter
of a bursary. For he looked up to her as to a goddess who just came
near enough to the earth to be worshipped by him who dwelt upon it.
The end of the session came nigh. Ericson passed his examinations
with honour. Robert gained the first Greek and third Latin prize.
The evening of the last day arrived, and on the morrow the students
would be gone--some to their homes of comfort and idleness, others
to hard labour in the fields; some to steady reading, perhaps to
school again to prepare for the next session, and others to be
tutors all the summer months, and return to the wintry city as to
freedom and life. Shargar was to remain at the grammar-school.
That last evening Robert sat with Ericson in his room. It was a
cold night--the night of the last day of March. A bitter wind blew
about the house, and dropped spiky hailstones upon the skylight.
The friends were to leave on the morrow, but to leave together; for
they had already sent their boxes, one by the carrier to Rothieden,
the other by a sailing vessel to Wick, and had agreed to walk
together as far as Robert's home, where he was in hopes of inducing
his friend to remain for a few days if he found his grandmother
agreeable to the plan. Shargar was asleep on the rug for the last
time, and Robert had brought his coal-scuttle into Ericson's room to
combine their scanty remains of well-saved fuel in a common glow,
over which they now sat.
'I wonder what my grannie 'ill say to me,' said Robert.
'She'll be very glad to see you, whatever she may say,' remarked
'She'll say "Noo, be dooce," the minute I hae shacken hands wi'
her,' said Robert.
'Robert,' returned Ericson solemnly, 'if I had a grandmother to go
home to, she might box my ears if she liked--I wouldn't care. You
do not know what it is not to have a soul belonging to you on the
face of the earth. It is so cold and so lonely!'
'But you have a cousin, haven't you?' suggested Robert.
Ericson laughed, but good-naturedly.
'Yes,' he answered, 'a little man with a fishy smell, in a blue
tail-coat with brass buttons, and a red and black nightcap.'
'But,' Robert ventured to hint, 'he might go in a kilt and
top-boots, like Satan in my grannie's copy o' the Paradise Lost, for
onything I would care.'
'Yes, but he's just like his looks. The first thing he'll do the
next morning after I go home, will be to take me into his office, or
shop, as he calls it, and get down his books, and show me how many
barrels of herring I owe him, with the price of each. To do him
justice, he only charges me wholesale.'
'What'll he do that for?'
'To urge on me the necessity of diligence, and the choice of a
profession,' answered Ericson, with a smile of mingled sadness and
irresolution. 'He will set forth what a loss the interest of the
money is, even if I should pay the principal; and remind me that
although he has stood my friend, his duty to his own family imposes
limits. And he has at least a couple of thousand pounds in the
county bank. I don't believe he would do anything for me but for
the honour it will be to the family to have a professional man in
it. And yet my father was the making of him.'
'Tell me about your father. What was he?'
'A gentle-minded man, who thought much and said little. He farmed
the property that had been his father's own, and is now leased by my
fishy cousin afore mentioned.'
'And your mother?'
'She died just after I was born, and my father never got over it.'
'And you have no brothers or sisters?'
'No, not one. Thank God for your grandmother, and do all you can to
A silence followed, during which Robert's heart swelled and heaved
with devotion to Ericson; for notwithstanding his openness, there
was a certain sad coldness about him that restrained Robert from
letting out all the tide of his love. The silence became painful,
and he broke it abruptly.
'What are you going to be, Mr. Ericson?'
'I wish you could tell me, Robert. What would you have me to be?
Robert thought for a moment.
'Weel, ye canna be a minister, Mr. Ericson, 'cause ye dinna believe
in God, ye ken,' he said simply.
'Don't say that, Robert,' Ericson returned, in a tone of pain with
which no displeasure was mingled. 'But you are right. At best I
only hope in God; I don't believe in him.'
'I'm thinkin' there canna be muckle differ atween houp an' faith,'
said Robert. 'Mony a ane 'at says they believe in God has unco
little houp o' onything frae 's han', I'm thinkin'.'
My reader may have observed a little change for the better in
Robert's speech. Dr. Anderson had urged upon him the necessity of
being able at least to speak English; and he had been trying to
modify the antique Saxon dialect they used at Rothieden with the
newer and more refined English. But even when I knew him, he would
upon occasion, especially when the subject was religion or music,
fall back into the broadest Scotch. It was as if his heart could
not issue freely by any other gate than that of his grandmother
Fearful of having his last remark contradicted--for he had an
instinctive desire that it should lie undisturbed where he had cast
it in the field of Ericson's mind, he hurried to another question.
'What for shouldna ye be a doctor?'
'Now you'll think me a fool, Robert, if I tell you why.'
'Far be it frae me to daur think sic a word, Mr. Ericson!' said
'Well, I'll tell you, whether or not,' returned Ericson. 'I could, I
believe, amputate a living limb with considerable coolness; but put
a knife in a dead body I could not.'
'I think I know what you mean. Then you must he a lawyer.'
'A lawyer! O Lord!' said Ericson.
'Why not?' asked Robert, in some wonderment; for he could not
imagine Ericson acting from mere popular prejudice or fancy.
'Just think of spending one's life in an atmosphere of squabbles.
It's all very well when one gets to be a judge and dispense
justice; but--well, it's not for me. I could not do the best for my
clients. And a lawyer has nothing to do with the kingdom of
heaven--only with his clients. He must be a party-man. He must
secure for one so often at the loss of the rest. My duty and my
conscience would always be at strife.'
'Then what will you be, Mr. Ericson?'
'To tell the truth, I would rather be a watchmaker than anything
else I know. I might make one watch that would go right, I suppose,
if I lived long enough. But no one would take an apprentice of my
age. So I suppose I must be a tutor, knocked about from one house
to another, patronized by ex-pupils, and smiled upon as harmless by
mammas and sisters to the end of the chapter. And then something of
a pauper's burial, I suppose. Che sara sara.'
Ericson had sunk into one of his worst moods. But when he saw
Robert looking unhappy, he changed his tone, and would be--what he
could not be--merry.
'But what's the use of talking about it?' he said. 'Get your fiddle,
man, and play The Wind that shakes the Barley.'
'No, Mr. Ericson,' answered Robert; 'I have no heart for the fiddle.
I would rather have some poetry.'
'Oh!--Poetry!' returned Ericson, in a tone of contempt--yet not very
'We're gaein' awa', Mr. Ericson,' said Robert; 'an' the Lord 'at we
ken naething aboot alane kens whether we'll ever meet again i' this
place. And sae--'
'True enough, my boy,' interrupted Ericson. 'I have no need to
trouble myself about the future. I believe that is the real secret
of it after all. I shall never want a profession or anything else.'
'What do you mean, Mr. Ericson?' asked Robert, in half-defined
'I mean, my boy, that I shall not live long. I know that--thank
'How do you know it?'
'My father died at thirty, and my mother at six-and-twenty, both of
the same disease. But that's not how I know it.'
'How do you know it then?'
Ericson returned no answer. He only said--
'Death will be better than life. One thing I don't like about it
though,' he added, 'is the coming on of unconsciousness. I cannot
bear to lose my consciousness even in sleep. It is such a terrible
'I suppose that's ane o' the reasons that we canna be content
withoot a God,' responded Robert. 'It's dreidfu' to think even o'
fa'in' asleep withoot some ane greater an' nearer than the me
watchin' ower 't. But I'm jist sayin' ower again what I hae read in
ane o' your papers, Mr. Ericson. Jist lat me luik.'
Venturing more than he had ever yet ventured, Robert rose and went
to the cupboard where Ericson's papers lay. His friend did not
check him. On the contrary, he took the papers from his hand, and
searched for the poem indicated.
'I'm not in the way of doing this sort of thing, Robert,' he said.
'I know that,' answered Robert.
And Ericson read.
Oh, is it Death that comes
To have a foretaste of the whole?
To-night the planets and the stars
Will glimmer through my window-bars,
But will not shine upon my soul.
For I shall lie as dead,
Though yet I am above the ground;
All passionless, with scarce a breath,
With hands of rest and eyes of death,
I shall be carried swiftly round.
Or if my life should break
The idle night with doubtful gleams
Through mossy arches will I go,
Through arches ruinous and low,
And chase the true and false in dreams.
Why should I fall asleep?
When I am still upon my bed,
The moon will shine, the winds will rise,
And all around and through the skies
The light clouds travel o'er my head.
O, busy, busy things!
Ye mock me with your ceaseless life;
For all the hidden springs will flow,
And all the blades of grass will grow,
When I have neither peace nor strife.
And all the long night through,
The restless streams will hurry by;
And round the lands, with endless roar,
The white waves fall upon the shore,
And bit by bit devour the dry.
Even thus, but silently,
Eternity, thy tide shall flow--
And side by side with every star
Thy long-drawn swell shall bear me far,
An idle boat with none to row.
My senses fail with sleep;
My heart beats thick; the night is noon;
And faintly through its misty folds
I hear a drowsy clock that holds
Its converse with the waning moon.
Oh, solemn mystery!
That I should be so closely bound
With neither terror nor constraint
Without a murmur of complaint,
And lose myself upon such ground!
'Rubbish!' said Ericson, as he threw down the sheets, disgusted with
his own work, which so often disappoints the writer, especially if
he is by any chance betrayed into reading it aloud.
'Dinna say that, Mr. Ericson,' returned Robert. 'Ye maunna say that.
Ye hae nae richt to lauch at honest wark, whether it be yer ain or
ony ither body's. The poem noo--'
'Don't call it a poem,' interrupted Ericson. 'It's not worthy of the
'I will ca' 't a poem,' persisted Robert; 'for it's a poem to me,
whatever it may be to you. An' hoo I ken 'at it's a poem is jist
this: it opens my een like music to something I never saw afore.'
'What is that?' asked Ericson, not sorry to be persuaded that there
might after all be some merit in the productions painfully despised
'Jist this: it's only whan ye dinna want to fa' asleep 'at it luiks
fearsome to ye. An' maybe the fear o' death comes i' the same way:
we're feared at it 'cause we're no a'thegither ready for 't; but
whan the richt time comes, it'll be as nat'ral as fa'in' asleep whan
we're doonricht sleepy. Gin there be a God to ca' oor Father in
heaven, I'm no thinkin' that he wad to sae mony bonny tunes pit a
scraich for the hinder end. I'm thinkin', gin there be onything in
't ava--ye ken I'm no sayin', for I dinna ken--we maun jist lippen
till him to dee dacent an' bonny, an' nae sic strange awfu' fash
aboot it as some fowk wad mak a religion o' expeckin'.'
Ericson looked at Robert with admiration mingled with something akin
'One would think it was your grandfather holding forth, Robert,' he
said. 'How came you to think of such things at your age?'
'I'm thinkin',' answered Robert, 'ye warna muckle aulder nor mysel'
whan ye took to sic things, Mr. Ericson. But, 'deed, maybe my
luckie-daddie (grandfather) pat them i' my heid, for I had a heap
ado wi' his fiddle for a while. She's deid noo.'
Not understanding him, Ericson began to question, and out came the
story of the violins. They talked on till the last of their coals
was burnt out, and then they went to bed.
Shargar had undertaken to rouse them early, that they might set out
on their long walk with a long day before them. But Robert was
awake before Shargar. The all but soulless light of the dreary
season awoke him, and he rose and looked out. Aurora, as aged now
as her loved Tithonus, peered, gray-haired and desolate, over the
edge of the tossing sea, with hardly enough of light in her dim eyes
to show the broken crests of the waves that rushed shorewards before
the wind of her rising. Such an east wind was the right breath to
issue from such a pale mouth of hopeless revelation as that which
opened with dead lips across the troubled sea on the far horizon.
While he gazed, the east darkened; a cloud of hail rushed against
the window; and Robert retreated to his bed. But ere he had fallen
asleep, Ericson was beside him; and before he was dressed, Ericson
appeared again, with his stick in his hand. They left Shargar still
asleep, and descended the stairs, thinking to leave the house
undisturbed. But Mrs. Fyvie was watching for them, and insisted on
their taking the breakfast she had prepared. They then set out on
their journey of forty miles, with half a loaf in their pockets, and
money enough to get bread and cheese, and a bottle of the poorest
ale, at the far-parted roadside inns.
When Shargar awoke, he wept in desolation, then crept into Robert's
bed, and fell fast asleep again.
A STRANGE NIGHT.
The youths had not left the city a mile behind, when a thick
snowstorm came on. It did not last long, however, and they fought
their way through it into a glimpse of sun. To Robert, healthy,
powerful, and except at rare times, hopeful, it added to the
pleasure of the journey to contend with the storm, and there was a
certain steely indifference about Ericson that carried him through.
They trudged on steadily for three hours along a good turnpike
road, with great black masses of cloud sweeping across the sky,
which now sent them a glimmer of sunlight, and now a sharp shower of
hail. The country was very dreary--a succession of undulations
rising into bleak moorlands, and hills whose heather would in autumn
flush the land with glorious purple, but which now looked black and
cheerless, as if no sunshine could ever warm them. Now and then the
moorland would sweep down to the edge of the road, diversified with
dark holes from which peats were dug, and an occasional quarry of
gray granite. At one moment endless pools would be shining in the
sunlight, and the next the hail would be dancing a mad fantastic
dance all about them: they pulled their caps over their brows, bent
their heads, and struggled on.
At length they reached their first stage, and after a meal of bread
and cheese and an offered glass of whisky, started again on their
journey. They did not talk much, for their force was spent on their
After some consultation whether to keep the road or take a certain
short cut across the moors, which would lead them into it again with
a saving of several miles, the sun shining out with a little
stronger promise than he had yet given, they resolved upon the
latter. But in the middle of the moorland the wind and the hail
came on with increased violence, and they were glad to tack from one
to another of the huge stones that lay about, and take a short
breathing time under the lee of each; so that when they recovered
the road, they had lost as many miles in time and strength as they
had saved in distance. They did not give in, however, but after
another rest and a little more refreshment, started again.
The evening was now growing dusk around them, and the fatigue of the
day was telling so severely on Ericson, that when in the twilight
they heard the blast of a horn behind them, and turning saw the two
flaming eyes of a well-known four-horse coach come fluctuating
towards them, Robert insisted on their getting up and riding the
rest of the way.
'But I can't afford it,' said Ericson.
'But I can,' said Robert.
'I don't doubt it,' returned Ericson. 'But I owe you too much
'Gin ever we win hame--I mean to the heart o' hame--ye can pay me
'There will be no need then.'
'Whaur's the need than to mak sic a wark aboot a saxpence or twa
atween this and that? I thocht ye cared for naething that time or
space or sense could grip or measure. Mr. Ericson, ye're no half
sic a philosopher as ye wad set up for.--Hillo!'
Ericson laughed a weary laugh, and as the coach stopped in obedience
to Robert's hail, he scrambled up behind.
The guard knew Robert, was pitiful over the condition of the
travellers, would have put them inside, but that there was a lady
there, and their clothes were wet, got out a great horse-rug and
wrapped Robert in it, put a spare coat of his own, about an inch
thick, upon Ericson, drew out a flask, took a pull at it, handed it
to his new passengers, and blew a vigorous blast on his long horn,
for they were approaching a desolate shed where they had to change
their weary horses for four fresh thorough-breds.
Away they went once more, careering through the gathering darkness.
It was delightful indeed to have to urge one weary leg past the
other no more, but be borne along towards food, fire, and bed. But
their adventures were not so nearly over as they imagined. Once
more the hail fell furiously--huge hailstones, each made of many,
half-melted and welded together into solid lumps of ice. The
coachman could scarcely hold his face to the shower, and the blows
they received on their faces and legs, drove the thin-skinned,
high-spirited horses nearly mad. At length they would face it no
longer. At a turn in the road, where it crossed a brook by a bridge
with a low stone wall, the wind met them right in the face with
redoubled vehemence; the leaders swerved from it, and were just
rising to jump over the parapet, when the coachman, whose hands were
nearly insensible with cold, threw his leg over the reins, and
pulled them up. One of the leaders reared, and fell backwards; one
of the wheelers kicked vigorously; a few moments, and in spite of
the guard at their heads, all was one struggling mass of bodies and
legs, with a broken pole in the midst. The few passengers got down;
and Robert, fearing that yet worse might happen and remembering the
lady, opened the door. He found her quite composed. As he helped
'What is the matter?' asked the voice dearest to him in the
world--the voice of Miss St. John.
He gave a cry of delight. Wrapped in the horse-cloth, Miss St. John
did not know him.
'What is the matter?' she repeated.
'Ow, naething, mem--naething. Only I doobt we winna get ye hame the
'Is it you, Robert?' she said, gladly recognizing his voice.
'Ay, it's me, and Mr. Ericson. We'll tak care o' ye, mem.'
'But surely we shall get home!'
Robert had heard the crack of the breaking pole.
''Deed, I doobt no.'
'What are we to do, then?'
'Come into the lythe (shelter) o' the bank here, oot o' the gait o'
thae brutes o' horses,' said Robert, taking off his horse-cloth and
wrapping her in it.
The storm hissed and smote all around them. She took Robert's arm.
Followed by Ericson, they left the coach and the struggling horses,
and withdrew to a bank that overhung the road. As soon as they were
out of the wind, Robert, who had made up his mind, said,
'We canna be mony yairds frae the auld hoose o' Bogbonnie. We micht
win throu the nicht there weel eneuch. I'll speir at the gaird, the
minute the horses are clear. We war 'maist ower the brig, I heard
the coachman say.'
'I know quite well where the old house is,' said Ericson. 'I went in
the last time I walked this way.'
'Was the door open?' asked Robert.
'I don't know,' answered Ericson. 'I found one of the windows open
in the basement.'
'We'll get the len' o' ane o' the lanterns, an' gang direckly. It
canna be mair nor the breedth o' a rig or twa frae the burn.'
'I can take you by the road,' said Ericson.
'It will be very cold,' said Miss St. John,--already shivering,
partly from disquietude.
'There's timmer eneuch there to haud 's warm for a twalmonth,' said
He went back to the coach. By this time the horses were nearly
extricated. Two of them stood steaming in the lamplight, with their
sides going at twenty bellows' speed. The guard would not let him
have one of the coach lamps, but gave him a small lantern of his
own. When he returned with it, he found Ericson and Miss St. John
Ericson led the way, and the others followed.
'Whaur are ye gaein', gentlemen?' asked the guard, as they passed
'To the auld hoose,' answered Robert.
'Ye canna do better. I maun bide wi' the coch till the lave gang
back to Drumheid wi' the horses, on' fess anither pole. Faith,
it'll be weel into the mornin' or we win oot o' this. Tak care hoo
ye gang. There's holes i' the auld hoose, I doobt.'
'We'll tak gude care, ye may be sure, Hector,' said Robert, as they
left the bridge.
The house to which Ericson was leading them was in the midst of a
field. There was just light enough to show a huge mass standing in
the dark, without a tree or shelter of any sort. When they reached
it, all that Miss St. John could distinguish was a wide broken stair
leading up to the door, with glimpses of a large, plain, ugly,
square front. The stones of the stair sloped and hung in several
directions; but it was plain to a glance that the place was
dilapidated through extraordinary neglect, rather than by the usual
wear of time. In fact, it belonged only to the beginning of the
preceding century, somewhere in Queen Anne's time. There was a
heavy door to it, but fortunately for Miss St. John, who would not
quite have relished getting in at the window of which Ericson had
spoken, it stood a little ajar. The wind roared in the gap and
echoed in the empty hall into which they now entered. Certainly
Robert was right: there was wood enough to keep them warm; for that
hall, and every room into which they went, from top to bottom of the
huge house, was lined with pine. No paint-brush had ever passed
upon it. Neither was there a spot to be seen upon the grain of the
wood: it was clean as the day when the house was finished, only it
had grown much browner. A close gallery, with window-frames which
had never been glazed, at one story's height, leading across from
the one side of the first floor to the other, looked down into the
great echoing hall, which rose in the centre of the building to the
height of two stories; but this was unrecognizable in the poor light
of the guard's lantern. All the rooms on every floor opened each
into the other;--but why should I give such a minute description,
making my reader expect a ghost story, or at least a nocturnal
adventure? I only want him to feel something of what our party felt
as they entered this desolate building, which, though some hundred
and twenty years old, bore not a single mark upon the smooth floors
or spotless walls to indicate that article of furniture had ever
stood in it, or human being ever inhabited it. There was a strange
and unusual horror about the place--a feeling quite different from
that belonging to an ancient house, however haunted it might be. It
was like a body that had never had a human soul in it. There was no
sense of a human history about it. Miss St. John's feeling of
eeriness rose to the height when, in wandering through the many
rooms in search of one where the windows were less broken, she came
upon one spot in the floor. It was only a hole worn down through
floor after floor, from top to bottom, by the drip of the rains from
the broken roof: it looked like the disease of the desolate place,
and she shuddered.
Here they must pass the night, with the wind roaring awfully through
the echoing emptiness, and every now and then the hail clashing
against what glass remained in the windows. They found one room
with the window well boarded up, for until lately some care had been
taken of the place to keep it from the weather. There Robert left
his companions, who presently heard the sounds of tearing and
breaking below, necessity justifying him in the appropriation of
some of the wood-work for their own behoof. He tore a panel or two
from the walls, and returning with them, lighted a fire on the empty
hearth, where, from the look of the stone and mortar, certainly
never fire had blazed before. The wood was dry as a bone, and burnt
Then first Robert bethought himself that they had nothing to eat.
He himself was full of merriment, and cared nothing about eating;
for had he not Miss St. John and Ericson there? but for them
something must be provided. He took his lantern and went back
through the storm. The hail had ceased, but the wind blew
tremendously. The coach stood upon the bridge like a stranded
vessel, its two lamps holding doubtful battle with the wind, now
flaring out triumphantly, now almost yielding up the ghost. Inside,
the guard was snoring in defiance of the pother o'er his head.
'Hector! Hector!' cried Robert.
'Ay, ay,' answered Hector. 'It's no time to wauken yet.'
'Hae ye nae basket, Hector, wi' something to eat in 't--naething
gaein' to Rothieden 'at a body micht say by yer leave till?'
'Ow! it's you, is 't?' returned Hector, rousing himself. 'Na. Deil
ane. An' gin I had, I daurna gie ye 't.'
'I wad mak free to steal 't, though, an' tak my chance,' said
Robert. 'But ye say ye hae nane?'
'Nane, I tell ye. Ye winna hunger afore the mornin', man.'
'I'll stan' hunger as weel 's you ony day, Hector. It's no for
mysel'. There's Miss St. John.'
'Hoots!' said Hector, peevishly, for he wanted to go to sleep again,
'gang and mak luve till her. Nae lass 'll think o' meat as lang 's
ye do that. That 'll haud her ohn hungert.'
The words were like blasphemy in Robert's ear. He make love to Miss
St. John! He turned from the coach-door in disgust. But there was
no place he knew of where anything could be had, and he must return
The light of the fire shone through a little hole in the boards that
closed the window. His lamp had gone out, but, guided by that, he
found the road again, and felt his way up the stairs. When he
entered the room he saw Miss St. John sitting on the floor, for
there was nowhere else to sit, with the guard's coat under her. She
had taken off her bonnet. Her back leaned against the side of the
chimney, and her eyes were bent thoughtfully on the ground. In
their shine Robert read instinctively that Ericson had said
something that had set her thinking. He lay on the floor at some
distance, leaning on his elbow, and his eye had the flash in it that
indicates one who has just ceased speaking. They had not found his
absence awkward at least.
'I hae been efter something to eat,' said Robert; 'but I canna fa'
in wi' onything. We maun jist tell stories or sing sangs, as fowk
do in buiks, or else Miss St. John 'ill think lang.'
They did sing songs, and they did tell stories. I will not trouble
my reader with more than the sketch of one which Robert told--the
story of the old house wherein they sat--a house without a history,
save the story of its no history. It had been built for the
jointure-house of a young countess, whose husband was an old man. A
lover to whom she had turned a deaf ear had left the country,
begging ere he went her acceptance of a lovely Italian grayhound.
She was weak enough to receive the animal. Her husband died the
same year, and before the end of it the dog went mad, and bit her.
According to the awful custom of the time they smothered her
between two feather-beds, just as the house of Bogbonnie was ready
to receive her furniture, and become her future dwelling. No one
had ever occupied it.
If Miss St. John listened to story and song without as much show of
feeling as Mysie Lindsay would have manifested, it was not that she
entered into them less deeply. It was that she was more, not felt
Listening at her window once with Robert, Eric Ericson had heard
Mary St. John play: this was their first meeting. Full as his mind
was of Mysie, he could not fail to feel the charm of a noble,
stately womanhood that could give support, instead of rousing
sympathy for helplessness. There was in the dignified simplicity of
Mary St. John that which made every good man remember his mother;
and a good man will think this grand praise, though a fast girl will
take it for a doubtful compliment.
Seeing her begin to look weary, the young men spread a couch for her
as best they could, made up the fire, and telling her they would be
in the hall below, retired, kindled another fire, and sat down to
wait for the morning. They held a long talk. At length Robert fell
asleep on the floor.
Ericson rose. One of his fits of impatient doubt was upon him. In
the dying embers of the fire he strode up and down the waste hall,
with the storm raving around it. He was destined to an early death;
he would leave no one of his kin to mourn for him; the girl whose
fair face had possessed his imagination, would not give one sigh to
his memory, wandering on through the regions of fancy all the same;
and the death-struggle over, he might awake in a godless void,
where, having no creative power in himself, he must be tossed about,
a conscious yet helpless atom, to eternity. It was not annihilation
he feared, although he did shrink from the thought of
unconsciousness; it was life without law that he dreaded, existence
without the bonds of a holy necessity, thought without faith, being
For all her fatigue Miss St. John could not sleep. The house
quivered in the wind which howled more and more madly through its
long passages and empty rooms; and she thought she heard cries in
the midst of the howling. In vain she reasoned with herself: she
could not rest. She rose and opened the door of her room, with a
vague notion of being nearer to the young men.
It opened upon the narrow gallery, already mentioned as leading from
one side of the first floor to the other at mid-height along the end
of the hall. The fire below shone into this gallery, for it was
divided from the hall only by a screen of crossing bars of wood,
like unglazed window-frames, possibly intended to hold glass. Of
the relation of the passage to the hall Mary St. John knew nothing,
till, approaching the light, she found herself looking down into the
red dusk below. She stood riveted; for in the centre of the hall,
with his hands clasped over his head like the solitary arch of a
ruined Gothic aisle, stood Ericson.
His agony had grown within him--the agony of the silence that
brooded immovable throughout the infinite, whose sea would ripple to
no breath of the feeble tempest of his prayers. At length it broke
from him in low but sharp sounds of words.
'O God,' he said, 'if thou art, why dost thou not speak? If I am
thy handiwork--dost thou forget that which thou hast made?'
He paused, motionless, then cried again:
'There can be no God, or he would hear.'
'God has heard me!' said a full-toned voice of feminine tenderness
somewhere in the air. Looking up, Ericson saw the dim form of Mary
St. John half-way up the side of the lofty hall. The same moment
she vanished--trembling at the sound of her own voice.
Thus to Ericson as to Robert had she appeared as an angel.
And was she less of a divine messenger because she had a human body,
whose path lay not through the air? The storm of misery folded its
wings in Eric's bosom, and, at the sound of her voice, there was a
great calm. Nor if we inquire into the matter shall we find that
such an effect indicated anything derogatory to the depth of his
feelings or the strength of his judgment. It is not through the
judgment that a troubled heart can be set at rest. It needs a
revelation, a vision; a something for the higher nature that breeds
and infolds the intellect, to recognize as of its own, and lay hold
of by faithful hope. And what fitter messenger of such hope than
the harmonious presence of a woman, whose form itself tells of
highest law, and concord, and uplifting obedience; such a one whose
beauty walks the upper air of noble loveliness; whose voice, even in
speech, is one of the 'sphere-born harmonious sisters? The very
presence of such a being gives Unbelief the lie, deep as the throat
of her lying. Harmony, which is beauty and law, works necessary
faith in the region capable of truth. It needs the intervention of
no reasoning. It is beheld. This visible Peace, with that voice of
woman's truth, said, 'God has heard me!' What better testimony
could an angel have brought him? Or why should an angel's testimony
weigh more than such a woman's? The mere understanding of a man
like Ericson would only have demanded of an angel proof that he was
an angel, proof that angels knew better than he did in the matter in
question, proof that they were not easy-going creatures that took
for granted the rumours of heaven. The best that a miracle can do
is to give hope; of the objects of faith it can give no proof; one
spiritual testimony is worth a thousand of them. For to gain the
sole proof of which these truths admit, a man must grow into harmony
with them. If there are no such things he cannot become conscious
of a harmony that has no existence; he cannot thus deceive himself;
if there are, they must yet remain doubtful until the harmony
between them and his own willing nature is established. The
perception of this harmony is their only and incommunicable proof.
For this process time is needful; and therefore we are saved by
hope. Hence it is no wonder that before another half-hour was over,
Ericson was asleep by Robert's side.
They were aroused in the cold gray light of the morning by the blast
of Hector's horn. Miss St. John was ready in a moment. The coach
was waiting for them at the end of the grassy road that led from the
house. Hector put them all inside. Before they reached Rothieden
the events of the night began to wear the doubtful aspect of a
dream. No allusion was made to what had occurred while Robert
slept; but all the journey Ericson felt towards Miss St. John as
Wordsworth felt towards the leech-gatherer, who, he says, was
like a man from some far region sent,
To give me human strength, by apt admonishment.
And Robert saw a certain light in her eyes which reminded him of how
she looked when, having repented of her momentary hardness towards
him, she was ministering to his wounded head.
When Robert opened the door of his grandmother's parlour, he found
the old lady seated at breakfast. She rose, pushed back her chair,
and met him in the middle of the room; put her old arms round him,
offered her smooth white cheek to him, and wept. Robert wondered
that she did not look older; for the time he had been away seemed an
age, although in truth only eight months.
'Hoo are ye, laddie?' she said. 'I'm richt glaid, for I hae been
thinkin' lang to see ye. Sit ye doon.'
Betty rushed in, drying her hands on her apron. She had not heard
'Eh losh!' she cried, and put her wet apron to her eyes. 'Sic a man
as ye're grown, Robert! A puir body like me maunna be speykin to ye
'There's nae odds in me, Betty,' returned Robert.
''Deed but there is. Ye're sax feet an' a hairy ower, I s'
'I said there was nae odds i' me, Betty,' persisted Robert,
'I kenna what may be in ye,' retorted Betty; 'but there's an unco'
odds upo' ye.'
'Haud yer tongue, Betty,' said her mistress. 'Ye oucht to ken better
nor stan' jawin' wi' young men. Fess mair o' the creamy cakes.'
'Maybe Robert wad like a drappy o' parritch.'
'Onything, Betty,' said Robert. 'I'm at deith's door wi' hunger.'
'Rin, Betty, for the cakes. An' fess a loaf o' white breid; we
canna bide for the parritch.'
Robert fell to his breakfast, and while he ate--somewhat
ravenously--he told his grandmother the adventures of the night, and
introduced the question whether he might not ask Ericson to stay a
few days with him.
'Ony frien' o' yours, laddie,' she replied, qualifying her words
only with the addition--'gin he be a frien'.--Whaur is he noo?'
'He's up at Miss Naper's.'
'Hoots! What for didna ye fess him in wi' ye?--Betty!'
'Na, na, grannie. The Napers are frien's o' his. We maunna
interfere wi' them. I'll gang up mysel' ance I hae had my
'Weel, weel, laddie. Eh! I'm blythe to see ye! Hae ye gotten ony
'Ay have I. I'm sorry they're nae baith o' them the first. But I
hae the first o' ane an' the third o' the ither.'
'I am pleased at that, Robert. Ye'll be a man some day gin ye haud
frae drink an' frae--frae leein'.'
'I never tellt a lee i' my life, grannie.'
'Na. I dinna think 'at ever ye did.--An' what's that crater Shargar
'Ow, jist gaein' to be a croon o' glory to ye, grannie. He vroucht
like a horse till Dr. Anderson took him by the han', an' sent him to
the schuil. An' he's gaein' to mak something o' 'im, or a' be dune.
He's a fine crater, Shargar.'
'He tuik a munelicht flittin' frae here,' rejoined the old lady, in
a tone of offence. 'He micht hae said gude day to me, I think.'
'Ye see he was feart at ye, grannie.'
'Feart at me, laddie! Wha ever was feart at me? I never feart
onybody i' my life.'
So little did the dear old lady know that she was a terror to her
neighbourhood!--simply because, being a law to herself, she would
therefore be a law to other people,--a conclusion that cannot be
Mrs. Falconer's courtesy did not fail. Her grandson had ceased to
be a child; her responsibility had in so far ceased; her conscience
was relieved at being rid of it; and the humanity of her great heart
came out to greet the youth. She received Ericson with perfect
hospitality, made him at home as far as the stately respect she
showed him would admit of his being so, and confirmed in him the
impression of her which Robert had given him. They held many talks
together; and such was the circumspection of Ericson that, not
saying a word he did not believe, he so said what he did believe, or
so avoided the points upon which they would have differed seriously,
that although his theology was of course far from satisfying her,
she yet affirmed her conviction that the root of the matter was in
him. This distressed Ericson, however, for he feared he must have
been deceitful, if not hypocritical.
It was with some grumbling that the Napiers, especially Miss Letty,
parted with him to Mrs. Falconer. The hearts of all three had so
taken to the youth, that he found himself more at home in that
hostelry than anywhere else in the world. Miss Letty was the only
one that spoke lightly of him--she even went so far as to make
good-natured game of him sometimes--all because she loved him more
than the others--more indeed than she cared to show, for fear of
exposing 'an old woman's ridiculous fancy,' as she called her
predilection.--'A lang-leggit, prood, landless laird,' she would
say, with a moist glimmer in her loving eyes, 'wi' the maist
ridiculous feet ye ever saw--hardly room for the five taes atween
the twa! Losh!'
When Robert went forth into the streets, he was surprised to find
how friendly every one was. Even old William MacGregor shook him
kindly by the hand, inquired after his health, told him not to study
too hard, informed him that he had a copy of a queer old book that
he would like to see, &c., &c. Upon reflection Robert discovered
the cause: though he had scarcely gained a bursary, he had gained
prizes; and in a little place like Rothieden--long may there be such
places!--everybody with any brains at all took a share in the
distinction he had merited.
Ericson stayed only a few days. He went back to the twilight of the
north, his fishy cousin, and his tutorship at Sir Olaf Petersen's.
Robert accompanied him ten miles on his journey, and would have
gone further, but that he was to play on his violin before Miss St.
John the next day for the first time.
When he told his grandmother of the appointment he had made, she
only remarked, in a tone of some satisfaction,
'Weel, she's a fine lass, Miss St. John; and gin ye tak to ane
anither, ye canna do better.'
But Robert's thoughts were so different from Mrs. Falconer's that he
did not even suspect what she meant. He no more dreamed of marrying
Miss St. John than of marrying his forbidden grandmother. Yet she
was no loss at this period the ruling influence of his life; and if
it had not been for the benediction of her presence and power, this
part of his history too would have been torn by inward troubles. It
is not good that a man should batter day and night at the gate of
heaven. Sometimes he can do nothing else, and then nothing else is
worth doing; but the very noise of the siege will sometimes drown
the still small voice that calls from the open postern. There is a
door wide to the jewelled wall not far from any one of us, even when
he least can find it.
Robert, however, notwithstanding the pedestal upon which Miss St.
John stood in his worshipping regard, began to be aware that his
feeling towards her was losing something of its placid flow, and I
doubt whether Miss St. John did not now and then see that in his
face which made her tremble a little, and doubt whether she stood on
safe ground with a youth just waking into manhood--tremble a little,
not for herself, but for him. Her fear would have found itself more
than justified, if she had surprised him kissing her glove, and then
replacing it where he had found it, with the air of one consciously
guilty of presumption.
Possibly also Miss St. John may have had to confess to herself that
had she not had her history already, and been ten years his senior,
she might have found no little attraction in the noble bearing and
handsome face of young Falconer. The rest of his features had now
grown into complete harmony of relation with his whilom premature
and therefore portentous nose; his eyes glowed and gleamed with
humanity, and his whole countenance bore self-evident witness of
being a true face and no mask, a revelation of his individual being,
and not a mere inheritance from a fine breed of fathers and mothers.
As it was, she could admire and love him without danger of falling
in love with him; but not without fear lest he should not assume the
correlative position. She saw no way of prevention, however,
without running a risk of worse. She shrunk altogether from putting
on anything; she abhorred tact, and pretence was impracticable with
Mary St. John. She resolved that if she saw any definite ground for
uneasiness she would return to England, and leave any impression she
might have made to wear out in her absence and silence. Things did
not seem to render this necessary yet.
Meantime the violin of the dead shoemaker blended its wails with the
rich harmonies of Mary St. John's piano, and the soul of Robert went
forth upon the level of the sound and hovered about the beauty of
his friend. Oftener than she approved was she drawn by Robert's
eagerness into these consorts.
But the heart of the king is in the hands of the Lord.
While Robert thus once more for a season stood behind the cherub
with the flaming sword, Ericson was teaching two stiff-necked youths
in a dreary house in the midst of one of the moors of Caithness.
One day he had a slight attack of blood-spitting, and welcomed it
as a sign from what heaven there might be beyond the grave.
He had not received the consolation of Miss St. John without,
although unconsciously, leaving something in her mind in return. No
human being has ever been allowed to occupy the position of a pure
benefactor. The receiver has his turn, and becomes the giver. From
her talk with Ericson, and even more from the influence of his sad
holy doubt, a fresh touch of the actinism of the solar truth fell
upon the living seed in her heart, and her life burst forth afresh,
began to bud in new questions that needed answers, and new prayers
that sought them.
But she never dreamed that Robert was capable of sympathy with such
thoughts and feelings: he was but a boy. Nor in power of dealing
with truth was he at all on the same level with her, for however
poor he might have considered her theories, she had led a life
hitherto, had passed through sorrow without bitterness, had done her
duty without pride, had hoped without conceit of favour, had, as she
believed, heard the voice of God saying, 'This is the way.' Hence
she was not afraid when the mists of prejudice began to rise from
around her path, and reveal a country very different from what she
had fancied it. She was soon able to perceive that it was far more
lovely and full of righteousness and peace than she had supposed.
But this anticipates; only I shall have less occasion to speak of
Miss St. John by the time she has come into this purer air of the
Robert was happier than he ever could have expected to be in his
grandmother's house. She treated him like an honoured guest, let
him do as he would, and go where he pleased. Betty kept the
gable-room in the best of order for him, and, pattern of housemaids,
dusted his table without disturbing his papers. For he began to
have papers; nor were they occupied only with the mathematics to
which he was now giving his chief attention, preparing, with the
occasional help of Mr. Innes, for his second session.
He had fits of wandering, though; visited all the old places; spent
a week or two more than once at Bodyfauld; rode Mr. Lammie's
half-broke filly; revelled in the glories of the summer once more;
went out to tea occasionally, or supped with the school-master; and,
except going to church on Sunday, which was a weariness to every
inch of flesh upon his bones, enjoyed everything.
A GRAVE OPENED.
One thing that troubled Robert on this his return home, was the
discovery that the surroundings of his childhood had deserted him.
There they were, as of yore, but they seemed to have nothing to say
to him--no remembrance of him. It was not that everything looked
small and narrow; it was not that the streets he saw from his new
quarters, the gable-room, were awfully still after the roar of
Aberdeen, and a passing cart seemed to shudder at the loneliness of
the noise itself made; it was that everything seemed to be conscious
only of the past and care nothing for him now. The very chairs with
their inlaid backs had an embalmed look, and stood as in a dream.
He could pass even the walled-up door without emotion, for all the
feeling that had been gathered about the knob that admitted him to
Mary St. John, had transferred itself to the brass bell-pull at her
But one day, after standing for a while at the window, looking down
on the street where he had first seen the beloved form of Ericson, a
certain old mood began to revive in him. He had been working at
quadratic equations all the morning; he had been foiled in the
attempt to find the true algebraic statement of a very tough
question involving various ratios; and, vexed with himself, he had
risen to look out, as the only available zeitvertreib. It was one
of those rainy days of spring which it needs a hopeful mood to
distinguish from autumnal ones--dull, depressing, persistent: there
might be sunshine in Mercury or Venus--but on the earth could be
none, from his right hand round by India and America to his left;
and certainly there was none between--a mood to which all sensitive
people are liable who have not yet learned by faith in the
everlasting to rule their own spirits. Naturally enough his
thoughts turned to the place where he had suffered most--his old
room in the garret. Hitherto he had shrunk from visiting it; but
now he turned away from the window, went up the steep stairs, with
their one sharp corkscrew curve, pushed the door, which clung
unwillingly to the floor, and entered. It was a nothing of a
place--with a window that looked only to heaven. There was the
empty bedstead against the wall, where he had so often kneeled,
sending forth vain prayers to a deaf heaven! Had they indeed been
vain prayers, and to a deaf heaven? or had they been prayers which a
hearing God must answer not according to the haste of the praying
child, but according to the calm course of his own infinite law of
Here, somehow or other, the things about him did not seem so much
absorbed in the past, notwithstanding those untroubled rows of
papers bundled in red tape. True, they looked almost awful in their
lack of interest and their non-humanity, for there is scarcely
anything that absolutely loses interest save the records of money;
but his mother's workbox lay behind them. And, strange to say, the
side of that bed drew him to kneel down: he did not yet believe that
prayer was in vain. If God had not answered him before, that gave
no certainty that he would not answer him now. It was, he found,
still as rational as it had ever been to hope that God would answer
the man that cried to him. This came, I think, from the fact that
God had been answering him all the time, although he had not
recognized his gifts as answers. Had he not given him Ericson, his
intercourse with whom and his familiarity with whose doubts had done
anything but quench his thirst after the higher life? For
Ericson's, like his own, were true and good and reverent doubts, not
merely consistent with but in a great measure springing from
devoutness and aspiration. Surely such doubts are far more precious
in the sight of God than many beliefs?
He kneeled and sent forth one cry after the Father, arose, and
turned towards the shelves, removed some of the bundles of letters,
and drew out his mother's little box.
There lay the miniature, still and open-eyed as he had left it.
There too lay the bit of paper, brown and dry, with the hymn and
the few words of sorrow written thereon. He looked at the portrait,
but did not open the folded paper. Then first he thought whether
there might not be something more in the box: what he had taken for
the bottom seemed to be a tray. He lifted it by two little ears of
ribbon, and there, underneath, lay a letter addressed to his father,
in the same old-fashioned handwriting as the hymn. It was sealed
with brown wax, full of spangles, impressed with a bush of
something--he could not tell whether rushes or reeds or flags. Of
course he dared not open it. His holy mother's words to his erring
father must be sacred even from the eyes of their son. But what
other or fitter messenger than himself could bear it to its
destination? It was for this that he had been guided to it.
For years he had regarded the finding of his father as the first
duty of his manhood: it was as if his mother had now given her
sanction to the quest, with this letter to carry to the husband who,
however he might have erred, was yet dear to her. He replaced it in
the box, but the box no more on the forsaken shelf with its dreary
barricade of soulless records. He carried it with him, and laid it
in the bottom of his box, which henceforth he kept carefully locked:
there lay as it were the pledge of his father's salvation, and his
mother's redemption from an eternal grief.
He turned to his equation: it had cleared itself up; he worked it
out in five minutes. Betty came to tell him that the dinner was
ready, and he went down, peaceful and hopeful, to his grandmother.
While at home he never worked in the evenings: it was bad enough to
have to do so at college. Hence nature had a chance with him again.
Blessings on the wintry blasts that broke into the first youth of
Summer! They made him feel what summer was! Blessings on the
cheerless days of rain, and even of sleet and hail, that would shove
the reluctant year back into January. The fair face of Spring, with
her tears dropping upon her quenchless smiles, peeped in suppressed
triumph from behind the growing corn and the budding sallows on the
river-bank. Nay, even when the snow came once more in defiance of
calendars, it was but a background from which the near genesis
should 'stick fiery off.'
In general he had a lonely walk after his lesson with Miss St. John
was over: there was no one at Rothieden to whom his heart and
intellect both were sufficiently drawn to make a close friendship
possible. He had companions, however: Ericson had left his papers
with him. The influence of these led him into yet closer sympathy
with Nature and all her moods; a sympathy which, even in the stony
heart of London, he not only did not lose but never ceased to feel.
Even there a breath of wind would not only breathe upon him, it
would breathe into him; and a sunset seen from the Strand was lovely
as if it had hung over rainbow seas. On his way home he would often
go into one of the shops where the neighbours congregated in the
evenings, and hold a little talk; and although, with Miss St. John
filling his heart, his friend's poems his imagination, and geometry
and algebra his intellect, great was the contrast between his own
inner mood and the words by which he kept up human relations with
his townsfolk, yet in after years he counted it one of the greatest
blessings of a lowly birth and education that he knew hearts and
feelings which to understand one must have been young amongst them.
He would not have had a chance of knowing such as these if he had
been the son of Dr. Anderson and born in Aberdeen.
One lovely evening in the first of the summer Miss St. John had
dismissed him earlier than usual, and he had wandered out for a
walk. After a round of a couple of miles, he returned by a
fir-wood, through which went a pathway. He had heard Mary St. John
say that she was going to see the wife of a labourer who lived at
the end of this path. In the heart of the trees it was growing very
dusky; but when he came to a spot where they stood away from each
other a little space, and the blue sky looked in from above with one
cloud floating in it from which the rose of the sunset was fading,
he seated himself on a little mound of moss that had gathered over
an ancient stump by the footpath, and drew out his friend's papers.
Absorbed in his reading, he was not aware of an approach till the
rustle of silk startled him. He lifted up his eyes, and saw Miss
St. John a few yards from him on the pathway. He rose.
'It's almost too dark to read now, isn't it, Robert?' she said.
'Ah!' said. Robert, 'I know this writing so well that I could read
it by moonlight. I wish I might read some of it to you. You would
'May I ask whose it is, then? Poetry, too!'
'It's Mr. Ericson's. But I'm feared he wouldna like me to read it
to anybody but myself. And yet--'
'I don't think he would mind me,' returned Miss St. John. 'I do know
him a little. It is not as if I were quite a stranger, you know.
Did he tell you not?'
'No. But then he never thought of such a thing. I don't know if
it's fair, for they are carelessly written, and there are words and
lines here and there that I am sure he would alter if he cared for
them ae hair.'
'Then if he doesn't care for them, he won't mind my hearing them.
There!' she said, seating herself on the stump. 'You sit down on
the grass and read me--one at least.'
'You'll remember they were never intended to be read?' urged Robert,
not knowing what he was doing, and so fulfilling his destiny.
'I will be as jealous of his honour as ever you can wish,' answered
Miss St. John gaily.
Robert laid himself on the grass at her feet, and read:--
MY TWO GENIUSES.
One is a slow and melancholy maid:
I know not if she cometh from the skies,
Or from the sleepy gulfs, but she will rise
Often before me in the twilight shade
Holding a bunch of poppies, and a blade
Of springing wheat: prostrate my body lies
Before her on the turf, the while she ties
A fillet of the weed about my head;
And in the gaps of sleep I seem to hear
A gentle rustle like the stir of corn,
And words like odours thronging to my ear:
'Lie still, beloved, still until the morn;
Lie still with me upon this rolling sphere,
Still till the judgment--thou art faint and worn.'
The other meets me in the public throng:
Her hair streams backward from her loose attire;
She hath a trumpet and an eye of fire;
She points me downward steadily and long--
'There is thy grave--arise, my son, be strong!
Hands are upon thy crown; awake, aspire
To immortality; heed not the lyre
Of the enchantress, nor her poppy-song;
But in the stillness of the summer calm,
Tremble for what is godlike in thy being.
Listen awhile, and thou shalt hear the psalm
Of victory sung by creatures past thy seeing;
And from far battle-fields there comes the neighing
Of dreadful onset, though the air is balm.'
Maid with the poppies, must I let thee go?
Alas! I may not; thou art likewise dear;
I am but human, and thou hast a tear,
When she hath nought but splendour, and the glow
Of a wild energy that mocks the flow
Of the poor sympathies which keep us here.
Lay past thy poppies, and come twice as near,
And I will teach thee, and thou too shalt grow;
And thou shalt walk with me in open day
Through the rough thoroughfares with quiet grace;
And the wild-visaged maid shall lead the way,
Timing her footsteps to a gentler pace,
As her great orbs turn ever on thy face,
Drinking in draughts of loving help alway.
Miss St. John did not speak.
'War ye able to follow him?' asked Robert.
'Quite, I assure you,' she answered, with a tremulousness in her
voice which delighted Robert as evidence of his friend's success.
'But they're nae a' so easy to follow, I can tell ye, mem. Just
hearken to this,' he said, with some excitement.
When the storm was proudest,
And the wind was loudest,
I heard the hollow caverns drinking down below;
When the stars were bright,
And the ground was white,
I heard the grasses springing underneath the snow.
Many voices spake--
The river to the lake,
The iron-ribbed sky was talking to the sea;
And every starry spark
Made music with the dark,
And said how bright and beautiful everything must be.
'That line, mem,' remarked Robert, ''s only jist scrattit in, as gin
he had no intention o' leavin' 't, an' only set it there to keep
room for anither. But we'll jist gang on wi' the lave o' 't. I
ouchtna to hae interruppit it.'
When the sun was setting,
All the clouds were getting
Beautiful and silvery in the rising moon;
Beneath the leafless trees
Wrangling in the breeze,
I could hardly see them for the leaves of June.
When the day had ended,
And the night descended,
I heard the sound of streams that I heard not through the day
And every peak afar,
Was ready for a star,
And they climbed and rolled around until the morning gray.
Then slumber soft and holy
Came down upon me slowly;
And I went I know not whither, and I lived I know not how;
My glory had been banished,
For when I woke it vanished,
But I waited on it's coming, and I am waiting now.
'There!' said Robert, ending, 'can ye mak onything o' that, Miss St.
'I don't say I can in words,' she answered; 'but I think I could put
it all into music.'
'But surely ye maun hae some notion o' what it's aboot afore you can