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Sir Gibbie by George MacDonald

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This etext was created by John Bechard, London, England

Sir Gibbie

by George MacDonald

Note from electronic text creator: I have compiled a word list with
definitions of most of the Scottish words found in this work at the
end of the book. This list does not belong to the original work,
but is designed to help with the conversations in Broad Scots found
in this work. A further explanation of this list can be found
towards the end of this document, preceding the word list.

There are three footnotes in this book which have been renumbered
and placed at the end of the work.

Any notes that I have made within the text (e.g. relating to Greek words
in the text) have been enclosed in {} brackets.






"Come oot o' the gutter, ye nickum!" cried, in harsh, half-masculine
voice, a woman standing on the curbstone of a short, narrow, dirty
lane, at right angles to an important thoroughfare, itself none of
the widest or cleanest. She was dressed in dark petticoat and print
wrapper. One of her shoes was down at the heel, and discovered a
great hole in her stocking. Had her black hair been brushed and
displayed, it would have revealed a thready glitter of grey, but all
that was now visible of it was only two or three untidy tresses that
dropped from under a cap of black net and green ribbons, which
looked as if she had slept in it. Her face must have been handsome
when it was young and fresh; but was now beginning to look tattooed,
though whether the colour was from without or from within, it would
have been hard to determine. Her black eyes looked resolute, almost
fierce, above her straight, well-formed nose. Yet evidently
circumstance clave fast to her. She had never risen above it, and
was now plainly subjected to it.

About thirty yards from her, on the farther side of the main street,
and just opposite the mouth of the lane, a child, apparently about
six, but in reality about eight, was down on his knees raking with
both hands in the grey dirt of the kennel. At the woman's cry he
lifted his head, ceased his search, raised himself, but without
getting up, and looked at her. They were notable eyes out of which
he looked -- of such a deep blue were they, and having such long
lashes; but more notable far from their expression, the nature of
which, although a certain witchery of confidence was at once
discoverable, was not to be determined without the help of the whole
face, whose diffused meaning seemed in them to deepen almost to
speech. Whatever was at the heart of that expression, it was
something that enticed question and might want investigation. The
face as well as the eyes was lovely -- not very clean, and not too
regular for hope of a fine development, but chiefly remarkable from
a general effect of something I can only call luminosity. The hair,
which stuck out from his head in every direction, like a round fur
cap, would have been of the red-gold kind, had it not been sunburned
into a sort of human hay. An odd creature altogether the child
appeared, as, shaking the gutter-drops from his little dirty hands,
he gazed from his bare knees on the curbstone at the woman of
rebuke. It was but for a moment. The next he was down, raking in
the gutter again.

The woman looked angry, and took a step forward; but the sound of a
sharp imperative little bell behind her, made her turn at once, and
re-enter the shop from which she had just issued, following a man
whose pushing the door wider had set the bell ringing. Above the
door was a small board, nearly square, upon which was painted in
lead-colour on a black ground the words, "Licensed to sell beer,
spirits, and tobacco to be drunk on the premises." There was no
other sign. "Them 'at likes my whusky 'ill no aye be speerin' my
name," said Mistress Croale. As the day went on she would have more
and more customers, and in the evening on to midnight, her parlour
would be well filled. Then she would be always at hand, and the
spring of the bell would be turned aside from the impact of the
opening door. Now the bell was needful to recall her from house

"The likin' 'at craturs his for clean dirt! He's been at it this
hale half-hoor!" she murmured to herself as she poured from a black
bottle into a pewter measure a gill of whisky for the pale-faced
toper who stood on the other side of the counter: far gone in
consumption, he could not get through the forenoon without his
morning. "I wad like," she went on, as she replaced the bottle
without having spoken a word to her customer, whose departure was
now announced with the same boisterous alacrity as his arrival by
the shrill-toned bell -- "I wad like, for's father's sake, honest man!
to thraw Gibbie's lug. That likin' for dirt I canna fathom nor

Meantime the boys attention seemed entirely absorbed in the gutter.
Whatever vehicle passed before him, whatever footsteps behind, he
never lifted his head, but went creeping slowly on his knees along
the curb still searching down the flow of the sluggish, nearly
motionless current.

It was a grey morning towards the close of autumn. The days began
and ended with a fog, but often between, as golden a sunshine
glorified the streets of the grey city as any that ripened purple
grapes. To-day the mist had lasted longer than usual -- had risen
instead of dispersing; but now it was thinning, and at length, like
a slow blossoming of the sky-flower, the sun came melting through
the cloud. Between the gables of two houses, a ray fell upon the
pavement and the gutter. It lay there a very type of purity, so
pure that, rest where it might, it destroyed every shadow of
defilement that sought to mingle with it. Suddenly the boy made a
dart upon all fours, and pounced like a creature of prey upon
something in the kennel. He had found what he had been looking for
so long. He sprang to his feet and bounded with it into the sun,
rubbing it as he ran upon what he had for trousers, of which there
was nothing below the knees but a few streamers, and nothing above
the knees but the body of the garment, which had been -- I will not
say made for, but last worn by a boy three times his size. His
feet, of course, were bare as well as his knees and legs. But
though they were dirty, red, and rough, they were nicely shaped
little legs, and the feet were dainty.

The sunbeams he sought came down through the smoky air like a
Jacob's ladder, and he stood at the foot of it like a little
prodigal angel that wanted to go home again, but feared it was too
much inclined for him to manage the ascent in the present condition
of his wings. But all he did want was to see in the light of heaven
what the gutter had yielded him. He held up his find in the
radiance and regarded it admiringly. It was a little earring of
amethyst-coloured glass, and in the sun looked lovely. The boy was
in an ecstasy over it. He rubbed it on his sleeve, sucked it to
clear it from the last of the gutter, and held it up once more in
the sun, where, for a few blissful moments, he contemplated it
speechless. He then caused it to disappear somewhere about his
garments -- I will not venture to say in a pocket -- and ran off, his
little bare feet sounding thud, thud, thud on the pavement, and the
collar of his jacket sticking halfway up the back of his head, and
threatening to rub it bare as he ran. Through street after street
he sped -- all built of granite, all with flagged footways, and all
paved with granite blocks -- a hard, severe city, not beautiful or
stately with its thick, grey, sparkling walls, for the houses were
not high, and the windows were small, yet in the better parts,
nevertheless, handsome as well as massive and strong.

To the boy the great city was but a house of many rooms, all for his
use, his sport, his life. He did not know much of what lay within
the houses; but that only added the joy of mystery to possession:
they were jewel-closets, treasure-caves, indeed, with secret
fountains of life; and every street was a channel into which they

It was in one of quite a third-rate sort that the urchin at length
ceased his trot, and drew up at the door of a baker's shop -- a
divided door, opening in the middle by a latch of bright brass. But
the child did not lift the latch -- only raised himself on tiptoe by
the help of its handle, to look through the upper half of the door,
which was of glass, into the beautiful shop. The floor was of
flags, fresh sanded; the counter was of deal, scrubbed as white
almost as flour; on the shelves were heaped the loaves of the
morning's baking, along with a large store of scones and rolls and
baps -- the last, the best bread in the world -- biscuits hard and soft,
and those brown discs of delicate flaky piecrust, known as buns.
And the smell that came through the very glass, it seemed to the
child, was as that of the tree of life in the Paradise of which he
had never heard. But most enticing of all to the eyes of the little
wanderer of the street were the penny-loaves, hot smoking from the
oven -- which fact is our first window into the ordered nature of the
child. For the main point which made them more attractive than all
the rest to him was, that sometimes he did have a penny, and that a
penny loaf was the largest thing that could be had for a penny in
the shop. So that, lawless as he looked, the desires of the child
were moderate, and his imagination wrought within the bounds of
reason. But no one who has never been blessed with only a penny to
spend and a mighty hunger behind it, can understand the interest
with which he stood there and through the glass watched the bread,
having no penny and only the hunger. There is at least one powerful
bond, though it may not always awake sympathy, between mudlark and
monarch -- that of hunger. No one has yet written the poetry of
hunger -- has built up in verse its stairs of grand ascent -- from such
hunger as Gibbie's for a penny-loaf up -- no, no, not to an alderman's
feast; that is the way down the mouldy cellar-stair -- but up the
white marble scale to the hunger after righteousness whose very
longings are bliss.

Behind the counter sat the baker's wife, a stout, fresh-coloured
woman, looking rather dull, but simple and honest. She was
knitting, and if not dreaming, at least dozing over her work, for
she never saw the forehead and eyes which, like a young ascending
moon, gazed at her over the horizon of the opaque half of her door.
There was no greed in those eyes -- only much quiet interest. He did
not want to get in; had to wait, and while waiting beguiled the time
by beholding. He knew that Mysie, the baker's daughter, was at
school, and that she would be home within half an hour. He had seen
her with tear-filled eyes as she went, had learned from her the
cause, and had in consequence unwittingly roused Mrs. Croale's
anger, and braved it when aroused. But though he was waiting for
her, such was the absorbing power of the spectacle before him that
he never heard her approaching footsteps.

"Lat me in," said Mysie, with conscious dignity and a touch of
indignation at being impeded on the very threshold of her father's

The boy started and turned, but instead of moving out of the way,
began searching in some mysterious receptacle hid in the recesses of
his rags. A look of anxiety once appeared, but the same moment it
vanished, and he held out in his hand the little drop of amethystine
splendour. Mysie's face changed, and she clutched it eagerly.

"That's rale guid o' ye, wee Gibbie!" she cried. "Whaur did ye get

He pointed to the kennel, and drew back from the door.

"I thank ye," she said heartily, and pressing down the thumbstall of
the latch, went in.

"Wha's that ye're colloguin' wi', Mysie?" asked her mother, somewhat
severely, but without lifting her eyes from her wires. "Ye maunna be
speykin' to loons i' the street."

"It's only wee Gibbie, mither," answered the girl in a tone of

"Ou weel!" returned the mother, "he's no like the lave o' loons."

"But what had ye to say till him?" she resumed, as if afraid her
leniency might be taken advantage of. "He's no fit company for the
likes o' you, 'at his a father an' mither, an' a chop (shop). Ye
maun hae little to say to sic rintheroot laddies."

"Gibbie has a father, though they say he never hid nae mither," said
the child.

"Troth, a fine father!" rejoined the mother, with a small scornful
laugh. "Na, but he's something to mak mention o'! Sic a father,
lassie, as it wad be tellin' him he had nane! What said ye till

"I bit thankit 'im, 'cause I tint my drop as I gaed to the schuil i'
the mornin', an' he fan't till me, an' was at the chopdoor waitin'
to gie me't back. They say he's aye fin'in' things."

"He's a guid-hertit cratur!" said the mother, -- "for ane, that is,
'at's been sae ill broucht up."

She rose, took from the shelf a large piece of bread, composed of
many adhering penny-loaves, detached one, and went to the door.

"Here, Gibbie!" she cried as she opened it; "here's a fine piece to

But no Gibbie was there. Up and down the street not a child was to
be seen. A sandboy with a donkey cart was the sole human
arrangement in it. The baker's wife drew back, shut the door and
resumed her knitting.



The sun was hot for an hour or two in the middle of the day, but
even then in the shadow dwelt a cold breath -- of the winter, or of
death -- of something that humanity felt unfriendly. To Gibbie,
however, bare-legged, bare-footed, almost bare-bodied as he was, sun
or shadow made small difference, except as one of the musical
intervals of life that make the melody of existence. His bare feet
knew the difference on the flags, and his heart recognized
unconsciously the secret as it were of a meaning and a symbol, in
the change from the one to the other, but he was almost as happy in
the dull as in the bright day. Hardy through hardship, he knew
nothing better than a constant good-humoured sparring with nature
and circumstance for the privilege of being, enjoyed what came to
him thoroughly, never mourned over what he had not, and, like the
animals, was at peace. For the bliss of the animals lies in this,
that, on their lower level, they shadow the bliss of those -- few at
any moment on the earth -- who do not "look before and after, and pine
for what is not," but live in the holy carelessness of the eternal
now. Gibbie by no means belonged to the higher order, was as yet,
indeed, not much better than a very blessed little animal.

To him the city was all a show. He knew many of the people -- some of
them who thought no small things of themselves -- better than they
would have chosen he or any one else should know them. He knew all
the peripatetic vendors, most of the bakers, most of the small
grocers and tradespeople. Animal as he was, he was laying in a
great stock for the time when he would be something more, for the
time of reflection, whenever that might come. Chiefly, his
experience was a wonderful provision for the future perception of
character; for now he knew to a nicety how any one of his large
acquaintance would behave to him in circumstances within the scope
of that experience. If any such little vagabond rises in the scale
of creation, he carries with him from the street an amount of
material serving to the knowledge of human nature, human need, human
aims, human relations in the business of life, such as hardly
another can possess. Even the poet, greatly wise in virtue of his
sympathy, will scarcely understand a given human condition so well
as the man whose vital tentacles have been in contact with it for

When Gibbie was not looking in at a shop-window, or turning on one
heel to take in all at a sweep, he was oftenest seen trotting.
Seldom he walked. A gentle trot was one of his natural modes of
being. And though this day he had been on the trot all the sunshine
through, nevertheless, when the sun was going down there was wee
Gibbie upon the trot in the chilling and darkening streets. He had
not had much to eat. He had been very near having a penny loaf.
Half a cookie, which a stormy child had thrown away to ease his
temper, had done further and perhaps better service in easing
Gibbie's hunger. The green-grocer woman at the entrance of the
court where his father lived, a good way down the same street in
which he had found the lost earring, had given him a small yellow
turnip -- to Gibbie nearly as welcome as an apple. A fishwife from
Finstone with a creel on her back, had given him all his hands could
hold of the sea-weed called dulse, presumably not from its
sweetness, although it is good eating. She had added to the gift a
small crab, but that he had carried to the seashore and set free,
because it was alive. These, the half-cookie, the turnip, and the
dulse, with the smell of the baker's bread, was all he had had. It
had been rather one of his meagre days. But it is wonderful upon
how little those rare natures capable of making the most of things
will live and thrive. There is a great deal more to be got out of
things than is generally got out of them, whether the thing be a
chapter of the Bible or a yellow turnip, and the marvel is that
those who use the most material should so often be those that show
the least result in strength or character. A superstitious
priest-ridden Catholic may, in the kingdom of heaven, be high beyond
sight of one who counts himself the broadest of English churchmen.
Truly Gibbie got no fat out of his food, but he got what was far
better. What he carried -- I can hardly say under or in, but along
with those rags of his, was all muscle -- small, but hard, and
healthy, and knotting up like whipcord. There are all degrees of
health in poverty as well as in riches, and Gibbie's health was
splendid. His senses also were marvellously acute. I have already
hinted at his gift for finding things. His eyes were sharp, quick,
and roving, and then they went near the ground, he was such a little
fellow. His success, however, not all these considerations could
well account for, and he was regarded as born with a special luck in
finding. I doubt if sufficient weight was given to the fact that,
even when he was not so turning his mind it strayed in that
direction, whence, if any object cast its reflected rays on his
retina, those rays never failed to reach his mind also. On one
occasion he picked up the pocket-book a gentleman had just dropped,
and, in mingled fun and delight, was trying to put it in its owner's
pocket unseen, when he collared him, and, had it not been for the
testimony of a young woman who, coming behind, had seen the whole,
would have handed him over to the police. After all, he remained in
doubt, the thing seemed so incredible. He did give him a penny,
however, which Gibbie at once spent upon a loaf.

It was not from any notions of honesty -- he knew nothing about
it -- that he always did what he could to restore the things he found;
the habit came from quite another cause. When he had no clue to the
owner, he carried the thing found to his father, who generally let
it lie a while, and at length, if it was of nature convertible,
turned it into drink.

While Gibbie thus lived in the streets like a townsparrow -- as like a
human bird without storehouse or barn as boy could well be -- the
human father of him would all day be sitting in a certain dark
court, as hard at work as an aching head and a bloodless system
would afford. The said court was off the narrowest part of a long,
poverty-stricken street, bearing a name of evil omen, for it was
called the Widdiehill -- the place of the gallows. It was entered by
a low archway in the middle of an old house, around which yet clung
a musty fame of departed grandeur and ancient note. In the court,
against a wing of the same house, rose an outside stair, leading to
the first floor; under the stair was a rickety wooden shed; and in
the shed sat the father of Gibbie, and cobbled boots and shoes as
long as, at this time of the year, the light lasted. Up that stair,
and two more inside the house, he went to his lodging, for he slept
in the garret. But when or how he got to bed, George Galbraith
never knew, for then, invariably, he was drunk. In the morning,
however, he always found himself in it -- generally with an aching
head, and always with a mingled disgust at and desire for drink.
During the day, alas! the disgust departed, while the desire
remained, and strengthened with the approach of evening. All day he
worked with might and main, such might and main as he had -- worked as
if for his life, and all to procure the means of death. No one ever
sought to treat him, and from no one would he accept drink. He was
a man of such inborn honesty, that the usurping demon of a vile
thirst had not even yet, at the age of forty, been able to cast it
out. The last little glory-cloud of his origin was trailing behind
him -- but yet it trailed. Doubtless it needs but time to make of a
drunkard a thief, but not yet, even when longing was at the highest,
would he have stolen a forgotten glass of whisky; and still, often
in spite of sickness and aches innumerable, George laboured that he
might have wherewith to make himself drunk honestly. Strange
honesty! Wee Gibbie was his only child, but about him or his
well-being he gave himself almost as little trouble as Gibbie caused
him! Not that he was hard-hearted; if he had seen the child in
want, he would, at the drunkest, have shared his whisky with him; if
he had fancied him cold, he would have put his last garment upon
him; but to his whisky-dimmed eyes the child scarcely seemed to want
anything, and the thought never entered his mind that, while Gibbie
always looked smiling and contented, his father did so little to
make him so. He had at the same time a very low opinion of himself
and his deservings, and justly, for his consciousness had dwindled
into little more than a live thirst. He did not do well for
himself, neither did men praise him; and he shamefully neglected his
child; but in one respect, and that a most important one, he did
well by his neighbours: he gave the best of work, and made the
lowest of charges. In no other way was he for much good. And yet I
would rather be that drunken cobbler than many a "fair professor,"
as Bunyan calls him. A grasping merchant ranks infinitely lower
than such a drunken cobbler. Thank God, the Son of Man is the
judge, and to him will we plead the cause of such -- yea, and of worse
than they -- for He will do right. It may be well for drunkards that
they are social outcasts, but is there no intercession to be made
for them -- no excuse to be pleaded? Alas! the poor wretches would
storm the kingdom of peace by the inspiration of the enemy. Let us
try to understand George Galbraith. His very existence the sense of
a sunless, dreary, cold-winded desert, he was evermore confronted,
in all his resolves after betterment, by the knowledge that with the
first eager mouthful of the strange element, a rosy dawn would begin
to flush the sky, a mist of green to cover the arid waste, a wind of
song to ripple the air, and at length the misery of the day would
vanish utterly, and the night throb with dreams. For George was by
nature no common man. At heart he was a poet -- weak enough, but
capable of endless delight. The time had been when now and then he
read a good book and dreamed noble dreams. Even yet the stuff of
which such dreams are made, fluttered in particoloured rags about
his life; and colour is colour even on a scarecrow.

He had had a good mother, and his father was a man of some
character, both intellectually and socially. Now and then, it is
too true, he had terrible bouts of drinking; but all the time
between he was perfectly sober. He had given his son more than a
fair education; and George, for his part, had trotted through the
curriculum of Elphinstone College not altogether without
distinction. But beyond this his father had entirely neglected his
future, not even revealing to him the fact -- of which, indeed, he was
himself but dimly aware -- that from wilful oversight on his part and
design on that of others, his property had all but entirely slipped
from his possession.

While his father was yet alive, George married the daughter of a
small laird in a neighbouring county -- a woman of some education, and
great natural refinement. He took her home to the ancient family
house in the city -- the same in which he now occupied a garret, and
under whose outer stair he now cobbled shoes. There, during his
father's life, they lived in peace and tolerable comfort, though in
a poor enough way. It was all, even then, that the wife could do to
make both ends meet; nor would her relations, whom she had
grievously offended by her marriage, afford her the smallest
assistance. Even then, too, her husband was on the slippery
incline; but as long as she lived she managed to keep him within the
bounds of what is called respectability. She died, however, soon
after Gibbie was born; and then George began to lose himself
altogether. The next year his father died, and creditors appeared
who claimed everything. Mortgaged land and houses, with all upon
and in them, were sold, and George left without a penny or any means
of winning a livelihood, while already he had lost the reputation
that might have introduced him to employment. For heavy work he was
altogether unfit; and had it not been for a bottle companion -- a
merry, hard-drinking shoemaker -- he would have died of starvation or
sunk into beggary.

This man taught him his trade, and George was glad enough to work at
it, both to deaden the stings of conscience and memory, and to
procure the means of deadening them still further. But even here
was something in the way of improvement, for hitherto he had applied
himself to nothing, his being one of those dreamful natures capable
of busy exertion for a time, but ready to collapse into disgust with
every kind of effort.

How Gibbie had got thus far alive was a puzzle not a creature could
have solved. It must have been by charity and ministration of more
than one humble woman, but no one now claimed any particular
interest in him -- except Mrs. Croale, and hers was not very tender.
It was a sad sight to some eyes to see him roving the streets, but
an infinitely sadder sight was his father, even when bent over his
work, with his hands and arms and knees going as if for very
salvation. What thoughts might then be visiting his poor worn-out
brain I cannot tell; but he looked the pale picture of misery.
Doing his best to restore to service the nearly shapeless boots of
carter or beggar, he was himself fast losing the very idea of his
making, consumed heart and soul with a hellish thirst. For the
thirst of the drunkard is even more of the soul than of the body.
When the poor fellow sat with his drinking companions in Mistress
Croale's parlour, seldom a flash broke from the reverie in which he
seemed sunk, to show in what region of fancy his spirit wandered, or
to lighten the dulness that would not unfrequently invade that
forecourt of hell. For even the damned must at times become aware
of what they are, and then surely a terrible though momentary hush
must fall upon the forsaken region. Yet those drinking companions
would have missed George Galbraith, silent as he was, and but poorly
responsive to the wit and humour of the rest; for he was always
courteous, always ready to share what he had, never looking beyond
the present tumbler -- altogether a genial, kindly, honest nature.
Sometimes, when two or three of them happened to meet elsewhere,
they would fall to wondering why the silent man sought their
company, seeing he both contributed so little to the hilarity of the
evening, and seemed to derive so little enjoyment from it. But I
believe their company was necessary as well as the drink to enable
him to elude his conscience and feast with his imagination. Was it
that he knew they also fought misery by investments in her
bonds -- that they also were of those who by Beelzebub would cast out
Beelzebub -- therefore felt at home, and with his own?



The house at which they met had yet not a little character
remaining. Mistress Croale had come in for a derived worthiness, in
the memory, yet lingering about the place, of a worthy aunt
deceased, and always encouraged in herself a vague idea of
obligation to live up to it. Hence she had made it a rule to supply
drink only so long as her customers kept decent -- that is, so long as
they did not quarrel aloud, and put her in danger of a visit from
the police; tell such tales as offended her modesty; utter oaths of
any peculiarly atrocious quality; or defame the Sabbath Day, the
Kirk, or the Bible. On these terms, and so long as they paid for
what they had, they might get as drunk as they pleased, without the
smallest offence to Mistress Croale. But if the least
unquestionable infringement of her rules occurred, she would pounce
upon the shameless one with sudden and sharp reproof. I doubt not
that, so doing, she cherished a hope of recommending herself above,
and making deposits in view of a coming balance-sheet. The result
for this life so far was, that, by these claims to respectability,
she had gathered a clientŠle of douce, well-disposed drunkards, who
rarely gave her any trouble so long as they were in the house though
sometimes she had reason to be anxious about the fate of individuals
of them after they left it.

Another peculiarity in her government was that she would rarely give
drink to a woman. "Na, na," she would say, "what has a wuman to dee
wi' strong drink! Lat the men dee as they like, we canna help
them." She made exception in behalf of her personal friends; and,
for herself, was in the way of sipping -- only sipping, privately, on
account of her "trouble," she said -- by which she meant some
complaint, speaking of it as if it were generally known, although of
the nature of it nobody had an idea. The truth was that, like her
customers, she also was going down the hill, justifying to herself
every step of her descent. Until lately, she had been in the way of
going regularly to church, and she did go occasionally yet, and
always took the yearly sacrament; but the only result seemed to be
that she abounded the more in finding justifications, or, where they
were not to be had, excuses, for all she did. Probably the stirring
of her conscience made this the more necessary to her peace.

If the Lord were to appear in person amongst us, how much would the
sight of him do for the sinners of our day? I am not sure that many
like Mistress Croale would not go to him. She was not a bad woman,
but slowly and surely growing worse.

That morning, as soon as the customer whose entrance had withdrawn
her from her descent on Gibbie, had gulped down his dram, wiped his
mouth with his blue cotton handkerchief, settled his face into the
expression of a drink of water, gone demurely out, and crossed to
the other side of the street, she would have returned to the charge,
but was prevented by the immediately following entrance of the Rev.
Clement Sclater -- the minister of her parish, recently appointed. He
was a man between young and middle-aged, an honest fellow, zealous
to perform the duties of his office, but with notions of religion
very beggarly. How could it be otherwise when he knew far more of
what he called the Divine decrees than he did of his own heart, or
the needs and miseries of human nature? At the moment, Mistress
Croale was standing with her back to the door, reaching up to
replace the black bottle on its shelf, and did not see the man she
heard enter.

"What's yer wull?" she said indifferently.

Mr. Sclater made no answer, waiting for her to turn and face him,
which she did the sooner for his silence. Then she saw a man
unknown to her, evidently, from his white neckcloth and funereal
garments, a minister, standing solemn, with wide-spread legs, and
round eyes of displeasure, expecting her attention.

"What's yer wull, sir?" she repeated, with more respect, but less
cordiality than at first.

"If you ask my will," he replied, with some pomposity, for who that
has just gained an object of ambition can be humble? -- "it is that
you shut up this whisky shop, and betake yourself to a more decent
way of life in my parish."

"My certie! but ye're no blate (over-modest) to craw sae lood i' my
hoose, an' that's a nearer fit nor a perris!" she cried, flaring up
in wrath both at the nature and rudeness of the address. "Alloo me
to tell ye, sir, ye're the first 'at ever daured threep my hoose was
no a dacent ane."

"I said nothing about your house. It was your shop I spoke of,"
said the minister, not guiltless of subterfuge.

"An' what's my chop but my hoose? Haith! my hoose wad be o' fell
sma' consideration wantin' the chop. Tak ye heed o' beirin' fause
witness, sir."

"I said nothing, and know nothing, against yours more than any other
shop for the sale of drink in my parish."

"The Lord's my shepherd! Wad ye even (compare) my hoose to Jock
Thamson's or Jeemie Deuk's, baith i' this perris?"

"My good woman, -- "

"Naither better nor waur nor my neepers," interrupted Mistress
Croale, forgetting what she had just implied: "a body maun live."

"There are limits even to that most generally accepted of all
principles," returned Mr. Sclater; "and I give you fair warning that
I mean to do what I can to shut up all such houses as yours in my
parish. I tell you of it, not from the least hope that you will
anticipate me by closing, but merely that no one may say I did
anything in an underhand fashion."

The calmness with which he uttered the threat alarmed Mistress
Croale. He might rouse unmerited suspicion, and cause her much
trouble by vexatious complaint, even to the peril of her license.
She must take heed, and not irritate her enemy. Instantly,
therefore, she changed her tone to one of expostulation.

"It's a sair peety, doobtless," she said, "'at there sud be sae mony
drouthie thrapples i' the kingdom, sir; but drouth maun drink, an'
ye ken, sir, gien it war hauden frae them, they wad but see deils
an' cut their throts."

"They're like to see deils ony gait er' lang," retorted the
minister, relapsing into the vernacular for a moment.

"Ow, deed maybe, sir! but e'en the deils themsels war justifeed i'
their objection to bein' committed to their ain company afore their

Mr. Sclater could not help smiling at the woman's readiness, and
that was a point gained by her. An acquaintance with Scripture goes
far with a Scotch ecclesiastic. Besides, the man had a redeeming
sense of humour, though he did not know how to prize it, not
believing it a gift of God.

"It's true, my woman," he answered. "Ay! it said something for them,
deils 'at they war, 'at they preferred the swine. But even the
swine cudna bide them!"

Encouraged by the condescension of the remark, but disinclined to
follow the path of reflection it indicated, Mistress Croale ventured
a little farther upon her own.

"Ye see, sir," she said, "as lang's there's whusky, it wull tak the
throt-ro'd. It's the naitral w'y o' 't, ye see, to rin doon, an'
it's no mainner o' use gangin' again natur. Sae, allooin' the thing
maun be, ye'll hae till alloo likewise, an' it's a trouth I'm
tellin' ye, sir, 'at it's o' nae sma' consequence to the toon 'at
the drucken craturs sud fill themsels wi' dacency -- an' that's what I
see till. Gang na to the magistrate, sir; but as sune's ye hae
gotten testimony -- guid testimony though, sir -- 'at there's been
disorder or immorawlity i' my hoose, come ye to me, an' I'll gie ye
my han' to paper on't this meenute, 'at I'll gie up my chop, an'
lea' yer perris -- an' may ye sune get a better i' my place. Sir, I'm
like a mither to the puir bodies! An' gin ye drive them to Jock
Thamson's, or Jeemie Deuk's, it'll be just like -- savin' the word, I
dinna inten' 't for sweirin', guid kens! -- I say it'll just be
dammin' them afore their time, like the puir deils. Hech! but it'll
come sune eneuch, an' they're muckle to be peetied!"

"And when those victims of your vile ministrations," said the
clergyman, again mounting his wooden horse, and setting it rocking,
"find themselves where there will be no whisky to refresh them,
where do you think you will be, Mistress Croale?"

"Whaur the Lord wulls," answered the woman. "Whaur that may be, I
confess I'm whiles laith to think. Only gien I was you, Maister
Sclater, I wad think twise afore I made ill waur."

"But hear me, Mistress Croale: it's not your besotted customers only
I have to care for. Your soul is as precious in my sight as any of
which I shall have to render an account."

"As Mistress Bonniman's, for enstance?" suggested Mrs. Croale,
interrogatively, and with just the least trace of pawkiness in the

The city, large as it was, was yet not large enough to prevent a
portion of the private affairs of individuals from coming to be
treated as public property, and Mrs. Bonniman was a handsome and
rich young widow, the rumour of whose acceptableness to Mr. Sclater
had reached Mistress Croale's ear before ever she had seen the
minister himself. An unmistakable shadow of confusion crossed his
countenance; whereupon with consideration both for herself and him,
the woman made haste to go on, as if she had but chosen her instance
at merest random.

"Na, na, sir! what my sowl may be in the eyes o' my Maker, I hae ill
tellin'," she said, "but dinna ye threip upo' me 'at it's o' the
same vailue i' your eyes as the sowl o' sic a fine bonny, winsome
leddy as yon. In trouth," she added, and shook her head mournfully,
"I haena had sae mony preevileeges; an' maybe it'll be seen till,
an' me passed ower a wheen easier nor some fowk."

"I wouldn't have you build too much upon that, Mistress Croale,"
said Mr. Sclater, glad to follow the talk down another turning, but
considerably more afraid of rousing the woman than he had been

The remark drove her behind the categorical stockade of her
religious merits.

"I pey my w'y," she said, with modest firmness. "I put my penny, and
whiles my saxpence, intil the plate at the door when I gang to the
kirk -- an' I was jist thinkin' I wad win there the morn's nicht at
farest, whan I turnt an' saw ye stan'in there, sir; an' little I
thoucht -- but that's neither here nor there, I'm thinkin'. I tell as
feow lees as I can; I never sweir, nor tak the name o' the Lord in
vain, anger me 'at likes; I sell naething but the best whusky; I
never hae but broth to my denner upo' the Lord's day, an' broth
canna brak the Sawbath, simmerin' awa' upo' the bar o' the grate,
an' haudin' no lass frae the kirk; I confess, gien ye wull be
speirin', 'at I dinna read my buik sae aften as maybe I sud; but,
'deed, sir, tho' I says't 'at sud haud my tongue, ye hae waur folk
i' yer perris nor Benjie Croale's widow; an' gien ye wunna hae a
drap to weet yer ain whustle for the holy wark ye hae afore ye the
morn's mornin', I maun gang an' mak my bed, for the lass is laid up
wi' a bealt thoom, an' I maunna lat a' thing gang to dirt an' green
bree; though I'm sure it's rale kin' o' ye to come to luik efter me,
an' that's mair nor Maister Rennie, honest gentleman, ever did me
the fawvour o', a' the time he ministered the perris. I haena an
ill name wi' them 'at kens me, sir; that I can say wi' a clean
conscience; an' ye may ken me weel gien ye wull. An' there's jist
ae thing mair, sir: I gie ye my Bible-word, 'at never, gien I saw
sign o' repentance or turnin' upo' ane o' them 'at pits their legs
'aneth my table -- Wad ye luik intil the parlour, sir? No! -- as I was
sayin', never did I, sin' I keepit hoose, an' never wad I set mysel'
to quench the smokin' flax; I wad hae no man's deith, sowl or body,
lie at my door."

"Well, well, Mistress Croale," said the minister, somewhat dazed by
the cataract he had brought upon his brain, and rather perplexed
what to say in reply with any hope of reaching her, "I don't doubt a
word of what you tell me; but you know works cannot save us; our
best righteousness is but as filthy rags."

"It's weel I ken that, Mr. Sclater. An' I'm sure I'll be glaid to
see ye, sir, ony time ye wad dee me the fawvour to luik in as ye're
passin' by. It'll be none to yer shame, sir, for mine's an honest

"I'll do that, Mistress Croale," answered the minister, glad to
escape. "But mind," he added, "I don't give up my point for all
that; and I hope you will think over what I have been saying to
you -- and that seriously."

With these words he left the shop rather hurriedly, in evident dread
of a reply.

Mistress Croale turned to the shelves behind her, took again the
bottle she had replaced, poured out a large half-glass of whisky,
and tossed it off. She had been compelled to think and talk of
things unpleasant, and it had put her, as she said, a' in a trim'le.
She was but one of the many who get the fuel of their life in at
the wrong door, their comfort from the world-side of the universe.
I cannot tell whether Mr. Sclater or she was the farther from the
central heat. The woman had the advantage in this, that she had to
expend all her force on mere self-justification, and had no energy
left for vain-glory. It was with a sad sigh she set about the work
of the house. Nor would it have comforted her much to assure her
that hers was a better defence than any distiller in the country
could make. Even the whisky itself gave her little relief; it
seemed to scald both stomach and conscience, and she vowed never to
take it again. But alas! this time is never the time for
self-denial; it is always the next time. Abstinence is so much more
pleasant to contemplate upon the other side of indulgence! Yet the
struggles after betterment that many a drunkard has made in vain,
would, had his aim been high enough, have saved his soul from death,
and turned the charnel of his life into a temple. Abject as he is,
foiled and despised, such a one may not yet be half so contemptible
as many a so-counted respectable member of society, who looks down
on him from a height too lofty even for scorn. It is not the first
and the last only, of whom many will have to change places; but
those as well that come everywhere between.



The day went on, and went out, its short autumnal brightness
quenched in a chilly fog. All along the Widdiehill, the gas was
alight in the low-browed dingy shops. To the well-to-do citizen
hastening home to the topmost business of the day, his dinner, these
looked the abodes of unlovely poverty and mean struggle. Even to
those behind their counters, in their back parlours, and in their
rooms above, everything about them looked common, to most of them,
save the owners, wearisome. But to yon pale-faced student, gliding
in the glow of his red gown, through the grey mist back to his
lodging, and peeping in at every open door as he passes, they are so
full of mystery, that gladly would he yield all he has gathered from
books, for one genuine glance of insight into the vital movement of
the hearts and households of which those open shops are the sole
outward and visible signs. Each house is to him a nest of human
birds, over which brood the eternal wings of love and purpose. Only
such different birds are hatched from the same nest! And what a
nest was then the city itself! -- with its university, its schools,
its churches, its hospitals, its missions; its homes, its
lodging-houses, its hotels, its drinking shops, its houses viler
still; its factories, its ships, its great steamers; and the same
humanity busy in all! -- here the sickly lady walking in the panoply
of love unharmed through the horrors of vicious suffering; there the
strong mother cursing her own child along half a street with an
intensity and vileness of execration unheard elsewhere! The will of
the brooding spirit must be a grand one, indeed, to enclose so much
of what cannot be its will, and turn all to its purpose of eternal
good! Our knowledge of humanity, how much more our knowledge of the
Father of it, is moving as yet but in the first elements.

In his shed under the stair it had been dark for some time -- too dark
for work, that is, and George Galbraith had lighted a candle: he
never felt at liberty to leave off so long as a man was recognizable
in the street by daylight. But now at last, with a sigh of relief,
he rose. The hour of his redemption was come, the moment of it at
hand. Outwardly calm, he was within eager as a lover to reach Lucky
Croale's back parlour. His hand trembled with expectation as he
laid from it the awl, took from between his knees the great boot on
the toe of which he had been stitching a patch, lifted the yoke of
his leather apron over his head, and threw it aside. With one hasty
glance around, as if he feared some enemy lurking near to prevent
his escape, he caught up a hat which looked as if it had been
brushed with grease, pulled it on his head with both hands, stepped
out quickly, closed the door behind him, turned the key, left it in
the lock, and made straight for his earthly paradise -- but with
chastened step. All Mistress Croale's customers made a point of
looking decent in the street -- strove, in their very consciousness,
to carry the expression of being on their way to their tea, not
their toddy -- or if their toddy, then not that they desired it, but
merely that it was their custom always of an afternoon: man had no
choice -- he must fill space, he must occupy himself; and if so, why
not Mistress Croale's the place, and the consumption of whisky the
occupation? But alas for their would-be seeming indifference!
Everybody in the lane, almost in the Widdiehill, knew every one of
them, and knew him for what he was; knew that every drop of toddy he
drank was to him as to a miser his counted sovereign; knew that, as
the hart for the water-brooks, so thirsted his soul ever after
another tumbler; that he made haste to swallow the last drops of the
present, that he might behold the plenitude of the next steaming
before him; that, like the miser, he always understated the amount
of the treasure he had secured, because the less he acknowledged,
the more he thought he could claim.

George was a tall man, of good figure, loosened and bowed. His face
was well favoured, but not a little wronged by the beard and dirt of
a week, through which it gloomed haggard and white. Beneath his
projecting black brows, his eyes gleamed doubtful, as a wood-fire
where white ash dims the glow. He looked neither to right nor left,
but walked on with moveless dull gaze, noting nothing.

"Yon's his ain warst enemy," said the kindly grocer-wife, as he
passed her door.

"Ay," responded her customer, who kept a shop near by for old
furniture, or anything that had been already once possessed -- "ay, I
daursay. But eh! to see that puir negleckit bairn o' his rin
scoorin' aboot the toon yon gait -- wi' little o' a jacket but the
collar, an' naething o' the breeks but the doup -- eh, wuman! it maks
a mither's hert sair to luik upo' 't. It's a providence 'at his
mither's weel awa' an' canna see't; it wad gar her turn in her

George was the first arrival at Mistress Croale's that night. He
opened the door of the shop like a thief, and glided softly into the
dim parlour, where the candles were not yet lit. There was light
enough, however, from the busy little fire in the grate to show the
clean sanded floor which it crossed with flickering shadows, the
coloured prints and cases of stuffed birds on the walls, the
full-rigged barque suspended from the centre of the ceiling, and,
chief of all shows of heaven or earth, the black bottle on the
table, with the tumblers, each holding its ladle, and its wine glass
turned bottom upwards. Nor must I omit a part without which the
rest could not have been a whole -- the kettle of water that sat on
the hob, softly crooning. Compared with the place where George had
been at work all day, this was indeed an earthly paradise. Nor was
the presence and appearance of Mistress Croale an insignificant
element in the paradisial character of the place. She was now in a
clean white cap with blue ribbons. Her hair was neatly divided, and
drawn back from her forehead. Every trace of dirt and untidiness
had disappeared from her person, which was one of importance both in
size and in bearing. She wore a gown of some dark stuff with bright
flowers on it, and a black silk apron. Her face was composed,
almost to sadness, and throughout the evening, during which she
waited in person upon her customers, she comported herself with such
dignity, that her slow step and stately carriage seemed rather to
belong to the assistant at some religious ceremony than to one who
ministered at the orgies of a few drunken tradespeople.

She was seated on the horsehair sofa in the fire-twilight, waiting
for customers, when the face of Galbraith came peering round the

"Come awa' ben," she said, hospitably, and rose. But as she did so,
she added with a little change of tone, "But I'm thinkin' ye maun
hae forgotten, Sir George. This is Setterday nicht, ye ken; an'
gien it war to be Sunday mornin' afore ye wan to yer bed, it wadna
be the first time, an' ye michtna be up ear eneuch to get yersel
shaved afore kirk time."

She knew as well as George himself that never by any chance did he
go to church; but it was her custom, as I fancy it is that of some
other bulwarks of society and pillars of the church, "for the sake
of example," I presume, to make not unfrequent allusion to certain
observances, moral, religious, or sanatory as if they were laws that
everybody kept.

Galbraith lifted his hand, black, and embossed with cobbler's wax,
and rubbed it thoughtfully over his chin: he accepted the fiction
offered him; it was but the well-known prologue to a hebdomadal
passage between them. What if he did not intend going to church the
next day? Was that any reason why he should not look a little
tidier when his hard week's-work was over, and his nightly habit was
turned into the comparatively harmless indulgence of a Saturday, in
sure hope of the day of rest behind.

"Troth, I didna min' 'at it was Setterday," he answered. "I wuss I
had pitten on a clean sark, an' washen my face. But I s' jist gang
ower to the barber's an' get a scrape, an' maybe some o' them 'ill
be here or I come back."

Mistress Croale knew perfectly that there was no clean shirt in
George's garret. She knew also that the shirt he then wore, which
probably, in consideration of her maid's festered hand, she would
wash for him herself, was one of her late husband's which she had
given him. But George's speech was one of those forms of sound
words held fast by all who frequented Mistress Croale's parlour, and
by herself estimated at more than their worth.

The woman had a genuine regard for Galbraith. Neither the character
nor fate of one of the rest gave her a moment's trouble; but in her
secret mind she deplored that George should drink so inordinately,
and so utterly neglect his child as to let him spend his life in the
streets. She comforted herself, however, with the reflection, that
seeing he would drink, he drank with no bad companions -- drank at all
events where what natural wickedness might be in them, was
suppressed by the sternness of her rule. Were he to leave her
fold -- for a fold in very truth, and not a sty, it appeared to
her -- and wander away to Jock Thamson's or Jeemie Deuk's, he would be
drawn into loud and indecorous talk, probably into quarrel and

In a few minutes George returned, an odd contrast visible between
the upper and lower halves of his face. Hearing his approach she
met him at the door.

"Noo, Sir George," she said, "jist gang up to my room an' hae a
wash, an' pit on the sark ye'll see lyin' upo' the bed; syne come
doon an' hae yer tum'ler comfortable."

George's whole soul was bent upon his drink, but he obeyed as if she
had been twice his mother. By the time he had finished his toilet,
the usual company was assembled, and he appeared amongst them in all
the respectability of a clean shirt and what purity besides the
general adhesiveness of his trade-material would yield to a single
ablution long delayed. They welcomed him all, with nod, or grin, or
merry word, in individual fashion, as each sat measuring out his
whisky, or pounding at the slow-dissolving sugar, or tasting the
mixture with critical soul seated between tongue and palate.

The conversation was for some time very dull, with a strong tendency
to the censorious. For in their circle, not only were the claims of
respectability silently admitted, but the conduct of this and that
man of their acquaintance, or of public note, was pronounced upon
with understood reference to those claims -- now with smile of
incredulity or pity, now with headshake regretful or
condemnatory -- and this all the time that each was doing his best to
reduce himself to a condition in which the word conduct could no
longer have meaning in reference to him.

All of them, as did their hostess, addressed Galbraith as Sir
George, and he accepted the title with a certain unassuming dignity.
For, if it was not universally known in the city, it was known to
the best lawyers in it, that he was a baronet by direct derivation
from the hand of King James the Sixth.

The fire burned cheerfully, and the kettle making many journeys
between it and the table, things gradually grew more lively.
Stories were told, often without any point, but not therefore
without effect; reminiscences, sorely pulpy and broken at the edges,
were offered and accepted with a laughter in which sober ears might
have detected a strangely alien sound; and adventures were related
in which truth was no necessary element to reception. In the case
of the postman, for instance, who had been dismissed for losing a
bag of letters the week before, not one of those present believed a
word he said; yet as he happened to be endowed with a small stock of
genuine humour, his stories were regarded with much the same favour
as if they had been authentic. But the revival scarcely reached Sir
George. He said little or nothing, but, between his slow gulps of
toddy, sat looking vacantly into his glass. It is true he smiled
absently now and then when the others laughed, but that was only for
manners. Doubtless he was seeing somewhere the saddest of all
visions -- the things that might have been. The wretched craving of
the lower organs stilled, and something spared for his brain, I
believe the chief joy his drink gave him lay in the power once more
to feel himself a gentleman. The washed hands, the shaven face, the
clean shirt, had something to do with it, no doubt, but the
necromantic whisky had far more.

What faded ghosts of ancestral dignity and worth and story the evil
potion called up in the mind of Sir George! -- who himself hung ready
to fall, the last, or all but the last, mildewed fruit of the tree
of Galbraith! Ah! if this one and that of his ancestors had but
lived to his conscience, and with some thought of those that were to
come after him, he would not have transmitted to poor Sir George, in
horrible addition to moral weakness, that physical proclivity which
had now grown to such a hideous craving. To the miserable wretch
himself it seemed that he could no more keep from drinking whisky
than he could from breathing air.



I am not sure that his father's neglect was not on the whole better
for Gibbie than would have been the kindness of such a father
persistently embodying itself. But the picture of Sir George, by
the help of whisky and the mild hatching oven of Mistress Croale's
parlour, softly breaking from the shell of the cobbler, and floating
a mild gentleman in the air of his lukewarm imagination, and poor
wee Gibbie trotting outside in the frosty dark of the autumn night,
through which the moon keeps staring down, vague and disconsolate,
is hardly therefore the less pathetic. Under the window of the
parlour where the light of revel shone radiant through a red
curtain, he would stand listening for a moment, then, darting off a
few yards suddenly and swiftly like a scared bird, fall at once into
his own steady trot -- up the lane and down, till he reached the
window again, where again he would stand and listen. Whether he
made this departure and return twenty or a hundred times in a night,
he nor any one else could have told. Sometimes he would for a
change extend his trot along the Widdiehill, sometimes along the
parallel Vennel, but never far from Jink Lane and its glowing
window. Never moth haunted lamp so persistently. Ever as he ran,
up this pavement and down that, on the soft-sounding soles of his
bare feet, the smile on the boy's face grew more and more sleepy,
but still he smiled and still he trotted, still paused at the
window, and still started afresh.

He was not so much to be pitied as my reader may think. Never in
his life had he yet pitied himself. The thought of hardship or
wrong had not occurred to him. It would have been
difficult -- impossible, I believe -- to get the idea into his head that
existence bore to him any other shape than it ought. Things were
with him as they had always been, and whence was he to take a fresh
start, and question what had been from the beginning? Had any
authority interfered, with a decree that Gibbie should no more scour
the midnight streets, no more pass and repass that far-shining
splendour of red, then indeed would bitter, though inarticulate,
complaint have burst from his bosom. But there was no evil power to
issue such a command, and Gibbie's peace was not invaded.

It was now late, and those streets were empty; neither carriage nor
cart, wheelbarrow nor truck, went any more bumping and clattering
over their stones. They were well lighted with gas, but most of the
bordering houses were dark. Now and then a single foot-farer passed
with loud, hollow-sounding boots along the pavement; or two girls
would come laughing along, their merriment echoing rude in the wide
stillness. A cold wind, a small, forsaken, solitary wind, moist
with a thin fog, seemed, as well as wee Gibbie, to be roaming the
night, for it met him at various corners, and from all directions.
But it had nothing to do, and nowhere to go, and there it was not
like Gibbie, the business of whose life was even now upon him, the
mightiest hope of whose conscious being was now awake.

All he expected, or ever desired to discover, by listening at the
window, was simply whether there were yet signs of the company's
breaking up; and his conclusions on that point were never mistaken:
how he arrived at them it would be hard to say. Seldom had he there
heard the voice of his father, still seldomer anything beyond its
tone. This night, however, as the time drew near when they must go,
lest the Sabbath should be broken in Mistress Croale's decent house,
and Gibbie stood once more on tiptoe, with his head just on the
level of the windowsill, he heard his father utter two words: "Up
Daurside" came to him through the window, in the voice he loved,
plain and distinct. The words conveyed to him nothing at all; the
mere hearing of them made them memorable. For the time, however, he
forgot them, for, by indications best known to himself, he perceived
that the company was on the point of separating, and from that
moment did not take his eyes off the door until he heard the first
sounds of its opening. As, however, it was always hard for Gibbie
to stand still, and especially hard on a midnight so cold that his
feet threatened to grow indistinguishable from the slabs of the
pavement, he was driven, in order not to lose sight of it, to
practise the art, already cultivated by him to a crab-like
perfection, of running first backwards, then forwards with scarcely
superior speed. But it was not long ere the much expected sound of
Mistress Croale's voice heralded the hour for patience to blossom
into possession. The voice was neither loud nor harsh, but clear
and firm; the noise that followed was both loud and strident.
Voices had a part in it, but the movement of chairs and feet and
the sudden contact of different portions of the body with walls and
tables, had a larger. The guests were obeying the voice of their
hostess all in one like a flock of sheep, but it was poor
shepherd-work to turn them out of the fold at midnight. Gibbie
bounded up and stood still as a statue at the very door-cheek, until
he heard Mistress Croale's hand upon the lock, when he bolted,
trembling with eagerness, into the entry of a court a few houses
nearer to the Widdiehill.

One after one the pitiable company issued from its paradise, and
each stumbled away, too far gone for leave-taking. Most of them
passed Gibbie where he stood, but he took no heed; his father was
always the last -- and the least capable. But, often as he left her
door, never did it close behind him until with her own eyes Mistress
Croale had seen Gibbie dart like an imp out of the court -- to take
him in charge, and, all the weary way home, hover, not very like a
guardian angel, but not the less one in truth, around the unstable
equilibrium of his father's tall and swaying form. And thereupon
commenced a series of marvellous gymnastics on the part of wee
Gibbie. Imagine a small boy with a gigantic top, which, six times
his own size, he keeps erect on its peg, not by whipping it round,
but by running round it himself, unfailingly applying, at the very
spot and at the very moment, the precise measure of impact necessary
to counterbalance its perpetual tendency to fall in one direction or
another, so that the two have all the air of a single
invention -- such an invention as one might meet with in an ancient
clock, contrived when men had time to mingle play with earnest -- and
you will have in your mind's eye a real likeness of Sir George
attended, any midnight in the week, by his son Gilbert. Home the
big one staggered, reeled, gyrated, and tumbled; round and round him
went the little one, now behind, now before, now on this side, now
on that, his feet never more than touching the ground but dancing
about like those of a prize-fighter, his little arms up and his
hands well forward, like flying buttresses. And such indeed they
were -- buttresses which flew and flew all about a universally leaning
tower. They propped it here, they propped it there; with wonderful
judgment and skill and graduation of force they applied themselves,
and with perfect success. Not once, for the last year and a half,
during which time wee Gibbie had been the nightly guide of Sir
George's homeward steps, had the self-disabled mass fallen prostrate
in the gutter, there to snore out the night.

The first special difficulty, that of turning the corner of Jink
Lane and the Widdiehill, successfully overcome, the twain went
reeling and revolving along the street, much like a whirlwind that
had half forgotten the laws of gyration, until at length it spun
into the court, and up to the foot of the outside stair over the
baronet's workshop. Then commenced the real struggle of the evening
for Gibbie -- and for his father too, though the latter was aware of
it only in the momentary and evanescent flashes of such
enlightenment as made him just capable of yielding to the pushes and
pulls of the former. All up the outside and the two inside stairs,
his waking and sleeping were as the alternate tictac of a pendulum;
but Gibbie stuck to his business like a man, and his resolution and
perseverance were at length, as always, crowned with victory.

The house in which lords and ladies had often reposed was now filled
with very humble folk, who were all asleep when Gibbie and his
father entered; but the noise they made in ascending caused no great
disturbance of their rest; for, if any of them were roused for a
moment, it was but to recognize at once the cause of the tumult, and
with the remark, "It's only wee Gibbie luggin' hame Sir George," to
turn on the other side and fall asleep again.

Arrived at last at the garret door, which stood wide open, Gibbie
had small need of light in the nearly pitch darkness of the place,
for there was positively nothing to stumble over or against between
the door and the ancient four-post bed, which was all of his
father's house that remained to Sir George. With heavy shuffling
feet the drunkard lumbered laboriously bedward; and the bare posts
and crazy frame groaned and creaked as he fell upon the oat-chaff
that lay waiting him in place of the vanished luxury of feathers.
Wee Gibbie flew at his legs, nor rested until, the one after the
other, he had got them on the bed; if then they were not very
comfortably deposited, he knew that, in his first turn, their owner
would get them all right.

And now rose the culmen of Gibbie's day! its cycle, rounded through
regions of banishment, returned to its nodus of bliss. In triumph
he spread over his sleeping father his dead mother's old plaid of
Gordon tartan, all the bedding they had, and without a moment's
further delay -- no shoes even to put off -- crept under it, and nestled
close upon the bosom of his unconscious parent. A victory more!
another day ended with success! his father safe, and all his own!
the canopy of the darkness and the plaid over them, as if they were
the one only two in the universe! his father unable to leave
him -- his for whole dark hours to come! It was Gibbie's paradise
now! His heaven was his father's bosom, to which he clung as no
infant yet ever clung to his mother's. He never thought to pity
himself that the embrace was all on his side, that no answering
pressure came back from the prostrate form. He never said to
himself, "My father is a drunkard, but I must make the best of it;
he is all I have!" He clung to his one possession -- only clung: this
was his father -- all in all to him. What must be the bliss of such a
heart -- of any heart, when it comes to know that there is a father of
fathers, yea, a father of fatherhood! a father who never slumbers
nor sleeps, but holds all the sleeping in his ever waking bosom -- a
bosom whose wakefulness is the sole fountain of their slumber!

The conscious bliss of the child was of short duration, for in a few
minutes he was fast asleep; but for the gain of those few minutes
only, the day had been well spent.



Such were the events of every night, and such had they been since
Gibbie first assumed this office of guardian -- a time so long in
proportion to his life that it seemed to him as one of the laws of
existence that fathers got drunk and Gibbies took care of them. But
Saturday night was always one of special bliss; for then the joy to
come spread its arms beneath and around the present delight: all
Sunday his father would be his. On that happiest day of all the
week, he never set his foot out of doors, except to run twice to
Mistress Croale's, once to fetch the dinner which she supplied from
her own table, and for which Sir George regularly paid in advance on
Saturday before commencing his potations.

But indeed the streets were not attractive to the child on Sundays:
there were no shops open, and the people in their Sunday clothes,
many of them with their faces studiously settled into masks intended
to express righteousness, were far less interesting, because less
alive, than the same people in their work-day attire, in their
shops, or seated at their stalls, or driving their carts, and
looking thoroughly human. As to going to church himself, such an
idea had never entered his head. He had not once for a moment
imagined that anybody would like him to go to church, that such as
he ever went to church, that church was at all a place to which
Gibbies with fathers to look after should have any desire to go. As
to what church going meant, he had not the vaguest idea; it had not
even waked the glimmer of a question in his mind. All he knew was
that people went to church on Sundays. It was another of the laws
of existence, the reason of which he knew no more than why his
father went every night to Jink Lane and got drunk. George,
however, although he had taught his son nothing, was not without
religion, and had notions of duty in respect of the Sabbath. Not
even with the prize of whisky in view, would he have consented to
earn a sovereign on that day by the lightest of work.

Gibbie was awake some time before his father, and lay revelling in
love's bliss of proximity. At length Sir George, the merest bubble
of nature, awoke, and pushed him from him.

The child got up at once, but only to stand by the bed-side. He
said no word, did not even think an impatient thought, yet his
father seemed to feel that he was waiting for him. After two or
three huge yawns, he spread out his arms, but, unable to stretch
himself, yawned again, rolled himself off the bed, and crept feebly
across the room to an empty chest that stood under the skylight.
There he seated himself, and for half an hour sat motionless, a
perfect type of dilapidation, moral and physical, while a little way
off stood Gibbie, looking on, like one awaiting a resurrection. At
length he seemed to come to himself -- the expected sign of which was
that he reached down his hand towards the meeting of roof and floor,
and took up a tiny last with a half-made boot upon it. At sight of
it in his father's hands, Gibbie clapped his with delight -- an old
delight, renewed every Sunday since he could remember. That boot
was for him! and this being the second, the pair would be finished
before night! By slow degrees of revival, with many pauses between,
George got to work. He wanted no breakfast, and made no inquiry of
Gibbie whether he had had any. But what cared Gibbie about
breakfast! With his father all to himself, and that father working
away at a new boot for him -- for him who had never had a pair of any
sort upon his feet since the woollen ones he wore in his mother's
lap, breakfast or no breakfast was much the same to him. It could
never have occurred to him that it was his father's part to provide
him with breakfast. If he was to have none, it was Sunday that was
to blame: there was no use in going to look for any when the shops
were all shut, and everybody either at church, or closed in domestic
penetralia, or out for a walk. More than contented, therefore,
while busily his father wedded welt and sole with stitches
infrangible, Gibbie sat on the floor, preparing waxed ends,
carefully sticking in the hog's bristle, and rolling the
combination, with quite professional aptitude, between the flat of
his hand and what of trouser-leg he had left, gazing eagerly between
at the advancing masterpiece. Occasionally the triumph of
expectation would exceed his control, when he would spring from the
floor, and caper and strut about like a pigeon -- soft as a shadow,
for he knew his father could not bear noise in the morning -- or
behind his back execute a pantomimic dumb show of delight, in which
he seemed with difficulty to restrain himself from jumping upon him,
and hugging him in his ecstasy. Oh, best of parents! working thus
even on a Sunday for his Gibbie, when everybody else was at church
enjoying himself! But Gibbie never dared hug his father except when
he was drunk -- why, he could hardly have told. Relieved by his dumb
show, he would return, quite as an aged grimalkin, and again deposit
himself on the floor near his father where he could see his busy

All this time Sir George never spoke a word. Incredible as it may
seem, however, he was continually, off and on, trying his hardest to
think of some Sunday lesson to give his child. Many of those that
knew the boy, regarded him as a sort of idiot, drawing the
conclusion from Gibbie's practical honesty and his too evident love
for his kind: it was incredible that a child should be poor,
unselfish, loving, and not deficient in intellect! His father knew
him better, yet he often quieted his conscience in regard to his
education, with the reflection that not much could be done for him.
Still, every now and then he would think perhaps he ought to do
something: who could tell but the child might be damned for not
understanding the plan of salvation? and brooding over the matter
this morning, as well as his headache would permit, he came to the
resolution, as he had often done before, to buy a Shorter Catechism;
the boy could not learn it, but he would keep reading it to him, and
something might stick. Even now perhaps he could begin the course
by recalling some of the questions and answers that had been the
plague of his life every Saturday at school. He set his
recollection to work, therefore, in the lumber-room of his memory,
and again and again sent it back to the task, but could find nothing
belonging to the catechism except the first question with its
answer, and a few incoherent fragments of others. Moreover, he
found his mind so confused and incapable of continuous or
concentrated effort, that he could not even keep "man's chief end"
and the rosined end between his fingers from twisting up together in
the most extraordinary manner. Yet if the child but "had the
question," he might get some good of it. The hour might come when
he would say, "My father taught me that!" -- who could tell? And he
knew he had the words correct, wherever he had dropped their
meaning. For the sake of Gibbie's immortal part, therefore, he
would repeat the answer to that first, most momentous of questions,
over and over as he worked, in the hope of insinuating something -- he
could not say what -- into the small mental pocket of the innocent.
The first, therefore, and almost the only words which Gibbie heard
from his father's lips that morning, were these, dozens of times
repeated -- "Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for
ever." But so far was Gibbie from perceiving in them any meaning,
that even with his father's pronunciation of chief end as chifenn,
they roused in his mind no sense or suspicion of obscurity. The
word stuck there, notwithstanding; but Gibbie was years a man before
he found out what a chifenn was. Where was the great matter? How
many who have learned their catechism and deplore the ignorance of
others, make the least effort to place their chief end even in the
direction of that of their creation? Is it not the constant
thwarting of their aims, the rendering of their desires futile, and
their ends a mockery, that alone prevents them and their lives from
proving an absolute failure? Sir George, with his inveterate,
consuming thirst for whisky, was but the type of all who would gain
their bliss after the scheme of their own fancies, instead of the
scheme of their existence; who would build their house after their
own childish wilfulness instead of the ground-plan of their being.
How was Sir George to glorify the God whom he could honestly thank
for nothing but whisky, the sole of his gifts that he prized? Over
and over that day he repeated the words, "Man's chief end is to
glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever," and all the time his
imagination, his desire, his hope, were centred on the bottle, which
with his very back he felt where it stood behind him, away on the
floor at the head of his bed. Nevertheless when he had gone over
them a score of times or so, and Gibbie had begun, by a merry look
and nodding of his head, to manifest that he knew what was coming
next, the father felt more content with himself than for years past;
and when he was satisfied that Gibbie knew all the words, though,
indeed, they were hardly more than sounds to him, he sent him, with
a great sense of relief, to fetch the broth and beef and potatoes
from Mistress Croale's.

Eating a real dinner in his father's house, though without a table
to set it upon, Gibbie felt himself a most privileged person. The
only thing that troubled him was that his father ate so little. Not
until the twilight began to show did Sir George really begin to
revive, but the darker it grew without, the brighter his spirit
burned. For, amongst not a few others, there was this strange
remnant of righteousness in the man, that he never would taste drink
before it was dark in winter, or in summer before the regular hour
for ceasing work had arrived; and to this rule he kept, and that
under far greater difficulties, on the Sunday as well. For Mistress
Croale would not sell a drop of drink, not even on the sly, on the
Sabbath-day: she would fain have some stake in the hidden kingdom;
and George, who had not a Sunday stomach he could assume for the day
any more than a Sunday coat, was thereby driven to provide his
whisky and that day drink it at home; when, with the bottle so near
him, and the sense that he had not to go out to find his relief, his
resolution was indeed sorely tried; but he felt that to yield would
be to cut his last cable and be swept on the lee-shore of utter

Breathless with eager interest, Gibbie watched his father's hands,
and just as the darkness closed in, the boot was finished. His
father rose, and Gibbie, glowing with delight, sprang upon the seat
he had left, while his father knelt upon the floor to try upon the
unaccustomed foot the result from which he had just drawn the last.
Ah, pity! pity! But even Gibbie might by this time have learned to
foresee it! three times already had the same thing happened: the
boot would not go on the foot. The real cause of the failure it
were useless to inquire. Sir George said that, Sunday being the
only day he could give to the boots, before he could finish them,
Gibbie's feet had always outgrown the measure. But it may be Sir
George was not so good a maker as cobbler. That he meant honestly
by the boy I am sure, and not the less sure for the confession I am
forced to make, that on each occasion when he thus failed to fit
him, he sold the boots the next day at a fair price to a ready-made
shop, and drank the proceeds. A stranger thing still was, that,
although Gibbie had never yet worn boot or shoe, his father's
conscience was greatly relieved by the knowledge that he spent his
Sundays in making boots for him. Had he been an ordinary child, and
given him trouble, he would possibly have hated him; as it was, he
had a great though sadly inoperative affection for the boy, which
was an endless good to them both.

After many bootless trials, bootless the feet must remain, and
George, laying the failure down in despair, rose from his knees, and
left Gibbie seated on the chest more like a king discrowned, than a
beggar unshod. And like a king the little beggar bore his pain. He
heaved one sigh, and a slow moisture gathered in his eyes, but it
did not overflow. One minute only he sat and hugged his
desolation -- then, missing his father, jumped off the box to find

He sat on the edge of the bed, looking infinitely more disconsolate
than Gibbie felt, his head and hands hanging down, a picture of
utter dejection. Gibbie bounded to him, climbed on the bed, and
nearly strangled him in the sharp embrace of his little arms. Sir
George took him on his knees and kissed him, and the tears rose in
his dull eyes. He got up with him, carried him to the box, placed
him on it once more, and fetched a piece of brown paper from under
the bed. From this he tore carefully several slips, with which he
then proceeded to take a most thoughtful measurement of the baffling
foot. He was far more to be pitied than Gibbie, who would not have
worn the boots an hour had they been the best fit in shoedom. The
soles of his feet were very nearly equal in resistance to leather,
and at least until the snow and hard frost came, he was better
without boots.

But now the darkness had fallen, and his joy was at the door. But
he was always too much ashamed to begin to drink before the child:
he hated to uncork the bottle before him. What followed was in
regular Sunday routine.

"Gang ower to Mistress Croale's, Gibbie," he said, "wi' my

Away ran Gibbie, nothing loath, and at his knock was admitted.
Mistress Croale sat in the parlour, taking her tea, and expecting
him. She was always kind to the child. She could not help feeling
that no small part of what ought to be spent on him came to her; and
on Sundays, therefore, partly for his sake, partly for her own, she
always gave him his tea -- nominally tea, really blue city-milk -- with
as much dry bread as he could eat, and a bit of buttered toast from
her plate to finish off with. As he ate, he stood at the other side
of the table; he looked so miserable in her eyes that, even before
her servant, she was ashamed to have him sit with her; but Gibbie
was quite content, never thought of sitting, and ate in gladness,
every now and then looking up with loving, grateful eyes, which must
have gone right to the woman's heart, had it not been for a vague
sense she had of being all the time his enemy -- and that although she
spent much time in persuading herself that she did her best both for
his father and him.

When he returned, greatly refreshed, and the boots all but
forgotten, he found his father, as he knew he would, already started
on the business of the evening. He had drawn the chest, the only
seat in the room, to the side of the bed, against which he leaned
his back. A penny candle was burning in a stone blacking bottle on
the chimney piece, and on the floor beside the chest stood the
bottle of whisky, a jug of water, a stoneware mug, and a wineglass.

There was no fire and no kettle, whence his drinking was sad, as
became the Scotch Sabbath in distinction from the Jewish. There,
however, was the drink, and thereby his soul could live -- yea, expand
her mouldy wings! Gibbie was far from shocked; it was all right,
all in the order of things, and he went up to his father with
radiant countenance. Sir George put forth his hands and took him
between his knees. An evil wind now swelled his sails, but the
cargo of the crazy human hull was not therefore evil.

"Gibbie," he said, solemnly, "never ye drink a drap o' whusky.
Never ye rax oot the han' to the boatle. Never ye drink anything
but watter, caller watter, my man."

As he said the words, he stretched out his own hand to the mug,
lifted it to his lips, and swallowed a great gulp.

"Dinna do't, I tell ye, Gibbie," he repeated.

Gibbie shook his head with positive repudiation.

"That's richt, my man," responded his father with satisfaction.
"Gien ever I see ye pree (taste) the boatle, I'll warstle frae my
grave an' fleg ye oot o' the sma' wuts ye hae, my man."

Here followed another gulp from the mug.

The threat had conveyed nothing to Gibbie. Even had he understood,
it would have carried anything but terror to his father-worshipping

"Gibbie," resumed Sir George, after a brief pause, "div ye ken what
fowk'll ca' ye whan I'm deid?"

Gibbie again shook his head -- with expression this time of mere

"They'll ca' ye Sir Gibbie Galbraith, my man," said his father, "an'
richtly, for it'll be no nickname, though some may lauch 'cause yer
father was a sutor, an' mair 'at, for a' that, ye haena a shee to
yer fut yersel', puir fallow! Heedna ye what they say, Gibbie.
Min' 'at ye're Sir Gibbie, an' hae the honour o' the faimily to
haud up, my man -- an' that ye can not dee an' drink. This cursit
drink's been the ruin o' a' the Galbraiths as far back as I ken.
'Maist the only thing I can min' o' my gran'father -- a big bonny man,
wi' lang white hair -- twise as big's me, Gibbie -- is seein' him deid
drunk i' the gutter o' the pump. He drank 'maist a' thing there
was, Gibbie -- lan's an' lordship, till there was hardly an accre left
upo' haill Daurside to come to my father -- 'maist naething but a
wheen sma' hooses. He was a guid man, my father; but his father
learnt him to drink afore he was 'maist oot o' 's coaties, an' gae
him nae schuilin'; an' gien he red himsel' o' a' 'at was left, it
was sma' won'er -- only, ye see, Gibbie, what was to come o' me? I
pit it till ye, Gibbie -- what was to come o' me? -- Gien a kin' neiper,
'at kent what it was to drink, an' sae had a fallow-feelin', hadna
ta'en an' learnt me my trade, the Lord kens what wad hae come o' you
an' me, Gibbie, my man! -- Gang to yer bed, noo, an' lea' me to my ain
thouchts; no' 'at they're aye the best o' company, laddie. -- But
whiles they're no that ill," he concluded, with a weak smile, as
some reflex of himself not quite unsatisfactory gloomed faintly in
the besmeared mirror of his uncertain consciousness.

Gibbie obeyed, and getting under the Gordon tartan, lay and looked
out, like a weasel from its hole, at his father's back. For half an
hour or so Sir George went on drinking. All at once he started to
his feet, and turning towards the bed a white face distorted with
agony, kneeled down on the box and groaned out:

"O God, the pains o' hell hae gotten haud upo' me. O Lord, I'm i'
the grup o' Sawtan. The deevil o' drink has me by the hause. I
doobt, O Lord, ye're gauin' to damn me dreidfu'. What guid that'll
do ye, O Lord, I dinna ken, but I doobtna ye'll dee what's richt,
only I wuss I hed never crossed ye i' yer wull. I kenna what I'm to
dee, or what's to be deene wi' me, or whaur ony help's to come frae.
I hae tried an' tried to maister the drink, but I was aye whumled.
For ye see, Lord, kennin' a' thing as ye dee, 'at until I hae a
drap i' my skin, I canna even think; I canna min' the sangs I used
to sing, or the prayers my mither learnt me sittin' upo' her lap.
Till I hae swallowed a mou'fu' or twa, things luik sae awfu'-like
'at I'm fit to cut my thro't; an' syne ance I'm begun, there's nae
mair thoucht o' endeevourin' to behaud (withhold) till I canna drink
a drap mair. O God, what garred ye mak things 'at wad mak whusky,
whan ye kenned it wad mak sic a beast o' me?

He paused, stretched down his hand to the floor, lifted the mug, and
drank a huge mouthful; then with a cough that sounded apologetic,
set it down, and recommenced:

"O Lord, I doobt there's nae houp for me, for the verra river o' the
watter o' life wadna be guid to me wantin' a drap frae the boatle
intil 't. It's the w'y wi' a' hiz 'at drinks. It's no 'at we're
drunkards, Lord -- ow na! it's no that, Lord; it's only 'at we canna
dee wantin' the drink. We're sair drinkers, I maun confess, but no
jist drunkards, Lord. I'm no drunk the noo; I ken what I'm sayin',
an' it's sair trowth, but I cudna hae prayt a word to yer lordship
gien I hadna had a jooggy or twa first. O Lord, deliver me frae the
pooer o' Sawtan. -- O Lord! O Lord! I canna help mysel'. Dinna sen'
me to the ill place. Ye loot the deils gang intil the swine, lat me

With this frightful petition, his utterance began to grow
indistinct. Then he fell forward upon the bed, groaning, and his
voice died gradually away. Gibbie had listened to all he said, but
the awe of hearing his father talk to one unseen, made his soul very
still, and when he ceased he fell asleep.

Alas for the human soul inhabiting a drink-fouled brain! It is a
human soul still, and wretched in the midst of all that whisky can
do for it. From the pit of hell it cries out. So long as there is
that which can sin, it is a man. And the prayer of misery carries
its own justification, when the sober petitions of the
self-righteous and the unkind are rejected. He who forgives not is
not forgiven, and the prayer of the Pharisee is as the weary beating
of the surf of hell, while the cry of a soul out of its fire sets
the heart-strings of love trembling. There are sins which men must
leave behind them, and sins which they must carry with them.
Society scouts the drunkard because he is loathsome, and it matters
nothing whether society be right or wrong, while it cherishes in its
very bosom vices which are, to the God-born thing we call the soul,
yet worse poisons. Drunkards and sinners, hard as it may be for
them to enter into the kingdom of heaven, must yet be easier to save
than the man whose position, reputation, money, engross his heart
and his care, who seeks the praise of men and not the praise of God.
When I am more of a Christian, I shall have learnt to be sorrier for
the man whose end is money or social standing than for the drunkard.
But now my heart, recoiling from the one, is sore for the
other -- for the agony, the helplessness, the degradation, the
nightmare struggle, the wrongs and cruelties committed, the duties
neglected, the sickening ruin of mind and heart. So often, too, the
drunkard is originally a style of man immeasurably nobler than the
money-maker! Compare a Coleridge, Samuel Taylor or Hartley,
with -- no; that man has not yet passed to his account. God has in
his universe furnaces for the refining of gold, as well as for the
burning of chaff and tares and fruitless branches; and, however they
may have offended, it is the elder brother who is the judge of all
the younger ones.

Gibbie slept some time. When he woke, it was pitch dark, and he was
not lying on his father's bosom, He felt about with his hands till
he found his father's head. Then he got up and tried to rouse him,
and failing to get him on to the bed. But in that too he was sadly
unsuccessful: what with the darkness and the weight of him, the
result of the boy's best endeavour was, that Sir George half
slipped, half rolled down upon the box, and from that to the floor.
Assured then of his own helplessness, wee Gibbie dragged the
miserable bolster from the bed, and got it under his father's head;
then covered him with the plaid, and creeping under it, laid himself
on his father's bosom, where soon he slept again.

He woke very cold, and getting up, turned heels-over-head several
times to warm himself, but quietly, for his father was still asleep.
The room was no longer dark, for the moon was shining through the
skylight. When he had got himself a little warmer, he turned to
have a look at his father. The pale light shone full upon his face,
and it was that, Gibbie thought, which made him look so strange. He
darted to him, and stared aghast: he had never seen him look like
that before, even when most drunk! He threw himself upon him: his
face was dreadfully cold. He pulled and shook him in fear -- he could
not have told of what, but he would not wake. He was gone to see
what God could do for him there, for whom nothing more could be done

But Gibbie did not know anything about death, and went on trying to
wake him. At last he observed that, although his mouth was wide
open, the breath did not come from it. Thereupon his heart began to
fail him. But when he lifted an eyelid, and saw what was under it,
the house rang with the despairing shriek of the little orphan.



"This, too, will pass," is a Persian word: I should like it better
if it were "This, too, shall pass."

Gibbie's agony passed, for God is not the God of the dead but of the
living. Through the immortal essence in him, life became again
life, and he ran about the streets as before. Some may think that
wee Sir Gibbie -- as many now called him, some knowing the truth, and
others in kindly mockery -- would get on all the better for the loss
of such a father; but it was not so. In his father he had lost his
Paradise, and was now a creature expelled. He was not so much to be
pitied as many a child dismissed by sudden decree from a home to a
school; but the streets and the people and the shops, the horses and
the dogs, even the penny-loaves though he was hungry, had lost half
their precious delight, when his father was no longer in the
accessible background, the heart of the blissful city. As to food
and clothing, he did neither much better nor any worse than before:
people were kind as usual, and kindness was to Gibbie the very milk
of mother Nature. Whose the hand that proffered it, or what the
form it took, he cared no more than a stray kitten cares whether the
milk set down to it be in a blue saucer or a white. But he always
made the right return. The first thing a kindness deserves is
acceptance, the next is transmission: Gibbie gave both, without
thinking much about either. For he never had taken, and indeed
never learned to take, a thought about what he should eat or what he
should drink, or wherewithal he should be clothed -- a fault rendering
him, in the eyes of the economist of this world, utterly unworthy of
a place in it. There is a world, however, and one pretty closely
mixed up with this, though it never shows itself to one who has no
place in it, the birds of whose air have neither storehouse nor
barn, but are just such thoughtless cherubs -- thoughtless for
themselves, that is -- as wee Sir Gibbie. It would be useless to
attempt convincing the mere economist that this great city was a
little better, a little happier, a little merrier, for the presence
in it of the child, because he would not, even if convinced of the
fact, recognize the gain; but I venture the assertion to him, that
the conduct of not one of its inhabitants was the worse for the
example of Gibbie's apparent idleness; and that not one of the poor
women who now and then presented the small baronet with a penny, or
a bit of bread, or a scrap of meat, or a pair of old trousers -- shoes
nobody gave him, and he neither desired nor needed any -- ever felt
the poorer for the gift, or complained that she should be so taxed.

Positively or negatively, then, everybody was good to him, and
Gibbie felt it; but what could make up for the loss of his Paradise,
the bosom of a father? Drunken father as he was, I know of nothing
that can or ought to make up for such a loss, except that which can
restore it -- the bosom of the Father of fathers.

He roamed the streets, as all his life before, the whole of the day,
and part of the night; he took what was given him, and picked up
what he found. There were some who would gladly have brought him
within the bounds of an ordered life; he soon drove them to despair,
however, for the streets had been his nursery, and nothing could
keep him out of them. But the sparrow and the rook are just as
respectable in reality, though not in the eyes of the hen-wife, as
the egg-laying fowl, or the dirt-gobbling duck; and, however
Gibbie's habits might shock the ladies of Mr. Sclater's congregation
who sought to civilize him, the boy was no more about mischief in
the streets at midnight, than they were in their beds. They
collected enough for his behoof to board him for a year with an old
woman who kept a school, and they did get him to sleep one night in
her house. But in the morning, when she would not let him run out,
brought him into the school-room, her kitchen, and began to teach
him to write, Gibbie failed to see the good of it. He must have
space, change, adventure, air, or life was not worth the name to
him. Above all he must see friendly faces, and that of the old dame
was not such. But he desired to be friendly with her, and once, as
she leaned over him, put up his hand -- not a very clean one, I am
bound to give her the advantage of my confessing -- to stroke her
cheek: she pushed him roughly away, rose in indignation upon her
crutch, and lifted her cane to chastise him for the insult. A class
of urchins, to Gibbie's eyes at least looking unhappy, were at the
moment blundering through the twenty-third psalm. Ever after, even
when now Sir Gilbert more than understood the great song, the words,
"thy rod and thy staff," like the spell of a necromancer would still
call up the figure of the dame irate, in her horn spectacles and her
black-ribboned cap, leaning with one arm on her crutch, and with the
other uplifting what was with her no mere symbol of authority. Like
a shell from a mortar, he departed from the house. She hobbled to
the door after him, but his diminutive figure many yards away, his
little bare legs misty with swiftness as he ran, was the last she
ever saw of him, and her pupils had a bad time of it the rest of the
day. He never even entered the street again in which she lived.
Thus, after one night's brief interval of respectability, he was
again a rover of the city, a flitting insect that lighted here and
there, and spread wings of departure the moment a fresh desire

It would be difficult to say where he slept. In summer anywhere; in
winter where he could find warmth. Like animals better clad than
he, yet like him able to endure cold, he revelled in mere heat when
he could come by it. Sometimes he stood at the back of a baker's
oven, for he knew all the haunts of heat about the city; sometimes
he buried himself in the sids (husks of oats) lying ready to feed
the kiln of a meal-mill; sometimes he lay by the furnace of the
steam-engine of the water-works. One man employed there, when his
time was at night, always made a bed for Gibbie: he had lost his own
only child, and this one of nobody's was a comfort to him.

Even those who looked upon wandering as wicked, only scolded into
the sweet upturned face, pouring gall into a cup of wine too full to
receive a drop of it -- and did not hand him over to the police.
Useless verily that would have been, for the police would as soon
have thought of taking up a town sparrow as Gibbie, and would only
have laughed at the idea. They knew Gibbie's merits better than any
of those good people imagined his faults. It requires either wisdom
or large experience to know that a child is not necessarily wicked
even if born and brought up in a far viler entourage than was

The merits the police recognized in him were mainly two -- neither of
small consequence in their eyes; the first, the negative, yet more
important one, that of utter harmlessness; the second, and positive
one -- a passion and power for rendering help, taking notable shape
chiefly in two ways, upon both of which I have already more than
touched. The first was the peculiar faculty now pretty generally
known -- his great gift, some, his great luck, others called it -- for
finding things lost. It was no wonder the town crier had sought his
acquaintance, and when secured, had cultivated it -- neither a
difficult task; for the boy, ever since he could remember, had been
in the habit, as often as he saw the crier, or heard his tuck of
drum in the distance, of joining him and following, until he had
acquainted himself with all particulars concerning everything
proclaimed as missing. The moment he had mastered the facts
announced, he would dart away to search, and not unfrequently to
return with the thing sought. But it was not by any means only
things sought that he found. He continued to come upon things of
which he had no simulacrum in his phantasy. These, having no longer
a father to carry them to, he now, their owners unknown, took to the
crier, who always pretended to receive them with a suspicion which
Gibbie understood as little as the other really felt, and at once
advertised them by drum and cry. What became of them after that,
Gibbie never knew. If they did not find their owners, neither did
they find their way back to Gibbie; if their owners were found, the
crier never communicated with him on the subject. Plainly he
regarded Gibbie as the favoured jackal, whose privilege it was to
hunt for the crier, the royal lion of the city forest. But he spoke
kindly to him, as well he might, and now and then gave him a penny.

The second of the positive merits by which Gibbie found acceptance
in the eyes of the police, was a yet more peculiar one, growing out
of his love for his father, and his experience in the exercise of
that love. It was, however, unintelligible to them, and so
remained, except on the theory commonly adopted with regard to
Gibbie, namely, that he wasna a' there. Not the less was it to them
a satisfactory whim of his, seeing it mitigated their trouble as
guardians of the nightly peace and safety. It was indeed the main
cause of his being, like themselves, so much in the street at night:
seldom did Gibbie seek his lair -- I cannot call it couch -- before the
lengthening hours of the morning. If the finding of things was a
gift, this other peculiarity was a passion -- and a right human
passion -- absolutely possessing the child: it was, to play the
guardian angel to drunk folk. If such a distressed human craft hove
in sight, he would instantly bear down upon and hover about him,
until resolved as to his real condition. If he was in such distress
as to require assistance, he never left him till he saw him safe
within his own door. The police asserted that wee Sir Gibbie not
only knew every drunkard in the city, and where he lived, but where
he generally got drunk as well. That one was in no danger of taking
the wrong turning, upon whom Gibbie was in attendance, to determine,
by a shove on this side or that, the direction in which the
hesitating, uncertain mass of stultified humanity was to go. He
seemed a visible embodiment of that special providence which is said
to watch over drunk people and children, only here a child was the
guardian of the drunkard, and in this branch of his mission, was
well known to all who, without qualifying themselves for coming
under his cherubic cognizance, were in the habit of now and then
returning home late. He was least known to those to whom he
rendered most assistance. Rarely had he thanks for it, never
halfpence, but not unfrequently blows and abuse. For the last he
cared nothing; the former, owing to his great agility, seldom
visited him with any directness. A certain reporter of humorous
scandal, after his third tumbler, would occasionally give a graphic
description of what, coming from a supper-party, he once saw about
two o'clock in the morning. In the great street of the city, he
overhauled a huge galleon, which proved, he declared, to be the
provost himself, not exactly water-logged, and yet not very buoyant,
but carrying a good deal of sail. He might possibly have escaped
very particular notice, he said, but for the assiduous attendance
upon him of an absurd little cock-boat, in the person of wee
Gibbie -- the two reminding him right ludicrously of the story of the
Spanish Armada. Round and round the bulky provost gyrated the tiny
baronet, like a little hero of the ring, pitching into him, only
with open-handed pushes, not with blows, now on this side and now on
that -- not after such fashion of sustentation as might have sufficed
with a man of ordinary size, but throwing all his force now against
the provost's bulging bows, now against his over-leaning quarter,
encountering him now as he lurched, now as he heeled, until at
length he landed him high, though certainly not dry, on the top of
his own steps. The moment the butler opened the door, and the heavy
hulk rolled into dock, Gibbie darted off as if he had been the
wicked one tormenting the righteous, and in danger of being caught
by a pair of holy tongs. Whether the tale was true or not, I do not
know: with after-dinner humourists there is reason for caution.
Gibbie was not offered the post of henchman to the provost, and
rarely could have had the chance of claiming salvage for so
distinguished a vessel, seeing he generally cruised in waters where
such craft seldom sailed. Though almost nothing could now have
induced him to go down Jink Lane, yet about the time the company at
Mistress Croale's would be breaking up, he would on most nights be
lying in wait a short distance down the Widdiehill, ready to
minister to that one of his father's old comrades who might prove
most in need of his assistance; and if he showed him no gratitude,
Gibbie had not been trained in a school where he was taught to
expect or even to wish for any.

I could now give a whole chapter to the setting forth of the
pleasures the summer brought him, city summer as it was, but I must
content myself with saying that first of these, and not least, was
the mere absence of the cold of the other seasons, bringing with it
many privileges. He could lie down anywhere and sleep when he
would; or spend, if he pleased, whole nights awake, in a churchyard,
or on the deck of some vessel discharging her cargo at the quay, or
running about the still, sleeping streets. Thus he got to know the
shapes of some of the constellations, and not a few of the aspects
of the heavens. But even then he never felt alone, for he gazed at
the vista from the midst of a cityful of his fellows. Then there
were the scents of the laylocks and the roses and the carnations and
the sweet-peas, that came floating out from the gardens, contending
sometimes with those of the grocers' and chemists' shops. Now and
then too he came in for a small feed of strawberries, which were
very plentiful in their season. Sitting then on a hospitable
doorstep, with the feet and faces of friends passing him in both
directions, and love embodied in the warmth of summer all about him,
he would eat his strawberries, and inherit the earth.



No one was so sorry for the death of Sir George, or had so many kind
words to say in memory of him, as Mistress Croale. Neither was her
sorrow only because she had lost so good a customer, or even because
she had liked the man: I believe it was much enhanced by a vague
doubt that after all she was to blame for his death. In vain she
said to herself, and said truly, that it would have been far worse
for him, and Gibbie too, had he gone elsewhere for his drink; she
could not get the account settled with her conscience. She tried to
relieve herself by being kinder than before to the boy; but she was
greatly hindered in this by the fact that, after his father's death,
she could not get him inside her door. That his father was not
there -- would not be there at night, made the place dreadful to him.
This addition to the trouble of mind she already had on account of
the nature of her business, was the cause, I believe, why, after Sir
George's death, she went down the hill with accelerated speed. She
sipped more frequently from her own bottle, soon came to "tasting
with" her customers, and after that her descent was rapid. She no
longer refused drink to women, though for a time she always gave it
under protest; she winked at card-playing; she grew generally more
lax in her administration; and by degrees a mist of evil fame began
to gather about her house. Thereupon her enemy, as she considered
him, the Rev. Clement Sclater, felt himself justified in moving more
energetically for the withdrawal of her license, which, with the
support of outraged neighbours, he found no difficulty in effecting.
She therefore flitted to another parish, and opened a worse house
in a worse region of the city -- on the river-bank, namely, some
little distance above the quay, not too far to be within easy range
of sailors, and the people employed about the vessels loading or
discharging cargo. It pretended to be only a lodging-house, and had
no license for the sale of strong drink, but nevertheless, one way
and another, a great deal was drunk in the house, and, as always
card-playing, and sometimes worse things were going on, getting more
vigorous ever as the daylight waned, frequent quarrels and
occasional bloodshed was the consequence. For some time, however,
nothing very serious brought the place immediately within the
conscious ken of the magistrates.

In the second winter after his father's death, Gibbie, wandering
everywhere about the city, encountered Lucky Croale in the
neighbourhood of her new abode; down there she was Mistress no
longer, but, with a familiarity scarcely removed from contempt, was
both mentioned and addressed as Lucky Croale. The repugnance which
had hitherto kept Gibbie from her having been altogether to her
place and not to herself, he at once accompanied her home, and after
that went often to the house. He was considerably surprised when
first he heard words from her mouth for using which she had formerly
been in the habit of severely reproving her guests; but he always
took things as he found them, and when ere long he had to hear such
occasionally addressed to himself, when she happened to be more out
of temper than usual, he never therefore questioned her friendship.
What more than anything else attracted him to her house, however,
was the jolly manners and open-hearted kindness of most of the
sailors who frequented it, with almost all of whom he was a
favourite; and it soon came about that, when his ministrations to
the incapable were over, he would spend the rest of the night more
frequently there than anywhere else; until at last he gave up, in a
great measure, his guardianship of the drunk in the streets for that
of those who were certainly in much more danger of mishap at Lucky
Croale's. Scarcely a night passed when he was not present at one or
more of the quarrels of which the place was a hot-bed; and as he
never by any chance took a part, or favoured one side more than
another, but confined himself to an impartial distribution of such
peace-making blandishments as the ever-springing fountain of his
affection took instinctive shape in, the wee baronet came to be
regarded, by the better sort of the rough fellows, almost as the
very identical sweet little cherub, sitting perched up aloft, whose
department in the saving business of the universe it was, to take
care of the life of poor Jack. I do not say that he was always
successful in his endeavours at atonement, but beyond a doubt Lucky
Croale's house was a good deal less of a hell through the haunting
presence of the child. He was not shocked by the things he saw,
even when he liked them least. He regarded the doing of them much
as he had looked upon his father's drunkenness -- as a pitiful
necessity that overtook men -- one from which there was no escape, and
which caused a great need for Gibbies. Evil language and coarse
behaviour alike passed over him, without leaving the smallest stain
upon heart or conscience, desire or will. No one could doubt it who
considered the clarity of his face and eyes, in which the occasional
but not frequent expression of keenness and promptitude scarcely
even ruffled the prevailing look of unclouded heavenly babyhood.

If any one thinks I am unfaithful to human fact, and overcharge the
description of this child, I on my side doubt the extent of the
experience of that man or woman. I admit the child a rarity, but a
rarity in the right direction, and therefore a being with whom
humanity has the greater need to be made acquainted. I admit that
the best things are the commonest, but the highest types and the
best combinations of them are the rarest. There is more love in the
world than anything else, for instance; but the best love and the
individual in whom love is supreme are the rarest of all things.
That for which humanity has the strongest claim upon its workmen,
is the representation of its own best; but the loudest demand of the
present day is for the representation of that grade of humanity of
which men see the most -- that type of things which could never have
been but that it might pass. The demand marks the commonness,
narrowness, low-levelled satisfaction of the age. It loves its
own -- not that which might be, and ought to be its own -- not its
better self, infinitely higher than its present, for the sake of
whose approach it exists. I do not think that the age is worse in
this respect than those which have preceded it, but that vulgarity,
and a certain vile contentment swelling to self-admiration, have
become more vocal than hitherto; just as unbelief, which I think in
reality less prevailing than in former ages, has become largely more
articulate, and thereby more loud and peremptory. But whatever the
demand of the age, I insist that that which ought to be presented to
its beholding, is the common good uncommonly developed, and that not
because of its rarity, but because it is truer to humanity. Shall I
admit those conditions, those facts, to be true exponents of
humanity, which, except they be changed, purified, or abandoned,
must soon cause that humanity to cease from its very name, must
destroy its very being? To make the admission would be to assert
that a house may be divided against itself, and yet stand. It is
the noble, not the failure from the noble, that is the true human;
and if I must show the failure, let it ever be with an eye to the
final possible, yea, imperative, success. But in our day, a man who
will accept any oddity of idiosyncratic development in manners,

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