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BESIDE THE BONNIE BRIER BUSH
By IAN MACLAREN
TO MY WIFE
‘There grows a bonnie brier bush in our kail-yard, And white are the blossoms on’t in our kail-yard.’
1. A LAD O’ PAIRTS,
2. HOW WE CARRIED THE NEWS TO WHINNIE KNOWE
3. IN MARGET’S GARDEN
4. A SCHOLAR’S FUNERAL
II. A HIGHLAND MYSTIC.
1. WHAT EYE HATH NOT SEEN,
2. AGAINST PRINCIPALITIES AND POWERS,
III. HIS MOTHER’S SERMON,
IV. THE TRANSFORMATION OF LACHLAN CAMPBELL.
1. A GRAND INQUISITOR,
2. HIS BITTER SHAME,
3. LIKE AS A FATHER,
4. AS A LITTLE CHILD,
V. THE CUNNING SPEECH OF DRUMTOCHTY
VI. A WISE WOMAN.
1. OUR SERMON TASTER
2. THE COLLAPSE OF MRS. MACFADYEN
VII. A DOCTOR OF THE OLD SCHOOL
1. A GENERAL PRACTITIONER
2. THROUGH THE FLOOD
3. A FIGHT WITH DEATH
4. THE DOCTOR’S LAST JOURNEY
5. THE MOURNING OF THE GLEN
A LAD O’ PAIRTS
The Revolution reached our parish years ago, and Drumtochty has a School Board, with a chairman and a clerk, besides a treasurer and an officer. Young Hillocks, who had two years in a lawyer’s office, is clerk, and summons meetings by post, although he sees every member at the market or the kirk. Minutes are read with much solemnity, and motions to expend ten shillings upon a coal-cellar door passed, on the motion of Hillocks, seconded by Drumsheugh, who are both severely prompted for the occasion, and move uneasily before speaking.
Drumsheugh was at first greatly exalted by his poll, and referred freely on market days to his “plumpers,” but as time went on the irony of the situation laid hold upon him.
“Think o’ you and me, Hillocks, veesitin’ the schule and sittin’ wi’ bukes in oor hands watchin’ the Inspector. Keep’s a’, it’s eneuch to mak’ the auld Dominie turn in his grave. Twa meenisters cam’ in his time, and Domsie put Geordie Hoo or some ither gleg laddie, that was makin’ for college, thro’ his facin’s, and maybe some bit lassie brocht her copybuke. Syne they had their dinner, and Domsie tae, wi’ the Doctor. Man, a’ve often thocht it was the prospeck o’ the Schule Board and its weary bit rules that feenished Domsie. He wasna maybe sae shairp at the elements as this pirjinct body we hae noo, but a’body kent he was a terrible scholar and a credit tae the parish. Drumtochty was a name in thae days wi’ the lads he sent tae college. It was maybe juist as weel he slippit awa’ when he did, for he wud hae taen ill with thae new fikes, and nae college lad to warm his hert.”
The present school-house stands in an open place beside the main road to Muirtown, treeless and comfortless, built of red, staring stone, with a playground for the boys and another for the girls, and a trim, smug-looking teacher’s house, all very neat and symmetrical, and well regulated. The local paper had a paragraph headed “Drumtochty,” written by the Muirtown architect, describing the whole premises in technical language that seemed to compensate the ratepayers for the cost, mentioning the contractor’s name, and concluding that “this handsome building of the Scoto-Grecian style was one of the finest works that had ever come from the accomplished architect’s hands.” It has pitch-pine benches and map-cases, and a thermometer to be kept at not less than 58° and not more than 62°, and ventilators which the Inspector is careful to examine. When I stumbled in last week the teacher was drilling the children in Tonic Sol-fa with a little harmonium, and I left on tiptoe.
It is difficult to live up to this kind of thing, and my thoughts drift to the auld schule-house and Domsie. Some one with the love of God in his heart had built it long ago, and chose a site for the bairns in the sweet pine-woods at the foot of the cart road to Whinnie Knowe and the upland farms. It stood in a clearing with the tall Scotch firs round three sides, and on the fourth a brake of gorse and bramble bushes, through which there was an opening to the road. The clearing was the playground, and in summer the bairns annexed as much wood as they liked, playing tig among the trees, or sitting down at dinner-time on the soft, dry spines that made an elastic carpet everywhere. Domsie used to say there were two pleasant sights for his old eyes every day. One was to stand in the open at dinner-time and see the flitting forms of the healthy, rosy sonsie bairns in the wood, and from the door in the afternoon to watch the schule skail till each group was lost in the kindly shadow, and the merry shouts died away in this quiet place. Then the Dominie took a pinch of snuff and locked the door, and went to his house beside the school. One evening I came on him listening bare-headed to the voices, and he showed so kindly that I shall take him as he stands. A man of middle height, but stooping below it, with sandy hair turning to grey, and bushy eye-brow covering keen, shrewd grey eyes. You will notice that his linen is coarse but spotless, and that, though his clothes are worn almost threadbare, they are well brushed and orderly. But you will be chiefly arrested by the Dominie’s coat, for the like of it was not in the parish. It was a black dress coat, and no man knew when it had begun its history; in its origin and its continuance it resembled Melchisedek. Many were the myths that gathered round that coat, but on this all were agreed, that without it we could not have realised the Dominie, and it became to us the sign and trappings of learning. He had taken a high place at the University, and won a good degree, and I’ve heard the Doctor say that he had a career before him. But something happened in his life, and Domsie buried himself among the woods with the bairns of Drumtochty. No one knew the story, but after he died I found a locket on his breast, with a proud, beautiful face within, and I have fancied it was a tragedy. It may have been in substitution that he gave all his love to the children, and nearly all his money too, helping lads to college, and affording an inexhaustible store of peppermints for the little ones.
Perhaps one ought to have been ashamed of that school-house, but yet it had its own distinction, for scholars were born there, and now and then to this day some famous man will come and stand in the deserted playground for a space. The door was at one end, and stood open in summer, so that the boys saw the rabbits come out from their holes on the edge of the wood, and birds sometimes flew in unheeded. The fireplace was at the other end, and was fed in winter with the sticks and peats brought by the scholars. On one side Domsie sat with the half-dozen lads he hoped to send to college, to whom he grudged no labour, and on the other gathered the very little ones, who used to warm their bare feet at the fire, while down the sides of the room the other scholars sat at their rough old desks, working sums and copying. Now and then a class came up and did some task, and at times a boy got the tawse for his negligence, but never a girl. He kept the girls in as their punishment, with a brother to take them home, and both had tea in Domsie’s house, with a bit of his best honey, departing much torn between an honest wish to please Domsie and a pardonable longing for another tea.
“Domsie,” as we called the schoolmaster, behind his back in Drumtochty, because we loved him, was true to the tradition of his kind, and had an unerring scent for “pairts” in his laddies. He could detect a scholar in the egg, and prophesied Latinity from a boy that seemed fit only to be a cowherd. It was believed that he had never made a mistake in judgment, and it was not his blame if the embryo scholar did not come to birth. “Five and thirty years have I been minister at Drumtochty,” the Doctor used to say at school examinations, “and we have never wanted a student at the University, and while Dominie Jamieson lives we never shall.” Whereupon Domsie took snuff, and assigned his share of credit to the Doctor, “who gave the finish in Greek to every lad of them, without money and without price, to make no mention of the higher mathematics.” Seven ministers, four schoolmasters, four doctors, one professor, and three civil service men had been sent out by the auld schule in Domsie’s time, besides many that “had given themselves to mercantile pursuits.”
He had a leaning to classics and the professions, but Domsie was catholic in his recognition of “pairts,” and when the son of Hillocks’ foreman made a collection of the insects of Drumtochty, there was a council at the manse. “Bumbee Willie,” as he had been pleasantly called by his companions, was rescued from ridicule and encouraged to fulfil his bent. Once a year a long letter came to Mr. Patrick Jamieson, M.A., Schoolmaster, Drumtochty, N.B., and the address within was the British Museum. When Domsie read this letter to the school, he was always careful to explain that “Dr. Graham is the greatest living authority on beetles,” and, generally speaking, if any clever lad did not care for Latin, he had the alternative of beetles.
But it was Latin Domsie hunted for as for fine gold, and when he found the smack of it in a lad he rejoiced openly. He counted it a day in his life when he knew certainly that he had hit on another scholar, and the whole school saw the identification of George Howe. For a winter Domsie had been “at point,” racing George through Caesar, stalking him behind irregular verbs, baiting traps with tit-bits of Virgil. During these exercises Domsie surveyed George from above his spectacles with a hope that grew every day in assurance, and came to its height over a bit of Latin prose. Domsie tasted it visibly, and read it again in the shadow of the firs at meal-time, slapping his leg twice.
“He’ll dae! he’ll dae!” cried Domsie aloud, ladling in the snuff. “George, ma mannie, tell yir father that I am comin’ up to Whinnie Knowe the nicht on a bit o’ business.”
Then the “schule” knew that Geordie Hoo was marked for college, and pelted him with fir cones in great gladness of heart.
“Whinnie” was full of curiosity over the Dominie’s visit, and vexed Marget sorely, to whom Geordie had told wondrous things in the milk-house. “It canna be coals ‘at he’s wantin’ frae the station, for there’s a fell puckle left.”
“And it’ll no be seed taties,” she said, pursuing the principle of exhaustion, “for he hes some Perthshire reds himsel’. I doot it’s somethin’ wrang with Geordie,” and Whinnie started on a new track.
“He’s been playin’ truant maybe. A’ mind gettin’ ma paiks for birdnestin’ masel. I’ll wager that’s the verra thing.”
“Weel, yir wrang, Weelum,” broke in Marget, Whinnie’s wife, a tall, silent woman, with a speaking face; “it’s naither the ae thing nor the ither, but something I’ve been prayin’ for since Geordie was a wee bairn. Clean yirsel and meet Domsie on the road, for nae man deserves more honour in Drumtochty, naither laird nor farmer.”
Conversation with us was a leisurely game, with slow movements and many pauses, and it was our custom to handle all the pawns before we brought the queen into action.
Domsie and Whinnie discussed the weather with much detail before they came in sight of George, but it was clear that Domsie was charged with something weighty, and even Whinnie felt that his own treatment of the turnip crop was wanting in repose.
At last Domsie cleared his throat and looked at Marget, who had been in and out, but ever within hearing.
“George is a fine laddie, Mrs. Howe.”
An ordinary Drumtochty mother, although bursting with pride, would have responded, “He’s weel eneuch, if he hed grace in his heart,” in a tone that implied it was extremely unlikely, and that her laddie led the reprobates of the parish. As it was, Marget’s face lightened, and she waited.
“What do you think of making him?” and the Dominie dropped the words slowly, for this was a moment in Drumtochty.
There was just a single ambition in those humble homes, to have one of its members at college, and if Domsie approved a lad, then his brothers and sisters would give their wages, and the family would live on skim milk and oat cake, to let him have his chance.
Whinnie glanced at his wife and turned to Domsie.
“Marget’s set on seein’ Geordie a minister, Dominie.”
“If he’s worthy o’t, no otherwise. We haena the means though; the farm is highly rented, and there’s barely a penny over at the end o’ the year.”
“But you are willing George should go and see what he can do. If he disappoint you, then I dinna know a lad o’ pairts when I see him, and the Doctor is with me.”
“Maister Jamieson,” said Marget, with great solemnity, “ma hert’s desire is to see George a minister, and if the Almichty spared me to hear ma only bairn open his mooth in the Evangel, I wud hae naething mair to ask … but I doot sair it canna be managed.”
Domsie had got all he asked, and he rose in his strength.
“If George Howe disna get to college, then he’s the first scholar I’ve lost in Drumtochty … ye ‘ill manage his keep and sic like?”
“Nae fear o’ that,” for Whinnie was warming, “tho’ I haena a steek (stitch) o’ new claithes for four years. But what aboot his fees and ither ootgaeins?”
“There’s ae man in the parish can pay George’s fees without missing a penny, and I’ll warrant he ‘ill dae it.”
“Are ye meanin’ Drumsheugh?” said Whinnie, “for ye ‘ill never get a penny piece oot o’ him. Did ye no hear hoo the Frees wiled him intae their kirk, Sabbath past a week, when Netherton’s sister’s son frae Edinboro’ wes preaching the missionary sermon, expectin’ a note, and if he didna change a shillin’ at the public-hoose and pit in a penny. Sall, he’s a lad Drumsheugh; a’m thinking ye may save yir journey, Dominie.”
But Marget looked away from her into the past, and her eyes had a tender light. “He hed the best hert in the pairish aince.”
Domsie found Drumsheugh inclined for company, and assisted at an exhaustive and caustic treatment of local affairs. When the conduct of Piggie Walker, who bought Drumsheugh’s potatoes and went into bankruptcy without paying for a single tuber, had been characterized in language that left nothing to be desired, Drumsheugh began to soften and show signs of reciprocity.
“Hoo’s yir laddies, Dominie?” whom the farmers regarded as a risky turnip crop in a stiff clay that Domsie had “to fecht awa in.” “Are ony o’ them shaping weel?”
Drumsheugh had given himself away, and Domsie laid his first parallel with a glowing account of George Howe’s Latinity, which was well received.
“Weel, I’m gled tae hear sic accoonts o’ Marget Hoo’s son; there’s naething in Whinnie but what the spune puts in.”
But at the next move Drumsheugh scented danger and stood at guard. “Na, na, Dominie, I see what yir aifter fine; ye mind hoo ye got three notes oot o’ me at Perth market Martinmas a year past for ane o’ yir college laddies. Five punds for four years; my word, yir no blate (modest). And what for sud I educat Marget Hoo’s bairn? If ye kent a’ ye wudna ask me; it’s no reasonable, Dominie. So there’s an end o’t.”
Domsie was only a pedantic old parish schoolmaster, and he knew little beyond his craft, but the spirit of the Humanists awoke within him, and he smote with all his might, bidding goodbye to his English as one flings away the scabbard of a sword.
“Ye think that a’m asking a great thing when I plead for a pickle notes to give a puir laddie a college education. I tell ye, man, a’m honourin’ ye and givin’ ye the fairest chance ye’ll ever hae o’ winning wealth. Gin ye store the money ye hae scrapit by mony a hard bargain, some heir ye never saw ‘ill gar it flee in chambering and wantonness. Gin ye hed the heart to spend it on a lad o’ pairts like Geordie Hoo, ye wud hae twa rewards nae man could tak fra ye. Ane wud be the honest gratitude o’ a laddie whose desire for knowledge ye hed sateesfied, and the second wud be this–anither scholar in the land; and a’m thinking with auld John Knox that ilka scholar is something added to the riches of the commonwealth. And what ‘ill it cost ye? Little mair than the price o’ a cattle beast. Man, Drumsheugh, ye poverty-stricken cratur, I’ve naethin’ in this world but a handfu’ o’ books and a ten-pund note for my funeral, and yet, if it wasna I have all my brither’s bairns tae keep, I wud pay every penny mysel’. But I’ll no see Geordie sent to the plough, tho’ I gang frae door to door. Na, na, the grass ‘ill no grow on the road atween the college and the schule-hoose o’ Drumtochty till they lay me in the auld kirkyard.”
“Sall, Domsie was roosed,” Drumsheugh explained in the Muirtown inn next market. “‘Miserly wratch’ was the ceevilest word on his tongue. He wud naither sit nor taste, and was half way doon the yaird afore I cud quiet him. An’ a’m no sayin’ he hed na reason if I’d been meanin’ a’ I said. It wud be a scan’al to the pairish if a likely lad cudna win tae college for the want o’ siller. Na, na, neeburs, we hae oor faults, but we’re no sae dune mean as that in Drumtochty.”
As it was, when Domsie did depart he could only grip Drumsheugh’s hand, and say Maecenas, and was so intoxicated, but not with strong drink, that he explained to Hillocks on the way home that Drumsheugh would be a credit to Drumtochty, and that his Latin style reminded him of Cicero. He added as an afterthought that Whinnie Knowe had promised to pay Drumsheugh’s fees for four years at the University of Edinburgh.
HOW WE CARRIED THE NEWS TO WHINNIE KNOWE
Domsie was an artist, and prepared the way for George’s University achievement with much cunning. Once every Sabbath in the kirk-yard, where he laid down the law beneath an old elm tree, and twice between Sabbaths, at the post-office and by the wayside, he adjured us not to expect beyond measure, and gave us reasons.
“Ye see, he has a natural talent for learning, and took to Latin like a duck to water. What could be done in Drumtochty was done for him, and he’s working night and day, but he’ll have a sore fight with the lads from the town schools. Na, na, neighbours,” said the Dominie, lapsing into dialect, “we daurna luik for a prize. No the first year, at ony rate.”
“Man, Dominie. A’m clean astonished at ye,” Drumsheugh used to break in, who, since he had given to George’s support, outran us all in his faith, and had no patience with Domsie’s devices, “a’ tell ye if Geordie disna get a first in every class he’s entered for, the judges ‘ill be a puir lot,” with a fine confusion of circumstances.
“Losh, Drumsheugh, be quiet, or ye’ll dae the laddie an injury,” said Domsie, with genuine alarm. “We maunna mention prizes, and first is fair madness, A certificate of honour now, that will be aboot it, may be next to the prizemen.”
Coming home from market he might open his heart. “George ‘ill be amang the first sax, or my name is no Jamieson,” but generally he prophesied a moderate success. There were times when he affected indifference, and talked cattle. We then regarded him with awe, because this was more than mortal.
It was my luck to carry the bulletin to Domsie, and I learned what he had been enduring. It was good manners in Drumtochty to feign amazement at the sight of a letter, and to insist that it must be intended for some other person. When it was finally forced upon one, you examined the handwriting at various angles and speculated about the writer. Some felt emboldened, after these precautions, to open the letter, but this haste was considered indecent. When Posty handed Drumsheugh the factor’s letter, with the answer to his offer for the farm, he only remarked, “It’ll be frae the factor,” and harked back to a polled Angus bull he had seen at the show. “Sall,” said Posty in the kirkyard with keen relish, “ye’ll never flurry Drumsheugh.” Ordinary letters were read in leisurely retirement, and, in case of urgency, answered within the week.
Domsie clutched the letter, and would have torn off the envelope. But he could not; his hand was shaking like an aspen. He could only look, and I read:
“Dear Mr. Jamieson,–The class honour lists are just out, and you will be pleased to know that I have got the medal both in the Humanity and the Greek.”
There was something about telling his mother, and his gratitude to his schoolmaster, but Domsie heard no more. He tried to speak and could not, for a rain of tears was on his hard old face. Domsie was far more a pagan than a saint, but somehow he seemed to me that day as Simeon, who had at last seen his heart’s desire, and was satisfied.
When the school had dispersed with a joyful shout, and disappeared in the pine woods, he said, “Ye’ll come too,” and I knew he was going to Whinnie Knowe. He did not speak one word upon the way, but twice he stood and read the letter which he held fast in his hand. His face was set as he climbed the cart track. I saw it set again as we came down that road one day, but it was well that we could not pierce beyond the present.
Whinnie left his plough in the furrow, and came to meet us, taking two drills at a stride, and shouting remarks on the weather yards off.
Domsie only lifted the letter. “Frae George.”
“Ay, ay, and what’s he gotten noo?”
Domsie solemnly unfolded the letter, and brought down his spectacles. “Edinburgh, April 7th.” Then he looked at Whinnie, and closed his mouth.
“We’ll tell it first to his mither.”
“Yer richt, Dominie. She weel deserves it. A’m thinking she’s seen us by this time.” So we fell into a procession, Dominie leading by two yards; and then a strange thing happened. For the first and last time in his life Domsie whistled, and the tune was “A hundred pipers and a’ and a’,” and as he whistled he seemed to dilate before our eyes, and he struck down thistles with his stick–a thistle at every stroke.
“Domsie’s fair carried,” whispered Whinnie, “it cowes a’.”
Marget met us at the end of the house beside the brier bush, where George was to sit on summer afternoons before he died, and a flash passed between Domsie and the lad’s mother. Then she knew that it was well, and fixed her eyes on the letter, but Whinnie, his thumbs in his armholes, watched the wife.
Domsie now essayed to read the news, but between the shaking of his hands and his voice he could not.
“It’s nae use,” he cried, “he’s first in the Humanity oot o’ a hundred and seeventy lads, first o’ them a’, and he’s first in the Greek too; the like o’ this is hardly known, and it has na been seen in Drumtochty since there was a schule. That’s the word he’s sent, and he bade me tell his mother without delay, and I am here as fast as my old feet could carry me.”
I glanced round, although I did not myself see very clearly.
Marget was silent for the space of five seconds; she was a good woman, and I knew that better afterwards. She took the Dominie’s hand, and said to him, “Under God this was your doing, Maister Jamieson, and for your reward ye’ill get naither silver nor gold, but ye hae a mither’s gratitude.”
Whinnie gave a hoarse chuckle and said to his wife, “It was frae you, Marget, he got it a’.”
When we settled in the parlour Domsie’s tongue was loosed, and he lifted up his voice and sang the victory of Geordie Hoo.
“It’s ten years ago at the brak up o’ the winter ye brought him down to me, Mrs. Hoo, and ye said at the schule-hoose door, ‘Dinna be hard on him, Maister Jamieson, he’s my only bairn, and a wee thingie quiet.’ Div ye mind what I said, ‘There’s something ahint that face,’ and my heart warmed to George that hour. Two years after the Doctor examined the schule, and he looks at George. ‘That’s a likely lad, Dominie. What think ye?’ And he was only eight years auld, and no big for his size. ‘Doctor, I daurna prophesy till we turn him into the Latin, but a’ve my thoughts.’ So I had a’ the time, but I never boasted, na, na, that’s dangerous. Didna I say, ‘Ye hev a promisin’ laddie, Whinnie,’ ae day in the market?”
“It’s a fac’,” said Whinnie, “it wes the day I bocht the white coo.” But Domsie swept on.
“The first year o’ Latin was enough for me. He juist nippet up his verbs. Cæsar could na keep him going; he wes into Virgil afore he wes eleven, and the Latin prose, man, as sure as a’m living, it tasted o’ Cicero frae the beginning.”
Whinnie wagged his head in amazement.
“It was the verra nicht o’ the Latin prose I cam up to speak aboot the college, and ye thocht Geordie hed been playing truant.”
Whinnie laughed uproariously, but Domsie heeded not.
“It was awfu’ work the next twa years, but the Doctor stood in weel wi’ the Greek. Ye mind hoo Geordie tramped ower the muir to the manse thro’ the weet an’ the snaw, and there wes aye dry stockings for him in the kitchen afore he had his Greek in the Doctor’s study.”
“And a warm drink tae,” put in Marget, “and that’s the window I pit the licht in to guide him hame in the dark winter nichts, and mony a time when the sleet played swish on the glass I wes near wishin’–” Domsie waved his hand.
“But that’s dune wi’ noo, and he was worth a’ the toil and trouble. First in the Humanity and first in the Greek, sweepit the field, Lord preserve us. A’ can hardly believe it. Eh, I was feared o’ thae High School lads. They had terrible advantages. Maisters frae England, and tutors, and whatna’, but Drumtochty carried aff the croon. It’ll be fine reading in the papers–
_Humanity_.–First Prize (and Medal), George Howe, Drumtochty, Perthshire.
_Greek_.–First Prize (and Medal), George Howe, Drumtochty, Perthshire.”
“It’ll be michty,” cried Whinnie, now fairly on fire.
“And Philosophy and Mathematics to come. Geordie’s no bad at Euclid, I’ll wager he’ll be first there too. When he gets his hand in there’s naething he’s no fit for wi’ time. My ain laddie–and the Doctor’s–we maunna forget him–it’s his classics he hes, every book o’ them. The Doctor ‘ill be lifted when he comes back on Saturday. A’m thinkin’ we’ll hear o’t on Sabbath. And Drumsheugh, he’ll be naither to had nor bind in the kirk-yard. As for me, I wad na change places wi’ the Duke o’ Athole,” and Domsie shook the table to its foundation.
Then he awoke, as from a dream, and the shame of boasting that shuts the mouths of self-respecting Scots descended upon him.
“But this is fair nonsense. Ye’ll no mind the havers o’ an auld dominie.”
He fell back on a recent roup, and would not again break away, although sorely tempted by certain of Whinnie’s speculations.
When I saw him last, his coat-tails were waving victoriously as he leaped a dyke on his way to tell our Drumtochty Maecenas that the judges knew their business.
IN MARGET’S GARDEN
The cart track to Whinnie Knowe was commanded by a gable window, and Whinnie boasted that Marget had never been taken unawares. Tramps, finding every door locked, and no sign of life anywhere, used to express their mind in the “close,” and return by the way they came, while ladies from Kildrummie, fearful lest they should put Mrs. Howe out, were met at the garden gate by Marget in her Sabbath dress, and brought into a set tea as if they had been invited weeks before.
Whinnie gloried most in the discomfiture of the Tory agent, who had vainly hoped to coerce him in the stack yard without Marget’s presence, as her intellectual contempt for the Conservative party knew no bounds.
“Sall she saw him slip aff the road afore the last stile, and wheep roond the fit o’ the gairden wa’ like a tod (fox) aifter the chickens.
“‘It’s a het day, Maister Anderson,’ says Marget frae the gairden, lookin’ doon on him as calm as ye like. ‘Yir surely no gaein’ to pass oor hoose without a gless o’ milk?’
“Wud ye believe it, he wes that upset he left withoot sayin’ ‘vote,’ and Drumsheugh telt me next market that his langidge aifterwards cudna be printed.”
When George came home for the last time, Marget went back and forward all afternoon from his bedroom to the window, and hid herself beneath the laburnum to see his face as the cart stood before the stile. It told her plain what she had feared, and Marget passed through her Gethsemane with the gold blossoms falling on her face. When their eyes met, and before she helped him down, mother and son understood.
“Ye mind what I told ye, o’ the Greek mothers, the day I left. Weel, I wud hae liked to have carried my shield, but it wasna to be, so I’ve come home on it.” As they went slowly up the garden walk, “I’ve got my degree, a double first, mathematics and classics.”
“Ye’ve been a gude soldier, George, and faithfu’.”
“Unto death, a’m dootin, mother.”
“Na,” said Marget, “unto life.”
Drumtochty was not a heartening place in sickness, and Marget, who did not think our thoughts, endured much consolation at her neighbour’s hands. It is said that in cities visitors congratulate a patient on his good looks, and deluge his family with instances of recovery. This would have seemed to us shallow and unfeeling, besides being a “temptin’ o’ Providence,” which might not have intended to go to extremities, but on a challenge of this kind had no alternative. Sickness was regarded as a distinction tempered with judgment, and favoured people found it difficult to be humble. I always thought more of Peter MacIntosh when the mysterious “tribble” that needed the Perth doctor made no difference in his manner, and he passed his snuff box across the seat before the long prayer as usual, but in this indifference to privileges Peter was exceptional.
You could never meet Kirsty Stewart on equal terms, although she was quite affable to any one who knew his place.
“Ay,” she said, on my respectful allusion to her experience, “a’ve seen mair than most. It doesna become me to boast, but tho’ I say it as sudna, I hae buried a’ my ain fouk.”
Kirsty had a “way” in sick visiting, consisting in a certain cadence of the voice and arrangement of the face, which was felt to be soothing and complimentary.
“Yir aboot again, a’m glad to see,” to me after my accident, “but yir no dune wi’ that leg; na, na, Jeems, that was ma second son, scrapit his shin aince, tho’ no so bad as ye’ve dune a’m hearing (for I had denied Kirsty the courtesy of an inspection). It’s sax year syne noo, and he got up and wes traivellin’ fell hearty like yersel. But he begood to dwam (sicken) in the end of the year, and soughed awa’ in the spring. Ay, ay, when tribble comes ye never ken hoo it ‘ill end. A’ thocht I wud come up and speir for ye. A body needs comfort gin he’s sober (ill).”
When I found George wrapped in his plaid beside the brier bush whose roses were no whiter than his cheeks, Kirsty was already installed as comforter in the parlour, and her drone came through the open window.
“Ay, ay, Marget, sae it’s come to this. Weel, we daurna complain, ye ken. Be thankfu’ ye haena lost your man and five sons, besides twa sisters and a brither, no to mention cousins. That wud be something to speak aboot, and Losh keep’s, there’s nae saying but he micht hang on a whilie. Ay, ay, it’s a sair blow aifter a’ that wes in the papers. I wes feared when I heard o’ the papers; ‘Lat weel alane,’ says I to the Dominie; ‘ye ‘ill bring a judgment on the laddie wi’ yir blawing.’ But ye micht as weel hae spoken to the hills. Domsie’s a thraun body at the best, and he was clean infatuat’ wi’ George. Ay, ay, it’s an awfu’ lesson, Marget, no to mak’ idols o’ our bairns, for that’s naethin’ else than provokin’ the Almichty.”
It was at this point that Marget gave way and scandalized Drumtochty, which held that obtrusive prosperity was an irresistible provocation to the higher powers, and that a skilful depreciation of our children was a policy of safety.
“Did ye say the Almichty? I’m thinkin’ that’s ower grand a name for your God, Kirsty. What wud ye think o’ a faither that brocht hame some bonnie thing frae the fair for ane o’ his bairns, and when the puir bairn wes pleased wi’ it tore it oot o’ his hand and flung it into the fire? Eh, woman, he wud be a meeserable cankered jealous body. Kirsty, wumman, when the Almichty sees a mither bound up in her laddie, I tell ye He is sair pleased in His heaven, for mind ye hoo He loved His ain Son. Besides, a’m judgin’ that nane o’ us can love anither withoot lovin’ Him, or hurt anither withoot hurtin’ Him.
“Oh, I ken weel that George is gaein’ to leave us; but it’s no because the Almichty is jealous o’ him or me, no likely. It cam’ to me last nicht that He needs my laddie for some grand wark in the ither world, and that’s hoo George has his bukes brocht oot tae the garden and studies a’ the day. He wants to be ready for his kingdom, just as he trachled in the bit schule o’ Drumtochty for Edinboro’. I hoped he wud hae been a minister o’ Christ’s Gospel here, but he ‘ill be judge over many cities yonder. A’m no denyin’, Kirsty, that it’s a trial, but I hae licht on it, and naethin’ but gude thochts o’ the Almichty.”
Drumtochty understood that Kirsty had dealt faithfully with Marget for pride and presumption, but all we heard was, “Losh keep us a’.”
When Marget came out and sat down beside her son, her face was shining. Then she saw the open window.
“I didna ken.”
“Never mind, mither, there’s nae secrets atween us, and it gar’d my heart leap to hear ye speak up like yon for God, and to know yir content. Div ye mind the nicht I called for ye, mother, and ye gave me the Gospel aboot God?”
Marget slipped her hand into George’s, and he let his head rest on her shoulder. The likeness flashed upon me in that moment, the earnest deep-set grey eyes, the clean-cut firm jaw, and the tender mobile lips, that blend of apparent austerity and underlying romance that make the pathos of a Scottish face.
“There had been a Revival man, here,” George explained to me, “and he was preaching on hell. As it grew dark a candle was lighted, and I can still see his face as in a picture, a hard-visaged man. He looked down at us laddies in the front, and asked us if we knew what like hell was. By this time we were that terrified none of us could speak, but I whispered ‘No.’
“Then he rolled up a piece of paper and held it in the flame, and we saw it burn and glow and shrivel up and fall in black dust.
“‘Think,’ said he, and he leaned over the desk, and spoke in a gruesome whisper which made the cold run down our backs, ‘that yon paper was your finger, one finger only of your hand, and it burned like that for ever and ever, and think of your hand and your arm and your whole body all on fire, never to go out.’ We shuddered that you might have heard the form creak. ‘That is hell, and that is where ony laddie will go who does not repent and believe.’
“It was like Dante’s Inferno, and I dared not take my eyes off his face. He blew out the candle, and we crept to the door trembling, not able to say one word.
“That night I could not sleep, for I thought I might be in the fire before morning. It was harvest time, and the moon was filling the room with cold clear light. From my bed I could see the stooks standing in rows upon the field, and it seemed like the judgment day.
“I was only a wee laddie, and I did what we all do in trouble, I cried for my mother.
“Ye hae na forgotten, mither, the fricht that was on me that nicht.”
“Never,” said Marget, “and never can; it’s hard wark for me to keep frae hating that man, dead or alive. Geordie gripped me wi’ baith his wee airms round my neck, and he cries over and over and over again, ‘Is yon God?'”
“Ay, and ye kissed me, mither, and ye said (it’s like yesterday), ‘Yir safe with me,’ and ye telt me that God micht punish me to mak me better if I was bad, but that he wud never torture ony puir soul, for that cud dae nae guid, and was the Devil’s wark. Ye asked me:
“‘Am I a guid mother tae ye?’ and when I could dae naethin’ but hold, ye said, ‘Be sure God maun be a hantle kinder.’
“The truth came to me as with a flicker, and I cuddled down into my bed, and fell asleep in His love as in my mother’s arms.
“Mither,” and George lifted up his head, “that was my conversion, and, mither dear, I hae longed a’ thro’ thae college studies for the day when ma mooth wud be opened wi’ this evangel.”
Marget’s was an old-fashioned garden, with pinks and daisies and forget-me-nots, with sweet-scented wall-flower and thyme and moss roses, where nature had her way, and gracious thoughts could visit one without any jarring note. As George’s voice softened to the close, I caught her saying, “His servants shall see His face,” and the peace of Paradise fell upon us in the shadow of death.
The night before the end George was carried out to his corner, and Domsie, whose heart was nigh unto the breaking, sat with him the afternoon. They used to fight the College battles over again, with their favourite classics beside them, but this time none of them spoke of books. Marget was moving about the garden, and she told me that George looked at Domsie wistfully, as if he had something to say and knew not how to do it.
After a while he took a book from below his pillow, and began, like one thinking over his words:
“Maister Jamieson, ye hae been a gude freend tae me, the best I ever hed aifter my mither and faither. Wull ye tak this buik for a keepsake o’ yir grateful scholar? It’s a Latin ‘Imitation’ Dominie, and it’s bonnie printin’. Ye mind hoo ye gave me yir ain Virgil, and said he was a kind o’ Pagan sanct. Noo here is my sanct, and div ye ken I’ve often thocht Virgil saw His day afar off, and was glad. Wull ye read it, Dominie, for my sake, and maybe ye ‘ill come to see–” and George could not find words for more.
But Domsie understood. “Ma laddie, ma laddie, that I luve better than onythin’ on earth, I’ll read it till I die, and, George, I’ll tell ye what livin’ man does na ken. When I was your verra age I had a cruel trial, and ma heart was turned frae faith. The classics hae been my bible, though I said naethin’ to ony man against Christ. He aye seemed beyond man, and noo the veesion o’ Him has come to me in this gairden. Laddie, ye hae dune far mair for me than I ever did for you. Wull ye mak a prayer for yir auld dominie afore we pairt?”
There was a thrush singing in the birches and a sound of bees in the air, when George prayed in a low, soft voice, with a little break in it.
“Lord Jesus, remember my dear maister, for he’s been a kind freend to me and mony a puir laddie in Drumtochty. Bind up his sair heart and give him licht at eventide, and may the maister and his scholars meet some mornin’ where the schule never skails, in the kingdom o’ oor Father.”
Twice Domsie said Amen, and it seemed as the voice of another man, and then he kissed George upon the forehead; but what they said Marget did not wish to hear.
When he passed out at the garden gate, the westering sun was shining golden, and the face of Domsie was like unto that of a little child.
A SCHOLAR’S FUNERAL
Drumtochty never acquitted itself with credit at a marriage, having no natural aptitude for gaiety, and being haunted with anxiety lest any “hicht” should end in a “howe,” but the parish had a genius for funerals. It was long mentioned with a just sense of merit that an English undertaker, chancing on a “beerial” with us, had no limits to his admiration. He had been disheartened to despair all his life by the ghastly efforts of chirpy little Southerners to look solemn on occasion, but his dreams were satisfied at the sight of men like Drumsheugh and Hillocks in their Sabbath blacks. Nature lent an initial advantage in face, but it was an instinct in the blood that brought our manner to perfection, and nothing could be more awful than a group of those austere figures, each man gazing into vacancy without a trace of expression, and refusing to recognise his nearest neighbour by word or look. Drumtochty gave itself to a “beerial” with chastened satisfaction, partly because it lay near to the sorrow of things, and partly because there was nothing of speculation in it. “Ye can hae little rael pleesure in a merrige,” explained our gravedigger, in whom the serious side had been perhaps abnormally developed, “for ye never ken hoo it will end; but there’s nae risk about a ‘beerial.'”
It came with a shock upon townsmen that the ceremony began with a “service o’ speerits,” and that an attempt of the Free Kirk minister to replace this by the reading of Scripture was resisted as an “innovation.” Yet every one admitted that the seriousness of Drumtochty pervaded and sanctified this function. A tray of glasses was placed on a table with great solemnity by the “wricht,” who made no sign and invited none. You might have supposed that the circumstance had escaped the notice of the company, so abstracted and unconscious was their manner, had it not been that two graven images a minute later are standing at the table.
“Ye ‘ill taste, Tammas,” with settled melancholy.
“Na, na; I’ve nae incleenation the day; it’s an awfu’ dispensation this, Jeems. She wud be barely saxty.”
“Ay, ay, but we maun keep up the body sae lang as we’re here, Tammas.”
“Weel, puttin’ it that way, a’m not sayin’ but yir richt,” yielding unwillingly to the force of circumstance.
“We’re here the day and there the morn, Tammas. She wes a fine wumman–Mistress Stirton–a weel-livin’ wumman; this ‘ill be a blend, a’m thinkin’.”
“She slippit aff sudden in the end; a’m judgin’ it’s frae the Muirtown grocer; but a body canna discreeminate on a day like this.”
Before the glasses are empty all idea of drinking is dissipated, and one has a vague impression that he is at church.
It was George Howe’s funeral that broke the custom and closed the “service.” When I came into the garden where the neighbours were gathered, the “wricht” was removing his tray, and not a glass had been touched. Then I knew that Drumtochty had a sense of the fitness of things, and was stirred to its depths.
“Ye saw the wricht carry in his tray,” said Drumsheugh, as we went home from the kirkyard. “Weel, yon’s the last sicht o’t ye ‘ill get, or a’m no Drumsheugh. I’ve nae objection ma’sel to a nee’bur tastin’ at a funeral, a’ the mair if he’s come frae the upper end o’ the pairish, and ye ken I dinna hold wi’ thae teetotal fouk. A’m ower auld in the horn to change noo. But there’s times and seasons, as the gude Buik says, and it wud hae been an awfu’ like business tae luik at a gless in Marget’s gairden, and puir Domsie standing in ahent the brier bush as if he cud never lift his heid again. Ye may get shairper fouk in the uptak’, but ye ‘ill no get a pairish with better feelin’s. It ‘ill be a kind o’ sateesfaction tae Marget when she hears o’t. She was aye against tastin’, and a’m judgin’ her tribble has ended it at beerials.”
“Man, it was hard on some o’ yon lads the day, but there wesna ane o’ them made a mudge. I keepit my eye on Posty, but he never lookit the way it wes. He’s a drouthy body, but he hes his feelin’s, hes Posty.”
Before the Doctor began the prayer, Whinnie took me up to the room.
“There’s twa o’ Geordie’s College freends with Marget, grand scholars a’m telt, and there’s anither I canna weel mak oot. He’s terrible cast doon, and Marget speaks as if she kent him.”
It was a low-roofed room, with a box bed and some pieces of humble furniture, fit only for a labouring man. But the choice treasures of Greece and Rome lay on the table, and on a shelf beside the bed College prizes and medals, while everywhere were the roses he loved. His peasant mother stood beside the body of her scholar son, whose hopes and thoughts she had shared, and through the window came the bleating of distant sheep. It was the idyll of Scottish University life.
George’s friends were characteristic men, each of his own type, and could only have met in the commonwealth of letters. One was of an ancient Scottish house which had fought for Mary against the Lords of the Congregation, followed Prince Charlie to Culloden, and were High Church and Tory to the last drop of their blood. Ludovic Gordon left Harrow with the reputation of a classic, and had expected to be first at Edinboro’. It was Gordon, in fact, that Domsie feared in the great war, but he proved second to Marget’s son, and being of the breed of Prince Jonathan, which is the same the world over, he came to love our David as his own soul. The other, a dark little man, with a quick, fiery eye, was a Western Celt, who had worried his way from a fishing croft in Barra to be an easy first in Philosophy at Edinboro’, and George and Ronald Maclean were as brothers because there is nothing so different as Scottish and Highland blood.
“Maister Gordon,” said Marget, “this is George’s Homer, and he bade me tell you that he coonted yir freendship ain o’ the gifts o’ God.”
For a brief space Gordon was silent, and, when he spoke, his voice sounded strange in that room.
“Your son was the finest scholar of my time, and a very perfect gentleman. He was also my true friend, and I pray God to console his mother.” And Ludovic Gordon bowed low over Marget’s worn hand as if she had been a queen.
Marget lifted Plato, and it seemed to me that day as if the dignity of our Lady of Sorrows had fallen upon her.
“This is the buik George chose for you, Maister Maclean, for he aye said to me ye hed been a prophet and shown him mony deep things.”
The tears sprang to the Celt’s eyes.
“It wass like him to make all other men better than himself,” with the soft, sad Highland accent; “and a proud woman you are to hef been his mother.”
The third man waited at the window till the scholars left, and then I saw he was none of that kind, but one who had been a slave of sin and now was free.
“Andra Chaumers, George wished ye tae hev his Bible, and he expecks ye tae keep the tryst.”
“God helping me, I will,” said Chalmers, hoarsely; and from the garden ascended a voice, “O God, who art a very present help in trouble.”
The Doctor’s funeral prayer was one of the glories of the parish, compelling even the Free Kirk to reluctant admiration, although they hinted that its excellence was rather of the letter than the spirit, and regarded its indiscriminate charity with suspicion. It opened with a series of extracts from the Psalms, relieved by two excursions into the minor prophets, and led up to a sonorous recitation of the problem of immortality from Job, with its triumphant solution in the peroration of the fifteenth chapter of I Corinthians. Drumtochty men held their breath till the Doctor reached the crest of the hill (Hillocks disgraced himself once by dropping his staff at the very moment when the Doctor was passing from Job to Paul), and then we relaxed while the Doctor descended to local detail. It was understood that it took twenty years to bring the body of this prayer to perfection, and any change would have been detected and resented.
The Doctor made a good start, and had already sighted Job, when he was carried out of his course by a sudden current, and began to speak to God about Marget and her son, after a very simple fashion that brought a lump to the throat, till at last, as I imagine, the sight of the laddie working at his Greek in the study of a winter night came up before him, and the remnants of the great prayer melted like an iceberg in the Gulf Stream.
“Lord, hae peety upon us, for we a’ luved him, and we were a’ prood o’ him.”
After the Doctor said “Amen” with majesty, one used to look at his neighbour, and the other would shut his eyes and shake his head, meaning, “There’s no use asking me, for it simply can’t be better done by living man.” This time no one remembered his neighbour, because every eye was fixed on the Doctor. Drumtochty was identifying its new minister.
“It may be that I hef judged him hardly,” said Lachlan Campbell, one of the Free Kirk Highlanders, and our St. Dominic. “I shall never again deny that the root of the matter is in the man, although much choked with the tares of worldliness and Arminianism.”
“He is a goot man, Lachlan,” replied Donald Menzies, another Celt, and he was our St. Francis, for “every one that loveth is born of God.”
There was no hearse in Drumtochty, and we carried our dead by relays of four, who waded every stream unless more than knee deep, the rest following in straggling, picturesque procession over the moor and across the stepping stones. Before we started, Marget came out and arranged George’s white silken hood upon the coffin with roses in its folds.
She swept us into one brief flush of gratitude, from Domsie to Posty.
“Neeburs, ye were a’ his freends, and he wanted ye tae ken hoo yir trust wes mickle help tae him in his battle.”
There was a stir within us, and it came to birth in Drumsheugh of all men:
“Marget Hoo, this is no the day for mony words, but there’s juist ae heart in Drumtochty, and it’s sair.”
No one spoke to Domsie as we went down the cart track, with the ripe corn standing on either side, but he beckoned Chalmers to walk with him.
“Ye hae heard him speak o’ me, then, Maister Jamieson?”
“Ay, oftentimes, and he said once that ye were hard driven, but that ye had trampled Satan under yir feet.”
“He didna tell ye all, for if it hadna been for George Howe I wudna been worth callin’ a man this day. One night when he was workin’ hard for his honours examination and his disease was heavy upon him, puir fellow, he sought me oot where I was, and wouldna leave till I cam’ wi him.
“‘Go home,’ I said, ‘Howe; it’s death for ye to be oot in this sleet and cold. Why not leave me to lie in the bed I hae made?’
“He took me by the arm into a passage. I see the gaslicht on his white face, and the shining o’ his eyes.
“‘Because I have a mother…’
“Dominie, he pulled me oot o’ hell.”
“Me tae, Andra, but no your hell. Ye mind the Roman Triumph, when a general cam’ hame wi’ his spoils. Laddie, we’re the captives that go with his chariot up the Capitol.”
Donald Menzies was a man of moods, and the Doctor’s prayer had loosed his imagination so that he saw visions.
“Look,” said he, as we stood on a ridge, “I hef seen it before in the book of Joshua.”
Below the bearers had crossed a burn on foot, and were ascending the slope where an open space of deep green was fringed with purple heather.
“The ark hass gone over Jordan, and George will have come into the Land of Promise.”
The September sunshine glinted on the white silk George won with his blood, and fell like a benediction on the two figures that climbed the hard ascent close after the man they loved.
Strangers do not touch our dead in Drumtochty, but the eight of nearest blood lower the body into the grave. The order of precedence is keenly calculated, and the loss of a merited cord can never be forgiven. Marget had arranged everything with Whinnie, and all saw the fitness. His father took the head, and the feet (next in honour) he gave to Domsie.
“Ye maun dae it. Marget said ye were o’ his ain bluid.”
On the right side the cords were handed to the Doctor, Gordon, and myself; and on the left to Drumsheugh, Maclean, and Chalmers. Domsie lifted the hood for Marget, but the roses he gently placed on George’s name. Then with bent, uncovered heads, and in unbroken silence, we buried all that remained of our scholar.
We always waited till the grave was filled and the turf laid down, a trying quarter of an hour. Ah me! the thud of the spade on your mother’s grave! None gave any sign of what he felt save Drumsheugh, whose sordid slough had slipped off from a tender heart, and Chalmers, who went behind a tombstone and sobbed aloud. Not even Posty asked the reason so much as by a look, and Drumtochty, as it passed, made as though it did not see. But I marked that the Dominie took Chalmers home, and walked all the way with him to Kildrummie station next morning. His friends erected a granite cross over George’s grave, and it was left to Domsie to choose the inscription. There was a day when it would have been “Whom the gods love die young.” Since then Domsie had seen the kingdom of God, and this is graven where the roses bloomed fresh every summer for twenty years till Marget was laid with her son:
GEORGE HOWE, M.A., Died September 22nd, 1869, Aged 21.
“They shall bring the glory and honour of the nations into it.”
It was a late November day when I went to see George’s memorial, and the immortal hope was burning low in my heart; but as I stood before that cross, the sun struggled from behind a black watery bank of cloud, and picked out every letter of the Apocalypse in gold.
A HIGHLAND MYSTIC
WHAT EYE HATH NOT SEEN
Strange ministers who came to assist at the Free Kirk Sacrament were much impressed with the elders, and never forgot the transfiguration of Donald Menzies, which used to begin about the middle of the “action” sermon, and was completed at the singing of the last Psalm. Once there was no glory, because the minister, being still young, expounded a new theory of the atonement of German manufacture, and Donald’s face was piteous to behold. It haunted the minister for months, and brought to confusion a promising course of sermons on the contribution of Hegel to Christian thought. Donald never laid the blame of such calamities on the preacher, but accepted them as a just judgment on his blindness of heart.
“We hef had the open vision,” Donald explained to his friend Lachlan Campbell, who distributed the responsibility in another fashion, “and we would not see–so the veil hass fallen.”
Donald sat before the pulpit and filled the hearts of nervous probationers with dismay, not because his face was critical, but because it seemed non-conducting, upon which their best passages would break like spray against a rock. It was by nature the dullest you ever saw, with hair descending low upon the forehead, and preposterous whiskers dominating everything that remained, except a heavy mouth and brown, lack-lustre eyes. For a while Donald crouched in the corner of the pew, his head sunk on his breast, a very picture of utter hopelessness. But as the Evangel began to play round his heart, he would fix the preacher with rapid, wistful glances, as of one who had awaked but hardly dared believe such things could be true. Suddenly a sigh pervaded six pews, a kind of gentle breath of penitence, faith, love, and hope mingled together like the incense of the sanctuary, and Donald lifted up his head. His eyes are now aflame, and those sullen lips are refining into curves of tenderness. From the manse pew I watched keenly, for at any moment a wonderful sight may be seen. A radiant smile will pass from his lips to his eyes and spread over his face, as when the sun shines on a fallow field and the rough furrows melt into warmth and beauty. Donald’s gaze is now fixed on a window above the preacher’s head, for on these great days that window is to him as the gate of heaven. All I could see would be a bit of blue, and the fretted sunlight through the swaying branches of an old plane tree. But Donald has seen his Lord hanging upon the Cross for him, and the New Jerusalem descending like a bride adorned for her husband more plainly than if Perugino’s great Crucifixion, with the kneeling saints, and Angelico’s Outer Court of Heaven, with the dancing angels, had been hung in our little Free Kirk. When he went down the aisle with the flagon in the Sacrament, he walked as one in a dream, and wist not that his face shone.
There was an interval after the Sacrament, when the stranger was sent to his room with light refreshments, to prepare himself for the evening, and the elders dined with the minister. Before the introduction of the Highlanders conversation had an easy play within recognized limits, and was always opened by Burnbrae, who had come out in ’43, and was understood to have read the Confession of Faith.
“Ye gave us a grawnd discoorse this mornin’, sir, baith instructive and edifyin’; we were juist sayin’ comin’ up the gairden that ye were never heard to mair advantage.”
The minister was much relieved, because he had not been hopeful during the week, and was still dissatisfied, as he explained at length, with the passage on the Colossian heresy.
When these doubts had been cleared up, Burnbrae did his best by the minister up stairs, who had submitted himself to the severe test of table addresses.
“Yon were verra suitable words at the second table; he’s a speeritually minded man, Maister Cosh, and has the richt sough.”
Or at the worst, when Burnbrae’s courage had failed:
“Maister McKittrick had a fine text afore the table. I aye like tae see a man gang tae the Song o’ Solomon on the Sacrament Sabbath. A’ mind Dr. Guthrie on that verra subject twenty years syne.”
Having paid its religious dues, conversation was now allowed some freedom, and it was wonderful how many things could be touched on, always from a sacramental standpoint.
“We’ve been awfu’ favoured wi’ weather the day, and ought to be thankfu’. Gin it hads on like this I wudna say but th’ill be a gude hairst. That’s a fine pucklie aits ye hae in the laigh park, Burnbrae.”
“A’ve seen waur; they’re fillin’ no that bad. I wes juist thinkin’ as I cam to the Kirk that there wes aits in that field the Sacrament after the Disruption.”
“Did ye notice that Rachel Skene sat in her seat through the tables? Says I, ‘Are ye no gain forrit, Mistress Skene, or hae ye lost yir token?’ ‘Na, na,’ says she, ‘ma token’s safe in ma handkerchief; but I cudna get to Kirk yesterday, and I never went forrit withoot ma Saiturday yet, and I’m no to begin noo.'”
“She was aye a richt-thinkin’ woman, Rachel, there’s nae mistake o’ that; a’ wonder hoo her son is gettin’ on wi’ that fairm he’s takin’; a’ doot it’s rack-rented.”
It was an honest, satisfying conversation, and reminded one of the parish of Drumtochty, being both _quoad sacra_ and _quoad civilia_.
When the Highlanders came in, Burnbrae was deposed after one encounter, and the minister was reduced to a state of timid suggestion. There were days when they would not speak one word, and were understood to be lost in meditation; on others they broke in on any conversation that was going from levels beyond the imagination of Drumtochty. Had this happened in the Auld Manse, Drumsheugh would have taken for granted that Donald was “feeling sober” (ill), and recommended the bottle which cured him of “a hoast” (cough) in the fifties. But the Free Kirk had been taught that the Highlanders were unapproachable in spiritual attainments, and even Burnbrae took his discipline meekly.
“It wes a mercy the mune changed last week, Maister Menzies, or a’m thinkin’ it hed been a weet sacrament.”
Donald came out of a maze, where he had been wandering in great peace.
“I wass not hearing that the moon had anything to do in the matter. Oh no, but he wass bound hand and foot by a mighty man.”
“Wha was bund? A’m no juist followin’ ye, Maister Menzies.”
“The Prince of the power of the air. Oh yes, and he shall not be loosed till the occasion be over. I hef had a sign.” After which conversation on the weather languished.
Perhaps the minister fared worse in an attempt to extract a certificate of efficiency from Lachlan Campbell in favour of a rhetorical young preacher.
“A fery nice speaker, and well pleased with himself. But I would be thinking, when he wass giving his images. Oh yes, I would be thinking. There was a laddie feeshing in the burn before my house, and a fery pretty laddie he wass. He had a rod and a string, and he threw his line peautiful. It wass a great peety he had no hook, for it iss a want, and you do not catch many fish without a hook. But I shall be glad that you are pleased, sir, and all the elders.”
These were only passing incidents, and left no trace, but the rebuke Donald gave to Burnbrae will be told while an elder lives. One of the last of the old mystical school, which trace their descent from Samuel Rutherford, had described the great mystery of our Faith with such insight and pathos, that Donald had stood by the table weeping gently, and found himself afterwards in the manse, he knew not how.
The silence was more than could be borne, and his former responsibility fell on Burnbrae.
“It wes wonnerful, and I canna mind hearing the like o’ yon at the tables; but I wes sorry to see the Doctor sae failed. He wes bent twa fad; a’ doot it’s a titch o’ rheumatism, or maybe lumbago.”
Johannine men are subject to sudden flashes of anger, and Donald blazed.
“Bent down with rheumatism, iss that what you say? Oh yes, it will be rheumatism. Hass the sight of your eyes left you, and hef you no discernment? Did ye not see that he was bowed to the very table with the power of the Word? for it was a fire in his bones, and he was baptised with the Holy Ghost.”
When the elders gathered in the vestry, the minister asked what time the preacher might have for his evening sermon, and Donald again burst forth:
“I am told that in towns the Gospel goes by minutes, like the trains at the stations; but there iss no time-table here, for we shall wait till the sun goes down to hear all things God will be sending by His servant.”
Good memories differ about the text that Sacrament evening, and the length of the sermon, but all hold as a treasure for ever what happened when the book was closed. The people were hushed into a quiet that might be felt, and the old man, swayed by the spirit of the Prophets, began to repeat the blessings and curses in the Bible between Genesis and Revelation, and after each pair he cried with heart-piercing voice, “Choose this day which ye will take,” till Donald could contain himself no longer.
“Here iss the man who hass deserved all the curses, and here iss the man who chooses all the blessings.”
Our fathers had no turn for sensation, but they had an unerring sense of a spiritual situation. The preacher paused for five seconds, while no man could breathe, and then lifting up his hand to Heaven he said, with an indescribable authority and tenderness, “The Lord fulfil the desire of your heart both in this world and in that which is to come.”
Then the congregation sang, after the ancient custom of our parts,
“Now blessed be the Lord our God,
The God of Israel,”
and Donald’s face was one glory, because he saw in the soft evening light of the upper window the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.
It was after this that the Free Kirk minister occupied six months in proving that Moses did not write Deuteronomy, and Lachlan was trying for the same period to have the minister removed from Drumtochty. Donald, deprived by one stroke of both his friends, fell back on me, and told me many things I loved to hear, although they were beyond my comprehension.
“It wass not always so with me as it iss this day, for I once had no ear for God’s voice, and my eyes were holden that I saw not the spiritual world. But sore sickness came upon me, and I wass nigh unto death, and my soul awoke within me and began to cry like a child for its mother. All my days I had lived on Loch Tay, and now I thought of the other country into which I would hef to be going, where I had no nest, and my soul would be driven to and fro in the darkness as a bird on the moor of Rannoch.
“Janet sent for the minister, and he wass fery kind, and he spoke about my sickness and my farm, and I said nothing. For I wass hoping he would tell me what I wass to do for my soul. But he began upon the sheep market at Amulree, and I knew he wass also in the dark. After he left I turned my face to the wall and wept.
“Next morning wass the Sabbath, and I said to Janet:
“‘Wrap me in my plaid, and put me in a cart, and take me to Aberfeldy.’ ‘And what will ye be doing at Aberfeldy? and you will die on the road.’ ‘There iss,’ said I, ‘a man there who knows the way of the soul, and it iss better to die with my face to the light.’
“They set me in a corner of the church where I wass thinking no man could see me, and I cried in my heart without ceasing, ‘Lord, send me–send me a word from Thy mouth.’
“When the minister came into the pulpit he gave me a strange look, and this wass his text, ‘Loose him and let him go.’
“As he preached I knew I wass Lazurus, with the darkness of the grave around me, and my soul straitly bound. I could do nothing, but I wass longing with all my strength.
“Then the minister stopped, and he said:
“There iss a man in this church, and he will know himself who it iss. When I came in this morning I saw a shadow on his face, and I knew not whether it was the wing of the Angel of Life or the Angel of Death passing over him, but the Lord has made it plain to me, and I see the silver feathers of the Angel of the Covenant, and this shall be a sign unto that man, ‘Loose him and let him go.'”
“While he wass still speaking I felt my soul carried out into the light of God’s face, and my grave clothes were taken off one by one as Janet would unwind my plaid, and I stood a living man before Christ.
“It wass a sweet June day as we drove home, and I lay in sunshine, and every bird that sang, and the burnies by the roadside, and the rustling of the birch leaves in the wind–oh yes, and the sound of the horse’s feet were saying, ‘Loose him and let him go.’
“Loch Tay looked black angry as we came by its side in the morning, and I said to Janet:
“‘It iss the Dead Sea, and I shall be as Sodom and Gomorrah;’ but in the evening it wass as a sea of glass mingled with fire, and I heard the song of Moses and the Lamb sweeping over the Loch, but this wass still the sweetest word to me, ‘Loose him and let him go.'”
AGAINST PRINCIPALITIES AND POWERS
The powers of darkness had been making a dead set upon Donald all winter, and towards spring he began to lose hope. He came to the Cottage once a week with news from the seat of war, and I could distinguish three zones of depression. Within the first he bewailed his inveterate attachment to this world, and his absolute indifference to spiritual things, and was content to describe himself as Achan. The sign that he had entered the second was a recurring reference to apostacy, and then you had the melancholy satisfaction of meeting the living representative of Simon Peter. When he passed into the last zone of the Purgatorio, Donald was beyond speech, and simply allowed one to gather from allusions to thirty pieces of silver that he was Judas Iscariot.
So long as it was only Achan or Simon Peter that came to sit with me, one was not gravely concerned, but Judas Iscariot meant that Donald had entered the Valley of the Shadow.
He made a spirited rally at the Winter Sacrament, and distinguished himself greatly on the evening of the Fast day. Being asked to pray, as a recognition of comparative cheerfulness, Donald continued for five and twenty minutes, and unfolded the works of the Devil in such minute and vivid detail that Burnbrae talks about it to this day, and Lachlan Campbell, although an expert in this department, confessed astonishment. It was a mighty wrestle, and it was perhaps natural that Donald should groan heavily at regular intervals, and acquaint the meeting how the conflict went, but the younger people were much shaken, and the edification even of the serious was not without reserve.
While Donald still lingered on the field of battle to gather the spoils and guard against any sudden return of the enemy, the elders had a hurried consultation in the vestry, and Burnbrae put the position with admirable force.
“Naebody can deny that it wes a maist extraordinary prayer, and it passes me hoo he kens sae muckle aboot the Deevil. In fac’ it’s a preevilege tae hae sic an experienced hand among us, and I wudna offend Donald Menzies for onything. But yon groanin’ wes a wee thingie discomposin’, and when he said, kind o’ confidential, ‘He’s losing his grup,’ ma ain fouk cudna keep their coontenance. Weel, I wes thinkin’ that the best plan wud be for Maister Campbell juist tae give a bit advice and tell Donald that we’re thankfu’ to hear him at the meeting, and michty lifted wi’ his peteetions, but it wud be an obleegation gin he wud leave oot the groans and tell us aifterwards what wes gaein’ on, maybe in the Session.”
Lachlan accepted his commission with quite unusual diffidence, and offered a very free translation on the way home.
“It wass a mercy to hef you at the meeting this night, Donald Menzies, for I saw that Satan had come in great strength, and it iss not every man that can withstand him. But you will not be ignorant of his devices; oh no, you will be knowing them fery well. Satan had not much to say before the prayer wass done, and I will not be expecting to see him again at this occasion. It wass the elders said, ‘Donald Menzies hass trampled Satan under foot.’ Oh yes, and fery glad men they were, for it iss not given to them. But I would be thinking iss it good to let the Devil hear you groaning in the battle, and I would be wishing that you had kept all your groans and given them to me on the road.”
“Iss it the groans you are not liking?” retorted Donald, stung by this unexpected criticism. “And what iss wrong with groaning? But I hef the Scripture, and I will not be caring what you say, Lachlan Campbell.”
“If you hef a warrant for groaning, it iss this man that will be glad to hear it, for I am not remembering that passage.”
“Maybe you hef not read ‘Maketh intercession with groanings,’ but it iss a fery good Scripture, and it iss in my Bible.”
“All Scripture iss good, Donald Menzies, but it iss not lawful to divide Scripture, and it will read in my Bible, ‘groanings which cannot be uttered,’ and I wass saying this would be the best way with your groans.”
Donald came in to tell me how his companion in arms had treated him, and was still sore.
“He iss in the bondage of the letter these days, for he will be always talking about Moses with the minister, and I am not hearing that iss good for the soul.”
If even Lachlan could not attain to Donald, it was perhaps no discredit that the Drumtochty mind was at times hopelessly perplexed.
“He’s a gude cratur and terrible gifted in prayer,” Netherton explained to Burnbrae after a prayer-meeting, when Donald had temporarily abandoned Satan and given himself to autobiography, “but yon wesna a verra ceevil way to speak aboot his faither and mither.”
“A’ doot yir imaginin’, Netherton. Donald never mentioned his fouk the nicht, and it’s no likely he wud in the prayer-meeting.”
“There’s nae imaginin’ aboot it; a’ heard him wi’ ma ain ears say twice, ‘My father was an Amorite, and my mother a Hittite.’ I’ll take my aith on it. Noo, a’ dinna ken Donald’s forbears masel, for he’s frae Tayside, but supposin’ they were as bad as bad cud be, it’s no for him to blacken his ain blood, and him an Elder.”
“Toots, Netherton, yir aff it a’ thegither. Div ye no see yon’s Bible langidge oot o’ a Prophet, or maybe Kings, and Donald wes usin’t in a feegurative capaucity?”
“Feegurative or no feegurative, Burnbrae, it disna maitter; it’s a peetifu’ job howking (digging) thro’ the Bible for ill words tae misca yir fouk wi’ afore the public.”
Burnbrae gave up the contest in despair, feeling himself that Old Testament allusions were risky, and that Donald’s quotation was less than felicitous.
Donald’s prayers were not known outside the Free Kirk circle, but his encounters with the evil one were public property, and caused a general shudder. Drumtochty was never sure who might not be listening, and considered that it was safer not to meddle with certain nameless people. But Donald waged an open warfare in every corner of the parish, in the Kirk, by the wayside, in his house, on the road to market, and was ready to give any one the benefit of his experiences.
“Donald Menzies is in yonder,” said Hillocks, pointing to the smithy, whose fire sent fitful gleams across the dark road, “and he’s carryin’ on maist fearsome. Ye wud think tae hear him speak that auld Hornie wes gaein’ louse in the parish; it sent a grue (shiver) doon ma back. Faigs, it’s no cannie to be muckle wi’ the body, for the Deil and Donald seem never separate. Hear him noo, hear him.”
“Oh yes,” said Donald, addressing the smith and two horror-stricken ploughmen, “I hef seen him, and he hass withstood me on the road. It wass late, and I wass thinking on the shepherd and the sheep, and Satan will come out from the wood below Hillocks’ farm-house (‘Gude preserve us,’ from Hillocks) and say, ‘That word is not for you, Donald Menzies,’ But I wass strong that night, and I said, ‘Neither shall any pluck them out of my hand,’ and he will not wait long after that, oh no, and I did not follow him into the wood.”
The smith, released by the conclusion of the tale, blew a mighty blast, and the fire burst into a red blaze, throwing into relief the black figure of the smith and the white faces of the ploughmen; glancing from the teeth of harrows, and the blades of scythes, and the cruel knives of reaping machines, and from instruments with triple prongs; and lighting up with a hideous glare the black sooty recesses of the smithy.
“Keep’s a’,” whispered Hillocks, clutching my arm, “it’s little better than the ill place. I wish to gudeness I wes safe in ma ain hoose.”
These were only indecisive skirmishes, for one evening Donald came to my den with despair written on every feature, and I knew that fighting had begun at the centre, and that he was worsted.
It was half an hour before he became articulate, during which time he sighed as if the end of all things had come, and I caught the word scapegoat twice, but at last he told me that he had resigned his eldership, and would absent himself in future from the Free Kirk.
“It hass been a weary winter when minister and people hef gone into captivity, and on Sabbath the word wass taken altogether from the minister’s mouth, and he spake a language which we understood not [it was the first of three sermons on the Hexateuch, and had treated of the Jehovistic and Elohistic documents with much learning], and I will be asking all the way back, ‘Iss it I?’ ‘Iss it I?’
“Oh yes, and when I opened my Bible this iss the word I will see, ‘That thou doest do quickly,’ and I knew it wass my sins that had brought great judgments on the people, and turned the minister into a man of stammering lips and another tongue.
“It wass a mercy that the roof did not fall and bury all the people with me; but we will not be tempting the Almighty, for I hef gone outside, and now there will be peace and blessing.”
When we left the lighted room and stood on the doorstep, Donald pointed to the darkness. “There iss no star, and you will be remembering what John saw when the door opened and Judas went out. ‘It wass night’–oh yes, it iss night for me, but it will be light for them.”
As weeks went past, and Donald was seen neither at Kirk nor market, my heart went out to the lonely man in his soul conflict, and, although there was no help in me, I went to ask how it fared with him. After the footpath disentangled itself from the pine woods and crossed the burn by two fir trees nailed together, it climbed a steep ascent to Donald’s house, but I had barely touched the foot, when I saw him descending, his head in the air, and his face shining. Before any words passed, I knew that the battle had been fought and won.
“It wass last night, and I will be coming to tell you. Satan hass gone like darkness when the sun ariseth, and I hef been delivered.”
There are stories one cannot hear sitting, and so we paced the meadow below, rich in primroses, with a sloping bank of gorse behind us, and the pines before us, and the water breaking over the stones at our feet.
“It is three weeks since I saw you, and all that time I hef been wandering on the hill by day, and lying in the barn at night, for it wass not good to be with people, and Satan wass always saying to me, Judas went to ‘his own place.’ My dog will lay his head on my knee, and be sorry for me, and the dumb animals will be looking at me out of their great eyes, and be moaning.
“The lads are good singers, and there wass always a sound of Psalms on the farm, oh yes, and it was pleasant to come from the market and hear the Psalms at the foot of the hill. It wass like going up to Jerusalem. But there would be no Psalms these days, for the lads could not sing when their father’s soul wass going down into the pit.
“Oh no, and there wass no prayer last night, but I told the lads to go to bed, and I lay down before the fire to wrestle once more before I perished.
“Janet will offer this word and the other, and I will be trying them all, but Satan wass tearing them away as quick as I could speak, and he always said, ‘his own place.’
“‘There iss no hope for me,’ I cried, ‘but it iss a mercy that you and the lads will be safe in the City, and maybe the Lord will let me see you all through the gate.’ And that wass lifting me, but then I will hear ‘his own place,’ ‘his own place,’ and my heart began to fail, and I wass nigh to despair.
“Then I heard a voice, oh yes, as plain as you are hearing me, ‘The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin.’ It wass like a gleam from the Mercy-seat, but I would be waiting to see whether Satan had any answer, and my heart was standing still. But there wass no word from him, not one word. Then I leaped to my feet and cried, ‘Get thee behind me, Satan,’ and I will look round, and there wass no one to be seen but Janet in her chair, with the tears on her cheeks, and she wass saying, ‘Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.’
“The lads were not sleeping fery sound when their father was fighting for his life, oh no, and I am not saying but maybe they would be praying. It wass not fery long before they came down, and Hamish will be looking at my face, and then he will get the books, and this is the Psalm we sang?
“I love the Lord, because my voice
And prayers He did hear.
I, while I live, will call on Him, Who bowed to me His ear.
* * * * *
God merciful and righteous is,
Yea, gracious is our Lord;
God saves the meek; I was brought low, He did me help afford.”
This was the victory of Donald Menzies, and on reaching home I marked that the early roses were beginning to bloom over the door through which Donald had gone out into the darkness.
HIS MOTHER’S SERMON
HIS MOTHER’S SERMON
He was an ingenuous lad, with the callow simplicity of a theological college still untouched, and had arrived on the preceding Monday at the Free Kirk manse with four cartloads of furniture and a maiden aunt. For three days he roamed from room to room in the excitement of householding, and made suggestions which were received with hilarious contempt; then he shut himself up in his study to prepare the great sermon, and his aunt went about on tiptoe. During meals on Friday he explained casually that his own wish was to preach a simple sermon, and that he would have done so had he been a private individual, but as he had held the MacWhammel scholarship a deliverance was expected by the country. He would be careful and say nothing rash, but it was due to himself to state the present position of theological thought, and he might have to quote once or twice from Ewald.
His aunt was a saint, with that firm grasp of truth, and tender mysticism, whose combination is the charm of Scottish piety, and her face was troubled. While the minister was speaking in his boyish complacency, her thoughts were in a room where they had both stood, five years before, by the death-bed of his mother.
He was broken that day, and his sobs shook the bed, for he was his mother’s only son and fatherless, and his mother, brave and faithful to the last, was bidding him farewell.
“Dinna greet like that, John, nor break yir hert, for it’s the will o’ God, and that’s aye best.”
“Here’s my watch and chain,” placing them beside her son, who could not touch them, nor would lift his head, “and when ye feel the chain about yir neck it will mind ye o’ yir mother’s arms.”
“Ye ‘ill no forget me, John, I ken that weel, and I’ll never forget you. I’ve loved ye here and I’ll love ye yonder. Th’ill no be an ‘oor when I’ll no pray for ye, and I’ll ken better what to ask than I did here, sae dinna be comfortless.”
Then she felt for his head and stroked it once more, but he could not look nor speak.
“Ye ‘ill follow Christ, and gin He offers ye His cross, ye ‘ill no refuse it, for He aye carries the heavy end Himsel’. He’s guided yir mother a’ thae years, and been as gude as a husband since yir father’s death, and He ‘ill hold me fast tae the end. He ‘ill keep ye too, and, John, I’ll be watchin’ for ye. Ye ‘ill no fail me,” and her poor cold hand that had tended him all his days tightened on his head.
But he could not speak, and her voice was failing fast.
“I canna see ye noo, John, but I know yir there, and I’ve just one other wish. If God calls ye to the ministry, ye ‘ill no refuse, an’ the first day ye preach in yir ain kirk, speak a gude word for Jesus Christ, an,’ John, I’ll hear ye that day, though ye ‘ill no see me, and I’ll be satisfied.”
A minute after she whispered, “Pray for me,” and he cried, “My mother, my mother.”
It was a full prayer, and left nothing unasked of Mary’s Son.
“John,” said his aunt, “your mother is with the Lord,” and he saw death for the first time, but it was beautiful with the peace that passeth all understanding.
Five years had passed, crowded with thought and work, and his aunt wondered whether he remembered that last request, or indeed had heard it in his sorrow.
“What are you thinking about, aunt? Are you afraid of my theology?”
“No, John, it’s no that, laddie, for I ken ye ‘ill say what ye believe to be true withoot fear o’ man,” and she hesitated.
“Come, out with it, auntie: you’re my only mother now, you know,” and the minister put his arm round her, “as well as the kindest, bonniest, goodest auntie ever man had.”
Below his student self-conceit he was a good lad, and sound of heart.
“Shame on you, John, to make a fule o’ an auld dune body, but ye’ll no come round me with yir flattery. I ken ye ower weel,” and as she caught the likeness in his face, her eyes filled suddenly.
“What’s the matter, auntie? Will ye no tell me?”
“Dinna be angry wi’ me, John, but a’m concerned aboot Sabbath, for a’ve been praying ever syne ye were called to Drumtochty that it micht be a great day, and that I micht see ye comin’ tae yir people, laddie, wi’ the beauty o’ the Lord upon ye, according tae the auld prophecy: ‘How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace,'” and again she stopped.
“Go on, auntie, go on,” he whispered; “say all that’s in yir mind.”
“It’s no for me tae advise ye, who am only a simple auld woman, who ken’s naethin’ but her Bible and the Catechism, and it’s no that a’m feared for the new views, or aboot yir faith, for I aye mind that there’s mony things the Speerit hes still tae teach us, and I ken weel the man that follows Christ will never lose his way in ony thicket. But it’s the fouk, John, a’m anxious aboot, the flock o’ sheep the Lord hes given ye tae feed for Him.”
She could not see his face, but she felt him gently press her hand, and took courage.
“Ye maun mind, laddie, that they’re no clever and learned like what ye are, but juist plain country fouk, ilka ane wi’ his ain temptation, an’ a’ sair trachled wi’ mony cares o’ this world. They ‘ill need a clear word tae comfort their herts and show them the way everlasting. Ye ‘ill say what’s richt, nae doot o’ that, and a’body ‘ill be pleased wi’ ye, but, oh, laddie, be sure ye say a gude word for Jesus Christ.”
The minister’s face whitened, and his arm relaxed. He rose hastily and went to the door, but in going out he gave his aunt an understanding look, such as passes between people who have stood together in a sorrow. The son had not forgotten his mother’s request.
The manse garden lies toward the west, and as the minister paced its little square of turf, sheltered by fir hedges, the sun was going down behind the Grampians. Black massy clouds had begun to gather in the evening, and threatened to obscure the sunset, which was the finest sight a Drumtochty man was ever likely to see, and a means of grace to every sensible heart in the glen. But the sun had beat back the clouds on either side, and shot them through with glory and now between piled billows of light he went along a shining pathway into the Gates of the West. The minister stood still before that spectacle, his face bathed in the golden glory, and then before his eyes the gold deepened into an awful red, and the red passed into shades of violet and green, beyond painter’s hand or the imagination of man. It seemed to him as if a victorious saint had entered through the gates into the city, washed in the blood of the Lamb, and the after glow of his mother’s life fell solemnly on his soul. The last trace of sunset had faded from the hills when the minister came in, and his face was of one who had seen a vision. He asked his aunt to have worship with the servant, for he must be alone in his study.
It was a cheerful room in the daytime, with its southern window, through which the minister saw the roses touching the very glass and dwarf apple trees lining the garden walks; there was also a western window that he might watch each day close. It was a pleasant room now, when the curtains were drawn, and the light of the lamp fell on the books he loved, and which bade him welcome. One by one he had arranged the hard-bought treasures of student days in the little book-case, and had planned for himself that sweetest of pleasures, an evening of desultory reading. But his books went out of mind as he looked at the sermon shining beneath the glare of the lamp, and demanding judgment. He had finished its last page with honest pride that afternoon, and had declaimed it, facing the southern window, with a success that amazed himself. His hope was that he might be kept humble, and not called to Edinburgh for at least two years; and now he lifted the sheets with fear. The brilliant opening, with its historical parallel, this review of modern thought reinforced by telling quotations, that trenchant criticism of old-fashioned views, would not deliver. For the audience had vanished, and left one careworn, but ever beautiful face, whose gentle eyes were waiting with a yearning look. Twice he crushed the sermon in his hands, and turned to the fire his aunt’s care had kindled, and twice he repented and smoothed it out. What else could he say now to the people? and then in the stillness of the room he heard a voice, “Speak a gude word for Jesus Christ.”
Next minute he was kneeling on the hearth, and pressing the _magnum opus_, that was to shake Drumtochty, into the heart of the red fire, and he saw, half-smiling and half-weeping, the impressive words, “Semitic environment,” shrivel up and disappear. As the last black flake fluttered out of sight, the face looked at him again, but this time the sweet brown eyes were full of peace.
It was no masterpiece, but only the crude production of a lad who knew little of letters and nothing of the world. Very likely it would have done neither harm nor good, but it was his best, and he gave it for love’s sake, and I suppose that there is nothing in a human life so precious to God, neither clever words nor famous deeds, as the sacrifices of love.
The moon flooded his bedroom with silver light, and he felt the presence of his mother. His bed stood ghostly with its white curtains, and he remembered how every night his mother knelt by its side in prayer for him. He is a boy once more, and repeats the Lord’s Prayer, then he cries again, “My mother! my mother!” and an indescribable contentment fills his heart.
His prayer next morning was very short, but afterwards he stood at the window for a space, and when he turned, his aunt said:
“Ye will get yir sermon, and it will be worth hearing.”
“How did ye know?”
But she only smiled, “I heard you pray.”
When he shut himself into the study that Saturday morning, his aunt went into her room above, and he knew she had gone to intercede for him.
An hour afterwards he was pacing the garden in such anxious thought that he crushed with his foot a rose lying on the path, and then she saw his face suddenly lighten, and he hurried to the house, but first he plucked a bunch of forget-me-nots. In the evening she found them on his sermon.
Two hours later–for still she prayed and watched in faithfulness to mother and son–she observed him come out and wander round the garden in great joy. He lifted up the soiled rose and put it in his coat; he released a butterfly caught in some mesh; he buried his face in fragrant honeysuckle. Then she understood that his heart was full of love, and was sure that it would be well on the morrow.
When the bell began to ring, the minister rose from his knees and went to his aunt’s room to be robed, for this was a covenant between them.
His gown was spread out in its black silken glory, but he sat down in despair.
“Auntie, whatever shall we do, for I’ve forgotten the bands?”
“But I’ve not forgot them, John, and here are six pair wrought with my own hands, and now sit still and I’ll tie them round my laddie’s neck.”
When she had given the last touch, and he was ready to go, a sudden seriousness fell upon them.
“Kiss me, auntie.”
“For your mother, and her God be with you,” and then he went through the garden and underneath the honeysuckle and into the kirk, where every Free Churchman in Drumtochty that could get out of bed, and half the Established Kirk, were waiting in expectation.
I sat with his aunt in the minister’s pew, and shall always be glad that I was at that service. When winter lies heavy upon the glen I go upon my travels, and in my time have seen many religious functions. I have been in Mr. Spurgeon’s Tabernacle, where the people wept one minute and laughed the next; have heard Canon Liddon in St. Paul’s, and the sound of that high, clear voice is still with me, “Awake, awake, put on thy strength, O Zion;” have seen High Mass in St. Peter’s, and stood in the dusk of the Duomo at Florence when Padre Agostino thundered against the evils of the day. But I never realised the unseen world as I did that day in the Free Kirk of Drumtochty.
It is impossible to analyse a spiritual effect, because it is largely an atmosphere, but certain circumstances assisted. One was instantly prepossessed in favour of a young minister who gave out the second paraphrase at his first service, for it declared his filial reverence and won for him the blessing of a cloud of witnesses. No Scottish man can ever sing,
“God of our fathers, be the God
Of their succeeding race.”
with a dry heart. It satisfied me at once that the minister was of a fine temper when, after a brave attempt to join, he hid his face and was silent. We thought none the worse of him that he was nervous, and two or three old people who had suspected self-sufficiency took him to their hearts when the minister concluded the Lord’s prayer hurriedly, having omitted two petitions. But we knew it was not nervousness which made him pause for ten seconds after praying for widows and orphans, and in the silence which fell upon us the Divine Spirit had free access. His youth commended him, since he was also modest, for every mother had come with an inarticulate prayer that the “puir laddie wud dae weel on his first day, and him only twenty-four.” Texts I can never remember, nor, for that matter, the words of sermons; but the subject was Jesus Christ, and before he had spoken five minutes I was convinced, who am outside dogmas and churches, that Christ was present. The preacher faded from before one’s eyes, and there rose the figure of the Nazarene, best lover of every human soul, with a face of tender patience such as