E-text prepared by Al Haines
UP IN ARDMUIRLAND
REV. MICHAEL BARRETT, O.S.B.
New York Cincinnati Chicago Benziger Brothers Publishers of Benziger's Magazine 1912 Copyright, 1912, by Benziger Brothers
I. PERSONAL II. MEMORIES III. ARCHIE IV. GOLDEN DREAMS V. "DOMINIE DICK" VI. BILDY VII. SMUGGLERS VIII. PHENOMENA IX. SPRING'S RETURN X. A RUSTIC PASTOR XI. A SPRIG OF SHAMROCK XII. PENNY
UP IN ARDMUIRLAND
Forest and meadow and hill, and the steel-blue rim of the ocean Lying silent and sad, in the afternoon shadows and sunshine. (Longfellow—"Miles Standish")
Val and I, being twins, have always been looked upon as inseparables. True, we have been often forced apart during life's course; yet, somehow, we have always managed to drift back again into the old companionship which Nature seems to have intended in bringing us into the world together.
Boyhood and youth, as long as school life lasted, slipped by with never a parting. The crux came when we were old enough to choose our respective paths in life. It appeared that Val, although he had never before breathed a word to me—whatever he may have done to Dad—had thoroughly determined to be a priest if he could. I had never felt the ghost of a vocation in that direction, so here came the parting of the ways. Val went to college, and I was left inconsolable.
But I was not allowed to nurse my griefs; plans had been made in my regard also, it appeared.
"Ted," said Dad quite abruptly one day, "you'll have to go to Bonn. That'll be the best place for you, since Oxford is out of the question. You've got to take my place some day, and you mustn't grow up an absolute dunce. Atfield" (an old school-chum of his) "is well pleased with the place for his boy, Bill, so you may get ready to travel back with him next week, when the vacation finishes."
In those days (how long ago I almost blush to record) Catholics were not allowed access to our own universities as they now are, and we Flemings were Catholics to the core, and of old staunch Jacobites, as befitted our Scottish race and name.
So Bill Atfield took me under his wing, and to Bonn I went the very next week. There I remained until the end of my course, returning home for vacations, as a rule, but ending up with a week or two, in company with Dad, in Paris, whither Val had gone for his philosophy. But such rare meetings became rarer still when Val went off to Rome, and I had to take up a profession; and our separation was apparently destined to last indefinitely when Val had been ordained, and I went out to India after a civil service appointment.
And yet so kindly at times is Fate that, quite beyond my most ardent hopes, I have been thrown together with Val, in daily companionship, as long as life permits.
For, as it fell out, I was invalided home at quite an early stage of my public career, and, contrary to all family traditions, disgraced my kin by contracting lung disease—at least, so the doctors have declared, though I have experienced very little inconvenience thereby, except that of being condemned to act the invalid for the rest of my life. For years I was forced by arbitrary decrees to winter in clement climes, as the only means of surviving till the spring; but now that I am fifty I have emancipated myself from such slavery, and insist on spending winter as well as summer in "bonnie Scotland." So far I have found no difference in health and strength. Thus it came about that a long visit to Val lengthened out indefinitely, and is not likely to terminate until one or other of us is removed hence.
The ego appears rather prominently in these introductory paragraphs, it is true, but it was almost unavoidable; for my presence had to be accounted for in Ardmuirland before I could give reminiscences of this delightful spot. Now, however, I am free to speak of other folks; and first of dear old Val.
It was a long and arduous apprenticeship (if it is not irreverent so to style it) which Val had to pass in order to fit himself for priestly work; he was curate for I know not how many years in a large and extremely poor mission in one of our big towns. He worked well and thoroughly, as any one who knows Val will be ready to affirm; but his health would not stand the hard work and close confinement of a town, and he was forced against his will to relinquish his post. His attraction had always been toward a studious life, so it came about that he was sent up here, where he has time to study to his heart's content, since his flock will never be anything but small. Moreover, his share of poor old Dad's worldly substance enables him to live, for the emoluments here would scarcely support a canary-bird.
Yet it must not be supposed that Val is rolling in riches. In the first place, poor Dad had to sell a good deal of property to make good his losses from unfortunate investments, and he had not overmuch to leave us. His worldly wisdom, too, taught him to be sparing with Val.
"He would spend his half in a month, Ted," said the old Pater shrewdly, when he came to settle his worldly affairs. "I shall therefore leave the bulk of everything to you, and trust to you to provide liberally for the dear boy."
Dad's remark is the best possible clue to Val's character. Had he nothing else to give, Val would strip the very coat off his own back, when it was a question of relieving distress. So it is a part of my duty to see that he is clothed and fed as he ought to be, and a difficult job it is at times.
I suppose I ought to give some idea of Val's appearance, if this is to be a proper literary turn-out. When we both were younger, it was commonly said by aunts, uncles, and such like, that one was the image of the other. That would be scarcely a fair description now. I am thin; Val is inclined to become chubby. I have a beard and he is necessarily shaven; he needs glasses always, and I only for reading. With these preliminary observations I may say that Val is about five feet six in his shoes, of dark complexion, and with hair inclining to gray. He is quiet in manner, yet withal a charming companion when called upon to talk. The people worship him; that is the best testimonial of a country priest, and all that I need say about his interior man.
If I did not know for certain that Longfellow never set eyes on Ardmuirland, I should maintain that the lines at the head of this chapter were meant for a description of it. For "the steel-blue rim of the ocean" is but three miles distant from this heather-clad, wind-swept height, which rises some seven hundred feet above it. Moreover, as one gazes down, the eye meets many a miniature forest of pine and birch, clothing portions of the lower hills, or nestling in the crevices of the numerous watercourses which divide them. Strewn irregularly over the landscape are white-walled, low-roofed farms and crofters' dwellings—each in the embrace of sheltering barn and byre, whose roofs of vivid scarlet often shine out in the sun from a setting of green meadow or garden.
Our own habitation is simple enough, yet amply suffices for our needs. It is just a stone cottage of two stories, and is connected by a small cloister-like passage, Gothic in character, with the stone chapel which is the scene of Val's priestly ministrations. This, too, is modest enough. The windows are triple lancets, filled with opaque glass, the altar of stone and marble, but simple in decoration, the tabernacle of brass, and the eastern window—larger than the others—is embellished with stained glass. It is in memory of our dear Dad, and besides his patron, St. Andrew, it has the figures of St. Valentine and St. Edmund on either side of the Apostle.
Within the house is a dining-room, a better furnished room for the reception of important visitors, and a small den known as the "priest's room," in which Val interviews members of his flock. Upstairs are Val's study and my sitting-room, with our respective bed-chambers and a spare one for a casual visitor. Kitchen offices and servants' quarters are in a tiny special block.
Both chapel and house have been built by Val. I can recall his pleading letters to Dad for help to raise a more worthy temple. The Pater, with his characteristic caution, made it a condition of his help that a new house should form part of the plan. If the old chapel was as unworthy of its purpose as Val's descriptions painted it, the dwelling must have been indeed poverty-stricken. From what I have gleaned from the natives, both buildings must have surpassed in meanness our wildest conceptions of them. But more upon that subject later.
Any account of the chapel-house at Ardmuirland would be incomplete without some reference to a personage who holds an important position in the household, second only to that of the master of the house. This is Penelope Spence, known to the world outside as "Mistress Spence," and to Val and myself as "Penny." She was our nurse long ago, and is now the ruler of the domestic affairs of the chapel-house. A little, round, white-haired, rosy-faced dumpling of a woman is Penny; an Englishwoman, too, from the Midlands, where the letter H is reserved by many persons of her social standing for the sake of special emphasis only. I find by calculation that she first saw the light at least seventy years ago, but she is reticent upon that subject. All the precise information I have ever extracted from her on the point is that she is not so young as she once was—which is self-evident! But young or old, she is brisk and active, both in mind and body, still. Such a devoted old soul, too! She would go to the stake cheerfully for either of us, but for Val she entertains an almost superstitious reverence, which would be amusing were it not touching. When speaking of him to the natives, she invariably styles him "the Priest." I imagine she looks for a higher place above, in recognition of her early services to him.
Penny was already a young married woman when she came into the service of our family. Her history, as I have learned it from her own lips, will be worth narrating, if I can find room for it in these pages.
Elsie is Penny's "lady in waiting"; she is too youthful as yet to have made history. She hails from a neighboring farm, and is a really satisfactory handmaid—ready, cheerful, and diligent; she entertains a thoroughly genuine respect for her superior officer, "Mistress Spence," in spite of the latter's somewhat severe notions as to the training of young servants. In appearance Elsie is much like any other Scottish lassie of her age—not strikingly beautiful, nor yet ugly; just pleasant to look upon. Her most conspicuous trait is a smile which appears to be chronic. One cannot help wondering what she looks like on occasions when a smile is out of place—at her prayers, or at a funeral, for instance. I am quite prepared to maintain that she does not lose it during sleep; for though I have noticed it growing deeper and broader when she has reason to feel more than usual satisfaction (e.g., when Penny unthinkingly utters a word of praise), it never entirely disappears during the daytime.
There is another personage who deserves special mention; for not only is he an important item in our establishment, but a very special crony of mine. This is Willy Paterson (known locally, by-the-bye, as "the Priest's Wully"), our gardener, groom, coachman (when required), and general handy man. Willy is a wiry, wrinkled, white-haired little man—little now, because stooping a bit under the weight of well-nigh eighty years—who is greatly respected by his neighbors far and near because he has "been sooth." For he was long ago in the ranks of the police of one of our biggest cities, and his former profession, not to speak of his knowledge of the world gained thereby, entitles him to esteem. It has raised him to the rank of a species of oracle on any subject upon which he is pleased to discourse; the result is a not unpleasing, because altogether unintentional, dogmatism which seasons Willy's opinions of men and things.
Our garden is the pride of Willy's heart. It begins in front of the house, where flowers of varied hue succeed one another as season follows season, and roses—red, white, and yellow—seem almost perennial, since they bud forth in late May and scarcely disappear till December. But that is due to our wonderful climate as much as to Willy's attention. As the garden disappears round the corner of the house, its nature changes; vegetables in surprising and intricate variety there flourish chiefly. At the stable-yard it ceases; beyond that a dense pine wood holds its own to the very top of a hill, which rises above our domain and protects us from eastern blasts. The wood is not the least of the attractions which Ardmuirland has for me; beyond the more prosaic quality of its health-giving power, it possesses, as every bit of forest land does for those who can read its message aright, a charm unspeakable.
And now I seem to hear some crusty reader exclaim quite impatiently, having skimmed through my literary attempt thus far:
"No doubt the fellow thinks all this interesting enough! But why expect me to wade through pages of twaddle about Scottish peasants and their doings—for it is evident that is what it will turn out?"
"Read it or not, just as you feel inclined, honored sir," I answer with all the courtesy I can command. "I respect your opinions, as your fellow-creature, and have no desire to thrust my wares upon unwilling hands. But opinions differ, luckily, or this world would be an undesirable habitation for any one, so there may be some who do not disdain my humble efforts to entertain—and perhaps even amuse. To such I dedicate my pages."
Yet, between ourselves (dear, appreciative reader), it is but just that I should offer some apology for thus rushing into print. I trust to you to keep the matter a strict secret from my doctor (McKillagen, M.D., M.R.C.S.), but winter weather at Ardmuirland is not altogether of a balmy nature. Consequently it is necessary that these precious lungs of mine should not be exposed too rashly to
"the cauld, cauld blast, on yonder lea."
This leads to much enclosure within doors during a good share of the worst of our months—say from February to May, off and on; this again leads to a dearth of interesting occupation.
It is Val who is really to be blamed for this literary attempt. When, in an unlucky moment, I was one day expatiating on the material afforded to a book-maker (I do not use the word in a sporting sense, of course) by the varied characters and histories of our people, and the more than ordinary interest attaching to some, he beamed at me across the dinner-table, a twinkle of humor disclosing itself from behind his glasses, and said:
"Why not write about them yourself, Ted? You complain of having nothing to do in bad weather."
The idea took root; it was nourished by reflection. Here is the fruit; pluck it or not, gentle reader, as your inclination bids.
"Remembrance wakes with all her busy train, Swells at my breast, and turns the past to pain." (Goldsmith—"Deserted Village")
I have heard a complaint made of some reverend preachers (untruthfully, I well believe) that they could never begin a sermon without harking back to the Creation. Now it is not my intention to travel quite so far back into the past, but I must confess to a desire to dig somewhat deeply into the history of Ardmuirland in days gone by before touching upon more recent happenings. Such a desire led me to investigate the recollections of some of our "oldest inhabitants."
Willy Paterson, I well knew, was to be trusted for accurate memories of a certain class of happenings; but for more minute details of events the feminine mind is the more reliable. So I determined to start with Willy's wife, Bell. Their dwelling is nearest to ours; it stands, indeed, but a few yards down the road which leads past our gate. It is a white-walled, thatched house of one story only—like most of the habitations in Ardmuirland; it stands in a little garden whose neatness and the prolific nature of its soil are standing proofs of Willy's industry in hours of leisure.
Owing to the prevalence in our neighborhood of some particular patronymics—Macdonald, Mackintosh, Mackenzie, and the rest—many individuals are distinguished by what is called in Ardmuirland a "by-name." Some of these are furnished by the title of the residence of the family in question, others by the calling or trade of father, mother, or other relative; thus we have "Margot of the Mill," "Sandy Craigdhu," as examples of the former, and "Nell Tailor," "Duncan the Post," of the latter. Still more variety is obtained by the mention of some personal trait of the individual, such as "Fair Archie," "Black Janet," and the like. Willy Paterson's wife was commonly known by such a by-name; every one spoke of her as "Bell o' the Burn," from the name of her childhood's home.
Bell is a spare, hard-featured body—not attractive at first sight, though when one comes to know her, and the somewhat stern expression relaxes, as the lines about the mouth soften, and the brown eyes grow kindly, one begins to think that Bell must have been once quite handsome. She is always scrupulously clean whenever I chance to visit her, and is usually arrayed in a white "mutch" cap, spotless apron, and small tartan shawl over her shoulders. Willy and she have reared up a large family, all of them now settled in the world and most of them married. They are most proud of their youngest, Margaret, who is a lay sister in a town convent. Though her husband is reckoned a traveler, Bell can lay no claim to the title; she probably never moved farther than ten miles away from the family hearthstone until the day she left her father's house by the Burn of Breakachy to marry Willy Paterson, and certainly has never traveled much since that time.
Most of the houses of Ardmuirland are constructed on exactly the same plan. There are two principal rooms—"but" and "ben," as they are commonly designated. (It is unnecessary here to dive into etymology; but it may be noticed in passing that but signifies "without" and ben "within.") To "gae ben" is to pass into the inner room, which at one time opened out of the ordinary living apartment or kitchen, but is now usually separated from it by a little entrance lobby. Besides these two chief rooms, the initiated will be able to point out sundry little hidden closets and cupboards, fitted up as sleeping apartments, and reminding one of the contrivances on board ship. The two rooms each contain a more demonstrative bed, as a rule: but in some cases the bed is shut up with panelled doors like a cupboard.
All that I learned from Bell about the Ardmuirland of bygone days was gathered from her lips at intervals, and in the course of many repeated visits; for it would have been fatal to my purpose had I allowed her to imagine that I intended to make public use of her communications. Though I have retained the substance, I have often altered the form; for it would be useless to expect the reader to translate (if it were even possible to do so without the help of a glossary) Bell's broad Scots dialect. Yet the temptation has been too great to be resisted from time to time to quote her exact words—so quaint her diction and, to me at least, so attractive withal.
A description of the original chapel of the district will serve as a fitting introduction to these memoirs. According to Bell, it must have been simple even to destitution. No smoothly hewn stones, no carved windows, no decoration of any kind distinguished it from the houses of the people. It was a small, low building of rough stone, unplastered, even inside, and roofed by a heather thatch. There was a single door in the side wall. The roof within was open to the rude, unvarnished beams which upheld the thatch. The floor was of beaten clay, and there were rough benches for the people to sit upon during the sermon, but no contrivance for kneeling upon.
"Some o' the fowk had boards to kneel on, ye ken," Bell explained, "but the maist o' them prayed kneelin' on the flure."
The altar was a plain, deal kitchen table, devoid of all ornament in the shape of draperies except the necessary linen coverings. Underneath it was a box, within which the vestments were stowed away; for there was no semblance of sacristy, and the priest's house was some yards distant. At the opposite end from the altar was a raised dais for the accommodation of the singers, of whom Bell herself was one. She could not recall what they were accustomed to sing as a rule.
"I mind we wad sing the Dies Irae, whiles," was all the information she could give on that point. One would think it scarcely possible that so penitential a chant could form the usual musical accompaniment to Sunday Mass! A teacher of music from a neighboring glen used to come over from time to time to practise the singers.
"I mind weel," said Bell, "he had a wand and a tunin' fork." Are these not the recognized signs of ability, all the world over, to conduct a band of singers? The practices were held in the priest's house; sometimes the pastor would join in the singing, although Bell naively remarked on that point:
"He hadna much ear for music, ye ken."
Of the priest of that day, "Mr." McGillivray, as the old style of address ran, more will be said later. The figure next in prominence to him in Bell's recollections was the old sacristan, Robbie Benzie. For many years he acted as "clerk" at the altar, continuing to carry out his duties when well advanced in years. During the week he carried on his trade of weaver; on Sundays he was at his post betimes, carrying a lantern with him, from which he took the light for the altar candles. Bell describes him as a stalwart man with fine features and dark eyes. Clad in his green tartan plaid, he always accompanied the priest round the little chapel with the holy water for the Asperges, and with his "lint-white locks" flowing onto his neck, he used to appear in Bell's eyes "a deal mair imposin' lookin' ner the priest himsel'." His modest and respectful bearing gained him the esteem of all. "I always think of him," said Bell, "as one o' the saints of th' olden times, ye ken. He was the model of a guid Catholic—pious, hard-workin', and aye happy and contented."
In those far-off days Ardmuirland was entirely Catholic. The Faith, in consequence, was an integral part of the life of the district, and the priest the recognized potentate, whom every one was at all times ready to serve—working on his croft, plowing, harvesting, and such like—with cheerful promptitude. Any such labor, when required, was requested by the priest from the altar on Sunday.
"I shall be glad to receive help this week on the glebe-land," he would announce. "You will kindly arrange the division of labor among yourselves."
The same would happen when the time came for cutting and storing up peats for the winter fuel. The day and hour would be named, and all who could possibly help would be at the hill punctually to take their respective shares in the labor.
It was on one such occasion that the incident occurred which struck me as the culminating point of Bell's recollections. I cannot give it as dramatically as she did, and if I attempted to do so the pathos would be marred by the broad Doric—unintelligible to southrons—in which her narrative was told; but I will reproduce it as faithfully as possible in my own words.
It was the "peat-casting" for the priest; every one had worked with a will—young and old. Dinner had been sent up to the moss at noon by the various housewives of the district. It was a sumptuous repast, as usual on so great an occasion; chickens, oatcake, scones, cheese, and abundance of milk had been thoroughly enjoyed by the workers. The children—bearers of the dainties from their respective mothers—though bashful in responding to the fatherly greetings of the old priest, were yet secretly proud of the honor of his special notice. Shyly they stood about in groups, watching for a time the resumed labors of fathers and brothers, until afternoon was wearing away, and it was time to betake themselves home to make ready for the still more important event of the day. Gaily they rushed down the hill, their joyous laughter and merry shouts—relieved as they were from the restraint which good manners had imposed in the priest's presence—awaking the echoes of the glen. For many of them would be allowed to take part in the evening's festivity, and all might share in the preparations for it. This event was the public supper in the priest's barn, when women were welcomed with their husbands and brothers, and even the bigger children were admitted. For the evening repast, as for that of noonday, each family contributed its share of provisions, which were always ample in quantity as well as excellent in quality.
Supper, on this particular occasion—as was usual—took some time, and it was a serious business, when little conversation was encouraged. But after supper the real fun began. None love dancing more than Scots; so dancing must needs form the climax of every gathering for social enjoyment. The bashful roughness which characterized the commencement had worn off; lads and lasses were thoroughly enjoying the somewhat rare opportunity of taking part in so large an assembly; Archie Cattanach, the piper, was throwing his whole soul into the skirls and flourishes of his choice tunes; all was gaiety and innocent enjoyment. The good priest sat looking on pleased because his people were happy; now and again he would move his position to another group of the older guests, so that he might chat with all in turn; his flock, though they held their Pastor in that reverence which none but a priest can inspire, were under no false restraint in his presence, but joined in laugh and jest with ease and simplicity.
Loudly rang out Archie's pipes, merrily tripped the dancers, and joy reigned supreme, when suddenly there came an unexpected check. The outer door flew open, and a girlie of about ten, wild-eyed, bare-headed, panting for breath, rushed into the midst of the gathering. She was evidently laboring under the stress of some unwonted excitement. There was no shyness now, in spite of the priest's presence—in spite of the eager faces that sought hers in anxious questioning.
"Mither, Mither!" she screamed shrilly, as she caught sight of the familiar face she sought, and rushed toward her mother's open arms. It was little Peggy, Bell's younger sister.
"Oh, Mither," she wailed through her sobs, "oor Jessie's nae to be foond! She's nae at hame. I dinna ken wha she's gane!"
With her mother's arms around her, the child was able to give a more coherent account of the circumstances which had led to this abrupt cessation of the dance; for Archie's melody had trailed off into an unmusical drone and speedily ceased, and the dancers had spontaneously crowded round the child and her mother.
Peggy had been left in charge at home, for Bell was allowed to take part in the "ball." Jessie, the youngest but one of the family, was a little maid of four years. She had accompanied Peggy and her brothers, with a crowd of other small folk, when the children went to the moss with provisions for the workers. All had gone and returned in a body, and no one noticed that Jessie was not with them. It was only when Peggy began to assemble her own little charges, to conduct them to their own house, that she missed the wee lassie. Peggy knew that her father and mother, together with all her elders in the family, had already started for the barn—some to help in the preparations, others to chat with those who were assembling outside. It was growing dark, for the children had delayed their homeward journey (as they often will when a number are together) to play and sport.
There was no one to advise or help the child. Sending on three-year-old Elsie and the other little ones in charge of Johnnie, she ran back, half distracted, toward the hill they had left earlier in the afternoon. Shouting out for Jessie by name, she wandered hither and thither—terrified, self-accusing, disconsolate. But it was all to no purpose. Darkness fell, and fearful and contrite, Peggy had no resource but to seek her mother.
There was no more merriment that night. A search party was at once organized by the younger men, who started with lanterns and some of their collies to the peat-moss. All that night the anxious mother kept weary vigil, while the men-folk searched the hill. Day broke, and no trace had been found of the lost child. Weary and sad, the men returned for some needful rest and others took their places. But though they traversed the moors all day, and searched crevices and water-courses with diligence, they met with no better success. Sometimes a sound would break through the stillness which would stir their hearts with renewed hope. The cry of a child! Weak and faint, indeed, but telling of the continuance of life! But again and again, after scaling heights or creeping down comes, they were doomed to disappointment. It was but the bleat of a strayed lamb! That night a larger party set out with lanterns and torches, and once more ranged the hills shouting for the child; but once again morning dawned upon disappointed hopes.
Then every one who could be of any possible use was pressed into the service. The people flocked out of their homes from all that district, and hand in hand they started in a long line stretching across a wide tract of country, and moving slowly on until every inch of ground in their way had been thoroughly explored.
It was after three nights and three days had passed that they came upon the weak little body, lying stark and still under an overhanging rock, and half buried in the heather. Moss was clutched in her clenched hand, and shreds of moss were on her cold lips; the poor little bairn had hungered for food, and had seized that which first came to hand to satisfy her craving. She was quite dead.
The bereaved mother mourned her darling with a grief that none but a mother can know. But the child had been her father's special pet of all his little flock.
"His heart," said Bell, the rising tears witnessing to the sadness of the memories called back by her story, "was well-nigh broke. He burst into tears at the sight of her wee white face, and sobbed like a bairn wi' the rest of us."
And poor little Peggy! How touching the story! She never ceased to reproach herself for what she considered her carelessness in losing sight of Jessie on that fatal day. No single creature attached a shadow of blame to her; on the contrary, it was the dearest wish of all to try to console her and assure her of her innocence in that respect. But it was of no avail. Her unceasing grief fretted away her strength, and six months later she was borne to St. Mungo's ancient burying ground to share Jessie's grave.
"It's nigh on sixty years sin'," said Bell apologetically, as she wiped her streaming eyes with her apron; "but the thocht o' that time brings the tears up yet."
"Thus let me live, unseen, unknown, Thus unlamented let me die; Steal from the world, and not a stone Tell where I lie." (Pope—"Ode to Solitude")
He was an unusually wretched semblance of a man. A tattered coat—some one's cast-off overcoat—green, greasy, mud-stained, clung round his shaking knees; trousers which might have been of any hue originally, but were now "sad-colored," flapped about his thin legs and fringed his ankles; shoes, slashed across the front for ease, revealed bare feet beneath; an antique and dirty red woolen muffler swathed his neck almost to the ears. Surmounting these woeful garments appeared a yellow, wrinkled face surrounded by a straggling fringe of gray whisker; gray locks strayed from an old red handkerchief tied round the brows under a dilapidated wide-awake hat. To add to his woe-begone aspect, the poor wretch was streaming with wet, for a Scottish mist had been steadily falling all the morning.
Leaning on his stick, the man slowly shuffled up the central path toward the porch in which I was sitting, striving to get the nearest possible approach to an open-air pipe. Touching his sorry headgear, he looked at me with mild eyes of faded blue, and smiled benignly as he asked:
"Could I see himsel'?"
I had not long come to that part of the country, and I was not thoroughly conversant with the terminology of the people, but it flashed upon me what he meant.
"Did you wish to see the priest?" I rejoined.
"Aye," replied the old vagrant—for so I deemed him. The smile seemed stereotyped, for it never faded. His face, when one regarded it attentively, had a quite attractive pleasantness.
"I'm sorry to say he's out just now," I said. "But you may go round to the back and get something to eat, if you wish."
It struck me as strange that he did not ask for money, but thanked me profusely and politely, as he touched his wretched hat once more and shuffled off toward the kitchen quarters.
He did not reappear for so long a time that I began to think it would be prudent to investigate. Traveling gentry of such a class are not always desirable visitors when the kitchen happens to be unoccupied for the nonce. As I made my way in that direction through the little hall I heard voices through the half-open door beyond.
"It'll be all right, Archie," Penny was saying. "The priest shall have the money as soon as he comes in, and if he can't say the Mass to-morrow, I'll take care to send you word by Willy. Now, mind you get a bit of fire lighted when you get back home. You must be wet through!"
"Thank ye kindly, Mistress Spence," came the slow response in the quavering voice of the old man. "It's yersel' that's aye kind and thochtful!"
I waited till I heard the door close upon the supposed "tramp" before venturing to make the inquiries that rushed to my lips. And even then I paused a while. When needing information from Penny, one has to be circumspect; she has a way of shutting off the supply with ruthless decision, yet with a seeming absence of deliberate purpose, whenever she suspects a "pumping" operation.
"I'm one that won't be drove," I've often heard her say. So we old fellows are often obliged to have recourse to diplomacy in dealing with our old nurse.
Consequently I lounged casually, as it were, into Penny's domain with the remark, "That poor old chap looked awfully wet, Penny."
"Wet enough he was, Mr. Edmund," replied the unsuspecting Penny, "and I have just been giving him a good hot cup of tea; for he never touches wine or spirits."
She was evidently betrayed by my apparent lack of inquisitiveness into a relation of the details I was longing to hear.
"To think," she continued, "of the creature walking down in such weather, and he such a frail old mortal, too, just to make sure of Mass to-morrow for his wife's anniversary. I can't help thinking, Mr. Edmund, that some of us might take an example in many things from poor old Archie McLean!"
"Does he live far away?" I asked—just to encourage the flow of the narrative.
"A good three miles—and his rheumatism something hawful," exclaimed Penny, now thoroughly started on her recital. I had but to lend an ear, and my curiosity would be satisfied.
Archie, it appeared, had been a soldier in his young days, but when he came to settle in Ardmuirland his time of service had expired; that was long ago, for he was now quite an elderly man. He took up his residence in a deserted mill, by the Ardmuir Burn. As he proved to be thoroughly quiet and inoffensive, the neighbors—true to their national character, not speedily attracted by strangers—began in course of time to make his acquaintance, and he eventually became a great favorite with all. When younger, Penny had been told, he had been "a wonderful good gardener," and for trifling payment, or in return for a meal, would always "redd-up" the gardens of the district. Thus he acquired the designation of "Airchie Gairdener," and by that was usually known.
What his neighbors could not comprehend was how Archie spent these small earnings, but more especially to what use he had put his army pension, which every one knew he once received regularly. He had no occasion to buy food, for kindly neighbors would always exchange for meal or eggs the varied produce of his well-cultivated garden. His clothes cost him nothing; for he had worn the same old garments for years past, and though no self-respecting tramp would have accepted them, he never seemed anxious to replace them. If any others were given him, he would use them for a time, out of compliment to the donor, but the ancient attire would always reappear after a short interval.
"As to where his money goes," summed up Penny, "I've a notion that his Reverence knows more than any one else except Archie himself. Poor Archie often asks for the priest, and I've heard his Reverence speaking to him in quite an angry way—for him," she added quickly; "but there's never any change in Archie's way of living. Some of the people here think he's a perfect saint, and I'm not so sure that they're far wrong! However, I think he ought to take ordinary care of his 'ealth; that seems to me a duty even for saints!"
I tried to glean more details from Val, but found him strangely reticent.
"Poor old fellow! A good soul, if ever there was one!" was the only remark I could elicit.
This air of mystery made me more than ever desirous of learning something about Archie's antecedents. It was this curiosity which led me, in the first instance, to visit his tumbledown dwelling. It was a quaint establishment. A moderately large garden surrounded it on three sides, roughly fenced in from the woodland, its fence interwoven with gorse branches to keep out rabbits. The varied supplies of vegetables were evidence of Archie's industry, in spite of his rheumatism. It was by the produce of this garden that the old man obtained in return the oatmeal and milk which formed his staple food; for he could no longer work for others.
The house itself was a picture! Its aged roof seemed to have bent beneath the weight of years; for the ridge had sunk in the middle of its mossy, grass-grown expanse, and threatened to fall upon its occupant to the peril of his life. A small barrel served for a chimney. One window possessed still two small panes of glass; the other openings were filled in with bits of boarding, as was the whole of the other window.
There was something quite uncanny about the silence of the place. The monotonous ripple of the burn below seemed to intensify it. I stood in hesitation for a moment or two before venturing to knock at the door. When at last I had done so, shuffling footsteps sounded within, and Archie opened the door; the same bland smile which I had noticed when I first saw him appeared on his wrinkled face, and the faded blue eyes lighted up.
"Come ben, sir; come ben!" he said hospitably. "Ye're kindly welcome, tho' 'tis but a puir hoosachie for ane o' the gentry."
It was indeed a sorry place to live in. The roof was so unsound that, as I learned later from Bell, it was difficult to find a dry spot for his wretched bed in wet weather. Added to this, as the same informant assured me, the place was a happy hunting-ground for rats.
"The rats is that bould, sir," she said, "that he's fairly to tak' a stick to bed wi' him o' nichts, to keep the beasts off. It's a wonder they rats hasna' yokit on him afore this!"
But on this, my first visit, no rat put in an appearance.
I gave no motive for looking in, nor did Archie seem to be surprised at my call. He was evidently much pleased to see me; but I could not help thinking at the time that his cordial welcome was due in great measure to my relationship to Val.
That first visit was short, but it was succeeded by others. It soon became quite customary to wind up my daily walk with a chat with the "hermit"—as I got into the way of calling him. For beyond the mystery attaching to the man—or perhaps I ought to say intensifying it—was the fact that he was a really attractive personality. He could talk about the various countries he had seen with a degree of intelligence unlooked for in one of his condition; moreover, he could season his remarks with much spice of sound, earnest wisdom, which amused while it edified me. It did not take long to discover that Archie "Gairdener" was a man out of the common.
That Archie was a good Christian was self-evident. No weather, however tempestuous, could keep him from Sunday Mass, and I noticed with some surprise that he received Holy Communion at least once and sometimes more frequently every week, but always on a week-day, when our congregation consisted chiefly of our household and Bell.
"I suppose Archie 'Gairdener' finds it more convenient to come to the Sacraments on a week-day," I remarked one day to Val, "because of the late hour of Mass on Sunday."
"Scarcely that," was his quiet answer. "I happen to know from other sources that he still keeps up the old practice he found in use when he first came here. In those days no one dreamed of breaking fast on a Sunday until the priest himself did. Every one came to Mass fasting, as Archie still does—though I believe he is the only one nowadays."
During the two or three years that followed I saw a good deal of Archie. We became such cronies, indeed, that Val was considerably amused that I should take so much pleasure in the company of one with whom I could have few ideas in common. But there was something that attracted me to the old fellow from the first, which I can not define in words.
A severe winter made it almost impossible for the old man to get to Sunday Mass at all; he would do his best, but it was evident, as I could see more plainly in my visits, that he was growing very feeble. I happened to be seedy myself at that time, and did not manage to get out so frequently as before, owing to the trying weather.
It came with no surprise when Val told me in early spring that Archie was growing worse, and that the doctor gave little hope of his regaining strength; in the circumstances, Val thought it well not to delay the Last Sacraments any longer. I tried to accompany him when he went to the old mill for that purpose, but I had to give it up. It was about a week later that I was able to visit the old man.
Winter seemed to have departed for good on that day in mid-April. A bright sun was shining; deluded little birds were flitting about as though summer had come; even on the hill the air was mild and balmy.
The brooding silence seemed accentuated in the neighborhood of Archie's hermitage. An unusual sign of life was to be seen at the mill-house itself; smoke was rising from the extemporized chimney; for Bell, as I knew, had installed herself as nurse and was doing her best to render the last days of the old recluse more restful than they could have been during his more active period.
It was Bell who answered to my knock. With a gesture imploring silence she led me in. I was startled at the sight which met my eyes. The old man lay stretched on the bare earthen floor, his head pillowed upon a large stone. His body was covered by blankets, but his arms were crossed on his breast outside of them and embraced his crucifix. His eyes were closed, but he was still breathing fitfully. Bell whispered, in response to my amazed look of inquiry:
"He wouldna' rest till Wully and I lifted him oot o' bed before Wully went for the priest. He'd been keepin' yon big stane for years to serve him at the last."
Val appeared very soon. Archie showed no sign of recognition, even when the well-known voice began the prayers he seemed to have been waiting for before departing.
Bell lighted the blessed candle, which was in readiness, and knelt with Willy on one side of the quiet form, while I knelt on the other near to the priest.
"Go forth, Christian soul, out of this world, in the name of God the Father Almighty, Who created thee: in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, Who suffered for thee"—thus the quiet voice continued until those prayerful words: "Pity his sighs, pity his tears, trusting in nothing but thy mercy"—when the last long breath, like a sigh of relief, passed from the dying man's lips as his soul departed.
I could not shake off a sense of loss as keen as though some dearly loved friend had been taken from me. Val and I walked home in unbroken silence through the shadow of the wood, newly decked in tender green buds, up to the rising ground beyond. My brother seemed as much touched as I.
It was not until our meal was over, and we sat on either side of the still necessary fire, though we had dined without a lamp, and still preferred the dusk for a quiet talk, that Val spoke of Archie.
"Now that the poor old fellow is at rest," he said, "I will tell you, by his express desire, something about his history. He wanted me to promise to make it public, but that I resolutely refused to do, for many reasons. 'Let Mr. Edmund know, at least,' he said. 'I do not want him to have too good an opinion of me, or he will not pray as much as I should wish for my poor soul.' So you have a right to know, Ted."
And with that he unfolded the story of Archie McLean's early years.
Archie had been a wild boy in his youth, with a strong propensity for drink—hereditary, unfortunately—which he was not so well able to satisfy on his father's croft, in Banffshire; so, to gain more liberty, he ran off and enlisted. When scarcely more than twenty he took up with a girl he met in one of the provincial towns in which he happened to be stationed, and eventually married her. He had asked no leave—indeed, at his age it would not have been granted; his wife, therefore, was not "on the strength of the regiment"—in other words, depended entirely upon his pay, and what little she might earn, for the necessaries of life, and even for traveling expenses, in case of removal elsewhere. The girl was a negligent Protestant, and he a non-practising Catholic. They had been married before a Registrar, and neither of them entered a church as long as the woman lived. The one child born to them died a week later, unbaptized.
Such a marriage could not possibly prove happy, but it was more unfortunate in its results than could have been imagined. The man's craving for drink grew with its indulgence. His wife, neglected by him, followed his example and took to that sorry comforter; before long she had acquired habits of drunkenness that disgusted even him. Soon she had fallen so low that her life was a crying scandal for its unrestrained vices.
The man's companions took a savage pleasure in taunting him about his wife's depravity, until the very mention of her name was hateful to him. He acknowledged that he himself was bad enough, but her conduct had reached the extreme of vileness. The result was what might have been foreseen. Quarrels and recriminations were perpetual. The man hated the woman because of her vicious life; he hated himself because, as his conscience reminded him in lucid intervals, he was responsible for her downfall.
The regiment was on the eve of removing to other quarters, and much as he would have liked to leave his wife behind to shift for herself, he dare not face the consequences. Coming to her lodgings, therefore, to arrange about her journey, he found the woman hopelessly incapable. His mad rage against her was inflamed by the drink he had just taken; in his anger he was strongly tempted to rid himself of the burden she had become. Nothing could be easier! No one had seen him enter the house, and there was every chance of his being able to steal away unperceived, in the dusk of the evening. An uncontrollable loathing for the woman urged him on; conscience was disregarded. He seized one of the pillows of the bed. It was merely necessary to press it over her face, hold it there till life was extinct, and creep away, a free man!
It must have been the ever-watching Angel Guardian of that wretched man who touched his heart at that moment of danger, by a sudden grace. He faltered; threw down the pillow, and swiftly ran from the room and from the house—pursued by remorse.
An hour later, when he ventured to return, he was met on the threshold with the tidings that his wife had been found dead of heart failure.
For many a year after that horrible day Archie McLean was tormented by his reproachful conscience. He regarded himself as a murderer in desire, though actually guiltless of his wife's blood. The terrible shock was his salvation. From that day he never more touched strong drink. The formerly inveterate drunkard, a great portion of whose time was spent in the cells, rose by degrees to the position of the smartest soldier in his company. When his long service had to come to an end, he took a situation as gardener for a time; but a desire which had come upon him when his army service had been completed became still more urgent. He longed to be able to devote himself to a penitential life, as a means of making such atonement as was in his power for his past transgressions. Even while in the army his life had been one of rigorous mortification, dating from the day when he once more began to practise his religion; he shunned no duty, however distasteful, and shrank from no danger.
In response to the keen desire which dominated him, Archie threw up his situation, and searching for some part of the country in which he would not be known, yet where he should find life and surroundings not entirely foreign to his experience, settled at length at Ardmuirland. For about forty years his life was characterized by a rigorous austerity. His pension was at once carried to the priest, as soon as he received it, to be devoted to the offering of Masses for the soul of his unhappy wife, and the relief of the poor—scarcely poorer than himself. He never spent a penny upon his own needs; even the scanty earnings of his labor, unless made in kind, went the same way as his pension. The clothing, even, which charitable persons bestowed upon him in pity soon passed into coin for the same end; no scolding of his spiritual Father could prevail upon him to look better after his own well-being.
"I've been a great sinner, Father," he would say. "I owe a big debt to the justice of the Almighty!"
As he had lived, so he died, I had noticed that my brother had shown no surprise, as I did, at the sight of the dying figure of the old man stretched on the bare earth with a stone for his pillow; Val had become familiar with the idea.
"My Saviour died on a Cross for me, and shall I, a vile sinner, be content to die in my bed?" Thus he would always answer the remonstrances of the priest.
Whenever I read the Gospel narrative of Lazarus—the wretchedly clothed, ill-fed, diseased mendicant—who inspired loathing in the eyes and nostrils of the delicately nurtured, sensual men who flocked past his unlovely form to the banquets of the rich glutton at whose palace gate he lay, my thoughts fly at once to my old friend, Archie the penitent, and my prayers rise to Heaven on his behalf in the Church's touching petition for the departed:
"Cum Lazaro, quondam paupere, eternam habeas requiem!"
"With Lazarus, once poor, now blest May'st thou enjoy eternal rest!"
"All the world is turning golden, turning golden In the spring." (Nora Hopper—"April.")
On a day when May was growing old, everything up at Ardmuirland was green and gold except the sky, and that was mostly blue and gold. Gorse and broom were in full blossom, so that on all sides the outlook was glorious!
Looking through my field-glasses to discover the meaning of a column of dense smoke, which seemed to be rising from a hill in the distance, I found myself gazing at a forest in flames! Fire—a very wall of fire—seemed to extend for miles along a dense tract of woodland! So seemingly fierce the blaze that it lighted up with golden gleams the tower of a distant church beyond the wood! Yet, as I looked steadily, it became evident that the flames neither diminished nor increased; presently I discovered that the column of smoke rose from a spot entirely different—more to the foreground. In the end I had to confess with reluctance that my eyes had been deceived; there was no sensational forest fire at all! What I had seen was but the sunshine on an expanse of yellow bloom on some rising ground beyond the belt of woodland, and on the old church tower, while a rare cloud shaded the nearer prospect.
What a silly goat I called myself! Looking nearer home I saw the same red-gold glow, which needed but the sunshine to wake it into flame. The disused quarry, not half a mile away, where the sun was bright, might have been an open gold mine—so brilliant the shining of its wealth of broom bushes! The hedge of gorse which bordered the road on both sides had no speck of green to mar its splendor.
"All the world is turning golden, turning golden. Gold butterflies are light upon the wing; Gold is shining through the eyelids that were holden Till the spring."
The graceful verse haunted me all that day, repeating spontaneously, again and again, its tuneful refrain. For up at Ardmuirland we have to wait till May for settled springtide.
Later on I strolled across to her cottage to have a chat with "Bell o' the Burn." I found her busy at her washtub on the threshold of the door, but none the less ready to enter into conversation, as I leaned on the garden fence watching her tireless pink hands, as they worked up the snowy soapsuds.
"You've maybe haird the news, sir?" she began, a note of inquiry in her tone.
I had seen yesterday's Scotsman, but not in those pages did any of our folk look for news. They read—those, at least, who possess that accomplishment—the stories in the People's Friend and the like, if they were young; those who were older scanned the columns of the local newspaper, published in the county town, and believed firmly in the absolute truth of everything that was asserted there. But "news" meant something more intimate—something which affected our own immediate circle by its relation to the daily life and interests of those around us.
So, knowing this, I did not dream about any startling political crisis, recent mining disaster, or railway collision; Bell knew nothing about such events. Experience had taught me to allow her to enlighten me in her own way. So I put a question to that end.
"Have you heard some news?" I said.
Bell's delight at being first in the field was evident.
"Christian Logan's come intil a fortune!" she replied, with no little delight.
"That is good news, indeed!" I cried impulsively. For Christian was, beyond doubt, one of the poorest of our neighbors, and the most deserving.
"But where did the fortune come from, Bell?" I asked.
"Her mon," explained Bell, "had a cousin oot in Ameriky as fowks allays said wes gey rich. But he niver so much as sent a word to Donal' for years, till juist aboot a week afore the puir mon met wi' his accident, ye ken. An' he says in the letter," continued the old woman, warming up with the interest attaching to her subject, "as Donal' wes the only kin left him, an' he'd find himsel' nane the worse o' that. Alexander Gowan, they callit him."
"And so this cousin is dead, I suppose?"
"Na, na, sir," replied Bell. "Gowan's on his wye back frae Ameriky, ye ken, an' Christian's had word to expect him. Maybe he'll be up here in twa, three days after he lands, like."
This was news with a vengeance! An American who was "gey rich" might be a millionaire! All kinds of rosy visions began to float through my brain. Thoughts of the manifold additions and improvements which Val was dying to make in the church; of the shinty club we were so anxious to start, but could not for want of means; of the hall we planned to build some day for concerts and social gatherings in the long winter evenings—all started into new life at the prospect of a wealthy Catholic returning to his native land with gold in his pocket and a ready hand to scatter it liberally for the benefit of his kinsfolk!
"I suppose he's a Catholic," was the remark to which my mental plans gave birth.
"Aye," said Bell, in a reproachful tone, "the Gowans wes all strict Catholics. The mon would nae turn agen his chapel oot there, I'm thinkin'."
(In Ardmuirland, be it known, "chapel" means the Catholic Church, and "church"—or more frequently "kirk"—denotes exclusively a Protestant place of worship; thus do penal laws leave their trail behind them!)
"Not likely!" I exclaimed boldly. For Bell began to look anxiously at me, as though the staunch Catholicism of this particular Gowan might be open to question. "Our religion is as free out there as any other; that's one good quality in republican America which our government lacks at present."
Still, my own mind misgave me a little. I knew of more than one of my countrymen who had been "strict Catholics" once, but who had lamentably fallen off through knocking about the world. However, we were not justified in classing Gowan with such.
"And will this good man put up at Christian's cottage?" I asked.
"Na, na, Mr. Edmund," said Bell, astonished, "Christian's nae ower weel provided wi' sheets and siclike, ye ken. Na! he's to stay wi' Mistress Dobie at Larrigie Inn. They've redded up the best rooms, and kindled fires and a', to be ready gin he comes soon. The fowks say as Gowan 'll likely have ane o' they motors, like the Squire's at the toon, so as he can drive aboot the countryside and see a' the changes that's come sin' he left."
The world was "turning golden," indeed! My cogitations as I made my way home were touched by the sheen.
Val took it all very calmly (as he is wont, dear boy! whenever I rhapsodize).
"If he happens to be a millionaire, Ted," he remarked—and a twinkle shone through his glasses—"you may give up all hope of getting anything out of him. It is proverbial that such gentry haggle over a six-pence when it comes to gratuities!"
During the week that followed the whole countryside had no more interesting subject of conversation than the coming of the rich cousin to "make a lady" of Christian Logan.
Christian certainly deserved any good fortune that might fall to her. She was the young widow of an under-gamekeeper at Taskerton, an estate in our neighborhood. Donald Logan had met with an accident, by the discharge of a gun, and had died of lock-jaw, consequent on the wound. He had not been very thrifty, poor fellow, for he was too fond of whiskey; the result was that very little means remained for the support of the family when the bread-winner had been taken. The proprietor of Taskerton was generally an absentee, and the casual tenants of the place had little interest in those employed on the estate. Consequently, Christian had to do her best to support herself and her three young children by her own efforts. Tam and Kirsty, aged respectively twelve and eleven, had to continue at school for a year or two at least; the youngest, Jeemsie, who was only eight, had been deaf and dumb from his birth.
Luckily, the agent of the estate, being a man of kindly feelings, was willing to allow the poor woman to remain for a time in the cottage they had occupied, and Val had approached the proprietor on the subject of a pension. At present, however, beyond a liberal donation for Christian's benefit, nothing definite had been settled. We had all subscribed to buy her a sewing-machine, and as she was a clever seamstress she was able to make ends meet by dressmaking. She had her cow, and her few hens, so altogether, with the sale of eggs and occasionally of milk, she was able to provide for her little ones for the present. She was such a cheery, kindly little body that every one at Ardmuirland was her friend; this accounted in great measure for the unusual interest in her prospects.
I felt that it would be but neighborly to offer Christian my congratulations upon her approaching good fortune. Her little house stood near a belt of trees on a rising ground, a few feet from the road that led higher up the hill. No other habitation was within a mile of it, and its solitary position was quite enough by itself to suggest to any one that a man who had made money across the "drink"—as I heard an American once irreverently style the Atlantic—would scarcely be likely to stay for any considerable time in such an out-of-the-world spot. To my mind it seemed incredible that he could be content for long with the comparative luxury of Mrs. Dobie's inn.
Christian sat at her machine in her clean little kitchen when I arrived there, and she called to me cheerily through the open doorway to enter, and rose to receive me. She was a plain little woman, about forty years old, probably; she bore the marks of her many anxieties on her brow—too early scored with wrinkles. I could not help thinking, as I saw her, that no fine clothes that her rich relative might buy for her would ever make her anything else than a plain country body; in silks and satins, even, she would still be the same homely Christian.
"I came over to say how glad I am to hear of your good fortune," I said when the usual greetings had passed, and I was seated in the chair of state by the fire—for the hillside was chilly, and fires were seldom wanting up there even in the summer weather.
"Thank you kindly, sir," was her answer. "Father Fleming was in himself yesterday, for the same reason. It is very good of the priest and yourself, sir, as well as our neighbors aboot, to take sic an interest in us. Indeed, I'm very thankful that God has been sae guid to us. It looks as though our troubles are coming to an end, with this guid news!"
"When do you expect your cousin?" I asked.
Christian took a letter from the mantelpiece, where a china dog had been guarding it.
"This is his last letter, sir," she said, with a touch of honest pride, as she handed it to me to read. "You will see what he says. He was to sail on the 14th, and that was about a fortnight ago. Mistress Dobie had a message to say that he would be there about the first of June. He has business in Glasgow, which will keep him there a bit."
"It's a kind, friendly letter," I remarked, as I handed it back. "He speaks very nicely about you all."
"If only for the sake of the bairns, sir, I'm very thankful that we've foond sae guid a friend," she said with much feeling.
Jeemsie peeped in at the door just then. He was quite a handsome little chap, with regular features and a rather intelligent face.
"Jeemsie will be provided for now," I said, beckoning the child to me. He came, shyly smiling, and put his hand in mine.
"Yes, thank God!" was the poor mother's reply. "It's been a trouble to me to know what to do for him, and especially what'll happen to the bairn when I'm taken. But Father Fleming says his cousin can put him to some kind of institution for a year or two, where they can teach him to read and write and coont as well as any bairn wi' all his senses. For he's nae daft!" she exclaimed, with motherly pride. "He's just as sensible as can be aboot most things. He kens as weel as Tam aboot searching for the eggs, and he loves to fetch water from the well in his little pail for me, bless him!"
"Yes, it's a great thing for the child that his cousin is coming to look after you all. Jeemsie will be made a man of. I once knew a postman who was afflicted like Jeemsie, and he did his work better than any of the other men in the same office. The postmaster was quite proud of him. He couldn't talk, poor man, so there was no danger of his wasting time in gossip."
I took my leave after chatting a while, and rejoiced as I pictured to myself on the way home the lightening of so many burdens which had pressed heavily on the shoulders of that brave little woman.
A week later and we heard through Willy that Mr. Gowan had arrived at Larrigie Inn.
"An' a freer mon wi' his money, Mistress Dobie says, ye'd niver wish to see," was his estimate of the newcomer. "He was treatin' the fellows wi' drams a' roond, the nicht he cam'; he wes sae glad to be bock i' the auld place. He wes a loon o' fafteen when him an' his farther went an' to mak' their fortune in Ameriky, ye ken."
"I don't like to hear about that dramming business," was Val's comment to me later. "There's too much of that kind of thing already about here. However, we must make allowance for the man's natural joy at seeing his old haunts once more."
"Including the inn, I suppose! But he was too young when they left to have cultivated a very intimate acquaintance with that one!"
Gowan proved to be but one of our own rough crofters who had acquired so thin a veneer of civilization that it scarcely concealed the reality beneath. With a somewhat boisterous geniality he made instant friends with all of his former class in the neighborhood. With Val and myself he was not altogether at his ease. An abrupt awkwardness of manner, which we put down to shyness, characterized our intercourse, which was of rare occurrence.
He drove up to Mass on a Sunday, not in a motor, but in the ordinary "machine" belonging to the inn—a kind of small wagonette, drawn by a single horse—in which he always occupied the seat next the driver, good-humoredly conveying any persons from that direction who might be coming up our way, either to kirk or "chapel."
We heard glowing accounts of his kindness to Christian and the children—of constant excursions to the town; of the purchase of unlimited clothing for all the family, and of many costly presents, such as watches for Christian and Tam, pretty trinkets for little Kirsty, and toys for each of the bairns. He seemed to be never happy out of their company; when they were not driving about the country, visiting neighbors, or picnicking on the hills, they took their more important meals at the inn. The two elder children seemed to have left school for good; we heard later that Gowan had arranged matters with the authorities, stating that he meant to take the family back to America with him, or at any rate to find them a home elsewhere should he make a lengthy stay in Scotland.
Things had gone on thus for three weeks before Val alluded to Gowan, or anything connected with him. But his words showed me as soon as he began to speak that he had been thinking much on the subject.
"I don't like this prolonged carnival of Gowan's," he remarked to me. "It's doing no good. I hear of unlimited drinks at Larrigie day after day for all who choose to ask. Many of our young fellows are getting into the habit of dropping in there of nights and listening to the man's stories of life 't'other side.' He seems capable of standing a good deal of liquor himself, as he is never really overcome—only more coarse and noisy, the more he takes. I have had complaints from several of the fathers of families about the harm he is doing."
"That's rather bad!" was my answer. "But what about the Logans? I hear that he means to take them off with him, and he doesn't appear to be a desirable guardian for those children, by all accounts."
"It is that I'm most anxious about," said Val.
And thereupon he became communicative. Things were really worse than I had thought. Gowan, it is true, still came to Mass, but he was fond of boasting to his boon companions that they had got beyond "all that nonsense in the States!" He had certainly, on his own showing, ceased to be a practical Catholic for years, and it was probable that his attendance at Mass and contribution of half a sovereign to the offertory every Sunday was merely the result of a desire to stand well in the estimation of the more staid members of the community, and might be classed with the free drinks and other signs of friendliness to the district. The character of the man rendered Val naturally anxious about the future of Christian Logan and her children, if they were to depend upon him for support in a strange land among strangers.
"The one redeeming feature in his character," summed up Val, "is his genuine affection for the children. His wife died about two years ago, it seems, and he is too old to marry again. So he appears to have devoted himself to the idea of practically adopting these three little Logans."
"It seems to me a case of body versus soul for the poor little kids, if they are to trust to that old heathen for a proper bringing up. But the mother is a good woman, and has a will of her own."
"That's where it is so difficult to do anything," said Val sadly. "She does not understand the state of the case properly, though I've tried to make it plain to her. The fellow is an avowed Free Mason. He can not practise his religion, and in a kind of self-defense he rails against it—though not openly to Catholics, I believe. She is deluded enough to imagine that the influence of herself and the children will win him over to the right path again. But it's far more likely that he will win the children over to unbelief, if he is to become their practical parent. Christian acknowledges that his indulgence is spoiling Tam already."
It was almost dramatic that at that moment a knock at the room door should prove to be from Elsie, who announced the presence of Christian Logan in the "priest's room" asking for a few minutes' conversation with his Reverence.
The interview proved to be somewhat long. Val gave me an account of it later in the day. Gowan had proposed that Jeemsie should be placed without delay in an English institution for the deaf and dumb, while the others traveled a little about Scotland before starting for America, as he had now decided to do. He had made his money in horse-dealing, it appeared, and was not satisfied with his present prosperous condition, but longed to make more money; probably, too, he was tired of idling, after a rather strenuous life spent in business.
Christian was willing to part with the little fellow for a time, but only on condition that he should go to a Catholic institution, of which Val had told her previously. The idea infuriated Gowan. What did religion matter? Protestant institutions of the kind were far in advance of Catholic. It was ridiculous to think of sending the boy anywhere except to a place thoroughly up-to-date. Finally he had refused to do anything in the matter unless he had free scope to place the child where he should think best.
The poor woman's eyes were opened at last. She was absolutely determined that Jeemsie should be given up to no authority that was incapable of teaching him all that was necessary for the practice of his religion. She had come to pour out her difficulties to Val, and to ask further advice. He, of course, applauded her decision, and strengthened her in the resolution she had made, even though it might lead to a temporary withdrawal of Gowan's liberality. Val was convinced that the man was too much attached to the children to break altogether with the Logans.
Gowan had expressed his intention of going up to settle definitely with Christian about the matter of Jeemsie, and she was most anxious for Val to be present. To this he had at once consented; for he felt it a foremost duty to protect the faith of the little lad. So next morning the interview would come off.
"It was a stormy conference!" was Val's first remark, when we met for lunch next day. "But we've won the victory for the little chap's faith, though it has cost us Gowan's further patronage!"
The man had refused to be persuaded to allow the priest to choose some institution to which Jeemsie might safely be sent—merely because it was a priest who wished to have a voice in the matter, Val was inclined to think; for the Protestant Home which Gowan favored was in no way superior. They discussed the question in all its bearings, and eventually Gowan lost his temper and showed his hand. He meant to bring up all the children Protestants! He had learned by experience what a hindrance it was to have to submit in everything to the dictation of priests, and he was determined to have no more of it!
It was at that stage that Christian interposed. Very quietly but firmly she spoke her mind.
"If you expect me to risk the loss of my children's souls as well as my own for the sake of worldly advantages, Cousin Aleck, I may as well speak plainly. I would rather stay here and work myself to death than take your money."
This produced a terrific storm of abuse from Gowan. He called her "priest-ridden" and every kind of fool and idiot. She would soon learn to repent of her folly, for he would go straightway to a lawyer and change his will! Not a penny would she get—now or later—from him, as she would find one day to her cost! Then he dashed away without further discussion.
"The fellow is a brute!" was Val's conclusion. "They are well rid of him! What a blessing he showed himself in his true colors before it was too late!"
Gowan left the neighborhood that very day. No one knew his destination. Mrs. Dobie replied to all inquiries that Mr. Gowan had paid "like a gentleman," and she was "sorry that some people did'na ken when they were well off!"—alluding, of course, to Christian. But Mrs. Dobie, not being "of the household of the Faith," could not be expected to show sympathy toward a course of action which robbed her of so profitable a guest.
Thus were our golden dreams dispelled! Ardmuirland, indeed, took some little time to recover from the dazzling visions which the coming of "the millionaire"—as Val and I delighted to style him in private—had called up, but in a year or so Gowan's name had become a mere memory to most of us. Christian alone—true to her baptismal name—held that memory in benediction; every night she and her little ones gave a prominent place in their family prayers to the "Cousin Aleck" whom they all regarded as a generous benefactor. It was not difficult to interpret the mother's intention in thus making the man a constant object of prayer; to her the possession of God's grace appeared a good beyond all earthly riches and delights, and I can well believe that she even rejoiced that she had been called upon to give testimony of the faith that was in her. Her sentiments were doubtless those of Tobias of old: "For we are the children of saints, and look for the life which God will give to those that never change their faith from him."
"A light to guide, a rod To check the erring and reprove." (Wordsworth—"Ode to Duty")
Few of the many conversations I have had from time to time with old Willy have been more interesting than those upon the subject of schools and schoolmasters in the days when he was young.
In the early part of the nineteenth century education was conducted in a primitive fashion at Ardmuirland. In a small community, consisting almost entirely of Catholics, and those mostly in poor circumstances, a trained teacher was rarely to be found. In many country districts like ours the task of instructing the young devolved upon one or other of the better educated of the crofter class. For in those days even reading and writing—not to mention "counting," or arithmetic, as we style it—constituted a liberal education in Ardmuirland, and many of the people were unable to boast of possessing either. Hence when one of the community was sufficiently versed in such accomplishments he was looked up to as a qualified instructor.
Willy had passed through the hands of more than one of such schoolmasters, and his recollections on the subject are interesting. The one who seems to have made the most impression upon his memory was a better informed man than is usually found in the class to which he belonged.
"Finlay Farquharson wes the best o' them a'! There wes saxty or siventy bairns went to his school at Carnavruick when I wes a loon. He'd been to Ameriky, ye ken, sir, and I doot he'd brought back wi' him a bit o' the Yankee tongue. Faix! He had a lively tongue! He niver wanted his answer when he had to come oot wi' it."
Farquharson's "Academy" was his little living-room—not over-spacious for such an assembly; but in those days no parental government legislated for so many cubic feet of space for each child, and they seemed to keep in health and strength in spite of that fact. The school assembled in what we may term the winter months only, which in Scotland may be reckoned as nearly two-thirds of the year. The remaining months were occupied in farming work both by master and scholars.
During the term (as we may call it) the procedure was as follows: Farquharson was accustomed to rise about four o'clock and to work for two or three hours at threshing corn. After an early breakfast he made preparations for his scholastic duties by clearing out of the way all unnecessary furniture—though there was little that was superfluous—and placing the long planks supported by big stones which served for forms. As some children were sure to be occupied with class work during the whole time, fewer seats were needed than would have been necessary otherwise. The schoolmaster's old mother, Margot, kept her own chair by the fire, where she kept an eye on the pot of soup and occupied herself with knitting. The one small table served as master's desk and as writing-table for those pupils who had advanced sufficiently in the art to be allowed to use a copy-book instead of a slate—but they were few.
The scholars arrived about eight o'clock. It was required of each, as part of the school fees, to bring a block of dried peat to serve as fuel for the fire. It was always the ambition of a boy of lively temperament, such as Willy represented himself to be, to choose as hard a "peat" as he could possibly find, to serve as a weapon in the mimic battles fought on the road to school. As the fire was composed wholly of peat, and the chimney was wide, the place would be often a difficult one to study in when the wind was in the wrong quarter. At such times, to use Willy's description:
"It wes juist a reeky hole! We wes all well learned to pit up wi' the reek! I niver thocht muckle o' reek aifter that schule!"
The proceedings began with reading; after that came spelling. "Coontin'" followed for those who were sufficiently accomplished.
"Them as wes best at the readin' spent nearly all day at the coontin' and writin'. The maister wes short enuch in the temper," remarked Willy on this point. "Aye, aye, he wes gey hot in the temper, I insure ye! I mind a loon comin' up to him ane day wi' a coont on his slate, ye ken, an' Farquharson wes that enraged at a mistak' i' the coont that he broke the slate on the laddie's heid an' left the frame hangin' like a horse's collar roond his neck!"
Farquharson evidently held to the great principle that corporal punishment was part of a sound education. Behind the door was a stool, which served as a block upon which to stretch a victim whose offense deserved the extreme punishment, but that was not often required. A favorite instrument was the strap, or, as Willy termed it, "the belt." Should the master catch sight of an idler, or practical joker, he would throw the strap to the delinquent as a sign that a thrashing was due, and the boy or girl had to come up to his table and receive the punishment.
"Some wad be stiff to come up wi't, ye ken," explained Willy; "but he'd niver let a loon off, though he wes mair merciful-like to the wee lassies. He'd larnt by experience, ye ken; for in the auld days, afore I went there, ane o' the lassies wes a month awa' frae the schule—he throosh her that severe."
About midday there was a recess, and the children ate their "pieces," which they had brought from home, and spent a little time outside at play, while the schoolmaster took his simple meal. The favorite game was a kind of shinty. It was played by the boys with a ball, driven with sticks, each with "a big lump o' wood at the end o't."
The more advanced pupils learned grammar.
"I niver learned nae graymer masel'," said Willy. "I couldna' onderstan' a word o't. I thocht it a gey-like leetany to hear the graymer. 'I mak', thou mak's, he mak's'—seemed to me nae sense, ye ken!"
There were no holidays as a regular thing. School went on in the season every week-day. But there was one great day in the year, which was looked forward to by both parents and children; it was that set apart for what we more delicately reared folk in these days would regard as cruel sport—that of cock-fighting! Sometimes as many as thirty of the lads would each bring his bird under his arm, and these in turn would be placed in the ring. Neighbors from far and near would come to the school for that day.
"The best fichter," said Willy, "wes callit the King; the second best, the Queen; the third, the Knave. Them as wouldna' ficht we callit 'fougie.' Eh, what a day that wes!"
But it must not be thought that the duties of the schoolmaster were confined to his school. He was a personage in the community when he had assumed his position as pedagogue. Since he was instructor of youth, he was regarded as capable of assisting the literary pursuits of their parents and elders.
"We callit the schoolmaster 'Dominie Dick,'" explained Willy. "He wes a big mon i' the distric', ye ken, sir! He'd oft write letters for the fowk roond aboot!"
I gathered from the same authority that the "Dominie," for the time being, was also the reliable reader of the public newspaper. When the weekly paper had arrived, all the men who were interested in what the world was doing would gather at some specified house to listen to the schoolmaster as he read aloud choice extracts. In his absence the best reader of the party was requested to undertake the duty.
"My faither," said Willy, "wes aye conseedered the best aifter the schulemaister. If he miscallit a word the dictionar' wes allas consultit; it wes on the table ready."
This recollection called up another in commendation of his father's reading powers.
"The maister o' the Strathdalgie Schule wes a Protestant, ye ken, but he wouldna' hae ony person read till him but my faither. He had to gae till the schulemaister's bedside when he wes dyin'; for the puir mon wouldna' hae the menister, as he likit a' the words clear."
Farquharson's quasi-official position was on one occasion the cause of rather an unpleasant experience. One of his predecessors in office, an old man named McConnachie, had been forced to retire from the teaching profession on account of failing intellect. After an illness, when he was already far advanced in years, his mind gradually gave way, until he was nothing better than a harmless lunatic. No one grudged the old man a little oatmeal or a bag of potatoes now and again, and he could get milk for the asking from any of those who owned a cow. He lived all by himself in a small house, and a kindly neighbor would go in occasionally to "redd up"—in other words, put the place in order.
But the poor old fellow's lunacy became less harmless as he grew older. It developed into a kind of kleptomania. Should a housewife have a family wash hanging on her clothes-lines, it was not infrequently the case that many of the articles would mysteriously disappear. The most extraordinary objects would vanish from the houses—chimney ornaments, cups, spoons, flatirons, buttons, photographs, and such like gear. For a time no one suspected old McConnachie; though, upon reflection, after the matter had been cleared up it appeared that many of the losers had missed articles after one of his calls. When a venturous spirit undertook to search the old man's habitation during his absence, a store of miscellaneous objects came to light, which revealed the hitherto unknown pilferer.
In another way, too, McConnachie became a nuisance to the community. Perhaps some faint recollection of one of his duties as "Dominie" may have led to it; but he began to show so violent a dislike toward any of the children who might cross his path that he would do his best to give them a good drubbing with his stick. In the case of the more simple he sometimes succeeded in seizing hold before the child had attempted to escape his clutches, and in giving the unfortunate culprit a good reason for flying home in tears to exhibit to an angry mother the marks of "t' auld schulemaister's wand!"
Under such circumstances it became necessary to take counsel with the Inspector of the Poor with a view to getting McConnachie placed under restraint. Matters were easily settled and a time fixed for his deportation to the County Asylum.
But though the old fellow was mad enough in some respects, he was sharp enough in others! It required diplomacy to get him to leave his home and undertake a journey even in the conveyance which the Inspector had promised to provide to take him to the railway station some miles away. Farquharson, on account of his office, was the only person in the community who was on terms of cordiality with McConnachie; for the old man had a great idea of his position in Ardmuirland, and held himself somewhat above the common run of people. With Farquharson he could converse as with one who was almost an equal—not absolutely, for he himself had been through some little training which the other had not. To Farquharson, therefore, the Inspector looked for assistance. He arranged for him to travel with the old fellow, under the pretence of visiting a large school on the invitation of a master there whom he knew; this supposititious friend had included McConnachie in the letter (really written by the Inspector) which Farquharson had received on the subject.
The old schoolmaster was easily duped by this trick, and on an appointed day the two set off. The first obstacle arose at the station, when Farquharson had taken the tickets, for which the "friend" had provided the necessary money.
"I should like to have my own ticket," the older man remarked with an air of dignity. "I'm not a bairn to be likely to lose it."
Here was a slight difficulty! Farquharson had taken a single ticket for the other and a return for himself. It would never do to allow this to be known. On the other hand, McConnachie must be kept in good humor or he would give trouble to his guardian, who began now to see the weak points in the plot. So trusting to the certainty of being able to get back the remaining half-ticket when the old man was safely lodged in the Asylum, he retained the single ticket and gave McConnachie the other.
They reached the end of their railway journey successfully, and Farquharson managed to explain their destination to a porter privately, and asked him to get a cab for them. The man was either stupid or was disappointed at receiving an insignificant tip, since Farquharson was not one to waste money unnecessarily; for he gave the direction "Asylum" to the driver in a voice that McConnachie must have been deaf not to have heard distinctly. Farquharson glanced at once at his companion, but the old man's face was expressionless, and he persuaded himself, almost against his will, that McConnachie was too much taken up with the novelty of the situation to catch the words spoken. The eagerness with which the old man took notice of every feature of their progress tended to confirm the idea, and by the time the Asylum was reached Farquharson felt more at ease.
"The grounds are well kept," remarked McConnachie as they proceeded up the short avenue.
"Aye, aye, they are that!" was the other's ready answer.
"It seems a big building!" said the old man, as they drove up to the entrance.
"Far bigger than I expected," said Farquharson.
The cabby rang the bell, and the door was opened by a man-servant, who came down the steps and opened the carriage door. Farquharson got out first and incautiously walked up the steps toward the door of the building. With a madman's cunning, McConnachie whispered to the servant:
"That's the gentleman I was to bring. He's gone in, so I need not wait. Tell the man to drive back."
And the agonized Farquharson beheld his charge rapidly driving away and leaving him behind alone.
"Stop! Stop!" he cried in an angry voice. "That's the man I was bringing here! He's not fit to be left alone. I tell you he's the daft man! I'm only a friend!"
"Quite so, sir," said the servant quietly. "It will be all right if you will step in for a few minutes. We can easily explain to the Governor."
Two other attendants had appeared on the scene by this time, and the gentle pressure of the servant's hand on his arm induced the hapless Farquharson to ascend the steps once more and enter the hall.
He repeated his explanation to the other men, who treated it in the same quiet way as the first had done. Then it began to dawn upon him that they really took him for the madman and McConnachie for his sane companion.
It was a natural mistake as far as they were concerned; for it was quite a common thing for patients to suppose every one else to be mentally afflicted except themselves. Moreover, McConnachie had a more cultured manner than Farquharson at any time, and when the latter showed so much excitement on account of the trick which had been played upon him, he did not appear to advantage. He was so intensely angry and so apprehensive of the consequences of the disaster that he was scarcely coherent, and this justified the attendants in their view of the situation.
The Governor had already been prejudiced against him, when Farquharson at last obtained an interview with him, and took the same view as the others. The fact of his having given the return ticket to McConnachie made it difficult to explain that the other had no right to it; the faint glimmer of a smile on the face of the attendant while he was attempting to clear up that point filled poor Farquharson with dismay and rendered him still more nervous and excited.
So the poor schoolmaster was detained in the Asylum and old McConnachie returned home in state. All was put right in a day or two, for the Inspector was informed of the turn affairs had taken, and lost no time in releasing Farquharson. The unfortunate man did not dare to return to the district for some time. When he at last ventured to appear, McConnachie had long left the place and was dead and almost forgotten, and neighbors were too glad to welcome Farquharson back among them to remind him of his humiliation.
"Things is gey different now, sir," was Willy's summing-up on the subject of education. "The bairns get mair teechin' noo, and less o' the beltin', an' I'm no sure but they learn a' the better for it!"
"'Tis not the whole of life to live; Nor all of death to die." (Montgomery—"Issues of Life and Death")
Old Widow Lamont and her spinster daughter, Robina, lived in a bit of a house on the edge of the pine wood that sheltered our presbytery from the east winds; they were consequently our nearest neighbors with the exception of Willy and Bell. They possessed a cow and a few hens, and Robina, who was a sturdy woman of forty, did the work of their small croft with occasional help from one of the males of the community. For in Ardmuirland, be it known, one neighbor helps another in return for the like service when required; thus Robina would lend a hand at hay-time, harvest, potato planting, and the rest, and would be entitled to a few days' plowing and harrowing on her own land in compensation.
The Lamonts, though not exceedingly poor, could not be called well-to-do. The absence of a resident man in a small croft must be of necessity a difficulty; but they were upright, hard-working women, and managed to maintain themselves in a simple, frugal way. Oatmeal and potatoes were grown on the croft; bread could be obtained from the passing baker's cart in exchange for eggs; butter, and sometimes milk, could be sold to neighbors; the widow's knitted stockings fetched a fair price with the hosier in the county town; in these various ways they made ends meet.
Old-age pensions were then unheard of, and the Lamonts would have thought themselves insulted had any one suggested parish relief for the old woman; although her helpless condition would have justified it, for she never moved from her corner by the fire, to which she was carried from her bed in the morning to be borne back to bed at night. An accident which had befallen her when in the prime of life had rendered her a cripple without power to move her lower limbs.
Like many of their class, the Lamonts were full of an honest pride, and although they may have possibly felt the pinch of poverty now and again, they would have scorned to acknowledge it. By the exercise of diplomacy Penny has often managed to help them in little ways from time to time; she will visit the old woman to inquire after her health, and take with her in a neighborly way some little delicacy in the shape of soup or pudding. At one time she tried to furnish her with some orders for stockings, but it turned out that the Lamonts considered it next door to heresy to take payment from the priest's house, and Penny's charitable attempts were frustrated. She found it better to "borrow" a few eggs occasionally (even though she was not in great need of them), and to more than pay their value in little presents—an acknowledgment of the kindness of the lenders.
"The very thing for the Lamonts!" exclaimed Val at breakfast one morning. He had been reading his letters, just delivered, and I was glancing through that day's paper. I looked up in token of interest.
"I have an application from the Inspector of the Poor," he continued, "for a quiet, reliable family, who would be willing to take charge, for payment, of a poor daft fellow. He is about thirty, and has been in this state since he was eighteen, when he had a bad fever. He is perfectly tractable, quite inoffensive, and thoroughly good-tempered. The only reason for moving him from his present home is that it is in a village, and the children tease and annoy him. I fancy the Lamonts would jump at the opportunity."
I quite agreed with him. To my mind, Robina Lamont was a match for a far more dangerous character. She would be equal in strength to many an able-bodied man. But I felt doubtful whether the arrangement would be satisfactory as regarded the old widow. She was so helpless that unless the man was actually as harmless as was supposed it might he risky to place him in such a house. I voiced my objection, but Val was not impressed by it. He had great confidence in the judgment of the Inspector—a thoroughly able man, and shrewd withal.