WARLOCK O' GLENWARLOCK.
A HOMELY ROMANCE.
AUTHOR OF "ANNALS OF A QUIET NEIGHBORHOOD", "A SEA-BOARD PARISH", ETC.
1. Castle Warlock 2. The Kitchen 3. The Drawing-room 4. An Afternoon Sleep 5. The School 6. Grannie's Cottage 7. Dreams 8. Home 9. The Student 10. Peter Simon 11. The new Schooling 12. Grannie's Ghost Story 13. The Storm-Guest 14. The Castle Inn 15. That Night 16. Through the Day 17. That same Night 18. A Winter Idyl 19. An "Interlunar Cave" 20. Catch yer Naig 21. The Watchmaker 22. That Luminous Night 23. At College 24. A Tutorship 25. The Gardener 26. Lost and Found 27. A Transformation 28. The Story of the Knight who spoke the Truth 29. New Experience 30. Charles Jermyn, M. D. 31. Cosmo and the Doctor 32. The Naiad 33. The Garden-House 34. Catch your Horse 35. Pull his Tail 36. The thick Darkness 37. The Dawn 38. The Shadow of Death 39. The Labourer 40. The Schoolmaster 41 Grannie and the Stick 42. Obstruction 43. Grizzle's Rights 44. Another Harvest 45. The final Conflict 46. A Rest 47. Help 48. A common Miracle 49. Defiance 50. Discovery and Confession 51. It is Naught saith the Buyer 52. An old Story 53. A small Discovery 54. A greater Discovery 55. A great Discovery 56. Mr. Burns 57. Too Sure comes too late 58. A little Life well rounded 59. A Breaking Up 60. Repose 61. The third Harvest 62. A duet, Trio, and Quartette
A rough, wild glen it was, to which, far back in times unknown to its annals, the family had given its name, taking in return no small portion of its history, and a good deal of the character of its individuals. It lay in the debatable land between highlands and lowlands; most of its inhabitants spoke both Scotch and Gaelic; and there was often to be found in them a notable mingling of the chief characteristics of the widely differing Celt and Teuton. The country produced more barley than wheat, more oats than barley, more heather than oats, more boulders than trees, and more snow than anything. It was a solitary, thinly peopled region, mostly of bare hills, and partially cultivated glens, each with its small stream, on the banks of which grew here and there a silver birch, a mountain ash, or an alder tree, but with nothing capable of giving much shade or shelter, save cliffy banks and big stones. From many a spot you might look in all directions and not see a sign of human or any other habitation. Even then however, you might, to be sure, most likely smell the perfume—to some nostrils it is nothing less than perfume—of a peat fire, although you might be long in finding out whence it came; for the houses, if indeed the dwellings could be called houses, were often so hard to be distinguished from the ground on which they were built, that except the smoke of fresh peats were coming pretty freely from the wide-mouthed chimney, it required an experienced eye to discover the human nest. The valleys that opened northward produced little; there the snow might some years be seen lying on patches of oats yet green, destined now only for fodder; but where the valley ran east and west, and any tolerable ground looked to the south, there things put on a different aspect. There the graceful oats would wave and rustle in the ripening wind, and in the small gardens would lurk a few cherished strawberries, while potatoes and peas would be tolerably plentiful in their season.
Upon a natural terrace in such a slope to the south, stood Castle Warlock. But it turned no smiling face to the region whence came the warmth and the growth. A more grim, repellant, unlovely building would be hard to find; and yet, from its extreme simplicity, its utter indifference to its own looks, its repose, its weight, and its gray historical consciousness, no one who loved houses would have thought of calling it ugly. It was like the hard-featured face of a Scotch matron, suggesting no end of story, of life, of character: she holds a defensive if not defiant face to the world, but within she is warm, tending carefully the fires of life. Summer and winter the chimneys of that desolate-looking house smoked; for though the country was inclement, and the people that lived in it were poor, the great, sullen, almost unhappy-looking hills held clasped to their bare cold bosoms, exposed to all the bitterness of freezing winds and summer hail, the warmth of household centuries: their peat-bogs were the store-closets and wine-cellars of the sun, for the hoarded elixir of physical life. And although the walls of the castle, as it was called, were so thick that in winter they kept the warmth generated within them from wandering out and being lost on the awful wastes of homeless hillside and moor, they also prevented the brief summer heat of the wayfaring sun from entering with freedom, and hence the fires were needful in the summer days as well—at least at the time my story commences, for then, as generally, there were elderly and aged people in the house, who had to help their souls to keep their bodies warm.
The house was very old. It had been built for more kinds of shelter than need to be thought of in our days. For the enemies of our ancestors were not only the cold, and the fierce wind, and the rain, and the snow; they were men also—enemies harder to keep out than the raging storm or the creeping frost. Hence the more hospitable a house could be, the less must it look what it was: it must wear its face haughty, and turn its smiles inward. The house of Glenwarlock, as it was also sometimes called, consisted of three massive, narrow, tall blocks of building, which showed little connection with each other beyond juxtaposition, two of them standing end to end, with but a few feet of space between, and the third at right angles to the two. In the two which stood end to end, and were originally the principal parts, hardly any windows were to be seen on the side that looked out into the valley; while in the third, which, though looking much of the same age, was of later build, were more windows, but none in the lowest story. Narrow as were these buildings, and four stories high, they had a solid, ponderous look, suggesting a thickness of the walls such as to leave little of a hollow within for the indwellers—like great marine shells for a small mollusk. On the other side was a kind of a court, completed by the stables and cowhouses, and towards this court were most of the windows—many of them for size more like those in the cottages around, than suggestive of a house built by the lords of the soil. The court was now merely that of a farmyard.
There must have been at one time outer defences to the castle, but they were no longer to be distinguished by the inexperienced eye; and indeed the; windowless walls of the house itself seemed strong enough to repel any attack without artillery—except indeed the assailants had got into the court. There were however some signs of the windows there having been enlarged if not increased at a later period.
In the block that stood angle-wise to the rest, was the kitchen, the door of which opened immediately on the court; and behind the kitchen, in that part which had no windows to the valley, was the milk-cellar, as they called the dairy, and places for household storage. A rough causeway ran along the foot of the walls, connecting the doors in the different blocks. Of these, the kitchen door for the most part stood open: sometimes the snow would be coming fast down the wide chimney, with little soft hisses in the fire, and the business of the house going on without a thought of closing it, though from it you could not have seen across the yard for the falling flakes.
But when my story opens, the summer held the old house and the older hills in its embrace. The sun was pouring torrents of light and heat into the valley, and the slopes of it were covered with green. The bees were about, contenting themselves with the flowers, while the heather was getting ready its bloom for them, and a boy of fourteen was sitting in a little garden that lay like a dropped belt of beauty about the feet of the grim old walls. This was on the other side—that to the south, parting the house from the slope where the corn began—now with the ear half-formed. The boy sat on a big stone, which once must have had some part in the house itself, or its defences, but which he had never known except as a seat for himself. His back leaned against the hoary wall, and he was in truth meditating, although he did not look as if he were. He was already more than an incipient philosopher, though he could not yet have put into recognizable shape the thought that was now passing through his mind. The bees were the primary but not the main subject of it. It came thus: he thought how glad the bees would be when their crop of heather was ripe; then he thought how they preferred the heather to the flowers; then, that the one must taste nicer to them than the other; and last awoke the question whether their taste of sweet was the same as his. "For," said he, "if their honey is sweet to them with the same sweetness with which it is sweet to me, then there is something in the make of the bee that's the same with the make of me; and perhaps then a man might some day, if he wanted, try the taste of being a bee all out for a little while." But to see him, nobody would have thought he was doing anything but basking in the sun. The scents of the flowers all about his feet came and went on the eddies of the air, paying my lord many a visit in his antechamber, his brain; the windy noises of the insects, the watery noises of the pigeons, the noises from the poultry yard, the song of the mountain river, visited, him also through the portals of his ears; but at the moment, the boy seemed lost in the mere fundamental satisfaction of existence.
Neither, although broad summer was on the earth, and all the hill-tops, and as much of the valleys as their shadows did not hide, were bathed in sunlight, although the country was his native land, and he loved it with the love of his country's poets, was the consciousness of the boy free from a certain strange kind of trouble connected with, if not resulting from the landscape before him. A Celt through many of his ancestors, and his mother in particular, his soul, full of undefined emotion, was aware of an ever recurring impulse to song, ever checked and broken, ever thrown back upon itself. There were a few books in the house, amongst them certain volumes of verse—a copy of Cowly, whose notable invocation of Light he had instinctively blundered upon; one of Milton; the translated Ossian; Thomson's Seasons—with a few more; and from the reading of these, among other results, had arisen this—that, in the midst of his enjoyment of the world around him, he found himself every now and then sighing after a lovelier nature than that before his eyes. There he read of mountains, if not wilder, yet loftier and more savage than his own, of skies more glorious, of forests of such trees as he knew only from one or two old engravings in the house, on which he looked with a strange, inexplicable reverence: he would sometimes wake weeping from a dream of mountains, or of tossing waters. Once with his waking eyes he saw a mist afar off, between the hills that ramparted the horizon, grow rosy after the sun was down, and his heart filled as with the joy of a new discovery. Around him, it is true, the waters rushed well from their hills, but their banks had little beauty. Not merely did the want of trees distress him, but the nature of their channel; most of them, instead of rushing through rocks, cut their way only through beds of rough gravel, and their bare surroundings were desolate without grandeur—almost mean to eyes that had not yet pierced to the soul of them. Nor had he yet learned to admire the lucent brown of the bog waters. There seemed to be in the boy a strain of some race used to a richer home; and yet all the time the frozen regions of the north drew his fancy tenfold more than Italy or Egypt.
His name was Cosmo, a name brought from Italy by one of the line who had sold his sword and fought for strangers. Not a few of the younger branches of the family had followed the same evil profession, and taken foreign pay—chiefly from poverty and prejudice combined, but not a little in some cases from the inborn love of fighting that seems to characterize the Celt. The last soldier of them had served the East India Company both by sea and land: tradition more than hinted that he had chiefly served himself. Since then the heads of the house had been peaceful farmers of their own land, contriving to draw what to many farmers nowadays would seem but a scanty subsistence from an estate which had dwindled to the twentieth part of what it had been a few centuries before, though even then it could never have made its proprietor rich in anything but the devotion of his retainers.
Growing too hot between the sun and the wall, Cosmo rose, and passing to the other side of the house beyond the court-yard, and crossing a certain heave of grass, came upon one unfailing delight in his lot—a preacher whose voice, inarticulate, it is true, had, ever since he was born, been at most times louder in his ear than any other. It was a mountain stream, which, through a channel of rock, such as nearly satisfied his most fastidious fancy, went roaring, rushing, and sometimes thundering, with an arrow-like, foamy swiftness, down to the river in the glen below. The rocks were very dark, and the foam stood out brilliant against them. From the hill-top above, it came, sloping steep from far. When you looked up, it seemed to come flowing from the horizon itself, and when you looked down, it seemed to have suddenly found it could no more return to the upper regions it had left too high behind it, and in disgust to shoot headlong to the abyss. There was not much water in it now, but plenty to make a joyous white rush through the deep-worn brown of the rock: in the autumn and spring it came down gloriously, dark and fierce, as if it sought the very centre, wild with greed after an absolute rest.
The boy stood and gazed, as was his custom. Always he would seek this endless water when he grew weary, when the things about him put on their too ordinary look. Let the aspect of this be what it might, it seemed still inspired and sent forth by some essence of mystery and endless possibility. There was in him an unusual combination of the power to read the hieroglyphic internal aspect of things, and the scientific nature that bows before fact. He knew that the stream was in its second stage when it rose from the earth and rushed past the house, that it was gathered first from the great ocean, through millions of smallest ducts, up to the reservoirs of the sky, thence to descend in snows and rains, and wander down and up through the veins of the earth; but the sense of its mystery had not hitherto begun to withdraw. Happily for him, the poetic nature was not merely predominant in him, but dominant, sending itself, a pervading spirit, through the science that else would have stifled him. Accepting fact, he found nothing in its outward relations by which a man can live, any more than by bread; but this poetic nature, illuminating it as with the polarized ray, revealed therein more life and richer hope. All this was as yet however as indefinite as it was operative in him, and I am telling of him what he could not have told of himself.
He stood gazing now in a different mood from any that had come to him before: he had begun to find out something fresh about this same stream, and the life in his own heart to which it served as a revealing phantasm. He recognized that what in the stream had drawn him from earliest childhood, with an infinite pleasure, was the vague sense, for a long time an ever growing one, of its MYSTERY—the form the infinite first takes to the simplest and liveliest hearts. It was because it was ALWAYS flowing that he loved it, because it could not stop: whence it came was utterly unknown to him, and he did not care to know. And when at length he learned that it came flowing out of the dark hard earth, the mystery only grew. He imagined a wondrous cavity below in black rock, where it gathered and gathered, nobody could think how—not coming from anywhere else, but beginning just there, and nowhere beyond. When, later on, he had to shift its source, and carry it back to the great sky, it was no less marvellous, and more lovely; it was a closer binding together of the gentle earth and the awful withdrawing heavens. These were a region of endless hopes, and ever recurrent despairs: that his beloved, an earthly finite thing, should rise there, was added joy, and gave a mighty hope with respect to the unknown and appalling. But from the sky, he was sent back to the earth in further pursuit; for, whence came the rain, his books told him, but from the sea? That sea he had read of, though never yet beheld, and he knew it was magnificent in its might; gladly would he have hailed it as an intermediate betwixt the sky and the earth—so to have the sky come first! but, alas! the ocean came first in order. And then, worse and worse! how was the ocean fed but from his loved torrent? How was the sky fed but from the sea? How was the dark fountain fed but from the sky? How was the torrent fed but from the fountain? As he sat in the hot garden, with his back against the old gray wall, the nest of his family for countless generations, with the scent of the flowers in his nostrils, and the sound of the bees in his ears, it had begun to dawn upon him that he had lost the stream of his childhood, the mysterious, infinite idea of endless, inexplicable, original birth, of outflowing because of essential existence within! There was no production any more, nothing but a mere rushing around, like the ring-sea of Saturn, in a never ending circle of formal change! Like a great dish, the mighty ocean was skimmed in particles invisible, which were gathered aloft into sponges all water and no sponge; and from this, through many an airy, many an earthy channel, deflowered of its mystery, his ancient, self-producing fountain to a holy merry river, was FED—only FED! He grew very sad, and well he might. Moved by the spring eternal in himself, of which the love in his heart was but a river-shape, he turned away from the deathened stream, and without knowing why, sought the human elements about the place.
He entered the wide kitchen, paved with large slabs of slate. One brilliant gray-blue spot of sunlight lay on the floor. It came through a small window to the east, and made the peat-fire glow red by the contrast. Over the fire, from a great chain, hung a three-legged pot, in which something was slowly cooking. Between the fire and the sun-spot lay a cat, content with fate and the world. At the corner of the fire sat an old lady, in a chair high-backed, thick-padded, and covered with striped stuff. She had her back to the window that looked into the court, and was knitting without regarding her needles. This was Cosmo's grandmother. The daughter of a small laird in the next parish, she had started in life with an overweening sense of her own importance through that of her family, nor had she lived long enough to get rid of it. I fancy she had clung to it the more that from the time of her marriage nothing had seemed to go well with the family into which she had married. She and her husband had struggled and striven, but to no seeming purpose; poverty had drawn its meshes closer and closer around them. They had but one son, the present laird, and he had succeeded to an estate yet smaller and more heavily encumbered. To all appearance he must leave it to Cosmo, if indeed he left it, in no better condition. From the growing fear of its final loss, he loved the place more than any of his ancestors had loved it, and his attachment to it had descended yet stronger to his son.
But although Cosmo the elder wrestled and fought against encroaching poverty, and with little success, he had never forgot small rights in anxiety to be rid of large claims. What man could he did to keep his poverty from bearing hard on his dependents, and never master or landlord was more beloved. Such being his character and the condition of his affairs, it is not very surprising that he should have passed middle age before thinking seriously of marriage. Nor did he then fall in love, in the ordinary sense of the phrase; he reflected with himself that it would be cowardice so far to fear poverty as to run the boat of the Warlocks aground, and leave the scrag end of a property and a history without a man to take them up, and possibly bear them on to redemption; for who could tell what life might be in the stock yet! Anyhow, it would be better to leave an heir to take the remnant in charge, and at least carry the name a generation farther, even should it be into yet deeper poverty than hitherto. A Warlock could face his fate. Thereupon, with a sense of the fitness of things not always manifested on such occasions, he had paid his addresses to a woman of five and thirty, the daughter of the last clergyman of the parish, and had by her been accepted with little hesitation. She was a capable and brave woman, and, fully informed of the state of his affairs, married him in the hope of doing something to help him out of his difficulties. A few pounds she had saved up, and a trifle her mother had left her, she placed unreservedly at his disposal, and he in his abounding honesty spent it on his creditors, bettering things for a time, and, which was of much more consequence, greatly relieving his mind, and giving the life in him a fresh start. His marriage was of infinitely more salvation to the laird than if it had set him free from all his worldly embarrassments, for it set him growing again—and that is the only final path out of oppression.
Whatever were the feelings with which he took his wife home, they were at least those of a gentleman; and it were a good thing indeed, if, at the end of five years, the love of most pairs who marry for love were equal to that of Cosmo Warlock to his middle-aged wife; and now that she was gone, his reverence for her memory was something surpassing. From the day almost of his marriage the miseries of life lost half their bitterness, nor had it returned at her death. Instinctively he felt that outsiders, those even who respected him as an honest man, believed that, somehow or other, they could only conjecture how, he must be to blame for the circumstances he was in—either this, or providence did not take care of the just man. Such was virtually the unuttered conclusion of many, who nevertheless imagined they understood the Book of Job, and who would have counted Warlock's rare honesty, pride or fastidiousness or unjustifiable free-handedness. Hence they came to think and speak of him as a poor creature, and soon the man, through the keen sensitiveness of his nature, became aware of the fact. But to his sense of the misprision of neighbours and friends, came the faith and indignant confidence of his wife like the closing and binding up and mollifying of a wound with ointment. The man was of a far finer nature than any of those who thus judged him, of whom some would doubtless have got out of their difficulties sooner than he—only he was more honorable in debt than they were out of it. A woman of strong sense, with an undeveloped stratum of poetry in the heart of it, his wife was able to appreciate the finer elements of his nature; and she let him see very plainly that she did. This was strength and a lifting up of the head to the husband, who in his youth had been oppressed by the positiveness, and in his manhood by the opposition, of his mother, whom the neighbours regarded as a woman of strength and faculty. And now, although, all his life since, he had had to fight the wolf as constantly as ever, things, even after his wife's death, continued very different from what they had been before he married her; his existence looked a far more acceptable thing seen through the regard of his wife than through that of his neighbours. They had been five years married before she brought him an heir to his poverty, and she lived five years more to train him—then, after a short illness, departed, and left the now aging man virtually alone with his little child, coruscating spark of fresh vitality amidst the ancient surroundings. This was the Cosmo who now, somewhat sore at heart from the result of his cogitations, entered the kitchen in search of his kind.
Another woman was sitting on a three-legged stool, just inside the door, paring potatoes—throwing each, as she cut off what the old lady, watching, judged a paring far too thick, into a bowl of water. She looked nearly as old as her mistress, though she was really ten years younger. She had come with the late mistress from her father's house, and had always taken, and still took her part against the opposing faction—namely the grandmother.
A second seat—not over easy, but comfortable enough, being simply a wide arm-chair of elm, with a cushion covered in horse-hair, stood at the opposite corner of the fire. This was the laird's seat, at the moment, as generally all the morning till dinner-time, empty: Cosmo, not once looking up, walked straight to it, diagonally across the floor, and seated himself like one verily lost in thought. Now and then, as she peeled, Grizzie would cast a keen glance at him out of her bright blue eyes, round whose fire the wrinkles had gathered like ashes: those eyes were sweet and pleasant, and the expression of her face was one of lovely devotion; but otherwise she was far from beautiful. She gave a grim smile to herself every time she glanced up at him from her potatoes, as much as to say she knew well enough what he was thinking, though no one else did. "He'll be a man yet!" she said to herself.
The old lady also now and then looked over her Stocking at the boy, where he sat with his back to the white deal dresser, ornate with homeliest dishes.
"It'll be lang or ye fill that chair, Cossie, my man!" she said at length,—but not with the smile of play, rather with the look of admonition, as if it was the boy's first duty to grow in breadth in order to fill the chair, and restore the symmetry of the world.
Cosmo glanced up, but did not speak, and presently was lost again in the thoughts from which his grandmother had roused him as one is roused by a jolt on the road.
"What are you dreaming about, Cossie?" she said again, in a tone wavering but imperative.
Her speech was that of a gentlewoman of the old time, when the highest born in Scotland spoke Scotch.
Not yet did Cosmo reply. Reverie does not agree well with manners, but it would besides have been hard for him to answer the old lady's question—not that he did not know something at least of what was going on in his mind, but that, he knew instinctively, it would have sounded in her ears no hair better than the jabber of Jule Sandy.
"Mph!" she said, offended at his silence; "Ye'll hae to learn manners afore ye're laird o' Glenwarlock, young Cosmo!"
A shadow of indignation passed over Grizzie's rippled, rather than wrinkled face, but she said nothing. There was a time to speak and a time to be silent; nor was Grizzie indebted to Solomon, but to her own experience and practice, for the wisdom of the saw. Only the pared potatoes splashed louder in the water as they fell. And the old lady knew as well what that meant, as if the splashes had been articulate sounds from the mouth of the old partisan.
The boy rose, and coming forward, rather like one walking in his sleep, stood up before his grandmother, and said,
"What was ye sayin', gran'mamma?"
"I was sayin' what ye wadna hearken till, an that's enouch," she answered, willing to show offence.
"Say 't again, gran'mamma, if you please. I wasna noticin'."
"Na! Is' warran' ye frae noticin'! There ye winna gang, whaur yer ain fule fancy does na lead the w'y. Cosmo, by gie ower muckle tether to wull thoucht, an' someday ye'll be laid i' the dub, followin' what has naither sense intil't, nor this warl's gude. —What was ye thinkin' aboot the noo?—Tell me that, an' Is' lat ye gang."
"I was thinkin' aboot the burnie, gran'mamma."
"It wad be tellin' ye to lat the burnie rin, an' stick to yer buik, laddie!"
"The burnie wull rin, gran'mamma, and the buik 'ill bide," said Cosmo, perhaps not very clearly understanding himself.
"Ye're gettin' on to be a man, noo," said his grandmother, heedless of the word of his defence, "an' ye maun learn to put awa' bairnly things. There's a heap depen'in' upo' ye, Cosmo. Ye'll be the fift o' the name i' the family, an' I'm feart ye may be the last. It's but sma' honour, laddie, to ony man to be the last; an' gien ye dinna gaither the wit ye hae, and du the best ye can, ye winna lang be laird o' Glenwarlock. Gien it wasna for Grizzie there, wha has no richt to owerhear the affairs o' the family, I micht think the time had come for enlichtenin' ye upo' things it's no shuitable ye should gang ignorant o'. But we'll put it aff till a mair convenient sizzon, atween oor ain twa lanes."
"An' a mair convanient spokesman, I houp, my leddy," said Grizzie, deeply offended.
"An' wha sud that be?" rejoined her mistress.
"Ow, wha but the laird himsel'?" answered Grizzie, "Wha's to come atween father an' son wi' licht upo' family-affairs? No even the mistress hersel' wad hae prezhunt upo' that?"
"Keep your own place, Grizzie," said the old lady with dignity.
And Grizzie, who, had gone farther in the cause of propriety, than propriety itself could justify, held her peace. Only the potatoes splashed yet louder in the bowl. Her mistress sat grimly silent, for though she had had the last word and had been obeyed, she was rebuked in herself. Cosmo, judging the specialty of the interview over, turned and went back to his father's chair; but just as he was seating himself in it, his father appeared in the doorway.
The form was that of a tall, thin man, a little bent at the knees and bowed in the back, who yet carried himself with no small dignity, cloaked in an air of general apology—as if he would have said, "I am sorry my way is not yours, for I see very well how wrong you must think it." He wore large strong shoes—I think a description should begin with the feet rather than the head—fit for boggy land; blue, ribbed, woollen stockings; knee-breeches of some home-made stuff: all the coarser cloth they wore, and they wore little else, was shorn from their own sheep, and spun, woven, and made at home; an old blue dress coat with bright buttons; a drab waistcoat which had once been yellow; and to crown all, a red woollen nightcap, hanging down on one side with a tassel.
"Weel, Grizzie!" he said, in a gentle, rather sad voice, as if the days of his mourning were not yet ended, "I'm ower sune the day!"
He never passed Grizzie without greeting her, and Grizzie's devotion to him was like that of slave and sister mingled.
"Na, laird," she answered, "ye can never be ower sune for yer ain fowk, though ye may be for yer ain stamack. The taties winna be lang bilin' the day. They're some sma'."
"That's because you pare them so much, Grizzie," said the grandmother.
Grizzie vouchsafed no reply.
The moment young Cosmo saw whose shadow darkened the doorway, he rose in haste, and standing with his hand upon the arm of the chair, waited for his father to seat himself in it. The laird acknowledged his attention with a smile, sat down, and looked like the last sitter grown suddenly old. He put out his hand to the boy across the low arm of the chair, and the boy laid his hand in his father's, and so they remained, neither saying a word. The laird leaned back, and sat resting. All were silent.
Notwithstanding the oddity of his dress, no one who had any knowledge of humanity could have failed to see in Cosmo Warlock, the elder, a high bred gentleman. His face was small, and the skin of it was puckered into wrinkles innumerable; his mouth was sweet, but he had lost his teeth, and the lips had fallen in; his chin, however, was large and strong; while his blue eyes looked out from under his narrow high forehead with a softly piercing glance of great gentleness and benignity. A little gray hair clustered about his temples and the back of his head—the red nightcap hid the rest. There was three days' growth of gray beard on his chin, for NOW THAT HE HAD NOBODY, he would say, he had not the heart to shave every morning.
For some time he sat looking straight before him, smiling to his mother's hands as they knitted, she casting on him now and then a look that seemed to express the consciousness of blame for not having made a better job of him, or for having given him too much to do in the care of himself. For neither did his mother believe in him farther than that he had the best possible intentions in what he did, or did not do. At the same time she never doubted he was more of a man than ever his son would be, seeing they had such different mothers.
"Grizzie," said the laird, "hae ye a drappy o' soor milk? I'm some dry."
"Ay, that hae I, sir!" answered Grizzie with alacrity, and rising went into the darker region behind the kitchen, whence presently she emerged with a white basin full of rich milk—half cream, it was indeed. Without explanation or apology she handed it to her master, who received and drank it off.
"Hoots, woman!" he said, "ye wad hae me a shargar (A SKIN-AND-BONE CALF)! That's no soor milk!"
"I'm vexed it's no to yer taste, laird!" returned Grizzie coolly, "but I hae nane better."
"Ye tellt me ye had soor milk," said the laird—without a particle of offence, rather in the tone of apology for having by mistake made away with something too good for him.
"Weel, laird," replied Grizzie, "it's naething but the guidman's milk; an' gien ye dinna ken what's guid for ye at your time o' life, it's weel there sud be anither 'at does. What has a man o' your 'ears to du drinkin' soor milk—eneuch to turn a' soor thegither i' the inside o' ye! It's true I win' ye weel a sma' bairn i' my leddy's airms—
"Ye may weel du that!" interrupted her mistress.
"I wasna weel intil my teens, though, my leddy!" returned Grizzie. "An' I'm sure," she added, in revenge for the insinuation as to her age, "it wad ill become ony wuman to grudge a man o' the laird's stan'in a drap o' the best milk in's ain cellar!"
"Who spoke of refusing it to him?" said his mother.
"Ye spak yersel' sic an' siclike," answered Grizzie.
"Hoots, Grizzie! haud yer tongue, my wuman," said the laird, in the gentlest tone, yet with reproof in it. "Ye ken weel it's no my mother wad grudge me the milk ye wad gie me. It was but my'sel' 'at didna think mysel' worthy o' that same, seein' it's no a week yet sin' bonny Hawkie dee'd!"
"An' wad ye hae the Lord's anintit depen' upo' Hawkie?" cried Grizzie with indignation.
The contest went no farther, and Grizzie had had the best of it, as none knew better than she. In a minute or two the laird rose and went out, and Cosmo went with him.
Before Cosmo's mother died, old Mrs. Warlock would have been indignant at the idea of sitting in the kitchen, but things had combined to bring her to it. She found herself very lonely seated in state in the drawing-room, where, as there was no longer a daughter-in-law to go and come, she learned little or nothing of what was doing about the place, and where few that called cared to seek her out, for she had never been a favourite with the humbler neighbours. Also, as time went on, and the sight of money grew rarer and rarer, it became more desirable to economize light in the winter. They had not come to that with firing, for, as long as there were horses and intervals of less labour on the farm, peats were always to be had—though at the same time, the drawing-room could not be made so warm as the kitchen. But for light, even for train-oil to be burned in the simplest of lamps, money had to be paid—and money was of all ordinary things the seldomest seen at Castle Warlock. From these operative causes it came by degrees, that one winter, for the sake of company, of warmth, of economy, Mistress Warlock had her chair carried to the kitchen; and the thing once done, it easily and naturally grew to a custom, and extended itself to the summer as well; for she who had ceased to stand on ceremony in the winter, could hardly without additional loss of dignity reascend her pedestal only because it was summer again. To the laird it was a matter of no consequence where he sat, ate, or slept. When his wife was alive, wherever she was, that was the place for him; when she was gone, all places were the same to him. There was, besides, that in the disposition of the man which tended to the homely:—any one who imagines that in the least synonymous with the coarse, or discourteous, or unrefined, has yet to understand the essentials of good breeding. Hence it came that the other rooms of the house were by degrees almost neglected. Both the dining-room and drawing-room grew very cold, cold as with the coldness of what is dead; and though he slept in the same part of the house by choice, not often did the young laird enter either. But he had concerning them, the latter in particular, a notion of vastness and grandeur; and along with that, a vague sense of sanctity, which it is not quite easy to define or account for. It seems however to have the same root with all veneration for place—for if there were not a natural inclination to venerate place, would any external reason make men capable of it? I think we shall come at length to feel all places, as all times and all spaces, venerable, because they are the outcome of the eternal nature and the eternal thought. When we have God, all is holy, and we are at home.
As soon as they were out of the kitchen-door, the boy pushed his hand into his father's; the father grasped it, and without a word spoken, they walked on together. They would often be half a day together without a word passing between them. To be near, each to the other, seemed enough for each.
Cosmo had thought his father was going somewhere about the farm, to see how things were getting on; but, instead of crossing to the other side of the court, where lay the sheds and stables, etc., or leaving it by the gate, the laird turned to the left, and led the way to the next block of building, where he stopped at a door at the farther end of the front of it. It was a heavy oak door, studded with great broad iron knobs, arranged in angular patterns. It was set deep in the thick wall, but there were signs of there having been a second, doubtless still stronger, flush with the external surface, for the great hooks of the hinges remained, with the deep hole in the stone on the opposite side for the bolt. The key was in the lock, for, except to open the windows, and do other necessary pieces of occasional tendance, it was seldom anybody entered the place, and Grizzie generally turned the key, and left it in the lock. She would have been indignant at the assertion, but I am positive it was not ALWAYS taken out at night. In this part of the castle were the dining and drawing rooms, and immediately over the latter, a state bedroom in which nobody had slept for many years.
It was into a narrow passage, no wider than itself, the door led. From this passage a good-sized hall opened to the left—very barely furnished, but with a huge fireplace, and a great old table, that often had feasted jubilant companies. The walls were only plastered, and were stained with damp. Against them were fixed a few mouldering heads of wild animals—the stag and the fox and the otter—one ancient wolf's-head also, wherever that had been killed. But it was not into this room the laird led his son. The passage ended in a stone stair that went up between containing walls. It was much worn, and had so little head-room that the laird could not ascend without stooping. Cosmo was short enough as yet to go erect, but it gave him always a feeling of imprisonment and choking, a brief agony of the imagination, to pass through the narrow curve, though he did so at least twice every day. It was the oldest-looking thing about the place—that staircase.
At the top of it, the laird turned to the right, and lifted the latch—all the doors were latched—of a dark-looking door. It screaked dismally as it opened. He entered and undid a shutter, letting an abiding flash of the ever young light of the summer day into the ancient room. It was long since Cosmo had been in it before. The aspect of it affected him like a withered wall-flower.
It was a well-furnished room. A lady with taste must at one time at least have presided in it—but then withering does so much for beauty—and that not of stuffs and THINGS only! The furniture of it was very modern compared with the house, but not much of it was younger than the last James, or Queen Anne, and it had all a stately old-maidish look. Such venerable rooms have been described, and painted, and put on the stage, and dreamed about, tens of thousands of times, yet they always draw me afresh as if they were as young as the new children who keep the world from growing old. They haunt me, and if I miss them in heaven, I shall have one given me. On the floor was an old, old carpet, wondrously darned and skilfully patched, with all its colours faded into a sweet faint ghost-like harmony. Several spider-legged, inlaid tables stood about the room, but most of the chairs were of a sturdier make, one or two of rich carved work of India, no doubt a great rarity when first brought to Glenwarlock. The walls had once had colour, but it was so retiring and indistinct in the little light that came through the one small deep-set window whose shutter had been opened, that you could not have said what it was. There were three or four cabinets—one of them old Japanese; and on a table a case of gorgeous humming birds. The scarlet cloth that covered the table was faded to a dirty orange, but the birds were almost as bright as when they darted like live jewels through the tropical sunlight. Exquisite as they were however, they had not for the boy half the interest of a faded old fire-screen, lovelily worked in silks, by hands to him unknown, long ago returned to the earth of which they were fashioned. A variety of nick-nacks and ornaments, not a few of which would have been of value in the eyes of a connoisseur, crowded the chimney-piece—which stood over an iron grate with bulging bars, and a tall brass fender. How still and solemn-quiet it all was in the middle of the great triumphant sunny day—like some far-down hollow in a rock, the matrix of a gem! It looked as if it had done with life—as much done with life as if it were a room in Egyptian rock, yet was it full of the memories of keenest life, and Cosmo knew there was treasure upon treasure of wonder and curiosity hid in those cabinets, some of which he had seen, and more he would like to see. But it was not to show him any of these that his father had now brought him to the room.
Not once yielding the right hand of the boy which was clasped to and in his own, the laird closed the door of the room, and advancing the whole length of it, stopped at a sofa covered with a rich brocade, and seating himself thereon, slowly, and with a kind of care, drew him between his thin knees, and began to talk to him. Now there was this difference between the relation of these two and that of most fathers and sons, that, thus taken into solemn solitude by his old father, the boy felt no dismay, no sense of fault to be found, no troubled expectation of admonition. Reverence and love held about equal sway in his feeling towards his father. And while the grandmother looked down on Cosmo as the son of his mother, for that very reason his father in a strange lovely way reverenced his boy: the reaction was utter devotion.
Cosmo stood and looked in his father's eyes—their eyes were of the same colour.—that bright sweet soft Norwegian blue—his right hand still clasped in his father's left, and his left hand leaning gently on his father's knee. Then, as I say, the old man began to talk to the young one. A silent man ordinarily, it was from no lack of the power of speech, for he had a Celtic gift of simple eloquence.
"This is your birthday, my son."
"You are now fourteen."
"You are growing quite a man."
"I don't know, papa."
"So much of a man, at least, my Cosmo, that I am going to treat you like a man this day, and tell you some things that I have never talked about to any one since your mother's death.—You remember your mother, Cosmo?"
This question he was scarcely ever alone with the boy without asking—not from forgetfulness, but from the desire to keep the boy's remembrance of her fresh, and for the pure pleasure of talking of her to the only one with whom it did not seem profane to converse concerning his worshipped wife.
"Yes, papa, I do."
The laird always spoke Scotch to his mother, and to Grizzie also, who would have thought him seriously offended had he addressed her in book-English; but to his Marion's son he always spoke in the best English he had, and Cosmo did his best in the same way in return.
"Tell me what you remember about her," said the old man.
He had heard the same thing again and again from the boy, yet every time it was as if he hoped and watched for some fresh revelation from the lips of the lad—as if, truth being one, memory might go on recalling, as imagination goes on foreseeing.
"I remember," said the boy, "a tall beautiful woman, with long hair, which she brushed before a big, big looking-glass."
The love of the son, kept alive by the love of the husband, glorifying through the mists of his memory the earthly appearance of the mother, gave to her the form in which he would see her again, rather than that in which he had actually beheld her. And indeed the father saw her after the same fashion in the memory of his love. Tall to the boy of five, she was little above the middle height, yet the husband saw her stately in his dreams; there was nothing remarkable in her face except the expression, which after her marriage had continually gathered tenderness and grace, but the husband as well as the children called her absolutely beautiful.
"What colour were her eyes, Cosmo?"
"I don't know; I never saw the colour of them; but I remember they looked at me as if I should run into them."
"She would have died for you, my boy. We must be very good that we may see her again some day."
"I will try. I do try, papa."
"You see, Cosmo, when a woman like that condescends to be wife to one of us and mother to the other, the least we can do, when she is taken from us, is to give her the same love and the same obedience after she is gone as when she was with us. She is with her own kind up in heaven now, but she may be looking down and watching us. It may be God lets her do that, that she may see of the travail of her soul and be satisfied—who can tell? She can't be very anxious about me now, for I am getting old, and my warfare is nearly over; but she may be getting things ready to rest me a bit. She knows I have for a long time now been trying to keep the straight path, as far as I could see it, though sometimes the grass and heather has got the better of it, so that it was hard to find. But YOU must remember, Cosmo, that it is not enough to be a good boy, as I shall tell her you have always been: you've got to be a good man, and that is a rather different and sometimes a harder thing. For, as soon as a man has to do with other men, he finds they expect him to do things they ought to be ashamed of doing themselves; and then he has got to stand on his own honest legs, and not move an inch for all their pushing and pulling; and especially where a man loves his fellow man and likes to be on good terms with him, that is not easy. The thing is just this, Cosmo—when you are a full-grown man, you must be a good boy still—that's the difficulty. For a man to be a boy, and a good boy still, he must be a thorough man. The man that's not manly can never be a good boy to his mother. And you can't keep true to your mother, except you remember Him who is father and mother both to all of us. I wish my Marion were here to teach you as she taught me. She taught me to pray, Cosmo, as I have tried to teach you—when I was in any trouble, just to go into my closet, and shut to the door, and pray to my Father who is in secret—the same Father who loved you so much as to give you my Marion for a mother. But I am getting old and tired, and shall soon go where I hope to learn faster. Oh, my boy! hear your father who loves you, and never do the thing you would be ashamed for your mother or me to know. Remember, nothing drops out; everything hid shall be revealed. But of all things, if ever you should fail or fall, don't lie still because you are down: get up again—for God's sake, for your mother's sake, for my sake—get up and try again.
"And now it is time you should know a little about the family of which you come. I don't doubt there have been some in it who would count me a foolish man for bringing you up as I have done, but those of them who are up there don't. They see that the business of life is not to get as much as you can, but to do justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly with your God—with your mother's God, my son. They may say I have made a poor thing of it, but I shall not hang my head before the public of that country, because I've let the land slip from me that I couldn't keep any more than this weary old carcase that's now crumbling away from about me. Some would tell me I ought to shudder at the thought of leaving you to such poverty, but I am too anxious about yourself, my boy, to think much about the hardships that may be waiting you. I should be far more afraid about you if I were leaving you rich. I have seen rich people do things I never knew a poor gentleman do. I don't mean to say anything against the rich—there's good and bad of all sorts; but I just can't be so very sorry that I am leaving you to poverty, though, if I might have had my way, it wouldn't have been so bad. But he knows best who loves best. I have struggled hard to keep the old place for you; but there's hardly an acre outside the garden and close but was mortgaged before I came into the property. I've been all my life trying to pay off, but have made little progress. The house is free, however, and the garden; and don't you part with the old place, my boy, except you see you OUGHT. But rather than anything not out and out honest, anything the least doubtful, sell every stone. Let all go, if you should have to beg your way home to us. Come clean, my son, as my Marion bore you."
Here Cosmo interrupted his father to ask what MORTGAGED meant. This led to an attempt on the part of the laird to instruct him in the whole state of the affairs of the property. He showed him where all the papers were kept, and directed him to whom to go for any requisite legal advise. Weary then of business, of which he had all his life had more than enough, he turned to pleasanter matters, and began to tell him anecdotes of the family.
"What in mercy can hae come o' the laird, think ye, my leddy?" said Grizzie to her mistress. "It's the yoong laird's birthday, ye see, an' they aye haud a colloguin' thegither upo' that same, an' I kenna whaur to gang to cry them till their denner."
"Run an' ring the great bell," said the grandmother, mindful of old glories.
"'Deed, Is' du naething o' the kin'," said Grizzie to herself; "it's eneuch to raise a regiment—gien it camna doon upo' my heid."
But she had her suspicion, and finding the great door open, ascended the stair.
The two were sitting at a table, with the genealogical tree of the family spread out before them, the father telling tale after tale, the son listening in delight. I must confess, however—let it tell against the laird's honesty as it may—that, his design being neither to glorify his family, nor to teach records, but to impress all he could find of ancestral nobility upon his boy, he made a choice, and both communicated and withheld. So absorbed were they, that Grizzie's knock startled them both a good deal.
"Yer denners is ready, laird," she said, standing erect in the doorway.
"Verra weel, Grizzie, I thank ye," returned the laird.—"Cosmo, we'll take a walk together this evening, and then I'll tell you more about that brother of my grandfather's. Come along to dinner now.—I houp ye hae something in honour o' the occasion, Grizzie," he added in a whisper when he reached the door, where the old woman waited to follow them.
"I teuk it upo' me, laird," answered Grizzie in the same tone, while Cosmo was going down the stair, "to put a cock an' a leek thegither, an' they'll be nane the waur that ye hae keepit them i' the pot a whilie langer.—Cosmo," she went on when they had descended, and overtaken the boy, who was waiting for them at the foot, "the Lord bless ye upo' this bonnie day! An' may ye be aye a comfort to them 'at awes ye, as ye hae been up to this present."
"I houp sae, Grizzie," responded Cosmo humbly; and all went together to the kitchen.
There the table was covered with a clean cloth of the finest of homespun, and everything set out with the same nicety as if the meal had been spread in the dining-room. The old lady, who had sought to please her son by putting on her best cap for the occasion, but who had in truth forgot what day it was until reminded by Grizzie, sat already at the head of the table, waiting their arrival. She made a kind speech to the boy, hoping he would be master of the place for many years after his father and she had left him. Then the meal commenced. It did not last long. They had the soup first, and then the fowl that had been boiled in it, with a small second dish of potatoes—the year's baby Kidneys, besides those Grizzie had pared. Delicate pancakes followed—and dinner was over—except for the laird, who had a little toddy after. But as yet Cosmo had never even tasted strong drink—and of course he never desired it. Leaving the table, he wandered out, pondering some of the things his father had been telling him.
AN AFTERNOON SLEEP.
Presently, without having thought whither he meant to go, he found himself out of sight of the house—in a favourite haunt, but one in which he always had a peculiar feeling of strangeness and even expatriation. He had descended the stream that rushed past the end of the house, till it joined the valley river, and followed the latter up, to where it took a sudden sharp turn, and a little farther. Then he crossed it, and was in a lonely nook of the glen, with steep braes about him on all sides, some of them covered with grass, others rugged and unproductive. He threw himself down in the clover, a short distance from the stream, and straightway felt as if he were miles from home. No shadow of life was to be seen. Cottage-chimney nor any smoke was visible—no human being, no work of human hands, no sign of cultivation except the grass and clover.
Now whether it was that in childhood he had learned that here he was beyond his father's land, or that some early sense of loneliness in the place had been developed by a brooding fancy into a fixed feeling, I cannot well say; but certainly, as often as he came—and he liked to visit the spot, and would sometimes spend hours in it—he felt like a hermit of the wilderness cut off from human society, and was haunted with a vague sense of neighbouring hostility. Probably it came of an historical fancy that the nook ought to be theirs, combined with the sense that it was not. But there had been no injury done ab extra: the family had suffered from the inherent moral lack of certain of its individuals.
This sense of away-from-homeness, however, was not strong enough to keep Cosmo from falling into such a dreamful reverie as by degrees naturally terminated in slumber. Seldom is sleep far from one who lies on his back in the grass, with the sound of waters in his ears. And indeed a sleep in the open air was almost an essential ingredient of a holiday such as Cosmo had been accustomed to make of his birthday: constantly active as his mind was, perhaps in part because of that activity, he was ready to fall asleep any moment when warm and supine.
When he woke from what seemed a dreamless sleep, his half roused senses were the same moment called upon to render him account of something very extraordinary which they could not themselves immediately lay hold of. Though the sun was yet some distance above the horizon, it was to him behind one of the hills, as he lay with his head low in the grass; and what could the strange thing be which he saw on the crest of the height before him, on the other side of the water? Was it a fire in a grate, thinned away by the sunlight? How could there be a grate where there was neither house nor wall? Even in heraldry the combination he beheld would have been a strange one. There stood in fact a frightful-looking creature half consumed in light—yet a pale light, seemingly not strong enough to burn. It could not be a phoenix, for he saw no wings, and thought he saw four legs. Suddenly he burst out laughing, and laughed that the hills echoed. His sleep-blinded eyes had at length found their focus and clarity.
"I see!" he said, "I see what it is! It's Jeames Grade's coo 'at's been loupin' ower the mune, an's stucken upo' 't!"
In very truth there was the moon between the legs of the cow! She did not remain there long however, but was soon on the cow's back, as she crept up and up in the face of the sun. He bethought him of a couplet that Grizzie had taught him when he was a child:
Whan the coo loups ower the mune, The reid gowd rains intil men's shune.
And in after-life he thought not unfrequently of this odd vision he had had. Often, when, having imagined he had solved some difficulty of faith or action, presently the same would return in a new shape, as if it had but taken the time necessary to change its garment, he would say to himself with a sigh, "The coo's no ower the mune yet!" and set himself afresh to the task of shaping a handle on the infinite small enough for a finite to lay hold of. Grizzie, who was out looking for him, heard the roar of his laughter, and, guided by the sound, spied him where he lay. He heard her footsteps, but never stirred till he saw her looking down upon him like a benevolent gnome that had found a friendless mortal asleep on ground of danger.
"Eh, Cosmo, laddie, ye'll get yer deid o' caul'!" she cried. "An' preserve's a'! what set ye lauchin' in sic a fearsome fashion as yon? Ye're surely no fey!"
"Na, I'm no fey, Grizzle! Ye wad hae lauchen yersel' to see Jeames Gracie's coo wi' the mune atween the hin' an' the fore legs o' her. It was terrible funny."
"Hoots! I see naething to lauch at i' that. The puir coo cudna help whaur the mune wad gang. The haivenly boadies is no to be restricket."
Again Cosmo burst into a great laugh, and this time Grizzie, seriously alarmed lest he should be in reality fey, grew angry, and seizing hold of him by the arm, pulled lustily.
"Get up, I tell ye!" she cried. "Here's the laird speirin' what's come o' ye,'at ye come na hame to yer tay."
But Cosmo instead of rising only laughed the more, and went on until at length Grizzie made use of a terrible threat.
"As sure's sowens!" she said, "gien ye dinna haud yer tongue wi' that menseless-like lauchin', I'll no tell ye anither auld-warld tale afore Marti'mas."
"Will ye tell me ane the nicht gien I haud my tongue an' gang hame wi' ye?"
"Ay, that wull I—that's gien I can min' upo' ane."
He rose at once, and laughed no more. They walked home together in the utmost peace.
After tea, his father went out with him for a stroll, and to call on Jeames Gracie, the owner of the cow whose inconstellation had so much amused him. He was an old man, with an elderly wife, and a granddaughter—a weaver to trade, whose father and grandfather before him had for many a decade done the weaving work, both in linen and wool, required by "them at the castle." He had been on the land, in the person of his ancestors, from time almost immemorial, though he had only a small cottage, and a little bit of land, barely enough to feed the translunar cow. But poor little place as Jeames's was, if the laird would have sold it the price would have gone a good way towards clearing the rest of his property of its encumbrances. For the situation of the little spot was such as to make it specially desirable in the eyes of the next proprietor, on the border of whose land it lay. He was a lord of session, and had taken his title from the place, which he inherited from his father; who, although a laird, had been so little of a gentleman, that the lordship had not been enough to make one of his son. He was yet another of those trim, orderly men, who will sacrifice anything—not to beauty—of that they have in general no sense—but to tidiness: tidiness in law, in divinity, in morals, in estate, in garden, in house, in person—tidiness is in their eyes the first thing—seemingly because it is the highest creative energy of which they are capable. Naturally the dwelling of James Gracie was an eyesore to this man, being visible from not a few of his windows, and from almost anywhere on the private road to his house; for decidedly it was not tidy. Neither in truth was it dirty, while to any life—loving nature it was as pleasant to know, as it was picturesque to look at. But the very appearance of poverty seems to act as a reproach on some of the rich—at least why else are they so anxious to get it out of their sight?—and Lord Lickmyloof—that was not his real title, but he was better known by it than by the name of his land: it came of a nasty habit he had, which I need not at present indicate farther—Lord Lickmyloof could not bear the sight of the cottage which no painter would have consented to omit from the landscape. It haunted him like an evil thing.
The next morning, by the steep farm road, and the parish road, which ran along the border of the river and followed it downward, Cosmo, on his way to school, with his books in a green baize bag, hung by the strings over his shoulder, came out from among the hills upon a comparative plain. But there were hills on all sides round him yet—not very high—few of them more than a couple of thousand feet—but bleak and bare, even under the glow of the summer sun, for the time of heather was not yet, when they would show warm and rich to the eye of poet and painter. Most of the farmers there, however, would have felt a little insulted by being asked to admire them at any time: whatever their colour or shape or product, they were incapable of yielding crops and money! In truth many a man who now admires, would be unable to do so, if, like those farmers, he had to struggle with nature for little more than a bare living. The struggle there, what with early, long-lasting, and bitter winters, and the barrenness of the soil in many parts, was a severe one.
Leaving the river, the road ascended a little, and joined the highway, which kept along a level, consisting mostly of land lately redeemed from the peat-moss. It went straight for two miles, fenced from the fields in many parts by low stone walls without mortar, abhorrent to the eye of Cosmo; in other parts by walls of earth, called dykes, which delighted his very soul. These were covered with grass for the vagrant cow, sprinkled with loveliest little wild flowers for the poet-peasant, burrowed in by wild bees for the adventurous delight of the honey-drawn school-boy. Glad I am they had not quite vanished from Scotland before I was sent thither, but remained to help me get ready for the kingdom of heaven: those dykes must still be dear to my brothers who have gone up before me. Some of the fields had only a small ditch between them and the road, and some of them had no kind of fence at all. It was a dreary road even in summer, though not therefore without its loveable features—amongst which the dykes; and wherever there is anything to love, there is beauty in some form.
A short way past the second milestone, he came to the first straggling houses of the village. It was called Muir of Warlock, after the moor on which it stood, as the moor was called after the river that ran through it, and that named after the glen, which took its name from the family—so that the Warlocks had scattered their cognomen all around them. A somewhat dismal-looking village it was—except to those that knew its people: to some of such it was beautiful—as the plainest face is beautiful to him who knows a sweet soul inside it. The highway ran through it—a broad fine road, fit for the richest country under the sun; but the causeway along its edges, making of it for the space a street, was of the poorest and narrowest. Some of the cottages stood immediately upon the path, some of them receded a little. They were almost all of one story, built of stone, and rough-cast-harled, they called it there, with roofs of thick thatch, in which a half smothered pane of glass might hint at some sort of room beneath. As Cosmo walked along, he saw all the trades at work; from blacksmith to tailor, everybody was busy. Now and then he was met by a strong scent, as of burning leather, from the oak-bark which some of the housewives used for fuel, after its essence had been exhausted in the tan-pit, but mostly the air was filled with the odour of burning peat. Cosmo knew almost everybody, and was kindly greeted as he went along—none the less that some of them, hearing from their children that he had not been to school the day before, had remarked that his birthday hardly brought him enough to keep it with. The vulgarity belonging to the worship of Mammon, is by no means confined to the rich; many of these, having next to nothing, yet thought profession the one thing, money, houses, lands the only inheritances. It is a marvel that even world-loving people should never see with what a load they oppress the lives of the children to whom, instead of bringing them up to earn their own living, and thus enjoy at least THE GAME of life, they leave a fortune enough to sink a devil yet deeper in hell. Was it nothing to Cosmo to inherit a long line of ancestors whose story he knew—their virtues, their faults, their wickedness, their humiliation?—to inherit the nobility of a father such as his? the graciousness of a mother such as that father caused him to remember her? Was there no occasion for the laird to rejoice in the birth of a boy whom he believed to have inherited all the virtues of his race, and left all their vices behind? But none of the villagers forgot, however they might regard the holiday, that Cosmo was the "yoong laird" notwithstanding the poverty of his house; and they all knew that in old time the birthday of the heir had been a holiday to the school as well as to himself, and remembered the introduction of the change by the present master. Indeed, throughout the village, although there were not a few landed proprietors in the neighbourhood whose lands came nearer, all of whom of course were lairds, and although the village itself had ceased to belong to the family, Glenwarlock was always called the laird; and the better part in the hearts of even the money-loving and money-trusting among its inhabitants, honoured him as the best man in the country, "thof he hed sae little skeel at haudin' his ain nest thegither;" and though, besides, there is scarce a money-making man who does not believe poverty the cousin, if not the child of fault; and the more unscrupulous, within the law, a man has been in making his money, the more he regards the man who seems to have lost the race he has won, as somehow or other to blame: "People with naught are naughty." Nor is this judgment confined to the morally unscrupulous. Few who are themselves permitted to be successful, care to conjecture that it may be the will of the power, that in part through their affairs, rules men, that some should be, in that way, unsuccessful: better can be made of them by preventing the so-called success. Some men rise with the treatment under which others would sink. But of the inhabitants of Muir of Warlock, only a rather larger proportion than of the inhabitants of Mayfair would have taken interest in such a theory of results.
They all liked, and those who knew him best, loved the young laird; for if he had no lands, neither had he any pride, they said, and was as happy sitting with any old woman, and sharing her tea, as at a lord's table. Nor was he less of a favourite at school, though, being incapable of self-assertion, his inborn consciousness of essential humanity rendering it next to impossible for him to claim anything, some of the bigger boys were less than friendly with him. One point in his conduct was in particular distasteful to them: he seemed to scorn even an honest advantage. For in truth he never could bring himself, in the small matters of dealing that pass between boys at school, to make the least profit. He had a passion for fair play, which, combined with love to his neighbour, made of an advantage, though perfectly understood and recognized, almost a physical pain: he shrank from it with something like disgust. I may not, however, conceal my belief, that there was in it a rudimentary tinge of the pride of those of his ancestors who looked down upon commerce, though not upon oppression, or even on robbery. But the true man will change to nobility even the instincts derived from strains of inferior moral development in his race—as the oyster makes, they say, of the sand-grain a pearl.
Greeting the tailor through his open window, where he sat cross-legged on his table, the shoemaker on his stool, which, this lovely summer morning, he had brought to the door of his cottage, and the smith in his nimbus of sparks, through the half-door of his smithy, and receiving from each a kindly response, the boy walked steadily on till he came to the school. There, on the heels of the master, the boys and girls were already crowding in, and he entered along with them. The religious preliminaries over, consisting in a dry and apparently grudging recognition of a sovereignty that required the homage, and the reading of a chapter of the Bible in class, the SECULAR business was proceeded with; and Cosmo was sitting with his books before him, occupied with a hard passage in Caesar, when the master left his desk and came to him.
"You'll have to make up for lost time to-day, Cosmo," he said.
Now if anything was certain to make Cosmo angry, it was the appearance, however slight, or however merely implied, of disapproval of anything his father thought, or did, or sanctioned. His face flushed, and he answered quickly,
"The time wasn't lost, sir."
This reply made the master in his turn angry, but he restrained himself.
"I'm glad of that! I may then expect to find you prepared with your lessons for to-day."
"I learned my lessons for yesterday," Cosmo answered; "but my father says it's no play to learn lessons."
"Your father's not master of this school."
"He's maister o' me," returned the boy, relapsing into the mother-tongue, which, except it be spoken in good humour, always sounds rude.
The master took the youth's devotion to his father for insolence to himself.
"I shall say no more," he rejoined, still using the self-command which of all men an autocrat requires, "till I find how you do in your class. That you are the best scholar in it, is no reason why you should be allowed to idle away hours in which you might have been laying up store for the time to come."—It was a phrase much favoured by the master—in present application foolish.—"But perhaps your father does not mean to send you to college?"
"My father hasna said, an' I haena speirt," answered Cosmo, with his eyes on his book.
Still misinterpreting the boy, the conceit and ill-temper of the master now overcame him, and caused him to forget the proprieties altogether.
"Haud on that gait, laddie, an' ye'll be as great a fule as yer father himsel'," he said.
Cosmo rose from his seat, white as the wall behind him, looked in the master's eyes, caught up his Caesar, and dashed the book in his face. Most boys would then have made for the door, but that was not Cosmo's idea of bearing witness. The moment the book left his hand, he drew himself up, stood still as a statue, looked full at the master, and waited. Not by a motion would he avoid any consequence of his act.
He had not long to wait. A corner of the book had gone into the master's eye; he clapped his hand to it, and for a moment seemed lost in suffering. The next, he clenched for the boy a man's fist, and knocked him down. Cosmo fell backward over the form, struck his head hard on the foot of the next desk, and lay where he fell.
A shriek arose, and a girl about sixteen came rushing up. She was the grand-daughter of James Grade, befriended of the laird.
"Go to your seat, Agnes!" shouted the master, and turning from her, stood, with his handkerchief to one eye, looking down on the boy. So little did he know him, he suspected him of pretending to be more hurt than he was.
"Touch me gien ye daur," cried Agnes, as she stooped to remove his legs from the form.
"Leave him alone," shouted the master, and seizing her, pulled her away, and flung her from him that she almost fell.
But by this time the pain in his eye had subsided a little, and he began to doubt whether indeed the boy was pretending as he had imagined. He began also to feel not a little uneasy as to the possible consequences of his hasty act—not half so uneasy, however, as he would have felt, had the laird been as well-to-do as his neighbour, Lord Lickmyloof—who would be rather pleased than otherwise, the master thought, at any grief that might befall either Cosmo or the lass Gracie. Therefore, although he would have been ready to sink had the door then opened and the laird entered, he did not much fear any consequences to be counted serious from the unexpected failure of his self-command. He dragged the boy up by the arm, and set him on his seat, before Agnes could return; but his face was as that of one dead, and he fell forward on the desk. With a second great cry, Agnes again sprang forward. She was a strong girl, accustomed to all kinds of work, out-door and in-door. She caught Cosmo round the waist from behind, pulled him from the seat, and drew him to the door, which because of the heat stood open. The master had had enough of it, and did not attempt to hinder her. There she took him in her arms, and literally ran with him along the street.
But she had not to pass many houses before she came to that of her grandfather's mother, an aged woman, I need not say, but in very tolerable health and strength nevertheless. She sat at her spinning wheel, with her door wide open. Suddenly, and, to her dulled sense, noiselessly, Aggie came staggering in with her burden. She dropped him on the old woman's bed, and herself on the floor, her heart and lungs going wildly.
"I' the name o' a'!" cried her great-grandmother, stopping her wheel, breaking her thread, and letting the end twist madly up amongst the revolving iron teeth, emerging from the mist of their own speed, in which a moment before they had looked ethereal as the vibration-film of an insect's wings.
She rose with a haste marvellous for her years, and approaching, looked down on the prostrate form of the girl.
"It can never be my ain Aggie," she faltered, "to rush intil my quaiet hoose that gait, fling a man upo' my bed, an' fa' her len'th upo' my flure!"
But Agnes was not yet able to reply. She could only sign with her hand to the bed, which she did with such energy that her great-grandmother—GRANNIE, she called her, as did the whole of the village—turned at once thitherward. She could not see well, and the box-bed was dark, so she did not at first recognize Cosmo, but the moment she suspected who it was, she too uttered a cry—the cry of old age, feeble and wailful.
"The michty be ower's! what's come to my bairn?" she said.
"The maister knockit him doon," gasped Agnes.
"Eh, lassie! rin for the doctor."
"No," came feebly from the bed. "I dinna want ony notice ta'en o' the business."
"Are ye sair hurtit, my bairn?" asked the old woman.
"My heid's some sair an' throughither-like; but I'll just lie still a wee, and syne I'll be able to gang hame. I'm some sick. I winna gang back to the school the day."
"Na, my bonnie man, that ye sanna!" cried Grannie, in a tone mingled of pity and indignation.
A moment more, and Agnes rose from the earth, for earth it was, quite fresh; and the two did all they could to make him comfortable. Aggie would have gone at once to let his father know; she was perfectly able, she said, and in truth seemed nothing the worse for her fierce exertion. But Cosmo said, "Bide a wee, Aggie, an' we'll gang hame thegither. I'll be better in twa or three minutes." But he did not get better so fast as he expected, and the only condition on which Grannie would consent not to send for the doctor, was, that Agnes should go and tell his father.
"But eh, Aggie!" said Cosmo, "dinna lat him think there's onything to be fleyt aboot. It's naething but a gey knap o' the heid; an' I'm sure the maister didna inten' duin me ony sarious hurt.—But my father's sure to gie him fair play!—he gies a' body fair play."
Agnes set out, and Cosmo fell asleep.
He slept a long time, and woke better. She hurried to Glenwarlock, and in the yard found the laird.
"Weel, lassie!" he said, "what brings ye here this time o' day? What for are ye no at the school? Ye'll hae little eneuch o' 't by an' by, whan the hairst 's come."
"It's the yoong laird!" said Aggie, and stopped.
"What's come till 'im?" asked the laird, in the sharpened tone of anxiety.
"It's no muckle, he says himsel'. But his heid's some sair yet."
"What maks his heid sair? He was weel eneuch whan he gaed this mornin'."
"The maister knockit 'im doon."
The laird started as if one had struck him in the face. The blood reddened his forehead, and his old eyes flashed like two stars. All the battle-fury of the old fighting race seemed to swell up from ancient fountains amongst the unnumbered roots of his being, and rush to his throbbing brain. He clenched his withered fist, drew himself up straight, and made his knees strong. For a moment he felt as in the prime of life and its pride. The next his fist relaxed, his hand fell by his side, and he bowed his head.
"The Lord hae mercy upo' me!" he murmured. "I was near takin' the affairs o' ane o' his into MY han's!"
He covered his face with his wrinkled hands, and the girl stood beside him in awe-filled silence. But she did not quite comprehend, and was troubled at seeing him stand thus motionless. In the trembling voice of one who would comfort her superior, she said,
"Dinna greit, laird. He'll be better, I'm thinkin', afore ye win till 'im. It was Grannie gart me come—no him."
Speechless the laird turned, and without even entering the house, walked away to go to the village. He had reached the valley-road before he discovered that Agnes was behind him.
"Dinna ye come, Aggie," he said; "ye may be wantit at hame."
"Ye dinna think I wad ley ye, laird!—'cep' ye was to think fit to sen' me frea ye. I'm maist as guid's a man to gang wi' ye—wi' the advantage o' bein' a wuman, as my mither tells me:"—She called her grandmother, MOTHER.—"ye see we can daur mair nor ony man—but, Guid forgie me!—no mair nor the yoong laird whan he flang his CAESAR straucht i' the maister's face this verra mornin'."
The laird stopped, turned sharply round, and looked at her.
"What did he that for?" he said.
"'Cause he ca'd yersel' a fule," answered the girl, with the utmost simplicity, and no less reverence.
The laird drew himself up once more, and looked twenty years younger. But it was not pride that inspired him, nor indignation, but the father's joy at finding in his son his champion.
"Mony ane's ca'd me that, I weel believe, lassie, though no to my ain face or that a' my bairn. But whether I deserve't or no, nane but ane kens. It's no by the word o' man I stan' or fa'; but it's hoo my maister luiks upo' my puir endeevour to gang by the thing he says. Min' this, lassie—lat fowk say as they like, but du ye as HE likes, an', or a' be dune, they'll be upo' their k-nees to ye. An' sae they'll be yet to my bairn—though I'm some tribbled he sud hae saired the maister—e'en as he deserved."
"What cud he du, sir? It was na for himsel' he strack! An' syne he never muved an inch, but stud there like a rock, an' liftit no a han' to defen' himsel', but jist loot the maister tak his wull o' 'im."
The pair tramped swiftly along the road, heeding nothing on either hand as they went, Aggie lithe and active, the laird stooping greatly in his forward anxiety to see his injured boy, but walking much faster "than his age afforded." Before they reached the village, the mid-day recess had come, and everybody knew what had happened. Loud were most in praise of the boy's behaviour, and many were the eyes that from window and door watched the laird, as he hurried down the street to "Grannie's," where all had learned the young laird was lying. But no one spoke, or showed that he was looking, and the laird walked straight on with his eyes to the ground, glancing neither to the right hand nor the left; and as did the laird, so did Aggie.
The door of the cottage stood open. There was a step down, but the laird knew it well. Turning to the left through a short passage, in the window of which stood a large hydrangea, over two wooden pails of water, he lifted the latch of the inner door, bowed his tall head, and entered the room where lay his darling. With a bow to Grannie, he went straight up to the bed, speedily discovered that Cosmo slept, and stood regarding him with a full heart. Who can tell but him who knows it, how much more it is to be understood by one's own, than by all the world beside! By one's own one learns to love all God's creatures, and from one's own one gets strength to meet the misprision of the world.
The room was dark though it was summer, and although it had two windows, one to the street, and one to the garden behind: both ceiling and floor were of a dark brown, for the beams and boards of the one were old and interpenetrated with smoke, and the other was of hard-beaten clay, into which also was wrought much smoke and an undefinable blackness, while the windows were occupied with different plants favoured of Grannie, so that little light could get in, and that little was half-swallowed by the general brownness. A tall eight-day clock stood in one corner, up to which, whoever would learn from it the time, had to advance confidentially, and consult its face on tip-toe, with peering eyes. Beside it was a beautifully polished chest of drawers; a nice tea-table stood in the centre, and some dark-shiny wooden chairs against the walls. A closet opened at the head of the bed, and at the foot of it was the door of the room and the passage, so that it stood in a recess, to which were wooden doors, seldom closed. A fire partly of peat, partly of tan, burned on the little hearth.
Cosmo opened his eyes, and saw those of his father looking down upon him. He stretched out his arms, and drew the aged head upon his bosom. His heart was too full to speak.
"How do you find yourself, my boy?" said the father, gently releasing himself. "I know all about it; you need not trouble yourself to tell me more than just how you are."
"Better, father, much better," answered Cosmo. "But there is one thing I must tell you. Just before it happened we were reading in the Bible-class about Samson—how the spirit of the Lord came upon him, and with the jaw-bone of an ass he slew ever so many of the Philistines; and when the master said that bad word about you, it seemed as if the spirit of the Lord came upon me; for I was not in a rage, but filled with what seemed a holy indignation; and as I had no ass's jaw-bone handy, I took my Caesar, and flung it as hard and as straight, as I could in the master's face. But I am not so sure about it now."
"Tak ye nae thoucht anent it, Cosmo, my bairn," said the old woman, taking up the word; "it's no a hair ayont what he deserved 'at daured put sic a word to the best man in a' the country. By the han' o' a babe, as he did Goliah o' Gath, heth the Lord rebuked the enemy.—The Lord himsel' 's upo' your side, laird, to gie ye siccan a brave son."
"I never kent him lift his han' afore," said the laird, as if he would fain mitigate judgment on youthful indiscretion,—"excep' it was to the Kirkmalloch bull, when he ran at him an' me as gien he wad hae pitcht 's ower the wa' o' the warl'."
"The mair like it WAS the speerit o' the Lord, as the bairn himsel' was jaloosin," remarked Grannie, in a tone of confidence to which the laird was ready enough to yield;—"an' whaur the speerit o' the Lord is, there's leeberty," she added, thinking less of the suitableness of the quotation, than of the aptness of words in it. Glenwarlock stooped and kissed the face of his son, and went to fetch the doctor. Before he returned, Cosmo was asleep again. The doctor would not have him waked. From his pulse and the character of his sleep he judged he was doing well. He had heard all about the affair before, but heard all now as for the first time, assured the laird there was no danger, said he would call again, and recommended him to go home. The boy must remain where he was for the night, he said, and if the least ground for uneasiness should show itself, he would ride over, and make his report.
"I don't know what to think," returned the laird: "it would be trouble and inconvenience to Grannie."
"'Deed, laird, ye sud be ashamt to say sic a thing: it'll be naething o' the kin'!" cried the old woman." Here he s' bide—wi' yer leave, sir, an' no muv frae whaur he lies! There's anither bed i' the cloaset there. But, troth, what wi' the rheumatics, an'—an'—the din o' the rottans, we s' ca' 't, mony's the nicht I gang to nae bed ava'; an' to hae the yoong laird sleepin' i' my bed, an' me keepin' watch ower 'im,'ill be jist like haein' an angel i' the hoose to luik efter. I'll be somebody again for ae nicht, I can tell ye! An' oh! it's a lang time, sir, sin' I was onybody i' this warl'! I houp sair they'll hae something for auldfowk to du i' the neist."
"Hoots, mistress Forsyth," returned the laird, "the' 'll be naebody auld there!"
"Hoo am I to win in than, sir? I'm auld, gien onybody ever was auld! An' hoo's yersel' to win in, sir—for ye maun be some auld yersel' by this time, thof I min' weel yer father a bit loonie in a tartan kilt."
"What wad ye say to be made yoong again, auld frien'?" suggested the laird, with a smile of wonderful sweetness.
"Eh, sir! there's naething to that effec' i' the word."
"Hoot!" rejoined the laird, "wad ye hae me plaguit to tell the laddie there a' thing I wad du for him, as gien he hadna a hert o' his ain to tell 'im a score o'things—ay, hun'ers o' things? Dinna ye ken 'at the speerit o' man's the can'le o' the Lord?"
"But sae mony for a' that follows but their ain fancies!—That ye maun alloo, laird; an' what comes o' yer can'le than?"
"That' sic as never luik whaur the licht fa's, but aye some ither gait, for they carena to walk by the same. But them 'at orders their wy's by what licht they hae, there's no fear o' them. Even sud they stummle, they sanna fa'."
"'Deed, laird, I'm thinkin' ye may be richt. I hae stummlet mony's the time, but I'm no doon yet; an' I hae a guid houp 'at maybe, puir dissiple as I am, the Maister may lat on 'at he kens me, whan that great and terrible day o' the Lord comes."
Cosmo began to stir. His father went to the bed-side, and saw at a glance that the boy was better. He told him what the doctor had decreed. Cosmo said he was quite able to get up and go home that minute. But his father would not hear of it.
"I can't bear to think of you walking back all that way alone, papa," objected Cosmo.
"Ye dinna think, Cosmo," interposed Aggie, "'at I'm gauin to lat the laird gang hame himlane, an' me here to be his body-gaird! I ken my duty better nor that."
But the laird did not go till they had all had tea together, and the doctor had again come and gone, and given his decided opinion that all Cosmo needed was a little rest, and that he would be quite well in a day or two. Then at length his father left him, and, comforted, set out with Aggie for Glenwarlock.
The gloamin' came down much sooner in Grannie's cottage than on the sides of the eastward hills, but the old woman made up her little fire, and it glowed a bright heart to the shadowy place. Though the room was always dusky, it was never at this season quite dark any time of the night. It was not absolutely needful, except for the little cooking required by the invalid—for as such, in her pride of being his nurse, Grannie regarded him—but she welcomed the excuse for a little extra warmth to her old limbs during the night watches. Then she sat down in her great chair, and all was still.
"What for arena ye spinnin', Grannie?" said Cosmo. "I like fine to hear the wheel singin' like a muckle flee upo' the winnock. It spins i' my heid lang lingles o' thouchts, an' dreams, an' wad-be's. Neist to hearin' yersel' tell a tale, I like to hear yer wheel gauin'. It has a w'y o' 'ts ain wi' me!"
"I was feart it micht vex ye wi' the soomin' o' 't," answered Grannie, and as she spoke she rose, and lighted her little lamp, though she scarcely needed light for her spinning, and sat down to her wheel.
For a long unweary time Cosmo lay and listened, an aerial Amphion, building castles in the air to its music, which was so monotonous that, like the drone of the bag-pipes, he could use it for accompaniment to any dream-time of his own.
When a man comes to trust in God thoroughly, he shrinks from castle-building, lest his faintest fancy should run counter to that loveliest Will; but a boy's dreams are nevertheless a part of his education. And the true heart will not leave the blessed conscience out, even in its dreams.
Those of Cosmo were mostly of a lovely woman, much older than himself, who was kind to him, and whom he obeyed and was ready to serve like a slave. These came, of course, first of all, from the heart that needed and delighted in the thought of a mother, but they were bodied out from the memory, faint, far-off, and dim, of his own mother, and the imaginations of her roused by his father's many talks with him concerning her. He dreamed now of one, now of another beneficent power, of the fire, the air, the earth, or the water—each of them a gracious woman, who favoured, helped, and protected him, through dangers and trials innumerable. Such imaginings may be—nay must be unhealthy for those who will not attempt the right in the face of loss and pain and shame; but to those who labour in the direction of their own ideal, dreams will do no hurt, but foster rather the ideal.
When at length the spinning-wheel ceased with its hum, the silence was to Cosmo like the silence after a song, and his thoughts refused to do their humming alone. The same moment he fell—from a wondrous region where he dwelt with sylphs in a great palace, built on the tree-tops of a forest ages old; where the buxom air bathed every limb, and was to his ethereal body as water—sensible as a liquid; whose every room rocked like the baby's cradle of the nursery rime, but equilibrium was the merest motion of the will; where the birds nested in its cellars, and the squirrels ran up and down its stairs, and the woodpeckers pulled themselves along its columns and rails by their beaks; where the winds swung the whole city with a rhythmic roll, and the sway as of tempest waves, music-ruled to ordered cadences; where, far below, lower than the cellars, the deer, and the mice, and the dormice, and the foxes, and all the wild things of the forest, ran in its caves—from this high city of the sylphs, watched and loved and taught by the most gracious and graceful and tenderly ethereal and powerful of beings, he fell supine into Grannie's box-bed, with the departed hum of her wheel spinning out its last thread of sound in his disappointed brain.
In after years when he remembered the enchanting dreams of his boyhood, instead of sighing after them as something gone for ever, he would say to himself, "what matter they are gone? In the heavenly kingdom my own mother is waiting me, fairer and stronger and real. I imagined the elves; God imagined my mother."
The unconscious magician of the whole mystery, who had seemed to the boy to be spinning his very brain into dreams, rose, and, drawing near the bed, as if to finish the ruthless destruction, and with her long witch-broom sweep down the very cobwebs of his airy phantasy, said,
"Is ye waukin', Cosmo my bairn?"
"Ay am I," answered Cosmo, with a faint pang, and a strange sense of loss: when should he dream its like again!
"Soon, soon, Cosmo," he might have heard, could he have interpreted the telephonic signals from the depths of his own being; "wherever the creative pneuma can enter, there it enters, and no door stands so wide to it as that of the obedient heart."
"Weel, ye maun hae yer supper, an' syne ye maun say yer prayers, an' hae dune wi' Tyseday, an' gang on til' Wudens-day."
"I'm nae wantin' ony supper, thank ye," said the boy.
"Ye maun hae something, my bonny man; for them 'at aits ower little, as weel's them 'at aits ower muckle, the night-mear rides—an' she's a fearsome horse. Ye can never win upo' the back o' her, for as guid a rider as ye're weel kent to be, my bairn. Sae wull ye hae a drappy parritch an' ream? or wad ye prefar a sup of fine gruel, sic as yer mother used to like weel frae my han', whan it sae happent I was i' the hoose?" The offer seemed to the boy to bring him a little nearer the mother whose memory he worshipped, and on the point of saying, for the sake of saving her trouble, that he would have the porridge, he chose the gruel.
He watched from his nest the whole process of its making. It took a time of its own, for one of the secrets of good gruel is a long acquaintance with the fire.—Many a time the picture of that room returned to him in far different circumstances, like a dream of quiet and self-sustained delight—though his one companion was an aged woman.
When he had taken it, he fell asleep once more, and when he woke again, it was in the middle of the night. The lamp was nearly burned out: it had a long, red, disreputable nose, that spoke of midnight hours and exhausted oil. The old lady was dozing in her chair. The clock had just struck something, for the sound of its bell was yet faintly pulsing in the air. He sat up, and looked out into the room. Something seemed upon him—he could not tell what. He felt as if something had been going on besides the striking of the clock, and were not yet over—as if something was even now being done in the room. But there the old woman slept, motionless, and apparently in perfect calm! It could not, however, have been perfect as it seemed, for presently she began to talk. At first came only broken sentences, occasionally with a long pause; and just as he had concluded she would say nothing more, she would begin again. There was something awful to the fancy of the youth in the issuing of words from the lips of one apparently unconscious of surrounding things; her voice was like the voice of one speaking from another world. Cosmo was a brave boy where duty was concerned, but conscience and imagination were each able to make him tremble. To tremble, and to turn the back, are, however, very different things: of the latter, the thing deserving to be called cowardice, Cosmo knew nothing; his hair began to rise upon his head, but that head he never hid beneath the bed-clothes. He sat and stared into the gloom, where the old woman lay in her huge chair, muttering at irregular intervals.