Now, although I am an Irishman, and boast the most romantic blood of time, yet must I frankly admit that few countrymen of mine have such facility. Many of them there are who could be religious, and more who could be bad, with spontaneous ease, but few there be who know how to be both at once. But Geordie did. He was a profligate, but a pious profligate; a terror he was, but he was a holy terror. Mind you well, I do not mean to impugn Geordie's sincerity in the last appeal; not for one moment, for I believe implicitly that Geordie, in the very heart of him, meant to do well. Indeed, I will go further, and say that in his very soul he wished to be closer to God; for he could not well help that wish—it was his inseparable heritage from a saintly father, long a beloved elder in St. Cuthbert's, whose sacred suit of "blacks" Geordie had inherited, himself wearing them to the sacrament till the session denied him his token, and shut him out, blacks and all. The memory of his mother's life was still fragrant to hundreds, fresh and dewy in love's unwithering morn; upon the tide of prayer had Geordie's infant life been launched, and its gentle waves, faint but palpable, still sought to lave his soul.
How many a Northern island-life, bleak and wild, is redeemed from utter destruction by that great gulfstream, the prayers of a mother who was in league with God! Thus it came about that Geordie Lorimer's life was a muddy stream, still tinged with the crystal waters of its hill-born spring. He had made the ghastly find, that when he would do good, evil was present with him; to will was present with him, but how to perform that which was good he found not. For Geordie had, alas! a stronger thirst than that for righteousness. He was given to "tasting," a homeopathic word which Scotsmen use to indicate a trough. I soon heard of him as incorrigibly religious but incorrigibly dry.
Geordie was the best-known character in New Jedboro, as well known as the town pump, the one famed for its outgiving, the other for its intaking powers, but both alike for liquid prowess. His principal occupation was in his wife's name, being a boarding-house whose inmates were secretly and shamefully proud of Geordie's unique superiority in his own particular line, for he could outdrink the countryside.
The very Saturday which preceded my Sunday as a candidate of St. Cuthbert's (they afterwards told me) Geordie was in the kindly grip of the town constable, who was bearing him towards the jail, his victim loudly proclaiming to the world that the guardian of the law had arrested him only when he, Geordie, had refused to treat for the eleventh time.
"He tret the ainst, an' I tret ten times or mair," Geordie was vehemently affirming to a sympathetic street. Turning a corner, they met no less a personage than Sandy Weir, the session clerk.
"Sandy, dinna let him tak' me to the lock-up. There's to be a new minister i' the kirk," he cried, "an' I maun gang to hear him preach the morn. Sandy, wull ye no' bid him no' to tak' me to the lock-up?"
But Sandy was a man under authority, having elders under him, and he refrained, knowing the boundaries of his power.
Passing along a quiet street some years after this, I beheld the unreforming Geordie in a savage fight with a kindred spirit, who drew his inspiration from the same source as his antagonist; for many a cork they had released together. The two men fought like tigers, abandoning themselves the more cheerfully to the combat they both knew would end in a renewal of brotherhood and beer. This thought lent a sanguine enthusiasm to their every effort, for each felt it a point of honour to make the engagement worthy of the "treaty" (a fitting word) that awaited them at the Travellers' Rest.
Above the din of battle I heard a voice emerging from Geordie's head, which head emerged from his opponent's oxter—
"Dinna mark me, Jock, dinna mark me; for we're gaun to hae the bairn baptized i' the kirk the morn," and I knew not which to admire more, Geordie's moral versatility, or the beautiful comity of war.
Geordie did appear in the kirk with the bairn the next morning, unmarked, except by unusual solemnity. He did not take the vows, of course—these were assumed by his long-suffering and devoted wife; but Geordie felt he should be there as collateral security.
I coveted Geordie's soul, and longed to add his regeneration to the new Acts of the Apostles. No opportunity to speak with him was ever allowed to slip, and one came to me whose details I must recount. There had been an election for the town council, which had, half in joke and half in jealousy, returned Geordie as the councillor of his ward; for our glorious manhood suffrage, as some one has pointed out, makes Judas Iscariot as influential at the polls as the Apostle Paul.
Returning, the night of the election, from a sickbed visit, I overtook the jubilant Geordie, full of emotion and other things. His locomotion was irregular and spasmodic, his course original, picturesque, and variable. Geordie was having it out with the law of gravitation.
He was as a ship returning from Jamaica, a precious cargo of spirits in its hold, and labouring heavily in the trough of the sea. I essayed to take his arm, intending to be his wheelsman home, but it was like trying to board a vessel in a storm; for Geordie had at least a hundred routes which he must traverse with impartial feet. After I had somewhat managed to adopt his swing, I sought to deal faithfully with him, though it was like preaching from the plunging deck of a ship at sea, while the breath of my swaying auditor suggested that the aforesaid cargo had sprung a leak.
He was raising a double paean to voice a twofold joy: the first, the joy of triumph in the recent contest; the second, the historic and imperishable joy that he was a Scotsman born.
"Yon whelp I skelpit the day was naething but an Irishman," he cried loftily. "I canna get Robbie Burns' graun' words oot o' my heid: 'The Scotsmen staun' an' Irish fa'—let him on wi' me,'" and on this wave of martial spirit Geordie took another plunge at right angles from our previous course, bearing me after him like a skiff tied to a schooner amid stormy seas.
After we had put about and regained our bearings, I nimbly took advantage of this patriotic opening, having ever a quick mind for the transition of ideas.
"Yes, Geordie, many good things are Scotch, and many Scotch things are good. Some misguided persons think even that Scotch liquor is good. Now, George——" But I got no further. This time Geordie swung around before me, like a boat that trusts its moorings—
"Ye're richt, minister; wha wad hae thocht ye kent the difference? But ye're richt—a' whusky is guid, but some's mair guid nor ithers, an' Scotch is mair guid nor ony ithers. Those feckless Irish fowk aye tak' the speerits o' oor native land gin they hae the siller, which isna likely. An' I dinna blame them muckle."
I now saw that there was no opening along this line, favourable at first sight as it had appeared. The attack must be plain and straight.
"Geordie," I began, "this is a pitiable situation for a minister to be in, and you know, George——"
"That's a' richt, minister—dinna fash yersel'. I'll no' mention it to a soul. Mony's the time I hae been fou masel', 'peetiably seetivated,' as ye ca' it, bein' mair learned nor me; to be honest wi' ye, I'm juist a wee bit 'peetiably seetivated' this vera nicht. But I'll tak' ye hame for a' that, an nane'll hear tell o't frae Geordie Lorimer."
Then he plunged again, propelled by the sense of a new responsibility, and for a minute we two performed, unaided and alone, the several different parts of an eight-hand reel.
Nevertheless, I relinquished not my hold, for I was truly attached to the fellow, and in due time we made a mile, though I know the cyclometer would have recorded ten. More hopeful, I was steaming on, a clerical tugboat, when of a sudden Geordie stopped, pointing with his right leg high in air, trusting me and his left to perform the relief duty thus demanded.
"Yon's ma coo, ma Ayrshire coo," he exclaimed, pointing with his initial leg to the white-faced cow which lay among its kindred, its jaw gently swinging.
"The beast disna ken," I heard him mutter; then he suddenly bolted, breaking his tether, and before I could recover him he had shambled on to the road with the gait of a delirious camel, and kicking his innocent property from behind, cried out—
"Get oot o' that. Sic like a thing, to be lyin' wi' the common herd. Mind ye, ye're no' an or'nary man's coo—ye're a cooncillor's coo." Then he retraced his labyrinthian steps in a corresponding swath.
As we drew near his humble gate (how often Geordie had made that last port with pain), he muttered to himself reflectively—
"I gied him hell," referring doubtless to the vanquished candidate.
Whereat I took him to task right sternly, giving him sharply to understand that such language was an insult to his minister and friend.
In reply, he fell upon me, literally and figuratively, with tones of reproachful tenderness.
"Minister," he said, "I own ye as a faithfu' guide." ("You'd better," said I to myself, for I was weary.) "I own ye as a faithfu' guide, an' I wudna gie ye pain. For we've had oor ain times thegither. I micht maist say as 'at 'We twa hae paiddled i' the burn,' only it wudna be becomin'. But aboot that word—I've heard ye say yirsel' frae the pulpit as how hell is a maist awfu' feelin' i' the breist. Verra well, dinna ye think as hoo yon Irish whelp I skelpit the day 'll hae a waesome feelin' i' his breist? That's a' the meanin' I desired till convey. It's nae wrang when it's expoun'it. Guid-nicht till ye, minister."
PLUCKING A FIERY BRAND
But there are others of whom I have better things to record, and indeed better things shall yet be set down by me concerning Geordie Lorimer before these short and simple annals shall have ended. For there is nothing so joysome to record as the brightening story of a soul coming to its real birth from the travail of its sin and struggle. For perchance time itself is God's great midwife, and man's writhing agony is to the end that he may soon be born.
The serious will doubtless wish to learn what befell me in my effort to beguile the rugged Donald M'Phatter and his wife, who had quit the kirk when the kirk quit the tokens, back to the worship of the sanctuary. It is many years since they returned to St. Cuthbert's hallowed shrine, and they now sing the uncreated song.
For they have joined that choir invisible whose voices, trained by God, blend in perfect unison, but not in time; for they reckon not by days and years where they have gone to dwell.
It may be set down as certain that I would never have won them back to church had it not been that I abandoned argument and adopted friendship.
For argument, to my mind, satisfies a people's souls as well as a bill of fare will suffice a hungry man; but the heart's food is a different matter. Argument may be botany, but friendship is a flower; and one little violet is better than one big volume, or a thousand of them, as far as that goes. This is perhaps the same thing as to say that a living dog is better than a dead lion, for most big books are sepulchres—but I think that my figure hath a sweeter flavour than the other.
And when I deliver the Yale lectures to young ministers, I shall tell them that there is a blessed guile, a holy cozenage of the heart whereby they may win their people's souls by stealth. And if a parson hath some obdurate parishioner or some gnarled and snarling elder, let him attack him as a thief in the night, and turn its darkness into day.
I had to build my friendship with Donald brick by brick, and oftentimes it swayed before his blasts. A hundred times I could have been justly angry and forever done with him. But I knew a man, a very near relation, with whom God might oftener have done the same, and had not; besides, I remembered that adroit petition in the Lord's Prayer, which is the plummet of the soul's sincerity—and I had read of One who reviled not again.
"In days far by," he charged, "oor faithers said wi' pride as hoo the ministers o' God were dyin' for the truth; but in thae modern days, a' men say as hoo they're dyin' for their steepin'" (stipend).
Now this was hard to bear, for I had declined larger stipends than I accepted from St. Cuthbert's, and some would say that this was a right and proper time to stand upon my dignity. But what is so dignified as the Cross, planted in the very centre of shame's garden? I had long before determined that no man can stand on dignity, for it must be dignity that stands upon the man, and by no act or word of his, be it remarked, but by the high act of God. For those men who stand on dignity are top-heavy things, pigmies upon stilts, triangles upside down.
Therefore I was patient with Donald, and guarded our infant friendship as a lost hunter shields his last remaining match. I said little to him about church, and much about the Highlands. For Donald was a belated Highlander, his parents having lapsed to the lowlands, where birth took him at a disadvantage; but he was ever struggling to recover Inverness.
"I was a hielandman afore I was born and a lowlandman after. I kind o' flawed doon like, ye ken," he said.
I nodded acquiescence, for it is a favourite theory of mine that a man is born of his grandparents just as much as of his father and his mother; they are equally responsible, I hold, but have the advantage of an earlier retreat.
It was Donald's great delight to recount the fighting stories of his highland ancestors. In all that bloody reel he joined again with joy. The slightest reference to it, and Donald was off—over the hills and far away, his guid blue bonnet on his head, his burly knees as bare as the bayonet his fathers bore, and the wild skirl of the bagpipes in his heart. Those pagan-Christian days, those shameful splendours of feud and raid and massacre, those mutual pleasantries of human pig-sticking, those civilized savageries and chivalric demonries—all these were Donald's sanguinary food.
"Mind ye," he would say, "half the time they didna ken what they were fechtin' aboot. But they focht a' the better for that—the graun' human principle was there; they kent that fine, an' that was a' they needit for to ken. Forbye, they foucht when the chief bade them fecht. When he gied the word, hieland foot was never slow and hieland bluid was never laggin'. Man, what a graun' chief Bonyparte wad hae made, gin the M'Phatters had ta'en him up!"
"Dinna be aye speakin' aboot yir M'Phatters," interrupted his gentle wife, now somewhat aroused, for her maiden name was Elsie Campbell, and she had her own share of highland memories. "They were guid eneuch fechters in their way, nae doot, but it wasna the Campbell way. Yir M'Phatter feet that ye're haverin' aboot was never slow when the Campbells was comin', I'll grant ye that—the Campbells did them, ye ken that fine, Donald."
"Hoots, wumman, ye dinna ken what yir sayin'. Div ye no' mind the battle o' the bluidy shirt, an'——"
"Haud yir wheesht—I canna bide to hear aboot thae bluidy shirts an' things. It's a fair scunner', and the minister hearin' ye to the bargain," Elsie shut him off triumphantly in propriety's great name.
The first real olive branch of friendship which Donald extended to me was under cover of the bagpipes. I knew he was relenting when he first asked me if I would like to hear him play. I forged a pious lie, declaring it would give me the greatest pleasure. Surely that sin has been atoned for; I have suffered for it as no tongue can tell. The world needeth a new Dante, to write a new Inferno, with the bagpipes thrown in. Then will that sombre picture of future suffering be complete. I make no reckless charge against those aforesaid instruments of music, facetiously so called. The bagpipes are a good thing in their place, but their place is with Dante and his Inferno.
They have survived only as bulldogs survive, from perverted sentiment, and mal-educated taste. For the Scotsman is the most sentimental among men, stubbornly and maliciously and relentlessly sentimental. The bagpipes are a legacy from the grim testament of war, and the savage breath of other days belches through them yet. Ah me! with what secret pride I hear again far other music wafted from my native Emerald Isle! Nor can I well conceal my joy that the emblem of Ireland, despised and rejected though she be, is the sweetest-tongued of all music-making things in this vale of tears. For her, no lion, tempest-crowned, for her no prowling bear, for her no screaming eagle—but the harp, mellifluous and tender. And although its liquid strain hath for centuries been touched by sorrow, yet there hath been music in its voice for all the happier listening world, and the day draweth near, please God, when its unfleeting joy shall descend and rest on her own fields and meadows, making glad the hearts within her humble cottages, whose only wealth is love.
But Donald's fervent passion for this warlike weapon of his fathers was unrestrained by thoughts of other lands. Had any man suggested that Irish music was superior, he would doubtless have bidden him begone and dwell with other lyres. Such suggestion I did not dare to make. On the contrary, I smiled as he fondled his windy octopus, which he did with mysterious tenderness. Then he adjusted the creature to his lips, while I calmly braced myself for the gathering storm.
I had not long to wait. He paced dramatically back and forward for a minute in a preliminary sort of way, like one who pushes his shallop from the shore, gently pressing the huge belly of the thing with his elbow as if to prompt it for the ensuing fray. The thing emitted one or two sample sounds, not odious particularly, but infantile and grimly prophetic, like the initial squeaks of some windful babe awaking from its sleep. Then the thing seemed to feel its strength, to recognize its dark enfranchisement, and broke into such a blasphemy of sound as hath not been heard since the angels alighted where they fell.
I have heard the deep roar of the ocean, and have listened to the screech of the typhoon through befiddled sails; I have shuddered at the savage yell of the hyena, and have grown cold, even in the tropics, before the tooting of the wounded elephant; I have heard the eagle rend the firmament and the midnight fog-horn ring the changes on eternity—join them all together, and they will be still but as a village choir compared to the infinite and full-orbed bray of the highland bagpipes.
After the first shock of sky-quake had subsided, Donald turned and looked at me with a rapt and heavenly smile, the thing emitting sundry noises all the while, like fragments from a crash of sound, comparatively mild, as a stream which has just run Niagara.
I stood, dripping with noise, fearful lest the tide might rush in again, and looking about for my hat, if haply it might have been cast up upon the beach.
"Wasna that a graun' ane?" said the machinator. "It's nae often ye'll hear the like o' that in Canada. There's jist ae man beside masel' can gie ye that this side o' Inverness—and he's broke i' the win'."
"Thank God!" I ejaculated fervently, not knowing what I said.
But Donald misunderstood me and I had nothing to fear.
"Ye're richt there," he cried exultantly; "it's what I ca' a sacred preevilege to hear the like o' that, maist as sacred as a psalm. Ma faither used to play that verra tune at funerals i' the hielands, and the words they aye sang till't was these:—
"'Take comfort, Christians, when your friends In Jesus fall asleep,'
an' it used to fair owercome the mourners. If ye were gaun by a hoose i' the hieland glens, and heard thae words and that tune, ye cud mak' sure there was a deid corpse i' the hoose."
"I don't wonder," was my response; but he perceived nothing in the words except reverent assent.
"Ay," went on Donald, "it's a graun' means o' rest to the weary heart. It's fair past everything for puttin' the bairns to sleep. Mony's the time I hae lulled them wi' that same tune when their mither cud dae naethin' wi' them. I dinna mind as I ever heard a bairn cry when I was gien them that tune."
"I quite believe that," I replied, burning to ask him if they ever cried again. But I refrained, and began my retreat towards the door.
"Bide a wee; I maun gie ye 'The MacGregor's Lament.'"
But I was obstinate, having enough occasion for my own.
"Hoots, man, dinna gang—it's early yet."
"But I really feel that I must go. I would sooner hear it some other time." At my own funeral, I meant. "Besides, Mr. M'Phatter, the bagpipes always influence me strangely. They give me such a feeling of the other world as kind of unfits me for my work."
Whereupon Donald let me go. As I fled along the lane I watched him holding the thing still in his hand, and I feared even yet lest it might slip its leash.
But I have been thankful ever since that Donald did not ask me which other world I meant.
"By That SAME TOKEN"
This was the first step towards the return of the M'Phatter family to St. Cuthbert's Church. I waited patiently, stepped carefully, and endured cheerfully every hardship, from the bagpipes down; but all the time I had before my mind that triumphant day when Donald and his household would once more walk down the kirk's spacious aisle, like the ransomed of the Lord who return and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads.
One glorious summer evening I broached the matter to them both. It was the pensive hour of twilight, and Donald had been telling me with thrilling eloquence of a service he had once attended in St. Peter's Church, Dundee, when the saintly M'Cheyne had cast the spell of eternity about him. When he had got as nearly through as he ever got with his favourite themes, I asked him to listen to me for a little, and not to interrupt. He promised, and I talked on to them for an hour or more, the twilight deepening into darkness, and the sweet incense of nature's evening mass arising about us where we sat.
It was the hour and the season that lent themselves to memory, and I armed myself with all the unforgotten years as I bore down upon their hearts. The duty, the privilege, the joy of mingling with the great congregation in united voice and heart to bless the Creator's name, all this I urged with passionate entreaty.
"Oh, Donald," I cried at last, forgetting his seventy years and the title those years deserved, "come back, come back, man, to the fountain at which you drank with joy long years ago! Oh, Donald, it is springing yet, and its living waters are for you. Years have not quenched their holy stream, nor changed the loving heart of Him who feeds them. Donald man, your pride is playing havoc with your soul. Are not the days shortening in upon you? You saw the darkness fall since we sat down together, and the night has come, and it is always night in the grave. Man, hurry home before the gloaming betrays you to the dark.
"Do you not hear yonder clock ticking in the hall that same old song of death, the same it sang, the night your father's father was born in the glen, the same it wailed the night he died? It is none other than the voice of God telling you that the night cometh fast. Oh, Donald, was it not your mother who first taught you the way to that holy spring, even as she taught your boyish feet the path to yonder babbling burn which even now is lilting to the night? Donald man, be a little child again, and come back before you die."
Then there was a silence deep as death, and we heard the crickets sing and the drowsy tinkling on the distant hill. I spoke not another word, for when a great Scotch soul is in revolution, I would as soon have offered to assist at the creation as seek then to interfere. But I heard his wife Elsie sobbing gently and I felt a tear on Donald's cheek. My heart caught its distilling fragrance, like a bluebell on some mountainside, and I knew that the seasons were exchanging in Donald's soul, winter retreating before the avenging spring.
Suddenly he arose and swiftly spoke—
"I'll gang back on Sabbath mornin'; I'll tak' ma mither's psalm-buik, and I'll gang."
He strode quickly towards the house; as he passed me the rising moon shone upon his face, and it looked like that of a soul which has the judgment day behind and eternal mother-love before.
Elsie walked with me to the gate, and her face put the now radiant night to shame. Her long eclipse had ended. It was then she told me the secret of the token and her husband's love for it.
"Ye mauna think ower hard on Donald; I promised to tell naebody, but ye willna let him ken. It wasna the token in itsel', but it was oor Elsie mair. Elsie was oor little lassie that's gone to bide wi' God.
"Weel, when she was a bit bairn, she aye gaed wi' us to the sacrament, and she was awfu' ta'en up wi' the token. She wad spell oot the bit writin' on't, and she thocht there was naethin' sae bonnie as the picture o' the goblet on the ither side o't. And she wad thrust her wee bit haun' intil Donald's wes'coat pocket, where he aye keepit the token, an' she wad tak' it oot an' luik at it, an' no' ask for sweeties or gang to sleep or greet, like ither bairns. And when she was deein', she askit for it, and she dee'd wi' it in her haun'. An' that verra nicht, when Donald an' me was sittin' fon'lin' her gowden curls an' biddin' ane anither no' to greet—for ae broken hairt can comfort anither broken hairt—he slippit the token frae oot her puir cauld wee haun', an' he read the writin' that's on't oot lood: 'This do in remembrance of Me,' an' he says, 'I'll dae it in remembrance o' them baith, mither—o' Christ an' oor Elsie—an' when I show forth the Lord's death till He come, I'll aye think o' them baith, an' think o' them baith thegither in the yonderland—Christ an' oor Elsie—an' me an' you tae, mither, a' thegither in the Faither's hoose.' An' a' the time o' the funeral he hauded the token ticht, an' he keepit aye sayin' till himsel', 'Christ an' oor Elsie—an' us a'.'
"Next Sabbath was the sacrament, an' Donald gaed alane, for I cudna gang wi' him, and that was the day they tell't the fowk hoo communion cairds was better, an' hoo they wudna use the tokens ony mair. Then Donald grippit the seat, an' he rose an' gaed oot o' the kirk, an' cam hame, an' gaed till his room, an' I didna see his face till the gloamin'. Oh, minister, dinna think owre hard aboot him. That's why he never gaed mair to the kirk, for he loved oor Elsie sair."
I pressed her hand in parting, but I spoke no word, for I was thinking passionately of those golden curls, and that little hand in which the token lay tightly clasped; but it was our Margaret's face that was white upon the pillow. Love is a great interpreter.
The next Sabbath morning saw Donald and Elsie in the courts of Zion, and great peace was upon their brows. When I ascended the pulpit stairs, they were already in their ancestral pew, now the property of Hector Campbell, who had abandoned it with joy, only asking that he be given one in the gallery from which he might see Donald's face.
We opened our service with the Scottish psalm—
"How lovely is Thy dwelling-place, Oh, Lord of hosts, to me,"
and a strange thing befell us then. Donald was singing huskily, struggling with a storm which had its centre in his heart, all the more violent because it was a summer storm and fed from the inmost tropics of his soul. But it was the part Elsie took in that great psalm which is still the wonder of all who were there that day, though her voice hath long been silent in the grave. She had, years before, been reckoned the sweetest singer of all who helped to swell St. Cuthbert's praise. Her voice had been trained by none but God, yet its power and richness were unequalled. But her last song had been by the bedside of her dying child, and those who heard her say there was not a faltering note.
And now her voice was released again, and her unchained soul, aflame with its long-silent love for the courts of Zion, found in that voice its highway up to God. No psalm-book, no note of music made by hand, no human thought repressed her or trammelled her exultant wing. Uncaged, she sang as the lark sings when native meadows bid its exile cease.
From the first note, clear and radiant, as on a golden staircase her voice went upward with its loving sacrifice. All eyes were turned upon her, all other voices hushed in wonder, while even the wondering precentor abdicated to join the vassal throng. But she knew it not—knew nothing, indeed, but that she was again in the unforgotten house of God, and pouring out her soul to the soul's great Comforter. And she sat down with the others when the psalm was done, but wist not that her face shone.
* * * * *
The kirk session was convened in my room after the great service ceased, and the glow of joy was on every face. This joy they carefully concealed, as was their way, but I felt its heat even when I could not see its gleam. One or two spoke briefly, and their parted lips disclosed their deep rejoicing, but only for a moment, as you have caught the bed of flame behind the furnace's swiftly closing door. I told them, in a word, of Donald and his Elsie and his token.
They were stern men, and ruled the kirk with sternness; they had dealt faithfully with more than one who sought to restore the reign of the token against the expressed ruling of the session. They nipped contumacy in the bud.
But it was moved by Ronald M'Gregor, and seconded by Saunders M'Dermott, and unanimously carried, "That the clerk be instructed to inform Donald M'Phatter, and his wife Elsie M'Phatter, that it is the will of the kirk session of St. Cuthbert's that they be in no wise admitted to the sacrament except on presentation of tokens regularly stamped and bearing the date of 1845."
WITH The WORKMEN
I think we first realized the worth of Angus Strachan the year of the great strike among the mechanics of New Jedboro. That was a terrible year, and the memory of it is dark and clammy yet. For our whole town, and almost every man's bread and butter, rose and fell with the industry or the idleness of our great iron manufactories. To my mind, the cause of the trouble was twofold: first, that the proprietors were very rich; and second, that the agitators were very scoundrels. For we had as happy a class of working men in New Jedboro, take them on the whole, as the God of work looked down upon. They were in receipt of fair and considerable wages, their shops were clean and well ventilated, and their hours reasonably short, especially if compared to those poor creatures whom greed and selfishness keep behind the counters till twelve o'clock on a Saturday night. And I have noticed that those who howl the loudest about long hours are those who postpone their shopping till ten or eleven of these same Saturday nights.
For the most part, they owned their own homes and the plots of ground they gardened, and I do contend that the watering-can and the spade and the pruning knife are a means of grace. Very many of them made twelve shillings a day, which is three dollars in our good Canadian money, and some of the highest paid made twice as much. And there was work for them every working day and every working hour of the day.
The peace was broken when two sleek and well-dressed agitators came to town, agents for the Central Organization, whose mild and pleasant duty it was to tell free-born working-men when they were to work and when to starve.
These gentlemen soon precipitated a general strike, in which they took a highly sympathetic part, reviving the flagging courage of half-starving wives and children, exhorting them to endure unto the end; and be it said to their lasting credit, these aforesaid gentlemen toiled faithfully to spread their new evangel, desisting only three times a day, when they repaired to their six-course meals at the Imperial Hotel.
They pointed out, between meals, to the hungry men how well-pleasing was their hunger in the sight of heaven, for it would help some fellow-workmen three thousand miles away, and possibly be of benefit to some few who had not yet been born. Hunger, they pointed out with lofty ardour, might not be comfortable in every case, but it was glorious, and in the line of immortal fame. All of this was somewhat marred by their occasional gulping and hiccoughing, for six-course dinners are not friendly to ethereal oratory. When one of them got through, the other, having finished the picking of his teeth, would take the stand and divulge anew to these underfed immortals the secrets of the Book of Life.
Then their poor dupes would cheer with a desperate attempt at courage, but it was to me like the bleating of sheep that are led to the slaughter. Wearily they sought their once happy homes, to find empty larders and broken-hearted wives, their wondering children crying for the necessities they had never lacked before, their clothes in tatters, and the roses departed from their cheeks.
Many a sick wife and ailing child did I visit then, pining for the little delicacies their breadwinner could not afford to buy—all of this at the behest of two bespangled gentlemen, who even then were writing to their distant wives, enclosing substantial checks, and descanting eloquently upon the sumptuous fare at the aforesaid Imperial Hotel.
Two sights there are in this panoramic world which greatly madden me, and they are twins.
The first is the spectacle of a pot-bellied landlord, his wife and family sated with every luxury, as he smilingly takes across the bar—have you ever seen a snake swallow its prey, an equally slimy sight?—the five-cent piece of some poor fellow whose child hath neither toy nor bread, and whose broken wife, struggling in God's name to shield her children from indecency and want, will tremblingly explore his pocketbook at midnight, only to find every farthing of his wages gone. For the aforesaid smiling landlord hath poured it into the satin lap of the equally smiling wife at the Travellers' Rest.
And the other sight is the spectacle of a complacent gentleman, organ for the Trades and Labour Union, who alighteth from his Pullman car to ply his incendiary trade, living in the lap of luxury, while weeping wives stroke the famished faces of their hungry bairns and dumbly plead with God that this cruel strike may soon be over.
It was at such a time as this that Angus first impressed us with his real power. We had seen much of him in the years that had passed since he spent his first New Jedboro night beneath our roof. Often and often he would spend the evening with us, chatting on pleasant topics or teaching our Margaret the high things of chess, at which he was well-nigh a master. But I little dreamed then what fateful moves there may be even in a game of chess, what mating and checkmating and sundry other operations may be sublimely mingled in that so interesting struggle.
We heard with pleasure that Angus was making rare progress in his chosen trade, and even now, although early in his twenties, he was head draughtsman in all that great establishment. Night schools, with wide and constant reading, had made his English almost as good as new, and the shabby lad of six or seven years ago was now a citizen amongst us of repute and promise.
But that is no rare occurrence in this new world of ours, where men have better chances than the rigid ways of the old land will afford. For old Scotland means that her mountains shall remain mountains, and her valleys she purposes shall be valleys evermore; and I make little doubt that Mr. Carnegie would have been ranked with the valleys till they received his dust had he never sought the wider spaces of our Western World. From which Western World both their hills and valleys have received his dust in rich abundance.
Passing a crowded hall one night when this industrial storm was at its height, I heard a voice which seemed familiar addressing the excited men, and surely there hath never before or since been heard a speech of greater sense and soundness.
"Are we working men fools enough," he was asking as I entered, "to be led by the nose at the will of these strangers who want us to strike in the interests of Chicago or St. Louis or San Francisco? Charity begins at home, and our first duty is to look after our own. If we are going to have dictators in this matter, let us choose them from honest workers among ourselves, and not from high-salaried importations such as these. Look at their hands the next time you get a chance, and tell me why they are so smooth and white. None of your diamond-ringed fraternity for me," cried Angus with growing passion.
At this point Jack Slater interrupted. Jack was famed for his hearty resistance to every industrious instinct, resolutely denying himself the much-lauded sweets of toil. He was the leading Socialist of the town, hating every man who was an actual toiler with his hands, always excepting the well-fed agitators, whom he worshipped with ignorant devotion.
"I just want fer to ask Mr. Strachan one question. What right has them fellows what owns the foundries to be makin' ropes of money while the likes of us only gets our two dollars a day? Let us have equality, that's what I say. Give me equality or give me death. God made one man as good as another, and it's the devil as tries to make them different. Let's divide up, that's what I say, and don't have them fellows sportin' round in their carriages and goin' to Europe, while the rest of us is sweatin' through the dog days in the shops."
Loud murmurs of approval broke from a hundred sullen lips, and Bob Taylor, encouraged by Jack's success, jumped to his feet and shouted—
"I hopes as how all the fellers 'll stand firm and bring the bosses up with the short turn. We kin do it, for we're the lads as makes their money for them. What them kerridge fellows needs is a bash or two in the jaw from the horny hand of toil. I goes in fer rotten-eggin' all the scabs as agrees to work lower nor the wage we set, and if that won't do, I goes in fer duckin' 'em; and if duckin' won't do, I goes in fer fixin' 'em so's they won't work nowheres. If this is a free country, let's have our share of the kerridges—I believe in equality the same as Jack."
These views were received with renewed expressions of approval, for to most of the excited men they seem quite unanswerable.
"That's the ticket; make 'em walk the plank. We're just as good as them," I heard some burly mechanic mutter.
The eager audience turned towards Angus, awaiting his reply, if haply reply could be provided. It has been my lot to hear many strong addresses, but I esteem this answering speech of Angus's among the strongest utterances I have heard.
"Mr. Slater wishes," he began, "to know by what right our employers make more money than we do. In answer, let me ask him by what right Bill Montgomery, the foreman in the moulding shop, gets more money every pay-day than Tom Coxford, who is one of his men. I suppose he will admit it is because Bill has more ability and more experience than Tom; he will also admit that the difference in their wages is a just difference, and indeed I have never heard any one find fault with it. Well, carry out that principle, and some one who has more skill than Montgomery will get more money than he gets. Then there will be some one above him again, and so on till you get to the head of the firm. If differing wages are just at all—and every one admits they are—then how can you deny their legitimate profits to the men whose industry and business ability have established the concern and guided it along to what it is to-day?
"Mr. Slater says that men are all equal. I don't agree with him. It is clear that God means some men to be rich and others to be less rich. If a man quarrels with the inequality among men, his quarrel is with God. God makes some men richer than others to begin with. When we see the highest riches, like those of brains and strength, unequally divided, we need not wonder to see the lesser riches somewhat unevenly distributed. God gives one man, or a woman like Jenny Lind, a voice that means a thousand dollars a night as often as they want to sing, and He gives another man a voice like an alarm-clock or a buzz-saw. He gives one man a mind that seems always to be full, and another man a mind, let him do his best, that is always as empty as a last year's nest. Surely I have more ground for envying the man who is born with more brains than I than the man who is born with more wealth than I. And yet God alone is responsible for the first-named inequality. We hear too much rubbish about this theory of all men being equal born.
"As for Bob Taylor's hint that we should employ violence to prevent men working for what wage they please, I have only this to say, that nobody but a lazy dog like him would suggest such a policy.
"We all know that when the whistle blows in the morning, Bob always tries how much of it he can hear before he goes in; and when it blows at night, he tries how much of it he can hear after he gets out. Bob is always slow at the end where he ought to be quick, and quick at the end where all honest men try at least to be decently slow; and then he talks to us about ducking some poor fellow who wants to make an honest living for his wife and children. I will say this much, too, that if the time ever comes when a free-born man cannot sell his labour in the market for what price he likes, then I will turn my back upon the old flag and leave its soil forever.
"Now, I am going to ask Mr. Slater a question or two about this dividing up business.
"Do you think, Mr. Slater, if a man has a million dollars, that he ought to divide up with the man who has very little, if that man happens to be working for him?"
"Most sartintly," replied Jack.
"Very well, if a man has ten thousand dollars, should he divide up with a poorer man who works for him?"
"Sure," answered Jack promptly.
"Well, suppose a man has a house and a little garden, and he has a man hired to help dig it or repair it, should he divide up with this poorer workman who has neither house nor garden?"
Jack hesitated, his brows knit in thought; then he answered slowly—
"Naw, I don't just think so."
"Why not?" said Angus.
"Well, 'twouldn't be fair; besides, I happen to have a little house and garden of my own."
Then all that crowd of men exploded in a burst of derisive laughter which set the seal of triumph on Angus's argument.
After the uproar had subsided, an intrepid Scotsman, only a few months in New Jedboro, volunteered to address the meeting.
"I canna jist answer the argyments o' Mr. Strachan, but I maun pit forrit my idea that oor wives and bairns haena the luxuries o' them as owns the works. I canna but mind that Robbie Burns said, 'A man's a man for a' that,' an' I thocht the present a fittin' occasion to mind ye o' the words, bein' as we're met the nicht to speak oot against slavery o' ilka kind."
"No man who knows me," replied Angus, "will say that I will either yield to slavery or assist it in any form. But the man who calls himself a slave because his employer has more money than he, is no friend to honest labour. We would all like wealth, but wealth is neither happiness nor liberty. After all, the men whom we envy have not so much more than we; they can only lie on one pillow at a time, can only eat one mouthful at a time, can only smoke one cigar at a time, and as for the kind of couch a man sits down upon, it matters little so that he has earned his rest by honest toil.
"My Scottish friend hardly realizes what he says. I know he has a wife and a sweet little lassie. There is Mr. Blake, the richest of our manufacturers, and he has neither the one nor the other. Now I ask my compatriot, would he trade his lot for that of Mr. Blake with all his money? He answers no. Then who is the richer man—Mr. Blake, or our fellow-workman from auld Scotland?
"Speaking of Scotland, let me say this one word. I lived there till I was a well-grown lad, as did scores of you, and I defy you to contradict me when I say that we are a hundred times better off here than we were among the sheep or behind the ploughs in the old land, neither of which we could hardly ever hope to call our own. Were we not there accounted almost as sheep for the slaughter? How much better were we than the kine we tended? Were not we even driven from the land we rented at a cruel price, that some haughty lord might make a deer-run of the place? What were we there but grovelling vassals, and what hope had we ever to be independent, or to own even a house in which to die?
"I do not need to tell you of the difference here, of how the most of us have our own little homes, and count our friends among the best people in New Jedboro; and three-fourths of the aldermen in our council, and the trustees of our schools, and the elders of our kirks, are from the ranks of honest labour.
"Let us thank God we have escaped from the class tyranny and the peasant bondage of the land beyond the seas."
A new and different light was now upon the rapt faces of the men—and the end of it all was that they turned the diamond-ringed gentlemen from their doors.
WITH The EMPLOYERS
Nor was this the last of Angus's eloquence. A few days later the manufacturers, being met in conclave at Mr. Blake's office, sent for the young Scotsman and personally thanked him for his good offices in settling the strike. Both sorts were there—the kind and the unkind, the gentleman and the churl—but all alike united in grateful praise for the mediation which Angus had accomplished. Many unctuous things were said, but when one tyrant arose to speak his gratitude, Angus's face bore a look which boded ill.
"We're glad," said Mr. M'Dougall, swelling with vulgar pompousness, "to see that you recognize the rights of property and the claims of vested interests. And we trust," he added, "that Labour has learned a lesson it will not soon forget." Then he sat down with the majesty of a balloon descending.
"I am glad, sir," replied Angus, "to have been of service in quelling a movement led by selfish and grasping strangers, but I may at the same time say that it would be well for Mr. M'Dougall and his kind to pay more heed himself to the rights of property. For skill and industry and faithfulness are property just as much as Mr. M'Dougall's vested interests. And he may as well be warned that Labour will not forever tolerate the selfishness and the pride with which he treats his hands."
"I move," interrupted Mr. Thoburn, himself a gifted tyrant, "that this meeting do now adjourn."
"This meeting will do nothing of the sort." This time it was Mr. Blake who spoke, and there was iron in his voice. "None of us thought Mr. Strachan spoke too long when he was dealing with the agitators from Chicago, and let us hear him out, unless we are bigger cowards than the men who work for us."
The meeting endorsed these sentiments, and Angus resumed—
"I speak in the interests of Capital," he said, "when I declare that the fault is not all on the side of the working man. Many of our employers are kind and sympathetic men, but others of them are not. I envy no man among you the wealth he has gathered, but the selfishness of some of our manufacturers is maddening to the working man.
"Some of you know nothing of our trials and our difficulties, and, what is worse, you do not want to know. You pass by the men who are making you rich as though they were the dogs of the street. You sit next pew to them in the kirk, and yet treat them like the dirt beneath your feet. It is doubtless your conviction that you have discharged your whole duty to us when you pay our wages every fortnight. I tell you," he cried passionately, "that is the great fallacy which is yet to prove the undoing of the employers of labour.
"You forget we are men, as well as you, and have higher claims upon you than your pay sheet acknowledges. If our employer dies, we follow him in a body to his grave. If one of us dies, you drive past his hearse with your haughty carriages, or bolt down a side street to avoid the association.
"Tom Lamplough, who has worked for Mr. Thoburn twenty years, buried his only child last Thursday, and his employer spent the afternoon speeding his thoroughbred on the race-track beside the cemetery. At the very moment when Tom was groping about the open grave, struggling with his broken heart and following his daughter with streaming eyes, Mr. Thoburn was bawling out that his filly had done it in two and a quarter—and the clods were falling on the coffin all the while."
At this juncture Thoburn arose, his face the very colour of the corpse he had disdained.
"Will no man throttle this fanatic?" he hoarsely craved. "Must we be insulted thus by a mere working man?"
"I insult no man," retorted his accuser, "when I tell him but the truth. It was you who insulted the dead, and outraged her desolate father because he was but your servant. Is what I say the truth?"
"I decline to answer that," said Thoburn.
"You will not decline to answer before the throne of God. For you and Tom will meet yonder. Good God, man, did you ever think of that? Did it ever occur to you that you and Tom will take your last ride in the same conveyance, and have the same upholstery in the tomb? And somebody else's filly will be making its mile in less time than yours when the clods are falling on your coffin."
I have often marvelled at this strange power of rhetoric in an untutored man; but it only confirmed what I am more and more inclined to believe—that emotion and intellect are twins, and that the soul is oratory's native home.
There was a pause, but it was brief. For there flew to the rescue of his beleaguered brother Mr. Hiram Orme, the millionaire proprietor of the great Acme works. Vulgar and proud, he lived a life of ostentatious luxury.
No thought of the poor or the suffering ever disturbed the shallow tenor of his enamelled existence Secure in the fortress of wealth, which is a lie! he cared nothing for such wounded soldiers as had helped to build it, or for their widows or their orphans. With all sail set, he careened on his inconsiderate way, and the vessels whose side he sought were never those bearing the signals of distress.
Mr. Hiram Orme had a high contempt for all working men, and a keen suspicion of every attitude which smacked of liberty. The working man, like the negro, was happier far in a state of semi-slavery—such was the honest view of the honest man.
And now he was upon his feet, glaring with wrath, profoundly complacent in the assurance of superior wealth, and prepared to demolish both Angus and the King's English at a blow.
"Them's nice words," he broke forth, "for a working man to be using to the man what he's dependent on for to get his bread and butter. And I want for to tell this man Strachan that beggars can't be choosers. A pretty preachment he's givin' us about coffins and them like things. There's one thing certain, and that is, me and the rest of my brother manufacturers will have a sight finer coffins than him and his sort will have." The manufacturers shuddered, like men sitting in some deadly draught.
"We've had jist about enough sass from our young friend, I think; he's nothin' but a hewer of wood and a drawer of water for us anyhow. Doesn't the Bible tell servants like him for to be obedient to their masters?"
Then Angus's Scotch blood leaped, protesting, to his face, and his soul tore open his burning lips as the tide bursts a dam built by children's hands.
"I eat honest bread, earned by honest toil," he hotly cried, "and that is more than Mr. Orme can say. I would beg from door to door before I would munch, as he does, the crusts that are stained with blood. We all know how he has ground his working girls to the earth, how he has refused to ventilate his factories, and even to heat them decently in the winter time. We all know how he has spurned the poor and the needy with his foot, and how he has crawled upon his belly before the rich and great. I will tell you something about Mr. Orme. It does not apply to all of you. Some of you, thank God! have remembered that your working men were human beings like yourselves—you have helped and befriended the sick and the poor, you have pensioned the closing years of faithful men. You have called yourselves to ask for our sick and dying, and we have blessed you for it. What poor burdened hearts want is the warm heart touch from your own hands or lips, but Mr. Orme has given neither the one nor the other.
"Mr. Orme, do you remember Dick Draper, who was your boss carder, and who lives in a little house behind your mansion? Do you remember that he worked for you ten or fifteen years, and that you discharged him because he would not leave the Union?"
"Yes, I remember him. Why?" answered Orme huskily.
"I will tell you why. A few months after you discharged him, partly because his health failed and partly because you blackballed him at all other shops, he was still out of work, his money all gone, his pantry bare, and his youngest boy dying of a slow disease of the spine. Some of us went to you and asked you to help us raise enough to send him to Montreal for treatment that might save his life. You showed us the door, and told us to tell him he could make his money like you made yours. You said if the boy died it would be one mouth less for Dick to feed, and told us there was a grand old maxim about every man for himself and the devil have the hindermost. As we were going down your splendid avenue, you shouted that Dick's spine was stiff enough when he joined the Union. Then you asked us if spines were hereditary. Then you laughed and your barns and your grand driving sheds echoed back its cruel mockery."
Orme arose and started towards the door.
"Mr. Chairman, I protest," he began.
"Sit doon," thundered Angus, lapsing into his native tongue, "sit doon till I tell ye a'. The nicht Dick's boy was deein', we went to ye and begged ye to stop yir music and yir dancin'. For ye had some graun' fowk at yir pairty, an' the flowers for it cost ye mair nor wad hae sent the laddie to Montreal. An' the noise fashed an' fretted the deein' bairn. But ye bade us begone, an' said ye'd invite us to yir pairty when ye wanted us—an' the puir laddie dee'd in his faither's airms to the cruel music o' yir fiddles an' yir reels, an' his faither sat wi' him a' the nicht, croonin' wi' sorrow, an' yir graun' guests' laughter breakin' on him like a blizzard frae the north."
"Is the sermon nearly done?" said Mr. Orme, with a sneer. "You missed your calling; you're a preacher." The hot tears were in Angus' eyes and he seemed to have forgotten that Orme was present, the taunt lost upon him.
"I will say no more," turning now to the others, "and I have perhaps spoken over warmly. But I have uttered no word other than the truth. And I will only make my last appeal, which I know will have some weight, with most of you, at least. The remedy for all this threatening trouble lies in mutual sympathy, for I doubt not you have your own difficulties, even as we have ours. I am glad to have helped to allay this recent trouble, and my best service shall never be denied you in the future. But I pray you to consider the words of a man who wishes you nothing else but good. Pardon what of violence and ponder what of reason has been mixed with what I said. Capital has its labour, and labour has its capital—and we are all toilers together."
He bowed to the employers and withdrew, but the seed his hand had cast was fallen, some no doubt on rocky ground, but some also on good and honest soil.
And Angus had won a victory; but his greatest triumph was unseen, for he had ruled his own spirit, which high authority assures us is greater than the taking of a city.
Not inconsiderable, too, were the outward pledges of his victory. For, as we said, the sleek agitators had been dismissed, the mills and factories were running again, and the industrial tides of life in New Jedboro gradually subsided into their old channels.
And now those unseen forces that are ever silently working to upset old standards and to displace old ways, broke out in a new form, this time threatening the very centre of one of St. Cuthbert's most established customs.
A BOLD PROPOSAL
The old precentor's box beneath the pulpit was still St. Cuthbert's only choir loft. Many years back, the iconoclasts among them had managed to gather a few of the most songful ones together in a front pew, demurely sitting as part of the congregation, but concentrated for purposes of leadership. This proved, however, more than St. Cuthbert's could abide, and its mal-odour of "High Church" alarmed the Scottish Presbyterians. Going down the aisle, Saunders M'Tavish voiced the general alarm in sententious tones—
"The thin end o' the wedge," he warningly exclaimed, "and it's no' a far cry noo to the candles an' the incense. They'll be bringin' ower the pope next," and the kirk session, convening the next night, soon stopped that leakage in their ancestral dyke.
Since then the precentor's box had preserved its lonely splendour. Within it, in the far-back thunderous days of their great Boanerges, the precentor stood to lead the swelling psalm as it rose from the seated multitude—for they stood to pray, but sat to sing. From the fast-gathering mists that now threaten those receding years, surviving ones still rescue images of the precentor's ruffled locks, swept by the pentecostal swirl—so seemed it to his worshippers—of Dr. Grant's Geneva gown. And in this same box Sabbath after Sabbath appeared the stalwart form of Archie M'Cormack, modern in nothing but his years.
His was a conservatism of the intense and passionate sort; not the choice of his judgment, but the deepest element of his life. He no more chose old ways, old paths, or the spirit of earlier times, than the trout chooses water or the Polar bear its native snows. He was born not among them, but of them, and remained till death their incarnate descendant. No mere Scotch kirkman was Archie, but a prehistoric Calvinist, a Presbyterian by the act of God and an elder from all eternity. Even his youthful thoughts and imaginations adjusted themselves to the scope of the Westminster Confession, abhorring any horizon unillumined by the gray light which flowed in mathematical exactitude from a hypothetical heart in the Shorter Catechism.
Although, strangely enough, Archie could never master the catechism. A random question was his doom. Catechise him straight through, and his response was swift and accurate. No thrust availed against him, a knight invincible in his well-pieced coat of mail, a very dragon of orthodoxy from whose lips there issued clouds of Calvinism, till the minister himself was often well-nigh obscured thereby. But once dip Archie into the middle of its mighty bosom to search an answer there, and he would never reappear, or, if he haply might, it would be with sorry fragments of divers answers in his hands, incongruous to absurdity. Is not the same true of babbling guides in old cathedrals?
"What is sin?" the minister once suddenly asked Archie in the course of catechetical visitation, the district being assembled at one central house. Archie's answer, being a mosaic, is still quoted by those who heard it, terror-stricken where they sat.
"Sin," replied the wide-gleaning man, "is an act of God's free grace, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in its full purpose of and endeavour after new obedience."
This terrible and miscellaneous eruption was the more lamentable from the fact that his poor wife heard this blare of discordant dogmas with unbelieving ears, while even little Kirsty gasped, exclaiming above her breath, "Ye're sair muddled, faither."
Archie looked vacantly from wife to daughter, like one who has let something drop. Then gazing despondently at the minister's struggling face, he said, "I'm feart that's no' jist richt in a' its parteeklars." The epilogue was worse than the tragedy. A grim Presbyterian smile went round, more vocal than the echoing laughter of less silent sects, and it smote on Archie's ears like the scorners' bray. Forward went the catechism, a penitential gloom succeeding the sinful indulgence. The Scottish sun dips suddenly.
Sober enough now are the faces from which all merriment has fled, forgetting the precentor's discomfiture, and looking only to their own deliverance from the guns now turned against themselves. But Archie did not forget—into a secret Scottish place he had retreated, his hot, burning heart forging some weapon of revenge. It was ready in due time. An hour after, just before the armistice which the benediction alone made sure, he turned upon the honest rustics with a look of belated triumph in his face, and slew them with the retort which long travail had brought forth.
"A'm no' sae gleg on the subject o' sin as some fowk I ken."
The minister, by aid of special grace, said nothing. Archie, although he held solemnly on his way through the benediction, as became a precentor, yet chuckled exultantly all the homeward road. At evening worship he selected the Twenty-seventh Psalm and sang the second verse with rejoicing unction—
"Whereas mine enemies and foes, Most wicked persons all, To eat my flesh against me rose, They stumbled and did fall,"
and the honest rustics, as they sought the cover of their homes with emancipated feet, pronounced one to the other that most Scotch of all Scottish verdicts, half of eulogy and half of condemnation: "He's a lad, is Airchie. Ay, Airchie's a lad to be sure."
* * * * *
What sleuth-hounds women are in matters of the heart! How quickly they take the scent of any path, virgin though it be, if that path hath been touched by the very feet of love, tracing its devious course with passionate inerrancy.
I thought the news trifling, when I told my wife that Angus and our Margaret had appeared before St. Cuthbert's session to present a certain prayer. My mind was taken up exclusively with the request they proffered. But Margaret's mother was unconcerned with their plea. Of the pleaders she thought alone. Divers questions she flung forth at me, furtive all, their author in ambush all the while.
"Did they seem interested in each other?" was the burden of them all; for, though she avoided plainness of speech, I could yet detect her hidden fear.
But I must turn from this and tell of the enterprise in whose interest Margaret and Angus bearded the lions of St. Cuthbert's in their den. They represented the Young People's Guild, and presented the startling request that the old kirk should henceforth employ an organ to aid the service of praise on the Sabbath day. And they further asked for the introduction of the hymns. This implied a revolution, for St. Cuthbert's, up to this time, had resolutely resisted all attempts to hallow such profanities.
For the youthful pair of revolutionists I felt a decided sympathy, such as pervades every generous heart when it beholds the dauntless approach of David towards Goliath. Such citadels of orthodoxy, such Gibraltars of conservatism as Archie was, were almost all the elders of St. Cuthbert's. And against them all united did Angus and Margaret dare to turn their poor artillery of persuasion.
The session received them cordially, having all goodwill towards them personally, hating the sin but loving the sinners, to employ a good old theological phrase. Angus began, adroitly enough, with a eulogy of the psalms and paraphrases, defining them as the mountain peaks of song in all ages and in every tongue.
"In far-distant Scotland my mother is singing them to-night," he said, "and I catch the glow and the sweetness of the heather when the kirk rings with their high refrain ilka Sabbath day. But we feel that the hymns, even if they be inferior, will add richness and variety to the service of our beloved kirk."
As for the organ, he contended that it was only a means towards an end, man-made though it was; for these stern men were rigid in their distinction between things made with hands and things inspired.
Angus quoted Scripture on behalf of the organ plea, recalling David's use of instrumental music and quoting the Ninety-second Psalm—
"Upon a ten-stringed instrument And on the psaltery, Upon the harp with solemn sound And grave, sweet melody."
I then called upon Margaret, and my heart misgave me as I spoke her name, for she was full of pathetic hopefulness, and seemed to think that Angus's argument had settled things beyond appeal. But I knew better than she what spray could do with frowning rocks. The elders, too, smiled tenderly upon her, for they were chivalrous in their solemn way, and besides, she was what you might call the church's first-born child, the story of which I have already told. But theirs was a kind of executioners' smile, for they were iron-blooded men, who felt that they had heard but now the trumpeting of the enemy at the gate.
Margaret timidly expressed the view that she need, and would, add nothing more, "for," she concluded, "Mr. Strachan has covered the ground completely." This phrase "covered the ground" I do not believe she had ever used before, but every true child of the manse and the kirk is born its legitimate heir. "The previous question" is another matter, and can be acquired only through laborious years. It takes even a moderator all his time to explain it; before most Presbyteries quite master it, death moves it—and then they understand.
Poor Margaret seemed to think that Angus had made out a case which no elder could successfully assail. She knew not that there are some matters which Scotch elders consider it impious even to discuss, holding in scorn the flaccid axiom that there are two sides to every question.
The youthful petitioners withdrew, and the session indulged itself in a long silence, their usual mode of signifying that important business was before them.
The first to speak was Ronald M'Gregor: "We'll no' be needin' a motion," he said, by way of indicating that there could be no two opinions on the matter in hand.
"We'll hae to move that the peteetion be rejeckit," said Elder M'Tavish, nodding his head to signify his agreement with Ronald's main contention.
"The puir bodies mean richt," he added, being distinguished for Christian charity.
The motion was as good as agreed to, silent consent appearing upon every face, when Michael Blake arose.
"I move in amendment, that the young people's request be referred to a committee, with a view to its favourable consideration."
"I second that," said Sandy Grant, the session clerk, "not thereby committin' masel' to its spirit, but to bring it afore the court in regular order."
"What for div we need anither motion?" said Thomas Laidlaw, evidently perplexed. "There's nane o' us gaun to gie in to thae man-made hymes—an' their kist o' whustles wad be fair redeek'lus."
"Let us hear what they have to say in its behalf," said Mr. Blake. "Every honest man should be open to conviction."
"We're a' honest men," replied Thomas, "an' we're a' open to conviction, but I houp nane o' us'll be weak eneuch to be convickit. Oor faithers wadna hae been convickit."
"It'll dae nae harm to hear the argyments," said Andrew Hogg, the silent member of the session.
At this juncture, fearing what Saunders M'Tavish had long ago called the thin edge o' the wedge, Archie M'Cormack, the precentor, came forward in hot alarm, championing the hosts of orthodoxy.
"The session'll mebbe listen to me, for I've been yir precentor these mony years. We'll hae nae mair o' thae havers. Wha wants their hymes? Naebody excep' a wheen o' gigglin' birkies. Gie them the hymes, an' we'll hear Martyrdom nae mair, an' Coleshill an' Duke Street'll be by. For what did oor faithers dee if it wasna for the psalms o' Dauvit? An' they dee'd to the tunes I've named to ye."
"But Mr. M'Cormack will admit," said Mr. Blake, "that many of God's people worship to profit with the hymns. There is the Episcopal church across the way. Last Sabbath I am told their soprano sang 'Lead, kindly Light,' and it was well received."
"Wha receivit it?" thundered Archie. "Tell me that, sir. Wha receivit it? Was it Almichty God, or was it the itchin' lugs o' deein' men, aye hearkenin' to thae skirlin' birkies wi' their men-made hymes?"
"Mr. M'Cormack is severe," replied Michael Blake serenely, "but I think he is unnecessarily alarmed; we must keep our service up to date. As the session knows, I have always been in favour, for instance, of the modern fashion of special services at Christmas, Eastertide, and kindred seasons. And at such times we ought to have a little special music."
"Up to date!" retorted Archie scornfully; "it's a sair date an' a deein' ane. It'll dee the nicht, an' there'll be a new ane the morn, an' wha ever heard tell o' an Easter Sabbath in the Kirk o' Scotland? It'll dae weel eneuch for thae dissentin' bodies, wi' their prayer-books, but what hae we, wi' the psalm-buik, an' a regular ministry, an' a regular kirk, to dae wi' siclike follies? Ilka Sabbath day is Easter day, I'm tellin' ye. Is oor Lord no' aye risin' frae the dead? Gin a soul braks intil new life, or a deein' man pillows his weary heid on Him, or the heavy-herted staun' up in His michty strength, ye hae yir Easter Sabbath; an' that's ilka Sabbath, I'm sayin'. Nane o' yir enawmelled bit toys for Presbyterian fowk."
"I do not want to interfere with the good old Presbyterian ways," responded Mr. Blake; for the elders seemed to have committed the entire debate to those two representatives of the old school and the new. "But it seems to me the whole Christian religion is a religion of change," he continued; "the new path, the new and living way, the new covenant, the new name, the new song—and the new heart," he concluded fervently. Then a moment later he added, "Thank God for that!" and the elders looked at him in astonishment, for his face bore again that look of anguish and remorse to which I have referred before, the oft-recurring evidence of some bitter secret, deep hidden in his heart.
"We understaun' fine," the session clerk appended. "Mr. Blake is only contending that there are two sides to every question."
"Twa sides!" shouted the precentor, now on his feet again, "there's mair nor twa. There's three sides to ilka question: there's yir ain side, an' there's my side, an' there's God's side," he added almost fiercely; "an' when I ken God's side, there's nae ither side ava."
The debate was not continued long, and closed with the compromise that Mr. Blake's motion should prevail, the whole matter to be referred to a committee composed of Mr. Blake, the precentor, the moderator, and the clerk, no report to be made to the kirk session unless the committee was unanimous in its finding. This committee was instructed to meet and confer with the representatives of the Young People's Guild.
While this resolution was being recorded, Archie was still indulging in smothered protests, the dying voice of the thunder-storm; and as the session dispersed he was heard to say, "Committee or no committee, as lang as I'm in the kirk they'll sing the psalms o' Dauvit—an' the tunes o' Dauvit tae."
The next evening I informed Angus of the session's action, and told him the names of the committee. When I mentioned that of Mr. Blake, his eyes flashed fire, and in bitter tones he said, "I will meet no committee of which that man is one. I hate him, sir. I would as lief confer with the devil as with him."
This staggered me. I knew no cause for an outburst so passionate, nor any provocation for a resentment so savage and so evidently real. My attempt to question him concerning either met with an abrupt but final refusal. Concerning these things I said nothing to Margaret or her mother, but kept them all and pondered them in my heart.
It was Geordie Lorimer who first taught me to curl. This I still reckon a great kindness, for I have gone from strength to strength till I am now upon the verge of tankard skiphood. Besides, Geordie's besetting sin still clinging close, I had hoped in this social way the more readily to win his friendship, with a view to his deliverance.
Some of the old elders looked askance at my frivolity, for Sanderson's "Mountain Dew" flowed freely at every bonspiel, and it was generally understood that all bigoted teetotalism was justly suspended till the ice vanished in the spring. These aforesaid elders had no sympathy with men who tasted standing up, or who took their "Mountain Dew" unwarmed.
They would gravely quote the scriptural admonition that all things should be done decently and in order, adding the exposition, logically deduced, that the more important the transaction, the more imperative that order and decency should be observed. For which reason they took their whisky hot, and hallowed by the gentler name of "toddy." At eventide they took it, within the sacred precincts of their own firesides, and immediately after family worship. Many a time and oft the very lips which fervently sang the psalm—
"Like Hermon's dew, the dew that doth,"
were the same that sampled Sanderson's with solemn satisfaction.
The session clerk once presented to the court a letter from a worthy but wandering temperance orator, craving permission to give his celebrated "dog talk" in St. Cuthbert's on a Sabbath afternoon.
"I move that the kirk be no' granted," said Archie M'Cormack. "He'll be revilin' the ways o' men far abune him. Ma faither aye took a drappy ilka nicht, haudin' his bonnet in his haun' the while. He wad drink the health o' Her Majesty ('God bless her,' he aye said), and mebbe ane to the auld kirk in bonnie Scotland, an' mebbe ane to the laddies wha used to rin wi' him aboot the braes, an' mebbe then he wad hae jist ane mair to Her Majesty, for ma faither was aye uncommon loyal at the hinner end. But atween him an' ma mither he aye kent fine when to stop.
"An' a' oor faithers tasted afore they gaed to bed, an' they a' dee'd wi' their faces to the licht; an' I wadna gie ane o' them for a wheen o' yir temperance haverers wi' their dog talks on the Sabbath day."
"I second that," said Ronald M'Gregor. "The injudeecious use o' speerits, or o' ony ither needcessity, is no' to be commendit, but the Sabbath he's askin' 'll be the sacrament, and that's no day for dog talkin', I'm thinkin'"—and the motion carried unanimously.
* * * * *
"How's the ice to-day?" I asked Thomas Laidlaw, one winter's afternoon.
"Fair graun'," replied the solemn Thomas. "Ye'll never throw a stane on better till ye draw by yir last gaird; 'twad dae fine for the New Jerusalem."
"You don't think there'll be curling there, Thomas?" I said.
"I dinna ken," he answered, "but I'm no' despairin'. They aye speak o't as a land where everlasting spring abides; but I hae ma doots. There'll be times when the ice'll hold, I'm thinkin'. Yon crystal river's no' for naethin'."
Geordie Lorimer was my skip that day, and soon the armoured floor was echoing to the "roarin' game," the largest, noblest, brotherliest game known to mortal men. The laird and the cottar were there, the homely shepherd and the village snab who cobbled his shoes, the banker and the carter, the manufacturer and the mechanic—all on that oft-quoted platform which is built alone of curlers' ice.
"Lay me a pat-lid richt here, man. Soop her up—soop, soop, man. Get her by the gaird. Let her be. I'm wrang, bring her ben the hoose. Stop—stop, I'm tellin' ye. Noo, soop, soop her in, man."
"Noo, minister, be up this time," cries Geordie. "Soop, soop her up. That's a graun' yin, minister. Shake ye yir ain haun'. Gin yir sermons were deleevered like yir stanes, there wadna be an empty seat i' the kirk. Lat her dee, she's ower fiery. That'll dae fine for a gaird, an' Tam'll be fashed to get roun' ye."
Thus roared the game along, and at its close Geordie and I were putting our stones away together, flushed with victory. The occasion seemed favourable for the moral influence which it was my constant aim to exercise.
"By the way, Geordie," I began, "I have not seen you in the kirk of late."
"What's that?" said Geordie, his invariable challenge, securing time to adjust himself for the encounter.
"I have missed you nearly all winter from the church on the Sabbath day," I replied, leaving no room for further uncertainty.
Geordie capitulated slowly: "I'll grant ye I've no' been by-ord'nar regglar," he admitted, "but I hae a guid excuse. I haena been ower weel. Ma knee's been sair. To tell ye the truth, minister, half the time 'twas a' I could dae to get doon to curl."
I sighed heavily and said no more, for Geordie was hopelessly sincere in his idea of first things first.
The very next night I was sitting quietly in my study, talking to Margaret and Angus, though I was beginning to suspect already that they had come to endure my absence with heroic fortitude.
About eleven o'clock the door-bell rang, and I answered it myself. It was Geordie's distracted wife. Leading her to the drawing-room, I asked her mission, though her pale and care-rung face left little room for doubt.
"Wad ye think it bold o' me, sir, gin I was to ask you to find Geordie an' fetch him hame? He's off sin' yestere'en."
"Why, it was only yesterday evening I saw him on the ice."
"Ay, sir, but he winned the game, an' that's aye a loss for Geordie; he aye tak's himsel' to the tavern when he wins. Oh, sir, ma hairt's fair broken; it's a twalmonth this verra nicht sin' oor wee Jessie dee'd, an' I was aye lippenin' to that to bring him till himsel'; but he seems waur nor ever—he seeks to droon his sorrow wi' the drink."
I had often marvelled at this; for Geordie's last word to his little daughter had been a promise to meet her in the land o' the leal. But it is not chains alone that make a slave.
After a little further conversation, I sent the poor woman home, assuring her that I would do the best I could for Geordie. Which promise I proceeded to fulfill. Two or three of his well-known resorts had been visited with fruitless quest, when I repaired to the Maple Leaf, a notoriously sunken hole, which thus blasphemed the name of the fairest emblem of the nations. I observed a few sorry wastrels leaning in maudlin helplessness upon the bar as I pressed in, still cleaving to their trough—but Geordie was not among them. I was about to withdraw, when I heard a familiar voice, above the noise of a phonograph, from one of the rooms just above the bar. It was Geordie's.
"Gie us 'Nearer, my God, to Thee,'" I heard him cry, with drunken unction. "Gin ye haena ane o' the psalms o' Dauvit i' yir kist o' tunes, mak' the creetur play 'Nearer, my God, to Thee.'"
Here was Geordie's evil genius in evidence again, his profligacy and his piety hand in hand. Ascending the stairs, I reached the door just in time to see the landlord, manipulator of the musical machine, forcing Geordie to the door, one hand gripping his throat, the other buffeting the helpless wretch in the face. Two or three of his unspeakable kindred were applauding him.
"Get out of here, you beast," he muttered savagely, "and let decent folk enjoy themselves. You'll not get no music nor no whisky either, hangin' round an honest man's house without a penny in your pocket—get out, you brute." And he struck him full in the face again.
It were wrong to say that I forgot I was a minister; I think I recalled that very thing, and it gave more power to my arm, for I knew the poverty amid which Geordie's poor wife strove to keep their home together; and the pitiful bareness of wee Jessie's death-chamber flashed before me. This well-nourished vampire had sucked the life-blood from them all, and remembering this, I rushed into the unequal conflict and smote the vampire between his greedy eyes with such fervour that he fell where he stood. In a moment he was on his feet again, but my ministry with him was not complete, and I seized him where he had gripped his own victim, by the throat.
"Let me be. Remember you're a minister," he gasped.
"God forbid I should forget," I thundered back, for my blood was hot. I remembered just then that wee Jessie had been dependent on charity for the little delicacies that go with death; "and if God helps me you won't forget it either," with which addition I hurled him down the stairs, his final arrival signalled back by the sulphurous aroma of bruised and battered maledictions.
It may be incidentally inserted here that this unclerical encounter of mine was afterwards referred to at a meeting of St. Cuthbert's session. One of the elders, never very friendly to me, preferred the charge of conduct unbecoming a minister. Only two of his colleagues noticed the indictment, and they both were elders of the old Scotch school.
"Oor minister's fine at the castin' doon o' the strongholds o' Satan," said the one; "it minds me o' what the beasts got i' the temple."
"It's mebbe no' Solomon's exact words, but it's gey like them: 'A time to pit on the goon an' a time to tak' aff the coat'—an' it's the yae kin' o' proheebeetion that's ony guid forbye," said the other.
The groaning landlord was soon removed by the loving hands of his wife and the hostler; and as I convoyed Geordie out past their family sitting-room, tenderly so called, the phonograph breathed out the last expiring strains of "Wull ye no' come back again?" which the aforesaid landlord had selected in preference to Geordie's pious choice.
Measures for the sufferer's relief had been swift; the air was already rich with the fumes of high wines, the versatile healer of internal griefs and external wounds alike.
When Geordie and I were well upon the street a new difficulty presented itself.
"It's a sair shock, an' it'll kill the wife," I heard him muttering beneath his breath.
This gave me some little hope, for I detected in it the beauty of penitence.
"Your wife will forgive you, Geordie," I began; "and if this will only teach——"
But he stopped me; his face showed that he had been sorely misunderstood.
"Forgie me—forgie me! It's no' me she'll hae till forgie. Are ye no' the minister o' St. Cuthbert's? Ah, ye canna deny that. I ken that fine. I kent ye as sune as ye cam' slippin' ben the taivern. It'll fair kill the wife."
"What are you talking about?" I said testily.
"To think I wad live to see my ain minister slippin' by intil a taivern at sic a time o' nicht," he groaned despondingly.
Then he turned upon me, his voice full of sad reproof: "I'm no' what I micht be masel', but I dinna mak' no profession; but to think I'd catch my ain minister hangin' roon' a taivern at this time o' nicht. It'll kill the wife. She thocht the warld o' ye."
What the man was driving at was slowly borne in upon me.
"But you do not understand, Geordie," I began.
He stopped me again: "Dinna mak' it waur wi' yir explanations. I un'erstaun' fine. I un'erstaun' noo why they ca' ye a feenished preacher—ye're damn weel feenished for me an' Betsy. An' gin I tell hoo I fun' ye oot (which I'm no' sayin' I'll dae), ilka sate i' the kirk will be empty the comin' Sabbath day. Ye're a wolf in sheep's claes, an' I'm sair at hairt the nicht."
I saw the uselessness of any attempt to enlighten him, for he was evidently sincere in his illusion, and the spirit of real grief could be detected, mingling with another which poisoned the air at every breath. Whereupon I left him to himself as we walked along, Geordie swaying gently, overcome by the experiences of the departed hour.
"It maun hae a fearfu' haud o' ye when ye cam' oot at sic an oor," he said at length, half to himself. "But it clean spiled a graun' nicht for me to see ye slippin' ben. It was a graun' nicht up till that. I canna jist mind if it was a funeral or a weddin'—but it was fair graun'. We drinkit the health o' ane anither till there wasna ache or pain amangst us, but this spiles it a' for me. An' it'll kill the wife."
"You will see it differently," I could not help but say; "you know well how I have tried to help you and tried to comfort your poor wife."
"That's what I aye thocht till noo," he responded plaintively. "I was sayin' that same thing this verra nicht to ane o' my freens at the taivern afore ye cam'. It was auld Tam Rutherford, wha's gaun to be mairrit again, and him mair nor auchty years o' age. I warnt him against it, an' I telt him his ither wumman was deid but sax months. But Tam said as hoo a buddy at his age canna afford to wait ower lang, an' I didna ken what answer to gie to that."
Then Geordie stopped, evidently resuming the quest for an appropriate reply; for Scotch wit is usually posthumous, their responses serial and their arguments continued in their next.
I was naturally curious as to what part I could have had in this discussion, and since Geordie seemed to have forgotten the original subject, I asked, "What has that to do with my trying to help or comfort anybody?"
"Ou ay," he resumed. "Tam was sayin' as hoo he'd no' hae yirsel' to mairry them, for he said ye're ower affectionate wi' the brides. But I stuck up for you. I telt him yir sympathies was braid, but ye didna pick oot the lassies for it a'. I was at Wullie Lee's the nicht Wullie dee'd; an' I was fair scunnert at the elders. There was twa o' them, an' they prayed turn aboot.
"When Wullie slippit awa, at midnight his twa dochters, Kirsty an' Ann, took on redeek'lus, an' the auld wumman was waur. But the twa elders sat an oor, comfortin' the twa lassies, ane to ilka ane, an' baith o' them no' bad to luik at. They comfortit them muckle the same as I comfortit Betsy when we did oor coortin', but the puir auld buddy was left her lane wi' naebody to comfort her ava. I did it masel' a wee while. That's what I telt Tam, an' I pinted oot the difference atween you an' the elders. I said as hoo ye wad hae pickit oot the auld buddy first—— But to think ma ain een saw ye comin' ben the taivern ayont twal o'clock at nicht."
With such varied discourse did Geordie beguile our homeward way, which at last brought us to his dwelling-place.
"I want ye to promise me ae thing afore we pairt," said Geordie. "It's for yir ain guid I'm askin' it."
"What is it?" I asked curiously.
"I want ye to sign the pledge," he responded, with a tearful voice, "for it maun hae a sair hand o' ye or ye wadna be prowlin' aboot a taivern at sic a time o' nicht."
"I will talk to you some other time about that."
"Weel, weel, jist as ye wull—it'll dae again—but man, hoo'll ye square it wi' the wife when ye gang hame to the manse the nicht? We'll baith hae oor ain times, I'm dootin'. Here's a sweetie for ye; it's a peppermint lozenge, an' it's a graun' help. Guid-nicht."
I had taken but forty steps or so when a solicitous voice called out, "Lie wi' yir back to the wife—an' sip the sweetie—an' breathe in to yersel'."
"NOO, The IN-TURN"
The Apostles' Creed should be revised. One great article of faith it lacks. "I believe in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting"—thus peal its bells of gold. But where is the faithful and observant minister who would not add, "I believe in the change of the leopard's spots and of the Ethiopian's skin"? Nowadays, we speak of conversion with pity and amusement, but it is the greatest word the Christian Church can boast, and the Scripture miracles were long ago entombed had they not lived again in their legitimate descendants.
We are prone to think that men believe in modern miracles because of those of long ago—but the reverse is true: the modern miracles are the attestation of those early wonders; and I myself believe the Galilean records because of His credentials in this Western World and in this present day.
The very morning after the eventful night described above, I was busy at my desk, travailing in birth with my sermon for the next Sabbath morning. Strangely enough, it was from the words, "Why should it be thought a thing incredible?" which is at heart no interrogative at all, but the eternal affirmative of all religion, the basis of all faith, the inevitable corollary of God.
I was casting about for a fitting illustration, fumbling in imagery's twilight chamber and ransacking the halls of history, when lo! God sent one knocking at the door. I responded to the knock myself, and Geordie Lorimer stood before me. His face seemed strangely chastened, and the voice which craved a private interview filled me somehow with subtle hope and joy. For the voice is the soul's great index; and this of Geordie's spoke of a soul's secret convalescence. The breath of spring exuded from his words.
I locked my study door as we passed in together; for a Protestant confessional is a holy place, excelling far the Catholic, even as a love-letter excels a bill of lading.
"What is it, Geordie?" I asked, with tender eagerness.
"I dinna ken exactly, but I think it's life," he answered with new-born passion, "and eternal life at that. I canna tell it an' I canna thole it till I do tell it. I maunna mak' ower free wi' God; but it's my soul, minister, it's my soul, an' I'm a new creature. I'm new in the sicht o' God an' He's new in mine—an' I prayed this mornin', a thing I haena dune for mair than twenty years—an' the auld burn was sweet an' clear, like when my laddie's lips sippit there lang syne—I daurna speak His name ower often, but God is gey guid to the sinfu' an' the weary."
"None but they can know how good," was my response.
My remark seemed to pass unnoticed, for Geordie had more to say.
"Hark ye, an' I'll tell ye hoo God cam' to me. 'Twas near the dawn this verra mornin' I had a dream, an' wee Jessie cam' to me. An' that was God, nae ither ane but God. 'Oot o' the mooth o' babes,' is that no' i' the Buik? For wee Jessie stood beside the bed, an' I luikit at her an' I said, 'My little dochter.' 'Twas a' I could say, an' she pit her saft haun' on my heid sae gentle, an' sae blessed cool, for my heid was burnin' hot. She luikit lang, an' her een was fu' o' love: 'Faither,' she said, 'did ye no' promise yir lassie to meet her in the Faither's hoose? Oh, faither, I've come to mind ye o' yir promise an' to set yir puir feet upon the path ance mair. God loves ye, faither; I hae it frae Himsel'; an' there's mony a ane wi' Him noo in white wha wandered farther bye nor you. An' God 'll try, gin ye'll try yirsel', an' yir wee Jessie 'll no' be far frae ye. Wull ye no' come, faither? for yir ain lassie, an' mither, an' God, a' want ye.'