Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr.

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had some business with Deacon Strang, and when it was finished I spoke
to him anent Isabel. He made me no answer then, one way or the other,
but told me he would have a talk with Isabel, and I might call on him
this afternoon. When I did so he said he felt obligated to refuse my


"That is all."

"Nonsense! Hae you seen Isabel hersel'?"

"She went to Edinburgh last night."

"And if you were your uncle, lad, you would hae been in Edinburgh too
by this time. Your uncle would not stay refused twenty-four hours, if
he thought the lass loved him. Tut, tut, you ought to hae left at
once; that would hae been mair like a Callendar than ganging to your
ain room to sit out a scorning. There is a train at ten o'clock
to-night; you hae time to catch it if ye dinna lose a minute, and if
you come back wi' Mrs. David Callendar, I'll gie her a warm welcome
for your sake."

The old man's face was aglow, and in his excitement he had risen to
his feet with the very air of one whom no circumstances could depress
or embarrass. David caught his mood and his suggestion, and in five
minutes he was on his way to the railway dépôt. The thing was done so
quickly that reflection had formed no part of it. But when Jenny heard
the front-door clash impatiently after David, she surmised some
imprudence, and hastened to see what was the matter. John told her the
"affront" David had received, and looked eagerly into the strong,
kindly face for an assurance that he had acted with becoming
promptitude and sympathy. Jenny shook her head gravely, and regarded
the deacon with a look of pitying disapproval. "To think," she said,
"of twa men trying to sort a love affair, when there was a woman
within call to seek counsel o'."

"But we couldna hae done better, Jenny."

"Ye couldna hae done warse, deacon. Once the lad asked ye for money,
and ye wouldna trust him wi' it; and now ye are in sic a hurry to send
him after a wife that he maun neither eat nor sleep. Ye ken which is
the maist dangerous. And you, wi' a' your years, to play into auld
Strang's hand sae glibly! Deacon, ye hae made a nice mess o' it. Dinna
ye see that Strang knew you twa fiery Hielandmen would never tak
'No,' and he sent Isabel awa on purpose for our Davie to run after her.
He kens weel they will be sure to marry, but he'll say now that his
daughter disobeyed him; sae he'll get off giving her a bawbee o' her
fortune, and he'll save a' the plenishing and the wedding expenses.
Deacon, I'm ashamed o' you. Sending a love-sick lad on sic a fool's
errand. And mair, I'm not going to hae Isabel Strang, or Isabel
Callendar here. A young woman wi' bridish ways dawdling about the
house, I canna, and I willna stand. You'll hae to choose atween Deacon
Strang's daughter and your auld cousin, Jenny Callendar."

John had no answer ready, and indeed Jenny gave him no time to make
one: she went off with a sob in her voice, and left the impulsive old
matchmaker very unhappy indeed. For he had an unmitigated sense of
having acted most imprudently, and moreover, a shrewd suspicion that
Jenny's analysis of Deacon Strang's tactics was a correct one. For the
first time in many a year, a great tide of hot, passionate anger swept
away every other feeling. He longed to meet Strang face to face, and
with an hereditary and quite involuntary instinct he put his hand to
the place where his forefathers had always carried their dirks. The
action terrified and partly calmed him. "My God!" he exclaimed,
"forgive thy servant. I hae been guilty in my heart o' murder."

He was very penitent, but still, as he mused the fire burned; and he
gave vent to his feelings in odd, disjointed sentences thrown up from
the very bottom of his heart, as lava is thrown up by the
irrepressible eruption: "Wha shall deliver a man from his ancestors?
Black Evan Callendar was never much nearer murder than I hae been this
night, only for the grace of God, which put the temptation and the
opportunity sae far apart. I'll hae Strang under my thumb yet. God
forgie me! what hae I got to do wi' sorting my ain wrongs? What for
couldna Davie like some other lass? It's as easy to graft on a good
stock as an ill one. I doobt I hae done wrong. I am in a sair swither.
The righteous dinna always see the right way. I maun e'en to my Psalms
again. It is a wonderfu' comfort that King David was just a weak,
sinfu' mortal like mysel'." So he went again to those pathetic,
self-accusing laments of the royal singer, and found in them, as he
always had done, words for all the great depths of his sin and fear,
his hopes and his faith.

In the morning one thing was clear to him; David must have his own
house now - David must leave him. He could not help but acknowledge
that he helped on this consummation, and it was with something of the
feeling of a man doing a just penance that he went to look at a
furnished house, whose owner was going to the south of France with a
sick daughter. The place was pretty, and handsomely furnished, and
John paid down the year's rent. So when David returned with his young
bride, he assumed at once the dignity and the cares of a householder.

Jenny was much offended at the marriage of David. She had looked
forward to this event as desirable and probable, but she supposed it
would have come with solemn religious rites and domestic feasting, and
with a great gathering in Blytheswood Square of all the Callendar
clan. That it had been "a wedding in a corner," as she contemptuously
called it, was a great disappointment to her. But, woman-like, she
visited it on her own sex. It was all Isabel's fault, and from the
very first day of the return of the new couple she assumed an air of
commiseration for the young husband, and always spoke of him as "poor

This annoyed John, and after his visits to David's house he was
perhaps unnecessarily eloquent concerning the happiness of the young
people. Jenny received all such information with a dissenting silence.
She always spoke of Isabel as "Mistress David," and when John reminded
her that David's wife was "Mistress Callendar," she said, "It was weel
kent that there were plenty o' folk called Callendar that werna
Callendars for a' that." And it soon became evident to her womanly
keen-sightedness that John did not always return from his visits to
David and Isabel in the most happy of humors. He was frequently too
silent and thoughtful for a perfectly satisfied man; but whatever his
fears were, he kept them in his own bosom. They were evidently as yet
so light that hope frequently banished them altogether; and when at
length David had a son and called it after his uncle, the old man
enjoyed a real springtime of renewed youth and pleasure. Jenny was
partly reconciled also, for the happy parents treated her with special
attention, and she began to feel that perhaps David's marriage might
turn out better than she had looked for.

Two years after this event Deacon Strang became reconciled to his
daughter, and as a proof of it gave her a large mansion situated in
the rapidly-growing "West End." It had come into his possession at a
bargain in some of the mysterious ways of his trade; but it was, by
the very reason of its great size, quite unsuitable for a young
manufacturer like David. Indeed, it proved to be a most unfortunate
gift in many ways.

"It will cost £5,000 to furnish it," said John fretfully, "and that
Davie can ill afford - few men could; but Isabel has set her heart on

"And she'll hae her will, deacon. Ye could put £5,000 in the business
though, or ye could furnish for them."

"My way o' furnishing wouldna suit them; and as for putting back money
that David is set on wasting, I'll no do it. It is a poor well, Jenny,
into which you must put water. If David's business wont stand his
drafts on it, the sooner he finds it out the better."

So the fine house was finely furnished; but that was only the
beginning of expenses. Isabel now wanted dress to suit her new
surroundings, and servants to keep the numerous rooms clean. Then she
wanted all her friends and acquaintances to see her splendid
belongings, so that erelong David found his home turned into a
fashionable gathering-place. Lunches, dinners, and balls followed
each other quickly, and the result of all this visiting was that
Isabel had long lists of calls to make every day, and that she finally
persuaded David that it would be cheaper to buy their own carriage
than to pay so much hire to livery-stables.

These changes did not take place all at once, nor without much
disputing. John Callendar opposed every one of them step by step till
opposition was useless. David only submitted to them in order to
purchase for himself a delusive peace during the few hours he could
afford to be in his fine home; for his increased expenditure was not a
thing he could bear lightly. Every extra hundred pounds involved extra
planning and work and risks. He gradually lost all the cheerful
buoyancy of manner and the brightness of countenance that had been
always part and parcel of David Callendar. A look of care and
weariness was on his face, and his habits and hours lost all their
former regularity. It had once been possible to tell the time of day
by the return home of the two Callendars. Now no one could have done
that with David. He stayed out late at night; he stayed out all night
long. He told Isabel the mill needed him, and she either believed him
or pretended to do so.

So that after the first winter of her fashionable existence she
generally "entertained" alone. "Mr. Callendar had gone to Stirling, or
up to the Highlands to buy wool," or, "he was so busy money-making she
could not get him to recognize the claims of society." And society
cared not a pin's point whether he presided or not at the expensive
entertainments given in his name.


But things did not come to this pass all at once; few men take the
steps towards ruin so rapidly as to be themselves alarmed by it. It
was nearly seven years after his marriage when the fact that he was in
dangerously embarrassed circumstances forced itself suddenly on
David's mind. I say "suddenly" here, because the consummation of evil
that has been long preparing comes at last in a moment; a string
holding a picture gets weaker and weaker through weeks of tension, and
then breaks. A calamity through nights and days moves slowly towards
us step by step, and then some hour it has come. So it was with
David's business. It had often lately been in tight places, but
something had always happened to relieve him. One day, however, there
was absolutely no relief but in borrowing money, and David went to his
uncle again.

It was a painful thing for him to do; not that they had any quarrel,
though sometimes David thought a quarrel would be better than the
scant and almost sad intercourse their once tender love had fallen
into. By some strange mental sympathy, hardly sufficiently recognized
by us, John was thinking of his nephew when he entered. He greeted him
kindly, and pulled a chair close, so that David might sit beside him.
He listened sympathizingly to his cares, and looked mournfully into
the unhappy face so dear to him; then he took his bank-book and wrote
out a check for double the amount asked.

The young man was astonished; the tears sprang to his eyes, and he
said, "Uncle, this is very good of you. I wish I could tell you how
grateful I am."

"Davie, sit a moment, you dear lad. I hae a word to say to ye. I hear
tell that my lad is drinking far mair than is good either for himsel'
or his business. My lad, I care little for the business; let it go, if
its anxieties are driving thee to whiskey. David, remember what thou
accused me of, yonder night, when this weary mill was first spoken of;
and then think how I suffer every time I hear tell o' thee being the
warse o' liquor. And Jenny is greeting her heart out about thee. And
there is thy sick wife, and three bonnie bit bairns."

"Did Isabel tell you this?"

"How can she help complaining? She is vera ill, and she sees little o'
thee, David, she says."

"Yes, she is ill. She took cold at Provost Allison's ball, and she has
dwined away ever since. That is true. And the house is neglected and
the servants do their own will both with it and the poor children. I
have been very wretched, Uncle John, lately, and I am afraid I have
drunk more than I ought to have done. Robert and I do not hit together
as we used to; he is always fault-finding, and ever since that visit
from his cousin who is settled in America he has been dissatisfied and
heartless. His cousin has made himself a rich man in ten years there;
and Robert says we shall ne'er make money here till we are too old to
enjoy it."

"I heard tell, too, that Robert has been speculating in railway stock.
Such reports, true or false, hurt you, David. Prudent men dinna like
to trust speculators."

"I think the report is true; but then it is out of his private savings
he speculates."

"Davie, gie me your word that you wont touch a drop o' whiskey for a
week - just for a week."

"I cannot do it, uncle. I should be sure to break it. I don't want to
tell you a lie."

"O Davie, Davie! Will you try, then?"

"I'll try, uncle. Ask Jenny to go and see the children."

"'Deed she shall go; she'll be fain to do it. Let them come and stay
wi' me till their mother is mair able to look after them."

Jenny heard the story that night with a dour face. She could have said
some very bitter things about Deacon Strang's daughter, but in
consideration of her sickness she forbore. The next morning she went
to David's house and had a talk with Isabel. The poor woman was so ill
that Jenny had no heart to scold her; she only gave the house "a good
sorting," did what she could for Isabel's comfort, and took back with
her the children and their nurse. It was at her suggestion John saw
David the next day, and offered to send Isabel to the mild climate of
Devonshire. "She'll die if she stays in Glasgo' through the winter,"
he urged, and David consented. Then, as David could not leave his
business, John himself took the poor woman to Torbay, and no one but
she and God ever knew how tenderly he cared for her, and how solemnly
he tried to prepare her for the great change he saw approaching. She
had not thought of death before, but when they parted he knew she had
understood him, for weeping bitterly, she said, "You will take care of
the children, Uncle John? I fear I shall see them no more."

"I will, Isabel. While I live I will."

"And, O uncle, poor David! I have not been a good wife to him.
Whatever happens, think of that and judge him mercifully. It is my
fault, uncle, my fault, my fault! God forgive me!"

"Nae, nae, lassie; I am far from innocent mysel';" and with these
mournful accusations they parted for ever.

For Isabel's sickness suddenly assumed an alarming character, and her
dissolution was so rapid that John had scarcely got back to Glasgow
ere David was sent for to see his wife die. He came back a bereaved
and very wretched man; the great house was dismantled and sold, and he
went home once more to Blytheswood Square.

But he could not go back to his old innocent life and self; and the
change only revealed to John how terribly far astray his nephew had
gone. And even Isabel's death had no reforming influence on him; it
only roused regrets and self-reproaches, which made liquor all the
more necessary to him. Then the breaking up of the house entailed much
bargain-making, all of which was unfortunately cemented with glasses
of whiskey toddy. Still his uncle had some new element of hope on
which to work. David's home was now near enough to his place of
business to afford no excuse for remaining away all night. The
children were not to be hid away in some upper room; John was
determined they should be at the table and on the hearthstone; and
surely their father would respect their innocence and keep himself
sober for their sakes.

"It is the highest earthly motive I can gie him," argued the anxious
old man, "and he has aye had grace enough to keep out o' my sight when
he wasna himsel'; he'll ne'er let wee John and Flora and Davie see him
when the whiskey is aboon the will and the wit - that's no to be

And for a time it seemed as if John's tactics would prevail. There
were many evenings when they were very happy. The children made so gay
the quiet old parlor, and David learning to know his own boys and
girl, was astonished at their childish beauty and intelligence. Often
John could not bear to break up the pleasant evening time, and David
and he would sit softly talking in the firelight, with little John
musing quietly between them, and Flora asleep on her uncle's lap. Then
Jenny would come gently in and out and say tenderly, "Hadna the bairns
better come awa to their beds?" and the old man would answer, "Bide a
bit, Jenny, woman," for he thought every such hour was building up a
counter influence against the snare of strong drink.

But there is no voice in human nature that can say authoritatively,
"_Return!_" David felt all the sweet influences with which he was
surrounded, but, it must be admitted, they were sometimes an
irritation to him. His business troubles, and his disagreements with
his partner, were increasing rapidly; for Robert - whose hopes were set
on America - was urging him to close the mill before their liabilities
were any larger. He refused to believe longer in the future making
good what they had lost; and certainly it was uphill work for David to
struggle against accumulating bills, and a partner whose heart was not
with him.

One night at the close of the year, David did not come home to dinner,
and John and the children ate it alone. He was very anxious, and he
had not much heart to talk; but he kept the two eldest with him until
little Flora's head dropped, heavy with sleep, on his breast. Then a
sudden thought seemed to strike him, and he sent them, almost
hurriedly, away. He had scarcely done so when there was a shuffling
noise in the hall, the parlor-door was flung open with a jar, and
David staggered towards him - _drunk_!

In a moment, John's natural temper conquered him; he jumped to his
feet, and said passionately, "How daur ye, sir? Get out o' my house,
you sinfu' lad!" Then, with a great cry he smote his hands together
and bowed his head upon them, weeping slow, heavy drops, that came
each with a separate pang. His agony touched David, though he scarcely
comprehended it. Not all at once is the tender conscience seared, and
the tender heart hardened.

"Uncle," he said in a maudlin, hesitating way, which it would be a sin
to imitate - "Uncle John, I'm not drunk, I'm in trouble; I'm in
trouble, Uncle John. Don't cry about me. I'm not worth it."

Then he sank down upon the sofa, and, after a few more incoherent
apologies, dropped into a deep sleep.


John sat and looked at his fallen idol with a vacant, tear-stained
face. He tried to pray a few words at intervals, but he was not yet
able to gird up his soul and wrestle with this grief. When Jenny came
in she was shocked at the gray, wretched look with which her master
pointed to the shameful figure on the sofa. Nevertheless, she went
gently to it, raised the fallen head to the pillow, and then went and
got a blanket to cover the sleeper, muttering,

"Poor fellow! There's nae need to let him get a pleurisy, ony gate.
Whatna for did ye no tell me, deacon? Then I could hae made him a cup
o' warm tea."

She spoke as if she was angry, not at David, but at John; and, though
it was only the natural instinct of a woman defending what she dearly
loved, John gave it a different meaning, and it added to his

"You are right, Jenny, woman," he said humbly, "it is my fault. I
mixed his first glass for him."

"Vera weel. Somebody aye mixes the first glass. Somebody mixed your
first glass. That is a bygane, and there is nae use at a' speiring
after it. How is the lad to be saved? That is the question now."

"O Jenny, then you dare to hope for his salvation?"

"I would think it far mair sinfu' to despair o' it. The Father has twa
kinds o' sons, deacon. Ye are ane like the elder brother; ye hae
'served him many years and transgressed not at any time his
commandment;' but this dear lad is his younger son - still his son,
mind ye - and he'll win hame again to his Father's house. What for not?
He's the bairn o' many prayers. Gae awa to your ain room, deacon; I'll
keep the watch wi' him. He'd rather see me nor you when he comes to

Alas! the watch begun that night was one Jenny had very often to keep
afterwards. David's troubles gathered closer and closer round him, and
the more trouble he had the deeper he drank. Within a month after that
first shameful homecoming the firm of Callendar & Leslie went into
sequestration. John felt the humiliation of this downcome in a far
keener way than David did. His own business record was a stainless
one; his word was as good as gold on Glasgow Exchange; the house of
John Callendar & Co. was synonymous with commercial integrity. The
prudent burghers who were his nephew's creditors were far from
satisfied with the risks David and Robert Leslie had taken, and they
did not scruple to call them by words which hurt John Callendar's
honor like a sword-thrust. He did not doubt that many blamed him for
not interfering in his nephew's extravagant business methods; and he
could not explain to these people how peculiarly he was situated with
regard to David's affairs; nor, indeed, would many of them have
understood the fine delicacy which had dictated John's course.

It was a wretched summer every way. The accountant who had charge of
David's affairs was in no hurry to close up a profitable engagement,
and the creditors, having once accepted the probable loss, did not
think it worth while to deny themselves their seaside or Highland
trips to attend meetings relating to Callendar & Leslie. So there was
little progress made in the settlement of affairs all summer, and
David was literally out of employment. His uncle's and his children's
presence was a reproach to him, and Robert and he only irritated each
other with mutual reproaches. Before autumn brought back manufacturers
and merchants to their factories and offices David had sunk still
lower. He did not come home any more when he felt that he had drunk
too much. He had found out houses where such a condition was the
natural and the most acceptable one - houses whose doors are near to
the gates of hell.

This knowledge shocked John inexpressibly, and in the depth of his
horror and grief he craved some human sympathy.

"I must go and see Dr. Morrison," he said one night to Jenny.

"And you'll do right, deacon; the grip o' his hand and the shining o'
his eyes in yours will do you good; forbye, you ken weel you arena fit
to guide yoursel', let alane Davie. You are too angry, and angry men
tell many a lie to themsel's."

There is often something luminous in the face of a good man, and Dr.
Morrison had this peculiarity in a remarkable degree. His face seemed
to radiate light; moreover, he was a man anointed with the oil of
gladness above his fellows, and John no sooner felt the glow of that
radiant countenance on him than his heart leaped up to welcome it.

"Doctor," he said, choking back his sorrow, "doctor, I'm fain to see

"John, sit down. What is it, John?"

"It's David, minister."

And then John slowly, and weighing every word so as to be sure he
neither over-stated nor under-stated the case, opened up his whole
heart's sorrow.

"I hae suffered deeply, minister; I didna think life could be such a

"A tragedy indeed, John, but a tragedy with an angel audience. Think
of that. Paul says 'we are a spectacle unto men and angels.' Mind how
you play your part. What is David doing now?"

"Nothing. His affairs are still unsettled."

"But that wont do, John. Men learn to do ill by doing what is next to
it - nothing. Without some duty life cannot hold itself erect. If a man
has no regular calling he is an unhappy man and a cross man, and I
think prayers should be offered up for his wife and children and a'
who have to live with him. Take David into your own employ at once."

"O minister, that I canna do! My office has aye had God-fearing,
steady men in it, and I canna, and - "

"'And that day Jesus was guest in the house of a man that was a
sinner.' John, can't you take a sinner as a servant into your office?"

"I'll try it, minister."

"And, John, it will be a hard thing to do, but you must watch David

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Online LibraryAmelia Edith Huddleston BarrScottish sketches → online text (page 9 of 15)