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the best of it and carried it home, to be fitted on the heap, and
with every ministration and blandishment enticed to flourish. He
pressed it down with soft firm hands, and beshowered it with water
first warmed a little in his mouth; when the air was soft, he guided
the wind to blow upon it; and as the sun could not reach it where
it lay, he gathered a marvellous heap of all the bright sherds he
could find - of crockery and glass and mirror, so arranging them
in the window, that each threw its tiny reflex upon the turf.
With this last contrivance, Phemy was specially delighted; and the
laird, happy as a child in beholding her delight, threw himself in
an ecstasy on the mound and clasped it in his arms. I can hardly
doubt that he regarded it as representing his own grave, to which
in his happier moods he certainly looked forward as a place of
final and impregnable refuge.

As he lay thus, foreshadowing his burial, or rather his resurrection,
a young canary which had flown from one of the cottages, flitted in
with a golden shiver and flash, and alighted on his head. He took
it gently in his hand and committed it to Phemy to carry home, with
many injunctions against disclosing how it had been captured.

His lonely days were spent in sleep, in tending his plants, or in
contriving defences; but in all weathers he wandered out at midnight,
and roamed or rested among fields or rocks till the first signs of
the breaking day, when he hurried like a wild creature to his den.

Before long he had contrived an ingenious trap, or man spider web,
for the catching of any human insect that might seek entrance at his
window: the moment the invading body should reach a certain point,
a number of lines would drop about him, in making his way through
which he would straightway be caught by the barbs of countless
fishhooks - the whole strong enough at least to detain him until
its inventor should have opened the trapdoor and fled.


Of the new evil report abroad concerning him, nothing had as yet
reached Malcolm. He read, and pondered, and wrestled with difficulties
of every kind; saw only a little of Lady Florimel, who, he thought,
avoided him; saw less of the marquis; and, as the evenings grew
longer, spent still larger portions of them with Duncan - now and
then reading to him, but oftener listening to his music or taking
a lesson in the piper's art. He went seldom into the Seaton, for
the faces there were changed towards him. Attributing this to the
reports concerning his parentage, and not seeing why he should
receive such treatment because of them, hateful though they might
well be to himself, he began to feel some bitterness towards his
early world, and would now and then repeat to himself a misanthropical
thing he had read, fancying he too had come to that conclusion.
But there was not much danger of such a mood growing habitual with
one who knew Duncan MacPhail, Blue Peter, and the schoolmaster -
not to mention Miss Horn. To know one person who is positively to
be trusted, will do more for a man's moral nature - yes, for his
spiritual nature - than all the sermons he has ever heard or ever
can hear.

One evening, Malcolm thought he would pay Joseph a visit, but when
he reached Scaurnose, he found it nearly deserted: he had forgotten
that this was one of the nights of meeting in the Baillies' Barn.
Phemy indeed had not gone with her father and mother, but she was
spending the evening with the laird. Lifting the latch, and seeing
no one in the house, he was on the point of withdrawing when he
caught sight of an eye peeping through an inch opening of the door
of the bed closet, which the same moment was hurriedly closed. He
called, but received no reply, and left the cottage wondering. He
had not heard that Mrs Mair had given Lizzy Findlay shelter for a
season. And now a neighbour had observed and put her own construction
on the visit, her report of which strengthened the general conviction
of his unworthiness.

Descending from the promontory, and wandering slowly along the shore,
he met the Scaurnose part of the congregation returning home. The
few salutations dropped him as he passed were distant, and bore
an expression of disapproval. Mrs Mair only, who was walking with
a friend, gave him a kind nod. Blue Peter, who followed at a little
distance, turned and walked back with him.

"I'm exerceesed i' my min'," he said, as soon as they were clear
of the stragglers, "aboot the turn things hae taen, doon by at the

"They tell me there's some gey queer customers taen to haudin'
furth," returned Malcolm.

"It's a fac'," answered Peter. "The fowk 'll hardly hear a word
noo frae ony o' the aulder an' soberer Christians. They haena the
gift o' the Speerit, they say. But in place o' steerin' them up
to tak hold upo' their Maker, thir new lichts set them up to luik
doon upo' ither fowk, propheseein' an' denuncin', as gien the Lord
had committit jeedgment into their han's."

"What is 't they tak haud o' to misca' them for?" asked Malcolm.

"It's no sae muckle," answered Peter, "for onything they du, as for
what they believe or dinna believe. There's an 'uman frae Clamrock
was o' their pairty the nicht. She stude up an' spak weel, an' weel
oot, but no to muckle profit, as 't seemed to me; only I'm maybe
no a fair jeedge, for I cudna be rid o' the notion 'at she was
lattin' at mysel' a' the time. I dinna ken what for. An' I cudna
help wonnerin' gien she kent what fowk used to say aboot hersel'
whan she was a lass; for gien the sma' half o' that was true, a
body micht think the new grace gien her wad hae driven her to hide
her head, i' place o' exaltin' her horn on high. But maybe it was
a' lees - she kens best hersel'."

"There canna be muckle worship gaein' on wi' ye by this time, than,
I'm thinkin'," said Malcolm.

"I dinna like to say 't," returned Joseph; "but there's a speerit
o' speeritooal pride abroad amang 's, it seems to me, 'at's no
fawvourable to devotion. They hae taen 't intill their heids, for
ae thing - an that's what Dilse's Bess lays on at - 'at 'cause
they're fisher fowk, they hae a speecial mission to convert the

"What foon' they that upo'?" asked Malcolm.

"Ow, what the Saviour said to Peter an' the lave o' them 'at was
fishers - to come to him, an' he would mak them fishers o' men."

"Ay, I see! - What for dinna ye bide at hame, you an' the lave o'
the douce anes?"

"There ye come upo' the thing 'at 's troublin' me. Are we 'at begude
it to brak it up? Or are we to stan' aside an' lat it a' gang to
dirt an' green bree? Or are we to bide wi' them, an warsle aboot
holy words till we tyne a' stamach for holy things?"

"Cud ye brak it up gien ye tried?" asked Malcolm.

"I doobt no. That's ane o' the considerations 'at hings some sair
upo' me: see what we hae dune!"

"What for dinna ye gang ower to Maister Graham, an' speir what he

"What for sud I gang till him? What's he but a fine moaral man? I
never h'ard 'at he had ony discernment o' the min' o' the speerit."

"That's what Dilse's Bess frae Clamrock wad say aboot yersel',

"An' I doobt she wadna be far wrang."

"Ony gait, she kens nae mair aboot you nor ye ken aboot the maister.
Ca' ye a man wha cares for naething in h'aven or in earth but the
wull o' 's Creator - ca' ye sic a man no speeritual? Jist gang ye
till 'im, an' maybe he'll lat in a glent upo' ye 'at 'll astonish

"He's taen unco little enterest in onything 'at was gaein' on."

"Arena ye some wissin' ye hadna taen muckle mair yersel, Peter?"

"'Deed am I! But gien he be giftit like that ye say, what for didna
he try to haud 's richt?"

"Maybe he thoucht ye wad mak yer mistaks better wantin' him."

"Weel, ye dinna ca' that freenly!"

"What for no? I hae h'ard him say fowk canna come richt 'cep' by
haein' room to gang wrang. But jist ye gang till him noo. Maybe
he'll open mair een i' yer heids nor ye kent ye had."

"Weel, maybe we micht du waur. I s' mention the thing to Bow o'
meal an' Jeames Gentle, an' see what they say - There's nae guid
to be gotten o' gaein' to the minister, ye see: there's naething
in him, as the saw says, but what the spune pits intill him."

With this somewhat unfavourable remark, Blue Peter turned homewards.
Malcolm went slowly back to his room, his tallow candle, and his
volume of Gibbon.

He read far into the night, and his candle was burning low in the
socket. Suddenly he sat straight up in his chair, listening: he
thought he heard a sound in the next room - it was impossible even
to imagine of what - it was such a mere abstraction of sound. He
listened with every nerve, but heard nothing more; crept to the
door of the wizard's chamber, and listened again; listened until
he could no longer tell whether he heard or not, and felt like a
deaf man imagining sounds; then crept back to his own room and went
to bed - all but satisfied that, if it was anything, it must have
been some shaking window or door he had heard.

But he could not get rid of the notion that he had smelt sulphur.


The following night, three of the Scaurnose fishermen - Blue Peter,
Bow o' meal, and Jeames Gentle - called at the schoolmaster's
cottage in the Alton, and were soon deep in earnest conversation
with him around his peat fire, in the room which served him for
study, dining room, and bed chamber. All the summer a honeysuckle
outside watched his back window for him; now it was guarded within
by a few flowerless plants. It was a deep little window in a thick
wall, with an air of mystery, as if thence the privileged might look
into some region of strange and precious things. The front window
was comparatively commonplace, with a white muslin curtain across
the lower half. In the middle of the sanded floor stood a table of
white deal, much stained with ink. The green painted doors of the
box bed opposite the hearth stood open, revealing a spotless white
counterpane. On the wall beside the front window hung by red cords
three shelves of books; and near the back window stood a dark,
old fashioned bureau, with pendant brass handles as bright as new,
supporting a bookcase with glass doors, crowded with well worn
bindings. A few deal chairs completed the furniture.

"It's a sair vex, sir, to think o' what we a' jeedged to be the
wark o' the speerit takin' sic a turn! I'm feart it 'll lie heavy at
oor door," said Blue Peter, after a sketch of the state of affairs.

"I don't think they can have sunk so low as the early Corinthian
Church yet," said Mr Graham, "and St. Paul never seems to have
blamed himself for preaching the gospel to the Corinthians."

"Weel, maybe!" rejoined Mair. "But, meantime, the practical p'int
is - are we to tyauve (struggle) to set things richt again, or
are we to lea' them to their ain devices?"

"What power have you to set things right?"

"Nane, sir. The Baillies' Barn 's as free to them as to oorsel's."

"What influence have you, then?"

"Unco little," said Bow o' meal, taking the word. "They're afore
the win'. An' it 's plain eneuch 'at to stan' up an' oppose them
wad be but to breed strife an' debate."

"An' that micht put mony a waukent conscience soon' asleep again
- maybe no to be waukent ony mair," said Blue Peter.

"Then you don't think you can either communicate or receive benefit
by continuing to take a part in those meetings?"

"I dinna think it," answered all three.

"Then the natural question is - 'Why should you go?'"

"We're feart for the guilt o' what the minister ca's shism," said
Blue Peter.

"That might have occurred to you before you forsook the parish
church," said the schoolmaster, with a smile.

"But there was nae speeritooal noorishment to be gotten i' that
houff (haunt)," said Jeames Gentle.

"How did you come to know the want of it?"

"Ow, that cam frae the speerit himsel'-what else?" replied Gentle.

"By what means?"

"By the readin' o' the word an' by prayer," answered Gentle.

"By his ain v'ice i' the hert," said Bow o' meal.

"Then a public assembly is not necessary for the communication of
the gifts of the spirit?"

They were silent.

"Isn't it possible that the eagerness after such assemblies may
have something to do with a want of confidence in what the Lord
says of his kingdom - that it spreads like the hidden leaven -
grows like the buried seed? My own conviction is, that if a man
would but bend his energies to live, if he would but try to be a
true, that is, a godlike man, in all his dealings with his fellows,
a genuine neighbour and not a selfish unit, he would open such
channels for the flow of the spirit as no amount of even honest
and so called successful preaching could."

"Wha but ane was ever fit to lead sic a life 's that?"

"All might be trying after it. In proportion as our candle burns
it will give light. No talking about light will supply the lack of
its presence either to the talker or the listeners."

"There 's a heap made o' the preachin' o' the word i' the buik
itsel'," said Peter with emphasis.

"Undoubtedly. But just look at our Lord: he never stopped living
amongst his people - hasn't stopped yet; but he often refused to
preach, and personally has given it up altogether now."

"Ay, but ye see he kent what he was duin'."

"And so will every man in proportion as he partakes of his spirit."

"But dinna ye believe there is sic a thing as gettin' a call to
the preachin'?"

"I do; but even then a man's work is of worth only as it supplements
his life. A network of spiritual fibres connects the two, makes
one of them."

"But surely, sir, them 'at 's o' the same min' oucht to meet an'
stir ane anither up? 'They that feart the Lord spak aften thegither,'
ye ken."

"What should prevent them? Why should not such as delight in each
other's society, meet, and talk, and pray together, - address each
the others if they like? There is plenty of opportunity for that,
without forsaking the church or calling public meetings. To continue
your quotation - 'The Lord hearkened and heard:' observe, the Lord
is not here said to hearken to sermons or prayers, but to the talk
of his people. This would have saved you from false relations with
men that oppose themselves, caring nothing for the truth - perhaps
eager to save their souls, nothing more at the very best."

"Sir! sir! what wad ye hae? Daur ye say it's no a body's first duty
to save his ain sowl alive?" exclaimed Bow o' meal.

"I daur't - but there 's little daur intill 't!" said Mr Graham,
breaking into Scotch.

Bow o' meal rose from his chair in indignation, Blue Peter made a grasp
at his bonnet, and Jeames Gentle gave a loud sigh of commiseration.

"I allow it to be a very essential piece of prudence," added the
schoolmaster, resuming his quieter English - "but the first duty!
- no. The Catechism might have taught you better than that! To
mind his chief end must surely be man's first duty; and
the Catechism says-. 'Man's chief end is to glorify God.'"

"And to enjoy him for ever," supplemented Peter.

"That 's a safe consequence. There's no fear of the second if he
does the first. Anyhow he cannot enjoy him for ever this moment,
and he can glorify him at once."

"Ay, but hoo?" said Bow o' meal, ready to swoop upon the master's

"Just as Jesus Christ did - by doing his will - by obedience."

"That's no faith - it's works! Ye'll never save yer sowl that

"No man can ever save his soul. God only can do that. You can
glorify him by giving yourself up heart and soul and body and life
to his Son. Then you shall be saved. That you must leave to him,
and do what he tells you. There will be no fear of the saving then
- though it 's not an easy matter - even for him, as has been
sorely proved."

"An' hoo are we to gie oorsel's up till him? - for ye see we're
practical kin' o' fowk, huz fisher fowk, Maister Graham," said Bow
o' meal.

The tone implied that the schoolmaster was not practical.

"I say again - In doing his will and not your own."

"An' what may his wull be?"

"Is he not telling you himself at this moment? Do you not know what
his will is? How should I come between him and you! For anything I
know, it may be that you pay your next door neighbour a crown you
owe him, or make an apology to the one on the other side. I do not
know: you do."

"Dinna ye think aboot savin' yer ain sowl noo, Maister Graham?"
said Bow o' meal, returning on their track.

"No, I don't. I've forgotten all about that. I only desire and pray
to do the will of my God - which is all in all to me."

"What say ye than aboot the sowls o' ither fowk? Wadna ye save
them, no?"

"Gladly would I save them - but according to the will of God. If
I were, even unwittingly, to attempt it in any other way, I should
be casting stumbling blocks in their path, and separating myself
from my God - doing that which is not of faith, and therefore is
sin. It is only where a man is at one with God that he can do the
right thing or take the right way. Whatever springs from any other
source than the spirit that dwelt in Jesus, is of sin, and works
to thwart the divine will. Who knows what harm may be done to a
man by hurrying a spiritual process in him?"

"I doobt, sir, gien yer doctrine was to get a hearin', there wad
be unco little dune for the glory o' God i' this place!" remarked
Bow o' meal, with sententious reproof.

"But what was done would be of the right sort, and surpassingly

"Weel, to come back to the business in han' - what wad be yer
advice?" said Bow o' meal.

"That's a thing none but a lawyer should give. I have shown you
what seem to me the principles involved: I can do no more."

"Ye dinna ca' that neebourly, whan a body comes speirin' 't?"

"Are you prepared then to take my advice?"

"Ye wadna hae a body du that aforehan'! We micht as weel a' be
Papists, an' believe as we 're tauld."

"Precisely so. But you can exercise your judgment upon the principles
whereon my opinion is founded, with far more benefit than upon my
opinion itself - which I cannot well wish you to adopt, seeing
I think it far better for a man to go wrong upon his own honest
judgment, than to go right upon anybody else's judgment, however
honest also."

"Ye hae a heap o' queer doctrines, sir."

"And yet you ask advice of me?"

"We haena ta'en muckle, ony gait," returned Bow o' meal rudely,
and walked from the cottage.

Jeames Gentle and Blue Peter bade the master a kindly good night,
and followed Bow o' meal.

The next Sunday evening Blue Peter was again at the Alton, accompanied
by Gentle and another fisherman, not Bow o' meal, and had another
and longer conversation with the schoolmaster. The following Sunday
he went yet again; and from that time, every Sunday evening, as
soon as he had had his tea, Blue Peter took down his broad bonnet,
and set out to visit Mr Graham. As he went, one and another would
join him as he passed, the number increasing every time, until at
last ten or twelve went regularly.

But Mr Graham did not like such a forsaking of wives and children
on the Sunday.

"Why shouldn't you bring Mrs Mair with you?" he said one evening,
addressing Joseph first. Then turning to the rest - "I should be
happy to see any of your wives who can come," he added; "and some
of you have children who would be no trouble. If there is any good
in gathering this way, why shouldn't we have those with us who are
our best help at all other times?"

"'Deed, sir," said Joseph, "we're sae used to oor wives 'at we're
ower ready to forget hoo ill we cud du wantin' them."

Mrs Mair and two other wives came the next night. A few hung back
from modesty and dread of being catechized; but ere long about half
a dozen went when they could.

I need hardly say that Malcolm, as soon as he learned what was
going on, made one of the company. And truly, although he did not
know even yet all the evil that threatened him, he stood in heavy
need of the support and comfort to be derived from such truths as
Mr Graham unfolded. Duncan also, although he took little interest
in what passed, went sometimes, and was welcomed.

The talk of the master not unfrequently lapsed into monologue, and
sometimes grew eloquent. Seized occasionally by the might of the
thoughts which arose in him, - thoughts which would, to him, have
lost all their splendour as well as worth, had he imagined them
the offspring of his own faculty, meteors of his own atmosphere
instead of phenomena of the heavenly region manifesting themselves
on the hollow side of the celestial sphere of human vision, - he
would break forth in grand poetic speech that roused to aspiration
Malcolm's whole being, while in the same instant calming him with
the summer peace of profoundest faith.

To no small proportion of his hearers some of such outbursts were
altogether unintelligible - a matter of no moment; but there were
of them who understood enough to misunderstand utterly: interpreting
his riches by their poverty, they misinterpreted them pitifully,
and misrepresented them worse. And, alas! in the little company
there were three or four men who, for all their upward impulses,
yet remained capable of treachery, because incapable of recognizing
the temptation to it for what it was. These by and by began to confer
together and form an opposition - in this at least ungenerous,
that they continued to assemble at his house, and show little sign
of dissension. When, however, they began at length to discover that
the master did not teach that interpretation of atonement which
they had derived - they little knew whence, but delivered another
as the doctrine of St. Paul, St. Peter, and St. John, they judged
themselves bound to take measures towards the quenching of a dangerous
heresy. For the more ignorant a man is, the more capable is he of
being absolutely certain of many things - with such certainty,
that is, as consists in the absence of doubt. Mr Graham, in the
meantime, full of love, and quiet solemn fervour, placed completest
confidence in their honesty, and spoke his mind freely and faithfully.


The winter was close at hand - indeed, in that northern region,
might already have claimed entire possession; but the trailing
golden fringe of the skirts of autumn was yet visible behind him,
as he wandered away down the slope of the world. In the gentle
sadness of the season, Malcolm could not help looking back with
envy to the time when labour, adventure, and danger, stormy winds
and troubled waters, would have helped him to bear the weight of
the moral atmosphere which now from morning to night oppressed him.
Since their last conversation, Lady Florimel's behaviour to him was
altered. She hardly ever sent for him now, and when she did, gave
her orders so distantly that at length, but for his grandfather's
sake, he could hardly have brought himself to remain in the house
even until the return of his master who was from home, and contemplated
proposing to him as soon as he came back, that he should leave his
service and resume his former occupation, at least until the return
of summer should render it fit to launch the cutter again.

One day, a little after noon, Malcolm stepped from the house. The
morning had broken gray and squally, with frequent sharp showers,
and had grown into a gurly gusty day. Now and then the sun sent
a dim yellow glint through the troubled atmosphere, but it was
straightway swallowed up in the volumes of vapour seething and
tumbling in the upper regions. As he crossed the threshold, there
came a moaning wind from the west, and the water laden branches
of the trees all went bending before it, shaking their burden of
heavy drops on the ground. It was dreary, dreary, outside and in.
He turned and looked at the house. If he might have but one peep
of the goddess far withdrawn! What did he want of her? Nothing
but her favour - something acknowledged between them - some
understanding of accepted worship! Alas it was all weakness, and
the end thereof dismay! It was but the longing of the opium eater
or the drinker for the poison which in delight lays the foundations
of torture. No; he knew where to find food - something that was
neither opium nor strong drink - something that in torture sustained,
and, when its fruition came, would, even in the splendours of
delight, far surpass their short lived boon! He turned towards the
schoolmaster's cottage.

Under the trees, which sighed aloud in the wind, and, like earth
clouds, rained upon him as he passed, across the churchyard, bare
to the gray, hopeless looking sky, through the iron gate he went,

Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldMalcolm → online text (page 33 of 43)