Robert Edward Knowles.

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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.




XII

"_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."




XIII

_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,


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Online LibraryRobert Edward KnowlesSt. Cuthbert's; a novel → online text (page 5 of 17)