THE ABERDEEN GARRET.
Miss St. John had long since returned
from her visit, but having heard how much Robert was
taken up with his dying friend, she judged it better
to leave her intended proposal of renewing her lessons
alone for the present. Meeting him, however,
soon after Alexander’s death, she introduced
the subject, and Robert was enraptured at the prospect
of the re-opening of the gates of his paradise.
If he did not inform his grandmother of the fact,
neither did he attempt to conceal it; but she took
no notice, thinking probably that the whole affair
would be effectually disposed of by his departure.
Till that period arrived, he had a lesson almost every
evening, and Miss St. John was surprised to find how
the boy had grown since the door was built up.
Robert’s gratitude grew into a kind of worship.
The evening before his departure for
Bodyfauld whence his grandmother had arranged
that he should start for Aberdeen, in order that he
might have the company of Mr. Lammie, whom business
drew thither about the same time as he
was having his last lesson, Mrs. Forsyth left the room.
Thereupon Robert, who had been dejected all day at
the thought of the separation from Miss St. John,
found his heart beating so violently that he could
hardly breathe. Probably she saw his emotion,
for she put her hand on the keys, as if to cover it
by showing him how some movement was to be better
effected. He seized her hand and lifted it to
his lips. But when he found that instead of snatching
it away, she yielded it, nay gently pressed it to
his face, he burst into tears, and dropped on his
knees, as if before a goddess.
‘Hush, Robert! Don’t
be foolish,’ she said, quietly and tenderly.
’Here is my aunt coming.’
The same moment he was at the piano
again, playing My Bonny Lady Ann, so as to astonish
Miss St. John, and himself as well. Then he rose,
bade her a hasty good-night, and hurried away.
A strange conflict arose in his mind
at the prospect of leaving the old place, on every
house of whose streets, on every swell of whose surrounding
hills he left the clinging shadows of thought and feeling.
A faintly purpled mist arose, and enwrapped all the
past, changing even his grayest troubles into tales
of fairyland, and his deepest griefs into songs of
a sad music. Then he thought of Shargar, and what
was to become of him after he was gone. The lad
was paler and his eyes were redder than ever, for
he had been weeping in secret. He went to his
grandmother and begged that Shargar might accompany
him to Bodyfauld.
‘He maun bide at hame an’
min’ his beuks,’ she answered; ’for
he winna hae them that muckle länger. He
maun be doin’ something for himsel’.’
So the next morning the boys parted Shargar
to school, and Robert to Bodyfauld Shargar
left behind with his desolation, his sun gone down
in a west that was not even stormy, only gray and hopeless,
and Robert moving towards an east which reflected,
like a faint prophecy, the west behind him tinged
with love, death, and music, but mingled the colours
with its own saffron of coming dawn.
When he reached Bodyfauld he marvelled
to find that all its glory had returned. He found
Miss Lammie busy among the rich yellow pools in her
dairy, and went out into the garden, now in the height
of its summer. Great cabbage roses hung heavy-headed
splendours towards purple-black heartseases, and thin-filmed
silvery pods of honesty; tall white lilies mingled
with the blossoms of currant bushes, and at their feet
the narcissi of old classic legend pressed their warm-hearted
paleness into the plebeian thicket of the many-striped
gardener’s garters. It was a lovely type
of a commonwealth indeed, of the garden and kingdom
of God. His whole mind was flooded with a sense
of sunny wealth. The farmer’s neglected
garden blossomed into higher glory in his soul.
The bloom and the richness and the use were all there;
but instead of each flower was a delicate ethereal
sense or feeling about that flower. Of these how
gladly would he have gathered a posy to offer Miss
St. John! but, alas! he was no poet; or rather he
had but the half of the poet’s inheritance he
could see: he could not say. But even if
he had been full of poetic speech, he would yet have
found that the half of his posy remained ungathered,
for although we have speech enough now to be ‘cousin
to the deed,’ as Chaucer says it must always
be, we have not yet enough speech to cousin the tenth
part of our feelings. Let him who doubts recall
one of his own vain attempts to convey that which made
the oddest of dreams entrancing in loveliness to
convey that aroma of thought, the conscious absence
of which made him a fool in his own eyes when he spoke
such silly words as alone presented themselves for
the service. I can no more describe the emotion
aroused in my mind by a gray cloud parting over a
gray stone, by the smell of a sweetpea, by the sight
of one of those long upright pennons of striped
grass with the homely name, than I can tell what the
glory of God is who made these things. The man
whose poetry is like nature in this, that it produces
individual, incommunicable moods and conditions of
mind a sense of elevated, tender, marvellous,
and evanescent existence, must be a poet indeed.
Every dawn of such a feeling is a light-brushed bubble
rendering visible for a moment the dark unknown sea
of our being which lies beyond the lights of our consciousness,
and is the stuff and region of our eternal growth.
But think what language must become before it will
tell dreams! before it will convey the
delicate shades of fancy that come and go in the brain
of a child! before it will let a man know
wherein one face differeth from another face in glory!
I suspect, however, that for such purposes it is rather
music than articulation that is needful that,
with a hope of these finer results, the language must
rather be turned into music than logically extended.
The next morning he awoke at early
dawn, hearing the birds at his window. He rose
and went out. The air was clear and fresh as a
new-made soul. Bars of mottled cloud were bent
across the eastern quarter of the sky, which lay like
a great ethereal ocean ready for the launch of the
ship of glory that was now gliding towards its edge.
Everything was waiting to conduct him across the far
horizon to the south, where lay the stored-up wonder
of his coming life. The lark sang of something
greater than he could tell; the wind got up, whispered
at it, and lay down to sleep again; the sun was at
hand to bathe the world in the light and gladness
alone fit to typify the radiance of Robert’s
thoughts. The clouds that formed the shore of
the upper sea were already burning from saffron into
gold. A moment more and the first insupportable
sting of light would shoot from behind the edge of
that low blue hill, and the first day of his new life
would be begun. He watched, and it came.
The well-spring of day, fresh and exuberant as if
now first from the holy will of the Father of Lights,
gushed into the basin of the world, and the world
was more glad than tongue or pen can tell. The
supernal light alone, dawning upon the human heart,
can exceed the marvel of such a sunrise.
And shall life itself be less beautiful
than one of its days? Do not believe it, young
brother. Men call the shadow, thrown upon the
universe where their own dusky souls come between
it and the eternal sun, life, and then mourn that
it should be less bright than the hopes of their childhood.
Keep thou thy soul translucent, that thou mayest never
see its shadow; at least never abuse thyself with
the philosophy which calls that shadow life.
Or, rather would I say, become thou pure in heart,
and thou shalt see God, whose vision alone is life.
Just as the sun rushed across the
horizon he heard the tramp of a heavy horse in the
yard, passing from the stable to the cart that was
to carry his trunk to the turnpike road, three miles
off, where the coach would pass. Then Miss Lammie
came and called him to breakfast, and there sat the
farmer in his Sunday suit of black, already busy.
Robert was almost too happy to eat; yet he had not
swallowed two mouthfuls before the sun rose unheeded,
the lark sang unheeded, and the roses sparkled with
the dew that bowed yet lower their heavy heads, all
unheeded. By the time they had finished, Mr.
Lammie’s gig was at the door, and they mounted
and followed the cart. Not even the recurring
doubt and fear that hollowness was at the heart of
it all, for that God could not mean such reinless
gladness, prevented the truth of the present joy from
sinking deep into the lad’s heart. In his
mind he saw a boat moored to a rock, with no one on
board, heaving on the waters of a rising tide, and
waiting to bear him out on the sea of the unknown.
The picture arose of itself: there was no paradise
of the west in his imagination, as in that of a boy
of the sixteenth century, to authorize its appearance.
It rose again and again; the dew glittered as if the
light were its own; the sun shone as he had never
seen him shine before; the very mare that sped them
along held up her head and stepped out as if she felt
it the finest of mornings. Had she also a future,
poor old mare? Might there not be a paradise
somewhere? and if in the furthest star instead of next-door
America, why, so much the more might the Atlantis of
the nineteenth century surpass Manoa the golden of
The gig and the cart reached the road
together. One of the men who had accompanied
the cart took the gig; and they were left on the road-side
with Robert’s trunk and box the latter
a present from Miss Lammie.
Their places had been secured, and
the guard knew where he had to take them up.
Long before the coach appeared, the notes of his horn,
as like the colour of his red coat as the blindest
of men could imagine, came echoing from the side of
the heathery, stony hill under which they stood, so
that Robert turned wondering, as if the chariot of
his desires had been coming over the top of Drumsnaig,
to carry him into a heaven where all labour was delight.
But round the corner in front came the four-in-hand
red mail instead. She pulled up gallantly; the
wheelers lay on their hind quarters, and the leaders
parted theirs from the pole; the boxes were hoisted
up; Mr. Lammie climbed, and Robert scrambled to his
seat; the horn blew; the coachman spake oracularly;
the horses obeyed; and away went the gorgeous symbol
of sovereignty careering through the submissive region.
Nor did Robert’s delight abate during the journey certainly
not when he saw the blue line of the sea in the distance,
a marvel and yet a fact.
Mrs. Falconer had consulted the Misses
Napier, who had many acquaintances in Aberdeen, as
to a place proper for Robert, and suitable to her
means. Upon this point Miss Letty, not without
a certain touch of design, as may appear in the course
of my story, had been able to satisfy her. In
a small house of two floors and a garret, in the old
town, Mr. Lammie took leave of Robert.
It was from a garret window still,
but a storm-window now that Robert looked eastward
across fields and sand-hills, to the blue expanse of
waters not blue like southern seas, but
slaty blue, like the eyes of northmen. It was
rather dreary; the sun was shining from overhead now,
casting short shadows and much heat; the dew was gone
up, and the lark had come down; he was alone; the
end of his journey was come, and was not anything
very remarkable. His landlady interrupted his
gaze to know what he would have for dinner, but he
declined to use any discretion in the matter.
When she left the room he did not return to the window,
but sat down upon his box. His eye fell upon
the other, a big wooden cube. Of its contents
he knew nothing. He would amuse himself by making
inquisition. It was nailed up. He borrowed
a screwdriver and opened it. At the top lay a
linen bag full of oatmeal; underneath that was a thick
layer of oat-cake; underneath that two cheeses, a pound
of butter, and six pots of jam, which ought to have
tasted of roses, for it came from the old garden where
the roses lived in such sweet companionship with the
currant bushes; underneath that, &c.; and underneath,
&c., a box which strangely recalled Shargar’s
garret, and one of the closets therein. With
beating heart he opened it, and lo, to his marvel,
and the restoration of all the fair day, there was
the violin which Dooble Sanny had left him when he
forsook her for some one or other of the
queer instruments of Fra Angelico’s angels?
In a flutter of delight he sat down
on his trunk again and played the most mournful of
tunes. Two white pigeons, which had been talking
to each other in the heat on the roof, came one on
each side of the window and peeped into the room;
and out between them, as he played, Robert saw the
sea, and the blue sky above it. Is it any wonder
that, instead of turning to the lying pages and contorted
sentences of the Livy which he had already unpacked
from his box, he forgot all about school, and college,
and bursary, and went on playing till his landlady
brought up his dinner, which he swallowed hastily
that he might return to the spells of his enchantress!