Robert sprang across the dividing
chasm, clasped Ericson’s hand in both of his,
looked up into his face, and stood speechless.
Ericson returned the salute with a still kindness tender
and still. His face was like a gray morning sky
of summer from whose level cloud-fields rain will fall
‘So it was you,’ he said, ‘playing
the violin so well?’
‘I was doin’ my best,’
answered Robert. ’But eh! Mr. Ericson,
I wad hae dune better gin I had kent ye was hearkenin’.’
‘You couldn’t do better
than your best,’ returned Eric, smiling.
‘Ay, but yer best micht aye
grow better, ye ken,’ persisted Robert.
‘Come into my room,’ said
Ericson. ’This is Friday night, and there
is nothing but chapel to-morrow. So we’ll
have talk instead of work.’
In another moment they were seated
by a tiny coal fire in a room one side of which was
the slope of the roof, with a large, low skylight in
it looking seawards. The sound of the distant
waves, unheard in Robert’s room, beat upon the
drum of the skylight, through all the world of mist
that lay between it and them dimly, vaguely but
ever and again with a swell of gathered force, that
made the distant tumult doubtful no more.
‘I am sorry I have nothing to offer you,’
‘You remind me of Peter and
John at the Beautiful Gate of the temple,’ returned
Robert, attempting to speak English like the Northerner,
but breaking down as his heart got the better of him.
’Eh! Mr. Ericson, gin ye kent what it is
to me to see the face o’ ye, ye wadna speyk like
that. Jist lat me sit an’ leuk at ye.
I want nae mair.’
A smile broke up the cold, sad, gray
light of the young eagle-face. Stern at once
and gentle when in repose, its smile was as the summer
of some lovely land where neither the heat nor the
sun shall smite them. The youth laid his hand
upon the boy’s head, then withdrew it hastily,
and the smile vanished like the sun behind a cloud.
Robert saw it, and as if he had been David before
Saul, rose instinctively and said,
‘I’ll gang for my fiddle. Hoots!
I hae broken ane o’ the strings. We maun
bide till the morn. But I want nae fiddle mysel’
whan I hear the great water oot there.’
’You’re young yet, my
boy, or you might hear voices in that water !
I’ve lived in the sound of it all my days.
When I can’t rest at night, I hear a moaning
and crying in the dark, and I lie and listen till I
can’t tell whether I’m a man or some God-forsaken
sea in the sunless north.’
‘Sometimes I believe in naething
but my fiddle,’ answered Robert.
’Yes, yes. But when it
comes into you, my boy! You won’t hear much
music in the cry of the sea after that. As long
as you’ve got it at arm’s length, it’s
all very well. It’s interesting then, and
you can talk to your fiddle about it, and make poetry
about it,’ said Ericson, with a smile of self-contempt.
’But as soon as the real earnest comes that is
all over. The sea-moan is the cry of a tortured
world then. Its hollow bed is the cup of the
world’s pain, ever rolling from side to side
and dashing over its lip. Of all that might be,
ought to be, nothing to be had! I could
get music out of it once. Look here. I could
trifle like that once.’
He half rose, then dropped on his
chair. But Robert’s believing eyes justified
confidence, and Ericson had never had any one to talk
to. He rose again, opened a cupboard at his side,
took out some papers, threw them on the table, and,
taking his hat, walked towards the door.
‘Which of your strings is broken?’ he
‘The third,’ answered Robert.
‘I will get you one,’
said Ericson; and before Robert could reply he was
down the stair. Robert heard him cough, then the
door shut, and he was gone in the rain and fog.
Bewildered, unhappy, ready to fly
after him, yet irresolute, Robert almost mechanically
turned over the papers upon the little deal table.
He was soon arrested by the following verses, headed:
A Noonday melody.
Everything goes to its
are asleep in the noon;
And life is as still
in its nest
As the moon
when she looks on a moon
In the depths of a calm
As it steals
through a midnight in June.
The streams have forgotten
In the dream
of their musical sound;
The sunlight is thick
on the tree,
shadows lie warm on the ground
So still, you may watch
them and see
that awakens around.
The churchyard lies
still in the heat,
handful of mouldering bone;
As still as the long
stalk of wheat
In the shadow
that sits by the stone,
As still as the grass
at my feet
When I walk
in the meadows alone.
The waves are asleep
on the main,
ships are asleep on the wave;
And the thoughts are
as still in my brain
As the echo
that sleeps in the cave;
All rest from their
labour and pain
should not I in my grave?
His heart ready to burst with a sorrow,
admiration, and devotion, which no criticism interfered
to qualify, Robert rushed out into the darkness, and
sped, fleet-footed, along the only path which Ericson
could have taken. He could not bear to be left
in the house while his friend was out in the rain.
He was sure of joining him before
he reached the new town, for he was fleet-footed,
and there was a path only on one side of the way, so
that there was no danger of passing him in the dark.
As he ran he heard the moaning of the sea. There
must be a storm somewhere, away in the deep spaces
of its dark bosom, and its lips muttered of its far
unrest. When the sun rose it would be seen misty
and gray, tossing about under the one rain cloud that
like a thinner ocean overspread the heavens tossing
like an animal that would fain lie down and be at peace
but could not compose its unwieldy strength.
Suddenly Robert slackened his speed,
ceased running, stood, gazed through the darkness
at a figure a few yards before him.
An old wall, bowed out with age and
the weight behind it, flanked the road in this part.
Doors in this wall, with a few steps in front of them
and more behind, led up into gardens upon a slope,
at the top of which stood the houses to which they
belonged. Against one of these doors the figure
stood with its head bowed upon its hands. When
Robert was within a few feet, it descended and went
‘Mr. Ericson!’ exclaimed
Robert. ‘Ye’ll get yer deith gin ye
stan’ that gait i’ the weet.’
‘Amen,’ said Ericson,
turning with a smile that glimmered wan through the
misty night. Then changing his tone, he went on:
’What are you after, Robert?’
‘You,’ answered Robert.
’I cudna bide to be left my lane whan I micht
be wi’ ye a’ the time gin ye
wad lat me. Ye war oot o’ the hoose afore
I weel kent what ye was aboot. It’s no
a fit nicht for ye to be oot at a’,
mair by token ‘at ye’re no the ablest to
stan’ cauld an’ weet.’
‘I’ve stood a great deal
of both in my time,’ returned Ericson; ’but
come along. We’ll go and get that fiddle-string.’
‘Dinna ye think it wad be fully
better to gang hame?’ Robert ventured to suggest.
‘What would be the use?
I’m in no mood for Plato to-night,’ he
answered, trying hard to keep from shivering.
‘Ye hae an ill cauld upo’
ye,’ persisted Robert; ‘an’ ye maun
be as weet ‘s a dishcloot.’
Ericson laughed a strange, hollow laugh.
‘Come along,’ he said.
’A walk will do me good. We’ll get
the string, and then you shall play to me. That
will do me more good yet.’
Robert ceased opposing him, and they
walked together to the new town. Robert bought
the string, and they set out, as he thought, to return.
But not yet did Ericson seem inclined
to go home. He took the lead, and they emerged
upon the quay.
There were not many vessels.
One of them was the Antwerp tub, already known to
Robert. He recognized her even in the dull light
of the quay lamps. Her captain being a prudent
and well-to-do Dutchman, never slept on shore; he
preferred saving his money; and therefore, as the friends
passed, Robert caught sight of him walking his own
deck and smoking a long clay pipe before turning in.
‘A fine nicht, capt’n,’ said
‘It does rain,’ returned
the captain. ’Will you come on board and
have one schnapps before you turn in?’
‘I hae a frien’ wi’
me here,’ said Robert, feeling his way.
‘Let him come and be welcomed.’
Ericson making no objection, they
went on board, and down into the neat little cabin,
which was all the roomier for the straightness of the
vessel’s quarter. The captain got out a
square, coffin-shouldered bottle, and having respect
to the condition of their garments, neither of the
young men refused his hospitality, though Robert did
feel a little compunction at the thought of the horror
it would have caused his grandmother. Then the
Dutchman got out his violin and asked Robert to play
a Scotch air. But in the middle of it his eyes
fell on Ericson, and he stopped at once. Ericson
was sitting on a locker, leaning back against the
side of the vessel: his eyes were open and fixed,
and he seemed quite unconscious of what was passing.
Robert fancied at first that the hollands he had taken
had gone to his head, but he saw at the same moment,
from his glass, that he had scarcely tasted the spirit.
In great alarm they tried to rouse him, and at length
succeeded. He closed his eyes, opened them again,
rose up, and was going away.
‘What’s the maitter wi’
ye, Mr. Ericson?’ said Robert, in distress.
‘Nothing, nothing,’ answered
Ericson, in a strange voice. ’I fell asleep,
I believe. It was very bad manners, captain.
I beg your pardon. I believe I am overtired.’
The Dutchman was as kind as possible,
and begged Ericson to stay the night and occupy his
berth. But he insisted on going home, although
he was clearly unfit for such a walk. They bade
the skipper good-night, went on shore, and set out,
Ericson leaning rather heavily upon Robert’s
arm. Robert led him up Marischal Street.
The steep ascent was too much for
Ericson. He stood still upon the bridge and leaned
over the wall of it. Robert stood beside, almost
in despair about getting him home.
‘Have patience with me, Robert,’
said Ericson, in his natural voice. ’I
shall be better presently. I don’t know
what’s come to me. If I had been a Celt
now, I should have said I had a touch of the second
sight. But I am, as far as I know, pure Northman.’
‘What did you see?’ asked
Robert, with a strange feeling that miles of the spirit
world, if one may be allowed such a contradiction in
words, lay between him and his friend.
Ericson returned no answer. Robert
feared he was going to have a relapse; but in a moment
more he lifted himself up and bent again to the brae.
They got on pretty well till they
were about the middle of the Gallowgate.
‘I can’t,’ said
Ericson feebly, and half leaned, half fell against
the wall of a house.
‘Come into this shop,’
said Robert. ’I ken the man. He’ll
lat ye sit doon.’
He managed to get him in. He
was as pale as death. The bookseller got a chair,
and he sank into it. Robert was almost at his
wit’s end. There was no such thing as a
cab in Aberdeen for years and years after the date
of my story. He was holding a glass of water to
Ericson’s lips, when he heard his
name, in a low earnest whisper, from the door.
There, round the door-cheek, peered the white face
and red head of Shargar.
‘Robert! Robert!’ said Shargar.
‘I hear ye,’ returned
Robert coolly: he was too anxious to be surprised
at anything. ‘Haud yer tongue.
I’ll come to ye in a minute.’
Ericson recovered a little, refused
the whisky offered by the bookseller, rose, and staggered
‘If I were only home!’ he said. ‘But
where is home?’
‘We’ll try to mak ane,’
returned Robert. ‘Tak a haud o’
me. Lay yer weicht upo’ me. Gin
it warna for yer len’th, I cud cairry ye weel
eneuch. Whaur’s that Shargar?’ he
muttered to himself, looking up and down the gloomy
But no Shargar was to be seen.
Robert peered in vain into every dark court they crept
past, till at length he all but came to the conclusion
that Shargar was only ‘fantastical.’
When they had reached the hollow,
and were crossing then canal-bridge by Mount Hooly,
Ericson’s strength again failed him, and again
he leaned upon the bridge. Nor had he leaned
long before Robert found that he had fainted.
In desperation he began to hoist the tall form upon
his back, when he heard the quick step of a runner
behind him and the words
’Gie ’im to me, Robert;
gie ’im to me. I can carry ‘im fine.’
‘Haud awa’ wi’
ye,’ returned Robert; and again Shargar fell
For a few hundred yards he trudged
along manfully; but his strength, more from the nature
of his burden than its weight, soon gave way.
He stood still to recover. The same moment Shargar
was by his side again.
‘Noo, Robert,’ he said, pleadingly.
Robert yielded, and the burden was shifted to Shargar’s
How they managed it they hardly knew
themselves; but after many changes they at last got
Ericson home, and up to his own room. He had revived
several times, but gone off again. In one of his
faints, Robert undressed him and got him into bed.
He had so little to cover him, that Robert could not
help crying with misery. He himself was well provided,
and would gladly have shared with Ericson, but that
was hopeless. He could, however, make him warm
in bed. Then leaving Shargar in charge, he sped
back to the new town to Dr. Anderson. The doctor
had his carriage out at once, wrapped Robert in a
plaid and brought him home with him.
Ericson came to himself, and seeing
Shargar by his bedside, tried to sit up, asking feebly,
‘Where am I?’
‘In yer ain bed, Mr. Ericson,’ answered
‘And who are you?’ asked Ericson again,
Shargar’s pale face no doubt looked strange
under his crown of red hair.
‘Ow! I’m naebody.’
‘You must be somebody, or else
my brain’s in a bad state,’ returned Ericson.
’Na, na, I’m
naebody. Naething ava (at all). Robert
’ll be hame in ae meenit. I’m
Robert’s tyke (dog),’ concluded Shargar,
with a sudden inspiration.
This answer seemed to satisfy Ericson,
for he closed his eyes and lay still; nor did he speak
again till Robert arrived with the doctor.
Poor food, scanty clothing, undue
exertion in travelling to and from the university,
hard mental effort against weakness, disquietude of
mind, all borne with an endurance unconscious of itself,
had reduced Eric Ericson to his present condition.
Strength had given way at last, and he was now lying
in the low border wash of a dead sea of fever.
The last of an ancient race of poor
men, he had no relative but a second cousin, and no
means except the little he advanced him, chiefly in
kind, to be paid for when Eric had a profession.
This cousin was in the herring trade, and the chief
assistance he gave him was to send him by sea, from
Wick to Aberdeen, a small barrel of his fish every
session. One herring, with two or three potatoes,
formed his dinner as long as the barrel lasted.
But at Aberdeen or elsewhere no one carried his head
more erect than Eric Ericson not from pride,
but from simplicity and inborn dignity; and there
was not a man during his curriculum more respected
than he. An excellent classical scholar as
scholarship went in those days he was almost
the only man in the university who made his knowledge
of Latin serve towards an acquaintance with the Romance
languages. He had gained a small bursary, and
gave lessons when he could.
But having no level channel for the
outgoing of the waters of one of the tenderest hearts
that ever lived, those waters had sought to break
a passage upwards. Herein his experience corresponded
in a considerable degree to that of Robert; only Eric’s
more fastidious and more instructed nature bred a
thousand difficulties which he would meet one by one,
whereas Robert, less delicate and more robust, would
break through all the oppositions of theological science
falsely so called, and take the kingdom of heaven
by force. But indeed the ruins of the ever falling
temple of theology had accumulated far more heavily
over Robert’s well of life, than over that of
Ericson: the obstructions to his faith were those
that rolled from the disintegrating mountains of humanity,
rather than the rubbish heaped upon it by the careless
masons who take the quarry whence they hew the stones
for the temple built without hands eternal
in the heavens.
When Dr. Anderson entered, Ericson
opened his eyes wide. The doctor approached,
and taking his hand began to feel his pulse. Then
first Ericson comprehended his visit.
‘I can’t,’ he said,
withdrawing his hand. ’I am not so ill as
to need a doctor.’
‘My dear sir,’ said Dr.
Anderson, courteously, ’there will be no occasion
to put you to any pain.’
‘Sir,’ said Eric, ‘I have no money.’
The doctor laughed.
‘And I have more than I know how to make a good
‘I would rather be left alone,’
persisted Ericson, turning his face away.
‘Now, my dear sir,’ said
the doctor, with gentle decision, ’that is very
wrong. With what face can you offer a kindness
when your turn comes, if you won’t accept one
Ericson held out his wrist. Dr.
Anderson questioned, prescribed, and, having given
directions, went home, to call again in the morning.
And now Robert was somewhat in the
position of the old woman who ’had so many children
she didn’t know what to do.’ Dr. Anderson
ordered nourishment for Ericson, and here was Shargar
upon his hands as well! Shargar and he could
share, to be sure, and exist: but for Ericson ?
Not a word did Robert exchange with
Shargar till he had gone to the druggist’s and
got the medicine for Ericson, who, after taking it,
fell into a troubled sleep. Then, leaving the
two doors open, Robert joined Shargar in his own room.
There he made up a good fire, and they sat and dried
‘Noo, Shargar,’ said Robert at length,
‘hoo cam ye here?’
His question was too like one of his
grandmother’s to be pleasant to Shargar.
‘Dinna speyk to me that gait,
Robert, or I’ll cut my throat’ he returned.
‘Hoots! I maun ken a’
aboot it,’ insisted Robert, but with much modified
and partly convicted tone.
‘Weel, I never said I wadna
tell ye a’ aboot it. The fac’ ‘s
this an’ I’m no’ up to
the leein’ as I used to be, Robert: I hae
tried it ower an’ ower, but a lee comes rouch
throw my thrapple (windpipe) noo. Faith!
I cud hae leed ance wi’ onybody, barrin’
the de’il. I winna lee. I’m nae
leein’. The fac’s jist this:
I cudna bide ahin’ ye ony länger.’
‘But what, the muckle lang-tailed
deevil! am I to do wi’ ye?’ returned Robert,
in real perplexity, though only pretended displeasure.
‘Gie me something to ate, an’
I’ll tell ye what to do wi’ me,’
answered Shargar. ‘I dinna care a scart
(scratch) what it is.’
Robert rang the bell and ordered some
porridge, and while it was preparing, Shargar told
his story how having heard a rumour of
apprenticeship to a tailor, he had the same night dropped
from the gable window to the ground, and with three
halfpence in his pocket had wandered and begged his
way to Aberdeen, arriving with one halfpenny left.
‘But what am I to do wi’
ye?’ said Robert once more, in as much perplexity
‘Bide till I hae tellt ye, as
I said I wad,’ answered Shargar. ’Dinna
ye think I’m the haveless (careless and therefore
helpless) crater I used to be. I hae been in
Aberdeen three days! Ay, an’ I hae seen
you ilka day in yer reid goon, an’ richt braw
it is. Luik ye here!’
He put his hand in his pocket and
pulled out what amounted to two or three shillings,
chiefly in coppers, which he exposed with triumph on
‘Whaur got ye a’ that siller, man?’
‘Here and there, I kenna whaur;
but I hae gien the weicht o’ ’t for ’t
a’ the same rinnin’ here an’
rinnin’ there, cairryin’ boxes till an’
frae the smacks, an’ doin’ a’thing
whether they bade me or no. Yesterday mornin’
I got thrippence by hingin’ aboot the Royal afore
the coches startit. I luikit a’ up
and doon the street till I saw somebody hine awa wi’
a porkmanty. Till ‘im I ran, an’ he
was an auld man, an’ maist at the last gasp
wi’ the weicht o’ ‘t, an’ gae
me ‘t to carry. An’ wha duv ye think
gae me a shillin’ the verrà first nicht? Wha
but my brither Sandy?’
’Ay, faith. I kent him
weel eneuch, but little he kent me. There he was
upo’ Black Geordie. He’s turnin’
’Na. He’s young eneuch
for ony mischeef; but Black Geordie. What on
earth gars him gang stravaguin’ aboot upo’
that deevil? I doobt he’s a kelpie, or
a hell-horse, or something no canny o’ that kin’;
for faith! brither Sandy’s no ower canny himsel’,
I’m thinkin’. But Geordie the
aulder the waur set (inclined). An’ sae
I’m thinkin’ wi’ his maister.’
‘Did ye iver see yer father, Shargar?’
’Na. Nor I dinna want to
see ‘im. I’m upo’ my mither’s
side. But that’s naething to the pint.
A’ that I want o’ you ’s to lat me
come hame at nicht, an’ lie upo’
the flure here. I sweir I’ll lie i’
the street gin ye dinna lat me. I’ll sleep
as soun’ ’s Peter MacInnes whan Maccleary’s
preachin’. An’ I winna ate muckle I
hae a dreidfu’ pooer o’ aitin’ an’
a’ ‘at I gether I’ll fess hame to
you, to du wi’ ’t as ye like. Man,
I cairriet a heap o’ things the day till the
skipper o’ that boat ’at ye gaed intil
wi’ Maister Ericson the nicht. He’s
a fine chiel’ that skipper!’
Robert was astonished at the change
that had passed upon Shargar. His departure had
cast him upon his own resources, and allowed the individuality
repressed by every event of his history, even by his
worship of Robert, to begin to develop itself.
Miserable for a few weeks, he had revived in the fancy
that to work hard at school would give him some chance
of rejoining Robert. Thence, too, he had watched
to please Mrs. Falconer, and had indeed begun to buy
golden opinions from all sorts of people. He
had a hope in prospect. But into the midst fell
the whisper of the apprenticeship like a thunderbolt
out of a clear sky. He fled at once.
‘Weel, ye can hae my bed the
nicht,’ said Robert, ‘for I maun sit
up wi’ Mr. Ericson.’
‘’Deed I’ll hae
naething o’ the kin’. I’ll sleep
upo’ the flure, or else upo’ the door-stane.
Man, I’m no clean eneuch efter what I’ve
come throu sin’ I drappit frae the window-sill
i’ the ga’le-room. But jist len’
me yer plaid, an’ I’ll sleep upo’
the rug here as gin I war i’ Paradees.
An’ faith, sae I am, Robert. Ye maun gang
to yer bed some time the nicht forby (besides),
or ye winna be fit for yer wark the morn. Ye can
jist gie me a kick, an’ I’ll be up afore
ye can gie me anither.’
Their supper arrived from below, and,
each on one side of the fire, they ate the porridge,
conversing all the while about old times for
the youngest life has its old times, its golden age and
old adventures, Dooble Sanny, Betty, &c.,
&c. There were but two subjects which Robert
avoided Miss St. John and the Bonnie Leddy.
Shargar was at length deposited upon the little bit
of hearthrug which adorned rather than enriched the
room, with Robert’s plaid of shepherd tartan
around him, and an Ainsworth’s dictionary under
his head for a pillow.
‘Man, I fin’ mysel’
jist like a muckle colley (sheep-dog),’
he said. ’Whan I close my een, I’m
no sure ‘at I’m no i’ the inside
o’ yer auld luckie-daiddie’s kilt.
The Lord preserve me frae ever sic a fricht again
as yer grannie an’ Betty gae me the nicht
they fand me in ’t! I dinna believe
it’s in natur’ to hae sic a fricht twise
in ae lifetime. Sae I’ll fa’
asleep at ance, an’ say nae mair but
as muckle o’ my prayers as I can min’
upo’ noo ‘at grannie’s no at my lug.’
‘Haud yer impidence, an’
yer tongue thegither,’ said Robert. ‘Min’
’at my grannie’s been the best frien’
ye ever had.’
‘’Cep’ my ain mither,’
returned Shargar, with a sleepy doggedness in his
During their conference, Ericson had
been slumbering. Robert had visited him from
time to time, but he had not awaked. As soon as
Shargar was disposed of, he took his candle and sat
down by him. He grew more uneasy. Robert
guessed that the candle was the cause, and put it out.
Ericson was quieter. So Robert sat in the dark.
But the rain had now ceased.
Some upper wind had swept the clouds from the sky,
and the whole world of stars was radiant over the earth
and its griefs.
‘O God, where art thou?’
he said in his heart, and went to his own room to
There was no curtain, and the blind
had not been drawn down, therefore the earth looked
in at the storm-window. The sea neither glimmered
nor shone. It lay across the horizon like a low
level cloud, out of which came a moaning. Was
this moaning all of the earth, or was there trouble
in the starry places too? thought Robert, as if already
he had begun to suspect the truth from afar that
save in the secret place of the Most High, and in
the heart that is hid with the Son of Man in the bosom
of the Father, there is trouble a sacred
unrest everywhere the moaning
of a tide setting homewards, even towards the bosom
of that Father.