At Any Cost (1)

Home Up Recollections A Retired Life The Secret Drawer By Still Waters Doing and Dreaming The Dead Sin Family Fortunes Rab Bethune's Double Short Stories, etc. Poems Miscellanea Main Index Site Search
 


 




AT ANY COST.

BY

EDWARD GARRETT.


CHAPTER I.

MOTHER AND SON.


IT was a wild December morning.  Dwellers in cities splashed through the puddles formed by the heavy rain of the preceding night and fretted against the exasperating wind, which made it a struggle to grasp their garments about them, and a still greater struggle to keep their tempers.  Dwellers in quiet country-places plodded along the heavy roads and grumbled at the hard conditions of rural existence in such weather.  But our story begins with a woman and a lad who were tramping across a rock-bound, treeless swamp on the largest of the Shetland Isles, and who neither grumbled nor even said a word about the weather, perhaps because they were too much accustomed to its harsh and inclement moods, perhaps because their hearts were both so full of other things, and that of one, at least, of feelings with which the gloom was more in accord than any sunshine could have been.



A woman and a lad who were tramping across
a rock-bound treeless swamp.


    The woman was still in the prime of life, scarcely forty years of age, and the tall lad at her side was her eldest child.  But Mrs. Sinclair, of Quodda Schoolhouse, had long parted from the last bloom of physical youth, and might have been more than ten years older than she really was.  She was a small, slight woman of nervous and excitable temperament, and life had been, for her, little more than a long endurance.  Toil and hardship had worn her frame, anxieties almost amounting to terrors had whitened her hair, but none of them had conquered her spirit of indomitable cheerfulness.  She had early made reckonings with her own heart as to what were its absolute necessities, and had found that with her, love, and the power of loving service far outweighed all privations and struggles, and so had resolutely accepted her full burden of these.  Perhaps she had never before felt such a sinking of her soul as she did today, for at last change and pain were stealing into the very home and home ties for which she had wrought and suffered.  It was time for Robert, her first-born, to go out and seek his fortunes in the great world.  And now the very day of his departure had come.

    “But as it is in the course of nature, it must be the will of God,” said the brave little woman to herself; “and if one lets one’s self begin to cry out against that, one never knows where one may end.”

    It troubled her sorely that during the recently past days she had not always been able to restrain her tears.  For the sight of them vexed Robert, and had caused him to speak to her more than once in sharp words and with a morose manner, which she felt sure would return upon his heart to sting it with a tender remorse when he should have gone away out of her sight.

    She felt thankful that she did not think she should lose command of herself to-day.  All the pathetic parting preparations had been completed, and with nothing more but the end full in view, a desperate calmness had settled on her.

    “When one’s pain is worst, one shows it least.  I know that,” she decided to herself.  “I believe that is the case with Robert.  He has been feeling all the time, like I feel to-day.”

    “Now, Robert,” she gasped, for they were walking at a considerable speed and the wind nearly took away her breath, “you won’t forget always to let us have a letter.  You know it is such a long while between our posts, that if none comes by one of them, we shall have a dreadful waiting for the next.”  Her life had been worn down by constant waitings—waitings for her husband’s return from errands of duty and mercy, amid perils of darkness and cliff and wave — waitings for tidings of death among her own people in the far southern mainland.  And somehow, too, she had always been the one summoned to share other people’s waitings — the vigils of fishers’ wives who knew not yet whether they were widows, and who craved for her presence and were consoled by it when they could bear none other.  Alike when the worst came, or when fear faded through hope into glad certainty, she could be spared, and then others might come to console or to congratulate.  But she had always been the best angel of the waiting hours, whose touch was soft enough for hearts palpitating with uncertainty and who knew how to steer between that dread that is too like despair, and that hope which seems to tried hearts too much like indifference.  Many a night through had she watched in narrow Shetland huts, while the wind tramped over the roof with a sound as of chariots and horses, and the sea roared and growled below like a fierce wild beast seeking his prey.  She had known when to speak and when to keep silence; when to murmur a soothing text, and when only to trim the little iron lamp, or to add another peat to the glowing pile; when to kneel down and call out to God with that strange deep trust which we all find lying still and deep at the bottom of our hearts when storms of sorrow or fear are agitating our lives, and when simply and silently to prepare and proffer a cup of tea.  But she knew, too, what all this had cost her.

    “There’s enough waiting in life which no human hand can hinder, Robert,” she went on, struggling valiantly for speech, for she did not want to slacken pace, since Robert might need all his time.  “I’ve had my share of that.  I can see it was the lesson I needed, for I was of an impatient spirit.  And I’ve certainly not had too much of it, for I can’t do it easily yet.  But I think it’s a lesson we should leave in God’s hand, and not one we should set each other.  So you’ll take care about the letters, Robert?”

    “I’ll do my best, mother,” said the lad.  “But I expect I shall be often very busy.  If you don’t get word of me you may be sure it is all right with me.  Somebody else would soon take care to let you know if anything went wrong.”

    “I’m not so sure of that,” she returned.  “I’ve been thinking about that.  Do you remember when the poor Norwegian sailor with his leg broken was carried up to our house from the wreck of the ‘Friga’?  Well, he wouldn’t write home to his mother till he was sure his leg wouldn’t have to be cut off.  He said she would think no news was good news, and would be spared all trouble about his calamity if she never heard of it till it was over.  And I thought so too, at that time; but somehow now I don’t.  If I don’t hear from you I shall be apt to fancy, ‘Something is wrong with Robert; but he and his friends are saying that we will think no news is good news,’ and that so they won't trouble us till they have good news to send.  But of course we don’t want you to be writing letters home when it is your duty to be doing anything else,” she added, with true love’s ready alarm and reluctance lest it become a drag and a fetter on the progress of active life; “but a line will not take you long, and it will made me do double the spinning and knitting on the day it comes in.”

    “Yes, yes, I understand all that,” said Robert.  “But do you know, mother, I think you ought to go back?  I can’t bear to see you gasping and struggling against the wind as you are doing, and there is not time to walk more slowly or even to pick our way.  You know I said you shouldn’t have come out at all,” he added in a rather gentler tone.

    “Your father could not leave the school,” she answered; “and I could not bear that neither of us should put you a bit on your way.”  (“She’ll begin to cry now," thought the lad, for her voice faltered; but she did not.)  “Yet, of course, I must not hinder you.  I think I’ll leave you at the Moull.  I have just a few words to say yet — I won’t take long about them.  Robert, my boy, I and your father pray that you may prosper with God’s blessing, but that you may always keep God’s blessing, whether you prosper or not.  And you won’t forget your sister Olive, will you?  She’ll have to depend upon herself, just like you, when we’re taken, and we’d not grudge parting from her sooner, if we saw it was for her future good.  You’ll keep a watch for opportunities to suggest to us for Olive, won’t you, Robbie?  You know we are so out of the world down here.”

    “Of course I will, mother, if I see any,” said the lad, “but it is scarcely likely that such will come my way.’’

    “What we are looking for is always to be seen sooner or later, and those in London are at the heart of everything’” observed Mrs. Sinclair.  “But here we are at the Moull,” she said, stopping short.  “Just stand still one moment, Robert — I won’t come farther.”  They were at a point where the way wound between a high, mossy hill and a steep cliff.  When they parted each would be out of sight of the other in a moment, so that there would be no heartrending lookings back.  She had thought of this.

    “Stand still one moment,” she repeated.  “I think there is something to say yet.”  She stood with her face towards the sea, gazing out upon its waste of gray waters dashing up against the fortress-like rocks which guarded the low, dank green hills and the little hamlets peeping up among them.  Something to say yet!  There was a world of yearning love and solicitude seething in her mother’s heart, but then such love and solicitude have to be condensed into much the same words as suit more common needs.  She felt Robert give a slight, quick movement beside her; it might be of impatience, it might be of restive pain.  It must be ended.

    “Robert,” she cried, “we shall be always thinking of you; and we do hope you’ll always try to believe we did our very best for you.  And in time bring us back your own old self improved.  God help you to be good, Robert.  God send you all true happiness.  God keep you.  God bless you.  Good-bye, good-bye,” and then, as she released his hands from her straining clasp and looked up into his face, her love threw a playful thought upon the wealth of its passion, like a rose on the top of a jewel-case, as she added, “And give my love to the trees, Robert; and be sure you know them when you see them —“

    And so she smiled upon him and turned away, and in a moment the curve of the hill hid them from each other.

    She did not stand still; if she had let herself do that she might have been tempted to hurry after him for yet another farewell.  She hastened back along the lonely road which she had just trodden in his dear company.  She did not lift up her voice and weep in the loneliness.  Her imaginative nature had realized this pain too vividly beforehand to be startled by any sudden stabs.  Only, though the wind was behind her now, she still felt scarcely able to draw breath.  There were lowly houses in sight, where the simple island hospitality would have readily rendered her rest and refreshment, but there are times when nature’s is the only face we can bear to look upon.  Besides, hasten how she might, it would be dark before she reached home.  The sun, which had not looked frankly from the sky all day, now displayed a lurid light behind the low hills to the west, throwing them into deep purple and violet shadow.  She hurried on, for though there was nothing to fear in an island whose guileless population of many thousands scarcely needs the presence of a single policeman, and though, of course, Mrs. Sinclair was quite above all belief in the mischievous fairies, the mysterious “tangies,” or  ghostly ponies, and other grotesque creations of the simple local imagination, yet in the darkness of a moonless night it would not be very pleasant travelling on a way where the driest walking was to be found by jumping from stone to stone in the bed of candid little watercourses that were far more to be trusted than the treacherous moss, which received one's foot only to close over it.  At sundown, too, the wind was almost sure to rise.  It was well that Mrs. Sinclair was one of those who instinctively avoid all avoidable discomforts as being apt to throw one aside from one's power to serve, and to compel one to be burdensome to others, for she was in that state of mind when the more selfish and reckless are inclined to court outward suffering as a relief from inward agony.

    There was scarcely a sharp word which she had ever spoken to Robert, however much for his good, which did not now seem to her to have been a harsh word; and had she not often allowed him to see her disheartened, weary, and ailing, when by trying just a little harder she might have made believe to be as bright and well as usual?  And had she done Robert justice to the very utmost of her power?  The dear father was such an easy man, so ready to let things take their own way, and so sure that everything was for the best.  That was his nature, and could not be altered, she thought; and a sweet and sunny nature it was.  She only wished her own was like it, except that it might not do for two such to run together in such a troublesome world.  Had they really done their best for Robert?  Would he not find himself terribly behindhand when he went among other people who had lived all their lives in the polished places of the world?  Perhaps it had been a mere petty pride, an unworthy shrinking from patronage, which had made her withhold the lad from too much frequenting of the houses of the one or two neighbouring proprietors; and perhaps Robert would blame her for it some day!

    Ah! she knew she did not miss Robert now—not yet—while the grasp of his hand was still warm upon her own, and while his last words were still ringing in her ears.  She could almost be glad just now that he was going away from the constant storm and privation — from the dark, monotonous, empty days which she had often felt must be trying both to the boy's temper and moral nature.  But how would she bear the summer-time when the separation would be growing longer and longer, and when she and Olive would take their spinning-wheels or their knitting out of doors, and watch the schoolboys at football, but no more Robert among them; and when the fishing fleets would go and come, but there would be no Robert to go down to the boats and bring in the latest news?  How would she bear to see the blue waves dancing in the sunshine, and to know they rolled between her and her boy, between him and all the old life that had been, and could be no more?

    And then again her heart reproached her, for she was a woman who sought to walk in the ways of divine wisdom; and the precepts, “Take no thought for the morrow: sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof,” seemed breathed into her ears almost as by an audible voice.  No, she would not think of the future.  It, and how she would bear it, was God's business, and not hers.

    Then, with a strange rebound, such as only highly strung, wrung natures can comprehend, her thoughts went back to the past, to the richly wooded, bowery Surrey vale, which she had left more than twenty years ago, and had never seen since, and she saw before her, with all the startling clearness and detail of absolute vision, her ancient, moss-grown cottage home, with its sweet, old-fashioned flower-garden, and the grey tower of the village church among its guardian yews.  Surely for one moment a balmy breeze from that vanished past softened the fierce winds of Ultima Thule!  Surely she caught a waft from the myrtles which used to stand in a row on the parlour window-sill!  Oh, what a magician memory is!  Mrs. Sinclair could have thrown herself down in the dark on the rough, wet ground, to cry her heart out in yearning for the homely faces of old neighbours, for the caw of the rooks in the squire's park, and the ringing of the English bells on a Sunday morning.

    No, no, no; this would never do.  Again the ancient oracle, to which she had never willingly turned a deaf ear, had its bracing word for her about “forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before.”  Neither the future nor the past must lay violent hands on the present.

    Was it tears or rain on her face?  Either way, the rain soon washed off the tears, for it began to fall in torrents, soaking even the thick native shawl which she wore pinned about her head, a more appropriate covering in such a climate than any bonnet or hat could be.  It was dark now, and every moment the ground grew wetter and heavier, clogging the weary progress of her poor tired feet.  “I’m glad of the rain,” she thought “it will keep down the wind.  Robert won’t get wet in the cabin, and it will give him the smoother passage.”

    The way suddenly broadened into the valley where her journey ended.  Here and there a solitary light sent out a spark of human cheer and habitation.  She made straight to her own house, daring, now it was in sight, to realize that she was very tired.  She lifted the latch.  A glow of peat-smelling light and warmth rushed out to welcome her.

    “It’s well to reach home on such a night,” she said cheerily.  “And there’s father waking up from a pleasant dream!  And there’s my Olive got the tea all ready for her mother!  Won’t it be grand when it’s Robert himself that we welcome back again?  And what a deal he will have to tell us!  It’s terrible, this going away; but then there could he no coming home without it.  And I’ve been thinking, Olive, we must begin at once to spin some of our finest wool, or even some flax, if there’s any still to be had in the island, to make Robert some light socks for the warm summers down south.”

    One is tempted to wonder sometimes why God makes such as Mrs. Sinclair to live in a world like this, where they seem doomed to the endurance of exquisite agonies which others never feel or even guess at, and so many of which, alas! others could often avert by a word, or even by a look — how much more by action!  But let it be remembered that at every point at which pain can be received, there must be an equal capacity for receiving pleasure.  And let it be observed that though the quivering nerves of these sensitive natures may only receive pleasure once for ten times that they are thrilled with agony, yet so exquisite is that pleasure, that it seems almost to neutralize their huge disproportion of suffering.

    And what would the world be like if all souls were already so tempered? — ready to receive, little but pain, yearning to render nought but joy?  Would not that be the very kingdom and will of God come upon earth, for which we pray daily, but over which we too seldom ponder?

    Let us think of these martyr souls with a reverent exultation.  They are God’s best pledge of what he has in store when all hearts — even these — shall be satisfied for evermore.


 
CHAPTER II.

NEW ACQUAINTANCES.


AFTER his mother left him, Robert Sinclair plodded steadily on his road.  He thought she was a good little woman to let him go at the last with so little fuss.

    Very likely he would not have to walk alone far.  One other young Shetlander, at least, was also to sail in the same ship which would take Robert away from the island.  Robert was almost sure to overtake Tom Ollison presently, or at any rate to meet him at the half-way house, where travellers were wont to break their journey by a brief rest beside the fire, and a temperate meal of strong tea and home-baked bread.

    If Robert’s way onward was somewhat less picturesque than his mother’s homeward one, it was also less lonely, that part of the country nearer its little capital being more populous than its remoter regions.  Robert Sinclair quickened his pace, when he came in sight of a beautiful little bay, with many houses nestling among its cliffs, and a tiny church and a big manse standing on the lip of the sea.  One more uphill tug, and he would reach his temporary resting-place.

    He found the good woman of the little house bustling about in a state of unwonted excitement.  If Tom Ollison had not yet arrived, and Robert’s inquiries ascertained that he had not, she had other guests of much greater importance in her eyes.  Not that she might not have preferred Tom, for she had all the old-fashioned island distrust of strange faces.  But then strangers always meant money, ready money, and that is no small boon in a place where life rubs on mostly by a series of exchanges, of doubtfully ascertained values.

    Robert found no less than three people already awaiting the hostess’s ministrations.  But they were not all together — one sat alone and apart, quite extinguished by the presence of the others.  He recognized this one, and she got up and curtseyed to him because she knew he was the schoolmaster’s son at Quodda.  This was little Kirsty Mail.  He thought now that he had heard his mother say something about Kirsty’s soon going to a servant’s place in the south; but his mother was always taking so much interest in this kind of people and things, that he could not be expected to remember all the details.

    The other two were strangers, perfect strangers, Robert was sure of that the moment he saw them.  They were seated in front of the open fire, spreading out their garments to dry in its genial heat.  They both turned and looked at him; but they made no room for him at the fire, any more than they evidently had done for Kirsty Mail; probably it did not occur to them that anybody was travelling but themselves.  The one was a big, burly gentleman with a face which would have been fine, but that its once noble outlines were blurred by too much flesh.  It was the same with its expression.  It was odd how so much good-humour and kindliness could remain apparent among such palpable traces of peevishness, irritability, and something very like discontent.  His long, olive-green overcoat was richly furred about the neck and wrists, and there was a magnificent signet ring on the hand he held out over the glowing fire.

    The other was quite a young girl, and it was almost ridiculous to see the features of the father’s heavy, rather voluptuous countenance translated into her delicate beauty.  But it was not everybody who would have eyes to see that his expression was also translated into hers, and still fewer, that it did not even gain by the transfer.  Young vices go under such euphonious names: they are called “sweet petulance“ and “airy scorn,” and “innocent thoughtlessness.”  Alas!  It is so often only when it is too late, when they have taken firm hold on the life and have ravaged it, and spread poison around it, that they are recognized for what they are!  “I hope that good woman won’t be long in giving us something to eat, Etta,” said the gentleman to the young lady.  “I’d like to be into the town before dusk if possible; but I suppose it isn’t.  There’s no knowing what the way may be like.  What did she say she could let us have, eh?”

    “She said something about eggs,” answered the girl indifferently.

    “And tea, eh?” added the gentleman with a disgusted tone.  At that moment Mrs. Yunson bustled into the apartment to spread a clean, coarse cloth on the rough table.  So he directed his inquiries to her.

    “You don’t mean to say you can’t let me have anything stronger than that,” he said, as she set forth a dim tin tea-kettle.

    “It’s real good, sir,” she answered.  “Tea’s a thing that keeps well, and we can get that good.”

    “But I want some brandy — or at any rate some beer,” he said.

    “This isn’t a licensed house, sir,” said Mrs. Yunson.  “There is not one nearer than Lerwick; there are very good ones there.”

    “Well, I don’t know how you get on in such a climate without something to comfort you,” observed the visitor.  “But I dare say you know how to take care of yourselves.  There are nice little places among the rocks, where nice little boats can leave nice little kegs, eh?  And, upon my word, I don’t see who could blame you.  The revenue folk oughtn’t to be hard on people living in such a place.”

    “Indeed, and that’s very true, sir,” responded Mrs. Yunson, going on with her hospitable duties.

    “I suppose you really do have a good deal of smuggling here?” inquired the guest, lowering his voice to a more confidential tone.

    Mrs. Yunson shook her head.  “Not now, sir,” she answered demurely.  “There’s a little tobacco, maybe, now and again, but not enough to be worth the trouble and risk.  It is done more for the fun of the thing, than anything else, I do believe.  The cloth is quite fresh and clean, miss,” she interpolated, seeing the young lady’s eyes fixed with suspicious disfavour on sundry pale stains upon it.  “Those marks are just off the haystack, on which it was dried.  That’s the only way we can manage in winter—the ground is that soft and dirty, and the wind’s too high for lines.”

    Miss Etta Brander began to sip her tea.  She said nothing about its quality, which was really excellent, but she remarked that she could not touch the bread— she would rather starve — it was so lumpy.

    “Well, Etta,” growled her father, “I should really think you could put up for once without grumbling with what other people have to live upon all their days.”

    Etta smiled superciliously; she knew she owed the reproof only to her father’s own irritation at having to go without his usual midday indulgence of a “tot” of brandy.

    Mrs. Yunson asked if they had done with the teapot, that she might take it away to supply the wants of Robert and little Kirsty Mail.

    Etta looked calmly at her, as if she either did not hear or did not understand what she said.  But her father answered, “Certainly, certainly.  Why did you not ask for it before?  I did not know they were travellers too.  I thought they were your own boy and girl.”

    Robert’s cheeks flamed.  To think of anybody’s mistaking him for a son of old Bawby Yunson’s!  And yet was it to be wondered at, he admitted, thinking of his own rude and travel-stained appearance, and reflecting that people so accustomed to wealth and luxury as those before him, were little likely to observe those subtle marks of different rank which had hitherto been very visible to his own eyes.  As for little Kirsty Mail, she was all in crimson confusion to think that anybody could imagine her a sister of young Mr. Robert Sinclair; how angry it would make him—such a smart young gentleman as he was!

    Mrs. Yunson made sundry strategic movements by which she contrived to suggest that even these humbler guests must have some share of the drying warmth of the fire, before they could be suffered to depart.  The gentleman pushed back his chair and made room for Kirsty.

    “And where do you come from?  And how did you get here?“ he asked, looking at her with the smiling, half-contemptuous curiosity, which is some people’s form of interest in an odd sort of animal.

    “I came most of the way in a cart, sir,” faltered the blushing Kirsty.  “I come from Scantness.”

    “And are you going to Lerwick?  How are you going to get there?”

    “Walking, please, sir,” said Kirsty, open-eyed, wondering what doubt there could be on that matter.

    “It’s pretty rough work for such as you,” said the stranger.

    “Oh, they are used to it, pa,” remarked Miss Etta.  “Habit is everything in these matters.”

    “And what are you going to do after you get to Lerwick?” Mr. Brander went on, as if nature had given him the right to ask all the questions because he was clad in broadcloth and sealskin, while Kirsty wore only coarse tweeds.

    “I'm going to my aunt’s in Edinburgh—I’m to stay with her until I get a place,” answered Kirsty meekly.

    “Oh, you’re off in the ship too, are you?  And is there not anybody from home to see you off?”

    “No, sir“ faltered Kirsty, “there’s only grannie at home, and she’s almost stone-blind.”

    “It’s a wonder she did not want you to stay with her: how will she get on without you?”

    “She lives with a woman who looks after her,” answered Kirsty.

    “And how does she live?  I mean what supports her?  The parish, I suppose — I’m told it’s getting quite the natural support of old ladies in Shetland,” observed Mr. Brander.

   “ Grannie gets money from my uncle in Inverness,” said Kirsty simply.

    “Oh,” said Mr. Brander, “that’s very dutiful of him.  I suppose he’s pretty well off.”

    “He’s a journeyman baker, sir,” answered Kirsty.  “He sends her three shillings a week regularly.”

    “And is that all she has?“

    “She does a good deal of spinning and knitting yet, sir, — almost as well as if she could see,” replied Kirsty, who was loyally proud of her grandmother in this respect.

    “And does she make much by that?”

    Kirsty was dubious, and hesitated.

    “I mean, how much can she earn in a week?” he said, impatiently varying the form of his question.

    “Indeed, sir, and I cannot tell that,” said Kirsty, blushing as if she deserved that he should scold her.

    “They don’t do it in that way, sir,” interposed Mrs. Yunson.  “Most of them just do what they can, and take it to the merchant’s, an’ he gives them what he can afford of the things they are wantin’.  I dare say your grannie will make out her tea and her meal yet that way — the little she wants”— she added turning to Kirsty.

    “Indeed, an’ she does,” said Kirsty, greatly relieved.

    “A very little goes a long way here, I imagine,” observed Miss Henrietta Brander.  Little did she dream that in her slighting words she had given a succinct description of true affluence!

    “But you don’t mean to tell me that those outlandish old things are still in actual use?” cried Mr. Brander, pointing, to a spinning-wheel which stood in a corner of the room.

    “Indeed, and it is so, sir,” answered Mrs. Yunson.  “I doubt if there’s a house in Shetland without one.  We know all about our wool from the time it’s off the sheeps’ backs till it’s on our own.  We couldn’t bear your manufactured things, sir, they would not serve our turn at all.  There’s nothing but Shetland wool will keep out Shetland weather?”

    Mr. Brander lifted a corner of the shawl which Kirsty Mail was wearing, and felt it gently between his fingers.

    “You would be satisfied with fewer fal-de-rals, Etta,” said he, “if you had to make them up from the beginning, instead of running about to shops and dressmakers!”

    Etta tossed her head.  It was really too odious and too ridiculous that he should draw such comparisons.  But then papa was always aggravating when he had not had his brandy.

    “And aren’t you frightened to be going among such strange places and people?” pursued Mr. Brander, still addressing Kirsty.  “How will you manage all your little business.  Haven’t you any luggage?  Where is it?”

    “Grierson’s cart took up my box this morning, sir,” said Kirsty.  “He had to go into Lerwick with some geese to sell for Christmas time.  And Tom Ollison will see me safe on board ship, and off again to meet my aunt at Leith.”

    “Tom Ollison!” echoed Mr. Brander, with an inquiring look at Robert Sinclair.  And before Kirsty could stammer out that this was not he, a merry young voice cried from the threshold,—

    “Who wants him?  Here he is!  Haven’t I run the last bit of the way, I was so afraid I should miss you!  There’s so many people to say goodbye to, and they have all something extra to say.”

    The speaker was vigorously rubbing his feet on the home-made straw mat in the entry.  Mr. Brander watched, amused.  Even Miss Henrietta gave her supercilious smile.  When Tom Ollison came forward, and found whom he had been addressing so unceremoniously, the swift colour rushed to the very roots of his waving golden hair, but he only looked frankly into the unknown faces and smiled.

    “I did not expect anybody was here but Kirsty and you, Rob,” he said, with implied apology.

    “I expect you will have to be quick over your eatables, young man,” remarked Mr. Brander, with a smile, “or you and this fair damsel will be terribly belated.”

    “We’ll be in plenty of time for the boat, sir,” answered Tom; “thank you, sir, thank you,” as Mr. Brander pushed the homely viands towards him.  “And everybody is quite safe here at any time.  There’s nobody to be met but those willing to do one a good turn.”

    “Ah, I suppose so,” said Mr. Brander, half interrogatively.  “I am told you hardly lock your doors at night hereabouts.  Wonderful, that seems to us, accustomed to cities like London and Glasgow.  What is that you are saying, Etta?”

    “That the houses do not look as if they held much worth stealing,” she said listlessly.  “I can scarcely tell which are dwelling-houses and which are what our driver called lamb-houses.”

    “You see we are all pretty much alike in Shetland, sir,” observed Tom Ollison, in his pleasant, frank manner.

    “We might well be all a little better off,” sighed Mrs. Yunson.

    “At any rate, nobody ever starves here,” said Tom Ollison, “and that’s more than can be said for those places where there is plenty to steal in some houses.  It’s not what is in our houses, but the houses themselves, which might be a little changed for the better.  I’m glad the young lady has noticed how bad they are.”

    Somehow, there was an awkwardness in the pause which followed.

    “I suppose the horse has had its feed by this time,” said Mr. Brander, rising.  “Is the chaise ready?”

    “It’s standing at the door,” answered Mrs. Yunson, bustling forward to proffer her assistance to Miss Etta with her wraps.  “You must put on everything you can, young lady,” she advised, “for I think there is going to be more rain."

    “Heugh!” said the young lady, sniffing at the quilted hood with which she enveloped her sealskin-capped head, till little was visible of her face except her eyes —“Heugh! how soon everything gets a smell of that horrid peat!”

    “We think it fine and healthy, ma’am," observed Mrs. Yunson.  “The fish o’ the sea an the peat i’ the hills, are the blessings God gives to Shetland.”

    Robert Sinclair had already gone outside.  He wanted to have a look at “the chaise,”— perhaps to put a few questions to its driver.  Tom Ollison sauntered after him, and then Kirsty Mail stole out, not caring to be left alone with the “gentry.”

    Robert turned to young Ollison as he joined him, and drew him a little aside.

    “Why! — do you know who those are?” he whispered.

    “Ay, that I do,” said Tom with a smile.  “That’s Mr. Brander, the London stockbroker, who has just got hold of Wallness and St. Olas isle.”

    “Ought you to have said anything to him about the houses?” asked Robert.

    It was notorious that those on the Wallness estate were among the worst in the island.

    “To whom ought one to speak about them if not to the landlords?  Ought we only to talk of their business behind their backs?” returned Tom; “and I did not bring in the subject, neck and heels; the young lady led up to it.  And as he has just got hold of the property he’s not to blame for its condition yet — not yet!  I thought I was in the nick of time.”

    The Branders came out of the cottage.  Etta was assisted into the seat beside the driver, for her father did not venture to take the control of a strange horse on unknown roads.  Etta made considerable demands on both him and the driver in the way of tucking her into her rugs, and securing them about her.  At last she pronounced herself “as comfortable as she could be in that miserable climate,” and her father was free to clamber rather painfully into the back seat of the vehicle, which had scarcely been built for people of his weight and proportions.  His native good-humour revived as he looked forward to a more stimulating meal at the snug hotel in the town.

    “I think we have room for another—a light one,” he said, looking at Tom Ollison, who had somehow piqued and interested him.  “Will you have a lift?”

    “Thank you very much, I’m sure, sir,” said Tom brightly.  “But I’ve promised to look after Kirsty, and I’ve to look in at one or two houses with messages, and I’ve got to carry this to Lerwick,” and he poised in his hand a strange, strong-looking basket made of closely bound straw.

    “What in the name of wonder are you doing with that?  It’s empty, isn’t it? asked Mr. Brander.

    “It’s a Christmas present from our farm lad to his sister, who is married, in Lerwick.  It is to hold her peats.  It is what we call a cashie,” explained Tom.  “The men make them in the winter evenings.”

    Well, as you’ve neither got a damsel to escort, nor a hamper to carry,” said Mr. Brander, turning to Robert Sinclair, “perhaps you will be glad of a lift?  If so, up you get.”

    “Thank you very much, sir,” answered Robert, instantly accepting the invitation.  What a queer fellow Tom was!  Kirsty must have come on safely enough without him: for that matter, Robert himself would have had to walk with her then.  And Tom could have left the cashie at Mrs.Yunson’s for somebody else to take up at their leisure — the servant-lad would have easily inferred that it had been accidentally forgotten.  However, Robert felt that he had little reason to criticise Tom’s “queerness,” since in this instance it had given him an opportunity he must otherwise have missed.

    “Well,” said Kirsty, as she and Tom set off on their march, after the chaise had rapidly driven away, “I should not think anybody with all those beautiful wraps need grumble at any weather.”

    “Don’t you think so, Kirsty?” said Tom.  “I rather do.  I think the wrapping up is the bother of it, for any of us.  I should not like to be a fish if I had to put on waterproofs.”

    “Who is that young fellow we have left behind us?” asked Mr. Brander of Robert, as Tom and Kirsty waned small in the distance while the chaise rattled away.

    “Tom Ollison, sir,” Robert answered.  “He is the son of the farmer at Clegga, out Scantness way.”

    “A fine young fellow, if he only has good guiding and gets into the right way,” mused Mr. Brander aloud, revealing the purport of his words by adding, “He ought to make a fortune with that head of his and that taking manner.  But it’s odd how those don’t always tell best in that direction.  I shouldn’t wonder, now,” he went on, with a keen glance at his companion, “if you come back the richer man of the two.”

    Robert smiled demurely at the dubious compliment.  “Tom was always cleverer than I was,” he said.  “I’ve always known him: he went to my father’s school.”

    “And you’re not going to follow your father’s profession?  You’re wise.  Plenty of work for very little money there — not a penny turned over without drudgery in it.  Just work, work, work, till a man is worn out.  I say that a man should make his fortune soon enough to enjoy himself while he’s able to do so.”

    There was that in Mr. Brander’s manner which added as plainly as in words, “as I have done.”  Still Mr. Brander did not look a perfect picture of enjoyment.  He was scanning the features of the country through which they were passing.

    “Some of the houses are a little more like what one is accustomed to hereabouts,” he observed.  “These all have some sort of window, and mostly chimney-pots.  About Wallness I noticed many with only apertures in the roof for a light, and a hole for the escape of smoke.”

    “I’ve heard it said that those are most comfortable after all, for this climate,” remarked Robert.

    “Well, perhaps so.  Ha! I shouldn’t wonder—warm in winter and shady in summer,” assented Mr. Brander with a sense of relief.  “Only when one sees them one’s natural feeling is that one wouldn’t like to live in them one’s self.”

    “The people are accustomed to them,” said Robert; “it is quite a different thing.  They have no idea of anything else.”

    “And it’s really folly to interfere with the habits of a community,” remarked Mr. Brander.  “I believe in keeping in old fashions.  The world would be a ridiculous place if it was not for variety.”

    He began to think that after all he had not made such a bad bargain in acquiring the estate of Wallness.  Certainly, he would never have chosen it; it was not in his line at all.  He had hitherto taken his holiday pleasure on plans gradually ascending with his fortunes, from Margate and Brighton to Scarborough and Homburg; he had stayed at the Lakes once, and had been horribly bored, though he always owned that the cooking was good.  But Wallness and the island of St. Olas had “come in his way,” as he would have termed it, or he “had got hold of them,” as Tom Ollison had expressed it, because, being an unentailed property, the last of their ancient owners had used them as security in sundry speculative proceedings, by which he had wildly hoped to realize some wealth wherewith to enrich himself, and do some justice to his barren and ill-drained acres, a proceeding which, of course, had ended as it always does.  It had struck Mr. Brander that it did not sound bad to be the owner of an island, and to talk of “his little place, Wallness Castle.”  At any rate he would keep them for a little while they had come into his possession at a time when he could not hope to gain much by selling the pledge he had taken of his neighbour, and it occurred to him that their value might be increased by a little judicious application of the business principles which he had found to answer so well in his set in the City.  He had been a little confounded by the utter novelty of all he had found at Wallness.  He had mistrusted the late laird’s factor, had shrunk from the minister, and altogether had been inclined eagerly to seize an opportunity of insight into the workings of the native mind, which he shrewdly felt he was likely to get from either of the unsophisticated island lads whom chance had thrown in his way.  Young Ollison had startled him by touching the already uneasy nerve of his conscience.  Robert had furnished him with exactly the arguments and points of view which had been needed to soothe it.  He felt confirmed in his first opinion, that of the two this was the lad who would get on in the world.


 
CHAPTER III.

DIFFERENT PEOPLE’S DIFFERENT WAYS.


THE black darkness of night overtook Tom Ollison and Kirsty long before the changeful beacon light of Bressay cheered them with the thought that Lerwick was nigh at hand.

    Tom had to make a little digression from his direct path to visit a primitive village, that he might say good-bye to one or two “old folks" who had once worked on his father’s “place.”  And as it was from this village that the Lerwick people got most of their peats, it also occurred to Tom that “it was ill carrying in an empty cashie,” when he might spare somebody one journey by filling it at once.  His father had entrusted him with one or two silver coins as “New Year tokens” for these ancient dependents, and somehow, when Tom thought how their hard-working lives were fast closing in, while his was beginning in youth and health and hope, and how their grand old faces might very likely be at rest under the rough turf of the bleak churchyard before he could come back, he felt he should like to give them a little pleasure now, while they were within his reach, and so he supplemented his father’s gifts with all the munificence of youthful sensibility.  The old folks received his kindness with the dignity of their years, with almost as little show of emotion as might be displayed by stone deities when offerings are laid at their shrine.  But when he was gone, slinging the now weighted cashie over his strong young shoulders, one old dame said to her ancient neighbour that, “the Ollisons had always had the open hand it ran in the race; not the ill-closed-together fingers that let the money slip through, but the thumb that bends far back, and kens how to give.”  And the veteran had answered sternly, “that he knew nought o’ such auld wife’s sayings, but he reckoned the world wad be none the poorer if such as Tam Ollison were rich.”

    Tom had full license for his liberality, for as the youngest son of a widower—well-to-do, according to island estimates, and already relieved from all charge of his elder children — the lad had started from home with a fairly liberal allowance for his journey in his pocket, and without any straight injunctions as to how it should be applied.  “Do what you feel is best under the circumstances which arise, Tom,” old Mr. Ollison had said.  “Think what is right and fair: that’s the best advice I can give you, my boy, because I can't foresee every turn, and this will fit them all."

    At last the crowded lights of Lerwick itself brightened on the view of the young travellers, but not before the staggering steps and roystering shouts of sundry wayfarers they encountered had announced that they were in the vicinity of that stage of civilization of which "licensed houses" form an important item.

    Tom had promised Kirsty's grandmother to take her to the Clegga farm-servant's married sister, where the girl could get rested and refreshed and await the boat that would take them off to the ship.  Kirsty had never been in “a town" before, and was awed and mystified as she followed Tom through the steep, narrow lanes.  She started and exclaimed at what at first seemed to her in the darkness to be a gaunt arm stretched over a low wall in Chromate Lane.  It was but the stumpy bare bough of a stunted tree!  But when they arrived at their destination, and she was welcomed by faces which she had known in Scantness, her spirits revived, and she once more found the tongue which she seemed to have lost during the latter part of the journey.

    There was nothing for Tom but to stay where he was, in the mean while, and partake of the homely viands which were eagerly set before him.  He was not the less welcome because he found he had come to a house full of trouble.  The young husband, Peter Laurensen, had met with a serious accident which had thrown him out of work, and would keep him idle for some time, besides probably entailing a difficult surgical operation, which would have to be performed amid all the disadvantages of a small, dark, ill-ventilated room, the sole dwelling of the young pair, their baby, and an old relation, there being no hospital in the town, nor indeed in the island, for the reception of such sufferers.  The young wife, too, was ailing, though there was little wrong with her except the exhaustion due to her strange accumulation of incompatible duties as house-mother, bread-winner, and nurse.  Her face looked worn and weary even amid the delight of welcoming her brother's master's son, and pouring out upon him a flood of deprecating thanks for his trouble in carrying over the “cashie“ which her brother had been so “mindful“ as to send, and still more for his thoughtfulness in filling it by the way, and so saving her one toilsome walk to the Hill of Sound.  “They may call the hill the poor folk's doctor,“ she said with her pale smile.  “An' I'll not say it's not wholesome for us, taking us out from overmuch sitting wi' our pins and our wheels.  But one may have too much o' a good thing, and I think whiles it's like the rest o' the doctors, and sometimes kills instead of cures.“

    The ship did not sail till midnight, and after Tom and Kirsty had had their tea, the youth proposed going down into the main street to ascertain when a boat would start to take them on board.  He thought, too, that he might come across Robert Sinclair and join forces with him.  Kirsty timidly asked if she might accompany him, “She'd be feared to go alone, and she'd like to see the shops.“  Tom readily assented.  He knew Lerwick very well, and was not wholly unfamiliar with larger towns, having paid short visits to Kirkwall, Inverness, and even Aberdeen, though London, the goal of his present journey, with its seething millions, and its sharp contrasts of glory and gloom, still loomed shadowy on his imagination.  He thought it would be great fun to hear Kirsty's admiring ejaculations before the first fine edge of her new experiences should be worn away.

    Kirsty hung before the windows of the grocer and the baker, just as fine ladies do before those of the mercer and the milliner.  She had scarcely realized that there were so many jam-pots and tea-boxes and shortcakes to be seen together anywhere in the wide world.  As for the draper's, the fancy shops, and the bookseller's, they fairly struck her dumb.  Point d'Alençon and gems from Golconda could not have impressed her more than did those ruffles of cheap lace and strings of imitation beads.  But Tom resisted a rising inclination to indulge himself by making her the supremely happy possessor of one or two of these gewgaws.  For he said to himself that they would be of no use to her; they were not so fine as they seemed to her, and Kirsty must get into the habit of seeing such things without thinking of getting them.  This was wisdom which he had learned for himself, at the cost of sundry thoughtless little purchases when shops had been as novel to him as they were to Kirsty.  But it was another matter when Kirsty lingered opposite the bookseller's, admiring a simple, little framed print of an old woman at her spinning-wheel, which seemed to her tear-filling eyes a very portrait of “grannie.“  Tom darted in, and bought the pretty trifle, and placed it in the girl’s hand, telling her it would do to hang in her bedroom wherever she went, to keep her in remembrance of Shetland, home, and grannie.  And then he stopped her bewildered thanks by taking her into his confidence as to what he should buy for their poor sick host and his weary young wife.

    “It shall go into their place after we’ve left,” he decided, “the sight of us from the old home has cheered them up a bit, and after we’ve gone again, they’ll feel a little downhearted, and it will do them the more good.  Do you think they would like a goose, Kirsty?“

    “‘Deed and I do,” said the girl, “but, Master Tom, it will cost a lot o’ money in the town.”

    “I can manage that,” answered Tom, who had been looking through his purse, and going over some rapid mental calculations which he did not expound to Kirsty.  “And a few oranges will be nice for the sick man, he can take one when his wife isn’t at home to give him tea—there’s more fruit in Lerwick just now than there is generally, because Christmas is so near.  And don’t you think it would be a good idea to send one of those little shortcakes with “A happy New Year” printed on it in sugar plums?  That will give a sort of good grace to all the rest, won’t it, Kirsty?”

    His rapid suggestions, which seemed so sumptuous in her eyes, nearly took Kirsty’s breath away, but she got into the spirit of the thing, and made a shrewd market of the goose, and a good selection among the shortcake.  Oranges she did not know so much about, having only tasted two or three in her life, so Tom gave her one or two to put in her pocket for the voyage.  He got all his commodities gathered in the grocer’s shop, whose kindly master seemed quite to enter into the situation, and promised that the parcel should be sent faithfully to the address which Tom wrote on the outside of an envelope, on whose inside he put, “This is something to cook over the peats out of the new cashie, with Tom Ollison‘s love.”

    They walked the whole tortuous length of the queer chief street, and ascertained that they could have a share of a boat which was to take some people from the principal hotel to the ship.  As they had seen nothing of Robert Sinclair, it occurred to Tom to ask the waiter if he knew who these people were, and the answer he got was that the gentlemen was “the new man that had got Wallness and St. Olas, and a young lady, and a young gentleman.”  This last, Tom decided must mean Robert himself, as Robert had not been to Lerwick for a long time and was not likely to be known to anybody there.  The boat was to start within an hour, and they would just have time to go back to the Laurensens to bid them good-bye.  They were both a little mysterious over their secret, so that Mrs. Laurensen said to her husband that she wondered what that girl Kirsty was giggling at, and she hoped that Mr. Tom had had things as he liked them, for he seemed rather quiet like.  But half an hour later Peter and his wife understood all about it.  And Mrs. Laurensen said,—“Now, Peter, that’s the sort o’ folk that ought to be rich.”

    And Peter replied with a quiet chuckle, “Giving away as you go along isn’t the way to get rich, Kate.  Leastways, if riches means lots o’ money.”

    When Kirsty and Tom reached the boat they found they had not been mistaken about Robert Sinclair.  He was with Mr. Brander and Miss Henrietta.  And as they sat in the little vessel, rocking in the darkness, while Mr. Brander fussed about his luggage, Robert left the young lady and came to their end of the boat, to whisper that he had been invited to join them at their hotel dinner, and that Mr. Brander seemed to make sure that he would travel in their part of the boat, and that he really thought he might do so, seeing that their hospitality had already spared his cash a little.  It was really a great thing to get a chance of being friendly with such people.  He hadn’t originally meant to travel first class, he had half hoped to get Tom to join him in the humbler part of the ship (he said this, rightly guessing that Tom’s allowance and marching orders would permit him to do what he liked either way).  It would not be a very great extravagance, for the Branders, though they lived in London, were to stop in Edinburgh, where where they would remain till after the new year came in, and after they were gone, Robert could resume his original plan.

    “I’m going to travel in the steerage,” said Tom, rather drily.  For this was the economy on which he had resolved to straighten his accounts after his little beneficences.

    “Are you doing this out of sheer contradiction, Tom?” asked Robert, feeling somewhat nettled.

    “No,” replied Tom, more frankly.  “I made up my mind about it while I was in the town.”

    “Mr. Brander has given me his card with his London address on it already,” confided Robert.  “He has asked me to call on him.  I’m sure he would ask you, too.  I think he took a fancy to you, little as he saw of you,” he added, trying to defend himself, to himself, against a secret consciousness that he was not altogether sorry that Tom was behaving as “queerly” as usual.  “Are you sure you’ve made up your mind, Ollison?“

    “Quite sure,” said Tom, moving a little aside, as at that moment Mr. Brander stepped heavily into the boat, making it sway from side to side, and causing the unaccustomed Kirsty to grasp Tom’s arm in terror.

    “I’m glad you’re to be in the steerage too.  I’ve been hoping so all the while, but I didn’t say so, because I did not think it likely,” she whispered.  “Now, if there’s a storm, I’ll know you’re not far off.  You wouldn’t forget me?” she pleaded.

    Tom laughed.  “Of course I wouldn’t,” he said; “but I don’t think there will be any storm tonight.”

    The boat began to move off toward the ship, and Kirsty suddenly realizing that the waste of waters had already begun to roll between her and home and grannie, began to cry quietly.

    “And so you two are starting out to make your fortunes,” said the sonorous voice of Mr. Brander.  He meant the two youths, for he never would have thought of such as Kirsty in such a connection.

    “I hope we shall do so, sir,” said Robert Sinclair.

    “It should not be a matter of hope, but of will, young man,” rejoined the senior.  “If a man means to get on, he has only to say, ‘I will get on, at any cost,’ and then he does get on.  That’s what I said when I left home.  I left a poorer home than either of yours, I reckon.  And I’ve not done so badly, and I’ve not done yet.”

    Even as he spoke his face looked a little sour in the moonlight.  For two thoughts rose in his mind and troubled him.  First, that his earliest business connection chose to consider him a dishonourable man, and always said so, and that though he denied the justice of the opinion, or at least always talked about “charity” when he heard of it, he could not deny the facts on which it was based.  Second, that his own boyish ambition had been to buy “the Hall“ of his own native village, and that by some freak of circumstance, just before he became possessed of means so to do, it had been purchased by the trustees of a great charitable association, and converted by them into an idiot asylum, whose poor patients wandered aimlessly in the sweet parterres which were to him as Naboth’s vineyard was to King Ahab.

    But while Robert Sinclair repeated to himself Mr. Brander’s asservation, and only hoped that it might be true in his, Robert’s, own case, Tom Ollison had scarcely heard it; Tom stood up in the darkness, with his head bared to the silent stars, and in his blue eyes there was a strange moisture which melted down the lights of Lerwick town into one luminous cloud.  Kirsty Mail looked up at him awed.  Was he praying? she thought.  He was, though he scarcely knew it himself.  But perhaps no prayer goes so straight to God as the wordless aspiration after his will, the blindfold dedication thereto of one’s secret self and one’s unknown future.


 
CHAPTER IV.

A PEEP INTO THE WORLD'S WAYS.


THE voyage to Edinburgh was got overas such voyages are in the lives of those to whom they are adventurous noveltieswith mingled raptures and qualms, with expressions of delight in “a life on the ocean wave,“ sinking into inward resolves that if one ever gets safely to land, one will never set foot on a ship again, unless, indeed, it might be to return whence one came, never more to depart hence.  Such resolves, however, are generally quite forgotten within an hour after landing.  For our memory always colours a sea voyage with the glowing pleasures of its close — the arrival, as the Psalmist expresses it, “at the haven where we would be.“

Mrs. Brander, who had remained with friends in Edinburgh while her husband and daughter made their trip to Ultima Thule, was down at the docks, awaiting them in her carriage.  Mrs. Mail, Kirsty's aunt, was there also, standing close beside the carriage.  Mrs. Brander had been speaking to her, and after Mr. Brander had exchanged a few words with his wife, Mrs. Brander called Mrs. Mail again, and with an eye critically fixed on Kirsty, told the aunt that it had just occurred to her that if, in a day or two, she and her niece came up to where Mrs. Brander was staying, she might —Mrs. Brander could not promise she would — but she might — receive a proposal which would be most advantageous to her.  Then the Brander carriage drove away, Mr. Brander shouting back to Robert Sinclair, “Shall be in London next week — and mind you don't forget me —but I shan't let you.“

    “Why, aunt, do you know that lady?“ whispered Kirsty, so overcome by the plumes on Mrs. Brander's bonnet, and the gold bracelet on the wrist visible at the carriage door, that she did not notice her hard tones, nor the absence of kindliness in her words.

    “I go charing sometimes for the family the lady is visiting,” answered the aunt, “so she knew my face, Kirsty, and when she saw me at the docks to-day, she called me, thinking I might have been sent after her with some message.  Then I told her I was expecting a young niece a-looking for a place.  It would be the making of you if you got employed by that kind of people, Kirsty.”  Mrs. Mail was meanwhile making suggestions of curtsies towards Robert Sinclair, who appeared in her eyes as one travelling with Mr. Brander's party  — perhaps even of his family — for the carriage had gone off so laden with luggage, that it was quite likely that any youth — even though a son — should have been left to follow on foot.  Mrs. Mail did not heed Tom Ollison.

    “Where are your things, Kirsty?” she asked.  “I'll reckon you'll not have more than you can carry.”

    Kirsty had a strong, heavy box and a basket.  She and her aunt might just manage to carry these between them, but they would certainly. require all their strength.

    “Well, I suppose we'll part from you here, Kirsty,” said Robert Sinclair.  “We are going straight to the railway station, and Mr. Brander said we should only just have time to get some refreshment before the London train starts.  So, good-bye, Kirsty, and I hope you'll get a good place and do well.”

    He did not shake hands with Kirsty.  He had just shaken hands with Henrietta Brander, and somehow it began to seem to him not quite natural to offer the same salutation to both.  Tom Ollison held out his hand to the girl, and then paused, to ask Mrs. Mail,—

    “But which way are you going?  Does your road lie towards the station?”

    “Yes,” she said, “it do; an' it's a good step.  I reckon this box will take a day's work out of me.”

    “I'll give you a hand," answered Tom, as our ways are the same.  The weight's nothing to me."

    “Thank you,” said Mrs. Mail quite composedly.  "I like to see a young man make himself handy.”

    “What has become of your own luggage?” Kirsty asked.

    “Mine and his,” answered Tom, nodding towards Robert, “and a lot of goods of all sorts are being taken on a cart straight from the ship to the train.”

    Robert Sinclair looked round, saw what had come to pass, and walked on, several paces ahead.  Kirsty followed behind with the basket, a little mystified, and feeling that she was already learning many “ins and outs” of the world of which she had never dreamed.  Tom Ollison's ready helpfulness was only what her general island experiences would have led her to expect from anybody.  But it began to dawn upon Kirsty that this was not quite “the correct thing" here, and also that surely there was some distinction of degree between Robert and Tom, of which the islanders had never dreamed, but which, had they been fairly questioned on such a matter, they would probably have reversed, since the ample hospitality of Clegga Farm and the kindly despotism of old Ollison were much more impressive in their eyes than the cramped Quodda schoolhouse, and the light rule of the easy-minded schoolmaster.  But there was no doubt that the Branders were “the gentry,” the owners of Wallness and St. Ala could be no less, and it was very clear that there was a very different relationship between them and Robert Sinclair, and between them and Tom Ollison.  Kirsty had not heard that the first offer of the vacant seat in their trap had been made to Tom, and it never occurred to her that the money she had seen him expend on herself and the Laurensens would have amply sufficed to make him the Branders’ cabin companion.  It began to seem to Kirsty that Robert must be “more of a gentleman” than Tom.  It is a truth, and a very sad truth, that in the great averages of human intelligence and feeling, there is, reversing the divine order, a terrible aptitude to value those who take above those who give, those who are served above those who serve.  When Jesus’ washing the disciples’ feet had not become a sacred picture, framed in the sentiment of centuries, but was an actual fact of the day, with all its little matter-of-fact concomitants, perhaps it would have needed another Jesus to fully understand and appreciate the incident.  This failure of comprehension and sympathy in the human mind and heart lies about the very root of many upas-trees of human life, which it is in vain to cut level with its ground, as long as the root remains to sprout again.  He who brings one human soul to the perfect and practical understanding of the sacred rule, “Whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister, and whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all,” has done more for the cause of eternal freedom and progress, than he who succeeds in abrogating whole codes of unjust laws, while leaving untouched the Christlessness in which they originated.

    Tom found he could just spare time to help the two women with the heavy box up “the stair,” on the top “land” of which Mrs. Mail lived.  He could not linger a moment more, so that he barely noticed the admiring glances which Kirsty threw round the apartment into which her aunt led her.  It was one of two, that formed Mrs. Mail’s house, which was certainly not too roomy for her requirements, since she had a husband and grown-up children.  But in spite of sundry queer gabled corners, it had large, clear-paned windows, a “fitted grate,” and “four-post” bedsteads, so that its proportions and appointments seemed magnificent to Kirsty’s Shetland eyes.  What gay wall-paper!  What pretty chintzes!  What wonderful ornaments (in the way of Bohemian vases and paper flowers)!  And nothing seemed stained with damp and weather, as everything was in Shetland!  Oh what a pity granny was too old to leave home, and too blind to see much if she did!  For Kirsty felt as if she had indeed come to a land overflowing with comforts and luxuries.  Not in that first delicious bewilderment could she realize what it was to be surrounded by acres of sordid houses, through whose many fever stricken rooms the fœtid air crept heavily, in place of that pure north wind which blew in from the sea to wage a not unequal or unsuccessful struggle with the darkness and disease of Shetland hovels.  Not then could she understand how it felt to lie wakeful at night, listening, not awed and elevated, as she used to be, by the roar of the tempest, but shrinking from the polluting clamour of drunkards and abandoned women in the street below, while the first sounds that would greet one in the morning would be no longer the glad cry of the sea-gulls, but the wails of children who wanted breakfast and found none.

    Kirsty was so taken up by all she saw, that she was not very prompt in her thanks to Tom for his kindness, and when she saw him run off, she scarcely realized that he was really away at last, and that there was no knowing when or where she should see him again.  Mrs. Mail did not thank him at all; he was only a fellow steerage passenger of Kirsty’s, who had done a civil thing, and the aunt asked him carelessly if he would stay and take a bite with them, and when he said he was in too great a hurry, she let him depart without more question or ado.

    “Oh! is he really gone?” cried Kirsty, as, looking from the window, she saw Tom scampering off, at full speed, down the street.  “Oh! dear, dear, and I scarcely said good-bye, or even thanked him!"

    “And what’s all this work about?” asked Mrs. Mail drily.  “I asked him to stay for a cup of tea if he liked — one couldn’t do no more than that.  What’s the young man to you, I’d like to know?  It won’t do for you to go picking up with strangers and getting so thick with them in this place, I can tell you!

    Mrs. Mail’s own daughters kept her hands full and her temper sour, only she judged them to be “pretty well able to take care of themselves.”  But if she was to have another girl thrown upon her, equally wilful and wrong-headed, plus a primitive ignorance and simplicity, then “there would be a nice mess,” and “the piper to pay.”  So she thought she had better begin at once with mysterious hints and warnings which might keep Kirsty safe in a wholesome terror, until she, too, understood the ways of the world.

    “Stranger!” echoed Kirsty, astonished.  “That was Mr. Tom from Clegga Farm.  He’s going up to London with that other one who walked on in front.”

    “What! the young gentleman who was with Mr. Brander and his daughter?” asked Mrs. Mail.

    “That was Robert Sinclair, son of the schoolmaster at Quodda,” returned Kirsty, with a slightly resentful accent, for she noticed the difference in her aunt’s phrase concerning the two, and did not resent it the less that it was in harmony with her own recent thoughts.

    “He’s quite a gentleman, whoever he is,” said Mrs. Mail.  “You might be sure of that, or Mr. Brander wouldn’t have been speaking to him.  The Branders are real grand people, ever so rich.  Very likely the young gentleman is well connected; they think a great deal of that sort of thing.”

    “I don’t think Mr. Brander had ever seen or heard of Robert Sinclair before to-day,” persisted Kirsty, still vexed, she hardly knew why.

    “Ah! the same sort soon find each other out,” said Mrs. Mail, uttering truth in a false connection, as we are all so apt to do.  “That’s the real thing, as I say to Mail, when he’s going on about free-masonry, and what a grand thing it is for masons to know each other all over the world.  Says I, ‘Mail, there is none living would ever take you for anything but what you are, and that’s a common working man — and no mason at all — but just a plasterer!‘“  Kirsty listened, dumb-foundered by this flood of new ideas and incomprehensible theories.  Her aunt went bustling about.  Presently she resumed,  — “The girls will be in by-and-by.  It’s high time they’re come, and they won’t dawdle about this evening, keeping me waiting, as they often do, because they’re expecting you’d get in about now.  And as soon as you’ve had something to eat, I reckon you’ll be glad to go to your bed, for there’s little rest worth mentioning to be had on board ship.  And then I dare say they’ll be off out again as they generally are.”

    Kirsty was just explaining that, though she had been very wakeful during the earlier stages of her voyage, yet she had enjoyed some capital sleep later on, when her cousins arrived, and greeted her with an effusion which would have been kindlier had it not been too palpably inquisitive and even a little sarcastic.  They were tall girls, quite young women, and seemed much older than Kirsty, who decided that Jane, the elder, was the prettiest, but that Hannah had the pleasantest manner.  They both spoke quickly and shrilly, and addressed their mother impatiently, as if she had always disappointed their expectations, and was sure to do so.  They were dressed in very cheap, but showy and unserviceable garments, smartly made.  Jane had a long feather round her hat, and Hannah a bunch of frowsy poppies in front of hers, and she wore a ring with red and blue stones on one of her fingers.

    They asked carelessly after “father,” and were told that he had got a job which had taken him into the country, and would keep him there for a few days.  Whereupon Hannah said jocularly that that was “a good job,” and she presently asked Kirsty whether she had quite made up her mind to domestic service?  Wouldn’t she like factory life a deal better? — one had one’s evenings to one’s self.

    “Kirsty’s always been used to keeping herself to herself in-doors,” said Mrs. Mail severely.  “Kirsty’s going to get a good situation in a gentleman’s house.  Kirsty won’t trouble herself with none of your nonsense.”

    It puzzled Kirsty to think that her aunt had not brought her own daughters up to the way of life she seemed to recommend.  What was good enough for her cousins would be surely good enough for her.  Not, certainly, that she had any leanings that way yet.  She was too much dazzled by that possible prospect of service with the Branders in the still remote El Dorado of London.

    Hannah proposed to take Kirsty out for a walk, but Kirsty somehow felt that her aunt preferred she should remain at home, and submitted to the implied wish.  Then the girls said they wouldn’t go out either, on which their mother remarked “that wonders would never cease,” and one of the three suggested that they should look through Kirsty’s clothes, “to see if there was anything else she should get in case she had to go off to a good place in a hurry.”

    Kirsty proudly displayed her few garments, simple in make and substantial in material.  The Mail girls laughed at their “old-fashioned” cut, and when their mother admired the durability of the stuff, they told her that nobody wanted clothes which would last so long that they would look as if they came out of the ark before they were worn out.  They suggested sundry changes which might be made — a slash here, or a frill there, but Mrs. Mail negatived them all, saying that the Branders would like Kirsty best just as she was — she knew the ways of the gentry — the girl could smarten up afterwards.  They asked Kirsty about her occupations and companions in Shetland, laughed at her description of her wheel and carders, in which it struck Kirsty that they were at one with Mr. Brander.  She ingenuously showed them the picture Tom had given her.  They had a great many questions to ask about “this Tom Ollison,” as they called him, soon picking up his name from Kirsty’s simple remarks, and making her fresh cheeks tingle with shyness at their hints that very likely he was in love with her.  Then they showed her their own treasures — the valentines they had received last spring — the remains of their last winter’s finery, gew-gaws and ruffles, which quite put the Lerwick trumperies to shame.  The mother got tired at last of what she aptly called their “fooling,” and proposed that they should all retire to rest.  “Neither of them was very ready to get up of a morning.”  So she and Jane retired to the inner room, leaving Kirsty to share Hannah’s couch in the kitchen.

    Tired as she was, Kirsty was too excited to sleep, and Hannah seemed ready to talk till morning.  Didn’t she just wish that Kirsty would stay with them and go to work daily with her, instead of going off to be shut up in a kitchen!  She thought she and Kirsty would get on capitally together — she did not always hit it off with Jane.  Jane preached too much to her.  Jane did not stay at home with her mother, or help in the house any more than she did.  Jane was as fond of going about as ever she was, only she went about it in her own way — a very slow way, it seemed to Hannah, who wanted something more stirring than the singing classes, and reciting parties, and temperance evenings, and tea fights, which took Jane out nearly every evening.  Hannah liked a rattling good dance; she knew of many nice quiet places which were hired by people caring to get up little balls.  What was the harm of it?  She was not one of those who think themselves better than other people.  How she would like to take Kirsty to the play! or even to a music-hall! wouldn’t she open her eyes at the songs and the acting!  What was life without a bit of fun?  It was bad enough to have to work hard all day, without having nothing nice at the end of it.  Did Kirsty ask whether there was not something to be done at home?  What was there to do?  What was the use of darning stockings when you could buy such cheap ones that you could afford to wear them straight out, till they would not hang together any more?  What was the good of making one’s own clothes, when a girl with a sewing-machine could make them up “stylish,” for next to nothing?  There was not much washing.  They used paper collars and made-up frilling, and what there was, mother did, as also the house-cleaning and the cooking.  That sort of work was just fit for old women, whose day was over, and who could not enjoy themselves.  It would be a pretty thing to shut up a girl to do it.  A girl must make hay while the sun shines.

    Jane had had a young man, but they had quarrelled.  Hannah would not wonder if Jane ended as an old maid — wouldn’t it be awful?  She had no fear for herself, she giggled, though she’d quarrelled with two or three young men already, — there were always as good fish in the sea as came out.  She did not think she’d quarrel with her present beau he dressed so nicely, quite like a gentleman.  She was not sure what he was — in some agency business, she thought.  He was so very gentlemanlike and well spoken, that, as he never mentioned his people, she could not help thinking that perhaps he belonged to some grandees.  She had heard stories of lords disguising themselves out of love for poor girls.  She knew one or two of those stories were quite true — and what had happened once might happen again.  The other girls were awfully jealous about him, and sometimes said the sort of things girls do say when they are jealous, just to make her miserable; but she did not care, not she!  What was Kirsty asking about wages?  Hannah got about nine shillings a week, all the year round, and Jane perhaps eleven.  They each paid their mother four shillings and sixpence a week for their board — that was all.  They had the rest to themselves for dress and little expenses.  They could not save any.  If one took to saving while one was young, when was one to enjoy one’s self?  The young men could not save much either.  They always paid all expenses when they treated the girls to dances, picnics, and suchlike.  What did they do when they wanted to marry?  Oh, there were plenty of people who would let you have furniture on tick, just as the tallyman would let you have clothes.  Then you’d begin to save if you could.  And if you couldn’t manage to pay up for it, then the furniture was just taken away from you, and you had to get on the best way you could.  Of course, the fun was all over when you got married, so it did not matter so much.  What a queer girl Kirsty must be to take such long looks ahead!  They gave Hannah the dumps.  She never thought about anything, except whether she was enjoying herself to-day.  It was often hard enough to manage that.  Her young man said this was the true philosophy—yes, he was very well educated, but she could generally understand the words he used.  Oh, Hannah did wish that Kirsty was to stay in Edinburgh, though she couldn't help envying her going to London, and if one was to go to service at all, it was certainly better to go into a big house with plenty of servants, such as the Branders' was sure to be, than to some quiet place, all by one's self, where the mistress would have nothing to do but to watch one; whereas, with the other sort one might get some fun, and London people found it so hard to obtain servants that they did not keep too tight a rein over them.  And then Hannah's voice began to grow muffled and her sentences incoherent, and at last both the girls slept.

    Kirsty did indeed find that “a strong, willing girl from the country“ was no drug in the labour market of a capital city.  Before the next day was over, she had had the offer of another service, in the house of a working watchmaker, a Swiss Protestant, married to a Scotch wife.  The family lived in rooms over the shop, and consisted of the father and mother and three daughters; one of whom had been trained to help her father, another was a teacher, and the third assisted in the household duties.  They asked no skilled service, only health, strength, and willingness to learn, and they offered a wage of eight pounds yearly.  Mrs. Mail replied that “her niece was as good as engaged in the house of a real gentleman, engaged she wouldn't get less than twelve pounds a year,“ and when Kirsty was inclined timidly to suggest that the Branders were under no pledge to take her (for the girl had felt attracted to the kind face of the watchmaker's wife and the bright manner of her daughter), Mrs. Mail tartly told her to trust her for knowing what was what.  Did Kirsty wish to be a mere drudge, on a paltry pittance, when she might have light work, more money, more freedom, and plenty of presents and perquisites? this being the ideal of life in Mrs. Mail's eyes.

    However, the watchmaker's offer was made to do service, when the aunt and niece waited on Mrs. Brander.  When that lady offered to take Kirsty into her service as “under housemaid“ at ten pounds a year, Mrs. Mail demurred on the score that Kirsty had “had as good an offer, without going so far from her own people,” and that the only reason for this not being accepted, was Mrs. Mail's determination “to have nothing to say to nobody else, if Mrs. Brander would like to hire the girl,” and also Kirsty's own alleged wish “to be in a real lady's house, where she would learn how things ought to be.”  Kirsty sat aside, mute and astonished, but gradually got into the spirit of a bargain which she found eventually secured her twelve pounds a year, and her washing put out; Mrs. Brander conceding these advantages the more easily, that Mrs. Mail readily assured her that Kirsty would require no “evening out,” and no monthly holiday.

    “You won't know anybody in London at first, Kirsty,” said her aunt, as they trudged home together, after the engagement had been made, “and when you've been in the family a while, you'll be able to make your own terms.  You must look out for yourself, and see that you get your rights.  But there's a great deal to be done by good management.”

    Kirsty was quite familiar with St. Paul's injunctions to servants, “To be obedient to your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; not with eye-service, as men-pleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good-will doing service as to the Lord and not to men: knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.”

    But poor Kirsty felt that she had come into an atmosphere where these principles “would not work.”  That was a phrase with which Mrs. Mail and her daughters had already disposed of sundry "ideas" "which Kirsty had timidly put forward.  And it never occurred to Kirsty that if these principles were steadily set to work, even in one lonely heart and one quiet life, then they might effect a change in the surrounding atmosphere.  Alas! was it likely this should occur to her, when it occurs to so few of us?  For, is it not strange yet true, that in a land where the New Testament is held as the sacred book, any beautiful dream of human progress, or any sweet hope of real human brotherhood, or any revelation of true human dignity, is still called socialism, or communism, or anything but what it really is — not perhaps in its wild, unpruned tendrils, but at its living root — to wit, simple Christianity?  Can it be that this is so, because by naming it under these aliases, people who say their creed every Sunday can still boldly declare that “it will not, work“?


 
CHAPTER V.

PENMAN ROW.


THE two youths, Robert Sinclair and Tom Ollison, arrived in London in the early morning hours.  As their train had sped onward through miles and miles of outlying suburbs, densely built and evidently densely populated, they had wondered when it would stop, and Tom had highly amused their fellow-passengers by his naïve remarks on the scenes they were passing through.  Robert had preserved a discreet silence, his ambition being to speak and act only as other people did, and above all to sedulously conceal that the experiences of his past life had been such as to render anything here novel and astonishing to him.  Most singular is that craving of some human beings for a deadly uniformity.  One shudders to think to what it may bring the world, as modern science annihilates time and space, and draws remote places and peoples near together.  For this craving in individuals “to be like” other people culminates in a base national instinct which readily exchanges ancient customs and national costumes for the “etiquette of good society” and “the latest fashion,” which pulls down historic houses that a grand promenade shall not swerve one foot from its hard, straight line, and forgets its antique prophets and patriots, hid with God in the mists of his glory, that it may dance round brute-faced idols made of gold filched from its own folly.  But then the world is God’s world, and while we have to do our best for it, it is in his charge, and we must be “careful for nothing.”  For at the right time, he sent the Persian hordes to shatter the Grecian palace of selfish art, and again, he sent the Roman legions to overthrow the Jewish temple of spiritual pride, and again, he sent forth the northern barbarians to batter down the Roman fortress of cruel power, and each time, as the wave of human folly and greed was beaten back by the breath of his human hurricanes, the human race itself was found higher and higher on the shores of his providence.  And God has untold resources yet, for the deliverance of man from others, and from himself.  For he will not rest as the Creator of molluscs, the ruler of slaves, or the artificer of automata.  He must be the Father of living children, who must each bear his own name, and have his own place.

    Does this seem a wide digression from a railway carriage, wherein one boy frankly compares what he knows already with what he is learning, so that his words refresh the worn souls of the city folks who hear them, as the north winds and dancing waves of which he speaks would refresh their worn bodies; while another lad sits silent, or answers curtly yes and no, lest his kindly interrogators should discover that he had lived hitherto in a four-roomed house, where only peats were burned for fuel, and even refuses to cry out in admiration and wonder at the rich English woodlands, and gay English gardens, because he does not chose to admit that he never saw such things before?

    It may be a digression, but only such a digression as it is from tiny seeds about to be dropped into the earth, to thickets of well-grown trees which are what shall be their result in after years.  For nations are made of men who have all been boys in their day.  And what the future thickets shall be will depend on what those seeds are, whether upas or eucalyptus.  And what the boys are, that will the nation become.

    When the train came to a standstill, the pair had to part at once.  Robert Sinclair’s railway journeying was not ended yet, though he and his “traps” would have to be conveyed quite across London to resume it from another station.  For he was to be placed in the counting-house of an old neighbour of his mother’s pleasant girlhood — a Mr. Black, who owned a mill and a granary among her passionately remembered Surrey hills.

    Robert was not left to find his way alone from station to station.  A countryfied looking old labouring man pulled a dusty forelock in salutation of him, and offered to take him and his goods in immediate charge.

    “You’re Mr. Robert Sinclair, sir?” he said.

    “Yes, I am,” answered Robert, rather suspiciously.  “But how can you know me among all these people?”

    The old man smiled with sly humour.  “The others be all Londoners,” he answered, “and there’s no mistaking that you ain’t.”  (Little did he dream how he hurt Robert’s vanity!)  “An’ I saw your mother years ago.  You’ve got hair like her, but I don’t think you take after her,” he added with a side glance at the lad.

    There was no such kindly convoy awaiting Tom Ollison.  A sharp, lean London lad found him out by mounting guard over the passengers’ luggage, and pouncing upon him when he came to claim his box.  Tom had not much farther to go, for his work and his home alike would lie in the heart of the city.  He was to go into the bookselling business of an old friend of his father’s, one Peter Sandison, who had left “the island” many years before, and was quite forgotten by everybody there, except Mr. Ollison, with whom he had kept up a sparse and spasmodic correspondence, which had admitted intervals of silence sometimes lasting even for years.

    The Ollison letters which had gone to London had been homely, scrawling, not always well-spelled epistles, conveying news of marriage, and birth, and death, both on Clegga Farm and in neighbouring households, their real geniality stiffly packed in the conventional phrases with which each had begun and ended.  The Sandison letters which had gone to Shetland had been prim and precise, seasoned with epigrams on politics and politicians, and occasionally with shrewd counsels concerning investments in government stock or railway scrip.  Peter Sandison had never seemed to have anything to tell of himself — no tidings of marriage, or of household event.  Perhaps an old bachelor can have no history.  He had never even changed his place.  In the house where he had gone as clerk and general factotum, he still lived as master, and there Tom was to live with him.  How well Tom knew the address which he had so often seen in his father’s handwriting on the letters which he had posted for London — “12, Penman Row, Barset’s Inn “—and how strange it was to think that was home now!  No, no; Tom refused the thought.  Home was nowhere but Clegga Farm.

    Tom had never seen Peter Sandison, and would of course have said at once that he had no idea what he was like.  And yet when Tom did see him, as he came to the shop door, when the cab drew up, he felt instantly that he had had a preconceived idea which the sight of Mr. Sandison shattered forever.  He was a tall, lean man, with high, rather fine features, and uncertain complexion.  His clothes were of the shabbiest, his long hair waved wildly, and he held out a bony hand to Tom.  He smiled too, but the smile lingered on his lips: it did not mount to his eyes.

    He seemed a man of few words.  With a single brief inquiry after his old friend, Tom’s father, he turned and led the boy into a room behind the shop, and inviting him rather by gesture than phrase to partake of a meal set forth on the table, left him there, and returned among his book-shelves.

    Tom had no reason to complain of the preparation which had been made for him.  To his simple and limited island taste, the rich cocoa, the cold roast, the crisp rolls, and above all the plate of fresh fruit, seemed positively luxurious, and he certainly did justice to them all.  When the edge was taken from his vigorous young appetite, he had time to look about him.  He found himself in a small but rather lofty room, ill-lit, though that side opening towards the shop was entirely of glass, in small, quaint panes, the lower of which were screened by green blinds.  The room had another window awkwardly set in a corner, from which Tom looked out upon a narrow flagged yard, surrounded by lofty buildings.  The general gloom of the apartment was increased by the darkness of its walls and even of its ceiling, which, instead of being whitewashed, was papered with ‘a pattern of full-blown roses tumbling out of cornucopias, the whole brought to a fine fruity brown hue by much smoke, many washings, and sundry coats of varnish.  But the gloom did not yet oppress Tom Ollison, accustomed to the dark cosiness of Clegga, whose few tiny windows were all either skylights or set low upon the floor.  The furniture was in keeping with the apartment.  A small round table on which Tom’s lunch had been served stood in its centre; a small square table, with folding flaps, stood against one wall; there were a few common cane chairs, a big brown press, and a quaint mirror with a beetling frame, made in three divisions, two of which were filled with glass which darkened any visage that might be reflected therein; the floor was covered with the commonest drugget; there was not a single ornament or superfluous article in the room, except a splendid dark tabby cat curled in luxurious slumber on an old coat thrown across one of the shabby chairs.

    There was nothing in all this to detain Tom’s curiosity long.  So presently he rose softly and went into the shop.  Mr. Sandison was behind the counter, bending low over a desk, and he seemed to see and hear nothing till Tom said, —“Is there anything I can begin to do sir?”

    He looked up with a start and a frown, but said, “Good!  That’s it!  You needn’t begin to-day, though.  Take a bit of pleasure first?”

    “I’d rather take it second, sir,” Tom answered with a shy smile.  “I’d enjoy it more.”

    Mr. Sandison’s grey eyes flashed at him beneath their shaggy brows.  “Good!” he said again.  “Always do what you like.  Then one person at least is pleased.  Self-interest is the only principle by which the world can go on.”

    Tom felt puzzled.  He had never before heard such sentiments candidly expressed, though, for all his simple-hearted geniality, he was acute enough to recognize that they formed the secret creed according to which many act.  But how could he reconcile Mr. Sandison’s words with what his father had told him, namely, that the only terms on which the bookseller would consent to train him were of so liberal a kind, that Tom’s utmost diligence and vigilance could scarcely make the contract fair?  Tom looked up at his master with a half-laugh, expecting that some turn of his lip or twinkle in his eye would belie his cynical utterance and reveal that it had been made only in jest.  But Mr. Sandisons visage was sober and serious, almost saturnine.

    He took Tom at his word, and set him a task of comparing the contents of two catalogues of different dates, which kept the lad hard at work for three hours.  Then he bade him return to the back parlour, and “see if he could find anything more to eat.”  This time, Tom caught a glimpse of a domestic, an old woman, who spoke sharply and in inconsequent answer to one or two civil remarks on which Tom ventured.  It was not till afterwards that he discovered she was quite deaf.

    Mr. Sandison told Tom he did not want him any more in the shop that night; he could go out for a walk if he liked.  Tom said he would rather go to his own room and unpack.  He had such a curious feeling of having lost his identity, that he wanted to reassure himself by the sight of his little belongings.  As he crept up the dark, narrow staircase, past the closed doors of silent rooms, it was really hard to believe he was in the same world with crazy, cosy old Clegga, interpenetrated by the warmth of the great kitchen, and by the cheerful voices of those gathered about it.

    He could not help wondering to what other use the lower rooms were devoted, that he had to pass over two flats and go on to the attic floor.  He was rather glad of it, however; the big, low room, with its sloping corners, was a little more in the style of Clegga than were the rest of his new surroundings.  The association was carried out by the rude simplicity of the furniture, by an old maimed spinning-wheel which stood at rest in one corner, and by the pictures on the walls, an old print of “Shetland Shelties,” an engraving of a scene from “The Pirate,” and a fresh photograph of the Skerries lighthouse.  Tom thought that Mr. Sandison had kept very true to the associations of his early youth, and he rather wondered how he had brought a spinning-wheel to the south with him, since Tom knew that he had migrated from the island, a lonely lad like himself.  How could Tom imagine that the old print and the new photograph and even the decrepit wheel, were all the purchases of the last few days, made in preparation for his own arrival, because the grim bookseller had remembered how the sight of a pair of “rivlins“ (or Shetland skin-shoes) and of a knitting-pin sheath, exposed on a stall at a fancy fair as “articles of interest from Ultima Thule,” had refreshed his own homesickheart, years and years before, and had opened up a store of innocent memories which had diverted him from accepting an invitation to a gaming-table!

    “Let us give everybody every chance we have had ourselves,” Mr. Sandison had said to himself, as he had put up the wheel and hung the pictures.  “Though it’s ten chances to one if they take it I believe it’s these dumb preachers that do half of the good — it’s little enough — that gets done in the world, and they are in no danger of glorifying themselves!

    Tom grew less bewildered, but far more pathetic, after he had opened his boxes and sorted out his possessions.  There were no traces of mother or sister among them — no supererogatory stitching — no quaint personal plan, none of those tender little daintinesses which lads, in mingled pride and shamefacedness, scarcely know whether to display or to hide.  For Tom’s mother was in her grave in a wild Shetland burying-ground, and his only sister, the eldest of the Ollison family, had been married and away from her home for years.  It seems singular how often the bliss of these close, natural ties is not enjoyed to the fullest by those who seem best able to appreciate them, but who are left to sow broadcast those seeds of love which others plant in their own gardens for their own ingathering.  God must know why it is, and must have a purpose in it.  Is not the whole world the Father's garden, and is not the sole object of the children's enclosed plots to train them to work on his wider plan?  Are not fathers and brothers and mothers and sisters given us only to teach us how, as St. Paul beautifully expresses it, to treat all elders as fathers and mothers, all men as brethren, all women as sisters?  And who shall say that those who can only sow in their Father's larger garden shall not surely reap in their Father's longer day?

    Such relics of home and homely affection as Tom could boast of, he spread out tenderly.  The stout, leather-bound Bible, his father's gift, was laid on his toilet-table, and Tom looked reverently at the stiff inscription which had been so laboriously written on its fly-leaf, and thought of the love and goodness that was in it, and not of the final e that was omitted from the adjective by his affectionate father.  He hung up the comb-and-brush bag which the servant lass had made and given him, and did not scoff at its gaudy chintz, bright with red, green, and yellow.  Perhaps a soft moisture dimmed his blue eyes when he found, nestled away among his new stock of island hosiery, a goodly bag of sweeties secretly stowed there by his father's old housekeeper.  He took one or two instantly, just because he felt that the worthy dame had so stored them for his solace in his first loneliness; but he put the rest away in his drawer.  They were the essence of home, and must be consumed but slowly, like the last precious luxuries of an Arctic voyager.



"The stout leather-bound bible, his father's gift."


    In due time he heard the heavy clanging of a bell, and although he had not been warned to expect such a summons, he thought he had better go down and see if he was wanted.  He found Mr. Sandison and the old servant, whom her master called Grace, both in the little parlour, which looked less cheerless now the lamp was lit.  Some frugal refreshments, a jug of milk, and a few biscuits, were set forth upon the table.  Thereon also lay an open family Bible, before which Mr. Sandison sat.  The old woman looked over his shoulder as she passed him, found a place in a small Bible which she carried, and then plumped herself down with a peculiar emphasis on a chair in a corner, and gave a significant sniff.  Each time Tom had seen her there had been something in her gait which made him feel uncomfortable, as if he had somehow unconsciously offended her.

    Mr. Sandison spoke, looking straight before him, and not seeming to address either of his auditors.

    This was the habit in Shetland, he said.  It is ill to break old habits till one has better new ones. Let us read the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Proverbs.

    It struck Tom that this was the thirteenth day of the month.  Mr. Sandison read in a low, even, not unmusical voice; it might have been the voice of a much younger and very different man from the gaunt, taciturn old bachelor.  He made no comment on what he read, but he lingered over some verses, and paused after them, as if repeating them to himself.  Just as he had completed the last there came a rap on the shop door — the shop was closed now — and Mr. Sandison shut the Bible, rose, and went out himself to see what was wanted.  The old servant rose too, with another warlike sniff.  She chose to see something wrong with the arrangements on the supper table, and lingered to readjust them.  Then she looked up at Tom, with angry eyes, and, pointing to the Bible, said harshly,

What's the good of him doing that when he doesn't believe in it a bit?  The master doesn't believe in a God.

    “Does he say so?” poor Tom ventured to ask, much shocked, but especially sorry, and still oblivious to the fact that he was addressing a deaf woman.

    She knew that Tom had spoken, though only an inarticulate sound reached her.  She never owned she was deaf; she much preferred to be thought rude or disagreeable.  So she hazarded no answer beyond another hostile grunt, and presently went on to say,

    “You'd better beware of the master's queer ideas yourself, young man.  There's no knowing what they may lead you into.  I'll go bail there's something in his own life that accounts for his holding 'em.  There's them that don't choose to believe in a God because it don't suit 'em to think of his judgments.  Look there!"  She seized the big Bible with no very tender hands, and turned to its front fly-leaves.  There were two or three of them, evidently made in provision for a family register, and very pathetic to see in the old bachelor's Bible.

    Old Grace came round the table to Tom, pushing the heavy book before her with an air of biting triumph.

    “Look here!” she repeated.  “D’ye see that?  There’s two leaves fastened up together — fastened so tightly that they’d never be separated without spoiling the book; but you can just see there’s papers between ‘em.  I reckon that’s the master’s secret, and that it ain’t to his credit, though, mayhap, he’s got some reason of his own for wanting it found out after he’s gone himself an’ is done with, as he thinks.  I saw him the other day a-reading a book which said our bodies don’t go into dust at all, but into gases.  I shouldn’t be surprised if the master’s got a wife and children living somewhere.  I reckon he’s had his wild times before now.  When a man doesn’t believe in a God, nor the judgment day, nor hell, there’s a reason for it, so you look after yourself, my lad; and mind, I’ve done my duty by you and given you warning.”

    As Tom went through the shop to the staircase he passed his master, once more bending over his books.  Tom thought he might have easily heard all that Grace had said in her unmodulated tones.  Yet, perhaps, he was too absorbed, for even Tom’s footsteps did not make him look up.  But as Tom went by, and said softly, “Good night, sir,” he lifted sad, searching eyes to the bright young face, and let them gaze on it before he held out his hand, and answered kindly, “Good-night, my lad.”

    Those sad, searching eyes seemed to follow Tom into the lonely darkness of the silent house.  He was glad to find himself in his own room.  Strange as it was, it had already become a retreat and refuge.

    Tom had read and heard of people who were said not to believe in God.  He had thought of such as quite apart from human sympathy.  But then he had never seen one.

    “O our Father!” said poor Tom, “bless father and the folks at home, and keep me straight in all these new ways where you have set me; and is it not a dreadful pity if Mr. Sandison cannot believe in you?  How sorry you must be!  But, then, you know you’ll take care of him, just as parents do of children who are a little wrong in their heads.  I don’t think I ever loved my father so much as when I got better from the fever, and found how he had sat and watched and nursed me while I was so delirious that I called him a bear coming to eat me up, and even tried to strike him.”

    Tom went to sleep, soothed and comforted.  He had not been quite unimpeachable in his knowledge of “The Catechism, with Proofs.”  He had been addicted to sit beside his father on Sunday afternoons, gazing dreamily over Clegga Bay, talking of simple matters, which often led back to the dead mother and to “sacred thoughts of the heart,” rather than to attend the minister’s somewhat theological Sabbath class.  Perhaps those very talks with the good old father had led Tom to a truer feeling about prayer than too many have.  To Tom prayer was “talking with God” — trying to enter into his will and his purpose.  It was not mere begging from God.  Tom had made few requests to his earthly father.  He had been able to trust him to give what was best for his son.  His own desire had rather been that “father would tell him what he ought to do.”

    If all prayer took this form there would be little cavil over the power of prayer.


 
CHAPTER VI.

A CHRISTMAS MYSTERY.


TWO or three days later brought a note from Robert Sinclair to Tom Ollison.  It was a short epistle, containing little more than an invitation for Tom to journey down to the Surrey village on Christmas eve, and remain there till boxing-day, so that he and his Shetland schoolfellow might spend together the first festive season happening in their absence from home.  The proviso was added, “in the event of there being no circumstance which might make it discourteous for Tom on such an occasion to leave the household where he was himself a member.”  The invitation, couched in these terms, was sent through Robert by the miller and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Black.  Robert emphasized this by quotation commas, and set forth his own sense of the supererogation of its politeness and consideration, by appending to it a dozen lively notes of exclamation.

    By the time this invitation arrived, Tom Ollison had learned much about the surroundings of his life from the old servant Grace.  He had also discovered her infirmity of deafness, and had found how impossible it was to interrupt her harsh monologues by questions which might have drawn forth, however reluctantly, qualifying answers.  Among other things he had been informed that his master had never been away from home for the last ten years, and for how much longer Grace could not say — that being the time when she took service with Mr. Sandison.  She had also told him that “Sunday and Saturday were all the same in that house, so far as the master were concerned; the shop shutters were up, of course, and Mr. Sandison might go out a bit, but not at church time.”  Tom had so far verified her words.  He had seen very little of his master on the day of rest; they had their meals together, and Mr. Sandison told him all the books were at his service.  Tom noticed, however, that nothing cooked appeared on the table, except the hot water for tea.  Grace’s duties were never oppressive; but on Sunday they were a sinecure.  Tom had gone alone to the big parish church, venturing shyly into its cavernous shadows, out of which, as his eyes grew accustomed to them, there loomed a vision of crimson velvet and dusty carving, tesselated pavement, and monumental skulls and cross-bones — a mingling of the gloomy solemnity of a mausoleum with the cold state of a public palace, but with very little of the cheery welcome of the Father’s house.  The beautiful service of the English Church was strange to Tom, who could understand so little of the intoning of a very indifferent choir that he could scarcely follow the order in his Prayer book.  So he had sat and thought of the little church of Scantness, which had been so like his own dear home; its rudely flagged floor, bare benches, and big stove seeming but a dignified version of Clegga Farm set in simple order for the higher occasions of its Master.  And his heart had sickened with a strange sinking which he could not quite understand, for, like most fortunate stay-at-home folk, he had hitherto thought of “homesickness” rather as a half-fanciful name for a half-fanciful sentiment, and had never dreamed that it can be a suffering so real, as in some rare cases even to sap away life itself.

    Grace had further told him that “they didn’t keep Christmas,” and Tom’s only comfort had been that the day of the English festivity would not be embittered by the thought of genial merriment going on at Clegga (though he knew he would be missed), because, in the northern isles, Christmas is kept a few days later, according to the old style of reckoning.  At any rate, he could be quite sure he was not disgracing his master’s hospitality by absenting himself on the occasion.  Grace had told him with bitter triumph, as if here, at least, was one habit which she could admire and uphold in him of whom she had such a generally low opinion, that “they had no bothering nonsense of Christmas dinner — nothing at all to make the day different from other days, only that every Christmas eve somebody always sent her a parcel containing a dress or a shawl.  There was no name with it.  But she reckoned there were one or two people in the world who well knew her value, though, maybe, they hadn’t known it in time, and perhaps their conscience gave them a prick, or perhaps they thought such a man as Peter Sandison was not likely to be too liberal in his wages — not that she complained; she knew her infirmities, and that the weak must expect to be put upon.”

    Tom felt quite surprised at himself for the longing he experienced to accept this invitation, because it gave him a chance of seeing Robert’s familiar face; for young Sinclair and he, though always friendly, had not been special friends in Shetland; but now Tom could enter into that sick yearning after somebody with a few common interests and mutual memories which often binds the exile or the aged with ties which seem most inexplicable and uncongenial to those who are not in their pathetic secret.

    Tom was half afraid to prefer his request for leave of absence to this taciturn master, who seemed in his own experience to have proved the common relaxations of humanity to be unnecessary.  Poor Tom was but an inexperienced lad, not yet initiated into the world’s strange “rules of contrary,” whereby it is the rich man who thinks that the poor should be poorer still, and the idle man who considers that the busy do not work half enough; for seldom it is, that the “easy-going” make life easy for those about them.

    “Sir,” said Tom, timidly addressing Mr. Sandison, “my old schoolfellow, Robert Sinclair, has written to me, inviting me to spend Christmas in the country with him."

    Mr. Sandison looked up suddenly, and did not speak for a moment.  He even looked down again and resumed his writing before he replied, —

    “Go, by all means; I think the weather will be good for the season of the year.”

    “Thank you very much,” Tom replied, not so much relieved as he might have been by the permission, because he thought a shadow had darkened on Mr. Sandison’s face.  He lingered, as if in hopes of another encouraging word.

    “Go, by all means,” repeated the book-seller.  His tone was less frigid this time, but he did not lift his eyes from his ledger, and Tom had to be satisfied.

    Tom bought Christmas cards for his father, and for every servant on Clegga Farm.  Then he bethought him that as he was to spend Christmas with Robert, it would be a kindly attention to send one to Mrs. Sinclair at Quodda schoolhouse, and, instead of buying a fourpenny one for her, he bought two at twopence apiece, and enclosed the other for Olive Sinclair.  He had never seen much of Olive — had only spoken to her once or twice, and remembered her only as a gaunt, black-eyed girl, who answered in monosyllables.  But he thought how much she must miss her brother!  His little purchases, postage stamps and all, did not exceed half-a-crown; for he had the truly gentle sense that the value of such tokens of remembrance is not their cost but their kindliness.  This was the first money he had laid out in London.  And let any who are inclined to sneer at the boyish extravagance, and to suggest that he had better have opened an account with a savings bank, give a thought to a certain box of ointment, which was once poured forth, and to the rebuke which was administered to those who cavilled at it.  The best investment of money is in human joy.  Tom’s half-crown certainly gave much pleasure of the simplest and purest kind to eight or nine people.  Yet it gave one little pang, too, and that was to none other than Mrs. Sinclair.  She never found it words; she strove to keep it from crystallizing into a thought.  But that was the only card from the south which arrived at Quodda, and there was no other letter by the same post.  Oh! how wicked she was to give a half-reproachful thought to Robert.  Why should he waste his money on such things? the love which was between them had no need for such trifles.  And yet ――― she would never, never have thought of any omission if it had not been for this token from a mere neighbour.  She almost wished it had not come!  She gave it to Olive to keep, and somehow after she did that, Olive took her own card down from the mantelshelf where she had set it, and put them both away — out of sight.

    The shop in Penman Row was closed on Christmas eve, at the earlier hour on which it was closed on Saturdays.  Mr. Sandison inquired by what train Tom ought to travel, and bade him take care and get off in good time.  This sounded kindly, but Tom still thought there seemed a constraint in his manner.  He was making arrangements for shutting up, as Tom prepared to go.  How could the lad wish “a merry Christmas” to the saturnine man, whose lonely plans he knew so well?  And yet he could not go in silence.  There was something in the bookseller’s sad eyes which drew Tom towards him, despite all old Grace’s hints and warnings.

    “Good-bye, sir,” said the lad, and the other words came as by a happy inspiration.  “Thank you for your kindness to me, and I wish you all good Christmas wishes.”

    A porter entered the shop and threw down on the counter a big parcel for “Mrs. Grace Allan“ just as Tom passed out.  The bookseller followed the lad to the door and stood looking after him as he went down the street.

    “I thought I was only thinking of the boy in what I meant to do,” he murmured inaudibly, “but I find I was like all the rest of them, only thinking to please myself, for when I find he can please himself better than I could please him, then I am displeased!  Well, well, my purchases shan’t be wasted.  If one could only be as sure that somebody gains by every loss!“ — and he sighed heavily.

    That night, a poor, well-meaning, but shiftless family, called Shand, living in a court opening off Penman Row, heard a ring at the door-bell, and on answering it, found a hamper of Christmas dainties standing on the doorstep, superscribed with their name.


 
CHAPTER VII.

OLD-FASHIONED WAYS.


THERE had been a light fall of snow during the forenoon of Christmas eve, and when Tom Ollison met Robert Sinclair on the platform of the little Surrey railway station, and turned with him down the road towards the village of Stockley, he seemed to himself to have arrived in fairyland.  He did not know what to admire most, the broad, smooth roads, with liberal grass borders, flanked by beechen hedges whose red winter leaves fairly glowed in the last warm rays of the setting sun, or the thickets of trees, the evergreen wealth of giant pines and stately firs serving to bring out the delicate tracery of the bare boughs of oak and elm, or again, the houses — dotted here and there, some small, some roomy, a few new, but mostly old, all with their thatched eaves or red tiles and the indescribable hues of moss and creeper — only adding to the charm of the landscape while giving it human interest.  Tom could not find fitting words for his admiration, nor for the thoughts it awoke in him, though perhaps their drift may be gathered from his first exclamation.

    “I wonder how the people who are born here can ever bear to go away!”

    “I don’t know about that!” said Robert, “for, of course, I wasn’t born here.  But I know I should be glad enough to get away.  It isn’t a place to get on in!”

    “Everybody seems very comfortable and well off,” remarked Tom, glancing to the right and to the left, at the cottages they were passing, whose muslin-curtained windows and trim interiors, as visible through casually open doors, represented to him the utmost of prettiness and comfort.

    “Ah, but you don’t know how little many of these people have to live on; not more than they get with us in Shetland — ay, less, for there’s nothing here to bring in luck, as the fishings sometimes do,” persisted Robert.

    “They have very pretty houses,” said Tom; “and what a beautiful country it is!” he added, throwing a wider glance around, over the stubble fields and quiet woodlands, to the horizon of low hills, purple against the evening sky, wherein the bright vermilion was fast fading into cool yellow light, softening off through fairy green into placid grey.



"What a beautiful country it is!"


    “One can’t live on beauty,” returned Robert oracularly.  “But the people here have no ambition; they only want things to be as they have always been.  Many of the families have lived in the same places, following the same callings, for many generations.  It’s not at all uncommon.”

    “Well, I don’t see any particular advantage in change — unless it is change for the better,” said Tom.

    “Mr. Black is only the second of that name at the mill,” went on Robert; “but that’s only because his father married into it.  His mother was an Alwin, and the Alwins have been the millers at Stockley since the year one.  It's a Saxon name, they say.  I suppose the first Alwin came over in one of the early invasions, and planted himself down within as short a walk of the seacoast as he could.  It’s a wonder he had the enterprise to get to England at all.”

    “I don’t know that a man need lack enterprise, because when he comes to a place which he likes he has the good sense to stop there,” observed Tom.

    “Well, I am sure Mr. Black hasn’t any enterprise,”  Robert replied in an aggrieved tone, as if Tom was defending somebody who had injured him.  “He says he doesn’t see what a man wants with more money than is enough to live on himself, and to leave his place open and in order for those who are to come after him.”

    Tom thought over this statement in silence.  It seemed to him a very reasonable one, almost like the discovery of a first principle of true ambition.  But it occurred to him presently that it might be made so subtly to change and enlarge itself as soon to lose all its original meaning.  “What is enough for a man to live on?” is a question which cannot be answered except one knows what a man means by “life;” whether he requires only to support his body, as many are driven to do, or also to nourish his mind and develop his moral nature, which is the true thrift for nations and individuals; or, on the other hand, to stunt and starve his morale and mind, and to pamper his appetite, which work of explosive destruction can never be done to perfection without the expenditure of a large fortune.  Does a man want to “live” in affluence and beneficence on his paternal farm, or to “see life” in metropolitan boulevards and Continental spas?  Tom Ollison knew little of these things, but great questions condense themselves for simple minds — and he remembered that he had heard his father say that little Clegga Farm was prosperously upheld on a less income than served to maintain a certain half-pay captain and his wife, who lived in furnished rooms in Lerwick, drank the best brandy, and paid enormous usury on money borrowed to clear off the farther end of a tail of debt which their career dragged after it.  So Tom could see clearly that this declaration that a man wants only enough to live on, at once involves the inquiry, “How does a man mean to live?”

    “I shall get away from here as soon as I can get a chance,” decided Robert.

    “I would not be in too great a hurry,” said Tom; “one never sees the best of anything at first.”

    “Oh, don’t you think so?” asked Robert.  “I do.  Novelty itself is always a charm.”

    Tom was silent. For at that moment, despite his appreciation of the rich beauty around, his heart craved for the open sea, and the bare rocks of Scantness.  And it seemed to him to have been almost like treachery to those old haunts to have said that surely those born among such loveliness as this would never care to leave it.  Ah, those wild and sterile places, like strong and stormy characters, often win the most clinging love, only made the more tender because it deprecates the neglect or contempt of an unappreciative world!  Tom waited for the pang to pass, and then said humbly, — “I always think we like things better as we grow used to them.  One works best with tools to which one is accustomed.”

    “I don’t want to grow used to Stockley,” returned Robert.  “Perhaps I might get mossed over like the rest of the Stockleyites, if I stayed long enough — though I scarcely think so.  But that is precisely what I don’t mean to do.  There will be plenty ready to jump into my shoes here, but I shan’t mind that, if I get a chance of giving them up of my own accord.  The old folks have got no children, and I have an idea that I might step into the mill in time, if I chose.  But what is it worth, if I do?  If I can’t do a great deal better than that, well, I don’t think much of myself, that’s all.”

    “Where is the house where your mother was born?” asked Tom.

    “Oh, it is none of these,” Robert answered hastily.  “It is at the other end of the village.  We shan’t pass it.”

    Its tiny proportions did not suit his pride.  He wished it had been left in his imagination, and determined to leave it in Tom’s.  It would be time enough to be frank about the poverty and lowliness of one’s family when they would serve only as foils to one’s own riches and grandeur.  They might tell against one before.

    To the end of his life, Tom Ollison never forgot the scene which lay before him, as they turned a corner of the road and came round upon Stockley Mill.  The business premises, a picturesque conglomeration of brown timber, grey stone, and red brickwork, with a background of tall pines, stood on that side of the mill-stream which was accessible from the highroad.  Across the stream was thrown a wooden bridge, wide enough for a chaise, or similar modest vehicle, but which had evidently been constructed with little view to any carriage traffic whatever.  On that side of the water there was only a footway, flanked by the beechen hedge which Tom had seen everywhere in the neighbourhood, and which besides contributing the beauty of its exquisite colour to the sombre winter landscape, served by its quality of retaining its withered leaves until its spring glory was grown, as a perennial screen to the garden behind it.  It was only as the lads advanced across the bridge, that a gateway set in the hedge opposite it gave a view of the miller’s habitation — a long, low house, so green with ivy that for the first moment the unaccustomed Tom could not be quite sure where the walls ended and the shrubberies began.  The last light of the setting sun was strong upon the mill, but the home was in deep shadow outside, for within a glowing fire was evidently newly stirred, and quaint shadows could be seen waving up and down the parlour wall.

    Robert opened the gate and let Tom pass in.  The garden was in its winter undress, yet Tom made a quick note of its sleek lawn, its numerous flowerbeds, its ancient dial, and its thatched summer-house.  But the gate had clanged behind them and given warning of their approach, so before he had time to utter one note of admiration, a tall female figure enveloped in a scarlet shawl appeared in the porch and claimed all his attention.  He did not need to be told she was Mrs. Black.  There is something very amiss in the hospitality of any house, whose mistress needs an introduction in that character.

    Had Tom himself been an old friend of the family, he could not have found a more hearty welcome.  Robert secretly thought that the Blacks must be very desirous of making themselves agreeable to him, to be so zealously friendly to his visitor; perhaps they thought he was not very highly satisfied with his position — indeed he had given them some reason to think so.  Little could he dream that while he and Tom were absent from the parlour, during the early hours of Tom’s visit, Mrs. Black had said to her husband, — “What a fine open face the youth has!  I wish we had got this one instead of the other for our inmate.”

    Whereupon Mr. Black had replied, with that resignation of nature for which Robert contemned him, —

    “We must take things as they are sent to us.  You get number one before you get number two, you know, Bessie.”

    “You get number one very much indeed when you get Robert Sinclair,” the wife had answered, with her clear, merry laugh.

    “What a woman you are, with your quick likes and dislikes!” said her husband, looking at her fondly.  “If our own children were with us, I believe you’d have your favourites.”

    A swift shadow passed over Mrs. Black’s bright face.  Three little ones had lain in the cradle in that nest of a home, only to be carried out and planted in God’s acre.  And Mrs. Black’s delicate conscience always smote her that one of these had been mourned beyond the others.  Neighbours would have said that she had been stricken almost into her own grave by grief for each fading babe.  But she herself knew that there was a difference: that she had never known the bitterness of death till she saw her one boy in his coffin.  People had said to her since, that it might be as well when the only son was taken; she might have spoiled him in her loving pride; but she knew better, she could have allowed herself to be very angry with him, she was sure.  She might rather have spoiled the girls, feeling that their brother had defrauded them of a bit of their mother’s heart.  Her husband’s chance words smote a tender place.

    “Well,” she said, “I do wish I liked that Robert Sinclair better, and then I’d give him many a good lecture.  He’s had a right to two or three already.  There’s no knowing how much good they might have done him.  Everybody has a right to all his rights.”

    The bountiful table to which Tom found himself invited seemed a type of things in general at Stockley.  Its viands were not rich or rare, they were only abundant and perfect in their kind; and Tom could not help casting admiring eyes on the silvery damask, to which an occasional dainty darn only gave the dignity of antiquity.  He saw that the heavy old cut glass was brought forth from closets crammed with the same.  The low brown walls of the parlour were well-nigh covered with dim engravings, at many of which collectors would have looked with some interest.  If there were a few family portraits in oil which were not altogether works of art or beauty, at least they made manifest that the past generations of Blacks and Alwins had been well-fed, well-clad, kindly-faced people.  There were corner cupboards with quaintly framed glass doors, and other cupboards set into the wall with no doors at all, on whose shelves were stored quantities of old china arranged with less reference to prettiness, interest, or value than to personal associations, delicate Oriental bowls alternating with coarse English pottery.  In sundry corners there were little tables, covered with hyacinth bulbs and fragile ferns, which “the mistress“ was fostering.  In one window stood a cage with canaries, and in the other one with doves.  On the hearthrug was a beautiful beagle, watching with pathetic eyes over two roly-poly pups.  From a shady corner in the little entry came a weird laugh, which made Tom look around startled, to the general amusement.  The laugh came from a roomy wooden cage, whose inhabitant, a waggish-looking starling, charmed with his success at directing attention to himself, gladly repeated his performance.

    The table was attended by a comely damsel, who looked the more like a garden flower that her gown was green and her cap ribbons pink.  From time to time she whispered announcements to her mistress, to which Mrs. Black evidently responded as soon as the meal was over, by gathering her shawl about her and leaving the apartment.  Her husband explained that “the mistress had gone to see after her Christmas gifts — the folk wouldn’t take it kindly if she didn’t give them a word as well.”  Presently the scuffle of departing footsteps and a few muffled, but cheery, whispers announced that the recipients were going away well pleased.  Mrs. Black came back with the light of the smiles and thanks she had evoked shining in her own face.

    “There never was such a place for gifts as Stockley,” remarked Robert.  “I do believe so much giving has pauperized the people.”

    “It is not giving that makes paupers,” said Mrs. Black quickly.  “It is giving without personal acquaintance and liking which does that.  Gifts come quite natural between friends, be they rich or poor.  Why should it pauperize Goody Blake if I give her a shawl and a pound of tea any more than it would pauperize you, Robert, if I gave you a book?”

    She stopped abruptly.  She saw that the merry twinkle in her husband's eye was asking whether there would be much personal liking on her side in any gift she might bestow on Robert.

    “I don't think it is good for people to be so much taken care of," said the youth.  “It would be better for them to take care of themselves.  I believe in self-help."

    “For babies?” questioned Mrs. Black.  Nearly every one of us is in some respects a baby as compared with somebody else.  When Martha or me want to move the big chests on the landings, we shouldn't like it much if Stack said he believed in self-help, and left us to take care of ourselves."

    Martha was the comely servant and Stack was the stout miller's man.

    "Stack is paid to work, and it is his interest to do whatever you ask him," said Robert Sinclair.  “But I don't believe in the kind of spirit there is down here, everywhere.  What is the good of the cottagers having votes?  They all vote with the squire — their votes are only so many more for him."

    “Well,” returned Mrs. Black, “they know the squire, and they know he's a just man and a perfect gentleman, and they reckon, rightly enough, that he knows more of Parliament business and Parliament men than they do, and they'd rather follow him than go astray.  They know the squire's advice is good on matters they do understand, so why shouldn't they take it where they are not quite so clear?  I know the squire has never asked a vote.”

    “He needn't ask them, ma'am,” said Robert with a superior smile.  “He knows he has them without offering that handle to his adversaries.  It's a terrible power for a man to have.”

    “It's a good power in a good man's hands," persisted Mrs. Black, whose husband watched the argument with contented pleasure; “and the minute it gets into a bad man's hands it begins to shake.  A bad man can't influence people without words and threats, or bribes, and then that which is best in people goes against him, and only the weak and mean are on his side.  I know power does not go from rulers the moment they begin to misuse it, but it begins to go then, though it may seem to increase.  Moths don't destroy a good garment in a week, but they make sure work of it."

    “It seems ridiculous to me to see grown-up people made babies of," said Robert.  "Think, Tom, the squire's sister thought the snowy lanes would look prettier with some bright colours moving about.  So last year, on New Year's Day, she gave all her pensioners, the old women and the little girls, scarlet cloaks.  I think that was rather too much, even for their meekness.  They wear them as little as they can.  The boys call the girls Madam's robin red-backs.' "

    Mrs. Black laughed.  “Well,” she said, “I wouldn't have done just so.  I'd have given something plain and useful, and would have put the coloured cloth into the clothing club, to be bought out, and would have worn something scarlet myself to set the fashion.  But the squire's sister means well.  There's no denying the red is pretty in winter time.”  She twitched her own shawl.  “I got this to keep the dear old goodies in countenance,” she explained to Tom, “and now I would not exchange it for any duller colour.  I told them all that if they'd heeded their Bibles they needn't have waited for the squire's sister to teach them what the wise woman knew in Solomon's time.”

    “It seems to me there is a great deal too much of the squire's sister and the squire,” said Robert.  The Blacks had apparently encouraged him to speak his mind freely, and he saw no reason to suppress his adverse opinions.  “Nobody can build a house without the squire seeing the plans.”

    “That ended in keeping a second public house with a strange master out of Stockley,” put in Mrs. Black.  “The Old Red Lion is quite enough for the place, and its host knows his guests, and begins his wisdom where theirs leaves off.”

    “It's a terrible power for one man to have,” persisted Robert.  Tom Ollison gave his head an inscrutable little shake.  Mr. Black spoke at last, and what he said was, —

    “You can't get power better placed than with a good man.  You may make the best o' laws, and the best o' organisations; but it all comes down to the man at last.  If he's good, they'll do, and if he ain't, they won't.  And if he's good and they're bad, they won't matter much ; and if he's bad and they're good, they won't be much account.”

    “Then what's to be done if the man is bad?” said Robert.

    Mr. Black gave a quiet chuckle.  “We must take care that he isn't," he answered.  “Each man has got to look after one man, and that's himself.”

    “That's exactly what I say!” exclaimed Robert, while Tom remembered that cynical utterance of Mr. Sandison’s which had so puzzled him on his arrival in Penman Row.

    “Take care you’re not misunderstood, John,” warned Mrs. Black.  “Each man has got to look after his own duties and other folk’s rights,” said the good miller, “and after he’s done that, honest, for a little while, he’ll find the two fit like hand and glove.  And now hark to the waits!  I’ve heard ‘em every Christmas eve o’ my life.  We stick to the old hymns o’ these festivals, though we try a new one sometimes, in the choir o’ Sundays.  There’s a time for bringing in new things, and a time for keeping up old ones; and I remember a verse my father used to repeat: —


Let us see the old faces
Beam in the old places,
Let us taste the old dishes
And wish the old wishes,
Let us sing the old songs
And forget the old wrongs,
Let us toast the old glories
And tell the old stories,

For half o’ the pleasure o’ all Christmas days
Is in regular keeping to good old ways!”



[Next Page]

 


 

 [Home] [Up] [Recollections] [A Retired Life] [The Secret Drawer] [By Still Waters] [Doing and Dreaming] [The Dead Sin] [Family Fortunes] [Rab Bethune's Double] [Short Stories, etc.] [Poems] [Miscellanea] [Main Index] [Site Search]

Correspondence should be sent to Webmaster@Gerald-Massey.org.uk