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Title: Scholar Gispies Author: John Buchan * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1400181h.html Language: English Date first posted: Jan 2014 Most recent update: Jan 2014 This eBook was produced by Roy Glashan from a donated text. Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au
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I FEEL that in some way I ought to apologise for the braggart tone of the title, as if in this little book one were to set himself to unfold a whole philosophy. The papers are scarce worthy of it—a few pictures of character and nature, pieces of sentiment torn from their setting, a fragment of criticism, some moralisings of little worth—the baggage of a vagrant in letters and life. A more miscellaneous equipment than ever was Don Quixote's, or that which girt the great Sir Hudibras.
Yet there are one or two threads of connection, I fancy, to be discerned in the tangled web. First, they were all written in youth, when a man's thoughts run on many diverse things with a certain tentative aim. Further, they were written in close connection with that most beautiful country, the upper valley of Tweed, where the grace of old times seems to have long lingered. And an even stronger link of union may be found; for they are continuations and exemplifyings of the conception of the art of life contained in the first essay and the title of the volume; a conception as old as the hills, but ever new to its enthusiastic conceivers.
The old noble commonplaces of love and faith and duty are always with us, since they are needful for the making of any true man or woman. But in the minor things of life, its pleasures, its recreations, we may have each a separate creed; we may each look upon it as an art, as Plato regarded virtue, to practise which lies in the power of every one.
Eight of the essays are here published for the first time. One appeared formerly in a college print, and is here issued in a slightly different form; one is reprinted, with the permission of the Editor, from The Glasgow Herald. The remaining six have been contributed at various times during the last three years to Macmillan's Magazine, to the editor of which I owe a debt of gratitude for great and continued kindness.
A fugitive and gracious light he seeks,
Shy to illumine; and I seek it too.
This does not come with houses or with gold,
With place, with honour, and a flattering crew;
'Tis not in the world's market bought and sold—
But the smooth-slipping weeks
Drop by, and leave its seeker still untired;
Out of the heed of mortals he is gone;
He wends unfollow'd, he must house alone;
Yet on he fares, by his own heart inspired.
—Matthew Arnold's Thyrsis.
THE outlandish figure which a distinguished poet has added to our literature has been seen, or imaged, probably by many people. It is pleasing to think of such an inhabitant of the wilds; and if we do not now see his grey cloak among the trees, we can still think of him as near us in all our wanderings abroad—just behind that ridge of hill or beyond that tangle of underwood—a shadow which shuns our inquiry. For, in truth, he is an enchanting figure, with his antique habit, his haunting face, and wild keen eyes which see many things that are hidden from others. He is a scholar, too, and a good one, for he carries books in his cloak; and if we came up with him by some happy chance, we might find him reading Theocritus from an antiquated text of three centuries ago.
It is many a day since the story "ran through Oxford halls," and the Scholar- Gipsy has long since ceased his wanderings. Yet his spirit by some occult transmigration is still abroad in the world and in many unlikely places. Like the young Will o' the Wisp in Andersen's story, no rank, no profession, is a safeguard against it. Sage men of law, scholars, divines—all have felt this wandering impulse, which would lead them, like Waring, to slip off "out of the heed of mortals" and see the world of which they know so little. And some who are wise in their generation, like this old scholar, seek to see both sides of existence, and add to their scholarship that knowledge of natural life which is becoming rarer as we travel further from the primeval simplicity.
In former times this gipsying was part of a scholars life. He was compelled to journey over half of Europe, it might be, to the college of his choice, in a time when journeying was not always pleasant and seldom safe. The laws against begging were relaxed in his favour. He had no baggage except a book or two, and with his staff in his hand he trudged merrily forward on his adventurous way. These men were the most cultured of their age. The head that was covered by that tatterdemalion bonnet might be debating grave points in the Aristotelian logic, or with Plato framing immortal commonwealths. A sun-browned scholar was not apt to suffer from pedantry or unreal visions of things; while to sustain him on his way he had his love for learning and many rich eclectic stores to draw on for his entertainment. In days nearer our own some few members of the fraternity still survived. Goldsmith, fresh from his desultory college life, tramped through many countries with his flute in his pocket, and gained that large kindliness which makes one of the best features of his work. In our own day one of our most ingenious story-tellers has gone far and wide in many unchristian latitudes in search of wisdom and adventure. But after all, of the many who follow the life few ever attain to any reputation; for among other good things they acquire a genial contempt for fame, which is peculiar to men of genius and this disreputable brotherhood.
It is not that this wandering spirit is rare to-day, for it is essential to the natures of great men of science, travellers, explorers, and many men of action. These, in pursuit of their callings, travel in rough, far-away places, and live with a careless scorn of the luxuries of civilisation. But the scholar is overmuch a man of books and colleges; pale-faced and dull-eyed, lacking the joys and humanities of life; yet still, it may be, with a drop of gipsy blood in his veins, which warms at the tale of wars and gallant actions and makes its possessor feel that his life is a very one-sided affair. Yet the way for him is easy; down one street and across another; and thence to the open country, to the green woodland, where the air is free and the great Earth-Mother as gracious as the Muses.
The union of the two lives is fraught with so many rich and apparent advantages, that its apologist is almost unneeded; for neither is perfect, and the defects of each are remedied in great part by the other. The scholar has a mind filled with many creations of romance and poetry. He can people the woods with beings of his own, elves and kindly fairy folk, which are gone nowadays from our theology, but still live in the scholar's fancy. That rare classical feeling, which one finds in Milton and Tennyson, which sees the fair images of an older economy in common things of to-day, is only possible for the scholar. The old wandering minstrel had his share of it. Nicol Burne the Violer, who wrote the ballad of "Leader Haughs," and may have been, for all we know, the original of Sir Walter Scott's "Last Minstrel," has a way of introducing the divinities of Greece and Rome into the scenery of the Border country, which is distinct from any false classical convention.
Pan playing on his aiten reed,
And shepherds him attending,
Do here resort their flocks to feed,
The hills and haughs commending;
With cur and kent upon the bent,
Sing to the sun good-morrow,
And swear nae fields mair pleasures yield
Than Leader Haughs and Yarrow.
An house there stands on Leader-side,
Surmounting my descriving,
With rooms sae rare and windows fair,
Like Daedalus' contriving;
Men passing by do often cry,
In sooth it hath no marrow;
It stands as sweet on Leader-side
As Newark does on Yarrow.
Further, nothing can so clarify and perfect the intellectual senses as the constant association with beautiful natural sights.
A strange sunrise or sunset is a greater element in the education of a man than most people think. Every appreciated object in Nature has an influence, imperceptible it may be, but none the less real, on the mental culture. Truth of perception, which was commoner among our grandfathers than with us, is one of the least of the benefits of Nature. A larger sense of form and colour and the beauty thereof, a finer feeling for the hidden melodies which may be heard hourly in any field, and a vastly increased power of enjoyment of life, are things which some would not count too dear at any price.
The sadness, the continuous tragedy, which is inseparable from all natural life is bereft of its pain by the equipment of religion or an elevated philosophy, with which we may suppose the scholar to be furnished. The savagery of natural people like the gipsies is no imagined thing; this wanton cruelty and callousness to the pain of others forms the darkest blot on their lives. The robustness of healthy outdoor life is in no way weakened if tempered with a sensitive sympathy for weaker folk.
As for the gipsy part, its advantages are far in excess of the somewhat slender stock that the scholar brings with him. The wandering among the fields and hills carries with it a delicate and abiding pleasure that to some means more than the half of life. The blessedness of mere movement, free and careless motion in all weathers and in all places is incomparably great. One morning sees a man in a country of green meadows and slow lowland streams, where he may lie beside a tuft of willows and dream marvellously; and the next finds him in a moorland place, high up above the valleys, where the air is like new wine, and the wide prospect of country gives the wanderer a sense of vast proprietorship. Whether the heather be in flower and the wilderness one great purple sea, or whether the bent be grey and wintry and full of pitiful black pools, it is much the same to him; for one of the marks of this spirit is its contentment with the world at all seasons. He may arrive tired and hungry at some wayside inn, and taste the delicious sleep of utter lassitude; or he may make his bed for the night in some nook in a wood among green brackens, and wake with a freshness which makes him wonder at the folly of man in leaving the open air for the unworthy cover of a house. For him there is no restraint of time or place. He can stay an hour or a week, as it suits him; he can travel fast or slow; he can turn if the fancy takes him, away from the highroad down green, retired lanes, and enjoy the satisfaction which comes from long hours of leisure in the height of summer.
To the artist in life, the connoisseur of sensations and impressions, this manner of spending his days commends itself. There is a subtle influence about every place which dwells long in a man's memory, and which he may turn to time upon time and not exhaust its charms. Each type and shade of weather and each variation of scene leaves an indelible impression, so that soon he will have a well-stocked gallery in his mind to wander through, when the dull days come and he is bound hand and foot to his work in a commonplace town. Every sound carries with it for him a distinct sensation; the crowing of cocks about a farm, the far-off bleating of sheep on a hillside, the ceaseless humming of bees, and the plash of the burn among the grey rocks. Rhymes run in his memory, confused lines of great poets which acquire a meaning never grasped before; and he himself gets into a fine poetical state, and dreams pleasant things, which are vast nonsense when written down, but which seemed to him there and then to be of the essence of poetry. What philosophical system of life, though it be followed ever so rigidly, can make a man so high and free in spirit? It must needs be that one who lives among great sights should win something of their greatness for himself. The artist, too, whether in colours or words, gains a becoming humility. He feels the abject powerlessness of his brush or pen to express, in anything like their pristine beauty, many of the things he meets with. Not dazzling summer days or autumn sunsets, for these come within the limits of his art; but the uncommon aspects, like the dim look of the hills on certain days in April—such make him feel the impotence of language.
The man who is abroad at all hours and seasons meets with many things which other folk never think of. Apart from mere fantastic sights, curious unions of earth and sky and weather, he begins to delight in the minutiae of observation. He loves to watch the renascence of life, the earliest buds, the first flowers, the young, perfumed birch leaves, the clear, windy skies. He can distinguish the call of the redshank or the plover among a concert of birds on a moor. He can tell each songbird by its note amid a crowd. Being out of doors at all times he becomes a skilful fisherman, though his tackle is often rude enough in all conscience; for by the riverside he learns something of the ways of a man with a fish. He takes pleasure in long wanderings after a mythical bird or fern, for to him the means are no less pleasing than the end. Every object in the world acquires for him a personal charm. He is interested in the heron as in some fellow-fisherman; the ways of the wren and linnet are not below his consideration; he has actually a kindly feeling for the inherent depravity of the crow. And behind all, like a rich background, come days of halcyon weather, clear, ineffable April evenings, firm October days, and all the pageantry of the "sweet o' the year" But above all such temporal blessings, there is that greatest endowment, which Wordsworth and Thoreau and Richard Jefferies sought and found—the sense of kinship with nature. Our attitude is too much that of aliens wandering on sufferance in a strange country, or rather like children looking through the bars of a gate into a rich demesne. Now there is a great deal of very whimsical nonsense talked on this subject, but there is more than a little truth. Most people witness fine natural sights as exiles, feeling with a living regret that such are foreign and beyond their narrow world. But to the man who is much abroad these come with pain or pleasure, according to their nature; but not as scornful, uncontrollable giants who mock his impotent wonder, but rather as forms of the great mistress whom he seeks to know. Rough shepherds on the hills have a way of talking of streams and weathers with a personal tone, as things which they meet in their daily life and have attained to some considerable knowledge of. Surely this is an enviable degree of kinship.
As a man's mind is richly advantaged, so also is his body. He loses the sickly humours, the lassitude, the dulness, which oppress all sedentary folk. His sinews grow firm and his nerves strong. Tramping many miles over heather and inhaling the wholesome air of the uplands, or basking in sunlight among the meadows, makes his frame hardy and active and his skin as brown and clear as a moorland trout-stream. He begins to feel the gaudium vivendi, the joy of living, that the old Greeks felt, who in their wisdom built the palęstra beside the school. All immoment philosophies, nugatory and unsatisfying endowments born of the dreams of dyspeptic townsfolk, are banished from his brain; and he goes on his way with a healthy clarity of mind. He is not careful to seek an answer; nor is he perplexed by the ravings of a vitiated decadence; for he seeks only the true and strong in nature and art. But if he lacks in this he has other things at his will. His brain is a perpetual whirl of airy notions and wayside romances, which, like the sounds in Prospero's island, "give delight and hurt not." In his wanderings, he meets with all sorts of odd people, whimsical and grave; and he gets some little insight into the real humour and pathos which habit in the lowliest places.
But after all it is more a matter of feeling than of practice. A man may live in the town eleven months of the year and yet be at heart one of this old romantic brotherhood. It is ingrained deep in the nature of some; others are so cumbered about with wrappings of convention that they take years to get free. They are seldom talkative people, at least in houses and among strangers, so they go on their pleasant way for the most part undisturbed, though their wide toleration, acquired from their manifold experience of life, wins them some few friends. The class is of necessity a limited one; for the majority of mankind are dull, equable folk, whose only romance in life is its close. But the eager, insatiable scholar and the wild, gipsy spirits, when in some rare case they come together, produce a union so enchanting that it is apt to seem to onlookers the very secret of life.
For, if the one exists without the other, there come those tantalising regrets, those vistas of unused pleasure, which go far to make life a burden. Often when a man is sunk in town-life and thinks of nothing beyond, the mere sight of a bronzed face, a breath of the country, the glimpse of leaves or brown heather, and the old glamour of the greenwood is upon him and he grows weary with unsatisfied longings. Or, when one has been living for weeks in the heart of the natural world, with a heathenish disregard of man and all human inventions, a stray book in the corner of an inn, a chance sight of an old friend, recalls to him that he has been living in error and he sets about mending his ways with all speed.
As for the end of life, when the strong man bows within us, surely it is they who have passed their days in ignorance of pain or true pleasure in a methodical existence, who have never felt the high hopes and the warm humanities of the scholar and the gipsy, who have never followed impossible ideals and eaten of the tree of knowledge whose fruit is for life—surely it is they who will find it hard to die. The man who has lived the best moments of his life abroad with nature sees no occult and terrible import in its end, regarding it as the passing, the dying unto life, which falls to the lot of all natural things. So, like Mr. Standfast, when "the time comes for him to haste away, and he goeth down, there will be a great calm at that time in the River."
IN a grey university town in the north it was once my good fortune to know one who passed among his fellow students with something of the air, I fancy, that the Scholar-Gipsy of Matthew Arnold must have had when by a rare chance he fell in with his friends of past years. He was courteous and kind to all, with a gracious condescension which was not that of a great man to an inferior, but rather of a stranger from some wiser planet who had strayed for awhile among us. With his keen, handsome face he passed through the gaunt quadrangle amid the crowd of pale, overworked weaklings, as one to whom learning came easily. He was a ripe scholar, beyond us all in classics, in philosophy, a lover of strange lore, learned in the literatures of many tongues; but beyond these tangible acquirements there was that baffling sense of deeper knowledge which lurked in his presence and puzzled the best of us with its evasive magic. In many of our memories his inscrutable figure long remained till it was effaced by more sordid impressions.
Some years afterwards I met him. It was one golden afternoon in the end of July, as I returned to the inn from the river with my rod and a scantily furnished creel. Sitting outside I saw my friend of former years and hastened my steps to meet him. He was much changed. His face was thin and his back bent, but he had still the same kindly look and smile. We passed the evening together in the garden thick with Jacobite roses; and, as we talked, he told me bit by bit the history of his past. His parents had died when he was young and left him a sufficient patrimony; and his boyhood and youth had been passed much as he pleased in a moorland country. Here he had grown up, spending his days between study and long wanderings over a romantic country-side. In his college vacations it had been the same; seasons of grim work varied with gipsying journeys, fishing and travelling in high, wild places. He became learned in the knowledge of the woods, and many other things not taught in the schools, though he read his books with a finer zest and a widened humanity. After an honourable course at our college he had gone to one of the southern universities, and there after a career of unusual distinction he had settled down to the profession on which his heart was set.
But while his life was yet beginning he was mortally stricken with the national disease, of which the seeds were in his race; and young, rich, brilliant as he was, he had to face the prospect of a lingering death. His mind was soon made up. To him the idea of ending his life in the town, like a rat in its hole, was too awful to be endured. He got together some few necessaries and books, and quietly, with no false bravado, set out on his last journey. He was able to go only short distances at a time; so through all the pleasant spring and early summer he travelled among the lowland country places, gaining contentment and a gallant cheerfulness from the companionship of nature. When I met him he had reached the borders of the great upland region in which his boyhood had been passed. He had only a few months at the most to live, but, though as weak as a child in body, he had lost not a whit of his old, gay humour.
The next morning I bade him good-bye; and as I watched his figure disappearing from view round the bend of the road, I uncovered my head, for of a truth he of all men had found Natura Benigna, the Kindly Mother.
IN all times from the dawn of civilisation and the apportioning of humanity in towns, men have clutched at this idea of the life of nature and culture. This is the truth which lies at the bottom of all the wondrous erections and systems of life which artists and philosophers have wrought for themselves. This is the true Bohemia; all others reek of foul air and bad tobacco, but this is filled with the very breath of Athena. The "plain living and high thinking," the "mens sana in corpore sano,"—all the varied shibboleths of the philosophies which have any consistent truth, are here realised in part or in whole. This, too, is the perfected doctrine of Epicurus, though the aim of its followers is less pleasure than completeness of life; to explore the heart of this fair, divine kingdom, and not to dwell in a churlish and half-hearted manner in the outlying lands.
THE Lady of the Spring, when she comes to the uplands, has something of an acidulous and virginal chastity in her mien. She is unlike the debonair goddess who scatters her lavish favours in May. In truth, April is little more than winter with stray gleams of summer to temper his acerbity. Yet in the austere skies and barren woods there is not a little charm—the charm of latent strength and unborn magnificence.
The waters have a cold look between the yellow banks and patches of brown heather. The snow on the hill-tops and the sparse remnants of drifts in the glens are perpetual tokens of the winter past. In the high corries you may find a glacier of snow with a yawning cavern at the top, through which you may see the black depths of darkness beneath. Those very white-rimmed hollows might bring an awful death to a man. If he slipped down one of the gaps there would be no more news of him in this world. Far below you can hear the trickle of the little runlets which issue forth to swell the burn of the glen. There you will find acres of burnt heather, whence the foot of the walker sends up a fine white dust; grey rocks still clammy with winter rains; and short, arid turf merging ultimately in the ranker lowland meadows.
Yet, even here we have at times a symphony of colour. The blue-grey streams swirling past the dry grasses, the sun-flecks on the rapids, the deep, steely black of the pools, make a fine picture. Pied wagtails and water-ouzels, like spirits of the place, so completely harmonise in colour that it is only by their darting flight that one can discern them. You may come, too, on a nook where the yellow moss is as fine as old court-velvet, a blot of summer colour on the grave scene. Icicles and snow, sun and blue water, yellow and green and grey—there you have the lights and shadows of the glens in April.
Snow falls in sharp, intermittent showers; but the common phase of weather is a dull, cold greyness of sky and air. The distances are clear and a trifle dismal; hills and trees are uniform and silent; the tops of the birches in the woods look like a pale vapour; the air is chilly, and the breeze shivers icily through the leafless trees. That line of Edgar's in his madness:
Through the sharp hawthorn blows the cold wind,
is for me eternally linked with the memories of an upland April.
But sometimes in a week of grey days there comes a golden one, when the clear spring sunlight makes the hills stand out cameo-wise; when the black pines are thrown into deeper shadow, all but the crests, which are golden or green or russet as the whimsical sunshine pleases. The patches of snow, which on a dull day give a wintry aspect to the landscape, have now a dazzling whiteness, as if the hills were really made of encrusted marble, which shone in places through the brown husk. The waters of the stream are never made golden by the sun as in summer, but are of a pale, silvery tint, which gives an eerie, witch-like look to the picture.
Nor have we any of the common associations of spring, like the singing of birds. A mavis or a blackbird may on occasion break into a few notes, and there is, for certain, an increasing twitter among the trees. But the clear song of the lark as yet is not; the linnet does not pipe; the many named finches are still silent. The curlews scream and wail, a plover quavers across the bent, and the wild-fowl croon by the shallows. You may find, too, the songless heron stalking majestically by the stream and preparing for the time of nesting; and the grouse—sorely tried by late family bereavements—with renewed hope sets about her thankless maternal task.
But if we dwell more or less in a shadowed valley and cohabit with solemn skies and windy heights, we may boast at least of one supreme beauty. There are few finer sights in the world, I take it, than a grey sunset. In the west the sombre pall is lightened from within, and the watcher waits expectantly, knowing that from that shell the phoenix of sunset is to arise. Nor is he disappointed. Slowly, by degrees, the veil lifts. Red and gold, dry and flagrant, burn within. A long shaft falls on the bare fields. The west unfolds like a rose. The grey mantle passes from the sky, and night, clear and star- lit, hovers over the earth.
THE ways of the world are many, leading nowhither, coming nowhence, ending ultimately in their beginning; and yet here and there by the side we find finger-posts, set up, as it were, to measure the infinite. The town is so many miles distant, the cheerful stone will tell you; and when you have reached your stage's end and made use of the scrap of knowledge, once more the stones take up their tale and dot the paths running forth into the unknown. What wayfarer has not found it in his heart by turns to bless and curse those wayside scrolls, and who, when all his journeys are over, does not look back on them with the regret begotten of old fellowship?
The man who sees no distinction of nature in milestones is on the highroad to blindness. Each track has its own choice kind, which take all the attributes of the adventurous way, and solidify them into stone. By the low roads you have the great, stolid blocks, moss-grown and bedded in lush grass, which tell you their tale in mumbled words, like the speech of a palsied man. Up on the mountain ways the granite slabs set alert in the heather bear the impress of the hills: their surface scarred and seamed by wind and chill rain; lichen- clad, austere, deserted. Then to our sorrow there are the iron monstrosities which an intelligent public sets up for the guidance of that portion of it which foots the track. And last, what shall we say, there is that milestone which is none, but a bald lettering on the face of a boulder, crag, or common wall, gruff announcement of the path, stripped of all kindly manners.
It is a pleasant fancy to beguile an hour to think of those who in old-world days set up and first gazed upon these stones. In the England of highwaymen and coaches they were there to mark the stages in a driver's memory, to guide the belated wanderer; stared on by honest faces, serving fair purposes and foul, silent witnesses of the dead and the forgotten. Now we are fallen on the times of the holiday shopman, well-furnished with map and guide-book, who needs not their humble aid. Once respected, they are now all but neglected, save by the vagrant who looks for them with hungry eyes, or the gentleman-tramp who makes them a matter for romancing; they exist for little save to form landmarks in the geographical vagaries of the rustic, who will mark out a place for you by its proximity to a milestone.
Nowadays, too, the city stretches gaunt fingers toward the fields, and what not fifty years agone was a rustic path is now a street of the suburbs. All trace of greenery has been obliterated, save perhaps a scrap of hedge, grown dingy with smoke and summer's heat. But here, too, is one ancient friend, wedged in masonry or standing erect in its dignity, the sporting-place of the irresponsible urchin—a milestone, prisci conscium aevi, a battered relic of the old, happier days. Once the road ran placidly by it and quiet fields slept behind. Titmouse and chaffinch once hopped over it, where now there is only a mournful sparrow. 'Tis a mad world, we ponder as we pass by, scarce casting a glance at the antiquated legend on its face.
Yet even in these days the generation of the stones is not fully served; there is still a place and a duty for them. I have known a man who was painfully affected by the very sight of one. He was used to spend strenuous days in the pursuit of a weary profession, and in his brief country walks he would fall in with these inscriptions. So many miles to such and such a place he would read; so many miles to Arcady it sounded; and to dwell on the long road stretching away from his feet past little hamlets and moorland farms, woods, and hills, and bickering streams, would give him a regretful pleasure. And when the time of his release came and the fates suffered him once more to "buckle on his pack," then he would linger lovingly over each stone as it told him of the steps of his journey towards El Dorado—surely the most futile of messages. Others beside my friend hail a milestone afar off; they rest by it, they eat their bread and cheese seated on the top, they bless it in the mornings and ban it heartily in the late afternoons.
The character of these altars of Mercury, the god of travellers, has much to do with their share in our affection. If their foolish makers have set them up in the side of a village street or deep below a thick hedge, then I fear our love is not excessive. Surely this is a matter where foolish accuracy is little needed. Probably the spot is the mile's end; but were it not better to let slip a few yards and set it up yonder at the root of the beeches where the grass is fresh? But of all places give me the end of a bridge or the lee of a wood. At the first you can have your ears eased with the prattle of the water, and refresh your sun-blinded eyes with the cool, deep shadows. At the latter there is the mossy turf to lounge on, the never-ending whispering of leaves, the rustle of boughs, and the eternal song of birds to make musical the silence.
But sentiment, I fear, comes too late in the day, and, as the proverb hath it, it is idle to lock the stable when the steed is off. We have it on the authority of a great wanderer that
There's nothing under Heav'n so blue
That's fairly worth the travelling to.
And if this be so, if the chief end of wayfaring is to be on the road and not to reach a destination, why then, the milestone will be as useless as a chance boulder on a hillside. In that golden age which is to come, when man will of his own accord destroy all clocks and watches, and see the folly of regulating time, we must suppose that they, as representing the parochial division of space, will not escape destruction. Meanwhile, till that day one may find much romance of the forgotten kind to dwell in the grey, weather-stained face of these mementoes of finitude.
The hall clock has scarce struck the hour of one when we tramp over the lawn through the thin, fleeting darkness. The earth is buried in shadow, but the sky- above is lightening, and in the open spaces a sort of ghostly dusk prevails. The air is sharp, for there is a point of east in the wind, and at this hour in the towns on the east seaboard there will be a haar, chill and oppressive. But here there is midsummer weather, which will yield in two days' time to the grey desolation of a windy June. A bat flutters about, and as we strike the road a black shape glides into the hedge, which may be a weasel. Four miles of walking are before us ere we reach the bend of Tweed from which we would fish homewards. The slowly growing dawn comes flitting through the branches, revealing kine in the meadows and sheep on the hilly pasture, and now and then glimmer of water or a sleeping cottage. Through thick woods and between straight hedges and over a ridge of stiff moorland we go, till at length we come to the little wicket whence runs the by-path to the river.
It is still dusky, though the sun has now risen, and the bank on the other side is hazy. The waters are grey as glass, with little films of fog rising from the surface. We choose the smallest and reddest of brandlings, fixed on the nicest of hooks dressed on the finest of gut. We can only cast by faith, for the eye cannot see where the line meets the water, or mark its downward progress. But this is the feeding time of the fish, and in two casts there is a dead pull on the line, and a fish sulks at the bottom. From this we infer that he is no trout, for such churlish conduct is unworthy of that delicate creature. Sure enough in ten minutes' time there comes tumbling on the shingle a stranger grayling, a pound and a half in weight, by the god of fishermen. For in these latter days some of the family have found their way into the Tweed, and work havoc among the little troutlings and break the fine gut of unsuspecting anglers.
So master grayling finds his place in the basket, and as the light on the water is now clearer the May-fly box is produced, and an elegant winged creature succeeds the sorely battered worm. Now is the time for sport, and as the thin rod bends to each throw, and the plash and gurgle of great trout rising strike on our ears, we swear that the world is a good one and life well worth living. But, alas, for the rarity of consistency, for in a trice we hook a trout, a violent half-pound fellow, and by gross stupidity our line fouls the branch of a tree and breaks short. Then we call down the vengeance of heaven on fish and rivers, and mournfully decide that the time is out of joint.
But soon we are successful, and with a little eddy our fly is sucked under, and another trout is hooked. This time we are less foolish, for with all the art we know we strive to keep him from the perils of reeds and dipping boughs, and guide his errant course to the kindly gravel. A little struggle, a moment of breathless anxiety, and there lies on the grass a well-bred yellow trout, scarlet-spotted, shapely, and shining like polished mail. Our hearts are cheered, and we fall to fishing warily, circumspectly, eyeing every likely nook, every hole and current, and casting as if our lives depended on the fly alighting like a stray petal of hawthorn. Soon we have secured another and yet another, and another again, till the open water is past, and the entanglements of wood and shrub begin.
It is a charming morning, fresh, clear as crystal, and bright as only June can make it. Birds are twittering all round. The dipper is already flashing up stream, the moorhen is darting below her friendly bank, and the solemn heron is fishing up at yonder pool. On the other side is a crow-wood, and in the ceaseless caw-caw our guilty ears seem to discern a note of reproach. For was it not we who scarce a fortnight agone thinned their numbers with rook rifles? An old kestrel sails over the fir trees, stops, and hovers for a second as if about to dart to the ground. It may have been some little rabbit or feeble mouse which she saw. But whatever it was, the prey has gone under cover, for in another second she continues her way right across the valley to the rougher moorlands.
The choicest of the meadow flowers, the typical colours of Tweedside, blue and yellow, are seen plentifully in the germander and the crow-foot, the tormentil and the milk-wort. But the meadow-sweet and the great yellow irises are still in bud. So also the heath which covers yon knoll among the firs. Yet the hawthorn is flinging its showers of snow on the grass, blossom covers the sloe like a garment, and the lilac and laburnum from the keeper's garden make the air fragrant. Underfoot the little bugle and lady's mantle, the dainty cuckoo flower, the stately water aven, and the great flare of marsh marigolds make the fields a mosaic of colours. All the delightsome sounds of an early summer morning fall on the ear. The cocks are beginning to crow from the farm towns; the water lapses to a pleasant tune; and in the pastures the cow bells tinkle as their wearers break their fast. Here in a country of woods the farmers string little bells around the necks of their property so that they may trace their whereabouts by the sound. All the world is gay and throbbing with new life, as if the angel of the dawn had poured fresh vigour on all nature at her advent. The day will be very hot, but at this hour it is cool as an October afternoon, and the distances are clear for many miles.
Fishermen! Whatever lie-abeds may say of their craft they can afford to smile. For it takes them out to the greenest spots on God's earth at the time when man, spite of an absurd custom of civilisation, should be most active. It shows him much of the ways of bird and beast and flower, and if he be not the better for every minute he spends in its practice, then I take it there is something radically unwholesome in his whole nature. The man who fishes Tweed with the May-fly of a morning in June has the cream of the sport, and it is an experience which he will never forget. I have heard the tale of one who in his youth had dwelt by the Border stream, and had fished every pool and stream from Melrose to the Crook. Fate, with her accustomed hardness, decreed that his life should be passed in the East amid stress of business and swelter of weather. Fever took him, and in his last illness his native attendants were surprised to see their master making knots with his fingers, carefully holding something in his teeth, and swinging his arm as if he held a rod. He, poor fellow, was far away from the dust and heat, back once more in Tweeddale, tying flies, testing gut, and casting over the clear water as in the May mornings long since gone.
But here we are at the further end of the tanglewood, where is the great pool from which many a goodly salmon is taken in the season. Here lives a great trout which has enjoyed a mild fame for some months, and which may weigh anything from two to seven pounds. He is feeding by the alders on the other bank, and even as we look we see a luckless fly sucked in by his lantern jaws. It is useless to try for him, so we pass by on the other side, quoting to ourselves the song of the contented man:
For if he be not for me,
What care I for whom he be?
But if the gigantic fish be not ours, the well-fed mediocrities are, for soon we have added another brace of ruddy trout to our basket. Afterward they, as the mermaid said of Lorntie, will "skirl in the pan"—not cooked to the fantastic receipt of Master Charles Cotton, but with good butter and oatmeal—a dish fit for the severest gourmand among the gods.
What is the charm of May-fly fishing above all others? Imprimis, the trout, the big trout, love it especially and take it greedily. Item,it is a clean bait, easily handled, pleasant to use, and demanding much skill in the presentation. Item, it comes at the very sweet o' the year, when the heart of nature bursts into song, and morning, noon, and night are one substantial Elysium. One can fish with it in clear water, when all other lures, save that of the small worm, are worse than useless. And, truly, one fish out of the pellucid pool is, to the mind of the writer, better than five out of a turbid, muddy torrent. It is free from any taint of amateurishness, for though the novice may land a big fish with a lob-worm, from a swollen stream, only one who has been much at the trade can hope to succeed with this. There is but one flaw in the gem, or, to adapt a more suitable metaphor, but one fly in the ointment—it comes at a time, as Mr. Lang pathetically complains, when school, college, or stern business holds the human race in its unwelcome toils.
But we are all but home again; and not all the pipes that man ever smoked can allay the yearning for breakfast. So be it now. We cross the stream by the old wooden bridge and are soon out of the paradise of blossom and wildwood into the trim walks of a garden. "Gather ye roses while ye may," says the song. The Mayfly comes but once a year, and tarries only a little while among us. Gather it while ye may, and may the great fish of the pools be like-minded!
THE Vale of the Upper Tweed is distinct from the neighbouring dales of Clyde and Annan, and no less from the rich strath into which the Border river enters in its maturer course, in a way which may seem strange to one superficially aware of their proximity. You pass almost at a bound from the fat lands of Dumfries, or the wooded holms of Melrose, to a country of miniature and yet greater beauties. There you have wide vistas and broad streams; here we have vistas, waters, hills, woods, an epitome of landscape, small in the acreage of the surveyor, but large by that curious measurement which is the prerogative of the mind of man. It is indubitably a country of surprises, a dapper arrangement of landscapes which charm by their contrast. The cottar's garden, gay with all seasons' flowers, runs into the heather; reapers ply their trade within hearing of the thrush and the curlew; a meadow of hay is own neighbour to a grim pine- forest; and a sullen stream in one field may be an eddying torrent in the next. The art of the epigrammatist would be expended in vain in searching for the applicable word. One might call it austere, but for the grace of the woods; barren, but for the fresh green meadows and fruitful gardens; homely, were it not for some great blue shoulder of hill which bars the sky and gives solemnity to the little ridges. It is a country of contradiction, blended into harmony by that subtle Border charm which relates the crags of Moffatdale to the lowlands of Berwick.
The people of this Arcady are in certain ways akin to their country-side. They, too, are full of surprises. Harshness and gentleness, worldly prudence and the most insane recklessness, humour and a crass stupidity, unite in varying degrees in their composition. In these narrow valleys tragedy and comedy dwell side by side in a confusion as grotesque as any Wonderland, and to the seeing eye there are plays enough acted every day of the year. To the casual traveller there is incongruity, to the man who has long known them there is none; for he feels each whimsicality ofcharacter to be the artistic companion of the variant landscape.
Celtic and Saxon meet here, but Saxon has the predominance. Apart from such far-away histories there is one near and living fact of their genealogy. Their forefathers were those gallant gentlemen or disreputable ruffians (call them what you please) who played fine havoc with well-stocked Northumbrian pastures; who—and here is the sad part of the tale—so far forgot themselves as now and then to plunder their Scots brethren. Days and nights of riding, when a false step may be death, make a man's senses wonderfully acute. He learns to use his wits, which is well-nigh a lost art among us; he becomes versed in the lore of woodcraft and hill-craft; he can mark a glimmer of spears six miles away, and the saddle is more easy to him than his bed. Such a trade is not over- good for morality, save for the virtue of courage, which it undeniably tends to foster; but it is the very finest school in the world for the natural man. The folk of Tweedside to-day are sprung of this fighting stock. The fathers had little time to settle on their lees and sink into the country lout; and the children in consequence are of keener temper and finer spirit than the ordinary rustic. The difference is vividly seen when one looks at the Westland folk who have come from the remoter lands of Ayr and Lanark to settle by the Tweed. Honest and worthy, courageous and kindly, they lack few of the sterling virtues of life; they manage their farms with commendable industry; they fear God and do good in their several ways. But to set them on a level with the true-born Uplander is to rate butter-milk as high as Burgundy. It is conceivable that at certain times the former may be the more salutary diet, but this cheap quality of wholesomeness does not make the estimate any the more true. To this day you may find a certain enmity between the two strains, dislike on the one hand and distaste on the other.
To the chance traveller in their midst that which appears the most prominent quality of the people is their singular acuteness of mind. To call them cultured or learned would be to brand them with an undeserved reproach. They have indeed something of a contempt for book-learning; the Scots phenomenon known as a "dungeon of wit" meets with less respect among them than elsewhere. The Book of Life is a volume which makes all printed matter of small significance. But in native shrewdness I should venture to set one of them against any other average inhabitant of the globe. Two well-known Scots philosophers, both sprung from humble origin, hailed from this place; but they are types and not exceptions. You may see any day, behind the plough or on the shearing-stool, men with faces as ponderously thoughtful as an Aquinas. This may seem an exaggerated picture, but I fancy it is not far from the truth. To be sure, this intellectuality of countenance is often deceptive, and its possessor may have no thought above whisky or mole-catching; but again it is not unfrequently only the index of the sagacity and gravity within.
It is curious to note the floating fragments of learning which perambulate the countryside, stories derived, I know not whence, often strangely marred in the telling, but hinting at some share of the humanities (to use the fine Scots word) which was the possession of some prior generation. One old woman of my knowledge had a distant acquaintance with some of the tales in the "Odyssey." She surprised me on one occasion by declaring that her son's socks were no better than Penelope's web (she did not sound the last letter of the virtuous queens name), for what she mended in the morning was a hole again at night. She had never heard of Homer; the story was just an "owercome" which she had got from her mother. Still stranger was the tale which another was wont to tell as a warning to those who take pride in ugliness, dirt, and poverty. There were once two men, she would say, a farmer and a ploughman, the one rich and the other poor, the one humble and the other proud as Satan. One day the ploughman came to the farmer's home in his muddy boots, and was taken to the best room, where there was a very fine carpet. He had no sooner entered than he stamped his clogs upon the floor with every circumstance of scorn. "There," said he, "I trample on the pride of Platto"—Platto was the farmer's name. "Ay," says the other, "but with still greater pride." This is no less than the story of Diogenes and Plato, but the teller had no inkling of its source. "Did you ever hear of any one whose name was Platto?" I asked. "No," she said, "but, well there's folk called Latto, and Platto will just be an auld way of writing it."
Dr. Penicuik of Romano, who wrote a book on Tweeddale in the beginning of last century, did full justice to the good qualities of the folk, but added that there was one curious defect in all—a total lack of music; "for," he says, "music is so great a stranger to their temper that you will hardly light upon one amongst six that can distinguish one tune from another." I combat the assertion root and branch, and cannot help suspecting that the worthy doctor had no very shrewd ear for music himself. No people who had not a true love and gift for melody could have produced so many fine airs, and their written songs, though few in number, are yet choice of their kind. To cite one instance, there is that excellent drinking song, "Come sit ye doon, my cronies," which I would willingly set down were not my memory so feeble.
But to pass to graver themes: there is one side of Scots life which no man can afford to neglect, though of late years it has rather been thrust down our throats. I mean the religious. It is a fine thing to say of any folk that their religion fills a large place in the world of their thoughts. But in the Border country I venture to think that it is weighted with a healthy worldliness, so much so that frequently it disappears from the surface altogether. For, say what we may, the Men of the Uplands are on the whole a worldly people. Explain it as you like, by their descent or by their countryside, the fact remains. They are not the stuff of which fanatics are made; the temporal and the tangible are too much before their eyes. For this very reason, in the days of the Covenanters and the persecution, the Peeblesshire men did not rise like the Westland Whigs. The fugitives in the Tweedside hills were mostly men from Annandale or gaunt-faced wanderers from the moors of Clyde. To be sure there were Habb Dab and David Din, who "dang the Deil ower Dobsons linn," who might have been expected to save the reputation of the place. These two worthies, hiding in a cave at the head of Moffat Water, were assailed by Satan in the guise of a pack of dried hides, and being strong in the faith, they promptly kicked him over the waterfall. As the song has it:
Like a pack of barkit skins,
Doon fell Satan ower the Linns.
But from the very fact of their supernatural intercourse it is to be inferred that these were the exceptions, and that the zeal of the arch-enemy to convert them may be attributed to a laudable desire on his part to keep the countryside consistent. It would be a hard task to rouse the people over any mere matter of scrupulousness, any nicety of ceremonial or refinement of Church government. We have in our midst a sprinkling of earnest Whigamores, but almost to a man they are of alien birth. The true Uplander conceives it to be a matter of little moment whether priest or presbyter chide his erring steps, or whether he worship his Maker on his knees or on his feet.
Yet to call them a godless race would be to make a vast mistake. They are a devout people according to their light, which after all is not inconsiderable. In their daily life they are punctilious in the observance of certain minutię of the law, though when pressed they will admit that they scarce see the reason of their conduct. The reason, I take it, is their deep-rooted conservatism, holding to the old customs as far as possible, because their fathers did so and their grandfathers before them. They are in general excellent attendants on the Kirk, coming down from their distant glens with grave, decent faces, sitting like statues through a sermon which may be mere pulp to their strong brains, and returning home with a sense of duty fulfilled. They will rarely speak ill of a minister, believing, like George Herbert, that any want of appreciation on their part is due to the hardness of their hearts, which is a charming doctrine for the preacher. On the matter of the Sabbath, too, you will find them rigid with a most whimsical and pertinacious rigidity. One man of good character but no pretentions to piety made the writer's boyhood a burden by forbidding the reading of any secular book on the Saturday, Sabbath, or Monday. "For," said he, "though there's naething in the Bible about it, I hold that the Lord's day shall aye get plenty of room to steer in."
Nor are the humours which attend the Church in Scotland wanting here. There was the minister of Tweedsmuir who, while walking on Sabbath, found a salmon stranded in shallow water, and who, being unable conscientiously to take it out on such a day, built a hedge of stones around it, and returning on the morrow claimed his prize. There was the old farmer who could not go to the Kirk because he had neglected to shave on the Saturday night, and he would not profane the day by the use of any edged tool. There was the minister of Broughton who prayed for dry weather in the midst of a perfect downpour, and when, notwithstanding his prayers, the great blasts of rain beat on the window, exclaimed in his aggravation, "Lord, Lord, but this is maist redeeklous!" There is the story of the eminent Dr. Robertson, the historian, who preached an eloquent sermon in the Kirk of Peebles, but forgot that the door was just behind the pulpit. He concluded in a whirl of rhetoric and gracefully sank back upon his seat; but the door was open and the congregation saw only the heels of the orator as he disappeared down the back stairs. There is no limit to such tales save the memory of the narrator and the patience of his hearers.
I have said that there still exists in no inconsiderable measure the old fighting Border spirit, as dour as steel and as quick as a stream in flood. Few opportunities now remain for its appearance, for peace broods like a shadow over the land and fines for the breach of it are not desirable. But one outlet exists in an election contest. Politics to these folks are a matter of the most vital importance. Not even age, ill-health, and a great reputation could save Scott from insult on the hustings at Jedburgh. A man seriously adopts his party, not without grave consideration, for he knows that it will bring him lifelong hostility from the other side. There is no half-hearted hobnobbing with the enemy. Each sticks to his camp, and if by any chance he sees fit to change it he will be pursued with such a storm of contumely as may make him wish himself back with a hearty goodwill. Family ties are of no moment in the matter. I have heard of a farmer of undoubted respectability and a large kindliness whose own brother, just dead, had been of the opposite persuasion. He was talking gleefully of the decrease of the enemy in the place where his brother had lived. "There were a terrible lot o' Tories," he said, "and we were sairly bothered wi' them; but our Maker was very merciful to us and took a guid wheen o' them to Himsel'."
There is something Spartanlike in this devotion on one side, but there is something little short of demoniac on another. The sight of the country town on an election day, when, contrary to all hopes, the Tory candidate has been elected, is one which a man will remember all his days. The proletariat are deeply conservative in nature, but for no earthly reason they are Whig to a man by profession. They fill the street, a crowd of brown determined faces, howling profanity. The result is announced; there is Bedlam for twenty minutes, then a mighty rush, and the honourable gentleman and his escort escape gracefully by a back close. Windows are shattered and a few heads broken; there is much marching and shouting; then the excitement calms by degrees, and by-and-by the men go home, very wearied, sometimes very drunk, and perhaps also a trifle ashamed.
But a more agreeable proof of their spirit is the catholic fondness for sport which is common to both high and low. There is something admirable in this liking, for sport in itself is a good thing. It brings out all the virile and sterling qualities of a man; it leaves little room, it is true, for some virtues, but it keeps the ground against the more unmanly vices. The true sportsman is a prince of good fellows; and by the name I do not mean a good shot or a skilled rider, but a man who has a love for motion and the open air, and the two valuable qualities of courage and self-repression. It is indeed this element of sport which redeems many characters. A poacher may be a blackguard in very truth, but he would be a worse man if he were not a poacher. In him, too, is that love for danger and enterprise, that skill of hand and lore of nature, which go to ennoble his betters in the trade. To me it is something affecting to see the ragged weaver, out of work maybe, up to his knees in the stream intent upon his fishing, the herd-boy who whips the mountain burn with his homemade rod, the village grocer who gets a day's shooting now and then from the laird. They love it, and are learned in it above the common. It would be a blessing to the land if this love were infused into all sorts and conditions of men, and the wealthy landowner would give the humbler tenants a share in the sport on his estate if they sought it, and the great merchant would set his poor, town-bred clerks to fish his waters, instead of filling his country-houses with people who scarcely thank him.
Again, this common taste sets all classes on a level. The curling-pond is a fine instance, where the laird, the minister, the farmer, and the labourer used to meet on a common ground. I well remember one man, the sheriff of a county, a scholar and a gentleman of birth, whose bosom friend on such excursions was one Rob Tait, an inveterate poacher. The sheriff would be skip and Rob was beyond all question a most noted player. "Come on, Rob, my man," he would say; "show us what ye can dae. Eh, man, but that's great; that's the kind o' shot ye read about in books. There's no your match in a' the countryside. I love ye like a brother, Rob." A week later the speaker would be on the Bench, and the great player arraigned before him for some one of his manifold offences. "Robert Tait, sixty days," would come the sentence in cold, judicial tones; and Rob would take it all in good part as from a friend, knowing that when he came out from prison and the winter returned there would be no estrangement.
So much for the broad characteristics of the people, but what of the multitudinous interests and details of their daily life, their trades and professions, the little social ranks among them, the countless acts and scenes in the drama of their lives? It would need a new Sir Walter to do them justice, unless perchance the Laird of Abbotsford has done it already. It is a fact of some celebrity that a man from Tweedside loves his native valleys with a love so indiscriminating that it will admit no rival. The story of the Peebles man who after some experience of Paris declared that 'twas all very well in its way, but give him Peebles for pleasure, and that of the nameless enthusiast who refused to have the mud of Tweeddale cleaned from his shoes, prove the affection which the grey, old-fashioned land can inspire. So for one with a flying pen to venture to depict its arcana is a presumption more rash than that of the men who sought to carve the Koran on a nutshell.
There is a great variety of character, but scarcely, I think, much choice of trades. Life is simpler there than elsewhere, and men have only a few narrow paths wherein to direct their energy. There are the farmers, slow-spoken and hard-headed, hospitable, kindly, with little of the cloddishness of their brother of the lowlands; the herds and labourers, big men, clad in the "shadow'd livery of the burnish'd sun," reserved of speech, humorous, and silently contented; the more volatile folk of the towns, who have seen more of the world and are sharper in their talk; lastly, the dregs of the people, the poachers and black fishers, sullen fellows enough, but amusing if you take them aright, and full of stories as Chaucer's pilgrims. Then there is the leaven in the lump, the lairds and ministers and country doctors, and the wealthier townsfolk, provided always they be of the true indigenous stock and not alien settlers.
But there is a dark side to the picture, one which can be shown of every community on the face of the earth. They have all the virtues of a high- spirited, high-handed race, and, let us add, not a few of its vices. The old description of the county town as "drouthy and Godfearing" holds true, unless the former attribute has overwhelmed the latter. A thirsty place it is and a thirsty people, as any one will declare who has witnessed a market-day or a convivial gathering. The old punch-drinking times have not quite gone from the land. To be sure, the men have strong heads and vast capacities, and what would make a speedy end of an urban bibulist is to them but milk and water. But it is playing with fire and does not always keep within bounds; and the end too often is much dismal and sordid tragedy.
The riff-raff of the place, the "ne'er-do-weels" and outcasts, are the main upstays of riot and debauch. Stories could be told of queer doings among these ragged sunburned fellows, who spend their time in and out of jail. The salmon- poaching in the close season is the refuge of the vagrant and unsettled part of the community. It is hazardous in the extreme, for the waters are often swollen high, and men in the pursuit of sport have no care of their lives. The bailiffs, too, are keen-eyed and always on the watch, so that the game is pursued under the ban of the law and the hazards of the weather. "Firing the water," as it is called, consists in flaring torches, made of pine-knots or old barrel-staves dipped in tar, over the surface of the river, and so attracting the fish. The leister with its barbed prongs is a deadly weapon in a skilful hand, but in the use of it a novice is apt to overbalance himself and flounder helplessly in the wintry stream. The glare of light on the faces of the men, the leaping fish, the swirl of the dark water, the black woods around, the turmoil of the spot in contrast with the deathly quietness of the hills, the sack with its glittering spoil, the fierce, muffled talk, are in the highest degree romantic. Then, when the sport is over for the night, and if by a lucky chance they have escaped unmolested, they will often return to some cottage, and there with barred door and shuttered windows boil a fish, sup the broo, and finish with deep potations of whisky. But if some bailiff meets them, then Nemesis has them by the heels, and they make the best of their way to the county jail if they lack money to pay the fine. If, as sometimes happens, the might of the law be the weaker, a sharp scrimmage may ensue, some heads may be broken, and the band will scatter in hot haste to their homes. But we live in civilised times, when violence is sure to recoil upon the head of the transgressor; and sooner or later they will be brought to book for their misdeeds, and have leisure to repent in the quiet of a prison.
There is, indeed, among the people a good deal of what sentimentalists name the Woodland Pan, what plain people call the old Adam, or plainer still, the Devil. But where does this not exist? At any rate, if it has been driven out in one form, it has returned in a worse. Some are old-fashioned enough to prefer plain, strong virtues and vices to those refinements which pass by the name among a certain portion of God's creatures. If such antiquated people are alive to-day, they may get some satisfaction out of the rough and tumble life of the hills.
For the place is still unspoiled, still much as it was to Walter Scott and to the Ettrick Shepherd, when they wandered over its moors, drank at its ale- houses, and slept in its homes. Christopher North came often thither, and to him succeeded John Campbell Shairp, who has written the song which of all others most expresses its peculiar charm. It tells of the "Bush abune Traquair," a scrap of birch on the hillside above the Quair burn, and of those who once met there.
"Frae mony a but and ben,
By muirland, holm, and glen,
They cam' ane hour to spend on the greenwood swaird.
But long hae lad and lass
Been lying 'neath the grass,
The green, green grass o' Traquair kirkyaird.
"They were blest beyond compare
When they held their trysting there,
Among thae greenest hills shone on by the sun;
And then they wan a rest,
The lownest and the best.
I' Traquair kirkyaird when a' was dune."
There died but the other day the last of that generous line of succession, Professor Veitch, who wrote much of the country-side, and knew it better perhaps than any other living man. But, alas! we can scarcely hope for the long continuance of the old freshness and vigour of the people, the old unsullied beauty of the valley; for the process of ruin is even now beginning. The old men are fast dying out, and the younger seek the cities, and so a new race is fast springing up which knows not the land. Waterworks and the attendant horrors of brick houses and cheap shops are contemplated to fill the glens; the shrill whistle of the engine is even now seeking to scare the curlews; landlords are leaving their estates to dwell elsewhere, and ere long we may look to see Tweed tinged with another hue than the autumn floods. But that day is not yet, and if it ever comes it will scarce be regretted; for by that time the valleys will be stripped of their kindly folk, the towns of their worthies; and if the people are gone, he who once loved the land will seek elsewhere for his pleasure.
"You have learned many things, my friend, but one thing you have not learned—the art of resting. Once in the ardour of youth there shone before me a golden star in heaven, and on the deep azure around it, Ohne Hast, ohne Rast, in letters of steady flame. But now I see more frequently a plain little stone set in the earth, with the inscription, Rest and be thankful." —The Intellectual Life.
ABOUT old-fashioned men, as about old books and old- world places, there is a peculiar charm. They and their fashions interest us by the very contrast they afford with ourselves and our surroundings. It is as refreshing to go back sometimes from this work-day world and dwell a while among them as to turn aside from the dusty highway into a cool green place.
But yet, when we consider, there is an element of pathos in it all. Our memories are full of faces of past days, some of them gracious and good, some less pleasant, yet hallowed for us by the intervention of years. If we look at the characters there represented, we find them less common now, nay, in some cases, wholly unknown. We live in an age of hurry and feverish anxiety. Men live and work in a whirlwind, eagerly striving after many good things and pleasures; their fellows, even their friends, know little about them; their wives and families have only a slight acquaintance with them. They have no time for anything but business; and so they bustle and scheme until Death comes with his sponge and wipes them off the face of the earth, and there is an end of them. The atmosphere which we breathe nowadays is thicker and dustier than of old. We feel like Heine in Paris, hearing nothing but "the rattle of wheels, the clatter of hammers, street-cries, and the jingling of pianos, and longing for the trees and the fresh breezes of the forest of Broceliaunde."
The men of the old-school—the gentlemen of leisure we may call them—did things in a different way. They were content to do their duty and earn their daily bread. They had time for many pleasures and were much respected in the countryside. They had room in their lives to cultivate their natures, grow wise if they wished, serve God, enjoy life, and make a good ending. All of which are desirable things, though of somewhat less account in these times.
Of two characters in those pleasant, easy-going days I may be permitted to speak. One belonged to a most respectable class; the other was the essence of disrespectability. One was prosperous and has left a memory behind him; the other was poor and is forgotten. But in one respect the country parson and the wayside tramp were alike; both were emphatically and indisputably gentlemen of leisure.
The lines of the old minister had fallen in pleasant places. The high-road from the capital to the south, coming down from the moorlands, dipped into a little valley before entering the pass which led it through the hills to the plains beyond. Just past the village by the burnside, in the great beech hedge which bordered the road, the traveller, if he were an observant man, might see a small green gate. In the spring this was overhung with lilacs and laburnum, and in autumn the great dog-rose bushes on either side used to send sprays of red berries athwart it. Here the postman left the letters, laying them below the roots of a hawthorn, where the old man found them in his morning walk. Down from the gate was a narrow gravelled path, leading through a thicket of firs and larches. Even in the warmest day in summer there was coolness here. The place was filled with birds who lived unmolested. A pair of jays nested year after year: magpies often came hither; and one memorable spring two goldfinches reared a brood in one of the firs.
At the end of the trees, where the path became broader, you caught a glimpse of the house. Square and whitewashed, like so many country manses, it was almost covered with narrow pointed ivy. Round the foot ran a broad border of flowers, old-fashioned roses were trained against the side, and pear trees and plum trees on the south wall. In their season there was a goodly show of blossoms; great scarlet poppies, irises, and lilies were varied by those quieter flowers more famed for perfume than for colour. The silver-grey southern-wood, with that sweet smell which fills many a cottage garden, lavender, and mint grew luxuriantly: purple clematis, jasmine, and white-belled convolvulus twined over the porch; and at one corner of the house a great bed of thyme scented the air like that Sicilian thyme whereof Theocritus sings. Below the house stretched a lawn, small but with turf like velvet and shaded by noble trees. One of them, a copper-beech, was a source of endless pleasure to its owner. He would sit of a night on a garden-seat and watch the sun slanting over the hills and firing the topmost branches. Beyond the trees a part was kept as a bowling-green, where the players of the village assembled on the summer evenings. Here, too, the minister would often bring his books and write his sermons seated on the grass. Bordering the lawn, extending from the garden wall to the shrubbery of rhododendrons, was the long plot where the old man reared his favourite flowers. He had tulips of many colours, grown from bulbs brought from Holland by his grandfather, strange, old-fashioned plants from cuttings out of old castle gardens, and a thicket of wild flowers from the woods and fields. He had made use of the stream from a well on the green slope of the hill to form a little pool surrounded by ferns and mosses. It was pleasant to lie here in the warm weather, listening to the elfin tinkle of the water and the drowsy hum of bees in the limes. A delightfully mingled scent of lime blossom and cool green moss haunted the place, lulling the senses to sleep with suggestions of dripping sea-caves and summer woodlands. Some dozen fish lived in the pond, notably one big trout which I used to dream of in my boyhood. Thence, if you wandered down the gravelled path between high box borders with gooseberry bushes and apple-trees on either side, you came to the little summer-house, where you might sit and look across the low hedge, away over field and moor to where a glint of the Tweed shone below the hills.
Here, in this garden, the old man loved to walk of a morning and evening and smoke a meditative pipe. To him it was his kingdom. He knew every flower and shrub, every bush and tree; and few things gave him greater pleasure than to show to his friends the beauties of his little domain.
But, had we gone to the manse in the forenoon, we should have found him in his study. I have a vivid recollection of that pleasant, grey room. In summer the sunlight came in through the roses about the window, and played up and down among the great volumes on the lower shelves. In winter the firelight glowed on the brown calf and vellum backs, bringing out rich lights and colours on their sober surfaces. The owner of the room was in harmony with it. The tall figure somewhat bent with study, the keen scholarly face, beautiful with that light which one sees only on the faces of ministers who have grown old in their calling, the kindly voice—all combined with the fine courteous air of a gentleman of the old school, made his appearance singularly attractive.
His library, though only that of a country parson, was by no means out of date. It was his custom to pay a half-yearly visit to the capital, from which he usually brought a parcel of books. The Fathers of the Church in huge leather- backed folios filled the lower shelves. The works of Leighton, that scholarly Archbishop of Glasgow whom the minister admired; Knox, Calvin, Buchanan, had their places; and strange old volumes of theology, too, for he had a taste for the out of the way. One and all, "he loved them well, they knew his hand." You might find many a rare edition of English classics, picked up at bookstalls or bought at sales in country-houses; a "Spenser" with the curious title-page engraving, and a "Pilgrim's Progress" with the quaint early frontispiece. Up in a little shelf beside the fireplace was a row of small duodecimos. Here were his especial treasures—an Elzevir "Imitatio Christi" in vellum, with its height untouched by the binder's shears; a "Tacitus" from the same press, and copies of some of the jealously repressed little volumes of the English Reformation.
All the house was like the study, pleasant and comfortable. An old housekeeper reigned indoors; outside, an elderly man looked after the garden and stable on week-days, and on the Sabbath acted as beadle and precentor.
Across the road from the manse, in a grove of elm-trees, stood the church. It was a little plain building, and the congregation even plainer—the people of the village with a few shepherds and farmers from the hills. Here for many a summer and winter the old man preached. He belonged to that much-despised party in the Scottish Church, the Moderates. They numbered many worthless fellows, it may be, but some good men redeemed them; some who, like our friend, were moderate in the best sense, strangers to intolerance, following the Socratic precept of μηδν αγαν and showing their hearts by their lives. He had the love of all his parishioners; there was not a family in the country-side where he had not baptised or married or buried some one; and folk said that no other had such a kindly, consoling way in the House of Death. Surely this was praesidium et dulce decus sufficient for any man.
In his younger days he had been a great sportsman. He was esteemed an experienced curler on the ice, where it is said he once thrashed a burly farmer for using profane language in his presence. In the fall of the year he used to shoot wildfowl on the moors; and, when we knew him, he was wont to show a case of stuffed birds in the hall which he had shot.
"But most his measured words of praise
Caressed the angler's easy ways—
His idly meditative days,
His rustic diet."
Many a summer day he spent with rod in hand by the Tweed, where he said he found more inspiration than in St. Augustine. As he grew older he kept himself more and more to his garden, except when he left it to visit his people. And so he passed his quiet, uneventful days until the dark messenger came and bade him go hence.
I well remember the last time I heard him preach. He had some fame as a preacher in the neighbourhood, and had once declined a call to a large city congregation. The pulpit stood in front of a great coloured window in memory of some former lord of the manor. It was a warm June day, and the light, coming through the blue-robed Christ, cast a strange halo round the old man, like the blue glow on the clouds before a snowstorm. Seldom had I heard a more beautiful sermon, filled, as it was, with the quaintest wisdom and charity and that strength born of "toil unsevered from tranquillity." One might have said of it as was said of old, Verba ista sunt senum otiosissimorum. A fortnight later the carrier brought me a letter from the minister's man, which announced in curious words of wondrous spelling that his master was dead. Peace to his ashes; sic itur ad astra!
THE other, you may find by the riverside, is angling with a hazel wand for trout, and no doubt his pockets, that do duty for a basket, are well filled, for he is skilled from long experience. He wears a broad blue bonnet, very dirty and faded, with some casts of gut wound round it. His grey homespun clothes are torn and patched in many places, and everywhere stained with earth and peat. His boots have once belonged to a shepherd, for they have the great thickness and iron-shod toes which are necessary for moorland walking. His face and neck, and the long brawny arms, which he has bared to free his hook from a tree-root, are as swarthy as a Moor's; and some thin grey locks, straggling down over his ears, make a pleasant contrast with his brown skin. He cannot be over forty, but rough living has whitened his hair before its time.
The man's appearance is bold and cheerful. If the advice of Mephistopheles to Faust be true, and self-possession be the only art of life, then assuredly he has found the secret of existence. He takes life as it comes, the green and the grey of it, the summer and the winter. He has chosen the life that suits him best, free to wander where he will, with no restraint of work or duty. He fishes much, poaches a little, does an odd job or two at a farm or village, carries news, occasionally makes the brushes known as "heather-besoms," helps at the lambing-time, and, for the most part, enjoys himself. He is interesting and worth consideration, for he is one of the few relics of aristocracy which remain to us.
But, though all tramps are leisurely, there are but few who can be called gentlemen. Most of them are disreputable fellows. Some poor creatures have a dingy wife and children to drag with them over the country. Surely such men will have a better fate in the next world, for they have a sorry one in this. Many are beggars, and, excepting the King's bedesmen, no beggar ever was a gentleman. Some God has gifted with health and strength, instead of which (to revive the old joke) they go about the country stealing hens. For such are reserved the jail and the ill-will of all honest men. But some (who are to be found for the most part in hilly places) are men of good character and good heart, who have taken to the life for the life's sake. They never enter the city, and, if you suggest such a thing, will indignantly ask if you expect them "to bide at a lodgin' house like a common gangrel body." They never beg, for they give something in return for their food. Many a shepherd would gladly keep such a tramp overnight for the sake of hearing the news from the great world beyond the grey hills which bound his ken.
In former days the blue-bonneted wanderer was more welcome. Richard Jefferies, in one of his charming essays, gives a notice which he had seen and which ran as follows: "All persons found wandering abroad, lying, lodging, or being in any barn, outhouse, or in the open air, and not giving a good account of themselves, will be apprehended as rogues and vagabonds, and be either publicly whipt or sent to the house of correction, and afterwards disposed of according to law, by order of the magistrates. Any person who shall apprehend any rogue or vagabond will be entitled to a reward of ten shillings." A tramp had no such law to fear in our country-side. At some farm-houses his coming was eagerly looked for; and even at the lairds house he was given the seat at the fire for the sake of his news. There is a story told of a well-known Peebleshire laird of last century that, when one of the fraternity presented himself at his door, he demanded if he had any news. "Nane, sir," was the reply. "Then get ye gone," said the laird, "and dinna come back till ye've something to tell." After a few weeks the beggar appeared again. He told the servant that he had great news for his master, and was immediately brought into the room where that worthy sat with his wife. "Well," said the laird, "what's new the day?" "Oh," said the tramp, "I was just gaun to tell ye that I had been doon below i' the ill place sin' I saw ye last." "And what saw ye there?" asked the laird. "Mickle the same as here, the puir hadden doon wi' the great; but the Deil showed me a muckle chair aside the fire that he said he was keepin' for the laird o B——" "You see, my dear," said the old man, turning to his wife, "I am preferred wherever I go." Another, in whom pride and curiosity were strangely mingled, was wont to drive every tramp from his door with blows and curses; and then, when the latter element triumphed, to run after him and beseech him to return. There was not then that hard-and-fast boundary between rich and poor, between the respectable and the disrespectable, that is one of the banes of our modern life. Men were more companionable and kindly (I use the word in its old and proper sense). Edie Ochiltree, that classic vagabond, would now be impossible; a capable man, without any trade or fixed place of abode—parochial boards and charitable societies would hold up their hands in horror and amaze! Yet the fact that we love Edie much more than a flourishing tradesman, as we prefer Ulysses to Alcinous, proves that a wandering life may develop these qualities in our nature which endear a man to his fellows at least as well as a life of staid and sober vacuity.
A strange time the tramp had of it. Sometimes his course took him through green valleys and rich pastures, and sometimes over bleak moorlands with half a score of miles from one house to another. He was an old struggler, like the beggar woman who asked alms from Dr. Johnson. In warm summer weather he would sleep in a bush of heather, or behind a hedge, or in a covert of brackens in a wood. In the winter some straw in a barn sufficed for him, and he counted himself fortunate when he was allowed to lie before the ashes in the smithy fire. When he came to a village, he made first for the blacksmith's shop. Here, if he was a strong man, he assisted the smith, and, in return, was granted the use of the fire to cook his supper. Here, too, he would entertain the village idlers till late in the night with stories and country gossip.
He lived, if ever a man did, from hand to mouth. He seemed to be uncomfortable with money in his possession. When he had made more than usual, in hay-time or harvest, he used to journey to the nearest market-town and seek out an inn, where he too frequently followed the advice which Luther gave to the young student perplexed with fore-ordination and free-will, and got very drunk. After a week or so of excess, he proceeded on his way with a look of relief on his face, as though his short prosperity had been a sore trial to him.
An old vagrant, amiably disposed, was a treasure to those who loved old-world stories. He could tell how Tweed came down in the great flood, and the hairbreadth escapes of the shepherds, of hard winters and summers, of the coaching days and how the guard and driver of the Edinburgh mail were lost at Erickstanehead. He had legends and horrible tales of elves and goblins, in which he half believed. To crown all, he had his own experiences, for he had not travelled the country for a lifetime for nothing. Some of these were romantic enough, in all truth, sounding like some chronicle of the Middle Ages.
The man had few wants. A pipe of tobacco and a warm fire raised him to the stars, as a much smaller thing, the mere insertion of his name in a list of lyric poets, did the Roman singer. Hard fare and rough quarters had made him contented with little. He was seldom ill, for his body was inured to heat and cold alike. So, since he had the primary blessings of health and contentment, he might very well do without the vastly inferior advantage of riches.
Yet his way through the world was not unattended with evils. If trudging mile upon mile under a blazing sun or in a drifting snowstorm, with no sure hope of rest and food at the end, be a hardship, then the tramp had many. Few people know what it is to be utterly wearied. They have never felt that terrible sickness, that swimming of the brain, that painful weakness in the limbs, which a man feels when he has passed beyond the limits of his strength. If we add to these a parched throat and a burning head in the hot weather, and numbed hands and feet and a chilled heart in winter, we may get some faint idea of the pleasures of those forced marches which the tramp enjoyed. Moreover, people were not always hospitable; he often could get no work of any kind and had to live on the scantiest of meals. His days, certainly, were not all spent in a
Or footing it over the sunlit lea."
There were seasons of hard toil and harder fare, of long winter nights spent on cold moors and short winter days in frosty fields.
Then at last there came to the tramp, as there comes to all of us, the crowning misfortune of death. He had been all his life a man of many acquaintances and few friends, so that he made his end alone. It might be in the corner of a barn or up in a nook of the hillside. He was fortunate in having none of the miserable paraphernalia of death at hand. With the free, cool air blowing about him, in the midst of the scenes of his lifelong wanderings he made his quiet exit from the world, and the country people buried him in that corner of the churchyard reserved for such, where he lay among his fellows.
The only tune that he could play
Was "Over the hills and far away."
I MET my companion at the corner of the lane in the first freshness of a June morning. Sandy Scott was his name, and he sat complacently on a bank, smoking and contemplating the world. His clothes were a monument of tatters, "looped and windowed raggedness," once grey, but now bearing coloured remembrances of the soils of three counties. His hair was ignorant of the brush, and hung in picturesque disorder over a battered face. His listless, inimitable attitude, as he reclined (I will not say sprawled) below the hawthorns, seemed to me the perfection of ease; and the thin smoke from his pipe in the morning air was pleasing to all right-minded people. So far as mere externals were concerned, I was not far behind him. I had raked from some forgotten corner the cast-off garments of a shepherd. To these were added a rakish wideawake with a scanty brim, a plaid with a neuk, and a pair of mighty hobnailed boots to which my feet were wofully strange. Further, I had a fresh interest in all things and all men, and a relish even for misfortunes. My comrade was an old voyager on the seas of life; he had measured its deeps and shallows, whereas I was but embarking. A more oddly matched pair never set out to take the world together on a morning in summer.
And now, as the writers of epics would moralise, over all the world men would be going forth to their labour; statesmen to their politics, lawyers to their courts, merchants to their ships. To-day treaties would be made, laws passed; ships would founder or enter port; men would die, and the unruly planet would go on its way. Meanwhile, in a corner of God's universe two irresponsible idlers were setting forth on their sentimental journey, without a thought of the complexity of life, for they were not writers of epics.
The way wound pleasantly in a cool shade between limes and firs. A dry-stone dyke overgrown with moss and lady-ferns bounded the road. On one side the hill rose steep, grey with brackens and splendid in morning sunshine; while on the other level water-meadows, from which the scent of meadowsweet and mint was carried, stretched away toward Tweed. Curlews were crying on the hill, and a few belated grouse; in the fields the singing of the lark was varied by the loud, twanging calls of snipe. The most charming scent in the world was all abroad—thyme and meadow-grass, fir and lime-blossom, and the indefinable fragrance of morning. Sometimes a rabbit darted across, or a great ewe stared mildly at us as we passed. Stonechats flitted about; meadow- pipits (moss-cheepers in the picturesque Scots) made a continuous piping over the bent; and in the short tufts below the pines grasshoppers were chirping as merrily as on that morning long ago when Theocritus and his friends went on their way to Pyxus. Between the straight fir-stems one could catch glimpses of bright water from the pools which Tweed had left in the haugh. In winter these are not to be distinguished from the river itself when swollen high with rains; but in summer, when the stream has shrunk to a silver trickle, they lie fringed with flags and green rushes, the haunt of gorgeous beetles and innumerable wild- duck. The white ribbon of road twined across the breast of a hill which seemed to block the glen.
Onward we trudged, one stolidly, the other with many occasional haltings and turnings-aside. I had not yet learned the secret of that swinging walk with firmly grasped stick and body slightly bent forward, which enables shepherds to tramp their thirty miles with ease over the roughest country. On the contrary, I limped and dragged, now walking with great strides, and now loitering at a snail's pace behind. We met few people; a farmer's wife driving to the distant railway station, who honoured us with a suspicious stare; a group of boys and girls going to school; a collier from a faraway parish who had been out at the night-fishing, and who, I am happy to say, had a light basket; for these gentry seldom fish with the orthodox fly, but with nets and drags and all kinds of heterodox contrivances.
We passed Stanhope Bridge, which many a time in the memory of living men has been whirled down to the lowlands by a stormy river. Thence the road took a long swing up the side of a hill. No fence divided it from the moor which sloped steeply down to the water—an ugly place for a horse to go over on a dark night. The curiously marked hills of Stanhope stood out across the valley, shadowing the long, gloomy cleft through which the burn finds its way to Tweed. A faint haze was trailing on the hill-tops, but around us the air was filled with a lucent warmth.
As we walked, Sandy treated me to some of his experiences among the hills. On one farm he had been a shepherd, and he was full of tales of snowstorms and terrible losses among sheep. He had poached on nearly every hill, and we rarely passed a pool in the river of which he had not some fishing adventure to tell. It was the most entertaining talk I had ever heard, and to a young scapegrace who should have been after more serious things it had a most appetising taste of forbidden fruit. Yet ever and anon he would pause to give utterance to some highly moral reflection—a salve, as it were, to his not over-sensitive conscience.
The sun had now climbed well up in the sky, and, like Christiana when she came to the arbour on the Hill Difficulty, we were in a "pelting heat." We both longed for water, and, as there were no springs at hand, there was nothing for it but to ask at the nearest cottage. It was ordained that I should be spokesman, because, as my companion was pleased to say, "I was mair genteel- like aboot the face." Now I was sadly disinclined for the work, for though I was in no way ashamed of the profession I had chosen, I felt utterly incapable of acting my part. Yet I made an effort, which was rewarded with success, and water was given us in a great tin jug. The following conversation took place between the mistress of the house and the present writer:
"Ye'll no belong to thae pairts?"
"Ye'll be a toon's body?"
"Well, I've lived in towns."
"Ye'll be no muckle guid at the trampin'?"
"I am afraid not."
"Yell be a kind o' play-actin' cratur, I've nae doot?"
I earnestly disclaimed any connection, but I am sure that in that honest woman's memory I live as a strolling member of the fraternity. We thanked her effusively for the water; but I, for one, repented when she assured us that she "keepit the tinnie for tramps, for nae decent body could drink oot o' the same dish."
We crossed the burn of Kingledoors, which flows down from its black hills through a green and pleasant glen. There is a grim old story about the place. On a November day in the year 1524, Lord Fleming, the Chamberlain of Scotland, rode out from his castle at Biggar, to hawk among the moors. At the head of this burn he was met by one of the Tweedies of Drummelzier, an evil, raiding clan who held Upper Tweeddale in terror for many a year. A dispute fell out, as most disputes do, about a girl; and young Tweedie ran his opponent through the body, robbed the servants, and carried off the young Lord Fleming to his stronghold. The murderers paid some small fine, and there was no more of the matter. Such was the easy way of settling differences in those delectable times.
The road kept straight and rigid between the river and the hills. One was reminded of the "Person of Quality" who visited these parts early in last century, and on his return described them as "a hill, a road, and a water." Yet there is nothing monotonous in this sameness; a grey, soothing landscape it is, with great cloud-shadows on the breast of the hills passing and repassing through the long days.
Soon we draw near to the famous Crook Inn, renowned in coaching days and still holding a shadowy place of honour as the only hostel of any pretensions from Peebles to the head of Tweed. Here I was greatly afraid for Sandy, for to him, as to Odin, wine was both meat and drink. Yet to my astonishment he passed manfully by. A cynic might say it was because he lacked money; I chose to think that it was owing to the responsibility of my companionship. Thence our road ran uphill to Tweedsmuir, a little village set amid lonely uplands. Some flocks of sheep passed with their shy, sunburnt masters bound for a remote market. The drovers spend their days on the road, and their nights in barns or farmhouses, until their destination is reached. I well remember one boy who with a longing eye watched those brown-faced men passing through the streets, and longed to follow them to their far-away moorland homes.
Tweedsmuir is one of the bleakest and most solitary of places. The gaunt vale of the Talla converges on the Tweed, and the village straggles around the foot of the twin glens. The church tower is a landmark for miles. There is an ineffectual waterfall below the bridge, where good trout are sometimes caught, called in a fine romantic spirit the Curlew Linn. Naked flanks of hills rise on all sides to block the horizon.
A mile beyond the place we halted in a green dell beside a stream to eat our midday meal. The air had the warm quiescence of noon, and the calm moorland sounds were grateful to the ear. I out with a battered copy of Theocritus which had accompanied me in many wanderings, and read to Sandy that marvellous midsummer tale in the seventh idyll when "All things were odorous of the rich summer, of the fruit-time." The contrast was pleasing between the luxury of nature in the Coan orchard and the sober greyness of our neighbouring hills. The mellifluous Greek was so much Icelandic to my companion, but the riot of rich sound pleased him. He smoked and caressed his ragged beard in a state of inane tranquility.
By-and-by we became restless, as is the nature of humankind to whom inaction is unnatural, and with one consent we got up and went onward. The day was just waning into a mellow afternoon. On our right lay the uniform hills which form the barrier between Tweed and Clyde. To the left a succession of tributary streams had made for themselves lonely glens—Menzion, Fruid, and the distant Cor—there is solitude in their very sounds.
We were within some half-dozen miles, I think, of the head of the glen, when Sandy bethought himself of fishing. I laughed him to scorn, for, what with the bright day and the clear shallow water, I thought that no fish would rise to the fly. But I little knew the resources of my friend. He declined the offer of my fly-book, and produced from the mysterious depths of his pocket some lengths of gut and a few hooks of differing sizes, wrapped up in a dirty cloth. I watched him with an indolent interest.
From a willow bush he cut a long, ten-foot wand, thin and pliable at the top but solid at the butt. To the end he tied a piece of line, a yard or so of gut, and a finely-dressed hook. He searched below stones and tufts of grass until he found a number of small white worms. Then he baited his hook, scrambled cautiously down to the river-side and began. Keeping well in the shade of the bank, he cast far up stream in a stretch of swift, shallow water. I have seen many fishers but never one so keen as Sandy. With his head down and his fragment of a hat all awry on his head and the water rippling over his boots, he watched his line as it floated down. He twitched it gently whenever it seemed to halt, but he must have made a dozen casts before he hooked a fish. Then began a battle royal. Up stream and down stream he went, for there was no reel on his home-made rod; and when at last he landed it, a trout of nearly a pound's weight on a patch of gravel on the other side, he was dripping with water and furiously warm—a strange spectacle for gods and men.
For some time we kept the stream side, which, as a path, was more varied and natural than the highway. Four other fish were caught, comely brown trout, with the exception of one great, black fellow which Sandy had out of a deep pool. We strung them on twisted rushes for ease in carrying. The tussocks of rough grass were diversified with crisp, green stretches of turf, which had all the elastic buoyancy peculiar to the hills. Sandpipers were busy by the water, and their plaintive, twittering cries mingled with the music of the running stream. All around us we heard an assiduous murmuring of bees—not the humble brown bee of the lowlands but a dashing cavalier fellow, splendidly habited in orange-tawny. Now and then a saffron butterfly or a gaudy blue moth fluttered past. There was something of a dearth of flowers, for we saw little else than thyme and half- opened heathbells; but we knew that in a month the glen would be one flaming expanse of blossoming heather.
The afternoon was now all but spent, and the air was beginning to grow cool and hill-like. The sounds which had been dulled by the midday heat became clearer—the bleat of sheep, the rumble of distant wheels, the chatter of the stream. Long ridges of moorland rose from the river-side and passed away into the infinite distance. Those interminable green hills are so retired and have such a subtle charm of their own that they who spend much of their time among them have little liking for ragged peaks and horrid ravines, feeling a proprietary interest in places so removed from men. The belt of upland from the Cheviots to Galloway is still to all intents undisturbed. "Little knows King Henry the skirts of Cairntable," was a proud saying of the Douglases. Ay, and little does any other man, unless it be the shepherds and a few sentimental wanderers. For there are no so-called places of interest; only round shoulders of hills, silent valleys, and old-world tales.
The road wound at a gentle slope, crossing little brown burns tumbling down from the heights. We met one solitary baker's van trundling sleepily along, and bought from the unkempt driver some biscuits and scones. If the occupations of life were left to ourselves instead of being created for us by meddling circumstances, I should certainly choose to drive such a van. There are some elements of greatness about the course, to dispense the staff of life to dwellers in outlying villages and to spend one's days in a placid, bountiful land. It is so infinitely to be preferred to the vexations of business and politics that it seems strange that the profession of van-driver is not desperately overcrowded.
The sound of the wheels died slowly away in the distance, and we tramped on through the purple, limitless dusk. We were hungry and tired, and not even the glories of a June sunset had charms to soothe us. We saw in front the small light which marked a shepherd's cottage, the outpost of civilisation in the glen. Now we were in no hopes of getting shelter for the night, for we were utterly disreputable and correspondingly resigned; so when we came near to the place we hardly cared to try the hospitality of its inmates. Yet we ventured, and with the happiest result. I asked first, but the Doric did not come natural to my tongue. The comely, squarefaced shepherd's wife made no response. But when Sandy with his beggar's flattery and irresistible mock-pathos made the same request, it was graciously conceded. "We micht bide a' nicht i' the shed, for we couldna dae ony hairm." We gratefully thanked her, and took up our quarters in a rickety lean-to half full of brackens. The place smelt of tar and sheep-dip, but we cared not a whit for that, and ate our supper with thankfulness of heart. Then we stretched ourselves on the brackens and slept in Homeric fashion, as soundly as ever did the Greek warriors "hard by their chariots, waiting for the dawn."
THE morning came blue and cloudless, and we, who had been tired and dispirited on the previous night, rose in a hopeful frame of mind and regarded the world with serene equanimity. We were stirring with the first light, leaving two fish as payment for our quarters, and walked a mile farther, where we found a hollow by the roadside and lit a fire. We made tea and broiled our trout in the red ashes. It was good to be alive on such a morning. One felt the adventurous joy which comes from the outside world, and ceased to wonder at the lightheartedness of wild creatures, for the fresh air is intoxicating in its strength. It is some fugitive remembrance of this which makes hard-working artisans and clerks in their scant holidays traverse the country on cycles, or betake themselves to a crowded sea-coast. Lackadaisical folk groan over the aesthetic loss, but I care not a fig for aesthetics. Better that one of God's creatures be gratified than the whims of such foolish people. Our goodwill goes with every wanderer; for, after all, we are a gipsy race, and our true national singer is the redoubtable Piper's Son, who had one song only, but a choice good one.
Two tramps passed us, early risers like ourselves. They exchanged some strange, confidential words with Sandy, which I could not follow. There is a bond of brotherhood on the road among all wayfarers, a gleam of decency in their lives. The tramp is an interesting study, and those who do not know him will hardly believe what a variousness there is in the clan. I have observed in the course of a short experience three divisions—the aesthetic, the religious, and the worldly. The aesthetic tramp, I fear, is a bit of a humbug. He will meet you and praise the weather and the landscape, moralise over the beauties of the universe, and then ask alms. Still he is generally a ready fellow, with a good share of native humour. I have known but one religious tramp, and he is a fragrant memory. He was a man of a ghastly complexion—"Pale Death" the village called him—and he held meetings in my grandfather's barn. Once I was present at one of them in the great dusty place, lighted by a single candle. The discourse still remains in my recollection; it began, I think, with the cardinal points of the faith, and ended with an admonition against "cruwality to animals." He was a worthy man, and it was remarked of him that he always cleaned the farm-byre or stable before he left as a mark of his gratitude. The great majority of tramps belong to the last class, and have few thoughts above their daily provender. Sandy was a compound of the aesthetic and the worldly. He had a love for fine natural sights and an equal liking for creature comforts. For him the loveliness of nature from long experience had become a common thing, while a good dinner and a warm fire had become idealised from the rarity of their advent. He had so rioted in the exquisite that the substantial was more to his liking.
Before we reached the highest ground on the road, we passed a white desolate house, the farm of Tweedshaws; and looking down to the meadow below saw a little well with an upright stake beside it, which we knew for the source of Tweed. A few hundred yards more and we were on the summit, and a brisk wind from the Solway met us. The green, rolling lands of Annandale stretched away to the English Border. Hartfell and his brother giants, the high, masterful guardians of Moffatdale, lay clothed with sunshine, and far to the right rose the moorlands and pleasant slopes which cradle the young Clyde. A gracious, urbane landscape, with just the necessary suggestion of something more rugged in the remote hills.
At our feet in the deep glen the little river Annan rose. The precipitous hollow, its source, is popularly called the Devil's Beef Tub; sometimes, too, the Marquis of Annandales Beef Tub, for it was the place of safety to which the Johnstones drove their ill-gotten herds. It gave a man a vast idea of space to look down and see the white dots on the turf which he knew to be sheep and the grey lines which might be a sheepfold. Here it was that the Laird of Summertrees, popularly called Pate-in-Peril, escaped, when on his way to trial at Carlisle; and he has left the most concise and picturesque description of the place to be had. "A d—d deep, black, blackguard- looking abyss of a hole it is, and goes straight down from the roadside, as perpendicular as it can do, to be a heathery brae. At the bottom there is a small bit of a brook, that you would think could hardly find its way out from the hills that are so closely jammed round it." A finer story hangs about the place. In the old coaching days a great snowstorm once delayed the Edinburgh coach at Moffat. The mails were important, so the guard and driver set out on horseback with them to reach Tweeddale and thence to the city. A few miles and the horses failed them, so they turned them back and struggled on foot through the drifts. Here at Erickstanehead, they perished, but before death they hung the mailbags on a post, and a shepherd going out in the-early morning saw the gleam of the brass buckles and learned the story of two brave men. After this a house of shelter was built, but the wind blew it down; then another, which was also unroofed; and to-day you may see the ruins on the steep above the Tub.
When we passed the great hollow was full of mist, like steam from some mighty caldron. A desolate curlew sent a quavering cry out of the void, which died almost instantly in the silence. The place was as still and placid as a roofless temple.
In half a mile we were round the bend of the hill and in lower latitudes. A kestrel flew in rings around a firwood by the roadside. The banks of mountain grass were fragrant with half-opened thyme, and soberly gay with milkwort and eyebright. A stone bridge, crusted with spleenwort fern, spanned a little burn which fell in the most reckless manner down the face of the hill. A few birch trees shaded it, and some wild roses threw pink blossoms across it. We turned into the place, and, lying in the shadow, enjoyed the summer; and, what with the heat and the tumbling water, I think I must have gone to sleep.
About midday we both got up and looked around. A cloud had come over the sun. The world had not such a pleasing look as in the morning. The road was dustier, the trees less green, the hills more unapproachable. By-and-by the sun came out from his cloud, but somehow or other the charm had gone from the face of the world—for me, but not for my companion; he was unmovable and inured to all things.
Our way grew more and more lowland as we went onward. A few cottages appeared, covered with creepers and with trim garden plots in front, which told us that certainly we had left the moorlands behind. Then a miller's cart, laden with flour-bags, completed the transformation. Never before had leisurely quiet seemed so attractive as it did to us, two tired wayfarers, on that summer afternoon. The blessing of movement is to accentuate the pleasure of rest; so also it is from the peacefulness of nature that motion acquires half its charm. If we could but behold the cyclic progress of the earth, I think that we should be quit of gipsy longings once and for ever.
Some ungainly buildings rose among orderly trees, and we felt the aroma of civilisation. The sounds of men at work came to our ears; a woodcutter was busy in a small fir wood; the steady click of the mower was loud in the hayfields. We passed a churchyard and a golf-course, and, crossing the Annan, found ourselves in the notable town of Moffat.
Now here it falls to my lot to chronicle my sad defection. Throughout the journey I had worn a pair of great hobnailed boots, which were clearly meant by Providence for peat-bogs, but not for the highway. So by this time of day my feet were more than a little sore. Also I had lost the fresh interest in travelling with which I had started; therefore, in a lamentable and un- Spartanlike spirit, I bethought myself of a friend's house, where I could get books and decent food, respectable clothes, and the other luxuries of life.
I called a halt, and came to terms with Sandy. He made no objection, hinted no word of ingratitude; but I thought that I discerned somewhere in his grave demeanour surprise at my traitorous conduct. We bade each other good-day, and I turned aside, while my former comrade, with his stick flourished in the air, and reproach in his retreating footsteps, went stolidly on his way. Then I learned something of the feelings of Orpah when she chose to return alone to Moab.
MIDSUMMER is with us, and the country is one blaze of sunshine and flowers. The streets are unwontedly long, thick with dust and hurrying humanity, white, deadly straight, and fiery as an oven. But in the outskirts of Babel, where ways are wider, among the older parts, there are still high- walled gardens, where one may taste the summer and forget the roar of life not a mile away. It is worth one's while to come here, for Our Lady, though not clad in virginal magnificence, is at least daintily arrayed, and the very scantiness of land and paucity of foliage, joined with the nearness of the mean and dirty, give it a charm of its own, like the beauty of a little lighthouse garden to sea-going sailors.
The forenoon is awkward, for then the bustle of life is painfully apparent; the evening is distracting, for when the reds of sunset come over the housetops, the mind, whether it wills or not, travels to upland moors and wild sea-coasts; but the afternoon is urbanely idyllic. I say urbanely, for urbanity is the characterising word of the place, a gracious, town-bred restraint, prim and severely dignified, with just a touch of poverty to give it savour.
The wall which encircles the domain is of bricks, old, dim, and dirty. But somehow a mellow russet has evolved from the soot and the dingy mosses which clothe it, so that when the sun is on it they shine as rich as an autumn wood. The ivy which half-clothes it is aged and scanty of leaf, with ragged grey stems and straggling offshoots. But here a blackbird will sometimes build, and after the shower this sordid foliage will glisten with innumerable jewels. Two valiant elms guard the corners, and midway a herd of little ashes and lindens form a thin grove, beneath which the earth lies long damp, and a few pale valley-lilies raise their heads in spring. What else is there? A privet hedge, which, unclipped, bears a wilderness of blossom, a lawn with wide borders of flowers, a minute shrubbery, two great beds by the house wall flanked by two birch trees, and little more. It is a place "shorn and parcell'd," with just enough magnitude to give point to its littleness.
The flowers, too, are confined in variety, for not all can live well in such surroundings. Roses, curiously enough, grow and thrive; and old, hardy veterans, wallflowers, pinks, lilies, gillyflowers pick up a bare living. Just now there is a great show of rakish turk's caps and many-hued carnations, and on the wall the white Prince Charlie roses flaunt with the honeysuckle. But the place is not noteworthy for flowers, for, apart from its adventitious interest, its charms lie mainly in the well-kept grass and the cool, wide-spreading shade of the trees. Moreover, it is a spot for a distant prospect rather than a too intimate acquaintance. If you pluck the flowers you will find them speckled with soot, the leaves are darker than nature meant them to be, and the rich tints on the wall do not depend solely on age and weather. But if one be not over-critical, but rather content to make the best of things, he may gain from the place a feeling of deep solitude and ease.
If the town is memorised in countless ways in the garden, the country, too, is not forgotten. Many kinds of birds come hither. I have seen jackdaws and magpies of a spring morning, blue tits in the boughs of the elm, a fly-catcher among the ivy, and linnets, thrushes, and starlings as thick as flies on the lawn. There is a rookery somewhere in the wide distance, whence come crows to strut and possess the land. One April morning, looking from the window, I saw a rabbit on the grass, a wanderer from Heaven knows what distant warren. The cuckoo comes every year, and its dominating note booms amid the pipes of lesser birds and the half-echoes of the faint street-cries. Indeed, there are many hints of the sun and the green woodlands, which come to perplex the man who has set himself to arduous work, and who, when he opens his window, hears the alluring voice of the piper and longs to follow.
This urban garden is not without its association and fragments of past history. By the side over the young trees there rises an old square house, ivy- clad, with crow-step gables, and all the outward marks of antiquity. This was once the manor house of the place, when the suburb was still a smiling village among cornfields. The two big elms which lend dignity to the other trees were part of the green avenue which led to it There dwelt Wodrow, the historian of the Scottish Church, a man full of absurdity and kindliness, whose books are a charming farrago of gossip and grave reflection. One can fancy him walking here, composing his letters to Cotton Mather, and asking if the wild men and beasts of which his correspondent complained could be worse than the ravening Prelatists and lukewarm professors in his own unhappy country of Scotland. Over this place, too, was fought a great battle, which brought to the ill-fated Queen of Scots the loss at once of her kingdom and her liberty. Not half a mile off, fragments of steel are still found to testify to the struggle, and in this very garden was once dug up a little cannonball of the kind used at the time, with the crust of three hundred years upon it. There is indeed a sort of faded gentility about all things here, a flavour of old wars and devilry, old godliness and peace.
And just as certain weather brings out certain tints in old buildings, so the afternoon calls these fleeting memories into existence. The colours are deeper, the smoke is not seen, the blossom and the greenery are at their finest. And over all is that subtle, ill-defined feeling of cessation in the midst of labour, of quiet among turbid memories, of romance in the very citadel of the unromantic.
TO paint a sunset, to tell of a spring morning, to depict the rose, have become proverbial synonyms for futility. It is readily assumed that all the greater beauties of the earth are beyond the reach of art, and that it is but modest to keep a reserved silence in their presence. So he who would speak of Nature and her domain must needs adopt the manner of the patient chronicler waiting upon his lady's moods, if he would avoid the name of an empty rhetorician.
But in this reticence there is just a shade of false humility. Nature is not wider nor greater than art; nor is the beauty of the actual in itself beyond any representation. Indeed, in a sense, the truth is the opposite. All beauty is apprehended by the eye of the beholder; to speak in the tongue of the schools, it is subjective in essence. Art separates what is apprehensible from its irrelevant environment. In art we have the finished product, the gold refined from the dross, the immense focussed into the seen. The plaint, therefore, is not for the impossibility of art's undertaking, but for the difficulty of the means. To man is revealed the very core of natural loveliness. Art, which is the expression of the revealed, has for its business the communication of this to others, the giving of tangibility to airy nothings, the transmitting the personal into the objective. By what searching, then, can one find out the manner of this alchemy?
The way which has most commended itself to a certain class of bookmen is the method of minute chronicling, by which their pages are turned into a sort of naturalist's note-book. One famous writer has done this to perfection; and, as is always the case, he has been followed by hordes of fatuous imitators. Yet I cannot think that Richard Jefferies is uniformly successful. More, I hold that when he does attain, it is in spite of his method. The record of the various objects which meet the eye and some interesting facts about the nature of each form a poor substitute for the glories of a sunlit landscape or a summer garden. Sometimes the very beauty of the words, and some faint, fragrant memories attached to those lovely names of violet and lime and lily, produce the desired effect, and in a second the mind is in the heart of the downs and woodlands. But this on the author's side is not conscious art; and it may happen that on the same page we come again to the weary chronicle, and find how barren is the method at root.
But however vain it may be, this mode has at least the merit of plain sincerity. What shall we say of that which is lacking even in this—the rhetorical or pseudo-poetic? Here we are in the very midst of sound and fury. A cataract of words rolls on our ears. The pure, fresh beauty of nature is gifted with a rapid magnificence, and what is best known seems strangely foreign. There is much fine phrasing and daring comparison. All the resources of ancient literature and modern letters are drawn upon, and the result is a very pretty festival of light and colour. But we miss the note of truth; all is alien, unsympathetic, the froth without the wine.
One other method is still to be reckoned with, which of the three approaches most nearly to perfection, though it fails of the summit. In this, nature is patiently and lovingly described; each thing is noted and represented by some image which is in itself accurate and admirable. Here scope is given to the shaping spirit of imagination. It would seem as if this were really the key to the mystery. Let us take as an instance a hillside in autumn. By this method we are told that the trees glow in the sun like golden wool, that the red brackens are like scraps of rusty rock thrusting their heads through the earth. This is excellent and in a sense very true; for limes in certain weathers, when struck by an afternoon sun, are like nothing so much as yellow wool, and the dull colour of the dead fern when seen from a distance is not unlike red sandstone. But here the truth stops. To the intellect the description after analysis seems nigh perfect; but to the casual reader it is woefully inadequate. The parts are good; the sum is worthless, crude, shapeless, without strength or unity. For in this matter a thousand little prettinesses do not avail, if the spirit be lacking from the whole.
What is the way by which man with his feeble speech may represent the glorious out-of-doors, and cause art to fulfil her function? Indeed, it is hard to tell, but one may gather from a few examples some hint of the principle. Let us take one—hackneyed and common, if such great words can ever be common—from Shakespeare:
The crows, the choughs, that wing the midway air
Show scarce so gross as beetles. Half way down
Hangs one who gathers samphire; dreadful trade!
Methinks he seems no bigger than his head:
The fishermen, that walk upon the beach,
Appear like mice; and yon tall anchoring bark,
Diminish'd to her cock; her cock a buoy
Almost too small for sight; the murmuring surge,
That on the unnumber'd idle pebbles chafes,
Cannot be heard so high.
Here all idle accessories are neglected. Only the grim outlines are taken, and the imagery is such that all stands out upon the mind as clear as statuary. The very words are so chosen as to give the impression of limitless space, immeasurable depth.
Here is a passage from Robert Louis Stevenson telling of the Cevennes:
"Peak upon peak, chain upon chain of hills, ran surging southwards, channelled and sculptured by the winter streams, feathered from head to foot with chestnuts, and here and there breaking into a coronal of cliffs. The sun, which was still far from setting, sent a drift of misty gold across the hill-tops; but the valleys were already plunged in a profound and quiet shadow."
And this of Scotland:
"There is no special loveliness in that grey country, with its rainy, sea- beat archipelago; its fields of dark mountains; its unsightly places black with coal; its treeless, sour, unfriendly looking cornlands; its quaint, grey- castled city, where the bells clash of a Sunday, and the wind squalls, and the salt showers fly and beat."
Or, if you desire others, there is the account of the sea-fogs and the starlit night in "The Silverado Squatters," and the many exquisite bits of etching in his essays. To add words of praise to such is to gild refined gold. The very spirit of the place throbs and pulsates in each sentence; the thing is as clear and tangible as reality and chastened into form by a marvellous art.
What then is the lesson of it all, which the industrious man seeks to learn and adapt to his own use? This and no other; that nature is so great and wonderful that it can only be apprehended by the loftier faculties of man; that a bald chronicle is a libel, since it exalts the superficial above the real. To pluck the heart out of a beautiful scene there must be the swift thought, the shining fancy, the golden word. All that is needless must be ruthlessly thrust aside; the key, the things which give character, the features in which dwells the spirit, must be sought earnestly and with many prayers. Language should give its aid, expressing by the very cadence and rhythm that which cannot be told in explicit words, but which is so momentous for the truth. Thus and only thus will mournful reiteration be avoided, and art, which is the ideal of nature, come to her own.
THE Jacobite rushed from the house into the garden, swung himself wildly across a paling, and landed on all fours in the road. It was just past the noon; the cloudless summer day had left its zenith behind it; and the first minute degree of decadence had joined with the sun. July was not yet merged in August; the festival of nature was at its height, and the whole earth throbbed with joy. The hum of bees and the tirra of the lark, the cooing of wood-doves, the far-away calls of haymakers, and the plash of the mill-burn filled the air. It was one great world of flowers, green leaves, and the sunlit heaven above, cool waters, solemn hills, and a blue distance.
The Jacobite was of noble appearance and gallant attire, as became his name. His age might have been twelve, but he was somewhat taller than the common. He was clothed in corduroys, formerly green, now many-coloured as Joseph's coat, and worn at the elbows to the likeness of chamois. Black, short-cut hair, thin shanks though stout as steel, a head held straight above the shoulders, a most cavalier carriage, and there you have him. A sprig of heath and a feather from a crow's wing were stuck in his hat, and in his hand was a well-used stick with a bar nailed thwartwise, which did duty as a sword. In his belt was a knife with a broken blade, and an old news-sheet, for he made pretence that he carried state papers of high import. He stood there in the road, well-pleased with himself and content with the world. The hurried exit had been but the exuberance of his spirits. He was on no fixed journey bound. With much searching he produced from a deep pocket a George III. penny, and spun it in the air. It fell face foremost in the dust, whence he picked it. Now was his course decided, and he turned resolutely to the highway.
In a little he came to a shop, a window in a flower-surrounded cottage, which proclaimed the residence of a wayside trafficker. The Jacobite considered his financial position. He possessed, he reflected, moneys to the extent of one penny and one halfpenny; this found on the road, that given by a benevolent grandfather. So he marched through the honeysuckled entrance, and stood delighted, inhaling the quaint, pleasing odours of bread and ancient brandy- balls, bacon and paraffin. He thought how proud the owner of such a place must be, and wondered mildly how such a man condescended to treat with so small a customer, from which it will be seen that he had no contempt for trade. He bought a pen'orth of treacle-toffy, and stowed it about him. Fain would he have expended the other coin, but that it would have left him without supplies—a position he held hateful to the spirit of a cavalier.
Once more he stood in the sunshine, with the world before him and a thousand voices calling him hither and thither. He raced tumultuously over a field of close turf, scattering sheep before him like chaff. Then over a fence and into a byway, where he loitered for a second to fling a stone at a casual rat; and then with a whoop and a skirl of delight he was at the river.
Down its banks he strolled in all the glory of undoubted possession. There was no boy in the place who dared lift hand against him. For had he not fought his way to renown, till in a battle the week before, attended by half the village, he had defeated William Laidlaw, the shepherd's son, who was earning his own living, and so no more in the field of fair encounter, and severely battered the said William's face? From this combat he had been dragged by an irate grandparent, and even now he was dreeing his weird in the loss of his dog, his most faithful ally, who in a lonely kennel sadly bemoaned its master. For grown- up persons he cared naught, for he knew by long experience that they were a weak-kneed folk and feeble in the race. So amid the nodding grasses he swung along, whisking the heads off the meadow-sweet with his sword, in most unmilitary fashion, telling himself that he was setting out on a journey as great as erst Sir Galahad or Sir John Mandeville, that sweetest and most truthful of knights. He had his store of provisions in his pocket; he was armed with sword and dagger and a stout heart; with another bellow of defiance he drew his blade and stalked on like Goliath of Gath, or Ajax defying the celestial lightning.
A sound in the bushes, a rustle, a movement, and the Jacobite was on his face, breathing hard and peering warily forth. It was only a thrush, so once more he got upon his feet and advanced. Just where the woods began he had a sharp conflict with a rabbit, which escaped amid a volley of stones. Once inside the cover, among the long, ghostlike firs and tremulous beeches, he felt he was on classic ground. There was every probability that an enchanter lurked among the shadows or a wild-boar in the rocks. To be sure, he had never seen such things, but they must be somewhere about. He clasped his sword a little timorously, but still with strong purpose. The river looked black and unfriendly, a fitting haunt for kelpies and mermaidens.
Soon he came to where another stream entered, a bright, prattling, sunshiny burn, such as his soul loved. Thither he felt his course lay. Now was the time to emulate the heroic John Ridd, when he tracked the Bagworthy stream and met the girl Lorna.
Without doubt some Lorna awaited his coming among the meadows by the waterside. He felt the surer when he reflected that this expedition, too, was not without danger. The land was the ground of a manor-house, watched by zealous gardeners and keepers, full of choice flowers and pleasant fruits as the garden of the Hesperides. He had once essayed the venture before and met with a sad discomfiture. While he kept the stream he had fared well enough, but it so fell out that in the meadow he espied a horse, and there his troubles began; for, approaching it in the Indian manner, he crawled under its belly in the most orthodox way, and proceeded delicately to mount it. The horse clearly was of no Indian breed, for it made off after sadly barking his shins. To add to it all, he had to flee homewards, limping across ploughed lands and through marshy woods, pursued by two irate grooms and a vociferous coachman. No. There was no lack of danger in that direction. So for form's sake he pulled his belt tighter, looked to the edge of his dagger and the point of his sword, and made a pretence of seeking the aid of Heaven in pious, knightly fashion.
It was a gracious and comely land he entered upon. The clear water crooned among irises and white ranunculus or rippled across broad, shining shallows, or fell in a valorous plunge over a little cauld. There was no lack of fish, and had the Jacobite not been on high mission intent he would have thrown off his jacket and groped for trout beneath the banks. But not for him now were such sports. The yellow sunlight clothed the fields as in a cloth of gold, and from the midst great beech trees raised their masses of rich browns and cool greens. There were sheep there and horses, but he did not turn aside, for, like Ulysses, he had learned from misfortune. The place had an enchanting effect upon his spirits. It was like some domain in faery, the slumbrous forest which girt the sleeping princess, or the wood beyond the world. John Ridd was forgotten, and the Jacobite, forgetful of his special calling, had fled to regions beyond history. He was recalled of a sudden by an unlooked-for barrier to his progress. The stream issued from below a high weir, and unfriendly- looking walls barred its sides.
Without an effort he rose to the occasion. Now was the opportunity for a master-mind, which had never yet met its match among the boys of his restricted acquaintance. He set himself tooth and nail to the wall. Projecting stone and mossy interstices gave him foothold. In a trice he had gained the top and was looking into a sort of refined Elysium, a paradise within a paradise. A broad pond had been formed by the stream, whereon sailed a swan and some brave- liveried ducks, and near whose margin floated water-lilies, yellow and white. Clean-shaven turf fell away from the edge, barred by the shadows of trees and bright in many places with half-opened heather. Beyond the water were little glades of the greenest grass, through which came a glimpse of stone and turret. The Jacobite's breath went quick and fast. Things were becoming, he felt, altogether too true to nature. He had come straight upon a castle without so much as a mishap. The burden of his good fortune bore heavily on him; and he was strongly tempted to retreat. But in the end romance prevailed; with wavering footsteps he crept along the edge, ready at a glance to flop among the reeds.
But these violent tactics were not needed. Sleep seemed to have fallen upon the race of grooms and gardeners. Nothing stirred save a linnet, which came down to drink, and a moorhen which scuttled across the pool. Grasshoppers were chirping in the silence, and the faraway sound of a bell came clear and thin through the air. In a little he came to where the pond ceased and the stream began once more, not like the stream in the meadows below, but a slow, dark current among trees and steep mossy banks. Once more the adventurer's heart beat irresolutely; once more his courage prevailed. He scrambled below trailing branches, slipped oftentimes into the shallows, and rolled among red earth till the last vestige of green was gone from his corduroys. But harsh is the decree of fate. Again he came to a barrier—this time a waterfall of great sound and volume.
Joy filled the heart of the Jacobite. This was the water-slide in the Bagworthy wood, and at the top must be the Doone's valley. So with boldness and skill he addressed himself to the ascent. I have no inkling what the real cascade in Devon is like, but I will take my oath it was not more perilous than this. The black rocks were slippery with ooze, few helping boughs of trees were at hand, and the pool at the bottom yawned horrific and deep. But the Jacobite was skilled in such breakneck ventures. With the ease of a practised climber he swung himself from one foothold to another till he gripped the great rock which stood midway in the stream just at the summit, and, dripping and triumphant, raised himself to the dry land.
And there before him on a fallen trunk, in the most lovely dell that nature ever conceived, sat the Lady. For a moment the Jacobite, notwithstanding his expectations, was staggered. Then his training asserted itself. He pulled a torn cap from his head, and "I thought you would be here," said he.
"Who are you?" said the Lady, with the curiosity of her sex, "and where do you come from?"
The Jacobite reflected. It was only consistent with tradition, he felt, to give some account of himself. So he proceeded compendiously to explain his birth, his antecedents, his calling, and his adventures of the day. He was delighted with the princess now he had found her. She was tall and lithe, with hair like gold, and the most charming eyes. She wore a dress of white, like a true princess, and a great hat, made according to the most correct canons of romance. She had been reading in a little book, which lay face downward at her feet. He thought of all his special heroines, Helen of Troy and Ariadne, Joan of Arc, the Queen of Scots, Rosalind, and Amy Robsart, and that most hapless and beautiful of dames, the wife of the Secretary Murray. He inwardly decided that the lady was most like the last, which indeed was only fitting, seeing that tradition said that this place was once her home. "O, you delightful boy," said the Lady. "I never met any one like you before. Tell me what you think of me."
"You're all right," said the wanderer, "only where do you come from? I hope you're not going to disappear."
"No, indeed," said she. "I come from a place to which you will go some day, a big, stupid town, where the finest and the worst things in the world are to be found. I'm here to escape from it for a little."
The Jacobite was keenly interested in this account of his prospective dwelling- place.
"What are the fine things?" he asked. "Ships and palaces and dogs and guns and—oh, you know what I mean?"
"Yes," she said, "these things are there. And the people take very little interest in them. What they chiefly like is money."
The Jacobite pulled out his halfpenny, and regarded it with critical interest.
"Yes," she went on, "and lots of people don't go to bed much at night, but they put on fine clothes and go to other people's houses and have dinner and talk, even when they would rather be at home."
The Jacobite looked philosophically at his clothes. They could not be called fine. He wasn't given to talking to people whom he didn't like, and he told the Lady so.
"And there are others, who rule the country and don't know anything about it, and are only good for making long speeches."
"But," said the Jacobite, incredulously, "don't they know how to fight, or how do they rule if they don't?"
"They don't know how to fight," said the Lady sadly; "and more, they say fighting is wrong, and want to settle everything by talking."
The Jacobite looked mournfully skyward. If this was true, his future was dismal indeed. He had much skill in fighting, but talk he held in deep contempt.
"But there must be heaps of knights and cavaliers left; or are they all gone to heaven?" said he.
The Lady sighed. "There are some, but very few, I am afraid. And these mostly go away to foreign lands, where there is still fighting, or they hunt lions and tigers, or they stay at home very sad. And people say there is no such place as heaven, but that all that is left for us when we die is a 'period of sensationless, objective existence.' Do you know what that means?"
"No," said the Jacobite, stoutly, "and I don't care. What awful rot!"
"And they say that there never were such things as fairies, and that all the stories about Hector and Ulysses and William Tell and Arthur are nonsense. But we know better."
"Yes," said he, "we know better. They're true to us, and it is only to stupids that they're not true."
"Good," said the Lady. "There was once a man called Horace, who lived long ago, who said the same thing. You will read his book some day." And she repeated softly to herself,
Prętulerim scriptor delirus inersque videri,
Dum mea delectent mala me vel denique fallant,
Quam sapere et ringi.*
[* A dotard I had rather seem, and dull,
Sooner my faults may please make me a gull,
Than to be wise, and beat my vexed skull. —Horace.]
But the Jacobite saw the slanting sun over the treetops, and he knew it was time to go home.
"I am afraid I must go," he said mournfully. "When I grow up I will stop all that nonsense. I will hang a lot of them and banish others, and then you will like it, won't you? Will you have some treacle toffy? It is very good."
"Thank you," said the Lady, "it is good."
"Good-bye," said he, "I will come and see you when I grow up and go to the place you spoke of."
"Yes, I am sure you will," said she, and gave him her hand.
He bent low and kissed it in true cavalier fashion.
"There is the road up there," she said, "it's your quickest way." And she looked after him as he disappeared through the trees.
The road ran east and west, and as the sun bent aslant it, it was one great belt of golden light. The Jacobite was wonderfully elated. What an afternoon he had had, just like a bit out of a book! Now there remained for him the three miles of a walk home; then tea with fresh butter and cakes such as his heart rejoiced in; and then the delights of taking the horses to drink, and riding his pony to the smithy. The prospect was soothing and serene. A mellow gaiety diffused through his being.
And yet he could not get rid of the Lady's news. Ah! There was a true princess for you, one who agreed with him in everything; but how sad was the tale she told! Would he ever have to meet such misfortune? He felt that some day he would, and the notion pained him. But he turned back for a moment to look to the westward. The crimson heart of evening was glowing like a furnace; the long shafts of orange light were lengthening, and the apple-green was growing over the blue. Somehow or other the sight gave him heart. The valiant West, that home of El Dorados and golden cities, whither all the romance of life seems to flee, raised his sinking courage. He would, alone, like Douglas among the Saracens, lift the standard and rout all foolish and feeble folks. Some day, when he was great and tall, he would ride into the city where the Lady dwelt, and, after he had scattered her enemies, would marry her and live happy for evermore.
That for the future. For the present home and tea and a summer evening.
THERE are certain days in August when the air is soft and lucid, and the pale skies have a delicate fragility which is unknown at other times. The Lammas floods have worked their boisterous will and clarified earth and air, and the drenched meadows and abundant waters sleep under sober heavens. This is the first warning of the autumn, the fore-hint of frost and decline, but as yet these things are not; and to all wearied men there is a subtle peace in the harmonious monotony. In the lowlands there may be torrid heat and all the sultriness which one associates with the harvest month; but in the hill country a cool greyness is on nature.
As if to make amends for the dearth of colour in the daytime, the evenings are extraordinarily splendid. Then the restraint is loosened and the colours of sunset are things for a man to remember with delight all his days. The world becomes jovial once more, and in the rich light all natural things grow hilarious. Birds sing with an unwonted fervour, as if they had entered on a second spring; flowers are fresher and more brilliant; the turf has a new elasticity; and in the streams the trout are on the alert for their evening meal. The earth dries quickly after the rains, and one may walk dryshod in the meadows by the great swollen waters, and find an enchanting union of spring and summer.
On such a night the angler who has tried in vain in the daytime to allure the sluggish trout, goes out to his fishing with some good hope of success. I have spent many an hour in the morning and afternoon casting across the stream when water and sky seemed alike favourable; but only when the bright evening came had I any great sport. But it is still better to fish in the hours about midnight, for then the largest trout come to feed; and if you are not town-bred and over-dainty to sleep on the heather, you may make a great basket and see something of the mysteries of night, and dawn, and the sleeping world.
One such evening I remember in the high glens about the source of Tweed, when I spent the night in the solemn fastnesses of the hills. Leaving a sleeping-rug in the shadow of a rock behind a belt of pines, with my rod and creel I went up a burn which loitered down a flat upland valley. The water was flooded and clear, and made a pleasant noise twining round the corner of a weather-stained rock or winding among odorous thickets of thyme. The quietness of the hills—so great that the most distant sounds fell distinctly on the ear and one heard the running of faraway waters—was enlivened by the gorgeous sunset light and the activity of bird and insect. The flash of brown bees, the wavering flight of snipe, the dart of water-ouzels, gave liveliness to the quiet valley. The hills stood out against the saffron sky, great violet-coloured shoulders and peaks, looking remote in the evening air. The wholesome smell of the moorlands, which stirs a man's blood strangely, had a lowland luxury in it from the crushed summer flowers.
At every cast the flies, as they trailed on the surface, caught a glow from the sky and looked like dancing fireflies. The trout, when they rose or plashed in mere wantonness, made wide circles of light in the darkening water. The first fish landed on a spit of green land came out so quivering with a thousand colours that it seemed almost sacrilege to break his neck and put him in a common wicker creel. But the sport was good, and many gleaming trout, three or four to the pound, were brought dripping to the crisp heather. The gathering dusk made the stream the one vivid thing in the scene, inky in the shadow but living fire in the open places.
A strident voice hailed me through the darkness, and I found beside me my excellent friend, the shepherd of the Redswirehead. His tall form seemed all but gigantic in the failing light, but his walk was sufficient to mark him far off. A rough grey plaid hung on his shoulders, his homespun clothes had a healthy smell of peat-reek, and his hand grasped a great horn-handled stick, which he dug into the earth as he walked. Clearly the stick was too old a companion to be left at home, for in his other hand he held a gun, and few men think it useful to carry both. He peered into my basket and nodded, for he was a man of few words. I looked at his gun and he answered my unspoken question. "Ay," said he, "it's an auld bitch fox that gave me sair work i' the lambin'- time. She's bidin' in a scrog o' birk on the hill there, and I'll hae a shot at her, though I should sit tae mornin'." I also was out for the night; I would come with him, for one fox was better in my eyes than many trout; so in a trice it was agreed that we two should keep watch on the hill and plot the death of this ancient mother of evil. In the upper parts of the Tweed valley this shooting of foxes is no crime but a necessity, for they make deadly havoc among the young lambs in the spring of the year. A price, too, may be had for the skins, and so it comes about that every mountain shepherd traps the young and shoots the old ones as enemies of his profession.
I rolled in my line and made to put up the rod, but alas! the water had swelled the wood, and the joints, like the locks of Doubting Castle, went "damnable hard." The shepherd could no more move them than I, so perforce we had to leave it as it was and carry it aloft, like some pennon stript of its blazonry, to our quarters for the night. In the back of the pine-wood I found my rug, and there we gathered armfuls of dried twigs and some broken fir logs. With these we made for a little hollow half-sheltered by an out-jutting crag, but commanding a wide view of the glen. Below was the patch of birch and brackens where the miscreant fox lay hid. In a few minutes we had built and kindled a fire which cast a fluttering glow over the sombre hillside. The pine splinters crackled merrily, and in the red embers we placed the finest of our trout till they were browned to a nicety. Then we found each a seat on the heather and settled down for the night. I chose a bush in flower, but the shepherd stoically, and with an eye to his business, selected a harder couch looking steeply down on the valley.
The great dappled hills in front, over which the sun had just set, were still fired with a ruddy light. A yellow afterglow was on the sky—a shifting, elusive light, which hung now over one hill and now on another, growing fainter with each passing minute. Darkness, like the clear blackness of a moss-pool, grew over the world, blotting out nothing from the landscape, but rather presenting all things in monotint, which before had been a richly coloured picture. "It's a comfortable sicht," said my friend, and indeed the whole scene, the sunset and the hills, the smell of heather and burning wood, and the low cries of wild birds had a delicate comfort in them.
The shepherd talked, as only such a man can, of many things, of fishing and shooting, of the hills, of the people of the place, of old-world times. His racy speech, so accurate and expressive, seemed wonderful to one accustomed to the inanity of civilised talk. The moorland shepherds are a fine set of men—I know few finer. With seeing eyes and understanding hearts they go about their duties, battling with fickle weather, inured to danger and discomfort, seeing a little of the wonders of the earth. Life for them is no colourless existence, but varied and full as any man's. The quiet of retired glens and summer valleys is known to them, the fury of winter among snow-clad hills, the gladness of a returning spring; and in their every-day life they must travel to lowland markets and meet with men from the four corners of Britain. In their own way they have some share of book-culture, for in the long nights they have ample leisure for reading. Many have a tincture of theological learning; some go further afield and try the subtleties of philosophy. One man I remember, a shepherd on a lonely mountain farm, who by some strange chance had got together some of Hamilton's books, and was a vehement follower of Sir William. He used to meet me often by the waterside, and would reason and dispute with the relish of a Schoolman. In the interests of my fishing I schemed for his overthrow so one evening I boldly propounded the most advanced Hegelian views. I shall never forget the expression of incredulous disgust on the man's face. Thereafter I avoided the hill on which he made his rounds; ethics lurked in the hollows of his glen; nay, there was something metaphysical in the very swirl of his dog's tail.
The man at my side was of a different type. His learning concerned other things; the ways of the wind, the vagaries of bird and beast, the art of fishing in difficult weather. It was his boast that he could walk by night in a snowstorm to any place in Tweeddale. He was a veritable mine of knowledge on every feathered thing that had ever been seen on his hills. Few things pleased him more than to hear of the birds of the sea-coast, which he knew by their rare winter visits to the moors. The great flocks passing southward in the autumn had a romantic interest in his eyes, coming from their distant northern breeding-places, tarrying a little, then hastening onward to unknown lands. He would lie out o' nights among frozen bogs to get a shot at a flock of wild geese or a stray swan, and count it the height of pleasure. He was one of the two men I have ever known who could tell the time to within a quarter of an hour by the sky. The other was an enterprising drover who ultimately fell out with the law of the land and betook himself to easier latitudes.
The shepherd lit his pipe and smoked with a composed pleasure. I care little indeed for the odour of the finer kinds, but I dearly love the smell of bad tobacco. There is something about it at once so wild and homelike, recalling warm fires and desolate peat-bogs, fishermen and sailors and gipsy caravans, storms and summer days, keen-eyed, weather-beaten fellows, and all the things which give zest and savour to life. From your choicer kinds for the life of me I can get no associations beyond stifling thoroughfares and vacant young men.
As the evening grew late the birds of the moorland ceased their quavering concert, and except the bolder sorts, the rough-riders and moss-troopers of the clan, lay still in the heather. Brown owls hooted and fluttered overhead, and we heard at intervals the long, measured sweep of their wings. A few belated curlews piped in their melancholy way, answered from the far distance by the restless call of the plover. Night, which gives weirdness to familiar things, lends a new note, a strange, uncanny one, to the cries of birds. A thrush screaming through the thicket in the daytime is a lively thing, but at night he is a shadow, an eldritch apparition, a startler of calm. If this be true of homely birds, it holds still more with the wild creatures which cry ceaselessly over the hills. At night in the dead silence they make the wayfarer think of kelpies and brownies and a whole mythology of malignant spirits.
We heard the sound of a weasel from the whin bushes below. A flock of sheep, affrighted by something or other, crowded together and ran aimlessly along the slope. All else was quiet save for a few rustling winds, which blew down the side glens and stirred the thicker darkness of the valley. Tweed could scarce be discerned—a black line with quivering points of light from the marsh fires on its banks. A faint smell of heather blooms and damp moss filled the air, varied by the strong whiffs from the shepherd's pipe.
A strange pleasure, a man might say, to be perched like a crow on a gaunt hillside among rough moors and uniform ridges, and truly if it be put in this hard way, the pleasure seems scarce in evidence. But to one who has lived his life among these haunted valleys, the old grey hills and bare glens are splendid in the fair light of romance, and every bald rock is dearer than the richest flower-garden. The birds of the place are old associates; the whistle of a curlew is to him the choicest music; the soft ripple of the Tweed is a perennial and delectable interest. Fantastic sentiment it may be; but sentiment better than reason. It was a great saying of De Lisle Adam's, "Sans illusion tout peint." For all that each man holds dearest may seem illusion to another; and what in all times have been thought of the highest value—the mysteries of faith, insight and joy in nature, the fitful path of honour, the pleasures of life and motion, of thought and imagery, of art and music—may be called by this name by a cold and practical people. Like Corin, we are in a "parlous state," when honest sentiment and generous illusion serve only as matter for scorn and reproach.
The shepherd lay stretching his great length with his eye still fixed on the birches. I was moved to wonder by the size and powerful look of the man, and could scarce refrain from saying, as I regarded him with drowsy eyes, "You're a big man, shepherd; there are few like you nowadays."
"Ay," said he, "and d'ye ken, some inspector body came up the glen to look at my hoose, and he was aye threepin' that the rooms were far ower sma', and that it was unhealthy past a' tellin'. So I just lookit at the cratur, and says I, 'My man, I could mak three o' ye, ony day, and I was brocht up in a room sae wee that I couldna get on my coat withoot stappin' my airm up the lum.'"
It must have been far on in the night, when I was startled from sleep by a loud report, which awoke the echoes from every hill, and with half-opened eyes saw the shepherd fling away an empty cartridge and lay down his gun. A yellow blur at the far end of the thicket marked where the old fox had met her fate. Her executioner stretched his limbs, yawned mightily, and, settling himself among the deep heather, was asleep almost before the smell of smoke had died away in the air.
THE true time of awakening is just before sunrise, as the real sleeping-time is a little before sunset. Then the world awakes, and in the activity of life around sleep is impossible. As we, scarce fully aroused, looked down from our perch on the valley, we felt the indefinable feeling of life returning. A rustle among the heather, a swaying and tossing of birches, a louder murmuring of streams, the first shrill pipe of a moorland bird—all told of a renewal of energy, an electric thrill passing through the earth. The air was cold and fresh, and over the opposite hills the grey fore-glow of the dawn was spreading. A white mist clung to the low grounds, making the fields seem deep in snow; but above on the brown and purple shoulders the faint light fluttered among deep shadows. It was a strange and beautiful sight for any man to witness, as the early sun sent his first shafts through the spaces of the hills, waking chill splendours among pines and wildwood. In his train came the pomp of many-tinted clouds, of long vistas of light and shadow, an affluence of riotous imagery, tempered and chastened by the cold pallor which still held the uplands. The darkness of the sky changed imperceptibly to a lucid blue, which each new light flushed with rare colour. Then suddenly the distant fields and cornlands caught the sun, and the golden sheaves and green, shorn meadows were flooded with a dazzling brilliance. The remote distances became clear, and down the valley woodlands a score of miles away grew as vivid as the grass at our feet. But the grim hills still kept darkness in their nooks, though their summits were flaming like beacons.
The birds awoke, and a twittering and singing filled the glen. Larks with their high trills, desultory pipits, curlews, snipe, ill-fated grouse, lackadaisical plovers made the moor lively with their varied notes. A hawk sailed high bent on some morning foray, and so clear was the air that it was possible for us to see the motion of his wings. The whole hillside seemed alert with life; only the black ashes of our fire were left to remind us of the silent dark.
"Let's try a cast wi' your rod i' the burn," said the shepherd; "there's a great troot i' the pool below the brig. We micht grip him." So we went down by rocks and brackens, and stunted trees to the green, lawn-like turf by the stream. Here we must needs walk with caution, for the rain had made the waters high, and in places a turbulent current had overpassed its banks and left treacherous marshes for unwary fishermen. Below the wooden foot-bridge a great pool was formed by a little fall—black and girt with masses of scented fern which dipped in the swirling eddies.
The shepherd went stealthily forward, and dropped a fly in a space of still water. Twice he cast in the place, but still his lure remained unheeded; then in the whirl at the foot, but with no better success. Once again he cast in an eddy below the further bank, and now he had a mighty rise. His fly sank and darted down stream, then up again to the rough water, where he had much ado to keep the fish from grating his line on a jagged rock. For full ten minutes the contest lasted, until he drew it, spent and unresisting, to a patch of shingle, and brought it to the grass—a shapely trout of near a pound's weight, delicately marked and glittering in the cold sun.
"On my word, master," I said, "this is a gallant trout; what shall we do with him?"
"Dae wi' him?" quoth the shepherd, who was ignorant of Walton, though he gave me the very answer which Piscator gave to Viator on that May morning long ago, "hae him to your breakfast. He'll cut red, and taste like a saumon."
So I put him in the creel and together we went down the valley. At the foot of his glen my friend halted. "I maun awa'" said he. "I've my sheep to look, and a wheen lambs to fauld; syne I maun ower to Megget to meet a man wi' twae score o' yows. I've mair to dae than fish, and lie among the hills. So guid mornin' to ye, and I'll see ye anither nicht."
The road went down by the babbling stream, among heather and bog, till the waters grew quieter, and green fields appeared, and larks were commoner than curlews. Then past banks of harebells and white yarrow and great red clover, and beech hedges with leaves just tinged with the red of autumn. The sweet- scented moor hay lay in swathes by the waterside, and there was a gallant show of yellow corn sheaves above the stubble. Late-flowering meadow-sweet lined the ditches; sneeze-wort, ragweed, and many flowers of unpleasing names but rare colours made a gay little world by the roadside. In front lay homesteads among trees, and lowland meadows, and still waters, a rich country, smiling and peaceful; but the choicer scene was behind, where the giant hills, purple and grey and black, lifted their foreheads to the pure skies.
THE gamekeeper of Cademuir strode in leisurely fashion over the green side of the hill. The bright chilly morning was past, and the heat had all but begun; but he had lain long a-bed, deeming that life was too short at the best, and there was little need to hurry it over. He was a man of a bold carriage, with the indescribable air of one whose life is connected with sport and rough moors. A steady grey eye and a clean chin were his best features; otherwise, he was of the ordinary make of a man, looking like one born for neither good nor evil in any high degree. The sunlight danced around him, and flickered among the brackens; and though it was an everyday sight with him, he was pleased, and felt cheerful, just like any wild animal on a bright day. If he had had his dog with him, he would have sworn at it to show his pleasure; as it was, he contented himself with whistling "The Linton Ploughman," and setting his heels deep into the soft green moss.
The day was early and his way was long, for he purposed to go up Manor Water to the shepherd's house about a matter of some foxes. It might be ten miles, it might be more; and the keeper was in no great haste, for there was abundant time to get his dinner and a smoke with the herd, and then come back in the cool of the evening; for it was summer-time, when men of his class have their holiday. Two miles more, and he would strike the highway; he could see it even now coiling beneath the straight sides of the glen. There it was easy walking, and he would get on quickly; but now he might take his time. So he lit his pipe, and looked complacently around him.
At the turn of the hill, where a strip of wood runs up the slope, he stopped, and a dark shadow came over his face. This was the place where, not two weeks ago, he had chased a poacher, and but for the fellow's skill in doubling, would have caught him. He cursed the whole tribe in his heart. They were the bane of his easy life. They came at night, and took him out on the bleak hillside when he should have been in his bed. They might have a trap there even now. He would go and see, for it was not two hundred yards from his path.
So he climbed up the little howe in the hill beside the firwood, where the long thickets of rushes, and the rabbit-warrens made a happy hunting-ground for the enemies of the law. A snipe or two flew up as he approached, and a legion of rabbits scurried into their holes. He had all but given up the quest, when the gleam of something among the long grass caught his attention, and in a trice he had pulled back the herbage, and disclosed a neatly set and well- constructed trap.
It was a very admirable trap. He had never seen one like it; so in a sort of angry exultation, as he thought of how he would spoil this fine game, he knelt down to examine it. It was no mere running noose, but of strong steel, and firmly fixed to the trunk of an old tree. No unhappy pheasant would ever move it, were its feet once caught in its strong teeth. He felt the iron with his hand, feeling down the sides for the spring; when suddenly with a horrid snap the thing closed on him, pinning his hand below the mid-finger, and he was powerless. The pain was terrible, agonising. His hand burned like white fire, and every nerve of his body tingled. With his left hand he attempted to loosen it, but the spring was so well concealed, that he could not find it. Perhaps, too, he may have lost his wits, for in any great suffering the brain is seldom clear. After a few minutes of feeble searching and tugging, every motion of which gave agony to his imprisoned hand, he gave it up, and, in something very like panic, sought for his knife to try to cut the trap loose from the trunk. And now a fresh terror awaited him, for he found that he had no knife; he had left it in another coat, which was in his room at home. With a sigh of infinite pain, he stopped the search, and stared drearily before him.
He confusedly considered his position. He was fixed with no possibility of escape, some two miles from the track of any chance passer-by. They would not look for him at home until the evening, and the shepherd at Manor did not know of his coming. Some one might be on the hill, but then this howe was on a remote side where few ever came, unless their duty brought them. Below him in the valley was the road with some white cottages beside it. There were women in those houses, living and moving not far from him; they might see him if he were to wave something as a signal. But then, he reflected with a groan, that though he could see their dwellings, they could not see him, for he was hidden by the shoulder of the hill.
Once more he made one frantic effort to escape, but it was unsuccessful. Then he leant back upon the heather, gnawing his lips to help him to endure the agony of the wound. He was a strong man, broad and sinewy, and where a weaker might have swooned, he was left to endure the burden of a painful consciousness. Again he thought of escape. The man who had set the trap must come to see it, but it might not be that day, nor the next. He pictured his friends hunting up and down Manor Water, every pool and wood; passing and re- passing not two hundred yards from where he was lying dead, or worse than dead. His mind grew sick at the thought, and he had almost fainted in spite of his strength.
Then he fell into a panic, the terror of rough "hard-handed men, which never laboured in their mind." His brain whirled, his eyes were stelled, and a shiver shook him like a reed. He puzzled over his past life, feeling, in a dim way, that it had not been as it should be. He had been drunk often; he had not been over-careful of the name of the Almighty; was not this some sort of retribution? He strove to pray, but he could think of no words. He had been at church last Sunday, and he tried to think of what he had heard; but try as he would, nothing came to his mind, but the chorus of a drinking-song he had often heard sung in the public-house at Peebles:
When the hoose is rinnin' round about,
It's time eneuch to flit;
For we've lippened aye to Providence,
And sae will we yet.
The irony of the words did not strike him; but fervently, feverishly, he repeated them, as if for the price of his soul.
The fit passed, and a wild frenzy of rage took him. He cursed like a fiend, and yelled horrible menaces upon the still air. If he had the man who set this trap, he would strangle the life out of him here on this spot. No, that was too merciful. He would force his arm into the trap, and take him to some lonely place where never a human being came from one year's end to the other. Then he would let him die, and come to gloat over his suffering. With every turn of his body he wrenched his hand, and with every wrench, he yelled more madly, till he lay back exhausted, and the green hills were left again in peace.
Then he slept a sleep which was half a swoon, for maybe an hour, though to him it seemed like ages. He seemed to be dead, and in torment; and the place of his torment was this same hillside. On the brae face, a thousand evil spirits were mocking his anguish, and not only his hand, but his whole body was imprisoned in a remorseless trap. He felt the keen steel crush through his bones, like a spade through a frosted turnip. He woke screaming with nameless dread, looking on every side for the infernal faces of his dreams, but seeing nothing but a little chaffinch hopping across the turf.
Then came for him a long period of slow, despairing agony. The hot air glowed, and the fierce sun beat upon his face. A thousand insects hummed about him, bees and butterflies and little hill-moths. The wholesome smell of thyme and bent was all about him, and every now and then a little breeze broke the stillness, and sent a ripple over the grass. The genial warmth seemed stifling; his head ached, and his breath came in sudden gasps. An overpowering thirst came upon him, and his tongue was like a burnt stick in his mouth. Not ten feet off, a little burn danced over a minute cascade. He could see the dust of spray, which wet the cool green rushes. The pleasant tinkle sang in his ears, and mocked his fever. He tried to think of snow and ice and cold water, but his brain refused to do its part, and he could get nothing but an intolerable void.
Far across the valley, the great forehead of Dollar Law raised itself, austere and lofty. To his unquiet sight, it seemed as if it rolled over on Scrape, and the two played pranks among the lower hills beyond. The idea came to him, how singularly unpleasant it would be for the people there—among them a shepherd to whom he owed two pounds. He would be crushed to powder, and there would be no more of the debt at any rate. Then a text from the Scriptures came to haunt him, something, he could scarce tell exactly, about the hills and mountains leaping like rams. Here it was realised before his very eyes. Below him, in the peaceful valley, Manor Water seemed to be wrinkled across it, like a scrawl from the pen of a bad writer. When a bird flew past, or a hare started from its form, he screamed with terror, and all the wholesome sights of a summer day were wrought by his frenzied brain into terrible phantoms. So true is it that Natura Benigna and Natura Maligna may walk hand in hand upon the same hillside.
Then came the time when the strings of the reason are all but snapped, and a man becomes maudlin. He thought of his young wife, not six weeks married, and grieved over her approaching sorrow. He wept unnatural tears, which, if any one had been there to see him, would have been far more terrible than his frantic ravings. He pictured to himself in gruesome detail, the finding of his body, how his wife would sob, and his friends would shake their heads, and swear that he had been an honest fellow, and that it was a pity that he was away. The place would soon forget him; his wife would marry again; his dogs would get a new master, and he—ay, that was the question, where would he be? and a new dread took him, as he thought of the fate which might await him. The unlettered man, in his times of dire necessity, has nothing to go back upon but a mind full of vivid traditions, which are the most merciless of things.
It might be about three or four o'clock but by the clock in his brain it was weeks later, that he suffered that last and awful pain, which any one who has met it once, would walk to the end of the earth to avoid. The world shrank away from him; his wits forsook him; and he cried out, till the lonely rocks rang, and the whaups mingled their startled cries with his. With a last effort, he crushed down his head with his unwounded hand upon the tree-trunk, till blessed unconsciousness took him into her merciful embrace.
AT nine o'clock that evening, a ragged, unshorn man, with the look of one not well at ease with the world, crept up the little plantation. He had a sack on his back for his ill-gotten plunder, and a mighty stick in case of a chance encounter. He visited his traps, hidden away in little nooks, where no man might find them, and it would have seemed as if trade were brisk, for his sack was heavy, and his air was cheerful. He looked out from behind the dyke at his last snare carefully, as behoved one in danger; and then with a start he crouched, for he saw the figure of a man.
There was no doubt about it; it was his bitterest enemy, the keeper of Cademuir. He made as if to crawl away, when by chance he looked again. The man lay very still. A minute later he had rushed forward with a white face, and was working as if for his life.
In half an hour two men might have been seen in that little glen. One, with a grey, sickened face, was gazing vacantly around him, with the look of some one awakened from a long sleep. By dint of much toil, and half a bottle of brandy, he had been brought back from what was like to have been the longest sleep he had ever taken. Beside him on the grass, with wild eyes, sat the poacher, shedding hysterical tears. "Dae onything ye like wi' me," he was saying, "kick me or kill me, an' am ready. I'll gang to jail wi' ye, to Peebles or the Calton, an' no say a word. But oh! ma God, I thocht ye were bye wi't."
THE afternoon was fast waning to twilight, and the man who for the last few hours had been alternately sleeping in the heather and dabbling in the rocky pools of the burn awoke to the consciousness of time. He rose and looked around him. Hills crowded upon hills, blue, purple, and black; distant spaces of green meadow; barren pines waving desolately on a scarp; many streams falling in a chain of cascades to the glens; and over all a June sky, clear, deep, and tender. The place was goodly, and the idleness which is inseparable from the true enjoyment of afternoon weather dragged heavily upon him to keep him where he was.
He had come out that morn with his mind a chaos of many cares. Projects, fragments of wise and foolish thoughts, a thousand half-conceptions, had crowded upon him thick and fast, for the habit of unceasing mental toil is not shaken off in an hour. But June and the near presence of great hills are wondrous correctives; they are like an inverted spy-glass, which makes large things seem of the smallest; and ere long he found himself aimless and thoughtless. The drift of clouds, the twitter of mountain linnets, seemed all in the world of moment, and he would have gladly bartered his many plans for some share in this wild lore. And so for that clay there was one pervert from the gospel of success in life, till lengthening shadows came and he gathered together his wits and laughed at his folly.
With lingering regrets he set off homewards, and the vista before him was one of work awaiting and a whole host of anxieties. Yet for once in a while he had been at peace, and to don the harness again was not so repellent, now that he had found how it could be shaken off at will. So he went along the grassy hill- path whistling an old air, till he had gained the edge of the decline, and lo! before him went another wayfarer.
It was the figure of a man about the middle height, with a forward stoop, and a walk which was neither shuffle nor stride, but the elegant lounge of the idler. His general aspect was one of breeding and ease; it was not till a nearer approach that one perceived the contradiction of the details. For all things about him were in rags, from the torn cap to the fragmentary shoes, and the pristine excellence of the cloth only served to accentuate its present state of defection. He also whistled as he walked, and his roving eyes devoured the manifold landscape. Then some other mood seemed to take him, and he flung himself on the short hill grass, lying back with his head on his hands.
At the sound of the other's footsteps he sat up and greeted him.
"Good-day," said the tramp, civilly. "Do you go far?" Then, as if he had forgotten himself, he went back to his Scots. "I was wonderin' if ye could tell me the time o' day, sir," he said, hastily.
The other stopped short and looked at the stranger before him. Something in his frank eye and strange appearance attracted him, for he did not go on, but glanced at his watch and sat down beside him. Darkness was not yet, and the air was as soft as mid-day.
For a few minutes there was silence, and the one broke it with a laugh. "I seem to have come into a new land to-day," he said. "All things have seemed enchanted, and I scarcely know whether I am sleeping or waking. I suppose it is the weather and those great hills." And even as he spoke he found himself wondering at himself for speaking thus in such company.
But the other reassured him. "Good," said he, and again he dropped the dialect. "At last I have found some one like-minded. You are a——?"
"Oh, I am a man of affairs, busy from year's end to year's end. For eleven months I am chained, but for once in a while I am free. And you——?"
"Oh I," and the tramp laughed. "Ulysses, you know. A wanderer is man from his birth. I see we have not so much in common."
"No," said the other, "I am afraid we have not. You see I believe really at the bottom of my heart in getting on in life, and doing one's duty, and that sort of thing. I see that you have no such prejudices."
"Not a bit of it," and the tramp whistled lackadaisically. "It's all a question of nature. Some men—well, some, you know, are born to be good citizens. Others lack the domestic virtues. How does the thing go?
'Non illum tectis ullae, non moenibus urbes
Accepere, neque ipse manus feritate dedisset,
Pastorum et solis exegit montibus aevum.'
"Brunck emends the passage, but the words are good as they are. In them you have my character and watchword."
"It is the character of many," said the other. "We can all hear the Piper if we listen, but some of us stop our ears against him. For myself, this hill air makes me daft, and the smell of heather and burning wood, and the sound of water and the wind. I can sympathise with you. And now I am going back to toil, and it will be very hard for days, till the routine lays its spell over me once more."
"And for what good?" asked the wayfarer. "I apologise for asking you the foolish question, but it is the inevitable one in my philosophy."
"Oh," said the other, "I can scarcely tell. For the sake of feeling that one is fighting in the ranks of life and not skulking from the battle line; that one is doing the work for which God has given him talents; to know that one is mixing with men, and playing his part well in the human tragi-comedy. These reasons and many others."
"Hum," said the tramp. "Again I must say, 'temper of mind.' You will excuse me if I say that they do not commend themselves to me. I cannot see the necessity for making the world a battlefield. It is a pilgrimage, if you like, where it is a man's duty and best wisdom to choose the easiest course. All the pleasure in life can be got apart from the turmoil of the market-place—love and kindness, the taste of bread to a hungry man and water to a thirsty, the delight of rest when tired, and the pleasure of motion when fresh and alert, and, above all, the thousand things of nature."
"You chose the life? You were not born to it?"
"Born to it?" and the wayfarer laughed again. "No, I was very little born to it. I shall not trouble you with my story, it is too old-fashioned to amuse you. I had good prospects, as people say, but, as I have said, I lacked the civil virtues. I was too restless to stay long anywhere and too rich to have any need, and the upshot of it all is—this!" And he fingered lovingly the multiform rents in his coat.
Below them, as they talked, ran the sandy hill-road, with its white gravel glistening in the westering sunlight. Far down lay a cottage, which was as clear as if it had been not a score of yards away. Thither a man was walking, a shepherd in his Sabbath clothes, who had been to the country town and was returning laden with many parcels. Distant as it was, the whole scene lay plain before the two. A child, a little girl, ran from the cottage at her father's approach, and clung lovingly to his knee. Then with childish strength she clutched a package, and in another second the pair had entered the house. By some simultaneous impulse both men had directed their eyes to the place and had seen the whole of the little comedy.
And lo! to the other's amazement the tramp's eyes glistened as he looked.
"You do not believe in the domestic virtues?" said the one very slowly.
"Not I," said the tramp. "I have told you that I don't. The essence of social life, civil and domestic, is bearing one another's burdens and sharing one another's pleasures. I am an individualist with all my heart. I grant you things would come to a pretty pass if all were of my way of thinking; but there—it is a matter of temperament, and such temperaments are scarce."
"Is it not," said his interrogator, "the old question whether man or nature is the more productive study? You cannot maintain that these hills afford the same view-ground of character as the city and the bustle of life. I speak solely as a spectator. I do not even ask you to go down and mix with the crowd and taste its life." And there seemed no incongruity in talking thus to the man of the wayside and many tatters.
"No, no," said the other. "God forbid that I should talk so callously of the sorrows and toils of my fellows. I do not seek to scrutinise the character of others. All my concern is with myself. It is not a man's duty to seek out his kind and strive with them and live among them. All that he must do is to play his part well as he may chance upon them. It is not richness and fulness of life that I want. I am not ambitious. Ease, ataraxia, you know, is enough for me."
"But the rewards?" said the one, questioningly.
"Ah, the rewards! You cannot know them." And the man's voice took a new tone. His eyes lit up, and, looking over the darkening valley, he spoke to his comrade many things, and sang in his ear ever so sweetly the "Song of the Open Road." He told of the changes of the season—the rigours of winter, the early flush of spring, the mellow joys of summer, and autumn with her pomp and decay. He told of clear starlit nights, when the hill breezes blow over the moors and the birds wake the sleeper; of windy mornings, when the mist trails from the hills and dun clouds scud across the sky; of long hot days in the heather among the odours of thyme and bog-myrtle and the lark's clear song. Then he changed his tune, and spoke of the old romance of the wayside, that romance which gipsies and wanderers feel, of motion amid rest, of ease in the hurry of the seasons, of progress over the hills and far away, into that land unknown which dawns upon the sight with each new morrow. And he spoke, too, of the human element in it all which is so dear to the man versed in its mysteries, of heroism amid the sordid, the pathetic in the coarse, the kindly in the most repulsive. And as he spoke he grew eloquent with it all, and his hearer marvelled at such words, till he looked away from the rags to the keen, eager face, and then he marvelled no more.
But by this time the darkness had all but come, and the speaker cut himself short, laughing at his own rhetoric.
"Losh, it's comin' on for nicht," he said, speaking broadly, as if to point a contrast, "and time slips by when ye get on the crack. I'll hae to be movin' if I'm to win to Jock Rorison's the nicht. I aye bide wi' Jock, when I'm hereaways, if I dinna sleep ootbye. Will ye be gaun doun the road?"
"Yes, I go by that way too. I'll be glad to accompany you;" and the two went down the winding path together. Overhead the stars, faint with haze, winked and glittered; and below in the valley a light or two shone out from the blue darkness. The soft, fragrant night airs rustled over the heather, and borne on them came the faint twitter of sleepy birds. To one of the pair all seemed so new, so strange, that it was like an excerpt from the caliph's journal. The wondrous natural loveliness around seemed to be a fitting environment for the strange being at his side; and he reflected somewhat ruefully as he walked that what folk call the romance of life springs in the main from people of hot heads and ill-balanced judgments, who seek to put their imperfect, immature little philosophies into action.
They stopped at the first wayside cottage, and the tramp knocked. The door was opened by a grave-faced woman, for in these uplands the sharp air seems to form the human countenance into a passive mould. But at the sight of the man her eyes brightened and she half-offered admittance.
"I'm no comin' in the now," he explained. "I juist ca'ed as I passed to tell ye that as I cam' bye the schule at Callowa', the maister gave me a wheen buiks to tak' to your laddie."
"Thank ye, and it's rale guid o' ye to bring them. He's awfu' keen o' the readin', and gettin' on uncommon weel. It's a wunnerfu' thing eddication; how it mak's a thing different to some folk. But of course you, that never kenned what it was, canna understand it in the same way."
"No," said the tramp humbly, "we canna, but it's a wunnerfu' thing. Na, I'll no come in. Gude nicht," and again they took the road.
By the time they crossed the water the darkness had fairly come, and a bright horn rose behind the pines. Somewhere in thicket a bird sang—no nightingale— and the two men stopped to listen. Beyond lay the little hamlet of a dozen houses, a rambling, tangled clachan, looking grey and ghostlike in the night.
At one door he knocked and a man came, an old man bent with age and toil who greeted them kindly.
"I juist cam' frae your son," the visitor explained. "I gave him a ca' in as I was passin'. He's verra weel, and he bade me tell ye that he's comin' ower the morn's week to see ye. I was to tell ye, tae, that he's sold his hoggs at twenty-seven, and that he's bocht Crichope yins this 'ear."
Again he halted, and this time it was at a very little dwelling somewhat beyond the others, standing alone in its garden of gooseberry and marigold. This time the man who waited at the gate saw a pretty, slim lass stand in the doorway, who blushed at the message which was brought her. For her lover lived many a mile over the hills and saw her but every second Sabbath, so their primitive love-letters were sent by word of mouth. And sometimes there came a present from the market town, and there went back something knitted by the girl's own fair fingers; and so the harmless comedy was played, as it is played and will be played all the world over.
Once more the two went on their way, the one silent, the other humming a light country catch. The mind of the one was occupied with many problems, among them that hard one of the adjustment of a man to his neighbours, and the place of ambition in the scale of the virtues. Somehow or other his pride of intellect, of strength, seemed to be deserting him, and in its place there came a better feeling, humble and kindly, a sense that the world is full of more things than any man has ever writ in black and white.
But now it was the cross-road where their paths were severed. They had known each other a bare hour, and now they were the fastest friends. At parting the one shook the other's hand. "You are a very pretty kind of individualist," he said.
In the southern shires of Scotland, the country between the Forth and the Carlisle Eden, the traveller may see here and there a green scar on a hillside, a broadly-marked tract of grass in a glen of heather, or a fenced strip of no- man's land among orderly meadows. And if he look further he will find that these patches have continuity, and that, though broken by highways and growing villages, they form a clear path, which runs up hill and down dale with no care for obstruction. This is the Drove Road, the way once used more than all the others when market-roads were rough and ill-kept and barred with toll-gates. There are many branches of it. One may find them in every lowland Scottish shire, sometimes to all appearances at cross purposes with one another. But all are feeders of one great central path, running from Falkirk through the shire of Linlithgow, skirting the county of Lanark, passing over the head of Tweeddale into Yarrow, and thence on through the Ettrick and Liddesdale moorlands to the English border.
The history of it goes back to the days when Falkirk Tryst was the great market of Scotland to which resorted drovers and dealers from the South. The crofters of Ross and Sutherland, the sheep-farmers of Inverness, Perth and Argyle, brought their sheep and cattle thither, and men from the Western islands drove herds of little shaggy kyloes to swell the fair and the confusion. Bargains were made amid jabber of Gaelic and much Saxon profanity; and the purchasers took their way with shouting of men and dogs out of the town and over the great drove-road. By this green thoroughfare the herds crossed the Border, by its branches they penetrated into the far lands of Galloway and the West; and though now the noise of the lowing of beast and the cries of man have gone, it still lies silent and barren, a memorial of the unremembered dead.
To-day, what with cattle trucks and reduced fares, the transition of stock is easy and unromantic. It seems scarcely conceivable to us that days, weeks were spent on the road and vast discomfort put upon the drover and his charge ere the graziers of Northumberland could trade with the farmers of Lochaber. Droving in the grand style is a trade for which the demand has ceased, and its former practitioners, if they be still in the land of the living, have gone to swell the ranks of the butchers and shepherds. It was a hard existence, and doubtless, if they have found some easier calling, they do not regret its decease; but it means the loss of one more picturesque, if disorderly, profession,—and the sentimentalist is always with us.
Yet it is but yesterday that it has gone, for the yearly passing of the droves is within the memory of even young men in the Scots lowlands. Many can still be found to bear witness to the light and shadow of the life, to laugh over its humours and lament its decay. And from their tales a vivid picture can be constructed, a patch of rough old-world romance in our somewhat languid civilisation. There were the fairs, held for the most part on the bare moors, the seas of tossing shaggy frontlets, the flocks of black-faced sheep, sore tired with travel, the booths and merry-go-rounds, jugglers and quacks, the collies hovering unceasingly round the outskirts, and the motley concourse of men. The shepherd from the Lews with his dozen words of English chaffered with the sleek Leicestershire grazier. The Highland laird, with his overweening pride of gentrice, rubbed shoulders with the southern farmer. The scum and following of the North fought with the scum and following of the South, and the dogs swelled the tumult. At the darkening there were great fires whereat many slept, and the autumn night was made hideous with carousals. Then when all was over the two races separated, the one with coats buttoned over dirty pocket- books and their Donalds and Malcolms full of whisky and sweet memories, the other to the south by coach, leaving their hired drovers to bring on the purchased herds.
The drovers themselves were a class having grades and distinctions of merit. A man tried and proved would readily find a master, whereas the baser sort were engaged by the poor man, who found that prudence is only consistent with a full purse. These were a daring, godless race, deep drinkers all, fond of brawls and quick as fire to take offence. They were hardy too, sleeping often out-of-doors and enduring the sternest rigours of our uncertain northern weather. I have one before my eyes as I write, a tall oldish man, something between a groom and a grazier, profoundly learned in the ways of horses and dogs, one who had seen something of the world and had tried many trades. His figure was well known, as with his plaid wrapped round his shoulders and his peaked cap pulled over his brow, he drove his flocks into the village in the short autumn twilight. When once these had found shelter in the stackyard of some hospitable farmer, he would seek the public-house, and hold forth to his admirers. To the villagers, before the days of railroads and the penny postage, he was a link of connection with the outer world, a strenuous element in their sleepy lives. Year after year the man would come with his stories, till his step was not so firm nor his eye so clear to watch his charge. Then his journeys would cease, and the drover retire to end his days in the back streets of the city.
As a class they had their good qualities, which one should acknowledge all the more readily for their comparative rarity. They were in general worthy of every confidence, trusty, bold in defending their master s property, unwearying in their toil if aught went amiss. They were kindly after their fashion and would often go far to help one of their number whose luck was worse than their own. Of their dogs they were considerate as only one who knew the value of a good dog could be, and if times were hard they would share their last crust with the companion of so many wanderings. On the other hand, they were certainly the most quarrelsome tribe in existence. Fighting both with fists and knives was an every-day occurrence, not only at great fairs, but at any little halting-place on the way where two of them chanced to foregather. Their drinking bouts were long and deep; they would gamble away their hardly-earned wages in a night; and if they were honest in the main where their master's interests were concerned, the same could not be said of their dealings with one another. The drover was both feared and liked along his way, for if he was open-handed with his money, he would strike down the man who dared to gainsay him; and if he was dangerous in his liquor, at other times he was the most delightful of comrades.
The life of a drover was well-nigh as risky as a blockade-runner's, without the honour. In the days when the trade was at its height, the country was unsettled and blackguards of all descriptions waited on the path of him who was known to have money about his person or goods of value in his charge. The drover's way took him over wild moors where human dwellings were few, so that he was in a far more perilous case than any highway traveller. It was the custom for some dozen of boys and idlers to attend a flock from the town on the first few miles of the road. Here lay the thief's chance. He might talk with the drover, learn of his dealings in the market, and of the direction of his homeward way. If the man were new to the trade, he would soon learn all he wanted, and it would be a matter of conjecture whether that flock ever reached its destination. But this element of peril merely strengthened the bold, vigorous natures among them, so that often a scoundrel found the object of his attentions his match in cunning and a good man of his hands to boot. Many a Homeric combat took place in the solitudes of the roads, with no witness but the dogs and sheep. But this continuous living in danger made many of them hard men, chary of speech, trusting no more than was needful, and believing most folk villains till they proved the contrary. In the inn-kitchen of a night, when the sheep or cattle were safely housed and the hardships of the day's march at an end, it was only to his tried comrades that the drover was confidential. He was quick to glance at any new-comer, drinking silently by himself in the chimney-corner, alert and watchful.
I have heard one story of these days, which borders on the gruesome, but which, coming as it does from the times of Burke and Hare, may very well be true. A drover came from Edinburgh to an inn in Tweeddale, having much money in his breast-pocket, and a following of some half-dozen town good-for-naughts at his heels. He slept the night in a bedroom on the ground floor, locking the door and taking every precaution. In the early morning the innkeeper heard a noise from the place, which made him force the door, and to his horror he found the drover dead, stabbed to the heart. An open window pointed to the means by which death had visited him. The place was lonely. There were no men about save the ostlers, and they had drunk too deeply the night before to be of any use. The city was not twenty miles away, so thither the host set out to tell his tale. He had walked some seven miles of the road, so the story goes, when a gig overtook him in which sat three men. It was one of the old-fashioned farmers conveyances, wide enough to seat four abreast and ponderous as a cart. They stopped and offered him a lift which he gratefully accepted, and he sat down next the middle man of the three. The other two talked gaily and laughed, but the man on his left uttered not one word. They had gone maybe two miles when our friend said casually that "his neebor on the left was verra quiet," and as he spoke looked in his face. With a sickening terror he recognised that it was no other than the man who had been murdered not two hours before in his own house, lashed to the gig and presenting a ghastly semblance of life. With his brain on fire with sheer terror, he dealt the man on his right one tremendous blow, leaped over the wheels, fell headlong, was on his feet in a trice and running homeward for dear life. He reached the inn, and lo! the body of his guest was gone, and from that hour he heard no more of gig or drover.
But now the men have passed away and their memory has gone to add one more to the romances of the old green road. And romance it is in truth, for the men who came there were of all sorts, from broken Highland bonnet-lairds to Tweeddale shepherds. By this path came Rob Roy ere he began his escapades, and while he still was Mr. Robert Campbell, and a decent gentleman-drover. One remembers the inimitable account of his calling which the Baillie gave to Francis Osbaldistone. "Nae name better ken'd between the Lennox and Breadalbane. Robin was anes a weel-doing, pains-taking drover, as ye wad see among ten thousand. It was a pleasure to see him in his belted plaid and brogues, wi' his target at his back, and claymore and dirk at his belt, following a hundred Highland stots, and a dozen o' the gillies, as rough and ragged as the beasts they drave. And he was baith civil and just in his dealings; and if he thought his chapman had made a hard bargain, he wad gie him a luck-penny to the mends. I hae ken'd him gie back five shillings out o' the pund sterling." It was by this way likewise, if all tales be true, that Davie Balfour footed it from Kirk- Essendean to the House o' Shaws to claim his inheritance and set out on his adventures—a raw boy, ill-clad and homely, not yet the friend of Alan Breck, and still unaware of Catriona.
But the tangible relics of the past are few and far apart. Sheep pass by this road on their way to local markets, but it is rarely indeed that flocks come from more distant places. Perhaps once in a while a drove may come, and then it is somewhat belated and out of place. In the old days when great roaring herds of cattle came through the villages, it was a sight worth the seeing. For days, maybe, the Brig of Peebles would be all but blocked, and little boys coming home from school would be sadly delayed and go dinnerless. Now this is gone, and at best you may see a few poor dozen of beasts in front of a towsy man. At night you chance to see a light on the drove-road, and, going near, find that it is the apology for a camp fire, by which the drovers sleep, while their charge lie silent around them. Early in the morning they are gone, and one may wait a score of months for their successors.
So if the human interest of the road lies but in memory, we are perforce driven to the natural side, its protean beauty and the charms which come to it from the "living air and the blue sky." It has been unfilled for centuries. No man possesses it, though all have the right of way and pasture; so its face remains unchanged since cateran and kyloe passed over it. It is not like other roads in avoiding the rough places and skirting hills. It fears but one thing in the world—a peat bog; for the rest it goes straight over the summit of ridges, climbs the barest hillsides, and in general goes as the crow flies across the land. It is this indomitable feature which gives it much of its peculiar charm, for in a short six miles by this path a man may have a taste of as many varieties of scenery. Now it is on the high lands, and the grass is short and springy, the heath deep, and a great grey rock juts up every now and then through a tangle of blackberries and heather. Grouse haunt it, strutting at evening on its slopes; and the hill-sheep stray thither, seeking fresh pasture. Behind and before there is a landscape wide to the eye, and the fresh hill air makes the place a delight to the beholder. I have said that the men who first used it were lavish of human labour, for when by a little detour a steep ridge might have been saved, the road, scorning such compromise, dips from the hill-top sheer down into the glen, and then toils painfully up the further side.
But in a few miles all is changed. We find ourselves in a lowland valley among meadows and green woods, where the road runs evenly between hedges. In such a place too often it tends to merge itself in the highway, but in certain parts it is still intact. Here the grass is ranker, and the cottager's cow makes its living along it. In one place of my acquaintance it plunges into a deep pinewood, and passes through, a green ribbon between inky borders. Rabbits now frequent it, and partridge coveys rise startled from its sides. Often it is clothed with great tracts of whin, which make the way uneasy for the walker. The golden broom, too, in its season flames from the hedgerows, and in spring the grass is white with the petals of the hawthorn. Sometimes in these parts the road suddenly approaches a village, and little cottages spring up beside its track. Then it becomes in the language of the folk a "loan" or "loaning," and the chosen playground of children.
Many are the delights of the place to the man of leisure who has time to linger often by it. The charms of old association are there, a thousand memories of the past, clearer and more tangible than those which attend other relics of age, inasmuch as the past in this instance borders so nearly with the present. Then there are the more peculiar pleasures of the way, which lures a man on to follow its winding course, promising new beauty round every turning. There is a pathetic story of some French prisoners at Peebles, in the opening of the century, who were permitted to take their daily walk to the first milestone on the western road. This lay just before the gorge at Neidpath, so the noble view of the valley, which is got when one has passed it, was not for them. But they, poor fellows, longed so ardently for the forbidden sight, that by a united conspiracy they lifted the milestone and carried it round the corner. So, too, on this drove-road, we are all like these Frenchmen, we cannot rest till we see for ourselves what lies over yon ridge or round yonder clump of trees. So we go on and ever on, heedless of meals and the passing of time. Which is a fact alike in Tweedside topography and the conduct of life. For is not half our action prompted by a restless desire to scan the horizon and look over hill-tops?
One may lie a long summer's day on the grass in perfect quietness, and see nothing but the life of the fields. In spring, if anything, it is somewhat bleak, for the bent is still grey from the winter cold, and the air is often not a little chill. But in summer it is one long strip of El Dorado, the chosen haunt of birds and a very garden of flowers. The long whistle of the curlew and the mellow lark are there, and on the ground underfoot milkwort and eyebright, mountain-pansies yellow and blue, and the little stars of the grass of Parnassus light up the green with colour. The singular, half-acrid smell of the hills is sweetened with languid thyme; and the noise of bees fills the drowsy air. In autumn come the red heather and the black blaeberries, and now is the time of golden and russet tints on leaf and stalk. Then succeeds winter, when all is deserted, when not even a sheep comes thither, but snowdrifts fill the hollows and a sharp frost holds burn and moss.
For the road is deserted as few can be said to be in our populous times. Not many travel by it. You may meet, perhaps, a shepherd striding homewards to some outlying cottage, or a ploughman going to meet his sweetheart. Sometimes even you light on a belated tourist who cares naught for the place and curses its asperity. But for the most part you are left alone to lord it over all in solitary magnificence. But the land is haunted by a thousand memories. Here in this quiet spot they are united and focussed for the wanderer, till the past is inextricably blended with the present. And still a man may fancy that he hears on this green, unvisited way the bleating of sheep, the menace of visionary dogs, and the confused speech of drovers who have long since ceased from their toil.
Iam tristis nucibus puer relictis
Clamoso revocatur a magistro.
SO Martial; and in the quaint-sounding words we may still find much curious meaning. The little scene is outlined for us, the clamant teacher and the reluctant boy dragged wofully back with many a glance at relinquished pleasures. The picture and the phrase are as old as the world, for indeed one may guess that life is one long process of bright holidays, sudden and sharp leave-takings and windy schoolmasters.
The nuces of childhood have passed into such a piece of obvious phrasing that the real truth of the matter is glossed over. One is apt to talk glibly of the pleasures of youth, thinking of it as some hey-day of merriment boisterous and undiscerning. Certain pieces of popular literature have given a sanction to this view of childhood as a boy's game, played lightly and soon forgotten. How false it is one need scarcely tell, for if it were true the poets and romancers of all time must have been in a singular error. The sports and follies of the early period of life are as little the essence of it, as the frivolity of an Antony is a sure index of his heart. If we would seek to find the well-spring of youth, we must needs seek it in more retired places than by the common highway. The staple of childhood is in all likelihood its games; but if these were all, then few would have that longing for its renewal that is supposed to be an every-day thing among us.
"I was driven," says Coleridge in recalling his experience, "from life in motion to life in thought and sensation;" and in this word the master forgot for an instant his penetration. If thought and sensation did not exist in childhood, it would indeed be a colourless and empty stage in our journey, and the sooner we were past it the better. But this is hardly worth the arguing, so palpable it must be to all that one of the dominant charms of the dawn of life lies in its fantastic dreams and vivid sensation. Any one who has known something of child nature has observed the quick curious thought, the strange imagining, the sensitive perception of little things, which lurk in the unformed mind. He may have been puzzled by a shrewd question or amazed by a daring image, or delighted by a phrase which, all unknown to its little maker, has much in it of that quality which men call truth. Or perhaps, if he has gone much abroad with them and had a full confessional, he may have learned how keen are their perceptions of scenery and weather in a thousand nice shades and distinctions.
This in truth is an old commonplace in books. Consilia juventutis, says Bacon, plus divinitatis habent; the thoughts of youth have something more divine about them. Schiller has spoken wise words of the reverence due to the dreams of childhood. Henry Vaughan, the Silurist, in his Retreate, has a true sense of the value of the unfettered thoughts of a boy.
Happy those early days, when I
Shin'd in my Angell infancy,
Before I understood the place
Appointed for my second race,
Or taught my soul to fancy aught
But a white celestial thought,
When yet I had not walked above
A mile or two from my first love.
* * * * *
O how I long to travell back,
And tread again that ancient track
That I might once more reach the plaine,
Where first I left my glorious traine,
From which the Inlightened spirit sees
That shady City of Palme-trees.
Before I understood—this is the key of the whole matter. With a little knowledge and a wide outlook a child sees strange things in the world. The dwellers in this castle of indolence do not busy themselves with reflection, but look about them with a full expectation of great things to be seen and high words to be heard. It is only when the dull time of instruction has set in and ousted the days of wise fancy that this freshness vanishes, and in its place we find a dry body of facts, a bleared vision and a heart with little gaiety. The child lives in a fairyland, and looks for adventure every hour and by every meadow; and if the light of common day is fit for nothing but to show their gold to be dross, why, then, they who dwell always in its hard glare are much to be pitied.
The time of childhood is the time of knight-errantry in thought and action. Prudence is at a discount, and the imagination rules supreme in her neighbour's territory. To any reasonable-minded child the world is a vast enchanter's garden, full of rare sights and brave deeds awaiting his coming. Men and women that he has read of live in his actual world, and every scene is peopled for him with some figure of the story-teller's. A choice uncertainty is never absent from his mind, for how does he know what a day is to bring forth? An older man, to whom all things are fixed in a stiff routine, may have good cause to complain of the monotonous rhythm of life; but in the child's case, it is no ordered music which he hears, but a gay dance, full of starts and variations and quick surprises. The glamour of his fancy is on common things, so that in a curious sense the greatest and the littlest minds are alike; for we have it on the best authority that he is the great poet who can read the trivialities of this existence in the light of another, which is higher and better and afar off.
Nature is the child's first wonder and his most constant playmate. The seasons in their changing bring him a ceaseless round of new fancies; and days and nights conspire together for his delectation. In a garden he has a kingdom of his own, and feels a sense of possession in the neat flower-beds and well- trimmed borders. But once outside of it and he is an adventurer, who sets forth with as fluttering hopes as any Spaniard who went a-hunting for an El Dorado. A wood is a deep dark abode of horrors and delights. The heavy shadows are treasure-houses and the aisles of tree-trunks are always awaiting the fit explorer. In winter the long reaches of barren land, the silence of snow, the ice glittering among rushes awaken dreams of Northmen and wild deeds, of the Snow Queen and her fairy train, and vast, still forests, where the silence is broken only by the falling of leaves. In summer-time among the long-backed moorlands his thoughts take another form. He is all for the old chivalrous tales, for ringing bridles and clattering swords, captive maids and ill-won cattle. Who shall tell the ways of a romantic boy among the quiet hills in the idle days? Autumn, too, when the red is in the woods and he is brought from play in a world lighted by the fires of sunset into the warm hearth and lamp- lit room, is a season of countless memories. He feels the waning of summer more vividly than any of his elders, and anticipates with joy the return of violent weather, for his mind is a medley of pleasant fragments of the past, which he would believe the future about to repeat.
The sea has for him all the magic that it had for the Iceland men who stood by its brink and thought of lands to the westward. The pungent smell of salt air, seaweed on the hull of a ship, the flutter of white sails—these are the emblems of a mighty power which he looks at with bright-eyed wonder. The little ripples of water on the sand are the couriers of that great ocean on which are battles and black piracy, treasure-galleons and far-away summer isles. He sets himself with apish fidelity to go a-cruising on his own account in the garden pond or a little, brackish inlet; and no one can gauge the ecstasy which he may get from two feet of water and a rotten tub. Apart, too, from the mere tradition, he has the keenest delight in the large air and unshackled wind. The long, shifting lines of water, the race of the tides, the arc of sky dipping down to the curve of sea are parcel of his enjoyment. . A boat's track of a morning in the green water is of the essence of romance; a fisherman is a Jason; and he himself when he stands on an outlying rock and looks seaward is no other than Cortes staring from his watch-tower at the Pacific.
In the more shadowy world of books and their creations, the child's outlook is as singularly clear. A tale is not apprehended in its dull truth, but in an airy fashion with all manner of new detail and original scenery. What the little folk desire is the raw stuff of romance, not woven into texture by any man's hand; a bare fabric, to vary the image, which they may adorn as it pleases them. This is the source of the deathless fame of "Crusoe" and the "Arabian Nights," of "Grimm," and the gentlemen who indite facile romances of Indians and slavers. This is why the jewel-work of Andersen is seldom estimated at anything like its worth by a child's mind. Give him the figures and the story and he will furnish the setting. Nay, more; each of his horses will step down from the books and bear him company for weeks. There is no lightly come by, lightly gone; for his loves in literature are cherished so well that they linger long into after days.
Again, in the fantastic associations woven around these bare heroes and inartistic deeds there is often a shrewd guess at the truth. Let me take an instance from memory. There was once a child, who in his youth laid hold of a book of Greek myths and travelled for the first time in that land of gold. The stories held him captive. He dreamed of them night and day; he lived for a time in a world wholly unlike anything that he had ever heard of. Then he was sent to school, where he learned to read the histories which had delighted him in their proper tongues; but somehow the glamour had fled. They were no more to him now than a chapter in the history of England. But in time he became deeply learned in the classical literatures, and was able to enter with wonderful success into the arcana of the study. Then, he has told me, gradually he felt his perceptions grow keener; daily he elicited more beauty; until at last he found himself possessed in some degree of the power of living again in these old times. And to his wonder the truth, which he had reached by a toilsome bypath, was in no way different from the baseless dreams of his boyhood.
The process of romance-making goes on as merrily around such grown-up members of his species as come across his path. A man with an odd face or a strange carriage is straightway the centre of a tale and an episode in the child's life. He is by no means a discriminating person; it is all one to him whether the hero of his creations be a sailor smacking of tar and the sea; a dusty miller; a farmer brown with sun and upland air; or a common tailor's apprentice. It is surprising with how equal a vision a child looks forth on life. He has no unreasoning prejudices—these are the heritage of later days— and few things are common in his eyes. The unconquerable young idealist, with brain on fire and glances in the ends of the earth, makes many a mountain out of a molehill, and (who knows?) perhaps now and then discovers a prince when others see only a pauper.
Nor is it only the more earthy and tangible that he pictures in the show-room of his brain. He dearly loves the vivid world, but he is not averse at times to dreams of another kind. Unsubstantial visions, quaint thoughts, curious gleams of insight and delicacy, and with it all an uncanny mysticism, if one can use a hard word for a thing so simple, go to make up his rag-tag mind. To many children in their fits of thoughtfulness have come sights, like Dante's, of some Beata Beatrix, perhaps the fugitive remembrance of a face dimly seen in a crowd, or perhaps woven only from their fancy. Or perhaps it is a dream of landscape, a garden of the Hesperides, or the Delectable Mountains, where he reigns as king, with his playmates as courtiers; or perhaps something still more distant, a corner of green meadow, an upland glen washed with fresh rains, or a thin ridge of mountain—dim memories which please and perplex his waking thought. No one may fully tell of these figments of the brain; but I should hazard a guess that they make no little part of the nuces of childhood. All children are poets and artists, rhyming in their own way to whimsical music; for human nature, like the fabled statue of Memnon, has many songs at sunrise.
So much for vague speculation. Yet in the disordered crowd of a boy's dreams, we may discern, I fancy, two notable features. He is all for the past, the bond slave of associations, hustled about by every vagrant memory. It is indeed curious to mark how lovingly a child will think on his bygones, recalling every feature of the way he has travelled, and seeking aids to memory in every circumstance of life. Then, again, he is cognisant of the present in an eager, wondering fashion; always on the alert for new experience; a seeker after hid treasure, confident of the issue and flushed with hope. These are, it seems to me, the twin and kindred graces of childhood—bondage to the past, and high expectation for the future.
For, to be the slave of yesterday is, not to speak it flippantly, to be the lord of today and master of to-morrow. To be tenderly affectioned to the past is the surest way of becoming tolerant of the present, and he who has reached this height is not wont to be despondent about the rest of the journey. Which brings us to our second virtue, the fresh, receptive manner of regarding life. Now this is surely a matter of which we may all take heed. A child is not gifted with overmuch judgment, so he must needs be often perplexed with conflicting sensations, experience incommensurate with his mind. We who are somewhat bigger, if in no way better, in mental capacity, have no such evil to fight with; so what hinders us from reaping a richer harvest of impressions? The world is before us, and we have eyes and a makeshift for a brain; and yet we are dull and see only a brick wall instead of a summer garden.
From one of the wisest books of our generation I take a sentence which tells with singular truth the sum of the whole matter. "Surely, the aim of a true philosophy must be, not in futile efforts toward the complete accommodation of man to the circumstances in which he chances to find himself, but in the maintenance of a kind of ingenuous discontent, in the face of the very highest achievement; the unclouded and receptive soul quitting the world finally, with the same fresh wonder with which it had entered it still unimpaired." It is a fatal error to settle on our lees, for the very essence of living is continuous discovery, a divine unrest which would urge a man to make trial of all things, and taste some variety of pain and pleasure.
To put away childish things, like Mr. Worldly Wiseman, is to die before our time, to cut off our resources at their best. Then we shall become a race of cross-grained nonentities, sorrowfully raking among the dust-heaps instead of lifting our eyes to look at the sun. The pageant of life is enacted without our knowing it; the valiant procession goes by and we scarce raise our heads; and at the end we shall be cast into our graves more arid than the headstones. But the man who is childlike in heart to the end will go through the world like a pilgrim in a romantic country, cheerful and singing as he goes. For in truth it is a brave world, full of proud cities and still pastures, woods and waters, noteworthy deeds and great-hearted men; and he who can see no comeliness in it is tenfold worse than the blind man, whom Christian and Hopeful saw groping feebly among the tombs within call of the shepherds and the wholesome hills.
To adopt this childlike view of life is to act to some purpose and with some hope of good return. For the truth lies not in the thing, but in the eye with which we regard it; and as all things are yellow to the jaundiced, so to the hopeful all is golden and many-coloured. One might live in a dismal alley and find food for joy; another in a flower-garden might dwell as in Egyptian darkness. I am tempted to set down a story as an illustration. In Tweeddale there is a trim village, Skirling by name, called by the country-folk Skarlin'. Here some years since there lived an old man, who had remained in the place from his boyhood, and in his later years had lost all continuity of memory. He would take strangers to see the little sights of the hamlet, and treat them, as they went, to his moralising. "Ay," he would say, "it's a bonny bit place. I've nae faut to find wi' 't; but oh! it's no yae half as braw as where I bide mysel';" and on being asked what this favoured spot might be, he would invariably reply, "A place they ca' Skarlin'." So it is with the most of us. We live in a dreary land and bemoan our fates, while all the while the great earth goes on its way, and life—odd, noble, picturesque—surges past, and we never see it.
It is almost enough to drive one out of all patience to hear men, who shut themselves up in cloisters, venting their spleen upon things which they must of necessity know little about. It is but rarely that you find an active, lively man, a drover, a sailor, or a traveller, in the slough of despond. Thus it should be with all of us, if we could but cast the scales from our eyes and look out upon things with clear and faithful hope. But it is never to be, and so we go on dreaming of a new heaven and a new earth, until we waken some fine morning to find our dreams realised—and lo! the change is not in the world but in ourselves.
At next year's end, in a velvet suit,
With a gilt glove on his hand, his foot
In a silken shoe for a leather boot,
Petticoated like a herald,
In a chamber next to an ante-room,
Where he breathed the breath of page and groom,
What he called stink, and they, perfume:
They should have set him on red Berold,
Mad with pride, like fire to manage!
They should have got his cheek fresh tannage
Such a day as to-day in the merry sunshine!
Had they stuck on his fist a rough foot merlin!
Hark! the wind's on the heath at its game!
Oh for a noble falcon-lanner
To flap each broad wing like a banner,
And turn in the wind, and dance like flame!
—Browning: The Flight of the Duchess.
THE thought of death even to the more valiant has in it something of affright and natural terror. Or if this be wanting, as is the case with the more high and valorous natures, there is a certain repugnance, shyness, strangeness, as of one entering upon a difficult and scarcely discerned path. But if one accustom himself to it, this shrinking departs, and the one fear left is that of the trappings and unseemly attendants of the last scene. Indeed, but for these loathly surroundings, the great enemy has few terrors for the better half of mankind.
In past days this modicum of the awful was lessened by the way in which a man met death. It was not the rule for the life's breath to ebb away below a counterpane, or on a bed in the cover of a house. More common was the windy moor, the bustling fray, the deep sea or the grim front of battle. There, one's day was ended with a certain freshness and spirit. There were the surroundings of the clear air and the great wide face of the sky, the heartening of his fellows, and the hot, swift aid of passion. Then it was all by before a thought could be given, and the soul winged its way to whatever might await it unsicklied with the morbid expectation of its release. It was through this that men loved war well and held their lives at a feather's value, and toyed with the great enemy like true cavaliers. The growth of domesticity and funereal anticipation means, alas! the decadence of high valour and brave carelessness. For it is a written law that he who lives some years in a dreadful looking-for of judgment, becomes chicken-hearted and goes whimpering to meet it; whereas, had it come to him by surprise in the ordinary course of life, he would have greeted it like a man.
It may be said, indeed, that such fortitude is but the bravery of ignorance, and that he is the better who meets unflinchingly what he has awaited with fear. But, alas, it is one of the traits of this last and greatest fear that it unnerves and unfits for such wise heroism. Man, whose breath is in his nostrils, has no choice in the matter. Let him once give himself up to this life of morbid contemplation, and his doom is decreed. To think of the latter end is indeed the worst of doctrines, the most pernicious of maxims.
For us now in these days of peace and civilised ease, the violent death is the exception and the slow ebbing the rule. And how to prevent the stream of life from sinking miserably in dust-heaps, and cause it to flow free to the plunge, is a problem which might well gravely concern the greatest. Well for us that the answer is easy and to our hand. Instead of the physical vigilance, we must preserve the activity of mind and spirit. He whose aim is high, whose mark is in the clouds, who presses hot-foot on the race, will make light of the sudden darkness which obscures his aim for the moment, the sudden ditch into which he stumbles ere he can climb up the other side. He has no thought of death. He cares not a jot for negatives when he has the burning positive of fiery energy within him; and, confident of immortality, he lays aside the mortal and passes beneath the archway. And so he goes, not groaning farewells and nevermores, but rather with some gallant and cheerful au revoir—"till I return."
Be sure, says Bacon, that the sweetest canticle is Nunc Dimittis. And sweet it is, as a holiday in the midst of work, as a pause in the course of a long race. But it is only such if the race and the work be there, if the spirit is still willing though the flesh be weak, and the warm impulses of life have never faltered. When a man has once this high spirit, though he be in poverty and rags at his day's ending, though his record is of failure, and his remembrance of sorrow, yet surely will he go to death as to a bridal and sing his canticle among the ashes.
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