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   Chapter 10 PETER SIMON.

Warlock o' Glenwarlock By George MacDonald Characters: 10890

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

This man was not a native of the district, but had for some two years now been a dweller in it. Report said he was the son of a small tradesman in a city at no great distance, but, to those who knew him, he made no secret of the fact, that he had been found by such a man, a child of a few months, lying on a pavement of that city, one stormy, desolate Christmas-eve, when it was now dark, with the wind blowing bitterly from the north, and the said tradesman seemingly the one inhabitant of the coldest city in Scotland who dared face it. He had just closed his shop, had carried home to one of his customers a forgotten order, and was returning to his wife and a childless hearth, when he all but stumbled over the infant. Before stooping to lift him, he looked all about to see if there was nobody to do it instead. There was not a human being, or even what comes next to one, a dog in sight, and the wind was blowing like a blast from a frozen hell. There was no help for it: he must take up the child! He did, and carried it home, grumbling all the way. What right had the morsel to be lying there, a trap and a gin for his character, in the dark and the cold? What would his wife say? And what would the neighbours think? All the way home he grumbled.

[Illustration: HE CARRIED IT HOME.]

What happened there, how his wife received him with his burden, how she scolded and he grumbled, how it needed but the one day-the Christmas Day, in which nothing could well be done-to reconcile them to the gift, and how they brought him up, blessing the day when they found him, would be a story fit to make the truehearted of my readers both laugh and cry; but I have not room or time for it.

Of course, as they were in poor circumstances, hardly able indeed, not merely to make both ends meet, but to bring them far enough round the parcel of their necessities to let them see each other, their friends called their behaviour in refusing to hand over the brat to the parish authorities-which they felt as a reflection upon all who in similar circumstances would have done so-utter folly. But when the moon-struck pair was foolish enough to say they did not know that he might not have been sent them instead of the still-born child that had hitherto been all their offspring, this was entirely too much for the nerves of the neighbours in general-that peculiar people always better acquainted with one's affairs, down to his faults and up to his duties, than he is himself. It was rank superstition! It was a flying in the face of Providence! How could they expect to prosper, when they acted with so little foresight, rendering the struggle for existence severer still! They did not reckon what strength the additional motive, what heart the new love, what uplifting the hope of help from on high, kindled by their righteous deed, might give them-for God likes far better to help people from the inside than from the outside. They did not think that this might be just the fresh sting of life that the fainting pair required. To mark their disapproval, some of them immediately withdrew what little custom they had given them: one who had given them none, promised them the whole of hers, the moment they sent the child away; while others, with equal inconsistency, doubled theirs, and did what they could to send them fresh customers: they were a pair of good-natured fools, but they ought not to be let starve! From that time they began to get on a little better. And still as the boy grew, and wanted more, they had the little more. For it so happened that the boy turned out to be one of God's creatures, and it looked as if the Maker of him, who happened also to be the ruler of the world, was not altogether displeased with those who had taken him to their hearts, instead of leaving him to the parish. The child was the light of the house and of the shop, a beauty to the eyes, and a joy in the heart of both. But perhaps the best proof that they had done right, lay in the fact that they began to love each other better from the very next day after they took him in, for, to tell the truth, one cause of their not getting on well, had been that they did not pull well together. Thus we can explain the improvement in their circumstances by reference to merest "natural causes," without having recourse to the distasteful idea that a power in the land of superstition, with a weakness called a special providence, was interested in the matter.

But foolishness such as theirs is apt to increase with years; and so they sent the foundling to the grammar-school, and thence to college-not a very difficult affair in that city. At college he did not greatly distinguish himself, for his special gifts, though peculiar enough, were not of a kind to DISTINGUISH a man much, either in that city or in this world. But he grew and prospered nevertheless, and became a master in one of the schools. His father and mother, as he called them, would gladly have made a minister of him, but of that he would never hear. He lived with them till they died, always bringing home to them his salary, minus only the little that he spent on books. His life, his devotion and loving gratitude, so wrought upon them, that the kingdom of heaven opened its doors to them, and they were the happiest old couple in that city. Of course this was all an accident, for the kingdom of heaven being but a dream, the dignity of natural cause can scarcely conse

nt to work to the end of delusion; but the good natured pair were foolish enough to look upon their miserable foundling as a divine messenger, an angel entertained not for long unawares, and the cause of all the good luck that followed his entrance. They never spent a penny of his salary, but added to it, and saved it up, and when they went, very strangely left all they had to this same angel of a beggar, instead of to their own relations, who would have been very glad of it, for they had a good deal more of their own.

The foundling did not care to live longer in any city, but sought a place as librarian, and was successful. In the family of an English lord he lived many years, and when time's changes rendered it necessary he should depart, he retired to the cottage on the Warlock. There he was now living the quietest of quiet lives, cultivating the acquaintance of but a few-chiefly that of the laird, James Gracie, and the minister of the parish. Among the people of the neighbourhood he was regarded as "no a'thegither there." This judgment possibly arose in part from the fact that he not unfrequently wandered about the fields from morning to night, and sometimes from night to morning. Then he never drank anything worthy of the name of drink-seldom anything but water or milk! That he never ate animal food was not so notable where many never did so from one year's end to another's. As he was no propagandist, few had any notion of his opinions, beyond a general impression that they were unsound.

Cosmo had heard some of the peculiarities attributed to him, and was filled with curious expectation as to the manner of man he was about to meet, for, oddly enough, he had never yet seen him except at a distance; but anxiety, not untinged with awe, was mingled with his curiosity.

Mr. Simon's cottage was some distance up the valley, at an angle where it turned westward. It stood on the left bank of the Warlock, at the foot of a small cliff that sheltered it from the north, while in front the stream came galloping down to it from the sunset. The immediate bank between the cottage and the water was rocky and dry, but the ground on which the cottage stood was soil washed from the hills. There Mr. Simon had a little garden for flowers and vegetables, with a summer seat in which he smoked his pipe of an evening-for, however inconsistent the habit may seem with the rest of the man, smoke he did: slowly and gently and broodingly did the man smoke, thinking a great deal more than he smoked, and making his one pipe last a long time. His garden was full of flowers, but of the most ordinary kinds; rarity was no recommendation to him. Some may think that herein he was unlike himself, seeing his opinions were of the rarest; but in truth never once did Peter Simon, all his life, adopt an opinion because of its strangeness. He never ADOPTED an opinion at all; he believed-he loved what seemed to him true: how it looked to others he concerned himself little.

The cottage was of stone and lime, nowise the less thoroughly built that the stones were unhewn. It was HARLED, that is rough-cast, and shone very white both in sun and moon. It contained but two rooms and a closet between, with one under the thatch for the old woman who kept house for him. Altogether it was a very ordinary, and not very promising abode.

But when they were shown BEN to the parlour, Cosmo was struck with nothing less than astonishment: the walls from floor to ceiling were covered with books. Not a square foot all over was vacant. Even the chimney-piece was absorbed, assimilated, turned into a book-shelf, and so obliterated. Mr. Simon's pipe lay on the hob; and there was not another spot where it could have lain. There was not a shelf, a cupboard to be seen. Books, books everywhere, and nothing but books! Even the door that led to the closet where he slept, was covered over, and, like the mantleshelf, obliterated with books. They were but about twelve hundred in all; to the eyes of Cosmo it seemed a mighty library-a treasure-house for a royal sage.

There was no one in the room when they entered, and Cosmo was yet staring in mute astonishment, when suddenly Mr. Simon was addressing his father. But the door had not opened, and how he came in seemed inexplicable. To the eyes of the boy the small man before him assumed gigantic proportions.

But he was in truth below the middle height, somewhat round-shouldered, with long arms, and small, well-shaped hands. His hair was plentiful, grizzled, and cut short. His head was large and his forehead wide, with overhanging brows; his eyes were small, dark, and brilliant; his nose had a certain look of decision-but a nose is a creature beyond description; his mouth was large, and his chin strong; his complexion dark, and his skin rugged. The only FINE features about him were his two ears, which were delicate enough for a lady. His face was not at first sight particularly attractive; indeed it was rather gloomy-till he smiled, not a moment after; for that smile was the true interpreter of the mouth, and, through the mouth, of the face, which was never the same as before to one that had seen it. After a word or two about the book he had borrowed, the laird took his departure, saying the sooner he left master and pupil to themselves the better. Mr. Simon acquiesced with a smile, and presently Cosmo was facing his near future, not without some anxiety.

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