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   Chapter 40 THE LABOURER.

Warlock o' Glenwarlock By George MacDonald Characters: 24249

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Such power had been accumulated and brought to bear against Glenwarlock, that at length he was reduced almost to the last extremity. He had had to part with his horses before even his crops were all sown, and had therefore dismissed his men, and tried to sell what there was as it stood, and get some neighbouring farmer to undertake the rest of the land for the one harvest left him; but those who might otherwise have bought and cultivated were afraid of offending Lord Lick-my-loof, whose hand was pretty generally seen in the turn of affairs, and also of involving themselves in an unsecure agreement. So things had come to a bad pass with the laird and his household. A small crop of oats and one of potatoes were coming on, for which the laird did what little he could, assisted by Grizzie and Aggie at such times when they could leave their respective charges, but in the meantime the stock of meal was getting low, and the laird did not see where more was to come from.

He and Grizzie had only porridge, with a little salt butter, for two, and not unfrequently the third also of their daily meals. Grizzie for awhile managed to keep alive a few fowls that picked about everywhere, finally making of them broth for her invalid, and persuading the laird to eat the little that was not boiled away, till at length there was neither cackle nor crow about the place, so that to Cosmo it seemed dying out into absolute silence-after which would come the decay and the crumbling, until the castle stood like the great hollow mammoth-tooth he had looked down upon in his dream.

At once he proceeded to do what little could yet be done for the on-coming crops, resolving to hire himself out for the harvest to some place later than Glenwarlock, so that he might be able to mow the oats before leaving, when his father and Grizzie with the help of Aggie would secure them.

Nothing could now prevent the closing of the net of the last mortgage about them; and the uttermost Cosmo could hope for thereafter was simply to keep his father and Grizzie alive to the end of their natural days. Shelter was secure, for the castle was free. The winter was drawing on, but there would be the oats and the potatoes, with what kail the garden would yield them, and they had, he thought, plenty of peats. Yet not unfrequently, as he wandered aimless through the dreary silence, he would be speculating how long, by a judiciously ordered consumption of the place, he could keep his father warm. The stables and cow-houses would afford a large quantity of fuel; the barn too had a great deal of heavy wood-work about it; and there was the third tower or block of the castle, for many years used for nothing but stowage, whose whole thick floors he would thankfully honour, burning them to ashes in such a cause. In the spring there would be no land left them, but so long as he could save the house and garden, and find means of keeping his two alive in them, he would not grieve over that.

Agnes was a little shy of Cosmo-he had been away so long! but at intervals her shyness would yield and she would talk to him with much the same freedom as of old when they went to school together. In his rambles Cosmo would not pass her grandfather's cottage without going in to inquire after him and his wife, and having a little chat with Aggie. Her true-hearted ways made her, next to his father and Mr. Simon, the best comforter he had.

She was now a strong, well-grown, sunburnt woman, with rough hands and tender eyes. Occasionally she would yet give a sharp merry answer, but life and its needs and struggles had made her grave, and in general she would, like a soft cloud, brood a little before she gave a reply. She had by nature such a well balanced mind, and had set herself so strenuously to do the right thing, that her cross seemed already her natural choice, as indeed it always is-of the deeper nature. In her Cosmo always found what strengthened him for the life he had now to lead, though, so long as at any hour he could have his father's company, and saw the old man plainly reviving in his presence, he could not for a moment call or think it hard, save in so far as he could not make his father's as easy as he would.

When the laird heard that his son, the heir of Glenwarlock, had hired himself for the harvest on a neighbouring farm, he was dumb for a season. It was heavy both on the love and the pride of the father, which in this case were one, to think of his son as a hired servant-and that of a rough, swearing man, who had made money as a butcher. The farm too was at such distance that he could not well come home to sleep! But the season of this dumbness, measured by the clock, at least, was but of a few minutes duration; for presently the laird was on his knees thanking God that he had given him a son who would be an honour to any family out of heaven: in there, he knew, every one was an honour to every other!

Before the harvest on the farm of Stanewhuns arrived, Cosmo, to his desire, had cut their own corn, with Grizzie to gather, Aggie to bind, and his father to stook, and so got himself into some measure of training. He found it harder, it is true, at Stanewhuns, where he must keep up with more experienced scythe-men, but, just equal to it at first, in two days he was little more than equal, and able to set his father's heart at ease concerning his toil.

With all his troubles, it had been a blessed time so long as he spent most of the day and every evening in his father's company. Not unfrequently would Mr. Simon make one, seated with them in the old drawing-room or on some hillside, taking wisest share in every subject of talk that came up. In the little council Cosmo represented the rising generation with its new thought, its new consciousness of need, and its new difficulties; and was delighted to find how readily his notions were received, how far from strange they were to his old-fashioned friends, especially his preceptor, and how greatly true wisdom suffices for the hearing and understanding of new cries after the truth. For what all men need is the same-only the look of it changes as its nature expands before the growing soul or the growing generation, whose hunger and thirst at the same time grow with it. And, coming from the higher to the lower, it must be ever in the shape of difficulty that the most precious revelations first appear. Even Mary, to whom first the highest revelation came, and came closer than to any other, had to sit and ponder over the great matter, yea and have the sword pass through her soul, ere the thoughts of her heart could be revealed to her. But Cosmo of the new time, found himself at home with the men of the next older time, because both he and they were true; for in the truth there is neither old nor new; the well instructed scribe of the kingdom is familiar with the new as well as old shapes of it, and can bring either kind from his treasury. There was not a question Cosmo could start, but Mr. Simon had something at hand to the point, and plenty more within digging-scope of his thought-spade.

But now that he had to work all day, and at night see no one with whom to take sweet counsel, Cosmo did feel lonely-yet was it an unfailing comfort to remember that his father was within his reach, and he would see him the next Sunday. And the one thing he had dreaded was spared him-namely, having to share a room with several other men, who might prove worse than undesirable company. For the ex-butcher, the man who was a byword in the country-side for his rough speech, in this showed himself capable of becoming a gentleman, that he had sympathy with a gentleman: he would neither allow Cosmo to eat with the labourers-to which Cosmo himself had no objection, nor would hear of his sleeping anywhere but in the best bedroom they had in the house. Also, from respect to the heir of a decayed family and valueless inheritance, he modified even his own habits so far as almost to cease swearing in his presence. Appreciating this genuine kindness, Cosmo in his turn tried to be agreeable to those around him, and in their short evenings, for, being weary, they retired early, would in his talk make such good use of his superior knowledge as to interest the whole family, so that afterwards most of them declared it the pleasantest harvest-time they had ever had. Perhaps it was a consequence that the youngest daughter, who had been to a boarding-school, and had never before appeared in any harvest-field, betook herself to that in which they were at work towards the end of the first week, and GATHERED behind Cosmo's scythe. But Cosmo was far too much occupied-thinking to the rhythmic swing of his scythe, to be aware of the honour done him. Still farther was he from suspecting that it had anything to do with the appearing of Agnes one afternoon, bringing him a letter from his father, with which she had armed herself by telling him she was going thitherward, and could take a message to the young laird.

The harvest began upon a Monday, and the week passed without his once seeing his father. On the Sunday he rose early, and set out for Castle Warlock. He would have gone the night before, but at the request of his master remained to witness the signing of his will. As he walked he found the week had given him such a consciousness of power as he had never had before: with the labour of his own hands he knew himself capable of earning bread for more than himself; while his limbs themselves seemed to know themselves stronger than hitherto. On the other hand he was conscious in his gait of the intrusion of the workman's plodding swing upon the easy walk of the student.

His way was mostly by footpaths, often up and down hill, now over a moor, now through a valley by a small stream. The freshness of the morning he found no less reviving than in the old boyish days, and sang as he walked, taking huge breaths of the life that lay on the heathery hill-top. And as he sang the words came-nearly like the following. He had never wondered at the powers of the improvvisatore. It was easy to him to extemporize.

Win' that blaws the simmer plaid,

Ower the hie hill's shouthers laid,

Green wi' gerse, an' reid wi' heather,

Welcome wi' yer soul-like weather!

Mony a win' there has been sent

Oot 'aneth the firmament;

Ilka ane its story has;

Ilka ane began an' was;

Ilka ane fell quaiet an' mute

Whan its angel wark was oot.

First gaed ane oot ower the mirk,

Whan the maker gan to work;

Ower it gaed and ower the sea,

An' the warl' begud to be.

Mony ane has come an' gane

Sin' the time there was but ane:

Ane was great an' strong, an' rent

Rocks an' mountains as it went

Afore the Lord, his trumpeter,

Waukin' up the prophet's ear;

Ane was like a steppin' soun'

I' the mulberry taps abune;

Them the Lord's ain steps did swing,

Walkin' on afore his king;

Ane lay doon like scoldit pup

At his feet an' gatna up,

Whan the word the maister spak

Drave the wull-cat billows back;

Ane gaed frae his lips, an' dang

To the earth the sodger thrang;

Ane comes frae his hert to mine,

Ilka day, to mak it fine.

Breath o' God, oh! come an' blaw

Frae my hert ilk fog awa';

Wauk me up, an' mak me strang,

Fill my hert wi' mony a sang,

Frae my lips again to stert,

Fillin' sails o' mony a hert,

Blawin' them ower seas dividin'

To the only place to bide in.

"Eh, Mr. Warlock! is that you singin' o' the Sawbath day?" said the voice of a young woman behind him, in a tone of gentle raillery rather than expostulation.

Cosmo turned and saw Elspeth, his master's daughter already mentioned.

"Whaur's the wrang o' that, Miss Elsie?" he answered. "Arena we tellt to sing an' mak melody to the Lord?"

"Ay, but i' yer hert, no lood oot-'cep' it be i' the kirk. That's the place to sing upo' Sundays. Yon wasna a psalm-tune ye was at!"

"Maybe no. Maybe I was a bit ower happy for ony tune i' the tune-buiks, an' bude to hae ane 'at cam o' 'tsel'!"

"An' what wad mak ye sae happy

-gien a body micht speir?" asked Elspeth, peeping from under long lashes, with a shy, half frightened, sidelong glance at the youth.

She was a handsome girl of the milkmaid type, who wore a bonnet with pretty ribbons, thought of herself as a young lady, and had many admirers, whence she had grown a little bold, without knowing it.

"Ye haena ower muckle at hame to make ye blithe, gien a' be true," she added sympathetically.

"I hae a'thing at hame to make me blithe-'cep' it be a wheen mair siller," answered Cosmo; "but maybe that'll come neist-wha kens?"

"Ay! wha kens?" returned the girl with a sigh. "There's mony ane doobtless wad be ready eneuch wi' the siller anent what ye hae wantin' 't!"

"I hae naething but an auld hoose-no sae auld as lat the win' blaw through't, though," said Cosmo, amused. "But whaur are ye for sae ear, Miss Elsie?"

"I'm for the Muir o' Warlock, to see my sister, the schuilmaister's wife. Puir man! he's been ailin' ever sin' the spring. I little thoucht I was to hae sic guid company upo' the ro'd! Ye hae made an unco differ upo' my father, Mr. Warlock. I never saw man sae altert. In ae single ook!"

She had heard Cosmo say he much preferred good Scotch to would-be English, and therefore spoke with what breadth she could compass. In her head, not-withstanding, she despised everything homely, for she had been to school in the city, where, if she had learned nothing else, she had learned the ambition to APPEAR; of BEING anything she had no notion. She had a loving heart, though-small for her size, but lively. Of what really goes to make a LADY-the end of her aspiration-she had no more idea than the swearing father of whom, while she loved him, as did all his family, she was not a little ashamed. She was an honest girl too in a manner, and had by nature a fair share of modesty; but now her heart was sadly fluttered, for the week that had wrought such a change on her father, had not been without its effect upon her-witness her talking VULGAR, BROAD SCOTCH!

"Your father is very kind to me. So are you all," said Cosmo. "My father will be grateful to you for being so friendly to me."

"Some wad be gien they daured!" faltered Elspeth. "Was ye content wi' my getherin' to ye-to your scythe, I mean, laird?"

"Wha could hae been ither, Miss Elsie? Try 'at I wad, I couldna lea' ye ahin' me."

"Did ye want to lea' me ahin' ye?" rejoined Elsie, with a sidelong look and a blush, which Cosmo never saw. "I wadna seek a better to gether til.-But maybe ye dinna like my han's!"

So far as I can see, the suggestion was entirely irrelevant to the gathering, for what could it matter to the mower what sort of hands the woman had who gathered his swath. But then Miss Elspeth had, if not very pretty, at least very small hands, and smallness was the only merit she knew of in a hand.

What Cosmo might have answered, or in what perplexity between truth and unwillingness to hurt she might have landed him before long, I need not speculate, seeing all danger was suddenly swept away by a second voice, addressing Cosmo as unexpectedly as the first.

They had just passed a great stone on the roadside, at the foot of which Aggie had been for some time seated, waiting for Cosmo, whom she expected with the greater confidence that, having come to meet him the night before, and sat where she now was till it was dark, she had had to walk back without him. Recognizing the voices that neared her, she waited until the pair had passed her shelter, and then addressed Cosmo with a familiarity she had not used since his return-for which Aggie had her reasons.

"Cosmo!" she called, rising as she spoke, "winna ye bide for me? Ye hae a word for twa as weel's for ane. The same sairs whaur baith hae lugs."

The moment Cosmo heard her voice, he turned to meet her, glad enough.

"Eh, Aggie!" he said, "I'm pleased to see ye. It was richt guid o' ye to come to meet me! Hoo's your father, an' hoo's mine?"

"They're baith brawly," she answered, "an' blithe eneuch, baith, at the thoucht o' seein' ye. Gien ye couldna luik in upo' mine the day, he wad stap doon to the castle. Sin' yesterday mornin' the laird, Grizzie tells me, hasna ristit a minute in ae place,'cep' in his bed. What for camna ye thestreen?"

As he was answering her question, Aggie cast a keen searching look at his companion: Elsie's face was as red as fire could have reddened it, and tears of vexation were gathering in her eyes. She turned her head away and bit her lip.

The two girls were hardly acquainted, nor would Elsie have dreamed of familiarity with the daughter of a poor cotter. Aggie seemed much farther below her, than she below the young laird of Glenwarlock. Yet here was the rude girl addressing him as Cosmo-with the boldness of a sister, in fact! and he taking it as matter of course, and answering in similar style! It was unnatural! Indignation grew fierce within her. What might she not have waked in him before they parted but for this shameless hussey!

"Ye'll be gaein' to see yer sister, Miss Elsie?" said Agnes, after a moment's pause.

Elspeth kept her head turned away, and made her no answer. Aggie smiled to herself, and reverting to Cosmo, presently set before him a difficulty she had met with in her algebra, a study which, at such few times as she could spare, she still prosecuted with the help of Mr. Simon. So Elsie, who understood nothing of the subject, was thrown out. She dropped a little behind, and took the role of the abandoned one. When Cosmo saw this, he stopped, and they waited for her. When she came up,

"Are we gaein' ower fest for ye, Miss Elsie?" he said.

"Not at all;" she answered, English again; "I can walk as fast as any one."

Cosmo turned to Aggie and said,

"Aggie, we're i' the wrang. We had no richt to speik aboot things 'at only twa kent, whan there was three walkin' thegither.-Ye see, Miss Elsie, her an' me was at the schuil thegither, an' we happent to tak' up wi' the same kin' o' thing, partic'larly algebra an' geometry, an' can ill haud oor tongues frae them whan we forgather. The day, it's been to the prejudice o' oor mainners, an' I beg ye to owerluik it."

"I didn't think it was profitable conversation for the Sabbath day," said Elsie, with a smile meant to be chastened, but which Aggie took for bitter, and laughed in her sleeve. A few minutes more and the two were again absorbed, this time with a point in conic sections, on which Aggie professed to require enlightenment, and again Elsie was left out. Nor did this occur either through returning forgetfulness on the part of Aggie; or the naturally strong undertow of the tide of science in her brain. Once more Elsie adopted the NEGLECTED role, but being allowed to play it in reality, dropped farther and farther behind, until its earnest grew heavy on her soul, and she sat down by the roadside and wept-then rising in anger, turned back, and took another way to the village.

Poor girl-heart! How many tears do not fancies doomed to pass cost those who give them but as it were a night's lodging! And the tears are bitter enough, although neither the love, nor therefore the sorrow, may have had time to develop much individuality. One fairest soap-bubble, one sweetly devised universe vanishes with those tears; and it may be never another is blown with so many colours, and such enchanting changes! What is the bubble but air parted from the air, individualized by thinnest skin of slightly glutinous water! Does not swift comfort and ready substitution show first love rather, the passion between man and woman than between a man and a woman? How speedily is even a Romeo consoled to oblivion for the loss of a Rosaline by the gain of a Juliet! And yet I mourn over even such evanishment; mourn although I know that the bubble of paradise, swift revolving to annihilation, is never a wasted thing: its influence, its educating power on the human soul, which must at all risks be freed of its shell and taught to live, remains in that soul, to be, I trust, in riper worlds, an eternal joy. At the same time therefore I would not be too sad over such as Elsie, now seated by a little stream, in a solitary hollow, alone with her mortification-bathing her red eyes with her soaked handkerchief, that she might appear without danger of inquisition before the sister whom marriage had not made more tender, or happiness more sympathetic.

But how is it that girls ready to cry more than their eyes out for what they call love when the case is their own, are so often hard-hearted when the case is that of another? There is something here to be looked into-if not by an old surmiser, yet by the young women themselves! Why are such relentless towards every slightest relaxation of self restraint, who would themselves dare not a little upon occasion? Here was Agnes, not otherwise an ill-natured girl, positively exultant over Elsie's discomfiture and disappearance! The girl had done her no wrong, and she had had her desire upon her: she had defeated her, and was triumphant; yet this was how she talked of her to her own inner ear: "The impident limmer!-makin' up til a gentleman like oor laird 'at is to be! Cudna he be doon a meenute but she maun be upon 'im to devoor 'im! -an' her father naething but the cursin' flesher o' Stanedyhes! -forby 'at a'body kens she was promised to Jock Rantle, the mason lad, an wad hae hed him, gien the father o' her hadna sworn at them that awfu' 'at naither o' them daured gang a fit further! Gien I had loed a lad like Jock, wad I hae latten him gang for a screed o' ill words! They micht hae sworn 'at likit for me! I wad ha latten them sweir! Na, na! Cosmo's for Elsie's betters!"

Elsie appeared no more in any field that season-staid at Muir o'

Warlock, indeed, till the harvest was over.

But what a day was that Sunday to Cosmo! Labour is the pursuivant of joy to prepare the way before him. His father received him like a king come home with victory. And was he not a king? Did not the Lord say he was a king, because he came into the world to bear witness to the truth?

They walked together to church-and home again as happy as two boys let out of school-home to their poor dinner of new potatoes and a little milk, the latter brought by Aggie with her father's compliments "to his lairdship," as Grizzie gave the message. What! was I traitor bad enough to call it a poor dinner? Truth and Scotland forgive me, for I know none so good! And after their dinner immediately, for there was no toddy now for the laird, they went to the drawing-room-an altogether pleasant place now in the summer, and full of the scent of the homely flowers Grizzie arranged in the old vases on the chimney-piece-and the laird laid himself down on the brocade-covered sofa, and Cosmo sat close beside him on a low chair, and talked, and told him this and that, and read to him, till at last the old man fell asleep, and then Cosmo, having softly spread a covering upon him, sat brooding over things sad and pleasant, until he too fell asleep, to be with Joan in his dreams.

At length the harvest was over, and Cosmo went home again, and in poverty-stricken Castle Warlock dwelt the most peaceful, contented household imaginable. But in it reigned a stillness almost awful. So great indeed was the silence that Grizzie averred she had to make much more noise than needful about her affairs that she might not hear the ghosts. She did not mind them, she said, at night; they were natural then; but it was UGSOME to hear them in the daytime! The poorer their fare, the more pains Grizzie took to make it palatable. The gruel the laird now had always for his supper, was cooked with love rather than fuel. With what a tender hand she washed his feet! What miracles of the laundress-art were the old shirts he wore! Now that he had no other woman to look after him, she was to him like a mother to a delicate child, in all but the mother's familiarity. But the cloud was cold to her also; she seldom rimed now; and except when unusually excited, never returned a sharp answer.

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