Robert Falconer by George MacDonald
Part II.--His Youth
Chapter VI. Dr. Anderson Again.
At the Post-office he procured the desired information at once. Dr. Anderson lived in Union Street, towards the western end of it.
Away went Robert to find the house. That was easy. What a grand house of smooth granite and wide approach it was! The great door was opened by a man-servant, who looked at the country boy from head to foot.
'Is the doctor in?' asked Robert.
'I wad like to see him.'
'Wha will I say wants him?'
'Say the laddie he saw at Bodyfauld.'
The man left Robert in the hall, which was spread with tiger and leopard skins, and had a bright fire burning in a large stove. Returning presently, he led him through noiseless swing-doors covered with cloth into a large library. Never had Robert conceived such luxury. What with Turkey carpet, crimson curtains, easy-chairs, grandly-bound books and morocco-covered writing-table, it seemed the very ideal of comfort. But Robert liked the grandeur too much to be abashed by it.
'Sit ye doon there,' said the servant, 'and the doctor 'ill be wi' ye in ae minute.'
He was hardly out of the room before a door opened in the middle of the books, and the doctor appeared in a long dressing-gown. He looked inquiringly at Robert for one moment, then made two long strides like a pair of eager compasses, holding out his hand.
'I'm Robert Faukner,' said the boy. 'Ye'll min', maybe, doctor, 'at ye war verra kin' to me ance, and tellt me lots o' stories--at Bodyfauld, ye ken.'
'I'm very glad to see you, Robert,' said Dr. Anderson. 'Of course I remember you perfectly; but my servant did not bring your name, and I did not know but it might be the other boy--I forget his name.'
'Ye mean Shargar, sir. It's no him.'
'I can see that,' said the doctor, laughing, 'although you are altered. You have grown quite a man! I am very glad to see you,' he repeated, shaking hands with him again. 'When did you come to town?'
'I hae been at the grammer school i' the auld toon for the last three months,' said Robert.
'Three months!' exclaimed Dr. Anderson. 'And never came to see me till now! That was too bad of you, Robert.'
'Weel, ye see, sir, I didna ken better. An' I had a heap to do, an' a' for naething, efter a'. But gin I had kent 'at ye wad like to see me, I wad hae likit weel to come to ye.'
'I have been away most of the summer,' said the doctor; 'but I have been at home for the last month. You haven't had your dinner, have you?'
'Weel, I dinna exackly ken what to say, sir. Ye see, I wasna that sharp-set the day, sae I had jist a mou'fu' o' breid and cheese. I'm turnin' hungry, noo, I maun confess.'
The doctor rang the bell.
'You must stop and dine with me.--Johnston,' he continued, as his servant entered, 'tell the cook that I have a gentleman to dinner with me to-day, and she must be liberal.'
'Guidsake, sir!' said Robert, 'dinna set the woman agen me.'
He had no intention of saying anything humorous, but Dr. Anderson laughed heartily.
'Come into my room till dinner-time,' he said, opening the door by which he had entered.
To Robert's astonishment, he found himself in a room bare as that of the poorest cottage. A small square window, small as the window in John Hewson's, looked out upon a garden neatly kept, but now 'having no adorning but cleanliness.' The place was just the benn end of a cottage. The walls were whitewashed, the ceiling was of bare boards, and the floor was sprinkled with a little white sand. The table and chairs were of common deal, white and clean, save that the former was spotted with ink. A greater contrast to the soft, large, richly-coloured room they had left could hardly be imagined. A few bookshelves on the wall were filled with old books. A fire blazed cheerily in the little grate. A bed with snow-white coverlet stood in a recess.
'This is the nicest room in the house, Robert,' said the doctor. 'When I was a student like you--'
Robert shook his head,
'I'm nae student yet,' he said; but the doctor went on:
'I had the benn end of my father's cottage to study in, for he treated me like a stranger-gentleman when I came home from college. The father respected the son for whose advantage he was working like a slave from morning till night. My heart is sometimes sore with the gratitude I feel to him. Though he's been dead for thirty years--would you believe it, Robert?--well, I can't talk more about him now. I made this room as like my father's benn end as I could, and I am happier here than anywhere in the world.'
By this time Robert was perfectly at home. Before the dinner was ready he had not only told Dr. Anderson his present difficulty, but his whole story as far back as he could remember. The good man listened eagerly, gazed at the boy with more and more of interest, which deepened till his eyes glistened as he gazed, and when a ludicrous passage intervened, welcomed the laughter as an excuse for wiping them. When dinner was announced, he rose without a word and led the way to the dining-room. Robert followed, and they sat down to a meal simple enough for such a house, but which to Robert seemed a feast followed by a banquet. For after they had done eating--on the doctor's part a very meagre performance--they retired to his room again, and then Robert found the table covered with a snowy cloth, and wine and fruits arranged upon it.
It was far into the night before he rose to go home. As he passed through a thick rain of pin-point drops, he felt that although those cold granite houses, with glimmering dead face, stood like rows of sepulchres, he was in reality walking through an avenue of homes. Wet to the skin long before he reached Mrs. Fyvie's in the auld toon, he was notwithstanding as warm as the under side of a bird's wing. For he had to sit down and write to his grandmother informing her that Dr. Anderson had employed him to copy for the printers a book of his upon the Medical Boards of India, and that as he was going to pay him for that and other work at a rate which would secure him ten shillings a week, it would be a pity to lose a year for the chance of getting a bursary next winter.
The doctor did want the manuscript copied; and he knew that the only chance of getting Mrs. Falconer's consent to Robert's receiving any assistance from him, was to make some business arrangement of the sort. He wrote to her the same night, and after mentioning the unexpected pleasure of Robert's visit, not only explained the advantage to himself of the arrangement he had proposed, but set forth the greater advantage to Robert, inasmuch as he would thus be able in some measure to keep a hold of him. He judged that although Mrs. Falconer had no great opinion of his religion, she would yet consider his influence rather on the side of good than otherwise in the case of a boy else abandoned to his own resources.
The end of it all was that his grandmother yielded, and Robert was straightway a Bejan, or Yellow-beak.
Three days had he been clothed in the red gown of the Aberdeen student, and had attended the Humanity and Greek class-rooms. On the evening of the third day he was seated at his table preparing his Virgil for the next, when he found himself growing very weary, and no wonder, for, except the walk of a few hundred yards to and from the college, he had had no open air for those three days. It was raining in a persistent November fashion, and he thought of the sea, away through the dark and the rain, tossing uneasily. Should he pay it a visit? He sat for a moment,
when his eye fell on his violin. He had been so full of his new position and its requirements, that he had not touched it since the session opened. Now it was just what he wanted. He caught it up eagerly, and began to play. The power of the music seized upon him, and he went on playing, forgetful of everything else, till a string broke. It was all too short for further use. Regardless of the rain or the depth of darkness to be traversed before he could find a music-shop, he caught up his cap, and went to rush from the house.
His door opened immediately on the top step of the stair, without any landing. There was a door opposite, to which likewise a few steps led immediately up. The stairs from the two doors united a little below. So near were the doors that one might stride across the fork. The opposite door was open, and in it stood Eric Ericson.