Robert Falconer by George MacDonald
Part II.--His Youth
Chapter XXI. Shargar Aspires.
Robert's heart was dreary when he got on the box-seat of the mail-coach at Rothieden--it was yet drearier when he got down at The Royal Hotel in the street of Ben Accord--and it was dreariest of all when he turned his back on Ericson's, and entered his own room at Mrs. Fyvie's.
Shargar had met him at the coach. Robert had scarcely a word to say to him. And Shargar felt as dreary as Robert when he saw him sit down, and lay his head on the table without a word.
'What's the maitter wi' ye, Robert?' he faltered out at last. 'Gin ye dinna speyk to me, I'll cut my throat. I will, faith!'
'Haud yer tongue wi' yer nonsense, Shargar. Mr. Ericson's deein'.'
'O lord!' said Shargar, and said nothing more for the space of ten minutes.
Then he spoke again--slowly and sententiously.
'He hadna you to tak care o' him, Robert. Whaur is he?'
'At The Boar's Heid.'
'That's weel. He'll be luikit efter there.'
'A body wad like to hae their ain han' in 't, Shargar.'
'Ay. I wiss we had him here again.'
The ice of trouble thus broken, the stream of talk flowed more freely.
'Hoo are ye gettin' on at the schule, man?' asked Robert.
'Nae that ill,' answered Shargar. 'I was at the heid o' my class yesterday for five meenits.'
'An' hoo did ye like it?'
'Man, it was fine. I thocht I was a gentleman a' at ance.'
'Haud ye at it, man,' said Robert, as if from the heights of age and experience, 'and maybe ye will be a gentleman some day.'
'Is 't poassible, Robert? A crater like me grow intil a gentleman?' said Shargar, with wide eyes.
'What for no?' returned Robert.
'Eh, man!' said Shargar.
He stood up, sat down again, and was silent.
'For ae thing,' resumed Robert, after a pause, during which he had been pondering upon the possibilities of Shargar's future--'for ae thing, I doobt whether Dr. Anderson wad hae ta'en ony fash aboot ye, gin he hadna thocht ye had the makin' o' a gentleman i' ye.'
'Eh, man!' said Shargar.
He stood up again, sat down again, and was finally silent.
Next day Robert went to see Dr. Anderson, and told him about Ericson. The doctor shook his head, as doctors have done in such cases from ∆sculapius downwards. Robert pressed no further questions.
'Will he be taken care of where he is?' asked the doctor.
'Guid care o',' answered Robert.
'Has he any money, do you think?'
'I hae nae doobt he has some, for he's been teachin' a' the summer. The like o' him maun an' will work whether they're fit or no.'
'Well, at all events, you write, Robert, and give him the hint that he's not to fash himself about money, for I have more than he'll want. And you may just take the hint yourself at the same time, Robert, my boy,' he added in, if possible, a yet kinder tone.
Robert's way of showing gratitude was the best way of all. He returned kindness with faith.
'Gin I be in ony want, doctor, I'll jist rin to ye at ance. An' gin I want ower muckle ye maun jist say na.'
'That's a good fellow. You take things as a body means them.'
'But hae ye naething ye wad like me to do for ye this session, sir?'
'No. I won't have you do anything but your own work. You have more to do than you had last year. Mind your work; and as often as you get tired over your books, shut them up and come to me. You may bring Shargar with you sometimes, but we must take care and not make too much of him all at once.'
'Ay, ay, doctor. But he's a fine crater, Shargar, an' I dinna think he'll be that easy to blaud. What do you think he's turnin' ower i' that reid heid o' his noo?'
'I can't tell that. But there's something to come out of the red head, I do believe. What is he thinking of?'
'Whether it be possible for him ever to be a gentleman. Noo I tak that for a good sign i' the likes o' him.'
'No doubt of it. What did you say to him?'
'I tellt him 'at hoo I didna think ye wad hae ta'en sae muckle fash gin ye hadna had some houps o' the kin' aboot him.'
'You said well. Tell him from me that I expect him to be a gentleman. And by the way, Robert, do try a little, as I think I said to you once before, to speak English. I don't mean that you should give up Scotch, you know.'
'Weel, sir, I hae been tryin'; but what am I to do whan ye speyk to me as gin ye war my ain father? I canna min' upo' a word o' English whan ye do that.'
Dr. Anderson laughed, but his eyes glittered.
Robert found Shargar busy over his Latin version. With a 'Weel, Shargar,' he took his books and sat down. A few moments after, Shargar lifted his head, stared a while at Robert, and then said,
'Duv you railly think it, Robert?'
'Think what? What are ye haverin' at, ye gowk?'
'Duv ye think 'at I ever could grow intil a gentleman?'
'Dr. Anderson says he expecs 't o' ye.'
A long pause followed, and Shargar spoke again.
'Hoo am I to begin, Robert?'
'To be a gentleman.'
Robert scratched his head, like Brutus, and at length became oracular.
'Speyk the truth,' he said.
'I'll do that. But what aboot--my father?'
'Naebody 'ill cast up yer father to ye. Ye need hae nae fear o' that.'
'My mither, than?' suggested Shargar, with hesitation.
'Ye maun haud yer face to the fac'.'
'Ay, ay. But gin they said onything, ye ken--aboot her.'
'Gin ony man-body says a word agen yer mither, ye maun jist knock him doon upo' the spot.'
'But I michtna be able.'
'Ye could try, ony gait.'
'He micht knock me down, ye ken.'
'Weel, gae doon than.'
This was all the instruction Robert ever gave Shargar in the duties of a gentleman. And I doubt whether Shargar sought further enlightenment by direct question of any one. He worked harder than ever; grew cleanly in his person, even to fastidiousness; tried to speak English; and a wonderful change gradually, but rapidly, passed over his outer man. He grew taller and stronger, and as he grew stronger, his legs grew straighter, till the defect of approximating knees, the consequence of hardship, all but vanished. His hair became darker, and the albino look less remarkable, though still he would remind one of a vegetable grown in a cellar.
Dr. Anderson thought it well that he should have another year at the grammar-school before going to college.--Robert now occupied Ericson's room, and left his own to Shargar.
Robert heard every week from Miss St. John about Ericson. Her reports varied much; but on the whole he got a little better as the winter went on. She said that the good women at The Boar's Head paid him every attention: she did not say that almost the only way to get him to eat was to carry him delicacies which she had prepared with her own hands.
She had soon overcome the jealousy with which Miss Letty regarded her interest in their guest, and before many days had passed she would walk into the archway and go up to his room without seeing any one, except the sister whom she generally found there. By what gradations their intimacy grew I cannot inform my reader, for on the events lying upon the boundary of my story, I have received very insufficient enlightenment; but the result it is easy to imagine. I have already hinted at an early disappointment of Miss St. John. She had grown greatly since, and her estimate of what she had lost had altered considerably in consequence. But the change was more rapid after she became acquainted with Ericson. She would most likely have found the young man she thought she was in love with in the days gone by a very commonplace person now. The heart which she had considered dead to the world had, even before that stormy night in the old house, begun to expostulate against its owner's mistake, by asserting a fair indifference to that portion of its past history. And now, to her large nature the simplicity, the suffering, the patience, the imagination, the grand poverty of Ericson, were irresistibly attractive. Add to this that she became his nurse, and soon saw that he was not indifferent to her--and if she fell in love with him as only a full-grown woman can love, without Ericson's lips saying anything that might not by Love's jealousy be interpreted as only of grateful affection, why should she not?
And what of Marjory Lindsay? Ericson had not forgotten her. But the brightest star must grow pale as the sun draws near; and on Ericson there were two suns rising at once on the low sea-shore of life whereon he had been pacing up and down moodily for three-and-twenty years, listening evermore to the unprogressive rise and fall of the tidal waves, all talking of the eternal, all unable to reveal it--the sun of love and the sun of death. Mysie and he had never met. She pleased his imagination; she touched his heart with her helplessness; but she gave him no welcome to the shrine of her beauty: he loved through admiration and pity. He broke no faith to her; for he had never offered her any save in looks, and she had not accepted it. She was but a sickly plant grown in a hot-house. On his death-bed he found a woman a hiding-place from the wind, a covert from the tempest, the shadow of a great rock in a weary land! A strong she-angel with mighty wings, Mary St. John came behind him as he fainted out of life, tempered the burning heat of the Sun of Death, and laid him to sleep in the cool twilight of her glorious shadow. In the stead of trouble about a wilful, thoughtless girl, he found repose and protection and motherhood in a great-hearted woman.
For Ericson's sake, Robert made some effort to preserve the acquaintance of Mr. Lindsay and his daughter. But he could hardly keep up a conversation with Mr. Lindsay, and Mysie showed herself utterly indifferent to him even in the way of common friendship. He told her of Ericson's illness: she said she was sorry to hear it, and looked miles away. He could never get within a certain atmosphere of--what shall I call it? avertedness that surrounded her. She had always lived in a dream of unrealities; and the dream had almost devoured her life.
One evening Shargar was later than usual in coming home from the walk, or ramble rather, without which he never could settle down to his work. He knocked at Robert's door.
'Whaur do ye think I've been, Robert?'
'Hoo suld I ken, Shargar?' answered Robert, puzzling over a problem.
'I've been haein' a glaiss wi' Jock Mitchell.'
'Wha's Jock Mitchell?'
'My brither Sandy's groom, as I tellt ye afore.'
'Ye dinna think I can min' a' your havers, Shargar. Whaur was the comin' gentleman whan ye gaed to drink wi' a chield like that, wha, gin my memory serves me, ye tauld me yersel' was i' the mids o' a' his maister's deevilry?'
'Yer memory serves ye weel eneuch to be doon upo' me,' said Shargar. 'But there's a bit wordy 'at they read at the cathedral kirk the last Sunday 'at's stucken to me as gin there was something by ordinar' in 't.'
'What's that?' asked Robert, pretending to go on with his calculations all the time.
'Ow, nae muckle; only this: "Judge not, that ye be not judged."--I took a lesson frae Jeck the giant-killer, wi' the Welsh giant--was 't Blunderbore they ca'd him?--an' poored the maist o' my glaiss doon my breist. It wasna like ink; it wadna du my sark ony ill.'
'But what garred ye gang wi' 'im at a'? He wasna fit company for a gentleman.'
'A gentleman 's some saft gin he be ony the waur o' the company he gangs in till. There may be rizzons, ye ken. Ye needna du as they du. Jock Mitchell was airin' Reid Rorie an' Black Geordie. An' says I--for I wantit to ken whether I was sic a breme-buss (broom-bush) as I used to be--says I, "Hoo are ye, Jock Mitchell?" An' says Jock, "Brawly. Wha the deevil are ye?" An' says I, "Nae mair o' a deevil nor yersel', Jock Mitchell, or Alexander, Baron Rothie, either--though maybe that's no little o' ane." "Preserve me!" cried Jock, "it's Shargar."--"Nae mair o' that, Jock," says I. "Gin I bena a gentleman, or a' be dune,"--an' there I stack, for I saw I was a muckle fule to lat oot onything o' the kin' to Jock. And sae he seemed to think, too, for he brak oot wi' a great guffaw; an' to win ower 't, I jined, an' leuch as gin naething was farrer aff frae my thochts than ever bein' a gentleman. "Whaur do ye pit up, Jock?" I said. "Oot by here," he answert, "at Luckie Maitlan's."--"That's a queer place for a baron to put up, Jock," says I. "There's rizzons," says he, an' lays his forefinger upo' the side o' 's nose, o' whilk there was hardly eneuch to haud it ohn gane intil the opposit ee. "We're no far frae there," says I--an' deed I can hardly tell ye, Robert, what garred me say sae, but I jist wantit to ken what that gentleman-brither o' mine was efter; "tak the horse hame," says I--"I'll jist loup upo' Black Geordie--an' we'll hae a glaiss thegither. I'll stan' treat." Sae he gae me the bridle, an' I lap on. The deevil tried to get a moufu' o' my hip, but, faith! I was ower swack for 'im; an' awa we rade.'
'I didna ken 'at ye cud ride, Shargar.'
'Hoots! I cudna help it. I was aye takin' the horse to the watter at The Boar's Heid, or The Royal Oak, or Lucky Happit's, or The Aucht an' Furty. That's hoo I cam to ken Jock sae weel. We war guid eneuch frien's whan I didna care for leein' or sweirin', an' sic like.'
'And what on earth did ye want wi' 'im noo?'
'I tell ye I wantit to ken what that ne'er-do-weel brither o' mine was efter. I had seen the horses stan'in' aboot twa or three times i' the gloamin'; an' Sandy maun be aboot ill gin he be aboot onything.'
'What can 't maitter to you, Shargar, what a man like him 's aboot?'
'Weel, ye see, Robert, my mither aye broucht me up to ken a' 'at fowk was aboot, for she said ye cud never tell whan it micht turn oot to the weelfaur o' yer advantage--gran' words!--I wonner whaur she forgathert wi' them. But she was a terrible wuman, my mither, an' kent a heap o' things--mair nor 'twas gude to ken, maybe. She gaed aboot the country sae muckle, an' they say the gipsies she gaed amang 's a dreadfu' auld fowk, an' hae the wisdom o' the Egyptians 'at Moses wad hae naething to do wi'.'
'Whaur is she noo?'
'I dinna ken. She may turn up ony day.'
'There's ae thing, though, Shargar: gin ye want to be a gentleman, ye maunna gang keekin' that gate intil ither fowk's affairs.'
'Weel, I maun gie 't up. I winna say a word o' what Jock Mitchell tellt me aboot Lord Sandy.'
'Ow, say awa'.'
'Na, na; ye wadna like to hear aboot ither fowk's affairs. My mither tellt me he did verra ill efter Watterloo till a fremt (stranger) lass at Brussels. But that's neither here nor there. I maun set aboot my version, or I winna get it dune the nicht.'
'What is Lord Sandy after? What did the rascal tell you? Why do you make such a mystery of it?' said Robert, authoritatively, and in his best English.
''Deed I cudna mak naething o' 'm. He winkit an' he mintit (hinted) an' he gae me to unnerstan' 'at the deevil was efter some lass or ither, but wha--my lad was as dumb 's the graveyard about that. Gin I cud only win at that, maybe I cud play him a plisky. But he coupit ower three glasses o' whusky, an' the mair he drank the less he wad say. An' sae I left him.'
'Well, take care what you're about, Shargar. I don't think Dr. Anderson would like you to be in such company,' said Robert; and Shargar departed to his own room and his version.
Towards the end of the session Miss St. John's reports of Ericson were worse. Yet he was very hopeful himself, and thought he was getting better fast. Every relapse he regarded as temporary; and when he got a little better, thought he had recovered his original position. It was some relief to Miss St. John to communicate her anxiety to Robert.
After the distribution of the prizes, of which he gained three, Robert went the same evening to visit Dr. Anderson, intending to go home the next day. The doctor gave him five golden sovereigns--a rare sight in Scotland. Robert little thought in what service he was about to spend them.