Robert Falconer by George MacDonald
Part III.--His Manhood
Chapter XIX. The Whole Story.
The men laid their mother's body with those of the generations that had gone before her, beneath the long grass in their country churchyard near Rothieden--a dreary place, one accustomed to trim cemeteries and sentimental wreaths would call it--to Falconer's mind so friendly to the forsaken dust, because it lapt it in sweet oblivion.
They returned to the dreary house, and after a simple meal such as both had used to partake of in their boyhood, they sat by the fire, Andrew in his mother's chair, Robert in the same chair in which he had learned his Sallust and written his versions. Andrew sat for a while gazing into the fire, and Robert sat watching his face, where in the last few months a little feeble fatherhood had begun to dawn.
'It was there, father, that grannie used to sit, every day, sometimes looking in the fire for hours, thinking about you, I know,' Robert said at length.
Andrew stirred uneasily in his chair.
'How do you know that?' he asked.
'If there was one thing I could be sure of, it was when grannie was thinking about you, father. Who wouldn't have known it, father, when her lips were pressed together, as if she had some dreadful pain to bear, and her eyes were looking away through the fire--so far away! and I would speak to her three times before she would answer? She lived only to think about God and you, father. God and you came very close together in her mind. Since ever I can remember, almost, the thought of you was just the one thing in this house.'
Then Robert began at the beginning of his memory, and told his father all that he could remember. When he came to speak about his solitary musings in the garret, he said--and long before he reached this part, he had relapsed into his mother tongue:
'Come and luik at the place, father. I want to see 't again, mysel'.'
He rose. His father yielded and followed him. Robert got a candle in the kitchen, and the two big men climbed the little narrow stair and stood in the little sky of the house, where their heads almost touched the ceiling.
'I sat upo' the flure there,' said Robert, 'an' thoucht and thoucht what I wad du to get ye, father, and what I wad du wi' ye whan I had gotten ye. I wad greit whiles, 'cause ither laddies had a father an' I had nane. An' there's whaur I fand mamma's box wi' the letter in 't and her ain picter: grannie gae me that ane o' you. An' there's whaur I used to kneel doon an' pray to God. An' he's heard my prayers, and grannie's prayers, and here ye are wi' me at last. Instead o' thinkin' aboot ye, I hae yer ain sel'. Come, father, I want to say a word o' thanks to God, for hearin' my prayer.'
He took the old man's hand, led him to the bedside, and kneeled with him there.
My reader can hardly avoid thinking it was a poor sad triumph that Robert had after all. How the dreams of the boy had dwindled in settling down into the reality! He had his father, it was true, but what a father! And how little he had him!
But this was not the end; and Robert always believed that the end must be the greater in proportion to the distance it was removed, to give time for its true fulfilment. And when he prayed aloud beside his father, I doubt not that his thanksgiving and his hope were equal.
The prayer over, he took his father's hand and led him down again to the little parlour, and they took their seats again by the fire; and Robert began again and went on with his story, not omitting the parts belonging to Mary St. John and Eric Ericson.
When he came to tell how he had encountered him in the deserted factory:
'Luik here, father, here's the mark o' the cut,' he said, parting the thick hair on the top of his head.
His father hid his face in his hands.
'It wasna muckle o' a blow that ye gied me, father,' he went on, 'but I fell against the grate, and that was what did it. And I never tellt onybody, nae even Miss St. John, wha plaistered it up, hoo I had gotten 't. And I didna mean to say onything aboot it; but I wantit to tell ye a queer dream, sic a queer dream it garred me dream the same nicht.'
As he told the dream, his father suddenly grew attentive, and before he had finished, looked almost scared; but he said nothing. When he came to relate his grandmother's behaviour after having discovered that the papers relating to the factory were gone, he hid his face in his hands once more. He told him how grannie had mourned and wept over him, from the time when he heard her praying aloud as he crept through her room at night to their last talk together after Dr. Anderson's death. He set forth, as he could, in the simplest language, the agony of her soul over her lost son. He told him then about Ericson, and Dr. Anderson, and how good they had been to him, and at last of Dr. Anderson's request that he would do something for him in India.
'Will ye gang wi' me, father?' he asked.
'I'll never leave ye again, Robert, my boy,' he answered. 'I have been a bad man, and a bad father, and now I gie mysel' up to you to mak the best o' me ye can. I daurna leave ye, Robert.'
'Pray to God to tak care o' ye, father. He'll do a'thing for ye, gin ye'll only lat him.'
'I will, Robert.'
'I was mysel' dreidfu' miserable for a while,' Robert resumed, 'for I cudna see or hear God at a'; but God heard me, and loot me ken that he was there an' that a' was richt. It was jist like whan a bairnie waukens up an' cries oot, thinkin' it 's its lane, an' through the mirk comes the word o' the mither o' 't, sayin', "I'm here, cratur: dinna greit." And I cam to believe 'at he wad mak you a good man at last. O father, it's been my dream waukin' an' sleepin' to hae you back to me an' grannie, an' mamma, an' the Father o' 's a', an' Jesus Christ that's done a'thing for 's. An' noo ye maun pray to God, father. Ye will pray to God to haud a grip o' ye--willna ye, father?'
'I will, I will, Robert. But I've been an awfu' sinner. I believe I was the death o' yer mother, laddie.'
Some closet of memory was opened; a spring of old tenderness gushed up in his heart; at some window of the past the face of his dead wife looked out: the old man broke into a great cry, and sobbed and wept bitterly. Robert said no more, but wept with him.
Henceforward the father clung to his son like a child. The heart of Falconer turned to his Father in heaven with speechless thanksgiving. The ideal of his dreams was beginning to dawn, and his life was new-born.
For a few days Robert took Andrew about to see those of his old friends who were left, and the kindness with which they all received him, moved Andrew's heart not a little. Every one who saw him seemed to feel that he or she had a share in the redeeming duty of the son. Robert was in their eyes like a heavenly messenger, whom they were bound to aid; for here was the possessed of demons clothed and in his right mind. Therefore they overwhelmed both father and son with kindness. Especially at John Lammie's was he received with a perfection of hospitality; as if that had been the father's house to which he had returned from his prodigal wanderings.
The good old farmer begged that they would stay with him for a few days.
'I hae sae mony wee things to luik efter at Rothieden, afore we gang,' said Robert.
'Weel, lea' yer father here. We s' tak guid care o' 'im, I promise ye.'
'There's only ae difficulty. I believe ye are my father's frien', Mr. Lammie, as ye hae been mine, and God bless ye; sae I'll jist tell you the trowth, what for I canna lea' him. I'm no sure eneuch yet that he could withstan' temptation. It's the drink ye ken. It's months sin' he's tasted it; but--ye ken weel eneuch--the temptation's awfu'. Sin' ever I got him back, I haena tasted ae mou'fu' o' onything that cud be ca'd strong drink mysel', an' as lang 's he lives, not ae drap shall cross my lips--no to save my life.'
'Robert,' said Mr. Lammie, giving him his hand with solemnity, 'I sweir by God that he shanna see, smell, taste, nor touch drink in this hoose. There's but twa boatles o' whusky, i' the shape o' drink, i' the hoose; an' gin ye say 'at he sall bide, I'll gang and mak them an' the midden weel acquant.'
Andrew was pleased at the proposal. Robert too was pleased that his father should be free of him for a while. It was arranged for three days. Half-an-hour after, Robert came upon Mr. Lammie emptying the two bottles of whisky into the dunghill in the farmyard.
He returned with glad heart to Rothieden. It did not take him long to arrange his grandmother's little affairs. He had already made up his mind about her house and furniture. He rang the bell one morning for Betty.
'Hae ye ony siller laid up, Betty?'
'Ay. I hae feifteen poun' i' the savin's bank.'
'An' what do ye think o' doin'?'
'I'll get a bit roomy, an' tak in washin'.
'Weel, I'll tell ye what I wad like ye to do. Ye ken Mistress Elshender?'
'Fine that. An' a verra dacent body she is.'
'Weel, gin ye like, ye can haud this hoose, an' a' 'at's in't, jist as it is, till the day o' yer deith. And ye'll aye keep it in order, an' the ga'le-room ready for me at ony time I may happen to come in upo' ye in want o' a nicht's quarters. But I wad like ye, gin ye hae nae objections, to tak Mistress Elshender to bide wi' ye. She's turnin' some frail noo, and I'm unner great obligation to her Sandy, ye ken.'
'Ay, weel that. He learnt ye to fiddle, Robert--I hoombly beg your pardon, sir, Mister Robert.'
'Nae offence, Betty, I assure ye. Ye hae been aye gude to me, and I thank ye hertily.'
Betty could not stand this. Her apron went up to her eyes.
'Eh, sir,' she sobbed, 'ye was aye a gude lad.'
'Excep' whan I spak o' Muckledrum, Betty.'
She laughed and sobbed together.
'Weel, ye'll tak Mistress Elshender in, winna ye?'
'I'll do that, sir. And I'll try to do my best wi' her.'
'She can help ye, ye ken, wi' yer washin', an' sic like.'
'She's a hard-workin' wuman, sir. She wad do that weel.'
'And whan ye're in ony want o' siller, jist write to me. An' gin onything suld happen to me, ye ken, write to Mr. Gordon, a frien' o' mine. There's his address in Lonnon.'
'Eh, sir, but ye are kin'. God bless ye for a'.'
She could bear no more, and left the room crying.
Everything settled at Rothieden, he returned to Bodyfauld. The most welcome greeting he had ever received in his life, lay in the shine of his father's eyes when he entered the room where he sat with Miss Lammie. The next day they left for London.