Sir Gibbie by George MacDonald
Chapter XXXIV. Glashruach.
As soon as Gibbie had found a stall for Crummie, and thrown a great dinner before her, he turned and sped back the way he had come: there was no time to lose if he would have the bridge to cross the Lorrie by; and his was indeed the last foot that ever touched it. Guiding himself by well-known points yet salient, for he knew the country perhaps better than any man born and bred in it, he made straight for Glashgar, itself hid in the rain. Now wading, now swimming, now walking along the top of a wall, now caught and baffled in a hedge, Gibbie held stoutly on. Again and again he got into a current, and was swept from his direction, but he soon made his lee way good, and at length clear of the level water, and with only the torrents to mind, seated himself on a stone under a rock a little way up the mountain. There he drew from his pocket the putty-like mass to which the water had reduced the cakes with which it was filled, and ate it gladly, eyeing from his shelter the slanting lines of the rain, and the rushing sea from which he had just emerged. So lost was the land beneath the water, that he had to think to be certain under which of the roofs, looking like so many foundered Noah's arks, he had left his father and mother. Ah! yonder were cattle!--a score of heads, listlessly drifting down, all the swim out of them, their long horns, like bits of dry branches, knocking together! There was a pig, and there another! And, alas! yonder floated half a dozen helpless sponges of sheep!
At sight of these last he started to his feet, and set off up the hill. It was not so hard a struggle as to cross the water, but he had still to get to the other side of several torrents far more dangerous than any current he had been in. Again and again he had to ascend a long distance before he found a possible place to cross at; but he reached the fold at last.
It was in a little valley opening on that where lay the tarn. Swollen to a lake, the waters of it were now at the very gate of the pen. For a moment he regretted he had not brought Oscar, but the next he saw that not much could with any help have been done for the sheep, beyond what they could, if at liberty, do for themselves. Left where they were they would probably be drowned; if not they would be starved; but if he let them go, they would keep out of the water, and find for themselves what food and shelter were to be had. He opened the gate, drove them out, and a little way up the hill and left them.
By this time it was about two o'clock, and Gibbie was very hungry. He had had enough of the water for one day, however, and was not inclined to return to the Mains. Where could he get something to eat? If the cottage were still standing--and it might be--he would find plenty there. He turned towards it. Great was his pleasure when, after another long struggle, he perceived that not only was the cottage there, but the torrent gone: either the flow from the mountain had ceased, or the course of the water had been diverted. When he reached the Glashburn, which lay between him and the cottage, he saw that the torrent had found its way into it, probably along with others of the same brood, for it was frightfully swollen, and went shooting down to Glashruach like one long cataract. He had to go a great way up before he could cross it.
When at length he reached home, he discovered that the overshooting stream must have turned aside very soon after they left, for the place was not much worse than then. He swept out the water that lay on the floor, took the dryest peats he could find, succeeded with the tinder-box and sulphur-match at the first attempt, lighted a large fire, and made himself some water-brose--which is not only the most easily cooked of dishes, but is as good as any for a youth of capacity for strong food.
His hunger appeased, he sat resting in Robert's chair, gradually drying; and falling asleep, slept for an hour or so. When he woke, he took his New Testament from the crap o' the wa', and began to read.
Of late he had made a few attempts upon one and another of the Epistles, but, not understanding what he read, had not found profit, and was on the point of turning finally from them for the present, when his eye falling on some of the words of St. John, his attention was at once caught, and he had soon satisfied himself, to his wonder and gladness, that his First Epistle was no sealed book any more than his Gospel. To the third chapter of that Epistle he now turned, and read until he came to these words: "Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren."
"What learned him that?" said Gibbie to himself; Janet had taught him to search the teaching of the apostles for what the Master had taught them. He thought and thought, and at last remembered "This is my commandment, that ye love one another as I have loved you."
"And here am I," said Gibbie to himself, "sittin' here in idleseat, wi' my fire, an' my brose, an' my Bible, and a' the warl' aneath Glashgar lyin' in a speat (flood)! I canna lay doon my life to save their sowls; I maun save for them what I can--it may be but a hen or a calf. I maun dee the warks o' him 'at sent me--he's aye savin' at men."
The Bible was back in its place, and Gibbie out of the door the same moment. He had not an idea what he was going to do. All he yet understood was, that he must go down the hill, to be where things might have to be done--and that before the darkness fell. He must go where there were people. As he went his heart was full of joy, as if he had already achieved some deliverance. Down the hill he went singing and dancing. If mere battle with storm was a delight to the boy, what would not a mortal tussle with the elements for the love of men be? The thought itself was a heavenly felicity, and made him "happy as a lover."
His first definitely directive thought was, that his nearest neighbours were likely enough to be in trouble--"the fowk at the muckle hoose." He would go thither straight.
Glashruach, as I have already said, stood on one of the roots of Glashgar, where the mountain settles down into the valley of the Daur. Immediately outside its principal gate ran the Glashburn; on the other side of the house, within the grounds, ran a smaller hill-stream, already mentioned as passing close under Ginevra's window. Both these fell into the Lorrie. Between them the mountain sloped gently up for some little distance, clothed with forest. On the side of the smaller burn, however, the side opposite the house, the ground rose abruptly. There also grew firs, but the soil was shallow, with rock immediately below, and they had not come to much. Straight from the mountain, between the two streams, Gibbie approached the house, through larches and pines, raving and roaring in the wind. As he drew nearer, and saw how high the house stood above the valley and its waters, he began to think he had been foolish in coming there to find work; but when he reached a certain point whence the approach from the gate was visible, he started, stopped and stared. He rubbed his eyes. No; he was not asleep and dreaming by the cottage fire; the wind was about him, and the firs were howling and hissing; there was the cloudy mountain, with the Glashburn, fifty times its usual size, darting like brown lightning from it; but where was the iron gate with its two stone pillars, crested with wolf's-heads? where was the bridge? where was the wall, and the gravelled road to the house? Had he mistaken his bearings? was he looking in a wrong direction? Below him was a wide, swift, fiercely rushing river, where water was none before! No; he made no mistake: there was the rest of the road, the end of it next the house! That was a great piece of it that fell frothing into the river and vanished! Bridge and gate and wall were gone utterly. The burn had swallowed them, and now, foaming with madness, was roaring along, a great way within the grounds, and rapidly drawing nearer to the house, tearing to pieces and devouring all that defended it. There! what a mouthful of the shrubbery it gobbled up! Slowly, graciously, the tall trees bowed their heads and sank into the torrent, but the moment they touched it, shot away like arrows. Would the foundations of the house outstand it? Were they as strong as the walls of Babylon, yet if the water undermined them, down they must! Did the laird know that the enemy was within his gates? Not with all he had that day seen and gone through, had Gibbie until now gathered any notion of the force of rushing water.
Rousing himself from his bewildered amazement, he darted down the hill. If the other burn was behaving in like fashion, then indeed the fate of the house was sealed. But no; huge and wild as that was also, it was not able to tear down its banks of rock. From that side the house did not seem in danger.
Mr. Galbraith had gone again, leaving Ginevra to the care of Mistress Mac Farlane, with a strict order to both, and full authority to the latter to enforce it, that she should not set foot across the threshold on any pretext, or on the smallest expedition, without the housekeeper's attendance. He must take Joseph with him, he said, as he was going to the Duke's, but she could send for Angus upon any emergency.
The laird had of late been so little at home, that the establishment had been much reduced; Mistress Mac Farlane did most of the cooking herself; had quarrelled with the housemaid and not yet got another; and, Nicie dismissed, and the kitchen maid gone to visit her mother, was left alone in the house with her Mistress, if such we can call her who was really her prisoner. At this moment, however, she was not alone, for on the other side of the fire sat Angus, not thither attracted by any friendship for the housekeeper, but by the glass of whisky of which he sipped as he talked. Many a flood had Angus seen, and some that had done frightful damage, but never one that had caused him anxiety; and although this was worse than any of the rest, he had not yet a notion how bad it really was. For, as there was nothing to be done out of doors, and lie was not fond of being idle, he had been busy all the morning in the woodhouse, sawing and splitting for the winter-store, and working the better that he knew what honorarium awaited his appearance in the kitchen. In the woodhouse he only heard the wind and the rain and the roar, he saw nothing of the flood; when he entered the kitchen, it was by the back door, and he sat there without the smallest suspicion of what was going on in front.
Ginevra had had no companion since Nicie left her, and her days had been very dreary, but this day had been the dreariest in her life. Mistress Mac Farlane made herself so disagreeable that she kept away from her as much as she could, spending most of her time in her own room, with her needlework and some books of poetry she had found in the library. But the poetry had turned out very dull--not at all like what Donal read, and throwing one of them aside for the tenth time that day, she wandered listlessly to the window, and stood there gazing out on the wild confusion--the burn roaring below, the trees opposite ready to be torn to pieces by the wind, and the valley beneath covered with stormy water. The tumult was so loud, that she did not hear a gentle knock at her door: as she turned away, weary of everything, she saw it softly open--and there to her astonishment stood Gibbie--come, she imagined, to seek shelter, because their cottage had been blown down.--Calculating the position of her room from what he knew of its windows, he had, with the experienced judgment of a mountaineer, gone to it almost direct.
"You mustn't come here, Gibbie," she said, advancing. "Go down to the kitchen, to Mistress Mac Farlane. She will see to what you want."
Gibbie made eager signs to her to go with him. She concluded that he wanted her to accompany him to the kitchen and speak for him; but knowing that would only enrage her keeper with them both, she shook her head, and went back to the window. She thought, as she approached it, there seemed a lull in the storm, but the moment she looked out, she gave a cry of astonishment, and stood staring. Gibbie had followed her as softly as swiftly, and looking out also, saw good cause indeed for her astonishment: the channel of the raging burn was all but dry! Instantly he understood what it meant. In his impotence to persuade, he caught the girl in his arms, and rushed with her from the room. She had faith enough in him by this time not to struggle or scream. He shot down the stair with her, and out of the front door. Her weight was nothing to his excited strength. The moment they issued, and she saw the Glashburn raving along through the lawn, with little more than the breadth of the drive between it and the house, she saw the necessity of escape, though she did not perceive half the dire necessity for haste. Every few moments, a great gush would dash out twelve or fifteen yards over the gravel and sink again, carrying many feet of the bank with it, and widening by so much the raging channel.
"Put me down, Gibbie," she said; "I will run as fast as you like."
He obeyed at once.
"Oh!" she cried, "Mistress Mac Farlane!--I wonder if she knows. Run and knock at the kitchen window."
Gibbie darted off, gave three loud hurried taps on the window, came flying back, took Ginevra's hand in his, drew her on till she was at her full speed, turned sharp to the left round the corner of the house, and shot down to the empty channel of the burn. As they crossed it, even to the inexperienced eyes of the girl it was plain what had caused the phenomenon. A short distance up the stream, the whole facing of its lofty right bank had slipped down into its channel. Not a tree, not a shrub, not a bed of moss was to be seen; all was bare wet rock. A confused heap of mould, with branches and roots sticking out of it in all directions, lay at its foot, closing the view upward. The other side of the heap was beaten by the raging burn. They could hear, though they could not see it. Any moment the barrier might give way, and the water resume its course. They made haste, therefore, to climb the opposite bank. In places it was very steep, and the soil slipped so that often it seemed on its way with them to the bottom, while the wind threatened to uproot the trees to which they clung, and carry them off through the air. It was with a fierce scramble they gained the top. Then the sight was a grand one. The arrested water swirled and beat and foamed against the landslip, then rushed to the left, through the wood, over bushes and stones, a ragging river, the wind tearing off the tops of its waves, to the Glashburn, into which it plunged, swelling yet higher its huge volume. Rapidly it cut for itself a new channel. Every moment a tree fell and shot with it like a rocket. Looking up its course, they saw it come down the hillside a white streak, and burst into boiling brown and roar at their feet. The wind nearly swept them from their place; but they clung to the great stones, and saw the airy torrent, as if emulating that below it, fill itself with branches and leaves and lumps of foam. Then first Ginevra became fully aware of the danger in which the house was, and from which Gibbie had rescued her. Augmented in volume and rapidity by the junction of its neighbour, the Glashburn was now within a yard--so it seemed from that height at least--of the door. But they must not linger. The nearest accessible shelter was the cottage, and Gibbie knew it would need all Ginevra's strength to reach it. Again he took her by the hand.
"But where's Mistress Mac Farlane?" she said. "Oh, Gibbie! we mustn't leave her."
He replied by pointing down to the bed of the stream: there were she and Angus crossing. Ginevra, was satisfied when she saw the gamekeeper with her, and they set out, as fast as they could go, ascending the mountain, Gibbie eager to have her in warmth and safety before it was dark.
Both burns were now between them and the cottage, which greatly added to their difficulties. The smaller burn came from the tarn, and round that they must go, else Ginevra would never get to the other side of it; and then there was the Glashburn to cross. It was an undertaking hard for any girl, especially such for one unaccustomed to exertion; and what made it far worse was that she had only house-shoes, which were continually coming off as she climbed. But the excitement of battling with the storm, the joy of adventure, and the pleasure of feeling her own strength, sustained her well for a long time; and in such wind and rain, the absence of bonnet and cloak was an advantage, so long as exertion kept her warm. Gibbie did his best to tie her shoes on with strips of her pocket handkerchief; but when at last they were of no more use, he pulled off his corduroy jacket, tore out the sleeves, and with strips from the back tied them about her feet and ankles. Her hair also was a trouble: it would keep blowing in her eyes, and in Gibbie's too, and that sometimes with quite a sharp lash. But she never lost her courage, and Gibbie, though he could not hearten her with words, was so ready with smile and laugh, was so cheerful--even merry, so fearless, so free from doubt and anxiety, while doing everything he could think of to lessen her toil and pain, that she hardly felt in his silence any lack; while often, to rest her body, and withdraw her mind from her sufferings, he made her stop and look back on the strange scene behind them. It was getting dark when they reached the only spot where he judged it possible to cross the Glashburn. He carried her over, and then it was all down-hill to the cottage. Once inside it, Ginevra threw herself into Robert's chair, and laughed, and cried, and laughed again. Gibbie blew up the peats, made a good fire, and put on water to boil; then opened Janet's drawers, and having signified to his companion to take what she could find, went to the cow house, threw himself on a heap of wet straw, worn out, and had enough to do to keep himself from falling asleep. A little rested, he rose and re-entered the cottage, when a merry laugh from both of them went ringing out into the storm: the little lady was dressed in Janet's workday garments, and making porridge. She looked very funny. Gibbie found plenty of milk in the dairy under the rock, and they ate their supper together in gladness. Then Gibbie prepared the bed in the little closet for his guest and she slept as if she had not slept for a week.
Gibbie woke with the first of the dawn. The rain still fell--descending in spoonfuls rather than drops; the wind kept shaping itself into long hopeless howls, rising to shrill yells that went drifting away over the land; and then the howling rose again. Nature seemed in despair. There must be more for Gibbie to do! He must go again to the foot of the mountain, and see if there was anybody to help. They might even be in trouble at the Mains, who could tell!
Ginevra woke, rose, made herself as tidy as she could, and left her closet. Gibbie was not in the cottage. She blew up the fire, and, finding the pot ready beside it, with clean water, set it on to boil. Gibbie did not come. The water boiled. She took it off, but being hungry, put it on again. Several times she took it off and put it on again. Gibbie never came. She made herself some porridge at last. Everything necessary was upon the table, and as she poured it into the wooden dish for the purpose, she took notice of a slate beside it, with something written upon it. The words were, "I will cum back as soon as I cann."
She was alone, then! It was dreadful; but she was too hungry to think about it. She ate her porridge, and then began to cry. It was very unkind of Gibbie to leave her, she said to herself, But then he was a sort of angel, and doubtless had to go and help somebody else. There was a little pile of books on the table, which he must have left for her. She began examining them, and soon found something to interest her, so that an hour or two passed quickly. But Gibbie did not return, and the day went wearily. She cried now and then, made great efforts to be patient, succeeded pretty well for a while, and cried again. She read and grew tired a dozen times; ate cakes and milk, cried afresh, and ate again. Still Gibbie did not come. Before the day was over, she had had a good lesson in praying. For here she was, one who had never yet acted on her own responsibility, alone on a bare mountain-side, in the heart of a storm which seemed as if it would never cease, and not a creature knew where she was but the dumb boy, and he had left her! If he should never come back, what would become of her? She could not find her way down the mountain; and if she could, where was she to go, with all Daurside under water? She would soon have eaten up all the food in the cottage, and the storm might go on for ever, who could tell? Or who could tell whether, when it was over, and she got down to the valley below, she should not find it a lifeless desert, everybody drowned, and herself the only person left alive in the world?
Then the noises were terrible. She seemed to inhabit noise. Through the general roar of wind and water and rain every now then came a sharper sound, like a report or crack, followed by a strange low thunder, as it seemed. They were the noises of stones carried down by the streams, grinding against each other, and dashed stone against stone; and of rocks falling and rolling, and bounding against their fast-rooted neighbours. When it began to grow dark, her misery seemed more than she could bear; but then, happily, she grew sleepy, and slept the darkness away.
With the new light came new promise and fresh hope. What should we poor humans do without our God's nights and mornings? Our ills are all easier to help than we know--except the one ill of a central self, which God himself finds it hard to help.--It no longer rained so fiercely; the wind had fallen; and the streams did not run so furious a race down the sides of the mountain. She ran to the burn, got some water to wash herself--she could not spare the clear water, of which there was some still left in Janet's pails--and put on her own clothes, which were now quite dry. Then she got herself some breakfast, and after that tried to say her prayers, but found it very difficult, for, do what she might to model her slippery thoughts, she could not help, as often as she turned herself towards him, seeing God like her father, the laird.