Sir Gibbie by George MacDonald
Chapter XXXIX. Daur Street.
One bright afternoon, towards the close of the autumn, the sun shining straight down one of the wide clean stony streets of the city, with a warmth which he had not been able to impart to the air, a company of school-girls, two and two in long file, mostly with innocent, and, for human beings, rather uninteresting faces, was walking in orderly manner, a female grenadier at its head, along the pavement, more than usually composed, from having the sun in their eyes. Amongst the faces was one very different from the rest, a countenance almost solemn and a little sad, of still, regular features, in the eyes of which by loving eyes might have been read uneasy thought patiently carried, and the lack of some essential to conscious well-being. The other girls were looking on this side and that, eager to catch sight of anything to trouble the monotony of the daily walk; but the eyes of this one were cast down, except when occasionally lifted in answer to words of the schoolmistress, the grenadier, by whose side she was walking. They were lovely brown eyes, trustful and sweet, and although, as I have said, a little sad, they never rose, even in reply to the commonest remark, without shining a little. Though younger than not a few of them, and very plainly dressed, like all the others--I have a suspicion that Scotch mothers dress their girls rather too plainly, which tends to the growth of an undue and degrading love of dress--she was not so girlish, was indeed, in some respects, more of a young woman than even the governess who walked by the side of them.
Suddenly came a rush, a confusion, a fluttering of the doves, whence or how none seemed to know, a gentle shriek from several of the girls, a general sense of question and no answer; but, as their ruffled nerves composed themselves a little, there was the vision of the schoolmistress poking the point of her parasol at a heedless face, radiant with smiles, that of an odd-looking lad, as they thought, who had got hold of one of the daintily gloved hands of her companion, laid a hand which, considered conventionally, was not that of a gentleman, upon her shoulder, and stood, without a word, gazing in rapturous delight.
"Go away, boy! What do you mean by such impertinence?" cried the outraged Miss Kimble, changing her thrust, and poking in his chest the parasol with which she had found it impossible actually to assail his smiling countenance.--Such a strange looking creature! He could not be in his sound senses, she thought. In the momentary mean time, however, she had failed to observe that, after the first start and following tremor, her companion stood quite still, and was now looking in the lad's face with roseate cheeks and tear-filled eyes, apparently forgetting to draw her hand from his, or to move her shoulder from under his caress. The next moment, up, with hasty yet dignified step, came the familiar form of their own minister, the Rev. Clement Sclater, who, with reproof in his countenance, which was red with annoyance and haste, laid his hands on the lad's shoulders to draw him from the prey on which he had pounced.
"Remember, you are not on a hill-side, but in a respectable street," said the reverend gentleman, a little foolishly.
The youth turned his head over his shoulder, not otherwise changing his attitude, and looked at him with some bewilderment. Then, not he, but the young lady spoke.
"Gibbie and I are old friends," she said, and reaching up laid her free hand in turn on his shoulder, as if to protect him--for, needlessly, with such grace and strength before her, the vision of an old horror came rushing back on the mind of Ginevra.
Gibbie had darted from his companion's side some hundred yards off. The cap which Mr. Sclater had insisted on his wearing had fallen as he ran, and he had never missed it; his hair stood out on all sides of his head, and the sun behind him shone in it like a glory, just as when first he appeared to Ginevra in the peat-moss, like an angel standing over her. Indeed, while to Miss Kimble and the girls he was "a mad-like object" in his awkward ill-fitting clothes, made by a village tailor in the height of the village fashion, to Ginevra he looked hardly less angelic now than he did then. His appearance, judged without prejudice, was rather that of a sailor boy on shore than a shepherd boy from the hills.
"Miss Galbraith!" said Miss Kimble, in the tone that indicates nostrils distended, "I am astonished at you! What an example to the school! I never knew you misbehave yourself before! Take your hand from this--this--very strange looking person's shoulder directly."
Ginevra obeyed, but Gibbie stood as before.
"Remove your hand, boy, instantly," cried Miss Kimble, growing more and more angry, and began knocking the hand on the girl's shoulder with her parasol, which apparently Gibbie took for a joke, for he laughed aloud.
"Pray do not alarm yourself, ma'am," said Mr. Sclater, slowly recovering his breath: he was not yet quite sure of Gibbie, or confident how best he was to be managed; "this young--gentleman is Sir Gilbert Galbraith, my ward.--Sir Gilbert, this lady is Miss Kimble. You must have known her father well--the Rev. Matthew Kimble of the next parish to your own?"
Gibbie smiled. He did not nod, for that would have meant that he did know him, and he did not remember having ever even heard the name of the Rev. Matthew Kimble.
"Oh!" said the lady, who had ceased her battery, and stood bewildered and embarrassed--the more that by this time the girls had all gathered round, staring and wondering.
Ginevra's eyes too had filled with wonder; she cast them down, and a strange smile began to play about her sweet strong mouth. All at once she was in the middle of a fairy tale, and had not a notion what was coming next. Her dumb shepherd boy a baronet!--and, more wonderful still, a Galbraith! She must be dreaming in the wide street! The last she had seen of him was as he was driven from the house by her father, when he had just saved her life. That was but a few weeks ago, and here he was, called Sir Gilbert Galbraith! It was a delicious bit of wonderment.
"Oh!" said Miss Kimble a second time, recovering herself a little, "I see! A relative, Miss Galbraith! I did not understand. That of course sets everything right--at least--even then--the open street, you know!--You will understand, Mr. Sclater.--I beg your pardon, Sir Gilbert. I hope I did not hurt you with my parasol!"
Gibbie again laughed aloud.
"Thank you," said Miss Kimble confused, and annoyed with herself for being so, especially before her girls. "I should be sorry to have hurt you.--Going to college, I presume, Sir Gilbert?"
Gibbie looked at Mr. Sclater.
"He is going to study with me for a while first," answered the minister.
"I am glad to hear it, He could not do better," said Miss Kimble. "Come, girls."
And with friendly farewells, she moved on, her train after her, thinking with herself what a boor the young fellow was--the young--baronet?--Yes, he must be a baronet; he was too young to have been knighted already. But where ever could he have been brought up?
Mr. Sclater had behaved judiciously, and taken gentle pains to satisfy the old couple that they must part with Gibbie. One of the neighbouring clergy knew Mr. Sclater well, and with him paid the old people a visit, to help them to dismiss any lingering doubt that he was the boy's guardian legally appointed. To their own common sense indeed it became plain that, except some such story was true, there could be nothing to induce him to come after Gibbie, or desire to take charge of the outcast; but they did not feel thoroughly satisfied until Mr. Sclater brought Fergus Duff to the cottage, to testify to him as being what he pretended. It was a sore trial, but amongst the griefs of losing him, no fear of his forgetting them was included. Mr. Sclater's main difficulty was with Gibbie himself. At first he laughed at the absurdity of his going away from his father and mother and the sheep. They told him he was Sir Gilbert Galbraith. He answered on his slate, as well as by signs which Janet at least understood perfectly, that he had told them so, and had been so all the time, "and what differ dos that mak?" he added. Mr. Sclater told him he was--or would be, at least, he took care to add, when he came of age--a rich man as well as a baronet.
"Writch men," wrote Gibbie, "dee as they like, and Ise bide."
Mr. Sclater told him it was only poor boys who could do as they pleased, for the law looked after boys like him, so that, when it came into their hands, they might be capable of using their money properly. Almost persuaded at length that he had no choice, that he could no longer be his own master, until he was one and twenty, he turned and looked at Janet, his eyes brimful of tears. She gave him a little nod. He rose and went out, climbed the crest of Glashgar, and did not return to the cottage till midnight.
In the morning appeared on his countenance signs of unusual resolve. Amid the many thoughts he had had the night before, had come the question--what he would do with the money when he had it--first of all what he could do for Janet and Robert and everyone of their family; and naturally enough to a Scotch boy, the first thing that occurred to him was, to give Donal money to go to college like Fergus Duff. In that he know he made no mistake. It was not so easy to think of things for the rest, but that was safe. Had not Donal said twenty times he would not mind being a herd all his life, if only he could go to college first? But then he began to think what a long time it was before he would be one and twenty, and what a number of things might come and go before then: Donal might by that time have a wife and children, and he could not leave them to go to college! Why should not Mr. Sclater manage somehow that Donal should go at once? It was now the end almost of October, and the college opened in November. Some other rich person would lend them the money, and he would pay it, with compound interest, when he got his. Before he went to bed, he got his slate, and wrote as follows:
"my dear minister, If you will teak Donal too, and lett him go to the kolledg, I will go with you as seens ye like; butt if ye will not, I will runn away."
When Mr. Sclater, who had a bed at the gamekeeper's, appeared the next morning, anxious to conclude the business, and get things in motion for their departure, Gibbie handed him the slate the moment he entered the cottage, and while he read, stood watching him.
Now Mr. Sclater was a prudent man, and always looked ahead, therefore apparently took a long time to read Gibbie's very clear, although unscholarly communication; before answering it, he must settle the probability of what Mrs. Sclater would think of the proposal to take two savages into her house together, where also doubtless the presence of this Donal would greatly interfere with the process of making a gentleman of Gibbie. Unable to satisfy himself, he raised his head at length, unconsciously shaking it as he did so. That instant Gibbie was out of the house. Mr. Sclater, perceiving the blunder he had made, hurried after him, but he was already out of sight. Returning in some dismay, he handed the slate to Janet, who, with sad, resigned countenance, was baking. She rubbed the oatmeal dough from her hands, took the slate, and read with a smile.
"Ye maunna tak Gibbie for a young cowt, Maister Sclater, an' think to brak him in," she said, after a thoughtful pause, "or ye'll hae to learn yer mistak. There's no eneuch o' himsel' in him for ye to get a grip o' 'm by that han'le. He aye kens what he wad hae, an' he'll aye get it, as sure's it'll aye be richt. As anent Donal, Donal's my ain, an' I s' say naething. Sit ye doon, sir; ye'll no see Gibbie the day again."
"Is there no means of getting at him, my good woman?" said Mr. Sclater, miserable at the prospect of a day utterly wasted.
"I cud gie ye sicht o' 'im, I daursay, but what better wad ye be for that? Gien ye hed a' the lawyers o' Embrough at yer back, ye wadna touch Gibbie upo' Glashgar."
"But you could persuade him, I am sure, Mistress Grant. You have only to call him in your own way, and he will come at once."
"What wad ye hae me perswaud him till, sir? To onything 'at's richt, Gibbie wants nae perswaudin'; an' for this 'at's atween ye, the laddies are jist verra brithers, an' I hae no richt to interfere wi' what the tane wad for the tither, the thing seemin' to me rizon eneuch."
"What sort of lad is this son of yours? The boy seems much attached to him!"
"He's a laddie 'at's been gien ower till's buik sin' ever I learnt him to read mysel'," Janet answered. "But he'll be here the nicht, I'm thinkin', to see the last o' puir Gibbie, an' ye can jeedge for yersel'."
It required but a brief examination of Donal to satisfy Mr. Sclater that he was more than prepared for the university. But I fear me greatly the time is at hand when such as Donal will no more be able to enter her courts. Unwise and unpatriotic are any who would rather have a few prime scholars sitting about the wells of learning, than see those fountains flow freely for the poor, who are yet the strength of a country. It is better to have many upon the high road of learning, than a few even at its goal, if that were possible.
As to Donal's going to Mr. Sclater's house, Janet soon relieved him.
"Na, na, sir," she said; "it wad be to learn w'ys 'at wadna be fittin' a puir lad like him."
"It would be much safer for him." said Mr. Sclater, but incidentally.
"Gien I cudna lippen my Donal till's ain company an' the hunger for better, I wad begin to doobt wha made the warl'," said his mother; and Donal's face flushed with pleasure at her confidence. "Na, he maun get a garret roomie some gait i' the toon, an' there haud till's buik; an ye'll lat Gibbie gang an' see him whiles whan he can be spared. There maun be many a dacent wuman 'at wad be pleased to tak him in."
Mr. Sclater seemed to himself to foresee no little trouble in his new responsibility, but consoled himself that he would have more money at his command, and in the end would sit, as it were, at the fountain-head of large wealth. Already, with his wife's property, he was a man of consideration; but he had a great respect for money, and much overrated its value as a means of doing even what he called good: religious people generally do--with a most unchristian dulness. We are not told that the Master made the smallest use of money for his end. When he paid the temple-rate, he did it to avoid giving offence; and he defended the woman who divinely wasted it. Ten times more grace and magnanimity would be needed, wisely and lovingly to avoid making a fortune, than it takes to spend one for what are called good objects when it is made.
When they met Miss Kimble and her "young ladies," they were on their way from the coach-office to the minister's house in Daur Street. Gibbie knew every corner, and strange was the swift variety of thoughts and sensations that went filing through his mind. Up this same street he had tended the wavering steps of a well-known if not highly respected town-councillor! that was the door, where, one cold morning of winter, the cook gave him a cup of hot coffee and a roll! What happy days they were, with their hunger and adventure! There had always been food and warmth about the city, and he had come in for his share! The Master was in its streets as certainly as on the rocks of Glashgar. Not one sheep did he lose sight of, though he could not do so much for those that would not follow, and had to have the dog sent after them!