Sir Gibbie by George MacDonald
Chapter XLVI. The Girls.
The door was opened. Donal spent fully a minute rubbing his shoes on the mat, as diligently as if he had just come out of the cattle-yard, and then Gibbie led him in triumph up the stair to the drawing-room. Donal entered in that loose-jointed way which comes of the brains being as yet all in the head, and stood, resisting Gibbie's pull on his arm, his keen hazel eyes looking gently round upon the company, until he caught sight of the face he sought, when, with the stride of a sower of corn, he walked across the room to Ginevra. Mrs. Sclater rose; Mr. Sclater threw himself back and stared; the latter astounded at the presumption of the youths, the former uneasy at the possible results of their ignorance. To the astonishment of the company, Ginevra rose, respect and modesty in every feature, as the youth, clownish rather than awkward, approached her, and almost timidly held out her hand to him. He took it in his horny palm, shook it hither and thither sideways, like a leaf in a doubtful air, then held it like a precious thing he was at once afraid of crushing by too tight a grasp, and of dropping from too loose a hold, until Ginevra took charge of it herself again. Gibbie danced about behind him, all but standing on one leg, but, for Mrs. Sclater's sake, restraining himself. Ginevra sat down, and Donal, feeling very large and clumsy, and wanting to "be naught a while," looked about him for a chair, and then first espying Mrs. Sclater, went up to her with the same rolling, clamping stride, but without embarrassment, and said, holding out his hand,
"Hoo are ye the nicht, mem?" I sawna yer bonnie face whan I cam in. A gran' hoose, like this o' yours--an' I'm sure, mem, it cudna be ower gran' to fit yersel', but it's jist some perplexin' to plain fowk like me, 'at's been used to mair room, an' less intill't."
Donal was thinking of the meadow on the Lorrie bank.
"I was sure of it!" remarked Mrs. Sclater to herself. "One of nature's gentleman! He would soon be taught."
She was right; but he was more than a gentleman, and could have taught her what she could have taught nobody in turn.
"You will soon get accustomed to our town ways, Mr. Grant. But many of the things we gather about us are far more trouble than use," she replied, in her sweetest tones, and with a gentle pressure of the hand, which went a long way to set him at his ease. "I am glad to see you have friends here," she added.
"Only ane, mem. Gibbie an' me--"
"Excuse me, Mr. Grant, but would you oblige me--of course with me it is of no consequence, but just for habit's sake, would you oblige me by calling Gilbert by his own name--Sir Gilbert, please. I wish him to get used to it."
"Yer wull be't, mem.--Weel, as I was sayin', Sir Gibbie--Sir Gilbert, that is, mem--an mysel', we hae kenned Miss Galbraith this lang time, bein' o' the laird's ain fowk, as I may say."
"Will you take a seat beside her, then," said Mrs. Sclater, and rising, herself placed a chair for him near Ginevra, wondering how any Scotch laird, the father of such a little lady as she, could have allowed her such an acquaintance.
To most of the company he must have looked very queer. Gibbie, indeed, was the only one who saw the real Donal. Miss Kimble and her pupils stared at the distorted reflexion of him in the spoon-bowl of their own elongated narrowness; Mrs. Sclater saw the possible gentleman through the loop-hole of a compliment he had paid her; and Mr. Sclater beheld only the minimum which the reversed telescope of his own enlarged importance, he having himself come of sufficiently humble origin, made of him; while Ginevra looked up to him more as one who marvelled at the grandly unintelligible, than one who understood the relations and proportions of what she beheld. Nor was it possible she could help feeling that he was a more harmonious object to the eye both of body and mind when dressed in his corduroys and blue bonnet, walking the green fields, with cattle about him, his club under his arm, and a book in his hand. So seen, his natural dignity was evident; now he looked undeniably odd. A poet needs a fine house rather than a fine dress to set him off, and Mrs. Sclater's drawing-room was neither large nor beautiful enough to frame this one, especially with his Sunday clothes to get the better of. To the school ladies, mistress and pupils, he was simply a clodhopper, and from their report became a treasure of poverty-stricken amusement to the school. Often did Ginevra's cheek burn with indignation at the small insolences of her fellow-pupils. At first she attempted to make them understand something of what Donal really was, but finding them unworthy of the confidence, was driven to betake herself to such a silence as put a stop to their offensive remarks in her presence.
"I thank ye, mem," said Donal, as he took the chair; "ye're verra condescendin'." Then turning to Ginevra, and trying to cross one knee over the other, but failing from the tightness of certain garments, which, like David with Saul's not similarly faulty armour, he had not hitherto proved, "Weel, mem," he said, "ye haena forgotten Hornie, I houp."
The other girls must be pardoned for tittering, offensive as is the habit so common to their class, for the only being they knew by that name was one to whom the merest reference sets pit and gallery in a roar. Miss Kimble was shocked--disgusssted, she said afterwards; and until she learned that the clown was there uninvited, cherished a grudge against Mrs. Sclater.
Ginevra smiled him a satisfactory negative.
"I never read the ballant aboot the worm lingelt roun' the tree," said Donal, making rather a long link in the chain of association, "ohn thoucht upo' that day, mem, whan first ye cam doon the brae wi' my sister Nicie, an' I cam ower the burn till ye, an' ye garred me lauch aboot weetin' o' my feet! Eh, mem! wi' you afore me there, I see the blew lift again, an' the gerse jist lowin' (flaming) green, an' the nowt at their busiest, the win' asleep, an' the burn sayin', 'Ye need nane o' ye speyk: I'm here, an' it's my business.' Eh, mem! whan I think upo' 't a', it seems to me 'at the human hert closed i' the mids o' sic a coffer o' cunnin' workmanship, maun be a terrible precious-like thing."
Gibbie, behind Donal's chair, seemed pulsing light at every pore, but the rest of the company, understanding his words perfectly, yet not comprehending a single sentence he uttered, began to wonder whether he was out of his mind, and were perplexed to see Ginevra listening to him with such respect. They saw a human offence where she knew a poet. A word is a word, but its interpretations are many, and the understanding of a man's words depends both on what the hearer is, and on what is his idea of the speaker. As to the pure all things are pure, because only purity can enter, so to the vulgar all things are vulgar, because only the vulgar can enter. Wherein then is the commonplace man to be blamed, for as he is, so must he think? In this, that he consents to be commonplace, willing to live after his own idea of himself, and not after God's idea of him--the real idea, which, every now and then stirring in him, makes him uneasy with silent rebuke.
Ginevra said little in reply. She had not much to say. In her world the streams were still, not vocal. But Donal meant to hold a little communication with her which none of them, except indeed Gibbie--he did not mind Gibbie--should understand.
"I hed sic a queer dream the ither nicht, mem," he said, "an' I'll jist tell ye't.--I thoucht I was doon in an awfu' kin' o' a weet bog, wi' dry graivelly-like hills a' aboot it, an' naething upo' them but a wheen short hunger-like gerse. An' oot o' the mids o' the bog there grew jist ae tree--a saugh, I think it was, but unco auld--'maist past kennin' wi' age;--an' roun' the rouch gnerlet trunk o' 't was twistit three faulds o' the oogliest, ill-fauredest cratur o' a serpent 'at ever was seen. It was jist laithly to luik upo'. I cud describe it till ye, mem, but it wad only gar ye runkle yer bonny broo, an' luik as I wadna hae ye luik, mem, 'cause ye wadna luik freely sae bonny as ye div noo whan ye luik jist yersel'. But ae queer thing was, 'at atween hit an' the tree it grippit a buik, an' I kent it for the buik o' ballants. An' I gaed nearer, luikin' an' luikin', an' some frichtit. But I wadna stan' for that, for that wad be to be caitiff vile, an' no true man: I gaed nearer an' nearer, till I had gotten within a yaird o' the tree, whan a' at ance, wi' a swing an' a swirl, I was three-fauld aboot the tree, an' the laithly worm was me mesel'; an' I was the laithly worm. The verra hert gaed frae me for hoarible dreid, an' scunner at mysel'! Sae there I was! But I wasna lang there i' my meesery, afore I saw, oot o' my ain serpent e'en, maist blin't wi' greitin', ower the tap o' the brae afore me, 'atween me an' the lift, as gien it reacht up to the verra stars, for it wasna day but nicht by this time aboot me, as weel it micht be,--I saw the bonny sicht come up o' a knicht in airmour, helmet an' shield an' iron sheen an' a'; but somehoo I kent by the gang an' the stan' an' the sway o' the bonny boady o' the knicht, 'at it was nae man, but a wuman.--Ye see, mem, sin I cam frae Daurside, I hae been able to get a grip o' buiks 'at I cudna get up there; an' I hed been readin' Spenser's Fairy Queen the nicht afore, a' yon aboot the lady 'at pat on the airmour o' a man, an' foucht like a guid ane for the richt an' the trowth--an' that hed putten 't i' my heid maybe; only whan I saw her, I kent her, an' her name wasna Britomart. She had a twistit brainch o' blew berries aboot her helmet, an' they ca'd her Juniper: wasna that queer, noo? An' she cam doon the hill wi' bonny big strides, no ower big for a stately wuman, but eh, sae different frae the nipperty mincin' stippety-stap o' the leddies ye see upo' the streets here! An' sae she cam doon the brae. An' I soucht sair to cry oot--first o' a' to tell her gien she didna luik till her feet, she wad he lairt i' the bog, an' syne to beg o' her for mercy's sake to draw her swoord, an' caw the oogly heid aff o' me, an' lat me dee. Noo I maun confess 'at the ballant o' Kemp Owen was rinnin' i' the worm-heid o' me, an' I cudna help thinkin' what, notwithstan'in' the cheenge o' han's i' the story, lay still to the pairt o' the knicht; but hoo was ony man, no to say a mere ugsome serpent, to mint at sic a thing till a leddy, whether she was in steel beets an' spurs or in lang train an' silver slippers? An' haith! I sune fan' 'at I cudna hae spoken the word, gien I had daured ever sae stoot. For whan I opened my moo' to cry till her, I cud dee naething but shot oot a forkit tongue, an' cry sss. Mem, it was dreidfu'! Sae I had jist to tak in my tongue again, an' say naething, for fear o' fleggin' awa' my bonny leddy i' the steel claes. An' she cam an' cam, doon an' doon, an' on to the bog; an' for a' the weicht o' her airmour she sankna a fit intill 't. An' she cam, an' she stude, an' she luikit at me; an' I hed seen her afore, an' kenned her weel. An' she luikit at me, an' aye luikit; an' I winna say what was i' the puir worm's hert. But at the last she gae a gret sich, an' a sab, like, an' stude jist as gien she was tryin' sair, but could not mak up her bonny min' to yon 'at was i' the ballant. An' eh! hoo I grippit the buik atween me an' the tree--for there it was--a' as I saw 't afore! An' sae at last she gae a kin' o' a cry, an' turnt an' gaed awa', wi' her heid hingin' doon, an' her swoord trailin', an' never turnt to luik ahint her, but up the brae, an' ower the tap o' the hill, an' doon an' awa'; an' the brainch wi' the blew berries was the last I saw o' her gaein' doon like the meen ahint the hill. An' jist wi' the fell greitin' I cam to mysel', an' my hert was gaein' like a pump 'at wad fain pit oot a fire.--Noo wasna that a queer-like dream?--I'll no say, mem, but I hae curriet an' kaimbt it up a wee, to gar't tell better."
Ginevra had from the first been absorbed in listening, and her brown eyes seemed to keep growing larger and larger as he went on. Even the girls listened and were silent, looking as if they saw a peacock's feather in a turkey's tail. When he ended, the tears rushed from Ginevra's eyes--for bare sympathy--she had no perception of personal intent in the parable; it was long before she saw into the name of the lady-knight, for she had never been told the English of Ginevra; she was the simplest, sweetest of girls, and too young to suspect anything in the heart of a man.
"O Donal!" she said, "I am very sorry for the poor worm; but it was naughty of you to dream such a dream."
"Hoo's that, mem?" returned Donal, a little frightened.
"It was not fair of you," she replied, "to dream a knight of a lady, and then dream her doing such an unknightly thing. I am sure if ladies went out in that way, they would do quite as well, on the whole, as gentlemen."
"I mak nae doobt o' 't, mem: h'aven forbid!" cried Donal; "but ye see dreams is sic senseless things 'at they winna be helpit;--an' that was hoo I dreemt it."
"Well, well, Donal!" broke in the harsh pompous voice of Mr. Sclater, who, unknown to the poet, had been standing behind him almost the whole time, "you have given the ladies quite enough of your romancing. That sort of thing, you know, my man, may do very well round the fire in the farm kitchen, but it's not the sort of thing for a drawing-room. Besides, the ladies don't understand your word of mouth; they don't understand such broad Scotch.--Come with me, and I'll show you something you would like to see."
He thought Donal was boring his guests, and at the same time preventing Gibbie from having the pleasure in their society for the sake of which they had been invited.
Donal rose, replying,
"Think ye sae, sir? I thoucht I was in auld Scotlan' still--here as weel's upo' Glashgar. But may be my jography buik's some auld-fashioned.--Didna ye un'erstan' me, mem?" he added, turning to Ginevra.
"Every word, Donal," she answered.
Donal followed his host contented.
Gibbie took his place, and began to teach Ginevra the finger alphabet. The other girls found him far more amusing than Donal--first of all because he could not speak, which was much less objectionable than speaking like Donal--and funny too, though not so funny as Donal's clothes. And then he had such a romantic history! and was a baronet!
In a few minutes Ginevra knew the letters, and presently she and Gibbie were having a little continuous talk together, a thing they had never had before. It was so slow, however, as to be rather tiring. It was mainly about Donal. But Mrs. Sclater opened the piano, and made a diversion. She played something brilliant, and then sang an Italian song in strillaceous style, revealing to Donal's clownish ignorance a thorough mastery of caterwauling. Then she asked Miss Kimble to play something, who declined, without mentioning that she had neither voice nor ear nor love of music, but said Miss Galbraith should sing--"for once in a way, as a treat.--That little Scotch song you sing now and then, my dear," she added.
Ginevra rose timidly, but without hesitation, and going to the piano, sang, to a simple old Scotch air, to which they had been written, the following verses. Before she ended, the minister, the late herd-boy, and the dumb baronet were grouped crescent-wise behind the music-stool.
I dinna ken what's come ower me!
For i' yon kirkyaird there's a hillock,
It's my hert 'at hauds up the wee hillie--
Three of them knew that the verses were Donal's. If the poet went home feeling more like a fellow in blue coat and fustian trowsers, or a winged genius of the tomb, I leave my reader to judge. Anyhow, he felt he had had enough for one evening, and was able to encounter his work again. Perhaps also, when supper was announced, he reflected that his reception had hardly been such as to justify him in partaking of their food, and that his mother's hospitality to Mr. Sclater had not been in expectation of return. As they went down the stair, he came last and alone, behind the two whispering school-girls; and when they passed on into the dining-room, he spilt out of the house, and ran home to the furniture-shop and his books.
When the ladies took their leave, Gibbie walked with them. And now at last he learned where to find Ginevra.