Scottish Sketches by Amelia E. Barr
Crawford's Sair Strait.
Alexander Crawford sat reading a book which he studied frequently with a profound interest. Not the Bible: that volume had indeed its place of honor in the room, but the book Crawford read was a smaller one; it was stoutly bound and secured by a brass lock, and it was all in manuscript. It was his private ledger, and it contained his bank account. Its contents seemed to give him much solid satisfaction; and when at last he locked the volume and replaced it in his secretary, it was with that careful respect which he considered due to the representative of so many thousand pounds.
He was in a placid mood, and strangely inclined to retrospection. Thoughtfully fingering the key which locked up the record of his wealth, he walked to the window and looked out. It was a dreary prospect of brown moor and gray sea, but Crawford loved it. The bare land and the barren mountains was the country of the Crawfords. He had a fixed idea that it always had been theirs, and whenever he told himself--as he did this night--that so many acres of old Scotland were actually his own, he was aggressively a Scotchman.
"It is a bonnie bit o' land," he murmured, "and I hae done as my father Laird Archibald told me. If we should meet in another warld I'll be able to gie a good account o' Crawford and Traquare. It is thirty years to-night since he gave me the ring off his finger, and said, 'Alexander, I am going the way o' all flesh; be a good man, and grip tight.' I hae done as he bid me; there is L80,000 in the Bank o' Scotland, and every mortgage lifted. I am vera weel pleased wi' mysel' to-night. I hae been a good holder o' Crawford and Traquare."
His self-complacent reflections were cut short by the entrance of his daughter. She stood beside him, and laid her hand upon his arm with a caressing gesture. No other living creature durst have taken that liberty with him; but to Crawford his daughter Helen was a being apart from common humanity. She was small, but very lovely, with something almost Puritanical in her dainty, precise dress and carefully snooded golden hair.
"Helen, my bird."
"Colin is coming home. I have just had a letter from him. He has taken high honors in Glasgow. We'll both be proud of Colin, father."
"What has he done?"
"He has written a prize poem in Latin and Greek, and he is second in mathematics."
"Latin and Greek! Poor ghostlike languages that hae put off flesh and blood lang syne. Poetry! Warse than nonsense! David and Solomon hae gien us such sacred poetry as is good and necessary; and for sinfu' love verses and such vanities, if Scotland must hae them, Robert Burns is mair than enough. As to mathematics, there's naething against them. A study that is founded on figures is to be depended upon; it has nae flights and fancies. You ken what you are doing wi' figures. When is this clever fellow to be here?"
"He is coming by the afternoon packet to-morrow. We must send the carriage to meet it, for Colin is bringing a stranger with him. I came to ask you if I must have the best guest-room made ready."
"He is an English gentleman, from London, father."
"And you would put an Englishman in the room where the twa last Stuarts slept? I'll not hear tell o' it. I'm not the man to lift a quarrel my fathers dropped, but I'll hae no English body in Prince Charlie's room. Mind that, noo! What is the man's name?"
"Mr. George Selwyn."
"George Selwyn! There's nae Scotch Selwyns that I ken o'. He'll be Saxon altogether. Put him in the East room."
Crawford was not pleased at his son bringing any visitor. In the first place, he had important plans to discuss and carry out, and he was impatient of further delay. In the second, he was intensely jealous of Helen. Every young man was a probable suitor, and he had quite decided that Farquharson of Blair was the proper husband for her. Crawford and Blair had stood shoulder to shoulder in every national quarrel, and a marriage would put the two estates almost in a ring fence.
But he went the next day to meet the young men. He had not seen his son for three years, and the lad was an object very near and dear to his heart. He loved him tenderly as his son, he respected him highly as the future heir of Crawford and Traquare. The Crawfords were a very handsome race; he was anxious that this, their thirteenth representative, should be worthy, even physically, of his ancestors. He drew a long sigh of gratification as young Colin, with open hands, came up to him. The future laird was a noble-looking fellow, a dark, swarthy Highlandman, with glowing eyes, and a frame which promised in a few years to fill up splendidly.
His companion was singularly unlike him. Old Crawford had judged rightly. He was a pure Saxon, and showed it in his clear, fresh complexion, pale brown hair, and clear, wide-open blue eyes. But there was something about this young man which struck a deeper and wider sympathy than race--he had a heart beating for all humanity. Crawford looked at him physically only, and he decided at once, "There is no fear of Helen." He told himself that young Farquharson was six inches taller and every way a far "prettier man." Helen was not of this opinion. No hero is so fascinating to a woman as the man mentally and spiritually above her, and whom she must love from a distance; and if Crawford could have known how dangerous were those walks over the springy heather and through the still pine woods, Mr. Selwyn would have taken them far more frequently alone than he did.
But Crawford had other things to employ his attention at that time, and indeed the young English clergyman was far beyond his mental and spiritual horizon; he could not judge him fairly. So these young people walked and rode and sailed together, and Selwyn talked like an apostle of the wrongs that were to be righted and the poor perishing souls that were to be redeemed. The spiritual warfare in which he was enlisted had taken possession of him, and he spoke with the martial enthusiasm of a young soldier buckling on his armor.
Helen and Colin listened in glowing silence, Helen showing her sympathy by her flushing cheeks and wet eyes, and Colin by the impatient way in which he struck down with his stick the thistles by the path side, as if they were the demons of sin and ignorance and dirt Selwyn was warring against. But after three weeks of this intercourse Crawford became sensible of some change in the atmosphere of his home. When Selwyn first arrived, and Crawford learned that he was a clergyman in orders, he had, out of respect to the office, delegated to him the conduct of family worship. Gradually Selwyn had begun to illustrate the gospel text with short, earnest remarks, which were a revelation of Bible truth to the thoughtful men and women who heard them.
The laird's "exercises" had often been slipped away from, excuses had been frequent, absentees usual; but they came to listen to Selwyn with an eagerness which irritated him. In our day, the gospel of Christ has brought forth its last beautiful blossom--the gospel of humanity. Free schools, free Bibles, Tract and City Missions, Hospitals and Clothing Societies, loving helps of all kinds are a part of every church organization. But in the time of which I am writing they were unknown in country parishes, they struggled even in great cities for a feeble life.
The laird and his servants heard some startling truths, and the laird began to rebel against them. A religion of intellectual faith, and which had certain well-recognized claims on his pocket, he was willing to support, and to defend, if need were; but he considered one which made him on every hand his brother's keeper a dangerously democratic theology.
"I'll hae no socialism in my religion, any more than I'll hae it in my politics, Colin," he said angrily. "And if yon Mr. Selwyn belongs to what they call the Church o' England, I'm mair set up than ever wi' the Kirk o' Scotland! God bless her!"
They were sitting in the room sacred to business and to the memory of the late Laird Archibald. Colin was accustomed to receive his father's opinions in silence, and he made no answer to this remark. This time, however, the laird was not satisfied with the presumed assent of silence; he asked sharply, "What say ye to that, son Colin?"
"I say God bless the Kirk of Scotland, father, and I say it the more heartily because I would like to have a place among those who serve her."
"What are ye saying now?"
"That I should like to be a minister. I suppose you have no objections."
"I hae vera great objections. I'll no hear tell o' such a thing. Ministers canna mak money, and they canna save it. If you should mak it, that would be an offence to your congregation; if ye should save it, they would say ye ought to hae gien it to the poor. There will be nae Dominie Crawford o' my kin, Colin. Will naething but looking down on the warld from a pulpit sarve you?"
"I like art, father. I can paint a little, and I love music."
"Art! Painting! Music! Is the lad gane daft? God has gien to some men wisdom and understanding, to ithers the art o' playing on the fiddle and painting pictures. There shall be no painting, fiddling Crawford among my kin, Colin."
The young fellow bit his lip, and his eyes flashed dangerously beneath their dropped lids. But he said calmly enough,
"What is your own idea, father? I am twenty-two, I ought to be doing a man's work of some kind."
"Just sae. That is warld-like talk. Now I'll speak wi' you anent a grand plan I hae had for a long time." With these words he rose, and took from his secretary a piece of parchment containing the plan of the estate. "Sit down, son Colin, and I'll show you your inheritance." Then he went carefully over every acre of moor and wood, of moss and water, growing enthusiastic as he pointed out how many sheep could be grazed on the hills, what shooting and fishing privileges were worth, etc. "And the best is to come, my lad. There is coal on the estate, and I am going to open it up, for I hae the ready siller to do it."
Colin sat silent; his cold, dissenting air irritated the excited laird very much.
"What hae ye got to say to a' this, Colin?" he asked proudly, "for you'll hae the management o' everything with me. Why, my dear son, if a' goes weel--and it's sure to--we'll be rich enough in a few years to put in our claim for the old Earldom o' Crawford, and you may tak your seat in the House o' Peers yet. The old chevalier promised us a Dukedom," he said sadly, "but I'm feared that will be aboon our thumb--"
"Father, what are you going to do with the clansmen? Do you think Highlandmen who have lived on the mountains are going to dig coal? Do you imagine that these men, who, until a generation or two ago, never handled anything but a claymore, and who even now scorn to do aught but stalk deer or spear salmon, will take a shovel and a pickaxe and labor as coal-miners? There is not a Crawford among them who would do it. I would despise him if he did."
"There is a glimmer o' good sense in what you say, Colin. I dinna intend any Crawford to work in my coal mine. Little use they would be there. I'll send to Glasgow for some Irish bodies."
"And then you will have more fighting than working on the place; and you'll have to build a Roman-catholic chapel, and have a Roman priest in Crawford, and you ken whether the Crawfords will thole that or not."
"As to the fighting, I'll gie them no chance. I'm going to send the Crawfords to Canada. I hae thought it all out. The sheilings will do for the others; the land I want for sheep grazing. They are doing naething for themsel's, and they are just a burden to me. It will be better for them to gang to Canada. I'll pay their passage, and I'll gie them a few pounds each to start them. You must stand by me in this matter, for they'll hae to go sooner or later."
"That is a thing I cannot do, father. There is not a Laird of Crawford that was not nursed on some clanswoman's breast. We are all kin. Do you think I would like to see Rory and Jean Crawford packed off to Canada? And there is young Hector, my foster-brother! And old Ailsa, your own foster-sister! Every Crawford has a right to a bite and a sup from the Crawford land."
"That is a' bygane nonsense. Your great-grandfather, if he wanted cattle or meal, could just take the clan and go and harry some Southern body out o' them. That is beyond our power, and it's an unca charge to hae every Crawford looking to you when hunting and fishing fails. They'll do fine in Canada. There is grand hunting, and if they want fighting, doubtless there will be Indians. They will hae to go, and you will hae to stand by me in this matter."
"It is against my conscience, sir. I had also plans about these poor, half-civilized, loving kinsmen of ours. You should hear Selwyn talk of what we might do with them. There is land enough to give all who want it a few acres, and the rest could be set up with boats and nets as fishers. They would like that."
"Nae doubt. But I don't like it, and I wont hae it. Mr. Selwyn may hae a big parish in London, but the Crawfords arena in his congregation. I am king and bishop within my ain estate, Colin." Then he rose in a decided passion and locked up again the precious parchment, and Colin understood that, for the present, the subject was dismissed.