Scottish Sketches by Amelia E. Barr
James Blackie's Revenge.
Few people who have travelled will deny that of all cities Glasgow is apparently the least romantic. Steeped in wet, white mist, or wrapped in yellow fog vapor, all gray stone and gray sky, dirty streets, and sloppy people, it presents none of the features of a show town. Yet it has great merits; it is enterprising, persevering, intensely national, and practically religious; and people who do not mind being damp have every chance to make a good living there. Even the sombre appearance of the dark gray granite of which it is built is not unsuitable to the sterling character of its people; for though this stone may be dull and ugly, there is a natural nobility about it, and it never can be mean.
I have said that, as a city, Glasgow is practically religious, and certainly this was the case something less than half a century ago. The number of its churches was not more remarkable than the piety and learning of its clergy; and the "skailing" of their congregations on a Sabbath afternoon was one of the most impressive sights, of its kind, in the world.
My true little story opens with the skailing of the Ramshorn Kirk, a very favorite place of worship with the well-to-do burghers of the east end of the city, and it was a peculiarly douce, decent, solemn-looking crowd that slowly and reverently passed out of its gates into the absolutely silent streets. For no vehicles of any kind disturbed the Sabbath stillness, and not until the people had gone some distance from the house of God did they begin to think their own thoughts, and with a certain grave reserve put them into words.
Among the groups who proceeded still farther east, towards the pleasant houses facing the "Green," one alone was remarkable enough to have elicited special notice from an observing stranger. It consisted of an old man and a young girl, evidently his daughter. Both were strikingly handsome, and the girl was much better dressed than the majority of women who took the same road. Long before they reached the Green they were joined by a younger man, whom the elder at once addressed in a reproving voice.
"Ye didna pay as much attention to the sermon as it behooved ye to do, James Blackie; and what for did ye speak to Robert Laird a'most within 'the Gates'?"
"I only asked if he had heard of the 'Bonnie Bess;' she is overdue five days, and eight good men in her, not to speak of the cargo."
"It's no cannie to be aye asking questions. Sit still and the news will come to ye: forbye, I'm no sure if yon was a lawfu' question; the Sabbath sun hasna set yet."
James Blackie mechanically turned to the west, and then slowly let his glance fall on the lovely face at his side.
"Christine," he asked softly, "how is all with you?"
"All is well, James."
Not another word was spoken until they reached David Cameron's home. He was carefully reconsidering the sermon--going over every point on his finger ends, lest he should drop any link of the argument; and James and Christine were listening to his criticisms and remarks. They all stopped before a shop over the windows of which was painted, "David Cameron, Dealer in Fine Teas;" and David, taking a large key from his pocket, opened the door, and said,
"Come in and eat wi' us, James; ye ken ye're welcome."
"Our friendship, Mr. Cameron, is a kind of Montgomery division--all on one side, nothing on the other; but I am 'so by myself' that I thank you heartily."
So David, followed by Christine and James, passed slowly through the darkened store, with its faint smells of Eastern spices and fragrant teas, into the little parlor beyond. The early winter night had now fallen, and the room, having only an outlet into a small court, would have been dark also but for the red glow of the "covered" fire. David took the poker and struck the great block of coal, and instantly the cheerful blaze threw an air of cosey and almost picturesque comfort over the homelike room.
The two men sat down beside the fire, spreading their hands to its warmth, and apparently finding their own thoughts excellent company, for neither of them spoke or moved until Christine reappeared. She had divested herself of the handsome black satin and velvet which formed her kirk suit; but in her long, plain dress of gray winsey, with a snowy lawn kerchief and cuffs, she looked still more fair and lovable.
James watched her as she spread the cloth and produced from various cupboards cold meats and pastries, bread and cakes, and many kinds of delicate preserves and sweetmeats. Her large, shapely hands among the gold-and-white china fascinated him, while her calm, noiseless, unhurried movements induced a feeling of passive repose that it required an effort to dispel, when she said in a low, even voice,
"Father, the food is waiting for the blessing."
It was a silent but by no means an unhappy meal. David was a good man, and he ate his food graciously and gratefully, dropping now and then a word of praise or thanks; and James felt it delightful enough to watch Christine. For James, though he had not yet admitted the fact to his own heart, loved Christine Cameron as men love only once, with that deep, pure affection that has perchance a nearer kindred than this life has hinted of.
He thought her also exquisitely beautiful, though this opinion would not have been indorsed by a majority of men. For Christine had one of those pale, statuesque faces apt to be solemn in repose; its beauty was tender and twilight, its expression serious and steadfast, and her clear, spiritual eyes held in them no light of earthly passion. She had grown up in that little back parlor amid the din and tumult of the city, under the gray, rainy skies, and surrounded by care and sin, as a white lily grows out of the dark, damp soil, drawing from the elements around only sweetness and purity.
She was very silent this afternoon, but apparently very happy. Indeed, there was an expression on her face which attracted her father's attention, and he said,
"The sermon has pleased thee well, I see, Christine."
"The sermon was good, but the text was enough, father. I think it over in my heart, and it leaves a light on all the common things of life." And she repeated it softly, "O Thou preserver of men, unto Thee shall all flesh come."
David lifted his bonnet reverently, and James, who was learned in what the Scotch pleasantly call "the humanities," added slowly,
"'But I, the mortal, Planted so lowly, with death to bless me, I sorrow no longer.'"
When people have such subjects of conversation, they talk moderately--for words are but poor interpreters of emotions whose sources lie in the depths of eternity. But they were none the less happy, and James felt as if he had been sitting at one of those tables which the Lord "prepareth in the wilderness," where the "cup runneth over" with joy and content.
Such moments rarely last long; and it is doubtful if we could bear to keep the soul always to its highest bent. When Christine had sided away the dishes and put in order the little room, David laid down his pipe, and said, "The Lord's day being now over, I may speak anent my ain matters. I had a letter, Christine, on Saturday, from my brother-in-law, McFarlane. He says young Donald will be in Glasgow next week."
"Will he stay here, father?"
"Na, na; he'll bide wi' the McFarlanes. They are rich folk; but siller is nae sin--an' it be clean-won siller."
"Then why did Uncle McFarlane write to you, father?"
"He wrote concerning the lad's pecuniary matters, Christine. Young Donald will need gude guiding; and he is my sister Jessie's only bairn--blood is thicker than water, ye'll allow that--and Donald is o' gentle blood. I'm no saying that's everything; but it is gude to come o' a gude kind."
"The McFarlanes have aye been for the pope and the Stuarts," said James, a little scornfully. "They were 'out' in the '79'; and they would pin the white cockade on to-morrow, if there was ever a Stuart to bid them do it."
"Maybe they would, James. Hielandmen hae a way o' sticking to auld friends. There's Camerons I wadna go bail for, if Prince Charlie could come again; but let that flea stick to the wa'. And the McFarlanes arena exactly papist noo; the twa last generations hae been 'Piscopals--that's ane step ony way towards the truth. Luther mayna be John Knox, but they'll win up to him some time, dootless they will."
"How old is young McFarlane?" asked James.
"He is turned twenty--a braw lad, his father says. I hae ne'er seen him, but he's Jessie's bairn, and my heart gaes out to meet him."
"Why did you not tell me on Saturday, father? I could have spoken for Maggie Maclean to help me put the house in order."
"I didna get the letter till the evening post. It was most as good as Sabbath then. Housecleaning is an unco temptation to women-folk, so I keepit the news till the Sabbath sun was weel set."
During this conversation James Blackie's heart had become heavy with some sad presentiment of trouble, such as arise very naturally in similar circumstances. As a poet says,
"Ah, no! it is not all delusion, That strange intelligence of sorrow Searching the tranquil heart's seclusion, Making us quail before the morrow. 'Tis the farewell of happiness departing, The sudden tremor of a soul at rest; The wraith of coming grief upstarting Within the watchful breast."
He listened to David Cameron's reminiscences of his bonnie sister Jessie, and of the love match she had made with the great Highland chieftain, with an ill-disguised impatience. He had a Lowlander's scorn for the thriftless, fighting, freebooting traditions of the Northern clans and a Calvinist's dislike to the Stuarts and the Stuarts' faith; so that David's unusual emotion was exceedingly and, perhaps, unreasonably irritating to him. He could not bear to hear him speak with trembling voice and gleaming eyes of the grand mountains and the silent corries around Ben-Nevis, the red deer trooping over the misty steeps, and the brown hinds lying among the green plumes of fern, and the wren and the thrush lilting in song together.
"Oh, the bonnie, bonnie Hielands!" cried David with a passionate affection; "it is always Sabbath up i' the mountains, Christine. I maun see them once again ere I lay by my pilgrim-staff and shoon for ever."
"Then you are not Glasgow born, Mr. Cameron," said James, with the air of one who finds out something to another's disadvantage.
"Me! Glasgo' born! Na, na, man! I was born among the mountains o' Argyle. It was a sair downcome fra them to the Glasgo' pavements. But I'm saying naething against Glasgo'. I was but thinking o' the days when I wore the tartan and climbed the hills in the white dawns, and, kneeling on the top o' Ben Na Keen, saw the sun sink down wi' a smile. It's little ane sees o' sunrising or sunsetting here, James," and David sighed heavily and wiped away the tender mist from his sight.
James looked at the old man with some contempt; he himself had been born and reared in one or other of the closest and darkest streets of the city. The memories of his loveless, hard-worked childhood were bitter to him, and he knew nothing of the joy of a boyhood spent in the hills and woods.
"Life is the same everywhere, Mr. Cameron. I dare say there is as much sin and as much worry and care among the mountains as on the Glasgow pavements."
"You may 'daur say' it, James, but that winna mak it true. Even in this warld our Father's house has many mansions. Gang your way up and up through thae grand solitudes and ye'll blush to be caught worrying among them."
And then in a clear, jubilant voice he broke into the old Scotch version of the 121st Psalm:
"I to the hills will lift mine eyes from whence doth come mine aid; My safety cometh from the Lord, who heaven and earth hath made."
And he sang it to that loveliest of all psalm tunes, Rathiel's "St. Mary's." It was impossible to resist the faith, the enthusiasm, the melody. At the second bar Christine's clear, sweet voice joined in, and at the second line James was making a happy third.
"Henceforth thy goings out and in God keep for ever will."
"Thae twa lines will do for a 'Gude-night,'" said David in the pause at the end of the psalm, and James rose with a sigh and wrapped his plaid around him.