Scottish Sketches by Amelia E. Barr
Facing His Enemy.
A positive blow could hardly have stunned John Callendar as this accusation did. He could not have answered it, even if he had had an opportunity, and the shock was the greater that it brought with it a sudden sense of responsibility, yea, even guilt. At first the feeling was one of anger at this sudden charge of conscience. He began to excuse himself; he was not to blame if other people could not do but they must o'erdo; then to assure himself that, being God's child, there could be no condemnation in the matter to him. But his heart was too tender and honest to find rest in such apologies, and close upon his anger at the lad crowded a host of loving memories that would not be put away.
David's father had been very dear to him. He recalled his younger brother in a score of tender situations: the schoolhouse in which they had studied cheek to cheek over one book; the little stream in which they had paddled and fished on holidays, the fir-wood, the misty corries, and the heathery mountains of Argyle; above all, he remembered the last time that he had ever seen the bright young face marching at the head of his company down Buchanan street on his way to India. David's mother was a still tenderer memory, and John Callendar's eyes grew misty as his heart forced him to recall that dark, wintry afternoon when she had brought David to him, and he had solemnly promised to be a father to the lad. It was the last promise between them; three weeks afterwards he stood at her grave's side. Time is said to dim such memories as these. It never does. After many years some sudden event recalls the great crises of any life with all the vividness of their first occurrence.
Confused as these memories were, they blended with an equal confusion of feelings. Love, anger, regret, fear, perplexity, condemnation, excuse, followed close on each other, and John's mind, though remarkably clear and acute, was one trained rather to the consideration of things point by point than to the catching of the proper clew in a mental labyrinth. After an hour's miserable uncertainty he was still in doubt what to do. The one point of comfort he had been able to reach was the hope that David had gone straight to Jenny with his grievance. "And though women-folk arena much as counsellors," thought John, "they are wonderfu' comforters; and Jenny will ne'er hear tell o' his leaving the house; sae there will be time to put right what is wrong."
But though David had always hitherto, when lessons were hard or lassies scornful, gone with his troubles to the faithful Jenny, he did not do so at this time. He did not even bid her "Good-night," and there was such a look on his face that she considered it prudent not to challenge the omission.
"It will be either money or marriage," she thought. "If it be money, the deacon has mair than is good for him to hae; if it be marriage, it will be Isabel Strang, and that the deacon wont like. But it is his ain wife Davie is choosing, and I am for letting the lad hae the lass he likes best."
Jenny had come to these conclusions in ten minutes, but she waited patiently for an hour before she interrupted her master. Then the clock struck midnight, and she felt herself aggrieved. "Deacon," she said sharply, "ye should mak the day day and the night night, and ye would if ye had a three weeks' ironing to do the morn. It has chappit twelve, sir."
"Jenny, I'm not sleeplike to-night. There hae been ill words between David and me."
"And I am mair than astonished at ye, deacon. Ye are auld enough to ken that ill words canna be wiped out wi' a sponge. Our Davie isna an ordinar lad; he can be trusted where the lave would need a watcher. Ye ken that, deacon, for he is your ain bringing up."
"But, Jenny, L2,000 for his share o' Hastie's mill! Surely ye didna encourage the lad in such an idea?"
"Oh, sae it's money," thought Jenny. "What is L2,000 to you, deacon? Why should you be sparing and saving money to die wi'? The lad isna a fool."
"I dinna approve o' the partner that is seeking him, Jenny. I hae heard things anent Robert Leslie that I dinna approve of; far from it."
"Hae ye seen anything wrong?"
"I canna say I hae."
"Trust to your eyes, deacon; they believe themselves, and your ears believe other people; ye ken which is best. His father was a decent body."
"Ay, ay; but Alexander Leslie was different from his son Robert. He was a canny, cautious man, who could ding for his ain side, and who always stood by the kirk. Robert left Dr. Morrison's soon after his father died. The doctor was too narrow for Robert Leslie. Robert Leslie has wonderfu' broad ideas about religion now. Jenny, I dinna like the men who are their ain Bibles and ministers."
"But there are good folk outside Dr. Morrison's kirk, deacon, surely."
"We'll trust so, surely, we'll trust so, Jenny; but a man wi' broad notions about religion soon gets broad notions about business and all other things. Why, Jenny, I hae heard that Robert Leslie once spoke o' the house o' John Callendar & Co. as 'old fogyish!'"
"That's no hanging matter, deacon, and ye must see that the world is moving."
"Maybe, maybe; but I'se never help it to move except in the safe, narrow road. Ye ken the Garloch mill-stream? It is narrow enough for a good rider to leap, but it is deep, and it does its wark weel summer and winter. They can break down the banks, woman, and let it spread all over the meadow; bonnie enough it will look, but the mill-clapper would soon stop. Now there's just sae much power, spiritual or temporal, in any man; spread it out, and it is shallow and no to be depended on for any purpose whatever. But narrow the channel, Jenny, narrow the channel, and it is a driving force."
"Ye are getting awa from the main subject, deacon. It is the L2,000, and ye had best mak up your mind to gie it to Davie. Then ye can gang awa to your bed and tak your rest."
"You talk like a--like a woman. It is easy to gie other folks' siller awa. I hae worked for my siller."
"Your siller, deacon? Ye hae naught but a life use o' it. Ye canna take it awa wi' ye. Ye can leave it to the ane you like best, but that vera person may scatter it to the four corners o' the earth. And why not? Money was made round that it might roll. It is little good yours is doing lying in the Clyde Trust."
"Jenny Callendar, you are my ain cousin four times removed, and you hae a kind o' right to speak your mind in my house; but you hae said enough, woman. It isna a question of money only; there are ither things troubling me mair than that. But women are but one-sided arguers. Good-night to you."
He turned to the fire and sat down, but after a few moments of the same restless, confused deliberation, he rose and went to his Bible. It lay open upon its stand, and John put his hand lovingly, reverently upon the pages. He had no glasses on, and he could not see a letter, but he did not need to.
"It is my Father's word," he whispered; and, standing humbly before it, he recalled passage after passage, until a great calm fell upon him. Then he said,
"I will lay me down and sleep now; maybe I'll see clearer in the morning light."
Almost as soon as he opened his eyes in the morning there was a tap at his door, and the gay, strong voice he loved so dearly asked,
"Can I come in, Uncle John?"
"Come in, Davie."
"Uncle, I was wrong last night, and I cannot be happy with any shadow between us two."
Scotchmen are not demonstrative, and John only winked his eyes and straightened out his mouth; but the grip of the old and young hand said what no words could have said half so eloquently. Then the old man remarked in a business-like way,
"I hae been thinking, Davie, I would go and look o'er Hastie's affairs, and if I like the look o' them I'll buy the whole concern out for you. Partners are kittle cattle. Ye will hae to bear their shortcomings as well as your ain. Tak my advice, Davie; rule your youth well, and your age will rule itsel'."
"Uncle, you forget that Robert Leslie is in treaty with Hastie. It would be the height of dishonor to interfere with his bargain. You have always told me never to put my finger in another man's bargain. Let us say no more on the subject. I have another plan now. If it succeeds, well and good; if not, there are chances behind this one."
John fervently hoped there would be no more to say on this subject, and when day after day went by without any reference to Hastie or Robert Leslie, John Callendar felt much relieved. David also had limited himself to one glass of toddy at night, and this unspoken confession and reformation was a great consolation to the old man. He said to himself that the evil he dreaded had gone by his door, and he was rather complacent over the bold stand he had taken.
That day, as he was slowly walking through the Exchange, pondering a proposal for Virginia goods, Deacon Strang accosted him. "Callendar, a good day to ye; I congratulate ye on the new firm o' Callendar & Leslie. They are brave lads, and like enough--if a' goes weel--to do weel."
John did not allow an eyelash to betray his surprise and chagrin. "Ah, Strang!" he answered, "the Callendars are a big clan, and we are a' kin; sae, if you tak to congratulating me on every Callendar whose name ye see aboon a doorstep, you'll hae mair business on hand than you'll ken how to manage. A good day to you!" But Deacon Callendar went up Great George street that day with a heavy, angry heart. His nephew opened the door for him. "Uncle John, I have been looking all over for you. I have something to tell you."
"Fiddler's news, Davie. I hae heard it already. Sae you hae struck hands wi' Robert Leslie after a', eh?"
"He had my promise, uncle, before I spoke to you. I could not break it."
"H'm! Where did you get the L2,000?"
"I borrowed it."
"Then I hope 'the party' looked weel into the business."
"They did not. It was loaned to me on my simple representation."
"'Simple representation!' Vera simple! It was some woman, dootless."
"It was my mother's aunt, Lady Brith."
"Ou, ay! I kent it. Weel, when a bargain is made, wish it good luck; sae, Jenny, put a partridge before the fire, and bring up a bottle O' Madeira."
It was not however a lively meal. John was too proud and hurt to ask for information, and David too much chilled by his reserve to volunteer it. The wine, being an unusual beverage to John, made him sleepy; and when David said he had to meet Robert Leslie at nine o'clock, John made no objection and no remark. But when Jenny came in to cover up the fire for the night, she found him sitting before it, rubbing his hands in a very unhappy manner.
"Cousin," he said fretfully, "there is a new firm in Glasgo' to-day."
"I hae heard tell o' it. God send it prosperity."
"It isna likely, Jenny; auld Lady Brith's money to start it! The godless auld woman! If Davie taks her advice, he's a gane lad."
"Then, deacon, it's your ain fault. Whatna for did ye not gie him the L2,000?"
"Just hear the woman! It taks women and lads to talk o' L2,000 as if it were picked up on the planestanes."
"If ye had loaned it, deacon, ye would hae had the right to spier into things, and gie the lad advice. He maun tak his advice where he taks his money. Ye flung that chance o' guiding Davie to the four winds. And let me tell ye, Cousin Callendar, ye hae far too tight a grip on this warld's goods. The money is only loaned to you to put out at interest for the Master. It ought to be building kirks and schoolhouses, and sending Bibles to the far ends o' the earth. When you are asked what ye did wi' it, how will you like to answer, 'I hid it safely awa, Lord, in the Clyde Trust and in Andrew Fleming's bank!'"
"That will do, woman. Now you hae made me dissatisfied wi' my guiding o' Davie, and meeserable anent my bank account, ye may gang to your bed; you'll doobtless sleep weel on the thought."