Scottish Sketches by Amelia E. Barr
Facing His Enemy.
When they entered Dr. Morrison's house the doctor entered with them. He was wet through, and his swarthy face was in a glow of excitement. A stranger was with him, and this stranger he hastily took into a room behind the parlor, and then he came back to his visitors.
"Well, John, what is the matter?"
"Murder. Murder is the matter, doctor," and with a strange, quiet precision he went over David's confession, for David had quite broken down and was sobbing with all the abandon of a little child. During the recital the minister's face was wonderful in its changes of expression, but at the last a kind of adoring hopefulness was the most decided.
"John," he said, "what were you going to do wi' that sorrowfu' lad?"
"I was going to gie him up to justice, minister, as it was right and just to do; but first we must see about--about the body."
"That has, without doot, been already cared for. On the warst o' nights there are plenty o' folk passing o'er Glasgow Green after the tea-hour. It is David we must care for now. Why should we gie him up to the law? Not but what 'the law is good, if a man use it lawfully.' But see how the lad is weeping. Dinna mak yoursel' hard to a broken heart, deacon. God himsel' has promised to listen to it. You must go back hame and leave him wi' me. And, John," he said, with an air of triumph, as they stood at the door together, with the snow blowing in their uplifted faces, "John, my dear old brother John, go hame and bless God; for, I tell you, this thing shall turn out to be a great salvation."
So John went home, praying as he went, and conscious of a strange hopefulness in the midst of his grief. The minister turned back to the sobbing criminal, and touching him gently, said,
"Davie, my son, come wi' me."
David rose hopelessly and followed him. They went into the room where they had seen the minister take the stranger who had entered the house with them. The stranger was still there, and as they entered he came gently and on tiptoe to meet them.
"Dr. Fleming," said the minister, "this is David Callendar, your patient's late partner in business; he wishes to be the poor man's nurse, and indeed, sir, I ken no one fitter for the duty."
So Dr. Fleming took David's hand, and then in a low voice gave him directions for the night's watch, though David, in the sudden hope and relief that had come to him, could scarcely comprehend them. Then the physician went, and the minister and David sat by the bedside alone. Robert lay in the very similitude and presence of death, unconscious both of his sufferings and his friends. Congestion of the brain had set in, and life was only revealed by the faintest pulsations, and by the appliances for relief which medical skill thought it worth while to make.
"'And sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death,'" said the doctor solemnly. "David, there is your work."
"God knows how patiently and willingly I'll do it, minister. Poor Robert, I never meant to harm him."
"Now listen to me, and wonder at God's merciful ways. Auld Deacon Galbraith, who lives just beyond Rutherglen Bridge, sent me word this afternoon that he had gotten a summons from his Lord, and he would like to see my face ance mair before he went awa for ever. He has been my right hand in the kirk, and I loved him weel. Sae I went to bid him a short Gude-by--for we'll meet again in a few years at the maist--and I found him sae glad and solemnly happy within sight o' the heavenly shore, that I tarried wi' him a few hours, and we ate and drank his last sacrament together. He dropped my hand wi' a smile at half-past six o'clock, and after comforting his wife and children a bit I turned my face hameward. But I was in that mood that I didna care to sit i' a crowded omnibus, and I wanted to be moving wi' my thoughts. The falling snow and the deserted Green seemed good to me, and I walked on thinking o'er again the deacon's last utterances, for they were wise and good even beyond the man's nature. That is how I came across Robert Leslie. I thought he was dead, but I carried him in my arms to the House o' the Humane Society, which, you ken, isna one hundred yards from where Robert fell. The officer there said he wasna dead, sae I brought him here and went for the physician you spoke to. Now, Davie, it is needless for me to say mair. You ken what I expect o' you. You'll get no whiskey in this house, not a drop o' it. If the sick man needs anything o' that kind, I shall gie it wi' my ain hand; and you wont leave this house, David, until I see whether Robert is to live or die. You must gie me your word o' honor for that."
"Minister, pray what is my word worth?"
"Everything it promises, David Callendar. I would trust your word afore I'd trust a couple o' constables, for a' that's come and gane."
"Thank you, thank you, doctor! You shall not trust, and be deceived. I solemnly promise you to do my best for Robert, and not to leave your house until I have your permission."
The next morning Dr. Morrison was at John Callendar's before he sat down to breakfast. He had the morning paper with him, and he pointed out a paragraph which ran thus: "Robert Leslie, of the late firm of Callendar & Leslie, was found by the Rev. Dr. Morrison in an unconscious condition on the Green last night about seven o'clock. It is supposed the young gentleman slipped and fell, and in the fall struck his head, as congestion of the brain has taken place. He lies at Dr. Morrison's house, and is being carefully nursed by his late partner, though there is but little hope of his recovery."
"Minister, it wasna you surely wha concocted this lie?"
"Nobody has told a lie, John. Don't be overrighteous, man; there is an unreasonableness o' virtue that savors o' pride. I really thought Robert had had an accident, until you told me the truth o' the matter. The people at the Humane Society did the same; sae did Dr. Fleming. I suppose some reporter got the information from one o' the latter sources. But if Robert gets well, we may let it stand; and if he doesna get well, I shall seek counsel o' God before I take a step farther. In the meantime David is doing his first duty in nursing him; and David will stay in my house till I see whether it be a case o' murder or not."
For three weeks there was but the barest possibility of Robert's recovery. But his youth and fine constitution, aided by the skill of his physician and the unremitting care of his nurse, were at length, through God's mercy, permitted to gain a slight advantage. The discipline of that three weeks was a salutary though a terrible one to David. Sometimes it became almost intolerable; but always, when it reached this point, Dr. Morrison seemed, by some fine spiritual instinct, to discover the danger and hasten to his assistance. Life has silences more pathetic than death's; and the stillness of that darkened room, with its white prostrate figure, was a stillness in which David heard many voices he never would have heard in the crying out of the noisy world.
What they said to him about his wasted youth and talents, and about his neglected Saviour, only his own heart knew. But he must have suffered very much, for, at the end of a month, he looked like a man who had himself walked through the valley and shadow of death. About this time Dr. Morrison began to drop in for an hour or two every evening; sometimes he took his cup of tea with the young men, and then he always talked with David on passing events in such a way as to interest without fatiguing the sick man. His first visit of this kind was marked by a very affecting scene. He stood a moment looking at Robert and then taking David's hand, he laid it in Robert's. But the young men had come to a perfect reconciliation one midnight when the first gleam of consciousness visited the sick man, and Dr. Morrison was delighted to see them grasp each other with a smile, while David stooped and lovingly touched his friend's brow.
"Doctor, it was my fault," whispered Robert. "If I die, remember that. I did my best to anger Davie, and I struck him first. I deserved all I have had to suffer."
After this, however, Robert recovered rapidly, and in two months he was quite well.
"David," said the minister to him one morning, "your trial is nearly over. I have a message from Captain Laird to Robert Leslie. Laird sails to-night; his ship has dropped down the river a mile, and Robert must leave when the tide serves; that will be at five o'clock."
For Robert had shrunk from going again into his Glasgow life, and had determined to sail with his friend Laird at once for New York. There was no one he loved more dearly than David and Dr. Morrison, and with them his converse had been constant and very happy and hopeful. He wished to leave his old life with this conclusion to it unmingled with any other memories.