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- Beside the Bonnie Brier Bush - 5/34 -
"Mither," and George lifted up his head, "that was my conversion, and, mither dear, I hae longed a' thro' thae college studies for the day when ma mooth wud be opened wi' this evangel."
Marget's was an old-fashioned garden, with pinks and daisies and forget-me-nots, with sweet-scented wall-flower and thyme and moss roses, where nature had her way, and gracious thoughts could visit one without any jarring note. As George's voice softened to the close, I caught her saying, "His servants shall see His face," and the peace of Paradise fell upon us in the shadow of death.
The night before the end George was carried out to his corner, and Domsie, whose heart was nigh unto the breaking, sat with him the afternoon. They used to fight the College battles over again, with their favourite classics beside them, but this time none of them spoke of books. Marget was moving about the garden, and she told me that George looked at Domsie wistfully, as if he had something to say and knew not how to do it.
After a while he took a book from below his pillow, and began, like one thinking over his words:
"Maister Jamieson, ye hae been a gude freend tae me, the best I ever hed aifter my mither and faither. Wull ye tak this buik for a keepsake o' yir grateful scholar? It's a Latin 'Imitation' Dominie, and it's bonnie printin'. Ye mind hoo ye gave me yir ain Virgil, and said he was a kind o' Pagan sanct. Noo here is my sanct, and div ye ken I've often thocht Virgil saw His day afar off, and was glad. Wull ye read it, Dominie, for my sake, and maybe ye 'ill come to see--" and George could not find words for more.
But Domsie understood. "Ma laddie, ma laddie, that I luve better than onythin' on earth, I'll read it till I die, and, George, I'll tell ye what livin' man does na ken. When I was your verra age I had a cruel trial, and ma heart was turned frae faith. The classics hae been my bible, though I said naethin' to ony man against Christ. He aye seemed beyond man, and noo the veesion o' Him has come to me in this gairden. Laddie, ye hae dune far mair for me than I ever did for you. Wull ye mak a prayer for yir auld dominie afore we pairt?"
There was a thrush singing in the birches and a sound of bees in the air, when George prayed in a low, soft voice, with a little break in it.
"Lord Jesus, remember my dear maister, for he's been a kind freend to me and mony a puir laddie in Drumtochty. Bind up his sair heart and give him licht at eventide, and may the maister and his scholars meet some mornin' where the schule never skails, in the kingdom o' oor Father."
Twice Domsie said Amen, and it seemed as the voice of another man, and then he kissed George upon the forehead; but what they said Marget did not wish to hear.
When he passed out at the garden gate, the westering sun was shining golden, and the face of Domsie was like unto that of a little child.
A SCHOLAR'S FUNERAL
Drumtochty never acquitted itself with credit at a marriage, having no natural aptitude for gaiety, and being haunted with anxiety lest any "hicht" should end in a "howe," but the parish had a genius for funerals. It was long mentioned with a just sense of merit that an English undertaker, chancing on a "beerial" with us, had no limits to his admiration. He had been disheartened to despair all his life by the ghastly efforts of chirpy little Southerners to look solemn on occasion, but his dreams were satisfied at the sight of men like Drumsheugh and Hillocks in their Sabbath blacks. Nature lent an initial advantage in face, but it was an instinct in the blood that brought our manner to perfection, and nothing could be more awful than a group of those austere figures, each man gazing into vacancy without a trace of expression, and refusing to recognise his nearest neighbour by word or look. Drumtochty gave itself to a "beerial" with chastened satisfaction, partly because it lay near to the sorrow of things, and partly because there was nothing of speculation in it. "Ye can hae little rael pleesure in a merrige," explained our gravedigger, in whom the serious side had been perhaps abnormally developed, "for ye never ken hoo it will end; but there's nae risk about a 'beerial.'"
It came with a shock upon townsmen that the ceremony began with a "service o' speerits," and that an attempt of the Free Kirk minister to replace this by the reading of Scripture was resisted as an "innovation." Yet every one admitted that the seriousness of Drumtochty pervaded and sanctified this function. A tray of glasses was placed on a table with great solemnity by the "wricht," who made no sign and invited none. You might have supposed that the circumstance had escaped the notice of the company, so abstracted and unconscious was their manner, had it not been that two graven images a minute later are standing at the table.
"Ye 'ill taste, Tammas," with settled melancholy.
"Na, na; I've nae incleenation the day; it's an awfu' dispensation this, Jeems. She wud be barely saxty."
"Ay, ay, but we maun keep up the body sae lang as we're here, Tammas."
"Weel, puttin' it that way, a'm not sayin' but yir richt," yielding unwillingly to the force of circumstance.
"We're here the day and there the morn, Tammas. She wes a fine wumman--Mistress Stirton--a weel-livin' wumman; this 'ill be a blend, a'm thinkin'."
"She slippit aff sudden in the end; a'm judgin' it's frae the Muirtown grocer; but a body canna discreeminate on a day like this."
Before the glasses are empty all idea of drinking is dissipated, and one has a vague impression that he is at church.
It was George Howe's funeral that broke the custom and closed the "service." When I came into the garden where the neighbours were gathered, the "wricht" was removing his tray, and not a glass had been touched. Then I knew that Drumtochty had a sense of the fitness of things, and was stirred to its depths.
"Ye saw the wricht carry in his tray," said Drumsheugh, as we went home from the kirkyard. "Weel, yon's the last sicht o't ye 'ill get, or a'm no Drumsheugh. I've nae objection ma'sel to a nee'bur tastin' at a funeral, a' the mair if he's come frae the upper end o' the pairish, and ye ken I dinna hold wi' thae teetotal fouk. A'm ower auld in the horn to change noo. But there's times and seasons, as the gude Buik says, and it wud hae been an awfu' like business tae luik at a gless in Marget's gairden, and puir Domsie standing in ahent the brier bush as if he cud never lift his heid again. Ye may get shairper fouk in the uptak', but ye 'ill no get a pairish with better feelin's. It 'ill be a kind o' sateesfaction tae Marget when she hears o't. She was aye against tastin', and a'm judgin' her tribble has ended it at beerials."
"Man, it was hard on some o' yon lads the day, but there wesna ane o' them made a mudge. I keepit my eye on Posty, but he never lookit the way it wes. He's a drouthy body, but he hes his feelin's, hes Posty."
Before the Doctor began the prayer, Whinnie took me up to the room.
"There's twa o' Geordie's College freends with Marget, grand scholars a'm telt, and there's anither I canna weel mak oot. He's terrible cast doon, and Marget speaks as if she kent him."
It was a low-roofed room, with a box bed and some pieces of humble furniture, fit only for a labouring man. But the choice treasures of Greece and Rome lay on the table, and on a shelf beside the bed College prizes and medals, while everywhere were the roses he loved. His peasant mother stood beside the body of her scholar son, whose hopes and thoughts she had shared, and through the window came the bleating of distant sheep. It was the idyll of Scottish University life.
George's friends were characteristic men, each of his own type, and could only have met in the commonwealth of letters. One was of an ancient Scottish house which had fought for Mary against the Lords of the Congregation, followed Prince Charlie to Culloden, and were High Church and Tory to the last drop of their blood. Ludovic Gordon left Harrow with the reputation of a classic, and had expected to be first at Edinboro'. It was Gordon, in fact, that Domsie feared in the great war, but he proved second to Marget's son, and being of the breed of Prince Jonathan, which is the same the world over, he came to love our David as his own soul. The other, a dark little man, with a quick, fiery eye, was a Western Celt, who had worried his way from a fishing croft in Barra to be an easy first in Philosophy at Edinboro', and George and Ronald Maclean were as brothers because there is nothing so different as Scottish and Highland blood.
"Maister Gordon," said Marget, "this is George's Homer, and he bade me tell you that he coonted yir freendship ain o' the gifts o' God."
For a brief space Gordon was silent, and, when he spoke, his voice sounded strange in that room.
"Your son was the finest scholar of my time, and a very perfect gentleman. He was also my true friend, and I pray God to console his mother." And Ludovic Gordon bowed low over Marget's worn hand as if she had been a queen.
Marget lifted Plato, and it seemed to me that day as if the dignity of our Lady of Sorrows had fallen upon her.
"This is the buik George chose for you, Maister Maclean, for he aye said to me ye hed been a prophet and shown him mony deep things."
The tears sprang to the Celt's eyes.
"It wass like him to make all other men better than himself," with the soft, sad Highland accent; "and a proud woman you are to hef been his mother."
The third man waited at the window till the scholars left, and then I saw he was none of that kind, but one who had been a slave of sin
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