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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWarlock O' Glenwarlock: A Homely Romance - Chapter 46. A Rest
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Warlock O' Glenwarlock: A Homely Romance - Chapter 46. A Rest Post by :jptia Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :1743

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Warlock O' Glenwarlock: A Homely Romance - Chapter 46. A Rest

CHAPTER XLVI. A REST

But now James Gracie fell sick. They removed him therefore from the men's quarters, and gave him Cosmo's room, that he might be better attended to, and warmer than in his own. Cosmo put up a bed for himself in his father's room, and Grizzie and Aggie slept together; so now the household was gathered literally under one roof--that of the kitchentower, as it had been called for centuries.

James's attack was serious, requiring much attention, and involving an increase of expenditure which it needed faith to face. But of course Cosmo did not shrink from it: so long as his money lasted, his money should go. James himself objected bitterly to such waste, as he called it, saying what remained of his life was not worth it. But the laird, learning the mood the old man was in, rose, and climbed the stair, and stood before his bed, and said to him solemnly, "Jeames, wha are ye to tell the Lord it's time he sud tak ye? what KIN' o' faith is 't, to refuse a sup,'cause ye see na anither spunefu' upo' the ro'd ahin' 't?"

James hid his old face in his old hands. The laird went back to his bed, and nothing more ever passed on the subject.

The days went on, the money ran fast away, no prospect appeared of more, but still they had enough to eat.

One morning in the month of January, still and cold, and dark overhead, a cheerless day in whose bosom a storm was coming to life, Cosmo, sitting at his usual breakfast of brose, the simplest of all preparations of oatmeal, bethought himself whether some of the curiosities in the cabinets in the drawing-room might not, with the help of his friend the jeweller, be turned to account. Not waiting to finish his breakfast, for which that day he had but little relish, he rose and went at once to examine the family treasures in the light of necessity.

The drawing-room felt freezing-dank like a tomb, and looked weary of its memories. It was so still that it seemed as if sound would die in it. Not a mouse stirred. The few pictures on the walls looked perishing with cold and changelessness. The very shine of the old damask was wintry. But Cosmo did not long stand gazing. He crossed to one of the shrines of his childhood's reverence, opened it, and began to examine the things with the eye of a seller. Once they had seemed treasures inestimable, now he feared they might bring him nothing in his sore need. Scarce a sorrow at the thought of parting with them woke in him, as one after another he set those aside, and took these from their places and put them on a table. He was like a miner searching for golden ore, not a miser whom hunger had dominated. The sole question with him was, would this or that bring money. When he had gone through the cabinet, he turned from it to regard what he had found. There was a dagger in a sheath of silver of raised work, with a hilt cunningly wrought of the same; a goblet of iron with a rich pattern in gold beaten into it; a snuff-box with a few diamonds set round a monogram in gold in the lid: these, with several other smaller things that had an air of promise about them, he thought it might be worth while to make the trial with, and packed them carefully, thinking to take them at once to Muir of Warlock, and commit them to the care of the carrier. But when he returned to his father, he found he had been missing him, and put off going till the next day.

As the sun went down, the wind rose, and the storm in the bosom of the stillness came to life--the worst of that winter. It reminded both father and son of the terrible night when Lord Mergwain went out into the deep. The morning came, fierce with gray cold age, a tumult of wind and snow. There seemed little chance the carrier would go for days to come. But the storm might have been more severe upon their hills than in the opener country, and Cosmo would go and see. Certain things too had to be got for the invalids.

It was with no small difficulty he made his way through the snow to the village, and there also he found it so deep, that the question would have been how to get the cart out of the shed, not whether the horses were likely to get it through the Glens o' Fowdlan. He left the parcel therefore with the carrier's wife, and proceeded, somewhat sad at heart, to spend the last of his money, amounting to half-a--crown. Having done so, he set out for home, the wind blowing fierce, and the snow falling thick.

Just outside the village he met a miserable-looking woman, with a child in her arms. How she came to be there he could not think. She moved him with the sense of community in suffering: hers was the greater share, and he gave her the twopence he had left. Prudence is but one of the minor divinities, if indeed she be anything better than the shadow of a virtue, and he took no counsel with her, knowing that the real divinity, Love, would not cast him out for the deed. The widow who gave the two mites was by no means a prudent person. Upon a certain ancient cabinet of carved oak is represented Charity, gazing at the child she holds on her arm, and beside her Prudence, regarding herself in a mirror.

Cosmo had not gone far, battling with wind and snow above and beneath, before he began to feel his strength failing him. It had indeed been failing for some time. Grizzle knew, although he himself did not, that he had not of late been eating so well; and he had never quite recovered his exertions in Lord Lick-my-loof's harvest-fields. Now, for the first time in his life, he began to find his strength unequal to elemental war. But he laughed at the idea, and held on. The wind was right in his face, and the cold was bitter. Nor was there within him, though plenty of courage, good spirits enough to supply any lack of physical energy. His breath grew short, and his head began to ache. He longed for home that he might lie down and breathe, but a long way and a great snowy wind were betwixt him and rest. He fell into a reverie, and seemed to get on better for not thinking about the exertion he had to make. The monotony of it at the same time favoured the gradual absorption of his thoughts in a dreamy meditation. Alternately sunk in himself for minutes, and waking for a moment to the consciousness of what was around him, he had walked, as it seemed, for hours, and at length, all notion of time and distance gone, began to wonder whether he must not be near the place where the parish-road turned off. He stood, and sent sight into his eyes, but nothing was to be seen through the drift save more drift behind it. Was he upon the road at all? He sought this way and that, but could find neither ditch nor dyke. He was lost! He knew well the danger of sitting down, knew on the other hand that the more exhausted he was when he succumbed, the sooner would the cold get the better of him, and that even now he might be wandering from the abodes of men, diminishing with every step the likelihood of being found. He turned his back to the wind and stood--how long he did not know, but while he stood thus 'twixt waking and sleeping, he received a heavy blow on the head--or so it seemed--from something soft. It dazed him, and the rest was like a dream, in which he walked on and on for ages, falling and rising again, following something, he never knew what. There all memory of consciousness ceased. He came to himself in bed.

Aggie was the first to get anxious about him. They had expected him home to dinner, and when it began to grow dark and he had not come, she could bear it no longer, and set out to meet him. But she had not far to go, for she had scarcely left the kitchen-door when she saw some one leaning over the gate. Through the gathering twilight and the storm she could distinguish nothing more, but she never doubted it was the young laird, though whether in the body or out of it she did doubt not a little. She hurried to the gate, and found him standing between it and the wall. She thought at first he was dead, for there came no answer when she spoke; but presently she heard him murmur something about conic sections. She opened the gate gently. He would have fallen as it yielded, but she held him. Her touch seemed to bring him a little to himself. She supported and encouraged him; he obeyed her, and she succeeded in getting him into the house. It was long ere Grizzie and she could make him warm before the kitchen-fire, but at last he came to himself sufficiently to walk up the stairs to bed, though afterwards he remembered nothing of it.

He was recovering before they let the laird understand in what a dangerous plight Aggie had found him, but the moment he learned that his son was ailing, the old man seemed to regain a portion of his strength. He rose from his bed, and for the two days and three nights during which Cosmo was feverish and wandering, slept only in snatches. On the third day Cosmo himself persuaded him to return to his bed.

The women had now their hands full--all the men in the house laid up, and they two only to do everything! The first night, when they had got Cosmo comfortable in bed, and had together gone down again to the kitchen, in the middle of the floor they stopped, and looked at each other: their turn had come! They understood each other, and words were needless. Each had saved a little money--and now no questions would be asked! Aggie left the room and came back with her store, which she put into Grizzie's hand. Grizzie laid it on the table, went in her turn to her box, brought thence her store, laid it on the other, took both up, closed her hands over them, shook them together, murmured over them, like an incantation, the words, "It's nae mair mine, an' it's nae mair thine, but belangs to a', whatever befa'," and put all in her pocket under her winsey petticoat. Thence, for a time, the invalids wanted, nothing--after the moderate ideas of need, that is, ruling in the house.

When Cosmo came to himself on the third day, he found that self possessed by a wondrous peace. It was as if he were dead, and had to rest till his strength, exhausted with dying, came back to him. Bodiless he seemed, and without responsibility of action, with that only of thought. Those verses in The Ancient Mariner came to him as if he spoke them for himself:


"I thought that I had died in sleep,
And was a blessed ghost."


His soul was calm and trusting like that of a bird on her eggs, who knows her one grand duty in the economy of the creation is repose. How it was he never could quite satisfy himself, but, remembering he had spent their last penny, he yet felt no anxiety; neither, when Grizzie brought him food, felt inclination to ask her how she had procured it. The atmosphere was that of the fairy-palace of his childish--visions, only his feelings were more solemn, and the fairy, instead of being beautiful, was--well, was dear old Grizzie. His sole concern was his father, and the cheerful voice that invariably answered his every inquiry was sufficient reassurance.

For three days more he lay in a kind of blessed lethargy, with little or no suffering. He fancied he could not recover, nor did he desire to recover, but to go with his father to the old world, and learn its ways from his mother. In his half slumbers he seemed ever to be gently floating down a great gray river, on which thousands more were likewise floating, each by himself, some in canoes, some in boats, some in the water without even an oar; every now and then one would be lifted and disappear, none saw how, but each knew that his turn would come, when he too would be laid hold of; in the meantime all floated helpless onward, some full of alarm at the unknown before them, others indifferent, and some filled with solemn expectation; he himself floated on gently waiting: the unseen hand would come with the hour, and give him to his mother.

On the seventh day he began to regard the things around him with some interest, began to be aware of returning strength, and the approach of duty: presently he must rise, and do his part to keep things going! Still he felt no anxiety, for the alarum of duty had not yet called him. And now, as he lay passive to the influences of restoring strength, his father from his bed would tell him old tales he had heard from his grandmother; and sometimes they made Grizzie sit between the two beds, and tell them stories she had heard in her childhood. Her stock seemed never exhausted. Now one, now the other would say, "There, Grizzie! I never heard that before!" and Grizzie would answer, "I daursay no, sir. Hoo sud ye than? I had forgotten't mysel'!"

Here is one of the stories Grizzie told them.

"In a cauld how, far amo' the hills, whaur the winter was a sair thing, there leevit an honest couple, a man 'at had a gey lot o' sheep, an' his wife--fowk weel aff in respec' o' this warl's gear, an' luikit up til amo' the neebours, but no to be envyed, seein' they had lost a' haill bonny faimily, ane efter the ither, till there was na ane left i' the hoose but jist ae laddie, the bonniest an' the best o' a', an' as a maitter o' coorse, the verra aipple o' their e'e.--Amo' the three o' 's laird," here Grizzie paused in her tale to remark, "Ye'll be the only ane 'at can fully un'erstan' hoo the hert o' a parent maun cleave to the last o' his flock.--Weel, whether it was 'at their herts was ower muckle wrappit up i' this ae human cratur for the growth o' their sowls, I dinna ken--there bude to be some rizzon for't--this last ane o' a' begud in his turn to dwine an' dwin'le like the lave; an' whaurever thae twa puir fowk turnt themsel's i' their pangs, there stude deith, glowerin' at them oot o' his toom e'en. Pray they did, ye may be sure, an' greit whan a' was mirk, but prayers nor tears made nae differ; the bairn was sent for, an' awa' the bairn maun gang. An' whan at len'th he lay streekit in his last clean claes till the robe o' richteousness 'at wants na washin' was put upon 'im, what cud they but think the warl' was dune for them!

"But the warl' maun wag, though the hert may sag; an' whan the deid lies streekit, there's a hoose to be theekit. An' the freens an' the neebours gatithert frae near an' frae far, till there was a heap o' fowk i' the hoose, come to the beeryin' o' the bonny bairn. An' fowk maun ait an' live nane the less 'at the maitter they come upo' be deith; an' sae the nicht afore the yerdin', their denner the neist day whan they cam back frae the grave, had to be foreordeent.

"It was i' the spring-time o' the year, unco late i' thae pairts. The maist o' the lambs hed come, but the storms war laith to lea' the laps o' the hills, an' lang efter it begud to be something like weather laicher doon, the sheep cudna be lippent oot to pick their bit mait for themsel's, but had to be keepit i' the cot. Sae to the cot the gudeman wad gang, to fess hame a lamb for the freens an' the neebours' denners. An' as it fell oot, it was a fearsome nicht o' win' an' drivin' snaw--waur, I wad reckon, nor onything we hae hereawa'. But he turnt na aside for win' or snaw, for little cared he what cam til 'im or o' 'im, wi' sic a how in his hert. O' the contrar', the storm was like a freenly cloak til's grief, for upo' the ro'd he fell a greitin' an' compleenin' an' lamentin' lood, jeedgin' nae doobt, gien he thoucht at a', he micht du as he likit wi' naebody nigh. To the sheep cot, I say, he gaed wailin' an' cryin' alood efter bonny bairn, the last o' his flock, oontimeous his taen.

"Half blin' wi' the nicht an' the snaw an' his ain tears, he cam at last to the door o' the sheep-cot. An' what sud he see there but a man stan'in' afore the door--straucht up, an' still i' the mirk! It was 'maist fearsome to see onybody there--sae far frae ony place--no to say upo' sic a nicht! The stranger was robed in some kin' o' a plaid, like the gude--man himsel', but whether a lowlan' or a hielan' plaid, he cudna tell. But the face o' the man--that was ane no to be forgotten--an' that for the verra freenliness o' 't! An' whan he spak, it was as gien a' the v'ices o' them 'at had gane afore, war made up intil ane, for the sweetness an' the pooer o' the same.

"'What mak ye here in sic a storm, man?' he said. An' the soon' o' his v'ice was aye safter nor the words o' his mooth.

"'I come for a lamb,' answered he.

"'What kin' o' a lamb?' askit the stranger.

"'The verra best I can lay my han's upo' i' the cot,' answered he, 'for it's to lay afore my freens and neebours. I houp, sir, ye'll come hame wi' me an' share o' 't. Ye s' be welcome.'

"'Du yer sheep mak ony resistance whan ye tak the lamb? or when it's gane, du they mak an ootcry!'

"'No, sir--never.'

"The stranger gae a kin' o' a sigh, an' says he,

"'That's no hoo they trait me! Whan I gang to my sheep-fold, an' tak the best an' the fittest, my ears are deavt an' my hert torn wi' the clamours--the bleatin', an' ba'in' o' my sheep--my ain sheep! compleenin' sair agen me;--an' me feedin' them, an' cleedin' them, an' haudin' the tod frae them, a' their lives, frae the first to the last! It's some oongratefu', an' some sair to bide.'

"By this time the man's heid was hingin' doon; but whan the v'ice ceased, he luikit up in amaze. The stranger was na there. Like ane in a dream wharvin he kenned na joy frae sorrow, or pleesur' frae pain, the man gaed into the cot, an' grat ower the heids o' the 'oo'y craters 'at cam croodin' aboot 'im; but he soucht the best lamb nane the less, an' cairriet it wi' 'im. An' the next day he came hame frae the funeral wi' a smile upo' the face whaur had been nane for mony a lang; an' the neist Sunday they h'ard him singin' i' the kirk as naebody had ever h'ard him sing afore. An' never frae that time was there a moan or complaint to be h'ard frae the lips o' aither o' the twa. They hadna a bairn to close their e'en whan their turn sud come, but whaur there's nane ahin', there's the mair to fin'."

Grizzie ceased, and the others were silent, for the old legend had touched the deepest in them.

Many years after, Cosmo discovered that she had not told it quite right, for having been brought up in the Lowlands, she did not thoroughly know the ancient customs of the Highlands. But she had told it well after her own fashion, and she could not have had a fitter audience. (Footnote: See Mrs. Grant's Essays on the Superstitions of the Highlanders.)

"It's whiles i' the storm, whiles i' the desert, whiles i' the agony, an' whiles i' the calm, whaurever he gets them richt them lanes,'at the Lord visits his people--in person, as a body micht say," remarked the laird, after a long pause.

Cosmo did not get well so fast as he had begun to expect. Nothing very definite seemed the matter with him; it was rather as if life itself had been checked at the spring, therefore his senses dulled, and his blood made thick and slow. A sleepy weariness possessed him, in which he would lie for hours, supine and motionless, desiring nothing, fearing nothing, suffering nothing, only loving. The time would come when he must be up and doing, but now he would not think of work; he would fancy himself a bird in God's nest--the nest into which the great brother would have gathered all the children of Jerusalem. Poems would come to him--little songs and little prayers--spiritual butterflies, with wings whose spots matched; sometimes humorous little parables concerning life and its affairs would come; but the pity was that none of them would stay; never, do what he might, could he remember so as to recall one of them, and had to comfort himself with the thought that nothing true can ever be lost; if one form of it go, it is that a better may come in its place. He doubted if the best could be forgotten. A thing may be invaluable, he thought, and the form in which it presents itself worth but little, however at the moment it may share the look of the invaluable within it. But happy is the half-sleeper whose brain is a thoroughfare for lovely things--all to be caught in the nets of Life, for Life is the one miser that never loses, never can lose.

When he was able to get up for a while every day, Grizzie yielded a portion of her right of nursing to Aggie, and now that he was able to talk a little, the change was a pleasant one. And now first the laird began to discover how much there was in Aggie, and expressing his admiration of her knowledge and good sense, her intellect and insight, was a little surprised that Cosmo did not seem so much struck with them as himself. Cosmo, however, explained that her gifts were no discovery to him, as he had been aware of them from childhood.

"There are few like her, father," he said. "Mony's the time she's hauden me up whan I was ready to sink."

"The Lord reward her!" responded the laird.

All sicknesses are like aquatic plants of evil growth: their hour comes, and they wither and die, and leave the channels free. Life returns--in slow, soft ripples at first, but not the less in irresistible tide, and at last in pulses of mighty throb through every pipe. Death is the final failure of all sickness, the clearing away of the very soil in which the seed of the ill plant takes root and prevails.

By degrees Cosmo recovered strength, nor left behind him the peace that had pervaded his weakness. The time for action was at hand. For weeks he had been fed like the young ravens in the nest, and, knowing he could do nothing, had not troubled himself with the useless HOW; but it was time once more to understand, that he might be ready to act. Mechanically almost, he opened his bureau: there was not a penny there. He knew there could not be--except some angel had visited it while he lay, and that he had not looked for. He closed it, and sat down to think. There was no work to be had he knew off there was little strength to do it with, had there been any. As the spring came on, there would be labour in the fields, and that he would keep in view, but the question was of present or all but present need. One thing only he would not do. There were many in the country around on friendly terms with his father and himself, but his very soul revolted from any endeavour to borrow money while he saw no prospect of repaying it. He would carry the traditions of his family no further in that direction. Literally, he would rather die. But rather than his father should want, he would beg. "Where borrowing is dishonest," he said to himself, "begging may be honourable. The man who scorns to accept a gift of money, and does not scruple to borrow, knowing no chance of repaying, is simply a thief; the man who has no way of earning the day's bread, HAS A DIVINE RIGHT TO BEG." In Cosmo's case, however, there was this difficulty: he could easily make a living of some sort, would he but leave his father, and that he was determined not to do. Before absolute want could arrive, they must have parted with everything, and then he would take him to some city or town, where they two would live like birds in a cage. No; he was not ready yet to take his PACK and make the rounds of the farm-houses to receive from each his dole of a handful of meal! Something must be possible! But then again, what?

Once more he fell a thinking; but it was only to find himself again helplessly afloat where no shore of ways or means was visible. Nothing but beggary in fact, and that for the immediate future, showed in sight. Could it be that God verily intended for him this last humiliation of all? But again, would such humiliation be equal to that under which they had bowed for so many long years--the humiliation of owing and not being able to pay? What a man gives, he gives, but what a man lends, he lends expecting to be repaid! A begger may be under endless obligation, but a debtor who cannot pay is a slave! He may be God's free man all the while--that depends on causes and conditions, but not the less is he his fellow's slave! His slavery may be to him a light burden, or a sickening misery, according to the character of his creditor--but, except indeed there be absolute brotherhood between them, he is all the same a slave!

Again the immediately practical had vanished, lost in reasoning, and once more he tried to return to it. But it was like trying to see through a brick wall. No man can invent needs for others that he may supply them. To write again to Mr. Burns would be too near the begging on which he had not yet resolved. He never suspected that the parcel he had left at the carrier's house was lying there still--safe in his wife's press, under a summer-shawl! He could not go to Mr. Simon, for he too was poor, and had now for some time been far from well, fears being by the doctor acknowledged as to the state of his lungs. He would go without necessaries even to help them, and that was an insurmountable reason against acquainting him with their condition!

All at once a thought came to him: why should he not, for present need, pledge the labour of his body in the coming harvest? That would be but to act on a reasonable probability, nor need he be ashamed to make the offer to any man who knew him enough to be friendly. He would ask but a part of the fee in advance, and a charitable or kindly disposed man would surely venture the amount of risk involved! True, when the time came he might be as much in want of money as he was now, and there would be little or none to receive, but on the other hand, if he did not have help now, he could never reach that want, and when he did, there might be other help! Better beg then than now! He would make the attempt, and that the first day he was strong enough to walk the necessary distance! In the meantime, he would have a peep into the meal-chest!

It stood in a dark corner of the kitchen, and he had to put his hand in to learn its condition. He found a not very shallow layer of meal in the bottom. How there could be so much after his long illness, he scarcely dared imagine. He must ask Grizzie, he said to himself, but he shrank in his heart from questioning her.

There came now a spell of warm weather, and all the invalids improved. Cosmo was able to go out, and every day had a little walk by himself. Naturally he thought of the only other time in his life when he first walked out after an illness. Joan had been so near him then it scarce seemed anything could part them, and now she seemed an eternity away! For months he had heard nothing of her. She must be married, and, knowing well his feelings, must think it kinder not to write! Then the justice of his soul turned to the devotion of the two women who had in this trouble tended him, though the half of it he did not yet know; and from that he turned to the source of all devotion, and made himself strong in the thought of the eternal love.

From that time, the weather continuing moderate, he made rapid progress, and the week following judged himself equal to a long walk.

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