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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMalcolm - Chapter 48. The Baillies' Barn Again
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Malcolm - Chapter 48. The Baillies' Barn Again Post by :Clivew Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :1128

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Malcolm - Chapter 48. The Baillies' Barn Again

CHAPTER XLVIII. THE BAILLIES' BARN AGAIN

It began to be whispered about Portlossie, that the marquis had been present at one of the fishermen's meetings--a report which variously affected the minds of those in the habit of composing them. Some regarded it as an act of espial, and much foolish talk arose about the covenanters and persecution and martyrdom. Others, especially the less worthy of those capable of public utterance, who were by this time, in virtue of that sole gift, gaining an influence of which they were altogether unworthy, attributed it to the spreading renown of the preaching and praying members of the community, and each longed for an opportunity of exercising his individual gift upon the conscience of the marquis. The soberer portion took it for an act of mere curiosity, unlikely to be repeated.

Malcolm saw that the only way of setting things right was that the marquis should go again--openly, but it was with much difficulty that he persuaded him to present himself in the assembly. Again accompanied by his daughter and Malcolm, he did, however, once more cross the links to the Baillies' Barn. Being early they had a choice of seats, and Florimel placed herself beside a pretty young woman of gentle and troubled countenance, who sat leaning against the side of the cavern.

The preacher on this occasion was the sickly young student--more pale and haggard than ever, and halfway nearer the grave since his first sermon. He still set himself to frighten the sheep into the fold by wolfish cries; but it must be allowed that, in this sermon at least, his representations of the miseries of the lost were not by any means so gross as those usually favoured by preachers of his kind. His imagination was sensitive enough to be roused by the words of Scripture themselves, and was not dependent for stimulus upon those of Virgil, Dante, or Milton. Having taken for his text the fourteenth verse of the fifty-ninth psalm, "And at evening let them return; and let them make a noise like a dog, and go round about the city," he dwelt first upon the condition and character of the eastern dog as contrasted with those of our dogs; pointing out to his hearers, that so far from being valued for use or beauty or rarity, they were, except swine, of all animals the most despised by the Jews--the vile outcasts of the border land separating animals domestic and ferine--filthy, dangerous, and hated; then associating with his text that passage in the Revelation, "Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city; for without are dogs," he propounded, or rather asserted, that it described one variety of the many punishments of the wicked, showing at least a portion of them condemned to rush howling for ever about the walls of the New Jerusalem, haunting the gates they durst not enter.

"See them through the fog steaming up from the shores of their Phlegethon!" he cried, warming into eloquence; "see the horrid troop, afar from the crystal walls!--if indeed ye stand on those heights of glory, and course not around them with the dogs!--hear them howl and bark as they scour along! Gaze at them more earnestly as they draw nigher; see upon the dog heads of them the signs and symbols of rank and authority which they wore when they walked erect, men--ay, women too, among men and women! see the crown jewels flash over the hanging ears, the tiara tower thrice circled over the hungry eyes! see the plumes and the coronets, the hoods and the veils!"

Here, unhappily for his eloquence, he slid off into the catalogue of women's finery given by the prophet Isaiah, at the close of which he naturally found the oratorical impulse gone, and had to sit down in the mud of an anticlimax. Presently, however, he recovered himself, and, spreading his wings, once more swung himself aloft into the empyrean of an eloquence, which, whatever else it might or might not be, was at least genuine.

"Could they but surmount those walls, whose inherent radiance is the artillery of their defence, those walls high uplifted, whose lowest foundations are such stones as make the glory of earthly crowns; could they overleap those gates of pearl, and enter the golden streets, what think ye they would do there? Think ye they would rage hither and thither at will, making horrid havoc amongst the white robed inhabitants of the sinless capital? Nay, verily; for, in the gold transparent as glass, they would see their own vile forms in truth telling reflex, and, turning in agony, would rush yelling back, out again into the darkness--the outer darkness --to go round and round the city again and for evermore, tenfold tortured henceforth with the memory of their visioned selves."

Here the girl beside Lady Florimel gave a loud cry, and fell backwards from her seat. On all sides arose noises, loud or suppressed, mingled with murmurs of expostulation. Even Lady Florimel, invaded by shrieks, had to bite her lips hard to keep herself from responding with like outcry; for scream will call forth scream, as vibrant string from its neighbour will draw the answering tone.

"Deep calleth unto deep! The wind is blowing on the slain! The Spirit is breathing on the dry bones!" shouted the preacher in an ecstacy. But one who rose from behind Lizzy Findlay, had arrived at another theory regarding the origin of the commotion--and doubtless had a right to her theory, in as much as she was a woman of experience, being no other than Mrs Catanach.

At the sound of her voice seeking to soothe the girl, Malcolm shuddered; but the next moment, from one of those freaks of suggestion which defy analysis, he burst into laughter: he had a glimpse of a she dog, in Mrs Catanach's Sunday bonnet, bringing up the rear of the preacher's canine company, and his horror of the woman found relief in an involuntary outbreak that did not spring altogether from merriment.

It attracted no attention. The cries increased; for the preacher continued to play on the harp nerves of his hearers, in the firm belief that the Spirit was being poured out upon them. The marquis, looking very pale, for he could never endure the cry of a woman even in a play, rose, and taking Florimel by the arm, turned to leave the place. Malcolm hurried to the front to make way for them. But the preacher caught sight of the movement, and, filled with a fury which seemed to him sacred, rushed to the rescue of souls.

"Stop!" he shouted. "Go not hence, I charge you. On your lives I charge you! Turn ye, turn ye: why will ye die? There is no fleeing from Satan. You must resist the devil. He that flies is lost. If you turn your backs upon Apollyon, he will never slacken pace until he has driven you into the troop of his dogs, to go howling about the walls of the city. Stop them, friends of the cross, ere they step beyond the sound of mercy; for, alas! the voice of him who is sent cannot reach beyond the particle of time wherein he speaks: now, this one solitary moment, gleaming out of the eternity before us only to be lost in the eternity behind us--this now is the accepted time; this Now and no other is the moment of salvation!"

Most of the men recognized the marquis; some near the entrance saw only Malcolm clearing the way: marquis or fisher, it was all the same when souls were at stake: they crowded with one consent to oppose their exit: yet another chance they must have, whether they would or not These men were in the mood to give--not their own --but those other men's bodies to be burnt on the poorest chance of saving their souls from the everlasting burnings.

Malcolm would have been ready enough for a fight, had he and the marquis been alone, but the presence of Lady Florimel put it out of the question. Looking round, he sought the eye of his master.

Had Lord Lossie been wise, he would at once have yielded, and sat down to endure to the end. But he jumped on the form next him, and appealed to the common sense of the assembly.

"Don't you see the man is mad?" he said, pointing to the preacher. "He is foaming at the mouth. For God's sake look after your women: he will have them all in hysterics in another five minutes. I wonder any man of sense would countenance such things!"

As to hysterics, the fisher folk had never heard of them; and though the words of the preacher were not those of soberness, they yet believed them the words of truth, and himself a far saner man than the marquis.

"Gien a body comes to oor meetin'," cried one of them, a fine specimen of the argle bargling Scotchman--a creature known and detested over the habitable globe--"he maun just du as we du, an' sit it oot. It's for yer sowl's guid."

The preacher, checked in full career, was standing with open mouth, ready to burst forth in a fresh flood of oratory so soon as the open channels of hearing ears should be again granted him; but all were now intent on the duel between the marquis and Jamie Ladle.

"If, the next time you came, you found the entrance barricaded," said the marquis, "what would you say to that?"

"Ow, we wad jist tak doon the sticks," answered Ladle.

"You would call it persecution, wouldn't you?"

"Ay; it wad be that."

"And what do you call it now, when you prevent a man from going his own way, after he has had enough of your foolery?"

"Ow, we ca' 't dissiplene!" answered the fellow.

The marquis got down, annoyed, but laughing at his own discomfiture. "I've stopped the screaming, anyhow," he said.

Ere the preacher, the tap of whose eloquence presently began to yield again, but at first ran very slow, had gathered way enough to carry his audience with him, a woman rushed up to the mouth of the cave, the borders of her cap flapping, and her grey hair flying like an old Maenad's. Brandishing in her hand a spunk with which she had been making the porridge for supper, she cried in a voice that reached every ear:

"What's this I hear o' 't! Come oot o' that, Lizzy, ye limmer! Ir ye gauin' frae ill to waur, i' the deevil's name!"

It was Meg Partan. She sent the congregation right and left from her, as a ship before the wind sends a wave from each side of her bows. Men and women gave place to her, and she went surging into the midst of the assembly.

"Whaur's that lass o' mine?" she cried, looking about her in aggravated wrath at failing to pounce right upon her.

"She's no verra weel, Mrs Findlay," cried Mrs Catanach, in a loud whisper, laden with an insinuating tone of intercession. "She'll be better in a meenute. The minister's jist ower pooerfu' the nicht."

Mrs Findlay made a long reach, caught Lizzy by the arm, and dragged her forth, looking scared and white, with a red spot upon one cheek. No one dared to bar Meg's exit with her prize; and the marquis, with Lady Florimel and Malcolm, took advantage of the opening she made, and following in her wake soon reached the open air.

Mrs Findlay was one of the few of the fisher women who did not approve of conventicles, being a great stickler for every authority in the country except that of husbands, in which she declared she did not believe: a report had reached her that Lizzy was one of the lawless that evening, and in hot haste she had left the porridge on the fire to drag her home.

"This is the second predicament you have got us into, MacPhail," said his lordship, as they walked along the Boar's Tail--the name by which some designated the dune, taking the name of the rock at the end of it to be the Boar's Craig, and the last word to mean, as it often does, not Crag, but Neck, like the German kragen, and perhaps the English scrag.

"I'm sorry for't, my lord," said Malcolm; "but I'm sure yer lordship had the worth o' 't in fun."

"I can't deny that," returned the marquis.

"And I can't get that horrid shriek out of my ears," said Lady Florimel.

"Which of them?" said her father. "There was no end to the shrieking. It nearly drove me wild."

"I mean the poor girl's who sat beside us, papa. Such a pretty nice looking creature to! And that horrid woman close behind us all the time! I hope you won't go again papa. They'll convert you if you do, and never ask your leave. You wouldn't like that, I know."

"What do you say to shutting up the place altogether?"

"Do, papa. It's shocking. Vulgar and horrid!"

"I wad think twise, my lord, afore I wad sair (serve) them as ill as they saired me."

"Did I ask your advice?" said the marquis sternly.

"It's nane the waur 'at it 's gien oonsoucht," said Malcolm. "It's the richt thing ony gait."

"You presume on this foolish report about you, I suppose, MacPhail," said his lordship; "but that won't do."

"God forgie ye, my lord, for I hae ill duin' 't!" (find it difficult) said Malcolm.

He left them and walked down to the foamy lip of the tide, which was just waking up from its faint recession. A cold glimmer, which seemed to come from nothing but its wetness, was all the sea had to say for itself.

But the marquis smiled, and turned his face towards the wind which was blowing from the south.

In a few moments Malcolm came back, but to follow behind them, and say nothing more that night.

The marquis did not interfere with the fishermen. Having heard of their rudeness, Mr Cairns called again, and pressed him to end the whole thing; but he said they would only be after something worse, and refused.

The turn things had taken that night determined their after course. Cryings out and faintings grew common, and fits began to appear. A few laid claim to visions,--bearing, it must be remarked, a strong resemblance to the similitudes, metaphors, and more extended poetic figures, employed by the young preacher, becoming at length a little more original and a good deal more grotesque. They took to dancing at last, not by any means the least healthful mode of working off their excitement. It was, however, hardly more than a dull beating of time to the monotonous chanting of a few religious phrases, rendered painfully commonplace by senseless repetition.

I would not be supposed to deny the genuineness of the emotion, or even of the religion, in many who thus gave show to their feelings. But neither those who were good before nor those who were excited now were much the better for this and like modes of playing off the mental electricity generated by the revolving cylinder of intercourse. Naturally, such men as Joseph Mair now grew shy of the assemblies they had helped to originate, and withdrew--at least into the background; the reins slipped from the hands of the first leaders, and such windbags as Ladle got up to drive the chariot of the gospel--with the results that could not fail to follow. At the same time it must be granted that the improvement of their habits, in so far as strong drink was concerned, continued: it became almost a test of faith with them, whether or not a man was a total abstainer. Hence their moral manners, so to say, improved greatly; there were no more public house orgies, no fighting in the streets, very little of what they called breaking of the Sabbath, and altogether there was a marked improvement in the look of things along a good many miles of that northern shore.

Strange as it may seem, however, morality in the deeper sense, remained very much at the same low ebb as before. It is much easier to persuade men that God cares for certain observances, than that he cares for simple honesty and truth and gentleness and loving kindness. The man who would shudder at the idea of a rough word of the description commonly called swearing, will not even have a twinge of conscience after a whole morning of ill tempered sullenness, capricious scolding, villainously unfair animadversion, or surly cross grained treatment generally of wife and children! Such a man will omit neither family worship nor a sneer at his neighbour. He will neither milk his cow on the first day of the week without a Sabbath mask on his face, nor remove it while he waters the milk for his customers. Yet he may not be an absolute hypocrite. What can be done for him, however, hell itself may have to determine.

Notwithstanding their spiritual experiences, it was, for instance, no easier to get them to pay their debts than heretofore. Of course there were, and had always been, thoroughly honest men and women amongst them; but there were others who took prominent part in their observances, who seemed to have no remotest suspicion that religion had anything to do with money or money's worth--not to know that God cared whether a child of his met his obligations or not. Such fulfilled the injunction to owe nothing by acknowledging nothing. One man, when pressed, gave as a reason for his refusal, that Christ had paid all his debts. Possibly this contemptible state of feeling had been fostered by an old superstition that it was unlucky to pay up everything, whence they had always been in the habit of leaving at least a few shillings of their shop bills to be carried forward to the settlement after the next fishing season. But when a widow whose husband had left property, would acknowledge no obligation to discharge his debts, it came to be rather more than a whim. Evidently the religion of many of them was as yet of a poor sort--precisely like that of the negroes, whose devotion so far outstrips their morality.

If there had but been some one of themselves to teach that the true outlet and sedative of overstrained feeling is right action! that the performance of an unpleasant duty, say the paying of their debts, was a far more effectual as well as more specially religious mode of working off their excitement than dancing! that feeling is but the servant of character until it becomes its child! or rather, that feeling is but a mere vapour until condensed into character! that the only process through which it can be thus consolidated is well doing--the putting forth of the right thing according to the conscience universal and individual, and that thus, and thus only, can the veil be .withdrawn from between the man and his God, and the man be saved in beholding the face of his Father!

"But have patience--give them time," said Mr Graham, who had watched the whole thing from the beginning. "If their religion is religion, it will work till it purifies; if it is not, it will show itself for what it is, by plunging them into open vice. The mere excitement and its extravagance--the mode in which their gladness breaks out--means nothing either way. The man is the willing, performing being, not the feeling shouting singing being: in the latter there may be no individuality--nothing more than receptivity of the movement of the mass. But when a man gets up and goes out and discharges an obligation, he is an individual; to him God has spoken, and he has opened his ears to hear: God and that man are henceforth in communion."

These doings, however, gave--how should they fail to give?--a strong handle to the grasp of those who cared for nothing in religion but its respectability--who went to church Sunday after Sunday, "for the sake of example" as they said--the most arrogant of Pharisaical reasons! Many a screeching, dancing fisher lass in the Seaton was far nearer the kingdom of heaven than the most respectable of such respectable people! I would unspeakably rather dance with the wildest of fanatics rejoicing over a change in their own spirits, than sit in the seat of the dull of heart, to whom the old story is an outworn tale.

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