JOCK GORDON TAKES A HAND
Whatever is too precious, too tender, too good, too evil, too shameful, too beautiful for the day, happens in the night. Night is the bath of life, the anodyne of heartaches, the silencer of passions, the breeder of them too, the teacher of those who would learn, the cloak that shuts a man in with his own soul. The seeds of great deeds and great crimes are alike sown in the night. The good Samaritan doeth his good by stealth; the wicked one cometh and soweth his tares among the wheat. The lover and the lustful person, the thief and the thinker, the preacher and the poacher, are abroad in the night. In factories and mills, beside the ceaseless whirl of machinery, stand men to whom day is night and night day. In cities the guardians of the midnight go hither and thither with measured step under the drizzling rain. No man cares that they are lonely and cold. Yet, nevertheless, both light and darkness, night and day, are but the accidents of a little time. It is twilight—the twilight of the morning and of the gods—that is the true normal of the universe. Night is but the shadow of the earth, light the nearness of the central sun. But when the soul of man goeth its way beyond the confines of the little multiplied circles of the system of the sun, it passes at once into the dim twilight of space, where for myriads of myriad miles there is only the grey of the earliest God's gloaming, which existed just so or ever the world was, and shall be when the world is not. Light and dark, day and night, are but as the lights of a station at which the train does not stop. They whisk past, gleaming bright but for a moment, and the world which came out of great twilight plunges again into it, perhaps to be remade and reillumined on some eternal morning.
It is good for man, then, to be oftentimes abroad in the early twilight of the morning. It is primeval-instinct with possibilities of thought and action. Then, if at all, he will get a glimpse into his soul that may hap to startle him. Judgment and the face of God justly angry seem more likely and actual things than they do in the city when the pavements are thronged and at every turning some one is ready for good or evil to hail you ‘fellow.’
So Ralph Peden stepped out into the night, the sense of injustice quick upon him. He had no plans, but only the quick resentments of youth, and the resolve to stay no longer in a house where he was an unwelcome guest. He felt that he had been offered the choice between his career and unfaithfulness to the girl who had trusted him. This was not quite so; but, with the characteristic one- sidedness of youth, that was the way that he put the case to himself.
It was the water-shed of day and night when Ralph set out from the Dullarg manse. He had had no supper, but he was not hungry. Naturally his feet carried him in the direction of the bridge, whither he had gone on the previous evening and where amid an eager press of thoughts he had waited and watched for his love. When he got there he sat down on the parapet and looked to the north. He saw the wimples of the lazy Grannoch Lane winding dimly through their white lily beds. In the starlight the white cups glimmered faintly up from their dark beds of leaves. Underneath the bridge there was only a velvety blackness of shadow.
What to do was now the question. Plainly he must at once go to Edinburgh, and see his father. That was the first certainty. But still more certainly he must first see Winsome, and, in the light of the morning and of her eyes, solve for her all the questions which must have sorely puzzled her, at the same time resolving his own perplexities. Then he must bid her adieu. Right proudly would he go to carve out a way for her. He had no doubts that the mastership in his old school, which Dr. Abel had offered him a month ago, would still be at his disposal. That Winsome loved him truly he did not doubt. He gave no thought to that. The cry across the gulf of air from the high march dyke by the pines on the hill, echoing down to the bridge in the valley of the Grannoch, had settled that question once for all.
As he sat on the bridge and listened to the ripple of the Grannoch lane running lightly over the shallows at the Stepping Stones, and to the more distant roar of the falls of the Black Water, he shaped out a course for himself and for Winsome. He had ceased to call her Winsome Charteris. ‘She,’ he called her—the only she. When next he gave her a surname he would call her Winsome Peden. Instinctively he took off his hat at the thought, as though he had opened a door and found himself light-heartedly and suddenly in a church.
Sitting thus on the bridge alone and listening to the ocean-like lapse of his own thoughts, as they cast up the future and the past like pebbles at his feet, he had no more thought of fear for his future than he had that first day at Craig Ronald, under the whin- bushes on the ridge behind him, on that day of the blanket-washing so many ages ago. He was so full of love that it had cast out fear.
Suddenly out of the gloom beneath the bridge upon which he was sitting, dangling his legs, there came a voice.
‘Maister Ralph Peden, Maister Ralph Peden.’
Ralph nearly fell backward over the parapet in his astonishment.
‘Who is that calling on me?’ he asked in wonder.
‘Wha but juist daft Jock Gordon? The hangman haesna catchit him yet, an' thank ye kindly—na, nor ever wull.’
‘Where are you, Jock, man?’ said Ralph, willing to humour the instrument of God.
‘The noo I'm on the shelf o' the brig; a braw bed it maks, if it is raither narrow. But graund practice for the narrow bed that I'll get i' the Dullarg kirkyaird some day or lang, unless they catch puir Jock and hang him. Na, na,’ said Jock with a canty kind of content in his voice, ‘they may luik a lang while or they wad think o' luikin' for him atween the foundation an' the spring o' the airch. An' that's but yin o' Jock Gordon's hidie holes, an' a braw an' guid yin it is. I hae seen this bit hole as fu' o' pairtricks and pheasants as it could hand, an' a' the keepers and their dowgs smellin', and them could na find it oot. Na, the water taks awa' the smell.’
‘Are ye not coming out, Jock?’ queried Ralph.
‘That's as may be,’ said Jock briefly. ‘What do ye want wi' Jock?’
‘Come up,’ said Ralph; ‘I shall tell you how ye can help me. Ye ken that I helped you yestreen.’
‘Weel, ye gied me an unco rive aff that blackguard frae the Castle, gin that was a guid turn, I ken na!’
So grumbling, Jock Gordon came to the upper level of the bridge, paddling unconcernedly with his bare feet and ragged trousers through the shallows.
‘Weel, na—hae ye a snuff aboot ye, noo that I am here? No—dear sirce, what wad I no do for a snuff?’
‘Jock,’ said Ralph, ‘I shall have to walk to Edinburgh. I must start in the morning.’
‘Ye'll hae plenty o' sillar, nae doot?’ said Jock practically.
Ralph felt his pockets. In that wild place it was not his custom to carry money, and he had not even the few shillings which were in his purse at the manse.
‘I am sorry to say,’ he said, ‘that I have no money with me.’
‘Then ye'll be better o' Jock Gordon wi' ye?’ said Jock promptly.
Ralph saw that it would not do to be saddled with Jock in the city, where it might be necessary for him to begin a new career immediately; so he gently broke the difficulties to Jock.
‘Deed na, ye needna be feared; Jock wadna set a fit in a toon. There's ower mony nesty imps o' boys, rinnin' an' cloddin' stanes at puir Jock, forby caa'in' him names. Syne he loses his temper wi' them an' then he micht do them an injury an' get himsel' intil the gaol. Na, na, when Jock sees the blue smoor o' Auld Reeky gaun up into the lift he'll turn an' gae hame.’
‘Well, Jock,’ said Ralph, ‘it behooves me to see Mistress Winsome before I go. Ye ken she and I are good friends.’
‘So's you an' me; but had puir Jock no cried up till ye, ye wad hae gane aff to Embra withoot as muckle as 'Fairguide'en to ye, Jock.’
‘Ah, Jock, but then you must know that Mistress Charteris and I are lad and lass,’ he continued, putting the case as he conceived in a form that would suit it to Jock's understanding.
‘Lad an' lass! What did ye think Jock took ye for? This is nane o' yer Castle tricks,’ he said; ‘mind, Jock can bite yet!’
‘No, no, Jock, you need not be feared. She and I are going to be married some day before very long’—a statement made entirely without authority.
‘Hoot, hoot!’ said Jock, ‘wull nocht ser' ye but that ava—a sensible man like you? In that case ye'll hae seen the last o' Jock Gordon. I canna be doin' wi' a gilravage o' bairns aboot a hoose—’
‘Jock,’ said Ralph earnestly, ‘will you help me to see her before I go?’
‘'Deed that I wull,’ said Jock, very practically. ‘I'll gaun an' wauken her the noo!’
‘You must not do that,’ said Ralph, ‘but perhaps if you knew where Meg Kissock slept, you might tell her.’
‘Certes, I can that,’ said Jock; ‘I can pit my haund on her in a meenit. But mind yer, when ye're mairret, dinna expect Jock Gordon to come farther nor the back kitchen.’
So grumbling, ‘It couldna be expeckit—I canna be doin' wi' bairns ava'—.’ Jock took his way up the long loaning of Craig Ronald, followed through the elderbushes by Ralph Peden.
the lilac sunbonnet
First serialised in The Christian Leader, 1894.