It was a lovely morning in the first of summer. Donal Grant was descending a path on a hillside to the valley below--a sheep-track of which he knew every winding as well as any boy his half-mile to and from school. But he had never before gone down the hill with the feeling that he was not about to go up again. He was on his way to pastures very new, and in the distance only negatively inviting. But his heart was too full to be troubled--nor was his a heart to harbour a care, the next thing to an evil spirit, though not quite so bad; for one care may drive out another, while one devil is sure to bring in another.
A great billowy waste of mountains lay beyond him, amongst which played the shadow at their games of hide and seek--graciously merry in the eyes of the happy man, but sadly solemn in the eyes of him in whose heart the dreary thoughts of the past are at a like game. Behind Donal lay a world of dreams into which he dared not turn and look, yet from which he could scarce avert his eyes.
He was nearing the foot of the hill when he stumbled and almost fell, but recovered himself with the agility of a mountaineer, and the unpleasant knowledge that the sole of one of his shoes was all but off. Never had he left home for college that his father had not made personal inspection of his shoes to see that they were fit for the journey, but on this departure they had been forgotten. He sat down and took off the failing equipment. It was too far gone to do anything temporary with it; and of discomforts a loose sole to one's shoe in walking is of the worst. The only thing was to take off the other shoe and both stockings and go barefoot. He tied all together with a piece of string, made them fast to his deerskin knapsack, and resumed his walk. The thing did not trouble him much. To have what we want is riches, but to be able to do without is power. To have shoes is a good thing; to be able to walk without them is a better. But it was long since Donal had walked barefoot, and he found his feet like his shoe, weaker in the sole than was pleasant.
"It's time," he said to himself, when he found he was stepping gingerly, "I ga'e my feet a turn at the auld accomplishment. It's a pity to grow nae so fit for onything suner nor ye need. I wad like to lie doon at last wi' hard soles!"
In every stream he came to he bathed his feet, and often on the way rested them, when otherwise able enough to go on. He had no certain goal, though he knew his direction, and was in no haste. He had confidence in God and in his own powers as the gift of God, and knew that wherever he went he needed not be hungry long, even should the little money in his pocket be spent. It is better to trust in work than in money: God never buys anything, and is for ever at work; but if any one trust in work, he has to learn that he must trust in nothing but strength--the self-existent, original strength only; and Donal Grant had long begun to learn that. The man has begun to be strong who knows that, separated from life essential, he is weakness itself, that, one with his origin, he will be of strength inexhaustible. Donal was now descending the heights of youth to walk along the king's highroad of manhood: happy he who, as his sun is going down behind the western, is himself ascending the eastern hill, returning through old age to the second and better childhood which shall not be taken from him! He who turns his back on the setting sun goes to meet the rising sun; he who loses his life shall find it. Donal had lost his past--but not so as to be ashamed. There are many ways of losing! His past had but crept, like the dead, back to God who gave it; in better shape it would be his by and by! Already he had begun to foreshadow this truth: God would keep it for him.
He had set out before the sun was up, for he would not be met by friends or acquaintances. Avoiding the well-known farmhouses and occasional village, he took his way up the river, and about noon came to a hamlet where no one knew him--a cluster of straw-roofed cottages, low and white, with two little windows each. He walked straight through it not meaning to stop; but, spying in front of the last cottage a rough stone seat under a low, widespreading elder tree, was tempted to sit down and rest a little. The day was now hot, and the shadow of the tree inviting.
He had but seated himself when a woman came to the door of the cottage, looked at him for a moment, and probably thinking him, from his bare feet, poorer than he was, said--
"Wad ye like a drink?"
"Ay, wad I," answered Donal, "--a drink o' watter, gien ye please."
"What for no milk?" asked the woman.
"'Cause I'm able to pey for 't," answered Donal.
"I want nae peyment," she rejoined, perceiving his drift as little as probably my reader.
"An' I want nae milk," returned Donal.
"Weel, ye may pey for 't gien ye like," she rejoined.
"But I dinna like," replied Donal.
"Weel, ye're a some queer customer!" she remarked.
"I thank ye, but I'm nae customer, 'cep' for a drink o' watter," he persisted, looking in her face with a smile; "an' watter has aye been grâtis sin' the days o' Adam--'cep' maybe i' toons i' the het pairts o' the warl'."
The woman turned into the cottage, and came out again presently with a delft basin, holding about a pint, full of milk, yellow and rich.
"There!" she said; "drink an' be thankfu'."
"I'll be thankfu' ohn drunken," said Donal. "I thank ye wi' a' my heart. But I canna bide to tak for naething what I can pey for, an' I dinna like to lay oot my siller upon a luxury I can weel eneuch du wantin', for I haena muckle. I wadna be shabby nor yet greedy."
"Drink for the love o' God," said the woman.
Donal took the bowl from her hand, and drank till all was gone.
"Wull ye hae a drap mair?" she asked.
"Na, no a drap," answered Donal. "I'll gang i' the stren'th o' that ye hae gi'en me--maybe no jist forty days, gudewife, but mair nor forty minutes, an' that's a gude pairt o' a day. I thank ye hertily. Yon was the milk o' human kin'ness, gien ever was ony."
As he spoke he rose, and stood up refreshed for his journey.
"I hae a sodger laddie awa' i' the het pairts ye spak o'," said the woman: "gien ye hadna ta'en the milk, ye wad hae gi'en me a sair hert."
"Eh, gudewife, it wad hae gi'en me ane to think I had!" returned Donal. "The Lord gie ye back yer sodger laddie safe an' soon'! Maybe I'll hae to gang efter 'im, sodger mysel'."
"Na, na, that wadna do. Ye're a scholar--that's easy to see, for a' ye're sae plain spoken. It dis a body's hert guid to hear a man 'at un'erstan's things say them plain oot i' the tongue his mither taucht him. Sic a ane 'ill gang straucht till's makker, an' fin' a'thing there hame-like. Lord, I wuss minnisters wad speyk like ither fowk!"
"Ye wad sair please my mither sayin' that," remarked Donal. "Ye maun be jist sic anither as her!"
"Weel, come in, an' sit ye doon oot o' the sin, an' hae something to ait."
"Na, I'll tak nae mair frae ye the day, an' I thank ye," replied Donal; "I canna weel bide."
"What for no?"
"It's no sae muckle 'at I'm in a hurry as 'at I maun be duin'."
"Whaur are ye b'un' for, gien a body may speir?"
"I'm gaein' to seek--no my fortin, but my daily breid. Gien I spak as a richt man, I wad say I was gaein' to luik for the wark set me. I'm feart to say that straucht oot; I haena won sae far as that yet. I winna du naething though 'at he wadna hae me du. I daur to say that--sae be I un'erstan'. My mither says the day 'ill come whan I'll care for naething but his wull."
"Yer mither 'ill be Janet Grant, I'm thinkin'! There canna be twa sic in ae country-side!"
"Ye're i' the richt," answered Donal. "Ken ye my mither?"
"I hae seen her; an' to see her 's to ken her."
"Ay, gien wha sees her be sic like 's hersel'."
"I canna preten' to that; but she's weel kent throu' a' the country for a God-fearin' wuman.--An' whaur 'll ye be for the noo?"
"I'm jist upo' the tramp, luikin' for wark."
"An' what may ye be pleast to ca' wark?"
"Ow, jist the communication o' what I hae the un'erstan'in' o'."
"Aweel, gien ye'll condescen' to advice frae an auld wife, I'll gie ye a bit wi' ye: tak na ilka lass ye see for a born angel. Misdoobt her a wee to begin wi'. Hing up yer jeedgment o' her a wee. Luik to the moo' an' the e'en o' her."
"I thank ye," said Donal, with a smile, in which the woman spied the sadness; "I'm no like to need the advice."
She looked at him pitifully, and paused.
"Gien ye come this gait again," she said, "ye'll no gang by my door?"
"I wull no," replied Donal, and wishing her good-bye with a grateful heart, betook himself to his journey.
He had not gone far when he found himself on a wide moor. He sat down on a big stone, and began to turn things over in his mind. This is how his thoughts went:
"I can never be the man I was! The thoucht o' my heart 's ta'en frae me! I canna think aboot things as I used. There's naething sae bonny as afore. Whan the life slips frae him, hoo can a man gang on livin'! Yet I'm no deid--that's what maks the diffeeclety o' the situation! Gien I war deid--weel, I kenna what than! I doobt there wad be trible still, though some things micht be lichter. But that's neither here nor there; I maun live; I hae nae ch'ice; I didna mak mysel', an' I'm no gaein' to meddle wi' mysel'! I think mair o' mysel' nor daur that!
"But there's ae question I maun sattle afore I gang farther--an' that's this: am I to be less or mair nor I was afore? It's agreed I canna be the same: if I canna be the same, I maun aither be less or greater than I was afore: whilk o' them is't to be? I winna hae that queston to speir mair nor ance! I'll be mair nor I was. To sink to less wad be to lowse grip o' my past as weel's o' my futur! An' hoo wad I ever luik her i' the face gien I grew less because o' her! A chiel' like me lat a bonny lassie think hersel' to blame for what I grew til! An' there's a greater nor the lass to be considert! 'Cause he seesna fit to gie me her I wad hae, is he no to hae his wull o' me? It's a gran' thing to ken a lassie like yon, an' a gran'er thing yet to be allooed to lo'e her: to sit down an' greit 'cause I'm no to merry her, wad be most oongratefu'! What for sud I threip 'at I oucht to hae her? What for sudna I be disapp'intit as weel as anither? I hae as guid a richt to ony guid 'at's to come o' that, I fancy! Gien it be a man's pairt to cairry a sair hert, it canna be his pairt to sit doon wi' 't upo' the ro'd-side, an' lay't upo' his lap, an' greit ower't, like a bairn wi' a cuttit finger: he maun haud on his ro'd. Wha am I to differ frae the lave o' my fowk! I s' be like the lave, an' gien I greit I winna girn. The Lord himsel' had to be croont wi' pain. Eh, my bonnie doo! But ye lo'e a better man, an' that's a sair comfort! Gien it had been itherwise, I div not think I could hae borne the pain at my hert. But as it's guid an' no ill 'at's come to ye, I haena you an' mysel' tu to greit for, an' that's a sair comfort! Lord, I'll clim' to thee, an' gaither o' the healin' 'at grows for the nations i' thy gairden.
"I see the thing as plain's thing can be: the cure o' a' ill 's jist mair life! That's it! Life abune an' ayont the life 'at took the stroke! An' gien throu' this hert-brak I come by mair life, it'll be jist ane o' the throes o' my h'avenly birth--i' the whilk the bairn has as mony o' the pains as the mither: that's maybe a differ 'atween the twa--the earthly an' the h'avenly!
"Sae noo I hae to begin fresh, an' lat the thing 'at's past an' gane slip efter ither dreams. Eh, but it's a bonny dream yet! It lies close 'ahin' me, no to be forgotten, no to be luikit at--like ane o' thae dreams o' watter an' munelicht 'at has nae wark i' them: a body wadna lie a' nicht an' a' day tu in a dream o' the sowl's gloamin'! Na, Lord; mak o' me a strong man, an' syne gie me as muckle o' the bonny as may please thee. Wha am I to lippen til, gien no to thee, my ain father an' mither an' gran'father an' a' body in ane, for thoo giedst me them a'!
"Noo I'm to begin again--a fresh life frae this minute! I'm to set oot frae this verra p'int, like ane o' the youngest sons i' the fairy tales, to seek my portion, an' see what's comin' to meet me as I gang to meet hit. The warl' afore me's my story-buik. I canna see ower the leaf till I come to the en' o' 't. Whan I was a bairn, jist able, wi' sair endeevour, to win at the hert o' print, I never wad luik on afore! The ae time I did it, I thoucht I had dune a shamefu' thing, like luikin' in at a keyhole--as I did jist ance tu, whan I thank God my mither gae me sic a blessed lickin' 'at I kent it maun be something dreidfu' I had dune. Sae here's for what's comin'! I ken whaur it maun come frae, an' I s' make it welcome. My mither says the main mischeef i' the warl' is, 'at fowk winna lat the Lord hae his ain w'y, an' sae he has jist to tak it, whilk maks it a sair thing for them."
Therewith he rose to encounter that which was on its way to meet him. He is a fool who stands and lets life move past him like a panorama. He also is a fool who would lay hands on its motion, and change its pictures. He can but distort and injure, if he does not ruin them, and come upon awful shadows behind them.
And lo! as he glanced around him, already something of the old mysterious loveliness, now for so long vanished from the face of the visible world, had returned to it--not yet as it was before, but with dawning promise of a new creation, a fresh beauty, in welcoming which he was not turning from the old, but receiving the new that God sent him. He might yet be many a time sad, but to lament would be to act as if he were wronged--would be at best weak and foolish! He would look the new life in the face, and be what it should please God to make him. The scents the wind brought him from field and garden and moor, seemed sweeter than ever wind-borne scents before: they were seeking to comfort him! He sighed--but turned from the sigh to God, and found fresh gladness and welcome. The wind hovered about him as if it would fain have something to do in the matter; the river rippled and shone as if it knew something worth knowing as yet unrevealed. The delight of creation is verily in secrets, but in secrets as truths on the way. All secrets are embryo revelations. On the far horizon heaven and earth met as old friends, who, though never parted, were ever renewing their friendship. The world, like the angels, was rejoicing--if not over a sinner that had repented, yet over a man that had passed from a lower to a higher condition of life--out of its earth into its air: he was going to live above, and look down on the inferior world! Ere the shades of evening fell that day around Donal Grant, he was in the new childhood of a new world.
I do not mean such thoughts had never been present to him before; but to think a thing is only to look at it in a glass; to know it as God would have us know it, and as we must know it to live, is to see it as we see love in a friend's eyes--to have it as the love the friend sees in ours. To make things real to us, is the end and the battle-cause of life. We often think we believe what we are only presenting to our imaginations. The least thing can overthrow that kind of faith. The imagination is an endless help towards faith, but it is no more faith than a dream of food will make us strong for the next day's work. To know God as the beginning and end, the root and cause, the giver, the enabler, the love and joy and perfect good, the present one existence in all things and degrees and conditions, is life; and faith, in its simplest, truest, mightiest form is--to do his will.
Donal was making his way towards the eastern coast, in the certain hope of finding work of one kind or another. He could have been well content to pass his life as a shepherd like his father but for two things: he knew what it would be well for others to know; and he had a hunger after the society of books. A man must be able to do without whatever is denied him, but when his heart is hungry for an honest thing, he may use honest endeavour to obtain it. Donal desired to be useful and live for his generation, also to be with books. To be where was a good library would suit him better than buying
books, for without a place in which to keep them, they are among the impedimenta of life. And Donal knew that in regard to books he was in danger of loving after the fashion of this world: books he had a strong inclination to accumulate and hoard; therefore the use of a library was better than the means of buying
them. Books as possessions are also of the things that pass and perish--as surely as any other form of earthly having; they are of the playthings God lets men have that they may learn to distinguish between apparent and real possession: if having will not teach them, loss may.
But who would have thought, meeting the youth as he walked the road with shoeless feet, that he sought the harbour of a great library in some old house, so as day after day to feast on the thoughts of men who had gone before him! For his was no antiquarian soul; it was a soul hungry after life, not after the mummy cloths enwrapping the dead.