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David Elginbrod

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HERALDRY.

And like his father of face and of stature, And false of love--it came him of nature; As doth the fox Renard, the fox's son; Of kinde, he coud his old father's wone, Without lore, as can a drake swim, When it is caught, and carried to the brim.

CHAUCER.--Legend of Phillis.


Of course, the yet more lengthened absences of Hugh from the house were subjects of remark as at the first; but Hugh had made up his mind not to trouble himself the least about that. For some time Mrs. Glasford took no notice of them to himself; but one evening, just as tea was finished, and Hugh was rising to go, her restraint gave way, and she uttered one spiteful speech, thinking it, no doubt, so witty that it ought to see the light.

"Ye're a day-labourer it seems, Mr. Sutherlan', and gang hame at night."

"Exactly so, madam," rejoined Hugh. "There is no other relation between you and me, than that of work and wages. You have done your best to convince me of that, by making it impossible for me to feel that this house is in any sense my home."

With this grand speech he left the room, and from that time till the day of his final departure from Turriepuffit, there was not a single allusion made to the subject.

He soon reached the cottage. When he entered the new room, which was always called Mr. Sutherland's study, the mute welcome afforded him by the signs of expectation, in the glow of the waiting fire, and the outspread arms of the elbow-chair, which was now called his, as well as the room, made ample amends to him for the unfriendliness of Mrs. Glasford. Going to the shelves to find the books he wanted, he saw that they had been carefully arranged on one shelf, and that the others were occupied with books belonging to the house. He looked at a few of them. They were almost all old books, and such as may be found in many Scotch cottages; for instance, Boston's Fourfold State, in which the ways of God and man may be seen through a fourfold fog; Erskine's Divine Sonnets, which will repay the reader in laughter for the pain it costs his reverence, producing much the same effect that a Gothic cathedral might, reproduced by the pencil and from the remembrance of a Chinese artist, who had seen it once; Drelincourt on Death, with the famous ghost-hoax of De Foe, to help the bookseller to the sale of the unsaleable; the Scots Worthies, opening of itself at the memoir of Mr. Alexander Peden; the Pilgrim's Progress, that wonderful inspiration, failing never save when the theologian would sometimes snatch the pen from the hand of the poet; Theron and Aspasio; Village Dialogues; and others of a like class. To these must be added a rare edition of Blind Harry. It was clear to Hugh, unable as he was fully to appreciate the wisdom of David, that it was not from such books as these that he had gathered it; yet such books as these formed all his store. He turned from them, found his own, and sat down to read. By and by David came in.

"I'm ower sune, I doubt, Mr. Sutherlan'. I'm disturbin' ye."

"Not at all," answered Hugh. "Besides, I am not much in a reading mood this evening: Mrs. Glasford has been annoying me again."

"Poor body! What's she been sayin' noo?"

Thinking to amuse David, Hugh recounted the short passage between them recorded above. David, however, listened with a very different expression of countenance from what Hugh had anticipated; and, when he had finished, took up the conversation in a kind of apologetic tone.

"Weel, but ye see," said he, folding his palms together, "she hasna' jist had a'thegither fair play. She does na come o' a guid breed. Man, it's a fine thing to come o' a guid breed. They hae a hantle to answer for 'at come o' decent forbears."

"I thought she brought the laird a good property," said Hugh, not quite understanding David.

"Ow, ay, she brocht him gowpenfu's o' siller; but hoo was't gotten? An' ye ken it's no riches 'at 'ill mak' a guid breed--'cep' it be o' maggots. The richer cheese the mair maggots, ye ken. Ye maunna speyk o' this; but the mistress's father was weel kent to hae made his siller by fardins and bawbees, in creepin', crafty ways. He was a bit merchan' in Aberdeen, an' aye keepit his thoom weel ahint the peint o' the ellwan', sae 'at he made an inch or twa upo' ilka yard he sauld. Sae he took frae his soul, and pat intill his siller-bag, an' had little to gie his dochter but a guid tocher. Mr. Sutherlan', it's a fine thing to come o' dacent fowk. Noo, to luik at yersel': I ken naething aboot yer family; but ye seem at eesicht to come o' a guid breed for the bodily part o' ye. That's a sma' matter; but frae what I ha'e seen--an' I trust in God I'm no' mista'en--ye come o' the richt breed for the min' as weel. I'm no flatterin' ye, Mr. Sutherlan'; but jist layin' it upo' ye, 'at gin ye had an honest father and gran'father, an' especially a guid mither, ye hae a heap to answer for; an' ye ought never to be hard upo' them 'at's sma' creepin' creatures, for they canna help it sae weel as the like o' you and me can."

David was not given to boasting. Hugh had never heard anything suggesting it from his lips before. He turned full round and looked at him. On his face lay a solemn quiet, either from a feeling of his own responsibility, or a sense of the excuse that must be made for others. What he had said about the signs of breed in Hugh's exterior, certainly applied to himself as well. His carriage was full of dignity, and a certain rustic refinement; his voice was wonderfully gentle, but deep; and slowest when most impassioned. He seemed to have come of some gigantic antediluvian breed: there was something of the Titan slumbering about him. He would have been a stern man, but for an unusual amount of reverence that seemed to overflood the sternness, and change it into strong love. No one had ever seen him thoroughly angry; his simple displeasure with any of the labourers, the quality of whose work was deficient, would go further than the laird's oaths.

Hugh sat looking at David, who supported the look with that perfect calmness that comes of unconscious simplicity. At length Hugh's eye sank before David's, as he said:

"I wish I had known your father, then, David."

"My father was sic a ane as I tauld ye the ither day, Mr. Sutherlan'. I'm a' richt there. A puir, semple, God-fearin' shepherd, 'at never gae his dog an ill-deserved word, nor took the skin o' ony puir lammie, wha's woo' he was clippin', atween the shears. He was weel worthy o' the grave 'at he wan till at last. An' my mither was jist sic like, wi' aiblins raither mair heid nor my father. They're her beuks maistly upo' the skelf there abune yer ain, Mr. Sutherlan'. I honour them for her sake, though I seldom trouble them mysel'. She gae me a kin' o' a scunner at them, honest woman, wi' garrin' me read at them o' Sundays, till they near scomfisht a' the guid 'at was in me by nater. There's doctrine for ye, Mr. Sutherlan'!" added David, with a queer laugh.

"I thought they could hardly be your books," said Hugh.

"But I hae ae odd beuk, an' that brings me upo' my pedigree, Mr. Sutherlan'; for the puirest man has as lang a pedigree as the greatest, only he kens less aboot it, that's a'. An' I wat, for yer lords and ladies, it's no a' to their credit 'at's tauld o' their hither-come; an' that's a' against the breed, ye ken. A wilfu' sin in the father may be a sinfu' weakness i' the son; an' that's what I ca' no fair play."

So saying, David went to his bedroom, whence he returned with a very old-looking book, which he laid on the table before Hugh. He opened it, and saw that it was a volume of Jacob Bhmen, in the original language. He found out afterwards, upon further inquiry, that it was in fact a copy of the first edition of his first work, The Aurora, printed in 1612. On the title-page was written a name, either in German or old English character, he was not sure which; but he was able to read it--Martin Elginbrodde. David, having given him time to see all this, went on:

"That buik has been in oor family far langer nor I ken. I needna say I canna read a word o't, nor I never heard o' ane 'at could. But I canna help tellin' ye a curious thing, Mr. Sutherlan', in connexion wi' the name on that buik: there's a gravestane, a verra auld ane--hoo auld I canna weel mak' out, though I gaed ends-errand to Aberdeen to see't--an' the name upo' that gravestane is Martin Elginbrod, but made mention o' in a strange fashion; an' I'm no sure a'thegither aboot hoo ye'll tak' it, for it soun's rather fearsome at first hearin' o't. But ye'se hae't as I read it:

"'Here lie I, Martin Elginbrodde: Hae mercy o' my soul, Lord God; As I wad do, were I Lord God, And ye were Martin Elginbrodde.'"

Certainly Hugh could not help a slight shudder at what seemed to him the irreverence of the epitaph, if indeed it was not deserving of a worse epithet. But he made no remark; and, after a moment's pause, David resumed:

"I was unco ill-pleased wi't at the first, as ye may suppose, Mr. Sutherlan'; but, after a while, I begude (began) an' gaed through twa or three bits o' reasonin's aboot it, in this way: By the natur' o't, this maun be the man's ain makin', this epitaph; for no ither body cud ha' dune't; and he had left it in's will to be pitten upo' the deid-stane, nae doot: I' the contemplation o' deith, a man wad no be lik'ly to desire the perpetuation o' a blasphemy upo' a table o' stone, to stan' against him for centuries i' the face o' God an' man: therefore it cudna ha' borne the luik to him o' the presumptuous word o' a proud man evenin' himsel' wi' the Almichty. Sae what was't, then, 'at made him mak' it? It seems to me--though I confess, Mr. Sutherlan', I may be led astray by the nateral desire 'at a man has to think weel o' his ain forbears--for 'at he was a forbear o' my ain, I canna weel doot, the name bein' by no means a common ane, in Scotland ony way--I'm sayin', it seems to me, that it's jist a darin' way, maybe a childlike way, o' judgin', as Job micht ha' dune, 'the Lord by himsel';' an' sayin', 'at gin he, Martin Elginbrod, wad hae mercy, surely the Lord was not less mercifu' than he was. The offspring o' the Most High was, as it were, aware o' the same spirit i' the father o' him, as muved in himsel'. He felt 'at the mercy in himsel' was ane o' the best things; an' he cudna think 'at there wad be less o't i' the father o' lichts, frae whom cometh ilka guid an' perfeck gift. An' may be he remembered 'at the Saviour himsel' said: 'Be ye perfect as your father in Heaven is perfect;' and that the perfection o' God, as He had jist pinted oot afore, consisted in causin' his bonny sun to shine on the evil an' the good, an' his caller rain to fa' upo' the just an' the unjust."

It may well be doubted whether David's interpretation of the epitaph was the correct one. It will appear to most of my readers to breathe rather of doubt lighted up by hope, than of that strong faith which David read in it. But whether from family partiality, and consequent unwillingness to believe that his ancestor had been a man who, having led a wild, erring, and evil life, turned at last towards the mercy of God as his only hope, which the words might imply; or simply that he saw this meaning to be the best; this was the interpretation which David had adopted.

"But," interposed Hugh, "supposing he thought all that, why should he therefore have it carved on his tombstone?"

"I hae thocht aboot that too," answered David. "For ae thing, a body has but feow ways o' sayin' his say to his brithermen. Robbie Burns cud do't in sang efter sang; but maybe this epitaph was a' that auld Martin was able to mak'. He michtna hae had the gift o' utterance. But there may be mair in't nor that. Gin the clergy o' thae times warna a gey hantle mair enlichtened nor a fowth o' the clergy hereabouts, he wad hae heard a heap aboot the glory o' God, as the thing 'at God himsel' was maist anxious aboot uphaudin', jist like a prood creater o' a king; an' that he wad mak' men, an' feed them, an' cleed them, an' gie them braw wives an' toddlin' bairnies, an' syne damn them, a' for's ain glory. Maybe ye wadna get mony o' them 'at wad speyk sae fair-oot noo-a-days, for they gang wi' the tide jist like the lave; but i' my auld minny's buiks, I hae read jilt as muckle as that, an' waur too. Mony ane 'at spak like that, had nae doot a guid meanin' in't; but, hech man! it's an awesome deevilich way o' sayin' a holy thing. Noo, what better could puir auld Martin do, seein' he had no ae word to say i' the kirk a' his lifelang, nor jist say his ae word, as pithily as might be, i' the kirkyard, efter he was deid; an' ower an' ower again, wi' a tongue o' stane, let them tak' it or lat it alane 'at likit? That's a' my defence o' my auld luckie-daddy--Heaven rest his brave auld soul!"

"But are we not in danger," said Hugh, "of thinking too lightly and familiarly of the Maker, when we proceed to judge him so by ourselves?"

"Mr. Sutherlan'," replied David, very solemnly, "I dinna thenk I can be in muckle danger o' lichtlyin' him, whan I ken in my ain sel', as weel as she 'at was healed o' her plague, 'at I wad be a horse i' that pleuch, or a pig in that stye, not merely if it was his will--for wha can stan' against that--but if it was for his glory; ay, an' comfort mysel', a' the time the change was passin' upo' me, wi' the thocht that, efter an' a', his blessed han's made the pigs too."

"But, a moment ago, David, you seemed to me to be making rather little of his glory."

"O' his glory, as they consider glory--ay; efter a warldly fashion that's no better nor pride, an' in him would only be a greater pride. But his glory! consistin' in his trowth an' lovin'kindness--(man! that's a bonny word)--an' grand self-forgettin' devotion to his creaters--lord! man, it's unspeakable. I care little for his glory either, gin by that ye mean the praise o' men. A heap o' the anxiety for the spread o' his glory, seems to me to be but a desire for the sempathy o' ither fowk. There's no fear but men 'll praise him, a' in guid time--that is, whan they can. But, Mr. Sutherlan', for the glory o' God, raither than, if it were possible, one jot or one tittle should fail of his entire perfection of holy beauty, I call God to witness, I would gladly go to hell itsel'; for no evil worth the full name can befall the earth or ony creater in't, as long as God is what he is. For the glory o' God, Mr. Sutherlan', I wad die the deith. For the will o' God, I'm ready for onything he likes. I canna surely be in muckle danger o' lichtlyin' him. I glory in my God."

The almost passionate earnestness with which David spoke, would alone have made it impossible for Hugh to reply at once. After a few moments, however, he ventured to ask the question:

"Would you do nothing that other people should know God, then, David?"

"Onything 'at he likes. But I would tak' tent o' interferin'. He's at it himsel' frae mornin' to nicht, frae year's en' to year's en'."

"But you seem to me to make out that God is nothing but love!"

"Ay, naething but love. What for no?"

"Because we are told he is just."

"Would he be lang just if he didna lo'e us?"

"But does he not punish sin?"

"Would it be ony kin'ness no to punish sin? No to us a' means to pit awa' the ae ill thing frae us? Whatever may be meant by the place o' meesery, depen' upo't, Mr. Sutherlan', it's only anither form o' love, love shinin' through the fogs o' ill, an' sae gart leuk something verra different thereby. Man, raither nor see my Maggy--an' ye'll no doot 'at I lo'e her--raither nor see my Maggy do an ill thing, I'd see her lyin' deid at my feet. But supposin' the ill thing ance dune, it's no at my feet I wad lay her, but upo' my heart, wi' my auld arms aboot her, to hand the further ill aff o' her. An' shall mortal man be more just than God? Shall a man be more pure than his Maker? O my God! my God!"

The entrance of Margaret would have prevented the prosecution of this conversation, even if it had not already drawn to a natural close. Not that David would not have talked thus before his daughter, but simply that minds, like instruments, need to be brought up to the same pitch, before they can "atone together," and that one feels this instinctively on the entrance of another who has not gone through the same immediate process of gradual elevation of tone.

Their books and slates were got out, and they sat down to their work; but Hugh could not help observing that David, in the midst of his lines and angles and algebraic computations, would, every now and then, glance up at Margaret, with a look of tenderness in his face yet deeper and more delicate in its expression than ordinary. Margaret was, however, quite unconscious of it, pursuing her work with her ordinary even diligence. But Janet observed it.

"What ails the bairn, Dawvid, 'at ye leuk at her that get? said she.

"Naething ails her, woman. Do ye never leuk at a body but when something ails them?"

"Ow, ay--but no that get."

"Weel, maybe I was thinkin' hoo I wad leuk at her gin onything did ail her."

"Hoot! hoot! dinna further the ill hither by makin' a bien doonsittin' an' a bed for't."

All David's answer to this was one of his own smiles.

At supper, for it happened to be Saturday, Hugh said:

"I've been busy, between whiles, inventing, or perhaps discovering, an etymological pedigree for you, David!"

"Weel, lat's hear't," said David.

"First--do you know that that volume with your ancestor's name on it, was written by an old German shoemaker, perhaps only a cobbler, for anything I know?"

"I know nothing aboot it, more or less," answered David.

"He was a wonderful man. Some people think he was almost inspired."

"Maybe, maybe," was all David's doubtful response.

"At all events, though I know nothing about it myself, he must have written wonderfully for a cobbler."

"For my pairt," replied David, "if I see no wonder in the man, I can see but little in the cobbler. What for shouldna a cobbler write wonnerfully, as weel as anither? It's a trade 'at furthers meditation. My grandfather was a cobbler, as ye ca't; an' they say he was no fule in his ain way either."

"Then it does go in the family!" cried Hugh, triumphantly. "I was in doubt at first whether your name referred to the breadth of your shoulders, David, as transmitted from some ancient sire, whose back was an Ellwand-broad; for the g might come from a w or v, for anything I know to the contrary. But it would have been braid in that case. And, now, I am quite convinced that that Martin or his father was a German, a friend of old Jacob Bhmen, who gave him the book himself, and was besides of the same craft; and he coming to this country with a name hard to be pronounced, they found a resemblance in the sound of it to his occupation; and so gradually corrupted his name, to them uncouth, into Elsynbrod, Elshinbrod, thence Elginbrod, with a soft g, and lastly Elginbrod, as you pronounce it now, with a hard g. This name, turned from Scotch into English, would then be simply Martin Awlbore. The cobbler is in the family, David, descended from Jacob Bhmen himself, by the mother's side."

This heraldic blazon amused them all very much, and David expressed his entire concurrence with it, declaring it to be incontrovertible. Margaret laughed heartily.

Besides its own beauty, two things made Margaret's laugh of some consequence; one was, that it was very rare; and the other, that it revealed her two regular rows of dainty white teeth, suiting well to the whole build of the maiden. She was graceful and rather tall, with a head which, but for its smallness, might have seemed too heavy for the neck that supported it, so ready it always was to droop like a snowdrop. The only parts about her which Hugh disliked, were her hands and feet. The former certainly had been reddened and roughened by household work: but they were well formed notwithstanding. The latter he had never seen, notwithstanding the bare-foot habits of Scotch maidens; for he saw Margaret rarely except in the evenings, and then she was dressed to receive him. Certainly, however, they were very far from following the shape of the clumsy country shoes, by which he misjudged their proportions. Had he seen them, as he might have seen them some part of any day during the summer, their form at least would have satisfied him.




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