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David Elginbrod

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LORD BACON'S rendering of 1 Cor. viii. I.

Things went on as usual for a few days, when Hugh began to encounter a source of suffering of a very material and unromantic kind, but which, nevertheless, had been able before now, namely, at the commencement of his tutorship, to cause him a very sufficient degree of distress. It was this; that he had no room in which he could pursue his studies in private, without having to endure a most undesirable degree of cold. In summer this was a matter of little moment, for the universe might then be his secret chamber; but in a Scotch spring or autumn, not to say winter, a bedroom without a fire-place, which, strange to say, was the condition of his, was not a study in which thought could operate to much satisfactory result. Indeed, pain is a far less hurtful enemy to thinking than cold. And to have to fight such suffering and its benumbing influences, as well as to follow out a train of reasoning, difficult at any time, and requiring close attention--is too much for any machine whose thinking wheels are driven by nervous gear. Sometimes--for he must make the attempt--he came down to his meals quite blue with cold, as his pupils remarked to their mother; but their observation never seemed to suggest to her mind the necessity of making some better provision for the poor tutor. And Hugh, after the way in which she had behaved to him, was far too proud to ask her a favour, even if he had had hopes of receiving his request. He knew, too, that, in the house, the laird, to interfere in the smallest degree, must imperil far more than he dared. The prospect, therefore, of the coming winter, in a country where there was scarcely any afternoon, and where the snow might lie feet deep for weeks, was not at all agreeable. He had, as I have said, begun to suffer already, for the mornings and evenings were cold enough now, although it was a bright, dry October. One evening Janet remarked that he had caught cold, for he was 'hostin' sair;' and this led Hugh to state the discomfort he was condemned to experience up at the ha' house.

"Weel," said David, after some silent deliberation, "that sattles't; we maun set aboot it immedantly."

Of course Hugh was quite at a loss to understand what he meant, and begged him to explain.

"Ye see," replied David, "we hae verra little hoose-room i' this bit cot; for, excep this kitchen, we hae but the ben whaur Janet and me sleeps; and sae last year I spak' to the laird to lat me hae muckle timmer as I wad need to big a kin' o' a lean-to to the house ahin', so 'at we micht hae a kin' o' a bit parlour like, or rather a roomie 'at ony o' us micht retire till for a bit, gin we wanted to be oor lanes. He had nae objections, honest man. But somehoo or ither I never sat han' till't; but noo the wa's maun be up afore the wat weather sets in. Sae I'se be at it the morn, an' maybe ye'll len' me a han', Mr. Sutherlan', and tak' oot yer wages in house-room an' firin' efter it's dune."

"Thank you heartily!" said Hugh; "that would be delightful. It seems too good to be possible. But will not wooden walls be rather a poor protection against such winters as I suppose you have in these parts?"

"Hootoot, Mr. Sutherlan', ye micht gie me credit for raither mair rumgumption nor that comes till. Timmer was the only thing I not (needed) to spier for; the lave lies to ony body's han'--a few cart-fu's o' sods frae the hill ahint the hoose, an' a han'fu' or twa o' stanes for the chimla oot o' the quarry--there's eneuch there for oor turn ohn blastit mair; an' we'll saw the wood oorsels; an' gin we had ance the wa's up, we can carry on the inside at oor leisur'. That's the way 'at the Maker does wi' oorsels; he gie's us the wa's an' the material, an' a whole lifetime, maybe mair, to furnish the house."

"Capital!" exclaimed Hugh. "I'll work like a horse, and we'll be at it the morn."

"I'se be at it afore daylicht, an' ane or twa o' the lads'll len' me a han' efter wark-hours; and there's yersel', Mr. Sutherlan', worth ane an' a half o' ordinary workers; an' we'll hae truff aneuch for the wa's in a jiffey. I'll mark a feow saplin's i' the wud here at denner-time, an' we'll hae them for bauks, an' couples, an' things; an' there's plenty dry eneuch for beurds i' the shed, an' bein' but a lean-to, there'll be but half wark, ye ken."

They went out directly, in the moonlight, to choose the spot; and soon came to the resolution to build it so, that a certain back door, which added more to the cold in winter than to the convenience in summer, should be the entrance to the new chamber. The chimney was the chief difficulty; but all the materials being in the immediate neighbourhood, and David capable of turning his hands to anything, no obstruction was feared. Indeed, he set about that part first, as was necessary; and had soon built a small chimney, chiefly of stones and lime; while, under his directions, the walls were making progress at the same time, by the labour of Hugh and two or three of the young men from the farm, who were most ready to oblige David with their help, although they were still rather unfriendly to the colliginer, as they called him. But Hugh's frankness soon won them over, and they all formed within a day or two a very comfortable party of labourers. They worked very hard; for if the rain should set in before the roof was on, their labour would be almost lost from the soaking of the walls. They built them of turf, very thick, with a slight slope on the outside towards the roof; before commencing which, they partially cut the windows out of the walls, putting wood across to support the top. I should have explained that the turf used in building was the upper and coarser part of the peat, which was plentiful in the neighbourhood. The thatch-eaves of the cottage itself projected over the joining of the new roof, so as to protect it from the drip; and David soon put a thick thatch of new straw upon the little building. Second-hand windows were procured at the village, and the holes in the walls cut to their size. They next proceeded to the saw-pit on the estate--for almost everything necessary for keeping up the offices was done on the farm itself--where they sawed thin planks of deal, to floor and line the room, and make it more cosie. These David planed upon one side; and when they were nailed against slight posts all round the walls, and the joints filled in with putty, the room began to look most enticingly habitable. The roof had not been thatched two days before the rain set in; but now they could work quite comfortably inside; and as the space was small, and the forenights were long, they had it quite finished before the end of November. David bought an old table in the village, and one or two chairs; mended them up; made a kind of rustic sofa or settle; put a few bookshelves against the wall; had a peat fire lighted on the hearth every day; and at length, one Saturday evening, they had supper in the room, and the place was consecrated henceforth to friendship and learning. From this time, every evening, as soon as lessons, and the meal which immediately followed them, were over, Hugh betook himself to the cottage, on the shelves of which all his books by degrees collected themselves; and there spent the whole long evening, generally till ten o'clock; the first part alone reading or writing; the last in company with his pupils, who, diligent as ever, now of course made more rapid progress than before, inasmuch as the lessons were both longer and more frequent. The only drawback to their comfort was, that they seemed to have shut Janet out; but she soon remedied this, by contriving to get through with her house work earlier than she had ever done before; and, taking her place on the settle behind them, knitted away diligently at her stocking, which, to inexperienced eyes, seemed always the same, and always in the same state of progress, notwithstanding that she provided the hose of the whole family, blue and grey, ribbed and plain. Her occasional withdrawings, to observe the progress of the supper, were only a cheerful break in the continuity of labour. Little would the passer-by imagine that beneath that roof, which seemed worthy only of the name of a shed, there sat, in a snug little homely room, such a youth as Hugh, such a girl as Margaret, such a grand peasant king as David, and such a true-hearted mother to them all as Janet. There were no pictures and no music; for Margaret kept her songs for solitary places; but the sound of verse was often the living wind which set a-waving the tops of the trees of knowledge, fast growing in the sunlight of Truth. The thatch of that shed-roof was like the grizzled hair of David, beneath which lay the temple not only of holy but of wise and poetic thought. It was like the sylvan abode of the gods, where the architecture and music are all of their own making, in their kind the more beautiful, the more simple and rude; and if more doubtful in their intent, and less precise in their finish, yet therein the fuller of life and its grace, and the more suggestive of deeper harmonies.

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