Of all the flowers in the mead,
Then love I roost these flowers white and rede, Such that men callen daisies in our town.
I renne blithe
As soon as ever the sun ginneth west, To see this flower, how it will go to rest, For fear of night, so hateth she darkness; Her cheer is plainly spread in the brightness Of the sunne, for there it will unclose.
CHAUCER--Prologue to the Legend of Good Women.
"Meg! whaur are ye gaein' that get, like a wull shuttle? Come in to the beuk."
Meg's mother stood at the cottage door, with arms akimbo and clouded brow, calling through the boles of a little forest of fir-trees after her daughter. One would naturally presume that the phrase she employed, comparing her daughter's motions to those of a shuttle that had "gane wull," or lost its way, implied that she was watching her as she threaded her way through the trees. But although she could not see her, the fir-wood was certainly the likeliest place for her daughter to be in; and the figure she employed was not in the least inapplicable to Meg's usual mode of wandering through the trees, that operation being commonly performed in the most erratic manner possible. It was the ordinary occupation of the first hour of almost every day of Margaret's life. As soon as she woke in the morning, the fir-wood drew her towards it, and she rose and went. Through its crowd of slender pillars, she strayed hither and thither, in an aimless manner, as if resignedly haunting the neighbourhood of something she had lost, or, hopefully, that of a treasure she expected one day to find.
It did not seem that she had heard her mother's call, for no response followed; and Janet Elginbrod returned into the cottage, where David of the same surname, who was already seated at the white deal table with "the beuk," or large family bible before him, straightway commenced reading a chapter in the usual routine from the Old Testament, the New being reserved for the evening devotions. The chapter was the fortieth of the prophet Isaiah; and as the voice of the reader re-uttered the words of old inspiration, one might have thought that it was the voice of the ancient prophet himself, pouring forth the expression of his own faith in his expostulations with the unbelief of his brethren. The chapter finished--it is none of the shortest, and Meg had not yet returned--the two knelt, and David prayed thus:
"O Thou who holdest the waters in the hollow of ae han', and carriest the lambs o' thy own making in thy bosom with the other han', it would be altogether unworthy o' thee, and o' thy Maijesty o' love, to require o' us that which thou knowest we cannot bring unto thee, until thou enrich us with that same. Therefore, like thine own bairns, we boo doon afore thee, an' pray that thou wouldst tak' thy wull o' us, thy holy an' perfect an' blessed wull o' us; for, O God, we are a' thine ain. An' for oor lassie, wha's oot amo' thy trees, an' wha' we dinna think forgets her Maker, though she may whiles forget her prayers, Lord, keep her a bonnie lassie in thy sicht, as white and clean in thy een as she is fair an' halesome in oors; an' oh! we thank thee, Father in heaven, for giein' her to us. An' noo, for a' oor wrang-duins an' ill-min'ins, for a' oor sins and trespasses o' mony sorts, dinna forget them, O God, till thou pits them a' richt, an' syne exerceese thy michty power e'en ower thine ain sel, an' clean forget them a'thegither; cast them ahint thy back, whaur e'en thine ain een shall ne'er see them again, that we may walk bold an' upricht afore thee for evermore, an' see the face o' Him wha was as muckle God in doin' thy biddin', as gin he had been ordering' a' thing Himsel. For his sake, Ahmen."
I hope my readers will not suppose that I give this as a specimen of Scotch prayers. I know better than that. David was an unusual man, and his prayers were unusual prayers. The present was a little more so in its style, from the fact that one of the subjects of it was absent, a circumstance that rarely happened. But the degree of difference was too small to be detected by any but those who were quite accustomed to his forms of thought and expression. How much of it Janet understood or sympathized with, it is difficult to say; for anything that could be called a thought rarely crossed the threshold of her utterance. On this occasion, the moment the prayer was ended, she rose from her knees, smoothed down her check apron, and went to the door; where, shading her eyes from the sun with her hand, she peered from under its penthouse into the fir-wood, and said in a voice softened apparently by the exercise in which she had taken a silent share,
"Whaur can the lassie be?"
And where was the lassie? In the fir-wood, to be sure, with the thousand shadows, and the sunlight through it all; for at this moment the light fell upon her far in its depths, and revealed her hastening towards the cottage in as straight a line as the trees would permit, now blotted out by a crossing shadow, and anon radiant in the sunlight, appearing and vanishing as she threaded the upright warp of the fir-wood. It was morning all around her; and one might see that it was morning within her too, as, emerging at last in the small open space around the cottage, Margaret--I cannot call her Meg, although her mother does--her father always called her "Maggy, my doo," Anglicé, dove--Margaret approached her mother with a bright healthful face, and the least possible expression of uneasiness on her fair forehead. She carried a book in her hand.
"What gars ye gang stravaguin' that get, Meg, whan ye ken weel eneuch ye sud a' been in to worship lang syne? An sae we maun hae worship our lanes for want o' you, ye hizzy!"
"I didna ken it was sae late, mither," replied Margaret, in a submissive tone, musical in spite of the rugged dialect into which the sounds were fashioned.
"Nae dout! Ye had yer brakfast, an' ye warna that hungry for the word. But here comes yer father, and ye'll no mend for his flytin', I'se promise."
"Hoots! lat the bairn alane, Janet, my woman. The word'll be mair to her afore lang."
"I wat she has a word o' her nain there. What beuk hae ye gotten there, Meg? Whaur got ye't?"
Had it not been for the handsome binding of the book in her daughter's hand, it would neither have caught the eye, nor roused the suspicions of Janet. David glanced at the book in his turn, and a faint expression of surprise, embodied chiefly in the opening of his eyelids a little wider than usual, crossed his face. But he only said with a smile:
"I didna ken that the tree o' knowledge, wi' sic fair fruit, grew in our wud, Maggy, my doo."
"Whaur gat ye the beuk?" reiterated Janet.
Margaret's face was by this time the colour of the crimson boards of the volume in her hand, but she replied at once:
"I got it frae Maister Sutherlan', I reckon."
Janet's first response was an inverted whistle; her next, another question:
"Maister Sutherlan'! wha's that o't?"
"Hoot, lass!" interposed David, "ye ken weel aneuch. It's the new tutor lad, up at the hoose; a fine, douce, honest chield, an' weel-faured, forby. Lat's see the bit beuky, lassie."
Margaret handed it to her father.
"Col-e-ridge's Poems," read David, with some difficulty.
"Tak' it hame direckly," said Janet.
"Na, na," said David; "a' the apples o' the tree o' knowledge are no stappit wi sut an stew; an' gin this ane be, she'll sune ken by the taste o't what's comin'. It's no muckle o' an ill beuk 'at ye'll read, Maggy, my doo."
"Guid preserve's, man! I'm no sayin' it's an ill beuk. But it's no richt to mak appintments wi' stranger lads i' the wud sae ear' i' the mornin'. Is't noo, yersel, Meg?"
"Mither! mither!" said Margaret, and her eyes flashed through the watery veil that tried to hide them, "hoo can ye? Ye ken yersel I had nae appintment wi' him or ony man."
"Weel, weel!" said Janet; and, apparently either satisfied with or overcome by the emotion she had excited, she turned and went in to pursue her usual house-avocations; while David, handing the book to his daughter, went away down the path that led from the cottage door, in the direction of a road to be seen at a little distance through the trees, which surrounded the cottage on all sides. Margaret followed her mother into the cottage, and was soon as busy as she with her share of the duties of the household; but it was a good many minutes before the cloud caused by her mother's hasty words entirely disappeared from a forehead which might with especial justice be called the sky of her face.
Meantime David emerged upon the more open road, and bent his course, still through fir-trees, towards a house for whose sake alone the road seemed to have been constructed.