A NOONDAY MELODY.
Everything goes to its rest;
The hills are asleep in the noon;
And life is as still in its nest
As the moon when she looks on a moon
In the depths of a calm river's breast
As it steals through a midnight in June.
The streams have forgotten the sea
In the dream of their musical sound;
The sunlight is thick on the tree,
And the shadows lie warm on the ground--
So still, you may watch them and see
Every breath that awakens around.
The churchyard lies still in the heat,
With its handful of mouldering bone;
As still as the long stalk of wheat
In the shadow that sits by the stone,
As still as the grass at my feet
When I walk in the meadows alone.
The waves are asleep on the main,
And the ships are asleep on the wave;
And the thoughts are as still in my brain
As the echo that sleeps in the cave;
All rest from their labour and pain--
Then why should not I in my grave?
His heart ready to burst with a sorrow, admiration, and devotion,
which no criticism interfered to qualify, Robert rushed out into the
darkness, and sped, fleet-footed, along the only path which Ericson
could have taken. He could not bear to be left in the house while
his friend was out in the rain.
He was sure of joining him before he reached the new town, for he
was fleet-footed, and there was a path only on one side of the way,
so that there was no danger of passing him in the dark. As he ran
he heard the moaning of the sea. There must be a storm somewhere,
away in the deep spaces of its dark bosom, and its lips muttered of
its far unrest. When the sun rose it would be seen misty and gray,
tossing about under the one rain cloud that like a thinner ocean
overspread the heavens--tossing like an animal that would fain lie
down and be at peace but could not compose its unwieldy strength.
Suddenly Robert slackened his speed, ceased running, stood, gazed
through the darkness at a figure a few yards before him.
An old wall, bowed out with age and the weight behind it, flanked
the road in this part. Doors in this wall, with a few steps in
front of them and more behind, led up into gardens upon a slope, at
the top of which stood the houses to which they belonged. Against
one of these doors the figure stood with its head bowed upon its
hands. When Robert was within a few feet, it descended and went on.
'Mr. Ericson!' exclaimed Robert. 'Ye'll get yer deith gin ye stan'
that gait i' the weet.'
'Amen,' said Ericson, turning with a smile that glimmered wan
through the misty night. Then changing his tone, he went on: 'What
are you after, Robert?'
'You,' answered Robert. 'I cudna bide to be left my lane whan I
micht be wi' ye a' the time--gin ye wad lat me. Ye war oot o' the
hoose afore I weel kent what ye was aboot. It's no a fit nicht for
ye to be oot at a', mair by token 'at ye're no the ablest to stan'
cauld an' weet.'
'I've stood a great deal of both in my time,' returned Ericson; 'but
come along. We'll go and get that fiddle-string.'
'Dinna ye think it wad be fully better to gang hame?' Robert
ventured to suggest.
'What would be the use? I'm in no mood for Plato to-night,' he
answered, trying hard to keep from shivering.
'Ye hae an ill cauld upo' ye,' persisted Robert; 'an' ye maun be as
weet 's a dishcloot.'
Ericson laughed--a strange, hollow laugh.
'Come along,' he said. 'A walk will do me good. We'll get the
string, and then you shall play to me. That will do me more good
Robert ceased opposing him, and they walked together to the new
town. Robert bought the string, and they set out, as he thought, to
But not yet did Ericson seem inclined to go home. He took the lead,
and they emerged upon the quay.
There were not many vessels. One of them was the Antwerp tub,
already known to Robert. He recognized her even in the dull light
of the quay lamps. Her captain being a prudent and well-to-do
Dutchman, never slept on shore; he preferred saving his money; and
therefore, as the friends passed, Robert caught sight of him walking
his own deck and smoking a long clay pipe before turning in.
'A fine nicht, capt'n,' said Robert.
'It does rain,' returned the captain. 'Will you come on board and
have one schnapps before you turn in?'
'I hae a frien' wi' me here,' said Robert, feeling his way.
'Let him come and be welcomed.'
Ericson making no objection, they went on board, and down into the
neat little cabin, which was all the roomier for the straightness of
the vessel's quarter. The captain got out a square,
coffin-shouldered bottle, and having respect to the condition of
their garments, neither of the young men refused his hospitality,
though Robert did feel a little compunction at the thought of the
horror it would have caused his grandmother. Then the Dutchman got
out his violin and asked Robert to play a Scotch air. But in the
middle of it his eyes fell on Ericson, and he stopped at once.
Ericson was sitting on a locker, leaning back against the side of
the vessel: his eyes were open and fixed, and he seemed quite
unconscious of what was passing. Robert fancied at first that the
hollands he had taken had gone to his head, but he saw at the same
moment, from his glass, that he had scarcely tasted the spirit. In
great alarm they tried to rouse him, and at length succeeded. He
closed his eyes, opened them again, rose up, and was going away.
'What's the maitter wi' ye, Mr. Ericson?' said Robert, in distress.
'Nothing, nothing,' answered Ericson, in a strange voice. 'I fell
asleep, I believe. It was very bad manners, captain. I beg your
pardon. I believe I am overtired.'
The Dutchman was as kind as possible, and begged Ericson to stay the
night and occupy his berth. But he insisted on going home, although
he was clearly unfit for such a walk. They bade the skipper
good-night, went on shore, and set out, Ericson leaning rather
heavily upon Robert's arm. Robert led him up Marischal Street.
The steep ascent was too much for Ericson. He stood still upon the
bridge and leaned over the wall of it. Robert stood beside, almost
in despair about getting him home.
'Have patience with me, Robert,' said Ericson, in his natural voice.
'I shall be better presently. I don't know what's come to me. If I
had been a Celt now, I should have said I had a touch of the second
sight. But I am, as far as I know, pure Northman.'
'What did you see?' asked Robert, with a strange feeling that miles
of the spirit world, if one may be allowed such a contradiction in
words, lay between him and his friend.
Ericson returned no answer. Robert feared he was going to have a
relapse; but in a moment more he lifted himself up and bent again to
They got on pretty well till they were about the middle of the
'I can't,' said Ericson feebly, and half leaned, half fell against
the wall of a house.
'Come into this shop,' said Robert. 'I ken the man. He'll lat ye
He managed to get him in. He was as pale as death. The bookseller
got a chair, and he sank into it. Robert was almost at his wit's
end. There was no such thing as a cab in Aberdeen for years and
years after the date of my story. He was holding a glass of water
to Ericson's lips,--when he heard his name, in a low earnest
whisper, from the door. There, round the door-cheek, peered the
white face and red head of Shargar.
'Robert! Robert!' said Shargar.
'I hear ye,' returned Robert coolly: he was too anxious to be
surprised at anything. 'Haud yer tongue. I'll come to ye in a
Ericson recovered a little, refused the whisky offered by the
bookseller, rose, and staggered out.
'If I were only home!' he said. 'But where is home?'
'We'll try to mak ane,' returned Robert. 'Tak a haud o' me. Lay yer
weicht upo' me.--Gin it warna for yer len'th, I cud cairry ye weel
eneuch. Whaur's that Shargar?' he muttered to himself, looking up
and down the gloomy street.
But no Shargar was to be seen. Robert peered in vain into every
dark court they crept past, till at length he all but came to the
conclusion that Shargar was only 'fantastical.'
When they had reached the hollow, and were crossing then
canal-bridge by Mount Hooly, Ericson's strength again failed him,
and again he leaned upon the bridge. Nor had he leaned long before
Robert found that he had fainted. In desperation he began to hoist
the tall form upon his back, when he heard the quick step of a
runner behind him and the words--
'Gie 'im to me, Robert; gie 'im to me. I can carry 'im fine.'
'Haud awa' wi' ye,' returned Robert; and again Shargar fell behind.
For a few hundred yards he trudged along manfully; but his strength,
more from the nature of his burden than its weight, soon gave way.
He stood still to recover. The same moment Shargar was by his side
'Noo, Robert,' he said, pleadingly.
Robert yielded, and the burden was shifted to Shargar's back.
How they managed it they hardly knew themselves; but after many
changes they at last got Ericson home, and up to his own room. He
had revived several times, but gone off again. In one of his
faints, Robert undressed him and got him into bed. He had so little
to cover him, that Robert could not help crying with misery. He
himself was well provided, and would gladly have shared with
Ericson, but that was hopeless. He could, however, make him warm in
bed. Then leaving Shargar in charge, he sped back to the new town
to Dr. Anderson. The doctor had his carriage out at once, wrapped
Robert in a plaid and brought him home with him.
Ericson came to himself, and seeing Shargar by his bedside, tried to
sit up, asking feebly,
'Where am I?'
'In yer ain bed, Mr. Ericson,' answered Shargar.
'And who are you?' asked Ericson again, bewildered.
Shargar's pale face no doubt looked strange under his crown of red
'Ow! I'm naebody.'
'You must be somebody, or else my brain's in a bad state,' returned
'Na, na, I'm naebody. Naething ava (at all). Robert 'll be hame in
ae meenit.--I'm Robert's tyke (dog),' concluded Shargar, with a
This answer seemed to satisfy Ericson, for he closed his eyes and
lay still; nor did he speak again till Robert arrived with the
Poor food, scanty clothing, undue exertion in travelling to and from
the university, hard mental effort against weakness, disquietude of
mind, all borne with an endurance unconscious of itself, had reduced
Eric Ericson to his present condition. Strength had given way at
last, and he was now lying in the low border wash of a dead sea of
The last of an ancient race of poor men, he had no relative but a
second cousin, and no means except the little he advanced him,
chiefly in kind, to be paid for when Eric had a profession. This
cousin was in the herring trade, and the chief assistance he gave
him was to send him by sea, from Wick to Aberdeen, a small barrel of
his fish every session. One herring, with two or three potatoes,
formed his dinner as long as the barrel lasted. But at Aberdeen or
elsewhere no one carried his head more erect than Eric Ericson--not
from pride, but from simplicity and inborn dignity; and there was
not a man during his curriculum more respected than he. An
excellent classical scholar--as scholarship went in those days--he
was almost the only man in the university who made his knowledge of
Latin serve towards an acquaintance with the Romance languages. He
had gained a small bursary, and gave lessons when he could.
But having no level channel for the outgoing of the waters of one of
the tenderest hearts that ever lived, those waters had sought to
break a passage upwards. Herein his experience corresponded in a
considerable degree to that of Robert; only Eric's more fastidious
and more instructed nature bred a thousand difficulties which he
would meet one by one, whereas Robert, less delicate and more
robust, would break through all the oppositions of theological
science falsely so called, and take the kingdom of heaven by force.
But indeed the ruins of the ever falling temple of theology had
accumulated far more heavily over Robert's well of life, than over
that of Ericson: the obstructions to his faith were those that
rolled from the disintegrating mountains of humanity, rather than
the rubbish heaped upon it by the careless masons who take the
quarry whence they hew the stones for the temple--built without
hands eternal in the heavens.
When Dr. Anderson entered, Ericson opened his eyes wide. The doctor
approached, and taking his hand began to feel his pulse. Then first
Ericson comprehended his visit.
'I can't,' he said, withdrawing his hand. 'I am not so ill as to
need a doctor.'
'My dear sir,' said Dr. Anderson, courteously, 'there will be no
occasion to put you to any pain.'
'Sir,' said Eric, 'I have no money.'
The doctor laughed.
'And I have more than I know how to make a good use of.'
'I would rather be left alone,' persisted Ericson, turning his face
'Now, my dear sir,' said the doctor, with gentle decision, 'that is
very wrong. With what face can you offer a kindness when your turn
comes, if you won't accept one yourself?'
Ericson held out his wrist. Dr. Anderson questioned, prescribed,
and, having given directions, went home, to call again in the
And now Robert was somewhat in the position of the old woman who
'had so many children she didn't know what to do.' Dr. Anderson
ordered nourishment for Ericson, and here was Shargar upon his hands
as well! Shargar and he could share, to be sure, and exist: but for
Not a word did Robert exchange with Shargar till he had gone to the
druggist's and got the medicine for Ericson, who, after taking it,
fell into a troubled sleep. Then, leaving the two doors open,
Robert joined Shargar in his own room. There he made up a good
fire, and they sat and dried themselves.
'Noo, Shargar,' said Robert at length, 'hoo cam ye here?'
His question was too like one of his grandmother's to be pleasant to
'Dinna speyk to me that gait, Robert, or I'll cut my throat' he
'Hoots! I maun ken a' aboot it,' insisted Robert, but with much
modified and partly convicted tone.
'Weel, I never said I wadna tell ye a' aboot it. The fac' 's
this--an' I'm no' up to the leein' as I used to be, Robert: I hae
tried it ower an' ower, but a lee comes rouch throw my thrapple
(windpipe) noo. Faith! I cud hae leed ance wi' onybody, barrin'
the de'il. I winna lee. I'm nae leein'. The fac's jist this: I
cudna bide ahin' ye ony langer.'
'But what, the muckle lang-tailed deevil! am I to do wi' ye?'
returned Robert, in real perplexity, though only pretended
'Gie me something to ate, an' I'll tell ye what to do wi' me,'
answered Shargar. 'I dinna care a scart (scratch) what it is.'
Robert rang the bell and ordered some porridge, and while it was
preparing, Shargar told his story--how having heard a rumour of
apprenticeship to a tailor, he had the same night dropped from the
gable window to the ground, and with three halfpence in his pocket
had wandered and begged his way to Aberdeen, arriving with one
'But what am I to do wi' ye?' said Robert once more, in as much
perplexity as ever.
'Bide till I hae tellt ye, as I said I wad,' answered Shargar.
'Dinna ye think I'm the haveless (careless and therefore helpless)
crater I used to be. I hae been in Aberdeen three days! Ay, an' I
hae seen you ilka day in yer reid goon, an' richt braw it is. Luik
He put his hand in his pocket and pulled out what amounted to two or
three shillings, chiefly in coppers, which he exposed with triumph
on the table.
'Whaur got ye a' that siller, man?' asked Robert.
'Here and there, I kenna whaur; but I hae gien the weicht o' 't for
't a' the same--rinnin' here an' rinnin' there, cairryin' boxes till
an' frae the smacks, an' doin' a'thing whether they bade me or no.
Yesterday mornin' I got thrippence by hingin' aboot the Royal afore
the coches startit. I luikit a' up and doon the street till I saw
somebody hine awa wi' a porkmanty. Till 'im I ran, an' he was an
auld man, an' maist at the last gasp wi' the weicht o' 't, an' gae
me 't to carry. An' wha duv ye think gae me a shillin' the verra
first nicht?--Wha but my brither Sandy?'
'Ay, faith. I kent him weel eneuch, but little he kent me. There
he was upo' Black Geordie. He's turnin' auld noo.'
'Na. He's young eneuch for ony mischeef; but Black Geordie. What on
earth gars him gang stravaguin' aboot upo' that deevil? I doobt
he's a kelpie, or a hell-horse, or something no canny o' that kin';
for faith! brither Sandy's no ower canny himsel', I'm thinkin'. But
Geordie--the aulder the waur set (inclined). An' sae I'm thinkin'
wi' his maister.'
'Did ye iver see yer father, Shargar?'
'Na. Nor I dinna want to see 'im. I'm upo' my mither's side. But
that's naething to the pint. A' that I want o' you 's to lat me
come hame at nicht, an' lie upo' the flure here. I sweir I'll lie
i' the street gin ye dinna lat me. I'll sleep as soun' 's Peter
MacInnes whan Maccleary's preachin'. An' I winna ate muckle--I hae
a dreidfu' pooer o' aitin'--an' a' 'at I gether I'll fess hame to
you, to du wi' 't as ye like.--Man, I cairriet a heap o' things the
day till the skipper o' that boat 'at ye gaed intil wi' Maister
Ericson the nicht. He's a fine chiel' that skipper!'
Robert was astonished at the change that had passed upon Shargar.
His departure had cast him upon his own resources, and allowed the
individuality repressed by every event of his history, even by his
worship of Robert, to begin to develop itself. Miserable for a few
weeks, he had revived in the fancy that to work hard at school would
give him some chance of rejoining Robert. Thence, too, he had
watched to please Mrs. Falconer, and had indeed begun to buy golden
opinions from all sorts of people. He had a hope in prospect. But
into the midst fell the whisper of the apprenticeship like a
thunderbolt out of a clear sky. He fled at once.
'Weel, ye can hae my bed the nicht,' said Robert, 'for I maun sit up
wi' Mr. Ericson.'
''Deed I'll hae naething o' the kin'. I'll sleep upo' the flure, or
else upo' the door-stane. Man, I'm no clean eneuch efter what I've
come throu sin' I drappit frae the window-sill i' the ga'le-room.
But jist len' me yer plaid, an' I'll sleep upo' the rug here as gin
I war i' Paradees. An' faith, sae I am, Robert. Ye maun gang to
yer bed some time the nicht forby (besides), or ye winna be fit for
yer wark the morn. Ye can jist gie me a kick, an' I'll be up afore
ye can gie me anither.'
Their supper arrived from below, and, each on one side of the fire,
they ate the porridge, conversing all the while about old times--for
the youngest life has its old times, its golden age--and old
adventures,--Dooble Sanny, Betty, &c., &c. There were but two
subjects which Robert avoided--Miss St. John and the Bonnie Leddy.
Shargar was at length deposited upon the little bit of hearthrug
which adorned rather than enriched the room, with Robert's plaid of
shepherd tartan around him, and an Ainsworth's dictionary under his
head for a pillow.
'Man, I fin' mysel' jist like a muckle colley (sheep-dog),' he said.
'Whan I close my een, I'm no sure 'at I'm no i' the inside o' yer
auld luckie-daiddie's kilt. The Lord preserve me frae ever sic a
fricht again as yer grannie an' Betty gae me the nicht they fand me
in 't! I dinna believe it's in natur' to hae sic a fricht twise in
ae lifetime. Sae I'll fa' asleep at ance, an' say nae mair--but as
muckle o' my prayers as I can min' upo' noo 'at grannie's no at my
'Haud yer impidence, an' yer tongue thegither,' said Robert. 'Min'
'at my grannie's been the best frien' ye ever had.'
''Cep' my ain mither,' returned Shargar, with a sleepy doggedness in
During their conference, Ericson had been slumbering. Robert had
visited him from time to time, but he had not awaked. As soon as
Shargar was disposed of, he took his candle and sat down by him. He
grew more uneasy. Robert guessed that the candle was the cause, and
put it out. Ericson was quieter. So Robert sat in the dark.
But the rain had now ceased. Some upper wind had swept the clouds
from the sky, and the whole world of stars was radiant over the
earth and its griefs.
'O God, where art thou?' he said in his heart, and went to his own
room to look out.
There was no curtain, and the blind had not been drawn down,
therefore the earth looked in at the storm-window. The sea neither
glimmered nor shone. It lay across the horizon like a low level
cloud, out of which came a moaning. Was this moaning all of the
earth, or was there trouble in the starry places too? thought
Robert, as if already he had begun to suspect the truth from
afar--that save in the secret place of the Most High, and in the
heart that is hid with the Son of Man in the bosom of the Father,
there is trouble--a sacred unrest--everywhere--the moaning of a tide
setting homewards, even towards the bosom of that Father.