The following night, he left his books on the table, and the house
itself behind him, and sped like a grayhound to Dooble Sanny's shop,
lifted the latch, and entered.
By the light of a single dip set on a chair, he saw the shoemaker
seated on his stool, one hand lying on the lap of his leathern
apron, his other hand hanging down by his side, and the fiddle on
the ground at his feet. His wife stood behind him, wiping her eyes
with her blue apron. Through all its accumulated dirt, the face of
the soutar looked ghastly, and they were eyes of despair that he
lifted to the face of the youth as he stood holding the latch in his
hand. Mrs. Alexander moved towards Robert, drew him in, and gently
closed the door behind him, resuming her station like a sculptured
mourner behind her motionless husband.
'What on airth's the maitter wi' ye, Sandy?' said Robert.
'Eh, Robert!' returned the shoemaker, and a tone of affection tinged
the mournfulness with which he uttered the strange words--'eh,
Robert! the Almichty will gang his ain gait, and I'm in his grup
'He's had a stroke,' said his wife, without removing her apron from
'I hae gotten my pecks (blows),' resumed the soutar, in a despairing
voice, which gave yet more effect to the fantastic eccentricity of
conscience which from the midst of so many grave faults chose such a
one as especially bringing the divine displeasure upon him: 'I hae
gotten my pecks for cryin' doon my ain auld wife to set up your
bonny leddy. The tane's gane a' to aise an' stew (ashes and dust),
an' frae the tither,' he went on, looking down on the violin at his
feet as if it had been something dead in its youth--'an' frae the
tither I canna draw a cheep, for my richt han' has forgotten her
cunnin' Man, Robert, I canna lift it frae my side.'
'Ye maun gang to yer bed,' said Robert, greatly concerned.
'Ow, ay, I maun gang to my bed, and syne to the kirkyaird, and syne
to hell, I ken that weel eneuch. Robert, I lea my fiddle to you.
Be guid to the auld wife, man--better nor I hae been. An auld
wife's better nor nae fiddle.'
He stooped, lifted the violin with his left hand, gave it to Robert,
rose, and made for the door. They helped him up the creaking stair,
got him half-undressed, and laid him in his bed. Robert put the
violin on the top of a press within sight of the sufferer, left him
groaning, and ran for the doctor. Having seen him set out for the
patient's dwelling, he ran home to his grandmother.
Now while Robert was absent, occasion had arisen to look for him:
unusual occurrence, a visitor had appeared, no less a person than
Mr. Innes, the school-master. Shargar had been banished in
consequence from the parlour, and had seated himself outside
Robert's room, never doubting that Robert was inside. Presently he
heard the bell ring, and then Betty came up the stair, and said
Robert was wanted. Thereupon Shargar knocked at the door, and as
there was neither voice nor hearing, opened it, and found, with a
well-known horror, that he had been watching an empty room. He made
no haste to communicate the fact. Robert might return in a moment,
and his absence from the house not be discovered. He sat down on
the bedstead and waited. But Betty came up again, and before
Shargar could prevent her, walked into the room with her candle in
her hand. In vain did Shargar intreat her to go and say that Robert
was coming. Betty would not risk the danger of discovery in
connivance, and descended to open afresh the fountain of the old
lady's anxiety. She did not, however, betray her disquietude to Mr.
She had asked the school-master to visit her, in order that she
might consult him about Robert's future. Mr. Innes expressed a high
opinion of the boy's faculties and attainments, and strongly urged
that he should be sent to college. Mrs. Falconer inwardly shuddered
at the temptations to which this course would expose him; but he
must leave home or be apprentice to some trade. She would have
chosen the latter, I believe, but for religion towards the boy's
parents, who would never have thought of other than a profession for
him. While the school-master was dwelling on the argument that he
was pretty sure to gain a good bursary, and she would thus be
relieved for four years, probably for ever, from further expense on
his account, Robert entered.
'Whaur hae ye been, Robert?' asked Mrs. Falconer.
'At Dooble Sanny's,' answered the boy.
'What hae ye been at there?'
'Helpin' him till 's bed.'
'What's come ower him?'
'That's what comes o' playin' the fiddle.'
'I never heard o' a stroke comin' frae a fiddle, grannie. It comes
oot o' a clood whiles. Gin he had hauden till 's fiddle, he wad hae
been playin' her the nicht, in place o' 's airm lyin' at 's side
like a lang lingel (ligneul--shoemaker's thread).'
'Hm!' said his grandmother, concealing her indignation at this
freedom of speech, 'ye dinna believe in God's judgments!'
'Nae upo' fiddles,' returned Robert.
Mr. Innes sat and said nothing, with difficulty concealing his
amusement at this passage of arms.
It was but within the last few days that Robert had become capable
of speaking thus. His nature had at length arrived at the point of
so far casting off the incubus of his grandmother's authority as to
assert some measure of freedom and act openly. His very
hopelessness of a hearing in heaven had made him indifferent to
things on earth, and therefore bolder. Thus, strange as it may
seem, the blessing of God descended on him in the despair which
enabled him to speak out and free his soul from the weight of
concealment. But it was not despair alone that gave him strength.
On his way home from the shoemaker's he had been thinking what he
could do for him; and had resolved, come of it what might, that he
would visit him every evening, and try whether he could not comfort
him a little by playing upon his violin. So that it was
loving-kindness towards man, as well as despair towards God, that
gave him strength to resolve that between him and his grandmother
all should be above-board from henceforth.
'Nae upo' fiddles,' Robert had said.
'But upo' them 'at plays them,' returned his grandmother.
'Na; nor upo' them 'at burns them,' retorted Robert--impudently it
must be confessed; for every man is open to commit the fault of
which he is least capable.
But Mrs. Falconer had too much regard to her own dignity to indulge
her feelings. Possibly too her sense of justice, which Falconer
always said was stronger than that of any other woman he had ever
known, as well as some movement of her conscience interfered. She
was silent, and Robert rushed into the breach which his last
discharge had effected.
'An' I want to tell ye, grannie, that I mean to gang an' play the
fiddle to puir Sanny ilka nicht for the best pairt o' an hoor; an'
excep' ye lock the door an' hide the key, I will gang. The puir
sinner sanna be desertit by God an' man baith.'
He scarcely knew what he was saying before it was out of his mouth;
and as if to cover it up, he hurried on.
'An' there's mair in 't.--Dr. Anderson gae Shargar an' me a
sovereign the piece. An' Dooble Sanny s' hae them, to haud him ohn
deid o' hunger an' cauld.'
'What for didna ye tell me 'at Dr. Anderson had gien ye sic a sicht
o' siller? It was ill-faured o' ye--an' him as weel.'
''Cause ye wad hae sent it back till 'im; an' Shargar and me we
thocht we wad raither keep it.'
'Considerin' 'at I'm at sae muckle expense wi' ye baith, it wadna
hae been ill-contrived to hae brocht the siller to me, an' latten me
du wi' 't as I thocht fit.--Gang na awa', laddie,' she added, as she
saw Robert about to leave the room.
'I'll be back in a minute, grannie,' returned Robert.
'He's a fine lad, that!' said Mr. Innes; 'an' guid 'll come o' 'm,
and that 'll be heard tell o'.'
'Gin he had but the grace o' God, there wadna be muckle to compleen
o',' acquiesced his grandmother.
'There's time eneuch for that, Mrs. Faukner. Ye canna get auld
heids upo' young shoothers, ye ken.'
''Deed for that maitter, ye may get mony an auld heid upo' auld
shoothers, and nae a spark o' grace in 't to lat it see hoo to lay
itsel' doon i' the grave.'
Robert returned before Mr. Innes had made up his mind as to whether
the old lady intended a personal rebuke.
'Hae, grannie,' he said, going up to her, and putting the two
sovereigns in her white palm.
He had found some difficulty in making Shargar give up his, else he
would have returned sooner.
'What's this o' 't, laddie?' said Mrs. Falconer. 'Hoots! I'm nae
gaein' to tak yer siller. Lat the puir soutar-craturs hae 't. But
dinna gie them mair nor a shillin' or twa at ance--jist to haud them
in life. They deserve nae mair. But they maunna sterve. And jist
ye tell them, laddie, at gin they spen' ae saxpence o' 't upo'
whusky, they s' get nae mair.'
'Ay, ay, grannie,' responded Robert, with a glimmer of gladness in
his heart. 'And what aboot the fiddlin', grannie?' he added, half
playfully, hoping for some kind concession therein as well.
But he had gone too far. She vouchsafed no reply, and her face grew
stern with offence. It was one thing to give bread to eat, another
to give music and gladness. No music but that which sprung from
effectual calling and the perseverance of the saints could be lawful
in a world that was under the wrath and curse of God. Robert waited
in vain for a reply.
'Gang yer wa's,' she said at length. 'Mr. Innes and me has some
business to mak an en' o', an' we want nae assistance.'
Robert rejoined Shargar, who was still bemoaning the loss of his
sovereign. His face brightened when he saw its well-known yellow
shine once more, but darkened again as soon as Robert told him to
what service it was now devoted.
'It's my ain,' he said, with a suppressed expostulatory growl.
Robert threw the coin on the floor.
'Tak yer filthy lucre!' he exclaimed with contempt, and turned to
leave Shargar alone in the garret with his sovereign.
'Bob!' Shargar almost screamed, 'tak it, or I'll cut my throat.'
This was his constant threat when he was thoroughly in earnest.
'Cut it, an' hae dune wi' 't,' said Robert cruelly.
Shargar burst out crying.
'Len' me yer knife, than, Bob,' he sobbed, holding out his hand.
Robert burst into a roar of laughter, caught up the sovereign from
the floor, sped with it to the baker's, who refused to change it
because he had no knowledge of anything representing the sum of
twenty shillings except a pound-note, succeeded in getting silver
for it at the bank, and then ran to the soutar's.
After he left the parlour, the discussion of his fate was resumed
and finally settled between his grandmother and the school-master.
The former, in regard of the boy's determination to befriend the
shoemaker in the matter of music as well as of money, would now have
sent him at once to the grammar-school in Old Aberdeen, to prepare
for the competition in the month of November; but the latter
persuaded her that if the boy gave his whole attention to Latin till
the next summer, and then went to the grammar-school for three
months or so, he would have an excellent chance of success. As to
the violin, the school-master said, wisely enough:
'He that will to Cupar maun to Cupar; and gin ye kep (intercept) him
upo' the shore-road, he'll tak to the hill-road; an' I s' warran' a
braw lad like Robert 'll get mony a ane in Ebberdeen 'll be ready
eneuch to gie him a lift wi' the fiddle, and maybe tak him into waur
company nor the puir bed-ridden soutar; an' wi' you an' me to hing
on to the tail o' 'im like, he canna gang ower the scar (cliff)
afore he learns wit.'
'Hm!' was the old lady's comprehensive response.
It was further arranged that Robert should be informed of their
conclusion, and so roused to effort in anticipation of the trial
upon which his course in life must depend.
Nothing could have been better for Robert than the prospect of a
college education. But his first thought at the news was not of the
delights of learning nor of the honourable course that would ensue,
but of Eric Ericson, the poverty-stricken, friendless descendant of
yarls and sea-rovers. He would see him--the only man that
understood him! Not until the passion of this thought had abated,
did he begin to perceive the other advantages before him. But so
practical and thorough was he in all his proposals and means, that
ere half-an-hour was gone, he had begun to go over his Rudiments
again. He now wrote a version, or translation from English into
Latin, five times a week, and read Caeser, Virgil, or Tacitus, every
day. He gained permission from his grandmother to remove his bed to
his own garret, and there, from the bedstead at which he no longer
kneeled, he would often rise at four in the morning, even when the
snow lay a foot thick on the skylight, kindle his lamp by means of a
tinder-box and a splinter of wood dipped in sulphur, and sitting
down in the keen cold, turn half a page of Addison into something as
near Ciceronian Latin as he could effect. This would take him from
an hour and a half to two hours, when he would tumble again into
bed, blue and stiff, and sleep till it was time to get up and go to
the morning school before breakfast. His health was excellent, else
it could never have stood such treatment.