ROB OF THE ANGELS.
Among the peasantry assembled at the feast, were two that had
neither danced, nor seated themselves at the long table where all
were welcome. Mercy wondered what might be the reason of their
separation. Her first thought was that they must be somehow, she
could not well imagine how, in lower position than any of the rest
--had perhaps offended against the law, perhaps been in prison, and
so the rest would not keep company with them; or perhaps they were
beggars who did not belong to the clan, and therefore, although fed,
were not allowed to eat with it! But she soon saw she must be wrong
in each conjecture; for if there was any avoiding, it was on the
part of the two: every one, it was clear, was almost on the alert to
wait upon them. They seemed indeed rather persons of distinction
than outcasts; for it was with something like homage, except for a
certain coaxing tone in the speech of the ministrants, that they
were attended. They had to help themselves to nothing; everything
was carried to them. Now one, now another, where all were guests and
all were servants, would rise from the table to offer them
something, or see what they would choose or might be in want of,
while they partook with the same dignity and self-restraint that was
to be noted in all.
The elder was a man about five-and-fifty, tall and lean, with a wiry
frame, dark grizzled hair, and a shaven face. His dress, which was
in the style of the country, was very poor, but decent; only his
plaid was large and thick, and bright compared with the rest of his
apparel: it was a present he had had from his clan-some giving the
wool, and others the labour in carding, dyeing, and weaving it. He
carried himself like a soldier-which he had never been, though his
father had. His eyes were remarkably clear and keen, and the way he
used them could hardly fail to attract attention. Every now and then
they would suddenly fix themselves with a gaze of earnest inquiry,
which would either grow to perception, or presently melt away and
let his glance go gently roving, ready to receive, but looking for
nothing. His face was very brown and healthy, with marked and
handsome features. Its expression seemed at first a little severe,
but soon, to reading eyes, disclosed patience and tenderness. At the
same time there was in it a something indescribably unlike the other
faces present-and indeed his whole person and carriage were
similarly peculiar. Had Mercy, however, spent on him a little more
attention, the peculiarity would have explained itself. She would
have seen that, although everybody spoke to him, he never spoke in
reply--only made signs, sometimes with his lips, oftener with hand
or head: the man was deaf and dumb. But such was the keenness of his
observation that he understood everything said to him by one he
knew, and much from the lips of a stranger.
His companion was a youth whose age it would have been difficult to
guess. He looked a lad, and was not far from thirty. His clothing
was much like his father's--poor enough, yet with the air of being
a better suit than that worn every day. He was very pale and
curiously freckled, with great gray eyes like his father's, which
had however an altogether different expression. They looked dreamy,
and seemed almost careless of what passed before them, though now
and then a certain quick, sharp turn of the head showed him not
devoid of attention.
The relation between the two was strangely interesting. Day and
night they were inseparable. Because the father was deaf, the son
gave all his attention to the sounds of the world; his soul sat in
his ears, ever awake, ever listening; while such was his confidence
in his father's sight, that he scarcely troubled himself to look
where he set his feet. His expression also was peculiar, partly from
this cause, mainly from a deeper. It was a far-away look, which a
common glance would have taken to indicate that he was "not all
there." In a lowland parish he would have been regarded as little
better than a gifted idiot; in the mountains he was looked upon as a
seer, one in communion with higher powers. Whether his people were
of this opinion from being all fools together, and therefore unable
to know a fool, or the lowland authorities would have been right in
taking charge of him, let him who pleases judge or misjudge for
himself. What his own thought of him came out in the name they gave
him: "Rob of the Angels," they called him. He was nearly a foot
shorter than his father, and very thin. Some said he looked always
cold; but I think that came of the wonderful peace on his face, like
the quiet of a lake over which lies a thin mist. Never was stronger
or fuller devotion manifested by son to father than by Rob of the
Angels to Hector of the Stags. His filial love and faith were
perfect. While they were together, he was in his own calm elysium;
when they were apart, which was seldom for more than a few minutes,
his spirit seemed always waiting. I believe his notions of God his
father, and Hector his father, were strangely mingled--the more
perhaps that the two fathers were equally silent. It would have been
a valuable revelation to some theologians to see in those two what
<i>love</i> might mean.
So gentle was Rob of the Angels, that all the women, down to the
youngest maid-child, gave him a compassionate, mother-like love.
He had lost his mother when he was an infant; the father had brought
him up with his own hand, and from the moment of his mother's
departure had scarce let him out of his sight; but the whole
woman-remnant of the clan was as a mother to the boy. And from the
first they had so talked to him of his mother, greatly no doubt
through the feeling that from his father he could learn nothing of
her, that now his mother seemed to him everywhere: he could not see
God; why should not his mother be there though he could not see her!
No wonder the man was peaceful!
Many would be inclined to call the two but poachers and
vagabonds--vagabonds because they lived in houses not quite made
with hands, for they had several dwellings that were mostly
caves--which yet they contrived to make warm and comfortable; and
poachers because they lived by the creatures which God scatters on
his hills for his humans. Let those who inherit or purchase, avenge
the breach of law; but let them not wonder when those who are
disinherited and sold, cry out against the breach of higher law!
The land here had never, partly from the troubles besetting its
owners, but more from their regard for the poor, of the clan, been
with any care preserved; little notice was ever taken of what game
was killed, or who killed it. At the same time any wish of the chief
with regard to the deer, of which Rob's father for one knew every
antlered head, was rigidly respected. As to the parts which became
the property of others-the boundaries between were not very
definite, and sale could ill change habits, especially where owners
were but beginning to bestir themselves about the deer, or any of
the wild animals called game. Hector and Rob led their life with
untroubled conscience and easy mind.
In a world of the devil, where the justification of existence lay
in money on the one side, and work for money on the other, there
could be no justification of the existence of these men; but this
world does not belong to the devil, though it may often seem as if
it did, and father and son lived and enjoyed life, as in a manner so
to a decree unintelligible to him who, without his money and its
consolations, would know himself in the hell he has not yet recog-
nized. Neither of them could read or write; neither of them had a
penny laid by for wet weather; neither of them would leave any
memory beyond their generation; the will of neither would be laid up
in Doctors' Commons; neither of the two would leave on record a
single fact concerning one of the animals whose ways and habits
they knew better than any other man in the highlands; that they were
nothing, and worth nothing to anybody--even to themselves, would
have been the judgment of most strangers concerning them; but God
knew what a life of unspeakable pleasures it was that he had given
them-a life the change from which to the life beyond, would scarce
be distracting: neither would find himself much out of doors when he
died. To Bob of the Angels tow could Abraham's bosom feel strange,
accustomed to lie night after night, star-melted and soft-breathing,
or snow-ghastly and howling, with his head on--the bosom of Hector
of the Stags-an Abraham who could as ill do without his Isaac, as
his Isaac without him!
The father trusted his son's hearing as implicitly as his own sight.
When he saw a certain look come on his face, he would drop on the
instant, and crouch as still as if he had ears and knew what noise
was, watching Kob's face for news of some sound wandering through
the vast of the night.
It seemed at times, however, as if either he was not quite deaf, or
he had some gift that went toward compensation. To all motion about
him he was sensitive as no other man. I am afraid to say from how
far off the solid earth would convey to him the vibration of a
stag's footstep. Bob sometimes thought his cheek must feel the wind
of a sound to which his ear was irresponsive. Beyond a doubt he
was occasionally aware of the proximity of an animal, and knew
what animal it was, of which Rob had no intimation. His being,
corporeal and spiritual, seemed, to the ceaseless vibrations of the
great globe, a very seismograph. Often would he make his sign to
Kob to lay his ear on the ground and listen, when no indication had
reached the latter. I suspect the exceptional development in him of
some sense rudimentary in us all.
He had the keenest eyes in Glenruadh, and was a dead shot. Even the
chief was not his equal. Yet he never stalked a deer, never killed
anything, for mere sport. I am not certain he never had, but for Rob
of the Angels, he had the deep-rooted feeling of his chief in regard
to the animals. What they wanted for food, they would kill; but it
was not much they needed, for seldom can two men have lived on less,
and they had positively not a greed of any kind between them. If
their necessity was meal or potatoes, they would carry grouse or
hares down the glen, or arrange with some farmer's wife, perhaps
Mrs. Macruadh herself, for the haunches of a doe; but they never
killed from pleasure in killing. Of creatures destructive to game
they killed enough to do far more than make up for all the game they
took; and for the skins of ermine and stoat and fox and otter they
could always get money's worth; money itself they never sought or
had. If the little birds be regarded as earning the fruit and seed
they devour by the grubs and slugs they destroy, then Hector of the
Stags and Rob of the Angels also thoroughly earned their food.
When a trustworthy messenger was wanted, and Rob was within reach,
he was sure to be employed. But not even then were his father and he
quite parted. Hector would shoulder his gun, and follow in the track
of his fleet-footed son till he met him returning.
For what was life to Hector but to be with Rob! Was his Mary's son
to go about the world unattended! He had a yet stronger feeling than
any of the clan that his son was not of the common race of mortals.
To Hector also, after their own fashion, would Rob of the Angels
tell the tales that suggested the name his clanspeople gave
him--wonderful tales of the high mountain-nights, the actors in them
for the most part angels. Whether Rob believed he had intercourse
with such beings, heard them speak, and saw them, do the things he
reported, I cannot tell: it may be that, like any other poet of good
things, he but saw and believed the things his tales meant, the
things with which he represented the angels as dealing, and
concerning which he told their sayings. To the eyes of those who
knew him, Rob seemed just the sort of person with whom the angels
might be well pleased to hold converse: was he not simplicity
itself, truth, generosity, helpfulness? Did he not, when a child,
all but lose his life in the rescue of an idiot from the swollen
burn? Did he not, when a boy, fight a great golden eagle on its
nest, thinking to deliver the lamb it had carried away? Knowing his
father in want of a new bonnet, did not Rob with his bare hands
seize an otter at the mouth of its hole, and carry it home, laughing
merrily over the wounds it had given him?
His voice had in it a strangely peculiar tone, making it seem not of
this world. Especially after he had been talking for some time, it
would appear to come from far away, not from the lips of the man
looking you in the face.
It was wonderful with what solemnity of speech, and purity of form
he would tell his tales. So much in solitude with his dumb father,
his speech might well be unlike the speech of other men; but whence
the impression of cultivation it produced?
When the Christmas party broke up, most of the guests took the road
toward the village, the chief and his brother accompanying them part
of the way. Of these were Rob and his father, walking hand in hand,
Hector looking straight before him, Rob gazing up into the heavens,
as if holding counsel with the stars.
"Are you seeing any angels, Rob?" asked a gentle girl of ten.
"Well, and I'm not sure," answered Rob of the Angels.
"Sure you can tell whether you see anything!"
"Oh, yes, I see! but it is not easy to tell what will be an angel
and what will not. There's so much all blue up there, it might be
full of angels and none of us see one of them!"
"Do tell us what you see, Rob, dear Rob," said the girl.
"Well, and I will tell you. I think I see many heads close together,
"And can you hear what they will be saying?"
"Some of it."
"Tell me, do tell me-some-just a little."
"Well then, they are saying, one to the other--not very plain, but I
can hear--they are saying, 'I wonder when people will be good! It
would be so easy, if only they would mean it, and begin when they
are little!' That's what they are saying as they look down on us
"That will be good advice, Rob!" said one of the women.
"And," he resumed, "they are saying now--at least that is what it
sounds to me--'I wish women were as good as they were when they
were little girls!'"
"Now I know they are not saying that!" remarked the woman. "How
should the angels trouble themselves about us! Rob, dear, confess
you are making it up, because the child would be asking you."
Rob made no answer, but some saw him smile a curious smile. Rob
would never defend anything he had said, or dispute anything another
said. After a moment or two, he spoke again.
"Shall I be telling you what I heard them saying to each other this
last night of all?" he asked.
"Yes, do, do!"
"It was upon Dorrachbeg; and there were two of them. They were
sitting together in the moon--in the correi on the side of the hill
over the village. I was lying in a bush near them, for I could not
sleep, and came out, and the night was not cold. Now I would never
be so bad-mannered as to listen where persons did not want me to
"What were they like, Rob, dear?" interrupted the girl.
"That does not matter much," answered Rob; "but they were white, and
their eyes not so white, but brighter; for so many sad things go in
at their eyes when they come down to the earth, that it makes them
"How could they be brighter and darker both at once?" asked the
girl, very pertinently.
"I will tell you," answered Rob. "The dark things that go in at
their eyes, they have to burn them in the fire of faith; and it is
the fire of that burning that makes their eyes bright; it is the
fire of their faith burning up the sad things they see."
"Oh, yes! I understand now!" said the girl. "And what were their
clothes like, Rob?"
"When you see the angels, you don't think much about their clothes."
"And what were they saying?"
"I spoke first--the moment I saw them, for I was not sure they knew
that I was there. I said, 'I am here, gentlemen.' 'Yes, we know
that,' they answered. 'Are you far from home, gentlemen?' I asked.
'It is all one for that,' they answered. 'Well,' said I, 'it is
true, gentlemen, for you seem as much at home here on the side of
Dorrachbeg, as if it was a hill in paradise!' 'And how do you know
it is not?' said they. 'Because I see people do upon it as they
would not in paradise,' I answered. 'Ah!' said one of them, 'the
hill may be in paradise, and the people not! But you cannot
understand these things.' 'I think I do,' I said; 'but surely, if
you did let them know they were on a hill in paradise, they would
not do as they do!' 'It would be no use telling them,' said he;
'but, oh, how they spoil the house!' 'Are the red deer, and the
hares, and the birds in paradise?' I asked. 'Certain sure!' he
answered. 'Do they know it?' said I. 'No, it is not necessary for
them; but they will know it one day.' 'You do not mind your little
brother asking you questions?' I said. 'Ask a hundred, if you will,
little brother,' he replied. 'Then tell me why you are down here
to-night.' 'My friend and I came out for a walk, and we thought we
would look to see when the village down there will have to be
reaped.' 'What do you mean?' I said. 'You cannot see what we see,'
they answered; 'but a human place is like a flower, or a field of
corn, and grows ripe, or won't grow ripe, and then some of us up
there have to sharpen our sickles.' 'What!' said I, for a great fear
came upon me, 'they are not wicked people down there!' 'No, not very
wicked, but slow and dull.' Then I could say nothing more for a
while, and they did not speak either, but sat looking before them.
'Can you go and come as you please?' I asked at length. 'Yes, just
as we are sent,' they answered. 'Would you not like better to go and
come of yourselves, as my father and I do?' I said. 'No,' answered
both of them, and something in their one voice almost frightened me;
'it is better than everything to go where we are sent. If we had to
go and come at our own will, we should be miserable, for we do not
love our own will.' 'Not love your own will?' 'No, not at all!'
'Why?' 'Because there is one--oh, ever so much better! When you and
your father are quite good, you will not be left to go and come at
your own will any more than we are.' And I cried out, and said, 'Oh,
dear angel! you frighten me!' And he said, 'That is because you are
only a man, and not a--' Now I am not sure of the word he said next;
bat I think it was CHRISTIAN; and I do not quite know what the word
"Oh, Rob, dear! everybody knows that!" exclaimed the girl.
But Rob said no more.
While he was talking, Alister had come up behind him, with Annie of
the shop, and he said--
"Rob, my friend, I know what you mean, and I want to hear the rest
of it: what did the angels say next?"
"They said," answered Rob, "--'Was it your will set you on this
beautiful hill, with all these things to love, with such air to
breathe, such a father as you've got, and such grand deer about
you?' 'No,' I answered. 'Then,' said the angel, 'there must be a
better will than yours, for you would never have even thought of
such things!' 'How could I, when I wasn't made?' said I. 'There it
is!' he returned, and said no more. I looked up, and the moon was
shining, and there were no angels on the stone. But a little way off
was my father, come out to see what had become of me."
"Now did you really see and hear all that, Rob?" said Alister.
Rob smiled a beautiful smile--with something in it common people
would call idiotic--stopped and turned, took the chief's hand, and
carried it to his lips; but not a word more would he speak, and soon
they came where the path of the two turned away over the hill.
"Will you not come and sleep at our house?" said one of the company.
But they made kindly excuse.
"The hill-side would miss us; we are expected home!" said Rob--and
away they climbed to their hut, a hollow in a limestone rock, with a
front wall of turf, there to sleep side by side till the morning
came, or, as Rob would have said, "till the wind of the sun woke
Rob of the Angels made songs, and would sing one sometimes; but they
were in Gaelic, and the more poetic a thing, the more inadequate at
least, if not stupid is its translation.
He had all the old legends of the country in his head, and many
stories of ghosts and of the second sight. These stories he would
tell exactly as he had heard them, showing he believed every word of
them; but with such of the legends as were plainly no other than
poetic inventions, he would take what liberties he pleased--and they
lost nothing by it; for he not only gave them touches of fresh
interest, but sent glimmering through them hints of something
higher, of which ordinary natures perceived nothing, while others
were dimly aware of a loftier intent: according to his listeners was
their hearing. In Rob's stories, as in all the finer work of genius,
a man would find as much as, and no more than, he was capable of.
Ian's opinion of Rob was even higher than Alister's.
"What do you think, Ian, of the stories Rob of the Angels tells?"
asked Alister, as they walked home.
"That the Lord has chosen the weak things of the world to confound
the mighty," answered Ian.
"Tut! Rob confounds nobody."
"He confounds me," returned Ian.
"Does he believe what he tells?"
"He believes all of it that is to be believed," replied Ian.
"You are as bad as he!" rejoined Alister. "There is no telling,
sometimes, what you mean!"
"Tell me this, Alister: can a thing be believed that is not true?"
"I say, NO. Can you eat that which is not bread?"
"I have seen a poor fellow gnawing a stick for hunger!" answered
"Yes, gnawing! but gnawing is not eating. Did the poor fellow eat
the stick? That is just it! Many a man will gnaw at a lie all his
life, and perish of want. I mean LIE, of course, the real lie--a
thing which is in its nature false. He may gnaw at it, he may even
swallow it, but I deny that he can believe it. There is not that in
it which can be believed; at most it can but be supposed to be true.
Belief is another thing. Truth is alone the correlate of belief,
just as air is for the lungs, just as form and colour are for the
sight. A lie can no more be believed than carbonic acid can be
breathed. It goes into the lungs, true, and a lie goes into the
mind, but both kill; the one is not BREATHED, the other is not
BELIEVED. The thing that is not true cannot find its way to the home
of faith; if it could, it would be at once rejected with a loathing
beyond utterance; to a pure soul, which alone can believe, nothing
is so loathsome as a pretence of truth. A lie is a pretended truth.
If there were no truth there could be no lie. As the devil upon God,
the very being of a lie depends on that whose opposite and enemy it
is. But tell me, Alister, do you believe the parables of our Lord?"
"With all my heart."
"Was there any real person in our Lord's mind when he told that one
about the unjust judge?"
"I do not suppose there was; but there were doubtless many such."
"Many who would listen to a poor woman because she plagued them?"
"Well, it does not matter; what the story teaches is true, and that
was what he wanted believed."
"Just so. The truth in the parables is what they mean, not what they
say; and so it is, I think, with Rob of the Angels' stories. He
believes all that can be believed of them. At the same time, to a
mind so simple, the spirit of God must have freer entrance than to
ours--perhaps even teaches the man by what we call THE MAN'S OWN
WORDS. His words may go before his ideas--his higher ideas at
least--his ideas follow after his words. As the half-thoughts pass
through his mind--who can say how much generated by himself, how
much directly suggested by the eternal thought in which his spirit
lives and breathes!--he drinks and is refreshed. I am convinced that
nowhere so much as in the highest knowledge of all--what the people
above count knowledge--will the fulfilment of the saying of our
Lord, "Many first shall be last, and the last first," cause
astonishment; that a man who has been leader of the age's opinion,
may be immeasurably behind another whom he would have shut up in a
mad-house. Depend upon it, things go on in the soul of that Rob of
the Angels which the angels, whether they come to talk with him or
not, would gladly look into. Of such as he the angels may one day be
A silence followed.
"Do you think the young ladies of the New House could understand Rob
of the Angels, Ian?" at length asked Alister.
"Not a bit. I tried the younger, and she is the best.--They could if
they would wake up."
"You might say that of anybody!"
"Yes; but there is this among other differences--that some people do
not wake up, because they want a new brain first, such as they will
get when they die, perhaps; while others do not wake up, because
their whole education has been a rocking of them to sleep. And there
is this difference between the girls, that the one is full of
herself, and the other is not. The one has a close, the other an
"And yet," said Alister, "if they heard you say so, the open mind
would imagine itself the close, and the close never doubt it was the