THE END OF A BOYHOOD
Convinced of his own worthlessness, Tommy was sufficiently humble now,
but Aaron Latta, nevertheless, marched to the square on the following
market day and came back with the boy's sentence, Elspeth being happily
"I say nothing about the disgrace you have brought on this house," the
warper began without emotion, "for it has been a shamed house since
afore you were born, and it's a small offence to skail on a clarty
floor. But now I've done more for you than I promised Jean Myles to do,
and you had your pick atween college and the herding, and the herding
you've chosen twice. I call you no names, you ken best what you're
fitted for, but I've seen the farmer of the Dubb of Prosen the day, and
he was short-handed through the loss of Tod Lindertis, so you're fee'd
to him. Dinna think you get Tod's place, it'll be years afore you rise
to that, but it's right and proper that as he steps up, you should step
"The Dubb of Prosen!" cried Tommy in dismay. "It's fifteen miles frae
"It's a' that."
"But--but--but Elspeth and me never thought of my being so far away that
she couldna see me. We thought of a farmer near Thrums."
"The farther you're frae her the better," said Aaron, uneasily, yet
honestly believing what he said.
"It'll kill her," Tommy cried fiercely. With only his own suffering to
consider he would probably have nursed it into a play through which he
stalked as the noble child of misfortune, but in his anxiety for Elspeth
he could still forget himself. "Fine you ken she canna do without me,"
"She maun be weaned," replied the warper, with a show of temper; he was
convinced that the sooner Elspeth learned to do without Tommy the better
it would be for herself in the end, but in his way of regarding the boy
there was also a touch of jealousy, pathetic rather than forbidding. To
him he left the task of breaking the news to Elspeth; and Tommy,
terrified lest she should swoon under it, was almost offended when she
remained calm. But, alas, the reason was that she thought she was going
"Will we have to walk all the way to the Dubb of Prosen?" she asked,
quite brightly, and at that Tommy twisted about in misery. "You are
no--you canna--" he began, and then dodged the telling. "We--we may get
a lift in a cart," he said weakly.
"And I'll sit aside you in the fields, and make chains o' the gowans,
will I no? Speak, Tommy!"
"Ay--ay, will you," he groaned.
"And we'll have a wee, wee room to oursels, and--"
He broke down, "Oh, Elspeth," he cried, "it was ill-done of me no to
stick to my books, and get a bursary, and it was waur o' me to bother
about that word. I'm a scoundrel, I am, I'm a black, I'm a--"
But she put her hand on his mouth, saying, "I'm fonder o' you than ever,
Tommy, and I'll like the Dubb o' Prosen fine, and what does it matter
where we are when we're thegither?" which was poor comfort for him, but
still he could not tell her the truth, and so in the end Aaron had to
tell her. It struck her down, and the doctor had to be called in during
the night to stop her hysterics. When at last she fell asleep Tommy's
arm was beneath her, and by and by it was in agony, but he set his teeth
and kept it there rather than risk waking her.
When Tommy was out of the way, Aaron did his clumsy best to soothe her,
sometimes half shamefacedly pressing her cheek to his, and she did not
repel him, but there was no response. "Dinna take on in that way,
dawtie," he would say, "I'll be good to you."
"But you're no Tommy," Elspeth answered.
"I'm not, I'm but a stunted tree, blasted in my youth, but for a' that I
would like to have somebody to care for me, and there's none to do't,
Elspeth, if you winna. I'll gang walks wi' you, I'll take you to the
fishing, I'll come to the garret at night to hap you up, I'll--I'll
teach you the games I used to play mysel'. I'm no sure but what you
might make something o' me yet, bairn, if you tried hard."
"But you're no Tommy," Elspeth wailed again, and when he advised her to
put Tommy out of her mind for a little and speak of other things, she
only answered innocently, "What else is there to speak about?"
Mr. McLean had sent Tommy a pound, and so was done with him, but Ailie
still thought him a dear, though no longer a wonder, and Elspeth took a
strange confession to her, how one night she was so angry with God that
she had gone to bed without saying her prayers. She had just meant to
keep Him in suspense for a little, and then say them, but she fell
asleep. And that was not the worst, for when she woke in the morning,
and saw that she was still living, she was glad she had not said them.
But next night she said them twice.
And this, too, is another flash into her dark character. Tommy, who
never missed saying his prayers and could say them with surprising
quickness, told her, "God is fonder of lonely lassies than of any other
kind, and every time you greet it makes Him greet, and when you're
cheerful it makes Him cheerful too." This was meant to dry her eyes, but
it had not that effect, for, said Elspeth, vindictively, "Well, then,
I'll just make Him as miserable as I can."
When Tommy was merely concerned with his own affairs he did not think
much about God, but he knew that no other could console Elspeth, and his
love for her usually told him the right things to say, and while he said
them, he was quite carried away by his sentiments and even wept over
them, but within the hour he might be leering. They were beautiful, and
were repeated of course to Mrs. McLean, who told her husband of them,
declaring that this boy's love for his sister made her a better woman.
"But nevertheless," said Ivie, "Mr. Cathro assures me--"
"He is prejudiced," retorted Mrs. McLean warmly, prejudice being a
failing which all women marvel at. "Just listen to what the boy said to
Elspeth to-day. He said to her, 'When I am away, try for a whole day to
be better than you ever were before, and think of nothing else, and then
when prayer-time comes you will see that you have been happy without
knowing it.' Fancy his finding out that."
"I wonder if he ever tried it himself?" said Mr. McLean.
"Ivie, think shame of yourself!"
"Well, even Cathro admits that he has a kind of cleverness, but--"
"Cleverness!" exclaimed Ailie, indignantly, "that is not cleverness, it
is holiness;" and leaving the cynic she sought Elspeth, and did her good
by pointing out that a girl who had such a brother should try to save
him pain. "He is very miserable, dear," she said, "because you are so
unhappy. If you looked brighter, think how that would help him, and it
would show that you are worthy of him." So Elspeth went home trying hard
to look brighter, but made a sad mess of it.
"Think of getting letters frae me every time the post comes in!" said
Tommy, and then indeed her face shone.
And then Elspeth could write to him--yes, as often as ever she liked!
This pleased her even more. It was such an exquisite thought that she
could not wait, but wrote the first one before he started, and he
answered it across the table. And Mrs. McLean made a letter bag, with
two strings to it, and showed her how to carry it about with her in a
safer place than a pocket.
Then a cheering thing occurred. Came Corp, with the astounding news
that, in the Glenquharity dominie's opinion, Tommy should have got the
"He says he is glad he wasna judge, because he would have had to give
you the prize, and he laughs like to split at the ministers for giving
it to Lauchlan McLauchlan."
Now, great was the repute of Mr. Ogilvy, and Tommy gaped incredulous.
"He had no word of that at the time," he said.
"No likely! He says if the ministers was so doited as to think his loon
did best, it wasna for him to conter them."
"Man, Corp, you ca'me me aff my feet! How do you ken this?"
Corp had promised not to tell, and he thought he did not tell, but Tommy
was too clever for him. Grizel, it appeared, had heard Mr. Ogilvy saying
this strange thing to the doctor, and she burned to pass it on to Tommy,
but she could not carry it to him herself, because--Why was it? Oh, yes,
because she hated him. So she made a messenger of Corp, and warned him
against telling who had sent him with the news.
Half enlightened, Tommy began to strut again. "You see there's something
in me for all they say," he told Elspeth. "Listen to this. At the
bursary examinations there was some English we had to turn into Latin,
and it said, 'No man ever attained supreme eminence who worked for mere
lucre; such efforts must ever be bounded by base mediocrity. None shall
climb high but he who climbs for love, for in truth where the heart is,
there alone shall the treasure be found.' Elspeth, it came ower me in a
clink how true that was, and I sat saying it to myself, though I saw Gav
Dishart and Willie Simpson and the rest beginning to put it into Latin
at once, as little ta'en up wi' the words as if they had been about auld
Hannibal. I aye kent, Elspeth, that I could never do much at the
learning, but I didna see the reason till I read that. Syne I kent that
playing so real-like in the Den, and telling about my fits when it wasna
me that had them but Corp, and mourning for Lewis Doig's father, and
writing letters for folk so grandly, and a' my other queer ploys that
ended in Cathro's calling me Sentimental Tommy, was what my heart was
in, and I saw in a jiffy that if thae things were work, I should soon
rise to supreme eminence."
"But they're no," said Elspeth, sadly.
"No," he admitted, his face falling, "but, Elspeth, if I was to hear
some day of work I could put my heart into as if it were a game! I
wouldna be laug in finding the treasure syne. Oh, the blatter I would
"I doubt there's no sic work," she answered, but he told her not to be
so sure. "I thought there wasna mysel'," he said, "till now, but sure as
death my heart was as ta'en up wi' hunting for the right word as if it
had been a game, and that was how the time slipped by so quick. Yet it
was paying work, for the way I did it made Mr. Ogilvy see I should have
got the prize, and a' body kens there's more cleverness in him than in
a cart-load o' ministers."
"But, but there are no more Hugh Blackadders to try for, Tommy?"
"That's nothing, there maun be other work o' the same kind. Elspeth,
cheer up, I tell you, I'll find a wy!"
"But you didna ken yoursel' that you should have got the Hugh
He would not let this depress him. "I ken now," he said. Nevertheless,
why he should have got it was a mystery which he longed to fathom. Mr.
Ogilvy had returned to Glenquharity, so that an explanation could not be
drawn from him even if he were willing to supply it, which was
improbable; but Tommy caught Grizel in the Banker's Close and compelled
her to speak.
"I won't tell you a word of what Mr. Ogilvy said," she insisted, in her
obstinate way, and, oh, how she despised Corp for breaking his promise.
"Corp didna ken he telled me," said Tommy, less to clear Corp than to
exalt himself, "I wriggled it out o' him;" but even this did not bring
Grizel to a proper frame of mind, so he said, to annoy her,
"At any rate you're fond o' me."
"I am not," she replied, stamping; "I think you are horrid."
"What else made you send Corp to me?"
"I did that because I heard you were calling yourself a blockhead."
"Oho," said he, "so you have been speiring about me though you winna
speak to me!"
Grizel looked alarmed, and thinking to weaken his case, said, hastily,
"I very nearly kept it from you, I said often to myself 'I won't tell
"So you have been thinking a lot about me!" was his prompt comment.
"If I have," she retorted, "I did not think nice things. And what is
more, I was angry with myself for telling Corp to tell you."
Surely this was crushing, but apparently Tommy did not think so, for he
said, "You did it against your will! That means I hare a power over you
that you canna resist. Oho, oho!"
Had she become more friendly so should he, had she shed one tear he
would have melted immediately; but she only looked him up and down
disdainfully, and it hardened him. He said with a leer, "I ken what
makes you hold your hands so tight, it's to keep your arms frae
wagging;" and then her cry, "How do you know?" convicted her. He had not
succeeded in his mission, but on his way home he muttered, triumphantly,
"I did her, I did her!" and once he stopped to ask himself the question,
"Was it because my heart was in it?" It was their last meeting till they
were man and woman.
* * * * *
A blazing sun had come out on top of heavy showers, and the land reeked
and smelled as of the wash-tub. The smaller girls of Monypenny were
sitting in passages playing at fivey, just as Sappho for instance used
to play it; but they heard the Dubb of Prosen cart draw up at Aaron
Latta's door, and they followed it to see the last of Tommy Sandys. Corp
was already there, calling in at the door every time he heard a sob;
"Dinna, Elspeth, dinna, he'll find a wy," but Grizel had refused to
come, though Tommy knew that she had been asking when he started and
which road the cart would take. Well, he was not giving her a thought at
any rate; his box was in the cart now, and his face was streaked with
tears that were all for Elspeth. She should not have come to the door,
but she came, and--it was such a pitiable sight that Aaron Latta could
not look on. He went hurriedly to his workshop, but not to warp, and
even the carter was touched and he said to Tommy, "I tell you what, man,
I have to go round by Causeway End smiddy, and you and the crittur have
time, if you like, to take the short cut and meet me at the far corner
o' Caddam wood."
So Tommy and Elspeth, holding each other's hands, took the short cut and
they came to the far end of Caddam, and Elspeth thought they had better
say it here before the cart came; but Tommy said he would walk back with
her through the wood as far as the Toom Well, and they could say it
there. They tried to say it at the Well, but--Elspeth was still with him
when he returned to the far corner of Caddam, where the cart was now
awaiting him. The carter was sitting on the shaft, and he told them he
was in no hurry, and what is more, he had the delicacy to turn his back
on them and struck his horse with the reins for looking round at the
sorrowful pair. They should have said it now, but first Tommy walked
back a little bit of the way with Elspeth, and then she came back with
him, and that was to be the last time, but he could not leave her, and
so, there they were in the wood, looking woefully at each other, and it
was not said yet.
They had said it now, and all was over; they were several paces apart.
Elspeth smiled, she had promised to smile because Tommy said it would
kill him if she was greeting at the very end. But what a smile it was!
Tommy whistled, he had promised to whistle to show that he was happy as
long as Elspeth could smile. She stood still, but he went on, turning
round every few yards to--to whistle. "Never forget, day nor night, what
I said to you," he called to her. "You're the only one I love, and I
care not a hair for Grizel."
But when he disappeared, shouting to her, "I'll find a wy, I'll find a
wy," she screamed and ran after him. He was already in the cart, and it
had started. He stood up in it and waved his hand to her, and she stood
on the dyke and waved to him, and thus they stood waving till a hollow
in the road swallowed cart and man and boy. Then Elspeth put her hands
to her eyes and went sobbing homeward.
When she was gone, a girl who had heard all that passed between them
rose from among the broom of Caddam and took Elspeth's place on the
dyke, where she stood motionless waiting for the cart to reappear as it
climbed the other side of the hollow. She wore a black frock and a blue
bonnet with white strings, but the cart was far away, and Tommy thought
she was Elspeth, and springing to his feet again in the cart he waved
and waved. At first she did not respond, for had she not heard him say,
"You're the only one I love, and I care not a hair for Grizel?" And she
knew he was mistaking her for Elspeth. But by and by it struck her that
he would be more unhappy if he thought Elspeth was too overcome by grief
to wave to him. Her arms rocked passionately; no, no, she would not lift
them to wave to him, he could be as unhappy as he chose. Then in a
spirit of self-abnegation that surely raised her high among the
daughters of men, though she was but a painted lady's child, she waved
to him to save him pain, and he, still erect in the cart, waved back
until nothing could be seen by either of them save wood and fields and a
long, deserted road.
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