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Chapter V. The Tommy Myth

On the evening before the christening, Aaron Latta, his head sunk farther into his shoulders, his beard gone grayer, no other perceptible difference in a dreary man since we last saw him in the book of Tommy's boyhood, had met the brother and sister at the station, a barrow with him for their luggage. It was a great hour for him as he wheeled the barrow homeward, Elspeth once more by his side; but he could say nothing heartsome in Tommy's presence, and Tommy was as uncomfortable in his. The old strained relations between these two seemed to begin again at once. They were as self-conscious as two mastiffs meeting in the street; and both breathed a sigh of relief when Tommy fell behind.

"You're bonny, Elspeth," Aaron then said eagerly. "I'm glad, glad to see you again."

"And him too, Aaron?" Elspeth pleaded.

"He took you away frae me."

"He has brought me back." "Ay, and he has but to whistle to you and away you go wi' him again. He's ower grand to bide lang here now."

"You don't know him, Aaron. We are to stay a long time. Do you know Mrs. McLean invited us to stay with her? I suppose she thought your house was so small. But Tommy said, 'The house of the man who befriended us when we were children shall never be too small for us.'"

"Did he say that? Ay, but, Elspeth, I would rather hear what you said."

"I said it was to dear, good Aaron Latta I was going back, and to no one else."

"God bless you for that, Elspeth."

"And Tommy," she went on, "must have his old garret room again, to write as well as sleep in, and the little room you partitioned off the kitchen will do nicely for me."

"There's no a window in it," replied Aaron; "but it will do fine for you, Elspeth." He was almost chuckling, for he had a surprise in waiting for her. "This way," he said excitedly, when she would have gone into the kitchen, and he flung open the door of what had been his warping-room. The warping-mill was gone--everything that had been there was gone. What met the delighted eyes of Elspeth and Tommy was a cozy parlour, which became a bedroom when you opened that other door.

"You are a leddy now, Elspeth," Aaron said, husky with pride, "and you have a leddy's room. Do you see the piano?"

He had given up the warping, having at last "twa three hunder'" in the bank, and all the work he did now was at a loom which he had put into the kitchen to keep him out of languor. "I have sorted up the garret, too, for you," he said to Tommy, "but this is Elspeth's room."

"As if Tommy would take it from me!" said Elspeth, running into the kitchen to hug this dear Aaron.

"You may laugh," Aaron replied vindictively, "but he is taking it frae you already"; and later, when Tommy was out of the way, he explained his meaning. "I did it all for you, Elspeth; 'Elspeth's room,' I called it. When I bought the mahogany arm-chair, 'That's Elspeth's chair,' I said to mysel'; and when I bought the bed, 'It's hers,' I said. Ay; but I was soon disannulled o' that thait, for, in spite of me, they were all got for him. Not a rissom in that room is yours or mine, Elspeth; every muhlen belongs to him."

"But who says so, Aaron? I am sure he won't."

"I dinna ken them. They are leddies that come here in their carriages to see the house where Thomas Sandys was born."

"But, Aaron, he was born in London!" "They think he was born in this house," Aaron replied doggedly, "and it's no for me to cheapen him."

"Oh, Aaron, you pretend----"

"I was never very fond o' him," Aaron admitted, "but I winna cheapen Jean Myles's bairn, and when they chap at my door and say they would like to see the room Thomas Sandys was born in, I let them see the best room I have. So that's how he has laid hands on your parlor, Elspeth. Afore I can get rid o' them they gie a squeak and cry, 'Was that Thomas Sandys's bed?' and I says it was. That's him taking the very bed frae you, Elspeth."

"You might at least have shown them his bed in the garret," she said.

"It's a shilpit bit thing," he answered, "and I winna cheapen him. They're curious, too, to see his favourite seat."

"It was the fender," she declared.

"It was," he assented, "but it's no for me to cheapen him, so I let them see your new mahogany chair. 'Thomas Sandys's chair,' they call it, and they sit down in it reverently. They winna even leave you the piano. 'Was this Thomas Sandys's piano?' they speir. 'It was,' says I, and syne they gowp at it." His under lip shot out, a sure sign that he was angry. "I dinna blame him," he said, "but he had the same masterful way of scooping everything into his lap when he was a laddie, and I like him none the mair for it"; and from this position Aaron would not budge.

"Quite right, too," Tommy said, when he heard of it. "But you can tell him, Elspeth, that we shall allow no more of those prying women to come in." And he really meant this, for he was a modest man that day, was Tommy. Nevertheless, he was, perhaps, a little annoyed to find, as the days went on, that no more ladies came to be turned away.

He heard that they had also been unable to resist the desire to shake hands with Thomas Sandys's schoolmaster. "It must have been a pleasure to teach him," they said to Cathro.

"Ah me, ah me!" Cathro replied enigmatically. It had so often been a pleasure to Cathro to thrash him!

"Genius is odd," they said. "Did he ever give you any trouble?"

"We were like father and son," he assured them. With natural pride he showed them the ink-pot into which Thomas Sandys had dipped as a boy. They were very grateful for his interesting reminiscence that when the pot was too full Thomas inked his fingers. He presented several of them with the ink-pot.

Two ladies, who came together, bothered him by asking what the Hugh Blackadder competition was. They had been advised to inquire of him about Thomas Sandys's connection therewith by another schoolmaster, a Mr. Ogilvy, whom they had met in one of the glens.

Mr. Cathro winced, and then explained with emphasis that the Hugh Blackadder was a competition in which the local ministers were the sole judges; he therefore referred the ladies to them. The ladies did go to a local minister for enlightenment, to Mr. Dishart; but, after reflecting, Mr. Dishart said that it was too long a story, and this answer seemed to amuse Mr. Ogilvy, who happened to be present.

It was Mr. McLean who retailed this news to Tommy. He and Ailie had walked home from church with the newcomers on the day after their arrival, the day of the christening. They had not gone into Aaron's house, for you are looked askance at in Thrums if you pay visits on Sundays, but they had stood for a long time gossiping at the door, which is permitted by the strictest. Ailie was in a twitter, as of old, and not able even yet to speak of her husband without an apologetic look to the ladies who had none. And oh, how proud she was of Tommy's fame! Her eyes were an offering to him.

"Don't take her as a sample of the place, though," Mr. McLean warned him, "for Thrums does not catch fire so readily as London." It was quite true. "I was at the school wi' him," they said up there, and implied that this damned his book.

But there were two faithful souls, or, more strictly, one, for Corp could never have carried it through without Gavinia's help. Tommy called on them promptly at their house in the Bellies Brae (four rooms, but a lodger), and said, almost before he had time to look, that the baby had Corp's chin and Gavinia's eyes. He had made this up on the way. He also wanted to say, so desirous was he of pleasing his old friends, that he should like to hold the baby in his arms; but it was such a thundering lie that even an author could not say it.

Tommy sat down in that house with a very warm heart for its inmates; but they chilled him--Gavinia with her stiff words, and Corp by looking miserable instead of joyous.

"I expected you to come to me first, Corp," said Tommy, reproachfully. "I had scarcely a word with you at the station."

"He couldna hae presumed," replied Gavinia, primly.

"I couldna hae presumed," said Corp, with a groan.

"Fudge!" Tommy said. "You were my greatest friend, and I like you as much as ever, Corp." Corp's face shone, but Gavinia said at once, "You werena sic great friends as that; were you, man?"

"No," Corp replied gloomily.

"Whatever has come over you both?" asked Tommy, in surprise. "You will be saying next, Gavinia, that we never played at Jacobites in the Den!"

"I dinna deny that Corp and me played," Gavinia answered determinedly, "but you didna. You said to us, 'Think shame,' you said, 'to be playing vulgar games when you could be reading superior books.' They were his very words, were they no, man?" she demanded of her unhappy husband, with a threatening look.

"They were," said Corp, in deepest gloom.

"I must get to the bottom of this," said Tommy, rising, "and as you are too great a coward, Corp, to tell the truth with that shameless woman glowering at you, out you go, Gavinia, and take your disgraced bairn with you. Do as you are told, you besom, for I am Captain Stroke again."

Corp was choking with delight as Gavinia withdrew haughtily. "I was sure you would sort her," he said, rubbing his hands, "I was sure you wasna the kind to be ashamed o' auld friends."

"But what does it mean?"

"She has a notion," Corp explained, growing grave again, "that it wouldna do for you to own the like o' us. 'We mauna cheapen him,' she said. She wanted you to see that we hinna been cheapening you." He said, in a sepulchral voice, "There has been leddies here, and they want to ken what Thomas Sandys was like as a boy. It's me they speir for, but Gavinia she just shoves me out o' sight, and says she, 'Leave them to me.'"

Corp told Tommy some of the things Gavinia said about Thomas Sandys as a boy: how he sat rapt in church, and, instead of going bird-nesting, lay on the ground listening to the beautiful little warblers overhead, and gave all his pennies to poorer children, and could repeat the Shorter Catechism, beginning at either end, and was very respectful to the aged and infirm, and of a yielding disposition, and said, from his earliest years, "I don't want to be great; I just want to be good."

"How can she make them all up?" Tommy asked, with respectful homage to Gavinia.

Corp, with his eye on the door, produced from beneath the bed a little book with coloured pictures. It was entitled "Great Boyhoods," by "Aunt Martha." "She doesna make them up," he whispered; "she gets them out o' this."

"And you back her up, Corp, even when she says I was not your friend!"

"It was like a t' knife intil me," replied loyal Corp; "every time I forswore you it was like a t' knife, but I did it, ay, and I'll go on doing it if you think my friendship cheapens you."

Tommy was much moved, and gripped his old lieutenant by the hand. He also called Gavinia ben, and, before she could ward him off, the masterful rogue had saluted her on the cheek. "That," said Tommy, "is to show you that I am as fond of the old times and my old friends as ever, and the moment you deny it I shall take you to mean, Gavinia, that you want another kiss."

"He's just the same!" Corp remarked ecstatically, when Tommy had gone.

"I dinna deny," Gavinia said, "but what he's fell taking"; and for a time they ruminated.

"Gavinia," said Corp, suddenly, "I wouldna wonder but what he's a gey lad wi' the women!"

"What makes you think that?" she replied coldly, and he had the prudence not to say. He should have followed his hero home to be disabused of this monstrous notion, for even while it was being propounded Tommy was sitting in such an agony of silence in a woman's presence that she could not resist smiling a crooked smile at him. His want of words did not displease Grizel; she was of opinion that young men should always be a little awed by young ladies.

He had found her with Elspeth on his return home. Would Grizel call and be friendly? he had asked himself many times since he saw her in church yesterday, and Elspeth was as curious. Each wanted to know what the other thought of her, but neither had the courage to inquire, they both wanted to know so much. Her name had been mentioned but casually, not a word to indicate that she had grown up since they saw her last. The longer Tommy remained silent, the more, he knew, did Elspeth suspect him. He would have liked to say, in a careless voice, "Rather pretty, isn't she?" but he felt that this little Elspeth would see through him at once.

For at the first glance he had seen what Grizel was, and a thrill of joy passed through him as he drank her in; it was but the joy of the eyes for the first moment, but it ran to his heart to say, "This is the little hunted girl that was!" and Tommy was moved with a manly gladness that the girl who once was so fearful of the future had grown into this. The same unselfish delight in her for her own sake came over him again when he shook hands with her in Aaron's parlor. This glorious creature with the serene eyes and the noble shoulders had been the hunted child of the Double Dykes! He would have liked to race back into the past and bring little Grizel here to look. How many boyish memories he recalled! and she was in every one of them. His heart held nothing but honest joy in this meeting after so many years; he longed to tell her how sincerely he was still her friend. Well, why don't you tell her, Tommy? It is a thing you are good at, and you have been polishing up the phrases ever since she passed down the aisle with Master Shiach in her arms; you have even planned out a way of putting Grizel at her ease, and behold, she is the only one of the three who is at ease. What has come over you? Does the reader think it was love? No, it was only that pall of shyness; he tried to fling it off, but could not. Behold Tommy being buried alive!

Elspeth showed less contemptibly than her brother, but it was Grizel who did most of the talking. She nodded her head and smiled crookedly at Tommy, but she was watching him all the time. She wore a dress in which brown and yellow mingled as in woods on an autumn day, and the jacket had a high collar of fur, over which she watched him. Let us say that she was watching to see whether any of the old Tommy was left in him. Yet, with this problem confronting her, she also had time to study the outer man, Tommy the dandy--his velvet jacket (a new one), his brazen waistcoat, his poetic neckerchief, his spotless linen. His velvet jacket was to become the derision of Thrums, but Tommy took his bonneting haughtily, like one who was glad to suffer for a Cause. There were to be meetings here and there where people told with awe how many shirts he sent weekly to the wash. Grizel disdained his dandy tastes; why did not Elspeth strip him of them? And oh, if he must wear that absurd waistcoat, could she not see that it would look another thing if the second button was put half an inch farther back? How sinful of him to spoil the shape of his silly velvet jacket by carrying so many letters in the pockets! She learned afterwards that he carried all those letters because there was a check in one of them, he did not know which, and her sense of orderliness was outraged. Elspeth did not notice these things. She helped Tommy by her helplessness. There is reason to believe that once in London, when she had need of a new hat, but money there was none, Tommy, looking very defiant, studied ladies' hats in the shop-windows, brought all his intellect to bear on them, with the result that he did concoct out of Elspeth's old hat a new one which was the admired of O.P. Pym and friends, who never knew the name of the artist. But obviously he could not take proper care of himself, and there is a kind of woman, of whom Grizel was one, to whose breasts this helplessness makes an unfair appeal. Oh, to dress him properly! She could not help liking to be a mother to men; she wanted them to be the most noble characters, but completely dependent on her.

Tommy walked home with her, and it seemed at first as if Elspeth's absence was to be no help to him. He could not even plagiarize from "Sandys on Woman." No one knew so well the kind of thing he should be saying, and no one could have been more anxious to say it, but a weight of shyness sat on the lid of Tommy. Having for half an hour raged internally at his misfortune, he now sullenly embraced it. "If I am this sort of an ass, let me be it in the superlative degree," he may be conceived saying bitterly to himself. He addressed Grizel coldly as "Miss McQueen," a name she had taken by the doctor's wish soon after she went to live with him.

"There is no reason why you should call me that," she said. "Call me Grizel, as you used to do."

"May I?" replied Tommy, idiotically. He knew it was idiotic, but that mood now had grip of him.

"But I mean to call you Mr. Sandys," she said decisively.

He was really glad to hear it, for to be called Tommy by anyone was now detestable to him (which is why I always call him Tommy in these pages). So it was like him to say, with a sigh, "I had hoped to hear you use the old name."

That sigh made her look at him sharply. He knew that he must be careful with Grizel, and that she was irritated, but he had to go on.

"It is strange to me," said Sentimental Tommy, "to be back here after all those years, walking this familiar road once more with you. I thought it would make me feel myself a boy again, but, heigh-ho, it has just the opposite effect: I never felt so old as I do to-day."

His voice trembled a little, I don't know why. Grizel frowned.

"But you never were as old as you are to-day, were you?" she inquired politely. It whisked Tommy out of dangerous waters and laid him at her feet. He laughed, not perceptibly or audibly, of course, but somewhere inside him the bell rang. No one could laugh more heartily at himself than Tommy, and none bore less malice to those who brought him to land.

"That, at any rate, makes me feel younger," he said candidly; and now the shyness was in full flight.

"Why?" asked Grizel, still watchful.

"It is so like the kind of thing you used to say to me when we were boy and girl. I used to enrage you very much, I fear," he said, half gleefully.

"Yes," she admitted, with a smile, "you did."

"And then how you rocked your arms at me, Grizel! Do you remember?"

She remembered it all so well! This rocking of the arms, as they called it, was a trick of hers that signified sudden joy or pain. They hung rigid by her side, and then shook violently with emotion.

"Do you ever rock them now when people annoy you?" he asked.

"There has been no one to annoy me," she replied demurely, "since you went away."

"But I have come back," Tommy said, looking hopefully at her arms.

"You see they take no notice of you."

"They don't remember me yet. As soon as they do they will cry out."

Grizel shook her head confidently, and in this she was pitting herself against Tommy, always a bold thing to do.

"I have been to see Corp's baby," he said suddenly; and this was so important that she stopped in the middle of the road.

"What do you think of him?" she asked, quite anxiously.

"I thought," replied Tommy, gravely, and making use of one of Grizel's pet phrases, "I thought he was just sweet."

"Isn't he!" she cried; and then she knew that he was making fun of her. Her arms rocked.

"Hurray!" cried Tommy, "they recognize me now! Don't be angry, Grizel," he begged her. "You taught me, long ago, what was the right thing to say about babies, and how could I be sure it was you until I saw your arms rocking?"

"It was so like you," she said reproachfully, "to try to make me do it."

"It was so unlike you," he replied craftily, "to let me succeed. And, after all, Grizel, if I was horrid in the old days I always apologized."

"Never!" she insisted.

"Well, then," said Tommy, handsomely, "I do so now"; and then they both laughed gaily, and I think Grizel was not sorry that there was a little of the boy who had been horrid left in Tommy--just enough to know him by.

"He'll be vain," her aged maid, Maggy Ann, said curiously to her that evening. They were all curious about Tommy.

"I don't know that he is vain," Grizel replied guardedly.

"If he's no vain," Maggy Ann retorted, "he's the first son of Adam it could be said o'. I jalouse it's his bit book."

"He scarcely mentioned it."

"Ay, then, it's his beard."

Grizel was sure it was not that.

"Then it'll be the women," said Maggy Ann.

"Who knows!" said Grizel of the watchful eyes; but she smiled to herself. She thought not incorrectly that she knew one woman of whom Mr. Sandys was a little afraid.

About the same time Tommy and Elspeth were discussing her. Elspeth was in bed, and Tommy had come into the room to kiss her good-night--he had never once omitted doing it since they went to London, and he was always to do it, for neither of them was ever to marry.

"What do you think of her?" Elspeth asked. This was their great time for confidences.

"Of whom?" Tommy inquired lightly.

"Grizel."

He must be careful.

"Rather pretty, don't you think?" he said, gazing at the ceiling.

She was looking at him keenly, but he managed to deceive her. She was much relieved, and could say what was in her heart. "Tommy," she said, "I think she is the most noble-looking girl I ever saw, and if she were not so masterful in her manner she would be beautiful." It was nice of Elspeth to say it, for she and Grizel were never very great friends.

Tommy brought down his eyes. "Did you think as much of her as that?" he said. "It struck me that her features were not quite classic. Her nose is a little tilted, is it not?"

"Some people like that kind of nose," replied Elspeth. "It is not classic," Tommy said sternly.

James M. Barrie