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Although Mr Cupples had been educated for the Church, and was indeed at this present time a licentiate, he had given up all thought of pursuing what had been his mother's ambition rather than his own choice. But his thoughts had not ceased to run in some of the old grooves, although a certain scepticism would sometimes set him examining those grooves to find out whether they had been made by the wheels of the gospel-chariot, or by those of Juggernaut in the disguise of a Hebrew high priest, drawn by a shouting Christian people. Indeed, as soon as he ceased to go to church, which was soon after ceasing to regard the priesthood as his future profession, he began to look at many things from points of view not exclusively ecclesiastical. So that, although he did go to church at Glamerton for several Sundays, the day arriving when he could not face it again, he did not scruple to set off for the hills. Coming home with a great grand purple foxglove in his hand, he met some of the missionars returning from their chapel, and amongst the rest Robert Bruce, who stopped and spoke.
"I'm surprised to see ye carryin' that thing o' the Lord's day, Mr Cupples. Fowk'll think ill o' ye."
"Weel, ye see, Mr Bruce, it angert me sae to see the ill-faured thing positeevely growin' there upo' the Lord's day, that I pu'd it up 'maist by the reet. To think o' a weyd like that prankin' itsel' oot in its purple and its spots upo' the Sawbath day! It canna ken what it's aboot. I'm only feared I left eneuch o' 't to be up again afore lang."
"I doobt, Mr Cupples, ye haena come unner the pooer o' grace yet."
"A pour o' creysh (grease)! Na, thank ye. I dinna want to come unner a pour o' creysh. It wad blaud me a'thegither. Is that the gait ye baptize i' your conventicle?"
"There's nane sae deif's them 'at winna hear, Mr Cupples," said Bruce. "I mean--ye're no convertit yet."
"Na. I'm no convertit. 'Deed no. I wadna like to be convertit. What wad ye convert me till? A swine? Or a sma' peddlin' crater that tak's a bawbee mair for rowin' up the pigtail in a foul paper? Ca' ye that conversion? I'll bide as I am."
"It's waste o' precious time speikin' to you, Mr Cupples," returned Bruce, moving off with a red face.
"'Deed is't," retorted Cupples; "and I houp ye winna forget the fac'? It's o' consequens to me."
But he had quite another word on the same subject for Annie Anderson, whom he overtook on her way to Howglen--she likewise returning from the missionar kirk.
"Isna that a bonnie ring o' deid man's bells, Annie?" said he, holding out the foxglove, and calling it by its name in that part of the country.
"Ay is't. But that was ower muckle a flooer to tak' to the kirk wi' ye. Ye wad gar the fowk lauch."
"What's the richt flooer to tak' to the kirk, Annie?"
"Ow! sober floories that smell o' the yird (earth), like."
"Ay! ay! Sic like's what?" asked Cupples, for he had found in Annie a poetic nature that delighted him.
"Ow! sic like's thyme and southren-wood, and maybe a bittie o' mignonette."
"Ay! ay! And sae the cowmon custom abuses you, young, bonnie lammies o' the flock. Wadna ye tak' the rose o' Sharon itsel', nor the fire-reid lilies that made the text for the Saviour's sermon? Ow! na. Ye maun be sober, wi' flooers bonnie eneuch, but smellin' o' the kirkyard raither nor the blue lift, which same's the sapphire throne o' Him that sat thereon."
"Weel, but allooin' that, ye sudna gar fowk lauch, wi' a bonnie flooer, but ridickleous for the size o' 't, 'cep' ye gie 't room. A kirk's ower little for't."
"Ye're richt there, my dawtie. And I haena been to the kirk ava'. I hae been to the hills."
"And what got ye there?"
"I got this upo' the road hame."
"But what got ye there?"
"Weel, I got the blue lift."
"And what was that to ye?"
"It said to me that I was a foolish man to care aboot the claiks and the strifes o' the warl'; for a' was quaiet aboon, whatever stramash they micht be makin' doon here i' the cellars o' the speeritual creation."
Annie was silent: while she did not quite understand him, she had a dim perception of a grand meaning in what he said.
The fact was that Annie was the greater of the two in esse; Cupples the greater in posse. His imagination let him see things far beyond what he could for a long time attain unto.
"But what got ye at the kirk, Annie?"
"Weel, I canna say I got verra muckle the day. Mr Turnbull's text was, 'Thou, Lord, art merciful, for thou renderest to every man according to his works.'"
"Ye micht hae gotten a hantel oot o' that."
"Ay. But ye see, he said the Lord was merciful to ither fowk whan he rendert to the wicked the punishment due to them. And I cudna richtly feel i' my hert that I cud praise the Lord for that mercy."
"I dinna wonner, my bairn."
"But eh! Mr Cupples, Mr Turnbull's no like that aye. He's bonnie upo' the Gospel news. I wiss ye wad gang and hear him the nicht. I canna gang, cause Mrs Forbes is gaun oot."
"I'll gang and hear him, to please you, my lassie; for, as I said, I haena been to the kirk the day."
"But do ye think it's richt to brak the Sawbath, Mr Cupples?"
"Ay and no."
"I dinna unnerstan' ye."
"What the clergy ca' brakin' the Sawbath's no brakin' o' 't. I'll tell ye what seems to me the differ atween the like o' your Mr Turnbull and the Pharisees--and it's a great differ. They band heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and laid them upo' men's shouthers, but wadna touch sic like to carry them wi' ane o' their fingers: Mr Turnbull and the like o' him beirs their share. But the burden's nane the less a heavy ane and grievous to be borne."
"But the burden's no that grievous to me, Mr Cupples."
"There's no sayin' what you women-fowk will not tak' a pleesur' in bearin'; but the passage refers expressly to the men's shouthers. And faith mine will not endure to be loadent wi' ither fowks fykes (trifles). And sae come alang, deid man's bells."
Annie thought all this rather dreadful, but she was not shocked as a Christian who lives by the clergy and their traditions, instead of by the fresh Spirit of God, would have been. For she could not help seeing that there was truth in it.
But although Cupples could say much to set Annie thinking, and although she did find enlightenment at last from pondering over his words, yet she could have told him far deeper things than he had yet suspected to exist. For she knew that the goal of all life is the face of God. Perhaps she had to learn a yet higher lesson: that our one free home is the Heart, the eternal lovely Will of God, than that which should fail, it were better that we and all the worlds should go out in blackness. But this Will is our Salvation. Because He liveth we shall live also.
Mr Cupples found in the missionar kirk a certain fervour which pleased him. For Mr Turnbull, finding that his appeals to the ungodly were now of little avail to attract listeners of the class, had betaken himself to the building up of the body of Christ, dwelling in particular upon the love of the brethren. But how some of them were to be loved, except with the love of compassionate indignation, even his most rapt listener Thomas Crann could not have supposed himself capable of explaining. As I said, however, Mr Cupples found the sermon in some degree impressive, and was attentive. As he was walking away, questioning with himself, he heard a voice in the air above him. It came from the lips of Thomas Crann, who, although stooping from asthma and rheumatism, still rose nearly a foot above the head of Mr Cupples.
"I was glaid to see ye at oor kirk, sir," said Thomas.
"What for that?" returned the librarian, who always repelled first approaches, in which he was only like Thomas himself, and many other worthy people, both Scotch and English.
"A stranger sud aye be welcomed to onybody's hoose."
"I didna ken it was your hoose."
"Ow na. It's no my hoose. It's the Lord's hoose. But a smile frae the servan'-lass that opens the door's something till a man that gangs to ony hoose for the first time, ye ken," returned Thomas, who, like many men of rough address, was instantly put upon his good behaviour by the exhibition of like roughness in another.
This answer disarmed Cupples. He looked up into Thomas's face, and saw first a massive chin; then a firmly closed mouth; then a nose, straight as a Greek's, but bulky and of a rough texture; then two keen grey eyes, and lastly a big square forehead supported by the two pedestals of high cheek bones--the whole looking as if it had been hewn out of his professional granite, or rather as if the look of the granite had passed into the face that was so constantly bent over it fashioning the stubborn substance to the yet more stubborn human will. And Cupples not only liked the face, but felt that he was in the presence of one of the higher natures of the world--made to command, or rather, which is far better, to influence. Before he had time to reply, however, Thomas resumed:
"Ye hae had a heap o' tribble, I doobt, wi' that laddie, Alec Forbes."
"Naething mair nor was nateral," answered Cupples.
"He's a fine crater, though. I ken that weel. Is he come back, do ye think?"
"What do ye mean? He's lyin' in's bed, quaiet eneuch, puir fallow!"
"Is he come back to the fold?"
"Nae to the missionars, I'm thinkin'."
"Dinna anger me. Ye're nae sae ignorant as ye wad pass for. Ye ken weel eneuch what I mean. What care I for the missionars mair nor ony ither o' the Lord's fowk, 'cep that they're mair like his fowk nor ony ither that I hae seen?"
"Sic like's Robert Bruce, for a sample."
Thomas stopped as if he had struck against a stone wall, and went back on his track.
"What I want to ken is whether Alec unnerstans yet that the prodigal's aye ill aff; and--"
"Na," interrupted Cupples. "He's never been cawed to the swine yet. Nor he sudna be, sae lang's I had a saxpence to halve wi' him."
"Ye're no richt, frien', there. The suner a prodigal comes to the swine the better!"
"Ay; that's what you richteous elder brithers think. I ken that weel eneuch."
"Mr Cupples, I'm nae elder brither i' that sense. God kens I wad gang oot to lat him in."
"What ken ye aboot him, gin it be a fair queston?"
"I hae kent him, sir, sin he was a bairn. I perilled his life--no my ain--to gar him do his duty. I trust in God it wad hae been easier for me to hae perilled my ain. Sae ye see I do ken aboot him."
"Weel," said Mr Cupples, to whom the nature of Thomas had begun to open itself, "I alloo that. Whaur do ye bide? What's yer name? I'll come and see ye the morn's nicht, gin ye'll lat me."
"My name's Thomas Crann. I'm a stonemason. Speir at Robert Bruce's chop, and they'll direc ye to whaur I bide. Ye may come the morn's nicht, and welcome. Can ye sup parritch?"
"Ay, weel that."
"My Jean's an extrornar han' at parritch. I only houp puir Esau had half as guid for's birthricht. Ye'll hae a drappy wi' me?"
"Wi' a' my hert," answered Cupples.
And here their ways diverged.
When he reached home, he asked Annie about Thomas. Annie spoke of him in the highest terms, adding,
"I'm glaid ye like him, Mr Cupples."
"I dinna think, wi' sic an opingon o' 'm, it can maitter muckle to you whether I like him or no," returned Mr Cupples, looking at her quizzically.
"Na, nae muckle as regairds him. But it says weel for you, ye ken, Mr Cupples," replied Annie archly.
Mr Cupples laughed good-humouredly, and said,
"Weel, I s' gang and see him the morn's nicht, ony gait."
And so he did. And the porridge and the milk were both good.
"This is heumble fare, Mr Cupples," said Thomas.
"It maitters little compairateevely what a man lives upo'," said Cupples sententiously, "sae it be first-rate o' 'ts ain kin'. And this is first-rate."
"Tak' a drappy mair, sir."
"Na, nae mair, I thank ye."
"They'll be left, gin ye dinna."
"Weel, sen' them ower to Mr Bruce," said Cupples, with a sly wink. "I s' warran' he'll coup them ower afore they sud be wastit. He canna bide waste."
"Weel, that's a vertue. The Saviour himsel' garred them gaither up the fragments."
"Nae doobt. But I'm feared Bruce wad hae coontit the waste by hoo mony o' the baskets gaed by his door. I'm surprised at ye, Mr Crann, tryin' to defen' sic a meeserable crater, jist 'cause he gangs to your kirk."
"Weel, he is a meeserable crater, and I canna bide him. He's jist a Jonah in oor ship, an Achan in oor camp. But I sudna speyk sae to ane that's no a member."
"Never ye min'. I'm auld eneuch to hae learned to haud my tongue. But we'll turn till a better subjec'. Jist tell me hoo ye made Alec peril's life for conscience sake. Ye dinna burn fowk here for nae freely haudin' by the shorter Carritchis, do ye?"
And hereupon followed the story of the flood.
Both these men, notwithstanding the defiance they bore on their shields, were of the most friendly and communicative disposition. So soon as they saw that a neighbour was trustworthy, they trusted him. Hence it is not marvellous that communication should have been mutual. Cupples told Thomas in return how he had come to know Alec, and what compact had arisen between them. Thomas, as soon as he understood Mr Cupples's sacrifice, caught the delicate hand in his granite grasp--like that with which the steel anvil and the stone block held Arthur's sword--and said solemnly,
"Ye hae done a great deed, which winna gang wantin' its reward. It canna hae merit, but it maun be pleesant in His sicht. Ye hae baith conquered sin i' yersel, and ye hae turned the sinner frae the error o' his ways."
"Hoots!" interrupted Cupples, "do ye think I was gaun to lat the laddie gang reid-wud to the deevil, ohn stud in afore 'm and cried Hooly!"
After this the two were friends, and met often. Cupples went to the missionars again and again, and they generally walked away together.
"What gart ye turn frae the kirk o' yer fathers, and tak to a conventicle like that, Thomas?" asked Mr Cupples one evening.
"Ye hae been to them baith, and I wad hae thocht ye wad hae kent better nor to speir sic a question," answered Thomas.
"Ay, ay. But what gart ye think o' 't first?"
"Weel, I'll tell ye the haill story. Whan I was a callan, I took the play to mysel' for a week, or maybe twa, and gaed wi' a frien' i' the same trade's mysel', to see what was to be seen alang a screed o' the sea-coast, frae toon to toon. My compaingon wasna that gude at the traivellin'; and upo' the Setterday nicht, there we war in a public-hoose, and him no able to gang ae fit further, for sair heels and taes. Sae we bude to bide still ower the Sawbath, though we wad fain hae been oot' o' the toon afore the kirk began. But seein' that we cudna, I thocht it wad be but dacent to gang to the kirk like ither fowk, and sae I made mysel' as snod as I could, and gaed oot. And afore I had gane mony yairds, I cam upo' fowk gaein to the kirk. And sae I loot the stream carry me alang wi' 't, and gaed in and sat doon, though the place wasna exackly like a kirk a'thegither. But the minister had a gift o' prayer and o' preaching as weel; and the fowk a' sang as gin't was pairt o' their business to praise God, for fear he wad tak it frae them and gie't to the stanes. Whan I cam oot, and was gaein quaietly back to the public, there cam first ae sober-luikin man up to me, and he wad hae me hame to my denner; and syne their cam an auld man, and efter that a man that luikit like a sutor, and ane and a' o' them wad hae me hame to my denner wi' them--for no airthly rizzon but that I was a stranger. But ye see I cudna gang 'cause my frien' was waitin' for his till I gaed back. Efter denner, I speirt at the landlady gin she cud tell me what they ca'd themsels, the fowk 'at gathered i' that pairt o' the toon; and says she, 'I dinna ken what they ca' them--they're nae customers o' mine--but I jist ken this, they're hard-workin' fowk, kind to ane anither. A'body trusts their word. Gif ony o' them be sick, the rest luiks efter them till they're better; and gin ony o' them happens to gang the wrang gait, there's aye three or four o' them aboot him, till they get him set richt again. 'Weel,' says I, 'I dinna care what they ca' them; but gin ever I jine ony kirk, that s' be the kirk.' Sae, efter that, whan ance I had gotten a sure houp, a rael grun' for believin' that I was ane o' the called and chosen, I jist jined mysel' to them that sud be like them--for they ca'd them a' Missionars."
"Is that lang sin syne?"
"Ay, it's twenty year noo."
"I thocht as muckle. I doobt they hae fared like maist o' the new fashions."
"Grown some auld themsel's. There's a feow signs o' decrepitude, no to say degeneracy, amo' ye, isna there?"
"I maun alloo that. At the first, things has a kin' o' a swing that carries them on. But the sons an' the dochters dinna care sae muckle aboot them as the fathers and mithers. Maybe they haena come throw the hards like them."
"And syne there'll be ane or twa cruppen in like that chosen vessel o' grace they ca' Robert Bruce. I'm sure he's eneuch to ruin ye i' the sicht o' the warl', hooever you and he may fare at heid-quarters, bein' a' called and chosen thegither."
"For God's sake, dinna think that sic as him gies ony token o' being ane o' the elec."
"Hoo wan he in than? They say ye're unco' particular. The Elec sud ken an elec."
"It's the siller, man, that blin's the een o' them that hae to sit in jeedgment upo' the applicants. The crater professed, and they war jist ower willin' to believe him."
"Weel, gin that be the case, I dinna see that ye're sae far aheid o' fowk that disna mak' sae mony pretensions."
"Indeed, Mr Cupples, I fully doobt that the displeesur o' the Almichty is restin' upo' oor kirk; and Mr Turnbull, honest man, appears to feel the wacht o' 't. We hae mair than ae instance i' the Scriptur o' a haill community sufferin' for the sin o' ane."
"Do ye ken ony instance o' a gude man no bein' able to win in to your set?"
"Ay, ane, I think. There was a fule body that wantit sair to sit doon wi' 's. But what cud we do? We cudna ken whether he had savin' grace or no, for the body cudna speyk that a body cud unnerstan' him?"
"And ye didna lat him sit doon wi' ye?"
"Na. Hoo cud we?"
"The Lord didna dee for him, did he?"
"We cudna tell."
"And what did the puir cratur do?"
"He grat" (wept).
"And hoo cam' ye to see that ye wad hae been a' the better o' a wee mair pooer to read the heart?"
"Whan the cratur was deein', the string o' his tongue, whether that string lay in his mou', or in his brain, was lousened, and he spak' plain, and he praised God."
"Weel, I cannot see that your plan, haudin' oot innocents that lo'e Him, and lattin in thieves that wad steal oot o' the Lord's ain bag--gie them a chance--can be an impruvment upo' the auld fashion o' settin' a man to judge himsel', and tak the wyte o' the jeedgment upo' 's ain shouthers."
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