HE was now walking southward, but would soon, when the mountains were well behind him, turn toward the east. He carried a small wallet, filled chiefly with oatcake and hard skim-milk cheese: about two o'clock he sat down on a stone, and proceeded to make a meal. A brook from the hills ran near: for that he had chosen the spot, his fare being dry. He seldom took any other drink than water: he had learned that strong drink at best but discounted to him his own at a high rate.
He drew from his pocket a small thick volume he had brought as the companion of his journey, and read as he ate. His seat was on the last slope of a grassy hill, where many huge stones rose out of the grass. A few yards beneath was a country road, and on the other side of the road a small stream, in which the brook that ran swiftly past, almost within reach of his hand, eagerly lost itself. On the further bank of the stream, perfuming the air, grew many bushes of meadow-sweet, or queen-of-the-meadow, as it is called in Scotland; and beyond lay a lovely stretch of nearly level pasture. Farther eastward all was a plain, full of farms. Behind him rose the hill, shutting out his past; before him lay the plain, open to his eyes and feet. God had walled up his past, and was disclosing his future.
When he had eaten his dinner, its dryness forgotten in the condiment his book supplied, he rose, and taking his cap from his head, filled it from the stream, and drank heartily; then emptied it, shook the last drops from it, and put it again upon his head.
|Ho, ho, young man!| cried a voice.
Donal looked, and saw a man in the garb of a clergyman regarding him from the road, and wiping his face with his sleeve.
|You should mind,| he continued, |how you scatter your favours.|
|I beg your pardon, sir,| said Donal, taking off his cap again; |I hadna a notion there was leevin' cratur near me.|
|It's a fine day!| said the minister.
|It is that, sir!| answered Donal.
|Which way are you going?| asked the minister, adding, as if in apology for his seeming curiosity, | -- You're a scholar, I see!| -- with a glance towards the book he had left open on his stone.
|Nae sae muckle as I wad fain be, sir,| answered Donal -- then called to mind a resolve he had made to speak English for the future.
|A modest youth, I see!| returned the clergyman; but Donal hardly liked the tone in which he said it.
|That depends on what you mean by a scholar,| he said.
|Oh!| answered the minister, not thinking much about his reply, but in a bantering humour willing to draw the lad out, |the learned man modestly calls himself a scholar.|
|Then there was no modesty in saying I was not so much of a scholar as I should like to be; every scholar would say the same.|
|A very good answer!| said the clergyman patronizingly, |You'll be a learned man some day!| And he smiled as he said it.
|When would you call a man learned?| asked Donal.
|That is hard to determine, seeing those that claim to be contradict each other so.|
|What good then can there be in wanting to be learned?|
|You get the mental discipline of study.|
|It seems to me,| said Donal, |a pity to get a body's discipline on what may be worthless. It's just as good discipline to my teeth to dine on bread and cheese, as it would be to exercise them on sheep's grass.|
|I've got hold of a humorist!| said the clergyman to himself.
Donal picked up his wallet and his book, and came down to the road. Then first the clergyman saw that he was barefooted. In his childhood he had himself often gone without shoes and stockings, yet the youth's lack of them prejudiced him against him.
|It must be the fellow's own fault!| he said to himself. |He shan't catch me with his chaff!|
Donal would rather have forded the river, and gone to inquire his way at the nearest farm-house, but he thought it polite to walk a little way with the clergyman.
|How far are you going?| asked the minister at length.
|As far as I can,| replied Donal.
|Where do you mean to pass the night?|
|In some barn perhaps, or on some hill-side.|
|I am sorry to hear you can do no better.|
|You don't think, sir, what a decent bed costs; and a barn is generally, a hill-side always clean. In fact the hill-side 's the best. Many's the time I have slept on one. It's a strange notion some people have, that it's more respectable to sleep under man's roof than God's.|
|To have no settled abode,| said the clergyman, and paused.
|Like Abraham?| suggested Donal with a smile. |An abiding city seems hardly necessary to pilgrims and strangers! I fell asleep once on the top of Glashgar: when I woke the sun was looking over the edge of the horizon. I rose and gazed about me as if I were but that moment created. If God had called me, I should hardly have been astonished.|
|Or frightened?| asked the minister.
|No, sir; why should a man fear the presence of his saviour?|
|You said God!| answered the minister.
|God is my saviour! Into his presence it is my desire to come.|
|Under shelter of the atonement,| supplemented the minister.
|Gien ye mean by that, sir,| cried Donal, forgetting his English, |onything to come 'atween my God an' me, I'll ha'e nane o' 't. I'll hae naething hide me frae him wha made me! I wadna hide a thoucht frae him. The waur it is, the mair need he see't.|
|What book is that you are reading?| asked the minister sharply. |It's not your bible, I'll be bound! You never got such notions from it!|
He was angry with the presumptuous youth -- and no wonder; for the gospel the minister preached was a gospel but to the slavish and unfilial.
|It's Shelley,| answered Donal, recovering himself.
The minister had never read a word of Shelley, but had a very decided opinion of him. He gave a loud rude whistle.
|So! that's where you go for your theology! I was puzzled to understand you, but now all is plain! Young man, you are on the brink of perdition. That book will poison your very vitals!|
|Indeed, sir, it will never go deep enough for that! But it came near touching them as I sat eating my bread and cheese.|
|He's an infidel!| said the minister fiercely.
|A kind of one,| returned Donal, |but not of the worst sort. It's the people who call themselves believers that drive the like of poor Shelley to the mouth of the pit.|
|He hated the truth,| said the minister.
|He was always seeking after it,| said Donal, |though to be sure he didn't get to the end of the search. Just listen to this, sir, and say whether it be very far from Christian.|
Donal opened his little volume, and sought his passage. The minister but for curiosity and the dread of seeming absurd would have stopped his ears and refused to listen. He was a man of not merely dry or stale, but of deadly doctrines. He would have a man love Christ for protecting him from God, not for leading him to God in whom alone is bliss, out of whom all is darkness and misery. He had not a glimmer of the truth that eternal life is to know God. He imagined justice and love dwelling in eternal opposition in the bosom of eternal unity. He knew next to nothing about God, and misrepresented him hideously. If God were such as he showed him, it would be the worst possible misfortune to have been created.
Donal had found the passage. It was in The Mask of Anarchy. He read the following stanzas: --
Let a vast assembly be,
And with great solemnity
Declare with measured words that ye
Are, as God has made ye, free.
Be your strong and simple words
Keen to wound as sharpened swords,
And wide as targes let them be,
With their shade to cover ye.
And if then the tyrants dare,
Let them ride among you there,
Slash, and stab, and maim, and hew --
What they like, that let them do.
With folded arms and steady eyes,
And little fear, and less surprise,
Look upon them as they slay,
Till their rage has died away.
And that slaughter to the Nation
Shall steam up like inspiration,
Eloquent, oracular --
A volcano heard afar.
Ending, the reader turned to the listener. But the listener had understood little of the meaning, and less of the spirit. He hated opposition to the powers on the part of any below himself, yet scorned the idea of submitting to persecution.
|What think you of that, sir?| asked Donal.
|Sheer nonsense!| answered the minister. |Where would Scotland be now but for resistance?|
|There's more than one way of resisting, though,| returned Donal. |Enduring evil was the Lord's way. I don't know about Scotland, but I fancy there would be more Christians, and of a better stamp, in the world, if that had been the mode of resistance always adopted by those that called themselves such. Anyhow it was his way.|
|Shelley's, you mean!|
|I don't mean Shelley's, I mean Christ's. In spirit Shelley was far nearer the truth than those who made him despise the very name of Christianity without knowing what it really was. But God will give every man fair play.|
|Young man!| said the minister, with an assumption of great solemnity and no less authority, |I am bound to warn you that you are in a state of rebellion against God, and he will not be mocked. Good morning!|
Donal sat down on the roadside -- he would let the minister have a good start of him -- took again his shabby little volume, held more talk with the book-embodied spirit of Shelley, and saw more and more clearly how he was misled in his every notion of Christianity, and how different those who gave him his notions must have been from the evangelists and apostles. He saw in the poet a boyish nature striving after liberty, with scarce a notion of what liberty really was: he knew nothing of the law of liberty -- oneness with the will of our existence, which would have us free with its own freedom.
When the clergyman was long out of sight he rose and went on, and soon came to a bridge by which he crossed the river. Then on he went through the cultivated plain, his spirits never flagging. He was a pilgrim on his way to his divine fate!