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Sir Gibbie by George MacDonald


BY degrees Gibbie had come to be well known about the Mains and Glashruach. Angus's only recognition of him was a scowl in return for his smile; but, as I have said, he gave him no farther annoyance, and the tales about the beast-loon were dying out from Daurside. Jean Mavor was a special friend to him: for she knew now well enough who had been her brownie, and made him welcome as often as he showed himself with Donal. Fergus was sometimes at home; sometimes away; but he was now quite a fine gentleman, a student of theology, and only condescendingly cognizant of the existence of Donal Grant. All he said to him when he came home a master of arts, was, that he had expected better of him: he ought to be something more than herd by this time. Donal smiled and said nothing. He had just finished a little song that pleased him, and could afford to be patronized. I am afraid, however, he was not contented with that, but in his mind's eye measured Fergus from top to toe.

In the autumn, Mr. Galbraith returned to Glashruach, but did not remain long. His schemes were promising well, and his self-importance was screwed yet a little higher in consequence. But he was kinder than usual to Ginevra. Before he went he said to her that, as Mr. Machar had sunk into a condition requiring his daughter's constant attention, he would find her an English governess as soon as he reached London; meantime she must keep up her studies by herself as well as she could. Probably he forgot all about it, for the governess was not heard of at Glashruach, and things fell into their old way. There was no spiritual traffic between the father and daughter, consequently Ginevra never said anything about Donal or Gibbie, or her friendship for Nicie. He had himself to blame altogether; he had made it impossible for her to talk to him. But it was well he remained in ignorance, and so did not put a stop to the best education she could at this time of her life have been having -- such as neither he nor any friend of his could have given her.

It was interrupted, however, by the arrival of the winter -- a wild time in that region, fierce storm alternating with the calm of death. After howling nights, in which it seemed as if all the polter-geister of the universe must be out on a disembodied lark, the mountains stood there in the morning solemn still, each with his white turban of snow unrumpled on his head, in the profoundest silence of blue air, as if he had never in his life passed a more thoughtful, peaceful time than the very last night of all. To such feet as Ginevra's the cottage on Glashgar was for months almost as inaccessible as if it had been in Sirius. More than once the Daur was frozen thick; for weeks every beast was an absolute prisoner to the byre, and for months was fed with straw and turnips and potatoes and oilcake. Then was the time for stories; and often in the long dark, while yet it was hours too early for bed, would Ginevra go with Nicie, who was not much of a raconteuse, to the kitchen, to get one of the other servants to tell her an old tale. For even in his own daughter and his own kitchen, the great laird could not extinguish the accursed superstition. Not a glimpse did Ginevra get all this time of Donal or of Gibbie.

At last, like one of its own flowers in its own bosom, the spring began again to wake in God's thought of his world; and the snow, like all other deaths, had to melt and run, leaving room for hope; then the summer woke smiling, as if she knew she had been asleep; and the two youths and the two maidens met yet again on Lorrie bank, with the brown water falling over the stones, the gold nuggets of the broom hanging over the water, and the young larch-wood scenting the air all up the brae side between them and the house, which the tall hedge hid from their view. The four were a year older, a year nearer trouble, and a year nearer getting out of it. Ginevra was more of a woman, Donal more of a poet, Nicie as nice and much the same, and Gibbie, if possible, more a foundling of the universe than ever. He was growing steadily, and showed such freedom and ease, and his motions were all so rapid and direct, that it was plain at a glance the beauty of his countenance was in no manner or measure associated with weakness. The mountain was a grand nursery for him, and the result, both physical and spiritual, corresponded. Janet, who, better than anyone else, knew what was in the mind of the boy, revered him as much as he revered her; the first impression he made upon her had never worn off -- had only changed its colour a little. More even than a knowledge of the truth, is a readiness to receive it; and Janet saw from the first that Gibbie's ignorance at its worst was but room vacant for the truth: when it came it found bolt nor bar on door or window, but had immediate entrance. The secret of this power of reception was, that to see a truth and to do it was one and the same thing with Gibbie. To know and not do would have seemed to him an impossibility, as it is in vital idea a monstrosity.

This unity of vision and action was the main cause also of a certain daring simplicity in the exercise of the imagination, which so far from misleading him reacted only in obedience -- which is the truth of the will -- the truth, therefore, of the whole being. He did not do the less well for his sheep, that he fancied they knew when Jesus Christ was on the mountain, and always at such times both fed better and were more frolicsome. He thought Oscar knew it also, and interpreted a certain look of the dog by the supposition that he had caught a sign of the bodily presence of his Maker. The direction in which his imagination ran forward, was always that in which his reason pointed; and so long as Gibbie's fancies were bud-blooms upon his obedience, his imagination could not be otherwise than in harmony with his reason. Imagination is a poor root, but a worthy blossom, and in a nature like Gibbie's its flowers cannot fail to be lovely. For no outcome of a man's nature is so like himself as his imaginations, except it be his fancies, indeed. Perhaps his imaginations show what he is meant to be, his fancies what he is making of himself.

In the summer, Mr. Galbraith, all unannounced, reappeared at Glashruach, but so changed that, startled at the sight of him, Ginevra stopped midway in her advance to greet him. The long thin man was now haggard and worn; he looked sourer too, and more suspicious -- either that experience had made him so, or that he was less equal to the veiling of his feelings in dignified indifference. He was annoyed that his daughter should recognize an alteration in him, and, turning away, leaned his head on the hand whose arm was already supported by the mantelpiece, and took no further notice of her presence; but perhaps conscience also had something to do with this behaviour. Ginevra knew from experience that the sight of tears would enrage him, and with all her might repressed those she felt beginning to rise. She went up to him timidly, and took the hand that hung by his side. He did not repel her -- that is, he did not push her away, or even withdraw his hand, but he left it hanging lifeless, and returned with it no pressure upon hers -- which was much worse.

|Is anything the matter, papa?| she asked with trembling voice.

|I am not aware that I have been in the habit of communicating with you on the subject of my affairs,| he answered; |nor am I likely to begin to do so, where my return after so long an absence seems to give so little satisfaction.|

|Oh, papa! I was frightened to see you looking so ill.|

|Such a remark upon my personal appearance is but a poor recognition of my labours for your benefit, I venture to think, Jenny,| he said.

He was at the moment contemplating, as a necessity, the sale of every foot of the property her mother had brought him. Nothing less would serve to keep up his credit, and gain time to disguise more than one failing scheme. Everything had of late been going so badly, that he had lost a good deal of his confidence and self-satisfaction; but he had gained no humility instead. It had not dawned upon him yet that he was not unfortunate, but unworthy. The gain of such a conviction is to a man enough to outweigh infinitely any loss that even his unworthiness can have caused him; for it involves some perception of the worthiness of the truth, and makes way for the utter consolation which the birth of that truth in himself will bring. As yet Mr. Galbraith was but overwhelmed with care for a self which, so far as he had to do with the making of it, was of small value indeed, although in the possibility, which is the birthright of every creature, it was, not less than that of the wretchedest of dog-licked Lazaruses, of a value by himself unsuspected and inappreciable. That he should behave so cruelly to his one child, was not unnatural to that self with which he was so much occupied: failure had weakened that command of behaviour which so frequently gains the credit belonging only to justice and kindness, and a temper which never was good, but always feeling the chain, was ready at once to show its ugly teeth. He was a proud man, whose pride was always catching cold from his heart. He might have lived a hundred years in the same house with a child that was not his own, without feeling for her a single movement of affection.

The servants found more change in him than Ginevra did; his relations with them, if not better conceived than his paternal ones, had been less evidently defective. Now he found fault with every one, so that even Joseph dared hardly open his mouth, and said he must give warning. The day after his arrival, having spent the morning with Angus walking over certain fields, much desired, he knew, of a neighbouring proprietor, inwardly calculating the utmost he could venture to ask for them with a chance of selling, he scolded Ginevra severely on his return because she had not had lunch, but had waited for him; whereas a little reflection might have shown him she dared not take it without him. Naturally, therefore, she could not now eat, because of a certain sensation in her throat. The instant he saw she was not eating, he ordered her out of the room: he would have no such airs in his family! By the end of the week -- he arrived on the Tuesday -- such a sense of estrangement possessed Ginevra, that she would turn on the stair and run up again, if she heard her father's voice below. Her aversion to meeting him, he became aware of, and felt relieved in regard to the wrong he was doing his wife, by reflecting upon her daughter's behaviour towards him; for he had a strong constitutional sense of what was fair, and a conscience disobeyed becomes a cancer.

In this evil mood he received from some one -- all his life Donal believed it was Fergus -- a hint concerning the relations between his daughter and his tenant's herd-boy. To describe his feelings at the bare fact that such a hint was possible, would be more labour than the result would repay. -- What! his own flesh and blood, the heiress of Glashruach, derive pleasure from the boorish talk of such a companion! It could not be true, when the mere thought, without the belief of it, filled him with such indignation! He was overwhelmed with a righteous disgust. He did himself the justice of making himself certain before he took measures; but he never thought of doing them the justice of acquainting himself first with the nature of the intercourse they held. But it mattered little; for he would have found nothing in that to give him satisfaction, even if the thing itself had not been outrageous. He watched and waited, and more than once pretended to go from home: at last one morning, from the larch-wood, he saw the unnatural girl seated with her maid on the bank of the river, the cow-herd reading to them, and on the other side the dumb idiot lying listening. He was almost beside himself -- with what, I can hardly define. In a loud voice of bare command he called to her to come to him. With a glance of terror at Nicie she rose, and they went up through the larches together.

I will not spend my labour upon a reproduction of the verbal torrent of wrath, wounded dignity, disgust, and contempt, with which the father assailed his shrinking, delicate, honest-minded woman-child. For Nicie, he dismissed her on the spot. Not another night would he endure her in the house, after her abominable breach of confidence! She had to depart without even a good-bye from Ginevra, and went home weeping in great dread of what her mother would say.

|Lassie,| said Janet, when she heard her story, |gien onybody be to blame it's mysel'; for ye loot me ken ye gaed whiles wi' yer bonnie missie to hae a news wi' Donal, an' I saw an' see noucht 'at's wrang intill't. But the fowk o' this warl' has ither w'ys o' jeedgin' o' things, an' I maun bethink mysel' what lesson o' the serpent's wisdom I hae to learn frae 't. Ye're walcome hame, my bonnie lass. Ye ken I aye keep the wee closet ready for ony o' ye 'at micht come ohn expeckit.|

Nicie, however, had not long to occupy the closet, for those of her breed were in demand in the country.

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