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Sir Gibbie by George MacDonald


MRS. SCLATER'S first piece of business the following morning was to take Gibbie to the most fashionable tailor in the city, and have him measured for such clothes as she judged suitable for a gentleman's son. As they went through the streets, going and returning, the handsome lady walking with the youth in the queer country-made clothes, attracted no little attention, and most of the inhabitants who saw them, having by this time heard of the sudden importance of their old acquaintance, wee Sir Gibbie, and the search after him, were not long in divining the secret of the strange conjunction. But although Gibbie seemed as much at home with the handsome lady as if she had been his own mother, and walked by her side with a step and air as free as the wind from Glashgar, he felt anything but comfortable in his person. For here and there Tammy Breeks's seams came too close to his skin, and there are certain kinds of hardship which, though the sufferer be capable of the patience of Job, will yet fret. Gibbie could endure cold or wet or hunger, and sing like a mavis; he had borne pain upon occasion with at least complete submission; but the tight arm-holes of his jacket could hardly be such a decree of Providence as it was rebellion to interfere with; and therefore I do not relate what follows, as a pure outcome of that benevolence in him which was yet equal to the sacrifice of the best fitting of garments. As they walked along Pearl-street, the handsomest street of the city, he darted suddenly from Mrs. Sclater's side, and crossed to the opposite pavement. She stood and looked after him wondering, hitherto he had broken out in no vagaries! As he ran, worse and worse! he began tugging at his jacket, and had just succeeded in getting it off as he arrived at the other side, in time to stop a lad of about his own size, who was walking bare-footed and in his shirt sleeves -- if shirt or sleeves be a term applicable to anything visible upon him. With something of the air of the tailor who had just been waiting upon himself, but with as much kindness and attention as if the boy had been Donal Grant instead of a stranger, he held the jacket for him to put on. The lad lost no time in obeying, gave him one look and nod of gratitude, and ran down a flight of steps to a street below, never doubting his benefactor an idiot, and dreading some one to whom he belonged would be after him presently to reclaim the gift. Mrs. Sclater saw the proceeding with some amusement and a little foreboding. She did not mourn the fate of the jacket; had it been the one she had just ordered, or anything like it, the loss would have been to her not insignificant: but was the boy altogether in his right mind? She in her black satin on the opposite pavement, and the lad scudding down the stair in the jacket, were of similar mind concerning the boy, who, in shirt sleeves indubitable, now came bounding back across the wide street. He took his place by her side as if nothing had happened, only that he went along swinging his arms as if he had just been delivered from manacles. Having for so many years roamed the streets with scarcely any clothes at all, he had no idea of looking peculiar, and thought nothing more of the matter.

But Mrs. Sclater soon began to find that even in regard to social externals, she could never have had a readier pupil. He watched her so closely, and with such an appreciation of the difference in things of the kind between her and her husband, that for a short period he was in danger of falling into habits of movement and manipulation too dainty for a man, a fault happily none the less objectionable in the eyes of his instructress, that she, on her own part, carried the feminine a little beyond the limits of the natural. But here also she found him so readily set right, that she imagined she was going to do anything with him she pleased, and was not a little proud of her conquest, and the power she had over the young savage. She had yet to discover that Gibbie had his own ideas too, that it was the general noble teachableness and affection of his nature that had brought about so speedy an understanding between them in everything wherein he saw she could show him the better way, but that nowhere else would he feel bound or inclined to follow her injunctions. Much and strongly as he was drawn to her by her ladyhood, and the sense she gave him of refinement and familiarity with the niceties, he had no feeling that she had authority over him. So neglected in his childhood, so absolutely trusted by the cottagers, who had never found in him the slightest occasion for the exercise of authority, he had not an idea of owing obedience to any but the One. Gifted from the first with a heart of devotion, the will of the Master set the will of the boy upon the throne of service, and what he had done from inclination he was now capable of doing against it, and would most assuredly do against it if ever occasion should arise: what other obedience was necessary to his perfection? For his father and mother and Donal he had reverence -- profound and tender, and for no one else as yet among men; but at the same time something far beyond respect for every human shape and show. He would not, could not make any of the social distinctions which to Mr. and Mrs. Sclater seemed to belong to existence itself, and their recognition essential to the living of their lives; whence it naturally resulted that upon occasion he seemed to them devoid of the first rudiments of breeding, without respect or any notion of subordination.

Mr. Sclater was conscientious in his treatment of him. The very day following that of their arrival, he set to work with him. He had been a tutor, was a good scholar, and a sensible teacher, and soon discovered how to make the most of Gibbie's facility in writing. He was already possessed of a little Latin, and after having for some time accustomed him to translate from each language into the other, the minister began to think it might be of advantage to learning in general, if at least half the boys and girls at school, and three parts of every Sunday congregation, were as dumb as Sir Gilbert Galbraith. When at length he set him to Greek, he was astonished at the avidity with which he learned it! He had hardly got him over tupto, {compilers note: spelled in Greek: Tau, Upsilon with stress, Pi, Tau, Omega} when he found him one day so intent upon the Greek Testament, that, exceptionally keen of hearing as he was, he was quite unaware that anyone had entered the room.

What Gibbie made of Mr. Sclater's prayers, either in congregational or family devotion, I am at some loss to imagine. Beside his memories of the direct fervid outpouring and appeal of Janet, in which she seemed to talk face to face with God, they must have seemed to him like the utterances of some curiously constructed wooden automaton, doing its best to pray, without any soul to be saved, any weakness to be made strong, any doubt to be cleared, any hunger to be filled. What can be less like religion than the prayers of a man whose religion is his profession, and who, if he were not |in the church,| would probably never pray at all? Gibbie, however, being the reverse of critical, must, I can hardly doubt, have seen in them a good deal more than was there -- a pitiful faculty to the man who cultivates that of seeing in everything less than is there.

To Mrs. Sclater, it was at first rather depressing, and for a time grew more and more painful, to have a live silence by her side. But when she came into rapport with the natural utterance of the boy, his presence grew more like a constant speech, and that which was best in her was not unfrequently able to say for the boy what he would have said could he have spoken: the nobler part of her nature was in secret alliance with the thoughts and feelings of Gibbie. But this relation between them, though perceptible, did not become at all plain to her until after she had established more definite means of communication. Gibbie, for his part, full of the holy simplicities of the cottage, had a good many things to meet which disappointed, perplexed, and shocked him. Middling good people are shocked at the wickedness of the wicked; Gibbie, who knew both so well, and what ought to be expected, was shocked only at the wickedness of the righteous. He never came quite to understand Mr. Sclater: the inconsistent never can be understood. That only which has absolute reason in it can be understood of man. There is a bewilderment about the very nature of evil which only he who made us capable of evil that we might be good, can comprehend.

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