All that evening Elsie tried in vain to secure the attention of Rodie,
her brother, her own brother, whom life had already swept away from her,
out of her feminine sphere. To be so intimately allied as that in
childhood, which is a thing which doubles every joy, at least for the
girl, and probably at that early age for the boy also–generally
involves the first pang of existence to one at least of these sworn
companions. It is, I think, always the girl who suffers, though
sometimes no doubt the girl is carried away on the wave of new
friendships, especially if she goes to school, and is swept up into the
whirl of feminine occupations, before the boy is launched into the
circle of contemporaries, who are more absorbing still. But Rodie among
“his laddies,” had left his sister more completely “out of it” than any
boy in possession of all his faculties can ever be. He was always busy
with something, always wandering somewhere with the Seatons, or the
Beatons, when he was not in the still more entrancing company of Johnny
Wemyss. And they never seemed to be tired of each other’s company, day
or night. There were times when he did not even come in to his meals,
but went along with his cronies, in the freedom of his age, without
invitation or preparation; even he had been known to sit down to the
stoved potatoes in the Wemyss’s cottage, though they were not in a class
of life to entertain the minister’s son; but what did Rodie care? When
he brought in Johnny Wemyss in his turn to supper, Mrs. Buchanan could
not shame the rules of hospitality, by giving the fisher lad a bad
reception, but her notice of him was constrained, if kind, so that none
of the young ones were very comfortable. But Alick Seaton and Ralph
Beaton were frequent visitors, taken as a matter of course, and would
sit at the end of the table, with Rodie between them, making their
jokes, and shaking with convulsions of private laughter, which broke out
now and then into a subdued roar, making the elders ask “what was the
fun now?” John in special, who was “at the College,” and sported a red
gown about the streets, being gruff in his critical remarks: for he had
now arrived at an age when you are bound to behave yourself, and not to
“carry on” like the laddies. This being the state of affairs, however,
it was very difficult to long hold of Rodie, who often “convoyed” his
friends home, and came back at the latest moment practicable, only
escaping reprimand by a rush up-stairs to bed. It was not therefore till
the Sunday following that Elsie had any opportunity of seeing her
brother in private, which even then was not with his will: but there was
an interval between breakfast and church, which Rodie, with the best
will in the world, could not spend with “his laddies,” and which
consequently lay undefended, liable to the incursions of his sister.
This moment was usually spent in the garden, and often in calculating
strokes by which, teeing at a certain spot, he might make sure or almost
sure, as sure as the sublime uncertainty of the game permitted, of
“holeing” his ball. Naturally, to have taken out a club on Sunday
morning, even to the hole in the garden, would have been as good as
devoting one’s self to the infernal gods: but thought is free. Rodie had
a conviction that Elsie would come bouncing along, through the lilac
bushes, to spoil his calculations, as she usually did; but this did not
lessen the frown with which he perceived that his anticipation had come
to pass. “What are you wantin’ now?” he said gloomily, marking imaginary
distances upon the grass.
“Oh, nothing–if you are so deep engaged,” said Elsie, with a spark of
natural pride.
“I’m no deep engaged!” said Rodie, indignantly; for he knew father would
not smile upon his study, neither would it be appreciated by Alick or
Ralph (though they were probably engaged in the same way themselves),
that he should be studying the strokes which it was their pride to
consider as spontaneous or, indeed, almost accidental. He threw down the
cane he had in his hand, and turned away towards the summer-house,
whither Elsie followed him.
“I want awfully to speak to you, Rodie—-”
“You are always wanting to speak to me,” said the ungrateful boy.
“I’m nothing of the kind; and if I were, want would be my master,” cried
Elsie, “for there’s never a moment when you’re free of these laddies.
You’re just in their arms and round their necks every moment of your
“I’m neither in their arms nor round their necks,” cried Rodie furious,
being conscious that he was not weaned from a certain “bairnly” habit of
wandering about with an arm round his cronies’ shoulders. Elsie,
however, not sorry for once in a way to find him at a disadvantage,
“It’s Ralph and Alick, Ralph and Alick, just day and night,” she cried,
“or else Johnny Wemyss–but you’re not so keen about Johnny Wemyss
because they say he’s not a gentleman; but _I_ think he’s the best
gentleman of them all.”
“It’s much you ken!” cried Rodie. His laddies had made him much more
pronounced in his Fife sing-song of accent, which the minister, being
from the West Country (though it is well known in Fife that the accent
of the West Country is just insufferable), objected to strongly.
“I ken just as well as you–and maybe better,” said Elsie. Then she
remembered that this passage of arms, however satisfactory in itself,
was not quite in accordance with the object of the interview which she
desired. “I am not wanting to quarrel,” she said.
“It was you that began,” said Rodie, with some justice. They had by this
time reached the summer-house, with its thick background of lilac
bushes. The bay lay before them, in all that softened splendour of the
Sabbath morning, concerning which so many of us hold the fond tradition
that in its lustre and its glory there is something distinct from all
other days. The Forfarshire coast lay dim and fair in a little morning
haze, on the other side of the blue and tranquil sea, with faint lines
of yellow sand, and here and there a white edge of foam, though all was
so still, lighting up the distance. The hills, all soft with light and
shadow, every knowe and howe visible under the caress of the mild and
broad sunshine, the higher rocks upon the near shore half-draped with
the intense greenery of the delicate sea-weed, the low reefs, lying dark
in leathery clothing of dulse, like the teeth of some great sea monster,
half hidden in the ripples of the water, the horizon to the east
softening off into a vague radiance of infinity in the great breadth of
the German Ocean. I have always thought and often said, that if there is
a spot on earth in which one can feel the movement of the great round
world through space, though reduced by human limitations to a faint
rhythm and swaying, it is there under the illimitable blue of the
northern sky, on the shores and links of St. Rule’s.
The pair who came thus suddenly in sight of this landscape, were not of
any sentimental turn, and were deeply engaged in their own immediate
sensations; but the girl paused to cry, “Oh, how bonnie, how bonnie!”
while the boy sat down on the rough seat, and dug his heels into the
grass, expecting an ordeal of questioning and “bothering,” in which the
sky and the sea could give him but little help. Elsie was much of the
mind of the jilted and forsaken everywhere. She could not keep herself
from reproaches, sometimes from taunts. But the sky and sea did help
Rodie after all, for they brought her back by the charm of their aspect,
an effect more natural at sixteen than at fifteen, and to a girl rather
than a boy.
“I am not wanting to quarrel, and it’s a shame and a sin on the Sabbath,
and such a bonnie day as this. Oh, but it’s a bonnie day! there is the
wee light-house that is like a glow-worm at night; it is nothing but a
white line now, as thin as an end of thread: and muckle Dundee nothing
but a little smoke hanging above the Law—-”
“I suppose,” said Rodie, scornfully, “you have seen them all before?”
“Oh, yes, I have seen them all before: but that is not to say that they
are not sometimes bonnier at one time than another. Rodie, you and me
that are brother and sister, we never should be anything less than dear
“Friends enough,” said Rodie, sulkily. “I am wanting nothing but just
that you’ll let me be.”
“But that,” said Elsie, with a sigh, “is just the hardest thing! for
I’m wanting you, and you’re no wanting me, Rodie! But I’ll say no more
about that; Marion says it’s always so, and that laddies and men for a
constancy they like their own kind best.”
“I didna think Marion had that much sense,” the boy said.
“Oh, dinna anger me over again with your conceit,” cried Elsie, “and me
in such a good frame of mind, and the bay so bonnie, and something so
different in my thoughts.”
Rodie settled himself on the rude bench, as though preparing to endure
the inevitable: he took his hands out of his pockets and began to drum a
faint tune upon the rustic table. The attitude which many a lover, many
a husband, many a resigned male victim of the feminine reproaches from
which there is no escape, has assumed for ages past, came by nature to
this small boy. He dismissed every kind of interest or intelligence from
his face. If he had been thirty, he could not have looked more blank,
more enduring, more absolutely indifferent. Since he could not get away
from her, she must have her say. It would not last for ever, neither
could it penetrate beyond the very surface of the ear and of the mind.
He assumed his traditional attitude by inheritance from long lines of
forefathers. And perhaps it was well that Elsie’s attention was not
concentrated on him, or it is quite possible that she might have assumed
the woman’s traditional attitude, which is as well defined as the
man’s. But she was fortunately at the visionary age, and had entered
upon her poetry, as he had entered into the dominion of “his laddies.”
Her eye strayed over the vast expanse spread out before her, and the awe
of the beauty, and the vast calm of God came over her heart.
“Rodie, I want to speak to you of something. It’s long past, and it has
nothing to do with you or me. Rodie, do you mind yon afternoon, when we
were shut up in the turret, and heard papa studying his sermon?”
“What’s about that? You’ve minded me of it many a time: but if I was to
be always minding like you, what good would that do?”
“I wanted to ask you, Rodie–sometimes you mind better than me,
sometimes not so well. Do you mind what he was saying? I want to be just
sure for once, and then never to think upon it again.”
“What does it matter what he was saying? It was just about one of the
parables.” I am afraid the parables were just “a thing in the Bible” to
Rodie. He did not identify them much, or think what they meant, or
wherein one differed from another. This, I need not say, was not for
want of teaching: perhaps it was because of too much teaching, which
sometimes has a similar effect. “I mind,” he said with a laugh, “we were
just that crampit, sitting so long still, that we couldn’t move.”
“Yes, yes,” said Elsie, “but I want to remember quite clear what it was
he said.”
“It did not matter to us what he said,” said Rodie. “Papa is sometimes a
foozle, but I am not going to split upon him.” This was the slang of
those days, still lingering where golf is wont to be played.
“Do you think I would split upon him?” cried Elsie with indignation.
“I don’t know, then, what you’re carrying on about. Yes, I mind he said
something that was very funny; but then he often does that. Fathers are
so fond of saying things, that you don’t know what they mean, and
ministers worse than the rest. There’s the first jow of the bell, and
it’s time to get your bonnet on. I’m not for biding here havering; and
then that makes us late.”
“You’re keen about being in time this morning, Rodie!”
“I’m always keen for being in time. When you come in late, you see on
all their faces: ‘There’s the minister’s family just coming in–them
that ought to set us an example–and we’ve been all here for a quarter
of an hour.’”
“We are never so late as that,” cried Elsie, indignantly.
“You will be to-day, if you do not hurry,” he said, jumping up himself
and leading the way.
And it was quite true, Elsie could not but allow to herself, that the
minister’s family were sometimes late. It had originated in the days
when there were so many little ones to get ready; and then, as Mrs.
Buchanan said, it was a great temptation living so near the church. You
felt that in a minute you could be there; and then you put off your
time, so that in the end, the bell had stopped ringing, and you had to
troop in with a rash, which was evidently a very bad example to the
people. And they did look up with that expression on their faces, as if
it were they who were the examples! But the fact that Rodie was right,
did not make what he said more agreeable. It acted rather the contrary
way. She had wished for his sympathy, for his support of her own
recollections, perhaps for surer rectification of her impressions; and
she found nothing but high disapproval, and the suggestion that she was
capable of splitting upon papa. This reproach broke Elsie’s heart.
Nothing would have induced her to betray her father. She would have
shielded him with her own life, she would have defended him had he been
in such danger, for instance, as people, and especially ministers, were
long ago, in Claverhouse’s time–or dug out with her nails a place to
hide him in, like Grizel Home. But to fathom the present mystery, and
remember exactly what he said, and find out what it meant, had not
seemed to her to be anything against him. That it was none of her
business, had not occurred to her. And she did not for the moment
perceive any better sense in Rodie. She thought he was only perverse, as
he so often was now, contrary to whatever she might say, going against
her. And she was very sure it was no enthusiasm for punctuality, or for
going to church, which made him hasten on before to the house, where his
Sunday hat, carefully brushed, was on the hall-table, waiting for him.
That was a thing that mother liked to do with her own hands.
The thought of Rodie in such constant opposition and rebellion,
overshadowed her through all the early service, and it was not really
till the middle of the sermon that a sudden perception caught her mind.
Was that what Rodie meant? “He may be a foozle, but I will never split
on him.” But papa was no foozle. What was he? A good kind man, doing
nobody any wrong. There was nothing to say against him, nothing for his
children to betray. Even Elsie’s half-developed mind was conscious of
other circumstances, of children whose father might have something to
betray. And, in that dreadful case, what would one do? Oh, decline to
hear, decline to know of anything that could be betrayed, shut your ears
to every whisper, believe not even himself to his own undoing! This idea
leapt into her mind in the middle of the sermon. There was nothing in
the sermon to make her think of that. It was not Mr. Buchanan who was
preaching, but the other minister, his colleague, who did not preach
very good sermons, not like father’s! And Elsie’s attention wandered in
spite of herself. And then, all in a moment, this thought leapt into her
mind. In these circumstances, so different from her own, that would have
been the only thing for a child to do. Oh, never to listen to a word
against him, not even if it came from himself. Elsie’s quick mind sprang
responsive to this thought. This was far finer, far higher than her
desire to remember, to fathom what he had meant. And from whence was it
that this thought had come? From Rodie, her brother, the boy whom she
had been accusing in her mind, not only of forsaking her, but of
becoming more rough, more coarse, less open to fine thoughts. This
perception surprised Elsie so, that it was all she could do, not to jump
up in her place, to clap her hands, to cry out: “It was Rodie.” And she
who had never known that Rodie was capable of that! while all St.
Rule’s, and the world besides, had conceived the opinion of him that he
was a foolish callant. Elsie’s heart swelled full of triumph in Rodie.
“He may be a foozle”–no, no, he was no foozle–well did Rodie know
that. But was not Elsie’s curiosity a tacit insult to papa, as
suggesting that he might have been committing himself, averring
something that was wrong? Elsie would have condemned herself to all the
pangs of conscience, to all the reproaches against the ungrateful child,
who in her heart was believing her father guilty of some unknown
criminality, if it had not been that her heart was flooded with sudden
delight, the enchantment of a great discovery that Rodie had chosen the
better part. There was a true generosity in her, notwithstanding her
many foolishnesses. That sudden flash of respect for Rodie, and happy
discovery that in this one thing at least he was more faithful than she,
consoled her for appearing to herself by comparison in a less favourable
And the effect was, that she was silenced even to herself. She put no
more questions to Rodie, she tried to put out of her own mind her
personal recollections, and every attempt to understand. Did not Rodie
say it was not their business, that it did not matter to them what papa
said? Elsie could not put away her curiosity out of her heart, but she
bowed her head to Rodie’s action. After all, what a grand discovery it
was that Rodie should be the one to see what was right.