Some things never happen more than once. And these one never can
I remember exactly what I wore that evening; what it was, is of no
consequence to any one but me. I have a few fragments of it yet,
tatters mostly–but their colour never seems to fade.
And I can recall the errand that took me forth. It was to get some
cream; for what we had didn’t know when it was whipped. Such was the
simple mission on which I started out, and I had a little pitcher in my
hand; even then the days were almost past in which a Southern girl
thought such a thing beneath her.
I hadn’t gone very far when I saw Uncle Henry coming towards me. He
was evidently homeward bound, returning from the train. And there was
somebody with him; I could see a tall form, clothed in black, beside
him–and uncle, to my surprise, was carrying a valise.
I don’t know why it was, but instantly my pace slackened till I stood
almost still. And once I turned and looked back towards the house; I
think I held the pitcher out in front of me as if I were pointing with
it. I really believe I was contemplating a retreat, but just then
uncle sang out something in his cheery way; this let me know I was
recognized and expected, whereat I walked calmly on to meet them.
As I came closer I kept my eyes fixed as steadfastly on uncle as though
I had been looking for him all my life. I believe I bowed to him as he
came up; how ridiculous it all seems now.
“Where are you off to, Helen?” he asked, glancing at the jug.
“I’m going to Humphrey’s,” I said, gazing into the empty pitcher;
“going for cream–ours at home won’t whip.” Then I felt how silly this
must sound to a stranger. For I knew, without being told, that this
was no country elder, and that he had never heard of Pollocksville.
“Let me introduce Mr. Lord,” said my uncle, paying no further attention
to my remark; “the Reverend Mr. Lord–the friend of Dr. Paine’s that
Mr. Furvell told us about. He’s to be our guest. Mr. Lord, this is my
niece, Miss Helen Randall.”
The stranger lifted his hat–it was a low-crowned felt–and bowed. His
bow was deferential enough, but it lacked the Southern touch. Less
low, less obeisant, sooner finished. And he seemed rather surprised
when I extended my hand–I noticed how firm and strong was his–and he
didn’t bow low again when he took it, as a Southern man would have
done. Nor did he hold his hat in his hand while we spoke together;
this I remarked particularly.
“My name’s not Lord, Mr. Lundy,” he said with a smile as he turned from
me; “it’s Laird–not a great difference, I’ll admit. Only that’s the
Scotch of it.”
“Is that so?” said my uncle interestedly. “They do sound something
alike, don’t they? Perhaps I’m further wrong,” he went on smilingly;
“it just occurs to me I should say Dr. Laird. Are you a doctor, sir?”
enquired Uncle Henry respectfully.
The other smiled. “No,” he answered slowly, “I’m quite undecorated.
You see, D.D.’s aren’t quite so–so generously distributed,” the smile
widening, “on our side of the water. You’ve either got to be very
brilliant–or very prosy–to get one there.”
“I’m sure you’re not one of those two,” declared my uncle.
“I’d like to know which one,” said the stranger; “however, we’ll lave
it go at that, as an Irish friend of mine says. But anyhow, I’m not a
doctor–very plain name mine is, Mr. Lundy; just plain Laird, Gordon
Laird. Let me carry that bag,” he suddenly digressed, reaching for the
valise; “it’s pretty heavy–two or three sermons there, you know.”
His offer of assistance was stoutly rejected, as any one who knew Uncle
Henry could easily have foretold.
I was silent all this time. But I was busy making notes; and my pen
flows easily, as if its story were of yesterday, while I record the
impressions that came so fast and have remained so long. I recall how
strange the Scottish voice sounded to me, not harsh and strident as I
thought all Scottish voices were, but refined and cultured. The way he
rolled his “r’s” and sounded his final “ings” was in decided contrast
to our Southern way of slurring the one and mincing the other. Rather
pleasing, too, I thought it. He was tall–taller than uncle–and his
figure was of athletic build, erect and supple, as if he had given
himself freely to exercise out-of-doors. Especially noticeable were
the shoulders, so broad and so well held back, giving the chest an
appearance of greater expansion than it really had. But I think the
face impressed me most of all. It was ruddy, as the sea-polished faces
of those Scotchmen are so apt to be; a strong Scottish face it was,
serious, almost stern when in repose–all Scotchmen naturally think
much about Eternity–and yet the lips, thin and mobile, looked as if
laughter were never far away. The mouth was really remarkable,
evidently framed for public speech, although its proximity to a very
resolute jaw lent it a look of Scottish fixity that really wasn’t there
at all, even if he was the Reverend Gordon Laird. His forehead was
high–a little too narrow, I thought, to meet my view of what Carlyle
would have admired–and evidently harboured much within; for I have a
theory that foreheads shine if there is anything bright behind them, as
cathedral windows are lightened by an altar fire. This high brow lost
itself in a very comely head of hair; auburn, I must frankly state it
was, but a very superior kind of auburn, the semi-ruddy wavelets having
half a mind to curl after a fashion of youthful days. I verily believe
they would have curled, had it not been for the close-buttoned vest and
clerical coat he wore; these canonicals never could have kept their
dignity in the neighbourhood of kinky hair. The nose was big, as all
the best men’s noses are. It stood out in a personal kind of way, like
an independent promontory; and it had the slightest little terminal
tilt–it wasn’t turned up, it was aspiring.
This, I think, describes fairly well the man who was not an elder and
had never heard of Pollocksville. All except the eyes, which deserve a
separate paragraph. In fact, there would be no paragraphs and no
chapters and no literature at all, were it not for the eyes of
men–women too–and all that lies behind the eyes, all the soul of
things and the passion of life and the foregleams of Eternity. Well,
the eyes of the Reverend Gordon Laird were just such as the Reverend
Gordon Laird had a right to have. I’m sure there is no Presbytery in
Christendom, nor any bishop, nor any other human judge or authority who
could as well determine just what brand of eyes would match that
particular name, as could a simple maiden who had never met this
certain sort of man before. And I thought the eyes and the name were a
perfect match. They–the eyes, I mean–were nearer brown than anything
else; the kind of eyes that could never be content to be one particular
hue–they seemed to have got their blend from the sky, which, as
everybody knows, selects no colour but takes toll of all. And they
were frank, so frank and honest–eager, too, inquisitive, in a reverent
sort of way; penetrating they seemed to be–the more penetrating
because they were rather veiled–and they looked to be in quest of
truth, and love, and life. Yes, life; I think the eyes of the Reverend
Gordon Laird had more of life in them than any others I have ever
seen–not bright, or animated, or brilliant, or anything of that sort;
but life, with all its mystery and loneliness and longing, seemed to
lie deep in them, like water in a silent well.
The two men went on their way a moment later, uncle swinging the valise
quite playfully to show how light it was. “I hope to see you later,”
said the Reverend Gordon Laird as I started on; “and perhaps I’ll be
introduced to that cream you’re going to get,” he added, in quite a non
“Not till it’s whipped,” said I, holding the pitcher in both hands.
“That’s when it’ll be good,” replied the cleric, something of the
moralist in his voice this time.
I had gone but a little way when I suddenly stopped, looked back,
calculated. For an idea had come to me–and I knew a short cut home.
A hasty flight through a neighbour’s yard, straight under an old pine
tree that George Washington was credited with planting, along a narrow
alley that led to our back garden, would bring me there before those
deliberate two would have arrived.
Three minutes later I was in the sitting-room, breathless almost.
“It’s a minister,” I said, “a young minister–and he’s Scotch as
heather.” I have often wondered since where I got this expression; but
I believe I heard it from old McLaughlin. He was the only Scotchman in
our whole town, and he always wore a shawl to church, and put a penny
on the plate.
“Who?” said Aunt Agnes and my mother in unison. They were both in
black silk, for they knew it was train time. And my aunt had donned
two real tortoise-shell combs that came from Tiffany’s.
“Our elder,” I gasped, standing the pitcher on the mantel; “he isn’t an
elder at all. He’s a minister–with one of those vests that fit around
the throat like a sweater–the same as the Episcopalians wear–and fair
hair. And I ran back to tell you not to put him in the attic,” I
concluded, lifting my eyes heavenward as I spoke.
“A sweater vest and fair hair!” my aunt echoed in mock gravity; “is
that all he has on?”
“Not put him in the attic?” exclaimed my mother, scornful of merriment
at such an hour; “why shouldn’t we put him there–where would you have
“Any of the rooms,” I answered promptly; “my room.”
“Mercy, child, we’d have to get all your things out of it and turn
everything upside down,” my mother returned seriously, “and they’ll be
here in a few minutes. What happened to the elder?”
“I don’t know. I don’t remember. Uncle did say something about why he
didn’t come–I think he’s sick, or dead, or something. But I’m not
sure. And we can easily keep Mr. Laird down-stairs till we get things
changed around. It wouldn’t need much–men never look into drawers and
closets like women do,” I assured them.
“Mr. Laird!” echoed both my auditors almost in chorus. “Is that his
“Yes,” I said, “his name’s Laird–Gordon Laird.”
“Goodness me!” exclaimed my mother, “but you’ve made good progress. I
hope you didn’t call him Gordon. How old is he?”
“I don’t know,” I retorted, treating the thrust with silence, “and I
don’t care–I don’t care anything about him. You know I’m not much on
preachers–and anyhow, I’m going to the theatre to-night with Charlie.
But I took all this trouble for your sakes,” I went on in a rather
injured tone; “I didn’t suppose you’d want to coop anybody like him up
at the top of the house. But I don’t care,” I concluded vehemently.
My Aunt Agnes was at the window. “They’re coming,” she announced,
without turning her head. “Your Uncle Henry certainly should have sent
Moses for that valise–and he certainly is tall.”
Mother by this time was at the window too. “He isn’t any taller than
Mr. Giddens,” she pronounced, after a little silence.
“Well, what are you going to do about it?” I said, a trifle petulantly,
for they both seemed to have forgotten I was there.
“Really I hardly know,” my aunt began reflectively; “it does seem
hardly the thing to—-”
“There’s no use talking about it,” my mother broke in; “it’s too late
to make any change now. And anyhow, Henry wouldn’t like it, I’m
sure–he’d think it wasn’t fair to the elder.”
“Sacred to the memory of the elder from Pollocksville,” chanted my aunt
“All right,” I said, reaching towards the mantel for the pitcher, “just
as you like. He’s not my guest–and I’m going for the cream.”
And I reflected as I went–or if I didn’t, I have often done so
since–how full is life of this same proceeding. Thwarted plans and
broken promises and disappointed hopes–yet all that remains for us is
to take up our humdrum tasks again, to pick up our waiting pitcher and
go our way through some back alley and across some homely yard–for the
They were still on the porch when I got back. And Mr. Laird was
swinging away in one of the big easy chairs, as much at home as if he
had known us all his life. His hat was lying on the floor and his hair
was hardly a bit red in the failing light. He rose as I came on to the
“Did you get the cream?” he asked seriously, as if it were a matter of
“Oh, yes,” I said, “Lyn’s thrashing away at it by this time. She’s our
cook, you know,” I added informatively.
“I’m vastly interested in these darkies,” he said as we both sat down.
“We have very few of them in Edinburgh–the thermometer doesn’t agree
with them. They’re quite a study, aren’t they?” pointing as he spoke
to a sable boy who was carrying a pail across the yard.
“You’ll find the life here very different, won’t you, sir?” my uncle
remarked; “but I suppose you hear a great deal, even in Scotland, of
what’s called the ‘Nigger problem,’ don’t you?”
“Yes,” returned our visitor, “we’re reminded of it rather startlingly
sometimes–by what we see in the newspapers. But I suppose such
despatches–about lynch law, I mean–are decidedly exaggerated.”
Uncle’s face clouded a little. “I never saw any of your papers, of
course,” he said; “but I should fancy ‘twould be difficult to
exaggerate much about some things that have happened in the South, sir.”
“Then there must be some terrible scenes of brutality,” rejoined Mr.
Laird, looking about the circle in an evident attempt to make the
“That depends on what you call brutality, sir,” my uncle answered, his
voice suddenly intense, his eyes fixed very earnestly on his guest.
“We reckon here, sir–all Southern gentlemen reckon–that people who
have only heard of these things, and who are not–who aren’t familiar
with the situation; we reckon, sir, that they’re hardly justified in
pronouncing an opinion.”
I think Aunt Agnes must have scented danger ahead. In any case she
suddenly gave the conversation a mighty jerk in another direction.
“Oh, by the way, Henry,” she began, as if it had everything to do with
the race question, “have you any idea what happened the elder from
If uncle felt any surprise at the rather violent digression he
concealed it remarkably well. “Yes,” he answered calmly. “Mr. Furvell
got word about him at the last minute. It seems he has thirteen
children, and one got lost–you’d think he had enough left, wouldn’t
you? But he got in quite a fuss about it, and that’s why he wasn’t
able to get away. So we’d have been left without a guest altogether if
our friend hadn’t happened along,” and my uncle made a courtly little
bow in the direction of Mr. Laird.
“Oh, I see,” said the latter, evidently very interested. “I’m an
alternative then. Well, I’m here anyhow–and that’s the main thing.”
“Oh, no, Mr. Laird, there was no alternative about it,” broke in my
aunt, “nothing of the sort. If our elder had come you were to go with
Dr. Paine to Mrs. Keen’s–and then we’d have lost you,” smiling very
sweetly as she spoke.
“Weel,” replied Mr. Laird jocosely, “‘it’s an ill wind that blaws
naebody guid,’ as they say in my country. If it hadn’t been for that
youngster straying away, I wouldn’t have been here. So I’m an advocate
of large families from this time on.”
“So am I,” said my Aunt Agnes.
“But there’s a matter in connection with the elder we expected,” my
mother began rather timidly, “and it’s something that’s troubling us a
Mr. Laird looked as if he would like to be enlightened.
“And I may just as well tell you now,” went on my mother; “it’s about
where we were going to put him–and that’s where we have to put you.”
“That’s the worst of it,” ejaculated my Aunt Agnes.
“You see,” resumed my mother, “we thought you were going to be an
elder–and we were going to put him in the attic,” the dread tidings
coming at last with a splash. “And we do hope you won’t mind, Mr.
Laird–you see if we had ever thought—-”
“We won’t make any apologies to our guest,” my uncle now broke in, his
tone indicating that he wouldn’t object to being heard. “You’re
welcome as the flowers in May, Mr. Laird–and there’s a fireplace in
your room in the attic. I may be wrong, but it’s always seemed to me
if a fellow’s got a welcome and an open fire, the attic’s just as good
as the parlour.”
Mr. Laird looked delighted. “I’m in love with it already,” he
responded gleefully; “I wouldn’t trade it for any room in the house. I
couldn’t imagine,” he went on mirthfully, “what was coming. I thought
it must be the dog-kennel, or a dark closet, or a wood-shed; but an
attic–and a fireplace! Why, bless my heart, there’s nothing in the
world I love like an attic–secluded, lofty, roomy–it’s the best place
in the house. Let us see it now.”
“Where’s Moses?” said my uncle; “he’ll take your valise up for you.
It’s plain, but it’s comfortable, Mr. Laird. And if you like it,
there’s just one way I want you to show it.”
“And what might that be?” asked our visitor.
“Don’t be in any hurry about leaving,” said my uncle with serious air.
“No, we’ll think you don’t like it if you are,” chimed in my aunt.
“Where’s Moses?” asked uncle again.
“I don’t know where Moses is,” said the Reverend Gordon Laird, his face
as sober as a judge, “but one thing I do know–I’ve heard of Southern
hospitality, and the half was never told.”
Uncle bowed; Aunt Agnes smiled graciously. As for me, I had
“What have you been up to now? You certainly did get out of the way in
a hurry–you’ve been up to the attic yourself, haven’t you, now?” for
mother saw that I was flurried and out of breath when I returned.
It was a little while before I owned up. But I reckoned they’d find
out sooner or later anyhow. “Well,” I said at last, “yes, if you will
know. I ran up and put my silver toilet set on the dresser–it helped
ever so much to make things look decent. And I took up those roses
from the library–they make the whole room look different.”
“Those roses!” my mother echoed; “why, child, Mr. Giddens sent you
those roses just this morning–they’re American beauties, Helen.”
“I know it,” I answered calmly, “so they’ll be something new–to him.
Besides, there’s some respect due a clergyman from Edinburgh.”
Charlie dropped in for supper that evening. I don’t remember whether
or not he was specially invited and it doesn’t matter. He came while
everybody except myself was in the last stages of preparation for the
evening meal; I was in the hall as he came in.
The first thing that caught his eye–after me–was the clerical hat
that hung between two of uncle’s broad-rimmed grays. He put it on and
made very merry over it. It was decidedly too large for him too; as
soon as he noticed that, he tipped it jauntily to the back of his
head–even then it looked big. The Reverend Gordon’s attic was
certainly the best room in his bodily edifice.
“Your elder didn’t turn up?” said Charlie.
“No, he didn’t come.”
“And you got the clergyman?”
“Up-stairs right now?”
“In the attic?”
“That’s where he is.”
Charlie returned the hat to its peg. Then he took off his overcoat,
disclosing a faultless evening dress, for the theatre was our objective
point that night.
“What kind of a cove is this parson?” he enquired carelessly.
“He’s about your age,” said I.
“Uncle thinks so,” I answered cautiously.
“How does your mother like him–has she looked him over?”
“I really don’t know–he’s only been here an hour or two. You
certainly do look nice to-night, Charlie.”
“How long is this cleric going to stay?” he pursued.
“I don’t know. I heard uncle telling him to stay as long as he could.”
“What denomination is he?”
“Belongs to the true church,” said I.
“I thought Mr. Furvell said he was Presbyterian.”
“So he is–he’s from Edinburgh. And he’s vastly interested in the
darkies. They don’t grow ’em over there, it seems. He got on pretty
thin ice with uncle–they were talking the nigger problem.”
“They must have been hard up for conversation,” said Mr. Giddens, with
a little curl of the lip.
“But they weren’t,” I protested; “he’s a splendid talker–hush, there
he’s coming now,” as I heard a footfall on the stair. “Come and meet
I introduced the two men to each other. They stood talking a little in
the hall–and I watched them while I listened. Charlie was in full
dress, as I have said, with diamond accompaniment; Mr. Laird was in his
clericals. They stood close together, chatting very pleasantly; I
thought I had never seen two finer types of men, both strong and
straight and tall–though Charlie wasn’t quite so tall. The Southerner
had the keenest face, I thought, bright and animated, with eager,
penetrating eyes, and his whole bearing was that of a high-minded and
successful man of the world. They were discussing “futures” at the
time, I think, suggested doubtless by preliminary remarks about the
weather and the prospect of the cotton crop. I know I was surprised to
observe that the Reverend Gordon Laird was by no means ignorant of the
subject; strange subject, too, when you come to think of it–_futures_,
which comprise a great deal more than cotton!
Perhaps Charlie had the keener face, as I have said, but there was more
of insight in Mr. Laird’s. His were the more wistful eyes, as if they
were looking for something not to be found on the surface. And really,
of the two, the Scotchman seemed to be doing the most of the
inspecting; I mean, by that, that Charlie didn’t appear to have the
slightest chance to patronize him, as business men are so apt to do
with clergymen. For the minister, his clerical coat and collar to the
contrary notwithstanding, impressed one as having a certain order of
business that was just as important as the other’s; and he seemed to
pride himself on it, too, in a reserved sort of way. In fact, I should
hardly say this at all, since I don’t know exactly how I could defend
it–but there was an undefinable something about him that made one feel
Mr. Laird reckoned his work quite as necessary to the world’s good as
that of any prosperous business man, even of a wealthy ship-owner from
“Have you been long in our country, sir?” Mr. Giddens took advantage of
the first pause to enquire.
“No,” said the other. “I’m quite a tenderfoot–it’s only two weeks
since I landed at New York. I came straight South to see Dr. Paine; he
took a post-graduate session in Edinburgh, and I met him there. We
scraped up quite a friendship–and that’s how I came to visit him.”
“Do you sail from New York, returning, Mr. Laird?” I ventured, thinking
I ought to bear some part in the conversation.
“That’s all very uncertain,” he answered thoughtfully; “I’ve been in
communication with the Colonial Committee; and it’s just possible I may
take work in Canada. They’re sorely in need of men there, it seems.”
“It’s a wonderful country,” pronounced Charlie; “I spent a week once
between Montreal and Quebec. There’s untold wealth in Canada, if it
were only exploited.”
“That’s what I have heard,” said Mr. Laird; “and I’d like to lend a
hand,” he added quietly, the earnestness of his eyes interpreting his
words. But Charlie evidently did not understand him.
“You mean in the way of investment, sir?”
“Yes,” said the Reverend Gordon Laird; “yes, I guess that’s it–yes,
This somewhat enigmatical conversation was terminated by the advent of
the other members of the family, all quite ready for the supper that
was waiting. And a decidedly animated circle it was that surrounded
our well-laden board. Uncle was in fine spirits, as he ever was when
he had congenial company, and the honours of his attention were pretty
evenly divided between the Scotchman and the Southerner.
It was delightful to watch the interest and surprise of our clerical
guest, so new and different did everything appear to him. For our dear
Southland has fashions all its own, each one of them more delicious
than another. Perhaps this is especially true of what we eat, and of
how we go about it. We had a coloured boy with a long feather fan
whose duty it was to guard us from the flies. This amused him vastly;
especially once when my aunt motioned him to look–the dusky Washington
was almost asleep, leaning against the wall. And so many of our dishes
seemed to strike the foreigner as the newest and most palatable things
on earth. We had the savoury rock in little fish-shaped dishes–they
looked all ready to swim–and sweet potatoes and corn bread and fried
chicken, and hot biscuits too, and a lot of other things Scotchmen
never see. It was lovely to watch Aunt Agnes’ face, brightening with
every recurring exclamation of surprise or pleasure from our visitor.
On the other hand he was hardly less interesting to us. A really new
type is something to which a little Southern town is seldom treated–we
are so fearfully native-born. And Gordon Laird (the Reverend can’t be
always used) seemed to bring with him the flavour of the world without.
His accent was so different, as I have said; and many of his terms were
so unfamiliar to us. For instance, we soon remarked that he referred
to the Episcopal church as the Church of England; and once or twice he
spoke of the “Kirk Session,” which had to be explained; and he rarely
used the term “pastor,” or “preacher,” as we did–it was always
“minister” with him. It was most interesting, too, to hear him talk of
Edinburgh, of its castle, its Holyrood, its Princes Street, its Scott’s
monument, its haunts of Knox and memories of Burns.
“Fo’ de Lawd, Miss Helen, dat new preacher, he’s got a heap o’
learnin’,” Lyddie said one day, “an’ he knows how to let it out, dat’s
That very first night, that first supper, I mean, found us all
listening with great intentness to his description of much we had
hardly ever heard of before. I remember he spoke of higher criticism,
giving the names of two or three great Scottish scholars, and he seemed
a little disappointed to find we had never heard of the latter and but
little more than heard of the former. He spoke, it seemed to me, as if
this higher criticism were a matter of great importance, almost as if
it were troubling his own soul–but this I did not understand till long
The discussion ran so steadily along church lines that even Charlie,
who was not very strong on matters ecclesiastical, contributed a
“What church does your Queen belong to, Mr. Laird?” he asked.
“To the Presbyterian,” replied our guest, looking very candidly at the
questioner; “when she is in Scotland, that is.”
“Oh,” said Charlie, “I always thought she belonged to the State church.”
“So she does,” replied the other, “and that is the State church of
“Miss Helen thinks that’s fine,” broke in my uncle. “I’m sure her
far-off ancestors must have been Scotch Presbyterians, Mr. Laird.
She’s a regular Puritan–in theory.”
“Then you’ll be going to the service at the opening of Presbytery
to-night, Miss Randall,” said Mr. Laird, turning to me.
I was silent, not knowing just what to say. Yet I felt that uncle’s
statement was quite just all the time. For, ever since a child, I had
had a kind of passionate devotion to the church of my fathers; yet it
is only fair to add that if there was one girl in all our town who
would not have been called religious, who would, in fact, have been
called a gay society girl–what a poor garish definition that seems to
me now!–I was that very one.
“What her uncle says about Helen reminds me of something I must tell
you, Mr. Laird,” began my mother, breaking the silence that had
followed his rather pointed question. “I always taught her the Shorter
Catechism when she was a little girl–made her learn it, at least–and
one Sunday afternoon I was following her around the yard trying to get
her to answer what is Sanctification; well, she suddenly turned to me,
and what do you think she said?”
“Couldn’t imagine, I’m sure,” answered Mr. Laird.
“‘What’s the use, mother,’ she said, ‘of teaching me all this–when
perhaps I won’t marry a Presbyterian at all?'”
“All the more need of it then,” replied our guest amid the laugh that
followed; “it won’t be wasted anyhow, whoever the lucky man may be.
It’s wonderful how that catechism stays with you, when once it gets in
the blood. I learned it on the hills of Scotland,” he went on, his
deep eyes brightening as if the memory gave him joy, “and I hardly ever
wander now in wild or lonely regions without its great words coming
back to me. They go well together, I always think–they’re both lofty.”
“On the hills?” echoed Mr. Giddens, who had never lived outside the
city; “did your father send you there to learn it?–pretty hard lines,
I should say.”
“Oh, no,” Mr. Laird answered simply, “my work lay there. I used to
take care of sheep on the hills–I was a herd laddie, as they call them
in Scotland. My father is a shepherd.”
I felt, rather than saw, the consternation that came on every face.
“What did you say about your father?” my uncle asked involuntarily,
looking up impulsively from his plate. Now, uncle was a gentleman, if
ever one was born, but this intimation fairly swept him off his feet.
“You were speaking about your father, were you not?” he amended,
thinking the question more delicate in this form.
“Yes,” said Mr. Laird, evidently quite unconscious of having caused a
sensation. “I was saying my father is a shepherd. He takes care,
along with other herds, of the gentlemen’s flocks in Scotland–in
Midlothian. The shepherd gets so many sheep for himself each
year–that’s part of his hire, you see.”
“Yes, yes, I see,” rejoined my uncle. “Have some more of the
ice-cream, Mr. Laird. Washington, pass the ice-cream to the
gentleman.” It was funny, had it not been so real, to see uncle’s
consternation. This was something new to my patrician relative.
“Do let me help you to a little more of this chocolate cake,” broke in
“And your coffee cup is empty,” added my mother. Both showed the
sudden perturbation that had laid hold of uncle, for which the only
outlet was this sudden freshet of hospitality.
“No, thank you,” our guest answered quietly, “I’ve had quite
enough–you Southerners would soon kill a man with kindness. Yes,” he
went on, resuming the interrupted theme, “the catechism goes well with
the shepherd’s crook; if there’s any one calling in the world that’s
been productive of plain living and high thinking, it’s the shepherd’s.”
“Half of that programme appeals to me,” laughed Charlie Giddens,
helping himself generously to the chocolate cake. “I’m afraid I’d make
a poor shepherd.” Charlie seemed unable to keep his eyes from Mr.
Laird’s face; this candour of biography was quite beyond him.
“But it’s a fact,” our Scotch visitor went on quite earnestly; “it’s
wonderful the difference there has been, as a class, between the
shepherds and the ploughmen, in Scotland. The shepherds have been so
much superior; their eyes were constantly lifted to the hills, you see,
and the others had to keep theirs on the ground. Besides, their work
developed a sense of responsibility–and it took a tender man to make a
good shepherd. Oh, yes, the shepherds of Scotland have been a noble
race of men.”
“And your father is still living in Scotland?” enquired my mother from
across the table.
“Yes,” he answered; “yes, he’s still living.”
“That’s a phase of life we haven’t been privileged to see,” my uncle
remarked, concluding quite a lengthy silence; “indeed, we haven’t seen
anything of your Scottish life at all. I have often thought I’d love
especially to see Edinburgh.”
“I’d sooner see the shepherds on the hills,” cried I. “I’d love to see
the heather–and the mists rolling back over the mountains, like I’ve
read about in Scott.”
“Have you never been to the old world, Miss Helen?” our guest enquired
“No, never,” I replied; “I’ve never been from under the stars and
“But she’s contemplating a European trip, Mr. Laird,” Mr. Giddens broke
in, looking very knowingly at me.
“Yes,” chimed my mother, a playful smile lurking about her mouth,
“perhaps you’ll meet over there before very long.”
Mr. Laird turned and looked at me. I know my face betrayed me. But if
he put two and two together he didn’t give us the result. “I hope
you’ll bring your mother with you when you come,” was all he said.
“But Mrs. Randall’s a poor sailor,” quoth Charlie Giddens.
“So am I,” was my remark.
“Then you must choose a fair-weather season for your voyage,” pressed
Charlie, maintaining an excellent gravity.
“But you can’t always tell,” said I. “Often the storms don’t come till
you get out to sea.”
We went to the theatre that night, Charlie and I, as we had arranged.
But one-half of us didn’t enjoy it very much. The play was a light,
frivolous thing, and I so defined it to Charlie before the second act
“I thought you liked the gay and festive sort,” he said; “I do believe
this preachers’ convocation is having a depressing influence on you,”
which remark I resented not a little; whatever my weaknesses were, I
knew susceptibility to the clergy was not one of them.
“Nothing of the sort,” I retorted; “but the thing isn’t true to
life–life was never one long cackle like that. Besides, they haven’t
any fire on, and it’s cold–and I’m going home after the next act.”
Which I did, sure enough, and took Charlie with me. Our seats were
near the front; and I must confess I did enjoy our procession down the
aisle. I could see the looks of admiration on every hand–of envy,
too, from some maidenly and matronly eyes.
Charlie was so tall and straight and handsome, and had such an original
head of hair. Besides, most of our townspeople knew he was an
aristocrat–our little city made a specialty of aristocracy–and
absolutely all of them knew that he was rich. The darkies had a good
deal to do with this, I fancy. My admirer had come from far away, from
a city, too, and all the sons of Ham invest the stranger from a
distance with the glory of wealth untold. But white folks aren’t so
very different after all; it’s a very odd sort of girl that doesn’t
take some satisfaction out of these far-travelled pilgrims that come
hundreds of miles, and stay several days at the best hotel, just to
worship at her feet. A local sweetheart is all very well in his
way–but the whole town doesn’t know when he comes. Besides, it’s so
convenient for the local to pay his homage that it may mean very much
or very little. But when a lover comes across a couple of states,
leaving behind him a big city–and all the girls that are sorry to see
him go, that’s the best of it–that is something else, as we used to
say in the South. It means his temperature must be about a hundred and
twenty in the shade, as I have heard Uncle Henry say many a time.
Yes, I was proud enough of Charlie as we walked the full length of the
theatre that night, he keeping close behind and carrying my white opera
cloak on his arm. I remember an old maid–and they are the best
authority on such matters–telling me that Charlie had a very caressing
way of carrying a cloak, as if it were a sacred thing. I have thought
quite a little over this, and I believe there’s something in it.
I cannot say I was sorry when I heard voices in the library as we came
in the house. And that’s a bad sign when a girl’s in love. There
should be no such music to a love-lorn pair as dead silence in the
library when they come home through the dark. When the poet sang of
voices of the night I’m sure he meant just two.
The Presbytery meeting was evidently over, for they were all home, Mr.
Furvell among them. Now I should have said at the outset that Mr.
Furvell, although he was our pastor and much beloved at that, was
really quite a Puritan of a man. And I was sure, as soon as he shook
hands with me that night, that he was concerned about my soul.
“Did you enjoy the play, Miss Helen?” he said, looking as solemnly at
me as though I had spent the evening where Dives was when he asked for
a drop of water to cool his tongue.
“No,” said I, “it was a fool play,” whereat Mr. Furvell looked a little
“We had a beautiful service at the Presbytery,” he went on, his
solemnity but little diluted; “the Lord was with us, Miss Helen,” with
an intonation that implied a monopoly. “You’d have been more profited
if you had been there. Don’t you think so, Mr. Laird?”
I fancy none of us learned much from our visitor’s reply. Whatever it
was, it was quite evasive; but I remember that he looked at me instead
of his questioner–and I felt a little rising anger that my own
minister should have put me in this light before a stranger. He would
have found out what a frivolous heathen I was quite soon enough, I
thought, without any assistance of this kind from Mr. Furvell. The
conversation seemed to flag a little after this, and it wasn’t very
long till Charlie and I slipped off into the library. I didn’t slip as
cheerfully as Charlie. And he hadn’t got more than well begun upon a
general criticism of Mr. Laird before uncle knocked at the door–uncle
was a very cautious man–“We’re going to have prayers; will you and Mr.
Giddens come in to worship?”
Charlie gave a little gasp. “We’re at our devotions right now
ourselves,” he said, so low that uncle could not hear. Then we had a
swift little debate. I was for prayers, and Charlie said he believed
they had brought that whole Presbytery together just to convert me.
Which, I retorted, would be like training all the guns of the American
navy on one little house fly.
Anyhow, we went in–even Charlie couldn’t have done anything else–and
the Reverend Gordon Laird had the Bible in his hand.
“Do you sing?” he suddenly enquired, looking up from the book.
“Who?” asked my Aunt Agnes, quite amazed.
“Oh! I mean, do you have singing at family worship? It’s a very
common custom in Scotland–they usually go together.”
Of course we had never heard of such a thing. In fact, family worship
in any form was one of the dainties we kept for visitors–if they were
able to help themselves.
So Mr. Laird spoke a few words about their Scottish Psalmody–I had
never heard the term before–and he said there were no hymns to touch
them, for strength and grandeur. I consider this epoch-making, in a
certain sense; for the psalms of David have been the songs in the house
of my pilgrimage for long years now.
Suddenly uncle asked him to sing one for us. He seemed quite willing,
and we all listened eagerly; except Charlie, who thought, I fancied,
that it was a waste of precious time.
I love to sit and think again of that wonderful experience. Uncle was
there, and my Aunt Agnes, and my precious mother; my promised husband,
too, was of the little company. I can see again the look of
expectation, surprise, and almost wonder as the young minister, with
serious mien, sang us one of the psalms of his native land. He chose
the eighty-ninth–I know them nearly all by number now. Our visitor’s
voice was not so cultured as some I have heard, but it was clear and
sweet, and his ear was true,–and, best of all, his whole soul seemed
to be in the great words as they rose slowly from his lips. The words
are so noble that I must write them out.
“Oh! greatly blessed the people are
The joyful sound that know–
In brightness of Thy face, oh, Lord,
They ever on shall go.
“They in Thy name shall all the day
And in Thy righteousness shall they
Exalted be on high.”
So ran the mighty song. But I think we felt the grandeur of it most
when he sang the next two lines:
“Because the glory of their strength
Doth only stand in Thee,”
which impressed me then, and still impresses me, as the most majestic
union of words I ever heard in any form of religious song.
“That’s wonderful!” said my mother as the psalm was finished.
“Beautiful!” contributed my uncle; “sounds like it ought to be sung by
a race of giants.”
“So it was,” said Mr. Laird. “The martyrs have sung those
words–hundreds of them. That psalm was a favourite with the
“The what?” interjected Mr. Giddens. “The Covenanters, did you say?
Who were they?”
“The Covenanters,” replied Mr. Laird. “And I consider that’s the
greatest name ever given to a band of men.”
“Were they a religious sect?” asked Charlie.
“No, sir–they were a religious army,” answered Mr. Laird. “And I’ve
got their blood in my veins. Some of my ancestors laid down their
lives for their faith–and this world never saw an aristocracy like to
them.” His cheeks were flushed, his whole face animated with a
wonderful light–and he looked really beautiful. Never shall I forget
the expression on the faces round me; they didn’t know what to make of
this so unfamiliar kind of man.
But Charlie was not through with the subject yet. “Well, that kind of
thing may have suited them,” he began again, “and there certainly is a
kind of strength about it. But I don’t like it as well as our church
hymns,” he continued, smiling.
“I didn’t think you would,” replied the minister, not smiling at all.
Then Mr. Laird took the Bible and went on with worship. He first read
a bit from the Scriptures, though what part it was I cannot remember.
After that he prayed. A beautiful, simple prayer–I thought it was so
manly, though that’s a strange word to apply to a prayer. But he never
did think, as I came to know well enough later on, that God cares to
have us abase ourselves just for the sake of doing so. Strangely
enough, the only one thing I definitely remember about his prayer is
that he said: “Give us a good night’s rest,” and it struck me as a
beautifully simple petition.
There is one feature of that evening’s worship that lingers with me
very vividly. After we knelt down–his chair was a few feet from
mine–Charlie crept over to the sofa where I was kneeling and bowed
down beside me. It thrilled me so–perhaps not in terms of Charlie
Giddens exactly–but it was the first time I ever thought of love and
prayer going together. And I recall how overpoweringly it came to me
that there could, surely, be nothing more sweet than this, that two who
loved each other should pray together, and should feel that even death
could never separate them, because their love was set in the light of
the Invisible. Charlie took my hand, too, and I rather think his eyes
were open–I know his face was turned to mine–but I couldn’t be sure
of this, for my own were tightly closed.
I went outside the door with Charlie after he had said good-night to
all but me; and I do not think the silent night ever appeared so
glorious before. There was no moon, but the stars were shining calmly
overhead, and a sweet stillness, fragrant with the breath of spring,
was all about us. I could hear the twittering of birds in the magnolia
tree, and wondered if they were the love-lorn pair I had seen taking
I fancy I was still thinking of the great words and the great thoughts
of the swelling psalm, but Charlie seemed to have forgotten all about
it. He evidently didn’t want anything but me. And his voice was full
of tender passion as he began and pressed his suit again–right away,
he said, it must be right away. And he rang the changes a little on
the yacht and Europe–I wished so much he hadn’t mentioned these, for I
felt, in a kind of hungry way, that they had nothing to do with the
real case. He told me how much he loved me, and how empty life would
be without me at his side–but this was in between, and I felt, away
down in my heart, that he wasn’t putting things in their proper places.
But he put his arm about me, and kissed me, three or four times, I
think. And then he tried again to make me promise–but I wouldn’t.
“When we go abroad, we’ll go and see where that parson used to herd the
sheep,” he said, and laughed. “It’s a wonder he didn’t bring his
collie with him, isn’t it?” and I felt my cheeks burn with resentment
at the jest. But I didn’t let him see it–for I felt I had no right to
resent it. Besides, he had herded sheep on the hills–he said so
himself–and that was the worst of it. I thought something like that
then, at least, poor fool.
“Let me see its light again,” said Charlie, taking my hand and looking
at my engagement ring; “it makes the whole night radiant, doesn’t it?”
with which he kissed it, and held it to my lips that I might do the
same. I couldn’t help glancing proudly at it, too, for it was a
beauty–and mother said no girl of our circle had ever had one so
Then Charlie went away and I went back into the parlour. They were all
there except Mr. Laird.
“Well, I took him to the attic myself,” said my Aunt Agnes, “and it was
right amusing to see how he went on over it. I had told Lyn to light
the fire, and it really looked cozy in the dark when we went in. He
said it was a room fit for a king–said he felt sorry for the elder.
Oh! he was just lovely about it.”
My mother’s mind was engrossed with something else. “Wasn’t that
mortifying at the table,” she began, “about his having been a shepherd,
I mean–he doesn’t understand our way of looking at things here, or
he’d never have mentioned it. I saw Mr. Giddens fairly jump in his
“I thought it was lovely,” I broke in with a vehemence I could not
restrain; “I don’t see any disgrace in that. I think it’s all the more
to his credit.”
“Oh! no, of course, I don’t mean it’s any disgrace,” my mother
exclaimed, “but–it’s so funny. It’s so different from anything we’ve
been used to.”
“You’re right there,” said my uncle, rising and moving towards the gas
jet, for he was sleepy. “That’s the truth all right–he’s different
enough from what we usually see. I think he’s refreshing, if you ask
me. But he had better go slow about expressing his views on these
niggers–if he doesn’t want to get into trouble. That’s one thing
“I wish he had told us a little more about his folks,” said my Aunt
Agnes, yawning, and winding up her watch. “Did you notice he didn’t
tell us anything about his father, except that he was a shepherd–that
he _is_ a shepherd,” she revised, “for he’s still living. I do wonder
if he’s engaged,” she added, placing the screen in front of the fire as
“Of course,” said I; “certainly he’s engaged.”
“How could you know?” queried my mother instantly.
“Well, of course, I don’t–but why shouldn’t he be?”
No argument could avail against this very easily, and the matter stood
“Oh!” my uncle suddenly exclaimed, his hand upon the chandelier, “I
forgot to give him this letter–Mr. Furvell gave it to me for him at
the church; it was sent on in care of Dr. Paine. But he can get it in
the morning,” as he deposited it on the mantel.
I promptly crossed the room and picked it up.
“You inquisitive old maid!” said my mother in mild reproach. “Aren’t
you ashamed of yourself?” as I stood examining the missive.
“I wanted to see what the old country stamp is like,” I answered
calmly, my eyes still on the envelope. Aunt Agnes was looking over my
shoulder in an instant.
“It’s a man’s handwriting,” said she.
“Oh!” I said, “yes, I reckon it is.”
“And it’s got Virginia spelled with two n’s,” she added sorrowfully.
“You don’t mean to say so!” said my mother, moving over to join us.
“The more the merrier,” said my uncle; “and I’m going to put out the
gas, if it had a dozen. All aboard for the upper deck.”
Wherewith we all moved towards the stairs. “The last I saw of your
Gordon Laird,” said my aunt to me as we went up together, “he was
standing with his face hidden in those roses.”
“Oh!” said I, “did you tell him who it was took them to his room?”
“No, never thought of it.”
“I’m so glad,” said I–with a little sigh.