It aye behoves bairns to speak well o' their parents, though it's to be feared that mony must do so wi' a sair heart, bein' forced till't by what Mr. McGelpin ca'd “a pious fraud.” But it's no flattery nor filial affection on my pairt gars me to say, that when my faither was dispensing hospitality he was a prince in his demeanour. The McCallum Mohr himsel' couldna hae displayed mair dignity than the Laird o' Craigielinn on such occasions. It was a sight to witness the stately way he steppit ben the house and bade his guest welcome. I observed Mr. Renwick east a quick, anxious glance at him as he came through the door, as though he expectit something unusual: an' I fancied the light died out o' his een, an' a shadow creepit owre his face, after the first few words had been spoken atween them.
Supper bein' laid my father bade the stranger an' Colin Davidson sit intil the table, an' partake o' the page 15 mercies. “We'll no be fashed wi' business till the cravin's o' the natural man hae been satisfied,” he said. An' now a singular thing happened;—I dinna think onybody remarked it only mysel'. When the laird askit a blessing on the gude things sae bountifully provided for our sustenance, an' on a' the people in the house, he pit in a special petition for “the stranger under oor roof.” Just at this point, Mr. Renwick was visibly affected. His hand that rested on the table trembled, an' looking up till his face I saw a big tear drop tricklin' doun his beard. But immediately he recovered himsel' an’ joined in the conversation as canty as ever. It seemed he had been a great traveller in various pairts o' the earth, an' maist specially in Australia and New Zealand. He tauld us o' the big sheep runs and cattle farms, the amazin' extent o' which fair astonished us a'; an' when he said one man aften held as much as fifty, an' even a hundred thousand acres o' land for a sheep-walk, payin' an inconsiderable trifle o' rent for the use on't, we set it doun as pure romancing. My faither who thocht himsel' a man o' gude standin', on the strength o' possessing nearly three hundred acres o' his ain, an' rentin’ anither hundred acres, evidently didna believe a word o't. He couldna contradict a guest in his ain house, but I could see that his manner changed. No man was mair keen to resent ony attempt at misleadin' him, an' he thocht Mr. Renwick was far exceeding the ordinary license o' travellers.
“A'weel, Mr. Renwick.” quo' he; “it's a far cry till thae countries ye speak o', an' aiblins the land cateth up the inhabitants thereof, as was reported o' page 16 Canaan. Ye ken the auld sayin'—‘Better a wee house than nae beild.’ I tak' ye for a countryman, though ye hae a foreign like tongue in your heid, which comes nae dout o' being’ sae lang abroad. In fae' I dinna ken but maybe we're sib. My ain mither was a Renwick, frae Langholm, in Dumfries.”
If the laird's mither had been a gun, the firing o't couldna hae startled our guest mair than this sudden mention o' her name. He didna immediately make ony answer, for wrastlin' wi’ his neb, which he blew baith loud an' lang. When he had gotten the mastery o't, he said very saftly that it was quite within the limits o' possibility that we were kinsfolk. “And, indeed,” said he “I will be very well pleased if it is so; for I have aye heard James Cranston o' Craigielinn spoken of wi' great respect, which I am sure is weel deserved.”
This gracious speech restored my faither's good humour; and, supper being owre, he invited Mr. Renwick to give the be-thanked, which he did in a maist eloquent manner, fervently beseeching Providence to bestow his choicest gifts on the family an' to prosper a' their undertakings. I mind ane pairt which made a great impression on me, when he askit help an' mercy for a' wanderers by sea and land, an' a speedy return to the fauld frae which they had strayed. My faither was sensibly affected; an' frae that moment the stranger rose in his estimation. I'm sure he pit aside ony vexation he might hae felt on account o' Mr. Renwick's havers aboot thae big sheep-farms; for, biddin' Meg hae the guest-chamber got ready, he went page 17 ben wi' him till the best room, tae hae a quiet twa-handed crack, leaving us young folk till oursels.
I need searcely say that Colin Davidson got sma' peace till he had tauld us a' he kent aboot the stranger. But its ill drinkin' frae a toom quaich; an' it sune appeared that Colin kent nae mair than that Mr. Renwick cam till the Shaws on the previous day an' bided on till the mornin'. He made searchin' inquiries, Colin said, aboot our folk, an' frae his questions it wad seem that he had been acquent wi' the laird in his early days.
“‘Deed then,” quo Maggie; “gin that's a' ye ken aboot him what for did ye bring him on here?”
“Weel, Miss Maggie,” said Colin, “I was comin' mysel, onyway, to gie a hand at the hairst, and I thocht nae harm to let the auld man come wi' me. But I'll no deny I had some curiosity to find oot mair aboot him, an' I kent fine that Craigielinn wad sune sort him.”
I may say here, that Colin had been in the way o' comin’ to help at the hairst frae the time he was a bit haflin'. Our land lying mair intil the hills, the corn ripened later than in the open ground, an' it was a neighbourly action on the pairt o' young men who could be spared frae their ain mailin's to help at the ingathering. The weather was aye fickle towards the end o' the season an' although Craigielinn lands were maistly pasture, an' no sae fit for corn, it was desirable to get in what corn there was wi' great expedition.
“Dae ye believe a' they screeds aboot the big farms in foreign pairts?” speered Meg.page 18
Colin thocht awhile afore he answered. Then he said—” I hae been gatherin' information, and though I canna say that I believe Mr. Renwick's statements a'thegither, I'm free to admit there's a great openin in yon countries for young folk, no fear'd o' work, wha dinna min' roughing it a wee at first startin'. There's a hantle o' folk gaun awa frae these pairts to make hames in the wilderness at a place ca'd Otago. I got the account o't frae the Greenock Advertiser, an' there's a minister gaun oot wi' them, an' what's mair—he's sib to Rabbie Burns.”
This was such extraordinary news that we clean forgot the stranger. Maggie an' I sat spell-bound as ye may say, while Colin gave us a' the information he had aboot this wonderfu' thing. “An’ whaur's Otago?” quo' I.
“That's mair than I can richtly tell,” quo' he. “A’ I ken aboot it is that it's on the ither side o' the warld, an' mony thousands o' miles awa.”
“But Colin,” said I, “gin it's on the vera ither side o' the warld how can folk stan'. The warld's round, ye ken, an' they wad fa' aff.”
Colin tried to explain the matter, but we puir silly lassies couldna awa wi' his talk.—” Hoot awa wi' your blethers,” eried Maggie. “Ye're just tryin' to stuff us wi' havers. Wad ye hae me believe that a wheen douce folk, an' a minister tae, aboon a'!—are gaein till a country whare they maun walk wi' their heids dounmost. It's just impossible, an' maist outrageous. Whatna kind o limmers wad venture at ony sie doin's? I'm richt doun angered wi' ye Colin Davidson for lattin' on aboot sic a thing till the dochters o' Craigielinn.”page 19
Afore he could answer back, she was up an' out o' the spence in a huff. The puir lad looked sae vexed and douncast at Mistress Maggie's rebuke that I felt sorry for him; an' a’ the mair because my unfortunate question had provoked the storm. I couldna help gaein' owre till his side. “Dinna min' her flytin, Colin,” quo' I.
He took my hand intil his ain very gently, an' in a broken voice he speered at me—” Ye dinna think I'm leein', Janet?”
There was an expression o' great pain in his face, but the clear licht o' truth shone frae his een, an' my heart went fairly out till him. “No, Colin,” I said, “I am certain ye tauld na lee. It's no that easy to understan' how it can be as ye say, but I believe ye for a' that.”
Ye hae aften seen when the lift has been owrecast wi' darksome clouds, how the sun has brak through an' brightened a' the earth. The look o' gladness that spread owre Colin's countenance at my simple words was just like that. “Ye canna tell how much I'm behauden till ye,” quo' he. “Mistress Maggie can be as dorty as she likes; if you believe me, I winna min'. Janet, lassie, I'm no gude at the explanin'. But I ken it's a' true that I tell't ye. I wadna an' I couldna lee to ye, Janet. Aye think that o' me.”
I promised aye would I. It was no much he asked at me. My heart was sae full o' sympathy for his distress at bein doubted that I wad hae done much mair than that to pleasure him.
Didna somebody say that Pity was the foster-mother o' Love?