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Philosopher Dick

Chapter III

page 58

Chapter III.

"I must say good-bye," exclaimed Raleigh; "it will be dark before I can reach my hermitage, and it's a rough road to travel."

"You have a sure-footed horse, I hope?" replied the Doctor.

"I've my own legs, my dear boy, for I ride 'shanks' pony.' I can get over the ground much faster on foot, as the track is steep and slippery, and there is a horrid bog to cross. Oh, it's nothing—a four hours' tramp, with a stiff pull up Mount Vulcan. If I only get over the range before dark I am right."

"Good Lord, what a treat! And what do you do when you get there? How do you manage for provisions and accommodation?"

"Accommodation? Lor' bless you, what a new chum you must be! My dear fellow, we accommodate ourselves to circumstances, that's all. How do we do? Why, we do without. I left a bag of flour at the hut, and a smoked mutton ham, but that's a week ago, and goodness knows what there may be page 59left now. A gang of shearers may have dropped in and eaten me clean out. That's a common occurrence. The rule of the bush is to help yourself to whatever you can get wherever you go. You make no inquiries and leave no record. If there is a damper in the camp oven you sit down and devour it, if not you set to work and bake one. You partake of the master's mutton and flour, tea and sugar, à discrétion. You sleep in his blankets, and if you don't get anything more, it is only because there is nothing more to get."

"I should think," remarked the Doctor, "that a traveller might occasionally get a good deal more than he bargained for. Then how can you tell if the food is wholesome?"

"You have to chance that; occasionally mistakes do occur. Last winter a rather thrilling incident happened at Sailor Jack's hut, my nearest neighbour, who resides six miles off. Jack had been doing his usual rounds, and returned home to find his hut invaded by half-a-dozen tramps, who had taken possession and were feasting away in high glee. They welcomed him to his own house, and were hospitable enough to invite him to dinner. 'Well, mate,' said one of the party, 'we have managed pretty well considering, but you ain't very flush of grub here. There wasn't page 60enough bread in the shop, so we had to bake some. We got the flour out of your bag, and we found a packet of baking; soda, and managed all right without the acid.' 'You'd have to,' replied Jack, 'for there ain't none.' 'Oh yes, there is, mate,' remarked another old hand; 'I fossicked out some in a blue paper, poked away under the rafter there,' and he produced a little packet of white crystals that looked very much like the ordinary baking acid. 'You haven't put any of that 'ere in the damper?' gasped out Jack. 'No,' was the reply, 'we didn't find it in time, but the bread has ris all right.' 'So it might have done with the acid in it,' observed Jack gravely, 'but none of you lads would have ris no more. Do you know what that is?' he continued, taking hold of the blue paper. 'No, you don't; well, I'll tell ye. That's what I poison the wild dogs with—that's strychnine!' Tableau! As Jack described the scene to me, it was laughable. The poor devils were struck all of a heap. Their haggard looks and awful grimaces were as good as a pantomime. Some were 'took bad' and hurried outside, the others lost their appetite. The party dispersed, frightened but not hurt; for, as Jack remarked humorously, if they had put the contents of the blue paper into the bread, they'd have found out the mistake without his telling them."

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"Horrible!" exclaimed Dr. Valentine; "imagine the man returning to his hut to find these wretches writhing in convulsions, or lying dead about the place."

"Horrible indeed! but you see it did not come off, and I daresay Jack was piling it on rather. Well, I must really go. I shall anxiously wait to hear from you. Remember, it is a bargain; as soon as you are settled in your new quarters, let me know and I will come—

"'Tho' faither and mither and a' should gae mad,
Oh whistle, and I'll come tae ye, my lad.'

Only it's a pity for you that, in answer to your call, only a musty cantankerous twaddler like myself should turn up in the place of an ardent buxom young woman."

"Buxom young women and I have parted company long ago," replied the Doctor gravely. "I've not the heart—I've no longer the constitution—for that sort of thing. All I care for now is rest and ease, and to stop coughing. I might add, the company of a true friend like you. Indeed, my dear Dick, I look forward to you coming to stay with me with all the bright anticipations which at one time I used to give to objects of fleeting passion. A true and tender friendship is the best of all attachments. But I don't page 62know what is the matter with me; my mind is full of dismal forebodings. Why can't you abandon this hard and miserable life at once? It surely can't be the paltry pittance you receive for your work that holds you to it."

"No, but a sense of duty. I promised old Dale to hold the post until shearing time, when Malcolm M'Kay is to return to take charge. He has gone to the Port to meet his wife and family, just out by ship. I can't very well leave the old man in the lurch, although there is no love lost between us. As it is, I expect the sheep are all adrift, over the boundary, and mixed with Grey's, in which case there will be the deuce of a bother. Once more, good-bye."

The friends shook hands. Raleigh swung his swag over his left shoulder, whistled to his dogs, and turned to depart, when he was suddenly arrested by Pat, the groom, who implored him to stop.

"Och, shure, sorr, ye'll niver lave the likes of us beside the poor lad beyant? sorra a one we'll hiv the dhrop from to wake him dacent or bury him forby when yees hiv gone; and thin ye'll be afther coming to the funeral, plaze God."

"My good fellow," replied Raleigh, "we tried to wake him, and failed. It is your turn now, and I wish you better success. Mr. Stead promised to page 63supply some whisky. As for funerals, I never go to them. I am under a vow never to attend a christening, a wedding, or a funeral."

"Thin the more's the pity. But maybe there's a sacret anent that same?"

"There's no secret about it. I consider a christening a hollow mockery, in which a number of foolish people are got up for the occasion to take solemn pledges that they never fulfil, to accept awful responsibilities they know nothing about, and to be answerable for future deeds that do not in the least concern them.

"The marriage ceremony is more serious fooling, for there the bonds are real; the vows may be broken, but the chains remain. A bride is decked up in finery, and paraded in state before a gaping crowd, and brought up to the altar like a lamb for sacrifice, while the bridegroom is made to look like a fool, and excites general pity. The words of the service are indecent, and the promises made mostly a pack of lies.

"As for the last scene in the dismal comedy of life—the funerals—I avoid them because they pain me. There are quite enough troubles to bear in life without piling on the agonies of death. The ceremonial of funerals disgusts me—a mere ostentation of grief, page 64a ghastly pageant, a trick of the trade. Then why should we grieve over the dead? No, Pat, I cannot join in your lamentations; I am doleful enough without them."

"Och, but yees be the mighty scholar, Misther Raleigh. The divil a word o your larning will ye teach Pat. Many's the beautiful wake I've seen in the ould counthry. And though meself 'ud be all there at it, none of the boys at this would be able for it."

"Your quarrel is more with the outward appearance of things than with the reality," remarked the Doctor. "A true pessimist would denounce a christening as mischievous and misleading—a setting up of vain idols—a solemn farce at the very outset of a sorrowful existence. Marriage should be anathematised on account of its baneful consequences—the begetting of more sin and misery into the world. And the parade of funerals should be avoided, as an outward manifestation of sorrow at the inevitable—lamentations over a happy release from a state which we deplore."

"I am not a pessimist," said Raleigh; "and I neither revile nor repine at existence, because I feel how useless it is to do so. The world wags whether we approve or not, and human nature runs its course page 65quite regardless of the denunciations of philosophers, the scorn of the satirist, or even the fulminations of the Church. But at least we may regulate our conduct somewhat according to our tastes, and live up to our own idea of happiness. I came out all this way to be free, and I find that there is no such thing. Still, since absolute independence is not to be had, I must keep up the illusion of it; so people call me 'an original.'"

"Shure, thin, they call you out of your own name, sorr," interjected Pat. "And isn't it, so they tell me, 'Philosopher Dick' ye are? and for a kind-hearted gentleman ye'll niver be bate in the wide world."

"Thanks, Pat. Well, I must push on, for if I don't get over Mount Vulcan before dark, a week hence you may be fishing for me in some extinct crater. Good-bye!"

The track to the mountain hut led over a high range of volcanic country, deeply riven and much broken up, and almost denuded of vegetation. Up the steep rocky spurs, over sharp ridges, and skirting precipitous cliffs, Richard Raleigh trudged silently along, absorbed in thought, but occasionally casting an anxious look towards the sky to watch the approaching decline of day. The ascent of Mount Vulcan was long and fatiguing, and when at last the page 66solitary wayfarer reached the summit he paused to breathe awhile and to take a look round. Leaning on his long staff, bending forward, his head slightly inclined and resting against his open hand, he gazed intently towards the setting sun and seemed to bask in the effulgence of the glowing west. Wide was the horizon, vast the imposing panorama which unfolded itself before him. Along the lofty ranges innumerable peaks stood up in naked grandeur, like the spires of some fantastic edifice, reaching to the clouds, and reflecting from their craggy sides the golden sunlight. Dense masses of impenetrable forest clothed the base of the hills and rose in dark streaks up the rugged slopes. The evening shadows had crept over the scene, tinting with purple hues the mountain tops, and shrouding in misty gloom the far-stretching valleys, while from the deep recesses of black ravines rose a deep murmur of running waters. Far away a glimpse of yellow plains flashed like a sea of gold, hemmed in by a fringe of blue mountains, soft and dim.

The lonely spectator lingered for a few moments, with the eye of an artist, on the beautiful vista. It worked upon him like the strains of some sweet melody that entrance the soul and give rise to the play of fancy or tender emotions. As he gazed page 67his eyes filled with tears. His thoughts carried him far away. His soul yearned to break loose from the dark and bleak surroundings and to fly onwards towards the golden west, into those distant realms of soft radiance. "Alas!" he thought, "'tis but an illusion! Like all earthly loveliness, it would fade at near approach and vanish to the touch. These golden fields are but arid plains, covered with yellow tussocks and stunted bushes; those painted hills, clad in exquisite hues, and melting in the soft sunshine, are rugged and stony ranges like these—deformed, gaunt, and of forbidding aspect. Inhospitable regions!" He must fly beyond—far, far beyond—over inaccessible mountains, across roaring torrents and desert plains, to the boundless ocean. And then onward still—devouring space—over the wide waste of waters and ever-rolling seas, to those far distant shores which he had left, but where his heart still dwelt. He sighed. And then his mind suddenly reverted back to the scene of death which he had just witnessed, and all the melancholy incidents thronged upon him; but in the light of that beautiful sunset that was shining upon him the mortal gloom and its dismal accompaniments seemed to vanish; he saw the departed one as a spirit, unfettered—an ethereal being moving in light.

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The traveller awoke from his reverie as a chilly blast swept over the mount and rattled through the gullies. His dogs had run far ahead along the track, unmindful of their master's abstraction, but his favourite collie Tiny soon returned to him to lick his hand, as a gentle reminder that it was time to be moving along. Raleigh shook himself, as if to throw off the fit of melancholy that hung heavily upon him, and then walked briskly on. The track lay over a desolate stretch of stony ground, between piles of shattered basalt and masses of loose boulders. The mountain was honeycombed with deep cavities and seamed with fissures, the holes often appearing like large wells of unknown depths, and almost concealed from view by the brambles and shrubs that surrounded the openings. Into these pitfalls many cattle had fallen unawares, and the white bones of numerous sheep had been discovered in some of them. Raleigh picked his steps cautiously over the dangerous ground until he reached the farthest ridge, when, leaving the winding track, he took a straight cut down the steep declivity. It was a rough descent over slippery cliffs and shelving banks of broken stone, which, yielding under his feet, would often carry him down-wards on a rolling mass; while sometimes large boulders, suddenly detached, would continue their page 69headlong course and go thundering down into the abysmal depths. At the foot of the mountain, confined within precipitous banks, flowed a rivulet, which occasionally assumed the dimensions of a raging torrent, but at this time was reduced to a little streamlet gently gurgling in its sandy bed. The traveller lay flat down on the white pebbles and took a long draught from the sparkling brook, then, guided by the ripple of some little ford, he jumped along from boulder to boulder, and managed to cross the stream without wetting his feet. The road now lay over undulating downs in the proximity of the Stony River, of which the muffled roar could be distinctly heard. The night was falling, and dim obscurity spread over the scene. The great mountains became shrouded in gloom, and only their sharp outlines showed darkly against the lurid sky. All around the broken features of the land assumed sombre and fantastic shapes, or faded into confused and shadowy masses. Here and there some jutting rocks by the wayside stood out in black relief, distorted by the hazy dusk into huge deformities that startled the passer-by and loomed on his scared imagination like threatening monsters lying in wait to pounce upon him. The clumps of brushwood rose up like frowning battlements, barring the passage; page 70and the tall trees seemed, phantom-like, to wave on high their outstretched arms over the darksome scene. Raleigh trudged warily on through deepening shadows, stumbling over stones and furrows, and carefully treading his way over boggy creeks and rocky gullies. The night-air was bitterly cold, but the wind had lulled and a soft stillness prevailed, broken only by the chirping of crickets, the shrill cry of the wood-hens, and the hoarse murmur of the river. One by one the numerous gullies were crossed; familiar roadside objects were recognised; until on the rise of a little hillock the dim outline of a log hut gleamed through the twilight, and the weary traveller stepped once more to the threshold of his solitary home. He opened the door—all was dark and silent within. He struck a light, and there was revealed the well-known interior just as he had left it. The rough slab walls; the thatched roof, overhung with cobwebs; the rickety bush furniture, locally manufactured of sticks and planks; the dusty fireplace, full of half-burnt cinders; the kitchen utensils hung against the walls, and a row of tin plates and pannikins on a shelf by the window—all appeared in the familiar aspect. His books—his only luxury—filled three large shelves, and were ranged in their usual order; his blankets lay tossed in a heap on one of the beds page 71in their ordinary condition. Evidently the place had been undisturbed; but in one corner of the hut, lying on the mud floor, a large bundle tied up with native flax was noticed.

"Some fellow from a neighbouring station must have been here," thought Raleigh, "and left his swag—to be called for when wanted," and without giving any further attention to the circumstance he set about lighting a fire and preparing a frugal repast. Soon the crackling logs were lighting up the room with their blaze, the kettle was humming and spouting by the side of the fire, and the solitary inmate had made himself comfortable by having a wash, removing his heavy nailed boots, and changing his tweed coat for a loose blouse. He had brought a small store of provisions with him—some bread and cold meat; this, with a pannikin of black tea, composed the bill of fare for a shepherd's supper, and he wished for no more.

That business over, the young man cleared the board, gave the scraps to his dogs, and settled himself cosily on a three-legged stool, with his back resting against the table and his feet on the hearth. Then he lit a Swiss cigar, from a bundle he had brought with him, and, gazing pensively on the glowing embers of the fire, he relapsed into one of his fits of dreamy abstraction. Habitual musings, away from page 72the hard and dull realities around him, into regions of fancy and sentiment—a world of his own!

In the deep solitude of that hour not a sound was to be heard. The smouldering logs threw a dim reflection into the gloomy void of the hut, casting dark shadows on to the rugged walls. Outside, the moaning of the night breeze was hushed, and pitchy obscurity covered all. A thrilling stillness prevailed, when—all of a sudden—a strange rustling noise in the bed by his side startled the dreamer from his trance. Amazed, he turned round, when there!—within an arm's length—scowling upon him, appeared the head of a man! Raleigh, aghast, glared open-mouthed at the strange apparition, and the apparition returned the gaping stare. A ghost! It could be nothing else. Raleigh had often wished to see a ghost. Under ordinary circumstances nothing would have pleased him more than to have received the announcement of a ghostly visitant. With due notice—the preparatory incantations, and a suitable mise en scène, the philosopher could have nerved himself to welcome the Arch-Fiend himself. But at the present moment he was taken unawares. His heart throbbed violently, his nerves were unstrung, and a few seconds elapsed before he could collect his faculties and realise the situation. Was it an illusion? Some hideous phan-page 73tom of his distracted brain? Was he dreaming? No! it was real! He could scan every feature of the spectral face; he could look into its eyes. He noticed deep furrows on the haggard countenance, beetling eyebrows, a keen inquisitive glance, a shock head of carroty hair, and a thick beard of red bristles. Quick as thought, Raleigh concluded that the apparition was of Scotch extraction. "The ghost of a High-lander," thought he. The next moment any further doubt on that point was set at rest, for the apparition spoke out, in unmistakable broad Scotch—

"Ye're lookin' scared, young mon."

"I am somewhat surprised, I admit. Your visit was so unexpected; but I am sure you are quite welcome," faltered mine host, whose natural politeness did not forsake him even in that awful moment.

The bedstead creaked loudly, the pile of blankets heaved up, the apparition rose higher, and the beetling eyebrows seemed to scowl more fiercely as a flare from the smouldering logs lit up the ghostly countenance.

"Decidedly," thought Raleigh, "you are a dirty ghost—you never washed that face this morning."

The apparition spoke again—

"Ye didna ken wha was here?"

"How should I?" meekly replied the other; "I page 74never saw you come in. If I had"—here the natural politeness got the better of him again—"I should have asked you to supper, and to join me in a glass of whisky."

"Drowning men catch at straws," and imminent danger will sometimes rouse dormant minds to brilliant and heroic conceptions. In the excitement of this "spiritual séance" it flashed upon the disconcerted mortal present that the surest means of gratifying a visitor from the nether regions would be to offer him a drink, and that the proposal would be doubly acceptable in the case of a Scotch ghost, and a cup of the national beverage.

The bait took. The hard features relaxed, the glaring eyes softened, and even condescended to wink, and a grin of satisfaction overspread the dismal countenance. The next moment the pile of blankets was tossed wildly into the air, the bed rocked, the pannikins rattled, and a huge ungainly form flopped down on the floor and a brawny fist was held out in sign of greeting. Raleigh, whose notions of the supernatural were undergoing a rapid change, accepted the proffered hand with as little hesitation as Don Juan shows in the play to grasp the stony fingers of the avenging statue.

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The visitor gave vent to a hearty guffaw, and introduced himself as Mr. M'Whirter.

"Did ye no find the swag at yon door?" inquired he.

"I did notice an enormous bundle—a load for a packhorse. You don't mean to say that you humped that swag?"

"Aye, weel, it's nae mair nor saxty pounds—that shouldna hurt an able mon; the sodger wi' a' his traps carries as muckle. It's aye hard enou', ye ken, to come thro' wi' it. What wi' climbing yon big hill, an' slopping o'er swamps, I was fair beat. So I didna' wait for onybody, but lay me down sae fine an' sleepit these twa hours."

"And the rest," said Raleigh. "I've been back myself over two hours, and it was pitch dark then. I never noticed that there was any one in the hut, and when you so suddenly rose on the scene, you gave me a bit of a start—I took you for a ghost."

"A ghaist! There's nae onything muckle ghaist-like about this ane," exclaimed the Scotchman, as he shook his brawny limbs, with a big stretch. "Maybe ye wur eerie just—thinkin' on your sins, an afeared o' the deil."

"Oh dear, no! the fear of the devil doesn't trouble me in the least," replied Raleigh, who had quite reco-page 76vered his composure, and was on for a philosophical discourse. "I am not superstitious; I wish I was more so. Credulity is charming, and a source of boundless interest and delight. Faith, they say, 'will remove mountains;' and self-delusion is about the happiest state of mind a man can aspire to. They call it 'living in a fool's paradise;' but is not that much to be preferred to dreary reality? The cold-blooded, calculating, realistic education of the present age removes all that. Nothing remains which the crucible of modern science cannot disintegrate, or that the critical spirit fails to expose. We pry into the secrets of nature until we discover that there are none—the Unknown is not solved, it simply disappears. We are thoroughly disillusionised, and we don't even believe in the devil!"

"Hoot, mon, dinna fash yoursel' about a' that. Gang on till ye fin' ae thing worth, then work up to it. Ye'll no succeed in life ony ither way."

"Oh, you are a hard-headed and close-fisted race," replied Raleigh; "no wonder you succeed. Hard as nails! Imagine humping that pack!"

"Ye're awfu' mindfu' about the swag; it's no sic a great load anyhow. Jamie the mailman bargained wi' me to tak' it for five shillin', but I couldna see the force of paying a' that."

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"Zounds!" exclaimed Raleigh, "I'd have given him ten, and have offered to sketch his portrait, with pack horses, mail bags, swag, and all, for him to send home to his sweetheart, into the bargain."

"Aye, now I think on't, they tell me you're a fine artist. Mister M'Farlane showed me a wee bit picture of yours. He let on that it cost him twa guineas."

"That trifle? It was given to a charity bazaar. I have been offered twice as much for some of my sketchy water-colours."

"Charity, my friend, begins at hame. Could you no turn mony a penny that way, an' no hurt yoursel' wi' hard work either?"

"Not as hard on a fellow as humping a sixty-pound swag from Grey's over the Bald Hills, I admit. But I always had a dislike to making money out of my daubs. I have given away most of them."

"Ye're awfu' foolish," remarked Mr. M'Whirter gravely. "The value of onything is what you mun get for it. If folk will hae gien sic a price for your bit paintings, you should just mak' a' you can wi' your brush. I find ye're nae canny."

"I fear so too. I want some of your practical sense, to appreciate the actual worth of things. Now, I daresay that such an experienced man as yourself, page 78and a Scotchman to boot, could indicate to such an aimless Bohemian as I am how he might get on and make his way in the world. For mercy's sake enlighten my ignorance; give us a lift."

"Aye, mon, it's no a lift you'll want, but a weight to hold you down, just to steady you a wee bit. From what I hear about yoursel', it's plain you've never a fixed object before you."

"I know all that; but what's a poor devil to do? What is this vaunted secret of success? Is there a mystery about it, or do you clannish folk keep it to yourselves for your own particular benefit?"

"Ye ken, it a' gaes by thrift an' perseverance. There's naething like production o' some kin' or ither."

"Production of what?"

"Aye, mutton an' wool; ye canna do better."

"But that requires capital."

"Nae sic thing," remarked the Scotchman, who thereupon entered into a lengthy and minute explanation of the modus operandi, the way to become rich. The method was simplicity itself; all it required was singleness of purpose, unfailing perseverance, and a lifetime of self-denial.

The philosopher would have to give up useless cogitations on "first principles" and the "abstract," page 79and apply himself just to the breeding of sheep. As he had not a farm of his own, he could take to running sheep "on terms," a common practice in those days by which the owner of the flock received from the sheep-farmer one-third of the gross returns of wool and increase. The artist proclivities of our hero might be cultivated, but solely as a means of earning "bobbies" and making timely additions to the flock. Mr. M'Whirter was much astonished to learn that the sketch of a ram might be worth more than the real animal, and that a painting by Rosa Bonheur of a couple of sheep would purchase a whole flock of the primest merinos. Under such circumstances he thought that the artist might use his brush to some good purpose.

Reckoning to a penny what a shepherd might save out of his slender wages, and taking into account very moderate earnings from the sale of pictures, the Scotchman soon got the elements of a growing business well in hand. Starting with a small flock of a hundred sheep, all two-toothed ewes, he worked out, by a process of mental calculation, the receipts from wool, the yearly complement from natural increase, the number of lambs to be retained, the proportion to be disposed of, the addition from capital, and so on. Once fairly off, he was grinding his way page 80to the fifth year, when he suddenly stopped short, to pick up a few calves and a foal or two on the way, for, as he observed, Mr. Dale would never object to his dependent running a couple of cows, or keeping a mare at the hut, as we know "mony a little maks a mickle."

Raleigh listened till he could stand it no longer. "Hold, enough!" he cried. "You make my mouth water. I see it all! Doubly compound interest at 30 per cent. per annum, and keep on going on. Splendid! Why, in thirty years or less I might be a bloated 'mutton lord,' living on my own fat. But what about the meantime? I can't go about bare—like a Highlander. One must have something to live for, even beyond this 30 per cent. doubly compounded."

"Nae, nae, mon! you didna heed my reckonin', or you'd hae ken'd there wur nine pound twa shillin' a year for a' things in the way of clothes an' bit comforts wha you hav'na yet larned to do without. I wouldna' be too stiff wi' you, there noo. But you'll do fine without sic things as ye get on."

Raleigh looked at the speaker and shuddered. So this, then, was the road to Fortune. His good sense told him that for certain this was the safest way. It was only a case of sufficient time and undeviating page 81application to one steady purpose in life. To what greatness may a man not aspire if he has but will and patience? The mere accumulation of wealth is comparatively a simple matter. Raleigh felt that he had not the will, neither did he possess much patience, but he consoled himself with the idea that it was not worth the trouble. "And then," he thought, "here's a pretty example of labour, thrift, and self-denial. What good has this hardy, weather-beaten, indomitable old man derived from his parsimonious principles and unflagging energy? See him, staggering under the load of his enormous swag, and pity him!

"Well, then," he remarked aloud, "the prospect you put before me is beautiful; but it's a deuced long way off. I fear I should never reach it. Before we proceed any further with my humble fortune, suppose we pause and refresh a bit with a drop of that whisky I promised you? I brought a bottle from the home-station. Let's try it."

For the first time during the evening's discussion the Scotchman did not raise any objection, either to the principle or the practice of Raleigh's proposal. The motion was carried by acclamation and the bottle uncorked.

M'Whirter poured himself out an ample taste into a tin pannikin, which he passed cautiously several times page 82under his nose, then tossed it off at one gulp and sighed heavily. He then held out the pannikin for a wee drop of water, just to wash it down, smacked his thick lips, and winked in sign of approval. Raleigh took a sip, and made a wry face over it. He felt the genial warmth, nevertheless, and the conversation soon took a more lively turn.

"I suppose," he remarked, "that your canny race apply the same cautious and calculating principles to every event of your lives. Slow, but sure. Your inquisitive minds are for ever inquiring into the why and wherefore, and you require to be fully satisfied by practical examination on all points before committing yourselves to anything. Now, if it's a fair question—it would interest me to know—how do your wary and stolid countrymen choose their women?"

The Scotchman gave a knowing look.

"Weel, that's where we beat you. Your folk gang courtin' to please your een or aye look to the siller, but we seek the lass wi' frugal ways—the ane that maks the guid housewife."

"Right you are," replied the other. "It's not the principle that I am inquiring about, for most people act with excellent intentions, if they could only carry them into practice. But 'there's the rub.' Love is blind in all nationalities, and marriage has aptly been page 83termed 'a leap in the dark.' Now, where is it that your superior discernment comes in? With us young lovers are, in many cases, practically strangers to one another up to their wedding-day. What opportunities have they of becoming well acquainted, and what knowledge can either possess of the other's real character and true disposition? They meet in a conventional manner while on their best behaviour, they are dressed up for the occasion both bodily and socially, and the greatest latitude allowed them is a walk together."

"Hech mon! That's nae enou'. Ye mun acquaint yoursel afore—

"'Then gin the lassie winna do't,
Ye'll fin' another will, Jo.'"

"The immortal Bobby Burns!" cried Raleigh, as he started to his feet, and, taking the book from the shelf, clapped it down on the table with a bang. "Don't I know the ring of it? Faithful delineator of human character, and a true representative of the national tendencies!"

The discussion turned upon Burns. Raleigh expressed warm admiration for the Scottish bard, and although M'Whirter could hardly disagree with him on that point, yet he signified dissent—he disapproved of any but Scotch admiration of his national idol. page 84For, as it was impossible for any one but a Scotchman to understand Burns, it followed that no one but a Scotchman had any right to admire Burns.

Raleigh's presumption in this respect required taking down, and M'Whirter was down upon him accordingly. The disputation became animated; they were both agreed, and yet they differed, and the Scotchman was not going calmly to submit to be robbed of his birthright. Raleigh replied that it was only in minor pieces and local squibs that Burns indulged in the native dialect. In his higher flights, in his finest poetry, he wrote excellent English, and appealed to a much wider audience than the ignorant and narrow-minded circle of his countrymen. This was a hard hit, and resented accordingly. M'Whirter claimed that the poet had drawn all his inspiration from his native heath. This was granted, but regret was expressed that the inspired ploughman should have fared so badly on his native heath, and been so miserably starved there.

It ended in Raleigh calling upon his visitor for a recitation. The other, nothing loth, jumped to his feet, and after a copious draught of the "barley bree" pronounced himself ready. Standing in the middle of the floor, waving his huge arms, shuffling his feet, and writhing his uncouth form in vigorous efforts to page 85"suit the action to the word," he started off on the inevitable "Tam O'Shanter."

Raleigh, seated on his three-legged stool, with his shoulders leaning against the wall and his feet dangling off the floor, applauded between the puffs of his cigar and the sips of his whisky and water.

The fire flickered gaily, the inspiring beverage flowed freely, the recitation waxed louder and louder. It seemed to Raleigh's fascinated gaze that his Scotch friend increased also in bulk; that he was growing out of all proportions; that his arms were brandishing about frantically, his beetling eyebrows frowning fiercely, and that he was assuming again something of a spectral aspect. But just as the reciter was rising to the highest pitch, and had rushed to the table for another invigorating draught, the entertainment suddenly collapsed. They had not exhausted Burns, but they had finished the bottle.