Page images

I had to repeat the remark before he looked up with laughing eyes.

"It is," he said frankly. "Shall I try my hand, and give you a shot at John the divine?"

I nodded placidly. "No: so long as you see the point, it is all right."

That little incident was the keynote of our relations to each other; and when the time came for him to go to college he grasped with quick insight my unspoken aspirations, and insisted that I should go too.

I shall never forget the day when the momentous question was decided. I hope my eyes expressed something of what I felt, for my shy Scotch lips refused. Seizing my battered hat from its peg in the hall, I strode up the peaty flank of the hill behind the manse at a pace that made a friendly shepherd pause and stare. Arrived at the summit, I looked beyond the carpet of heather and cotton grass at my feet, away to the great billowy stretch of hills on every side. Mother Nature meant something much finer, more reposeful, than I did that afternoon, but of course I refused to give ear, and made her hearken to my voice. Dear patient Mother Nature!


was it to her that another of her children meant to conquer the world? She had heard that story so often before !

The feeling of intense exhilaration comes back to me now as I write. The sunshine and wind seemed to course in my veins. Α brace of grouse flew past with a flutter and swirr; a lark, quivering with song, bored its way steadily into the blue; and my whole being vibrated too with the intoxicating dreams and ambitions of youth.

I fought very shy of Ian for

the next few days, dreading lest he should regret his magnanimity now that his point had been gained; but, if this was the case, he concealed his feelings like a man; and a week later we stood on the platform of the great grimy station in Glasgow, a shy shabby boy and girl, with a tiny portmanteau of clothes apiece and a great box of books between them.

The rain was falling heavily of course, and it took all our enthusiasm to withstand the dreariness of that long afternoon spent in a hunt for cheap lodgings.

We were not accustomed to luxury, and I don't know that we even objected much to honest dirt; but the darkness of some of those houses,-the dinginess, the squalor, the smells! To this day, when I feel discontented with my lot, I have only to think of some of those rooms, and, thinking, I thank God and take courage.

A hotel for the night was out of the question, of course. Some arrangement must be made before bedtime. But our unaccustomed feet were sore with tramping the flags, and the lights of the city were peeping out one by one,

when we arrived at the last house on our list.

"Third floor,” said Ian. "Cheer up! A stout heart to a stey brae!"

Home at last! We knew that before before we had exchanged half a dozen words with the shrewd, kindly landlady. The well-scoured rooms were shabby and poorly furnished; but, standing at the window, we seemed to be perched on the brow of a mighty cliff, looking out on the surging sea of human life that stretched for miles and miles, away down below. The noise that had stupefied us all day long rose softened and

mellowed now to our spellbound ears; smoke rose from countless hearths, and from many a mighty furnace; and light after light pierced its clean-cut way through the gathering dark. What untold secrets, what wealth of experience, what clue to all the philosophies lay shrouded down below!

"Ours, Ian," I cried exultingly, "our own inheritance! That whole cauldron of human life is seething and simmering there for you and me! We have only to stoop and drink."

"Don't scorch your lips in the process!" he said. "The long spoon of the proverb might chance to come in handy."


He was standing behind me, and now he put his arms with rough affection round my waist, as his manner was, and laid his chin on my shoulder with chuckle of boyish triumph. Then he lifted me off my feet with a sweep of his muscular arms. "But I, mein Werther, sit above it all. I am alone with the stars.' Heigho, Minerva, I wish Teufelsdröckh had told us how he got his book box up the stair!"

Next day was Sunday. In the morning we went to the kirk, and dutifully thought of home; in the evening, with an awful sense of adventure, and almost of wrongdoing, we strayed into the outstretched arms of an episcopal church a few yards from our eyrie. We both considered ourselves fairly emancipated; but the lights, the flowers, the rich notes of the organ pealing up among the arches, the rising of the whole congregation to meet the white-robed procession -all these caught us suddenly in the region of the emotions, as I have seen Ian's little sailing boat caught in an unexpected squall. Was it possible that this was a church?

Then, with a comfortable sense of getting ballast on board, we bent to read the noble words of the prayer-book, and so were enabled to square our shoulders with something of Presbyterian defiance in preparation for the sermon.

I have long since forgotten the preacher's argument, his doctrine, his creed. There lingers only in my memory the ascetic frame, the earnest eyes, the gradually deepening flush on the cheek-bones. Before two minutes had passed, we realised with a thrill that the preacher spoke as one who sees the invisible, and then we contentedly dropped anchor, and the wind whistling through the rigging disturbed our souls no more.

We walked home silently in a glow of catholicity,—were we not from henceforth the champions of poor persecuted episcopalianism?

and one of us at least lay awake for hours in eager imaginary argument with one of the dour old elders at home.

Of course we lived to learn that all the spiritual insight of the city was not confined to a single edifice, and many a time our hearts glowed with pride in the church of our fathers as we watched Robertson Smith doggedly produce his nugget of solid research, or heard Marcus Dods relentlessly hammer out his categorical imperative, or listened spellbound to the Principal when his ponderous eloquence went thundering over our heads like a mighty Walkürenritt.

A grand man Ursa major! What a feeling of reserve force he gave one at a huge meeting of riotous students! As a rule he had simply to rise to his feet in order to quell the most boisterous: if he went the length of a dignified "Gentlemen!" one's heart stood still: and when his rare, restrained "Order, gentlemen!" vibrated

through the Bute Hall, one felt that if this failed to meet the emergency, there was nothing left to fall back upon, save fire from heaven.

But, if Ursa major was grand, what shall we say of Ursa minor? Ay de mi! I wonder whether the clever cultured Oxford folk appreciate his teaching as did we Scotch boys and girls? After the first few months, I used to assert with girlish arrogance that I never needed to ask Ian's friends whether they had "taken out" Caird's class. Indeed in the eyrie the cult went dangerously near a breach of the second commandment, for two dear little Berne bears on our barren mantelshelf occupied that proud position in honour of our heroes.


But I am running far ahead of that eventful Sunday. On Monday morning Ian went in for his bursary examination. He has won all sorts of collegiate honours since then; there lies before me as I write the thin shabby postcard on which he inscribed the magic words "Cara, Caro non careo! but not even when he came out first in his Tripos has my heart taken quite so exultant a leap as it did at that first success. It was no dream after all! We were going to conquer the world, Ian and I! And then the great gates rolled back, and we stood on the threshold of the University.

The conscientious critic will remind me at this point that being a woman-I must have remained on the threshold. Away with the carping critic! Even as regards the letter of the fact he is wrong. It is true that for most of my classes I had to go to a room in St Andrew's Halls and "eat of the crumbs"; but it was not only in

the spirit that I entered the sacred precincts of Gilmorehill, for in those days Professor Nichol held his class for women within the gates. So two or three times a week I trudged up the broad gravel walk, watching the autumn leaves as they flashed into fire and fell, and I met perchance a chattering crowd of first year's men in the scarlet gowns that brightened the grey mists of Kelvinside, like poppies on a waste bit of land.

"You must find your women students very quiet and unresponsive after the men,' some one said to Professor Nichol that winter. He smiled. 66 Unresponsive? There are other forms of response than the thumping of feet and the clapping of hands. My class speaks back to me as the organ does to the musician. I have my hands on the keys."

I think we did respond; and he, in his turn, how he used to single out a scrap of bona-fide appreciation-a flash of poetic insight! The absence of the dominie element in him was almost staggering at first; but one soon learned to appreciate, first the subtle flattery, and then the education, the mental uplifting, involved in his tacit assumption that we shared his lofty and cultured standpoint.

Of course it was incumbent on Ian, as a man, to temper admiration with criticism.

"Nichol misses greatness," he remarked oracularly one day. "He is afraid of not being thought an atheist."

I did not ask his grounds for the remark, knowing that he had spent the evening before with one of the Professor's subs.

"The Lord deliver us from subs!" I remarked sententiously one evening at a University con

1 Referring to the Carus prize.

[blocks in formation]

Formula. These young men have learnt the formula as pat as possible. Nay, they condense and improve it. But what a gulf between them and the men who discovered the fact! Where do great men grow?"

Professor Caird strolled past to the refreshment - room with Mrs Craik on his arm, and at the same moment my eye was caught by a protégé of the Professor's, brilliant, bilious, neurotic,-I suppress the less flattering adjectives that would flow unbidden from my pen,-who was leaning idly against the wall. "Must the Mrs Craik of the future be content to be taken in to supper by a man like that?" I murmured.

Ian drew himself up and tapped his broad chest with his finger. "You forget," he said with quiet humour ; "there will also be men like this!"

Let me sing thy praises only,-whatsoever summit lonely

Bear thee skyward-saved and sheltered in the shadow of thy wings; Donna Vera, Donna Vera !"

Ah me! was not that battle music for awakening souls?

Ian was really working for his B.Sc.; but, regardless of what Professor Young used to call "limited liability," he plunged into every subject that interested him, and not unnaturally gave his friends the impression that he was taking out every class in the University. In addition to all this, he spent a great part of the day in "Sir Billy's" laboratory in "conscientious self-sacrificing labour," as the great man said when he presented the prizes at the Graduation Ceremony.

It is difficult to believe that I did not work in that laboratory too, did not lay myself open to Professor Young's stiletto thrusts, and sit at the feet of Professor Caird. Indeed I may almost say of Caird's class-room that, like the kingdom of heaven, it suffered violence, and that the violent took it by force; for I made Ian's life a burden to him until he had got his lecture notes into readable form, and together we pored over

But no indiscreet sub could really destroy his admiration for a great chief; and it was Ian who -regardless of the wolf on our threshold-strode home in triumph with a nice damp copy of 'Theocritus and other Poems' on the day of publication. I can see him still, pacing up and down in the exercises that had passed the dusk, declaiming,

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

through the master's annotating hands, like baser metals through the crucible of the alchemist.

In the evenings, of course, we worked insanely, as conscientious students will, until they learn something of Nature's laws. The one book we both had to " get up" was the Areopagitica, and as that according to Ian-was "easy," we resolved to read it aloud the last

thing at night, or rather the last thing before we fell asleep in the morning.

The plan was as follows. No. 1

began to read aloud and read on until he, or she, discovered that No. 2 had fallen asleep. Then No. 2 was roughly awakened, and ruthlessly set to work till No. 1 fell asleep. So it went on till the day's quota was finished, or till both fell asleep at the same time. It was almost a regular part of poor "slavey's" work in the morning to pick up the Areopagitica from the fender or from behind the battered coal-scuttle. I am glad to think the book cannot write its history, as I am writing mine; for its life at this time was a series of hairbreadth escapes, and, even at the best, it was sadly misunderstood. I have seldom had intercourse with a more suggestive mind than Ian's; but I have seldom made less headway with a book than I did at that time with Milton's Areopagitica.

And yet, in spite of all our hard work, Jack got little chance of becoming a dull boy. Surely University life has never since "teemed with quiet fun" as it did in those halcyon days. It seems to me that most of the good stories one hears to this day about the Glasgow dignitaries spring from episodes that happened then.

It was surely that winter that a student of Professor Caird's dropped in on him late at night, and insisted on talking metaphysics till Ursa minor became uneasy, and sent for Professor Young. They decided to go for a stroll, and turned their steps in the direction of Gartnavel Asylum. Arrived there, they threw stones at Dr Yellowlees' window.

"Who's there?" called the sage. "Caird and Young is with him."

"Oh!" was the calm response. "Which of you has brought the other?"!

Was it not at the end of that

first term, too, that Professor Veitch's closing remarks were received with such boisterous applause that the plaster fell in Professor Ramsay's room below?

"Ah," said Professor Ramsay; "the premises don't seem to be strong enough for Veitch's conclusions."

My tendency might have been to run too much in a rut; but no chum of Ian's got a chance of doing that. I don't think we missed one of Mr Mann's excellent concerts, and many a discussion on Berlioz or Wagner took place at midnight in the eyrie, while the city slept quietly, away down below.


I remember one afternoon we were sitting sleepily over books, when suddenly Ian shut his mighty tome with a bang.

"I must have a glimpse of that St Luke window," he said abruptly. "Coming?"

He seized his hat as he spoke, and we strode through the busy streets without a word till we found ourselves in the quiet crypt of the cathedral. What a delight that St Luke window was to both of us! Ian had discovered it, of course. He had a sleuth hound's scent for the great and beautiful. It used to be an unfailing subject of wonder to me how he came to know so much about things. We stopped for a time to listen to Dr Peace's fine sonorous music as it flooded the building, and then, with a great détour through the slums, we made our way homewards.

There was silence between us no longer. That which happened rarely, happened then. The sight of all that poverty and sickliness and crime made our hearts burn within us, and we talked with almost molten eagerness of all we

« PreviousContinue »