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The Broad Highway(Book1,Chapter31)

2006-08-28 22:47

  Book One Chapter XXXI. In Which Donald Bids Me Farewell

  Halcyon days! my masters, happy, care-free, halcyon days! To waken to the glory of a summer's morning, and shaking off dull sleep, like a mantle, to stride out into a world all green and gold, breathing a fragrant air laden with sweet, earthy smells. To plunge within the clear, cool waters of the brook whose magic seemed to fill one's blood with added life and lust of living. Anon, with Gargantuan appetite, to sit and eat until even Donald would fall a-marvelling; and so, through shady coppice and sunny meadow, betimes to work.

  Halcyon days! my masters, happy, care-free, halcyon days! with the ringing hammers, the dancing sparks mounting upon the smoke, the sweat, the toil, yet all lightened with laugh and song and good-fellowship.

  And then, the labor done, the fire dead——Black George to his lonely cottage, and I to "The Bull"——there to sit between Simon and the Ancient, waited upon by the dexterous hands of sweet-eyed Prudence. What mighty rounds of juicy beef, washed down by draughts of good brown ale! What pies and puddings, prepared by those same slender, dexterous hands! And later, pipe in mouth, what grave discussions upon men and things——peace and war——the dead and the living——the rise and fall of nations——and Simon's new litter of pigs! At last, the "Good nights" being said——homeward through the twilit lanes, often pausing to look upon the shadowy woods, to watch some star, or hearken to the mournful note of a night jar, soft with distance.

  What wonder if, at this time, my earlier dreams and ambitions faded from my ken; what wonder that Petronius Arbiter, and the jolly Sieur de Brantome lay neglected in my dusty knapsack.

  Go to! Petronius, go to! How "stale, flat, and unprofitable" were all thy vaunted pleasures, compared with mine. Alas! for thy noble intellect draggled in the mire to pander to an Imperial Swine, and for all thy power and wise statecraft which yet could not save thee from untimely death.

  And thou, Brantome! old gossip, with all thy scandalous stories of ladies, always and ever "tres belle, et fort honnete," couldst not find time among them all to note the glories of the world wherein they lived, and moved, and had their "fort honnete" being?

  But let it not be thought my leisure hours were passed in idle dreaming and luxurious ease; on the contrary, I had, with much ado, rethatched the broken roof of my cottage as well as I might, mended the chimney, fitted glass to the casements and a new door upon its hinges. This last was somewhat clumsily contrived, I grant you, and of a vasty strength quite unnecessary, yet a very, excellent door I considered it, nevertheless.

  Having thus rendered my cottage weather-proof, I next turned my attention to furnishing it. To which end I, in turn, and with infinite labor, constructed a bedstead, two elbow-chairs, and a table; all to the profound disgust of Donald, who could by no means abide the rasp of my saw, so that, reaching for his pipes, he would fill the air with eldrich shrieks and groans, or drown me in a torrent of martial melody.

  It was about this time——that is to say, my second bedstead was nearing completion, and I was seriously considering the building of a press with cupboards to hold my crockery, also a shelf for my books——when, chancing to return home somewhat earlier than usual, I was surprised to see Donald sitting upon the bench I had set up beside the door, polishing the buckles of that identical pair of square-toed shoes that had once so piqued my curiosity.

  As I approached he rose, and came to meet me with the brogues in his hand.

  "Man, Peter," said he, "I maun juist be gangin'."

  '"Going!" I repeated; "going where?"

  "Back tae Glenure——the year is a'most up, ye ken, an' I wadna' hae ma brither Alan afore me wi' the lassie, forbye he's an unco braw an' sonsy man, ye ken, an' a lassie's mind is aye a kittle thing."

  "True," I answered, "what little I know of woman would lead me to suppose so; and yet——Heaven knows! I shall be sorry to lose you, Donald."

  "Ay——I ken that fine, an' ye'll be unco lonesome wi'out me an' the pipes, I'm thinkin'."

  "Very!"

  "Eh, Peter, man! if it wasna' for the lassie, I'd no hae the heart tae leave ye. Ye'll no be forgettin' the 'Wullie Wallace Lament'?"

  "Never!" said I.

  "Oh, man, Peter! it's in my mind ye'll no hear sic pipin' again, forbye there's nae man——Hielander nor Lowlander——has juist the trick o' the 'warblers' like me, an' it's no vera like we shall e'er meet again i' this warld, man, Peter. But I'll aye think o' ye——away there in Glenure, when I play the 'Wullie Wallace' bit tune——I'll aye think o' ye, Peter, man."

  After this we stood awhile, staring past each other into the deepening shadows.

  "Peter," said he at last, "it's no a vera genteel present tae be makin' ye, I doot," and he held up the battered shoes. "They're unco worn, an' wi' a clout here an' there, ye'll notice, but the buckles are guid siller, an' I hae naething else to gi'e ye. Ay, man! but it's many a weary mile I've marched in these at the head o' the Ninety-Second, an' it's mony a stark fecht they've been through——Vittoria, Salamanca, Talavera, tae Quatre Bras an' Waterloo; tak' 'em, Peter, tak' 'em——tae mind ye sometimes o' Donal' Stuart. An' now——gi'e us a grup o' ye hand. Gude keep ye, Peter, man!"

  So saying, he thrust the brogues upon me, caught and squeezed my hand, and turning sharp about, strode away through the shadows, his kilt swaying, and tartans streaming gallantly.

  And, presently, I went and sat me down upon the bench beside the door, with the war-worn shoes upon my knee. Suddenly, as I sat there, faint and fainter with distance, and unutterably sad, came the slow, sweet music of Donald's pipes playing the "Wallace Lament." Softly the melody rose and fell, until it died away in one long-drawn, wailing note.

  Now, as it ended, I rose, and uncovered my head, for I knew this was Donald's last farewell.

  Much more I might have told of this strange yet lovable man who was by turns the scarred soldier, full of stirring tales of camp and battlefield; the mischievous child delighting in tricks and rogueries of all sorts; and the stately Hieland gentleman. Many wild legends he told me of his native glens, with strange tales of the "second sight"——but here, perforce, must be no place for such. So here then I leave Donald and hurry on with my narrative.

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