Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Prodigal Scots Lass


In an anthology of sorts on prodigals, Ruth Bell Graham presented a portion from "Beside the Bonnie Brier Bush" (1894) by Ian Maclaren. It told of old widower Lachlan Campbell, and his daughter Flora who opted to leave the ways and life of the small town of Drumtochty for the excitement and questionable prospects of London.

The father considered his daughter lost to him and reported his decision to elders of the Kirk. This hard line drawn in the sand was mentioned to Marget Howe (the main female character in the book). In a personal visit to the miserable Lachlan she attempted to explain how his deceased wife might have handled the problem of the errant daughter. She suggested a letter to London which she would draft and mail in the stead of the missing mother.

Following is the account of Flora's return (some of the most sensitive writing I have ever enjoyed):

"Ye've hed a lang journey, Miss Cammil, and ye maun be nearly dune
wi' tire; juist ye sit still till the fouk get awa', and the guid
wife and me wud be prood if ye took a cup o' tea wi's afore ye
stairted hame. A'll come for ye as sune as a' get the van emptied
and ma little trokes feenished."

Peter hurried up to his cottage in such hot haste that his wife came
out in great alarm.

"Na, their's naethin' wrang; it's the opposite way this nicht. Ye
mind o' Flora Cammil that left her father, and name o' the
Drumtochty fouk wud say onything aboot her. Weel, she's in the
train, and a've asked her up tae rest, and she was gled tae come,
puir thing. Sae gie her a couthy welcome, wumman, and the best in
the hoose, for oors 'ill be the first roof she 'ill be under on her
way hame."

Our women do not kiss one another like the city ladies; but the
motherly grip of Mary Bruce's hand sent a thrill to Flora's heart.

"Noo a' ca' this rael kind o' ye, Miss Cammil, tae come in withoot
ceremony, and a'd be terrible pleased if ye would dae it ony time
yer traivellin'. The rail is by ordinar' fateegin', and a cup o' tea
'ill set ye up," and Mary had Flora in the best chair, and was
loading her plate with homely dainties.

Peter would speak of nothing but the new engine that was coming, and
was to place the Kildrummie branch beyond ridicule for ever, and on
this great event he continued without intermission till he parted
with Flora on the edge of the pine woods that divided Drumtochty
from Kildrummie.

"Gude nicht tae ye, Miss Cammil, and thank ye again for yir veesit.
Bring the auld man wi' ye next time ye're passing, though a'm feared
ye've been deived (deafened) wi' the engine."

Flora took Peter's hand, that was callous and rough with the turning
of brakes and the coupling of chains.

"It wass not your new engine you wass thinking about this night,
Peter Bruce, but a poor girl that iss in trouble. I hef not the
words, but I will be remembering your house, oh yes, as long as I
live."

Twice Peter stood on his way home; the first time he slapped his leg
and chuckled:

"Sall, it was gey clever o' me; a hale kerridge o' Drumtochty lads,
and no ane o' them ever hed a glint o' her."

At the second stoppage he drew his hand across his eyes.

"Puir lassie, a' houp her father 'ill be kind tae her, for she's
sair broken, and looks liker deith than life."

No one can desire a sweeter walk than through a Scottish pine wood
in late September, where you breathe the healing resinous air, and
the ground is crisp and springy beneath your feet, and gentle
animals dart away on every side, and here and there you come on an
open space with a pool, and a brake of gorse. Many a time on market
days Flora had gone singing through these woods, plucking a posy of
wild flowers and finding a mirror in every pool, as young girls
will; but now she trembled and was afraid. The rustling of the trees
in the darkness, the hooting of an owl, the awful purity of the
moonlight in the glades, the cold sheen of the water, were to her
troubled conscience omens of judgment. Had it not been for the
kindness of Peter Bruce, which was a pledge of human forgiveness,
there would have been no heart in her to dare that wood, and it was
with a sob of relief she escaped from the shadow and looked upon the
old glen once more, bathed from end to end in the light of the
harvest moon. Beneath her ran our little river, spanned by its
quaint old bridge; away on the right the Parish Kirk peeped out from
a clump of trees; half way up the glen the clachan lay surrounded by
patches of corn; and beyond were the moors, with a shepherd's
cottage that held her heart. Two hours ago squares of light told of
warmth and welcome within; but now, as Flora passed one house after
another, it seemed as if every one she knew was dead, and she was
forgotten in her misery. Her heart grew cold, and she longed to lie
down and die, when she caught the gleam of a lighted window. Some
one was living still to know she had repented, and she knelt down
among the flowers with her ear to the glass to hear the sound of a
human voice. Archie Moncur had come home late from a far-away job,
but he must needs have worship with his sister before they went to
bed, and well did he choose the psalm that night. Flora's tears
rained upon the mignonette as the two old people sang:

"When Sion's bondage God turned back,
As men that dreamed were we,
Then filled with laughter was our mouth,
Our tongue with melody;"

while the fragrance of the flowers went up as incense unto God.

All the way along the glen the last words of the psalm still rang in
her ears, "Rejoicing shall return," but as she touched the footpath
to her home, courage failed her. Marget had written for her dead
mother, but no one could speak with authority for her father. She
knew the pride of his religion and his iron principles. If he
refused her entrance, then it had been better for her to have died
in London. A turn of the path brought her within sight of the
cottage, and her heart came into her mouth, for the kitchen window
was a blaze of light. One moment she feared Lachlan might be ill,
but in the next she understood, and in the greatness of her joy she
ran the rest of the way. When she reached the door, her strength had
departed, and she was not able to knock. But there was no need, for
the dogs, who never forget nor cast off, were bidding her welcome
with short joyous yelps of delight, and she could hear her father
feeling for the latch, which for once could not be found, and saying
nothing but "Flora, Flora."

She had made up some kind of speech, but the only word she ever said
was "Father," for Lachlan, who had never even kissed her all the
days of her youth, clasped her in his arms and sobbed out blessings
over her head, while the dogs licked her hands with their soft,
kindly tongues.

"It iss a peety you hef not the Gaelic," Flora said to Marget
afterwards; "it iss the best of all languages for loving. There are
fifty words for darling, and my father would be calling me every one
that night I came home."

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