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John
by [?]

Shall we, then, make our harvest of the sea

And garner memories, which we surely deem

May light these hearts of ours on darksome days,

When loneliness hath power, and no kind beam

Lightens about our feet the perilous ways?

For of Eternity

This present hour is all we call our own,

And Memory’s edge is dull’d, even as it brings

The sunny swathes of unforgotten springs,

And sweeps them to our feet like grass long mown
.

Fergus Morrison was in his old town for a few days. He was staying with the aunt who had brought him up, schooled him, marshalled him to the Burgher Kirk like a decent Renfrewshire callant, and finally had sent him off to Glasgow to get colleged. Colleged he was in due course, and had long been placed in an influential church in the city. On the afternoon of the Saturday he was dreamily soliloquising after the plain midday meal to which his aunt adhered.

Old things had been passing before him during these last days, and the coming of the smart church-officer for the psalms and hymns for the morrow awoke in the Reverend Fergus Morrison a desire to know about “John,” the wonderful beadle of old times, to whose enlarged duties his late spruce visitor had succeeded. He smiled fitfully as he brooded over old things and old times; and when his aunt came in from washing up the dinner dishes, he asked concerning “John.” He was surprised to find that, though frail, bent double with rheumatism, and nearly blind, he was still alive; and living, too, as of yore, in the same old cottage with its gable-end to the street. The Glasgow minister took his staff and went out to visit him. As he passed down the street he noted every change with a start, marvelling chiefly at the lowness of the houses and the shrunken dimensions of the Town Hall, once to him the noblest building on earth.

When he got to John’s cottage the bairns were playing at ball against the end of it, just as they had done thirty years ago. One little urchin was making a squeaking noise with a wet finger on the window-pane, inside which were displayed a few crossed pipes and fly-blown sweatmeats. As the city minister stood looking about him, a bent yet awe-inspiring form came hirpling to the door, leaning heavily on a staff. Making out by the noise the whereabouts of the small boy, the old man turned suddenly to him with a great roar like a bull, before the blast of which the boy disappeared, blown away as chaff is blown before the tempest. The minister’s first impulse was likewise to turn and flee. Thirty added years had not changed the old instinct, for when John roared at any of the town boys, conscious innocence did not keep any of them still. They ran first, and inquired from a distance whom he was after. For John’s justice was not evenhanded. His voice was ever for open war, and everything that wore tattered trousers and a bonnet was his natural enemy.

So the minister nearly turned and ran, as many a time he had done in the years that were past. However, instead he went indoors with the old man, and, having recalled himself to John’s clear ecclesiastical memory, the interview proceeded somewhat as follows, the calm flow of the minister’s accustomed speech gradually kindling as he went, into the rush of the old Doric of his boyhood.

“Ay, John, I’m glad you remember me; but I have better cause to remember you, for you once nearly knocked out my brains with a rake when I was crawling through the manse beech-hedge to get at the minister’s rasps. Oh, yes, you did, John! You hated small boys, you know. And specially, John, you hated me. Nor can I help thinking that, after all, taking a conjunct and dispassionate view of your circumstances, as we say in the Presbytery, your warmth of feeling was entirely unwarranted. ‘Thae loons–they’re the plague o’ my life!’ you were wont to remark, after you had vainly engaged in the pleasure of the chase, having surprised us in some specially outrageous ploy.