Ranald Bannerman's Boyhood
Ranald Bannerman's Boyhood
We Learn Other Things
We were more than ever at the farm now. During the summer, from the time we got up till the time we went to bed, we seldom approached the manse. I have heard it hinted that my father neglected us. But that can hardly be, seeing that then his word was law to us, and now I regard his memory as the symbol of the love unspeakable. My elder brother Tom always had his meals with him, and sat at his lessons in the study. But my father did not mind the younger ones running wild, so long as there was a Kirsty for them to run to; and indeed the men also were not only friendly to us, but careful over us. No doubt we were rather savage, very different in our appearance from town-bred children, who are washed and dressed every time they go out for a walk: that we should have considered not merely a hardship, but an indignity. To be free was all our notion of a perfect existence. But my father's rebuke was awful indeed, if he found even the youngest guilty of untruth, or cruelty, or injustice. At all kinds of escapades, not involving disobedience, he smiled, except indeed there were too much danger, when he would warn and limit.
A town boy may wonder what we could find to amuse us all day long; but the fact is almost everything was an amusement, seeing that when we could not take a natural share in what was going on, we generally managed to invent some collateral employment fictitiously related to it. But he must not think of our farm as at all like some great farm he may happen to know in England; for there was nothing done by machinery on the place. There may be great pleasure in watching machine-operations, but surely none to equal the pleasure we had. If there had been a steam engine to plough my father's fields, how could we have ridden home on its back in the evening? To ride the horses home from the plough was a triumph. Had there been a thrashing- machine, could its pleasures have been comparable to that of lying in the straw and watching the grain dance from the sheaves under the skilful flails of the two strong men who belaboured them? There was a winnowing-machine, but quite a tame one, for its wheel I could drive myself-the handle now high as my head, now low as my knee-and watch at the same time the storm of chaff driven like drifting snowflakes from its wide mouth. Meantime the oat-grain was flowing in a silent slow stream from the shelving hole in the other side, and the wind, rushing through the opposite doors, aided the winnower by catching at the expelled chaff, and carrying it yet farther apart. I think I see old Eppie now, filling her sack with what the wind blew her; not with the grain: Eppie did not covet that; she only wanted her bed filled with fresh springy chaff, on which she would sleep as sound as her rheumatism would let her, and as warm and dry and comfortable as any duchess in the land that happened to have the rheumatism too. For comfort is inside more than outside; and eider down, delicious as it is, has less to do with it than some people fancy. How I wish all the poor people in the great cities could have good chaff beds to lie upon! Let me see: what more machines are there now? More than I can tell. I saw one going in the fields the other day, at the use of which I could only guess. Strange, wild-looking, mad-like machines, as the Scotch would call them, are growling and snapping, and clinking and clattering over our fields, so that it seems to an old boy as if all the sweet poetic twilight of things were vanishing from the country; but he reminds himself that God is not going to sleep, for, as one of the greatest poets that ever lived says, he slumbereth not nor sleepeth ; and the children of the earth are his, and he will see that their imaginations and feelings have food enough and to spare. It is his business this-not ours. So the work must be done as well as it can. Then, indeed, there will be no fear of the poetry.