A Chapter of Childhood.
Human life is a fragment, at
best. . . . And that
moment of childhood when, in one signal flash like the
uncapping of the camera, character is fixed, is surely rather
the record than the prophecy of a life afterwards lived?
Thrown upon his own resorces, practically, at four years
old, Richard Farquharson, at ten, was older in many ways
than other boys of his age.
His memories grouped themselves into scenes; one was
That dreadful day! Did he really remember it, I wonder,
or was it merely an imaginary landmark in that valley of
vision which kept alive in him a spark of tenderness amidst
the universal harshness and austerity of his life at Glune?
He thought of it sometimes with that strange sort of pride
which naturally brave children feel in recalling from a safe
distance something which at the time was infinitely terrifying.
A cold bleak day, the first of days which were all bleak and
cold: a line of dark shapes clustering close in the gloomy hall,
grouped, circle-wise, about one central shadow deeper than the
rest, over which heavy drapery was thrown. Upon this
unknown object, the eyes of all were fixed; child as he was,
Richard shrank back from it instinctively. And presently
strange men appeared, a long line of figures formed up, led by
one which for the first time struck utter terror into his soul
—his mother’s. And then they were no more, and Richard
was left alone, forgotten, in a silence that frightened him so
greatly that he could neither cry out nor move—a silence that
seemed to catch hold of him with invisible fingers and tighten
its grip upon his throat, as the outer door clanged upon him
and left the four year old child in the room where a dis-
honoured death had lately held grim revel.
His nurse remembered him and ran back, perhaps five
minutes later. But that five minutes of solitary anguish had
done its work, spelling eternity to Richard, an eternity which
the weekly sermons of the Forbeggie minister, dilating under
fifteen or sixteen headings, on “The God of Wrath,” and the
torments of sinners, such as “The worm of the damned that
dieth not,” and “The fire that shall never be quenched,” con-
tinually kept alive in him, but scarcely made more palatable.
But the years that followed brought Richard his
sations. “Fide et Fortitudine” was the motto of his race;
he had learned its lessons early. He loved the lash of his
inheritance, nor grudged one of the supperless occasions which
helped to retain the few splendours of a clan which derived
from Macduff’s-Thane of Fife. Indeed, he positively thrived
on austerities that would have broken the spirit of a less
His taste for solitude was fostered by his enforced
ness. The days went swiftly. To be more or less alone in
the world, except for a collie dog, is not necessarily to be self-
centred when every bird knows your call, when stoats and
ferrets, even, are your familiar friends. Richard’s mind—
dependent upon nature for its amusements—was seldom called
upon to translate the word ” disappointment.” The loneliness
which wrapped him round became his dear possession, and
was peopled with invisible companions. There was a hut
in the park near the river, about three miles from the house,
where Dan, the collie, and he played the part of settlers in a
land full of enemies. He knew the range of every object
within view; he altered its defences day after day, laying down
wire entanglements, building rough stockades, or elementary
trenches with look-holes and head-cover, in all of which Dan
took deep interest. He was his own stern critic and yester-
day’s work was pulled down on the morrow, until the day
came when he found it good. Covered with dirt, growing in
experience, could the heart of boy ask more?
Nature is a jealous mistress, but she gives openly of her
best to the lover who lives with her whole-heartedly as did
Richard. His eye and ear became presently so well-trained,
that from quite far he could detect a moving object, and, with
the wind blowing gently towards him and his ear to the
ground, could distinguish a single footfall on a path nearly a
mile away. Blindfold, or in the dark, he could make his way
across his beloved land without a slip. Books of travels in
far countries had taught him to destroy the tracks of his in-
coming and out-going, so every step of the way to this special
place of concealment, had in it the thrill, the enchantment of an
adventure. To him who has never been to a theatre, a country
life becomes a beautiful play of birth and death; things move
and have their being, that he may see them pass to their
appointed end. The green earth is the stage, Nature the play-
wright, and God Himself the Great Scene-painter.
Richard’s tutor, a half-blind village schoolmaster who
came for three hours daily when Mrs. Farquharson could
afford to pay his meagre fees, was the only ” outside ” person
whom he ever saw. Between the boy and his mother there
was neither communion nor confidence. Morning and even-
ing he went to her dutifully, obeying the custom of his child-
hood, to find her sitting in her accustomed place, a high-backed
chair in the library where his father’s papers and diaries were
collected. Her frozen lips—lips tightened into a line so hard
that he always thought it must hurt her to move them—would
meet his stiffly, with neither pressure nor lingering, and he
would go from her presence with a sense of relief at a hard
task fulfilled. That her eyes watched for him hungrily all day
when he was least aware, that the tense figure was inwardly
shaken and stirred with all the mother’s passionate longing to
bend to him, to hold close to her own the slender limbs that
had once lain warm and quiet beneath her heart, he never
Mary Farquharson’s pride in her son went hand in hand
with a doubt so ceaseless, so torturing, that now it threatened
to become a mania. Not everyone is strong enough to endure
the strain of a great shame and sorrow with no outside help.
Richard’s fatal likeness to her dead first-born—dearer
than Richard because the child of her early wifehood—was an
image which ever tore her heart and left it bleeding. Would
history repeat itself? What if Richard, too, had been born
only to add to his brother’s legacy of dishonour? If so, how
welcome were death did he but come while her boy’s heart
Eyes that had looked as pure as his had been the caskets
of a living lie; lips curved like his had betrayed her in her day.
She would not willingly look upon the one, nor suffer the
others to caress her.
In Douglas Farquharson’s case there had been that sudden
lapse towards a former vicious type which sometimes happens
in a family that as a whole has bred fine men and fair women.
Douglas’ career was infamous even at school. When, page
by page, the records of his life were spelled out by his mother
even she could urge no better plea for him than that the
selfishness of her love—given to man rather than to God—had
worked the evil, marring and mutilating by its very passion.
In his mother’s heart, Douglas lived ever, an image burnt
upon her flesh, a constant retribution. She longed to pass her
days in scourges, in penance, but her religion forbade her even
to pray for her dead. In the blindness of her despair, she
invented for herself a species of soul crucifixion, laying her
sacrifices of love and pride in Richard upon God’s altar, never
seeing how, in punishing herself, she wrought infinite harm
upon an innocent child.
One morning, drawn early to the cool solitude of the river
after a sleepless night, she saw Richard bathing; a slim white
figure without an ounce of superfluous flesh on its bones, but
with every muscle developed, and skin like satin shining white
against the deep banks of copper bracken and undergrowth; a
picture framed by pines, through which the light of an autumn
dawn came slow and chill. Hidden from him, she watched,
with look wide and tender, with eyes as moist as the limbs
from which he shook the water of the pool, as he stood strong
and upright, breathing quickly after his swim. Bone of her
bone, flesh of her flesh, she had given to the world a male
being in which any human mother must take pride. . . His
sudden gesture, the impatient pushing of his wet hair from his
forehead, recalled her to herself with a sudden pang of bitter
self-distrust, and she fled to the house as though the Spirit of
Evil were pursuing her, trembling and ashamed.
It was after this that she instituted a new and more
terrible rule of discipline, both for herself and for the boy.
Richard came to her daily, as before, but now the conventional
kiss was denied him, and a three hours study of the most
complicated points of Presbyterian doctrine took its place. The
fate of sinners was the prevailing theme, the penalty of sins of
whose very existence he was unaware. In the narrow hot
room he stood rebellious, till sometimes his senses swayed.
Outside the bees hummed and the birds sang, and the world
he loved stretched in its infinite fairness—God’s world that
had hitherto raised his thoughts to its Maker. But now—this
God of punishment, this God of the Old Law Who raised His
Hand so often but to smite—he felt something almost approach-
ing hatred of the Book from whose pages he was allowed to
read nothing but words of denunciation and judgment.
Night after night, prone upon the bare floor of her bed-
room, Mrs. Farquharson would kneel, praying with tears of
abject contrition that her boy might be kept pure. And night
after night, far away in his separate wing, Richard would
await the stroke of midnight to run to a tryst which alone
kept alive in him a germ of that natural feeling which his
mother had crushed as utterly in him as she had sought to
crush it in herself.
Eight—nine—ten—eleven—Midnight at last!
Richard, with a start, shook himself free from his dreams
and woke to full and immediate consciousness of his surround-
ings. Much thinking, much loneliness, had made him older
than his years. To-night, on the eve of his twelfth birthday,
he felt that it was time to put away childish things. Amongst
those childish things he numbered the habit of years—his
nightly tryst with a portrait in the Picture Gallery which he
had adopted as his “own” at six years old.
One has one’s favourites, even amongst ancestors. It was
a certain Margaret Cunningham, daughter of that Earl of Glen-
cairn who, being of the Privy Council of James V., was taken
prisoner by the English in the year 1542 at the Battle of Solway,
who had won Richard’s heart. Marrying a Farquharson, she
died six months later, “whereat,” said tradition, “she waxed
exceedingly joyful, since her love had been given since child-
hood to her cousin of Kilmaurs.”
True to his sex, Richard had been vanquished by the
most tender, the most loveable little face in the whole gallery.
It was to this portrait alone that he confided his dreams, his
ambitions; and it was to this one of all others that he found
it so infinitely hard to say farewell.
But say farewell he would, notwithstanding, for the
hardening process had already begun in him. In the future he
must allow nothing, certainly not things trivial as mere
womens’ portraits, to influence him. He had learned the
secrets of this life’s success. A poor man must fight alone.
Unhampered by ties of affection, alone can we hope to win the
key of that secret cupboard in which the world hides her few
Past the King’s Chamber, down the long corridor, beyond
a row of rigid figures in armour, Richard sped, and at his
accustomed place at the turn of the gallery his collie met him.
Sometimes the boy might break faith; the dog, never.
Richard pushed the door of the picture gallery wide, and
stood on the threshold for a moment, a changed expression on
his fresh sunny face. The older faces seemed to turn to him,
expectant. Through the stained glass windows with their
emblazoned coats of arms, a steady stream of moonlight
flowed triumphantly, taking the colour of the glass it came
through—now rose, and now a pallid green. Not less stead-
fast the light in the painted eyes of some of the men he looked
upon; martyrs in their way—men who had fought and died
for a Cause—whose purposes, nor tears, nor smiles, nor force
He knew their histories, their records, man for man,
woman for woman. Before some he paused longer than
before others; had the veil between the world invisible and
this been rent, and the familiar shades taken fleshly form and
called to him, he would have had no fear. They were his
friends and comrades; he passed before them as before a
tribunal, with head erect.
The gallery was said to be haunted—who cared! In the
past, Richard himself had “made believe” that some day they
should meet so earnestly, that more than once he had almost
fancied that he heard the rustle of a silken skirt, or saw the
flash of some dead soldier’s dirk. . . . But usually, at the
critical moment, a cold draught from an opening door would
blow upon him suddenly bleak, like the wind in the heather on
the moor , the door would open, and his frightened nurse
would bring a light, and lock him in his room again, with a
severe scolding, and the dream—like many another later dream
Perhaps that is what dreams are made for, Dan,” he
said once to his collie , and Dan looked up with the pathetic
eyes of a dog who knows more than his master.
With his hands clenched very firmly and an uncomfort-
able tightening of his throat, Richard looked at the portrait of
his ancestress to-night, and thought again, as he had often
thought before, that it was strange God did not make mothers
in a mould like this. Unconsciously in that moment he com-
mitted every line of the portrait to memory, never to be erased
—the oval face, the soft hair, a dark curtain, banded over the
low white forehead; the grave eyes that followed him every-
where, and that had been painted with a hint of tears, a
favourite trick in a certain school of art: the turn of the erect
head, the white neck just chewing beneath a veil of white.
The moonlight fell upon all these lovingly. One little beam
of light travelled upwards, lingering in the shadows of the
But these were childish things, the kind of things a
future empire-builder must infallibly renounce. “Good-bye,”
Richard said gravely, “Dan and I aren’t ever coming to see
you again. Not like this, I mean, not in the old way, at
least. I’m growing up, you see, and when one grows up, one
can’t go on doing these silly things.”
But he walked away from the picture very sadly all the
same, and thought that Margaret’s eyes that night were very
misty because, unconsciously, he himself saw them through a
mist of tears. . . How cold it was! He must have been
there far longer than he meant; his bare feet on the parquet
floor were cold as death, and he called to Dan, who had, con-
trary to his usual custom, scampered away from him to
snuffle anxiously at the closed door.
Outside through one light pane of glass, Richard could
see the snow thick on the white stone balustrade; how
silently and swiftly it must have fallen! When he came in
there had been only a few flakes. At that moment there was
a sound as of something falling, and Dan escaping from his
master’s hand with a whine, leapt forward again, scenting
eagerly, then scratched at the door with a long whine of
The snow fell softly; something else had fallen too.
Something that pressed against the door that Richard strove
to open, at first gently, then with a sudden dread that tore at
his heart-strings, and taxed his self-control. As it gave way
at last, it pressed the unknown obstacle back with it—the
unknown obstacle, at sight of which the boy fell on his knees
with a sharp cry. For it was a woman’s figure—his mother’s
—which lay there in the moonlight, with its thin arms stretched
out towards him, giving way too late to the longing it had
repressed for years.
Face to face with death for the second time, Richard found
himself more wondering than pitiful, more perplexed than sad.
How swiftly God’s arrows struck—how unerringly! The
terrified staring eyes seemed to challenge his with a question
which death had failed to an swer, a question which would
now be answered only on the Hither Shore. . . . .
He tried to close the staring eyes and failed; tried once again,
but failed, and then rose, shuddering. His cry had awakened
his old nurse, who came to him feebly, candle in hand, with
Dan sniffing at her ankles. At sight of his master the dog
ran forward, and then, aware of mourning, crouched quietly on
the floor beside the dead. And Richard looking down upon
his mother, and hearing nurse Ailsa’s lamentation come to
him as if from far away, recognised that this was indeed “the
end,” that he had “put away” “childish things” once and
Bateman, May. “Richard Farquharson: A Chapter of Childhood.” The Venture: an Annual of Art and Literature, vol. 1, 1903, pp.161-172. Venture Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2019-2021. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2021, https://1890s.ca/vv1-bateman-farquharson