Neither was the duty so unpleasant to Thomas's oppositive nature, as it would have been to a man of easier temperament.
"Jeames Johnstone," he said, "the kirk maks nae progress. It's no as i' the time o' the apostles whan the saved war added till't daily."
"Weel, ye see," returned James, "that wasna oor kirk exacly; and it wasna Mr Turnbull that was the heid o' 't."
"It's a' the same. The prenciple's the same. An' Mr Turnbull preaches the same gospel Peter and Paul praiched, and wi' unction too. And yet here's the congregation dwin'lin' awa', and the church itsel' like naething but bees efter the brunstane. I say there's an Ahchan i' the camp—a Jonah i' the vessel—a son o' Saul i' the kingdom o' Dawvid—a Judas amo' the twal'—a—"
"Hoots! Thomas Crann; ye're no pittin' a' thae gran' names upo' that puir feckless body, Rob Bruce, are ye?"
"He's nane feckless for the deevil's wark or for his ain, which is ae thing and the same. Oot he maun gang, gin we tak' him by the scruff o' the neck and the doup o' the breeks."
"Dinna jeist, Thomas, aboot sic a dangerous thing," said James, mildly glad of one solitary opportunity of rebuking the granite-minded mason.
"Jeist! I'm far eneuch frae jeistin'. Ye dinna ken fervour frae jokin', Jeames Johnstone."
"He micht tak' the law upo's for defamin' o' 's character; and that wad be an awfu' thing for puir fowk like us, Thamas."
"Aye the same thing ower again, Jeames! Shy at a stane, and fa' into the stank (ditch). That's the pairt o' a colt and no o' a Christian."
"But arena we tellt to be wise as serpents?"
"Ye wad tak' a heap o' tellin' upo' that heid, Jeames."
"Ow, 'deed ay! And I'm no my lane, Thamas. But we are tellt that."
"The serpent turned oot an ill cooncellor upon ae occasion ower well to be remembert by Adam's race."
"The words stan' as I say," persisted James.
"Ye're no to mak' the serpent yer cooncellor, man. But ance ye ken yer duty, ye may weel tak example by him hoo to carry 't oot. Did ye ever see an edder lyin' ower a stane as gin he was naething but a stick himsel', bidin' 's time? That's me, i' the Scriptur' sense. I'm only bidin' till I see hoo. A body maunna do ill that gude may come, though wow! it's a sair temptation whiles; neither maun a body neglec to do richt for fear that ill may follow."
"Ay, true that. But ye needna burn the hoose to rid the rottans. I doot ye'll get's a' into ower het water; and a body needna tak' the skin aff for the sake o' cleanliness. Jist tak ye tent (care, attention), Thamas, what ye're aboot."
Having thus persisted in opposing Thomas to a degree he had never dared before, James took his departure, pursued by the words:
"Tak ye care, Jeames, that in savin' the richt han' ye dinna send the haill body to hell. It was aye yer danger. I never got bauld coonsel frae ye yet."
"There's mair vertues i' the Bible nor courage, Thamas," retorted James, holding the outer door open to throw the sentence in, and shutting it instantly to escape with the last word.
Thomas, abandoned to his own resources, meditated long and painfully. But all he could arrive at was the resolution to have another talk with Mr Cupples. He might not be a Christian man, but he was an honest and trustworthy man, and might be able from his scholarship to give him some counsel. So he walked to Howglen the next day, and found him with Alec in the harvest-field. And Alec's reception of Thomas showed what a fine thing illness is for bringing people to their right minds.
Mr Cupples walked aside with Thomas, and they seated themselves on two golden sheaves at the foot of a stook.
"What ye said to me the ither day, sir," began Thomas, "has stucken fest i' my crap, ever sin' syne. We maun hae him oot."
"Na, na; ye better lat him sit. He'll haud doon yer pride. That man's a judgment on ye for wantin' to be better nor yer neebors. Dinna try to win free o' judgment. But I'll tell ye what I wad hae ye do: Mak muckle o' 'm. Gie him tether eneuch. He'll gang frae ill to waur, ye may depen'. He'll steal or a' be dune."
"To the best o' my belief, sir, that's no to come, He's stolen already, or I'm sair mista'en."
"Ay! Can ye pruv that? That's anither maitter," returned Cupples, beginning to be interested.
"I dinna ken whether I oucht to hae mentioned it to ane that wasna a member, though; but it jist cam oot o' 'tsel' like."
"Sae the fac' that a man's a member wha's warst crime may be that he is a member, maks him sic precious gear that he maunna be meddlet wi' i' the presence o' an honest man, wha, thank God, has neither pairt nor lot in ony sic maitter?"
"Dinna be angry, Mr Cupples. I'll tell ye a' aboot it," pleaded Thomas, than who no man could better recognize good sense.
But the Cosmo Cupples who thus attracted the confidence of Thomas Crann was a very different man from the Cosmo Cupples whom first Alec Forbes went to the garret to see at his landlady's suggestion. All the flabbiness had passed from his face, and his eyes shone clearer than ever from a clear complexion. His mouth still gave a first impression of unsteadiness; no longer, however, from the formlessness of the loose lips, but from the continual flickering of a nascent smile that rippled their outline with long wavy motions of evanescent humour. His dress was still careless, but no longer neglected, and his hand was as steady as a rifleman's.
Nor had he found it so hard to conquer his fearful habit as even he had expected; for with every week passed in bitter abstinence, some new well would break from the rich soil of his intellect, and irrigate with its sweet waters the parched border land between his physical and psychical being. And when he had once again betaken himself to the forsaken pen, there was little reason to fear a relapse or doubt a final victory. A playful humanity radiated from him, the result of that powerfullest of all restoratives—giving of what one has to him who has not. Indeed his reformation had begun with this. St Paul taught a thief to labour, that he might have to give: Love taught Mr Cupples to deny himself that he might rescue his friend; and presently he had found his feet touching the rock. If he had not yet learned to look "straight up to heaven," his eyes wandered not unfrequently towards that spiritual horizon upon which things earthly and things heavenly meet and embrace.
To such a Cosmo Cupples, then, Thomas told the story of Annie Anderson's five-pound note. As he spoke, Cupples was tormented as with the flitting phantom of a half-forgotten dream. All at once, light flashed upon him.
"And sae what am I to do?" asked Thomas as he finished his tale.—"I can pruv naething; but I'm certain i' my ain min', kennin' the man's nater, that it was that note he tuik oot o' the Bible."
"I'll put the proof o' that same into yer han's, or I'm sair mista'en," said Mr Cupples.
"You, Mr Cupples?"
"Ay, me, Mr Crann. But maybe ye wadna tak proof frae sic a sinner against sic a sanct. Sae ye may keep yer sanct i' yer holy boasom."
"Dinna gang on that gait, Mr Cupples. Gin ye can direc' me to the purification o' our wee bit temple, I'll hearken heumbly. I only wiss ye war ane o' us."
"I'll bide till ye hae gotten rid o' Bruce, ony gait.—I care naething for yer sma' separatist kirkies.—I wonner ye dinna pray for a clippin' o' an auld sun that ye micht do withoot the common daylicht. But I do think it's a great shame—that sic a sneak sud be i' the company o' honest fowk, as I tak the maist o' ye to be. Sae I'll do my best. Ye'll hear frae me in a day or twa."
Cupples had remembered the inscription on the fly-leaf of the big Bible, which, according to Thomas Crann, Mr Cowie had given to Annie. He now went to James Dow.
"Did Annie ever tell ye aboot a Bible that Mr Cowie ga'e her, Jeames?"
"Ay did she. I min' 't fine."
"Cud ye get a haud o' 't."
"Eh! I dinna ken. The crater has laid his ain cleuks upo' 't. It's a sod pity that Annie's oot o' the hoose, or she micht hae stown't (stolen it)."
"Truly, bein' her ain, she micht. But ye're a kin' o' a guairdian till her—arena ye?"
"Ow! ay. I hae made mysel' that in a way; but Bruce wad aye be luikit upon as the proper guairdian."
"Hae ye ony haud upo' the siller?"
"I gart him sign a lawyer's paper aboot it."
"Weel, ye jist gang and demand the Bible, alang wi' the lave o' Annie's property. Ye ken she's had trouble aboot her kist (chest), and canna get it frae the swallowin' cratur'. And gin he maks ony demur, jist drap a hint o' gaein to the lawyer aboot it. The like o' him's as fleyt at a lawyer as cats at cauld water. Get the Bible we maun. And ye maun fess't to me direckly."
Dow was a peaceable man, and did not much relish the commission. Cupples, thinking he too was a missionar, told him the story.
"Weel," said Dow, "lat him sit there. Maybe they'll haud him frae doin' mair mischeef. Whan ye jabble a stank, the stink rises."
"I thocht ye was ane o' them. Ye maunna lat it oot."
"Na, na. I a' haud my tongue."
"I care naething aboot it. But there's Thamas Crann jist eatin' his ain hert. It's a sin to lat sic a man live in sic distress."
"'Deed is't. He's a gude man that. And he's been verra kin' to oor Annie, Mr Cupples,—I'll do as ye say. Whan do ye want it?"
"This verra nicht."
So after his day's work, which was hard enough at this season of the year, was over, James Dow put on his blue Sunday coat, and set off to the town. He found Robert Bruce chaffering with a country girl over some butter, for which he wanted to give her less than the market-value. This roused his indignation, and put him in a much fitter mood for an altercation.
"I winna gie ye mair nor fivepence. Hoo are ye the day, Mr Doo? I tell ye it has a goo (Fren. gout) o' neeps or something waur."
"Hoo can that be, Mr Bruce, at this sizzon o' the year, whan there's plenty o' gerss for man an' beast an' a' cratur?" said the girl.
"It's no for me to say hoo it can be. That's no my business. Noo, Mr Doo?"
Bruce, whose very life lay in driving bargains, had a great dislike to any interruption of the process. Yet he forsook the girl as if he had said all he had to say, and turned to James Dow. For he wanted to get rid of him before concluding his bargain with the girl, whose butter he was determined to have even if he must pay her own price for it. Like the Reeve in the Canterbury Tales, who "ever rode the hinderest of the rout," being such a rogue and such a rogue-catcher that he could not bear anybody behind his back, Bruce, when about the business that his soul loved, eschewed the presence of any third person.
"Noo, Mr Doo?" he said.
"My business'll keep," replied Dow.
"But ye see we're busy the nicht, Mr Doo."
"Weel, I dinna want to hurry ye. But I wonner that ye wad buy ill butter, to please onybody, even a bonnie lass like that."
"Some fowk likes the taste o' neeps, though I dinna like it mysel'," answered Bruce. "But the fac' that neeps is no a favourite wi' the maist o' fowk, brings doon the price i' the market."
"Neeps is neither here nor there," said the girl; and taking up her basket, she was going to leave the shop.
"Bide a bit, my lass," cried Bruce. "The mistress wad like to see ye. Jist gang benn the hoose to her wi' yer basket, and see what she thinks o' the butter. I may be wrang, ye ken."
So saying he opened the inner door, and ushered the young woman into the kitchen.
"Noo, Mr Doo?" he said once more. "Is't tobawco, or sneeshin (snuff), or what is't?"
"It's Annie Anderson's kist and a' her gear."
"I'm surprised at ye, Jeames Doo. There's the lassie's room up the stair, fit for ony princess, whanever she likes to come back till't. But she was aye a royt (riotous) lassie, an' a reglar rintheroot."
"Ye lee, Rob Bruce," exclaimed Dow, surprised out of his proprieties. "Whaever ye say that till, dinna say't to me."
Bruce was anything but a quarrelsome man with other than his inferiors. He pocketed the lie very calmly.
"Dinna lowse yer temper, Mr Doo. It's a sair fau't that."
"Jist ye deliver up the bairn's effecks, or I'll gang to them that'll gar ye."
"Wha micht that be, Mr Doo?" asked Bruce, wishing first to find out how far Dow was prepared to go.
"Ye hae no richt whatever to keep that lassie's claes, as gin she aucht (owed) you onything for rent."
"Hae ye ony richt to tak them awa'? Hoo ken I what'll come o' them?"
"Weel, I s' awa' doon to Mr Gibb, and we'll see what can be dune there. It's weel kent ower a' Glamerton, Mr Bruce, in what mainner you and yer haill hoose hae borne yersels to that orphan lassie; and I'll gang into ilka chop, as I gang doon the street, that is, whaur I'm acquant, and I'll jist tell them whaur I'm gaun, and what for."
The thing which beyond all others Bruce dreaded was unremunerative notoriety.
"Hoots! Jeames Doo, ye dinna ken jokin' frae jeistin'. I never was the man to set mysel' i' the face o' onything rizzonable. But ye see it wad be cast up to the haill o' 's that we had driven the puir lassie oot o' the hoose, and syne flung her things efter her."
"The tane ye hae dune. The tither ye shanna do, for I'll tak them. And I'll tell ye what fowk'll say gin ye dinna gie up the things. They'll say that ye baith drave her awa' and keepit her bit duds. I'll see to that—and mair forbye."
Bruce understood that he referred to Annie's money. His object in refusing to give up her box had been to retain as long as possible a chance of persuading her to return to his house; for should she leave it finally, her friends might demand the interest in money, which at present he was bound to pay only in aliment and shelter, little of either of which she required at his hands. But here was a greater danger still.
"Mother," he cried, "pit up Miss Anderson's claes in her box to gang wi' the carrier the morn's mornin'."
"I'll tak them wi' me," said Dow resolutely.
"Ye canna. Ye haena a cairt."
"Ye get them pitten up, and I'll fess a barrow," said James, leaving the shop.
He borrowed a wheelbarrow from Thomas Crann, and found the box ready for him when he returned. The moment he lifted it, he was certain from the weight of the poor little property that the Bible was not there.
"Ye haena pitten in Mr Cooie's Bible."
"Mother! did ye pit in the Bible?" cried Bruce, for the house-door was open.
"'Deed no, father. It's better whaur't is," said Mrs Bruce from the kitchen, with shrill response.
"Ye see, Mr Doo, the Bible's lain sae lang there, that it's jist oor ain. And the lassie canna want it till she has a faimily to hae worship wi'. And syne she s' be welcome to tak' it."
"Ye gang up the stair for the buik, or I'll gang mysel'."
Bruce went and fetched it, with a bad grace enough, and handed over with it the last tattered remnants of his respectability into the hands of James Dow.
Mr Cupples, having made a translation of the inscription, took it to Thomas Crann.
"Do ye min' what Bruce read that nicht ye saw him tak' something oot o' the beuk?" he asked as he entered.
"Ay, weel that. He began wi' the twenty-third psalm, and gaed on to the neist."
"Weel, read that. I faun' 't on a blank leaf o' the buik."
Thomas read—'Over the twenty-third psalm of David I have laid a five-pound note for my dear Annie Anderson, after my death,'—and lifting his eyes, stared at Mr Cupples, his face slowly brightening with satisfaction. Then a cloud came over his brow—for was he not rejoicing in iniquity? At least he was rejoicing in coming shame.
"Hoo cud it hae been," he asked after a brief pause, "that Bruce didna fa' upo' this, as weel's you, Mr Cupples, or didna scart it oot?"
"'Cause 'twas written in Latin. The body hadna the wit to misdoobt the contents o' 't. It said naething till him, and he never thoucht it cud say onything aboot him."
"It's a fine thing to be a scholar, Mr Cupples."
"They say the Miss Cowies are great scholars."
"Verra likly.—But there's ae thing mair I wad put ye up till. Can ye tell the day o' the month that ye gaed hame wi' yer prayin' frien'?"
"It was the nicht o' a special prayer-meetin' for the state o' Glamerton. I can fin' oot the date frae the kirk-buiks. What am I to do wi' 't whan I hae't, sir?"
"Gang to the bank the body deals wi', and spier whether a note beirin' the nummer o' thae figures was paid intil 't upo' the Monday followin' that Sunday, and wha paid it. They'll tell ye that at ance."
But for various reasons, which it is needless to give in this history, Thomas was compelled to postpone the execution of his project. And Robert went on buying and selling and getting gain, all unaware of the pit he had digged for himself.
One Sunday morning Mr Cupples was returning from church with Alec.
"Ye likit the sermon the day, Mr Cupples."
"What gars ye think that?"
"I saw ye takin' notes a' the time."
"Gleg-eed mole!" said Mr Cupples. "Luik at the notes as ye ca' them."
"Eh! it's a sang!" exclaimed Alec with delight.
"What cud gar ye think I likit sic havers? The crater was preachin' till's ain shaidow. And he pat me into sic an unchristian temper o' dislike to him and a' the concern, that I ran to my city o' refuge. I never gang to the kirk wi'oot it—I mean my pocket-buik. And I tried to gie birth till a sang, the quhilk, like Jove, I conceived i' my heid last nicht."
"Lat me luik at it," said Alec, eagerly.
"Na, ye wadna mak' either rhyme or rizzon o' 't as it stan's. I'll read it to ye."
"Come and sit doon, than, on the ither side o' the dyke."
A dyke in Scotland is an earthen fence—to my prejudiced mind, the ideal of fences; because, for one thing, it never keeps anybody out. And not to speak of the wild bees' bykes in them, with their inexpressible honey, like that of Mount Hymettus—to the recollection of the man, at least—they are covered with grass, and wild flowers grow all about them, through which the wind harps and carps over your head, filling your sense with the odours of a little modest yellow tufty flower, for which I never heard a name in Scotland: the English call it Ladies' Bedstraw.
They got over the dyke into the field and sat down.
"Ye see it's no lickit eneuch yet," said Mr Cupples, and began.
"O lassie, ayont the hill! Come ower the tap o' the hill; Or roun' the neuk o' the hill; For I want ye sair the night. I'm needin' ye sair the nicht, For I'm tired and sick o' mysel'. A body's sel' 's the sairest weicht. O lassie, come ower the hill.
Gin a body cud be a thocht o' grace, And no a sel' ava! I'm sick o' my heid and my han's and my face, And my thouchts and mysel' and a'. I'm sick o' the warl' and a'; The licht gangs by wi' a hiss; For throu' my een the sunbeams fa', But my weary hert they miss.
O lassie, ayont the hill! Come ower the tap o' the hill, Or roun' the neuk o' the hill, For I want ye sair the nicht.
For gin ance I saw yer bonnie heid, And the sunlicht o' yer hair, The ghaist o' mysel' wad fa' doon deid, And I'd be mysel' nae mair. I wad be mysel' nae mair, Filled o' the sole remeid, Slain by the arrows o' licht frae yer hair, Killed by yer body and heid. O lassie, ayont the hill! &c.
But gin ye lo'ed me, ever so sma' For the sake o' my bonny dame, Whan I cam' to life, as she gaed awa', I could bide my body and name. I micht bide mysel', the weary same, Aye settin' up its heid, Till I turn frae the claes that cover my frame, As gin they war roun' the deid. O lassie, ayont the hill! &c.
But gin ye lo'ed me as I lo'e you, I wad ring my ain deid knell; My sel' wad vanish, shot through and through By the shine o' your sunny sel'. By the shine o' your sunny sel', By the licht aneath your broo, I wad dee to mysel', and ring my bell, And only live in you.
O lassie, ayont the hill! Come ower the tap o' the hill, Or roun' the neuk o' the hill, For I want ye sair the night. I'm needin' ye sair the nicht, For I'm tired and sick o' mysel; A body's sel' 's the sairest weicht! O lassie, come ower the hill."
"Isna it raither metapheesical, Mr Cupples?" asked Alec.
"Ay is't. But fowk's metapheesical. True, they dinna aye ken't. I wad to God I cud get that sel' o' mine safe aneath the yird, for it jist torments the life oot o' me wi' its ugly face. Hit and me jist stan's an' girns at ane anither."
"It'll tak a heap o' Christianity to lay that ghaist, Mr Cupples. That I ken weel. The lassie wadna be able to do't for ye. It's ower muckle to expec' o' her or ony mortal woman. For the sowl's a temple biggit for the Holy Ghost, and no woman can fill't, war she the Virgin Mary ower again. And till the Holy Ghost comes intil's ain hoose, the ghaist that ye speak o' winna gang oot."
A huge form towered above the dyke behind them.
"Ye had no richt to hearken, Thomas Crann," said Mr Cupples.
"I beg your pardon," returned Thomas; "I never thoucht o' that. The soun' was sae bonnie, I jist stud and hearkened. I beg your pardon.—But that's no the richt thing for the Sawbath day."
"But ye're haein' a walk yersel', it seems, Thomas."
"Ay; but I'm gaun ower the hills to my school. An' I maunna bide to claver wi' ye, for I hae a guid twa hoors' traivel afore me."
"Come hame wi' us, and hae a mou'fu' o' denner afore ye gang, Thomas," said Alec.
"Na, I thank ye. It does the sowl gude to fast a wee ae day in saiven. I had a piece, though, afore I cam' awa'. What am I braggin' o'! Gude day to ye."
"That's an honest man, Alec," said Cupples.
"He is," returned Alec. "But he never will do as other people do."
"Perhaps that's the source of his honesty—that he walks by an inward light," said Cupples thoughtfully.
The year wore on. Alec grew confident. They returned together to their old quarters. Alec passed his examinations triumphantly, and continued his studies with greater vigour than before. Especially he walked the hospitals with much attention and interest, ever warned by Cupples to beware lest he should come to regard a man as a physical machine, and so grow a mere doctoring machine himself.
Mr Fraser declined seeing him. The old man was in a pitiable condition, and indeed never lectured again.
Alec no more frequented his old dismal haunt by the seashore. The cry of the drowning girl would not have come to him as it would to the more finely nervous constitution of Mr Cupples; but the cry of a sea-gull, or the wash of the waves, or even the wind across the tops of the sand-hills, would have been enough to make him see in every crest which the wind tore white in the gloamin, the forlorn figure of the girl he loved vanishing from his eyes.
The more heartily he worked the more did the evil as well as the painful portions of his history recede into the background of his memory, growing more and more like the traces left by a bad, turbid, and sorrowful dream.
Is it true that all our experiences will one day revive in entire clearness of outline and full brilliancy of colour, passing before the horror-struck soul to the denial of time, and the assertion of ever-present eternity? If so, then God be with us, for we shall need him.
Annie Anderson's great-aunt took to her bed directly after her husband's funeral.
Finding there was much to do about the place, Annie felt no delicacy as to remaining. She worked harder than ever she had worked before, blistered her hands, and browned her fair face and neck altogether autumnally. Her aunt and she together shore (reaped) the little field of oats; got the sheaves home and made a rick of them; dug up the potatoes, and covered them in a pit with a blanket of earth; looked after the one cow and calf which gathered the grass along the road and river sides; fed the pigs and the poultry, and even went with a neighbour and his cart to the moss, to howk (dig) their winter-store of peats. But this they found too hard for them, and were forced to give up. Their neighbours, however, provided their fuel, as they had often done in part for old John Peterson.
Before the winter came there was little left to be done; and Annie saw by her aunt's looks that she wanted to get rid of her. Margaret Anderson had a chronic, consuming sense of poverty, and therefore worshipped with her whole soul the monkey Lars of saving and vigilance. Hence Annie, as soon as Alec was gone, went, with the simplicity belonging to her childlike nature, to see Mrs Forbes, and returned to Clippenstrae only to bid them good-bye.
The bodily repose and mental activity of the winter formed a strong contrast with her last experiences. But the rainy, foggy, frosty, snowy months passed away much as they had done before, fostering, amongst other hidden growths, that of Mrs Forbes' love for her semi-protegee, whom, like Castor and Pollux, she took half the year to heaven, and sent the other half to Tartarus. One notable event, however, of considerable importance in its results to the people of Howglen, took place this winter amongst the missionars of Glamerton.
So entire was Thomas Crann's notion of discipline, that it could not be satisfied with the mere riddance of Robert Bruce. Jealous, therefore, of encroachment on the part of minister or deacons, and opposed by his friend James Johnstone, he communicated his design to no one; for he knew that the higher powers, anxious to avoid scandal wherever possible, would, instead of putting the hypocrite to shame as he deserved, merely send him a civil letter, requesting him to withdraw from their communion. After watching for a fit opportunity, he resolved at length to make his accusation against Robert Bruce in person at an approaching church-meeting, at which, in consequence of the expected discussion of the question of the proper frequency of the administration of the sacrament, a full attendance of members might be expected.
They met in the chapel, which was partially lighted for the occasion. The night was brilliant with frosty stars, as Thomas walked to the rendezvous. He felt the vigour of the season in his yet unsubdued limbs, but as he watched his breath curling in the frosty air, and then vanishing in the night, he thought how the world itself would pass away before the face of Him that sat on the great white throne; and how the missionars of Glamerton would have nothing to say for themselves on that day, if they did not purify themselves on this. From the faint light of the stars he passed into the dull illumination of the tallow candles, and took his place in silence behind their snuffer, who, though half-witted, had yet shown intelligence and piety enough for admission into the community. The church slowly gathered, and at length Mr Turnbull appeared, supported by his deacons.
After the usual preliminary devotions, in which Robert Bruce "engaged," the business of the meeting was solemnly introduced. The only part which Thomas Crann took in it was to expostulate with the candle-snuffer, who being violently opposed to the wishes of the minister, and not daring to speak, kept grumbling in no inaudible voice at everything that came from that side of the house.
"Hoot, Richard! it's Scriptur', ye ken," said Thomas, soothingly.
"Scriptur' or no Scriptur', we're nae for't," growled Richard aloud, and rising, gave vent to his excited feelings by snuffing out and relighting every candle in its turn.
At length the further discussion of the question was postponed to the next meeting, and the minister was preparing to give out a hymn, when Thomas Crann's voice arose in the dusky space. Mr Turnbull stopped to listen, and there fell an expectant silence; for the stone-mason was both reverenced and feared. It was too dark to see more than the dim bulk of his figure, but he spoke with slow emphasis, and every word was heard.
"Brethren and office-beirers o' the church, it's upo' discipline that I want to speak. Discipline is ane o' the main objecs for which a church is gathered by the speerit o' God. And we maun work discipleen amo' oorsels, or else the rod o' the Almichty'll come doon upon a' oor backs. I winna haud ye frae particulars ony langer.—Upon a certain Sawbath nicht i' the last year, I gaed into Robert Bruce's hoose, to hae worship wi' 'm.—I'm gaein straucht and fair to the pint at ance. Whan he opened the buik, I saw him slip something oot atween the leaves o' 't, and crunkle 't up in 's han', luikin his greediest. Syne he read the twenty-third and fourt psalms. I cudna help watchin' him, and whan we gaed down upo' oor k-nees, I luikit roon efter him, and saw him pit something intil's breek-pooch. Weel, it stack to me. Efterhin (afterwards) I fand oot frae the lassie Annie Anderson, that the buik was hers, that auld Mr Cooie had gien't till her upo' 's deith-bed, and had tell't her forbye that he had pitten a five poun' note atween the leaves o' 't, to be her ain in remembrance o' him, like. What say ye to that, Robert Bruce?"
"It's a' a lee," cried Robert, out of the dark back-ground under the gallery, where he always placed himself at such meetings, "gotten up atween yersel' and that ungratefu' cousin o' mine, Jeames Anderson's lass, wha I hae keepit like ane o' my ain."
Bruce had been sitting trembling; but when Thomas put the question, believing that he had heard all that Thomas had to say, and that there was no proof against him, he resolved at once to meet the accusation with a stout denial. Whereupon Thomas resumed:
"Ye hear him deny't. Weel, I hae seen the said Bible mysel'; and there's this inscription upo' ane o' the blank leaves o' 't: 'Over the twenty-third psalm o' David,'—I tellt ye that he read that psalm that night—'Over the twenty-third psalm o' David, I hae laid a five poun' note for my dear Annie Anderson, efter my deith!' Syne followed the nummer o' the note, which I can shaw them that wants to see. Noo I hae the banker's word for statin' that upo' the very Monday mornin' efter that Sunday, Bruce paid into the bank a five poun' note o' that verra indentical nummer. What say ye to that, Robert Bruce?"
A silence followed. Thomas himself broke it with the words:
"That money he oucht to hae supposed was Mr Cooie's, and returned it till's dochters. But he pays't intil's ain accoont. Ca' ye na that a breach o' the eicht commandment, Robert Bruce?"
But now Robert Bruce rose. And he spoke with solemnity and pathos.
"It's a sair thing, sirs, that amo' Christians, wha ca' themsel's a chosen priesthood and a peculiar people, a jined member o' the same church should meet wi' sic ill-guideship as I hae met wi' at the han's o' Mr Crann. To say naething o' his no bein' ashamed to confess bein' sic a heepocreet i' the sicht o' God as to luik aboot him upon his knees, lyin' in wait for a man to do him hurt whan he pretendit to be worshippin' wi' him afore the Lord his Maker, to say naething o' that which I wadna hae expeckit o' him, he gangs aboot for auchteen months contrivin' to bring that man to disgrace because he daurna mak' sic a strong profession as he mak's himsel'. But the warst o' 't a' is, that he beguiles a young thochtless bairn, wha has been the cause o' muckle discomfort in oor hoose, to jine him i' the plot. It's true eneuch that I took the bank-note frae the Bible, whilk was a verra unshuitable place to put the unrichteous mammon intil, and min's me upo' the money-changers i' the temple; and it's true that I paid it into the bank the neist day—"
"What garred ye deny't, than?" interrupted Thomas.
"Bide a wee, Mr Crann, and caw canny. Ye hae been hearkened till wi'oot interruption, and I maun hae fair play here whatever I get frae yersel'. I didna deny the fac. Wha could deny a fac? But I denied a' the haill affair, i' the licht o' wickedness and thievin' that Mr Crann was castin' upo' 't. I saw that inscription and read it wi' my ain een the verra day the lassie brocht the beuk, and kenned as weel's Mr Crann that the siller wasna to be taen hame again. But I said to mysel': "It'll turn the lassie's heid, and she'll jist fling't awa' in murlocks (crumbs) upo' sweeties, and plunky, and sic like,' for she was aye greedy, 'sae I'll jist pit it into the bank wi' my ain, and accoont for't efterhin wi' the lave o' her bit siller whan I gie that up intil her ain han's. Noo, Mr Crann!"
He sat down, and Mr Turnbull rose.
"My Christian brethren," he said, "it seems to me that this is not the proper place to discuss such a question. It seems to me likewise ill-judged of Mr Crann to make such an accusation in public against Mr Bruce, who, I must say, has met it with a self-restraint and a self-possession most creditable to him, and has answered it in a very satisfactory manner. The hundredth psalm."
"Hooly and fairly, sir!" exclaimed Thomas, forgetting his manners in his eagerness. "I haena dune yet. And whaur wad be the place to discuss sic a queston but afore a' meetin o' the church? Ca' ye that the public, sir? Wasna the church institute for the sake o' discipleen? Sic things are no to be ironed oot in a hole an' a corner, atween you and the deycons, sir. They belang to the haill body. We're a' wranged thegither, and the Holy Ghost, whase temple we sud be, is wranged forby. You at least micht ken, sir, that he's withdrawn his presence frae oor mids', and we are but a candle under a bushel, and not a city set upon a hill. We beir no witness. And the cause o' his displeesur' is the accursed thing which the Ahchan in oor camp has hidden i' the Coonty Bank, forby mony ither causes that come hame to us a'. And the warl' jist scoffs at oor profession o' religion, whan it sees sic a man as that in oor mids'."
"All this is nothing to the point, Mr Crann," said Mr Turnbull in displeasure.
"It's to the verra hert o' the pint," returned Thomas, equally displeased. "Gin Robert Bruce saw the inscription the day the lassie broucht hame the buik, will he tell me hoo it was that he cam' to lea' the note i' the buik till that Sawbath nicht?"
"I luikit for 't, but I cudna fin' 't, and thocht she had ta'en 't oot upo' the road hame."
"Cudna ye fin' the twenty-third psalm?—But jist ae thing mair, Mr Turnbull, and syne I'll haud my tongue," resumed Thomas.—"Jeames Johnstone, will ye rin ower to my hoose, and fess the Bible? It's lyin' upo' the drawers. Ye canna mistak' it.—Jist hae patience till he comes back, sir, and we'll see hoo Mr Bruce'll read the inscription. I wad hae made nothing o' 't, gin it hadna been for a frien' o' mine. But Mr Bruce is a scholar, an' 'll read the Laitin till 's."
By this time James Johnstone was across the street.
"There's some foul play in this," cried Bruce, out of the darkness. "My enemy maun sen' for an ootlandish speech and a heathen tongue to insnare ane o' the brethren!"
Profound silence followed. All sat expectant. The snuff of the candles grew longer and longer. Even the energetic Richard, who had opposed the Scripture single-handed, forgot his duty in the absorbing interest of the moment. Every ear was listening for the footsteps of the returning weaver, bringing the Bible of the parish-clergyman into the half-unhallowed precincts of a conventicle. At a slight motion of one of the doors, an audible start of expectation broke like an electric spark from the still people. But nothing came of it. They had to wait full five minutes yet before the messenger returned, bearing the large volume in both hands in front of him.
"Tak' the buik up to Mr Turnbull, Jeames, and snuff his can'les," said Thomas.
James took the snuffers, but Richard started up, snatched them from him, and performed the operation himself with his usual success.
The book being laid on the desk before Mr Turnbull, Thomas called out into the back region of the chapel,
"Noo, Robert Bruce, come foret, and fin' oot this inscription that ye ken a' aboot sae weel, and read it to the church, that they may see what a scholar they hae amo' them."
But there was neither voice nor hearing.
After a pause, Mr Turnbull spoke.
"Mr Bruce, we're waiting for you," he said. "Do not be afraid. You shall have justice."
A dead silence followed the appeal. Presently some of those furthest back—they were women in hooded cloaks and mutches—spoke in scarce audible voices.
"He's no here, sir. We canna see him," they said.
The minister could not distinguish their words.
"No here!" cried Thomas, who, deaf as he was, had heard them. "He was here a minute ago! His conscience has spoken at last. He's fa'en doon, like Ananias, i' the seat."
Richard snatched a candle out of the candelabrum, and went to look. Others followed similarly provided. They searched the pew where he had been sitting, and the neighbouring pews, and the whole chapel, but he was nowhere to be found.
"That wad hae been him, whan I heard the door bang," they said to each other at length.
And so it was. For perceiving how he had committed himself, he had slipped down in the pew, crawled on all fours to the door, and got out of the place unsuspected.
A formal sentence of expulsion was passed upon him by a show of hands, and the word Expelled was written against his name in the list of church-members.
"Thomas Crann, will you engage in prayer," said Mr Turnbull.
"Na, nae the nicht," answered Thomas. "I'm like ane under the auld law that had been buryin' the deid. I hae been doin' necessar' but foul wark, and I'm defiled in consequence. I'm no in a richt speerit to pray in public. I maun awa' hame to my prayers. I houp I mayna do something mysel' afore lang that'll mak' it necessar' for ye to dismiss me neist. But gin that time sud come, spare not, I beseech ye."
So, after a short prayer from Mr Turnbull, the meeting separated in a state of considerable excitement. Thomas half expected to hear of an action for libel, but Robert knew better than venture upon that. Besides, no damages could be got out of Thomas.
When Bruce was once outside the chapel, he assumed the erect posture to which his claim was entirely one of species, and went home by circuitous ways. He found the shop still open, attended by his wife.
"Preserve's, Robert! what's come ower ye?" she exclaimed.
"I had sic a sair heid (headache), I was forced to come oot afore a' was dune," he answered. "I dinna think I'll gang ony mair, for they dinna conduc' things a'thegither to my likin'. I winna fash mair wi' them."
His wife looked at him anxiously, perhaps with some vague suspicion of the truth; but she said nothing, and I do not believe the matter was ever alluded to between them. The only indications remaining the next day of what he had gone through that evening, consisted in an increase of suavity towards his grown customers, and of acerbity towards the children who were unfortunate enough to enter his shop.
Of the two, however, perhaps Thomas Crann was the more unhappy as he went home that night. He felt nothing of the elation which commonly springs from success in a cherished project. He had been the promoter and agent in the downfall of another man, and although the fall was a just one, and it was better too for the man to be down than standing on a false pedestal, Thomas could not help feeling the reaction of a fellow-creature's humiliation. Now that the thing was done, and the end gained, the eternal brotherhood asserted itself, and Thomas pitied Bruce and mourned over him. He must be to him henceforth as a heathen man and a publican, and he was sorry for him. "Ye see," he said to himself, "it's no like a slip or a sin; but an evil disease cleaveth fast unto him, and there's sma' chance o' him ever repentin' noo. A'thing has been dune for him that can be dune."
Yet Thomas worshipped a God, who, if the theories Thomas held were correct, could at once, by the free gift of a Holy Spirit, generate repentance in Bruce, and so make him fit for salvation; but who, Thomas believed, would not do so—at all events, might not do so—keeping him alive for ever in howling unbelief instead.
Scarcely any of the "members" henceforth saluted Bruce in the street. None of them traded with him, except two or three who owed him a few shillings, and could not pay him. And the modifying effect upon the week's returns was very perceptible. This was the only form in which a recognizable vengeance could have reached him. To escape from it, he had serious thoughts of leaving the place, and setting up in some remote village.
Notwithstanding Alec's diligence and the genial companionship of Mr Cupples—whether the death of Kate, or his own illness, or the reaction of shame after his sojourn in the tents of wickedness, had opened dark visions of the world of reality lying in awful unknownness around the life he seemed to know, I cannot tell,—cold isolations would suddenly seize upon him, wherein he would ask himself—that oracular cave in which one hears a thousand questions before one reply—"What is the use of it all—this study and labour?" And he interpreted the silence to mean: "Life is worthless. There is no glow in it—only a glimmer and shine at best."—Will my readers set this condition down as one of disease? If they do, I ask, "Why should a man be satisfied with anything such as was now within the grasp of Alec Forbes?" And if they reply that a higher ambition would have set him at peace if not at rest, I only say that they would be nearer health if they had his disease. Pain is not malady; it is the revelation of malady—the meeting and recoil between the unknown death and the unknown life; that jar of the system whereby the fact becomes known to the man that he is ill. There was disease in Alec, but the disease did not lie in his dissatisfaction. It lay in that poverty of life with which those are satisfied who call such discontent disease. Such disease is the first flicker of the aurora of a rising health.
This state of feeling, however, was only occasional; and a reviving interest in anything belonging to his studies, or a merry talk with Mr Cupples, would dispel it for a time, just as a breath of fine air will give the sense of perfect health to one dying of consumption.
But what made these questionings develope into the thorns of a more definite self-condemnation—the advanced guard sometimes of the roses of peace—was simply this:
He had written to his mother for money to lay out upon superior instruments, and new chemical apparatus; and his mother had replied sadly that she was unable to send it. She hinted that his education had cost more than she had expected. She told him that she was in debt to Robert Bruce, and had of late been compelled to delay the payment of its interest. She informed him also that, even under James Dow's conscientious management, there seemed little ground for hoping that the farm would ever make a return correspondent to the large outlay his father had made upon it.
This letter stung Alec to the heart. That his mother should be in the power of such a man as Bruce, was bad enough; but that she should have been exposed for his sake to the indignity of requesting his forbearance, seemed unendurable. To despise the man was no satisfaction, the right and the wrong being where they were.—And what proportion of the expenses of last session had gone to his college-accounts?
He wrote a humble letter to his mother—and worked still harder. For although he could not make a shilling at present, the future had hope in it.
Meantime Mr Cupples, in order that he might bear such outward signs of inward grace as would appeal to the perceptions of the Senatus, got a new hat, and changed his shabby tail-coat for a black frock. His shirt ceased to be a hypothesis to account for his collar, and became a real hypostasis, evident and clean. These signs of improvement led to inquiries on the part of the Senatus, and the result was that, before three months of the session were over, he was formally installed as librarian. His first impulse on receiving the good news was to rush down to Luckie Cumstie's and have a double-tumbler. But conscience was too strong for Satan, and sent him home to his pipe—which, it must be confessed, he smoked twice as much as before his reformation.
From the moment of his appointment, he seemed to regard the library as his own private property, or, rather, as his own family. He was grandfather to the books: at least a grandfather shows that combination of parent and servant which comes nearest to the relation he henceforth manifested towards them. Most of them he gave out graciously; some of them grudgingly; a few of them with much reluctance; but all of them with injunctions to care, and special warnings against forcing the backs, crumpling or folding the leaves, and making thumb-marks.
"Noo," he would say to some country bejan, "tak' the buik i' yer han's no as gin 'twar a neip (turnip), but as gin 'twar the sowl o' a new-born bairn. Min' ye it has to sair (serve) mony a generation efter your banes lie bare i' the moul', an' ye maun hae respec' to them that come efter ye, and no ill-guide their fare. I beg ye winna guddle't (mangle it)."
The bejans used to laugh at him in consequence. But long before they were magistrands, the best of them had a profound respect for the librarian. Not a few of them repaired to him with all their difficulties; and such a general favourite was he, that any story of his humour or oddity was sure to be received with a roar of loving laughter. Indeed I doubt whether, within the course of a curriculum, Mr Cupples had not become the real centre of intellectual and moral life in that college.
One evening, as he and Alec were sitting together speculating on the speediest mode of turning Alec's acquirements to money-account, their landlady entered.
"Here's my cousin," she said, "Captain McTavish o' the Sea-horse, Mr Forbes, wha says that afore lang he'll be wantin' a young doctor to gang and haud the scurvy aff o' his men at the whaul-fishin'. Sae of coorse I thoucht o' my ain first, and ran up the stair to you. It'll be fifty poun' i' yer pooch, and a plenty o' rouch ploys that the like o' you young fallows likes, though I canna say I wad like sic things mysel'. Only I'm an auld wife, ye see, and that maks the differ."
"Nae that auld, Mistress Leslie," said Cupples, "gin ye wadna lee."
"Tell Captain McTavish that I'll gang," said Alec, who had hesitated no longer than the time Mr Cupples took to say the word of kind flattery to their landlady.
"He'll want testimonials, ye ken."
"Wadna ye gie me ane, Mrs Leslie?"
"'Deed wad I, gin 'twar o' ony accoont. Ye see, Mr Alec, the day's no yesterday; and this session's no the last."
"Haud yer tongue, and dinna rub a sair place," cried Mr Cupples.
"I beg yer pardon," returned Mrs Leslie, submissively.
Alec followed her down the stair.
He soon returned, his eyes flashing with delight. Adventure! And fifty pounds to take to his mother!
"All right, Mr Cupples. The Captain has promised to take me if my testimonials are satisfactory. I think they will give me good ones now. If it weren't for you, I should have been lying in the gutter instead of walking the quarter-deck."
"Weel, weel, bantam. There's twa sides to maist obligations.—I'm leebrarian."
The reader may remember that in his boyhood Alec was fond of the sea, had rigged a flagstaff, and had built the Bonnie Annie. He was nearly beside himself with delight, which continued unjarred until he heard from his mother. She had too much good sense to make any opposition, but she could not prevent her anticipations of loss and loneliness from appearing. His mother's trouble quelled the exuberance of Alec's spirits without altering his resolve. He would return to her in the fall of the year, bringing with him what would ease her mind of half its load.
There was no check at the examinations this session.
Mrs Forbes was greatly perplexed about Annie. She could not bear the thought of turning her out; and besides she did not see where she was to go, for she could not be in the house with young Bruce. On the other hand, she had still the same dangerous sense of worldly duty as to the prevention of a so-called unsuitable match, the chance of which was more threatening than ever. For Annie had grown very lovely, and having taken captive the affections of the mother, must put the heart of the son in dire jeopardy. But Alec arrived two days before he was expected, and delivered his mother from her perplexity by declaring that if Annie were sent away he too would leave the house. He had seen through the maternal precautions the last time he was at home, and talking with Cupples about it, who secretly wished for no better luck than that Alec should fall in love with Annie, had his feelings strengthened as to the unkindness, if not injustice, of throwing her periodically into such a dungeon as the society of the Bruces. So Annie remained where she was, much, I must confess, to her inward content.
The youth and the maiden met every day—the youth unembarrassed, and the maiden reserved and shy, even to the satisfaction of the mother. But if Alec could have seen the loving thoughts which, like threads of heavenly gold (for all the gold of heaven is invisible), wrought themselves into the garments she made for him, I do not think he could have helped falling in love with her, although most men, I fear, would only have fallen the more in love with themselves, and cared the less for her. But he did not see them, or hear the divine measures to which her needle flew, as she laboured to arm him against the cold of those regions
Where all life dies, death lives, and nature breeds, Perverse, all monstrous, all prodigious things.
Alec's college-life had interposed a gulf between him and his previous history. But his approaching departure into places unknown and a life untried, operated upon his spiritual condition like the approach of death; and he must strengthen again all the old bonds which had been stretched thin by time and absence; he must make righteous atonement for the wrong of neglect; in short, he must set his inward house in order, ere he went forth to the abodes of ice. Death is not a breaker but a renewer of ties. And if in view of death we gird up the loins of our minds, and unite our hearts into a whole of love, and tenderness, and atonement, and forgiveness, then Death himself cannot be that thing of forlornness and loss.
He took a day to go and see Curly, and spent a pleasant afternoon with him, recalling the old times, and the old stories, and the old companions; for the youth with the downy chin has a past as ancient as that of the man with the gray beard. And Curly told him the story of his encounter with young Bruce on the bank of the Wan Water. And over and over again Annie's name came up, but Curly never hinted at her secret.
The next evening he went to see Thomas Crann. Thomas received him with a cordiality amounting even to gruff tenderness.
"I'm richt glaid to see ye," he said; "and I tak' it verra kin' o' ye, wi' a' yer gran' learnin', to come and see an ignorant man like me. But Alec, my man, there's some things 'at I ken better nor ye ken them yet. Him that made the whauls is better worth seekin' nor the whauls themsel's. God's works may swallow the man that follows them, but God himsel' 's the hidin'-place frae the wind, and the covert frae the tempest. Set na up nae fause God—that's the thing 'at ye lo'e best, ye ken—for like Dawgon, it'll fa', and maybe brain ye i' the fa'. Come doon upo' yer knees wi' me, and I'll pray for ye. But ye maun pray for yersel', or my prayers winna be o' muckle avail: ye ken that."
Yielding to the spiritual power of Thomas, whose gray-blue eyes were flashing with fervour, Alec kneeled down as he was desired, and Thomas said:
"O thou who madest the whales to play i' the great watters, and gavest unto men sic a need o' licht that they maun hunt the leviathan to haud their lamps burnin' at nicht whan thou hast sent thy sun awa' to ither lands, be thou roon' aboot this youth, wha surely is nae muckle waur than him 'at the Saviour lo'ed; and when thou seest his ship gang sailin' into the far north whaur thou keepest thy stores o' frost and snaw ready to remin' men o' thy goodness by takin' the heat frae them for a sizzon—when thou seest his ship gaein far north, pit doon thy finger, O Lord, and straik a track afore't, throu' amo' the hills o' ice, that it may gang throu' in saf-ety, even as thy chosen people gaed throu' the Reid Sea, and the river o' Jordan. For, Lord, we want him hame again in thy good time. For he is the only son of his mother, and she is a widow. But aboon a', O Lord, elec' him to thy grace and lat him ken the glory o' God, even the licht o' thy coontenance. For me, I'm a' thine, to live or dee, and I care not which. For I hae gotten the gueed o' this warl'; and gin I binna ready for the neist, it's because o' my sins, and no o' my savours. For I wad glaidle depairt and be with the Lord. But this young man has never seen thy face; and, O Lord, I'm jist feared that my coontenance micht fa' even in thy kingdom, gin I kent that Alec Forbes was doon i' the ill place. Spare him, O Lord, and gie him time for repentance gin he has a chance; but gin he has nane, tak' him at ance, that his doom may be the lichter."
Alec rose with a very serious face, and went home to his mother in a mood more concordant with her feelings than the light-heartedness with which he generally tried to laugh away her apprehensions.
He even called on Robert Bruce, at his mother's request. It went terribly against the grain with him though. He expected to find him rude as of old, but he was, on the contrary, as pleasant as a man could be whose only notion of politeness lay in licking.
His civility came from two sources—the one hope, the other fear. Alec was going away and might never return. That was the hope. For although Bruce had spread the report of Annie's engagement to Curly, he believed that Alec was the real obstacle to his plans. At the same time he was afraid of him, believing in his cowardly mind that Alec would not stop short of personal reprisals if he should offend him; and now he was a great six-foot fellow, of whose prowess at college confused and exaggerated stories were floating about the town.—Bruce was a man who could hatch and cherish plans, keeping one in reserve behind the other, and beholding their result from afar.
"Ay! ay! Mr Forbes—sae ye're gaun awa' amo' the train-ile, are ye? Hae ye ony share i' the tak' no?"
"I don't think the doctor has any share," answered Alec.
"But I warran' ye'll put to yer han', and help at the catchin'."
"Weel, gin ye come in for a barrel or twa, ye may coont upo' me to tak it aff yer han', at the ordinar' price—to the wholesale merchan's, ye ken—wi' maybe a sma' discoont for orderin' 't afore the whaul was ta'en."
The day drew near. He had bidden all his friends farewell. He must go just as the spring was coming in with the old well-beloved green borne before her on the white banner of the snowdrop, and following in miles of jubilation: he must not wait for her triumph, but speed away before her towards the dreary north, which only a few of her hard-riding pursuivants would ever reach. For green hills he must have opal-hued bergs—for green fields the outspread slaty waters, rolling in the delight of their few weeks of glorious freedom, and mocking the unwieldy ice-giants that rush in wind-driven troops across their plains, or welter captive in the weary swell, and melt away beneath the low summer sun.
His mother would have gone to see him on board, but he prevailed upon her to say good-bye to him at home. She kept her tears till after he was gone. Annie bade him farewell with a pale face, and a smile that was all sweetness and no gladness. She did not weep even afterwards. A gentle cold hand pressed her heart down, so that neither blood reached her face nor water her eyes. She went about everything just as before, because it had to be done; but it seemed foolish to do anything. The spring might as well stay away for any good that it promised either of them.
As Mr Cupples was taking his farewell on board,
"Ye'll gang and see my mother?" said Alec.
"Ay, ay, bantam; I'll do that.—Noo tak care o' yersel; and dinna tak leeberties wi' behemoth. Put a ring in's nose gin ye like, only haud oot ower frae's tail. He's no mowse (not to be meddled with)."
So away went Alec northwards, over the blue-gray waters, surgeon of the strong barque Sea-horse.
Two days after Alec's departure, Mr Bruce called at Howglen to see Annie.
"Hoo are ye, Mistress Forbes? Hoo are ye, Miss Anderson? I was jist comin' ower the watter for a walk, and I thocht I micht as weel fess the bit siller wi' me that I'm awin ye."
Annie stared. She did not know what he meant. He explained.
"It's weel on till a towmon (twelvemonth) that ye hae had neither bite nor sup aneath my heumble riggin-tree (rooftree), and as that was the upmak for the interest, I maun pay ye the tane seein' ye winna accep' o' the tither. I hae jist brocht ye ten poun' to pit i' yer ain pooch i' the meantime."
Annie could hardly believe her ears. Could she be the rightful owner of such untold wealth? Without giving her time to say anything, however, Bruce went on, still holding in his hand the dirty bunch of one-pound notes.
"But I'm thinkin' the best way o' disposin' o' 't wad be to lat me put it to the lave o' the prencipal. Sae I'll jist tak it to the bank as I gang back. I canna gie ye onything for 't, 'cause that wad be brakin' the law against compoon interest, but I can mak' it up some ither gait, ye ken."
But Annie had been too much pleased at the prospect of possession to let the money go so easily.
"I hae plenty o' ways o' spen'in' 't," she said, "withoot wastry. Sae I'll jist tak' it mysel', and thank ye, Mr Bruce."
She rose and took the notes from Bruce's unwilling hand. He was on the point of replacing them in his trowsers-pocket and refusing to give them up, when her promptitude rescued them. Discomfiture was manifest in his reluctant eyes, and the little tug of retraction with which he loosed his hold upon the notes. He went home mortified, and poverty-stricken, but yet having gained a step towards a further end.
Annie begged Mrs Forbes to take the money.
"I have no use for it, ma'am. An old gown of yours makes as good a frock for me as I can ever want to have."
But Mrs Forbes would not even take charge of the money—partly from the pride of beneficence, partly from the fear of involving it in her own straits. So that Annie, having provided herself with a few necessaries, felt free to spend the rest as she would. How she longed for Tibbie Dyster! But not having her, she went to Thomas Crann, and offered the money to him.
"'Deed no, lassie! I winna lay a finger upo' 't. Lay't by till ye want it yersel'."
"Dinna ye ken somebody that wants't mair nor me, Thomas?"
Now Thomas had just been reading a few words spoken, according to Matthew, the tax-gatherer, by the King of Men, declaring the perfection of God to consist in his giving good things to all alike, whether they love him or not. And when Annie asked the question, he remembered the passage and Peter Peterson together. But he could not trust her to follow her own instincts, and therefore went with her to see the poor fellow, who was in a consumption, and would never drink any more. When he saw his worn face, and the bones with hands at the ends of them, his heart smote him that he had ever been harsh to him; and although he had gone with the intention of rousing him to a sense of his danger beyond the grave, he found that for very pity he could not open the prophetic mouth. From self-accusation he took shelter behind Annie, saying to himself: "Babes can best declare what's best revealed to them;" and left Peter to her ministrations.
A little money went far to make his last days comfortable; and ere she had been visiting him for more than a month, he loved her so that he was able to believe that God might love him, though he knew perfectly (wherein perhaps his drunkenness had taught him more than the prayers of many a pharisee) that he could not deserve it.
This was the beginning of a new relation between Annie and the poor of Glamerton. And the soul of the maiden grew and blossomed into divine tenderness, for it was still more blessed to give than to receive. But she was only allowed to taste of this blessedness, for she had soon to learn that even giving itself must be given away cheerfully.
After three months Bruce called again with the quarter's interest. Before the next period arrived he had an interview with James Dow, to whom he represented that, as he was now paying the interest down in cash, he ought not to be exposed to the inconvenience of being called upon at any moment to restore the principal, but should have the money secured to him for ten years. After consultation, James Dow consented to a three years' loan, beyond which he would not yield. Papers to this effect were signed, and one quarter's interest more was placed in Annie's willing hand.
In the middle of summer Mr Cupples made his appearance, and was warmly welcomed. He had at length completed the catalogue of the library, had got the books arranged to his mind, and was brimful of enjoyment. He ran about the fields like a child; gathered bunches of white clover; made a great kite, and bought an unmeasureable length of string, with which he flew it the first day the wind was worthy of the honour; got out Alec's boat, and upset himself in the Glamour; was run away with by one of the plough-horses in the attempt to ride him to the water; was laughed at and loved by everybody about Howglen. At length, that is, in about ten days, he began to settle down into sobriety of demeanour. The first thing that sobered him was a hint of yellow upon a field of oats. He began at once to go and see the people of Glamerton, and called upon Thomas Crann first.
He found him in one of his gloomy moods, which however were much less frequent than they had been.
"Hoo are ye, auld frien'?" said Cupples.
"Auld as ye say, sir, and nae muckle farrer on nor whan I begud. I whiles think I hae profited less than onybody I ken. But eh, sir, I wad be sorry, gin I was you, to dee afore I had gotten a glimp o' the face o' God."
"Hoo ken ye that I haena gotten a glimp o' that same?"
"Ye wad luik mair solemn like," answered Thomas.
"Maybe I wad," responded Cupples, seriously.
"Man, strive to get it. Gie Him no rist, day nor nicht, till ye get it. Knock, knock, knock, till it be opened till ye."
"Weel, Thomas, ye dinna seem sae happy yersel', efter a'. Dinna ye think ye may be like ane that's tryin' to see the face o' whilk ye speyk throu a crack i' the door, in place o' haein patience till it's opened?"
But the suggestion was quite lost upon Thomas, who, after a gloomy pause, went on.
"Sin's sic an awfu' thing," he began; when the door opened, and in walked James Dow.
His entrance did not interrupt Thomas, however.
"Sin's sic an awfu' thing! And I hae sinned sae aften and sae lang, that maybe He'll be forced efter a' to sen' me to the bottomless pit."
"Hoot, hoot, Thamas! dinna speyk sic awfu' things," said Dow. "They're dreadfu' to hearken till. I s' warran' He's as kin'-hertit as yersel."
James had no reputation for piety, though much for truthfulness and honesty. Nor had he any idea how much lay in the words he had hastily uttered. A light-gleam grew and faded on Thomas's face.
"I said, he micht be forced to sen' me efter a'."
"What, Thomas!" cried Cupples. "He cudna save ye! Wi' the Son and the Speerit to help him? And a willin' hert in you forbye? Fegs! ye hae a greater opinion o' Sawtan nor I gied ye the discredit o'."
"Na, na; it's nae Sawtan. It's mysel'. I wadna lay mair wyte (blame) upo' Sawtan's shouthers nor's his ain. He has eneuch already, puir fallow!"
"Ye'll be o' auld Robbie Burns's opinion, that he 'aiblins micht still hae a stake.'"
"Na, na; he has nane. Burns was nae prophet."
"But jist suppose, Thomas—gin the de'il war to repent."
"Man!" exclaimed the stonemason, rising to his full height with slow labour after the day's toil, "it wad be cruel to gar him repent. It wad be ower sair upon him. Better kill him. The bitterness o' sic repentance wad be ower terrible. It wad be mair nor he cud bide. It wad brak his hert a'thegither.—Na, na, he has nae chance."
The last sentence was spoken quickly and with attempted carelessness as he resumed his seat.
"Hoo ken ye that?" asked Cupples.
"There's no sic word i' the Scriptur'."
"Do ye think He maun tell us a' thing?"
"We hae nae richt to think onything that He doesna tell's."
"I'm nae sae sure o' that, Thomas. Maybe, whiles, he doesna tell's a thing jist to gar's think aboot it, and be ready for the time whan he will tell's."
Thomas was silent for a few moments. Then with a smile—rather a grim one—he said,
"Here's a curious thing, no.—There's neyther o' you convertit, and yet yer words strenthen my hert as gin they cam frae the airt (region) aboon."
But his countenance changed, and he added hastily,
"It's a mark o' indwellin' sin. To the law and to the testimony—Gang awa' and lat me to my prayers."
They obeyed; for either they felt that nothing but his prayers would do, or they were awed, and dared not remain.
Mr Cupples could wait. Thomas could not.
The Forlorn Hope of men must storm the walls of Heaven.
Amongst those who sit down at the gate till one shall come and open it, are to be found both the wise and the careless children.
Mr Cupples returned to his work, for the catalogue had to be printed.
The weeks and months passed on, and the time drew nigh when it would be no folly to watch the mail-coach in its pride of scarlet and gold, as possibly bearing the welcome letter announcing Alec's return. At length, one morning, Mrs Forbes said:
"We may look for him every day now, Annie."
She did not know with what a tender echo her words went roaming about in Annie's bosom, awaking a thousand thought-birds in the twilight land of memory, which had tucked their heads under their wings to sleep, and thereby to live.
But the days went on and the hope was deferred. The rush of the Sea-horse did not trouble the sands of the shallow bar, or sweep, with fiercely ramping figure-head, past the long pier-spike, stretching like the hand of welcome from the hospitable shore. While they fancied her full-breasted sails, swelled as with sighs for home, bowing lordly over the submissive waters, the Sea-horse lay a frozen mass, changed by the might of the winds and the snow and the frost into the grotesque ice-gaunt phantom of a ship, through which, the winter long, the winds would go whistling and raving, crowding upon it the snow and the crystal icicles, all in the wild waste of the desert north, with no ear to hear the sadness, and no eye to behold the deathly beauty.
At length the hope deferred began to make the heart sick. Dim anxiety passed into vague fear, and then deepened into dull conviction, over which ever and anon flickered a pale ghostly hope, like the fatuus over the swamp that has swallowed the unwary wanderer. Each would find the other wistfully watching to read any thought that might have escaped the vigilance of its keeper, and come up from the dungeon of the heart to air itself on the terraces of the face; and each would drop the glance hurriedly, as if caught in a fault. But the moment came when their meeting eyes were fixed and they burst into tears, each accepting the other's confession of hopeless grief as the seal and doom.
I will not follow them through the slow shadows of gathering fate. I will not record the fancies that tormented them, or describe the blank that fell upon the duties of the day. I will not tell how, as the winter drew on, they heard his voice calling in the storm for help, or how through the snow-drifts they saw him plodding wearily home. His mother forgot her debt, and ceased to care what became of herself. Annie's anxiety settled into an earnest prayer that she might not rebel against the will of God.
But the anxiety of Thomas Crann was not limited to the earthly fate of the lad. It extended to his fate in the other world—too probably, in his eyes, that endless, yearless, undivided fate, wherein the breath still breathed into the soul of man by his Maker is no longer the breath of life, but the breath of infinite death—
Sole Positive of Night, Antipathist of Light,
giving to the ideal darkness a real and individual hypostasis in helpless humanity, keeping men alive that the light in them may continue to be darkness.
Terrible were his agonies in wrestling with God for the life of the lad, and terrible his fear lest his own faith should fail him if his prayers should not be heard. Alec Forbes was to Thomas Crann as it were the representative of all his unsaved brothers and sisters of the human race, for whose sakes he, like the apostle Paul, would have gladly undergone what he dreaded for them. He went to see his mother; said "Hoo are ye, mem?" sat down; never opened his lips, except to utter a few commonplaces; rose and left her—a little comforted. Nor can anything but human sympathy alleviate the pain while it obscures not the presence of human grief. Do not remind me that the divine is better. I know it. But why?—Because the divine is the highest—the creative human. The sympathy of the Lord himself is the more human that it is divine.
And in Annie's face, as she ministered to her friend, shone, notwithstanding her full share in the sorrow, a light that came not from sun or stars—as it were a suppressed, waiting light. And Mrs Forbes felt the holy influences that proceeded both from her and from Thomas Crann.
How much easier it is to bear a trouble that comes upon a trouble than one that intrudes a death's head into the midst of a merry-making! Mrs Forbes scarcely felt it a trouble when she received a note from Robert Bruce informing her that, as he was on the point of removing to another place which offered great advantages for the employment of the little money he possessed, he would be obliged to her to pay as soon as possible the hundred pounds she owed him, along with certain arrears of interest specified. She wrote that it was impossible for her at present, and forgot the whole affair. But within three days she received a formal application for the debt from a new solicitor. To this she paid no attention, just wondering what would come next. After about three months a second application was made, according to legal form; and in the month of May a third arrived, with the hint from the lawyer that his client was now prepared to proceed to extremities; whereupon she felt for the first time that she must do something.
She sent for James Dow.
"Are you going to the market to-day, James?" she asked.
"'Deed am I, mem."
"Well, be sure and go into one of the tents, and have a good dinner."
"'Deed, mem, I'll do naething o' the sort. It's a sin and a shame to waste gude siller upo' broth an' beef. I'll jist pit a piece (of oatcake) in my pooch, and that'll fess me hame as well's a' their kail. I can bide onything but wastrie."
"It's very foolish of you, James."
"It's yer pleesur to say sae, mem."
"Well, tell me what to do about that."
And she handed him the letter.
James took it and read it slowly. Then he stared at his mistress. Then he read it again. At length, with a bewildered look, he said,
"Gin ye awe the siller, ye maun pay't, mem."
"But I can't."
"The Lord preserve's! What's to be dune? I hae bit thirty poun' hained (saved) up i' my kist. That wadna gang far."
"No, no, James," returned his mistress. "I am not going to take your money to pay Mr Bruce."
"He's an awfu' cratur that, mem. He wad tak the win'in' sheet aff o' the deid."
"Well, I must see what can be done. I'll go and consult Mr Gibb."
James took his leave, dejected on his mistress's account, and on his own. As he went out, he met Annie.
"Eh, Annie!" he said; "this is awfu'."
"What's the matter, Dooie?"
"That schochlin' (waddling, mean) cratur, Bruce, is mintin' (threatening) at roupin' the mistress for a wheen siller she's aucht him."
"He daurna!" exclaimed Annie.
"He'll daur onything but tyne (lose) siller. Eh! lassie, gin we hadna len' 't him yours!"
"I'll gang till him direcly. But dinna tell the mistress. She wadna like it."
"Na, na. I s' haud my tongue, I s' warran'.—Ye're the best cratur ever was born. She'll maybe perswaud the ill-faured tyke (dog)."
Murmuring the last two sentences to himself, he walked away. When Annie entered Bruce's shop, the big spider was unoccupied, and ready to devour her. He put on therefore his most gracious reception.
"Hoo are ye, Miss Anderson? I'm glaid to see ye. Come benn the hoose."
"No, I thank ye. I want to speak to yersel', Mr Bruce. What's a' this aboot Mrs Forbes and you?"
"Grit fowk maunna ride ower the tap o' puir fowk like me, Miss Anderson."
"She's a widow, Mr Bruce"—Annie could not add "and childless"—"and lays nae claim to be great fowk. It's no a Christian way o' treatin' her."
"Fowk maun hae their ain. It's mine, and I maun hae't. There's naething agen that i' the ten tables. There's nae gospel for no giein' fowk their ain. I'm nae a missionar noo. I dinna haud wi' sic things. I canna beggar my faimily to haud up her muckle hoose. She maun pay me, or I'll tak' it."
"Gin ye do, Mr Bruce, ye s' no hae my siller ae minute efter the time's up; and I'm sorry ye hae't till than."
"That's neither here nor there. Ye wad be wantin' 't or that time ony hoo."
Now Bruce had given up the notion of leaving Glamerton, for he had found that the patronage of the missionars in grocery was not essential to a certain measure of success; and he had no intention of proceeding to an auction of Mrs Forbes's goods, for he saw that would put him in a worse position with the public than any amount of quiet practice in lying and stealing. But there was every likelihood of Annie's being married some day; and then her money would be recalled, and he would be left without the capital necessary for carrying on his business upon the same enlarged scale—seeing he now supplied many of the little country shops. It would be a grand move then, if, by a far-sighted generalship, a careful copying of the example of his great ancestor, he could get a permanent hold of some of Annie's property.—Hence had come the descent upon Mrs Forbes, and here came its success.
"Ye s' hae as muckle o' mine to yer nainsel' as'll clear Mrs Forbes," said Annie.
"Weel. Verra weel.—But ye see that's mine for twa year and a half ony gait. That wad only amunt to losin' her interest for twa year an' a half—a'thegither. That winna do."
"What will do, than, Mr Bruce?"
"I dinna ken. I want my ain."
"But ye maunna torment her, Mr Bruce. Ye ken that."
"Weel! I'm open to onything rizzonable. There's the enterest for twa an' a half—ca' 't three years—at what I could mak' o' 't—say aucht per cent—four and twenty poun'. Syne there's her arrears o' interest—and syne there's the loss o' the ower-turn—and syne there's the loss o' the siller that ye winna hae to len' me.—Gin ye gie me a quittance for a hunner an' fifty poun', I'll gie her a receipt.—It'll be a sair loss to me!"
"Onything ye like," said Annie.
And Bruce brought out papers already written by his lawyer, one of which he signed and the other she.
"Ye'll min'," he added, as she was leaving the shop, "that I hae to pay ye no interest noo excep' upo' fifty poun'?"
He had paid her nothing for the last half year at least.
He would not have dared to fleece the girl thus, had she had any legally constituted guardians; or had those who would gladly have interfered, had power to protect her. But he took care so to word the quittance, that in the event of any thing going wrong, he might yet claim his hundred pounds from Mrs Forbes.
Annie read over the receipt, and saw that she had involved herself in a difficulty. How would Mrs Forbes take it? She begged Bruce not to tell her, and he was ready enough to consent. He did more. He wrote to Mrs Forbes to the effect that, upon reflection, he had resolved to drop further proceedings for the present; and when she carried him a half-year's interest, he took it in silence, justifying himself on the ground that the whole transaction was of doubtful success, and he must therefore secure what he could secure.
As may well be supposed, Annie had very little money to give away now; and this subjected her to a quite new sense of suffering.
It was a dreary wintry summer to all at Howglen. Why should the ripe corn wave deep-dyed in the gold of the sunbeams, when Alec lay frozen in the fields of ice, or sweeping about under them like a broken sea-weed in the waters so cold, so mournful? Yet the work of the world must go on. The corn must be reaped. Things must be bought and sold. Even the mourners must eat and drink. The stains which the day had gathered must be washed from the brow of the morning; and the dust to which Alec had gone down must be swept from the chair in which he had been wont to sit. So things did go on—of themselves as it were, for no one cared much about them, although it was the finest harvest that year that Howglen had ever borne. It had begun at length to appear that the old labour had not been cast into a dead grave, but into a living soil, like that of which Sir Philip Sidney says in his sixty-fifth psalm:
"Each clodd relenteth at thy dressing,"
as if it were a human soul that had bethought itself and began to bring forth fruit.—This might be the beginning of good things. But what did it matter?
Annie grew paler, but relaxed not a single effort to fill her place. She told her poor friends that she had no money now, and could not help them; but most were nearly as glad to see her as before; while one of them who had never liked receiving alms from a girl in such a lowly position, as well as some who had always taken them thankfully, loved her better when she had nothing to give.
She renewed her acquaintance with Peter Whaup, the blacksmith, through his wife, who was ill, and received her visits gladly.
"For," she said, "she's a fine douce lass, and speyks to ye as gin ye war ither fowk, and no as gin she kent a'thing, and cam to tell ye the muckle half o' 't."
I wonder how much her friends understood of what she read to them? She did not confine herself to the Bible, which indeed she was a little shy of reading except they wanted it, but read anything that pleased herself, never doubting that "ither fowk" could enjoy what she enjoyed. She even tried the Paradise Lost upon Mrs Whaup, as she had tried it long ago upon Tibbie Dyster; and Mrs Whaup never seemed tired of listening to it. I daresay she understood about as much of it as poets do of the celestial harmonies ever toning around them.
And Peter Whaup was once known, when more than half drunk, to stop his swearing in mid-volley, simply because he had caught a glimpse of Annie at the other end of the street.
So the maiden grew in favour. Her beauty, both inward and outward, was that of the twilight, of a morning cloudy with high clouds, or of a silvery sea: it was a spiritual beauty for the most part. And her sorrow gave a quiet grace to her demeanour, peacefully ripening it into what is loveliest in ladyhood. She always looked like one waiting—sometimes like one listening, as she waited, to "melodies unheard."
One night, in the end of October, James Dow was walking by the side of his cart along a lonely road, through a peat-moss, on his way to the nearest sea-port for a load of coals. The moon was high and full. He was approaching a solitary milestone in the midst of the moss. It was the loneliest place. Low swells of peat-ground, the burial places of old forests, rolled away on every side, with, here and there, patches of the white-bearded canna-down, or cotton-grass, glimmering doubtfully as the Wind woke and turned himself on the wide space, where he found nothing to puff at but those same little old fairies sunning their hoary beards in the strange moon. As Dow drew near to the milestone he saw an odd-looking figure seated upon it. He was about to ask him if he would like a lift, when the figure rose, and cried joyfully,
James Dow staggered back, and was nearly thrown down by the slow-rolling wheel; for the voice was Alec Forbes's. He gasped for breath, and felt as if he were recovering from a sudden stroke of paralysis, during which everything about him had passed away and a new order come in. All that he was capable of was to cry wo! to his horse.
There stood Alec, in rags, with a face thin but brown—healthy, bold, and firm. He looked ten years older standing there in the moonlight.
"The Lord preserve's!" cried Dow, and could say no more.
"He has preserved me, ye see, Jeamie. Hoo's my mother?"
"She's brawly, brawly, Mr Alec. The Lord preserve's! She's been terrible aboot ye. Ye maunna gang in upo' her. It wad kill her."
"I hae a grainy sense left, Jeamie. But I'm awfu' tired. Ye maun jist turn yer cairt and tak' me hame. I'll be worth a lade o' coal to my mither ony gait. An' syne ye can brak it till her."
Without another word, Dow turned his horse, helped Alec into the cart, covered him with his coat and some straw, and strode away beside, not knowing whether he was walking in a dream, or in a real starry night. Alec fell fast asleep, and never waked till the cart stood still, about midnight, at his mother's door. He started up.
"Lie still, Mr Alec," said Dow, in a whisper. "The mistress 'll be in her bed. And gin ye gang in upo' her that gait, ye'll drive her daft."
Alec lay down again, and Dow went to Mary's window, on the other side, to try to wake her. But just as he returned, Alec heard his mother's window open.
"Who's there?" she called.
"Naebody but me, Jeamie Doo," answered James. "I was half-gaits to Portlokie, whan I had a mishap upo' the road. Bettie pat her fit upon a sharp stane, and fell doon, and bruik baith her legs."
"How did she come home then?"
"She bude to come hame, mem."
"Broke her legs!"
"Hoot, mem—her k-nees. I dinna mean the banes, ye ken, mem; only the skin. But she wasna fit to gang on. And sae I brocht her back."
"What's that i' the cairt? Is't onything deid?"
"Na, mem, de'il a bit o' 't! It's livin' eneuch. It's a stranger lad that I gae a lift till upo' the road. He's fell tired."
But Dow's voice trembled, or—or something or other revealed all to the mother's heart. She gave a great cry. Alec sprung from the cart, rushed into the house, and was in his mother's arms.
Annie was asleep in the next room, but she half awoke with a sense of his presence. She had heard his voice through the folds of sleep. And she thought she was lying on the rug before the dining-room fire, with Alec and his mother at the tea-table, as on that night when he brought her in from the snow-hut. Finding out confusedly that the supposition did not correspond with some other vague consciousness, she supposed next that she "had died in sleep and was a blessed ghost," just going to find Alec in heaven. That was abandoned in its turn, and all at once she knew that she was in her own bed, and that Alec and his mother were talking in the next room.
She rose, but could hardly dress herself for trembling. When she was dressed she sat down on the edge of the bed to bethink herself.
The joy was almost torture, but it had a certain qualifying bitter in it. Ever since she had believed him dead, Alec had been so near to her! She had loved him as much as ever she would. But Life had come in suddenly, and divided those whom Death had joined. Now he was a great way off; and she dared not speak to him whom she had cherished in her heart. Modesty took the telescope from the hands of Love, and turning it, put the larger end to Annie's eye. Ever since her confession to Curly, she had been making fresh discoveries in her own heart; and now the tide of her love swelled so strong that she felt it must break out in an agony of joy, and betray her if once she looked in the face of Alec alive from the dead. Nor was this all. What she had done about his mother's debt, must come out soon; and although Alec could not think that she meant to lay him under obligation, he might yet feel under obligation, and that she could not bear. These things and many more so worked in the sensitive maiden that as soon as she heard Alec and his mother go to the dining-room she put on her bonnet and cloak, stole like a thief through the house to the back door, and let herself out into the night.
She avoided the path, and went through the hedge into a field of stubble at the back of the house across which she made her way to the turnpike road and the new bridge over the Glamour. Often she turned to look back to the window of the room where he that had been dead was alive and talking with his widowed mother; and only when the intervening trees hid it from her sight did she begin to think what she should do. She could think of nothing but to go to her aunt once more, and ask her to take her in for a few days. So she walked on through the sleeping town.
Not a soul was awake, and the stillness was awful. It was a place of tombs. And those tombs were haunted by dreams. Away towards the west, the moon lay on the steep-sloping edge of a rugged cloud, appearing to have rolled half-way down from its lofty peak, and about to be launched off its baseless bulk into
"the empty, vast, and wandering air."
In the middle of the large square of the little gray town she stood and looked around her. All one side lay in shade; the greater part of the other three lay in moonlight. The old growth of centuries, gables and fronts—stepping out into the light, retreating into the shadow—outside stairs and dark gateways, stood up in the night warding a townful of sleepers. Not one would be awake now. Ah yes! there was light in the wool-carder's window. His wife was dying. That light over the dying, wiped the death-look from the face of the sleeping town, Annie roused herself and passed on, fearing to be seen. It was the only thing to be afraid of. But the stillness was awful. One silence only could be more awful: the same silence at noon-day.