"Mamma!" he said, "I found her sleeping in my snow hut there; and if I had not brought her in, she would have been dead by this time."
"Poor little darling!" thought Mrs Forbes; but she was Scotch, and therefore she did not say it. But she stooped, and drew the child back from the fire, lest she should have her face scorched, and after making the tea, proceeded to put off her bonnet and shawl. By the time she had got rid of them, Annie was beginning to move, and Alec rose to go to her.
"Let her alone," said his mother. "Let her come to herself by degrees. Come to the table."
Alec obeyed. They could see that Annie had opened her eyes, and lay staring at the fire. What was she thinking about? She had fallen asleep in the snow-hut, and here she was by a bright fire!
"Annie, dear, come to your tea," were the first words she heard. She rose and went, and sat down at the table with a smile, taking it all as the gift of God, or a good dream, and never asking how she had come to be so happy.
The spirit of mischief had never been so thoroughly aroused in the youth of Glamerton as it was this winter. The snow lay very deep, while almost every day a fresh fall added to its depth, and this rendered some of their winter-amusements impossible; while not many of them had the imagination of Alec Forbes to suggest new ones. At the same time the cold increased, and strengthened their impulses to muscular exertion.
"Thae loons are jist growin' perfect deevils," said Charlie Chapman, the wool-carder, as he bolted into his own shop, with the remains of a snowball melting down the back of his neck. "We maun hae anither constable to haud them in order."
The existing force was composed of one long-legged, short-bodied, middle-aged man, who was so slow in his motions, apparently from the weight of his feet, which were always dragging behind him, that the boys called him Stumpin' Steenie (dim. for "Stephen"), and stood in no more awe of him than they did of his old cow—which, her owner being a widower, they called Mrs Stephen—when she went up the street, hardly able to waddle along for the weight of her udder. So there was some little ground for the wool-carder's remark. How much a second constable would have availed, however, is doubtful.
"I never saw sic widdiefows!" (gallows-birds), chimed in a farmer's wife who was standing in the shop. "They had a tow across the Wast Wynd i' the snaw, an' doon I cam o' my niz, as sure's your name's Charles Chapman—and mair o' my legs oot o' my coats, I doobt, than was a'thegither to my credit."
"I'm sure ye can hae no rizzon to tak' shame o' your legs, gude wife," was the gallant rejoinder; to which their owner replied, with a laugh:
"They warna made for public inspection, ony gait."
"Hoot! hoot! Naebody saw them. I s' warran' ye didna lie lang! But thae loons—they're jist past a'! Heard ye hoo they saired Rob Bruce?"
"Fegs! they tell me they a' but buried him alive."
"Ow! ay. But it's a later story, the last."
"It's a pity there's no a dizzen or twa o' them in Awbrahawm's boasom.—What did they till him neist?"
Here Andrew Constable dropped in, and Chapman turned towards him with the question:
"Did ye hear, Mr Constable, what the loons did to Robert Bruce the nicht afore last?"
"No. What was that? They hae a spite at puir Rob, I believe."
"Weel, it didna look a'thegither like respeck, I maun alloo.—I was stannin' at the coonter o' his shop waitin' for an unce o' sneeshin'; and Robert he was servin' a bit bairnie ower the coouter wi' a pennyworth o' triacle, when, in a jiffey, there cam' sic a blast, an' a reek fit to smore ye, oot o' the bit fire, an' the shop was fu' o' reek, afore ye could hae pitten the pint o' ae thoom upo' the pint o' the ither. 'Preserve's a'!' cried Rob; but or he could say anither word, butt the house, scushlin in her bauchles, comes Nancy, rinnin', an' opens the door wi' a scraich: 'Preserve's a'!' quo' she, 'Robert, the lum's in a low!' An' fegs! atween the twa reeks, to sunder them, there was nothing but Nancy hersel. The hoose was as fu' as it cud haud, frae cellar to garret, o' the blackest reek 'at ever crap oot o' coal. Oot we ran, an' it was a sicht to see the crater wi' his lang neck luikin' up at the chimleys. But deil a spark cam' oot o' them—or reek either, for that maitter. It was easy to see what was amiss. The loons had been o' the riggin, and flung a han'fu' o' blastin' powther down ilka smokin' chimley, and syne clappit a divot or a truf upo' the mou' o' 't. Deil ane o' them was in sicht, but I doobt gin ony o' them was far awa'. There was naething for't but get a ladder, and jist gang up an' tak aff the pot-lids. But eh! puir Robert was jist rampin' wi' rage! No 'at he said muckle, for he daur hardly open his mou' for sweerin'; and Robert wadna sweer, ye ken; but he was neither to haud nor bin'."
"What laddies war they, Charles, do ye ken?" asked Andrew.
"There's a heap o' them up to tricks. Gin I haena the rheumateese screwin' awa' atween my shoothers the nicht it wonna be their fau'ts; for as I cam' ower frae the ironmonger's there, I jist got a ba' i' the how o' my neck, 'at amaist sent me howkin' wi' my snoot i' the snaw. And there it stack, and at this preceese moment it's rinnin' doon the sma' o' my back as gin 't war a burnie doon a hillside. We maun hae mair constables!"
"Hoot! toot! Charles. Ye dinna want a constable to dry yer back. Gang to the gudewife wi' 't," said Andrew, "she'll gie ye a dry sark. Na, na. Lat the laddies work it aff. As lang's they haud their han's frae what doesna belang to them, I dinna min' a bit ploy noo and than. They'll noo turn oot the waur men for a pliskie or twa."
The fact was, none of the boys would have dreamed of interfering with Andrew Constable. Everybody respected him; not because he was an elder of the kirk, but because he was a good-tempered, kindly, honest man; or to sum up all in one word—a douce chield—by which word douce is indicated every sort of propriety of behaviour—a virtue greatly esteemed by the Scotch. This adjective was universally applied to Andrew.
While Alec was confined to the house, he had been busy inventing all kinds of employments for the period of the snow. His lessons never occupied much of his thoughts, and no pains having yet been taken to discover in what direction his tastes inclined him, he had of course to cater for himself. The first day of his return, when school was over, he set off rejoicing in his freedom, for a ramble through the snow, still revolving what he was to do next; for he wanted some steady employment with an end in view. In the course of his solitary walk, he came to the Wan Water, the other river that flowed through the wide valley—and wan enough it was now with its snow-sheet over it! As he stood looking at its still, dead face, and lamenting that the snow lay too deep over the ice to admit of skating, by a sudden reaction, a summer-vision of the live water arose before him; and he thought how delightful it would be to go sailing down the sparkling ripples, with the green fields all about him, and the hot afternoon sun over his head. That would be better even than scudding along it on his skates. His next thought was at once an idea and a resolve. Why should he not build a boat? He would build a boat. He would set about it directly.—Here was work for the rest of the winter!
His first step must be to go home and have his dinner; his next—to consult George Macwha, who had been a ship-carpenter in his youth. He would run over in the evening before George should have dropped work, and commit the plan to his judgment.
In the evening, then, Alec reached the town, on his way to George Macwha. It was a still lovely night, clear and frosty, with—yes, there were—millions of stars overhead. Away in the north, the streamers were shooting hither and thither, with marvellous evanescence and re-generation. No dance of goblins could be more lawless in its grotesqueness than this dance of the northern lights in their ethereal beauty, shining, with a wild ghostly changefulness and feebleness, all colours at once; now here, now there, like a row of slender organ-pipes, rolling out and in and along the sky. Or they might have been the chords of some gigantic stringed instrument, which chords became visible only when mighty hands of music struck their keys and set them vibrating; so that, as the hands swept up and down the Titanic key-board, the chords themselves seemed to roll along the heavens, though in truth some vanished here and others appeared yonder. Up and down they darted, and away and back—and always in the direction he did not expect them to take. He thought he heard them crackle, and he stood still to listen; but he could not be sure that it was not the snow sinking and crisping beneath his feet. All around him was still as a world too long frozen: in the heavens alone was there motion. There this entrancing dance of colour and shape went on, wide beneath, and tapering up to the zenith! Truly there was revelry in heaven! One might have thought that a prodigal son had just got home, and that the music and the dancing had begun, of which only the far-off rhythmic shine could reach the human sense; for a dance in heaven might well show itself in colour to the eyes of men.—Alec went on till the lights from the windows of the town began to throw shadows across the snow. The street was empty. From end to end nothing moved but an occasional shadow. As he came near to Macwha's shop, he had to pass a row of cottages which stood with their backs to a steep slope. Here too all was silent as a frozen city. But when he was about opposite the middle of the row, he heard a stifled laugh, and then a kind of muffled sound as of hurrying steps, and, in a moment after, every door in the row was torn open, and out bolted the inhabitants—here an old woman, halting on a stick as she came, there a shoemaker, with last and awl in his hands, here a tailor with his shears, and there a whole family of several trades and ages. Every one rushed into the middle of the road, turned right round and looked up. Then arose such a clamour of tongues, that it broke on the still air like a storm.
"What's ado, Betty?" asked Alec of a decrepit old creature, bent almost double with rheumatism, who was trying hard to see something or other in the air or on the roof of her cottage.
But before she could speak, the answer came in another form, addressing itself to his nose instead of his ears. For out of the cottages floated clouds of smoke, pervading the air with a variety of scents—of burning oak-bark, of burning leather-cuttings, of damp fire-wood and peat, of the cooking of red herrings, of the boiling of porridge, of the baking of oat-cake, &c., &c. Happily for all the inhabitants, "thae deevils o' loons" had used no powder here.
But the old woman, looking round when Alec spoke, and seeing that he was one of the obnoxious school-boys, broke out thus:
"Gang an' tak the divot (turf) aff o' my lum, Alec, there's a good laad! Ye sudna play sic tricks on puir auld bodies like me, near brackin' in twa wi' the rheumateeze. I'm jist greetin' wi' the reek i' my auld een."
And as she spoke she wiped her eyes with her apron.
Alec did not wait to clear himself of an accusation so gently put, but was on the roof of Luckie Lapp's cottage before she had finished her appeal to his generosity. He took the "divot aff o' her lum" and pitched it half way down the brae, at the back of the cottage. Then he scrambled from one chimney to the other, and went on pitching the sods down the hill. At length two of the inhabitants, who had climbed up at the other end of the row, met him, and taking him for a repentant sinner at best, made him prisoner, much to his amusement, and brought him down, protesting that it was too bad of gentle-folk's sons to persecute the poor in that way.
"I didn't do it," said Alec.
"Dinna lee," was the curt rejoinder.
"I'm no leein'."
"Wha did it, than?"
"I can guiss; an' it shanna happen again, gin I can help it."
"Tell's wha did it, than."
"I wonno say names."
"He's ane o' them."
"The foul thief tak him! I s' gie him a hidin'," said a burly sutor (shoemaker) coming up. "Thae loons are no to be borne wi' ony langer."
And he caught Alec by the arm.
"I didn't do it," persisted Alec.
"Wha killed Rob Bruce's dog?" asked the sutor, squeezing Alec's arm to point the question.
"I did," answered Alec; "and I will do yours the same guid turn, gin he worries bairns."
"And quite richt, too!" said the sutor's wife. "Lat him gang, Donal. I'll be boun' he's no ane o' them."
"Tell's a' aboot it, than. Hoo cam ye up there?"
"I gaed up to tak the divot aff o' Lucky Lapp's lum. Spier at her. Ance up I thocht I micht gie the lave o' ye a gude turn, and this is a' I get for't."
"Weel, weel! Come in and warm ye, than," said the shoemaker, convinced at last.
So Alec went in and had a chat with them, and then went on to George Macwha's.
The carpenter took to his scheme at once. Alec was a fair hand at all sorts of tool-work; and being on the friendliest terms with Macwha, it was soon arranged that the keel should be laid in the end of the workshop, and that, under George's directions, and what help Willie chose to render, Alec should build his boat himself. Just as they concluded these preliminaries, in came Willie, wiping some traces of blood from his nose. He made a pantomimic gesture of vengeance at Alec.
"What hae ye been efter noo, laddie?" asked his father.
"Alec's jist gien me a bluidy nose," said Willie.
"Hoo cam' that aboot? Ye weel deserved it, I hae nae doobt. Jist gie him anither whan he wants it, Alec."
"What do ye mean, Curly?" asked Alec in amazement.
"Yon divot 'at ye flang aff o' Luckie Lapp's riggin'," said Curly, "cam' richt o' the back o' my heid, as I lay o' the brae, and dang the blude oot at my niz. That's a'.—Ye'll preten' ye didna see me, nae doobt."
"I say, Curly," said Alec, putting his arm round his shoulders, and leading him aside, "we maun hae nae mair o' this kin' o' wark. It's a dam't shame! Do ye see nae differ atween chokin' an ill-faured tyke an' chokin' a puir widow's lum?"
"'Twas only for fun."
"It's ill fun that baith sides canna lauch at, Curly."
"Rob Bruce wasna lauchin' whan he brocht the bick to the schuil, nor yet whan he gaed hame again."
"That was nae fun, Curly. That was doonricht earnest."
"Weel, weel, Alec; say nae mair aboot it."
"No more I will. But gin I was you, Curly, I wad tak Lucky a seck o' spales the morn."
"I'll tak them the nicht, Alec.—Father, hae ye an auld seck ony gait?"
"There's ane up i' the laft. What want ye wi' a seck?"
But Curly was in the loft almost before the question had left his father's lips. He was down again in a moment, and on his knees filling the sack with shavings and all the chips he could find.
"Gie's a han' up wi't, Alec," he said.
And in a moment more Curly was off to Widow Lapp with his bag of firing.
"He's a fine chield that Willie o' yours, George," said Alec to the father. "He only wants to hae a thing weel pitten afore him, an' he jist acts upo' 't direckly.
"It's weel he maks a cronie o' you, Alec. There's a heap o' mischeef in him. Whaur's he aff wi thae spells?"
Alec told the story, much to the satisfaction of George, who could appreciate the repentance of his son; although he was "nane o' the unco guid" himself. From that day he thought more of his son, and of Alec as well.
"Noo, Curly," said Alec, as soon as he re-appeared with the empty sack, "yer father's gaein to lat me big a boat, an' ye maun help me."
"What's the use o' a boat i' this weather?" said Curly.
"Ye gomeril!" returned his father; ye never luik an inch afore the pint o' yer ain neb. Ye wadna think o' a boat afore the spring; an' haith! the summer wad be ower, an' the water frozen again, afore ye had it biggit. Luik at Alec there. He's worth ten o' you.
"I ken that ilka bit as weel's ye do, father. Jist set's aff wi' 't, father."
"I canna attend till't jist i' the noo; but I s' set ye aff wi' 't the morn's nicht."
So here was an end to the troubles of the townsfolks from the loons, and without any increase of the constabulary force; for Curly being withdrawn, there was no one else of sufficiently inventive energy to take the lead, and the loons ceased to be dangerous to the peace of the community. Curly soon had both his head and his hands quite occupied with boat-building.
Every afternoon, now, the moment dinner was over, Alec set off for the workshop, and did not return till eight o'clock, or sometimes later. Mrs Forbes did not at all relish this change in his habits; but she had the good sense not to interfere.
One day he persuaded her to go with him, and see how the boat was getting on. This enticed her into some sympathy with his new pursuit. For there was the boat—a skeleton it is true, and not nearly ready yet for the clothing of its planks, or its final skin of paint—yet an undeniable boat to the motherly eye of hope. And there were Alec and Willie working away before her eyes, doing their best to fulfil the promise of its looks. A little quiet chat she had with George Macwha, in which he poured forth the praises of her boy, did not a little, as well, to reconcile her to his desertion of her.
"Deed, mem," said George, whose acquaintance with Scripture was neither extensive nor precise, "to my mind he's jist a fulfilment o' the prophecee, 'An auld heid upo' young shouthers;' though I canna richtly min' whilk o' the lesser prophets it is that conteens 't."
But Mrs Forbes never saw a little figure, lying in a corner, half-buried in wood-shavings, and utterly unconscious of her presence, being fast asleep.
This was, of course, Annie Anderson, who having heard of the new occupation of her hero, had, one afternoon, three weeks before Mrs Forbes's visit, found herself at George's shop door, she hardly knew how. It seemed to her that she had followed her feet, and they had taken her there before she knew where they were going. Peeping in, she watched Alec and Willie for some time at their work, without venturing to show herself. But George, who came up behind her as she stood, and perceived her interest in the operations of the boys, took her by the hand, and led her in, saying kindly:
"Here's a new apprentice, Alec. She wants to learn boat-biggin."
"Ou! Annie, is that you, lassie? Come awa'," said Alec. "There's a fine heap o' spales ye can sit upo', and see what we're aboot."
And so saying he seated her on the shavings, and half-buried her with an armful more to keep her warm.
"Put to the door, Willie," he added. "She'll be cauld. She's no workin', ye see."
Whereupon Willie shut the door, and Annie found herself very comfortable indeed. There she sat, in perfect contentment, watching the progress of the boat—a progress not very perceptible to her inexperienced eyes, for the building of a boat is like the building of a city or the making of a book: it turns out a boat at last. But after she had sat for a good while in silence, she looked up at Alec, and said:
"Is there naething I can do to help ye, Alec?"
"Naething, Annie. Lassies canna saw or plane, ye ken. Ye wad tak' aff yer ain lugs in a jiffey."
Again she was silent for a long time; and then, with a sigh, she looked up and said:
"Alec, I'm so cauld!"
"I'll bring my plaid to row ye in the morn's nicht."
Annie's heart bounded for joy; for here was what amounted to an express invitation for to-morrow.
"But," Alec went on, "come wi' me, and we'll sune get ye warm again. Gie's yer han'."
Annie gave Alec her hand; and he lifted her out of her heap of spales, and led her away. She never thought of asking where he was leading her. They had not gone far down the close, when a roaring sound fell upon her ear, growing louder and louder as they went on; till, turning a sharp corner, there they saw the smithy fire. The door of the smithy was open, and they could see the smith at work some distance off. The fire glowed with gathered rage at the impudence of the bellows blowing in its face. The huge smith, with one arm flung affectionately over the shoulder of the insulting party, urged it to the contest; while he stirred up the other to increased ferocity, by poking a piece of iron into the very middle of it. How the angry glare started out of it and stared all the murky smiddy in the face, showing such gloomy holes and corners in it, and such a lot of horse-shoes hung up close to the roof, ready to be fitted for unbelievable horse-wear; and making the smith's face and bare arms glow with a dusky red, like hot metal, as if he were the gnome-king of molten iron. Then he stooped, and took up some coal dust in a little shovel, and patted it down over the fire, and blew stronger than ever, and the sparks flew out with the rage of the fire. Annie was delighted to look at it; but there was a certain fierceness about the whole affair that made her shrink from going nearer; and she could not help feeling a little afraid of the giant smith in particular, with his brawny arms that twisted and tortured iron bars all day long,—and his black angry-looking face, that seemed for ever fighting with fire and stiff-necked metal His very look into the forge-fire ought to have been enough to put it out of countenance. Perhaps that was why it was so necessary to keep blowing and poking at it. Again he stooped, caught up a great iron spoon, dipped it into a tub of water, and poured the spoonful on the fire—a fresh insult, at which it hissed and sputtered, like one of the fiery flying serpents of which she had read in her Bible—gigantic, dragon-like creatures to her imagination—in a perfect insanity of fury. But not the slightest motion of her hand lying in Alec's, indicated reluctance, as he led her into the shop, and right up to the wrathful man, saying:
"Peter Whaup, here's a lassie 'at's 'maist frozen to deid wi' cauld. Will ye tak' her in and lat her stan' by your ingle-neuk, and warm hersel'?"
"I'll do that, Alec. Come in by, my bairn. What ca' they ye?"
"Ow, ay! I ken a' aboot ye weel eneuch. Ye can lea' her wi' me, Alec; I'll luik efter her."
"I maun gang back to my boat, Annie," said Alec, then, apologetically, "but I'll come in for ye again."
So Annie was left with the smith, of whom she was not the least afraid, now that she had heard him speak. With his leathern apron, caught up in both hands, he swept a space on the front of the elevated hearth of the forge, clear of cinders and dust, and then, having wiped his hands on the same apron, lifted the girl as tenderly as if she had been a baby, and set her down on this spot, about a yard from the fire, on a level with it; and there she sat, in front of the smith, looking at the fire and the smith and the work he was about, in turns. He asked her a great many questions about herself and the Bruces, and her former life at home; and every question he asked he put in a yet kindlier voice. Sometimes he would stop in the middle of blowing, and lean forward with his arm on the handle of the bellows, and look full in the child's face till she had done answering him, with eyes that shone in the firelight as if the tears would have gathered, but could not for the heat.
"Ay! ay!" he would say, when she had answered him, and resume his blowing, slowly and dreamily. For this terrible smith's heart was just like his fire. He was a dreadful fellow for fighting and quarrelling when he got a drop too much, which was rather too often, if the truth must be told; but to this little woman-child his ways were as soft and tender as a woman's: he could burn or warm.
"An' sae ye likit bein' at the ferm best?" he said.
"Ay. But ye see my father deid—"
"I ken that, my bairn. The Lord haud a grip o' ye!"
It was not often that Peter Whaup indulged in a pious ejaculation. But this was a genuine one, and may be worth recording for the sake of Annie's answer:
"I'm thinkin' he hauds a grip o' us a', Mr Whaup."
And then she told him the story about the rats and the cat; for hardly a day passed just at this time without her not merely recalling it, but reflecting upon it. And the smith drew the back of his hand across both his eyes when she had done, and then pressed them both hard with the thumb and forefinger of his right hand, as if they ached, while his other arm went blowing away as if nothing was the matter but plenty of wind for the forge-fire. Then he pulled out the red-hot gad, or iron bar, which he seemed to have forgotten ever since Annie came in, and, standing with his back to her to protect her from the sparks, put it on his anvil, and began to lay on it, as if in a fury; while the sparks flew from his blows as if in mortal terror of the angry man that was pelting at the luminous glory laid thus submissive before him. In fact, Peter was attempting to hammer out more things than one, upon that study of his; for in Scotland they call a smith's anvil a study, so that he ranks with other artists in that respect. Then, as if anxious to hear the child speak yet again, he said, putting the iron once more in the fire, and proceeding to rouse the wrath of the coals:
"Ye kent Jeames Dow, than?"
"Ay; weel that. I kent Dooie as weel as Broonie."
"Wha was Broonie?"
"Ow! naebody but my ain coo."
"An' Jeames was kin' to ye?"
To this question no reply followed; but Peter, who stood looking at her, saw her lips and the muscles of her face quivering an answer, which if uttered at all, could come only in sobs and tears.
But the sound of approaching steps and voices restored her equanimity, and a listening look gradually displaced the emotion on her countenance. Over the half-door of the shop appeared two men, each bearing on his shoulder the socks (shares) of two ploughs, to be sharpened, or set. The instant she saw them she tumbled off her perch, and before they had got the door opened was half way to it, crying, "Dooie! Dooie!" Another instant and she was lifted high in Dowie's arms.
"My little mistress!" exclaimed he, kissing her. "Hoo cam ye here?"
"I'm safe eneuch here, Dooie; dinna be fleyt. I'll tell ye a' aboot it. Alec's in George Macwha's shop yonner."
"And wha's Alec?" asked Dowie.
Leaving them now to their private communications, I will relate, for the sake of its result, what passed between James Dow's companion and the smith.
"The last time," said the youth, "that ye set my sock, Peter Whaup, ye turned it oot jist as saft's potty, and it wore oot raither suner."
"Hoot! man, ye mistak. It wasna the sock. It was the heid that cam' ahin' 't, and kentna hoo to haud it aff o' the stanes."
"Ha! ha! ha! My heid's nae sae saft's yer ain. It's no rosten a' day like yours, till it's birstled (scorched) and sung (singed) like a sheep's. Jist gie me a haud o' the taings, an' I s' set my sock to my ain min'."
Peter gave up the tongs at once, and the young fellow proceeded to put the share in the fire, and to work the bellows.
"Ye'll never mak ony thing o' 't that gait," said Peter, as he took the tongs from his hand, and altered the position of the share for him. "Ye wad hae 'it black upo' ae side and white upo' the ither. Noo ca (drive) steady, an' dinna blaw the fire aff o' the forge."
But when it came to the anvil part of the work, Peter found so many faults with the handling and the execution generally, that at length the lad threw down the tongs with a laugh and an oath intermingled, saying:
"Ye can mak' potty o' 't yersel, than, Peter.—Ye jist min' me o' the Waesome Carl."
"What's that o' 't, Rory, man?"
"Ow! naething but a bit sang that I cam' upo' the ither day i' the neuk o' an auld newspaper."
"Lat's hear't," said Peter. "Sing't, Rory. Ye're better kent for a guid sang than for settin' socks."
"I canna sing 't, for I dinna ken the tune o' 't. I only got a glimp' o' 't, as I tell ye, in an auld news."
"Weel, say't, than. Ye're as weel kent for a guid memory, as a guid sang."
Without more preamble, Rory repeated, with appropriate gesture,
THE WAESOME CARL.
There cam a man to oor toon-en', An' a waesome carl was he; Wi' a snubbert nose, an' a crookit mou', An' a cock in his left ee. And muckle he spied, and muckle he spak'; But the burden o' his sang Was aye the same, and ower again: There's nane o' ye a' but's wrang. Ye're a' wrang, and a' wrang, And a'thegither a' wrang; There's no a man aboot the town, But's a'thegither a' wrang.
That's no the gait to bake the breid, Nor yet to brew the yill; That's no the gait to haud the pleuch, Nor yet to ca the mill. That's no the gait to milk the coo, Nor yet to spean the calf; Nor yet to fill the girnel-kist— Ye kenna yer wark by half. Ye're a' wrang, &c.
The minister was na fit to pray, And lat alane to preach; He nowther had the gift o' grace, Nor yet the gift o' speech. He mind 't him o' Balaam's ass, Wi' a differ ye may ken: The Lord he open'd the ass's mou' The minister open'd 's ain. He's a' wrang, &c.
The puir precentor cudna sing, He gruntit like a swine; The verra elders cudna pass The ladles till his min'. And for the rulin' elder's grace, It wasna worth a horn; He didna half uncurse the meat, Nor pray for mair the morn. He's a' wrang, &c.
And aye he gied his nose a thraw, And aye he crookit his mou'; And aye he cockit up his ee, And said, "Tak' tent the noo." We leuch ahint oor loof (palm), man, And never said him nay: And aye he spak'—jist lat him speik! And aye he said his say: Ye're a' wrang, &c.
Quo' oor guidman: "The crater's daft; But wow! he has the claik; Lat's see gin he can turn a han' Or only luik and craik. It's true we maunna lippen till him— He's fairly crack wi' pride; But he maun live, we canna kill him— Gin he can work, he s' bide." He was a' wrang, &c.
"It's true it's but a laddie's turn, But we'll begin wi' a sma' thing; There's a' thae weyds to gather an' burn— An' he's the man for a' thing." We gaed oor wa's, and loot him be, To do jist as he micht; We think to hear nae mair o' him, Till we come hame at nicht; But we're a' wrang, &c.
For, losh! or it was denner-time, The lift (firmament) was in a low; The reek rase up, as it had been Frae Sodom-flames, I vow. We ran like mad; but corn and byre War blazin'—wae's the fell!— As gin the deil had broucht the fire, To mak' anither hell. 'Twas a' wrang, &c.
And by the blaze the carl stud, Wi's han's aneath his tails; And aye he said—"I tauld ye sae, An' ye're to blame yersels. It's a' your wite (blame), for ye're a' wrang— Ye'll maybe own't at last: What gart ye burn thae deevilich weyds, Whan the win' blew frae the wast? Ye're a' wrang, and a' wrang, And a'thegither a' wrang; There's no a man in a' the warl' But's a'thegither a' wrang."
Before the recitation was over, which was performed with considerable spirit and truth, Annie and Dowie were listening attentively, along with Alec, who had returned to take Annie back, and who now joined loudly in the applause which followed the conclusion of the verses.
"Faith, that was a chield to haud oot ower frae," said Alec to Rory. "And ye said the sang weel. Ye sud learn to sing't though."
"Maybe I may, some day; gin I cud only get a grainie saut to pit upo' the tail o' the bird that kens the tune o' 't. What ca' they you, noo?"
"Alec Forbes," answered the owner of the name.
"Ay," interposed Annie, addressing herself to Dowie, who still held her in his arms; "this is Alec, that I tell't ye aboot. He's richt guid to me. Alec, here's Dooie, 'at I like better nor onybody i' the warl'."
And she turned and kissed the bronzed face, which was a clean face, notwithstanding the contrary appearance given to it by a beard of three days' growth, which Annie's kiss was too full of love to mind.
Annie would have been yet more ready to tell Dowie and Alec each who the other was, had she not been occupied in her own mind with a discovery she had made. For had not those verses given evident delight to the company—Alec among the rest? Had he not applauded loudest of all?—Was there not here something she could do, and so contribute to the delight of the workmen, Alec and Willie, and thus have her part in the boat growing beneath their hands? She would then be no longer a tolerated beholder, indebted to their charity for permission to enjoy their society, but a contributing member of the working community—if not working herself, yet upholding those that wrought. The germ of all this found itself in her mind that moment, and she resolved before next night to be able to emulate Rory.
Dowie carried her home in his arms, and on the way she told him all about the kindness of Alec and his mother. He asked her many questions about the Bruces; but her patient nature, and the instinctive feeling that it would make Dowie unhappy, withheld her from representing the discomforts of her position in strong colours. Dowie, however, had his own thoughts on the matter.
"Hoo are ye the nicht, Mr Dow?" said Robert, who treated him with oily respect, because he was not only acquainted with all Annie's affairs, but was a kind of natural, if not legal, guardian of her and her property. "And whaur did ye fa' in wi' this stray lammie o' oors?"
"She's been wi' me this lang time," answered Dow, declining, with Scotch instinct, to give an answer, before he understood all the drift of the question. A Scotchman would always like the last question first.
"She's some ill for rinnin' oot," said Bruce, with soft words addressed to Dow, and a cutting look flung at Annie, "withoot speirin' leave, and we dinna ken whaur she gangs; and that's no richt for lass-bairns."
"Never ye min' her, Mr Bruce," replied Dow. "I ken her better nor you, no meanin' ony offence, seein' she was i' my airms afore she was a week auld. Lat her gang whaur she likes, and gin she does what she sudna do, I'll tak a' the wyte o' 't."
Now there was no great anxiety about Annie's welfare in the mind of Mr or Mrs Bruce. The shop and their own children, chiefly the former occupied their thoughts, and the less trouble they had from the presence of Annie, the better pleased they were—always provided they could escape the censure of neglect. Hence it came that Annie's absences were but little inquired into. All the attention they did show her, seemed to them to be of free grace and to the credit of their charity.
But Bruce did not like the influence that James Dow had with her; and before they retired for the night, he had another lecture ready for Annie.
"Annie," he said, "it's no becomin' for ane i' your station to be sae familiar. Ye'll be a young leddy some day, and it's no richt to tak up wi' servan's. There's Jeames Doo, jist a labourin' man, and aneath your station a'thegether, and he taks ye up in's airms, as gin ye war a bairn o' 's ain. It's no proaper."
"I like Jamie Doo better nor onybody i' the haill warl," said Annie, "excep'—"
Here she stopped short. She would not expose her heart to the gaze of that man.
"Excep' wha?" urged Bruce.
"I'm no gaein to say," returned Annie firmly.
"Ye're a camstairie (perverse) lassie," said Bruce, pushing her away with a forceful acidity in the combination of tone and push.
She walked off to bed, caring nothing for his rebuke. For since Alec's kindness had opened to her a well of the water of life, she had almost ceased to suffer from the ungeniality of her guardians. She forgot them as soon as she was out of their sight. And certainly they were nicer to forget than to remember.
CHAPTER XVIII. [sic, should be XXII.]
As soon as she was alone in her room she drew from her pocket a parcel containing something which Dowie had bought for her on their way home. When undone it revealed two or three tallow candles, a precious present in view of her hopes. But how should she get a light—for this was long before lucifer matches had risen even upon the horizon of Glamerton? There was but one way.
She waited, sitting on the edge of her bed, in the cold and darkness, until every sound in the house had ceased. Then she stepped cautiously down the old stair, which would crack now and then, use what care and gentleness she might.
It was the custom in all the houses of Glamerton to rest the fire; that is, to keep it gently alive all night by the help of a truff, or sod cut from the top of a peat-moss—a coarse peat in fact, more loose and porous than the peat proper—which they laid close down upon the fire, destroying almost all remaining draught by means of coal-dust. To this sealed fountain of light the little maiden was creeping through the dark house, with one of her dips in her hand—the pitcher with which she was about to draw from the fountain.
And a pretty study she would have made for any child-loving artist, when, with her face close to the grate, her mouth puckered up to do duty as the nozzle of a pair of bellows, one hand holding a twisted piece of paper between the bars, and the other buttressing the whole position from the floor, she blew at the live but reluctant fire, a glow spreading at each breath over her face, and then fading as the breath ceased, till at last the paper caught, and lighting it up from without with flame, and from within with the shine of success, made the lovely child-countenance like the face of one that has found the truth after the search of weary days.
Thus she lighted her candle, and again with careful steps she made her way to her own room. Setting the candle in a hole in the floor, left by the departure of a resinous knot, she opened her box, in which lay the few books her aunt had thrown into it when she left her old home. She had not yet learned to care much about books; but one of these had now become precious in her eyes, because she knew it contained poems that her father had been fond of reading. She soon found it—a volume by some Scotch poet of little fame, whose inward commotions had generated their own alleviation in the harmonies of ordered words in which they embodied themselves. In it Annie searched for something to learn before the following night, and found a ballad the look of which she liked, and which she very soon remembered as one she had heard her father read. It was very cold work to learn it at midnight, in winter, and in a garret too; but so intent was she, that before she went to bed, she had learned four or five verses so thoroughly that she could repeat them without thinking of what came next, and these she kept saying over and over again even in her dreams.
As soon as she woke in the dark morning she put her hand under her pillow to feel the precious volume, which she hoped would be the bond to bind her yet more closely to the boat and its builders. She took it to school in her pocket, learning the whole way as she went, and taking a roundabout road that her cousins might not interrupt her. She kept repeating and peeping every possible moment during school hours, and then all the way home again. So that by the time she had had her dinner, and the gauzy twilight had thickened to the "blanket of the dark," she felt quite ready to carry her offering of "the song that lightens toil," to George Macwha's workshop.
How clever they must be, she thought, as she went along, to make such a beautiful thing as the boat was now growing to! And she felt in her heart a kind of love for the look of living grace that the little craft already wore. Indeed before it was finished she had learned to regard it with a feeling of mingled awe, affection, and admiration, and the little boat had made for itself a place in her brain.
When she entered, she found the two boys already in busy talk; and without interrupting them by a word, she took her place on the heap of shavings which had remained undisturbed since last night. After the immediate consultation was over, and the young carpenters had settled to their work—not knowing what introduction to give to her offering, she produced it without any at all. The boys did not know what to make of it at first, hearing something come all at once from Annie's lips which was neither question nor remark, and broke upon the silence like an alien sound. But they said nothing—only gave a glance at each other and at her, and settled down to listen and to work. Nor did they speak one word until she had finished the ballad.
"THE LAST WOOING,"
said Annie, all at once, and went on:
"O lat me in, my bonny lass! It's a lang road ower the hill; And the flauchterin' snaw began to fa', As I cam by the mill."
"This is nae change-hoose, John Munro, And ye needna come nae mair: Ye crookit yer mou', and lichtlied me, Last Wednesday, at the fair."
"I lichtlied ye!" "Aboon the glass." "Foul-fa' the ill-faured mouth That made the leein' word to pass, By rowin' 't (wrapping) in the truth.
The fac' was this: I dochtna bide To hear yer bonnie name, Whaur muckle mous war opened wide Wi' lawless mirth and shame.
And a' I said was: 'Hoot! lat sit; She's but a bairn, the lass.' It turned the spait (flood) o' words a bit, And loot yer fair name pass."
"Thank ye for naething, John Munro! My name can gang or bide; It's no a sough o' drucken words Wad turn my heid aside."
"O Elsie, lassie o' my ain! The drift is cauld and strang; O tak me in ae hour, and syne I'll gather me and gang."
"Ye're guid at fleechin' (wheedling), Jock Munro. For ye heedna fause and true: Gang in to Katie at the Mill, She lo'es sic like as you."
He turned his fit; he spak nae mair. The lift was like to fa'; And Elsie's heart grew grit and sair (big and sore), At sicht o' the drivin' snaw.
She laid her doun, but no to sleep, For her verra heart was cauld; And the sheets war like a frozen heap O' snaw aboot her faul'd.
She rase fu' ear'. And a' theroot Was ae braid windin' sheet; At the door-sill, or winnock-lug (window-corner), Was never a mark o' feet.
She crap a' day aboot the hoose, Slow-fittit and hert-sair, Aye keekin' oot like a frichtit moose,— But Johnnie cam nae mair!
When saft the thow begud to melt Awa' the ghaistly snaw, Her hert was safter nor the thow, Her pride had ta'en a fa.'
And she oot ower the hill wad gang, Whaur the sun was blinkin' bonnie, To see his auld minnie (mother) in her cot, And speir aboot her Johnnie.
But as alang the hill she gaed, Through snaw und slush and weet, She stoppit wi' a chokin' cry— 'Twas Johnnie at her feet.
His heid was smoored aneath the snaw, But his breist was maistly bare; And 'twixt his breist and his richt han', He claisp't a lock o' hair.
'Twas gowden hair: she kent it weel. Alack, the sobs and sighs! The warm win' blew, the laverock flew, But Johnnie wadna rise.
The spring cam ower the wastlin (westward) hill, And the frost it fled awa'; And the green grass luikit smilin' up, Nane the waur for a' the snaw.
And saft it grew on Johnnie's grave, Whaur deep the sunshine lay; But, lang or that, on Elsie's heid The gowden hair was gray.
George Macwha, who was at work in the other end of the shop when she began, had drawn near, chisel in hand, and joined the listeners.
"Weel dune, Annie!" exclaimed he, as soon as she had finished—feeling very shy and awkward, now that her experiment had been made. But she had not long to wait for the result.
"Say't ower again, Annie," said Alec, after a moment's pause.
Could she have wished for more?
She did say it over again.
"Eh, Annie! that's rale bonnie. Whaur did ye get it?" he asked.
"In an auld buikie o' my father's," answered she.
"Is there ony mair in't like it?"
"Jist learn anither, will ye, afore the morn's nicht?"
"I'll do that, Alec."
"Dinna ye like it, Curly?" asked Alec, for Curly had said nothing.
"Ay, fegs! (faith)" was Curly's emphatic and uncritical reply.
Annie therefore learned and repeated a few more, which, if not received with equal satisfaction, yet gave sufficient pleasure to the listeners. They often, however, returned to the first, demanding it over and over again, till at length they knew it as well as she.
Hut a check was given for a while to these forenight meetings.
A rapid thaw set in, and up through the vanishing whiteness dawned the dark colours of the wintry landscape. For a day or two the soft wet snow lay mixed with water over all the road. After that came mire and dirt. But it was still so far off spring, that nobody cared to be reminded of it yet. So when, after the snow had vanished, a hard black frost set in, it was welcomed by the schoolboys at least, whatever the old people and the poor people, and especially those who were both old and poor, may have thought of the change. Under the binding power of this frost, the surface of the slow-flowing Glamour and of the swifter Wan-Water, were once more chilled and stiffened to ice, which every day grew thicker and stronger. And now, there being no coverlet of snow upon it, the boys came out in troops, in their iron-shod shoes and their clumsy skates, to skim along those floors of delight that the winter had laid for them. To the fishes the ice was a warm blanket cast over them to keep them from the frost. But they must have been dismayed at the dim rush of so many huge forms above them, as if another river with other and awful fishes had buried theirs. Alec and Willie left their boat—almost for a time forgot it—repaired their skates, joined their school-fellows, and shot along the solid water with the banks flying past them. It was strange to see the banks thus from the middle surface of the water. All was strange about them; and the delight of the strangeness increased the delight of the motion, and sent the blood through their veins swift as their flight along the frozen rivers.
For many afternoons and into the early nights, Alec and Curly held on the joyful sport, and Annie was for the time left lonely. But she was neither disconsolate nor idle. The boat was a sure pledge for them. To the boat and her they must return. She went to the shop still, now and then, to see George Macwha, who, of an age beyond the seduction of ice and skates, kept on steadily at his work. To him she would repeat a ballad or two, at his request, and then go home to increase her stock. This was now a work of some difficulty, for her provision of candles was exhausted, and she had no money with which to buy more. The last candle had come to a tragical end. For, hearing steps approaching her room one morning, before she had put it away in its usual safety in her box, she hastily poked it into one of the holes in the floor and forgot it. When she sought it at night, it was gone. Her first dread was that she had been found out; but hearing nothing of it, she concluded at last that her enemies the rottans had carried it off and devoured it.
"Deil choke them upo' the wick o' 't!" exclaimed Curly, when she told him the next day, seeking a partner in her grief.
But a greater difficulty had to be encountered. It was not long before she had exhausted her book, from which she had chosen the right poems by insight, wonderfully avoiding by instinct the unsuitable, without knowing why, and repelled by the mere tone.
She thought day and night where additional pabulum might be procured, and at last came to the resolution of applying to Mr Cowie the clergyman. Without consulting any one, she knocked on an afternoon at Mr Cowie's door.
"Cud I see the minister?" she said to the maid.
"I dinna ken. What do you want?" was the maid's reply.
But Annie was Scotch too, and perhaps perceived that she would have but a small chance of being admitted into the minister's presence if she communicated the object of her request to the servant. So she only replied,
"I want to see himsel', gin ye please."
"Weel, come in, and I'll tell him. What's yer name?"
"Whaur do ye bide?"
"At Mr Bruce's, i' the Wast Wynd."
The maid went, and presently returning with the message that she was to "gang up the stair," conducted her to the study where the minister sat—a room, to Annie's amazement, filled with books from the top to the bottom of every wall. Mr Cowie held out his hand to her, and said,
"Well, my little maiden, what do you want?"
"Please, sir, wad ye len' me a sang-buik?"
"A psalm-book?" said the minister, hesitatingly, supposing he had not heard aright, and yet doubting if this could be the correction of his auricular blunder.
"Na, sir; I hae a psalm-buik at hame. It's a sang-buik that I want the len' o'."
Now the minister was one of an old school—a very worthy kind-hearted man, with nothing of what has been called religious experience. But he knew what some of his Lord's words meant, and amongst them certain words about little children. He had a feeling likewise, of more instinctive origin, that to be kind to little children was an important branch of his office. So he drew Annie close to him, as he sat in his easy-chair, laid his plump cheek against her thin white one, and said in the gentlest way:
"And what do you want a song-book for, dawtie?"
"To learn bonnie sangs oot o', sir. Dinna ye think they're the bonniest things in a' the warl',—sangs, sir?"
For Annie had by this time learned to love ballad-verse above everything but Alec and Dowie.
"And what kind o' sangs do ye like?" the clergyman asked, instead of replying.
"I like them best that gar ye greit, sir."
At every answer, she looked up in his face with her open clear blue eyes. And the minister began to love her not merely because she was a child, but because she was this child.
"Do ye sing them?" he asked, after a little pause of pleased gazing into the face of the child.
"Na, na; I only say them. I dinna ken the tunes o' them."
"And do you say them to Mr Bruce?"
"Mr Bruce, sir! Mr Bruce wad say I was daft. I wadna say a sang to him, sir, for—for—for a' the sweeties i' the shop."
"Well, who do you say them to?"
"To Alec Forbes and Willie Macwha. They're biggin a boat, sir; and they like to hae me by them, as they big, to say sangs to them. And I like it richt weel."
"It'll be a lucky boat, surely," said the minister, "to rise to the sound of rhyme, like some old Norse war-ship."
"I dinna ken, sir," said Annie, who certainly did not know what he meant.
Now the minister's acquaintance with any but the classic poets was very small indeed; so that, when he got up and stood before his book-shelves, with the design of trying what he could do for her, he could think of nobody but Milton.
So he brought the Paradise Lost from its place, where it had not been disturbed for years, and placing it before her on the table, for it was a quarto copy, asked her if that would do. She opened it slowly and gently, with a reverential circumspection, and for the space of about five minutes, remained silent over it, turning leaves, and tasting, and turning, and tasting again. At length, with one hand resting on the book, she turned to Mr Cowie, who was watching with much interest and a little anxiety the result of the experiment, and said gently and sorrowfully:
"I dinna think this is the richt buik for me, sir. There's nae sang in't that I can fin' out. It gangs a' straucht on, and never turns or halts a bit. Noo ye see, sir, a sang aye turns roun', and begins again, and afore lang it comes fairly to an en', jist like a day, sir, whan we gang to oor beds an' fa' asleep. But this hauds on and on, and there's no end till't ava (at all). It's jist like the sun that 'never tires nor stops to rest.'"
"'But round the world he shines,'" said the clergyman, completing the quotation, right good-humouredly, though he was somewhat bewildered; for he had begun to fall a-marvelling at the little dingy maiden, with the untidy hair and dirty frock, who had thoughts of her own, and would not concede the faculty of song to the greatest of epic poets.
Doubtless if he had tried her with some of the short poems at the end of the Paradise Regained, which I doubt if he had ever even read, she would at least have allowed that they were not devoid of song. But it was better perhaps that she should be left free to follow her own instincts. The true teacher is the one who is able to guide those instincts, strengthen them with authority, and illuminate them with revelation of their own fundamental truth. The best this good minister could do was not to interfere with them. He was so anxious to help her, however, that, partly to gain some minutes for reflection, partly to get the assistance of his daughters, he took her by the hand, and led her to the dining-room, where tea was laid for himself and his two grown-up girls. She went without a thought of question or a feeling of doubt; for however capable she was of ordering her own way, nothing delighted her more than blind submission, wherever she felt justified in yielding it. It was a profound pleasure to her not to know what was coming next, provided some one whom she loved did. So she sat down to tea with the perfect composure of submission to a superior will. It never occurred to her that she had no right to be there; for had not the minister himself led her there? And his daughters were very kind and friendly. In the course of the meal, Mr Cowie having told them the difficulty he was in, they said that perhaps they might be able to find what she wanted, or something that might take the place of it; and after tea, one of them brought two volumes of ballads of all sorts, some old, some new, some Scotch, some English, and put them into Annie's hands, asking her if that book would do. The child eagerly opened one of the volumes, and glanced at a page: It sparkled with the right ore of ballad-words. The Red, the colour always of delight, grew in her face. She closed the book as if she could not trust herself to look at it while others were looking at her, and said with a sigh:
"Eh, mem! Ye wonna lippen them baith to me?"
"Yes, I will," said Miss Cowie. "I am sure you will take care of them."
"That—I—will," returned Annie, with an honesty and determination of purpose that made a great impression upon Mr Cowie especially. And she ran home with a feeling of richness of possession such as she had never before experienced.
Her first business was to scamper up to her room, and hide the precious treasures in her kist, there to wait all night, like the buried dead, for the coming morning.
When she confessed to Mr Bruce that she had had tea with the minister, he held up his hands in the manner which commonly expresses amazement; but what the peculiar character or ground of the amazement might be remained entirely unrevealed, for he said not a word to elucidate the gesture.
The next time Annie went to see the minister it was on a very different quest from the loan of a song-book.
One afternoon, as Alec went home to dinner, he was considerably surprised to find Mr Malison leaning on one of the rails of the foot-bridge over the Glamour, looking down upon its frozen surface. There was nothing supernatural or alarming in this, seeing that, after school was over, Alec had run up the town to the saddler's, to get a new strap for one of his skates. What made the fact surprising was, that the scholars so seldom encountered the master anywhere except in school. Alec thought to pass, but the moment his foot was on the bridge the master lifted himself up, and faced round.
"Well, Alec," he said, "where have you been?"
"To get a new strap for my skatcher," answered Alec.
"You're fond of skating—are you, Alec?"
"I used to be when I was a boy. Have you had your dinner?"
"Then I suppose your mother has not dined, either?"
"She never does till I go home, sir."
"Then I won't intrude upon her. I did mean to call this afternoon."
"She will be very glad to see you, sir. Come and take a share of what there is."
"I think I had better not, Alec."
"Do, sir. I am sure she will make you welcome."
Mr Malison hesitated. Alec pressed him. He yielded; and they went along the road together.
I shall not have to show much more than half of Mr Malison's life—the school half, which, both inwardly and outwardly, was very different from the other. The moment he was out of the school, the moment, that is, that he ceased for the day to be responsible for the moral and intellectual condition of his turbulent subjects, the whole character—certainly the whole deportment—of the man changed. He was now as meek and gentle in speech and behaviour as any mother could have desired.
Nor was the change a hypocritical one. The master never interfered, or only upon the rarest occasions when pressure from without was brought to bear upon him, as in the case of Juno, with what the boys did out of school. He was glad enough to accept utter irresponsibility for that portion of his time; so that between the two parts of the day, as they passed through the life of the master, there was almost as little connection as between the waking and sleeping hours of a somnambulist.
But, as he leaned over the rail of the bridge, whither a rare impulse to movement had driven him, his thoughts had turned upon Alec Forbes and his antagonism. Out of school, he could not help feeling that the boy had not been very far wrong, however subversive of authority his behaviour had been; but it was not therefore the less mortifying to think how signally he had been discomfited by him. And he was compelled moreover to acknowledge to himself that it was a mercy that Alec was not the boy to follow up his advantage by heading—not a party against the master, but the whole school, which would have been ready enough to follow such a victorious leader. So there was but one way of setting matters right, as Mr Malison had generosity enough left in him to perceive; and that was, to make a friend of his adversary. Indeed there is that in the depths of every human breast which makes a reconciliation the only victory that can give true satisfaction. Nor was the master the only gainer by the resolve which thus arose in his mind the very moment before he felt Alec's tread upon the bridge.
They walked together to Howglen, talking kindly the whole way; to which talk, and most likely to which kindness between them, a little incident had contributed as well. Alec had that day rendered a passage of Virgil with a remarkable accuracy, greatly pleasing to the master, who, however, had no idea to what this isolated success was attributable. I forget the passage; but it had reference to the setting of sails, and Alec could not rest till he had satisfied himself about its meaning; for when we are once interested in anything, we want to see it nearer as often as it looms in sight. So he had with some difficulty cleared away the mists that clung about the words, till at length he beheld and understood the fact embodied in them.
Alec had never had praise from Mr Malison before—at least none that had made any impression on him—and he found it very sweet. And through the pleasure dawned the notion that perhaps he might be a scholar after all if he gave his mind to it. In this he was so far right: a fair scholar he might be, though a learned man he never could be, without developing an amount of will, and effecting a degree of self-conquest, sufficient for a Jesuit,—losing at the same time not only what he was especially made for knowing, but, in a great measure, what he was especially made for being. Few, however, are in danger of going so grievously against the intellectual impulses of their nature: far more are in danger of following them without earnestness, or if earnestly, then with the absorption of an eagerness only worldly.
Mrs Forbes, seeing the pleasure expressed on Alec's countenance, received Mr Malison with more than the usual cordiality, forgetting when he was present before her eyes what she had never failed to think of with bitterness when he was only present to her mind.
As soon as dinner was over Alec rushed off to the river, leaving his mother and the master together. Mrs Forbes brought out the whisky-bottle, and Mr Malison, mixing a tumbler of toddy, filled a wine-glass for his hostess.
"We'll make a man of Alec some day yet," said he, giving an ill-considered form to his thoughts.
"'Deed!" returned Mrs Forbes, irritated at the suggestion of any difficulty in the way of Alec's ultimate manhood, and perhaps glad of the opportunity of speaking her mind—"'Deed! Mr Malison, ye made a bonnie munsie (monsieur) o' him a month ago. It wad set ye weel to try yer hand at makin' a man o' him noo."
Had Alec been within hearing, he would never have let his mother forget this speech. For had not she, the immaculate, the reprover, fallen herself into the slough of the vernacular? The fact is, it is easier to speak the truth in a patois, for it lies nearer to the simple realities than a more conventional speech.
I do not however allow that the Scotch is a patois in the ordinary sense of the word. For had not Scotland a living literature, and that a high one, when England could produce none, or next to none—I mean in the fifteenth century? But old age, and the introduction of a more polished form of utterance, have given to the Scotch all the other advantages of a patois, in addition to its own directness and simplicity.
For a moment the dominie was taken aback, and sat reddening over his toddy, which, not daring even to taste it, he went on stirring with his toddy-ladle. For one of the disadvantages of a broken life is, that what a person may do with a kind of conscience in the one part, he feels compelled to blush for in the other. The despotism exercised in the school, even though exercised with a certain sense of justice and right, made the autocrat, out of school, cower before the parents of his helpless subjects. And this quailing of heart arose not merely from the operation of selfish feelings, but from a deliquium that fell upon his principles, in consequence of their sudden exposure to a more open atmosphere. But with a sudden perception that his only chance was to throw himself on the generosity of a woman, he said:
"Well, ma'am, if you had to keep seventy boys and girls quiet, and hear them their lessons at the same time, perhaps you would find yourself in danger of doing in haste what you might repent at leisure."
"Weel, weel, Mr Malison, we'll say nae mair aboot it. My laddie's nane the waur for't noo; and I hope ye will mak a man o' him some day, as ye say."
"He translated a passage of Virgil to-day in a manner that surprised me."
"Did he though? He's not a dunce, I know; and if it weren't for that stupid boat he and William Macwha are building, he might be made a scholar of, I shouldn't wonder. George should have more sense than encourage such a waste of time and money. He's always wanting something or other for the boat, and I confess I can't find in my heart to refuse him, for, whatever he may be at school, he's a good boy at home, Mr Malison."
But the schoolmaster did not reply at once, for a light had dawned upon him: this then was the secret of Alec's translation—a secret in good sooth worth his finding out. One can hardly believe that it should have been to the schoolmaster the first revelation of the fact that a practical interest is the strongest incitement to a theoretical acquaintance. But such was the case. He answered after a moment's pause—
"I suspect, ma'am, on the contrary, that the boat, of which I had heard nothing till now, was Alec's private tutor in the passage of Virgil to which I have referred."
"I don't understand you, Mr Malison."
"I mean, ma'am, that his interest in his boat made him take an interest in those lines about ships and their rigging. So the boat taught him to translate them."
"I see, I see."
"And that makes me doubt, ma'am, whether we shall be able to make him learn anything to good purpose that he does not take an interest in."
"Well, what do you think he is fit for, Mr Malison? I should like him to be able to be something else than a farmer, whatever he may settle down to at last."
Mrs Forbes thought, whether wisely or not, that as long as she was able to manage the farm, Alec might as well be otherwise employed. And she had ambition for her son as well. But the master was able to make no definite suggestion. Alec seemed to have no special qualification for any profession; for the mechanical and constructive faculties had alone reached a notable development in him as yet. So after a long talk, his mother and the schoolmaster had come no nearer than before to a determination of what he was fit for. The interview, however, restored a good understanding between them.
It was upon a Friday night that the frost finally broke up. A day of wintry rain followed, dreary and depressing. But the two boys, Alec Forbes and Willie Macwha, had a refuge from the ennui commonly attendant on such weather, in the prosecution of their boat-building. Hence it came to pass that in the early evening of the following Saturday, they found themselves in close consultation in George Macwha's shop, upon a doubtful point involved in the resumption of their labour. But they could not settle the matter without reference to the master of the mystery, George himself, and were, in the mean time, busy getting their tools in order—when he entered, in conversation with Thomas Crann the mason, who, his bodily labours being quite interrupted by the rain, had the more leisure apparently to bring his mental powers to bear upon the condition of his neighbours.
"It's a sod pity, George," he was saying as he entered, "that a man like you wadna, ance for a', tak thoucht a bit, and consider the en' o' a' thing that the sun shines upo'."
"Hoo do ye ken, Thamas, that I dinna tak thoucht?"
"Will ye say 'at ye div tak thoucht, George?"
"I'm a bit o' a Protestant, though I'm nae missionar; an' I'm no inclined to confess, Thamas—meanin' no ill-will to you for a' that, ye ken," added George, in a conciliatory tone.
"Weel, weel. I can only say that I hae seen no signs o' a savin' seriousness aboot ye, George. Ye're sair ta'en up wi' the warl'."
"Hoo mak' ye that oot? Ye big hooses, an' I mak' doors to them. And they'll baith stan' efter you an' me's laid i' the mouls.—It's weel kent forbye that ye hae a bit siller i' the bank, and I hae none."
"Not a bawbee hae I, George. I can pray for my daily breid wi' an honest hert; for gin the Lord dinna sen' 't, I hae nae bank to fa' back upo'."
"I'm sorry to hear 't, Thamas," said George.—"But Guid guide 's!" he exclaimed, "there's the twa laddies, hearkenin' to ilka word 'at we say!"
He hoped thus, but hoped in vain, to turn the current of the conversation.
"A' the better for that!" persisted Thomas. "They need to be remin't as well as you and me, that the fashion o' this warld passeth away. Alec, man, Willie, my lad, can ye big a boat to tak' ye ower the river o' Deith?—Na, ye'll no can do that. Ye maun gae through that watshod, I doobt! But there's an ark o' the Covenant that'll carry ye safe ower that and a waur flood to boot—and that's the flood o' God's wrath against evil-doers.—'Upon the wicked he shall rain fire and brimstone—a furious tempest.'—We had a gran' sermon upo' the ark o' the Covenant frae young Mr Mirky last Sabbath nicht. What for will na ye come and hear the Gospel for ance and awa' at least, George Macwha? Ye can sit i' my seat."
"I'm obleeged to ye," answered George; "but the muckle kirk does weel eneuch for me. And ye ken I'm precentor, noo, forbye."
"The muckle kirk!" repeated Thomas, in a tone of contempt. "What get ye there but the dry banes o' morality, upo' which the win' o' the word has never blawn to pit life into the puir disjaskit skeleton. Come ye to oor kirk, an' ye'll get a rousin', I can tell ye, man. Eh! man, gin ye war ance convertit, ye wad ken hoo to sing. It's no great singin' 'at ye guide."
Before the conversation had reached this point another listener had arrived: the blue eyes of Annie Anderson were fixed upon the speaker from over the half-door of the workshop. The drip from the thatch-eaves was dropping upon her shabby little shawl as she stood, but she was utterly heedless of it in the absorption of hearkening to Thomas Crann, who talked with authority, and a kind of hard eloquence of persuasion.
I ought to explain here that the muckle kirk meant the parish church; and that the religious community to which Thomas Crann belonged was one of the first results of the propagation of English Independency in Scotland. These Independents went commonly by the name of Missionars in all that district; a name arising apparently from the fact that they were the first in the neighbourhood to advocate the sending of missionaries to the heathen. The epithet was, however, always used with a considerable admixture of contempt.
"Are ye no gaein to get a minister o' yer ain, Thamas?" resumed George, after a pause, still wishing to turn the cart-wheels of the conversation out of the deep ruts in which the stiff-necked Thomas seemed determined to keep them moving.
"Na; we'll bide a bit, and try the speerits. We're no like you—forced to lat ower (swallow) ony jabble o' lukewarm water that's been stan'in' i' the sun frae year's en' to year's en', jist because the patron pleases to stick a pump intil 't an' ca' 't a well o' salvation. We'll ken whaur the water comes frae. We'll taste them a', and cheese accordin'."
"Weel, I wadna like the trouble nor yet the responsibility."
"I daursay not."
"Na. Nor yet the shame o' pretennin' to jeedge my betters," added George, now a little nettled, as was generally the result at last of Thomas's sarcastic tone.
"George," said Thomas solemnly, "nane but them that has the speerit can ken the speerit."
With these words, he turned and strode slowly and gloomily out of the shop—no doubt from dissatisfaction with the result of his attempt.
Who does not see that Thomas had a hold of something to which George was altogether a stranger? Surely it is something more to stand with Moses upon Mount Sinai, and see the back of God through ever so many folds of cloudy darkness, than be sitting down to eat and drink, or rising up to play about the golden calf, at the foot of the mountain. And that Thomas was possessed of some divine secret, the heart of child Annie was perfectly convinced; the tone of his utterance having a greater share in producing this conviction than anything he had said. As he passed out, she looked up reverently at him, as one to whom deep things lay open, Thomas had a kind of gruff gentleness towards children which they found very attractive; and this meek maiden he could not threaten with the vials of wrath. He laid his hard heavy hand kindly on her head, saying:
"Ye'll be ane o' the Lord's lambs, will ye no? Ye'll gang into the fold efter him, will ye no?"
"Ay will I," answered Annie, "gin He'll lat in Alec and Curly too."
"Ye maun mak nae bargains wi' him; but gin they'll gang in, he'll no haud them oot."
And away, somewhat comforted, the honest stonemason strode, through the darkness and the rain, to his own rather cheerless home, where he had neither wife nor child to welcome him. An elderly woman took care of his house, whose habitual attitude towards him was one half of awe and half of resistance. The moment he entered, she left the room where she had been sitting, without a word of welcome, and betook herself to the kitchen, where she prepared his plate of porridge or bowl of brose. With this in one hand, and a jug of milk in the other, she soon returned, placing them like a peace-offering on the table before him. Having completed the arrangement by the addition of a horn spoon from a cupboard in the wall, she again retired in silence. The moment she vanished Thomas's blue bonnet was thrown into a corner, and with folded hands and bent head he prayed a silent prayer over his homely meal.
By this time Alec and Curly, having received sufficient instruction from George Macwha, were in full swing with their boat-building. But the moment Thomas went, Alec, had taken Annie to the forge to get her well-dried, before he would allow her to occupy her old place in the heap of spales.
"Wha's preachin' at the missionar-kirk the morn, Willie?" asked the boy's father, For Willie knew everything that took place in Glamerton.
"Mr Broon," answered Curly.
"He's a guid man that, ony gait," returned his father. "There's nae mony like him. I think I'll turn missionar mysel', for ance and awa', and gang and hear him the morn's nicht."
At the same instant Annie entered the shop, her face glowing with the heat of the forge and the pleasure of rejoining her friends. Her appearance turned the current, and no more was said about the missionar-kirk.—Many minutes did not pass before she had begun to repeat to the eager listeners one of the two new poems which she had got ready for them from the book Miss Cowie had lent her.
Whatever effect the remonstrances of Thomas might or might not have upon the rest, Annie had heard enough to make her want to go to the missionar-kirk. For was it not plain that Thomas Crann knew something that she did not know? and where could he have learned it but at the said kirk? There must be something going on there worth looking into. Perhaps there she might learn just what she needed to know; for, happy as she was, she would have been much happier had it not been for a something—she could neither describe nor understand it—which always rose between her and the happiness. She did not lay the blame on circumstances, though they might well, in her case, have borne a part of it. Whatever was, to her was right; and she never dreamed of rebelling against her position. For she was one of those simple creatures who perceive at once that if they are to set anything right for themselves or other people, they must begin with their own selves, their inward being and life. So without knowing that George Macwha intended to be there, with no expectation of seeing Alec or Curly, and without having consulted any of the Bruce family, she found herself, a few minutes after the service had commenced, timidly peering through the inner door of the chapel, and starting back, with mingled shyness and awe, from the wide solemnity of the place. Every eye seemed to have darted upon her the moment she made a chink of light between the door and its post. How spiritually does every child-nature feel the solemnity of the place where people, of whatever belief or whatever intellectual rank, meet to worship God! The air of the temple belongs to the poorest meeting-room as much as to the grandest cathedral. And what added to the effect on Annie was, that the reputation of Mr Brown having drawn a great congregation to hear him preach that evening, she, peeping through the door, saw nothing but live faces; whereas Mr Cowie's church, to which she was in the habit of going, though much larger, was only so much the more empty. She withdrew in dismay to go up into the gallery, where, entering from behind, she would see fewer faces, and might creep unperceived into the shelter of a pew; for she felt "little better than one of the wicked" in having arrived late. So she stole up the awful stair and into the wide gallery, as a chidden dog might steal across the room to creep under the master's table. Not daring to look up, she went with noiseless difficulty down a steep step or two, and perched herself timidly on the edge of a seat, beside an old lady, who had kindly made room for her. When she ventured to lift her eyes, she found herself in the middle of a sea of heads. But she saw in the same glance that no one was taking any notice of her, which discovery acted wonderfully as a restorative. The minister was reading, in a solemn voice, a terrible chapter of denunciation out of the prophet Isaiah, and Annie was soon seized with a deep listening awe. The severity of the chapter was, however, considerably mollified by the gentleness of the old lady, who put into her hand a Bible, smelling sweetly of dried starry leaves and southernwood, in which Annie followed the reading word for word, feeling sadly condemned if she happened to allow her eyes to wander for a single moment from the book. After the long prayer, during which they all stood—a posture certainly more reverential than the sitting which so commonly passes for kneeling—and the long psalm, during which they all sat, the sermon began; and again for a moment Annie ventured to look up, feeling protected from behind by the back of the pew, which reached high above her head. Before her she saw no face but that of the minister, between which and her, beyond the front of the gallery, lay a gulfy space, where, down in the bottom, sat other listening souls, with upturned faces and eyes, unseen of Annie, all their regards converging upon the countenance of the minister. He was a thin-faced cadaverous man, with a self-severe saintly look, one to whom religion was clearly a reality, though not so clearly a gladness, one whose opinions-vague half-monstrous embodiments of truth—helped to give him a consciousness of the life which sprung from a source far deeper than his consciousness could reach. I wonder if one will ever be able to understand the worship of his childhood—that revering upward look which must have been founded on a reality, however much after experience may have shown the supposed grounds of reverence to be untenable. The moment Annie looked in the face of Mr Brown, she submitted absolutely; she enshrined him and worshipped him with an awful reverence. Nor to the end of her days did she lose this feeling towards him. True, she came to see that he was a man of ordinary stature, and that some of the religious views which he held in common with his brethren were dishonouring of God, and therefore could not be elevating to the creature. But when she saw these and other like facts, they gave her no shock—they left the reflex of the man in her mind still unspotted, unimpaired. How could this be? Simply because they left unaltered the conviction that this man believed in God, and that the desire of his own heart brought him into some real, however undefinable, relation to him who was yet nearer to him than that desire itself, and whose presence had caused its birth.
He chose for his text these words of the Psalmist: "The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God." His sermon was less ponderous in construction and multitudinous in division than usual; for it consisted simply of answers to the two questions: "Who are the wicked?" and "What is their fate?" The answer to the former question was, "The wicked are those that forget God;" the answer to the latter, "The torments of everlasting fire." Upon Annie the sermon produced the immediate conviction that she was one of the wicked, and that she was in danger of hell-fire. The distress generated by the earlier part of the sermon, however, like that occasioned by the chapter of prophecy, was considerably mitigated by the kindness of an unknown hand, which, appearing occasionally over her shoulder from behind, kept up a counteractive ministration of peppermint lozenges. But the representations grew so much in horror as the sermon approached its end, that, when at last it was over, and Annie drew one long breath of exhaustion, hardly of relief, she became aware that the peppermint lozenge which had been given her a quarter of an hour before, was lying still undissolved in her mouth.
What had added considerably to the effect of the preacher's words, was that, in the middle of the sermon, she had, all at once, caught sight of the face of George Macwha diagonally opposite to her, his eyes looking like ears with the intensity of his listening. Nor did the rather comical episode of the snuffing of the candles in the least interfere with the solemnity of the tragic whole. The gallery was lighted by three coronoe of tallow candles, which, persisting in growing long-nosed and dim-sighted, had, at varying periods, according as the necessity revealed itself to a certain half-witted individual of the congregation, to be snodded laboriously. Without losing a word that the preacher uttered, Annie watched the process intently. What made it ludicrous was, that the man, having taken up his weapon with the air of a pious executioner, and having tipped the chandelier towards him, began, from the operation of some occult sympathy, to open the snuffers and his own mouth simultaneously; and by the time the black devouring jaws of the snuffers had reached their full stretch, his own jaws had become something dragonlike and hideous to behold—when both shut with a convulsive snap. Add to this that he was long-sighted and often missed a candle several times before he succeeded in snuffing it, whereupon the whole of the opening and shutting process had to be repeated, sometimes with no other result than that of snuffing the candle out, which had then to be pulled from its socket and applied to the next for re-illumination. But nothing could be farther from Annie's mood than a laugh or even a smile, though she gazed as if she were fascinated by the snuffers, which were dreadfully like one of the demons in a wood-cut of the Valley of the Shadow of Death in the Pilgrim's Progress without boards, which had belonged to her father.
When all had ceased—when the prayer, the singing, and the final benediction were over, Annie crept out into the dark street as if into the Outer Darkness. She felt the rain falling upon something hot, but she hardly knew that it was her own cheeks that were being wetted by the heavy drops. Her first impulse was to run to Alec and Curly, put her arms about their necks, and entreat them to flee from the wrath to come. But she could not find them to-night. She must go home. For herself she was not much afraid; for there was a place where prayer was heard as certainly as at the mercy-seat of old—a little garret room namely, with holes in the floor, out of which came rats; but with a door as well, in at which came the prayed-for cat.
But alas for poor Annie and her chapel-going! As she was creeping slowly up from step to step in the dark, the feeling came over her that it was no longer against rats, nor yet against evil things dwelling in the holes and corners of a neglected human world, that she had to pray. A spiritual terror was seated on the throne of the universe, and was called God—and to whom should she pray against it? Amidst the darkness, a deeper darkness fell.
She knelt by her bedside, but she could not lift up her heart; for was she not one of them that forget God? and was she not therefore wicked? and was not God angry with her every day? Was not the fact that she could not pray a certain proof that she was out of God's favour, and counted unworthy of his notice?
But there was Jesus Christ: she would cry to him. But did she believe in him? She tried hard to convince herself that she did; but at last she laid her weary head on the bed, and groaned in her young despair. At the moment a rustling in the darkness broke the sad silence with a throb of terror. She started to her feet. She was exposed to all the rats in the universe now, for God was angry with her, and she could not pray. With a stifled scream she darted to the door, and half tumbled down the stair in an agony of fear.
"What gars ye mak sic a din i' the hoose o' the Sawbath nicht?" screamed Mrs Bruce.
But little did Annie feel the reproof. And as little did she know that the dreaded rats had this time been the messengers of God to drive her from a path in which lies madness.
She was forced at length to go to bed, where God made her sleep and forget him, and the rats did not come near her again that night.
Curly and Alec had been in the chapel too, but they were not of a temperament to be disturbed by Mr Brown's discourse.
Little as Murdoch Malison knew of the worlds of thought and feeling—Annie's among the rest—which lay within those young faces and forms assembled the next day as usual, he knew almost as little of the mysteries that lay within himself.
Annie was haunted all day with the thought of the wrath of God. When she forgot it for a moment, it would return again with a sting of actual physical pain, which seemed to pierce her heart. Before school was over she had made up her mind what to do.
And before school was over Malison's own deed had opened his own eyes, had broken through the crust that lay between him and the vision of his own character.
There is not to be found a more thorough impersonation of his own theology than a Scotch schoolmaster of the rough old-fashioned type. His pleasure was law, irrespective of right or wrong, and the reward of submission to law was immunity from punishment. He had his favourites in various degrees, whom he chose according to inexplicable directions of feeling ratified by "the freedom of his own will." These found it easy to please him, while those with whom he was not primarily pleased, found it impossible to please him.
Now there had come to the school, about a fortnight before, two unhappy-looking little twin orphans, with white thin faces, and bones in their clothes instead of legs and arms, committed to the mercies of Mr Malison by their grandfather. Bent into all the angles of a grasshopper, and lean with ancient poverty, the old man tottered away with his stick in one hand, stretched far out to support his stooping frame, and carried in the other the caps of the two forsaken urchins, saying, as he went, in a quavering, croaking voice,
"I'll jist tak them wi' me, or they'll no be fit for the Sawbath aboon a fortnicht. They're terrible laddies to blaud (spoil) their claes!"
Turning with difficulty when he had reached the door, he added:
"Noo ye jist gie them their whups weel, Master Mailison, for ye ken that he that spareth the rod blaudeth the bairn."
Thus authorized, Malison certainly did "gie them their whups weel." Before the day was over they had both lain shrieking on the floor under the torture of the lash. And such poor half-clothed, half-fed creatures they were, and looked so pitiful and cowed, that one cannot help thinking it must have been for his own glory rather than their good that he treated them thus.
But, in justice to Malison, another fact must be mentioned, which, although inconsistent with the one just recorded, was in perfect consistency with the theological subsoil whence both sprang. After about a week, during which they had been whipt almost every day, the orphans came to school with a cold and a terrible cough. Then his observant pupils saw the man who was both cruel judge and cruel executioner, feeding his victims with liquorice till their faces were stained with its exuberance.
The old habits of severity, which had been in some measure intermitted, had returned upon him with gathered strength, and this day Anne was to be one of the victims. For although he would not dare to whip her, he was about to incur the shame of making this day, pervaded as it was, through all its spaces of time and light, with the fumes of the sermon she had heard the night before, the most wretched day that Anne's sad life had yet seen. Indeed, although she afterwards passed many more sorrowful days, she never had to pass one so utterly miserable. The spirits of the pit seemed to have broken loose and filled Murdoch Malison's school-room with the stench of their fire and brimstone.
As she sat longing for school to be over, that she might follow a plan which had a glimmer of hope in it, stupified with her labouring thoughts, and overcome with wretchedness, she fell fast asleep. She was roused by a smart blow from the taws, flung with unerring aim at the back of her bare bended neck. She sprang up with a cry, and, tottering between sleep and terror, proceeded at once to take the leather snake back to the master. But she would have fallen in getting over the form had not Alec caught her in his arms. He re-seated her, and taking the taws from her trembling hand, carried it himself to the tyrant. Upon him Malison's fury, breaking loose, expended itself in a dozen blows on the right hand, which Alec held up without flinching. As he walked to his seat, burning with pain, the voice of the master sounded behind him; but with the decree it uttered, Alec did not feel himself at liberty to interfere.
"Ann Anderson," he bawled, "stand up on the seat."
With trembling limbs, Annie obeyed. She could scarcely stand at first, and the form shook beneath her. For some time her colour kept alternating between crimson and white, but at last settled into a deadly pallor. Indeed, it was to her a terrible punishment to be exposed to the looks of all the boys and girls in the school. The elder Bruce tried hard to make her see one of his vile grimaces, but, feeling as if every nerve in her body were being stung with eyes, she never dared to look away from the book which she held upside down before her own sightless eyes.—This pillory was the punishment due to falling asleep, as hell was the punishment for forgetting God; and there she had to stand for a whole hour.
"What a shame! Damn that Malison!" and various other subdued exclamations were murmured about the room; for Annie was a favourite with most of the boys, and yet more because she was the General's sweetheart, as they said; but these ebullitions of popular feeling were too faint to reach her ears and comfort her isolation and exposure. Worst of all, she had soon to behold, with every advantage of position, an outbreak of the master's temper, far more painful than she had yet seen, both from its cruelty and its consequences.
A small class of mere children, amongst whom were the orphan Truffeys, had been committed to the care of one of the bigger boys, while the master was engaged with another class. Every boy in the latter had already had his share of pandies, when a noise in the children's class attracting the master's attention, he saw one of the Truffeys hit another boy in the face. He strode upon him at once, and putting no question as to provocation, took him by the neck, fixed it between his knees, and began to lash him with hissing blows. In his agony, the little fellow contrived to twist his head about and get a mouthful of the master's leg, inserting his teeth in a most canine and praiseworthy manner. The master caught him up, and dashed him on the floor. There the child lay motionless. Alarmed, and consequently cooled, Malison proceeded to lift him. He was apparently lifeless; but he had only fainted with pain. When he came to himself a little, it was found that his leg was hurt. It appeared afterwards that the knee-cap was greatly injured. Moaning with pain, he was sent home on the back of a big parish scholar.
At all this Anne stared from her pillory with horror. The feeling that God was angry with her grew upon her; and Murdoch Malison became for a time inseparably associated with her idea of God, frightfully bewildering all her aspirations.
The master still looked uneasy, threw the tag into his desk, and beat no one more that day. Indeed, only half an hour of school-time was left. As soon as that was over, he set off at a swinging pace for the old grandfather's cottage.
What passed there was never known. The other Truffey came to school the next day as usual, and told the boys that his brother was in bed. In that bed he lay for many weeks, and many were the visits the master paid him. This did much with the townsfolk to wipe away his reproach. They spoke of the affair as an unfortunate accident, and pitied the schoolmaster even more than the sufferer.
When at length the poor boy was able to leave his bed, it became apparent that, either through unskilful treatment, or as the unavoidable result of the injury, he would be a cripple for life.
The master's general behaviour was certainly modified by this consequence of his fury; but it was some time before the full reaction arrived.
When Annie descended from her hateful eminence, just before the final prayer, it was with a deeper sense of degradation than any violence of the tawse on her poor little hands could have produced. Nor could the attentions of Alec, anxiously offered as soon as they were out of school, reach half so far to console her as they might once have reached; for such was her sense of condemnation, that she dared not take pleasure in anything. Nothing else was worth minding till something was done about that. The thought of having God against her took the heart out of everything.—As soon as Alec left her, she walked with hanging head, pale face, and mournful eyes, straight to Mr Cowie's door.