She was admitted at once, and shown into the library, where the clergyman sat in the red dusky glow of the firelight, sipping a glass of wine, and looking very much like an ox-animal chewing the cud; for the meditation in which the good man indulged over his wine was seldom worthy of being characterized otherwise than as mental rumination.
"Well, Annie, my dear, come away," said he, "I am glad to see you. How does the boat get on?"
Deeply touched by a kindness which fell like dew upon the parching misery of the day, Annie burst into tears. Mr Cowie was greatly distressed. He drew her between his knees, laid his cheek against hers, as was his way with children, and said with soothing tenderness:
"Walawa! what's the matter with my dawtie?"
After some vain attempts at speech, Annie succeeded in giving the following account of the matter, much interrupted with sobs and fresh outbursts of weeping.
"Ye see, sir, I gaed last nicht to the missionar kirk to hear Mr Broon. And he preached a gran' sermon, sir. But I haena been able to bide mysel' sin' syne. For I doobt I'm ane o' the wicked 'at God hates, and I'll never win' to haven at a', for I canna help forgettin' him whiles. An' the wicked'll be turned into hell, and a' the nations that forget God. That was his text, sir. And I canna bide it."
In the bosom of the good man rose a gentle indignation against the schismatics who had thus terrified and bewildered that sacred being, a maid-child. But what could he say? He thought for a moment, and betook himself, in his perplexity, to his common sense.
"You haven't forgotten your father, have you, Annie?" said he.
"I think aboot him maist ilka day," answered Annie.
"But there comes a day now and then when you don't think much about him, does there not?"
"Do you think he would be angry with his child because she was so much taken up with her books or her play—-"
"I never play at onything, sir."
"Well—with learning songs to say to Alec Forbes and Willie Macwha—do you think he would be angry that you didn't think about him that day, especially when you can't see him?"
"'Deed no, sir. He wadna be sae sair upo' me as that."
"What would he say, do you think?"
"Gin Mr Bruce war to cast it up till me, he wad say: 'Lat alane the lassie. She'll think aboot me the morn—time eneuch.'"
"Well, don't you think your Father in heaven would say the same?"
"Maybe he micht, sir. But ye see my father was my ain father, and wad mak' the best o' me."
"And is not God kinder than your father?"
"He canna weel be that, sir. And there's the Scripter!"
"But he sent his only Son to die for us."
"Ay—for the eleck, sir," returned the little theologian.
Now this was more than Mr Cowie was well prepared to meet, for certainly this terrible doctrine was perfectly developed in the creed of the Scotch Church; the assembly of divines having sat upon the Scripture egg till they had hatched it in their own likeness. Poor Mr Cowie! There were the girl-eyes, blue, and hazy with tearful questions, looking up at him hungrily.—O starving little brothers and sisters! God does love you, and all shall be, and therefore is, well.—But the minister could not say this, gladly as he would have said it if he could; and the only result of his efforts to find a suitable reply was that he lost his temper—not with Annie, but with the doctrine of election.
"Gang ye hame, Annie, my bairn," said he, talking Scotch now, "and dinna trouble yer heid about election, and a' that. It's no' a canny doctrine. No mortal man could ever win at the boddom o' 't. I'm thinkin' we haena muckle to do w' 't. Gang hame, dawtie, and say yer prayers to be preserved frae the wiles o' Sawtan. There 's a sixpence to ye."
His kind heart was sorely grieved that all it could give was money. She had asked for bread, and he had but a stone, as he thought, to give her. So he gave it her with shame. He might however have reversed the words of St Peter, saying, "Spiritual aid I have none, but such as I have give I thee;" and so offered her the sixpence. But, for my part, I think the sixpence had more of bread in it than any theology he might have been expected to have at hand; for, so given, it was the symbol and the sign of love, which is the heart of the divine theology.
Annie, however, had a certain Scotchness in her which made her draw back from the offer.
"Na, thank ye, sir," she said; "I dinna want it."
"Will ye no tak' it to please an auld man, bairn?"
"Deed will I, sir, I wad do a hantle mair nor that to please you."
And again the tears filled her blue eyes as she held out her hand—receiving in it a shilling which Mr Cowie, for more relief to his own burdened heart, had substituted for the sixpence.
"It's a shillin', sir!" she said, looking up at him with the coin lying on her open palm.
"Weel, what for no? Is a shillin' no a saxpence?"
"Ay, sir. It's twa."
"Weel, Annie," said the old man, suddenly elevated into prophecy for the child's need—for he had premeditated nothing of the sort—"maybe whan God offers us a saxpence, it may turn oot to be twa. Good nicht, my bairn."
But Mr Cowie was sorely dissatisfied with himself. For not only did he perceive that the heart of the child could not be thus satisfied, but he began to feel something new stirring in his own bosom. The fact was that Annie was further on than Mr Cowie. She was a child looking about to find the face of her Father in heaven: he was but one of God's babies, who had been lying on his knees, receiving contentedly and happily the good things he gave him, but never looking up to find the eyes of him from whom the good gifts came. And now the heart of the old man, touched by the motion of the child's heart—yearning after her Father in heaven, and yet scarcely believing that he could be so good as her father on earth—began to stir uneasily within him. And he went down on his knees and hid his face in his hands.
But Annie, though not satisfied, went away comforted. After such a day of agony and humiliation, Mr Cowie's kiss came gracious with restoration and blessing. It had something in it which was not in Mr Brown's sermon. And yet if she had gone to Mr Brown, she would have found him kind too—very kind; but solemnly kind—severely kind; his long saintly face beaming with religious tenderness—not human cordiality; and his heart full of interest in her spiritual condition, not sympathy with the unhappiness which his own teaching had produced; nay, rather inclined to gloat over this unhappiness as the sign of grace bestowed and an awakening conscience.
But notwithstanding the comfort Mr Cowie had given her—the best he had, poor man!—Annie's distress soon awoke again. To know that she could not be near God in peace and love without fulfilling certain mental conditions—that he would not have her just as she was now, filled her with an undefined but terribly real misery, only the more distressing that it was vague with the vagueness of the dismal negation from which it sprung.
It was not however the strength of her love to God that made her unhappy in being thus barred out from him. It was rather the check thus given to the whole upward tendency of her being, with its multitude of undefined hopes and longings now drawing nigh to the birth. It was in her ideal self rather than her conscious self that her misery arose. And now, dearly as she loved Mr Cowie, she began to doubt whether he knew much about the matter. He had put her off without answering her questions, either because he thought she had no business with such things, or because he had no answer to give. This latter possibly added not a little to her unhappiness, for it gave birth to a fearful doubt as to the final safety of kind Mr Cowie himself.
But there was one man who knew more about such secret things, she fully believed, than any man alive; and that man was Thomas Crann. Thomas was a rather dreadful man, with his cold eyes, high shoulders, and wheezing breath; and Annie was afraid of him. But she would have encountered the terrors of the Valley of the Shadow of Death, as surely as the Pilgrim, to get rid of the demon nightmare that lay upon her bosom, crushing the life out of her heart. So she plucked up courage, like Christian of old, and resolved to set out for the house of the Interpreter. Judging, however, that he could not yet be home from his work, she thought it better to go home herself first.
After eating a bit of oat cake, with a mug of blue milk for kitchie (Latin "obsonium"), she retired to her garret and waited drearily, but did not try to pray.
It was very dark by the time she left the house, for the night was drizzly; but she knew the windings of Glamerton almost as well as the way up her garret-stair. Thomas's door was half open, and a light was shining from the kitchen. She knocked timidly. At the same moment she heard the voice of Thomas from the other end of this house, which consisted only of a but and a ben. In the ben-end (the inner originally, hence better room) there was no light: Thomas often sat in the dark.
"Jean, come ben to worship," he cried roughly.
"Comin', Thamas," answered Jean.
Again Annie knocked, but again without result. Her knock was too gentle. After a moment's pause, dreading that the intended prayers might interfere with her project, she knocked yet again; but a second time her knock was overwhelmed in the gruff call of Thomas, sounding yet more peremptory than before.
"Jean, come ben to worship."
"Hoot, Thamas, hae patience, man. I canna come."
"Jean, come ben to worship direckly."
"I'm i' the mids' o' cleanin' the shune. I hae dooble wark o' Mononday, ye ken."
"The shune can bide."
"Worship can bide."
"Haud yer tongue. The shune can bide."
"Na, na; they canna bide."
"Gin ye dinna come ben this minute, I'll hae worship my lane."
Vanquished by the awful threat, Jean dropped the shoe she held, and turned her apron; but having to pass the door on her way to the ben-end, she saw Annie standing on the threshold, and stopped with a start, ejaculating:
"The Lord preserve's, lassie!"
"Jean, what are ye sweerin' at?" cried Thomas, angrily.
"At Annie Anderson," answered Jean simply.
"What for are ye sweerin' at her? I'm sure she's a douce lassie. What does the bairn want?"
"What do ye want, Annie?"
"I want to see Thomas, gin ye please," answered Annie.
"She wants to see you, Thomas," screamed Jean; remarking in a lower voice, "He's as deef's a door-nail, Annie Anderson."
"Lat her come in, than," bawled Thomas.
"He's tellin' ye to come in, Annie," said Jean, as if she had been interpreting his words. But she detained her nevertheless to ask several unimportant questions. At length the voice of Thomas rousing her once more, she hastened to introduce her.
"Gang in there, Annie," she said, throwing open the door of the dark room. The child entered and stood just within it, not knowing even where Thomas sat. But a voice came to her out of the gloom:
"Ye're no feared at the dark, are ye, Annie? Come in."
"I dinna ken whaur I'm gaein."
"Never min' that. Come straucht foret. I'm watchin' ye."
For Thomas had been sitting in the dark till he could see in it (which, however, is not an invariable result), while out of the little light Annie had come into none at all But she obeyed the voice, and went straight forward into the dark, evidently much to the satisfaction of Thomas, who seizing her arm with one hand, laid the other, horny and heavy, on her head, saying:
"Noo, my lass, ye'll ken what faith means. Whan God tells ye to gang into the mirk, gang!"
"But I dinna like the mirk," said Annie.
"No human sowl can," responded Thomas. "Jean, fess a can'le direckly."
Now Thomas was an enemy to everything that could be, justly or unjustly, called superstition; and this therefore was not the answer that might have been expected of him. But he had begun with the symbolic and mystical in his reception of Annie, and perhaps there was something in the lovely childishness of her unconscious faith (while she all the time thought herself a dreadful unbeliever) that kept Thomas to the simplicities of the mystical part of his nature. Besides, Thomas's mind was a rendezvous for all extremes. In him they met, and showed that they met by fighting all day long. If you knocked at his inner door, you never could tell what would open it to you—all depending on what happened to be uppermost in the wrestle.
The candle was brought and set on the table, showing two or three geranium plants in the window. Why her eyes should have fixed upon these, Annie tried to discover afterwards, when she was more used to thinking. But she could not tell, except it were that they were so scraggy and wretched, half drowned in the darkness, and half blanched by the miserable light, and therefore must have been very like her own feelings, as she stood before the ungentle but not unkind stone-mason.
"Weel, lassie," said he, when Jean had retired, "what do ye want wi' me?"
Annie burst into tears again.
"Jean, gae butt the hoose direckly," cried Thomas, on the mere chance of his attendant having lingered at the door. And the sound of her retreating footsteps, though managed with all possible care, immediately justified his suspicion. This interruption turned Annie's tears aside, and when Thomas spoke next, she was able to reply.
"Noo, my bairn," he said, "what's the maitter?"
"I was at the missionar kirk last nicht," faltered Annie.
"Ay! And the sermon took a grip o' ye?—Nae doot, nae doot. Ay. Ay."
"I canna help forgettin' him, Thomas."
"But ye maun try and no forget him, lassie."
"Sae I do. But it's dour wark, and 'maist impossible."
"Sae it maun aye be; to the auld Aidam impossible; to the young Christian a weary watch."
Hope began to dawn upon Annie.
"A body micht hae a chance," she asked with meditative suggestion, "allooin' 'at she did forget him whiles?"
"Nae doot, lassie. The nations that forget God are them that dinna care, that never fash their heids, or their herts aither, aboot him—them that were never called, never chosen."
Annie's trouble returned like a sea-wave that had only retired to gather strength.
"But hoo's a body to ken whether she be ane o' the elec'?" she said, quaking.
"That's a hard maitter. It's no needfu' to ken't aforehan'. Jist lat that alane i' the mean time."
"But I canna lat it alane. It's no for mysel' aither a'thegither. Could ye lat it alane, Thomas?"
This home-thrust prevented any questioning about the second clause of her answer. And Thomas dearly loved plain dealing.
"Ye hae me there, lassie. Na, I cudna lat it alane. An' I never did lat it alane. I plaguit the Lord nicht an' day till he loot me ken."
"I tried hard last nicht," said Annie, "but the rottans war ower mony for me."
"Sawtan has mony wiles," said the mason reflectively.
"Do ye think they warna rottans?' asked Annie.
"Ow! nae doot. I daursay."
"'Cause, gin I thocht they war only deils, I wadna care a buckie (periwinkle) for them."
"It's muckle the same what ye ca' them, gin they ca you frae the throne o' grace, lassie."
"What am I to do than, Thomas?"
"Ye maun haud at it, lassie, jist as the poor widow did wi' the unjust judge. An' gin the Lord hears ye, ye'll ken ye're ane o' the elec', for it's only his own elec' that the Lord dis hear. Eh! lassie, little ye ken aboot prayin' an' no faintin'."
Alas for the parable if Thomas's theories were to be carried out in its exposition! For they would lead to the conclusion that the Lord and the unjust judge were one and the same person. But it is our divine aspirations and not our intellectual theories that need to be carried out. The latter may, nay must in some measure, perish; the former will be found in perfect harmony with the divine Will; yea, true though faint echoes of that Will—echoes from the unknown caves of our deepest humanity, where lies, yet swathed in darkness, the divine image.
To Thomas's words Annie's only reply was a fixed gaze, which he answered thus, resuming his last words:
"Ay, lassie, little ye ken aboot watchin' and prayin'. Whan it pleased the Lord to call me, I was stan'in' my lane i' the mids' o' a peat-moss, luikin' wast, whaur the sun had left a reid licht ahin him, as gin he had jist brunt oot o' the lift, an' hadna gane doon ava. An' it min'd me o' the day o' jeedgment. An' there I steid and luikit, till the licht itsel' deid oot, an' naething was left but a gray sky an' a feow starns intil't. An' the cloods gethered, an' the lift grew black an' mirk; an' the haill countryside vainished, till I kent no more aboot it than what my twa feet could answer for. An' I daurna muv for the fear o' the pits o' water an' the walleen (well-eyes—quagmire-springs) on ilka han'. The lee-lang nicht I stood, or lay, or kneeled upo' my k-nees, cryin' to the Lord for grace. I forgot a' aboot election, an' cried jist as gin I could gar him hear me by haudin' at him. An' i' the mornin', whan the licht cam', I faund that my face was to the risin' sun. And I crap oot o' the bog, an' hame to my ain hoose. An' ilka body 'at I met o' the road took the tither side o' 't, and glowert at me as gin I had been a ghaist or a warlock. An' the bairns playin' aboot the doors ran in like rabbits whan they got sicht o' me. An' I begud to think 'at something fearsome had signed me for a reprobate; an' I jist closed my door, and gaed to my bed, and loot my wark stan', for wha cud wark wi' damnation hingin' ower his heid? An' three days gaed ower me, that nothing passed my lips but a drap o' milk an' water. An' o' the fourth day, i' the efternoon, I gaed to my wark wi' my heid swimmin' and my hert like to brak for verra glaidness. I was ane o' the chosen.["]
"But hoo did ye fin' that oot, Thomas?" asked Annie, trembling.
"Weel, lassie," answered Thomas, with solemn conviction in every tone, "it's my firm belief that, say what they like, there is, and there can be, but one way o' comin' to the knowledge o' that secret."
"And what's that?" entreated Annie, whose life seemed to hang upon his lips.
"Jist this. Get a sicht o' the face o' God.—It's my belief, an' a' the minnisters in creation'll no gar me alter my min', that no man can get a glimp' o' the face o' God but ane o' the chosen. I'm no sayin' 'at a man's no ane o' the elec' that hasna had that favour vouchsaufed to him; but this I do say, that he canna ken his election wi'oot that. Try ye to get a sicht o' the face o' God, lassie: syne ye'll ken and be at peace. Even Moses himsel' cudna be saitisfeed wi'oot that."
"What is't like, Thomas?" said Annie, with an eagerness which awe made very still.
"No words can tell that. It's all in the speerit. Whan ye see't ye'll ken't. There's no fear o' mistakin' that."
Teacher and scholar were silent. Annie was the first to speak. She had gained her quest.
"Am I to gang hame noo, Thomas?"
"Ay, gang hame, lassie, to yer prayers. But I doobt it's dark. I'll gang wi' ye.—Jean, my shune!"
"Na, na; I could gang hame blinlins," remonstrated Annie.
"Haud yer tongue. I'm gaein hame wi' ye, bairn.—Jean, my shune!"
"Hoot, Thamas! I've jist cleaned them," screeched Jean from the kitchen at the second call.
"Fess them here direckly. It's a jeedgment on ye for sayin' worship cud bide better nor the shune."
Janet brought them and put them down sulkily. In another minute the great shoes, full of nails half an inch broad, were replaced on the tired feet, and with her soft little hand clasped in the great horny hand of the stonemason, Annie trotted home by his side. With Scotch caution, Thomas, as soon as they entered the shop, instead of taking leave of Annie, went up to the counter, and asked for an "unce o' tobawco," as if his appearance along with Annie were merely accidental; while Annie, with perfect appreciation of the reticence, ran through the gap in the counter.
She was so far comforted and so much tired, that she fell asleep at her prayers by the bedside. Presently she awoke in terror. It was Pussy however that had waked her, as she knew by the green eyes lamping in a corner. But she closed her prayers rather abruptly, clambered into bed, and was soon fast asleep.
And in her sleep she dreamed that she stood in the darkness of the same peat-moss which had held Thomas and his prayers all the night long. She thought she was kept in there, till she should pray enough to get herself out of it. And she tried hard to pray, but she could not. And she fell down in despair, beset with the terrors of those frightful holes full of black water which she had seen on her way to Glamerton. But a hand came out of the darkness, laid hold of hers, and lifting her up, led her through the bog. And she dimly saw the form that led her, and it was that of a man who walked looking upon the earth. And she tried to see his face, but she could not, for he walked ever a little before her. And he led her home to the old farm. And her father came to the door to meet them. And he looked just the same as in the old happy days, only that his face was strangely bright. And with the joy of seeing her father she awoke to a gentle sorrow that she had not seen also the face of her deliverer.
The next evening she wandered down to George Macwha's, and found the two boys at work. She had no poetry to give them, no stories to tell them, no answer to their questions as to where she had been the night before. She could only stand in silence and watch them. The skeleton of the boat grew beneath their hands, but it was on the workers and not on their work that her gaze was fixed. For her heart was burning within her, and she could hardly restrain herself from throwing her arms about their necks and imploring them to seek the face of God. Oh! if she only knew that Alec and Curly were of the elect! But they only could find that out. There was no way for her to peer into that mystery. All she could do was to watch their wants, to have the tool they needed next ready to their hand, to clear away the spales from before the busy plane, and to lie in wait for any chance of putting to her little strength to help. Perhaps they were not of the elect! She would minister to them therefore—oh, how much the more tenderly!
"What's come ower Annie?" said the one to the other when she had gone.
But there was no answer to be found to the question. Could they have understood her if she had told them what had come over her?
And so the time went on, slow-paced, with its silent destinies Annie said her prayers, read her Bible, and tried not to forget God. Ah! could she only have known that God never forgot her, whether she forgot him or not, giving her sleep in her dreary garret, gladness even in Murdoch Malison's school-room, and the light of life everywhere! He was now leading on the blessed season of spring, when the earth would be almost heaven enough to those who had passed through the fierceness of the winter. Even now, the winter, old and weary, was halting away before the sweet approaches of the spring—a symbol of that eternal spring before whose slow footsteps Death itself, "the winter of our discontent," shall vanish. Death alone can die everlastingly.
I have been diffuse in my account of Annie's first winter at school, because what impressed her should impress those who read her history. It is her reflex of circumstance, in a great measure, which makes that history. In regard to this portion of her life, I have little more to say than that by degrees the school became less irksome to her; that she grew more interested in her work; that some of the reading-books contained extracts which she could enjoy; and that a taste for reading began to wake in her. If ever she came to school with her lesson unprepared, it was because some book of travel or history had had attractions too strong for her. And all that day she would go about like a guilty thing, oppressed by a sense of downfall and neglected duty.
With Alec it was very different. He would often find himself in a similar case; but the neglect would make no impression on his conscience; or if it did, he would struggle hard to keep down the sense of dissatisfaction which strove to rise within him, and enjoy himself in spite of it.
Annie, again, accepted such as her doom, and went about gently unhappy, till neglect was forgotten in performance. There is nothing that can wipe out wrong but right.
And still she haunted George Macwha's workshop, where the boat soon began to reveal the full grace of its lovely outlines. Of all the works of man's hands, except those that belong to Art, a boat is the loveliest, and, in the old sense of the word, the liveliest. Why is this? Is it that it is born between Wind and Water?—Wind the father, ever casting himself into multitudinous shapes of invisible tides, taking beauteous form in the sweep of a "lazy-paced cloud," or embodying a transient informing freak in the waterspout, which he draws into his life from the bosom of his mate;—Water, the mother, visible she, sweeping and swaying, ever making and ever unmade, the very essence of her being—beauty, yet having no form of her own, and yet again manifesting herself in the ceaseless generation of passing forms? If the boat be the daughter of these, the stable child of visible and invisible subtlety, made to live in both, and shape its steady course between their varying and conflicting forces—if her Ideal was modelled between the flap of airy pinions and the long ranging flow of the serpent water, how could the lines of her form fail of grace?
Nor in this case were the magic influences of verse wanting to mould and model a boat which from prow to stern should be lovely and fortunate. As Pandemonium
"Rose like an exhalation, with the sound Of dulcet symphonies and voices sweet,"
so the little boat grew to the sound of Annie's voice uttering not Runic Rhymes, but old Scotch ballads, or such few sweet English poems, of the new revelation, as floated across her way, and folded their butterfly wings in her memory.
I have already said that reading became a great delight to her. Mr Cowie threw his library, with very little restriction, open to her; and books old and new were all new to her. She carried every fresh one home with a sense of riches and a feeling of upliftedness which I can ill describe. She gloated over the thought of it, as she held it tight in her hand, with feelings resembling, and yet how unlike, those of Johnny Bruce when he crept into his rabbits' barrel to devour the pennyworth of plunky (a preparation of treacle and flour) which his brother would else have compelled him to share. Now that the days were longer, she had plenty of time to read; for although her so-called guardians made cutting remarks upon her idleness, they had not yet compelled her to nursing or needlework. If she had shown the least inclination to either, her liberty would have been gone from that moment; but, with the fear of James Dow before their eyes, they let her alone. As to her doing anything in the shop, she was far too much of an alien to be allowed to minister in the lowliest office of that sacred temple of Mammon. So she read everything she could lay her hands upon; and as often as she found anything peculiarly interesting, she would take the book to the boat, where the boys were always ready to listen to whatever she brought them. And this habit made her more dircerning [sic] and choice.
Before I leave the school, however, I must give one more scene out of its history.
One mid-day in spring, just as the last of a hail-shower was passing away, and a sickly sunbeam was struggling out, the schoolroom-door opened, and in came Andrew Truffey, with a smile on his worn face, which shone in touching harmony with the watery gleam of the sun between the two hail-storms—for another was close at hand. He swung himself in on the new pivot of his humanity, namely his crutch, which every one who saw him believed at once he was never more to go without, till he sank wearied on the road to the grave, and had to be carried the rest of the way. He looked very long and deathly, for he had grown much while lying in bed.
The master rose hurriedly from his desk, and advanced to meet him. A deep stillness fell upon the scholars. They dropped all their work, and gazed at the meeting. The master held out his hand. With awkwardness and difficulty Andrew presented the hand which had been holding the crutch; and, not yet thoroughly used to the management of it, staggered in consequence and would have fallen. But the master caught him in his arms and carried him to his old seat beside his brother.
"Thank ye, sir," said the boy with another gleamy smile, through which his thin features and pale, prominent eyes told yet more plainly of sad suffering—all the master's fault, as the master knew.
"Leuk at the dominie," said Curly to Alec. "He's greitin'."
For Mr Malison had returned to his seat and had laid his head down on the desk, evidently to hide his emotion.
"Haud yer tongue, Curly. Dinna leuk at him," returned Alec. "He's sorry for poor Truffey."
Every one behaved to the master that day with marked respect. And from that day forward Truffey was in universal favour.
Let me once more assert that Mr Malison was not a bad man. The misfortune was, that his notion of right fell in with his natural fierceness; and that, in aggravation of the too common feeling with which he had commenced his relations with his pupils, namely, that they were not only the natural enemies of the master, but therefore of all law, theology had come in and taught him that they were in their own nature bad—with a badness for which the only set-off he knew or could introduce was blows. Independently of any remedial quality that might be in them, these blows were an embodiment of justice; for "every sin," as the catechism teaches, "deserveth God's wrath and curse both in this life and that which is to come." The master therefore was only a co-worker with God in every pandy he inflicted on his pupils.
I do not mean that he reasoned thus, but that such-like were the principles he had to act upon. And I must add that, with all his brutality, he was never guilty of such cruelty as one reads of occasionally as perpetrated by English schoolmasters of the present day. Nor were the boys ever guilty of such cruelty to their fellows as is not only permitted but excused in the public schools of England. The taws, likewise, is a far less cruel instrument of torture than the cane, which was then unknown in that region.
And now the moderation which had at once followed upon the accident was confirmed. Punishment became less frequent still, and where it was yet inflicted for certain kinds and degrees of offence, its administration was considerably less severe than formerly; till at length the boys said that the master never put on black stockings now, except when he was "oot o' white anes." Nor did the discipline of the school suffer in consequence. If one wants to make a hard-mouthed horse more responsive to the rein, he must relax the pressure and friction of the bit, and make the horse feel that he has got to hold up his own head. If the rider supports himself by the reins, the horse will pull.
But the marvel was to see how Andrew Truffey haunted and dogged the master. He was as it were a conscious shadow to him. There was no hour of a holiday in which Truffey could not tell precisely where the master was. If one caught sight of Andrew, hirpling down a passage, or leaning against a corner, he might be sure the master would pass within a few minutes. And the haunting of little Truffey worked so on his conscience, that, if the better nature of him had not asserted itself in love to the child, he would have been compelled to leave the place. For think of having a visible sin of your own, in the shape of a lame-legged boy, peeping at you round every other corner!
But he did learn to love the boy; and therein appeared the divine vengeance—ah! how different from human vengeance!—that the outbreak of unrighteous wrath reacted on the wrong-doer in shame, repentance, and love.
At length the boat was calked, tarred, and painted.
One evening as Annie entered the workshop, she heard Curly cry,
"Here she is, Alec!"
and Alec answer,
"Let her come. I'm just done."
Alec stood at the stern of the boat, with a pot in one hand, and a paint-brush in the other; and, when Annie came near, she discovered to her surprise, and not a little to her delight, that he was just finishing off the last E of "THE BONNIE ANNIE."
"There," said he, "that's her name. Hoo de ye like it, Annie?"
Annie was too much pleased to reply. She looked at it for a while with a flush on her face: and then turning away, sought her usual seat on the heap of spales.
How much that one winter, with its dragons and its heroes, its boat-building and its rhymes, its discomforts at home and its consolations abroad, its threats of future loss, and comforts of present hope, had done to make the wild country child into a thoughtful little woman!
Now who should come into the shop at the moment but Thomas Crann!—the very man of all men not to be desired on the occasion; for the boys had contemplated a certain ceremony of christening, which they dared not carry out in the presence of the stone-mason; without which, however, George Macwha was very doubtful whether the little craft would prove a lucky one.—By common understanding they made no allusion to the matter, thus postponing it for the present.
"Ay! ay! Alec," said Thomas; "sae yer boat's bigget at last!"
He stood contemplating it for a moment, not without some hardly perceptible signs of admiration, and then said:
"Gin ye had her out upon a muckle water, do ye think ye wad jump oot ower the side o' her, gin the Saviour tauld ye, Alec Forbes?"
"Ay wad I, gin I war richt sure he wantit me."
"Ye wad stan' an' parley wi' him, nae doot?"
"I bude (behoved) to be richt sure it was his ain sel', ye ken, an' that he did call me."
"Ow ay, laddie! That's a' richt. Weel, I houp ye wad. I aye had guid houps o' ye, Alec, my man. But there may be sic a thing as loupin' into the sea o' life oot o' the ark o' salvation; an' gin ye loup in whan he doesna call ye, or gin ye getna a grip o' his han', whan he does, ye're sure to droon, as sure's ane o' the swine that ran heedlong in and perished i' the water."
Alec had only a dim sense of his meaning, but he had faith that it was good, and so listened in respectful silence. Surely enough of sacred as well as lovely sound had been uttered over the boat to make her faithful and fortunate!
The hour arrived at length when The Bonnie Annie was to be launched. It was one of a bright Saturday afternoon, in the month of May, full of a kind of tearful light, which seemed to say: "Here I am, but I go to-morrow!" Yet though there might be plenty of cold weather to come, though the hail might; fall in cart-loads, and the snow might lie thick for a day or two, there would be no more frozen waters, and the boughs would be bare and desolate no more. A few late primroses were peeping from the hollows damp with moss and shadow along the banks, and the trees by the stream were in small young leaf. There was a light wind full of memories of past summers and promises for the new one at hand, one of those gentle winds that blow the eyes of the flowers open, that the earth may look at the heaven. In the midst of this baby-waking of the world, the boat must glide into her new life.
Alec got one of the men on the farm to yoke a horse to bring the boat to the river. With the help of George she was soon placed in the cart, and Alec and Curly got in beside her. The little creature looked very much like a dead fish, as she lay jolting in the hot sun, with a motion irksome to her delicate sides, her prow sticking awkwardly over the horse's back, and her stern projecting as far beyond the cart behind. Thus often is the human boat borne painfully to the stream on which thereafter it shall glide contentedly through and out of the world.
When they had got about half-way, Alec said to Curly:
"I wonner what's come o' Annie, Curly? It wad be a shame to lainch the boat wantin' her."
"Deed it wad. I s' jist rin and luik after her, an' ye can luik efter the boat."
So saying, Curly was out of the cart with a bound. Away he ran over a field of potatoes, straight as the crow flies, while the cart went slowly on towards the Glamour.
"Whaur's Annie Anderson?" he cried, as he burst into Robert Bruce's shop.
"What's your business?" asked the Bruce—a question which evidently looked for no answer.
"Alec wants her."
"Weel, he will want her," retorted Robert, shutting his jaws with a snap, and grinning a smileless grin from ear to ear, like the steel clasp of a purse. By such petty behaviour he had long ago put himself on an equality with the young rascals generally, and he was no match for them on their own level.
Curly left the shop at once, and went round by the close into the garden, where he found Annie loitering up and down with the baby in her arms, and looking very weary. This was in fact the first time she had had to carry the baby, and it fatigued her dreadfully. Till now Mrs Bruce had had the assistance of a ragged child, whose father owed them money for groceries: he could not pay it, and they had taken his daughter instead. Long ago, however, she had slaved it out, and had at length gone back to school. The sun was hot, the baby was heavy, and Annie felt all arms and back—they were aching so with the unaccustomed drudgery. She was all but crying when Curly darted to the gate, his face glowing with his run, and his eyes sparkling with excitement.
"Come, Annie," cried he; "we're gaein' to lainch the boat."
"I canna, Curly; I hae the bairn to min'."
"Tak the bairn in til 'ts mither."
"Lay't doon o' the table, an' rin."
"Na, na, Curly; I cudna do that. Puir little crater!"
"Is the beastie heavy?" asked Curly, with deceitful interest.
"Ye'll lat her fa'."
"Deed no. I'm no sae fusionless (pithless). Gie's a haud o' her."
Annie yielded her charge; but no sooner had Curly possession of the baby, than he bounded away with her out of the garden into the back yard adjoining the house. Now in this yard, just opposite the kitchen-window, there was a huge sugar-cask, which, having been converted into a reservoir, stood under a spout, and was at this moment half full of rain-water. Curly, having first satisfied himself that Mrs Bruce was at work in the kitchen, and therefore sure to see him, mounted a big stone that lay beside the barrel, and pretended to lower the baby into the water, as if trying how much she would endure with equanimity. In a moment, he received such a box on the ear that, had he not been prepared for it, he would in reality have dropped the child into the barrel. The same moment the baby was in its mother's arms, and Curly sitting at the foot of the barrel, nursing his head, and pretending to suppress a violent attack of weeping. The angry mother sped into the house with her rescued child.
No sooner had she disappeared than Curly was on his feet scudding back to Annie, who had been staring over the garden-gate in utter bewilderment at his behaviour. She could no longer resist his entreaties: off she ran with him to the banks of the Glamour, where they soon came upon Alec and the man in the act of putting the boat on the slip, which, in the present instance, was a groove hollowed out of a low part of the bank, so that she might glide in more gradually.
"Hurrah! There's Annie!" cried Alec.—"Come awa', Annie. Here's a glass o' whisky I got frae my mither to kirsten the boat. Fling't at the name o' her."
Annie did as she was desired, to the perfect satisfaction of all present, particularly of the long, spare, sinewy farm-servant, who had contrived, when Alec's back was turned, to swallow the whisky and substitute Glamour water, which no doubt did equally well for the purposes of the ceremony. Then with a gentle push from all, the Bonnie Annie, slid into the Glamour, where she lay afloat in contented grace, as unlike herself in the cart as a swan waddling wearily to the water is unlike the true swan-self when her legs have no longer to support her weight, but to oar her along through the friendly upholding element.
"Isna she bonnie?" cried Annie in delight.
And indeed she was bonnie, in her green and white paint, lying like a great water-beetle ready to scamper over the smooth surface. Alec sprang on board, nearly upsetting the tiny craft. Then he held it by a bush on the bank while Curly handed in Annie, who sat down in the stern. Curly then got in himself, and Alec and him seized each an oar.
But what with their inexperience and the nature of the channel, they found it hard to get along. The river was full of great stones, making narrow passages, so that, in some parts, it was not possible to row. They knew nothing about the management of a boat, and were no more at ease than if they had been afloat in a tub. Alec being stronger in the arms than Curly, they went round and round for some time, as if in a whirlpool, with a timeless and grotesque spluttering and sprawling. At last they gave it up in weariness, and allowed the Bonnie Annie to float along the stream, taking care only to keep her off the rocks. Past them went the banks—here steep and stony, but green with moss where little trickling streams found their way into the channel; there spreading into low alluvial shores, covered with lovely grass, starred with daisies and buttercups, from which here and there rose a willow, whose low boughs swept the water. A little while ago, they had skated down its frozen surface, and had seen a snowy land shooting past them; now with an unfelt gliding, they floated down, and the green meadows dreamed away as if they would dream past them for ever.—Suddenly, as they rounded the corner of a rock, a great roar of falling water burst on their ears, and they started in dismay,
"The sluice is up!" cried Alec. "Tak' to yer oar, Curly."
Along this part of the bank, some twenty feet above them, ran a mill-race, which a few yards lower down communicated by means of a sluice with the river. This sluice was now open, for, from the late rains, there was too much water; and the surplus rushed from the race into the Glamour in a foaming cataract. Annie seeing that the boys were uneasy, got very frightened, and, closing her eyes, sat motionless. Louder and louder grew the tumult of the waters, till their sound seemed to fall in a solid thunder on her brain. The boys tried hard to row against the stream, but without avail. Slowly and surely it carried them down into the very heart of the boiling fall; for on this side alone was the channel deep enough for the boat, and the banks were too steep and bare to afford any hold. At last, the boat drifting stern foremost, a torrent of water struck Annie, and tumbled into the boat as if it would beat out the bottom of it. Annie was tossed about in fierce waters, and ceased to know anything. When she came to herself, she was in an unknown bed, with the face of Mrs Forbes bending anxiously over her. She would have risen, but Mrs Forbes told her to lie still, which indeed Annie found much more pleasant.
As soon as they got under the fall the boat had filled and foundered. Alec and Curly could swim like otters, and were out of the pool at once. As they went down, Alec had made a plunge to lay hold of Annie, but had missed her. The moment he got his breath, he swam again into the boiling pool, dived, and got hold of her; but he was so stupefied by the force of the water falling upon him and beating him down, that he could not get out of the raging depth—for here the water was many feet deep—and as he would not leave his hold of Annie, was in danger of being drowned. Meantime Curly had scrambled on shore and climbed up to the mill-race, where he shut down the sluice hard. In a moment the tumult had ceased, and Alec and Annie were in still water. In a moment more he had her on the bank, apparently lifeless, whence he carried her home to his mother in terror. She immediately resorted to one or two of the usual restoratives, and was presently successful.
As soon as she had opened her eyes, Alec and Curly hurried off to get out their boat. They met the miller in an awful rage; for the sudden onset of twice the quantity of water on his overshot wheel, had set his machinery off as if it had been bewitched, and one old stone, which had lost its iron girdle, had flown in pieces, to the frightful danger of the miller and his men.
"Ye ill-designed villains!" cried he at a venture, "what gart ye close the sluice? I s' learn ye to min' what ye're aboot. Deil tak' ye for rascals!"
And he seized one in each brawny hand.
"Annie Anderson was droonin' aneath the waste-water," answered Curly promptly.
"The Lord preserve 's!" said the miller, relaxing his hold "Hoo was that? Did she fa' in?"
The boys told him the whole story. In a few minutes more the back-fall was again turned off, and the miller was helping them to get their boat out. The Bonnie Annie was found uninjured. Only the oars and stretchers had floated down the stream, and were never heard of again.
Alec had a terrible scolding from his mother for getting Annie into such mischief. Indeed Mrs Forbes did not like the girl's being so much with her son; but she comforted herself with the probability that by and by Alec would go to college, and forget her. Meantime, she was very kind to Annie, and took her home herself, in order to excuse her absence, the blame of which she laid entirely on Alec, not knowing that thereby she greatly aggravated any offence of which Annie might have been guilty. Mrs Bruce solemnly declared her conviction that a judgment had fallen upon her for Willie Macwha's treatment of her baby.
"Gin I hadna jist gotten a glimp o' him in time, he wad hae drooned the bonny infant afore my verra een. It's weel waured on them!"
It did not occur to her that a wet skin was so very moderate a punishment for child-murder, that possibly there had been no connection between them.
This first voyage of the Bonnie Annie may seem a bad beginning; but I am not sure that most good ends have not had such a bad beginning. Perhaps the world itself may be received as a case in point. Alec and Curly went about for a few days with a rather subdued expression. But as soon as the boat was refitted, they got George Macwha to go with them for cockswain; and under his instructions, they made rapid progress in rowing and sculling. Then Annie was again their companion, and, the boat being by this time fitted with a rudder, had several lessons in steering, in which she soon became proficient. Many a moonlight row they had on the Glamour; and many a night after Curly and Annie had gone home, would Alec again unmoor the boat, and drop down the water alone, letting the banks go dreaming past him—not always sure that he was not dreaming himself, and would not suddenly awake and find himself in his bed, and not afloat between heaven and earth, with the moon above and the moon below him. I think it was in these seasons that he began first to become aware of a certain stillness pervading the universe like a law; a stillness ever being broken by the cries of eager men, yet ever closing and returning with gentleness not to be repelled, seeking to infold and penetrate with its own healing the minds of the noisy children of the earth. But he paid little heed to the discovery then, for he was made for activity, and in activity he found his repose.
My story must have shown already that, although several years younger than Alec, Annie had much more character and personality than he. Alec had not yet begun to look realities in the face. The very nobility and fearlessness of his nature had preserved him from many such actions as give occasion for looking within and asking oneself whereto things are tending. Full of life and restless impulses to activity, all that could properly be required of him as yet was that the action into which he rushed should be innocent, and if conventionally mischievous, yet actually harmless. Annie, comfortless at home, gazing all about her to see if there was a rest anywhere for her, had been driven by the outward desolation away from the window of the world to that other window that opens on the regions of silent being where God is, and into which when his creatures enter, or even look, the fountain of their life springs aloft with tenfold vigour and beauty. Alec, whose home was happy, knew nothing of that sense of discomfort which is sometimes the herald of a greater need. But he was soon to take a new start in his intellectual relations; nor in those alone, seeing the change was the result of a dim sense of duty. The fact of his not being a scholar to the mind of Murdoch Malison, arose from no deficiency of intellectual power, but only of intellectual capacity—for the indefinite enlargement of which a fitting excitement from without is alone requisite.
The season went on, and the world, like a great flower afloat in space, kept opening its thousandfold blossom. Hail and sleet were things lost in the distance of the year—storming away in some far-off region of the north, unknown to the summer generation. The butterflies, with wings looking as if all the flower-painters of fairyland had wiped their brushes upon them in freakful yet artistic sport, came forth in the freedom of their wills and the faithful ignorance of their minds. The birds, the poets of the animal creation—what though they never get beyond the lyrical!—awoke to utter their own joy, and awake like joy in others of God's children. The birds grew silent, because their history laid hold upon them, compelling them to turn their words into deeds, and keep eggs warm, and hunt for worms. The butterflies died of old age and delight. The green life of the earth rushed up in corn to be ready for the time of need. The corn grew ripe, and therefore weary, hung its head, died, and was laid aside for a life beyond its own. The keen sharp old mornings and nights of autumn came back as they had come so many thousand times before, and made human limbs strong and human hearts sad and longing. Winter would soon be near enough to stretch out a long forefinger once more, and touch with the first frosty shiver some little child that loved summer, and shrunk from the cold.
One evening in early autumn, when the sun, almost on the edge of the horizon, was shining right in at the end of one of the principal streets, filling its whole width with its glory of molten roses, all the shopkeepers were standing in their doors. Little groups of country people, bearing a curious relation to their own legs, were going in various directions across the square. Loud laughter, very much like animal noises, now and then invaded the ear; but the sound only rippled the wide lake of the silence. The air was perfumed with the scent of peat fires and the burning of weeds and potato-tops. There was no fountain to complete the harmony, but the intermittent gushes from the spout of the great pump in the centre of the square were no bad substitute. At all events, they supplied the sound of water, without which Nature's orchestra is not full.
Wattie Sim, the watchmaker, long and lank, with grey bushy eyebrows meeting over his nose, wandered, with the gait of a heedless pair of compasses, across from his own shop to Redford the bookseller's, at whose door a small group was already gathered.
"Well, Wattie," said Captain Clashmach, "how goes the world with you?"
"Muckle the same's wi' yersel', Captain, and the doctor there," answered Wattie with a grin. "Whan the time's guid for ither fowk, it's but sae sae for you and me. I haena had a watch come in for a haill ook (week)."
"Hoo de ye accoont for that, Mr Sim?" asked a shoemaker who stood near without belonging to the group.
"It's the ile, man, the ile. Half the mischeef o' watches is the ile."
"But I don't see," said the doctor, "how that can be, Sim."
"Weel, ye see, sir," answered Wattie—and the words seemed somehow to have come tumbling silently down over the ridge of his nose, before he caught them in his mouth and articulated them—"ye see, sir, watches is delicat things. They're not to be traitet like fowk's insides wi' onything 'at comes first. Gin I cud jist get the middle half-pint oot o' the hert o' a hogsheid o' sperm ile, I wad I sud keep a' yer watches gaein like the verra universe. But it wad be an ill thing for me, ye ken. Sae maybe a' thing's for the best efter a'.—Noo, ye see, i' this het weather, the ile keeps fine an' saft, and disna clog the warks.—But losh preserves a'! What's that?"
Staring up the street towards the sunset, which coloured all their faces a red bronze, stood a group of townsfolk, momently increasing, from which, before Wattie's party could reach it, burst a general explosion of laughter. It was some moments, however, before they understood what was the matter, for the great mild sun shone full in their eyes. At length they saw, as if issuing from the huge heavy orb, a long dark line, like a sea-serpent of a hundred joints, coming down the street towards them, and soon discovered that it was a slow procession of animals. First came Mistress Stephen, Stumpin Steenie the policeman's cow, with her tail at full stretch behind her. To the end of her tail was tied the nose of Jeames Joss the cadger's horse—a gaunt sepulchral animal, which age and ill-treatment had taught to move as if knees and hocks were useless refinements in locomotion. He had just enough of a tail left to tie the nose of another cow to; and so, by the accretion of living joints, the strange monster lengthened out into the dim fiery distance.
When Mrs Stephen reached the square, she turned to lead her train diagonally across it, for in that direction lay her home. Moved by the same desire, the cadger's horse wanted to go in exactly the opposite direction. The cow pulled the one way, and the horse pulled the other; but the cow, having her head free, had this advantage over the horse, which was fast at both ends. So he gave in, and followed his less noble leader. Cow after horse, and horse after cow, with a majority of cows, followed, to the number of twenty or so; after which the joints began to diminish in size. Two calves were at the tail of the last cow, a little Highland one, with a sheep between them. Then came a goat belonging to Charles Chapman the wool-carder, the only goat in the place, which as often as the strain on his own tail slackened, made a butt at that of the calf in front of him. Next came a diminishing string of disreputable dogs, to the tail of the last of which was fastened the only cat the inventors of this novel pastime had been able to catch. At her tail followed—alas!—Andrew Truffey's white rabbit, whose pink eyes, now fixed and glazed, would no more delight the imagination of the poor cripple; and whose long furry hind legs would never more bang the ground in sovereign contempt, as he dared pursuit; for the dull little beast, having, with the stiffneckedness of fear, persisted in pulling against the string that tied him to the tail of Widow Wattles's great tom-cat, was now trailed ignominiously upon his side, with soiled fur and outstretched neck—the last joint, and only dead one, of this bodiless tail.
Before Mistress Stephen had reached her home, and just as the last link of the chain had appeared on the square, the mirth was raised to a yet higher pitch by the sudden rush of several women to the rescue, who had already heard the news of the ignominious abduction of their honoured kye, and their shameful exposure to public ridicule. Each made for her own four-footed property.
"Guid preserve's, Hawkie! are ye come to this?" cried Lucky Lapp, as she limped, still and ever lame with rheumatism, towards the third member of the procession. "Gin I had the loon that did it," she went on, fumbling, with a haste that defeated itself, at the knot that bound Hawkie's nose to the tail of the cadger's horse—"gin I had the loon 'at did it, I wad ding the sowl oot o' his wame, the villain!"
"Losh! it's my ain cat, as weel's my ain coo." screamed Lucky Wattles in twofold indignation. "Gin I cud but redd (comb) the scoonrel's heid wi' your cleuks, Baudrons!" she added, as she fondled the cat passionately, "he wadna be in sic a doom's hurry to han'le ye again, Is' wad (wager)."
By this time Stumpin' Steenie, having undone his cow's tail, was leading her home amid shouts of laughter.
"Pit her i' the lock-up, Steenie. She's been takin' up wi' ill loons," screeched an urchin.
"Haud yer ill tongue, or I s' tak' you up, ye rascal," bawled Steenie.
"Ye'll hae to saiddle Mistress Stephen afore ye can catch me, Stumpin' Steenie!"
Steenie, inflamed with sudden wrath, forsook the cow, and made an elephantine rush at the offender, who vanished in the crowd, and thus betrayed the constable to another shout of laughter.
While the laugh was yet ringing, the burly figure of the stonemason appeared, making his way by the momentum of great bulk and slow motion to the front of the crowd. Without a word to any one, he drew a knife from his pocket, and proceeded to cut every cord that bound the helpless animals, the people staring silent all the while.
It was a sight to see how the dogs scampered off in the delight of their recovered freedom. But the rabbit lay where the cat had left him. Thomas took it with some sign of tenderness, and holding it up in his huge hand, put the question to the crowd in general.
"Wha's aucht this?"
"It's cripple Truffey's?" piped a shrill little voice.
"Tell him 'at I'll account for't," rejoined Thomas, and putting the animal in his pocket, departed.
He took the nearest way to George Macwha's workshop, where he found Alec and Curly, as he had expected, busy or appearing to be busy about something belonging to their boat. They looked considerably hotter, however, than could be accounted for by their work. This confirmed Thomas's suspicions.
"A fine ploy yon for a young gentleman, Alec!" said he.
"What ploy, Thomas?" asked Alec, with attempted innocence.
"Ye ken weel eneuch what ploy I mean, man."
"Weel, supposin' I do—there's nae that muckle hairm dune, to mak' a wark aboot, surely, Thomas."
"Ca' ye that no hairm?" rejoined Thomas, pulling the dead rabbit out of his pocket, and holding it up by the ears. "Ca' ye that no hairm?" he repeated.
Alec stared in dismay. Thomas well knew his regard for animals, and had calculated upon it.
"Luik at the puir thing wi' its bonny reid een closed for ever! It's a mercy to think 'at there's no lemin' and lowin' (blazing and flaming) future in store for hit, puir mappy (bunny)!"
"Hoot, hoot, Thamas, man! Isna that bein' richteous overmuch, as oor minister wad say?"
The question came in the husky voice of Peter Whaup, the blacksmith, who was now discovered leaning in over the half-door of the shop.
"And wha's your minister, Peter, my man?" retorted Thomas, with some acrimony.
"Mr Cooie, as ye weel ken, Thamas."
"I thoucht as muckle. The doctrine savours o' the man, Peter. There's no fear o' him or ony o' his followers bein' richteous over-much."
"Weel, ye ken, that's naething but a rabbit i' yer han'. It wad hae been worried some day. Hoo cam' 't by 'ts deith?"
"I didna mean to kill't. 'Twas a' for fun, ye ken," said Alec, addressing Thomas.
"There's a heap o' fun," answered Thomas with solemnity, "that carries deith i' the tail o' 't. Here's the puir cripple laddie's rabbit as deid's a herrin', and him at hame greetin' his een oot, I daursay."
Alec caught up his cap and made for the door.
"I'll gang and see him. Curly, wha has ony rabbits to sell?"
"Doddles's cleckit aboot a month ago."
"Whaur does Doddles bide?"
"I'll lat ye see."
The boys were hurrying together from the shop, when Thomas caught Alec by the arm.
"Ye canna restore the rabbit, Alec."
"Hoot! Thamas, ae rabbit's as guid's anither," interposed the smith, in a tone indicating disapprobation, mingled with a desire to mollify.
"Ay—to them 'at cares for neither. But there's sic a thing as a human election, as weel's a divine ane; an' ane's no the same's anither, ance it's a chosen ane."
"Weel, I pity them 'at the Lord has no pity upo'," sighed the smith, with a passing thought of his own fits of drinking.
"Gang ye and try him. He may hae pity upo' you—wha kens?" said Thomas, as he followed Alec, whom he had already released, out of the shop.
"Ye see, Alec," he resumed in a low voice, when they were in the open air—Curly going on before them, "it's time 'at ye was growin' a man, and pittin' awa' childish things. Yer mither 'll be depen'in' upo' you, or lang, to haud things gaein'; and ye ken gin ye negleck yer chance at the school, yer time'll no come ower again. Man, ye sud try to do something for conscience-sake. Hae ye learnt yer lessons for the morn, noo?"
"No, Thomas. But I will. I'm jist gaein' to buy a pair o' rabbits to Truffey; and syne I'll gang hame."
"There's a guid lad. Ye'll be a comfort till yer mither some day yet."
With these words, Thomas turned and left them.
There had been a growing, though it was still a vague sense, in Alec's mind, that he was not doing well; and this rebuke of Thomas Crann brought it full into the light of his own consciousness. From that day he worked better. Mr Malison saw the change, and acknowledged it. This reacted on Alec's feeling for the master; and during the following winter he made three times the progress he had made in any winter preceding.
For the sea of summer ebbed away, and the rocky channels of the winter appeared, with its cold winds, its ghost-like mists, and the damps and shiverings that cling about the sepulchre in which Nature lies sleeping. The boat was carefully laid up, across the rafters of the barn, well wrapped in a shroud of tarpaulin. It was buried up in the air; and the Glamour on which it had floated so gaily, would soon be buried under the ice. Summer alone could bring them together again—the one from the dry gloom of the barn, the other from the cold seclusion of its wintry hebetude.
Meantime Mrs Forbes was somewhat troubled in her mind as to what should be done with Alec; and she often talked with the schoolmaster about him. Herself of higher birth, socially considered, than her husband, she had the ambition that her son should be educated for some profession. Now in Scotland education is more easily got than almost anything else; and whether there might be room for the exercise of the profession afterwards, was a matter of less moment to Mrs Forbes, seeing she was not at all willing that the farm which had been in her husband's family for hundreds of years, should pass into the hands of strangers, and Alec himself had the strongest attachment to the ancestral soil; for to be loved it is not necessary that land should be freehold. At length his increased diligence, which had not escaped her observation, and was testified to by Mr Malison, confirmed her determination that he should at least go to college. He would be no worse a farmer for having an A.M. after his name; while the curriculum was common to all the professions. So it was resolved that, in the following winter, he should compete for a bursary.
The communication that his fate lay in that direction roused Alec still more. Now that an ulterior object rendered them attractive, he turned his attention to the classics with genuine earnestness; and, on a cloudy day in the end of October, found himself on the box-seat of the Royal Mail, with his trunk on the roof behind him, bound for a certain city whose advantages are not confined to the possession of a university.
After driving through long streets, brilliant with shops of endless marvel, the coachman pulled up for the last time. It was a dull drizzly evening, with sudden windy gusts, and, in itself, dark as pitch. But Alec descended, cold and wet, in a brilliant light which flowed from the door of the hotel as if it had been the very essence of its structure. A porter took charge of his box, hoisted it on his back, and led the way to the address he gave him.
Notwithstanding the drizzle, and the angry rushes of the wind round the street-corners, the foot-pavements were filled with men and women, moving in different directions, like a double row of busy ants. Through queer short cuts that terribly bewildered the way, the porter led him to the house, and pushing the door open, went up two flights of stone stairs and knocked at a door on the landing. Alec was shown into a room where a good fire was blazing away with a continuous welcome; and when seated by it drinking his tea, he saw the whole world golden through the stained windows of his imagination.
But his satisfaction gradually passed into a vague longing after something else. Would human nature be more perfect were it capable of being satisfied with cakes and ale? Alec felt as if he had got to the borders of fairy-land, and something was going to happen. A door would open and admit him into the secret of the world. But the door was so long in opening, that he took to unpacking his box; when, as he jumped up to thank his mother for some peculiar remembrance of his likings, the whole affair suddenly changed to a rehearsal of death; and his longings for the remainder of the night were towards the past.
He rose in the morning with the feeling revived, that something intense was going on all arouud. But the door into life generally opens behind us, and a hand is put forth which draws us in backwards. The sole wisdom for man or boy who is haunted with the hovering of unseen wings, with the scent of unseen roses, and the subtle enticements of "melodies unheard," is work. If he follow any of those, they will vanish. But if he work, they will come unsought, and, while they come, he will believe that there is a fairy-land, where poets find their dreams, and prophets are laid hold of by their visions. The idle beat their heads against its walls, or mistake the entrance, and go down into the dark places of the earth.
Alec stood at the window, and peered down into the narrow street, through which, as in a channel between rocks burrowed into dwellings, ran the ceaseless torrent of traffic. He felt at first as if life at least had opened its gates, and he had been transported into the midst of its drama. But in a moment the show changed, turning first into a meaningless procession; then into a chaos of conflicting atoms; re-forming itself at last into an endlessly unfolding coil, no break in the continuity of which would ever reveal the hidden mechanism. For to no mere onlooker will Life any more than Fairy-land open its secret. A man must become an actor before he can be a true spectator.
Weary of standing at the window, he went and wandered about the streets. To his country-bred eyes they were full of marvels—which would soon be as common to those eyes as one of the furrowed fields on his father's farm. The youth who thinks the world his oyster, and opens it forthwith, finds no pearl therein.
What is this nimbus about the new? Is the marvel a mockery? Is the shine that of demon-gold? No. It is a winged glory that alights beside the youth; and, having gathered his eyes to itself, flits away to a further perch; there alights, there shines, thither entices. With outstretched hands the child of earth follows, to fall weeping at the foot of the gray disenchanted thing. But beyond, and again beyond, shines the lapwing of heaven—not, as a faithless generation thinks, to delude like them, but to lead the seeker home to the nest of the glory.
Last of all, Alec was forced to take refuge in his books.
The competition fell on the next day, and he gained a small bursary.
As it happened, no one but Alec had come up from Glamerton that year. He did not know one of his fellow-students. There were very few in the first class indeed who had had any previous acquaintance with each other. But before three days were over like had begun to draw to like, and opposites to their natural opposites. These mutual attractions, however, were considerably influenced by the social sphere, as indicated by style of dress, speech, and manners, in which each had been accustomed to move. Some of the youths were of the lowliest origin—the sons of ploughmen and small country shopkeepers; shock-headed lads, with much of the looks and manners of year-old bullocks, mostly with freckled faces and a certain general irresponsiveness of feature, soon to vanish as the mental and nervous motions became more frequent and rapid, working the stiff clay of their faces into a readier obedience to the indwelling plasticity. Some, on the other hand, showed themselves at once the aristocracy of the class, by their carriage and social qualifications or assumptions. These were not generally the best scholars; but they set the fashion in the cut of their coats, and especially in the style of their neckerchiefs. Most of them were of Highland families; some of them jolly, hearty fellows; others affected and presumptuous, evidently considering it beneath them to associate with the multitude.
Alec belonged to a middle class. Well-dressed, he yet knew that his clothes had a country air, and that beside some of the men he cut a poor figure in more than in this particular. For a certain superiority of manner distinguished them, indicating that they had been accustomed to more of the outward refinements of life than he. Now let Alec once feel that a man was wiser and better than himself, and he was straightway incapable of envying him any additional superiority possible—would, in a word, be perfectly willing that he should both wear a better coat and be a better scholar than himself. But to any one who did not possess the higher kind of superiority, he foolishly and enviously grudged the lower kinds of pre-eminence. To understand this it must be remembered, that as yet he had deduced for himself no principles of action or feeling: he was only a boy well-made, with little goodness that he had in any way verified for himself.
On the second day after the commencement of lectures, it was made known to the first class that the Magistrand (fourth-class) Debating Society would meet that evening. The meetings of this society, although under the control of the magistrands, were open, upon equal terms in most other respects, to the members of the inferior classes. They were held in the Natural Philosophy class-room, at seven o'clock in the evening; and to the first meeting of the session Alec went with no little curiosity and expectation.
It was already dark when he set out from his lodgings in the new town, for the gateway beneath the tower with that crown of stone which is the glory of the ancient borough gathered beneath it. Through narrow crooked streets, with many dark courts on each side, he came to the open road which connected the two towns. It was a starry night, dusky rather than dark, and full of the long sound of the distant sea-waves falling on the shore beyond the links. He was striding along whistling, and thinking about as nearly nothing as might be, when the figure of a man, whose footsteps he had heard coming through the gloom, suddenly darkened before him and stopped. It was a little spare, slouching figure, but what the face was like, he could not see.
"Whustlin'?" said the man, interrogatively.
"Ay; what for no?" answered Alec cheerily.
"Haud yer een aff o' rainbows, or ye'll brak' yer shins upo' gravestanes," said the man, and went on, with a shuffling gait, his eyes flashing on Alec, from under projecting brows, as he passed.
Alec concluded him drunk, although drink would not altogether account for the strangeness of the address, and soon forgot him. The arch echoed to his feet as he entered the dark quadrangle, across which a glimmer in the opposite tower guided him to the stairs leading up to the place of meeting. He found the large room lighted by a chandelier, and one of the students seated as president in the professor's chair, while the benches were occupied by about two hundred students, most of the freshmen or bejans in their red gowns.
Various preliminary matters were discussed with an energy of utterance, and a fitness of speech, which would have put to shame the general elocution of both the pulpit and the bar. At length, however, a certain semi (second-classman, or more popularly sheep) stood up to give his opinion on some subject in dispute, and attempting to speak too soon after his dinner, for he was one of the more fashionable order, hemmed and stammered till the weariness of the assembly burst upon him in a perfect torrent of hisses and other animal exclamations. Among the loudest in this inarticulate protestation, were some of the red-gowned bejans, and the speaker kindled with wrath at the presumption of the yellow-beaks (becs jaunes: bejans), till, indignation bursting open the barriers of utterance, he poured forth a torrent of sarcastic contempt on the young clod-hoppers, who, having just come from herding their fathers' cows, could express their feelings in no more suitable language than that of the bovine animals which had been their principal and fit associates. As he sat down, his eyes rested with withering scorn upon Alec Forbes, who instantly started to his feet amidst a confusion of plaudits and hisses, but, finding it absolutely impossible to speak so as to be heard, contented himself with uttering a sonorous ba-a-a-a, and instant dropped into his seat, all the other outcries dissolving in shouts of laughter. In a moment he received a candle full in the face; its companions went flying in all directions, and the room was in utter darkness. A scramble for the door followed; and amidst struggling, shouting, and swearing, the whole company rolled down the stair into the quadrangle, most of them without their caps, and some with their new gowns torn from bottom to top. The night was hideous with the uproar. In the descent, Alec received a blow on the head which half stunned him; but he did not imagine that its severity was other than an accident of the crush. He made the best of his way home, and went to bed.
After this he was popular; and after this, as often as Patrick Beauchamp and he passed each other in walking up and down the arcade, Beauchamp's high curved upper lip would curve yet higher, and Alec would feel with annoyance that he could not sustain the glance of his gray eyes.
Beauchamp was no great favourite even in his own set; for there is one kind of religion in which the more devoted a man is, the fewer proselytes he makes: the worship of himself.
One morning, about two months from the beginning of the session, after the students had been reading for some time in the Greek class, the professor was seen, not unexpectedly to part of the assembly, to look up at the ceiling with sudden discomposure. There had been a heavy fall of snow in the night, and one of the students, whose organ of humour had gained at the expense of that of veneration, had, before the arrival of the professor, gathered a ball of the snow, and thrown it against the ceiling with such forceful precision, that it stuck right over the centre of the chair. This was perhaps the first time that such a trick had been dared in the first class, belonging more properly to the advanced depravity of the second or third. When the air began to get warm, the snow began to drop upon the head of the old professor; and this was the cause of his troubled glance at the ceiling. But the moment he looked up, Alec, seeing what was the matter, and feeling all his natural loyalty roused, sprang from his seat, and rushing out of the class-room, returned with a long broom which the sacrist had been using to clear foot-paths across the quadrangle. The professor left his chair, and Alec springing on the desk, swept the snow from the ceiling. He then wiped the seat with his handkerchief and returned to his place. The gratitude of the old man shone in his eyes. True, he would only have had to send for the sacrist to rescue him; but here was an atonement for the insult, offered by one of the students themselves.
"Thank you, Mr Forbes," he stammered; "I am ek-ek-ek—exceedingly obliged to you."
The professor was a curious, kindly little man—lame, with a brown wig, a wrinkled face, and a long mouth, of which he only made use of the half on the right side to stammer out humorous and often witty sayings—at least so they appeared to those who had grace enough to respect his position and his age. As often as reference is made in my hearing to Charles Lamb and his stutter, up comes the face of dear old Professor Fraser, and I hear him once more stammering out some joke, the very fun of which had its source in kindliness. Somehow the stutter never interfered with the point of the joke: that always came with a rush. He seemed, while hesitating on some unimportant syllable, to be arranging what was to follow and strike the blow.
"Gentlemen," he continued upon this occasion, "the Scripture says you're to heap c-c-c-coals of fire on your enemy's head. When you are to heap drops of water on your friend's w-w-wig, the Scripture doesn't say."
The same evening Alec received a note from him asking him to breakfast with him the following morning, which was Saturday, and consequently a holiday. It was usual with the professors to invite a dozen or so of the students to breakfast on Saturdays, but on this occasion Alec was the sole guest.
As soon as he entered the room, Mr Fraser hobbled to meet him, with outstretched hand of welcome, and a kindly grin on his face.
"Mr Forbes," he said, "I h-h-hope well of you; for you can respect an old man. I'm very glad to see you. I hope you've brought an appetite with you. Sit down. Always respect old age, Mr Forbes. You'll be old yourself some day—and you won't like it any more than I do. I've had my young days, though, and I mustn't grumble."
And here he smiled; but it was a sad smile, and a tear gathered in the corner of one of his old eyes. He caught up a globular silver tea-pot, and began to fill the tea-cups. Apparently the reflection of his own face in the tea-pot was too comical to resist, for the old man presently broke into what was half a laugh and half a grin, and, without in any way accounting for it, went on talking quite merrily for the rest of the meal.
"My mother told me," said Alec at length, "in a letter I had from her yesterday, that your brother, sir, had married a cousin of hers."
"What! what! Are you a son of Mr Forbes of Howglen?"
"You young rascal! Why didn't your mother send you to me?"
"She didn't like to trouble you, I suppose, sir."
"People like me, that haven't any relations, must make the most of the relations they have. I am in no danger of being troubled that way. You've heard of my poor brother's death?"
"He died last year. He was a clergyman, you know. When you come up next session, I hope to show you his daughter—your cousin, you know. She is coming to live with me. People that don't marry don't deserve to have children. But I'm going to have one after all. She's at school now. What do you think of turning to, Mr Forbes?"
"I haven't thought much about it yet, sir."
"Ah! I daresay not. If I were you, I would be a doctor. If you're honest, you're sure to do some good. I think you're just the man for a doctor now—you respect your fellow-men. You don't laugh at old age, Mr Forbes."
And so the kind garrulous old man went on, talking about everything except Greek. For that he had no enthusiasm. Indeed, he did not know enough to have, by possibility, any feeling about it. What he did know, however, he taught well, and very conscientiously.
This was the first time that Alec's thoughts had been turned towards a profession. The more he thought about it the better he liked the idea of being a doctor; till at length, after one or two talks about it with Mr Fraser, he resolved, notwithstanding that the session was considerably advanced, to attend the anatomical course for the rest of it. The Greek and Latin were tolerably easy to him, and it would be so much time gained if he entered the first medical class at once. He need not stand the examination except he liked, and the fee was not by any means large. His mother was more than satisfied with the proposal, and, although what seemed a trifle to Alec was of some consequence to her, she sent him at once the necessary supplies. Mr Fraser smoothed the way for him with the professor, and he was soon busy making up his distance by a close study of the class-books.
The first day of his attendance in the dissecting-room was a memorable one, and had memorable consequences. He had considerable misgivings about the new experience he had to meet, and sought, by the concentration of his will, to prepare himself to encounter the inevitable with calmness, and, if possible, with seeming indifference. But he was not prepared after all for the disadvantage of entering a company already hardened to those peculiarities of the position for which a certain induration is as desirable as unavoidable.
When he entered the room, he found a group already gathered. He drew timidly towards the table on the other side, not daring to glance at something which lay upon it—"white with the whiteness of what is dead;" and, feeling as if all the men were looking at him, as indeed most of them were, kept staring, or trying to stare, at other things in the room. But all at once, from an irresistible impulse, he faced round, and looked at the table.
There lay the body of a woman, with a young sad face, beautiful in spite of a terrible scar on the forehead, which indicated too plainly with what brutal companions she had consorted. Alec's lip quivered, and his throat swelled with a painful sensation of choking. He turned away, and bit his lip hard to keep down his emotion.
The best quality he possessed was an entire and profound reverence for women. Indignation even was almost quelled in the shock he received, when one of the students, for the pleasure of sneering at his discomposure, and making a boast of his own superiority to such weakness, uttered a brutal jest. In vain the upturned face made its white appeal to the universe: a laugh billowed the silence about its head.
But no rudeness could hurt that motionless heart—no insult bring a blush on that pale face. The closed eyes, the abandoned hands seemed only to pray:
"Let me into the dark—out of the eyes of those men!"
Alec gave one sob in the vain effort to master the conflicting emotions of indignation and pity. It reverberated in the laugh which burst from the students of the healing art. Almost quenched in the laugh he heard one word however, in the same voice which had made the jest—a voice he knew well enough—that of Patrick Beauchamp. His face blazed up; his eyes flashed; and he had made one step forward, when he was arrested by the still face of the dead woman, which, ghostly as the morning moon, returned no glow in the red sunlight of his wrath; and in reverence he restrained his anger. In another moment, the professor arrived.
During the lecture and accompanying demonstrations. Alec was deaf and blind from burning rage; in the midst of which, however, he almost forgot his own wrong in regarding that done to the dead. He became, in his own eyes, the champion of one whom nature and death had united to render defenceless. From the verge of a gulf more terrible than the grave, her cry had reached him, and he would rise to avenge her.
As soon as they came out, he walked up to Beauchamp.
"You called me a spoony," he said through his set teeth.
"I did," answered Beauchamp, with an admirable drawl of indifference.
Alec replied with a blow; whereupon Beauchamp knocked him down. But he was up in a moment; and, although his antagonist was both older and bigger, the elasticity of his perfect health soon began to tell. There was little science between them, and what there was lay on Beauchamp's side; yet he defended himself more and more feebly, for his wind had soon given way. At length, after receiving a terrible blow on the mouth, Beauchamp dropped his arms and turned his back; and Alec, after some hesitation, let him go without the parting kick which he was tempted to give him, and which he had so well deserved.
The men dispersed without remark, ashamed of themselves, and admiring the bumpkin—most of them were gentlemen enough for that; while each of the combatants retired unaccompanied to his own lodging—Alec with a black eye, which soon passed through yellow back to its own natural hue, and Beauchamp with a cut, the scar of which deepened the sneer on his upper lip, and was long his evil counsellor from the confessional of the mirror.
The encounter fortunately took place upon a Friday, so that the combatants had both Saturday and Sunday, with the deodand of a slight fine for being absent from chapel, to recover appearances. Alec kept to the house both days, and read hard at his medical and anatomical books. His landlady took charge of his eye, and ministered to it with assiduity and discretion, asking no questions, and courting no confidences, only looking at him comically now and then out of gray motherly eyes, that might have been trusted with the universe. She knew the ways of students. In the course of one of the dressings, she said:
"Ye'll be thinkin' lang (ennuye), Mr Forbes, at haein' to bide i' the hoose wi' that blackamoor ee o' yours. Hoo dinna ye gang up the stair to Mr Cupples, and hae a lauch wi' him?"
"I didna ken ye had onybody up the stair. Wha's Mr Cupples?"
"Weel, he kens that best himsel! But he's a gey queer ane. He's a terrible scholar though, fowk says—gran' at the Greek, and rael bonny on the mathewmawtics. Only ye maunna be fleyt (frightened) at him."
"I'm easy fleyt," said Alec, with a laugh. "But I wad like to see him."
"Gang up, than, and chap at the garret door upo' yer left han'."
"But what reason am I to gie him for disturbin' him?" asked Alec.
"Ow nane ava. Jist tak' a moufu' o' Greek wi' ye to speir the richt meanin' o', gin ye maun hae a rizzon."
"That will do just first-rate," said Alec; "for here I have been puzzling over a sentence for the last half hour with nobody but this dim-sighted ghost of a Schrevelius to help me out with it. I'll go directly. But I look such a blackguard with this game eye!"
The landlady laughed.
"You'll sune forget that whan ye see Mr Cupples."
To the dismay of his nurse, Alec pulled the bandage off his eye, and amidst her expostulations caught up his book, and rushing away, bounded up the garret stairs, which ascended outside the door of the flat. At the top, he found himself under the bare roof, with only boards and slates between him and the clouds. The landing was lighted by a skylight, across which diligent and undisturbed spiders had woven their webs for years. He stood for a moment or two, puzzled as to which door he ought to assail, for all the doors about looked like closet-doors, leading into dingy recesses. At last, with the aid of his nose, he made up his mind, and knocked.
"Come in," cried a voice of peculiar tone. It reminded Alec of something he could not at all identify, which was not wonderful, seeing it was of itself, heard once before, that it reminded him. It was the same voice which, as he walked to the debate, the first night, had warned him not to look at rainbows.
He opened the door and entered.
"What do you want?" said the voice, its source almost invisible in the thick fumes of genuine pigtail, through which it sent cross odours of as genuine Glenlivat.
"I want you to help me with a bit of Homer, if you please, Mr Cupples—I'm not up to Homer yet."
"Do ye think I hae naething ither to do than to grin' the grandur o' an auld haythen into spunemate for a young sinner like you?"
"Ye dinna ken what I'm like, Mr Cupples," returned Alec, remembering his landlady's injunction not to be afraid of him.
"Come athort the reek, and lat's luik at ye."
Alec obeyed, and found the speaker seated by the side of a little fire, in an old easy-chair covered with horsehair; and while undergoing his scrutiny, took his revenge in kind. Mr Cupples was a man who might have been of almost any age from five-and-twenty to fifty—at least, Alec's experience was insufficient for the task of determining to what decade of human years he belonged. He was a little man, in a long black tail-coat much too large, and dirty gray trousers. He had no shirt-collar visible, although a loose rusty stock revealed the whole of his brown neck. His hair, long, thin, fair, and yet a good deal mingled with grey, straggled about over an uncommonly high forehead, which had somehow the neglected and ruinous look of an old bare tower no ivy had beautified. His ears stood far out from his great head. His nose refuses to be described. His lips were plentiful and loose; his chin was not worth mentioning; his eyes were rather large, beautifully formed, bright, and blue. His hand, small, delicately shaped, and dirty, grasped, all the time he was examining Alec, a tumbler of steaming toddy; while his feet, in list slippers of different colours, balanced themselves upon the fender[.]