"You've been fighting, you young rascal!" said Mr Cupples, in a tone of authority, the moment he had satisfied himself about Alec's countenance. "That won't do. It's not respectable."
And he gave the queerest unintelligible grin.
Alec found himself strangely attracted to him, and impelled—a feeling not unfrequent with him—to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
"The world itself isn't the most respectable planet in the system, Mr Cupples," said he; "and no honest inhabitant of it can be always respectable either."
Mr Cupples chuckled and laughed groggily, muttering somewhere in his chest—
"You young dog! there's stuff in you!" Then composing himself a little, he said aloud: "Tell me all about it directly."
Alec obeyed, and, not without emotion, gave Mr Cupples the whole history of the affair.
"Damn you!" remarked Mr Cupples in a husky voice, as he held out a trembling hand to Alec, "you're one of the right sort. I'll do anything for you I can. Where's your Homer?"
So saying, he rose with care and went towards a cupboard in the corner. His pipe had been so far interrupted during their conversation, that Alec was now able, by the light of the tallow candle, to see the little garret room, with its ceiling on one side sloping nearly to the floor, its walls begrimed with smoke, and the bare plaster covered with grotesque pencil-drawings—caricatures of Homeric heroes in the guise of schoolboys, polemic clergymen of the city in the garb of fish-wives militant, and such like. A bed and a small chest of drawers stood under the slope of the roof, and the rest of the room was occupied by a painted table covered with papers, and a chair or two. An old broadsword leaned against the wall in a corner. A half-open cupboard revealed bottles, glasses, and a dry-looking cheese. To the corresponding cupboard, on the other side of the fire, which had lost a corner by the descent of the roof, Mr Cupples now dragged his slippers, feeling in his waistcoat pocket, as he went, for the key.—There was another door still, partly sunk in the slope of the ceiling.
When he opened the cupboard, a dusky glimmer of splendid bindings filling the whole recess, shone out upon the dingy room. From a shelf he took a volume of Homer, bound in vellum, with red edges—a copy of far greater value than Alec had knowledge of books to understand—and closing the door again, resumed his seat in the easy-chair. Having found the passage, he read it through aloud in a manner which made Homer for the first time sound like poetry in Alec's ears, and almost revealed the hidden significance. Then pouncing at once upon the shadowy word which was the key to the whole, he laid open the construction and meaning in one sentence of explanation.
"Thank you! thank you!" exclaimed Alec. "I see it all now as plain as English."
"Stop, stop, my young bantam!" said Mr Cupples. "Don't think you're going to break into my privacy and get off with the booty so cheaply. Just you construe the whole sentence to me."
Alec did so tolerably well; for the passage was only an easy extract, the class not having reached Homer yet. Mr Cupples put several questions to him, which gave him more insight into Greek than a week's work in the class would have done, and ended with a small lecture suggested by the passage, drinking away at his toddy all the time. The lecture and the toddy ended together. Turning his head aside, where it lay back in the horse-hair chair, he said sleepily:
"Go away—I don't know your name.—Come and see me to-morrow night. I'm drunk now."
Alec rose, made some attempt at thanks, received no syllable of reply, and went out, closing the door behind him, and leaving Mr Cupples to his dreams.
His countenance had not made much approximation to respectability before the Monday. He therefore kept it as well as he could out of Mr Fraser's sight, to whom he did not wish to give explanations to the prejudice of any of his fellow-students. Mr Fraser, however, saw his black eye well enough, but was too discreet to ask questions, and appeared quite unaware of the transitory blemish.
Meantime, at Glamerton the winter passed very much like former winters to all but three—Mrs Forbes, Annie Anderson, and Willie Macwha. To these the loss of Alec was dreary. So they were in a manner compelled to draw closer together. At school, Curly assumed the protectorship of Annie which had naturally devolved upon him, although there was now comparatively little occasion for its exercise; and Mrs Forbes, finding herself lonely in her parlour during the long forenights, got into the habit of sending Mary at least three times a week to fetch her. This was not agreeable to the Bruce, but the kingly inheritor abode his hour; and Mrs Forbes had no notion of the amount of offence she gave by doing so.
That parlour at Howglen was to Annie a little heaven hollowed out of the winter. The warm curtains drawn, and the fire blazing defiantly,—the angel with the flaming sword to protect their Paradise from the frost, it was indeed a contrast to the sordid shop, and the rat-haunted garret.
After tea they took it in turns to work and to read. Mrs Forbes had never sought to satisfy the religious public as to the state of her mind, and so had never been led astray into making frantic efforts to rouse her own feelings; which is, in fact, to apply to them the hottest searing iron of all, next to that of sin. Hence her emotional touch remained delicate, and what she could understand she could feel. The good books she liked best were stories of the Scotch Covenanters and Worthies, whose example, however much of stiff-neckedness may have mingled with their devotion, was yet the best that Annie could have, inasmuch as they were simply martyrs—men who would not say yes when they ought to say no. Nor was Mrs Forbes too religious to enjoy the representation given of these Covenanters in Old Mortality. Her feelings found nothing repulsive in the book, although she never discovered the reason in the fact that Sir Walter's feelings were the same as her own, whatever his opinions might be, and had given the chief colour and tone to the representation of his characters. There were more books in the house than was usual even in that of a gentleman farmer; and several of Sir Walter's novels, besides some travels, and a little Scotch history, were read between them that winter. In poetry, Annie had to forage for herself. Mrs Forbes could lend her no guiding hand in that direction.
The bond between them grew stronger every day. Annie was to Mrs Forbes an outlet for her maternity, which could never have outlet enough without a girl as well as a boy to love; and Annie, in consequence, was surrounded by numberless holy influences, which, operating in a time when she was growing fast, had their full effect upon mind and body both. In a condition of rapid change, the mass is more yielding and responsive. One result in her was, that a certain sober grace, like that of the lovely dull-feathered hen-birds, began to manifest itself in her carriage and her ways. And this leads me to remark that her outward and visible feathers would have been dull enough had not Mrs Forbes come to her aid with dresses of her own, which they remade between them; for it will easily be believed that no avoidable outlay remained unavoided by the Bruces. Indeed, but for the feeling that she must be decent on Sundays, they would have let her go yet shabbier than she was when Mrs Forbes thus partially adopted her. Now that she was warmly and neatly dressed, she began to feel and look more like the lady-child she really was. No doubt the contrast was very painful when she returned from Mrs Forbes's warm parlour to sleep in her own garret, with the snow on the roof, scanty clothing on the bed, and the rats in the floor. But there are two sides to a contrast; and it is wonderful also how one gets through what one cannot get out of.
A certain change in the Bruce-habits, leading to important results for Annie, must now be recorded.
Robert Bruce was making money, but not so fast as he wished. For his returns came only in small sums, although the profits were great. His customers were chiefly of the poorer classes of the town and the neighbourhood, who preferred his unpretending shop to the more showy establishments of some of his rivals. A sort of couthy, pauky, confidentially flattering way that he had with them, pleased them, and contributed greatly to keep them true to his counter. And as he knew how to buy as well as how to sell, the poor people, if they had not the worth of their money, had at least what was good of its sort. But, as I have said, although he was making haste to be rich, he was not succeeding fast enough. So he bethought him that the Missionar Kirk was getting "verra throng."
A month or two before this time, the Missionars had made choice of a very able man for their pastor—a man of genuine and strong religious feeling, who did not allow his theology to interfere with the teaching given him by God's Spirit more than he could help, and who, if he had been capable of making a party at all, would have made it with the poor against the rich. This man had gathered about him a large congregation of the lower classes of Glamerton; and Bruce had learned with some uneasiness that a considerable portion of his customers was to be found in the Missionar Kirk on Sundays, especially in the evenings. For there was a grocer amongst the Missionars, who, he feared, might draw some of his subjects away from their allegiance, seeing he must have a certain religious influence of which Robert was void, to bring to bear upon them. What therefore remained but that he too should join the congregation? For then he would not only retain the old, but have a chance of gaining new customers as well. So he took a week to think about it, a Sunday to hear Mr Turnbull in order that the change might not seem too abrupt, and a pew under the gallery before the next Sunday arrived; in which, five minutes before the hour, he and his family were seated, adding greatly to the consequence both of the place and of himself in the eyes of his Missionar customers.
This change was a source of much pleasure to Annie. For although she found the service more wearisome than good Mr Cowie's, lasting as it did about three quarters of an hour longer and the sermon was not invariably of a kind in which she could feel much interest, yet, occasionally, when Mr Turnbull was in his better moods, and testified of that which he had himself seen and known, the honest heart of the maiden recognized the truth, and listened absorbed. The young Bruces, for their parts, would gladly have gone to sleep, which would perhaps have been the most profitable use to which they could put the time; but they were kept upright and in a measure awake, by the constant application, "spikewise," of the paternal elbow, and the judicious administration, on the part of the mother, of the unfailing peppermint lozenges, to which in the process of ages a certain sabbatical character has attached itself. To Annie, however, no such ministration extended, for it would have been downright waste, seeing she could keep awake without it.
One bright frosty morning, the sermon happening to have no relation to the light around or within them, but only to the covenant made with Abraham—such a legal document constituting the only reliable protection against the character, inclinations, and duties of the Almighty, whose uncovenanted mercies are of a very doubtful nature—Annie, neither able to enter into the subject, nor to keep from shivering with the cold, tried to amuse herself with gazing at one brilliant sun-streak on the wall, which she had discovered to be gradually shortening itself, and retreating towards the window by which it had entered. Wondering how far it would have moved before the sermon was over, and whether it would have shone so very bright if God had made no covenant with Abraham, she was earnestly watching it pass from spot to spot, and from cobweb to cobweb, as if already it fled before the coming darkness of the long winter night, when she caught a glimpse of a very peculiar countenance turned in the same direction—that is, not towards the minister, but towards this travelling light. She thought the woman was watching it as well as she, and wondered whether she too was hoping for a plate of hot broth as soon as the sunbeam had gone a certain distance—broth being the Sunday fare with the Bruces—and, I presume, with most families in Scotland. The countenance was very plain, seamed and scarred as if the woman had fallen into the fire when a child; and Annie had not looked at her two seconds, before she saw that she was perfectly blind. Indeed she thought at first that she had no eyes at all; but as she kept gazing, fascinated with the strangeness and ugliness of the face, she discovered that the eyelids, though incapable of separating, were inconstant motion, and that a shrunken eye-ball underneath each kept rolling and turning ever, as if searching for something it could not find. She saw too that there was a light on the face, a light which came neither from the sun in the sky, nor the sunbeam on the wall, towards which it was unconsciously turned. I think it must have been the heavenly bow itself, shining upon all human clouds—a bow that had shone for thousands of ages before ever there was an Abraham, or a Noah, or any other of our faithless generation, which will not trust its God unless he swear that he will not destroy them. It was the ugliest face. But over it, as over the rugged channel of a sea, flowed the transparent waves of a heavenly delight.
When the service was over, almost before the words of the benediction had left the minister's lips, the people, according to Scotch habit, hurried out of the chapel, as if they could not possibly endure one word more. But Annie, who was always put up to the top of the pew, because there, by reason of an intruding pillar, it required a painful twist of the neck to see the minister, stood staring at the blind woman as she felt her way out of the chapel. There was no fear of putting her out by staring at her. When, at length, she followed her into the open air, she found her standing by the door, turning her sightless face on all sides, as if looking for some one and trying hard to open her eyes that she might see better. Annie watched her, till, seeing her lips move, she knew, half by instinct, that she was murmuring, "The bairn's forgotten me!" Thereupon she glided up to her and said gently:
"If ye'll tell me whaur ye bide, I s' tak ye hame."
"What do they ca' you, bairn?" returned the blind woman, in a gruff, almost manlike voice, hardly less unpleasant to hear than her face was to look at.
"Annie Anderson," answered Annie.
"Ow, ay! I thoucht as muckle. I ken a' aboot ye. Gie's a haud o' yer han'. I bide i' that wee hoosie down at the brig, atween the dam and the Glamour, ye ken. Ye'll haud me aff o' the stanes?"
"Ay will I." answered Annie confidently.
"I could gang my lane, but I'm growin some auld noo, and I'm jist raither feared for fa'in'."
"What garred ye think it was me—I never spak till ye afore?" asked Annie, as they walked on together.
"Weel, it's jist half guissin', an' half a kin' o' jeedgment—pittin things thegither, ye ken, my bairn. Ye see, I kent a' the bairns that come to oor kirk weel eneuch already. I ken the word and amaist the fit o' them. And I had heard tell 'at Maister Bruce was come to oor kirk. Sae when a lassie spak till me 'at I never saw afore, I jist a kin' o' kent 'at it bude to be yersel'."
All this was spoken in the same harsh voice, full of jars, as if ever driving against corners, and ready to break into a hoarse whisper. But the woman held Annie's hand kindly, and yielded like a child to her guidance which was as careful as that of the angel that led Peter.
It was a new delight to Annie to have some one to whom she a child could be a kind of mother, towards whom she could fulfil a woman's highest calling—that of ministering unto; and it was with something of a sacred pride that she led her safe home, through the snowy streets, and down the steep path that led from the level of the bridge, with its three high stone arches, to the little meadow where her cottage stood. Before they reached it, the blind woman, whose name was Tibbie (Isobel) Dyster, had put many questions to her, and without asking one indiscreet, had yet, by her gift for fitting and fusing things in the retort of her own brain, come to a tolerably correct knowledge of her character, circumstances, and history.
As soon as they entered the cottage, Tibbie was entirely at her ease. The first thing she did was to lift the kettle from the fire, and feel the fire with her hands in order to find out in what condition it was. She would not allow Annie to touch it: she could not trust the creature that had nothing but eyes to guide her, with such a delicate affair. Her very hands looked blind and trying to see, as, with fine up-curved tips, they went wandering over the tops of the live peats. She re-arranged them, put on some fresh pieces, blew a little at them all astray and to no purpose, was satisfied, coughed, and sank upon a chair, to put her bonnet off. Most women of her station wore only a mutch or close cap, but Tibbie wore a bonnet with a brilliantly gay ribbon, so fond was she of bright colours, although she had nothing but the testimony of others, vague enough ere it succeeded in crossing the dark distances of her brain, as to the effect of those even with which she adorned her own person. Her room was very bare, but as clean as it was possible for room to be. Her bed was in the wall which divided it from the rest of the house, and this one room was her whole habitation. The other half of the cottage was occupied by an old cripple, nearly bedridden, to whose many necessities Tibbie used to minister. The eyes of the one and the legs of the other worked in tolerable harmony; and if they had a quarrel now and then, it was no greater than gave a zest to their intercourse. These particulars, however, Annie did not learn till afterwards.
She looked all about the room, and seeing no sign of any dinner for Tibbie, was reminded thereby that her own chance had considerably diminished.
"I maun awa hame," she said with a sigh.
"Ay, lassie; they'll be bidin' their denner for ye."
"Na, nae fear o' that," answered Annie, adding with another little sigh, "I doot there winna be muckle o' the broth to the fore or I win hame."
"Weel jist bide, bairn, an' tak' a cup o' tay wi' me. It's a' 'at I hae to offer ye. Will ye bide?"
"Maybe I wad be i' yer gait," objected Annie feebly.
"Na, na; nae fear o' that. Ye'll read a bit to me efterhin."
"Ay will I."
And Annie stayed all the afternoon with Tibbie, and went home with the Bruces after the evening service. This was the beginning of her acquaintance with Tibbie Dyster.
It soon grew into a custom for Annie to take Tibbie home from the chapel—a custom which the Bruces could hardly have objected to, had they been so inclined. But they were not so inclined, for it saved the broth—that is, each of them got a little more in consequence, and Annie's absence was therefore a Sabbath blessing.
Much as she was neglected at home, however, Annie was steadily gaining a good reputation in the town. Old men said she was a gude bairn, and old women said she was a douce lassie; while those who enjoyed finding fault more than giving praise, turned their silent approbation of Annie into expressions of disapproval of the Bruces—"lattin' her gang like a beggar, as gin she was no kith or kin o' theirs, whan it's weel kent whase heifer Rob Bruce is plooin' wi'."
But Robert nevertheless grew and prospered all day, and dreamed at night that he was the king, digging the pits for the English cavalry, and covering them again with the treacherous turf. Somehow the dream never went further. The field and the kingship would vanish and he only remain, the same Robert Bruce, the general dealer, plotting still, but in his own shop.
Responsive to Mr Cupples's last words uttered from the brink of the pit into which his spirit was sinking, and probably forgotten straightway, Alec knocked at his door upon the Sunday evening, and entered. The strange creature was sitting in the same position as before, looking as if he had not risen since he spoke those words. But there was an alteration in the place, a certain Sunday look about the room, which Alec could not account for. The same caricatures jested from the walls; the same tumbler of toddy was steaming on the table amidst the same litter of books and papers covered with the same dust and marked with the same circles from the bottoms of wet tumblers and glasses. The same cutty-clay, of enviable blackness, reposed between the teeth of Mr Cupples.
After he had been seated for a few moments, however, Alec all at once discovered the source of the reformation-look of the place: Mr Cupples had on a shirt-collar—clean and of imposing proportions. To this no doubt was attached a shirt, but as there was no further sign of its presence, it could not have affected the aspect of things. Although, however, this shirt-collar was no doubt the chief cause of the change of expression in the room, Alec, in the course of the evening, discovered further signs of improvement in the local morals; one, that the hearth had been cleared of a great heap of ashes, and now looked modest and moderate as if belonging to an old maid's cottage, instead of an old bachelor's garret; and another, that, upon the untidy table, lay an open book of divinity, a volume of Gurnall's Christian Armour namely, which I fear Mr Cupples had chosen more for its wit than its devotion. While making these discoveries, Alec chanced to observe—he was quick-eyed—that some of the dusty papers on the table were scrawled over with the first amorphous appearance of metrical composition. These moved his curiosity; for what kind of poetry could the most unpoetic-looking Mr Cupples produce from that great head of his with the lanky colourless hair?—But meantime we must return to the commencement of the interview.
"Ony mair Greek, laddie?" asked Mr Cupples.
"No, thank you, sir," answered Alec. "I only came to see you. You told me to come again to-night."
"Did I? Well, it may stand. But I protest against being made accountable for anything that fellow Cupples may choose to say when I'm not at home."
Here he emptied his glass of toddy, and filled it again from the tumbler.
"Shall I go away?" asked Alec, half bewildered.
"No, no; sit still. You're a good sort of innocent, I think. I won't give you any toddy though. You needn't look so greedy at it."
"I don't want any toddy, sir. I never drank a tumbler in my life."
"For God's sake," exclaimed Mr Cupples, with sudden energy, leaning forward in his chair, his blue eyes flashing on Alec—"for God's sake, never drink a drop.—Rainbows. Rainbows."
These last two words were spoken after a pause, and in a tone of sadness. Alec thought he was drunk again, and half rose to go.
"Dinna gang yet," said Mr Cupples, authoritatively. "Ye come at yer ain will: ye maun gang at mine.—Gin I cud but get a kick at that fellow Cupples! But I declare I canna help it. Gin I war God, I wad cure him o' drink. It's the verra first thing I wad do."
Alec could not help being shocked at the irreverence of the words. But the solemnity of Mr Cupples's face speedily dissipated the feeling. Suddenly changing his tone, he went on:
"What's your name?"
"Alec Forbes. I'll try to remember it. I seldom remember anybody's name, though. I sometimes forget my own. What was the fellow's name you thrashed the other day?"
"Patrick Beauchamp. I did not mention it before."
"The deevil it was!" exclaimed Mr Cupples, half-starting from his seat. "Did ye gie him a richt thrashin'?"
"I think he had the worst of it. He gave in, any way."
"He comes of a bad lot! I know all about them. They're from Strathspey, where my father came from—at least his father was. If the young fellow turns out well, it'll be a wonder. I'll tell you all about them."
Mr Cupples here launched into a somewhat discursive account of Patrick Beauchamp's antecedents, indicating by its minuteness that there must have been personal relations of some kind between them or their families. Perhaps he glanced at something of the sort when he said that old Beauchamp was a hard man even for a lawyer. I will condense the story from the more diffuse conversational narrative, interrupted by question and remark on the part of Alec, and give it the shape of formal history.
Beauchamp's mother was the daughter of a Highland chief, whose pedigree went back to an Irish king of date so remote that his existence was doubtful to every one not personally interested in the extraction. Mrs Beauchamp had all the fierceness without much of the grace belonging to the Celtic nature. Her pride of family, even, had not prevented her from revenging herself upon her father, who had offended her, by running away with a handsome W.S., who, taken with her good looks, and flattered by the notion of overcoming her pride, had found a conjunction of circumstances favourable to the conquest. It was not long, however, before both repented of the step. That her father should disown her was not of much consequence in any point of view, but that nobody in Edinburgh would admit her claims to distinction—which arose from the fact that they were so unpleasantly asserted that no one could endure herself—did disgust her considerably; and her annoyance found vent in abuse of her husband for having failed to place her in the sphere to which she had a just claim. The consequence was, that he neglected her; and she sat at home brooding over her wrongs, despising and at length hating her husband, and meditating plans of revenge as soon as her child should be born. At length, within three months after the birth of Patrick, she found that he was unfaithful to her, and immediately demanded a separate maintenance. To this her husband made no further objection than policy required. But when she proceeded to impose an oath upon him that he would never take her child from her, the heart of the father demurred. Whereupon she swore that, if ever he made the attempt, she would poison the child rather than that he should succeed. He turned pale as death, and she saw that she had gained her point. And, indeed, the woman was capable of anything to which she had made up her mind—a power over one's self and friends not desirable except in view of such an object as that of Lady Macbeth. But Mrs Beauchamp, like her, considered it only a becoming strength of spirit, and would have despised herself if she had broken one resolution for another indubitably better. So her husband bade her farewell, and made no lamentation except over the probable result of such training as the child must receive at the hands of such a mother. She withdrew to a country town not far from the Moray Frith, where she might live comfortably on her small income, be a person of some consideration, and reap all the advantages of the peculiar facilities which the place afforded for the education of her boy, whom she would mould and model after her own heart.
"So you see, Mr—I forget yer name—Forbes? yes, Forbes, if the rascal takes after his mother, you have made a dangerous enemy," said Mr Cupples, in conclusion.
"I advise you," resumed Mr Cupples, "to keep a gleg ee in yer heid, though—seriously. A body may lauch ower aften. It winna do to gang glowerin' at rainbows. They're bonnie things, but they're nae brig-backs. Gin ye lippen to them, ye'll be i' the water in a cat-loup."
Alec was beginning to enter into the humour of the man.
"I see something like poetry lying about the table, Mr Cupples," said he, with a sly allusion to the rainbows. "Would you let me look at it?"
Mr Cupples glanced at him sharply; but replied immediately:
"Broken bits o' them! And the rainbows cast (lose colour) awfu', ance ye tak' the key-stane oot o' them. Lat them sit up there, brigs (bridges) ower naething, wi' nae road upo' the tap o' them, like the stane brig o' Drumdochart efter the spate (flood). Haud yer han's and yer een aff o' them, as I tellt ye afore.—Ay, ay, ye can luik at thae screeds gin ye like. Only dinna say a word to me aboot ony o' them. And tak' warnin' by them yersel, never to write ae word o' poetry, to haud ye frae rivin'."
"Sma' fear o' that!" returned Alec, laughing.
"Weel, I houp sae.—Ye can mak a kirk an' a mill o' them, gin ye like. They hae lain there lang eneuch. Noo, haud yer tongue. I'm gaein to fill my pipe again, afore I burn oot the dottle. I winna drink mair the nicht, cause it's the Sabbath, and I'm gaein to read my buik."
So saving, he proceeded to get the dottle out of his pipe, by knocking it on the hob; while Alec took up the paper that lay nearest. He found it contained a fragment of a poem in the Scotch language; and, searching amongst the rest of the scattered sheets, he soon got the whole of it together.
Now, although Alec had but little acquaintance with verse, he was able, thanks to Annie Anderson, to enjoy a ballad very heartily; and there was something in this one which, associating itself in his mind with the strange being before him, moved him more than he could account for. It was called
TIME AND TIDE.
As I was walkin' on the strand, I spied an auld man sit On ane auld rock; and aye the waves Cam washin' to its fit. And aye his lips gaed mutterin', And his ee was dull and blae. As I cam near, he luik'd at me, But this was a' his say: "Robbie and Jeannie war twa bonnie bairns, And they played thegither upo' the shore: Up cam the tide 'tween the mune and the sterns, And pairtit the twa wi' an eerie roar."
What can the auld man mean, quo' I, Sittin' upo' the auld rock? The tide creeps up wi' moan and cry, And a hiss 'maist like a mock. The words he mutters maun be the en' O' a weary dreary sang— A deid thing floatin' in his brain, That the tide will no lat gang. "Robbie and Jeannie war twa bonnie bairns, And they played thegither upo' the shore: Up cam the tide 'tween the mune and the sterns, And pairtit the twa wi' an eerie roar."
What pairtit them, auld man? I said; Did the tide come up ower strang? 'Twas a braw deith for them that gaed, Their troubles warna lang. Or was ane ta'en, and the ither left— Ane to sing, ane to greet? It's sair, richt sair, to be bereft, But the tide is at yer feet. "Robbie and Jeannie war twa bonnie bairns, And they played thegither upo' the shore: Up cam the tide 'tween the mune and the sterns, And pairtit the twa wi' an eerie roar."
Maybe, quo' I, 'twas Time's gray sea, Whase droonin' 's waur to bide; But Death's a diver, seekin' ye Aneath its chokin' tide. And ye'll luik in ane anither's ee Triumphin' ower gray Time. But never a word he answered me, But ower wi' his dreary chime— "Robbie and Jeannie war twa bonnie bairns, And they played thegither upo' the shore: Up cam the tide 'tween the mune and the sterns, And pairtit the twa wi' an eerie roar."
Maybe, auld man, said I, 'twas Change That crap atween the twa? Hech! that's a droonin' awfu' strange, Ane waur than ane and a'. He spak nae mair. I luik't and saw That the auld lips cudna gang. The tide unseen took him awa— Left me to end his sang: "Robbie and Jeannie war twa bonnie bairns, And they played thegither upo' the shore: Up cam the tide 'tween the mune and the sterns, And tuik them whaur pairtin' shall be no more."
Before he had finished reading, the refrain had become so familiar to Alec, that he unconsciously murmured the last, changed as it was from the preceding form, aloud. Mr Cupples looked up from Gurnall uneasily, fidgeted in his chair, and said testily:
"A' nonsense! Moonshine and rainbows! Haud yer tongue! The last line's a' wrang."
He then returned with a determined air to the consideration of his Christian Armour, while Alec, in whom the minor tone of the poem had greatly deepened the interest he felt in the writer, gazed at him in a bewilderment like that one feels when his eyes refuse to take their proper relation to the perspective before them. He could not get those verses and Mr Cupples into harmony. Not daring to make any observation, however, he sat with the last leaf still in his hand, and a reverential stare upon his face, which at length produced a remarkable effect upon the object of it. Suddenly lifting his eyes—
"What are ye glowerin' at me for?" he exclaimed, flinging his book from him, which, missing the table, fell on the floor on the further side of it. "I'm neither ghaist nor warlock. Damn ye! gang oot, gin ye be gaun to stick me throu and throu wi' yer een, that gait."
"I beg your pardon, Mr Cupples. I didn't mean to be rude," said Alec humbly.
"Weel, cut yer stick, I hae eneuch o' ye for ae nicht. I canna stan' glowerin' een, especially i' the heids o' idiots o' innocents like you."
I am sorry to have to record what Alec learned from the landlady afterwards, that Mr Cupples went to bed that night, notwithstanding it was the Sabbath, more drunk than she had ever known him. Indeed he could not properly be said to have gone to bed at all, for he had tumbled on the counter-pane in his clothes and clean shirt-collar; where she had found him fast asleep the next morning, with Gurnall's Christian Armour terribly crumpled under him.
"But," said Alec, "what is Mr Cupples?"
"That's a queston he cudna weel answer ye himsel'," was the reply. "He does a heap o' things; writes for the lawyers whiles; buys and sells queer buiks; gies lessons in Greek and Hebrew—but he disna like that—he canna bide to be contred, and laddies is gey contresome; helps onybody that wants help i' the way o' figures—whan their buiks gang wrang ye ken, for figures is some ill for jummlin'. He's a kin' o' librarian at yer ain college i' the noo, Mr Forbes. The auld man's deid, and Mr Cupples is jist doin' the wark. They winna gie him the place—'cause he has an ill name for drink—but they'll get as muckle wark oot o' him as gin they did, and for half the siller. The body hauds at onythiug weel eneuch a' day, but the minute he comes hame, oot comes the tappit hen, and he jist sits doon and drinks till he turns the warl upo' the tap o' 'm."
The next day, about noon, Alec went into the library, where he found Mr Cupples busy re-arranging the books and the catalogue, both of which had been neglected for years. This was the first of many visits to the library, or rather to the librarian.
There was a certain mazy sobriety of demeanour about Mr Cupples all day long, as if in the presence of such serious things as books he was bound to be upon his good behaviour, and confine his dissipation to taking snuff in prodigious quantities. He was full of information about books, and had, besides, opinions concerning them, which were always ready to assume quaint and decided expression. For instance: one afternoon, Alec having taken up Tristram Shandy and asked him what kind of a book it was, the pro-librarian snatched it from his hands and put it on the shelf again, answering:
"A pailace o' dirt and impidence and speeeritual stink. The clever deevil had his entrails in his breest and his hert in his belly, and regairdet neither God nor his ain mither. His lauchter's no like the cracklin' o' thorns unner a pot, but like the nicherin' o' a deil ahin' the wainscot. Lat him sit and rot there!"
Asking him another day what sort of poet Shelley was, Alec received the answer:
"A bonny cratur, wi' mair thochts nor there was room for i' the bit heid o' 'm. Consequently he gaed staiggerin' aboot as gin he had been tied to the tail o' an inveesible balloon. Unco licht heidit, but no muckle hairm in him by natur'."
He never would remain in the library after the day began to ebb. The moment he became aware that the first filmy shadow had fallen from the coming twilight, he caught up his hat, locked the door, gave the key to the sacrist, and hurried away.
The friendly relation between the two struck its roots deeper and deeper during the session, and Alec bade him good-bye with regret.
Mr Cupples was a baffled poet trying to be a humourist—baffled—not by the booksellers or the public—for such baffling one need not have a profound sympathy—but baffled by his own weakness, his incapacity for assimilating sorrow, his inability to find or invent a theory of the universe which should show it still beautiful despite of passing pain, of checked aspiration, of the ruthless storms that lay waste the Edens of men, and dissolve the high triumph of their rainbows. He had yet to learn that through "the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to," man becomes capable of the blessedness to which all the legends of a golden age point. Not finding, when he most needed it, such a theory even in the New Testament—for he had been diligently taught to read it awry—Mr Cupples took to jesting and toddy; but, haunting the doors of Humour, never got further than the lobby.
With regard to Patrick Beauchamp, as far as Alec could see, his dignity had succeeded in consoling itself for the humiliation it had undergone, by an absolute and eternal renunciation of all knowledge of Alec Forbes's existence.
Winter had begun to withdraw his ghostly troops, and Glamerton began to grow warmer. Not half so many cold feet dangled from the cold legs of little children in the torturing churches; not half so many coughs tore the chests of the poor old men and women as they stooped over their little fires, with the blasts from door and window-sill in their ankles and the backs of their necks. Annie, who had been very happy all the time, began to be aware of something more at hand. A flutter scarcely recognizable, as of the wings of awaking delight, would stir her little heart with a sensation of physical presence and motion; she would find herself giving an involuntary skip as she walked along, and now and then humming a bit of a psalm tune. A hidden well was throbbing in the child's bosom. Its waters had been frozen by the winter; and the spring, which sets all things springing, had made it flow and swell afresh, soon to break bubbling forth. But her joy was gentle, for even when she was merriest, it was in a sobor, douce, and maidenly fashion, testifying that she had already walked with Sorrow, and was not afraid of her.
Robert Bruce's last strategical move against the community had been tolerably successful, even in his own eyes; and he was consequently so far satisfied with himself, that he could afford to be in good humour with other people. Annie came in for a share of this humour; and although she knew him too well to have any regard for him, it was yet a comfort to her to be on such terms with him as not to have to dread a bitter word every time she chanced to meet him. This comfort, however, stood on a sandy foundation; for the fact that an expected customer had not called upon the Saturday might be enough to set the acetous fermentation at work all the Sunday in the bosom of Robert Bruce.
At length, one bright day in the end of March, Alec came home, not the worse to friendly eyes for having been at college. He seemed the same cheery, active youth as before. The chief differences apparent were, that he had grown considerably, and that he wore a coat. The hat, at that time a necessary portion of the college costume, he had discarded, wearing his old cap in preference. There was likewise a certain indescribable alteration in tone and manner, a certain general crystallization and polish, which the same friends regarded as an indubitable improvement.
The day after his arrival, crossing the square of Glamerton, he spied, in a group of men talking together, his old friend, Thomas Crann. He went up and shook hands with him, and with Andrew Constable, the clothier.
"Has na he grown a lang chield?" said Andrew to Thomas, regarding Alec kindly.
"Humph!" returned Thomas, "he'll jist need the langer coffin."
Alec laughed; but Andrew said, "Hoot! hoot!"
Thomas and Alec walked away together. But scarcely a sentence had been exchanged before the stonemason, with a delicacy of perception of which his rough manner and horny hands gave no indication, felt that a film of separation had come between the youth and himself. Anxious to break through it, he said abruptly,
"Hoo's yer immortal pairt, Alec? Min' ye, there's a knowledge that worketh deith."
Alec laughed—not scornfully—but he laughed.
"Ye may lauch, Alec, but it's a sair trowth," said the mason.
Alec held out his hand, for here their way diverged. Thomas shook it kindly, but walked away gloomy. Arrived at home, he shut to his door, and went down on his knees by his bedside. When Jean came with his supper she found the door fast.
In order to prepare for the mathematical studies of the following year, Alec went to the school again in the morning of most days, Mr Malison being well able to render him all the assistance he required. The first time he made his appearance at the door, a silence as of death was the sign of his welcome; but a tumult presently arose, and discipline was for a time suspended. I am afraid he had a slight feeling of condescension, as he returned the kind greeting of his old companions.—Raise a housemaid to be cook, and she will condescend to the new housemaid.
Annie sat still, staring at her book, and turning red and pale alternately. But he took no notice of her, and she tried to be glad of it.
When school was over, however, he came up to her in the lane, and addressed her kindly.
But the delicate little maiden felt, as the rough stonemason had felt, that a change had passed over the old companion and friend. True, the change was only a breath—a mere shadow. Yet it was a measureless gulf between them. Annie went to her garret that night with a sense of sad privation.
But her pain sprung from a source hardly so deep as that of the stonemason. For the change she found in Alec was chiefly of an external kind, and if she had a vague feeling of a deeper change, it had scarcely yet come up into her consciousness. When she saw the young gentleman her heart sank within her. Her friend was lost; and a shape was going about, as he did, looking awfully like the old Alec, who had carried her in his arms through the invading torrent. Nor was there wanting, to complete the bewilderment of her feeling, a certain additional reverence for the apparition, which she must after all regard as a further development of the same person.
Mrs Forbes never asked her to the house now, and it was well for her that her friendship with Tibbie Dyster had begun. But as she saw Alec day after day at school, the old colours began to revive out of the faded picture—for to her it was a faded picture, although new varnished. And when the spring had advanced a little, the boat was got out, and then Alec could not go rowing in the Bonnie Annie without thinking of its godmother, and inviting her to join them. Indeed Curly would not have let him forget her if he had been so inclined; for he felt that she was a bond between him and Alec, and he loved Alec the more devotedly that the rift between their social positions had begun to show itself. The devotion of the schoolboy to his superior in schoolboy arts had begun to change into something like the devotion of the clansman to his chief—not the worst folly the world has known—in fact not a folly at all, except it stop there: many enthusiasms are follies only because they are not greater enthusiasms. And not unfrequently would an odd laugh of consciousness between Annie and Curly, unexpectedly meeting, reveal the fact that they were both watching for a peep or a word of Alec.
In due time the harvest came; and Annie could no more keep from haunting the harvest than the crane could keep from flying south when the summer is over. She watched all the fields around Glamerton; she knew what response each made to the sun, and which would first be ripe for the reaping; and the very day that the sickle was put in, there was Annie to see and share in the joy. How mysterious she thought those long colonnades of slender pillars, each supporting its own waving comet-head of barley! Or when the sun was high, she would lie down on the ground, and look far into the little forest of yellow polished oat-stems, stretching away and away into the unseen—alas, so soon to fall, and leave a naked commonplace behind! If she were only small enough to go wandering about in it, what wonders might she not discover!—But I forget that I am telling a story, and not writing a fairy-tale.—Unquestioned as uninvited, she was, as she had often been before, one of the company of reapers, gatherers, binders, and stookers, assembled to collect the living gold of the earth from the early fields of the farm of Howglen. Sadly her thoughts went back to the old days when Dowie was master of the field, and she was Dowie's little mistress. Not that she met with anything but kindness—only it was not the kindness she had had from Dowie. But the pleasure of being once more near Alec almost made up for every loss. And he was quite friendly, although, she must confess, not quite so familiar as of old. But that did not matter, she assured herself.
The labourers all knew her, and themselves took care that she should have the portion of their food which her assistance had well earned, and which was all her wages. She never refused anything that was offered her, except money. That she had taken only once in her life—from Mr Cowie, whom she continued to love the more dearly for it, although she no longer attended his church.
But again the harvest was safely lodged, and the sad old age of the year sank through rains and frosts to his grave.
The winter came and Alec went.
He had not been gone a week when Mrs Forbes's invitations re-commenced; and, as if to make up for the neglect of the summer, they were more frequent than before. No time was so happy for Annie as the time she spent with her. She never dreamed of accusing her of fickleness or unevenness, but received whatever kindness she offered with gratitude. And, this winter, she began to make some return in the way of household assistance.
One day, while searching in the lumber-room for something for Mrs Forbes, she came upon a little book lying behind a box. It was damp and swollen and mouldy, and the binding was decayed and broken. The inside was dingy and spotted with brown spots, and had too many f's in it, as she thought. Yet the first glance fascinated her. It had opened in the middle of L'Allegro. Mrs Forbes found her standing spell-bound, reading the rhymed poems of the man whose blank-verse, two years before, she had declined as not what poetry ought to be. I have often seen a child refuse his food, and, after being compelled to eat one mouthful, gladly devour the whole. In like manner Annie, having once tasted Milton's poetry, did not let it go till she had devoured even the Paradise Lost, of which when she could not make sense, she at least made music-the chords of old John Milton's organ sounding through his son's poetry in the brain of a little Scotch lassie who never heard an organ in her life.
"Hillo, bantam!" exclaimed Mr Cupples, to Alec entering his garret within an hour of his arrival in his old quarters, and finding the soul of the librarian still hovering in the steam of his tumbler, like one of Swedenborg's damned over the odour of his peculiar hell. As he spoke he emptied the glass, the custom of drinking from which, instead of from the tumbler itself—rendering it impossible to get drunk all at once—is one of the atonements offered by the Scotch to their tutelar god—Propriety.—"Come awa'. What are ye stan'in' there for, as gin ye warna at hame," he added, seeing that Alec lingered on the threshold. "Sit doon. I'm nae a'thegither sorry to see ye."
"Have you been to the country, Mr Cupples?" asked Alec, as he took a chair.
"The country! Na, I haena been i' the country. I'm a toon-snail. The country's for calves and geese. It's ower green for me. I like the gray stanes—weel biggit, to haud oot the cauld. I jist reverse the opingon o' the auld duke in Mr Shackspere;—for this my life
'Find trees in tongues, its running brooks in books, Stones in sermons,—-'
and I canna gang on ony farther wi' 't. The last's true ony gait. I winna gie ye ony toddy though."
"I dinna want nane."
"That's richt. Keep to that negation as an anchor o' the soul, sure and steadfast. There's no boddom to the sea ye'll gang doon in gin ye cut the cable that hauds ye to that anchor. Here's to ye!"
And again Mr Cupples emptied his glass.
"Hoo are ye prepared for yer mathematics?" he resumed.
"Middlin' only," answered Alec.
"I was doobtin' that. Sma' preparation does weel eneuch for Professor Fraser's Greek; but ye'll fin' it's anither story wi' the mathematics. Ye maun jist come to me wi' them as ye did wi' the Greek."
"Thank you, Mr Cupples," said Alec heartily. "I don't know how to repay you."
"Repay me! I want nae repayment. Only spier nae questons at me, and gang awa whan I'm drunk."
After all his summer preparation, Alec was still behind in mathematics; for while, with a distinct object in view, he was capable of much—without one, reading was a weariness to him. His medical studies, combining, as they did, in their anatomical branch, much to be learned by the eye and the hand with what was to be learned from books, interested him more and more.
One afternoon, intent upon a certain course of investigation, he remained in the dissecting room after the other students had gone, and worked away till it grew dark. He then lighted a candle, and worked on. The truth was unfolding itself gently and willingly. At last, feeling tired, he laid down his scalpel, dropped upon a wooden chair, and, cold as it was, fell fast asleep. When he awoke, the candle was bobbing in its socket, alternately lighting and shadowing the dead man on the table. Strange glooms were gathering about the bottles on the shelves, and especially about one corner of the room, where—but I must not particularize too much. It must be remembered that he had awaked suddenly, in a strange place, and with a fitful light. He confessed to Mr Cupples that he had felt a little uncomfortable—not frightened, but eerie. He was just going to rise and go home, when, as he stretched out his hand for his scalpel, the candle sunk in darkness, and he lost the guiding glitter of the knife. At the same moment, he caught a doubtful gleam of two eyes looking in at him from one of the windows. That moment the place became insupportable with horror. The vague sense of an undefined presence turned the school of science into a charnel-house. He started up, hurried from the room, feeling as if his feet took no hold of the floor and his back was fearfully exposed, locked the door, threw the key upon the porter's table, and fled. He did not recover his equanimity till he found himself in the long narrow street that led to his lodgings, lighted from many little shop-windows in stone gable and front.
By the time he had had his tea, and learned a new proposition of Euclid, the fright seemed to lie far behind him. It was not so far as he thought, however, for he started to his feet when a sudden gust of wind shook his windows. But then it was a still frosty night, and such a gust was not to be expected. He looked out. Far above shone the stars.
"How they sparkle in the frost!" he said, as if the frost reached them. But they did look like the essential life that makes snow-flakes and icy spangles everywhere—they were so like them, only they were of fire. Even snow itself must have fire at the heart of it.—All was still enough up there.
Then he looked down into the street, full of the comings and goings of people, some sauntering and staring, others hastening along. Beauchamp was looking in at the window of a second-hand book-shop opposite.
Not being able to compose himself again to his studies, he resolved, as he had not called on Mr Fraser for some time, and the professor had not been at the class that day, to go and inquire after him now.
Mr Fraser lived in the quadrangle of the college; but in the mood Alec was in, nothing would do him so much good as a walk in the frost. He was sure of a welcome from the old man; for although Alec gave but little attention to Greek now, Mr Fraser was not at all dissatisfied with him, knowing that he was doing his best to make himself a good doctor. His friendliness towards him had increased; for he thought he saw in him noble qualities; and now that he was an old man, he delighted to have a youth near him with whose youthfulness he could come into harmonious contact. It is because the young cannot recognize the youth of the aged, and the old will not acknowledge the experience of the young, that they repel each other.
Alec was shown into the professor's drawing-room. This was unusual. The professor was seated in an easy-chair, with one leg outstretched before him.
"Excuse me, Mr Forbes," he said, holding out his left hand without rising. "I am laid up with the gout—I don't know why. The port wine my grandfather drunk, I suppose. I never drink it. I'm afraid it's old age. And yon's my nurse.—Mr Forbes, your cousin, Kate, my dear."
Alec started. There, at the other side of the fire, sat a girl, half smiling and half blushing as she looked up from her work. The candles between them had hid her from him. He advanced, and she rose and held out her hand. He was confused; she was perfectly collected, although the colour rose a little more in her cheek. She might have been a year older than Alec.
"So you are a cousin of mine, Mr Forbes!" she said, when they were all seated by the blazing fire—she with a piece of plain work in her hands, he with a very awkward nothing in his, and the professor contemplating his swathed leg on the chair before him.
"So your uncle says," he answered, "and I am very happy to believe him. I hope we shall be good friends."
Alec was recovering himself.
"I hope we shall," she responded, with a quick, shy, asking glance from her fine eyes.
Those eyes were worth looking into, if only as a study of colour. They were of many hues marvellously blended. I think grey and blue and brown and green were all to be found in them. Their glance rather discomposed Alec. He had not learned before that ladies' eyes are sometimes very discomposing. Yet he could not keep his from wandering towards them; and the consequence was that he soon lost the greater part of his senses. After sitting speechless for some moments, and feeling as if he had been dumb for as many minutes, he was seized by a horrible conviction that if he remained silent an instant longer, he would be driven to do or say something absurd. So he did the latter at once by bursting out with the stupid question,
"What are you working at?"
"A duster," she answered instantly—this time without looking up.
Now the said duster was of the finest cambric; so that Alec could not help seeing that she was making game of him. This banished his shyness, and put him on his mettle.
"I see," he said, "when I ask questions, you—"
"Tell lies," she interposed, without giving him time even to hesitate; adding,
"Does your mother answer all your questions, Mr Forbes?"
"I believe she does—one way or other."
"Then it is sometimes the other way? Is she nice?"
"Who?" returned Alec, surprised into doubt.
"She's the best woman in the world," he answered with vehemence, almost shocked at having to answer such a question.
"Oh! I beg your pardon," returned Kate, laughing; and the laugh curled her lip, revealing very pretty teeth, with a semi-transparent pearly-blue shadow in them.
"I am glad she is nice," she went on. "I should like to know her. Mothers are not always nice. I knew a girl at school whose mother wasn't nice at all."
She did not laugh after this childish speech, but let her face settle into perfect stillness—sadness indeed, for a shadow came over the stillness. Mr Fraser sat watching the two with his amused old face, one side of it twitching in the effort to suppress the smile which sought to break from the useful half of his mouth. His gout could not have been very bad just then.
"I see, Katie, what that long chin of yours is thinking," he said.
"What is my chin thinking, uncle?" she asked.
"That uncles are not always nice either. They snub little girls, sometimes, don't they?"
"I know one who is nice, all except one naughty leg."
She rose, as she said this, and going round to the back of his chair, leaned over it, and kissed his forehead. The old man looked up to her gratefully.
"Ah, Katie!" he said, "you may make game of an old man like me. But don't try your tricks on Mr Forbes there. He won't stand them."
Alec blushed. Kate went back to her seat, and took up her duster again.
Alec was a little short-sighted, though he had never discovered it till now. When Kate leaned over her uncle's chair, near which he was sitting, he saw that she was still prettier than he had thought her before.—There are few girls who to a short-sighted person look prettier when they come closer; the fact being that the general intent of the face, which the generalizing effect of the shortness of the sight reveals, has ordinarily more of beauty in it than has yet been carried out in detail; so that, as the girl approaches, one face seems to melt away, and another, less beautiful, to dawn up through it.
But, as I have said, this was not Alec's experience with Kate; for, whatever it might indicate, she looked prettier when she came nearer. He found too that her great mass of hair, instead of being, as he had thought, dull, was in reality full of glints and golden hints, as if she had twisted up a handful of sunbeams with it in the morning, which, before night, had faded a little, catching something of the duskiness and shadowiness of their prison. One thing more he saw—that her hand—she rested it on the back of the dark chair, and so it had caught his eye—was small and white; and those were all the qualities Alec was as yet capable of appreciating in a hand. Before she got back to her seat, he was very nearly in love with her. I suspect that those generally who fall in love at first sight have been in love before. At least such was Romeo's case. And certainly it was not Alec's. Yet I must confess, if he had talked stupidly before, he talked worse now; and at length went home with the conviction that he had made a great donkey of himself.
As he walked the lonely road, and the street now fast closing its windows and going to sleep, he was haunted by a very different vision from that which had accompanied him a few hours ago. Then it was the dead face of a man, into which his busy fancy had reset the living eyes that he had seen looking in at the window of the dissecting room; now it was the lovely face of his new-found cousin, possessing him so that he could fear nothing. Life had cast out death. Love had cast out fear.
But love had cast out more. For he found, when he got home, that he could neither read nor think. If Kate could have been conscious of its persistent intrusion upon Alec's thoughts, and its constant interruption of his attempts at study, she would have been ashamed of that pretty face of hers, and ready to disown it for its forwardness. At last, he threw his book to the other end of the room, and went to bed, where he found it not half so difficult to go to sleep as it had been to study.
The next day things went better; for he was not yet so lost that a night's rest could do him no good. But it was fortunate that there was no Greek class, and that he was not called up to read Latin that day. For the anatomy, he was in earnest about that; and love itself, so long as its current is not troubled by opposing rocks, will not disturb the studies of a real student—much.
As he left the dissecting-room, he said to himself that he would just look in and see how Mr Fraser was. He was shown into the professor's study.
Mr Fraser smiled as he entered with a certain grim comicality which Alec's conscience interpreted into: "This won't do, my young man."
"I hope your gout is better to-day, sir," he said, sending his glance wide astray of his words.
"Yes, I thank you, Mr Forbes," answered Mr Fraser, "it is better. Won't you sit down?"
Warned by that smile, Alec was astute enough to decline, and presently took his leave. As he shut the study door, however, he thought he would just peep into the dining-room, the door of which stood open opposite. There she was, sitting at the table, writing.
"Who can that letter be to?" thought Alec. But it was early days to be jealous.
"How do you do, Mr Forbes?" said Kate, holding out her hand.
Could it be that he had seen her only yesterday? Or was his visual memory so fickle that he had forgotten what she was like? She was so different from what he had been fancying her!
The fact was merely this—that she had been writing to an old friend, and her manner for the time, as well as her expression, was affected by her mental proximity to that friend;—so plastic—so fluent even—was her whole nature. Indeed Alec was not long in finding out that one of her witcheries was, that she was never the same. But on this the first occasion, the alteration in her bewildered him.
"I am glad to find your uncle better," he said.
"Yes.—You have seen him, then?"
"Yes. I was very busy in the dissecting-room, till—"
He stopped; for he saw her shudder.
"I beg your pardon," he hastened to substitute.—"We are so used to those things, that—"
"Don't say a word more about it, please," she said hastily. Then, in a vague kind of way—"Won't you sit down?"
"No, thank you. I must go home," answered Alec, feeling that she did not want him. "Good night," he added, advancing a step.
"Good night, Mr Forbes," she returned in the same vague manner, and without extending her hand.
Alec checked himself, bowed, and went with a feeling of mortification, and the resolution not to repeat his visit too soon.
She interfered with his studies notwithstanding, and sent him wandering in the streets, when he ought to have been reading at home. One bright moonlight night he found himself on the quay, and spying a boat at the foot of one of the stairs, asked the man in it if he was ready for a row. The man agreed. Alec got in, and they rowed out of the river, and along the coast to a fishing village where the man lived, and whence Alec walked home. This was the beginning of many such boating excursions made by Alec in the close of this session. They greatly improved his boatmanship, and strengthened his growing muscles. The end of the winter was mild, and there were not many days unfit for the exercise.
The next Saturday but one Alec received a note from Mr Fraser, hoping that his new cousin had not driven him away, and inviting him to dine that same afternoon.
He went. After dinner the old man fell asleep in his chair.
"Where were you born?" Alec asked Kate.
She was more like his first impression of her.
"Don't you know?" she replied. "In the north of Sutherlandshire—near the foot of a great mountain, from the top of which, on the longest day, you can see the sun, or a bit of him at least, all night long."
"How glorious!" said Alec.
"I don't know. I never saw him. And the winters are so long and terrible! Nothing but snowy hills about you, and great clouds always coming down with fresh loads of snow to scatter over them."
"Then you don't want to go back?"
"No. There is nothing to make me wish to go back. There is no one there to love me now."
She looked very sad for a few moments.
"Yes," said Alec, thoughtfully; "a winter without love must be dreadful. But I like the winter; and we have plenty of it in our quarter too."
"Where is your home?"
"Not many miles north of this."
"Is it a nice place?"
"Of course I think so."
"Ah! you have a mother. I wish I knew her."
"I wish you did.—True: the whole place is like her to me. But I don't think everybody would admire it. There are plenty of bare snowy hills there too in winter. But I think the summers and the harvests are as delightful as anything can be, except—"
"Don't make me say what will make you angry with me."
"Now you must, else I shall fancy something that will make me more angry."
"Except your face, then," said Alec, frightened at his own boldness, but glancing at her shyly.
She flushed a little, but did not look angry.
"I don't like that," she said. "It makes one feel awkward."
"At least," rejoined Alec, emboldened, "you must allow it is your own fault."
"I can't help my face," she said, laughing.
"Oh! you know what I mean. You made me say it."
"Yes, after you had half-said it already. Don't do it again."
And there followed more of such foolish talk, uninteresting to my readers.
"Where were you at school?" asked Alec, after a pause. "Your uncle told me you were at school."
"Near London," she answered.
"Ah! that accounts for your beautiful speech."
"There again. I declare I will wake my uncle if you go on in that way."
"I beg your pardon," protested Alec; "I forgot."
"But," she went on, "in Sutherlandshire we don't talk so horribly as they do here."
"I daresay not," returned Alec, humbly.
"I don't mean you. I wonder how it is that you speak so much better than all the people here."
"I suppose because my mother speaks well. She never lets me speak broad Scotch to her."
"Your mother again! She's everything to you."
Alec did not reply.
"I should like to see her," pursued Kate.
"You must come and see her, then."
"See whom?" asked Mr Fraser, rousing himself from his nap.
"My mother, sir," answered Alec.
"Oh! I thought you had been speaking of Katie's friend," said the professor, and fell asleep again.
"Uncle means Bessie Warner, who is coming by the steamer from London on Monday. Isn't it kind of uncle to ask her to come and see me here?"
"He is kind always. Was Miss Warner a schoolfellow of yours?"
"Yes—no—not exactly. She was one of the governesses. I must go and meet her at the steamer. Will you go with me?"
"I shall be delighted. Do you know when she arrives?"
"They say about six. I daresay it is not very punctual."
"Oh! yes, she is—when the weather is decent. I will make inquiries, and come and fetch you."
"Thank you.—I suppose I may, uncle?"
"What, my dear?" said the professor, rousing himself again.
"Have my cousin to take care of me when I go to meet Bessie?"
"Yes, certainly. I shall be much obliged to you, Mr Forbes. I am not quite so agile as I was at your age, though my gouty leg is better."
This conversation would not have been worth recording were it not that it led to the walk and the waiting on Monday.—They found, when they reached the region of steamers, that she had not yet been signalled, but her people were expecting the signal every minute. So Alec and Kate walked out along the pier, to pass the time. This pier runs down the side of the river, and a long way into the sea. It had begun to grow dark, and Alec had to take great care of Kate amongst the tramways, coils of rope, and cables that crossed their way. At length they got clear of these, and found themselves upon the pier, built of great rough stones—lonely and desert, tapering away into the dark, its end invisible, but indicated by the red light far in front.
"It is a rough season of the year for a lady to come by sea," said Alec.
"Bessie is very fond of the sea," answered Kate. "I hope you will like her, Mr Forbes."
"Do you want me to like her better than you?" rejoined Alec. "Because if you do—"
"Look how beautiful that red light is on the other side of the river," interrupted Kate. "And there is another further out."
"When the man at the helm gets those two lights in a line," said Alec, "he may steer straight in, in the darkest night—that is, if the tide serves for the bar."
"Look how much more glorious the red shine is on the water below!" said Kate.
"It looks so wet!" returned Alec,—"just like blood."
He almost cursed himself as he said so, for he felt Kate's hand stir as if she would withdraw it from his arm. But after fluttering like a bird for a moment, it settled again upon its perch, and there rested.
The day had been quite calm, but now a sudden gust of wind from the north-east swept across the pier and made Kate shiver. Alec drew her shawl closer about her, and her arm further within his. They were now close to the sea. On the other side of the wall which rose on their left, they could hear the first of the sea-waves. It was a dreary place—no sound even indicating the neighbourhood of life. On one side, the river below them went flowing out to the sea in the dark, giving a cold sluggish gleam now and then, as if it were a huge snake heaving up a bend of its wet back, as it hurried away to join its fellows; on the other side rose a great wall of stone, beyond which was the sound of long waves following in troops out of the dark, and falling upon a low moaning coast. Clouds hung above the sea; and above the clouds two or three disconsolate stars.
"Here is a stair," said Alec. "Let us go up on the top of the sea-wall, and then we shall catch the first glimpse of the light at her funnel."
They climbed the steep rugged steps, and stood on the broad wall, hearing the sea-pulses lazily fall at its foot. The wave crept away after it fell, and returned to fall again like a weary hound. There was hardly any life in the sea. How mournful it was to lie out there, the wintry night, beneath an all but starless heaven, with the wind vexing it when it wanted to sleep!
Alec feeling Kate draw a deep breath like the sigh of the sea, looked round in her face. There was still light enough to show it frowning and dark and sorrowful and hopeless. It was in fact a spiritual mirror, which reflected in human forms the look of that weary waste of waters. She gave a little start, gathered herself together, and murmured something about the cold.
"Let us go down again," said Alec.—"The wind has risen considerably, and the wall will shelter us down below."
"No, no," she answered; "I like it. We can walk here just as well. I don't mind the wind."
"I thought you were afraid of falling off."
"No, not in the dark. I should be, I daresay, if I could see how far we are from the bottom."
So they walked on. The waves no longer fell at the foot of the wall, but leaned their breasts against it, gleaming as they rose on its front, and darkening as they sank low towards its deep base.
The wind kept coming in gusts, tearing a white gleam now and then on the dark surface of the sea. Behind them shone the dim lights of the city; before them all was dark as eternity, except for the one light at the end of the pier. At length Alec spied another out at sea.
"I believe that is the steamer," he said. "But she is a good way off. We shall have plenty of time to walk to the end—that is, if you would like to go."
"Certainly; let us go on. I want to stand on the very point," answered Kate.
They soon came to the lighthouse on the wall, and there descended to the lower part of the pier, the end of which now plunged with a steep descent into the sea. It was constructed of great stones clamped with iron, and built into a natural foundation of rock. Up the slope the waves rushed, and down the slope they sank again, with that seemingly aimless and resultless rise and fall, which makes the sea so dreary and sad to those men and women who are not satisfied without some goal in view, some outcome of their labours; for it goes on and on, answering ever to the call of sun and moon, and the fierce trumpet of the winds, yet working nothing but the hopeless wear of the bosom in which it lies bound for ever.
They stood looking out into the great dark before them, dark air, dark sea, dark sky, watching the one light which grew brighter as they gazed. Neither of them saw that a dusky figure was watching them from behind a great cylindrical stone that stood on the end of the pier, close to the wall.
A wave rushed up almost to their feet.
"Let us go," said Kate, with a shiver. "I can't bear it longer. The water is calling me and threatening me. There! How that wave rushed up as if it wanted me at once!"
Alec again drew her closer to him, and turning, they walked slowly back. He was silent with the delight of having that lovely creature all to himself, leaning on his arm, in the infolding and protecting darkness, and Kate was likewise silent.
By the time they reached the quay at the other end of the pier, the steamer had crossed the bar, and they could hear the thud of her paddles treading the water beneath them, as if eagerly because she was near her rest. After a few struggles, she lay quiet in her place, and they went on board.
Alec saw Kate embrace a girl perhaps a little older than herself, helped her to find her luggage, put them into a chaise, took his leave, and went home.
He did not know that all the way back along the pier they had been followed by Patrick Beauchamp.
Excited, and unable to settle to his work, Alec ran upstairs to Mr Cupples, whom he had not seen for some days. He found him not more than half-way towards his diurnal goal.
"What's come o' you, bantam, this mony a day?" said Mr Cupples.
"I saw ye last Saturday," said Alec.
"Last Setterday week, ye mean," rejoined the librarian. "Hoo's the mathematics comin' on?"
"To tell the truth, I'm raither ahin' wi' them," answered Alec.
"I was thinkin' as muckle. Rainbows! Thae rainbows! And the anawtomy?"
"Nae jist stan'in' still a'thegither."
"That's weel. Ye haena been fa'in' asleep again ower the guddlet carcass o' an auld pauper—hae ye?"
Alec stared. He had never told any one of his adventure in the dissecting-room.
"I saw ye, my man. But I wasna the only ane that saw ye. Ye micht hae gotten a waur fleg gin I hadna come up, for Mr Beauchamp was takin' the bearin's o' ye throu the window, and whan I gaed up, he slippit awa' like a wraith. There ye lay, wi' yer heid back, and yer mou' open, as gin you and the deid man had been tryin' whilk wad sleep the soun'est. But ye hae ta'en to ither studies sin' syne. Ye hae a freah subject—a bonnie young ane. The Lord hae mercy upo' ye! The goddess o' the rainbow hersel's gotten a haud o' ye, and ye'll be seein' naething but rainbows for years to come.—Iris bigs bonnie brigs, but they hae nowther pier, nor buttress, nor key-stane, nor parapet. And no fit can gang ower them but her ain, and whan she steps aff, it's upo' men's herts, and yours can ill bide her fit, licht as it may be."
"What are ye propheseein' at, Mr Cupples?" said Alec, who did not more than half understand him.
"Verra weel. I'm no drunk yet," rejoined Mr Cupples, oracularly. "But that chield Beauchamp's no rainbow—that lat me tell ye. He'll do you a mischeef yet, gin ye dinna luik a' the shairper. I ken the breed o' him. He was luikin' at ye throu the window like a hungry deevil. And jist min' what ye're aboot wi' the lassie—she's rael bonnie—or ye may chance to get her into trouble, withoot ony wyte (fault) o' yer ain. Min' I'm tellin' ye. Gin ye'll tak my advice, ye'll tak a dose o' mathematics direckly. It's a fine alterative as weel as antidote, though maybe whusky's.....the verra broo o' the deevil's ain pot," he concluded, altering his tone entirely, and swallowing the rest of his glass at a gulp.
"What do ye want me to do?" asked Alec.
"To tak tent (care) o' Beauchamp. And meantime to rin doon for yer Euclid and yer Hutton, and lat's see whaur ye are."
There was more ground for Mr Cupples's warning than Alec had the smallest idea of. He had concluded long ago that all possible relations, even those of enmity—practical enmity at least—were over between them, and that Mr Beauchamp considered the bejan sufficiently punished for thrashing him, by being deprived of his condescending notice for the rest of the ages. But so far was this from being the true state of the case, that, although Alec never suspected it, Beauchamp had in fact been dogging and haunting him from the very commencement of the session, and Mr Cupples had caught him in only one of many acts of the kind. In the anatomical class, where they continued to meet, he still attempted to keep up the old look of diadain, as if the lesson he had received had in no way altered their relative position. Had Alec known with what difficulty, and under what a load of galling recollection, he kept it up, he would have been heartily sorry for him. Beauchamp's whole consciousness was poisoned by the memory of that day. Incapable of regarding any one except in comparative relation to himself, the effort of his life had been to maintain that feeling of superiority with which he started every new acquaintance; for occasionally a flash of foreign individuality would break through the husk of satisfaction in which he had inclosed himself, compelling him to feel that another man might have claims. And hitherto he had been very successful in patching up and keeping entire his eggshell of conceit. But that affair with Alec was a very bad business. Had Beauchamp been a coward, he would have suffered less from it. But he was no coward, though not quite so courageous as Hector, who yet turned and fled before Achilles. Without the upholding sense of duty, no man can be sure of his own behaviour, simply because he cannot be sure of his own nerves. Duty kept the red-cross knight "forlorne and left to losse," "haplesse and eke hopelesse,"
"Disarmd, disgraste, and inwardly dismayde, And eke so faint in every joynt and vayne,"
from turning his back on the giant Orgoglio, and sent him pacing towards him with feeble steps instead. But although he was not wanting in mere animal courage, Beauchamp's pride always prevented him from engaging in any contest in which he was not sure of success, the thought of failure being to him unendurable. When he found that he had miscalculated the probabilities, he was instantly dismayed; and the blow he received on his mouth reminding his vanity of the danger his handsome face was in, he dropped his arms and declined further contest, comforting himself with the fancy of postponing his vengeance to a better opportunity.
But within an hour he knew that he had lost his chance, as certainly as he who omits the flood-tide of his fortune. He not only saw that he was disgraced, but felt in himself that he had been cowardly; and, more mortifying still, felt that, with respect to the clodhopper, he was cowardly now. He was afraid of him. Nor could he take refuge in the old satisfaction of despising him; for that he found no longer possible. He was on the contrary compelled to despise himself, an experience altogether new; so that his contempt for Alec changed into a fierce, slow-burning hate.
Now hate keeps its object present even more than the opposite passion. Love makes everything lovely; hate concentrates itself on the one thing hated. The very sound of Alec's voice became to the ears of Beauchamp what a filthy potion would have been to his palate. Every line of his countenance became to his eyes what a disgusting odour would have been to his nostrils. And yet the fascination of his hate, and his desire of revenge, kept Beauchamp's ears, eyes, and thoughts hovering about Forbes.
No way of gratifying his hatred, however, although he had been brooding over it all the previous summer, had presented itself till now. Now he saw the possibility of working a dear revenge. But even now, to work surely, he must delay long. Still the present consolation was great.
Nor is it wonderful that his pride should not protect him from the deeper disgrace of walking in underground ways. For there is nothing in the worship of self to teach a man to be noble. Honour even will one day fail him who has learned no higher principle. And although revenge be "a kind of wild justice," it loses the justice, and retains only the wildness, when it corrupts into hatred. Every feeling that Beauchamp had was swallowed up in the gulf eaten away by that worst of all canker-worms.
Notwithstanding the humiliation he had experienced, he retained as yet an unlimited confidence in some gifts which he supposed himself to possess by nature, and to be capable of using with unequalled art. And true hate, as well as true love, knows how to wait.
In the course of her study of Milton, Annie had come upon Samson's lamentation over his blindness; and had found, soon after, the passage in which Milton, in his own person, bewails the loss of light. The thought that she would read them to Tibbie Dyster was a natural one. She borrowed the volumes from Mrs Forbes; and, the next evening, made her way to Tibbie's cottage, where she was welcomed as usual by her gruff voice of gratefulness.
"Ye're a gude bairn to come a' this gait through the snaw to see an auld blin' body like me. It's dingin' on (snowing or raining)—is na 't, bairn?"
"Ay is't. Hoo do ye ken, Tibbie?"
"I dinna ken hoo I ken. I was na sure. The snaw maks unco little din, ye see. It comes doon like the speerit himsel' upo' quaiet herts."
"Did ye ever see, Tibbie?" asked Annie, after a pause.
"Na; nae that I min' upo'. I was but twa year auld, my mither used to tell fowk, whan I had the pock, an' it jist closed up my een for ever—i' this warl, ye ken. I s' see some day as weel's ony o' ye, lass."
"Do ye ken what licht is, Tibbie?" said Annie, whom Milton had set meditating on Tibbie's physical in relation to her mental condition.
"Ay, weel eneuch," answered Tibbie, with a touch of indignation at the imputed ignorance. "What for no? What gars ye spier?"
"Ow! I jist wanted to ken."
"Hoo could I no ken? Disna the Saviour say: 'I am the licht o' the warl?'—He that walketh in Him maun ken what licht is, lassie. Syne ye hae the licht in yersel—in yer ain hert; an' ye maun ken what it is. Ye canna mistak' it."
Annie was neither able nor willing to enter into an argument on the matter, although she was not satisfied. She would rather think than dispute about it. So she changed the subject in a measure.
"Did ye ever hear o' John Milton, Tibbie?" she asked.
"Ow! ay. He was blin' like mysel,' wasna he?"
"Ay, was he. I hae been readin' a heap o' his poetry."
"Eh! I wad richt weel like to hear a bittie o' 't."
"Weel, here's a bit 'at he made as gin Samson was sayin' o' 't, till himsel' like, efter they had pitten oot's een—the Phillisteens, ye ken."
"Ay, I ken weel eneuch. Read it."
Annie read the well-known passage. Tibbie listened to the end, without word of remark or question, her face turned towards the reader, and her sightless balls rolling under their closed lids. When Annie's voice ceased, she said, after a little reflection:
"Ay! ay! It's bonnie, an' verra true. And, puir man! it was waur for him nor for me and Milton; for it was a' his ain wyte; and it was no to be expecket he cud be sae quaiet as anither. But he had no richt to queston the ways o' the Maker. But it's bonnie, rael bonnie."
"Noo, I'll jist read to ye what Milton says aboot his ain blin'ness. But it's some ill to unnerstan'."
"Maybe I'll unnerstan' 't better nor you, bairn. Read awa'."
So admonished, Annie read. Tibbie fidgeted about on her seat. It was impossible either should understand it. And the proper names were a great puzzle to them.
"Tammy Riss!" said Tibbie; "I ken naething aboot him."
"Na, neither do I," said Annie; and beginning the line again, she blundered over "blind Maeonides."
"Ye're readin' 't wrang, bairn. It sud be 'nae ony days,' for there's nae days or nichts either to the blin'. They dinna ken the differ, ye see."
"I'm readin' 't as I hae't," answered Annie. "It's a muckle M."
"I ken naething aboot yer muckle or yer little Ms," retorted Tibbie, with indignation. "Gin that binna what it means, it's ayont me. Read awa'. Maybe we'll come to something better."
"Ay will we?" said Annie, and resumed.
With the words, "Thus with the year seasons return," Tibbie's attention grew fixed; and when the reader came to the passage,
"So much the rather thou, Celestial Light, Shine inward,"
her attention rose into rapture.
"Ay, ay, lassie! That man kent a' aboot it! He wad never hae speired gin a blin' crater like me kent what the licht was. He kent what it was weel. Ay did he!"
"But, ye see, he was a gey auld man afore he tint his eesicht," Annie ventured to interpose.
"Sae muckle the better! He kent baith kinds. And he kent that the sicht without the een is better nor the sicht o' the een. Fowk nae doobt has baith; but I think whiles 'at the Lord gies a grainy mair o' the inside licht to mak' up for the loss o' the ootside; and weel I wat it doesna want muckle to do that."
"But ye dinna ken what it is," objected Annie, with unnecessary persistency in the truth.
"Do ye tell me that again?" returned Tibbie, harshly. "Ye'll anger me, bairn. Gin ye kent hoo I lie awauk at nicht, no able to sleep for thinkin' 'at the day will come whan I'll see—wi' my ain open een—the verra face o' him that bore oor griefs an' carried oor sorrows, till I jist lie and greit, for verra wissin', ye wadna say 'at I dinna ken what the sicht o' a body's een is. Sae nae mair o' that! I beg o' ye, or I'll jist need to gang to my prayers to haud me ohn been angry wi' ane o' the Lord's bairns; for that ye are, I do believe, Annie Anderson. Ye canna ken what blin'ness is; but I doobt ye ken what the licht is, lassie; and, for the lave (rest), jist ye lippen (trust) to John Milton and me."
Annie dared not say another word. She sat silent—perhaps rebuked. But Tibbie resumed:
"Ye maunna think, hooever, 'cause sic longin' thouchts come ower me, that I gang aboot the hoose girnin' and compleenin' that I canna open the door and win oot. Na, na. I could jist despise the licht, whiles, that ye mak' sic a wark aboot, and sing and shout, as the Psalmist says; for I'm jist that glaid, that I dinna ken hoo to haud it in. For the Lord's my frien'. I can jist tell him a' that comes into my puir blin' heid. Ye see there's ither ways for things to come intil a body's heid. There's mair doors nor the een. There's back doors, whiles, that lat ye oot to the bonnie gairden, and that's better nor the road-side. And the smell o' the braw flooers comes in at the back winnocks, ye ken.—Whilk o' the bonnie flooers do ye think likest Him, Annie Anderson?"
"Eh! I dinna ken, Tibbie. I'm thinkin' they maun be a' like him."
"Ay, ay, nae doobt. But some o' them may be liker him nor ithers."
"Weel, whilk do ye think likest him, Tibbie?"
"I think it maun be the minnonette—sae clean and sae fine and sae weel content."
"Ay, ye're speiken by the smell, Tibbie. But gin ye saw the rose—"
"Hoots! I hae seen the rose mony a time. Nae doobt it's bonnier to luik at—" and here her fingers went moving about as if they were feeling the full-blown sphere of a rose—"but I think, for my pairt, that the minnonette's likest Him."
"May be," was all Annie's reply, and Tibbie went on.
"There maun be faces liker him nor ithers. Come here, Annie, and lat me fin (feel) whether ye be like him or no."
"Hoo can ye ken that?—ye never saw him."
"Never saw him! I hae seen him ower and ower again. I see him whan I like. Come here, I say."
Annie went and knelt down beside her, and the blind woman passed her questioning fingers in solemn silence over and over the features of the child. At length, with her hands still resting upon Annie's head, she uttered her judgment.
"Ay. Some like him, nae doot. But she'll be a heap liker him whan she sees him as he is."
When a Christian proceeds to determine the rightness of his neighbour by his approximation to his fluctuating ideal, it were well if the judgment were tempered by such love as guided the hands of blind Tibbie over the face of Annie in their attempt to discover whether or not she was like the Christ of her visions.
"Do ye think ye're like him, Tibbie?" said Annie with a smile, which Tibbie at once detected in the tone.
"Hoots, bairn! I had the pock dreidfu', ye ken."
"Weel, maybe we a' hae had something or ither that hauds us ohn been sae bonny as we micht hae been. For ae thing, there's the guilt o' Adam's first sin, ye ken."
"Verra richt, bairn. Nae doot that's blaudit mony a face—'the want o' original richteousness, and the corruption o' our whole natur'.' The wonner is that we're like him at a'. But we maun be like him, for he was a man born o' a wumman.' Think o' that, lass!"
At this moment the latch of the door was lifted, and in walked Robert Bruce. He gave a stare when he saw Annie, for he had thought her out of the way at Howglen, and said in a tone of asperity,
"Ye're a' gait at ance, Annie Anderson. A doonricht rintheroot!"
"Lat the bairn be, Maister Bruce," said Tibbie. "She's doin' the Lord's will, whether ye may think it or no. She's visitin' them 'at's i' the prison-hoose o' the dark. She's ministerin' to them 'at hae mony preeviledges nae doot, but hae room for mair."
"I'm no saying naething," said Bruce.
"Ye are sayin'. Ye're offendin' ane o' his little anes. Tak ye tent o' the millstane."
"Hoot toot! Tibbie. I was only wissin 'at she wad keep a sma' part o' her ministrations for her ain hame and her ain fowk 'at has the ministerin' to her. There's the mistress and me jist mairtyrs to that chop! And there's the bit infant in want o' some ministration noo and than, gin that be what ye ca' 't."
A grim compression of the mouth was all Tibbie's reply. She did not choose to tell Robert Bruce that although she was blind—and probably because she was blind—she heard rather more gossip than anybody else in Glamerton, and that consequently his appeal to her sympathy had no effect upon her. Finding she made no other answer, Bruce turned to Annie.
"Noo, Annie," said he, "ye're nae wantit here ony langer. I hae a word or twa to say to Tibbie. Gang hame and learn yer lessons for the morn."
"It's Setterday nicht," answered Annie.
"But ye hae yer lessons to learn for the Mononday."
"Ow ay! But I hae a buik or twa to tak' hame to Mistress Forbes. And I daursay I'll bide, and come to the kirk wi' her i' the mornin'."
Now, although all that Bruce wanted was to get rid of her, he went on to oppose her; for common-minded people always feel that they give the enemy an advantage if they show themselves content.
"It's no safe to rin aboot i' the mirk (dark). It's dingin' on forbye. Ye'll be a' wat, and maybe fa' into the dam. Ye couldna see yer han' afore yer face—ance oot o' the toon."
"I ken the road to Mistress Forbes's as weel's the road up your garret-stairs, Mr Bruce."
"Ow nae doobt!" he answered, with a sneering acerbity peculiar to him, in which his voice seemed sharpened and concentrated to a point by the contraction of his lips. "And there's tykes aboot," he added, remembering Annie's fear of dogs.
But by this time Annie, gentle as she was, had got a little angry.
"The Lord'll tak care o' me frae the dark and the tykes, and the lave o' ye, Mr Bruce," she said.
And bidding Tibbie good-night, she took up her books, and departed, to wade through the dark and the snow, trembling lest some unseen tyke should lay hold of her as she went.
As soon as she was gone, Bruce proceeded to make himself agreeable to Tibbie by retailing all the bits of gossip he could think of. While thus engaged, he kept peering earnestly about the room from door to chimney, turning his head on every side, and surveying as he turned it. Even Tibbie perceived, from the changes in the sound of his voice, that he was thus occupied.