"Sae your auld landlord's deid, Tibbie!" he said at last.
"Ay, honest man! He had aye a kin' word for a poor body."
"Ay, ay, nae doobt. But what wad ye say gin I tell't ye that I had boucht the bit hoosie, and was yer new landlord, Tibbie?"
"I wad say that the door-sill wants men'in', to haud the snaw oot; an' the bit hoosie's sair in want o' new thack. The verra cupples'll be rottit awa' or lang."
"Weel that's verra rizzonable, nae doobt, gin a' be as ye say."
"Be as I say, Robert Bruce?"
"Ay, ay; ye see ye're nae a'thegither like ither fowk. I dinna mean ony offence, ye ken, Tibbie; but ye haena the sicht o' yer een."
"Maybe I haena the feelin' o' my auld banes, aither, Maister Bruce! Maybe I'm ower blin' to hae the rheumatize; or to smell the auld weet thack whan there's been a scatterin' o' snaw or a drappy o' rain o' the riggin'!"
"I didna want to anger ye, Tibbie. A' that ye say deserves attention. It would be a shame to lat an auld body like you—"
"No that auld, Maister Bruce, gin ye kent the trowth!"
"Weel, ye're no ower young to need to be ta'en guid care o'—are ye, Tibbie?"
"Weel, to come to the pint. There's nae doobt the hoose wants a hantle o' doctorin'."
"'Deed does't," interposed Tibbie. "It'll want a new door. For forbye 'at the door's maist as wide as twa ordinar doors, it was ance in twa halves like a chop-door. And they're ill jined thegither, and the win' comes throu like a knife, and maist cuts a body in twa. Ye see the bit hoosie was ance the dyer's dryin' hoose, afore he gaed further doon the watter."
"Nae doobt ye're richt, Tibbie. But seein' that I maun lay oot sae muckle, I'll be compelled to pit anither thrippence on to the rent."
"Ither thrippence, Robert Bruce! That's three thrippences i' the ook in place o' twa. That's an unco rise! Ye canna mean what ye say! It's a' that I'm able to do to pay my saxpence. An auld blin' body like me disna fa' in wi' saxpences whan she gangs luikin aboot wi' her lang fingers for a pirn or a prin that she's looten fa'."
"But ye do a heap o' spinnin', Tibbie, wi' thae lang fingers. There's naebody in Glamerton spins like ye."
"Maybe ay and maybe no. It's no muckle that that comes till. I wadna spin sae weel gin it warna that the Almichty pat some sicht into the pints o' my fingers, 'cause there was nane left i' my een. An' gin ye mak ither thrippence a week oot o' that, ye'll be turnin' the wather that He sent to ca my mill into your dam; an' I doot it'll play ill water wi' your wheels."
"Hoot, hoot! Tibbie, woman! It gangs sair against me to appear to be hard-hertit."
"I hae nae doobt. Ye dinna want to appear sae. But do ye ken that I mak sae little by the spinnin' ye mak sae muckle o', that the kirk alloos me a shillin' i' the week to mak up wi'? And gin it warna for kin' frien's, it's ill livin' I wad hae in dour weather like this. Dinna ye imaigine, Mr Bruce, that I hae a pose o' my ain. I hae naething ava, excep' sevenpence in a stockin'-fit. And it wad hae to come aff o' my tay or something ither 'at I wad ill miss."
"Weel, that may be a' verra true," rejoined Bruce; "but a body maun hae their ain for a' that. Wadna the kirk gie ye the ither thrippence?"
"Do ye think I wad tak frae the kirk to pit into your till?"
"Weel, say saivenpence, than, and we'll be quits."
"I tell ye what, Robert Bruce: raither nor pay ye one bawbee more nor the saxpence, I'll turn oot i' the snaw, and lat the Lord luik efter me."
Robert Bruce went away, and did not purchase the cottage, which was in the market at a low price, He had intended Tibbie to believe, as she did, that he had already bought it; and if she had agreed to pay even the sevenpence, he would have gone from her to secure it.
On her way to Howglen, Annie pondered on the delight of Tibbie—Tibbie Dyster who had never seen the "human face divine"—when she should see the face of Jesus Christ, most likely the first face she would see. Then she turned to what Tibbie had said about knowing light from knowing the Saviour. There must be some connection between what Tibbie said and what Thomas had said about the face of God. There was a text that said "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." So she was sure that the light that was in a Christian, whatever it meant, must come from the face of God. And so what Thomas said and what Tibbie said might be only different ways of saying the same thing.
Thus she was in a measure saved from the perplexity which comes of any one definition of the holy secret, compelling a man to walk in a way between walls, instead of in a path across open fields.
There was no day yet in which Annie did not think of her old champion with the same feeling of devotion which his championship had first aroused, although all her necessities, hopes, and fears were now beyond any assistance he could render. She was far on in a new path: he was loitering behind, out of hearing, He would not have dared to call her solicitude nonsense; but he would have set down all such matters as belonging to women, rather than youths beginning the world. The lessons of Thomas Crann were not despised, for he never thought about them. He began to look down upon all his past, and, in it, upon his old companions. Since knowing Kate, who had more delicate habits and ways than he had ever seen, he had begun to refine his own modes concerning outside things; and in his anxiety to be like her, while he became more polished, he became less genial and wide-hearted.
But none of his old friends forgot him. I believe not a day passed in which Thomas did not pray for him in secret, naming him by his name, and lingering over it mournfully—"Alexander Forbes—the young man that I thocht wad hae been pluckit frae the burnin' afore noo. But thy time's the best, O Lord. It's a' thy wark; an' there's no good thing in us. And thou canst turn the hert o' man as the rivers o' water. And maybe thou hast gi'en him grace to repent already, though I ken naething aboot it."
This had been a sore winter for Thomas, and he had had plenty of leisure for prayer. For, having gone up on a scaffold one day to see that the wall he was building was properly protected from the rain, he slipped his foot on a wet pole, and fell to the ground, whence, being a heavy man, he was lifted terribly shaken, besides having one of his legs broken. Not a moan escaped him—a murmur was out of the question. They carried him home, and the surgeon did his best for him. Nor, although few people liked him much, was he left unvisited in his sickness. The members of his own religious community recognized their obligation to minister to him; and they would have done more, had they guessed how poor he was. Nobody knew how much he gave away in other directions; but they judged of his means by the amount he was in the habit of putting into the plate at the chapel-door every Sunday. There was never much of the silvery shine to be seen in the heap of copper, but one of the gleaming sixpences was almost sure to have dropped from the hand of Thomas Crann. Not that this generosity sprung altogether from disinterested motives; for the fact was, that he had a morbid fear of avarice; a fear I believe not altogether groundless; for he was independent in his feelings almost to fierceness—certainly to ungraciousness; and this strengthened a natural tendency to saving and hoarding. The consciousness of this tendency drove him to the other extreme. Jean, having overheard him once cry out in an agony, "Lord, hae mercy upo' me, and deliver me frae this love o' money, which is the root of all evil," watched him in the lobby of the chapel the next Sunday—"and as sure's deith," said Jean—an expression which it was weel for her that Thomas did not hear—"he pat a siller shillin' into the plate that day, mornin' an' nicht."
"Tak' care hoo ye affront him, whan ye tak' it," said Andrew Constable to his wife, who was setting out to carry him some dish of her own cooking—for Andrew's wife belonged to the missionars—"for weel ye ken Thamas likes to be unner obligation to nane but the Lord himsel'."
"Lea' ye that to me, Anerew, my man. You 'at's rouch men disna ken hoo to do a thing o' that sort. I s' manage Thamas weel eneuch. I ken the nater o' him."
And sure enough he ate it up at once, that she might take the dish back with her.
Annie went every day to ask after him, and every day had a kind reception from Jean, who bore her no grudge for the ignominious treatment of Thomas on that evening memorable to Annie. At length, one day, after many weeks, Jean asked her if she would not like to see him.
"Ay wad I; richt weel," answered she.
Jean led her at once into Thomas's room, where he lay in a bed in the wall. He held out his hand. Annie could hardly be said to take it, but she put hers into it, saying timidly,
"Is yer leg verra sair, Thamas?"
"Ow na, dawtie; nae noo. The Lord's been verra mercifu'—jist like himsel'." It was ill to bide for a while whan I cudna sleep. But I jist sleep noo like ane o' the beloved."
"I was richt sorry for ye, Thamas."
"Ay, Ye've a kin' hert, lassie. And I canna help thinkin'—they may say what they like—but I canna help thinkin' that the Lord was sorry for me himsel'. It cam' into my heid as I lay here ae nicht, an' cudna sleep a wink, and cudna rist, and yet daurna muv for my broken hough. And as sune's that cam' into my heid I was sae upliftit, 'at I forgot a' aboot my leg, and begud, or ever I kent, to sing the hunner and saivent psalm. And syne whan the pain cam' back wi' a terrible stoon, I jist amaist leuch; an I thoucht that gin he wad brack me a' to bits, I wad never cry haud, nor turn my finger to gar him stent. Noo, ye're ane o' the Lord's bairns—"
"Eh! I dinna ken," cried Annie, half-terrified at such an assurance from Thomas, and the responsibility devolved on her thereby, and yet delighted beyond expression.
"Ay are ye," continued Thomas confidently; "and I want to ken what ye think aboot it. Do ye think it was a wrang thocht to come into my heid?"
"Hoo could that be, Thomas, whan it set ye a singin'—and sic a psalm—'O that men would praise the Lord for his goodness?'"
"The Lord be praised ance mair!" exclaimed Thomas. "'Oot o' the mooth o' babes and sucklin's!'—no that ye're jist that, Annie, but ye're no muckle mair. Sit ye doon aside me, and rax ower to the Bible, and jist read that hunner and saivent psalm. Eh, lassie! but the Lord is guid. Oh! that men wad praise him! An' to care for the praises o' sic worms as me! What richt hae I to praise him?"
"Ye hae the best richt, Thomas, for hasna he been good to ye?["]
"Ye're richt, lassie, ye're richt. It's wonnerfu' the common sense o' bairns. Gin ye wad jist lat the Lord instruck them! I doobt we mak ower little o' them. Nae doobt they're born in sin, and brocht farth in iniquity; but gin they repent ear', they win far aheid o' the auld fowk."
Thomas's sufferings had made him more gentle—and more sure of Annie's election. He was one on whom affliction was not thrown away.—Annie saw him often after this, and he never let her go without reading a chapter to him, his remarks upon which were always of some use to her, notwithstanding the limited capacity and formal shape of the doctrinal moulds in which they were cast; for wherever there is genuine religious feeling and experience, it will now and then crack the prisoning pitcher, and let some brilliant ray of the indwelling glory out, to discomfit the beleaguering hosts of troublous thoughts.
Although the framework of Thomas was roughly hewn, he had always been subject to such fluctuations of feeling as are more commonly found amongst religious women. Sometimes, notwithstanding the visions of the face of God "vouchsafed to him from the mercy-seat," as he would say, he would fall into fits of doubting whether he was indeed one of the elect; for how then could he be so hard-hearted, and so barren of good thoughts and feelings as he found himself? At such times he was subject to an irritation of temper, alternately the cause and effect of his misery, upon which, with all his efforts, he was only capable yet of putting a very partial check. Woe to the person who should then dare to interrupt his devotions! If Jean, who had no foresight or anticipation of consequences, should, urged by some supposed necessity of the case, call to him through the door bolted against Time and its concerns, the saint who had been kneeling before God in utter abasement, self-contempt, and wretchedness, would suddenly wrench it open, a wrathful, indignant man, boiling brimful of angry words and unkind objurgations, through all which would be manifest, notwithstanding, a certain unhappy restraint. Having driven the enemy away in confusion, he would bolt his door again, and return to his prayers in two-fold misery, conscious of guilt increased by unrighteous anger, and so of yet another wall of separation raised between him and his God.
Now this weakness all but disappeared during the worst of his illness, to return for a season with increased force when his recovery had advanced so far as to admit of his getting out of bed. Children are almost always cross when recovering from an illness, however patient they may have been during its severest moments; and the phenomenon is not by any means confined to children.
A deacon of the church, a worthy little weaver, had been half-officially appointed to visit Thomas, and find out, which was not an easy task, if he was in want of anything. When he arrived, Jean was out. He lifted the latch, entered, and tapped gently at Thomas's door—too gently, for he received no answer. With hasty yet hesitating imprudence, he opened the door and peeped in. Thomas was upon his knees by the fire-side, with his plaid over his head. Startled by the weaver's entrance, he raised his head, and his rugged leonine face, red with wrath, glared out of the thicket of his plaid upon the intruder. He did not rise, for that would have been a task requiring time and caution. But he cried aloud in a hoarse voice, with his two hands leaning on the chair, like the paws of some fierce rampant animal:
"Jeames, ye're takin' the pairt o' Sawton upo' ye, drivin' a man frae his prayers!"
"Hoot, Thamas! I beg yer pardon," answered the weaver, rather flurried; "I thoucht ye micht hae been asleep."
"Ye had no business to think for yersel' in sic a maitter. What do ye want?"
"I jist cam' to see whether ye war in want o' onything, Thamas."
"I'm in want o' naething. Gude nicht to ye."
"But, railly, Thamas," expostulated the weaver, emboldened by his own kindness—"ye'll excuse me, but ye hae nae business to gang doon on yer knees wi' yer leg in sic a weyk condeetion."
"I winna excuse ye, Jeames. What ken ye aboot my leg? And what's the use o' knees, but to gang doon upo'? Gang hame, and gang doon upo' yer ain, Jeames; and dinna disturb ither fowk that ken what theirs was made for."
Thus admonished, the weaver dared not linger. As he turned to shut the door, he wished the mason good night, but received no answer. Thomas had sunk forward upon the chair, and had already drawn his plaid over his head.
But the secret place of the Most High will not be entered after this fashion; and Thomas felt that he was shut out. It is not by driving away our brother that we can be alone with God. Thomas's plaid could not isolate him with his Maker, for communion with God is never isolation. In such a mood, the chamber with the shut door shuts out God too, and one is left alone with himself, which is the outer darkness. The love of the brethren opens the door into God's chamber, which is within ours. So Thomas—who was far enough from hating his brother, who would have struggled to his feet and limped to do him a service, though he would not have held out his hand to receive one, for he was only good, not gracious—Thomas, I say, felt worse than ever, and more as if God had forgotten him, than he had felt for many a day. He knelt still and sighed sore.
At length another knock came, which although very gentle, he heard and knew well enough.
"Who's there?" he asked, notwithstanding, with a fresh access of indignant feeling.
"Annie Anderson," was the answer through the door, in a tone which at once soothed the ruffled waters of Thomas's spirit.
"Come in," he said.
She entered, quiet as a ghost.
"Come awa', Annie. I'm glaid to see ye. Jist come and kneel doon aside me, and we'll pray thegither, for I'm sair troubled wi' an ill-temper."
Without a word of reply, Annie kneeled by the side of his chair. Thomas drew the plaid over her head, took her hand, which was swallowed up in his, and after a solemn pause, spoke thus:
"O Lord, wha dwellest in the licht inaccessible, whom mortal eye hath not seen nor can see, but who dwellest with him that is humble and contrite of heart, and liftest the licht o' thy coontenance upo' them that seek it, O Lord,"—here the solemnity of the appeal gave way before the out-bursting agony of Thomas's heart—"O Lord, dinna lat's cry in vain, this thy lammie, and me, thine auld sinner, but, for the sake o' him wha did no sin, forgive my sins and my vile temper, and help me to love my neighbour as mysel'. Lat Christ dwell in me and syne I shall be meek and lowly of heart like him. Put thy speerit in me, and syne I shall do richt—no frae mysel', for I hae no good thing in me, but frae thy speerit that dwelleth in us."
After this prayer, Thomas felt refreshed and hopeful. With slow labour he rose from his knees at last, and sinking into his chair, drew Annie towards him, and kissed her. Then he said,
"Will ye gang a bit eeran' for me, Annie?"
"That I will, Thomas. I wad rin mysel' aff o' my legs for ye."
"Na, na. I dinna want sae muckle rinnin' the nicht. But I wad be sair obleeged to ye gin ye wad jist rin doon to Jeames Johnstone, the weyver, and tell him, wi' my coampliments, ye ken, that I'm verra sorry I spak' till him as I did the nicht; and I wad tak it richt kin' o' him gin he wad come and tak a cup o' tay wi' me the morn's nicht, and we cud hae a crack thegither, and syne we cud hae worship thegither. And tell him he maunna think nae mair o' the way I spak' till him, for I was troubled i' my min', and I'm an ill-nater'd man."
"I'll tell him a' that ye say," answered Annie, "as weel's I can min' 't; and I s' warran' I s' no forget muckle o' 't. Wad ye like me to come back the nicht and tell ye what he says?"
"Na, na, lassie. It'll be nearhan' time for ye to gang to yer bed. And it's a cauld nicht. I ken that by my leg. And ye see Jeames Johnstone's no an ill-nater'd man like me. He's a douce man, and he's sure to be weel-pleased and come till's tay. Na, na; ye needna come back. Guid nicht to ye, my dawtie. The Lord bless ye for comin' to pray wi' an ill-nater'd man."
Annie sped upon her mission of love through the murky streets and lanes of Glamerton, as certainly a divine messenger as any seraph crossing the blue empyrean upon level wing. And if any one should take exception to this, on the ground that she sought her own service and neglected home duties, I would, although my object has not been to set her forth as an exemplar, take the opportunity of asking whether to sleep in a certain house and be at liberty to take one's meals there, be sufficient to make it home, and the source of home-obligations—to indicate the will of God as to the region of one's labour, other regions lying open at the same time. Ought Annie to have given her aid as a child where there was no parental recognition of the relationship—an aid whose value in the eyes of the Bruces would have consisted in the leisure it gave to Mrs Bruce for ministering more devotedly in the temple of Mammon? I put the question, not quite sure what the answer ought to be.
Now that Kate had got a companion, Alec never saw her alone. But he had so much the better opportunity of knowing her. Miss Warner was a nice, open-eyed, fair-faced English girl, with pleasant manners, and plenty of speech; and although more shy than Kate—English girls being generally more shy than Scotch girls—was yet ready enough to take her share in conversation. Between the two, Alec soon learned how ignorant he was in the things that most interest girls. Classics and mathematics were not very interesting to himself, and anatomy was not available. He soon perceived that they were both fond of poetry; but if it was not the best poetry, he was incapable of telling them so, although the few lessons he had had were from a better mistress than either of them, and with some better examples than they had learned to rejoice in.
The two girls had got hold of some volumes of Byron, and had read them together at school, chiefly after retiring to the chamber they shared together. The consequences were an unbounded admiration and a facility of reference, with the use of emotional adjectives. Alec did not know a single poem of that writer, except the one about the Assyrian coming down like a wolf on the fold.
Determined, however, not to remain incapable of sympathizing with them, he got copies of the various poems from the library of the college, and for days studied Byron and anatomy—nothing else. Like all other young men, he was absorbed, entranced, with the poems. Childe Harold he could not read, but the tales were one fairy region after another. Their power over young people is remarkable, but not more remarkable than the fact that they almost invariably lose this power over the individual, while they have as yet retained it over the race; for of all the multitude which does homage at the shrine of the poet few linger long, and fewer still, after the turmoil of life has yielded room for thought, renew their homage. Most of those who make the attempt are surprised—some of them troubled—at the discovery that the shrine can work miracles no more. The Byron-fever is in fact a disease belonging to youth, as the hooping-cough to childhood,—working some occult good no doubt in the end. It has its origin, perhaps, in the fact that the poet makes no demand either on the intellect or the conscience, but confines himself to friendly intercourse with those passions whose birth long precedes that of choice in their objects—whence a wealth of emotion is squandered. It is long before we discover that far richer feeling is the result of a regard bent on the profound and the pure.
Hence the chief harm the poems did Alec, consisted in the rousing of his strongest feelings towards imaginary objects of inferior excellence, with the necessary result of a tendency to measure the worth of the passions themselves by their strength alone, and not by their character—by their degree, and not by their kind. That they were the forge-bellows, supplying the blast of the imagination to the fire of love in which his life had begun to be remodelled, is not to be counted among their injurious influences.
He had never hitherto meddled with his own thoughts or feelings—had lived an external life to the most of his ability. Now, through falling in love, and reading Byron, he began to know the existence of a world of feeling, if not of thought; while his attempts at conversation with the girls had a condensing if not crystallizing influence upon the merely vaporous sensations which the poetry produced. All that was wanted to give full force to the other influences in adding its own, was the presence of the sultry evenings of summer, with the thunder gathering in the dusky air. The cold days and nights of winter were now swathing that brain, through whose aerial regions the clouds of passion, driven on many shifting and opposing winds, were hurrying along to meet in human thunder and human rain.
I will not weary my readers with the talk of three young people enamoured of Byron. Of course the feelings the girls had about him differed materially from those of Alec; so that a great many of the replies and utterances met like unskilful tilters, whose staves passed wide. In neither was the admiration much more than an uneasy delight in the vivid though indistinct images of pleasure raised by the magic of that "physical force of words" in which Byron excels all other English poets, and in virtue of which, I presume, the French persist in regarding Byron as our greatest poet, and in supposing that we agree with them.
Alec gained considerably with Kate from becoming able to talk about her favourite author, while she appeared to him more beautiful than ever—the changes in the conversation constantly bringing out new phases on her changeful countenance. He began to discover now what I have already ventured to call the fluidity of her expression; for he was almost startled every time he saw her, by finding her different from what he had expected to find her. Jean Paul somewhere makes a lamentation over the fact that girls will never meet you in the morning with the same friendliness with which they parted from you the night before. But this was not the kind of change Alec found. She behaved with perfect evenness to him, but always looked different, so that he felt as if he could never know her quite—which was a just conclusion, and might have been arrived at upon less remarkable though more important grounds. Occasionally he would read something of Byron's; and it was a delight to him such as he had never known before, to see Kate's strangely beautiful eyes flash with actual visible fire as he read, or cloud over with mist and fill slowly with the dew of feeling. No doubt he took more of the credit than belonged to him—which was greedy, seeing poor Byron had none of the pleasure.
Had it not been for the help Mr Cupples gave him towards the end of the session, he would have made a poor figure both in Greek and mathematics. But he was so filled with the phantasm of Kate Fraser, that, although not insensible of his obligation to Mr Cupples, he regarded it lightly; and, ready to give his life for a smile from Kate, took all his kindness, along with his drunken wisdom, as a matter of course.
And when he next saw Annie and Curly, he did not speak to them quite so heartily as on his former return.
In one or two of his letters, which were never very long, Alec had just mentioned Kate; and now Mrs Forbes had many inquiries to make about her. Old feelings and thoughts awoke in her mind, and made her wish to see the daughter of her old companion. The absence of Annie, banished once more at the suggestion of worldly prudence, but for whose quiet lunar smile not even Alec's sunny presence could quite make up, contributed no doubt to this longing after the new maiden. She wrote to Mr Fraser, asking him to allow his niece to pay her a visit of a few weeks; but she said nothing about it to Alec. The arrangement happened to be convenient to Mr Fraser, who wished to accept an invitation himself. It was now the end of April; and he proposed that the time should be fixed for the beginning of June.
When this favourable response arrived, Mrs Forbes gave Alec the letter to read, and saw the flush of delight that rose to his face as he gathered the welcome news. Nor was this observation unpleasant to her; for that Alec should at length marry one of her own people was a grateful idea.
Alec sped away into the fields. To think that all these old familiar places would one day be glorified by her presence! that the daisies would bend beneath the foot of the goddess! and the everlasting hills put on a veil of tenderness from the reflex radiance of her regard! A flush of summer mantled over the face of nature, the flush of a deeper summer than that of the year—of the joy that lies at the heart of all summers. For a whole week of hail, sleet, and "watery sunbeams" followed, and yet in the eyes of Alec the face of nature still glowed.
When, after long expectation, the day arrived, Alec could not rest. He wandered about all day, haunting his mother as she prepared his room for Kate, hurrying away with a sudden sense of the propriety of indifference, and hurrying back on some cunning pretext, while his mother smiled to herself at his eagerness and the transparency of his artifice. At length, as the hour drew near, he could restrain himself no longer. He rushed to the stable, saddled his pony, which was in nearly as high spirits as himself, and galloped off to meet the mail. The sun was nearing the west; a slight shower had just fallen; the thanks of the thirsty earth were ascending in odour; and the wind was too gentle to shake the drops from the leaves. To Alec, the wind of his own speed was the river that bore her towards him; the odours were wafted from her approach; and the sunset sleepiness around was the exhaustion of the region that longed for her Cytheraean presence.
At last, as he turned a corner of the road, there was the coach; and he had just time to wheel his pony about before it was up with him. A little gloved hand greeted him; the window was let down; and the face he had been longing for shone out lovelier than ever. There was no inside passenger but herself; and, leaning with one hand on the coach-door, he rode alongside till they drew near the place where the gig was waiting for them, when he dashed on, gave his pony to the man, was ready to help her as soon as the coach stopped, and so drove her home in triumph to his mother.
Where the coach stopped, on the opposite side of the way, a grassy field, which fell like a mantle from the shoulders of a hill crowned with firs, sloped down to the edge of the road. From the coach, the sun was hidden behind a thick clump of trees, but his rays, now red with rich age, flowed in a wide stream over the grass, and shone on an old Scotch fir which stood a yard or two from the highway, making its red bark glow like the pools which the prophet saw in the desert. At the foot of this tree sat Tibbie Dyster; and from her red cloak the level sun-tide was thrown back in gorgeous glory; so that the eyeless woman, who only felt the warmth of the great orb, seemed, in her effulgence of luminous red, to be the light-fountain whence that torrent of rubescence burst. From her it streamed up to the stem and along the branches of the glowing fir; from her it streamed over the radiant grass of the up-sloping field away towards the western sun. But the only one who saw the splendour was a shoemaker, who rubbed his rosiny hands together, and felt happy without knowing why.
Alec would have found it difficult to say whether or not he had seen the red cloak. But from the shadowy side of it there were eyes shining upon him, with a deeper and truer, if with a calmer, or, say, colder devotion, than that with which he regarded Kate. The most powerful rays that fall from the sun are neither those of colour nor those of heat.—Annie sat by Tibbie's side—the side away from the sun. If the East and the West might take human shape—come forth in their Oreads from their hill-tops, and meet half-way between—there they were seated side by side: Tibbie, old, scarred, blind Tibbie, was of the west and the sunset, the centre of a blood-red splendour; cold, gentle Annie, with her dark hair, blue eyes, and the sad wisdom of her pale face, was of the sun-deserted east, between whose gray clouds, faintly smiling back the rosiness of the sun's triumphal death, two or three cold stars were waiting to glimmer.
Tibbie had come out to bask a little, and, in the dark warmth of the material sun, to worship that Sun whose light she saw in the hidden world of her heart, and who is the Sun of all the worlds; to breathe the air, which, through her prison-bars, spoke of freedom; to give herself room to long for the hour when the loving Father would take her out of the husk which infolded her, and say to her: "See, my child." With the rest of the travailing creation, she was groaning in hopeful pain—not in the pain of the mother, but in the pain of the child, soon to be forgotten in the following rest.
If my younger readers want to follow Kate and Alec home, they will take it for a symptom of the chill approach of "unlovely age," that I say to them: 'We will go home with Tibbie and Annie, and hear what they say. I like better to tell you about ugly blind old Tibbie than about beautiful young Kate.—But you shall have your turn. Do not think that we old people do not care for what you care for. We want more than you want—a something without which what you like best cannot last.'
"What did the coch stop for, Annie, lass?" asked Tibbie, as soon as the mail had driven on.
"It's a lady gaein to Mistress Forbes's at Howglen."
"Hoo ken ye that?"
"'Cause Alec Forbes rade oot to meet her, and syne took her hame i' the gig."
"Ay! ay! I thought I heard mair nor the ordinar nummer o' horse-feet as the coch cam' up. He's a braw lad, that Alec Forbes-isna he?"
"Ay is he," answered Annie, sadly; not from jealousy, for her admiration of Alec was from afar; but as looking up from purgatorial exclusion to the paradise of Howglen, where the beautiful lady would have all Mrs Forbes, and Alec too, to herself.
The old woman caught the tone, but misinterpreted it.
"I doobt," she said, "he winna get ony guid at that college."
"What for no?" returned Annie. "I was at the school wi' him, and never saw onything to fin' fau't wi'."
"Ow na, lassie. Ye had naething to do fin'in' fau't wi' him. His father was a douce man, an' maybe a God-fearin' man, though he made but sma' profession. I think we're whiles ower sair upo' some o' them that promises little, and maybe does the mair. Ye min' what ye read to me afore we cam' oot thegither, aboot the lad that said till's father, I go not; but afterwards he repented and gaed?"
"Weel, I think we'll gang hame noo."
They rose, and went, hand in hand, over the bridge, and round the end of its parapet, and down the steep descent to the cottage at its foot, Tibbie's cloak shining all the way, but, now that the sun was down, with a chastened radiance. When she had laid it aside, and was seated on her low wooden chair within reach of her spinning-wheel,
"Noo," said Tibbie, "ye'll jist read a chapter till me, lassie, afore ye gang hame, and syne I s' gang to my bed. Blin'ness is a sair savin' o' can'les."
She forgot that it was summer, when, in those northern regions, the night has no time to gather before the sun is flashing again in the east.
The chapter Annie chose was the ninth of St John's Gospel, about Jesus curing the man blind from his birth. When she had finished, Annie said,
"Michtna he cure you, Tibbie, gin ye spiered at him?"
"Ay micht he, and ay will he," answered Tibbie. "I'm only jist bidin' his time. But I'm thinkin' he'll cure me better yet nor he cured that blin' man. He'll jist tak' the body aff o' me a'thegither, and syne I'll see, no wi' een like yours, but wi' my haill speeritual body. Ye min' that verse i' the prophecees o' Ezakiel: I ken't weel by hert. It says: 'And their whole boady, and their backs, and their han's, and their wings, and the wheels, were full of eyes roon aboot, even the wheels that they four had.' Isna that a gran' text? I wiss Mr Turnbull wad tak' it into his heid to preach frae that text sometime afore it comes, which winna be that lang, I'm thinkin'. The wheels'll be stoppin' at my door or lang."
"What gars ye think that, Tibbie? There's no sign o' deith aboot you, I'm sure," said Annie.
"Weel, ye see, I canna weel say. Blin' fowk somehoo kens mair nor ither fowk aboot things that the sicht o' the een has unco little to do wi'. But never min'. I'm willin' to bide i' the dark as lang as He likes. It's eneuch for ony bairn to ken that its father's stan'in' i' the licht, and seein' a' aboot him, and sae weel able to guide hit, though it kensna whaur to set doon its fit neist. And I wat He's i' the licht. Ye min' that bit aboot the Lord pittin' Moses intil a clift o' the rock, and syne coverin' him wi' his han' till he was by him?"
"Ay, fine that," answered Annie.
"Weel, I canna help thinkin' whiles, that the dark aboot me's jist the how o' the Lord's han'; and I'm like Moses, only wi' this differ, that whan the Lord tak's his han' aff o' me, it'll be to lat me luik i' the face o' him, and no to lat me see only his back pairts, which was a' that he had the sicht o'; for ye see Moses was i' the body, and cudna bide the sicht o' the face o' God. I daursay it wad hae blin' 't him. I hae heard that ower muckle licht'll ca fowk blin' whiles. What think ye, lassie?"
"Ay; the lichtnin' blin's fowk whiles. And gin I luik straucht at the sun, I can see nothing efter't for a whilie."
"I tell ye sae!" exclaimed Tibbie triumphantly. "And do ye min' the veesion that the apostle John saw in Pawtmos? I reckon he micht hae thocht lang there, a' him lane, gin it hadna been for the bonnie things, and the gran' things, and the terrible things 'at the Lord loot him see. They war gran' sichts! It was the veesion o' the Saviour himsel'—Christ himsel'; and he says that his coontenance was as the sun shineth in his strength. What think ye o' that, lass!"
This was not a question, but an exulting exclamation. The vision in Patmos proved that although Moses must not see the face of God because of its brightness, a more favoured prophet might have the vision. And Tibbie, who had a share in the privileges of the new covenant, who was not under the law like Moses, but under grace like John, would one day see the veil of her blindness shrivel away from before her deeper eyes, burnt up by the glory of that face of God, which is a consuming fire.—I suppose that Tibbie was right in the main. But was it not another kind of brightness, a brightness without effulgence, a brightness grander and more glorious, shining in love and patience, and tenderness and forgiveness and excuse, that Moses was unfit to see, because he was not well able to understand it, until, ages after, he descended from heaven upon the Mount of Transfiguration, and the humble son of God went up from the lower earth to meet him there, and talk with him face to face as a man with his friend?
Annie went home to her garret. It was a singular experience the child had in the changes that came to her with the seasons. The winter with its frost and bitter winds brought her a home at Howglen; the summer, whose airs were molten kisses, took it away, and gave her the face of nature instead of the face of a human mother. For the snug little chamber in which she heard with a quiet exultation the fierce rush of the hail-scattering tempest against the window, or the fluffy fall of the snow-flakes, like hands of fairy babies patting the glass, and fancied herself out in the careering storm, hovering on the wings of the wind over the house in which she lay soft and warm—she had now the garret room, in which the curtainless bed, with its bare poles, looked like a vessel in distress at sea, and through the roof of which the winds found easy way. But the winds were warm now, and through the skylight the sunbeams illuminated the floor, showing all the rat-holes and wretchedness of decay.
There was comfort out of doors in the daytime—in the sky and the fields and all the "goings-on of life." And this night, after this talk with Tibbie, Annie did not much mind going back to the garret. Nor did she lie awake to think about the beautiful lady Alec had taken home with him.
And she dreamed again that she saw the Son of Man. There was a veil over his face like the veil that Moses wore, but the face was so bright that it almost melted the veil away, and she saw what made her love that face more than the presence of Alec, more than the kindness of Mrs Forbes or Dowie, more than the memory of her father.
Alec did not fall asleep so soon. The thought that Kate was in the house—asleep in the next room, kept him awake. Yet he woke the next morning earlier than usual. There were bands of golden light upon the wall, though Kate would not be awake for hours yet.
He sprung out of bed, and ran to the banks of the Glamour. Upon the cold morning stream the sun-rays fell slanting and gentle. He plunged in, and washed the dreams from his eyes with a dive, and a swim under water. Then he rose to the surface and swam slowly about under the overhanging willows, and earthy banks hollowed by the river's flow into cold damp caves, up into the brown shadows of which the water cast a flickering shimmer. Then he dressed himself, and lay down on the meadow grass, each blade of which shadowed its neighbour in the slant sunlight. Cool as it still was with the coldness of the vanished twilight, it yet felt warm to his bare feet, fresh from the waters that had crept down through the night from the high moor-lands. He fell fast asleep, and the sheep came and fed about him, as if he had been one of themselves. When he woke, the sun was high; and when he reached the house, he found his mother and Kate already seated at breakfast—Kate in the prettiest of cotton dresses, looking as fresh and country-like as the morning itself. The window was open, and through the encircling ivy, as through a filter of shadows, the air came fresh and cool. Beyond the shadow of the house lay the sunshine, a warm sea of brooding glory, of still power; not the power of flashing into storms of splendour beneath strange winds, but of waking up and cherishing to beauty the shy life that lay hidden in all remotest corners of the teeming earth.
"What are you going to do with Kate to-day, Alec?" said his mother.
"Whatever Kate likes," answered Alec.
"I have no choice," returned Kate. "I don't know yet what I have to choose between. I am in your hands, Alec."
It was the first time she had called him by his name, and a spear of sunshine seemed to quiver in his heart. He was restless as a hyena till she was ready. He then led her to the banks of the river, here low and grassy, with plenty of wild flowers, and a low babblement everywhere.
"This is delightful," said Kate. "I will come here as often as you like, and you shall read to me."
"What shall I read? Would you like one of Sir Walter's novels?"
"Just the thing."
Alec started at full speed for the house.
"Stop," cried Kate. "You are not going to leave me alone beside this—talking water?"
"I thought you liked the water," said Alec.
"Yes. But I don't want to be left alone beside it. I will go with you, and get some work."
She turned away from the stream with a strange backward look, and they walked home.
But as Kate showed some disinclination to return to the river-side, Alec put a seat for her near the house, in the shadow of a silver birch, and threw himself on the grass at her feet. There he began to read the Antiquary, only half understanding it, in the enchantment of knowing that he was lying at her feet, and had only to look up to see her eyes. At noon, Mrs Forbes sent them a dish of curds, and a great jug of cream, with oatcakes, and butter soft from the churn; and the rippling shadow of the birch played over the white curds and the golden butter as they ate.
Am I not now fairly afloat upon the gentle stream of an idyl? Shall I watch the banks as they glide past, and record each fairy-headed flower that looks at its image in the wave? Or shall I mow them down and sweep them together in a sentence?
I will gather a few of the flowers, and leave the rest. But first I will make a remark or two upon the young people.
Those amongst my readers who have had the happiness to lead innocent boy-lives, will know what a marvellous delight it was to Alec to have this girl near him in his own home and his own haunts. He never speculated on her character or nature, any more than Hamlet did about those of Ophelia before he was compelled to doubt womankind. His own principles were existent only in a latent condition, undeveloped from good impulses and kind sentiments. For instance: he would help any one whose necessity happened to make an impression upon him, but he never took pains to enter into the feelings of others—to understand them from their own point of view: he never had said to himself, "That is another me."
Correspondent to this condition were some of Kate's theories of life and its duties.
The question came up, whether a certain lady in fiction had done right in running away with her lover. Mrs Forbes made a rather decided remark on the subject. Kate said nothing, but her face glowed.
"Tell us what you think about it, Katie," said Mrs Forbes.
Katie was silent for a moment. Then with the air of a martyr, from whom the rack can only extort a fuller confession of his faith—though I fear she had no deeper gospel at the root of it than Byron had brought her—she answered:
"I think a woman must give up everything for love."
She was then precisely of the same opinion as Jean Paul's Linda in Titan.
"That is very true, I daresay," said Mrs Forbes; "but I fear you mean only one kind of love. Does a woman owe no love to her father or mother because she has a lover?"
To this plain question Kate made no reply, but her look changed to one of obstinacy.
Her mother died when she was a child, and her father had kept himself shut up in his study, leaving her chiefly to the care of a Shetland nurse, who told her Scandinavian stories from morning to night, with invention ever ready to supply any blank in the tablets of her memory.
Alec thought his mother's opinion the more to be approved, and Kate's the more to be admired; showing the lack of entireness in his nature, by thus dissociating the good and the admirable. That which is best cannot be less admirable than that which is not best.
The next day saw Alec walking by the side of Kate mounted on his pony, up a steep path to the top of one of the highest hills surrounding the valley. It was a wild hill, with hardly anything growing on it but heather, which would make it regal with purple in the autumn: no tree could stand the blasts that blew over that hill in winter. Having climbed to the topmost point, they stood and gazed. The country lay outstretched beneath in the glow of the June day, while around them flitted the cool airs of heaven. Above them rose the soaring blue of the June sky, with a white cloud or two floating in it, and a blue peak or two leaning its colour against it. Through the green grass and the green corn below crept two silvery threads, meeting far away and flowing in one—the two rivers which watered the valley of Strathglamour. Between the rivers lay the gray stone town, with its roofs of thatch and slate. One of its main streets stopped suddenly at the bridge with the three arches above Tibbie's cottage; and at the other end of the bridge lay the green fields.
The landscape was not one of the most beautiful, but it had a beauty of its own, which is all a country or a woman needs; and Kate sat gazing about her in evident delight. She had taken off her hat to feel the wind, and her hair fell in golden heaps upon her shoulders, and the wind and the sunbeams played at hide-and-seek in it.
In a moment the pleasure vanished from her face. It clouded over, while the country lay full in the sun. Her eyes no longer looked wide abroad, but expressed defeat and retirement. Listlessly she began to gather her hair together.
"Do you ever feel as if you could not get room enough, Alec?" she said, wearily.
"No, I don't," he answered, honestly and stupidly. "I have always as much as I want. I should have thought you would—up here."
"I did feel satisfied for a moment; but it was only a moment. It is all gone now. I shall never have room enough."
Alec had nothing to say in reply. He never had anything to give Kate but love; and now he gave her more love. It was all he was rich in. But she did not care for his riches. And so, after gazing a while, she turned towards the descent. Alec picked up her hat, and took his place at the pony's head. He was not so happy as he thought he should be. Somehow she was of another order, and he could not understand her—he could only worship her.
The whole of the hot afternoon they spent on the grass, whose mottling of white clover filled the wandering airs with the odours of the honey of Hymettus. And after tea Kate sang, and Alec drank every tone as if his soul lived by hearing.
In this region the sun works long after hours in the summer, and they went out to see him go down weary. They leaned together over the gate and looked at the level glory, which now burned red and dim. Lamp of life, it burns all night long in the eternal night of the universe, to chase the primeval darkness from the great entrance hall of the "human mortals."
"What a long shadow everything throws!" said Kate. "When the shadows gather all together, and melt into one, then it is night. Look how the light creeps about the roots of the grass on the ridge, as if it were looking for something between the shadows. They are both going to die. Now they begin."
The sun diminished to a star—a spark of crimson fire, and vanished. As if he had sunk in a pool of air, and made it overflow, a gentle ripple of wind blew from the sunset over the grass. They could see the grass bending and swaying and bathing in its coolness before it came to them. It blew on their faces at length, and whispered something they could not understand, making Kate think of her mother, and Alec of Kate.
Now that same breeze blew upon Tibbie and Annie, as they sat in the patch of meadow by the cottage, between the river and the litster's dam. It made Tibbie think of death, the opener of sleeping eyes, the uplifter of hanging hands. For Tibbie's darkness was the shadow of her grave, on the further border of which the light was breaking in music. Death and resurrection were the same thing to blind old Tibbie.
When the gentle, washing wind blew upon Annie, she thought of the wind that bloweth were it listeth; and that, if ever the Spirit of God blew upon her, she would feel it just like that wind of summer sunset—so cool, so blessed, so gentle, so living! And was it not God that breathed that wind upon her? Was he not even then breathing his Spirit into the soul of that woman-child?
It blew upon Andrew Constable, as he stood in his shop-door, the easy labour of his day all but over. And he said to his little weasel-faced, douce, old-fashioned child who stood leaning against the other door-cheek:
"That's a fine caller bit blastie, Isie! Dinna ye like to fin' 't blawin' upo' yer het cheeks, dawtie?"
And she answered,
"Ay, I like it weel, daddie; but it min's me some upo' the winter."
And Andrew looked anxiously at the pale face of his child, who, at six years old, in the month of June, had no business to know that there was any winter. But she was the child of elderly parents, and had not been born in time; so that she was now in reality about twenty.
It blew upon Robert Bruce, who had just run out into the yard, to see how his potatoes and cabbages were coming on. He said
"It's some cauld," and ran in again to put on his hat.
Alec and Kate, I have said, stood looking into the darkening field. A great flock of rooks which filled the air with their rooky gossip, was flying straight home to an old gray ruin just visible amongst some ancient trees. They had been gathering worms and grubs all day, and now it was bed time. They felt, through all their black feathers, the coolness of that evening breeze which came from the cloudy mausoleum already built over the grave of the down-gone sun.
Kate hearing them rejoicing far overhead, searched for them in the darkening sky, found them, and watched their flight, till the black specks were dissolved in the distance. They are not the most poetic of birds, but in a darkening country twilight, over silent fields, they blend into the general tone, till even their noisy caw suggests repose. But it was room Kate wanted, not rest. She would know one day, however, that room and rest are the same, and that the longings for both spring from the same need.
"What place is that in the trees?" she asked.
"The old Castle of Glamerton," answered Alec. "Would you like to go and see it?"
"Yes; very much."
"We'll go to-morrow, then."
"The dew is beginning to fall, Kate," said Mrs Forbes, who now joined them. "You had better come in."
Alec lingered behind. An unknown emotion drew his heart towards the earth. He would see her go to sleep in the twilight, which was now beginning to brood over her, as with the brown wings of a lovely dull-hued hen-bird. The daisies were all asleep, spotting the green grass with stars of carmine; for their closed red tips, like the finger-points of two fairy hands, tenderly joined together, pointed up in little cones to keep the yellow stars warm within, that they might shine bright when the great star of day came to look for them. The light of the down-gone sun, the garment of Aurora, which, so short would be her rest, she had not drawn close around her on her couch, floated up on the horizon, and swept slowly northwards, lightly upborne on that pale sea of delicate green and gold, to flicker all night around the northern coast of the sky, and, streaming up in the heavens, melt at last in the glory of the uprisen Titan. The trees stood still and shadowy as clouds, but breathing out mysterious odours. The stars overhead, half-molten away in the ghostly light that would not go, were yet busy at their night-work, ministering to the dark sides of the other worlds. There was no moon. A wide stillness and peace, as of a heart at rest, filled space, and lying upon the human souls with a persistent quietness that might be felt, made them know what might be theirs. Now and then a bird sprang out with a sudden tremor of leaves, suddenly stilled. But the bats came and went in silence, like feelings yet unembodied in thoughts, vanishing before the sight had time to be startled at their appearing. All was marvel. And the marvel of all was there—where the light glimmered faintly through the foliage. He approached the house with an awe akin to that with which an old poetic Egyptian drew near to the chamber of the goddess Isis.
He entered, and his Isis was laughing merrily.
In the morning, great sun-crested clouds with dark sides hung overhead; and while they sat at breakfast, one of those glorious showers, each of whose great drops carries a sun-spark in its heart, fell on the walks with a tumult of gentle noises, and on the grass almost as silently as if it had been another mossy cloud. The leaves of the ivy hanging over the windows quivered and shook, each for itself, beneath the drops; and between the drops, one of which would have beaten him to the earth, wound and darted in safety a great humble bee.
Kate and Alec went to the open window and looked out on the rainy world, breathing the odours released from the grass and the ground. Alec turned from the window to Kate's face, and saw upon it a keen, yet solemn delight. But as he gazed, he saw a cloud come over it. The arched upper lip dropped sadly upon the other, and she looked troubled and cold. Instinctively he glanced out again for the cause. The rain had become thick and small, and a light opposing wind disordered its descent with broken and crossing lines.
This change from a summer to a winter rain had altered Kate's mood, and her face was now, as always, a reflex of the face of nature.
"Shut the window, please Alec," she said, with a shiver.
"We'll have a fire directly," said Alec.
"No, no," returned Kate, trying to smile. "Just fetch me a shawl from the closet in my room."
Alec had not been in his own room since Kate came. He entered it with a kind of gentle awe, and stood just within the door, gazing as if rebuked.
From a pair of tiny shoes under the dressing-table, radiated a whole roomful of feminity. He was almost afraid to go further, and would not have dared to look in the mirror. In three days her mere presence had made the room marvellous.
Recovering himself, he hastened to the cloaet, got the shawl, and went down the stair three steps at a time.
"Couldn't you find it, Alec?" said Kate.
"Oh! yes; I found it at once," answered Alec, blushing to the eyes.
I wonder whether Kate guessed what made the boy blush. But it does not matter much now. She did look curiously at him for a moment.
"Just help me with my shawl," she said.
During all this time, Annie had seen scarcely anything of her aunt Margaret Anderson. Ever since Bruce had offended her, on the occasion of her first visit, she had taken her custom elsewhere, and had never even called to see her niece. Annie had met her several times in the street, and that was all. Hence, on one of the fine afternoons of that unusually fine summer, and partly, perhaps, from missing the kindness of Mrs Forbes, Annie took a longing to see her old aunt, and set out for Clippenstrae to visit her. It was a walk of two miles, chiefly along the high road, bordered in part by accessible plantation. Through this she loitered along, enjoying the few wild flowers and the many lights and shadows, so that it was almost evening before she reached her destination.
"Preserve 's a'! Annie Anderson, what brings ye here this time o' nicht?" exclaimed her aunt.
"It's a lang time sin I saw ye, auntie, and I wantit to see ye."
"Weel, come butt the hoose. Ye're growin' a great muckle quean," said her aunt, inclined to a favourable consideration of her by her growth.
Margaret "didna like bairns—menseless craturs—aye wantin' ither fowk to do for them!" But growth was a kind of regenerating process in her eyes, and when a girl began to look like a woman, she regarded it as an outward sign of conversion, or something equally valuable.—So she conducted her into the presence of her uncle, a little old man, worn and bent, with gray locks peeping out from under a Highland bonnet.
"This is my brither Jeames's bairn," she said.
The old man received her kindly, called her his dawtie, and made her sit down by him on a three-legged creepie, talking to her as if she had been quite a child, while she, capable of high converse as she was, replied in corresponding terms. Her great-aunt was confined to her bed with rheumatism. Supper was preparing, and Annie was not sorry to have a share, for indeed, during the summer, her meals were often scanty enough. While they ate, the old man kept helping her to the best, talking to her all the time.
"Will ye no come and bide wi' me, dawtie?" he said, meaning little by the question.
"Na, na," answered Margaret for her. "She's at the schule, ye ken, uncle, and we maunna interfere wi' her schoolin.'—Hoo does that leein' ted, Robert Bruce, carry himsel' to ye, bairn?"
"Ow! I jist never min' him," answered Annie.
"Weel, it's a' he deserves at your han'. But gin I war you, I wad let him ken that gin he saws your corn ye hae a richt to raither mair nor his gleanins."
"I dinna ken what ye mean," answered Annie.
"Ow! na; I daursay no. But ye may jist as weel ken noo, that that ted, Robert Bruce, has twa hunner poun' odd o' yer ain, lassie; and gin he doesna use ye weel, ye can jist tell him 'at I telt ye sae."
This piece of news had not the overpowering effect upon Annie which, perhaps, her aunt had expected. No doubt the money seemed in her eyes a limitless fortune; but then Bruce had it. She might as soon think of robbing a bear of her whelps as getting her own from Bruce. Besides, what could she do with it if she had it? And she had not yet acquired the faculty of loving money for its own sake. When she rose to take her leave, she felt little richer than when she entered, save for the kind words of John Peterson.
"It's ower late for ye to gang hame yer lane, dawtie," said the old man.
"I'm nae that fleyt," answered Annie.
"Weel, gin ye walk wi' Him, the mirk'll be licht aboot ye," said he, taking off his Highland bonnet, and looking up with a silent recognition of the care of Him. "Be a gude lass," he resumed, replacing his bonnet, "an' rin hame as fest's ye can. Gude nicht to ye, dawtie."
Rejoicing as if she had found her long-lost home, Annie went out into the deep gloamin feeling it impossible she should be frightened at anything. But when she came to the part of the road bordered with trees, she could not help fancying she saw a figure flitting along from tree to tree just within the deeper dusk of the wood, and as she hurried on, fancy grew to fear. Presently she heard awful sounds, like the subdued growling of wild beasts. She would have taken to her heels in terror, but she reflected that thereby she would only insure pursuit, whereas she might slip away unperceived. As she reached a stile leading into the wood, however, a dusky figure came bounding over it, and advanced towards her. To her relief it went on two legs; and when it came nearer she thought she recognized some traits of old acquaintance about it. When it was within a couple of yards of her, as she still pursued her way towards Glamerton, she stopped and cried out joyfully:
"Curly!"—for it was her old vice-champion.
"Annie!" was the equally joyful response.
"I thocht ye was a wild beast!" said Annie.
"I was only growlin' for fun to mysel'," answered Curly, who would have done it all the more if he had known there was any one on the road. "I didna ken 'at I was fleggin' onybody. An' hoo are ye, Annie? An' hoo's Blister Bruce?"
For Curly was dreadfully prolific in nicknames.
Annie had not seen him for six months. He had continued to show himself so full of mischief, though of a comparatively innocent sort, that his father thought it better at last to send him to a town at some distance to learn the trade of a saddler, for which he had shown a preference.
This was his first visit to his home. Hitherto his father had received no complaints of his behaviour, and had now begged a holiday.
"Ye're grown sair, Annie," he said.
"Sae are ye, Curly," answered Annie.
"An' hoo's Alec?"
"He's verra weel."
Whereupon much talk followed, which need not be recorded. At length Curly said:
"And hoo's the rottans?"
"Ower weel and thrivin'."
"Jist pit yer han' i' my coat-pooch, and see what I hae broucht ye."
Knowing Curly's propensities, Annie refused.
"It's a wild beast," said Curly. "I'll lat it oot upo' ye. It was it 'at made a' that roarin' i' the plantin'."
So saying, he pulled out of his pocket the most delicate tortoiseshell kitten, not half the beauty of which could be perceived in the gloamin, which is all the northern summer night. He threw it at Annie, but she had seen enough not to be afraid to catch it in her hands.
"Did ye fess this a' the road frae Spinnie to me, Curly?"
"Ay did I, Annie. Ye see I dinna like rottans. But ye maun haud it oot o' their gait for a feow weeks, or they'll rive't a' to bits. It'll sune be a match for them though, I s' warran'. She comes o' a killin' breed."
Annie took the kitten home, and it shared her bed that night.
"What's that meowlin?" asked Bruce the next morning, the moment he rose from the genuflexion of morning prayers.
"It's my kittlin'," answered Annie. "I'll lat ye see't."
"We hae ower mony mou's i' the hoose already," said Bruce, as she returned with the little peering baby-animal in her arms. "We hae nae room for mair. Here, Rob, tak the cratur, an' pit a tow aboot its neck, an' a stane to the tow, an' fling't into the Glamour."
Annie, not waiting to parley, darted from the house with the kitten.
"Rin efter her, Rob," said Bruce, "an' tak' it frae her, and droon't. We canna hae the hoose swarmin'."
Bob bolted after her, delighted with his commission. But instead of finding her at the door, as he had expected, he saw her already a long way up the street, flying like the wind. He started in keen pursuit. He was now a great lumbering boy, and although Annie's wind was not equal to his, she was more fleet. She took the direct road to Howglen, and Rob kept floundering after her. Before she reached the footbridge she was nearly breathless, and he was gaining fast upon her. Just as she turned the corner of the road, leading up on the other side of the water, she met Alec and Kate. Unable to speak, she passed without appeal. But there was no need to ask the cause of her pale agonized face, for there was young Bruce at her heels. Alec collared him instantly.
"What are you up to?" he asked.
"Naething," answered the panting pursuer.
"Gin ye be efter naething, ye'll fin' that nearer hame," retorted Alec, twisting him round in that direction, and giving him a kick to expedite his return. "Lat me hear o' you troublin' Annie Anderson, an' I'll gar ye loup oot o' yer skin the neist time I lay han's upo' ye. Gang hame."
Rob obeyed like a frightened dog, while Annie pursued her course to Howglen, as if her enemy had been still on her track. Rushing into the parlour, she fell on the floor before Mrs Forbes, unable to utter a word. The kitten sprung mewing out of her arms, and took refuge under the sofa.
"Mem, mem," she gasped at length, "tak' care o' my kittlin'. They want to droon't. It's my ain. Curly gied it to me."
Mrs Forbes comforted her, and readily undertook the tutelage. Annie was very late for school, for Mrs Forbes made her have another breakfast before she went. But Mr Malison was in a good humour that day, and said nothing. Rob Bruce looked devils at her. What he had told his father I do not know; but whatever it was, it was all written down in Bruce's mental books to the debit of Alexander Forbes of Howglen.
Mrs Forbes's heart smote her when she found to what persecution her little friend was exposed during those times when her favour was practically although not really withdrawn; but she did not see how she could well remedy it. She was herself in the power of Bruce, and expostulation from her would be worth little; while to have Annie to the house as before would involve consequences unpleasant to all concerned. She resolved to make up for it by being kinder to her than ever as soon as Alec should have followed Kate to the precincts of the university; while for the present she comforted both herself and Annie by telling her to be sure to come to her when she found herself in any trouble.
But Annie was not one to apply to her friends except she was in great need of their help. The present case had been one of life and death. She found no further occasion to visit Mrs Forbes before Kate and Alec were both gone.
On a sleepy summer afternoon, just when the sunshine begins to turn yellow, Annie was sitting with Tibbie on the grass in front of her little cottage, whose door looked up the river. The cottage stood on a small rocky eminence at the foot of the bridge. Underneath the approach to it from the bridge, the dyer's mill-race ran by a passage cut in the rock, leading to the third arch of the bridge built over the Glamour. Towards the river, the rock went down steep to the little meadow. It was a triangular piece of smooth grass growing on the old bed of the river, which for many years had been leaving this side, and wearing away the opposite bank. It lay between the river, the dyer's race, and the bridge, one of the stone piers of which rose from it. The grass which grew upon it was short, thick, and delicate. On the opposite side of the river lay a field for bleaching the linen, which was the chief manufacture of that country. Hence it enjoyed the privilege of immunity from the ploughshare. None of its daisies ever met the fate of Burn's
"Wee, modest, crimson-tippit flower."
But indeed so constantly was the grass mown to keep it short, that there was scarcely a daisy to be seen in it, the long broad lines of white linen usurping their place, and in their stead keeping up the contrast of white and green. Around Tibbie and Annie however the daisies were shining back to the sun, confidently, with their hearts of gold and their rays of silver. And the butter-cups were all of gold; and the queen-of-the-meadow, which grew tall at the water-side, perfumed the whole region with her crown of silvery blossom. Tibbie's blind face was turned towards the sun; and her hands were busy as ants with her knitting needles, for she was making a pair of worsted stockings for Annie against the winter. No one could fit stockings so well as Tibbie.
"Wha's that comin', lassie?" she asked.
Annie, who had heard no one, glanced round, and, rising, said,
"It's Thomas Crann."
"That's no Thomas Crann," rejoined Tibbie. "I dinna hear the host (cough) o' 'im."
Thomas came up, pale and limping a little.
"That's no Thomas Crann?" repeated Tibbie, before he had time to address her.
"What for no, Tibbie?" returned Thomas.
"'Cause I canna hear yer breath, Thamas."
"That's a sign that I hae the mair o' 't, Tibbie. I'm sae muckle better o' that ashma, that I think whiles the Lord maun hae blawn into my nostrils anither breath o' that life that he breathed first into Edam an' Eve."
"I'm richt glaid to hear't, Thamas. Breath maun come frae him ae gait or ither."
"Nae doobt, Tibbie."
"Will ye sit doon asides's, Thamas? It's lang sin' I hae seen ye."
Tibbie always spoke of seeing people.
"Ay will I, Tibbie. I haena muckle upo' my han's jist the day. Ye see I haena won richt into my wark again yet."
"Annie an' me 's jist been haeing a crack thegither aboot this thing an' that thing, Thamas," said Tibbie, dropping her knitting on her knees, and folding her palms together. "Maybe ye could tell me whether there be ony likeness atween the licht that I canna see and that soun' o' the water rinnin', aye rinnin', that I like sae weel to hear."
For it did not need the gentle warm wind, floating rather than blowing down the river that afternoon, to bring to their ears the sound of the entick, or dam built across the river, to send the water to the dyer's wheel; for that sound was in Tibbie's cottage day and night, mingled with the nearer, gentler, and stronger gurgling of the swift, deep, deedie water in the race, that hurried, aware of its work, with small noise and much soft-sliding force towards the wheel.
"Weel, ye see, Tibbie," answered Thomas, "it's nearhan' as ill for the like o' us to unnerstan' your blin'ness as it may be for you to unnerstan' oor sicht."
"Deed maybe neyther o' 's kens muckle aboot oor ain gift either o' sicht or blin'ness.—Say onything ye like, gin ye dinna tell me, as the bairn here ance did, that I cudna ken what the licht was. I kenna what yer sicht may be, and I'm thinkin' I care as little. But weel ken I what the licht is."
"Tibbie, dinna be ill-nater'd, like me. Ye hae no call to that same. I'm tryin' to answer your queston. And gin ye interrup' me again, I'll rise an' gang hame."
"Say awa', Thamas. Never heed me. I'm some cankert whiles. I ken that weel eneuch."
"Ye hae nae business to be cankert, Tibbie?"
"Nae mair nor ither fowk."
"Less, Tibbie; less, woman."
"Hoo mak' ye that oot?" asked Tibbie, defensively.
"Ye dinna see the things to anger ye that ither fowk sees.—As I cam' doon the street this minute, I cam' upo' twa laddies—ye ken them—they're twins—ane o' them cripple—"
"Ay, that was Murdoch Malison's wark!" interposed Tibbie, with indignant reminiscence.
"The man's been sorry for't this mony a day," said Thomas; "sae we maunna come ower't again, Tibbie."
"Verra weel, Thamas; I s' haud my tongue. What about the laddies?"
"They war fechtin' i' the verra street; ruggin' ane anither's heids, an' peggin' at ane anither's noses, an' doin' their verra endeevour to destroy the image o' the Almichty—it wasna muckle o' 't that was left to blaud. I teuk and throosh them baith."
"An' what cam' o' the image o' the Almichty?" asked Tibbie, with a grotesque contortion of her mouth, and a roll of her veiled eyeballs. "I doobt, Thamas," she continued, "ye angert yersel' mair nor ye quaietit them wi' the thrashin'. The wrath o' man, ye ken, Thamas, worketh not the richtyisness o' God."
There was not a person in Glamerton who would have dared to speak thus to Thomas Crann but Tibbie Dyster, perhaps because there was not one who had such a respect for him. Possibly the darkness about her made her bolder; but I think it was her truth, which is another word for love, however unlike love the outcome may look, that made her able to speak in this fashion.
Thomas was silent for a long minute. Then he said:
"Maybe ye're i' the richt, Tibbie. Ye aye anger me; but I wad raither hae a body anger me wi' tellin' me the trowth, nor I wad hae a' the fair words i' the dictionar'. It's a strange thing, wumman, but aye whan a body's tryin' maist to gang upricht he's sure to catch a dreidfu' fa'. There I hae been warstlin' wi' my ill-temper mair nor ever I did i' my life afore; and I never i' my days lickit twa laddies for lickin' ane anither till jist this verra day. And I prayed against mysel' afore I cam' oot. I canna win at the boddom o' 't."
"There's waur things nor an ill temper, Thamas. No that it's bonnie ava'. And it's nane like Him 'at was meek and lowly o' hert. But, as I say, there's waur fauts nor an ill temper. It wad be no gain to you, Thamas, and no glory to Him whase will's your sanctification, gin ye war to owercome yer temper, and syne think a heap o' yersel' that ye had done't. Maybe that's what for yer no allooed to be victorious in yer endeevours."
"'Deed, maybe, Tibbie," said Thomas solemnly. "And I'm some doobtfu' forbye, whether I mayna be tryin' to ripe oot the stockin' frae the wrang en' o' 't. I doobt the fau't's nae sae muckle i' my temper as i' my hert. It's mair love that I want, Tibbie. Gin I lo'ed my neebor as mysel', I cudna be sae ill-natert till him; though 'deed, whiles, I'm angry eneuch at mysel'—a hantle waur nor at him."
"Verra true, Thamas," answered Tibbie. "Perfect love casteth oot fear, 'cause there's nae room for the twa o' them; and I daursay it wad be the same wi' the temper."
"But I'm no gaein' to gie in to bein' ill-natert for a' that," said Thomas, as if alarmed at the possible consequences of the conclusion.
"Na na. Resist ye the deevil, Thamas. Haud at him, man. He's sure to rin at the lang last. But I'm feared ye'll gang awa' ohn tellt me aboot the licht and the water. Whan I'm sittin' here o' the girse, hearkenin' to the water, as it comes murrin', and soufflin', and gurglin', on to me, and syne by me and awa', as gin it war spinnin' and twistin' a lot o' bonnie wee sounies a' intil ae muckle gran' soun', it pits me i' min' o' the text that says, 'His voice was as the sound o' mony waters.' Noo his face is licht—ye ken that, divna ye?—and gin his voice be like the water, there maun be something like atween the licht and the water, ye ken. That's what garred me spier at ye, Thamas."
"Weel, I dinna ken richtly hoo to answer ye, Tibbie; but at this moment the licht's playin' bonnie upo' the entick—shimmerin' and brakin' upo' the water, as hit bracks upo' the stanes afore it fa's. An' what fa's, it luiks as gin it took the licht wi' 't i' the wame o' 't like. Eh! it's bonnie, woman; and I wiss ye had the sicht o' yer een to see't wi'; though ye do preten' to think little o' 't."
"Weel, weel! my time's comin', Thamas; and I maun jist bide till it comes. Ye canna help me, I see that. Gin I could only open my een for ae minute, I wad ken a' aboot it, and be able to answer mysel'.—I think we 'll gang into the hoose, for I canna bide it langer."
All the time they were talking Annie was watching Alec's boat, which had dropped down the river, and was floating in the sunshine above the dam. Thomas must have seen it too, for it was in the very heart of the radiance reflected to them from the watery mirror. But Alec was a painful subject with Thomas, for when they chanced to meet now, nothing more than the passing salute of ordinary acquaintance was exchanged. And Thomas was not able to be indulgent to young people. Certain facts in his nature, as well as certain articles in his creed, rendered him unable. So, being one of those who never speak of what is painful to them if they can avoid it—thinking all the more, he talked about the light, and said nothing about the boat that was in the middle of it. Had Alec been rowing, Tibbie would have heard the oars; but he only paddled enough to keep the boat from drifting on to the dam. Kate sat in the stern looking at the water with half-closed eyes, and Alec sat looking at Kate, as if his eyes were made only for her. And Annie sat in the meadow, and she too looked at Kate; and she thought how pretty she was, and how she must like being rowed about in the old boat. It seemed quite an old boat now. An age had passed since her name was painted on it. She wondered if The Bonnie Annie was worn off the stern yet; or if Alec had painted it out, and put the name of the pretty lady instead. When Tibbie and Thomas walked away into the house, Annie lingered behind on the grass.
The sun sank slanting and slow, yet he did sink, lower and lower; till at length Alec leaned back with a stronger pull on the oars, and the boat crept away up the stream, lessening as it crept, and, turning a curve in the river, was lost. Still she sat on, with one hand lying listlessly in her lap, and the other plucking blades of grass and making a little heap of them beside her, till she had pulled a spot quite bare, and the brown earth peeped through between the roots. Then she rose, went up to the door of the cottage, called a good night to Tibbie, and took her way home.
My story has not to do with city-life, in which occur frequent shocks, changes, and recombinations, but with the life of a country region; and is, therefore, "to a lingering motion bound," like the day, like the ripening of the harvest, like the growth of all good things. But clouds and rainbows will come in the quietest skies; adventures and coincidences in the quietest village.
As Kate and Alec walked along the street, on their way to the castle, one of the coaches from the county-town drove up with its four thorough-breds.
"What a handsome fellow the driver is!" said Kate.
Alec looked up at the box. There sat Beauchamp, with the ribbons in his grasp, handling his horses with composure and skill. Beside him sat the owner of the coach, a laird of the neighbourhood.
Certainly Beauchamp was a handsome fellow. But a sting went through Alec's heart. It was the first time that he thought of his own person in comparison with another. That she should admire Beauchamp, though he was handsome!
The memory even of that moment made him writhe on his bed years after; for a mental and bodily wound are alike in this, that after there is but the scar of either left, bad weather will revive the torture. His face fell. Kate saw it, and did him some injustice. They walked on in silence, in the shadow of a high wall. Kate looked up at the top of the wall and stopped. Alec looked at her. Her face was as full of light as a diamond in the sun. He forgot all his jealousy. The fresh tide of his love swept it away, or at least covered it. On the top of the wall, in the sun, grew one wild scarlet poppy, a delicate transparent glory, through which the sunlight shone, staining itself red, and almost dissolving the poppy.
The red light melted away the mist between them, and they walked in it up to the ruined walls. Long grass grew about them, close to the very door, which was locked, that if old Time could not be kept out, younger destroyers might. Other walls stood around, vitrified by fire—the remnants of an older castle still, about which Jamblichus might have spied the lingering phantoms of many a terrible deed.
They entered by the door in the great tower, under the spiky remnants of the spiral stair projecting from the huge circular wall. To the right, a steep descent, once a stair, led down to the cellars and the dungeon; a terrible place, the visible negations of which are horrid, and need no popular legends such as Alec had been telling Kate, of a walled-up door and a lost room, to add to their influence. It was no wonder that when he held out his hand to lead her down into the darkness and through winding ways to the mouth of the far-off beehive dungeon—it was no wonder, I say, that she should shrink and draw back. A few rays came through the decayed planks of the door which Alec had pushed to behind them, and fell upon the rubbish of centuries sloping in the brown light and damp air down into the abyss. One larger ray from the keyhole fell upon Kate's face, and showed it blanched with fear, and her eyes distended with the effort to see through the gloom.
At that moment, a sweet, low voice came from somewhere, out of the darkness, saying:
"Dinna be feared, mem, to gang whaur Alec wants ye to gang. Ye can lippen (trust) to him."
Staring in the direction of the sound, Kate saw the pale face of a slender—half child, half maiden, glimmering across the gulf that led to the dungeon. She stood in the midst of a sepulchral light, whose faintness differed from mere obscuration, inasmuch as it told how bright it was out of doors in the sun. Annie, I say, stood in this dimness—a dusky and yet radiant creature, seeming to throw off from her a faint brown light—a lovely, earth-stained ghost.
"Oh! Annie, is that you?" said Alec.
"Ay is't, Alec," Annie answered.
"This is an old schoolfellow of mine," he said, turning to Kate, who was looking haughtily at the girl.
"Oh! is it?" said Kate, condescending.
Between the two, each looking ghostly to the other, lay a dark cavern-mouth that seemed to go down to Hades.
"Wonna ye gang doon, mem?" said Annie.
"No, thank you," answered Kate, decisively.
"Alec'll tak' guid care o' ye, mem."
"Oh! yes, I daresay; but I had rather not."
Alec said nothing. Kate would not trust him then! He would not have thought much of it, however, but for what had passed before. Would she have gone with Beauchamp if he had asked her? Ah! if he had asked Annie, she too would have turned pale, but she would have laid her hand in his, and gone with him.
"Gin ye want to gang up, than," she said, "I'll lat ye see the easiest road. It's roun' this way."
And she pointed to a narrow ledge between the descent and the circular wall, by which they could cross to where she stood. But Alec, who had no desire for Annie's company, declined her guidance, and took Kate up a nearer though more difficult ascent to the higher level. Here all the floors of the castle lay in dust beneath their feet, mingled with fragments of chimney-piece and battlement. The whole central space lay open to the sky.
Annie remained standing on the edge of the dungeon-slope.
She had been on her way to see Tibbie, when she caught a glimpse of Kate and Alec as they passed. Since watching them in the boat the evening before, she had been longing to speak to Alec, longing to see Kate nearer: perhaps the beautiful lady would let her love her. She guessed where they were going, and across the fields she bounded like a fawn, straight as the crows flew home to the precincts of that "ancient rest," and reached it before them. She did not need to fetch the key, for she knew a hole on the level of the grass, wide enough to let her creep through the two yards of wall. So she crept in and took her place near the door.
After they had rambled over the lower part of the building, Alec took Kate up a small winding stair, past a succession of empty doorways like eyeless sockets, leading nowhither because the floors had fallen. Kate was so frightened by coming suddenly upon one after another of these defenceless openings, that by the time she reached the broad platform, which ran, all bare of parapet or battlement, around the top of the tower, she felt faint; and when Alec scampered off like a goat to reach the bartizan at the other side, she sank in an agony of fear upon the landing of the stair.
Looking down upon her from the top of the little turret, Alec saw that she was ill, and returning instantly in great dismay, comforted her as well as he could, and got her by degrees to the bottom. There was a spot of grass inside the walls, on which he made her rest; and as the sun shone upon her through one of the ruined windows, he stood so that his shadow should fall across her eyes. While he stood thus a strange fancy seized him. The sun became in his eyes a fiery dragon, which having devoured half of the building, having eaten the inside out of it, having torn and gnawed it everywhere, and having at length reached its kernel, the sleeping beauty, whose bed had, in the long years, mouldered away, and been replaced by the living grass, would swallow her up anon, if he were not there to stand between and defend her. When he looked at her next, she had indeed become the sleeping beauty he had fancied her; and sleep had already restored the colour to her cheeks.
Turning his eyes up to the tower from which they had just descended, he saw, looking down upon them from one of the isolated doorways, the pale face of Patrick Beauchamp. Alec bounded to the stair, rushed to the top and round the platform, but found nobody. Beginning to doubt his eyes, his next glance showed him Beauchamp standing over the sleeping girl. He darted down the screw of the stair, but when he reached the bottom Beauchamp had again disappeared.
The same moment Kate began to wake. Her first movement brought Alec to his senses: why should he follow Beauchamp? He returned to her side, and they left the place, locked the door behind them, took the key to the lodge, and went home.
After tea, Alec, believing he had locked Beauchamp into the castle, returned and searched the building from top to bottom, even got a candle and a ladder, and went down into the dungeon, found no one, and went home bewildered.
While Alec was searching the vacant ruin, Beauchamp was comfortably seated on the box of the Spitfire, tooling it halfway home—namely, as far as the house of its owner, the laird above mentioned, who was a relative of his mother, and whom he was then visiting. He had seen Kate and Alec take the way to the castle, and had followed them, and found the door unlocked. Watching them about the place, he ascended the stair from another approach. The moment Alec looked up at him, he ran down again, and had just dropped into a sort of well-like place which the stair had used to fill on its way to a lower level, when he heard Alec's feet thundering up over his head. Determined then to see what the lady was like, for he had never seen her close, or without her bonnet, which now lay beside her on the grass, he scrambled out, and, approaching her cautiously, had a few moments to contemplate her before he saw—for he kept a watch on the tower—that Alec had again caught sight of him, when he immediately fled to his former refuge, which communicated with a low-pitched story lying between the open level and the vaults.
The sound of the ponderous and rusty bolt reached him across the cavernous space. He had not expected their immediate departure, and was rather alarmed. His first impulse was to try whether he could not shoot the bolt from the inside. This he soon found to be impossible. He next turned to the windows in the front, but there the ground fell away so suddenly that he was many feet from it—an altogether dangerous leap. He was beginning to feel seriously concerned, when he heard a voice:
"Do ye want to win oot, sir? They hae lockit the door."
He turned but could see no one. Approaching the door again, he spied Annie, in the dark twilight, standing on the edge of the descent to the vaults. He had passed the spot not a minute before, and she was certainly not there then. She looked as if she had just glided up that slope from a region so dark that a spectre might haunt it all day long. But Beauchamp was not of a fanciful disposition, and instead of taking her for a spectre, he accosted her with easy insolence!
"Tell me how to get out, my pretty girl, and I'll give you a kiss."
Seized with a terror she did not understand, Annie darted into the cavern between them, and sped down its steep into the darkness which lay there like a lurking beast. A few yards down, however, she turned aside, through a low doorway, into a vault. Beauchamp rushed after her, passed her, and fell over a great stone lying in the middle of the way. Annie heard him fall, sprung forth again, and, flying to the upper light, found her way out, and left the discourteous knight a safe captive, fallen upon that horrible stair.—A horrible stair it was: up and down those steps, then steep and worn, now massed into an incline of beaten earth, had swarmed, for months together, a multitude of naked children, orphaned and captive by the sword, to and from the troughs at which they fed like pigs, amidst the laughter of the lord of the castle and his guests; while he who passed down them to the dungeon beyond, had little chance of ever retracing his steps upward to the light.
Annie told the keeper that there was a gentleman shut into the castle, and then ran a mile and a half to Tibbie's cottage, without stopping. But she did not say a word to Tibbie about her adventure.
A spirit of prophecy, whether from the Lord or not, was abroad this summer among the clergy of Glamerton, of all persuasions. Nor was its influences confined to Glamerton or the clergy. The neighbourhood and the laity had their share. Those who read their Bibles, of whom there were many in that region, took to reading the prophecies, all the prophecies, and scarcely anything but the prophecies. Upon these every man, either for himself or following in the track of his spiritual instructor, exercised his individual powers of interpretation, whose fecundity did not altogether depend upon the amount of historical knowledge. But whatever was known, whether about ancient Assyria or modern Tahiti, found its theoretic place. Of course the Church of Rome had her due share of the application from all parties; but neither the Church of England, the Church of Scotland, nor either of the dissenting sects, went without its portion freely dealt, each of the last finding something that applied to all the rest. There were some, however, who cared less for such modes, and, themselves given to a daily fight with antichrist in their own hearts, sought—for they too read the prophecies—to fix their reference on certain sins, and certain persons classed according to these their sins. With a burning desire for the safety of their neighbours, they took upon them the strongest words of rebuke and condemnation, so that one might have thought they were revelling in the idea of the vengeance at hand, instead of striving for the rescue of their neighbours from the wrath to come. Among these were Thomas Crann and his minister, Mr Turnbull. To them Glamerton was the centre of creation, providence, and revelation. Every warning finger in The Book pointed to it; every burst of indignation from the labouring bosom of holy prophet was addressed to its sinners. And what the ministers spoke to classes from the pulpit, Thomas, whose mode of teaching was in so far Socratic that he singled out his man, applied to the individual—in language occasionally too much to the point to admit of repetition in the delicate ears of the readers of the nineteenth century, some of whom are on such friendly terms with the vices themselves, that they are shocked at the vulgarity and rudeness of the names given them by their forefathers.
"Ye ken weel eneuch that ye're a drucken vratch, Peter Peterson. An' ye ken weel eneuch that ye're nane better, forbye, than ye sud be. Naebody ever accused ye o' stealin'; but gin ye haud on as ye're doin', that'll come neist. But I doobt the wrath o' the Almichty'll be doon upo' 's like a spate, as it was i' the days o' Noah, afore ye hae time to learn to steal, Peter Peterson. Ye'll hae your share in bringin' destruction upo' this toon, and a' its belongin's. The verra kirk-yard winna hide ye that day frae the wrath o' Him that sitteth upo' the throne. Tak' ye tent, and repent, Peter; or it'll be the waur for ye."
The object of this terrible denunciation of the wrath of the Almighty was a wretched little object indeed, just like a white rabbit—with pink eyes, a grey face and head, poor thin legs, a long tail-coat that came nearly to his heels, an awfully ragged pair of trowsers, and a liver charred with whisky. He had kept a whisky-shop till he had drunk all his own whisky; and as no distiller would let him have any on trust, he now hung about the inn-yard, and got a penny from one, and twopence from another, for running errands.—Had they been sovereigns they would all have gone the same way—namely, for whisky.
He listened to Thomas with a kind of dazed meekness, his eyes wandering everywhere except in the direction of Thomas's. One who did not know Thomas would have thought it cowardly in him to attack such a poor creature. But Thomas was just as ready to fly at the greatest man in Glamerton. All the evildoers of the place feared him—the rich manufacturer and the strong horse-doctor included. They called him a wheezing, canting hypocrite, and would go streets out of their way to avoid him.